Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Deliverer by Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk

The very incarnation of the Son of God and His coming into the world strongly encourages sinners to repentance. For whose sake did Christ come into the world? For the sake of sinners. To what end? For the sake of their salvation. O how dear to God was our salvation! He Himself came into the world, O sinners, for the sake of our salvation. 

Listen, sinners, and understand! God Himself came into the world for the sake of our salvation, and He came in our image. O truly great is the mystery of piety! God appeared in the flesh. "Lord, what is man, that Thou art made known unto him? Or the son of man, that Thou takest account of him?" (LXX-Ps. 143:3 [KJV-Ps. 144:3]).

Truly wonderful is the grace of God toward man, wonderful also is this work of His. Foreseeing this the prophet cried out to Him with fear and terror, "Lord, I have heard Thy report, and I was afraid; O Lord, I considered Thy works, and I was amazed" (Abbac. 3:1-2). Sinners, let us call to mind this great work of God, which He wrought for our sake, and let us repent. Let us remember how for our sake He was born of a Virgin and became a child, and was nourished on His mother's milk. The Invisible became manifest, and He that was without beginning had a beginning, and He that was intangible became tangible and was wrapped as an infant in swaddling bands: "And the Word was made flesh" (Jn. 1:14).

Let us recall how while yet a child He fled from the murderers of Herod the King. Let us recall how He lived on earth and was a stranger, how He went from place to place, and labored for the sake of our salvation. Let us recall how He Who is unapproachable to the Cherubim and Seraphim kept company with sinners; How He who has Heaven as His throne and the earth as the footstool of His feet and Who abides in light unapproachable, had nowhere to lay His head; How He who was rich became poor, that by His poverty we may become rich.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Purification of the Heart by Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi

Our entire life is preoccupied with the spiritual law. This is the reason why we have withdrawn from the world and have forsaken family life, which itself is not something sinful. We have abandoned these in order to express our love towards the Lord in a unique way, obeying the first commandment precisely. Having been called by the Lord, we have followed Him in order to obey this commandment. We withdrew from society and denied our family to follow the proper, or rather the undisturbed way, preoccupying ourselves with inwardness and paying attention to the meanings of things. 

In this way, we hope to be able not only to win over practical sin but also to eliminate it as soon as it appears. That is, not only not to commit a sin in practice but also to deny any mental association with it. In this way we are able to attaint to our Lord’s beatitude: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God’ (Matthew 5, ). Our Jesus has also told us that ‘what comes from outside into the heart does not defile man’. What defiles him is what comes out from the inside of his heart ‘For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies’ (Matthew 15, 19). These are the things which overflow from the heart and constitute the widespread wickedness.

Thus the freedom of man’s personality has been disgraced; the former gentile, created ‘in the image and likeness of God’ became wicked and corrupted. Since we are also part of this sick condition, we withdrew from the world for this reason. When we are talking about ‘the world’ we do not mean ‘people. ‘The world’ is the entire system of the former self, which according to Paul is ‘passions and desires’. According to John the Evangelist ‘the world’ is ‘the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes’, foolishness and generally speaking ‘vain glory’.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Saint Gregory Palamas: The Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple

If a tree is known by its fruit, and a good tree bears good fruit (Mt. 7:17; Lk. 6:44), then is not the Mother of Goodness Itself, She who bore the Eternal Beauty, incomparably more excellent than every good, whether in this world or the world above? Therefore, the coeternal and identical Image of goodness, Preeternal, transcending all being, He Who is the preexisting and good Word of the Father, moved by His unutterable love for mankind and compassion for us, put on our image, that He might reclaim for Himself our nature which had been dragged down to uttermost Hades, so as to renew this corrupted nature and raise it to the heights of Heaven. For this purpose, He had to assume a flesh that was both new and ours, that He might refashion us from out of ourselves. Now He finds a Handmaiden perfectly suited to these needs, the supplier of Her own unsullied nature, the Ever-Virgin now hymned by us, and Whose miraculous Entrance into the Temple, into the Holy of Holies, we now celebrate. God predestined Her before the ages for the salvation and reclaiming of our kind. She was chosen, not just from the crowd, but from the ranks of the chosen of all ages, renowned for piety and understanding, and for their God-pleasing words and deeds.

In the beginning, there was one who rose up against us: the author of evil, the serpent, who dragged us into the abyss. Many reasons impelled him to rise up against us, and there are many ways by which he enslaved our nature: envy, rivalry, hatred, injustice, treachery, slyness, etc. In addition to all this,he also has within him the power of bringing death, which he himself engendered, being the first to fall away from true life.

The author of evil was jealous of Adam, when he saw him being led from earth to Heaven, from which he was justly cast down. Filled with envy, he pounced upon Adam with a terrible ferocity, and even wished to clothe him with the garb of death.Envy is not only the begetter of hatred, but also of murder, which this truly man-hating serpent brought about in us. For he wanted to be master over the earth-born for the ruin of that which was created in the image and likeness of God. Since he was not bold enough to make a face to face attack, he resorted to cunning and deceit. This truly terrible and malicious plotter pretended to be a friend and useful adviser by assuming the physical form of a serpent, and stealthily took their position. By his God-opposing advice,he instills in man his own death-bearing power, like a venomous poison.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Homily: On Perfect Love

We read in Saint Paul’s writings that “there now abideth faith, hope, love, these three things; but the greatest of these is love [1 Cor. 13:13].” Saint Chrysostom asks, “How then is love the greater? In that those pass on.” Saint Paul had perfect love for God in accordance with what he wrote. Love is the greatest gift in the Church and at the same time the most important of the Gospel commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” This is the first commandment. And the second is like this: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is no other commandment greater than these [Mk. 12:30, 31].”

The first human failure, transgression of the commandment, was the making the choice not to love and obey God. Since all the commandments are summed up in these words: “If ye love Me, keep My commandments [Jn. 14:15].” And, “These things I command you, that ye be loving one another [Jn. 15:17].” Saint Chrysostom remarks, “We need everywhere both works and practises, not a mere show of words…God requires that love which is shown by works. For this cause He was saying to His disciples, ‘If ye love Me, ye will keep My commandments.’ For after He said to them, ‘If ye should ask anything in My name, I will do it,’ that they might not think it was so simply on the strength of asking, He added, ‘If ye love Me,’ ‘then,’ He says, ‘I will do it.’”

Therefore, love for God and neighbor are interdependent and mutually beneficial. Saint Maximos writes: “Love for every man must be preferred above all visible things. This is the sign of our love for God, as the Lord himself shows in the Gospels…Do you see that this love for one another makes firm the love for God, which is the fulfilling of every commandment of God?”

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Saint Nektarios: The Wonderworker of Pentapolis

Our Holy Father Nektarios was born on 1 October 1846 at Selymbria in Thrace. His parents, Dimos and Maria Kephalas, were pious Christians but not rich in this world’s goods. Their son was baptized Anastasios and, from infancy, showed great piety and love for study. When his mother taught him Psalm 50, he liked to repeat the verse: I shall teach thy ways unto the wicked and sinners shall be converted unto thee. After finishing elementary school, he was sent by his parents to Constantinople to continue his education, at the same time as working in a shop. The boy did not become entangled in worldly cares but fixed his mind entirely upon building up the inner man in the image of Christ by prayer and meditation on the writings of the holy Fathers. When he was twenty, he left Constantinople for a teaching post on the island of Chios. The young people and villagers where he taught were encouraged to live in piety and virtue by his words and above all by the example of his ascetic, prayerful life. 

On November 7, 1876, he became a monk in the famous Monastery of Nea Moni, for he had long desired to embrace the Aesthetic life. Seeking only those things which are above, he was beloved by all the brethren as the very pattern of gentleness and obedience and was ordained deacon after one year. Thanks to the generosity of a pious islander and to the protection of Patriarch Sophronius of Alexandria, he was able to complete his studies in Athens and to obtain the diploma of the Faculty of Theology. In 1885, he arrived in Alexandria where he was soon ordained a priest, then consecrated Metropolitan of Pentapolis (an ancient diocese in Cyrenaica, in what is now Libya). He was appointed preacher and secretary to the Patriarch, whose representative he became in Cairo, where he had charge of the Church of Saint Nicholas.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Elder Paisios: Demons and the Power of the Cross

Elder Paisios was once asked the following regarding demons (called "tagalakia" by some Greeks) and the power of the Cross:

Elder, my thoughts tell me that the devil, especially nowadays, has a lot of power.

- The devil has evil and hatred, not power. The love of God is all-powerful. Satan tries to appear all-powerful, but he does not succeed. He seems strong, but he is completely weak. Many of his destructive plans are spoiled before they even begin to be manifested. Would a very good father allow some punks to hit his children?

Elder, I'm afraid of tagalakia (demons).

- What is there to fear? Tagalakia have no power. Christ is all-powerful. Temptation is rotten to the core. Don't you wear a Cross? The devil's weapons are weak. Christ has armed us with His Cross. Only when we discard our spiritual weapons, then the enemy has power. An Orthodox priest showed a small Cross to a magician, which made the demon he invoked through his magic tremble.

Why is he so afraid of the Cross?

- Because when Christ accepted the beatings, the slaps and the blows, the kingdom and power of the devil was crushed. By which way did Christ conquer? "With the rod, the rule of the devil was crushed," says a Saint. That is, with the last blow of the rod to His head, then the power of the devil was crushed. Patience is the spiritual defence and humility is the greatest weapon against the devil. The greatest balm of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross is that the devil was crushed. After the Crucifixion of Christ he is like a snake with its poison removed or a dog with its teeth removed. The poison of the devil has been removed, the teeth of the dogs, the demons, have been removed, and now that they are disarmed we are armed with the Cross. The demons can do nothing, nothing, to those who have been formed by God when we do not give them the right. They only cause a commotion because they have no power.

One time I was in the Cell of the Honorable Cross, and I had a very beautiful vigil. During the night many demons had collected on the ceiling. At first they were beating heavy and making noise, as if they were dragging large tree trunks.  I made the sign of the Cross towards the ceiling and chanted: "We venerate Your Cross Master...." When I finished, the dragging of the logs continued. "Now," I said, "we will form two choirs. In one you will do the dragging above and I will do the other below." When I began, they stopped. First I chanted "We venerate Your Cross...", then "Lord, Your Cross you gave to us as a weapon against the devil...." I had the most pleasant night chanting and, when I stopped for a bit, they continued the entertainment! Every time they present a different work.

When you chanted the first time, they didn't leave?

- No. Once I was done, they began. Yes, both choirs had to complete the vigil! It was a beautiful vigil! I chanted with longing! I had good days!

Elder, what does the devil look like?

- You know how "beautiful" he is? Something else! If only you could see him! And how the love of God does not allow people to see the devil! O, the majority would die from their fear! Imagine if they saw him act, if they saw the "sweetness" of his form! Again, some would be greatly entertained. You know what kind of entertainment? How do they call it? Cinema? For anyone to see such work, they would have to pay a lot of money, but even then they would not be able to see him.

Does he have a horn, a tail?

- Yes, all the accessories.

Elder, did the demons become so ugly when they fell and the angels became demons?

- Well, of course! Even now it's as if lightning struck them. If lightning strikes a tree, will not the tree immediately become a black stump? They are the same way, as if they've been struck by lighting. At one time I told the tagalakia: "Come so I can see you, that I may not fall into your hands. Now that I am looking at you, your appearance shows how evil you are. If I fall into your hands, what evil I will suffer!"

Thursday, November 2, 2017

We Must Endure Life's Difficulties with Joy

No one is exempt from sorrows and difficulties in this life. Therefore, we must try to endure life's difficulties joyfully because there is no other more beneficial road leading to the salvation of our soul as the narrow and sorrowful path of hardships, through which we mimic and follow our Lord Jesus Christ, Who suffered so much in this life. He chose this path for both Himself as well as His followers, and advised us that we cannot become His disciples if we do not carry our cross and follow Him: "And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple" (Lk.14:27).

We cannot hope to make progress in the spiritual life and become Christ's co-heirs along with all the Saints in Paradise if we do not first swim through the waters of sorrow, just as our Lord and all the Saints were glorified after first carrying their Cross. This cross of suffering is so noble and so highly regarded by the Lord that He Himself promises to be next to the person who suffers, to deliver him from his affliction, and to glorify him in a wondrous manner: "I will be with him in affliction; I will deliver him, and glorify him" (Ps. 91:15). 

Who then will not embrace life's difficulties with joy and not seize the opportunity to acquire such a sweet, faithful, and almighty Companion? God, in His compassion and wisdom, allows us to be faced with these small and transient sorrows in order to grant us the indescribable and eternal riches in His heavenly Kingdom.

Truly, we must thank them who harm and ridicule us more than them who help and support us. They who wrong us become purifying agents of our soul, through which we receive forgiveness of our sins. When our merciful Lord allows us to be confronted with difficulties and sorrows, He expresses greater love for us than when He grants us temporary enjoyment and spiritual consolation. Indeed, we should despise them who impede us from the Cross and love them who grieve us, just as the Holy Gospel teaches. When Peter, moved by love for Christ and not wanting to see his Master suffer, urged Him not to die on the Cross, the Lord rebuked him, "Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men" (Mt.16:23).