October 31, 2009

St John of Kronstadt

Russian Orthodox archpriest Saint John of Kronstadt (1829-1908), , born as Ivan Ilyitch Sergieff, the son of poor peasant folk, was born on the 19th of October 1829 in the little village of Soura, in the province of Arkhangelsk in the far north of Russia. His parents, poor and simple though they were, took great pains with his education, both spiritual and temporal. From school, where he had gone to the top of his class, he went to the seminary. From there he was sent in 1851, at government expense, to the Theological Academy of Saint Petersburg. While he was there his father died, and it was with great thankfulness to God that he accepted the post of registrar.
Having considered becoming a monk, and going to eastern Siberia as a missionary, he came to the conclusion that there were many people around him as unenlightened as any pagan, and he decided to work for their salvation, after a dream in answer to prayer, in which he saw himself officiating in some unknown cathedral.

Soon after completing his studies he married Elisabeth, daughter of the Archpriest K. P. Nevitzki, and he was ordained priest in December 1855. Appointed as assistant priest at Saint Andrew's Cathedral, Kronstadt, when he entered it for the first time he recognized it as the church he had seen in his dream; and there, first as curate, and afterwards as rector, he served throughout the fifty-three years of his ministry. Cherishing a lofty ideal of the priestly vocation, he continued nightly to study and pray that he might perfect himself in it, while during the day he devoted himself to the many poor of his parish.

Father John, whose predecessors, apparently, had hardly even dared to penetrate the worst parts of the town, spent much of his time there, striving to heal bodies and souls alike, attracting to himself first the children, and then, through them, their parents. Often he found no time to eat until the late evening, and even then he would sometimes be summoned out again, and not return before the small hours; he gave away his own shoes, he gave away the housekeeping money: his wife gradually accustomed herself to it, and finally became something like his keeper.

In 1857 he was invited to teach the scripture in the municipal school at Kronstadt, and he accepted with joy, for he loved children, and always took great pains with them. When his fame had spread and he was constantly visiting Saint Petersburg, then to his own, his colleagues and pupils great regret, he was forced to abandon his teaching post.

Another object of Father John's concern and labor was the removal of the widespread poverty that afflicted Kronstadt. At first he gave these beggars money for food and shelter, but he soon came to see that this was not merely useless, but positively harmful. In 1868 he conceived the idea of founding a House of Industry, comprising a number of workshops, a dormitory, a refectory, a dispensary, and a primary school. He formed a committee, and appealed for funds. His appeal was answered by rich and poor from all over Russia, and the House of Industry was founded in 1873. Father John administered a total of over $25,000 a year in numerous charities, half of it in Kronstadt.

There is an attractive power in the personality of Father John of Kronstadt, in his portrait, the magnetism of his writings, and in his diary My Life in Christ. There is a peaceful and consoling quality in the notes of his diary, not to mention the very subjects of his talks, which spiritually exalt, uplift, and strengthen.


October 26, 2009

Is “Halloween” Just Harmless Fun?

As we approach the end of October I thought it would be important to post a Traditional Orthodox teaching on "Halloween".

SOURCE: From a pamphlet by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia

The “feast of Halloween,” celebrated by many in America, is rapidly finding its way in many parts of our world. It is portrayed as harmless fun for children. This could not be any further from the truth! Halloween is normally regarded as one more occasion for a party, one more opportunity for a good time without the least inquiry as to its meaning or origins. It is hardly a surprise when we consider that the greatest feasts of Christianity such as Pascha (Easter) and the Nativity of Christ (for which our ancestors prepared with fasting, prayers and tears) are now to so many, simply dates for eating, drinking and the exchanging of gifts. Be warned: Halloween is not what it appears to be! Its seemingly innocent manifestations represent a memory of an ancient celebration deeply rooted in paganism and demonology; furthermore, it continues to be a form of idolatry in which Satan, the angel of death is worshipped.

Known also as All Hallows Eve, the feast of Halloween began in pre-Christian times. It was originally a Celtic festival celebrated widely among the peoples of the British Isles and northern France. These pagan peoples believed that life was born from death. On this night, a certain deity whom they called Samhain, their lord of Death, was honoured at their New Year’s festival (end of October). On that night, Samhain was believed to lead hosts of evil spirits into the world. Samhain is also identified as the Grim Reaper, the leader of the ancestral ghosts. On the evening of the festival, a huge bonfire built from oak branches, which they believed to be sacred, was ignited in a high place. Upon these, fire sacrifices of crops, animals and even human beings were burned as an offering in order to appease their demon lord. It was also believed that Samhain, being pleased by their faithful offerings, allowed the souls of the dead to return to their homes for a festal visit on this day. Thus they believed that cold, dark creatures filled the night, wandering and begging amongst the living. It is from this belief that the practice of wandering about in the dark dressed up in costumes imitating ghosts, fairies, leprechauns, elves, smurfs (a German nature spirit), and other assorted demons, grew up. It is important to note that the ‘souls of the dead,’ or ghosts, are in fact demons cunningly mimicking the attributes of departed loved ones as much as is necessary to delude the observer. Any attention paid to such illusions is destructive! The dialogue of “trick and treat” is also an integral part of this system of beliefs and practices. It was believed that the souls of the dead who had entered into the world of darkness, decay and death, and therefore into total communion with and submission to the demon Samhain, bore the affliction of great hunger on their festal visit. Out of this grew the practice of begging for “treats” (offerings). If these “treats” were not forthcoming, then the wrath and anger of Samhain would be unleashed through a system of “tricks” (curses).

From an Orthodox Christian viewpoint, participation in these practices at any level is idolatrous, and a genuine betrayal of our God and our Holy Faith. To do so by dressing up and going out would be to willfully seek fellowship with the ‘dead’ whose lord is also known as Satan, the Evil One, who stands against God. Or, to participate by submission to the dialogue of “trick or treat” is to make offering, not to innocent little children, but to the lord of Death, whom they unknowingly serve as proxy for the ‘dead.’

In the days of the early Celtic Church, which was strictly Orthodox, the Holy Fathers attempted to counteract this pagan New Year festival by establishing the Feast of All Saints on the same day (in the East the Feast of All Saints is celebrated on the Sunday following Pentecost). As is the custom of the Church, the faithful Christians attended a Vigil Service in the evening and in the morning a celebration of the Holy Eucharist. It is from this that the term Halloween developed. The word has its roots in the Old English of All Hallow E’en, i.e., the Eve commemorating all those who were hallowed (sanctified). The people who remained pagan and therefore anti-Christian and whose paganism had become deeply intertwined with the occult, satanism and magic reacted to the Church’s attempt to supplant their festival by increased fervour on this evening. In the early middle ages, Halloween became the supreme and central feast of the occult, a night and day upon which acts of witchcraft, demonism, sorcery and satanism of all kinds were practiced. Many of these practices involved desecration and mockery of Christian practices and beliefs. Costumes of skeletons developed as a mockery of the Church’s reverence for Holy Relics; Holy things were stolen, and used in perverse and sacrilegious ways. The old practice of begging became a system of persecution designed to harass Christians who were, by their beliefs, unable to participate by making offerings to those who served the lord of Death.

As Orthodox Christians, it is important to be aware of how these anti-Christian, pagan and demonic practices have crept into our society and our very lives as innocent, fun, and playful diversions. Our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to the “narrow path,” to the bearing of our own Cross, to the difficult road of rejecting sin and embracing righteousness. By refraining from this hidden demon worship, we set ourselves apart from the world, perhaps even are mocked and laughed at for such stupidity and simple-mindedness. “How can children having fun be related to demonic activity?” they may ask. In the face of all this we must also remember that Satan is the “father of lies,” the great deceiver and he will go to any lengths to trap us into choosing to follow him rather than our Lord, even if we do so unwittingly and in ignorance. Know this: the devil exists; evil spirits exist! Our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world in order to destroy “him that had the dominion of death, that is, the devil” (Heb 2:14). Remember that many martyrs were tortured and killed rather than allow themselves to be coerced into tossing a little incense on a pagan altar. When we willingly participate in the sacrifice to the lord of death as a “harmless” social custom, we ourselves make a mockery of the witness of those martyrs. Instead, as Orthodox Christians, we are given the opportunity on this night to remember the feast of the Holy Unmercenaries, Saints Cosmas and Damianos, celebrated on November 1st. God has provided us with His Saints as a powerful weapon against the snares of Satan, even in the midst of such a deception. We should take full advantage of this weapon and turn our hearts and minds away from the celebration of death and onto the remembrance of God, Who is “wonderful in His saints.” Another weapon given to us by Christ is the power of Prayer and Fasting. In Christ’s own words, “by prayer and fasting” (Matt. 17:21) we can overcome evil.

We take great pains to protect our children and ourselves from disease and harm. We teach them good nutrition, hygiene and personal safety. We discourage them from engaging in fornication, substance abuse and other immoral and dangerous acts. Why do we allow them to dabble in darkness? Even if Halloween was good, clean, innocent fun, to what benefit-spiritual, intellectual or otherwise- is this for a Christian? Let’s teach our children to surround themselves with what is good and to “walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8). Let’s show them that the hope of the Christian life is to be delivered from death into life with God for eternity! We are Orthodox Christians. We are called to be not of this world. We were instructed by our Saviour to pray: “deliver us from the evil one.” Halloween is the celebration of the evil one. Who could possibly support it?

What do the Holy Scriptures and Holy Fathers say on the subject? Here are just a few pertinent quotes.

“Abstain from all appearance of evil” [1 Thessalonians 5:22].

“Care should be taken to see that the children of Priests shall not give any mundane spectacles, nor witness any. This, in fact, has ever been preached to all Christians, to the effect that wherever there are blasphemies they ought not to approach” [Canon XVII of Carthage].

“That one must not join the heathen in celebration of holidays and festivals, and share in their Godlessness” [Canon XXXIX of Laodicea].

October 24, 2009

Raising the Son of the Widow of Nain

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 7:11-16
From The Explanation of the Gospel of St. Luke
by Blessed Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria

11-16. And it came to pass the day after, that He went into a citycalled Nan; and many of His disciples went with Him, and much people. Now when He came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city waswith her. And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And He came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And He said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And He delivered him to his mother. And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, that a great prophet is risen up among us; and, that God hath visited His people.

Because the Lord, while not even present, had healed the centurions servant, He now performs another even more remarkable miracle. He does this so that no one could say, "What is remarkable about the healing of the centurions servant? Perhaps the servant would not have died in any case." This is why the Lord now raises up the dead man as he was being carried out for burial. He does not perform the miracle by His word alone, but also touches the bier, teaching us that His very Body is life. Because God the Word Who gives life to all things Himself became flesh, therefore His flesh itself is likewise life-creating, and takes away death and corruption. The dead man sat up and began to speak, so that some would not think that his rising was only an apparition. Sitting up and speaking are definite proofs of resurrection from the dead—how can a lifeless body sit up and speak? You may also understand the widow to mean the soul which has suffered the loss of its husband, the Word of God Which sows the good seed. The son of such a widow is the mind which is dead and is being carried outside the city, that is, outside the heavenly Jerusalem which is the land of the living. The Lord then takes pity and touches the bier. The bier which carries the dead mind is the body. And indeed the body is like a tomb, as the ancient Greeks said, calling the body [sma] a burial mound [sma], which means a tomb. Having touched the body, the Lord then raises the mind, restoring its youth and vigor. And after the young man, meaning the mind, has sat up, raised from the tomb of sin, he will begin to speak, that is, to teach others. While he is in the grip of sin, he cannot speak or teach—who would believe him?

October 18, 2009

How to acquire the gifts of the Holy Spirit

St. Seraphim of Sarov states that "The true aim of our Christian life consists of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God." If this is a main purpose in a Chritians' life, how do we go about acquiring the Holy Spirit?

Saint Innokenty Bishop of Alaska answers this important question in his writing The Way into the Kingdom of Heaven:

Therefore, when a Christian, humbly and obediently, has accepted Christ’s faith in all its purity, without any corrections or misinterpretations, then the following are the requirements to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit:

Purity of heart and chastity


Listening to the voice of God



Reading the Holy Scriptures

Sacraments of the Church, especially Holy Communion

To receive gifts from the Holy Spirit, you must, first of all, cleanse your heart of sin, self-love, and pride. The Holy Spirit always surrounds us and wishes to fill us, but the evil nesting within us, like a wall, impedes His path. Any sin keeps the Holy Spirit away from us, but carnal impurity and pride are especially offensive to Him. So, if we do not want the Holy Spirit, Whom we received in Baptism, to depart from us, or if we have pushed Him away through our sinful life and now want Him to return, here is what we must do:

1. Cleanse yourself with repentance and sincere confession. Then shun all sinful thoughts and wishes. In view of the terrible lewdness of contemporary society, a Christian must protect himself from all that may pollute his soul and keep his flesh from lustfulness. Indeed, our body was designed to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. When a person is clean internally and externally, the Holy Spirit settles within him. In the presence of chastity, the only obstacle for the Holy Spirit is your pride in your righteousness and your regard of His gifts as your just reward. If you have unfortunately defiled yourself, then stop sinning and repent. With a contrite heart regret that you have offended God, your most loving Father, and strive to live with greater vigilance. Then even you will be able to receive the Holy Spirit.

2. One of the surest ways of attracting the Holy Spirit is by humility. Even if you are an honest, just, good, and merciful man, in a word, even though you may have achieved much goodness, keep considering yourself as an unworthy servant of God. Indeed, if we examine our good works more closely, we will see that none of them are completely beyond reproach. For example, if we give alms or help someone, how often do we add conceited, regretful, self-interested, judgmental, or other such unkind thoughts to our alms or help. Of course, every good deed always remains good, even when it is imperfect. It can be likened to gold which has value even before it is purified. But as gold becomes more precious when an experienced craftsman purifies and works it, so let us entrust our good deeds to the Heavenly Master that He will make them even more valuable.

Thus, if you wish your good deeds to please God, do not boast about them. You are not the master but only an apprentice. As craftsmanship gives value to gold, so a pure and unselfish Christian love, which stems from the Holy Spirit, gives value to our good deeds. Everything that is done without Christian love, i.e., without the Holy Spirit, is not yet a fully valued good deed. Without the Holy Spirit a person remains poor and pitiful.

But humility consists not only of realizing your unworthiness but also of bearing the various sorrows and adversities of life with patience and without grumbling, considering them as sent or allowed by God for our benefit. Do not say, "How unfortunate I am!" But say, "I deserve a still greater punishment for my sins!" And ask God not so much to deliver you from adversities as to give you patience and courage to bear them.

3. The Holy Spirit can also be received by listening attentively to the voice of God. God speaks to us by means of the internal voice of our conscience and through external circumstances. It is very important to develop sensitivity in order to hear more clearly what God suggests to us. He, as a most loving Father, cares for you. Daily He calls you to Himself, warns you and enlightens you. For instance, are you unhappy, has someone offended you, has misfortune befallen you, or are you ill? In these you can hear the voice of God, calling you to repent and improve. In time of sorrow, instead of seeking help from others or consoling yourself by frivolous distractions and amusements, turn to God and seek guidance and help from Him alone.

Or suppose that you are prospering and living well and that everything flows smoothly. Consider this also to be the voice of God. Here God teaches you to be as merciful to those in need as He is merciful to you. It is dangerous and sinful to ignore the voice of God, to remain unrepentant and unimproved during times of hardship, to fail to thank God, or not to help others when you have plenty. Even more ruinous is to do the opposite of that to which God is leading us: to grumble and become embittered in difficult circumstances or to forget God and live only for pleasure in fortunate surroundings. What might then result is that God, after repeated teachings, will turn away from you as from a stubborn child and will abandon you to your own desires. Then passions will easily overcome you, your intellect and conscience will become dulled, and you might reach a point at which you will justify even your vilest crimes as natural and common human weakness. In order to avoid such a fall, it is necessary to become sensitive to the voice of God in the Holy Spirit and to follow His admonitions.

4. The Holy Spirit can be received through prayer. Prayer is the simplest, surest, and most available means to receive the Holy Spirit. Because we are composed of body and soul, they both should participate in prayer. The primary elements of prayer are concentration and sincerity, which are attained by inner effort. Nevertheless, the body should not remain uninvolved; it can and must assist the soul in prayer by standing in reverence, making prostrations, making the sign of the cross, raising the hands, and reading the prayers aloud. Other favorable external conditions also help in prayer: solitude, silence, ikons with burning lampadas before them, incense, and when in church, church art and architecture along with soft and harmonious singing, beautiful ceremonies, etc.

But to achieve concentration and warmth during prayer is not easy. Here, first of all, it is important to establish a regular time for prayer (for instance, mornings and evenings), and to develop stability and patience. You should constantly overcome haste, distraction, indifference and insincerity. In addition, you must strive to warm your heart with love for God. Only a sincere prayer brings comfort and peace to the heart. Much effort is necessary in order to learn to pray properly, and, as we well know, all the righteous ones strove throughout their lives to learn the art of prayer. Nevertheless, your personal effort is not enough. It is the Holy Spirit who makes our prayer to be fervent and to come from the bottom of our heart. This was well known to the saints who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, stood day and night in prayer in sweet rapture, failing the while to notice the time fleeting away.

Pray even though at first your prayer may be weak and imperfect because of your sinfulness and estrangement from God. Pray with diligence and fervor; train yourself to be sincere in your conversation with God. Thus, little by little you will learn to pray and will start to feel a sweet comfort. The Holy Spirit will have mercy on you and will come and reside in you if you show faithfulness in your efforts at prayer.

The Holy Scripture teaches: Pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17). How is this possible for people living in a secular world? If you are to pray all the time, how then are you to perform your other duties? The advice of perpetual prayer is directed not toward outward but toward inner prayer. If desired, you can turn to God internally whether you are alone or with others. Only he who does not want to pray will not find time for prayer.

5. Fasting and works of mercy aid prayer. The Fathers of the Church recommend: If you want your prayer to fly up to God, then give it two wings, fasting and almsgiving.

What is fasting and why is it necessary? Fasting is a voluntary self-restriction in food, drink, and pleasure. The purpose of fasting is to quiet or calm and lighten the body and to make it obedient to the soul. Overfilled flesh demands comfort and rest, disposing us to laziness, which hinders prayer and meditation. In the manner of an unbridled servant, the well-fed body rises up against its master, the soul, and wants to rule over it. While fasting, you should limit not only the type of food (dairy and meat products) but also its amount, restricting yourself to the minimal needs of the body. Then your fasting will become useful.

While fasting outwardly you should also fast internally, restraining your tongue from sinful, idle chatter and moderating your desires and your anger while driving off unkind thoughts and impure fantasies. Experience shows that there is nothing harder than to stop the wandering of thoughts and to direct your mind to thoughts of God and prayer. This may be likened to the taming of wild horses who have long been stubborn and unruly.

Non-spiritual people do not even suspect how difficult it is to control the wandering of thoughts. Being occupied with worldly affairs, they consider their thoughts to be busy with worthwhile concerns. Only when they begin to strive toward a spiritual life and try to reflect on spiritual topics, do they begin to notice that their thoughts are murky. This is somewhat like the waters of a shallow lake. As long as its surface remains undisturbed, it looks clear; but when it is stirred, the silt from its bottom darkens the water, making it appear murky. Likewise, in the depths of our heart there lay various passions. Like silt, they rise and darken the soul when a Christian attempts to expose and struggle with them. As the Holy Fathers have explained, when people turn to God, the devil strives to darken their soul with bad thoughts and feelings in order to confuse them and distract them from their good intentions. But do not yield to his snares, and do not stray from the path of salvation. Remember that no one can simultaneously think about two subjects. If you occupy your mind with good thoughts (reading spiritual books or studying some worthwhile subject), the bad ones will not be able to linger in your mind.

Love reveals itself in works of mercy. Among such works are to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to visit and help the sick and the imprisoned, to give refuge to the homeless, and to be concerned about orphans. All this should be done with sincere and unselfish love, without any boasting or expectations of gratitude. The Savior teaches regarding this: Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly (Matt. 6:3-4).

6. The Holy Spirit may be received by piously reading and listening to the Holy Scriptures. Being the Word of God, they hold a great treasury of spiritual enlightenment and wisdom. The Holy Scriptures are one of God’s greatest blessings, which can be used by anyone wishing to do so. In them, the divine wisdom is presented in such an easy, approachable manner that even the simplest and most uneducated person can understand it. Many cases are recorded throughout Church history and in the lives of the saints, in which the simplest of people, while studying Holy Scripture, were enlightened, became pious, and received abundant gifts of the Holy Spirit even while some scholars and intelligentsia read the Holy Scripture and became confused and fell into heresy. The difference was that while the first read it with simplicity of heart, seeking in it spiritual direction, the second approached it with criticism, attempting to uncover inconsistencies. Considering themselves wise and all-knowing, these last succumbed to pride and even became false teachers. Be aware that our small and imperfect intellect cannot encompass God’s wisdom. God enlightens those who with a pure and kind heart turn to Him in search of enlightenment. Therefore, in reading the Holy Scriptures, lay aside all worldly wisdom and inquisitiveness. Submit to the word and the will of Him who speaks to you through Holy Scripture, and beseech Jesus Christ to enlighten you and show you the path to salvation.

There are many other books besides Holy Scripture that are beneficial for reading: the works of the Holy Fathers, the lives of the saints, inspirational stories, sermons, and other praiseworthy writings of Orthodox authors. From the books available to you, read those that are based on Holy Scripture and are in accord with the teaching of the Orthodox Church. Beware of those poisoned by heresies and non-Christian ideas.

7. Communion is another source for receiving the Holy Spirit. Regarding it, Jesus Christ said: He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood, abides in Me, and I in him. (He) has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day (Jn. 6:54-56). When Christians partake of Holy Communion they unite inexplicably with Jesus Christ and start partaking of His divine life. Therefore, you must go to Communion with faith, having cleansed your soul by repentance, with a realization of your unworthiness, and with the hope of God’s mercy. Since God is one and indivisible, when Christians accept Jesus Christ into their heart, they accept the Holy Spirit and the Heavenly Father at the same time and thus become a living temple of God.

As witnessed in the Acts of the Apostles and other ancient Christian writings, the faithful of the first centuries took Communion every Sunday, which then was called the Lord’s day. Undoubtedly, because of this constant communion with Jesus Christ, they were as "of one heart and one soul" (Acts 4:32). My God, what a difference there is between them and us. How many among us seldom partake of Holy Communion, sometimes avoiding it for years!

Those who neglect to take Holy Communion do not love Jesus Christ and will not receive the Holy Spirit, and consequently will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. So, for the sake of your salvation, partake of Communion as often as possible. The Body and Blood of Christ is a true cure for many spiritual and bodily infirmities. And who among us is perfectly healthy? Who would not want to receive helpful relief? The Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is the nourishment which sustains us on the path to the Kingdom of Heaven. Is it possible to complete a long and difficult journey without sustenance? The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is the holiness bestowed on us by Jesus Christ Himself for our sanctification. Who would refuse to be a partaker of such holiness? Therefore, do not be lazy in stepping up to the Chalice of Life, but approach it with faith and fear of God.

In summary, these are the means of receiving the Holy Spirit: purity of heart, chastity, humility, listening to the voice of God, prayer accompanied by fasting and charity, reading Holy Scripture, meditation, and partaking of Holy Communion. Of course, each of these individually is effective for receiving the Holy Spirit, but it is best to resort to all of them for our salvation.

To this it is necessary to add that if we somehow fall into sin and thereby distance ourselves from the Holy Spirit, we should not despair and think that we have irrevocably lost all blessings, but let us quickly prostrate ourselves before God with deep repentance and prayer, and the All-merciful Holy Spirit will again return to us.

October 17, 2009

As Ye Would that Men Should Do to You

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 6:31-36
From The Explanation of the Gospel of St. Luke
by Blessed Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria
[In the following commentary, some preceding verses have been included, because Bl. Theophylact comments on them as a whole.]

27-36. But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer alsothe other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy tunic also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods askthem not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? For sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? For sinners also do even the same.And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? For sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the sons of the MostHigh; for He is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.

The Apostles were about to be sent out to preach and many persecutors and plotters awaited them. If the Apostles were fearful and dismayed by persecution, they might want to protect themselves from their persecutors by keeping silent and not teaching. If that happened, the radiant sun of the Gospel would be extinguished. In anticipation of this, the Lord exhorts the Apostles not to give way to defensive measures against their enemies, but instead bravely to endure all things, even insults and murderous plots. This is what He Himself did on the Cross, saying, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. [Lk.23:34] To prove to the Apostles that this commandment to love ones enemies is possible to keep, He then says, "What you want to be done to you, do the same to others; and be to others that kind of person you want others to be to you." If you want your enemies to be hard, unfeeling, and angry towards you, then be the same yourself to them. But if you want them to be kind and compassionate towards you, and not to remember wrongs, do not think that it is impossible for you yourself to be the same towards them. Do you see this natural law which is written in our hearts? That is why the Lord also said, In those days I will surely put My laws into their mind, and write them on their hearts. [Jer. 38:33] Then He adds another compelling reason to keep this commandment: if you love those who love you, you are like the sinners and the Gentiles; but if you love those who do evil to you, you are like God, Who is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Which do you desire—to be like sinners or to be like God? Do you see the divine teaching? First He persuaded you by means of the natural law: what you want to be done to you, do to others. Then He persuades you with the result and the reward—He promises that you will become like God.

October 15, 2009

Rules for Pious Life

FORCE YOURSELF to get up early and on a set schedule. As soon as you wake up, turn your mind to God: make the Sign of the Cross, and thank Him for the night that has passed and for all His mercies towards you. Ask Him to guide all your thoughts, feelings and desires, so that everything you say or do will be pleasing to Him.

As you dress, recollect the presence of the Lord and of your Guardian Angel. Ask the Lord Jesus Christ to put on you the robe of salvation.

After washing yourself, get down to morning prayers. Pray kneeling, with concentration, and with reverence and meekness, as is proper before the eyes of the Almighty. Ask Him to give you faith, hope, and charity, as well as calm strength to accept all that the coming day may bring to you - its hardships and troubles. Ask Him to bless your labors. Ask for help: to accomplish some particular task that you face; to steer clear of some particular sin.

If you can, read something from the Bible, especially from the New Testament and the Psalms. Read with intent to receive some spiritual enlightenment, inclining your heart to compunction. Having read a little, pause and reflect on what you read, and then proceed further, listening to what the Lord suggests to your heart.

Try to devote at least fifteen minutes to spiritually contemplate the teachings of the Faith and the profit to your soul in what you have read.

Always thank the Lord that He did not leave you to perish in your sins, but cares for you and in every possible way leads you to the Heavenly Kingdom.

Start every morning as if you had just decided to become a Christian and to live according to God's commandments.

As you enter upon your duties, strive to do everything towards the glory of God. Start nothing without prayer, because whatever we do without prayer later turns out to be futile or harmful. The words of the Lord are true: "Without me, you can do nothing."

Imitate our Saviour, Who labored helping Joseph and His most pure Mother. While working, keep a good spirit, relying always on the Lord's help. It is a good thing to repeat unceasingly the prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner."

If your labors are successful, give thanks to the Lord; and if they are not, place yourself in His will, for He takes care of us and directs everything towards the better. Accept all hardships as a penance for your sins - in the spirit of obedience and humility.

Before every meal, pray that God will bless the food and drink; and after the meal give thanks to Him and ask Him not to deprive you of spiritual blessings. It is good to leave the table feeling a bit hungry. In everything, avoid excess. Following the example of Christians of old, fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Do not be greedy. Be content having food and clothing, imitating Christ Who became impoverished for our sake.

Strive to please the Lord in everything, so that you will not be reproached by your own conscience. Remember God always sees you, and so be carefully vigilant concerning the feelings, thoughts and desires of your heart.

Avoid even the smallest sins, lest you fall into greater ones. Drive away from your heart each and every thought or design that moves you away from the Lord. Strive especially against unclean desire; drive it out of your heart like a burning spark fallen on your coat. If you do not want to be troubled by evil desires, meekly accept humiliation from others.

Do not say too much, remember that for every spoken word we will give account before God. It is better to listen than to talk: in verbosity it is impossible to avoid sin. Do not be curious to hear the news, which only entertains and distracts the spirit. Condemn no one, but consider yourself to be worse than everyone else. The one who condemns another is taking another's sins onto himself; it is better to grieve about the sinner, and pray that God will correct him in His own way. If someone does not listen to your advice, do not dispute with him. But if his deeds are a temptation to others, take appropriate measures, because their good, being many, must carry more weight than his, being only one.

Never argue or make excuses. Be gentle, quiet and humble; endure everything, according to the example of Jesus. He will not burden you with a cross that exceeds your strength. He will also help you carry the Cross that you have.

Ask the Lord to give you the grace to fulfill His holy Commandments as well as you can, even if they seem too difficult to keep. Having done a good deed, do not expect gratitude, but temptation: for love towards God is tested by obstacles. Do not hope to acquire any virtues without suffering sorrows. In the midst of temptations do not despair, but address God with short prayers: "Lord, help... Teach me to... Do not leave... Protect me... " The Lord allows temptations and trials; He also gives the strength to overcome them.

Ask God to take away from you every thing that feeds your pride, even if it will be bitter. Avoid being harsh, gloomy, nagging, mistrustful, suspicious or hypocritical, and avoid rivalry. Be sincere and simple in your attitude. Humbly accept the admonitions of others, even if you are more wise and experienced.

What you do not want done to you, do not do to others. Rather, do for them what you wish to be done for you. If anyone visits you, be tender towards him, be modest, wise, and, sometimes, depending on the circumstances, be also blind and deaf.

When you feel slack, or a certain coolness, do not leave off the usual order of prayer and pious practices which you have established. Everything that you do in the name of the Lord Jesus, even the small and imperfect things, becomes an act of piety.

If you desire to find peace, commit yourself completely onto God. You will find no peace until you calm down in God, loving Him alone.

From time to time seclude yourself, following the example of Jesus, for prayer and contemplation of God. Contemplate the infinite love of our Lord Jesus Christ, His sufferings and death, His Resurrection, His Second Coming and the Last Judgment.

Visit the church as often as possible. Confess more often and receive the Holy Mysteries. Doing so you will abide in God, and this is the highest blessing. During Confession, repent and confess frankly and with contrition all your sins; for the unrepented sin leads to death.

Devote Sundays to works of charity and mercy; for example, visit someone who is sick, console someone who is in sorrow, save one who is lost. If anyone will help the lost one turn towards God he will receive a great reward in this life and in the age to come. Encourage your friends to read Christian spiritual literature and to participate in discussing spiritual matters.

Let the Lord Jesus Christ be your teacher in everything. Constantly address Him by turning your mind to Him; ask yourself: what would He do in similar circumstances?

Before you go to sleep, pray frankly and with all your heart, look searchingly at your sins during the past day. You should always compel yourself to repent with a contrite heart, with suffering and tears, lest you repeat past sins. As you go to bed, make the Sign of the Cross, kiss the cross, and entrust yourself to the Lord God, who is your Good Shepherd. Consider that perhaps this night you will have to appear before Him.

Remember the Lord's love towards you and love Him with all your heart, your soul and your mind.

Acting in this way, you will reach the blessed life in the Kingdom of Eternal Light.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

By Platon, Archbishop of Kostroma

Editor: Abbot Alexander (Mileant)

October 14, 2009

Protection of the Mother of God

Protection of the Theotokos, Troparion, Tone IV —

Overshadowed by thy coming, O Mother of God,/ we the right faithful people, cel­ebrate today with splendor,/ and gazing at thine all-precious image,/ we say with compunction:/ Cover us with thy precious omophorion,/ and deliver us from all evil,// entreating thy Son, Christ our God, that He save our souls.

Kontakion, Tone III "Today the Virgin" —

Today the Virgin standeth forth in the church,/ and with the choirs of the saints she invisibly prayeth to God for us./ Angels and hierarchs offer homage,/ and the apostles and prophets join chorus,// for for our sake the Theotokos entreateth the preeternal God.

Fr. Thomas Hopko on the Protecting Veil of the Theotokos

October 06, 2009

The Truth of Our Faith - Elder Cleopa of Romania

Just finished reading Elder Cleopa's book: The Truth of Our Faith. It is a terrific introduction to the Orthodox Faith based upon Holy Scripture. Elder Cleopa is truly a holy man and this comes across in his writing. I would reccomend this book as a primer on the orthodox faith particulary those interested in Orthodoxy that are coming from a protestant background. The book follows a Question and Answer format and is an excellent apologetic work.