Articles

ZACCHAEUS SUNDAY (Luke 19:1-10)

27.01.2015 in Articles

By St. Theophylact

And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, who was a chief publican, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who He was, and could not for the crowd, because he was of little stature. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him: for He was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down: for today I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received Him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, He has gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.

For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. The Lord seizes the mightiest of the devil’s vessels and destroys his cities. See how the Lord not only makes publicans His disciples, but He even takes prisoner—in order to save him—the chief of publicans, Zacchaeus. No one doubts that a publican is an abomination: how much more so is the chief publican, who is foremost in wickedness? For the publicans derived their living from no other source than the tears of the poor. But even this chief publican is not despised by the Lord. In return only for showing eagerness to see Jesus he receives salvation. He desired to see Jesus, which is why he climbed up into the sycamore tree, but before he had caught sight of Jesus, the Lord had already seen him. In the same manner, the Lord always anticipates us if only He sees that we are willing and eager. When the Lord sees Zacchaeus, He urges him to come down quickly, for He intends to stay at his house. And Zacchaeus was not slow to obey—when Christ commands anything, we must not hesitate—but he came down and received Him joyfully, even though many people murmured.

Let us see how Zacchaeus reaped the benefit of Christ’s entrance into his house. He says, The half of my goods I give to the poor. Do you see his fervor? He began to disburse without stint, not giving just a little, but all that he had. Even what he held back, he held back so that he could give to those whom he had wronged. From this we learn that there is no benefit at all to a man who gives alms to others of money he has obtained unrighteously and ignores those whom he defrauded in obtaining that money. See what Zacchaeus does with this money: if he defrauded anyone he restores to him fourfold, thus remedying the harm he had done to each man he defrauded. This is true almsgiving. He not only remedies the harm, but he does so with increase. This is in accordance with the law, which commanded that that the thief make fourfold restitution (Ex. 22:1). If we consider well, we see that nothing at all remained of Zacchaeus’ money. Half he gave to the poor, and of the half that remained to him, he gave fourfold to those whom he had wronged. But since the living of the chief publican was derived from fraud and extortion, and since he paid back fourfold all that he had wrongly taken, it follows that he stripped himself of everything he had. From this we see that his thinking goes beyond the prescription of the law, for he had become a disciple of the Gospel, and he loved his neighbor more than himself. And what he promised to do, he did: he did not say, “I shall give half, and I shall restore fourfold,” but instead, Behold, I give and I restore. For he had heard the counsel of Solomon, Say not, Come back another time, tomorrow I will give (Prov. 3:28).

Christ proclaims to him the good tidings of his salvation. By this house He means Zacchaeus, for the Lord would not call a building without a soul a son of Abraham. It is clear that that the Lord named this living master of the house a son of Abraham, because Zacchaeus was like the patriarch in two respects: he believed and was counted righteous by faith, and with money he was magnanimous and generous to the poor. See that the Lord says that Zacchaeus is now a son of Abraham, and that in his present behavior the Lord sees the likeness to Abraham. The Lord did not say that Zacchaeus had always been a son of Abraham, but that he is now a son of Abraham. Before, when he was a chief publican and and tax collector, he bore no resemblance to that righteous man, and was not his son. To silence those who were complaining that the Lord went to be the guest of a sinful man, He says, The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

This is the explanation of the literal words; but it is easy to understand these things in another sense as well, for moral benefit. Anyone who is chief among many in wickedness is little in spiritual stature, for flesh and spirit are opposites to one another, and for this reason he cannot see Jesus for the crowd. Crowded in by a multitude of passions and worldly affairs, he is not able to see Jesus acting, moving and walking about. Such a man as this cannot recognize Christian acts for what they are—Christ acting and moving in us. But such a man, who never sees Jesus passing by and cannot perceive Christ in Christian acts, will sometimes change from negligence and come to his senses. Then he will climb up to the top of the sycamore-fig, passing by every pleasure and sweetness, as signified by the figs, and counting them as foolish and dead. Becoming higher than he was and making ascents in his heart (Ps. 83:6), he is seen by Jesus and can see Jesus, and the Lord says to him, Make haste, and come down, which means, “Through repentance you have ascended to a higher life; come down now through humility lest pride and high mindedness make you fall. Make haste, and humble yourself. If you humble yourself, I must abide at your house, for it is necessary that I abide in the house of a humble man. Upon whom shall I look, if not upon him who is humble and meek, who trembles at My words? (Is. 66:2) Such a man gives half of his goods to the destitute demons. For our substance is twofold: flesh and spirit. The righteous man imparts all his fleshly substance to the truly poor, the demons who are destitute of everything good. But he does not let go of his spiritual substance, for as the Lord likewise said to the devil concerning Job, Behold, I give into thine hand all that he has, but touch not his soul (Job 1:12). And if he has taken any thing from any man by false accusation, he restores it to him fourfold. This suggests that if a man repents and follows a path that is opposite to his former way of wickedness, he heals his former sins through the four virtues (courage, prudence, righteousness, and self-control), and thus receives salvation and is called a son of Abraham. Like Abraham, he also goes out of his land and out of his kinship with his former wickedness and out of the house of his father (Gen. 12:1), meaning, he comes out from his old self and rejects his former condition. He himself was the house of his father, the devil. Therefore, when he went out of the house of his father, that is, when he went out of himself and changed, he found salvation, as did Abraham.

Source: Pravoslavie.ru

Baptism of our Lord

19.01.2015 in Articles

HOMILY ON THE THEOPHANY

On the day of the feast of Theophany—the Baptism of the Lord—it is not out of place to remember another baptism: that baptism which was performed over each of us Orthodox Christians, that baptism at which each of us, by the mouth of our godparents, gave a promise to God that he would always renounce Satan and his works and would always unite himself, “join himself” with Christ.This, I repeat, is especially fitting for this present day. The solemn rite of the Great Sanctification of Water will be performed shortly. Its center, its main part, one could say, is the majestic prayer wherein the Lord is glorified and the grace of the Holy Spirit is called down upon the water being sanctified. This prayer begins with the beautiful words: “Great art Thou, O Lord, and marvelous are Thy works, and no word sufficeth to hymn Thy wonders.” Whoever has been at a performance of the mystery of Baptism and was present attentively, knows that the prayer at the sanctification of the water in which a man will be baptized begins with these same words, and the first part of this prayer is completely the same, both at the Great Sanctification of Water and at the performance of the mystery of Baptism. And only later, in the last part, does the prayer at the performance of the mystery of Baptism change, as applicable to this mystery, when a new human soul will be baptized.

And so, it would not do us any harm to remember those vows given at Baptism on behalf of each of us. When a man is baptized as an adult, as even now sometimes happens, and happened especially often in antiquity, he himself makes the vows on his own behalf; but if he is baptized in infancy, his godfather or godmother—his “sponsors,” as the Church calls them—pronounce these vows for him. And so these vows, in which a Christian has promised God to renounce Satan and all his works and to join himself, to unite himself with Christ, these vows are not only forgotten by people, but many in general know nothing about them or about the fact that these vows were pronounced for them and that they ought to think a little about how they must fulfill these vows.

And what if at the last day of the history of the human race on earth—on the day of the Dread Judgment—it turns out that a man (or his sponsors for him) made vows, and he does not even know what the vows were and what was promised? What will happen to such a man?

Think, brethren, about what it means to renounce Satan and all his works and to join oneself to Christ.

The times are such now that a God-opposing bustle, in which the enemy of the human race reigns, has taken possession of humanity and, as was said in olden times, forces almost all people “to dance to its tune.” All this bustle, of which our present life is composed, is a God-opposing bustle, in which there is no God, in which God’s enemy holds sway and rules. If we made a vow to renounce Satan and all his works, then, in fulfilling it, we ought to strive not to stifle our soul with this bustle, but to reject it and to remember how the Church says, “One thing is needful”—only one thing is necessary—and to remember that we must join ourselves with Christ, that is, not only fulfill His commandments, but also endeavor to unite ourselves with Him.

Think, then, about this, O Christian soul, on this day of the radiant and great feast; think and pray that the Lord send thee firm faith and the resolve to fulfill these vows, and not to be swallowed up by the bustle of the world and lose the tie with the Lord, with Whom thou didst promise to join thyself for ever.

Today’s feast is called the feast of the Lord’s Baptism or the feast of Theophany; but those who know well the church Typicon, know also that sometimes in this Typicon it is also called “the feast of the holy Theophanies”—in the plural number.

Why? Here is why: Of course, that which the singers sang about today—“God the Word appeared in the flesh to the human race”—is the center of the commemorations of the present feast day. The incarnate Son of God, of Whose birth, when He was born, only a very few knew, “appeared to the human race”; for His baptism is, as it were, His solemn inauguration of His ministry, which He then performed after that until His death and resurrection.

But at the very same time, the fact that precisely on this feast “the worship of the Trinity was made manifest,” as is sung in its troparion, is characteristic of today’s feast. All three Persons of the Holy Trinity appeared for the first time in their separateness, which is also why this feast, I repeat, is called “the feast of the holy Theophanies.” Men heard the voice of God the Father: “This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased” (on Whom My favor rests); the Son of God accepted baptism from John (moreover, we know from the Gospel that John the Baptist was, as it were, at a loss when the Savior of the world came to him, and he attempted to restrain Him); and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended from the Father on the Son. In this way, “the worship of the Trinity was made manifest” for the first time, which is why the Church sings thus in the troparion, and why she also calls this feast “the feast of the holy Theophanies.”

Christ the Savior appeared in order to begin His saving ministry.

Here, not so long ago, when there was another great feast—the Nativity of Christ—we said that the Lord, by his nativity in a poor cave, when He deigned to be laid in a cattle manger, thereby emphatically rejected, as it were, all earthly glory, all earthly splendor and magnificence, for He did not deign to appear in royal chambers or rich palaces, but precisely in those poor and modest conditions. And thereby He immediately showed that He had brought to the earth a new principle, the principle of humility.

Look, then, how He Himself, so to say, is true to Himself, how even now on today’s great feast He institutes the very same principle of humility manifestly and undoubtedly for us. For whither did He come? To the Jordan. Why? To be baptized by John. But sinners came to John; they confessed their sins to him and were baptized. But He was without sin, “could not be touched by sin,” was absolutely free of it and pure; yet nonetheless, He humbly stands in line with other sinners, as if He were in need of this cleansing washing with water. But we know that the water did not cleanse Him, the most holy and sinless One; but it was He who sanctified the water by deigning to be washed by it, as was sung today during the sanctification of the water: “Today the nature of the waters is sanctified.” And so, Jesus Christ brought the principle of humility to the earth and was true to it throughout the course of His whole life. But that is not all. He has also left us this testament: Come “and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”

Remember one more radiant, joyful, spring feast—the feast of the Annunciation.

Here the most blessed Virgin Mary hears the good tidings from the Archangel how the incarnation of God will be accomplished through her. What does her most holy, most pure and blameless soul say when she came to her relative, Elizabeth, in order to share her joy with her? She only says: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior, for He hath regarded the low estate [humility] of his handmaiden.” This humility was also the beauty of her spirit. From the very account of the Annunciation, we know that the Archangel appeared to her at that moment when she, having read the prophecy of Isaiah concerning the incarnation of God from a virgin, was not even thinking to apply this to herself, but only thought in the depth of her humility: “How joyful I would be if I were the least handmaid of that blessed virgin.” …And here stands the Archangel Gabriel before her with his good tidings. The Lord, meek and humble Himself, regarded her humility.

He also enjoined humility on us, contrary to the principles of pride and self-love by which humanity today breathes.

Look, why are there so many disagreements among us, both within the enclosure of the Church and in parishes? Because everywhere men made red-hot by self-love are clashing; but if that humility to which the Lord calls us would be found in us, none of this would happen.

Let us, then, brethren, learn from our Savior, who as the least sinner came to John in order to be baptized by him; let us learn from Him this God-beloved and fragrant virtue, without which, as the holy fathers have said, no other virtue whatsoever can be perfect.

Amen.

19 / 01 / 2015

Source: www.pravoslavie.ru

ELDER PAISIOS: DEFEND THE CHRISTIAN FAITH, THE FAMILY, THE CHURCH

23.12.2014 in Articles

By Elder Paisios

Today there are many who strive to corrupt everything: the family, the youth, the Church. In our day it’s a true witness to speak up for one’s people, for the state is waging war against divine law. It’s laws are directed against the Law of God.

Today they’re trying to destroy faith, and for the edifice of faith to fall they quietly pull out one stone, then another. But we’re all responsible for the destruction; not just those who destroy but we who see how faith is being undermined and make no effort to strengthen it. As a result the seducers are emboldened to create even greater difficulties for us, and their rage against the Church and the monastic life increases.Today’s situation can be resisted only spiritually, not by worldly means. The storm will continue to rage a bit, will throw all the flotsam, everything unnecessary, onto the shore, and then the situation will become clearer. Some will receive their reward, while others will have to pay their debts.

Today there are many who strive to corrupt everything: the family, the youth, the Church. In our day it’s a true witness to speak up for one’s people, for the state is waging war against divine law. It’s laws are directed against the Law of God.

But we are responsible for not letting the enemies of the Church corrupt everything. Though I’ve heard even priests say: “Don’t get involved in that. It’s none of your business!” If they had reached such a non-striving condition through prayer I would kiss their feet. But no! They’re indifferent because they want to please everyone and live in comfort.

Indifference is unacceptable even for laymen, and all the more so for the clergy. An honest, spiritual man doesn’t do anything with indifference. “Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord deceitfully”, says the Prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 48:10). There’s a war on today, a holy war. I must be on the front lines. There are so many Marxists, so many Masons, so many Satanists and assorted others! So many possessed, anarchists and seduced ones! I see what awaits us, and it’s painful for me. The bitter taste of human pain is in my mouth.

Source: OrthodoxNet Blog

29 / 11 / 2014

Entrance of the Theotokos

01.12.2014 in Articles

The Feast of the Entrance into the Temple of Our Most Holy Lady the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary is celebrated on December 4 each year. The Feast commemorates when as a young child, the Virgin Mary entered the Temple in Jerusalem.

The birth and early life of the Virgin Mary is not recorded in the Gospels or other books of the New Testament, however this information can be found in a work dating from the second century known as the Book of James or Protevangelion.

When Mary was three years old, Joachim and Anna decided that the time had come to fulfill their promise and to offer her to the Lord. Joachim gathered the young girls of the neighborhood to form an escort, and he made them go in front of Mary, carrying torches. Captivated by the torches, the young child followed joyfully to the Temple, not once looking back at her parents nor weeping as she was parted from them.

The holy Virgin ran toward the Temple, overtaking her attendant maidens and threw herself into the arms of the High Priest Zacharias, who was waiting for her at the gate of the Temple with the elders. Zacharias blessed her saying, “It is in you that He has glorified your name in every generation. It is in you that He will reveal the Redemption that He has prepared for His people in the last days.”

Then, Zacharias brought the child into the Holy of Holies—a place where only the High Priest was permitted to enter once a year on the Day of Atonement. He placed her on the steps of the altar, and the grace of the Lord descended upon her. She arose and expressed her joy in a dance as wonder seized all who saw this happen.

The Virgin Mary dwelt in the Temple for nine years until, reaching an age for marriage, she was taken from the Temple by the priests and elders and entrusted to Joseph as the guardian of her virginity.

The Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple signifies her total dedication to God and her readiness for her future vocation as the Mother of the Incarnate Lord. This is a feast of anticipation. As honor is shown to Mary, the faithful are called to look forward to the Incarnation of Christ, celebrated in a little more than a month by the Feast of the Nativity on January 7.

 

Source: www.goarch.org

A Sermon on Great Thursday. On Thankfulness

24.11.2014 in Articles

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

The soul that is capable of gratitude to God will be saved. The soul that is incapable of gratitude to God—disregarding the life it has received from Him, disregarding all the blessings, and the trials that impart wisdom to that soul—condemns itself to the same fate as did the ungrateful spirits, the bodiless beings we call demons, condemn themselves. And the ungrateful person makes himself like the demons, and like Judas. If you listened attentively to the Vespers and Matins services on Thursday about the Gospel events for Friday, you have caught many times these words: “ungrateful Judas,” “the ungrateful council of the Jews,” and “ungrateful mankind.”

The Eucharist is thanksgiving, a common service of thankfulness to God. We must understand this, feel it, and experience it, even if human life—from the worldly and everyday point of view—happens to be difficult and tough. It is no accident that in one of the Old Testament readings for today, we hear a conversation between Job and the Lord God. Job was a man who endured terrible trials, deprivations, and loss. God asks him: Where wast thou when I founded the earth?(Job 38:4). When did you yourself come into this life, into being from non-being? Can you imagine yourself without God’s plan for you? No, you cannot. And there is nothing left for you to do other than to believe in God’s love; to believe as did the Apostle Paul, that Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him (1 Cor. 2:9). And Job found Eucharist in his heart—thankfulness to God, Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, which we all will approach today, and at the center of which are the Savior’s words:After the Lord had given thanks to God—thanks, that ahead of Him waited the cross, mockery, rejection, betrayal by His disciples, and suffering; thanks for what will happen with His Church in the future—after this, did he brake the bread and give it to His disciples with the cup of wine, with His Body and Blood (cf. Lk. 22:19).

In this is the essence of prayer, the essence of Christianity—of prayer, because one of the holy fathers said these remarkable words. People very often ask, “How should we pray? What is prayer? Teach us to pray.” This holy father answered very simply: “To pray means to give thanks.” Simple and clear. But our task is to comprehend these words spoken by a great ascetic, which came out of his ascetical experience, his wisdom, and from everything he had experienced and considered; taken from his heart, which was filled with God’s grace.

Are we thankful to God? Let each one answer this in his heart. And if we answer sincerely and honestly, we will remember that our heart may be thankful to God, but it may also be indifferent; it can even be full of murmuring and ingratitude. The choice depends upon us alone. There is nothing more terrible—and we know this from our own human experience—than ingratitude.

How many parental hearts have broken when they witnessed with horror that the child they raised, loved endlessly, to whom they had given their all, but in whom they were unable to inculcate a feeling of gratitude, had no gratitude for all they have done. But you can’t make them thankful.

Judas made a gesture of gratitude—an external gesture: he kissed his Teacher, but his heart was filled with evil, murmuring, hatred, and ingratitude. But the thief, whom we remember in the same chant at the services about the ungrateful Judas, suddenly admitted his whole life as he suffered on the cross and saw the Man, likewise crucified. Seeing the Lord’s great humility, meekness, love, and thankfulness to God, the thief recognized in Him the Son of God, and came to know what many, many students of theology are unable to know—he recognized Him as a Man to Whom he could turn for the forgiveness of his sins; He recognized in Him, in this humble and despised, crucified King of the universe, the Son of God, and said, Remember me, O Lord, when Thou comest in Thy Kingdom. This thief suffered, but there was no murmuring in his heart against the King of the universe; there was no murmuring against the One Who allowed this suffering to happen to him, a thief.

People have different talents, but everyone is given the talent of thankfulness. Only, some bury it in the ground, while others increase it and return it to God a hundredfold. Beware of ungrateful people! If you see an ungrateful person, pray for him without judging him, for by judging him we fall into the same sin, and we are anyway so often ungrateful to God, to our loved ones, even to our closest ones, to other people known and unknown to us. But just the same, beware of ungrateful people. Parents, teach your children to be thankful. This is the most important thing that we can cultivate in them. I am not talking about external knowledge. But spiritually, you must teach your children faith and thankfulness, and everything else will be added unto them. But if you object, and consider that thankfulness should grow by itself in your child’s heart, you are cruelly mistaken. The devil will not sit back with arms folded, but will begin to instill his characteristic ingratitude into the hearts of your children. You will reap the fruits of your inaction, and of the most frightful human fault—ingratitude, which will alarm and horrify you. Only after long and serious trials, when very little can be changed, your children will admit their mistakes. But as you well know, this often happens too late.

It is the same for us in our relationship to God. We will not over-moralize, for we all understand what the Lord expects from us. As one humble and meek, He says, My son, give me thy heart. Then He falls silent, and says no more. Nevertheless, He has said what he expects from man. By producing thankfulness in ourselves, we create a spiritual life in ourselves, and make ourselves sons or daughters of God; we make ourselves Christians. In approaching the holy chalice, the main thing that a Christian who has prepared himself for Communion experiences is the feeling of thankfulness to God for everything known unknown, for what we understand and for what we do not understand, that the Lord brings to pass in the world and in each one of us. In this is either our faith, or our faithlessness.

But concerning other people, it is as Archimandrite John (Krestiankin) once said: We should love people, but whether or not they love us is none of our concern. We can repeat the same thing here—we should thank all the people we meet along our life’s path, but whether or not they are thankful to us, whether or not they express their thanks to us (and the heart catches this unmistakably) is also none of our concern, however painful it is to say it. We only need to take care, as Fr. John would say, that we thank them, no matter what.

I congratulate you all with Great Thursday, and with the fact that today we will all celebrate that thankfulness to God, the mystical, yet so important for temporary and eternal life of man, Eucharist—Communion of the Body and Blood of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov)
Translation by Nun Cornelia (Rees)

Source: Pravoslavie.ru

12 / 04 / 2012

Elder Paisios: the children, their joys and their difficulties

10.11.2014 in Articles

Q.: I’ve noticed, Elder, that sometimes babies smile at the time of Divine Liturgy.

A.: They don’t do that only at the Divine Liturgy. Babies are in constant contact with God, because they’ve got nothing to worry about. What did Christ say about little children? ‘Their angels in heaven continually gaze upon the face of my Father who is in heaven’. They’re in touch with God and with their guardian angel, who’s with them all the time. They smile in their sleep sometimes, and at other times cry, because they see all sorts of things. Sometimes they see their guardian angels and play with them- the angels stroke them, tease them, shake their fists and they laugh. On other occasions they see some kind of temptation and cry.

Q.: Why does temptation come to babies?

A.: It helps them to feel the need to seek their mothers. If there wasn’t this fear, they wouldn’t need to seek the comfort of being cuddled by their mothers. God allows everything so that it’ll turn out well.

Q.: Do they remember what they see as babies when they grow up?

A.: No, they forget. If a little child remembered the number of times it had seen its guardian angel, it might fall into pride. That’s why, when it grows up, it forgets. God’s wise in His doings.

Q.: Do they see these things after baptism?

A.: Of course after baptism.

 

Elder Paisios walking in a gardenQ.: Elder, is it all right for an unbaptized child to reverence relics?

A.: Why not? And they can be blessed with the holy relics. I saw a child today, it was like a little angel. I asked, ‘Where are your wings?’ It didn’t know what to say! At my hermitage, when spring comes and the trees are in blossom, I put sweets on the holm-oaks next to the gate in the fence and I tell the little boys who come: ‘Go on, boys, cut the sweets from the bushes, because if it rains they’ll melt and spoil’. A few of the more intelligent ones know that I’ve put them there and laugh. Others really believe that they’ve grown there and some others have to think about it. Little children need a bit of sunshine.

Q.: Did you put lots of sweets, Elder?

A.: Well, of course. What could I do? I don’t give good sweets to grown-ups; I just give them Turkish delight. When people bring me nice sweets, I keep them for the kids at the School [the Athoniada]. ‘See, last night I planted sweets and chocolates and today they’ve come up! See that? The weather was good, the soil was well-turned because you’d dug it over well and they came up just like that. See what a flower garden I’ll make for you. We’ll never need to buy sweets and chocolates for kids. Why shouldn’t we have our own produce?’ (Elder Païsios had planted sweets and chocolates in the freshly dug earth and put lilac blossoms on top to make it seem that they were flowering).

Q.: Elder, some pilgrims saw the chocolates you planted in the garden because the paper stood out against the soil. They didn’t know what to make of it. ‘Some kid must have put them there’, they said.

A.: Why didn’t you tell them that a big kid put them there?

Q.: Elder, why does God give people a guardian angel, when He can protect us Himself?

A.: That’s God looking after us especially carefully. The guardian angel is God’s providence. And we’re indebted to Him for that. The angels particularly protect little children. And you wouldn’t believe how! There were two children once, playing in the street. One of them aimed at the other to hit him on the head with a stone. The other one didn’t notice. At the last moment, apparently, his angel drew his attention to something else, he leapt up and got out of the way. And then there was this mother who went out into the fields with her baby. She breast-fed it, put it down in its cradle and went off to work. After a bit, she went to check and what did she see? The child was holding a snake and looking at it! When she’d suckled the child, some of the milk had stayed on its lips, the snake had gone to lick it off and the baby had grabbed hold of it. God looks after children.

Q.: Elder, in that case, why do so many children suffer from illnesses?

A.: God knows what’s best for each of us and provides as necessary. He doesn’t give people anything that’s not going to benefit them. He sees that it’s better for us to have some sort of defect, a disability instead of protecting us from them.

Source: Discourses 4, Family Life, published by the Holy Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, Souroti, Thessaloniki

 

 

Source: Orthodox Christian Network

Why go to church every Sunday – Part I

09.10.2014 in Articles

I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord (Psalm 121:1).

People often ask priests: “Why should we go to church every Sunday?” and then they begin to justify themselves.Photo: M.Rodionov

“We need our sleep, then, we need to spend time with the family, do things around the house, etc. And you want us to get up and go to church. What for?”

Of course, in order to justify one’s laziness one can come up with various objections. But first we have to understand the meaning behind the weekly trips to church and only then to measure it against our self-justification. It is so obvious that the requirement of frequent church attendance is not man-made, but it was one of the Ten Commandments: Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it (Exodus 20:8-11). In the Old Testament, violation of the fourth commandment was punishable by death, as was murder. In the New Testament, Sunday became the greater holy day because Christ, having risen from the dead, sanctified that day. According to the church rules, whoever violates this commandment is subject to excommunication. As stated in the 80th canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Council: “In case any bishop, or presbyter, or deacon, or anyone else on the list of the clergy, or any layman, without any graver necessity or any particular difficulty compelling him to absent himself from his own church for a very long time, fails to attend church on Sundays for three consecutive weeks, while living in the city, if he be a cleric, let him be deposed from office; but if he be a layman, let him be removed from Communion”.

 

It is rather unlikely that the Creator would give us ridiculous commands, or that the church canons were written to make people’s lives unbearable. Then what is the meaning of this commandment?

Everything in Christianity has its origin in the self-manifestation of God the Trinity, Who is revealed to us in the Lord Jesus Christ. Entering His inner life and participation in His Divine glory is the goal of our life. Since God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him, by the word of Apostle John (1 John 4:16), we can enter into communion with Him only through love.

 

As affirmed by the word of the Lord, the entire Divine God can be reduced to two commandments: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and the greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it: thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets(Matthew 22:37-40). Can we truly fulfill these commandments without going to church? If we love someone, do not we try to see this person as often as possible? Is it possible to imagine two people in love who are avoiding seeing one another? Yes, they can talk on the phone; but it is far better to talk face to face. The same goes for the person who loves God—he wants to come closer to God. May King David be an example for us. He, being a ruler of his people, fighting numerous wars with enemies, executing judgment, used to say: How beloved are Thy dwellings, O Lord of hosts; my soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord. My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God. For the sparrow hath found herself a house, and the turtledove a nest for herself where she may lay her young, Even Thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house; unto ages of ages shall they praise Thee. Blessed is the man whose help is from Thee; he hath made ascents in his heart, in the vale of weeping, in the place which he hath appointed. Yea, for the lawgiver will give blessings; they shall go from strength to strength, the God of gods shall be seen in Sion. O Lord of hosts, hearken unto my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob. O God, our defender, behold, and look upon the face of Thine anointed one. For better is one day in Thy courts than thousands elsewhere. I have chosen rather to be an outcast in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of sinners (Psalm 83).

 
When he was in exile, he would tearfully cry every day over the fact that he cannot enter the house of God:These things have I remembered, and I poured out my soul within me, for I used to go to the place of the wondrous tabernacle, even to the house of God, with a voice of rejoicing and thanksgiving, yea, of the sound of them that keep festival (Psalm 41:5). 

It is exactly this attitude that gives rise to the need of going to God’s temple and makes it essential for the person.

And this is not surprising! The eyes of the Lord are always directed towards God’s temple, the church. In the church, He Himself is present in His Body and Blood. In the church, He revives us in the Baptism, therefore the church is our lesser motherland. In the church, God forgives us our sins in the Mystery of Confession, He gives us His own self in the most holy Communion. Where else can we find such sources of incorruptible life? According to the word of an ancient ascetic, they who throughout the week fight against the devil, hasten on Saturdays and Sundays to church to partake from the sources of the living water of Communion, in order to quench the thirst of their hearts and to be cleansed of the filth of their defiled conscience. Ancient legends tell us that deer hunt snakes and eat them; but when the poison starts burning their interior parts they run to a spring of clear water. So also we have to hasten to the church, in order to cool the irritation of our hearts with the communal prayer. As Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-bearer said, “Try to gather together more frequently to celebrate God’s Eucharist and to praise him. For when you meet with frequency, Satan’s powers are overthrown and his destructiveness is undone by the unanimity of your faith. There is nothing better than peace, by which all strife in heavenly and earthly spirits is cast out” (Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-bearer. Epistle to the Ephesians, 13). People forget that only church prayer can save man from the devil’s attacks, for he is trembling before the power of God and is unable to harm the person who abides in Divine love.

King David chanted: Though a host should array itself against me, my heart shall not be afraid; though war should rise up against me, in this have I hoped. One thing have I asked of the Lord, this will I seek after: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, that I may behold the delight of the Lord, and that I may visit His holy temple. For He hid me in His tabernacle in the day of my troubles, He sheltered me in the secret place of His tabernacle, upon a rock hath He exalted me. And now, behold, He exalted my head above mine enemies. I went round about and I sacrificed in His tabernacle a sacrifice of praise and jubilation; I will sing and I will chant unto the Lord (Psalm 26:3-6).

Besides the fact that in His temple the Lord protects us and gives us strength, He also teaches us, for the Divine Service in its entirety is a true school of Divine love. In God’s holy temple, we hear His word, we bring to mind his marvelous acts, we learn about our future; indeed, In God’s temple everything uttereth His glory (Psalm 28:9); as if before our very eyes there takes place feats of the martyrs, the victories of the ascetics, courage of kings and priests; we learn about the mystical nature of God, about the salvation which Christ has granted us; here we rejoice at Christ’s Radiant Resurrection. It is not accidental that we refer to Sunday Divine Service as a “lesser Pascha”. Often it seems to us that everything around us is terrible, awful and hopeless, but the Sunday Divine Service reveals to us our extreme hope. It was not without reason that Prophet David said that We have thought, O God, of Thy mercy in the midst of Thy temple (Psalm 47:10). Sunday Divine Service is the best weapon against those numerous depressions and sorrows which inhabit our gray everyday life. This service is a brightly shining rainbow of God’s covenant amidst the fog of the everyday bustle.

Photo: Y.Kostygov

In the heart of our festal Divine Service is prayer and contemplation of the Holy Scripture, the reading of which in the church possesses a unique power. One ascetic saw tongues of fire rising up from the mouth of the deacon reading the word of God at the Sunday Divine Service. They were purifying the souls of the praying people and were ascending to Heaven. Those who say that reading the Bible at home is sufficient and, therefore, they do not need to go to church to hear the Word of God are mistaken. Even if they do open the Book at home, their distancing themselves from the assembly of the faithful in the church will prevent them from fully understanding the sacred text. It has been confirmed that those who do not partake of the Holy Communion are practically unable to understand God’s will. No wonder! The Scripture is nothing other than instruction on how to receive Heavenly Grace. But if we simply read a set of instructions and do not try to, let us say, put a bookcase together or use a computer program, the set of instructions will remain unmastered and will be soon forgotten. It is well-known that our mind quickly filters out any unused information. Therefore, the Scripture is inseparable from the church community, for it was given solely to the Church. 

And vice versa, those who attend the Sunday Divine Liturgy and then read the Scripture at home will comprehend meaning in it that they would never have comprehended otherwise. Often, it is precisely on the Church Feast Days that people learn the will of God about themselves. According to the words of St. John of the Ladder, “Although God always endows His servants with gifts, He does even more so on the yearly feasts of the Lord and the Mother of God” (To the Pastor, 3:2). It is not surprising that those who regularly attend church are somewhat different, both in outward appearance and in the disposition of their souls. On one hand, to them virtues become natural, while on the other hand, frequent confessions prevent them from falling into serious sins. In the life of a Christian, passions can intensify, for Satan does not want us—who were made from dust—to ascend to Heaven from which we had been cast down. For this reason Satan attacks us as his enemies. We, however, should not fear him; we should fight him and overcome him, for only he that overcometh shall inherit all things, says the Lord (Rev. 21:7).

If the person says that he is a Christian but does not pray with his brothers, what kind of Christian is he? In the words of the greatest expert on Church canons, Patriarch Theodore Balsamon of Antioch, “Such a person either does nothing regarding fulfillment of the Divine commandment about prayer and singing hymns to God, or he is not a believer. Otherwise, why would he for twenty days not want to be in church with Christians and have communion with God’s faithful people?” (A reference to Church canons which stipulate that Christians who were absent from church on three consecutive Sundays are to be excommunicated.Trans.).

It is no accident that people we consider model Christians: Christians of the apostolic Church in Jerusalem, Were together, and had all things common… And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people (Acts 2:44-47). Their inner strength was a result of their being in one accord. They abided in the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit which was poured forth upon them in response to their love.

It is no coincidence that the New Testament directly forbids one to neglect assembling in church: We shall not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but we shall exhort one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day [of the assembly] approaching Hebrews 10:25).

Photo: Y.Kostygov

All the best things which made Russia holy, and which sustain other Christian nations, are provided by the Divine Services. In church we are delivered from the yoke of our vanity and we can break through from the shackles of crises and wars into God’s peace. And this is the only correct decision: not curses and revolutions, not malice and hatred, but church prayer and virtues can change the world. For what Thou hast formed they have destroyed; and the righteous man, what hath he done? The Lord is in His holy temple (Psalm 10:3-4), and the righteous one flees to the Lord to find refuge. This is not cowardice but wisdom and courage. Only a fool is going to try to stand up by himself against the onslaught of the evil of the entire world, be that terrorism or a natural disaster, revolutions or wars. Only the Almighty God can defend His creation. This is why a church has always been considered a place of safety. 

Indeed, a church is Heaven’s embassy on the Earth where we pilgrims looking for the Heavenly city, receive support. How Thou hast multiplied Thy mercy, O God! Let the sons of men hope in the shelter of Thy wings. They shall be drunken with the fatness of Thy house, and of the torrent of Thy delight shalt Thou make them to drink. For in thee is the fountain of life, in Thy light shall we see light (Psalm 35:8-10).

I think it is clear that love for God is the reason for one’s striving to frequently visit the house of the Lord. But the second commandment demands the same—to love our neighbor. Where else can we give our attention to what is most beautiful in a person? In a store, in a movie theater, or in a hospital? Obviously not. Only in the house of our common Father can we meet our brothers. Our communal prayer is going to be heard by God sooner, too, than a prayer of a proud loner. For Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself said: If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matthew 18:19-20).

In church we distance ourselves from the hustle and bustle and are able to pray both about our own troubles and about the entire universe. In church, we pray to God asking Him to heal the diseases of our relatives, to free the captives, to preserve the travelers, to rescue to perishing. In church we are also in communion with those who have left this world but have not left Christ’s Church. Whenever the departed visit the living they beg them to pray for them in churches. They say that every such a commemoration is like a birthday to them, but we often neglect that. Where then is our love? Let us imagine their condition. They have no bodies, they cannot receive communion, and they cannot do any good deeds (alms), either. They are waiting for support from their friends and relatives, but what they are getting are just excuses. It is the same as saying to your hungry mother: “Please forgive me, I am not going to give you anything to eat, because I badly need a nap”. Do we not know that the church prayer is true food to the departed?

Besides, holy righteous men and women, worthily glorified, await us in the temple. Holy icons allow us to see them, their words are proclaimed during the service, and they themselves often visit the house of God, especially on their feast days. They pray together with us to God, and their powerful hymnology like eagles’ wings bring up the church prayer directly to the Divine altar. And not only people but bodiless angels also participate in our prayer. People sing angels’ songs (for instance, “Trisagion”), while angels sing along with us (“It is truly meet to bless Thee, O Theotokos”). According to the Church Tradition, an angel always stands over the Altar in the consecrated church, sending the prayer of the Church up to God, while a blessed spirit stands at the church entrance, watching over the thoughts of people entering and exiting the church. This presence is rather palpable. For it is not without reason that many unrepentant sinners do not feel good in the temple—it is the power of God rejecting their sinful will and the angels punishing them for their lawlessness. Such people, instead of ignoring the church, must repent and receive forgiveness in the Mystery of Confession and then remember to thank the Creator.

Fr. Daniel Sisoyev

Translation by Priest Sergii Alekseev

Published by Pravoslavie.ru on 04 / 03 / 2013

Part II and Part III available here

THE FEAST OF THE PROTECTION OF THE MOTHER OF GOD

06.10.2014 in Articles
Icon of the Protection of the Mother of God. From the Protection Monastery in Suzdal. Late 15th century.
The Church has always glorified the Most Holy Mother of God as the Protectress and Defender of the Christian people, entreating, by her intercession, God’s loving-kindness towards us sinners. The Mother of God’s aid has been clearly shown times without number, both to individuals and to peoples, both in peace and in war, both in monastic deserts and in crowded cities. The event that the Church commemorates and celebrates on October 14 proves this constant protection of the Christian people by the Mother of God. On October 1st, 911, in the time of the Emperor Leo the Wise (or the Philosopher), there was an all-night vigil at the Blachemae church of the Mother of God in Constantinople. The church was crowded. St. Andrew the Fool for Christ was standing at the back of the church with his disciple Epiphanius. At four o’clock in the morning, the most holy Mother of God appeared above the people with a veil spread over her outstretched hands, as though to protect them with this covering. She was clad in gold-encrusted purple and shone with an unspeakable radiance, surrounded by apostles, saints, martyrs and virgins. Seeing this vision, St. Andrew gestured towards it and asked Epiphanius: ‘Do you see how the Queen and Lady of all is praying for the whole world?’ Epiphanius replied: ‘Yes, Father; I see it and stand in dread.’ As a result, this commemoration was instituted to remind us both of this event and of the Mother of God’s constant protection whenever we prayerfully seek that protection, that shelter, in distress.

Troparion
Most holy Mother of God, today we Orthodox joyfully celebrate thy coming among us. As we gaze at thy icon we cry with compunction: Shelter us under thy protection, deliver us from evil, and pray thy Son Christ our God to save our souls.

Kontakion
Today the Virgin is standing before us in the Church praying for us with the choirs of Saints. Angels worship with Hierarchs, Apostles rejoice with Prophets, for the Mother of God intercedes with the Eternal God for us.

From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham, UK
Published October 14, 2010 on www.pravoslavie.ru
 

How to Bear Sorrows

05.09.2014 in Articles

HOW TO BEAR SORROWS

Olga Rozhneva

What will help us become stronger in sorrows? How can we prevent them? What can we do if grief over our children overcomes us? The Optina Elders gave us this exhortation: “Be careful not to complain or become faint-hearted... Magnanimity and patient endurance lighten sorrows, but faint-heartedness and complaining multiply and exacerbate them.
 

Sorrows and joys are closely connected with each other

St. Anatoly (Zertsalov) taught us to rejoice in sorrows:“God’s mercy is hidden in sorrows! If sorrows surround you—rejoice, for then you are walking by the true way. And whoever does not run from sorrows and bears them as they are able will receive the Eternal Kingdom.

If there are, perhaps, few sorrows—then there will also be few gains and little training. But this is one bad merchant, who is glad that there aren’t very many people at the market and that customers and sellers don’t bother him much!”

St. Barsanuphius used to say:

“There are many bitter things in life: misfortunes, illnesses, poverty and the like. But if a person believes in God, then the Lord can make even a bitter life sweeter.”

The elder would give this exhortation:

“Sorrows and joys are closely connected with each other, so that joy brings sorrow and sorrow—joy. Day follows night and night follows day, bad weather—good weather, and thus sorrow and joy give way to each other.”

Refrain from complaining

If we don’t have the strength to rejoice in sorrows, then, following the direction of St. Barsanuphius, let us try not to grieve beyond measure, and try to keep from complaining:

“But if, in our infirmity, we cannot rejoice when people offend us, then, at least let us not grieve beyond measure. And if, out of the weakness of our nerves, we cannot defeat and overcome sorrowful thoughts and thoughts that cause us to be offended and upset, then in every possible way let us guard ourselves against complaining.”

St. Macarius taught that losing heart and complaining only multiply and exacerbate sorrows:

“Believe me, God does not send us temptations beyond our ability to resist, except perhaps for pride, for conceit, and for complaining, by which we ourselves aggravate our sorrows. Be careful not to complain or become faint-hearted. Magnanimity and patient endurance lighten sorrows, but faint-heartedness and complaining multiply and exacerbate them.”

But if we cannot even keep from complaining, then, according to the advice of St. Ambrose, let us acknowledge our infirmity and humble ourselves:

“But when the matter has even come this far, then let us acknowledge our infirmity and humble ourselves before God and man and repent. Acknowledgement of one’s weaknesses, and humility are sounder than any other virtue.”

Forgiveness of offenses

St. Nikon used to remind us that sorrow is lightened by the forgiveness of offenses:

“Remember that according to spiritual law, forgiveness of offenses (real forgiveness) gives a person understanding of the truth and great blessings. You have to humble yourself and bear it patiently. And the Lord in His mercy will not abandon you.”

Don’t bring sorrows on yourself

How can we prevent sorrows and not bring them on ourselves? How not to take on a self-willed cross that we have asked for? Elder Ambrose advised:

“Don’t be too quick to say something, but before you speak, thoroughly consider what is necessary to say to people who rise up against us, or people in very high positions.”

St. Nikon advised:

“Pray to God that He would deflect every misfortune and temptation away from you. One shouldn’t audaciously throw oneself into an abyss of sorrows—self-assurance in this is proud. But when sorrows come of themselves, do not fear them—don’t think that they have come accidentally, by coincidence. No, they have been allowed by God’s inscrutable Providence.”

Prayer in sorrow

The startsy taught people to pray in sorrow, oppression, offenses, and slander. St. Ambrose counselled people to have recourse to the intercession of the Mother of God and of the saints:

“A lie will always be a lie and can never be the truth, but people who are slandered sooner or later will be exonerated. Have recourse more often in your prayers to the Queen of Heaven and the God-Pleaser St. Nicholas—they will not leave you in sorrows and attacks.”

“Pray more earnestly to the Queen of Heaven, St. Nicholas, St. John the Soldier, and Hieromartyr Phocas. Their prayers are powerfully able to defend you from extreme attacks.”

The elder likewise counselled people to read the Gospel and Psalter more often for comfort in sorrow:

“I am writing out for you the psalms by which St. David prayed when he was being persecuted by enemies: the 3rd, 53rd, 58th, and 142nd.[1] Choose some words from these psalms that are fitting for you and read them often, appealing to God with faith and humility. And when depression tries to overcome you or uncontrollable sorrow torments your soul, read Psalm 101.[2]

“Learn these psalms by heart and say them a little more often: “He that dwelleth in the help of the Most High,”[3] “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined unto me and heard my prayer”[4] “O God, attend unto mine aid….”[5] Read them, learn to give yourself over to God’s Providence, and train yourself to patiently endure what comes to you.”

St. Anthony advised people to have recourse to the Holy Name of Jesus Christ in any grief or trouble:

“Whatever grief has befallen you, whatever trouble has happened, say, “I will bear it for Jesus Christ!” Only say this, and you will feel better. For the name of Jesus Christ is powerful; in its presence all troubles subside, the demons vanish—your irritation will also calm down and your faintheartedness will be soothed when you repeat His sweetest name.”

Elder Joseph recalled St. Basil the Great:

“St. Basil the Great writes about a certain heathen philosopher, who said, “Before, I wanted everything to be done the way I wanted, but seeing that nothing is done the way I want, I began to wish that everything be done the way it is, and through this it began to turn out that everything is done the way I want it to be.”

St. Nikon wrote:

“The Lord helps us in sorrows and temptations, but He does not take them away from us, but gives us the strength to bear them and even not to notice them.”

The starets taught people to say a prayer in sorrow that will heal emotional wounds:

“’Glory to Thee, my God, for the sorrow that Thou hast sent me! I am receiving what I deserve. Remember me in Thy Kingdom. Let Thy holy will be done in all things!’ It is advisable to say this prayer one after the other, not hurrying, enclosing the mind in the words of the prayer. Best of all is to seclude oneself and, standing or sitting, say this prayer. It is an excellent treatment for a sorrowful soul; it helps even in times of intensified emotional and physical sufferings. At first, if it is not possible to be filled with feelings of gratitude towards God, submission to Him, and humility[6] before Him, nevertheless, it is necessary to say the prayer, if only with the lips. These feelings will gradually come, and together with them peace will descend into the person’s heart.”

 

Sometimes one simply needs to patiently wait a little, and sorrow will go away of itself. Elder Ambrose would call to mind this amusing saying:

“Time and again you’ll have to call to mind the saying: ‘You could ask a goose in the winter if his feet weren’t freezing. But the goose, although he often switches from foot to foot, tucking one foot up under himself, nevertheless somehow or other lives through the winter. And then, when spring comes, he contentedly swims around the lake.”

And when one of his spiritual children asked the elder, “Father! Teach me patience!” St. Ambrose answered, “All right, learn it! And begin with the patient endurance of troubles that come upon you, the troubles that you encounter.”

All the Optina elders spoke of the necessity of patient endurance in sorrows. St. Lev instructed:

“Remember, that it is impossible to be saved without sorrows—by patient endurance and humility all will be conquered.”

St. Anatoly (Zertsalov) wrote to a spiritual child:

“Bear it patiently—and there will be peace. But if you begin to render evil for evil—then peace will depart, and God will leave the person who takes the law into his own hands. Where peace is—there is God.”

St. Joseph advised:

“Bear everything patiently, give thanks to God for everything and you will always be calm in spirit.”

“Do not envy those who live without troubles. To patiently endure sorrows is far better than to live without problems.”

“Just as after dry weather rain or a storm awaits without fail, so the same thing happens in a person’s heart after emotional grief, and vice versa. As leaven is needed for dough in order for the bread to taste good, it is the same with patient endurance and salvation.”

“Without patient endurance no virtue can be gained.”

St. Barsanuphius taught:

“Our patience and humility are tested by sorrows. Pray to God for help and patiently bear it. There cannot be anything that God does not allow to happen.”

“You have to bear it patiently, and for your patient endurance, the Lord will comfort you.”

Patience with understanding

Elder Anatoly (Zertsalov) wrote that patient endurance should not be gloomy, but with understanding:

“But even your patience should not be blind, that is, cheerless, but patience with understanding—that the Lord sees all your deeds, looks into your very soul as we look into the face of a loved one—that is, clearly and intently. He sees and tests: what kind of person will you prove to be in sorrows? If you patiently endure it then you will be His beloved. But if you do not bear it and begin to complain, but repent, all the same you will be His beloved.”

And St. Nikon explained what patient endurance with understanding is:

“Patient endurance is an unfaltering good attitude.”

Support one another in sorrows

St. Joseph remarked that the sympathy of like-minded people and friendly support does a great deal to lighten sorrows:

“When you have oneness of mind with someone close to you sorrows are lightened, for, as the saying goes, “one hand washes the other,” that is, one supports the other.

Don’t exaggerate problems

St. Ambrose emphasized that we mustn’t exaggerate problems. Sometimes we see sorrows where really there are only small problems that will go away by themselves. But if we start to become depressed, then these small problems really act on our soul destructively. The elder spoke with sadness about some spiritual daughters of his who would complain about small problems as if they were great sorrows:

“Every day I talk with people from morning to late in the evening, but the fruits of these discussions aren’t evident. And often I have to remember the words of the late Fr. Abbot Anthony, who used to say that the sign of Christ’s disciples is if they have love among themselves (cf. John 13:35), while the sign of my girl-disciples is if they have enmity and disagreement among themselves.” And he would add, “My little daughters came to me with great sorrows, while all these sorrows amounted to what you could spit on and stomp on with your foot.”

A small sorrow can save you from great ones

St. Ambrose used to remark that “there is no bad without some good”:

“The Lord also often arranges our spiritual welfare through unpleasant circumstances.”

The saint wrote to his spiritual daughter, who was complaining about sorrows, that if she decides, contrary to how she is advised, to run from the uncomfortable things and troubles that are sent by God’s Providence, then yet greater sorrows may befall her—“out of the frying pan and into the fire”:[7]

“Imitate the example of the people of old, who as a rule used to say, ‘Don’t live as you want, but live as God brings….’ It is true that your situation in your convent is straitened, and unpleasant, and uncomfortable. But there is a common saying: ‘If you flee from a wolf you’ll run into a bear.’ There is only one thing left to do—patiently endure it and wait, paying attention to yourself and not judging others, and praying to the Lord and the Queen of Heaven that They would arrange for your welfare as it pleases Them.”

St. Lev warned a spiritual child of his of a similar thing:

“This is how God is punishing you; bear God’s punishment and then by a small sorrow you will be saved from great ones. But if you decide not to endure this small temptation, then you will be punished more.”

“Drop it, Simon dear, don’t go running after your wheels!”

Simon Ivanovich, who lived in the town of Kozel’sk, used to tell about similar guidance:

“In the ‘30’s (19th century), as also later, I worked making pottery. My mother and I lived in our own little house; we had no horses, but there was a rather good carriage. I used to fill this carriage with pots, ask to borrow someone’s horse, and take the pots to the market. That’s how I used to subsist. At that time a soldier was staying with us at our house, a Pole, but later he left us and went haywire. Once, taking advantage of an opportune moment, he got into our yard and pulled the wheels off our carriage.

“I explained my grief to Batiushka Fr. Leonid and said that I knew the thief and could find the wheels. ‘Drop it, Simon dear, don’t go running after your wheels,” answered Batiushka. ‘This is how God is punishing you; bear God’s punishment and then by a small sorrow you will be saved from great ones. But if you decide not to endure this small temptation, then you will be punished more.’ I followed the elder’s advice, and everything came about just as he had said.

“Soon the very same Pole snuck into our yard again, stole a bag of flour from the granary, hoisted it onto his shoulder and wanted to go through the vegetable garden with it, but at that moment my mother was coming from the vegetable garden and ran into him. ‘Where are you bringing this?’ she said. He dropped the sack of flour and ran off.

“Soon after that another thing happened. We had a cow, and we decided to sell her. We found a buyer, negotiated, and took his deposit. But for some reason the buyer didn’t come for the cow for several days. Finally he came and took her home. And on the following night the thief got into our place and broke down the shed where our cow had been—without a doubt, to carry her off, but she was no longer there. Thus the Lord, by the elder’s prayers, saved us from misfortune.

“Many years after this, a third, similar thing happened, this time after my mother had died. Passion Week was coming to an end, and the Feast of Pascha was approaching. For some reason it entered my mind to transfer all of my necessary things from my little house to my sister’s, who was my neighbor. And that’s what I did. And as the first day of the Feast was beginning, I locked my house from all sides and walked to Matins. I had always spent Matins joyfully on this day, but now, I myself don’t know why, there was something upsetting me. I came home from Matins and looked: the windows had all been taken out and the door was open. ‘Well,’ I thought to myself, ‘it must have been a bad man.’ And it really had been, but since I had transferred all my necessary goods to my sister’s, he went away with almost nothing.

“So, three times Batiushka Fr. Leonid’s predictions came true with me such that, if I endured a small punishment from God, then God did not punish me any more than that.”

Grief about children

Parents are often upset about their children: about their illnesses, mistakes, failures, bad behavior and unbelief. Starets Ambrose counselled a mother not to give herself over to despair and depression, tormenting herself over the incorrect upbringing of her son, and not try so much to bring him—already a grown man—to his senses, as to pray for him, having repented and humbled herself:

“And in general you should not try so much to bring him to his senses, but pray more for him that the Lord Himself, in the ways known unto Him, would bring him to his senses. Great is the power of a mother’s prayer! Remember from what a great depth of evil the prayers of Blessed Augustine’s pious mother retrieved him. And while praying for your son, pray also for yourself, that the Lord would forgive you for however you sinned in ignorance.”

Grief over slander and unfairness

People get very, very upset when they have to endure unfair attacks and slander. St. Macarius wrote about how sometimes the Lord allows slander, in order to cleanse our hidden sins by it:

“You are upset about the fact that they are slandering you for nothing. Remember how they slandered our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Glory! Who then are we? He is without sin, while we, although not guilty of that thing, are greatly guilty before God in other cases, and for those hidden sins God allows false slander, in order by it to cleanse those sins.”

St. Joseph wrote thus about slander, being reported on, and false charges:

“There is no reason to greatly fear slander. Let them slander as they wish. It’s good that they have nothing to hold against you that is true. Only don’t hold a grudge against the ones who offend you.”

“When they hurt your feelings, consider that you deserve it, and don’t get angry, but pray to God for the ones who are offending you.”

“For the bearing of wrongful reprimands from your bosses, your head will be invisibly crowned, so be glad, and don’t be upset about it.”

St. Barsanuphius advised people not to be upset when suffering slander, but themselves to fear slandering anyone whether in word or even in their thoughts, and to pray that the Lord would help:

“A weak person prays that he wouldn’t be slandered, but a brave person prays that God would help him not to slander anyone either in word or in thought.”

Our holy Fathers, Elders of Optina, pray to God for us sinners!

Olga Rozhneva
Translated by Dimitra Dwelley

Source: Pravoslavie.ru 02 / 09 / 2014

[1] According to Orthodox Septuagint (LXX) numbering (which may be read with this numbering in English in the Douay-Rheims Bible). In the KJV, the cited Psalms are 3, 54, 59, and 143.

[2] Psalm 102 KJV.

[3] Ps. 90 (LXX), 91 (KJV)

[4] Ps. 39 (LXX), 40 (KJV). The Slavonic wording is used where there is a difference from the KJV. Here, the Greek word deiseos means “a prayer, petition,” and hence “cry” in KJV.

[5] Ps. 69 (LXX).

[6] smirenie — often translated as “humility,” it also has connotations of resignation, submission, not fighting

[7] In Russian: “If you flee from a wolf you will run into a bear.”

On Happiness

05.09.2014 in Articles

ON HAPPINESS

From “And they shall be one flesh”, by Priest Pavel Gumerov

Archpriest Nicholai Guryanov

Archpriest Nicholai Guryanov

Priest Pavel Gumerov

There are conflicting ideas about happiness; some think it is a sum of earthly good things, a kind of social welfare package that makes a person’s life comfortable and carefree. Each to his own, but nevertheless, in this case you either got lucky and are happy, or you are left to drag out the pitiful existence of the luckless. This idea of happiness is primitive and over-simplified.Happiness is immaterial—it is a state of the soul. Of course, people understand happiness in various ways. Some find it in their family, others go to a monastery to dedicate their whole lives to God; for a monk, that is happiness. Some have no family but find happiness in laboring for the good of people, because this labor brings joy to himself and others. Another may have nothing at all, but he is still happy. He is happy because the weather outside is good and he has no sickness at the moment. There are all different kids of people. And to the contrary, a person may have everything: health, material wealth, a good family… He has only to live and rejoice, but he is still unhappy, does not appreciate it all, and is always discontented with one thing or another.Thus, happiness does not depend on material conditions of life—it is within a person, in his own soul: The kingdom of God cometh not with observation… behold, the kingdom of God is within you (Lk. 17:20-21). This, as we have said, is a state of the soul: the ability to appreciate everything given to us, and to thank God for it.Every day can give us happiness; we must only be able to see it.One priest used to counsel his spiritual children to end every day by writing down no fewer than fifty things, “that you should thank God for.” Without the ability to see something joyful and bright in every day, not only can we not be happy, we cannot even live a normal life. Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote a story called One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. In it is described an ordinary day of a prisoner in a strict-regime concentration camp. However, this story is not about the horrors of camp life, but about how one man, in what would seem to be utter darkness, manages to see something good and positive.He receives an extra piece of bread and he can almost taste it, he thinks about how he is going to eat it; suddenly he unexpectedly finds a piece of a saw and is able to make from it a cobbler’s knife and earn a little money. He is able to avoid solitary confinement—that is a great joy. Ivan Denisovich even finds pleasure in work. First of all, he can warm himself by work and the frost doesn’t get to him so badly, and secondly, as a former peasant he loves labor, he likes doing what he know how to do well. The hero of the story always tries to see good human qualities in everyone around him. He greatly appreciates the help and support of his comrade prisoners. Even in prison, in solitary confinement this person does not fall out of life, and every day brings him joy.

Once a certain priest went to visit the now reposed elder Archpriest Nicholai Guryanov and told him about the sorrows and problems he was having. Fr. Nicholai heard him out and said, “Rejoice!” “What is there to rejoice about?” The priest thought to himself. But the elder went on, “Rejoice that you were born, rejoice that you are baptized, rejoice that you are in the Orthodox faith, rejoice that you are still alive!” And perhaps the words of the Apostle Paul: Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thess. 5:16-18) is the formula for happiness? It is the ability to be joyful about life, to always be with God and to thank Him for all that he sends us.

St. John Chrysostom says, “If something good happens, bless God, and it will remain good. If something bad happens, bless God, and the bad will cease. Glory be to God for all things!”

We not only have to know how to see happiness in our lives, but we also have to be careful with regard to it, and not spill it. There is an oriental fable on this theme. A certain youth asked his father, “What is happiness?” And his father sent him to a well-known wise man. So, the young man went to the famous teacher expecting to see an ascetic, but the man turned out to be rather wealthy, possessing a fine palace filled with works of art. The youth came to the palace and asked the wise man, “Teacher, tell me what happiness is.” The teacher gave him a small spoon filled it with olive oil, and said, “Walk around my palace, look at all the treasures and beautiful works of art inside it, and when you return tell me what you saw. But in doing so, make sure that you do not spill the oil from the spoon.” In a little while the youth returned and told the man all about that he had seen, adding that as he looked around at the treasures, all the oil spilled out of his spoon. Then the wise man filled the spoon again with oil and repeated the request. When the youth returned and the teacher asked him what he had seen, the boy said, “I couldn’t see anything in your palace because I was making sure not to spill any oil.” And truly, he brought the spoon back without spilling a drop. “Happiness is in this,” said the wise man. “In being able to preserve the gift that you have, and not waste it.” This parable tells us that by looking at all the wealth and beauty that does not belong to us, that was not given to us, we are not only unable to see them clearly, but we also loose what we do have.

Some people (and there are many) chase all their lives after the bird of happiness, the unreachable ideal, seeking happiness in one marriage, then in another, a third, getting disappointed and then falling in love again. They are passing by their own happiness, and life passes them by. Such people are deeply unhappy. The English author and thinker G. K. Chesterton has a wonderful saying about this: “Faithfulness to one woman is a small price to pay for seeing at least one woman. Complaining that you can only marry once is like complaining that you can only be born once. This is incompatible with the great experience that we are talking about, and reveals not exaggerated sensuality, but a strange insensibility. Only a fool would be dissatisfied that he cannot enter Eden through five gates. Polygamy is a lack of love, it’s like distractedly grabbing up ten priceless pearls.”[1]

In speaking of happiness in general and about family happiness in part, it is impossible not to touch upon the subject of love, for love and happiness are two sisters; these concepts are closely related to each other. One wise man said, “Happiness does not mean being happy yourself, but making other people happy.” This thought could be expanded: “Whoever makes others happy is happy himself.” After all, the possibility to love, to give others happiness, is the manifestation of God’s image in us. In this we make ourselves like unto God Himself. The Lord creates the world and man precisely out of love. God cannot but pour out His love and care for people, for He Himself is Love.

And of course, the only person who is truly happy is the person who knows how to love and to give love and happiness to others.

There used to be a slogan here that went, “Man is the forger of his own happiness.” At first glance this sounds a little haughty, but if you think about it, there is no contradiction with Christianity in it. After all, happiness directly depends on our relationship to reality; on how we build our lives, relate to others, and appreciate all that God sends us.


Priest Pavel Gumerov

Translation by OrthoChristian.com

Published by pravoslavie.ru on 24 / 08 / 2014

[1] This quote is reverse translated from the Russian, and may not be Chesterton’s exact words.—Trans.