Friday, February 12, 2016

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh: On Doubts

"People are afraid of doubt, and they shouldn’t be, since doubt is born of the fact that we do not know the entire truth, and pose a question. . . When doubts appear in me it means that I have outgrown my incomplete idea of God, my imperfect knowledge of Him, and God is telling me, “Look, you have learned all this, and now look at Me—I am bigger than all of it. You cannot be satisfied with the picture which you have painted for yourself. It is as small as you yourself, your intelligence, your education, as your imagination. Open yourself and pose the question: What can the others think of this? What other answers may be there? And do not be afraid. I will not be insulted by you questioning Me, because you are not questioning Me as Me, but your notions about Me . . ."

Monday, February 8, 2016

My Soul Thirsts for the Lord

Below is a song written by St Silouan the Athonite:

My soul thirsts for the Lord, 
and with tears do I seek Him.
How can I not seek You, 
For You sought me first,
And you granted me to delight in the sweetness of Your Holy Spirit.
My soul has loved you until now!

In the first year of my life in the Monastery, 
My soul encountered the Lord,
And this I learnt from the Holy Spirit,
That the Lord loves us greatly!

I have now grown old,
And I am preparing for death.
As a gift to all people,
I write the truth.

Oh, my brethren,
I fall on my knees and entreat you,
Believe in God,
Believe in the existence of the Holy Spirit,
Which bears witness concerning God,
To all of your Churches and in my soul.

I am a great sinner,
But I have seen the boundless Love and Mercy of the Lord.
The Gladsome and Meek sight of the Lord,
Has consumed my soul!

Oh, the Love of the Lord!
I am unable to describe it,
Because it is infinitely great and wonderful.
I will never forget You,
My soul yearns for You my Lord,
And with tears do I search for you.

-From St Silouan the Athonite, by Archimandrite Sophrony.
Amateur translation from the original Greek

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Why do we pray for others?

PROFESSOR: Now, there again, that is a thought which I do not very easily understand. It is a general custom among all of us Christians to ask for each other’s prayers, to want another to pray for me, and to have special confidence in a member of the church. Is not this simply a demand of self-love? Is it not that we have only caught the habit of saying what we have heard others say, as a sort of fancy of the mind without any serious consideration? Does God require human intercession, since He foresees everything and acts according to His all-blessed providence and not according to our desire, knowing and settling everything before our petition is made, as the holy gospel says? Can the prayer of many people really be any stronger to overcome His decisions than the prayer of one person? In that case God would be a respecter of persons. Can the prayer of another person really save me when everybody is commended or put to shame on the ground of his own actions? And, therefore, the request for the prayers of another person is to my mind merely a pious expression of spiritual courtesy, which shows signs of humility and a desire to please by preferring one another, and that is all.
MONK: If one take only outward considerations into account, and with an elementary philosophy, it might be put in that way. But the spiritual reason blessed by the light of religion and trained by the experiences of the interior life goes a good deal deeper, contemplates more clearly, and in a mystery reveals something entirely different from what you have put forward. So that we may understand this more quickly and clearly, let us take an example and then verify the truth of it from the Word of God. Let us say that a pupil came to a certain teacher for instruction. His feeble capacities and, what is more, his idleness and lack of concentration prevented him from attaining any success in his studies, and they put him in the category of the idle and unsuccessful. Feeling sad at this, he did not know what to do, nor how to contend with his deficiencies. Then he met another pupil, a classmate of his, who was more able than he, more diligent and successful, and he explained his trouble to him. The other took an interest in him and invited him to work with him. "Let us work together," he said, "and we shall be keener, more cheerful and, therefore, more successful." And so they began to study together, each sharing with the other what he understood. The subject of their study was the same. And what followed after several days? The indifferent one became diligent; he came to like his work, his carelessness was changed to ardor and intelligence, which had a beneficial effect upon his character and morals also. And the intelligent one in his turn became more able and industrious. In the effect they had upon one another they arrived at a common advantage. And this is very natural, for man is born in the society of people; he develops his rational understanding through people, habits of life, training, emotions, the action of the will—in a word, everything he receives from the example of his kind. And, therefore, as the life of men consists in the closest relations and the strongest influences of one upon another, he who lives among a certain sort of people becomes accustomed to that kind of habit, behaviour, and morals. Consequently the cool become enthusiastic, the stupid become sharp, the idle are aroused to activity by a lively interest in their fellow men. Spirit can give itself to spirit and act beneficially upon another and attract another to prayer, to attention. It can encourage him in despondency, turn him from vice, and arouse him to holy action. And so by helping each other they can become more devout, more energetic spiritually, more reverent. There you have the secret of prayer for others, which explains the devout custom on the part of Christian people of praying for one another and asking for the prayers of the brethren.
And from this one can see that it is not that God is pleased, as the great ones of this world are, by a great many petitions and intercessions, but that the very spirit and power of prayer cleanses and arouses the soul for whom the prayer is offered and presents it ready for union with God. If mutual prayer by those who are living upon earth is so beneficial, then in the same way we may infer that prayer for the departed also is mutually beneficial because of the very close link that exists between the heavenly world and this. In this way souls of the Church Militant can be drawn into union with souls of the Church Triumphant, or, what is the same thing, the living with the dead.
All that I have said is psychological reasoning, but if we open holy Scripture we can verify the truth of it. (1) Jesus Christ says to the Apostle Peter, "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not." There you see that the power of Christ's prayer strengthens the spirit of St. Peter and encourages him when his faith is tested. (2) When the Apostle Peter was kept in prison, "prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him." Here we have revealed the help which brotherly prayer gives in the troubled circumstances of life. (3) But the clearest precept about prayer for others is put by the holy Apostle James in this way: "Confess your sins one to another, and pray for one another.... The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." Here is definite confirmation of the psychological argument above.
And what are we to say of the example of the holy Apostle Paul, which is given to us as the pattern of prayer for one another? One writer observes that this example of the holy Apostle Paul should teach us how necessary prayer for one another is, when so holy and strong a podvizhnik acknowledges his own need of this spiritual help. In the Epistle to the Hebrews he words his request in this way: "Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly" (Heb. 13:18). When we take note of this, how unreasonable it seems to rely upon our own prayers and successes only, when a man so holy, so full of grace, in his humility asks for the prayers of his neighbors (the Hebrews) to be joined to his own. Therefore, in humility, simplicity, and unity of love we should not reject or disdain the help of the prayers of even the feeblest of believers, when the clear-sighted spirit of the Apostle Paul felt no hesitation about it. He asks for the prayers of all in general, knowing that the power of God is made perfect in weakness. Consequently it can at times be made perfect in those who seem able to pray but feebly. Feeling the force of this example, we notice further that prayer one for another strengthens that unity in Christian love which is commanded by God, witnesses to humility in the spirit of him who makes the request, and, so to speak, attracts the spirit of him who prays. Mutual intercession is stimulated in this way.
PROFESSOR: Your analysis and your proofs are admirable and exact, but it would be interesting to hear from you the actual method and form of prayer for
others. For I think that if the fruitfulness and attractive power of prayer depend upon a living interest in our neighbors, and conspicuously upon the constant influence of the spirit of him who prays upon the spirit of him who asked for prayer, such a state of soul might draw one away from the uninterrupted sense of the invisible presence of God and the outpouring of one's soul before God in one's own needs. And if one brings one's neighbor to mind just once or twice in the day, with sympathy for him, asking the help of God for him, would that not be enough for the attracting and strengthening of his soul? To put it briefly, I should like to know exactly how to pray for others.
MONK: Prayer which is offered to God for anything whatever ought not, and cannot, take us away from the sense of the presence of God, for if it is an offering
made to God, then, of course, it must be in His presence. So far as the method of praying for others is concerned, it must be noted that the power of this sort of prayer consists in true Christian sympathy with one's neighbor, and it has an influence upon his soul according to the extent of that sympathy. Therefore, when one happens to remember him (one's neighbor), or at the time appointed for doing so, it is well to bring a mental view of him into the presence of God, and to offer prayer in the following form: "Most merciful God, Thy will be done, which will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth, save and help Thy servant (Name). Take this desire of mine as a cry of love which Thou hast commanded.” Commonly you will repeat those words when your soul feels moved to do so, or you might tell your beads with this prayer. I have found from experience how beneficially such a prayer acts upon him for whom it is offered.

PROFESSOR: Your views and arguments and the edifying conversation and illuminating thoughts which spring from them are such that I shall feel bound to keep them in my memory, and to give you all the reverence and thanks of my grateful heart.
The Way of Pilgrim and the Pilgrim Continues His Way, pg. 179-183. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

On God's Providence - St John Chrysostom

Above all, we must not be overly inquisitive, either at the outset or afterwards. But if you are so curious and inquisitive, wait for the final outcome and see how things turn out. And do not be thrown into confusion, do not be troubled at the start. When an inexperienced man at first sees a goldsmith melting the gold and mixing it with ashes and chaff – if he does not wait till the end – he will think the gold is ruined. And if a man who has been born and raised on the sea and is completely ignorant of how to care for the land is suddenly moved to the interior of the country, when he sees the wheat that has been stored away and protected behind doors and bars, and kept free from moisture, suddenly brought out by the farmer, scattered, thrown about, lying on the ground before all passersby, and not only not kept free from moisture, but given over to mire and mud without any protection, will he not consider the wheat to be ruined and pass judgment on the farmer who did these things? But this condemnation does not come from the nature of what is done, but from the inexperience and folly of him who is not judging well, casting his ballot immediately at the outset. If he waited for the summer and saw the fields waving, the sickle sharpened, and the wheat that has remained scattered unprotected and rotted and ruined and given over to the mire now raised up and multiplied, appearing in full bloom, having put away that which is obsolete, set upright with great strength, as though having guards and a watch, raising its stalk up high, delighting the beholder, as well as providing nourishment and great benefit – then he would be highly amazed that, by way of such conditions, the fruit had been brought to such abundance and splendor.
Therefore, you too, O man, especially do not be inquisitive about the common Master of us all. But if you are so contentions and daring as to rage with such madness, then wait for the final outcome of events. For if the farmer waits the whole winter, considering not what the wheat is undergoing during the time of frost, but the benefit he will get from it, much more so, before Him who cultivates the whole world, as well as our souls, is it fitting for you to wait for the final outcome. But by outcome I do not mean only the outcome in the present life – for often it will be here, as well – but also that in the life to come.
God's economy is directed toward a single end in each of these lives: our salvation and good repute. Even if it is divided in two with regard to time, it is united with regard to objective. Just as at first it is winter and then it is spring, and the passage of each season has a single goal – the ripening of the fruit – so it is with our affairs.
Therefore, when you see the Church scattered, undergoing the utmost sufferings, its prominent members attacked and flogged, its leader carried afar off, consider not only these things, but also the things that will result from them: the rewards, the compensations, the prizes, the awards. He that endureth to the end shall be saved, says the Lord (Matt. 10:22). In the time of the Old Covenant, when the teaching of the resurrection was not yet well known, both things came to pass in the present life. But in the time of the New Covenant, this is not always so. Rather, there are instances where there are painful things here in this life, and the good things await our departure from here.
Nevertheless, since under the Old Covenant the good things of life were coming to pass for them in this present life, especially admirable are they who did not enjoy these things, since without clearly knowing the teaching on the resurrection, and seeing events occurring which were contrary to the promises of God, they were not scandalized, they were not thrown into confusion, they were not troubled. Rather, they submitted themselves to God's incomprehensible providence, not being scandalized by adverse events. Knowing the resourcefulness and inventiveness of His Wisdom, they waited for the end. Moreover, everything that was done to them before the end they endured with thankfulness, and they continued to glorify the God Who allowed these things to take place.
 - St John Chrysostom: On God's Providence

Friday, January 8, 2016

A great miracle that occured in Romania

"In a small village in Romania no priests existed and the residents went often to the Patriarch and demanded him to fulfill the empty spot. However the Patriarch did not have the means of satisfying the demand for a priest. The villagers went over and over again but their was nothing their Patriarch said that was any different... that he did not have any extra priests or else he would send one to the village.

Meanwhile people died unread (no services), others had relationships and children without marriage vows, the children and adults alike were unbaptized.

Then one day, outside of the Church a car pulled up and stopped and out stepped a priest shouting. The village was astonished.

The villagers went to the church to welcome him and asked him, "How did you come to the village after our Patriarch had said that he doesn't have a priest to send us?"

The priest answered, "Isn't that what you wished for? You wished for a priest? Now one has come."

All the villagers were glad in the presence of the new priest.

The priest began immediately working. He went to all the graves and read the [funeral] prayers. He baptized and married everyone in the village and administered Holy Communion.

One day he invited all the villagers to church and told them, "I must leave now, my mission work is done."

The villagers were saddened and confused by his announcement and asked, "Now that you came, you are leaving?"

However the priest didn't change his mind and proceeded with his decision.

When the villagers realized that their wasn't anything they could do, they thanked him.

After days, the villagers went to Patriarch and they thanked him for sending them a priest and to let him know that they would kindly appreciate it if he could send them another priest soon, but the Patriarch didn't know anything.

He said to them I didn't send a priest because I don't have one, however let me check with the [Chancellor] to see if he had sent a priest to you to serve your needs.

He phoned the [Chancellor] but he too didn't send anyone.

The Patriarch inquired, "What did this priest do for you?"

The villagers answered, "He married us, baptized us, performed funerals for our parents, he did what any other priest would have performed for us."

Then the Patriarch asked if he gave them any papers or logged the mysteries.

"Of course," said the villagers, "he gave us papers and he wrote them in the Church's books."

"Then did anyone see what he wrote? And with what name he signed?"

"All the documents were written in Romanian and we are not well educated and the signature he signed in a language we have not seen before."

The Patriarch requested they go bring the books in order to see who was this clergyman.

When they returned with the book the Patriarch remained speechless. He couldn't believe his eyes.

Indeed all the documents were written in Romanian while his name was written in Greek with the name of his signature,

Nektarios, Bishop of Pentapolis."

Thursday, January 7, 2016

All this for me?

"What is this that is happening to me! I asked for forgiveness and what I receive is beyond any notion of pardon and absolution. I was seeking to find some serenity and the peace which is given to me cannot be expressed. I am aware that I was created to receive and give love but this love that I come upon is beyond my expectations. I was struggling to grasp onto some hope but what I find here is tangible serenity, real happiness. I don't want to expect anything else. I don't wish anything higher. I am at a loss with all this. I am puzzled and I say, "All this for me? Why? What have I done? How come I deserve this? Has a mistake been made?"
Source: The Struggle in Christ in the Apostasy of Our Times, Holy Monastery of St. Gregorios

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Definition of "Philotimo" according to St Paisios

"Philotimo is the reverent distillation of goodness, the love shown by humble people, from which every trace of self has been filtered out. Their hearts are full of gratitude towards God and to their fellow men, and out of spiritual sensitivity, they try to repay the slightest good which others do them."

Source: Epistles by Elder Paisios

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Homily on the Nativity by St Gregory Palamas

For He who produced all earthly and heavenly things out of non-being, when He saw that His rational creatures were brought to nothing because of their desire for something greater (Genesis 3.5), bestowed upon them Himself, than whom nothing is greater, and to whom nothing is equal or comes near to being equal, and offered Himself to be partaken of by those who so wished, in order that from that time forward we might exercise our desire for something better without risk, although in the beginning we fell into the ultimate danger on that account (1 Corinthians 15.26), and in order that each of us, in desiring to become God, might not only be blameless, but also attain to our longing. In a mysterious way, He abolished the pretext for the original fall, which was the superiority and interiority observable in beings and the resulting envy and treachery, as also the disputes, both open and concealed, which this caused. Because the author of evil did not want to be lower than any of the angels, but to be equal in excellence to the Creator Himself, he was the first to suffer the terrible fall before anyone else. Smitten by envy, he deceitfully attacked Adam and dragged him down to the abyss of Hades by means of the same desire. By so doing, he made Adam’s fall difficult to reverse, and it required God’s extraordinary presence, which has now been accomplished, to restore him. His own fall, however, he rendered incurable once and for all, because he did not acquire his arrogance from anyone else, but became himself the principle of evil and the fulness of evil, and made himself available to anyone wishing to participate in evil.

Now since it was God’s good pleasure to annul the pretext for that pride which brought down His rational creatures, He makes everything like Himself; and because by nature He is equal to Himself and equal in honour, He makes the creation equal to itself by grace and equal in honour. And how was this done? The very Word of God from God emptied Himself in an indescribable way, came down from on high to the lowest state of man’s nature, and indissolubly linked it with Himself, and in humbling Himself and becoming poor like us, He raised on high the things below, or rather, He gathered both things into one, mingling humanity with divinity, and by so doing He taught everyone that humility is the road which leads upwards, setting forth today Himself as an example before men and holy angels alike.