Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Excerpts from St. John of the Ladder on Illness

Christ healing the paralytic (source)
"When we see one of our athletes in Christ in bodily suffering and infirmity, let us not maliciously seek to learn the explanation of his illness, but rather with simple and genuine love let us try to heal him as though he were part of our own body, and as a fellow warrior wounded in the fray.

"Sickness is sometimes for the cleansing of sins, and sometimes to humble our mind.

"All that happens to us, seen or unseen, can be taken by us in a good or a passionate or some middle disposition. I saw three brethren punished: one was angry, one suppressed his grief, but the third reaped the fruit of great joy."
-St. John of the Ladder

St. John Climacus (source)
Through the prayers of your Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

An Athonite Vigil for the Whole World

The Holy Belt of the Theotokos, Vatopedi Monastery, Mount Athos (source)
This Friday evening, March 27th, 2020, all the Athonite Fathers of the Holy Mountain will be serving vigil in prayer for the whole world, that we might be delivered from the threat of Coronavirus. Besides fervent prayer to Christ and His Mother, they will also be seeking the intercessions of St. Charalampos the Hieromartyr, who has throughout history helped deliver many from plagues and infectious diseases (similar to how many are praying to St. Nikephoros the Leper  along with the Holy Unmercenaries for help during this pandemic). May we pray for the Athonite Fathers out of thanksgiving for their unending prayer for the whole world, and may we join them, according to our ability, entreating our Lord to deliver us all.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

"The Archangel Gabriel was sent from heaven to bring the good news..."

The Annunciation to the Theotokos (source)
The Archangel Gabriel was sent from heaven to bring the good news of conception to the Virgin, and, coming to Nazareth, he said to himself, being astonished at the wonder: "How is He, Who dwells in the highest as one incomprehensible, coming to be born of a virgin, He Whose throne is heaven, and Whose footstool is the earth, is coming to be contained in the woman's womb? The Six-winged [Seraphim] and the Many-eyed [Cherubim] are unable to gaze upon Him, and through His word alone, He is condescending to become incarnate, as the Word of God. Why am I standing here, and not saying to the Lady: 'Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you. Rejoice, O pure Virgin, rejoice, O unwedded Bride, rejoice the Mother of life, blessed is the fruit of your womb.'"
-Doxastikon of the Stichera from the Great Vespers of the Annunciation, written by St. John of Damascus
Most-holy Theotokos, save us!
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Friday, March 20, 2020

Elder Zacharias of Essex on the Coronavirus

The Desert Father in prayer (source)
Elder Zacharias of Essex on the Coronavirus
Many people are in confusion and others panic because of the threat of the Coronavirus epidemic that spread in the whole world. I think, however, that this should not happen, for whatever God does with us, He does it out of love. The God of Christians is a good God, a God of mercy and loving kindness, ‘Who loveth mankind’. God created us out of His goodness in order to share His life and even His glory with us. When we fell into sin, He allowed death to enter our life again out of goodness, so that we may not become immortal in our wickedness, but to seek for a way of salvation. Although we have fallen, God has never stopped to provide for us, not only material goods in order to sustain our race, but He also sent prophets and righteous, preparing His way so that He might come and solve our tragedy, and bring eternal salvation through the Cross and Resurrection of His inconceivable love. He came and took upon Himself the curse of sin, and He showed His love to the end: ‘Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end’ (John 13:1). All the things that God did when He created us, when He provided goods in order to sustain the world, when He prepared His way for Him to come on earth, when He came Himself in person and wrought our salvation in such an awesome way, all these things He did out of goodness. His goodness is boundless. He saves us and is so longsuffering towards us, waiting until we ‘come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim. 2:4) and bring true repentance, so that we may be with Him for all eternity. Thus, at every stage of His relationship with man, our God shows only His goodness and mercy, ‘which is better than life’ (Ps. 63:3); goodness is His Nature and He does all things for the benefit and salvation of man.
Consequently, when He shall come again to judge the world, will a different God judge it? Will it not be the same good God, the God of mercy and loving kindness, Who loves mankind? Let us be certain that we shall not appear before any other God than Him Who created us and saved us. And so, it is again with the same mercy and love that He will judge us. For this reason, we should neither panic nor waver, for it will be the same God that will receive us in the other life and will judge us with the same kindness and compassion. Some fear that the hour of their end has come. This plague of Coronavirus has also a positive aspect, because we have a few weeks from the moment it will assail us until our end. Therefore, we can dedicate this time to prepare ourselves for our meeting with God, so that our departure may not occur unexpectedly and without preparation, but after we have run through our whole life each time we stand in prayer before God, at times with thanksgiving unto the end for all the things God has done for us and at other times with repentance, seeking the forgiveness of our transgressions. Nothing can harm us with such a God, Who allows all things out of His goodness. We must simply keep thanksgiving unto the end and the humble prayer of repentance for the forgiveness of our sins.
As for myself, this plague is helping me. I longed to find again the prayer I had before, with which I can run through my whole life from my birth until now, thanking God for all His benefits ‘whereof I know and whereof I know not’; and also, with which I can run through my whole life repenting for all my sins and transgressions. It is wonderful to be able to run through your life praying, bringing all things before God with persistence in prayer. Then you feel that your life is redeemed. This is why this situation is truly helping me. I am not panicking but ‘I will be sorry for my sin’ (Ps. 38:18).
We must see the goodness of God in all the things that are happening now. The Holy Fathers did see His loving kindness. A similar epidemic occurred in the 4th century in the Egyptian desert, which harvested more than a third of the monks, and the Fathers were saying with great inspiration that, ‘God is harvesting souls of saints for His Kingdom,’ and they did not waver. The Lord Himself speaks in the Gospel about the last days, about the trials and afflictions which the world will go through before His Second Coming. However, we discern neither morbid sadness nor despair in His words. The Lord Who prayed in the garden of Gethsemane with a sweat of blood for the salvation of the whole world, says that when we see the terrible things that precede His Second Coming, we should lift up our heads with inspiration, for our redemption draws nigh (cf. Luke 21:28). Some tell me, ‘May God extend His helping hand.’ But this is precisely the hand of God. He desires and works our salvation ‘at sundry times and in divers manners’ (Heb. 1:1): ‘My Father worketh hitherto, and I work’ (John 5:17). This virus may be a means that God uses in order to bring many to themselves and to repentance, and to harvest many ready souls for His eternal Kingdom. Therefore, for those who surrender and entrust themselves to the Providence of God all will contribute for their good: ‘All things work together for good to them that love God’ (Rom. 8:28).
Thus, there is no room for morbid dismay. Neither should we resist the measures that the government is taking in order to diminish the spreading of the afflictions we see in the lives of so many people. It is wrong to go against the authorities. We should do whatever the Government says, because they are not asking for us to deny our faith, they are only asking us to take a few measures for the common wellfare of all people, so that this trial may pass, and this is not at all unreasonable. Some people take it too confessionally, they raise flags and play the martyrs and the confessors. For us there is no doubt: we shall show pure submission to the orders of the Government. It is unfair to disobey the Government since, when we fall ill, it is to their hospitals that we run and they are the ones who undertake all the expenses and our care.
This is the ethos of Christ that God showed in His life on earth and this is the apostolic commandment that we have received: ‘...be subject to principalities and powers, obey magistrates, be ready to every good work, speak evil of no man, be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men’ (cf. Tit. 3: 1-2); and ‘Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme...’ (see 1 Pet. 2:13-17). If we do not obey our governors who are not asking much, how will we obey God, Who gives us a divine law, which is far more sublime than any human law? If we keep the law of God we are above human laws, as the apologists of the 2nd century said during the Roman Empire which was persecuting the Christians. It is surprising to see in the country where we live, in the United Kingdom, that the footballers show such understanding and discernment so as to be the first to withdraw from their activities with docility towards the indications of the Government to take prophylactic measures. It would be sad for us, people of faith, to fail reaching the measure of the footballers and showing the same docility towards the authorities for which our Church prays.
If they ask us to stop our Church services, let us simply surrender and bless the Providence of God. Besides, this reminds us of an old tradition that the Fathers had in Palestine: in Great Lent, on the Sunday of Cheese fare, after the mutual forgiveness, they would go out in the desert for forty days without Liturgy; they would only continue in fasting and prayer so as to prepare and return on Palm Sunday to celebrate in a godly way the Passion and the Resurrection of the Lord. And so, our present circumstances force us to live again that which existed of old in the bosom of the Church. That is to say, they force us to live a more hesychastic life, with more prayer, which will however make up for the lack of the Divine Liturgy and will prepare us to celebrate with greater desire and inspiration the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Thus, we will turn this plague into a triumph of hesychasm. In any case, whatever God allows in our life is out of His goodness for the well-being of man, for He never wants His creature to be harmed in any way.
Certainly, if we will be deprived of the Divine Liturgy for a longer period of time, we can endure it. What do we receive in the Liturgy? We partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, which are filled with His grace. This is a great honour and benefit for us, but we also receive the grace of God in many other ways. When we practice hesychastic prayer, we abide in the Presence of God with the mind in the heart calling upon the holy Name of Christ. The Divine Name brings us the grace of Christ because it is inseparable from His Person and leads us into His Presence. This Presence of Christ which is purifying, cleanses us from our transgressions and sins, it renews and illumines our heart so that the image of God our Saviour, Christ, may be formed therein.
If we shall not have Easter in the Church, let us remember that every contact with Christ is Easter. We receive grace in the Divine Liturgy because the Lord Jesus is present in it, He performs the sacrament and He is the One imparted to the faithful. However, when we invoke His Name, we enter the same Presence of Christ and receive the same grace. Therefore, if we are deprived of the Liturgy, we always have His Name, we are not deprived of the Lord. Moreover, we also have His word, especially His Gospel. If His word dwells continually in our heart, if we study it and pray it, if it becomes our language with which we speak to God as He spoke to us, then we shall have again the grace of the Lord. For His words are words of eternal life (John 6:68), and the same mystery is performed, we receive His grace and are sanctified.
Furthermore, each time we show kindness to our brethren the Lord is well-pleased, He considers that we did it in His Name and He rewards us. We show kindness to our brethren and the Lord rewards us with His grace. This is another way in which we can live in the Presence of the Lord. We can have the grace of the Lord through fasting, alms giving and every good deed. So, if we are forced to avoid gathering in Church, we can also be united in spirit in these holy virtues which are known within the Body of Christ, the holy Church, and which preserve the unity of the faithful with Christ and with the other members of His Body. All the things we do for God is a Liturgy, for they minister unto our salvation. The Liturgy is the great event of the life of the Church, wherein the faithful have the possibility to exchange their little life with the boundless life of God. However, the power of this event depends on the preparation we perform before, through all the things we have mentioned, through prayer, good deeds, fasting, love for neighbour, repentance.
Therefore, my dear brethren, it is not necessary to make heroic confessions against the Government for the prophylactic measures that it takes for the good of all people. Neither should we despair, but only wisely machinate ways so as not to lose our living communication with the Person of Christ. Nothing can harm us, we must simply be patient for a certain period of time and God will see our patience, take away every obstacle, every temptation and we shall again see the dawn of joyful days, and we shall celebrate our common hope and love that we have in Christ Jesus.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

St. John Maximovitch: Nothing is Fearful for the Person Whose Hope is in God

Jesus Christ the Son of God the Savior of the world (source)
Note: This beautiful talk from St. John the Wonderworker highlights the beauty of a life without fear as long as one has hope in our Lord. May we obey our medical, civic and spiritual leaders, and pray with trust and hope in our Lord, as we weather this storm.
"Where can I go from Thy Spirit, and where can I escape from Thy presence? If I go up into heaven, Thou art there; if I go down into hades, Thou art present there. If I take up my wings toward the dawn, and make mine abode in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall Thy hand guide me, and Thy right hand shall hold me.” (Psalm 138: 7-10) 

These divinely inspired words of the Psalmist David should be particularly in our thoughts during these days, when the entire world is literally quaking, and from every direction comes news of all kinds of distress, shocks and calamities.

Before you can concentrate on what is occurring in one country, you are distracted by even more threatening events which have unexpectedly erupted someplace else; and before you can get a grasp on them, yet other news distracts your attention to still some other location, forcing you to lose track of the previous ones, even though they have by no means reached their conclusion. 
In vain do “the representatives of the nations consult in order to find a remedy for the common affliction. They encourage one another and others, saying, 'peace, peace,' when there is no peace." (Jeremiah 6:14; 8:11)
Calamities in the lands where they are unfolding do not come to an end, when suddenly new ones begin in places which had been considered safe and calm. 
Those who flee from troubles in one place find themselves amid troubles elsewhere that are even worse. "As if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into his house and leaned with his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him.” (Amos 5:19) Or, as another prophet says, "He who flees at the sound of the terror shall fall into the pit; and he who climbs out of the pit shall be caught in the snare. For the windows of heaven are opened, and the foundations of the earth tremble." (Isaiah 24: 18)
This is what we see happening in our days.
A person sets out for his peaceful occupation and suddenly falls the victim of military action which erupted in a place where no one had expected it. 
The person who escapes danger from military action, finds himself amid the horrors of natural catastrophes, of an earthquake or typhoon. 
Many meet their death where some had escaped it, while other people are prepared to risk their lives rather than waste away in places considered to be secure, because they anticipate other catastrophes which could soon come upon those areas.
It would seem that there is no place on the globe in recent times that remains a peaceful and calm haven from troubles in the world. 
Everything has become complicated: politically, economically, socially. "Danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren," as the Apostle Paul wrote (2 Corinthians 11: 26). And to these dangers in our days we must add also, "danger in the air and danger from the sky," which are especially frightful. 
But when all the dangers listed by the Apostle Paul were endured by this glorious Chief of the Apostles, he had a great consolation. He knew that he was suffering for Christ and that Christ would reward him for these sufferings. "For I know Whom I have believed, and I am sure that He is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me" (2 Timothy 1: 12).  He knew that the Lord would grant him the strength necessary to endure even greater tribulations, and for this reason he boldly says, "I can do all things in Jesus Christ Who strengthens me" (Philippians 4: 13).
These current catastrophes are so terrible for us, because they have come upon us because we are not firm in the Faith, and because we are not enduring them for the sake of Christ. For that reason, we have no hope of receiving crowns for them. 
And what is even worse, and leaves us powerless in our efforts to counteract our misfortunes, is that we do not strengthen ourselves with the power of Christ.  We put our hope, not in God, but in human powers and means.  We forget the words of the Sacred Scriptures: "Put not your hope in princes, in the sons of men, in whom there is no salvation. Blessed is he whose hope is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God" Psalm 145: 3, 5). And again: "Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain" (Psalm 126: 1).
We keep trying to find a firm foundation apart from God. And so, we suffer what was foretold by the prophet: "This sin will become for you like the sudden collapse of the wall of a strong city under siege," and which is then immediately vanquished (Isaiah 30: 13). Woe to those who are leaning against those walls! Just as a collapsing wall crushes those who are leaning on it, in the same way, with the destruction of false hopes, all those who placed their trust in them will perish. Their hope will be like a "staff of reed." "When they grasped you with the hand, you broke, and pierced their shoulders; and when they leaned upon you, you broke, and injured their loins" (Ezekiel 29: 7).
It is entirely different with those who seek the help of God.  "God is our refuge and strength, our helper in the troubles that grievously befall us. So we will not fear though the earth should rock and mountains be hurled into the heart of the sea" (Psalm 45: 2-3).
Nothing is fearful for the person whose hope is in God. He does not fear men who work evil.  "The Lord is my light and my Savior: whom shall I fear? The Lord is the guard of my life; from whom shall I shrink?" (Psalm 26: 1). The horrors of war are not fearful for him. "Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise against me, my hope is in Him" (Psalm 26: 3). He is calm when he lives at home. "He who dwells in the help of the Most High, will live in the protection of the God of Heaven" (Psalm 90: 1). He is ready to sail across the sea. "Thy ways are in the sea, and Thy paths in many waters" (Psalm 76: 20).  Boldly, literally on wings, he flies through the sky to distant lands, saying, "Even there Thy hand will guide me and Thy right hand will hold me" (Psalm 138: 10). He knows that if it pleases God to protect his life, "A thousand may fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand: but it will not come near you" (Psalm 90: 7).  
Even death is not fearful for him, because, for the person whose life is Christ, death is gain (Philippians 1: 21). “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, 'For Thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8: 35-39). "Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7: 1).  
This is what the Lord says: "Loose the bonds of wickedness; forgive unjust debts; let the oppressed go free; tear up every unjust agreement. Share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house.  When you see the naked, cover him, and do not mistreat your own people. Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, Here I am” (Isaiah 58: 6-9).  
Lord, teach me to do Thy will and hear me on the day that I call upon Thee! 
May Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, for we have placed our hope in Thee.
Humble John, Bishop of Shanghai
August 30, 1937
St. Alexander Nevsky
@ 2020 "Russkiy Pastyr": English translation of the article "To the Orthodox Flock of Shanghai" 
St. John Maximovitch (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Thursday, March 19, 2020

"O Lord, Who fought alongside the greatly-meek David..."

The Holy Cross of Christ (source)
O Lord, Who fought alongside the greatly-meek David, warring together with Your faithful people against the foreign king, through the weapon of Your Cross, depose our enemies, and show forth Your ancient mercies upon us, O Compassionate One, that they may truly know that You are God, and through hope in You we will be victorious, and through the intercessions of Your Spotless Mother, grant us the great mercy.
-Doxastikon from the Aposticha of Great Vespers for the Veneration of the Cross


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

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

When St. Iakovos sacrificed church on Pascha for his brother

The Resurrection of Christ (source)
Note: As many are being asked to, and agreeing to temporarily forego participation in Divine Services (whether voluntarily, or due to their not being offered) out of concerns for the spread of the Corona virus, may this beautiful and short story from St. Iakovos' youth be instructive to us all with great discernment and in obedience to our spiritual leaders. Once, out of love and sacrifice for his fellow man, the Saint agreed to forego participation in church for the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. The Lord did not abandon him.
When Elder Iakovos of Evia (1920-1991) was serving in the army before he became a monk, he was granted permission to take all of Holy Week and Pascha off.

But during the week, he noticed one of his fellow soldiers was very depressed. And he asked him, “Why are you so sad, Mr George?”

“Papa-Iakove, you with your religiosity, managed to convince the commander to give you the entire week off. You will be fine with your chanting, your monk practices, but how about me?  I also want to go to my village to spend Pascha with my fiancĂ©e. ”

“Okay, George, now you want the day of Pascha off – do you also want a couple of other days off?”

“Well, it would be good to have Great Friday off, and even Thursday, so I can get to church and hear a couple of gospels…”

“Don’t worry George, I will take care of it.”

This man of God, who lived for these services – this was his life, these hymns were his breath – he sacrificed it all for his fellow man, and he stayed inside the barracks – Holy Thursday, Holy Friday, Saturday and Pascha Sunday.

Out of curiosity I asked him, “Very well, Elder, how did you pass these days?”

“I was serving guard duty, and I was on a hill watching the citizens of Athens going to their churches, and I was trying to repeat the prayer of Jesus. And on the night of Pascha, when I heard the joyous bells, I sighed and I said, ‘O my Christ, now our Christians are receiving Your Holy Light.’ And as I said this, the Holy Light came to me as well!”

“How did this happen, Elder?”

“Well, my child, a light came from on high and rested on me, and I became all light!”

The man of God had sacrificed the created light of the Pascha candle, and he received the uncreated Light of Divinity. This was Elder Iakovos. This was inside his nature – the willingness to sacrifice even his prayer and his personal effort and struggle, for the love of his neighbour.
Source: From a talk given by Bishop Neophytos of Morphou, Cyprus.
St. Iakovos carrying Christ on His Cross (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!