St. Amvrossy Letter 41

St. Amvrossy Letter 41: The meaning of the words of the Holy Prophet David:”Goodness and discipline and knowledge teach Thou me”.

Introductory note: As today was the last Sunday during the Paschal cycle I am now posting, in full, a Paschal greeting of St. Amvrossy. This letter was dated April,1891, therefore it was the last of such greeting in his life.

Brethren in the Lord and Mothers and Sisters!

I congratulate you with the radiant feast of the Resurrection of Christ and I greet you all with the joyous Christian greeting: Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen!

By reason of its great significance, the radiant feast of the Resurrection is called the feast of feasts and the holy day of Christian holy days. It is also called the Pascha of Christ, which means the passage from death to life and from earth to heaven. On this feast, the joyful Christians greet each other as brethren, forgiving all that hate them by the Resurrection.

As is my custom, for the benefit of your souls, I set forth for your consideration the words of the Psalm with which the Prophet David prays to God: “Goodness and discipline and knowledge teach Thou me” (Psa. 118:66). Being a prophet, David had the need to pray to be given the above traits; even more then does it befit every common Christian to take care to acquire these traits and to pray to God for help from on high.

“Teach me goodness.” Goodness and kindheartedness are the main elements of love; while love is the major virtue and commandment. As is said in the Gospel: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Mat. 22.37-40). Love is born from faith and the fear of God. It grows and becomes stronger than hope, becoming perfect through goodness and kindheartedness, which express the imitation of God—as it is said in the Gospel, “be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). Again it is said in the Holy Gospels: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Mat. 9:13). Mercy and condescension towards one’s neighbor, and forgiving his shortcomings, are above any sacrifice which is not acquired without peace with one’s neighbor according to the word of the Gospel: “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Mat. 5:23-4).

Love towards God is shown by love and kindheartedness towards one’s neighbor. Kindheartedness, mercy and condescension towards one’s neighbor and forgiveness of his shortcomings are obtained through humility and self-reproach. Therefore in all afflictions and unpleasant happenings we should put the blame on ourselves and not others—thinking that we did not act as we should have, and therefore this unpleasantness and grief occurred. If we will reason thus, then we will have much less of a tendency to become embittered and angry which “does not work the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). Frightening are the words of the Apostle John: “One who does not love his brother” (that is, any neighbor) “abides in death” (I John 3:14), “and walks in darkness and does not know whence he goeth” (I John 2:11). “And he who hates his brother is a murderer” (I John 3:15).

“Teach me discipline.” In Slavonic the word “discipline” signifies soul-profiting instruction so that we could follow the way of virtue in the fear of God in unity with God’s commandments and the regulations of the Church. Even in the Old Testament it is said “An uninstructed son is a grief for the father and sadness to the mother” (Prov. 10:1); that is, a son who was not taught the fear and the law of God. At present, many parents teach much to their children—and often what is not needed or harmful; but they neglect to teach the children the fear of God, the fulfillment of God’s commandments, and the keeping of the regulations of the only universal and Apostolic Church. For this reason, children are—for the most part—disobedient and disrespectful towards their parents, no good for themselves or their fatherland, and in addition are often even harmful.

“Teach me knowledge”–that is, true and correct reasoning! The Holy Scriptures say: “Seek understanding that you may live and be directed in sound knowledge” (Prov. 9:6), that is, strive to understand the Holy Scripture not any old way or however one may want, but correctly and truly, as it must be understood. The proof of this is that all peoples read the same Gospels but understand it differently. The Orthodox and Catholics do not understand it in the same way. The Armenians, Coptics, and Arians understand it differently, as do the Reformationists and Lutherans and their like. Such differences come from the fact that not all pay due attention to the words of the Lord: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Mat. 28:19-20). Only the Orthodox Church accepts the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments completely; the remainder accept only what they want, and that which justifies their ideas. Thereby they are numbered among the heretics, because the word “heretic” comes from the Greek word aireo -“I choose”. About such, the Apostle Paul writes: “A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself” (Titus 3:10).

So, like the Prophet David, let us pray that the Lord, in ways He knows best, will teach us goodness and mercifulness, what is beneficial for the soul, and true understanding–without which our eternal salvation is in doubt and unsure if we do not come running in repentance with humility to the one Who suffered for us and who died on the Cross for us and Who resurrected on the third day, our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom is due all glory, honor and worship together with His Father Who is without beginning and His most-holy, good and life-giving Spirit unto the ages of ages. Amen.


St. Amvrossy Letter 37

Letter 37 The meaning of the words: : “Our God is in heaven and on earth; all things soever He hath willed, He hath done” (Psa. 113:11).

Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen!

Brethren in the Lord and Mothers and Sisters!
Through the mercy and long-suffering of God we again are vouchsafed to meet the all-radiant feast of the Resurrection of Christ. I congratulate all of you with this great and notable Christian celebration of celebrations. My soul’s desire is that it will enlighten you with peace and spiritual comfort. As is my custom, for the benefit of your souls, I set forth for your consideration the words of the Psalmist: “Our God is in heaven and on earth; all things soever He hath willed, He hath done” (Psa. 113:11).

God has done more on earth than in heaven. In heaven God created the angels, bodiless spirits. Intellectually perfect but not yet totally established in good and they were left to have their willingness tested which is shown by their submission or rejection in relation to God. One third of the angels fell away from God, being enticed by the foremost of the angels who became proud and wanted to become equal to God, thinking to himself: “I will establish my throne above the heavenly stars and will be like the most high” (Isaiah 14:13-14). For this pride and audacity, this light bearing angel became transformed into a serpent–dragon, about which it is said in the Revelation of John the Theologian that “with his tail he tore away one third of the heavenly stars”(Rev. 12:4)–that is angels. The fallen angels along with their evil leader were thrown down from heaven and left with their evil will until the terrible judgment for their due recompense.

On earth God created man, Adam in the flesh, by taking dust from the earth and breathed into his face the breath of life, that is, the reasoning and immortal soul. God created man in the flesh firstly, so that he will humble himself, remembering that his body is made of the earth and must return to dust again. Secondly, that a man in the flesh could receive mercy as one being weak. God also created a helper for Adam from his rib, and settled those first created in the paradise of sweetness and into blessed living commanding them not to eat from one tree. But the same serpent, who was formerly the prime angel, because of jealousy, seduced our forefathers. He convinced them that once they would eat of the fruit of the tree they will become like gods who know “good and evil” (Gen. 3:5) Deceived, our forbearers, even though they were exiled for disobedience and transgression from paradise, they were not totally abandoned by God as were the fallen angels. The all-good and merciful Lord promised to send to them a Deliverer, saying, that “the seed of woman will crush the head of the serpent” (Gen. 3:15). But since the promised Deliverer did not immediately come on earth, Adam and Eve and their progeny were compelled to live only with faith in the coming Deliverer or Messiah. Therefore, they had to languish, first in the life of various labors, sorrows, and sicknesses and after death, in the prisons of hell during some 5,500 years and more.

Finally, God fulfilled His promise and sent the Deliverer in the person of His only-begotten Son, Who, as an infant, was born from the most holy Virgin by the action of the Holy Spirit. He lived with man, increased in stature, and preached the word of God. Then He suffered and died on the Cross and resurrected in three days in order to deliver man from the forcible dominion and tyranny of the devil, the seven-headed serpent and Satan. As it is said by the Evangelist Saint John: “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son so that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

God did more on earth than in heaven, especially in reference to the incarnation of His only-begotten Son, Who united Himself with human nature and became God-man. And after sufferings and death on the Cross, He took human nature up to heaven and sat down on the throne of His kingdom, of which the angelic nature was not deemed worthy. The greatly merciful Lord was well pleased to deify all mankind; but this is hindered by disbelief, or heresies, or impious living, or generally, neglect and earthly cares. For this, the Lord reproaches us through the Prophet David, “I said: Ye are gods, and all of you sons of the Most High. But like men ye die, and like one of the rulers do ye fall” (Psa. 816-7).
Being made worthy of such great mercy from God, we must by all means begin to take heed to ourselves. And if we cannot live as it is demanded by the Word of God, at least let us have sincere and humble repentance for our faults and sins and try to correct ourselves as best we can, otherwise, at the terrible judgment we might find ourselves among unrepentant sinners, of whom the Holy Gospel says: “and these shall go into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mat. 25:41). These words of the Gospel show that men willfully, in their folly and lack of repentance go to torments, which are prepared not for them, but for the fallen angels.

May He Who became incarnate for us, and Who voluntarily suffered upon the Cross, and Who resurrected on the third day, Christ-Jesus our Lord have mercy on all of us and all who seek salvation! Amen, amen, amen!

St. Amvrossy Letter 34

Letter 34 The meaning of the words of the Psalm “Good and upright is
the Lord” Concerning repentance.

“Good and upright (that is, righteous and just) is the Lord, therefore
will He set a law for them that sin in the way” (Psa. 24:8).

What law did the Lord lay down for sinners? He set down a law of
repentance, as He says in the Holy Gospel: “Repent” and, “Except ye
repent ye shall all perish” (Luke 13:5).

Some Christians do not repent at all because of disbelief, and others,
although they repent according to the custom and habit, afterwards
they again sin terribly without fear, senselessly hoping that the Lord
is good. Others see the Lord only as just and do not stop sinning
because of despair, having no hope to receive forgiveness. In
correcting both, the Word of God announces to all that the Lord is
good towards all who repent sincerely and with a firm decision not to
return to their former sins. “There is no sin which vanquishes God’s
love for mankind.” On the other hand, the Lord is just to those who – in
their disbelief or neglect – do not have the desire to repent. He is
also just towards those who occasionally repent, as is the custom; and
then again without fear, they sin grievously, senselessly relying upon
the Lord’s goodness. There are also those who repent but do not say
everything in confession, hiding some sins because of shame. Such,
says the Apostle, partake of the Holy Mysteries unworthily, and
because of unworthy Communion they become exposed to various ills and
sicknesses and some die. It is said by the Apostle: “He that eateth
and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not
discerning the Lord’s Body” (ICor. 11:29).

Some may say, “So what are we to do when we often sin involuntarily
because of weakness?” It is one thing to sin because of weakness –
such a sin is easily forgiven – and it is another thing to sin because
of neglect and fearlessness with a grievous sin. Everyone knows that
there are sins unto death and sins which are easily forgiven such as
those in word or thought. Yet in every case there is need for sincere
repentance and voluntary humbling of one’s self, according to the word
of the Gospel, with a firm intention not to return to previous sins.
It is said in the Paterikon: “If you have fallen, rise up! If you fall
again, again rise up!” It is no wonder to fall, but it is shameful and
grievous to remain in sin.

May the all-good Lord give us His all-powerful help in order to hold
on to sincere and true repentance and to fulfill the Gospel words:
“The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by
force” (Mat. 11:12) May we all receive this by the unutterable mercy
of the incarnate Son of God, Who was born from the most holy Virgin.

St. Amvrossy of Optina, Letter 32 “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Rom. 10:10)

“For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” In order for the simple to be put on the right track and understand clearly some explanation is needed.

“With the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” To believe unto righteousness means, first of all, to believe in the Son of God our Lord Jesus Christ Who was born in the flesh from the Most Holy Virgin Mary, and Whom–according to the word of the Apostle–is our “righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (ICor. 1:30); next to believe in His Divine teaching and Divine commandments. “Blessed”, it is said, “are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Mat. 5:6), that is, those who with zeal earnestly fulfill the Divine commandments.

“And with the mouth confession is made unto salvation”. In ancient times, when heathens forcefully persecuted Christians, these words had another meaning, namely: The heathens searched everywhere for believers in Christ and compelled them to renounce Christ and those who did not renounce, but firmly confessed their faith in Christ received not only the salvation which is prepared but also crowns of martyrdom and the Holy Church glorifies them even until the present. And now, when the times of martyrdom have long passed, the Apostolic words, “And with the mouth confession is made unto salvation”, have a variant meaning. He who by word and by deed preaches truth, love and mercy, and benevolence towards one’s neighbor, and the like, such a one openly confesses before all his salvation. On the contrary he from whose lips come envy or hatred, anger and remembrance of wrongs, lying or calumny, judging or disparagement of one’s neighbors, such a one clearly confesses before all his perdition. In one of his sermons, St. John Chrysostom reflects upon the unfortunate fate of Shimei who censured David because of envy (IISam. 16:7) and he says that there are more that are lost from “evil words than from evil deeds”, because they do not consider it necessary to repent for words uttered. We are exposed to this calamity because of our lack of love and benevolence towards our neighbors and, first of all, because of lack of humility upon which love is built. The holy Apostle Paul writes: “Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing” (ICor. 31:2-3).

So what can those do who sin by malevolence, envy, judging, or disdain towards their neighbors? Such must strive to correct their own character! And this correction necessitates, first of all, a humble and sincere acknowledgement of such and repentance before God and one’s spiritual father. Secondly, with force, as the Gospel teaches, one needs to restrain his tongue and thought from censuring others. It is not in vain that the Gospel says: “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence” (Mat. 11:12). Next, correction demands fervent and humble prayer with the words of the Akathist: “O Lord Who didst cure the greedy soul of Zacchaeus the Publican, heal also my wretched soul from
malevolence, envy, condemnation and remembering wrongs.” It was not without force and humble prayer that the Publican and other sinners, of all kinds, received salvation. The Lord is more pleased by one sinner who repents, who humbles himself, than a righteous man who puffs himself up and disparages others, which is clearly demonstrated by the Gospel’s parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. Repentance
and humility are always needed more than all other virtues and they are higher than them. Founding himself upon the words of the Prophet David, St. John Climacus writes: “I have not fasted, I have not kept vigils, nor lay upon the earth, but I have humbled myself and the Lord saved me”.

May we all receive this by the unutterable love for man and mercy of the Son of God, Who was born in the flesh in the humble cave and was laid in a manger so that He may deliver us from an irrational temperament and way of life. Amen.

St. Amvrossy of Optina Letter 31

Letter 31 An explanation of the Irmos of the Canon of the Meeting: “Thy virtue hath covered the heavens, O Christ”.

As is my custom, for the benefit of your souls, I set forth for your consideration the Irmos from the Meeting of the Lord:

Thy virtue hath covered the heavens, O Christ, for coming forth from the Ark of Thy holiness, Thine undefiled Mother, Thou hast appeared in the Temple of Thy glory as an infant borne in arms, and all things have been filled with Thy praise.

What virtue is that which covered the heavens? The unlimited love of the Son of God towards the fallen human race; because of which, being God, He was well-pleased to become man and to be born from the Virgin in the poor cave. On the fortieth day He was brought to the Temple. He fled from the inhuman Herod with His Mother and Joseph to Egypt. He was raised in the home of a simple carpenter. Then, for their salvation and to deliver His people from the power of the devil, He endured spitting and buffeting upon the face, and all sorts of disparagement, and the most shameful death upon the Cross. After the three day burial, He resurrected from the dead by the power of His Divinity and the glory of the Father; and trampling on all the forces of the enemy and demolishing the gates and prisons of hell, He brought out into freedom the souls which were held captive there who believe and have faith in His second coming.

It was for love of man and his salvation that He suffered, being the only-begotten Son of God, Who resurrected in three days. He founded His law upon two commandments–love for God and neighbors and neither can be fulfilled without the other. The holy Apostle John the Theologian says: “If anyone says I love God and hates his brother, he is a liar” (IJohn 4:20). Also love for neighbor, if it is not for God’s sake, but for some human cause not only produces no profit, but often it harms the soul. And the signs of true Christian love the Apostle Paul sets forth as follows: “Love is longsuffering, and is kind; love envieth not; love exalteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil [and it does not remember evil]; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; It covers all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth” (ICor. 13:4-8). Without such love no prophecy, or faith which moves mountains, nor even martyrdom itself, brings any benefit at all. “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing” (ICor. 13:3).

But one must know that if every virtue cannot be acquired on a moment’s notice, but gradually with work and forcing one’s self, then how much more love, as the beginning and end of all the virtues? It demands time to acquire it and great force, inner struggle, prayer, and above all else it requires a depth of humility before God and man. Humility and sincere acknowledgement of our unworthiness is a sure safeguard of all the virtues, likewise it is so with the acquisition of love. And so, let us each begin with the degree of love one has and God will help us. One who is burdened with sins, let him think that “love covers a multitude of sins.” He whose conscience is muddled up by many acts of lawlessness, let him think that love is the fulfillment of the law. “For love of neighbor”, says the Apostle, “is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:8). Even if we do not attain to the aforesaid perfect love, at least let us not have envy and hatred or remembrance of wrongs. “For the path of he who remembers evils is in death” (Proverbs 12:28 [Septuagint]), and “jealousy will take hold of an uninstructed people” (Isa. 26: 11 [Sept.), that is, people who are not instructed and do not understand Christian life as they should. And, ” he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth” (IJohn 2:11).

Let us pray to the One Who suffered and resurrected on the third day with the prayer of St. Ephraim: “O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition, and idle talking give me not. But rather a spirit of chastity, humble-mindedness, patience, and love bestow upon me Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my failings and not to condemn my brother; for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages”. Amen!!!

St. Amvrossy of Optina: The Meaning of Sorrows (Letter 30)

St. Amvrossy of Optina: The Meaning of Sorrows (Letter 30)

People have always complained about various sorrows, troubles and sicknesses and at present, besides other causes of grief, nearly everyone complains about difficult times. And this is nothing to marvel at! Present life is nothing more than preparation for the future one. However one may spend the present life in accordance with it, he will receive the same portion in the coming life: either a blessed or an evil one! All Christians, especially Orthodox, want to inherit the blessed portion in the future life. In order to receive it, we must bear, and not shun, the various sorrows and sicknesses that accompany this life; as it is said in the word of God: “It is with many sorrows that we must enter the kingdom of heaven” (Acts 14:22). People are divided into the righteous and sinners, but neither are free of various sorrows or sicknesses as it is said in the Psalms, “Many are the tribulations of the righteous” (Psa. 33:20), and “many are the scourges of the sinner” (Psa. 31:10). The Holy Spirit exhorts the first not to be fainthearted by assuring them that the Lord will deliver them from all sorrows; and the others, the sinners, He exhorts not to become despondent by saying that even though “many are the scourges of the sinner, [but] mercy shall encircle him that hopeth in the Lord” (Psa. 31:10). That is, the sinner who comes running to the Lord with faith, hope and repentance, will receive mercy and remission of sins.

The all-good Lord sends various sorrows to the righteous so that they do not become weak in ascetic acts of piety, becoming lazy and deviating in the opposite direction, thus becoming lost as forewarned by the Prophet Ezekiel: “When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousness shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it” (Eze. 33:13) The Lord also sends various sorrows to the righteous in order to completely cleanse them of all sins and passions, so that they will receive great reward in the future ages, as it is said: ” Like gold in the fire He tried them and like a whole burnt offering he has received them” (Wis. 3:6)

Upon sinners the Lord brings on various troubles and illnesses in order to attract them to repentance, as He says in the Gospel: “I am come not to call the righteous but sinners” (Matt. 9:13) and again, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). And through the Prophet Isaiah He says: “Put away the evil of your doings… Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like
crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isa. 1:16,18)

To both sinners and the righteous, the Lord says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” And again, “In your patience possess ye your souls” (Luke 21:19); “he that endureth to the end shall be saved (Matt. 10:22).

O Thou Who wast born of the Virgin and came to save sinners, have mercy upon Thy creation; and give us patience, humility and true repentance so that we will not be deprived of a portion with those on Thy right hand upon whom Thou hast shown mercy. Amen.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

In the parable of the prodigal son one thing that our Lord illustrates for us is the love of God the Father for mankind. The father, while only seeing his son approaching from afar, runs out to meet him, and he receives his prodigal son with love and joy. This gives us a glimpse of how much God loves us and also of the value He places upon us. The one word, the name, “father” says it all. God is our Father and we are His children. God Who is the “Master of all, Lord of heaven and earth and of all creation, both visible and invisible, Who sittest upon the throne of glory and beholdest the depths; without beginning, invisible, incomprehensible, indescribable, changeless.” (Service Books of the Orthodox Church, St. Tikhon’s Sseminary Press, p. 139) This is He Who is “our Father and we are His children.”

So let us focus on this today, and to do so we shall take a look at what St. Silouan the Athonite tells us about this relationship. He writes:

The Lord created man from dust but He loves us as a father loves his children, and waits with longing for us to come to Him. The Lord so loved us that for our sakes He was made flesh, and shed His Blood for us and gave us to drink thereof, and gave us His most holy Body; and thus we become His children, of His Body and Blood, and are in the likeness of the Lord in the flesh, as children to the end are like their fathers, and the Divine Spirit is witness to our spirit, that we shall be with Him to all eternity.

The Lord never ceases calling us to Himself: ‘Come unto me, and I will give you rest.’ (Matt. 11:28) He nourishes us with His most holy Body and Blood. In His mercy He schools us by His Word and the Holy Spirit. He has revealed His mysteries to us. He lives in us and in the sacraments of the Church…. (St. Silouan the Athonite, St. Valdimir’s Seminary Press, p. 386)

Man is made of the dust of the earth but God so loved him that He adorned him with grace, and fashioned him in the likeness of the Lord.

It is sad that, because of our pride, so few of us know this. Whereas if we were to humble ourselves the Lord would disclose this mystery to us, for He loves us dearly.

The Lord said to His Apostles: ‘Children have ye any meat?’ (John 21:5) What love these words reveal! But the Lord loves not only the Apostles but every one of us like that.

When the Lord was told, ‘Behold, thy, mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee,’ He answered and said, ‘Whosoever shall do the will of my Father, the same is my brother, and sister and mother.’ (Matt. 12:47-50) (Ibid. p.388)

This is so because

In the hearts of the Saints lives the grace of the Holy Spirit, making them kin to God, and they feel without a doubt that they are spiritual children of the Heavenly Father, and therefore say, ‘Our Father.’

The soul rejoices and is exceeding glad at these words. By the Holy Spirit she knows that the Lord is our Father. Created of earth though we be, the Holy Spirit dwells in us and makes us in the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the same way that children are like their fathers. (ibid. p.388)

So then, as St. Silouan points out we see that,

The Lord made us kin with Him. ‘Thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee: may they also be one in us.’ Thus the Lord by the Holy Spirit makes us one family with God the Father. (ibid. op. 389)

Through the prayers of St. Silouan, may our Lord Jesus Christ help us to make this a living reality in our lives. Amen!

A Word from St. Amvrossy of Optina

A Word from St. Amvrossy of Optina

I am hoping throughout this year to be primarily publishing excerpts or complete letters of St. Amvrossy of Optina. These are taken from the book, Collection of Letters to Monastics by our Holy Father—Elder Hieroschemamonk Amvrossy of the Optina Hermitage, Optina Hermitage 1995 (2nd edition). These letters are either Paschal or Nativity greetings to which the saint also added soul profiting instructions which was his custom.

Letter 26 (1883)

Mothers and Sisters in the Lord:

By the longsuffering of God we are vouchsafed once again to encounter the feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh.

I congratulate all of you with this all-joyous celebration and, as is my custom, for the benefit of your souls I offer for your examination the Irmos of the Nativity: “As the staff and its flower of the root of Jesse, from the Virgin hast Thou budded forth, O Christ. From the Mountain overshadowed by the forest hast Thou come, O praised One, incarnate from her who knew not wedlock, God Who art immaterial. Glory to Thy power, O Lord.”

I think that not many of those who can relate to my poor condition completely understand the meaning of this Irmos. I wish to give a brief explanation for those who do not understand it. “As the staff and its flower of the root of Jesse, from the Virgin hast Thou budded forth, O Christ.” The staff of Aaron which miraculously sprouted and put forth flower was placed in the Ark of the Covenant, according to the commandment of God as a remembrance for future generations. This staff was the image of another staff that blossomed from the root of Jesse, that is, the Most Holy Virgin Theotokos. She blossomed forth from barren parents, as from a dried-up staff, she blossomed as a living branch; but from this Virginal branch as a flower, budded Christ the God-man.

“From the Mountain overshadowed by the forest hast Thou come, O praised One, incarnate from her who knew not wedlock, God Who art immaterial. Glory to Thy power, O Lord.” The praised One in heaven, the invisible God, came visibly to earth as from a mountain overshadowed by a forest. The immaterial One became incarnate from the unwedded Virgin. As on a mountain the incomprehensible mystery of the incarnation is revealed – the Son of God comes from the most holy Virgin. The incomprehensible is received only with faith. For this reason, the Prophet Habakkuk, having foreseen in spirit the incomprehensible mystery of the incarnation cried out: ” Glory to Thy power, O Lord.”

It is not inappropriate to explain here the perplexity which some have experienced because it is said, “God shall come from the south”, and not from the east. This is said about Bethlehem in relation to Nazareth. The most holy Mother of God received the “glad tidings” at Nazareth, while Bethlehem – where Christ was born – is south of there. In the words, “God came from the south”, we are also able to find moral edification. For as when the visible sun is in the south at noonday, and the rays of its light illumine and warm much more, so the Sun of Righteousness, Christ the Lord, enlightens much more with the rays of His grace those who piously struggle according to the might of their strength; as it is said, “In the south, those who sow in tears shall reap with joy” (Psa. 125:4-5). In his youth, a man often does not understand what is needed, while in old age he is frequently ill and feeble. As for an old and feeble man, what asceticism is he good for?

So what are we to do who lack asceticism and are becoming enfeebled? There is but one thing—to comfort ourselves with the words of the apostle: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (I Tim. 1:15). For in unutterable kindheartedness and love for man He does not reject even the one who comes at the eleventh hour with repentance and commands to have him rewarded just as those who worked throughout the day. For this reason we who are sinful and feeble should not be slothful in repentance and in humbling ourselves; and we should be patient in the sorrows and sicknesses sent to us. We should attend to the evangelistic words of the Lord: “in your patience possess ye your souls” (Luke 21:19), and “He who endures to the end shall be saved” (Mat. 10:22).

O Thou Who wast born of the most-immaculate Virgin and Who alone art holy, have mercy on us sinners. Amen.

A forethought for the Nativity

A forethought for the Nativity

As we are now only a few days away from the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh, I would like to share some thoughts for us to consider. I believe the whole meaning and purpose of the Incarnation of our Lord can be expressed in a brief phrase written by St. John of Damascus: “Christ has enriched our human nature with His divinity.” We see intimations of this in the Holy Scriptures. In his second epistle, the Apostle Peter writes, “we have become partakers of the divine nature.” (IIPet. 1:4) Elsewhere, St. John the Theologian tells us, “As many as received Him—to them that believe on His Name—to them He gave authority to become the children of God, Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13) And the Apostle Paul having brought this to perfection cried out: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” (Gal. 2:20)

To illustrate what God has done for us we can think of a dried out sponge. If you put it in water, it becomes permeated with that water – its form changes, its color is brightened, and it appears to come to life. This is similar to what Christ has done to our human nature – He has enriched it with His divinity. This is the gift that God has given to us through the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is deposited within us, but its development requires ascetic effort. Returning to the quote from St. Paul in Galatians, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” (Gal. 2:20) To be crucified with Christ indicates ascetic effort.

This shows us one of the biggest differences between the Christianty in the East and the West. One Catholic author, Richard Payne, studied the Eastern Fathers and wrote a book called, The Holy Fire. It is a compilation of some of the lives of Holy Fathers in the East who elucidated Christian theological teachings in their writings. In this book he acknowledges that: “From the Greek Fathers we derive almost all the great doctrines of the Church, and we are their children whether we like it or not.” (p. 294) In the last of these biographies, which is on St. Gregory Palamas, he points out: “The Western Church fixed its eyes on the Atonement, the Greek Church saw its highest desire in the Incarnation and the Transfiguration. In the West men wanted to be saved; in the more contemplative East, it was a small thing to be saved if one could meet God face to face.”(p.294)

Over time, varying concepts and understanding of what ‘salvation’ meant developed in the East and West. This is why the argument of how one is saved never arose in the East. As Payne pointed out, “The Western Church fixed its eyes on the Atonement.” When you stop at the Cross and the forgiveness of sins, then salvation simply takes on the notion of an escape from hell and the wrath of God. But when one’s mind is focused on the Nativity and the Transfiguration, then the greater meaning of salvation is revealed. This truth is expressed best in the words of St. Athanasius the Great: “God became so that man could became like God.” As St. Gregroy Palamas indicated, we are able to experience the life of God within our being, through His uncreated divine energy. We are able to contain within us the uncontainable God.

This is precisely what the Apostle Peter meant when he wrote that “we have become partakers of the divine nature.” This is what St. John the Theologian tells us: “As many as received Him—to them that believe on His Name—to them He gave authority to become the children of God, Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a man, but of God.” And in closing this is what St. John of Damascus meant when he wrote,”Christ has enriched our humanity with His divinity.”

May we all bring this gift to perfection and so cry out with the Apostle Paul: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Amen!

Hope (continuation)

Hope (continued)

Do not speak to me of those who have committed small sins, but consider the case of one who is filled to the full of all wickedness, and let him practice everything which excludes him from the kingdom. And let us suppose that this man is not one of those who were unbelievers from the beginning, but formerly belonged to the believers, and such as were well pleasing to God, but afterwards has become a fornicator, adulterer, effeminate, a thief, a drunkard, a sodomite, a reviler, and everything else of this kind. I do not approve even of this man despairing of himself, although he may have gone on to extreme old age in the practice of these great and unspeakable evils. For if the wrath of God were a passion, one might well despair as being unable to quench the flame which he had kindled by so many evil doings. But since the Divine nature is passionless, even if He punishes, even if He takes vengeance, He does not do this with wrath, but with tender care, and much loving-kindness. Therefore it befits us to be courageous, and to trust in the power of repentance. For even those who have sinned against Him He is not accustomed to visit with punishment for His own sake; for no harm can occur to the divine nature. On the contrary He acts with a view to our advantage, and to prevent our perverseness from becoming worse by making a habit of despising and disregarding Him. For just as one who places himself outside the light inflicts no loss on the light, but the greatest upon himself being shut up in darkness; even so he who has become accustomed to despise that almighty power, does no injury to the power, but inflicts the greatest possible injury upon himself. It is for this reason God threatens us with punishments, and often inflicts them, not as avenging Himself, but by way of attracting us to Himself. For a physician also is not distressed or vexed at the insults of those who are out of their minds, but does and contrives everything for the purpose of stopping those who do such unseemly acts, not looking to his own interests but to their profit. And if they manifest some small degree of self-control and sobriety he rejoices and is glad, and applies his remedies much more earnestly, not as revenging himself upon them for their former conduct, but as wishing to increase their advantage, and to bring them back to a purely sound state of health. Even so, when we fall into the very extremity of madness, everything that God brings to pass is not by way of avenging Himself because of our former deeds; but because He wishes to release us from our disorder.

Now if anyone should dispute with us concerning these things we will confirm them from the divine Scriptures. For who became more depraved than the king of the Babylonians, who after having received such great experience of God’s power as to make obeisance to His prophet, and command offerings and incense to be sacrificed to Him was again carried away to his former pride, and cast bound into the furnace those who did not honor himself rather than God. Nevertheless this man who was so cruel and impious, and rather a beast than a human being, God called to repentance, and granted him several opportunities of conversion. First of all the miracle which took place in the furnace, and after that his vision which Daniel interpreted, a vision which was sufficient to bend even a heart of stone. In addition to these things after the exhortation derived from these events the prophet also himself advised him, saying “Therefore, O king, let my counsel please thee, and redeem thy sins by alms, and thy iniquities by showing mercy to the poor; it may be that long suffering will be shown to thy offense.” (Daniel 4:27) What does this wise and blessed man say? After so great a fall is there again a way of return? After so great a disease is health possible? And after such great madness is there again a hope of soundness of mind? The king had deprived himself beforehand of all hope, first of all by having ignored Him who created him; and brought him to this honor of kingship. Although he had so many proofs of His power and had received distinct tokens of God’s wisdom and foreknowledge, and had seen magic, and astronomy and the whole of the deceptive satanic system overthrown, he went on to exhibit deeds worse than the former. For things which the wise magi, could not explain, but confessed that they were beyond human nature, these very things, a captive youth solved for him. He was so moved by this miracle that he not only himself believed, but also proclaimed to the whole world the power of the God of Israel. (Daniel 4:1-3) So then, if even before having received such a token it was unpardonable in him to ignore God, much more so was it after that miracle, and his confession, and the teaching which was extended to others. For if he had not honestly believed that He was the only true God he would not have shown such honor to His servant, or have laid down such laws for others. But after making this kind of confession, he again lapsed into idolatry, and he who once fell on his face and made obeisance to the servant of God, broke out into such a pitch of madness, as to cast into the furnace the servants of God who did not make obeisance to himself. What then followed? Did God visit the apostate, as he deserved to be visited? No! He granted him greater tokens of His own power, drawing him back again after so great a display of arrogance. What is yet more wonderful, that owing to the abundance of the miracles he might not again disbelieve what was done, God wrought a great sign through the furnace which the king himself kindled. For even to extinguish the flame would have been a wonderful and strange thing; but in order to inspire him with greater fear, and undo all his hardness of heart, God did what was greater and stranger than this. For, permitting the furnace to be kindled to as high a pitch as the king desired, He preserved the youths while allowing those who cast them in to be burned. Nevertheless after such great miracles had taken place, and all who were present and beheld were amazed, and those who were absent had been informed of the fact by means of letters. The king who instructed others remained himself without amendment, and went back again to his former wickedness. And even then God did not punish him, but was still long-suffering, counseling him both by means of visions and by His prophet. But when he was not made anywise better by any of these things, then at last God inflicted punishment upon him. This was not to avenge Himself on account of his former deeds, but in order to cut off the occasion of future evils. Yet even this God did not inflict permanently, but after having chastised him for a few years, He restored him again to his former honor. So King Nebuchadnezzar suffered no loss from his punishment, but on the contrary, gained the greatest possible good: a firm hold upon faith in God, and repentance on account of his former misdeeds.

The loving-kindness of God is such that He never turns His face away from a sincere repentance. If anyone has pushed on to the very extremity of evil, and chooses to return towards the path of virtue, God accepts and welcomes, and does everything so as to restore him to his former position. And He does what is yet more merciful; for even if one does not manifest complete repentance, He does not pass by one which is small and insignificant, but He even assigns it a great reward. This is evident from what Isaiah the prophet says concerning the people of the Jews, speaking in this manner: “On account of his sin I put him to pain for a little while, and smote him, and turned my face away from him, and he was pained, and walked sorrowfully, and then I healed him, and comforted him” (Isa. 57:17-18). And we might cite as another confirmation that most ungodly king, who was given over to sin by the influence of his wife: yet when he only sorrowed, and put on sackcloth, and condemned his offenses, he so won for himself the mercy of God, as to be released from all the evils which were impending over him. For God said to Elijah “Seest thou how Ahab is pricked in the heart before my face? I will not bring the evil upon him in his own days, because he hath wept before Me.” (IKings 21:29). And after this again, Manasseh, having exceeded all in fury and tyranny, and having subverted the legal form of worship, and shut up the temple, and caused the deceit of idolatry to flourish, and having become more ungodly than all who were before him, when he afterwards repented, was ranked amongst the friends of God. (see IIKings 21; IIChron. 33) Now if, looking to the magnitude of his own iniquities, he had despaired of restoration and repentance, he would have missed all which he afterwards obtained. But as it was, he looked to the boundlessness of God’s tender mercy instead of the enormity of his transgressions, and having broken in sunder the bonds of the devil, he rose up and contended with him, and finished the good course.

Having then such great examples, let us not continue in evil, nor despair of reconciliation, but let us say also ourselves “I will go to my Father,” (Luke 15:8) and let us draw nigh to God. For He Himself never turns away from us, but it is we who put ourselves far off: for “I am a God” we read “at hand and not a God afar off.” (Jer. 23:23) And again, when He was rebuking them by the mouth of this prophet He said “Do not your sins make a separation between you and me?” (Isa. 59:2) Inasmuch then as this is the cause which puts us far from God, let us remove this obnoxious barrier, which prevents us from approaching Him. Let us then turn to Him, my beloved friend, and execute the will of God. For He created us and brought us into being, that He might make us partakers of eternal blessings, that He might offer us the kingdom of Heaven.

Through the prayers of our Holy Father John Chrysostoom may our Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us!