Hope (continuation)

Hope (continued)

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

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

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

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

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

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Hope

Hope

I once asked a bishop what can I, in the capacity of a spiritual father, offer others. He replied with one word, “Hope.” Over the years and especially more recently I have indeed encountered many who are in need of hope. So I have decided to take some excerpts from the letters of St. John Chrysostom to his friend who left the monastic life. These letters are preserved under the heading: “An Exhortation to Theodore After His Fall.” After uttering a mournful lamentation over the fact that his friend left the monastic life Chrysostom continues as follows:

Now perhaps, I shall seem to say something incredible to those who witness your desolation and overthrow, that is, the reestablishment of your former luster. It is for this cause I wail and mourn, and shall not cease doing so. Although this seems to be impossible to men, yet to God all things are possible. For God is He “who raiseth the poor from the earth, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set him with the princes, even with the princes of his people.” It is He “who makes the barren woman to dwell at home, a mother rejoicing over her children” (Psa. 112:7-9). So do not despair of the most perfect change. For if the devil had such great power as to cast you down from your previous pinnacle and height of virtue into the extremity of evil doing, much more will God be able to draw you up again to your former confidence; and not only to make you what you were before, but even much happier. Only be not downcast, nor fling away good hopes, nor fall into the condition of the ungodly. For it is not the multitude of sins which is accustomed to plunge men into despair, but impiety of soul. Therefore Solomon did not make the unqualified statement “every one who has entered into the den of the wicked, despiseth;” but only “he who is ungodly” (Prov. 18:3). For it is only such persons who are affected with despair when they have entered the den of the wicked. And it is this which does not allow them to look up, and ascend once again to the position from which they fell. For this accursed thought pressing down like some yoke upon the neck of the soul, and so forcing it to stoop, hinders it from looking up to the Master. Now it is the part of a brave and excellent man to break this yoke in pieces, to shake off the tormentor fastened upon him; and to utter the words of the prophet, “As the eyes of a maiden look unto the hands of her mistress, even so our eyes look unto the Lord our God until He have mercy upon us. Have pity upon us, O Lord, have pity upon us, for we have been utterly filled with contempt” (Psa. 122:2-3). Truly divine are these precepts, and decrees of the highest form of spiritual wisdom. We have been filled, it is said, with contempt, and have undergone countless distresses; nevertheless we shall not desist from looking up to God, neither shall we cease praying to him until He has received our petition. For this is the mark of a noble soul, not to be cast down, nor be dismayed at the multitude of the calamities which oppress it, nor to withdraw, after praying many times without success, but to persevere, until He have mercy upon us, even as the blessed David said.

The reason why the devil plunges us into thoughts of despair is that he may cut off the hope which is towards God, the safe anchor, the foundation of our life, the guide of the way which leads to heaven, the salvation of perishing souls. “For by hope” it is said, “we are saved” (Rom. 8:24). For it certainly is this which, like some strong cord suspended from the heavens, supports our souls, gradually drawing towards that world on high those who cling firmly to it, and lifting them above the tempest of the evils of this life. If anyone then becomes enervated, and lets go this sacred anchor, immediately he falls down, and is suffocated, having entered into the abyss of wickedness. And the Evil One knowing this, when he perceives that we are oppressed by the consciousness of evil deeds, steps in and lays upon us an additional burden, heavier than lead. This is the anxiety arising from despair, and if we accept it, it follows of necessity that we are at once dragged down by this weight, and having been parted from that cord of hope, descend into the depth of misery. It is here, where you are now, having forsaken the commandments of the meek and lowly Master and executing all the injunctions of the cruel tyrant, and implacable enemy of our salvation. You have broken in pieces the easy yoke, and cast away the light burden, and having put on the iron collar instead of these things, have hung a ponderous millstone upon your neck.

Yet many both now and in the days of our forefathers, having been perverted from the right position, and fallen headlong out of the straight path, have been so completely restored as to eclipse their former deeds by the latter. They have received the prize of our high calling (Phil. 3:14), and been wreathed with a garland of victory, and proclaimed among the conquerors, and numbered in the company of the saints. For as long as any one stands in the furnace of pleasures, even if he has countless examples of this kind before him, the thing seems to him to be impossible. But once he gets a short start of departing from there, by continually advancing he leaves the fiercer part of the fire behind him. He will see the parts which are before his footsteps in front of him, as being full of dew and much refreshment. So let us not despair or grow weary of the return, for he who is so affected, even if he has acquired boundless power and zeal, has acquired it to no purpose. For when he has once shut the door of repentance against himself, and has blocked the entrance into the race-course, how will he be able while he abides outside to accomplish any good thing, either small or great? On this account the Evil One uses all kinds of devices in order to plant in us this thought of despair; for if he succeeds he will no longer have to sweat and toil in contending with us. What need is there for him to do so, if we are prostrate and fallen, and unwilling to resist him? For he who has been able to slip out of this chain, will recover his own strength and will not cease struggling against the devil to his last gasp, and even if he had countless other falls, he will get up again, and will smite his enemy. However, he who is in bondage to the thoughts of despair, and has divested his own strength, how will he be able to prevail, and to resist, having on the contrary taken to flight? (to be continued…)

The Period of Decline (conclusion)

The Period of Decline (conclusion)

Archimandrite Dimitri continues:

Such abnormality can already be seen in the present time. Of course, where such a condition has gotten dominion, there is no true pleasing of God. What then is there? The holy hierarch answers with the words of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk: “There, there is only hypocrisy.” And teaches further, “Fear this hypocrisy, fear hypocrisy, in the first place in yourself, and then, in others: fear it precisely because it is in the character of the times and is able to infect everyone at the smallest deviation into light-minded conduct. Persecute hypocrisy in yourself, drive it out of yourself; avoid the masses who are infected it, who act both intentionally and consciously by its direction, who conceal the serving of the world with service to God, the seeking of temporal good with the seeking of blessings eternal, who conceal with a mask of holiness a depraved life and a soul entirely given up to the passions.” Bishop Ignaty further points out the vanishing of grace-filled guides and the multiplication of false teachers deluded by the dark spirits and drawing all the world to ruin. All this makes difficult the life according to God and serves as a sign of the coming Apostasy.

The Apostasy was foretold still at the dawn of Christianity. The Apostle Paul in the second Epistle to the Thessalonians (2:3) says that it must comes.

All foundations of life have been shaken. Life has taken a false, ruinous direction.

Bishop Ignaty uncovers the roots of this sickness. “The further the times, the more difficult” he says. “Christianity as a spirit….is withdrawing from the midst of humanity, leaving it (the world) to its fall.” This process will develop even further. There are no human means whatsoever for stopping it.

“Judging by the spirit of the times and by the intellectual ferment, one must suppose that the edifice of the Church, which has long been shaking, will shake terribly and quickly. There is no one to stop or oppose it. The measures of support which have been undertaken have been borrowed from the elements of the world, which is hostile to the Church, and will sooner hasten Her fall than stop it.”

“One may recognize the work of the Orthodox faith as approaching its definite conclusion…Only the special mercy of God can stop the all-destroying moral epidemic, stop it for a while…” “Do not expect from anyone the restoration of Christianity. The vessels of the Holy Spirit have definitely dried up everywhere, even in the monasteries, those treasuries of piety and grace, and the Body of the Spirit of God can be maintained and renewed only by His instruments. The merciful long suffering of God extends and delays the final end for the small remnant of those who are being saved, while those who are becoming corrupt of have become corrupt attain the fulness of corruption. Those who are being saved should understand this and make use of the time given for salvation, for the time is short, and for each of us the passage to eternity is not far off.”

In order to give you our own explanation, we should still further bring forth the God-inspired words of the holy hierarch Ignaty. “One must be reconciled to the condition of the Church, although at the same time one must understand it.

‘Elder Isaiah said to me, ‘Understand the time. Do not expect improvement in the general make-up of the Church, but be content with the fact that it is left to those who wish to be saved, to be saved individually.’” He also wrote: “Save thyself! Blessed art thou, if thou findest but one true fellow-laborer in the work of salvation: this in our time is a great and rare gift from God.”

The times are terrible but Christians, being partakers of the kingdom of God, will be able to escape the general ruin. The mercy of God will cover them. And of this Bishop Ignaty speaks. He writes: “He who has received within himself the Kingdom of God is one who can have a clear understanding concerning the second-coming of the God-Man, is one who can recognize and escape the Antichrist or oppose him. He who has not received within himself the kingdom of God cannot recognize the Antichrist; he is absolutely sure to become, in a way incomprehensible to himself, his follower; he does not recognize the end of the world drawing near and the approaching terrible second coming of Christ; it will find him unprepared. No human learning whatsoever, no teaching with a word or words is sufficient for the instruction in that which the instruction in the spiritual closet requires: instruction from God Himself. He who has acquired within himself the kingdom of God has as a guide the holy Spirit, who teaches the person guided by him all truth, does not let him be deceived by a lie which, in order to deceive more easily, is clothed in tokens of truth.”

Bishop Ignaty retired early because of illness. He settled in the Babayevsky St. Nicholas monastery, on the Volga, where in 1867 he reposed. Bishop Ignaty I an outstanding religious writer of the 19th century.

The Period of Decline

The Period of Decline by Archimandrite Dimitri (Egoroff)

About Archimandrite Dimitri

A little over 25 years ago (June 29, 1992), at the age of 84, Archimandrite Dimitri (Egoroff) reposed at the Our Lady of Kazan Skete in Santa Rosa. He was the last monk tonsured at the old Valaamo Monastery before it was closed during the Soviet period in Russia. Previous to this he was a secular student in the University of Moscow, however, his habit of reading a Bible became a pretext for his arrest and confinement in a prison camp. He suffered much there, yet having escaped he made his way to Finland and afterwards to the Monastery of Valaamo where he was received. Wishing to study theology he went to the St. Sergius Institute in Paris and later immigrated to America. It was during his stay in Paris that he was ordained to the holy priesthood. Having arrived in America he was called upon to serve in several areas north of San Francisco and settled in Santa Rosa where he founded a small monastic community for women, the Our Lady of Kazan Skete. According to those who knew him, he could be described as a tempered ascetic and something of a fool for Christ’s sake. So now we continue with a word from Fr. Dimitri:

The Period of Decline*

Humanity has entered a new epoch, that of decline and decadence. And although various movements of social and religious life loudly proclaim their striving for truth and the universal good, in actuality none of this is to be seen. The concerns of people are directed to the earth and to success in everything earthly. But the higher truth ordained by God has been almost abandoned.

The first step in humanities striving for everything earthly was made by the Renaissance . It revealed to people the alluring, captivating beauty of everything earthly. And people set out on this path, in the beginning in the West, while later Russia, also, entered onto this path. Purely earthly accomplishment and development of earthly culture became for Russia, too, the primary goal.

Our holy hierarch, Bishop Ignaty Brianchaninov, who lived over a hundred years ago, with his prophetic gaze beheld the sad picture of the universal decline and depicted it in his works. He saw the sources of this fatal occurrence and explained the deep causes of such a grievous situation. He understood that people had begun to be occupied primarily with the concerns of earthly happiness. And when a person is occupied primarily with the concerns of his earthly prosperity, he notes, then the soul grows coarse and from something immaterial becomes, as it were, material.

We have seen the fruits of such a false activity in the form of the wars and revolutions of this century. When monstrous cruelty has been revealed to the world. And we must realize, wars were wage by Christian people. Not only has life changed, but also people’s thinking. The pilgrims and first founders of the American state wanted life to be based on the principles of faith and piety. The Constitution was composed to preserve that life. But the present-day sages claim that faith and piety conflict with the Constitution , and for this reason abolished prayer in school, while all anti-Christian movements have support and great influence.

All this is accompanied by intensification of all possible enticing temptations, especially through the press; and all other means of influencing people are employed. The temptations conceal in themselves great danger. From the temptations millions of people are being harmed, especially from among the young generation.

“Woe unto the world because of temptations! For it must needs be that temptations come,” the Lord foretold. “The life according to God will become very difficult. It will become thus because it is impossible for a person living amidst and in the face of temptations not to be subjected to the influence of the temptations. As ice at the effect of heat on it loses its hardness and is transformed into the softest water, so also the heart full of good will, when subjected to the influence, especially the constant influence of enticing temptations, becomes weak and is changed.” “’Woe unto the world because of temptations! For it must needs be that temptations come.’ (Matt. 18:7) Both the coming of temptations is permitted by God, and the moral impoverishment because of temptations is permitted by God. Towards the end of the life of the world, temptations must intensify and multiply so much that ‘because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall dry up.’ (Matt. 24:12) ‘When the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith on earth?’” (Lk. 18:8) The general breakdown and collapse has touched the Church’s sphere, also. First of all we see the disappearance of true guides of religious life and, at the same time, the increase of all kinds of false teachers. And further we should cite St. Ignaty wise in God. “Our time resembles the last time,” he writes. “The salt is losing its savor—among the highest pastors of the Church there remains a weak, dark confused, wrong understanding according to the letter, the letter which kills the spiritual life in Christian society, destroys Christianity, which is deed and not the letter. It is sorrowful to see whom the sheep of Christ have been entrusted, or into whose hands they have fallen, to whom their guidance and salvation has been left. Wolves clothed in sheep’s skin have appeared and will be known by their works and fruits. But this is something permitted by God. Let those in Judea (i. e., the Church) flee to the mountains.” ** (to be continued)

*Originally published in the former newspaper of the Diocese of the West (OCA), “The Orthodox West”, Summer 1992, pp. 10-11, (no longer in publication). This is reprinted with the blessing of his Eminence Archbishop BENJAMIN

**This, which appears to very dark, perhaps needs some clarification. It was written in mid 19th century Russia. Although there was much good and a spiritual revival occurring, as the late Bishop Basil Rodzianko expressed it: “This was a reaction to the evil that was growing.” St. Ignaty was also aware of the persecution of the Optina Elders as the spiritual children of the Elder Leonid has written and asked for his intercession with Church authorities. So, although this writing still teaches us something today, it must first be understood in the original historical context in which it was written.
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Take Up Thy Cross

Take up Thy Cross
It was this week that we have celebrated the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross on the Old Calendar. This is one of several feasts of the Lord with a reading appointed on the Sunday before and the Sunday after the day of the feast. For this feast on the Sunday before the motive of the suffering of our Lord on the Cross is disclosed to us: love. “For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son: that whosoever believeth in him may not perish, but may have life everlasting.” (John 3:16)  On the feast day itself the event of the Cross is narrated in the Gospel reading as St. John the Theologain relates it. And on the Sunday after we are confronted with our responsibility. Our Lord said: “If any man will follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) It is this last that I will concentrate without speaking myself but referring to St. Innocent of Alaska and Metropolitan of Moscow. In his book “Indication of the Way into the Kingdom of Heaven”, he writes:

Let us look at the way by which we must follow Jesus Christ. He said, Whoever wishes to follow Me, (1) let him deny himself, (2) take up his cross, and (3) follow Me.
And so the first duty of a Christian, of a disciple and follower of Jesus Christ, is to deny oneself.
To deny oneself means to give up one’s bad habits; to root out of the heart all that ties us to the world; not to cherish bad desires and thoughts; to quench and suppress bad thoughts; to avoid occasions of sin; not to do or desire anything from self-love;, but to do everything out of love for God. To deny oneself means, according to the Apostle Paul, to be dead to sin and the world but alive to Christ.
The word cross means sufferings, sorrows, and adversities. There are external and internal crosses. To take up one’s cross means to accept and bear without murmuring everything unpleasant, painful, sad, difficult, and oppressive that may happen to us in our life. And therefore , whether anyone offends you, or laughs at you, or causes you weariness, sorrow, or annoyance; or you have done good to someone and, instead of thanking you, he rises up against you and even makes trouble; or you want to do good, but you are not given a chance; or some misfortune has happened, for example, either you are ill yourself, or your wife, or children; or with all your activities and untiring labors you are suffering from want and poverty, and are so hard up that you do not know how to make both ends meet; or besides that, you are in some difficulty–bear all this without malice, without murmuring, without criticism, without complaint, that is, without regarding yourself as offended and without expecting any earthly reward in return; but bear it all with love, with joy and firmness….
And if when you are bearing your cross according to the word and intention of the Lord a proud thought rises up within you, that you are not like other people but firm, pious, and better than your neighbors and companions, uproot such thoughts as far as possible, for they can destroy all your virtues.
It was said before that there are external and internal crosses, but so far we have spoken almost entirely about external crosses….
Internal crosses can be found at all times, and more easily than external ones. You have only to direct your attention to yourself and to examine your soul with a sense of penitence, and a thousand internal crosses will at once present themselves. For instance, consider: How did you come to be in this world? Do you live as you ought to live? And so on. Pay due attention to this, and you will see at first glance that, being the creation and the work of the Almighty God, you exist in this world solely, with all your actions, with all your life, and with all your being, to glorify His holy and great Name. But you not only fail to glorify Him, but on the contrary you offend and dishonor Him by your sinful life. Then recollect and consider: What awaits you on the other side of your grave? On which side will you be at the time of Christ’s dread judgment, on the left or the right? And if you reflect in this way, you will inevitably be alarmed and begin to be disquieted. And this will be the beginning of internal crosses….
And if you do not pay any attention to the troubles and inner sufferings that you feel from such thoughts, and firmly resolve to bear them without seeking consolation in anything earthly, but pray more fervently to the Lord for your salvation and surrender the whole of yourself to His will, then the Lord will begin to show and reveal to you the state of your soul as it really is, to introduce and nourish within you fear, affliction, and sorrow and thereby purify you more and more. (pp. 25-29)

Through the prayers of St. Innocent may our Lord Jesus Christ help to endure our crosses and attain eternal life in His kingdom. Amen.

Sermon on the Dormition

Sermon on the Dormition

On this day of the Dormition of our Lady Theotokos I would like to speak primarily about her place in the history of salvation and just make a few minor references to this feast.  The character of my words will be primarily apologetic.  Why is that so?  Because we, as Orthodox Christians in the Americas, find ourselves in an atmosphere in which we are challenged.  The Church in America is a Church in dispersion from its roots.  We are a minority among those who call themselves Christians, and engulfed by a multitude of philosophies and religious systems at odds with our Faith.  Our Faith is challenged.  It is unfortunate, yet not undeniable, that challenges to the Orthodox Faith are occurring not only from without but also sadly from within the Church.  Why?

There are truths that we Orthodox acknowledge about Mary, the Birth-giver of God, which may appear problematic to the fallen rational mind.  There are truths which some see as mythological and difficult to accept, such as her ever-virginity–that is, physically continuing a virgin before, during and after giving birth, her sinlessness, or her being the highest of all creation.  Today’s feast of the Dormition also gives us other examples: the apostles were miraculously brought to Jerusalem, and on the third day it was discovered that her body was translated to heaven.  These may indeed be difficult to accept when they are evaluated by the mind acting according to the human reason habitually used for the functions of life in this fallen world.  As the Apostle Paul says, “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned” (ICor, 2:14).  Yet the mind has the capability to be trained to act in another way, in a contemplative way, which leads to “direct apprehension of truth through grace” (Writings form the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart, p. 37), and it is “by faith that we have access to this grace” (Rom. 5:2). When the mind functions in this capacity it is in its natural place prior to the fall, which is the heart.  St. Ignatius Brianchaninov expresses this opinion: “The separation of mind and hear, and their opposition to one another, have resulted from our fall into sin”.  (The Arena, p.85)

But when we thus reflect upon the Theotokos, we must consider her in the context of Christology and the history of salvation.  This approach is summarized in the Anaphora prayer of St. Basil the Great.  In this masterpiece of liturgical prayer, he addresses God the Father:

When Thou didst create man by taking dust from the earth, and didst honor him with Thine own image, O God, Thou dist set him in a paradise of delight, promising him eternal life and the enjoyment of everlasting blessings in the observance of Thy commandments.  But when man disobeyed Thee, the true God Who had created him, and was deceived by the guild of the serpent, becoming subject to death through his own transgressions, Thou, O God, in Thy righteous judgment, didst send him forth from paradise into this world, returning him to the earth from which he was taken, yet providing for him the salvation of regeneration in Thy Christ Himself…He was God before the ages, yet he appeared on earth and lived among men, becoming incarnate of a holy Virgin; He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being likened to the body of our lowliness, that He might liken us to the image of His glory. (Service Books of the Orthodox Church, Vol. II pp.71-3)

This is the “mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations…which is Christ in you” (Col. 1:26-7).  We have indeed been chosen “in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).  Our salvation through the Incarnation of Christ has been foreordained by God even before our creation.  So then, what was the will and desire of God the Father for His human instrument of the Incarnation of Christ, the most significant woman in the history of the human race?  Isn’t it logical that He wanted her to be the highest of all creation, ever virgin–a virgin in conceiving, in giving birth, and after birth-giving and sinless?  And that at her funeral all the Apostles should be there; and that her body would not see corruption, but be translated to the heavenly mansions on the third day?  Is it possible for the almighty God Who brought all things out of non-existence into being to do this for the woman who would give birth to His Son?  It is not only possible but it is logical.  It is the logical phenomenon that God would effect.

Now I want to end with something of a little prayerful doxology: May our Lord Jesus Christ, “the true light Who enlightens and sanctifies every man that comes into the world” (cf. John 1:9), open the eyes of our minds to the comprehension of the truth He makes accessible to us in this world; so that acknowledging and worshiping Him as true God and true Man, we may, in an Orthodox manner, magnify her who gave birth to Him.   Amen.

“Call No Man Your Father”

“Call No Man Your Father”

This title should be familiar, it is  words spoken by our Lord as related by St. Mathew in his Gospel.  What follows here is a sermon on the epistle for this coming Sunday which I hope will help us Orthodox to understand our tradition of calling our priests “father”.

Beloved of God, rather than speaking about the Sunday Gospel of today I would like to concentrate on something else, I would like to concentrate on our epistle reading.  So let us today consider one particular verse, that is, the following words of the holy Apostle Paul:  “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel” (ICor. 4:15).

It is important for us to point out this verse and consider what message it conveys because the traditions of our holy Orthodox faith are sometimes challenged by those without the Church.  And these particular words of the Apostle Paul make a response to those who would critique us for calling our priests father.  This critique is based on the words of St. Matthew in his Gospel where he says: “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven” (Mat. 23:9).

On the surface there appears to be a contradiction, but these excerpts, as with the whole of the scripture—especially the New Testament—must be seen and interpreted within the life and tradition of the Church.  This is so, first of all, because the Christian faith and the Christian Church existed before the New Testament.  And it is the Church, with the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit that, “produced” the New Testament and the New Testament did not produce the Church. As is known, the New Testament is comprised of 27 books. These books were selected by the Church, from a multitude of other similar books which were circulated under the name of Apostles.

From Church History we discover that the need of defining a specific Canon for the New Testament arose around the end of the 2nd century, when certain heretics tried to define their own Canon.  For this reason, various Fathers of the Church began referring to specific books which they considered divinely inspired.  This problem of the Canon of the New Testament was not solved until the second half of the 4th century, when the Church in the East accepted the opinion of Athanasius the Great, who in 367 for the first time in history, presented a complete list of books which he believed should be considered as divinely inspired. A little later on, in 397 the same books were made official in the West with the Synod of Carthage.

So the first thing we must realize is that the tradition of calling a priest a father is older than the collection of the books of the New Testament.  And those holy men of the Church who confirmed for us the books of the New Testament obviously had no problem with these words of St. Matthew and St. Paul which on the surface appear contradictory. So let us take a detailed look into this subject and consider both why we call a priest a father and what is the meaning of our Lord’s words recorded by St. Matthew.

The words in St. Matthew’s gospel must not be taken literally on the surface because if we were really to take this literally to an extreme we would need to find a new name for our parents. We would be prohibited from calling our male parent “father”.  This, of course, would be ridiculous.  But let us listen again to the words of the Apostle Paul: “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.”  Saint Paul calls himself a father to the Corinthians.  This is how he describes the relationship he has with the Corinthians which is also the relationship of a priest to the laity of the Church.  And this is a living relationship which is expressed by the word father.  As a father begets a child, cares for the child and supplies its needs while growing up in this world, so too, does the priest do for his spiritual children.

We see this expressed in other places in the Scriptures so let us take some examples: In the book of Judges (17:10) a man named Micah from the mountains of Ephraim is spoken of.  And he invites a Levite traveler to live with him.  And he said to the Levite, “Dwell with me and be a father and priest to me.”  Again Elisha says to the prophet Elias: “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen.” (IIKings 2:12) This was shortly before they parted and Elias was taken up into heaven.  Likewise Elisha who then became the foremost prophet in Israel was referred to as father by the kings of Israel. For we see the King Joash used these same words for the Prophet Elisha, when he went to see the prophet while he was on his deathbed the king said to him, “O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.”(IIKings 13:14)

Therefore we should not doubt this tradition of our Church, that is, the tradition of calling a priest father.  But as for the words in St. Matthew, we must consider the context in which our Lord spoke. When he said these words our Lord was critiquing the Scribes and Pharisees for their pride and vain glory and He was warning His disciples not to fall into the same thing.  For many of the religious leaders in the time of our Lord prided themselves on their position and they were vainglorious, that is they loved the attention and praise of the people.  Our Lord, therefore, was critiquing this pride and vain glory. So then, when we Orthodox call a priest, “Father” we are not breaking this injunction of our Lord; yet let us look into ways in which this is broken so we can fully understand what our Lord is telling us.

First there is a sectarian spirit which often happens in the Church and this is something we must avoid.  It is like what happened in Corinth and which the Apostle Paul speaks against when he writes: Some of you are saying I am of Apollos or I am of Cephas or I am of Paul.  This is what was happening among the Corinthians.  The people were naming themselves by a man on earth, they were putting up one of the apostles as their living head here on earth, and this was dividing the Church, they were measuring themselves by one of the apostles and in their pride each was saying the one whom they followed was the best and this was making a schism in the body of Christ.  They were calling a man on earth their father. This also, is basically the same thing that has occurred with Roman Catholicism and the Papacy, they set up one single man as an absolute head over all of the Church—this has never been acceptable to Orthodoxy.  And what is perhaps even worse is that we see some of the protestant confessions naming themselves by a man, for instance Calvanists or Lutherans.  It is such that our Lord was speaking against when He said call no man your father upon earth. For us Orthodox to call many priests “a father” is not a problem but to call any one man “our father” is unacceptable.

There is one more point we must take into consideration which applies not only to this text but the whole of the Gospel of St. Matthew.  We learn from our tradition that St. Matthew wrote his Gospel in Aramaic and it was translated into Greek by the Apostle James the Brother of the Lord.  It is unfortunate that the Aramaic text is not extant.  Any Greek scholar on reading the Gospel of St. Matthew would recognize that Greek was not the writer’s (or translator’s) first language.  Especially with fine points of grammar this would naturally augment the possibility of an obscurity and so the possibility of variant meanings of certain texts.  Therefore we must remain within the tradition of the Church and accept how our Church interprets the scriptures.  The meaning of this text can also be: “Do not call (or designate) yourselves by any man as your father upon earth”.

So then, to call our priests, a father—a spiritual father—is acceptable to God, and we see this from the words of the Holy Apostle Paul we heard in today’s epistle which I will repeat again: “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.”  And so let us keep our faith and hold fast to the traditions that we have received from our Church, because our Church is the holy and apostolic Church. By apostolic we mean we can trace the consecration of our bishops in a direct line back to the apostles of Christ.  Therefore we can say that Christ is the father and founder of our Church.  Not a man who picked up the Bible and interpreted it according to his own mind—for this is another error we see among many Protestants.  There are those that call themselves Bible churches, but their faith is built upon this man or that man who at some time or another interpreted the Bible according to his own mind.  Therefore a man is the founding father of their faith and not our Lord Jesus Christ.  In the final analysis they must admit a man is their father and not God.  But for us, by the apostolic succession of our bishops, we can confidently proclaim that our Lord Jesus Christ is the founder, and father, and head of our Church.  To Him be glory together with His Father Who is without beginning, and His All-holy good and life-creating Spirit, both now and ever and unto the ages of ages.  Amen.

 

The Elder Ephraim of Arizona: His contribution to North America

The Elder Ephraim of Arizona: His contribution to North America

The Elder Ephraim recently reached the age of ninety. He has not been functioning as an elder for more than a year because of health issues; and at his age and with his physical condition it is doubtful that he will again function in that capacity. As one who has become somewhat renowned, however, there has occasionally been controversy over him. Most of the spiritual children of his monasteries consider him to be a saint and one who has wrought a miraculous renewal among the Greek Orthodox in North America. This effect did not cease with the Greek faithful but spread elsewhere, as well.. Indeed, the lives of many have been touched and changed by the Elder. However, he has also been under attack at times, and negative opinions have been expressed concerning him—I do not want to approach this subject. But there is one aspect of the work he has accomplished that has been much on my mind recently and this is what I want to write about. I will introduce this topic with a question: What has Elder Ephraim done for monasticism in our land?
I recently celebrated the feast day of the Hermitage where I live. It is dedicated to St. Arsenius of Konevits. He was born in the ancient city of Novgorod in the mid fourteenth century. At the age of 20 he entered a monastery in that area and after 17 years a desire was born within him to go elsewhere. Where did he go? It was to the Holy Mountain.
This was made possible when some elders from the Holy Mountain came to Novgorod. He sought to get a blessing from his abbot to depart with them as they returned. However, the abbot did not want to give him a blessing because he thought that St. Arsenius was a good, obedient and humble monk, and this change was not necessary. But St. Arsenius persisted in asking for his blessing and finally the abbot conceded and let him go.

Upon his arrival at the Holy Mountain St. Arsenius discovered a treasure there. What was this treasure? It was the hesychast tradition of our Church. This was something that had been lacking where he had previously lived in Russia. It was about 1390 when he went to Athos and this was a generation after the great lights such as St. Gregory of Sinai, St. Gregory Palamas and St. Maximus Kapsokalivia had lived there. The hesychastic life which they promoted would have been flourishing there at that time. St. Arsenius immersed himself in this life and after several years on the Holy Mountain he returned to Russia, bringing this tradition with him. And this is exactly what the Elder Ephraim planted here in North America for those who choose monasticism.

Let us take a moment to look a little further into the hesychast tradition. To do this I would like to refer to someone who was a very pious fervent Orthodox man in Russian who lived in the nineteenth century. He fulfilled all of the external rules of the Church; together with his wife they read daily prayers in the morning and evening and also canons and akathists and read the Scriptures. His wife reposed at an early age and as he was handicapped he became a wandering pilgrim. At one point, like St. Arsenius, he experienced a thirst for a deeper spiritual life. you may have already realized that I am speaking about the anonymous Pilgrim in the popular book “The Way of a Pilgrim”.

One day in church he heard the words of the Apostle Paul “pray without ceasing”. He could not get these words out of his mind, he wondered: “How could this be accomplished?” So he sought to find an answer. He heard many sermons on prayer and sought out reputable churchmen whom he thought might be able to help him, but did not find an answer. Finally, while traveling by foot, he met an old monk who convinced him to come back to his monastery, and along the way, he solved his perplexities. As they walked this father began to speak:

Thank God, my dear brother, for having revealed to you this unappeasable desire for unceasing interior prayer. Recognize in it a call from God, and calm yourself….It has been granted you to understand that the heavenly light of unceasing interior prayer is attained neither by the wisdom of this world, nor by the mere outward desire for knowledge, but that on the contrary it is found in poverty of spirit and in active experience in simplicity of heart. That is why it is not surprising that you have been unable to hear anything about the essential work of prayer…The vain wisdom of the world compels them (that is, present day preachers) to apply the human standard to the divine. Many people reason quite the wrong way round about prayer, thinking that good actions and all sorts of preliminary measures render us capable of prayer. But quite the reverse is the case, it is prayer which bears fruit in good works and all the virtues….The Christian is bound to perform many good works, but before all else what he ought to do is to pray, for without prayer no other good work whatever can be accomplished. Without prayer he cannot find the way to the Lord, he cannot understand the truth, he cannot crucify the flesh with its passions and lusts, his heart cannot be enlightened with the light of Christ, he cannot be savingly united to God. None of those things can be effected unless they are preceded by constant prayer. I say ‘constant,’ for the perfection of prayer does not lie within our power….It is just to pray often, to pray always, which falls within our power as the means of attaining pure prayer, which is the mother of all spiritual blessings. (The Way of a Pilgrim, The Seabury Press 1965 pp.6-8)

After reaching the monastery the elder took the pilgrim to his room and continued:

The continuous interior Prayer of Jesus is a constant uninterrupted calling upon the divine Name of Jesus with the lips, in the spirit, in the heart; while forming a mental picture of his constant presence, and imploring His grace, during every occupation, at all times, in all places, even during sleep. The appeal is couched in these terms, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.’ One who accustoms himself to this appeal experiences as a result so deep a consolation and so great a need to offer the prayer always, that he can no longer live without it, and it will continue to voice itself within him of its own accord. (ibid. pp. 8-9)

The elder ended:

“Now do you understand what prayer without ceasing is?” (ibid. p. 9)

Our holy fathers speak of different stages of prayer. First there is oral prayer, then mental prayer, and then mental prayer on the heart level, all of which is the work of man. Afterwards one can experience mental prayer on the heart level which is something more because it is the action of God in which one participates. Finally this action can become firmly established within a man, and so become unceasing. This is where the hesychast tradition can lead one. But it requires an intense struggle and experienced guidance. So for those in America who have chosen monasticism and have the thirst for an intense struggle in prayer as St. Arsenius and the Pilgrim did the Elder Ephraim has brought them the Athonite Hesychast tradition. The value of this treasure is beyond appraisal. This is the unquestionable contribution of the Elder Ephraim to the Orthodox of North America.

The Orthodox Church and the Non-Chalcedonians: Part 2 Deification Pope Shenuda and Matthew the Poor

PART 2 Deification: Pope Shenuda vs. Matthew the Poor

There is one more issue to consider which is central to the Orthodox concept of salvation, and that is deification. I will relate what I have learned from an Orthodox priest who is a university professor. This father is fluent in Arabic and has studied the Chalcedonian/Non-Chalcedonian positions.

The Copts are presently divided over deification. On the one hand, there is Fr. Matta al-Miskeen (“Matthew the Poor”, 1919-2006) — the late spiritual father of the monastery of St. Macarius in Scetis, who emphatically taught deification (and that Communion is of the WHOLE Christ, divinity and humanity). On the other hand, you have the late Pope Shenouda (1923-2012, pope 1971-2012), who denied deification, called it a heresy, and even denied that the Church Fathers ever taught such a doctrine (he also denied that in Communion we partake of the whole Christ, and argued instead that we partake of His humanity alone)! The controversy between Pope Shenouda and Fr. Matta was very public.

From what I understand, Fr. Matta’s views are quite popular today among many Coptic monastics, clergy, and educated laymen, while others follow the late Pope Shenouda’s view. The present Pope Thawadros has not really taken a stance in this controversy, and there has been no conciliar decision on the subject.

For their stances on deification and related issues, Pope Shenouda and Fr. Matta drew on divergent sources. Pope Shenouda drew on the Coptic medieval tradition, in Arabic, which to a large degree suppressed deification. Fr. Matta drew directly on Greek Patristic sources available to him in translations into European languages and on modern Patristic scholarship, in which deification is, of course, prominently present.

This is certainly one significant difference between the Copts (at least those who follow Pope Shenouda) on the one hand and us, Chalcedonian Orthodox, on the other. There are other differences as well. For example, one of the consequences of “monophysitism” (or, to use the more “politically correct” term, “miaphysitism”) is that anti-Chalcedonian Christians (such as the Copts) also believe in ONE WILL in Christ (what we call “monotheletism”), a view rejected by St. Maximos the Confessor and the Sixth Ecumenical Council.

These issues brought up by the Father university professor should be given serious consideration by our Orthodox Church.

I would like to add a bit about Fr. Matthew the Poor since he has acquired a reputation in the English speaking world. He was renowned mentor for monastics and has written a book on prayer which has been translated into English and published in 2003 by St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary Press: Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way. John Watson, in his article, “Abouna Matta El Meskeen Contemporary Desert Mystic” (see: http://www.copticchurchreview.com/Coptic/Home_files/volume%2027%20No.%203%20%26%204.pdf.), speaks of the success of this book. “In Arabic it was certainly a key text for Coptic monastic spirituality….It is perhaps not too much to say that his book on Orthodox Prayer has defined the prayer life of thousands of English language readers at the beginning of this century.” Watson continues to tell us of the foundation of Orthodox Prayer Life The interior Way:

The primary source of Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way was a typed English-language text. Abouna Matta had packed the modest manuscript of only one hundred and twenty-two, doubled spaced, and typewritten pages into his bag. He did not open the English document because he was in a hurry to embark on the solitary life, which began for him in 1948:

“When I finally opened the manuscript of the English pilgrim and found that it contained sayings on prayer, my heart leap for joy. A wave of happiness and exhilaration overwhelmed me. How did God bring this treasure into my hand?”…

The typewritten text was the creation of a British pilgrim who had visited Jerusalem. For the rest of his life, Abouna Matta acknowledged the influence of the English-language writer and the central value of the small booklet, which he had received so long ago.

The Author of the text was Archimandrite Lazarus Moore. Again Watson continues to speak of the additional sources of Fr. Matthew the Poor’s book:

For the next fifty plus years Abouna Matta El Meskeen lived with the much-loved little text, translated and typed by Achimandrite Lazarus Moore. But in each decade of his monastic and ascetic life, the Coptic father of the Western desert expanded the primary Russian sources into a major commentary on classical Eastern Orthodox spirituality. Father Matthew had carefully classified and spiritually reshaped an extraordinary series of inspired texts from early Middle Eastern Christianity to nineteenth century Orthodox Russia.

I hope the point I am trying to emphasize is clear: The influence of the teachings of the Orthodox Church on the Coptic monk, Matthew the Poor. It is impossible to have such a thorough study of the Orthodox ascetic tradition such as he shows, and not be introduced to the Orthodox concept of deification. Abouna Matta El Meskeen was “a main” if not “the main” propagator of deification among the Coptic Christians—and as was mentioned earlier, his conflict with Pope Shenuda over this issue was quite public. And it seems clear that in order to take hold of the concept of deification he had to come to the Orthodox Church.

So then, what can we now conclude? Although from the Orthodox perspective, there are serious flaws over all, on the part of the Coptic Christians, specifically in reference to Christology/Soteriology they have been coming closer to us. But their coming closer to us, was a result of what they have learned from the Orthodox Church—they did not theologize on their own. So is it right to say: “We have believed the same thing all along” or that , “They are already Orthodox”?

All Saints

All Saints
I am taking a detour for one post before getting back to the continuation of the article concerning the Orthodox and the Coptic Christians. What follows is a sermon for the Sunday of “All Saints”.

On this Sunday which follows the feast of Pentecost we celebrate and venerate all the saints. This is because sainthood is the result of the grace of the Holy Spirit given on that day and which continues to be given in the Sacraments of the Church. So today we venerate all those who have reached a state of holiness. Sometimes, however, we may run into Christians who misunderstand our veneration of the saints and say that according to the Apostle Paul we are all saints. We are indeed all given grace and we are all called to be saints. When the Apostle Paul in his letters addresses the Christians in the various cities to which he writes he either calls them saints, or sometimes he says they are called to be saints. So let us take a brief look at this.

When he addresses the Christians as those called to be saints he reminds them of the gift that has been deposited within them, that is, the grace of the Holy Spirit, and the responsibility to nurture it. When he calls all the faithful saints he makes a distinction between those who have accepted the Christian faith and have been baptized and those of this world who have not received this grace. In this way he shows reverence for this grace given in Holy Baptism. This grace puts one in another class of people who are no longer “of this world”. (John 8:23)
So today I will talk a little about this one aspect of sainthood and that is to be “not of this world”. I will primarily refer to St. Ignatius Brianchaninov who has a chapter (Chapter 41) in his book “The Arena” on the meaning of the term “the world”.
St. Ignatius begins:

The word world has two special meanings in Holy Scripture. (1) It signifies all mankind in the following and similar passages of Scripture: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” (John 3:16-7) (“ The Arena” p. 166)

And concerning the second meaning he states:

(2) By the term world is meant those people who lead a sinful life opposed to the will of God, who live for time and not for eternity. Thus we must understand the word world in the following and similar passages: “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” (John 15:18-9) (p. 166)

St. Ignatius goes on to quote St. Theophylact of Bulgaria who thus defines world:

It is usual for Scripture to call the world the life of sinful people of carnal outlook living in it. That is why Christ said to His disciples: “Ye are not of the world”. They formed a part of the people living in the world, but as they did not live in sin, they did not belong to the world. (pp. 166-7)

In moving on, this now leads us to St. John the Theologian, who introduces us to yet another facet of the meaning of the term world. He writes: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” (I John 2:15-7)

For a more detailed explanation let us turn to St. Isaac of Syria as he is quoted by St. Ignatius in the same chapter I have already mentioned:

The world is the general term for all the passions. If a man has not first learned what the world is, he cannot understand by how many members he is detached from it and by how many he is tied to it. There are many who think themselves free from the world in their life because in two or three respects they refrain from it and have renounced contact with it. This is because they have not understood or perceived with discernment that they are dead to the world only in one or two members, while the rest of their members are living within the carnal mind and belong to the world. Therefore they are not even aware of their passions; and since they are not aware of them, they are not anxious to be cured of them. According to the research in spiritual science, the term world is used as a common name that embraces separate passions. When we wish to call the passions by a common name, we call them the world. But when we want to distinguish them by their separate names, we call them passions. Each passion is particular activity of the “elemental spirits of the world.” (Col. 2:8) Where the passions have ceased to act, there the elemental spirits of the world are inactive. The passions are the following: love of riches, desire for possessions, bodily pleasure from which comes sexual passion, love of honor which gives rise to envy, lust for power, arrogance and pride of position, the craving to adorn oneself with luxurious clothes and vain ornaments, the itch for human glory which is the source of rancor and resentment, and physical fear. Where these passions cease to be active, there the world is dead. In so far as some of these passions are forsaken, just so far does the ascetic live outside the world which to that extent is destroyed through being deprived of its parts. Someone has said of the saints that while alive they were dead; for though living in the flesh, they did not life for the flesh. See for which of these passions you are alive. Then you will know how far you are alive to the world, and how far you are dead to it. When you understand what the world is, then you will understand these distinctions, and how far you are tied to the world, and how far you are detached from it. In brief, the world is the carnal life and the carnal mind. (pp. 169-170)

The saints are those who have been victorious over the world as it has just been described. They overcame the world and shone with the grace of the Holy Spirit—this is our Orthodox understanding of who the saints are. So let me repeat that very first sentence with which I began: On this Sunday which follows the feast of Pentecost we celebrate and venerate all the saints. Through their prayers may our Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon us. Amen.