Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Patient Endurance Is the Fruit of Virtue, Nourished by Prayer

A conversation with Metropolitan Athanasios of Limasol about his book, "The Church's Open Heart". 

In the book, The Church's Open Heart, (Sretensky Monastery Press, [in Russian] 2014) the memoirs of Metropolitan Athanasios about elders—contemporary ascetics with whom he studied in a spiritual school—are collected, as well as the sermons and teachings of Vladyka, who is well-known not only to the Orthodox world, but also beyond it. Thus, what examples do elders give by their life to us Christians who live in a very complicated world today? And what can and must we contrast with the troubles that come crashing down on us like an avalanche? Our correspondent from Pravoslavie.ru talks about these questions and more in an interview with the archpastor of Limasol while he was in Moscow.

"Pray Always"

We laypeople like stories about miracles very much, and about grace-filled gifts, but we forget somewhat about the price we have to pay for these things. Your book opens with a conversation about the holy elder Joseph the Hesychast. Tell us a little bit about the labors that he and his community performed, and about what lesson we laypeople can derive from this—without, of course, dreaming of duplicating it all.

Elder Joseph the Hesychast lived on Mt. Athos, though I did not manage to meet him while he was alive, as he reposed in 1959. But I did get to meet all his disciples.

My starets—Elder Joseph from Vatopedi Monastery—was a disciple, the first disciple of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, and so my monastic life began under the influence of his spiritual school.

Elder Joseph was one of the most outstanding spiritual figures on Mt. Athos in the twentieth century. He was a great ascetic, but also a notable hesychast.1 His life was full of miracles and the activity of God and the Most Holy Mother of God. In spite of the fact that he was a hermit—that is, he did not go out anywhere—four of his disciples subsequently became the spiritual fathers of hundreds of monks.

Right now there are approximately a thousand of us—monks who came from Elder Joseph the Hesychast. Out of the twenty monasteries on Mt. Athos, six of them were revived by spiritual children of Elder Joseph. We consider that his prayers and his presence greatly influenced our monastic life.

We inherited three important things from Elder Joseph the Hesychast and his disciples: the first consists in the value of obedience—to the Church and to one's elder. The second, in taking part in the Divine Liturgy, in the Eucharist, that is, in regular Communion. And the third is the practice of mental prayer.

Our whole monastic life was and is dedicated to these three important things. Elder Joseph the Hesychast was occupied in unceasing mental prayer for six hours every evening.

He would spend eight hours at night serving the all-night vigil. Six hours were dedicated to mental prayer and spiritual reading, and two hours to the Divine Liturgy, which was celebrated daily. This all began at sunset. On Athos, if eight hours pass after sunset, it is already sunrise—especially in the summer.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Will of God and Freedom by Saint Silouan the Athonite

It is a great good to give oneself up to the will of God.  Then the Lord alone is in the soul.  No other thought can enter in, and the soul feels God's love, even though the body be suffering.

When the soul is entirely given over to the will of God, the Lord Himself takes her in hand and the soul learns directly from God.   Whereas, before, she turned to teachers and to the Scriptures for instruction. But it rarely happens that the soul's teacher is the Lord Himself through the grace of the Holy Spirit, and few there are that know of this, save only those who live according to God's will.

The proud man does not want to live according to God's will: he likes to be his own master and does not see that man has not wisdom enough to guide himself without God.  And I, when I lived in the world, knew not the Lord and His Holy Spirit, nor how the Lord loves us-I relied on my own understanding; but when by the Holy Spirit I came to know our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, my soul submitted to God, and now I accept every affliction that befalls me, and say: "The Lord looks down on me. What is there to fear?" But before, I could not live in this manner.

Life is much easier for the man who is given over to the will of God, since in illness, in poverty, in persecution he reflects thus: "Such is God's pleasure, and I must endure on account of my sins." 

Thus for many years have I suffered violent headaches, which are hard to bear but salutary because the soul is humbled through sickness.  My soul longs to pray and keep vigil, but sickness hinders me because of my body's demand for rest and quiet; and I besought the Lord to heal me, and the Lord hearkened not unto me.  So, therefore, it would not have been salutary for me to have been cured.

Here is another case which happened to me, wherein the Lord made haste to hearken unto me and save me. We were given fish one feast-day in the refectory, and, while I was eating, a fish-bone found its way deep down my throat and stuck in my chest. I called to the holy martyr St. Panteleimon, begging him to help me, as the doctor could not extract the bone.  And when I spoke the word 'heal,' my soul received this answer: 'Leave the refectory, take a deep breath, fill out your cheeks with air, and then cough; and you will bring the bone up together with some blood.' This I did. I went out, exhaled, coughed, and a big bone came up with some blood. And I understood that if the Lord does not cure me of my headaches it is because they are good for my soul.

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Church's Teaching Concerning Angels

The Creation, Nature and Purpose of the Angelic World. Angels in Holy Scripture.
The word "angel" means "messenger" and this word expresses the nature of angelic service to the human race. From the days of man's life in paradise, mankind has known of their existence, and its almost universal recognition is reflected not only in Judaism but in most other ancient religions as well.

When Adam was expelled from paradise after his fall, one of the cherubim with a flaming sword was set to guard the gates of Eden (Gen. 3:24). When Abraham sent his servant to Nahor, he encouraged him by telling him that the Lord would send His angel before him and prosper his way (Gen. 24: 7, 40). Jacob saw angels both in a dream—the vision of the ladder—and when awake—when returning home to Esau he saw a host of the angels of God. In the Psalter there are constant references to angels, and we also read of them in the Book of Job and the prophets. The Prophet Isaiah saw the seraphim surrounding the throne of God, and the Prophet Ezekiel saw cherubim in his vision of the Temple of God (Is. 6:1-7, Ezek. 10:1-22.)

In the New Testament, the Book of Revelation contains much information about angels and many references to them. An angel announced the birth of John the Baptist to Zacharias; so also did an angel announce the birth of the Savior to the most holy Virgin Mary and appear in a dream to Joseph. A mighty host of angels sang the glory of Christ's nativity; an angel announced the birth of the Savior to the shepherds and stopped the Wise Men from returning to Herod; angels ministered to Jesus Christ during His temptation in the wilderness; an angel appeared to Him in the Garden of Gethsemane; angels announced His Resurrection to the myrrh-bearing women; and at His ascension angels proclaimed, His second coming. Angels loosed the bonds of Peter and the other Apostles (Acts 5:19) and of Peter alone (Acts 12:7-15); an angel appeared to Cornelius the Centurion, telling him to send for Peter who would instruct him in the word of God (Acts 10:3-7). An angel announced to Paul that he was to appear before Caesar (Acts 27:23-24) and the vision of angels is the foundation of the Revelation of St. John.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Elder Justin Pârvu: “Man is half love, half struggle”


Motto: “If we would be willing to descend into our selves to correct a bit this avalanche of wrongdoings, then our prayer will be heard, the world would be more at peace and our life would suit more the Lord’s liking.

We have become increasingly hostile towards each other by our own selfishness, we see no one but ourselves…and when we reach this state of no longer caring for those near us, we encounter the greatest fall”.

Man’s freedom is at the measure of his genuine love.

Freedom becomes precious only when it is lost. Or at least, this is how we think. All his life man seeks to be free, but does not appreciate the gift of his freedom until it is too late. Freedom is in our body but also in our heart. Freedom is in action but also in the mind and the intellect. Man is free by how genuinely he loves and is attached to the values of the faith.

We are free when we accept God’s plan for our life, and when we strive to achieve it. Being free does not mean lethargy and bliss, but the fulfillment of your human condition.

Freedom does not mean to do what I always wish, as many times by doing what I like I do the will of the devil. Freedom is at the measure of man discernment, and his capacity to choose between good and evil. Man must realize that only in Truth he can live freely and with so much confusion in this world, he should avoid deception. It was what Communists did not understand, that only on the Cross the human soul gains true freedom, that all their methods of torture and psychological pressure to re-educate us, have made more saints than slaves, have sanctified our land by the martyrs blood.

Friday, November 15, 2019

On Spiritual Struggle by Elder Porphyrios

What makes a person holy is love, the adoration of Christ

When Christ enters our soul, everything within us will be altered

Man is a mystery. We carry within us an age-old inheritance – all the good and precious experience of the prophets, the saints, the martyrs, the apostles and above all of our Lord Jesus Christ; but we also carry within us the inheritance of the evil that exists in the world from Adam until the present. All this is within us, instincts and everything, and all demand satisfaction. If we don’t satisfy them, they will take revenge at some time, unless, that is, we divert them elsewhere, to something higher, to God.

That is why we must die to our ancestral humanity and enrobe ourselves in the new humanity. This is what we confess in the sacrament of baptism. With baptism we enter into the joy of Christ. As many as are baptized in Christ, have put on Christ (Gal. 2:27). Confession is a second baptism in which we are purified of our passions, in which our passions are benumbed. Thus divine grace comes through the sacraments.

The Lord said to His disciples, ‘When the Holy Spirit will come, it will teach you all things’ (Cf. John 14:26). The Holy Spirit teaches us everything. It sanctifies us. It assimilates us to God. When we have the Spirit of God, we become incapable of all sin, incapable of sinning. When we have the Holy Spirit, we cannot do evil. We cannot be filled with anger or hate or speak evil.

We must become filled, replete with the Holy Spirit. This is where the essence of spiritual life lies. This is an art – the art of arts. Let us open our arms and throw ourselves into Christ’s embrace. When Christ comes, we will have gained everything. Christ will alter everything within us. He will bring peace, joy, humility, love, prayer and the uplifting of our soul. The grace of Christ will renew us. If we turn to Him with intense longing and desire, with devotion and love, Christ will give us everything.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Discourse on the Nativity of Christ by Saint Gregory the Miracle-Worker

Brethren, we behold now a great and wondrous mystery. Shepherds with cries of joy come forth as messengers to the sons of mankind, not on their hilly pastures with their flocks conversing and not in the field with their sheep frolicking, but rather in the city of David Bethlehem spiritual songs exclaiming. In the highest sing Angels, proclaiming hymns Archangelic; the heavenly Cherubim and Seraphim sing out praises to the glory of God: "Holy, Holy, Holy…" Together all do celebrate this joyous feast, beholding God upon the earth, and mankind of earth amidst the heavens.

By Divine providence the far distant are uplifted to the highest, and the highest, through the love of God for mankind, have bent down to the far distant, wherefore the MostHigh, through His humility, "is exalted through humility." On this day of great festivity Bethlehem hath become like unto heaven, taking place amidst the glittering stars are Angels singing glory, and taking the place of the visible sun—is the indefinable and immeasurable Sun of Truth, having made all things that do exist. But who would dare investigate so great a mystery? "Wherein God doth wish it, therein the order of nature is overturned", and laws cannot impede. And so, of that which was impossible for mankind to undertake, God did aspire and did descend, making for the salvation of mankind, since in the will of God this is life for all mankind.

On the present joyous day God hath come to be born; on this great day of arrival God is become That Which He was not: being God, He hath become Man, so to speak as though removed from Divinity (though His Divine Nature be not divested of); in being made Man, He hath remained God. Wherefore, though He grew and flourished, it however was not thus as it were by human power to attain to Divinity nor by any human ability to be made God; but rather as the Word, by miraculous sufferance, wherein He was incarnated and manifest not being transformed, not being made something other, not deprived of that Divine Nature which He possessed previously. In Judea the new King is born; but this new and wondrous nativity which pagan Gentiles have come to believe, the Jew have eschewed. The Pharisees comprehended incorrectly the Law and the prophets. That which therein was contradictory for them, they explained away mistakenly. Herod too strove to learn of this new birth, full of mystery, yet Herod did this not to reverence the new-born King, but to kill Him.

That One, Who did forsake the Angels, Archangels, Thrones, Dominions, and all the constant and luminous spirits—He alone having come a new path, does issue forth from an inviolate of seed virginal womb. The Creator of all comes to enlighten the world, indeed not leaving His angels orphaned, and He appears also as Man, come forth from God.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Stages of Spiritual Perfection

Christ said: “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). This means that the Christian, by the grace of God, should continually ascend the steps of spiritual perfection.

By the stages of perfection we certainly do not mean certain fixed points, certain stages in time and place. It is a matter of how the grace of God works in people. God’s uncreated grace is active in the whole of creation and in man. When the grace of God cleanses someone, it is called ‘purifying’ grace, when it illumines it is called ‘illuminating’, and when it glorifies him it is called ‘glorifying’.

We see this in Holy Scripture when it speaks of man’s purification: “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). There is a characteristic passage which shows the stages of spiritual perfection in St Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians: “But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). The phrase “you were washed” refers to purification, “you were sanctified” refers to illumination, and “you were justified” refers to glorification.

Christ is the Light and all who are united with Him receive Light and are radiant. Christ said to His Disciples: “You are the light of the world.” (Matt. 5:14) and “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

The Holy Fathers move in this context. St Dionysios the Areopagite speaks about purification, illumination and perfection. St Maximos the Confessor talks continuously about practical philosophy, natural theoria and mystical theology. St Symeon the New Theologian writes Practical and Theological Chapters. St Gregory Palamas refers to natural, theological, moral and practical chapters, and so on.