Friday, February 24, 2017

Sunday of Forgiveness (Cheesefare Sunday)

The Sunday of Forgiveness is the last Sunday prior to the commencement of Great Lent. During the pre-Lenten period, the services of the Church include hymns from the Triodion, a liturgical book that contains the services from the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, the tenth before Pascha (Easter), through Great and Holy Saturday. On the Sunday of Forgiveness focus is placed on the exile of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, an event that shows us how far we have fallen in sin and separated ourselves from God. At the onset of Great Lent and a period of intense fasting, this Sunday reminds us of our need for God’s forgiveness and guides our hearts, minds, and spiritual efforts on returning to Him in repentance.

The Sunday of Forgiveness, the last of the preparatory Sundays before Great Lent, has two themes: it commemorates Adam’s expulsion from Paradise, and it accentuates our need for forgiveness. There are obvious reasons why these two things should be brought to our attention as we stand on the threshold of Great Lent. One of the primary images in the Triodion is that of the return to Paradise. Lent is a time when we weep with Adam and Eve before the closed gate of Eden, repenting with them for the sins that have deprived us of our free communion with God. But Lent is also a time when we are preparing to celebrate the saving event of Christ’s death and rising, which has reopened Paradise to us once more (Luke 23:43). So sorrow for our exile in sin is tempered by hope of our re-entry into Paradise.

The second theme, that of forgiveness, is emphasized in the Gospel reading for this Sunday (Matthew 6:14-21) and in the special ceremony of mutual forgiveness at the end of the Vespers on Sunday evening. Before we enter the Lenten fast, we are reminded that there can be no true fast, no genuine repentance, no reconciliation with God, unless we are at the same time reconciled with one another. A fast without mutual love is the fast of demons. We do not travel the road of Lent as isolated individuals but as members of a family. Our asceticism and fasting should not separate us from others, but should link us to them with ever-stronger bonds.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Visions Outside the Orthodox Church

Many people have heard that the Mother of God has supposedly appeared to Roman Catholics in various places. They do not know what to think about these events. Some even go so far as to think that since the Mother of God appears to Roman Catholics, it follows that the Roman Catholic Church is a true, grace-filled church, especially since various miracles and healings take place at the locations of the visions. Fatima, in particular, has aroused much interest among Russians living abroad because the apparition allegedly speaks about Russia in strongly anti-communist terms, leading them to overlook the heretical and anti-Orthodox content of the message as a whole. What are we to make of these appearances and the claims made for them? What criterion should we use to guide us in testing the truth of visions outside of the Orthodox Church? Hopefully, what follows will help in understanding such phenomena.

The Holy Fathers, knowing that Satan can transform himself into an angel of light, advise us to be cautious and distrustful of all appearances in the visible world. “If you are silent in a good way, desiring to be with God,” says St. Gregory the Sinaite, “never accept any physical or spiritual appearances, either outside or inside yourself, even if it might be an image of Christ, or an angel, or some Saint, or if light should appear, or imprint itself in the mind...Be attentive, that you may not come to believe something, even if it is something good, and be not captivated by it before consulting those who are experienced and are able to analyze the matter, so that you do not suffer harm...God is not displeased with the person who is attentive to himself, even if he, out of fear of deception, does not accept even that which is from Him, without consulting and testing....” 

We might add that the Lord God could at all times give full assurance to a person, if He is pleased to do so, concerning the truth of a vision. If such caution is necessary concerning visions WITHIN the Orthodox Church, how much more circumspect should we be in relation to apparitions OUTSIDE the one, true Church! The sole criterion for examining these visions should be their Orthodoxy. If in any respect their Orthodoxy is lacking, then they must be rejected: even if 99% of the message is Orthodox and only 1% deviates from the doctrines laid down by the Church, then the whole must be rejected. God cannot deny Himself or preach untruth even in the smallest degree.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Struggle of Great Lent by Elder Ephraim of Arizona

At this time we’re entering the great spiritual arena of the blessed Great Lent. Holy and Great Lent is a time of compunction, for repentance, for tears, for a change in ourselves, for a new stage in the spiritual life. Like an affectionate mother caring for her children, us Christians, the Church has designated this time of Lent as dedicated to the struggle, in order to help its children fight harder, to purify themselves, draw closer to God and to counted worthy of celebrating the great day of the radiant Resurrection.

Christians, especially monks, have always paid particular attention to this spiritual arena and have thought it especially sacred, because it is a period which envisages both spiritual and bodily struggles. There’s the struggle of fasting, the struggle of vigils, the struggle of purification and the struggle to fulfill one’s spiritual duties which are many more than at other times of the year. There’s a spiritual “defragmentation” and people pay greater attention to the voice of their conscience in order to correct what they’ve maybe neglected and to improve spiritually.

The Church assists us but with penitential hymns and services, as well as with teachings, to oil us up for the fight for the purification of our souls.

We have the penitential evening Divine Liturgies of the Presanctified Gifts. The Presanctified is extremely beneficial. Its Cherubic Hymn is full of spirituality, contemplation, angelic presence. That’s why we should come to these liturgies during Great Lent with even greater compunction. We who consume the Body and Blood of Christ must be so pure and clean, so straight in body and soul for divine grace to have its effect. For this reason, we must lead very careful lives. Both n our cells and in church we must wet our face with tears so as to wash our souls and be worthy to take communion. Of course, the devil often makes us wanting in compunction, me more than anyone. Which means we can’t have tears and we often have bad thoughts. Bad thoughts and the sinful images that accompany them must be rejected as soon as they make their appearance. And when we have wicked thoughts or our soul is cold towards one of the brethren, let’s not approach the God of lover, Who is so pure and holy.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Holy Priesthood & Spiritual Therapy by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos

The priest has a double task. One is to perform the sacraments and the other is to heal people so that they can worthily approach and receive Holy Communion. We have further pointed out that there are many priests who are priests outwardly and perform their function unhindered but in essence have defiled the priesthood, and that this is apparent from the fact that they are not able to heal. They perform the sacraments, and the gifts are sanctified through them, but they cannot cure others or save their own souls.

On the other hand, there are laymen and monks who do not have the sacramental priesthood but can heal people because they have spiritual priesthood. We should like to dwell briefly on this point. Through baptism and the effort to keep Christ’s commandments all Christians have put on Christ, and in this way we share the royal, prophetic and high priestly office of Christ.

This teaching is recorded in the texts of the New Testament. In the Book of Revelation John the Evangelist writes: To him who loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood and has made us kings and priests to his God and Father... (Rev 1:5). The Apostle Peter says: You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, his own special people. (1 Pet 2:9). And the Apostle Paul writes to the Christians of Rome: I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Rom 12:1).

In many Fathers too we find this teaching that every person is a priest of Christ in the sense which we defined and will develop further later on. St. John Chrysostom presents Abraham too as a priest because where there is fire, an altar and a knife, why do you doubt his priesthood? Abraham’s sacrifice was twofold. He offered both his only-begotten son and the ram, and above all, his own will. With the blood of the ram he sanctified his right hand, with the slaying of the child (which he had decided to do) he sanctified his soul. Thus he was ordained a priest, by the blood of his only-begotten, by the sacrifice of the lamb. Just after this, St. John Chrysostom exhorts his listeners: So you too are made king and priest and prophet in the laver: a king, having dashed to earth all the deeds of wickedness and slain your sins, a priest in that you offer yourself to God and sacrifice your body, and are yourself being slain also.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

This Was from Me: A Spiritual Testament by Saint Seraphim of Viritsa

"This was from me" is a famous letter written by Saint Seraphim of Vyritsa that he sent to his spiritual child, a bishop who was in a Soviet prison at that time; this homily "This was from me" is written as a consolation and counsel to the bishop to let him know that God the Creator addresses to the soul of man.


Have you ever thought that everything that concerns you, concerns Me, also? You are precious in my eyes and I love you; for this reason, it is a special joy for Me to train you. When temptations and the opponent [the Evil One] come upon you like a river, I want you to know that This was from Me.

I want you to know that your weakness has need of My strength, and your safety lies in allowing Me to protect you. I want you to know that when you are in difficult conditions, among people who do not understand you, and cast you away, This was from Me.

I am your God, the circumstances of your life are in My hands; you did not end up in your position by chance; this is precisely the position I have appointed for you. Weren't you asking Me to teach you humility? And there - I placed you precisely in the "school" where they teach this lesson. Your environment, and those who are around you, are performing My will. Do you have financial difficulties and can just barely survive? Know that This was from Me.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Love for Work by Elder Paisios of Mt. Athos

Geronda, why do so many people feel bored at work?

— Maybe they don’t love their job? Or, maybe they work on the same thing continually? With some jobs, say at a factory where they make door and window frames, a laborer might do the same thing from morning till the time he leaves: glue, glue, glue. Another constantly handles windows; another, putty. They constantly do the same monotonous work; and their boss is always watching them, not for just one or two days, either. It is always the “same old, same old,” to the point of boredom. In the old days it wasn’t like that though. A contractor would be given four walls from the carpenters and was expected to present the owner with a finished house and the key. He would have built the floors, the door and window frames, and would even have set the windows with putty. Afterwards he would have built spiral staircases, turned banisters; after that he would have painted, built the cupboards and the shelves, even the furniture! Even if he didn’t do all of it himself, he knew how to do it. In a pinch a contractor could even put the tiles on the roof.

Today so many people are tormented because they don’t love their jobs. 

They eagerly await the hour when they can go home. But when one has zeal for his job and is interested in what he is doing, no matter how much he works, his zeal grows. He is devoted to his job; and when it is time to leave he says, “Where did the time go?” He even forgets to eat and sleep; he forgets everything! Fasting like this, he isn’t hungry; sleepless, he isn’t tired, but instead rejoices that he doesn’t need sleep. It’s not that he suffers from hunger or lack of sleep; it’s that work is like a feast day for him.

Geronda, how is it that when two people have the same job, one can be spiritually profited from it while the other is spiritually harmed?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

When Orthodox Theologians Theologize Like Protestants

"Breaking the Unity of Theology" 
By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

In our days there is much talk about so-called “post-patristic theology”. Whatever definition anyone gives to this phenomenon, one thing is certain, that it is a “theology” that alters Orthodox ecclesiastical theology and associates it with so-called “scientific” theology, which in many ways deconstructs all the basic principles of the theology of the Church.

Many theologians, through the use of logic, reflection and biblical study methods developed in Protestant lands, try to interpret the prophetic, apostolic and patristic texts through different methods to that which has been given by Orthodox theology. Here I will briefly comment on one aspect of this interpretation.

Professor Savvas Agourides, who is well known to all modern theologians, and whom I had as a professor in the interpretation of the New Testament at the Theological School of Thessaloniki, speaks of “attempts within biblical scholarly circles towards the breaking of the continuity of the unity of the biblical message with Ecclesiastical Tradition.”

What does this reality mean?