January 30, 2010

St. John Maximovitch on the Prodigal Son.

And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. (Luke 15:11-32).

The parable of the Prodigal Son is a most instructive lesson for youth. We see in the prodigal son the true character of flighty youth: light-minded, thoughtless, thirsting for independence; in short, everything that usually distinguishes the majority of youths. The younger son grew up in his parents' house. On reaching adolescence, he already began to imagine that life at home was too restrictive. It seemed unpleasant to him to live under his father's rule and his mother's watchful eye. He wanted to imitate his comrades, who had given themselves up to the pleasures of the world. "I am the heir of a rich estate. Would it not be better," he reasoned, "if I received my inheritance now? I could manage my wealth differently than my father does." Thus the light-minded youth was carried away by the deceitful glitter of the world's pleasures and decided to throw off the yoke of obedience and to depart from his parents' home.

Are not many inspired by similar impulses today, and, while they may not leave their parents' home, do they not depart from the home of their Heavenly Father, that is, from obedience to the Holy Church?

The yoke of Christ seems difficult for immature minds, and His commandments burdensome. They think that it is not really necessary to keep that which God and His Holy Church command us. To them it seems possible to serve God and the world at the same time. They say, "We are already strong enough to withstand destructive temptations and seductions. We can hold onto the truth and sound teachings by ourselves. Allow us to perfect our minds through acquiring many kinds of knowledge. Let us strengthen our wills ourselves amid temptations and seductions. Through experience our senses will become convinced of the vileness of vice!" Are such desires any better than the ill-considered request of the younger son to his father, "Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me?"

And so, a light-minded youth ceases to heed the commandments and admonitions of the Holy Church. He ceases to study the Word of God and the teachings of the Holy Fathers, and listens intently to the sophistries of those who are falsely-called teachers, and in these pursuits he kills the best hours of his life. He goes to church less frequently or stands there inattentively, distracted. He does not find the opportunity to devote himself to piety and to exercise himself in the virtues, because he spends so much time attending shows, public entertainments, etc. In a word, with each day he gives himself up more and more to the world, and, finally, he goes off to "a far country."

What is the result of such an estrangement from the Holy Church? It is the same as the result of the prodigal son's leaving his parents' house. Light-minded youths very quickly waste their excellent energies and talents of soul and body, ruining for time and eternity all the good they have done. Meanwhile, there appears "a mighty famine in that land": emptiness and dissatisfaction — the inevitable result of wild pleasures. A thirst for enjoyments appears, which intensifies with the gratifying of wanton passions, and finally becomes insatiable. It often happens that the unfortunate lover of the world, in order to gratify his passions, resorts to base and shameful pursuits, which do not bring him to his senses like the prodigal son and do not return him to the path of salvation, but complete his ruin, both temporal and eternal!

January 28, 2010

About the victorious faith

From the Prologue by St. Nikolai Velimirovich- Jan 28 / Jan 15

"And the victory that conquers the world in our faith" (I John 5:4).

Christ the Lord conquered the world. That, brethren, is also our victory. The apostles conquered the world and that is our victory. The saints, virgins and martyrs conquered the world and that is our victory. Brethren, there is nothing more powerful in the world than the Christian Faith. The swords that struck this Faith became blunt and broken but the Faith remained. The kings who fought against this Faith were smothered under the anathema of crimes. The kingdoms that waged war against this Faith are destroyed. The towns that rejected this Faith lay demolished in their ruins. The heretics who corrupted this Faith perished in soul and body and under anathema departed from this world, and this Faith remained.

Brethren, when the world pursues us with its temptations: the temptation of external beauty, the temptation of riches, the temptation of pleasure, the temptation of transient glory; with what shall we resist and by what shall we be victorious if not by this Faith? In truth, by nothing except by this invincible Faith which knows about something better than all the wealth of this world.

When all the temptations of this world reveal the opposite side of their faces, when beauty turns into ugliness, health into sickness, riches into poverty, glory into dishonor, authority into humiliation and all blossoming physical life into filth and stench--by what shall we overcome this grief, this decay, this fifth and stench, and to preserve oneself from despair, if not by this Faith? In truth, by nothing except this invincible Faith which teaches us eternal and unchangeable values in the Kingdom of Christ.

When death shows its destructive power over our neighbors, over our relatives and our families, over our flowers, over our crops, over the works of our hands and, when it turns its irresistible teeth even on us, by what shall we conquer the fear of death and by what shall we unlock the doors of life, stronger than death, if not by this Faith? In truth, by nothing except this invincible Faith, which knows about the resurrection and life without death.

O Lord Jesus, the Conqueror of the world, help us also to conquer the world with faith in You.

To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.

January 27, 2010

A Prodigal Saint: Father John of Kronstadt

Just Finished reading this book. It is an academic (Non-Hagiographa) look at the life of Saint John of Kronstadt and late Imperial Russia. I was concerned that this book might have been overly critical of Saint John and was hesitant to read it. However, it is very well balalanced and showed glimpses into this Saint's life and the times that he lived. Very interisting read and it has given me even more appreciation for this saint that I already highly revered.

Product Description:
A portrait of the life of Father John of Kronstadt, a priest in tsarist Russia, venerated in his lifetime and later elevated to sainthood. It draws on documents from the Russian archives, thousands of letters he received from his followers and police reports on the sect that formed around him.

January 24, 2010

Theophylact on The Publican and the Pharisee

Thirty-third Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 18:10-14

From The Explanation of the Gospel of St. Luke
by Blessed Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria

9-14. And He spake this parable unto certain who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus within himself, God, I thank Thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house counted righteous rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. The Lord ceaselessly purges the passion of pride in many ways. This passion, more than any other, disturbs our thoughts, and for this reason the Lord always and everywhere teaches on this subject. Here He is purging the worst form of pride. For there are many offshoots of self-love. Presumption, arrogance, and vainglory all stem from this root. But the most destructive of all these kinds of self-love is pride, for pride is contempt of God. When a man ascribes his accomplishments to himself, and not to God, this is nothing less than denial of God and opposition to Him. Therefore, like enemy to enemy, the Lord opposes this passion which is opposed to Him, and through this parable He promises to heal it. He directs this parable towards those who trust in themselves and who do not attribute everything to God, and who, as a result, despise others. He shows that when righteousness, which is marvelous in every other respect and sets a man close to God, takes pride as its companion, it casts that man into the lowest depths and makes demonic what was God-like just a short time before. The words of the Pharisee at first resemble the words of a grateful man. For he says, God, I thank Thee. But the words that follow are full of foolishness. For he does not say, "that Thou hast made me to depart from extortion and iniquities." Instead he says, "I thank Thee that I am not an extortioner or worker of iniquity." He attributes this accomplishment to himself, as something done by his own strength. How can a man who knows that what he has, he has received from God, [compare other men to himself unfavorably] and judge them? For certainly if a man believed that he had received as a gift good things that in truth belong to God, he would not despise other men. He would instead consider himself just as naked as his fellow men in regards to virtue, except that by the mercy of God his nakedness has been covered with a donated garment. The Pharisee is proud, ascribing his deeds to his own strength, and that is why he proceeds to condemn others. By saying that the Pharisee stood, the Lord indicates his haughtiness and lack of humility. In the same way that a humble-minded man is likewise humble in his demeanor, this Pharisee by his bearing displays his pride. Although it is also said of the publican that he stood, see what follows: he would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, so that he was stooped in posture. But the eyes of the Pharisee, together with his heart, were lifted up to heaven in boastful exaltation. Nonetheless, how the Pharisee arranged the words of his prayer can still instruct us. First he says what he is not, and then he declares what he is. For after he says, God, I thank Thee, that I am not as other men are, naming this, this, and this, then he declares his good deeds, fasting twice a week and giving tithes of all that he possesses. [The order of his prayer shows us that] we must first refrain from wickedness, and then set our hand to virtue. For one must not only turn away from evil, but also do good. [Ps. 33:14] In the same way, a man who wants to draw pure water from a muddy spring first cleans out the mud and only then can he draw pure water. Consider this as well, that the Pharisee did not say, "I thank Thee that I am not an extortioner or an adulterer, as other men are." He could not endure even the association of his name with such vile terms, and so he uses them in the plural, casting these terms at other men, and avoiding the singular, which might associate him with sin. Having said, I thank Thee, that I am not as other men are, by contrast he points to himself, saying, I fast twice in the Sabbath, meaning, twice in the week, for the week was called "the Sabbath," taking its name from the last day of the week, the day of rest. The day of rest was called Sabbat, and the week was called Sabbata, being the plural form of Sabbat. Whence it is that mian Sabattn [Mk. 16:2] is the first day of the week, which we call "the Lords Day" [Sunday]. Among the Hebrews mian means the same thing as first. (1) There is also another, more profound, explanation of this parable. Against the passion of adultery, the Pharisee boasted of his fasting, for lustful desires arise from eating and drinking to excess. By restraining his body through fasting on Mondays and Thursdays, as was the practice of the Pharisees, (2) he kept himself far from such passions. He also resisted extortion and injustice by giving tithes of all his possessions. "I am so opposed to extortion and to wronging others," he says, "that I give alms of everything I have." Some believe that a simple and single tithe is prescribed by the law; but those who carefully examine the law will find three forms of tithing prescribed. You may learn this from Deuteronomy, if you apply yourself diligently. [Dt.12:11,17; 14:22,28; 26:12.] So much for the Pharisee. Now we turn to the publican and see that he is the Pharisees exact opposite in every regard. He stood afar off, and kept himself at a great distance, not only in physical location, but in his demeanor, in his words, and in his compunction of heart. He was ashamed to lift up his eyes to heaven, for he considered his eyes unworthy of heavenly vision because they had desired to see and to enjoy the good things of earth. And he smote himself upon the breast, striking his heart, as it were, because of its evil designs, and awakening it because it had been sleeping. And the publican said no other words than, God be merciful to me a sinner. Because of all these things he went down to his house counted righteous, rather than the other. For every proud heart is unclean in the Lords eyes, and the Lord resisteth the proud but He giveth grace to the humble. [Prov. 3:34, I Pet 5:5] But one might wonder why it is that the Pharisee is condemned for speaking a few boastful words, while Job receives a crown for speaking many such words. (3)The answer is that the Pharisee stood and spoke these vain words under no compulsion, and he condemned others for no reason. But with Job, his friends pressed him and bore down upon him more fiercely than did his own calamities, telling him that he was suffering these things because of his sins. Job was compelled to enumerate his good deeds, but he did so for the glory of God, and so that men would not be misled from the path of virtue. For if men came to hear that Job was suffering because what he had done was sinful, they would not act as Job had. As a result they would become haters of strangers instead of hospitable to strangers, merciless instead of merciful, and unrighteous instead of righteous; for such were the good deeds of Job. Therefore Job enumerated his virtues so that others would not be misled and harmed. Shall we not say that his words, which may seem boastful, in fact are radiant with humility? Oh that I were as in months past, he said, wherein God preserved me! [Job 29:2] Do you see that he attributes everything to God and does not judge others? Instead he is judged by his friends. But condemnation rightly falls upon the Pharisee, who attributed everything to himself and not to God, and judged others for no reason whatsoever. For every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled and condemned by God; and he that humbleth himself when he is condemned by others shall be exalted and counted righteous by God. The Lord is saying, "You, 0 Christian, be the first to tell your sins, so that you may be counted righteous."

1. Mian is the Greek cardinal number, meaning "one," used in this idiom instead of what would be expected, the ordinal number, prtn. This echoes the Hebrew expression.

2. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the Church has always taught the faithful to fast instead on Wednesdays and Fridays, in remembrance of the Lords betrayal by Judas and His crucifixion. The earliest documentary proof of this practice dates from the year 120 A.D. and may be found in The Teaching [Didache] of the Twelve Apostles. See The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 7, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts, 1994, p. 379.

3. See Job 29, wherein Job states that he had saved the poor out of the hand of the oppressor, helped the fatherless, put on righteousness, been the eye of the blind and the foot of the lame, and much more.

January 19, 2010

This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.

Holy Theophany - The Baptism of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ

From The Explanation of the Gospel of St. Luke

by Blessed Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria

13-14. Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbade Him. Jesus is pure, yet He is baptized in order to wash us, and to show us that if we intend to be baptized we must first be cleansed. Otherwise we might stain our baptism, being easily sullied afterwards because of our evil habits. John forbade Him so that those who saw the baptism would not think that Christ was being baptized unto repentance like one of the multitude. Saying, It is I that needeth to be baptized of Thee. The Forerunner was in need of cleansing by the Lord; for as he was descended from Adam, he too carried with him the stain of disobedience. But when Christ took flesh, He cleansed all mankind. And comest Thou to me? John did not dare to say, "Art Thou baptized by me?" but "Comest Thou to me?" such reverence did he have for the Lord.

15. And Jesus answering said unto him, Let it be so now. Permit it now, He says. For there will be a time for us to have the glory that is befitting, even if we do not appear in such glory now. For thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. "Righteousness" means the law. Human nature was accursed, Jesus says, because it was not able to fulfill the law. Therefore I have fulfilled all the other requirements of the law. One thing remains for Me to do, that I be baptized. When I have fulfilled this, I shall have delivered human nature from the curse. And this is befitting for Me to do.

15-16. Then he permitted Him; and Jesus, when He was baptized. He was baptized at the age of thirty; for by this age one has experienced all the sins. In the first ten years, there is great foolishness; in the second, during adolescence, the great flame of desire and anger; and in the years of adulthood, great avarice. Jesus waited for this age, therefore, so that He could fulfill the law in all the ages of a man, and sanctify us. Went up straightway out of the water. The Manichean heretics say that He left His body in the Jordan and thereafter displayed another, illusory, body. But their mouths are shut by this, for it says, "Jesus went up"; it was not another who went up, but He Who went down into the water. And lo, the heavens were opened unto Him. Adam had closed the heavens, but through Christ they are opened, so that you may learn, O reader, that when you are baptized, you, too, open the heavens.

16-17. And he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him; and, lo, a voice from heaven, saying. The Spirit came down to bear witness that He Who is baptized is greater than he who baptizes. For the Jews held John in high regard, but they did not esteem Christ so highly. They all saw the Spirit descending upon Jesus so that they would not think that the voice which said, "This is My beloved Son," was referring to John; but by seeing the Spirit they might believe that this voice spoke concerning Jesus. It was like a dove because of the dove’s innocence and meekness, and because the dove is very clean, not remaining in any place where there is foul odor. So it is with the Holy Spirit. But also, as in the time of Noah a dove announced the deliverance from the flood by bearing an olive twig, so too, here, the Holy Spirit reveals the deliverance from sins. There, the twig of olive; here, the mercy of God. This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased. That is, in Whom I am content, and He is pleasing to Me.

January 16, 2010

...for I was hungry and you gave Me food

Please Assist Our mission in Haiti!
January, 13 New York

...for I was hungry and you gave Me food;
I was thirsty and you gave Me drink;
I was a stranger and you took Me in;
Matthew 25: 35

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

A very powerful earthquake has devastated Haiti, the poorest country in our hemisphere. The media reports that up to 3,000,000 Haitians have been affected by this calamity. Life in Haiti is very difficult under normal circumstances. Now it is on the brink of becoming unbearable.

Officials fear thousands - perhaps more than 100,000 have perished. Death is everywhere in Port-au-Prince. Bodies of tiny children were piled next to schools. Corpses of women lay on the street with stunned expressions frozen on their faces as flies began to gather. Bodies of men were covered with plastic tarps or cotton sheets. The international Red Cross said a third of Haiti's 9 million people may need emergency aid and that it would take a day or two for a clear picture of the damage to emerge.

ROCOR's mission in Haiti has nearly 2000 members. We have been trying to reach our priests there, but so far no luck. Most of the telephone towers in Haiti have been destroyed or damaged.

Folks there need our help.

We ask you to please pass this information to your friends and families and to urgently help those who are suffering!

The Fund for Assistance has been reaching out to parishes to get at least 10-20 of our communities to pledge 100-200 dollars a month for our mission in Haiti. Our Haitian Orthodox community needs only 2000 per month to survive. To date the response to FFA's plea has been lukewarm...

Now the need in Haiti is greater than ever and now may be the time to speak to your parish councils to pledge any monthly amount you can muster to help our poor brothers and sisters in Haiti.

If you have any questions, please contact my assistant Alena Plavsic at alena@fundforassistance.org or by phone 917-817-2925.

Any pledges or collections on behalf of the Orthodox community in Haiti should be sent to the following address:

Fund for Assistance/Haiti
c/o Synod of Bishops
75 East 93rd Street
New York, New York 10128

We also accept donations on our website through PayPal.

Thank you.
V. Rev. Victor Potapov
Executive Director
Fund for Assistance to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia

January 14, 2010

St. Seraphim of Sarov

The days of the commemoration of St. Seraphim are August 1 and January 15 (July 19 and January 2 by the church calendar).

St. Seraphim (born Prohor Moshnin) was born in 1759 to a merchant family in Kursk. At the age of 10, he became seriously ill. During the course of his illness, he saw the Mother of God in his sleep, who promised to heal him. Several days later there was a religious procession in Kursk with the locally revered miracle-working icon of the Mother of God. Due to bad weather, the procession took an abbreviated route past the house of the Moshnin family. After his mother put Seraphim up to the miracle-working image, he recovered rapidly. While at a young age, he needed to help his parents with their shop, but business had little appeal for him. Young Seraphim loved to read the lives of the saints, to attend church and to withdraw into seclusion for prayer.

At the age of 18, Seraphim firmly decided to become a monk. His mother blessed him with a large copper crucifix, which he wore over his clothing all his life. After this, he entered the Sarov monastery as a novice.

From day one in the monastery, exceptional abstinence from food and slumber were the distinguishing features of his life. He ate once a day, and little. On Wednesdays and Fridays he ate nothing. After asking the blessing of his starets (i.e., a spiritual elder), he began to withdraw often into the forest for prayer and religious contemplation. He became severely ill again soon after, and was forced to spend most of the course of the next three years lying down.

St. Seraphim was once again healed by the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Who appeared to him accompanied by several saints. Pointing to the venerable Seraphim, The Holy Virgin said to the apostle John the Theologian: "He is of our lineage." Then, by touching his side with Her staff, She healed him.

His taking of the monastic vows occurred in 1786, when he was 27 years old. He was given the name Seraphim, which in Hebrew means "fiery," or "burning." He was soon made a hierodeacon. He justified his name by his extraordinarily burning prayer. He spent all of his time, save for the very shortest of rests, in church. Through such prayer and the labors of religious services, Seraphim became worthy to see angels, both serving and singing in church. During the liturgy on Holy Thursday, he saw the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, in the form of the Son of man, proceeding into the Church with the Heavenly host and blessing those praying. The saint could not speak for a long time after being struck by this vision,.

In 1793, St. Seraphim was ordained a hieromonk, after which he served every day and received Holy Communion for a year. St. Seraphim then began to withdraw into his "farther hermitage" — the forest wilderness about five kilometers from Sarov Monastery. He achieved great perfection at this time. Wild animals — bears, rabbits, wolves, foxes and others — came to the hut of the ascetic. The staritsa (i.e., eldress) of the Diveevo monastery, Matrona Plescheeva, witnessed how St. Seraphim fed a bear that had come to him out of his hand: "The face of the great starets was particularly miraculous. It was joyous and bright, as that of an angel," she described. While living in this little hermitage of his, St. Seraphim once suffered greatly at the hands of robbers. Although he was physically very strong and was holding an axe at the time, St. Seraphim did not resist them. In answer to their threats and their demands for money, he lay his axe down on the ground, crossed his arms on his chest and obediently gave himself up to them. They began to beat him on the head with the handle of his own axe. Blood began to pour out of his mouth and ears, and he fell unconscious. After that they began to hit him with a log, trampled him under foot, and dragged him along the ground. They stopped beating him only when they had decided that he had died. The only treasure which the robbers found in his cell was the icon of the Mother of God of Deep Emotion (Ymileniye), before which he always prayed. When, after some time, the robbers were caught and brought to justice, the holy monk interceded on their behalf before the judge. After the beating, St. Seraphim remained hunched over for the rest of his life.

Soon after this began the "pillar" period of the life of St. Seraphim, when he spent his days on a rock near his little hermitage, and nights in the thick of the forest. He prayed with his arms raised to heaven, almost without respite. This feat of his continued for a thousand days.

Because of a special vision of the Mother of God he was given toward the end of his life, St. Seraphim took upon himself the feat of becoming an elder. He began to admit everyone who came to him for advice and direction. Many thousands of people from all walks of life and conditions began to visit the elder now, who enriched them from his spiritual treasures, which he had acquired by many years of efforts. Everyone saw St. Seraphim as meek, joyful, pensively sincere. He greeted all with the words: "My joy!" To many he advised: "Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved." No matter who came to him, the starets bowed to the ground before all, and, in blessing, kissed their hands. He did not need the visitors to tell about themselves, as he could see what each had on their soul. He also said, "Cheerfulness is not a sin. It drives away weariness, for from weariness there is sometimes dejection, and there is nothing worse than that."

"Oh, if you only knew" he once said to a monk, "what joy, what sweetness awaits a righteous soul in Heaven! You would decide in this mortal life to bear any sorrows, persecutions and slander with gratitude. If this very cell of ours was filled with worms, and these worms were to eat our flesh for our entire life on earth, we should agree to it with total desire, in order not to lose, by any chance, that heavenly joy which God has prepared for those who love Him."

The miraculous transfiguration of the starets’ face was described by a close admirer and follower of St. Seraphim — Motovilov. This happened during the winter, on a cloudy day. Motovilov was sitting on a stump in the woods; St. Seraphim was squatting across from him and telling his pupil the meaning of a Christian life, explaining for what we Christians live on earth.
"It is necessary that the Holy Spirit enter our heart. Everything good that we do, that we do for Christ, is given to us by the Holy Spirit, but prayer most of all, which is always available to us," he said.

"Father," answered Motovilov, "how can I see the grace of the Holy Spirit? How can I know if He is with me or not?"

St. Seraphim began to give him examples from the lives of the saints and apostles, but Motovilov still did not understand. The elder then firmly took him by the shoulder and said to him, "We are both now, my dear fellow, in the Holy Spirit." It was as if Motovilov’s eyes had been opened, for he saw that the face of the elder was brighter than the sun. In his heart Motovilov felt joy and peace, in his body a warmth as if it were summer, and a fragrance began to spread around them. Motovilov was terrified by the unusual change, but especially by the fact that the face of the starets shone like the sun. But St. Seraphim said to him, "Do not fear, dear fellow. You would not even be able to see me if you yourself were not in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Thank the Lord for His mercy toward us."

Thus Motovilov understood, in mind and heart, what the descent of the Holy Spirit and His transfiguration of a person meant.

January 13, 2010

Our Holy Mother Melanie the Roman.

In honor of my wife Name Saint St. Melania

 From the Prologue

Born in Rome of devout and very wealthy parents, she was forced by them to marry a young nobleman, Pinian. She was taken very seriously ill in giving birth to her second child, and told her husband that she would be healed only if he vowed before God to live with her in future as brother and sister. Her husband agreed and Melanie, in her deep joy, was healed. When it pleased God to take both children to Himself, they agreed to sell all their possessions and give the proceeds to the destitute, the Church and the monasteries. They travelled through many lands and cities, everywhere doing good works. They visited famous spiritual guides in Upper and Lower Egypt, and received much instruction and inspiration from them. During all that time, Melanie lived in strict fasting, fervent prayer and the reading of the Holy Scriptures. She followed the practice of reading the Scriptures right through, the Old and New Testaments, every three years, living with her husband as with a brother and fellow-ascetic. Going to Alexandria, they received the blessing of the Patriarch, St Cyril. After that, they went to Jerusalem and settled on the Mount of Olives. There Melanie became an anchoress, and gave herself completely to pondering, fasting and prayer. She lived thus for fourteen years, after which she came out, to help others to salvation, and founded monasteries for men and women. At the invitation of her kinsman, the senator Volusianus, a pagan, she went to Constantinople and brought him to the Christian faith (something that Blessed Augustine, whom Volusianus knew, had been unable to do). She then returned to the Mount of Olives, where she went to God in 438, at the age of fifty-seven.

January 10, 2010

The Blind Man at Jericho

Thirty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 18:35-43

From The Explanation of the Gospel of St. Luke

by Blessed Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria

35-43. And it came to pass, that as He was come nigh unto Jericho, a certain blind man sat by the way side begging. And hearing the multitude pass by, he asked what it meant. And they told him, that Jesus of Nazareth passeth by. And he cried, saying, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. And they which went before rebuked him, that he should keep silent; but he cried so much the more, Son of David, have mercy on me. And Jesus stood, and commanded him to be brought unto Him: and when He was come near, He asked him, saying, What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee? And he said, Lord, that I may receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God: and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise unto God.

The Lord performed this wayside miracle of the blind man so that even His passage along a road would yield a profitable teaching for His disciples and for us: that we should in all things, at all times, and in every place do what is beneficial and never be idle. The blind man believed that Jesus was the awaited Messiah; having been raised among the Jews, it is certain that he knew that the Christ would be of the seed of David. Therefore he cries out with a great voice, Son of David, have mercy on me. His words have mercy on me show that he understood Jesus to be divine and not merely a man. Marvel at his staunch confession: although rebuked by many, he did not keep silent, but cried out all the more, urged on by the fervent zeal within him. Therefore Jesus summons him as one who is truly worthy to approach Him, and asks him, What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee? He asks the question, not in ignorance of what the blind man wanted, but so that it would not appear to the others who were present that the Lord gave something different from what the man wanted. Otherwise, some might have said that the Lord, in a vainglorious show of power, healed the mans blindness when the man had only been begging for alms.(1) Envy might well have inspired some to slander the Lord with such foolishness as this. Therefore the Lord asked the blind man what he wanted, and when He heard that he wanted his sight, He gave him his sight. See the absence of vainglory—the Lord says, "Thy faith hath made thee whole. For you have believed with faith that I am the Son of David, the Christ, Who is now revealed, and you have shown such zeal that you did not keep silent even when rebuked." We may learn from this that when we ask with faith, God does not give something other than what we ask for, but the very same thing. However, when we ask for one thing and receive something else, it is clear that either we did not make a good request or we did not ask with faith. (2) See also the power of the Lord: Receive thy sight.(3) Which of the prophets ever healed in this manner, with such power? His voice, proceeding from Him Who is the true Light, became light to the blind man. See also the gratitude of the healed man: he followed Jesus, glorifying God, and causing others to do the same.

1. The Greek word eleos, "mercy," is also commonly used to mean "alms," i.e. mercy shown to the poor.
2. James 4:3. Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask amiss.
3. In the Greek text, the Lord responds with a single word, anablepson, "see [again]."


January 06, 2010

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

I will be very busy celebrating the festivities tomorrow so I am posting this a day early. 
BEHOLD a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.
Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed; He had the power; He descended; He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech.

For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works.
What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend.

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men cannot see. For since men believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.

Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature.

For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me.

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ¡in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things arc nourished, may receive an infant¢s food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost, we offer all praise, now and for ever. Amen.
St. John Chrysostom, “Homily on Christmas Morning”

January 03, 2010

The Holy Fathers

The Sunday before the Nativity of our Lord 

"Adam...where art thou?" (Gen. 3:9). This is the voice of God which resounded in Adam’s conscience after the Fall and tormented him. As long as Adam was in obedience to God — cultivated and kept Paradise, receiving strength for this by eating the fruits of the Tree of Life — he was in ceaseless communion with God. In his heart there was continuous quiet and joy. But after tasting of the forbidden fruits of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the thread of communion with God was broken in Adam’s heart. Sin stood as a wall between God and man.

From this very time began a new history of man’s life on earth. Man now lived under a curse and in the sweat of his face obtained his bread. But in spite of all his labors, he did not obtain a joyful heart. His life went on in sin. This sin was washed away by the Flood, but sin continued to possess man; and the confusion of Babel filled the whole world. But in this darkness, in this inconsolable anguish, we find a man who sought spiritual joy. This is Abraham. To him was given the law of life, and as a promise, the coming to earth of the Savior of the world, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.

Centuries went by; people impatiently awaited the promised Messiah. People longed to be freed from sin, but without the Tree of Life, the promised Messiah, this was impossible. And finally the fulfillment of times is accomplished. The Savior of the world from sin comes to earth. He fulfills the commandment, given to man, of love for God and neighbor. But above all, He restores that Tree of Life which was in Paradise, which helped Adam to be in communion with God. Here are the words with which the Lord Himself announced this New Testamental communion with God: "He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him" (Jn. 6:56).
Today the holy Church in the Gospel reading lists the names of those men who were the righteous ones and prepared for the appearance of the Savior. We call them the Fathers. By their lives they also give us the hope of receiving that joy of Paradise and peace of heart which Adam possessed in Paradise. And this is why we so reverently and prayerfully ask them today to help us to be partakers of this worldwide joy, the Nativity of Christ.

"Adam...where art thou?" So even now this eternal question resounds in our conscience. Of course, not in a geographical sense: God knows where each of us is. But in relation to Him — to God. O, let us not leave this question unanswered! Let us be able to say: I am here, Lord, at Thy manger, in Thy Church, before Thy Chalice — "I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who came into the world to save sinners.

January 02, 2010

St John of Kronstadt - The Word Became Flesh

Januarary 2nd/December 20th (Traditional Calendar) the Orthodox Church commemorates St. John of Kronstadt. In order to commemorate his life and works and also prepare for the coming Nativity of our Lord let us meditate upon a Sermon on the Nativity of Christ by St John of Kronstadt.

The Word became flesh; that is, the Son of God, co-eternal with God the Father and with the Holy Spirit, became human – having become incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. O, wondrous, awesome and salvific mystery! The One Who had no beginning took on a beginning according to humanity; the One without flesh assumed flesh. God became man – without ceasing to be God. The Unapproachable One became approachable to all, in the aspect of a humble servant. Why, and for what reason, was there such condescension [shown] on the part of the Creator toward His transgressing creatures – toward humanity which, through an act of its own will had fallen away from God, its Creator?

It was by reason of a supreme, inexpressible mercy toward His creation on the part of the Master, Who could not bear to see the entire race of mankind – which, He, in creating, had endowed with wondrous gifts – enslaved by the devil and thus destined for eternal suffering and torment.

And the Word became flesh!...in order to make us earthly beings into heavenly ones, in order to make sinners into saints; in order to raise us up from corruption into incorruption, from earth to heaven; from enslavement to sin and the devil – into the glorious freedom of children of God; from death – into immortality, in order to make us sons of God and to seat us together with Him upon the Throne as His royal children.

O, boundless compassion of God! O, inexpressible wisdom of God! O, great wonder, astounding not only the human mind, but the angelic [mind] as well!
Let us glorify God! With the coming of the Son of God in the flesh upon the earth, with His offering Himself up as a sacrifice for the sinful human race, there is given to those who believe the blessing of the Heavenly Father, replacing that curse which had been uttered by God in the beginning; they are adopted and receive the promise of an eternal inheritance of life. To a humanity orphaned by reason of sin, the Heavenly Father returns anew through the mystery of re-birth, that is, through baptism and repentance. People are freed of the tormenting, death-bearing authority of the devil, of the afflictions of sin and of various passions.

Human nature is deified for the sake of the boundless compassion of the Son of God; and its sins are purified; the defiled are sanctified. The ailing are healed. Upon those in dishonour are boundless honour and glory bestowed.

Those in darkness are enlightened by the Divine light of grace and reason.

The human mind is given the rational power of God – we have the mind of Christ (Cor. 2, 16), says the Holy apostle Paul. To the human heart, the heart of Christ is given. The perishable is made immortal. Those naked and wounded by sin and by passions are adorned in Divine glory. Those who hunger and thirst are sated and assuaged by the nourishing and soul-strengthening Word of God and by the most pure Body and Divine Blood of Christ. The inconsolable are consoled. Those ravaged by the devil have been – and continue to be – delivered.

What, then, O, brethren, is required of us in order that we might avail ourselves of all the grace brought unto us from on high by the coming to earth of the Son of God? What is necessary, first of all, is faith in the Son of God, in the Gospel as the salvation-bestowing heavenly teaching; a true repentance of sins and the correction of life and of heart; communion in prayer and in the Mysteries [sacraments]; the knowledge and fulfillment of Christ’s commandments. Also necessary are the virtues: Christian humility, almsgiving, continence, purity and chastity, simplicity and goodness of heart.

Let us, then, O brothers and sisters, bring these virtues as a gift to the One Who was born for the sake of our salvation – let us bring them in place of the gold, frankincense and myrrh which the Magi brought Him, as to One Who is King, God, and Man, come to die for us. This, from us, shall be the most-pleasing form of sacrifice to God and to the Infant Jesus Christ.