Saturday, August 30, 2014
The Second Coming of Christ (source)
“No, God does not punish! Man punishes himself, distancing himself from God. It is as if we said: 'Here is water, there is fire. I am free to choose. I place my hand in the water, and I am refreshed. I place my hand in the fire, and I am burned.'”
-St. Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia
(amateur translation of text from source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!
Friday, August 29, 2014
St. John, the Precious Forerunner and Baptist of Christ (source)
Encomium on the Beheading of the Precious Forerunner, by St. Theodore the Studite
Dear God-fearing Christians, the feast which we have gathered here to celebrate together today is radiant and filled with divine joy. It is rightly called radiant because it shines from the very name of him whom we are honouring today, since he is called the lamp of the light. He is not, of course, a lamp who illumines us with material light, because then his radiance would not be enduring and constant and would be lost every time some obstacle moved in front of it. But it is light that shows the brilliant radiance of divine grace in the depths of the hearts of those who have gathered to celebrate his memory and who elevate their minds to think upon the sufferings of the righteous man, so that gazing with the eyes of our souls upon his blessed martyrdom, we shall be filled with spiritual joy.
But our eyes rejoice at the sight of the blood of every saint, our ears delight to hear their messages of salvation and our lips reverence them. Because their loss grants perfect participation in the immortal and true life. I do not, of course, mean merely a drop of blood, but anything at all from their holy members- a single hair or anything they wore or touched with their hands- is desirable and valuable for those who have decided to believe and to worship God in the proper manner. This is why people who have something like this in their homes or church- that is a complete relic or a part thereof, even a very small piece- consider it a special honour and are proud of it, as if it were a treasure which advances their sanctification and ensures their salvation. And so they approach the reliquary containing the sacred dust with great reverence and touch with awe the sacred relics which are untouchable because of their sanctity.
What more do I need to say than to refer generally to the blood of all the apostles, the martyrs and prophets, which various gory murderers shed in many different ways and which now circles the earth like a rich river and extinguishes impiety?
Such was the blood of the Forerunner and Baptist of Christ, of whom we are speaking today, which he shed from his sacred neck like precious myrrh, which perfumes the whole world. This blood was not engendered by hedonistic gluttony, nor by wine, nor by any of the other foods which fatten the greedy and give them pleasure.
It was created by the grace of abstinence, which the saint practised from his infancy until his martyr’s death. And as the Lord said, John neither ate nor drank (Matth. 11, 18-19).
This blood was shed before the blood of the Lord, the immortal chalice. Because it was needful that the Forerunner of the Light, who with his radiant birth from a barren mother illumined everyone on earth, should become an effulgent herald also to those who were below the earth, that is in Hell.
This blood has boldness before the Almighty Lord, more than the blood of the righteous Abel. Because every action has within it a mystical voice, which is not produced by the vocal chords but which becomes evident from the power invested in it by the person who performs the action.
This blood is more deserving than that of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and so on), more valuable than the blood of the prophets and more sanctified than the blood of all the righteous. Because it is more wonderful even than the blood of the apostles and of the martyrs. Now these words are not mine; they’re from the Great Word, Jesus Christ, Who gave this testimony concerning the Honourable Forerunner.
It is blood which adorns the Church more beautifully than any decoration with variegated and rare flowers. It was shed for justice at the end of the era when the old law was in force, and became a flower which stands at the entrance of the presence of Christ.
But let us continue now to tell, on the basis of the Holy Gospels, how this blood was shed, by whom and for what cause. According to the Gospel, Herod arrested John, bound him and cast him into prison, because of Herodias, the wife of his brother, Philip. Because John had told him: “You’re not allowed to live with her”. So he wanted to put John to death but was afraid to do so, because all the people considered him a prophet (Matth, 14, 2-5).
Let’s see first who this Herod was, because there are two people with the same name, which is confusing, and we have to be clear who we’re talking about. This one is Herod the Tetrarch. His father, also Herod and the murderer of the Innocents, had died long before [In 4 B. C. Herod I actually had four sons named Herod].
But why did John upbraid him? Because he had abandoned his lawful wife, the daughter of King Aretas, and was living, illicitly, with the wife of his brother Philip. He could, of course, have married her legally, if she hadn’t already had children by his brother, because Mosaic law allowed this in order to provide heirs. But since she wasn’t childless, he couldn’t. She had a daughter who was also called Herodias, the offspring of a viper, the devil’s tool in her perdition. This is why John, quite rightly, rebuked him. This castigation, however, was not hubristic and was not spoken in order to wound Herod’s soul and dignity, but it was more of a reminder, the aim of which was to bring him to his senses.
So what did he say to Herod? “You’re not allowed to live with her”. He reminded him of the divine law, as if saying to him: “Look and see what the Law orders you to do. If there are two brothers and one of them dies without issue, the widow is not allowed to marry a stranger. The brother of the deceased shall marry her and the child who is born will take the name of the deceased, and thus his name will not be lost in Israel (Deut. 15, 5). That’s what the law says. But you’ve taken the wife of your brother and she already has a child. Don’t transgress against the ordinance put in place by the legislator. And don’t soil your royal purple with inadmissible incest. Don’t be seen to be doing something illegal when you should be giving your subjects an example of willing and glad observance of the law. And if you do fall into this error, you’ll be punished, because those in high office are punished more severely”.
But since he’d only recently come to power, Herod forgot about God. He was furious, boiling with rage, and would not accept the rebuke. He did not imitate David, who, when he was chastised by the prophet Nathan for the sin of adultery, said: “I have sinned before you, Lord” (II Kings 12-13). And the Lord forgave him, because of his humility. Herod, on the other hand, had John arrested, bound and cast into prison (Matth. 14, 3). So the one who was a prisoner of the passion of lewdness arrested him who lived in the most sublime freedom, because of his holy life. He who was bound by the magical cords of debauchery, put bonds on him who was liberated from all things, living as he did outside any binding relationship. He who was, in practice, sinking deep into the mire, put in prison him who was the guard and herald of the Church.
For the sake of Herodias, the wife of his brother, Philip (Matth. 14, 9). For the sake of Herodias, who shared the morals of Delilah, a true tool of the devil. Because it was she who encouraged him who shared her bed- or illicit love we should really say- and made him furious with John. She told him: “I’m a queen and I can’t be made a laughing-stock by the son of Zachariah. Imprison the tongue that’s breaking my bones. Stab, at once, him whose words are wounding my soul like arrows”. And although he wanted to put him to death, he didn’t do so because he was afraid of the people, who considered John a prophet and respected him as such (Matth. 14, 5). Because if people in power want to do something illegal, they can’t execute it as soon as they’ve thought of it, for two reasons: first because they’re ashamed and fear their subjects; and second because they wait until the opportunity arises to put into effect the hatred in their souls without risk to themselves.
So while they were celebrating Herod’s birthday, Herodias’ daughter came out in front of them and danced. She pleased Herod very much and he swore to grant her anything she wanted (Matth. 14, 6).
On the day when he ought to have been thanking God for bringing him into the light of this life, he chose the works of darkness.. This was a day meant for spiritual joy, not for dancing, and certainly not for women dancing in front of men. What did this dance produce? The oath. And from that? Murder. Root out evil and lawlessness will not flourish. But if evil does take root, it’ll bear fruit, that is, it’ll be put into effect. Herodias’ daughter danced in the midst of the guests and pleased Herod. What else would the harlot-trained girl have learned from her mother, other than to dance provocatively and with such skill as to please Herod greatly. This is why he swore an oath to grant her whatever she wished. This is how rashly the tongues of people run away with them when they lose themselves in the passions of degradation: they blurt out in front of everyone, without thinking, whatever comes into their mind. The girl, schooled by her mother, brought about the hideous decapitation of Saint John, which the venomous Herodias had been wanting to achieve for a long time. I imagine she would have said: “This is the chance we’ve been looking for, my child. You’ve managed, with your dancing feet, to get him to offer me what I wanted. You’ve ended my pain with your skilful song. Let’s bury the man who’s rebuking us. Go quickly and tell Herod: ‘Give me John the Baptist’s head on a platter’ (Matth. 14, 8). What a ferocious and murderous demand! Even though she didn’t have the right to think and enjoy the spectacle of the murder, she outdid everyone in cruelty. What a crazed murderess! Not content with decapitation, you arranged for the head to be brought to you on a platter. What a depraved and debauched woman! Your brutality outstrips even that of blood-stained Jezebel.
The Gospel tells us that the king was saddened. But because he had sworn an oath and had promised in front of his guests, he ordered that she be given the head. He sent to the prison and had John beheaded. Then they set the head on a platter and brought it to the girl and her mother (Matth. 14, 11).
What an evil end to a diabolical coil! Who aimed the stroke of the deathly sword at the saintly head? A lawless servant, who like another Doeg, did not imitate those Jews who with circumspection and bravery stood up to King Saul when he ordered them to murder God’s prophets. “And they brought the head of John on a platter”. What should we call this revel? A banquet or the scene of a murder? What should we call the addle-pated guests? Fellow diners or blood-stained participants?
What an unprecedented sight! What a sinful sight! On the one hand, they were offering chicken and, on the other, a platter with the head of a prophet. From one side, rich clear wine was flowing and from the other the blood of a righteous man was gushing.
How terrible it is for me to say it and dreadful to express!
“And they gave it to the girl and she took it to her mother”. What a sinful sight! Alas! How utterly macabre! The invaluable head was exchanged for a worthless action; the pure and inviolate head, worthy of respect even from the angels, was given for an accursed and impious act. And she handed it to her mother as if she were giving her well-cooked food. To her who in her manic fury had directed the death, as if the child were saying: “Here you are, mother, meat of the flesh of him who lived on earth as if fleshless. Drink the blood of the faster. Once and for all we’ve now shut the mouth of him who rebuked us”.
According to the Gospel, his disciples then came, took away his body and buried it (Matth. 14, 13). Those of you who love history, look at how the burial of this righteous man is depicted and gives the lie to those enemies of the holy icons, who are also enemies of the truth. Fix the story in your minds and draw useful conclusions. How they took the saint, bound in heavy chains, from the prison How the executioner, like a wild animal, raised the sword against the holy head. How, after the beheading, the myrrh-exuding head was offered to the raving Herodias. And also how the sacred body was buried by the hands of his disciples, who all stood there, in tears, with a pain that tore at their souls. How one embraced the feet of the saint, another tried to fit the head back on to the motionless body and another sang funeral hymns while censing the body.
Now I’m there in my mind’s eye and can see the funeral of the righteous man taking place in an atmosphere of peace, as is mentioned in the Prophet Isaiah [57, 1-2: “See how the just man has perished and no one takes it to heart, and righteous men are taken away and no-one considers it. For the righteous man has been removed by injustice. His burial shall be in peace”]. I envision that angelic face, whose eyes have set like two shining suns and on which all the beauty of his soul has been imprinted. Without any fleeting and earthly breath, but full of the overpowering fragrance of divine grace. I kiss those holy hands, which never touched sin and the finger that pointed people to Christ, Who took upon Himself the sin of the whole world. I fall down before those beautiful feet, which told the good news to people and through which the way of the presence of the Lord was prepared. Bring me, so that I may reverence it, the honourable chain with which the most precious and angel-like of men was bound. Bring me the venerable platter on which the revered head- more precious than gold and jewels- was placed. Had I been there, I wouldn’t have omitted to pay my respects to the murderous sword which sliced through the holy neck, nor would I have hesitated to cover with kisses the ground where the treasure was laid, in the certainty that this, too, would bring me divine grace. Blessed grave and joyous tomb-stone, that cover the thrice-blessed corpse and wrap the body more precious than a mass of emeralds and pearls.
So at this scene there were the visible company of his disciples and an invisible host of angels, praising, glorifying and hymning John, bearing to eternal joy him who lived as a bodiless angel and foretold the coming of the Messiah. He who was a genuine friend of the Lord, who guided the Church to the celestial Bridegroom, the undimmed lamp of the ineffable light, the living voice of God the Word, who was superior to the prophets, greater than any man ever born of woman. The burial of this righteous man, then, was peaceful, as we’ve described it, a harbinger of joy and salvation to the whole world.
So did the insane Herod manage to escape punishment for his profanity for the rest of his life on earth? Of course not. On the contrary, because of this misdeed, all his subjects rose up against him and he was deposed. In this way, God wanted to frighten and admonish later kings, to prevent them committing similar crimes. But to return to our theme, let us acclaim this day as is proper.
Today, John the Forerunner is praised because he sacrifices his head for the truth, and Herod the transgressor is ridiculed and mocked. Today, John the Forerunner is lauded by all for his stern rebuke, and the insane Herod is dishonoured through his adultery. Today, the head of John the Forerunner is offered as a sacred sacrifice on a platter, and the adulteress Herodias, against her will, receives eternal condemnation. Today, the blood of John the Forerunner is shed because he observed the divine law and he who opposed the Baptist by breaking the law is rightly driven out. Today, because of forthrightness towards Herod, John the Forerunner is beheaded for upholding righteousness.
This is the way the kings of the earth learn not to put away their lawful wives and they condemn him who did so. Today, John the Baptist plants a landmark in the ground and urges all men to be satisfied with their lawful wife and to go no further than that. Today, John the Forerunner descends into Hell and the dead receive the glad tidings of the presence of Christ. Today, the heavens rejoice over the decapitation of John the Forerunner, who was sacrificed for God’s justice; while people on earth celebrate with hymns of thanksgiving. And in my view, the Honourable Forerunner is watching us from the heavens and rewarding with divine gifts those who praise him with hymns. Among the choir of the prophets, like the morning star, he rises and illumines the firmament of the Church. Among the apostles, before them and more than them he shines as a sun among suns. Among the martyrs, he is distinguished for his miracles, like a star-decked sky. Among the righteous he stands out for the many trials he suffered, for the sake of justice, and he who spread joy throughout the world is elevated higher than the cedars of Lebanon.
Because if, according to Saint Luke (2, 10) many people rejoiced at his birth, the joy on this the day of his martyr’s death should be equivalent. We have been found worthy to celebrate it, all of us, priests, hermits, coenobites and lay people, because everyone has a share in the joy his message provides. And may his intercessions be even more with us, who live in this holy monastery, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord.
To Whom is due glory and power, together with the Father and the All-Holy and Life-Giving Spirit, now and ever and unto the unending ages of ages. Amen.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!
Thursday, August 28, 2014
-Why do some icons turn out to be wonderworking?
"Because God desires it so. The working of wonders is possible only to God, and not to anyone else. Neither the icons, nor the men who take refuge with reverence in them have the power to work a wonder. The mercy of the Lord is the reason and the source of all the wonders. God, as the Master of the universe, can use every thing as an organ of His mercy."
-St. Theophan the Recluse
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!
Sunday, August 24, 2014
The wondrous icon of Panagia Pantanassa from Vatopedi Monastery, Mount Athos. Many cancer patients have been healed through this icon (source)
“Do you know that cancer* is the greatest sickness? Because with the other sicknesses, you don't take the issue seriously, because you hope that you will get better and usually you don't change. With cancer, however, you say 'Here it was, it's over, the lie is finished, now I'm leaving.' Men can't help you, and you find yourself alone before God. Only hope in God remains, and you cling to this hope and are saved.”
-St. Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia
*St. Porphyrios of course is referring to serious forms of cancer (though this also could apply to other serious and incurable diseases). He of course is not saying that miracles don't happen, nor that we should not seek medical treatment and that some people improve and survive. He is saying that our disease is a blessing when it brings us humility and makes us to hope in God.
Saturday, August 23, 2014
St. Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia (source)
"Byzantine ecclesiastical music is a teaching...it softens the soul of man, and slowly lifts him up to other spiritual worlds with his voice, which sows [spiritual] pleasure and rejoicing and thanksgiving, traveling to another, spiritual world. This is how it is in reality, my children. Do not look where you are hearing this and what they are doing. When you do this slowly, you enter in with such a spiritual form, and thus sense what to do.
"You can be an egotistical chanter, and rock and be pleased with your self and be hollow. You might have the voice that can move others, but he who is truly holy when he chants has something else. He does not have his voice alone. Together with his voice, which radiates with sound waves, he radiates grace with other mystical waves, which reaches the souls of men and moves them even more deeply.
"The hollow “musician” (let us call him), the egotist, has [pride] and is pleased [with this]. The holy musician sends forth waves together with his voice. This is a very great mystery. As a result, if you go to the Holy Mountain, and hear the monks chanting, even if you have a frozen and stony heart, when you hear them, [you say]: “There it is. This musician can [truly move someone]...”
St. Kosmas Aitolos, the New Hieromartyr (source)
St. Kosmas Aitolos: The Parable of the Priceless Diamond
A merchant named Irrational had been in business for forty-fifty years. He never had any success. Then he found a purse. He opened it and found some counterfeit coins, some false pearls, and in the middle of the purse a diamond. He took the purse with the money and went to a money changer to see if it was genuine. Examining it, the money changer told the merchant that the money was counterfeit and that only the diamond was real. The merchant didn't believe him but took them and left and went to another money changer. He too said that all was counterfeit except for the diamond, which was valuable. The merchant was sad and took the diamond in his hand and with it the purse with the coins and he left.
On the way he met a blind man and said: "I want to see what power the diamond has."
And, 0 wonder of wonders! When he touched the eyes of the blind man with it, they immediately opened and the blind man saw. The merchant was then happy.
He continued on and met a man who was deaf and dumb, and as soon as he touched him [with the diamond] he began to speak and heat. He met a man who was retarded, and when he touched him he was healed. He touched a poor man with it and he became rich. He touched an old man with it and he became young and robust. He touched a dead man with it and he immediately came to life.
Seeing such miracles, the merchant's heart was ablaze with joy, and so he took the purse with the coins and went and threw them into the sea. He kept only the diamond and went home.
It came time for the merchant to die. So he called his family together and told them: "My children, I have been in business in the world for forty-fifty years. I never had any success. Later, I found a purse in which there were some counterfeit gold coins, pearls, and in the middle of the purse I found a diamond with so much power that it raised the dead, made the poor rich, the blind to open their eyes, the deaf to hear, and healed all manner of illness. But soon I'll be leaving you and I shall die. I have no other inheritance to leave you except this diamond. But your nobility should find a place to put it-somewhere as it deserves-for it will not stay just anywhere.
The time came and the merchant died. The diamond remained for his family. They tried to find a place to keep it as the merchant had instructed them. So they found a marble triangle with equal sides and they put the diamond on top of the marble, but it wouldn't stay. They were sad because they couldn't find a place to put it. They placed a white cloth on the marble to serve as a cushion, but the diamond wouldn't stay. Again they were sad. Later, they spread another cloth on top of the first and put the diamond on top of that. The diamond stayed. Then they were happy and glorified God.
Now we should see who is the merchant; second, what is the purse; third, the dollars; fourth, the gold coins; fifth, the pearls; sixth, the diamond; seventh, the money changers; eighth, who are the merchant's relatives; ninth, what is the marble; tenth, what the first cloth signifies; and eleventh, what the second cloth signifies. These are the eleven subjects that we'll explain.
First, I am the merchant Irrational, drunkard, idler, and lazy. I have been in business for forty-fifty years, and God found me worthy to find a purse. What is the purse? It is the sacred and holy Gospel. I open it and inside I find counterfeit gold coins. What are the gold coins? They are the Jews who say they believe but their faith is counterfeit, of the devil. In the purse I find counterfeit dollars. What do the dollars signify? They are the irreverent who say that they believe, but their faith is counterfeit, of the devil. I find in it false pearls. What do the pearls signify? They are the heretics who say they believe in the Holy Trinity but [their faith] also is false, and it too is of the devil. What is the diamond? It is our Lord Jesus Christ and God. Who are the money changers? They are the prophets who had proclaimed the Son and Logos of the preexistent and omnipotent Father. Who are the relatives of the merchant? They are the reverent and Orthodox Christians, the sons and daughters of our Christ. Whatis the triangular and equal-sided marble? it is the person who says he believes in the Holy Trinity but his faith is insufficient for him to be saved; the diamond does not stay put. What else is needed? The first cloth is needed, but the diamond, that is, Christ, doesn't stay. A person who says he believes in the Holy Trinity has the first cloth, love for God which each person has, but this is insufficient, for the second cloth is needed. Then the diamond stays. What does the second cloth signify? It is the person who believes in the Holy Trinity and loves God and his brethren; that is [they are] the second cloth. Then the diamond, that is, our Lord Jesus Christ and God, stays.
The person who has God in his heart has everything good and can never sin. And when he doesn't have the diamond in his heart, love, that is, Christ, he has the devil. And whoever has the devil has all that is evil and commits all the sins. So, my brethren, I am about to leave you health, and then I shall depart, and I don't know if God will enable me to enjoy you again in person or not. I have nothing else to leave you as consolation, as a shelter, as a guardian, except the diamond. But you must have someplace to put it. This diamond contains all the Christian virtues, spiritual and physical, and he who has been found worthy to have it in his heart will be of good fortune, for he has a valuable treasure.
Sunday, August 17, 2014
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior (source)
St. Theophan the Recluse on Why Orthodox Christianity should not change with the times
It reached my ears that, as it seems, you consider my sermons very strict and believe that today no one should think this way, no one should be living this way and therefore, no one should be teaching this way. “Times have changed!”
How glad I was to hear this. This means that you listen carefully to what I say, and not only do you listen, but you are also willing to abide by it. What more could we hope for, we who preach as we were ordered and as much we were ordered?
Despite all this, in no way can I agree with your opinion. I even consider it my duty to comment on it and to correct it, since – even though it perhaps goes against your desire and conviction – it comes from something sinful, as though Christianity could alter its doctrines, its canons, its sanctifying ceremonies to answer to the spirit of each age and adjust itself to the changing tastes of the sons of this century, as though it could add or subtract something.
Yet, it is not so. Christianity must remain eternally unchanging, in no way being dependent on or guided by the spirit of each age. Instead, Christianity is meant to govern and direct the spirit of the age for anyone who obeys its teachings. To convince you of this, I will put forward some thoughts for you to consider.
Some said that my teaching is strict. First of all, my teaching is not my own, nor it should be. In this sacred office nobody should, nor even can, preach his own teaching. If I or someone else ever dare to do so, you can put us outside the Church.
We preach the teachings of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ, of the holy Apostles, and the Holy Church, which is guided by the Holy Spirit. At the same time, we make sure to do everything possible to keep these teachings whole and inviolate in your minds and hearts. Every thought we present and every word we use, we do so very carefully, so as not to overshadow this brilliant and divine teaching in any way. Nobody can act differently.
...a single raising of your mind to God, and a single humble genuflexion to His glory and in His honor has infinitely more value than all the treasures of the world... --St Nicodemos and Theophan the Recluse (Unseen Warfare: Chapter 20)
Such a law that calls for each man’s preaching in the Church to be "God-sent," was established at the creation of the world, and should thus remain valid until the end of the world. The Prophet Moses, after the delivery of the commandments from God Himself to the people of Israel, concluded: “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you.” (Deut. 4:2)
This law of constancy is so unalterable that the Lord and Savior Himself, when He was teaching the people on the mountain, said: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Math. 5:17-18)
Then He gave the same validity to his teaching, before interpreting the commandments in the spirit of the gospel, by adding: “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” (Math. 5:19)
This means that anyone who wrongly interprets the commandments of God and lessens their validity, will be an outcast in the future life. This is what He said at the beginning of His preaching. He assured the same thing to Saint John the Theologian, the beholder of ineffable revelations, to whom He described the final judgement of the world and the Church, indicating in the Apocalypse (Book of Revelations): “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.” (Apoc. 22:18-19)
From the time of His first appearance in the world until the Second Coming, Christ has given the Holy Apostles and their successors the following law: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” (Math. 28:19-20)
That means “for you to teach, not what anyone else could possibly imagine, but what I ordered, and this to the end of the world.” And He adds: “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.” (Math. 28:20)
The Apostles received this law and sacrificed their lives in order to keep it. And to those who wanted to keep them from preaching what it was they preached under the threat of punishment and death, they replied: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)
This clear law was delivered by the apostles to their successors, was accepted by them, and has timeless effect in the Church of God. Because of this law, the Church is the pillar and the ground of truth. Can you see then what an inviolable steadfastness it has? After that, who would be so bold as to stubbornly disturb or move anything in Christian doctrine and law?
Next listen to what is said of the Prophet Ezekiel who for seven days was in the ecstasy of prayer and after seven days heard the word of the Lord: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman to the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth” (Ezek. 3:17), and he declared to the people: Here is the law for you! If you see a wicked person committing iniquity and you do not tell him: leave your iniquity and change your way, “that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.” (Ezek. 3:18) Conversely, “if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul.” (Ezek. 3:19-21)
What a strict law! And though it sounds in the consciences of all pastors during their election and consecration, when a heavy yoke is put on them, namely the instruction of the flock of Christ that He entrusted to them, big or small, not only to guide it but also to preserve it. How could anyone be so bold, to pervert everything in the law of Christ, when this involves the destruction of both pastors and flock?
If the saving power of this teaching depended on our opinion of it and our consent to it, it would make sense for someone to imagine rebuilding Christianity according to human weaknesses or the claims of the age and adapt it according to the sinful desires of his heart. But the saving power of Christian law does not at all depend on us, but on the will of God, by the fact that God Himself established precisely the exact path of salvation. Beyond this there is no other way, nor could it exist. Therefore, anyone who teaches in any other way, is deviating from the true path and is destroying himself and you. What logic is there in that?
Notice how strict judgment was mentioned when something similar happened to the nation of Israel during the difficult years of their captivity. Some prophets out of pity for the suffering and sick talked to the people, not as the Lord had ordered, but as their heart dictated. Concerning them the Lord gave the following commands to Ezekiel: “And you, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people, who prophesy out of their own minds. Prophesy against them and say, Thus says the Lord God: Woe to the women who sew magic bands upon all wrists, and make veils for the heads of persons of every stature, in the hunt for souls.” (Ezek. 13:17-18)This means: Woe to those who order any kind of special treatment and suggest such leniency, so no one feels the slightest displeasure, either from those on top or those at the bottom, not caring whether this is for their salvation or destruction, whether it is pleasing to God, or repulsive. Woe to them, because “thus says the Lord God...your pillows and veils,” namely your candied and comforting teaching, “upon which there you are perverting souls, I will tear from your arms and I will let their souls that you are perverting, go away...” (Ezek. 13:20-21) from this teaching of yours and I will destroy you corrupters.
This is the benefit of this special treatment and leniency, such as you want to hear from preachers! When you put all this deep in your heart, it is not right for you to want us to make any concessions in Christian doctrine, having the wrong desire to be pleased by us. On the contrary, you are obliged to persistently demand from us to remain true to doctrine, as strictly and firmly as possible.
Have you ever heard of the indulgences of the Pope of Rome? Here is what they are: special treatment and leniency, which he gives defying the law of Christ. And what is the result? From all of this, the West is corrupt in faith and in their way of life, and is now getting lost in its disbelief and in the unrestrained life with its indulgences.
The Pope changed many doctrines, spoiled all the sacraments, nullified the canons concerning the regulation of the Church and the correction of morals. Everything has begun going contrary to the will of the Lord, and has become worse and worse.
Then came along Luther, a smart man, but stubborn. He said, “The Pope changed everything as he wanted, why shouldn't I do the same?” He started to modify and re-modify everything in his own way, and in this way established the new Lutheran faith, which only slightly resembles what the Lord had commanded and the Holy Apostles delivered to us.After Luther came the philosophers. And they in turn said, “Luther has established himself a new faith, supposedly based on the Gospel, though in reality based on his own way of thinking. Why, then, don't we also compose doctrines based on our own way of thinking, completely ignoring the Gospel?” They then started rationalizing, and speculating about God, the world, and man, each in his own way. And they mixed up so many doctrines, that one gets dizzy just counting them.
Now the Westerners have the following views: Believe what you think best, live as you like, satisfy whatever captivates your soul. This is why they do not recognize any law or restriction and they do not abide by God's word. Their road is wide, all obstacles displaced. Their way is broad, all the obstacles taken out. But the broad road leads to perdition, according to what the Lord says. This is where leniency in teaching has led!Lord, save us from this broad way! But it is better to love each difficulty that the Lord has appointed for our salvation. Let us love Christian doctrines and let us compel our mind with them, pushing it not to think otherwise. Let us love Christian morals and let us compel our will in them, forcing it to lift the light yoke of the Lord humbly and patiently. Let us love all Christian rituals and services which guide us, correct us, and sanctify us. Let us compel our heart with them, encouraging it to convey its desires from the earthly and perishable, to the heavenly and imperishable.
Let us confine ourselves as though in a cage. Or better, let us drag ourselves, as if we were passing through a narrow passage. Let it be narrow, so no one can deviate neither to the right left, nor the left. Yet undoubtedly, through this narrow way we will obtain the kingdom of the heavens in return. For as you know, this kingdom is the kingdom of the Lord. The Lord laid this narrow way and said, “Follow exactly this route and you will obtain the kingdom of heaven.”Could anyone then doubt whether the traveler will get to his destination? And what mind would one have who starts wanting all kinds of annulment of the commandments, when by doing this he would immediately lose his way and be lost?
Once you have fully understood this assertion, do not worry if something in our teaching seems to be strict. The only thing you should strive for is to carefully make sure if it is from the Lord. And after you have made sure it is from the Lord, accept it with all your heart, no matter how strict or obliging it may be. And not only avoid wanting special treatment and leniency with doctrine and the ethics, but even flee from all these, as though fleeing from the fire of Gehenna. Those who cannot escape from this are those who think up such things and with them lure those who are spiritually weak to follow them. Amen.
St. Theophan the Recluse.
December 29, 1863 - Sunday after Christ's Birth
St. Theophan the Recluse (source)