The Coronavirus: Prayers for the Pandemic

The Coronavirus: Prayers for the Pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

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

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

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

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

Glory…

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

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

Lord have mercy (thrice)

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

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

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

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

Glory…

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

Now and ever…

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

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

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

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

Glory…

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

Now and ever…

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

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

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

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

Glory…

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

Now and ever…

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

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

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

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

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

Glory…

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

Now and ever…

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

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

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

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

Glory…

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

Now and ever…

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

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

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

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

Glory…

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

Now and ever…

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

The Expulsion from Paradise (A Sermon)

The Expulsion from Paradise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mystery of Hesychia

The Mystery of Hesychia
After publishing something about the Elder Ephraim I am now returning to sharing more from the writings of Archimandrite Zacharias on topics which I have found quite edifying. In his book The Engraving of Christ in Man’s Heart he has a Chapter entitled: “The Mystery of Hesychia”. As a subtitle he quotes the Psalms (46:10), “Be ye still and know that I am God”. And so, he writes:

Sunday is the day of the Lord. It was prescribed in the Old Testament and confirmed in the New, that on one day we should rest from all other work, abiding in the presence of God in prayer and contemplation of His word. Through this we gather the strength and grace of the Holy Spirit necessary to perform our earthly activities during the rest of the week. The same occurs at every feast. The center of the feast is the saint whom we honour, before whom we stand in prayer, and from whom we receive the grace of the Holy Spirit.
It is precisely for this reason that the Church has appointed Sundays and feasts. Of course, Sundays have more consequence than all other feasts, except those of the Lord Himself. However, Just as Sundays were established so that we might draw strength for the rest of the week and perform our work in a way that is pleasing to God, so the Church also instituted feasts throughout the year in order to intensify this phenomenon. Otherwise, submerged as we are in the turmoil of this world as in a sea of cares, we easily lose the strength and inspiration that we have received from God. We have feasts, therefore, so as to give ourselves over to the same endeavour which we undertake every Sunday, that is, to be still and keep this precious time of stillness, so as to receive God’s help and to be able to know Him more deeply. (pp. 264-5)

Making use of Father’s words as a foundation I would like to comment further about the need of stillness. Although it is Sundays and feasts that point the way for us, we all, of course, need some quiet time each day to take a rest from “the cares of life” (Luke 21:34). We need to empty ourselves of the things of this world so that we can become more open and receptive to God. It is interesting to take note of the Slavonic word for “be ye still”, it is one word oupraznityesya. It does literally mean to be empty or vacant, and the word Russians use for feast is a form of this word “praznik”. And when they greet each other on a feast it is again a form of this word: “spraznikom” which literally translated means, “with the feast”. Yet not only feast days but each day of our lives we should try to find time to “be still” or empty of the cares of this life so that we may become receptive to God.

We see the same thought in one of the desert fathers, Abba Cronius:

A brother said to Abba Cronius, ‘Speak a word to me.’ He said to him, ‘When Elisha came to the Sunamite, he did not find her busy with anyone else. So she conceived and bore a child through the coming of Elisha.’ (2Kings 4) The brother said to him, ‘What does this mean?’ The old man said, ‘If the soul is vigilant and withdraws from all distraction and abandons its own will, then the spirit of God invades it and it can conceive because it is free to do so.’ (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers translated by Benedicta Ward, Mowbrays London and Oxford 1975, p.98)

Let us keep this in mind—that to be still and receptive to God is our aim as we set aside some personal quiet time each day for prayer and the reading of books of the Church. Although for “the spirit of God to invade the soul” is rare, and happens to the advanced, yet we should hope to develop an awareness or remembrance of God. This should grow within us and become more and more an everyday part of our lives; we should carry away within us the remembrance of God when we depart from our quiet time. So let us end with a few more words of Fr. Zacharias to inspire us to run in this direction:

One monk used to say: ‘From the beginning of my monastic life, I never envied the Apostles, I never envied the holy Hierarchs of the Church, not even the Martyrs, although it is so great to give your whole life in one moment in exchange for the life of God. I have only envied those holy monks who lived all their life with their mind in their heart. They live a continuous miracle day and night, the miracle of the changes of the heart. This is true inspiration, plentitude and abundance of life. This, above all else, is befitting to God. All the saints are great in the sight of God, but I only envied those holy monks who were able to live their whole life in God’s presence with their mind united to their heart. May God grant us, even in part, such a state.’ (The Engraving of Christ in Man’s Heart p. 276)
Amen!

Elder Ephraim of Arizona

Elder Ephraim of Arizona

The whole Orthodox world is aware of the repose of the Elder Ephraim of St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona. Having been acquainted with the Geronda, I would like to offer a few words in remembrance of him.
In his youth the elder went to the Holy Mountain with the intention of putting himself in subjection to St. Joseph the Hesychast. St. Joseph was a great elder and a strict ascetic, and there were few who could endure his regime. He did, however, produce several Athonite abbots from his small community: Joseph the Younger of Vatopedi Monastery, Haralambos of Dionisiou and Ephraim of Philotheou. Several other Athointe monasteries were later renewed by groups of monks who had been under Elder Ephraim at Philotheou; and, eventually, the Great Elder, himself, came to America. St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona was the first men’s monastery he established; and it is the place where he lived and reposed. The monastery was founded in July of 1995 when one of the fathers from Philotheou and several laymen arrived on the grounds. Two months later, the present abbot, Geronda Paisius, arrived with another four monks from the Holy Mountain—three from Philotheou and one from Xeropotamou – another monastery which had been renewed by monks from Philotheou.
When I first met Geronda Ephraim in 1984, I was already acquainted with his work in America. We saw what his efforts had led to—the establishment of seventeen monasteries here. This was far from easy. There were numerous stumbling blocks along the way. There had been a lot of suffering. The Elder was first asked to visit North America by spiritual children who went to see him. He once read a letter to his monks at Philotheou from some lay people in America begging him to come here, and so he asked his monks to pray along with him about this. In 1978 while I was still a novice at St. Tikhon’s Monastery, I was informed by a clergyman who visited the Holy Mountain that Elder Ephraim of Philotheou would be visiting America in the fall. I believe this was his first visit to this county. This visit eventually led to the establishment of a number of monasteries here in North America and then his own move here. One of the fathers who came to America from Philotheou has said, “Geronda Ephraim prayed – not for days or months – but for years before deciding that he would himself move to America.” Geronda Ephraim commented that it would have been easier for him to stay at Philotheou, and so this was a great sacrifice on his part. Personally, I knew him as a loving, sacrificial father. I will give an example of this: In 1986 I spent eight days at Philotheou. One of the things that struck me then about Geronda Ephraim is that he was always at the services and always availed himself to others. In some of the other monasteries I visited, which also had renowned elders, this was not always the case —the elders were often in reclusion. While I was there at Philotheou, I had an extraordinary experience of his fatherly love. One morning during Matins I dozed off sitting in my stasidia (a particular wooden chair in churches with a seat that folds up for standing within it). Someone knocked me on the head waking me up. I sprang up, looked, and saw Geronda’s back as he passed by. What would a normal reaction be? Maybe fear – for the abbot had just wakened me. On the contrary however, a feeling of compassion flowed through my heart. This was not a rebuke, but the encouragement of a loving father.
I do not want to immortalize the Elder, no one is infallible and mistakes may have been made along the way but there is also much fruit. It is quite remarkable that although his monasteries only use Greek as a liturgical language they still attract many faithful on a regular basis who do not understand the language. Why is this? They answer, “We do not understand, but we are edified but the faith of the monks.” “There is much grace here,” they say. These are comments I, myself, have heard. And this is a fruit of holding on to the ascetic tradition of the Church. This is significant for us in America because Orthodoxy is something foreign to this land. Many of our converts have an intellectual acceptance of faith, yet they bring with them the baggage of a distorted or non-ascetic approach towards life in Christ. This is what Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries have to offer us: Faith and life in Christ which they were taught by their Geronda.
May his memory be eternal!

Developing a Relationship with God

Developing a Relationship with God

In this post I will continue sharing some of the viewpoints of Fr. Zacharias
which I, myself, have found uplifting. So, let’s consider the following: developing a relationship with God. On this topic, Father Zacharias writes:

When we follow the Lord, we have only one care: to please Him and thank Him in all we do. But we must first establish a true relationship. We must cultivate the humility of the Publican and the determined repentance of the Prodigal Son. Each man’s relationship with God is unique. For God has created each in such a way that his particular relationship to his creator will fulfill and perfect him. He must therefore make it his only mission and purpose to build a strong relationship with Christ and to be in constant dialogue with Him. All our human relationships will derive strength from this relationship with God, and we will begin to see everything, every element of the created world in the light of this relationship. If we make it our concern to improve our relationship with Christ, deep repentance will spring forth within us. The more we grow in Christ, the more clearly we will know our poverty, and our inspiration will always be renewed. We will fear nothing because nothing will be able to separate us from His love.

In the world to come, we will continue this relationship with our Saviour which we have built up in this life. We will be judged according to our love, according to each word of Christ contained in the Gospel. Just as He asked Peter after His Resurrection, ‘Lovest thou me?’ so in the age to come He will ask each one of us the same question, and we too will reply, ‘Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee.’ But the strength and boldness of our reply will depend entirely on the depth of our relationship with the Person of Christ. Whatever attitude we adopt in this life will continue with us beyond the grave. This is clear from the Gospel account of the judgment of the righteous, who utter the same humble thought which nourished their repentance: ‘Lord, when did we anything good upon earth? To Thee be glory, to us the shame.’ We must learn this humble attitude now, and then we will be able to live eternally with the Lord. Arrogance and self-justification have no place in Him, but they accompany us into eternity, and lead towards eternal separation from Him. (The Engraving of Christ in Man’s Heart, Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex 2017, pp.18-9)

So now the question for us to ponder is: how do we put this into action? How do we work to develop our relationship with God? I believe prayer of repentance is of prime importance in achieving this. Let me begin to explain by first offering a definition of prayer. One way we could define prayer is the expression of a relationship between two reason-endowed personal beings. By two reason-endowed personal beings, we mean God and man.

Prayer has a connection with theology because theology describes the relationship between God and man. Man was made “in the image and after the likeness of God” (Gen. 1:26); yet this was distorted by the sin of our first-parents, Adam and Eve. In listening to the serpent,
they were deceived and disobeyed the commandment of God. So they offended God and fell away from the life they knew in paradise. They distorted the original beauty of their resemblance to God and fragmented their relationship with Him. As time progressed and generations of men have come and gone, sin has multiplied, the distortion of our original beauty has been augmented, and the same is true for our relationship with God.

So, then, there are several questions that can be raised: How should this relationship between God and man be expressed? Who is God? And how do we approach Him? What is God’s attitude towards His fallen creature—man? And of what should man’s response consist? St. John the Theologian tells us who God is. He writes: “God is love” (I John 4:8). We know that with God there is “no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17). He has not changed His attitude towards us; but we have sinned and have disfigured both our being and our relationship
with God. God continues to be Who He is—Love. His attitude towards us can be briefly expressed in the following words of St. John the Theologian: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (IJohn 4:10).

So, now, how do we respond to this? How do we approach God? If it were another human being we had offended we would approach with shame, a humble attitude, a desire for reconciliation, and a readiness to make some recompense. And if someone we may have happened to offend would continue to love us and do good to us, we would feel all the more embarrassed and humbled. If we now apply this to our relationship with God – Who is not our equal, but infinitely transcends our being and has done so much good for us – what can we say? Is it possible to express in words what shame and humility, what longing for reconciliation and readiness to make recompense should we approach Him with? As Fr. Zacharias said, “We must cultivate the humility of the Publican and the determined repentance of the Prodigal Son.” Then, “deep repentance will spring forth within us.”

So we need to struggle for this and as an example for such all we need to do is turn to the prayers of the Church. What we hear in the services and what we see in our traditional Prayer Book is “the humility of the Publican and the determined repentance of the Prodigal Son” and “deep repentance”. It is in the prayers of our Church that we learn, so-to-speak, the language of prayer – the language with which we approach God, and develop a relationship with Him. In this manner we hope to acquire the attitude of the righteous, “who utter the humble thought which nourished their repentance: ‘Lord, when did we anything good upon earth? To Thee be glory, to us the shame.’ We must learn the humility of this attitude now, and then we will be able to live eternally with the Lord.” Amen.

The Monastery of St. John the Baptist and Community Life

The Monastery of St. John the Baptist and Community Life

I have recently made a pilgrimage to the Monastery of St. John the Baptist in England for the feast of St. Silouan the Athonite. So now, I believe it is good to place on my blog something of my experience which is embodied in the writings of a spiritual father at the monastery, Archimandrite Zacharias (Zacharou).

There are eleven monks and twenty eight nuns in the community and one aspect of their life which stood out for me is their struggle to keep a spirit of love and harmony alive among them. In passing on some precepts of the monastery’s founder, Archimandrite Sophrony*, Fr. Zacharias gives us the key to acquiring this in our immediate community, whether in a family or a monastery. Although he speaks of the principles of his Elder being applicable to married couples, this presupposes that both are struggling to live a life in Christ with the help of a spiritual father. Now to Fr. Zacharias:

In both marriage and monasticism we apply the same Christian principles. For example, Elder Sophrony said that even one evil thought against our brother ‘causes a crack in our spiritual stronghold’. Furthermore, he emphasized that each of us when we stand before God, should carry in our hearts all of our brethren. In this way, the unity of the brethren is achieved in the heart of each one of us, not simply in the heart of the Abbot.

Why is it that, as Elder Sophrony drew to our attention, one evil thought causes a crack in the wall of our spiritual fortification? It is because when we stir up negative thoughts about our brother and we remove him from our heart, then we mutilate our being. Our unity is contained in this understanding: to hold all in our heart and to avoid even the least negative thought for our fellows.

The same occurs in marriage; each spouse must learn not to accept a negative thought for each other, but to compete as we do in the monastery in the mystery of obedience, considering the other always more important. So whatever the Abbot says, we answer, ‘Yes your blessing!’I accept the will of the other, because the other is more important than myself. Therefore, finally I learn to accept the will of the ultimate Other, the will of the Saviour Christ.

If a couple competes as we do in a monastery, each striving to do the will of the other more perfectly, then their life will be enriched and established in the antechamber of paradise. As a spiritual fruit they will enjoy unity of heart and spirit, and not just psychological unity. In the monastery, everyone who has learned this competition, to humble oneself more before the other, is spiritually reborn. The same occurs also in a family. We don’t accept an evil thought for another member, but compete to do the will of the others and to humble ourselves more before them. As St. Silouan teaches, pride drives away love. The proud man is full of himself and does not make space in his heart for anything or anyone. If we carry, however, all our brethren or all our family in our heart before God and bring them before God in our everyday prayer, then surely there will be unity and love amongst us. All things can find room in our heart. (The Engraving of Christ in Man’s Heart, Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex, pp. 20-21)

 

If we acquire such a love and unity in our immediate community of family or monastery this would overflow to others. Thus we could be witnesses to our Christian faith and our Lord Jesus Christ, Who prayed for His disciples: “that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us: that the world may believe that thou didst send me” (John 17:21). Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ may we attain to this, and so, lead each other and those near us unto salvation. Amen

*This past week the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew announced the Canonization of Archimandrie Sophrony who is now officially numbered among the saints–A  CORRECTION: A Greek news site had misinformation which others republished. It appears that at one point while on the Holy Mountain Patriarch Bartholomew commented that his canonization is in consideration.  This was misinterpreted.

The Teaching of Elder Aimilinos on the Monastic life: Conclusion

The roles of the Geronta (Elder) and Gerontissa (Eldress) in a women’s monastery

One Sister related, “Geronta says as man is the head of woman, so too, the Geronta is the head of the Gerontissa; and behind every women’s monastery there should be a men’s monastery. Gerontissa says this even more and that they need a manly backup just as a woman needs a man. However Geronta stresses that we need to confess fully to Gerontissa and then go to him afterwards because women tend to turn to men and open more fully to them. It is harder for a woman to be under another woman , but he says that in a woman’s monastery all should be done under that authority of a woman. Of course the spiritual father is necessary; only he can absolve sins. Both are necessary but the nuns have to learn to be under the authority of a woman because they are in a woman’s monastery.” The Sister concluded, “We go to Gerontissa and she helps us. We confess everything to her and she will say, ‘You really should tell Geronta.’”

The same topic came up in the conversation of an American nun with the abbess, Gerontissa Nikodimi, and she expressed the following: “Has it ever happened that a woman’s monastery is goverened by an abbott? No, a women’s monastery has an abbess, a Gerontissa. The spiritual father
is necessary, but he should have nothing to do with the administration of the monastery. His role is only to give spiritual guidance. The Geronta gives a word to the Gerontissa and she puts it into action in the community as she sees fit. St. Pachomius had a woman’s monastery across the river from the men, and the women were completely independent. He only sent a monk across (an experienced spiritual father), to give spiritual guidance, to serve Liturgy and to help the sisters with heavy work they could not do alone. The Gerontissa has to be free to raise her children as she sees best, but in order to guide and confess the sisters she must herself confess thoroughly to the Geronta.”

The Sister then gave her own reflections on the relation of a Geronta and Gerontissa, according to what she has seen in her spiritual father and mother: “Usually it begins with the Gerontissa completely subjected to the Geronta, but because of that obedience, and because she is in a position of authority, God grants her grace herself. She will herself be filled with the spirit and can speak. Geronta says, “A father is a father and a mother is a mother”—he is really strong on the position of a mother. Gerontissa Nikodimi would say that she has nothing of her own, she is only a tool in the hands of the Geronta. However he would not say that of her, he recognizes her as a spiritual person in her own right. It is edifying to see how they both humble themselves before each other.”

The Sister ended by saying, “A good spiritual mother is the reflection of a good spiritual father. She will become a holy person herself but it is because of him; just the same as if any of us becomes holy, it will be because of both our spiritual father and our spiritual mother, because we submit to both.”

May God give rest to the newly departed Elder Aimilianos!

The Teaching of Elder Aimilianos on Monastic Life: Part II

Holy Communion

At Ormilia, Divine Liturgy is served daily and many nuns are blessed to receive every day, others several times a week, a few times, or once a week. I asked: “What criteria Geronta Aimilianos (Geronta is Greek for Elder) uses to decide who can receive frequently or daily?” Sister answered: “In general, if you are careful about your speech, if you keep your personal cell rule, you can receive frequently. But if you are careless in speech–gossiping or being over curious, for instance, about what others are doing; Geronta prevents you from receiving.”

The personal cell rule

The Sisters are free from after Compline until Matins the next morning (in Winter from about 4:30 PM until 3 AM, in summer it is shorter). Many go to bed immediately and get up in the night for their personal rule: prostrations, the Jesus prayer, and reading the Old Testament, the Psalter, the New Testament, an ascetic book, and a patristic book. These are all “musts”; all these are done by all the sisters in their rule, but the exact amount of each is determined by Geronta, they can also read other things: the Paraklisis, the life of the saint of the day and so forth. This is their personal rule. Reading is to work up to prayer but we also read because it is important to know.

The personal cell rule can be from up to one hour long to all night long–it depends on the stamina of the sister and her spiritual hunger. Each has a different rule, depending on what she wants to do and can do. She might have a lot of spiritual hunger but not the stamina for a long rule. Geronda says you must do something even if it is only five minutes.

The ideal which Geronda and the Fathers prefer is to get up at, or a little before, midnight to read and pray during the midnight and early morning hours because that is when the devil is most active in the world. Sin usually happens mostly around midnight, so that’s when monastics have to fight. Geronda says that it is a worldly habit to read and do the rule of prayer before going to sleep. However, if they cannot get up he allows them to do their rule before sleeping, and then to get up only an hour before Matins, or 45 minutes before, or at the very least half an hour, when the first bell for the service sounds. But he says you should be awake before the bell goes, so as to be awake when the service starts. If you get up just before the service, you are still asleep when it begins, and by the time you wake up it is over.

Praying throughout the day

Geronda says, “Don’t pray during the day in such a way that it interferes with your work.” Sister demonstrated someone saying the prayer very slowly and languidly and sewing in slow motion. Geronda hates that. Prayer should be quick; he stresses not to go slowly at prayer. All his teaching is dynamic, in singing, in prayer, and in the reading in church, which is done fast on purpose–quick reading, singing and prayer keeps you awake.

About Women

I said that in America there is a lot of pressure on women to be like men, to lose the feminine character that God has given them. I asked what Geronta says about women’s monasticism and the different characters os women and men.

Sister answered: “Geronta actually wants women in a certain sense to be manly. Women should be strong like men, and get away from feminine sensitivities—as women are more likely to be sensitive they can be sentimental and weak. Geronta says, ‘Be sensitive to someone else and not to yourself. Be tender for someone else but for yourself you need to be really strong, like a man.’ This is why the singing is strong here; he likes us to be strong, to show power, to be able to fight. To be frail, sensitive, or emotional is very bad especially for nuns. ‘How can one be the bride of Christ and be frail?’–Geronta asks us.”

He wants them to stand on their own feet (that is, not to cling to others in an unhealthy way, trying to rely on others to do for them what they should be doing) and to be bold, but at the same time to be obedient, and submissive to those over them. It takes strength to be humble: a man can stand up to accusations thrown at him but a woman is likely to start crying and feeling sorry for herself etc….to be continued

The First Ecumenical Council and Who can interpret Scripture

The First Ecumenical Council and who can interpret Scripture

This past Sunday we commemorated the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, and so, I will be publishing now a sermon for that day.  The teachings of Elder AImilianos will continue in the next post.

Beloved of God, today, as we commemorate the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, let us consider Scripture interpretation, and specifically ponder the question: Who is trustworthy to interpret the Holy Scriptures?  I pose this question because Arius, whom our Holy Fathers withstood, based his heretical teaching upon his personal interpretation of the Scriptures.  So let me ask again: Who is trustworthy to interpret the Holy Scriptures?

I would like to begin answering by bringing forward a comment of the contemporary monk Theocletos of Dionisiou Monastery on the Holy Mountain.  Father Theocletos is mentioned in the book “Anchored in God” as a noteworthy monk of the Holy Mountain.  This book is authored by Constantine Cavarnos who visited Athos in the 1950’s and wrote of his experiences there.  When I visited the Holy Mountain in 1986 I heard about Father Theocletos as a monk who is both spiritual and scholarly.  At that time he was living a semi-reclused life, residing in a house just outside the monastery.  I visited him and asked a number of questions.  One, which I had often been asked by Protestants, was, “Why is it that we Orthodox have so little of the New Testament in our services?”    So Father answered: “It is Protestantism to read the Scriptures and interpret them.  In the Orthodox Church we go by the writings of the Holy Fathers.  The Holy Fathers lived the Gospel commandments, they were purified, they were illumined by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and their writings proceeded from the illumination they received.”  He then encouraged me to read the Holy Fathers.

In addition to this we could also make reference to St. John Cassian.  Somewhere in his writings he poses the question, “Why is it that we find variant opinion among commentators of the Holy Scriptures?”  And he answers, “Because before being purified from the passions they rush into the work of interpreting the Scriptures.”

So, for us, our Holy Fathers, such as those we commemorate today, are the interpreters of the Holy Scriptures and they are our theologians; they set down doctrine for us.  Let us also consider what theology is, since this also speaks of the state of grace acquired by the Saints which enabled them to interpret the Scriptures.  Archimandrite Zachariah explains this well in relating how his spiritual father, Elder Sophrony defines theology.  He writes:

For Elder Sophrony, theology is above all an abiding in God.  It is accompanied by the saving and regenerating power of the Spirit, Whose nature although it cannot be declared, nevertheless conveys an illuminating revelation.  The man who bears this state bears ‘the word of life’ (Phil. 2:16)….

In his book on Saint Silouan, Elder Sophrony confirms that true theology is neither the fruit of intellectual erudition, nor the conjecturing of man’s reason, but rather the narration of an important occurrence which is the encounter between the spirit of man and the Living God. (Man the Target of God, pp. 101-2)

And Father Sophrony compares the rational approach of man to theology with that which is the fruit of man’s experience of grace as follows:

With iron drills men drill the earth’s crust for oil, and are successful.  With their intellectual powers they drill heaven for the fire of Divinity but are rejected of God because of their pride.

Divine contemplation is accorded to man, not in those precise moments when he seeks it, and it alone, but when his soul descends into the hell of repentance and does really feel that she is the meanest of creatures.  Contemplation forcibly attained, as it were, through the reason is not true but only seemingly contemplation.  To accept such contemplation as truth creates conditions in the soul which may prevent the action of grace and make genuine contemplation impossible.

Knowledge revealed in the contemplation which proceeds from grace surpasses even the most sublime creations of the imagination, as St. Paul affirmed when he said, ‘Eye hat not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.’ (ICor. 2:9)  When man, as happened with the Apostles, has been caught up by grace in to a vision of Divine Light, he afterwards translates into theology the things he has seen and known.  Authentic theology consists, not in the conjecture of man’s reason or the results of critical research but in a statement of the life into which man has been introduced by the action of the Holy Spirit. (Saint Silouan the Athonite, pp. 169-170)

Let us, therefore, put our trust in our Holy Fathers who experienced this state and thank God for the great inheritance of their writings—their expositions of true theology—which He has bequeathed us.  We should not expect to acquire the state of grace nor illumination they experienced.  However we should be grateful to God for their teachings.  This is also a reason to grow in our love for our Lord, since He has not left us orphaned but has raised up the Holy Fathers to preserve the Faith for us.  Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers may our Lord Jesus Christ hold us fast in the true faith and save us.  Amen.

Teaching of Elder Aimilianos on the monastic life

Teaching of Elder Aimilianos on the Monastic Life

The contemporary respected Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra Monastery on the Holy Mountain reposed last month.* He was the founder and spiritual father of the Convent of the Annunciation near Ormylia, Halkidiki in Greece. What follows here are notes of conversations of an American nun with a sister of the above mentioned convent.

I asked sister what Elder Aimilianos emphasizes most in his teaching on monastic life. She immediately said, “Joy. For Geronta (Geronta is Greek for Elder) this is the most vital thing. Whenever he gives a talk, whether in Thessalonika or just for the nuns, no matter what the subject, he always brings this in. If one is joyful, then no matter what happens, he will not fall. If we are joyful we have an open heart, and God can enter. If we are unhappy, our heart is locked and He can’t enter. If we are free, joyful and accept everything, then God continuously blesses. Geronta says, ‘Even if you sin, stay happy and repent but don’t despair.’”

I asked, “How to acquire joy?”

Sister answered, “Don’t think about yourself. The more we are wrapped in ourselves and our troubles, the more we lose joy. If we don’t think about God or the other sisters it follows that joy will depart from us for we are wrapped up in ourselves. Geronda gives examples—if an earthquake happens, or the Turks or Communists invade, so what remain joyful! When we were putting up new buildings Geronta told us, ‘Suppose we finish the building and then an earthquake occurs and knocks it all down—so what! We start over again. Suppose a persecution comes—isn’t God above everything? Doesn’t God know what is happening? He could have stopped it, but He didn’t. Suppose all the sisters are called together for something and only you area forgotten, no one calls you. So what! God could have caused one sister to remember you and call you but He didn’t. So you went to your cell, said your prayers and you were with God.’”
On illnesses

“If we get a serious illness, we should be grateful that God gave the illness to us rather than someone outside the monastery who has a family—a cross would be greater for that one. Illness is a great blessing, but we do not ask for it because we don’t know if we could bear it. Illness brings you closer to God because you are humbled and think more of God. Geronta Aimilianos has always been sick, ever since childhood, but he never said, ‘Why God?’ Spiritual people never ask that their illness leave them but they thank God for it. God gives us only what we can bear; God wouldn’t have given it if we couldn’t bear it, so why be upset? This is another reason for joy.”
Standing in church

Geronta tells them always to stand in church and only sit if they really have a health problem. He tells them to be like burning lamps in church. So most of the sisters stand—it’s a spiritual fight in church. He tells them if you train yourself to stand all the time, and to be still—not to go in and out—you will be able to; it’s a matter of training.

In vigils (vigils are between 5 and 6 hours) Geronta has set a rule of two times that they can leave if they need to go to the restroom, but he doesn’t like it. He says, “Make a decision that you don’t need to go.” He stresses making decisions decisively. If they leave church, they tell Gerontissa (Greek for Eldress), or the second in charge, or the sister in charge of seating, why they are leaving, and they don’t leave without a blessing. At first they had only a small chapel—most of them stood in the corridor—and there was a lot of movement in and out, so after a while he laid down the law. Sister said, “He educates us gradually. But even when he makes a law there is flexibility to it—he states things in an absolute way, to impress upon them the importance of his point, but in actuality he is flexible.”…to be continued

*Brief biographical information can be found on http://www.orthochristian.com