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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.

This is a beautiful documentary (in Russian with English subtitles) about the life of St. Paisios the Athonite and his years spent on Mount Sinai in Egypt.

The subtitles were provided by Friends of Mount Sinai Monastery, a US non-profit that supports St. Catherine’s Monastery, with permission of author/director Alexander Kouprin and Igumen Cyprian (Yaschenko) of the Holy Trinity – St. Sergius Lavra near Moscow

You can read more about the Friends of Mount Sinai Monastery and the work they do here:

http://www.mountsinaimonastery.org/#intro

 

Here is a wonderful, animated, talk by my favourite (if only) brother, Fr. Matthew Penney. – co-founder of Lumination Press. The video has his name as Fr. Matthew Perry, but it’s a typo.  This homily was delivered at the Russian Orthodox Church of Christ the Saviour, in London, Ontario.

Axios!

 

0702john-sanfranciscoTen years ago today I was blessed to visit and venerate our great hierarch among the saints, John Maximovitch the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco. May we have his blessing!

(Source)

Our Father among the Saints John (Maximovitch), Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco (1896-1966), was a diocesan bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) who served widely from China to France to the United States.

Saint John departed this life on June 19 (O.S.) / July 2 (N.S.), 1966, and was officially glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad on July 2, 1994. His glorification was later recognized for universal veneration by the Patriarchate of Moscow on July 2, 2008.

Life

The future Saint John was born on June 4, 1896, in the village of Adamovka in Kharkiv province to pious aristocrats, Boris and Glafira Maximovitch. He was given the baptismal name of Michael, after the Holy Archangel Michael. In his youth, Michael was sickly and had a poor appetite, but he displayed an intense religious interest. He was educated at the Poltava Military School (1907-14); Kharkiv Imperial University, from which he received a law degree (in 1918); and the University of Belgrade (where he completed his theological education in 1925).

He and his family fled their country as the Bolshevik revolutionaries descended on the country, emigrating to Yugoslavia. There, he enrolled in the Department of Theology of the University of Belgrade. He was tonsured a monk in 1926 by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kharkov (later the first primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia). Metropolitan Anthony later in 1926 ordained him hierodeacon. Bishop Gabriel of Chelyabinsk ordained him hieromonk on November 21, 1926. Subsequent to his ordination he began an active life of teaching in a Serbian high school and serving, at the request of local Greeks and Macedonians, in the Greek language. With the growth of his popularity, the bishops of the Russian Church Aboard resolved to elevate him to the episcopate.

Hieromonk John was consecrated bishop on May 28, 1934, with Metropolitan Anthony serving as principal consecrator, after which he was assigned to the Diocese of Shanghai. Twelve years later he was named Archbishop of China. Upon his arrival in Shanghai, Bishop John began working to restore unity among the various Orthodox nationalities. In time, he worked to build a large cathedral church that was dedicated to Surety of Sinners Icon to the Mother of God, with a bell tower and large parish house. Additionally, he inspired many activities: building of churches, hospitals, and orphanages among the Orthodox and Russians of Shanghai. He was intensely active, constantly praying and serving the daily cycle of services, while also visiting the sick with the Holy Gifts. He often would walk barefooted even in the coldest days. Yet to avoid the appearance of secular glory, he would pretend to act the fool.

With the end of World War II and the coming to power of the communists in China, Bishop John led the exodus of his community from Shanghai in 1949. Initially, he helped some 5,000 refugees to a camp on the island of Tubabao in the Philippines, while he travelled successfully to Washington, D.C., to lobby to amend the law to allow these refugees to enter the United States. It was while on this trip that Bishop John took time to establish a parish in Washington dedicated to Saint John the Forerunner.

In 1951, Archbishop John was assigned to the Archdiocese of Western Europe with his cathedra in Paris. During his time there, he also served as archpastor of the Orthodox Church of France, whose restored Gallican liturgy he studied and then celebrated. He was the principal consecrator of the Orthodox Church of France’s first modern bishop, Jean-Nectaire (Kovalevsky) of Saint-Denis, and ordained to the priesthood the man who would become its second bishop, Germain (Bertrand-Hardy) of Saint-Denis.

In 1962, Archbishop John was assigned to the Diocese of San Francisco, succeeding his long time friend Archbishop Tikhon. Archbishop John’s days in San Francisco were to prove sorrowful as he attempted to heal the great disunity in his community. He was able to bring peace such that the new cathedral, dedicated to the Joy of all Who Sorrow Icon of the Mother of God, was completed.

Deeply revering Saint John of Kronstadt, Archbishop John played an active role in preparation of his canonization.

He reposed during a visit to Seattle on July 2, 1966, while accompanying a tour of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God. He was laid to rest in a crypt chapel under the main altar of the new cathedral.

CREDIT: www.monasteryofstjohn.org/?p=about_st_john

bishops

(Source)

Greek media is reporting that at least two documents put forth by the recently concluded Pan-Orthodox Council on Crete were not signed by all delegates.

While the names of all delegate bishops from each of the ten represented Local Churches were added to each document by the Secretariat of the Holy and Great Council, there were those who abstained from signing the documents “The Sacrament of Marriage and its Impediments” and “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World.”

It is reported that Met. Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpatkos and Agios Vlasios, who had a lively debate at the Council with Met. John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon over the theology of personhood, withheld his signature from both documents.

Additionally, Metropolitans Athanasius of Limassol, Neophytos of Morphou, Nikolaos of Amathus, Epiphanios of Ledra, and Porphyrios of Neapolis of the Church of Cyprus, and Irinej of Bačka of the Serbian Orthodox Church withheld their signatures from the document “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World.”

Unofficial information says that the number of Serbian bishops who refused is much higher.

The official site of the Morphou diocese has posted Met. Neophytos’ declaration addressed to the Council in which he refers to the “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World”document as “dogmatically vague” and calls its fruit “diplomatic compromises.” He makes several references to the words of Sts. Paisios and Porphyrios, as well as of Elders Sophrony (Sakharov) and Iakovos (Tsalikis) and other contemporary ascetics, stressing that the document is at odds with their teachings and insufficiently clear about the fact that the Orthodox Church is the sole bearer of the fullness of truth.

While it was previously reported that eight Metropolitans in all chose not to sign the relations document, Metropolitan Vasileios of Constantia and Ammochostos has personally stated that he did indeed sign all conciliar documents.

29 / 06 / 2016

0628threehandedicon01

St. John Damascene accepted monasticism at the monastery of St. Sava the Sanctified and there bestowed his wonderworking icon [of the Mother of God of Three Hands]. The Lavra presented the icon “Of Three Hands” in blessing to St. Sava, Archbishop of Serbia (+ 1237, January 12). During the time of an invasion of Serbia by the Turks, some Christians who wanted to protect the icon, entrusted it to the safekeeping of the Mother of God Herself. They placed it upon a donkey, which without a driver proceeded to Athos and stopped in front of the Hilandar monastery. The monks put the icon in the monastery’s cathedral church (katholikon). During a time of discord over the choice of igumen, the Mother of God deigned to head the monastery Herself, and from that time Her holy icon has occupied the igumen’s place in the temple. At the Hilandar monastery there is chosen only a vicar, and from the holy icon the monks take a blessing for every obedience.

Source: http://oca.org/saints/lives/2016/06/28/101839-icon-of-the-mother-of-god-of-the-three-hands

mon2

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Below is transcript of a talk I gave at the 2015 Orthodox Young Professionals Retreat held in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The title of the event was “Sanctifying Time and Space: Privilege and Responsibility as an Orthodox Young Professional”.  To my surprise someone took the time to write out a transcript of my talk for Ancient Faith Radio.  I could post the written version I initially prepared, but the transcript includes more than what I planned to say.  Enjoy!

____________________

Thanks for having me. It was a long trip, but it’s very beautiful here. The only thing it lacks is the ocean, because where I live, it’s all ocean! Mountains, but ocean.

The topic tonight is “Work as Prayer: Uniting Our Divided Selves”: Creative ways to employ prayer and watchfulness in our everyday work lives. As Valerie said, I’ve lived in Greece for a number of years, and while I lived there, I would frequently visit women’s monasteries, not only for spiritual respite, but because I loved working alongside the sisterhoods. They work a great deal to sustain their monastery, sometimes all hours of the day if need be. And I was more than happy to work with them to the point of exhaustion. Once, after a long day in such work, we were sitting with the abbess in the courtyard, enjoying the cool evening air, when she commented, “Work, when combined with prayer, becomes prayer,” and it is to this idea, this principle, that I wish to speak with you tonight.

st-nikodemosoftheholymountainSt. Nikodemos the Hagiorite says Christians should regard their occupations and handiwork as sidelines and not as vocations, for the sake of earning their livelihood, and that they should regard prayer and piety as their work and occupation. When the cunning Pharisees, wishing to entrap Christ, asked him whether or not they should pay tax to Caesar, Christ responded with a question: “Whose image is depicted on the denarius coin?” And the Pharisees responded that Caesar’s image was on it. And Christ’s answer was, “Pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” What did he mean, “Pay to God what is God’s”? Well, just as the denarius was imprinted with Caesar’s image and therefore belonged to Caesar, so we are imprinted, we are created, in the image of God, and therefore we owe him our very selves. Perhaps this is what Christ meant by that. Thus, as St. Nikodemos states, prayer and piety must be our primary occupation, because it is by means of these things that we give to God what is God’s.

Being made of dirt and clay, however, I think it is easy to make man earthly cares his primary priority. No matter what our occupation, whether we be a corporate lawyer or a talented barista, the temptation is there for us to become so occupied with our job that we forget our first love, as St. John the Theologian says in Revelation, that is, the spiritual life. When we are busy and tired, the first things we let slide are usually our prayer life, the reading of holy Scriptures and godly books, and, worse still, church attendance. Work, however, maintaining a job or being a professional, are just the context within which we are called to live, move, and have our being in Christ as Orthodox Christians. So just as the sisters, when employed in prayer, create an environment of prayer and watchfulness in their work, so we can employ practical tools enabling us to watch and pray, lest we fall into temptation in our everyday work lives.

Now, I’m going to share with you some helpful tips, or at least things I find helpful. As I’ve said, the primary work of a monastic is prayer, and although monastics work a great deal, their work is always, or ought to be, combined with prayer. We, too, can accomplish this by becoming creative in our workplaces. Wherever we are, at all times, we can struggle to say the Jesus prayer. All prayer is good and beneficial, but the Jesus prayer is our most prized possession as Orthodox Christians. The holy saints of our Church have given us a treasure. Through their ascetic struggle to acquire the Holy Spirit by means of unceasing prayer, they have passed down to us this perfected form of prayer.

The prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” is a confession of faith, my professor of dogmatics theology once told a classroom full of students. It is a confession that God became man; the person of God the Word, that is, Christ Jesus, became incarnate. With this prayer, we ask for his mercy. Mercy, according to patristic theology, is the compassion of God which is expressed as the kingdom of God. So when we say this simple but theologically profound prayer, we are in fact supplicating Christ to bring us his kingdom. As Orthodox Christians, we know the whole goal of our earthly life is to attain and transcend to the heavenly kingdom. So we also know that this prayer is the best and most simple way to keep our focus on Christ and constantly seek his mercy, his compassion, and his kingdom.

Now, you may tell me, “But I can’t focus on my work if I’m constantly saying the Jesus prayer!” Well, there are two perspectives. One is that we should struggle to pray in all circumstances, regardless of how much concentration our job requires. And the other is that we must make a concerted effort to take the time to stop what we are doing to offer God our attention.

blessed makrinaI’ll give you an example of the first perspective. There’s an abbess whom I love with all my heart who reposed in 1995, so I never had a chance to meet her, but I have read her books that are written in Greek, and, God willing, this book that she has will be translated into English, and she has helped many, many people, not only in Greece but also in North America. Her monastery was located in a village outside of city called Volos in Greece. She was the spiritual daughter of Elder Joseph the Hesychast. I’m sure some of you or many of you know of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, and for those of you who don’t, I supplicate you to run as fast as you can to acquire his books, because he is amazing.

So Gerontissa worked from the age of nine, because her parents had both reposed and she had to take care of herself and her brother. At the age of 12, she had found work in a tobacco factory. Her job was to count all of the cigarettes to make sure that there was always, I think it was 25 in each cigarette packet. But after some time she grew tired of this, because she thought, “If I’m counting and my mind is occupied with counting, I cannot pray freely.” So finally she just said, “Panagia”—which is a Greek term of endearment for the Mother of God; it means All-holy One—“Panagia, you count; I’ll pray.” After that she stopped counting, and there was always the right amount of cigarettes in the packet.

Alternatively, if we can’t say the Jesus prayer continually like Gerontissa Makrina did, and not only Gerontissa Makrina—there are people in the world who have acquired this prayer of the heart, this unceasing prayer—but if we are not able to or if we’re not able to yet, we should at least make a point to stop what we are doing, let’s say every ten minutes or so, to at least say one time, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. O Most-holy Theotokos, save me.” We could at very least say, “Lord, have mercy” or “Glory to God.” Think of all the small talk and chatter we engage in throughout the day. All we need to do is engage in small talk with God. Take the time and make the effort to keep his name on our lips as much as possible. The whole point is to constantly direct and redirect our hearts and minds toward God, to have remembrance of God in all we do.

I’ll share another story that will hopefully elaborate on what I’m trying to get at. So my professor again, who himself is a huge example for me—he was married, had a family, worked a regular job: he was at this Aristotle University in Thessaloniki—he would often tell us, even though he’s a professor of dogmatic theology—not “even though”… He was a professor of dogmatic theology, and in order to teach us dogmatic theology, he would often employ his own lived experience of the faith. He had a very close relationship with the newly canonized Paisios of Mount Athos, and he did this in order for us to understand that dogmatic theology and all theology, but dogmatic which particularly I think is easy for us to assume is academic, he did it in order to show us that it isn’t an academic: it is the lived experience of God, and it’s the common lived experience. He would often, in his lectures, go into these amazing little stories that would really help us.

He told us this story of how he and a friend of his had gone to a monastery. They had attended the Divine Liturgy. Afterwards they went to greet the elder that was there, and the elder said to my professor’s friend, “Where were you during the service?” And my professor’s friend said, “I was here. I was in the church.” He said, “No, you weren’t.” So my professor comes to his friend’s defense, and he says, “No, really, Geronda! He was here. I was with him. We were together.” And he says, “No, he wasn’t here. He was out serving the land he wants to buy, thinking about what he wants to build there.” The man, of course, was dumbfounded by the elder’s prophetic words because he understood that, while his body was in church, he was not in church, because his mind wasn’t and his heart wasn’t.

Christ said, “Where your heart is, there will your treasure be also.” So where is our heart? Where is our mind, our attention, our desire? We must struggle to have remembrance of God, to offer him our attention, our prayer, throughout the day. If our mind strays, we shouldn’t become distraught. We should just call it back, even if it happens a thousand times, the point is to struggle. Our thoughts have such strength that, as we saw in the above story, they can carry us away from God. Conversely, they can carry us toward God. In that way, even when our bodies are in secular work environments, our minds and our hearts don’t have to be separate from God.

mobmain2-w300h414There’s another story: St. Nicholas Planas, who was a saint in Athens. He also… There’s a similar experience, where there’s a woman who was present in church, but when St. Nicholas Planas went with the censer, and he was censing the people, he skipped over her, and he went to the empty seats and he censed the empty seats. Afterwards, the woman asked him, “Fr. Nicholas, why did you miss me and cense the other empty seats?” He said, “Well, I didn’t cense you because you weren’t here; your mind was elsewhere. And I censed the empty seats because so-and-so who’s sick at home couldn’t come but desired to be here. This is where her heart was.”

When we’re at the photocopier or we’re walking through the office, when we’re going about our work, we can pray. We can think over the Scriptures, books we’ve read. We can sing psalms or hymns—obviously inside ourselves. There is so much at our disposal to turn our heart and mind toward God. This is what watchfulness is: to be guarding our senses by means of occupying our mind with remembrance of God. Christ taught us a good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart, but guarding our senses and occupying our mind with prayer, our heart will not only have the evil expelled, that is, become purified of the passions, it will become an abode for the Holy Trinity, a dwelling-place, a room for God to lay his head. It will, in other words, store up good things.

And by practicing watchfulness, our conscience becomes more sensitive, and this conscientious state of mind begins to seep into our actions and re-actions, in the way we speak or the types of conversations we avoid. We don’t need to isolate ourselves in the workplace to the point of scandalizing others, but we can be mindful of what interactions we engage in and what kinds of conversations and activities we avoid, purposely avoid, in order to avoid displeasing Christ. When we make this watchful effort, when we are mindful of guarding ourselves, our senses, then we will feel the grace of God more acutely, and know intuitively when we engage in God-pleasing activities, or, alternatively, when we have displeased God. This is the spiritual state we are striving to attain: to become temples of the Holy Spirit. This is sanctity.

The saints, both old and new, living and reposed, see despite obstacles, they work miracles, and their prayers have great effect because they have boldness before God on account of this perpetual state of prayer and watchfulness, a state attainable by all Christians, whether monastic or lay, whether working in a bakery or in the middle of Times Square. St. Silouan the Athonite wrote:

My soul yearns after the Lord, and I seek him in tears. How could I do other than seek thee? for thou first did seek and find me, and gavest me to delight in thy Holy Spirit, and my soul fell to loving thee. Hadst thou not drawn me with thy love, I could not seek thee as I seek thee now, but thy Spirit gave me to know thee, and my soul rejoices that thou art my God and my Lord.

We, too, can have this radical, all-encompassing love and experience this radical and all-encompassing love in our everyday work lives, in our everyday lives, if only we make the smallest of efforts. And the more effort we make, the more God’s grace enlightens and strengthens us, and, alternatively, the more progress we make in the spiritual life. All that is required is to seek first the kingdom of God.

Something else that is beneficial and will have a positive effect on our personal and work lives is to pray for those we interact with throughout the day, whether in person or over the phone, or even if we’re just doing paperwork. I know of people who, when reading or recording someone’s information or listening to them speaking, they will pray for that person. Just a simple, “Lord, have mercy on your servant,” is all that is necessary to unite us to others through prayer, and this is the work of a true Christian: to love one another, and through this love to grow and cultivate our love for God even more.

st-john-chrysostomSt. John the Chrysostom says, “God created trades so that our life might be held together by them, not so that we might detach ourselves from spiritual concerns, but so that we might serve one another.” In this way, we acquire God’s blessing for ourselves and for those we pray for, work with, and serve. We should pray especially for those co-workers or individuals who bother us, upset us, or wrong us. In all these circumstances, God is giving us a golden opportunity to make great spiritual strides, if only we accept being wrong with a humble heart, which of course is very difficult to do. But this is what it means to love those who hate us.

When Christ was teaching the apostles these things, he was not only speaking about the physical torture that they would come upon and the hatred that they would come upon when they went out into the world; he was talking to us, too, in our own particular circumstances. The truth is people often experience great turmoil at work and conflicts with co-workers. It is here that our spiritual battle exists. Will we struggle to show love to those who make our life challenging? Will we sacrifice ourselves, our wills, our opinions, our “I know best” kind of attitudes in order to be Christian examples to those around us? This is what we are called to in our workplaces: to actively love one another. This is what we’re called to do in our life.

The spiritual arena we do battle in as Orthodox Christians living in the world is this kind of arena: how we interact with and react to our co-workers, bosses, managers, clients. We must employ watchfulness in this spiritual arena. We must pay attention to our thoughts and feelings. We must ask ourselves: Where is my mind: wandering all over the place or concentrated on the task at hand? Am I struggling to keep the Lord’s name present in all I do? Am I being honest in my work? Am I being fair?

Above all, we must pray for God to enlighten us, to grant us the great virtue of discernment so that we know what it means to truly work as Christians, make decisions as Christians, and to balance virtues of humility with our particular job. People often worry that being humble would result in them being treated as doormats. Namely, if they are not assertive enough in the workplace, people will walk all over them. We need to pray for God to enlighten us so that we can do our job well and with appropriate assertiveness and confidence, while never relinquishing our personal commitment to humility and love. It is not an easy struggle, but it is our struggle, our spiritual arena.

And we mustn’t think that sporadic prayer throughout the day is the only method of prayer we ought to employ. Prayer throughout the day is the bare minimum. We must also remember Christ’s admonition: When you pray, enter into your room, and when you shut your door, pray to your Father who sees in secret. We need to make a regular… We need to make time for a regular rule of prayer that we commit to and faithfully complete every day. Personal rules of prayer are essential, not only for growth in the spiritual life, but for our everyday well-being.

So now I’m going to read an excerpt from a story that I wrote in my second book that, God willing, will be published sometime. But I have a feeling that my editor will want me to explain that this is not a polished version, so it’s a rough draft, let’s say. But I really wanted to share this with you. For me it’s a very important topic. This story is called, “Drink of This, All of You: Keeping a Prayer Rule.”

It is a custom in the Orthodox Church for the faithful to keep personal rules of prayer, some form of set prayers said daily, whether it is praying the matins or compline services, a set number of Jesus prayers, or making prostrations—it varies from person to person. It is usually given to us by our priest or spiritual father. Sometimes the individual Christian chooses it, but it ought to always be taken on with a blessing. Our prayer rule is our unique and personal connection to Christ. Similar to a medical prescription, our prayer rule is a spiritual prescription, particular to our illness, to our soul, and to the needs of our soul.

When we miss our prayer rule, especially if we miss it frequently, not only do we not become healthy, but we in fact become more ill. As the ever-memorable Abbess Makrina taught:

This is the same Makrina that I spoke of earlier. So she says:

Many times we neglect our prayer rule, saying, “I’ll do it tomorrow or the day after tomorrow,” and they pile up. The soul weakens, just as the body weakens when we don’t give it the necessary calories, and it begins to break down, and we are darkened, because we consider everything that we must be careful of to be insignificant and unimportant. The body begins to become fat while the soul collapses. Later we say, “My mind has become dim. I don’t remember God. I am darkened. I am not able to pray.” It is because the soul is hungry. It is not being fed and nourished by the body. In this way, the body is not given strength, and the soul becomes ill.

There was once a nun who was lax when it came to her prayer rule. Although she had dedicated her life to monasticism, she had forgotten her first love and neglected to complete her prayer rule every day. At the end of her life, while [she] lay dying on her bed, she struggled greatly, unable to take her last breath. Her fellow nuns observed this and asked the abbess why it was that their sister and co-struggler was not able to give up her spirit. After praying, the abbess discerned that this was a result of the nun’s failure to faithfully complete her prayer rule. So the abbess advised the sisterhood to begin praying to make up for the prayers the sister ought to have completed. Once the sisterhood had fulfilled the necessary amount of prayers on behalf of the negligent nun, she took her last breath, and her soul departed.

When we keep a rule of prayer with a blessing, we are not only protected from spiritual delusion, but prayer does not becoming something we really do when or if we feel like it. For this would make our spiritual life subject to our ever-changing and fickle will—the last thing we should put our trust in—whereas, with the blessing from our spiritual father or priest, we approach our prayer rule the way we would a medical prescription. By taking the prescribed dosage on a daily basis, we gradually become healed of our particular spiritual illness. However, this spiritual medication cannot have an effect if we do not make an effort to take it regularly.

Once, when I had the opportunity to speak with a holy abbess about prayer, she told me, “We can sit down and say the Jesus prayer for hours every night, but if our mind is wandering all over the place, there is no profit in that. The purpose of a prayer rule is to offer God our attention, morning and evening, to focus on him.” There is no such thing as a small or large prayer rule, the abbess went on to tell me. There is just a personal rule of prayer. We need to make sure we keep it faithfully every day, no matter what. We shouldn’t try and take on too much. We should just do those prayers our spiritual father prescribes for us. If we take on too much, we’ll end up not being able to do that which was first given to us. The abbess not only taught me that keeping a prayer rule consistently is of extreme importance, no matter the size, but her simple words that evening opened my eyes to the reality that a prayer rule is like a medical prescription. However, it’s up to us whether we become healthy.

hqdefaultSo let’s look at a few more practical tips that help us employ prayer and watchfulness in our everyday work lives, on top of keeping our prayer rule. Years ago I heard a homily by a Greek priest who lived in Athens. His name was Fr. Andreas Konanos. I don’t know if anyone knows of him, but his homilies are very beautiful, and in this particular homily, he talked about spiritualizing things, everyday, mundane tasks. Some of the examples he gives are domestic, but it just gives an example of how, when we’re creative and when we are really seeking to live a spiritual life, then we can find… we can look at every opportunity as an opportunity to become holy.

Fr. Andreas described, for example, how when we are in our kitchen cutting an onion, and our eyes begin to water on account of the vapors, we should use this for our own spiritual gain. Even though the tears are not proceeding from a contrite heart in actuality, we can use them for our own devices and reflect on our sins, “cry for our sins,” as Fr. Andreas said. He mentioned using simple things as opportunities for prayer, like taking off our coat. When we take off our coat, we can say an internal prayer, “Just as I take off this coat, so remove my sins from me, O Lord.”

Similarly, I once heard a talk by a spiritual daughter of the newly-canonized St. Porphyrios, who said the elder once asked her if she did prostrations as a part of her daily rule of prayer. Prostrations are when we make the sign of the cross, and we bow down and our head sort of makes contact with the floor or close to it, and we get back up. So this is what the elder asks his spiritual daughter, and she says, “No, Geronda! I thought prostrations were just for monastics and clergy.” And he says, “I know you did. That’s why I asked you! You should do prostrations, because they’re an external posture of humility,” he told her. “Even when you are cooking and your fork falls on the floor, instead of becoming irritated, you should kneel to pick it up, make a prostration, and thank the Lord.”

In his commentary on the Gospel passage concerning the mammon of unrighteousness, St. Kyril of Alexandria says the following:

The Lord of all, therefore, requires us to be thoroughly constant in our exertions after virtue, and to fix our desires on a better and holy life, setting ourselves free from the distractions of the world, that we may serve him continually and with undivided affections.

This, in that sense, is what Fr. Andreas’ and St. Porphyrios’ advice is directed at: fixing our desires on a holy life in all circumstances, that we may serve the Lord continually. This is the whole idea—when we’re driving in our car, when we’re walking into work, when we’re eating our lunch or interacting with our co-workers—to constantly seek after the virtuous life. I’m sure anyone who’s ever done a Great Books program or the foundation year, you all know how important the virtuous life is. As Orthodox Christians, we have actually found the perfected form of it.

bm5lxxyicaid_e7Again, St. Porphyrios says, “Look on all things as opportunities to be sanctified.” It’s not about where we work; it’s about the disposition of our heart that makes keeping Christ’s commandments possible. I know it’s difficult out there in the world in a secular environment, with a great deal of distractions and negative influences, but it is possible, as St. Porphyrios said, and as he himself did, to become a saint even in the middle of the city. This is because it is not about where our physical bodies are, but where our heart is, our attention, our desire.

There’s a story, there’s a tradition that says that some of the Fathers who lived on Mt. Athos, which is a peninsula in Greece of thousand-year-old monasteries, that some of the Fathers who lived on Athos but their heart and mind were occupied with the world, that during the general resurrection when we’re all resurrected, that these Fathers’ bodies will actually be resurrected in the world, and that those people who lived in the world but their heart and mind were on Athos, that their bodies will be resurrected on Athos. So this is the idea: it’s where our mind is and where our heart is that matters. It’s not about where our bodies are.

Reading the lives of the saints on a daily basis will also help us greatly in our spiritual battle, or as often as we can; it doesn’t necessarily have to be on a daily basis, but it’s wonderful if it can be on a daily basis. We can learn from their example. We can apply certain elements of their way of life to our own. It takes a great deal of discernment, but we will be praying for God to enlighten us, and we will put our trust in him to guide us on the straight and narrow path. St. John the Russian, for example, became sanctified by faithfully serving his Muslim master. For those of you who don’t know St. John’s story—forgive me if you do know it—he was a Russian soldier who went to battle against the Turks, with other Russian young men. They were captured, and many of them were killed; many of them were killed for their faith.

St. John was not killed. He instead was taken into slavery by a Turkish agha, so, “master” is what it is. So although he was enslaved and he lived in a stable, he exhibited such virtue and commitment to serving his master that the agha and his wife gradually grew to love their meek and humble slave. From morning until night, the saint served his Turkish master, fulfilling all his commands. He performed his duties in the winter cold and in the summer heat, half-naked and barefoot. Other slaves frequently mocked him, seeing his zeal, but St. John never became angry with them. On the contrary, he helped them when he could, and he comforted them in their misfortune.

200px-iconjohnrussianWhen not laboring for his master, St. John labored for the Master of all with prayer and good works—or I should say while: even though he was laboring for his master, he was also laboring for the Master of all with prayer and good works. He would always make sure to go to church and receive holy Communion. Over time, his agha actually grew very rich, and he made no qualms about attributing all of his wealth and good fortune to his faithful Christian servant, John. They even actually offered him to move into a better living quarters, but he refused, because he preferred the humble stable, because it reminded him of our Lord and Savior who also was born into this humble abode, a stable.

So St. John is just one of many saints that we can look to. Like St. John, we should love our bosses, our managers, our co-workers, and we should serve them with a happy heart, striving to keep the commandments of loving God and our neighbor. It’s not always easy and it’s a struggle to love, but it’s our struggle to love everyone and to work with them by employing all Christian virtue. We should look at our boss as a microcosm of Christ, our manager as a microcosm of Christ, regardless of how he or she lives. It doesn’t matter how they live. For this relationship that we have with them is an opportunity for us to serve Christ through serving them. That is what St. John the Russian did. He was entirely devoted to serving his master, because he was a Christian, and Christians work, act, re-act, and interact with Christian virtues of obedience, humility, and love.

Another particular method of employing prayer and keeping in mind the example of saints is to have small, discreet icons and written prayers throughout… strategically placed at our desks. Now, if we are able to, we could have large icons. I know a doctor who keeps a relic of St. Panteleimon in his office. If we’re able to, it’s wonderful, but if we’re not able to, we can keep little, discreet things. I, for example, really would keep this little icon of the Protection of the Mother of God at my desk at work and St. Gregory Palamas. I had underneath my keyboard a Post-It note with the kontakion of St. George written on it, because, for me, St. George is a perfect example of a Christian working a secular job. In retrospect, I probably could have had the kontakion somewhere obvious, but I’ve always liked keeping things hidden, in secret. A great deal of our spiritual striving should be done in secret. So let’s just say that I hid his kontakion underneath my keyboard out of this desire to serve God secretly rather than out of vainglory or out of concern for what other people would think.

Another practical tip is for us to remember the saints of the day. Let’s say, for example, that we’re taking notes or making a list. If it’s for our own personal use, when we write the date, we can also write who the saint of the day is. For example, today is October 16, so I think it’s the martyr Longinus, the centurion who was the one who put the spear in Christ’s side and then the water and blood that came out actually healed his eye ailment, and he became a Christian. He went back to his native Cappadocia and preached Christ.

Let’s say I’m going to write—I don’t know—in my journal tonight. I would write: October 16, and above it, I would write: St. Longinus the Martyr, because I always feel like it’s really important for me… These people lived and served Christ perfectly. That is why they’re called saints. They acquired Christ in themselves, whether it was through a life of asceticism or it was in a moment of martyrdom. I feel like I have a responsibility as a Christian and as a person who I say and I pretend at least, if I don’t do it authentically, to live as a Christian, I have a duty to remember these people, to call upon them to help me, and for me to actually try to model my life after them.

george03So let me go back to St. George for a minute, though, and his kontakion underneath my keyboard. He was a soldier, and because he applied the Christian virtue of not fearing death to his work, that is why he was such a great soldier and everyone loved him. That is why the emperor was extremely grieved to hear that he was a Christian, because George was known to be a very brave soldier. He applied his Christian virtue to his work, just like we are able, in our own particular circumstances, to apply Christian virtue to our work. He didn’t fear death because as Christians we shouldn’t fear death; we don’t fear death. We only fear being separated from God in this life and in the next.

So every morning when I sat down at my desk, I would turn my computer on, I would lift my keyboard, and I would pray St. [George]‘s kontakion. St. George worked in the world. He maintained a job, and he kept the commandments of Christ. There came a time, of course, when he needed to confess his faith, and it resulted in his martyrdom, the event which single-handedly confirmed his high position in the kingdom of heaven. But until then he was no different [from] you or [I]. He was a Christian, working and praying and loving Christ.

Even great monastic saints borrowed from the example of faithful Christians living in the world, so we have no excuse. We’re not going to be able to go to the Judgment and plead innocent because we were busy with our jobs or we were too tired to make an effort, because we know that there are people who, even though they lived in the world, acquired this kind of state of sanctity. So listen to this following story that perhaps some of you or many of you know that illustrates that the Gospel isn’t just for monastics; it’s for everyone.

St. Anthony the Great, the father of monasticism, once prayed, “Lord, reveal to me how a faithful person in the city, among the noise, can reach the spiritual level of an ascetic who dwells in the deep desert.” St. Anthony hears a voice that says to him, “The Gospel is the same for all men, Anthony, and if you want to confirm this, how one who does the will of God is saved and sanctified wherever he is, go to Alexandria to the cobbler’s store who is simple and poor.” So St. Anthony travels into the city and he visits this cobbler, and he questions him as to how he lives and how he spends his days. The cobbler tells him, “I, Abba, have never done anything good. I only struggle to keep the holy teachings of the Gospel, and furthermore I try never to forget to never overlook my shortcomings and my spiritual fruitlessness. Therefore, as I work during the day, I think and say to myself: O wretched man! All will be saved, and only you will remain fruitless. Because of your sin you will never be worthy to see God’s face!”

Hearing this, St. Anthony responded, “Thank you, O Lord!” and he embraced the cobbler with love and said, “And thank you, O holy man. Thank you, for you taught me how easy it is, with only a humble mind, for someone to live in the grace of paradise!” All the way back to the desert, St. Anthony contemplated the great virtue of humility, and said to himself, “Humility—this therefore is the quickest path to the gate of paradise. Humility is the robe which clothed himself with and came to earth as man.” So in discussing prayer and watchfulness and how our whole life can become a living sacrifice to Christ’s love, if we make a little effort, we should never forget the great role of humility in this our effort.

191020-pPerfectly capturing the whole essence of this virtue of humility, the New Martyr Fr. Daniel Sysoev says the following. I just need to pause for one second because Fr. Daniel, he reposed in 2009. He was a missionary priest in Moscow. He did… He taught so much. He converted, for example, 200 Protestants in the city of Moscow. I don’t know where he found them, but he converted them. They were baptized Orthodox Christians. He did a lot of work with the Muslim population. He was asked to publicly debate imams, and so he did. He was a bold teacher, and he was a true follower of Christ, and because of this the fruit of his work is testified to by the fact that God made him worthy of martyrdom. On November 19, after he had served the Divine Liturgy, a Muslim man entered the church, and as Fr. Daniel turned from the royal doors there in the center of the church, the man shot him dead. So this holy person who not only taught but lived this kind of life, he says the following about humility. I think it’s so sweet and so funny.

I’ll tell you this. If you want to be proud, go right ahead, but be proud of the things you’ve done without your soul, for your soul was given to you by God. Be proud of what you’ve done without your hands, because your hands were also given you by God. Without your legs, without your head, without your torso—everything that’s left is all yours, but what’s left? Nothing is left. It’s all very simple. You can be proud of what you did before you were born, for your birth was also given you by God.

So we watch, we pray, and we do all of this with great humility so that we not only attract the grace of God, but we safeguard it and we grow in love and knowledge of God.

I entitled this talk, “Work as Prayer: Uniting our Divided Selves,” but what I’m trying to convey is this division is not only unnecessary but is in fact counterproductive to our spiritual life. There should be no division between my work self and my Orthodox Christian self. In all we do, if we employ prayer and watchfulness, then this perceived division that oftentime hinders us from advancing in the spiritual life is obliterated. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and to the ages. That is how we should be constant in our exertion after virtue, as St. Kyril says. At your work, whatever it may be, you can becomes saints, St. Porphyrios says. Through meekness, patience, and love, make a new start every day, with a new resolution, with enthusiasm and love, prayer and silence, not with anxiety.

So regarding this Christian concept of making a new beginning every day, a holy elder who lived just outside of Thessaloniki, whose name was Elder Symeon, I just recently found out a few days ago that he reposed actually. I think it was September 30. He says the following about this making a new beginning, and this is what’s so important because humility doesn’t allow us to become discouraged when we don’t do what we had wanted us to do. Humility allows us to say, “Of course I didn’t do what I was supposed to do, because I cannot do it unless God gives me the grace to do it.” Elder Symeon says this:

The Fathers of the Orthodox Church feel the need to make a new beginning, namely, to start living rightly at each moment, to start the spiritual life at every instant. Every day the saints made a new start and without realizing it they reached the ultimate destination. Therefore, while making a beginning, someone appears to be at the start, and yet doing this, he finds that he has reached his ultimate destination.

And he gives an example:

A small child desires to climb the staircase which leads to his house. He raises his little foot to the first step and tries to raise his other foot, too. He doesn’t manage to, and falls. The little child tries again, and again doesn’t manage. And again he tries, and again he falls. He continues his effort without considering that he failed once, twice, three times. This reality of failure does not bother him at all. The child’s mother watches him from the upper landing without him noticing. Seeing her child’s effort and that he isn’t at all bothered by his failure, she descends, takes the child in her arms, and the child ascends the staircase upright. We could say that somewhat this resembles man’s attempt to live the spiritual life. Man needs to show that he wants to spiritually progress and to attract God by his labor.

I just think this is an awesome line:

For if man doesn’t do that which he can, God won’t do what we as human beings choose not to do. Man is unable to create a spiritual life on his own; rather, the spiritual life is a gift of uncreated grace. All we have to do is make an effort, guard our senses, and struggle to pray continually with attention, placing our trust and hope on Christ, and we will ascend outright, as the elder says.

I want to leave you with this simple but profound exchange found in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph, and he said to him, “Abba, as far as I can, I say my little office. I fast, I pray, I meditate, I live in peace, and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else am I to do? What else can I do?”

Then Abba Joseph stood up, stretched his hands towards heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire, and he said to him, “If you wish, you can become all flame.”

cf83cf85cebcceb5cf89cebd-cebd-ceb8ceb5cebfcebbcebfceb3sf-simeon-noul-teologsmallTruly, brothers and sisters, if we wish, we can become all flame, even in the midst of our workplace. Work, when combined with prayer, becomes prayer. It’s the practical application of our obligation to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength, and all our mind. It is the means to becoming all flame for the love of Christ. Then we will experience a perfect union with God, and no longer feel any kind of internal fractured vision, because perfect love casts out confusion and division and allows Almighty God to enthrone himself in our heart. Thank you.

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