4th Sunday of Lent – Saint John Climacos – God’s promises

For when God made promise to Abraham,
because He could swear by no greater,
He swore by Himself,
Saying, Surely blessing I will bless you
and multiplying I will multiply you.
And so, after he had patiently endured,
he obtained the promise.
For men verily swear by the greater:
and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife.
Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise
the immutability of his counsel,
confirmed it by an oath:
That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie,
we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge
to lay hold upon the hope set before us:
Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul,
both sure and steadfast, and which enters into that within the veil;
whither the forerunner is for us entered,
even Jesus, made an High Priest
for ever after the order of Melchisedec“.
Hebr.6: 13-20

It seems as though I have heard a lot of promises lately.
Oh, yes, it is an election year isn’t it?
I hope that all of us have figured out that almost all of the promises
we hear from political candidates [whatever their political party] are empty words.
In many instances the candidates promise different things to different people,
knowing that they cannot deliver.
In a few instances, the candidates may actually think that they can deliver,
but chances are they will not.

This message is about the kind of promises
you can count on, promises
you can “take to the bank,” so to speak.
The particular promises
we are dealing with here in this letter of Paul
are those which God has sworn to uphold as unchanging.

Saint Paul has presented the Hebrews a powerful demonstration of the sufficiency of God the Son
in chapters 1 and 2,
and then drew our attention to the deficiency of men in chapters 3 and 4.
He did so by means of the example of the first generation of Israelites to leave Egypt,
and by the lessons the author of Psalm 94 drew from their failures.
He then proceeds to show how the Son is the solution
to our dilemma by means of becoming our Great High Priest,
a priest after the order of Melchizedek.

Having issued a solemn warning to those outside the faith,
the author is quick to reassure his readers
that he is assured of better things concerning their Salvation.
In particular, their lives have demonstrated service to the Saints,
manifesting the love which should characterize those who are followers of Jesus:
“Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples
– if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

This manifestation of love has continued to the present
and the author hopes that it will continue.
Thus he urges them to persevere in the faith with all diligence,
so that they may realize the full assurance of their hope, up to the very end [Hebr.6: 11].
This will remedy the problem of sluggishness
and will be evident as they imitate others [such as Abraham]
in patiently enduring to the end,
and thus inheriting God’s promises [Hebr.6: 12].

Key of this Text
But we passionately want each of you to demonstrate
the same eagerness for the fulfilment of your hope until the end,
so that you may not be sluggish,
but imitators of those who through faith and perseverance
inherit the promises
“.
Hebr.6: 11-12

The apostle desires for his readers to continue to manifest
the same eagerness and diligence they have demonstrated
in the pursuit of their hope to the very end [Hebr.6: 10].
In doing so, they will be imitators of those, like Abraham and others.
The ones who have demonstrated faith and patient endurance
are those who inherit the promises.

[We know from Hebrews 11: 13-15 & 39-40 that these Old Testament Saints
died without receiving all that God had promised.
They believed, by faith, in what they could not see,
but in what God had promised.
Thus, they still await the full inheritance of the promised blessings
]
.
In this sense, hope is not only the basis for perseverance;
it is also the result of perseverance.
We can find this sequence elsewhere in Scripture.
For example, consider these words in Romans:
Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith,
we have Peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through Whom we have also obtained access by faith
into this Grace in which we stand,
and we rejoice in the hope of God’s Glory.
Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance, character, and character, hope.
And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God
has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit
Who was given to us.
For while we were still helpless,
at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
(For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person,
though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die).
But God demonstrates His own love for us,
in that while we were still sinners,
Christ died for us
“.
Rom.5: 1-8

Christians rejoice in the hope of seeing God’s Glory [Rom.8: 18-25]
and they do so in the midst of trials and tribulations.
How can this be?
Paul tells us that God uses suffering to enhance our hope and our endurance.
When we endure suffering by Faith, we experience God’s sustaining strength.
We discover that suffering actually strengthens our faith
because God is faithful to sustain us.
Successful suffering gives us greater confidence in God
and thus it produces hope by assuring us that,
with God’s enablement, we will endure to the end
and thus experience the full revelation of God’s Glory in the future.

What the author of Hebrews is going to do in the verses which follow [6: 13-20]
is to show how God’s Covenant promises undergird and strengthen our hope,
which then becomes the basis for perseverance and endurance in the midst of adversity.
He will show that as we persevere God provides further confidence in His promises,
which enhances our hope.
All of this is God’s way of showing us
that His promises are the basis for our perseverance.
Thus, it really is all about God, and not about our performance.

The Example of Abraham
“The Lord’s angel called to Abraham a second time from Heaven
and said, “‘I solemnly swear by my own name,’ decrees the Lord,
‘that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,
I will indeed bless you, and I will greatly multiply your descendants
so that they will be as countless as the stars in the sky
or the grains of sand on the seashore.
Your descendants will take possession of the strongholds of their enemies.
Because you have obeyed me, all the nations of the earth
will pronounce blessings on one another
using the name of your descendants’

Genesis 22: 15-18

We begin with the account in Genesis.
The promise which God affirmed by His oath is found in Genesis 22.
It comes immediately after Abraham’s greatest test of faith
– his willingness, if necessary, to sacrifice his son Isaac in obedience to God’s command.
This was now Abraham’s only heir,
the one through whom God’s Covenant blessings would be fulfilled.
And now God commands Abraham to offer this son up as a Sacrifice.
We know from Hebr.11: 19 that Abraham did so in Faith,
believing that if he did so
God would raise Isaac from the dead.

The promise that God made in Genesis 22 was not something new.
It had been made at various times and occasions
during those years before and after Isaac’s birth.
It was initially given in Genesis 12:1-3,
as the basis for leaving both home and family and seeking the Promised Land.
It was repeated in chapter 13 after Abram and Lot separated [Gen.13:14-17].
In chapter 15, God assured Abram that the promised seed
would not be the child of one of his servants, but his own offspring.
We are then told that Abram believed God,
and it was reckoned to him as righteousness [Gen.15: 6].
In response to Abram’s Faith, God sealed this promise
by making it a Covenant with him [Gen.15: 7-21].
In chapter 17, God affirmed his Covenant with Abram
and gave him the sign of circumcision.
He also clarified that the promised son
would not only come through Abram,
but that the mother of that descendant would be Sarai.
God even gave Abram the name of that child – Isaac.
In chapter 18, the Lord specified
that Isaac would be born at the same time the following year.

Over time and by repetition,
God became more and specific about His Covenant with Abraham
and further assurances were also given.
Moses makes it clear that the assurance
is based upon God’s character and His Covenant
and not upon Abraham’s perfect performance.
Several lapses in Abraham’s Faith are recorded in the period
between the initial promise and the offering of Isaac.
In Genesis 12, shortly after the first recording of the Abrahamic Covenant [12: 1-3],
Abram leaves the Promised Land and sojourns in Egypt because of a famine.
To protect himself, Abram passes off Sarai as his sister,
resulting in her being added, for a time, to the Pharaoh’s harem.
It was only God’s divine intervention
that spared Abram’s life and Sarai’s virtue [12: 10-20].

There were further failures as well.
One was when Abram, at his wife’s suggestion,
took Hagar [Sarai’s handmaid] as his concubine
and produced an offspring [Ishmael] through her [Gen.16].
And then in Genesis 20, we find Abraham
repeating his same deception of passing off Sarah as his sister
– resulting in her being temporarily added to Abimelech’s harem.
And lest we think that he only did this on these two occasions,
Abraham’s confession to Abimelech seems to indicate
that this kind of deception was their usual practice:
Abraham replied, “Because I thought, ‘Surely no one fears God in this place.
They will kill me because of my wife.’
What’s more, she is indeed my sister, my father’s daughter,
but not my mother’s daughter. She became my wife.
When God made me wander from my father’s house,
I told her, ‘This is what you can do to show your loyalty to me:
Every place we go, say about me, “He is my brother”’

Gen.20: 11-13

My point in emphasizing Abraham’s failures is
to show that God was faithful to fulfil His promises to Abraham,
even though this man’s faith was not without its failures.
The birth of Isaac was God’s doing, for which Abraham can receive little credit.
Abraham’s faith sometimes failed, but God’s promises to Abraham were certain.

Why Did God Swear to Abraham Later, Rather than Sooner?
So we return to the question I raised earlier:
“Why does God now affirm his Covenant with Abraham
by swearing an oath after the greatest test of his faith?”
Shouldn’t God have given an oath before this test, rather than after it?
Let’s consider some important factors in the answer to this question.

1.]. Hope is the basis for endurance.
Hope inspires and encourages endurance.
We’ve seen this already in verses 11 and 12,
as well as from Romans 5: 1-8.
We see this also in:
For in hope we were saved.
Now hope that is seen is not hope,
because who hopes for what he sees?
But if we hope for what we do not see,
we eagerly wait for it with endurance
“.
Rom.8: 24-25

2.]. Hope is also a reward for perseverance and trusting in God’s promises.
A more certain hope is the fruit of [or reward for] endurance.
God’s promises were the reason why Abraham left his homeland and family
and set out for a new country.
God’s promises assured Abraham in those years
that he and Sarah were growing older
and thus even less able to bear children.
God’s promises inspired Abraham’s faith and thus his endurance.
But the reward for having endured for more than 25 years
was an even greater promise, a promise confirmed by an oath,
a promise that assured Abraham of God’s commitment
to bring His previous promises to fulfilment.
This time the promise of God was confirmed with an oath,
an even greater guarantee than that which he had received earlier.
And thus, Abraham had an even greater hope set before him.

3.]. God’s oath was His confirmation of His promises.
In today’s reading, we are told that men swear in order to confirm their statements
and to remove any doubt about them.
In order to give confirmation of their words,
men must swear by something greater than themselves [Hebr.6: 16].
Thus, when men swear to tell the truth in a court of law,
they swear with their hand on the Bible.
Since God is greater than anyone or anything else,
He can only swear by Himself [Hebr.6: 13].
God swears to remove any doubt
as to the certainty of His promises being fulfilled.

4.]. God’s oath assured Abraham
because he had not yet seen the complete fulfilment of God’s Covenant promises,
nor would he before his death.
These all died in faith without receiving the things promised,
but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them
and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth.
For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.
In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left,
they would have had opportunity to return . . . . .
And these all were commended for their Faith,
yet they did not receive what was promised.
For God had provided something better for us,
so that they would be made perfect together with us
“.
Hebr.11: 13-15, 39-40

 

Abraham was promised the land of Canaan,
but he had to purchase a portion of that land for a burial place.
Abraham was promised descendants that were as numerous as the sand of the sea,
or as the stars in the Heavens, and yet at this point in time he had but one son, Isaac.
Abraham was promised that his seed would become a source of blessing for all nations,
but this promise was not fulfilled as yet either.
As the time of his death drew ever more near,
God knew that Abraham would benefit greatly
from a further confirmation of His covenant promises.
This further confirmation came after the offering of Isaac,
by means of God’s promise being confirmed by an oath.

5.]. The confirmation of God’s promises to Abraham
was not just for Abraham’s benefit, but for his descendants as well.
His oath gives strong encouragement to the heirs of promise:
In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly
to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable
and so he intervened with an oath,
so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement
to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things,
since it is impossible for God to lie
“.
Hebr.6: 17-18

His descendants would include Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David,
but they would also include those Gentiles like us
who share Abraham’s Faith in God:
For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants
that he would inherit the world was not fulfilled through the law,
but through the righteousness that comes by Faith.
For if they become heirs by the law, faith is empty and the promise is nullified.
For the law brings wrath,
because where there is no law there is no transgression either.
For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by Grace,
with the result that the Promise may be certain to all the descendants
– not only to those who are under the law,
but also to those who have the Faith of Abraham,
who is the father of us all
“.
cf. Rom.4: 13-16

6.]. The confirmation of God’s promise to Abraham
made it clear that this Covenant was unconditional,
and thus unchangeable.
In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly
to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable
and so he intervened with an oath,
so that we who have found refuge in him
may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope
set before us through two unchangeable things,
since it is impossible for God to lie
“.
cf. Hebr.6: 17-18

It is important to recognize
that not all of God’s promises are unconditional [or unchangeable].
Consider, for example this text in Jeremiah:
There are times, Jeremiah, when I threaten
to uproot, tear down, and destroy a nation or kingdom.
But if that nation I threatened stops doing wrong,
I will cancel the destruction I intended to do to it.
And there are times when I promise to build up and establish a nation or kingdom.
But if that nation does what displeases me and does not obey me,
then I will cancel the good I promised to do to it
“.
Jer.18: 7-10

Some prophecies, for example,
are warnings that can be avoided by repentance.
For example, there was the warning that Jonah proclaimed to the Ninevites:
“When Jonah began to enter the city one day’s walk, he announced,
At the end of forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown!”.
Jonah 3: 4

The king of Nineveh called for repentance in case God might be merciful:
He issued a proclamation and said,
In Nineveh, by the decree of the king and his nobles:
No human or animal, cattle or sheep, is to taste anything;
they must not eat and they must not drink water.
Every person and animal must put on sackcloth and must cry earnestly to God,
and everyone must turn from their evil way of living and from the violence that they do.
Who knows? Perhaps God might be willing
to change his mind and relent and turn from his fierce anger
so that we might not die
”.
cf. Jonah 3: 7-9

As the king of Nineveh hoped, and as Jonah assumed,
God was merciful and compassionate, and thus in response to Nineveh’s repentance,
He suspended the judgment
Jonah proclaimed was coming in forty days.
This greatly angered Jonah,
who did not share God’s compassion toward sinners:
This displeased Jonah terribly and he became very angry.
He prayed to the Lord and said,
“Oh, Lord, this is just what I thought would happen
when I was in my own country.
This is what I tried to prevent by attempting to escape to Tarshish!
– because I knew that you are gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in Mercy
and one who relents concerning threatened judgment.
So now, Lord, kill me instead,
because I would rather die than live!”.
cf. Jonah 4: 1-3

As Jeremiah indicated, the impending judgment that God threatened was stayed,
because He had indicated that repentance may forestall Divine Judgment.
Daniel understood this as well
and this is why he appealed to Nebuchadnezzar to repent,
in order to avoid [or at least forestall] God’s judgment:
This is the interpretation, O king!
It is the decision of the Most High
that this has happened to my lord the king.
You will be driven from human society and you will live with the wild animals.
You will be fed grass like oxen and you will become damp with the dew of the sky.
Seven periods of time will pass by for you,
before you understand that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms
and gives them to whomever he wishes.
They said to leave the taproot of the tree,
for your kingdom will be restored to you when you come to understand that heaven rules.
Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you.
Break away from your sins by doing what is right
and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor.
Perhaps your prosperity will be prolonged
”.
cf. Daniel 4: 24-27

When God confirmed His covenant with Abraham with an oath,
He was indicating to him that this was a Covenant that was unconditional.
This was done so that Abraham [and his descendants] would be assured
that His promises to him would most certainly be fulfilled.
Nothing would prevent His covenant promises from being fulfilled.

Let me illustrate how this works.
In Genesis 15, God entered into His Covenant with Abraham,
making some very specific commitments regarding the Exodus,
which He sealed by a formal covenant-making process:
The Lord said to him,
“Take for me a heifer, a goat, and a ram, each three years old,
along with a dove and a young pigeon”.
So Abram took all these for him and then cut them in two
and placed each half opposite the other,
but he did not cut the birds in half.
When birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
When the sun went down, Abram fell sound asleep,
and great terror overwhelmed him.
Then the Lord said to Abram,
Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign country.
They will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years.
But I will execute judgment on the nation that they will serve.
Afterward they will come out with many possessions.
But as for you, you will go to your ancestors in Peace and be buried at a good old age.
In the fourth generation your descendants will return here,
for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit”.
When the sun had gone down and it was dark,
a smoking fire pot with a flaming torch passed between the animal parts.
That day the Lord made a covenant with Abram:
“To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river,
the Euphrates River
– the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites,
Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites
”.
Gen.15: 9-21

When the Israelites sinned in worshipping the golden calf,
God threatened to wipe out the nation
and to start a new nation through Moses.
But look at the basis on which Moses intercedes for the Israelites:
So now, leave me alone so that my anger can burn against them
and I can destroy them, and I will make from you a great nation”.
But Moses sought the favour of the Lord his God and said,
“O Lord, why does your anger burn against your people,
whom you have brought out from the land of Egypt
with great power and with a mighty hand?
Why should the Egyptians say,
‘For evil he led them out to kill them in the mountains
and to destroy them from the face of the earth’?
Turn from your burning anger,
and relent of this evil against your people.
Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel your servants,
to whom you swore by yourself and told them,
‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven
and all this land that I have spoken about I will give to your descendants
and they will inherit it forever’”.
Then the Lord relented over the evil
that he had said he would do to his people
“.
cf. Exodus 32: 10-14

Moses did not promise God
that the Israelites would try harder and do better.
In truth, they persisted in their unbelief and rebellion,
so that this generation would die in the wilderness
and the second generation would possess the Promised Land under Joshua.
Moses interceded with God on the basis of His [Abrahamic] Covenant promises,
His character, and His glory.
The un-changeableness of this Covenant gave Moses
the courage to boldly intercede for the Israelites.

The author tells us, his readers,
that God gave us strong encouragement
by two specific matters in which He could not lie:
In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly
to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable
and so he intervened with an oath,
so that we who have found refuge in Him
may find strong encouragement to hold fast
to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things,
since it is impossible for God to lie
“.
cf. Hebr.6: 17-18

So just what are these “two unchangeable things”?
Scholars do not all agree on this matter,
so I will just tell you my opinion as to
what these “two unchangeable things” are.
I believe these two things are matters
in which God has confirmed His promise with an oath,
matters which are found nearby in Hebrews.
And these would be the two promises which were confirmed by an oath:
Now when God made his promise to Abraham,
since he could swear by no one greater,
he swore by Himself . . .

Hebr.6: 13

And since this was not done without a sworn affirmation
– for the others have become priests without a sworn affirmation,
but Jesus did so with a sworn affirmation by the one who said to him,
The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind,
‘You are a priest forever’”
accordingly Jesus has become
the guarantee of a better Covenant
“.
Hebr.7: 20-22

Thus, I believe that the two unchangeable things
which the author of Hebrews has in mind are the Abrahamic Covenant (chapter 6),
and His oath by which He appointed the Lord Jesus a priest forever,
after the order of Melchizedek (chapter 7).
These two covenant promises are the basis
for our Salvation, Sanctification, and eternal Security.
How much more secure could our Salvation be?

Jesus Christ, our Lord is the Anchor for our Soul
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast,
which reaches inside behind the curtain,
where Jesus our forerunner entered on our behalf,
since He became a Priest forever
in the order of Melchizedek
“.
Hebr.6: 19-20

The Apostle changes to different imagery
to describe the Safety and Security of the Christian.
Because our hope is Secure in Christ,
due to God’s oath and His Character,
we need only to cling to Him as our Great High Priest,
Whose substitutionary death on the Cross of Calvary
paid the penalty for our sins
and whose mediatory High-Priestly Ministry at the Father’s right hand
gives us access to draw near for help in our time of need.

The imagery of an anchor should come as no surprise
to the reader of this apostle-reading.
It no doubt is used
because of what we have already read:
Therefore we must pay closer attention
to what we have heard,
so that we do not drift away
“.
cf. Hebr.2: 1

It is not difficult to see how an anchor prevents drifting.
A certain hope in God’s Covenant promises made to Abraham and his descendants,
guaranteed by God’s oath, is the Anchor for our souls.
As it is unchangeable, so it is immovable.
We shall not drift if we cling to Christ.
And these unchangeable promises are found in the Scriptures,
Old Testament and New.
Thus, we dare not neglect God’s final Word,
revealed in the Person of His Son
“.
cf. Hebr.2: 1-4

4th Sunday of Lent – Sunday of our Righteous Father John Climacos of Sinaï

Let us honour John, that pride of Ascetics,
that angel on earth, that man of God in Heaven,
that adornment of the world,
and that bliss of virtues and good deeds;
for, planted in the house of God, he flourished with justice;
and, like a cedar tree in the wilderness, he caused the flock of Christ to grow,
those sheep endowed with speech, in righteousness and justice“.
Hymn of the Vespers
The Lord said to His Apostles
about the evil spirits,
This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting“.
Marc.9: 29

the new aspect of fasting
Fasting is acceptable to God when it is preceded by the great virtue of Mercy;
fasting prepares a reward in Heaven
when it is foreign to hypocrisy and vainglory
Fasting works when it is joined with another great virtue—prayer.

How does it work?
It not only tames the passions in the human body, but it enters into battle with the spirits of evil and conquers them.
How can fasting, which is actually a bodily podvig [Подвиг, russian for secret ascetical labour], work or coöperate with prayer in a war against spirits?
Why do the bodiless spirits submit to the power that fasting has over them?

The reason fasting works against the evil spirits lies in its powerful influence upon our own spirits.
When the body is tamed by fasting, it brings freedom, strength, sobriety, purity,
and refinement to the human soul.
Our spirit can withstand its unseen enemies only when it is in such a state.
But as for me“, said the God-inspired David,
When they [the demons] troubled me, I put on sackcloth.
And I humbled my soul with fasting, and
my prayer shall return to my bosom

Psalm 34: 13

►Fasting gives the mind sobriety,
while prayer is the weapon the mind uses
to drive away the invisible adversary.
►Fasting humbles the soul, and frees it from the callousness
and inflatedness brought on by satiety;
►while the prayer of one who fasts
becomes especially strong.
Such prayer is not just external, but comes from the very soul,
from the depths of the heart.
Fasting directs and carries prayer to God.

The dark and evil spirits committed two serious crimes:
[John Cassian, Discourses 8, 9, 10]
the first crime caused their expulsion from the hosts of holy angels;
the second crime was the cause of their irrevocable banishment.
They lifted their heels against God in Heaven.
Their chief, blinded by conceit,
wanted to become equal to God.
For their crime they were cast out of heaven to the earth below, and there they began to envy the blessedness of newly-created man.
Then they committed a new crime: seducing man, and luring him into his fall.
This latter crime of the fallen angels finally decided their lot
– they impressed themselves into evil by it;
God’s Grace entirely departed from them because of it;
they were given over to their own selves,
to their own evil, and to their own sin
that they had conceived and borne in themselves,
and which they allowed to penetrate their nature.
Now, a good thought or feeling will never come to an outcast angel.
He is entirely submerged in evil, desires evil, and invents evil.
Scorched with an unquenchable thirst for evil,
he seeks to be sated with evil, but cannot.
All the evil he does or can perform seems to him little
next to the evil that he imagines and which his insufferable thirst for evil seeks.
Created as ‘a light-bearing angel,
he was cast down lower than all the beasts of the earth for his crimes.
Because you has done this murder of a man“,
said God in His wrath to satan when He caught him
at the scene of the crime in paradise,
near the man and woman whom he had caused to fall,
you are cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field;
upon thy belly shall you go, and
dust shall you eat all the days of your life

Gen.3: 14

A bodiless spirit is condemned to thoughts and feelings
that are only earthly and passionate; his life and treasure is in them.
A spirit, he has lost the ability to do anything spiritual
– he is completely engrossed in fleshly works.
A spirit who lives a mental life is demoted from the hosts of spirits to a fleshly state,
and he takes a place lower in rank than all cattle and beasts of the earth.
Cattle and beasts act according to the laws of their nature,
while the fallen spirit, who is mingled into the nature of cattle and beasts,
is mingled into a nature that is foreign to his own, and humiliating.
He neither wants nor is able to act correctly in this nature
– he continually abuses this nature.

This sinful materiality of the fallen angel makes him subject to the effect of fasting,
which frees our spirit from the flesh’s reign.
When the fallen angel approaches a person who is fasting,
he does not see the material domination that he needs and desires;
he cannot stir up the blood that has been beneficently cooled by fasting;
he cannot arouse the flesh that is not inclined to play, for it has been restrained by fasting;
the mind and heart are not obedient to him,
for they have felt an especial spiritual vigour due to fasting.
Seeing this resistance, the proud, fallen spirit departs,
because he cannot endure being resisted or contradicted.
He loves unhesitating agreement and submission.
Despite the fact that he crawls upon his belly,
despite the fact that he eats only dust,
the thought of being like God has not left him,
and he looks for people to worship him.

He audaciously showed the Son of God all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time and  promised to give him all power over them and the glory of them,
demanding to be worshipped in return [Luc.4: 5-7].
Even now, he does not cease to present to those
who follow the Son of God all the beauty of the world,
painting it in their dreams with the most tempting features [big cathedrals]
and colours in order to extract worship of himself by whatever trick.
Resist the devil, and he will flee from you, said the Apostle James [Jac.4: 7];
and another Apostle said,
Above all, taking the shield of faith,
wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked [Eph.6: 16].
Let us raise our eyes to eternity through the Power of Faith,
to the unspeakable blessedness that awaits the righteous in eternity;
likewise let us observe the equally unspeakable torments
that await the serpent’s unrepentant and stubborn followers.
We can have such contemplation when the body is put in order
and maintained within the order of fasting;
when with the pure prayer that is only obtainable through fasting,
we cleave to the Lord, and become of one spirit [1Cor.6: 17] with Him.
The serpent crawls continually upon the ground
as he was sentenced to do from on High
” says Saint John Chrysostom.
“If you wish be to safe from his poisonous bite,
let your mind and heart be always above the earth”
John Chrysostomos‘Homily  of the letter to the Romans
Then you will be able to resist him,
and that proud serpent who cannot endure resistance will flee from you.

Where are the people who are possessed by evil spirits?
Where are those people whom he would tear and torment, like he tore and tormented the youth mentioned today in the Gospels?
Apparently there aren’t any, or they are very rare
– thus reasons the person who sees everything superficially, and brings his life as a sacrifice to distractions and sinful pleasures.
But the holy fathers saw things differently.
They say,
From the moment they caused man to be exiled from paradise
and separated from God through disobedience,
the devil and the demons received the freedom
to mentally stir any person’s rational nature, both day and night“.
Saint Symeon the New Theologian,
Homily of Nicephorus the Monk’ Philokalia

Very similar to those torments and tearing of the Gospel youth’s body by the evil spirit
are the sufferings of the soul that wilfully submits itself to the influence of the evil spirit,
and who accepts as truth that murderous lie which the devil ceaselessly shows to us
in order to make us perish, hiding it behind a façade of truth
to more easily deceive us, and to succeed in his wickedness.
Be sober, be vigilant, the Apostle Peter warns us,
Because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion,
walks about, seeking whom he may devour:
Whom resist steadfast in the faith
“.
1Petr.5: 8–9
What does the fallen angel use against us?
Mostly sinful thoughts and fantasies.
He runs from those who resist him,
but he sways, torments, and destroys those who do not recognize him,
who enter into conversation with him,
and entrust themselves to him.
He himself crawls on his belly and is incapable of spiritual thought.
He vividly depicts this transitory world with all its allurements and pleasures;
meanwhile he enters into conversation with the soul
about how it can make its pipe dreams come true.
He offers us earthly glory, he offers us riches,
he offers us satiety, and delight in fleshly impurities.
As Saint Basil the Great expresses it,
the devil not only received a feeling for fleshly impurities,
but since he was created as a bodiless spirit, he gave birth to them
“.
the Canon Book‘the first prayer against defilement.
He presents all this as a fantasy,
but he also provides illicit [criminal] ways [building churches from criminal money]
to realize these illicit [dishonest] dreams.
He casts us into sorrow, depression, and despair.
In a word
– he tirelessly works to obtain our destruction
in seemingly decent as well as indecent ways:
by obvious sin, by sin hidden behind a good façade,
and by waiving the bait of pleasure in front of us.

“This is the victory
that overcomes the world,
even our faith”
1John.5:4
Faith is our weapon of victory over the world;
it is also our weapon of victory over the fallen angels.
Who has looked with the eye of faith
to the eternity proclaimed by God’s Word
and not cooled to the world’s quickly-passing beauty?
What true disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ
will want to trample upon His all-holy commandments
for the sake of sinful pleasure,
which seems alluring before it is tasted,
but is vile and murderous after tasting?
What power over the disciple of Christ has
the enchanting picture of earthly benefits and pleasures,
or even the horrifying picture of earthly calamities,
which the evil spirits draw in order to bring the viewer to depression and despair,
when magnificent pictures of eternity are impressed
upon his soul through the power of God’s Word,
before which all earthly scenes are pale and insignificant?
When Saint John the Theologian proclaims that
the victory that overcomes the world is our faith,
he salutes the true children of Christ
who have overcome the world on their victory over the fallen angel and his minions:
I write unto you, young men,
because you have overcome the wicked one

1John. 2: 13
Here “young men” is what
he calls Christians who are renewed by Divine Grace.
When a servant of Christ shows courage and constancy in his struggle
against the evil spirits as he should, then
Divine Grace descends into his soul and grants him victory,
and his youth shall be renewed as the eagle’s

Psalm 102: 5
– youth which never ages,
with which he was adorned by the Creator when he was created,
and which he exchanged for incurable agedness at his voluntary fall.
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world [even when it is in church].
If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes,
and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
And the world passes away, and the lust thereof:
but he that does the will of God abides for ever
“.
1John.2: 15–17

Brethren!
Why shouldn’t we also be victors over the world and over its prince?
People like us have overcome them, people clothed in flesh and human weakness.
Not only valiant men have been victorious over them,
but also frail elders, weak women, and little children;
they won, and left us no excuse for losing
if we give ourselves up to them.
The same world with all its allurements was before them,
the same invisible serpents crawled around them,
applying every effort to taunt out their souls
and make them to live in the dust.
The hearts and thoughts of the conquerors were raised up!
Guarding their bodies with fasting,
they tamed them and stopped the impulse for earthly pleasures in them!
Through fasting, they gave their spirit the opportunity
to abide in ceaseless sobriety and vigilance,
and the opportunity to unsleepingly heed
and watch out for the multifarious snares of the devil!
By lightening their bodies – and even their very spirits – with fasting,
they gave the spirit the opportunity
to cleave to the Lord with pure and constant prayer,
to receive Divine aide, to enliven their faith from hearing [conf. Rom.10: 17],
from hearing to make their faith substance [conf.Hebr.11: 1 and spiritual strength
– and by this strength to obtain decisive victory over the world and the evil spirits.
Saint John the Theologian calls such faith
the confidence that we have in God,
and he teaches us from his own holy experience
that it is attained through prayer that is heard
[by God]”.
1John.5: 13–15
The righteous as if see the invisible God through such faith
Hebr.11: 27
Naturally, the world hides from view at the sight of God!
The transitory world becomes as if non-existent,
and the prince of the world has no support in his warfare.
Be sober, be vigilant; because
your adversary the devil,
as a roaring lion, walks about,
seeking whom he may devour:
Whom resist steadfast in the faith
“.
1Petr.5: 8–9,
Taking the shield of faith“.
Eph.6: 16
– faith that is active, living, Grace-filled.
Only the ascetical labourer of Christ is capable of such faith.
He has prepared himself for warfare with the evil spirits
by forgiving his neighbours’ sins
– that is, through mercy and humility –
and has entered the fight
bearing the weapon of fasting and prayer.

Orthodoxy & Memorial service

Memorial service Mp4
•  Greek μνημόσυνον “memorial“:
ΕΙΣ ΜΝΗΜΟΣΥΝΟΝ ΑΙΩΝΙΟΝ ΗΧΟΣ Α Δ ΠΑΙΚΟΠΟΥΛΟΣ
• Slavonic: панихида, panikhída, from Greek παννυχίς, pannychis, “vigil“:
Panakhida Memorial Saturday Services Вечная память Vechnaya Pamyat
• Romanian: parastas, from Greek παραστάς, parastas
[Traditional folk funeral ritual [Transylvania, Sibiu county 1937]:
Cocosdaiul _ Funeral ritual
is a liturgical solemn service for the repose of departed
in the Orthodox Church.

Burial is a time-honoured and ancient Christian custom.
The modern multi-billion death industry is a historical novelty.
Today the usual burial involves practices with the deceased that are not traditionally Christian.
The loving care of the departed is an act of real Love.
As the Body of the Lord Jesus was cared for
by Saints Joseph and Nicodemos and the Myrrhbearing women,
washed, anointed, clothed and placed with prayer into a tomb,
so Orthodox Christians have traditionally buried their loved ones.
After Burial the Orthodox Church has her own Tradition:

Saturday is generally
a day dedicated to prayer for the departed,
because Christ, our Lord,
lay dead in the Tomb on a Saturday.
In some monasteries and large churches,
it is customary to serve a Panikhida on every Saturday.

The various prayers for the departed
have as their purpose to pray for the repose of the departed,
to comfort the living and to remind those who remain of their own mortality.
For this reason, memorial services have an air of penitence about them.

The Church’s prayers for the dead begin at the moment of death,
when the priest leads the Prayers at the Departure of the Soul,
consisting of a special Canon and prayers for the release of the soul. Then the body is washed, clothed and laid in the coffin,
after which the priest begins the First Panikhida [prayer service for the departed].
After the First Panikhida, the family and friends
begin reading the Psalter aloud beside the casket.
This reading continues until the funeral begins
[usually on the third day after death],
being interrupted only by more Panikhidas
[at least one per day].

Orthodox Christians offer particularly
fervent prayers for the departed
on the first 40 days after death.
Traditionally, in addition to the service on the day of death,
the memorial service is performed at the request of the relatives
of an individual departed person on the following occasions:
– 3rd day after death
– 9th day
– 40th day
– 1rst anniversary of death
– 3rd anniversary (some will request a memorial every year on the anniversary of death)

In addition to Panikhidas for individuals,
there are also several days during the year
that are set aside as special general commemorations of the dead,
when all departed Orthodox Christians will be prayed for together
[this is especially to benefit those who have no one on earth to pray for them].
The majority of these general commemorations
fall on the various “Soul Saturdays” throughout the year [mostly during Great Lent].
On these days, in addition to the normal Panikhida,
there are special additions to Vespers and Matins,
and there will be proper’s for the departed added to the Divine Liturgy.
These days of general memorial are:

Meatfare Saturday [two Saturdays before Great Lent begins]
– in some traditions families and friends will offer Panikhidas
for their loved ones during the week,
culminating in the general commemoration on Saturday
– The second Saturday of Great Lent
– The third Saturday of Great Lent
– The fourth Saturday of Great Lent
– Radonitsa [the second Tuesday after Easter]
– The Saturday before Pentecost
– in some traditions families and friends will offer Panikhidas
for their loved ones during the week,
culminating in the general commemoration on Saturday

Demetrius Saturday
[the Saturday before the feast of Saint Demetrius, Oct. 26th].
In the Bulgarian Orthodox Church
there is a commemoration of the dead
on the Saturday before the feast of Saint Michael,
the Archangel, Nov. 8th,
instead of the Demetrius Soul Saturday.

The most important form of prayer for the dead
occurs in the Divine Liturgy.
Particles are cut from the prosphoron during the Proskomedie at the beginning of the Liturgy.
These particles are placed beneath the Lamb [Host] on the diskos, where they remain throughout Holy Liturgy.
After the Communion of the faithful,
the deacon brushes these particles into the chalice, saying,
“Wash away, O Lord,
the sins of all those here commemorated,
by Thy Precious Blood,
through the prayers of all thy saints”.
Of this action, Saint Mark of Ephesus says,
We can do nothing better or greater for the dead than to pray for them,
offering commemoration for them at Holy Liturgy.
Of this they are always in need . . . . .
The body feels nothing then:
it does not see its close ones who have assembled,
does not smell the fragrance of the flowers,
does not hear the funeral orations.
But the soul senses the prayers offered for it
and is grateful to those who make them
and is spiritually close to them
“.

Normally, candidates for sainthood,
prior to their Glorification [Canonization] as a Saint,
will be commemorated by serving Panikhidas.
Then, on the eve of their Glorification
will be served an especially solemn Requiem,
known as the “Last Panikhida“.

• Saint Basil the Great [† 379], a saint of undivided Christianity, writes in his Third Kneeling Prayer at Pentecost:
O Christ our God . . .
[Who] on this all-perfect and saving Feast,
art graciously pleased to accept propitiatory prayers
for those who are imprisoned in hades,
promising unto us who are held in bondage great hope of release
from the vileness that does hinder us and did hinder them . . . . .
send down Your consolation . . . . .
and establish their souls in the mansions of the Just;
and graciously vouchsafe unto them Peace and pardon;
for not the dead shall praise You, O Lord,
neither shall they who are in Hell make bold
to offer unto thee confession.
But we who are living will bless You,
and will pray, and offer unto You
propitiatory prayers and sacrifices for their souls
“.

• Saint Gregory Dialogos [† 604]
in his famous Dialogues [written in 593] teaches that,
“The Holy Sacrifice [Eucharist] of Christ, our saving Victim,
brings great benefits to souls even after death,
provided their sins [are such as] can be pardoned in the life to come”.
However, Saint. Gregory goes on to say,
the Church’s practice of prayer for the dead
must not be an excuse for not living a godly life on earth.
“The safer course, naturally,
is to do for ourselves during life
what we hope others will do for us after death”.

• Father Seraphim Rose [† 1982] says,
The Church’s prayer cannot save anyone
who does not wish salvation,
or who never offered any struggle [podvig]
for it himself during his lifetime
“.

Remember, O Lord, the God of Spirits and of all Flesh,
those whom we have remembered
and those whom we have not remembered,
men of the “True Faith, from Righteous Abel unto to-day;
do You Yourself give them rest there in the land of the living,
in Your Kingdom, in the delight of Paradise,
in the bosom of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, our Holy fathers,
from whence pain and sorrow and sighing have fled away,
where the Light of Your countenance visited them
and always shines upon them
“.
Prayer for the departed – Liturgy of Saint James

March 19th – Saint Hilaria, Martyr under Roman Emperor Numerian [†3rd Cnt.]

The Holy Martyrs Hilaria, her husband Claudius the Tribune,
and their sons, Jason and Maurus,
Diodorus the Presbyter and Marianus the Deacon,
suffered with Saints Chrysanthus and Daria in Rome
under Emperor Numerian in the third century.

Claudius came to believe in Christ and accepted holy Baptism
together with his wife, Hilaria, their sons, Jason and Maurus,
and all his household and soldiers.
When news of this reached Emperor Numerian,
he ordered that they be executed.
Claudius was drowned in the sea,
and his sons and soldiers were beheaded.

Christians buried the bodies of the holy martyrs in a nearby cave, and
Saint Hilaria constantly went there to pray.
The pagans followed her and led her off for torture.
The saint asked that they give her a few moments to pray, and as soon as she finished, she gave up her soul to God.
A servant buried Saint Hilaria in the cave beside her sons.

Troparion                           Tn 1
Let us honor the like-minded pair of Martyrs Hilaria, scion of purity,
and supremely her modes husband Claudius.
United in holiness of faith,
they shone forth as communicants of God the Word.
They fought lawfully for Him and now save those who sing:
“Glory to Him who has strengthened you!
Glory to Him who has crowned you!
Glory to Him who through you grants healing to all!”

Kontakion                          Tn 1
In the sweet fragrance of holiness, Claudius,
you drew Hilaria to saving knowledge.
Together in contest you routed the serpent,
the author of all evil,
and were worthily taken up to the heavenly realms.

Orthodoxy & to come to yourself

And when he came to himself, he said,
How many hired servants of my father’s
have bread enough and to spare,
and I perish with hunger!“.
Luc.15: 17

If the Orthodox Churches are able
to strengthen their unity,
to dialogue with each other
than this is obedient and beneficial to their basics;
the original Christian Church.

You are probably motivated by Orthodox churches, and perhaps noticed that they often bear titles like
“Greek Orthodox”, “Russian Orthodox”, “Serbian Orthodox” or even “Ukrainian Orthodox”.
Are they simply different denominations that cater to particular ethnicities?
You could be excused for thinking so,
though this is – less and less – true today,
there is indeed a great deal of overlap
between the ethnic composition of many parishes
and these ‘titles‘.
Some nominations have even the impression
that one possesses a greater degree of importance than the others,
even this is heresy, because it encourages
a further breakdown of the original Christian Church.
In Truth, the Orthodox Church is one unified Church [of 300 million people],
and belongs to no nation at all.
Instead, it is the ancient church, and is unique in that it traces its roots
— in unbroken succession! — all the way back to the 1stcentury
founding by Christ and His Apostles.
It zealously holds to and preserves all the Teachings and Traditions
– including Holy Scripture – that were held by all Christians for the first ten centuries.
The word orthodox
– “right Belief and right Glory” –
has traditionally been used to designate communities [or individuals]
which preserved the True Faith.
The Orthodox Church still
— after thousands of years —
believes and adheres
to these ancient Teachings and Traditions,
and it will continue to do so for thousands more, or in other words until our Lord’s return.

The Masters voice
By the time of Jesus,
Aramaic was the most common language in Judea, though Hebrew may have been dominant in certain areas, such as Jerusalem or the Qumran community by the Dead Sea.
It’s most likely that in Galilee,
where Jesus was raised and where He began His ministry, Aramaic was the most common language of the people, though many would have been able to understand Hebrew
and to get along in Greek as well.
Also Christ spoke the language of the people He met, ‘the language of the region‘.
The languages in which the disciples were speaking were known foreign languages
and dialects of the region they visited.
It was given by the Holy Spirit that they visited a lot of countries and regions
and preached the message of God,
the Gospel of Love.

Just because you call yourself Orthodox Christian it doesn’t mean that you are real Orthodox Christian.
It seems that the infection that has affected other streams of Christianity has also hit the Orthodox community,
that plague is what I call misuse of memberships.
Orthodoxy is much more about image than
anything else and if you want to roll in our performance you have to abide by certain rules.
If you break ‘original‘ norms and customs
which are visible within authentic Christianity
you may call yourself Orthodox all you want,
but within Orthodoxy
you will not be considered as such.

And all the publicans and sinners drew near unto Him to hear Him.
And the Pharisees and Scribes murmured saying,
This man receives sinners and eats with them
“[Luc.15: 1,2].
And this is what it make painfully to a lot of Young growing up people,
who took the decision that their child
wouldn’t be baptized and educated in those communities, because
– the children don’t understand the services;
they hear another language than in their schools
– it gives such squabbles in those Orthodox communities
– we are “Russian”, so we only use Slavonic in our services,
– we are “Greek” and so we only us Greek in our services
– and so on.
It’s indeed that the Lord eats with sinners,
but when he is eating with them He is eating out of Love and
not because they are Pharisees and Scribes.

As therefore the Pharisees and Scribes made this outcry at His gentleness
and Love to man,
and wickedly and impiously blamed Him for receiving and teaching men
whose lives were impure,
Christ very necessarily set before them
the parables,
to show them clearly this very thing,
– that the God of all requires even him
– who is thoroughly steadfast, and firm,
– and who knows how to live Holily,
– and has attained to the highest praise for sobriety of conduct,
– to be earnest in following His will,
so that when any are called unto repentance,
even if they be men highly blameable,
he must rejoice rather,
and not give way
to an unloving vexation on their account.

For we also sometimes experience something of this sort.
For some there are who live a perfectly honourable and consistent life, practising every kind of virtuous action,
and abstaining from everything disapproved by the Law of God, and crowning themselves with perfect praises in the sight of God and of men:
while another is perhaps weak and trodden down,
and humbled unto every kind of wickedness,
guilty of base deeds, loving impurity,
given to covetousness and stained with all evil.

And yet such a one often in old age turns unto God,
and asks the forgiveness of his former offences:
he prays for Mercy, and putting away from him his readiness to fall into sin,
sets his affection on virtuous deeds.
Or even perhaps when about to close his mortal life,
he is admitted to Original Divine Baptism,
and puts away his offences, God being merciful unto him.

And perhaps sometimes persons are indignant at this,
and even say,
“This man, who has been guilty of such and such actions,
and has spoken such and such words,
has not paid unto the Judge the retribution of his conduct, but has been counted worthy of a Grace thus noble and admirable:
he has been inscribed among the sons of God,
and honoured with the Glory of the Saints
“.

Such complaints men sometimes give utterance too
from an empty narrowness of mind, not conforming
to the purpose of the universal Father.
For He greatly rejoices when He sees those
who were lost obtaining Salvation, and raises them up again
to that which they were in the beginning,
giving them the dress of freedom,
and adorning them with the chief robe,
and putting a ring upon their hand,
even the orderly behaviour which is pleasing to God
and suitable to the free.

It is our duty, therefore, to conform ourselves to that which God wills: for
– He heals those who are sick;
– He raises those who are fallen;
– He gives a helping hand to those who have stumbled;
– He brings back him who has wandered;
– He forms anew unto a praiseworthy and blameless life
those who were wallowing in the mire of sin;
– He seeks those who were lost;
– He raises as from the dead those
who had suffered the spiritual death.

Let us therefore rejoice:
let us therefore in company with the Holy Angels by heart,
praise Him as being good, and loving unto men;
as gentle, and not remembering evil.
For if such is our state of mind,
Christ will receive us
“.
Cf . Cyril of Alexandria [ca.376-444] – sermon 107 on Saint Lucas’ Gospel.

If the devil has got that ability to knock you down
from your exalted virtue to such great limits of evil;
so how much more would be God’s ability to restore
you to your previous confidence?
He would not only get you back to what you used to be,
but to a far better status
“.
Saint John Chrysostom

Orthodoxy & the Mystery of Knowledge

Man has always been fascinated by ultimate things
— life, death, the origin of the world —
and his discoveries in other fields of knowledge
have given him confidence to assume
that someday these mysteries
will also yield to the power of his intellect.
Such pride of mind, however,
can only lead away from the truth,
which, according to Orthodox teaching,
is the aim and foundation of all true knowledge.
How is such knowledge acquired?
Here we have part of a longer essay
by the renowned Serbian theologlan of blessed memory, Archimandrite Justin Popovich [†1979],
in which he distils the writings of Saint Isaac the Syrian
on the Orthodox theology of knowledge.

Briefly, he explains that because
man’s understanding became darkened through sin,
through consorting with evil,
he became incapable of True knowledge.
Man can come to this knowledge only
when his soul [the seat of understanding] is healed.
This is made possible by means of the virtues,
and the primary virtue in this remedial process is Faith.
Through faith, the mind,
which was previously dispersed among the passions,
is concentrated, freed from sensuality,
and endowed with peace and humility of thought ….
It is by the ascesis of faith that a man conquers egotism,
steps beyond the bounds of self, and enters into a new,
transcendent reality which also transcends subjectivity
“.

In separate sections, Father Justin discusses Prayer, Humility, Love and Grace, all requisite
companions of Faith,
before leading the reader into
“The Mystery of Knowledge”,
which we have reprinted below with slight abbreviations.

According to the teaching of Saint Isaac the Syrian,
there are two sorts of knowledge:
that which precedes Faith
and that which is born of faith.
The former is natural knowledge
and involves the discernment of good and evil.
The latter is spiritual knowledge and is
– “the perception of the mysteries“,
– “the perception of what is hidden“,
– “the contemplation of the invisible“.

There are also two sorts of faith:
the first comes through hearing and is confirmed
and proven by the second,
– “the faith of contemplation“,
– “the faith that is based on what has been seen“.
In order to acquire spiritual knowledge,
a man must first be freed from natural knowledge.
This is the work of Faith.
It is by the Ascesis of Faith that there comes to man
that “unknown power
that makes him capable of spiritual knowledge.
If a man allows himself to be caught in the web of natural knowledge,
it is more difficult for him to free himself from it
than to cast off iron bonds,
and his life is lived “against the edge of a sword“.

When a man begins to follow the path of Faith,
he must lay aside once and for all
his old methods of knowing,
for faith has its own methods.
Then natural knowledge ceases and spiritual knowledge takes its place.
Natural knowledge is contrary to faith,
for Faith, and all that comes from Faith, is
the destruction of the laws of knowledge
–> though not of spiritual,
but of natural knowledge.

The chief characteristic of natural knowledge
is its approach by examination and experimentation.
This is in itself “a sign of uncertainty about the truth“.
Faith, on the contrary, follows a pure and simple way of thought that is far removed
from all guile and methodical examination.
These two paths lead in opposite directions.
The house of faith is “childlike thoughts and simplicity of heart”, for it is said,
Glorify God in simplicity of heart” [cf. Col.3: 22],
and:
Except ye be converted and become as little children,
ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven
“. Matth.18: 3
Natural knowledge stands opposed
both to simplicity of heart and simplicity of thought.
This knowledge only works within the limits of nature,
but Faith has its own path beyond nature“.

The more a man devotes himself to the ways of natural knowledge,
the more he is seized on by fear
and the less can he free himself from it.
But if he follows Faith, he is immediately freed
and “as a son of God, has the power to make free use of all things“.
The man who loves this Faith acts like God in the use of all created things“,
for to faith is given the Power
to be like God in making a new creation“.
Thus it is written:
You desires, and all things are presented before you” [cf. Job 23: 13].

Faith can often
bring forth all things out of nothing“,
while knowledge can do nothing
without the help of matter“.
Knowledge has no Power over nature,
but Faith has such Power.
Armed with Faith, men have entered into the fire and quenched the flames, being untouched by them.
Others have walked on the waters as on dry land.
All these things are “beyond nature“;
they go against the modes of natural knowledge
and reveal the vanity of such modes.
Faith “moves about above nature“.
The ways of natural knowledge ruled
the world for more than 5,000 years, and man was unable to
lift his gaze from the earth and understand the might of his Creator
until
our faith arose and delivered us from the shadows of the works of this World
and from a fragmented mind.
He who has Faith “will lack nothing
and, when he has nothing,
“he possesses all things by faith,”
as it is written: “All things whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive [Matth.21: 22];
and also;
The Lord is near; be anxious for nothing” [Phil.4: 6].

Natural laws do not exist for Faith.
Saint Isaac emphasizes this very strongly:
All things are possible to him that believes [Marc. 9: 23],
for with God nothing is impossible …. “.
To step beyond the limits of nature
and to enter into the realm of the supernatural
is considered to be against nature,
as something irrational and impossible ….
Nevertheless, this natural knowledge, according to Saint Isaac, is not at fault.
It is not to be rejected.
It is just that Faith is higher than it is.
This knowledge is only to be condemned in so far as,
by the different means it uses, it turns against faith.
But when this knowledge
“is joined with Faith, becoming one with her,
clothing itself in her burning thoughts”,
when it “acquires wings of passionlessness” then,
using other means than natural ones,
it rises up from the earth
“into the realm of its Creator”,
into the supernatural.
This knowledge is then fulfilled by faith
and receives the power to “rise to the heights” to perceive him
who is beyond all perception
and to “see the brightness that is incomprehensible
to the mind and knowledge of created beings
.”
Knowledge is the level from which
a man rises up to the heights of Faith.
When he reaches these heights, he has no more need of it – for it is written:
We know in part, but when that which is perfect is come,
then that which is in part shall be done away
” [1Cor.13: 9-10].
Faith reveals to us now the truth of perfection,
as if it were before our eyes.
It is by faith that we learn that which is beyond our grasp
– by faith and not by enquiry and the power of knowledge.
/… /

There are three spiritual modes in which knowledge rises and falls,
and by which it moves and changes.
These are the body, the soul, and the spirit ….
At its lowest level, knowledge “follows the desires of the flesh”,
concerning itself with riches, vainglory, dress, repose of body,
and the search for rational wisdom.
This knowledge invents the arts and sciences
and all that adorns the body in this visible world.
But in all this, such knowledge is contrary to Faith.
It is known as
“Mere knowledge, for it is deprived of all thought of the Divine
and, by its fleshly character, brings to the mind an irrational weakness,
because in it the mind is overcome by the body
and its entire concern is for the things of this world
“.
It is puffed up and filled with pride,
for it refers every good work to itself and not to God.
That which the Apostle said, “knowledge puffs up” [1Cor.8: 1].

Faith presents a new way of thinking,
through which is effected all the work of knowing in the believing man.
This new way of thinking is Humility ….
It is by Humility
that the intellect is healed
and made whole…
The humble man is the fount of
the Mysteries of the new stage of development.

Obviously said of this knowledge,
which is not linked with faith and hope in God,
and not of true knowledge.
True, spiritual knowledge, linked with humility,
brings to perfection the soul of those who have acquired it,
as is seen in Moses, David, Isaiah, Peter, Paul,
and all those who, within the limits of human nature,
were counted worthy of this perfect knowledge.
Saint [Archimandrite] Justin Popovich

Pdf: Prayer of the Three Holy Children

March 16th – Saint Christodoulos Latrinos of Patmos, Saint of the Dodecanese [1020-1111]

Our father among the Saints Christodoulos Latrinos lived at Patmos and is also known as Wonderworker.
He is remembered for the establishment of
the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian at Patmos
and the re-settlement of the island
after the Saracens had de-populated it.

John, the son of peasants Theodore and Anna,
was born in Nicea of Bithynia
in Asia Minor in the 11nth century.
John was a self-taught man who developed a love for books.
As a young man, he followed an ascetic life,
living as a hermit on Mount Olympus of Asia Minor
as well as in the Palestinian desert
before he assumed the monastic habit
and received the name Christodoulos [Gr. “slave of Christ“].
He then served as abbot of the Monastery of Mount Lamos
in Caris in western Asia Minor.
After the incursion of the Saracens in 1085,
abbot Christodoulos and the monks of the monastery fled to the island of Kos
in the southeastern Aegean Sea.

On Kos, Abbot Christodoulos established
a monastery dedicated to the Mother of God.
Also on Kos, Christodoulos met an ascetic, Arsenius Skinouris,
the son and heir of a wealthy landowner of Kos,
who became the abbot’s spiritual son.
Together, they dreamt of re-establishing monastic life
on the nearby island of Patmos that had been de-populated
following attacks by Saracens forces.
During the following several years,
Abbot Christodoulos also established a monastery on the island of Leros, dedicated to Saint John the Theologian.

In 1088, Father Christodoulos presented himself, with Arsenius,
at the court of emperor Alexius I Comnenos in Constantinople
and presented his plan to repopulate the island of Patmos with monastics.       The emperor agreed with his request.
Father Christodoulos was granted sovereignty over the island of Patmos in exchange for the holdings on Kos
that were tied to the inheritance of Arsenius.
In August 1088, Father Christodoulos took possession of
the “deserted and uninhabited island” of Patmos.

When he returned from Constantinople,
he brought masons and other craftsmen
and began the construction, in 1091,
of the monastery dedicated to Saint John the Theologian.
The new monastery
was built over the ruinsof the Basilica of Saint John
of the fourth century and of an earlier temple to the pagan goddess Diana and included a defensive structure that he called the “the Fortress“.
The structure of his monastery remains in use to today.

In 1093, however, raids on the island by Emir Dzaha forced Father Christodoulos and the monks
to flee to the island of Euboia where Father Christodoulos died on March 16, 1093.

Patmos was governed spiritually and administratively by the monastery,
which provided for both the economy of the island and the defense of its inhabitants.
Father Christodoulos had originally envisaged Patmos
as a monastic enclave exclusive of women,
and it was with difficulty that the craftsmen had been able to induce him to set aside a small piece of land
at the far end of the peninsula where
they could build a village and settle their wives
while the monastery was being constructed.

Inside the Katholikon of the Monastery
is a small chapel in the narthex dedicated to Saint Christodoulos.
There his relics are enshrined, having been brought back to Patmos after his death.
Originally placed in a marble sarcophagus,
the relics now rest in a gold and silver plated wooden chest that sits atop the sepulchre for veneration.

Apolytikion       1st Tn
Let us, O brethren, honour godly Christodoulos,
offspring of Nicea, protector of Patmos and boast of monks.
Let us venerate his relics and so receive healing of soul and body,
and cry out with hymns,
Glory to Him Who has strengthened you;
Glory to Him Who has crowned you;
Glory to Him Who through you works healings for all.

Kontakion          4rth Tn
Since we possess your relics
as a holy place of healing for all our diseases and afflictions,
we are redeemed and cry aloud to you,
Rejoice, O Christodoulos.

The Grounds of Saint Christodoulos, the wonderworker
The oral tradition concerning the Grounds of Saint Christodoulos is as follows:
When Saint Christodoulos was living in Patmos,
he planted a garden to supply vegetables for the monks.
The monks who had worked very hard building the Monastery were very tired.
They refused when Saint Christodoulos asked them to dig for water.
Saint Christodoulos then fell to his knees
and prayed all night long for God’s intervention.
His prayer was so warm that at the place where he had dug,
which was in the shape of a cross, a clear, pure spring emerged.
The monks then realized their bad behaviour
and acknowledged the Holiness of Saint Christodoulos.
The garden has been kept up since the 11th century
and is named the “Kipos of the Saint“.
The spring was covered with an arch
and since then it has been called “Holy Water”
or “Water of Saint”
or “Water of the Holy Father”.

Today, only the foundation from the time of Saint Christodoulos remains.
The upper part was reconstructed at a later date.
Besides the Spring of the Saint, other springs have come up near the first one.
These are still in existence from those days.
Near each spring, a reservoir was built to store the extra water.
Once there was a huge boulder on the side of the cliff
overlooking the “Kipi” which rolled down threatening the destruction of the garden.
Saint Christodoulos again prayed warmly and deeply
and this prayer was able to stop the boulder
and made it so secure that it remains in the same place today.
This was truly another miracle.

During the times when people were more pious and believing,
they would go to the boulder and lean on it
for healing purposes on the same spot
where Saint Christodoulos had leaned on it
to stop it from rolling down to the gardens.

There is another story that once a Byzantine Princess lived in Patmos
and that she had hidden a treasure near the boulder.
It has never been found,
or so it was found [by a Dutch sailor ?],
it was never reported.

March 14th – Saint Benedict of Nursia [ca. 480 – ca. 547]

Saint Benedict was not the founder of Christian monasticism,
since he lived two and a half to three centuries
after its beginnings in Egypt, Palestine, and Asia Minor.
He became a monk as a young man
and thereafter learned the tradition by associating with monks
and reading the monastic literature.

He was caught up in the monastic movement
but ended by directing the stream into new and fruitful ways.
This is evident in the Rule which he wrote for monasteries
and which was and is still used in many monasteries and convents
around the world.

Tradition teaches that Saint Benedict lived from 480 to 547,
though we cannot be sure that these dates are historically accurate.
His biographer, Saint Gregory the Great, pope from 590 to 604, does not record the dates of his birth and death,
though he refers to a Rule written by Benedict.
Scholars debate the dating of the Rule though they seem to agree that it was written in the second third of the sixth century.

Saint Gregory wrote about Saint Benedict in his Second Book of Dialogues,  but his account of the life and miracles of Benedict cannot be regarded as a biography in the modern sense of the term.
Gregory’s purpose in writing Benedict’s life was to edify and to inspire,
not to seek out the particulars of his daily life.
Gregory sought to show that Saints of God, particularly St. Benedict,
were still operative in the Christian Church
in spite of all the political and religious chaos present in the realm.
At the same time it would be inaccurate
to claim that Gregory presented no facts about Benedict’s life and works.

According to Gregory’s Dialogues Benedict was born in Nursia, a village high in
the mountains northeast of Rome.
His parents sent him to Rome for classical studies but he found the life of the eternal city too degenerate for his tastes.
Consequently he fled to a place southeast of Rome called Subiaco where he lived as a hermit for three years tended by the monk Romanus.

The hermit, Benedict, was then discovered by a group of monks
who prevailed upon him to become their spiritual leader.
His regime soon became too much for the lukewarm monks
so they plotted to poison him.
Gregory recounts the tale of Benedict’s rescue;
when he blessed the pitcher of poisoned wine,
it broke into many pieces.
Thereafter he left the un-disciplined monks.

Benedict left the wayward monks and established twelve monasteries with twelve monks each in the area south of Rome.
Later, perhaps in 529, he moved to Monte Cassino, about eighty miles southeast of Rome; there he destroyed the pagan temple dedicated to Apollo
and built his premier monastery.
It was there too that he wrote the Rule for the monastery of Monte Cassino though he envisioned that it could be used elsewhere.

The thirty-eight short chapters of
the Second Book of Dialogues
contain accounts of Benedict’s life and miracles. Some chapters recount his ability to read other persons’ minds;
other chapters tell of his miraculous works, e.g., making water flow from rocks,
sending a disciple to walk on the water,
making oil continue to flow from a flask.
The miracle stories echo the events of certain Prophets of Israel
as well as happenings in the life of Jesus.
The message is clear:
Benedict’s Holiness mirrors the Saints and Prophets of old and God has not abandoned his people;
he continues to bless them with Holy Persons.

Benedict is viewed as a monastic leader, not a scholar.
Still he probably read Latin rather well,
an ability that gave him access to the works of Cassianos
and other monastic writings, both rules and sayings.
The Rule is the sole known example of Benedict’s writing,
but it manifests his genius to crystallize
the best of the monastic tradition
and to pass it on to the European West.

Gregory presents Benedict as the model of a Saint
who flees temptation to pursue a life of attention to God.
Through a balanced pattern of living and praying
Benedict reached the point where he glimpsed the Glory of God.
Gregory recounts a vision that Benedict received toward the end of his life:
In the dead of night he suddenly beheld a flood of light
shining down from above more brilliant than the sun,
and with it every trace of darkness cleared away.
According to his own description,
the whole world was gathered up before his eyes
“in what appeared to be a single ray of light” [ch. 34].
Saint Benedict, the monk par excellence,
led a monastic life that reached the vision of God.
Pdf: The Rule of Saint Benedict

He is not indignant, nor provoked,
but with that extreme gentleness He reasons
with him again from the Scriptures, saying,
‘You shall not tempt the Lord Your God‘:
teaching us that we must overcome the devil,
not by miracles, but by forbearance and long-suffering,
and that we should do nothing at all
for display and vainglory
“.
Saint John Chrysostom

• “Listen with the ear of your heart“.
•  “No one is to pursue what is judged best for oneself,
but instead, what is better for someone else“.
•  “Let Peace be your quest and aim“.
Quotes from Saint Benedict’s Rule

March 13th – Saint Gerald of Mayo [Ire †732]

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God
Matth.5: 9

Gerald was born in Northumbria, England
in the latter half of the 7th century.
So Saint Gerald of Mayo was not Irish at all, but Anglo-Saxon.
Nothing is known of his early life except that he had a sister,
Segretia, whom tradition tells us, he placed in charge of a monastery of women.
Gerald was a novice at Lindisfarne under Saint Colman
when the Council of Whitby prohibited the observance of Easter on the Celtic date.
Saint Colman went to Inishbofin, an island off the coast of Mayo.
He brought with him all of the Irish monks from Lindisfarne
as well as about thirty English novices.

– Known throughout the Christian world
as ‘Mayo of the Saxons’, Mayo Abbey is
a small rural village in South Mayo.
It is located 10 miles south of Castlebar,
6 miles from Claremorris and 3 miles from Balla -.

There was those days a difficulty between the English and the Irish monks,
so Saint Colman founded a second monastery on the mainland at Mayo.
Initially Saint Colman was abbot of both communities,
but later Gerald succeeded him as abbot
and the community at Mayo flourished.

Gerald is sometimes referred to as a bishop,
but this has been strongly questioned.
Many miracles are attributed to Gerald.
The monastery at Mayo was the forming ground
for many saints in the Middle Ages.
Gerald was considered a very wise,
prudent and charitable leader.
Tradition tells us that Gerald lived to a very old age,
so it is likely that he saw the introduction of the Roman date
of the observance of Easter.
His death was at Mayo about the year 732.

Several of the legends about his life may be doubtful,
but they do give a history of the relationships
between Christians and Druids in those early centuries.
We don’t know very much about Gerald,
but what we do glean from the writings about his life,
is the picture of a strong but gentle abbot
whose absolute faith and trust in God enabled him
to keep peace between factions and
to encourage his monks to a life of simple holiness.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

The Venerable Bede praised the new Irish monastery of the Anglo-Saxon monks,
especially the fact that the abbots of Mayo were elected,
rather than following Celtic custom as a “hereditary” monastery,
but studiously avoided reference to Colman and the Irish monks,
whose simplicity of life and diligence in preaching the Gospel at Lindisfarne
he had previously commended.

Saint Gerald is also believed to have founded
the abbeys of Tempul-Gerald in Connaught,
as well as Teagh-na-Saxon,
and a convent
that he put under the care of his sister.
Mayo of the Saxons“, as it came to be known,
had a great reputation for learning.

Pdf: Saint Gerald of Mayo  part of Ireland’s Ancient Schools and Scholars

Alcuin of York corresponded with
it’s abbot and monks.
The monastery’s importance was enhanced
when it became a diocese after
the Synod of Kells in 1152 AD.
A Norman town was founded there, and
an Augustinian abbey was built ca.1400,
ruins of which are still visible today.
The town Mayo was of such sufficient size and importance at the end of the sixteenth century
that it gave it’s name to County Mayo,
during the composition of Connacht carried out by Sir Henry Sidney in 1595.
In 1617 the Abbey was sacked and it’s lands were confiscated by the Crown.
The Diocese was finally merged into Tuam in 1630.

March 12th – Saint Paul Aurelian [Pol], bishop of Leon [Bretagne, 6th cnt.]

Saint Paul Aurelian [known in Breton as
Paol Aorelian or Saint Pol de Léon]
was a 6th-century Welshman
who became first bishop of the See of Léon
and one of the seven founder Saints of Brittany.
Paul Aurelian was held to have died in 575 at the age of 140 years,  after having been assisted in his labours by three successive coadjutors,  which suggests several Pauls have been mixed up.

Paul Aurelian was son of Perphir, a lord in Penychen.
He had eight brothers, amongst them Nautel,  Pautel and Bana,
and three sisters, Aude, Sadfyl and Weluela.
He may have lived with the family when they moved to Eastern Dumnonia (Dorset and Devon) for he seems to have
founded Saint Paul’s Church in Caer Uisc (Exeter).
Against his father’s wishes, Paul decided to actually enter the Church. He joined Saint Illtud at Llantwit Fawr and then, on Ynys Byr [Caldy Island],
in the company of Saint Dewi, Saint Samson and Saint Gildas.

Since the lands of Llantwit Abbey were very restricted,
the four lads suggested that Saint Illtud pray for the sea to recede and thus enlarge the monastic holdings.
Illtud prayed all night and bade his disciples do the same.
The next day. at low tide when the sea withdrew by some eight miles, Illtud took his pupils to the water’s edge and drew a line with his staff in the sand.
Ever since, it has never crossed that line and the abbey was able
to reclaim a vast swathe of rich and fertile land.
Paul spent much of his time scaring seagulls to stop them eating the monastic crops.
However, he paid little attention to his duties and the crops were ruined.
Frightened of his punishment, he prayed for Divine intervention.
The next day, he and his three fellows were able  to heard all the seagulls together,
like sheep, and lock them in a barn!

At the age of sixteen, Paul sought the seclusion of the wilderness instead.
He built himself a
little hermitage at Llanddeusant
in Ystrad Tywi
and was ordained a priest there, probably by Saint Dyfrig. Stories of Paul’s Sanctity and good works reached the ears of King Marc of Cerniw [Cornwall].
Marc invited Paul to come to his palace at Caer Banned and more firmly establish the Christian faith in his kingdom.
Paul accepted and spent some years instructing the Cornish.
Marc was keen for him to take up the position of Bishop of Cerniw,
but Paul declined and their relations soured.
Eventually, things came to a head
when Paul asked King Marc
if he might have one of the fine Celtic bells
which he used to call his guests to dinner.
When the monarch refused,
the Saint left his court in a huff.

Paul went to visit his sister, on the Cornish coast,
founding the church at Paul, near Penzance, on the way.
His biographer states that the lady was Sadfyl,
but she was the only sister whose name he knew.
In reality, this seems to have been Saint Weluela,
a reclusive nun who lived at Gulval.
She complained to her brother of the encroachment of the Sea.
So he asked her to mark out the tide line with some pebbles
and then prayed for their miraculous transformation into huge rocks,
forming a natural sea-wall.
Paul then acquired a boat and set sail for Llydaw [Brittany].
However, a story [perhaps of no great antiquity] says
that a storm threw him along the British coast
and he sailed up the River Dart to Staverton, on the edge of Dartmoor.
He decided to build a church there,
but found that his work disappeared each night.
Since the Lord seemed to disapprove of his choice of site,
he moved to the location of the present parish church
and construction proceeded unhindered.
Paul must have tarried on a short while,
for he soon set sail again and landed across the English Channel, on the island of Ushant [Ile d’Ouessant].
At Lampol there, he made himself a new home and was joined by twelve presbyters with their master and deacon.

Eventually, Paul moved on to Telmedou [Ploudalmezeau] in the region of Ach,
in western Domnonée,  establishing
a monastery where his disciple, Vivian,
had tried to build a hermitage until troubled by a roving buffalo.
The local lord was Paul’s cousin, a man named Withur  who had his capital at Ocismor [Saint Pol de Leon].
The two met on Ynys Battham [Isle of Batz]
where Withur sometimes went to spent time alone.
During dinner, Paul told his cousin of his troubles at the court of King Marc
before they tucked into a fine salmon; and, when it was cut,
the bell Marc had refused to give to Paul was miraculously found inside!
Withur gave both the island and his capital city to his cousin.
Paul kept a small retreat on the former,
whilst setting up a monastery at Ocismor [Saint Pol-de-Leon]
to administer to its people.
First, however, he had to overcome a fire-breathing dragon
which had been terrorizing the neighbourhood. Just like Marc,
Withur wanted Paul to become his people’s bishop.
Having heard of his objections, however,
the Lord did not ask him directly but instead sent him to King Childebert I of Paris
with a sealed letter asking the Frankish king to have Paul made a bishop,
whether he agreed or not.
Thus the Saint was at last given an episcopacy,
centred on Ocismor [Saint Pol-de-Leon].

In old age, Paul tried to retire from office, by ordaining his disciples,
Joevin and then Tigernomagle as bishop in his place.
However, both died after about a year
and Paul was forced to resume control himself.
Eventually, he managed to appoint Cetomerin to the bishopric
and, on the day of his consecration, King Judwal of Domnonée visited the cathedral.
Having just re-established himself on the Breton throne,
he granted Paul the site of his victory of the evil King Conomor of Poher.
The saint founded the Abbey of Gerber [Le Relecq] there
under his repentant brother, Tangwy [alias Bana] and retired to the Isle of Batz.
Old and frail, he lived there for some years before dying, it is said at the age of a hundred and four,  on 12th March, previous the end of the 6th century.