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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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5aeb1412ceeb20.18392692.300x450-normalIt’s with great joy that I am writing to say the Romanian translation of The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory, published by Ancient Faith Publishing, is now available for purchase.

The Romanian publisher Editura Sophia is offering readers the opportunity to read my simple but love-filled stories in the Romanian language.

Here is what they have offered as the book’s description on their website:

Înzestrată cu darul de a-și împărtăși trăirile du­hov­nicești cu smerenie, naturalețe și dragoste față de tainele relației sufletului cu Dumnezeu, Constantina Palmer a învățat multe lucruri de o deosebită valoare duhovnicească din vizitele la numeroase mănăstiri din nordul Greciei, unde a locuit în perioada studiilor de masterat.

Autoarea îmbină nobila, dar dificila îndeletnicire a scriitorului cu o profundă înțelegere a învățăturilor Bisericii Ortodoxe, prin povestiri captivante care ilustrează Fericirile cuprinse în minunata Predică de pe Munte a Mântuitorului (Matei 5, 1-12). Prin dezvăluirea acestor comori, pe care Sfântul Ioan Gură de Aur le considera „adevăruri atât de noi, atât de uimitoare și tot atât de puternice pe cât era de mare măreția Celui ce le vestea”, Hristos Domnul le făgăduia împărăția cerurilor nu numai apostolilor Săi, ci și nouă, tuturor.

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Ultimul capitol al cărții, intitulat „A lor este împărăția cerurilor”, ne surprinde și ne emoționează în mod deosebit, deoarece este dedicat martirilor desprinși din mulțimea de pătimitori creștini care au suferit în temnițele României schilodite de urgia comunismului. În cuvintele autoarei, „Sfinții martiri români întruchipează cea de-a opta fericire. Fericiți sunt – cu adevărat nespus de fericiți – «cei prigoniți pentru dreptate», cei care au câștigat împărăția cerurilor nu numai pentru că au acceptat suferințele nedrepte la care au fost supuși, ci și pentru că au căutat dreptatea și, în același timp, virtuțile creștine, bunătatea și sfințenia, ori de câte ori s‑au aflat în ghearele suferinței. Fie ca ei să ne fie izvoare de inspirație, pentru a trăi și noi în Hristos cu aceeași evlavie, fermitate și dârzenie – cu același zel și aceeași iubire de poruncile Lui, asemenea Lor!”.

The Sweetness of Grace (entitled Tot mai aproape de Dumnezeu. Povestiri despre încercări, povestiri despre biruințe in Romanian) is available for purchase here.

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My first book, The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery, was translated and published by Editura Sophia in 2015. The Romanian title is Mireasma sfinteniei. Povestiri dintr-o manastire de maici. It is available for purchase here.

In addition to offering these books in Romania, Editura Sophia has provided a great opportunity for bookstores in North America to offer Orthodox literature to their Romanian readers. You may consider carrying the English and Romanian versions of my books in your parish bookstores.

I would like to thank Editura Sophia from the bottom of my heart, and most especially the translator Luminita, for this great gift. I am so grateful to them for allowing my stories to be shared throughout the world.

My Christ our True God bless them for this work and may all those who read my stories remember me, the unworthy one, in their holy prayers!

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As is evident, I am a very poor photographer, but it’s nice to see all my books together!            Glory to God!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pentecost

Written by Fr. John Palmer

According to the renowned Patrologist Fr Theodoros Zisis, Orthodox theology teaches that, “…[t]wo phases, two economies are readily distinguished within the mystery of man’s salvation and renewal: the economy of the Son, and the economy of the Holy Spirit.”[1]  Vladimir Lossky fills out this assertion for us, stating that, “The redeeming work of the Son is related to our nature.  The deifying work of the Holy Spirit concerns our persons.  But the two are inseparable.  One is unthinkable without the other.”[2]  In other words, Christ renews human nature through his Incarnation and the Holy Spirit then applies this renewed nature to individual persons by various appointed means in order that they might be united to God, becoming partakers of the divine nature, and saved.  From an Orthodox perspective, then, both economies – that of the Son and that of the Holy Spirit – are equally important and integral to the mystery of salvation, with Pentecost serving as the ‘Metropolis of Feasts’ wherein the salvific mystery is perfected.

In contrast, Frankish theology (the foundation of Roman Catholicism and Western theology in general) develops a one-sided understanding of the mystery of salvation as a result of its emphatic focus on redemption.  Here salvation is largely reduced to a legal drama, Lossky writes, “…played between God, who is infinitely offended, and man, who is unable to satisfy the impossible demands of vindictive justice.  This drama finds its resolution in the death of Christ, the Son of God who has become man in order to substitute himself for us and pay our debt to divine justice.”   Within the context of this drama, the Holy Spirit largely vanishes and consequently the feast of Pentecost fades into the background, at least soteriologically speaking.[3]

The groundwork for this aberration was laid by the adoption of the filioque heresy and the novel Trinitarian theology that arose from it.  The Holy Fathers derided the filioque not only because of its addition to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed when every addition to said Creed was prohibited by the Ecumenical Councils, but because it introduced an inequality among the Divine Persons wherein the Holy Spirit ranked last.  For example, in his Mystagogy, St Photios the Great writes that,

“…if, according to their babble, the Spirit proceeds also from the Son, then the Spirit is differentiated from the Father by more properties than the Son.  Both issue forth from the Father, and even if one issues forth by begetting and the other by procession, nonetheless, one of two modes equally separates them from the hypostasis of the Father; but here the Spirit is differentiated by a second distinction arising from the dual procession.  If more distinctions differentiate the Spirit from the Father than differentiate the Son from the Father, then the Son would be nearer to the Father’s essence, and the Spirit, equal in honour, will be blasphemed as being inferior to the Son…”.[4]

This leads Lossky to conclude rightly that if Frankish theology, “… could stop at the redeeming work of Christ…it was precisely because [by this] time the West had already lost the true idea of the Person of the Holy Spirit, relegating him to a secondary position by making him into a kind of lieutenant to the Son.”[5]  Similarly, Zisis writes, “First the filioque was introduced into the Symbol of Faith and made into a dogma, initially with serious protest coming from certain of the Popes, resulting in a diminution of the Holy Spirit…”[6]

As we have asserted in previous posts, Ælfric of Enysham (+1051) finds himself caught in the middle of the West’s transition from one point to the other, and his Sermones Catholici help us plot the particular path taken by England as it left behind the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church and Orthodox Faith.

Though his life and activities pre-date the Norman Conquest of 1066 – the date typically assigned to England’s apostasy – England was already experiencing a cultural captivity during Ælfric’s time.  The heavy Norman influence characteristic of the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) caused England to gradually forfeit its Orthodox theological heritage in favour of those Frankish theological ideals embraced by the Normans.  Perhaps not surprisingly, then, the Sermones Catholici show Ælfric to be a firm devotee of the filioque (though he never expounds it in a polemic manner, suggesting that he simply received it from his teachers and was unaware of its controversial nature).  For example, in his homily On the Beginning of Creation he writes:

Ðeos þrynnys is án God; þæt is se Fæder and his wisdom of him sylfum æfre acenned; and heora begra willa, þæt is se Halga Gast: he nis na acenned, ac he gæð of þam Fæder and of þam Suna gelice. This Trinity is one God, that is, the Father, and his Wisdom, of himself ever produced; and the Will of them both, that is, the Holy Ghost: he is not born, but he goeth alike from the Father and from the Son.

Moreover, in his sermon Of the Catholic Faith, he offers the following exposition of the dogma of the Holy Trinity which concludes asserting the filioque:

Soðlice se Fæder, and se Sunu, and se Halga Gast, habbað áne Godcundnysse, and án gecynd, and án weorc. Ne worhte se Fæder nán ðing ne ne wyrcð, butan ðam Suna, oððe butan þam Halgan Gaste. Ne heora nán ne wyrcð nán ðing butan oðrum; ac him eallum is án weorc, and án rǽd, and án willa. Æfre wæs se Fæder, and æfre wæs se Sunu, and æfre wæs se Halga Gast án Ælmihtig God. Se is Fæder, seðe nis naðer ne geboren ne gesceapen fram nanum oðrum. Se is Fæder geháten, forðan ðe he hæfð Sunu, ðone ðe he of him sylfum gestrynde, butan ælcre meder. Se Fæder is God of nanum Gode. Se Sunu is God of ðam Fæder Gode. Se Halga Gast is God forðstæppende of ðam Fæder and of ðam Suna. Verily the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, have one Godhead, and one nature, and one work. The Father created nothing nor creates, without the Son, or without the Holy Ghost. Nor does one of them anything without the others; but they have all one work, and one counsel, and one will. The Father was ever, and the Son was ever, and the Holy Ghost was ever One Almighty God. He is the Father, who was neither born of nor created by any other. He is called Father, because he has a Son, whom he begot of himself, without any mother. The Father is God of no God. The Son is God of God the Father. The Holy Ghost is God proceeding from the Father and from the Son.

However, while the Abbot of Enysham receives and indeed clearly teaches the filioque, he yet manages to remain aloof from its implications.  In an impressively Orthodox manner he expresses the economy of the Holy Spirit as this pertains to salvation, and clearly presents salvation as deification, and what is more he does this in his sermon, On the Holy Day of Pentecost.  In a passage where he describes the importance of the feast (and ironically again affirms the filioque) he writes:

Þyses dæges wurðmynt is to mærsigenne, forðan ðe se Ælmihtiga God, þæt is se Halga Gast, gemedemode hine sylfne þæt he wolde manna bearn on ðisre tide geneosian. On Cristes acennednysse wearð se Ælmihtiga Godes Sunu to menniscum men gedon, and on ðisum dæge wurdon geleaffulle men godas, swa swa Crist cwæð, “Ic cwæð, Ge sind godas, and ge ealle sind bearn þæs Hehstan.” Þa gecorenan sind Godes bearn, and eac godas, na gecyndelice, ac ðurh gife þæs Halgan Gastes. An God is gecyndelice on ðrim hadum, Fæder, and his Sunu, þæt is his Wisdom, and se Halga Gast, seðe is heora begra Lufu and Willa. Heora gecynd is untodæledlic, æfre wunigende on anre Godcundnysse. Se ylca cwæð þeah-hwæðere be his gecorenum, “Ge sint godas.” Þurh Cristes menniscnysse wurdon menn alysede fram deofles ðeowte, and ðurh to-cyme þæs Halgan Gastes, mennisce men wurdon gedone to godum. Crist underfeng menniscnysse on his to-cyme, and men underfengon God þurh neosunge þæs Halgan Gastes. The dignity of this day is to be celebrated, because Almighty God, that is the Holy Ghost, himself vouchsafed to visit the children of men at this time. At the birth of Christ the Almighty Son of God became human man, and on this day believing men became gods, as Christ said; “I said, Ye are gods, and ye are all children of the Highest.” The chosen are children of God, and also gods, not naturally, but through grace of the Holy Ghost. One God is naturally in three persons, the Father, and his Son, that is, his Wisdom, and the Holy Ghost, who is the Love and Will of them both. Their nature is indivisible, ever existing in one Godhead. The same has, nevertheless, said of his chosen, “Ye are gods.” Through Christ’s humanity men were redeemed from the thraldom of the devil, and through the coming of the Holy Ghost human men were made gods. Christ received human nature at his advent, and men received God through visitation of the Holy Ghost.

[1] Επόμενοι τος Θείοις Πατράσι· ρχές καί κρίτήρια τς Πατερικς Θεολογίας (Thessaloniki: 1997), 173.

[2] ‘Redemption and Deification’ in In the Image and Likeness of God (Oxford: 1974), 109.

[3] ‘Redemption and Deification’ in In the Image and Likeness of God (Oxford: 1974), 99.

[4] On the Mystagogy of  the Holy Spirit (New York: 1983), 84.

[5] ‘Redemption and Deification’ in In the Image and Likeness of God (Oxford: 1974), 103.

[6] Επόμενοι τος Θείοις Πατράσι· ρχές καί κρίτήρια τς Πατερικς Θεολογίας (Thessaloniki: 1997), 180.

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Monasticism is an institution wherein man is viewed as a whole, as a psychosomatic being, with special emphasis being laid on the care of the soul and things spiritual, with the ultimate aim of leading him to perfection and theosis. It is precisely this reality which the hymnographer expresses in the apolytikion for the commemoration of an ascetic. Borrowing from the writings of St. Basil, he lauds the ascetic because by his actions he teaches us to, “Despise the flesh, for it passes away, [but] be solicitous for your soul which will never die.” Authentic Christianity, Christianity in its fullness, is cultivated in the monasteries, and the preservation of this is the greatest contribution to the world and to society imaginable. St. John Chrysostom repeatedly admonishes the faithful to visit monasteries so that they might see for themselves that the application of Christianity’s ascetic principles is not some utopian dream, but rather something entirely possible. The monastics succeed in creating a community wherein the worship and praise of God occupy as much time as do work and rest, wherein we find love amongst the brothers, and wherein the life of asceticism is lived in its highest form.

From Protopresbyter Theodoros Zisis, Following the Holy Fathers: Timeless Guides of Authentic Christianity  (Columbia: Newrome Press, 2017), 41.

 

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Following the Holy Fathers: Timeless Guides of Authentic Christianity

NOW AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE HERE!

Zisis_Fathers_Front_Cover_Final_2048x2048Author: Protopresbyter Theodoros Zisis
Translator: Fr. John Palmer
Pages: 344  Binding: Sewn softcover

From the Introduction:

It must be clearly established in our minds that the Fathers of the Church, those wise and holy teachers of the Orthodox faith, are not the product of some by-gone age; they are not a thing of the past. This is greatly important since many contemporary Orthodox theologians, having fallen under the influence of non-Orthodox scholars, believe and teach that the mark of antiquity renders an ecclesiastical writer a Father of the Church; in other words, in order to be a Father one must have lived in some ancient era. Consequently, this view divides the Church’s indivisible history according to quality and spiritual depth; it treats the Church as if it were not Christ Himself extended unto the ages of ages, as if during particular eras – such as our own – it had ceased to be guided by the Holy Spirit and to produce saints, teachers and theologians. On the contrary, the Church continues on its course through history ever undiminished in quality, sanctifying through Christ its holy head and through the All-Holy Spirit, who remains eternally and continually within it…
—Protopresbyter Theodoros Zisis 


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

Rich enough in content to hold the interest of one who is theologically inclined but practical and approachable enough to be enjoyed by any reader.

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Elias (Miniates), Bishop of Kerniki and Kalibryta, was born to pious Orthodox parents in the city of Lixouri on the Greek island of Kephallonia at the end of the 17th century (1660).  Naturally intelligent but with little opportunity for learning on the Venetian-occupied island, in 1679 the young Elias was sent to study at the renowned Flanginian School in Venice where he excelled in theology, philosophy, and philology.  His rapid progress and noted eloquence soon led to his being appointed one of the school’s lecturers, while his zeal for the faith led him to the ambo of the local church as a preacher. 

This combination of teaching and preaching would characterize the whole of his life’s work.  Hearing the cry of his oppressed homeland for teachers, he would leave Venice to preach and teach in his native Kephallonia, before moving on to do the same in Kerkyra, Zakynthos, and Constantinople.  With his renown spreading, he was selected to become Bishop of Christopolis, but he ignored this invitation until the vacant see was eventually filled by another.  He would, however, be unable to avoid his episcopal calling.  In 1711, he was again elected bishop, this time of Kerniki and Kalybrita.  He would serve as bishop for only three years, reposing in the Lord at Patras in 1714, the office having taken a significant toll on his health.  With few capable preachers during the years of the Turkish occupation, it was Elias Miniates’ homilies read aloud in churches which catechized the people. Thus, he is remembered as a true enlightener of the Greek people during the darkness of Turkish and Venetian occupation. 

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4th Sunday of Luke:  On the great necessary and benefit of the preaching of the Gospel Word[1]

Bishop Elias (Miniates) of Keriniki and Kalabryta, +1714

 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside…And some fell among thorns…But others fell on good ground…”[2]

How unfortunate is the farmer spoken of in the parable of today’s Holy Gospel!  How vain his labour!  How much seed!  How little fruit!  He sows with an eager heart, with open hands, with good hope, but one portion of the seed falls on the pathway and is trampled by travellers or is eaten by the birds, another portion falls on rock and dries up because it lacks moisture, and another falls among thorns and, being crowded, is choked out.  The smallest portion, however, falls on good ground and this alone takes root, this alone sprouts, this alone bears fruit.

The allegory of the parable is obvious.  The farmer is the preacher and teacher of the Holy Gospel.  The seed is the word of God which is sown liberally within the Holy Church of God, but one portion falls as if on a pathway, on some inattentive Christians, and is thus ignored and scattered.  Another portion falls as if on stone, on some who are hard-hearted, and thus it does not take root and is of no effect.  Another as if among thorns, on some minds full of worldly care, and thus does not bear fruit.  The smallest portion, however, falls as if on good ground, on some pious souls who hear it with joy and guard it carefully, and here alone it bears the manifold fruit of salvation.  Up to this point the farmer’s loss has been great, and the seeds’ fortune has not been good.  Indeed, I am sorrowful over the loss of seed, and I sympathize with the farmer in his plight, but I am incomparably more sorrowful, I sigh from the depths of my soul and weep inconsolably because in these unhappy times there is no farmer to be found and seed is entirely lacking, in other words, there is no preacher and teacher of the Gospel, and the word of God has entirely vanished.  The mystical field of Christ’s Church therefore lays entirely fallow for it has neither been worked, nor has seed been sown in it.  There where choice wheat, the fruit of righteousness, once grew–in sometimes greater, sometimes lesser quantity–now nothing sprouts but thorns, caltrops, weeds, and bare branches, all tinder and fuel for the eternal fire of Hell.  Thus, today, moved by today’s parable, I want to show you, first, how necessary and beneficial the farmer who sows and the seed which is sown – that is to say, the preacher and teacher of the Gospel, and the preaching of the Gospel, namely the word of God, teaching – are to the Church of Christ; and second, what stifles and impedes the bringing forth of the fruit of salvation.  Here, then, speaking from up here in this pulpit to this God-protected people, I beseech the Holy Spirit for the first time to do what is needed so that the seed of today’s Gospel preaching which I desire to sow falls not on the pathway, not on stone, not amongst thorns, but on good ground that it might bear spiritual fruit a hundred-fold.  “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”[3]

ce91ce93ce91ce9bce9cce91ce9cce97ce9dce99ce91cea4ce97Part One       

The days came when our Lord Jesus would leave the earth and ascend into heaven, and there on the Mount of Olives he gave them a command with words such as these:  ‘My disciples, I have fulfilled the will of the Father who sent me; now I must go away and leave you.  But I leave you as successors of my authority, apostles of my teaching, and inheritors of my Spirit.  And this is the work that I command you to do: call the whole of the human race back to my faith.  Do you see this great world, stretching from East to West, from North to South?  This is the royal throne of the ruler of the world.  There impiety and idolatry reigns; there three great enemies are found, the unbridled hard-heartedness of the Jews, the prying wisdom of the Greeks, and the fearful power of the Romans.  You must overcome the power of the Romans, confound the wisdom of the Greeks, and soften the hard-heartedness of the Jews; you must change idolatry and impiety into piety and the knowledge of God; you must wage war against the whole world and establish the Kingdom of God in place of the kingdom of the World.’ “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”[4]  A difficult undertaking; for twelve poor and contemptible apostles to overcome the whole world.  And Christ, who sent them out to start such a great war, what weapons did he give them?  God sent Jesus of Navi together with the whole Israelite nation into battle with Jericho, telling him this:  ‘You see that great city?  You see those high walls?  I want you to raze those walls down to the ground and to enter into that city as victor, but I don’t want you to take up arms of any sort; no sword, no spear, no bow and arrow, not any machine of war.  This alone will suffice:  the priests should carry the Ark upon their shoulders and circle around the fortification, and sound the trumpets.  And I tell you that at the sounding of the trumpets the walls will fall and the city will be in your hands.’  This is how it is written, and this is how it happened: “[T]he priests blew the trumpets. And it happened…the wall fell down flat. Then the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.”[5]

And Christ gave the same command to the Apostles.  ‘I send you out,’ he says, ‘to overcome the entire world, to bring all creation into subjection, to lead the nations to Orthodoxy, to make all men Christians, but I don’t want you to take up arms of any sort.  And not only do I want to you leave behind sword and spear, but also purse and staff.  It is enough for you to take up the ark of sanctification, to take up my Gospel, and to circle the whole earth; to make your mouths like trumpets, and preach everywhere: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”[6]  I tell you, by the preaching of the Gospel alone the whole world will fall and all men will return to my faith.’  Thus spoke Christ, and thus it occurred.  Through the preaching of the Gospel, undertaken initially by the Apostles, the high walls of Jericho fell – namely, the temples of the Pagan nations, and the synagogues of the Jews.  Idolatry and impiety fell.  The new Church was erected and the new faith of the Christians shone forth.  And through the preaching of the Gospel undertaken by the Apostle’s successors – the bishops, the priests, the trumpets of the Holy Spirit – the Church was made firm and the faith was extended to all the ends of the earth:  “Their sound hath gone forth into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.”[7] The lone tool which God used to extract impiety from the world and sow the knowledge of God therein was the preaching of the Gospel, the word of God, teaching.  “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”  This is how necessary and how beneficial the preaching of the Gospel is to the Church of Christ.

But how, I wonder, does it possess such impressive power?  All-powerful is the irresistible Word, who is begotten eternally of the all-knowing mind of co-eternal Father, and who is thus the wisdom and power of the Father, as Paul says, through whom he made the ages and created everything, the heavens and the earth, visible and invisible: “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens established, and all the might of them by the Spirit of his mouth.”[8]  This says David, and John says, “All things were made through Him.”[9]  Similarly all-powerful is the oral divine word, which is the expressed character of that hypostasis and has all the power of the Holy Spirit so as to be able to perform most-extraordinary miracles.  The former in creation, as nature witnessed; the latter in the recreation, which grace effected.  God willed to show the infinite power of this divine word to the Prophet Ezekiel, speaking such words as these:  ‘Prophet, go out onto the plain and you will see that it is full of the bones of the dead: “The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the plain; and it was full of bones.”[10]  And so that you might understand the power of the divine word, preach, teach, and you will see those dry bones clothed in flesh, receive spirit, and become living men: “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!”[11]  The prophet preached the word and – O, what wonder! – those insensible, dead bones lying in dirt became sensible and received life, and were resurrected: “So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army.”[12]  This tells us that the word God is life, soul, and resurrection to those hear it, as Christ tells John saying, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.”[13] And the Blessed Paul adds the reason for this saying that the word of God is life and power: “For the word of God is living and powerful.”[14]

Is one dead on account of impiety or sin?  What is able to raise him up?  The word of God, which is life.  Is one found in delusion or the darkness of heresy, or treading the path of an evil life?  What is able to enlighten him, or bring him back to the path of salvation?  The word of God, which is light and truth.  Is one ailing in soul?  The word of God will cure him.  Is one hard of heart?  The word of God will soften him.  Is he an unrepentant sinner?  The word of God will draw him toward repentance.  “For the word of God is living and powerful.”  Christians within the Church ought to be fed from above, like the Jews were in the desert. The Jew’s food was manna; the Christians food is the word of God.  Gregory the Theologian says, “…the word of God be that bread of angels, wherewith souls are fed who are a hungered for God.”[15]  If there had been no manna in the desert, what would have become of the lowly Jews?  And if the word of God is wanting in the Church, what will become of the lowly Christians?  Christians need to know what the articles of the faith and the commandments of God are; what the mysteries of the Church, what the seven deadly sins are; what the virtues of the Christian life are; what the Christian is obliged to do.  What if there is nothing and no one to explain these to them?  “And how shall they hear without a preacher?”[16]  Divine anger can inflict nothing worse than this kind of famine.  Christians, God frightened the Jews by the mouth of the Prophet who said, ‘O hard-hearted people of Israel, for your sins and unrighteousness I will visit you with a famine.  You will not want for bread, however, but for the word of God, in other words you will starve; hunger for; you will desire the word of God and will not heart it.’  “I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread…but of hearing the words of the Lord.”[17]  The word of God is not heard in the Church; this heavenly manna, this bread of angels, “wherewith souls are fed who are a hungered for God,” is nowhere to be found; the seed of evangelical preaching has been lost.  This is a famine which causes the death of souls, not bodies, and the death of the soul is Hell.  This is a punishment which God sends for sins.  It is a clear sign of divine anger that the Gospel is not preached among the Orthodox.  What a loss of souls!  What scorn poured out on the Church!  What sorrow and loss for Christ!  What joy and gain for the devil!

There is truly nothing the devil takes greater care to do than to excise the preaching of the Gospel from the Church of Christ and to cast out teachers and preachers of the Gospel wherever they are found.   And why?  Understand this.  Great wars were fought, and much blood was shed between the Macedonians and the Athenians, such that a deadly animosity developed between the two peoples.  Phillip, the king of the Macedonians, as brave as he was artful in negotiations, sent a delegation to the Athenians who were afflicted on account of all the bloodshed and the money they had spent, writing to them such things as these:  ‘Athenian men, if you wish the war to end and for there to be peace between us, this is what I would have you do:  cast all the rhetors out of your city.  It is they with their sophisticated manipulation of words who incite the people to take up arms, who sow scandal, who ignite war, who give rise to all the evils associated with war.’  The Athenians were deceived by this and they immediately voted that all the rhetors should be exiled from Athens.  Notable amongst these were Phocion and Demosthenes, who addressed this oration to the people:  ‘Athenian men, you are disposed to do the will of Phillip, and we are ready to obey your order.  We will leave despite the love we bear for our homeland, but first we desire to tell you this fable: a wolf sent a delegation to the sheep, telling them that if they wanted peace they should kick all the dogs that bark and make a fuss out of the sheepfold.  The sheep accepted the wolf’s suggestion and unanimously decided to cast them out.  Then one of the dogs – the oldest one – said, ‘Deceived sheep, you have not grasped the reason the wolf wants you to expel us.  He is not trying to establish peace; rather, he wants you to be left without guards so that when the time is right he can come by night, snatch you up, and eat you one by one.’   The sheep considered these words carefully and in the end decided to keep the dogs in the sheepfold.’  Athenian men, Phillip’s aim is not to make peace with you.  It is to leave you without guardians, without us rhetors who speak, who declaim, who cry out, who summon the leaders to the assembly, who call the people to arms, who guard the city from his attacks, so that he will have the opportunity to come along when he so desires and, finding you unprepared, place you under the yoke of slavery.’  The Athenians considered Demosthenes’ words and kept the rhetors in the city.  This is how it is, Christians.

The Church of Christ is the mystical sheepfold; Christians are rational sheep; the bishops are the shepherds of the sheep; the devil is the wolf, or better the lion, as the Blessed Peter says, who circles the sheepfold of Christ and seeks to devour Christ’s sheep:  “…your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”[18]  And the dogs, the guardians of the holy sheepfold, these are the teachers and preachers of the Gospel who preach, who cry out, who rouse the shepherds, repel the wolf, and guard the sheep.  Saint Basil the Great says that the rabbit does not fear thunder as much as the devil fears the preaching of the Gospel.  When he hears the word of God preached, he trembles, runs far away, he vanishes.  Now, what has the devil’s mischief done?  He tries in every way to expel the dogs from the sheepfold, the holy rhetors from the holy city, the teachers from the Church, so that the word of God is in no way heard.  To what end?  Give me a sheepfold without guard dogs, and as smart and as careful as the shepherd might be, the wolf will yet come in the dark of the night, secretly, enter the sheepfold without the shepherd hearing and snatch up and devour the sheep.  Give me a church, a city, a diocese without teachers and preachers, and as holy and righteous as the pastor might be, the devil, finding it unguarded and not hearing the word, will yet enter, snatch up, and devour the rational sheep.  Paul says that the Holy Spirit set Shepherds and Teachers over the Church for this very reason: the Shepherds are to govern the rational sheep with the rod of uprightness, namely, spiritual authority, while the Teachers are to protect the rational sheep from the soul-destroying wolf by word and teaching.  From all this do you see just how necessary teachers and preachers of the Gospel are to Christ’s Church?  How necessary the word of God is for our salvation?  It is as necessary as bread is to this life: “…the word of God be that bread of angels, wherewith souls are fed who are a hungered for God.”

O only-begotten Son and Word of God, you who came down from the bosom of the Father on account of your incomparable goodness, and deigned to become man in order to gather together that mystical flock which is your holy Church; you who shed your blood to ransom your rational sheep, look over your flock from the heavens, visit your sheep, do not leave them without guardians, preachers and teachers of your Gospel who protect them from the snares of the soul-destroying wolf. You who rained down manna in the desert to feed your people Israel, rain down the heavenly bread of divine teaching upon your Church to feed the souls of the Orthodox faithful.  Let your Holy Spirit illumine our minds, let it fill our hearts, let it instruct our tongues, that the word of God might always be heard and never be absent from among us.  Heavenly sower,  ever sow this divine seed amidst the commonwealth of the Orthodox, and let it fall upon love so that it might bear much good fruit, to the glory of your divine name, and to the salvation of our souls.

ce9cce97ce9dce99ce91cea4ce97cf82Part Two 

The word of God is not only that which is preached by teachers from the pulpit – which we never, or at least infrequently hear.  The word of God is also the Holy Gospel, the other holy writings, and the holy services which the priests read or sing, and which we ought to hear every Sunday and feast day appointed by the Church.  Now, this divine word is like that seed in today’s parable – in fact, it is not like that seed, for a portion of the seed in that parable fell on good ground, but of this seed all, all falls as if on a pathway, on rock, or amongst thorns and bears no fruit at all.  And this is the reason.  Some Christians come to the church and hear the word of God; others do not come, and do not hear it.  Of those who come, half are in the church with their body, but God knows where they are with their mind; they lack attentiveness and piety.  Now when the Holy Gospel, the epistles, and other similar things are read, it is as if the word of God falls on a pathway and the passers-by and the birds – which are vain thoughts – scatter it.  They come to church without contrition, without compunction and here the Gospel falls as if on rock, on a heart firm in its ways, and it puts down no roots and is dried up.  They come to church and do not offer even one true prayer; they do not quiet their mind or lift it up to God.  Raise their mind to God?  What mind?  It is full, burdened, weighed down, by all the troubles and cares of the world.  Here we find many stifling thorns; here the word of God is choked out; here nothing good comes.  The great Cyril says, “He whose mind is troubled and anxious has no thought of good things, nor can it hold the grace of God.”[19]  If the word of God is to bear fruit and benefit those who come to church, they must come with prayer and devotion, with contrition and compunction, with meekness and attentiveness.  Others, however, do not come to the church at all.  In these men two things are witnessed; first, the violation of the third commandment:  “You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you…whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people.”[20]  Second, the ruination of one’s labour.  God did not rain down manna on the seventh day.  Isaiah says, “[T]hey spin a spider’s web…and their web shall not become a garment.”[21]

[1] From Ηλία Μηνιάτη, Διδαχαί εις την Αγίαν και Μεγάλην Τεσσαρακοστήν, και εις άλλας Κυριακάς του Ενιαυτού, και Επισήμους Εορτάς (Ekdotikos Oikos Bas. Rigopoulou, Thessaloniki, 1991), pp.301-310.  Trans. Rev Dr John Palmer

[2] Luke 8: 5-8.

[3] Matthew 13: 9.

[4] Matthew 28:19.

[5] Joshua 6:20.

[6] Mark 16:15.

[7] Psalm 18:4.

[8] Psalm 32:6.

[9] John 1:3.

[10] Ezekiel 37:1.

[11] Ezekiel 37:4.

[12] Ezekiel 37:10.

[13] John 5:25.

[14] Hebrews 4:12.

[15] Oration Forty-Three, [36].

[16] Romans 10:14.

[17] Amos 8:11.

[18] 1 Peter 5:8.

[19] This line is not easily located in St Cyril’s writings, though it is contained in a number of Catenae with an attribution to Cyril of Jerusalem.

[20] Exodus 31:14.

[21] Isaiah 59:5-6.

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