Friday, May 26, 2017

Struggling Against Carnal Passions


In struggling against bodily passions, my brother, a different method should be used than in struggling against the others. If you want things to proceed in the right order, know that you should do one thing before you are tempted by these passions, another thing during temptation and yet another when it is over.

Before temptation, attention should be concentrated on the causes, which habitually give birth to temptation or which excite passion. The rule here is to use every means to avoid all occasions, which may upset the calm of your body, especially meeting people of the other sex. If you are forced to converse with such a person, let the conversation be short, and preserve not only modesty but a certain sternness of countenance; let your words be friendly, but reserved rather than forthcoming.

‘Never trust thine enemy’ (Ecclesiasticus xii. 10) says the wise Sirach. So never trust your body; for as iron produces rust by itself, so the corrupted nature of the body produces evil stirrings of lust. “For like as iron rusteth, so is his wickedness’ (Ecclesiasticus xii. 10). I repeat again, do not trust yourself in this respect, even if you no longer feel and have not felt for some time this sting of your flesh.

For this thrice-cursed wickedness sometimes achieves in one hour or one moment what it has not done for many years, and always makes its preparations for attack silently. Know that the more the flesh pretends to be your friend and gives no cause for suspicion, the greater the harm it inflicts later, and often strikes to death.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Why Did the Holy Spirit Appear as Fire?


You have heard that the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples in tongues of fire. But why did the Holy Spirit, co-eternal with the Father and the Son, appear as fire? Why as tongues of fire? Why does He sometimes appear as a dove and at other times as a flame? Why did He descend as a dove upon the Only-begotten Son, but as a flame upon the disciples? The Holy Spirit appears as fire because, in the words of the holy Apostle Paul, God is an ethereal, indescribable, and invisible fire: “For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). God is also called fire because He destroys the rust of sins.

But the Lord sends fire down to earth when with the breath of the Holy Spirit He enflames the hearts of mortal men. And the earth lights up when a heart of flesh, that is cold in its iniquitous pleasures, abandons the desires of the modern world and becomes enflamed with love for God. Thus the Spirit very properly appeared as fire, because from every heart in which He chooses to dwell, He dispels the numbness of ice and enflames such a heart with a desire for eternal life. And the reason He appeared in tongues of fire was because the Spirit is co-eternal with the Son, while the Son is the Word of the Father; thus, just as the tongue is in close proximity to the word, so the Holy Spirit appeared in flaming tongues, in order to show the Spirit’s particular closeness to the Word of the Father. Furthermore, the Spirit also appeared in tongues of fire because He causes everyone in whom He dwells to be ardent and cogent. 

Church teachers possess tongues of fire, because in their sermons on the need to love God they kindle the hearts of their listeners. This flame was acquired from the mouth of the Lord Himself by those who said: “Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us… and while He opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32), because from the spoken word the spirit is kindled, its cold rigidity is dispelled, the soul begins to burn with lofty aspirations, and distances itself from earthly desires. Celestial commandments are never heeded with a cold heart, but with a heart burning with the fire of inner love for them.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Our Ascended Lord: The Saving Swallow Who Opened the Way to the Eternal Spring


When swallows run short of food and the cold weather is coming, they set off to warm climes, where there is plenty of sun and food. One swallow flies ahead, testing the air and showing the way, while the rest of the flock follows after. When our souls run short of food in the material world, and when the cold of death draws near—ah, is there a swallow like that one, to take us to a warm place, where there is plenty of spiritual warmth and food? Is there such a place? Is there, oh, is there such a swallow? Outside the Christian Church, there is no one who can give any sort of reliable answer to this. The Church alone knows and knows with certainty. 

It has seen that part of Paradise for which our souls yearn in the frozen twilight of this earthly existence. It has also seen this blessed swallow, the first to fly to that yearned-for place, dispersing the darkness and cutting through the heavy atmosphere between earth and Heaven with its powerful wings, opening the way to the flock behind it. Apart from this, the Church on earth can tell one of the innumerable flocks of swallows that have followed the first Swallow and flown off with it to that blessed land, a land abounding with all good things—the land of eternal Spring.

You will see from this that, by this saving Swallow, I am thinking of the ascended Lord Jesus Christ. 
Has He not said of Himself that He is theWay? Did He not Himself say to His Apostles: “I go to prepare a place for you...and if I go...I will receive you unto Myself”(St. John 14:2–3)? And did He not say to them before this:

“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me” (St. John 12:32)?

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Feast of Mid-Pentecost and the Pentecostarion


The fifty days following Pascha until the Feast of Pentecost are known as the period of the Pentecostarion in the Orthodox Church. At the mid-point between these great feasts of Pascha and Pentecost, on the twenty-fifth day which is always a Wedneday, is one of the most beloved feasts for the most devout Orthodox Christians known quit simply as Mid-Pentecost. Mid-Pentecost is to the Pentecostarion what the Third Sunday of Great Lent which honors the Holy Cross is to the period of Great Lent. It is a day which helps us focus on the central theme of the entire period. Whereas the mid-point of Great Lent reminds us to bear up the Cross of Christ bravely so that we may daily die with Christ in order to experience the Resurrection of our Lord, so also the mid-point of the Pentecostarion enlightens us regarding the theme of the fifty days following Pascha - which is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit poured out as a gift upon all the faithful who partake of the living water which is Christ Himself.

The central theme woven throughout the period of the Pentecostarion therefore is water. This becomes the central theme of the period because it is the central theme of the Gospel of John which we read in its entirety during the Pentecostarion and which naturally flows into the Acts of the Apostles which is also read during this period in its entirety. This theme appears for the first time on Pascha itself in the joyous Canon of the Feast of Feasts written by Saint John the Damascene when he invites us to "drink a new drink," not "brought forth from a barren rock," as in the Old Testament under Moses, but which rather "springeth forth from the grave of Christ." Then during the Paschal Divine Liturgy the priest processes with the Gospel and chants loudly from Psalm 67:27 saying: "In the congregations bless ye God, the Lord from the well-springs of Israel."

When Renewal or Bright Week is over the Church wisely sets up two Sundays in which to abolish all doubts concerning the Resurrection of Christ, that of the Sunday of Saint Thomas and the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women. This is done in order to ensure that we all partake of the living water that only the risen Lord can give. The following three Sundays, as we approach Pentecost, the theme of water becomes more and more central in the hymns of the Church. Thus we are found one Sunday at the Sheep's Pool with the Paralytic, then at the Well of Jacob with the Samaritan Woman, and finally at the Pool of Siloam with the Blind Man. During this festive period we hear concerning the "living water" which if one partakes of "he will never thirst".

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Homily of Holy Thursday by St. John Chrysostom


Homily of our Father Among the Saints, John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, for Holy Thursday 

O my beloved and greatly-desired brethren who have gathered in the Holy Church of God, in order to serve the Living God in holiness and righteousness, and, with fear [and love], to partake of the holy, most-pure, and immortal, awesome Mysteries of Christ: Hearken unto me who am lowly and unworthy. For it is not I who am speaking to you and instructing you; rather the grace of the Most-holy and Life-giving Spirit; for I speak not from myself, but as I have been instructed by the divine canons, and the God-bearing Fathers, as the Church received instruction from the divine Apostles who received their wisdom from God, so do I myself speak, who am lowly and least of all.

I know not your works; I consider not that which you have begun; and so, as one who fears God, I give counsel to everyone among you, whether man or woman, whether great or small, to anyone of you that may be guilty of sin, convicted by your own counsels, that first you must repent and confess your sins, that you may dare, considering yourself unworthy, to approach and touch the Divine Fire Itself.

For our God is a devouring Fire, and they, therefore, who with faith and fear [and love] draw near to the God and King and Judge of us all, shall burn and scorch their sins; and It shall enlighten and sanctify their souls. But It shall burn and scorch with shame, the souls and bodies of them that draw near with unbelief [or without repentance].

Therefore, [as St. Paul writes], many among you are ill and sleep in sickness, that is, many are dying unconfessed and unrepentant. And furthermore, my brethren, I beseech you, and I say: no one that swears oaths, nor a perjurer, nor a liar, nor one that finds fault with others, nor a fornicator, nor an adulterer, nor one that practices homosexuality, nor a thief, nor a drunkard, nor a blasphemer, nor one that envies his brother, nor a murderer, nor a sorcerer, nor a magician, nor a charmer, nor an enchanter, nor a robber, nor a [heretic], shall, unconfessed and unprepared, approach, touch, or draw near the dread Mysteries of Christ, for it is terrible to fall into the hands of the Living God.

For the Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the joints and marrow and bones, and thoughts and hearts. See, therefore, my brethren, that no one approach, unrepentant or unprepared or unworthily, to partake of His dread and most-pure Mysteries. For He Himself saith: I am He, and there is no god besides me; I kill, and I make alive; neither is there any that can deliver out of My hand; for I, Myself, am King forever: to Whom is due all glory, honor, and worship: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages, Amen.

Click here to read the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom.

Taken from "˜The Great Book of Needs," Volume II, St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, 1998, pp. 332-333

Friday, April 21, 2017

An Awesome Recent Vision of the Theotokos Concerning Greece



Note: The following is a summary of an astonishing recent vision regarding the help of the Theotokos. In some ways, it resembles prior visions, such as those of Panagia Paramythia from Vatopedi, and the Holy Protection to St. Andrew the Fool-for-Christ.

Several points though may benefit from clarification:

1) Christ has utter love and mercy, and He shed His Blood for the whole world. When scriptures discuss punishment or "wrath" of God, this is an idiom of our perception. Christ allows trials and tribulations as a last ditch effort to bring us to contrition and repentance, only when nothing else will work.

2) This does not mean to imply that the Theotokos would ever disobey or dishonor Christ. It just underlines how much she loves and cares for us, as she did at the Wedding at Cana.

3) As long as we repent and return to the Church during our lives, there is no sin that overcomes the love and mercy of Christ.

4) Though this might seem primarily for the people of Greece, the admonition is just as applicable for the whole world. We all have great sins to repent of, and if we do not repent speedily, it may soon become too late to do so.

Monday, April 10, 2017

A Brief Summation of Holy Week and Pascha


Palm Sunday
Six days before the Passover, Jesus entered Jerusalem. People were awaiting a Messiah (which literally means, “the Anointed One”) to free them from the Romans and all their oppressors. While someone with power usually enters triumphantly into a city he has captured, Jesus entered Jerusalem humbly, riding a donkey. This fulfilled an Old Testament prophecy which said, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)

People waved palm branches on that day, to symbolize that their Messiah had come. For this reason, we also bless palm branches at our Churches on this day. The Bishop or priest distributes them to all the faithful after the Divine Liturgy, to remember this very important feast day in the Church.

Matins of Holy Monday (Palm Sunday Evening)
On Palm Sunday night, we begin the services of the Bridegroom. We remember that the Church is the Bride of Christ. On all Bridegroom services, the faithful venerate the icon of the Bridegroom Christ. On Palm Sunday night and Holy Monday morning, we commemorate the memory of the righteous Joseph, who we find in the Old Testament (the entire story is found in Genesis 37-50). The story of Joseph shows us that if we believe in God, He will save us and that we should forgive people that might not like us; Joseph did it, so did Jesus and countless others.

We also remember our Lord’s words in the Gospel, specifically the “cursing of the fig tree”. This story tells us that the fig tree had leaves on it but no fruit...it was alive, looked good and proper, but bore no fruit. Are we like this, only leaves but no fruit? We must always ask ourselves this question to progress in our spiritual lives.