Sunday of Orthodoxy – why are we concerned to be ‘Orthodox’?

By faith Moses, when he was come to years,
refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;
Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God,
than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;
Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches
than the treasures in Egypt:
for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.
And what shall I more say?
for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson,
and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the Prophets:
Who through faith subdued Kingdoms,
wrought righteousness,
obtained promises,
stopped the mouths of lions.
Quenched the violence of fire,
escaped the edge of the sword,
out of weakness were made strong,
waxed valiant in fight,
turned to flight the armies of the aliens.
Women received their dead raised to life again:
and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance;
that they might obtain a better Resurrection:
And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings,
yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:
They were stoned,
they were sawn asunder,
were tempted,
were slain with the sword:
they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins;
being destitute,
afflicted,
tormented;
(Of whom the world was not worthy:)
they wandered in deserts,
and in mountains,
and in dens and caves of the earth.
And these all, having obtained a good report through faith,
received not the promise:
God having provided some better thing for us,
that they without us should not be made perfect“.
Hebr.11:24-26,32-40

If we are saved by Grace, and not by works,
why does the Orthodox Church
put so much stress on ”ascetic practice”?
Why should it be necessary, or even useful,
to fast as we do,
to make countless prostrations during Great Lent,
to stand for hours through long Services,
and even to give so much attention to the Church?

Why do you submit to regulations,
‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’

[referring to things that all perish as they are used],
according to human precepts and doctrines?
These have indeed an appearance of wisdom
in promoting rigor of devotion and self-abasement
and severity to the body,
but they are of no value
in checking the indulgences of the flesh
“.
Col.2: 20-23

Why, then, do the Orthodox submit to such regulations:
Don’t eat [this or that]’, or ‘Do this, that, and the other thing’,
in order to be a ‘Good Christian?’.
Isn’t it enough to ‘Love God and my neighbour as myself?’.

It’s a good question.
While there’s a perfectly reasonable
and satisfactory answer to his objection,
it seems worthwhile for all of us to think about these things,
in an effort to understand just
why “ascetic Practice and spiritual Discipline” in general
are so important in Christian life.

Our rebellion against God and His Will touches every aspect of our existence.
Sin” or “sinfulness” is not just an accumulation of specific acts of disobedience
or wilfulness that in some way violate
the commandments.
It is more than the sum total
of our individual sins.
Those sins are symptomatic of something broader and deeper that virtually defines us,
that characterizes our every act and attitude.
Sin is a state of being that permeates all aspects of our life,
conscious and unconscious, physical as well as spiritual.
In fact, the distinction we usually make between
what is physical and what is spiritual is artificial and misleading.
The human person can only be understood holistically.
Our bodily gestures affect our psycho-spiritual disposition,
just as our spiritual state can affect our body.
Nothing attests to this fact more eloquently
than the Orthodox Service of Holy Unction,
with its emphasis on the forgiveness of sins
as integral to the quest for healing.

This point brings us back to the question of “ascetic Discipline
and the place of “works” in our Salvation.
First of all, it is important to recognize
that the apostle Paul is speaking to the Colossians
about performing religious rituals prescribed either by the Torah, Hebrew Law,
or by pagan forms of worship.
The admonition, “Don’t handle, taste or touch”,
has to do with various religious practices
that were considered by many as necessary
to enter into the Sacred realm of Divinity.
Repeatedly [especially in his letters to the Romans and Galatians],
Paul insists that our Salvation is accomplished wholly and uniquely by Christ:
– by His voluntary Death on the Cross,
– by which he descended into the realm of death [Sheol],
– in order to defeat the powers of death and corruption.
This is a Work of pure Grace that only God can accomplish.
And this is why it is
so essential to recognize and accept the fact
that Jesus of Nazareth is Truly the Incarnate, eternal Son of God.
Our Salvation is made possible precisely by the “work” of the Holy Trinity,
a work no created being can accomplish.

So we, as Orthodox Christians,
affirm as clearly and unambiguously
as any Lutheran, for example,
that “Salvation is by Grace
and not by our works.
Unlike medieval Catholicism, Orthodoxy does not hold that a person can build up a “treasury of merits” [redemption payments]
that will count in our favour at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
What will matter then is our having surrendered our sin
to God through confession, and our gestures of Love [Matth. 25],
together with the unshakable conviction that “Jesus Christ is the Lord
and the unique Way to eternal life.

Orthodoxy does recognize, however,
the importance of our “cooperation” with God,
what we term “Synergy”.
“Salvation”, as we usually understand the word,
is only the beginning of a pilgrimage that leads us through this life,
through our physical death, and into life beyond.
Salvation, accomplished by the death and Resurrection of Christ,
means freedom from the consequences of our sinfulness:
separation from the Holiness and Love of the God
Who desires only that we be saved
and enter into Eternal and Joyful Communion with Himself.
If we were not continually tempted to fall back into sin,
there would be no need for such a “Synergy”.
Then we could declare, with absolute confidence,
once saved, always saved!”.
Temptation and spiritual struggle, however,
mark every day of our life.
And the way we face and, by the Grace of God,
overcome those forces [demonic powers],
is precisely through the “Spiritual Warfare”,
the ascetic struggle that enables us to confront
those forces day by day
and overcome their destructive influence.

This is why, in the same letter to the Colossians, the apostle can declare:
I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,
and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions
for the sake of his body, the Church” [Col.1: 24].
We may not suffer as Paul did, risking our very life for the Gospel,
enduring torture, hardship, hunger and rejection by one’s own people.
Nevertheless, our small efforts, of fasting, prostrations,
intense participation in long Liturgical Services
– like almsgiving and other acts of Love offered to those in need –
enable us also to share in Christ’s own sufferings,
which he will endure in us and for us
until He comes again in Glory.
That Participation is essential;
yet it is not the means by which we are saved.

The final word, as so often, comes from our Lord himself.
Condemning the Pharisees for their hypocritical observance of empty ritual,
He accuses them of performing small religious acts
while “neglecting the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith”.
And he concludes,
These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” [Matth.23: 23].
Those “others” include precisely the sorts of ascetic practices Orthodox Tradition
calls us and invites us to assume — not to achieve Salvation,
but to bring heart, soul, mind and body into harmony
with the ineffable Gift [Grace] of Salvation
that Christ has already offered to us.
Cf. father John Breck – ‘Life in Christ lectures

Sunday of Orthodoxy – Recognizing Jesus

Jesus already knows us,
even if we have no calling to mind
of many of our prior encounters with him,
even if we do not Name or recognize
His presence and efforts at the depths of our lives.

The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee,
and found Philip, and said to him,
‘Follow me‘.
Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
Philip found Nathanael, and said unto him,
‘We have found him, of whom Moses in the law,
and the Prophets, did write,
Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph
‘.
And Nathanael said unto him,
‘Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?‘.
Philip said to him,
‘Come and see‘.
Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him,
‘Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!‘.
Nathanael said to Him,
‘Whence knows You me?‘.
Jesus answered and said unto him,
‘Before that Philip called you,
when you was under the fig tree, I saw you
‘.
Nathanael answered and said to him,
R
‘abbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel‘.
Jesus answered and said to him,
‘Because I said unto you, I saw you under the fig tree,
beliefs you?
‘.
you shall see greater things than these.
And he said to him,
‘Verily, verily,
I say to you, Hereafter you shall see Heaven open,
and the angels of God ascending
and descending upon the Son of man
“.
John.1: 43-51

What is wrong with me
that I sometimes don’t recognize people
I’ve met before?
Am I arrogant? I hope not. Am I losing my short and long term memory?
Have I a kind of Alzheimer? I didn’t think so.
Sometimes I have the sinking feeling
that maybe I’m just not aware enough
of my surroundings in general.
And it’s probably not because
I’m walking around lost in profound thoughts
deaf and blind for everything.
For most ‘human failings’,
there is a biblical Character
to provide company for our misery.

In my case, it’s Nathanael. Jesus already knows him.
As Nathanael walks toward Jesus, Jesus describes him:
Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!“.
It doesn’t appear to be tongue in cheek.
It seems like a straightforward description
based on his knowledge of Nathanael.

Nathanael says, in effect, “I don’t believe we’ve met“.
Where did you get to know me?
He is so moved by Jesus’ prior knowledge of him
that he makes a confession of Faith.
Rabbi, you are the Son of God.
You are the King of Israel
“.
To which Jesus responds, in effect,
You aren’t seen nothing yet!
Do you believe because I told you
that I saw you under the fig tree?
You will see greater things than these. . . .
You will see Heaven opened
and the angels of God
ascending and descending
upon the Son of Man
“.

In our lives, every time we approach Jesus,
it is in the context of his prior approaches to us.
Every time we recognize his presence in ourselves and others,
in events and moments,
it is because He continually recognizes God in us.
Jesus already knows us,
even if we have no recollection of many of our prior encounters with him,
even if we do not Name or recognize His presence
and efforts at the depths of our lives.

John’s Good Message affirms that The Good Shepherd
knows his sheep and his sheep hear his voice [psalm 22].
I am the good shepherd.
I know my own and my own know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.
The sheep listen to the shepherd’s voice
“.
(John.10: 14-16).
The Prologue tells us that Jesus
came to what was His own,
and His own people
did not accept Him
“.
John.1: 11
The Gospel of John has recognition
and failure of recognition as a key theme.
In a number of encounters with Jesus,
people focus on their problems at a literal level
while He stands, unrecognized, before them.
For example, Nicodemus [chapter 3],
the woman at the well [chapter 4]
and the man by the pool of Bethzatha [chapter 5].
Others do recognize Him.
Jesus was killed precisely because His enemies did recognize Him.
As His Healings escalated in drama and power,
so did His threat factor to those who opposed Him.
They recognized Him as the bringer of sight to the blind
[healing of the man blind from birth in chapter 10]
and the raiser of the dead [Lazaros in chapter 11].

In the Good Message of John, Jesus always recognizes us,
but we do not always recognize Him.
The Good Shepherd knows his sheep
– He recognizes who we were meant to be,
namely Children of God [John.1: 12],
in the tangle of our current lives.
The goal of the Gospel is to equip us
to recognize His life within ourselves and the world.
These things are written
so that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God,
and that through believing
you may have life in His Name
” [John.20: 31].
[‘Lord, Jesus Christ have mercy upon me, sinner . . . . .]
Our task is clear
—with God’s help, we are to enhance our facial recognition skills.
Knowing Jesus is present in every moment, every person, every situation,
we are to be on the lookout for Him,
recognizing His presence and influence
throughout each day.

On my toilet there is a booklet with sayings from Mother Theresa:
She answered when someone asked her,
What do you do all day walking the streets of Calcutta?“.
She said, “I behold Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God, in every face I see“.

It’s well-known that the monks on the Holy Mountain [Athos]
serve the pilgrims, who are visiting the Holy Monasteries,
with only one object in mind:
the coming visitor is Jesus Christ Himself in Person,
what I do as a servant,
I do for Christ Himself“.
That’s life ► meeting everybody as an Icon,
as an Image of God.
In that moment
– you will not quarrel,
– you will not be agitated, touched or heated,
– you will accept everything,
– because He is your Creator.
Indeed, in that moment you pray:
Lord, Jesus Christ have mercy upon me, sinner . . . . .

After Jesus’ Resurrection, Mary of Magdala didn’t recognize Him in the garden,
mistaking Him for the gardener,
until He calls her by name [John.20: 16].
He already knows her. They have met
each other many times before.
So an appropriate response from Mary would not be to put out her hand
to shake His and to say,
Good morning. My name is Mary.
I don’t believe we’ve met you before“.
An appropriate response for her and for us is,
I recognize You.
I believe we have met each other many times before“,
because we are God’s Children, His children.

Grace and truth have shone forth.
The predictions of old have been clearly fulfilled.
Behold, the Church adorns herself with the form of Christ incarnate!
The icons of the new creation transcend the adornments of the old.
As the Ark of the Covenant held the presence of God,
so now the icons reveal the presence of the One we adore.
By honouring them we will never go astray.


It is our glory to fall down and worship Christ in the flesh.
Come, O faithful, venerate His image and cry out:
‘O Lord, save Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance!
Verses on Lord I call for the Sunday of Orthodoxy

1st Sunday of Lent – Sunday Triumph of Orthodoxy

Lent was in origin the time of final preparation
for candidates for baptism at the Easter Vigil
and this is reflected in the readings at the Liturgy
today and on all the Sundays of Lent.
But that basic theme came to be subordinated
to later themes which dominated the hymnography
of each Sunday.

The dominant theme of this Sunday since 843 has been that of the Victory of the Icons.
In that year the iconoclastic controversy,
which had raged on and off since 726,
was finally laid to rest, and icons and their veneration were restored on the first Sunday in Lent.
Ever since, that Sunday been commemorated
as the “Triumph of Orthodoxy”.

Orthodox teaching about Icons was defined at
the Seventh Ecumenical Council of 787,
which brought to an end the first phase
of the attempt to suppress Icons.
That teaching was finally re-established in 843
and it is embodied in the texts sung on this Sunday.

From Vespers:
►”Inspired by your Spirit, Lord,
the Prophets foretold your Birth as a child incarnate of the Virgin.
Nothing can contain or hold you;
before the morning star you shone forth eternally
from the spiritual womb of the Father.
Yet you were to become like us and
be seen by those on earth.
At the prayers of those your Prophets in
your mercy reckon us fit to see your light,
for we praise your Resurrection,
Holy and beyond speech.
Infinite, Lord, as Divine,
in the last times you willed to become incarnate
and so finite;
for when you took on flesh
you made all its properties your own.
So we depict the form of your outward appearance
and pay it relative respect,
and so are moved to love you;
and through it we receive the Grace of healing,
following the Divine traditions of the apostles
“.

►”The Grace of Truth has shone out, the things once foreshadowed now are revealed in perfection. See, the Church is decked with the embodied image of Christ, as with Beauty not of this world, fulfilling the tent of witness, holding fast the Orthodox faith.
For if we cling to the Icon of Him Whom we worship, we shall not go astray.
May those who do not so believe be covered with shame.
For the image of Him who became human is our Glory:
we venerate it, but do not worship it as God.
Kissing it, we who believe cry out:
O God, save your people, and bless your heritage
“.

►”We have moved forward from unbelief to True Faith,
and have been enlightened by the Light of knowledge.
Let us then clap our hands like the Psalmist,
and offer praise and thanksgiving to God.
And let us honour and venerate the holy Icons of Christ,
of His most pure Mother, and of all the Saints,
depicted on walls, panels and sacred vessels,
setting aside the unbelievers’ ungodly teaching.
For the veneration given to the Icon passes over, as Basil says, to its prototype.
At the intercession of Your spotless Mother, O Christ, and of all the Saints,
we pray you to grant us Your great Mercy.
We venerate your Icon, good Lord, asking forgiveness of our sins, O Christ our God.
For You freely willed in the flesh to ascend the Cross,
to rescue from slavery to the enemy those whom you had formed.
So we cry to you with thanksgiving:
You have filled all things with joy, our Saviour,
by coming to save the world
“.

The name of this Sunday reflects the great significance which Icons possess for the Orthodox Church. They are not optional devotional extras, but an integral part of Orthodox faith and devotion.
They are held to be a necessary consequence of Christian faith in the incarnation of the Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, in Jesus Christ.
They have a sacramental character, making present to the believer the person or event depicted on them.
So the interior of Orthodox churches is often covered with Icons painted on walls and domed roofs, and there is always an Icon screen, or Iconostasis, separating the Sanctuary from the nave, often with several rows of Icons. No Orthodox home is complete without an Icon corner, where the family prays.

Icons are venerated by burning lamps and candles in front of them,
by the use of incense and by kissing.
But there is a clear doctrinal distinction between
the veneration paid to icons and the worship due to God.
The former is not only relative,
it is in fact paid to the person represented by the Icon.
This distinction safeguards the veneration of Icons from any charge of idolatry.

Although the theme of the Victory of the Icons is a secondary one on this Sunday,
by its emphasis on the Incarnation it points us to the basic Christian Truth
that the one whose Death and Resurrection we celebrate at Easter
was none other than the Word of God
Who became human in Jesus Christ, our Lord.

At the centre of the Christian faith is Jesus Christ
and His Resurrection from the dead.
As such, the Icon of the Resurrection is the most celebrated,
the most common, the most cherished, the most instructive.
It is all of these things because the Orthodox Icon of the Resurrection
is not content with simply showing us the Risen Christ, or the empty tomb;
the Victory shown in the Icon of the Resurrection is complete.

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life!
“.
                                                       Paschal [Easter] Hymn

Jesus Christ was not content with laying in the tomb
for three days after His Crucifixion.
Instead, while His body was entombed,
Christ’s soul descended into Hades, or Hell.
Christ descended there not to suffer,
but to fight, and free the souls trapped there.
Just as bringing a light into darkness
causes the darkness to disappear,
the Source of all Life descending into the abode of the dead
resulted in Jesus’ victory over death,
and not death’s victory over Jesus.
This is the full reality of what Christ’s death
and Resurrection accomplished.

Orthodoxy, Lent & The Akathist Hymn to Theotokos

 

The Akathist Hymn is a profound, devotional poem or chant,which sings the praises of
the Holy Mother and Ever-Virgin Mary [Theotokos].
It is chanted in all Orthodox Churches
throughout the world during the five Fridays
in the Great Lent,
and constitutes a very concrete spiritual preparation
for the Holy Week and Easter Services.

Devotional Hymns to the Theotokos
are as ancient as the original Christian Church.
The Byzantine Empire from its very inception
at Constantinople during the fourth century,
closely allied itself to the Virgin Mary
and always sort Her protection or intercessions.
This we see from the Prayer Services to the Theotokos
between the fifth and eighth centuries,
and the reference to Constantinople as the ‘Queen City’.

The Akathist Hymn, which in its present form was added to
by many Ecclesiastical Hymnographers,
existed for most part even before it was formally accepted
by the Church in 626 AD.
The Kontakion
To the Invincible Champion… we ascribe the Victory
was added then, and came to be recognized as the Akathist Hymn,
because of the following described miracle attributed
to the intercession of the Theotokos.

While the Emperor of Byzantium Heracleios was on an expedition to fight the aggression of the Persians on their own grounds,
there appeared outside the walls of Constantinople barbaric hordes, mostly Avars.
The siege lasted a few months,
and it was apparent that the outnumbered troops of the Queen City were reaching desperation.
However as history records,
the Faith of the people worked
the impossible.
The Venerable Patriarch Sergius with the Clergy and
the Official of Byzantium Vonos, endlessly marched along
the great walls of Constantinople with an Icon of the Theotokos in hand,
and bolstered the faith of the defenders of freedom.
The miracle came soon after.
Unexpectedly, as the chronicler narrates,
a great storm with huge tidal waves destroyed most of the fleet of the enemy,
and full retreat ensued.

The faithful of Constantinople
spontaneously filled the Church of the Theotokos
at Vlachernae on the Golden Horn,
and with the Patriarch Sergius officiating,
they prayed all night singing praises to the Virgin Mary without sitting.
Hence the title of the Hymn “Akathistos“,
in Greek meaning not seated.

The Akathist Hymn is a very important
and indeed an integral part of our religious and ecclesiastical life.
When we are present during the first Friday Service,
we firmly realize that we commence to ascend
the spiritual steps of the lengthy Lenten period,
to finally reach the peak with our Lord’s Glorious Resurrection.

The Akathist Hymn was not strange to the Latin West
even though apart from the Eastern Church.
Pope Benedict XIV granted on May 4, 1746
an indulgence of 50 days to the Latin and Eastern Rite Roman Catholics,
for each recitation of the Hymn.

Father Vincent McNabb, a Roman Catholic Priest in London,
translated the Hymn into English in 1934.
In his forward remarks he stated
“No apology is needed for introducing the Akathistos to the Christian West. Indeed the West might well be apologetic
about its neglect, or ignorance of such a liturgical
and literary masterpiece”.

In any of our Service Books we can readily see
that our glorious and Ever-Virgin Theotokos
is the center of many of our Orthodox Services
in which prayers abound for Her interceding
to Her Son, and our God, for our Salvation.
The Virgin Mary is the most exalted
and most honoured person by God.
She is the most revered and most loved by humans.
She is a binding force for all Christians.
She is the Unique Personality of the world,
because of the unique fact of the Lord’s Incarnation.
She is the daughter of Grace and the Crystal Vessel
of the Grace of the Holy Spirit [see Luc.1: 26-56].

Faith in the Almighty God is primary and all important
to the Holy Orthodox Church.
Our dependence on God is always beyond question,
and from this faith we should strive not to stray.
Therefore, Services, like the Akathist Hymn,
should be a must and attended by all.
Moreover, this particular Service links us
so beautifully with a great and glorious period of our Christian history;
it is also a very live tradition,
which has never ceased in the Orthodox Church
since its official acceptance in 626 AD.

Living in these trying times,
when we are besieged by many forces of evil,
it is hoped that the Akathist Hymn
as well as our other Services may become
the bulwark to withstand,
and indeed to overcome these forces.

The Akathist Hymn is divided into 4 main parts, and briefly the content is as follows:

1 Stanzas 1 – 6
recount:
a. The Annunciation to the Virgin Mary.
b. The Virgin Mary’s purity.
c. The Virgin Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.
d. The doubts of Joseph the protector, and his joy upon learning of the supernatural Conception.
2 Stanzas 7 – 12
tell us of:
a. The shepherds hearing the Angels praising the birth of the Lord and their visit to the manger.
b. The adoration of the Magi.
c. The flight of the Holy Family to Egypt and the falling of the idols.
3 Stanzas 13 – 18
relate:
a. The new Creation which was wrought by the Incarnate Lord through the Theotokos.
b. The call for the uplifting of our minds to Heaven from where God descended.
c. The Lord’s Omnipresence, that while He came to earth, He was no less in Heaven.
d. The confounding of the philosophers and orators, who were at a loss to explain God’s condescension.
4 Stanzas 19 – 24
speak of:
a. The Theotokos as a protector of all the devout, and those who choose to flee unto Her.
b. God coming as one of us, amongst us, to draw us near to Him.
c. Our inability to adequately sing the praises of God, whose mercies are countless.
d. The Lord cancelling all the ancient spiritual debts, and the granting of His Grace to all. Our prayers and petitions to the Holy Mother to protect us from misfortunes and save us from the future condemnation.

pdf: Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos
[English tekst]

Orthodoxy & Lent the period of return

This is what the Lord Almighty,
the God of Israel, says:
Reform your ways and your actions,
and I will let you live in this place.
Do not trust in deceptive words and say,
‘that you are the temple of the Lord!‘”
cf. Jer.7: 3,4

You should also not say that Faith
alone in our Lord Jesus Christ can save you,
for this is impossible unless you
also acquire Love for Him through your works.
As for Faith by itself,
“the devils also believe, and tremble”.
Jac.2: 19

1.]. Change Your Purpose in Life
Before people are willing to act, they must be motivated.
A sound sleeper is more likely to get up in the middle of the night
if the house is on fire than if he remembers he did not brush his teeth!
Christians have some of the strongest possible motives for changing.
Consider some:
1a. Love and Dedication to God
Christians are transformed by renewing their minds.
To live differently, we have to think differently.
We must not seek to be like the world
but to use our bodies in God’s service.

Unceasing prayer is born of love,
but fault-finding, idle talk
and self-indulgence
are the death of prayer
“.
Saint Silouan the Athonite

I beseech you, brethren,
by the mercies of God,
that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice,
holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
And be not conformed to this world:
but you be transformed by the renewing of your mind,
that you may prove what is good, acceptable
and perfect to the will of God
“.
Rom.12: 1,2

The Macedonians practiced generous giving
because they first gave themselves to the Lord [2Cor.8: 5].
Changing our conduct becomes much easier
when we are totally dedicated to God’s service.
What motivates us to obey God? Our love for Him.
What motivates us to love Him?
The fact that He loved us.
How do we know He loved us?
Because He gave His Son to die to save us.
Love is one of the strongest forces in existence.
It can move a woman to rescue her children from a burning building
or a man to lift an automobile that has crushed a loved one. If you are having difficulty changing yourself, you need to learn to appreciate God’s blessings and mercy.

Imitation of Christ
The desire to be like someone we admire
is another powerful motivation.
Sports heroes inspire young people
in athletics.
So godly people like Abraham, Noah, Ruth
and the Theotokos motivate us to serve God.
But the greatest example of all
is that of Jesus, our Lord.

A disciple seeks to be like His Master [Matth.10: 24,25].
Christians are disciples of Jesus [Acts 11: 26].
We should follow His steps
because He left us a sinless example [1Petr.2: 21,22].

As we face each decision in life,
we should ask,
What would Jesus, our Lord do?
This will give us strong motivation to change our lives.

Desire for Eternal Life [escape Eternal Punishment]
And every man that strives for the mastery
is temperate in all things.
Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown;
but we an incorruptible.
We should set our minds
on our eternal reward,
not on earthly things [2Thess.1: 8,9].

Lack of motivation is a major reason people do not change to please God.
They do not have sufficient desire to change.
Instead they want to please themselves or their friends and family.
Often they are too concerned with the things of this life.
Until our motives are right, little else in this study will help us.
But when we are determined
that serving God is our
most important purpose in life,
then we will find the means
to make the necessary changes.
When we lack the motivation to change,
let us think about why we should love God,
think about the importance of being like Christ
and think about our eternal destiny.

2.]. Believe You Can Change with God’s Help
Keep thy heart with all diligence;
for out of it
are the issues of life.
Prov.4: 23
The way you act is determined
by your attitudes and intentions.
People and circumstances may influence you,
but you do not have to give in.
You do what you decide to do.
God will not allow temptations
that are beyond your ability to bear.
He will always make a way of escape.
“God is faithful”.
He will always keep this promise.
It follows that you can break any bad habit
and develop any good habit
according to God’s will.
The Apostle said:
I can do all things through Christ
which strengtheneth me.
Phil.4: 13
We also can do this.
This includes changing to please Him.
If we trust our own strength, we will fail.
Lucifer can defeat us.
If we use Christ’s strength we will succeed,
because satan can never defeat Him.
Perhaps we have failed in the past
because we have trusted our own power
instead of using Christ’s.
People sometimes convince themselves,
I just can’t change.
It’s too late.
Besides, I’m only human“.
They are not just belittling themselves;
they are denying God’s word.
They will fail simply
because they will give up
instead of persisting to use
God’s Power.
Commit your way unto the Lord;
trust also in Him;
and He shall bring it
to pass“.
Psalm 36: 5
No matter how strong a temptation you face,
no matter how long you have practiced a sin,
if God says to change,
you are able to change.

3.]. Study the Bible about Your Habit.
The Book of the Law
shall not depart out of your mouth;
but you shall meditate therein day and night,
that you may observe to do according
to all that is written therein:
for then you shall make your way prosperous
and then you shall have good success“.
Joshua 1: 8

To succeed in God’s work, meditate on God’s word.
List the pertinent Bible passages
about each habit you need to change.
List reasons why you should change.
Meditate on these verses daily,
filling your mind with them.
But his delight is in the Law of the Lord;
and in His Law does he meditate day and night
“.
Psalm 1: 2
Your word have I hid in my heart,
that I might not sin against You“.
Psalm 118: 11
And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart:
And you shall teach them diligently unto your children,
and shall talk of them when you sit in your house,
and when you walk by the way,
and when you lies down,
and when you rises up.
And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand,
and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
And thou shall write them
upon the posts of your house
and on your gates“.
Deuteronomy 6: 6-9
Frequently remind yourself of these verses.
Write them and place them
where they will remind you:
on your bathroom mirror,
on the refrigerator door,
on your table at mealtime,
on the Television-knob.
Jesus, our Lord, overcame temptation by quoting Scripture.
But this worked only because He knew the Scripture, by heart.
Memorize verses about your habit so that,
when you are tempted,
they will come to mind and strengthen you.
Quote them to yourself and
to those who tempt you.

4.]. Repent of Sin
Repent therefore of this your wickedness,
and pray God, if perhaps the thought of your heart
may be forgiven you.
Acts 8: 22
Repentance is a change of mind
– a determined commitment
to cease sin and obey God.
Before one can change his conduct,
man has to change his mind.
Do not cover up your sin,
deny it, excuse it, or blame someone else.
Admit the error and be truly sorry [2Cor.7: 10].
But sorrow is not enough.
We have truly repented only
when we are so sorry
that we determine to change our conduct.
Most other achievements in life require about 10% ability
and just 90% determination and hard work.
In spiritual matters, every accountable person
has the ability to please God;
so changing to please God is
100% determined by our choice.
God has provided everything we need.
The decision is ours.
We will never change
until we make up our minds
to pursue the means God provides
until we succeed.
The decision to do this is repentance
and no one will change to please God without it.

5.]. Develop a Plan of Action
Do they not err that devise evil?
but mercy and truth
shall be to them
that devise good“.
Proverbs 14: 22
God’s example demonstrates the importance of planning.
He purposed man’s redemption [Rom.8: 28],
the Church [Eph.3: 10,11],
the Temple [Hebr.8: 5].
See how He did it from the beginning:

Now the Lord had said to Abram,
Get out of your country,
and from your associated,
and from your father’s house,
to a land that I will show you:
And I will make of you a great nation,
and I will bless you,
and make your name great;
and you shall be a blessing:
And I will bless them that bless you,
and curse him that curses you:
and in you shall all families of the earth be blessed.
So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken to him;
and Lot went with him:
and Abram was seventy and five years old
when he departed out of Haran.
And Abram took Sarah his wife, and Lot his brother’s son,
and all their substance that they had gathered,
and the souls that they had gotten in Haran;
and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan;
and into the land of Canaan they came.
And Abram passed through the land
unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh.
And the Canaanite was then in the land.
And the Lord appeared to Abram, and said,
Unto you seed will I give this land:
and there he built an altar to the Lord,
Who appeared to him
“.
Gen.12: 1-7
As Saint Silouan did we likewise have to do,
as God’s servants we need to have a plan
to succeed in His Service.

In what other important actions will we succeed without a plan?
Consider the forethought needed to build a house,
run a business or a household, program a computer, etc.
Worthwhile activities, to be successful, need planning.

Likewise, to change your life, you need
a specific, practical checklist of steps
you will take to change.
Analyse [with the help of your confessor]
the circumstances or causes that lead you
to fail to do right,
then plan how to avoid
those causes.
It may help to write your plan down
and modify it as needed.
This plan will include some specific points
you and your confessor are studying plus other points
that fit your specific problem.

Many people fail to change
to please God because they never planned to succeed.
They did not plan to fail, but they failed to plan!

6.]. Pray Regularly

Prayer is essential in two ways.
A child of God should pray for forgiveness.
If you are not yet a child of God, you need to believe in Jesus,
repent of sins, confess Christ, and be baptized to be forgiven of sins.
When you have done those things, you become a child of God.
If you sin afterwards,
you need to pray for forgiveness and confess.
He that covers his sins shall not prosper:
but who confesses and forsakes them
shall have mercy

Prov. 28: 13
If we say that we have no sin,
we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
If we confess our sins,
God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins
and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
If we say that we have not sinned,
we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us
“.
1 John 1:8-10
Then pray for God’s help.
Ask God to “deliver us from evil”.
Tell God exactly what’s your problem.
Pray often and regularly.
Pray especially at the moment
when you face temptation.
God has promised that,
if you ask His help,
He will hear
and answer.

7.]. Seek Help from the Church [your confessor]
Christians should confess their faults to one another
so they can pray for one another.
We should bear one another’s burdens [Gal.6: 2].
Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar
and there remember that your brother
has something against you;
Leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way;
first be reconciled to your brother,
and then come and offer your gift“.
Matth.5: 23,24
When we are troubling and fighting each other
an especially difficult habit,
it may help to choose one or two
special [priest-] counsellors to talk with [regularly].
They can give us good advice about how to change.
They can encourage us.
It may motivate us
just to know that others
are aware of our problem.
And they can surely pray for us.
Public church meetings [coffee-drinking, weekends]
are especially designed to give encouragement.
We need to attend regularly for many reasons,
but especially we need encouragement
as we try to become what God wants us to be.

8.]. Diligently Practice What is Right

Therefore, my beloved brethren,
be steadfast, unmoveable,
always abounding in the work of the Lord,
forasmuch as you know
that your labour is not in vain in the Lord
“.
1Cor.15: 58

We have discussed here several steps to prepare us to change,
but none of them can substitute for hard work and dedicated effort.
All the good attitudes in the world will not get the job done
until we follow through with action.
God does not promise change will be easy,
but He promises it is possible
if we work diligently according to His word.

March 4th – Saint Gerasimos, the recluse of the Jordan

Saint Gerasimos was born in the province
of Lycia in the southern part of Asia Minor.
His parents were wealthy, prosperous people, and he became a merchant,
frequently visiting the Egyptian hermits
in his travels
[particularly the region known as the Thebaid].

From a very early age Saint Gerasimos developed a great love of God
and, as he grew older, he found he had little in common with other young people of his own age, who were only interested in having fun.
He realized that the world and an attachment to it
only brought many needless cares and sufferings,
so he yearned to serve God and to be pleasing to Him.

In Egypt he grew in spiritual strength and wisdom
and then he again returned to his native province of Lycia.
Later, towards the end of the reign of the holy Emperor Theodosius the Younger
[who ruled from 408-450], he went to Palestine,
where he settled in the wilderness near the Jordan river.
So many men followed him there because of his reputation for virtue
that he built a monastery where novices lived in a common house
and the proven monks lived in a cluster of little cells.
They numbered about seventy.

The monastery was approximately 25 miles from Jerusalem
and about 100 yards from the Jordan River.
Five days a week each monk was to keep silent
in a solitary cell,
doing simple handiwork such as weaving mats
or baskets out of palm leaves.
During these five days no cooked food was eaten;
the only food was a small amount of dried bread,
roots and water brought from the monastery.
On Saturdays and Sundays
all the monks went to the monastery
to attend the Divine Liturgy
and to receive Holy Communion.
Afterwards they were served cooked food and a little wine at the refectory.
The work that had been completed during the week was given to the abbot.
On Sunday afternoon each monk departed once again for his solitary cell in the wilderness,
taking only a little bread, roots, a vessel of water and palm branches to weave baskets.

Each monk had only a single old robe,
a mat on which to sleep and a small vessel for water and of course a bible.
Whenever the monks left their cells,
the doors were left open so that anyone could enter
and take whatever he wished of the monks’ few possessions.
In this way they prevented any attachment
to material possessions.
During Great Lent Saint Gerasimos ate nothing at all
until the radiant day of Pascha.
His bodily and spiritual strength was sustained solely by receiving the Holy Mysteries.

The monks of his monastery were fond of recalling
how a lion came to greatly love this Saint
and served him obediently and with great humility.
One day, as Saint Gerasimos was walking
through the Jordan desert, he met a lion.
The lion stretched out his paw and Saint Gerasimos saw that it was infected
and very swollen.
The lion gazed pleadingly and meekly at the elder who sat down immediately to inspect the paw.
He discovered that a thorn had lodged in the lion’s paw
and this was the cause of his suffering.
The Saint carefully removed the thorn,
cleansed the wound of all the pus
and then wrapped it with a cloth.

From then on
the lion faithfully followed the Saint like a disciple.
Saint Gerasimos marveled at the lion’s intelligence, meekness
and willingness to eat bread and whatever else could be found for him.
The lion was given an obedience in the monastery.
The monks had a donkey which carried water from the Jordan River for the brethren.
The lion was entrusted with the task of accompanying the donkey to the river
and guarding it while it grazed on the riverbank.

One day the lion fell asleep in the sun,
leaving the donkey to graze peacefully.
An Arabian merchant happened to pass by
with his caravan of camels and saw the donkey.
Thinking the animal was a stray,
he tied it to his line of camels and took it with him.
The lion awoke and began to search for the donkey, but it was nowhere to be found.
The beast returned to the monastery
and went immediately to Saint Gerasimos
who, seeing his dejected expression,
thought he had eaten the donkey and asked,
“Where is the donkey?”
The lion stood in silence, hanging his head in shame.
The elder praised the lion for not running away after his evil deed
and instructed him to do the work of the donkey from then on.
The monks loaded a large barrel on the lion’s back,
as they had done before with the donkey
and sent him to the river to fetch water.
One day a soldier came to the monastery to pray
and seeing the lion carrying the water, took pity on him
and gave the monks three gold pieces to buy another donkey.
The lion once again resumed his former obedience of guarding the donkey.

 

Some time later, the Arabian merchant once again passed by the Jordan
on his way to sell wheat in Jerusalem.
The donkey was still with him.
That day, the lion happened to be near the river
and as the caravan approached he recognized the donkey.
Roaring loudly, he rushed towards him,
frightening the merchant and his companions
who fled in great terror.
The lion grasped the donkey’s reins in his teeth, as he had done previously
and led it together with the string of camels to the Saint.
When he saw the Saint he roared joyously at having found the lost donkey.
Saint Gerasimos smiled gently and told his monks
that the lion had been blamed most unfairly.
The lion was given the name ‘Jordan’
and he continued to be a most faithful ‘disciple’.
He was never absent from the monastery
for more than five days at a time.

Saint Gerasimus fell asleep in the Lord in the year 475
and was buried by his sorrowing brethren there in his monastery.
The lion was not in the monastery at that time.
When later he arrived, he began to search for the Saint.
Father Sabbatios tried to explain why it was
that the elder could not be found.
“Jordan, our elder has left us orphans; he has departed to the Lord”.
The lion was not to be comforted;
he refused the food that was offered
and continued searching for his Saint Gerasimos,
roaring in great confusion.
Father Sabbatios and the other monks stroked Jordan gently on the back
and pleaded, “The elder has gone to the Lord; he has left us!”. No words or explanations could stop the sorrowful roaring of the lion.
He kept searching, now in great distress.

Finally Father Sabbatios said,
“If you do not believe us, then come with us:
we will show you the place where the elder rests”.
Jordan was led to the tomb near the church
where Saint Gerasimos was buried.
Father Sabbatios explained to the lion,
“We have buried our elder here”.
Father Sabbatios then fell to his knees
and with a heavy heart began to weep.
The lion now realized what had happened.
He gave one last mighty roar, struck his head on the ground
and died on the elder’s grave.

The lion’s love and devotion for Saint Gerasimos is an example of the love
and obedience the animals had for Adam before his fall into sin
and his expulsion from Paradise.

Apolytikion                       1rst Tn
You did prove to be a citizen of the desert, an angel in the flesh
and a wonderworker, O Gerasimos, our God-bearing Father.
By fasting, vigil, and prayer you did obtain Heavenly Gifts
and you heals the sick and the souls of them
that have recourse to thee with faith.
Glory to Him that has given you strength.
Glory to Him that has crowned you.
Glory to Him that works healings for all through you.

Kontakion                          4th Tn
As a star resplendent with the light of virtues,
you did make the wilderness of Jordan radiantly shine
with beams of sacred celestial Light,
O righteous Father, God-bearing Gerasimos.

Orthodoxy & Great Lent, it’s a ‘Lifestyle’

By keeping track of the sequence, with fasting, even with prayer at regular intervals, not exhausted all the effort during the Great Lent.
Or rather, to be all that effective and meaningful, should be supported and this life itself.
You need a “lifestyle” that does not contradict all this and does not lead to a ‘split’ existence.
In the past, countries in orthodox society itself
offered such support with the combination that had the custom,
to external changes in the law, with public and private regulations,
with all that you included the word culture.
During Lent the whole society accepts a certain pattern of life,
certain rules Reminds individual members of society the period of Lent.

For example, one could not easily be forgotten Lent
because the church bells struck
different this time
• theaters were closed and, in older times,
the courts suspended their operation.
Of course all of these stimuli alone,
it is obvious that it was not possible to force man to drive to repentance or a more vibrant religious life.
But however create a certain atmosphere
– a kind of Lent Change – where individual effort was easier.
Just because we are weak we need external reminders, symbols, signs.
Of course there is always the risk of these external symbols
to acquire independence, become an end in itself,
and so instead it is just a reminder to be the common perception
the only content of Lent.
This risk we have highlighted the above
when we talked about the external habits and festivals
replacing genuine personal effort.
But if we understand correctly then these habits will become
the “link” connecting the mental effort with life.

We do not live in an orthodox society
and of course it is possible to create
this “climate of Lent on social level.
Whether it’s Lent or not, the world that surrounds us,
that we are mice and its integral part, not changing.
Consequently being asked of us a new effort
to think about the necessary religious relationship
between ‘external’ and ‘internal’.
The “spiritual” Tragedy of secularism is
that pushes us into a real religious “schizophrenia”
a break-of our lives into two parts:
the religious and the secular,
they have less and less inter-dependence.
So the mental effort is needed
to displace the ‘Traditional’ customs and habits,
which are key instruments in our efforts during the period of Lent.
With an experimental and necessarily schematic way
one could see this effort in two contexts:
– in life within the home
– and in life outside it, even in church.

For Orthodox understanding,
the home and the family is the first and most important area of ‘​​Christian life’
or the application of Christian principles in daily life.
The house, that is the style and spirit of family life
and not the school, not even the Church,
that is forming within us a fundamental understanding of the world
• that formats within our basic approach
which perhaps for some time not understand it,
but eventually it will become a deciding factor.
Starets Zosima in Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov says:
He may have fond memories of his childhood is saved for the rest of his life“.
The important thing is not to make this observation after the memory of his mother
who had taken her in the Divine Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified.
He remembers the beauty of Sequence, unique melody devout
Accept my prayer as incense before You . . . . .”.
A great effort for religious education,
which is currently in the catechetical schools do not mean much,
if not based on the life of the family.
What, then, could and should be done at home during Lent?
Because it is impossible here to cover all aspects of family life
will limit ourselves to only one of them.

All of us, no doubt, agree that the way the family has radically altered by the presence of radio and television.
These means of “media” today pervade your entire life.
You do not have to leave the house to find “outside”.
The whole world is here permanently, within reach him . . . . . . still.
And, slowly, the immediate experience to find ourselves
in an inner world in the beauty of “interiority” is completely lost in our contemporary culture.
And if it is not TV, it’s music.
The music stopped being something I hear
• now became a constant “background noise”
that accompanies our conversations, reading, writing, etc.
In fact this need sound then music reveals the inability of modern man to enjoy the silence, to understand it not as something negative,
like a simple lack, but just as a presence and as the only condition for most real presence.
If the Christian past lived in a large degree in a silent world that gave him
rich opportunities for meditation in the inner world,
today’s Christian is forced to make a special effort to meet
this necessary dimension of silence which she only can bring us
into contact with the high realities.
So, the problem of radio and television during the Great Lent is not a marginal case,
but in many ways is a matter of spiritual life or death.

So turn around all your furniture in the direction of your icon-corner,
especial the canapé which is so comfortable.
Hang a kind of shutter over the television-display.
start breakfast with a longer prayer and bible-readings of the day,
make it a change of life in family for the whole Lent period
and your children will remember it their whole life.

– The silence created by the absence of the noise of the world,
the noise produced by the means of mass communication,
will be filled with positive content.
– If prayer is the food for our souls, food also wants our minds,
why exactly this intellectual part of man is destroyed today
by the incessant pounding of  other things.
So what we are proposing, along with mental effort,
is an intellectual, so to speak, effort.
How many, true masterpieces, how wonderful fruits of human thought,
imagination and creativity deny our lives
just because we are much more comfortable way home from work,
surrendered to physical and mental fatigue,
push the button TV or sink in a perfect vacuum illustrated magazine.
But, how do we imagine that we could program the period of Lent?
Maybe make a list of books to read?
Course is not necessary that
all these books are always religious,
not everyone can become theologians.
But there is a lot of “theology” hidden in some literary masterpieces
and everything else that enriches
our intelligence,
each kernel of true human creation
is blessed by the Church
and, when used appropriately, attains spiritual value.

The last Sundays of Lent are dedicated
to the memory of two great teachers of Christian spirituality:
Saint Gregory Palamas and John Climacos of the Ladder
They are followed by Saint Mary of Egypt.
You need to take this as evidence that a wider one
that asks us to do the Church during Lent is
to enrich the spiritual and intellectual world inside us,
to study and stimulate on what can help us
to discover this inner world and its joys.
From this joy, of the True calling of man is fulfilled internally and not externally,
the “modern world” is offering us today not even a glimpse of it
• But without it, without understanding of Lent as a journey to the depth of our being,
Lent loses its meaning.

Finally, what could be the meaning of Lent
the endless hours we spend outside the home?
In our trade, sitting in an office or exercise our professional duties, or when we associate colleagues and friends?
Although not is possible to give an exact recipe here, as in every other case, however, some very general points can be said.
And first of Lent is a wonderful opportunity to check the nature of our incredibly arrogant
in our relationships with people at various events and on the job.
“Smile!”, “Don’t worry” etc. are actually slogan
became “orders” that willingly accept and meaning:
stay out of it, do not ask,
do not you go deeper in your relationships with other people
• Save the rules of the game combining friendliness with perfect indifference
• Think everything into the frame of material gain,
the benefit of promotion, being, in other words, a piece of the world,
who while then uses big words:
freedom, responsibility, caring about the -in my eyes normal- things in life,
in our world thing changed in, when it’s not my job, when it’s not ordered,
it’s not my responsibility,
so everybody lives in his own circle, even when the whole world is disintegrating.
The materialist principle that man is what he eats!,
so we eat until we look like as overfed pigs.
Great Lent is a time to search for meaning.
To find, the meaning in my professional life in the context of my call
• personal meaning to my relations with the other persons point
• friendship
• meaning to my responsibilities.
No employment, profession that can’t be “transformed”
– albeit briefly-only in order not greater efficiency
or a better organization but human relationships.
The same effort to “internalize” all our relations
is necessary because we are free human beings
who ended up [most of the time without knowing it] prisoners systems
which progressively make our world inhuman.
And if our faith there any meaning,
it must be connected with life
and all of the attendant.
Thousands of people think that the necessary changes
come only from outside the revolution and change in external conditions.
At hand is to show Christians that in fact everything starts
from the inside-from the faith and life according to this faith.
The Church when he walked in the Greco-Roman world,
not denounced slavery, not roused to revolt.
This same faith, the new vision of human life is
that which progressively abolish slavery.
A “Saint”
– and Holy here means, quite simply, every man who always takes seriously his Faith
will do much more to change his surrounded world
despite thousands of before printed programs.
The Saint is the only true revolutionary in this world.

Lent is an opportunity to control our words.
Our world is too verbose and mice were then flooded with words
that have lost their meaning and therefore their original Power.
Christianity reveals the sacredness of speech-a real boon to man.
That is exactly why our speech is endowed
with enormous Power either positive or negative.
So it will also be judged for our words:
But I say to you, That every idle word that men shall speak,
they shall give account thereof in the day of Judgment.
For by your words you shall be justified,
and by your words you shalt be condemned
“.
Matth.12: 36,37

We monitor our words with reinventing the seriousness and sacredness, to understand that sometimes
a “joke” called unwisely, can have devastating effects, that may be the last “drop” that overflows the glass
and the man reaches the final despair and destruction.
But the reason may also be a witness.
A random conversation in an office with a colleague
can impart a better approach to life, an attitude to other people at work and have more results than all your representative sermons.

Your, such a conversation, fall seeds for a question
on the possibility of another approach to life,
seeds desire to get to know more.
We have really no idea how much we influence each the other with our words,
the “tone” of your own personality.
And finally people are attracted to God,
not because someone was able to give enlightening explanations,
but because they saw His Light, Joy, Depth, Seriousness, Love
it reveals
the Presence and Power of God in the world.

So if this is Lent as we said in the beginning,
– it will be the discovery of our own Faith,
– it is the well compensated for my life,
– the divine meaning,
– the hidden depth.
By abstaining from food we recover the sweetness
and re-learn how to get from God with Joy and Gratitude.
By “reduce” entertainments, music, discussions, frivolous sociability,
we find the final value of human relationships,
human work of human art.
And the way I see all this just
because you will find God Himself,
because you will return to Him and by Him
all that He has given you
through His perfect Love and Mercy.

What is so striking about the description of Pascha
that ”the prisoners” experienced the Resurrection of Jesus Christ
not as something that has happened but as something that is happening.
We are not celebrating a historical event,
We are participating in a current reality.
What is more, Christ is risen
in and through all prisoners.
Broken and starving as they are,
they have to become filled with a Joy
that completely transcended our earthly condition,
a Holy Joy that surely will seem irrational,
even insane, to the unbeliever.
Cf. Father Alexander Schmemann, “Lent“.

March 3rd – Saint Winwalou abbot of Llandevenec in Bretagne [460 -532]

Saint Winwaloe [in Breton language : Gwenole;
French: Guénolé; Latin: Winwallus or Winwalœus]
was born ca. 460 and died at March 3rd ca. 532.
He was the founder and first abbot of Landévennec Abbey [literally “Lann of Venec”], also known as the Monastery of Winwaloe.
It was just south of Brest in Brittany, nowadays
a part of France.

Winwaloe was born about 460, apparently at Plouguin, near Saint-Pabu, where his supposed place of birth,
a feudal hillock, can still be seen.
Winwaloe  was one of the sons of the governor Fragan who served king Grallo.
Winaloe grew up in Ploufragan near Saint-Brieuc with his brothers, Guethenoc or Wethnoc and Jacut.
They were later joined by a sister, Creirwy.
He was educated by a Holy recluse Budoc of Dol with his two brothers;
they served God on the Île Lavret in the Bréhat archipelago near Paimpol.

Two stories about his prosperous live:
1.]. As a young man Winwaloe conceived a wish to visit Ireland to see the remains of Saint Patrick, who had just died.
However, the saint appeared to him in a dream
to say that it would be better to remain in Brittany
and found an abbey.
So, with eleven of Budoc’s other disciples,
he set up a small monastery on the Île de Tibidy,
at the mouth of the Faou.
However, it was so inhospitable that after three years,
he miraculously opened a passage through the sea
to found another abbey on the opposite bank of the Landévennec estuary.
2.]. One day Winwaloe was to visit his father
when a fleet of corsairs ‘of a thousand sails’ heading for the coast .
Fragan knew to call the citizens to resist , while
Winwaloe – as a second Moses – with arms raised to Heaven kept praying.
The population together managed to defeat the pirates destructive
and only a remnant escaped with their ships.
After this glorious victory a monastery was built with the rewards
on the site of this battle, the Île Lavret
and the monastery was named Loc -Christ .

Winwaloe settled himself later on an island in the delta of the Seine, but the place was so exposed by the Atlantic storms
– and was even flooded several times –
that he was looking for a suitable occasion.
This he found in Llandevenac , opposite Brest. There, gathered around him many brethren.
He himself continued to lead a life of extreme asceticism:
his food consisted only of bread and water, namely barley bread, which he added
to himself with ash
to make it even more upsetting.
During Great Lent he ate only twice a week.
He slept in the sand or on a low tree bark with a stone as a pillow.
Personal prayer did he just standing or kneeling.
Despite all this, he reached a very old age.
He died on Saturday, March 3rd ,
in the first week of Lent; so this must have been happened in 507, 518, 529 or 532.
He died standing at the altar, after he had given,
the kiss of peace to all his brothers.

Orthodoxy & continuous child’s asking

Ask, and it will be given to you;
seek, and you will find;
knock, and it will be opened to you
“.
Luc.11: 9

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites;
for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners,
that they may be seen by men.
Truly, I say to you, they have their reward.
But when you pray, go into your room and
shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret
and your Father who sees in secret will reward you
“.
Matth.6: 5-6

Prayers have to be done in secret
This is the first rule given by Christ.
The person who prays must do so in such a way
that he would not be seen by men to be praying.
In the spiritual tradition of the Church,
the words of Christ “go into your room”
have been interpreted in two ways.
1.]. They have been understood
to be a literal commandment.
The praying person must close himself off physically during times of prayer
in order to pray secretly and to avoid being seen.
2.]. These words of Christ have been understood to mean
that the praying person must enter within himself,
praying secretly in his mind and heart at all times,
without displaying his interior prayer to others.
Thus the “room” which one must “go into
is the “room of your soul“.

The room of the soul is the body;
our doors are the five bodily senses.
The soul enters its room
when the mind does not wander here and there,
roaming among the things and affairs of the world,
but stays within, in our heart.
Our senses become closed and remain closed
when we do not let them be passionately attached
to external sensory things and in this way our mind remains free from every worldly attachment
and by secret mental prayer unites with God its Father.

God who sees all secret things sees mental prayer
and rewards it openly with great gifts.
For that prayer is true and perfect
which fills the soul with Divine Grace
and Spiritual Gifts
“.
Saint Gregory Palamas – 14th cnt.

Thus, in the spiritual Tradition of the Christian teachers of prayer,
the unification of the mind and the heart within the soul
is seen to be the fulfillment of the basic condition of prayer
as commanded by Christ.
And in praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the heathen do;
for they think that they will be heard for their many words.
Do not he like them, for your Father knows
what you need before you ask Him
“.
Matth.6: 7,8

continuous childlike asking
And if you continue asking,
though you receive not at once,
you surely will receive.
For to this end was the door shut,
that He may induce you to knock:
to this end He does not straightway assent,
that you may ask.
Continue then to do these things
and you will surely receive
“.
Saint John Chrysostom

God knows the needs of His people
– Man prays in order to unite
his mind and heart with God.
– He prays in order that God’s will would be done in his life.
– He prays so that whatever he needs from God would be given.
– He prays so that he would consciously and
with full awareness express the fact that all that he is,
has and does is dependent on God.
à It is man who needs to pray.
à It is not God who needs man’s prayers.

True Christian prayer must be brief.
It must be simple and regular.
It must not be many-worded.
Indeed it need not have words at all.
It may be the totally silent inner attitude of the soul before God,
the fulfillment of the words of the psalmist:
Commune with your hearts . . . . .
and be silent.
Be still,
and know
that I am God
“.
Psalm 4: 4, 46: 10

The teaching about briefness and silence in prayer
is found in all of the spiritual teachers.
Saint Dimitry of Rostov [17th cnt.] sums up this teaching
when he says that the publican prayed only
God be merciful to me a sinner” and was justified;
the repentant thief prayed only
Remember me . . . . . ” and received Paradise;
and the prodigal son and the tax-collector, Zacchaeus,
said nothing at all
and received the Mercy of the Father
and the forgiveness of Christ.
Luc.15: 20, 18: 13, 19: 5, 22: 42

Ask, and it will be given to you;
seek, and you will find;
knock, and it will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks receives
and he who seeks, finds
and to him who knocks
it will be opened.
(…) If you who are evil know
how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your Father
Who is in Heaven
give good things
to those
who ask Him!
“.
Luc.11: 9,13

Whatever you ask in My Name,
I will do it,
that the Father may be glorified in the Son;
if you ask anything in My Name,
I will do it
“.
John 14: 13,14

Truly, truly I say to you,
if you ask anything of the Father,
He will give it to you in My Name.
Until now you have asked nothing in My Name;
ask, and you will receive,
that your joy may be full
“.
John 16: 23,24

Whatever one asks in the Name of Jesus will be given.
This does not mean
that man can ask God for anything at all.
He cannot ask for what is not needed, or for what is evil.
He can ask, however, and must ask for “good gifts“,
for whatever can be asked in the Name of Christ,
for whatever is Holy and sinless and Good.
If one asks for good things in faith,
He will certainly receive them
if God thinks that he should have them
for his Life and Salvation.
This is the promise of the Lord Himself.

If you abide in Me and My words abide in you,
ask whatever you will
and it shall be done for you“.
John 15: 7

And whatever you ask in prayer,
if you have faith,
you will receive
“.
Matth.21: 22, cf. Luc.18: 1-8

Every prayer directed to God in faith is answered.
This does not mean that what is asked is always given,
for God knows better than the person who prays what is good for him.
For this reason the spiritual teachers warn man
against being too long and insistent
in his concrete demands of the Lord.
God knows best what is needed
and in order to prove this to His servants,
He may at times yield to their insistent demands
and give what they want,
but should not have,
in order to show them quite clearly
that they should have trusted in His wisdom.
Thus it is always best to be silent and brief in prayer
and not too specifically demanding.
It is always best to pray:
Give what is needed, my Lord.
Your will be done
“.

How many times have I prayed
for what seemed a good thing for me
and not leaving it to God to do,
as He knows best, what is useful for me.
But having obtained what I begged for,
I found myself in distress
because I had not asked for it to be,
rather, according to God’s will . . . . .
Saint Nilus of Sinai –  5th cnt.

Orthodoxy & make a clean breast for our Lord

We celebrate the Holy Liturgy together.
But we must pay what this costs:
each one must be concerned
for the Salvation of all.
Our life is an endless Martyrdom“.
Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov [1896 – 1993]

Divine Liturgy is the official action of the Church
formally gathered together as the chosen People of God.
The word church, means a gathering or assembly of people
specifically chosen and called apart to perform a particular task.
It is the action of the Church assembled by God
– in order to be together in One Community
– to worship, to pray, to sing, to hear God’s Word,
– to be instructed in God’s Commandments,
– to offer itself with thanksgiving in Christ to God the Father.
Divine Liturgy has the living experience of God’s Eternal Kingdom
through communion with the same Christ
Who is present in His people by the Holy Spirit.
[Although it is generally the practice in the Orthodox Church today
to allow non-Orthodox Christians, and even non-Christians,
to witness the Liturgy of the Faithful, it is still the practice
to reserve actual participation in the Mystery of Holy Communion
only to members of the Orthodox Church
who are fully committed to the life and teachings of the Orthodox Faith
as preserved, proclaimed and practiced by the Church throughout its history].

Because the Divine Liturgy exists for no other reason than to be the official all-inclusive act of prayer, worship, teaching, and communion of the entire Church in Heaven and on earth,
it may not be considered merely as one devotion among many, not even the highest or the greatest.
The Divine Liturgy is not an act of personal piety.
– It is not a prayer service.
– It’s not merely one of the Mysteries [lat. Sacraments]. The Divine Liturgy is the one common Mystery
of the very being of the Church Itself.
– It is the one Mysterial manifestation of the essence of the Church
as the Community of God in Heaven and on earth.
– It is the one unique Mysterial revelation of the Church
as the mystical Body and Bride of Christ.
As the central mystical action of the whole church,
the Divine Liturgy is always Resurrectional in spirit.
– It is always the manifestation to His people of the Risen Christ.
– It is always an outpouring of the life-creating Spirit.
– It is always Communion with God the Father.
The Divine Liturgy, therefore, is never mournful or penitential.
– It is never the expression of the darkness and death of this world.
– It is always the expression and the experience of
the Eternal life of the Kingdom of the Holy Trinity.

Orthodox Christians hold that man was originally created in Communion with God,
but through acting in a manner contrary
to his own nature [which is intrinsically ordered to communion with God],
he disrupted that Communion.
Because of man’s refusal
to fulfil the “image and likeness of God
within him,corruption and the sickness of sin whose consequence is death
entered man’s mode of existence.
But when Jesus came into the world He Himself was Perfect Man and Perfect God united in the Divine Hypostasis of the Logos,
the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.
Through His assumption of human nature, human existence was restored,
enabling human beings, the fulfilment of Creation,
through participation in Divinity by Incorporation into Jesus Christ.

The Word of God came in His own Person, because it was He alone,
the Image of the Father, Who could recreate man made after the Image.
In order to effect this re-creation, however,
He had first to do away with death and corruption.
Therefore He assumed a human body,
in order that in it death might once and for all be destroyed
and that men might be renewed according to the Image
[of God]”.
Saint Athanasius‘On the Incarnation

Salvation, or “being saved“, therefore, refers to this process
of being saved from death and corruption and the fate of hell.
The Orthodox Church believes that its teachings and practices
represent the true path to participation in the Gifts [Grace] of God.
Yet, it should be understood that the Orthodox do not believe
that you must be Orthodox to participate in Salvation.
God is merciful to all.
The Orthodox believe that there is nothing that a person
[Orthodox or non-Orthodox] can do to earn Salvation.
It is rather a Gift {Grace] from God.
However, this Gift of relationship has to be accepted by the believer,
since God will not force Salvation on humanity.
Man is free to reject the Gift of Salvation continually offered by God.
To be saved, man must work together with God in a Synergeia
whereby his entire being, including his will, effort and actions,
are perfectly conformed with and united to the Divine.

God becomes powerless before human freedom; He cannot violate it since it flows from His own omnipotence.
Certainly man was created by the will of God alone; but he cannot be deified [made Holy] by it alone.
A single will for creation, but two for Deification.
A single will to raise up the image,
but two to make the Image into a Likeness.
The love of God for man is so great
that it cannot constrain;
for there is no Love without respect.
Divine will always will submit itself to groping’s, to detours,
even to revolts of human will to bring it to a free consent

Vladimir Lossky‘Orthodox Theology, an Introduction

The ultimate goal of the Orthodox Christian is
to achieve Theosis, or Union with God.
This is sometimes expressed thus:
God became Man so that Man might become god“.
Some of the greatest Saints have achieved, in this life, a measure of this process.
The individual who achieves Theosis never realizes his accomplishment,
as his perfect humility keeps him blind to pride.
Salvation therefore is not merely an escape from the eternal bondage of death,
but an entrance to life in Christ here and now.

Out of Love for us and in obedience to His Father,
our Lord, Jesus, His Son joyfully took insult and suffering upon Himself,
as the Gospel says:
Looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our Faith;
Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross,
despising the shame and is set down
at the right hand of the Throne of God
“.
Hebr. 12: 2
For this same reason our Lord said
on the night when He was betrayed:
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread
and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples,
and said,
‘Take, eat; this is my body‘,
and He took the Cup gave thanks
and gave it to them, saying,
‘Drink ye all of it;
for this is My Blood of the New Covenant,
Which is shed for many for the remission of sins’
“.
Matth.26: 26-28
Or in other words:
And for their sakes I sanctify Myself,
that they also might be sanctified
through the Truth
“.
John 17: 19
It is the same with all the Saints:
when they become perfected, they attain this accomplishment by imitating God
in outpouring of their Love and Compassion
upon all Humanity.
The real Saints in the past
and here and now seek for themselves
this Sign of Likeness to God
– to be perfected in the Love of their Neighbour.

In all your ways acknowledge Him
and He shall direct your paths
“.
Proverbs 36: 6