Priest as Mediator between God and Man (continuation)

Priest as Mediator between God and Man (continuation)
We see some similar accounts in the life of Elder Haralampos the Abbot of Dionysiou Monastery on the Holy Mountain. He speaks of the benefit of the services of the Church and again especially the proskomedia in the Liturgy. A section of the book on his life is entitled: “The Elder as a spiritual father to clergy and to monks”. Here, it states:

“To married and unmarried clergy he imposed on them the performance of the set daily services of the Church, that is, Vespers, Compline, Matins and as far as possible more Divine Liturgies (during the week). To the excuse that people don’t go to church during the week, he answered, ‘The priest is a mediator, his work is to offer prayer and worship daily, for the flock.’” (Abbot Haralambos Dionysiatis by Monnk Joseph Dionysiatis, Athens 2004, p. 139)

Another section is headed, “The vision of the nourishment of the living—departed”. The following is related:

“Once a certain brother who was at New Skete fell into doubt, ‘We pray, keep vigil, this is well and good. But do we help others in this way, or only ourselves?’ Although he was preparing to confess this thought to the Elder, the Elder got in first and with a face that seemed deeply moved, said to the brother:

“Tonight, my child, God showed me the following frightful sight: As I was praying, it seemed for a moment that I was in a large refectory. I was standing in front of a door that looked similar to the Royal Gate of the Church. Inside, a never-ending line of people queued for food. I was like a food provedore. I could see you in that place; you were near me. You were cutting something like prosphora and bringing them to me. The other people came by in two lines, in one line were the living, in the other, the departed. I gave a piece of blessing to all and they left happy. I could see many people who were familiar to me, those who I had written both the living and the departed, on the paper for commemoration in the Divine Liturgy.”

The brother said:

“Elder, that was for me. You solved my query. Now I understand what benefit prayer has and the commemoration of names for all the people during prokomidi.”

“Since you are interested, my child, I will tell you something even more amazing about the prayer rope and my Elder’s life. My Elder had a cousin in the world. Even though she didn’t lead such a good life, the Elder loved her dearly. One day he was informed that his cousin had died and actually, not such a spiritually good death. She was pulling faces, swearing, and so on, and she was in such a state when she took her last breath. As soon as the Elder found out he started weeping. I found that strange, to have such a sensitivity and to be weeping so much. However, he understood my thought and pulled me up, ‘I am not weeping my child, because she has died, I am weeping because she has been damned.’ Nevertheless, from that day, the Elder gave himself to fasting and praying for his cousin. After quite a few days, I saw the Elder very happy and I asked him why. ‘I will tell you, my child. Having not rested all these days from praying and keeping vigil with fasting and tears for my cousin today I saw a happy and wondrous vision. As I was praying, I saw my cousin alive in front of me. She called to me with great joy, today is the day of my salvation. Today I have been saved from hell. Today I am going to heaven.’”

“Elder Joseph continued, ‘Suddenly I also saw the late Fr. George in front of me. He is a contemporary saint. I managed to meet him because he was still alive when I was in the world. He had put it in his mind, if possible to take out all the sinners from hell. Every day, he liturgized and commemorated thousands of names. Then he would go to the tombs and all day, read Trisagion prayers and memorial services for the departed. Now, I saw him in a vision and heard him saying to me with great amazement, “Well, well, until today, I thought that the dead were only saved with Liturgies and memorial services. But today, I saw and realized the damned are also saved with prayer ropes.” And again with amazement, “The people are also saved through prayer-ropes.” That vision informed me that my cousin had been saved. But God also showed me the power of the prayer-rope—that it can even take souls out from hell.’

“Elder Haralambos was deeply moved when relating this to the brother, gave the brother his blessing. Go with my blessing. See to it that you exert yourself, as much as you can, in obedience and the prayer, if you want to help yourself and others.” (ibid. pp. 136-8)

So a priest should be an intercessor for his people and really the whole race of Adam both in the services of the Church and in his private prayer. Now here is a good question to ponder: Do we automatically have this or is something we must develop? It is innate in all mankind because, as St. Sophrony recognizes, we, that is mankind, is an ontological community of being. In other words our manner of existence is communal. And it is because of this, on this basis that the more we develop love so much the more do we become intercessors.

St. Sophrony wanted his spiritual children to write on a number of subjects. One was “Development of personhood in Christ as a calling to pray for the world.” So then, we could conclude that love in a reason endowed creature in a fallen world takes the form of intercession. But we must acquire this, it becomes more manifest in us as the natural result of repentance and a strong life of prayer. So let’s first talk about repentance and then prayer. I want to start with what St. Joseph the Hesychast writes about 3 stages of grace. He writes in one of his letters:

“The spiritual life is divided into three stages, and grace acts in a person accordingly. The first stage is called purification, during which a person is cleansed. What you now have is called the grace of purification. This form of grace leads one to repentance. All eagerness that you have for spiritual things is due to grace alone. Nothing is your own. It secretly acts upon everything. So when you exert yourself this grace remains with you for a certain period of time. If a person progresses with noetic prayer, he receives another form of grace which is entirely different.”

“The second form of grace is called the grace of illumination. During this stage, one receives the light of knowledge and is raised to vision of God. This does not mean seeing lights, fantasies, and images, but it means clarity of the nous, clearness of thoughts, and depth of cognition. For this to occur the person praying must have much stillness and an unerring guide.”

“The third stage—when grace overshadows—is the grace of perfection, truly a great gift. I shall not write to you about this now, since it is unnecessary.” (Monastic Wisdom, 1998, St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, Arizona, pp. 44-5)

So we should see that ongoing repentance is central to Christian life. We really have to admire those monastic saints who repent thoroughly and completely as described by St. Jospeh the Hesychast. And repentance in our Orthodox Church has various shades of meanings. The Greek word “metanoia” literally means a change of mind, implying what the holy Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans: “be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). The equivalent word in Slavonic – “pokaianie” – implies to be wretched, to mourn and lament – to be filled with tears.

In conjunction with the disposition of one’s heart, and effort of free will, this “spirit of repentance” acts in varying degrees. In some people it acts temporarily according to the sins they have committed. There is confession, the resolve to change, remorse, and maybe some act of penance. However, in others this “spirit of repentance” acts systematically, remaining upon one, leading him from one degree of purification to another. Then, continuing on, this “spirit” – which is an action of the grace of God – leads one from one degree of enlightenment to another. So repentance really has no end when we consider that through it we do not merely draw near to God but we become like Him, for God is infinite.

Those who are being thus transformed become intercessors for the world. When I first came to St. Tikhon’s a young monk there made a very profound statement which could sum this up: “A monk is one who becomes like Christ so that he may become an intercessor for the world.”
(to be continued)

Priest as Mediator between God and Man

Priest as mediator between God and man

This was originally given as a talk at a deanery meeting of a small number of clergy. As interest has been shown to have it published. This is now being accomplished.

Priest as Mediator between God and Man

I want to begin by quoting a Greek-American priest who serves in the United States and had studied in Thessalonika in the early to mid 1980’s. While giving a talk he stated, “Here in America there is a lot of emphasis on various Church programs and external charitable works while in Greece there is stress on doing services especially the forty day liturgies that are requested.”

The programs for the edification of the faithful and charitable works certainly are needed and very good. We cannot deny that, but it is sad to see that the value of the intercessory aspect of the Church seems to be somewhat underestimated and neglected in America. This function of the Church is perhaps even thought to be non-essential, probably because most people like to see something palpable. This should not be. The Church is the Body of Christ and there are different members, with varying functions, we are all important and all are essential. All the members are needed and support one another and should respect each another.

And I believe this negligence of the intercessory aspect of the Church, points to a difference between Christianity East and West. Please bear with me as I illustrate and explain this comment: For 11 years I assisted in servicing a Greek parish 90 miles north from St. Arsenius Hermitage. There is a Western rite parish in the Antiochian Church whose property borders the Greek parish. I once went to a Vespers there and I have borrowed a service book. I look over the Liturgy which they serve and other sources of the Western rite Liturgy. One sorrowful thing is that there were no litanies either in Vespers or Liturgy and no proskomedia—this especially has great intercessory power; where we make remembrance of the living and the dead by name.
The Liturgy seemed to be an extended Eucharistic Canon with Scripture readings. The intercessory function of the priest and the whole Church at large is minimized and almost absent. Based on this, I once commented to someone: “I would feel like less than half a priest if I were to be in Western rite.” Why did I say this? Again, because the intercessory aspect of the priesthood is greatly minimized. In the Orthodox Church a priest is an intercessor and a mediator between God and the laity—specifically his parish. But here is something to think about: are we affected by the thought of the atmosphere we find ourselves in?

We can see how the intercessory function of the priesthood begins in the Old Testament with the Levitical priesthood. We read in the book of Exodus of the Lord instructing to Moses: “And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty (Exo 28:2) ….And you shall take two onyx stones, and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel, six of their names on the one stone, and the names of the remaining six on the other stone, in the order of their birth. As a jeweler engraves signets, so shall you engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel; you shall enclose them in settings of gold filigree. And you shall set the two stones upon the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel; and Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD upon his two shoulders for remembrance.” (Exo. 28:9-13)

And the Lord again commands or maybe we should say establishes the same intercessory function of the Levitical priesthood in a slightly different manner as Moses records:

“And you shall make a breastpiece of judgment, in skilled work; like the work of the ephod you shall make it; of gold, blue and purple and scarlet stuff, and fine twined linen shall you make it. It shall be square and double, a span its length and a span its breadth. And you shall set in it four rows of stones.” (Exo. 28:15-17)…”There shall be twelve stones with their names according to the names of the sons of Israel; they shall be like signets, each engraved with its name, for the twelve tribes.” (Exo. 28:21)… “So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment upon his heart, when he goes into the holy place, to bring them to continual remembrance before the Lord. Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel upon his heart before the LORD continually.” (Exo. 28:29-30)

The apostle Paul points out the intercessory function of the high priests who inherit the position of Aaron in his epistle to the Hebrews: “For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.” (Heb. 5:1) It should be evident that it is not only Aaron, but all those of the Levitical priesthood had a calling to be intercessors for the people of Israel. We see this is the Gospel of Luke with Zachariah the father of St. John the Baptist “while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, it fell to him by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.” (Luke 1:9)

Now for us, the priesthood in the Church, is much more in that position. A few recent elders who were spiritual children of St. Joseph the Hesychast speak about this. In the book on St. Ephraim of Katounakia there is a section “About Priesthood” and this is what he says:

“When you celebrate the Liturgy you must keep in mind that you are a mediator. You remove pain, tears, illness and you lead to the throne of deity, the petitions from the congregation. You also bring consolation, cure or whatever each one has need of. God has rendered you a great office, my child. You should cultivate it. Always remember that God’s ear is the mouth of the priest.

The stole has great power. It intercedes between fallen man and his Father, his Creator. Therefore you ought to commemorate as many names as you can. As many as possible.

During the years of Turkish domination there were many priests going around from place to place. Yet there was a priest who collected names and commemorated them during Liturgy. When the Kaymakam, the Turkish officer, heard about this he said: ‘This priest is trying to incite people to mutiny.’ So he arrested the priest.

However, that very night the Turkish officer dreamed of all those people whose names the priest commemorated and they told the officer: ‘Listen to us, either you release the priest, because he prays for us and gives us comfort, or we take your first child’. This scared the Turk. Despite being the conqueror he said, ‘Go, priest go. I don’t want to lose my child’ and he set the priest free.
Great is the power the stole has my child. Great power indeed. Thus try to commemorate as many names as you can.

Fr. Arsenius, Elder Joseph’s spiritual brother, has given me some names from the time he was an immigrant from Russia and came to Greece. I commemorated them for many years. Later he said to me, ‘Elder, do you know what I dreamed? I dreamed about visiting one of the people whose name I gave you and I asked him how he was doing. “Not bad” he said, “but fortunately Father Ephraim comes and consoles us.” It was because I commemorated their names.

After this someone else said, ‘How are you doing?’

‘So-so, sometimes it rains for a while and I get cold but luckily Father Ephraim comes and comforts us’.

Then I said, ‘My brother, it is because I commemorate their names’.

Why do you think Priest Nicholas Planas became a saint? He used to commemorate lists of names. I once remembered some names; I scribbled them down and put the paper on the wall at the Proskomidi Table. After some time I dreamed of some elders of previous eras wearing old clothes. They said to me: ‘My child you wrote our names at the Proskomidi Table but the Elder does not commemorate us.’

‘Elder why don’t you commemorate these names?’ I asked him.

‘I could not see them clearly’, he replied.

‘Elder I dreamed of this: they complained to me that you didn’t commemorate their names’, I told him.

Ever since then I have always been willing to commemorate as many names as possible. The more names you commemorate the greater the reward from God. For this is the greatest charity of all: to unify man with God. It’s the greatest charity, indeed. And you can do that.” (Elder Ephraim of Katounakia, Holy Hesychasterion “Saint Ephraim” Katounakia – Mount Athos, pp. 243-5)

(to be continued…)

Metropolitan HERMAN: A Tribute Sermon by Bishop DANIEL (Brum)

Metropolitan HERMAN: A Tribute
Sermon of Bishop DANIEL (Brum)

The sermon which follows was delivered during the Divine Liturgy served prior to the internment of His Beatitude Metropolitan HERMAN (Swaiko) on Friday September 16th.1

Sermon Offered by The Right Reverend DANIEL of Chicago
on the Occasion of the Requiem Divine Liturgy of
His Beatitude The Most Blessed Metropolitan HERMAN
Saint Tikhon Monastery Church – September 16, 2022

The Lord God has called His Beatitude The Most Blessed Metropolitan Herman, former Archbishop of Washington and Metropolitan of All America and Canada from this life to Himself. He has called him from this valley of tears to that “place of brightness, place of refreshment, place of repose, where all sickness, sorrow and sighing have fled away.” And so we gather today in this sacred temple where he himself prayed so many years throughout his long life to sing him away into the Kingdom, to give thanks for his life of service, and to pray for him, asking that the Lord will pardon any transgressions, whether voluntary or involuntary, and that the Lord our God remember his episcopate in His Kingdom.

We have just heard from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Saint John which relates the Lord’s beautiful discourse on the Eucharist, the Mystery of His Body and Blood. And so, together we reflect upon this passage and to apply it to our lives… and to this very hour and moment. But in order to do this, I feel it also necessary and appropriate to recall the life we gather to honor and the life of service for which we gather to give thanks. I also feel it very appropriate this morning to speak words of eulogy, “a good word” a “word of praise” for His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman, the newly-departed Servant of God.

And in doing this, I want to first recognize the reason we are all here: we are here because of the relationships, many and varied, that we have with this man, this bishop, who served the Church throughout the years: he was a member of a family, and uncle, a godfather, a brother bishop, a diocesan bishop, and the primate of The Orthodox Church in America. He was a spiritual father and a mentor to countless numbers throughout the years. How many here today were his spiritual sons or daughters? How many of you did he teach, both in and outside of the classroom? How many here did he baptize, crown in marriage, or ordain? To how many was he a confessor, a collaborator in the work of the Church, or even a friend? How many did he encourage in their spiritual journey and how many did he challenge to always do greater and better things for the Lord and for the Church? In his 58 years of ordained service to the Church, even more if we consider his dedication to the Church before his ordination to the Holy Priesthood in 1964 and his consecration to the episcopate in 1973, Metropolitan Herman touched many lives. Certainly there are also those here this morning who never really knew him or who knew him only from afar: seminarians, for example, who likely knew him in his later years mostly as a fellow-worshipper in this monastery church. But he touched the lives of even those who did not know him as he offered his prayers for the whole Church.

I am honored to include myself among those of you who knew him personally or as the bishop, archbishop, and Metropolitan who served the Orthodox Church in America. I ask you to please bear with me as I relate, albeit briefly, my personal insights into the life of the man whom we entrust today to God’s mercy.

I served as His Beatitude’s secretary from the day of his election as Primate in July 2002. I continued in that role until I returned to parish life in 2006. For those four years, I was in contact with him often, especially when he would be in residence at the chancery in Syosset. Sometimes we communicated on a daily basis, sometimes with less frequency, depending upon his secretarial needs. As a result of this interaction, I came to know his way of thinking, what kind of response he might have to a given situation, a sense of how he might answer questions or pastoral issues that came before him, and his overall approach to and his commitment to the primatial ministry. The commitments of his time and energies, his focus, and his dedication to the Church were clear to me as I saw his day-to-day workings. This was particularly clear in his dedication to the life of this Holy Monastery and to the life and mission of Saint Tikhon’s Seminary. But truly also to the whole Church, beginning with his leadership of the Holy Synod and continuing to all the Church’s works institutions and works. And to the overall mission of the entire Orthodox Church in America.

I also occasionally accompanied him on various primatial visits, both here in North America and abroad and was a firsthand witness to his role as the representative of our Church. My relationship with Metropolitan Herman at this time was a very formal one, one in which I respected him both as my bishop and my boss. But, as formal as that relationship was, I was able to gain some insight into not just the office, but also the man., the hierarch. Someone whose first commitment was always to the Church and his understanding of how he could best serve the Church. No matter what any detractors might say: his first love was for Christ’s Holy Church.

I also came to know His Beatitude in another way, after his retirement from the primatial office in 2008. As some of you might know, he began to spend the winter months in the sunny warmth of Arizona, where I was assigned to Saints Peter and Paul Church in Phoenix. He and Martin, his ever-loyal and always attentive friend and assistant, would spend several weeks there in the Valley of the Sun and would attend the Divine Services at the parish church. In the earliest years of his annual visits, His Beatitude served at the Altar, then, as time and age took its toll on him, he would assist by praying in the Altar. Then, when confined to a wheelchair, he would pray in the Altar as well, assisted by Martin and the servers in the altar, who were always lovingly attentive to him.

Throughout those years, His Beatitude, humbly showed himself to be an obedient son of the Church he loved. He never complained about anyone or anything. He never spoke badly of anyone. He never relived the past. Not one prone to show emotions, he showed himself definitely to be a man who was at peace with the world, with his situation, with his health and physical limitations. I witnessed him then as a man of faith, again, whose first prayer was always on behalf of the Church. Metropolitan Herman came to be a beloved “snowbird” parishioner at our parish, especially loved by those with whom he spent time at the coffee hour after the Divine Liturgy, though, of course, he always requested a Pepsi. Not coffee, but Pepsi. Throughout the years, we celebrated many of his birthdays… just as we would that of any other beloved member of the parish community.

In this brief recollection of my over twenty years relationship with Metropolitan Herman, I hope that some of you were able to see in them a part of your own relationships with him, or at least to a better understanding of him and appreciation for him. Some knew him as a priest, seminary teacher, Diocesan Bishop, archbishop, Metropolitan and so on. The formal obituary posted on the oca.org website spoke of these and many others aspects of his life, the many titles he carried, and of the various areas of his service through the years, in virtually every area of Church life and throughout the entire Church. Most Notably: his dedication to the Sanctity of Life. In this, he was a real forerunner for all of us in this essential area of contemporary Christian witness.

But even all of these relationships and titles and functions and commitments do not sum up who Metropolitan Herman was for us. His life and his legacy is so much more than these. In reflecting upon his life and what I think we should all learn from it is based upon his faith; it is his example of faith, an example of hearing and understanding and living the Gospel that is his greatest legacy.

The words we heard proclaimed in the Gospel just now were words in which he believed completely. I have no doubt of that.

I am the Bread of Life. This is the bread which comes down from heaven. I am the living bread. It is my flesh that I give for the life of the world. Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. He who eats my body and drinks my blood has eternal life. And I will raise him up at the last day (from John 6:48-54).

One could witness complete faith in these words – these promises spoken by the Lord- every time His Beatitude celebrated the Divine Liturgy. He was never more at home, never more comfortable, never more himself than when he stood in front of the Holy Altar and offered the bloodless sacrifice. He had no doubt that the Lord was true to His word and was fulfilling his promises each time he celebrated and each time he communed of the Holy Mysteries. Especially that promise of eternal life: “He who eats my body and drinks my blood has eternal life. And I will raise him up at the last day.” This was evident even at the very end of his life when he asked to partake of the Holy and Precious Body and Blood of Christ on his deathbed… as a fulfillment of his life of faith and as a help to him on his final journey as he left this earth-bound life.

And so, today we give thanks for the many ways in which the Lord blessed us through the ministry of Metropolitan Herman. We give thanks, knowing of his faith and knowing what his real legacy is, what he really says to us as he leaves this life. The lesson he taught us about love for and dedication to the Church. The example of living humbly and prayerfully, as he did so powerfully at the end of his life. As he taught us in these last years. And we recommit ourselves to the same faith as we today are nourished with the Bread come down from Heaven.

I recently came across an old copy of the book “Orthodox America, 1794-1976.” In that book, sometime known as the “Red Book,” on page 227, you will find a photo of the Holy Synod in 1976: In the front row, Metropolitans Ireney and Metropolitan Vladimir, formerly of Tokyo; Archbishops Kiprian, Valerian, Sylvester, John (Garklavs) and John (Shahavskoy); and in the last row, Bishops Theodosius, Dmitry, Jose, and Gregory…And in the very back row, in the last and least place according to ranking is a young Bishop Herman. The youngest in terms of consecration and now the last of that most impressive and august body to repose. This photo speaks volumes about that era, about those men, among them Metropolitan Herman.

And so, we also honor Metropolitan Herman and pray for him as the last of an era and generation of bishops that lived and served in the both the Metropolia and in the Autocephalous Orthodox Church in America. We are grateful to him and those who have gone before us in serving the Church. And we realize and acknowledge that the legacy he and they leave us is the very work to which they dedicated themselves and to which we all are called: the life, the work, and the mission of proclaiming the Gospel, the Good News of the One Come down from Heaven who nourishes us with His Most Pure Body and Most Precious Blood,. The one who promises that he will rise us up at the last day and grant us the gift of eternal life in the heavenly kingdom.

May the Lord receive His Beatitude Metropolitan Herman into his Heavenly kingdom. May He grant him rest with the saints. May his memory be eternal!

1. This is published with the blessing of his Grace and should not be republished without his blessing.

Metropolitan Herman: In memorandum

What is being published here is a eulogy written by Subdeacon Martin Paluch who spent 57 years as klenik (cell servant or personal assistant) to His Beatitude Metropolitan Herman:

Your Beatitude, Your Eminences, Your Graces, Fathers, Matushki, Family and dear friends of our most beloved Metropolitan Herman:

From the book of Hebrew’s chapter 13:7-8 (verses from Lazurus Saturday Epistle reading) one can read:

“Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

I have given much thought and meditated over these words spoken by St. Paul to the Hebrews and will attempt to give an answer to those gracious words; “how fortunate Vladika was to have you Martin and thank you for taking care of our beloved Metropolitan Herman”. (that so often have been offered to me these past dozen or so years)

I wish to begin with words often used by Metropolitan Herman:
We must, “Love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind. And to love our neighbor as we love our self.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

How did His Beatitude Metropolitan Herman understand and teach these words?

The Spirit of these words from the Gospel of Matthew, spoken by our Lord himself exampled the very life of Metropolitan Herman from the moment of his ordination to Priesthood until his last breath, and it was the Holy Spirit that gave him the strength to continue to work on his own salvation and to further build up especially these holy grounds, this righteous place in South Canaan for you and me, and all those many God fearing people searching to be spiritually comforted.

Metropolitan Herman followed the teachings and imitated the ways of Sts. Peter, Paul and perhaps all the Apostles. To the Americans, Russians, Greeks, Albanians, converts and all people he delivered only one message, that of Jesus Christ and His Holy Church! He never neglected the commands of the Church nor would he add or detract from the Sacred teachings or order of the Liturgy without the unified approval of every member of the Holy Synod for that was the Oath of Ordination that he had taken.

I knew him as:
as a Priest
as a Monastic and Deputy Abbot
as Abbot
as a Bishop and
as a Metropolitan

I knew of his visitations as a Bishop in his diocese
In the dioceses which he was locum tenants of throughout America
His visitations to Russia, Bulgaria, Czech, Slovakia, Poland, Jerusalem, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Egypt, Japan,
Africa and so many places throughout North America.

And now I will begin with my first encounter with this true imitator of our Lord!

The students of my class of 1969 came to St. Tikhon’s in 1965 to become priests so as to change the world and make Orthodoxy what it should be, or so we thought. As young students we had not fully realized that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow!

As we entered St. Tikhon’s doorway we would quickly recognize that in the chair behind the office desk was a person who loved and honored God more than we, a person dedicated to helping his fellow man more than we, a welcoming priest of God who deeply cared for those entrusted to him, who would anoint with oil the weak, the infirmed, and as a good shepherd would dutifully watch over the first, the last and give special attention to the one wandering away.

This man was truly married to the Church! He took that cross of Christ and carried it in love and service, as long and as far as the strength in his body would permit. He had no desire for wealth, prestige or power because he had already found and recognized the pearl of greatest value, that is Christ, which he had promised to follow and serve all the days remaining in his earthly life.

In our secular world, we give honor to those institutions and organizations that outwardly show works of charity. We can witness and are moved by advertisements on TV that speak of feeding a hungry child, opening hospitals and providing necessary services that would make a difference and so we willingly give!

On the other hand, the Gospel teaches and strongly encourages us to take notice of poor Lazarus waiting at the gate, the man beaten by robbers, those struggling to make ends meet and those who are in want and perhaps just need a little compassion, mercy or forgiveness.

Chapter 6 of Mathew’s Gospel begins with: “and when you do acts of charity do not be as the Scribes and Pharisees for they love to have men see their works, but you let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing…”

As a student, how well I remember the time Father Joseph Swaiko, (Metropolitan Herman) received an urgent call and asked me to get his car and drive him to a place on route 196 about 15 miles from the Seminary. I asked where are we going? He replied, “we will know when we get there! Look for a person selling things close to the road.” Upon arriving and to my surprise, he said turn in this driveway and stop. He got out and spoke to the man, the wife and three young children who were trying to sell their possessions. You see, they had left New Jersey, towing a smaller car in search of a job when the motor in their van had blown apart. This left them with having to sell most of their personal items in hopes of earning enough money to make it to California where they had relatives who were willing to help them out. For now, they were living in their Van, trying to collect enough money by selling what they owned along with the van that needed a new motor. Metropolitan Herman put them up in an old house that he had purchased from a Russian parishioner who begged him to buy (the house) because of her failing health, and she needed money to go live with her daughter in Florida. At that time, Metropolitan Herman did not have money to buy the house but had me drive him to the bank for a personal loan. After a few days, Metropolitan Herman found a buyer for the van with the blown motor and gave them his own personal money, enough to buy food for the family and gas to reach California.

On another of many such occasions:
One Sunday afternoon, Pavlina, a women in her 80s appeared on our doorstep, she spoke some English but mostly Russian. She had come from the Cathedral in New York City. This poor lady lost her only son some year’s back; she was a Lazarus holding all that she had ever possessed in two shopping bags. She said she lost her place of stay at the Cathedral and that you as a Bishop must help me. As days rolled into weeks and weeks became months that turned into years one could see Bishop Herman ministering to her with that same love and care that can be read about in the lives of some of the great saints of the past.

I also drove him to hospitals, to prisons, to nursing homes and even to distant farms where he would dutifully take the most precious body and blood of our Lord and Savior and stay for a time to listen and to offer comforting and loving words given to him by the Holy Spirit.

These few examples were not the only occasions on which my eyes were blessed to see his great love in action imitating those simple instructions given by God throughout Gospels.

He never saw himself as a miracle worker, however many were touched through his fervent prayers to God on their behalf. I personally witnessed and spoke with people who testified what took place in their life as a result of an encounter with this blessed man of God. From my room at night, I would often hear the phone ring at 1, 2 3 and 4 am in the morning and be answered quickly by Metropolitan Herman. Sometimes the call would last for more than an hour and in the morning, I would ask who called? He would answer; the caller was pleading for help, or was in trouble with the law, was going to commit suicide, wanted to have an abortion, was attempting to harm someone, or was in desperation and searching for someone who would listen.

Saint Tikhon’s Center of Orthodoxy

To speak about St. Tikhon’s without mentioning Metropolitan Herman would surely dismay many alive today and displease those who have now taken up residency in St. Tikhon’s Cemetery especially the monks, the priests, past members of the Holy Synod, administration and parishioners who walked, talked and worked with him.

He would often in his sermons remind us that unless God build the house, those who build labor in vain.

In 1965 one could hardly imagine that such a complex would be built as we see here today at St. Tikhon’s. Why at that time there was even serious talk to close this solitary place. How well I remember back then in the early years of my life at St. Tikhon’s where in was a dilapidated barn, a two story garage structure, a possibly three story house if one were to include the semi-finished attic, another old structure with some 27 rooms used for student housing that included 4 classrooms, kitchen, dining room, a small library and a small Chapel. Across the street were the Church, the Monastic quarters, one garage with 3 bays, an old wooden bell tower that had stones for its foundation, a small dining room known as the Trapeza, another larger house below the cemetery known as the Vecherny Zvon, and a cemetery by the Church. All of this covered about 10 acres of ground of the approximately 260 acres owned by St.Tikhon’s. At that time, the value of St. Tikhon’s set by the insurance company was less than $2 million. Today its value is more than 17 million.

Back in those early days were 8 older monks at the Monastery, whom I knew well, who were constantly praying that God would send someone to help them with their struggles and especially breathe some new life much like Elijah did in the OT into these holy grounds that had been anointed so many years ago.

Joseph Swaiko, (Metropolitan Herman) upon arriving sensed that St. Tikhon’s was a strong ship blessed by God many years ago, and that the Monastic brotherhood with very little at hand to work with, had marvelously kept it well preserved. Perhaps with a little attention, building upon what they had already sanctified, could be made to set sail and take its people through the turbulent waters of this world into more peaceful waters of everlasting joy. All this ship needed was a God-fearing leader who believed that it was God building it.

But who would be willing to give up all worldly cares much like those who came before to embark upon such a wearisome task? This would take a person of great faith, humility and love for God and for those who were caring as best they could with that which was planted on these holy and consecrated grounds.

With prayers and supplication to God, the Monastic Brotherhood would warmly welcome such a person in the name of Fr. Joseph Swaiko. He unselfishly and prayerfully said yes to God; and gave up all worldly cares. He took the plow given to him and began to cultivate the soil, nourish the ground and plant the seeds which were placed in his care by the elderly monks still living, and through the prayers of those who have long left this world. Humbly and with the love of God in his mind and heart, he began to minister to those whom God had already sent and would send to him.

He offered his own meager funds, when that was not enough he was able by the grace of God to convince wealthier people to take up the cause for our Lord and support this Center of Orthodoxy. Many were moved to tears by the example that he set and by the deeply spiritual and simple instructions in his sermons. And so began the rekindling and caring by all who were and would be sent by God to build what we see here today.

Blessed are the peacemakers:

One day a young monk who has peacefully left this world got into an argument and threw his keys at Metropolitan Herman. At that time Bishop Herman said, “You are full of darkness, go out of my house!” In a rampage the monk left! After three days the monk returned and begged Bishop Herman for forgiveness, without hesitation Bishop Herman gave him his blessing and restored him to his former position. From then on, this monk would come to see Bishop Herman every day after Liturgy for an hour or so and together penned many books including, “These truths we hold, and the Book of Needs”. So grateful was the young monk that he would not credit this or any book with his own name but merely the phrase, “by a Monk or St. Tikhon’s Monastery”. I would add also that this monk had a low tolerance and constantly was annoyed by the noise of children especially in church. After this incident the monk was no longer tormented by noise and would often ask me during camp season, when are you bringing the camp children to my Skete?

Luke 11:49
Therefore the wisdom of God also said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will persecute.’

While Metropolitan Herman was alive, he was accused of the “sin of omission”. I witnessed an attorney calling him a liar and others trying to force him to reveal a confession. He was ridiculed, mocked, and for more than three years forced into exile from these holy grounds. Some even tried to erase his name and memory from the history of the church. Yet throughout all of these temptations he remained loving, compassionate, merciful, forgiving, and would only say, that he was comforted to know that God would be his judge and not man.

Through all the trials and tribulations, he stood firm as an imitator of Christ and would not condemn nor lift his hand against his brother bishop in Christ or anyone else, for that would have surely divided the Church. He accepted the cross placed upon his already frail shoulders and glorified God even more for allowing him in his last days to be tested by the fire of suffering.
A whole generation of people, deacons, priests and bishops during his time bear witness to the wonderful, good works and moral life exemplified by this humble man of God. Wherever he went, to whatever audience was placed before him his actions were always beholding to the image and likeness of his Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

His entire life was one of prayer to God and I don’t suppose that will change now that he has left this earthly world. He will continue to keep praying especially for all of us and why? Because that is what he did all his life! He was filled with the grace, love and fellowship to which he was consecrated by the laying on of hands, that most holy and precious Apostolic Succession given by Christ to those whom He has chosen.

Our Lord instructs us in the Gospel of St. John the Evangelist, chapter 7 verse 34 with these words: “do not Judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” Perhaps there is a kernel of truth to many who have watched me care for him and who have expressed gratitude by blessing me with such tender words as “he is most fortunate to have you to help him”. However, to me who knew him better than anyone else and with gratitude I must answer; it was I who gained and was most fortunate to have him, this man of God who by his very own lifestyle and example changed my way of life and that of so many others.

A Sermon: Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

A Sermon: Eight Sunday after Pentecost

Beloved of God in the Scripture readings today we see two opposing dispositions of the followers of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Gospel we hear of the miracle of our Lord feeding the five thousand with five loaves of bread. This happened after He hears of the death of St. John the Baptist; the Gospel says that our Lord withdraws from the location where He was by a boat to a lonely place apart. And it continues to say: “But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.” The people were so desirous to hear a word from our Lord that when He left them with His disciples by boat “they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them”. This extra detail is how the Evangelist Mark describes the event.

When our Lord came out of the boat, the Gospels say, He had compassion on them, He healed their sick and because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. So they remained with our Lord the whole day. They were so absorbed in hearing the word of God that they even forgot their bodily needs; evening came and they had not eaten. It was the apostles that came to our Lord and asked Him to send the crowds away so they could get food for themselves. So then, our Lord feeds the five thousand with five loaves of bread. I repeat, the crowd was so intent on following our Lord Jesus Christ that they neglected their bodily needs and it should be apparent that they were united in Christ.

Unfortunately we see something quite different in the epistle. There was a lack of harmony among the Corinthians. The Apostle Paul critiques them in a very fatherly way, he does not rebuke, rather he makes an appeal, and so he writes: “I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Is Christ divided?” They lacked unity in Christ. Such a sectarian attitude is displeasing to God for we are all one in Christ. We must be united in Christ and the fruit of this is to be united with each other.

So let us try explain this today: our unity in Christ. Bishop Basil Rodzianko once gave a nice explanation of this in the context of speaking about Orthodox spirituality. He pointed out that the exact form spirituality or spiritual the root of which is spirit was not used in the Church until more recent centuries. He stated that it actually had its introduction to the Church from the Protestant Reformation. The Protestants declared themselves to be saved by faith alone and to describe the atmosphere they now found themselves in they employed the term spiritual. He continues to make a response to this and establish the Orthodox thought on the idea of spirituality. He brought forward St. Theophan the Recluse and mentioned his book, “The Way of Salvation”. He emphasized that we need to be in harmony with the life of the Church and that salvation does not come by any particular single method or path but one must take the whole of what the Church teaches and make it a part of their lives. One must be in harmony with the Church and united with or immersed in the life of the Church.

Next he brought forward two ancient writers of the Church. First St. Clement, Pope of Rome and his epistle to the Corinthians. In this letter St. Clement, in expressing what Christians are, made use of the Greek term “sumponia”. It is a compound word, “sum” together and “ponia” air or to breathe. This was a term used by the medical world of St. Clement’s time designating the breathing together of all the parts of an organism which gives life to the whole. Then Bishop Basil turns to St. Ignatius the God-bearer. In his epistles he speaks of the Church as catholic. And here we have another compound Greek term: “Katholiki” comprised of the words, “kata” which means “according to” and “holos” which is “whole”.

So, Bishop Basil combined these two terms “sumponia” and “katholiki” along with the thought of St. Theophan of the need to be in harmony with the whole of the tradition of the Church in order to describe Orthodox spirituality. He said’ “We breathe together the one Holy Spirit of God according to the whole Body of Christ.” This is what unites us: “to breathe together the one Holy Spirit of God according to the whole Body of Christ.” May God grant us this, there are so many splinters and factions in the Church, may God grant us this. Amen.

Abbot Isaiah of Sarov (conclusion)

Abbot Isaiah of Sarov (Conclusion)

Abbot Isaiah, while caring to implant virtues in the temples of the souls of the brethren with his own example and fatherly admonitions, also diligently cared to improve the outward arrangement of the cloister. He diligently took care to see that the church services were conducted with humble reverence as in the past, and that all established rules of the desert life were followed strictly and correctly. The humble and reverential elder Isaiah was respected for his pious ascetic life by hierarch Nicephorus, Archbishop of Astrakhan, who at the time was famous for his gift of admonition as well as for the pious life. He respected the Sarov cloister for following strict monastic rules; he exchanged letters with the abbot, one of them is offered here.

Reverent Father Abbot Isaiah!

I embrace you with holy affection.

Your letter, which has confirmed your remembrance of me, filled my heart with joy. As far as your request is concerned, here is my answer. The holy fathers, in other words Basil the Great, Venerable Nilus the Faster, Ephraim the Syrian, Abba Dorotheus, Isaac the Syrian, John of the Ladder, Macarius of Egypt, and Theodore the Studite wrote this one and only instruction for the monastics of our days: whosoever aspires to admonish monks, he has to himself be well read in what they had written or be silent altogether for fear of falling into sin for preaching what is foreign to monasticism and not pleasing to God. You may add the Fathers of the Philokolia to the above mentioned, which, however, should be read with great discernment and reflection. I do not doubt that the books of the aforementioned writers are available at your famous monastery and are read often. So then, I do not undertake copying excerpts to send to you—that would be superfluous. However, I praise very much your holy zeal and wish wholeheartedly that you, as well as your brothers and novices, will benefit from reading the works of our Holy Fathers listed above and may become exalted in the perfection of monastic life. I beg God’s mercy on you and your monastery.

September 28, 1798.

The well-wishing intercessor for your pious life,

Archbishop Nikephorus (1)

Aside from personal virtues and an all-encompassing care for his brethren, Father Abbot Isaiah was compassionate to the poor and the suffering. He diligently observed the old tradition of Sarov to spend excess monastery revenue on them. There was a tradition started in the old days on the feast of the Protection of the Holy Theotokos, on October 1st, to give clothes to the poor; coats, kaftans (2), boots and gloves were prepared for that day. Many poor people would come on that day. After the liturgy they would all be gathered within the boundary on the central courtyard and would be given clothes according to the needs of each. This pious custom is observed to this day.

Having become ill partly due to old age, but more due to the labors undertaken to save his soul and to benefit the habitation, Abbot Isaiah asked the diocesan bishop to release him from the Igumen’s duties and was relieved according to the request. He chose for his place, with the support of the brotherhood, Hieromonk Niphont (3), who was the treasurer of the cloister. After one year of being ill the valiant Isaiah found rest of the righteous, he passed to the Lord for eternal rest having left a good memory. He passed away on December 4th, 1807 being 67 years old.

1. Archbishop Nicephorus (Theotokis) (1731-1800) was a Greek scholar and a theologian, who was an archbishop of the Southern part of Russia. He later was appointed the an abbot of Moscow’s Danilov Monastery.
2. An ankle-length long garment.
3. Igumen Niphont came to Sarov Monastery being twenty years old in 1787, he was from the town of Temnikov. The young novice drew the attention of the abbot by his devotion and obedience, he was tonsured a monk in 1792. In 1796 he was tonsured a hieromonk and was appointed a common confessor for the brethren. In 1805 he was appointed a Treasurer of the monastery and an Abbot a year later. Fr. Niphont was known to be an example humility, non-possessiveness, he was a man of fasting and prayer. He used to admonish brethren at the mealtime, “If a man, who does not do any good deeds in his life hopes to be saved only due to the absence of grievous sins, he deceives himself, since he who does not care to obtain the temporary blessings does not receive anything hereafter according to justice.” The monastery grew and prospered during his time. Fr. Niphont passed away in 1842.

Motherhood

Motherhood

With Mother’s Day coming up this Sunday in America I thought I would publish two letters written to a mother of a large family. These are in their original unedited form and conclude with a suggested prayer for mothers.

Your most important concern seems to be how to live a life in Christ while a housewife and mother and teacher to your children. I will write a little about the vocation of motherhood.

In his letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul says: “Woman shall be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.”

It is not the mere act and moment of giving birth that the Apostle is speaking of which is a path of salvation but the vocation of raising children. This is a work, service or obedience, so-to-speak, which God has allotted to women as a means or path of salvation. To be a mother is a great responsibility and must be fulfilled in an Orthodox Christian way according to the commandments of God.

In order to accomplish this you must first accept motherhood as an act of obedience to the will of God. You must renounce your will, desires and understanding–that is, in this case your own idea of what is good for you personally–and in humility comply to the will of God. You have been a co-worker with God in the creation of a new human being and now this new creation has been entrusted to you by the Lord to raise in a godly manner. The fruit of fulfilling an obedience is humility while in fulfilling an obedience one is often subject to many temptations to rebel. This is because, as I mentioned above, in submitting to the will of God one must cut off one’s own will, desires and understanding. So if you thus renounce yourself and attach yourself to the will of God and accept motherhood as His will, for the most part you shall be able to do this obedience joyfully, without grumbling and bear the fruit of humility. The work or service you do for your family can be considered as a sacrifice and act of mercy for others.; In the writings of Sts. Barsanuphius and John we read: “Do not lose heart in the sufferings which you bear for the sake of the community, for this too means ‘to lay down our lives for the brethren (1John 3:16}, and I hope the reward for this will be great. As the Lord placed Joseph in Egypt in time of famine to feed his brethren so He placed you in the position to serve the community.” (Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart, Faber and Faber, 3 Queen Square, London 1975, pp. 346-7) It is interesting to take note that which our Lord considers a sign of the greatest love on may possess, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13)–these saints liken to our work for those with whom we live together.

You should also consider and apply to your life the following words of the aforementioned Athonite monk which he spoke to me concerning work in a monastic community: “The elder emphasizes the Liturgy as the center of our life. This is in accord with the greatest commandments of the Gospel: the first is to love God and the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves. To live the liturgy is to live for others more than for ourselves; therefore it is the fulfillment of this commandment. Everyone has a different program in the monastery, we serve and work for the community. Our program should not be to seek things we want or to have time for ourselves, but to help others without any resistance when we are asked.” If you consider the work you do for your family as a sacrifice of yourself for others which is pleasing to God then it will be a means of attaining God’s grace manifesting itself in tenderness of heart and as an increase in love.

Hope then, through the raising of your children to increase in the grace of God. Do not expect it to be easy, do not expect to be free from struggles and do not expect to be free from falls. Do not expect to have a “spiritual life” according to what you think it should be, rather be obedient and humble, sacrifice yourself and struggle, this leads to holiness.

And fulfilling this you will not only save yourself but by your example you will be as a light to your children and also lead them upon the saving path of the life-giving gospel commandments. Especially struggle to be patient, pray for patience. At the time of struggle, do not fight against painful situations and suffering but rather accept them and pray for patience. Be patient every day in everything. If you can do this then you can bear the fruit of peace.

As a Mother Your Great Hope…

As a mother your great hope for your children should be that they will become saints. Probably the greatest joy among those in heaven will be the joy of the mother of a saint. In this world when anyone, whoever it may be, becomes successful at something and others rejoice with that person, the joy is really greatest for the mother of that individual. So then just think what an inexpressible joy it will be in the kingdom of heaven to see your children clothed with glory from God. Those children who came into being and grew in your womb, those children whom you cared for as helpless infants, who you instructed and guided in their youth and for whom you prayed so much in their times of trouble, even if they are not great saints, to see them clothed with glory from God in the heavenly kingdom, what a joy this will be! Only a mother can know this, no one else, for this is a special joy which God has reserved in His kingdom for mothers.

We were created in the image of God, so then we are good, we are beautiful, we are important to God, this is true for each and every one of us. God adorned man with many gifts and the greatest gift is theosis. Through the Incarnation of the Son of God, in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, this has become a living reality for us. But what is theosis? A hieromonk of Iveron Monastery said to me:

“According to Orthodoxy the Gospels say that the main purpose in life is theosis, that is, to arrive at union with God and everything else in life is a consequence. And that God came in the person of Jesus Christ so that man could become God, of course, by grace. And just like all the saints who reached union with God can be like Him too, so we, too, should try to become like the saints and become holy. To give an example for us in life we have first of all Christ Who was the first saint and then we have all the saints after Him, divine human beings. When you look at the saints you see what holy people are, the saints are proper human beings, true and authentic, spontaneous and genuine human beings: it is we who tend to be false. I think that we can overcome that falseness in the Church.”

This is ultimately what every Christian is called to, whether bishop, priest, monk, or layman. The way in which one lives out this calling is different and no matter who one’s spiritual father is, the calling is the same. It is the fulfillment of the vows given at Baptism. But how is this pursued by a mother of many children living in the world?

The Apostle John the Theologian writes: “as He is, so are we in this world.” We must live a life in Christ. We must act as He did in His earthly life. We must fulfill His Gospel commandments. Christ said, “He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me; and he that loveth me shall be loved by my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” But which in particular relates to a mother in the world who has children? Well, Christ told us to love one another and He said that He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. Moreover, He not only preached with words, but also taught by example. He washed the feet of His disciples and He also served them at the sea of Tiberias after His resurrection. Again Christ said, “No greater love does a man have than this that he lay down His life for his friends.” A mother is called to lay down her life for her children and this is a great act of love. It is not something done part time or only for a few years, but it is life-long. And because of this service, because of this sacrifice, we can say of her, “as He is, so (is she) in this world.” However, this must be done as an act of humble submission to the will of God and with much love. Then this will attract the grace of God. As the outcome of this struggle you can acquire virtues like patience, peace, humility and love. These are the same things a monastic hopes for, but his pathway to them is different. He who has these things has God, he who lives in this manner lives in God.

Another concern seems to be the difficulty of pursuing a deep prayer life in the role of a housewife and mother. For a deeper prayer life one needs to reach a certain state of freedom from the dominion of sin. Thus a Divine transformation takes place within and grace buds forth in the heart, as a more or less abiding state. This is what it means for prayer to be rooted within a person. So pray as much as you are able in role of a mother and a wife, but do not be dismayed over not having as much time as you want to develop a deeper prayer life. Prayer will become deeper as a long drawn out process of a crucifixion of the old man takes place. As the passions are lulled, prayer will blossom in the heart. Your asceticism is the perseverance in the commandments of God, in the role of a mother as mentioned above. Above all, be patient, every day, in everything.

Prayer for Mothers:

O Lord Jesus Christ our God Who didst come into this world not to be ministered unto but to minister and to give Thy life as a ransom for many. Help me, I beseech Thee in my ministry of caring for the children Thou hast given me. Enable me to be patient in tribulations, to instruct with a meek and gentle spirit, to reprimand with inner tranquility and a sober mind, and to serve in humility of heart with love. May I thus live in Thee alone, by Thee alone and for Thee alone showing forth Thy virtues and leading my family upon the path of Thy saving commandments. That we may glorify Thee together with Thine unoriginate Father and Thine all-holy Spirt both in this world and that which is to come. Amen.

Abbot Isaiah of Sarov

Abbot Isaiah of Sarov

Father Isaiah was the sponser of St. Seraphim when he was tonsured as a monk. He followed Abbot Pachomius who received St. Seraphim as a novice and tonsured him as a monastic. Here we presented his life as published by the Sarov Hermitage.

Abbot Hieromonk Isaiah

The eighth abbot of the Sarov Hermitage, Hieromonk Isaiah, was a worthy successor of the reverent elder Pachomius. He was from the city of Suzdal[1], from a family of merchants. Zubkov was his last name. Being twenty-two years old he left the world and entered the Lavra of the Kievan Caves, where he labored for seven years as a novice.

In 1770, while visiting his home in Suzdal on personal business, he learned of the conditions at the Sarov habitation, that the place was secluded and suitable for the salvation of the soul. There were many great elders there of insightful and ascetic life, who were adorned with piousness and fear of God. Having learned that several hermits also lived there in small dwellings in the forest at some distance from the cloister, Isaiah, with his spirit enkindled, entered the Sarov desert as a novice. He was tonsured a monk at the Hermitage in 1772, a Hierodeacon on April 27th of the same year, and a Hieromonk in 1777 on July 6th . He was elected treasurer in 1785 and with the common brethren’s consent abbot in 1794.

Altogether, he lived in Sarov for 37 years. Isaiah zealously endorsed the benefits of the soul-saving monastic life and would not stop encouraging the spiritual flock entrusted to him – the sincere brothers of the hermitage – to monastic feats. He thus acquired the trust and the goodwill of the brethren which gradually increased. In deeds he fulfilled the vows of the monastic life he had taken, and at the same time he was a caring, wise, and kind Shepherd of his reason endowed flock.

Most of all he was distinguished by the fear of God, humility, meekness, patience, kindness, non-possessiveness, and love for the neighbor in the true sense of the Gospel. While glorifying God with his life he gained the affection not only of the brotherhood, who respected him for his pious life and admonitions, but also of many of those outside of the monastery. The fame of his virtues soon reached the furthest places and attracted to him many other devout monks for the community life of the Hermitage as well as lay people, who sought salvation.

While pleasing God himself with fasting and tearful prayer he numerous times gave to the entrusted to him monastics the following noteworthy spiritual edifications imbued with wise experience and the spirit of fatherly love, “(1) The foundation and the affirmation of all virtues for a monk desiring to save himself is in staying in his cell; (2) praying unceasingly; (3) guarding your body from gluttony, and (4) the tongue from wordiness. If someone neglects these four virtues, that person not only undermines the foundation of all virtues, but also invites the source of passions and the abyss of agitation into himself.

The cell for a monk is like a coffin for the dead; the dead in the coffin never move and a monk who dwells in his cell never sins. As long as he stays alone in his cell, separated from the world and does not see, hear and talk to those in the world, God and good deeds are with him. A silent person is feared by demons since they do not find out the secrets of the heart in those who are perfect if they keep the lips silent, he who loves talkativeness will not escape sin. For this reason, brethren, let us not be lazy; do not delay to do good deeds, every hour, every day, every week, and every month, all the time, year after year. Always expect the last trump; as long as the life of this age has not passed, and the soul has not separated from the body, let us hasten in earnest, and acquire for ourselves the Kingdom of Heaven with feats and virtues, and the endless joy and the endless peace, the adobe with God and angels and all the saints, and the sweet singing, and unceasing glorification. Indeed, what a man acquires in this world with his labor, that he will receive in the future age in peace, like a farmer, whatever grain he sows, the same he would reap.

Why do we waste the saving time given to us for salvation, pleasing our body all of the time of our life? What good will we get from our flesh? Shall we start caring for our salvation and do virtuous deeds of Christ when the mortal end will seize us unprepared? Now, while we have time, let us not be lazy to do virtuous deeds. Our temporary life runs fast like the water, the days of our years vanish like the smoke in the air; the life of man rises like a cloud from earth. Shall we start to labor to fulfill the virtues of the Fathers when the end of our life comes and the deathly demise? What shall we, wretched sinners do, what intercessor shall we have? Labor, pray, strive unceasingly every hour before the deathly end, before the separation of the soul from the body, before the descent into hell and bitter torments. Then no one will help, neither the father, nor the mother, nor the children, nor the tears of repentance. Then already virtues may not be obtained, no repentance and forgiveness of sin. Then Neither God nor angels can be entreated that we may not perish in sin, and regain the soul for the blessed life.”

[1] A city to the North-East of Moscow in Vladimir region founded in 1024.

Sunday of Orthodoxy: A Sermon

Sunday of Orthodoxy

Beloved of God, in celebrating this feast of the Sunday of Orthodoxy which is the restoration of the icons in the Church the first thought that usually comes to mind is defending the use of icons in our Church. Today, however, I would like to focus on something else, that is, our belief that man himself is in the image and likeness of God. In creating man this is precisely what God said in the book of Genesis: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26) Therefore we are all, each and every one of us, an icon of God. So let us ponder this.

I would like to refer to a recently published book by Archimandrite Peter, the current abbot of the Monastery of St. John the Baptist, in Essex, England. It is entitled, “Theology as a Spiritual State, In the Life and Teaching of Saint Sophrony the Athonite”1. A subheading in one chapter is called, “In the image and likeness of God”. He has a number of very insightful reflections to share with us so let us consider some. He writes:

“Man was created ‘in the image’ of the one true Image of God the Father, which is Christ.” (pg. 76)

There is a footnote here referring us to Colossians 1:15 where the Apostle Paul declares that our Lord Jesus Christ is “the image of the invisible God”. We are created in the image of God and the Son of God came into the world as both fully God and fully man, the God-man, the perfect man and thus the perfect image of God to which we aspire. Archimandrite Peter continues:

“Moreover, God ordained a most glorious purpose for His creature. He gave him the possibility to become incorruptible and eternal through communion with the Author of his life, and to attain the likeness of God.

“What constitutes, however, this image in man? In patristic literature, one can find various interpretations of the term ‘in the image of God’. In his classic book Saint Silouan the Athonite, Elder Sophrony mentions that ‘God’s image’ is discerned in man’s ‘mode of being’. He explains:

‘The created being [that is, man], by the gift of God’s good pleasure is made a partaker of uncreated, unoriginated life…so it seemed good in the sight of the Heavenly Father. Created in the image and likeness of God, man is endowed with the capacity to apprehend deification – to receive the divine form of being, to become a god by grace.’” (pp. 76-7)2

So if one, ‘apprehends deification’ his ‘mode of being’ is ‘the divine form of being, to become a god by grace’. Man becomes like God by grace, for it is not natural to him rather as a gift he becomes—as the Apostle Peter writes—a partaker of the divine nature. Fr. Peter continues:

“Many fathers of the Church saw the image as the initial deposit and gift of the grace of God, yet the ‘likeness’ as the possibility of the perfection of the image, which is the deification of man. Realisation of the likeness depends on the voluntary collaboration of man’s will with the pre-eternal will of God.

“The creation of man was a free act of God which reveals His thirst to impart all his being to man “’without identity of essence’.” (pp. 77-8)

Fr. Peter touches upon the immeasurable love of God for us when he speaks of God as thirsting to give His being or life to us. This is ‘without identity of essence’, here a footnote ascribes this expression to St. Maximus the Confessor which establishes the Orthodox teaching that we participate in God’s uncreated energy but not His essence which is beyond any created being. He then adds:

“Within this perspective we can understand Saint Sophrony’s observation that when God created man ‘in his image and after His likeness’, He repeated Himself on the created plane and in this sense becomes ‘our Father’.” (pg. 78)

This is an awesome reflection which gives us a sure and clear understanding that God is ‘our Father’. If we are a repeat of Him on the ‘created plane’ then we are indeed His offspring; He is truly ‘our Father’.

Let us think about this: God is our Father! The Apostle Paul writes: the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ. (Eph. 1:3-5) So God is our Father! As St. John the Theologian exclaims: “Behold what manner of love the Father has given us that we should be called the sons of God and so we are” (IJohn 3:1). So God is our Father!

And again he tells us: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and as many as received Him, to them He gave authority to become children of God” (John 1:14,12). God is our Father! Therefore we are His children so let us strive to become a pure icon of our Lord Jesus Christ and appropriate the sonship open to us. Amen!

1. Available from the Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex, England
2. This quote of St. Sophrony is found on page 174 in his book: Saint Silouan the Athonie

Abbot Pachomius of Sarov (conclusion)

Abbot Pachomius of Sarov (Conclusion)
Igumen Pachomius, as was mentioned, was known for his piety, diligent care for the monastery, the salvation of the brethren’s souls, the labors of monastic feats, and strict following of the monastic charter. It was through these virtues that he not only acquired the sincere love of the brothers, but also of many laypeople. The fame of his strict life spread and attracted many pious people to him who, while coming to ask for his spiritual admonition for themselves, provided him with everything necessary. Since that time, the fame of this remote, secluded wilderness habitation grew even more. For it shone with the hidden lives of ascetics as well as the splendor of the monastery’s churches. The selfless love of Pachomius acquired many benefactors for the monastery – many commoners started to come to the service at the monastery and, thus, it became more and more adorned through the action of grace and the help of God-loving people.
Some of those tonsured by Pachomius, inspired by the feats of holiness of their superior departed to the most remote, uninhabited places – their deserts were hidden in pinewoods or thick forests. There in secluded cells the pious hermits, while hiding themselves from people, labored in piety. The famous hermits Igumen Nazarius , Hieroschemamonk Dorotheus , Schemamonk Mark came to live in huts nearby in various places, each with his disciples. With the blessing of Pachomius also the well-known hermit Hieromonk Seraphim settled down in the depth of the monastery forest. He dwelt alone in a secluded hut not far from those hermits who were struggling for salvation.

The desert-loving Igumen Pachomius conversed with the hermits regarding the effectiveness of the means of receiving the Holy Spirit in this manner – the one struggling must surrender his mind and will to the will of God; to most of all guard oneself from gluttony and idleness. Since despondency, excessive sleep, impure thoughts and all kinds of evil passions come from those vices. One should preserve himself from immoderate exhaustion by strict fasting, especially, those who are weak in body. One who is healthy and strong in the body can temporarily endure a strict fast. In general, the Holy Fathers deemed it is useful for anyone to observe moderation in partaking of food so that the soul and the body would not be exhausted in the Holy undertaking. The Grace of the Holy Spirit always surrounds us, yet, our evil deeds encircle us as a hard stone wall, preventing the Holy Spirit to abide in us; the evil passions distance Him from us. Any sin can distance us from the Holy Spirit, yet, He is especially repulsed by bodily impurity and spiritual pride. If we want to receive Him we must be pure in our hearts and guard our bodies against sinful impurity since our heart and body must be the temple of the Holy Spirit, as well as stay away from spiritual pride—do not count on our good deeds and boast about them. May he who keeps silence be diligent in examining his conscience, in self-reproach, in humility, in unceasing prayer to Jesus Christ. And in an attentive contemplation of God while daily recalling his own death, the judgment of Christ, the Kingdom of Heaven, and eternal torments. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God” [Mat 5:8]; “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” [Mat 5:3]. Along with this do everything you are told to do, speak as if you are an unworthy slave. If anyone becomes weak in prayer, then he must engage in reading the Word of God and the books of the holy fathers, since reading focuses the dispersed mind and eradicates earthly thoughts, after reading may he engage in prayer and contemplation of God. Although you may be a man who is honest, kind, fair, and merciful, in a word, although you may have fulfilled all of the commandments of God, yet consider yourself an unworthy slave [Luke 17:10] and nothing more than a tool of God through which He acts. There is yet another way of humility, it consists of bearing all of the afflictions, sorrows, misfortunes, illnesses, ridicules and abuse patiently and meekly, considering them a punishment for your own sins, and do not say, “Oh! How unfortunate I am!”, but firmly keep in your mind that it is yet little sent for your sins; and ask God not as much to relieve you from your calamities, but especially to send you strength to bear them.”
The Most Reverend diocesan Bishop Theophilus called Elder Pachomius a father and a friend. This Most Reverend man, having received a letter about the coming passing of Pachomius, wrote to him on August 24th of 1794 a heartwarming message wishing that his passing from this life may be delayed for the spiritual benefit of the brethren, asking to pray to the Lord for them in the other, better life, if he was destined to leave this temporary world. The letter is expressed in the following words:
Most honorable Father Igumen Pachomius! Dear brother!
I have received through my mother your most amiable, yet very sad letter since you inform of your close passing from this world to eternity. Having read it I said in my heart and soul, “Woe is me, brother Pachomius! Why are you leaving us orphans, why are you leaving the monastery without a guide? Come back until your children get used to the image of your holy life. I sincerely regret and beg the mercy of God, may He show mercy to the monastery by your return, if not, may the will of the Almighty be done, Who, by calling you, may place you in His blessed dwellings in which do pray to the mercy of God, may He direct my life to the good and make me worthy of the destiny He promised for the blessed ones. Forgive all of my transgressions, which you feel I have done in word, deed, and in thought before you; I, for my part, mutually forgive you and absolve you, and wish you either health for the joy of the holy habitation and my delight, or, according to the will of God, a blessed repose.
Having accomplished the feat of a blessed life, Igumen Pachomius, feeling the exhaustion of his strength, chose on his deathbed the successor for himself, who was his associate, to be the Igumen. It was pious Elder Isaiah, who was adorned with all of the monastic virtues: his meekness, humility, brotherly love and unquestioning obedience to his Abbot were the example of monastic life for the brethren. Pachomius passed away in 1794 being 70 years old. Many at the habitation to this day revere his memory as of a pious man.
1. Venerable Nazarius of Valaam was born in the Tambov region of Russia between 1731 and 1735, his name was Nikolai. He entered the Sarov desert at a young age, he was tonsured a hieromonk there in 1776. His strict ascetic life prompted Metropolitan Gavriil of Novgorod to appoint him to be the Superior of the Valaam Monastery. The Valaam monastery grew under his guidance. At the order of Metropolitan Gabriel, Igumen Nazari chose ten missionaries from the brothers of the monastery to be sent to North America, St. Herman of Alaska was among them. In 1801 he requested to be released from his duties at the Valaam Monastery, he returned to Sarov, where he lived in seclusion until his passing in 1809.
2. Fr. Dorotheus was a hermit who lived in the woods near the monastery at the time of St. Seraphim of Sarov.
3. Venerable Mark of Sarov (1733-1817) was a contemporary of St. Seraphim of Sarov, whom he visited often. He was born in Kursk. He felt a desire to devote himself to spiritual life, seclusion, and the feats of the desert life from an early age, a spiritual vision prompted him to abandon the world. He came to the Sarov Monastery at twenty- four and was tonsured a monk in 1778. He chose a life of a fool for Christ and lived in the woods near the monastery in seclusion and complete poverty. He had many spiritual gifts, clairvoyance and healing among them.