Monday, May 11, 2015

The Samaritan woman - a sinner worthy of revelations

womanwell.jpgChrist reveals Himself as the Messiah to an overtly sinful person. How can this be? It was because the woman was not proud, and had a simple faith. This faith allowed her to believe what God Himself was saying to her: “I am the Messiah”

She makes mention of Him for Whom she waited and longed, but Whose presence was still concealed. She said, “I know that Messiah is coming, the One Who is called Christ. Whenever He should come, He will announce to us all things (John 4:25)”. Do you see how ready she was to believe that the Awaited One was already at hand, and how hopeful she was? Surely David’s words apply also to her: “Ready is my heart, O God, ready is my heart, I will sing and chant in my glory (Psalm 56:8).
St Gregory Palamas, 14th century

On the other hand, the Pharisees and Jews were unable to believe Christ, unable to see Him as the Messiah. This occurred even though they were very familiar with the Scriptures and prophesies regarding Christ. Even today, a person who lives in sins easily believes all kinds of lies and slanders, but finds himself unable to accept Christ, Who is God:

He said: “You cannot hear My word”, and not “You do not wish to”. Then He explains the reason why they are unable to hear, which is that they have their own father, the devil.” Although you insanely call yourselves God’s children, as if He is your Father, your deeds witness that the devil is a more closely related as a father to you. You wish to fulfill his desires.” He did not say “deeds” but “desires”, showing by this that they are very prone to lies and murder, the two forms of evil which are very particular to the devil. “He was a murderer from the beginning”. Therefore you too, desiring to kill Me, become like him, who killed Adam.”
Blessed Theophylact of Ochrid, 11th century

Christ makes clear the connection between moral life and coming to know God. Only a person who makes himself ready to receive Christ, will be able to accept Him. God gives salvation, but we make ourselves ready by struggling against sin.

Although the Samaritan woman has committed obvious sins, she does not become offended when Christ mildly points these out. Her soul understands that the conversation is about the greatest topic, above all matters of this earthly life:

O how great the wisdom of the woman! How meekly she receives the reproof! … She not only does not insult Him - as would the Jews - but even admires and is amazed, and supposes Him to be prophet. She is not indignant at the rebuke of her fault, but rather she is filled with astonishment. She was neither annoyed, nor insulted, nor took to her heels; but rather admired Him, and persevered the more…Note, that when she suspects Him to be a prophet, she asks Him nothing concerning this life, nor concerning bodily health, or possessions, or wealth, but at once concerning doctrines…Seest thou how much more elevated in mind she has become?
St John Chrysostom, 4th century

The Samaritan woman is saved from her many sins by Christ’s direct purification. Likewise, countless Christians are saved from the realm of the evil one by repentance and Baptism - regardless of their former sins.

Christ says to her: “See, O woman, thou hast been drawn from a pit of wretchedness. I, Who have no bucket, purified thy heart without a stream; and without waters I washed clean thy mind. Willingly I came to dwell in thee, and I showed thee Who I am and I did not drink.”
St Romanus the Melodist, 5th century

God gives this salvation to anyone who wishes to have it - the spiritual life of eternity. Eternal life is closed and hidden to the prideful soul, which cannot accept rebukes, which prides itself on some small deeds, and believes it does not need the spiritual water and food from God:

When God made this body of ours, He did not grant to it that it should have life either from His own nature or from the body itself, nor meat and drink, raiment and shoes; He appointed that it should have all the supplies of life from without, making the body in itself quite naked, and it is impossible for the body to live at all apart from the things outside itself, without food and drink and clothing. If it attempts to subsist upon its own nature alone, taking nothing from without, it wastes and perishes. In the same manner it is with the soul also. It has not the divine light, though it is created after the image of God. So has He ordered its conditions, and has been pleased that it should not have eternal life of its own nature; but of His Godhead, of His Spirit, of His light, it has spiritual meat and drink, and heavenly clothing, which are the soul’s life, the life indeed.
St Macarius the Great, 4th century

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Paralytic man healed by Jesus

paralytic.jpgChrist found the sick man lying at the sheep’s pool. He lay there for 38 years, hoping for miraculous healing, which was only given to one person every time the Angel descended. The fathers are quick to remind us that in the New Testament, healing is available to all in the Mystery of Holy Baptism:

But this was not the case after the Master Christ had come. The first man to go down into the pool of the waters of Baptism was not the only one to be cured. The first, the second, the tenth, the twentieth - all were cured. Even if you speak of ten thousand or twice or three times as many, if you speak of numbers without limit, if you put the whole world into the pool of waters, its grace is not diminished, it stays just as strong as it washes all those people clean. That is the great difference between the power of a servant and the authority of a master. The servant cured a single person; the Master cures the whole world. The servant cured a single person once a year. If you wish to put ten thousand in the pool daily, the Master returns them all to you sound and healthy.
St John Chrysostom, 4th century

st_bede.jpgWhat was the spiritual meaning of this bodily healing? What does it teach us today?

‘Rise’ means shake off the sluggishness of the vices in which you have been ailing for a long time, and rouse yourself to the practise of virtues…’Rise’ by doing good works….’Take up thy bed’ means lovingly carry your neighbour, patiently tolerating his weaknesses, since he patiently put up with you for a long time when you were weighed down by the burden of temptations. ‘Keep on bearing one another’s burdens, and thus fill up the law of the Christ (Gal. 6:2) …So leave behind your earlier sins, and come to the aid of your brothers’ needs…. ‘Walk’ means to love God with your whole heart, soul, and strength, so that you may be worthy to reach the vision of Him. Go forward by making daily strides of good works from virtue to virtue. Do not desert your brother, …nor turn aside from the right direction of your path…In everything you do, see to it that you do not fix your mind upon this world, but that you hurry to see the face of your Redeemer.
St Bede the Venerable, 7th century

Bodily illness can have many different causes, but Christ’s words to the healed man “Sin no more” indicate that often they are caused by sin.

Not all diseases proceed from sin, but the majority of them do from our manner of living. I mean from remissness or from immoderate indulgence of bodily appetites as well as laziness and inactivity produce such sufferings. But the one rule we have to observe is to bear every stroke thankfully; for they are sent because of our sins;…they are sent also to make us approved.
St John Chrysostom, 4th century

The fathers teach us that bodily illness is not something we should sorrow over. It is a spiritual treatment given by God to heal us from sin, purify us from stains, and give us an opportunity to imitate the holy Martyrs.

We shuld not dread any human ill - neither poverty, nor disease, nor insult, nor malicious treatment, nor humiliation, nor death - save sin alone.
St John Chrysostom, 4th century

The sin of the first-created ones is willful turning away from God toward oneself. In this way we set ourselves in the place of God, actually worshiping self instead of the Creator. In this way the suffering of illness serves the same purpose today as it did in the beginning: For this reason it is a sing of God’s mercy and love. As the holy fathers say to those who are ailing, ‘God has not forgotten you, He cares for you.
Sts Barsonuphius and John, 5th century

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Lessons from the Mhyrr-bearing Women

icon-mhyrrbearing-women.jpgThe mhyrr-bearing women were perplexed about not finding Jesus’ Body in the tomb.

They were perplexed. Indeed we ought constantly to remember that we cannot find our Lord’s body on earth. We are more confused in our minds as we see that we are still wandering far from Him, in Whose presence alone we are capable of living happily.
St Bede the Venerable, 7th century

But when they saw the angels in the tomb, they were afraid and looked to the ground. St Bede reminds us that we should be like them when we attend the Divine Services in Church:

We must strive meticulously when we come into the church….to be always mindful of the angelic presence, and to fulfill our duty with fear and fitting veneration, following the example of the women devoted to God who were afraid when the angels appeared to them at the tomb, and who, we are told, bowed their faces to the earth.
St Bede the Venerable, 7th century

The women disciples of our Lord become apostles to the Apostles. They first to tell the Good News to Christ’s closest friends, who nevertheless, do not believe them:

He Who of old had said to them, “In pains thou shalt bear children”(Gen 3:16), gave them deliverance from their misfortune, by having met them in the garden…and said, “Rejoice!” To the holy apostles, however, the account of the resurrection seemed to be absolutely but an idle tale and a falsehood; for even they did not know the inspired Scripture, and so they were incredulous. Thus, they mocked the news and rejected it.
St Kyril of Alexandra, 5th century

For Orthodox Christians, the Resurrection of Christ is a monumental event in history - one that forever changed the world. According to ancient tradition, it was the Mother of God who saw the Risen Lord first.

The resurrection of the Lord was the regeneration of human nature…and recreation of the first Adam, whom sin led to death. The resurrection is the return to immortal life. Whereas no one saw the first man Adam when he was created and given life…Woman was the first person to see him after he had received the breath of life by divine in-breathing….Likewise, no one saw the second Adam, that is, the Lord, rise from the dead….Following the resurrection, however, it was a woman (the new Eve) who saw Him first.
St Gregory Palamas, 14th century

Sunday, April 12, 2015

CHRIST IS RISEN! ХРИСТОC ВОСКРЕСЕ!

Пасхальное послание Первоиерарха Русской Православной Церкви Заграницей

Дорогие архипастыри и пастыри, монашествующие и мирские, братья и сестры!

vl-agafangel-2.jpgСмерть приходит, когда отступает жизнь. Если, по тем или иным причинам, нет возможности поддерживать движение жизни – то человек умирает. Но, на этом процесс не оканчивается - после разрушается сам организм, бывший носителем жизни, до того состояния, чтобы от прежнего присутствия жизни не оставалось и следа. Это закономерный процесс, положенный Богом – от высокоорганизованного живого организма – к мертвой материи, которая в Книге Бытия названа «землею». И, казалось бы, невозможно это изменить. Но Бог, сотворивший человека, «побеждает естества чин», как сказано в Каноне преп. Андрея Критского. Господь наш Иисус Христос в земной жизни показал множество раз Своими чудесами, что Он имеет власть над мертвой материей, и, будучи Творцом Вселенной, Своей Божественной волей может изменять эту материю. И, даже, вернуть жизнь праху земному, от которого она была взята ранее – из низшей материи вновь создать высшие ее формы – из мертвой «земли» возсоздать человека.

Жизнь уничтожается только грехом – который есть смертельный яд для «всякого дыхания». И победа над грехом – есть победа над смертью. Пасха – это ПРЕОДОЛЕНИЕ. Преодоление сил зла – многочисленных диавольских козней на пути к Богу. Преодоление множества соблазнов и препятствий, от даже совсем незаметных до самого непреодолимого препятствия на этом пути – смерти. Что-то мы можем победить и сами – касающееся наших личных слабостей и искушений. Но главное препятствие – смерть, мы самостоятельно преодолеть не в силах, поскольку оно касается человеческого естества, которое подвластно только Богу.

Вечный Бог никогда не умирал и не воскресал, но человек, неслитно и нераздельно соединенный с Богом и Единосущный с Ним – Иисус Христос – родился, умер и воскрес. И Он, Господь наш, свидетельствует о том, что Бог и других людей может воскресить, как воскресил Лазаря. Но Бог потому совершил это чудо, что Лазарь любил Господа. Любовь ко Христу – вот единственный залог и единственное условие нашего воскресения – это то, что безсмертно и никогда в человеке умереть не может. Поэтому, главное для нас, христиан – любовь: «Возлюбим друг друга, да единомыслием исповемы Отца и Сына и Святаго Духа, Троицу Единосущную и Нераздельную!».

Воистину, Воскресший Христос – Сын Божий есть!

+ Митрополит Агафангел

Пасха Христова 2015 года, Одесса

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sixth Week of the Great Fast

The fast is nearing its end. Our inner gaze is turned toward Palm Sunday and the coming of the Lord:

Beginning the sixth week of the honourable fast with eagerness, let us sing to the Lord a pre-festal hymn, bringing palms, O ye faithful, to the One Who comes in glory to Jerusalem, with the power of Divinity to destroy death. Therefore let us piously prepare the signs of victory, virtuous branches, chanting “Hosanna” to the Creator of all.
Stikhira at Vespers on Sunday of the 5th week

Whoever has repented and fasted well, has noticed a subtle change in his soul:

Thou hast taken away the rock of insensitivity from my heart, o Lord, which was being killed by the passions. Lift up my soul, O good One, so that I may bring to Thee the palm branches of virtues. As the Victor of hell, grant me, Master to receive eternal life, singing to Thy dominion and Thy goodness, O only Lover of mankind.
Sedalen at Matins on Monday of the 6th week

Nevertheless, repentance continues to the end of the fast, or indeed, to the end of our life on earth. Christians are required to always fast from sin.

I have been morally like the unmerciful rich man, o Merciful Lover of mankind. I pray Thee, group me with Lazarus the poor man, saving me from the flame and the unceasing fire.
I have fasted from correction, and have taken my fill of sin, o Lord. Now I hunger - nourish me with saving and honourable food.
Let us love the passion-killing fast, and be diligent in prayer. Let us weep, cry and sigh sincerely, so that Jesus may console us and make us partakers of the Kingdom.
Canon at Matins on Monday of the 6th week

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Fifth week of the Great Fast

Not much time remains of the Holy Fast. The Church thanks God that He has preserved us this far, and asks for help to proceed in good:

O Lord, Thou hast granted us to reach the light of the present day, and soon we shall come to the holy week of the dread raising of Lazarus from the tomb. Count us Thy servants worthy to walk in Thy fear, and to complete the whole course of the Fast.
Sedalen at Matins in the Fifth week of Great Lent

We are already on the home run on the fast, and it is time to become more zealous for the spiritual prize:

With God’s help we have rounded the turning post of the Fast. Let us run the remainder of the course with all our strength, and win a victor’s crown.
Eight ode of the Canon, Matins in the Fifth week of Great Lent

The fast is one of the many trusted means of attaining to true happiness. The Church teaches us how to attain true and everlasting joy, through a little bit of struggle for our body through fasting, and our soul through prayer and repentance:

Tilling the soil of our mind with the divine ploughshare of the Fast, let us reap the sheaf of the virtues: Then we shall not hunger in eternity, but will rejoice in gladness with a joy that has no end.
First ode of the Canon, Matins in the Fifth week of Great Lent

As we prepare for Holy Communion

Great Lent is a time during which all Orthodox Christians deepen their spiritual struggle. While fasting and repenting, they prepare for Holy Communion. St Theophan the recluse offers this advice to us for the time between the evening service, at which we have Confession, and the Liturgy in the morning.

st-theophan-the-recluse.jpgAccording to our established order, there is usually a little time between Confession and Communion, most often only evening, morning and Liturgy. During this time it is important to carefully preserve the good frame of mind with which you left the church after Confession, and apply it to your Communion with the Lord in Holy Communion.

1. Preserve your attention undistracted and your heart undisturbed. Take care not to become scattered or anxious over cares, and remove yourself from everything; go within and remain there with one thought about the Lord, Who is able to come to you. Put away all thought processes, and, concentrating on the One Lord, pray to Him with undistracted prayer of the heart.

2. If your thought cannot reside only in this, occupy it with thoughts of Communion itself; and so that it will not stray too much, bind it with the words of the Lord and the holy Apostles about this Sacrament.

3. Contemplate a saying of the Lord or the holy Apostles; glean some edification from them and dispose yourself to contrite prayer. When prayer comes, fall down before the Lord and do not abandon the prayer for as long as it is present.

4. Occupy the evening in this way until sleep closes your eyes. Morning comes. As soon as you come to yourself upon awaking, first of all resurrect your awareness of the greatness of the dawning day. But do not bustle about, do not be distracted with many things; and keep your attention focused on that which is necessary to be with you and in you. Beware! The enemy will be trying to tempt you in every way, to put your soul in a bad mood, to either scatter your thoughts, or generate some displeasure against someone. Attend to yourself, praying to God, and you will escape these stumbling blocks.

5. Entering the church, feel as though you were in the upper chamber at Sion, where the Lord communed his holy Apostles, and heed more than ever what is being sung and read, directing everything to the thought that the Lord Himself is preparing a supper of salvation for you.

6. Warm your faith in the actual presence of the Lord and Saviour Himself in the Mysteries. Going from faith and concentrating on the Lord Himself as if already approaching you, in self-abasement cry out: I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under the roof of my house. From self-abasement pass to the fear of the Prodigal Son, not cutting you off, but bringing you to a state of reverent soberness. Inasmuch as the Lord Himself invites you and asks you to approach, be ready to approach with good hope, desire, and thirst, like the deer panting after the Lord Himself, and longing with assurance to receive the Lord Himself, together with all the treasure of life that is hidden within Him. From this longing, which will not be put to shame, again turn to yourself in readiness to meet the Lord, and fan ever stronger the flame of heartfelt contrition, repeating the promise to turn away from sin, even if you have to die doing it.

7. Work hard to stand through the entire service, passing from one of these feelings to another. In this good state finally approach the chalice of the Lord, and upon seeing it, make a bow to the Lord Who approaches you. Opening your lips and heart, receive Him, humbly and reverently calling out with the Apostle Thomas: My Lord and my God!

Glory to Thee, O God! Glory to Thee, O God! Glory to Thee, O God!

Having approached the chalice of the Lord with such a disposition, and stepping away from it, you will feel in your heart: It is truly said, that having communed of divine grace, I am no longer alone but with Thee, my Christ, the three-sunned Light that enlightens the world. From this moment you will begin to bear Christ within yourself. Take care to zealously guard Him there and hold Him within yourself. If Christ is in you, who can be against you? And you will be able to do anything in the Lord Who strengthens you.

St Theophan the Recluse, 19th century

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Fourth week of the Great Fast

The Church has strengthened the faithful in the middle of the Fast by presenting the Holy Cross for them to venerate. Now starts the ascent toward Passion Week.

Today, in the middle of the Fast, we worship with faith the Cross that Thou hast endured in the midst of the earth, o Messiah and Word of God, and we pray also to see Thy Resurrection.
First ode of the Canon, Monday of the fourth week of Lent

However, the fast is not over. We still require divine assistance in everything:

The inhabited earth venerates Thy Cross, o Lord, as the life of creation, and it cries to Thee: By the operation of Thy Cross and through abstinence, keep in profound peace those who praise and bless Thee, o most merciful.
Sedalen, Monday of the fourth week of Lent

The main object of the fast - repentance - must remain clear to us:

I am held fast in the bonds of my countless sins, o Christ, and deliberately, I refuse to seek Thy paths which lead me to salvation. Turn me back by Thy Cross and free me from my blindness, in Thine ineffable mercy and compassion.
Ninth ode of the Canon, Monday of the fourth week of Lent

O ye faithful, let us purify our senses with the light of the Fast, and let us be illumined with the spiritual radiance of the Cross. Let us gaze on it with reverence as it lies this day before us, and venerate it with pure lips and mouth and heart.
First ode of the Canon, Tuesday of the fourth week of Lent

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Second week of the Great Fast

We have reached the beginning of the second week of Great Lent. The Church urges the faithful on in the spiritual race:

Let us set out with joy upon the second week of the Fast; and like Elijah the Tishbite let us fashion for ourselves from day to day, O brethren, a fiery chariot from the four great virtues; let us exalt our minds through freedom from the passions; let us arm our flesh with purity and our hands with acts of compassion; let us make our feet beautiful with the preaching of the Gospel; and let us put the enemy to fight and gain the victory.
Stikhira at Vespers on the Sunday of Orthodoxy

From all the divine service texts of Great Lent, it is clear that keeping the fast is not as simple as abstention from certain foods. It is an attitude of reverence, fear of God, prayer and repentance. None of these would themselves be possible without the help of God:

As we set out upon the second week of the Fast, direct our steps, O Lord: Shine upon us with the sanctifying light of Thy commandments, and make us worthy to offer on bended knees a prayer acceptable to Thee: For Thou art our Father and we are Thy sons. With feast we sing Thy praise and call upon Thy name.
Sedalen at Matins on Monday of the second week of Lent

Christians must be active with the other virtues in order for Lent to be profitable. For example, almsgiving is most appropriate at this time:

Fast, then, by lifting up acts of almsgiving before [God’s] eyes, by doing what you do with love for your neighbour, by being holy. What you take from yourself, give to someone else so that your needy neighbour’s body may be restored by the affliction of your own. The Lord says through the prophet: “What you fasted and mourned, did you fast for Me? And when you eat and drink, do you not eat and drink for yourselves?” He eats and drinks for himself who nourishes his body with the Creator’s common gifts, without regard for the needy; and he fasts for himself if he does not bestow upon the poor what he takes for a time from his own use, but keeps it instead to fill his own stomach later.
St Gregory the Great(6th century)

God sees all our feeble struggles in the present fast, and every good deed we manage to complete with His help and blessing.

Be of good cheer, but work, strive earnestly; for nothing shall be lost. Every prayer, every psalm you sing, every good deed, every marriage duly observed, continence kept for God’s sake is recorded…for you shall rise [from the dead] clothed with your own sins, or else with your righteous deeds.
St Kyril of Jerusalem (4th century)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Beginning of the Great Fast

Fasting was ordained in Paradise. The first injuction was delivered to Adam that he was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. “Thou shalt not eat” is a law of fasting and abstinence. The general argument is rather against excess than in support of ceremonial abstinence. In Paradise there was no wine, no butchery of beasts, no eating of flesh. Wine came in after the flood. Noah became drunk because wine was new to him. So fasting is older than drunkenness….Fasting begets prophets, strengthens strong men. Fasting makes lawgivers wise, is the soul’s safeguard, the body’s trusty comrade, the armor of the champion, the training of the athlete. The conclusion, however, is a warning against mere carnal abstinence. Beware of limiting the good of fasting to mere abstinence from meats. Real fasting is alienation from evil. Loose the bands of wickedness. Forgive your neighbour the mischief he has done you. Forgive him his trespasses against you. Do not fast for strife and debate. You do not devour flesh, but you devour your brother. You abstain from wine, but you indulge in outrages. You wait for the evening before you take food, but you spend the day in the law courts. Woe to those who are drunken, but not with wine! Anger is the intoxication of the soul, and it out of its wits like wine….May the Lord, Who has brought us to this period of time, grant to us, as to gladiators and wrestlers, that we may show firmness and constancy in the beginning of contests!
St Basil the Great, 4th century

There is a drunkenness not of wine but of hatred. THis more than anything else causes God to turn away. As for the devil, he attempts to bring it about in those who pray and fast. He prompts them to remember wrongs, he directs their thoughts toward harboring malice, and he sharpens their tongues for slander. So brethren, in this time of fasting and prayer, let us with all our hearts forgive anything real or imaginary we have against anyone. May we devote ourselves to love! Let us consider one another as an incentive to love and good works, speaking in defense of one another, having good thoughts and dispositions within us before God and men. In this way our fasting will be laudable and blameless, and our requests to God will be readily received.
St Gregory Palamas, 14th century

We are told: It is of no great consequence to eat non-fasting food during the Great Fast. It is of no consequence if you wear expensive and beautiful outfits, or go to the theater, or attend parties and masquerade balls. It is of no import if you use expensive chine and furniture. It is of no matter if you acquire expensive carriages and dashing steeds, amass and hoard things, etc. Yet what is it that turns our heart away from God, away from the Fountain of Life? Because of what do we lose eternal life? Is it not because of gluttony, of expensive clothing like that of the rich man of the Gospel story, is it not because of theater and balls? What turns us hard-hearted toward the poor and even toward our relatives? Is it not our passion for sweets, for satisfying the belly in general, for clothing, for expensive dishes, furniture, carriages, for money and other things? Is it possible to serve Christ and Belial? That is impossible. Why did Adam and Eve lose Paradise? Why did they fall into sin and death? Was it not because of one evil? Let us attentively consider why we do not care about the salvation of our soul, which cost the Son of God so dearly. Why do we compound sin upon sin? Why do we fall endlessly into opposing God and choosing a life of vanity? It is not because of a passion for earthly things and especially for earthly pleasures? What makes our hearts become crude? Why do we become flesh and not spirit, perverting our moral nature? Is it not because of a passion for food , drink, and other earthly comforts? How after this can one say that it does not matter whether you eat non-fasting food during the fast? The fact that we talk this way is in fact a show of pride, and idle thought, and act of disobedience, a refusal to submit to God, and a separation from Him.
St John of Kronstadt, 20th century

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