Saturday, April 30, 2016

Something strange is happening...

resurrection

Below is an extract of a homily by St Epiphanius of Cyprus on the Descent of Christ into Hades:

Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began.
God has died in the flesh and Hell trembles with fear. He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, He who is both God and the Son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the Cross, the weapon that had won him the victory.
At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone, ‘My Lord be with you all.’ Christ answered him: ‘And with your spirit.’ He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying:
‘Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.
‘I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in Hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in Me and I in you; together we form one person and cannot be separated.
‘For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, Whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.
‘See on My Face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On My back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See My hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.
‘I slept on the Cross and a sword pierced My side for you who slept in Paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in Hell. The sword that pierced Me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.
‘Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly Paradise. I will not restore you to that Paradise, but will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The Bridal Chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The Kingdom of Heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Today, He who suspended the earth in the waters is suspended on a cross.


Below are some hymns from the Matins of Holy and Great Friday, chanted on Holy Thursday Evening:

"As You permitted the transgressors to arrest You, Lord, You said to them, "Even though you struck the shepherd and scattered the sheep, namely My twelve Disciples, I could summon more than twelve legions of angels. But I forbear, so that the unknown and secret things that I showed you through My prophets may be fulfilled." Glory to You, O Lord!"

"He who covers himself with light as with a garment stood naked in judgment. He received blows to the cheeks from hands He had fashioned. And the unlawful people had the Lord of glory nailed to the Cross. Then the veil of the Temple was torn in two, and the sun hid itself, unable to watch this insult to God, before whom the universe trembles. Let us worship Him."

"Thus says the Lord to the Jews, "O my people, what have I done to you, how have I upset you? I gave sight to your blind; I cleansed your lepers; I raised the man who lay paralyzed on his bed. O my people, what have I done to you, and how have you repaid me? Instead of manna, you fed Me gall; instead of water, you gave Me vinegar; instead of loving Me, you nailed Me to the Cross. So, I will no longer hold back, but I will call My Gentiles, and they will glorify Me and the Father and the Spirit; and I will grant them eternal life."

"Today, He who suspended the earth in the waters is suspended on a cross.
The King of the Angels wears a crown of thorns. 
He who wraps the sky in clouds is wrapped in a fake purple robe. 
He who freed Adam in the Jordan accepts to be slapped. 
The Bridegroom of the Church is fixed with nails to the cross. 
The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear. 
We worship Your Passion, O Christ.
Show us also Your glorious Resurrection."

Friday, April 22, 2016

"The Divine Liturgy is a betrothal to Christ"


The Divine Liturgy is a betrothal to Christ, it is a wedding. It places us in His Kingdom.

Later, we will go out again, we will go back to our house with our passions, with our sins, and with our miseries.
It doesn't matter. Again we will go to Liturgy, and again we will seize Christ, He will deify us again. And thus, with continuous struggle, with a continuous path, with the Priest before us and we behind, we will reach the Kingdom of Heaven.
Do we go to the Liturgy with this desire? We obtain the Kingdom of the Heavens.

-Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra


Monday, March 14, 2016

Catechetical Homlily on the Occasion of Holy and Great Lent 2016


 
† B A R T H O L O M E W

BY THE MERCY OF GOD ARCHBISHOP OF CONSTANTINOPLE,
NEW-ROME, AND ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH,
TO THE PLENITUDE OF THE CHURCH,
GRACE AND PEACE
FROM OUR SAVIOR CHRIST,
TOGETHER WITH OUR PRAYER, BLESSING AND FORGIVENESS


Beloved and blessed brethren and children in the Lord,


Yet again this year, through the God-inspired words, the holy Psalmist ushers the Orthodox faithful into the “mystery” of Holy and Great Lent, pointing out the benevolence of the Lord and the workings thereof as he cries out, the Lord works mercy and righteousness for all the oppressed (Psalm 102,6). For the Lord satisfies our desire with good things so that our youth is renewed like that of the eagle (c.f. .5).

As we all know, each person, created in the image and the likeness of God, constitutes a temple of the Lord. All the more, those of us who have been baptized in Christ, anointed with Holy Chrism, and grafted onto the olive tree of the Orthodox Church, are temples of the Holy Spirit Who resides in us. This is the case even as we distance ourselves from the Lord by committing sin—voluntary or involuntary—for if we are faithless, He remains faithful (2 Tim 2:13).

Unfortunately, the stain of sin hinders the Grace of the Holy Spirit to work in us. For this reason, our Holy Orthodox Church established the forthcoming period of fasting during Holy and Great Lent to allow us to cleanse ourselves through repentance, and thereby becoming worthy to receive the life-giving Passion and the glorious Resurrection from the dead of our Lord Jesus Christ. The poet of the Great Canon, Saint Andreas of Crete, urges: Come, my wretched soul, and confess your sins in the flesh to the Creator of all. From this moment forsake your former foolishness and offer to God tears of repentance (Great Canon, Monday Ode 1).

The Church, always concerned about our salvation and spiritual perfection, initiates her members into this period of repentance, urging them all to struggle against the materialistic and covetous way of life, which, as a “heavy yoke,” grounds the soul and drags it upon the earth, hindering its ability to spread its wings toward heaven and the kingdom of God. 

In this way, through repentance and purifying tears, we are clothed again with our original beauty and our God-spun shroud that we lost after the fall, covering ourselves, instead, with the coat of shame similar to the fig leaves worn by Adam.

The fast and abstinence from food, idle talk, and deceitful thought represent the start of the correct, restrained, and temperate use of material goods, with the common good as its goal. In this way, we eliminate the negative impact that irrational use of goods may have upon society and the natural environment. This, therefore, allows for the prevailing of the philanthropic fast, which should not render judgment over the oppressed, but offer mercy, grace and comfort for them and for us on our journey toward the likeness of God (St. Basil Great). 

In this way, a temperate use of goods sanctifies both matter and our lives since perishable matter is not the goal per se of sanctification, but rather, its means. Therefore, according to the evangelical periscope, the fast should constitute a motive for restraint, with a final goal to abound in hope in the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 15:13), according to the word of the Great Apostle of the Nations Paul. This holds true even for today’s poor “Lazarus” and for those seeking refuge.

Furthermore, the true spirit of the fast and of abstinence should not be forgotten, since this is what renders them acceptable to the Lord, as James the Apostles teaches: religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world (James 1, 27). For we shall not obtain grace—offered to us in abundance through the fast and through abstinence—simply by refusing and abstaining from food. The Prophet Isaiah wonders: Your fasting ends in quarrelling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists; is this the kind of fast I have chosen? (Isaiah 58: 4). The Lord declares, through the Prophet, I have not chosen such a fast, but one that asks you to share your food with the hungry, that encourages you to invite the homeless into your home, and to clothe the naked when you see them (Isaiah 58, 5-7).

Especially in our times, the financial and refugee crises, as well as the multitude of hardships that plague the world today offer to us Orthodox Christians the possibility to cultivate the authentic spirit of the fast, linking abstinence from food with acts of charity and solidarity toward our brethren most in need—those who suffer, the poor, the homeless, the refugees, those who have no place to rest their head (Math. 8: 20), and those who are forced by the harsh conditions of war, challenges, and grief to abandon their paternal homes and to travel amid countless risks,  dangers, and sorrows.

When our fast is accompanied by an increase in philanthropy and love toward the least of our brethren in the Lord, regardless of their race, religion, language and origin, then the fast shall ascend to the throne of God as a fragrant incense, and angels shall stand by us while we fast, in the same way they ministered to the Lord in the desert.

We offer our heartfelt fraternal and paternal prayers to all, that the imminent phase the Holy Fast will prove fruitful and sanctifying, replete of  grace and holiness, and that God will render us worthy and without tribulation to enter into the eternal and life-giving Chalice—the life-bearing Side of the Lord—from which sprang as the fountain of deliverance and wisdom (Great Canon, Wednesday, Ode 4)

May the Divine Grace and the abundant Mercy of the Lord be with you all, brethren and children, so that you may receive, through the evangelical ethos, the Gift of the Feast of feasts and the Celebration of celebrations—the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom all glory, dominion, honour, and thanksgiving now and to the endless ages. Amen.

Holy and Great Lent, 2016
Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople
Your fervent supplicant to God

Sunday, March 13, 2016

"The Stadium of Virtue is Now Open"


Tomorrow we enter the most beautiful period of our Church calendar, Great Lent. It is the perfect opportunity to get our spiritual lives back on track as we prepare to follow Christ through His Crucifixion and Holy Resurrection. In today's Matins service, we chanted:

"The stadium of virtue is now open; those who wish to compete, enter therein, girded for the good contest of Lent, for those who compete according to the rules shall receive their laurels rightfully. Taking up the full armor of the Cross, let us do battle against the Enemy. As an impregnable wall, we have the Faith, prayer as our breastplate, and acts of mercy as our helmet. Instead of sword, there is fasting, which cuts every evil from the heart. He who does this shall attain a true crown from Christ, the King of all, on Judgment Day."

As we struggle through Lent, let us remember the ultimate sacrifice that Christ showed for us leading up to His Crucifixion. Below is an extract from a Homily by St Ephraim the Syrian on the Passion of Christ:

Come, observe well
the abundance of compassion,
the forbearance and mercy
of our sweet Master.

He had a useful slave
in the Paradise of delight,
and when he sinned
he was given to the torturers.

But when the Good One
saw his weakness of soul
he took compassion on the slave
and had mercy on him
and presented Himself
to be scourged by him.

I wished to remain silent
because my mind
was utterly amazed;
but then again I was afraid
lest I reject
by my silence
my Saviour’s grace.
For my bones tremble
when I think of it.

The fashioner of all things,
our Lord Himself,
was today arraigned
before Caiaphas,
like one of the condemned;
and one of the servants
struck Him a blow.

My heart trembles
as I think on these things:
the slave is seated,
the Master stands,
and one full of iniquities
passes sentence
on the One who is sinless.

The heavens trembled,
earth’s foundations shuddered;
Angels and Archangels
all quailed with terror.
Gabriel and Michael
covered their faces
with their wings.

The Cherubim at the throne
were hidden beneath the wheels;
The Seraphim struck their wings
one with the other
at that moment,
when a servant gave
a blow to the Master.

How did earth’s foundations
endure the earthquake
and the tremor
at that moment,
when the Master was outraged?

I observe and I tremble
and again I am stunned,
when I see the long-suffering
of the loving Master.

For see my inward parts
tremble as I speak,
because the Creator,
who by grace fashioned
humanity from dust,
He the Fashioner is struck.

Let us fear, my brethren
and not simply listen.
The Saviour endured
all these things for us.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Why I believe in God? - Metropolitan Anthony Bloom

I met Christ as a Person at a moment when I needed him in order to live, and at a moment when I was not in search of him. I was found; I did not find him. I was a teenager then. Life had been difficult in the early years and now it had of a sudden become easier. All the years when life had been hard I had found it natural, if not easy, to fight; but when life became easy and happy I was faced quite unexpectedly with a problem: I could not accept aimless happiness. Hardships and suffering had to be overcome, there was something beyond them. Happiness seemed to be stale if it had no further meaning. As it often happens when you are young and when you act with passion, bent to possess either everything or nothing, I decided that I would give myself a year to see whether life had a meaning, and if I discovered it had none I would not live beyond the year.
Months passed and no meaning appeared on the horizon. One day, it was during Lent, and I was then a member of one of the Russian youth organizations in Paris, one of our leaders came up to me and said, 'We have invited a priest to talk to you, come'. I answered with violent indignation that I would not. I had no use for Church. I did not believe in God. I did not want to waste any of my time. Then my leader explained to me that everyone who belonged to my group had reacted in exactly the same way, and if no one came we would all be put to shame because the priest had come and we would be disgraced if no one attended his talk. My leader was a wise man. He did not try to convince me that I should listen attentively to his words so that I might perhaps find truth in them: 'Don't listen,' he said. 'I don't care, but sit and be a physical presence'. That much loyalty I was prepared to give to my youth organization and that much indifference I was prepared to offer to God and to his minister. So I sat through the lecture, but it was with increasing indignation and distaste. The man who spoke to us, as I discovered later, was a great man, but I was then not capable of perceiving his greatness. I saw only a vision of Christ and of Christianity that was profoundly repulsive to me. When the lecture was over I hurried home in order to check the truth of what he had been saying. I asked my mother whether she had a book of the Gospel, because I wanted to know whether the Gospel would support the monstrous impression I had derived from this talk. I expected nothing good from my reading, so I counted the chapters of the four Gospels to be sure that I read the shortest, not to waste time unnecessarily. And thus it was the Gospel according to St Mark which I began to read.
I do not know how to tell you of what happened. I will put it quite simply and those of you who have gone through a similar experience will know what came to pass. While I was reading the beginning of St Mark's gospel, before I reached the third chapter, I became aware of a presence. I saw nothing. I heard nothing. It was no hallucination. It was a simple certainty that the Lord was standing there and that I was in the presence of him whose life I had begun to read with such revulsion and such ill-will,
This was my basic and essential meeting with the Lord. From then I knew that Christ did exist. I knew that he was thou, in other words that he was the Risen Christ. I met with the core of the Christian message, that message which St Paul formulated so sharply and clearly when he said, 'If Christ is not risen we are the most miserable of all men'. Christ was the Risen Christ for me, because if the One Who had died nearly 2000 years before was there alive, he was the Risen Christ. I discovered then something absolutely essential to the Christian message — that the Resurrection is the only event of the Gospel which belongs to history not only past but also present. Christ rose again, twenty centuries ago, but he is the Risen Christ as long as history continues. Only in the light of the Resurrection did everything else make sense to me. Because Christ was alive and I had been in his presence I could say with certainty that what the Gospel said about the Crucifixion of the prophet of Galilee was true, and the centurion was right when he said, 'Truly he is the Son of God'. It was in the light of the Resurrection that I could read with certainty the story of the Gospel, knowing that everything was true in it because the impossible event of the Resurrection was to me more certain than any event of history. History I had to believe, the Resurrection I knew for a fact. I did not discover, as you see, the Gospel beginning with its first message of the Annunciation, and it did not unfold for me as a story which one can believe or disbelieve. It began as an event that left all problems of disbelief because it was direct and personal experience.
Then I went on reading the Gospel and I discovered a certain number of things which I believe to be essential to the Christian faith, to the attitude of the Christian to the world and to God. The first thing that struck me is that God, as revealed to us in Christ, is everyone's God. He is not the God of a nation, or a confession, or of a denomination, or a more or less peculiar group, he is everyone's creator? Lord and Saviour. In him I discovered that the whole world had cohesion; that mankind was one; that differences and divergencies were not final and decisive, because we were loved of God; all of us equally, although we were called to serve him in a variety of ways, with a variety of gifts, and with a very different depth and width of knowledge. But the greater the knowledge, the greater the closeness, the greater the responsibility in a world that God loved so much that he gave his only begotten Son, for him to die that the world may live.
The second thing I discovered was that God not only does not want us to be subservient to him, but that he stands as none other for the dignity of man. He refuses to accept us as slaves; he does not permit us to forsake our dignity of sons and of children. Remember the parable of the Prodigal Son. In his humiliation the Prodigal Son is prepared to recognize that he is not worthy to be called any more a son, but in his longing to be accepted again into the forsaken household of the father he is prepared to be admitted into it as a servant. Yet when he comes to making his confession the father allows him to say, only 'I am not worthy to be called thy son,' but he interrupts him then because his son can be an unworthy son, but cannot be a worthy servant. Sonship is a gift that cannot be lost, although it can be profaned. This vision of a God who has respect for human dignity, who stands for it, who will not accept any debased relationship with man, filled me with admiration and with respect and with incipient love for him. And as a corollary — the acceptance by God of utter humiliation and abasement. All the gods of the Ancient World were great: they were the sum total of all that was valued and admired — justice, wisdom, goodness, power. Only God revealed in Christ defeats human imagination, could not be invented by man: a God made in the image of the servant, vulnerable, despised, humiliated, rejected, contemptible, defeated, killed, ruled out, unredeemed in the eyes of men. A God no one would wish to invent or to have — a God one can discover when he reveals himself. A God one accepts with awe and with fear-because he calls us to be like him, upturning all values and giving new meaning to all things.
Then I discovered that the world was dear to God. That he had not only made the world to remain afterwards its Creator and become later its Judge. He had created the world in an act of love, and he had never become alien and indifferent to this world he had thus created. The Incarnation unfolded itself (and I am now speaking no longer of this first primeval experience of mine, but of something that has developed in the course of years), the Incarnation unfolded itself in a variety of meanings of depth. But not only of meanings, for the basic experience of reality remained always untouched.
When we read the Old Testament we may at moments think of the world once created by God moving and developing before the face of its Creator, and called one day to be judged. This vision is so poor and so inadequate to what the Old Testament teaches us. The fact that God called us, all the world visible and invisible, the fact that God called all things and beings out of naught, out of radical non-existence, into existence is already a relationship. We are related to God by this act of creation and in this act of creation. When we think that whatever and whoever he called into existence is called to be a companion of God for all eternity, we can see the depth of the divine love and the extent of the divine risk. Because we are free to accept the love of God and to reject it we can frustrate this love or fulfil this love. But God's love remains immutable and he remains faithful for ever. He creates each of us in hope and in faith, and at moments when our faith vacillates and our hope sways and wavers we can rest in the divine faith and in the divine hope. When we think that the cost of our faithlessness and our waverings is paid by God in the life and death of the Incarnate Word then we can rest assured in his love.
There is a relatedness and a deep relationship between us and God in the very act of creation, and in the very gift of freedom. Freedom is an absolute condition of love, because love is the gift of one's self in perfect freedom, and has no meaning apart from freedom. But there is more to it — the English word 'freedom' is rooted in the Old English word that means 'beloved'; 'my free' meant 'my beloved'. The word Liberty which signifies freedom in other languages defines the status of the child born free in a freeman's household. The Russian word for freedom indicates that we are called to be our own selves, not to imitate, not to ape, not to resemble, but to be ourselves in the image of the One who is perfect freedom and perfect love-truly himself. In all this the relatedness there exists between us and God is revealed particularly in this final act of solidarity which we call the Incarnation. Not only did God remain concerned with us throughout history, but he became one of us through history, and this not for a moment, but forever; not escaping the heaviness, the limitations and the pain of our human destiny, but in order to carry on his human shoulders the consequences of his divine act of creation and of our human rebellion, our rejection of him, lovelessness, godlessness itself. The Incarnation of the Word of God, the becoming man, meant for him that he entered into the realm of time and of death and of limitation and of all the consequences of human godlessness. This solidarity was not for a moment, it was definitive. He became a man, in human history, and he remains a man for ever because 'He sitteth on the right hand of the Father' as a man with hands and feet pierced by the nails, and with his side pierced by the spear. Throughout history and throughout eternity we can see this vision of divine solidarity with us.
This solidarity goes infinitely further than we often imagine. It is not simply that he was tired and hungry and thirsty, that he had to face ill will and unfriendliness and eventually hatred. He had to face something more basic to our mortal condition and more essential than this. He had to face the coming of death and the actual dying. This is more than we can imagine, because in the natural course of events Christ could not die! A human body and a human soul united indissolubly and for ever with the Godhead in the mystery and the miracle of the Incarnation was beyond dying. Death was not only like ours — a result of our lack of life — it was the result of an act of divine will which inflicted death on One who was, not only in his Divinity but even in his humanity, alive with life eternal, because life is defined by oneness or union with God. We see him in the garden on the Mount of Olives face to face with death coming upon him, abandoned by human friendship; by those who were his disciples and were no longer solid with his destiny at that moment. He accepted death, which meant already the loss of what was his own being in life. Again upon the Cross the decisive, the most tragic words of history: 'My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?' Why? Because death is possible only through separation from the source of life, from the Godhead, and for him to die meant that he went through the experience of total, radical, real deprivation of God; of godlessness not only as a world-outlook, not only as an absence of the sense of God, but as a positive loss of the Father. There is not one man on earth who can claim to have known godlessness as Christ knew the absence of God at that moment, without which absence he could not die. This is the extent of the divine solidarity with us. This also is the measure of the divine love and consideration God has for the friend he has created to be his companion of all eternity. People are often prepared to believe in the death of the Cross but not in the Resurrection. How strange! To believe that life can die, and not to be able to believe that life can live. How strange also that we are so poor in the experience of things of our own faith that the only event of history which belongs to our own day is so obscure, and we do not know the Risen Christ while we imagine we are capable of knowing the Christ of the flesh; that Christ of whom Paul said, that we do not know him any more while we now know the Christ of the Spirit, revealed and known to us by the Spirit of God.
But in Christ we do not discover only this Divine solidarity and incipiently, as I have tried to show, the value which God attaches to us. We discover also what man is, because he is not only Very God he is also Very Man. Our vocation is to be what he is. This is the meaning of our belief in the Church as the Body of Christ. We are called to be live, real members of a real enlived body, the head of which is the Lord Jesus — one real body, what St Ignatius of Antioch in the first century called the 'Total Christ', Head and Body together. We are called to such intimate community of life with him that what he is we also are to become, in the words of one of the greatest writers of the fourth century, Athanasius of Alexandria, who says, 'God has become man in order that we should become gods'. Before we become gods we must become men in the image of the One who became what we are. The extent to which we are called to be identified with him who chose to be identified with us is greater than we think. It is because we have a very mean vision of our calling that we are not aiming at the full stature of Christ. Irenaeus of Lyons taught in the second century that, if it is true that we are the Body of Christ, that in him we are one, that our life is hid with Christ in God, then the final vocation of men is, together with Christ because of our oneness with him, to become the only-begotten son of God, an extension in time and in space and in eternity of this incredible, unfathomable relatedness and relationship with the Father.
In that sense we can say soberly, yet with what exultation, that Christ is the very center of history as he is the beginning of all things ('by the Word were all things created') and the end of all things, because in him, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we shall in our total humanity have reached to the fullness of our human vocation and God shall be all in all. When we think of the life of Christ and of the death of Christ it is with anguish that we think of the extraordinary insensitiveness and indifference with which we partake in what we see in him. The act of perfect intercession, the act by which he took a step that brought him to the core of the human tragedy; the act by which he became that man of whom the Book of Job speaks in the ninth chapter, who could take his stand between God and one who was judged by God, in order to bring both together. The One who is an equal of both and therefore can bring them together in his own self, but also at his own cost, because every act of intercession is an act of sacrifice.
I would like to illustrate this vision of a sacrifice and its consequences for us by something taken from the late history of the Russian Church. In the years of the Civil War when the opposing armies were contending for power, conquering and losing ground in the course of three years, a small town fell into the hands of the Red army which had been held by the remnants of the Imperial troops. A woman found herself there with her two small children, four and five years of age, in danger of death because her husband belonged to the opposite camp. She hid in an abandoned house hoping that the time would come when she would be able to escape. One evening a young woman of her own age, in the early twenties, knocked at the door and asked her whether she was so-and-so. When the mother said she was, the young woman warned her that she had been discovered and would be fetched that very night in order to be shot. The young woman added, 'You must escape at once'. The mother looked at the children and said, 'How could I?' The young neighbour, who thus far had been nothing but a physical neighbour, became at that moment the neighbour of the Gospel. She said, 'You can, because I will stay behind and call myself by your name when they come to fetch you'. 'But you will be shot,' said the mother. 'Yes, but I have no children'. And she stayed behind.
We can imagine what happened then. We can see the night coming, wrapping in darkness, in gloom, in cold and damp, this cottage. We can see there a woman who was waiting for her death to come and we can remember the Garden of Gethsemane. We can imagine this woman asking that this cup should pass her by and being met like Christ by divine silence. We can imagine her turning in intention towards those who might have supported her, but who were out of reach. The disciples of Christ slept; and she could turn to no one without betraying. We can imagine that more than once she prayed that at least her sacrifice should not be in vain, and here we can see the image of another man who stood before death and hesitated. The greatest of those born to a woman, John the Baptist, who as death was coming to him, sent two of his disciples to Christ to ask him, 'Is it really you, or should we expect another one?' If it is really you then all the sacrifices of my youth, all the years in the wilderness; all the hatred I was surrounded by; the coming of death; my diminishing in order that you might grow, is a blessedness; but if it is not you then I have lost my life, I have lived and I shall die in vain. Here again the prophet received the reply of the prophet, but no word of consolation.
This young woman probably asked herself more than once what would happen to the mother and the children when she was dead, and there was no reply except the word of Christ, 'No one has greater love than he who lays down his life for his friend'. Probably she thought more than once that in one minute she could be secure! It was enough to open the door and the moment she was in the street she no longer was that woman, she became herself again. It was enough to deny her false, her shared identity. We can see again one of the strongest men in history, Peter the apostle, challenged by a woman in the coldness of night and in his desperate loneliness denying in order to save his life. She died, shot. The mother and the children escaped, and here we see one more thing which will be the last I wish to mention.
St Paul tells us, 'It is no longer I who live, it is Christ who lives in me'. We often wonder at the meaning of these words. How can Christ live in one? We can have an inkling of this meaning from the life of this mother and her children. They remained alive because another died. They have remained aware throughout their lives that they lived on borrowed life. Their life was cut off the earth by the hatred of men and it was given back by the love of this woman. If they were alive it was because she had lived; her life was theirs. They had to live and fulfil her life. They had to live as she had taught them. Is not this something which we can learn also? Is not this what we must learn from the act of perfect solidarity which we find in the Incarnation, from the insuperable courage and love of God, from the Garden of Gethsemane and the death upon the Cross? Solidarity not only between ourselves, but with every man, because God is solid with the godless as with the saint. The victory of life is in us not only because we receive the miraculous gift of life from God, but because if we live as he taught us he will be alive in us, and we shall be alive in him, now and for all eternity.
 
-Metropolitan Anthony Bloom

Monday, March 7, 2016

Saint Paisios on Praying for the Departed

Is it possible, Elder, for the dead (other than the Saints) who have not entered yet into judgment to pray?
They regain awareness and seek help, but they’re not able to help themselves. All those who are in Hades for only one offence, would ask if Christ could give them only five minutes to repent. We who are alive still have time for repentance, but the unfortunate reposed, they cannot improve their condition, so they await our help. Therefore, our duty is to help them with our prayer.  
My thoughts tell me that only ten out of a hundred of those who are dead are in a demonic state, and where they are, they curse God, like the demons. They do not ask for help, nor do they want help. What would God do with them otherwise? Like a child that distances themselves from their father, who after squandering their fortune they go on to curse their father. What can the father do? Others who have died, if they have a little philotimo, sense their guilt, repent and suffer for their sins, they ask for help and are helped positively with the prayers of the faithful.
Thus, God gives them a chance, even now, as they are awaiting judgment, to find help before the Second Coming happens. And, as in this earthly life, the one who is a friend of the king may intervene to the king and help on behalf of someone awaiting trial, so it is the same with someone who is a friend of God, they may with their prayer help the dead move from one prison to another better one; from one jail cell to a better one. He can even move them into a room or into an apartment.
Just as we relieve prisoners by bringing them refreshments and other things, so also we relieve the dead, with the prayers and alms we do on behalf of their souls. Prayers and memorials from those who are still alive on behalf of the reposed is the last opportunity that the Lord gives to help the reposed, until the Last Judgement. After their trial, it will not be possible to help them anymore.
God wants to help the reposed, because He hurts for their salvation, but He does not do it, because He has nobility. He does not want to give the right to the devil to say: "Why did You save him, although he has not laboured?" When we pray for the reposed, we give God the right to intervene. God is more moved when we pray for the reposed rather than the living.
This is why our Church has kollyva (boiled what) and memorials. Memorials are the best lawyers for the souls of the reposed. They have the ability to remove souls even from hell. So also should you, in every Divine Liturgy, to read memorials and have kollyva for the reposed. There is meaning to the wheat: It is sown in corruption, and raised in incorruption, that is, it symbolizes the death and resurrection of humanity, as Scripture says.
Elder, do the ones who recently died have greater need of prayer?
When they sentence someone to jail, isn’t it true that it is more difficult for them at the beginning? We have to pray for the reposed who didn’t please God while alive, so that God will do something for them. Particularly when we know that someone was hardened - because we might have thought they were hardened, but in reality they weren't - and lived a sinful life, then we have to pray a lot - with Divine Liturgies. Forty Liturgies are to be served consecutively for their soul, alms should be given to the poor for the salvation of their soul, so that the poor will pray for them saying, "May their bones become sanctified," so God will have mercy on them. Thus whatever they have not done, we will do for them. Meanwhile one person who had goodness even if their life was not good, can be helped much with a little prayer.
I am aware of events that testify how much the reposed are helped through the prayers of spiritual people. Someone once came to my Hut and said to me in tears, "Elder, I didn't pray on behalf of a certain reposed man who was known to me, and he appeared in my dreams. He told me that it had been twenty days and I did not help him, but now he suffers because I forgot him. Indeed, for twenty days I had forgotten due to the various concerns of life, and I had not even prayed for myself."
When someone dies and we’ve been asked to pray for them, is it good, Elder, to pray a full prayer rope on their behalf for forty days?
If you pray the full prayer rope for them, pray at the same time for all the reposed. Why should the whole train go to its destination for only one passenger, when it is able to fit many others? How many unfortunate dead have need and seek for help, but there is no one to pray for them! People sometimes only do memorial services for someone who was their relative or very close. By doing it this way they do not help even their own, because their prayer is not so pleasing to God. As they have made so many commemorations for their close one, let them also make commemorations for all those who are strangers.
Elder, the dead who do not have people to pray for them, are they helped by those who generally pray for the reposed?
Of course they are helped. When I pray for all the reposed, I see my parents in my dreams, because they are at rest from my prayers. Every time I have a Divine Liturgy, I do a general memorial for all the reposed. If I sometimes do not pray for the reposed, then the reposed who are known to me appear before me. A relative of mine, who was killed in the war, I saw him in front of me after the Divine Liturgy, during the memorial, because I didn't have his name written with the others who had reposed, since he was commemorated during the Preparation of the Gifts with those who had fallen heroically. You also, at the Holy Prothesis, do not only commemorate the names of the sick, but also the names of the reposed, because the reposed have greater need.
After death people continue to maintain the powers of their consciousness, and can continue to communicate with God. I do not mean that the soul will pray to God asking for this or that thing, or this or that favour. When I say pray, I mean the energy that unites people with God.
With this kind of prayer, the dead can communicate with the entire human race, in the same way we communicate and pray for the souls of the dead. This is why we have memorials. It is the way we use to communicate, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, with those who have already left for the great journey.
Death does not separate us!
 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Welcome to Semester 1 2016!

Dear FOCUS UNSW blog readers,
 
We have an exciting semester planned ahead with a range of talks, bookstalls, and bibles studies. This semester, we will be meeting every Tuesday from 1-2pm in the UNSW Religious Centre, Level 3 of the Squarehouse, Building E4. Below is our weekly schedule for this semester:
Week 1 (1/3)
Agiasmos Service (Blessing of the new academic year) Father Athanasios
Week 2 (8/2)
Great and Holy Lent - Professor Socrates Dokos
Week 3 (15/3)
Do we worship Icons? - Mr Andrew Boucas
Week 4 (22/3)
Stories that are finally told: The migrant experience - Dr Anna Demetriou
Week 5 (5/4)
Bookstall outside Library Walkway
Week 6 (12/4)
Behavioural incentives in Orthodox Ethical life - Fr Apostolos
Week 7 (19/4)
Bible Study
Week 8 (26/4)
Why do the Orthodox celebrate Easter different to the West? - Professor Socrates Dokos
Week 9 (3/5)
Bible Study
Week 10 (10/5)
Bookstall outside Library Walkway
Week 11 (17/5)
The relevance of Theology on our daily lives - Dr Philip Kariatlis
Week 12 (24/5)
Bible Study
We currently have a O-Week stall in between the Main Walkway and the Quad, where we have been signing up new and old members. We even exhibited a live demonstration of Byzantine Music! See video below:
video