Thursday, August 13, 2015

Abbess Alexandra: About two Church Issues (conference report). Part 2

abbess-alexandra.jpgPart 2 of 2

The second question concerns the proper concept of catholicity of the Church. I have met many worthy people among the first and second waves of Russian emigrants in America. However, in recent years there is a disturbing tendency present in our Russian Orthodox Church Abroad parishes. The parishioners think that the priest is simply a hired servant. They say: “We decide what to do - the priest is just supposed to serve”. Vladika Averky called this kind of parish “presbyterian”, because each parishioner is an “elder” [Tr. note: a presbyter] in spirit. A “presbyterian parish” holds the rights of the bishop, priest and layman equal. Accordingly, it believes that the parish can challenge the decisions of a Sobor or Synod. Unfortunately, this “presbyterian spirit” has gradually spread to all the parishes in America. During my last visit I had to avoid contact with my former close acquaintances, because it would be useless to argue. They are spreading presbyterianism to all areas of church life. All this stems from an incorrect understanding of the principle of conciliarity [Tr. note: sobornost] of the Church.

If we are Orthodox, we must abide by the decisions of the Council of Bishops and the Synod of our Church. It is not in our competence to challenge these decisions. If we do so, it means we are foolhardy enough to stand outside of the Church, outside of Orthodoxy.

Every bishop has his own character, his human qualities, and some shortcomings. It is possible for us to disagree a little with some of the bishops, perhaps even be disgruntled, but we should keep this to ourselves. We must not raise a rebellion within the Church due to personal ambitions. By doing so, we are destroying the Church, since, according to the canons, neither the laity, nor the priests steer the ship of the Church. This right is given to the bishops, who have received the grace of Christ through apostolic succession. The special cases in which it is necessary to express disagreement with the decisions of the Bishop (or Synod) are, as we know, defined by the canons.

Without the blessing of the Bishop, a priest has no right to serve. The bishop gives him an antimins, on which he can perform the service. In cases of necessity, the Bishop may confiscate the antimins. Then the priest can not serve; not to mention, to govern the Church. As much as all of us (priests, monastics and laity) would like to participate in solving church questions, we have no right to do so.

In Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, by the Apostle Paul, we read:

“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: So also is Christ.”
(1 Cor. 12:12).

In his sermons on this text, St. John Chrysostom writes:

For as the body and the head are one man,   so he said that the Church and Christ are one. Wherefore also he placed   Christ instead of the Church, giving that name to His body. “As then,”   saith he, “our body is one thing though it be composed of many: so also   in the Church we all are one thing. For though the Church be composed   of many members, yet these many form one body.
[4]

Here I would like to offer a metaphor, and unfortunately I must resort to medical terminology. All the members of the Church are one body, and each member of the Church can be compared to an individual cell. It is obvious to anyone that a single call cannot control the organism. In the human body, in addition to the many useful cells, there is always a certain amount of unstable cells, which may form a tumour, which in turn can take over the entire body. Even if the tumor is removed, it can still happen that some of these cancer cells migrate through the lymphatic system and can cause a relapse destroying the body. Everyone knows that cancer cells need to be removed from the body for it to function normally.

Perhaps it is sinful and inappropriate to compare cancer cells with people who instigate rebellion within the Church. But in reality we unfortunately face a problem in the church when some priests assert that we have no conciliarity. In their opinion, conciliarity is disturbed by the fact that the ruling Bishop requires obedience of them. He demands that they be involved in their parishes, rather than travel about constantly from place to place as they want (to the Holy Land, Mount Athos, or other countries). They have spiritual children scattered around the world. However, in matters of spiritual guidance you need consistency, and a permanent, real-life contact with the flock, which is exactly what the ruling bishop requires of his priests. Otherwise the priests are playing at “being an elder”.

Among priests, there are also some who are engaged in politics. This is not at all a church-centred occupation. And if the bishop seeks to limit this kind of self-willed activity of priests in his diocese, they are ready to organise a rebellion in the Church. For these pastors conciliarity is the same as democracy. They would like to have a role in governing the Church. However, the canons establish that the Church is ruled by the bishops, the Synod and the Councils.

A proper understanding of catholicity of the Church is founded on the common effort of all the members of the Church (bishops, priesthood, monastics and laity) to preserve the Body of Christ in the spirit of love and harmony. Priests and lay people must communicate to the bishop (or if necessary even to the Synod) any problems or disputes, so that the Synod may make appropriate decisions. In no circumstances are the people of the church permitted to destroy the Body of Christ by divisive actions based on discontent.

On the question of conciliarity of the Church, I refer to the opinion of Metropolitan Filaret:

“Many misunderstand the concept of “catholicity”, and demand that lay people take part in the governance of the church, along with the bishops and clergy. In this regard, I would like to tell you briefly what is a true Sobor (Council).

In the book of Acts of the Apostles we read that there was a very serious discussion on whether to accept the pagans to Christianity directly. In other words, should they be baptised at once, or should they first be required to fulfill the law of Moses? When talking about this, the issue became so serious that even the apostles would not solve it themselves. They therefore came together to discuss it. In the book of Acts of the Apostles it says that “the apostles and elders came together for the consideration of this matter” (Acts 15:6). Now, naturally, you might ask: The apostles and presbyters, but what about the bishops? In fact, at the time when the Apostles served, their subordinates - bishops and priests - did not in essence differ much as to their powers and duties. However, when the apostles went to their Master in the better world, their place was taken by the bishops. That is the point at which the degree of bishops was separated from the priesthood, as being superior. But at the time of the Apostles, both the bishops and priests were subordinates, the assistants of the Apostles. We see that it is so, for example, from the place in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, which reads: “For Paul …. sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.” (Acts 20:17) A little further on in the text, he says that the Apostle addressed them and said: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) So, the very same people are referred to as both “bishops” [overseers] and “elders” [presbyters] in the Book of Acts.

Gathering in Council, the Apostles also called their subordinates to the discussion of this important issue. That is how the question was discussed. When the Council ended, the decision statement began: [b]“The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren…”[/b] (Acts15:23). The brethren - that is, of course, the laity. It is clearly indicated that the discussion of the matter and decisions were made only by the Apostles and their subordinates - the members of the clergy. The lay people were probably present, but did not have a voice in this context. Possibly they took part in the statements of their views. Nevertheless, they did not have what is called a “decisive” voice. The resolution of the Council was still sent on behalf of all the brethren.

The Apostolic Council was the prototype of the Ecumenical Councils. Since there were no more Apostles, the Councils were headed by bishops. Members of the clergy were also present, and at some of the Ecumenical Councils there were even laymen. It is quite different with the Councils of Bishops, which meet not as rarely as Ecumenical Councils, and which do not make decisions on extraordinary questions, but rather gather regularly and continuously. The basic rule regarding the Council of Bishops states: The Council of Bishops should meet twice yearly, in order to discuss with each other any difficulties of questions encountered. There is not even a hint about laymen. On the contrary, the rule emphasizes that the bishops should only confer “with each other.” This is the way it always has been at Councils of Bishops.”

“Scripture says,” Every man a liar “, or in plain speech [Russian]: every man is a liar. This does not mean that we are all lying all the time - no! This means that no one person, no matter how wise, or holy if you like, or experienced, etc, can claim infallibility and rely on his own opinions. The higher the issues and questions, the more dangerous the mistakes. In matters of religion, the church, and moral teaching, no one can rely solely on himself. The Church has left us canons, laws and regulations as the basis upon which normal church life is built. No matter what ugliness in life will make its appearance, and no matter what difficulties we will have to face, we must keep this framework inviolate! This is why a bishop of the Orthodox Church proclaims his confession of faith, his episcopal promise, immediately before his consecration. It is a statement that he personally commits to being the custodian of all the conciliar rules and canons of the Holy Apostolic Church. He promises to be a guardian of them, even at threat of death.”

“The canons and rules of the Church are the spiritual foundation upon which spiritual life rests. No one can abandon this foundation without immediately running into mistakes and errors. Once St. Seraphim of Sarov said to one of the Old Believers, who came to him and tried to develop his thoughts (the Elder, as always, told him with love, but at the same time powerfully and strictly): “Leave your nonsense! The ship of Christ’s Church is sailing on the waves of the sea of life, and they cast Her about. She makes the voyage with great difficulty, yet you want to sail the ocean in the little boat of your own wise thoughts - this is madness!”. [5]

Abbess Alexandra

[4] St. John Chrysostom. Collected Works. Homily XXX on Corinthians.
[5] St. Filaret Voznesensky. Sermon “Catholicity and sobornost.”

Source

Monday, August 10, 2015

Abbess Alexandra: About two Church Issues (conference report). Part 1

abbess-alexandra.jpgPart 1 of 2

Today I would like to raise some questions concerning the life of the Church. It may seem strange that I say this: These are simple truisms. However, these topics are some that constantly worry us (i.e. members of the Orthodox Church, the sisters of our monastery, and myself). Therefore I cannot avoid speaking about this. The first question concerns Holy Communion.

It happens that people come to our monastery from the Kiev or Moscow Patriarchate. What do we do if they wish to partake of the Holy Mysteries? We know that in Russia, there are very few parishes of the Church Abroad. Many of our relatives and friends go to the Moscow Patriarchate, because they have nowhere else to go. They understand where the truth is, but are unable to go to any parish of the Church Abroad.

There is another type of people who go to the Moscow Patriarchate, and do not particularly think about any differences we might have with it. For them, the Church is simply a tribute to tradition. This problem is not new. Already in 1979, Metropolitan Filaret stated well about a similar situation:

“What does it mean that many of the “orthodox” are indifferent to which Church they attend? It means simply that the truth is not dear to people. That is why they do not particularly think about these things. “They serve in the same way, everything is the same - why complicate matters unnecessarily?” Or, as father archpriest John Storozhev in Harbin (the last spiritual father of the Royal Family), one of the best pastors in the diaspora, used to say with bitter irony: “The bells ring, the priests serve, they sing well - what else do we need?”. And then they add that familiar cliche: “After all, God is one!” … ” [1]

In a letter to an Abbess of one of our monasteries abroad which is visited by people of different jurisdictions, Metropolitan Filaret offers his solution:

“It seems clear to me that there can only be correct “missionary work” in the monastery when such visitors are allowed into the Church; however, admitted to the Mysteries with one condition: If they partake of the Mysteries here, they must abandon “the Mysteries” of the Churches of other jurisdictions.

Otherwise - what will happen?! It will seem to them that everything is in order in those churches, and that they do not need to change or correct anything. By allowing them to receive the Mysteries without requiring unity and consistency in this regard, we would be confirming even more that they are completely correct, and that their way is a true and correct way. ” [2]

Vladyka Filaret’s stand is the position of our Church - there is no doubt about this. However, in practice it often happens that priests act differently. Whether we like it or not, in such cases human attachments play a role. For example, relatives or friends of the priest may come from the MP, and it is difficult to deny them the Mysteries. Sometimes people who are far from the Church come, while finding themselves in a difficult situation in life. There is a desire to help, rather than push a person away. For such a person, the differences between the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and the MP recede, not only to the secondary, but even the tenth level in comparison with the experiences of his broken life. Such a man has no desire to delve into religious matters. Therefore, the question of receiving Communion or not is approached on an individual basis, depending on the priest and the circumstances. Maybe some of you in the audience can share your experiences in addressing such situations.

Today, the situation is further complicated for the faithful, in that the Church is used for political purposes. Here is one example:

“On February 12th, during the truce between the government and the opposition organization “Ukrainian National Council” (chairman Igor Druz), an initiative in support of the “MVD Berkut” special forces was carried out. This division is protecting the government quarter from Grushevsky Street from the protesters at the Euromaidan. Representatives of “political orthodoxy” brought Archpriest Alexei Yefimov, rector of the Church of Saint Anthony and Theodosius of Kiev (of the Vasilkov diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), in order to serve a moleben service, and commune the Special Forces soldiers with the Blessed Sacrament (of the the body and blood of Christ).” [3 ]

At present, there is a war in the Ukraine. Among the soldiers there are also priests who serve services, and, if necessary - baptise, administer communion, and bury those who have died. Again the question arises: To whom can the priest administer the Mysteries (perhaps in conditions of mortal danger)? Indeed, among those who are fighting there are members of our Church, as well as Greek Catholics, people of the Ukrainian Patriarchate, people from the Moscow Patriarchate, and people far from the Church. How do we avoid breaking the commandment of love in such a situation?

All the Holy Mysteries (and especially so, Holy Communion) - are a matter of conscience for each Orthodox person. This is when we speak of lay people who go to various churches, while not making any effort to sort out where the truth is. Yet, even among monastics there are some who, change their jurisdiction under the influence of external circumstances. They do this while knowing full well where the truth is. I do not want to condemn anybody: this is a matter of each person’s conscience..

In the Holy Land, I came across old nuns who have lived for a long time in the monasteries abroad. After these monasteries joined the Moscow Patriarchate, they came under its omophorion. They do not support this union, but for various reasons can not leave the monastery where they have lived for so long. To leave a monastery for an elderly person is not so simple. Old age and illnesses object. Also, if they attempt to move to another country for permanent residence they have difficulties obtaining the necessary documents. In such cases, elderly persons tend to lose any social benefits they might have held previously. Many do not have the heart to give up everything and live in a foreign country, leaving behind their native monastery and relatives. Therefore, many of the older nuns have made peace with the lies, they go to the service and partake of Holy Communion in the Moscow Patriarchate. As they told me, during the commemoration of Patriarch Kirill, they stop up their inner spiritual ears. They say: “We do not pray for the patriarch”. Nevertheless, we understand that receiving Holy Communion in the Moscow Patriarchate makes all the communicants united in spirit, whether they like it or not.

Some of the nuns, who have had no opportunity to leave after the union with the MP, continue to live in their monastery and attend the services, but do not commune in the Moscow Patriarchate. For Holy Communion they go to the Church Abroad, whenever the opportunity presents itself.

For a long time I thought that only the sacraments separated us from the Moscow Patriarchate. Therefore I assumed that it was permissible to pray in the churches of the MP, in the case when it is not possible to attend a service in a parish of the Church Abroad. I have been on pilgrimages to the holy places of Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kiev. In Moscow, for example, I greatly enjoyed visiting the Donskoy, Danilov, and Novo-Spassky monasteries, as well as the Trinity-Sergius Lavra. If I visited on Sundays or feast days I would go to these monasteries for services. Of course, I did not take communion, but simply prayed. However, there was an event that showed me my error.

At that time, our monastery moved to the Ukraine, and we had already built our new church. I needed to go to Kiev, to the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra in order to buy church vessels. I asked one of our priests to accompany me. We left on a Friday and were due to return Sunday evening. We stayed with friends. On Saturday, while we were getting ready to leave, I asked the father why he did not put on a Cross. I was intending to attend the service at the Lavra. Batiushka answered that he had all the necessary books with him, and was going to pray somewhere near the caves. “I do not want to impose my views on you - it is your business. But for me, praying together in a church of the Moscow Patriarchate is impossible. This is not my personal opinion - this is the position of our church, ” the priest explained to me. I was embarrassed and ashamed of my lack of understanding. We prayed on the banks of the Dnieper. On that wonderful evening, I realised my long-held misconception. Everything fell into place. I realised that we are not able to attend the services in a church of the Moscow Patriarchate or any other jurisdiction, because we can not engage with them in common prayer, for this is a mystery in front of God.

I remember an incident that occurred with one of our priests in America. He was a priest of Jewish origin. His name was Father Elias. In his old age, he had become very frail, and his Jewish relatives put him in a Jewish nursing home. Father Elias was starting to lose his memory and sometimes did not recognize his loved ones. Before Christmas one of our priests, father Peter, who knew this father Elias, decided to visit him and commune him with the Holy Mysteries. Father Elias was very happy for father Peter’s arrival, and they spoke together very nicely. “Now, father Elias, why don’t you confess, and I will give you the Holy Mysteries,” - said father Peter. On hearing this proposal, father Elias became alarmed and answered: “I am very glad that you came to see me, but I cannot receive Holy Communion. I am a priest of the Church Abroad, and I do not know which Church you are from.” “But you know me - I am father Peter, I am also of the Church Abroad,” father Peter tried to convince his companion. “Yes, I remember you, but I do not know which church you are from. I have to consult with Vladyka Filaret,” continued father Elias. By that time, Vladyka Filaret had died, and Vladyka Vitaly was Metropolitan. Nevertheless, father Elias went to the telephone and dialed a number, and then began to speak.

Father Peter, who witnessed this wonderful conversation, told me that he had goose bumps when he saw firsthand that father Elias received instructions and answers to his questions from Vladyka Filaret. Father Elias prayed for Vladyka Filaret as living, and to him the Bishop was still alive. This elderly priest, not putting any trust in himself, took the blessing of his abba, connecting with him in spirit and in truth. And how could his soul, so full of humility not receive a blessing to receive the Holy Mysteries? “It was a miracle!” exclaimed father Peter when recalling the incident. When father Elias ended the conversation, he hung up and said cheerfully: “Metropolitan Filaret blessed. Let’s begin the Mystery (of Communion).”
This unusual case illustrates what should be the correct attitude to the sacraments of confession and communion. In all matters of contention we need to ask the Bishop’s blessing.

Abbess Alexandra

Part 2 to follow

[1] St. Filaret Voznesensky. Letter to an Abbess. November 26 / December 9, 1979
[2] St. Filaret Voznesensky. Letter to an Abbess. November 26 / December 9, 1979
[3] Religion in Ukraine, of 02.13.2014

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Presentation at the VI Annual Conference “The Paths of ROCA in the modern world.”

vl-agafangel-2.jpgThe internal organisation of Christians at the present time is the most central issue in the life of the Church today - it even becomes a question of the church’s survival. Our unity has been strengthened, but in exchange for this, we see and experience centrifugal forces which oppose unity. This is happening to such a degree that this force is ready to literally tear us to pieces at any time, and permanently at that.

What are the elements driving this separation today? Basically, these are quite insignificant things: differing views on politics; superficial ecclesiological disputes; power ambitions of certain people; concerted work of our enemies; stubbornness of influential groupings (mini-sects within, which are constantly engaged in hindering and obstructing the action of the clerical hierarchy); the conscious or unconscious ‘name-of-God-worshiping’ heresy, (behind which is opposition to any clerical hierarchy, a kind of “Orthodox anarchism”). All this exists on the basis of misunderstanding the dogma of Church unity. This is what is evident on the surface. Each one of these issues can be examined further in detail, but this is not the core issue, the most important thing. Instead, I will try to point out what we can do to oppose these generally destructive trends. Of course, the One Who is capable of defeating evil and uniting all genuine Christians is, first and foremost, Christ the Saviour Himself, and thereafter, the Orthodox faith, hope and love. And also their mother – Wisdom, or in other words, sobriety in everything. What is demanded of us is our worthiness of this help from on high.

The early Christians – as is well known – lived completely independently of civil authorities – for them there did not exist frameworks of state and national borders. They lived as self-contained communities, with their inner life and laws. They had a clear-cut division between what was “of God” and what was “of Caesar”. The fact that the Lord did not come as an earthly king – as everyone had hoped – characterized their entire lives. There is not even a hint that early Christians were somehow attracted by worldly civil power. (This is in stark contrast to the majority of the Jewish people, who were anticipating their political leader, and to whom the Christians were – possibly – some kind of traitors and betrayers). It can be assumed that this is one of the important reasons why the Jewish people did not follow Christ. Christians did not even seek to influence the civil power. Possibly, the words of the Apostle Paul: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” (Rom. 13:1) dictated, partly, an attitude of indifference and ascribing absolutely no significance to any civil authorities. For indeed, worldly power was something to which the early Christians were totally indifferent. They preached the Resurrection of Christ – regardless of class, social and national differences. They expanded their community up to practically all the then-existing known national borders, while at the same time, they were not troubled at all about the civil and political structure of the countries in whose territories they lived.

However, the early Christians did have their own internal discipline and organization. The people of the Church were ruled by bishops and priests. Even so their clerical rule was basically limited to preaching and spiritual supervision. Overseeing everything were the Apostles and, thereafter – the first bishops. They resolved difficult questions at general meetings, that is, through common consent, or – as they say nowadays – conciliarly. Those who lived in prosperity, raised money for those who were poor. They did not have that power-structure which later was invented by the [Roman] Catholics, making the Pope a civil ruler, attempting to subdue all the other Christians and ordinary citizens. We can say that the interest in purely civil “levers of power” first appeared only in the Roman Church, and – possibly – that interest played a negative role in the process of the Papacy’s falling away from the fullness of the Church.

In the IV century, the state power became Christian. This was a development Jesus actually never called for, and – one may say – He did not even bless by His example, as he renounced earthly lordship. As a result, many people who were far removed from Christianity entered the Church. Under these conditions, the genuine Church – in its essence – was forced to flee into the desert, forming monasteries around Spirit-bearing ascetics. From then on, monasteries essentially replaced the communities of the early Christians. Just as the groups of early Christians were headed by Bishops, the monasteries were headed by an abbot, who was not always even of clerical rank, who had his assistants, responsible for the various aspects of monastic life. Monasteries – like the early Christians – did not aspire to civil power – on the contrary, their very existence was caused by a departure, a flight from this. Their household was of a closed-type and – often – was completely independent of other economic structures. The monasteries had strict discipline and “obedience in labour”, inasmuch as they had to provide for themselves, for their sustenance and property. Property was in fact something they practically did not have, either in the form of dedicated collective property or “private property”. In the same way, these were not a reality with the early Christians because of the persecutions. Nevertheless, civil authorities who considered themselves Christian, began to “patronise” the monasteries. As a result, for example, in Russia, this patronising made the monasteries completely dependent on civil power. In our country [Russia], the same process occurred as for example in the Holy Land or on Mount Athos – monastery estates were built with the help of civil authorities, and were later populated by monastics. Churches (and the Christian communities around them) were built in the same manner. However, this was already very different from the early Christian community. We see – no matter how zealously genuine ascetics sought to withdraw from the world, the world, as a rule, overtook them.

Throughout the era of Orthodox emperors, or in other words – the Constantine Era – we see a kind of confrontation between the secular and spiritual forces. For the Church, the situation was often unbearable in this – however sincere – secular embrace. On the other hand, many secular citizens inhabiting the empire often resented “the yoke of the churchmen” and were not well disposed to the Church at all.

* * *
In the Soviet Union, the traditional original Christian communities were revived in the form of the Catacomb Church. The structure was very much like that of the early Christian communities of the time of the persecution by the Roman authorities. Indeed, persecutions in the Soviet Union were incomparably more violent than the persecutions of the early Christians. The catacomb communities in Russia had practically no contact with one another. They often did not even know whether there existed any bishops of the same faith, despite constant and intense searches for them. In practice the catacomb communities lived in complete isolation. They gathered together quite rarely, and only for common prayer. This isolation however, cemented the ranks of the people and made the community – in spite of everything – viable and active. The catacomb Christians exhibited great self-sacrifice, and collected significant sums of money (by the standards of that time). In practice however, they were unable to use these resources, because of the ban on private property in the USSR, and because of the full control by the state over all other property. I know of cases where catacomb Christians helped monasteries of the Moscow Patriarchate, only because they did not know how to utilize the monies and food that were collected; at the same time they categorically refused to help the Soviet government in any form whatsoever. At that time it was a matter of survival for the Christians, and they had no possibility of even thinking about missionary work and expansion. Unfortunately, by the end of persecutions in the 1980s, only a few remnants of catacomb communities survived, without any administration or organization. Some of them submitted to the Synod of Bishops of ROCA, as the only canonical church administrative structure that had been preserved until that time.

* * *

In the post-Soviet space of the Russian Federation and in other newly formed states, the Moscow Patriarchate has aimed to build a Byzantine-Soviet model of Church life, in a – so called – loyal state. In actual fact, it was impossible to build anything else whilst applying the same methods of the Soviet period. As a consequence, this structure has resulted in an all-powerful elite, and the mass of people without any kind of rights as the foundation. Internally, there exist popular initiatives within the Moscow Patriarchate. Almost all of them however, are of a sectarian nature (for example - morbid opposition to civil ID numbers, elder-worship, deification of the Tsar, Orthodox Stalinism and other types of political Orthodoxy, etc.). One exception is, perhaps, the struggle against ecumenism. However, unfortunately this is not organized in any specific movement. Perhaps at some time in the future, there will arise a common striving within the MP that would lead to a healthy recovery of that structure. However, even in the best case scenario, this is an issue for the future.

* * *

What are we to do? To provide a universal recipe is difficult, but one thing is clear: We all need closer communication - in all aspects, from prayer, to mission, to social and work activities. We should not to be frightened that in practical terms any “coming closer ” would be a threat to some worsening of relationships. However, any mutual estrangement – with a temporal illusion of pacification in our relationship - will finally result, upon closer contact, produce sudden contradictions that ultimately turn out to be incompatible. Past experience testifies to this. We do not live in isolation and nowadays communications are well-developed. We are free, and these days, in essence, we are not dependent on anyone in this world. We have all the conditions to lead a Christian life, and we are not restricted in this by anything external. But we, for some unknown reason, have chosen voluntary estrangement from one another. What is this? The historical -spiritual chain: Christ – to early Christian communities – to monasteries – to Catacomb Christians in the USSR – to ??? – must continue. We should not now attach any great significance to the civil powers than they deserve. In our day politics take up an unnaturally large space in the lives of people. It is clear that that the exorbitant interest in it is artificially devised in order to distract people with externals, and to lead them away from inner life. At present this problem is only within ourselves. It is quite obvious that our faithful children should not be avoiding one another, and fearing to communicate with each other. On the contrary, at the present time, only close communication is the true way to identify any falsehood and strengthen our genuine unity in Christ.

+ Metropolitan Agafangel, Odessa, August 2015

Source

carosel.gif Editor’s note: Interestingly, the centrifugal force is actually the force perceived to influence an object when it is literally “forced” to move in a circle, rather than in a straight line (as it would do if undisturbed) - this centrifugal force works to move it out of the circular orbit.
In analogy to the spiritual life, this is a person who, due to a greater estrangement from both Christ (who is at the centre of everything in the Church, towards Whom everything gravitates and Who keeps everything in order), and from his brothers, prefers moving on a straight line (individually, according to his own desires/understanding), rather than in a circle (in obedience to Christ, to his superiors and brothers). The centrifugal force exerts greater influence at the periphery of such circular movement, where the overall power of individual, straight-line movement is greater than the centripetal, attractive force (drawing an object towards the centre).
The closer a person is to the centre (Christ), the greater is the centripetal force keeping him within the Church. Conversely, the further a person moves away from Christ and away from personal obedience to his brothers and Christ Himself, the stronger is the force that appears to be pushing him out of the Church.
May our Lord preserve us from this, and allow us to abide in love and obedience, keeping us in His Holy Body, the Church.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

All labor, every square inch of ground, every grain of wheat… A Prophecy from 15th Century

apocalypse-dionysioua.jpg… Each person will be registered; not only every facet of his affairs and his life, but his every word, every movement of his mental faculties will be under constant surveillance so that he will lose the habit of thinking for himself out of fear that the expression on his face might involuntarily reflect something incompatible with the authority of the world ruler, i.e., Antichrist. Everyone will wear “stone masks.” All labor, every square inch of ground, every grain of wheat will be under the authority of Antichrist…
Excerpt from the book: Reflections of a Humble Heart: A 15th-century text on the spiritual life

“Brother, I have no past…..” Thus begins a quiet meditation (introduced by a stunning prophecy from the Monk Basil, who collected the work) on what it means to live as a Christian. No scare tactics, no heavy-handed asceticism are to be found here, in reflections just as suited to a busy worker in the marketplace as to a desert monk. Everything leads to the words with which the manuscript breaks off: “Thou art eternal God, Holy Spirit, and we — by Thy love will live for eternity, while all else is but a dream, a river flowing by.”
Buy from Saint John of Kronstadt Press (Item# 3160)

More about the book
The text was found among Byzantine manuscripts in the Vatican library. The name of the elder is not known to us. Either the monk Basil, who recorded what the elder’s words, assumed that everyone knew who he was talking about, or his name was mentioned in earlier notes that have been lost. It is supposed that the elder was a renowned ascetic of one of the monasteries near Constantinople in the early 15th century.

The text was adapted and translated into Russian by (old ROCOR) Archimandrite Ambrose Pogodin in Pravoslavny Put’, 1999, Jordanville. English translation from the Russian by Mary Mansur, published by Nikodemos Orthodox Publications Society, New York.

…He spoke to us of how greatly the Lord desires our salvation, and how He has done everything necessary for this. His mercy and His grace-filled aid is measureless and is extended toward sinners and righteous alike, requiring so little on our part for the salvation of our souls. The banquet table of faith is laden to capacity, but people are careless concerning the salvation of their souls and they do not want to hear the summons of the Lord. The very words, “salvation” and “to save oneself,” imply some grave danger – we associate these words with an understanding of some great danger or tragedy; for example, “saved from fire,” “saved from perishing,” “saved during an enemy attack,” etc. – and they should motivate a person to be extremely vigilant in life and to have a fervent desire to be saved; they should arouse faith in the Savior and love for Him. Meanwhile, people have no concern for this, considering that this earthly world, visible to our eyes, is the only reality there is. They do not know that it is the spiritual world which is the reality and essence of things. Thus, the entire earthly, material world – encompassed by notions of height, width, depth, and weight – exist in the realm of time, which brings all things to destruction, because time is the servant of death. Time began with man’s fall into sin and it will exist only until the end of the history of mortal humanity. By contrast, the spiritual world exists outside these limitations, outside these bonds and measures; it is infinitely wealthy, eternal, and indestructible. That is why in spirituality there exists Rerum Natura [”The Nature of Things”].

The blessed elder also said that terrible times were approaching. The enemies of our Lord Jesus Christ will take captive our earth and the Great Church* (Hagia Sophia) will cease to be the temple of God. Great tragedies will overtake the land of the Romans,* (The Byzantines called themselves “the Romans”), and by God’s great judgment it will cease to exist. People will die, cities will perish, even whole nations will perish, because there is nothing eternal under the sun except the human soul, which is created in the image and likeness of the eternal God. Do not look for help from Western Christians, expecting that they will take up arms in defense of the common Christian heritage. Do not expect this. Because the Western Christians are not Christians; they are pagans. Even we Orthodox have a lot of things that are pagan.

apocalypse-dionysiou2a.jpgBrother, do not be grieved at my words, but examine your soul. Just look how many idols it harbors: Mercury – the god of cupidity, Aphrodite – the goddess of concupiscence, Ares – the god of wrath, etc., and in the center, Zeus – you with your self-love and self-indulgence. Yes, brother, we have much that is pagan, because we Orthodox are sinners, both as individuals and as a people. However, we are pagans on the surface, while in the depths of our souls we are Christian, because in our humility we have Christ in our hearts. And therefore, in spite of our sins, “in our humility the Lord remembered us.” Western peoples are Christian on the surface, but in their hearts, in their souls, they are pagan. We Orthodox grieve that we have idols living in our souls, and in humility we fall prostrate before Christ, desiring with our whole heart to belong to Him. In the case of Westerners, however, Christianity is like a thin gilding over copper; and the rest is wholly pagan, because within their souls they bow down before their idols and these idols reign over them. They are proud, and Christ does not dwell in their hearts. For this reason, we Orthodox are truly pagans – on the surface – but deep within we are Christians; while the Western Latins are Christians on the surface but pagans underneath. Therefore, do not expect that they will help us. We Orthodox are strangers to them.

Of course, in every nation there are good and humble people who bear Christ in their hearts and their way of life. But there is nothing that can equal or that can even be compared to the grace of Orthodoxy. This is a soul-saving faith; this is a faith that leads us to humility; this is a faith that elevates us to Christ; this is a joyous faith, a faith that encompasses all peoples, a faith of indescribable beauty, a divine faith! O Orthodox Christian, be grateful to God that you are Orthodox! Oh, how happy we Orthodox are that we are Orthodox!

But this is not yet the end of the world. The end of the world will come later, and the time of the coming of the end of the world lies in God’s hands– and also in the hands of men. When human evil reaches its apogee, God will send His sickle to harvest the world. While together with evil men, righteous men still live on this earth, and while the Church of Christ still stands, not having defiled her garments (Rev. 3:4), evil in the world has no power to fully mature. But when no righteous men remain on the earth, when the ocean of evil floods the whole world, then the end of the world will come; it will be burned up and disappear into oblivion, that it might be reborn a new and perfect world in which righteousness dwells (II Peter 3:9-12. At the coming of the end of the world, all the tribulations that the world and people have experienced until then cannot compare with those tribulations that will come upon them at this time. A time of woe will overtake the whole world: men will hate one another, they will fear one another, they will not trust one another; tribulations will give way to greater tribulations, fear – to greater fear, danger – to greater danger, pain – to greater pain, grief – to greater grief. But people will not come to their senses; they will not flee to God, Who is able to save them. On the contrary, people will grow callous, and all spiritual life will wither. Man will become so full of malice, so degraded as a result of being goaded and ruled over by base passions, so hard-hearted, darkened, and utterly consumed by the sole concern of how to survive, that for spiritual life he will have neither the will nor any place in his heart. Nor will there remain any spiritual guides, because these, too, will follow the ways of the world. God’s temples will become either empty or destroyed or spiritually defiled by unworthy pastors.

apocalypse-dionysiou3a.jpgAt the very height of these tribulations and chaos in the world, the Antichrist will appear. He will come in the guise of a peacemaker, a good and wise leader who can bring the world to order. In reality, however, he will be an enemy to all, a despiser of all that is good, a tyrant and evil-doer, a destroyer of everything, the likes of whom the world has never seen and will never see. Each person will be registered; not only every facet of his affairs and his life, but every word, every movement of his mental faculties will be under constant surveillance so that he will lose the habit of thinking for himself out of fear that the expression on his face might involuntarily reflect something incompatible with the authority of the world ruler, i.e., Antichrist. Everyone will wear “stone masks.” All labor, every square inch of ground, every grain of wheat will be under the authority of Antichrist. There will be calamities in nature: oppressive heat waves will alternate with periods of freezing cold, drought with floods; horrendous tornados and hurricanes will wreak frightful destruction; volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and diseases among people, animals, and plants will be so dreadful as to make people despair. The earth, no longer blessed with bearing fruit, will be stricken with terrible famine and become utterly impoverished. And only those who have accepted the mark of the Beast, i.e., Satan, will be allowed to exist for a time, although in the most servile and base conditions of utter penury and contempt for the human dignity that man received from his Creator. Everything will be filled with Antichrist: the earth, the sea, the air. Everything will be done with the single purpose of eliminating totally the name of Christ from the heart of man. In truth, this will be a hellish kingdom on earth. There will remain very few of God’s people. There will be terrible tribulations, a time of intense agony not only on earth but throughout the entire universe, for they are joined in one plan of creation, and the whole universe is to perish that afterwards it might be clothed in incorruption, in indestructibility, in eternity, according to the words of the Apostle: This corruptible must put on incorruption(1Cor. 15:53). You heard the words of our Saviour: Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken (Matt. 24:29). And the prophet says: The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the great and glorious day of the Lord come (Joel 2:31). Another prophet says: For the stars in heaven, and Orion, and all the host of heaven, shall not give their light; and it shall be dark at sunrise, and the moon shall not give her light (Is. 13:10). And further:

Therefore a curse shall consume the earth, because the inhabitants thereof have sinned: therefore the dwellers in the earth shall be poor, and few men shall be left…all the mirth of the land has ceased, all the mirth of the land has departed…the water of the sea shall be troubled…the foundations of the earth shall be shaken, the earth shall be utterly confounded, and the earth shall be completely perplexed…And all the powers of the heavens shall melt, and the sky shall be rolled up like a scroll: and all the stars shall fall like leaves from a vine, and as leaves fall from a fig tree (Is. 24:6, 11, 14, 18-19; 34:4).

And in Revelation we read:

And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places (Rev. 6:12-14).

In the words of one ancient writer, there will come “such a time in which no one will wish to live; anxiety will increase from night to night, and trepidation from day to day.” Before the end of the world people will see the agony of the universe, which must perish in order that God create everything anew, incorruptible and imperishable. And just as our bodies at the Resurrection will become spiritual, so it is possible that the new universe will be comprised of spiritual matter. Nowadays what we understand by “matter” and “spirit” are disparate, but then they will fuse into one understanding, without distinction.

This world has grown old and worn out by reason of sin and worldwide evil. The new world will be ruled by God’s righteousness and will therefore be eternal and beautiful. The great Apostle says, I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away … And He that sat upon the throne said, Behold,I make all things new (Rev. 21:1,5). But before this comes to pass, there will be frightful tribulations, and the Church of Christ will be persecuted to the limit, to wipe her off the face of the earth, because so long as the Divine Liturgy is celebrated by a grace-filled priesthood, the reign of Satan cannot establish itself on earth. In each Divine Liturgy, God is present on earth, and the Liturgy is a proclamation of Christ’s victory over the devil and death. The persecution of the Church will be overt and covert, secretive and manifest, striking at individuals and striking at all, everywhere and by all means. There will be a certain number of martyrs: just how many is known to God alone; but there will also be many apostates, who will accept the mark of the Beast, and there will be a countless number of those who are lukewarm, who will likewise submit to Antichrist in everything. The powers of evil have long been preparing these apostates, these weak and worthless beings. For centuries the powers of evil have been undermining the foundations of the Church. Just as it took centuries to prepare for the coming of Christ, so preparations for the coming of Antichrist have been underway since the earliest times of Christianity, as the Apostle Paul declared: The mystery of iniquity doth already work (II Thess. 2:7). But know that even the mightiest powers of hell, the “gates of hell,” will not overcome the Church (Matt. 16:18), which our Lord Jesus Christ promised to be with even until the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). This Church will be relentlessly persecuted and will hide in caves and in abysses and in deserts. God’s grace will rest upon her servants, and God will not allow the great enemy to destroy them. The Divine Liturgy will be celebrated up to the very last day of this world’s existence. Brothers, heed the signs of the coming end of the world, signs that our Lord Jesus Christ and his prophets and Apostles have revealed to us, and do not relax your trust in God.

Source

Sunday, July 19, 2015

HOLY ZEAL

averky2.jpg by Archbishop Averky (Taushev)
of Syracuse and Holy Trinity

“I am come to send fire on the earth. And what will I, but that it be already kindled?” Luke 12:49

The chief thing in Christianity, according to the clear teaching of the Word of God, is the fire of Divine zeal, zeal for God and His glory — the holy zeal which alone is able to inspire man in labors and struggles pleasing to God, and without which there is no authentic spiritual life and there is not and cannot be any true Christianity.
Without this Holy Zeal Christians are “Christians” in name only: they only “have a name that they live,” but in reality “they are dead,” as was said to the holy Seer of Mysteries John (Apoc. 3:1).
True spiritual zeal is expressed, first of all, in zeal for God’s glory, which is taught us in the words of the Lord’s Prayer which stand at its very beginning:

Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Those who are zealous for God’s glory themselves glorify God with their whole heart — both in thought and feeling, both by words and deeds and with their whole life — and naturally desire that all other people should glorify God also in the same way, and therefore they cannot, of course, endure with indifference when in their presence, in some way or other, the name of God is blasphemed or holy things are mocked.
Being zealous for God, they sincerely strive to please God themselves and serve Him alone with all the power of their being, and they are ready to forget themselves all the way to sacrificing their very life in order to bring all men to the pleasing and the service of God. They cannot calmly listen to blasphemy, and therefore they cannot support communion with and have friendship with blasphemers and mockers of the Name of God and despisers of holy things.

A striking and extremely clear example of such fiery zeal for God’s glory comes to us from the depths of antiquity of the Old Testament in a great Prophet of God, the flaming Elias, who grieved in soul when he saw the apostasy from God of his people, led by the impious King Ahab, who introduced into Israel the pagan worship of Baal in place of the true God.“I have been very jealous for the Lord God Almighty — thus did he exclaim many times, expressing his grief — because the children of Israel have forsaken Thee: they have dug down Thine altars, and have slain Thy prophets with the sword, and I only am left, and they seek my life to take it” (3 Kings 19:10).
And behold, this Holy Zeal aroused him, by the power of the grace of God which reposed on him, as a chastisement of Israel which had apostatized from God, to “close heaven” (3 Kings 17:1; 18:42-45. James 5:17-18), so that there was neither rain nor dew for three years and six months.
This same zeal later aroused Elias to slay the false prophets and priests of Baal, after the miraculous descent of the fire from heaven on Mt. Carmel, so that these deceivers might no longer turn the sons of Israel away from the true worship of God (3 Kings 18:40).
By the power of the same Divine zeal, St. Elias brought down fire from heaven, which burned the captains and their fifties which had been sent by the king to size him (4 Kings 1:9-14).
That all this was in reality Holy Zeal which was pleasing to God is testified to by the fact that the Holy Prophet Elias did not die the usual death of all men, but was miraculously raised up to heaven in a chariot of fire, as if signifying his authentically fiery zeal for God (4 Kings 2:10-12).
But even then, in the severe Old Testament, the Lord Himself showed to His true servant that one can have recourse to such severe measures only in extreme cases, for the Lord was not

“in the great and strong wind rending the mountains and crushing the rocks, and not in the earthquake, and in the fire, but in the voice of a gentle breeze” (3 Kings 19:11-12).

This is why, when James and John, who were especially fervent in their zeal for the glory of their Divine Teacher, wished to bring down fire from heaven, imitating the Holy Prophet Elias, so as to punish the Samaritans who did not desire to receive Him when He was walking through the Samaritan village to Jerusalem, the Lord forbade them to do this, saying:

“Ye know not of what spirit ye are, for the Son of Man came not to destroy the souls of men, but to save” (Luke 9:51-56).

vladika-averky.jpgAnd nevertheless (let immoderate lovers of peace pay heed!), the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Who said,

“Learn of Me, for I am meek and bumble of heart” (Matt. 11:29)

found it sometimes necessary to manifest great strictness and have recourse to severe measures, teaching us also by this very fact, that meekness and humility do not mean spinelessness and should not yield before manifest evil, and that a true Christian should be far from sugar-sweet sentimentality and should not step away in the face of evil which presumptuously raises its head, but should always be uncompromising towards evil, fighting with it by all measures and means available to him, in order decisively to cut off the spread and strengthening of evil among men.
Let us recall with what harsh accusatory words the Lord addressed the spiritual leaders of the Hebrew people, the scribes and Pharisees, condemning them for hypocrisy and lawlessness:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”

and threatening them with God’s judgment (Matt. 23:29).
And when words turned out to be insufficient, He applied action against the lawless ones in very deed. Thus, finding that in the Temple they were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and money-changers were sitting,

“When He had made as it were a scourge of little cords, He drove them all out of the Temple, the sheep also and the oxen, and the money of the changers He poured out, and the tables He overthrew” (John 2:14-15; Matt. 21:12-13).

And we know many other examples from sacred and Church history when mere words of persuasion turned out to be insufficient and in order to cut off evil it was necessary to have recourse to more severe measures and decisive acts.
But it is essential that in such cases there should rally be in a person only pure and Holy Zeal for God’s glory, without any admixture of self-love or any other strivings of human passions which only hide themselves behind a supposedly Holy Zeal for God!
In the history of the Church, the great Hierarch of Christ Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia, whose memory we celebrate on December 6th according to our Orthodox calendar, has become glorious by just such an authentically Holy Zeal, with a decisive irreconcilability towards evil. Who does not know this wondrous Hierarch of Christ?
The most characteristic feature of St. Nicholas, which has given him such glory, is his extraordinary Christian mercy: the simple Russian people usually calls him “Nicholas the Merciful,” a title based on the facts of his life and the numberless cased of his help to men.
But once this great Hierarch, so glorious for his mercy toward his neighbor, performed an act which disturbed many and continues to disturb them even now, even though its authenticity is witnessed by the Church tradition contained in our iconography and Divine services.
According to tradition, St. Nicholas took part in the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea, which brought forth a condemnation of the heretic Arius, who denied the Divinity of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God.
During the disputes which occurred in connection with this, St. Nicholas could not listen with indifference to the blasphemous speeches of the arrogant heretic Arius, possessed by pride, who demeaned the Divine dignity of the Son of God, and before the whole Council he struck him in the face with his hand.
This evoked such a general consternation that the Fathers of the Council decreed that the bold Hierarch be deprived of Hierarchal rank.
But in that very night they were made to understand by a wondrous vision: they saw how the Lord Jesus Christ gave St. Nicholas His Holy Gospel, and the Most Pure Mother of God placed upon his shoulders the episcopal omophorion. And then they understood that St. Nicholas was guided in his act not by any evil, passionately sinful motives, but solely by pure, Holy Zeal for God’s glory. And they forgave the Hierarch, abrogating their sentence against him.
By citing such a picturesque example, we do not in the least wish to say that every one of us can or should follow this example literally: for this one must be himself just as great a holy Hierarch as St. Nicholas.
But this should absolutely convince us that we do not dare to remain indifferent or be unconcerned about the manifestations of evil in the world, especially when the matter is one of God’s glory of our Holy Faith and Church. Here we must show ourselves to be completely uncompromising, and we do not dare enter into any sort of cunning compromises or any reconciliation, even purely outward, or into any kind whatever of agreement with evil. To our personal enemies, according to Christ’s commandment, we must forgive everything, but with the enemies of God we cannot have peace! Friendship with the enemies of God makes us ourselves the enemies of God: this is a betrayal and treason towards God, under whatever well-seeming pretexts it might be done, and here no kind of cunning or skillful self-justification can help us!

It is interesting to note how displeasing this act of St. Nicholas is to all the contemporary consenters to evil, these propagandists of a false “Christian love” which is prepared to be reconciled not only with heretics, persecutors of the Faith and the Church, but even with the devil himself, in the name of “universal love” and “the union of all” — slogans which have become so fashionable in our days.
For the sake of this, these consenters strive even to refute the very fact of the participation of St. Nicholas in the First Ecumenical Council, even though this fact is accepted by our Holy Church and therefore must be respected by all of us as reliable.
All of this happens, of course, because among contemporary people, even those who call themselves “Christians,” there is no longer an authentic Holy Zeal for God and His glory, there is no zeal for Christ our Saviour, zeal for the Holy Church and for every holy thing of God. In place of this there prevails a luke-warm indifference, an indifferent attitude to everything except one’s own earthly well-being, with a forgetfulness of the just judgment of God which unfailingly awaits all of us, and of the eternity which will be revealed after death.
And without this Holy Zeal, as we emphasized at the beginning, there is no true Christianity, no authentic spiritual life — life in Christ. That is why this has been replaced now by all kinds of cheap surrogates, at times quite low ones, which however often answer to the tastes and attitudes of contemporary man. And therefore such pseudo-Christians, skillfully covering up their spiritual emptiness by hypocrisy, often have great success in contemporary society, from which authentic spirituality has been rinsed out; while authentic zealots of God’s glory are despised and persecuted as “difficult people,” “intolerant fanatics,” “people who are behind the times.”
And thus even now before our eyes is occurring the “winnowing”: some will remain with Christ to the end, and some will easily and naturally join the camp of His opponent, Antichrist, especially when the hour of threatening trials will come for our faith, when precisely it will be necessary to show in all its fullness the whole power of our Holy Zeal, which is abhorred by many as “fanaticism.”
But at the same time one should no forget that, besides true Holy Zeal, there is also a zeal without understanding — zeal which loses its value because of the absence in it of a most important Christian virtue: discernment, and therefore, in place of profit can bring harm.
And there is likewise a false, lying zeal, behind the mask of which is concealed the foaming of ordinary human passions — most frequently pride, love of power and honor, and the interests of a party politics like that which plays the leading role in political struggles, and for which there can be no place in spiritual life, in public church life, but which unfortunately is often to be encountered in our time and is a chief instigator of every imaginable quarrel and disturbance in the Church, the managers and instigators of which
often hide themselves behind some kind of supposed idealism but in reality pursue only their own personal aims, striving to please not God but their own self-concern, and being zealous not for God’s glory but for their own glory and the glory of the colleagues and partisans of their party.
All of this, it goes without saying, is profoundly foreign to true Holy Zeal, hostile to it, is sinful and criminal, for it only compromises our Holy Faith and Church!

enemies-of-orthodoy.jpg

And so, the choice is before us: are we with Christ or Antichrist?

The time is near” (Apoc. 22:10)

— thus did even the holy Apostles warn us Christians. And if it was “near” then, in Apostolic times, how much “nearer” has it become now, in our ominous days of manifest apostasy from Christ and persecution against our Holy Faith and Church?!
And if we firmly resolve in these fateful days to remain with Christ, not in words only but in deeds as well, it is absolutely indispensable right now, without putting it off, to break off every bond of friendship, every form of communion with the servants of the approaching Antichrist, who has enlisted so many of them in the contemporary world, under lying pretexts of “universal peace” and “prosperity”; and especially must one free oneself unconditionally from every subservience to them and dependence on them, even if this might be bound up with detriment to our earthly well-being or even with danger for our earthly life itself.
Eternity is more important than our brief existence on earth, and it is precisely for it that we must prepare ourselves!
And therefore, ONLY Holy Zeal FOR GOD, FOR CHRIST, without any admixture of any kind of slyness or ambiguous cunning POLITICS, must guide us in all deeds and actions.
Otherwise, a stern sentence threatens us:

“Because thou art neither hot nor cold, I will vomit thee out of My mouth” (Apoc. 3:16).
“Be zealous, therefore, and repent!”
(Apoc. 3:19)

Amen.

From Archbishop Averky: Collected Works, volume IV
English version from «Orthodox Word», Vol. XI, No. 3 (62), May-June 1975. English translation from Saint
Elias Publications “Faith and Life,” No. 10, 1975. Available (along with many other useful materials) from the website of the Holy Monastery of Sts Cyprian and Justina of the the Church of the True Orthodox Christians of Greece

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

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Reflections on the Synod meeting

Metropolitan Agafangel, Bishop Ambrose of Methone (Church of the True Orthodox Christians of Greece), and Archbishop George of Moldova reflect on the Synod meeting as well as on the challenges facing Christians in our modern world.

The hierarchs emphasise that the Church always has taken a conciliar approach to problems facing the Church. As Orthodox Christians, we believe that the Holy Spirit guided the decisions of the great Ecumenical Councils to define the Orthodox faith. Likewise, the Holy Spirit guides hierarchs today, when they meet personally, with a prayerful and humble attitude.
The past Synod meeting concluded that the Church of the True Orthodox Christians of Greece and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad have oneness of mind and faith.
Archbishop George reflects on post-Soviet society, which despite 25 years of availability of more accurate information, has not made full use of these resources. The post-Soviet man is still suffering from spiritual illnesses typical to the Soviet society. In the west, different issues are present. Wherever we live, we must seek healing of the soul from Christ - otherwise we are bound to fall in to many deceptions crafted by the enemy of our salvation. In modern times, many deceptions are promoted in the popular media. A Christian should take measures to guard himself from their influence. It is necessary to limit watching TV and the internet, avoiding all their deceptive and worldly messages. Instead we should go to Church, where in repentance and through personal guidance from our spiritual fathers, we may hope to find the Truth, Who is Christ our God Himself.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Repose of Fr Vasily Demchenko

Metropolitan Agafangel speaks about Protopriest Vasily Demchenko, rector and builder of the church of the Protection in Malin, Ukraine, who reposed on the feast of Theophany, 6/19.1.2015

If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
John 15:19
Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution
2 Tim 3:12

Fr Vasily was exceptionally honest in his desire to serve God. He dedicated his entire life to God. He did not have a family. He devoted all his time to the church. He slept next to the church in order to guard the building materials, which could be stolen. He had no house - the building he slept in was more like a makeshift wooden shed than a house, not heated at all. When it rained, he would put out nine basins in his room. Because of such living conditions, he was often ill. The last time he stayed with parishioners due to illness (just before Christmas), someone came and set fire to his makeshift home….

o_demchenko_.jpgFr Vasily came to our Church by reading about the ROCA and the Catacomb Church. He distributed materials among the people, copying them manually. Of course, he was not the most educated of people, but one might say that perhaps the Church of Christ is kept alive by just this kind of person. For example, the person who was trying to takeover the church building in Malin, proudly announced “I am 33 years old and I have 3 houses already – yet you, Fr Vasily, who are old, do not even own one!” These kind of people, who call themselves priests, do not understand that their semblance of material solidity is nothing. They actually believed that it was necessary to take the church from “such an idiot”, who was building the church with his own hands. [Editors’s note: The attempt of the Moscow Patriarchate to take over the Malin Holy Protection Church has lasted 12 years.]

Fr Vasily did not leave any possessions when he left this world. It is difficult to think of a priest more unacquisitive than him! Perhaps he did have a jacket or something similar - but even that burnt in the fire! There were no savings, no money. He immediately spent whatever came to him on the Church. He made icons to sell, and all the funds went to the church. He did not spend anything on his own health – his kidneys were completely ruined. In essence, the stress of persecution over the last few years ruined his health. And who persecuted him – priests! They killed him – and then went to serve the Holy Liturgy…

malin-2.jpgWe know that our Lord, the Son of man hath not where to lay his head(Matthew 8:20). Truly, self-sacrifice is what can conquer the world -not some kind of material power. There is a long history to these kinds of problems – it is deeper than simple attachment to material goods. Indeed, in Soviet times, the policy was to appoint the most debauched people to positions of importance. This is well known, and is the second part of sergianism. The first part is servitude before worldly powers. While faithful of little faith cower before power, the government does not help at all….Instead, they intentionally plant sinfulness in the Church, in order to destroy it from within, destroying the priesthood and episcopacy by appointing the most sinful people - drunkards, unchaste ones, debaucherers, avaricious and cruel people. The idea was to have the simple people look at such clergy, and then reject Christ because of their behaviour. All these are elements of how the atheists fight the Church.

Today, it is no longer the state which promotes this order of affairs in the Church. Rather, it is the people within this strange “church corporation”. It is impossible for them to accept an honest person – either he has to become “like everyone”, or leave. All who have had to deal with church questions understand what I am describing. This is terrible. There is no more hope of fixing the system.

Therefore, a person has to run from it, in the same way as Lot ran from Sodom, in order to seek his “Sigor”, that is, a place where he can save himself. In this same way, honest priests run from the MP. They find no other solution. If they stay, it is like being crammed in a small room with many smokers, while hoping to escape the noxious fumes. Wherever the person goes, he will smell like smoke….

However, leaving means obligatory persecutions and sufferings.

We can only hope in a miracle of God. Earlier, I sometimes tried to encourage people to come to our church. Now I do not do this anymore. This is because we cannot offer these people anything. Coming to our Church means accepting persecution, slander from every direction. There is nothing we can offer anyone - except for the CROSS! A person has to be free, and decide himself.

If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)

malin-3.jpgAll say about our Church that we are poor and small. Indeed, it is our lot in this world to be in the minority. It is futile to think about our Church as growing large. This is because people think that they do not need salvation, God, or the Church. They have become like salt without flavour:

Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned? (Luke 14:34)

For such people, it is enough to watch football, eat, drink, sleep….spiritual questions do not concern them. In fact, in the mainstream media, spiritual concerns are misrepresented as madness.

I do not say that we are good, and others are bad. However, we must understand the time we live in. In the last 15-20 years, we see the words of our Saviour coming true:

He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth
(Luke 11:23)

Every place and country has been changed….there are no more righteous people…Now, one more righteous man has died. There is one less man praying to God. Nevertheless, Fr Vasily’s memory is joyous.

We do not know what will happen in the future for the church building in Malin, Ukraine. The parishioners, mostly old women, all trusted Fr Vasily. They saw his dedication to the Church, and followed him.

for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered
( Mark 14:27)

Anything can happen. Of course we will do what we can to keep this parish of our Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. However, we can only have hope in God. We are powerless before the powerful of this world – there are no more laws or honourable words. Now, there is only chaos….so we can only hope in God. This is our most reliable weapon against the world – let us have hope in Him, keep to Him, pray to Him. May it come true with us also, that we remain faithful to Him to our last breath!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

To Fast or not To Fast? Fasting in a Western World

As you all know, the Nativity Fast has begun. Fasting is a time of deep contemplation of one’s sins and a spiritual battlefield against temptations of the world. Fasting is one of the main foundations of Orthodox Christianity and has been a staple component of Orthodox life. It is preached by all Christian priests and is a way for all Orthodox Christians to be closer to God.

As an Orthodox Christian, fasting was indoctrinated into me at a young age. My parents would always tell me the importance of fasting, and how it strengthens our soul and as Christians, it is essential to give up foods such as chocolate or meat for a few weeks, in order not to be tempted by worldly possessions. However, my parents went the extra mile. During fasting, we would stop watching television and listening to music. It might sound strange, but not watching television and listening to music brings a peace and calm to the household. I don’t feel as hyperactive as I do when being surrounded by the loud noises of music and TV. And I accepted it, just like that. It became part of my everyday routine, that I never questioned why we fast, or why I can’t have chocolate for seven weeks. It became a part of me and of who I am.

However, living in today’s society, fasting has become more of a challenge. Throughout my high school years, friends have invited me to parties during the fasting period and I’ve declined, telling them I was fasting. Then, they asked me why I fast and what’s so special about it. Even though I told them it was part of my religion and it helps me be closer to God, their reaction makes me somewhat ashamed of fasting. I feel as if I’m being judged by society for choosing to not eat meat or dairy. Moreover, I have succumbed to peer pressure and have broken the fast. I was at a friend’s birthday party at a restaurant, and I wasn’t tempted to break the fast. But then, when the birthday cake came out, my friends were pressuring me have a slice, even though I had politely said no to the offer. They kept insisting I had a slice, and I gave in. I was ashamed that I broke down so easily and wasn’t able to hold fast to my beliefs.

Though I do have friends that are understanding of my beliefs and respect my decisions, it’s still disheartening to be pressured into doing something that is against your character and who you are, more so when your friends are the ones pressuring you. It’s also a shame that nowadays, people – more specifically, young children – of Orthodox faith don’t partake in the fasting period. Some people make excuses in order not to fast, and they don’t feel ashamed that they are twisting one of the foundations of Christianity to suit their needs. Fasting is a strict commandment of the Orthodox Church and it must be obeyed. St Philaret of New York tells in one of his sermons that fasting is a ‘Church law’ and every Christian must adhere to it. He goes further to say that one who does not fast and disobeys the Church stops being a Christian. It is important that we, as Christians, should maintain one of the commandments of the Orthodox Church.

People might say that fasting is a struggle and difficult to commit to. Yes, it is a struggle, but a necessary one. Though it weakens our physical nature, it strengthens our spiritual nature, so that we will be ready to accompany God in Paradise.

Sophia Desiatov

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Saints glorified in our Greek Sister Church

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The Church of the True Orthodox Christians of Greece has glorified two Saints:

The Martyr Catherine (Routtes), who suffered for the traditional Church calendar very soon after the introduction of the “new calendar” and the Venerable Father Pachomios of Chios, a monk who reposed in peace.

Read the announcements of the Greek Synod regarding Saint Catherine and Venerable Pachomios

A life of Saint Catherine in English.

venerable-pachomios.jpgHoly New Martyr Catherine and Venerable Father Pachomios, pray to God for us!

More information regarding the method of recognition of Saints in the Orthodox Church is found here.

Source and second source

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  • Spiritual Father: Bishop John.
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