Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, has shone to the world the light of wisdom! For by it, those who worshiped the stars were taught by a star to adore Thee, the Sun of Righteousness and to know Thee, the Orient from on high. O Lord, glory to Thee!
The Commemoration of St. Mardarije (December 12), began on Sunday, 12/11/16, with Hierarchical Liturgy at Holy Resurrection Cathedral, Chicago celebrated by Metropolitan Amfilohije (Montenegro and Coastlands), Bishop Longin (New Gracanica-Midwest America), Bishop Maxim (Western America), Bishop Irinej (Eastern America) and Bishop Kirilo (of Diocletia, assistant administrator of South America) along with Cathedral clergy Fr. Darko Spasojevic, Fr. Radovan Jakovljevic, Protodeacons Milovan Gogic, Pavle Starcevic and deacons Nenad Jakovljevic and Jovan Anicic. The Liturgy was well attended and responses were sung by the Branko Radicevic choir. Metropolitan Amfilohije gave a moving homily wherein he spoke of Saint Mardarije stressing that our Serbian homeland gave to America the best gift — Holy Saints — St. Mardarije, St. Sebastian, St. Varnava and St. Nikolai who following in the steps of St. Sava worked tirelessly to evangelize the Serbian Orthodox. He also touched on American life and counseled against the sin of abortion. Following the liturgy a luncheon was held in the hall which included a program providing commentary regarding the Crete sabor by Metropolitan Amfilohije, Bishop Longin and Bishop Irinej who all attended the sabor.
On Monday, December 12, 2016, the actual feast date of St. Mardarije, Hierarchical Liturgy was served at St. Sava Monastery, Libertyville where Metropolitan Amfilohije, Bishop Longin, Bishop Sava (retired Bishop of Slavonija), Bishop Irinej and Bishop Kirilo concelebrated with more than 20 priests and 5 deacons of the Midwest and Eastern dioceses with faithful laity in attendance. Following the Liturgy, a beautiful Akatist was solemnly served at the grave of St. Mardarije located on the right side of the Church, followed by the cutting of the Slavski kolac.
As Metropolitan Amfilohije has emphasized, Libertyville Illinois has been given a great gift — the church of St. Sava, and its founder, our holy Saint Mardarije. Let us acknowledge this endowment by constantly venerating St. Mardarije and asking for his intercession before Christ our God as well as supporting the Libertyville renovation project to continue the work begun decades before us.
O tireless preacher of Christ the Lord, Saint-Sava like leader of your people in the Diaspora, diligent builder and teacher of repentance, whose rule of life was: Sowing Christian love, spreading peace, quieting passions, preaching good and turning people into brothers. O Saint Mardarije of Libertyville and America, with all the Enlighteners of the American land, Beseech the only Lover of mankind to grant peace and unity to the Orthodox people!
-Kondak to St. Mardarije
A pan-Orthodox celebration of St. Mardarije’s canonization is being planned for July 16, 2017 by Bishop Longin. Read more about St. Mardarije in an excellent Sebastian Press title “To the Glory of God the Father” The lives of Saint Mardarije and Saint Sebastian, 2015 (Editor: Bishop Maxim) and a beautiful Sveti Gora Press (2016) booklet entitled “St. Mardarije of Lesanj-Libertyville and All America, biography, service and Akatist.” (Editor: Metropolitan Amfilohije) both available in New Gracanica bookstore.
A book about St. Mardarije for children can be purchased at Potamitis Publishing.
As Orthodox Christians we must carefully examine every aspect of our involvement in the world, its activities, holidays and festivals, to be certain whether or not these involvements are compatible with our Holy Orthodox Faith. For a while now everything in the outside world is reminding us that Halloween is near: at school our children are busy painting pumpkins, cutting and pasting bats, ghosts and witches and planning the ideal costume in which to go trick-or-treating.
Most of our schools, local community organizations and entertainment on television, radio and press will share in and capitalize upon the festival of Halloween. Many of us will participate in this festival by going to costume parties, or by taking our children trick-or-treating in our neighborhood after dark on October 31st. Most of us will take part in the Halloween festivities believing that it has no deeper meaning than fun and excitement for the children. Most of us do not know the historical background of the festival of Halloween and its customs.
The feast of Halloween began in pre-Christian times among the Celtic peoples of Britain, Ireland and Northern France. These pagan peoples believed that physical life was born from death. Therefore, they celebrated the beginning of the “new year” in the fall, on the eve of October 31st and into the day of November 1st, when, as they believed the season of cold, darkness, decay and death began. Instructed by their priests, the Druids, the people extinguished all hearth fires and lights and darkness prevailed.
According to pagan Celtic tradition, the souls of the dead had entered into the world of darkness, decay and death and made total communion with Samhain, the Lord of death, who could be appeased and cajoled by burnt offerings to allow the souls of the dead to return home for a festal visit on this day. The belief led to the ritual practice of wandering about in the dark dressed in costumes indicating witches, hobgoblins, fairies and demons. The living entered into fellowship and communion with the dead by this ritual act of imitation, through costume and the wandering about in the darkness. They also believed that the souls of the dead bore the affliction of great hunger on this festal visit. This belief brought about the practice of begging as another ritual imitation of the activities of the souls of the dead on their festal visit. The implication was that any souls of the dead and their imitators who are not appeased with “treats”, i.e. offerings, will provoke the wrath of Samhain, whose angels and servants could retaliate through a system of “tricks”, or curses.
In the strictly Orthodox early Celtic Church, the Holy Fathers tried to counteract this pagan new year festival by establishing the feast of All Saints on that same day (in the East, this feast is celebrated on another day). The night before the feast (on “All Hallows Eve”), a vigil service was held and a morning celebration of the Eucharist. This custom created the term Halloween. But the remaining pagan and therefore anti-Christian people reacted to the Church’s attempt to supplant their festival by increased fervor on this evening, so that the night before the Christian feast of All Saints became a night of sorcery, witchcraft and other occult practices, many of which involved desecration and mockery of Christian practices and beliefs. Costumes of skeletons, for example, developed as a mockery of the Church’s reverence for holy relics. Holy things were stolen and used in sacrilegious rituals. The practice of begging became a system of persecution of Christians who refused to take part in these festivities. And so the Church’s attempt to counteract this unholy festival failed. This is just a brief explanation of the history and meaning of the festival of Halloween. It is clear that we, as Orthodox Christians, cannot participate in this event at any level (even if we only label it as “fun”), and that our involvement in it is an idolatrous betrayal of our God and our Holy Faith. For if we imitate the dead by dressing up or wandering about in the dark, or by begging with them, then we have willfully sought fellowship with the dead, whose Lord is not a Celtic Samhain, but Satan, the evil one, who stands against God. Further, if we submit to the dialogue of “trick or treat,” our offering does not go to innocent children, but rather to Satan himself.
Let us remember our ancestors, the Holy Christian Martyrs of the early Church, as well as our Serbian New Martyrs, who refused, despite painful penalties and horrendous persecution, to worship, venerate or pay obeisance in any way to idols who are angels of Satan. The foundation of our Holy Church is built upon their very blood. In today’s world of spiritual apathy and listlessness, which are the roots of atheism and turning away from God, one is urged to disregard the spiritual roots and origins of secular practices when their outward forms seem ordinary, entertaining and harmless. The dogma of atheism underlies many of these practices, denying the existence of both God and Satan.
Our Holy Church, through Jesus Christ, teaches that God alone stands in judgment over everything we do and believe and that our actions are either for God or against God. No one can serve two masters. Therefore, let us not, as the pagan Celts did, put out our hearth fires and wander about in the dark imitating dead souls. Let us light vigil lamps in front of our Slava icons, and together with our families, ask God to grant us faith and courage to preserve as Orthodox Christians in these very difficult times, and to deliver us from the Evil One.
-St. Nikolaj (Velimirovic)
MEMORIAL SATURDAY – ZADUSNICE
June 18, 2016
The Saturday before Pentecost, this year on June 18, is the day the Orthodox set aside all other activities to remember the DEPARTED. This is one of the specially set Memorial Saturdays of the year when we who are yet alive, the Church Militant, still struggling against evil, gather at Church and the cemetery to pray for the souls of our relatives and friends, the Church Triumphant — together we are the body of Christ. The prayers offered are beneficial not only for the departed but for the living. On Saturday, DIVINE LITURGY was served at St. Sava (Libertyville) and also at Protection of the Virgin/Pokrov Church (New Gracanica), and was followed by a PARASTOS and BLESSING OF GRAVES at both cemeteries. The name of the newly departed +Milenko Vuckovich who attended church at Pokrov and was a faithful bass singer with the Episcopal Choir was mentioned at Liturgy and the Parastos.
Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life Come and Abide in us.
The glorious Feast of Pentecost, was celebrated on Sunday, June 19 at the Pokrov Church, New Gracanica which was decorated with the traditional greens representing the ever living Tree of grace and life, of joy and comfort. Thus says the Lord:
Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I your God am holy.
(Lev 11.44-45, 1 Pet 1.15-16)
by Fr. Dimitri Cosby
For Orthodox Christians, the center of spiritual effort is our participation in Holy Communion. We draw spiritual sustenance and strength from the Body and Blood of our incarnate Redeemer and the deep inner communion with Him which we experience through them. The Holy Spirit, working through these Holy Gifts, cleanses and invigorates us for our struggle against the passions and our growth in virtue and holiness.
Because of their importance we cannot approach the Holy Mysteries casually. We are expected to prepare ourselves through prayer, fasting, and recollection of and repentance for our sins. Orthodox prayer books give a collection of prayers designed to ready us for Holy Communion. We are expected to observe the usual weekly and lenten fasts, but there is also the special Pre-Communion fast (abstinence from anything taken by mouth) from the evening before the Liturgy at which we receive. We manifest repentance both by an extemporaneous examination of our conscience and by a heartfelt reading of the Communion prayers, which are essentially penitential in nature, and also by participation in the mystery of Confession.
The relationship between Confession and Holy Communion is complex. As we are well aware Confession is important in its own right, as a discipline which encourages us to look into our hearts and admit to the passions and vices we find in control there. If we do so we reap two benefits. In the first place the grip of sin is weakened, so that we may free ourselves for a purer, holier life. Secondly, and most importantly, we receive forgiveness so that, as our Lord promised, we may stand before Him un-condemned at the Judgment. St. John Chrysostom cites a saying of St. Paul, “But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged” (1 Corinthians 11:3 1), and adds, “And he said not, ‘if we punished ourselves, if we were revenged on ourselves,’ but if we were only willing to acknowledge our offense, to pass sentence on ourselves, to condemn the things done amiss, we would be rid of the punishment both in this world and the next:’
Because we sin and stand constantly in need of forgiveness, we must periodically come to Confession before we receive Holy Communion. We need the examination of conscience and the resulting cleansing of our souls which Confession provides before we can approach the Mysteries. Part of the reason for Confession is that sin cuts us off from God and from His Church. We sin as an individual before God and must constantly invoke His forgiveness in our private daily prayers. But ultimately we find pardon within the Church. To the congregation of His faithful, Christ has entrusted the grace of His death and resurrection, and upon her He bestowed, through His holy apostles, the power to bind and loose sins (Matthew 16:19 and 18:18; John 20: 22-23). The Church is the custodian of divine forgiveness and the arena in which it operates. In Confession the priest reminds us, “And I am but a witness, bearing testimony before Him of all which you may say to me.” The priest does not forgive of his own authority, but his presence assures us that Christ forgives, that His cleansing grace resides in His Holy Church, and that healing is ours if we draw near in love and sincere repentance. The power of the Mystery derives from the grace of the Spirit and operates through both the Church and the sincerity of our own repentance. The priest encourages us to true repentance, stands with us as the Church’s representative before the merciful God to attest to our contrition, and assures us of our reconciliation both with the Church and with her Lord. In the prayers of absolution he asks God to “reconcile and unite [ penitent] to Thy Holy Church…” Only then can we reenter the Body of Christ, the Church. And there, in the Church’s healing embrace, we receive Christ’s precious Body and Blood, and the grace which flows into us from them.
Even after Confession, however, we must never think that we are “worthy” to receive. There are two reasons for this: (1.) the weakness of fallen nature enfeebles even our Confession and (2.) Confession itself only finds its fulfillment in something higher and greater.
In the first place no Confession is ever perfect or complete. Our very sinfulness limits our examination of conscience. We are not aware of the true nature and consequences of our actions. We especially are ignorant of the recesses of our minds, of the attitudes and passions that lurk there. And even if we possess the necessary depth of discernment, we are always subject to temptation and the allure of sin. How often do we come to Confession and pour out our heart before the Savior, and then as we walk away, have some malicious thought enter our mind, induced by pride, anger, jealousy or lust? If we were to confess even moments before approaching the Chalice, even in those few seconds the demons’ enticements or our own spiritual weakness would lead us into the sins of the mind, if not those of the body. We are not “worthy” to approach the Mysteries because we have gone to Confession and, therefore, for a few hours have the illusion of perfection. Rather, we are “worthy” to receive Communion, paradoxically, because in all humility we recognize our unworthiness. We are “worthy” only when we deny that there is anything in us deserving of God’s mercy and acknowledge that our sole hope of forgiveness, healing, and peace lies in His grace and love, which strengthen what is weak and fill up what is lacking and which are made present for us in the precious Body and Blood of the incarnate Word. We are “worthy” of Holy Communion only when we are aware of our absolute unworthiness.
For this reason, in particular, we must never withdraw from receiving the Mysteries because we feel too sinful. Instead, awareness of sin should lead us to the Mysteries, toward the purging of Confession and the divine sanctification of Communion. St. John Cassian sums up the Church’s teaching in this area quite well, “Yet we should not keep away from the Lord’s Communion because we know that we are sinners, but we should hasten to it all the more avidly for the sake of our soul’s healing and our spirit’s purification, yet with that humility of mind and faith that will cause us, while judging ourselves unworthy to receive such a grace, to seek it instead as medicine for our wounds.”
Secondly, Confession itself is not intended as an end in itself. Rather, it prepares us for Communion and, indeed, is completed only in that greater Mystery. All of the Mysteries draw their meaning and power, ultimately, from the central Mystery of Holy Communion. Confession finds its fulfillment in our reception of the crucified and risen Body and Blood of Him Who died and rose to remit our sins and reconcile us to the Father. Though important in itself, Confession is not the center of our spiritual life. That place belongs to Holy Communion. We humbly approach our Savior in Confession and ask His pardon, but the seal and fulfillment of forgiveness and our ultimate vindication lie in the great Mystery of the Lord’s Body and Blood. Confession expresses our repentance, but it does not finally heal or cleanse. The Mysteries themselves are our healing, as we affirm in the prayer we offer immediately before we partake, “May the Communion of Thy Holy Mysteries be neither to my judgment nor to my condemnation, O Lord, but to the healing of soul and body.” This truth is confirmed in the formula spoken by the priest as we receive, “The servant of God receives…for the remission of sins and unto life everlasting.” We have here a paradox: Confession cleanses so that we may receive the Mysteries, but only in receiving them do we realize true cleansing and only in their devout reception is our healing consummated and sealed.
In the end, we receive the Mysteries because we know that only through them do we partake of life and its fullness. Without them and the union with our Savior which flows through them, our existence languishes in sin, disfigured by passions and devoid of goodness and peace. In the Mysteries, however, all that is gross, earthly and fallen is purged away, and instead we are filled with mercy, joy, grace and glory. This promise is confirmed in the invitation to Communion spoken by the priest, “In the fear of God, and with faith and love, draw near.” We approach the Great Mystery in humility because of our sinfulness but also in awe of the depth and breadth of divine mercy and forgiveness. We draw near full of faith, seeing in Christ our only hope. We offer Him our love and entreat that the feeble flame of our love may grow ever greater in our heart, our love being ignited and fed by His love.
by Rev. Fr. Eugen Rose
After the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer of St. Ephraim is one of the most perfect and beautiful of the Church’s prayers. In simple and yet comprehensive words, the prayer reminds us about what is necessary in our relationship with God and with our neighbor. One could say that the prayer is a Philokalia* in miniature, valid for monks and laymen, for men and women, for old and young, for everyone and everywhere, just as the “Our Father” is a universal prayer.
Let’s consider this great prayer:
0 Lord and Master of my life,
Take from me the spirit of laziness, despair, lust of power and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to your servant.
0 Lord and king, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother, for blessed are you to the ages of ages. Amen.
We ask for help that we might be able to fight with the spirit of laziness. This spirit fights against work. Through our work we must gather our daily food. This spirit wants to separate us from God “who always works.” Also, it is said: “My Father is working still, and I am working” (John 5:17); and St. Paul says: “If anyone will not work, let him not eat” (II Thessalonians 3:10). This ‘spirit’ drives us to the exploitation of other men’s work, then to robbery and crime.
We ask to fight with the spirit of despair, which tries to disperse and scatter our attention to unimportant things, thereby ignoring the “one thing needful” (Luke 10:41). Jesus revealed this to Martha in the house of Lazarus in Bethany. This ‘spirit’ wastes our minds and hearts, making us slaves of our daily cares.
We ask for help to fight the spirit of the lust of power. This spirit removes humility from us and deludes us into believing that we have the right to govern others. Thus, we begin to feed our egotism, vanity and double-dealing. Jesus told James and John who asked to govern with Him in the eternal kingdom: “You do not know what you are asking” (Mark 10:38). They thought that He was speaking about an earthly kingdom. “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave” (Matthew 20:26-27). This spirit attempts to pull man from communion with God and people.
We ask to fight against the spirit of idle talk. “Let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no’. Anything more than this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37). St. Paul warns against this spirit, saying that all who listen and follow this spirit are “liars, wicked beasts, gluttonous idlers” (Titus 1:12) and “inclined to wander into myths” (ii Timothy 4:4)
On the other hand, we ask for the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love. By “spirits”, we mean angels who have the power to help our minds and our feelings, and give us enough power to protect ourselves from the evil spirits which attack us.
The spirit of chastity is guardian of the mind and body against the earthly sins, those which first of all are made in the mind and stain the soul. The spirit of chastity is the way to confession, to purification of the soul and the heart. We ask for the spirit of chastity in order to cleanse our own soul’s house for victory over the spirit of impurity.
We pray for the spirit of humility, for our protection against vanity and double-dealing. The humble thought is exactly that which recognizes the limits which it cannot pass over. Humility allows people to be open. From humility alone springs the pure water of modesty. From lowly modesty, no one can fall.
The spirit of patience encourages us in illness, when we are insulted and when others walk over us. Patience is the last weapon and power of the downtrodden. It is not a sign of cowardice, nor of despair, but it is the sign of wisdom. The spirit of patience is a good brother of the spirit of wisdom.
We ask to obtain the spirit of love. Love is the Divine part of man, received directly from the Creator, because “God is love” (I John 4:8). Without love, our lives lack sense. Through love, people become strong, they grow together, and they help each other, as St. Paul says in his beautiful hymn of love from I Corinthians 13:1-13.
We ask to see our own sins. This appeal refers to our readiness to confess our hidden sins and be healed.
We ask not to judge my brother. It is hard, but sometimes we forget. The hardest this to do is to not compare ourselves – “God, thank you that I am not like other men…” (Luke 18:11). Who among us can escape from comparisons? When we do something good, we are immediately ready for a comparison, and even condemn someone else who doesn’t do what we do. Often, we classify ourselves as the best, but the ladder of virtues is broken especially when we think and believe that we are on the top.
We recognize in St. Ephraim the Syrian a very good ‘specialist’ of the human soul, and his prayer is a real psychological manual. We feel the prayer’s help; and, it offers us the right way to purify our souls, teaching us to examine ourselves through the most simple words, but also the most sublime words full of the grace of the Holy Spirit. The requests of this prayer are real doors to repentance, reform of life and entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
*The Philokalia (“the love of the beautiful, the exalted, the excellent, understood as the transcendent source of life and the revelation of Truth” – definition from the introduction of Palmer, Sherrard, and Ware’s translation of the original Greek) is a collection of texts by spiritual fathers of the Orthodox Church, writing from the fourth to the fifteenth centuries on the disciplines of Christian prayer and a life dedicated to God.
|Christ and the Samaritan Woman (Jn. 4: 4 – 27). Miniature from a 13th c. Gospels|
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
Christ is Risen!
Our friends, the feast of Holy Pascha has already reached Mid-Feast and is now approaching its leave-taking. The Church of Christ, our guide to salvation, condescending to the infirmity of our weakened souls, once again calls us to the source of living waters, to the word of God, which alone can quicken our soul, spirit, and body.
Today, as on every Sunday, we all look into the immeasurable, fathomless depths of this well, so that everyone can draw the water of life from it according to his strength and ability.
Today we heard the Holy Gospel telling us of the conversation between Christ the Savior and the Samaritan woman, Photini, at an ancient well that had been dug in the desert back in the time of the Forefather Jacob. There is no need to repeat once again the subject of this Gospel account. But, mentally looking into the depths of what happened at Jacob’s Well, we see with awe that this source of life has continued to function up to this very day, as well as in our own time.
How many travelers passed through the desert and, with parched lips, approached this well in order to continue on to the next well? How many times a day did the Samaritans return to this well in order to satisfy their needs and those of their neighbors with this water? The Forefather Jacob himself drank from it, his children and cattle drank from it, ladling up from the well to support his life, as did his descendants, and the descendants of his descendants. But he (both then and now) could not satisfy the constant thirst that came to him, for Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again, according to the Savior’s words (Jn 4:13).
This single meeting between Christ and the Samaritan woman turns into a meeting with the living God for both the sinful woman and for the entire world, inasmuch as here, at the well of temporal water, the hitherto unknown source of Eternal Life was first secured.
Here Christ for the first time reveals Himself to be the new, inexhaustible well of living water, flowing into Life Eternal. This source cannot run dry or grow scarce, for it was not dug through human efforts, and nothing human can cloud its crystal clarity or poison its life-giving properties.
This source on earth is God’s Holy Church, and its living water is the power of God’s grace, which forgives, enlightens, and sanctifies every person who comes to it.
We will, our friends, speak primarily of this today. Indeed, it was at this meeting that for the first time, at the beginning of His public ministry, Christ openly confessed Himself to be the Messiah, the Savior of the world – the “I am,” the Savior of the world, Christ.
Christ – God and Man – came into the world to seek out and save the perishing. He plants the first seed of the Evangelic word among a people that belonged in its faith neither to the Jews – although they also awaited the coming the Messiah – nor to the pagans. He did not reveal Himself as the Christ to the spiteful Jews, but to a woman who did not know the truth, but who was not spiteful.
The Samaritans did not know the True God, but their faith was living, albeit clumsy and unconscious. The question of where and how to worship God lived even in the heart of a simple Samaritan woman. The Jews and the Samaritans, living in close proximity, did not communicate with one another. But for Christ the Savior, for His teaching, given to the earth, there is neither Hellene nor Jew, neither slave nor free; there is the person, to whose heart His love is addressed. The love of Christ is so obvious that age-old tribal hatred is subjugated to it.
Woman, believe Me, the hour cometh… and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth – she receives this reply from Christ (Jn 4:21, 23). From now on, not in Jerusalem, where the Jews worshipped, nor on Mount Garizin, where the Samaritans gathered to plan, nor in Athens, where an altar to the Unknown God stood, but everywhere were there is a living human heart tormented by spiritual thirst, thirsting for truth, thirsting for God, will the heart meet God and worship Him in spirit and truth. No single earthly source can satisfy this thirst of the spirit, but only the living water of the preaching of Christ’s teaching and faith in Him as the Redeemer of the world.
The woman believed, and immediately became the source of living water for others. Leaving behind all her life’s cares, forgetting her water pot and her need for water, she brought a living witness to the miracle that had been revealed to her to the city, and its inhabitants came to the Source of living water, to Christ. They, too, met the Living God and believed. They said to the woman: Now we believe, not because of thy saying, for we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world (Jn 4:42).
The Samaritan woman’s witness to God grew in her to sanctity. She accepted a martyr’s end for her preaching of Christ, being thrown into a well.
The Savior of the world, Christ, is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
But why does this Source of Life, ancient in time, today remain forgotten by many, and rejected by many? The Savior’s words I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life remain unheard, unappreciated, unaccepted (Jn 14:6). Christ explained this in his own time to the Jews, and His explanation remains in effect for all times. They could not believe because He spoke the truth to them. A lie became their flesh and blood for them, making the truth incompatible with them, impossible for them.
A lie! Is not the same lie today and for us a terrible disease bringing today’s world to the brink of catastrophe?! Is it not a lie that displaces truth from life and breeds numerous sects, heresies, and divisions around the well of life, the Church of God?! The discrepancy of words and deeds – the outcome of that same lie – kills the spirit of life in us.
Our friends, it is no accident at all that today the question of a terrible illness in man has arisen: this illness is the spirit of the lie that man has fully taken possession of, the father of which is the devil.
True worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth [Jn 4:23].
True worshippers worship in Truth. We can be bad, we can be much more sinful than the Samaritan woman, but we cannot be liars, we should not be liars. God is capable of saving every person, but He is powerless before our lies, when we become enmeshed in lies, when we lie before ourselves, lie before people, lie before God. Christ can save the repentant sinner, but He cannot help the sham righteous person, as we like to represent ourselves.
Now, when people are exhausted by spiritual thirst, sick and poisoned by the rubbish of toxic atheistic teachings, modern Samaritans and pagans seek the true water of life in order to revive their dying spirits and to strengthen their weakened bodies, everyone needs to find within themselves the truthfulness and strength to see themselves without embellishment and lies. For only then can the Lord – the Truth, Righteousness, and Life – respond to our bitter truth and teach us to worship Him in spirit and truth.
The thirst for truth – this is the first condition required of us in order, like the Samaritan woman, to meet the Living God in life. The truth of the incomprehensibility of the holiness of God and of His mercy smites our hearts, and in the light of this truth we see the truth of our fallenness, the truth of our sinfulness. A living feeling of grief draws us to the Source of living water; and God’s grace, with its live-giving strength, will restore us from our fallenness, bringing spiritual freedom to the mind, freeing us from the shackles of sin.
Our friends, we are now living now in such an accelerated time that spiritual vegetation and growth in human life take place visibly, in the blink of an eye, not taking decades to grow. Here, now, this vegetative life takes place among us. Someone was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found (Lk 15:32). How many such living dead have now come from a dissolute life to the Church, carried by a single feeling: the thirst for truth. And the Lord performs a miracle: raising the dead to life.
Following the thirst for truth, the knowledge of truth begins quickly, very quickly, in the thirsting one, for the Lord reveals Himself to the thirsting.
Truth – is the Lord Himself. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, He says of Himself in Holy Scripture [Jn 14:6]. The power of God inevitably appears along with God in our life in the Church’s Mysteries, becoming in us a source of living water, flowing into Life Eternal. Truth – is also the word of God, living, always active, leading the thirsting traveler along the path of life. Thy word is truth, witnesses Scripture (Jn 17:17). Truth – is also the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, Who proceeds from the Father and is revealed in the Son. The Holy Spirit will guide you in all truth [Jn 14:26, 16:13]. Here are the three life-bearing streams of one Source – of the Source of the Spirit of Life. But only faith in Christ can give the knowledge of this life-bearing truth.
Here is the final condition, without which the sprout of the quickening spirit will whither. We need to live in truth every minute; we need to experience our life constantly in the presence of the Living God. Here He is, with me. He sees my actions, He anticipates the feelings of my heart, He sees the movement of my mind.
My Lord and My God! [Jn 20:28]. My Lord! How can we not be convinced of God’s omnipresence by the obvious fact that history now shows us?
There is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed, witnesses Holy Scripture (Lk 12:2).
That which was done in the darkness of night has been announced during the day; that which was buried by time (the last seventy years of Russian history) has arisen and become obvious; that which was secret has been revealed when it was not expected, when many had forgotten about it; it has been revealed and shown the truth. And the light [of truth] shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not (Jn 1:5). God’s truth is now shown to us in the ranks of saints, who were once mocked, and crushed, and slandered, showing the world their truth. And darkness has swallowed up those who rose up against the truth, and their memory has perished.
I want to give you yet another example from the life of the past century, which might seem insignificant at first sight, but very clearly demonstrates what it means to walk in life before God.
A gentleman, passionate for the youth and freshness of a young maid, and not able to induce her to a criminal act by talk, decided to use his power and authority to accomplish this. At the very moment when this dove had already been overpowered and could not expect help from anywhere, the girl’s glance fell upon the image of the Savior, her heart turned to God, and she cried out: “Sir, you know He is watching!” And the miracle! The criminal hands let go, releasing the victim, and tears of repentance filled his eyes, which had never known tears.
This example causes many of our contemporaries to smile. But, my dear ones, God is watching us, and the Living God awaits our living appeal to Him.
God’s gift – man’s wonderful freedom – always places a choice before us: through all events, in sorrow and in joy, to go or not to go in the direction of God’s truth and love, of which there is no end.
The Lord is always with us, but we do not always go to God. That is why a real danger always remains for us: to be at the well of life, but to remain dead; to be at the living water, but to remain thirsty; to be near grace, but to remain graceless. My dear ones, there is no special time or special circumstances for worshipping God or for a life in God, but always and in all things an authentic life in God consists in having our concern for salvation illuminated by the light of Truth every moment of our life.
Saturate yourselves, our friends, with the water of life. Approach Christ, to its Source, and approach in “spirit and truth.” And sources of living water will flow through you to those who have not yet found the living Source and are suffering from thirst in the desert of life.
I conclude our approach to the source of living water today with the words of Archbishop Dimitry of Kherson, so that his Divinely-inspired words would be imprinted on the tablets of your hearts, becoming a true guide to life “in spirit and in truth.”
“Who prays to God in spirit?
“– He who, pronouncing the words of prayer, pronounces them not with his mouth alone, but with all his soul and heart;
“– He who, making the sign of the Lord’s Cross over himself, looks in spirit at the Crucified One on the Cross;
“– He who, bowing his head, bows down before God in his heart and soul;
“– He who, casting himself onto the earth, casts his entire self into God’s hands in deepest humility and contrition of heart, with complete dedication to God’s will.
“Who prays to God in truth?
“– He whose soul and heart are animated by faith and love, animated by the thoughts, feelings, hopes, and desires that the prayers of the saints breathe;
“– He who, worshipping God in church, does not bow down before the graven images of his passions outside church;
“– He who, serving God by his participation in the Church’s Divine services, also serves Him through his own life and deeds;
“– He who, asking God for his daily bread, himself shares it with other poor people and, moreover, does not take it from others;
“– He who, asking the Lord for the forgiveness of his sins, himself forgives with all his heart all who sin against him.
“– He who, praying to be saved from temptations and evil slander, does not himself place slander and temptation before his brother;
“– He who, pronouncing in prayer the sacred words ‘may Thy will be done,’ is genuinely ready to fulfill and endure everything that this sacred will commands.
“To undergo everything according to the will of God and for the glory of His All-Holy name, up to the cross and death.
“It is such who seek God as Father, worshipping Him.”
“O Lord! Give Thou my thirsty soul to drink of the waters of piety!”
Truly Christ is Risen! Amen!
|Icon of the feast of Mid-Pentacost|
The fifty days following Pascha until the Feast of Pentecost are known as the period of the Pentecostarion in the Orthodox Church. At the mid-point between these great feasts of Pascha and Pentecost, on the twenty-fifth day which is always a Wedneday, is one of the most beloved feasts for the most devout Orthodox Christians known quit simply as Mid-Pentecost. Mid-Pentecost is to the Pentecostarion what the Third Sunday of Great Lent which honors the Holy Cross is to the period of Great Lent. It is a day which helps us focus on the central theme of the entire period. Whereas the mid-point of Great Lent reminds us to bear up the Cross of Christ bravely so that we may daily die with Christ in order to experience the Resurrection of our Lord, so also the mid-point of the Pentecostarion enlightens us regarding the theme of the fifty days following Pascha – which is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit poured out as a gift upon all the faithful who partake of the living water which is Christ Himself.
The central theme woven throughout the period of the Pentecostarion therefore is water. This becomes the central theme of the period because it is the central theme of the Gospel of John which we read in its entirety during the Pentecostarion and which naturally flows into the Acts of the Apostles which is also read during this period in its entirety. This theme appears for the first time on Pascha itself in the joyous Canon of the Feast of Feasts written by Saint John the Damascene when he invites us to “drink a new drink,” not “brought forth from a barren rock,” as in the Old Testament under Moses, but which rather “springeth forth from the grave of Christ.” Then during the Paschal Divine Liturgy the priest processes with the Gospel and chants loudly from Psalm 67:27 saying: “In the congregations bless ye God, the Lord from the well-springs of Israel.”
When Renewal or Bright Week is over the Church wisely sets up two Sundays in which to abolish all doubts concerning the Resurrection of Christ, that of the Sunday of Saint Thomas and the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women. This is done in order to ensure that we all partake of the living water that only the risen Lord can give. The following three Sundays, as we approach Pentecost, the theme of water becomes more and more central in the hymns of the Church. Thus we are found one Sunday at the Sheep’s Pool with the Paralytic, then at the Well of Jacob with the Samaritan Woman, and finally at the Pool of Siloam with the Blind Man. During this festive period we hear concerning the “living water” which if one partakes of “he will never thirst”. We are taught that it is our Savior Himself who is this living water, and we partake of Him through the baptismal waters and the Cup of Life which issued forth from His side at His crucifixion unto remission of sins and life everlasting. Then on Pentecost we have grace rained upon our parched souls and bodies so that we may be fruitful and have a great harvest as we hear from the holy Gospel on that day: “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink”. Finally the Pentecostarion concludes with the Feast of All Saints, that is those who partook of the “waters of piety”, which is the harvest of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
The Fathers teach us that the feast of Mid-Pentecost stands in the middle of the fifty-day period from Pascha to Pentecost as a mighty flowing river of divine grace which have these two great feasts as its source. Pascha and Pentecost are united in Mid-Pentecost. Without Pascha there is no Pentecost and without Pentecost there is no purpose to Pascha.
We read the following entry in The Great Horologion that further explains the details of the feast:
“After the Saviour had miraculously healed the paralytic, the Jews, especially the Pharisees and Scribes, were moved to envy and persecuted Him, and sought to slay Him, using the excuse that He did not keep the Sabbath, since He worked miracles on that day. Jesus then departed to Galilee. About the middle of the Feast of Tabernacles, He went up again to the Temple and taught. The Jews, marveling at the wisdom of His words, said, ‘how knoweth this man letters, having never learned?’ But Christ first reproached their unbelief and lawlessness, then proved to them by the Law that they sought to slay Him unjustly, supposedly as a despiser of the Law, since He had healed the paralytic on the Sabbath.
“Therefore, since the things spoken of by Christ in the middle of the Feast of the Tabernacles are related to the Sunday of the Paralytic that is just passed, and since we have already reached the midpoint of the fifty days between Pascha and Pentecost, the Church has appointed this present feast as a bond between the two great Feasts, thereby uniting, as it were, the two into one, and partaking of the grace of them both. Therefore today’s feast is called Mid‐Pentecost, and the Gospel Reading, ‘At Mid‐feast’—though it refers to the Feast of the Tabernacles—is used.
“It should be noted that there were three great Jewish feasts: the Passover, the Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. Passover was celebrated on the 15th of Nissan, the first month of the Jewish calendar, which roughly coincides with our March. This feast commemorated that day on which the Hebrews were commanded to eat the lamb in the evening and anoint the doors of its houses with its blood. Then, having escaped bondage and death at the hands of the Egyptians, they passed through the Red Sea to come to the Promised Land. It is called ‘the feast of Unleavened Bread,’ because they ate unleavened bread for seven days. Pentecost was celebrated fifty days after Passover, first of all, because the Hebrew tribes had reached Mount Sinai after leaving Egypt, and there received the Law from God; secondly, it was celebrated to commemorate their entry into the Promised Land, where also they ate bread, after having been fed with manna forty years in the desert. Therefore, on this day they offered to God a sacrifice of bread prepared with new wheat. Finally, they also celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles from the 15th to the 22nd of ‘the seventh month,’ which corresponds roughly to our September. During this time, they lived in booths made of branches in commemoration of the forty years they spent in the desert, living in tabernacles, that is, in tents (Ex. 12:10‐20; Lev. 23 LXX). “
The Feast of Mid-Pentecost is celebrated for an entire week until the following Wednesday, making it an eight day feast. During this entire time the hymns of Mid-Pentecost are joined with that of Pascha. Because of the theme of water, traditionally the Church celebrates the Lesser Blessing of the Waters on this day, preferably with a procession with the Holy Cross to a water spring.
The theme of the feast not only invokes water, but even more central to the Gospel chronology it honors Christ as Teacher and Wisdom as He reveals Himself between the stories of the Paralytic and that of the Blind Man. During this time we are told: “Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple, and taught…Jesus answered them, and said, ‘My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself'” (John 7:14-30). The icon for this feast depicts the young Jesus teaching the elders in the Temple (Luke 2:46, 47) at which time Jesus first revealed Himself as a teacher or rabbi. Traditional Orthodox icons will depict Jesus as larger than the elders, showing his superior spiritual status.
Since the hymns of the Church invoke and praise our Lord as the Wisdom of God spoken of in the Book of Proverbs, it is traditional that all churches named after Holy Wisdom or Hagia Sophia celebrate their feast on this day. In fact, Greek scholar Constantine Kalokyre has written a study titled “The Churches of the Wisdom of God and the Date of their Celebration”, which appeared in the periodical Saint Gregory Palamas, no. 71 (723) (1988), pp. 538-617. In this study he comes to the conclusion that the Great Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople celebrated its feast day on Mid-Pentecost.
* * *
Troparion, tone 8: Having come to the middle of the Feast, refresh my thirsty soul with the streams of piety; for Thou, O Saviour, didst cry to all: Let him who thirsts come to Me and drink. O Christ our God, Source of Life, glory to Thee.
Kontakion, tone 4: When the Feast of the law was half over, O Lord and Creator of all, Thou didst say to the bystanders, O Christ our God: Come and draw the water of immortality. Therefore we fall down before Thee and cry with faith: Grant us Thy bounties, for Thou art the Source of our Life.
Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee (Jn. 5:14).
This is the commandment the Lord gave to the paralytic whom He healed, as we heard today in the Gospels.
Beloved brethren! This commandment of the Lord has enormous importance for us. It teaches us that we are subjected to sickness and other catastrophes of this earthly life for our sins. When God delivers us from sickness or catastrophe but we return to a sinful life, we are again consigned to catastrophes that are more onerous than those which were our first punishments sent from God to bring us to our senses.
Sin is the cause of all man’s sorrows, both in time and in eternity. Sorrows are the natural consequence, the natural property of sin, just as sufferings, produced by physical illnesses, are the unavoidable property of these illnesses, and their characteristic effect. Sin in the broad sense of the word could also be called the fall of humankind, or its eternal death, and encompasses all people without exception. Some sins are the sad inheritance of whole human societies. Finally, each person has his own individual passions, his own particular sins he has committed, that belong to him exclusively. Sin, in all these various forms, serves as the beginning of all sorrows and catastrophes to which all mankind is subjected, to which human societies are subjected, and to which each person in particular is subjected.
The state of fallenness, the state of eternal death, by which all mankind is infected and stricken, is the source of all other human sins, both societal and personal. Our widespread sin-poisoned nature has acquired the ability to sin and an inclination toward sin, it has subjected itself to sin, and can neither remove sin from itself, nor do without it in any of its activities. A person who has not been renewed cannot help but sin, although he may not want to sin (Rom. 7:14–23).
There are three punishments determined by God’s righteous judgment upon all mankind for the sins it has committed. Two of them have already happened, and one is yet to happen. The first punishment was eternal death, to which all mankind was subjected at its root — its forefathers — for disobedience to God in paradise. The second punishment was the great flood, which occurred because mankind allowed the flesh to overcome the spirit, and lowered itself to the dignity of irrational beings. The final punishment will be the destruction and end of this visible world for apostasy from the Redeemer, for people’s ultimate deviation into communion with fallen angels.
Quite often, a particular kind of sin engulfs whole human societies and brings God’s punishment down upon them. Thus the Sodomites were consumed by fire that fell from the sky for their unlawful fleshly pleasure; thus the Israelites were given over more than once to alien tribes for worshiping idols; thus one stone was not left upon the other in magnificent Jerusalem, built of marvelous stones, and its inhabitants perished under the Roman sword for rejecting the Savior, and deicide. Sin is infectious; it is hard for individuals to resist the sin that ensnares entire societies.
In the long sickness of the paralytic healed by the Lord we see an example of punishment for the sins of one individual, who was likewise punished individually by God.
Having said as much as need be known and as much as can now be said about the sinfulness of the entire human race and human societies, let us direct particular attention to the personal sinfulness that every person has of his own. This observation is essentially needed, and essentially useful to us. It can have a saving influence upon what we do, diverting us from the path of lawlessness, and directing us according to God’s will. Enlightened by God’s law, we learn that God in His unbounded mercy, Who is perfect in the righteousness of His judgment, will unfailingly render due punishment for a sinful life. This conviction incites us to apply all our strength towards freeing ourselves from the bondage to our own passions and the corrupt customs of society, and to deliver ourselves from temporary and eternal Divine punishments.
The holy fathers say that before the time of their redemption, all people were possessed by sin; they did the will of sin even against their own will. After the redemption of mankind by the God-Man, those who believe in Christ and were made new by holy Baptism are no longer forced by sin, but rather have freedom — freedom either to resist sin, or to follow its suggestions. Those who willingly submit themselves to sin again lose their freedom, and are forcibly overcome by sin. Those who, guided by the Word of God, conduct warfare against sin and resist it, will eventually conquer sinfulness completely. Victory over our own sinfulness is at the same time victory over eternal death. He who obtains it will easily resist the sinful attractions of society. We can see this in the lives of the holy martyrs: having conquered sin in themselves, they withstood the people’s error, rebuked it, and did not hesitate to seal their sacred testimony with their blood. A person who is attracted and blinded by his own sin cannot but be attracted by society’s sinful mode; he does not look at it clearly, does not understand it as he should, does not renounce it with self denial, and his heart belongs to it. The essence of ascetical striving against sin, the work which every Christian is obligated to do, consists in the struggle against sin, in breaking friendship with it, in the victory over it in one’s own soul, mind, and heart, to which the body is bound to be in sympathy. “Eternal death,” says St. Macarius the Great, “is hidden in the heart; a person is dead through it, though he outwardly lives. He who has gone from death to life in the secret recesses of his heart will live for ages, and will never die. Although the bodies of such people may depart for a time from their souls, they are sanctified, and will arise with glory. For this reason, we call the death of the saints “sleep.”
All the saints without exception (Heb. 12:8), regardless of their victory over eternal death and revelation of eternal life within themselves even during this temporal life, were subjected to many and difficult sorrows and temptations. Why is this? It is the nature of sinners to earn Divine punishment. Why then do God’s elect not escape the Divine rod, which strikes them as well? According to the teaching of Holy Scripture and the fathers, this question is resolved in the following way. Although sinfulness has been conquered in righteous people, although eternal death is destroyed by the presence of the Holy Spirit in them, they have not been given immutable goodness that would remain throughout the course of their earthly sojourn; the freedom to choose good or evil has not been taken away from them. Immutable goodness belongs to the future age. Earthly life up until its final hour is a field of voluntary and involuntary ascetical labors. The Great [Apostle] Paul says, But I keep under [in Slavonic, “mortify] my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway (1 Cor. 9:27). The Apostle says this of a body salted and sanctified by Divine grace, a body uninjured by cruel venom, whose clothes produced healings. Even that body required enslavement and mortification, so that its mortified passions might not be revived and eternal death not be resurrected! Though he be a vessel of the Holy Spirit, eternal death can be resurrected in a Christian for as long as he wanders the earth, and sinfulness can again encompass his soul and body. But the podvig alone of the servants of God is not enough to mortify the fallennes which nests in a nature that continually strives to regain its dominion; they need help from God. God helps them with His grace and fatherly punishing rod according to each one’s grace. The great [Apostle] Paul was given, as he testifies, a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure (2 Cor. 12:7) — because of his exalted spiritual progress, because of the many Divine revelations granted to him, because of the many spiritual gifts that he had, and because of the many miracles that he performed. Our nature is so injured by sinful poison that the abundance of God’s grace itself in a person can serve as the cause of his pride and destruction. St. Paul met neither honor, nor glory, nor unquestioning obedience when he preached Christ to the universe, even proving the truth of his preaching through signs; an angel of satan set his traps everywhere — resistance, humiliation, persecution, attacks, and death. Knowing that this all happens as God allows it to do, St. Paul exclaims, Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake (2 Cor. 12:10). St. Paul found it necessary to mortify his body, so that from a relaxed body fleshly passions would not arise; while the eye of God’s Providence saw the need to guard his soul from pride through sorrows. The purest human nature has something of pride in it, as St. Macarius the Great noticed. For this reason, slaves of God subject themselves to voluntary deprivations and sorrows — at the same time, God’s Providence allows various sorrows and temptations to come upon them, supplementing the podvigs of His servants and preserving their podvig from the corruption of sin through sorrows. The path of earthly life has always been laborious, thorny, full of depravations, and laden with countless misfortunes. Some, says the Apostle Paul, 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 (Heb. 11:35–38).
Blessed Symeon Metaphrastes notes in the life of Great Martyr Eustathius: “It is not pleasing to God that His servants, for whom he has prepared eternal, permanent glory and honor in heaven, should abide as honored and glorified with vain and temporary honor in this transitory and unstable world.” Why is this? Because no man is able to abide at the heights of earthly magnificence and well-being without harm to his soul. Even one who is equal to the angels in his morality would be shaken. In us, in our souls, is planted through our fall the potential to revert. We cannot help but conform our spirit’s inclinations to our outward, material circumstances. My soul hath cleaved to the earth; (Ps. 118:25;) confesses the prophet to God for every fallen person. Thy right hand, he says, “Thy all-holy Word, and Thy all-holy Providence lifts me from the earth, wrenches me from it, and leads me to salvation, dissolving my temporary well-being with sorrows, but consoling me with grace-filled consolations that breathe into my heart a yearning for heaven. Without this help from God, with my wretched inclinations against which I cannot stand by my own powers alone, I would cling in mind and heart to the material world, and would terribly, fatally deceive myself, forgetting about eternity, about the blessedness prepared for me in it, irrevocably losing it.”
The true servants of God accepted with submissiveness to God, with thankfulness, and glorifying God, all the sorrows that God’s Providence allowed to befall them. They accepted it willingly, as the Apostle Paul says, and were well-disposed towards their sorrows. They found them profitable, needful, necessary for themselves; they considered them to be correctly allowed, and beneficial. They united the yearning of their own will to the manifestation of God’s will; in the exact sense, they were well-disposed toward punishments and correction sent to them from God.
From just such a disposition of heart, from this kind of thinking did the saints look upon the catastrophes that befell them. Spiritual consolation and rejoicing, renewal of spirit, and a perception of the future age were the results of the disposition inspired by humility of mind. What will we sinners say of the sorrows that greet us? What, first of all, is their initial cause? The initial cause of human suffering, as we see, is sin; and any sinner does well who quickly turns his inner gaze towards his own sins when sorrows befall him, and accuses his sins, accuses himself for his sins, and accepts the affliction as God’s just punishment. There is another reason for sorrows: the mercy of God toward feeble humans. By allowing sorrows to come upon sinners, God encourages them to come to their senses, to halt their uncontrollable longings, to remember eternity and their relationship to it, to remember God and their obligations to Him. Sorrows that are allowed to befall sinners serve as a sign that these sinners are not yet forgotten, not rejected by God, that their ability to repent, correct themselves, and find salvation is still being evaluated.
Sinners punished by God, take heart; For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth (Heb. 12:6). Holy Scripture tells us this, instructing, consoling, and strengthening us. Lay hold of instruction, lest at any time the Lord be angry, and ye perish from the righteous way (Ps. 2:12); accept punishment with the awareness that you are deserving of punishment; accept punishment, glorifying the merciful God, Who is just in His righteous judgment; accept punishment with a dispassionate evaluation of the life you have lived, with confession of the sins you have committed, with cleansing of your sins by tears of repentance, and correction of your behavior. Often we need little outward correction, but very much correction secretly: correction of our kind of thinking, inclinations, motives, and intentions. You have diverged from the righteous path by your sins; do not lose it entirely by murmuring, by justifying yourself against your conscience before people, by hopelessness, despair, and blasphemy against God. Do not turn the means given to you, the means which the Lord Himself uses to redirect you to the path of piety, into a way to become completely undone, to wreak your own demise. Otherwise the Lord will be angry with you. He will turn His face from you as from something alien to Him; He will withhold sorrows from you as from one forgotten and rejected (cf. Heb. 12:8); He will allow you to spend your earthly life in the lusts of your sin-loving heart, and will command death to cut you down unexpected, and you will be like the tares which made themselves the property of the fires of gehenna by their own free will.
He who endures well all the temptations allowed by God comes closer to God, acquires boldness before Him, becomes familiar to Him, as the Apostle testifies: If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons (Heb. 12:7). God fills with spiritual blessings the one who endures sorrows with humbleness of spirit, hears his heartfelt prayers, and often turns back the whip and rod of chastisement if it is no longer needed for greater spiritual progress. This is what happened at the healing of the paralytic, who lay for thirty-eight years at Solomon’s gate amongst a crowd of many other sick people who waited, like the paralytic, for the vivifying movement of the waters at the hand of the angel. Such a miserable condition is involuntary sickness and poverty! It is obvious that those sick people had no means to pay for doctors, and therefore they resolved to wait a long time for the miracle which occurred once a year, which brought sure and complete healing from any illness — but only to one sufferer. The sickness of the paralytic was punishment for sins, as is clear from the condition the Lord gave to the one He healed: Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee (Jn. 5:14).
The Who Lord gave the paralytic this commandment, so that he would not fall again into the same sins for which he had been punished through illness, gave the same commandment to the sinful woman when He forgave her sins. Go, said the Savior of the world to a person whom the righteous of the earth had sentenced to stoning, and sin no more (Jn. 8:11). Healing of soul and healing of body is given by the merciful Lord under one condition — the same condition. The woman’s sin was a mortal sin; apparently the paralytic’s sin also belonged to the category of mortal sins. These are the kind sins that most often call down God’s punishment. The one who has sunk into the abyss of mortal sins needs particular help from God — this help is manifested openly in punishment, and secretly in the call to repentance. A person is called to repentance either by sickness, as was the paralytic, or by persecutions from people, as was David, or by some other method. No matter what form God’s chastisement takes, we should accept it with humility, and hasten to satisfy that Divine aim with which the punishment was sent: to have recourse to the cure which is repentance, having embraced within our souls the commandment to abstain from the sin for which the Lord’s hand chastises us. Our own conscience will assuredly point out that sin to us. Forgiveness of the sin and deliverance from the affliction by which we are punished for the sin is granted to us from God, only under the condition that we abandon the sin so destructive to us, and so hateful to God.
A return to the sin that brought God’s wrath down upon us, the sin that was healed and forgiven by God, is the cause of great catastrophes, most of which are eternal, beyond the grave. The paralytic languished thirty-eight years for his sin. It is a significant punishment! However, the Lord pronounces an even greater punishment for returning to sin. What punishment could be more onerous than the one which restrained the sick man all his life on his bed, amidst such depravations? Nothing other than the eternal torment in hell which awaits all unrepentant and incorrigible sinners. Amen.
St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov)
Translated by Nun Cornelia (Rees)
It is obviously impossible for us to go to Church every day. And since we cannot keep the Lent liturgically, the question arises: what is our participation in Lent, how can we spiritually profit by it? The Church calls us to deepen our religious conscience, to increase and strengthen the spiritual contents of our life, to follow her in her pilgrimage towards renewal and rededication to God.
The first universal precept is that of fasting. The Orthodox teaching concerning fasting is different from the Roman Catholic doctrine and it is essential to understand it. Roman Catholics identify fasting with a “good deed”, see in it a sacrifice which earns us a “merit”. “What shall I give up for Lent?” -• this question is very typical of such an attitude toward fasting. Fasting thus is a formal obligation, an act of obedience to the Church, and its value comes precisely from obedience. The Orthodox idea of fasting is first of all that of an ascetical effort. It is the effort to subdue the physical, the fleshly man to the spiritual one, the “natural” to the “supernatural”. Limitations in food are instrumental, they are not ends in themselves. Fasting thus is but a means of reaching a spiritual goal and, therefore, an integral part of a wider spiritual effort. Fasting, in the Orthodox understanding, includes more than abstinence from certain types of food. It implies prayer, silence, an internal disposition of mind, an attempt to be charitable, kind, and – in one word – spiritual. “Brethren, while tasting bodily, let us also fast spiritually…”
And because of this the Orthodox doctrine of fasting excludes the evaluation of fasting in terms of a “maximum” or “minimum.” Every one must find his maximum, weigh his conscience and find in it his “pattern of fasting.” But the pattern must necessarily include the spiritual as well as the “bodily” elements. The Typicon and the canons of the Church give the description of an ideal fast: no dairy products, total abstinence on certain days. “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it” (Matt. 19:12). But, whatever is our measure — our fasting must be a total effort of our total being…
According to the rules of the Church the fast cannot be broken for the entire Lenten period of forty days: Saturdays and Sundays are no exception.
We must always pray. But Lent is the time of an increase of prayer and also of its deepening. The simplest way is, first, to add the Lenten prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian to our private morning and evening prayers. Then, it is good and profitable to set certain hours of the day for a short prayer: this can be done “internally” – at the office, in the car, everywhere. The important thing here is to remember constantly that we are in Lent, to be spiritually “referred” to its final goal: renewal, penitence, closer contact with God.
3. Spirtual Reading
We cannot be in church daily, but it is still possible for us to follow the Church’s progress in Lent by reading those lessons and books which the Church reads in her worship. A chapter of the Book of Genesis, some passages from Proverbs and Isaiah do not take much time, and yet they help us in understanding the spirit of Lent and its various dimensions. It is also good to read a few Psalms – in connection with prayer or separately. Nowhere else can we find such concentration of true repentance, of thirst for communion with God, of desire to permeate the whole of life with religion… Finally, a religious book: Lives of the Saints, History of the Church, Orthodox Spirituality etc. is a “must” while we are in Lent. It takes us from our daily life to a higher level of interests, it ideas and facts which are usually absent from our “practical” and “efficient” world.
4. Change of Life
And, last but not least: there must be an effort and a decision to slow down our life, to put in as much quiet, silence, contemplation, meditation. Radio, TV, newspapers, social gatherings – all these things, however excellent and profitable in themselves, must be cut down to a real minimum. Not because they are bad, but because we have something more important to do, and it is impossible to do without a change of life, without some degree of concentration and discipline. Lent is the time when we re-evaluate our life in the light of our faith, and this requires a very real effort and discipline. Christ says that a narrow path leads to the Kingdom of God and we must make our life as narrow as possible. At first the natural and selfish man in us revolts against these limitations. He wants his usual “easy life” with all its pleasures and relaxations. But once we have tasted of such spiritual effort, once we have made by it one step, that cannot be compared to any other joy. We discover the reality of the spiritual world in us. We begin to understand what St. Paul meant by “the joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.” God Himself enters our soul: and it is this wonderful coming that constitutes the ultimate end of Len: “If a man love me, he will keep mu words: and my father will love him and we will come unto him and make our abode with him.” (Jn. 14, 23).
Let us make this Lent a real Lent!