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From a Presentation by the Very Reverend Abbot of St. Anthony’s Monastery, Archimandrite Paisios, to the San Francisco Diocese clergy conference at St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery in Florence, Arizona. Spring, 1998.

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Many Christians during the first centuries of the Church were moved by a holy zeal to forsake the world and distribute almost all their belongings to the poor or to a common treasury, and then lived a secular life, praying and reading the Holy Scriptures. They usually lived not far from their own families. By doing handicrafts, they earned what they needed for their basic living necessities. They distributed the little money that was left over to the poor. These people were called “ascetics.” This way of life developed even more during the following years, and from this mode of living the monastic life was born. Women who wanted and desired to dedicate themselves completely to God confessed before witnesses that they desired a life of virginity and thenceforth lived—in the beginning—with their parents, who provided for their livelihood. Later it was customary for the virgins to live together in “Parthenons,” Pachomios the Great organized monasticism for women more perfectly and founded many monasteries for men and many for women.

The monastic life was called the “apostolic life” in the ancient church.  It imitated – and still imitates – the life of the first Christians, who lived under the direct or indirect spiritual direction of the Apostles.  In essence, it is a life of repentance and purification of the heart from our passions, while fulfilling the commandments of the Lord.  The beatitudes of the Lord find their fulfillment in monasticism, and more generally in ascesis, just as in the time of the ancient church.

The ascetical life of the monasteries is just like the ascetical life of the first Christians.  We find in the Acts of the Apostles that the faithful “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers… All who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.  Continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food. . .” (Acts 2:42-46) And later we find another similar testimony: “The multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.” (Acts 4:32)

Sozomenos writes in the Ecclesiastical History that the Jews who became Christians led a philosophical life, as he called it – their way of life was just as we see it organized today, says Sozomenos, by the Egyptian monks.  They imitated as much as they could the Prophet Elias and St. John the Baptist.  “They forsake belongings, relatives, friends; they live outside of the city in sacred houses called monasteries, in which they conduct august sacraments and worship God day and night.  They do not eat before sunset, or they eat once every three or more days.  They abstain from meat and wine.  There are old virgins living with them…” We see that ascesis was never limited only to men.

In an account of St. Justin the Philosopher, in the second half of the second century, the saint describes the life of the Christians which is similar to that of the first Christians; “We bring whatever we have to the common treasury and we distribute it to whomever is in need.”  Their spiritual life was such that, according to St. Justin, they would not even contract marriages, except for the sake of raising children, or they would set aside marriage to keep complete continence.  In other words, the monastic way of life, according to the saint, was a normal phenomenon.

The Lord’s words, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given,” were actually meant to help his disciples strive for a life of celibacy.  Thus, according to St. John Chrysostom, the Lord presents the issue of not marrying as a great and significant achievement in order to attract them and exhort them, since the Lord wanted to inspire the desire for celibacy in them.

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IMG_0725     Then, to show the possibility of virginity, He said, “There are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake,” that is, they destroyed the evil thoughts and purified their heart.  In this way He led them with these words to prefer celibacy, as St. John says.

Celibacy existed in the beginning of the creation of Adam and Eve.  St. John Chrysostom describes the life of Adam and Eve in his eighteenth homily on the Book of Genesis: “At the outset and from the beginning the practice of virginity was in force. However when due to their indifference they disobeyed and sin began, that lifestyle was taken away.

Also in his work On Virginity, he describes the life of Adam and Eve saying: “It was deemed necessary for him to have a helpmate, and it came to be, yet not even in this manner was marriage considered necessary.  It did not even appear, for they lived without marriage, abiding in paradise as if in heaven, and enjoyed the pleasure of associating with God…. Thus did they live in that place, adorned with virginity.” So it was natural for Adam and Eve to live in virginity and in continuous communion with God, since, as St. Nicholas Cabasilas says, “Adam and Eve were created in the image of the Incarnate God the Logos. Christ was the archetype. The Old Adam was not the prototype for the New, but the New Adam was the prototype for the old.  St. Gregory Palamas and St. Maximos the Confessor say exactly the same thing. In this monastic life, the life of celibacy, mankind has its beginning.

Therefore, monasticism is not something foreign to the Church; it is not something that began much later. Celibacy is the life that Christ the Prototype of the old Adam, wanted mankind to live.

When the Church was besieged by blasphemous heresies, the monks and nuns greatly contributed to fight against them. They fought against and hated the dogmas of the heretics, but sincerely loved the heretics. With sincere love in imitation of Christ they brought the heretics back to the bosom of the Church. The sacrament of communion was the final, the crowning stage of the heretics’ return to the Church. However, without the complete rejection of the heresy, this was impossible. Their confession of faith in the decision of the Ecumenical Councils was considered a basic prerequisite of the expression of the orthodoxy of the monks. The catholicity of the Church during the era of the Ecumenical Councils is lived in the eucharistic assembly with obedience to a bishop, as well as through the unconditional acceptance of the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. The voice of the infallible Church is expressed both through the Ecumenical Councils and through the other regional councils, whose authority is acknowledged by the universal Church’s conscience.

The champions of these decisions were the monks, distinguished for their orthodox faith. Since heresy appeared as a threat to the unity of the Church, the bishops, being responsible for their flock, sought the help of spiritual men to confront the heresies. St. Anthony the Great was summoned from his mountain by the bishops many times to help confront the Arians. St. Makarios was called upon by a bishop to help him against Ierakitos. The nun Melani was active in Palestine. Besides all the other public welfare institutions and women’s and men’s monasteries she founded, she brought about 400 schismatics back to Orthodoxy, who belonged to the sect of the Meletians. Likewise, she worked with other spiritual men to bring all the Spirit-fighting heretics of her area back to the Church. In the book of Barsanuphios and John, the faith in the Ecumenical Councils is praised and extolled. In Palestine, St. Efthymios and St. Symeon the Stylite brought Evdokia back from the anti-Chalcedonian heresy of Dioscoros to the Universal Church. And along with her, a multitude of people deceived by Theodosios returned to the Orthodox Church.

The confessors of the Orthodox Church Sts. Savvas and Theodosios the Abbot also engaged in similar struggles. St. Savvas not only anathematized the leaders of heresies – Eutuches, Nestor, and Severos – but also “supported” the council of Chalcedon. Countless other monks struggled for the authority of the Ecumenical Councils and against the heresies. Not only did monks and hieromonks struggle for them, but they also took part in the Ecumenical Councils. In particular in the Seventh Ecumenical Council, out of the 350 Orthodox Fathers, 136 were abbots and monks.

Even the emperors themselves believed in the positive role of the monks to bring back those who had gone astray from the Church, “which is one.” The letters of the emperor Marcian to the Fathers of Sinai which exhort them against Theodosios the heretic, show the conviction of the emperor that the peace of the Church and the return to her of those who have gone stray was possible through the sound advice and support of the monastics.

The ascetic monastic fathers of the desert, having traversed the path of their spiritual journey free of deception, that is, by passing from the purification of their soul, and progressing to illumination and theosis, in other words to the state of beholding God, to the true theology of our Church, were able to present the truth successfully against errors.

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IMG_0730     Our Church honors marriage in Christ as well as virginity in Christ. So when a monk or nun criticizes or despises marriage, he shows that he does not have an ecclesiastical mind-set (phronema), since he criticizes something that the Church blesses. A true monk never criticizes the blessed state of marriage. And of course a married person should not criticize monasticism because this also shows a lack of an ecclesiastical mind-set (phronema). Divine Grace is acquired by the monk with virginity in Christ, while by the layman with a marriage in Christ. But in either case, a struggle, ascesis, is required, according to Orthodox teaching.

St. John Chrysostom teaches: “Those who live in the world, even though they are married, ought to resemble the monks in all ways.” “You are greatly deceived if you think that there are things that are required of laymen and other things of monks…. All are equally accountable.” St. Basil the Great says in his Ascetical Works: “Submission to the Gospel is required for all men, both for monks and for laymen.

How much, and to what degree must each and every person apply himself in order to attain salvation?  According to Father Justin Popovitch, “all of God and all of man, nothing less. It is not measured by just how much is needed and who gives more but God gives all of Himself and man must give all of himself, and in this consists salvation.” And this again applies to monks as well as laymen.

Monasticism expresses the apostolic life of the ancient Church as the continuation of that Church. It is the heart of the Church. But because the world does not provide the capability for people to live in it evangelically to the degree that many would want to, they withdraw from the world, aflame with a divine inspiration, which for several people is uncontainable, for even in their sleep they keep the commandments of the Lord. They withdraw from the world not out of self-love or cowardice or to avoid assuming worldly responsibilities, but out of a purely holy desire to be freed of their passions and that their heart be cleansed, so that they be united with Him Whom they yearn for.

“A Monk,” according to St. Nilus of Sinai, “is he who, withdrawing from all men, is united with all men. A monk is he who regards himself as existing with all men and sees himself in each man. The more a monk overcomes the world, the brighter shines his grace-filled rays and the greater the number of people who can be warmed and illumined by them. From his isolate cell, he sees deeper and becomes familiar with his fellow human beings and grows far closer to them in heart than is possible for those living in the world, for he sees them all and is united with them in God.”

Monasticism is similar to the first apostolic parishes, not only in their common belongings and common daily prayers, but primarily in their common therapeutic treatment. In the ancient Church, the catechumen would pass through the stage of purification, would be enlightened in Holy Baptism, and would even reach theosis. In a similar fashion, a novice monk struggles in the stage of purification and repentance, as the catechumen would, and when his repentance is completed, he enters the stage of enlightenment with the “Second Baptism” which he receives, that is, in his tonsure, and then by the grace of God, he proceeds, if God wills it, towards theosis. If we study Orthodox Monasticism, we would understand how the first apostolic parishes functioned.

The parish life can be inspired by the monastic life. “Angels are a light for monastics, and the monastics are a light for laymen,” according to St. John of Sinai. The monastery reminds the faithful that the commandments of the Lord are common, they apply to all. It drives them on towards new spiritual struggles. Some even experience a spiritual rebirth, according to just how receptive they are to the Grace of the Holy Spirit.

The monastery is a clinic, in precisely the same way that the first apostolic parishes were. The uncreated grace of God perfects man. Once man achieves the healing of this soul, he lives the tradition of our Church; he becomes a bearer of Tradition. When the great Fathers of the Church, who were for the most part monks spoke about purification, illumination, and theosis, they spoke as ones with the experience of the uncreated light; they lived this reality, they lived this tradition of the Church, they lived Orthodoxy. And Orthodoxy, according to Father Justin Popovitch, is: “life and experience of grace, and through this grace, knowledge of God and men.”

The monks, and all Christians, who are cleansed of their passions, find the cure of their soul become the most social of people. And since they themselves have found interior peace and perceptibly know what it means to be a temple of the Holy Spirit, they are able to guide others as well towards the purification of their soul. Spiritual guides are not limited merely to the clergy or to the monks and nuns, but all clergy and laity, married and celibate, men and women are able to guide souls towards perfection if they themselves have been purified of their passions and have attained the state of enlightenment. Or even if they are still in the stage of the purification of their soul, they are able to help.

The love that one has towards monasticism, towards the apostolic life is proof that one lives Orthodox tradition. It is love towards the essence itself of Orthodoxy and this is why all the saints loved ascesis.

The ascetical life is our effort assisted by the Grace of God to apply the commandments of Christ. As St. Gregory Palamas has said ‘ascesis is primarily the evangelical life which is based on repentance. It is man’s preparation for his union with Christ. The commandments of the Lord are directed to all married and celibate, without exception. The only difference is that monks pursue the more perfect application, according the words of the Lord, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and come and follow me.”

Ascesis along with repentance requires bodily effort. As Abba Isaac the Syrian says, “The nous is not glorified with Jesus Christ if the body does not suffer for Christ.” When by means of an ascetical life man is united with Christ, or at least is progressing towards this communion and union, then he is able to see within himself how the achievement of the image and likeness of God is brought about. When man struggles, he simply shows his good intentions to God, and it is the uncreated grace that performs the ineffable union.

When a monk, or a Christian, lives properly, that is, when he progresses spiritually and passes through purification and attains enlightenment, and progresses in accordance with the will of God towards theosis, then he lives Pentecost. He comes into direct contact with Christ through His uncreated energies, which has an impact on the whole world for a person’s spiritual rebirth, as the Fathers of the Church understand it and as it is lived primarily in monasticism, is noticed by all of creation. He effectively benefits all of creation. His teaching, his life, his behavior, his entire spiritual world are all different. He reflects the eternal life, the new life that Christ brought to the world. This new man is what we, too, are called to live in order to see in practice the difference between the genuine Orthodox Christian and the life of a worldly man.

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IMG_0791    The transfiguration of each soul takes place also with constant repentance. In beginning His work to save the world, the Lord preached repentance.

A monk through constant repentance renews his baptism. According to St. John of the Ladder, the tears of repentance are a second baptism, a reconciliation with the Lord, and a purification of the conscience. According to St. Isaac, the fruit of the inner man begins with tears. This is why tears are a sign of true repentance, and they are required of all Christians. But there are also other kinds of tears. According to St. Isaac, there is “an order of tears which belongs to him who sheds tears unceasingly both night and day …. The eyes of such a man become like fountains of water for two years’ time or even more. But afterwards he enters into peace of thought and purity of heart. And once he enters into it, it shall abide with him till death. And God raises up the fruit of the Spirit in him. And in this present life he perceives, dimly somehow, and in a figure as it were, the change nature is going to receive at the renewal of all things.” This marks the completion of the heart’s purification process.

The saints of our Church know that divine Grace abides in and transfigures our soul with a desire for struggling, with humility – which is the basis and foundation of the virtues – with watchfulness, and with prayer.

The prayer which the monk uses above all, more than all the other prayers of the Church is the so-called Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” It has tremendous power when it is used constantly and with zeal, and primarily when it is used under the super-vision of an elder who possesses this prayer, that is who has experience of how it acts in the soul of a person. The Jesus prayer contains a confession of the God-man and a confession of our sinfulness. In this combination of these two truths lies the whole spirit of our Orthodoxy. With time, the Jesus prayer guides us towards Christ-like humility, which, according to St. Maximos, guides us to the two-fold knowledge: the knowledge of the omnipotence of Christ and the knowledge of our own weakness. The ignorance of the omnipotence of Christ and the ignorance of our own weakness constitute pride.

The Jesus prayer purifies the nous of thoughts and fantasy, an indispensable prerequisite without which man does not achieve the knowledge of the truth, the knowledge of God, in other words, does not fulfill his purpose as a Christian. As St. John Chrysostom says, this prayer illuminates man with uncreated light. “Prayer done with zeal is light for the nous and soul… It is an unquenchable and continuous light.” However, it is not achieved without labor and temptations. In fact, according to St. Isaac the Syrian, “Reckon every prayer, wherein the body does not toil and the heart is not afflicted to be a miscarriage.”

When prayer, and in particular the Jesus prayer, is done with zeal and persistence and under obedience, it brings man to “true knowledge of God, it is an intercessor between God and men, a physician of the passions, and antidote for illnesses, peace of soul, a guide that leads to heaven, it is communion and union with God. And man’s soul is directed towards God, enlightened, and is thoroughly brightened by His indescribable light.” The monk constantly strives to occupy himself with prayer and mainly with the Jesus prayer, lest he be found unworthy of this divine conversation and end up spiritually lifeless and dead. For the Jesus prayer to purify the soul of man, it must be said without ceasing. This work is not only for monks. Praying without ceasing is for all Christians, according to the Apostle Paul. St. Gregory Palamas as Archbishop of Thessaloniki taught the same thing, that ceaseless prayer, the Jesus prayer, it not only for monks, but for all Christians, as well. But for man to make progress in the Jesus prayer, stillness and seclusion are indispensable aids.

In the Gospel, the Lord often went out into the wilderness to pray. “Why did he ascend the mountain?” asks St. John Chrysostom. And he answers, “In order to teach us that solitude and isolation are good things when we want to come into contact with God. The wilderness is the mother of hesychia and it keeps us far from all noise.

All the hours of the day are appropriate for prayer, but the nighttime hours are most suitable. The night has darkness and quiet, essential aids for the execution of prayer. This is why monks prefer the nighttime hours for noetic prayer and their communication with God. The wilderness has shown forth tens of thousands of saints of our church.

The monk gives priority to the person. Ascesis delivers him from thoughts, the imagination and the passions and by the grace of God he acquires peace and becomes a fountain of peace for all the world. “Find peace within yourself,” says St. Seraphim of Sarov “and thousands all around you will be saved.” He means here not just those who come into contact face to face with such a person but also those far away are changed and become partakers of the grace of such a saint, and turn towards God. This is why today the world needs such people more than ever before.

“Perhaps,” St. Silouan writes, “You will say that nowadays there are no monks who would pray for the whole world; but I tell you that when there are no men of prayer on the earth, the world will come to an end and great calamities will befall: they have started already.”

External stillness must be accompanied with interior stillness. The beginning of the development of the passions and of one’s fall is thoughts, which proceed from a soul lacking peace. The imagination is also a diseased condition of the soul. Of course, in our Lord the New Adam, and in Adam and Eve before the Fall, these did not exist. When we initially undertake by the Grace of God to cure of soul of its illness, a real struggle is required so that we do not, according to St. Dorotheos, “remain all the time rotting in our thoughts.” When a monk joins ceaseless prayer with endless vigilance and complete spiritual obedience to an experienced elder, then he gradually achieves the purification of his soul, and “the purity of soul,” according to St. Isaac the Syrian, “is the first gift of our nature; and without purity of the passions the soul is not healed of the illness of sin, nor does it acquire the glory which it has lost through the Fall.”

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IMG_0823     Since we have briefly mentioned the virtues which we as Christians must work at, it would be good to mention also the virtue which is the mother of all virtues, obedience, which without great toil brings all the virtues chained together.

Obedience is a great mystery of our Church, as St. Silouan has said. “The Holy Fathers,” according to St. Silouan, “ranked obedience, which is in essence humility, above fasting and prayer.” In a broader sense, we must have more obedience to Church Tradition and to the visible point of organizational unity, that is, to the bishop and to the canonical structure of the Church. However, more specifically, spiritual obedience to a spiritual father who has reached the state of illumination and theosis renders the disciple, in proportion to the faith and obedience he has towards his elder, a recipient of the uncreated energies of God, through his spiritual father.

“He who has cut off his self-will and put himself under obedience in all things to his elder and his confessor has an unfettered mind… and obedience brings him all the virtues and gifts one by one. He who has true obedience fulfills all the commandments and becomes like Christ who was ‘obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.’ The Holy Spirit loves the obedient soul,” according to St Silouan, “and quickly comes to know the Lord, and obtains prayer of the heart…. And thus
God gives His wisdom and anything else the obedient soul asks of Him.”

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  The Church today, the world, is passing through a very serious crises, a crisis both moral and spiritual. The problem in the world today is man – the individual. If man by means of ascesis purifies his nous from thoughts and fantasies and then his heart from the passions, then the Grace of the Holy Spirit comes permanently to his soul, and in this manner he becomes at peace with himself and with God. He comes into contact with God and is at peace with his fellow man and with all of creation. The achievement of one soul being cured of his passions means a positive change to all of society, it is a beginning of the cure of all society. This is primarily what monasticism – the apostolic life – has offered and continues to offer to the Church throughout its history, either by word or through silence, to those who draw near.IMG_0831

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+Metropolitan Augustinos (Kantiotes) of Florina[1]

 “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” – 1 Corinthians 4:15

Beloved readers, the word ‘father’ is a holy word; implicit in it are many holy ideas.  First, for Christians, it calls to mind the Heavenly Father, who alone is worthy of the title in an absolute sense.  For this reason the Lord said, “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.”[2]  Further, it calls to mind all of those who in this earthly life reflect the rays of the Heavenly Father’s love.  Primarily, these are fathers according to nature.

  1. Life.

Father!  This word plucks at the most tender of man’s heartstrings.  When a father has left this life and is wrapped in the glory of eternity, the simple remembrance of him proves deeply moving, bringing tears to the eyes.  A father is someone to be revered; he is an instrument of Divine Providence for each and every person who has passed from non-being into being, who has seen the light of day, has come through him.  None of us was born of a stone; we all have a father.  Jesus alone is fatherless on earth, just as he is motherless in the heavens.

O, how much each of us owes to his father!  A father – and here we speak of a good father – is not satisfied with the fact that he had a share in bringing a person into this world, but rather, from the moment he hears his child’s first cry he becomes his protector since if an infant is left on its own it cannot possibly survive.  Like a plant, an infant needs particular care until its small, vulnerable body grows, until he matures to the point of being able to care for himself.  The progenitor thus becomes a provider as well. He labours; he wears himself out; he makes sacrifices.  If there is no work to be found in his area, he moves.  He goes to the ends of the earth just to scrape together what is necessary for his child’s sustenance.  Moreover, a father’s affection for his child is great.  He will even do heroic things like give his own life to save his child from some life-threatening danger, or deprive himself of food to feed his starving child.  He will spend entire nights at his child’s side when he is sick; he will sell all that he has so that his child can see the best doctors in the world.  He would throw himself into fire; he would brave the waves; he would do battle with wild beasts…

O, how much children owe to their parents when they are good parents!  To them – after God – they owe their very life!  This is why the Decalogue, immediately after setting out our obligations toward God the Heavenly Father in the first four commandments, places the commandment which enjoins the honouring of parents.  This is the lone commandment which contains an explicit promise to those who keep it – that God’s blessing will be with them throughout the whole of their lives.  Children who honour their parents will be richly blessed:  “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”[3]  Conversely, the Moasic Law condemns an Israelite who ill-treats his father or mother to the most extreme of punishments, that is, death by stoning.  “And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.”[4]  Moreover, while the testimony of two or three witnesses is required as proof in the case of other offences and misdeeds, this is not required when an Israelite has been disrespectful to his parents.  All that is needed is the testimony of the disrespected father.  The father – and the father alone – is deemed worthy of trust in such an instance because for a parent to arrive at the point of accusing his own child and delivering him over to the most extreme of punishments means that the child truly disrespected him since the child’s lack of respect had to overcome the father’s natural affection.  Making the matter worse, a disrespectful child, through his disrespectful behavior, has become a cause of turmoil within the moral order of the family and the broader community, which is founded upon the honoring of parents.

Children who honor and respect their parents receive blessings, then, while those who slander and wrong their parents are cursed.  History, both ancient and modern, shows us by means of many examples that displays of disrespect towards one’s ancestors do not go unpunished in this life, but also that the respectful and loving behavior of children towards their parents is not without its blessings.  Therefore, you children who are fortunate enough to still have your good parents with you in this life, hear the words of the Wisdom of Sirach:  “For the blessing of the father establisheth the houses of children; but the curse of the mother rooteth out foundations,”[5] and, “Honour thy father with thy whole heart, and forget not the sorrows of thy mother. Remember that thou wast begot of them, and how canst thou recompense them the things that they have done for thee.”[6]

  1. The good life.

There are yet others, beyond those who have given us life according to the flesh, who warrant a respect similar to that which is due unto parents.   We are speaking of those who labour and sacrifice, not for the sake of the outer man, but rather for the sake of the inner man.  The inner man, the principal man, is the spirit, the soul.  The outer man is visible; you can photograph a man every day, beginning with the day he is born and continuing until he reaches deep old age, and keep these photos in the family album as a record of that person’s bodily growth and development.  Looking at those photos, you will wonder at how that tiny being who walks on all fours, became a perfect man…from imperfection to perfection!

  1. The life according to Christ.

So, parents bestow life, while teachers and professors bestow knowledge, the arts, and science, through which one secures a life of luxury, wealth, and glory.  Beyond bodily existence, however, beyond knowledge and science, there is yet something else infinitely more lofty which gives life true meaning.  This is holiness.  Holiness is separation from everything profane; it is the cleansing of the soul from the filth of sin; it is the putting off of vice, which like rust blemishes the inner man.  It is also the acquisition of the virtues through which man is raised up from the lowly to the spiritual and heavenly so that he approaches the Cherubim and Seraphim, appearing to be some sort of earthly angel.  This is man at his peak, achieved through the imitation of the virtues of Christ who is the unrivalled, unapproachable, and eternal model of holiness.

Holiness is the most important thing in a person’s life.  It stands above all other things.  All other things, as much as they may impress the world, are but small and lowly in comparison with holiness.  Moreover, whatever value they have is acquired only when they are watered by the life-giving power of holiness.  In the service of holiness, science becomes a force for good; isolated from it and partnered with vice, it becomes malignant and destructive.  It has rightly been observed that one speck of holiness is worth more than tons of human knowledge and worldly wisdom.

Parents bestow live, then, and teachers bestow the good live, but who bestows upon us the life in Christ, life within the sphere of holiness?  Who are those instruments by means of which man is white-washed, purified, made radiant?  O, how poor is our vocabulary when it comes to describing the life in Christ which the Holy Scriptures refers to as ‘new birth’, ‘rebirth’, and ‘a new creation’!  It is the Holy Spirit who fashions holiness, but the instruments of the Holy Spirit are those whom the Apostle Paul describes in his letter to the Ephesians, saying that Christ gave, “some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”[7]  This blessed person is the priest, by whom infants are baptized; by whom marriages are preformed; by whom the sins of those who are repentant are remitted; by whom the Holy Gifts are sanctified; by whom the bread and wine are transformed at the Divine Liturgy; by whom our entrance and exit from this world are blessed.  He is worthy of reverence on account of his loft service which excels even that offered by the angels.  It is from this perspective that these might be called, ‘Father’.

In the Orthodox Church, we also call fathers those exceptional figures who shone in the spiritual sky like radiant stars; who shone through their holiness; who shone through their writings; and not a small number of who shone through their miracles and martyric ends.

The Fathers!  They loved the Lord with the full flame of their love.  Out of a desire to attain purity of heart, to achieve holiness in the highest degree, to be as close to God as possible, they fled to desolate places, they undertook strict ascetical practices, they fasted, they prayed, they studied the Scriptures.  Then after many years of ascetical labour they left their hermitages and came to the cities.  With what love they embraced humanity!  With what boldness and daring they rebuked those who oppressed and wronged the people of God!  With what wisdom and skill they fought against the heresiarchs, scattering heretical assemblies!

The Fathers!  In times of famine and social unrest they were shown to be new Josephs since through their preaching they opened storehouse doors, thereby feeding the hungry, and sheltered widows and orphans.  They sold whatever they had – sometimes even the Church’s silver and gold vessels – to ransom captives from the clutches of barbarians.

The Fathers!  In times of persecution they did not abandon the people of God to save their own skin, but they remained with the people as defenders and protectors and often met martyric ends as a consequence.

The Fathers!  In times of fearful heresy they sounded like trumpets.  They made up the body of local and ecumenical councils; they condemned heretical mindsets; they formulated dogmas with crystalline clarity; they anathematized heretics; they secured the flock, safeguarding it from wolves.

The Fathers!  In life, they are the Church’s benefactors, however they do not cease from benefitting it even after their repose.  Then they benefit it by their holy relics which are not only proof that the corruption of time has been overcome, but are also sources of healing.  Above all, however, they benefit it thorough their writings.  Having embraced voluntary poverty, it is these which they have bequeathed to the Church as its inherence.  O, the writing of the Fathers!  Despite the fact that they were written ages ago, they – together with what they teach – ever remain relevant for they were inspired by the Holy Spirit.  They never wax old.  When someone picks these up and studies them, he feels as if he is next to some fresh-water spring from which he draws the water of life, drinks insatiably, is refreshed, and is made glad.  Truly, these Fathers are an ever-flowing stream of wisdom!

Among those characteristics which serve to distinguish the Orthodox Church from other churches is the fact that it honors and venerates the Fathers in accordance with divine command:  “Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us… Their seed shall remain forever, and their glory shall not be blotted out.  Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore.  The people will tell of their wisdom, and the congregation will show forth their praise,”[8] and also, “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will show thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee.”[9]  Proof that the Orthodox Church honours its Fathers may be found in the fact that, apart from the various feasts when great Fathers and Teachers are celebrated individually, it dedicates three Sundays of the year to the corporate memory of the Fathers, namely the 7th Sunday after Pascha when we celebrate the memory of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, the Sunday falling between the 13th -19th of July when we celebrate the memory of the Holy Fathers who assembled at the first six ecumenical councils, and the Sunday between the 11th – 17th of October when we celebrate the memory of the Holy Fathers who assembled at the Seventh Ecumenical Council to condemn Iconoclasm.  By means of the outstanding hymns that we sing at these services, the Church honours their memory.  Of these hymns, we submit the following God-inspired example:  “The choir of the holy fathers hath gathered from the ends of the earth, hath taught the single essence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and hath carefully committed to the Church the mystery of theology.  Praising them in faith, let us bless them saying: O divine legion, divinely eloquent swordsmen of the Lord’s command, most radiant stars of the noetic firmament, unassailable towers of the mystical Sion, sweet-scented blossoms of paradise, golden mouths of the Word, boast of Nicaea and adornments of the whole world: Pray ye in behalf of our souls!”[10]

Beloved brethren!  In the end times, the disrespect that people have often shown toward their parents according to the flesh, dishonouring them in various ways, has crept into their relationship with their spiritual fathers and the teachers of the Church.  People today stand with jaws agape, staring into bookshop windows wherein are displayed writings of questionable value – some even highly dangerous.  In our schools, texts written by pre-Christian writers which are full of myths and which propound the cosmology associated with the false gods of Olympus are taught in Ancient Greek classes.  But the texts of the great Fathers and teachers of the Church which flow with the sweetness of divine wisdom, where are they?  The Fathers have been exiled from the schools of our Orthodox kingdom.  Hesiod, Herodotus, Lysias, Lucian, Theokritos, Arrian, along with other poets and literary figures of the idol-worshiping world, are to be held in higher esteem according to the view of the Department of Education.  Sadly, the writings of the Holy Fathers, a treasure written for the most part in Greek, are kept hidden from our people.

  1. Living in a manner worthy of the Fathers.

Honoring the Fathers should not be limited simply to hymns and encomia, beloved brethren.  Just as being the descendent of noble forefathers entails certain obligations, so being the spiritual descendant of the glorious Fathers of the Church places holy obligations on all faithful children of Orthodoxy.  Just as those who have lived in hostile environments and amid many troubles did not lose heart, become disillusioned, or faint-hearted, but instead held aloft the standard of Orthodoxy throughout everything, bearing witness to Jesus in their generation, so are we called to do.  Let us too hold aloft the standard of Orthodoxy; let us too bear witness to Jesus in our generation which is either doesn’t know, or distorts the holy truths of Orthodoxy.  By the manner of our life, we ought to show that Christ not only lived and worked wonders in the era of the Fathers, but that he lives and continues to work wonders even today; that the miracle of faith is something continuous and uninterrupted in accordance with the Apostolic teaching which says, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.”[11]  Orthodoxy is not what her critics, misunderstanding our deep reverence for the Fathers, say that she is; Orthodoxy is not something static, but rather an unbroken living stream, a holy fire which one generation receives from the previous, and then in turn passes on to the next, calling it to lay hold of the saving light.  Orthodoxy is an unceasing lighting of the lamps, an uninterrupted and continuous torch race which began with the fires of Pentecost and continues down to our day, and will continue until the second coming of Christ.  We are called to bear witness to all this, thus becoming imitators of the Holy Fathers.

May our lives shine as theirs did, then, for if we limit ourselves to hymns of praise and encomiums, boasting in the Patristic treasure, then we will resemble the unworthy sons of Israel who boasted in their glorious forefathers yet lived lives altogether different from them.  ‘You who live impiously cannot possibly call Abraham your father,’ calls out the voice of the Forerunner like thunder.  Sadly, this rebuke might just as easily be spoken of our generation, a generation of sin and hypocrisy, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.”[12]
[1]  This article is a translation of, “Οι Πατέρες” in Πνευματικά Σαλπίσματα Ορθοδόξου Ζωής και Ομολογίας. (Thessalonki:  2008), 83-93.  Translated by Rev Dr John Palmer.

[2]   Matthew 23:19.

[3]   Exodus 20:12.

[4]   Exodus 21:15.

[5]   Wisdom of Sirach 3:9.

[6]   Wisdom of Sirach 7:27.

[7]   Ephesians 4:11-12.

[8]   See Wisdom of Sirach 44:1-15.

[9]   Deuteronomy 32:7.

[10]   Doxastikon of the Praises at Matins for the Holy Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils.

[11]   Hebrews 13:8.

[12]   Matthew 3:7-9.

This is a beautiful documentary (in Russian with English subtitles) about the life of St. Paisios the Athonite and his years spent on Mount Sinai in Egypt.

Here is a wonderful, animated, talk by my favourite (if only) brother, Fr. Matthew Penney. – co-founder of Lumination Press. The video has his name as Fr. Matthew Perry, but it’s a typo.  This homily was delivered at the Russian Orthodox Church of Christ the Saviour, in London, Ontario.

Axios!

 

0702john-sanfranciscoTen years ago today I was blessed to visit and venerate our great hierarch among the saints, John Maximovitch the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco. May we have his blessing!

(Source)

Our Father among the Saints John (Maximovitch), Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco (1896-1966), was a diocesan bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) who served widely from China to France to the United States.

Saint John departed this life on June 19 (O.S.) / July 2 (N.S.), 1966, and was officially glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad on July 2, 1994. His glorification was later recognized for universal veneration by the Patriarchate of Moscow on July 2, 2008.

Life

The future Saint John was born on June 4, 1896, in the village of Adamovka in Kharkiv province to pious aristocrats, Boris and Glafira Maximovitch. He was given the baptismal name of Michael, after the Holy Archangel Michael. In his youth, Michael was sickly and had a poor appetite, but he displayed an intense religious interest. He was educated at the Poltava Military School (1907-14); Kharkiv Imperial University, from which he received a law degree (in 1918); and the University of Belgrade (where he completed his theological education in 1925).

He and his family fled their country as the Bolshevik revolutionaries descended on the country, emigrating to Yugoslavia. There, he enrolled in the Department of Theology of the University of Belgrade. He was tonsured a monk in 1926 by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kharkov (later the first primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia). Metropolitan Anthony later in 1926 ordained him hierodeacon. Bishop Gabriel of Chelyabinsk ordained him hieromonk on November 21, 1926. Subsequent to his ordination he began an active life of teaching in a Serbian high school and serving, at the request of local Greeks and Macedonians, in the Greek language. With the growth of his popularity, the bishops of the Russian Church Aboard resolved to elevate him to the episcopate.

Hieromonk John was consecrated bishop on May 28, 1934, with Metropolitan Anthony serving as principal consecrator, after which he was assigned to the Diocese of Shanghai. Twelve years later he was named Archbishop of China. Upon his arrival in Shanghai, Bishop John began working to restore unity among the various Orthodox nationalities. In time, he worked to build a large cathedral church that was dedicated to Surety of Sinners Icon to the Mother of God, with a bell tower and large parish house. Additionally, he inspired many activities: building of churches, hospitals, and orphanages among the Orthodox and Russians of Shanghai. He was intensely active, constantly praying and serving the daily cycle of services, while also visiting the sick with the Holy Gifts. He often would walk barefooted even in the coldest days. Yet to avoid the appearance of secular glory, he would pretend to act the fool.

With the end of World War II and the coming to power of the communists in China, Bishop John led the exodus of his community from Shanghai in 1949. Initially, he helped some 5,000 refugees to a camp on the island of Tubabao in the Philippines, while he travelled successfully to Washington, D.C., to lobby to amend the law to allow these refugees to enter the United States. It was while on this trip that Bishop John took time to establish a parish in Washington dedicated to Saint John the Forerunner.

In 1951, Archbishop John was assigned to the Archdiocese of Western Europe with his cathedra in Paris. During his time there, he also served as archpastor of the Orthodox Church of France, whose restored Gallican liturgy he studied and then celebrated. He was the principal consecrator of the Orthodox Church of France’s first modern bishop, Jean-Nectaire (Kovalevsky) of Saint-Denis, and ordained to the priesthood the man who would become its second bishop, Germain (Bertrand-Hardy) of Saint-Denis.

In 1962, Archbishop John was assigned to the Diocese of San Francisco, succeeding his long time friend Archbishop Tikhon. Archbishop John’s days in San Francisco were to prove sorrowful as he attempted to heal the great disunity in his community. He was able to bring peace such that the new cathedral, dedicated to the Joy of all Who Sorrow Icon of the Mother of God, was completed.

Deeply revering Saint John of Kronstadt, Archbishop John played an active role in preparation of his canonization.

He reposed during a visit to Seattle on July 2, 1966, while accompanying a tour of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God. He was laid to rest in a crypt chapel under the main altar of the new cathedral.

CREDIT: www.monasteryofstjohn.org/?p=about_st_john

bishops

(Source)

Greek media is reporting that at least two documents put forth by the recently concluded Pan-Orthodox Council on Crete were not signed by all delegates.

While the names of all delegate bishops from each of the ten represented Local Churches were added to each document by the Secretariat of the Holy and Great Council, there were those who abstained from signing the documents “The Sacrament of Marriage and its Impediments” and “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World.”

It is reported that Met. Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpatkos and Agios Vlasios, who had a lively debate at the Council with Met. John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon over the theology of personhood, withheld his signature from both documents.

Additionally, Metropolitans Athanasius of Limassol, Neophytos of Morphou, Nikolaos of Amathus, Epiphanios of Ledra, and Porphyrios of Neapolis of the Church of Cyprus, and Irinej of Bačka of the Serbian Orthodox Church withheld their signatures from the document “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World.”

Unofficial information says that the number of Serbian bishops who refused is much higher.

The official site of the Morphou diocese has posted Met. Neophytos’ declaration addressed to the Council in which he refers to the “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World”document as “dogmatically vague” and calls its fruit “diplomatic compromises.” He makes several references to the words of Sts. Paisios and Porphyrios, as well as of Elders Sophrony (Sakharov) and Iakovos (Tsalikis) and other contemporary ascetics, stressing that the document is at odds with their teachings and insufficiently clear about the fact that the Orthodox Church is the sole bearer of the fullness of truth.

While it was previously reported that eight Metropolitans in all chose not to sign the relations document, Metropolitan Vasileios of Constantia and Ammochostos has personally stated that he did indeed sign all conciliar documents.

29 / 06 / 2016

0628threehandedicon01

St. John Damascene accepted monasticism at the monastery of St. Sava the Sanctified and there bestowed his wonderworking icon [of the Mother of God of Three Hands]. The Lavra presented the icon “Of Three Hands” in blessing to St. Sava, Archbishop of Serbia (+ 1237, January 12). During the time of an invasion of Serbia by the Turks, some Christians who wanted to protect the icon, entrusted it to the safekeeping of the Mother of God Herself. They placed it upon a donkey, which without a driver proceeded to Athos and stopped in front of the Hilandar monastery. The monks put the icon in the monastery’s cathedral church (katholikon). During a time of discord over the choice of igumen, the Mother of God deigned to head the monastery Herself, and from that time Her holy icon has occupied the igumen’s place in the temple. At the Hilandar monastery there is chosen only a vicar, and from the holy icon the monks take a blessing for every obedience.

Source: http://oca.org/saints/lives/2016/06/28/101839-icon-of-the-mother-of-god-of-the-three-hands

mon2

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