Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Homily on Sts. Sophia and her Daughters, by Metropolitan Avgoustinos Kantiotes

St. Sophia and her daughters: Sts. Faith, Hope and Love (source)
  
Homily on Sts. Sophia and her Daughters, by Metropolitan Avgoustinos Kantiotes
After the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, our Church celebrates, my beloved, the memory of Saints Sophia and her three daughters: Faith, Hope and Love.

St. Sophia was born, according to the Synaxarion, in a great city of Italy. She lived during the era of early persecutions, which, as is known, lasted for at least three centuries.

During that era, for one to be a Christian, it was costly. It cost one positions, honors, money, and even this life. Millions were sacrificed then for the love of Christ. With this heroic spirit, St. Sophia lived as well, and thus raised her daughters.

It is not possible to not rouse the evil of persecutors. They seized her, therefore, together with her daughters, and led them before the governor. He gave them the opportunity of three days in order to make a response, and possibly change their minds. But, after three days, the mother and her daughters remained unshakable in their dedication towards our Lord Jesus Christ.

The mother had fear that her daughters might deny Christ, because they were very young. The first, Faith, was twelve years old. Hope was ten. and Love was nine. Despite this, their weak flesh was strengthened by the grace of God, and they endured martyrdom with unprecedented boldness.

They locked them in prison. They beat them with whips. They pierced them with fiery arrows. They threw them in cauldrons of boiling water. However, like the Three Youths in the Furnace, thus, these three girls hymned God, as those around heard the hymn harmoniously: "Praise ye the Lord, and exalt Him beyond measure unto all the ages."

In the end, the three were beheaded by the sword of the tyrant. Their martyrdom was followed by that of their holy mother.

St. Sophia and her three daughters teach us, my beloved, that, if we wish to be faithful Christians, that Christianity will cost us. And the more faithful we are, the more it will cost us.

Many of us have become successful in this world. We find a myriad of ways to justify our seemingly proper and scandalous station. And later with think that we are Christians. Woe to us, if we do not set as a foundation the heroic mindset which defined the holy martyrs. These three little girls should censure the world. And their mother, St. Sophia, censures those mothers who are upset and tremble, thinking that through their fasting, prayer and reading, that the bodily strength of their little girls will be lessened.

The Martyrs are the greatest censure of our lukewarm, miserable and thrice-wretched Christianity.

However, St. Sophia and her three daughters teach us not only through their martyrdoms, but also through their names.

The name "Sophia", what does this teach us? "Wisdom", we hear in Church when the Priest holds the Gospel and raises it, showing it to the whole multitude of the faithful. The Gospel, in other words, is full of wisdom. There is no wiser book. Wisdom is Christ Himself, the Logos of God. Do you remember the wondrous apostolic reading which we read three days ago, on the feast of the Cross? He said: "But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." (I Corinthians 1) Christ is wisdom, truth and life.

St. Sophia, therefore, through her name, brings to mind that we must seek from God the illumination of divine wisdom. The names of her three daughters bring to mind the three great theological virtues.

Faith! Awesome power, light, a star, foundation and root. Oh, if there were within our hearts this virtue! We could even bring down the stars from the heavens to the earth, and we could melt the mountains, and even the greatest hindrances would be solved. Do we have faith? If we had faith, 100% faith, the world would be different. But today, people don't even believe 1%. Take almost any Christian and ask him, and you would see that he is full of doubts, totally full of "ifs." If one has an "if", then you don't have faith. Faith is to believe 100% in reality that which our holy Church teaches us.

Hope also brings to mind that, in this world, we have a need for life-giving hope, which would warm us like the sun. The Christian who believes that God is a loving and nurturing Father, an almighty Father and all-wise, he would hope that all those things that God promised, all kinds of great and uplifted and indescribable good things, He will give to him.

And finally, Love, with her name reminds us of the fulfillment and the crown of the virtues. In this world of hatred, egotism, greed, and other evils, love today has grown cold. It is truly a terrible thing, as the sacred Chrysostom says, for us to see the sun be quenched one day. But it is even more terrible for love to be quenched. It is better for the sun to be quenched than for love to be quenched, because it is the sun for our souls. And Christ Himself prophesied, that there will come a cursed day, in which the sun of love will be quenched, and cold and frost will reign upon the earth. (Matthew 24:12)

We are speaking about love, but we don't possess love. Love is a heavenly thing, which is ineffably joined with humility, with obedience, with discipline, the great virtues. It is not something indiscriminate, like ecumenists reach, like worldly people teach. Love differs from love. There is carnal love, love of money, love of small and meaningless things. And there is furthermore love for one's father and mother, which, in the final analysis, also contains something physical. The love which Christ brings to the world, however, has the wings of an eagle, and flies to the third Heaven, and makes man a Cherubim and Seraphim.

Love, therefore, not only for relatives and friends, not just towards Christians, but love for the whole world. Love, even for those who crucify you! For we have Christ as our prototype, Who is love crucified. This love we must have as well.

My beloved, if one were to ask now which of these three virtues are the greatest, the greatest is the third, love. Its beauty is indescribable. The Apostle Paul paints all of this in his beautiful sayings on love, which we have properly heard in vain to this point. "If," he says, "I spoke in the tongues of men and Angels," even if I have done miracles, even if I distribute my earthly goods, even if I go to martyrdom and shed my blood, "and I have not love, then I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." "I am nothing." (I Corinthians 13:1-2)

These, my beloved, I have to tell you. Believe, in this age of faithlessness. Hope, in this age of hopelessness. Love, in this age of hatred. And first and foremost, keep love, which, as the Apostle Paul says, remains eternally. (ibid 13:7)

For what is Paradise? Is it rivers, crystalline springs? Is it the songs of the Angels, the Cherubim and the Seraphim, is it the Saints, the Martyrs, is it that whole and beautiful world, and indescribable good things? It is these things. But first and foremost, it is love, the love of God towards man. If I took out love from Paradise, immediately Paradise would become Hell.

That Paradise we ourselves should seek, if we sense the dawn of love, if we believe unshakably in the Lord, and if we have steadfast hope in the promises of God unto the ages.

Then, in the heights of Heaven, together with St. Sophia and her three daughters, Faith, Hope and Love, we will hymn the Triune God, saying: "Praise ye the Lord, and exalt Him beyond measure unto all the ages."
(+) Bishop Avgoustinos
Recorded from a homily that occurred in the Chapel of St. Sophia of the Orphanage of the "Agape" Brotherhood of Florina on 9/17/1970, (source)
  
Sts. Sophia, Faith, Hope and Love (source)
  
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Homily on the Meaning of the Holy Cross, by Metropolitan Avgoustinos Kantiotes

The Holy Cross of Christ (source)
 
Homily on the Meaning of the Holy Cross, by Metropolitan Avgoustinos Kantiotes
My beloved, what does the Cross teach us? Take a chalk and write, like children do in school, 2+2=4. Thus, the Cross is the "equal sign", but what is it? Do you think that it is simply a piece of wood that we venerate and are saved? You are mistaken, because this is not how it is in reality.

The Cross equals forgiveness.
Because upon the Cross, Christ forgave His murderers. Are there today some here in church who are at odds with each other? Are there women who hate their mothers-in-law? Are there houses where people don't speak with each other? Are there neighbors that don't greet each other? Is there hatred? Well then, the Cross tells us today: "Forgive!" If you don't forgive, then don't approach the Cross, don't venerate it. When, within your heart, you have bitterness, you have this serpent of hatred, you can't approach the Cross. Because the Cross means forgiveness. You must forgive even your greatest enemy.

The Cross equals truth.
Even if they put a knife to your throat, and slaughter you, you should speak the truth. Not in the sense that you go to court and raise your wretched hand upon the Gospel and take a false oath. Not like this. Christ was crucified for the truth. Whoever says lies, whoever goes to court and takes false oaths, he is not worthy to venerate the Cross. The Cross, therefore, equals forgiveness, the Cross equals truth.

The Cross equals humility.
No--even though you might have a very large home, or more money or lands or animals, or if you have children studying in school or if you have a beautiful wife, or whatever else you might do--you should not boast or feel proud. You are not a Christian! Humility! Humble yourself to say: I am nothing, I am a worm, I am nothing in this world. However, when you have pride and you boast and you show off your body and your job and your money, then you are not a Christian.

The Cross equals love.
Is your neighbor hungry? Give him a piece of bread. Is he thirsty? Give him a glass of water. Is he naked? Give him a shirt to wear. Go and console him and wipe away his tears. This is Christianity. Not when you have everything and your neighbor has nothing.

The Cross equals sacrifice.
As Christ sacrificed Himself, thus we must sacrifice ourselves. This is what the Cross means. If you do these things, then you are worthy to be called Christians. But you who dip your hands in blood, you who take false oaths, you who are unjust to the orphan, you cannot approach the Cross. The Cross casts you out.

Read the life of St. Mary of Egypt. On this day, she went to Jerusalem and saw the crowd going into the church and everyone--old, young, women, men--were going to venerate. She herself tried to approach the entrance. But some power pushed her back. She tried and second and a third time, but she was unable. Why? Because she was a sinful woman, and she worked in sin in Alexandria. Only after she repented, then she was able to enter the church and she became a Christian in reality.

The Cross, my beloved, creates presuppositions. We must live corresponding to the teaching of the Cross.

And something else: You should make your Cross properly. Because unfortunately, in our faithless years that we are living through, everything has become fashionable. Fashionable hair, fashionable clothing, fashionable shoes, fashion everywhere. Unfortunately many in Church do it out of fashion. Unfortunately you see scientists, congressmen, ministers, prime ministers, and none are doing their Cross correctly. That which they are doing is not the Cross. It joking and mocking. It is playing with God. Do not play with God. How will they understand that you are a Christian? By your Cross. When you make the sign of the Cross properly, you are doing a whole prayer. Therefore, do your Cross properly.

And when should you do your Cross? When you awake in the morning, do your Cross. Are you going to work? Do your Cross. Are you going to your field? Do your Cross. Are you sowing, returning from your field, entering your home? Do your Cross. Are you sitting at your dinner table? Do your Cross. Are you going to sleep? Do your Cross.

"Though I fall, I make my Cross
And have an Angel by my side."

O woman, are you baking? Make the sign of the Cross in the dough. Wherever you go and whatever you do, make your Cross. The Cross is the "protector of the whole world."
(+) Bishop Avgoustinos
Imera, Kozani, 9/14/1965
(source)
   
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Elder Ephraim of Arizona: "If we had a pure heart, we would not be offended even if people insulted and derided us."

  
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

"Today has come the beginning of our salvation, O people..."

The Nativity of the Theotokos (source)
  
Today has come the beginning of our salvation, O people, for behold, she who was chosen beforehand from the ancient generations, the Mother and Virgin, and the container for God, comes forth to be born from a barren woman. O flower from the Root of Jesse, and his rod which sprouted forth. Rejoice, O Forefather Adam, and let Eve rejoice with gladness, for behold, she who was formed from the rib of Adam, the daughter and offspring, is blessed openly. For [Adam] says, "From me is born deliverance, from whom will come for me freedom from the bonds of Hades." Let David rejoice, striking the harp, and let him bless God, for behold, the Virgin comes forth from [a Mother] barren as stone, for the salvation of our souls.
-Idiomelon of the Litia in the First Tone, by Stephanos of the Holy City
  
(source)
  
Most-Holy Theotokos, save us!

"I am praying to God to place you in Paradise."

An Orthodox Monk at Prayer (source)
  
They asked an Abbess:
"What are you doing here, locked up in the Monastery for so many years?"

She replied: "I am praying to God to place you in Paradise."
(source)
  
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Monday, September 7, 2020

Homily on the Nativity of the Theotokos by Metropolitan Avgoustinos Kantiotes

The Nativity of the Theotokos (source)
 
Homily on the Nativity of the Theotokos by Metropolitan Avgoustinos Kantiotes
There was once a pious couple, Joachim and Anna. They believed and worshiped God and fulfilled His holy commandments. However, they did not have any children. Anna was barren, barren like stone or marble. Could a rose ever take root from a piece of marble? In the same way, naturally, from her womb it was unable for a child to come forth. And she was not only barren, but she was advanced in years, an old woman. She had reached the age in which women no longer bear children.

However, that couple prayed and entreated continuously. And God hearkened to their prayer, and Anna became pregnant. On December 9th, we celebrate the conception of St. Anna, and later, after nine months, on September 8th as we celebrate today, she brought into the world a grace-filled little girl, and named her Maria. The name Maria, after the name of Jesus Christ, is the sweetest in the world, and is always upon all of our lips. Maria means the Lady, the Mistress of Heaven and earth.

This, in a few words, is the story of her nativity.

The Nativity of the Most-Holy Theotokos is first of all, a consolation for childless couples. There are also couples today who, despite their wishes, cannot bear children. They run to doctors and midwives, they run to clinics, travel overseas, and spend an incredible amount. They even run to wizards and witches--a great sin. However, they do not bear a child. But God can work His wonder. What wonder? Let the faithless disbelieve, we believe. I know a couple who tried for 20 years to have a child, and suddenly, the woman became pregnant. A wonder, that kept even the physicians and famous midwives speechless, how it could be possible for a barren woman to bring forth a child. Therefore, today as well this miracle continues to occur as it did in the Old and New Testaments, and today we have women who have given birth with faith in God.

But when a woman, for reasons that are known only to divine providence, does not bear a child, she must never loose hope. What does St. Kosmas say? "You don't have a child to raise? Find an orphan near you, feed him, clothe him, take care of him, and your reward will be great."

This is a consolation therefore to those who do not have children, but also it is a teaching for those who have children. This is very important and it cannot be exhausted, I will only add the following.

The child, you wrongly call your own. Of course it is yours, but chiefly, it is of God. What a great mystery! Do not look on this with disdain. For during birth the laws of nature work as God ordained. However, as from a seed God gave the power to bring forth a whole tree, thus, through the small and humble nature of a woman and a man--I do not say this disparagingly--was given the power of new creation. Man, the father and the mother, are co-creators with God. And the child that appears is a wonder.

As the earth in the beginning was "without form and void" (Genesis 1:2), thus is the child within the womb of its mother. What is it in the beginning? An embryo. But how, over the course of nine months, does a heart form, then eyes, hands, feet? And when it is time, it falls from the womb like fruit from the tree. A fruit is a miracle. A child is a miracle. It calls for our wonder. I knew a man who was faithless. I tried to convince him to believe with proofs, but he remained faithless. When he got married and his wife bore their first child, and he heard its cry, then he came to believe in God! Because of this, many times faithless people do not choose to have families or get married.

Therefore, have you given birth to a child? You have a responsibility. And like Joachim and Anna made provisions for the proper raising of the Most-Holy Theotokos--and Panagia owes much to her parents--thus parents must care for their children. As the sacred Chrysostom says: "I will call you a father not when you have born a child, but when you have raised the child as God desires." The first word that the child should learn is the word "Christ". The first movement that they should learn with their little hand should be the sign of the Cross. The first lesson they should learn should be to kneel before Christ to do their little prayer. And when you sit at the table, you should say they we do not eat until we pray. And at night, when the stars come out, they should kneel together for family prayer. And if they show forth some evil deed, some weakness, you should not be complacent. You should correct him. And if he says a bad word, you should advise him. Thus, you will teach him to believe in God.

Therefore, be careful. The child from a young age learns either good or evil. I will give you two examples and close. In one village of Grevena, I met someone who, while at that time the whole village was blaspheming, he did not blaspheme. This made an impression on me. I called him and asked: "How did you learn not to blaspheme?"
He said "When I was a small child, I heard a blasphemy. When I went home I repeated it senselessly. As soon as my grandmother heard it--it was winter then--she took a coal from the fire and burned the tip of my tongue. Look at my tongue," he said, "it is still burnt. From then on, I learned not to blaspheme."***

[***Note: Neither the Metropolitan nor I am encouraging this type of corporal punishment or torture of anyone (God forbid!). But his point is how seriously this child's grandmother took the roots of sin in the family, and how she sought to correct it in the way that she knew. May we, with gentleness and firmness and love (not out of anger), correct bad habits in those we are responsible for, when they first appear, teaching them the consequences of our actions before God.]

And hear another example. When I was traveling through Evia, in one village I heard through a wall a blasphemy. Such a blasphemy I had never heard in my life. I looked, and what did I see? Unbelievable. A father had at his knees a grace-filled child two or three years old, and was teaching him to blaspheme God...How do the stars not fall upon us?!

Therefore, parents have a great responsibility. Have you given birth to a child? You must take care to make him a child of God. Because he will either become a child of God, or a child of the devil. It is better to not bear a child, than to raise him to be a criminal. When the child is raised as God desires, as Joachim and Anna raised the Most-Holy Theotokos, then, one day, people will say: "Blessed parents, God bless the father and mother that bore such a child!" Otherwise, one would hear cursing. Therefore, it is not enough to have children, even to have many children, but, as the Church prays, that they might have many children and "Kalliteknoi" [A beautiful word meaning the bearing of beautiful and grace-filled children.]

This is a very important issue. I will not exhaust it with only a few words. Parents and children, let us entreat God that we might become mothers like St. Anna that we are celebrating today, that we might become fathers like St. Joachim, that we might become women like the Virgin Mary. Then, this earth would be transformed. If not...even though I hope in God, our nation will be saddened.

O mothers, O our holy grandmothers, with nothing but a simple barley loaf or a pita in your hands, make the sign of the Cross and break and distribute it. My child, make our Cross and say..."We ate pita and barley bread, and it tasted like butter, because it had the blessing of God." Today, we eat meat continuously, and illnesses have multiplied. We have become the biggest meat-eaters. And the result? The children from a young age die of heart disease, and run to London for surgeries.

O, our holy faith! Whatever you teach, whatever you preach, are holy. And whoever goes against the Church, against the bonds of the Church, whoever he is, small or great, will be turned to ashes. Because of this, remain close to the Church! Remain steadfast near God, and you will have the blessing of the Most-Holy Theotokos, and all the Saints. Amen.
(+) Bishop Avgoustinos
(From a sermon delivered in Kato Kleinai, Florida, on September 8th, 1986, source)
   
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

"O all-famed Soldier, light of the world and the adornment of the Church..."

St. Mamas the Great Martyr (source)
  
You gave up your soul to the Redeemer, and willingly hastened to Him, having been adorned with radiance and comeliness through your holy struggles and wondrous feats, O all-famed Soldier, light of the world and the adornment of the Church.

You came to dwell together with the Angels in the angelic mansions, and together with them, you harmoniously chant the sacred hymn of praise to the all-glorious Trinity, O Mamas, beholding and having been intoxicated by His glory, having been arrayed in dispassion.

As one having boldness before God, surround those who are celebrating your divine feast, O Martyr, and who honor your sacred and holy struggle, and who praise you in truth. Remember them, O all-blessed one, and deliver us from the dizziness of life, and dangers and temptations.
-Hymns from the 9th Ode of the Canon to St. Mamas the Great Martyr
  
(source)
  
St. Mamas the Great Martyr (source)
  
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!