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). 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Saint Paisius Velichkovsky: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on Me!"

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on Me!" 

If one with desire and ceaselessly as the breath from his nostrils forms this prayer, soon there will be in him the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and make a dwelling in him, and prayer will devour the heart and the heart prayer, and a man will begin day and night to perform this prayer and will be  delivered from all the nets of the enemy. One should say the Prayer of Jesus in this way: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me!" 

Whether you are standing, whether you are sitting, whether you are eating, whether you are travelling, whether you are doing anything else, constantly say this prayer, fervently compelling yourself, for it strikes the invisible enemies as a soldier with a strong spear. Imprint it on your thoughts, and do not be disturbed or hesitate to perform it secretly even in the places of natural need. And when the tongue and lips grow faint, then pray with the mind alone. From prayer which is performed for a long time, by the tongue there proceeds prayer of the mind, and from that of the mind, that of the heart.  When the mind grows faint from constant concentration and the heart 
grows pained, then one may relax and sing a little.

One should perform the Prayer of Jesus aloud but not loudly, sufficient so that one can hear it. One should not at the time of prayer incline one's thought here and there to worldly, corruptible things, but should remain without laziness in the memory of this Prayer alone. The Prayer is nothing else but a division between the visible and invisible worlds. Wherefore, one must enclose one's mind in the Prayer. Where the body stands, there also the mind should be with it, without having any thought at the time of prayer. The Holy Fathers say, "If anyone prays with his lips but is careless about his mind, he is labouring in vain, for God heeds the mind and not much speaking.

Mental prayer does not allow that there be in the mind any fantasy or unclean thought. If one does not become accustomed to the mental Jesus Prayer, he cannot have ceaseless prayer. If the Jesus Prayer becomes one's habit and enters his heart, it will then flow as water from a spring. At all times, everywhere and no matter what one does, it will always urge him on, be he awake or asleep. When his body begins to sleep or drowse, even then it will awaken him, gushing out of his heart and never ceasing. 

Therefore this prayer is great, never left off, so that when it is being said, although the lips may grow faint, and the body may drowse, the spirit never sleeps. When some essential work is performed diligently or thoughts powerfully attack the mind or sleep overcomes one, then one must pray fervently with the lips and tongue, that the mind might heed the voice. And when the mind is in peace and calm from thoughts, one may pray with it alone. This path of prayer is the swifter one to salvation than by means of psalms, canons, and the usual prayers.

Saint Paisius Velichkovsky

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Private Letter Concerning Ecumenism by Elder Paisios the Athonite

The Holy Mountain, January 23, 1969

Reverend Father Haralambos,

In as much as I see the great uproar which is happening in our Church because of the various movements of groups in favor of unification [of churches], as well as the interaction of the Oecumenical Patriarch with the Pope, I was pained as Her child, and considered it good, besides my prayers, to send a small thread (which I have as a poor monk), that it too may be used as a means of stitching together the multipart garment of our Mother. I know you will show love and share it only with your religious friends. Thank you.

First of all, I would like to ask forgiveness from everyone for being bold to write something when I am neither holy nor a theologian. I trust everyone will understand me, that my writing is nothing more than an expression of my deep pain for the unfortunate stance and worldly love of our father Patriarch Athenagoras.

It appears he loved another modern woman—which is called the Papist Church—because our Orthodox Mother has not made an impression on him at all, for She is so modest. This love, which was heard from Constantinople, caused a sensational impression of sorts among many Orthodox, who nowadays live in an environment of such meaningless love, in cities across the entire world. Moreover, this love is of the spirit of our age: the family will lose its divine meaning from just such kinds of love, which have as their aim breakup and not union.

With just such a worldly love the Patriarch takes us to Rome. While he should have shown love first to us his children and to our Mother Church, he unfortunately sent his love very far away. The result, it’s true, delighted the secular children who love the world—who have this worldly love—, but completely scandalized us, the children of Orthodoxy, young and old, who have fear of God.

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.