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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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By the grace of God Following the Holy Fathers: Timeless Guides of Authentic Christianity by Protopresbyter Theodoros Zisis, translated by Rev Dr John Palmer, will be soon be available for purchase from Newrome Press.

This volume includes translations of articles taken from a number of Fr. Theodore’s publications.  It is 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 variety of themes.

As soon as it is available for purchase I will provide an update.

From the the Authour’s Prologue:  

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…

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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.

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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.

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From Orthodox Ethos:

In unprecedented and uncanonical fashion the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, is demanding that the Archbishop of Athens and the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece depose and excommunicate leading hierarchs and clergy of the Church for their opposition to the “Council” of Crete and its innovative organization and decisions. The Patriarchal letter names first of all, the one-time representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Protopresbyter Theodore Zisis, professor emeritus of Patrology, as the supposed “ring leader,” but also implicates “those under him” who traveled with him to the Churches of Georgia, Bulgaria and Moldova before and after the Cretan gathering. The Patriarch demands that, in the event of their persistence in rejecting the “Council” of Crete, they be defrocked and excommunicated, according the canonical akriveia.

The Patriarch goes further and states that similar action be taken also against two well-known bishops, the Metropolitans of Piraeus, Seraphim, and Kalavryta and Agialeias, Ambrose (or Amvrosios), for their exposure of the Cretan “Council” as innovative and unorthodox in its decisions. If the Church of Greece refuses to act accordingly, the Patriarch informs the Archbishop, he and his synod will “sever ecclesiastical and sacramental communion with them.” This last statement is perhaps the most significant aspect of the Patriarchal letter, for it would be unprecedented for the Holy Synod of a Local Church to cease communion with particular hierarchs of another Local Orthodox Church. It would raise serious questions as to status of communion between the two Local Churches and the reach of the canonical authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Furthermore, it may also actually serve to isolate not only the two hierarchs in question but rather the Ecumenical Patriarchate itself, depending on the reaction of the Church of Greece and other Local Orthodox Churches. If early reports are indicative, which has the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece deciding not to respond at all to the Patriarch’s demands, resistance to these Papal pretensions, and the Patriarch’s further isolation, have already begun.

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The Letter of the Patriarch:

Most Eminent Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, our Lowliness’s greatly beloved brother in Christ and concelebrant IERONYMOS, President of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, embracing Your Venerable Eminence brotherly in the Lord, we greet you most-warmly.

It is confessed by all that our Holy Orthodox Church—the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church—has determined and declares its dogma and polity in Holy Councils, local, more-wide, Greater, or Great and Holy, and in Ecumenical Councils. The synodical decisions arrived at through the descent of, and in the Holy Spirit represent a single voice as the Holy Chrysostom declares writing that, “there ought to be but one voice in the church always” (Homilies on First Corinthians.36.[9]).

We recall this ecclesiological and canonical principle–that matters are to be examined and decided upon synodically–which is the cornerstone of the life, saving mission, and witness of our Orthodox Church in the world, for both Your Very Beloved and Most-Diligent Eminence and the Most Holy Church of Greece, and, in light of our responsibility as Ecumenical Patriarch and President of the Holy and Great Council which assembled in Crete, and as guardian of the dogmatic and canonical order of the Eastern Church, we call Your attention to the following serious issue which troubles us personally together with the Synod of the Mother Church.

Information from a variety of sources comes to our Ecumenical Patriarchate and to our Lowliness personally each day telling us that through the internet and other means of information, and by visiting other sister Orthodox churches, Protopresbyter Theodoros Zisis along with those clergy and laity who are of like mind with him are calling brother Primates and pastors, and particularly the devout Orthodox faithful, to rebel against and question the decisions of the Holy and Great Council of our Orthodox Church which assembled blessedly and successfully in Crete, where the contribution of Your Dearest Eminence and of the delegation of the Most-Holy Church of Greece was foundational and instrumental in this success.

As if the unholy work of this small number of clergy and laity–injurious to consciences and provoking scandal–within the Most-Holy Church of Greece was not enough, we have received information (which as of today has yet to be disproved) telling us that a delegation under the aforementioned clergyman has visited the Most-Holy Orthodox Churches of Bulgaria and Georgia, as well as the ecclesiastical diocese of Moldova, where it stirred up the faithful and was unfortunately received by the brother Primates and Hierarchs of those churches. Moreover, according to this information, this group presented itself as conveying the consciousness of the Church of Greece during its visit to Georgia.

Surely Your Eminence and the Holy Synod of the Most-Holy Church of Greece agree that those things deliberately and irreverently spread and circulated by these clergy and laity are, in the words of Saint Basil the Great, “…poisonous drugs for souls…and as drunken brains…” the speakers of these words “…cry out full of fancies from their condition” (Letter 210: To the Most-Eloquent citizens of Neo-Caesarea.[6]). Moreover, “…[in order] to rend asunder the Church, to be ready for rivalry, to create dissension, to rob oneself continuously of the benefits of religious meetings–these are unpardonable, these do demand an accounting, these do deserve serious punishment” (Saint John Chrysostom, Against the Jews.3.[13]).

Unfortunately, through the stance they have adopted, even brother Hierarchs of the Most-Holy Church of Greece–for example the Most-Holy Metropolitans Seraphim of Piraeus and Amvrosios of Kalavryta and Agialeias–have, through writings circulated seasonably or unseasonably, and above all through their objectively extreme words spoken both prior to and following the Council, conspired with this well-known group against the canonical Church and the decisions of the Holy and Great Council which met in Crete. They who act in this manner surely forget that, “…those matters which have been considered and decided upon synodically are better and more sure than those conclusions arrived at on one’s own” (John of Kritos, Answers to Constantine Kavasalis, Archbishop of Dyrrachios).

We therefore beseech Your Eminence and the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece which participated in the Holy and Great Council of Crete, and which collaborated in its decision and co-signed all the conciliar texts, to enforce the decisions of that Council which decreed that these texts are binding upon all Orthodox faithful—clergy and laity alike (See The Canonical Organization and Operation of Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, 13.[2]). We ask you to take appropriate measures and to issue the necessary admonitions to the aforesaid clergy and to the specific roots of this group that they might cease from their anti-ecclesiastical and uncanonical activities, cease from scandalizing souls “for whom Christ died,” and cease from causing problems in the united Orthodox Church.

It is well known to all that, “Nothing so provokes God’s anger as the division of the Church” (Saint John Chrysostom, Homilies on Ephesians.11.[13]) like those that are occurring on account of the conduct of the aforesaid persons. We do not doubt that Your Eminence and the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece wish to do what is right, what is in accordance with canonical akriveia, and to make the appropriate ecclesiastical exhortations and admonitions to the aforesaid clergy and laity, threatening with deposition those who do not comply as is enjoined by the Divine and Holy Canons for the curing of wounds caused in the body of the Church by such conduct, thereby leaving no room for “scandal.”

Likewise, connected with this, we fervently beseech Your Eminence to turn his attention in particular to those brother Hierarchs of the Most-Holy Church of Greece who have provoked turmoil amid the people of God through their actions and encyclicals, such as the aforementioned Metropolitans of Kalavryta and Agialeias and Piraeus, saying that if they should not stand aright and come to themselves, the Ecumenical Patriarchate will respond to the problem which has arisen by severing ecclesiastical and sacramental communion with them, invoking the shared responsibility and obligation of all Orthodox shepherds to safeguard the unity, peace, and the unified witness of the Orthodox Church.

We threaten the above with pain of soul and grief in our heart, before the bounds of the right to freedom of expression and constructive criticism is overstepped and this unholy work becomes worse and more difficult to cure. We entrust what we have said to the conscience of Your Love and that of the reverend Hierarchy of the Church of Greece, and we close with deep love in the Lord and exceptional honour.

18 November 2016

The Beloved brother in the Lord of Your reverend Eminence, Bartholomew of Constantinople

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Work with a Blessing!

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Work with a Blessing!

Metropolitan Augoustinos (Kantiotes) of Florina[1]

 “At that time…”  Thus begins the Gospel, my beloved brethren.  By means of these words we are called to think on that time when he to whom no one can compare – our Lord Jesus Christ – walked upon the face of the earth.

“At that time…”  Some hear this and say, ‘If only I had lived in Christ’s era!  If only I had seen him; if only I had heard him; if only I had partaken of the blessings he distributed!’  In the Church, however, we not only hear him, we not only see him with our spiritual eyes, but if we so desire we can even take hold of him and put him in our hearts by means of Holy Communion. On the diskos and in the chalice he is wholly present!

This same Christ loves work; he honours those who labour both on the land and at sea, and he has proven this with his whole life.  When it came time to choose his disciples and apostles, he did not go to Plato’s Academy, or to the great centers of Rome, Alexandra, or Babylon where the powerful lived.  Instead, he chose his ‘staff’ from the working class, from the fishermen of Galilee.  The Lord is the archetypal worker.  There is no one who loved workers more than our Lord Jesus Christ.  He was the archetypal worker.  He himself was a worker and all his disciples – Peter and Paul – were workers.

The first commandment given in Paradise was to work: ‘ἐργάζεσθαι’, ‘work’![2]  And this is not just a commandment of God, a universal law, for humanity.  Look around you!  The ant works.  Addressing the lazy person the Holy Scriptures say, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.”[3]  Go to the ant and learn from its example.  It lifts a load two-three times its own weight and carries this to its nest so that it will have food for the winter.  The bee flies from flower to flower; birds travel miles upon miles, as do fish; rivers and streams run; the heavenly bodies are ceaselessly in motion.  Everything, from the very small up to the very large, cries out, ‘Work!’  Those who will not work represent dissonance, a bad note, in the harmony of divine creation.

Today’s gospel passage tells us, however, that it is not enough for one to work.  Something else is required.  The first time the fishermen of Gennesaret lowered their nets they didn’t bring up even a single scale, but the second time their nets came up full.  Why?  Because the second time Christ himself was together with them and blessed their labours!  Wherever Christ’s blessing is, there we will find a treasury of good things!  So work, but do so with God’s blessing.  People often strongly emphasize work, and they do well in so doing, but above work is God’s blessing.

Take the farmer as an example.  Let him have the best field; let him cultivate it with great care and wisdom; let him fertilize the soil with the best fertilizer.  If rain does not fall; if the sun does not shine; if the right breeze does not blow; if he does not have the blessing of heaven, then he will sow but not reap.  All of his labours will be wasted.

You must have God’s blessing.  If you do not have it, you will sow but not reap; you will build, but never live in what you have built; you will save up money, but never enjoy it. God’s blessing is a necessary condition of every success.  Work, but do so in obedience to God.  Just as Peter obeyed the Lord’s command, so ought we to do.

But what is God’s commandment with respect to work?  “Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work:  But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God”[4]  Work like ants for six days – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday – but on Sunday, rest!  Do you hear the bells ring in the parish?  Run to church!  Work stops!  Only necessary work which absolutely cannot cease may continue; this is permitted according to the spirit of the Gospel.  But all others – except for the elderly and the infirm – to church!

My brothers and sisters, we have work, but we must have God’s blessing.  A week has 168 hours.  During this time we ought to do all that is needed for our life.  God asks that we set aside but one hour to be in church, to pray and supplicate him.  So, from now on, let us not be absent from church, all worshiping the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, unto the ages of ages.  Amen.

[1]               From the book Εμπνευσμένα Κηρύγματα Ορθοδόξου Ομολογίας και Αγιοπατερικής Πνοής (Orthodoxos Kypseli:  Thessaloniki, 2011), 178-180. Translated by Fr John Palmer.

[2]               See Genesis 2:15, “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to [ἐργάζεσθαι] dress it and to keep it.

[3]               Proverbs 6:6.

[4]               Deuteronomy 5:13-14.

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+Metropolitan Augustinos (Kantiotes) of Florina[1]

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

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

  1. Life.

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

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

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

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

  1. The good life.

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

  1. The life according to Christ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Living in a manner worthy of the Fathers.

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

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

[2]   Matthew 23:19.

[3]   Exodus 20:12.

[4]   Exodus 21:15.

[5]   Wisdom of Sirach 3:9.

[6]   Wisdom of Sirach 7:27.

[7]   Ephesians 4:11-12.

[8]   See Wisdom of Sirach 44:1-15.

[9]   Deuteronomy 32:7.

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

[11]   Hebrews 13:8.

[12]   Matthew 3:7-9.

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