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page_1Christos a inviat! (We only get to say Christ is risen for a few more days).

I am pleased to inform you that just yesterday I received an email from the Romanian translator of The Scent of Holiness stating she is about to start translating The Sweetness of Grace. It will be published by Editura Sophia (Sophia Press) just as the first one was. I will be sure to let you all know when the Romanian version is ready for purchase.

For those who haven’t had a chance to see the book trailer, check it out. The photos are all from our travels in South Korea, Greece and North America.

 

The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory, published by Ancient Faith Publishing, is available both in paperback and e-book format. You can purchase copies from Ancient Faith Publishing or through Amazon.

AM_11Elder Ambrose

(November 23, 1812 – October 10, 1891)

Commemorated on October 10

     Raised in Tambov province, Alexander Michailovich Grenkov was the sixth of eight children, born in 1812, the year that Napoleon retreated from Russia. He was raised in a very religious family and became a lively, humorous and sociable young man. He enjoyed society and was captivated by songs and music. A year before finishing his seminary studies, Alexander fell ill, and he and all around him thought that he was going to die. At this time he promised God that if he became well, he would become a monk. He got better, and in time, he went to ask advice from a local hermit, St. Hilarion of Tsroekurvo. The monk said, “Go to Optina… You are needed in Optina.”

     On October 8, 1839, Alexander arrived at Optina Monastery. He immediately came under the care of Elder Leonid. Later he was given over to Elder Macarius.  When Elder Ambrose was then asked how this happened, he said: “It was like this: the Elder (Fr. Leonid) called Batiushka and (Fr. Macarius) said: ‘Here comes a man to take shelter with us, but I’m already weak, so I’m giving him to you, from one field to another’ – like they transferred horses.”

     He became Elder Macarius’ cell attendant. Under him, Alexander was educated through his cell prayers, daily reading of the Scriptures, Lives of the Saints and the works of the Fathers. He found in Elder Macarius, an experienced interpreter for every unclear word and expression. Later, he would be helping the Elder in publishing translations. In 1843 he was tonsured a monk and given the name Ambrose after St. Ambrose of Milan. Two months later he was ordained a hierodeacon and two years later a hieromonk.

In 1846, Fr. Ambrose became so sick that it was thought that he was going to die. At this time he was given Unction and Communion of the Holy Mysteries of Christ and tonsured into the schema while retaining the name Ambrose. This grave illness lasted for more than a year. At this time he was thirty-six years old. He was so sick that he was incapable of any monastery obedience and therefore excluded from the register of the brothers of Optina, leaving him to be fed and cared for by the monastery. He lay in bed for two years and wasn’t able to go outside until 1848. After this illness, he did not fully recover even up to his death in 1891. Elder Macarius also started to send monks and lay people to him, and soon, the nuns from the Borisov Convent. Elder Macarius, in preparing Fr. Ambrose to succeed him, said, “You will live in the cell on that side of the gate, and see to it – this is my commandment to you – do not let anyone who comes here leave without consolation.” In time, more and more people came to Elder Ambrose as the other Elders reposed, all four of them! Soon, monastics and laypeople came from all over Russia to seek counsel from him. At times, he was so sick that he offered direction while lying in bed.

Due to the reforms of Catherine II, women could not become monastics without a dowry. Therefore many women were unable to do so. In 1891, Elder Ambrose founded Shamordino Convent, nine miles from Optina to remedy this situation. He filled it with poor and destitute women – widows, orphans, the blind, lame and sick – which numbered almost a thousand before his repose. Also, the Elder built a psychiatric hospital, a school, a hospital and a hospice for aged women so that Shamordino indeed became a city of Christian love where crowds of impoverished and unfortunate people dwelt.

The needs of the Convent obliged the elder to be there often and even to live there as he continued to become sicker. Not approving of the amount of time that Elder Ambrose was spending at Shamordino, the Bishop of Kaluga sent him a letter saying that he was going to come to Shamordino to force him back to Optina. The Bishop arrived but only in time to serve his funeral.  Elder Ambrose was buried beside the grave of Elder Macarius.

Sayings of Elder Ambrose of Optina

Doing good for One’s Neighbor

The desire to labor for the good of mankind is very honorable if it is placed in the right perspective. The prophet-king David says that we should depart from evil and then do good (Ps. 33). Contemporary man does just the opposite. In theory, everybody wants to work for the good of their neighbor; however, they give very little concern for the fact that they should first cleanse themselves from evil and then care for their neighbor. The vast majority of the younger generation is very concerned that there should be great activity for the improvement of humanity. Unfortunately, this resembles someone who, although he never finished high school, allows himself to dream of becoming a professor and great instructor in a university. On the other hand, it is another extreme to conclude that striving for the betterment of man is pointless since it is impossible to push humanity forward. Every Christian is obliged to labor for the good of his neighbor according to his strength and social position. At the same time, this should be done properly and at the right time, as we mentioned above, so that our labors will be successful in God’s eyes and according to His will.

– Subdeacon Matthew Long

Bibliography

Chetverikov, Fr. Sergius. Elder Ambrose of Optina (Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1997). [The author of this work personally knew Elder Ambrose]

Concerning Progress” in Orthodox Life (November-December, 1992): 38-41.

Dunlop, John B. Staretz Amvrosy (London: Mowbrays, 1972).

Kontzevitch, I.M. “Optina Monastery and Its Era: Its Significance in the Spiritual and Cultural Life of Russia” in The Orthodox Word (July-August, 1984): 156-162.

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.

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

 

220px-stalbanFr. John and I have started listening to Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of England over supper and the other day we heard the account of St. Alban’s martyrdom. St. Bede is so eloquently descriptive in his recounting of St. Alban’s martyrdom that I wanted to share it here. When, for example, he talks about the hill where St. Alban died he says, “a place altogether worthy from of old, by reason of its native beauty, to be consecrated by the blood of a blessed martyr.” So poetic!

May we have his blessing!

CHAP. VII. The Passion of St. Alban and his companions, who at that time shed their blood for our Lord.

At that time suffered St. Alban, of whom the priest Fortunatus, in the Praise of Virgins, where he makes mention of the blessed martyrs that came to the Lord from all parts of the world, says:

And fruitful Britain noble Alban rears.

This Alban, being- yet a pagan, at the time when at the bidding- of unbelieving rulers all manner of cruelty was practised against the Christians, gave entertainment in his house to a certain clerk, flying from his persecutors. This man he observed to be engaged in continual prayer and watching day and night; when on a sudden the Divine grace shining on him, he began to imitate the example of faith and piety which was set before him, and being gradually instructed by his wholesome admonitions, he cast off the darkness of idolatry, and became a Christian in all sincerity of heart. The aforesaid clerk having been some days entertained by him, it came to the ears of the impious prince, that a confessor of Christ, to whom a martyr’s place had not yet been assigned, was concealed at Alban’s house. Whereupon he sent some soldiers to make a strict search after him. When they came to the martyr’s hut, St. Alban presently came forth to the soldiers, instead of his guest and master, in the habit or long coat which he wore, and was bound and led before the judge.

It happened that the judge, at the time when Alban was carried before him, was standing at the altar, and offering sacrifice to devils. When he saw Alban, being much enraged that he should thus, of his own accord, dare to put himself into the hands of the soldiers, and incur such danger on behalf of the guest whom he had harboured, he commanded him to be dragged to the images of the devils, before which he stood, saying, “Because you have chosen to conceal a rebellious and sacrilegious man, rather than to deliver him up to the soldiers, that his contempt of the gods might meet with the penalty due to such blasphemy, you shall undergo all the punishment that was due to him, if you seek to abandon the worship of our religion.” But St. Alban, who had voluntarily declared himself a Christian to the persecutors of the faith, was not at all daunted by the prince’s threats, but putting on the armour of spiritual warfare, publicly declared that he would not obey his command. Then said the judge, “Of what family or race are you?” – “What does it concern you,” answered Alban, “of what stock I am? If you desire to hear the truth of my religion, be it known to you, that I am now a Christian, and free to fulfil Christian duties.” – “I ask your name,” said the judge; “tell me it immediately.” “I am called Alban by my parents,” replied he; “and I worship ever and adore the true and living God, Who created all things.” Then the judge, filled with anger, said, “If you would enjoy the happiness of eternal life, do not delay to offer sacrifice to the great gods.” Alban rejoined, “These sacrifices, which by you are offered to devils, neither can avail the worshippers, nor fulfil the desires and petitions of the suppliants. Rather, whosoever shall offer sacrifice to these images, shall receive the everlasting pains of hell for his reward.” The judge, hearing these words, and being much incensed, ordered this holy confessor of God to be scourged by the executioners, believing that he might by stripes shake that constancy of heart, on which he could not prevail by words. He, being most cruelly tortured, bore the same patiently, or rather joyfully, for our Lord’s sake. When the judge perceived that he was not to be overcome by tortures, or withdrawn from the exercise of the Christian religion, he ordered him to be put to death.

Bedes_Ecclesiastical_History_of_England_1209

Being led to execution, he came to a river, which, with a most rapid course, ran between the wall of the town and the arena where he was to be executed. He there saw a great multitude of persons of both sexes, and of divers ages and conditions, who were doubtless assembled by Divine inspiration, to attend the blessed confessor and martyr, and had so filled the bridge over the river, that he could scarce pass over that evening. In truth, almost all had gone out, so that the judge remained in the city without attendance. St. Alban, therefore, urged by an ardent and devout wish to attain the sooner to martyrdom, drew near to the stream, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, whereupon the channel was immediately dried up, and he perceived that the water had given place and made way for him to pass. Among the rest, the executioner, who should have put him to death, observed this, and moved doubtless by Divine inspiration hastened to meet him at the appointed place of execution, and casting away thesword which he had carried ready drawn, fell at his feet, praying earnestly that he might rather be accounted worthy to suffer with the martyr, whom he was ordered to execute, or, if possible, instead of him. Whilst he was thus changed from a persecutor into a companion in the faith and truth, and the other executioners rightly hesitated to take up the sword which was lying on the ground, the holy confessor, accompanied by the multitude, ascended a hill, about half a mile from the arena, beautiful, as was fitting, and of most pleasing appearance, adorned, or rather clothed, everywhere with flowers of many colours, nowhere steep or precipitous or of sheer descent, but with a long, smooth natural slope, like a plain, on its sides, a place altogether worthy from of old, by reason of its native beauty, to be consecrated by the blood of a blessed martyr. On the top of this hill, St. Alban prayed that God would give him water, and immediately a living spring, confined in its channel, sprang up at his feet, so that all men acknowledged that even the stream had yielded its service to the martyr. For it was impossible that the martyr, who had left no water remaining in the river, should desire it on the top of the hill, unless he thought it fitting. The river then having done service and fulfilled the pious duty, returned to its natural course, leaving a testimony of its obedience. Here, therefore, the head of the undaunted martyr was struck off, and here he received the crown of life, which God has promised to them that love him. But he who laid impious hands on the holy man’s neck was not permitted to rejoice over his dead body; for his eyes dropped upon the ground at the same moment as the blessed martyr’s head fell. At the same time was also beheaded the soldier, who before, through the Divine admonition, refused to strike the holy confessor. Of whom it is apparent, that though he was not purified by the waters of baptism, yet he was cleansed by the washing of his own blood, and rendered worthy to enter the kingdom of heaven. Then the judge, astonished at the unwonted sight of so many heavenly miracles, ordered the persecution to cease immediately, and began to honour the death of the saints, by which he once thought that they might have been turned from their zeal for the Christian faith. The blessed Alban suffered death on the twenty-second day of June, near the city of Verulam, which is now by the English nation called Verlamacaestir, or Vaeclingacaestir, where afterwards, when peaceable Christian times were restored, a church of wonderful workmanship, and altogether worthy to commemorate his martyrdom, was erected. In which place the cure of sick persons and the frequent working of wonders cease not to this day.

 

elder-leonid-of-optinaDisciple: Is mental prayer granted to everyone?

Elder Leonid: Whomever the Lord visits with grievous trial, with sorrow or with the deprivation of a beloved neighbour: such a person will involuntarily pray with his whole heat, with all his thoughts and with all his mind. Consequently the wellspring of prayer is in everyone; but it is tapped either by gradually delving deeper into oneself in accordance with the teachings of the Fathers, or instantaneously, by God’s drill.

 

Thaisia Saint(Source) Today we also commemorate Saint Thais (or Thaisia) in Egypt, fifth century. Left an orphan after the death of her wealthy parents, she led a pious life, distributing her wealth to the poor, and she gave shelter to pilgrims on her estate. She decided that she would never marry, but would devote her life to serving Christ.

After spending all her inheritance, Thais was tempted to acquire more money by any means, and began to lead a sinful life. The Elders of Sketis near Alexandria heard of her fall, and asked Saint John the Dwarf (November 9) to go to Thais and persuade her to repent. “She was kind to us,” they said, “now perhaps we can help her. You, Father, are wise. Go and try to save her soul, and we will pray that the Lord will help you.”

The Elder went to her home, but Thais’s servant did not want to allow him into the house. Saint John said, “Tell your mistress that I have brought her something very precious.” Thais, knowing that the monks sometimes found pearls at the shore, told her servant to admit the visitor. Saint John sat down and looked her in the face, and then began to weep. Thais asked him why he was crying. “How can I not weep,” he asked, “when you have forsaken your Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ, and are pleasing Satan by your deeds?”

The Elder’s words pierced the soul of Thais like a fiery arrow, and at once she realized how sinful her present life had become. In fear, she asked him if God would accept the repentance of a sinner like her. Saint John replied that the Savior awaited her repentance. That is why He came, to seek and to save the perishing. “He will welcome you with love,” he said, “and the angels will rejoice over you. As the Savior said Himself, one repentant sinner causes the powers of Heaven to rejoice (Luke 15:7).

A feeling of repentance enveloped her, and regarding the Elder’s words as a call from the Lord Himself to return to Him, Thais trembled and thought only of finding the path of salvation. She stood up and left her house without speaking to her servants, and without making any sort of disposition of her property, so that even Saint John was amazed.

Following Saint John into the wilderness, she hastened to return to God through penitence and prayer. Night fell, and the Elder prepared a place for Thais to lay down and sleep. He made a pillow for her from the sand, and he went off somewhat farther, and went to sleep after his evening prayers.

In the middle of the night, he was wakened by a light coming down from the heavens to the place where Thais was at rest. In the radiant light he saw holy angels bearing her soul to Paradise. When he went over to Thais, he found her dead.

Saint John prayed and asked God to reveal to him whether Thais had been saved. An angel of God appeared and told him, “Abba John, her one hour of repentance was equal to many years, because she repented with all her soul, and a compunctionate heart.”

After burying the body of the saint, Saint John returned to Sketis and told the monks what had happened. All offered thanks to God for His mercy toward Thais who, like the wise thief, repented in a single moment.

midfeastb(Source) Today’s celebration is the midpoint of the fifty days between the Feasts of Pascha and Pentecost. Saint John tells us (John 7:14) that “in the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the Temple, and taught.” The Feast in question is the Feast of Tabernacles (celebrated in September), not Pentecost.

The Church has appointed John 7:14-30 to be read for the Midfeast, thereby linking Pascha and Pentecost. In Chapter 8 of Saint John’s Gospel, the Lord came to the Temple again and taught the people who came to Him. After leaving the Temple, he encounters the man born blind. We will hear about him on the Sunday of the Blind Man.

The Troparion of the Midfeast hints at the encounter of Christ and the Samaritan Woman in just a few days.

“In the middle of the Feast, O Savior, fill my thirsting soul with the waters of godliness, as Thou didst cry to all: If anyone thirst, let him come to Me and drink [John 7:37]. O Christ God, Fountain of our life, glory to Thee!”