St. Amvrossy of Optina Letter 31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is so because

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

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

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

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

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

A Word from St. Amvrossy of Optina

A Word from St. Amvrossy of Optina

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

Letter 26 (1883)

Mothers and Sisters in the Lord:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A forethought for the Nativity

A forethought for the Nativity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope (continuation)

Hope (continued)

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

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

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

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

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

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.