Friday, March 22, 2019

St. Gregory Palamas: "Taste and know that the Lord is bountiful..."

Jesus Christ the Son of God the Savior (source)
  
Prayer changes from entreaty to thanksgiving, and meditation on the divine truths of faith fills the heart with a sense of jubilation and unimpeachable hope. This hope is a foretaste of future blessings, of which the soul even now receives direct experience, and so it comes to know in part the surpassing richness of God’s bounty, in accordance with the Psalmist’s words, ‘Taste and know that the Lord is bountiful’ (Ps. 34:8). For He is the jubilation of the righteous, the joy of the upright, the gladness of the humble, and the solace of those who grieve because of Him.”
–St. Gregory Palamas, The Philokalia Vol. 4
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Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Elder Ephraim of Arizona on Love and Truth

  
"Go to psychiatric hospitals and see how much the people’s souls suffer.
And we, the so-called ‘healthy’ ones, are called to never forget these people!
These people should not be left out of our prayer and care! Let us ask God to send them patience, relief, healing.
We must carry our brethren’s suffering!
If we don’t do that then we don’t have love!
If we forget them then we are outside the love of God!
God tries them in order to bring them into His Kingdom, and He asks us for our support. If they are locked up there, it does not mean we have to abandon them too! Because we can also be there tomorrow!
Let’s think how many people are in the agony of death! Their life is judged and they are examined by their conscience! And they say, ‘What is going to happen now?’
This pain, this agony should become ours!
And then, God, Who searches the reins and the hearts, will remember this love, will seal it and will return it to you!
He will answer, not only in the afterlife, but also in this life, there will be a time when we will also reach a hardship… and He will help us, He will enlighten other people to pray for us, as we did.
We reap what we sow!
Sow wheat, and you will reap wheat!
Sow tares, and you will reap thorns!
The earth gives the farmer back according to the seeds he sows!
Even more, God, the living God, who searches the hearts and the reins, who knows the hidden things of people, He will repay with justice."
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"Therefore, having the eyes of our soul open, let us see the Truth!
This is the truth! Let us not be deceived!
When we hold the truth, we are not afraid!
Pilate asked Christ, “Who are you?” [see John 18-19] and many more, like: “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”.
And Christ answered to him: “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above”.
“For this cause came I… that I should bear witness unto the truth”. Pilate asked Him, “What is truth?”
And then, Pilate left! Why?
Because he was not worthy to hear Who is the Truth.
One need to be worthy in order to know the Truth.
And He says “The truth will make you free”, from lies and deceit.
When the eyes of the soul will be opened, one will see the truth!
And what is the truth? It is what we say: that we must love our neighbor in a correct way! Not out of force, not with microbes, parasites, or self-interest!
Today, however, mankind needs a Christian and Orthodox truth and love.
We do not love as we should! If we loved correctly, it would have been seen from our deeds!
Our deeds show what our life is like and what our thoughts are about.
That is why, in our hidden work – any Christian must have a hidden spiritual work – we should not miss the essential element called: uninterested and sincere love for our brethren! Not only for the living, but also for the departed!
And the pain of the sick and desperate, and the pain of the one condemned to the judgment of God should become our pain also!
And when it will become our pain, God will heal us!
If you cover for someone, God will cover you! Allow injustice for yourself, but never do injustice! Defeat evil with good!
This is the evangelical law!"
-Transcribed and translated excerpts from two talks by Elder Ephraim of Arizona
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Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

St. Seraphim of Vyritsa on the sin and repentance of the youth

St. Seraphim of Vyritsa (source)
  
[St. Seraphim of Vyritsa] loved the youth very much. Then the young people didn't go to church almost at all and the Elder rejoiced very much when they would visit him. Father Seraphim used to say that the role of the youth will be very great in the future revival of the ecclesiasti­cal life. He also used to say that there will come a time when corruption and lewdness among the youth will reach the utmost point. There will hardly be any virgin youth left. They will see their lack of punishment and will think that everything is allowable for them to satis­fy their desires. God will call them, however, and they will realize that it will not be possible for them to con­tinue such a life. Then in various ways they will be led tο God. In many people there will be a tendency to­wards the ascetic life. They who formerly were sinners and alcoholics will fill the churches and they will feel great thirst for the spiritual life. Many will become monastics. The monasteries will open and the churches will be full of believers. The young will go οn ρilgrimages tο the holy lands. That time will be beautiful. That today they are sinning greatly, will lead them tο a deeper repentance. Just like the candle before it goes out, it shines strongly and throws sparks; with its light, it enlightens the surrounding darkness; thus, it will be the Church's life in the last age. And that time is near.
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Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Photios Kontoglou on Panagia as the Humble Queen

The Most-holy Theotokos and Christ surrounded with Angels depicted in the wonderworking icon of Panagia Pantanassa (Queen of All) treasured by Vatopedi Monastery, Mount Athos (source)
  
"Panagia is the spiritual adornment of Orthodoxy. For us Greeks [and for all peoples], she is the pained mother, the consolation, the protector, who stands beside us in every circumstance.

"In every part of Greece are built countless churches and monasteries, palaces to this humble Queen, and a multitude of chapels in the mountains, the fields, the islands, that are fragrant from her virginal and spiritual fragrance.

"Within each of these is found her ancient and honored icon with her dark hair and golden face, which receives all of the tears of our tortured faithful, because we have no one else to help us except Panagia: 'we who sin have no one else, who intercedes for us before God, praying endlessly, in ills and all dangers, for us who are laiden with our many sins and mistakes' (Paraklesis to the Theotokos).
  
"The beauty of the Panagia is not a bodily beauty, but spiritual, because where there is pain there is also found holiness, there alone is spiritual beauty. Bodily beauty brings bodily excitement, but spiritual beauty bring contrition, respect and pure love. This is the beauty which our Panagia has.
  
"And this beauty is depicted in her [Byzantine] icons which pious men fashion, who fast and chant and are found with contrite heart and spiritual purity.
  
"In the face of Panagia are depicted this mystical beauty which attracts like a magnet pious souls and brings them silence and consolation."
-Photios Kontoglou (+1965)
  
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Forgive me, and may the Lord forgive us all and grant us a blessed Lent!
  
Most-holy Theotokos, save us!

Thursday, March 7, 2019

"O Champions of Christ, you make the all-sacred fast even more joyous..."

The Holy Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (source)
  
O Choir of flames four-times-ten, army wholly chosen by God, you make Lent shine furthermore because of your sacred struggles, sanctifying and enlightening our souls.
  
The forty-numbered Choir of Martyrs, who would not hymn? For they entered into the waters of the lake bravely, being clenched by the cold, and offered up an ode to the Lord: "Do not let waters drown us in your anger, O Lord, do not let your waters drown us in your anger, O Lover of mankind, but lighten the burden and the bitter wind, for You dyed our feet in Your very own blood, and you have led us, O God, into your eternal mansions, that we might have rest in the bosom of the Patriarch Abraham."
  
You watered the faithful with the chalice of truth, filled with your own blood, and with the fire of tortures, and the drowning of water. O Four Decades of the Lord, you chanted to the Savior, though separate in bodies, but united in spirit, and you offered yourselves to Christ, while the Mother and bride of God offered her Christ-loving child, who was carried on her shoulders, saying: Come, O Champion, and struggle together with the rest.
  
O Champions of Christ, you make the all-sacred fast even more joyous through your glorious struggles, for you were Forty in number, and you sanctify the Forty-day Lent, imitating the saving passion through your struggle on behalf of Christ. Therefore, as ones having boldness, intercede that in peace we might meet the Third-day Resurrection of our God and the Savior of our souls.
-Idiomela and Doxastikon from the Matins for the Feast of the Holy Forty Martyrs of Sebaste
  
(source)
  
The Holy Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (source)
  
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Elder Aimilianos: Fasting and Prayer as a Longing for God

Jesus Christ, detail (source)
  
"Longing for God is expressed with fasting, with an empty stomach... Fasting has a unique meaning by expressing the longing for God... The same occurs for prayer. If prayer to myself had meaning, then my prayer life would be a human endeavor, a tendency and revival, it wouldn't be God. My prayer has meaning because it exactly expresses my longing: 'Come and abide in us...', the: 'Where are you, my God?'

"With fasting, vigil, and prayer, chaos and malaise are shown to be our rags before God, as the poor man shows his rags to his fellow man in order for him to have pity on him to help him, or like the blind man cried out to Christ to give him light. Thus, we show our poverty and he ask that He open our eyes in order to understand that we are sinners, that we might repent and so He can forgive us...

"The approach therefore is an uncreated energy, a true projection of His being. Because of this, my life as well is a true communion with the true God. While God acts, I commune with Him. While God is unapproachable, I partake of Him...

"Only the: 'Where are you, my God?', can make visible the invisible presence of God...We give Him our consent, our being, and He directs everything, He kneads us..."
-Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra
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Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Thursday, February 28, 2019

St. Paisios the Athonite on Death, Prayer for the Departed and the Last Judgment

The classic iconographic type depicting the dormition of St. Ephraim the Syrian, with the choirs of his beloved fellow monastics coming from afar to venerate him and pray for him (source)
  
LIFE AFTER DEATH
by Saint Paisios of Mount Athos
  
--Geronda [Elder], when a person dies, does he become immediately aware of his spiritual condition?
--Yes, he does, and says to himself, "What have I done?" But the result in fayda yok, [An expression in the Turkish language, which means: "There is no benefit, there is no progress or success".) that is, this awareness is of no benefit. This can be likened to a drunk man who kills his mother and goes on singing and laughing, but who, upon becoming sober and realizing what he has done, will wail and lament and say, "What have I done?" In much the same way, those who commit wrongdoings in this life are like drunken men. They don't understand what they're doing; they don't have a sense of their guilt. But when they die, this "drunkenness" disappears and they become aware of their real condition. The eyes of their soul are opened and they realize their guilt, because the soul, when separated from the body, moves, sees and perceives with an inconceivable speed.
  
Some people ask when the Second Coming will take place. But for the person who dies, the Second Coming is, in a way, taking place, because he is judged on the basis of the state in which he is found at the time of death.
  
--Geronda [Elder], in what state are the souls of the tormented found at this time?
--They are indicted, imprisoned, and suffer in accordance with the sins they had committed; and they await the final trial, the future Judgment. There are those who have been indicted, facing heavy sentences, and those who have been indicted, facing lighter sentences.
  
--What about the Saints and the thief? (St. Luke 23:32-33 and 39-43)
--The Saints and the thief are in Paradise; but they have not received the final glory, just as those who have been indicted are in hell but have not received the final sentence. Even though God has taught us from centuries ago: "Repent ye, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand?" (St. Matthew 3:2 and 4:17) He extends the time more and more, because He waits for us (with the pronoun "us", the Elder means all of humanity) to correct ourselves. But we, by remaining in our (unrepentant) misery, are unjust to the Saints because they cannot receive the final glory, which they are to receive after the future judgment.
  
St. Paisios the Athonite (source)
  
PRAYER AND MEMORIALS FOR THE DEPARTED
  
--Geronda [Elder], can the indicted souls who await trial pray?
--They are aware of their condition and seek help, but they cannot help themselves. Those who are in Hades desire only one thing from Christ: to live for five minutes in order to repent. We, who live, still have time for repentance, but those unfortunate ones who have fallen asleep cannot improve their condition on their own; they await help from us. This is the reason why we have an obligation to help them with our prayer.
  
--It is my belief that only about ten percent of the indicted dead awaiting trial are, as the demons do. They don't seek any help, and they also reject all help. For what can God do for them? It's like a child who has alienated himself from his father, squanders all of his property, and on top of that, curses him. What can his father do for him? But the other indicted ones, who still have a little philotimo, are aware of their guilt. They repent and are tormented because of their sins. They ask to be helped and are helped through the prayers of the faithful. [Saint Nectarios, in his study, A Treatise on the Immortality of the Soul and on the Sacred Memorials, ed. Basil Regopoulos, Thessaloniki 1973, p. 202, writes as a conclusion to what he developed on the basis of the witness of the Holy Fathers: "On the basis of all the above, it becomes clear that the soul after death is unable to do any solitary deed and be relieved from the indissoluble bonds of Hades. Only the Divine Liturgies, the prayers of family members, of the just, which are offered for them, including charity, become instrumental agents of deliverance and freedom from the bonds of Hades."] In other words, God provides an opportunity for them, now that they are awaiting trial, to be helped until the Second Coming takes place. And just as in this life when one who's a friend of the king can intercede and request help for someone awaiting trial, so, too, if one is "a friend" of God, he can intercede with prayer to God, and He can transfer the indicted souls of the dead from one "prison" to another, better one, from one "detention-cell" to another, better one. Or God may transfer them to a "room" or to an "apartment".
Just as we provide some comfort to the imprisoned with the refreshments and other material goods we bring to them, so are the dead refreshed by the prayers and the charity we execute for their souls. The prayers and the sacred memorial offered by the living for the dead are the final chance that God gives to the dead to be helped until the Final Judgment takes place. After the Judgment, there will no longer be any possibility for help.
  
God wants to help those who have fallen asleep because He cares about their ultimate salvation; but He does not help because He has a noble spirit. He does not want to give the devil the right to say: "How can you save him, since he did not labor to achieve it?" But when we pray for those who have fallen asleep, we give God the right to intervene. God is moved more by our prayers for the dead than by those for the living.
  
Kollyva offered for memorial services on the Saturday of the Souls as a symbol of the Resurrection, and out of love and compassion for our departed brethren (source)
  
This is the reason why our Church has the sacred memorials with the kollyva. [Kollyva (κόλλυβα): boiled wheat kernels. The wheat kernels express belief in everlasting life, according to what Jesus said, "Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (St. John 12:24). It is a tradition among Orthodox Christians to bring a tray of boiled wheat kernels to church for the Memorial Service.] Memorials serve as the best attorney on behalf of the souls of those fallen asleep. They even have the power to bring a soul out of hell. At every Divine Liturgy, we should pray with kollyva for those who have fallen asleep. The wheat has a symbolic meaning: "It is sown in corruption; it is raided in incorruption" (1 Cor. 15:42) according to Sacred Scripture. Some people can't be bothered to boil some wheat and instead bring raisins, cookies or other pastries so that the priest may bless those things. Up on the Holy Mountain, there are some elderly monks who will prepare kollyva for every Divine Liturgy for those who have fallen asleep in the hope of the Resurrection and for the Saint commemorated that day, in order to have his blessing.
  
THE FUTURE JUDGMENT
  
--Geronda [Elder], how is the soul purified?
--When a person observes the Commandments of God, working to be cleansed of one's own passions, then the mind is enlightened; it attains spiritual vision, and the soul becomes as resplendent as it was before the Fall of man. This is the condition he will be in after the resurrection of the dead. But one can see the resurrection of his soul before the General Resurrection only if he is cleansed entirely from the passions. Then, his body will be Angelic, incorporeal, and will not be concerned with material nourishment.
  
--Geronda [Elder], how will the future Judgment take place?
--In the future Judgment, the condition of each person will be revealed in an instant, and each person on his own will proceed to where he belongs. Each person will recognize, as if on a television screen, his own wretchedness, as well as the spiritual condition of others. He will reflect himself upon the other, and he will bow his head, and proceed to the place where he belongs. For example, a daughter-in-law who sat comfortably with her legs crossed in front of her mother-in-law, who with a broken leg took care of the grandchild, will not be able to say, "My Christ, why are you putting my mother-in-law into Paradise without including me?" because that scene will come before her to condemn her..." (Note: Saint of Damascus writes: "For no one should imagine that there will be no recognition of one person by another on that fearful Day of the Judgment. Yes, truly each person will recognize his neighbor, not through the shape of the body, but by means of the vision of the eye of the soul.")
  
The Good Thief in Paradise (source)
  
THE FUTURE LIFE
  
--Geronda [Elder], I have brought some sweets for you to offer to your guests.
--Look how happy they are with that! In the other life we will be saying to ourselves, "In what foolish things we found joy! What things inspired us then!" While now our heart flutters over such things.
  
--Geronda [Elder], how can we understand this at this point in time?
--If you understand this from now, you will not say it in the next life. In any case, those who are to be found up there will be faring well. Have you any idea what handicraft they do there in Heaven? They constantly glorify God. (Note: Saint Symeon the New Theologian writes: "On the fearful Day of Judgment each sinful person will simply see, standing opposite them in the eternal life and in that inexpressible light, their fellow human beings; and they will be judged by them." On Repentance, Logos 5)
  
--Geronda [Elder}, in the other life will those in Hell see those in Paradise?
--Look, just as those who are out at night in the dark can see those who are in a lit room, so will those who will be in Hell see those in Paradise. And this will be an even greater hell for them. So, too, just as those who are in a lit room at night can't see those who are out in the dark, so will those who are in Paradise not see those in Hell. For if the saved were to see those who are condemned in Hell, they would be pained and grieved over their suffering, and would not enjoy Paradise, where "there is no pain..." And not only will they not see them, but they won't even remember if they had a brother or a father or a mother, if they, too are not in Paradise". The Psalmist says, "On that very day his thoughts perish" (Psalm 146:4). For if they are to be remembered, how can it be Paradise? Moreover, those in Paradise will have no awareness of that existence of others, nor will they remember the sins they had committed. For, if they were to remember their sins, they would not be able to bear, out of philotimo, the thought of ever having grieved God. (Source: The Family Life by Saint Paisios of Mount Athos, Spiritual Counsels IV)
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Icon of the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment (source)
  
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!