Thursday, October 5, 2017

Homily on Thanksgiving by Saint Basil the Great


You have heard the words of the Apostle, in which he addresses the Thessalonians, prescribing rules of conduct for every kind of person. His teaching, to be sure, was directed towards particular audiences; but the benefit to be derived therefrom is relevant to every generation of mankind. Rejoice evermore, he says; Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks (I Thessalonians 5:16-18). Now, we shall explain a little later on, as far as we are able, what it means to rejoice, what benefit we receive from it, and how it is possible to achieve unceasing prayer and give thanks to God in all things.

However, it is necessary to anticipate the objections that we encounter from our adversaries, who criticize the Apostles injunctions as unattainable. For what is the virtue, they say, in passing ones life in gladness of soul, in joy and good cheer night and day? And how is it  possible to achieve this, when we are beset by countless unexpected evils, which create unavoidable dejection in the soul, on account of which it is no more feasible for us to rejoice and be of good cheer than for one who is being roasted on a gridiron not to feel agony or for one who is being goaded not to suffer pain?

And perhaps there is someone among those who are standing among us here who is ailing with this sickness of the mind and makes excuses in sins (Psalm 140:4, Septuaginta), and who, through his own negligence in observing the commandments, attempts to transfer the blame to the law-giver for laying down things that are unattainable. How is it possible for me always to rejoice, he may ask, when I have no grounds for being joyous? For the factors that cause rejoicing are external and do not reside within us: the arrival of a friend, long-term contact with parents, finding money, honors bestowed on us by other people, restoration to health after a serious illness, and everything else that makes for a prosperous life: a house replete with goods of all kinds, an abundant table, close friends to share ones gladness, pleasant sounds and sights, the good health of our nearest and dearest, and whatever else gives them happiness in life. For it is not only the pains that befall us which cause us distress, but also those that afflict our friends and relatives. It is from all of these sources, therefore, that we must garner joy and cheerfulness of soul.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Ordination of Women


QUESTION

What is the Orthodox stance on ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopacy, and how do you back it up?

ANSWER

While a thorough answer to your question is beyond the scope of an email, it can be said that the Orthodox Church precludes the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopacy. It is a matter of Holy Tradition, as well as a vision of ministry as something not limited to the ordained priesthood. In my limited experience of this subject I have come across theologians who posit that, while there may be no strictly theological objection to the ordination of women, Holy Tradition has never supported it, and that theological pursuits cannot be considered in isolation from the ongoing life of God’s People known as Tradition. [It is important here to understand that Holy Tradition must not be confused with traditions (small “t”, and plural) or customs.]

I would like to share a story with you to help illustrate: Shortly after the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, the militantly atheistic communist regime passed laws separating Church and state and separating the schools from the Church. Other laws forbade the ordained clergy from evangelizing, teaching religion to anyone, especially to children, etc. Clergy were limited to carring out religious rites within the confines of church walls—which had been confiscated by the state. The goal of this anti-religious stance was to wipe out all religious expression and faith, since religion was seen as “the opium of the people” and an obstacle in the creation of pure socialism. Such would be the situation until the late 20th century. There is a story which relates how a Patriarch of Moscow, shortly after the Revolution, was asked by a Soviet leader, “What will the Church do after the last grandmother dies?” The Patriarch replied, “There will be another generation of grandmothers to take their place.” Very prophetic words, especially when one considers that most of today’s grandmothers within the former Soviet Union were mere children or not even born when these words were first spoken.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Feast of the Elevation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross


As important as any of the feast days commemorating the exalted saints of the Church is the feast day held annually on September 14 in special tribute to the cross of Jesus Christ, the reproduction of which is worn or displayed in every corner of the earth as a symbol of the mightiest faith in all the universe.

The two timbers on which the Messiah died to save the world, priceless beyond measure, form the most familiar and beloved symbol in a world full of symbols and emblems. For nearly three hundred years after his death the Cross was buried in obscurity, eventually to be salvaged through the efforts of a devout Byzantine emperor and his mother.

The Emperor Constantine the Great was not only the first Christian emperor, but, together with his mother, has been honoured with sainthood. His mother is honoured for her determined efforts in the cause of Christianity. It was Constantine who beheld a vision in the sky on which were emblazoned the words 'en touto Nika', translating into "In this Sign Conquer," etched across a brilliant cross of Jesus Christ.

Ordering that all the shields of his army bear the sign of the Cross, Constantine went on to subdue the enemies of the state and to establish the Christian faith, which has outlived his empire and will endure forever. Helen, the mother of Constantine and a saint of the Church, had the full support of her son when she decided to recover the cross of Christ, and although nearly three hundred years had elapsed since the Crucifixion, she was optimistic in her resolve to find the Cross and return it to the city of Constantinople.

After months of diligent search, painstakingly following every historic clue as to its whereabouts, Helen and her dedicated group of searchers discovered the Cross on 14 September 325 AD in the vicinity of Golgotha, where it had been buried in the dust of the centuries. On the spot where the Cross was discovered there was found to grow a hitherto unknown flower of rare beauty and fragrance which has been named Vasiliko (Basil), meaning the flower of royalty, out of respect to the Dowager Queen who led the expedition.

This flower, since that memorable day over 1600 years ago, has been the official flower of the Orthodox Christian Church and is in evidence when Clergymen engage in the age-old tradition of blessing homes or the waters on which seamen ply their trade.

Helen afterwards made countless pilgrimages to the Holy Land and was responsible for the establishment of churches at the sites of the Nativity, Holy Sepulchre, Ascension, and at many other places. For the next three hundred years the Cross stayed in the possession of the Christians in Jerusalem, but after a series of forays the city of Jerusalem was captured by the Persians in 614 AD and the Cross fell into the hands of an enemy that for years prior and since has scoffed at the faith of Jesus Christ.

Several attempts were made by devout and bold Christians to recover the precious Cross, but they were no match for the Persian hordes. Finally, the Byzantine Emperor Heraklios, in the tradition of his ancestor Constantine, amassed an army of size and equipment to match that of the Persians, and after months of planning, launched an attack on the Holy City - but with no immediate success.

What the Persians lacked in faith they made up for in numbers of trained warriors who respected nothing but the sword, and because of this relentless defence the tide of battle wavered over an agonising fifteen years until at last the Christian forces broke through the Persian defences and regained control of the Holy City and its priceless treasure. The successful outcome of the campaign is celebrated jointly with the finding of the Cross by St. Helen on September 14, and the veneration of the Precious and Life-giving Cross is again celebrated by Christians on the Third Sunday of Lent.

With the sign of the Cross so much in evidence in the daily life of a Christian, the celebration seems to extend over every minute of every day of every year, but the official days underscore the magnitude of the Cross in the Christian concept. With the perilous conditions prevalent in a land where the fortunes of a menaced society were subject to sudden change and mood, depending on who held the upper hand, the Fathers of the Church decided to divide the Cross into small sections, thereafter to repose in the safety of the great spiritual centres of Constantinople, Mt. Athos, Alexandria, Rome, and Antioch.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Angel Did Not Write Down the Names of Those Who Received Holy Communion with Unconfessed Sins


We cannot pass over in silence the inhabitants of the desert adjoining the Porfenian sea and bordering the area of the city Diolk. There we saw one wonderful priest, named Piammon, who was notable for the absolute humility and meek indulgence. He was given the grace of revelation. 

Once, as he was bringing the Bloodless Sacrifice to the Lord, he saw an Angel of the Lord near the Altar: he was holding a book in which he wrote down the names of the monks who approached to the Holy Altar. The elder carefully noticed whose names the Angel missed. After the end of the liturgy, he summoned separately each one of the missed by the Angel and asked him whether he had some secretly committed sin in the conscience. At this confession, he revealed that each of them was guilty of a mortal sin. Then he persuaded them to bring repentance, and casting himself down before the Lord along with them, prayed with tears day and night, as if he was involved in their sins. And he was in repentance and tears until he saw the Angel again, standing before the Altar and writing down the names of those who were receiving the Holy Mysteries. 

Having written down the names of everyone, the Angel even started to call each one by name, inviting to come to the Altar for reconciliation with God. And the elder, seeing this, understood that their repentance was accepted and happily admitted everyone to the Altar.

Translated from Russian
Rufinus the Presbyter: "Living of Desert Fathers." 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Nativity of the Theotokos


The Nativity of Our Most Holy Virgin Mary is celebrated by the Church as a day of universal joy. Within the context of the Old and the New Testaments, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary was born on this radiant day, having been chosen before the ages by Divine Providence to bring about the Mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God. She is revealed as the Mother of the Savior of the World, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

She was born in the city of Galilee, Nazareth. Her parents were Joachim of the tribe of the Prophet-King David, and Anna from the tribe of the First Priest Aaron. The couple was without child, since Anna was barren. Having reached old age, Joachim and Anna had strong faith that everything was possible with God. Joachim and Anna vowed to dedicate the child which the Lord might give them to the service of God in the Temple. Childlessness was considered as a Divine punishment for sin, and Joachim and Anna had to endure abuse from their own countrymen. On one of the feast days at the Temple, the elderly Joachim brought his sacrifice to offer to God, but the High Priest would not accept it, considering him to be unworthy since he was childless.

In deep grief, Joachim went into the wilderness, and there he prayed with tears to the Lord for a child. Anna wept bitterly when she learned what had happened at the Temple. Never once did she complain against the Lord, but rather she prayed to ask God’s mercy on her family. The Lord fulfilled her petitions when the pious couple had attained extreme old age and prepared themselves by virtuous life for a sublime calling to be the parents of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, the future Mother of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Archangel Gabriel brought Joachim and Anna the joyous message that their prayers were heard by God, and of them would be born a most blessed daughter, Mary, through Whom would come the Salvation of all the World. The Most Holy Virgin Mary surpassed in purity and virtue not only all mankind, but also the angels. She was manifest as the living Temple of God, so the Church sings in its festal hymns: “the East Gate... bringing Christ into the world for the salvation of our souls” (2nd Stikhera on “Lord, I Have Cried”, Tone 6).

The Nativity of the Theotokos marks the change when the great promises of God for salvation from slavery to the devil were about to be fulfilled. This event brought to earth the grace of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of Truth, piety, virtue and everlasting life. The Theotokos is revealed to all of us by grace as a merciful Intercessor and Mother, to Whom we have recourse with filial devotion.

TROPARION (TONE 4)
Your Nativity, O Virgin,
Has proclaimed joy to the whole universe!
The Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God,
Has shone from You, O Theotokos!
By annulling the curse,
He bestowed a blessing.
By destroying death, He has granted us eternal Life.

KONTAKION (TONE 4)
By Your Nativity, O Most Pure Virgin,
Joachim and Anna are freed from barrenness;
Adam and Eve, from the corruption of death.
And we, your people, freed from the guilt of sin, celebrate and sing to you:
The barren woman gives birth to the Theotokos, the nourisher of our life!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Acquiring and Preserving Inner Peace by St. Seraphim of Sarov


Inner peace is attained through affliction. The Scriptures say: We went through fire and through water, but Thou broughtest us out into a tranquil place (Psalm 66:12). Those who wish to please God must follow a path of many sorrows. How do we dare venerate the holy martyrs for the tortures they suffered for God’s sake when we ourselves cannot endure even a single spark?

Nothing promotes the attainment of inner peace as much as silence and a continuous discourse with oneself, and rarely with others. Nothing is more excellent than peace in Christ, as it entirely destroys the warfare of the evil spirits of the air and the earth. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against the evil spirits in high places (Eph. 6:12).

The mark of spiritual life is one’s immersion into oneself and the hidden struggle within one’s heart. The grace of God envelops such a person, and at first he remains in a state of peace, and then by means of it he transitions to an other-worldly state, i.e. he is at peace by being of good conscience, and he is in an other-worldly state when his mind contemplates the grace of the Holy Spirit within himself.

Do we not rejoice upon seeing the sun with our physical eyes? Even more joyous is the sight of the Sun of truth – Christ the Lord – in the mind’s eye! In such a case we rejoice with the joy of angels. The Holy Fathers, being in a state of peace and enveloped by the grace of God, lived for a long time.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Elder Julian (Lazar): “If I Am the Church of the Holy Spirit”


The elder Julian (Lazar) is approaching the 93rd year of his earthly sojourn, brightened by his unceasing prayer. For the purity of his heart, God bestowed upon him the answers to many questions, some not even pronounced aloud. The “Elder of Prodromos,” as people with great affection call his holy mountain, is the kind of spiritual father who is more and more seldom found on Earth: a hermit who weeps with you over your sins and unfailingly heals the wounds of your soul with wise counsel and prayer. A great agent of the commandments, he is one of those men of whom it his said: “whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19).

He has a pure heart, which reflects the heavens like a mirror, thanks to the goodness of his heart. When he is joyful his entire face begins to radiate. It is a great joy to find oneself nearby him then, because a feeling arises as if you are sitting on your knees by a grandfather with a snow-white beard, looking with love upon the inner child of your soul.

And yet, although he has a “good heart and a light hand,” according to Father Arsenie Papacioc’s expression for spiritual fathers, he can also be extremely severe toward your sins if he sees that you persist in them. Even in this severity though (towards the sin, but never the sinner!) his love for people was obvious.

For the purity of his life, God gave him the gift of always seeing (before you did!) where there is a “crack” in your heart, the place through which the passions penetrate into your soul. In precisely this place, Abba Julian teaches you to apply the cure.

Together with three good friends I visited Abba Julian in February 2014, and one evening when we complained about the many earthly cares and lack of time for prayer, the elder responded to us this way.

Deification

—I see that you people are very busy and could have much to say -- if it was necessary to speak -- but I think that in this life it is important to struggle for the life hereafter. Indeed, God gave us time and this life so that we would come to Him prepared. We do not know, for it is not given to us to know, neither the moment, nor the hour when we will depart to the Lord to give our account. After all, God did not create us without a purpose. He announced the purpose already in the very beginning of the Bible, in the Book of Genesis, 1:26: And God said, Let us make man according to our image and likeness. The next verse says that, God made man, according to the image of God he made him, and nothing is mentioned about likeness, because it should have been realized in Adam.