The Appearance of Elder Ephraim and the Anger of God

The appearance of Elder Ephraim and the Anger of God

Orthodox Ethos has recently posted an account of a woman in northern Greece who had a vision of Elder Ephraim.  This has drawn much attention.  He warns us of evils to come and the need of repentance.  At one point He says, “Christ is very angry”.  How do we understand this?

Among the writings of St. John Cassian his Book VIII within the Institutes of the Cenobia is called “Of the Spirit of Anger”.  The heading in the second chapter reads: “Of those who say that anger is not injurious, if we are angry with those who do wrong, since God Himself is said to be angry”.  So he explains:

We have heard some people trying to excuse this most pernicious disease of the soul, in such a way as to endeavour to extenuate it by a rather shocking way of interpreting Scripture: as they say that it is not injurious if we are angry with the brethren who do wrong, since, say they, God Himself is said to rage and to be angry with those who either will not know Him, or, knowing Him, spurn Him, as here “And the anger of the Lord was kindled against His people;”(Psa. 105:38) or where the prophet prays and says, “O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy displeasure;”(Psa.6:1) not understanding that, while they want to open to men an excuse for a most pestilent sin, they are ascribing to the Divine Infinity and Fountain of all purity a taint of human passion….For if when these things are said of God they are to be understood literally in a material gross signification, then also He sleeps, as it is said, “Arise, wherefore sleepest thou, O Lord?” (Psa. 33.23) though it is elsewhere said of Him: “Behold he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” (Psa. 120:4) And He stands and sits, since He says, “Heaven is my seat, and earth the footstool for my feet” (Isa. 66:1). (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Volumes 11, p.258)

And so as without horrible profanity these things cannot be understood literally of Him who is declared by the authority of Holy Scripture to be invisible, ineffable, incomprehensible, inestimable, simple, and uncompounded, so neither can the passion of anger and wrath be attributed to that unchangeable nature without fearful blasphemy…. when we read of the anger or fury of the Lord, we should take it not anthropopathos; i.e., according to an unworthy meaning of human passion, but in a sense worthy of God, who is free from all passion; so that by this we should understand that He is the judge and avenger of all the unjust things which are done in this world; and by reason of these terms and their meaning we should dread Him as the terrible rewarder of our deeds, and fear to do anything against His will. (ibid. pp. 258-9)

In a concluding remark St. John affirms that such expressions should be seen as metaphors:

It would be tedious and outside the scope of the present work were we to explain all the things which are spoken metaphorically of God in the Holy Scripture, with human figures. (ibid. 259)…to be continued  

A Reflection on the Election

A Reflection on the Election

In the recent past there has been much concern about current events in the world.  Actually more than I can ever remember being in the past.  It is the presidential election that has drawn excessive interest and has disquieted many.   For me, this past presidential election is reminiscent of the Supreme Court’s decision not long ago.  I am speaking of course, of the ruling to legalize gay marriage.  This along with other like things that have become acceptable and normal in our day were unthought-of while I was growing up as a youth.  Why has this change come about?  Is it progress for man or what is it?  I will go on to make a response to these questions.    

So, to continue, I will speak about psychology, however it is not modern psychology I will refer to, but the ancient psychology of the Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church.  In their struggle to fight against sin, not only to cease sinning in act but to be purified from the effect of sin upon our common human nature, they came to certain conclusions.  These conclusion were not based on deductive reasoning, on the contrary, they were founded upon their observations of what they experienced within themselves.  They did not make a voluntary decision to make a study of the soul, but through their struggle for purification they not only became proper human beings in the image of God, but, in addition, they acquired the grace of the Holy Spirit and so ascended into the likeness of God.  They were able to look back and see clearly the process of regeneration they went through.   And they were moved to write out of the illumination they received from the grace of the Holy Spirit. 

Our Holy Fathers tell us that there are three powers or aspects of the soul.  They are, the intellectual, the desiring, and the incensive aspects of the soul.  The intellectual is meant to rule over the other two.  This is the natural order as we were created, however, with the Fall of Adam and Eve, this has been turned upside down.  This is the effect of their fall upon their human nature which we all inherit. They have personal responsibility for their sin but, I repeat, their sin had an effect on their human nature.  Their fall caused them to have an inclination to sin.  This means that the desiring and incensive powers of the soul now have the upper hand.  The intellectual power which was meant to rule over the other two now easily becomes enslaved to them.  This is what we have inherited from our first parents, Adam and Eve.

Whereas, we are called to return to our natural, noble state where our intellect would rule over the lower aspects of the soul, we have fallen headlong into that inclination to sin.  In our day we see a dynamic increase in evil, which, on the basis of the psychology of the Fathers, we could say comes from our own choice proceeding from a distorted mind.  The powers of evil also have their part in this.  Their warfare against us is increasing for, as St. Joseph the Hesychast has written: “The devil knows his time is short therefore he is angry and fighting harder”.  And as the Romanian Hieromonk Raphael Noika has observed: “The sin of Adam is becoming full”.  This is where the race of man finds itself.  Sin is multiplied to great extents and it is indulgence in sensual pleasures that is perhaps the most flagrant.  Seeking pleasure through food, alcohol, drugs and lust—whether natural or unnatural—is promoted by our society and are the norm in the lives of many.  What is the result?  The reasoning of the mind is influenced; it is darkened and contrary to nature.   The intellectual aspect of the soul is enslaved to the desiring.  We are at the point of which the Scripture speaks, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isa. 5:20)   And as the Psalmist says: “And man, being in honor did not understand; he is compared to mindless cattle and is become like unto them” (Psa. 48.12). [Psalm quotations are from The Psalter According to the Seventy, Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Boston Massachusetts]

With pain of heart for the world I can conclude with one final remark which I believe the readers will understand:

“It is time for the Lord to act; for they have dispersed Thy law” (Psa.118:126).

Joseph the Hesychast: Perpetuator of the Athonite Hesychast Tradition

St. Joseph the Hesychast: Perpetuator of the Athonite Hesychast Tradition

In endeavoring to write something on St. Joseph the Hesychast I think of how his disciple, Joseph the Younger, approached his work on the saint.  He asserts that he is “ignorant and inadequate to the task” and so he “casts his anxiety upon the Lord” (I Pet. 5:7) (Elder Joseph the Hesychast, Elder Joseph, Holy and Great Monastery of Vatopaidi 1999, p. 159).  Although this is a micro-fraction of what he accomplished I set out by following his disposition.  Here I simply organize available historical information to fit under the heading of the selected title.  May God help me, through the prayers of St. Joseph the Hesychast.

If we look at the life of St. Joseph the Hesychast and in particular his struggles on the Holy Mountain, it should be clear that he was a chosen vessel of God.  But what did he do? The appellation by which he is named tells us: Hesychast.  With a limitless zeal and uncompromising determination he sought to make the hesychastic way of life his own.  But what is meant by hesychastic way of life?  We could perhaps say that this indicates to be withdrawn from the world and its distractions, to have much silence and solitary prayer, and to acquire mental prayer on the heart level as a state of being.  In his letters he speaks of a state of grace called, “illumination”1.  He says to attain this, “the person praying much have much stillness and an unerring guide” (Monastic Wisdom, The Letters of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery 1998, p. 45).   An “unerring guide”, in this lays the true and incalculable value of St. Joseph.  This is what he came to be.  St. Joseph is a link to the past, we could liken him to a link in an unbroken chain—a practitioner and perpetuator of the Hesychast Tradition of the Holy Mountain. 

On arriving at the Holy Mountain he sought out a hesychast who could guide him, however he soon discovered that such Elders were becoming scarce.  Elder Joseph the Younger writes: “From the beginning of his venture, the elder longed to find a spiritual father: a spiritual man, in the full sense of the word, with appropriate experience, who could teach him and guide him in this subtle and mysterious life.  And despite all his disappointments, as he told us, he never ceased to search and hope.” (Elder Joseph the Hesychast, p. 70)  However, as he was advised by an Abbess before coming to Athos, he did put himself in subjection to the Elder, St. Daniel of Katounakia.  So he became St. Joseph’s first elder to whom he practiced obedience.

The Elder, St. Daniel of Katounakia, was well known on the Holy Mountain and beyond.  Not only was he a wise tempered ascetic but he also had a theological education and was a deep thinker.  He was a graduate of the renowned Theological School of Smyrna.  As was mentioned, St. Joseph specifically went to this Elder, and on reaching Katounakia, he decided to remain with his community.  However, it was not long after when the Elder advised him to struggle in a stricter ascetic life with a like minded brother.  He moved to a nearby cave where he was first alone, and then joined by Father Arsenius who became his life-long co-struggler.   

After St. Joseph and Father Arsenius lived together for about a year St. Daniel thus instructed them: “You aren’t accomplishing anything like this.  Now you will listen to me.  Here on the Holy Mountain there is a tradition: in order to become an elder you need to bury an elder.  In other words, you need to have an elder and be obedient to him until his death in order to become an elder….Without the blessing of an elder, nothing succeeds in monasticism.  Without the seal of a spiritual father, no spiritual work bears fruit.  If you want to have the grace of God all your life, you must first pass under obedience.” (My Elder Joseph the Hesychast, Elder Ephraim, St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery 2013, p. 91)

The Elder advised them to submit themselves to two old monks, who were brothers: Ephraim and Joseph.  So they did go to these fathers and were received with abundant joy.  “Elder Ephraim didn’t know how to express his joy for the obedience and assistance of his two new disciples.  He was frequently moved to tears seeing their eagerness and their perfect obedience.” (ibid., p.93)  Joseph, however, did not live much longer while Ephraim remained as their elder for a total of seven years.  They first lived at Katounakia and later, in 1928, they moved higher up the mountain to the Skete of St. Basil.  This move came about in their desire for move solitude and to have their hesychastic way of life continue without disturbance.  Elder Ephraim did not live long after this move, he foresaw his repose and he had a saintly death.  And so, “When Elder Joseph and Elder Ephraim reposed, their two disciples inherited their blessing as a protection and purveyance.” (ibid., p.124)  It was very significant for St. Joseph and Father Arsenius that they had elders who understood and protected their desire for the quiet life of prayer.  First Daniel of Katounakia and then Ephraim the Barrel maker—as he is called—understood, encouraged and shielded their hesychastic life.  

Allow me to continue by quoting once again the aforementioned words of St. Joseph, “The person praying much have much stillness and an unerring guide” (Monastic Wisdom, p. 45).  Now, with these words, a question arises: Who was it, that guided St. Joseph in the hesychastic life?  Who was his unerring guide in this “art of arts and science of sciences”?2  Well, he did find a number of fathers from whom he gathered “pearls of great price” (Mat. 13:46).  In his book, My Elder Joseph the Hesychast, Elder Ephraim tells us about them.  First there was Elder Kallinikos the Hesychast.  When St. Joseph moved from the brotherhood under St. Daniel of Katounakia he was near to Elder Kallinikos.  Concerning him, St. Joseph later wrote: “He was a first-rate ascetic, a recluse for forty years.  He practiced the noetic work and thrived on the sweetness of divine love and became beneficial to others as well. He experienced ecstasy of the nous.3” (ibid., p. 86)  It is believed, that in order to preserve his state of hesychia, he did not teach others noetic prayer since this could lead to a multitude of disciples which could be distracting to his state.  Nevertheless, he did agree to give some advice to St. Joseph.  He did find other elders immersed in the Hesychast tradition.  There was also Gerasimos of Chios: “He practiced noetic prayer4….He had continuous tears.  He led his carefree life sweetened by the contemplation of Jesus.” (ibid., p. 86)  The elderly and blind Ignatius was another mentor.  “His counsels were precious.  The amazing thing is that when he spoke, an indescribable fragrance came out of his mouth due to the prayer that he said noetically without ceasing.” (My Elder, p.51)  Again there was another blind elder at Katounakia who continually said the Jesus Prayer either orally or noetically.  When St. Joseph went to him to reveal his thoughts the elder’s only reply was: “My child, my child, the prayer!  Say the prayer, my child!  Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.  Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” (ibid., p. 51)

Finally we come to the most significant of all, Daniel the Hesychast.  Elder Ephraim states that St. Joseph received his hesychastic program from him.  In his biography of St. Joseph, Elder Joseph the Younger has a chapter heading: “The discovery of the Hesychast Elder Daniel as Spiritual Father.  He lived near the Great Lavra.  From sunset until midnight he kept vigil with the prayer rope and then served Liturgy which would last three and a half to four hours because, being moved to compunction, he couldn’t verbalize his petitions.  Although he only allowed his disciple at Liturgy he agreed to permit St. Joseph to come and confess to him.  Confession would be either before or after Liturgy.  “To save time he would read his thoughts and respond with a few words full of grace.” (ibid., p.56)  As to how long he was under the direction of Elder Daniel was not clearly stated.  However, Elder Ephraim mentions him finding Daniel the Hesychast before Fr. Arsenius joined him as a co-struggler.  Elder Joseph the Younger speaks about them going together to see him while living at St. Basil’s Skete.

So now I repeat my title: St. Joseph the Hesychast: Perpetuator of the Athonite Hesychast Tradition.  He went to the Holy Mountain early in 1921.  Sparing no effort, he diligently sought out “an unerring guide” from whom he could learn the “art of arts and science of sciences”.  Perhaps without realizing it at the time, he found what he sought.  He made contact with some of the great hesychasts of the early twentieth century on the Holy Mountain.  “Benefitting from Everyone” (ibid., p.51), he absorbed their teaching and became the embodiment of the hesychast tradition of the Holy Mountain.  He was a chosen vessel of God to perpetuate this, for if it wasn’t for him what would have happened to the teaching of those elders?  Would it have disappeared?  Elder Ephraim, in referring to the hesychasts his elder met, writes of them, “Even though these men, who had lived in the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, were of great spiritual stature, they left no heirs to their noetic prayer.” (ibid., p.44)  They had no disciple living with them as their elder who buried them and became an heir to their noetic prayer.  But what about St. Joseph the Hesychast?  As a bee gathers honey from a variety of flowers so he gathered whatever teaching he could from each of them and became an heir to their noetic prayer.  In passing on what he acquired, several of his spiritual children became Athonite abbots.  And so, the three monasteries where they became abbots and several other Athonite monasteries have become revived through them.  And now, here in North America, the hesychast tradition has been planted by Elder Ephraim, that tradition which he inherited from his elder, St. Joseph the Hesychast: Perpetuator of the Athonite Hesychast Tradition.         

Through their prayers and all the saintly hesychasts may our Lord Jesus Christ help us to make a few baby steps upon the path which they trod so magnificently.  Amen!  

  1. Concerning ‘illumination” St. Joseph writes: “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, depth of cognition.” (Monastic Wisdom, p.45)
  2. Nicephorous the Solitary, in his text, “A most Profitable Discourse on Sobriety and the Guarding of the Heart”, in the Philokalia, referrs to the monastic life in this way. (Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart, Faber and Faber, 1975, p.23)
  3. Nous is sometimes translated mind or intellect.  In this quotation the translator left this term as a transliteration of the Greek. In the volumes of the Philokalia it is translated as intellect and defined as, “the highest faculty in man, through which—provided it is purified—he knows God or the inner essences or principles of created things by means of direct apprehension or spiritual perception….The intellect [nous] is the organ of contemplation, the eye of the heart.  (Volume One, p. 362)
  4. “Noetic prayer is prayer done with the nous without distraction within the heart.  Another name for it is ‘prayer of the heart.’  It is contrasted with prayer of the intellect which is done within the reason.” (My Elder, p. 690)                     

The Non-Chalcedonians: A few more bits and pieces

The Non- Chalcedonians: A few more bits and pieces

Last Sunday, on the Old Calendar, we commemorated the Holy Fathers of Fourth Ecumenical Council. What is especially remembered on that feast day is the miracle of St. Euphemia. I believe we are all aware that when scrolls of the Orthodox and Non-Chalcedonians were placed in her coffin she was found holding the scroll with the Orthodox confession near her heart. Conversely, that of the Non-Chalcedonians was found at her feet. At this time I would like to add “a few more bits and pieces” to my former articles concerning this issue. This time I will make reference to the Sinai Geronticon and two of our recent saints: Paisius of Athos and Sophrony of Essex.

I will begin first by relating an event from the life of St. Paisius. Once, two atheists who were studying in Thessalonica went to visit the saint. They had heard about him, and considering him to be a fraud, they decided that they would pay him a visit and show him up. So they went through the process of making the trip. First there is an early morning bus from the city to the sea port of Ouranopoli. From there the boat took them to the sea port of Daphne on the Holy Mountain. Next, they took the bus to the center of Athos and from there the made a short walk to the monastery closest to where St. Paisius lived and where they were able to spend the night. Finally they made the twenty minute walk to his house where he lived as a hermit. When they reached his house it was twilight and they saw that there was a light on in one window and so they rejoiced at finding him there. They went up to the window and looked inside; and what do you think they saw? There was no lamp lit in the room, the light was coming from St. Paisius himself! They were converted on the spot. St. Paisius was shining with the Uncreated Light.

I will add to this a word from St. Sophrony. I once asked a close spiritual child of his if Father ever said anything about the Non-Chalcedonians? In answer he commented, “Father Sophrony used to say, ‘Unless you believe that Christ is fully God and fully man in the Orthodox sense you cannot experience the Uncreated Light and they [the Non-Chalcedonians] do not have this in their tradition.’”

I had mentioned the incident above in a sermon, and someone who heard sent me the following from the Sinai Gerontiicon:

This is the witness of the god-fearing Abba Zosimus and the vision that accompanied it. Abba Zosimus was a wandering foreigner with a pure soul and upright character. He was even deemed worthy of sojourning with the venerable Peter and holding fast to the untainted faith. Zosimus told me that after living at Raitho and Mount Sinai with the Orthodox fathers, he left and journeyed to Jerusalem. He had grown to love life in the Holy Land and was constantly coming and going, seeking a place to settle. He came at last to Bethel, where Jacob the Patriarch had seen the vision of the ladder, and there he found favor with the caretaker of the place. The monk begged Zosimus incessantly to stay with him and promised that he could guarantee him a place of peace unlike any other. Abba Zosimus told him truthfully that he could not stay, for he had no communion with the dissenters of Chalcedon. But the monk insisted and promised that in that isolated place no one would give him trouble on that account. He said, “Stay here. You will sing the psalter with me and care for this place.”

Zosimus had almost been won over by these allurements when one night he had a dream: He saw Jacob the Patriarch, dressed in white, solemn and brooding, walking about the place. He was dressed in a cloak with a rod in his hand. He drew near and said, “How can you, one who has communion with the Orthodox, consider dwelling here? Do not forsake your faith for me, but flee these renegades as quickly as you can, and [128] you will lack neither peace nor anything else you require.” So Zosimus left and remained steadfast in good works and the Orthodox faith till the end of his days.*

Now to conclude I can only add the little prayer we see at the end of our Vespers and Matins services: Establish, O God, the holy Orthodox Faith and Orthodox Christians unto the ages of ages. Amen!

*No reference to the quote is being given as the text is in the process of being translated and hopefully will be ready by Pentecost 2021 (for info see: studionministries.org)

The Piety of the Last of the Romanov’s

The Piety of the last of the Romanov’s

This past Friday (July 4th/17th) the Royal Passion-bearers, Tsar Nicholas and family were commemorated. For a sermon I made use of a few excerpts from “The Life of the Royal Passion-bearers of Russia” compiled by the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood.* This contains a final instruction or “testament” of Tsar Alexander Alexandrovich which he gave to his son and heir, Nicholas, shortly before his repose. The prayer which Tsar Nicholas offered to God as he was crowned is also found in the aforementioned publication. It is these that I now wish to share with my readers.

So before the Lord took him, Tsar Alexander Alexandrovich bequeathed his son with the following instructions:

You shall have to take from my shoulders the heavy burden of national authority and bear it to the grave, as I and our ancestors have done. I give you the kingdom entrusted to me by God. I received it thirteen years ago from my bleeding father…. From the height of the throne of your grandfather carried out many important reforms, directed to the good of the Russian people. As a reward for this, he received a bomb and death from Russian revolutionaries…. On the tragic day the question stood before me: which path was I to follow? Was it the one toward which I was being urged by so-called progressive society, infected with the liberal ideas of the West, or was it the one recommended by my own convictions, by my highest, sacred duty as sovereign, by my own conscious? I chose my path. The liberals called it reactionary. I was interested only in the good of my people, and the greatness of Russia. I strove to give it internal and external peace, that the state might freely and calmly develop, becoming strong, rich and prosperous in an orderly way. Autocracy has created Russia’s historical individuality. If autocracy falls, God forbid, Russia will collapse with it. The fall of the time-honored Russian government will inaugurate as era of civil strife and bloody internecine wars. I adjure you to love everything that serves the good, the honor, and the dignity of Russia. Guard autocracy, remembering at the same time that you bear the responsibility for the fate of your subjects before the throne of the Most High. May faith in God and in the sanctity of your royal duty be the foundation of your life. Be firm and courageous, and never show any weakness. Listen to everyone—there is nothing shameful in that—but hearken only to yourself and to your own conscience. In foreign policy, preserve an independent position. Remember—Russia has no friends. They fear our vastness. Avoid war. In domestic policy, first and foremost protect the Church. She has often saved Russian in times of misfortune. Strengthen the family, for it is the foundation of any state. (The royal Passion-bearers, p.7)

And now the prayer of Tsar Nicholas at his crowning. Kneeling he prayed aloud:

Lord God of our fathers, and King of Kings, Who created all things by Thy word, and by Thy wisdom has made man, that he should walk uprightly and rule righteously over Thy world; Thou hast chosen me as Tsar and judge over Thy people. I acknowledge Thine unsearchable purpose towards me, and bow in thankfulness before Thy Majesty. Do Thou, my Lord and Governor, make me fit for the work to which Thou hast sent me; teach me and guide me in this great service. May there be with me wisdom that belongs to Thy throne; send it from Thy holy Heaven, that I may know what is well-pleasing in Thy sight, and what is right according to Thy commandments. May my heart be in Thy hand, to accomplish all that is to the profit of the people committed to my charge, and to Thy glory, so that in the day of Thy Judgment I may give Thee account of my stewardship without blame; through the grace and mercy of Thy Son, Who was once crucified for us, to Whom be all honor and glory with Thee and the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life, forever and ever. Amen. (ibid. p.9)

May God grant to us such Orthodox and God-fearing rulers through the prayers of our Lady Theotokos, the Royal Passion-bearers of Russia, and all His saints. Amen.

*This is contained in the booklet, “The Royal Passion-bearers of Russia, Their Life and Service”, published by St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood. I high recommend this for anyone who has a veneration for the Royal Passion-bearers.

A Sermon for the Season

A Sermon for the Season

It has been approximately two months since we have been able to come together in the church for a Divine Liturgy. In preparing to preach this day I could not do otherwise than consider: What subject do I preach on? Do I refer to the Gospel lesson of the day or should my subject be centered on the pandemic which has struck and affected the whole world. I believe this latter is in the forefront of everyone’s mind and it would be best to address it in some way. For the Church has been likewise hit with this catastrophe in a way that was unimaginable. The Church at large, throughout the whole world, was basically shut down for two months and is now only gradually reopening.

How do we look at this? How should we perceive this happening? From what angle or aspect do we view this? First we must realize that God is in control, and in our existence in this world we are called to work out our salvation. God is in control and man His beloved creature has fallen from the high dignity which He bestowed upon him. We have been created in the image of God. What could be more awesome and wonderful than this? But we have fallen from this high dignity. In his Liturgy, St Basil the Great, speaks of this. In his Eucharistic prayer we read:

When Thou didst create man by taking dust from the earth, and didst honor him with Thine own image, O God, Thou didst set him in a paradise of delight, promising him eternal life and the enjoyment of everlasting blessings in the observance of Thy commandments. But when man disobeyed Thee, the true God Who had created him, and was deceived by the guile of the serpent, becoming subject to death by his own transgressions, Thou, O God, in Thy righteous judgment, didst send him forth from paradise into this world, returning him to the earth from which he was taken, yet providing for him the salvation of regeneration in Thy Christ Himself.

In continuing his prayer St. Basil expounds this, and we could say that he is summarizing for us a history of the salvation of man. And this is continuing, and shall continue until the second coming of Christ our Lord Jesus Christ. So God is in control, the mystery of salvation is at work, but how do our current events fit into it? Well, besides the “mystery of salvation” there is also something else: The Apostle Paul writes, “the mystery of iniquity is at work” (IIThess. 2:7). It seems to me, that we now, see these two things occurring at the same time. Sin is abounding to unimaginable measures, therefore, in the history of salvation which God has foreordained before the foundation of the world, is it possible that mankind now has a wakeup call? I believe so, God is as work, God Who desires that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth is at work. Is this one facet or phase of the mystery of salvation? Perhaps?

Yet we also see something very fearful that has occurred. We see how easy it is for the authorities of this world to set boundaries on the Church. Our churches have been basically shut down. Is this “the mystery of iniquity at work”? Is this a foretaste of what the antichrist can accomplish when he appears?

Maybe, then again, we don’t really know. But in the midst of this present trial and various temptations that we may meet, what do we need to remain on the path salvation? Faith is of prime importance. Christ said, “When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)

So now, I would like to refer to something which Archimandrite Zachariah of Essex, England, had written on faith in our particular time. I have referred to this some time ago, but in another context, and repetition of something so edifying is good:

“Our faith is not simply an inner matter; it always reflects the times we live in as Christians. The Fathers of the fourth century—a time of great flowering for the Church—repeatedly said that the Christians of the last times would neither have the strength to endure ascetic hardship nor be able to perform the godly works of the Fathers of old. But they added that those who would succeed in simply keeping the faith would be more greatly glorified in heaven than those Fathers who had worked miracles and even raised the dead to life. In other words, it is the privilege of our time to preserve the fullness of our faith, and this requires a greater measure of grace than that by which our Fathers raised the dead. The Lord Himself asked, ‘When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?’ His words reflect the same thing: if faith be found among men at His Second Coming, this will be something very great indeed. We see that God judges us with respect to the generation in which we live. Father Sophrony would say we are all leaves on the same tree of humanity and nothing can separate us from the life of this tree. So if our time is characterized by a general falling away from the faith of our fathers, our success in preserving it will be the more sublime because of the apostasy surrounding us.

“But we must be resolute: either we live according to our faith or we do not. The Book of Revelation says we must not allow ourselves to loiter, to become lukewarm in the false security of a kind of middle ground. In our day, we are witnessing a dynamic increase of evil, and we find ourselves caught in a surge of iniquity even as it gathers force. As Christians we must place ourselves in a different, indeed contrary, dynamic increase which grows not away from but towards God, so that evil itself will spur us on to do good. Father Sophrony had the gift of discerning God’s purposes when people asked him how to cope with distressing situations: he knew that even the most tragic circumstances can have great spiritual benefits hidden within them. But we are wholly responsible for the direction we choose to follow, we can either remain inert and lifeless, or we can engage with the dynamic increase of life in God.” (Remember Thy First Love, pp. 17-9)

May God strengthen and have mercy on us. Amen.

A Sermon for Bright Week

A sermon for Bright Week

The coronavirus and its consequences are very much on the minds of all of us today. Let those of us in Orthodox Church let us consider the question: Does the Coronavirus Restrictions deprive us of grace?

In his renowned conversation with Nicholas Motivilov, St Seraphim of Sarov has taught us that the aim of the Christian life is the acquisition of the grace of the Holy Spirit. He tells us that practicing virtues and ascetic endeavors bring us this grace and he instructs each of us to practice the virtues which bring us the most grace. Sometimes we see that God, in His providential care for us, causes our life to proceed in such a way that we may find ourselves involuntarily obliged to practice various virtues or ascetic endeavors at various periods of our life. Although the coronavirus restrictions distress and even scandalize many people, we might also be able to view this as an opportunity. This time can become for each of us an opportunity to practice patience and faith, and, in this way, to acquire grace.

So let’s begin with faith. St. Paul instructs us, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31) And again, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:35-9)
If we have faith then we can exercise patience. The Lord said, “In your patience possess ye your souls” (Luke 21:19). So now is the Lord asking us to be patient? The Apostle Paul says, “We glory in tribulations: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). It is exactly when we are in such a state that we are prepared to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit. So then, let us “be patient in tribulation” (Rom. 12:12), knowing that “that through many tribulations must enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). In all the lives and ascetic writings of the Holy Fathers we see that “the kingdom of God” is not only hereafter but accessible here and now, and is synonymous for the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Christ is risen and Eternal Life has shown forth from the tomb. Nothing can separate us from the Eternal Life God gives us. In the gospel reading for Pascha we hear: “In him was life; and the life was the light of men. That was the true Light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:4, 9-13)

In contemplating this gift St. John the Theologians writes in his first epistle: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” (IJohn 3:1). No one can this from us, therefore, let us rejoice in the good that God has given us.
Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!
And unto us He has given Eternal Life,
let us worship His resurrection on the third day.

 

The Corona Virus: Why?

The Coronavirus: Why?

What is the Orthodox response to such distressing events?

We have sinned and we have transgressed, and therefore Thy righteous anger has visited us, O Lord, our God, and the darkness of death has encompassed us and we have drawn nigh unto the gates of Hades. But, with compunction, we cry out unto Thee, our God, in our infirmities. Spare, O spare Thy people, and destroy us not utterly, humbly we pray Thee, hearken and have mercy.

This is a petition from the Orthodox service used in time of devastating epidemic. This is the same service that contains the Canon which I published in my last post. The above petition should remind us of the three Hebrew youths in Babylon who were thrown into the fiery furnace. The sacred city of Jerusalem had been overrun and many Jews were taken into captivity. The three youths were among those captured, and because of their refusal to worship an idol in Babylon they were thrown into the fiery furnace. How did they react to all this? They prayed as follows:

Blessed art Thou, O Lord, the God of our Fathers, and praised and glorified is Thy Name unto the ages. For righteous art Thou in all which Thou hast done for us; and all Thy works are true, and upright are Thy ways, and all Thy judgments are true. And judgments of truth hast Thou performed in all things which Thou hast brought upon us, and upon the holy city of our fathers, Jerusalem; for in truth and judgment hast Thou brought all these things upon us for our sins. For we have sinned and have transgressed in departing from Thee, and all things wherein we have greatly sinned; and Thy commandments we have not heard, nor have we given heed, nor done as Thou hast enjoined us, that it might go well with us. And all that Thou hast done to us, and all that Thou hast brought upon us, in judgment that is true hast Thou done them.

So, after a foreign invasion, the destruction of their holy city and Temple, their captivity and having been thrown into the fiery furnace because of their fidelity to the God of their fathers, they responded as we have just seen. Let us proceed by examining how they continued in prayer:

“In a contrite soul and spirit of humility may we be accepted…Yea, now we follow Thee with our whole heart and we fear Thee, and we seek Thy face; O put us not to shame.”

What took place with this response of theirs? An Angel of the Lord descended into the fiery furnace with them and made it like a whistling wind that bore dew. With thanksgiving in the midst of tribulation, a humble confession of sin, and resolve to change a great miracle took place. How might this relate to our present dilemma? Why has this happened and what should we be doing?

“The sin of Adam is becoming full”—These words were spoken to me almost 20 years ago in a conversation with the Romanian Hieromonk Raphael who was then a monastic of the monastery of St. John the Baptist in Essex. In the Prophet Isaiah it is written: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (5:20) We have certainly reached a state of sin where it seems as though sin itself is thought to be virtue and virtue sin. But what is the recompense for this? The Apostle Paul writes to the Romans: “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” (Rom. 1:18) We must fear this and the curse written in the Pentateuch. We find a number of sins are listed there, some of which are commonplace and acceptable today. It is written: “The land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.” (Lev. 18:25) Is this what we are experiencing? Will the pandemic be more severe in places where sin abounds?

What, then, is needed? Very simple, repentance is needed. We Orthodox need both a personal and universal repentance. Although we sin we should be continually struggling against sin. We should not only live a life of repentance for ourselves but we would do well to also pray for those who are darkened in their understanding and live in sin. I will end by offering an example of the latter for consideration:

O Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Who in the beginning in the Old Covenant didst reveal our divine nobility when Thou hast said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”. O Almighty Lord, we have distorted this image to the uttermost and have not gone after Thy likeness, but rather we follow the inclinations of our human nature in its fallen state. We multiply sin and wickedness in every generation and Thine impending wrath lieth upon us. Yet do Thou the same Lord Who hast fashioned us, turn our hearts unto Thee, restore us to our former state, inspire us to run after Thy likeness to the uttermost bounds of our mortal strength. We pray Thee hearken and have mercy.

Amen!

 

The Coronavirus: Prayers for the Pandemic

The Coronavirus: Prayers for the Pandemic

What is being posted here is a Canon from a service from the Orthodox “Book of Needs”: A Molieben [or prayer service] Sung in Time of Devastating Epidemic and Deathbearing Pestilence. This is found in “The Book of Needs Volume IV”, pp. 90-114, published by St. Tikhon’s Monastery. This is being published with permission of the Monastery. I do not want to write anything but simply to offer the following Canon for use. The refrains, which are to be repeated throughout the Canon have been written out only in the first ode.

Canon to the Most-holy, Consubstantial, Lifegiving and Undivided Trinity (Tone 8)

Ode 1
Irmos: The staff of Moses working wonders in days of old, marking the sea in cross-wise form, struck and divided it, and drowned Pharaoh driving his chariot, while it saved fugitive Israel who passed by on foot, singing a song unto God.

Refrain: O Most-holy Trinity, our God, glory to Thee.

O All-acting, of one Essence, Co-enthroned, Equal-in-power and Thrice-radiant Glory, Incomprehensible Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Free Thy servants from grievous sickness, that we may glorify Thee with thanksgiving.

O Most-holy Trinity, our God, glory to Thee.

The storm of sins hast cast me into the depths of infirmities and frequent sickness tosses me, the wretched one, as a tempest. O Holy Trinity, Might Equal-in-power, having loving-kindness, save me who am grievously wasted.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

From the sins that have seized us, O Undivided Trinity, deliver us, Thy servants, extinguishing with the dew of Thy mercy the fever of my grievous sickness, and grant health that we may glorify Thee in an Orthodox manner.

Now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

(Theotokion) Having borne in thy womb the Deliverer, All-acting One, and Lord Who didst bear our infirmities, O All-pure One, entreat Him, therefore, that He deliver thy servants from grievous infirmities, O only Helper of mankind.

Ode 3
Irmos: O Lord Creator of the vault of heaven, and Builder of the Church: Do Thou establish me in the love of Thee, O Summit of desire, O Confirmation of the faithful, O only Lover mankind.

The Heavenly Intelligences and the Angelic Ranks, the Thrones, Principalities. Powers and Dominions entreat Thee, the Good One and Savior: Free Thy servants from destructive illness.

That Thou mightiest show the depths of Thy love for mankind on all, O Almighty Master, do Thou free Thy servants from deathbearing illness and grievous sickness, O only Longsuffering One.

Glory…

As you stand before God, O ministering Spirits, Angels and Archangels, entreat Him that He appease sickness, disperse sorrows, and deliver from deathbearing wounds.
Now and ever…

Christ God Who was born of thee, showed thee a healing Fountain and an abyss of good things, O undefiled Maiden. Therefore, deliver thou thy servants who are drowning in a storm of sickness.

Lord have mercy (thrice)

Sedalion: Tone 2
Reject not utterly Thy people that have sinned, O Master, neither turn away Thy mercies and compassions from us. But as Thou art an abyss of compassion and a gulf of loving kindness, accept our prayers and deliver us from the misfortunes and necessities that have been laid upon us, for Thou only art condescending.

Ode 4
Irmos: Thou art my strength, O Lord, Thou also art my power, Thou art my God, Thou art my joy, Who without leaving the bosom of the Father, also visited our poverty. Therefore, with the Prophet Habakkuk I cry out unto Thee: Glory to Thy power, O Lover of Mankind.

Truly now the shadow of death has come around us and we draw near unto the gates of Hades. But do Thou, O Savior Who art mighty, having raised us up, reveal Thy mercies, saving us who have cried out with undoubting faith: Glory to Thy power, O Lover of Mankind.

O Mystics of Christ and Apostles, you Eyewitnesses and preachers who have received the gift of healing, and who are spiritual physicians: Entreat Jesus, the Master, Deliverer and Lord, lead me up from necessity, and from the sickness that has seized me.

Glory…

The storm of sins has now overtaken us, waves of sickness overcome us, and frequent illness is destroying us; for afflictions and disease have found us the wretched ones. O Apostles of the Lord, by your prayers bestow a helping hand.

Now and ever…

All of us who are suffering grievous sicknesses and frequent blows fall down before thee, O Pure Virgin: With mighty protection, save us all. Show compassion, O Bride of God; deliver us from pestilence and grievous infirmities, and heal our illnesses, O Sovereign Lady.

Ode 5
Irmos: Why hast Thou cast me from Thy face, O Never-setting Light? And why hast the alien darkness covered me, the wretched one? But turn me back, I pray Thee, and guide my paths unto the light of Thy commandments.

With your sweet prayers having drowned the sea of delusion, O Sacred Prophets, now transform all bitterness of the present devastating sickness into the sweetness of divine strength.

At Thy command, O Lord, we have been pierced with the arrows of infirmities, and Thy hand hast been laid heavy upon us. As the compassionate God, show compassion on all of us by Thy mercy, through the prayers of Thy Holy Martyrs.

Glory…

As in ancient times, at Thy command, Thou didst raise up the dead son of a widow, O Word, having delivered Thy servants from grievous sickness as Thou art good and merciful, do Thou grant us life, O only Lover of Mankind.

Now and ever…

With great wrath the storm of life has overtaken me in the night, and the darkness of sickness has covered me, O Virgin. But do thou shine upon me the light of refreshment, O most-pure One, and guide me to the light of strength.

Ode 6
Irmos: Do Thou cleanse me, O Savior, for many are my transgressions, and lead me up from the abyss of evil, I pray Thee, for I have cried out unto Thee. And do Thou hear me, O God of my salvation.

We are lying in the depths of the sea of sickness, and the waves of destructive misfortunes overcome us. O Lord and Guide, extending a helping hand, do Thou save us now.

As in ancient times, with a divine gesture, Thou didst draw up the paralytic from the infirmity of sickness, the bed of afflictions and weighty illness, showing compassion, do Thou grant health, O Greatly-merciful One.

Glory…

The ranks of Prophets, an assembly of Apostles, and a regiment of Martyrs now entreat Thee, O only Greatly-merciful One, on behalf of Thy people: O Good One, have compassion on them.

Now and ever…

O Mary, pure Treasury of virginity: Do Thou thyself cleanse us, and deliver us from the infirmities, afflictions and sicknesses that have now seized us, that, with faith, we may glorify thee.

Kontakion: Tone 6
The torments of Hades have encompassed us, and the darkness of death covers us, and as wax before the fire, our days melt before the face of Thine anger, O Lord. But as Thou art compassionate, remember mercy in Thy wrath, and spare Thy people, that being alive, in repentance we may glorify Thee as the only Lover of Mankind.

Ode 7
Irmos: In days of old the fire in Babylon was put to shame at the descent of God. Therefore, the Children dancing with joyful feet in the furnace, as in a flowery meadow, sang: Blessed art Thou, O God of our fathers.

The furnace of boundless sickness burns me, and the wasting flame of fever consumes me, the most shameless one, unceasingly. But with the dew of Thy mercy, O Savior, refresh me who am crying out: Blessed is the God of our fathers.

O Prophets, Apostles, assembly of Martyrs, and divine Disciples: By your prayers appease the sickness of us who are afflicted, and grant health unto us who are crying out: Blessed is the God of our fathers.

Glory…

Having resurrected Lazarus with a word, now having raised us up from grievous infirmities as from the grave, give us life, O Lord, that we may sing a song of thanksgiving: Blessed is the God of our fathers.

Now and ever…

As thou art compassionate and the Mother of the All-compassionate One, showing loving kindness, do thou deliver thy people who are calling upon thy mercies, O Virgin, and crying out: Blessed is the God of our fathers.

Ode 8
Irmos: The Chaldean tyrant in his rage caused the furnace to be heated seven-fold for the pious ones. But having seen them saved by a better Power, he cried out to the Creator and Deliverer: You children, bless, you priests, sing praises, you people, highly exalt Him unto all ages.

With painful groans, from the bed of our sickness and from wasting infirmities, we cry out unto Thee, the Lover of Mankind, and now looking with sincere eyes, we entreat health: Do Thou visit us, O Savior, and lift us up to sing: O ye people, highly exalt Him unto all the ages.

O Thou Who mercifully didst clothe Thyself in our weakness and didst deign to compare Thyself to man: By the prayers of Thy Venerable Ones, do Thou save us who are in despair, and raise us from the grave of despondency to sing: O you children bless, O you priests sing, O you people highly exalt Him unto all the ages.

Glory…

As the Establisher of human nature, and the Dispenser of healings, having a depth of compassion and an abyss of loving-kindness, O Longsuffering One, with Thy visitation do Thou visit Thy people in their devastating sickness, and give them life that they may sing: O you priests bless, O you people highly exalt Him unto all ages.

Now and ever…

O All-undefiled One, mighty help and powerful assistance, O hope of the despairing: Do thou visit thy servants who are suffering painfully; lighten the weight of bitter sickness; drive away the pains of wasting necessity; and save thy servants, O Virgin Theotokos.

Ode 9
Irmos: Heaven was truck with awe and the ends of the earth were amazed, for God didst reveal Himself in the flesh unto men, and thy womb became more spacious than the heavens. Therefore, the commanders of men and angels magnify thee, the Theotokos.

O Immortal One Who hast wrought great wonders without number: As Thou art merciful, do Thou show Thy mercy on Thy servants, O God, and free us now from sickness that has seized us, through the prayers of her that gave Thee birth and ranks of Thy Martyrs.

Through the prayers of Thine Angels, Archangels, Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, Venerable Ones, Hierarchs and Hieromartyrs, do Thou turn the weeping of Thy servants into joy, O Almighty One; heal the sickness, lighten the pain and grant us health.

Glory…

I beseech Thee the Physician of souls and bodies, and the Lord rich in mercies: Do Thou heal my many passions, and the pains that have taken me and afflict me, as Thou art good and alone art the Benefactor; save us who are magnifying Thee with a pure faith.

Now and ever…

O Virgin Theotokos, who gave birth to the Compassionate and Merciful One, the Master, Creator and Lord: Do thou show thy customary compassion on me, and deliver me from grievous sickness that is wasting my soul, and grant me health, that I may magnify thee unceasingly.

The Expulsion from Paradise (A Sermon)

The Expulsion from Paradise

The title for today’s liturgical service In the Lenten Triodion is as follows: “The Sunday of Forgiveness, on which we commemorate, The Casting Out of Adam from Paradise”. Our first-parents ate of the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and lost paradise.
The serpent tempted Eve, contradicting God, making Him appear as a deceiver who was withholding something from her. Eve told him of the tree that Adam and she were forbidden to eat and which would cause death. To this the serpent replied: “Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:4-5) So Eve was deceived and ate of the tree and gave the
fruit of it to Adam and he ate also.

Why did God put the tree in paradise if He knew that we would fall?” I know of someone who once asked this question with a very derogatory attitude toward God. Perhaps the same question may arise in one of us, but we must realize that all this is like a very small piece of a much bigger picture. It was only the beginning, like the very first page of a long book which tells us of the history of salvation of man. Consider another question: Can the delight and comfort of paradise be compared to the salvation of deification which Christ God has wrought for us? In His omniscience, God foreknew the fall from paradise; but, as the Apostle Paul writes, “He also, hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ: even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love: having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved: in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace. (Eph. 1:3-7)

As the Apostle points out, all this was preordained before the foundation of the world, before Adam and Eve fell, even before they were created. So then, as I said, the ancestral sin through the deception of the serpent and the eating from the forbidden tree is a very small part of a
much bigger picture. And when we put them side by side, that is, the ancestral sin through the deception of the serpent with its resulting loss of paradise, and the salvation wrought through the incarnation, and crucifixion, and transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ, we could say that the former magnifies the latter. Just as the Apostle Paul writes elsewhere: “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign
through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:20-21).

If we look at the Greek for the phrase: “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound”, we find two different words for the English “abound” and “much more abound”. ‘The first (pleonazo) is to abound, to be in abundance or to make increase; while the second (yperperissevo) is to abound beyond measure, to abound exceedingly or to overflow. In His foreknowledge of the fall, this is what God had planned for us: an overflowing super abundance of grace. But how is this? “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love: having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself.”[Ephesians 1:4-5] This is “the mystery which hath been hid for ages and generations: but now hath it been manifested to his saints, to whom God was pleased to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:26-7).

The Apostle Peter in writing of this tells us that God “hath granted unto us his precious and exceeding great promises; that through these ye may become partakers of the divine nature” (IIPet. 1:3-4). But we must prove we are worthy of this. Again let us refer to the Apostle Peter who writes so nicely of the grace we have received and the need of being proved, or providing evidence that our faith is real.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who by the power of God are guarded through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, ye have been put to grief in manifold trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold that perisheth though it is proved by fire, may be found unto praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (I Pet. 1:3-7).

So, as we are on the threshold of Great Lent, this time of repentance, let us keep such things in mind and “looking to what lies ahead” (Phil.3:13) “be transformed by the renewal of our minds” (Rom. 12:2). And thus proving our faith become partakers of life in Christ in this world and more perfectly in the never ending day of His kingdom. Amen!