Thursday, May 23, 2013
If we would remember, O brethren, the words of the holy elders, if we would always study them, we would not so easily give ourselves over to carelessness over ourselves. For if, as they have said, we were not careless concerning small things and what seems to us insignificant, we would not fall into what is great and serious. I always say to you that from these insignificant sins, from the fact that we say, "What importance is there in this or in that," is formed in the soul an evil habit, and a man begins to be careless about great things. Do you know what a serious sin it is to judge one's neighbor? For what is more serious than this? What it is that God hates so much, what is so loathsome to him? As the fathers have also said, there is nothing worse than judging. However, a man comes to this great evil from such disregard for the seemingly insignificant. For, from allowing himself a slight disdain for his neighbor, from saying, "Of what importance is it if I listen to what this brother says?" or "What importance is it if I also say that or that word? Of what importance is it if I look to see what this brother will do, or that pilgrim?"—from these very things a person's mind begins to leave its own sins unattended and notice the sins of his neighbor. Later from this we come to judge, speak evil of and belittle our neighbors, and finally, we fall into the very same thing which we are judging. For because a man does not take care for his own sins and does not weep, as the Fathers have said, over his own dead man, he cannot prosper in anything good, but rather constantly turns his attention to the deeds of his neighbor. And nothing so angers God, nothing so deprives a man and leads him into the state of abandonment by God as spiteful talk, or judgment, or belittling of neighbor.
It is one thing to speak evilly or reproach, it is another to judge, and yet another to belittle. To reproach means to say of someone that he lied, or got angry, or fell into fornication, or did some other such thing. Such a one has spoken evilly of his brother, that is, he has spoken with passion concerning his brother's sins. But to judge is to say that the man is a liar, an angry man, a fornicator. Here he has judged the very disposition of that man’s soul, he has pronounced a sentence on his whole life by saying that he is such a thing, and he has judged him as such; and this a serious sin. For it is one thing to say "He became angry," and another thing to say, "He is an angry man," and as I have said, to thus pronounce a sentence on his whole life. The sin of judging is so much more serious than any other sin that Christ Himself said, Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye (Luke 6:42), and the sin of one's neighbor is like a mote—a sliver; while judging is like a beam. So serious is judging, surpassing every other sin.
The publican and the pharisee.
And that Pharisee praying and thanking God for his own virtues did not lie; he was telling the truth, and was not for this that he was condemned—for we should thank God when we have been vouchsafed to do something good, as He has helped us and worked with us to do it. The Pharisee was not condemned, as I said, for thanking God, enumerating his virtues, and he was not condemned for saying, I am not like other men (Lk. 18:11); but when he turned his attention to the publican and said or like this publican. Then he was given over to condemnation, for he condemned a person and the disposition of his soul—to put it briefly, his whole life. Therefore, the publican rather than the Pharisee went away justified.
Nothing is more serious, as I have said many times, nothing worse than judging, having contempt for or despising our neighbor.
Why do we not rather judge ourselves and our own sins, which we know so well, and about which we have to give an answer before God? Why do we usurp God's right to judge? What do we demand from His creature, His servant? Ought we not to tremble when we hear about what happened to that great elder, who upon hearing of a brother falling into fornication said, "Oh, he has done badly!" Or do you not know about the terrible story related in the Patericon? For an angel brought [Isaac the Theban] the soul of someone who had fallen into sin, and said to him, "Here is the person you have judged. He has just died. Where do you order him to be put, into the Kingdom or into eternal punishment?" Could there be anything more terrible than this burden? What else could the angel mean by these words than, "Since you want to be the judge of the righteous and the sinners, what do you command for this poor soul? Shall you have mercy on him, or give him over to tortures?" The holy elder, stunned by this, spent the rest of his life in moaning and tears and measureless work, praying to God to be forgiven this sin, and all this after having fallen face to the ground before the angel and been forgiven, for the angel said to him, "You see, God has shown you what a serious sin is judging, so that you would never do it again. This signified forgiveness but the soul of the elder would not be consoled or cease its lamentations until he died.
So what is it we want from our neighbor? Why are we so concerned about the burden of others? We have plenty to be concerned about, brothers! Let each one of us attend to himself and his own sins. God alone has the authority to judge, to justify or to condemn, inasmuch as He knows the state of each one of us and our upbringing and our gifts, our constitution and abilities, and it is for him to judge each of these things according to the knowledge that He alone has. For God judges the affairs of a bishop in one way and those of a secular governor in another. His judgment is different for an abbot or for a disciple; he judges differently the aged and the young, the sick man and the healthy man. Who could understand all these judgments except the One who has created everything, formed everything, knows everything?
I remember once hearing the following story: a slave ship put in at a certain port where there lived a holy virgin who was in earnest about her spiritual life. When she learned about the arrival of the ship she was glad, for she wanted to purchase a little girl. She thought to herself, "I will take her into my home and bring her up in my way of life so that she knows nothing of the evils of the world." So she sent and enquired of the master of the ship and found that he had two small girls who he thought would suit her. Whereupon she gladly paid the price of one of the children and took her home. The ship's master left the place where the saint dwelt. He had not gone very far when he was met by a harlot, totally depraved, who saw the other small girl with him and wanted to buy her; the price was agreed and paid, and she took her away. Do you see this mystery of God? Do you see His judgment? Which of us could give explain this? The holy virgin took one of these little ones to bring her up in the fear of God, to instruct her in every good work, to teach her all that belongs to the monastic state and, in short, all the sweet fragrance of God's holy commandments. The harlot, having taken the unfortunate child, made her an instrument of the devil. For what could this plague teach her but the ruin of her soul? What can we have to say about this terrible fate? Both were small, both were sold, neither knew where they were going; one is found in the hands of God and the other falls into the hands of the devil. Is it possible to say that what God asks from the one he asks also from the other? How could that be! Suppose they both fell into fornication or some other deadly sin; is it possible that they both face the same judgment, although they fell into one and the same sin? Could this be possible? One learns about the Judgment and about the Kingdom of God day and night, while the other unfortunate knows nothing of it, never hears anything good but only the contrary, everything filthy, everything diabolical? How can He allow them to be judged by the same standard?
Wherefore a man can know nothing about the judgments of God. He alone is all-seeing and can judge the sins of all as He alone knows. Truly it happens that a man may do some sin out of simplicity, but he may have something good about him which is more pleasing to God than his whole life; and you sit in judgment and burden your own soul? And should it happen that he has fallen away, how do you know how much and how well he fought, how much blood he sweated before he did it? Perhaps so little fault can be found in him that God can look on his action as if it were just, for God looks on his labor and all the struggle he had before he did it, and has pity on him. And you know only his sin, then how God spared him; are you going to condemn him for it, and destroy your own soul? And how do you know what tears he has shed about it before God? You may well know about the sin, but you do not know about the repentance.
But there are times when we not only condemn but also despise a man; for it is one thing to condemn and quite another to despise, as I have said. Contempt is when we not only judge our neighbor, but despise him, are disgusted with him and wants to be rid of him with something vile, and this is worse than rash judgment and exceedingly more destructive.
Those who want to be saved scrutinize not the shortcomings of their neighbor but always their own, and they make progress. Such was the man who saw his brother doing wrong and sighed, saying, "Woe is me; him today—me tomorrow!" Do you see his caution? Do you see the disposition of his soul? How he swiftly foresaw how to avoid judging his brother? When he said "me tomorrow" he aroused fear of sinning, and by this he increased his caution about avoiding those sins which he was likely to commit, and so he escaped judging his neighbor; and he was not satisfied only with this, but cast himself under his brother's feet, saying, "He has repented for his sin but I do not always repent as I should, nor do I attain to repentance, for I have not the strength to repent." Do you see the divine light in his soul? Not only was he able to escape making judgment but he threw himself beneath his brother's feet as well. And we wretches judge rashly, we loathe and despise if we see something, or hear something, or even only suspect something! And what is worse, we do not let it stop at harming ourselves, but we go and look for another brother and say, "Here is what happened!" We harm him and put vile sin into his heart also and we do not fear the saying, Woe to the man who gives his neighbor something dark and dangerous to drink (Habbakuk 2:15)! But we do the devil's work and are not one bit concerned about it. What else has the devil to do but disturb and harm us? We are found to work with him for our own destruction and that of our neighbor, for a man who harms his own soul is working with, and helping, the demons. The man who seeks to profit his soul is co-operating with the angels. How is it that we fall into this state unless it is because we have no true love? If we had true love, then we would view our neighbor's shortcomings with co-suffering and compassion, as it is said, Love shall cover the multitude of sins (I Peter 4:8). Love thinketh no evil; covers everything and the rest (I Cor. 13:5).
As I said, if we have true love, that very love would cover all sins, as did the saints when they saw the shortcomings of men. Were they blind and did not see sins? And who hated sin more than the saints? But they did not hate the sinners all the same time, nor condemn them, nor turn away from them, but they suffered with them, admonished them, comforted them, gave them remedies as sickly members, and did all they could to save them. Take a fisherman: when he casts his hook into the sea and a large fish takes the bait, he perceives first that the fish struggles violently and is full of fight, so he does not try to pull it in immediately by main force for the line would break and the catch would be lost in the end. No, he rather plays out the line and, as he says, allows the fish to run freely, but when he feels the line slacken and the first struggles have calmed down, he takes up the slack line and begins, little by little, to draw him in. So the holy fathers, by patience and love, draw the brother and do not spurn him nor become disgusted with him. As a mother who has an unruly son does not hate him or turn away from him but adorns him with love, and everything she does, she does for his consolation; so do the saints always cover, adorn and help the sinner, so that with time he will correct himself, and not harm anyone else, and in doing so they themselves greatly advance towards the love of Christ.
What did the blessed Ammon do when those brothers, greatly disturbed, came to him and said, "Come and see, Father, There is a young woman in Brother X's cell. What great love there was in that great soul. Knowing that the brother had hidden the woman in a large barrel, he went in sat down on it, and told the others to search the whole place. And when they found nothing he said to them, "May God forgive you!" And thus did he put them to shame, edify them and bring them great benefit by teaching them not to readily believe accusations against their neighbor. By his consideration for his brother he not only covered him after God but corrected him when the right moment came. Having thrown the others out, he took his hand and said, "Take a thought for you soul, brother." Immediately the brother was ashamed and came to compunction, so swiftly did the love and compassion of the elder work upon his soul.
Let us, therefore, strive to gain this love for ourselves, let us acquire this condescension towards our neighbor so that we may guard ourselves from destructively speaking evil of our neighbor, and from judging and despising him. Let us help one another, as we are members one of another. Which of us, having a wound on his hand or foot, or any other member, would despise it and cut it off, even if it turned septic? Would he not rather bathe it and take away the poison and put a plaster on it, sign it with the cross, sprinkle it with holy water and pray and beg the saints to pray for its cure, as Abbot Zosimas used to say—to put it simply, not to turn aside or run away from our own member, not even from its stench, but to do all we can to cure its disease. In this way we ought to bear one another's burden, to help one another and be helped by others who are stronger than ourselves, to think of everything and do everything that can help ourselves and others, as the Apostle said; we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another (Rom. 12:5); and whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it (I Cor. 12:26). What does our coenobium, our community life mean to you? Are we not all essentially one body, and all members of one another? Those in charge are the head; those who supervise and correct are the eyes; those entrusted with instruction are the mouth; those who listen and obey are the ears; those who do the work are the hands; those who run messages, who have outside ministries, are the feet. Are you the head? Instruct and edify. Are you the eyes? Watch and consider. Are you the mouth? Speak and give help. Are you the ear? Listen. The hand? Work. The foot? Do your errands! Let each one give assistance to the body according to his ability and take care to help one another, whether it is a matter of teaching and putting the word of God into the heart of a brother, of consoling him in time of trouble or of giving a hand with work and helping him. In a word, as I was saying, each one according to his means should take care to be at one with everyone else, for the more one is united to his neighbor the more he is united to God.
And now in order to make clearer to you the strength of what has been said, I will give you a comparison from the Fathers. Suppose we were to take a compass and insert the point and draw the outline of a circle, the middle of which is called the center and a straight line coming from the center point to the circumference is called a radius. Now concentrate your minds on what is to be said: let us suppose that this circle is the world and that God Himself is the center; the straight lines drawn from the circumference to the center are the lives of men. To the degree that the saints enter into the things of the spirit, they desire to come near to God; and in proportion to their progress in the things of the spirit, they do in fact come close to God and to each other. The closer they are to God, the closer they become to one another; and the closer they are to one another, the closer they become to God. Now consider in the same context the question of separation; for when they stand away from God and turn to external things, it is clear that the more they recede and become distant from God, the more they become distant from one another. See! This is the very nature of love. The more we are turned away from and do not love God, the greater the distance that separates us from our neighbor. If we were to love God more, we should be closer to God, and through love of Him we should be more united in love to our neighbor; and the more we are united to our neighbor the more we are united to God. May God make us worthy to listen to what is profitable for us and do it. For in the measure that we pay attention and take care to carry out what we hear, God will always enlighten us and make us understand His will. To Him be glory and dominion unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Portions of this chapter were missing from the manuscript, and therefore adapted and used from Dorotheos of Gaza: Discourses and Sayings (Cistercian Publications, 1978).
“Alison was witness to incidents which indicated how Eugene was “going crazy” and trying to “break the bonds” without really knowing how to do so. She recalls the night when Eugene and John’s argument about God came to a head. John, Eugene, Alison, and a few others had gone to the top of Mount Baldy, another local meeting place of the group of friends.
Everyone became drunk with wine, except Alison. “John was crying and ranting about how he had to give up women for God.” Alison recall, “and Eugene became totally disgusted with the whole scene.”
Then something unexpected happened. Eugene stood up and began shouting at John. “There is no God!” he bellowed. “Your God is a fable! If there was a God, He wouldn’t torment his followers. You believe that God is having fun sticking pins in people. Such a God does not exist!”
In his drunken rage, Eugene proceeded to pour win over John’s head, saying, “I’m John the Baptist!” Then, raising a fist to heaven from the top of the mountain, he cursed God and dared Him to damn him to hell. “See! Nothing happened,” he cried, looking at the distraught Alison with wild eyes. The others took this as some kind of joke, but Alison could see in it Eugene’s horrible struggle with God. In his despair, it seemed worth being damned forever by God’s wrath, if only he could empirically know that God existed – rather than remain in a stagnant state of indifference. If God did damn him to hell, at least then he would, for that blissfull instant, feel God’s touch and know for sure that He was reachable.”
In this excerpt, we see Eugene’s (Father Seraphim) passion to find God through his struggle with Him. He is so desperate to feel God that he doesn’t care if he damns him to hell forever, he just wants to feel his touch. Most of us would think that, this is no way to find God, but that is the same passion that later made God reveal himself to Eugene. As Alison once quoted, “God often isolates those whom He chooses, so that we have nowhere to turn except to Him, and then He reveals Himself to us.” Let the same passion that filled Eugene’s heart, fill our hearts too.
– Father Seraphim Rose His life and Works.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our transgressions, as we forgive those who transgress against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. Amen.
I have selected a passage from the Gospel, the prayer known as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, since I believe it is the most representative prayer - the prayer handed down to us by the Lord Jesus Christ.I believe that the Lord has taught us the prayer He has created; He gave us the life He has lived and taught us how He was. And this is Jesus’ truth. He had said once: “I am the vine; you are the branches” (John 15, 5). Just as the relationship between the vine and the branches is organic and the juice flows easily from the vine to the branches, in the same way Jesus flows in our existence by giving us His entire being. Therefore, I believe that through this prayer we live in Jesus Christ, provided we consciously pray and experience the prayer.
Let us begin by reciting this prayer and studying it piece by piece.The first phrase says:
“Our Father who art in heaven”
I believe we commit one major sin. We sometimes become demoralized and forget one thing: the Lord loves us even though we are weak. If we hold on to just one thought this is it: that the Lord loves us and that the Lord is our Father.
We normally say that the parents love their child not because it is a good child but because it is their child. Therefore it is a major consolation to us if we manage to consciously accept and feel that we too could call the Lord “Father”. This word says everything. It places us immediately into the Church. Someone could be an orphan, his own people may have abandoned him; he may have lost everything and feel completely alone. Nevertheless, as soon as he considers that the Lord is his Father, he feels sheltered and secure and the entire world becomes his home.
I could even dare say this: Wouldn’t it be better if everybody abandoned us in order to experience the love of the Lord? Yes, I believe it would be. You see the Lord says in His Beatitudes: ‘Blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the thirsty, the hungry the weeping…etc” In other words, it would be better if we were to lose all human affection along with everything else, if only we would feel that the Lord is our Father.
I remember once that I had asked an old lady in Paris- she was Russian- to tell us what a monk is and she replied without thinking that “a monk is someone who is hanging from a string; the string is the love of the Lord”. I believe that this is true of every person. Man is strong in this life; his strength is the fact that the Lord loves him. We were born and we continue to live in hope, because Someone loves us. This Someone is strong even though we are weak.
“Our Father who art in heaven’’. So, our Father is not just someone whom we may see but is a heavenly Father, Who lives in heaven. Therefore, the whole heaven becomes our home. Thus we ought to feel free and at ease. Once, when they informed Evagrios Pontikos- one of the great ascetics in Nitria- that his father had died, he replied without thinking: “Do not blaspheme. My Father has never died!”
Thus in this first line of the prayer, our Lord gives us courage, turns us into His siblings and incites us to call His Father “our” Father. We call the Lord “our” Father, not “my” Father. Therefore the Lord is everyone’s Father and we are all brothers.
“Hallowed be Thy name,
Thy kingdom come”
The Holy Fathers of our Church see the presence of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in these two lines. Along with the first line, the Holy Trinity in its entirety is present. The Name of God the Father is the Word of God the Father, the Son of God, and the kingdom of the Lord is the Holy Spirit. (There is an earlier version of the Gospel in which the prayer instead of saying ‘Thy Kingdom come’says: ‘Thy Holy Spirit come on us and cleanse us’). Here therefore the Holy Trinity is present as in the Creed of Faith, where we declare: “I believe in one God, Father Almighty…and in Jesus Christ… and in the Holy Spirit…”
“Hallowed by Thy Name”. We pray that the Lord’s name is hallowed. If according to the Holy Fathers the name of God the Father is the Son and Word of God, then “hallowed by thy name” may be related to what Jesus said in John 17, 19: “And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified in truth”. ‘Sanctify myself’ means: the Lord sacrifices Himself so that they are sanctified in truth; so that the faithful are sanctified indeed. Thus, when we are praying “Hallowed by thy Name”, it is as if we are saying: let the sacrifice of the Son and Word of God be sanctified. Thus, the Lord is our sanctification, our deliverance and our justice. By ‘Thy kingdom come’ we beg for the Holy Spirit to come during Pentecost. The Holy Spirit always comes and the Church is the continuing Pentecost.
Therefore the Holy Trinity is present in these three lines. In addition, we may also find here the reality of the epiclesis made during the central prayer of the Holy Liturgy. There, the priest begs the heavenly Father to send the Holy Spirit and make the bread and wine, the Body and Blood of Christ.
And thus we arrive at the fourth line, which is the central part of the Lord’s Prayer and the central part of the life of Jesus and of our own lives. It is this:
“Thy will be done”
This phrase may be compared to the “Amen” of the prayer. Because “Thy will be done” is the conclusion and the recapitulation of the previous phrases. Earlier we say “Hallowed by Thy name”, “Thy kingdom come”, “Thy will be done” and refer to the Lord; we offer everything to the Lord and this is confirmed and recapitulated by “Thy will be done”.
In order to understand how important this phrase is, it will be good to consider why Jesus descended from heaven. “I descended from heaven to fulfill the will of the Father who has sent Me and to accomplish His work”, He says. And also: “As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 5, 30). Moreover, remember when Jesus met the Samaritan woman? When His disciples urged Him to eat, He had replied: “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”(John 4, 32-34) “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work”.
I think that this last phrase “my food is to do the will of him who has sent me” is the most essential element which describes Jesus’ life and our own lives. Thus during the hour of His real agony at Gethsemane- the time when an earthquake strikes, so to speak, and everything is being tested- when He “…being in an agony he prayed more earnestly”, he said: “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matthew 26, 42). Thus, at His most difficult moment, He was the first to say the very same thing He had instructed us to say. And then He proceeds to walk peacefully, in His Almighty way, towards the Passion precisely because He had said “Not my will be done, but Your will be done”. As soon as He had said this, He turned inwardly, gained strength and pressed on.
It wouldn’t be inappropriate to take a look at our own life at this point. We get on with our lives, we make plans, have prospects, have a good time but suddenly we may meet with trouble. I believe that there is no man who has not gone through his own Gethsemane. When everything collapses, then and only then everything rises; only then does man comprehend Jesus’ words “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work”. When everything turns upside down and there is no hope, no light to be seen; when everything is covered in darkness, if this person says “My Lord, thy will be done” he suddenly receives new strength; he rises and walks humbly towards the path, towards the passage, towards the Resurrection, who is Jesus, in a never ending process. Then in hindsight he will be grateful to the Lord not for the happy but for the difficult times of his life, for his personal Gethsemane. These have forced him, through the dismantling of his ego, to freely admit and say “My Lord, thy will be done”.
I believe that the phrase: “Thy will be done” relates to what the Lord said at the beginning of the creation: “let there be… and it was so” as well as to the epiclesis during the Holy Liturgy when the priest begs the Father to send the Holy Spirit and make the bread, the Body of Christ and the wine the Blood of Christ, and ends with “Amen, Amen, Amen”, when the mystery is already accomplished. When man willingly says “My Lord, let your will be done to me” resembles what the Virgin Mary said to Archangel Gabriel: “let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1, 38). Namely, let it be to me, in me, in my entire existence according to your words; Lord let it be according to Your will. From then on, man becomes sanctified and receives a different kind of strength.
Abba Isaac says somewhere that man can become God through Grace, if he obeys the Lord. He can become God and truly create new worlds out of nothing; He can become totally regenerated; the weak gains strength and he who is dead is revived and lives on. He then comprehends that to say calmly “Lord, thy will be done and not mine” is the real food indeed.
Thus, a true theologian is not the one who goes to the university and gets honors because he remembered a couple of dates and some names and wrote a dissertation. A true theologian, who comprehends the power and the truth in our Lord’s teachings, is the one who says when in trouble: ‘not mine, but your will be done’. Then the entire Lord enters in him, makes him a theologian, makes him God through Grace and enables him to walk forward in Jesus Christ. And just as the risen Lord walked through closed doors, similarly this weak man, who has become all powerful with the Grace of the Lord, gets on with his life irrespective of whether the problems have been solved or not.
Therefore, if we happen to face difficulties, let’s talk to the Lord honestly, in any way we wish, because the Lord is our Father. But in the end let us say: “My Lord, I do not know what to do. You do. You love them more than me and they belong to you more than they belong to me. Let thy will be done. If your will seems to be like a catastrophe on the outset, let it be catastrophic”. Any catastrophe from God is better than any success achieved through human effort. The latter creates a true mess and a real disaster. Thus ‘thy will be done’ is the phrase which feeds and elevates us to another place.
“On earth as it is in heaven”
St John Chrysostom says that Jesus makes everyone responsible for the deliverance of the whole world. It doesn’t say: “Lord, let thy will be done in my life” but, “let thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.
Once I visited the island of Kos to meet an old lady. She told me: ‘I do not know how to read and write; I do not even know how to recite the Lord’s Prayer or the Creed of Faith. Nevertheless, every night before bed, I cross myself and beg the Lord to let the world wake up well. “Am I doing well?” “Yes, you are”, I said to her.
See, the old woman had uncovered the essence of this prayer. Because she lived her life in Church and the Lord’s grace was flowing in her existence silently, just as the vine juice flows into the branches, she did what was right without having ever learnt to read or write.
“Give us this day our daily bread”,
When we finally become able to reach our own Gethsemane and say during our most difficult moment, ‘Lord, thy will be done’ without distress, or indignation, but calmly and resolutely, then I do believe that our spiritual stomach is ready to digest the real food. And that is our Lord, Jesus Christ.” I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eats of this bread, he shall live forever” (John 6, 51). I am the real bread, the living bread which came down from heaven. If one eats it, one will live forever and will not die; He already experiences eternal life while still living this life.
What does Jesus mean when He says ‘give us this day our daily bread’? The Holy Fathers explain that ‘daily’ bread means the bread which has to do with man’s existence or the bread for the next day. ‘Next day’ means the forthcoming eon, the kingdom of heaven. Thus, we are praying so that the Lord makes us worthy of the ‘eternal life’, of the heavenly bread, i.e. Jesus Christ, and to offer Him to us- the real food- from this life. So, we wish to be able to feed on the bread of the angels, the bread of ‘the next day’, the bread of the eternal life and of the kingdom of heaven.
“And forgive us our transgressions, as we forgive those who transgress against us”
Let us remember the prayer the Lord offered for those who crucified Him: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23, 34). There was no excuse for what they did; but the Lord found one for them.Namely that they do not know what they are doing.
“Forgive us our transgressions, as we forgive those who transgress against us”.
This phrase is somehow more demanding. Jesus does not implore us to beg the Lord to help us forgive the others; instead, we are telling the Lord that we have forgiven them anyway. St Gregory of Nyssa says that it is as if we are asking Lord, the Father, to notice our exemplary behavior and forgive us too.
If by any chance we do not show forgiveness, there is nothing anymore to be done; Jesus Christ was clear on this: “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6, 15). We may be attending religious classes and spiritual meetings, may go to church, may take the Holy Communion, may have advanced in spiritual life, may even perform miracles and yet not show forgiveness. If we do not show forgiveness, everything was done in vain.
Let us remember what St Kosmas Aitolos was preaching to the people: ‘I am distressed because I do not have the time to see each one of you individually, so that you can confess to me, tell me your troubles and to console you with words provided by the Lord. So, because I cannot see you individually, I have a number of things which you must obey. If you obey, you will do well. The first thing is: “forgive your enemies”’.
In order to help them understand what he meant, he told them a story. “Two people came to me to confess, Peter and Paul. Paul said to me: ‘Holy father, I am following the Lord’s path ever since I was a boy. I have done many good deeds, I am praying, I give alms, I have built churches and monasteries. I only have one weakness. I cannot forgive my enemies’. I have decided that this man is to go straight to hell and gave instructions to throw his body to the dogs when he dies. After a short while, Paul comes to me and says: ‘I have not followed the straight path ever since I was young. I have stolen things, I have dishonored women, I have killed people, and I have burnt down churches and monasteries. In other words, I have been acting as if I was possessed. I only do one thing: I forgive my enemies’.
And St Kosmas concluded: “I put my arms around his neck and kissed him. I also instructed him to receive the Holy Communion in three days”.
Peter, who did so many good deeds, has defiled everything with his refusal to offer forgiveness. Just like a small piece of dirt taints a hundred kilos of flour. On the other hand, Paul was forgiving even though he had committed so many atrocities. His forgiveness acted like the candle which burnt all of his evil deeds. Occasionally, instead of giving off Christ’s fragrance, our lives seem to smell badly and we do not know why. Therefore, we ought to offer forgiveness without holding a grudge against anyone. Unless we do this all our goodness and our good deeds have been in vain. That’s why the Lord says: “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses”. The tiniest thing can help us win the kingdom of God and the tiniest thing can taint our entire lives.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one”
On the one hand we say ‘lead us not into temptation’ and on the other James the Apostle implores us thus: ‘Count it all joy, my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1, 2). Our Holy Fathers solved the riddle for us. St Maximus the Confessor explains that there are two kinds of temptations: One the one hand, there are the hedonistic pleasures which are voluntary and lead one to commit a sin. We pray to the Lord to help us resist such temptations. On the other hand, there are temptations and tribulations which are involuntary and painful; these target our hedonistic tendencies and stop us from sinning. Therefore, we are praying to the Lord to help us resist the first kind of temptations which are hedonistic and voluntary. On the other hand, we are asking for help in accepting the second kind of temptations with pleasure since they cause knowledge and humility and the presence of the Grace of the Holy Spirit. Remember what the book ‘Gerontiko’ says: Take away the temptations and no one is saved.
“Deliver us from the evil one”. This is the last phrase of the prayer. The first one was ‘Our Father’. The lord is the first and foremost reality and the evil one is the last. We walk on a tight rope between the Lord and the devil throughout our lives. The devil did not leave anyone untouched; neither the first Adam in Paradise, nor the second Adam, Jesus Christ, when He went out in the desert. Our Lord, speaking of the devil, said: ‘This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9, 29). In other words, we cannot be delivered from the devil save through prayer and fasting. The devil does not leave us in peace even if we use reasoning against him, just as cancer is not cured with aspirin. A monk says that the greatest lawyer cannot win his case against the devil. That’s why we ought never to start a conversation with the evil one. We just ignore him.
The whole issue in spiritual life is to acquire spiritual discernment in order to be able to differentiate between something which comes from God and something which doesn’t. Here one might say: I am a weak person. How can I acquire discernment?
I believe that things become much simpler if we come to comprehend The Lord’s Prayer. Let us begin from the last point. If we forgive our enemies without reservations; if we feed on the heavenly bread; if we say “Lord, thy will be done” during difficult moments; if we experience the Lord as our Father, then even though we are weak, we will become very strong at the same time. If on the contrary, we always do what we want and we do not give forgiveness, we will turn devil into a lion, even though he is like a small ant; then he will be impossible to overcome.
In other words, a weak man becomes all powerful in the face of the devil if he constantly prays that the Lord’s will be done and if he offers forgiveness without a second thought. Such a man forgives those who trample on him and does not hold a grudge against anyone. Instead he prays: ‘never mind, the Lord is great. Let His will be done. I myself know nothing.’ Thus, he is able to walk away from trouble unscathed.
Remember when Jesus was in agony at Gethsemane and prayed more earnestly, He had said: ‘not my will, but Thy will be done’. Then as soon as He had uttered these words “there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him” (Luke 22, 43). Similarly, in the desert, as soon as He had said: “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’”, the devil left him, “and behold, angels came and were ministering to him” (Matthew 4, 10-11). The same thing happens to us. Spiritual discernment descends upon us and angels come to our assistance if we pray in this way and if we live this kind of life. We will be able to perceive the assistance by the angels. We will be able to experience the kingdom of heaven from this life. We will also be warranted to say that our lives have become ‘angel assisted’ ( angeloktisti) and ‘ God protected’ ( Theoskepasti). Man, even though weak, becomes all powerful with the grace of The Lord.
by Archimandrite Vassileios,
ex Abbot of the Iveron Monastery
«Ο καθηγιασμένος γάμος, ο πειθαρχημένος, ο χωρίς διαστροφήν, διατηρεί τον άνθρωπον φυσικώς και ηθικώς, ενώ πάσα άλλη μορφή σαρκικής απολαύσεως, έστω και υπό ονειρώδη μόνον μορφήν, διαφθείρει ολόκληρον τον άνθρωπον ήτοι την ψυχήν και το σώμα» «Όσο μεγαλύτερη η αγάπη τόσο μεγαλύτερη η οδύνη της ψυχής. Όσο πληρέστερη η αγάπη τόσο πληρέστερη η γνώση. Όσο πιο φλογερή η αγάπη τόσο πιο πύρινη η προσευχή. Όσο τελειότερη η αγάπη, τόσο αγιότερος ο βίος» «Η Χριστιανική διακονία συνεπάγεται ευσπλαχνία αγάπης. Είναι αναγκαίο ή να δεχθούμε μέσα στην καρδιά μας τις δυσκολίες και τη θλίψη αυτών που προσέρχονται σε εμάς ή αλλιώς να εισέλθουμε εμείς στην καρδιά, στα βάσανά τους, να ταυτισθούμε μαζί τους.» *** «Κατά την διάρκεια της προσευχής υπέρ των ανθρώπων η καρδιά αισθάνεται μερικές φορές την πνευματική ή την ψυχική κατάσταση εκείνων για τους οποίους απευθύνει στο Θεό την προσευχή. Αγαπητοί μου αδελφοί και αδελφές, ανοίξτε την καρδιά σας, για να χαράξει εκεί το Αγιο Πνεύμα την εικόνα του Χριστού. Τότε θα γίνετε σιγά-σιγά ικανοί να έχετε μέσα σας τη χαρά και το πένθος, το θάνατο και την ανάσταση. Κοιτάξτε το μεγαλειώδες θέαμα που ο Θεός μας φανέρωσε στη δημιουργία του κόσμου, στην κατασκευή του ανθρώπου «κατ' εικόνα και καθ' ομοίωσιν» Του. Εκείνο που αναζητούμε δεν περιορίζεται στη μικρή μας καθημερινή ζωή. Αναζητούμε να είμαστε με τον Θεό και να αποκτήσουμε μέσα μας τη ζωή σε όλο το πλάτος, το κοσμικό και το θείο. Για την Ορθόδοξη Εκκλησία η σωτηρία του ανθρώπου είναι η θέωσή του. Μην έχετε υπερβολική εμπιστοσύνη στην ανώτερη μόρφωση που αποκτήσατε στον κόσμο. Ο πολιτισμός στον οποίο ζούμε είναι κουλτούρα της πτώσεως. Τι σημαίνει σωτηρία; Ο θάνατος του σώματος είναι άραγε η προϋπόθεση για την είσοδο στη Βασιλεία του Χριστού; Πως μπορούμε να αναπτύξουμε την ικανότητά μας να ζούμε σύμφωνα με τις εντολές του Χριστού, σύμφωνα με το Αγιο Πνεύμα; Ενα μόνο έχει σημασία: να φυλάξουμε την ένταση της προσευχής και της μετάνοιας. Τότε ο θάνατος δε θα είναι ρήξη, αλλά μετάβαση στη Βασιλεία, για την οποία θα έχουμε ετοιμασθεί με την κοινωνία του Σώματος και του Αίματος του Χριστού, με την προσευχή και την επίκληση του Ονόματός Του: «Κύριε, Ιησού Χριστέ, ο θεός ημών, ελέησον ημάς και τον κόσμον Σου». *** «Η απελπισία είναι η απώλεια της συνειδήσεως ότι ο θεός θέλει να μας δώσει την αιώνεια ζωή. Ο κόσμος ζει στην απελπισία. Οι άνθρωποι έχουν καταδικάσει οι ίδιοι τον εαυτό τους στο θάνατο. Πρέπει να παλέψουμε σώμα προς σώμα με την ακηδία.» «Καταξίωσον, Κύριε, εν τη ημέρα ταύτη αναμαρτήτους φυλαχθήναι ημάς». Πολλές φορές επανέλαβα αυτή την προσευχή της Εκκλησίας. Η επί γης αναμάρτητη ζωή μας ανοίγει τις πύλες του Ουρανού. Δεν είναι ο πλούτος των γνώσεων που σώζει τον άνθρωπο. Είναι η αναμάρτητη ζωή που μας προετοιμάζει για τη ζωή με τον Θεό στο μέλλοντα αιώνα. Η χάρη του Αγίου Πνεύματος μας διδάσκει τις αιώνειες αλήθειες κατά το μέτρο που ζούμε σύμφωνα με τις εντολές: «Αγαπήσεις τον Θεό σου, τον Δημιουργό σου, με όλο το είναι σου και αγαπήσεις τον πλησίον σου ως σεαυτόν». Ναί, κρατείτε πάντοτε αυτές τις εντολές. «Ποια στάση να κρατάμε στην εκκλησία; Πρέπει να στεκόμαστε με ένταση και αυτοσυγκέντρωση. Να έχουμε ένταση, δηλαδή μεγάλη προσοχή, ώστε να μην διαχέεται ο νους μας με επιφανειακά πράγματα και αλλότριες σκέψεις.» «Οι πιστεύοντες εις τον Χριστόν διά πίστεως ελευθέρας πάσης αμφιβολίας ως Θεόν δημιουργόν και Θεόν σωτήρα ημών, εν παραφορά μετανοίας, λαμβάνουν πείραν και του Αδου και της Αναστάσεως, πρίν ή γευθούν του σωματικού θανάτου».
Ω Θείε Γολγοθά, αγιασμένε με το αίμα του Χρίστου! Σε παρακαλούμε, πες μας πόσες χιλιάδες αμαρτωλών με την Χάρη του Χρίστου, την μετάνοια και τα δάκρυα καθάρισες και γέμισες τον νυμφώνα του Παραδείσου; Ω! με τηναγάπη σου την άρρητη, Χριστέ Βασιλιά, με την Χάρη Σου όλα τα ουράνια παλάτια γέμισες από μετανοούντας αμαρτωλούς. Συ και εδώ κάτω όλους ελεείς και σώζεις. Και ποιος μπορεί αντάξια να Σε ευχαρίστηση, έστω κι αν είχε Αγγελικό νουν; Αμαρτωλοί, ελατέ γρήγορα. Ό Άγιος Γολγοθάς είναι ανοικτός και ο Χριστός εύσπλαχνος. Προσπέσετε προς Αυτόν και φιλήσετε τα άγια Του πόδια. Μόνον Αυτός σαν εύσπλαχνος μπορεί να γιατρέψη τις πληγές σας! "Ω, θα είμαστε ευτυχείς, όταν ο πολυεύσπλαχνος Χριστός μας αξίωση με μεγάλη ταπείνωση και φόβο Θεού και καυτά δάκρυα να πλύνωμε τα πανάχραντα Του πόδια και με αγάπη να τα φιλήσουμε! Τότε ο Χριστός εύσπλαχνος θα ευδοκήση να πλύνη τις αμαρτίες μας και θα μας άνοιξη τις πόρτες του Παραδείσου, όπου με μεγάλη χαρά, μαζί με τους Αρχαγγέλους και Αγγέλους, τα Χερουβείμ και τα Σεραφείμ και με όλους τους Αγίους, αιώνια θα δοξάζωμεν τον Σωτήρα του κόσμου, τον γλυκύτατο Ιησού Χριστό, τον Αμνό του Θεού μαζί με τον Πατέρα και το Άγιο Πνεύμα, την Όμοούσιο και αδιαίρετο Τριάδα.
Ιερομόναχος Τυχών - Άγιον Όρος
Όταν ο άνθρωπος πονάη για τον συνάνθρωπό του, ο Θεός κατά κάποιον τρόπο συγκινείται, χαίρεται, γιατί ο άνθρωπος αυτός, με την αγάπη που έχει, συγγενεύει μαζί Του, και του δίνει θεία παρηγοριά. Αλλιώς δεν θα μπορούσε να αντέξη τον πόνο για τον συνάνθρωπό του.
- Γέροντα, πως μπορείς να νιώσης τον πόνο των άλλων;
- Όταν έχης κι εσύ κάποιον πόνο, σκέφτεσαι τον πόνο του άλλου, έρχεσαι στην θέση του και πονάς πιο πολύ για ‘κείνον. Ο πόνος ο δικός σου δηλαδή σε βοηθάει να καταλάβης τον πόνο των άλλων. Και όταν δέχεσαι με χαρά τον δικό σου πόνο, δίνεις στους πονεμένους παρηγοριά.
Πάντως άλλο είναι να μαθαίνης ότι αρρώστησε κάποιος και άλλο είναι να αρρωσταίνης ο ίδιος. Τότε καταλαβαίνεις τον άρρωστο. Άκουγα «χημειοθεραπείες» και νόμιζα ότι είναι «χυμοθεραπείες», δηλαδή ότι κάνουν στους καρκινοπαθείς θεραπεία με χυμούς, με φυσικές τροφές! Που να ξέρω; Τώρα όμως κατάλαβα τι ταλαιπωρία είναι.
- Οι χημειοθεραπείες, Γέροντα, είναι πιο δύσκολες από τις ακτινοβολίες;
- Πιο δύσκολες; Όλα, και οι ακτινοβολίες και οι χημιοθεραπείες είναι... Το χειρότερο είναι που σου κόβουν την όρεξη· ενώ πρέπει να φας καλά, δεν μπορείς να φας καθόλου. Και οι γιατροί σου λένε: «Πρέπει να τρως». Εμ, πως να φας, αφού όλα αυτά σου κόβουν την όρεξη και σε κάνουν πτώμα! Όταν έκανα ακτινοβολίες, ενώ καιγόμουν, δεν μπορούσα να πιω καθόλου νερό. Μου ερχόταν να κάνω εμετό, αισθανόμουν απέχθεια ακόμη και για το νερό.
- Γέροντα, αν κάνατε λίγο νωρίτερα την εγχείρηση...
- Τι νωρίτερα; Εγώ δεν κάνω προσευχή να περάση, γιατί έτσι συμπάσχω με τον κόσμο που υποφέρει. Καταλαβαίνω πιο πολύ τους πονεμένους και συμμετέχω στον πόνο τους. Άλλωστε και εμένα με ωφελεί πνευματικά. Ζητάω μόνο να μπορώ λίγο να εξυπηρετούμαι και να εξυπηρετώ. Ό,τι θέλει όμως ο Θεός.
Όταν έχης κάποιο πρόβλημα στην υγεία σου και δεν σε απασχολή αυτό, τότε έχεις κατά κάποιον τρόπο το δικαίωμα να παρακαλής τον Θεό να βελτιώση την κατάσταση της υγείας των άλλων. Αλλά και όποιος δεν έχει δικό του πόνο, ας πονάη τουλάχιστον γι’ αυτούς που πονούν. «Να πάρω τον γαταδόκκο σου», έλεγαν οι Φαρασιώτες, δηλαδή τον πόνο σου, το βάσανό σου, το φαρμάκι σου.
- Γέροντα, με τι τρόπο τον έπαιρναν;
- Με την αγάπη. Όταν με αγάπη λέη κανείς «να πάρω τον πόνο σου», τον παίρνει. Αλλά, αν τον πάρη, μετά θέλει πολλή υπομονή, πολλή παλληκαριά, πολλή δύναμη, για να τον αντιμετωπίση. Έρχονται μερικοί και μου λένε: «Γέροντα, θέλω να πάρω τον πόνο σου». Μερικοί το λένε από παλληκαριά, μερικοί όμως φοβητσιάρηδες δεν ξέρουν τι λένε. Αυτοί με το παραμικρό τρέχουν στον γιατρό και εύκολα απογοητεύονται. Τον λίγο πόνο τον δικό τους δεν μπορούν να σηκώσουν και λένε να πάρουν τον δικό μου πόνο! Καλύτερα να κάνουν υπομονή στον δικό τους πόνο, να δέχωνται με χαρά ό,τι επιτρέπει γι’ αυτούς ο Θεός και να μη ζητούν δήθεν από αγάπη να πάρουν την αρρώστια του άλλου. Γιατί, αν τυχόν ο Θεός εκπληρώση το αίτημά τους και ξεχάσουν ότι οι ίδιοι το ζήτησαν, θα γογγύσουν και μπορεί να τα βάλουν και με τον Θεό.
Often in our spiritual practice we find ourselves struggling. We try and try but the effort seems so hard. What is the problem? Why do we often feel anxious that our efforts do not yield the results we seek? Why does God seem distant and unreachable even when we try so hard?
Elder Paisios gives us some insight into this common problem.
We need to be careful in our spiritual life. When spiritual people are affected by vainglory, they feel very little satisfaction, and they are left with a sense of emptiness in their heart. There is no fulfillment, no rejoicing of the heart, and as their vanity increases, the emptiness inside makes them suffer even more. Where there is anxiety and despair, there is a demonic spiritual life. You should not feel anxiety over anything at all. Anxiety comes from the devil. Wherever you see anxiety, you must know that the devil has been at work. The devil will not go against the current. If there is a predisposition, he will push in that direction in order to cause us trouble and deceive us.
When in the course of our spiritual struggle we feel anxiety we must know that we are not moving within the realm of God...
In other words, one should not strive with an unhealthy fastidiousness... Christ is full of love, kindness and consolation and He never stifles, but gives abundant oxygen and divine consolation.So what do we do to avoid this condition. We must be kind to ourselves and accept that we are prone to make mistakes, to be tired. We need to have humility and set aside our self-proclaimed righteousness depending on our own efforts.
Elder Paisios advises us to live the spiritual life not in our minds, but in our hearts. He says,
Never do a job without putting your trust in God with great humility, because otherwise you will agonize and you will tire your mind and soul. It is a lack of faith that hides behind anxiety, but pride can cause anxiety also.
If you cannot complete your required prayer rule, don't force yourself through your own efforts. Relax and turn to God. If it is because you are too tired to complete it, ask God's forgiveness and get some sleep. Then the next day arrange your schedule so that you will not be in this same condition again. Entrust everything to God and God will guide you.
The Elder tells us to keep the mind always close to God. This applies to all situations where you are having difficulty in completing your task. Trust in God and seek His help.
When we try through our own efforts and feel anxiety, this is the sign of vainglory.
St. Luke Archbishop of Simferopol
St. Luke of Simferopol on the moment of death
Before David became the King of Israel, he was a servant of King Saul. Since Saul knew that David would someday take his throne, he attempted to kill him. Once when his life was in danger, the Prophet David said to those who were his supporters: “I am only one step away from death.At one time I was almost dead.I hardly had a pulse and my heart almost stopped beating.But the Lord was merciful to me and I am still weak and I am able to speak to you only in a seated position.I wish to tell you something very important about this. I want to talk to you about being cognizant of death because it is very close to each one of us, as it was close to me last Saturday.Anyone of us can die suddenly at a time when it is unexpected.You should know that the lives of many people are ended abruptly.”
Remember always—engrave the name of the Lord in your hearts.Always remember this and do not ever forget it.When people prepare to go for a long walk or start a new chore, they gird themselves for the effort.And when they walk in the darkness of night they carry with them a lantern and this is very important because it must always light our way.
The same thing is true about our spiritual lives.We must gird ourselves and keep our lanterns lit.We must be untiring workers of God and we must struggle against Satan who tries at every turn to hinder us from reaching Christ. He tries to kill us with temptations.This is why the Lord Jesus gave us this command: “They encircled us while we had our lanterns burning.”
We must never forget that earthly life has been given to us so that we can prepare for eternal life. Our fate in eternal life will be judged and based on how we have lived our lives in this world.
You should be faithful to Christ.You should be faithful to the way of life He has shown you in the Book of Revelations written by John the Apostle and Evangelist.He tells us in that book: “Become faithful until death and you will be given the crown of life.” (Rev. 2:8).We must be faithful to God.We must serve God tirelessly every day, every hour and every moment of our lives.Our life is short, we cannot waste the few hours, days, and years living our lives aimlessly.We should always think about the hour of our death.
All of the holy ascetics always remembered the hour of their death.It was part of their daily prayer life.They even had human skulls in their cells to remind them of their own death.They would look at them with tears in their eyes knowing that they too would follow in their footsteps.They served God tirelessly and worked for the Lord just like St. Seraphim of Sarov did.They would remember every day the words of the 33rd psalm which is read at the vesper service: “The death of the sinners is evil.”Just like you, they also remember the following words: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” (Psalm 16:5).Sinners have a great fear of death and I have seen many examples of this in my life.But there is one particular incident that I witnessed forty years ago that made such a deep impression on me that I will never forget it.
At that time I was a provincial doctor and I was invited to the home of a very evil man.As I entered his house I was startled by the great deal of turmoil that I found there.People in the house were running all over the place.An old man was lying on a bed. His face was very red and as soon as he saw me enter the room he began to yell out at me saying: “Doctor, I beg you to save me.I am dying, I realize now that I will die.”
Where was this man before this moment in life?What was he thinking when he was terrorizing so many people during his life?What was he thinking when he was taking all the people’s money?Now death had arrived.It is here and it is too late now to say: “I am dying, and I realize that I will die.” He should have lived his life knowing someday that he would die so that he would not now be prepared for death.
Who is there in the world that does not fear death?Only he who follows Christ and lives by His commandments does not fear death because he knows the promises made by Jesus Christ in the Beatitudes: “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” (Mt 5:12).
The deaths of the saints were completely different from those of us who lack faith. St. Seraphim of Sarov died while kneeling in front of an icon of the Holy Mother to whom he always prayed.He fell asleep in the Lord on his knees for precious was his death in the eyes of the Lord.
Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us: “Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtakes you.”(John 12:35).While you are alive you still have the Light of Jesus Christ. In life you still have the ability to go to Church to hear the commandments of God and to hear the words of Scriptures.You should walk in that Light because when death comes, the Light will go out for you.This is so because beyond the grave, there is no remission of sins and you will receive your reward in accordance to the good deeds that you did in life.
Therefore, walk in the Light while you have the Light so that you will not be overwhelmed by the darkness, the eternal darkness of death.St. Paul the Apostle says: “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
(2 Cor. 6:2).Now that we are living is the acceptable time for our salvation.Now, we should think about our salvation and to prepare ourselves for eternal life.That is what all Christians do, all those who love Christ.
Seventy years ago a doctor lived in St. Petersburg, Russia.His name was Gaaz.He had been assigned to serve the needs of those in jail.He had a very kind heart.He had a heart full of compassion and he loved all people.In his position as a doctor to those in jail, he did everything in his power to help these unfortunate people. He saw the prisoners being sent off to far away prisons in chains.He knew that they would be forced to walk thousands of miles until they reached the jails in Siberia and his compassionate heart went out to them.In order for him to feel their pain, he also wore chains on his feet and walked for hours around the yard of his home.When he was on his death bed, this holy man and physician said to the people around him the following miraculous words, words that all of us should keep in our hearts.“You should make it a priority in your lives to do good deeds for people.It is urgent for you to do this because death awaits all of us.Do not be frivolous in your lives.You should be faithful to Christ until death and God will give you the crown of life.”
The Prophet Isaiah said something which we also should remember andimprint it upon our hearts.“Be troubled you complacent ones; strip your lives bare, and gird sackcloth on your waists.” (Isaiah 32:11).
Tremble and remember death.You should always remember the time when you will leave this life and do not ever forget it.In order for us to have this mindset, and to follow Jesus Christ, we need the help of God.Without this help we will not be able to defeat the temptations of Satan.This is why we should ask God to send us Divine Grace.
Lord, have mercy on us sinners. Lord help us.
We should entreat Jesus like the idol worshipping woman did as you heard today in the Gospel reading.She was a Canaanite woman and when she saw Christ with His disciples she began calling after Him and entreating Him with the following request: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David, my daughter is severely demon-possessed.” (Mt. 15:20).But the Lord did not pay any attention to her and He silently continued his journey.The woman continued to entreat Him but He would not answer her.Finally His disciples said to Him: “Send her away, for she cries after us.” (Mt. 15:23).And the Lord answered: “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” (Mt.15:24).
The woman continued to entreat Him. What did the Lord say to her?“It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” Mt. 15:26.And in response he heard an astounding answer filled with humbleness and compassion.“True Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” (Mt. 15:27), give me a crumb from your mercy.The Lord stopped when He heard this and said to her: “O woman, great is your faith.Let it be to you as you desire and her daughter was healed from that very hour.” (Mt.15:28).
Many of us live a life that is not consistent with the Christian message.Many of us are burdened with various sins.Many of us have forgotten the Word of God which says: “The sting of death is sin.” (1 Cor. 15:56).Death wounds the person who becomes a slave to sin.Then, if we areweak and if the garments of our souls are all black with sins aren’t we like the dogs?Shouldn’t we also shout unto Christ as the Canaanite woman did: “Lord, I am like a dog, have mercy on me!” “You have girded me with strength for battle and the lanterns are lit around me. Amen.”
St. Luke of Simferopol
[SUMPTUOUS EATING DEPRIVES ONE OF PIETY AND HARMS, ESPECIALLY YOUNG PEOPLE]
Sumptuous eating is harmful to all without exception, but especially to the young. The natural reason for this is obvious. The natural warmth of the young person is enhanced when it receives the fatty matter of various foods. The heavy foods consumed draw out the heavy excretions of digestion in the stomach. These in turn are converted into substances and blood and eventually into fatty tissue. The abundance of food creates a fat body that is susceptible to the forceful temptations of one’s sexuality.
Thus treated and exposed, the poor body becomes a flaming fire, a Babylonian furnace. If the young body is a wild and untamed animal even when it lacks essential nourishment, imagine what it is like when it is well fed! All young people know this because they experience these passions on a daily basis. This is why St. Gregory the Theologian said: “Its own evil is sufficient for the body. Why add to the existing fire any additional fuel, or any more nourishment to the beast? It will only become more difficult to control and more violent (forceful) than the mind.”
Solomon too said: “It is not fitting for a fool to live in luxury” (Proverbs 19:10). In interpreting this passage, St. Basil considered the body of a young person to be “a fool.” “What is more senseless than the body of a young person prone to easy temptations?” He asked.
Now if you cannot avoid these fatty foods completely, then set a discipline for yourself to eat only once a day, as many spiritual persons, hierarchs, and even worldly leaders do. In this manner the body is kept lighter and healthier and the mind is clearer and more capable of advancing upon divine thoughts. Even then, it is important not to overeat.
THE THREE DEGREES OF EATING
According to St. Gregory the Sinaite there are three degrees in eating: temperance, sufficiency, and satiety. Temperance is when someone wants to eat some more food but abstains, rising from the table still somewhat hungry. Sufficiency is when someone eats what is needed and sufficient for normal nourishment. Satiety is when someone eats more than enough and is more than satisfied. Now if you cannot keep the first two degrees and you proceed to the third, then, at least, do not become a glutton, remembering the words of the Lord: “Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger” (Luke 6:25).
Remember also that rich man who ate in this present life sumptuously every day, but who was deprived of the desired bosom of Abraham in the next life, simply because of this sumptuous eating. Remember how he longed to refresh his tongue with a drop of water. St. Basil not only did not forgive the young people who ate to satiety but also those who ate until satisfied; he preferred that all eat temperately. He said, “Nothing subdues and controls the body as does the practice of temperance. It is this temperance that serves as a control to those youthful passions and desires.”
St. Gregory the Theologian has also noted in his poetry: “No satiety has brought forth prudent behavior; for it is in the nature of fire to consume matter. And a filled stomach expels refined thoughts; it is the tendency of opposites to oppose each other.” Job, too, assuming that one could fall into sin through eating, offered sacrifice to God for his sons who were feasting among themselves. “And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said: “It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts’” (Job 1:5-8).
In interpreting this passage Olympiodoros wrote: “We learn from this that we ought to avoid such feasts which can bring on sinfulness. We must also purify ourselves after they have been concluded, even if these are conducted for the sake of concord and brotherly love as in the case of the sons of Job.”
Surely then, if the sons of Job were not at a feast but in prayer or some other spiritual activity, the devil would not have dared to destroy the house and them, as Origen interpreted the passage: “The devil was looking for an opportunity to destroy them. Had he found them reading, he would not have touched the house, having no reason to put them to death. Had he found them in prayer, he would not have had any power to do anything against them. But when he found an opportune time, he was powerful. What was the opportune time? It was the time of feasting and drinking.” Do you see then, dear reader, how many evils are brought forth by luxurious foods and feasting in general?
WHAT ONE MUST DO TO AVOID OVEREATING AND OTHER SINS OF THE TONGUE
When eating and drinking, always remember the Psalm: “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit?” (Psalms 30:9). St. Basil has advised that we recall this verse in order to help us avoid overeating and overdrinking, as he has interpreted it in the following manner:
“What is the need for robustness of flesh and an abundance of blood if their future is to be delivered over to the common corruption of the body? For this reason I constrain and deprive my body, otherwise my blood becomes so robust and overzealous that it makes my flesh to sin. Do not therefore flatter your body with sleep and baths and soft beds, but always recall the saying: ‘What profit is there for my blood if I go down to the Pit?’ Why do you care for the lesser thing that will later become corrupt? Why do you bother to make yourself fat? Do you not know that the fatter you make your body so much heavier will be the soul’s prison?”
In this sense of the mouth are also included all those sins which are enacted by the tongue: condemnation, slander, mocking, insults, unreasonable excommunications, curses, reprimands, obscene talk, and all the other idle and vain words. From all these we must guard ourselves as much as possible, for as you know, we must give an account for every vain and idle word, according to the Sacred Scriptures (Matthew 12:36)...
By St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain translated by P. A. Chamberas (“A Handbook of Spiritual Counsel,” New York: Paulist Press, 1989)
Η ασθένεια και η θλίψη είναι το κατ' εξοχήν φάρμακο της πρόνοιας του Θεού να φέρει τον άνθρωπο κοντά Του και να αυξήσει την αρετή του. Ο Ιώβ ήταν ο καλύτερος άνθρωπος πάνω στη γη, αλλά ο Θεός ήθελε να τον κάνει ακόμα καλύτερο. Και από τότε που δοκιμάστηκε, από τότε και δοξάστηκε.
Ήταν καλός άνθρωπος και ευσεβής κ.λ.π. αλλά χωρίς δοκιμασία δεν ήταν ονομαστός ο Ιώβ. Αφ' ης στιγμής όμως δοκιμάστηκε και πολέμησε και αγωνίστηκε και στεφανώθηκε και πλούτισε, από κει και ύστερα άρχισε η δόξα του, και απλώθηκε μέχρι σήμερα. Το παράδειγμα του, είναι φωτεινότατο και ενισχύει κάθε άνθρωπο που δοκιμάζεται.
Αν αυτός δοκιμάστηκε που ήταν ένας άγιος, πολύ περισσότερο εμείς που είμαστε αμαρτωλοί. Και το αποτέλεσμα ήταν να τον κάμει άγιον και να του δώσει πάλι χρόνια ζωής και να τον ευλογήσει διπλά και τριπλά απ' ότι έχασε, και έτσι να γίνει ένα φωτεινό παράδειγμα ανά τους αιώνες για κάθε πονεμένο άνθρωπο να προσαρμόζεται και ν' ακουμπάει σ' αυτό το παράδειγμα και να ξεκουράζεται και αυτός και να λέει: Ως έδοξε τω Κυρίω, ούτω και εγένετο.
Είη το όνομα του Κυρίου ευλογημένο. Σκύβει το κεφάλι και λέει: ο Θεός έδωσε, ο Θεός πήρε. Και το παιδί ακόμα να μου πάρει, ο θεός δεν μου το δώσε; Το πήρε. Που είναι το παιδί μου; Στον ουρανό; Εκεί τι γίνεται; Αναπαύεται εκεί...
Σε κάθε δοκιμασία πίσω κρύβεται το θέλημα του Θεού και η ωφέλεια την οποία φυσικά ίσως εκείνο τον καιρό να μην μπορεί να την δει, αλλά με τον χρόνο θα την γνωρίζει την ωφέλεια. Έχουμε τέτοια παραδείγματα πάρα πολλά.
Όπως και με τους Αγίους Ανδρόνικο και Αθανασία. Αυτοί ήταν αντρόγυνο και ήταν χρυσοχόος ο Ανδρόνικος με πολύ πλούτο κ.λ.π. Το ένα μέρος του κέρδους έτρεφε την οικογένειά του.
Το ένας μέρος του κέρδους το έδινε στους φτωχούς και το ένα μέρος του άλλου κέρδους το ένα τρίτο το έδινε άτοκα στους ανθρώπους που δεν είχανε χρήματα. Είχαν δύο χαριτωμένα κοριτσάκια. Και μια μέρα από μία αρρώστια πέθαναν και τα δύο. Πηγαίνουν και τα θάβουν και οι δύο.
Η Αθανασία η καημένη πάνω στον τάφο έκλαιγε έκλαιγε, έκλαιγε. Ε ο Ανδρόνικος έκλαιγε και αυτός. Είδε και απόειδε, τράβηξε για το σπίτι. Έμεινε η καημένη η Αθανασία και έκλαιγε πάνω στον τάφο: «Τα παιδιά μου» και «τα παιδιά μου», και κόντευε να βασιλέψει ο ήλιος και να κλείσει το νεκροταφείο. Για μια στιγμή επάνω στη θλίψη της και στη στεναχώρια της, βλέπει και έρχεται ένα μοναχός και της λέει:
«Κυρά μου γιατί κλαις;»
«Πως να μην κλαίω πάτερ;» (Αυτή νόμιζε πως ήταν ο παπάς του νεκροταφείου). «Έθαψα τα παιδιά μου, τους δυο αγγέλους μου, τους έβαλα μέσα στον τάφο και έμεινα εγώ και ο άντρας μου εντελώς μόνοι. Δεν έχουμε δροσιά καθόλου».
Της λέει: «Τα παιδιά σου είναι στον παράδεισο με τους αγγέλους. Είναι στην ευτυχία και στη χαρά του Θεού και συ κλαις παιδί μου; Κρίμα είσαι και χριστιανή».
«Ώστε ζουν τα παιδιά μου; Είναι άγγελοι;»
«Βεβαίως είναι άγγελοι τα παιδιά σου».
Ήτανε ο Άγιος της εκκλησίας εκεί. Τελικά έγιναν μοναχοί ο Ανδρόνικος και η Αθανασία και αγίασαν....
Γέροντος Εφραίμ Προηγουμένου Ι. Μονής Φιλοθέου
Ένας από τους αγίους πατέρες είπε: Ήταν ένας γέροντας αναχωρητής, τίμιος, και πήγα μια φορά σ' αυτόν, όταν ήμουν καταπονημένος από τους πειρασμούς.
Αυτός ήταν άρρωστος και κατάκοιτος και, αφού τον χαιρέτησα, κάθισα κοντά του και του είπα:
- Κάνε μια ευχή για μένα, πάτερ, διότι πολύ θλίβομαι από τους πειρασμούς των δαιμόνων.
Και ο γέροντας άνοιξε τα μάτια του και μου είπε:
- Παιδί μου, εσύ είσαι νέος και δε θ' αφήσει ο Θεός να καταπονηθείς από αβάσταχτους πειρασμούς.
Κι εγώ του είπα:
- Και νέος είμαι και πειρασμούς έχω από πολύ ενάρετους ανθρώπους.
Κι εκείνος πάλι μου είπε:
- Λοιπόν, ο Θεός θέλει να σε κάνει σοφό.
Κι εγώ είπα:
- Πώς θα με κάνει σοφό; Εγώ κάθε μέρα γεύομαι το θάνατο της ψυχής.
Κι εκείνος αμέσως απάντησε:
- Σώπα, παιδί μου. Είπα ότι σε αγαπά ο Θεός και θα σου δώσει τη χάρη του.
- Να ξέρεις, παιδί μου, ότι τριάντα χρόνια πολέμησα με τους δαίμονες και επί είκοσι χρόνια δε φάνηκε να μη βοήθησε καθόλου ο Θεός. Κι όταν πέρασε το εικοστό πέμπτο, άρχισα να βρίσκω κάποια ανάπαυση, που με τον καιρό γινόταν πιο μεγάλη.
Μετά το εικοστό έβδομο και το εικοστό όγδοο έτος η ανάπαυση της ψυχής μου γινόταν πολύ πιο έντονη. Και τώρα που περνάει το τριακοστό έτος και κοντεύει να τελειώσει, τόσο στερεώθηκε μέσα του η ανάπαυση, ώστε δεν μπορώ να την υπολογίσω και να τη μετρήσω.
Και τελείωσε ο γέροντας με αυτά τα λόγια:
- Όταν θελήσω να σηκωθώ για να προσευχηθώ, τρεις ψαλμούς προφταίνω να πω με το στόμα μου και από κει και πέρα, τρεις μέρες να στέκομαι όρθιος, αισθάνομαι έκσταση κοντά στο Θεό και δεν καταλαβαίνω καθόλου κούραση.
Βλέπεις τώρα, τι άμετρη ανάπαυση μου προξένησε η πολύχρονη εργασία της υπομονής;
Άγιος Ισαάκ ο Σύρος