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The following story is from the chapter “Blessed are the Merciful”, pp. 158-159, in The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory, published by Ancient Faith Publishing.

The Quickest Way to Lose Grace

“One of the quickest ways to lose grace is to judge your fellow human being,” the hieromonk told a small group of us after a baptismal service.

“Elder Ephraim of Katounakia saw a monk’s soul fall from grace for a simple judgmental thought. There was a brother who would walk around his chapel before services and bang a talanton [the long wooden plank used in monasteries to call people to prayer by hammering a rhythm on it]. However, he lived in an isolated area, alone. A monk judged him for this. He had the thought, ‘What is he doing? There is no one around to call to prayer.’ And immediately Elder Ephraim saw grace depart from the monk who passed judgment.

talaton

“Justify others. Condemn yourself. Say, ‘I’m acting like this, feeling this way because of my passions. If I didn’t have passions I wouldn’t act like this, react like this.’

“Don’t even pass judgment in your mind,” he continued. “Fight thoughts: push them out, don’t let them stay in your head, don’t argue with them. If they are strong, confess them right away. When judgmental thoughts come, if you immediately condemn yourself, ‘I’m like this because of my passions,’ then immediately grace will come to your aid, if you fight back with humility and self-condemnation.

“It helps to remember King David’s words: ‘I was brought low’—humbled, in other words—‘and the Lord saved me.’ Be compassionate and loving toward others, just as the Lord was and is compassionate and loving toward you.”

And with those words we left with the weighty knowledge that one of the easiest sins to slip into results in one of the quickest departures of grace.

*  *  *

And here’s a cool video of an Orthodox monk calling all to prayer through the hammering on the symandron. A symandron is basically a stationary talaton. The difference is the talaton is portable, carried in one hand with a hammer in the other.

Fun fact: Tradition says that it was by hammering on a wooden plank that Noah called the animals into the ark. And it is by hammering on a wooden plank that monastics call the “rational sheep” into the Ark of Salvation (the Church).

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procopius(Source) The Holy Great Martyr Procopius, in the world Neanius, a native of Jerusalem, lived and suffered during the reign of the emperor Diocletian (284-305). His father, an eminent Roman by the name of Christopher, was a Christian, but the mother of the saint, Theodosia, remained a pagan. He was early deprived of his father, and the young child was raised by his mother. Having received an excellent secular education, he was introduced to Diocletian in the very first year of the emperor’s accession to the throne, and he quickly advanced in government service. Towards the year 303, when open persecution against Christians began, Neanius was sent as a proconsul to Alexandria with orders to mercilessly persecute the Church of God.

On the way to Egypt, near the Syrian city of Apamea, Neanius had a vision of the Lord Jesus, similar to the vision of Saul on the road to Damascus. A divine voice exclaimed, “Neanius, why do you persecute Me?”

Neanius asked, “Who are you, Lord?”

“I am the crucified Jesus, the Son of God.”

At that moment a radiant Cross appeared in the air. Neanius felt an inexpressible joy and spiritual happiness in his heart and he was transformed from being a persecutor into a zealous follower of Christ. From this point in time Neanius became favorably disposed towards Christians and fought victoriously against the barbarians.

The words of the Savior came true for the saint, “A man’s foes shall be those of his own household” (Mt. 10:36). His mother, a pagan herself, went to the emperor to complain that her son did not worship the ancestral gods. Neanius was summoned to the procurator Judaeus Justus, where he was solemnly handed the decree of Diocletian. Having read through the blasphemous directive, Neanius quietly tore it up before the eyes of everyone. This was a crime, which the Romans regarded as an “insult to authority.” Neanius was held under guard and in chains sent to Caesarea of Palestine, where the Apostle Paul once languished. After terrible torments, they threw the saint into a dark prison. That night, a light shone in the prison, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself baptized the suffering confessor, and gave him the name Procopius.

To read more about St. Procopious’ life go here.

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St. John’s icon is center

From the Menaion: With faith and love do we all honour thy memory today, O heavenly man and earthly angel; for thou wast a true desert dweller amid this greatly turbulent world. Having mortified all the passions thou didst attain spiritual heights hard to see, and was truly a most splendid miracle in the midst of the darkness of this age. Wherefore, we marvel at thy great glory in heaven, and with compunction we celebrate thy glorification.

roman stylus writing tablet

Writing tablet & Roman stylus

“If you have allowed the tablets of your soul to be carved and written over with various opinions and impressions, without ever wisely and carefully discerning who the writer was and what he was writing about, then sponge away things written by false teachers — purify your soul through repentance and rejection of all that is contrary to God.  Let the only writer on these tablets be the finger of God.  Prepare your mind and heart for this writer with purity, piety and a chaste life.  Then, through your prayers and your reading, the tablets of your soul will be – inconspicuously and mystically – inscribed with the law of the Spirit.”

-St. Ignaty Brianchaninov

Last night, June 22, the Feast of St. Alban the Proto-martyr of Britain, I gave a talk via google videos for a group in Toronto, organized by the Apostle Paul brotherhood.  It was on my second book, The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory, published by Ancient Faith Publishing.

While sitting in our domestic chapel here in Newfoundland (the iconostasis and altar are to my right in this video), I gave an overview of the book and read a sample story from each of the eight “Beatitudes” (chapters). Although the video drops a handful of times just after the halfway point it continues uninterrupted.

Here is the list of stories I read in the video:

ONE: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven, Visitations of Grace (an excerpt), p. 17

TWO:  Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted, Hope in Eternal Life, p. 43

THREE:  Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth, He Condescended, p. 103

FOUR:  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled, Not to Send Them Away Hungry, p. 117

FIVE:  Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy, The Quickest Way to Lose Grace, p. 158

SIX:  Blessed are the pure in heart: for they will see God, Holy Icons as Vehicles of Grace, p. 194

SEVEN:  Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons, Set a Watch Before My Mouth, p. 236

EIGHT:  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, Theirs is the Kingdom, p. 275

At the end of the talk I mention the Romanian translator of both books, Luminita Irina Niculescu, who reposed in the Lord just two weeks ago. May her memory be eternal!

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Following the Holy Fathers: Essays on the Timeless Guides of Authentic Christianity is a collection of essays written by Greek Patrologist Theodoros Zisis (translated by Rev Dr John Palmer), published by Newrome Press

Brief description: This book represents a collection of valuable scholarship covering both a broad range of Patristic figures dating from apostolic times to the present day, as well as a wide variety of themes. Moreover, it paints a roughly representative picture of one of Greece’s most important modern Patristic scholars and effectively introduces him to the English-speaking world. Most importantly, though, this volume offers to show readers how an authentic Orthodox Patrologist relates to the lives, text, and teachings of the Holy Fathers.

table of contents

First of five pages outlining the book’s Table of Contents

Review written by Marla Riehl: This book is a selection of Patristic essays on a wide variety of topics. The essays are short, and thanks to an excellent translation by Father John Palmer, are concise, clear and a joy to read. I appreciated Fr John’s introductory biographical sketch of the author, Fr. Zisis, so that we get a sense of the magnitude of Fr. Zisis’s scholarship and dedication to the Orthodox Christian faith. Fr. Zisis, a Patristic giant in Greece, has much to offer Orthodox Christians in North America where various innovations (including ‘post Patristic theology’ which he discusses) and ecumenism with the Non Orthodox tempt and often confuse the faithful, many of whom are converts with little understanding of the Church Fathers.

If there is one underlying theme that runs through the text it is that the Church Fathers, illumined and guided by the Holy Spirit, point the way of the narrow path of Orthodox Christianity. This theme is discussed in detail in the important essay, “The Holy Fathers: An Inexhaustible Fountain,” which all seekers, catechumens and faithful would benefit from reading.

Overall the entire collection conveys that the Church offers us “Fathers” in every age, from the Church’s inception to the present, who offer timeless wisdom that is relevant for us today. The perspective of these Fathers on how Paul was a model pastor, for example, and how monasticism and virginity are integral to Christianity, help us appreciate the high and unchanging standards of the Orthodox Faith. Essays on a spiritual interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer (St Maximos) and an understanding of the Psalms as a garden (St Athanasios the Great), can serve to enrich and deepen the reader’s spiritual life. Essays on various saints throughout the ages—including the modern saint, St Nektarios the Wonderworker, who practiced “holy avarice”– are likely to inspire the reader. The reader can glean practical ‘advice’ from discussions on consoling a mourner (St Basil the Great), raising children (St John Chrysostom), and the use of wealth (St Gregory Palamas)—relevant today because the Fathers that Fr Zisis discusses understood the movements and temptations of the soul.

Where appropriate, Fr Zisis presents his own observations of modern life and applies the Orthodox perspective, whether it be about educating children, or correcting erroneous viewpoints (for example, about marriage). In a historical essay entitled, “Islam and the Neo-Martyrs,” Fr. Zisis discusses neo-martyrs’ complete rejection of Islam, a rejection that he contrasts with the interfaith dialogues so popular today. As Zisis writes, “God has tried the gold of Orthodoxy by fire and iron; [H]e has purified it by means of persecution and martyrdom so that it might play its salvific role in the coming third millennium.” In order to play that role, Orthodox Christians must have a pure, Patristic mindset—the mindset of the Church and its saints throughout the ages–which is why this book is so important and timely.

This book is a valuable reference that I will return to frequently when its seeds have taken time to germinate in my spiritual and intellectual life. I am grateful to have become acquainted with Fr. Zisis through this work, and am also grateful to his translator who selected which articles to include in this text.

As a physical object the book is lovely: a colourful icon graces the cover, and illustrations are offered throughout. Thankfully the font is readable (i.e., large enough), so that reading this book is a pleasure. I highly recommend this book for Orthodox Christians who wish to strengthen their faith, and for Non-Orthodox who are interested in an Orthodox perspective.

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The feast of St. Bede is celebrated May 27th

(Source) Saint Bede was a church historian who recorded the history of Christianity in England up to his own time. When he was seven, Bede was sent to Saint Benedict Biscop (January 12) at the monastery of Saint Peter at Wearmouth to be educated and raised. Then he was sent to the new monastery of Saint Paul founded at Jarrow in 682, where he remained until his death. Saint Bede was ordained as a deacon when he was nineteen, and to the holy priesthood at the age of thirty by Saint John of Beverley (May 7), the holy Bishop of Hexham (687), and later (705) of York.

Bede had a great love for the church services, and believed that since the angels were present with the monks during the services, that he should also be there. “What if they do not find me among the brethren when they assemble? Will they not say, ‘Where is Bede?’