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fr gabriel_sig

“You greatly delude yourself and err, if you think that one thing is demanded from the layman and another from the monk; since the difference between them is in that whether one is married or not, while in everything else they have the same responsibilities… Because all must rise to the same height; and what has turned the world upside down is that we think only the monk must live rigorously, while the rest are allowed to live a life of indolence.”

-St. John Chrysostom, Pros piston patera (To the faithful father) 3, 14, PG47, 372- 74.

I feel these words, written five years ago, are more pertinent now than ever before.

Good strength, friends! Don’t be discouraged. We have one week of Great Lent and one Holy Week still to come. There is still time to win the race and experience the joy of the Resurrection (whether we’re holding our paschal candles in our parish church or in our own homes)!

lessons from a monastery

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Today is Clean Monday, the beginning of our Lenten journey to the Feast of the Holy Resurrection. I am usually quite excited about Great Lent. I get excited about the Sundays in Great Lent and the special customs that go with them, excited about simplifying our lives and abstaining from certain foods and activities that draw our attention away from God.

This year I’m excited but also a little apprehensive. I’ve been feeling a little dismayed lately by all the wars and rumours of wars (Mark 13:7) and a question keeps forming in the back of my mind: What if this was the last Great Lent you ever got to participate in? That small but probing question seems to cause many thoughts follow after it and I begin an internal inquisition: What if this was your last chance to really make an effort, to keep the Fast with zeal and…

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fr cherubim_sig

In church it is not only the people who raise their cry unto God, but even the angels fall before the Master and archangels pray. Even time is on their side and sacrifice facilitates them. Just as when people take olive branches reminding them of mercy and love for mankind, so also angels present, instead of olive branches, the very Body of the Lord, beseeching the Master on behalf of the human race, as if to say: ‘We are praying for those whom Thou Thyself hast found worthy of Thy love, and for whom Thou didst give up Thy life; we are pouring out our prayers for those for whom Thou didst pour out Thy Blood; we beseech for those for whom Thou didst offer Thy Body as a sacrifice’.

–St. John Chrysostom, Third Homily Against the Antinomians

 

The above video contains footage of a miracle-working icon in Kiev, Ukraine. The hymn being sung is Awed by Thy Beauty.

Oh, our Panagia [All-holy one]! It is enough just to fall into Her arms and embrace Her. Nothing else is needed but to have our arms wrapped around Her and to be seated at Her feet day and night. Just like Christ has His arm around the Panagia in the Sweet-kissing icon, likewise we should have Her noetically and unceasingly in our nous. We should embrace the Panagia and speak to Her just as we would speak to each other. She will speak in our hearts and give us spiritual joy and prudence. What else do we want? If we have this kind of theoria in our nous every day, it will save us. This is what is needed to take us to Paradise. We must entreat Her to give us prudence, because when a person is prudent, he will have awareness and discernment.  -Gerontissa Markina, Words of the Heart, p. 400

May the Most Holy Theotokos be with us all!

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Encomium at the funeral of Archimandrite Ephraim, former abbot of Philotheou, offered by Archimandrite Paisios, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of St. Anthony the Great (Source)

Our most reverend Geronda,[1] our most beloved father!

It is so difficult for me—and for the entire brotherhood—to articulate even a single word about the departure of our great Father and Elder.

The best word for an elder of your stature, I believe, would be silence, love, reverence, prayer. That unceasing prayer, through which your heart was warmed with love for our Christ and our Panagia.[2] This prayer that he constantly urged us to say without ceasing. His voice can still be heard—and indeed we will all hear it forever in our consciences—“My child, say the prayer,[3] don’t stop, don’t speak, say it audibly.”

Today, Most Reverend Archbishop of America, Holy Hierarchs, reverend Abbots and Abbesses, and all my beloved brethren in Christ, we celebrate an event whose importance is self- apparent. For behold, “Rejoice, O chief shepherd, as you behold round about your table your children’s children, bearing branches of good works.”[4] And from the Prophet Isaiah: Lift up your eyes, reverend Elder, and see around you: behold, your children have assembled together to you like divinely-radiant luminaries, from the west and the north and the sea and the dawn, through you blessing Christ unto the ages,[5] sending you on ahead unto the desired homeland which you had ever before your eyes, to that moment you desired when you would be united with your beloved Christ, the Bridegroom of our souls. He always had his thoughts on the things on high; he passionately loved the heavenly and never bothered himself with anything earthly except the salvation of the souls of his spiritual children.

Geronda would say to us, “Always remember death, as if every day that dawns is your last day, and say to yourself, ‘Arise, go forth, my soul: Be silent, pray, seek reconciliation, love, weep with pain for your sins, for the end has arrived.’ As long as we have time, let us force ourselves, because this is what we will keep; all the rest will be scattered by the four winds. Pray also for me who say but do not do, and woe to me the thrice-wretched; which face of God will I see?”

That which is taking place today is indeed a little painful, because of the temporary bodily separation, but in many ways it is joyful because we have obtained a most powerful intercessor before God. Our Geronda did not die; he fell asleep and was translated to heaven, to the synodia[6] of his own Geronda, the ascetic Saint Joseph the Hesychast. He is being welcomed by the Holy Apostles, the Martyrs, the monastic Saints, the choir of the Angels, his guardian the Honorable Forerunner, our Panagia, and by the Master Christ, Whom he so loved, by the true light, the Holy Trinity. He walked with much faith and love and trust in the will of God, and now deservedly rests in the place prepared for his repose.

And now has come the hour of his departure. He expectantly waited for it and often mentioned it. And honestly, how long would he stay with us? How long could he endure being far from his own Geronda in the heavens? All possible bounds of human patience had been surpassed, his limitless love was offered richly to all. You suffered much, Holy Father, you endured pain and we along with you; you were slandered, you experienced rejection, you patiently endured the martyrdom of illness, you took up your heavy cross with faith in the mercy and the love of God, with great fortitude while glorifying the name of our Christ, and mostly in silence. Yet your voice, your teachings, remain as an invaluable treasure which you have entrusted to us, to exhort us in the struggle for virtue. Pray, Holy Elder, that we may follow in your footsteps, each according to his abilities.

You told us years ago that you would depart, but Christ extended the time for the sake of your beloved spiritual children. But today, the Master Christ desired to receive your grace-filled and luminous soul, pure and godly, from your much-suffering body. Today the long-desired day of your departure to the heavens has arrived. Most revered Geronda, angel on earth and heavenly man, today you leave this present world and join the heavenly, where the light of the Resurrection shines eternally, where the newborn heavenly Babe receives you into His manger,

He the incarnated Fashioner of creation. And your departure becomes a triumph and glorification of Christ the King. And as you related in one of your teachings, “The nous[7] feels the attraction and is drawn by the hymn ‘Christ is born, Glorify Him!’[8] My God, my Christ, words fail me; my heart is going to burst, how sweet You are! What can I say? My heart melts like wax, because I am unworthy in everything. But when, O when will I see You, my Father? Your sweetness surpasses all reason and understanding.”

Our own feelings, however, are rather mixed. Peaceful tears, and a joyful sadness reigns within us. Today we see off to the throne of God a protector and intercessor, a new pillar of our Church. We have obtained a saint who struggled in the caves and huts of Small Saint Anne’s[9] and excelled in obedience as very few have done. We have obtained an Equal-to-the-Apostles who tirelessly tilled the soil of America and Canada, bringing forth immortal souls, reborn through repentance and confession. His words—simple, fiery, deeply spiritual—reached the ends of the world. We have obtained a martyr who suffered all manner of trials from his fellow-man, but also from his unseen enemies. Our most beloved Geronda, upright is your heart, straight is your path. Holy is your memory, blessed is your remembrance.

All of us are recipients of your gentleness, of your ever-joyful countenance, of the cheerfulness of your words, of your Christ-centered teaching, of the graciousness of your character, of your sweetness, of your meekness and your extreme Christ-like humility towards all.

Truly, who met you and did not love you? Who spoke with you, bowed beneath your epitrachelion,[10] and did not feel their heart sweetened? All desired to be with and near you. All who approached you underwent a positive change and drew from the inexhaustible fountain of divine grace, which continuously gushed forth from your godly soul and overflowed not only for those close to you but even those afar off who were in need. All desired to be with you, near you. Everyone, and especially the simple hearts who discerned in you your clear and bright purity.

We beg you, our most holy Father and dearly beloved Geronda, “The chariot of Israel and its horses!”[11] do not leave us orphans, but ever intercede to the Lord on behalf of us all, the humble brotherhoods under you, and all who have come today here to your funeral service to give one last prostration and venerate your grace-filled and sanctified hands, ever raised in prayer and intercessions for us, for our homeland, for all the world and the church.

And finally, emulating your courteousness, Geronda, I express warm thanks to His Eminence Archbishop of America Elpidophoros, to the other hierarchs, to the abbots and abbesses and the other brethren, and especially His All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, represented by the Right Reverend Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Philotheou of the Holy Mountain Archimandrite Nikodemos, for his paternal and patriarchal blessings and his words of consolation to our brotherhood in Christ.

Eternal be the memory of our most reverend Geronda and Father and Abbot, Archimandrite Ephraim the Hieromonk.

Our Elder and Father Ephraim has fallen asleep, the boast of the monastics. May he be remembered with renown from the mouths of thousands.[12]

Used with permission from the Monastery of St. Anthony the Great

[1] Geronda (Gk. Γέροντα, lit. ‘elder’), a term of respect often used for the abbot of a monastery.

[2] Panagia (Gk. Παναγία, lit. ‘all-holy’) is the term usually used in Greek to refer to the Theotokos.

[3] The prayer, or ‘efhi’ (Gk. ευχή), i.e. the Jesus Prayer, that the Elder always exhorted us to have continually on our lips.

[4] From the ‘Hymns of Ascent’ of the 3rd mode.

[5] From the 8th ode of the Canon of Pascha, itself based on Isaiah 60:4.

[6] A synodia (Gk. συνοδεία) is a group of monks living together, consisting of the elder and his disciples. The word is often translated as “brotherhood”.

[7] Nous (Gk. ‘νούς’), a patristic/theological term that refers to the faculty of the soul that is able to enter into communion with God, also referred to as the ‘eye of the soul’.

[8] The first eirmos of the canon of the feast of Christmas.

[9] Small Saint Anne’s (Μικρή Αγία Άννα) is the name of the area on Mt. Athos where St. Joseph the Hesychast’s brotherhood struggled in asceticism.

[10] The epitrachelion, (Gk. επιτραχήλιον) is the vestment (also called the ‘stole’ in English) worn by the priest around the neck, and placed over the head of the penitent during the prayer of absolution at the end of confession. In the Greek text here, the more colloquial ‘petrachili’ was used, presenting a warm contrast to the more elevated language throughout the rest of the eulogy, and evoking fond memories of the love and paternal compassion felt by those who passed under the Elder’s stole in confession.

[11] 4 Kings 2:12.

[12] Αὐτοῦ εἰς ἀνάμνησιν μυριώνυμον εὖχος—a phrase from classical Greek, often used in elegiac writings in reference to the repose of great figures.

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For the past 2.5+ years Fr. John has offered a supplicatory service every Wednesday evening so the people could come, pray, light a candle, receive a little comfort in the middle of the work week.

Until last year we held these services at our house chapel and the door was left open for anyone who wished to join us. Once we got a permanent worship space we were able to offer these services at the Holy Lady of Vladimir Mission. As these services started at the house chapel which is named for St. Nektarios of Pentapolis we have kept the same schedule: one Wednesday the supplicatory canon is offered to the Theotokos the next week it is offered to St. Nektarios. Occasionally, Fr. John will offer supplications to St. Paisios the Athonite.

20200325_194726Last night, as we have many times before, we offered supplications to the Theotokos at home. We lit candles and we prayed for our parishioners, for ourselves, the world, those affected by the virus, and most of all for the Church, Her hierarchs and all clergy.

May God hearken unto our prayers – though prayed on unworthy lips – bring us to repentance and bring an end to the spiritual and physical harms brought about by this pandemic!

Through the prayers of the Theotokos, Saviour save us!

 

Annunciation
AFTER TWELVE YEARS, God inspired the father and mother of the Theotokos and they saw to her betrothal in accord with the divine dispensation. Later the most gracious God sent the angel who said to the Theotokos: “Mary, you should rejoice more than anyone in the world. You will give birth to the Son and Word of God, Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit, without man, as a virgin. And you will remain a virgin so that Jesus Christ can save Adam and Eve and the entire human race.” The Lady Theotokos replied and said: “My Lord, I wonder, and glorify you, I honour and worship you because you have condescended to be born of me, your servant. I am ready, therefore, and let your will be done.” And immediately the Theotokos became pregnant and she gave birth to our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son and Word of God, without man, a virgin, who remained a virgin.
OUR LORD WAS BORN of a woman so that women would be blessed, because women first received the curse and we were expelled from paradise. And so woman had to receive the blessing so that she would put us back into paradise. Our Lord was born of a virgin so that virginity would be preferred. You, my brother, who want to preserve your virginity, hate the world. Then you are good enough to become thrice blessed; then you will safeguard your virginity; then you will become like an angel. Out Lord was born of one affianced to bless marriage.