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!

Prayer for Deliverance from COVID-19

Icon of Jesus Christ Pantocrator (source)
An Orthodox Prayer for Deliverance from COVID-19
Priest: Let us pray to the Lord.
Choir: Lord, have mercy.
O God Almighty, Lord of heaven and earth, and of all creation visible and invisible, in thine ineffable goodness, look down upon us, thy people gathered in thy Holy Name. Be our helper and defender in this day of affliction. Thou knowest our weakness. Thou hearest our cry in repentance and contrition of heart. O Lord who lovest mankind, deliver us from the impending threat of the Corona Virus. Send thine angel to watch over us and protect us. Grant health and recovery to those suffering from this virus. Guide the hands of physicians and preserve those who are healthy. Enable us to continue to serve our suffering brothers and sisters in peace that together we may glorify thy most honorable and majestic name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.
Choir: Amen.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Thursday, March 12, 2020

St. Gregory Palamas: "For He is the jubilation of the righteous, the joy of the upright, the gladness of the humble..."

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

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

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

St. Joseph the Hesychast: "Even though you have fallen again, get up again."

Jesus Christ the Son of God the Savior of the world (source)
I received your letter, my child, and I saw your anxiety. But don’t be sad, my child. Don’t worry so much. Even though you have fallen again, get up again. You have been called to a heavenly road. It is not surprising for someone running to stumble. It just takes patience and repentance at every moment.
Therefore, always do a metanoia when you are wrong and don’t lose time, because the longer you wait to seek forgiveness, the more you allow the evil one to spread his roots within you. Don’t let him make roots to your detriment.
Therefore, don’t despair when you fall, but get up eagerly and do a metanoia saying, “Forgive me, my dear Christ. I am human and weak.” The Lord has not abandoned you. But since you still have a great deal of worldly pride, a great deal of vainglory, our Christ lets you make mistakes and fall, so that you perceive and come to know your weakness every day, so that you become patient with others who make mistakes, and so that you do not judge the brethren when they make mistakes, but rather put up with them.
So every time you fall, get up again and at once seek forgiveness. Don’t hide sorrow in your heart, because sorrow and despondency are the joy of the evil one. They fill one’s soul with bitterness and give birth to many evils. Whereas the frame of mind of someone who repents says, “I have sinned! Forgive me Father!” and he expels the sorrow. He says, “Am I not a weak human? So what do I expect?” Truly, my child this is how it is. So take courage.
Only when the grace of God comes does a person stand on his feet. Otherwise, without grace, he always changes and always falls. So be a man and don’t be afraid at all.
 Do you see how that brother you wrote about endured the temptation? You, too, should do likewise. Acquire a brave spirit against the temptations that come. In any case, they will come. Forget about what your despondency and indolence tell you. Don’t be afraid of them. Just as the previous temptations passed by the grace of God, these, too, will pass once they do their job.
Temptations are medicines and healing herbs that heal our visible passions and our invisible wounds. So have patience in order to profit every day, to store up wages, rest, and joy in the heavenly kingdom. For the night of death is coming when no one will be able to work anymore. Therefore, hurry. Time is short.
You should know this too: a victorious life lasting only one day with trophies and crowns is better than a negligent life lasting many years. Because one man’s struggle, with knowledge and spiritual perception that lasts one day, has the same value as another man’s struggle, who struggles negligently without knowledge for fifty years.
Without a struggle and shedding your blood, don’t expect freedom from the passions. Our earth produces thorns and thistles after the Fall. We have been ordered to clean it, but only with much pain, bloody hands, and many sighs are the thorns and thistles uprooted. So weep, shed streams of tears, and soften the earth of your heart. Once the ground is wet, you can easily uproot the thorns.
— Saint Joseph the Hesychast
St. Joseph the Hesychast (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Selected hymns to the Newly-Canonized Athonite Elders Joseph the Hesychast and Ephraim and Daniel of Katounakia

St. Joseph the Hesychast - Commemorated August 16 / 28th (source)
Excerpts from the service to the Saint Joseph the Hesychast, written by his spiritual son, Elder Joseph of Vatopedi (official translations likely to be offered from his spiritual children at a later date)

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone. O speedily hearken.
The offspring of Athos and the great adornment of Monks, * defender of ascesis, haven of silence and prayer, * our Father you were revealed to be, * through your life you showed us, Grace's ways of salvation, * saving through your entreaties those who faithfully pray to you. * And therefore intercede with the Lord, * O Righteous Father Joseph.
Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone. O Champion General.
O Father, through the rivers of your tears were purified, * and through your vigilant prayers to God you were filled with light, * and adorned by your Bridegroom, with the soul's pure raiment, * and you lived life incorruptible while on the earth, * having imitated lives of the Monastic Saints, and with them you pray * for salvation for those hon'ring you.

St. Joseph the Hesychast, depicted with his spiritual sons (source)
The offspring of Athos you appeared to be, and the boast of Monastics, having shown forth in the latter years, in which faithlessness and carelessness have multiplied, while you in no way were swayed by delusion or laziness. Come, therefore, let us imitate his zeal and God-loving fervor, for he loved God with his whole being, and cleaved to Him alone throughout his life. But, our most-compassionate Father Joseph, we entreat you, together along with the Choir of Venerable Saints with whom you rejoice; intercede for salvation for those honoring you.
On this day (August 16th or 28th), we celebrate the memory of our Venerable and God-bearing Father Joseph, the student of hesychasm throughout his life with martyrical endurance, till he departed to the Lord on August 15th. His feast is translated to this day due to the Feast of the Theotokos.
You hasten from the earth to the vault of heaven,
In which you were previously, through theoria.
Saint Joseph the Hesychast and Cave-dweller (source)  

Brief biography of St. Joseph the Hesychast from the website of St. Anthony's Monastery in Arizona
Francis Kottis (Saint Joseph’s name before his monastic tonsure) was born in Paros1 on February 12, 1897, the fourth of seven children to the simple but pious couple George and Maria Kottis. Because of their extreme poverty, Francis left home at the age of seventeen to work in Piraeus2 as a merchant to support his large family. When he was twenty-three years old he was engaged to a pious girl and lived in exemplary chastity, never touching his fiancee for fear of coming to the point of kissing her.
One day he beheld a wondrous vision of two angels in the form of palace guards, leading him to serve the heavenly king. After this vision, he became pensive and lost all interest in worldly things; he spent his time reading the lives of saints, especially those of the great ascetic Fathers, which ignited in his heart the desire to become a monk. He then called off his engagement, and in preparation for his life on the Holy Mountain,3 he started conditioning himself to ascetic struggles by fasting and praying in the countryside of Athens. In 1921, after two years of living ascetically in the world, he finally made his way to the Holy Mountain, his heart longing for a God-bearing spiritual guide to teach him the art of noetic prayer, and he began traversing the crags and caves in search of one. After searching for sometime without success, he decided to join the brotherhood of Saint Daniel of Katounakia.4 Renowned for his discernment and exalted spiritual life, Saint Daniel chose a moderate ascetical program for his brotherhood. Francis, however, was inclined to a more austere spiritual life and total dedication to unceasing prayer of the heart, which requires great silence and humility, and thus he stood out from the rest of the brotherhood. Saint Daniel knew he could not stay with his brotherhood, but he also knew that Francis needed a companion, a fellow ascetic, in order to avoid delusion. So he told him that until a co-struggler could be found for him, he should cultivate the Jesus Prayer alone in some remote cave, coming to him occasionally for spiritual guidance. One day, after suffering many temptations, he was granted a vision of the uncreated light, and he received the gift of ceaseless prayer. From that point on until his death, the prayer was said in his heart unceasingly, granting him exalted spiritual states and divine visions. Eventually, a suitable co-struggler, Father Arsenios, was sent to him by Saint Daniel. These two spiritual warriors would be inseparable companions for the rest of their lives, leading an austere ascetical life together. In the beginning Father Arsenios regarded Francis as his geronda,5 even though Father Arsenios had already been tonsured a monk and Francis was still a layman. However, on the Holy Mountain, to be a geronda, you have to be obedient to a geronda until his death. Therefore, following Saint Daniel’s advice they became disciples of two humble old gerondas in Katounakia named Joseph and Ephraim. It was not long before one of them, Saint Joseph, reposed in the Lord. Geronda Ephraim, now their sole geronda, was soon convinced by the exceptional lifestyle of young Francis that this spiritual warrior should be officially enrolled in the angelic monastic order. Thus, the day of his monastic tonsure was set for Sunday, August 31, 1925, the commemoration day of the deposition of the precious sash of the Theotokos. His tonsure took place in the cave of Saint Athanasios the Athonite,6 and he received the name Joseph, after his reposed geronda. After some years, Geronda Ephraim also fell asleep in the Lord, and the young Father Joseph became a proper geronda. Soon he began attracting monastic aspirants, but few of them were able to endure his severe ascetic program. Eventually, the nucleus of his brotherhood would consist of five disciples: his co-ascetic Father Arsenios; Father Athanasios, his brother in the flesh; Father Joseph the Cypriot, who would later become the geronda of the Holy Monastery of Vatopaidi;7 Father Ephraim, later abbot of the Holy Monastery of Philotheou8 and future geronda of thirty-three monasteries in Greece, the US, and Canada, including Saint Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona; and Father Haralambos, later abbot of the Holy Monastery of Dionysiou.9 Also, it is noteworthy to mention Saint Ephraim of Katounakia;10 although he belonged to a different brotherhood, he was guided spiritually by Saint Joseph, and thus is also considered one of his disciples. In 1938, seeking greater solitude, Saint Joseph and his community moved from Saint Basil’s Skete to a cave at Little Saint Anne’s,11 but after 15 years of living in the harsh conditions of Little Saint Anne’s, the fathers’ health started to deteriorate, and so in 1953, Saint Joseph decided to move the community farther down the mountain, near the sea, to New Skete,12 where he would spend the last six years of his life. A few months before his death, he was visited by the Virgin Mary, whom he held in special reverence, and was promised by her, that she would take him on her feast day. Thus the saint fell asleep in the Lord, on August 15, 1959, the day the Orthodox Church celebrates the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God. Saint Joseph’s legacy has been carried on by his disciples, who have reestablished the practice of noetic prayer and watchfulness on the Holy Mountain, brought Athonite monasticism to the United States and Canada, and encouraged many Orthodox faithful through the publishing of his life and letters. Today the spiritual grandchildren of Saint Joseph, who endearingly refer to him as “Pappou Iosif” (Grandfather Joseph in Greek), call upon him to help them in their spiritual life, and he in turn stands before the throne of God and intercedes for his spiritual children and grandchildren, and all those who call upon him.
The boast of Mount Athos did you become, * and the famed pinnacle of the perfect hesychasts, * O rejoice, O Joseph, and mystic like Palamas, * of the uncreated grace, which shines upon us all.
The New Choir of Athonite Fathers: Saints Joseph the Hesychast, Ephraim of Katounakia, Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia and Paisios the Athonite (source)
Selected hymns from the service to St. Ephraim of Katounakia (Commemorated February 27th), written by Dr. Charalampos Bousias, Hymnographer of the Patriarchate of Alexandria
Apolytikion in the Plagal of the First Tone. Let us worship the Word.
O newly-shining lamp-lighter of noetic prayer, as a dweller of Katounakia and a light of the Holy Mountain, who illumined all with the light of your virtues, O most-divine Ephraim, who proceeded to the heights of theosis, dispassion and nepsis: Do not cease to entreat Christ for us.
Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone.
Let us praise the hard-working, prayerful and neptic ascetic of Katounakia, who was lifted up from every baseness of the nous towards the virtues through purification, as one equal to the Angels, let us mortals praise him with psalms and divine hymns, crying out: Rejoice, O most-divine Father.
The Angels were astonished, beholding your feats in Katounakia, O Ephraim, and the chaste citizens of Athos beheld the grace that dwelt in you through your monastic way of life, and they cry out these things with compunction in soul:
Rejoice, bodiless one bearing flesh,
Rejoice, inheritor of Heaven.
Rejoice, defender of dispassion and nepsis,
Rejoice, fellow-dweller with non-possessiveness and grace.
Rejoice, unassailable foundation of prayer of the heart,
Rejoice, greatly-varied stream of perfect obedience.
Rejoice, you who were a disciple at the feet of Joseph,
Rejoice, you who showed to all the virtue of your heart.
Rejoice, godly offspring of Thebes,
Rejoice, goodness by canon and knowledge.
Rejoice, dweller of Katounakia,
Rejoice, protector of those who approach you.
Rejoice, O all-venerable Father.
On this day (February 27th), the memory of our Venerable and God-bearing Father Ephraim, who lately lived in asceticism in Katounakia.
Obedience, prayer and a harsh way of life
You lived, O Ephraim, in Katounakia.
Sts. Joseph the Hesychast and Ephraim of Katounakia (source)
Brief life of Saint Ephraim of Katounakia
Our Venerable and God-bearing Father Ephraim, who lived in asceticism in Katounakia of Athos in a God-pleasing manner, was born on December 6th, 1912 in Ampelochorio of Thebes. A child of parents with four children, John and Victoria Papanikita, he received in holy baptism the name Evangelos. From childhood, he loved Christ and was raised beside monks and nuns, desiring to imitate their way of life equal to the Angels. In Thebes he came to know his later spiritual fathers Ephraim and Nikephoros, and he became their grace-filled novice in the cell of the Venerable Ephraim the Syrian in Katounakia. He struggled from childhood spiritually with ceaseless prayer of the heart, the bending of the knees, fasting and utter obedience, towards the perfection of virtue and theosis. On September 14th 1933, the youth Evangelos left the world and proceeded to the holy Mount Athos to life the angelic way of life besides his spiritual fathers Nikephoros and Ephraim. After six months he was tonsured a monk of the little schema with the name Longinos. In 1935 he was tonsured a great-schema monk with the name Ephraim, and was later ordained a Priest of the Most-high God. Through divine grace and the blessing of his Elder, he was spiritually united with the Venerable Joseph the Hesychast, who helped him on his ascetical path. After the repose of Elder Nikephoros in 1973, who was truly harsh in his training, while the Venerable Ephraim was obedient to him willingly and without grumbling, he continued in his synodeia. This teaches us that, all things come from utter and true obedience to spiritual guides out of love for Christ, and is the only way to escape the assaults of Belial. He was made worthy of revelations of God in ecstasy during the Divine Liturgy, beholding unspeakable states. He richly received from God the grace of discernment, and was shown to be a preserver of the traditions of the Fathers, having a true Orthodox mindset, and having fled the honors and glory of men. Venerable Ephraim, from youth had the thorn in his flesh of vision problems, and needed stronger corrective lenses over time. After a stroke in 1996, he remained bed-bound until his repose on February 14/27th 1998, and he was buried in the cemetery of his cell. His precious and myrrh-streaming Relics were uncovered and are treasured in his cell named after the Venerable Ephraim the Syrian, and have been shown to be a spring of healings.
Rejoice, you who lived the life surpassing nature in asceticism in Katounakia, and approached Heaven through your vigils, prayers and nepsis, O spirit-bearing Ephraim, the pride of Athos.
Icon depicting Deisis with Christ, the Theotokos, and Sts. Panteleimon, Athanasios and Peter of Athos above. Below are depicted Saints Nektarios the Wonderworker, Arsenios of Paros and Daniel of Katounakia (source)
Selected hymns from the service to St. Daniel of Katounakia (Commemorated the Monday after the Sunday of the Athonite Fathers, or the Second Sunday of Matthew after Pentecost), written by Dr. Charalampos Bousias, Hymnographer of the Patriarchate of Alexandria
Apolytikion in the Plagal of the First Tone. Let us worship the Word.
You lived a chaste way of life on Athos, O adornment of Katounakia, and Daniel, who became like God, as you tirelessly gathered sweet honey from the crags like a bee, O wise one. Therefore, we who have all been nourished by your graces partake of your favor.
Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone. O Champion General.
The follower of the virtue and discernment of the Venerable Athonite Fathers let us praise, who shown forth with wisdom and self-control, as an unerring guide to the faithful in mind, who became all things to everyone. Let us cry out to Daniel, who is beloved of Christ: Rejoice, O venerable one.

St. Joseph the Hesychast, depicted with his spiritual sons (source)
Desiring the things of Heaven, O Daniel, you wisely lived your life, and therefore, you despised all things that pass away, and in Katounakia, inclined your nous towards the Lord, rousing the choirs of ascetics to cry out to you:
Rejoice, pearl of Athos,
Rejoice, director towards wisdom.
Rejoice, sweetly-singing swallow of self-control,
Rejoice, fellow dweller with the noetic armies [of the Angels].
Rejoice, precious offspring of Smyrna, who was deified through asceticism,
Rejoice, sweet and refreshing drink from the divine spring.
Rejoice, radiance of those who live in asceticism on Athos,
Rejoice, joy of the sacred Fathers of the desert.
Rejoice, ever-radiant light-house of purity,
Rejoice, golden tower of estrangement [from the world].
Rejoice, friend of the sacred Nektarios,
Rejoice, lamp of the choir of ascetics.
Rejoice, O venerable Daniel.
On this day, the memory of our Venerable and God-bearing Father Daniel, who lately lived in the desert of Katounakia on Athos.
Christ, Whom you hymned in asceticism on Athos,
You now hymn with your lips, O Daniel, in Heaven.

St. Daniel of Katounakia (source)
Brief life of St. Daniel of Katounakia
The founder of the monastic brotherhood of the Danielaioi, in Katounakia of Athos, our Venerable Father Daniel lately shown forth with the rays of the ascetical way of life, and illumined all the people bearing the name of Christ through his unerring guidance, and wise teachings. He was from Smyrna, from a large family, and from childhood desired to please Christ and to offer his life to Him.  To this end, and through the blessing of St. Arsenios of Paros and of his mother, he left for Athos. He lived in asceticism in obedience and humility in the Monasteries of St. Panteleimon and Vatopedi, and later in the desert of Katounakia, as desert-loving sparrow. There, he lived a way of life equal to the Angels, and through his written teachings, he guided towards theosis a multitude of piously-minded people and monastics, including the nuns of Kehrovouniou Monastery of Tinos, and the Monastery of the Holy Trinity [and St. Nektarios] on Aegina. He was united with a close friendship with the Venerable Nektarios, and greatly gave rest to the friend of Greek letters, Alexandros Moraitis. He was discerned by his ceaseless prayer and his estrangement from all things of this life, and was numbered together with the ranks of the Angels. In the cell of the Holy Athonite Fathers in Katounakia, he founded his synodeia, which is known for its hospitality like its Elder and Founder, and is also known for its musical education and beautiful chanting, and there is treasured the Saint's precious and grace-flowing Relics.
Rejoice, the canon of discernment, O Daniel, the newly-shining adornment of the Fathers. Rejoice, you who ceaselessly lived the monastic life, and guided to the life to come, O Athonite of godly mind.
The Newly-canonized Athonite Fathers: Saints Joseph the Hesychast, Ephraim and Daniel of Katounakia (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!