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gorgonia

(From OCA Feasts & Saints) Saint Gorgonia, the sister of Saint Gregory the Theologian, she was distinguished for her great virtue, piety, meekness, sagacity, and toil. Her house was a haven for the poor. The mother of five children, she died around the year 372 at the age of thirty-nine. Her last words were, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep” (Psalm 4:8).

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Elder Macarius

(November 20, 1788 – September 7, 1860)

Commemorated on September 7

Elder Macarius, born Michael Nikolaevich Ivanov in Orlov province near Kaluga, was raised in a noble family. He spent his youth reading many books and developed a wide breadth of theological understanding. He enjoyed nature, loved music, and played the violin well. He was not favored with good looks and never tried to marry. He was of medium height, and his face showed traces of smallpox.

In 1810, at the age of twenty-two, he went on a pilgrimage to the Ploshchansk Hermitage and at this time decided to dedicate his life to God. Here Michael came under the obedience of Fr. Athanassy, a disciple of St. Paisius Velichkovsky. In 1815, he was tonsured a monk and given the name Macarius after St. Macarius the Great. In 1824, his elder died, and he was sent to be the confessor of the Svensk women’s monastery. It was here at Svensk that Fr. Macarius met Elder Leonid. He asked Elder Leonid if he could become his disciple and although Elder Leonid considered Fr. Macarius his peer in monasticism, in humility, he yielded to his request. Shortly after that, Elder Leonid was sent to the Optina Skete and Fr. Macarius corresponded with him until he also moved there to share the work of eldership in 1834.

When Elder Macarius arrived at Optina, Elder Leonid was living in the skete along with Elder Moses and Elder Anthony. In 1836, he was made confessor of the whole monastery and then Skete Superior. Elder Macarius kept himself in constant obedience to Elder Leonid never doing anything without a blessing and endured all things with humility and patience. Elder Leonid offered him many opportunities to do so.

Elder Macarius was always to be found with Elder Leonid. They directed the spiritual life of the monks as well as thousands of visitors. Together they “brought up” Elder Ambrose. They were of such oneness of mind that when Fr. Macarius was asked for counsel regarding anything he would not reply without first consulting Elder Leonid and vice versa.

In 1841, Elder Leonid reposed; Elder Macarius wrote his obituary. That year he took over the responsibilities of the skete. As rector, he enhanced the solemnity of the services and also created a rich library. He would rise at 2 a.m. for four hours of prayers then afterward would sit at his work table to translate or revise Patristic texts. At this time he would also engage in correspondence. In the afternoon at 2 p.m. he would accept visitors, meeting them in the guest house at the entrance of the skete, and after supper and evening prayers, he would continue with his written correspondence. People were anointed from the lampada that burned in his cell in front of the Vladimir icon, in his cell and through this many were healed of sickness and demon possession.

The publications at Optina Monastery of a series of Patristic texts on the spiritual life began with Elder Macarius urged by his friend and spiritual son, Ivan Kireyevsky. These publications were launched in 1846 with the life of Elder Paisius Velichkovsky and would grow from there. In most cases, the works were revisions of the Slavonic texts from the Neamts Monastery from the time of St. Paisius and translated into Russian. Through these publications, Optina became known to the intellectual elite of Russia and drew them to itself.

Much profit came to the whole church through Optina at this time, but much persecution also came to Elder Macarius. He was accused of spreading the teaching of the Jesus Prayer when others opposed it based on the mistaken belief that it would give rise to spiritual delusion. Talk began of transferring him to another monastery. During this time he became very sick. During his final illness, he often handed out little crosses,  icons or books as a blessing. On September 7, 1960, after receiving Holy Communion at 6 a.m. and saying “Glory to Thee, our God!” thrice, he fell asleep in the Lord having been forewarned of this beforehand. His body remained incorrupt.

Sayings of Elder Macarius of Optina

The Knowledge of God

If we strive to cleanse our hearts from the passions, then according to the amount that we have purified ourselves, Divine Grace will open the eyes of our hearts to the vision of the True Light; for as it is written, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matt. 5:8), but only when we perfect ourselves through humility, for through humility the mysteries are revealed.

On Forests

Man finds peace of mind and benefit for his soul in forests. We see that in former times people used to withdraw into thick forests, and there, away from worldly vanity, through prayer and ascetic labor, sought salvation. Just one look at the evergreen conifers of our homeland gladdens the eyes, portraying a symbol of our hope for eternal life, which people go to the deserts to seek… The forests which surround our monasteries should be preserved from destruction by all means, in order to prevent the word “wilderness” from finally losing its meaning.

– Subdeacon Matthew Long

 

Bibliography

Kavelin, Fr. Leonid, Elder Macarius of Optina (Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1995).

Kontzevitch, I.M., “Elder Macarius of Optina” in The Orthodox Word (January-February, 1986): 11-22.

Makarios, Hieromonk of Simonos Petra, The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church, trans. Christopher Hookway, vol. 1 (Chalkidike: Holy Convent of the Annunciation of Our Lady Ormylia, 1998).

Optina’s Elders: “Instructor of Monks and Conversers with Angels” at http://www.roca.org/OA/97/97k.htm accessed on Dec. 17, 2013.

Sederholm, Fr. Clement, Elder Leonid of Optina (Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2002).

Schaefer, Archimandrite George (trans.) Living Without Hypocrisy: Spiritual Counsels of the Holy Elders of Optina (Jordanville: Printshop of St. Job of Pochaev, 2009).

 

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The Thief Who Stole Paradise

Every year it seems Great Lent creeps up on me with such speed I find it’s Clean Monday before I’ve even realized it was Prodigal Son Sunday.

The Church, in her wisdom, gives us the Triodion season (three weeks before the beginning of Great Lent) in order to prepare us for the Fast which is itself a preparation for the Feast of Feasts, Pascha. And yet, too many Triodion seasons pass me by before I’ve had the time to look ahead to Great Lent. This year, I want it to be different; I want to be prepared to prepare.

I haven’t fully worked out just how I’m going to fully prepare myself to become prepared for Pascha, but I’m at least forcing myself to think about it. Perhaps that’s a step in the right direction: keeping before me the knowledge of the impending beginning of Great Lent. I guess it’s kind of like the Orthodox practice of memory of death. The idea being that so long as we keep before us the knowledge – the memory – that we will one day, any day, die and face the Just Judge, this memory enables us to live well today.

The Triodion season isn’t just an opportunity to stuff our faces with meat and cheese; it is an opportunity to start narrowing our focus, start quieting our mind. It is an opportunity to plan how we will spend the first week of Great Lent.

Will we abstain from all food and drink until the third day (keep the “Trimero” as we say in Greek)? Will we choose to eat only dry foods (non-cooked meals), and that only after the ninth hour (that is, 3pm)? Will we instead partake of normal fasting meals but make a consorted effort to take the television out of the living room? Will we, on account of poor health or pregnancy, and with a blessing from our spiritual father, eat non-fasting meals but prevent crude, cruel and unnecessary words from passing through our lips? These, I believe, are the thoughts that should be occupying our minds during this predatory period which precedes the Great Fast, the most rigorous preparation period of our liturgical year.

Perhaps it’s because I’m 33 years old this year: the stage of no longer being a “young person” but not yet feeling like a “grown up”. For the first time I’ve notice time is slipping away from me. I’m forgetting things I never did before, feeling like I’m juggling more than I should, and sighing far more often at the speed with which my life is passing me by. Perhaps it’s because of this that I just want one Triodion, one Great Lent, one Pascha in which I feel like I fully participated, fully anticipated and fully experienced the grace of struggle. How many more Paschas might I have? If, God forbid, this were to be my last I would want to have done all that I could to prepare, to arrive and say in earnest, “I have cleansed my senses and purified my heart to the minuscule extent I am able, allow me to behold You, O Christ, shining with the Unapproachable Light of the Resurrection!”

Why wait for Holy Week, the last week of the Fast, to contemplate repentance, to join the sinful woman in her petition, in her “selling all that she had”? Why not start now in the Triodion season? Why not start today?

May God give us a good beginning so that we might find a good end!

Lord, O Lord when the woman, who had fallen into many sins, perceived Your divinity she assumed the role of a myrrh-bearing woman, and lamenting brought ointment to anoint You before Your burial. “Woe is me,” she said “for night is forming a frenzy without restraint.” Very dark and moonless, a passionate love affair with sin. “Accept the fountain of my tears, You who draw out from the clouds the water of the sea, take pity on me and incline to the sighing of my heart, You who bowed the heavens by Your ineffable self-emptying. I shall cover your unstained feet with kisses and wipe them dry again with the locks of my hair. Those feet whose sound at twilight in Paradise of old echoed in Eve’s ears whereupon she hid herself in fear. The countless number of my sins and the depth of Your Judgment, who can fathom? O my life-saving Saviour. Do not despise me Your servant since without measure is your mercy!” -St. Cassiane

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Judgment, Censure, and Condemnation

Metropolitan Augoustinos (Kantiotes) of Florina[1]

“Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant?”

–Romans 14:4.

A mother, beloved brothers and sisters, when she sees her child running towards an open flame cries out, ‘Don’t!  Get away!’  And likewise the Church, our sweet mother who loves us even more than she who gave birth to us naturally, cries out to us through the voice of the Apostle, ‘Get away from the fire!’  What fire?  Sin, vice, unsavoury parties, frenzied dances, drunkenness, fornication, and so on.  In addition to these, however, the Apostle cries out, ‘Get away!’ from yet another sin, one we consider innocent despite its being very serious.  This is the sin of condemnation.  “Who art thou,” he says, “who judgest another man’s servant?”[2]  Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?  Permit me, then, to say a few words about condemnation.

Now so that we do not confuse them I would like to show you that judgement is one thing and condemnation another.  Judgement is a human privilege.  Man alone, with the mind given to him by God, judges, makes distinctions, differentiates.  He examines, he draws conclusions, he decides.  He sifts things and distinguishes between light and darkness, truth and falsehood, justice and injustice, love and hate, Christ and the devil.  Judgement is a human faculty.  Sadly, however, it does not always function properly.  Just as it is possible for the sun to be covered over by clouds and its rays kept from shining through, so human judgement may be influenced and darkened by the passions, kept from being able to discern things clearly.  When judgement falls under the influence of the passions it makes mistakes.  Passionate judgement is not permitted; dispassionate, just judgement is permitted.

Consequently, then, judgement is not condemnation, nor is censure condemnation.  What do we mean by censure?  Censure is a criticism, a chastisement, a reprimand which love requires us to visit upon a brother.  What does Christ say?  ‘Do you see someone doing something wrong?  If you love him, go up to him and show him how he has erred.  If he listens to you, you have saved him; if he does not listen to you, it is too bad for him.’[3]

Are you a father?  God help you if you are indifferent.  Some parents, their child comes home at midnight, and they are soundly asleep!  This is wrong!  You need to pay attention to your child, to where he is, to what he does, to who he spends time with, to whether he is staying up all night.  I know parents who chase after their children, who go out and find them, who call out to them, who scold them, who cry over them.  Parents are obliged to censure appropriately and with love.  Are you a teacher?  Do not be indifferent when it comes to the progress of your students.  When I was a child we used to see our teacher, our professor, our principal, get up at night and go check to make sure that all the students had returned and that they were in bed, and then to censure those who had not come back on time the next day.  It is the teacher’s duty to censure.  Are you a judge or a lawyer?  It is your mission to censure transgressions, offences, injustices, and crimes.  Are you a reporter?  You are obliged to censure with your pen.  May God help us if such censuring vanishes from public life!  It is a corrupt society where no censure is to be found!  Heroics are needed; he who censures might even face death for his actions. It is for this reason that journalists often avoid censuring.  Are you a priest or a bishop?  O, then you must be vigilant with respect to your flock.  If someone sins publicly you must censure him; if you don’t your fault is great.  Even if everyone hates you for it, even if they give you poison hemlock to drink, even if they crucify you, you must speak the truth, you must call a spade a spade.

But what is condemnation?  Condemnation is not judgement, it is not censure, what is it?  It is a vice.  Why is it a vice?  Because when someone meets up with his friend, despite the fact that there are many other things to talk about, he goes straight to the manure, the failings of others.  ‘Do you know what his wife, his child, his daughter did?’  And then the spreading and raking begins; they pass sentence–and not just about real failings and shortcomings, but also about imagined ones.

It is unjust.

When you condemn, you stage a trial which sentences heartlessly and without hearing the defense.  This is unjust.  You harm your neighbour, not financially, but morally, with respect to the most precious thing he has:  his good name.  “Honour (τιμή) is without price (τιμή),” and, “Though the tongue does not have bones, it breaks bones.”

It is hypocrisy.

You who condemn, what are you?  A prophet?  A patriarch?  A bishop?  An angel?  You are a man!  Your neighbor has failings and you don’t?  Your neighbor is all black, but you make yourself out to be as white as a dove?

Finally, it is ignorance.

If you think that you are without failings, then you do not know yourself.  Instead of searching out the faults of others, study yourself!  There you will find enough material to keep yourself occupied for months.  He who does not know himself considers the tiny faults of his neighbor to be great and considers his own major faults to be of no consequence.

Beloved brothers and sisters, whoever condemns is out of his mind.  The Lord says, “…why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”[4]  Such a one becomes a laughingstock.  Aesop’s saying, “…the donkey said to the rooster,” applies to him.[5]  Such a one even ignores his own good, for the Lord said, “…whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”[6]  Do you want someone to condemn you?  No!  So be careful not to condemn anyone else!

The day will come when Christ will bring about a universal trial and he will judge us.  Then we will beseech him, pleading, ‘Lord, have mercy!’  And even now he tells us, “Judge not, that ye be not judged, and with what measure ye use, it shall be measured back to you.”[7]  He who condemns becomes the prosecutor of his neighbor and his own defense attorney.  However, the Russian Saint Seraphim of Sarov said, “I know but one evil in the world, myself; and I regard everyone else as angels,” and whenever he encountered anyone he called them, “My joy!”  Therefore, become your own prosecutor, but the defender of others.

To fast from food is easy; it is difficult to set aside condemnation, gossip–which is more so a woman’s passion.  All of you, then, keep the holy fast: remain far from condemnation!  Only in this way will we find mercy on that day, through the prayers of the All-Holy Theotokos and all the saints.  Amen.

[1]               From the book Εμπνευσμένα Κηρύγματα Ορθοδόξου Ομολογίας και Αγιοπατερικής Πνοής (Orthodoxos Kypseli:  Thessaloniki, 2011), 141-145.  Translated by Fr John Palmer.

[2]               Romans 14:4.

[3]               A paraphrase of Matthew 18: 15-17.

[4]               Matthew 7:3.

[5]               This is Aesop’s version of, ‘The pot calling the kettle black’.

[6]               Matthew 7:12.

[7]               Matthew 7:1-2.

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UPDATE: Ileana (who entered via email) is the winner of the draw! Congrats, Ileana!

Thank you all for entering and spreading the word about St. Perpetua’s story, Out of the African Lands!

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On the feast of St. Perpetua and her companions I want to host a giveaway of the novellette I wrote, Out of the African Lands: The Story of Saint Perpetua and her Companions published by Lumination Press.

In the African provinces of the Roman Empire conversion to the Christian faith is punishable by death. But this does not stop Perpetua and her companions from seeking entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven–even if living for Christ means having to die for Him.

 Out of the African Lands is a historical fiction novelette and chronicles the arrest, imprisonment, and death of Perpetua and her five companions Felicity, Saturus, Saturnius, Revocatus, and Secundulus. Receiving freedom from their sins through baptism while imprisoned, the martyrs shine with the light of Christ, instructing us in word and deed how a person not only lives as a Christian but dies as one.

To enter simply leave a comment. To double your chances share this post on one of the many social media platforms people use. If, like me, you aren’t active on social media there’s an alternative: For a chance to enter three times read this excerpt from Fr. Matthew Penney’s The Light Guardian. Comment (or email me) to let me know you did either of the above options. (We’ll use the honour system.)

Contest closes next Wednesday, Febryary 8. A random name will be drawn on that day. An onion dome cross-stitch bookmark will be included with the book.

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Here is a homily by St. John Chrysostom which my husband, Fr. John, translated into English. While I know blog format does not always lend itself to reading long posts, this homily is worth it. Take time to read it and you’ll see for yourself how enlightening it is. 

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Corinth

A Homily on the Apostolic saying, “For there must be also heresies [divisions] among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.”[1]

Saint John Chrysostom

[1].       When in the course of my previous homily I showed you Jerusalem lamenting and bemoaning its misfortunes, this spiritual theatre was deeply moved. I saw your eyes ready to shed floods of tears; I perceived the mind of each to be distressed and brimming with lamentation–a fact which deeply troubled me.  I thus cut short the tragedy so as to keep that lament found in your hearts from bursting forth, for once a heart is overcome by sorrow it can neither say, nor hear anything sound.

Why do I remind you of this now, however?  Because the things I will say today are similar to those I said previously.  In other words, just as those things keep us from laziness in our life and prevent us from being careless with respect to our actions, so the things I am about to say will cause us to be more precise with respect to dogma, establishing us firmly in all things and rendering us, in the words of the Apostle, “…perfect men, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”[2]  Then I cured your bodies by the words of Jeremiah, now I will cure your minds by the words of Paul.

So which of Paul’s sayings are we going to expound today?  “For there must be also heresies among you,” he says, “that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.”  This is no small matter we propose to examine for if Saint Paul is commending, saying that there must be heresies, then those who introduce heresies are without fault.  But truly this is not the case.  These words are not a commendation, but rather they foretell the future.  It is like when a doctor sees one who is ill overeating, drinking excessively, and doing other things prohibited to him, says that this excess must bring on a fever without this somehow representing a law or something he advises.  Or it is like when a farmer sees clouds gathering and flashes of lightning, and hears the rumbling of thunder, and says that these clouds must bring rain–and a downpour at that.  This occurs not because he said it, but rather he simply foretold what would happen.  This is what Paul meant by must.

And we too, whenever we see men fighting and heaping abuse and fearful insults on one another, say that they must be apprehended and thrown into jail, not commending this or suggesting that this should happen (for how could this be!), but rather concluding the future from the present.  Paul says these things in exactly the same way, not with the aim of commending then, not saying that there ought to be heresies among you, but he prophecies, foretelling that which will come to pass.  Moreover, that he is not commending heresies is clear from the fact that elsewhere he says, “…should an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”[3]  It is also he who rejected circumcision because it was accepted out of season and obscured the purity of preaching saying, “…if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.”[4]

How then, one might ask, does he add the cause, saying, “…that they which are approved may be made manifest”? Often in the Scriptures that does not denote causation, but rather the outcome of things. For example, Christ came and gave sight to the blind man.  This man bowed down and worshiped him, but the Jews, even though one who was once blind had received his sight, did everything they could to hide the miracle and chase Christ away. At that time Christ said, “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.”[5]  Did he then come to render those people blind?  He did not come for this reason but this occurred, and he speaks of this outcome under the form of causation.  And again, the law was given to prevent the expansion of sin and to render those who accepted it more clement. Yet Paul says, “…the law entered, that the offence might abound.”[6]  The law was not given for this reason, but to decrease sin.  Sin increased because of the ungratefulness of those who received it.  Thus that does not signify causation here, but rather result.

For proof that there is some other cause of heresies, that heresies do not arise in order to reveal those who truly believe, and that they gain their pretense elsewhere, hear Christ who make this clear to us:  “The kingdom of heaven,” he says, “is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat.”[7]  Do you see that heresies have arisen on this account: because men slept, because they were indifferent, because they did not pay careful attention to what they were taught?  And so that one might not be left asking, ‘How could Christ permit this?’ Paul says that this concession will in no wise harm you.  If you are approved, you will be shown to be so, for it is one thing to stand in right belief when no one is undermining and beguiling him, and another to remain stable and unshakable when violent waves are crashing against him.

Moreover, just as great gusts of wind blowing from all directions make trees stronger if their roots are good and deep, so it is with souls that stand upon the foundation of right faith. Whatever heresies assail them and seek to topple them only make them stronger.  But what will happen to those who are weak in faith and who are easily toppled?  These suffer not on account of the attack of heresies, but rather on account of their own weakness.  By weakness I do not mean physical weakness, but that which proceeds from a disposition worthy of criticism and which is liable to chastisement and punishment. We are responsible for correcting this disposition and thus we are praised when succeed in doing this and we are punished when we do not.

[2].       In order to assure you that nothing can harm those who are vigilant, I will try to offer you some proof of this claim. Now, what can possibly be more evil and more filthy than the devil?  And yet this evil one, this powerful doer of evil, having attacked Job with all his devices, having unloaded all his arrows on the righteous one’s property and body, failed to make him stumble, but only caused his virtue to shine forth all the brighter. So Job was in no way harmed by the devil. Judas, however, because he was indifferent and lazy, having gained nothing from his interactions with Christ, became a betrayer even after many admonitions and advices. And the reason is this:  if someone does not want something, God will not force it on him or pressure him, just as he did not force Judas.

If we are careful, then, the devil will in no wise be able to harm us, but if we are indifferent and careless we will incur the worst harm and gain nothing from those who bestow benefit. The Jews not only received no benefit when Christ came, but even suffered harm– again, not because of Christ, but because of their own indifference and ungratefulness.  And listen to Christ himself who says the following:  “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin.”[8]  Do you see how his presence deprived them of defense?  Such a great sin it is for one not to look after himself and to regulate his own affairs as he should!  One can even see this principle displayed in bodies: the sun often causes the sick to shield his eyes in discomfort, while the darkness in no way hinders the healthy.

It is not by chance that I have spoken about this at such length; I have done this because many have ceased from criticizing their own laziness, from correcting their ungratefulness and hardness of heart.  They fail to do this and instead they go around seeking after shallow justifications for themselves, saying, ‘If there were no devil, then we wound not have been lost; if there were no law, then we would not have sinned; if there were no heresy, then we would not have been beguiled.’ These are pretexts and excuses, O Man!  Nothing can harm one who is attentive, and likewise one who is sleeping, who is indifferent, and who is not concerned with his salvation can receive no benefit.  This is what Paul meant when he said, “…that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.  In other words, be not anxious, do not worry, heresies can in no way harm you!

Even if this saying were speaking of heresies, then, that the matter is not as these have understood is clear from the following: it is prophecy, not commendation; prediction, not exhortation, and the that denotes result, not causation.  His saying is not about dogmas, however, but about the rich and the poor, about whether to eat or not, about the prodigality and gluttony of the well-off, and about the abandonment of the poor by these.  If you will bear with me a little longer, I will tell you everything from the beginning since there is no other way to make this clear.  When the Apostles began to sow the word of piety, immediately some three thousand men believed, followed later by another five thousand, and all of these were of one heart and one soul.  The cause of that harmony which bound them together in love and drew together so many souls into one was the distain of money.  “Not one of them,” it is said, “claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.”[9]

Since the root of vice–the love of money–had been destroyed, from this all other good things followed, and in continuation they were tightly bound together since there was nothing to divide them.  ‘Mine’ and yours’, those uncaring concepts which have brought countless wars upon the world, had been exiled from that holy assembly and they lived on earth like the angels in Heaven.  The poor bore no malice toward the rich (for there were no rich), and the rich in no wise despised the poor (for there were no poor), but everything was held in common.  “Not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own.”  At that time, things were not like they are today.  Now, having his own money, one gives to those in need, but then things did not occur in this manner.  Instead, having taken the largest portion of their money and set it in the middle, and then having mixed it all together, it was no longer apparent which of them had previously been rich.  Thus, even if some pride had once existed on account of one’s abundance of money, this was made to vanish entirely because all were made equal and all the money had been mixed together.

And not only from this, but one may also see piety in the way the deposit was made.  “As many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold and laid them down at the apostles’ feet.”[10]  He did not say that they put it into their hands, but rather that they laid it at their feet thus demonstrating reverence, devotion, and fear of the Apostles, not considering that they had given, but they had taken.  For this is what it means to scorn money, this is what it means to truly feed Christ; to not give with pride and egotism, to give like you are benefiting yourself more than the one to whom you give. If you do not think that you receive rather than give, then you are not giving.

Paul assures others of this when he says the following: “Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; Praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.”[11]  Do you see how he is made to wonder by them because they gave their gracious offering with gratitude, petitions, and entreaties?

[3].       This is why we are amazed by Abraham, not because he sacrificed a calf, not because he made dough to rise, but because with thanksgiving and humility he received foreigners, running after them, serving them, calling them lords, thinking that he had found a treasure of infinite blessings whenever he saw a stranger approach.  In this manner, when we give and give happily, a sort of double almsgiving takes place for, “God loveth a cheerful giver.”[12]  Even if you were to offer a myriad of talents, if you offer them with pride, egotism, and vanity, you lose everything just like that Pharisee who offered a tenth of his possessions.  He became proud and puffed up on account of this, and having lost everything he came down from the temple.

But this did not happen in the time of the Apostles.  Instead, with joy, with jubilation, thinking that they had acquired a great sum they offered their money, considering it a great honor to lay it at the Apostles’ feet and to have them accept it. And just as some men, when they are called to great offices and leave to live in important cities, sell off all their possessions and then move, exactly so did these men, having been called to the heavens, to the heavenly city, to the kingdom there.  They knew this to be their true homeland, and moreover that in selling their things they were simply sent them there ahead by the hands of the Apostles.  It is truly an example of the worst foolishness to leave something of ours here when we in a little while we will depart from this place.  This will all be lost!  Let us send it all ahead of us, then, to that place where we will live forever.  Thinking precisely these things they offered all of their possessions and achieved a double end:  they erased the poverty of those who were in need, and they augmented their wealth and made it more secure having transferred their treasure into the heavens.

This law and rule brought about a wondrous consequence in the churches.  When all of the faithful were assembled together, after the homily, after the prayers, after partaking of the mysteries, when the synaxis was dismissed they did not immediately go back to their homes.  Instead, the wealthy and more affluent, having brought food from home, invited the poor to a common table, to a common meal, to a shared symposium within the church itself in order that by partaking of this meal, by the holiness of the place, their affection might be won, that they might give great thanks, and be greatly benefited.  The consolation which the poor experienced was not small, and the rich experienced great favor both from those who ate and from the God for whose sake they did this, and thus having won much grace they departed for their homes.  Infinite blessings proceeded from this practice, the most important of which was that the love in every synaxis grew more fervent since the benefactors and those benefitted were united together by mutual affection.

With the passage of time, however, the Corinthians corrupted this practice.  The most affluent, eating by themselves, began overlooking the poor and did not wait for those who often came late because life’s necessities–necessities known well to the poor–held them back and caused them to lag behind. This is how it happened: because they came late, they left humiliated since the table had already been cleared. So, some made it in time and other didn’t on account of their lagging behind.  Seeing that many evils arose from this, and that others would soon arise (since the rich were becoming more arrogant and were despising the poor, while the poor were developing resentment and hatred for the rich, along with whatever else might naturally spring from these evils), Paul checked this vile and bitter habit.

Now, note the great care and forbearance with which he corrects them.  Beginning, he writes the following:  “Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse.”[13]  And what does he mean by, ‘not for the better’?  Your forefathers and fathers, he says, sold their possessions, their houses, all their things, and held everything in common and there was great love amongst them, while with you, though you ought to have imitated them, not only failed to do this, but even that which you had, you forfeited–in other words, those feasts of love that occurred at the time of the synaxis.  Your fathers gave the whole of their belongings to the poor; you who once offered them a meal, now deprive them even of this!  “For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions [aireseis] among you; and I partly believe it.”[14]

[4].       Now look again and see the care with which he corrects them.  He said neither ‘I do not believe it’ nor ‘I believe it,’ but rather something between the two:  “…I partly believe it.”  I do not believe it entirely, but I do not disbelieve it entirely.  Whether it is the one or the other depends on you.  For if you have corrected the matter, I do not believe it; if you have persisted, I believe it.  Moreover, he did not accuse them, yet he accused them.  He did not accuse them flatly so as to give them hope of correction and opportunity for repentance, but he did not leave them without accusation so that they would not remain in their laziness.  I did not wholly believe, he says; this is what he means when he says, “…I partly believe it.”  He said this urging them change and correct themselves so as not to not force him to believe such a thing even in part.

“For there must be also heresies [divisions] among you,” he says, “that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.” What, then, are these divisions (airesies)?  See here that when he says, “For there must be also heresies [divisions] among you,” he is not speaking about dogmas, but about the discord associated with the meals. Having said, “…there must be also heresies among you,” he then adds the kind of the divisions (airesies): “When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper.”[15]  What does, ‘this is not to eat the Lord’s supper,’ mean? In saying, ‘this is not eat the Lord’s supper,’ he is referring to that supper which the Lord shared with them the last night when all the disciples where together with him. For at this supper Lord and servants all sat together, while you, despite all being fellow servants, have created distinctions.  The Lord did not cast out even the betrayer (for Judas was with them at the time), while you turn away your brother.  It is for this reason that he says, “this is not to eat the Lord’s supper,” calling ‘the Lord’s supper’ that supper which is shared in harmony and is a common gathering of all.

“For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.”[16]  He did not say one hungers and another eats, but he rebuked them more sharply by saying another is drunken.  Both here and there, he says, there are extremes: you burst from overeating, while he wastes away from hunger; you have beyond what is necessary, while he does not even have what is needed. The evil is double, the equilibrium having been upset.  This is what he means by ‘divisions’ (aireseis), that they quarreled amongst themselves and were divided up into camps, one hungering while the other gets drunk.  And he spoke well when he said, “When ye come together therefore into one place.” For how can we be said to be all together when we do not all sit at the same table? The blessing we receive come from the Lord; let us then sit together with our fellow servants! “What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God,” he says, “and shame them that have not?”[17]  You, he says, think that you insult your brother alone, but the place itself also suffers insult.  You insult the church as a whole, it being called ‘church’ (ekklesia) because it calls all together.  Why do you bring the imperfections of your house into the church?  Do you despise your brother?  At least have regard for the place because in so doing so the church is also disparaged.

And he did not say, ‘you deprive those who have not,’ or ‘you do not have mercy on those who have not,’ but what? ‘You have shamed those who have not’.  He thus decries the shameful prodigality of the rich and shows that the poor are not as concerned with the food as with the offence.  Moreover, see how he modestly defends the former, while he rebukes the latter most harshly:  “What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.”  What does he mean by this?  After he has brought the impropriety to light, he now softens the tone of his accusation–and naturally so–in order to prevent them from falling into shamelessness.  Even before he exposed the impropriety of the thing he had been was completely decided saying, “…in this that I declare unto you I praise you not,” but then once he had proved that they deserved much criticism, he speaks to them in softer tone, leaving the harsher part of the criticism to the setting forth of the facts and the proving of the impropriety.

Next, he turns their attention to the Mystical Supper wanting to put further fear into them:  “For I,” he says, “have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you.”[18]  How is this related to what was said previously?  You speak of a common supper and call to mind the fearful mysteries in the same breath?  Yes, he says.  If these spiritual things, if this fearful table is to be shared by all, by both the rich and the poor; if the rich do not receive more and the poor less, but the honor and the benefit bestowed is the same for both; since no one who comes to take part and commune of this spiritual and holy table is turned away but rather the priests wait for even the poorest and least important person of all, so too ought things to be with respect to the material table.  This is why I have reminded you of the mystical supper.  “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: On the night when He was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread, And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.  After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.”[19]

[5].       After having said many things concerning those who commune of the mysteries unworthily, after chastising and rebuking those who do at length, and after saying that those who carelessly receive the body and blood of Christ will suffer the same punishment as those who put him to death, he speak again concerning our theme, saying, “Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another.  And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation.”[20]  Notice how he also subtly criticizes their gluttony saying not ‘if you hunger,’ but instead ‘if any man hunger’, so that each, being ashamed to appear blameworthy, would have the opportunity to correct himself.  He then closes by speaking of the fear of punishment saying, “…that ye come not together unto condemnation.”  Whenever our brother is dishonored, whenever the assembly is made an offence on account of our gluttony and prodigality, there we find no food, no table, no gladness, but rather Hell and punishment for when we slight our brothers and insult the church, turning this holy place into a common house by eating on our own, then we become liable to chastisement.

Now having heard all this, beloved brethren, stop the mouths of those who thoughtlessly use the words and teaching of the Apostles; correct those who use the Scriptures in a manner harmful to themselves and to others.  You have now learned that Paul said, “…there must be also heresies [divisions] among you,” concerning that discord which enveloped the supper since one hungered while the other was drunken. In addition to right faith, then, let us also show forth behavior consonant with our beliefs, displaying great generosity towards the poor and caring deeply for those who are in need. Let us seek no more then we need.  Let us engage in spiritual trade; this is true trade, this is how we acquire true wealth and everlasting treasure, by transferring all our things into the heavens and trusting that they will be kept there for us.  Through the giving of alms we gain doubly: first, we will no longer have to fear for that money which we have deposited, that it might be stolen by robbers or crooked and vile bankers; second, while being kept there it is not hidden away fruitlessly, but just as a root planted in fertile ground yields ripe fruit every year, so that money which we have planted in the hands of the poor will yield–not only once a year, but even every single day–spiritual fruit, that is to say boldness before God, the forgiveness of sins, companionship with the angels, a clean conscience, the joy of spiritual delight, unconquerable faith, all those unimaginable blessings which God has prepared for those who love him and for those who fervently seek the mercy of his presence. This we all pray for, that having passed this life in a manner pleasing to God, all wish to acquire, we might attain the eternal joy of those saved by the grace and mercy of our true God and Savior Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and might, together with the Father, and his All-Holy Spirit, unto the ages of ages.  Amen.

[1]               1 Corinthians 11:19.

[2]               Ephesians 4:13.

[3]               Galatians 1:8.

[4]               Galatians 5:2.

[5]               John 9:39.

[6]               Romans 5:20.

[7]               Matthew 13:24-25.

[8]               John 15:22.

[9]               Acts 4:32.

[10]             Acts 4:34-35.

[11]             2 Corinthians 8:1-4.

[12]             2 Corinthians 9:7.

[13]             1 Corinthians 11:17.

[14]             1 Corinthians 11:18.

[15]             1 Corinthians 11:20.

[16]             1 Corinthians 11:21.

[17]             1 Corinthians 11:22.

[18]             1 Corinthians 11:23.

[19]             1 Corinthians 11:23-25.

[20]             1 Corinthians 11:33-34.

Update on comments: It was just brought to my attention that comments on this post were disabled. It seems that my posts for quite some time have had comments disabled. Comments should be open now on most recent posts.

diff_cropped

As you can tell from the photographs, I like to keep my fingers busy with a little handicraft. About a year ago I finished the large cross stitch I was working on of the Three Holy Hierarchs (I wrote about this here). That was a pattern with the design already printed on the burlap. All I had to do was follow the colour scheme already in place. It took me about four years to finish it but it was a really nice craft. My stepmother bought me the pattern when she was visiting us in Greece. Shops in Greece had neat patterns for cross stitch, including a few icons.

byz_crossesOnce I finished the Three Holy Hierarchs I wanted to try to do create my own cross stitch patterns. Somehow I got the idea to try and do a small onion dome pattern as a book mark and before I knew it I had made many of them, in different colours and designs. Actually, now that I stop to think of it, my onion dome designs were initially inspired by photos of onion dome cookies.

I then moved on to various cross patterns: Byzantine crosses (the three-barred cross) as well as a modified version of a cross pattern (depicted below) that was cross stitched on a small bag I have – done by the mother of one of the nuns I was close to in Greece. In fact, I keep my cross stitch materials in that little bag (I should have added a photo of it).

onion-domes

These cross stitches I have done are all relatively small. The onion domes and Byzantine crosses were designed as bookmarks, as I said above. I’ve thought of making the square shaped crosses into magnets.

When I figure out what I’m going to do with the surplus of bookmarks and magnets I now have, I’ll let you know. Perhaps we’ll start selling them at Lumination Press.

crosses_bookmark

In the meantime, I’ll keep stitching.

“My son, if you want to make progress stay in your cell and pay attention to yourself and your manual work” -Abba Serapion (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, p. 51).