Thursday, December 25, 2014

"How is he contained in a womb, whom nothing can contain?"

Christ is born! Glorify Him!
The Nativity in the Flesh of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, detail (source)
  
How is he contained in a womb, whom nothing can contain? How held in his Mother’s arms, he who is in the Father’s bosom? This is all as he knows, as he wished and as he was well pleased. For being without flesh, willingly he was made flesh; and He Who Is, for our sake has become what he was not; without departing from his own nature he shared in our matter; wishing to fill the world on high, Christ was born in two natures.
-Kathisma from the Orthros of the Nativity of Christ
(source)
  
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Hymn IV on the Nativity of Christ, by St. Ephraim the Syrian

The Nativity of Christ (source)
  
Hymn IV on the Nativity of Christ, by St. Ephraim the Syrian
This is the month which brings all manner of joy; it is the freedom of the bondsmen, the pride of the free, the crown of the gates, the soothing of the body, that also in its love put purple upon us as upon kings.
This is the month that brings all manner of victories; it frees the spirit; it subdues the body; it brings forth life among mortals; it caused, in its love, Godhead, to dwell in Manhood.
In this day the Lord exchanged glory for shame, as being humble; because Adam changed the truth for unrighteousness as being a rebel: the Good One had mercy on him, justified and set right them that had turned aside.
Let every man chase away his weariness, since that Majesty was not wearied with being in the womb nine months for us, and in being thirty years in Sodom among the madmen.1
Because the Good One saw that the race of man was poor and humbled, He made feasts as a treasure-house, and opened them to the slothful, that the feast might stir up the slothful one to rise and be rich.
Lo! The First-born has opened unto us His feast as a treasure-house. This one day in the whole year alone opens that treasure-house: come, let us make gain, let us grow rich from it, ere they shut it up.
Blessed be the watchful, that have taken by force2 from it the spoil of Life. It is a great disgrace, when a man sees his neighbor take and carry out treasure, and himself sits in the treasure-house slumbering, so as to come forth empty.
In this feast, let each one of us crown the gates of his heart. The Holy Spirit longs for the gates thereof, that He may enter in and dwell there, and sanctify it, and He goes round about to all the gates to see where He may enter.
In this feast, the gates are glad before the gates,3 and the Holy One rejoices in the holy temple, and the voice resounds in the mouth of children, and Christ rejoices in His own feast as a mighty man.
At the Birth of the Son the king was enrolling all men for the tribute-money, that they might be debtors to Him: the King came forth to us Who blotted out our bills,4 and wrote another bill in His own Name that He might be our debtor. The sun gave longer light, and foreshadowed the mystery by the degrees which it had gone up.5 It was twelve days since it had gone up, and to-day is the thirteenth day: a type exact of the Son's birth6 and of His Twelve.
Moses shut up a lamb in the month Nisan on the tenth day; a type this of the Son that came into the womb and shut Himself up therein on the tenth day.7 He came forth from the womb in this month in which the sun gives longer light.
The darkness was overcome, that it might proclaim that Satan was overcome; and the sun gave longer light, that it might triumph, because the First-born was victorious. Along with the darkness the dark one was overcome, and with the greater light our Light conquered!
Joseph caressed the Son as a Babe; he ministered to Him as God. He rejoiced in Him as in the Good One, and he was awe-struck at Him as the Just One, greatly bewildered.
"Who hath given me the Son of the Most High to be a Son to me? I was jealous of Thy Mother, and I thought to put her away, and I knew not that in her womb was hidden a mighty treasure, that should suddenly enrich my poor estate. David the king sprang of my race, and wore the crown: and I have come to a very low estate, who instead of a king am a carpenter. Yet a crown hath come to me, for in my bosom is the Lord of crowns!"
With rival words Mary burned, yea she lulled Him, [saying,] Who hath given me, the barren, that I should conceive and bring forth this One, that is manifold; a little One, that is great; for that He is wholly with me, and wholly everywhere?
The day that Gabriel came in unto my low estate, he made me free instead of a handmaid, of a sudden: for I was the handmaid of Thy Divine Nature, and am also the Mother of Thy human Nature, O Lord and Son!
Of a sudden the handmaid became the King's daughter in Thee, Thou Son of the King. Lo, the meanest in the house of David, by reason of Thee, Thou Son of David, lo, a daughter of earth hath attained unto Heaven by the Heavenly One!
How am I astonied that there is laid before me a Child, older than all things! His eye is gazing unceasingly upon Heaven. As for the stammering of His mouth, to my seeming it betokens, that with God its silence speaks.
Who ever saw a Child the whole of Whom beholdeth every place? His look is like one that orders all creatures that are above and that are below! His visage is like that Commander that commandeth all.
How shall I open the fountain of milk to Thee, O Fountain? Or how shall I give nourishment to Thee that nourishest all from Thy Table? How shall I bring to swaddling clothes One wrapped round with rays of glory?
My mouth knows not how I shall call Thee, O Thou Child of the Living One: for to venture to call Thee as the Child of Joseph, I tremble, since Thou art not his seed: and I am fearful of denying the name of him to whom they have betrothed me.
While Thou art the Son of One, then should I be calling Thee the Son of many. For ten thousand names would not suffice Thee, since Thou art the Son of God and also the Son of man, yea, David's Son and Mary's Lord.
Who hath made the Lord of mouths to be without a mouth? For my pure conception of Thee wicked men have slandered me. Be, O Thou Holy One, a Speaker for Thy Mother. Show a miracle that they may be persuaded, from Whom it is that I conceived Thee!
For Thy sake too I am hated, Thou Lover of all. Lo! I am persecuted who have conceived and brought forth One House of refuge for men. Adam will rejoice, for Thou art the Key of Paradise.
Lo, the sea raged against Thy mother as against Jonah. Lo, Herod, that raging wave, sought to drown the Lord of the seas. Whither I shall flee Thou shalt teach me, O Lord of Thy Mother.
With Thee I will flee, that I may gain in Thee Life in every place. The prison with Thee is no prison, for in Thee man goes up unto Heaven: the grave with Thee is no grave, for Thou art the Resurrection!8
A star of light which was not nature, shone forth suddenly; less than the sun and greater than the sun, less than it in its visible light, but greater than it in its hidden might, by reason of its mystery.
The Morning Star cast its bright beams among the darknesses, and led them as blind men, and they came and received a great light: they gave offerings and received life, and they worshipped and returned.
In the height and the depth two preachers were there to the Son: the bright star shouted above; John also preached below, two preachers, an earthly and a heavenly.
That above showed His Nature to be from the Majesty, and that below too showed his Nature to be from mankind. O great marvel, that His Godhead and His Manhood each was preached by them.
Whoso thought Him earthly, the bright star convinced him that He was heavenly; and whoso thought Him spiritual, John convinced him that He was also corporeal.
In the Holy temple Simeon carried Him, and lulled Him, [saying,] "Thou art come, O Merciful One, showing mercy on my old age, making my bones to go into the grave in peace. In Thee shall I be raised from the grave into Paradise!"
Anna embraced Him, and put her mouth to His lips, and the Spirit dwelt upon her own lips. As when Isaiah's mouth was silent, the coal9 which approached his lips opened his mouth; so Anna burned with the Spirit of His mouth, yea, she lulled Him, [saying,] "Son of the Kingdom, Son of the lowliness, that hearest and art still, that seest and art hidden, that knowest and art unknown, God, Son of Man, glory be unto Thy Name."
The barren also heard, ran, and came with their provisions: the Magi came with their treasures, the barren came with their provisions. Provisions and riches were suddenly heaped up in the house of the poor.
The barren woman cried out, as at that which she looked not for, Who hath granted me this sight of thy Babe, O Blessed One, by whom the heaven and earth are filled! Blessed be thy Fruit, which made the barren vine to bear a cluster.
Zacharias came and opened his venerable mouth and cried, "Where is the King, for whose sake I have begotten the Voice that is to preach before His face? Hail, Son of the King, to whom also our Priesthood shall be given up!"
John approached with his parents and worshipped the Son, and He shed glory upon his countenance; and he was not moved as when in the womb! Mighty miracle, that here he was worshipping, there he leaped.
Herod also, that base fox, that stalked about like a lion, as a fox crouched down, and howled, when he heard the roaring of the Lion, who came to sit in the kingdom according to the Scriptures. The fox heard that the Lion was a whelp, and as a suckling; and he sharpened His teeth, that while He was yet a child the fox might lie in wait and devour the Lion ere He had grown up, and the breath of His mouth should destroy him.
The whole creation became mouths to Him, and cried concerning Him. The Magi cried by their offerings! the barren cried with their children, the star of light cried in that air, lo! the Son of the King!
The Heavens were opened, the waters were calmed, the Dove glorified Him, the voice of the Father, louder than thunder, was instant and said, This is my beloved Son. The Angels proclaim Him, the children shout to Him with their Hosannas.
These voices above and below proclaim Him and cry aloud. The slumber of Sion was not dispersed by the voice of the thunders, but she was offended, stood up, and slew Him because He aroused her.
(source)
  
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Prayer of St. Paisios for the World

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the World (source)
  
Below is a beautiful prayer, written by St. Paisios the Athonite (+1994), for monastics to pray every evening on behalf of the world. This is meaningful because it underlines that the purpose of monasticism is not for monks or nuns to solely pray for themselves, but demonstrates to laypeople that their goal is to pray for and support the whole world. This also illustrates the great love that the Elder had and continues to have for all those who suffer from any trial or temptation throughout the world. He helped many multitudes of people on a daily basis through his prayer and instructions, and helps even more after his repose. Finally, as mentioned in the short introduction that I have also translated below, this could definitely be a suitable prayer for laypeople to say on a daily basis, helping us to entreat Christ on behalf of the whole world.
  
The love of Elder Paisios for the whole world is well-known. The Elder has helped a multitude of people, both before and after his repose.

From where did he receive the power to strengthen people, and to work miracles? From his fervent prayer to God.

The following prayer was given to a women's monastery which had asked him for some "typikon" for their vigils in their cells. This is from one of the last years of his life. In this can chiefly found his love for the whole world.

This can be used by each of the faithful, as it covers all cases of people who have need of prayer. Even children can understand it, and it is written in simple words, and thus can be read during the family's evening prayer.
  
Our Lord Jesus Christ,
Do not abandon Your servants who live far away from the Church. May Your love work to bring everyone near You.
Remember, O Lord, Your servants who are suffering from cancer,
Your servants who are suffering from small or great afflictions,
Your servants who are suffering from bodily disabilities,
Your servants who are suffering from spiritual disabilities.
Remember our rulers, and help them to govern in a Christian manner.
Remember, O Lord, the children who come from troubled families,
Troubled families and divorced couples.
Remember, O Lord, the orphans of the whole world, all those who are pained and unjustly treated in this life, and all those who have lost their spouses.
Remember, O Lord, all those in prison, anarchists, drug addicts, murders, evil-doers, thieves, and enlighten them and help them to be corrected.
Remember all immigrants,
All those who travel by sea, land, and air, and protect them.
Remember our Church, the Fathers (Clerics) of the Church and the Faithful.
Remember, O Lord, all Monastic Brotherhoods, men and women, Elders and Eldresses, and all brotherhoods and Athonite Fathers.
Remember, O Lord, Your servants who are in time of war,
All those who flee to the mountains and to the plains,
All those who are like endangered little birds.
Remember Your servants who have left their homes and their work and are suffering.
Remember, O Lord, the poor, the homeless, and refugees.
Remember, O Lord, all nations, and have them in Your arms, protecting them with Your Holy Protection, and keeping them from every evil and from war. And our beloved Greece***, keep in Your arms day and night, and protect it with Your Protection, keeping it from every evil and from war.
Remember, O Lord, the suffering, abandoned, wronged, and tested families, and richly give them Your mercy.
Remember Your servants who are suffering from spiritual and bodily problems of all nature.
Remember all those who are in despair, and help and give peace to them.
Remember, O Lord, Your servants who have asked of our prayers.
Remember, O Lord, all those who have reposed from all ages, and grant them repose.

From the book, "God is with us, are we with Him", by Orthodox Kypseli. (Amateur translation of text from Source)
  
***I do not believe it would be impious to also include a special prayer for your country or place of origin.
  
Icon of St. Paisios the Athonite (source)
  
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

The Gifts of the Magi to be brought to Rhodes and Veria this December

The Abbot of St. Paul's Monastery, Mount Athos, recently bringing the Holy Gifts of the Magi to Russia (source)
 
I post this to inform everyone of this blessing to be able to venerate a portion of the gifts which the Magi offered to Christ. This is especially pertinent for women, children, and all those who may be unable to visit Mount Athos, because it is rare that such treasures of Orthodoxy leave the Holy Mountain.

This coming December, the Precious Gifts, which were brought during the nativity of Christ and which are preserved in the Holy Monastery of St. Paul on Mount athos, will be brought to the island of Rhodes [Greece].

The request for the visit of the Precious Gifts to Rhodes was undertaken by his Eminence, Metropolitan Kyrillos, and took place in order to give the faithful the opportunity to venerate them a few days before the great feast of the nativity of the God-Man.
(source)

Also note that Precious Gifts will be present in Veria (Beroia) (Northern Greece, close to Thessaloniki) from December 16th to December 21st for veneration in the Metropolis Church.
(source)
 
A portion of the Holy Gifts which the Magi offered to Christ at His Nativity: Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. They are currently treasured by the Holy Monastery of St. Paul on Mount Athos. For more information on them, see here.
   
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Monday, December 15, 2014

St.Tikhon of Zadonsk: "For whose sake did Christ come into the world? For the sake of sinners."

The Nativity of Christ, detail (source)
  
The very incarnation of the Son of God and His coming into the world strongly encourages sinners to repentance. For whose sake did Christ come into the world? For the sake of sinners. To what end? For the sake of their salvation. O how dear to God was our salvation! He Himself came into the world, O sinners, for the sake of our salvation.
  
Listen, sinners, and understand! God Himself came into the world for the sake of our salvation, and He came in our image. O truly great is the mystery of piety! God appeared in the flesh. "Lord, what is man, that Thou art made known unto him? Or the son of man, that Thou takest account of him?" (LXX-Ps. 143:3 [KJV-Ps. 144:3]).
  
Truly wonderful is the grace of God toward man, wonderful also is this work of His. Foreseeing this the prophet cried out to Him with fear and terror, "Lord, I have heard Thy report, and I was afraid; O Lord, I considered Thy works, and I was amazed" (Abbac. 3:1-2). Sinners, let us call to mind this great work of God, which He wrought for our sake, and let us repent. Let us remember how for our sake He was born of a Virgin and became a child, and was nourished on His mother's milk. The Invisible became manifest, and He that was without beginning had a beginning, and He that was intangible became tangible and was wrapped as an infant in swaddling bands: "And the Word was made flesh" (Jn. 1:14).
  
Let us recall how while yet a child He fled from the murderers of Herod the King. Let us recall how He lived on earth and was a stranger, how He went from place to place, and labored for the sake of our salvation. Let us recall how He Who is unapproachable to the Cherubim and Seraphim kept company with sinners; How He who has Heaven as His throne and the earth as the footstool of His feet and Who abides in light unapproachable, had nowhere to lay His head; How He who was rich became poor, that by His poverty we may become rich.
  
Let us recall how He who clothes Himself with light as with a garment, put on the garment of corruption. How He Who gives food to all flesh ate earthly bread. How the Almighty became weak, and He that gives strength to all did labor.
  
Let us recall how He Who is above all honor and glory, was blasphemed, cursed, and mocked by the lips of transgressors.
  
Let us recall how He ailed, suffered, sorrowed, wept, and was filled with horror. Let us recall how He was sold and betrayed by an ungrateful disciple and was forsaken by the rest of the disciples; how He was bound and brought to trial; how He was judged by transgressors. He was reviled. He was scourged. He was clad in the robe of mockery, He was mockingly hailed as King, "Hail, King of the Jews!" (Jn. 19:3). He was crowned with a crown of thorns, beaten on the head with a reed, He heard from His lawless people, "Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him" (Jn. 19:15). He was led to crucifixion between two evildoers and died on the Cross.
  
All these things the Son of God did for the sake of our salvation. O sinners, in Adam we lost our salvation and all our blessedness, but Christ, the Son of God, by the good will of His Heavenly Father, has brought it all back to us. Let us, then, consider, O sinners, whether the very Blood of Christ, shed for the sake of our salvation, and all His Suffering do not cry out to us. Let us repent and so let us not be deprived of eternal salvation, for without repentance there is no salvation for anyone, but nevertheless the wretched sinner still does not understand.
  
God loves man so much that He revealed His wonderful providence for him that he should repent and so be saved, but the sinner still does not understand.
  
Christ the Son of God shows him His coming into the world for his sake, in the Gospel. He presents to him His willing self-emptying, His willing poverty, His willing and deep humility, His labors, pains, tribulations, sorrows, sufferings and death, and even a death on the Cross. And He says to him, "Man, I took all this on Myself and endured it for your sake and for your salvation. But you neglect your salvation, and take no thought that you should repent and cease from your sins, to make use of My Blood and live."
  
But the sinner, even though he hears this so plaintive and sweet voice of Christ in the Gospel, nevertheless still does not understand. Christ promises not to remember his sins and transgressions when he turns to Him, but the sinner still does not understand. Christ calls him to Himself and promises him rest, but the sinner does not understand. He remains uncorrected as he was and transgresses as he transgressed before. He commits evil deeds, as he did before; he loves darkness as he loved it before; he hates the light as he hated it before; and for this reason he does not come to the Light, but remains with the devil, the prince of darkness.
  
O poor sinner, awaken and come to your senses. If you do not, the very Blood of Christ shed for your sake will cry out against you for retribution. Listen to what the prophet of God sings to you in the person of God, "I will reprove thee, and bring thy sins before thy face" (LXX-Ps. 49:21 [KJV-Ps. 50:21]); that is, all your evil deeds, words, thoughts, intentions and undertakings will follow you into the next world and will appear at the universal Judgment of Christ, and you shall receive your just reward for them. You do not wish now to repent to your benefit, and so be saved by the grace of Christ; then you shall repent, but too late and in vain. "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light" (Eph. 5:14). Blessed be God above all forever.
  
Set your salvation on nothing else but on Christ Jesus alone, the Saviour of the world. If you truly believe that He suffered and died for you and is your Saviour, then love him with all your heart, obey Him and please Him, as your Saviour, and lay and confirm all your hope of salvation on Him alone. We must unfailingly do good works as Christians, but we must ask and await salvation from Christ alone.
  
from: Journey to Heaven Counsels On the Particular Duties of Every Christian Our Father Among the Saints, Tikhon of Zadonsk, Bishop of Voronezh and Elets Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 2004. (source)
  
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Friday, December 5, 2014

St. Nicholas helping the Poor Couple

St. Nicholas the Wonderworker (source)
  
There was a couple in Constantinople who had always had a special love for Saint Nicholas. Each feast day they celebrated with special food, wine, holy bread, and candles. Now that they were old, and no longer able to work, they were very poor. The man asked his wife how they could get money to buy what was needed. She took an old carpet, saying, "Here is our last posession. Sell it and then buy all we need to show our gratitude to God and Saint Nicholas." The old man took the rug and set off to the marketplace.
Arriving at the market, a distinguised looking nobleman asked how much the rug cost. The man told him what it cost when new, saying he'd take whatever he could get for it. The nobleman gave him six gold pieces—much more than the man expected—took the rug and left. People near the man were puzzled as he seemed to be talking to himself. After purchasing the needed items, the man headed home.
Meanwhile, back at the house, a distinguished looking man approached the woman, "Take this rug. Your husband is an old friend of mine and I met him at the marketplace today." And he gave her the carpet.
When the man returned, his wife accused him of not selling the carpet, "How could you break your promise and not sell this rug?" "Who gave the rug to you?" he asked. She described the man, and he realized it was the same person who'd bought the rug. The man, realizing it must have been a miracle, exclaimed, "The Lord liveth! The man who bought the carpet from me and brought it back to our poor home, is indeed St. Nicholas, for a man saw me talking to him and asked if I saw an apparition, for the saint was invisible." He showed his wife what he'd bought—food, wine, holy bread, candles—and the left-over money.
Rejoicing, they hurried to the church of St. Nicholas to tell the Patriarch all that had happened. After hearing the story, the Patriarch gave the couple a generous life pension. They returned home for a fine St. Nicholas feast with hymn singing and prayers of thanksgiving.
(source)
  
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Excerpt from the Encomium to St. Barbara by St. John of Damascus

St. Barbara the Great Martyr (source)
  
Excerpt from the Encomium to St. Barbara by St. John of Damascus (amateur translation)
...But to me, you are a lamb of Christ, and dove, and bride, and every other name that is good, and grace-filled, and precious. Rejoice, for you bravely passed through the paths of struggles. Rejoice, for you worthily partake of the spoils of your struggles. Rejoice, for you were granted many rewards for your struggles. Rejoice, for you kept the passionate body and the racing thoughts in chastity. Rejoice, for you preserved your senses from a young age, and were trained with a proper mind. Rejoice, you who kept virginity before your martyrdom, preserving yourself, having been presented to Christ as spotless and undefiled. Rejoice, you who did not soil your bodily beauty by the passions, but kept it untouched and offered to the Creator. Rejoice, you who in the tower, as in a secure fortress, kept virgins supported, strong and untouched, offering up prayers to God, and ascribing the theoria of things that exist to the Creator unerringly, you were nourished alone by the good and beloved. Rejoice, you who at the waters purifying bodily stain [the bathhouse], symbolized the Trinity through the depicting of three sources of light, thus depicting the three-fold giving of mystical and saving light, depicting baptism. Rejoice, you who forthrightly and boldly confessed the consubstantial Trinity with a most theological mouth. Rejoice, you who boldly preached the One of the Holy Trinity Who took on flesh for our salvation. Rejoice, you who trampled upon the wealth and nourishment, and royal garments, and gold and pearls, and every bodily adornment and beauty, and the joys of this world, and therefore inherited instead the eternal good and unspeakable things, that surpass the vision of the eyes, and the hearing of the ears, and every sense and thought. Rejoice, you who at a young age and weak gender, bravely and manfully were strong with all of your mind. Rejoice, you who were not worried by tortures or blows, but bravely went towards every type of unique and twisted torture. Rejoice, you who in the flesh were made worthy to behold the glory of Christ, as the First-ranked of the Disciples did on the mountain [Tabor], and beheld, as did Elias and Moses, who stood by Him blessing Him. Rejoice, for you endured the pains of scourging, and the burning of iron, and being pierced with a garment of hair, and the shedding of streams of your blood, and the flames of fire, and the cutting off of your members, and being paraded naked, and the removal of your head and of your life, all on behalf of Christ, that your body might therefore receive the shining rays of undying incorruption, and the unspeakable and incomparable woven robe of glory. At your righteous endurance, men were amazed, and angels, beholding the struggle, clapped their hands, and sang hymns, while the demons, at this hymnody, were struck with a state of fear, and shame, and wailed of their eternal shame. O you the adornment and sanctity of the female gender, which having beheld the manliness of your struggles, takes courage and is benefited! In you, the fore-mother makes boast, as one of her daughters struggles straightaway with the enemy dragon, and trampled upon him, calling up and bearing the radiant trophies of victory. You were like the Theotokos, the holy of holies and fore-mother, the Virgin and Mother of God, who is first among women and only glorified, more than all men and women, and who reigns in heaven and on earth, as the Mother of Him Who rules over all things...
(source)
  
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!