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.

Wishful to be a saint, by Saint Silouan, the Athonite

Saints were just people like all of us.
Many of them started with grievous sins
but through repentance they attained to the Kingdom of Heaven.
And everyone who reaches the Kingdom of Heaven does so through repentance,
which the Merciful Lord granted us by His sufferings.

In the Kingdom of Heaven where dwell the Lord
and His most pure Mother, abide all the Saints.
There live our Forefathers and Patriarchs
who valiantly carried their faith before them.
There dwell the Prophets who received the Holy Spirit,
and by their exhortations called the people to God.
There dwell the Apostles who died
that the Gospel might be preached.
There dwell the Martyrs
who gladly gave their lives for love of Christ.
There dwell the holy Prelates
who followed the Lord’s example
and took upon themselves the burden of their spiritual flock.
There dwell the holy Fathers
who lived lives of prayer and fasting,
and those who assumed folly for Christ’s sake,
all of whom fought the good fight
and thereby overcame the world.
There dwell all the Righteous
who kept God’s commandments
and vanquished their passions.

That place aspires my soul
– to that wondrous holy assembly
which the Holy Spirit has gathered together.
But woe is me!
Inasmuch as I lack humility,
the Lord does not grant me the strength to fight,
and my feeble spirit flickers out like a tiny candle,
whereas the spirit of the Saints burned with a bright flame,
which the wind of temptation not only failed to extinguish
but set burning more fiercely than ever.
They trod the earth and worked with their hands
but their spirits continued with God,
of Whom they were ever mindful.
For the love of Christ they endured
every affliction on earth and feared no suffering,
and thus glorified the Lord.
Wherefore the Lord loved them and glorified them,
and granted them the eternal Kingdom with Him.
Saint Silouan, the Athonite‘,
published by Archimandrite Sofronios

2nd Sunday of Lent – Sunday Saint Gregory Palamas – the Son of man has Power on earth to forgive sins

And again he entered into Capernaum after some days;
and it was noised that he was in the house.
And straightway many were gathered together,
insomuch that there was no room to receive them,
no, not so much as about the door:
and he preached the word unto them.

And they come unto him,
bringing one sick of the palsy,
which was borne of four.
And when they could not come nigh
unto Him for the press,
they uncovered the roof where He was:
and when they had broken it up,
they let down the bed wherein
the sick of the palsy lay.

When Jesus saw their faith,
he said unto the sick of the palsy,
Son, your sins be forgiven to you.
But there was certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts,
Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies?
who can forgive sins but God only?
And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves,
He said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts?
Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy,
your sins be forgiven to you; or to say,
Arise, and take up your bed, and walk?
But that ye may know that the Son of man
has power on earth to forgive sins,
[he sad to the sick of the palsy],
I say unto you,
Arise, and take up your bed,
and go your way into your house.
And immediately he arose, took up the bed,
and went forth before them all;
insomuch that they were all amazed,
and glorified God, saying,
We never saw it on this fashion
“.
Marc.2: 1-12

The Gospel according to Saint Marc is the shortest
and the earliest of the four Gospels we have received.
The way Marc opens his Gospel is with a simple sentence,
which is, sum total of the entire Gospel;
– “The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” -.
The acts of apostles and further entire history of the Church
including the contemporary Church experiences
are mere continuation of this glorious beginning
specified by Saint Marc in his opening sentence.
This ensures a direct link between all periods of ages
with the beginning of Gospel.
The word of God is Faithful and True
and is given to us not for merely reading and understanding
but to make it our life experience
and it is worthy of all acceptation
in all fields of action of our life
and the World.

We have just been reading in the Gospel reading about how they brought Jesus
one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four
and He healed him.

one sick of the palsy
It was this man’s misery
that he needed to be so carried
and shows the suffering state of human’s life.
It was kind of those who so carried him
and teaches the compassion
that should be in men
toward their fellow-creatures in distress.
True faith and strong faith
may work in various ways;
but it shall be accepted and approved by Jesus Christ.
Sin is the cause of all our pains and sicknesses.
The way to remove the effect, is to take away the cause.
Pardon of sin strikes at the root of all diseases.
Christ proved His Power to forgive sin,
by showing His Power to cure the man sick of the palsy.
And his curing diseases was a figure of his pardoning sin,
for sin is the disease of the soul;
when it is pardoned, it is healed.
When we see what Christ does in healing souls,
we must own that we never saw the like.
Most men think themselves whole;
they feel no need of a physician,
therefore despise or neglect Christ and His Gospel.
But the convinced, humbled sinner,
who despairs of all help, excepting from the Saviour,
will show his faith
by applying to him without delay.
Marc.2: 13-17

I would like to draw your attention to two ideas in this story.
The first is prayer for others, distant and close.
The second is forgiveness of sins.
These two ideas are tied closely together.
1.]. Because prayer about those close to us intercedes,
as we have seen, for the forgiveness of sin.
2.]. In the plan of our human existence,
forgiveness is also prayer.
Of course, forgiveness from God and human forgiveness are two different things.
Christ speaks and acts as God.
Seeing the Faith of those who brought the paralytic,
He says to the sick man,
Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you“. Marc.2: 5
– That is, He speaks with Divine authority.
And then, when the Scribes thought to themselves that he was committing blasphemy,
Christ saw this right away since nothing can be hidden
from God all-seeing, not even the depths of the human heart.
He exposed them, saying,
Why do you think evil in your hearts?
For which is easier, to say,
‘Your sins are forgiven you’
or to say,
‘Arise and walk’? “.
Marc 2: 9

Let’s pause here for a moment and think about what The Lord is saying.
“For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’
or to say, ‘Arise and walk’? ” [Marc.2: 9].
What is this about?
He seems to be saying,
You think I am an ordinary person
and accuse me of blasphemy for speaking words of forgiveness,
but can it really be that hard to forgive sins?“.
Isn’t it much harder to heal a paralytic,
telling him to ‘arise and walk?
After all, forgiveness is available to all
but healing is available to God alone.
Just as ‘the Son of Man has Power on earth to forgive sins’ [Marc.2: 10],
you also have the same power, being likewise sons of men.
When the God-man Jesus Christ speaks of Himself
as The Son of Man, He is speaking of our human nature
which He took upon Himself.
And when He is called the Son of God,
this is witness to his Divine nature:
two natures united in Him without confusion and indivisible.
Therefore, we all have this power to forgive the sins of those close to us.
This is not the same forgiveness
as that offered by God since He forgives and heals,
but it is forgiveness. Speaking as the Son of God,
Christ says to the paralytic,
’Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.’
And he arose and departed to his house
” [Marc.2: 11].
The people who were there marveled at the miracle
that took place right in front of their eyes
and glorified God.

What is the use of our human forgiveness
if it does not have the power to heal?
Why then should we forgive?

The root of any disease, be it of the soul or
of the body, is sin.
Before there can be healing,
there needs to be deliverance from sin,
that is, before healing can be complete,
there must be forgiveness.
This way,
when we forgive someone close to us,
who sinned against us, we are petitioning God to heal him from sin.
Forgiveness of one close to us becomes our prayer to God for him.
God, seeing in this our faith and love, heals.
Examples of this are plenteous and everyone who has ever forgiven knows about it.
Whoever does not know needs to begin forgiving and find out
– find out how miraculously strife is resolved through forgiveness,
as the soul is healed from offenses, envy and anger,
and most importantly, the soul of the one doing the forgiving is healed.
And then,
the one being forgiven is healed by God Almighty
through the intercession of our forgiveness for him.

Truly, having seen this,
seeing it together with the people
in the Gospel, we Glorify God
Who had given such power to men“.
Marc.2: 12

We see a miniaturized Church in
these five people.
One among them is a needy man.
The other able four put their Trust in God
and co-operate together to give a helping hand to the needy among them
and bringing him to the proximity of Jesus.
They promptly responded to the needy man among them.
They understood that the Grace of God is not restricted to them alone,
but it should be extended to all in Church.
In modern Society [even in Church] we see people are alienated from the society
and live their life aloof [approachable] and not ready to respond to the needs of the co-beings.
In a coöperated society everybody should have – the initiative to educate the uneducated,
– give [medical] help for the needy,
– give shelter for those who do not have a good housing,
– give food for the hungry.
These all are responses needed for the Church in Parish-level,
diocese-level and eventually Church-level.
In this situation only our life and Church can become the Gospel of Christ.

Scripture gives us many examples
for this Transfiguration of the World in history.
When Israel went to the bondage of Egypt,
God has sent Moses. Moses knew his responsibility
to uplift his people as a Mission of God.
To strengthen the helpless in a society is
a commissioned mission of the Church.
Church should be able to hear the cry of people [who are visiting the parish] and stretch the hand of care.
Jesus was not at reach of the man with palsy.
Of his own there was no means for him to approach.
So it was possible for him to come to Jesus only with the help of his friends.
Jesus is Immanuel, which means ‘God with us‘,
not ‘God with me‘.
Jesus was not always in the Temple or Synagogue.
He was always with the mass of the people
who were needy and marginalized.
The mission of the Church is to make the God in the Altar reachable to the mass.
Parish or congregation should not be dearer than Jesus.
The roof should be broken, walls should be demolished
or any hindrance [even foreign languages] should be removed
to make God available to the people.
This type of a Church and society only can Glorify God by heart.
We may need to conquer sometimes the objections of reason,
sometimes those of sense.

When Lord comes down to our midst, He absolves our sin,
He heals our sickness, He gives Wisdom to our mind
and He strengthens our weakness.
Lord opens enormous possibilities and makes our World and Church
a part in the history as a continuation of the Gospel.

2nd Sunday of Lent – Sunday Saint Gregory Palamas – who shall be heir of Salvation?

And, You, Lord, in the beginning
has laid the foundation of the earth;
and the Heavens are the works of Your hands:
They shall perish; but You remain;
and they all shall wax old as does a garment;
And as a vesture shall You fold them up,
and they shall be changed: but You are the same,
and Your years shall not fail.
But to which of the angels
said He at any time,
Sit on My right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool?
Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them
who shall be heirs of Salvation?
Therefore we ought to give
the more earnest heed
to the things which we have heard,
lest at any time we should let them slip.
For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast
and every transgression and disobedience
received a just recompense of reward;
How shall we escape,
if we neglect so great Salvation;
which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord
and was confirmed unto us
by them that heard Him“.
Hebr.1: 10-2: 3

It would be foolish indeed
to prefer reading a cookbook
to eating a good meal
when one is hungry for God.
Not that there is anything wrong
with reading a cookbook during Lent
– it can be very enlightening –
special when you aren’t an expired cooker,
but it is not very nourishing!
Yet like some of the original readers of Hebrews
we’re doing something very much like that.
We are preferred
to content ourselves with the externals of Faith
– such as the law, the [Aaronic] priesthood and [animal] offerings, [working hard to have a lot of money]
and to ignore the fulfilment of these things
in the Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus.
We want the cookbook rather than the meal!

As we have seen, the Tabernacle in the desert, with its regulations and sacrifices,
was an accurate and Divinely drawn picture
of the Sacrifice of Jesus
and the new arrangement for living
which would be available
to believers in Christ.
But it could only describe these realities up to a point.
It was both a comparison and a contrast.

I carry a picture of my wife in my wallet and,
when I am away from home,
I find it comforting to look at it.
But it is quite inadequate,
for it is not my wife,
only a picture of her.
I can look at it,
but I cannot have a conversation with it.
I cannot laugh together with it,
and I cannot persuade it to cook any meals!
It is an accurate representation of the real thing,
but also a far cry from it.
So the law and the tabernacle
could never do for believers of any age
what the living Christ can do.

“And it had been revealed to him [Simeon]
by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death
before he had seen the Lord’s Christ …
He took Christ up in his arms and blessed God and said:
Lord, [Gr. Despota] now You are letting
Your servant depart in peace,
according to Your word;
For my eyes have seen Your Salvation”.
Luc.2: 26-30

The fact the Simeon would not have seen death
before he saw Christ was a revelation of
the Holy Spirit“.
Therefore the Holy Spirit is “God” and “Master” [Despotis] whom Simeon glorified
because his Prophetic words
were realised.

The Holy Spirit speaks as Giahve (Γιάχβε)
Giahve is the name of the true God in the Old Testament in Hebrew.
I will cite two versus from the Old Testament,
in which the Holy Spirit speaks as Giahve,
as the true God:
Today, if you will hear His voice:
Do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion,
as in the day of trial in the wilderness,
when your fathers tested Me;
They tried Me though they saw My work.
For forty years I was grieved with that generation,
and said,
‘It is a people who go astray in their hearts,
and they do not know My ways.
So I swore in My wrath,
They shall not enter My rest“.
Psalm 94 [95]: 8-11

This verse is strange and astonishing.
One divine person speaks in the beginning about another Divine person,
and further on speaks about Himself.
On the one hand, the other divine person,
speaks about a third person and uses pronoun “His”,
and on the other hand for Himself
He speaks to the first Person of the Trinity and says
tested Me“, “tried Me“, “My work“, “was grieved“,
said“, “My ways“, “My wrath“, “My rest“.
But Which Person speaks in these versus?
According to the word of the Apostle in Hebrews 3:7,
it is the Holy Spirit speaking.
It is clear from these words that the Holy Spirit is Giahve, that is True God.
With the pronoun “His“, in the beginning of the verse
the Holy Spirit distinguishes Himself from God the Father.
Briefly, the meaning of the verse is:
Today, during the Messianic times,
when you hear His voice, of God the Father,
speaking through the Son, do not do all the bad things that your fore-fathers did to Me,
the Holy Spirit, and as a result I became wrathful and I punished them.

It is worthy to note
that according to this verse
the Hebrews “tested” the Holy Spirit,
according to “They tempted Christ” [1Cor.10: 9]
and according to other versus,
such as Psalm 77 [78]: 41, 56 “Tempted God“.
The Hebrews tempted all Three,
because the Three are one in essence or Divinity.

Then the Spirit entered into me,
and set me upon my feet
and spoke with me
and said unto me,
Go shut yourself within your house.
But you, O son of man, behold, they shall put bands upon you with them,
and you shall not go out among them:
And I will make your tongue cleave to the roof of your mouth,
that you shall be dumb, and shall not be to them a criticizer:
for they are a rebellious house.
But I will speak with you,
I will open your mouth,
and you shall say unto them,
Thus said the Lord …
“.
Ezekiel 3: 24-27

The Holy Spirit speaks by His Prophets
saying that they [the people] will bind him,
that He will make them [the prophets] dumb
and that He will speak to them again
and then open their mouth to preach saying:
Thus said the Lord …“.
The Spirit will speak
and the Prophet communicating the words of the Spirit
will preach:
Thus said the Lord …“.
Therefore the Spirit is the Lord,
the True God.

Christ our God will reveal Himself in the Incarnation for our Salvation and establish His Vineyard, the Church.
This vineyard would consist of those
who are changed through conversion to Him and who are saved from the Assyrian,
who is a wild swine and a solitary beast.
That is the devil.
O God of hosts, convert us now;
look down from Heaven and behold,
and visit Your Vineyard
Which Your right hand planted
and perfect it
“.                                                                                                                                      cf. Psalm 79 [80]: 10-16

 

2nd Sunday Of Lent – Sunday Saint Gregory Palamas

On the Second Sunday of Lent
the Orthodox Church commemorates
our Holy Father Gregory Palamas,
Archbishop of Thessalonica, the Wonderworker.
The feast day of Saint Gregory Palamas
is November 14th,
however, he is commemorated on this Sunday
as the condemnation of his enemies
and the vindication of his teachings by the Church [14th cnt] was acclaimed
as a second triumph of Orthodoxy.

The Life of this Saint
Our holy Father Gregory was born in Constantinople in 1296 of aristocratic parents who had emigrated from Asia Minor in the face of the Turkish invasion, and were attached to the court of the pious Emperor Andronicus II Palaeologus [1282-1328].
Despite his official duties, Gregory’s father led a life of fervent prayer.
Sometimes as he sat in the Senate, he would be so deep in prayer as
to be unaware of the Emperor addressing him.
While Gregory was still young, his father died after
being clothed in the monastic habit; and his mother for her part
wanted to take the veil, but delayed doing so in order to
take care of the education of her seven children.

Gregory, the eldest, was instructed by
the most highly reputed masters of secular learning and
after some years, was so proficient in philosophical reasoning that
on listening to him, his master could believe he was hearing Aristotle himself.
Notwithstanding these intellectual successes,
the young man’s real interest lay only with the things of God.
He associated with monks of renown in the city and
found a spiritual father in Theoleptus of Philadelphia, who
instructed him in the way of holy sobriety and of prayer of the heart.

About the year 1316, Gregory decided to abandon the vanities of the world.
His mother, two sisters, two brothers and a great many of his servants
entered upon the monastic life with him.
He and his two brothers went on foot to the holy Mountain of Athos,
where they settled near the Monastery of Vatopedi under the direction of the Elder Nicodemus,
who came from Mount Auxentius.
Gregory made rapid progress in the holy activity of prayer,
for he had put into practice since childhood the fundamental virtues of
obedience, humility, meekness, fasting, vigil and the different kinds of renunciation
that make the body subject to the spirit.
Night and day he besought God ceaselessly with tears saying,
Lighten my darkness!
After some time, the Mother of God, in Whom he had put his trust since his youth,
sent Saint John the Theologian to him with the promise of her protection
in this life and in the next.

After only three years, the early death of his brother Theodosius, followed by that of the Elder Nicodemus,
led Gregory and his second brother, Macarius,
to attach themselves to the Monastery of the Great Lavra [Athos].
Gregory was appointed chanter.
His conduct in the cenobitic life was beyond reproach,
and the brethren admired his zeal for putting into practice all the Holy Evangelic virtues.
He lived with such abstinence as to appear unburdened
by the flesh to the extent of being able
to go three months without sleep.
At the end of three years of common life,
his soul thirsting for the sweet waters of the wilderness,
he retired to the hermitage of Glossia, under the direction
of an eminent monk called Gregory of Byzantium.
With the passions purified, he was now able to rise up in prayer
to the contemplation of the mysteries of the Creation.
Solitude and inner stillness enabled him to keep his intellect
fixed at all times in the depths of his heart,
where he called on the Lord Jesus with compunction,
so that he became all prayer,
and sweet tears flowed continually from his eyes as from two fountains.

The incessant raids of Turkish pirates soon obliged
Gregory and his companions to leave their hermitage.
Together with twelve monks, he wanted to make the pilgrimage to the Holy Places
and to seek refuge at Mount Sinai; but this did not prove feasible.
Instead, he spent some time in Thessalonica,
where he joined the group around the future Patriarch Isidore,
who was endeavoring to spread the practice of the Jesus prayer among the faithful
so that they might profit from the experience of the monks.
In 1326, Gregory was ordained a priest,
having understood in a vision that this was indeed the will of God.
He then departed to found a hermitage in the area of Beroea,
where he practiced an even stricter Ascesis than before.
For five days of the week he remained alone,
fasting, keeping vigil and praying with abundant tears.
He only appeared on Saturdays and Sundays
to serve the Divine Liturgy, share a fraternal meal and converse on some spiritual subject with his companions in the ascetic life.
He continued thus to rise up in contemplation
and to enter into closer union
with God in his heart.

When his mother died,
he went to Constantinople to fetch his sisters,
whom he settled in a hermitage near his own.
But as Serbian raids in the region became more and more frequent, he decided to go back to Mount Athos.
He settled a little above the Lavra in the hermitage of Saint Savas,
where he lived in greater seclusion than before, and could converse alone with God.
He went to the monastery only infrequently and
would receive his rare visitors on Sundays and feast days.
Going on from that contemplation which is still outward,
Gregory then attained to the vision of God in the Light of the Holy Spirit
and to the Deification promised by Christ to His perfect disciples.

One day in a dream, he saw that he was full of a milk from heaven which, as it overflowed,
changed into wine and filled the surrounding air with a wonderful scent.
This was a sign to him that the moment had come to teach
his brethren the mysteries that God revealed to him.
He wrote several ascetic treatises at this time, and,
in 1335, was appointed Abbot of the Monastery of Esphigmenou.
But the two hundred monks who lived there understood
neither his zeal nor his spiritual expectations
so, after a year, he returned to his hermitage.

At that time, Barlaam, a monk from Calabria, won a great name for himself
as a speculative thinker in Constantinople.
He was particularly fond of expounding the mystical writings of Saint Dionysius the Areopagite,
which he interpreted in an entirely philosophical way,
making knowledge of God the object of cold reason and not of experience.
When this refined humanist learned of the methods of prayer of some simple monks of his acquaintance, who allowed a place to the sensory element in spiritual life,
he was scandalized.
He took occasion to calumniate then and to accuse them of heresy.
The hesychast monks appealed to Gregory
who then wrote several polemical treatises in which
he answered the accusations of Barlaam
by locating monastic Spirituality in a dogmatic synthesis.

He showed that Ascesis and prayer are the outcome of the whole mystery of Redemption,
and are the way for each person to make the Grace given at Baptism blossom within himself.
He also defended the authenticity of the methods which the Hesychasts used
to fix the intellect in the heart;
for since the Incarnation we have to seek the Grace of the Holy Spirit in our bodies,
which are sanctified by the Sacraments and grafted by the Eucharist into the Body of Christ.
This uncreated Grace is the very Glory of God which,
as it sprang forth from the body of Christ on the day of the Transfiguration,
overwhelmed the disciples [Matth.17].
Shining now in the heart purified from the passions, it truly unites us to God,
illumines us, deifies us and gives us a pledge of that same Glory
which will shine on the bodies of the Saints after the general Resurrection.
In thus affirming the full reality of deification,
Gregory was far from denying the absolute transcendence and
un-know-able-ness of God in His essence.
Following the ancient Fathers, but in a more precise manner,
he made a distinction between God’s imparticipable essence and
the eternal, creative and providential energies
by which the Lord enables created beings to participate in
His being, His life and His light without, however,
introducing any division into the unity of the Divine Nature.
God is not a philosophical concept for Saint Gregory:
He is Love, He is Living Person and consuming fire,
as Scripture teaches [Deut.4: 24],
Who does everything to make us godlike.

Saint Gregory’s brilliant answer to Barlaam was first accepted
by the authorities of Mount Athos in the Hagiorite Tome and
then adopted by the Church, which condemned Barlaam
[and with him the philosophical humanism
that would soon inspire the European Renaissance
],
during the course of two Councils at the Church of Saint Sophia in 1341.

Barlaam’s condemnation and his departure for Italy
did not bring the controversy to an end.
No sooner had Gregory returned to his Athonite hermitage from Thessalonica
where he had been writing his treatises in seclusion than Akindynos,
an old friend of his, restated the substance of Barlaam’s arguments
and condemned Gregory’s distinction between essence and energies as an innovation.
Akindynos, who at first aspired to be an umpire between Barlaam and Gregory,
was the kind of rigid conservative who does no more than repeat set phrases
without seeking to enter into the spirit of the Tradition.
At the same time, a dreadful civil war broke out
as a result of the rivalry between the Duke Alexis Apokaukos and
Saint Gregory’s friend, John Cantacuzenus (1341-47).
The Patriarch, John Calecas, sided with Apokaukos and
encouraged Akindynos to bring a charge of heresy against Gregory,
which led to the excommunication and imprisonment of the Saint.

During the four years of Gregory’s confinement, there was no slackening of his activity.
He carried on a huge correspondence, and
wrote an important work against Akindynos.
When John Cantacuzenus gained the upper hand in 1346,
the Regent, Ann of Savoy, came to the defense of the Saint
and deposed the Patriarch on the eve of Cantacuzenus’ triumphal entry into the City.
He nominated Isidore as Patriarch (1347-50), and
summoned a new Council to vindicate the Hesychasts.
The controversy was not finally resolved until 1351,
at a third Council which condemned the humanist Nicephorus Gregoras.
In the Synodal Tome the doctrine of Saint Gregory on the uncreated energies
and on the nature of Grace
was recognized as the rule of faith of the Orthodox Church.

Among Isidore’s new episcopal appointments,
Gregory was named Archbishop of Thessalonica in 1347; but
he was unable to take possession of his see as the city was in the hands of the Zealots,
the party opposed to Cantacuzenus.
After finding shelter for a while in Lemnos, where
he showed heroic devotion during an epidemic,
Gregory was eventually able to enter the city acclaimed
as if Christ Himself were coming in triumph,
with the chanting of Paschal hymns.

During a voyage to Constantinople, he fell into the hands of some Turks,
who held him for a year in Asia Minor (1354-55), but allowed him a measure of freedom.
This, and his openness of spirit, enabled him to engage in amicable theological discussions
with the Muslim doctors of religion and with the son of the Emir Orkhan.
When he was set free, thanks to a ransom from Serbia,
he returned to Thessalonica to take up his activity again
as pastor and wonderworker.
He suffered a long illness and some time before his death,
Saint John Chrysostom appeared to him with the invitation
to join the choir of Holy Hierarchs immediately after his own feast.
And, indeed, on November 14, 1359 the Saint gave up his soul to God.
When he died, his countenance was radiant with a light like
to that which shone on Saint Stephanos [Acts 6: 15].
In this way God showed, through the person of His Servant,
the Truth of his doctrine on the reality of deification
by the uncreated Light of the Holy Spirit.
The veneration of Saint Gregory was approved by the Church in 1368.
The Saint works many miracles even to the present day and,
after Saint Demitrios, he is regarded as the Protector of Thessalonica.

Orthodox Commemoration – on The Sunday Of Saint Gregory Palamas
The feast day of Saint Gregory Palamas is November 14, the day of his repose,
however the Orthodox Church commemorates the Saint on the Second Sunday of Lent.
As a Sunday of Great Lent, the commemoration is celebrated
with the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great,
which is preceded by a Matins [Orthros] Service.
A Great Vespers is conducted on Saturday evening.

Hymns Of The Feast:
MP3:  Απολυτίκιο Β΄ Κυριακής Νηστειών – Γρηγορίου του Παλαμά
Apolytikion       plagal 4th Tn
Gregory the Miracle Worker,
light of Orthodoxy,
support and teacher of the Church,
comeliness of Monastics,
invincible defender of theologians,
the pride of Thessalonica,
and preacher of Grace,
intercede forever
that our souls may be saved
“.

Kontakion          plagal 4rth Tn
With one accord, we praise you
as the sacred and divine vessel of wisdom
and clear trumpet of theology,
our righteous Father Gregory of Divine speech.
As a mind that stands now before the Primal Mind,
do you ever guide aright and lead our mind to Him,
that we all may cry:
Hail, herald of Grace Divine
“.

Orthodoxy & put your faith in the Lord

The period of Lent is a period of self-denial:
It is an effort to control
what usually controls us“.

Lent will end on Pascha-eve
– as it does for hundreds of millions
of Christians around the world.
Orthodox Christians prefer to refer
to that which for people in the West is known as “Pascha”
as “The Victory of Christ”, the Victory over death.
Thousands and thousands of followers of Christ
– join Him in this period of reflection,
– join Him in this retreat from the world, the jungle, the desert
– endow the spiritual re-birth
– to become more holy,
– preparing for a re-baptism with Pascha.

Pascha, like every Sunday
marks the spiritual
lack of confusion of the universe“,
a coming home
in the Kingdom.

For You, my Lord, are my hope;
You made the Most High your refuge.
Evils shall not come to you
and a scourge shall not draw near your dwelling;
for He shall command His Angels concerning you,
to keep you in all your ways;
in their hands they shall bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone
“.
Psalm 90: 9-12

And you shall be secure,
because there is hope;
yea, you shall dig about you,
and you shall take
your rest in safety
“.
Job 11: 18

And who is He
Who will harm you
if you become followers
of what is good?
“.
1Petr.3: 13

That He would show you
the secrets of Wisdom!
For they would double your prudence.
Know therefore
that God exacts from you Less
than your iniquity deserves
“.
Job 11: 6

If any man be in Christ,
he is a new creature:
old things are passed away;
and all things are become new
“.
2Cor.5: 17
A person may not be able to tell the exact time or place, or trace all the chain of circumstances in the process of conversion;
but this does not prove him to be unconverted.
Christ said to Nicodemus:
The wind blows where it listed,
and you hears the sound thereof,
but can’t tell  from where it comes

and where it goes:
so is everyone
that is born of the Spirit
“.

When we are in trouble or despair of have lost hope,
we should do what David did:
pour out our hearts to God
and tell Him of our needs and troubles,
just as they are. It is because
He can deal with us wisely that we confess to God:
He can make our troubles easy to bear.
If this is our benefit,
and can save us from dejection
which destroys and corrupts
“.
Saint Hesychius the Priest

Study, my child, to acquire in your life
dignity, simplicity, understanding,
continuous prayer, manliness,
unfeigned love, wisdom, seemliness.
Be sympathetic, love the poor.
Attain silence and patient endurance.
Do not slander, do not laugh at anyone.
Acquire angerlessness, modestly, and humility, so that the Lord will glorify you
before the Angels and the Saints
“.
Elder Athanasius,
monastery Grigoriou, Athos

We are called to take up the Cross,
to die with Christ,
to become the Church,
the one body of Christ.
Our divisions are truly scandal of our own making.
Whether they are between persons,
within an ecclesial body, or between ecclesial bodies,
each and every one of us is responsible
for our failure to make Christ present through our witness,
our martyria, to a world that is increasingly alienated from God
and increasingly thirsting for Christ.
Clinging on to that which we value,
whether our own dignity confronting that of others,
a strife-creating indignation within our ecclesial bodies,
or our pride in the distinctiveness of our own ecclesial body
and the hierarchies of a long-gone era,
we are like the seed that remains alone,
rather than dying to bear fruit.
If we are to be Christ’s one true Body,
we must follow Him by dying to everything
that separated us from Him,
all that belongs to this world rather than to the Kingdom,
and hold ourselves open to whatever He may lead us.
Dying, then,
we might begin make Christ manifest
by how we live as His one Body
“.
Father John Behr

For Your omnipotence
is not far from us
even when
we are far from You
“.
Saint Augustine

As we take this journey together during Lent,
we want to share once again
how beautiful and freeing forgiveness can be.
And that we truly make no progress with
the fasting, the praying, the attendance at prayers,
if we have rancour, hatred, anger . . . . .
any of those ugly, festering, emotions . . . . .
deep in our soul.
Lent becomes meaningless, really,
if we do not approach it with a clean heart;
a heart ready and willing
to be open to God working in our lives.

Wash yourselves and you shall be clean;
put away the wicked ways
from your souls before My eyes;
cease to do evil; learn to do well.
Seek judgment, relieve the oppressed,
consider the fatherless,
and plead for the widow.
Come then,
and let us reason together, said the Lord:
Though your sins be as scarlet,
I will make them white as snow;
and though they be red like crimson,
I will make them white as wool
“.
Isaiah 1: 16-18

 

 

Thanks be to the Lord!!!

Psalms created on Truth – sitting at the rivers of Babylon [Psalm 136]

And the Lord humbled you
and suffered you to hunger
and fed you with manna,
which you didn’t know, neither did your fathers know;
that the Lord might make you know
that man doth not live by bread alone,
but by every Word that proceeds
out of the mouth of the Lord
man does live“.
Deut.8: 3

The Lord tests His children
in the wilderness for forty days [years]
– Eating manna taught them
that man lives by the Word of God.
– Their clothing did not wear out.
– The Lord humiliated them.
– If they serve other gods,
they will perish.

Other nations are driven out of the promised Land
because of their wickedness.
– Moses evaluate the rebellions of Israel
and tells how he mediated
between the people and the Lord.
On two occasions Moses went
without food and water for forty days.

The tables of stone
containing the Ten Commandments
are placed in the altar [ark].
All that God requires is
that we Love and serve Him
– How great and mighty is the Lord!

You shall Love and obey the Lord your God
– If the children of Israel obey,
they will be blessed with rain and harvests
and will drive out mighty nations
– We have to learn God’s laws and teach them
– Blessings flow from obedience;
offensive terms are present in dis-obedience.

We have to destroy the worldly gods and places of worship
– The Lord will elect where His people will worship.
– The frustrating of blood is forbidden.
– Church’s worship have to be conform
to the Divine standard.

I told you before “How soon we forget!
That is more than just a clever saying, it is the truth.
Sports fans forget that their team won last year,
when they begin to lose this year.
Children forget the sacrifices their parents make for them.
Students forget what teachers taught them.
We forget faces, dates, places,
and even the names of old friends.
But fortunately, most of what we forget
is not all that serious.
For many of us forgetfulness
is just one of many signs of aging.

Remember Your God
Problems of memory though come not only through advancing age,
but are endemic in us all.
Scripture calls us to remember for an important reason.
The world does not need so much
to be informed as to be reminded
” [Thomas More]
The Bible says again and again
Forget not!” and “Remember!“;
and so we do during these days of Lent.
We are sitting at the rivers of Babylon
and we remember how we have to be:
– an Image of our Creator;
– rooted in the character of God.
And God does save us through
the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.
It is Christ Who knows and experiences
the laments for and with us,
and it is Christ Who we find our confidence in
to praise Him in the storms of our life.

Moses at the Burning Bush
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”;
and He said,
Therefore you shall say to your sons,
‘I AM has sent me to you’
“.
God, furthermore, said to Moses,
Therefore you shall say to your sons,
‘The LORD, the God of your fathers,
the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac,
and the God of Jacob,
has sent me to you’
“.
This is My name forever
and this is My memorial-Name to all generations
Go and gather your elders together and say to them,
‘The LORD, the God of your fathers,
the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
‘,
has appeared to me, saying,
“I am indeed concerned about you
and what has been done to you in Egypt . . . . .

[in the desert/the wilderness].
cf. Ex.3: 14-16

The call to remember is a command to meditate on who God is.
To remember is not so much a warning to master a wealth of facts about God
as it is a reminder of the awful possibility
that we can forget our dependence upon Him.
The command to remember here is given
as Church is poised to possess their inheritance,
the promised land.
There existed the very real possibility
that we would cease to remember all God did for us
as we found we no longer had to depend on Him for everything we have.
When we enjoy the wealth of the land He provides for us,
we will forget it came from Him.
It is ironic that we may find ourselves forgetting Him
because of the many blessings that He has given us.
When our hands are full
we forget the lessons we learned
when our hands were empty.

Time of Investigation
Your Investment in family-live
during these days of Lent, pays benefits later!
Meekness has always been a characteristic of
the Godly [Ps.37: 11]. It’s the only quality
that Jesus ever ascribed to Himself:
– “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me;
for I am meek and lowly in heart:
and you shall find rest
unto your souls

Matth.11: 29

Meekness
So what is meekness?
The Greeks used the word ”πραότητα” to refer to ‘the taming of a wild horse.
The animal hadn’t lost its strength,
but all of the power of that animal
had been brought under control.
To be meek is to be under
the controlling Power of the Holy Spirit.
It involves our submission to God’s authority
and it involves the yielding of our rights.
It is linked with what the Bible refers to
as by Grace being filled with the Holy Spirit [Pentecost].
If you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Saviour
then you have all of the Holy Spirit that you’re ever going to get.
The Holy Spirit is one of the manifestations of God. You can’t just have a bit of Him.
Either you have the Spirit of God or you don’t.
Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ,
he is none of His
”.
Romans 8: 9
The filling of the Holy Spirit
has nothing to do with getting more
of the Holy Spirit
but it has everything to do with
the Holy Spirit getting more of you.
The Holy Spirit wants to fill and control every area in our lives; but He does not force Himself upon us.
He wants us to yield to Him
the right to every single area of our lives
until they are under His control and Lordship.
This is the way of blessing and success.
The meeker we become
the less upset and angry we will be
when we don’t get our own way.
Meekness is the antidote to anger.

► ►► The contemporary spiritual, theological problem concerns the person [πρόσωπο] …
Revelation reveals that “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14).
If He says, “I AM” it means that He is a person.
The word “I” has great significance.
For it expresses the person. God says:
Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness”.
Gen.1: 26
Science cannot say this. Only revelation can say this.
And we need to base ourselves on revelation,
which the Lord never refuted …

Theology is the content of our prayers.
And an example of this theology is the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great
[every Sunday served during Lent].
The whole anaphora is Theology and is expressed through prayer.
But then Theology comes as a state of being.
John the Theologian, from an academic point of view,
was not a theologian, but he says things simply.
His theology, however, is a state of being.
Whatever he says becomes dogma for everyone.
But the only study that enables us
to sense what God is like,
is the ascetic life according to
the commandments of the Gospel.
When our life is lived according to the will of God,
then we understand that there cannot be a difference
between the commandments and the mind of God Himself.
When we think according to the commandments,
then our mind gets used to thinking as God Himself thinks.
And regarding Theosis, they say: but what is theosis?
With obedience to the abbot from the beginning,
one’s will is cut off,
then in obedience to the Gospel commandments
one reaches this state.
We do small things but the results must become Great.
Through obedience we enter into the life of divine Being.
We have good descriptions of this in
the writings of Saint Nicodemus, the Athonite.
I have told others, as well, that
when they learn things from the world,
they are living in sin.
They need to free themselves through Asceticism.
This is how I tried to make them understand the need for patience.
[Just as the Incarnation was a great kenotic act,
where Christ God became man as one person
and bore our sins patiently with humility and love.
In following Him, we become true persons in Him
and realize our life and fully live our freedom.
It is here where personhood finds its greatest achievement:
in putting on Christ and His indwelling in us
by the Holy Spirit sent from God the Father.
The very essence of our life must become
constant personal encounter with Christ,
and in this we become truly persons, truly free, truly loving.
This is how personhood is understood in Theosis.
We fulfil our personhood in living in Christ
and His dwelling within us,
and inasmuch as He has perfected humanity,
He raises us in freedom, in love,
to the fulfilment of our humanity,
as true persons in Him].
father Sophrony [Sakharov 1896-1993]

Psalm 136 chanted during the Sunday liturgies
during Great Lent instead of the regular Communion hymn,
just before Holy Communion:
1.] Mp3  by George Papanikolaos from Samos, Greece.
Ἐπι των ποταμών Βαβυλωνος -By The Waters of Babylon [Psalm 136] – 3rd Tn
2.] Mp3 by Sirin (Сирин) Ensemble, Russia.
Sirin (Сирин) Ensemble – ‘By the rivers of Babylon’ [Psalm 136}

Tekst Psalm 136:
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.
Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down”, they cried, “tear it down to its foundations!”.
Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is the one who repays you
according to what you have done to us“.

Wherever you go,
have God ever before your eyes“.
Saint Antony the Great

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.