Sunday, August 10, 2014

Odigitria Icon of the Most-Holy Mother of God

Reverence for the Mother of God and reverence for icons painted of Her and the Saints keeps Orthodox Christians safe from several of the early heresies.
Naturally, we must all learn much more about our holy Orthodox faith than this simple reverence. However, without this reverence, we will lose Orthodoxy completely…! Simple reverence is not at all contradictory to profound theological knowledge, as some modern people mistakenly assert. However, each Christian must grow to deepen this reverence, learning from Holy Scripture, the Lives of Saints, the writings of the Holy Fathers of the Church, the liturgical services of the Church (such as today’s service, for the 28th of July - the Hodigitria (Smolensk) Icon of the Mother of God).
Finally, a Christian also learns from his own relationship to the Mother of God, seeing how She has helped him in his own life. Why is this “personal lesson” last? This is because our personal experiences and thoughts always are in danger of containing some element of temptation from the evil one.
A conscientious Orthodox Christian discusses his ideas regarding the Mother of God and assistance from the saints with his father confessor. Learning from his spiritual father, humbly revealing his ideas, thoughts, and even emotions, he can remain safe from another great danger - that of self-deception and delusion. The Mystery of Confession provides a setting for a faithful person to learn in this individual manner, assisted by the grace of God and the priest as a witness.
The Church is a spiritual school. Its program of study is primarily the liturgical services, which are rich in dogmatic theology. The services satisfy the intellectual aspect of a person and encourages growth in wonder before the greatness of God. The Church also guides and nourishes a person through the Mysteries - for the greater part of our life, the great nourishing mysteries are Confession, Holy Communion and Marriage.
Paradoxically, if a person chooses to not continue his spiritual learning within the walls of the school of the Church, simple reverence without spiritual knowledge can even lead him away from God….! He may not even notice this himself. This is why the fathers have stated: “Whoever does not have the Church as a Mother, cannot have God as his Father!”

Monday, August 4, 2014

From the Philokalia on THOUGHTS

Both mental converse with evil thoughts and external encounters and chatter alike darken the soul. If we are not to injure the intellect, we must not spare either of these chatterboxes, whether they be our own thoughts or other people. And we must not spare them for a most cogent reason: because otherwise our intellect will be darkened and we will lose our watchfulness. If we are darkened by forgetfulness, we destroy the intellect.
St Hesychios the Priest, 8th Cent.

Now what am I to say about the demon who makes the soul obtuse? For I am afraid to write about him: how, at his approach, the soul departs from its own proper state and strips itself of reverence and the fear of God, no longer regarding sin as sin, or wickedness as wickedness; it looks on judgement and the eternal punishment of hell as mere words; it laughs at the fire which causes the earth to tremble; and, while supposedly confessing God, it has no understanding of His commandments. You may beat your breast as such a soul draws near to sin, but it takes no notice. You recite from the Scripture, yet it is wholly indifferent and will not hear. You point out its shame and disgrace among men, and it ignores you, like a pig that closes its eyes and charges through a fence. This demon gets into the soul by way of long-continuing thoughts of self-esteem; and unless “those days are shortened, no flesh will be saved”(Mt. 24:22).
Evagrius the Solitary, 4th Cent.

According to the Fathers, if our inner self is watchful it can protect the outer self. But we and the demons combine in committing sins. The demons work through evil thoughts alone by forming in the intellect what fanciful pictures they wish; while we sin both inwardly through evil thoughts and outwardly through our actions. Lacking the density of physical bodies, the demons through deceitfulness and guile are purveyors of torment, both to themselves and to us, by means of evil thoughts alone. If they did not lack the density of physical bodies, they would always be sinning through outward actions as well, for their will is always disposed to ungodliness.
St Hesychios the Priest

confession-8.pngThoughts are one way demons access our nature. We sin very much through our thoughts. Every outward sinful deed starts with a thought. Words and deeds proceed from thoughts.
How ironic that modern man, investigating and claiming to know much about the physical world, has lost understanding of who instigates his own evil thoughts! He has lost the understanding that it is not obligatory to accept evil thoughts! Evil thoughts are not our own, unless we willingly accept them, or at any rate, do not reject them fully, but entertain them in our mind. No - according to the Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church, evil thoughts are the work of our enemies, the evil spirits!
How sober and truly wise a Christian must be, to not be fooled by evil!
This is why it is so important to confess not only deeds, but also thoughts and inclinations…Confession is the main weapon of a Christian against the evil demons, whose aim is to deceive and lead all people away from God. Confession is one of the Mysteries of the Church, without which a person cannot be saved!
We need to confess often and regularly; and it is compulsory each time we are preparing to receive Holy Communion, which we should also partake of often and regularly. In our evil times, it is good practice for us Christians to do this every time we go to Church.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Holy father Seraphim, pray to God for us!

Our holy father Seraphim became a saint, filled with the Holy Spirit, by going through the steps of Christian spiritual activity.
In his childhood and youth, he lived as a pious Christian in the world. When he entered the Sarov monastery as a novice, he struggled in obedience to the Abbott and all the brothers, performing all the necessary obediences. He carried his Cross of obedient service and later, sickness, in an exemplary way, without grumbling and complaining. He denied his own will.
After this, through many years of struggle in solitude, battling with the demons and what still remained of his own sinful passions. His prayer-rule in this time was immense, and took hours every day to complete. He prayed for 1000 days and nights on a rock, regardless of the weather. He remained obedient to the Sarov monastery Abbott, even on those occasions when the Abbott and brothers did not understand his way of life.
Only after these purifying ascetic struggles did St Seraphim start to receive the people, who came to him to ask his advice and prayers.
St Seraphim gives us an example of how to struggle in Christian life: By zealously putting God before every physical comfort and even basic needs, with prayer, almsgiving, obedience, patience, humility, fasting, fighting against his body and sinful desires, enduring slander, encouraging every Christian soul with love to carry their own Cross in life with faith.
Finally, he reminds us that this struggle, in its many forms, is not the goal of our Christian life…The aim is to acquire the Holy Spirit!


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