A Sermon: Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

A Sermon: Eight Sunday after Pentecost

Beloved of God in the Scripture readings today we see two opposing dispositions of the followers of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Gospel we hear of the miracle of our Lord feeding the five thousand with five loaves of bread. This happened after He hears of the death of St. John the Baptist; the Gospel says that our Lord withdraws from the location where He was by a boat to a lonely place apart. And it continues to say: “But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.” The people were so desirous to hear a word from our Lord that when He left them with His disciples by boat “they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them”. This extra detail is how the Evangelist Mark describes the event.

When our Lord came out of the boat, the Gospels say, He had compassion on them, He healed their sick and because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. So they remained with our Lord the whole day. They were so absorbed in hearing the word of God that they even forgot their bodily needs; evening came and they had not eaten. It was the apostles that came to our Lord and asked Him to send the crowds away so they could get food for themselves. So then, our Lord feeds the five thousand with five loaves of bread. I repeat, the crowd was so intent on following our Lord Jesus Christ that they neglected their bodily needs and it should be apparent that they were united in Christ.

Unfortunately we see something quite different in the epistle. There was a lack of harmony among the Corinthians. The Apostle Paul critiques them in a very fatherly way, he does not rebuke, rather he makes an appeal, and so he writes: “I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Is Christ divided?” They lacked unity in Christ. Such a sectarian attitude is displeasing to God for we are all one in Christ. We must be united in Christ and the fruit of this is to be united with each other.

So let us try explain this today: our unity in Christ. Bishop Basil Rodzianko once gave a nice explanation of this in the context of speaking about Orthodox spirituality. He pointed out that the exact form spirituality or spiritual the root of which is spirit was not used in the Church until more recent centuries. He stated that it actually had its introduction to the Church from the Protestant Reformation. The Protestants declared themselves to be saved by faith alone and to describe the atmosphere they now found themselves in they employed the term spiritual. He continues to make a response to this and establish the Orthodox thought on the idea of spirituality. He brought forward St. Theophan the Recluse and mentioned his book, “The Way of Salvation”. He emphasized that we need to be in harmony with the life of the Church and that salvation does not come by any particular single method or path but one must take the whole of what the Church teaches and make it a part of their lives. One must be in harmony with the Church and united with or immersed in the life of the Church.

Next he brought forward two ancient writers of the Church. First St. Clement, Pope of Rome and his epistle to the Corinthians. In this letter St. Clement, in expressing what Christians are, made use of the Greek term “sumponia”. It is a compound word, “sum” together and “ponia” air or to breathe. This was a term used by the medical world of St. Clement’s time designating the breathing together of all the parts of an organism which gives life to the whole. Then Bishop Basil turns to St. Ignatius the God-bearer. In his epistles he speaks of the Church as catholic. And here we have another compound Greek term: “Katholiki” comprised of the words, “kata” which means “according to” and “holos” which is “whole”.

So, Bishop Basil combined these two terms “sumponia” and “katholiki” along with the thought of St. Theophan of the need to be in harmony with the whole of the tradition of the Church in order to describe Orthodox spirituality. He said’ “We breathe together the one Holy Spirit of God according to the whole Body of Christ.” This is what unites us: “to breathe together the one Holy Spirit of God according to the whole Body of Christ.” May God grant us this, there are so many splinters and factions in the Church, may God grant us this. Amen.

Abbot Isaiah of Sarov (conclusion)

Abbot Isaiah of Sarov (Conclusion)

Abbot Isaiah, while caring to implant virtues in the temples of the souls of the brethren with his own example and fatherly admonitions, also diligently cared to improve the outward arrangement of the cloister. He diligently took care to see that the church services were conducted with humble reverence as in the past, and that all established rules of the desert life were followed strictly and correctly. The humble and reverential elder Isaiah was respected for his pious ascetic life by hierarch Nicephorus, Archbishop of Astrakhan, who at the time was famous for his gift of admonition as well as for the pious life. He respected the Sarov cloister for following strict monastic rules; he exchanged letters with the abbot, one of them is offered here.

Reverent Father Abbot Isaiah!

I embrace you with holy affection.

Your letter, which has confirmed your remembrance of me, filled my heart with joy. As far as your request is concerned, here is my answer. The holy fathers, in other words Basil the Great, Venerable Nilus the Faster, Ephraim the Syrian, Abba Dorotheus, Isaac the Syrian, John of the Ladder, Macarius of Egypt, and Theodore the Studite wrote this one and only instruction for the monastics of our days: whosoever aspires to admonish monks, he has to himself be well read in what they had written or be silent altogether for fear of falling into sin for preaching what is foreign to monasticism and not pleasing to God. You may add the Fathers of the Philokolia to the above mentioned, which, however, should be read with great discernment and reflection. I do not doubt that the books of the aforementioned writers are available at your famous monastery and are read often. So then, I do not undertake copying excerpts to send to you—that would be superfluous. However, I praise very much your holy zeal and wish wholeheartedly that you, as well as your brothers and novices, will benefit from reading the works of our Holy Fathers listed above and may become exalted in the perfection of monastic life. I beg God’s mercy on you and your monastery.

September 28, 1798.

The well-wishing intercessor for your pious life,

Archbishop Nikephorus (1)

Aside from personal virtues and an all-encompassing care for his brethren, Father Abbot Isaiah was compassionate to the poor and the suffering. He diligently observed the old tradition of Sarov to spend excess monastery revenue on them. There was a tradition started in the old days on the feast of the Protection of the Holy Theotokos, on October 1st, to give clothes to the poor; coats, kaftans (2), boots and gloves were prepared for that day. Many poor people would come on that day. After the liturgy they would all be gathered within the boundary on the central courtyard and would be given clothes according to the needs of each. This pious custom is observed to this day.

Having become ill partly due to old age, but more due to the labors undertaken to save his soul and to benefit the habitation, Abbot Isaiah asked the diocesan bishop to release him from the Igumen’s duties and was relieved according to the request. He chose for his place, with the support of the brotherhood, Hieromonk Niphont (3), who was the treasurer of the cloister. After one year of being ill the valiant Isaiah found rest of the righteous, he passed to the Lord for eternal rest having left a good memory. He passed away on December 4th, 1807 being 67 years old.

1. Archbishop Nicephorus (Theotokis) (1731-1800) was a Greek scholar and a theologian, who was an archbishop of the Southern part of Russia. He later was appointed the an abbot of Moscow’s Danilov Monastery.
2. An ankle-length long garment.
3. Igumen Niphont came to Sarov Monastery being twenty years old in 1787, he was from the town of Temnikov. The young novice drew the attention of the abbot by his devotion and obedience, he was tonsured a monk in 1792. In 1796 he was tonsured a hieromonk and was appointed a common confessor for the brethren. In 1805 he was appointed a Treasurer of the monastery and an Abbot a year later. Fr. Niphont was known to be an example humility, non-possessiveness, he was a man of fasting and prayer. He used to admonish brethren at the mealtime, “If a man, who does not do any good deeds in his life hopes to be saved only due to the absence of grievous sins, he deceives himself, since he who does not care to obtain the temporary blessings does not receive anything hereafter according to justice.” The monastery grew and prospered during his time. Fr. Niphont passed away in 1842.



With Mother’s Day coming up this Sunday in America I thought I would publish two letters written to a mother of a large family. These are in their original unedited form and conclude with a suggested prayer for mothers.

Your most important concern seems to be how to live a life in Christ while a housewife and mother and teacher to your children. I will write a little about the vocation of motherhood.

In his letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul says: “Woman shall be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.”

It is not the mere act and moment of giving birth that the Apostle is speaking of which is a path of salvation but the vocation of raising children. This is a work, service or obedience, so-to-speak, which God has allotted to women as a means or path of salvation. To be a mother is a great responsibility and must be fulfilled in an Orthodox Christian way according to the commandments of God.

In order to accomplish this you must first accept motherhood as an act of obedience to the will of God. You must renounce your will, desires and understanding–that is, in this case your own idea of what is good for you personally–and in humility comply to the will of God. You have been a co-worker with God in the creation of a new human being and now this new creation has been entrusted to you by the Lord to raise in a godly manner. The fruit of fulfilling an obedience is humility while in fulfilling an obedience one is often subject to many temptations to rebel. This is because, as I mentioned above, in submitting to the will of God one must cut off one’s own will, desires and understanding. So if you thus renounce yourself and attach yourself to the will of God and accept motherhood as His will, for the most part you shall be able to do this obedience joyfully, without grumbling and bear the fruit of humility. The work or service you do for your family can be considered as a sacrifice and act of mercy for others.; In the writings of Sts. Barsanuphius and John we read: “Do not lose heart in the sufferings which you bear for the sake of the community, for this too means ‘to lay down our lives for the brethren (1John 3:16}, and I hope the reward for this will be great. As the Lord placed Joseph in Egypt in time of famine to feed his brethren so He placed you in the position to serve the community.” (Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart, Faber and Faber, 3 Queen Square, London 1975, pp. 346-7) It is interesting to take note that which our Lord considers a sign of the greatest love on may possess, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13)–these saints liken to our work for those with whom we live together.

You should also consider and apply to your life the following words of the aforementioned Athonite monk which he spoke to me concerning work in a monastic community: “The elder emphasizes the Liturgy as the center of our life. This is in accord with the greatest commandments of the Gospel: the first is to love God and the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves. To live the liturgy is to live for others more than for ourselves; therefore it is the fulfillment of this commandment. Everyone has a different program in the monastery, we serve and work for the community. Our program should not be to seek things we want or to have time for ourselves, but to help others without any resistance when we are asked.” If you consider the work you do for your family as a sacrifice of yourself for others which is pleasing to God then it will be a means of attaining God’s grace manifesting itself in tenderness of heart and as an increase in love.

Hope then, through the raising of your children to increase in the grace of God. Do not expect it to be easy, do not expect to be free from struggles and do not expect to be free from falls. Do not expect to have a “spiritual life” according to what you think it should be, rather be obedient and humble, sacrifice yourself and struggle, this leads to holiness.

And fulfilling this you will not only save yourself but by your example you will be as a light to your children and also lead them upon the saving path of the life-giving gospel commandments. Especially struggle to be patient, pray for patience. At the time of struggle, do not fight against painful situations and suffering but rather accept them and pray for patience. Be patient every day in everything. If you can do this then you can bear the fruit of peace.

As a Mother Your Great Hope…

As a mother your great hope for your children should be that they will become saints. Probably the greatest joy among those in heaven will be the joy of the mother of a saint. In this world when anyone, whoever it may be, becomes successful at something and others rejoice with that person, the joy is really greatest for the mother of that individual. So then just think what an inexpressible joy it will be in the kingdom of heaven to see your children clothed with glory from God. Those children who came into being and grew in your womb, those children whom you cared for as helpless infants, who you instructed and guided in their youth and for whom you prayed so much in their times of trouble, even if they are not great saints, to see them clothed with glory from God in the heavenly kingdom, what a joy this will be! Only a mother can know this, no one else, for this is a special joy which God has reserved in His kingdom for mothers.

We were created in the image of God, so then we are good, we are beautiful, we are important to God, this is true for each and every one of us. God adorned man with many gifts and the greatest gift is theosis. Through the Incarnation of the Son of God, in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, this has become a living reality for us. But what is theosis? A hieromonk of Iveron Monastery said to me:

“According to Orthodoxy the Gospels say that the main purpose in life is theosis, that is, to arrive at union with God and everything else in life is a consequence. And that God came in the person of Jesus Christ so that man could become God, of course, by grace. And just like all the saints who reached union with God can be like Him too, so we, too, should try to become like the saints and become holy. To give an example for us in life we have first of all Christ Who was the first saint and then we have all the saints after Him, divine human beings. When you look at the saints you see what holy people are, the saints are proper human beings, true and authentic, spontaneous and genuine human beings: it is we who tend to be false. I think that we can overcome that falseness in the Church.”

This is ultimately what every Christian is called to, whether bishop, priest, monk, or layman. The way in which one lives out this calling is different and no matter who one’s spiritual father is, the calling is the same. It is the fulfillment of the vows given at Baptism. But how is this pursued by a mother of many children living in the world?

The Apostle John the Theologian writes: “as He is, so are we in this world.” We must live a life in Christ. We must act as He did in His earthly life. We must fulfill His Gospel commandments. Christ said, “He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me; and he that loveth me shall be loved by my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” But which in particular relates to a mother in the world who has children? Well, Christ told us to love one another and He said that He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. Moreover, He not only preached with words, but also taught by example. He washed the feet of His disciples and He also served them at the sea of Tiberias after His resurrection. Again Christ said, “No greater love does a man have than this that he lay down His life for his friends.” A mother is called to lay down her life for her children and this is a great act of love. It is not something done part time or only for a few years, but it is life-long. And because of this service, because of this sacrifice, we can say of her, “as He is, so (is she) in this world.” However, this must be done as an act of humble submission to the will of God and with much love. Then this will attract the grace of God. As the outcome of this struggle you can acquire virtues like patience, peace, humility and love. These are the same things a monastic hopes for, but his pathway to them is different. He who has these things has God, he who lives in this manner lives in God.

Another concern seems to be the difficulty of pursuing a deep prayer life in the role of a housewife and mother. For a deeper prayer life one needs to reach a certain state of freedom from the dominion of sin. Thus a Divine transformation takes place within and grace buds forth in the heart, as a more or less abiding state. This is what it means for prayer to be rooted within a person. So pray as much as you are able in role of a mother and a wife, but do not be dismayed over not having as much time as you want to develop a deeper prayer life. Prayer will become deeper as a long drawn out process of a crucifixion of the old man takes place. As the passions are lulled, prayer will blossom in the heart. Your asceticism is the perseverance in the commandments of God, in the role of a mother as mentioned above. Above all, be patient, every day, in everything.

Prayer for Mothers:

O Lord Jesus Christ our God Who didst come into this world not to be ministered unto but to minister and to give Thy life as a ransom for many. Help me, I beseech Thee in my ministry of caring for the children Thou hast given me. Enable me to be patient in tribulations, to instruct with a meek and gentle spirit, to reprimand with inner tranquility and a sober mind, and to serve in humility of heart with love. May I thus live in Thee alone, by Thee alone and for Thee alone showing forth Thy virtues and leading my family upon the path of Thy saving commandments. That we may glorify Thee together with Thine unoriginate Father and Thine all-holy Spirt both in this world and that which is to come. Amen.

Abbot Isaiah of Sarov

Abbot Isaiah of Sarov

Father Isaiah was the sponser of St. Seraphim when he was tonsured as a monk. He followed Abbot Pachomius who received St. Seraphim as a novice and tonsured him as a monastic. Here we presented his life as published by the Sarov Hermitage.

Abbot Hieromonk Isaiah

The eighth abbot of the Sarov Hermitage, Hieromonk Isaiah, was a worthy successor of the reverent elder Pachomius. He was from the city of Suzdal[1], from a family of merchants. Zubkov was his last name. Being twenty-two years old he left the world and entered the Lavra of the Kievan Caves, where he labored for seven years as a novice.

In 1770, while visiting his home in Suzdal on personal business, he learned of the conditions at the Sarov habitation, that the place was secluded and suitable for the salvation of the soul. There were many great elders there of insightful and ascetic life, who were adorned with piousness and fear of God. Having learned that several hermits also lived there in small dwellings in the forest at some distance from the cloister, Isaiah, with his spirit enkindled, entered the Sarov desert as a novice. He was tonsured a monk at the Hermitage in 1772, a Hierodeacon on April 27th of the same year, and a Hieromonk in 1777 on July 6th . He was elected treasurer in 1785 and with the common brethren’s consent abbot in 1794.

Altogether, he lived in Sarov for 37 years. Isaiah zealously endorsed the benefits of the soul-saving monastic life and would not stop encouraging the spiritual flock entrusted to him – the sincere brothers of the hermitage – to monastic feats. He thus acquired the trust and the goodwill of the brethren which gradually increased. In deeds he fulfilled the vows of the monastic life he had taken, and at the same time he was a caring, wise, and kind Shepherd of his reason endowed flock.

Most of all he was distinguished by the fear of God, humility, meekness, patience, kindness, non-possessiveness, and love for the neighbor in the true sense of the Gospel. While glorifying God with his life he gained the affection not only of the brotherhood, who respected him for his pious life and admonitions, but also of many of those outside of the monastery. The fame of his virtues soon reached the furthest places and attracted to him many other devout monks for the community life of the Hermitage as well as lay people, who sought salvation.

While pleasing God himself with fasting and tearful prayer he numerous times gave to the entrusted to him monastics the following noteworthy spiritual edifications imbued with wise experience and the spirit of fatherly love, “(1) The foundation and the affirmation of all virtues for a monk desiring to save himself is in staying in his cell; (2) praying unceasingly; (3) guarding your body from gluttony, and (4) the tongue from wordiness. If someone neglects these four virtues, that person not only undermines the foundation of all virtues, but also invites the source of passions and the abyss of agitation into himself.

The cell for a monk is like a coffin for the dead; the dead in the coffin never move and a monk who dwells in his cell never sins. As long as he stays alone in his cell, separated from the world and does not see, hear and talk to those in the world, God and good deeds are with him. A silent person is feared by demons since they do not find out the secrets of the heart in those who are perfect if they keep the lips silent, he who loves talkativeness will not escape sin. For this reason, brethren, let us not be lazy; do not delay to do good deeds, every hour, every day, every week, and every month, all the time, year after year. Always expect the last trump; as long as the life of this age has not passed, and the soul has not separated from the body, let us hasten in earnest, and acquire for ourselves the Kingdom of Heaven with feats and virtues, and the endless joy and the endless peace, the adobe with God and angels and all the saints, and the sweet singing, and unceasing glorification. Indeed, what a man acquires in this world with his labor, that he will receive in the future age in peace, like a farmer, whatever grain he sows, the same he would reap.

Why do we waste the saving time given to us for salvation, pleasing our body all of the time of our life? What good will we get from our flesh? Shall we start caring for our salvation and do virtuous deeds of Christ when the mortal end will seize us unprepared? Now, while we have time, let us not be lazy to do virtuous deeds. Our temporary life runs fast like the water, the days of our years vanish like the smoke in the air; the life of man rises like a cloud from earth. Shall we start to labor to fulfill the virtues of the Fathers when the end of our life comes and the deathly demise? What shall we, wretched sinners do, what intercessor shall we have? Labor, pray, strive unceasingly every hour before the deathly end, before the separation of the soul from the body, before the descent into hell and bitter torments. Then no one will help, neither the father, nor the mother, nor the children, nor the tears of repentance. Then already virtues may not be obtained, no repentance and forgiveness of sin. Then Neither God nor angels can be entreated that we may not perish in sin, and regain the soul for the blessed life.”

[1] A city to the North-East of Moscow in Vladimir region founded in 1024.

Sunday of Orthodoxy: A Sermon

Sunday of Orthodoxy

Beloved of God, in celebrating this feast of the Sunday of Orthodoxy which is the restoration of the icons in the Church the first thought that usually comes to mind is defending the use of icons in our Church. Today, however, I would like to focus on something else, that is, our belief that man himself is in the image and likeness of God. In creating man this is precisely what God said in the book of Genesis: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26) Therefore we are all, each and every one of us, an icon of God. So let us ponder this.

I would like to refer to a recently published book by Archimandrite Peter, the current abbot of the Monastery of St. John the Baptist, in Essex, England. It is entitled, “Theology as a Spiritual State, In the Life and Teaching of Saint Sophrony the Athonite”1. A subheading in one chapter is called, “In the image and likeness of God”. He has a number of very insightful reflections to share with us so let us consider some. He writes:

“Man was created ‘in the image’ of the one true Image of God the Father, which is Christ.” (pg. 76)

There is a footnote here referring us to Colossians 1:15 where the Apostle Paul declares that our Lord Jesus Christ is “the image of the invisible God”. We are created in the image of God and the Son of God came into the world as both fully God and fully man, the God-man, the perfect man and thus the perfect image of God to which we aspire. Archimandrite Peter continues:

“Moreover, God ordained a most glorious purpose for His creature. He gave him the possibility to become incorruptible and eternal through communion with the Author of his life, and to attain the likeness of God.

“What constitutes, however, this image in man? In patristic literature, one can find various interpretations of the term ‘in the image of God’. In his classic book Saint Silouan the Athonite, Elder Sophrony mentions that ‘God’s image’ is discerned in man’s ‘mode of being’. He explains:

‘The created being [that is, man], by the gift of God’s good pleasure is made a partaker of uncreated, unoriginated life…so it seemed good in the sight of the Heavenly Father. Created in the image and likeness of God, man is endowed with the capacity to apprehend deification – to receive the divine form of being, to become a god by grace.’” (pp. 76-7)2

So if one, ‘apprehends deification’ his ‘mode of being’ is ‘the divine form of being, to become a god by grace’. Man becomes like God by grace, for it is not natural to him rather as a gift he becomes—as the Apostle Peter writes—a partaker of the divine nature. Fr. Peter continues:

“Many fathers of the Church saw the image as the initial deposit and gift of the grace of God, yet the ‘likeness’ as the possibility of the perfection of the image, which is the deification of man. Realisation of the likeness depends on the voluntary collaboration of man’s will with the pre-eternal will of God.

“The creation of man was a free act of God which reveals His thirst to impart all his being to man “’without identity of essence’.” (pp. 77-8)

Fr. Peter touches upon the immeasurable love of God for us when he speaks of God as thirsting to give His being or life to us. This is ‘without identity of essence’, here a footnote ascribes this expression to St. Maximus the Confessor which establishes the Orthodox teaching that we participate in God’s uncreated energy but not His essence which is beyond any created being. He then adds:

“Within this perspective we can understand Saint Sophrony’s observation that when God created man ‘in his image and after His likeness’, He repeated Himself on the created plane and in this sense becomes ‘our Father’.” (pg. 78)

This is an awesome reflection which gives us a sure and clear understanding that God is ‘our Father’. If we are a repeat of Him on the ‘created plane’ then we are indeed His offspring; He is truly ‘our Father’.

Let us think about this: God is our Father! The Apostle Paul writes: the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ. (Eph. 1:3-5) So God is our Father! As St. John the Theologian exclaims: “Behold what manner of love the Father has given us that we should be called the sons of God and so we are” (IJohn 3:1). So God is our Father!

And again he tells us: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and as many as received Him, to them He gave authority to become children of God” (John 1:14,12). God is our Father! Therefore we are His children so let us strive to become a pure icon of our Lord Jesus Christ and appropriate the sonship open to us. Amen!

1. Available from the Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex, England
2. This quote of St. Sophrony is found on page 174 in his book: Saint Silouan the Athonie

Abbot Pachomius of Sarov (conclusion)

Abbot Pachomius of Sarov (Conclusion)
Igumen Pachomius, as was mentioned, was known for his piety, diligent care for the monastery, the salvation of the brethren’s souls, the labors of monastic feats, and strict following of the monastic charter. It was through these virtues that he not only acquired the sincere love of the brothers, but also of many laypeople. The fame of his strict life spread and attracted many pious people to him who, while coming to ask for his spiritual admonition for themselves, provided him with everything necessary. Since that time, the fame of this remote, secluded wilderness habitation grew even more. For it shone with the hidden lives of ascetics as well as the splendor of the monastery’s churches. The selfless love of Pachomius acquired many benefactors for the monastery – many commoners started to come to the service at the monastery and, thus, it became more and more adorned through the action of grace and the help of God-loving people.
Some of those tonsured by Pachomius, inspired by the feats of holiness of their superior departed to the most remote, uninhabited places – their deserts were hidden in pinewoods or thick forests. There in secluded cells the pious hermits, while hiding themselves from people, labored in piety. The famous hermits Igumen Nazarius , Hieroschemamonk Dorotheus , Schemamonk Mark came to live in huts nearby in various places, each with his disciples. With the blessing of Pachomius also the well-known hermit Hieromonk Seraphim settled down in the depth of the monastery forest. He dwelt alone in a secluded hut not far from those hermits who were struggling for salvation.

The desert-loving Igumen Pachomius conversed with the hermits regarding the effectiveness of the means of receiving the Holy Spirit in this manner – the one struggling must surrender his mind and will to the will of God; to most of all guard oneself from gluttony and idleness. Since despondency, excessive sleep, impure thoughts and all kinds of evil passions come from those vices. One should preserve himself from immoderate exhaustion by strict fasting, especially, those who are weak in body. One who is healthy and strong in the body can temporarily endure a strict fast. In general, the Holy Fathers deemed it is useful for anyone to observe moderation in partaking of food so that the soul and the body would not be exhausted in the Holy undertaking. The Grace of the Holy Spirit always surrounds us, yet, our evil deeds encircle us as a hard stone wall, preventing the Holy Spirit to abide in us; the evil passions distance Him from us. Any sin can distance us from the Holy Spirit, yet, He is especially repulsed by bodily impurity and spiritual pride. If we want to receive Him we must be pure in our hearts and guard our bodies against sinful impurity since our heart and body must be the temple of the Holy Spirit, as well as stay away from spiritual pride—do not count on our good deeds and boast about them. May he who keeps silence be diligent in examining his conscience, in self-reproach, in humility, in unceasing prayer to Jesus Christ. And in an attentive contemplation of God while daily recalling his own death, the judgment of Christ, the Kingdom of Heaven, and eternal torments. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God” [Mat 5:8]; “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” [Mat 5:3]. Along with this do everything you are told to do, speak as if you are an unworthy slave. If anyone becomes weak in prayer, then he must engage in reading the Word of God and the books of the holy fathers, since reading focuses the dispersed mind and eradicates earthly thoughts, after reading may he engage in prayer and contemplation of God. Although you may be a man who is honest, kind, fair, and merciful, in a word, although you may have fulfilled all of the commandments of God, yet consider yourself an unworthy slave [Luke 17:10] and nothing more than a tool of God through which He acts. There is yet another way of humility, it consists of bearing all of the afflictions, sorrows, misfortunes, illnesses, ridicules and abuse patiently and meekly, considering them a punishment for your own sins, and do not say, “Oh! How unfortunate I am!”, but firmly keep in your mind that it is yet little sent for your sins; and ask God not as much to relieve you from your calamities, but especially to send you strength to bear them.”
The Most Reverend diocesan Bishop Theophilus called Elder Pachomius a father and a friend. This Most Reverend man, having received a letter about the coming passing of Pachomius, wrote to him on August 24th of 1794 a heartwarming message wishing that his passing from this life may be delayed for the spiritual benefit of the brethren, asking to pray to the Lord for them in the other, better life, if he was destined to leave this temporary world. The letter is expressed in the following words:
Most honorable Father Igumen Pachomius! Dear brother!
I have received through my mother your most amiable, yet very sad letter since you inform of your close passing from this world to eternity. Having read it I said in my heart and soul, “Woe is me, brother Pachomius! Why are you leaving us orphans, why are you leaving the monastery without a guide? Come back until your children get used to the image of your holy life. I sincerely regret and beg the mercy of God, may He show mercy to the monastery by your return, if not, may the will of the Almighty be done, Who, by calling you, may place you in His blessed dwellings in which do pray to the mercy of God, may He direct my life to the good and make me worthy of the destiny He promised for the blessed ones. Forgive all of my transgressions, which you feel I have done in word, deed, and in thought before you; I, for my part, mutually forgive you and absolve you, and wish you either health for the joy of the holy habitation and my delight, or, according to the will of God, a blessed repose.
Having accomplished the feat of a blessed life, Igumen Pachomius, feeling the exhaustion of his strength, chose on his deathbed the successor for himself, who was his associate, to be the Igumen. It was pious Elder Isaiah, who was adorned with all of the monastic virtues: his meekness, humility, brotherly love and unquestioning obedience to his Abbot were the example of monastic life for the brethren. Pachomius passed away in 1794 being 70 years old. Many at the habitation to this day revere his memory as of a pious man.
1. Venerable Nazarius of Valaam was born in the Tambov region of Russia between 1731 and 1735, his name was Nikolai. He entered the Sarov desert at a young age, he was tonsured a hieromonk there in 1776. His strict ascetic life prompted Metropolitan Gavriil of Novgorod to appoint him to be the Superior of the Valaam Monastery. The Valaam monastery grew under his guidance. At the order of Metropolitan Gabriel, Igumen Nazari chose ten missionaries from the brothers of the monastery to be sent to North America, St. Herman of Alaska was among them. In 1801 he requested to be released from his duties at the Valaam Monastery, he returned to Sarov, where he lived in seclusion until his passing in 1809.
2. Fr. Dorotheus was a hermit who lived in the woods near the monastery at the time of St. Seraphim of Sarov.
3. Venerable Mark of Sarov (1733-1817) was a contemporary of St. Seraphim of Sarov, whom he visited often. He was born in Kursk. He felt a desire to devote himself to spiritual life, seclusion, and the feats of the desert life from an early age, a spiritual vision prompted him to abandon the world. He came to the Sarov Monastery at twenty- four and was tonsured a monk in 1778. He chose a life of a fool for Christ and lived in the woods near the monastery in seclusion and complete poverty. He had many spiritual gifts, clairvoyance and healing among them.

Abbot Pachomius of Sarov

Abbot Pachomius of Sarov

Here we are offering the life of Abbot Pachomius of Sarov. It was he who received St Seraphim into the Sarov Monastery.

The seventh Igumen of the Sarov cloister, Hieromonk Pachomius, in the world Boris Nazarov[1] Leonov was from the Kursk merchant family, he was tonsured at the monastery, from the youth he devoted himself to the service to the Lord. He was tonsured a monk in 1762, and was elected an Igumen in 1777. He was a strict follower of the monastic wows, humble, wise in humility, a man of prayer and fasting. He guided the monastery entrusted to him by God for 18 years, he was the true shepherd of his reason-endowed flock. He strictly observed the cenobitic charter of the monastery and the order of church services. The diligent and splendid execution of which brought the soul saving pleasure to the listeners. Those who visited the monastery used to say that it was delightful to pray at that desert, where the service to God was served so fittingly and magnificently. No matter how much the elder Pachomius was occupied with administrative matters, yet, he always followed the cell rule and attended church services, he came first to the temple and was the last to leave it. As he himself was personally watchful, he held his subordinates accountable for missing church services or omitting the cell rules; he disciplined with reprimands or prostrations in the trapeza[2], yet did it with love and fatherly mercy. Therefore, the brethren had love for him and not the slavish, but filial fear. His personal restraint went to the point that he, from the beginning to the end of his life there, he neither had food in his cell, nor anything to drink as well, and ate little at the common meal. This pious life of the elder and the superior displayed in deeds, served as the most edifying admonition for the brethren; they respected his reverence, ascetic appearance, his humble and pious life. He admonished verbally as well and liked to quote some words from the Gospel, “… the Kingdom of Heaven is taken by force, and those, who apply force, enter it” [Mat 11:12], and from the Apostle, “… whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly” [2 Cor 9:6].

The number of brothers grew under him, since many God-loving people, wishing soul salvation came to live at that Hermitage from far and wide. Under his supervision in the Sarov brotherhood there were men accounted worthy enough so that other monasteries owe their structure to them. Some of them were requested by the higher authorities to lead other monasteries by establishing in them the cenobitic monastic charters. The dense Sarov forest became the breeding ground of monks for various monasteries. It is from there that hardworking grace-loving elders of the Valaam monastery of the Transfiguration of the Savior[3], the Root Sign[4], Uga St. Dorotheus[5] desert and other monasteries originated. Elder Nazarius – one of the great luminaries of Sarov was called from there by Metropolitan Gabriel of St. Petersburg to rebuild the old Valaam, the monastery, which had fallen into decay at the time.

The Igumen and the local Bishop Theophilus tried to keep the famous ascetic at the monastery and represented him to His Beatitude Metropolitan as a person who was unintelligent and inexperienced in spiritual life. Metropolitan Gabriel solved the mystery of Nazarius’ humility, “I have enough wise men around me”, replied the Metropolitan, “send your fool to me.” Thus they had to release the humble ascetic involuntarily, whom, in the words of the Archpastor, the foreknowledge of God chose as a tool to rebuild the Valaam Monastery. Once he had strengthened its welfare, Nazarius desired to again be secluded in the former place of his dwelling and passed away at the Sarov desert. Similarly, certain of the Sarov monks, when they were called to be heads of monasteries, humbly refused to accept the priest ordination, not wanting to abandon the solitary life of a simple monk—the beloved calling of the seemingly least of monastics. They even rejected the authority offered to them with tears depicting themselves as unworthy to guide even the smallest of the ships. There was an occasion when one of the Sarov’s monks declined the rank of a bishop due to his great humility.

The famous Igumen of the Kirollo-Novozersk[6] Monastery, who at one time himself resided in Sarov, pointed out to the Most Reverend Gabriel one other ascetic of that desert – Elder Joachim to be the head of the spiritual mission to North America. Yet, this elder, while loving the Sarov cloister and the spiritual poverty of simple monasticism, went to become a fool for Christ for several years just to avoid that high honor. Those were the kind of ascetics in the days of Pachomius, whom he struggled along with or led in the feats until old age. Elder Igumen Pachomius was respected and loved not only by the brotherhood but also by laypeople of high and other ranks. The monastery, famous for its order and its structure which reigned during all of the time of his guidance, acquired respect and donations from the people. Many monasteries adopted its charter along with the order of readings and singing, meal taking, and other rites. It was for that reason that the Sarov desert from its very founding was considered the first among the cenobitic monasteries in Russia. Gabriel, the Metropolitan of Novgorod, confident in the spiritual experience and strict life of Sarov ascetics, wrote a benevolent letter to Igumen Pachomius and asked to choose one of them to be the superior of the Uga Monastery.

Honorable Father Igumen Hieromonk Pachomius!
I have received your letter, I thank you for your diligence and prayers. I regret that you do not agree to send an igumen to the Uga Monastery. You, I trust, did not forget this word of God, “If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth” [Jeremiah 15:19]; I advise and exhort you to choose a man of spiritual life to edify and deter the corruption of dissension who can implant virtuous ascetic labors in this monastery which would serve to save others. However, while wishing you a blessing from the Father of Lights and asking for your prayers, I extend my benevolence to you.
Gabriel, Metropolitan of Novgorod
August 10th, 1786
To be continued …

[1] Or Nazarovich – the son of Nazar in Russian.
[2] The dining area at the monastery.
[3] The monastery located on Valaam Island on Ladoga Lake not far from St. Petersburg, Russia.

[4] The monastery in Kursk dedicated to the miraculous Kursk Root Icon of the Sign,
[5] The monastery in the Yaroslavl region built at the confluence of two rivers – the Uga Black river and the Uga White river. The monastery was flooded during the Soviet time when Ribinsk water reserve was created.
[6] A monastery in the Vologda region of Russia founded in 1517.

Hieromonk Ioann of Sarov (conclusion)

Hieromonk Ioann of Sarov (conclusion)

The Sarov cloister, while reverentially keeping the memory of their founder and first superior the great ascetic, Hieroschemamonk Ioann, solemnly preserves, as a precious, never to be forgotten monument, his charter. This contains church order, the monastic rules and various spiritual testaments of which the most edifying is the following:

“I beg you, fathers and brothers and my beloved children, as your unworthy brother and servant, may we, for the sake of the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave His life for our sins, start caring for our souls with tears and lamentation. Seeing our own laziness, weakness, and infirmity in everything that is good, may we afflict ourselves over that which passes away and struggle for future blessings so that we may not be condemned at the terrible Second Coming of the Lord for passing this life in laziness and negligence. How would we look with our own eyes on the great day of the Lord at the terrible face of Christ, shining brighter than the Sun, Who will be giving to the righteous unspeakable blessings, but sorrow and suffering to sinners? What can be more terrible, or what can be more lamentable than that sorrow and sadness, as Saint Ephraim says it, when we will see worldly men, who lived with wives, and children and worldly cares being granted the kingdom of Heaven, and ourselves, who have left everything, in other words, the father and the mother, the wife and the children and others, who are dear to us, and the whole world and everything sweet and dear in it, who have lived in sorrows and afflictions, who have struggled with bodily passions day and night, like with lions and snakes, being condemned along with publicans and sinners because of neglect, weariness and disobedience?

“We suffer this due to much ignorance since we leave what is great and most glorious and are seduced by what is bad and insignificant and for its sake. We fall away from the abundant love of the Lord Jesus Christ, and for this reason, at the dreadful hour of death, we will suffer terribly as the ones, who are lazy and negligent, as Basil the Great says it.

“Furthermore, I think the great luminaries and spiritual fathers as well as the holy martyrs did not pass the enemy ordeals at the dreadful hour of death without torment. Therefore, brethren, if those, who are great and who labored much, expect suffering at the hour of death, how could we, who are passionate and wretched avoid that terrible torment? What forgiveness shall we receive, if we anger the Lord at every hour and live in pleasures and comfort, and do not want to care for the soul? We forget why and for what reason we have renounced the world and promised Christ to endure all sorrows and afflictions of the monastic life and to have Christ-like humility, obedience, and poverty.

“We do not even care about the small rule of ours either in the church or in the cell, as is required, nor about the piety on the monastery grounds. Nor are we careful when we partake food or drink, nor about clothes and footwear, nor about things we possess at the monastery and the cell without a blessing; but just live as laypeople, who are not concerned about salvation.

“We only think about what we consider most important, so we renounce the world in words and do nothing in deed. We do not fear the future torment, nor the dreadful hour of death, nor the fact that we will die in a not so distant hour, just like our fathers and brothers have, and will stand before the impartial judgment of Christ and answer for our lives, for the deeds, words and thoughts.

“Indeed, dreadful and unmerciful will the judgment be for the negligent and the lazy! If the righteous will be scarcely be saved, what will happen to the negligent and the sinner? For this reason, may we at least pay attention from now on to the Gospel commandments, to the Apostolic and Holy Fathers’ writings, also to what is written in the charter regarding the monastic life, and the traditions written there according to the Divine Scriptures.

“This service and the charter written by our unworthiness, is entrusted to you for the sake of your love for Christ God to be preserved forever; we wish this very much for you and all fathers and brothers in this holy habitation, and pray wholeheartedly to accept this rule and keep it for your benefit.”

Through the prayers of Hieromonk Ioann of Sarov may our Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us. Amen!

Hieromonk Ioann of Sarov (continued)

Once Fr. Isaak had assigned to the brethren laborious ascetic endeavors, he then turned his attention to visitors. He set a rule to treat those who came by foot or by carriage with a common meal, —regarding neither their status nor how many of them there might be – never fearing scarcity. This rule is followed to this day at the Sarov monastery for the glory of God. As many as five thousand or even more eat without any pay or other compensation on the days of great feasts.
Aside from adopting a coenobitic charter, the Forefather of the Sarov Desert constantly cared to admonish the brothers verbally with the following soul-saving words of St. Basil the Great, which are offered here: “May you have spiritual purity, bodily dispassion, a gentle step, a moderate voice, a pious word, moderate partaking of food and drink, silence in the presence of seniors, attention in the presence of the wise, sincere love to those who are equal or lower in status. May you depart from those who are evil, passionate, and curious. Talk less, reflect more, do not be indiscreet in word, restrain yourself in a conversation, do not be eager to laugh, adorn yourself with humbleness; do not converse with immodest women. Keep your eyes lowered, be fervent in spirit, flee disputation, seek not to instruct others, place no value on the glory of this world; if one of you does good to others, he may expect recompense from God and the eternal compensation from Jesus Christ, Our Lord”.
Having established such a firm spiritual foundation for the existence of his “Desert”1 monastery, Fr. Isaak built a firm foundation for its further improvement and flowering. In his repeated travels to Moscow and other cities he gained benefactors for his monastery among the persons of the highest circle (Count V.V. Dolgoruki2, Earl [A.A.] Matveev3, A.V. Koshkarov, Count Odoevski and others) who donated much for the improvement of the monastery. The firmest provision for the monastery’s future, though, was the acquisition by Fr. Isaak of land, forests, and various properties, which – due to the special direct order of Empress Anna Ioannovna4- were granted by her Majesty to the Sarov Monastery on October 25th, 1730. In memory of this royal gift and of the special providential care of the Queen of Heaven for the monastery (which is dedicated to Her Most Pure Name) the serving an all-night vigil and a moleben as a thanksgiving to the Most Holy Theotokos each year on 25th of October was instituted. This has been observed without fail to this day.
Yet, the care to administer the monastery did not distract the valiant ascetic from the feats to save his soul. The heartfelt wish of Fr. Isaak was to experience all of the stages of monastic asceticism, and in time, an opportunity came for him to fulfill this holy wish. During a stay in Moscow in 1715 he was overtaken by a severe illness. Fr. Isaac received it as a sign that his end was near, and so he turned to the Igumen of Krasnogorsk4 Monastery, Hieromonk Macarius, who lived in Moscow, with a request to be tonsured a schemamonk. The Igumen fulfilled Fr. Isaak’s wish and tonsured him a schemamonk on March 13th, 1716 giving him the name of Ioann. The time of his convalescence and his absence from the monastery which schemamonk Ioann had founded was difficult for the brothers. They were accustomed to his administration and his guidance in the work of salvation. They were thus compelled to turn to The Most Reverend Stephen, Metropolitan of Ryazan and Murom with a request that he use his hierarchal authority, to compel Hieroschemamonk Ioann to resume leadership of the brothers and govern the monastery as he had previously in order to avoid mishaps in the its administration. The request was followed by a decree, issued the same year, which appointed Fr. Ioann to be the Igumen of the monastery and assume leadership of the brotherhood. It began with the words from the Gospel, “these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” [Mat 23:23]. However, over time his monastic feats and labors to oversee the monastery weakened the physical strength of the ascetic. Thus, in 1731, exhausted from his labors, Fr. Ioann chose a successor for himself from among the first of those he tonsured, Hieromonk Dorotheus. Having handed over the administration of the monastery, Fr. Ioann intended to devote himself to prayer in solitude.
However, according to the foreknowledge of God, it was necessary to subject his faith by one of the most difficult trials. Certainly this was to test him, just as gold is tested in a furnace, before the Highest Judge. In 1733, suspicion fell on the Sarov Monastery due to rumors that the monks were somehow connected someone by the name of Radishevsky;6 and thus the monastery fell into disfavor with the authorities. The terrible burden of this rumor fell on the seniors of the monastery, and primarily on its former Igumen and founder, Hieroschemamonk Ioann. He was arrested in 1734 by order of the dreaded of the Secret Office of that time, and was sent to St. Petersburg where he was imprisoned in a fortress. The founder was not at the monastery when an official of the Secret Office and soldiers came to arrest him– he left to the town of Temnikov for the monastery business. When he was returning, the military detachment met him along the way and took him to Sarov, but they allowed him neither to enter nor converse with the brothers. The brothers, led by the Igumen, Fr. Dorotheus, met Fr. Ioann outside the monastery gate. Fr. Ioann, surrounded by the soldiers, bid the brothers farewell, making three bows to the ground without saying anything. The tears and the sobs of the brethren saying good-bye to their Father testified of mutual love better than any words. In parting with their beloved Father they felt would not have an occasion to meet again in this life. Many lives were ruined by that royal prosecution, and the elderly Father Ioann could not bear the burden of imprisonment. At the end of December of 1737, he passed away in St. Petersburg being imprisoned in a fortress and was buried by the church of Transfiguration of the Lord, which is in Koltovskie7. He lived for sixty seven years in this short and burdensome life. The brothers of the Sarov desert, out of gratitude towards their Father—the ever-memorable founder of the monastery—remember him to this day and serve a panikhida for him on the 4th of July so that his soul may rest in the heavenly kingdom. (to be continued…)

1. The Russian term in Church vocabulary indicates a monastery that is out in the wilderness and secluded.
2. The author, apparently, refers to Count Dolgorukov, Vasili Vasilievich (1667-1746), who was a prominent military leader and a politician in the first part of the 18th century.
3. Earl Matveev, Andrei Artamonovich (1666-1728) was a prominent diplomat, politician, author, translator, and a close associate of Peter the Great.
4. Empress Anna Ioannovna Romanov (1693-1740) ruled Russia from 1730 till 1740.
5. A city in the Moscow region.
6. Bishop Markel of Korelia and Ladoga, an opponent of the reforms of Peter The Great, he accused a member of the Holy Synod Archbishop Theophan (Prokopovich) of being an adversary of Orhtodoxy and of Lutheran inclinations. This caused an investigation of many civil and religious figures by the authorities.
7. An old district of St. Petersburg.

Literature Outside the CHurch: A Discerning Factor

Literature outside the Church: A Discerning Factor

In the first epistle of St. John the Theologian writes: “You have been anointed by the Holy One, and you know all things. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and know that no lie is of the truth.” (IJohn 2:20-21) He often says in his epistle “we know”. Those to whom he wrote had the grace of the Holy Spirit, and they had discernment, “they knew”. But what about us, how can we acquire some measure of discernment? How can we know what is acceptable and what is to be rejected? I will speak of something, a facet of Orthodox life that can be helpful. Let me begin by posing a question: What is the character of Orthodox spirituality? The staunch, reverent piety which can be seen among Orthodox, not the external expression but the inner essence which can be defined as a holy humble blessed fearless fear of God. To the degree one acquires this, one can sense what is acceptable and what is questionable and so also say, “we know”.

So it is a life of piety which I advocate as a discerning factor or perhaps we could make a superlative and better express it by saying reverent piety. In Russian the word used for this is blagochestiye—for the Russian, this is a word of Church vocabulary. It is a compound word of good and honor. It could be defined as saying to hold that which is God’s in honor. As mentioned above it is “a holy, humble, blessed fearless fear of God”, in which there is peace. The late Archbishop Andrew founder of the New-Diveyevo Convent in Spring Valley, New York speaks of this as follows:

“Orthodoxy is not merely a ritual, or belief, or pattern of behavior, or anything else that a man may possess, thinking that he is thereby a Christian, and still spiritually dead; it is rather an elemental reality or power which transforms a man and gives him the strength to live in the most difficult and tormenting conditions, and prepares him to depart with peace into eternal life….The essence of the true Orthodox life is godliness or piety, which is, in the definition of Elder Nectarius, based on the etymology of the word, ‘holding what is God’s in honor.’ This is deeper than mere right doctrine; it is the entrance of God into every aspect of life, life lived in trembling and fear of God.

“Such an attitude produces the Orthodox Way of Life which is not merely the outward customs or behavior that characterize Orthodox Christians, but the whole of the conscious struggle of the man for whom the Church and its law are the center of everything he does and thinks. The shared conscious experience of this way of life, centered on the daily Divine services, produces the genuine Orthodox community, with its feeling of lightness, joy, and inward quietness. …

“Without a constant and conscious spiritual struggle even the best Orthodox life or community can become a “hothouse,” an artificial Orthodox atmosphere in which the outward manifestations of Orthodox life are merely “enjoyed” or taken for granted, while the soul remains unchanged, being relaxed and comfortable instead of tense in the struggle for salvation.” (The Restoration of the Orthodox Way of Life, pp. 3-4)

So what must we do to acquire Orthodox life. As one Russian priest told me some years ago: “You either live with those who have it or read about those who have it.” So then, what can we read? In the early Church Fathers, the classical works of “The Ladder of Divine Ascent” and “Abba Dorotheus”. More modern works of St. Innocent’s “Indication of the Way into the Kingdom of God”, St. John of Kronstadt’s “My Life in Christ”; lives of the Optina Elders and the series of lives of saints by Constantine Cavarnos.

Let us immerse ourselves in such and see what the result is. What will it do to our way of thought and how will it affect our manner of life? Amen.