St. Gregory Palamas and Hesychasm

St. Gregory Palamas and Hesychasm

This Sunday our Church celebrates the memory of St. Gregory Palamas. He was a defender of our Orthodox faith. He is primarily known for expounding the Orthodox concept of deification. This was misunderstood and distorted by a Greek monk, Barlaam. Barlaam was well educated in the West, which considered knowledge of God a matter of intellectual reasoning. As Barlaam was perpetuating his error, St. Gregory came to the defense of the truth. He made a distinction between the unknowable Essence of God and His Energy, in Which we can participate and Which is uncreated. Through St. Gregory’s teaching we can understand the Apostle Peter’s words: “we have become partakers of the divine nature” (IIPet. 1:4).
Barlaam also misunderstood and attacked the hesychast tradition of the Church. St. Gregory again came to the rescue explaining how it assists in leading one to unite with God. So then, hesychasm is a path to the aforementioned, that is, the participation in the Uncreated energy of God, being partakers of the divine nature, which is deification. So today let us say a few words about hesychasm because by living it one obtains an entrance into the divine Life that God desires to pour out upon us.
In order to accomplish this I will refer to the “Foreword” of the book by Archimandrite Zacharias of St. John the Baptist Monastery in Essex: Hesychasm, The Bedewing Furnace of the Heart. Here the abbot of the Monastery, Archmandrite Peter writes about Hesychasm and its place in the Church as follows:

“The Lord Jesus Christ is the spiritual sun which illuminates the whole universe. In the light of His precepts, we come to know the unerring way to the Father. Through His Incarnation, He established on earth the holy Body of His Church and within her bosom He implanted monasticism as a holy root which from the first centuries of Christianity until our days has brought forth blessed fruits, our sacred and God-bearing Fathers, who have bequeathed to us the holy way of Hesychasm.
“Hesychastic prayer is the heart of the Orthodox ascetic tradition. Hesychasm is the ‘innermost body’ of the Body of the Church the ‘salt of the earth’ and the sustaining power that preserves the world.
“The essence of Hesychasm lies in the guarding of the heart from all alien influence, so that man can stand before God in ‘pure prayer’.
“In this arduous struggle, the Lord astounds the soul with the unexpected and luminous dawning of His grace in the wondrous place of the deep heart. Then it is that man is built into a temple of Divinity not made by hands, fulfilling his true destiny. By the union of mind and heart, every Christian truly finds himself in the innermost recesses of his soul and, as a God-like mind, as an immortal hypostasis, he invisibly beholds God. This contemplation enlarges the heart to embrace heaven and earth; and then the ‘true man goes out to his true work’, namely, hypostatic prayer and intercession for the whole world. Such a prayer is a sign that the image first given to man at his creation is restored in us.
“The world, the creation of our great God, is beautiful indeed; but there is nothing more marvelous than ‘the hidden man of the heart’, the true man, in the image and likeness of God.” (Hesychasm, The Bedewing Furnace of the Heart, pp.11-12)
Let us struggle then, to make this manifest within us, which is—as Archimandrite Peter continues to write—“the most desirable and sublime miracle in all creation, the union of the heart of man with the eternal Spirit of God.”

The Veneration of Icons/Sunday of Orthodoxy

The Veneration of Icons/Sunday of Orthodoxy

Beloved of God, in the second of the Ten Commandments we read: (Exo 20:4) “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them.”

Both in the past and the present a literal interpretation of this, out of context, has caused many to reject the veneration of icons. During the eighth and ninth century there was a terrible persecution against those who venerated the icons. And today we celebrate the end of these persecutions and the restoration of the icons to the Church.

But let us carefully examine this commandment and see exactly what caused this problem and what was it that our Lord was prohibiting. If we want to understand this commandment it should be considered in its historical context and collated with a more detailed description which is found in the Book of Deuteronomy. Here the Lord warns:

“Beware lest you act corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. And beware lest you lift up your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and worship them and serve them, things which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.” (Deu. 4:16-19) If we consider the historical context, it is obvious that this commandment includes the prohibition of every variety of idolatry known to have been practiced among the Egyptians. Now let’s examine this step by step.

First the critical term which has caused much confusion: “graven image”. According to Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionary (can be found at the Hebrew term translated here is pesel; it is defined as, “an idol: -carved (graven) image”, the root word of this means “to carve”. In the Greek Septuagint text this word translated as “eidolon” which in English is idol. A question: Does pesel equal an Orthodox icon?

Let’s continue with a detailed examination of the prohibitions. Likenesses of male and female were mentioned. In ancient Egypt the people held a certain Osiris and his wife Isis as supreme divinities. Images of Orisis depict him as a handsome man in royal dress wearing a crown of an Upper Egypt headdress.
“The likeness of any beast that is on the earth”. “Among the Egyptians the ox was not only sacred but adored, because they supposed that in one of these animals Osiris took up his residence: hence they always had a living ox, which they supposed to be the habitation of this deity; and they imagined that on the death of one he entered into the body of another, and so on successively. This famous ox-god they called Apis and Mnevis.” 1

“The likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air”. Birds such as the stork, or crane, and hawk were objects of Egyptian idolatry. “The likeness of anything that creeps on the ground”. The crocodile, serpents, or beetle, were all objects of their adoration. “The likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth”. All fish were esteemed sacred animals among the Egyptians. One called Oxyrynchus had a temple, and divine honors paid to it. Another fish, called Phagrus, was worshipped at the city of Syene (modern day Aswan) on the Nile in Southern Egypt.

“In short, oxen, heifers, sheep, goats, lions, dogs, monkeys, and cats; the ibis, the crane, and the hawk; the crocodile, serpents, frogs, flies, and the scarabeus or beetle; the Nile and its fish; the sun, moon, planets, and stars; fire, light, air, darkness, and night, were all objects of Egyptian idolatry, and all included in this very circumstantial prohibition as detailed in Deuteronomy.” 2

Again let us hear the second commandment of our Lord:
“You shall not make for yourself an idol or graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them.”

Now when we put it into its historical context, is it at all possible to believe that the Hebrew term pesel is equal to an Orthodox icon? No, how could it be? To do so would be show a total lack of logic. So let us, with undoubted faith continue to do as today’s tropar says, “We venerate Thy most pure image, O Good One”.3 By reason of the fact that, “The uncircumscribed Word of the Father became circumscribed,…and He has restored the sullied image to its ancient glory, filling it with divine beauty. This our salvation we confess in deed and word and we depict it in the holy ikons.”4

May our Lord Jesus Christ, through the prayers of all the saints who suffered for the veneration of the holy icons have mercy on us and save us. Amen!

1. From the commentaries of Adam Clarke (British Methodist Theologian reposed 1832) on Exodus 20:4. Can be found on
2. Ibid.
3. Translation as found in service books published by St. Tikhon’s Monastery.
4. The Lenten Triodion, p. 306

Abbot Niphont (conclusion)

Abbot Niphont

In the meantime, Niphont reached an old age, having never neglected his monastic rule. And having renounced the world once, he no longer cared for things which were worldly and vain. He preferred the narrow, sorrowful way to the wide one. He came to love poverty and was an example of hard work, humility and especially non-possessiveness and chastity. He especially loved to talk to the brethren about the high merit of the last two, non-possessiveness and chastity. He exhausted his flesh with difficult feats, and his naturally weak health being exhausted by endless labors and struggle with circumstances, faded like a lantern. And the strength of his life was becoming depleted from day to day.
His simplicity tied with the spiritual wisdom and a life worth imitating, brought involuntary respect for him. He was friendly and affable in dealing with others, and along with complete non-possessiveness, he was merciful and compassionate to the poor. In a word he would not let anyone leave the monastery without having a good heartfelt memory of its Igumen. As a lover of the quiet desert life, in seeking greater progress in spiritual feats, he observed a strict fast; and prayer was his constant exercise.
He was especially loved by the Abbott of St. George Novgorod Monastery, Archimandrite Photius, who wrote admonishing, brotherly, letters to him on numerous occasions. A copy of one of these letters is offered here,

“Give me a blessing, Holy Father, forgive and pray for me a sinner with my brethren. I am asking blessings and prayers from all of your venerable brethren. I, for my part, a worthless monk, remember your love for Christ and keep it in my heart.”
“All learning is vanity, all knowledge is a dream and sorrow for the soul, if there is no piety. I have learned just one thing, that there is no better, higher life on this earth than the chaste monastic life. and that the cloisters and monasteries are in fact places of God….”
“I will also say that there is nothing sweeter and more nourishing for our souls and for the monastic life than the Holy books of the fathers and the lives of the saints.”
“St. Isaac the Syrian says that no one can learn about the kingdom of God from study, but only from the grace of the Spirit and from a life of piety.”
“Woe to us, the learned know-nothings – the teaching about Christ and a holy life – this is the treasure that cannot be stolen! Alas, just like in the beginning, so in our days the Lord prefers to catch the fishermen and simple folks into His nets, rather than the high-minded ones. Father, I know the insignificance of our scholarship, therefore I do not want to envy erudition. I have always had from the beginning of the monastic life love and advice of the elder-monks and continue with it till this day. The elders will teach me the art of life, and the art in life is most important. May you be saved, Father, rejoice, Christ is in our midst and always will be.”
“Your brother, friend and co-worker in Jesus Christ,
the unworthy monk,

Elder Niphont often, especially before the Holy Great Fast, admonished all of the brothers at mealtime in the spiritual endurance of all kind of sorrows. He taught how one should live at the monastery: to cut off one’s will, to pass the narrow path of the sorrowful monastic life. Sometimes in his cell he would humbly denounce one of the brothers in concordance with circumstances and the character of each.
In every possible way he tried to arouse zeal towards enduring monastic life, he genially convinced everyone to bear all of the coming afflictions. He advised everyone to have a spiritual father and engage in strict fast, and never turn back. He used to say, “If a person who is not doing any good deeds in life hopes to be saved only because he does not have grievous sins, he deludes himself. Because he, who does not care to acquire temporary blessings, justly does not get anything at all.”
The venerable elder, Igumen Niphont, having lived his life, being weighed down by the old age and illness, he felt his transition to eternity was close. Thus, he called for one or another of the brethren at times and gave them fatherly admonition from the Gospel to be zealous in monasticism, convicted to preserve bodily purity, have love for a fellow brother, to be adorned with humility, and to engage in prayer and fasting.
At the end of his life, even in his weakness. his constant occupation was prayer. He sanctified and strengthened himself with prayer. He expressed his readiness with humble boldness, to meet Jesus Christ, Who can come with glory at any time. With prayer, he passed away on March 8th, 1842, being 76 years from birth. The last farewell with the deceased Igumen, who was a true father for the brethren, was sealed with a loud cry of the monks, and all who were present at the funeral. The body was buried by the Church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos on the west side, next to the burial place of Abbot Ephraim, the spot, which he picked for himself. He resided at the monastery for 56 years.

Abbot Niphont

Abbot Niphont (Abbot of Sarov Hermitage when St. Seraphim reposed)

The ninth Abbot of the Sarov Hermitage, Igumen Niphont was from the city of Temnikov, of a family of tradesmen. While still a youth he had a desire to devote himself to the ascetic life at the Sarov desert brotherhood. While yet a teenager he earnestly asked to be received, yet he was not permitted, because the rules of the monastery forbade the acceptance of young boys. Therefore, he unwillingly remained in the world until adulthood.
In 1787, upon reaching the age of twenty, he left the world and came to the Sarov monastery at the time of Abbott Pachomius, and was accepted into the brotherhood. From the very beginning he showed signs of complete devotion to the will of the Father Igumen by abandoning and rejecting his own will. Whatever he had acquired in the world, he put to the feet of the Superior Pachomius, surrendering himself along with it into obedience. That surprised Elder Superior, and he always paid special attention to this novice after that.
Having put on the monastic garb Basil (this was his name in the world) carried out the duties assigned to him at the monastery storeroom and on the church kliros with a special zeal, quietly and humbly. With the consent of the Abbott and the senior brethren, in respect of such a constant laborious and attentive life, Basil was tonsured a monk on June 19, 1792 with the name of Niphont. Soon afterwards, in 1793 he was ordained a hierodeacon, and a hieromonk in 1796, and was appointed a common confessor for the brethren. He bore this duty for the benefit of the brethren, giving the brotherhood a plentiful spiritual admonition.
While being a confessor he performed the services suitable for the rank of a hieromonk. In 1805 he was appointed a treasurer. In 1806 from among all of the brothers he was chosen to be Administrator by Father Superior Isaiah and confirmed by the diocesan authorities. In 1818, on March 12, he was chosen to be the Igumen of the monastery. In 1832 he was awarded a golden pectoral cross. In 1834 he was appointed a dean of two monasteries. In 1837 by His Majesty, the Emperor, following a petition of the Holy Synod he was graciously awarded a pectoral cross decorated with precious stones for the useful service for the church.
While administering the affairs of the monastery Igumen Niphont diligently followed the monastic rules conferred by the Founder. He had a special zeal for church services so that in spite of all duties of the superior in external matters there was not a single service to God conducted without him being present. His zeal for the church services to God was an example for all at the monastery. When increasing his zeal and diligence for the Lord God and His Holy Church, he added labors to labors. While wearying, he used the example of the Holy Fathers of the old to overcome fatigue as much as possible. In spite of his old age and the weakness of bodily strength, he was always the first and the last at church services—coming at the outset and attending till the very end with an ardent love for the glorification of the Most Holy name of the Lord.
Igumen Niphont himself followed strictly, and always demanded of the hieromonk on duty at the early and the late Liturgies, not to hurry into the hours, but wait until all commemorative lists for proskomedia1 were read to the end. When the commemorative lists read were close to the end, then the sacristan would come to the hieromonk on duty and ask a blessing to start reading The Hours before the Liturgy. At proskomedia several brothers would come daily and pray for the health or repose of the souls of the donors and benefactors of the monastery. On all of the days set by the Holy Church for remembrance of the reposed after the end of the morning and evening service a Litia2 for those fallen asleep would be served in in the narthex. The lists would be distributed to the chanters and the names of the souls written thereon would be quietly remembered. Additionally, every Saturday a Panikhida2 would be served for reposed brothers and benefactors of the monastery, and in general, for all those whose names were entered onto the lists for eternal remembrance.3 Thus, the commandment to pray for the reposed was always fulfilled unswervingly. Elder Niphont also set for himself a holy obligation to observe the love of wayfarers.
In thirty-five years of his administration, the Sarov cloister acquired many adornments for the churches, as well as additions for the monastery buildings, through the sole care of this Elder, with his zeal and much love for the house of God. The true sons of the monastery always found in him a father and a benefactor; and those who did not heed his fatherly voice suffered many temptations. (to be continued)

1. Proskomedia is a preparatory service before the Divine Liturgy in which the bread and wine are prepared to be sanctified. Names for commemoration are also read in this service.
2. Litia and Panakhida are services for the reposed.
3. This remembrance is done also during the unceasing reading of the Psalter, established at the monastery, with the exception of Sundays and feast days. Night and day the Psalter reading takes place for the health of the living and in remembrance of the reposed brothers and benefactors of the Sarov Hermitage. For that purpose 12 monks are selected, who read the Psalter taking turns for two hours, remembering the names of the brothers and the benefactors in between the sections of the Psalter as they are divided for Church use. If someone’s name is entered during their life, they pray for health and salvation, when a person passes away, and the monastery is informed about it, then a prayer is said for the repose.

Priest as Mediator between God and Man (conclusion)

Priest as Mediator between God and Man (conclusion)

Although I feel as though I may have said enough, and anything I add would be a counter climax, yet I will still continue and refer to St. Sophrony of Essex in England.
A short time before he reposed he expressed the following:
“The content of the Person of Christ is the self-emptying love unto the end, by which He accomplished the salvation of the world.
“Man likewise proves himself a person when he acquires love for God to the point of self-hatred, pure prayer which accompanies this, and prayer for the world similar to Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane.” (Man the Target of God, Archimandrite Zacharias, p. 147)
Fr. Zachariah comments on these words as follows:
“In this state of prayer for the world, the mind of Christ is transmitted to man and his heart is enlarged to embrace heaven and earth and to bring before God every creature. The true calling of man is become a true hypostasis, a true person in the image of Christ’s Person, a new Adam bearing in himself the whole of humanity and presenting it before God in intercession for salvation.” (ibid.)
What is it to “become a true person in the image of Christ’s Person? It is to acquire “self-emptying love unto the end” since this is “the content of the Person of Christ.” And what is “love for God to the point of self-hatred”? It is to no longer desire salvation but to “wish (or pray) that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren” (Rom. 9:3). Fr. Zachariah continues:
“Christ came to the earth with one desire in His heart; He prayed in Gethsemane, ascended onto the Cross and went down into the tomb so that the world should be saved. Of course, when He rose again, He rose again with the same content in His heart.” (ibid.)
As the Apostle Paul writes that God, “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (ITim. 2:4). And so, he who acquires the grace of the Holy Spirit cannot be otherwise. Let us continue with some words from the experience of St. Sophrony.
“When abundant grace touches the heart of the Christian, animated by the love of Christ acting in him,… following after Christ, becomes like Him.”
“In proportion to his strength man takes upon himself the burden of his brothers. The intensity of the pain endured in this life fills his heart with deep compassion for all who suffer. The love that feels for others is ready for sacrifice–total sacrifice–for the good of others, while at the same time sweeping the whole man up to God, mind, heart and body itself. The entire being is drawn to God in ardent prayer, weeping for people, sometimes for a particular individual, known or unknown, sometimes for all humanity since the beginning of time….
“‘To pray for the world is to shed blood.’”
“And we have seen and witnessed that Blessed Staretz Silouan, in praying for people, for the world, for all mankind, all Adam, did in this prayer lay down his life.
“Prayer like this is repentance for men’s sins, and as repentance for the whole world it means to a certain extent bearing the burdens of the world. But to have the audacity for such prayer one must first attain to a certain degree of personal repentance, since to continue to dwell in sin and passion, then instead of bearing the burdens of one’s fellow men, one lays a burden on them. To know the ‘fellowship of Christ’s sufferings’, to be a partaker with Him, we must ‘cease from sin’.” (Phil 3.10 Pet. 4.13, 4.1) St. Silouan the Athonite pp. 239-40
St. Sophrony and Fr. Zachariah are referring again and again to the same theme: Personal repentance leads to the acquisition of grace, the acquisition of grace leads to love and love leads to intercession and this intercession is universal repentance.
In a chapter in his book, His Life is Mine, titled The Prayer of Gethsemane, St. Sophrony interprets the aforementioned prayer. As he begins this chapter he writes:
“Christ’s prayer in the garden of Gethsemane is the noblest of all prayers by its virtue and its power to atone for the sins of the world. Offered to the eternal God the Father in a spirit of divine love, it continues to shine, a light that cannot be extinguished, forever drawing to itself souls that have preserved their likeness to God. Christ included the whole human race in this prayer, from the first Adam to the last man born of woman. We lack existential knowledge of such love and so its permanent significance is hidden from us. Victorious in eternity, Christ’s love in the earthly plane spells extreme suffering. No one has ever known such suffering as Christ endured. He descended into hell, into the most painful hell of all, the hell of love. This is sphere of existence, which can only be apprehended through spiritual love—how far we can penetrate the mystery depends on the measure of love that it has been granted us to know from on high. It is vital to have experienced, if only once, the heavenly fire which Christ brought with Him; to know with our entire being, what it is to be even a little like Christ.” (His Life is Mine, Archimandrite Sophrony, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press 1977, p. 91)
In ending this chapter he concludes:
“When, as I have said, a shadow of a likeness to Gethsemane prayer is granted to him, man transcends the boundaries of his own individuality and enter a new form of being—personal being in the likeness of Christ. By participating in the sufferings of His divine love we too, in spirit, can experience a little of His death and the power of His Resurrection. ‘For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death’ (in deep prayer for the world and consuming desire for the salvation of all) ‘we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection (Rom. 6.5) When it is given to us from on high to enter this new sphere of Being, we arrive at ‘the ends of the world’ (I Cor. 10.11) and pass into the light of Divine eternity.
“And every man on whom God has bestowed the rare and dread privilege of knowing to a minute degree the agony of Christ’s prayer in the garden of Gethsemane1 will stumble on, slowly and painfully, to a cogent awareness of the resurrection of his own soul and a perception of Christ’s undeniable, ineluctable (irresistible or inescapable) victory. He will know ‘that Christ being risen from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over Him’ (Rom. 6.9) And his spirit within him will whisper: My Lord and my God… now, O Christ, by the gift of Thy love which surpasses understanding I, too, have crossed from death to life…” (ibid. p. 95)
This brings to mind the words of St. John the Theologian, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren.” (IJohn 3:14) Then St. Sophrony ends with a rather bold, or we could say hyperbolic statement:
“Now—I am.” (Ibid. p. 95)

1. In his Homily 146 on the Gospel of St. Luke, St Cyril of Jerusalem similarly says that the great grief of our Lord in Gethsemane was “for Israel the firstborn, that henceforth He is not even among the servants”. (Commentary on the Gospel of Saint Luke, Studion Publishers, Inc., 1983, p.582) Likewise Gerondissa (Eldress) Makrina Vassopoulou believes that Christ suffered great pain knowing that through His Crucifixion all of mankind would not be redeemed because all would not accept him. (Words of the Heart, translation St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Monastery 2018, cf. p. 323)

Priest as Mediator between God and Man (continuation)

Priest as Mediator between God and Man (continuation)

We have talked a little about repentance, so let’s now move on to saying something about role of prayer in this. Elder Joseph the Younger (aka Joseph of Vatopeidi) in his book about his Elder, Elder Joseph the Hesychast: Struggles- Experiences – Teachings, categorizes his Elder’s teachings. In the chapter, “On Prayer”, he writes about these points I have brought up, and so he relates the following. (Note that in the quotations that follow – for the sake of greater clarity – I have paraphrased a few phrases for this particular blog. My clarifications are noted in brackets []. )
Elder Joseph writes:
“Protracted and uninterrupted prayerful attention of the heart—which is the most difficult of all ascetic exercises and struggles—produces permanent sensation within the heart. In parallel, the mind with its incessant mourning also regains its natural illumination, becoming a ‘Christ-mind’ (cf. 1 Cor. 2:16); upon which the experience of God abiding and acting within him, transports the small and limited human being to the sphere of Godlikeness. ‘I say, You are gods and sons of the Most High, all of you’ (Ps. 82:6). In consequence, as an ecumenical totality [as an all- inclusive completeness] he contains his neighbor within himself and communes with him, ‘rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep’, as the Apostle puts it.” (Rom. 12:15) (Elder Joseph the Hesychast: Struggles – Experiences – Teachings by Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi, 1999 The Holy and Great Monastery of Vatopaidi, p. 202)
In another place he relates:
“The paternal quality [characteristic] of the grace of true prayer experienced by the Elder was crowned by his communion with the suffering of all mankind, something that we saw him living out intensely and almost continuously. Many times we would see him immersed calmly in himself and he seemed not to be with us; then his expression would change, and in a sorrowful manner he would sigh gently. ‘What the matter Elder?’ we would ask out of youthful curiosity. ‘Someone is suffering children’, he would say. The confirmation of this would come a few days later, when we received a letter describing some incident that had occurred. ‘How does it happen Elder, that those who pray more are more communal that other people?’—because we could see that such people felt everyone to be their neighbor and communed with each person in a very practical way, despite the fact that these men of prayer are virtually hidden and unknown. He then gave us to understand, in his own words, the universality of prayer, the chief bearer of ecumenicity [this term is superlative and implies the bringing together of or connecting the universe]. Through prayer the unity of all in God is realized in a more perfect way as everything is brought to unity with Christ and to communion with God. Perhaps at times he somewhat lacked the power to express himself in the subtle philosophical terms of theology when speaking of these subjects which he ‘underwent’.” (ibid. pp. 200-201)

Although Joseph the Younger says, “at times he somewhat lacked the power to express himself” I believe, “the universality of prayer” is further explained in the following excerpt:

“The Elder used to tell us that the experience of love for one’s neighbor is revealed to him who prays in truth; and more specifically, ‘When grace is operative in the soul of someone who is praying, then he is flooded with the love of God so that he can no longer bear what he experiences. Afterwards this love turns toward the world and man, whom he comes to love so much that he seeks to take upon himself the whole of human pain and misfortune so that everyone else might be freed from it. In general he suffers with every grief and misery, and even for dumb animals, so that he weeps when he thinks that they are suffering. These are the properties of love, but it is prayer that activates them and calls them forth. This is why those who are advanced in prayer do not cease to pray for the world. To them belongs the continuation of life, however strange and audacious this may seem. And you should know that if such people disappear, then the end of this world will come.’” (ibid. pp. 206-7)
Here, Joseph the Younger continues:
“God as self-same consummate love [since He Himself is all love] communicates [imparts] and transmits a part of His consummate goodness to His creatures, in a manner and to a degree known to Himself. It follows as a consequence of this that the same should be done by His deified servants, who through their prayer and supplication also communicate something to the world [ impart “love”—the Greek text reads “love” in place of “something”— to the world]. The conclusion is that if love is the body, its energy and power is prayer; and the proof is that through prayer the fulfillment of love can be achieved with great success on a world-wide scale, where so many other means are powerless.”
“Abba Barsanuphius mentions in his discourses that in his generation there were three people who were able by their prayers to pacify warring nations and in general to keep the world from destruction. At other times we find that the Saints by their prayers have dispelled the threat of calamities, famines and pandemic plagues. What manner of practical contribution or personal service could bring such benefit to whole peoples and countries as does prayer? And again, the general practice of people asking others to prayer for them—is not this an indication of the priority of prayer, that prayer is the greatest surety of success?
“This also reveals the character of prayer as ecumenical [that is, it is available to all, all can participate in it, it is open to all]. Prayer alone can include within it and encompass what is far off and what is scattered, making them one (cf. John 11:22), and can bind together members that are at odds with each other, that they may recognize his neighbor as members of one another who nevertheless live separately. Prayer for human suffering in general shows love, as does prayer for the enlightenment of those who have gone astray and for their return and repentance and knowledge of God. But prayer for enemies is the climax of the rational perfection of beings in whom ‘what is mortal is swallowed up by life” (cf. 1Cor. 15:54). Those who pray for their enemies, becoming and remaining deified, reflect in their godlike character that godly property of praying ‘if it were possible, to be accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of these brethren who have wronged me!’ (cf. Rom. 9:3). This also is the last word of our Lord on the Cross, as He prays for those who have crucified Him”. (cf. Luke 23:34) (ibid. pp. 207-8)

Although Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi is speaking of a high spiritual state that few attain, we are still responsible to struggle according to our strength to advance in this direction. It is awesome and fearful to be faced with the reality of what is open to us. (to be continued…)

Priest as Mediator between God and Man (continuation)

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

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

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

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

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

The brother said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Priest as Mediator between God and Man

Priest as mediator between God and man

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

Priest as Mediator between God and Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(to be continued…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Metropolitan Herman: In memorandum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saint Tikhon’s Center of Orthodoxy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessed are the peacemakers:

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

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

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

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

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

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