In Thy light shall we see light

2 January OS 2021 – Forefeast of Theophany; St. Sylvester, Pope of Rome; St. Seraphim, Wonderworker of Sarov

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Today, the second of January, is the day of the repose of a great saint of recent times, Seraphim of Sarov, who passed over into the heavenly kingdom on this day in 1833. You can obtain a good short hagiography of St. Seraphim here http://ibmgs.org/lives.html and a good short collection of his known sayings (the saint never wrote anything – what we have are recollections of his disciples, as is the case with St. Cosmas Aitolos) here https://www.sainthermanmonastery.com/product-p/lrp1.htm .

In recent times, St. Seraphim has played a critical part in converting many non-Orthodox Christians to the Faith, including me. His Conversation with Motovilov is a short summary of the entire spiritual life from the Orthodox point of view. It tells the potential convert, in a few thousand words, without saying so directly, why non-Orthodox Christians should leave Roman Catholicism and Protestantism and become Orthodox. For the pious cradle Orthodox, it might explain to you, in a few thousand words, “Yes, that is why I could never be anything but Orthodox, though I never thought about it in exactly this way.”

St. Seraphim teaches that the goal of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, and at the end of this conversation, a visible epiphany of the saint’s attainment of this goal is granted to his disciple, Nicholas Motovilov. Here is a portion of Motovilov’s description of what happened:

...Father Seraphim took me very firmly by the shoulders and said: “We are both in the Spirit of God now, my son. Why don’t you look at me?”

I replied: “I cannot look, Father, because your eyes are flashing like lightning. Your face has become brighter than the sun, and my eyes ache with pain.”

Father Seraphim said: “Don’t be alarmed, your Godliness! Now you yourself have become as bright as I am. You are now in the fullness of the Spirit of God yourself; otherwise you would not be able to see me as I am.”

Then, bending his head towards me, he whispered softly in my ear: “Thank the Lord God for His unutterable mercy to us! You saw that I did not even cross myself; and only in my heart I prayed mentally to the Lord God and said within myself: ‘Lord, grant him to see clearly with his bodily eyes that descent of Thy Spirit which Thou grantest toThy servants when Thou art pleased to appear in the light of Thy magnificent glory.’ And you see, my son, the Lord instantly fulfilled the humble prayer of poor Seraphim. How then shall we not thank Him for this unspeakable gift to us both? Even to the greatest hermits, my son, the Lord God does not always show His mercy in this way. This grace of God, like a loving mother, has been pleased to comfort your contrite heart at the intercession of the Mother of God herself. But why, my son, do you not look me in the eyes? Just look, and don’t be afraid! The Lord is with us!”

After these words I glanced at his face and there came over me an even greater reverent awe. Imagine in the center of the sun, in the dazzling light of its midday rays, the face of a man talking to you. You see the movement of his lips and the changing expression of his eyes, you hear his voice, you feel someone holding your shoulders; yet you do not see his hands, you do not even see yourself or his figure, but only a blinding light spreading far around for several yards and illumining with its glaring sheen both the snow-blanket which covered the forest glade and the snow-flakes which besprinkled me and the great Elder. You can imagine the state I was in!

“How do you feel now?” Father Seraphim asked me.

“Extraordinarily well,” I said.

“But in what way? How exactly do you feel well?”

I answered: “I feel such calmness and peace in my soul that no words can express it.”

(You can find the conversation with Motovilov here: http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/wonderful.aspx)

Of course, the light that Motovilov saw is the light of Mt. Tabor, of the Transfiguration. It is the uncreated light of God. What sets authentic, Orthodox, spiritual experience apart from false spiritual experience is precisely the reality that it is spiritual, properly speaking, that is, that it takes place in the realm of the spirit; it is above and other than a purely psychosomatic experience; it is from above, a gift of grace, and grace is the uncreated energy of God. This authentic spiritual experience occurs when, by the free gift of God, the spiritual intellect, the nous, is joined to the heart – that is, when un-deluded logos, thought, is united to a pure will and pure feeling – and a man becomes, in the words of St. Macarius the Great, “all spirit.”

Extraordinary psychic experiences, which take place in the realm of the fallen intellect, imagination, and emotion – even, or especially, those that take place in out-of-body experiences – are not spiritual, and are very dangerous, because they take place on the level of the fallen human nature and the fallen creation, which is under the rule of the prince of this world, the devil. Just as the Son of God came into this world once to break the devil’s chains from us and lift us up to heaven, so the Spirit of God comes every day and hour to lift up above this world our baptized human organism, which by baptism now partakes of Christ’s death and resurrection, and by the Spirit partakes of authentic holiness.

For this to happen, however, a man must confess the right faith and receive baptism. St. Seraphim explains like this:

“And whoever lives and believes in Me shall not die for ever (Jn. 11:26).” He who has the grace of the Holy Spirit in reward for right faith in Christ, even if on account of human frailty his soul were to die from some sin or other, yet he will not die for ever, but he will be raised by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ Who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29) and freely gives grace upon grace. Of this grace, which was manifested to the whole world and to our human race by the God-Man, it is said in the Gospel: In Him was life, and the life was the light of men (Jn. 1:4); and further: And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness did not overpower it (Jn. 1:5). This means that the grace of the Holy Spirit which is granted at Baptism in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, in spite of men’s falls into sin, in spite of the darkness surrounding our soul, nevertheless shines in the heart with the divine light (which has existed from time immemorial) of the inestimable merits of Christ. In the event of a sinner’s impenitence this light of Christ cries to the Father: ‘Abba, Father! Be not angry with this impenitence to the end (of his life)’. And then, at the sinner’s conversion to the way of repentance, it effaces completely all trace of past sin and clothes the former sinner once more in a robe of incorruption woven from the grace of the Holy Spirit, concerning the acquisition of which, as the aim of the Christian life, I have been speaking so long to your Godliness.

In another place in the same conversation, the saint says that this gift of being in the Spirit of God is available both to the monk and to the non-monastic, provided both are Orthodox.

Let us, then take great consolation and hope from the words of our great saint of recent times! Though we sin a thousand times a day, yet we are Orthodox Christians, and we belong to Christ, Who has already bestowed upon us through baptism the indwelling grace of the Holy Spirit, which pleads for us even when we are in sin, which cries for us, “Abba, Father!” In one moment, the thief won Paradise. In one moment, like Nicholas Motovilov, we can be in the Spirit, by the merits of Christ and through the prayers of the Most Holy Theotokos, St. Seraphim, and all the saints. It is the free gift of grace, ours for the asking. Let us cry out to the Lord day and night, in gratitude for the gift we have already received and with earnest desire for its increase within us.

Holy Father Seraphim, pray to God for us!

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Herod’s men come a’knocking at the door

26 December OS 2020- Second Day of the Nativity, The Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos

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The Gospel reading for today is Matthew 2: 13-23

At that time, when the wise men were departed: Behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life. And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

Yesterday we saw all the nations of the earth, in the persons of the Three Magi, bowing down in adoration to the Child born of the Virgin. Today we see the powers of the earth attempting to slay Him. Thus always shall it be: Those with eyes to see and ears to hear, from among all the nations, will come to know Christ, to worship him, and to offer gifts and spiritual sacrifices to Him, Who offered the one saving Sacrifice for us. Those who choose to be blinded by the world, by their passions, and by the unseen enemies of our salvation, will reject Him. And, if they hold earthly power, they will not only reject Him, but attempt to slay Him, for their master, who is, in Our Lord’s own words, the prince of this world, is consumed always by a frenzy to take revenge upon the One Who has entered his house, that is this world, and despoiled him of his goods, that is the souls of men. (See Matthew 12:29)

“Wait,” you may say, “the Lord is risen from the dead and cannot be killed again. Does not St. Paul write … ‘Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God (Romans 6:9-10).'” Yes, of course, the Lord Himself cannot die: His kingdom is an eternal Kingdom which shall have no end. He reigns over all forever, standing where St. Stephen saw Him when the heavens opened, “at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56). ” Yet, in a sense, mystically, as long as this world endures, He does suffer and die again, in the sufferings of His Body the Church, in the sufferings of His confessors and martyrs, and in the sufferings of all men, even the unbaptized, castaways, and unbelieving, who, after all, are made in His image as well, the image of the God-Man, the archetype of all the human race, as determined by the pre-eternal counsel of God announced to the Virgin at the very hour of His taking flesh for our sake.

At one time, the Lord worked a great miracle: the Herods of the earth were replaced by the Constantines of the earth, that is, Christian rulers who protected the Church and extended Her spiritual rule among the nations. Yes: Our Lord in His mercy, to crown the sufferings of His martyrs of the first three hundred years, granted this great dispensation, so that for the next 1600 years countless souls could with greater ease be gathered into His Kingdom on earth, the Church, and into the Kingdom of Heaven. But now Herod has returned to the throne, and for 100 years and more he has raged unchecked, slaying the souls and bodies of men, making this blood offering to his god, the prince of this world. Yes, a vast blood sacrifice unprecedented in all history for its scope and mercilessness: Wars, revolutions, the destruction of the institutions of the Church, the nation, and the family; the unspeakably vast infant sacrifice of abortion that dwarfs the crime of Herod himself by an immeasurable magnitude, the planned technological alteration of the very genetic inheritance of the human race, and, enabling it all, the perversion of the mind and spirit through a merciless and ceaseless bombardment of gigantic lies crafted with supreme artistry and told with breathtaking cynicism – we can all recite this dreary catalogue by now, and I need not expand upon it again for you today. Today it seems that Herod has more power than ever, and, as millions now perceive on the dawn of 2021, something new and even more dreadful portends to befall us.

How shall we respond? What witness shall we give when the agents of Herod knock at the door? Let us take St. Joseph the Betrothed for our example: St. Joseph is a man of action, not of words. From Holy Scripture we know not a single word spoken by him. But his actions speak louder than words. At every crisis, facing trials that the fallen mind could neither comprehend nor justify, he simply practiced obedience. He did the will of God. Let us also, this day, this hour, follow his example in everything great and small. We need constantly to immerse ourselves in God’s holy Word through prayer, reading, and the Church’s daily sacrifice of praise, so that we can purify our minds, strengthen our wills, and love God with all our hearts. If He is with us, no one can be against us. But for Him to be with us, we must choose to be with Him, and this choice is made not once but countless times in all the little decisions we make every day, so that when the hour of the great decision arrives, we will be in practice to do the right thing.

Life is short, death is certain, judgment is eternal. Let us rejoice in the Lord and run to do His holy will. He took on all of our humanity, even unto death, that we might share in His divinity. What should we not be willing to do and to suffer, for His sake? Whether a man likes it or not, he owes God a death. It is but once. Think only on that which awaits thereafter: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him (I Corinthians 2:9).”

O dearest Lord, become Man for our sake, glory be to Thee!

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2021: Let us live in hope

18 December OS 2020 – Thursday of the Thirteenth Week of St. Luke; Holy Martyr Sebastian

Today is the secular New Year’s Eve, and naturally everyone is thinking about 2021 and what it will bring. This year it happens that this day – 18 December on the real calendar – coincides with the Thursday of the Thirteenth Week of St. Luke in our cycle of daily Gospel readings, and providentially St. Theophan the Recluse, while commenting on today’s reading, offers an insight into our situation as we face a new year.

The Gospel reading is Mark 9: 10-15 –

At that time, the disciples kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean. And they asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come? And he answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought. But I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed [wanted], as it is written of him. And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them. And straightway all the people, when they beheld him, were greatly amazed, and running to him saluted him.

When the Lord says that Elias has already come, and “…they have done to him whatsoever they listed…” He is referring to St. John the Baptist. The Baptist came, and the evildoers – Herod and his crowd – did whatever they wanted to him: they imprisoned and murdered him. St. Theophan the Recluse takes this event, along with the sufferings of Christ Himself, as a starting point for a meditation on the place of man’s choices in the flow of history:

History flows on and, it seems, inexorably determines individual events. How many preparations there were to receive the Savior! At last, His closest witness, John, came – but what came of it? “They have done…whatsoever they listed” to John, and the Son of man suffered and was humiliated. The flow of events could not be broken; it took its own course. So the flow of history always draws everything after it. People now ask, “Where is freedom? What would it be, given such an order of events? Nothing but a phantom?” Thus do fatalists usually reason. But this all-determining necessity of the flow of events is only an appearance. In reality all human events, both common and individual, are the fruit of man’s free undertakings. The common [history] flows exactly the way it does because everyone, or a majority, want this. And individual events enter into agreement with common events because someone or other in particular wants this. The proof of this is obvious: in the midst of general good there occur bad elements, and in the midst of general bad there occur good elements. Also, in the midst of a firmly established commonality are born elements which, spreading and becoming stronger and stronger, overpower the former commonality and take its place. But these elements are always a matter of freedom. What did Christianity have in common with the character of the time in which it was conceived? It was sown by several individuals who were not a result of the necessary flow of history; it attracted those who desired it, spread vigorously, and became the common cause of the humanity of the time, yet all the same it was a matter of freedom. The same is true in a bad direction: how did the West become corrupted? It corrupted itself. Instead of learning from the Gospel, they began to learn from pagans and adopt their customs – and they became corrupted. The same will happen with us: we have begun to learn from the West which has fallen from Christ the Lord, and have transferred its spirit to ourselves. It will end with us, like the West forsaking true Christianity. But in all of this there is nothing that necessarily determines the matter of freedom. If we want to, we will drive away the Western darkness. If we do not want to, of course, we will immerse ourselves in it. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 280-281

The author was writing in the 1880’s, a time when the intelligentsia in Russia were running after the latest false teachers from Western Europe, including Hegel, Darwin, and Marx, all of whom, in one way or another, taught that history is an impersonal and unstoppable process of evolution, a juggernaut that will crush you if you do not jump on the bandwagon and go along for the ride. Of course, this error was really nothing new – man without Christ, without the revelation found in Holy Scripture, had always believed in Fate.   But in St. Theophan’s time, because Christian Europe had been falling away from the Gospel for several centuries, this old delusion took on new form as a powerful idea gripping everyone’s mind.   It certainly grips everyone’s mind today: How often do we hear that we must go along with the times and there is nothing you can do about it? To a great extent, Christians, including nominally Orthodox Christians, have given up fighting the spirit of the age or have even reached the point at which they cannot recognize that it is diametrically opposed to the Faith.

As we face the new year of 2021, we must decide if we will exercise our freedom to make spiritual and moral choices opposed to the spirit of this age…or not. The good news is that this freedom still exists and that the Lord will give us the grace we need to exercise it. But we have to make the choice to exercise it: He does not force us. We are not “fated” to go one way or the other. What steps should we take? How will we avoid getting crushed by that juggernaut of the times we live in?

The first step is to tear our minds away from the things that the world tells us are the real things.   Perhaps we are content to be captivated by the so-called news from mainstream media, as if it represented reality and were not what it actually is: a gigantic brainwashing machine. Or perhaps, having grasped the reality that the official establishment organs – the so-called state, the media, the medical establishment, the big corporations, the “official” church structures, et al – hate us and are simply lying to us all the time in order to destroy us, we busy ourselves daily hunting through the alternative media to find out what is really going on out there. The latter is far preferable, of course, and if we are discerning, we can find valid and useful information. But if we spend all of our time on this, and not on the ABC’s of Christian life – including prayer, serious study, and doing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy – we can still become the proverbial deer in the headlights, paralyzed by the specter of an omnipotent, unstoppable, and incomprehensible evil which demands that we surrender or be destroyed.   We have to tear ourselves away from this suicidal fascination and feed our minds on God’s Truth.

For there really is no secret to what is going on out there. God is working out His plan in history, and we can freely choose to cooperate with Him or not. There are evil people who have now gotten all the levers of worldly power into their hands, and they are doing the will of their god, Satan. Their time is short, and they are in a frenzy to accomplish their master’s will before he and they are cast into the lake of fire where they will burn for all eternity.   It will certainly be rough for us while this short-lived frenzy endures, but we are looking forward to a better time, in fact to eternity, where we hope to live with God forever.

This word – hope – is the key. We often hear sermons about Faith and Love, but rarely about Hope. Yet in our time how essential it is to have Hope!   Along with Faith and Love, it is one of the three supernatural virtues, and we must pray for it. But what is it? The supernatural virtue of Hope is linked intimately with the cardinal virtue of Courage (also called Fortitude). It is the grace-filled habit of believing courageously that God will in fact take care of us, that God’s promises are true, that God is to be trusted, that everything will turn out all right, just as He said. Faith is the virtue of believing in God. Hope is the virtue of believing God, trusting in His promises.

Let us choose to be the Church of Philadelphia from the Apocalypse. We are not big people. Let us choose freely to be the little ones who in humility, despite our obvious human weakness, choose the path of faithfulness, of loyalty to God and love for the brethren (philadelphia). Let us live in Hope.

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. – Revelation 3: 7 -13  

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And I meditated on Thy commandments which I have greatly loved

16 December OS 2020 – Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week of St. Luke; Holy Prophet Aggaios (Haggai), St. Modestos of Jerusalem, St. Theophano the Empress

Today’s Gospel reading for the daily cycle is Mark 8:22-26 –

And he cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw aught [anything]. And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking. After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly. And he sent him away to his house, saying, Neither go into the town, nor tell it to any in the town.

St. Theophan the Recluse comments on the gradual healing of the man’s sight as an image of the gradual enlightenment of the human race in the Old and New Testaments:

The Lord did not heal the blind man of Bethsaida immediately – He first healed him a little, and then completely, so that he began to see everything clearly. Why the Lord did this is known to Him alone. We can take from this the following thought: if it was considered necessary to heal bodily vision gradually, then even more so is such gradualness indispensable in the enlightenment of the eyes of our mind. That is how it has been. During the period of the [Old Testament] patriarchs, Divinely revealed knowledge was not complicated. During the period under the law it became more complex and detailed. In our Christian period, it is even more detailed and exalted; but is this the end? Do not expect anything higher on the earth, but in the other world there will be [something higher]. Two Holy Apostles assure us of this: Sts. John and Paul. “Now we see everything through a glass, darkly (I Cor. 13:12),” but then we will see everything clearly. But even there, there will be degrees of enlightenment of the mind, for the realm of the knowledge of God is boundless. God’s revelation on earth is already complete; there is no point in dreaming about something higher. We have everything we need; learn it and live by it. Christian revelation does not promise new revelation in the future, but only that the Gospel will be known in the whole world, and that this universality and generality of the knowledge of the Gospel is the limit of the current order of things. After this, faith will weaken, love will dry up, life will become difficult – and God’s goodness will put an end to the world. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 279

There is a lot for thought here, but three main points are as follows:

1. After the original knowledge of God in Paradise had been lost to man through sin, the Lord gradually, patiently revealed Himself to the human race, not in spectacular announcements to entire populations, but to a few people, His chosen ones before the Law (the patriarchs) and after the Law (the prophets and holy ones of the Old Israel). When He deemed the time was right, He Himself came in the flesh He took from the Virgin, and this is the complete and perfect revelation of Who God is: the God-Man Jesus Christ. When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, it was not to give a new revelation, but to enlighten the minds of the Apostles to understand what they had already received.

2. Through the Apostles and the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, we have been given everything we need to know – in the Orthodox Faith.   No new revelations are needed, and none will be given, and we could spend all our lifetimes studying the Faith that has already been revealed and only scratch the surface.   All “new revelations” after the New Testament, such as the Koran and the Book of Mormon, are full of falsehood and deception, coming as they do from the Father of Lies. The true Fathers and Teachers of the Church never claimed to have a new revelation but rather only expounded on what they had received. All that remains is for us to live our Faith and to share it. When it has been shared to the extent possible – according to the foreknowledge and plan of God – God will put an end to this present, temporal order of things, for this world will have served its purpose.

3. In the Kingdom of Heaven, there will be unlimited and eternal progress in the knowledge of God.   God is not only infinite but also infinitely knowable, and He made our minds to know Him.   The nous, the mind, does not perish with death. Between the Particular Judgment and the General Resurrection, the souls of the saved will use their minds to know God more and more, and this will be all the more true after they will have received their immortal bodies at the Resurrection.   Eternity for the blessed will be – is – an infinite progression in the knowledge and love of God.

If we do not like to pray and to do spiritual reading, this is because our fallen nature and the demons fight it, in order to prevent our becoming who we really are and are supposed to become.   We must force ourselves to pray and to study our Faith, and by so doing we will attract God’s grace, by whose power alone we can acquire a steady appetite for spiritual things. If we do not acquire such an appetite before we die, heaven will be quite uninteresting for us – as a matter of fact, we will not want to go there. Think about it.

We are about to celebrate the Birth of Our Lord from the Holy Virgin.   Was she an automaton, a robotic tool of God’s purpose, as many Protestant sectarians seem to think?   Did God merely use her as if she were an uninvolved, indifferent bystander to His plan for the salvation of mankind, some random woman among any number of random women He could have seized upon? By no means – perish the blasphemy!   Quite the opposite is true, as St. Gregory Palamas makes clear in the following passage from his great Second Homily on the Entry of the Theotokos:

Who ever loved God more than she, whom we now extol? What other creature could ever be purer than she, or equal to her in purity, or anywhere near as pure? For this reason, she alone of all mankind throughout the ages was initiated into the highest mysteries by these divine visions, was united in this way with God, and became like Him. She then accomplished the super-human role of intercessor on our behalf, and brought it to perfection by herself, not just acquiring this indescribable exaltation of mind, but using it for the sake of us all, and doing this supremely great deed by means of her boldness towards God. For she did not merely come to resemble God, but she made God in the likeness of man, not just by persuading Him, but by conceiving Him without seed and bearing Him in a way past telling. Having been fashioned by God through grace – which is why she was addressed as “thou that art full of grace” by the Angel – she shaped God in human form – which is why she was given the good tidings with the greeting, “Rejoice” (Luke 1:28). – from Mary the Mother of God, Sermons by Saint Gregory Palamas (Mount Thabor Publishing 2005), pp. 48-49.

In other words, Panagia was incomparably the greatest created person of prayer who ever was and ever will be, the greatest doer of hesychastic prayer. And she is also therefore the greatest theologian, for she used her created mind to the utmost, to do what the mind was made to do: to know God. Through her incomparable purity of soul and mind, she acquired the utmost boldness before God, and she interceded all-powerfully, invincibly, for the salvation of man. In response to this prayer, God came to save us, by becoming a man in her womb.

When we have no appetite for divine things, when we are sluggish and dull, uninterested in prayer and divine study, let us run to the Holy Virgin and beg her to ask her Divine Son to give us that divine eros, that burning desire to know and to love Him, which she possessed to the utmost. Let us push ourselves, as well – we have to do some of the work! – and the Lord, seeing our humble efforts, will graciously give us the divine desire to know Him, not only in His mighty works, but also in His infinite perfections – to love Him not only because of what He has done, but pre-eminently because of Who He Is, because He is worthy of all love.

This is a fitting gift to the Christ-Child at this holy season!

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My words shall not pass away

11 December OS 2020 – Thursday of the Twelfth Week of St. Luke; Righteous Daniel and Luke the Stylites

Today’s Gospel reading for the daily cycle is Luke 21: 28-33 –

The Lord said to his disciples, Look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.

Today is Christmas Eve in the non-Orthodox, formerly Western Christian society around us, and the secular New Year is around the corner. As 2021 approaches, it would be fair to say that great numbers of people – at least those not completely oblivious through substance abuse or the various forms of manufactured delusion provided so generously today to those who wish to be deluded – face the future with dread. The familiar world of yesterday – even the world of ten years ago, much less 25 or 50 or 100 years ago – has disappeared through an engineered cataclysm, an Antichrist revolution in morals, family life, and social structure so systemic and ubiquitous as to make even comprehending it, much less fighting it, seem impossible. Surely, one thinks, the chastisement of God must be around the corner: He has already passed sentence on man, and we are just waiting to learn what form the punishment will take – World War III? Famine? Plague? Anarchy and chaos followed by the police state with its concentration camps, torture, and genocide?   Who knows?

In the midst of these justifiable apocalyptic fears, the Lord tells us today not to fear but to have hope: “Look up and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.”   He has just completed His great discourse about the end of the world, relating the terrors that will precede His Second Coming, but at the end He assures the disciples that all of these things, no matter how terrible, will, like everything in this life, pass away. Indeed, heaven and earth – the entire visible cosmos – will pass away. His words, however, will never pass away. Those who cling to His words, who make Him the foundation of their life and do not leave the house built on this foundation – the Life in Christ – will not perish: “In your patience possess ye your souls (Luke 21:19).”

In the passage immediately following today’s reading, the Lord instructs the disciples how to keep their faith and hope alive in the midst of apocalyptic trials:

And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man. Luke 21: 34-36

Therefore, to survive spiritually, to be still on Christ’s side when He returns and not on the other side, we must take heed to ourselves, which consists of a temperate and moral life characterized by watching and praying always.   Without a continual, conscious spiritual life according to the Church’s teaching, we will not survive spiritually: we will fall.

We see people falling all around us, including “practicing Christians” of various kinds – sadly, not excluding Orthodox people: they throw in the towel and adopt the latest delusion, the latest false teaching, the latest moral “Get Out of Jail Free card” from the teachers of the demonic New Order, some moral or intellectual or religious poison they would not have dreamed of swallowing even a year ago. All is well: there is a big party going on and they do not want to be left out. But they are sheep being fattened for the slaughter. And any day, any time, something inside us could snap, and we could become one of them. Our vigilance must be ceaseless, while our reliance on God must be total.

The means to this ceaseless vigilance are well within our grasp, and they are so well known to us that we take them for granted (and fail to use them): daily prayer at set times, the constant struggle for the Jesus Prayer, frequent confession, frequent Holy Communion, spiritual reading, constant examination of conscience and daily inner repentance, and all of the instruments of the spiritual life according to the tradition of the Orthodox Church. This “normal life” of Orthodoxy that has been going on all along has actually always been an apocalyptic life, an eschatological life, a life oriented to the End of the World; we just did not notice.   The times we are living through now and will be living through in the near future are what we have been chanting about and praying about and preparing for all along, if only we had known it.   The rehearsal is over: it is Show Time.  The curtain has risen, and we stand in the full glare of the lights. How will we play our part?

Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.Matthew 7: 22-27  

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The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness comprehends it not

9 December OS 2020 – The Conception of the Theotokos by St. Anna  

Today we celebrate the conception of the Most Pure Virgin Theotokos in the womb of St. Anna, who by her husband St. Joachim conceived in great old age after a lifetime of barrenness, by the will of God.

The Gospel reading for today’s Feast is Luke 8: 16-21 –

The Lord said: No man, when he hath lighted a candle, covereth it with a vessel, or putteth it under a bed; but setteth it on a candlestick, that they which enter in may see the light. For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad. Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have. Then came to him his mother and his brethren, and could not come at him for the press. And it was told him by certain which said, Thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to see thee. And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it.

These words of Our Lord apply most fittingly to His holy grandparents. Their virtues were hidden for many years before being made known – their prayer, their almsgiving, their fervent trust in God in the midst of their great sorrow – and they were derided by their neighbors for being childless, for many of the Jews (especially those who belonged to the sect of the Sadducees, which included the priestly and aristocratic classes) had no belief in eternal life, thinking that immortality meant only living on through one’s descendants and believing therefore also that childlessness meant that one was cursed by God.

The Lord in His great wisdom indicated two things through His miraculously giving St. Anna the ability to conceive by her husband in her old age: He indicated that the Holy Virgin so conceived was His elect vessel, chosen for a very specific role in the salvation of mankind, and He indicated that Ss. Joachim and Anna were not cursed but indeed blessed above all others before them, for their hope and courage were greatly rewarded, indeed rewarded beyond all expectation: they became the parents not simply of a saint but of the flower of the human race, of the human person who, in the expression of St. Gregory Palamas, stands at the boundary of the created and the uncreated realms, the Mother of God Incarnate, who is more honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim.

We cannot compare our level of piety to that of Ss. Joachim and Anna. Their example, however, does give us hope, for often we feel that we labor for our salvation in isolation, and that no one understands us.   There are those who not only do not understand our Faith but also believe that we are bad somehow for practicing it!   When we try to help them by telling them the truth about God or morality or society or any other important topic, they may even hate us somehow for it, recalling St. Paul’s experience with the Galatians when trying to correct them: “Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? (Galatians 4:16).” But we must remember that their hatred should cause us not to hate them in return, but rather to grieve over them, for they are trapped by their fallen nature, fallen human society, and the fallen spirits. The degree of their anger reflects the corresponding degree of their misery.

Let us, therefore, pray to Ss. Joachim and Anna when we are experiencing spiritual loneliness, when no one, even perhaps our Orthodox brethren and relatives, seems to sympathize with our spiritual struggles.   The Lord sees, and the Lord will judge! “For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest…” Let us only humble ourselves and be faithful, as they were faithful in their loneliness.

I would also ask everyone to pray to our dear St. Anna that she will, in particular, intercede with her divine Grandson to send good spouses to our children.   It is so hard today to find the right person to marry, the person who will help us find our salvation!   St. Anna, pray to God for us!

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Serene faith

3 December OS 2020 – Wednesday of the 11th Week of St. Luke, Holy Prophet Sophonias (Zephaniah)

Today’s daily Gospel reading is Luke 20: 1-8

At that time, as Jesus taught the people in the temple, and preached the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes came upon him with the elders, And spake unto him, saying, Tell us, by what authority doest thou these things? or who is he that gave thee this authority? And he answered and said unto them, I will also ask you one thing; and answer me: The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then believed ye him not? But and if we say, Of men; all the people will stone us: for they be persuaded that John was a prophet. And they answered, that they could not tell whence it was. And Jesus said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.

Of course, these questioners – the chief priests, scribes, and elders – were not asking Our Lord this question because they sincerely sought the truth. Their minds were made up, and they were simply trying to trick Him.   Their minds were poniro, as we say in Greek – sneaky, twisted, and evil-intended – and they could not think straight or see straight or talk straight. For them, language was a tool to get power over others, not a holy medium of heart to heart communication.   St. Theophan the Recluse comments on this encounter to illustrate the difference between the mind of Faith, which is also the deep and reasonable mind, and the mind of hardened unbelief, which is superficial and unreasoning:

The priests, scribes, and elders did not believe in the Lord. In order to raise them up to faith, He offered them a question: “The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men?” Consider this without bias, and your reasoning will bring you to faith. What is said about John’s appearing can be said about every event accompanying the Lord’s advent in the flesh, and about His very advent, and all that comes into contact with it. Let each person consider all of this, and the conclusion will be the same: “Truly this was the Son of God (Matt. 27:54).” Various thoughts can come, confusion can arise, what seem like incongruities can be encountered; but at the end of all investigations one universal conviction will result: that it is impossible to think any other way than as is shown in the Gospels and apostolic writings. “Great is the mystery of godliness: God is manifest in the flesh (I Timothy 3:16).” This remains a mystery, but if the mind compels itself by a spiritual need to investigate it, then this mystery will become clear to the mind – and it will confess this way, and in no other way. Unbelievers either do not investigate it at all as they ought to, or they investigate it superficially, with a mind alien to it, or they take on a miserable state of mind that is opposed to what is required by the Faith. To justify their unbelief, they are satisfied with the most insignificant trifle to refute the Faith. The words of unbelievers shake believers, who, being satisfied with simple faith, do not seek clarification of the foundations of the Faith. Those words take them unawares, and hence they are shaken. Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 268

Why are we sometimes shaken by the specious (i.e., seemingly valid but actually worthless) arguments of the faithless? It may be that we have not studied our Faith enough, but that by itself is easily remedied – the books are all out there, and we have only to immerse ourselves in the tremendous wisdom and insight of the Church expressed by Her various exponents, in order to see how the Orthodox Faith is far and away the most satisfying explanation to life’s puzzle.   The underlying problem is not lack of knowledge but the lack of godly confidence caused by a passion we all suffer from, which is vanity.

This may be surprising to some people, for they often mistake timidity for humility, and imagine that if they are mealy-mouthed this shows that they are not vain. But what is humility? It is not groveling and acting like the doormat of the human race (a la Uriah Heep, for you English literature fans). True humility is knowing Who God is, who you are, and what life is really about. It is accurate knowledge of reality, that’s all.   If you know white is white and black is black, it is not humble to say that white is black, just because that will stroke someone else’s ego. On the contrary, it is extremely vain and proud, because it means that you think you have permission to overturn reality in order to luxuriate in the good feelings of some other finite creature. It is playing God.

A truly humble person is courageous.   Since he knows that God in His Providence is taking care of him, that nothing can be done to him that will defeat God’s plan for his salvation, he is not afraid of those who attack his Faith or of what they will do to him if he does not go along with them.

A truly humble person is confident in the truth.   Even if he does not understand every detail, even if he cannot answer every specific objection to his Faith, he knows that the Big Picture of Orthodoxy is as good as it gets, insofar as having a worldview, an understanding of what life is all about. If there is some little thing that has not been explained completely, he trusts that it is explainable to the extent he truly needs it to be, and with prayer and trust he seeks to grow in the knowledge of his Faith.

A truly humble person is meek. He does not have to snarl at someone who raises objections to his faith; he does not have to bite.   With the calmness and courage born of heartfelt certainty, he can serenely and patiently ward off the powerless arrows of false objections, even when his critic is unkind to him personally.

A truly humble person is compassionate. When he sees the unbelief of the other person, he says, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Having accurate self-knowledge, he knows the capacity of his own heart for self-deception, and therefore he recoils from condemning another person who has the same problem. With true sympathy, he wants this person in front of him to be delivered from deception, for he wants what God wants, and God is He “… Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth (I Timothy 2:4).”

Let us immerse ourselves in the treasures of our precious Faith’s priceless theology, pray for more accurate self-knowledge, and beg the Lord to save our neighbors who labor so painfully in the darkness of unbelief!

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Your names are written in heaven

29 November OS 2020 – Saturday of the 10th Week of St. Luke, Holy Martyr Paramon

Today’s daily Gospel reading is Luke 10: 19-21.

The Lord said to His disciples, Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven. In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.

Again, today, the Lord speaks of our need to receive His revelation like little children: the Father, Lord of heaven and earth, has hidden His mysteries from the “wise and prudent,” and He has revealed them to “babes.” Only the pure in heart, only the innocent, can really receive the Gospel into their hearts. Any kind of calculation, guile, and dissimulation chases away grace and makes a man blind.   He may think himself very clever, but he is the most foolish of the foolish. He sees nothing.

How can we keep our sight intact? How can we retain our warm, childlike vision of Faith and of the Church in this time that is so cold and so cynical?   Out there, the vision of Darwin has prevailed – bankrupt as science, it has nevertheless become what it was always intended to be: the world religion.   The law of the jungle prevails, and only the “fittest” (i.e., the power hungry and unscrupulous) survive. Where do the babes who love the Gospel fit into such a scenario? What is the answer?

Now, more than ever, we must immerse ourselves in humility. Let us thank God that we live precisely in the times we live in, times in which we can have no illusions of thriving Church life, just civil governance, or decent human culture on the grand scale, times in which only tiny pockets of intact humanity, much less the true Faith, survive.   There is no getting around it: life is hierarchical, and when the leaders go astray, the great mass of people will follow. Those who do not go along will be, in the eyes of the world, precisely Nobody.   This is who we are: Nobody.   And what could be better for our salvation? Glory to God!

We start, then, with humility: let us accept our true condition and give ourselves over to weeping, mourning, and heartfelt prayer for our salvation, for that of those around us, and for the whole world, for suffering mankind which has gone astray.   We have no virtues, no great works – nothing to brag about.   We must cling to the Lord in simplicity of heart and ask for one thing only, that His holy will be done.     May He forgive all of our sins and take us by the hand, leading us securely on the path of salvation.

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Working for the Lord

28 November OS 2020 – Friday of the 10th Week of St. Luke, Holy Righteous Martyr Stephen the New, Holy Martyr Irenarchos

Today’s daily Gospel reading is Luke 19: 12 -28.

The Lord said, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities. And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds. And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities. And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow. And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow: Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury? And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds. (And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.) For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him. But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me. And when he had thus spoken, he went before, ascending up to Jerusalem.

This parable of the Lord summarizes all history between the First and Second Coming of Christ.   The nobleman who goes into a far country to receive a kingdom is Christ, Who ascends to His Father, and Who will return at the end of time to judge the living and the dead. By sending the Holy Spirit and beginning the economy of the New Testament Church, He gives “pounds,” that is, all the gifts of grace which constitute the life of the Church, to His faithful followers, who are expected to multiply what they have received through faith and good works. The enemies of the returning king are those who oppose Christ and the Church, who will be dreadfully punished at the time of the Second Coming.

We are among the faithful followers, who have received our “pounds,” our gifts of grace. These gifts are indescribably great, coming from the Infinite God by means of His uncreated energies. Having received them, we are supposed to put them to work for the Lord, to bring ourselves and other souls into His Kingdom, as any good workman is expected to use the assets his employer gives him – tools, training, materials – to enrich his employer. How can we go about this?

One chief reason that we do not multiply our “pounds” is that we forget that we have them. Therefore a good first step is to take inventory of our “assets,” and to thank God for them. If we were conscious always of the gifts of nature and of grace that He has lavished on us, we would be constantly grateful as well as hopeful, and with both courage and humility we would set out each day to do His holy will. We should periodically sit down and enumerate all of these gifts, perhaps even writing them down to make this point to ourselves, and glorify and thank God for them.

It is very easy, indeed the “default position” of our fallen nature, for us unconsciously to ascribe both our good qualities and our good works to ourselves.   This is another chief reason we do not grow in grace, do not multiply the “pounds.” Therefore, a second necessary step is to acknowledge that without the Lord we would have nothing, indeed be nothing, and without His help we can do nothing. We must immerse ourselves in humility.

A third step is to seek to know and to do His holy will each day.   Yes, we have these “assets,” but we need the wisdom to know how to use them, for a third obstacle we have to using our gifts is lack of discretion.   Each day, let us set out saying, “O Lord, enable me to know and to do Thy holy will. I am blinded both by my own lack of understanding and by the distractions of the world. Enlighten my mind and my heart at every moment, so that in all that I do, I act in accordance with Thy holy will and for Thy glory.”

A cautionary word: The Lord does indeed work in us and through us, but most often He does not let us see it, lest we would lose our salvation because of pride. We must be content to trust that He is doing His work in us and through us, and wait in hope to be revealed on the Day of Judgment as His good and faithful servants.

Let us, then, set out this day and every day to multiply the gifts that our gracious Lord has given us!   Let us be grateful, immerse ourselves in humility, and pray for enlightenment. Let us live in hope and trust in His mercy, desiring fervently to hear His blessed words: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of Thy Lord.”

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Enlighten the eyes of our heart

27 November OS 2020 – Thursday of the 10th Week of St. Luke, Holy Great Martyr James of Persia, Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos “Of the Sign, Kursk-Root”

Today’s daily Gospel reading is Luke 18: 31-34

At that time, Jesus took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again. And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.

Here is something we see at various times in the Gospel: Our Lord’s most intimate followers often did not understand about the most important things, the central mysteries of the Gospel teaching. Only after His Resurrection and Ascension, and after they had received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, were their eyes opened to receive the light of the great mysteries of the Lord’s economy for man’s salvation. St. Theophan the Recluse relates this experience of the apostles to our own spiritual life:

The Lord told the disciples about His suffering, but they did not comprehend anything He said: “This saying was hid from them.” Later, the faithful “…determined not to know anything except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (I Corinthians 2:2).” Before the time came, they did not understand any of this mystery; but when the time came, they understood, and taught everyone, and explained it to everyone. This happens to everyone, not only with regard to this mystery, but to all the other mysteries as well. What is not understood in the beginning becomes understood with time; it is as if a ray of light enters the consciousness and brightens what was formerly dark. Who is it that elucidates it? The Lord Himself, the grace that lives in the faithful, or one’s guardian angel – but in no way is it the person himself. He is the recipient, not the cause. On the other hand, something else might remain incomprehensible for one’s whole life – not only for individuals, but for all of humanity. Man is surrounded by things he does not understand. Some are cleared up over the course of his life, while other are left until the next life – they will be seen then.   This applies even to minds enlightened by God. Why are things not revealed here? Because some things are incomprehensible, so there is no point in talking about them. Others are not proclaimed out of considerations for health – that is, it would be harmful to know about them prematurely. Much will become clear in the next life, but other subjects and other mysteries will also be discovered then. A created mind will never escape inscrutable mysteries. The mind rebels against these bonds, but whether you rebel or not, you cannot sever the bonds of mystery. Humble yourself, proud mind, beneath the mighty hand of God – and believe!

– from Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 263-264

These thoughts, of course, are related to what we were talking about yesterday: the need to receive the Kingdom of God as a little child, according to Our Lord’s words.   God gave us a mind, and we naturally want to figure things out – this is understandable.   But we have to remember that our minds are both limited, because we are finite creatures, and, moreover, damaged, for, even after Holy Baptism, we still struggle with the effects of the Ancestral Sin upon our nature, though it does not have final power over us.   Thus we cannot understand even created things, much less God, without God’s illumination, which comes, as St. Theophan explains, either directly from His Holy Spirit or through the inspiration of our Guardian Angel.   We have to ask for this illumination constantly, both in order to receive this help, and also in order to come into a right relationship between God and ourselves as rational but limited creatures.   Nothing is worse than a proud mind; nothing prevents us so effectively as this from being saved. This is especially true when the mind is proud about religious matters, when somebody thinks he “knows it all” and refuses to be taught – this is the worst! An un-teachable person, no matter how outwardly pious, is incapable of effectual repentance: the harder he tries to perform the deeds of religion, the worse he gets!

The thought of all this should humble us and sober us up.   Every day we should ask Our Lord to enlighten us a little more, to reveal to us a little more what we need to know for our salvation, and especially to give us a little more self-understanding, which is the hardest thing of all. St. Isaac the Syrian says somewhere that it is a greater miracle to see your own sins than to raise the dead. Never was a truer word spoken!   We want to understand all kinds of mysterious things – how God could have created all things in six days, how Jesus could have risen from the dead, how some people are saved and others are not, when will be the end of the world, etc. – but we cannot understand even our own most elementary faults, and our own hearts are to us a closed book!

When I am in need of enlightenment, I like to recall the Spiritual Testament of the Elder Gabriel of the Kazan-Seven Lakes and the Pskov-Eleazar Monasteries, who reposed in 1915. This testament was his final word to his spiritual children, composed shortly before his repose:

Soon, perhaps, I will die. I leave you an inheritance of great and inexhaustible riches. There is enough for everyone, only they must make profitable use of it and not doubt. Whosoever will be wise enough to make use of this inheritance will live without want.

First: when someone feels himself to be a sinner and can find no way out, let him shut himself alone in his cell and read the Canon and Akathist to Sweetest Jesus Christ, and his tears will be a comforting remedy for him.

Second: when someone finds himself amid misfortunes of any kind whatsoever, let him read the Supplicatory Canon to the Mother of God, “Distressed by Many Temptations,” and all his misfortunes will pass unnoticed from him to the shame of those who assailed him.

Third: when someone needs inner illumination of soul, let him read the 17th Kathisma [Psalm 118 LXX] with attention, and his inner eyes will be opened. The realization of what is written in it will follow. The need to cleanse the conscience more frequently in Confession and to communicate of the Holy Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ will arise. The virtue of compassion for others will be manifest, so that we will not scorn them but rather suffer and pray for them. Then, inward fear of God will appear, in which will be revealed to the inner eye of the soul the accomplishments of the Savior – how He suffered for us and loved us. Grace-filled love for Him will appear with the power of the Holy Spirit, Who instructs us in every ascetic labor and teaches us how to accomplish His will for us and to endure. In our patience, we will perceive and sense in ourselves the coming of the Kingdom of God in His power, and we will reign together with the Lord and become holy.

This world will not appear to us then the same as it appears to us now; however, we will not stand in judgment, but Jesus Christ will judge. We will see the falsity and sin in the world, but only through the Savior’s eyes, and we will partake of truth in Him alone.

Falsehood! We see it and yet we do not. This world with all its deceptions will pass away never to return, for it is a lie. Christ’s truth shall endure unto the ages of ages. Amen.

– from One of the Ancients, by Holy New Hieromartyr Simeon Kholmogorov (St. Herman Press, 1988), pp. 169-170. There is a completely revised and expanded edition of the Life of Elder Gabriel now available from St. Herman Press, with a new title, The Love of God.

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