Sunday, November 29, 2020

Why Go to Church Every Sunday by Fr. Daniel Sysoyev

I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord (Psalm 121:1).

People often ask priests: “Why should we go to church every Sunday?” and then they begin to justify themselves.

“We need our sleep, then, we need to spend time with the family, do things around the house, etc. And you want us to get up and go to church. What for?”

Of course, in order to justify one’s laziness one can come up with various objections. But first we have to understand the meaning behind the weekly trips to church and only then to measure it against our self-justification. It is so obvious that the requirement of frequent church attendance is not man-made, but it was one of the Ten Commandments: 

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it (Exodus 20:8-11). In the Old Testament, violation of the fourth commandment was punishable by death, as was murder. In the New Testament, Sunday became the greater holy day because Christ, having risen from the dead, sanctified that day.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

How to Partake of Food by St. Gregory of Sinai

-- What shall I say about the belly, the queen of the passions? If you can deaden or half-deaden it, do not relent. It has mastered me, beloved, and I worship it as a slave and vassal, this abettor of the demons and dwelling-place of the passions. Through it we fall and through it -- when it is well-disciplined -- we rise again. Through it we have lost both our original divine status and also our second divine status, that which was bestowed on us when after our initial corruption we are renewed in Christ through baptism, and from which we have lapsed once more, separating ourselves from God through out neglect of the commandments, even though in our ignorance we exalt ourselves. We think that we are with God, but it is only by keeping the commandments that we advance, guarding and increasing the grace bestowed upon us.

-- As the fathers have pointed out, bodies vary greatly in their need for food. One person needs little, another much to sustain his physical strength, each according to his capacity and habit. A hesychast, however, should always eat too little, never too much. For when the stomach is heavy the intellect is clouded, and you cannot pray resolutely and with purity. On the contrary, made drowsy by the effects of too much food you are soon induced to sleep; and as you sleep the food produces countless fantasies in your mind. Thus in my opinion if you want to attain salvation and strive for the Lord's sake to lead a life of stillness, you should be satisfied with a pound of bread and three or four cups of water or wine daily, taking at appropriate times a little from whatever victuals happen to be at hand, but never eating to satiety. In this way you will avoid growing conceited, and by thanking God for everything you will show no disdain for the excellent things He has made. This is the counsel of those who are wise in such matters. For those weak in faith and soul, abstinence from specific types of food is most beneficial; St. Paul exhorts them to eat herbs (Romans 14:2), for they do not believe that God will preserve them.

-- What shall I say? You are old, yet have asked for a rule, and an extremely severe one at that. Younger people cannot keep to a strict rule by weight and measure, so how will you keep to it? Because you are ill, you should be entirely free in partaking of food. If you eat too much, repent and try again. Always act like this -- lapsing and recovering again, and always blaming yourself and no one else -- and you will be at peace, wisely converting such lapses into victories, as Scripture says. But do not exceed the limit I set down above, and this will be enough, for no other food strengthens the body as much as bread and water. That is why the prophet disregarded everything else and simply said, "Son of man, by weight you will eat your bread and by measure you will drink water" (Ezekiel 4:16).

-- There are three degrees of eating: self-control, sufficiency and satiety. Self-control is to be hungry after having eaten. Sufficiency is to be neither hungry nor weighed down. Satiety is to be slightly weighed down. To eat again after reaching the point of satiety is to open the door of gluttony, through which unchastity comes in. Attentive to these distinctions, choose what is best for you according to your powers, not overstepping the limits. For according to St. Paul only the perfect can be both hungry and full, and at the same time be strong in all things (Philippians 4:12).

From The Philokalia: Volume IV, edited and translated by G. E. H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Bishop Kallistos Ware, (London: Faber and Faber, 1995), pp. 280 - 281.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Saint Ephraim the Syrian on Love

Rightly did the Lord say, ‘My burden is light’. For what sort of weight is it, what sort of toil is it to forgive one’s brother his offences, which are light and of no importance, and to be pardoned for one’s own, and immediately justified? He did not say, ‘Bring me money, or calves, or goats, or fasting, or vigils’, so that you could say, ‘I have none, I cannot’, but he ordered you to bring what is light and easy and immediate, saying, ‘Pardon your brother his offences, and I will pardon yours. You pardon small faults, a few halfpennies, or three pennies, while I give you the ten thousand talents. You only pardon without giving anything, I nevertheless both grant you pardon and give you healing and the Kingdom. And I accept your gift, when you are reconciled to the one who is your enemy, when you have enmity against no one, when the sun does not go down on your anger. When you have peace and love for all, then your prayer is acceptable, and your offering well-pleasing, and your house blessed and you blessed. But if you are not reconciled with your brother, how can you seek pardon from me? You trample on my words, and do you demand pardon? I, your Master, demand, and you pay no attention, and do you, a slave, dare to offer me prayer, or sacrifice, or first fruits, while you have enmity against someone? Just as you turn your face from your brother, so I too turn my eyes from your gift and your prayer.’

Again I entreat you, brethren, since God is love, he is not well-pleased by things that take place without love. How would God accept prayer, or gifts, or first fruits, or offering from a murderer, unless they first repented in accordance with God’s word? But you will no doubt say to me, ‘I am not a murderer.’ And I will prove to you that you are, or rather John the Theologian will convict you, when he says, ‘Every one who hates their brother is a homicide.’

Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Holy Theotokos – Image of an Ideal Woman


One of the most terrible manifestations of our times is the complete distortion of the image of an ideal woman. The ideal image depicted for us by the mass media shows a sort of attractive witch, unashamedly half-naked, with loose and disheveled hair, impudent glance, business-like, energetic, fearless, unfettered by moral laws or conscience. In consequence, unfortunate young girls and women – mothers, wives, daughters, – striving to imitate this devilish image, corrupt their souls, ruin their families, hopelessly destroy their own and others’ lives.

Yet at the same time we – Orthodox Christians – always have before our eyes the image of the One Who was more beautiful and wondrous than all the people on earth and even all the celestial denizens, the cherubim and the seraphim, the One Whom the Pre-eternal Council chose to become the Mother of God. As St. Dimitry of Rostov says: “After Adam’s transgression the Word of God did not forthwith come down to earth to be incarnated and save fallen mankind,” because “there was not yet a single maiden on earth who was pure not only in body, but also in spirit.” Thus the Theotokos’s major characteristic is Her virginal purity.

Another characteristic of this greatest Handmaiden of God is Her humility. Of all the personages in the Gospel, there is no one about whom we know so little as the Holy Virgin; Her entire life is shrouded in mystery, and yet She was undoubtedly the spiritual center of the first Christian Church after Her Divine Son’s Ascension; however, under the cover of modesty, She preferred to remain in the shadows.

The third characteristic of the Holy Virgin, according to St. Dimitry of Rostov, was Her all-encompassing and boundless love for God, which is mentioned in the following spiritual song: “O Mother-Virgin, miracle of chastity! Thou art daughter of the heavenly Father, the bride of the Holy Spirit, the Mother of Christ – the Son of God.”

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Lack of Faith and God’s Providence


None of our own attempts and efforts can save us without the help of God, but neither can God’s help be beneficial to us without our own wish for it. No other subject was brought up by the Lord to His disciples so frequently as lack of faith. He warned everyone against lack of faith not only by His words, but also by the multitude of events which amazingly proved the power of faith and the powerlessness of mistrust or doubt in God’s protection and salvation from danger. Lack of faith comes in different forms: some people have little faith in God because He does not punish His enemies; others doubt they would be able to entreat God to grant them their desires, especially when their conscience bothers them with the thought that God will not forgive them their sins; still others fear that God will deprive them of all earthly goods and subsistence. This triple manifestation of lack of faith estranges many people from God and immerses them in various forms of perdition.

The source of our lack of faith is our excessive conceit, i.e. when we think more of ourselves than of God, rely more on our own powers than on God’s help. What is the reason for God allowing the destruction of such a great number of people, who are injured or killed through sorcery? It is not surprising: lack of faith has become so widespread among the people that it merits punishment. Many do not look for other doctors except sorcerers (extrasensorists), nor other pharmaceuticals except deviltry. God justly punishes us by the same means that we use to sin against Him. As our faith and hope in God increase, so increase His mercy and benevolence to us. But woe unto us, that there are so few of us who believe in God with all their heart! If we analyze human customs and habits, we will see that in all places and at all times lack of faith becomes prominent and widespread, which gives rise to empty and false fears. People often fear a shortage of food supplies; sometimes they fear that they will lack necessary items during an illness; at times they fall into despair over ever-growing rumors of war. All of this occurs because they have an erroneous and doubtful understanding of God’s benevolence and His omnipotent strength: this is also the cause of our mind’s poor and sad concern over temporal things, as opposed to a concern for achieving a blessed eternal life.

God’s Providence manifests itself with the greatest wisdom: not every transgression is normally punished straightaway; however, neither is it left totally unpunished. If God never punished vileness, many people would think that there is no Providence. On the other hand, if every transgression were immediately followed by punishment, it would then be thought that there is no reward or punishment after death. Therefore God, by punishing only some people, reveals His Providence; by not punishing others directly after their transgressions, He threatens them with punishment directly after death, in the next life, if they do not repent in this life. Everything is done by God with great wisdom and forethought.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Acquire the Love of Paul and You’ll Have a Perfect Crown


(Saint John Chrysostom: In Praise of the Holy Apostle Paul, III)

Demonstrating the power of human will and the fact that we can fly even to the heavens themselves, leaving the angels and archangels and the other powers, Saint Paul urges believers to become imitators of Christ, sometimes through him (“Become imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”) and sometimes without him (“Therefore become imitators of God, like beloved children.”).

Then, in order to show that nothing befits this imitation so much as living for the common good and looking out for what is useful for each other he adds: “Behave with love”. This is why, when he said “Become imitators of me”, he immediately speaks of love, demonstrating that it is principally this virtue that brings people closer to God, because all the other virtues are certainly inferior to it and all revolve around the human person: the struggle against desire, the war against gluttony, the fight against avarice, the battle against anger. This is why Christ says: “Pray for those who bother you, so that you may be like your Father Who is in heaven”.

So because Paul knew that this was the most important of the virtues, he applied it with great care. Nobody loved their enemies as he did; nobody did so much good to those who envied them; nobody suffered so much for those who had grieved them. He didn’t look at what they were suffering, he saw them as human beings and the more furious they became, the more he forgave their rage. And in the same way as parents treat a child in a tantrum (because the more a child speaks badly and lashes out, the more the parents feel sorry for it), so Paul, thinking about the illness of those who were acting in this way towards him, was stimulated towards ever greater care.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Selected Miracles of St Haralambos the Blessed Hieromartyr


A modern miracle took place in the small Peloponnesian town of Filiatra in 1943, during the dark days of the occupation of Greece by the Germans. This miracle has moved and continues to move, to this today, not only the people of Filiatra but also the people of all Greece.

From the German Headquarters in Tripoli, orders were issued to Officer Kondau, in charge in Filiatra, to burn the town, because of a sabotage that the rebels had instigated. The Commander was ordered to kill a certain number of notable Filiatrians, to take as prisoners the 1,500 other citizens, and to send them to Germany, after which it is was obvious they would never return.

Officer Kondau, feeling no pity, in turn, gave the orders to his soldiers to follow through with implementing the destruction, on the following day at 6:00 in the morning.

In Tripoli, the priest, Archimandrite Theodore Kotsakis, who was originally from Filiatra, learned of this plan. Grief and worry overcame everyone; no one knew what to do to save Filiatra and its people. So, the priest Theodore found someone who knew German, and together they went to the house of the German Officer in Tripoli. But while they waited outside his office, loud voices, cursing and a great upheaval were heard. A Greek woman pulled on the priest’s cassock, urging him to leave, so that they might not be killed there, right on the spot!

Thereby, upon leaving, the Priest notified all the people from Filiatra who were living in Tripoli, to pray that night to Saint Haralambos, who was Patron Saint of Filiatra, asking him to intercede for the town and its people. Then the Priest Theodore closed himself in his room and prayed with much pain and sorrow. And the citizens of Filiatra did the same, as they had caught wind of something going on, themselves.