On Gratitude

When evening comes, collect your thoughts and ponder over the entire course of the day: observe God’s providential care for you; consider the grace He has wrought in you throughout the whole span of the day; consider the rising of the moon, the joy of daylight, all the hours and moments, the divisions of time, the sight of different colors, the beautiful adornment of creation, the course of the sun, the growth of your own stature, how your own person has been protected, consider the blowing of the winds, the ripe and varied fruits, how the elements minister to your comfort, how you have been preserved from accidents, and all the other activities of grace. When you have pondered on all this, wonder of God’s love toward you will well up within you, and gratitude for his acts of grace will bubble up inside you.

Which is better? The Way of Mary or the way of Martha

Untitled document

The brethren said, "There were two brothers who were the sons of a merchant and their father died and they divided their inheritance between themselves. Unto each one, there came five thousand dinars. One of the brothers divided his inheritance among the churches, and the monasteries, and the poor, and he himself became a monk, and he chose for himself a life of continual silence, and fasting, and prayer. Now the other one built a monastery for himself, and gathered brethren to him, and he took care of the strangers, and the poor, and the sick, whom he received and relieved.

"When the two brothers were dead, there was questioning among the brethren about them, and they went to Abba Pambo and asked him, ‘Which manner of life and conduct was the more excellent and exalted?’ And having learned from God, he said unto them, ‘They were both perfect, and in my sight they appear to be of equal merit.’ Explain to us now the old man’s words, for how can the man who is destitute, and the man who hath possessions be equal in merit?’ The old man said, ‘Since the whole conduct of these brethren was to God, and since whatsoever they did they did it for God, with an upright aim, and since the aim of each was the same, they appeared to be in the old man’s opinion of equal merit before God.’"

from "The Paradise of the Holy Fathers," trans. by E. A. Wallis Budge, (Seattle: St. Nectarios Press, 1984), p. 283 

Endurance in the Spiritual Battle

A brother fell when he was tempted, and in his distress he gave up his monastic rule. Though he wanted to take it up again, he was prevented by his distress, and he said within himself, When shall I be able to be as I was before? In his discouragement he had not the strength to undertake monastic work, so he went to visit an old man and told him about himself. And when the old man learnt of his distress, he suggested the following example to him, A man had a plot of land, and through negligence it became waste land and was full of weeds and brambles. Later he wanted to cultivate it and said to his son, Go, and weed the ground. The son going to weed it saw the amount of brambles and despaired, saying to himself, When shall I have uprooted and reclaimed all that? So he lay down and went to sleep for several days. Later his father came to see what he had done and found he had done nothing at all. He said to him, Why have you done nothing so far? He replied, father, when I began to look and saw the amount of weeds and brambles I altered my resolution and in my distress, I lay down on the ground. His father said to him, My child, do just the surface of the bed every day, and so you work will make progress and you will not be discouraged. When he heard this he did so, and in a short while the plot was weeded. So it is for you, brother, work a little without giving way and by his grace God will re-establish you in you former way of life. At these words the brother settled down with perseverance and did as the old man had taught him and by the grace of Christ he found peace.

Commentary on John 20:17 – Why couldn’t Mary touch our Lord?

John 20:17 – Jesus saith to her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended unto My Father.

The meaning of this saying is not easily understood by the vulgar, for a mystery underlies it; but we must probe it for our advantage. For the Lord will vouchsafe unto us the knowledge of His own Words. For He repulses the woman as she was running up to Him, and though she longed to embrace His Feet, He suffered her not; and, in explanation of His reason for so doing, said: For I am not yet ascended unto My Father. Continue reading Commentary on John 20:17 – Why couldn’t Mary touch our Lord?

Desert fathers on how to deal with the warfare which lust arouses in us

One of the old men of the Thebaid used to tell the following story: “I was the son of a pagan priest. When I was small I would sit and watch my father who often went to sacrifice to the idol. Once, going behind him in secret, I saw Satan and all his army standing beside him; and behold, one of the chief devils came to bow before him. Satan said, “Where have you come from?” He answered, “I was in a certain place and made much blood flow, and I have come to tell you about it.” Satan asked, “How long did it take you to do this?” He replied, “Thirty days.” Then Satan commanded him to be flogged, saying, “In so long a time you have done only that?” And behold, another demon came to bow before him. He asked him, “and you where have you come from?” The demon replied, “I was on the sea, and I made the waves rise, and small craft foundered, and I have killed many people, and I have come to inform you of it.” He said to him, “How long did it take you to do this?” and the demon said, “Twenty days.” Satan commanded that he also should be flogged, saying, “That is because in such a long time you have only done this.” Now a third demon came to bow before him. He asked, “and where have you come from?” The demon replied, “There was a marriage in a certain village, and I stirred up a riot, and I have made much blood flow, killing, the bride and groom, and I have come to inform you.” He asked him, “How long have you taken to do this?” and he replied, “Ten days.” And Satan commanded that he also should be flogged because he has taken too long. After this another demon came to bow before him He asked, “And where have you come from?” He said, “I was in the desert forty years fighting against a monk, and this night I made him fall in to fornication.” When he heard this, Satan arose, embraced him, and put the crown he was wearing on his head and made him sit on his throne, saying, “You have been able to do a very great deed. The old man aid, “Seeing this, I said to myself, “Truly, it is a great contest, this contest of the monks.” and with God assisting me for my salvation, I went away and became a monk.

Warfare of Lust

It was said of an old man that he went down to Scetis, and that he still had a son who was quite small and did not know what a woman was.  Now when he became a man, the demons showed him the forms of women, and he told his father, who was astonished at it.  Once when he went up to Egypt with his father and saw women, he said to his father, "Abba, these are the people who came to me at night in Scetis." And his father said to him, "These people are village monks, my child, and they wear different clothing form hermits.' The old man was astonished at the way the demons in the desert had shown him forms of women; and immediately they returned to their cells.

Prayers: St. John Chrysostom’s Hourly Prayers

1. O Lord, deprive me not of Thy heavenly blessings;

2. O Lord, deliver me from eternal torment;

3. O Lord, if I have sinned in my mind or thought, in word deed, forgive me.

4. O Lord, deliver me from every ignorance and heedlessness, from pettiness of the soul and stony hardness of heart;

5. O Lord, deliver me from every temptation;

6. O Lord, enlighten my heart darkened by evil desires;

7. O Lord, I, being a human being, have sinned; do Thou, being God, forgive me in Thy lovingkindness, for Thou knowest the weakness of my soul.

8. O Lord, send down Thy grace to help me, that I may glorify Thy holy Name;

9. O Lord Jesus Christ, inscribe me, Thy servant, in the Book of Life, and grant me a blessed end;

10. O Lord my God, even if I have done nothing good in Thy sight, yet grant me, according to Thy grace, that I may make a start in doing good.

11. O Lord, sprinkle on my heart the dew of Thy grace;

12. O Lord of heaven and earth, remember me, Thy sinful servant, cold of heart and impure, in Thy Kingdom.

13. O Lord, receive me in repentance;

14. O Lord, leave me not;

15. O Lord, save me from temptation;

16. O Lord, grant me pure thoughts;

17. O Lord, grant me tears of repentance, remembrance of death, and the sense of peace;

18. O Lord, grant me mindfulness to confess my sins;

19. O Lord, grant me humility, charity, and obedience;

20. O Lord, grant me tolerance, magnanimity, and gentleness;

21. O Lord, implant in me the root of all blessings: the fear of Thee in my heart;

22. O Lord, vouchsafe that I may love Thee with all my heart and soul, and that I may obey in all things Thy will;

23. O Lord, shield me from evil persons and devils and passions and all other lawless matters;

24. O Lord, Who knowest Thy creation and that which Thou hast willed for it; may Thy will also be fulfilled in me, a sinner, for Thou art blessed forevermore. Amen.

How to discover the energy of the Holy Spirit?

+ The energy of the Holy Spirit, which we have already mystically received in baptism, is realized in two ways. First, to generalize, this gift is revealed, as St. Mark tells us (e.g., St. Mark the Ascetic in “On Baptism”), through arduous and protracted practice of the commandments: to the degree to which we effectively practice the commandments its radiance is increasingly manifested in us. Secondly, it is manifested to those under guidance through the continuous invocation of the Lord Jesus, repeated with conscious awareness, that is, through mindfulness of god. In the first way, it is revealed more slowly, in the second more rapidly, if one diligently and persistently learns how to dig the ground and locate the gold. Thus if we want to realize and know the truth and not to be led astray, let us seek to possess only the heart-engrafted energy in a way that is totally without shape or form, not trying to contemplate in our imagination what we take to be the figure or similitude of things holy or to see any colors or lights. For in the nature of things the spirit of delusion deceives the intellect through such spurious fantasies, especially at the early stages, in those who are still inexperienced. On the contrary, let our aim be to make the energy of prayer alone active in our hearts, for it brings warmth and joy to the intellect, and sets the heart alight with an ineffable love for God and man. It is on account of this that humility and contrition flow richly from prayer. For prayer in beginners is the unceasing noetic activity of the Holy Spirit. To start with it rises like a fire of joy from the heart; in the end it is like light made fragrant by divine energy.

+ There are several signs that the energy of the Holy Spirit is beginning to be active in those who genuinely aspire for this to happen and are not just putting God to the test — for, according to the Wisdom of Solomon, “It is found by those who do not put it to the test, and manifests itself to those who do not distrust it” (Wisdom 1:2). In some it appears as awe arising in the heart, in others as a tremulous sense of jubilation, in others as joy mingled with awe, or as tremulousness mingled with joy, and sometimes it manifests itself as tears and awe. For the soul is joyous at God’s visitation and mercy, but at the same time is in awe and trepidation at His presence because it is guilty of so many sins. Again, in some the soul at the outset experiences an unutterable sense of contrition and an indescribable pain, like the woman in Scripture who labors to give birth (Revolution 12:2). For the living and active Logos – – that is to say, Jesus — penetrates, as the apostle says, to the point at which soul separates from body, joints from marrow (Hebrews 4:12), so as to expel by force every trace of passion from both soul and body. In others it is manifest as an unconquerable love and peace, shown towards all, or as a joyousness that the fathers have often called exultation — a spiritual force and an impulsion of the living heart that is also described as a vibration and sighing of the Spirit who makes wordless intercession for us to God (Romans 8:26). Isaiah has also called the “waves” of God’s righteousness (Isaiah 48:18), while the great Ephrem calls it “spurring.” The Lord Himself describes it as a “spring of water welling up for eternal life” (John 4:14) — He refers to the Spirit as water — a source that leaps up in the heart and erupts through the ebullience of its power.

+ You should know that there are two kinds of exultation or joyousness: the calm variety (called a vibration or sighing or intercession of the Spirit), and the great exultation of the heart — a leap, bound or jump, the soaring flight of the living heart towards the sphere of the divine. For when the soul has been raised on the wings of divine love by the Holy Spirit and has been freed from the bonds of the passions, it strives to fly to that higher realm even before death, seeking to separate itself from its burden. This is also known as a stirring of the spirit — that is to say, an eruption or impulsion — as in the text, “Jesus was stirred in spirit and, deeply moved, He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’” (John 11:34). David the Psalmist indicates the difference between the greater and the lesser exultation when he declares that the mountains leap like rams and the little hills like lambs (Psalm 114:6). He is referring of course to those who are perfect and to beginners, for physical mountains and hills, lacking animal life, do not actually leap about.

+ Divine awe has nothing to do with trepidation — by which I mean, not the tremulousness induced by joy, but the trepidation induced by wrath or chastisement or the feeling of desertion by God. On the contrary, divine awe is accompanied by a tremulous sense of jubilation from the prayer of fire that we offer when filled with awe. This awe is not the fear provoked by wrath or punishment, but it is inspired by wisdom, and is also described as “the beginning of wisdom” (Psalms 111:10). Awe may be divided into three kinds, even though the fathers speak only of two: the awe of beginners, that of the perfect, and that provoked by wrath, which should properly be called trepidation, agitation or contrition.

+ There are several kinds of trembling. That of wrath is one, that of joy is another, and that of the soul’s incensive power, when the heart’s blood is over-heated, is another, that of old age is another, that of sin or delusion is another, and that of the curse which was laid on the human race because of Cain is another (Genesis 4:11-15). In the early stages of spiritual warfare, however, it sometimes but not always happens that the trembling induced by joy and that induced by sin contend with one another. The first is the tremulous sense of jubilation, when grace refreshes the soul with great joyfulness accompanied by tears; the second is characterized by a disordered fervor, stupor and obduracy that consume the sol, inflame the sexual organs, and impel one to assent through the imagination to erotic physical obscenities.

from “The Philokalia: Volume IV,” edited and translated by G. E. H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Bishop Kallistos Ware, (London: Faber and Faber, 1995), pp. 259 – 261.

The Nativity Sermon

"I behold a new and wondrous mystery!

My ears resound to the shepherd's song, piping no soft melody, but loudly chanting a heavenly hymn!

The angels sing!

The archangels blend their voices in harmony!

The cherubim resound their joyful praise!

The Seraphim exalt His glory!

All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead herein… on earth and man in heaven. He who is above now, for our salvation, dwells here below; and we, who were lowly, are exalted by divine mercy!

Today Bethlehem resembles heaven, hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices and, in place of the sun, witnessing the rising of the Sun of Justice!

Ask not how this is accomplished, for where God wills, the order of nature is overturned. For He willed He had the powers He descended. He saved. All things move in obedience to God.

Today He Who Is, is born ! And He Who Is becomes what He was not! For when He was God, He became man-while not relinquishing the Godhead that is His…

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 dominions, nor powers, nor principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His incarnation has He ceased being God. And behold kings have come, that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven; Women, that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of childbirth into joy; Virgins, to the Son of the Virgin…

Infants, that they may adore Him who became a little child, so that out of the mouths of infants He might perfect praise;

Children, to the Child who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod; Men, to Him who became man that He might heal the miseries of His servants;

Shepherds, to the Good Shepherd who was laid down His life for His sheep;

Priests, to Him who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek;

Servants, to Him who took upon Himself the form of a servant, that He might bless our stewardship with the reward of freedom (Philippians 2:7);

Fishermen, to the Fisher of humanity;

Publicans, to Him who from among them named a chosen evangelist;

Sinful women, to Him who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant woman;

And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!

 

Since, therefore, all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice! I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival! But I take my part, not plucking the harp nor with the music of the pipes nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ!

For this is all my hope!

This is my life!

This is my salvation!

This is my pipe, my harp!

And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels and shepherds, sing:

"Glory to God in the Highest! and on earth peace to men of good will! "

Nativity of Christ

He became a servant on earth; He was Lord on high. Inheritor of the height and depth, Who became a stranger. But the One Who was judged wrongly will judge in truth, and He in Whose face they spat, breathed the spirit into the face. He Who held a weak reed was the scepter for the world that grows old and leans on Him. He Who stood [and] served His servants, sitting, will be worshipped. He Whom the Scribes scorned — the Seraphim sang “holy” before Him.

One must be watchful not to judge others

A provincial priest went to visit an anchorite to offer the Eucharist for him. Now someone went to the anchorite and spoke against the priest, so when the latter came according to custom to give him communion, the anchorite, who had been shocked, did not let him in, and the priest went away. Then, behold, a voice came to the anchorite, saying, “Men have taken jugdment away from me.” The anchorite was as though in ecstasy, and he saw a well of gold and a rope of gold and a jug of gold and much water of surpassing quality. Then he saw a leper draw the water and pour it out, and he would gladly have drunk but could not because he who drew the water was leprous. Again a voice came to him saying, “Why do you not drink the water? What does it matter if he who draws it is leperous? he only draws it and pours it out.” Returning to himself and perceiving the meaning of the vision, the anchorite sent for the priest and let him give him communion as usual.

Being risen with Christ

We shall be raised therefore, all with our bodies eternal, but not all with bodies alike: for if a man is righteous, he will receive a heavenly body, that he may be able worthily to hold converse with angels; but if a man is a sinner, he shall receive an eternal body, fitted to endure the penalties of sins, that he may burn eternally in fire, nor ever be consumed. And righteously will God assign this portion to either company; for we do nothing without the body. We blaspheme with the mouth, and with the mouth we pray. With the body we commit fornication, and with the body we keep chastity. With the hands we rob, and by the hand we bestow alms; and the rest in like manner. Since then the body has been our minister in all things, it shall also share with us in the future the fruits of the past.

Concerning the Orthodox traditions

Often, doubtless, when we have not the Lord’s passion in mind and see the image of Christ’s crucifixion, His saving passion is brought back to remembrance, and we fall down and worship not the material but that which is imaged: just as we do not worship the material of which the Gospels are made, nor the material of the Cross, but that which these typify. For wherein does the cross, that typifies the Lord, differ from a cross that does not do so? It is just the same also in the case of the Mother of the Lord. For the honor which we give to her is referred to Him Who was made of her incarnate. And similarly also the brave acts of holy men stir us up to be brave and to emulate and imitate their valor and to glorify God. For as we said, the honor that is given to the best of fellow-servants is a proof of good-will towards our common Lady, and the honor rendered to the image passes over to the prototype. But this is an unwritten tradition, just as is also the worshipping towards the East and the worship of the Cross, and very many other similar things.

Disciplining and raising children – Part III

21. Tell me, which trees are best? Do we not prefer those that are inwardly strong, and are not injured by rainstorms, or hail, or gusts of wind, or by any sort of harsh weather, but stand exposed to them all without fences or garden to protect them? He who truly loves wisdom is like this, and his riches we have already described. He has nothing, yet has everything; he has everything, yet has nothing. A fence does not provide internal strength, nor is a wall a natural support; they provide only artificial protection. What is a strong body? Is it not one that is healthy, whether hungry or surfeited, cold or warm? Or is it something that is dependent upon restaurants, tailors, merchants, and physicians for health? The truly rich man, the true lover of wisdom, needs none of these things, and that is why the blessed Apostle admonishes us to bring our children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Continue reading Disciplining and raising children – Part III