Sunday, July 30, 2017

Orthodox Christians should be ready for self-sacrifice and even martyrdom

…In order to pray one had to be ready at any minute for a martyr’s death. And we were ready for it…

…everyone who entered [the one remaining church that did not accept the Declaration of 1927 by Metropolitan Sergius] was registered and later arrested. This was the time when the atheist Soviet power demanded of believers that they go to the Churches of the official Church.

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I, too, was arrested and banished for five years. At Solovki I encountered many hierarchs of the true Church. And there we already had our Catacomb church.

In the concentration camps the persecution against faith was completely open: priests were shorn and shaved, forbidden to wear cassocks and crosses. For making the sign of the Cross a new term of imprisonment was given. Of course there was no question of any open services. (…) In order to pray one had to be ready at any minute for a martyr’s death. And we were ready for it, always carrying with us, like the first Christians, a Particle of the Holy Gifts. I brought such a Particle abroad and gave it to Metropolitan Anastassy.

what terror overwhelmed me when, fairly recently, I managed to come abroad and found that some people here ’spiritually’ recognize the Soviet Church. Spiritually!

And not only were we ready to die, but many did die, confident that somewhere there, outside the reach of the Soviet authorities, where there is freedom - there the Truth was shining in all its purity. There people were living by it and submitting to it. There people did not bow down to Antichrist. And what terror overwhelmed me when, fairly recently, I managed to come abroad and found that some people here ’spiritually’ recognize the Soviet Church. Spiritually! Many of us there fell, ‘for fear of the Jews’, or giving in to the temptation of outward cooperation with the authorities. I knew priests of the official Church who, at home, tore their hair out, who smashed their heads making prostrations, begging forgiveness for their apostasy, calling themselves Cain - but nonetheless they did not have the strength to decide upon martyrdom. But even they spiritually did not recognize the Red Church. But these others abroad - it is precisely spiritually that they submit to it. What good fortune that our priest-martyrs, in dying, did not find out about this betrayal!

…even they spiritually did not recognize the Red Church. But these others abroad - it is precisely spiritually that they submit to it. What good fortune that our priest-martyrs, in dying, did not find out about this betrayal!

I. M. Andreyev: Russia’s Catacomb Saints

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Early Christian teachings on the Church

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The Shepherd of Hermas is an early Christian writing which contains teachings also for the Christians of today. Hermas was vouchsafed a series of visions of the Church, who appeared in the form of a Lady, instructing him on the nature of the Church and on the moral obligations of all Christians.

The Lady, (the Church) describes the body of the Church as a great tower:

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Now the tower was being builded foursquare by the six young men that came with her. And countless other men were bringing stones, some of them from the deep, and others from the land, and were handing them to the six young men. And they took them and builded.

The stones that were dragged from the deep they placed in every case, just as they were, into the building, for they had been shaped, and they fitted in their joining with the other stones; and they adhered so closely one with another that their joining could not possibly be detected; and the building of the tower appeared as if it were built of one stone.

and the building of the tower appeared as if it were built of one stone

But of the other stones which were brought from the dry land, some they threw away, and some they put into the building; and others they broke in pieces, and threw to a distance from the tower. Now many other stones were lying round the tower, and they did not use them for the building; for some of them were mildewed, and others had cracks in them, and others were too short, and others were white and round, and did not fit into the building. And I saw other stones thrown to a distance from the tower, and coming to the way, and yet not staying in the way, but rolling to where there was no way; and others falling into the fire and burning there; and others falling near the waters, and yet not able to roll into the water, although they desired to roll and to come to the water.

“Many shall hear; but when they hear, some of them shall be glad, and others shall weep. Yet even these latter, if they hear and repent, shall likewise be glad.”

Many shall hear; but when they hear, some of them shall be glad, and others shall weep. Yet even these latter, if they hear and repent, shall likewise be glad. The tower, which thou seest building, is myself, the Church

“The tower, which thou seest building, is myself, the Church…
Hear then why the tower is builded upon waters; it is because your life is saved and shall be saved by water. But the tower has been founded by the word of the Almighty and Glorious Name, and is strengthened by the unseen power of the Master.”

…your life is saved and shall be saved by water…

The Christian is saved by Baptism, and thereafter, by repentance - both are symbolised by water.

“Hear now concerning the stones that go to the building:
The stones that are squared and white, and that fit together in their joints, these are the apostles and bishops and teachers and deacons, who walked after the holiness of God, and exercised their office of bishop and teacher and deacon in purity and sanctity for the elect of God, some of them already fallen on sleep, and others still living. And because they always agreed with one another, they both had peace among themselves and listened one to another. Therefore their joinings fit together in the building of the tower.”

And because they always agreed with one another, they both had peace among themselves and listened one to another. Therefore their joinings fit together in the building of the tower.

“But they that are dragged from the deep, and placed in the building, and that fit together in their joinings with the other stones that are already builded in, who are they?” “These are they that suffered for the name of the Lord.”

“But the other stones that are brought from the dry land, I would fain know who these are, lady.” She said, “Those that go to the building, and yet are not hewn, these the Lord hath approved because they walked in the uprightness of the Lord, and rightly performed His commandments.”

“But they that are brought and placed in the building, who are they?” “They are young in the faith, and faithful; but they are warned by the angels to do good, because wickedness was found in them.”

“But those whom they rejected and threw away, who are they?” “These have sinned, and desire to repent, therefore they were not cast to a great distance from the tower, because they will be useful for the building, if they repent. They then that shall repent, if they repent, will be strong in the faith, if they repent now while the tower is building. But if the building shall be finished, they have no more any place, but shall be castaways. This privilege only they have, that they lie near the tower.

But those whom they rejected and threw away, who are they?” “These have sinned, and desire to repent, therefore they were not cast to a great distance from the tower, because they will be useful for the building, if they repent. They then that shall repent, if they repent, will be strong in the faith, if they repent now while the tower is building. But if the building shall be finished, they have no more any place, but shall be castaways. This privilege only they have, that they lie near the tower.

But wouldst thou know about them that are broken in pieces, and cast away far from the tower? These are the sons of lawlessness. They received the faith in hypocrisy, and no wickedness was absent from them. Therefore they have not salvation, for they are not useful for building by reason of their wickednesses. Therefore they were broken up and thrown far away by reason of the wrath of the Lord, for they excited Him to wrath.

they are not useful for building by reason of their wickednesses. Therefore they were broken up and thrown far away

But the rest whom thou hast seen lying in great numbers, not going to the building, of these they that are mildewed are they that knew the truth, but did not abide in it, nor cleave to the saints. Therefore they are useless.”

the rest…lying in great numbers…mildewed - are they that knew the truth, but did not abide in it, nor cleave to the saints. Therefore they are useless.

“But they that have the cracks, who are they?” “These are they that have discord in their hearts against one another, and are not at peace among themselves; who have an appearance of peace, but when they depart from one another, their wickednesses abide in their hearts. These are the cracks which the stones have.

…They that have the cracks…are they that have discord in their hearts against one another, and are not at peace among themselves; who have an appearance of peace, but when they depart from one another, their wickednesses abide in their hearts

But they that are broken off short, these have believed, and have their greater part in righteousness, but have some parts of lawlessness; therefore they are too short, and are not perfect.”

“But the white and round stones, which did not fit into the building, who are they, lady?” She answered and said to me, “How long art thou foolish and stupid, and enquirest everything, and understandest nothing? These are they that have faith, but have also riches of this world. When tribulation cometh, they deny their Lord by reason of their riches and their business affairs.”

…the white and round stones, which did not fit into the building… are they that have faith, but have also riches of this world. When tribulation cometh, they deny their Lord by reason of their riches and their business affairs

And I answered and said unto her, “When then, lady, will they be useful for the building?” “When,” she replied, “their wealth, which leadeth their souls astray, shall be cut away, then will they be useful for God. For just as the round stone, unless it be cut away, and lose some portion of itself, cannot become square, so also they that are rich in this world, unless their riches be cut away, cannot become useful to the Lord. Learn first from thyself When thou hadst riches, thou wast useless; but now thou art useful and profitable unto life. Be ye useful unto God, for thou thyself also art taken from the same stones.

“But the other stones which thou sawest cast far away from the tower and falling into the way and rolling out of the way into the regions where there is no way, these are they that have believed, but by reason of their double heart they abandon their true way. Thus thinking that they can find a better way, they go astray and are sore distressed, as they walk about in the regions where there is no way. But they that fall into the fire and are burned, these are they that finally rebelled from the living God, and it no more entered into their hearts to repent by reason of the lusts of their wantonness and of the wickednesses which they wrought.

…the other stones which thou sawest cast far away from the tower and falling into the way and rolling out of the way into the regions where there is no way…are they that have believed, but by reason of their double heart they abandon their true way. Thus thinking that they can find a better way, they go astray and are sore distressed, as they walk about in the regions where there is no way. But they that fall into the fire and are burned, these are they that finally rebelled from the living God, and it no more entered into their hearts to repent

But the others, which are near the waters and yet cannot roll into the water, wouldest thou know who are they? These are they that heard the word, and would be baptized unto the name of the Lord. Then, when they call to their remembrance the purity of the truth, they change their minds, and go back again after their evil desires.”

..the others, which are near the waters and yet cannot roll into the water, …are they that heard the word, and would be baptized unto the name of the Lord. Then, when they call to their remembrance the purity of the truth, they change their minds, and go back again after their evil desires

So she finished the explanation of the tower.

Still importunate, I asked her further, whether for all these stones that were rejected and would not fit into the building of the tower that was repentance, and they had a place in this tower. “They can repent,” she said, “but they cannot be fitted into this tower. Yet they shall be fitted into another place much more humble, but not until they have undergone torments, and have fulfilled the days of their sins. And they shall be changed for this reason, because they participated in the Righteous Word; and then shall it befall them to be relieved from their torments, if the evil deeds, that they have done, come into their heart; but if these come not into their heart, they are not saved by reason of the hardness of their hearts.”

With so many pitfalls, what is a Christian to do to be saved and fit into the building of the great tower? The Lady answers:

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“Seest thou seven women round the tower?” “I see them, lady,” say I. “This tower is supported by them by commandment of the Lord. Hear now their employments. The first of them, the woman with the strong hands, is called Faith; through her are saved the elect of God. And the second, that is girded about and looketh like a man, is called Continence; she is the daughter of Faith. Whosoever then shall follow her, becometh happy in his life, for he shall refrain from all evil deeds, believing that, if he refrain from every evil desire, he shall inherit eternal life.”

Whosoever then shall follow {Faith} becometh happy in his life, for he shall refrain from all evil deeds, believing that, if he refrain from every evil desire, he shall inherit eternal life

“And the others, lady, who be they?” “They are daughters one of the other. The name of the one is Simplicity, of the next, Knowledge, of the next, Guilelessness, of the next, Reverence, of the next, Love. When then thou shalt do all the works of their mother, thou canst live.”

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From Faith is born Continence, from Continence Simplicity, from Simplicity Guilelessness, from Guilelessness Reverence, from Reverence Knowledge, from Knowledge Love. Their works then are pure and reverent and divine. Whosoever therefore shall serve these women, and shall have strength to master their works, shall have his dwelling in the tower with the saints of God.”

Whosoever therefore shall serve these women, and shall have strength to master their works, shall have his dwelling in the tower with the saints of God

Anonymous. The Shepherd of Hermas

Thursday, August 4, 2016

A letter to those who criticise

210417.p.jpgTaken from Letters of Bishop Ignaty Branchianinnov, Volume 7, Moscow, 1993. Letter 57, page 78.

To a hieromonk of the St Sergius Hermitage, who had denounced [the Holy Hierarch] Archimandrite Ignaty in writing, for his variable disposition to those around him, and to himself in particular.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Placing my hope on the help of God and His strength, which acts through feeble people, I have decide to answer your letter, similarly with a letter. And this is more so in order that my mind not become distracted in a personal conversation, and not exhaust itself in noisy words, but rather in the quiet solitude of my kelia maintain a peaceful state, which is the condition for seeing Truth. Now I stand before Her, and illuminated by Her light, I look at my soul and check with what I see in your accusation. What then do I see? I see wounds in my soul, I see the multitude of her illnesses, I see weaknesses, of which some are natural to it, and others a result of injuries and diseases, past and present. I turn my attention to my life so far: I see that it is a chain of sins, a chain of falls; almost at every step I was mocked and insulted by the devil due to my lack of spiritual wisdom, due to an excess of pride, my unwillingness to ask advice from my neighbour. Such is the state of my soul, now when my life’s journey has reached more than half my days. Meanwhile my body has become weak; It is pierced and cut to pieces by various ailments. They are messengers; they proclaim the approach of the separation of the soul from the body. Soon, soon I will lie down on the bed, not in order to give my overworked body temporary rest, but to shed it off myself in the ark of the coffin, in the bowels of the earth, from which I was taken, until the future general resurrection. Remember me o Lord in Thy Kingdom: for my soul is sick, and the body is imprinted with sin. In my state, it would be more seemly for me to leave everything, and without hindrance, surrender oneself to inconsolable weeping; when all is lost, at least not to lose repentance.

But to achieve this state, which I recognize as the most decent for myself, I do not use any means other than my feeble prayer, in which I ask for the fulfillment of God’s will in me. This petition for of the will of God is instilled by fear of asking for something that exceeds my strength. This fear is suggested by experience itself: because in all experiences where my strength was tested, my weakness was revealed; Wherever the demons depicted before my mind a picture of the brilliant successes, there, in fact, turned out to be damage, there arose a disaster, there a fatal abyss was covered with flowers. I realized the deceit after committing to the deception; I learned of the prelest, having already been seduced and corrupted by it. Now I am afraid to begin anything by self-will, even such things as I consider edifying. The Holy Fathers say - it is better to do combat with faeces, ie, with fornication and gluttony, than with self-opinionated logical thinking, high mindedness, pride and contempt. For these last passions are subtle, they imperceptibly creep into ones mind, take the form of sound and righteous thoughts, and cannot be detected other than by the light of grace. I stand before the Providence of God with my mind, putting aside at this moment worldly wisdom and its righteousness. God created me without me desiring or asking for it: because how could “nothing” wish for, or even more so - ask for anything? God redeemed me – who was fallen and lost; the cost of this redemption was Himself.

Meanwhile, as although He is the Redeemer, clothed in humility, He is not recognized by carnal minds, despite His obviousness. They are left to wonder at things spiritually akin to themselves, chasing after things foreign to themselves, liable to decay.

ib231.jpgTo me, the wretched one, He has granted to know Himself. When my eyes were closed, clay mixed with spittle coming out of His mouth were healing them. The Cross of Christ opens the eyes of the mind; the Cross of Christ maintains health, heals diseases of the eyes. Separate from the Cross of Christ there is no truth of Christ. Peace and truth will destroy those that are of the devil. I stand before my Lord and I see His Holy Providence, and I wonder at His long-suffering patience, how merciful He is to those sinful errors into which I fell due to my self-will and self-willed logical thinking. I commit my soul into the hands of God; that which He grants me, that I will accept. He knows my strength, because He gave it to me. If I am given one talent corresponding to my strength, I do not search for five, so as not to fail under the weight of them; so that the gift which is meant to serve for benefit, does not serve for condemnation.

I run from my sinful falls - not into reclusion, not into the desert - but to self-reproach, to confession of my sins, to repentance.

My bewilderment, my rational judgements and my will, I cast into the depths of the mercy and providence of God.

Such is the spectacle with which my soul confronts me when I look at her with my mind, in the light of the teaching of the Gospel. Now I will turn to the words of reproof found in your letter. The actual nature of the case shows, that you, looking at the externals of my behavior, have noticed far fewer flaws than actually are found in my soul. Conscious of my great debt, I must acknowledge the smaller one, which I concede to even in the case that I would not like to confess. For this it remains for me to tearfully ask your forgiveness and holy prayers for my correction. If, according to the words of Saint Isaac (the Syrian),

justification by word does not belong to Christian life and is not prescribed anywhere in the teaching of Christ.

If the Lord Himself, standing before worldly authority, while exalting the Truth of the Cross before the gaze of the universe, did not give any attention to external truth, not one word, like dust and ashes, if He met their accusations with silence, then who, looking at the depths of his heart, and seeing accurately, dare oppose his accuser? Such a person will tell the sword waving at him: strike, because you were not raised in vain. He will say to the disasters: Attack me and dispirit me, because I deserve it. He will say to the body, exhausted by disease and sent into exile: Go, for you have sinned. He will say to his brethren, pray for me the defiled one, you angels of God. He will fall to the feet of adulterers and murderers and say unto them: pray for me, for you are more righteous than me. Such is my state, when the [spiritual] eyes of my mind are open; but when they close, then my condition becomes far worse: for the wounds naturally remain the same; but to the diseases of my heart is added the blindness of my mind.

From blindness is born insensitivity, loss of love for our neighbor, and the loss of compunction and comforting mourning, the amassing wounds to wounds and diseases to diseases.

In short - whether I see or am blinded - my condition is extremely disastrous, worthy of the tears and sobs of all who know and love me. Such is my answer to everyone who criticizes, and to you. If I answer otherwise – I sin.

I would have had to be satisfied with this if I were not speaking to my spiritual son, who, while uttering accusations against me as his heart dictates, nevertheless does not claim that they are the absolute truth, but rather, he offers them to me for judgement. Therefore I feel obliged to continue my conversation, and despite the fact that I am feeble, borrowing light from the True Light - the Word of God, I feel obliged to satisfy the demands of your letter. Not so much by paying attention to the specific thoughts contained in this letter, as by uncovering, in the light of the Gospel teachings, those secret motives of the heart of which these ideas are the fruit. According to the Fathers,

those people who require a complete elimination of flaws from their close ones, hold a false notion of this matter.

We find this opinion of the Fathers also among the Apostles: one of them (John the Evangelist), says: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 1 John. 1, 8. Another says (St. Paul): “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” Gal. 6, 2. What can give rise to the reproaching of our neighbour’s weakness, is shown in Scriptures in men of the highest virtue. Who is holier than the Apostles? However in the Acts we read that between the Apostles Barnabas and Paul there arose a dissension, and after the dissension - a separation. Beyond doubt we are told of this circumstance by Scripture with the aim that we, infirm as we are,

be careful and not get carried away by imaginary zeal, but carry one another’s burdens. In this way fulfilling the law of Christ! Carry my weaknesses, then; and I will try to bear yours, as I have tried to do hitherto.

Obviously it is impossible for you to say that you have no weaknesses.

My weaknesses are heavier more so for you than for me: and yours are perceptible more for me than for you.

If the weight was not burdensome, then carrying it would have no value, and there would not be any reason to give this commandment.

But the value of reciprocally bearing weaknesses is so great that Scripture has concluded that in this lies the fulfillment of the law of Christ, Who bore upon Himself the sins of the whole world.

I will say a few words about inconstancy. Inconstancy, or changeableness, according to the holy Fathers, is the constant and inevitable weakness of humans, as long as a person is found in this country of his exile, that is, on this earth. Perfect constancy is a property of the future order of things. Variableness is not only characteristic to us who are infirm, as even the greatest Saints acknowledged this in themselves. Tolerate the inconstancy in me, and I will tolerate it in you. My inconstancy is more palpable for you, and yours – for me. Let us bear our mutual weaknesses that we may know that the yoke of Christ is good: if we throw off the yoke of Christ, then which yoke shall we subordinate ourselves to? Excellently the holy Elijah Ekdik said:

“The house of the soul - is patience, for it lives in it; and its food – is humility, for it is fed by this.” Exactly so - thoughts with humility of wisdom keep the soul in patience. If this is so, then this follows: there is nothing that banishes the soul from patience, as much as prideful thoughts.

Repeatedly I have told you and many others, to whom I thought to impart soul-profiting knowledge: When I check my disposition and behaviour against the writings of the holy Fathers, I find that I would have to be found among the beginners in ancient monasticism. However in contemporary monasticism, where the knowledge of the Fathers and the way of thinking only somewhat imprinted by such knowledge, is so rare, that one who teaches his listeners the teaching of the Fathers, is a greatest rarity. It is with this condition that I govern you all and have you as my spiritual children, so as to teach all of you the Gospel way of thinking, which is the way of thinking of the Fathers.

Truly, truly, I say to you: these days, when there are no works of the spirit, and spiritual wisdom is an extreme rarity, the devil so hates this wisdom that he would like to destroy it from the face of the earth.

In this way the Gospel would remain only for our condemnation, and not edification; for we shall be judged according to the Gospel, as foretold to us by the Lord Jesus Christ (Jn. 42, 40).

The devil is ready to give us ten times the common sense, and multiply our practical skills a thousandfold, if he can only steal from us the knowledge of the Cross, by which we can come to stand at the right hand of God

. One who ascribes to himself intelligence and good sense, likens himself to the devil, who wanted to be acknowledged as the source of enlightenment. He actually is the source of imitated light – fleshly wisdom, which does not submit to God’s reason, bears upon itself the stamp of pride and contains in itself the precondition of all sinful falls.

“Have you seen someone who has fallen? Know, that he followed his own will”, says Abba Dorotheus.

This holy one said concerning himself; that it would be better for him to sin by external act, following the advice of his neighbor; than to act without a blessing. And I, in my small experience, whenever I fail, I have consolation from the fact that the deed has been done or started not without a blessing.

Therefore, unworthy as I am, it would be befitting to attend to one’s own shortcomings. However

in my responsibilities of Superior and spiritual father, I must tell you what I see with my sinful eyes: your warfare is caused by the passion of pride.

The feeling that one possesses practical intelligence and understanding is a justification of pride, in which the pride is hidden. When the feeling towards myself and to those surrounding me grows cold, this are the fruits of pride, because after disparaging ones neighbour there follows a drying up of love. And the disappearance of love is an indication of that demonic thoughts have been accepted, just as the growth of love for one’s neighbour is a sign of accepting the seeds of grace.

The passion of pride acts differently to the passion of fornication, or of anger. These two passions are obvious, and their justification and the cunning in their excuses is clearer to behold. Pride, on the other hand, creeps in imperceptibly. Pride is sown by abilities, splendor, and even more so by the praise of men. Although, it may seem that we do not accept praises and do not agree inwardly with those that praise us, the secret imprint of praise nevertheless remains in the mind and heart, and when we are disparaged - it is burdensome; and the more burdensome it is for us, the more saturated we are with praise. This is how it is proven that the imprint is present, and the secret implantation of pride. Woe to us! The most grace-filled gifts have been the occasion for pride in people, and the fruits of pride – is a fall! The main symptoms of pride are that one’s feeling towards people around one grows cold, and the abandonment of confession. Now we must show the cause of this vice, and give a proper account of the door by which it enters, or rather, goes out, says St John of the Ladder (Step 11:1)

Make it a rule for yourself to confess your thoughts at least twice weekly. Just as the soul conforms to the body, in the same way express your humility by the bowing of the body. Say and repeat to your thought about your brothers: “These are Christ’s sheep, these are angels of God”, and contempt for them will be destroyed, which is of pride.

Then, trusting in the mercy of God, peace and love will enter your heart, and by the action of grace it will be shown to you that you are in temptation. Your eyes will be opened and you will get to know your real delusion. This case shall enter into the treasury of your spiritual experiences, and will provide you with protection for the future, and nourishment for the brotherhood. For a man who is not tempted, is not skilled, but “in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted” (Hebrews 2:18), says Scripture.May the Lord grant that you follow this counsel of Saint John of the Ladder:

“When once we have entered the arena of religion and obedience we must no longer judge our good manager in any way at all, even though we may perhaps see in him some slight failings, since he is only human. Otherwise, by sitting in judgment we shall get no profit from our subjection. It is absolutely indispensable for those of us who wish to retain undoubting faith in our superiors to write their good deeds indelibly in our hearts and constantly remember them, so that when the demons sow among us distrust towards them, we may be able to silence them by what is preserved in our memory. For the more faith flourishes in the heart, the more alacrity the body has in service. But he who has stumbled on distrust has already fallen…” (Step 4:6-7).

Likewise, pride often sprouts from exercising spiritual care over those close to us, as a sprout shoots up from a wheat grain. Therefore, Saint Mark the Ascetic, said: “When a man benefits another by word or deed, may the grace of God enlighten the both.” Apostle Paul says: “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake”. (2 Cor 4:5) For the person who cultivates these feelings, partiality for people will be destroyed, and the love of Christ will reign, seeing God’s image in everyone. Then, when the mind delights in this love, a person sees himself as a vessel filled with stench and filth, and marvels at how the rays of Divine teaching pass through him and heal human souls.

It is proper for me here to recall the words of Saint John of the Ladder, which are repeated also by Saint Nilus of Sora: some were mired in the mud, but cautioned others against similar acts, and for helping others, the Lord gave them salvation. (Step 26:14) Therefore, after such serious wounds,

I learned that the signs of pride in a person are humiliation or contempt of his neighbours, and negligence in confessing. In and of itself pride is not noticeable to a person, as it is a most subtle passion, which even deceived the light-bearing Angel and arranged a fall in Heaven. The other passions are dependent on pride, just as a building is connected to a foundation which is hidden under the earth.

Finally I bequeath to you to keep this letter secret until my death. In the meantime, I commend you and myself to the mercy and grace of God, which is able to, if we do not ourselves reject it, to give us salvation, although we are completely unworthy of it. Amen.

November 25, 1842
St. Sergius Hermitage

Monday, July 11, 2016

For those who find it hard to drive to church…

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Thousands of faithful walk for days, for hundreds of kilometres, in all weather, praying and keeping a fast joyously and in happiness, praying for the assistance of the Mother of God of Pochaev.

We should not presume we are more righteous than others! We do not see such examples of piety in the west any more. We should humble ourselves and understand that God acts in mysterious ways in drawing people to piety and a Christian life.

Although massive demonstrations of faith are uplifting and touching, they are not the essence of life in the Church.

The main path for us, according to Saint Ignaty Brianchaninov, is to endure sorrows without grumbling, with the understanding that everything God allows is for our spiritual healing and growth. Presumption, self-righteousness and judgement are the great modern spiritual diseases, which totally prevent spiritual growth…If we have these illnesses, even if we have some outward virtues, we will not gain entry into the Heavenly Kingdom! We should read the writings of the Holy Fathers to find out whether these diseases are present in our hearts - and follow their advice on how to uproot them.

Source

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Sermon by Archbishop Sofrony

….. Therefore, also we, my dear ones, every parish individually, and the entire universal Church taken as a whole is the Body of Christ. Together we are the Body of Christ – every individual parish reflects in itself every day, at every Liturgy, when the Priest performs the Divine Liturgy, every parish commemorates the incarnation of our Lord.

On the Altar Table, at every Liturgy, the Lord becomes flesh under the guise of bread and wine. His Body and Blood are offered to us. In each parish, the Lord is present, not partly, but in full. Every parish, with the Altar table at its head… We are all the Body of Christ – not individually, but all of us together.

The (parish) community is gathered together with one condition – that we have united together in order to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, so that we would together enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This is our only goal in establishing communities, in establishing parishes. Our first responsibility – of every parishioner – is to become the Body of Christ, the Body of the Church of Christ. Therefore we all must be one – we should not each one separately work out our salvation – but rather all together.

This is what we come to Church for – so that we together can fulfill our main task – to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. We do not come here for anything else. We do not come to expound on our relations, to explain what who thinks of whom. We come here because the parish – the Church – is the step to the Kingdom of Heaven. And we are all witnesses of this at every Liturgy, and we all answer “Amen” to the Priest’s exclamation: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and Son…”

This is the beginning of the Kingdom of Heaven, here in the Church, my dear ones…not somewhere else…No other time but at Liturgy, nowhere but in the Church does the Kingdom of Heaven begin. It is the first step to the Kingdom of Heaven. And the first and foremost responsibility of the parish is for us together to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, so that we would together enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

But we often forget this responsibility of ours, and each parish often becomes some sort of external structure, some sort of organisation. And people come to the services, to the parish and it is as if they do not feel that they participate in the Liturgy, in what is happening on the Altar Table.

My dear ones, without your faith, without your love - the Lord cannot save us. For if we have love, if we have faith – only then can the Lord enter our hearts. Yet what is our hearts not occupied with during the Liturgy? What thoughts and what justifications is it not occupied with, instead of the main purpose that is happening at the Liturgy. The main thing that happens is that the Lord is present amongst us. The Lord, the Living God, present on the Altar, looks at our soul and looks at heart, at what it is occupied with.

Therefore, my dear ones, while we live in the vain, sinful world, do not forget what we come together for, why we establish parishes, what we live here on earth for. Remember that each parish individually, all of us together, are the Body of Christ.

We are members of Christ – but look at how we sometimes behave! How unfriendly we are, and how we have some sort of thoughts against our neighbour, against someone. Remember that this person also desires salvation, that for him as well the Lord was crucified on the Cross. Remember that also for this person, who we do not like at this moment, or who does something incorrect in relation to us – remember that for him also Blood was shed…

When we come to Church, we should wholly adore the Eucharist, adore the Lord – and come to Church for Him. We should come to Church and forget about the entire world that exists around us, forget about all the unfairness and all evil that affects us. We should fall on our knees before the Lord and beg for forgiveness and because of our sins, beg because of those offenses which we cause one another.

Remember that we must not come to Church mechanically, because we of habit – we are used to it, we come, and … we should come consciously. The Lord was not crucified on the Cross mechanically – it was not something that just happened – He was crucified because he adored us, because He loved His creation.

But do we adore Christ? Do we love Him? Is He the most important for us in the world? Or is something else? No – often what is most important for us, is what others think of us, or what others say about us – for us that is the main thing.

No, my dear ones – remember that the Lord shed His Blood for us on the Cross – for us all, equally. He loves everyone equally, and everyone is dear to Him. Even bad people are dear to Him, and even good people are evil before Him.

But remember, dear ones, when we come to Church – leave all your maliciousness and all your craftiness outside the walls of the Church, and come with a clean heart, just once a week, to the Churchcome to the Living God. The God Who sits on the Throne (Altar), the God Who is given to you on the spoon from the Chalice – the Living God! Come to Him with your mind and heart. Look what exists in our heart, what is hidden in the heart – every sort of falsehood and every kind of obscenity.

My dear ones, remember what we live on earth for. Father Wsewolod, whom we commemorate today, called us to …. only this, he called and taught us to live in the Church, to be with Christ, to be with the Living God. When we commemorate our fathers and relatives who have departed before us, let us remember their teaching – do not only remember, but fulfil it is your lives. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples”, says the Lord, “if ye have love one to another”. If we will have the Love of Christ amongst ourselves, in our behaviour, we will be preaching the Risen, Living God.

But if we, by our behaviour, preach disputes, problems, or anything else that is against God, then we will not at all be preaching of God, but rather, we will be preaching of our passion, of the creations of the devil. It is him that teaches us, and teaches us how to be evil to each other. It is him that has us discover all sorts of evil in another person.

But rather, my dear ones, try to see in that very person, what is most good, most decent, most enlightened. And in that moment, in which that person perhaps has a bad attitude to us, try to see in that very person the most pure, the best in him – his soul, his intention to be saved, his love for God. Do not try straight away to see anything bad in a person – rather, see only what is good, what is pure. And then your guardian angel will open your eyes and disclose to you the person seen from the other point of view – the Gospel understanding. What did the Lord come to earth for? So that we would see each other through the Gospel – through the commandments of God.

After all, we do not see ourselves through the commandments. We forgive ourselves many kinds of deeds, but we do not forgive our neighbour.

My dear ones, let us look at each other through the Gospel, let us rouse ourselves to the love of God. Let us adore the services, the Liturgies – let us worship the presence of God amongst us. For whether we want it or not, the Lord is present in the Church, because He ordained it so, saying: “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” His Church – that is us. It is not the walls, it is us, the souls. We are the Body of Christ. Therefore, let us conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the members of Christ. Let less be heard about any kind of disputes taking place amongst us. Let us forget about all disappointments when we come to God. And then the Lord will forget His displeasure in relation to our sins. If we learn to forgive and not notice what is said to us, then God will also forgive our sins. And then God will not turn His attention to our falsehoods.

My dear ones, I call you again to remember that we – the parish, the Church – are the Body of Christ. We have not gathered here for anything else, but to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven together. Therefore, my dear ones, hold every Liturgy dear, whenever it is served, by whomever it is served, and wherever it is served. Remember that on the Altar and in the Chalice God is present. On the spoon, the Body of the Living God is given to us. This is not just some ritual, not some mechanical act, but rather, the Body of the Living God. Think about that, and with fear of God and faith draw nigh to the Body and Blood of Christ. Amen.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Abbess Alexandra: On Christian love (conference report)

Love is the only thing that can not be demanded. You can cry when it is not present, and rejoice when it is. People are mistaken when they demand love.
Saint John of Shanghai

abbess-alexandra.jpgSpeaking of Christian love, let us first of all turn to St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, in whose works we find all the priceless teachings the Fathers have left us, who theoretically and and by experience internalised the Gospel teaching.

He writes:

We know from the Fathers that there are two kinds of love for neighbour: the natural and the evangelical, which is love in Christ. Natural love has been planted in us at creation, and therefore it is certainly present in every human being. It has been damaged, just like the other good human properties, by the fall, or the ancestral sin. Therefore, each person is subject to more or less damage, short or long-lasting changes. Christ heals all our diseases in a marvelous way, also heals our damaged love: He commands people to love Himself - the Lord - in a man. This brings love up to the highest degree of fervour, gives it purity, spirituality, a sanctuary. Likewise, the flame of love in Christ extinguishes the discordant, smoky flame of carnal love - which consists of a mixture of dreamy, non-existent delight and brutal, murderous torment. The feeling of spiritual love guided the pen of St. John of the Ladder, when he said: “Love of God extinguishes our love for our parents. And so he who says that he has both deceives himself.” He also said: “he is pure who expels fleshly love with divine love, who has extinguished the fire of passion by the fire of heaven (i.e. the Holy Spirit)” When we look at ourselves with attention we will see, with God’s help (God’s help is needed for such a vision! This vision is the gift of God!), that we mostly have a natural love, and have yet to acquire the evangelical love [1].

Give homage to your neighbour as to the image of God - a respect within your soul, which is invisible to others, which is clear only to your conscience. Let your activity be mysteriously conformable to your state of mind.

Give homage to your neighbour, without distinction to age, gender, class - and gradually holy love will be revealed in your heart.

The reason for this holy love is not flesh and blood, not the drive of the senses - but God.

Give homage both to the blind and the leper, and the one with a mental disorder, to infants, and criminals, and pagans show reverence as to the image of God. What are their weaknesses and shortcomings to you! Watch yourself, that you do fall short in love.

In a christian, give reverence to Christ, Who said in His instructions, and also will say when our eternal fate is pronounced: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25.40).

In your relation to your fellow man, keep in mind this saying of the Gospel, and you will be made a confidant of love for neighbor.

The confidant of love of neighbor enters into the love of God by it.

But if you think that you love God, and in your heart there lives an unpleasant attitude to even one person, then you are in grievous self-delusion.

St John the Evangelist says: “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar…this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.[2]

The Gospel rejects the love that depends on the movement of blood from the feelings of the carnal heart. The fall subjected the heart to the dominion of blood, and by blood, to the sovereignty of the prince of this world. The Gospel frees the heart from this bondage, from this violence, and leads it to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit teaches us to love our neighbor in holiness. Love which is lit and fueled by the Holy Spirit is a fire. This fire extinguishes the fire of natural, carnal love, which is damaged by the Fall.

What a fallen state our nature is in! He who by nature is capable of vehemently loving his neighbour, has to force himself extraordinarily to love his neighbour in the way commanded by the Gospel. The flame of natural love easily turns into disgust, into an implacable hatred.

How plagued our natural love is! What a grievous wound to her is passion! Possessed by passion, the heart is capable of any injustice, any iniquity, just to satisfy its morbid love. Natural love gives his favourite only what is earthly, for it does not think of heaven. It rebels against heaven and the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit calls for the crucifixion of the flesh. It rebels against heaven and the Holy Spirit, because it is under the control of an evil spirit, the unclean spirit of one perishing.[3][/quote]

For every Christian (and especially for monastics) it is very important to understand what passion is and how it differs from love in Christ. I will bring your attention to a conversation of Bishop Photios of Triaditza with monastics on this topic.

“Often we confuse love with passion, passion for man … In fact, it is not the person it is difficult to leave, abandoning him himself. We could leave him to God, but it is difficult for us to deny ourselves, deny our own desire for a person, our attraction to the person. This is passion.

Passion is a manifestation of our self-love. It is very dangerous and extremely harmful to the spiritual life. Love is pure and disinterested; passion is something quite different. Passion is a morbid fascination, the soul cleaving to a specific person. This is constant thoughts of him, how he sees me; a special excitement and satisfaction, an agreeableness, when that person pays attention to us; and vice versa - unsettledness, depression, moodiness when that person does not have a friendly attitude to us or does not behave as we would like. In all this - God forbid - it is possible to go to the lowest depths. I do not wish to speak about this. We should wage an uncompromising struggle with these things, even fighting unto blood. Otherwise, self-love will remain the guiding principle in our lives, in our existence. The Lord tells us that it is impossible to serve two masters - this we know.

I think that we are afraid; the voice of our self-love does not give us trust in the Lord until the end, trust in the truth that the life of the soul can be purchased in its entirety only in the communion with God. Yes, we do not have any similar experience; we are sinful, unclean creatures. As she moves away from God, the soul is hungry, poor, wandering the world like a stranger, rejected by all. And then the soul begins to become attached to one soul, or the other. This is obviously a terrible self-deception, a serious illness. The soul is trying to find in another soul some kind of a world, in which to find satisfaction, pleasure for her selfishness. Here we must be uncompromising, strict to the end, otherwise we will remain in captivity to our selfishness.

If someone seems nice to you and your heart is drawn towards him, it does not mean that you love him. If this enthusiasm continues, you yourself will soon learn what treacherous, even tyrannical claims your soul presents with respect to this “dear” man. You will see how your soul can not stand that man’s independence from you, she is jealous and demands love for herself, demands that the subject of your love be slavishly devoted to you.

And your soul is ready to retaliate if this affection grows cold! We see that in this case everything rests on self-love, on the expansion of one’s own possessions in this world: “What I like - this is mine. It is in some way belongs to me.” For the most part this “cute” man is a door to a new, interesting and enjoyable small world trust for your heart. At the beginning you just want to enjoy this world as a little garden, and then you wish to put a small house there. When you are strolling through the garden, you no longer admire what is planted in it, but rather, yourself. This is the most disgusting of partiality in false love. Therefore, I repeat that here we really have to be uncompromising.

True Love - says Saint Paul - seeketh not her own” (1 Cor. 13:5). Pure love is unselfish. It is generally quite alien to be possessive of what you love, because it is love in the Lord. Love in the Lord always respects the freedom of the other, and always loves man in Christ. It is difficult to understand this for us, because we are not committed, there is no trust and openness to the Lord, in order to make an effort in this direction. When a man fights, when he knocks, the Lord eventually opens. And then all these truths become clear to the mind, she knows them in her inner experience. Then the soul rejoices, because the truth has become her own private treasure. She rejoices because in her quest, in her struggle against all that separates her from the Lord, she is seeing a stronger stream of light in the tunnel; She rejoices because this brings her to God, and this joy is natural from her perspective - yet it is supernatural in terms of our fallen state.”

Abbess Alexandra

[1] Meeting of the letters of St. Ignatius, Bishop of the Caucasus. Publication Research Center, the protection and restoration of the heritage of the priest Paul Florensky. M., 1993. p. 153
[2] St. Ignatius (Bryanchaninov). Ascetic experience. T. 1. M., “Rule of Faith”, 1993, p. 125-126
[3] St. Ignatius (Bryanchaninov). Ascetic experience. T. 1. M., “Rule of Faith”, 1993, p. 121-122

Source

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The way of light and the way of darkness

The way of light

The way of light, then, is as follows. If any one desires to travel to the appointed place, he must be zealous in his works. The knowledge, therefore, which is given to us for the purpose of walking in this way, is the following. Thou shalt love Him that created thee: thou shalt glorify Him that redeemed thee from death. Thou shalt be simple in heart, and rich in spirit. Thou shalt not join thyself to those who walk in the way of death. Thou shalt hate doing what is unpleasing to God: thou shalt hate all hypocrisy. Thou shalt not forsake the commandments of the Lord. Thou shalt not exalt thyself, but shalt be of a lowly mind. Thou shalt not take glory to thyself. Thou shalt not take evil counsel against thy neighbour. Thou shalt not allow over-boldness to enter into thy soul. Thou shalt not commit fornication: thou shalt not commit adultery: thou shalt not be a corrupter of youth. Thou shalt not let the word of God issue from thy lips with any kind of impurity. Thou shalt not accept persons when thou reprovest any one for transgression. Thou shalt be meek: thou shalt be peaceable. Thou shalt tremble at the words which thou hearest. Thou shalt not be mindful of evil against thy brother. Thou shalt not be of doubtful mind as to whether a thing shall be or not. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain. Thou shalt love thy neighbour more than thine own soul. Thou shalt not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt thou destroy it after it is born. Thou shalt not withdraw thy hand from thy son, or from thy daughter, but from their infancy thou shalt teach them the fear of the Lord. Thou shalt not covet what is thy neighbour’s, nor shalt thou be avaricious. Thou shalt not be joined in soul with the haughty, but thou shalt be reckoned with the righteous and lowly. Receive thou as good things the trials which come upon thee. Thou shalt not be of double mind or of double tongue, for a double tongue is a snare of death. Thou shalt be subject to the Lord, and to [other] masters as the image of God, with modesty and fear. Thou shalt not issue orders with bitterness to thy maidservant or thy man-servant, who trust in the same [God ], lest thou shouldst not reverence that God who is above both; for He came to call men not according to their outward appearance, but according as the Spirit had prepared them. Thou shalt communicate in all things with thy neighbour; thou shalt not call things thine own; for if ye are partakers in common of things which are incorruptible, how much more [should you be] of those things which are corruptible! Thou shalt not be hasty with thy tongue, for the mouth is a snare of death. As far as possible, thou shalt be pure in thy soul. Do not be ready to stretch forth thy hands to take, whilst thou contractest them to give. Thou shalt love, as the apple of thine eye, every one that speaketh to thee the word of the Lord. Thou shalt remember the day of judgment, night and day. Thou shalt seek out every day the faces of the saints, either by word examining them, and going to exhort them, and meditating how to save a soul by the word, or by thy hands thou shalt labour for the redemption of thy sins. Thou shalt not hesitate to give, nor murmur when thou givest. “Give to every one that asketh thee,” and thou shalt know who is the good Recompenser of the reward. Thou shalt preserve what thou hast received [in charge], neither adding to it nor taking from it. To the last thou shalt hate the wicked [one]. Thou shalt judge righteously. Thou shalt not make a schism, but thou shalt pacify those that contend by bringing them together. Thou shalt confess thy sins. Thou shalt not go to prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of light.

The way of darkness

But the way of darkness is crooked, and full of cursing; for it is the way of eternal death with punishment, in which way are the things that destroy the soul, viz., idolatry, over-confidence, the arrogance of power, hypocrisy, double-heartedness, adultery, murder, rapine, haughtiness, transgression, deceit, malice, self-sufficiency, poisoning, magic, avarice, want of the fear of God. [In this way, too,] are those who persecute the good, those who hate truth, those who love falsehood, those who know not the reward of righteousness, those who cleave not to that which is good, those who attend not with just judgment to the widow and orphan, those who watch not to the fear of God, [but incline] to wickedness, from whom meekness and patience are far off; persons who love vanity, follow after a reward, pity not the needy, labour not in aid of him who is overcome with toil; who are prone to evil-speaking, who know not Him that made them, who are murderers of children, destroyers of the workmanship of God; who turn away him that is in want, who oppress the afflicted, who are advocates of the rich, who are unjust judges of the poor, and who are in every respect transgressors.

Epistle of the Holy Apostle Barnabas, 1st century

Monday, July 27, 2015

The manners of the Christians

From the Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetes (2nd century)

catacombs.jpgThe manners of the Christians
For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

The relation of Christians to the world
To sum up all in one word— what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world. The invisible soul is guarded by the visible body, and Christians are known indeed to be in the world, but their godliness remains invisible. The flesh hates the soul, and wars against it, though itself suffering no injury, because it is prevented from enjoying pleasures; the world also hates the Christians, though in nowise injured, because they abjure pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and [loves also] the members; Christians likewise love those that hate them. The soul is imprisoned in the body, yet preserves that very body; and Christians are confined in the world as in a prison, and yet they are the preservers of the world. The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens. The soul, when but ill-provided with food and drink, becomes better; in like manner, the Christians, though subjected day by day to punishment, increase the more in number. God has assigned them this illustrious position, which it were unlawful for them to forsake.

Brothers and sisters! Let us understand the path of Christians in this evil world. Let us follow in the footsteps of our holy fathers, and of those righteous who have gone before us. Let us know who we are, and what the world is. It is not possible for a true Christian to be “at home” in this world, as Mathetes clearly instructs us.

Let the first Christinas answer our burning questions:
How do we live as Christians in a world that does not believe? In a world that rather fights Christ? How should we treat our neighbours, who so often are extremely different to us? What is the purpose of this time for the Church - this time in which it does not have outward glory? Can our outer difficulties really be a path to inner, spiritual glory?

Perhaps the experience of the Christians of the first centuries after the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh are very relevant for us today, who live shortly before the coming of Christ in glory?

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Sayings of the Desert Fathers on Humility

ascetics-praying-in-cave-sketch.jpgThe holy fathers always condemned themselves, having a realistic view of themselves before Almighty God. We should take note of their practice, and in this way avoid the traps of the devil. The evil one always strives to distort reality, so that we would commit sin.

A brother asked Abba Poemen: “How is it possible for a man to avoid speaking evilly to his neighbour?” The old man answered unto him and said: “We and our brethren possess two images. Whensoever a man condemneth himself, his brother appeareth to him beautiful and excellent; but whensoever a man appeareth beautiful to himself, his brother will be found to be, in his sight, hateful and abominable”.

This warfare is of the utmost importance:

One of the old men said, “When a man saith unto his companion, “Forgive me”, and at the same time humbleth himself, the devils are consumed.

As true Orthodox Christians, we must know what is Orthodox and what is un-orthodox dogma and practice.
repentance.jpgHowever, our spiritual life must show that we also know what is virtue and what is vice - indeed, what is of God, and what is of the enemy of our salvation. In our passionate state, blinded by our love of sin and deceptive reasoning of the enemy, we can easily make a grave mistake….The following account from the Paradise of the Fathers shows how a simple mind can be deceived (and alas, we are today all very simple and unlearned, as compared with the Holy Fathers of old!) At that time, the Bishops of all the great cities were fully Orthodox, and great spiritual men. Sadly, this is not the case today. Nevertheless, we are all obligated to mistrust our own fallen reasoning to a certain extent, taking advice from our spiritual fathers. If we refuse to do this, we have accepted the mindset of protestantism, where the fallen, sinful mind of each individual is a “perfect” and “infallible” authority to itself:

There were two men who were living in the world, and were fearers of God, and they were both of the same mind, and they went forth and became monks; and when they heard in a plain manner the word of the Gospel which saith, “There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 19:12), they arrived at the hottest point of their love, and they made themselves eunuchs [castrated themselves, ed. note] for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Now when the Bishop heard [of this] he set them aside and excommunicated them. Then those men, wishing to show that they had done what was good, said unto one another, “We have made ourselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, and this Bishop driveth us out! Let us go and make a complaint against him to the head of our monasteries, that is, to the Bishop of Jerusalem”; and when they had gone to him they related unto him the whole matter. Then the Bishop said unto them, “And I also set you aside and excommunicate you”; and being greatly grieved by this remark also they went to the Bishop of Antioch, and related the matter unto him, and he also drove them away with the same words. Then the two brethren said unto one another, “Let us go to the Patriarch of Rome, and he will avenge us and will take vengeance on all these [Bishops].” And having gone to the great Patriarch and Bishop of Rome, and made him to know their matter, and what the Bishop and Patriarch [of Antioch] had said unto them, they said at length, “We have come unto thee because thou art the head of them all.” Then the Bishop of Rome also said unto them, “I also excommunicate you and excommunicate ye shall be.” Then, not knowing what to do, they said to each other, “All these men accept the persons each of the other, and each honoureth the other, because they are accustomed to assemble together at the Synods, but let us go to the holy man of God, Epiphanius, Bishop of Cyprus, because he is indeed a Bishop, and he doth not accept the person of any man.” Now when they drew nigh into the city, it was revealed unto Epiphanius concerning them, and he sent [a man] to meet them, and to say unto them, “Ye shall not come into the city.” And when they came to themselves they repented, and said, “In very truth we have sinned; with what can we justify ourselves? For, even supposing that the Bishop and the Patriarchs have excommunicated us in an unseemly manner, peradventure this man is a prophet besides, for behold, God hath revealed unto him concerning us beforehand; let us then condemn ourselves in respect of everything which we have done.” Then when God, Who knoweth that which is in the hearts [of men] saw that they had in very truth condemned themselves, He worked upon the mind of Epiphanius so that, of his own accord, he sent and brought them, and associated them in communion with him. And he also wrote concerning them to the Bishop of Jerusalem, saying, “Receive thy sons, for they have repented in truth.”
The Paradise of the Fathers: On Humility

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Holy Fire 2015

Below is a video of the descent of the Holy Fire in the form of CROSSES on the Orthodox Pascha (Easter), 2015, in Jerusalem at the Tomb of Christ’s Resurrection.

The form of the fire should remind all Orthodox Christians to carry their CROSS. This means patiently enduring all the personal sorrows of life, but especially, to confess the Orthodox Christian faith, without fear, false shame, or grumbling.
The first and foremost expression of our Orthodox Christian faith is faithfully attending the Divine Services. This we must do as often as possible, and at the very least, every Sunday. We also express our faith by keeping the fasts (at present - the fast of the Apostles), and by praying at home every morning and evening, and in our hearts, throughout the day. Furthermore, we express our faith by keeping the commandments of our Lord, and repenting sincerely when we fall short of fulfilling them, whatever the reasons are for such a fall.

Contemporary life would like to tell us that all this is unnecessary. Modern life tells us to live for the body, for the present physical world, and for the material well-being of our children. But this is not a true Orthodox view of life.

Every day we are faced with the decision: Should I act as a Christian, or should I rather choose what is “normal” in the eyes of the abnormal modern world?

Brothers and sisters, let us learn what is NORMAL for Orthodox Christians. At every moment, we must be able to distinguish this from the “normal” abnormality of the modern world.

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Parishes

Melbourne, VIC
Contact: Bishop John
Telephone: 0422556968

Sydney, NSW
Parish of St John of Kronstadt.

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  • Serving priest: Father Nebojsa Mirkovic
  • Address:
  • Service times:
    Sundays and feast days: Matins 730 am
    Divine Liturgy: 9 am.
    Please contact us to confirm what time Liturgy is served.
  • Saturdays and eves of feasts: Vespers 530 pm
    or All-night Vigil 6 pm

Dandenong, VIC
Community of the Tabinsk Mother of God Icon

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  • Services once a month
  • Visits by Bishop John

Western Victoria
Annunciation of the Mother of God Women’s Monastic Community

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  • Spiritual Father: Bishop John.
  • Address: 266 Nowhere Creek Rd, Nowhere Creek, 3469
  • Service times:
  • Sundays and feast days: Divine Liturgy: 9 am
  • All-night Vigils (including Divine Liturgy) on select occasions.
    Please contact us to confirm what time Liturgy is served.

[b]Brisbane, QLD

Canberra, ACT

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