Feeds:
Posts
Comments

prorok“During the visitation of divine grace the heart leaps,” St. Paisios the Athonite taught. “One time, I was praying for fourteen hours straight, and instead of getting tired, I felt exultation and joy! At one point I thought, ‘Since I’m so old, and missing two ribs to boot, I should put on on my belt and attach it to the ceiling with a rope. If I had some makeshift crutches, too, to hold myself up by the armpits, I could keep going and give it all I’ve got. And that was that! As soon as I had the thought, I collapsed, and all the exhaustion appeared. I was on the floor unable to move for fifteen minutes. It was like God was telling me, ‘It’s My grace that holds up, not your belt.’ It’s not that the thought was sinful or proud. I just thought, ‘In the the condition I’m in, I should be careful.’ How much more will a proud thought chase away grace? Spiritual life is so fragile, and you need to be so careful!” (From Elder Paisios of Mount Athos by Hieromonk Isaac, pp. 264-65)

Chasing away grace. It’s something we probably do everyday without noticing it. If we are truly spiritual people we can perceive it at times, the loss of grace, but for those of us who are spiritually insensitive our thoughts, words, and actions chase grace away little by little and we become less aware that God’s grace has retreated from us.

The Christian practice of watchfulness – being careful, simply put – is vital to our spiritual health. It is our guardian on the path of salvation, it keeps us from straying too far into sin. If, however, we do not attend to it, if we live our spiritual lives carelessly than suddenly we will find ourselves, “Midway upon the journey of life,”  in a dark forest, “For the straightforward pathway had been lost” (opening lines to Dante’s Divine Comedy). But then what can be done? If we’re lost in the dark forest we don’t know how to discern the appropriate route back to the straight path. Only repentance and humility can save us then. So, what can we do to avoid this predicament?

One of the most practical methods to cultivate and encourage watchfulness that I learned from the monastics is to keep to track of my thoughts. Keeping a little notebook where we write down the predominant negative and positive thoughts and feelings we have each day can go a long way in helping us see the roots of our problems. Interior dialogues can reveal a lot to us:

“I was sad today.”

“What was my thought pattern like?”

“I had a lot of negative thoughts.”

“What could have potentially caused such thoughts?”

“Well, I read a disturbing news article this morning over breakfast that made me feel sad and after that it kind of coloured my attitude for the day.”

“Okay, well, let’s try to avoid reading things that cause us unnecessary distress.”

You see, this is just a small example of what we can do to keep an eye on our thoughts. We are not all as spiritual as St. Paisios so our thoughts – even if they’re also not sinful or proud – will not necessarily be as noble as the saint’s mistaken thought was in the excerpt we read above. However, his example perfectly depicts how easily our silly thoughts can lead us astray.

Whether we realize it or not everyday we can either acquire grace by praying, struggling to have humble thoughts, brushing off offenses (ie. justifying others’ bad behaviours with thoughts like, “So-and-so is just having a hard day, he didn’t mean to be offensive”). Or, we can chase grace away, as the saint mentions in his story, not only with sinful thoughts and actions, but with careless thoughts and actions.

Sr. Sarah once confided in me: “The success of my day wholly depends on whether or not I have controlled my thoughts.” I think there is much wisdom in this statement. A bad day begins with not being attentive to our careless thoughts and ends with us having accumulated more sins and passions than we initially woke up with. By accepting one stupid thought about someone – “She doesn’t seem to like me” for example – down the road we find ourselves envious or strongly disliking this person. If we trace our thoughts back to root cause we realize the passion came as a result of the negative thought that came into our mind which we unwittingly accepted.

So, let’s be careful since, as St. Paisios has said, “the spiritual life is so fragile”.

post4

indexModern Saints is a new series wherein I post a small biography and a few inspiring words from contemporary holy men and women who have not yet been included in the Synaxarion of the Orthodox Church (ie. have been formerly been glorified).

A Glimpse of Her Holy Life:

Abbess Thaisia was born in 1840 to a noble family in Novgorod. She was named Maria in honour of the Most Holy Theotokos who had granted Maria’s parents the safe arrival of their baby after two previous children reposed at birth. Little Maria was enrolled in the Pavolovsky Institute for young women in St. Petersburg where she received the (prophetic) nicknames ‘nun’ and ‘abbess’. Even at this young age Maria’s spiritual nobility began to emerge as she received multiple visitations of divine grace. To her mother’s dismay Maria disclosed that she wished to pursue monasticism. After her mother received a vision of the Mother of God reprimanding her for prohibiting Maria from following in the footsteps of countless holy fathers and mothers, Maria became a novice in Tikhvin at the Holy Monastery of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple (the feast day is November 21). In 1870, at the age of 30, Maria was tonsured a nun with the name Arcadia. She was tonsured again, into a higher degree of monasticism, with the name Thaisia in 1872. Over the next 10 to 13 years or so Mother Thaisia lived in three or four different monasteries, suffering on account of poor living conditions and cruel treatment by the sisters. In 1885 Mother Thaisia was made Abbess of a convent in Leushino. Here she laboured to establish a firm foundation for the holy monastery, as well as set up a school for orphans of clergymen which later became a centre for spiritual education as an ecclesiastical college for girls. In 1891 she met her beloved spiritual father, St. John of Kronstadt, to whom she “poured out her soul”* even after his repose. In 1915, after serving as abbess for some 30 years, Mother Thaisia reposed on January 2. May we have her blessing!

Wise Counsel from the Abbess:

“It is through sorrows that the great designs of God’s Providence are manifested to us. ‘God is known in His burdens.’ But how heavy and hopeless our sorrows appear to our short-sighted and faint-hearted minds! We do not understand, we do not even want to see in the sorrows that befall us the great purposes of Providence; we are unable to obey God without murmuring” (Abbess Thaisia: An Autobiography, p.131)

“Commit yourself, I repeat, without defence to the will of your [spiritual] guides – give way to them, like clay to the potter, like iron to a smith; let them mold and hammer on the forge of obedience (as was expressed by St. John, author of the Ladder) your unruly and proud will, until it will be ground into the soft wax of humility, so that with understanding and discernment you may repeat the words of the Psalmist: “In our humiliation the Lord remembered us” (Ps. 135:23), or, “It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me, that I might learn Thy statutes (Ps. 118:71).” (Letters to a Beginner, p. 47)

*This is a line from a poem the abbess wrote about her spiritual father after his repose

Death and Resurrection[1]

Metropolitan Augoustinos (Kantiotes) of Florina

I hesitate to speak to you, brothers and sisters, for our times are like those described in a certain prophecy wherein it is said that the ears of men will be open to the devil, but not to Christ.[2] For your sakes, however, I will deign to say a few words, knowing that though not everyone will listen to me, perhaps half will; and if not half, perhaps ten; and if not ten, perhaps one. If even one hears me, this is enough! The reward is great! As Christ himself says, one soul is worth more than the whole visible world.[3]

There is one lone word which causes everyone to quake with fear. What word is it? It is the word ‘death’. When people hear the word ‘death’, they become agitated and uneasy. Once when I was a young ierokyrakas (preacher) visiting a village,[4] I uttered the word ‘death’ somewhere in the context of my sermon, and at that very moment I overheard someone in the crowd cry out with terror, “Knock on wood!” They thought that by doing this they might chase death away. Death will come, however; it is a fact of life.

When will it come? It will come at the moment we least expect it. It comes at night – in the middle of the night; it comes in the morning; it comes while one is at work; it may come anytime. The hour when we will give up our soul to God is unknown to us.

What is death? Is it oblivion? Non-believers say that it is oblivion. You die, they say, and that’s it; you are finished, gone! But we say that beyond the grave there exists another life. The body may dissolve into those elements from which it is composed, but the soul is immortal and eternal and lives on until one day the body will resurrect and the immortal soul will return to it. There will be a resurrection!

‘Are there proofs of this?’ the atheists ask. There are, indeed! What are these proofs? There are three kinds of proofs, in fact: first, we have the testimony of nature; second, we have the various prophesies of the Holy Scriptures; and third, we have the relevant miracles of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So there are proofs of the resurrection! Every seed proclaims this to us. What is a seed? It is but the tiniest little thing. You sow it in the earth, it decays, and then from it a little stem grows, eventually peeking out from the earth and sprouting sometimes thirty, sometimes sixty, sometimes one hundred bean sprouts. During the summer months these plants cover entire fields like a green sea – what a beautiful sight! Once a non-believing scientist visited the Holy Mountain, staying at a kelli whose elder loved flowers. As the courtyard was fragrant with the scent of multi-coloured flowers, the elder asked his visitor, “Do you know where all these came from?” “Where?” replied the scientist. “I will show you,” said the elder. Disappearing for a moment, he returned with a box containing seeds. If you have ever seen a seed, you will know that it is often smaller than the head of a pin, and yet within it hides a flower, a plant, or even a great tree. How can this be? Try as it may, science cannot make a seed. The Apostle Paul himself uses this example. “You doubt that there is a resurrection?” the elder continued, “Just look at the seed. Just as a seed falls to the ground, decays, and then grows into a beautiful plant or tree, so man dies and his body decays under the earth so that one day from that decayed body a new, more beautiful body might proceed.”[5] The whole of nature preaches the resurrection: the sun which rises in the morning, the moon which comes out at night, the stars which shine in the heavens; the whole universe proclaims this!

Prophesies, too, announce the resurrection of the dead. We hear one such Old Testament prophesy read on Holy Saturday. What does it say? The Prophet Ezekiel stood over a plain which was full of bones and suddenly heard a voice saying, “Can these bones live?” To this he replied, “Lord, you know.” God then commanded him, “Preach, speak to these bones.” Then the earth began to shake and the bones came back together forming skeletons, and sinews bound them together and skin covered them. They were yet missing souls, however, so lastly God commanded Ezekiel to preach again, and finally all those bodies resurrected.[6] This vision is a prophesy concerning the resurrection of the dead.

But the greatest argument proving that death has been overcome lies in those miracles where Christ raised men from the dead. There are three such miracles that he worked on others: first, he raised Jarius’ daughter; second, he raised the son of the widow of Nain – weeping loudly over the loss of her only child, Christ approached her and said, “Weep not”;[7] and third, he raised his friend Lazarus who was four days in the tomb.[8] Finally, after enduring death on the Cross and three days in the tomb, Christ then resurrected himself.

There is such a thing as the resurrection then! As certain as you are that tomorrow will be Monday, so certain should you be that the dead will rise! Accordingly, death should not be called ‘death’, but rather ‘sleep’. When a mother sees her child sleeping does she weep? No! For she knows that he will wake up energetic and refreshed. And nekrotafia (graveyards) should not be called nekrotafia, but rather koimitiria (sleep-yards).[9] Death is a sleep – this is what the Gospel, the Church, and Saint Kosmas all tell us – and therefore Christians should not weep inconsolably on its account. Just as one who sleeps eventually wakes up, so one day will all the dead be resurrected in order to be judged in accordance with their works, “…and these (those on the left) shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”[10]

The resurrection of Christ and of every mortal man – the common resurrection – is a fact. And this we confess every time we say the Creed: “And I look for the resection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

This is what I had wanted to say to you. And I preach with the hope that what I have said has not fallen on deaf ears for without having met certain preconditions, it is impossible for one to believe in the resurrection: I hope that none among you is an atheist; everything around you cries out that God – the Lord of life and death – exists; I hope that none among you is impious or a blasphemer – he who believes in the resurrection and the judgement does not disrespect the judge; I hope that all of you go to church. Be honorable and hard-working, labour all week. Then, when daybreak comes on Sunday and the bells ring out, fly to the church. Are any of you absent? There are 168 hours in a week; God asks but one! That is how long the Divine Liturgy lasts from “Blessed is the Kingdom…” until, “Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers…”. Come to church, then, say a “Glory to thee, O God”, say a thank-you for the good things he has given you. Finally, I hope that you all long for the Jerusalem-on-High. You love your earthly homeland, boasting that we built the Parthenon and the Hagia Sofia while other peoples were still living in caves and eating acorns. But if we love our earthly homeland this much, how much more ought we to love our heavenly and eternal homeland?

With this hope, then, as a bishop, I bless you. I bless your homes, your families, your work, and I pray that, through the prayers of the Theotokos, God will be with you now and always. Amen.

[1]               From the book Εμπνευσμένα Κηρύγματα Ορθοδόξου Ομολογίας και Αγιοπατερικής Πνοής (Orthodoxos Kypseli: Thessaloniki, 2011), 413-417. Translated by Fr John Palmer.

[2]               See 2 Timothy 4:4, “And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”

[3]               See Matthew 16:26, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” and Mark 8:37, “Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

[4]               One who has a licence to preach in a particular diocese.

[5]               See 1 Corinthians 15:36-38, “Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die. And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.

[6]               See Ezekiel 37:1-10.

[7]               Luke 7:13.

[8]               See John 11:39.

[9]               Nekrotafia is a composite word combining the words nekros – dead – and taphos – grave roughly translated as ‘cemetery’. Here Metropolitan Augustinos is telling us to prefer to word koimitirio which also means ‘cemetery’ is rooted in the Greek work koimaw meaning ‘to sleep’.

[10]             Matthew 25:46.

(Source) O discerning listeners, come and listen to the dispute between Marina and Satan, and sing praise to the Lord of all.

SATAN: The Evil One said to Marina, the dearly beloved virgin, ‘Desert and Sown, in their envy, have spoken falsehood against you’.

MARINA: ‘Every word Desert and Sown have spoken against me is in falsehood: in the name of the Lord do I put my hope to escape victorious from them’.

SATAN: ‘In the name of the Lord you shall escape if you pay attention and listen to me, my daughter: reveal your identity, that you are a woman, and you will escape from all guile’.

MARINA: ‘Those men and women who have emerged victorious first entered into trials and were rescued by the hope they held in the name of the Lord – and like them I too have hope’.

SATAN: ‘ I have revealed and shown you the right path by which you shall be victorious, but you won’t listen; I am greatly upset in my concern for you, and my pain won’t go away since you won’t listen to me’.

MARINA: ‘My skin cleaves to my bones [Lam.4:8]: I have greatly toiled in my labours so as to be numbered among males in order to steal righteousness from them’.

SATAN: ‘If you wish to be numbered among males, listen to what I have to say to you: go and reveal your identity, how you are a woman, and then go and live in the world along with men’.

MARINA: ‘What you have to say is miles away from what I have in mind: my desire is to die in the wild and I shall not do what you have said’.

SATAN: ‘This wild place shall be your tomb and you will not get away from trials, for if you don’t listen to my words, you will die and perish, with your hope cut off’.

MARINA: ‘Great woe is reserved for you and for whoever listens to any of your words. There is hope in God, and those who hope in him are not ashamed’. [Ps 25:3]

SATAN: ‘It is a double woe that you will have if you fail to listen to any of my words: you will die in the wilderness and wild beasts and birds of prey will devour you’.

MARINA: ‘I will sing praise while I live, [Ps 146:2] while I have a place where to sing; and whether I live or whether I die, it is to the Lord I belong all the time’.

SATAN: ‘Sing on then, and don’t stop for in a little while your song will come to an end; you will go down to Sheol without hope and your lot will be a double woe’. [cp Ps 31:18, 55:16]

MARINA: ‘The Lord is living and holy is his name, and whoever hopes in him will not be ashamed: [Ps 25:3] from this monastery I will not depart. and will not go away from its gate’.

 SATAN: ‘Savage animals are roaring, eager to rip you apart, and vultures too; if you don’t carry out my advice they will tear you apart and drink up your blood’.

MARINA: ‘A great blessing will be mine if they tear my body apart and drink up my blood, for my Lord is the Lord of all: he will not do what you have said’.

SATAN: ‘So torture you consider a blessing? What then do you think of eternal woe? Flee from the error in your mind; follow my advice and live’.

MARINA: ‘Let the sea and land testify concerning me, the heavens too, and all that is in them, [cp Deut 4:26, 31:28] that I renounce you and your words: cursed is your counsel, and accursed your name’.

SATAN: ‘I know that women don’t have much intelligence or brain, for they don’t know what they are saying, and they do what is harmful to themselves’.

MARINA: ‘All the advice that you give is bad; your words are bad too because you are bad: as our Lord said in his Gospel, “a tree that is bad bears bad fruit”’. [Matt7:17]

SATAN: ‘Check your words, stupid woman, and shut up: you don’t realize it is your duty to save yourself, as far as you are able, and live a normal life, and not perish’.

MARINA: ‘Accursed are your words, Satan, and accursed is the instruction which you teach. for your mouth is full of cursing and wickedness, and on your tongue are fraud and deceit’.

SATAN: ‘You haven’t read or learnt the Scripture; you are ignorant and you don’t listen. My words and utterance are full of truth, and deceit is far from my heart’.

MARINA: ‘If I listen to you I will indeed perish, for you have set a trap that leads to perdition, and I won’t be able to save myself if I listen to you and your counsel’.

SATAN: ‘My advice is crystal clear, its light is illumined by the sun, but because the light of your mind is darkened you don’t see the light even when it shines out’.

MARINA: ‘Take a rest from laying your traps, for I shall break them all up: I place my hope in Jesus’ name and no harm will come to me’.

SATAN: ‘You should give a rest to your words: that I should rest is not my wish. It is a great sin that you commit if you remain in this wild place.

SATAN: ‘You will do yourself harm at the hands of marauding robbers: if they realize you are a woman I don’t know what they will do to you!’.

MARINA: ‘The hope that I’ve placed in God will rescue me and I will not be harmed; he is the hope of the poor and the orphans, and to all who hope on him’.

SATAN: ‘Escape from all sorts of harm while you still have a chance to escape: don’t put the Lord, your Lord, to the test, hoping he will perform a miracle with you’.

MARINA: ‘It is from you that I will make my escape and I won’t touch your words of advice; if I escape from you and your words, then will I be accounted blessed!’.

SATAN: Satan replied and said ‘If you reveal that you are a woman all the abuse you are getting will go away and then you can sing praise and rejoice’.

MARINA: ‘I will not give you any answer for all your talk is importunate: all that you say is false. You give a lot of advice, but you are the one who needs it’.

SATAN: ‘Cruel crosses are set up in readiness for you on every side: summer is preparing burning heat for you, and winter, snow and ice’.

MARINA: ‘Our Saviour endured the Cross because of our human race, and if he holds me worthy to endure it, then this will be a great blessing for me’.

SATAN: ‘Get up and prepare yourself to receive crosses, sufferings and torments which evil people, and the monks, will bring upon you – just as you are wanting!’.

MARINA: ‘I have already received these from you, and I will do so in future for I am ready for suffering: whether from you, O Evil One, or from human beings, from wild animals, or from reptiles’.

SATAN: ‘It is pride that women love, and boasting is in their heart, but in a little while they grow weak and are defeated: then tears start coming, flowing from their eyes!’.

MARINA: ‘Yes, women love pride – as you have said in your pride; but they are humble before their Lord, while it is you and your pride they will trample down’.

Give peace to your Church and her children with that peace that pacifies all; rebuke the Evil One and his band: let them be scattered like smoke! [cp Ps 37:20]

Let peace reign in the midst of your Church; let fights and schisms be brought to an end:may they be brought under your yoke and do service before you.

May your handmaid enter her monastery and in the Holy of Holies offer up to you a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving – and may both Desert and Sown be joined in peace.

May my supplication enter and be accepted in the presence of your divine tribunal;  may the Evil One and his band feel shame, and may the Church be radiant in giving praise!

*Translated by Sebastian P. Brock

0711euphemiaOn this day in the Holy Orthodox Church we commemorate the miracle that occurred at the tomb of the Holy Virgin-Martyr, Euphemia the All-Praised. You can read about the miracle here. Below is a poem written in the virgin-martyr’s honour by St. Nikolai Velimirovich.

O all-praised Euphemia, holy virgin,

an unblemished offering, pure before the Lord.

Neither did she cry out nor sigh, nor did she sorrow,

but gave warm thanks to God for her tortures.

Angels then appeared to her standing in the flame,

and extinguished the embers with refreshing rain.

O such is our golden faith: invincible;

O such is the love for God: unquenchable.

O wise virgin Euphemia, virgin of Christ,

He gave you the Kingdom for your suffering.

You have boldness before the Lord and the Mother of God,

and you help them in their work by your holy prayers.

O all-blessed Euphemia, pray for sinners,

and convert them, O holy one, to repentance.

O all-praised Euphemia, holy virgin,

an unblemished offering, pure before the Lord.

optina cross athos

(Source) Today the Holy Church piously remembers the sufferings of the Holy Glorious and All-Praised Apostles Peter and Paul.

St. Peter, the fervent follower of Jesus Christ, for the profound confession of His Divinity: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” was deemed worthy by the Savior to hear in answer, “Blessed art thou, Simon … I tell thee, that thou art Peter [Petrus], and on this stone [petra] I build My Church” (Mt.16:16-18). On “this stone” [petra], is on that which thou sayest: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God” it is on this thy confession I build My Church. Wherefore the “thou art Peter”: it is from the “stone” [petra] that Peter [Petrus] is, and not from Peter [Petrus] that the “stone” [petra] is, just as the Christian is from Christ, and not Christ from the Christian. Do you want to know, from what sort of “rock” [petra] the Apostle Peter [Petrus] was named? Hear the Apostle Paul: “Brethren, I do not want ye to be ignorant,” says the Apostle of Christ, “how all our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (1 Cor.10: 1-4). Here is the from whence the “Rock” is Peter.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the final days of His earthly life, in the days of His mission to the race of man, chose from among the disciples His twelve Apostles to preach the Word of God. Among them, the Apostle Peter for his fiery ardor was vouchsafed to occupy the first place (Mt.10:2) and to be as it were the representative person for all the Church. Therefore it is said to him, preferentially, after the confession: “I will give unto thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in the heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth: shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt.16: 19). Therefore it was not one man, but rather the One Universal Church, that received these “keys” and the right “to bind and loosen.” And that it was actually the Church that received this right, and not exclusively a single person, turn your attention to another place of the Scriptures, where the same Lord says to all His Apostles, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit” and further after this, “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them: and whose soever sins ye retain, are retained” (John 20: 22-23); or: “whatsoever ye bind upon the earth, shall be bound in Heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosened in heaven” (Mt.18:18). Thus, it is the Church that binds, the Church that loosens; the Church, built upon the foundational cornerstone, Jesus Christ Himself (Eph 2:20), doth bind and loosen. Let both the binding and the loosening be feared: the loosening, in order not to fall under this again; the binding, in order not to remain forever in this condition. Therefore “Iniquities ensnare a man, and everyone is bound in the chains of his own sins,” says Wisdom (Prov 5:22); and except for Holy Church nowhere is it possible to receive the loosening.

After His Resurrection the Lord entrusted the Apostle Peter to shepherd His spiritual flock not because, that among the disciples only Peter alone was pre-deserved to shepherd the flock of Christ, but Christ addresses Himself chiefly to Peter because, that Peter was first among the Apostles and as such the representative of the Church; besides which, having turned in this instance to Peter alone, as to the top Apostle, Christ by this confirms the unity of the Church. “Simon of John” — says the Lord to Peter — “lovest thou Me?” — and the Apostle answered: “Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee”; and a second time it was thus asked, and a second time he thus answered; being asked a third time, seeing that as it were not believed, he was saddened. But how is it possible for him not to believe That One, Who knew his heart? And wherefore then Peter answered: “Lord, Thou knowest all; Thou knowest that I love Thee.” “And sayeth Jesus to him” all three times “Feed My sheep” (John 20:15-17).

Besides this, the triple appealing of the Savior to Peter and the triple confession of Peter before the Lord had a particular beneficial purpose for the Apostle. That one, to whom was given “the keys of the kingdom” and the right “to bind and to loose,” bound himself thrice by fear and cowardice (Mt.26:69-75), and the Lord thrice loosens him by His appeal and in turn by his confession of strong love. And to shepherd literally the flock of Christ was acquired by all the Apostles and their successors. “Take heed, therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock,” the Apostle Paul urges church presbyters, “over which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the Church of the God, which He hath purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28); and the Apostle Peter to the elders: “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof not by constraint, but willingly: not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind: neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when is appeared the Prince of pastors, ye will receive unfading crowns of glory” (1 Pet. 5:2-4).

It is remarkable that Christ, having said to Peter: “Feed My sheep,” did not say: “Feed thy sheep,” but rather to feed, good servant, the sheep of the Lord. “Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor.1:13). “Feed My sheep”. Wherefore “wolfish robbers, wolfish oppressors, deceitful teachers and mercenaries, not being concerned about the flock” (Mt.7:15; Acts 20:29; 2 Pet 2:1; John 10:12), having plundered a strange flock and making of the spoils as though it be of their own particular gain, they think that they feed their flock. Such are not good pastors, as pastors of the Lord. “The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11), entrusted to Him by the chief Shepherd Himself (1 Pet 5:4). And the Apostle Peter, true to his calling, gave his soul for the very flock of Christ, having sealed his apostleship by a martyr’s death, is now glorified throughout all the world.

The Apostle Paul, formerly Saul, was changed from a robbing wolf into a meek lamb. Formerly he was an enemy of the Church, then is manifest as an Apostle. Formerly he stalked it, then preached it. Having received from the high priests the authority at large to throw all Christians in chains for execution, he was already on the way, he breathed out “threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1), he thirsted for blood, but “He that dwells in the Heavens shall laugh him to scorn” (Ps 2:4). When he, “having persecuted and vexed” in such manner “the Church of God” (1Cor.15:9; Acts 8:5), he came near Damascus, and the Lord from Heaven called to him: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” and I am here, and I am there, I am everywhere: here is My head; there is My body. There becomes nothing of a surprise in this; we ourselves are members of the Body of Christ. “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me; it is hard for thee to kick against the goad” (Acts 9:4-5). Saul, however, “trembling and frightened”, cried out: “Who art Thou, Lord?” The Lord answered him, “I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest.”

And Saul suddenly undergoes a change: “What wantest Thou me to do?” — he cries out. And suddenly for him there is the Voice: “Arise, and go to the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do” (Acts 9:6). Here the Lord sends Ananias: “Arise and go into the street” to a man, “by the name of Saul,” and baptize him, “for this one is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9: 11, 15, 18). This vessel must be filled with My Grace. “Ananias, however, answered: Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he hath done to Thy saints in Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Thy Name” (Acts 9:13-14). But the Lord urgently commands Ananias: “Search for and fetch him, for this vessel is chosen by Me: for I shall show him what great things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:11, 15-16).

And actually the Lord did show the Apostle Paul what things he had to suffer for His Name. He instructed him the deeds; He did not stop at the chains, the fetters, the prisons and shipwrecks; He Himself felt for him in his sufferings, He Himself guided him towards this day. On a single day the memory of the sufferings of both these Apostles is celebrated, though they suffered on separate days, but by the spirit and the closeness of their suffering they constitute one. Peter went first, and Paul followed soon after him. Formerly called Saul, and then Paul, having transformed his pride into humility. His very name (Paulus), meaning “small, little, less,” demonstrates this. What is the Apostle Paul after this? Ask him, and he himself gives answer to this: “I am,” says he, “the least of the Apostles… but I have labored more abundantly than all of them: yet not I, but the grace of God, which was with me” (1 Cor.15:9-10).

And so, brethren, celebrating now the memory of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, remembering their venerable sufferings, we esteem their true faith and holy life, we esteem the innocence of their sufferings and pure confession. Loving in them the sublime quality and imitating them by great exploits, “in which to be likened to them” (2 Thess 3: 5-9), and we shall attain to that eternal bliss which is prepared for all the saints. The path of our life before was more grievous, thornier, harder, but “we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12: 1), having passed by along it, made now for us easier, and lighter, and more readily passable. First there passed along it “the author and finisher of our faith,” our Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Heb 12: 2); His daring Apostles followed after Him; then the martyrs, children, women, virgins and a great multitude of witnesses. Who acted in them and helped them on this path? He Who said, “Without Me ye can do nothing” (John 15: 5).

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 476 other followers