Articles

A Word on Thanksgiving

23.11.2015 in Articles

by BISHOP MITROPHAN (ZNOSKO-BOROVSKY) OF BOSTON (+2002)

What is “thanksgiving”? Taking into consideration that everyone in America who is a believer, and everyone who recognizes God as Creator, today turns to God with hymns of praise, it follows that Thanksgiving Day has a religious character.

For us Orthodox Christians, thanksgiving is our testimony to God’s presence in the life of the world and of human beings.

Thanksgiving is the profoundly religious response of our hearts, testifying with reverent joy and trembling that the Lord participates in our personal lives through His majesty, glory, and love.

Thanksgiving is our response to God’s gift. It is our joyful recognition of the mercy and goodness that God has shown to us in our lives.

Finally, thanksgiving – a feeling of gratitude – is the foundation of our continuously renewed life in Jesus Christ, our Lord.

The great Apostle Paul teaches us: Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks [1 Thessalonians 5:17-18].

This feeling of thanksgiving to God is the primary, basic feeling in which a child should be brought up from the earliest age, in order to become an emotionally healthy person who is inclined towards, and capable of, spiritual development.

It is with these feelings and these wishes that we turn today to the Almighty with hymns of praise. Amen.

Source: Pravmir.com

 

God’s Healing

21.07.2015 in Articles

We Have to Be Ready to Accept God’s Healing:

On the Seventh Sunday After Pentecost

To be deified, we cannot be ‘couch potato’ or ‘arm chair’ Christians. It’s easy to fall into a rut, preferring our own opinions and ways to those of the Church, listening to the culture instead of Christ, taking Orthodoxy on our terms, but that isn’t Christianity and it won’t bring us the healing and growth in the Kingdom that you and I need.
We witness through the Gospel today the healing

We Have to Be Ready to Accept God’s Healing: On the Seventh Sunday After Pentecost

 of two blind men.. And through this life-changing encounter in which Christ’s power is in full evidence, we’re presented with the opportunity to grow to a fuller understanding of our own healing and salvation.

Responding to their plea for mercy, the God of mercy, Jesus Christ, receives the two blind men into His presence and He heals them. But Jesus doesn’t perform this great miracle randomly. Rather, like the healing of the paralytic last week, we’re taught a lesson in faith and healing that is also applicable to our own need for Christ’s healing touch.

Sometimes we assume that it’s God whose withholding growth or healing from us. But what we learn over and over again through the witness of the Scriptures and the lives of the Saints is that it’s us who have to be ready and willing to accept God’s healing, to get ourselves into Christ’s near presence, to have the faith to present ourselves to Him for the healing we need.

To paraphrase St. John Chrysostom, Christ doesn’t run after those in need of healing everywhere, lest anyone think He’s healing out of vainglory. No, there’s more at work here: Christ’s healing presupposes a participation, a cooperation, from those who are healed. Just as our relationship and communion with Him necessitates a participation on our part, by definition: a return of love, an act of repentance and an abandonment of self-will when it is in disobedience to Christ and His Church; our healing bespeaks a reciprocal relationship.

In fact, in most of the healings we see in the Gospels, those in need of healing personally seek out that healing from Christ. In other words, they desire that healing, they desire for Christ to touch them and heal them, they desire cleansing from their sins. They desire His visitation enough to seek Christ out, to entrust themselves to Him, to acknowledge their need for Him. They desire healing enough to step forward in faith, recognizing that God alone is worthy of their trust, that He alone is the Great Physician of our souls and bodies.

The two blind men seek out Jesus; they follow Him, crying out to Him, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” These two men know the Source of mercy; they know that God alone can give such a mercy, such a miraculous healing.

To test their faith further, Jesus asks them even after such a demonstration of faith, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” And they say to Him, “Yes, Lord.” But note what Christ says in response, “According to your faith, let it be to you.”

Do you see the involvement of their souls here, the relationship which Christ God develops between them and Him? Their volition, their will, was to be healed of their physical infirmity, their blindness, but it demanded the ‘eyes’ of faith and the strength of soul.

Even still, Jesus doesn’t heal everyone today; not everyone receives physical healing. It remains a mystery. To some, like St. Paul, who petitioned God to remove the “thorn in his flesh,” God’s response was, “My grace is sufficient for you for My power is made perfect in weakness” (II Cor. 12). In other words, there was something about that ‘thorn’ that St. Paul ‘needed’ if he was to trust in God for his strength, to be humble before Him, to serve God to the amazing extent he did, converting whole nations to the truth of God and His salvation.

While our physical healing necessarily involves our will, our souls, the inverse is also true: the spiritual healing of our souls involves our bodies, our participation, our presentation of ourselves before God, our getting to the divine services, to Confession, to properly prepare for the Eucharist that it can work noetically in our souls for our deification, healing, salvation.

When it comes to healing our eternal souls, we know that God desires this above all: He calls all to salvation from sin-sickness, spiritual sickness. The truth is that all of us are to one degree or another sin-sick, that is, we’re ‘works in progress;’ as St. Paul says, we must “work out our salvation with fear and trembling,” (Phil. 2:12) if we’re to grow in our relationship and communion with God, be deified, and find spiritual healing, that is, salvation in Christ.

And God gives us a sure and prescribed path toward our healing, our growth, and salvation through His Church. He teaches us how to pray and fast through the Church, and so, we pray daily the prayers of the Church and attend the divine services, following the fast as much as able. He gives us Confession through the Church as a means to be freed of our passions, and so, we take seriously our preparation for Confession and get ourselves to Great Vespers as often as possible, since this is part of that prescribed and normal preparation in the Church for Confession and reception of the Gifts of Christ at the Divine Liturgy. Christ feeds us with His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, so we take seriously our preparation through prayer and fasting and Confession to receive those greatest of Gifts, that is, Christ Himself, so that they may have a deifying affect on us for our healing. Through all these ‘tools’ we progress in our knowledge and love of God and our salvation.

This progress in the knowledge and love of God is meant to be active, never ‘static,’ never status quo. To be deified, we cannot be ‘couch potato’ or ‘arm chair’ Christians. It’s easy to fall into a rut, preferring our own opinions and ways to those of the Church, listening to the culture instead of Christ, taking Orthodoxy on our terms, but that isn’t Christianity and it won’t bring us the healing and growth in the Kingdom that you and I need.

The prayers for reception of the Eucharist presuppose Confession and its purification as a preparation for worthily receiving Christ’s precious and holy Body and Blood. Likewise, its necessary that we physically fast from food before receiving the Gifts. And so through all of this, we see that our healing in soul demands something of our material bodies, our time, our energy, our worship, our prayers, our heart-felt repentance and our turning to Christ God just as the blind men did, crying out, “Lord, have mercy on us.”

Our ongoing willingness to be healed, to progress in our healing, is an integral part of our salvation. We’re saved through our faith that manifests itself thru our actions and deeds, the living out of that faith, the pushing of ourselves to live for Christ and prioritize the life in Him above all else. Faith and works go hand in hand, St. James reminds us. We can’t afford to lay aside our struggle with sin and our obedience to what Christ teaches us through His Church. Christ asks the blind men, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” We’ve been shown the way if we would make use of it.

May we each cultivate the attitude of soul and the cooperation of body to follow Christ with all that we have, all that we are, crying out to Him as did the blind men, “Lord, have mercy on us,” knowing that He is the Lord who loves us and indeed has mercy on our souls.

Source: PravMir.com

Accepting God’s Healing

21.07.2015 in Articles

We Have to Be Ready to Accept God’s Healing:

On the Seventh Sunday After Pentecost

 

To be deified, we cannot be ‘couch potato’ or ‘arm chair’ Christians. It’s easy to fall into a rut, preferring our own opinions and ways to those of the Church, listening to the culture instead of Christ, taking Orthodoxy on our terms, but that isn’t Christianity and it won’t bring us the healing and growth in the Kingdom that you and I need.
We witness through the Gospel today the healing

We Have to Be Ready to Accept God’s Healing: On the Seventh Sunday After Pentecost

 of two blind men.. And through this life-changing encounter in which Christ’s power is in full evidence, we’re presented with the opportunity to grow to a fuller understanding of our own healing and salvation.

Responding to their plea for mercy, the God of mercy, Jesus Christ, receives the two blind men into His presence and He heals them. But Jesus doesn’t perform this great miracle randomly. Rather, like the healing of the paralytic last week, we’re taught a lesson in faith and healing that is also applicable to our own need for Christ’s healing touch.

Sometimes we assume that it’s God whose withholding growth or healing from us. But what we learn over and over again through the witness of the Scriptures and the lives of the Saints is that it’s us who have to be ready and willing to accept God’s healing, to get ourselves into Christ’s near presence, to have the faith to present ourselves to Him for the healing we need.

To paraphrase St. John Chrysostom, Christ doesn’t run after those in need of healing everywhere, lest anyone think He’s healing out of vainglory. No, there’s more at work here: Christ’s healing presupposes a participation, a cooperation, from those who are healed. Just as our relationship and communion with Him necessitates a participation on our part, by definition: a return of love, an act of repentance and an abandonment of self-will when it is in disobedience to Christ and His Church; our healing bespeaks a reciprocal relationship.

In fact, in most of the healings we see in the Gospels, those in need of healing personally seek out that healing from Christ. In other words, they desire that healing, they desire for Christ to touch them and heal them, they desire cleansing from their sins. They desire His visitation enough to seek Christ out, to entrust themselves to Him, to acknowledge their need for Him. They desire healing enough to step forward in faith, recognizing that God alone is worthy of their trust, that He alone is the Great Physician of our souls and bodies.

The two blind men seek out Jesus; they follow Him, crying out to Him, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” These two men know the Source of mercy; they know that God alone can give such a mercy, such a miraculous healing.

To test their faith further, Jesus asks them even after such a demonstration of faith, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” And they say to Him, “Yes, Lord.” But note what Christ says in response, “According to your faith, let it be to you.”

Do you see the involvement of their souls here, the relationship which Christ God develops between them and Him? Their volition, their will, was to be healed of their physical infirmity, their blindness, but it demanded the ‘eyes’ of faith and the strength of soul.

Even still, Jesus doesn’t heal everyone today; not everyone receives physical healing. It remains a mystery. To some, like St. Paul, who petitioned God to remove the “thorn in his flesh,” God’s response was, “My grace is sufficient for you for My power is made perfect in weakness” (II Cor. 12). In other words, there was something about that ‘thorn’ that St. Paul ‘needed’ if he was to trust in God for his strength, to be humble before Him, to serve God to the amazing extent he did, converting whole nations to the truth of God and His salvation.

While our physical healing necessarily involves our will, our souls, the inverse is also true: the spiritual healing of our souls involves our bodies, our participation, our presentation of ourselves before God, our getting to the divine services, to Confession, to properly prepare for the Eucharist that it can work noetically in our souls for our deification, healing, salvation.

When it comes to healing our eternal souls, we know that God desires this above all: He calls all to salvation from sin-sickness, spiritual sickness. The truth is that all of us are to one degree or another sin-sick, that is, we’re ‘works in progress;’ as St. Paul says, we must “work out our salvation with fear and trembling,” (Phil. 2:12) if we’re to grow in our relationship and communion with God, be deified, and find spiritual healing, that is, salvation in Christ.

And God gives us a sure and prescribed path toward our healing, our growth, and salvation through His Church. He teaches us how to pray and fast through the Church, and so, we pray daily the prayers of the Church and attend the divine services, following the fast as much as able. He gives us Confession through the Church as a means to be freed of our passions, and so, we take seriously our preparation for Confession and get ourselves to Great Vespers as often as possible, since this is part of that prescribed and normal preparation in the Church for Confession and reception of the Gifts of Christ at the Divine Liturgy. Christ feeds us with His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, so we take seriously our preparation through prayer and fasting and Confession to receive those greatest of Gifts, that is, Christ Himself, so that they may have a deifying affect on us for our healing. Through all these ‘tools’ we progress in our knowledge and love of God and our salvation.

This progress in the knowledge and love of God is meant to be active, never ‘static,’ never status quo. To be deified, we cannot be ‘couch potato’ or ‘arm chair’ Christians. It’s easy to fall into a rut, preferring our own opinions and ways to those of the Church, listening to the culture instead of Christ, taking Orthodoxy on our terms, but that isn’t Christianity and it won’t bring us the healing and growth in the Kingdom that you and I need.

The prayers for reception of the Eucharist presuppose Confession and its purification as a preparation for worthily receiving Christ’s precious and holy Body and Blood. Likewise, its necessary that we physically fast from food before receiving the Gifts. And so through all of this, we see that our healing in soul demands something of our material bodies, our time, our energy, our worship, our prayers, our heart-felt repentance and our turning to Christ God just as the blind men did, crying out, “Lord, have mercy on us.”

Our ongoing willingness to be healed, to progress in our healing, is an integral part of our salvation. We’re saved through our faith that manifests itself thru our actions and deeds, the living out of that faith, the pushing of ourselves to live for Christ and prioritize the life in Him above all else. Faith and works go hand in hand, St. James reminds us. We can’t afford to lay aside our struggle with sin and our obedience to what Christ teaches us through His Church. Christ asks the blind men, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” We’ve been shown the way if we would make use of it.

May we each cultivate the attitude of soul and the cooperation of body to follow Christ with all that we have, all that we are, crying out to Him as did the blind men, “Lord, have mercy on us,” knowing that He is the Lord who loves us and indeed has mercy on our souls.

Source: PravMir.com

ST. JOHN OF KRONSTADT: What Has the Feast of Pascha Left in Our Souls?

23.04.2015 in Articles

What Has the Feast of Pascha Left in Our Souls?

And so, the Feast of Feasts has passed by us: and the Royal Gates in the Lord’s temples are shut; and the service is no longer as triumphant as it was during Bright Week. What, then, brethren, has this feast left in our souls? Christian holidays, you see, do not pass before us, one after another, just to leave our souls idle, but in order to discharge us from the cares and affairs of life’s concerns; to put it another way: the Lord provides us with holidays in order that we might temporarily put aside thinking about, concerning ourselves with, rejoicing at, grieving over, that which is worldly, earthly, quick to pass; but, instead, that we might meditate upon, concern ourselves with, rejoice at, that which is heavenly and eternal. It was precisely for this reason, as well, that the holiday just past was given us.

The Lord made us worthy of beholding the all-radiant feast of Christ’s Resurrection in order that we might descry in it the first-fruits of the universal resurrection of all mankind in that last day of the world: Christ rose from the dead, being the first-fruits of those who had died (Cor. 15, 20), says the Word of God. It was for us, you see, that the Lord suffered, died, was buried, and arose: and His death, burial and resurrection is, as it were, our own death, burial and resurrection. It is for this reason that we sang during Mattins of Bright Week: yesterday was I interred with Thee, O Christ; conjointly with Thee do I rise today (Pasch. Can. Ode 3, Trop. 2). Yes, we all of us, invariably, shall rise up; and we all look for, i.e., await, the resurrection of the dead. This is as certain as it is certain that there will be a day tomorrow. Has this ever entered your heads; have you given any thought to this during the holiday? Yet it was necessary to think upon this, without fail. All the great holidays of the Church,—and the Feast of Pascha, in particular,—remind us of our redemption, through Jesus Christ, from the age to come.

But such a one as believes in his resurrection from the dead, the same prepares here for the future life; attempts to live in accordance with the commandments of the Lord; honours the feasts of the Lord; and takes care not to offend against their sanctity through deeds of carnal impurity. And what was done among us, us Orthodox Christians, on this radiant Feast? It is shameful even to speak of it; but it is necessary to do so. Christians, to the great grief of Holy Mother the Church, turned the bright days of Pascha Week into dark days, days deserving of tears and lamentation. So very many celebrated not the feast of Christ’s Resurrection, and our own resurrection from dead works, but a feast of demonic resurrection in their souls. The Great Fast was a defeat of, was death for, the devil; because he fled from many souls and died to them, as it were, after their sincere repentance and communion of the Holy Mysteries; but on the feast of Pascha he rose again in not a few souls. How did he arise? Through gluttony, drunkenness, outrage and other vices that drunkenness gives rise to, and to which many Christians gave themselves over. It is thus that Christians love Christ; it is thus that they celebrate the greatest holiday of the year! What benefit is there in such people calling themselves Christians? Many pagans live better lives than that and, without a doubt, are more worthy in God’s eyes than are they. Those of other [non-Christian] faiths and those who are not Orthodox, who dwell in our city [Kronstadt] are astonished at such behaviour, and on so great a holiday, and say: there are the Christians, for you; there are the Orthodox, for you! They celebrate like real pagans, and on such a holiday, yet! That is what those of other faiths and those who are not Orthodox say of us. But what does the Lord Himself say of our holidays; or, more precisely—of our observance of them? My soul hateth your festivals, and I cannot bear the great day, saith the Lord, I am surfeited; I will no more pardon your sins (Esaias 1, 14).

Brethren! Whom have we begun to resemble? to what extent have we given ourselves over to forgetfulness? And the word of Scripture is being fulfilled in us in all its force: and man, being in honour, understandeth not; he is compared to senseless cattle and hath become like unto them (Ps. 48; 13, 21). Christ the Lord hath honoured us with His name; He hath washed us with His blood; he hath made of us a chosen people, an holy nation ([I] Pet. 2, 9); while we insolently, madly, have despised God’s mercy and dishonour ourselves by all means of dissolute acts. Do not flatter yourselves, brethren: neither thieves, nor murderers, nor fornicators, nor adulterers shall inherit the Kingdom of God (I Cor. 6; 9, 10). Yes, if you do not cease from behaving thus, especially on holy days which, according to the Lord’s commandment, should be consecrated and sanctified, then ye will not see the Kingdom of God.

Brethren! it is extremely necessary for us to behave more wisely, and to attend more closely to ourselves, during the feasts of the Lord. The Lord will call us strictly to account for our foolish revelry. It is not according to the flesh, as do those who worship idols; but, rather, according to the spirit, that we should celebrate our holidays; although even bodily celebration, if it occurs together with the spiritual, is permitted and is not hateful to the Lord; but, in that case, it must never exceed the bounds of moderation. God is spirit (John 4, 24; 2 Cor. 3, 17); our soul, redeemed by the Saviour, is spirit: therefore should our holidays be more spiritual than fleshly. Such a one as celebrates only bodily, the same celebrates not unto God, but unto his idol—the belly; or, which is all the same, to the demon of intemperance. God deliver everyone from such feasts! The abundance of material viands is permitted to Christians on holidays to the glory of God, in order that we might eat and drink in moderation, thanking God Who, together with spiritual joy, sends us bodily consolation, also, in the variety and sweetness of the viands and beverages, in order that our joy might not be wanting. But spiritual joy on a holiday must always surpass that of the body; while, with us—it is the opposite.

It is said, in God’s commandment: remember the Sabbath day, and sanctify it (Ex. 20, 8); in our language of the New Testament, this means: remember the Day of Resurrection; do not forget its holiness and try to sanctify it yourself by your good deeds.

O Lord! grant that we might always remember Thy commandment concerning how we are to celebrate holy days; that we might keep it holy and be well-pleasing unto Thee with spiritual celebration. Amen.

Originally translated into English for “The Light Of Orthodoxy,” Spring 1983, by G. Spruksts, from the Russian text appearing in Solntse Pravdy: O zhizni i uchenii Gospoda Nashego Iisusa Khrista [“The Sun Of Righteousness: Concerning the Life and Teaching Of Our Lord Jesus Christ”] by Protopriest Ioann (Sergiev) [of Kronstadt], Chapter 5, pp. 297 – 301. Reprinted by permission. English-language translation copyright 1983, 1998 by The St. Stefan Of Perm’ Guild, The Russian Cultural Heritage Society, and the Translator. All rights reserved.

Source: PravMir

Christ is Risen!

13.04.2015 in Articles

PASCHAL HOMILY OF ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM

The Paschal sermon of St John Chrysostom is read aloud in every Orthodox parish on the morning of the Great and Holy Pascha of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. According to the Tradition of the Church, no one sits during the reading of St John’s sermon, but all stand and listen with attentiveness.

*   *   *

St. John Chrysostom. Mosaic.

If any man be devout and loveth God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast! If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord.If any have laboured long in fasting, let him how receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; Because he shall in nowise be deprived therefore. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. And if any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness.

For the Lord, who is jealous of his honour, will accept the last even as the first. He giveth rest unto him who cometh at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who hath wrought from the first hour.

And He showeth mercy upon the last, and careth for the first; And to the one He giveth, and upon the other He bestoweth gifts. And He both accepteth the deeds, and welcometh the intention, and honoureth the acts and praises the offering.

Wherefore, enter ye all into the joy of your Lord; Receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival! You sober and you heedless, honour the day! Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away. Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.

Let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal Kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it.

By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered when it encountered Thee in the lower regions.

It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is thy sting? O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown! Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen! Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is risen, and life reigns! Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages.
Amen.

Has Nothing Changed?: On the End of Great Lent

07.04.2015 in Articles

How can we redeem the failures of our spiritual life as Christians? Where can we find hope amid the broken pieces of a Christian life, half-lived?

Has Nothing Changed?: On the End of Great Lent
If Christian life as a whole is about repentance, communion with Christ, and seeing our sins, the weeks of Great Lent provide a season of Spring Training for this daunting process.

Yet how successful are we? Do most of us really use this time given to us to its maximum impact on our life?

The approach of Holy Week brings with it the echo of the approaching Resurrection of Christ. Yet too often, it can also be a reminder of the Judgement of Christ – a judgement which we fear, and not without reason.

How can we redeem the failures of our spiritual life as Christians? Where can we find hope amid the broken pieces of a Christian life, half-lived?

No one should begin the Christian life with idealism: the Church Fathers call us to have as the first step in our pilgrimage toward Christ a realistic assessment of ourselves, not a caricature of the icon we hope to be some day soon. Orthodox Christianity is not a blueprint for building superheroes: it is a blueprint for holiness. And like the lives of so many great saints, it is in the ordinariness of human life – and human failing – that this holiness begins.

Have we fallen short in keeping the fast, partaking of oil, a bit of fish, some ice cream, or even a whopping steak dinner? Let us use these failures to take stock of the mastery our stomach has over our will, and resolve to fight on for our freedom from such an absurd slave master.

Have we drowned our minds with our fill of loud music, action movies, and online chatter, rather than strive to quiet our heart? Let us savour the pain, the discomfort, the lack of peace which can be ours every day – throughout eternity, if we choose – unless and until we will to take arms against it all, and close the doors of our senses.

Have we flooded our minds with fantasy, of plans unachieved or yet to come, of angry words we are itching to speak, or of fleshly fantasies of which we can only dream? Disappointment, anger, and depression should not surprise us. We have learned and relearned the recipe for despair: let us now resolve to learn the recipe for joy.

Have we seen ourselves at our worst, disappointing ourselves time and again with our failure to keep promises, not just to others, but – most importantly – to ourselves? Let us look resolutely in the mirror of our own spiritual ugliness, knowing that a renewed reflection awaits us, just as soon as our revulsion drives us to seek it.

It is said that nothing succeeds like success. Yet as we approach the feast of the Resurrection of Christ, most of us can more easily stare into the face of our own failure, our own shortcomings, our disgust with our disfigurement of heart.

Let us not hide this discovery: instead, let us use it as the incentive, the engine, the fuel to drive us toward God. Despairing of ourselves, let us throw ourselves onto the strength of Christ, who tramples down not only Death, but our myriad of daily defeats.

Let us not build a prison for ourselves with our sins: let us use the remnants of our defeat to propel us into the arms of Christ, knowing from experience that we do not want to return to the place from which we came.

And when we do return there, let us repeat this painful therapy of facing ourselves, again and again and again. In doing so, we can turn our defeat into a means of joining Christ in His joyful victory.

 – Father Geoffrey Korz is an Orthodox priest in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Source: PravMir.ru

The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts

16.03.2015 in Articles

The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts may be characterized, without exaggeration, as the heart and center of the services of Great Lent.  In some ancient manuscripts of the service books it is known as the “Liturgy of the Great Quadragesima.”  In fact, it is the service that best typifies this sacred time of the year.

The essence of this service is revealed in its very name: it is the “Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts.”  This distinguishes it from the Liturgies of St. Basil the Great and of St. John Chrysostom, in which the Eucharist – the offering and sanctification of the Gifts – takes place.  During the “Liturgy of the Great Quadragesima” we are offered the Holy Gifts “pre-sanctified,” i.e., already sanctified at a Liturgy served on a previous day.  These Holy Gifts are offered to us that we might have the opportunity to commune of them and be sanctified by them.  In other words, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is essentially not a “liturgy” in the sense of the Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom or St. Basil the Great, but is rather a special rite of Communion.

In order to understand why a rite of Communion of presanctified Holy Gifts came into being, one must consider its history.  Its roots lie in the ancient practice of the Church.  In the early centuries of Christian history, the faithful approached to receive the Holy Gifts at each Liturgy.  It was even a practice among the faithful, when there was no weekday Liturgy, that they would privately commune of Holy Gifts left over from the Sunday Liturgy.  On this foundation, a special rite of prayer crystallized within the monasteries: all monastics would pray together before Communion and afterwards they would together thank God, Who had enabled them to be Communicants of the Holy Mysteries.  This would be done either after Vespers or after the Ninth Hour (about 3:00 PM).  In time, this rule of prayer took on the form of a short service, somewhat similar to the rite of the Liturgy.  Thus developed what we now call the “Order of the Typica,” in contemporary practice served after the Sixth and Ninth Hours.  The very name “Typica” points to the fact that in some measure this short service typifies the Liturgy.  It is in this sense a precursor to our Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.

During Great Lent, the full Divine Liturgy is served only on Saturdays and Sundays.  Ancient church practice, confirmed in the canons of the Councils, forbids the serving of Liturgies on weekdays during Great Lent, inasmuch as those days are entirely dedicated to fasting and repentance.  Serving the Divine Liturgy would be incompatible with the mournful character of such days.  The Liturgy is a Paschal Mystery, a Feast of the Church, filled with joy and spiritual jubilation.

As St. Basil the Great states, the faithful of that time were used to receiving Communion not only on Saturdays and Sundays, but also at least twice during the week – on Wednesdays and Fridays. Therefore, the question arose: How could they commune outside the Liturgy?  The answer had already been provided: they could commune of the Holy Gifts sanctified at one of the earlier Liturgies.  In those days, fasting meant complete abstinence from food until sunset, and Communion of the Holy Gifts was the crown and end of the Lenten day.  For this reason, on those weekdays, it took place after Vespers.

The rite of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts consists of Vespers, at the conclusion of which the Holy Presanctified Gifts are offered, and the prayers before Communion are read.  Communion itself takes place, and is followed by prayers of thanksgiving.  The service’s connection to Great Lent is reflected in its special “mournful” character.  The Altar Table and sacred vessels containing the Holy Gifts are covered with dark-colored vestments.  Prayers are read with a sense of humility and tenderness.  Overall, the entire service is marked by a special sense of mystery.

The first part of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts consists of Great Lenten Vespers, with some specific distinguishing features.  The priest is vested in dark vestments.  Vespers itself begins not with the usual “Blessed is our God,” but rather with the opening doxology of the Divine Liturgy: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” In this manner, the entire service turns toward hope in the Kingdom, that same anticipation that characterizes all of Great Lent.

Then, as in other Vesper services, Psalm 103 is read.  This “opening” psalm begins with the words “Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, Thou art greatly magnified…”

This psalm, which praises God, the Creator of the whole world, is a sort of “preface” to Vespers, and with it the entire cycle of daily services for, according to Old Testament tradition, evening and the coming night are considered the beginning of the day.

After this “preface,” the deacon (or in the absence of a deacon, the priest himself) invites the faithful to communal prayer, in the Great Litany, the Litany of Peace, which begins with the words “In peace, let us pray to the Lord…”

Then Psalms 119 and 133 are read.  These psalms form the 18th kathisma (chapter) of the Psalter, the book of psalms.  These psalms are known as “hymns of ascent.” In Old Testament times, they were sung while one was ascending the steps of the Temple in Jerusalem.

While these psalms are being read on the kliros, in the Altar the priest prepares the Holy Gifts on the Table of Oblation.  The Presanctified Lamb (the Body of Christ, permeated with His Most-precious Blood), which had been left on the Altar Table since the previous Sunday or Saturday, is transferred to the Table of Oblation.  Then ordinary, unsanctified wine and water are poured into the Chalice, and the Holy Vessels are covered, as is done before a full Liturgy.  All of this is performed in silence, with no accompanying prayers.  The Order of Divine Service underscores that distinctive feature: all of the prayers have already been read at the Sunday Liturgy at which the Holy Gifts have been sanctified.

After this preparation and after the reading of the 18th kathisma, the evening service continues with the chanting of selections from the usual Vespers psalms – beginning with the words “Lord, I have cried You can find dozens of celebrities with the Sun in horoscope scorpio Ascendant in Libra combination on Astrotheme, listed in popularity order and based on our visitors’ clicks. unto Thee, hearken unto me…”  The stichera for “Lord I have cried…” appointed in the service books for the given day are interspersed with the text of the psalms.  Upon conclusion of these chants, the clergy perform the usual Evening Entrance, the procession into the Altar through the Royal Doors, concluding with the prayer “O Gentle Light.”

Following the Evening Entrance, there are two readings (paremoi) from the Old Testament.  One is from the Book of Genesis, and the other from the Book of Proverbs by Solomon.  Between these two readings, a rite is performed which reminds us of the times when Great Lent was dedicated to preparing people for Holy Baptism.  During the reading from the first Old Testament passage, the priest places a lighted candle upon the Gospels lying on the Altar Table.  At the conclusion of the first reading, the priest takes this candle and a censer and blesses the faithful, with the words “The Light of Christ enlighteneth all!”  The candle is a symbol of Christ, the Light of the world.  The fact that the candle rests upon the Gospels during the reading of the Old Testament points to the fact that all prophecy was fulfilled in Christ, Who enlightened His disciples, that they “might understand the Scriptures.”  The Old Testament leads to Christ, just as Great Lent leads to the enlightenment of those being baptized.  The Light of Holy Baptism, uniting people to Christ, opens their minds to the understanding of Christ’s teachings.

After the second Old Testament reading, there emanates from the center of the church a moving and solemn chant: “Let my prayer be set forth as incense before Thee, the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.”  These words come from Psalms 140.  During this chant, censing takes place before the Altar Table and before the Table of Oblation.  The chant, with other verses from the same psalm interspersed, is repeated six times.

In Russian Church practice, following the reading of these verses, the Great Lenten prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, “O Lord and Master of my life…”, is read.

There follows fervent prayer for all members of the Church, and also for the catechumens.  After Wednesday of the fourth week of Great Lent, these petitions are followed by a special litany for those catechumens who this year are preparing for “holy illumination,” i.e., for the Mystery of Holy Baptism.  In ancient times, Holy Baptism was performed on Holy and Great Saturday.  After all of the catechumens are dismissed, the second part of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, the rite of Holy Communion, begins.

The solemn moment of the transfer of the Holy Gifts to the Altar Table approaches.  Outwardly, this Entrance resembles the Great Entrance at the Liturgy, but in essence and spiritual meaning it is, of course, quite different.  In the full Eucharistic service, the Great Entrance is the transfer/offering of as-yet unsanctified Gifts.  The Church offers itself – its life, the life of its members, and all creation – as a sacrifice to God, incorporating this sacrifice into the one perfect sacrifice of Christ.  Remembering Christ, the Church remembers all those whom He has taken upon Himself for their redemption and salvation.  The transfer of the Holy Gifts symbolically represents the appearance of Christ and the conclusion of fasting and prayer, with the anticipation and approach of that help, comfort, and joy that we have been awaiting.

The solemn transfer of the Holy Gifts from the Table of Oblation to the Holy Altar Table is accompanied by the ancient hymn “Now the Hosts of Heaven…”  In English it is rendered: “Now the Hosts of Heaven invisibly worship with us; for behold the King of Glory enters in.  Behold the accomplished mystical sacrifice is being escorted in.  With faith and love let us draw nigh, that we may become partakers of life everlasting.  Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

The Entrance with the already-sanctified Holy Gifts is performed with extreme reverence and piety. During the Entrance, the faithful prostrate themselves upon the ground.  According to the practice of the Russian Church, following the Great Entrance at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, the prayer of St. Ephraim of Syria, “O Lord and Master of my life…”, is read.

After that prayer is read, the immediate preparation for Holy Communion begins.  Its essence lies in the Lord’s Prayer, in the “Our Father,” with which preparation for Holy Communion always concludes.  In pronouncing Christ’s own prayer, we take unto ourselves the Spirit of Christ.  We adopt as our own His prayer to the Father, His will, His desire, and His life.

The Communion of the clergy takes place, and is followed by the Communion of the laity, during the singing of the verse “O taste and see, that the Lord is good!”

The Service ends, and the priest proclaims: “Let us depart in peace!” At the conclusion of the Service, the Prayer before the Ambo is read.  The concluding prayers at full Liturgies and at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts are known as Prayers before the Ambo because the priest says them near the place where at one time there stood in the midst of the church the ancient “ambo,” i.e., a special stone cathedra, from which the Gospel was read.

“The Prayer before the Ambo” read at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is especially beautiful.  It reflects the connection between the serving of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts and the time of Great Lent.  The Holy Quadregesima is a time of spiritual struggle, a time of difficult battle with the passions and with sins.  Yet there is no doubt that victory over invisible enemies will be granted to all who, according to the words of the Prayer before the Ambo, struggle “to fight the good fight.”  And the day of the Holy Resurrection already is at hand.

The Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is one of the most marvelous and moving services of the Church.  At the same time, it is an urgent call to frequent Communion of the Holy Gifts of Christ.  In it we hear a voice from distant centuries, the voice of the living, ancient tradition of the Church.  This voice says that a believer cannot live the life in Christ unless he constantly renews his connection with the fountain of life, by communing of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For Christ is, according to the words of the Holy apostle Paul, “our life” (Colossians 3:4).

Source: PravMir

HOMILY ON THE THIRD SUNDAY OF GREAT LENT. ON CARRYING YOUR CROSS

09.03.2015 in Articles

St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov)

Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me (Mk. 8:34), said the Lord to his disciples, calling them unto Him, as we heard today in the Gospels.Dear brothers and sisters! We too are disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, because we are Christians. We too are called unto the Lord, to this holy temple, to hear His teaching. We stand before the face of the Lord. His gaze is directed at us. Our souls are laid bare before Him; our secret thoughts and hidden feelings are open to Him. He sees all of our intentions; He sees the truth, and the sins we have committed from our youth; He sees our whole life, past and future; even what we have not yet done is already written in His book. He knows the hour of our passing into immeasurable eternity, and gives us His all-holy commandment for our salvation: Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.Through living faith, let us lift up the eyes of our mind to the Lord Who is present here with us! Let us open our hearts, rolling back the heavy stone of hardness from its entrance; let us hear, ponder, accept, and assimilate the teaching of our Lord.

What does it mean to deny ourselves? It means leaving our sinful life. Sin, through which our fall occurred, has so encompassed our nature that it has become as if natural; thus, denial of sin has become denial of nature, and denying nature is denying ourselves. The eternal death that has struck our souls has become like life for us. It demands food: sin; it demands to be pleased—with sin. By means of such food and pleasure, eternal death upholds and preserves its dominion over man. But fallen man accepts the growth of the dominion of death in himself as growth and success in life. Thus, he who is infected with a fatal disease is overcome by the forceful demands of this disease and looks for foods that would strengthen him. He seeks them as the most essential foods, as the most needed and pleasant delights. The Lord pronounced His sentence against this eternal death, which mankind, sick with terrible fallenness, imagines to be life: For whosoever will save his life, cultivating in it the life of fallenness or eternal death, shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it (Mk. 8:35). Placing before our eyes the whole world with all its beauty and charm, the Lord says, For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? What good is it for man, what has he really acquired if he should come to possess not only some minor thing, but even the entire visible world? This visible world is no more than man’s temporary guesthouse! There is no item on the earth, not a single acquirable good that we could call our own. Everything will be taken from us by merciless and inevitable death; and unforeseen circumstances and changes often take them away even before our death. Even our own bodies are cast aside at that sacred step into eternity. Our possession and treasure is our soul, and our soul alone. What shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Mk. 8:37), sayeth the word of God. There is nothing that can recompense the loss of the soul when it is killed by eternal death, which deceitfully calls itself life.

What does it mean to take up our cross? The cross was an instrument of shameful execution of commoners and captives deprived of a citizen’s rights. The proud world, a world at enmity with Christ, deprives Christ’s disciples of the rights enjoyed by the sons of this world. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me (Jn. 15:19; 16:2–3). Taking up our cross means magnanimously enduring the mocking and derision that the world pours out upon followers of Christ—those sorrows and persecutions with which the sin-loving and blind world persecutes those who follow Christ. For this is thankworthy, says the Apostle Peter, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For even hereunto were ye called (1 Pet. 2:19, 21). We were called by the Lord, Who said to his beloved ones, In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (Jn. 16:33).

Taking up our cross means courageously enduring difficult unseen labor, agony, and torment for the sake of the Gospels as we war with our own passions, with the sin that lives in us, with the spirits of evil who vehemently make war against us and franticly attack us when we resolve to cast off the yoke of sin, and submit ourselves to the yoke of Christ. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, says the holy Apostle Paul, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph. 6:12). (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:4–5). After gaining victory in this unseen but laborious warfare, the Apostle exclaimed, But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world (Gal. 6:14).

Taking up our cross means obediently and humbly submitting ourselves to those temporary sorrows and afflictions that Divine Providence sees fit to allow against us for the cleansing away of our sins. Then the cross will serve us as a ladder from earth to heaven. The thief in the Gospels who ascended this ladder ascended from out of terrible crimes into most radiant heavenly habitations. From his cross he pronounced words filled with humility of wisdom; in humility of wisdom he entered into the knowledge of God, and through the knowledge of God, he acquired heaven. We receive the due reward of our deeds, he said. Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom (Lk. 23:41–42). When sorrows encompass us, let us also, beloved brothers and sisters, repeat the words of the good thief—words that can purchase paradise! Or like Job, let us bless the Lord who punishes us, Who is just yet merciful. Shall we receive good at the hand of God, said this sufferer, and shall we not receive evil? As it hath pleased the Lord so is it done; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 2:10; 1:21). May God’s promise, which is true, be fulfilled in us: Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. (Js. 1:12).

Taking up our cross means willingly and eagerly submitting ourselves to deprivations and ascetic labors, by which the irrational strivings of our flesh are held in check. The Apostle Paul had recourse to such a crucifixion of his flesh. He says, But I keep under [in Slavonic: “deaden,” or “mortify”] my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway (1 Cor. 9:27). They that are in the flesh, that is, those who do not restrain their flesh, but allow it to overcome the spirit, cannot please God (Rom. 8:8). Therefore, though we live in the flesh, we should not live for the flesh! For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die (Rom. 8:12) an eternal death; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live (Rom. 8:13) an eternal, blessed life. The flesh is essentially restrained by the spirit; but the spirit can only take control of the flesh and rule it when it is prepared to submit to its crucifixion. The flesh is crucified by fasting, vigil, kneeling in prayer, and other bodily labors placed upon it wisely and within measure. A bodily labor that is wise and within measure frees the body from heaviness and corpulence, refines its strength, keeps it ever light and capable of activity.They that are Christ’s, says the Apostle, have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts(Gal. 5:24).

What does it mean to take up our cross, and take up specifically our own cross? It means that every Christian should patiently bear those very insults and persecutions from the world that come to him, and not any others. This means that every Christian should manfully and constantly war with those very passions and sinful thoughts that arise in him. It means that every Christian should with obedience and dedication to God’s will, with confession of God’s justice and mercy, with thankfulness to God, endure those very sorrows and deprivations that Divine Providence allows to come upon him, and not some other things painted and presented to him by his proud dreams. This means being satisfied with those bodily labors that correspond to our physical strength, the ones that our flesh require in order to keep it in order, and not to seek after increased fasting and vigil, or all other ascetic feats beyond our measure, which destroy our physical health and direct our spirit towards high self-opinion and self deceit, as St. John Climacus describes. All mankind labors and suffers upon the earth, but these sufferings differ; the passions differ that war against us, the sorrows and temptations differ that God sends us for our healing, for the cleansing away of our sins. What differences there are in people’s physical strength, in their very health! Precisely: every person has his own cross. And each Christian is commanded to accept this cross of his ownwith self-denial, and to follow Christ. He who has denied himself and taken up his own cross has made peace with himself and with his own circumstances, with his own position both internal and external; and only he can reasonably and correctly follow Christ.

What does it mean to follow Christ? It means studying the Gospels, having the Gospels as the only guide of the activity of our mind, heart, and body. It means adapting our thoughts to the Gospels, tuning the feelings of our heart to the Gospels, and serving as an expression of the Gospels by all our deeds and movements, both secret and open. As we said before, only the person who has escaped deceit through voluntary humility (Col. 2:18), who has desired to obtain true humility of wisdom where it abides—in obedience and submission to God—is capable of following Christ. He who has entered into submission to God, into obedience combined with complete self-denial, has taken up his own cross, and accepted and confessed this cross to be his own.

Beloved brothers and sisters! Bowing down bodily to worship the precious Cross of the Lord today according to the rule of the Holy Church, we bow down also in spirit! We venerate the precious Cross of Christ—our weapon of victory and banner of Christ’s glory—each confessing from his own cross, “I have received the due reward of my deeds! Remember me, O Lord, when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom!” By recognizing our sinfulness with thankfulness to God and submission to His will, we make our cross—that instrument of execution and mark of dishonor—an instrument of victory and sign of glory, like unto the Cross of the Lord. Through the cross we open paradise to ourselves. Let us not allow ourselves any evil murmuring, and especially not any soul-destroying blasphemy, which is often heard from the lips of the blind and hardened sinner, who writhes and thrashes upon his cross, vainly endeavoring to escape from it. With murmuring and blasphemy the cross becomes unbearably heavy, dragging to hell the one crucified upon it. “What have I done?” cries the sinner in denial of his sinfulness, accusing the just and merciful God of injustice and mercilessness, blaming and rejecting God’s Providence. The one who saw the Son of God crucified, mockingly and evilly demanded of him, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us(Lk. 23:39),—let him now come down from the cross (Mt. 27:42). But our Lord Jesus Christwas pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh and to endure death in order by the cross to make peace between God and man, and to save mankind by death from eternal death. Having prepared the holy Apostles for this great event—the incarnate God-man’s sufferings and shameful death, potent to redeem the human race—the Lord informed the Apostles in good time that He must be given over into the hands of sinners, must suffer much, be killed, and resurrected. This forewarning seemed strange and unlikely to certain of the holy Apostles. Then the Lord called unto Him his disciples and said to them: Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. Amen.

Translated by Nun Cornelia (Rees)

Source: Pravoslavie.ru 03 / 17 / 2012

God Will Not Accept Repentance Without Love: Sermon on Forgiveness Sunday

16.02.2015 in Articles

Given in the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Paraskeva in Sofia, Bulgaria, on February 18 / March 3, 1946 by Archbishop Seraphim (Sobolev) of Bogucharsk (+1950)

The scribes and Pharisees once condemned and reproached the Lord for eating and drinking with publicans and sinners. To this the Savior said: I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Matthew 9:13). From these words of Christ it is evident that the purpose of His coming into the world was our repentance. If repentance was the purpose of Jesus Christ’s coming into the world, then it is clear that we, too, ought to consider repentance the purpose of our entire lives and all our labors.

This makes sense, for it is only through repentance that the Lord grants us the greatest heavenly treasure: the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, which we receive in the Mystery of Chrismation at Holy Baptism. This grace in us is the source of divine conduct. It helps us distinguish good from evil. It provides all knowledge necessary for the happiness of our temporal life and for the life of the future. This is why St. John the Theologian, referring to the grace of Chrismation received at Holy Baptism, said: But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things… and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things (1 John 2:20, 27).

This grace is nothing other than the divine power that indeed helps us to renounce Satan and all his affairs – sins and passions – and to live according to God’s commandments, thereby receiving a foretaste even here of the future blessedness of Christ’s Heavenly Kingdom. This is why another great Apostle, Paul, called this grace the earnest (guarantee) or portion of the future inheritance, which is the ineffable eternal blessedness of Paradise (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5).

Both repentance and grace are clearly two goods necessary for salvation, for without repentance one cannot receive the regenerating grace of Holy Baptism, which is why the Apostle Peter, in response to the question posed by the audience of his first missionary sermon – what shall we do? – said: Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). The extent to which we will repent is the extent to which the Holy Spirit’s wondrous actions of grace will be in us.

Beloved, we all know how great the repentance of St. Mary of Egypt was. But consider just how much grace she had from God! When St. Zosima awaited Mary at the Jordan with the Holy Gifts in order to give her Communion, he wondered how she would come to him from the other side of the river. Then he saw how she, like Jesus Christ, walked on water as on dry land, thereby crossing the Jordan. When St. Zosima asked Mary to pray for the entire world, she was raised into the air as she offered fervent prayer to God. By this astonishing miracle the Lord demonstrated to St. Zosima that the prayer of this great and righteous woman for the preservation and salvation of the world was acceptable to God. The world did not know, and to this day still does not know, that it is preserved from ruin by the grace of a few great righteous ones.

Thus did the Lord once preserve the world through the prayers of one of His holy ones: St. Mark of Trache. Thus did the Lord preserve the world from ruin by the prayers of two of His venerable ones: Macarius the Great and Macarius of Alexandria, for their struggle of repentance was so great; and great, too, was their grace.

That wondrous God-pleaser, St. Seraphim, had no grave sins. He experienced only unavoidable mental warfare with unclean spirits. When he was once offered to become the superior of one of our foremost monasteries in Russia, with the elevation to the rank of archimandrite, St. Seraphim declined this altogether honorable appointment. Then a fierce struggle with thoughts of vainglory arose in him.

What did this great chosen one of God do? For nothing but thoughts of vainglory he began to repent as for great and grievous sins. He stood on a rock and, with his hands uplifted to heaven, stood for three years praying the prayer of the publican: God, be merciful to me, a sinner! During this entire time he ate only herbs and drank only water. How astonishing was his repentance!

But just as astonishing was how the grace in him was wondrously manifest. Like the Savior, he healed every imaginable illness in people by a single word. He also once prayed in the air for the healing of a hopelessly ill child. The sisters of the Diveyevo Convent saw how he walked in the air a yard above the ground as he went to his desert. His face shone with divine light after receiving Holy Communion and especially when he spoke about the grace of the Holy Spirit with Motovilov. St. Seraphim’s soul departed his body in this light, and angels bore it to the throne of the Holy Trinity.

If, however, we do not truly love our neighbors, our repentance will not be acceptable to God; not only will the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit not be kindled in us as it was manifest in the lives of Sts. Mary of Egypt and Seraphim of Sarov, but it will not act in us at all. Its light will be extinguished and we will not enter the heavenly chambers of Christ our Savior. The Lord revealed this truth in His parable of the ten virgins. The foolish virgins did not have oil in their lamps, that is, they did not have love; the light of grace, given them at Baptism, had gone out, for which reason they found themselves outside their Bridegroom’s heavenly chamber. The Lord showed us this truth again in His parable of the good king and the merciless lender.

The Holy Church, as our loving mother, always cares for us. It is concerned that the Lord would not, as it were, reject our repentance. Therefore just before the beginning of Great Lent it addresses us during the Liturgy with the words of Jesus Christ: For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew 6:14-15).

Therefore let us strive to have our struggle of repentance – our fasting and prayer – not be deprived in God’s eyes of their beneficent fruits, that we may worthily partake of Christ’s Holy Mysteries and be united forever with Christ in His Heavenly Kingdom. For this to happen, may our repentance have as its constant companion our sincere love of our neighbors.

We know, it is true, that the crucified good thief went to Paradise due to his one hour of repentance, although his entire earthly life was marked by cruelty to the point of murder. But the tradition of the Church indicates that a gang of robbers attacked the Holy Family during their flight to Egypt. The thieves wanted to kill the Holy Family, but the chieftain, struck by the unearthly beauty of the Christ-child, stopped them from committing this terrible crime. For this the Immaculate Mother said to him: “This Child will in time reward you for your mercy and love for Him.” It was this chieftain who was later to be the good thief. Moreover, even on the cross he showed compassion and love for Christ, for he rebuked the other thief for his spiteful words to the Divine Sufferer, which is why he said: Lord, remember me when thou comest into Thy kingdom, for which he heard these words from Christ: Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise (Luke 23:39-43).

From the life of St. Taisia we also know that she, too, entered Paradise for her single hour of repentance. But the Church’s tradition again tells us that before entering her dissolute life she distributed all her enormous wealth to the poor and built a hospice for monks. She was distinguished by her wonderful beauty and, having become poor voluntarily, became a harlot due to her extreme living conditions. Because of her earlier manifestation of love for her neighbors, however, the merciful Lord did not allow Taisia to fall into perdition. He inspired one of His great saints, John the Dwarf, to go to Taisia to call her to repentance. Prompted by the Holy Spirit, St. John the Dwarf went to Taisia and aroused such a fiery determination in her soul to correct herself that she immediately left behind all the wealth acquired by fornication and everything else in the world and asked St. John to take her right away to one of the convents, where she would be able to atone for her grievous sins.

St. John fulfilled her request by going with her from the city to the desert. Night found them travelling. He made a headrest out of sand and told her to get a little sleep, so they could continue their journey early the next morning. Retiring some distance from her, he also wanted to rest, but suddenly he saw how divine light lit up the entire sky, and in this light an angel bore Taisia’s soul to the throne of God. St. John approached her and found her already dead.

This shows how great the salvific importance of profound repentance is. This shows how quickly the Lord sometimes takes souls for their determination to change their lives, making them worthy of His Heavenly Kingdom.

Our great Russian people has since time immemorial been characterized by its true love for others. It always showed this, and especially before Great Lent on the day of Forgiveness Sunday. Then Russian Orthodox people strove with all their heart for mutual reconciliation, forgiving all their enemies and even those who had wronged them; they were even the first to ask forgiveness of them, not waiting for them to initiate reconciliation.

You, my dear children, are flesh of flesh, bone of bone, and blood of blood of the Russian people. Therefore in your hearts, too, there is true and great love of neighbor. This love inspires you always and invariably to flock in great numbers to your Russian Church on Forgiveness Sunday to participate in the Rite of Forgiveness, here asking forgiveness of one another and forgiving everyone that has offended you. May the Lord strengthen you in this Christian love and in your pursuit of mutual reconciliation! Do now what you have always done in the past on this day. Knowing that without love there is no repentance and therefore no grace, ask forgiveness of one another, and even of those who have offended you.

Yet before you do this, I must do the same to you, as your archpastor. Therefore I ask you, for the sake of Christ, to forgive me all the sins I have committed against you in thought or feeling, willingly or unwillingly, in word or deed. On my part, I forgive you all for whatever sins you have committed against me and I call down upon you, my dear children beloved in Christ, the grace of God. Amen.

Source: PravMir

Love Without Limits

10.02.2015 in Articles

Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son (VIDEO)

God is seeking us far more than we are seeking Him. God does not just come out to meet us half way, He comes out far more. If we take one step towards Him, He takes a hundred towards us. So, today’s Gospel is not just a story of repentance. It is a story of the way in which our repentance is accepted. It is a story of the loving father and how He goes out in search of His child and how He loves both His children, both the one that went astray and returned and the one who remained at home….

Let us notice in the story that the Father does not wait for the prodigal to say, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son, treat me like one of your hired servants.” The Father will not let him finish the sentence. Immediately, unhesitatingly, He restores the exile to his sonship. Nor is this all. The Father not only accepts his son back, not only restores him to his inheritance, but He accepts him back with an unbounded all-embracing joy.

So what we see — vividly — in today’s Gospel, is not just the repentance of the prodigal, but the love of the Father: love without limits.

The meaning of today’s parable, the message written on every page of Holy Scripture, is this: God loves us.

It is said of the prodigal, ‘while he was yet far off’ — is that not true of us? We are far off from our true home, but God runs out to meet us, He puts His arms round us, He unites us to our home, He invites us into the feast.

The sermon was delivered  on February 20, 2011 on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son at the Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Westland, Michigan.

Source: PravMir