Friday, August 23, 2019

Love Above All


Love for Christ knows no bounds, neither does love for your neighbour. It should extend everywhere, to the ends of the earth. Everywhere, to everyone.

Let me give you an example. There was a monk who had two disciples. He tried very hard to bring them up to scratch and make them better. But he was worried about whether they were really making any progress in the spiritual life, if they were making headway, and if they were ready for the kingdom of God. He waited for a sign from God about this, but didn’t get an answer. One day, there was going to be a vigil in another skete that was a good few hours away from theirs. They’d have to make their way through the desert. He sent his disciples off early, so that they’d get there early and get the church ready, while the Elder himself was to leave later in the afternoon. The disciples were well on their way when suddenly they heard groaning. There was a man there, badly hurt and asking for help;

– Take me with you, please. Ι’m stuck out here in the desert. Nobody ever comes by. I’ll never get any help. There’s two of you. Pick me up and carry me to the nearest village.
– We can’t. We’re in a hurry to get to the vigil. We’ve been told to get it ready.
– Please! Take me with you. If you don’t, I’ll die and get eaten by wild animals.
– We can’t. Sorry, but we have to do what we’ve been told.
And they left. In the afternoon, the Elder left for the vigil. He went along the same path. He got to the place where the injured man was lying. He saw him, went up to him and said:
– What’s the matter, man of God? What is it? How long have you been here? Didn’t anybody see you?
– This morning a couple of monks came by and I asked them to help me, but they were in a hurry to get to a vigil.
– I’ll take you. Don’t worry.
– You can’t. You’re an old man. You can’t lift me. No way!
– No, I’ll take you. I can’t leave you.
– But you can’t lift me’
– I’ll bend over and lift you on top of me. It’ll take time, but I’ll get to the nearest village. A little bit today, a little bit tomorrow, but I’ll get you there.
So he lifted him, difficult though it was, and started to trudge through the sand. He was sweating freely and thought: ‘Even if it takes three days, I’ll get there’. As he was tramping along, he began to feel that the burden was becoming lighter, and then, at one point, he seemed not to be carrying anything at all. He turned his head to see what was going on and, to his amazement, saw he was carrying an angel. The angel said to him:
– God sent me to tell you that your two disciples don’t deserve to enter the kingdom of God, because they don’t have any love.

Source: ΑγίαΖώνη, Periodical of the Church of the Holy Girdle, Patisia, vol. 19, 2010

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

About the Great and Small Supplication (Paraklesis) Services to the Theotokos


There are two forms of the Paraklesis (Supplication) Canon to the Theotokos (Mother of God), The Small Paraklesis which was composed by Theosteriktos the Monk in the 9th century (or some say Theophanes), and The Great Paraklesis. During the majority of the year, only the Small Paraklesis to the Theotokos is chanted. However, during the Dormition Fast (Koimisis Nesteia) (August 1-14), the Typikon prescribes that the Small and Great Paraklesis (Supplication) be chanted on alternate evenings, according to the following regulations:

  • If August 1st falls on a Monday through Friday, the cycle begins with the Small Paraklesis (Supplication), if August 1st falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the cycle begins with the Great Paraklesis (Supplication).
  • On the eves of Sunday (i.e., Saturday nights) and on the eve of the Transfiguration (Metamorphosis) (the night of August 5th the Paraklesis (Supplication) is omitted.
  • On the Sunday nights, the Great Paraklesis is always used unless it is the eve of Transfiguration (Metamorphosis).

In the Russian Orthodox Church, the equivalent of a Paraklesis (Supplication) is because the faithful gather to supplicate the Theotokos to intercede on their behalf to her Son and Our God for our salvation and for the relief of anything that burdens and ails us. They are the prayers of suffering and hurting children addressed to their compassionate Mother, who is their only hope, protectress, and surety in time of need.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

What Has the Feast of Pascha Left in Our Souls?


And so, the Feast of Feasts has passed by us: and the Royal Gates in the Lord’s temples are shut; and the service is no longer as triumphant as it was during Bright Week. What, then, brethren, has this feast left in our souls? Christian holidays, you see, do not pass before us, one after another, just to leave our souls idle, but in order to discharge us from the cares and affairs of life’s concerns; to put it another way: the Lord provides us with holidays in order that we might temporarily put aside thinking about, concerning ourselves with, rejoicing at, grieving over, that which is worldly, earthly, quick to pass; but, instead, that we might meditate upon, concern ourselves with, rejoice at, that which is heavenly and eternal. It was precisely for this reason, as well, that the holiday just past was given us.

The Lord made us worthy of beholding the all-radiant feast of Christ’s Resurrection in order that we might descry in it the first-fruits of the universal resurrection of all mankind in that last day of the world: Christ rose from the dead, being the first-fruits of those who had died (Cor. 15, 20), says the Word of God. It was for us, you see, that the Lord suffered, died, was buried, and arose: and His death, burial and resurrection is, as it were, our own death, burial and resurrection. It is for this reason that we sang during Mattins of Bright Week: yesterday was I interred with Thee, O Christ; conjointly with Thee do I rise today (Pasch. Can. Ode 3, Trop. 2). Yes, we all of us, invariably, shall rise up; and we all look for, i.e., await, the resurrection of the dead. This is as certain as it is certain that there will be a day tomorrow. Has this ever entered your heads; have you given any thought to this during the holiday? Yet it was necessary to think upon this, without fail. All the great holidays of the Church,—and the Feast of Pascha, in particular,—remind us of our redemption, through Jesus Christ, from the age to come.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Elder Porphyrios of Kafsokalivia on Child Development


Education, says Elder Porphyrios, lasts throughout life (lifelong education) and starts from fetal life, and constantly evolving. The most important educations and upbringing is the one held by the family.

According to Elder Porphyrios, the family is the first physical means of upbringing and educating people. In the first five years of human life the family with all functions – visible and hidden, conscious and unconscious – helps on shaping the personality. The child and the adolescent observe the family roles played by parents. Children often identify themselves with the roles of parents. Sometimes, however, the children reject their parents and adopt a reactive behavior. This is obvious especially in dysfunctional families.

Elder Porphyrios teaches that the core of the personality of young people is organized in the framework of the dynamic relationships in the family. Elder Porhpyrios in all the cases that came to him for confession, he studied their background of their intra-familial and marital relationships. What makes good children, says Elder Porphyrios, is the virtuous lives of parents at home. Parents should love God. Parents, according to Elder Porphyrios, should become ‘saints’, ‘holy’ near their children and have gentleness, patience and love. They should be always available for their children, with enthusiasm and love for them. Then, with the grace of God, and their ‘holiness’ they will transfer their good and virtuous feelings to their children.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Concerning the Resurrection by St. John of Damascus


We believe also in the resurrection of the dead. For there will be in truth, there will be, a resurrection of the dead, and by resurrection we mean resurrection of bodies. For resurrection is the second state of that which has fallen. For the souls are immortal, and hence how can they rise again? For if they define death as the separation of soul and body, resurrection surely is the re-union of soul and body, and the second state of the living creature that has suffered dissolution and downfall. It is, then, this very body, which is corruptible and liable to dissolution, that will rise again incorruptible. For He, who made it in the beginning of the sand of the earth, does not lack the power to raise it up again after it has been dissolved again and returned to the earth from which it was taken, in accordance with the reversal of the Creator’s judgment.

For if there is no resurrection, let us eat and drink: let us pursue a life of pleasure and enjoyment. If there is no resurrection, wherein do we  differ from the irrational brutes? If there is no resurrection, let us hold the wild beasts of the field happy who have a life free from sorrow. If there is no resurrection, neither is there any God nor Providence, but all things are driven and borne along of themselves. For observe how we see most righteous men suffering hunger and injustice and receiving no help in the present life, while sinners and unrighteous men abound in riches and every delight. And who in his senses would take this for the work of a righteous judgment or a wise providence? There must be, therefore, there must be, a resurrection. For God is just and is the rewarder of those who submit patiently to Him. Wherefore if it is the soul alone that engages in the contests of virtue, it is also the soul alone that will receive the crown. And if it were the soul alone that revels in pleasures, it would also be the soul alone that would be justly punished. But since the soul does not pursue either virtue or vice separate from the body, both together will obtain that which is their just due.

Nay, the divine Scripture bears witness that there will be a resurrection of the body. God in truth says to Moses after the flood, Even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, for his blood his own shall be shed, for in the image of God made I man. How will He require the blood of man at the hand of every beast, unless because the bodies of dead men will rise again? For not for man will the beasts die.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Holy Week: Services of the Bridegroom


Introduction
Beginning on the evening of Palm Sunday and continuing through the evening of Holy Tuesday, the Orthodox Church observes a special service known as the Service of the Bridegroom. Each evening service is the Matins or Orthros service of the following day (e.g. the service held on Sunday evening is the Orthros service for Holy Monday). The name of the service is from the figure of the Bridegroom in the parable of the Ten Virgins found in Matthew 25:1-13.

Background
The first part of Holy Week presents us with an array of themes based chiefly on the last days of Jesus' earthly life. The story of the Passion, as told and recorded by the Evangelists, is preceded by a series of incidents located in Jerusalem and a collection of parables, sayings and discourses centered on Jesus' divine sonship, the kingdom of God, the Parousia, and Jesus' castigation of the hypocrisy and dark motives of the religious leaders. The observances of the first three days of Great Week are rooted in these incidents and sayings. The three days constitute a single liturgical unit. They have the same cycle and system of daily prayer. The Scripture lessons, hymns, commemorations, and ceremonials that make up the festal elements in the respective services of the cycle highlight significant aspects of salvation history, by calling to mind the events that anticipated the Passion and by proclaiming the inevitability and significance of the Parousia.

The Orthros of each of these days is called the Service of the Bridegroom (Akolouthia tou Nimfiou). The name comes from the central figure in the well-known parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). The title Bridegroom suggests the intimacy of love. It is not without significance that the kingdom of God is compared to a bridal feast and a bridal chamber. The Christ of the Passion is the divine Bridegroom of the Church. The imagery connotes the final union of the Lover and the beloved. The title Bridegroom also suggests the Parousia. In the patristic tradition, the aforementioned parable is related to the Second Coming; and is associated with the need for spiritual vigilance and preparedness, by which we are enabled to keep the divine commandments and receive the blessings of the age to come. The troparion "Behold the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night…", which is sung at the beginning of the Orthros of Great Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, relates the worshiping community to that essential expectation: watching and waiting for the Lord, who will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Holy Monday
On Holy Monday we commemorate Joseph the Patriarch, the beloved son of Jacob. A major figure of the Old Testament, Joseph's story is told in the final section of the Book of Genesis (chs. 37-50). Because of his exceptional qualities and remarkable life, our patristic and liturgical tradition portrays Joseph as tipos Christou, i.e., as a prototype, prefigurement or image of Christ. The story of Joseph illustrates the mystery of God's providence, promise and redemption. Innocent, chaste and righteous, his life bears witness to the power of God's love and promise. The lesson to be learned from Joseph's life, as it bears upon the ultimate redemption wrought by the death and resurrection of Christ, is summed up in the words he addressed to his brothers who had previously betrayed him, “’Fear not ... As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he reassured them and comforted them” (Genesis 50:19-21). The commemoration of the noble, blessed and saintly Joseph reminds us that in the great events of the Old Testament, the Church recognizes the realities of the New Testament.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

On the Annunciation to the Holy Virgin Mary by St. Gregory Thaumaturgus


It is our duty to present to God, like sacrifices, all the festivals and hymnal celebrations; and first of all, the annunciation to the holy mother of God, to wit, the salutation made to her by the angel, Hail, thou that art highly favoured! For first of all wisdom and saving doctrine in the New Testament was this salutation, Hail, thou that art highly favoured! conveyed to us from the Father of lights. And this address, highly favoured, embraced the whole nature of men. Hail, thou that art highly favoured in the holy conception and in the glorious pregnancy, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. And again the Lord, who came for the purpose of accomplishing a saving passion, said, I will see you, and you shall rejoice; and your joy no man takes from you. And after His resurrection again, by the hand of the holy women, He gave us first of all the salutation Hail!  And again, the apostle made the announcement in similar terms, saying, Rejoice evermore: pray without ceasing: in everything give thanks. See, then, dearly beloved, how the Lord has conferred upon us everywhere, and indivisibly, the joy that is beyond conception, and perennial. For since the holy Virgin, in the life of the flesh, was in possession of the incorruptible citizenship, and walked as such in all manner of virtues, and lived a life more excellent than man's common standard; therefore the Word that comes from God the Father thought it meet to assume the flesh, and endue the perfect man from her, in order that in the same flesh in which sin entered into the world, and death by sin, sin might be condemned in the flesh, and that the tempter of sin might be overcome in the burying of the holy body, and that therewith also the beginning of the resurrection might be exhibited, and life eternal instituted in the world, and fellowship established for men with God the Father. And what shall we state, or what shall we pass by here? Or who shall explain what is incomprehensible in the mystery? 

But for the present let us fall back upon our subject. Gabriel was sent to the holy virgin; the incorporeal was dispatched to her who in the body pursued the incorruptible conversation, and lived in purity and in virtues. And when he came to her, he first addressed her with the salutation, Hail, thou that art highly favoured! The Lord is with you. Hail, thou that art highly favoured! For you do what is worthy of joy indeed, since you have put on the vesture of purity, and are girt with the cincture of prudence. Hail, thou that art highly favoured! For to your lot it has fallen to be the vehicle of celestial joy. Hail, thou that art highly favoured! For through you joy is decreed for the whole creation, and the human race receives again by you its pristine dignity. Hail, thou that art highly favoured! For in your arms the Creator of all things shall be carried. And she was perplexed by this word; for she was inexperienced in all the addresses of men, and welcomed quiet, as the mother of prudence and purity; (yet) being a pure, and immaculate, and stainless image herself, she shrank not in terror from the angelic apparition, like most of the prophets, as indeed true virginity has a kind of affinity and equality with the angels.