Sunday, May 24, 2015

"This was from me"


by St. Seraphim of Viritsa
 
"This was from me" is a famous letter written by Saint Seraphim of Viritsa that he sent to his spiritual child, a bishop who was in a Soviet prison at that time; this homily "This was from me" is written as a consolation and counsel to the bishop to let him know that God the Creator addresses to the soul of man.

 "Have you ever thought that everything that concerns you, concerns Me, also? You are precious in my eyes and I love you; for this reason, it is a special joy for Me to train you. When temptations and the opponent [the Evil One] come upon you like a river, I want you to know that This was from Me.

I want you to know that your weakness has need of My strength, and your safety lies in allowing Me to protect you. I want you to know that when you are in difficult conditions, among people who do not understand you, and cast you away, This was from Me.

 I am your God, the circumstances of your life are in My hands; you did not end up in your position by chance; this is precisely the position I have appointed for you. Weren't you asking Me to teach you humility? And there - I placed you precisely in the "school" where they teach this lesson. Your environment, and those who are around you, are performing My will. Do you have financial difficulties and can just barely survive? Know that This was from Me.

 I want you to know that I dispose of your money, so take refuge in Me and depend upon Me. I want you to know that My storehouses are inexhaustible, and I am faithful in My promises. Let it never happen that they tell you in your need, "Do not believe in your Lord and God." Have you ever spent the night in suffering? Are you separated from your relatives, from those you love? I allowed this that you would turn to Me, and in Me find consolation and comfort. Did your friend or someone to whom you opened your heart, deceive you? This was from Me.

 I allowed this frustration to touch you so that you would learn that your best friend is the Lord. I want you to bring everything to Me and tell Me everything. Did someone slander you? Leave it to Me; be attached to Me so that you can hide from the "contradiction of the nations." I will make your righteousness shine like light and your life like midday noon. Your plans were destroyed? Your soul yielded and you are exhausted? This was from Me.

 You made plans and have your own goals; you brought them to Me to bless them. But I want you to leave it all to Me, to direct and guide the circumstances of your life by My hand, because you are the orphan, not the protagonist. Unexpected failures found you and despair overcame your heart, but know That this was from Me.

 With tiredness and anxiety I am testing how strong your faith is in My promises and your boldness in prayer for your relatives. Why is it not you who entrusted their cares to My providential love? You must leave them to the protection of My All Pure Mother. Serious illness found you, which may be healed or may be incurable, and has nailed you to your bed. This was from Me.

 Because I want you to know Me more deeply, through physical ailment, do not murmur against this trial I have sent you. And do not try to understand My plans for the salvation of people's souls, but unmurmuringly and humbly bow your head before My goodness. You were dreaming about doing something special for Me and, instead of doing it, you fell into a bed of pain. This was from Me.

 Because then you were sunk in your own works and plans and I wouldn't have been able to draw your thoughts to Me. But I want to teach you the most deep thoughts and My lessons, so that you may serve Me. I want to teach you that you are nothing without Me. Some of my best children are those who, cut off from an active life, learn to use the weapon of ceaseless prayer. You were called unexpectedly to undertake a difficult and responsible position, supported by Me. I have given you these difficulties and as the Lord God I will bless all your works, in all your paths. In everything I, your Lord, will be your guide and teacher. Remember always that every difficulty you come across, every offensive word, every slander and criticism, every obstacle to your works, which could cause frustration and disappointment, This is from Me.

Know and remember always, no matter where you are, That whatsoever hurts will be dulled as soon as you learn In all things, to look at Me. Everything has been sent to you by Me, for the perfection of your soul. All these things were from Me."

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Saint Paisios and the Young Man With Protestant Leanings

The following conversation between Fr. Paisios with a pious young man, who had been deceived by the falsehoods of Protestantism, was published in the annual publication O Hosios Gregorios of the Holy Monastery of Gregoriou in Mount Athos in the year 1995.

The late elder with seemingly simplistic answers to the existential questions of the young man, saved that soul from being lost and restored him to the embrace of the Orthodox Church. The Abbot of the Sacred Monastery of Gregoriou, Archimandrite George, gave us permission to republish the text of this conversation:


A Severe Illness Requires a Big Hospital

Eventually I decided to go to the Orthodox Church. I confessed and began to receive communion regularly. Yet I had many serious questions to which I could not find answers. I sought the answers by meeting with theologians and clergy, but still no avail.

“Kosta, no matter how much I try I cannot satisfy you with anything. You want to understand the mysteries of God with your reason. This isn’t Orthodox. Only one thing will save you: let’s go to the Holy Mountain. Will you come?”

This was the opinion of an Archimandrite to whom God led me, I believe. After I agreed, he informed me of a great surgeon (my own characterisation) who is there, so we went. His name was Fr. Paisios. Another blessed elder from Pyrgos, I later learned, said the following about me: “If Fr. Paisios receives him, there is hope, if not, he will be lost in his pride.” He had a point. Fortunately Christ shed His blood for our sins. Glory to His holy name.

I will try to convey as accurately as possible the conversation I had with Fr. Paisios.

Question: Holy Scripture teaches that only Jesus Christ saves. In the Orthodox Church we ask the Virgin Mary to save us. Is this correct?

Answer: Jesus is the only Savour. He offered Himself for us. If you were someone with great power and went to the city with your mother, everyone waiting there for you would greet both you and your mother. They would even say the best words about her, even if they knew nothing about her. And when you heard them, you would rejoice, and would be proud for your mother. So also does Christ rejoice and is proud for his mother, when He hears our good words about her. Look, if a poor woman went to your mother and begged to ask you to appoint her to a position and you did this favour of your mother, then that poor woman would say your mother saved her, even though you appointed her. Well, so we also say that the Virgin Mary saves us, and her Son who as the One in power, yet is humble, rejoices to hear good words being spoken by us about His mother.

 
Question: The Lord taught us to pray to God the Father. The Orthodox Church prays to the Theotokos and the Saints who are people. Is this correct?

Answer: Listen. All prayers go to God. We pray to the Virgin Mary and the Saints, that is, we ask that they pray to the Lord for us. And their prayers have great power
.

Question: Yes, but (I interrupted) the Virgin Mary and the Saints were people and they died. They do not hear us, nor are they present everywhere. Perhaps God is angered over the fact that we pray to them?

(Here it is my great obligation to stress with emphasis what happened to me. At the moment I said the word “but”, I felt a spear pinning me down to the earth without hurting me and without me making a noise, but something opened up within me and “sucked” in whatever the elder said to me.)

Answer: My child, to God no one dies. When someone dies, they die to us who are left here on earth. They do not die to God. And if that person has boldness before God, they learn from Christ that we are asking them to pray for us, and so they pray for us, and Christ hears and rejoices. The prayer of the righteous has great power.
Question: The Lord says: “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no idols nor images, to venerate them. Nor shall you worship them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” The Orthodox Church venerates icons. Is this correct?

Answer:
Listen. A mother whose child is at war, fears for him day and night. She has much suspense for him. Suddenly she receives a letter from her child with a photograph of him inside. When she sees it, what does she do? She takes it in her hands and kisses it, then puts it to her bosom to touch it to her heart. Well, what do you think? This mother with such fiery passion for her child, does she believe she is kissing the photograph? She believes she is kissing her child. The same is believed by those who have a fiery passion for the Virgin Mary or the Saint depicted in an icon that they venerate. We do not venerate the icons because of the icons, but because of the Saints, and these not for them in themselves, but because they strove for Christ. It is true that God is jealous. However not for His own, but for the devil. A father is not jealous of his own children. Don’t worry, for the Lord rejoices when He sees us revering and loving His Mother and the Saints.
Question: What about the Protestants, the Evangelicals, the Pentecostals?
Answer: Luther had a complaint with the Pope, and for this he was justified. If he was sincere, then why didn’t he go to the Orthodox Church about which he had no complaint? Instead, he made another “church” of his own. Leave them be. Do not go there again. Go to church, you and your wife should confess to the same spiritual father, and everything will be well.

Question: Father Paisios, I don’t know how to pray. How should I pray?

Answer: You should feel as if you are a small child and God is your Father. Then seek Him. If you seek Him and not stupid things, do not be upset, He will not be angry. He sees your heart and will give what is best for you. It is like a child that asks his father to buy him a motorcycle, because he believes he is old enough, and because the father is afraid something bad will happen to his child, he may be slow to grant the child what he wants, but in the end he buys the child a car.

Question: When we pray is it good to wait in our prayers until we feel joy? I do this often and it happens.

Answer: No. Then it is like a child who asks its father for something, not to buy him something, but only to caress him.

I thank and glorify God that He made me worthy to know a holy man while he was alive on earth, to be counselled by him and for him to pray for me and my family.

Truly how wonderful God is. How all-benevolent and all-merciful! Glory to His holy name. This is how I became – not I became, but the Lord made me – an Orthodox Christian, without of course forgetting something else Fr. Paisios told me, how at every moment we are under examination.

Source: The periodical Dialogos. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

From Saint Paisios the Athonite (+1994)

 

"Whoever is at peace in the material world and is not concerned about the salvation of his soul is like the senseless birds who don’t make a noise from within the egg, so as to break the shell and come out to enjoy the sun – the heavenly flight in the life of Paradise – but instead remain unmoving and die inside the egg shell".

Source: Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit: The Lives and Counsels of Contemporary Elders. Published by Protecting Veil Press 2003.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Divine Liturgy: Reflections of Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra


 
Excerpt from 'The Church at Prayer: The Mystical Liturgy of the Heart' by Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra:
 
The subject which concerns us today is the spiritual life, a life which is inspired, guided, directed, and imbued by the Holy Spirit. It is a journey to Heaven. The one who undertakes such a journey rises up to heaven, even though he still walks upon the earth. Going about his ordinary tasks, he celebrates a feast in Heaven. He travels on the wings of the Holy Spirit, and his aim, his desire, his vibrancy, and daily concern is heaven.
But how often do we even think of heaven, living as we do amidst so many pleasures, and absorbed by so many trivial things? Our various preoccupations, like magnets, pull on our hearts, and make heaven appear too lofty for us to reach; something beyond our grasp and unattainable by any means. And if a person is lacking in spiritual experiences, if he has not turned his heart to Heaven, if he has not visited there from time to time, or cast so much as a glance in that direction, then the danger is even greater. If we could even turn our gaze towards heaven, even for a moment, and catch a glimpse of its breadth, its beauty, its joy, and its grandeur! It would certainly be very difficult for our soul to forget such a thing. But how can we see heaven?
If only we could open a window into heaven, and gaze upon it, and – if we found it pleasing – leap forward and enter in it to see what might be there, to make it ours, to conquer it!
If you want to look upon some superb prospect situated on the other side of a mountain, what would you do? You’d climb up to some fine summit, and from there you’d let your eye range over all the beautiful places you were longing to see. That’s what we’ll do today. We’ve all come to Church, to the temple of God, precisely to the place, that is, from where we can easily behold heaven, a region which is made radiant, beautiful, and adorned by the unfading light of the Godhead which shines with a threefold brightness.
The Church takes us and raises us up and presents us to God Himself. But is this what we feel? Is that our experience? When we come to Church, does our soul have the means of perception necessary to sense and grasp these realities? What sort of people have we become? We know all the breeds of dogs and horses, we know the species of plants, the makes of motor cars and radios, but we often fail to know those things which have a direct bearing on our life.
At the conclusion of every Divine Liturgy, you should feel what St John Climacas once said: “Now you have ravished my soul, and I cannot contain your flame, so having sung a hymn to you, I go on my way”. O my God, he says, I have felt you, I have listened to you, I’ve seen you alongside me; I have felt you pierce my heart with your arrows, set fire to my soul, light a flame which I cannot bear. And so I sing a hymn to you, and continue on my way, taking you with me. You will teach us the truth in all its fullness.
How does the Liturgy begin? “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Why does the priest begin the Liturgy with these words? What do they mean? With these words, Christ unveils for us a marvellous sight. He presents us with a heavenly vision. Before our very eyes He opens up His Kingdom. It’s like going to a shop, and the shopkeeper unfolds a bolt of fabric, and you look at it, you feel it, you test its strength, you see its beauty, and you say. “I’ll buy that.” This is what Christ does at the beginning of the Liturgy. Before our very eyes He opens up His Kingdom for us to see it, for us to feel it, for us to be satisfied, and to say: “This is what I choose for my life.” This is what our soul should feel at the beginning of every Liturgy.
 

Elder Aimilianos celebrating the Divine Liturgy

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Forum: "God's Will or Free Will?"

A big thank you to everyone who turned up and participated in our Forum last week! At the end of the night, it was a lot clearer to everyone who attended what God's Will actually is, and how it relates to our own Free Will. We were very privileged to have both Fr Dimitri Kokkinos and Professor Socrates Dokos present to us the Church's view on this topic, and also answer our questions.
 
A few key points that were brought up:
  • Are we free or are our lives already 'pre-determined' by God? Just because God knows how I will use my free will, it is a mistake of logic to think that God has forced me to do good or bad. It is analogous to a doctor who, in his knowledge and experience, tells a terminally ill patient that he has one week to live. If this patient dies after a week, then no-one will argue that the doctor killed the patient.
  • It may seem that the Church places too many restrictions on our lives. The Church does not restrict our free will in any way, but rather, it protects us. To be truly free is to free ourselves from the slavery of the passions with the help of Christ and everything the Church offers us.
  • God, in His unfathomable love for us, will create opportunities in our lives to repent, and will make sure that the suffering we go through is not more than we can bear. But ultimately, we still have to make the choice between Christ or the devil.
  • God desires that "all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4). We were created free so that we might be with Him eternally and enjoy the blessedness of His presence.
Here are some photos from the Forum:
 




 

 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Bookstore on the Library Walkway

Today we set up a bookstore outside the library hoping to raise awareness of our Fellowship. It great to see so many people stop by to discuss the Orthodox Faith!
 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Q&A Forum: "God's Will or Free Will?"

The Orthodox Christian Fellowships of UNSW (FOCUS) and Usyd (SOPHIA) are very excited to announce that we are holding a Q&A Forum on the topic of “God’s Will or Free Will?”
 
The forum will include three perspectives on the topic, revolving around the following questions:
  • How do we align our will with God’s will?
  • How can a loving God send someone to Hell?
  • What does it mean to be truly free?
 
We will also have a Question & Answer segment, so this is a great opportunity to bring along any questions you may have on the topic!
 
The speakers on our panel will be:
  •  Father (Dr.) Dimitri Kokkinos – M.B.B.S., F.R.A.C.P. Parish Priest at St. Ioannis, Parramatta; Visiting Medical Officer in Neurology at Bankstown Hospital; Conjoint Lecturer in Neurology at the University of New South Wales.
  • Professor Socrates Dokos - he received his PhD in Biomedical Engineering in 1996 from the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, where he is currently an Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering.
 
WHEN: Thursday 30th April, 6:30pm (dinner will be provided)
WHERE: LG03, Wallace Wurth, UNSW (cnr. High St & Botany St) – there will be signs!

 
If you have any further questions, please feel free to send us an email at: focus.unsw@hotmail.com
 
We hope to see you there!
 
God bless,
 
FOCUS

 
 https://www.facebook.com/events/623895007711435/
 
 
 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Talk: The Resurrection

Yesterday we were very blessed to have Fr Peter Mavromatis speak to us about the "Feast of Feasts!" To better understand the Resurrection of our Lord, here is a homily by St Epiphanios, Bishop of Cyprus (403 A.D.):
 
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 Hades 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. The Friend of man goes to lead forth them held captive from ages past, those whom bitter death has stolen from God.
 
In a manner befitting God, He tramples down the tyrant of Hades and death, having with Him the immortal legions of the bodiless hosts. The blinding bolt of lightning from above darkened the countenances of the hostile powers of Hades and they heard thunder-like voices commanding, “Lift up your gates, O princes.” And they trembled saying, “Who is the King of Glory?” The hosts of the Master replied, “The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in war. This is He who by the Cross triumphed over you.”
 
Adam heard the sound of the Master’s feet as he came to the imprisoned, and He recognized His voice, which sounded in the prison as He walked. The Lord approached 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 Hades. 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 Hades. 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. 
 
“Rise. Let us leave this place. Let us go from death to life, from corruption to incorruption, from darkness into everlasting light. Rise. Let us go from affliction to joy, from slavery to freedom, from prison to the Jerusalem on high. For this I died and arose, that I should be Lord both of the dead and the living.
 
“Rise. Let us leave this place. For my Heavenly Father awaits the sheep that was lost. The angels await their fellow servant Adam. 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.”
 
O faithful, let us now joyously welcome the Master’s resurrection on the third day. Let us behold it and embrace it, as we form one chorus with the angels and glorify Christ who raised us up from corruption and gave us life. To Him be glory and dominion with His Father, who is without beginning, and His all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit. Both now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.