Monday, October 14, 2013

Loving your enemies ( St. Silouan the Athonite )

Although it is natural and usual to love those who love us and to do good to those who do good to us (Mt 5:46-47; Lk 6:32-33), to love our enemies is distasteful to our nature. One can say that it isn't in our power but is an attitude that can only be the fruit of grace, given by the Holy Spirit. This is why St. Silouan the Athonite writes, "The soul that has not known the Holy Spirit does not understand how one can love one's enemies, and does not accept it."

The Staretz repeatedly says that love of enemies is impossible without grace: "Lord, You have given the commandment to love enemies, but this is difficult for us sinners if Your grace is not with us"; "Without God's grace we cannot love enemies"; "He who does not love his enemies, does not have God's grace"; "He who has not learned to love from the Holy Spirit, will certainly not pray for his enemies." On the contrary, St. Silouan always teaches that this attitude is a gift of the Holy Spirit: "The Lord has commanded us to love our enemies, and the Holy Spirit reveals this love to us"; "One can only love one's enemies through the grace of the Holy Spirit"; "When you will love your enemies, know that a great divine grace will be living in you."

This grace does not suddenly erupt in the soul, but rather shows itself in a divine pedagogy, where taking into account the weakness and the difficulties of man, the Holy Spirit progressively teaches him to love and teaches him all the attitudes and ways which will allow him to do so. "The Holy Spirit teaches us to love even our enemies"; "The Holy Spirit teaches the soul a profound love for man and compassion for the lost. The Lord had pity for those who were lost. . . . The Holy Spirit teaches this same compassion for those who go to hell"; "I could not speak about it if the Holy Spirit had not taught me this love"; "The Lord taught me love of enemies. . . . The Holy Spirit taught [me] to love."

The grace of the Holy Spirit shows to him who possesses it the way to love his enemies. But it also reveals to him the foundation of this love: the love of God for all people and His will to save them: "No man can know by himself what divine love is if the Holy Spirit does not instruct him; but in our Church divine love is known through the Holy Spirit, and that is why we speak about it." Grace also "gives man the capacity and the strength to love his enemies, and the Spirit of God gives us the strength to love them."

Staretz Silouan insists that because love of enemies is a fruit of grace, it is essentially through prayer that it can be obtained. Several times he urges us to "ask the Lord with our whole being to give us the strength to love all men." He also advises to pray to the Mother of God and the Saints: "If we are incapable [of loving our enemies] and if we are without love, let us turn with ardent prayers to the Lord, to His Most Pure Mother, and to all the Saints, and the Lord will help us with everything, He whose love for us knows no bounds." The Staretz confesses that he himself constantly prays God for this: "I continuously beg the Lord to give me the love of enemies. . . . Day and night I ask the Lord for this love. The Lord gives me tears and I weep for the whole world." Wishing in his universal love for all men to receive such a gift, he links them to himself in his prayer: "Lord, teach us through Your Holy Spirit to love our enemies and to pray for them with tears . . . Lord, as you prayed for your enemies, so teach us also, through the Holy Spirit, to love our enemies."

Yet obtaining the grace to love one's enemies presupposes other conditions.

The love of enemies is completely bound to the love of God: we have seen that the principal foundation for the love of enemies is the love that God shows to all His creatures equally and His will that all people should be saved, and Christ gave us a perfect example of such love throughout his earthly life. The love of God leads man to accomplish His will and to imitate Him as much as possible, and so also to love his enemies. The Staretz also notes that he who does not love his enemies shows that he has not learned from the Holy Spirit to love God.

To love one's enemies is also tightly bound to humility. The Staretz often associate these two virtues. Almost all the difficulties we encounter in loving our enemies are linked with pride: it is from pride that flows the affliction that follows upon insults, hated, bad temper, spite, the desire for revenge, contempt for one's neighbor, refusing to forgive him and to be reconciled with him.

Pride excludes the love of enemies and love of enemies excludes pride: "If we love our enemies, pride will have no place in our soul." The fact that humility goes hand in hand with love of enemies proves the presence of grace and the authenticity of love: "If you have compassion for all creatures and love your enemies, and if, at the same time, you judge yourself the worst of all people, this shows that the great grace of the Lord is in you."

Indeed humility is the indispensable condition to receive and keep the grace that teaches us to love our enemies and gives us the strength to do so. The Staretz advises: "Humiliate yourself, then grace will teach you." On the other hand, "pride makes us lose grace. . . . The soul is then tormented by bad thoughts and does not understand that one must humiliate oneself and love one's enemies, for without that one cannot please God."

The Staretz sometimes also stresses the role played by penitence in connection with humility. "Regard yourself the worst of men," he advises. This is an attitude of great humility that of its nature implies penitence. He who counts himself the worst of men necessarily thinks others better than himself; he will judge and blame himself, and not judge and criticize his enemies, for he tends to estimate them better than himself.

The Staretz also gives us the example of another penitential attitude -- asking God's forgiveness each time one has not loved one's enemy: "If I judge someone or look at him angrily, my tears dry up and I fall into despondency; and again I start asking the Lord to forgive me, and the merciful Lord forgives me, a sinner. "Through such an attitude, by which the soul humbly recognizes before God its faults and shortcomings and obtains from Him forgiveness, an opening can be made that becomes bigger and bigger for grace and unceasing progress in love. As to a total absence of compassion for enemies, it shows the presence and the action of an evil spirit; sincere repentance is the only way to be freed from it."

The insistence on prayer, humility and penitence shows that, although St. Silouan recognizes a determining role to the action of grace in acquiring love of enemies, he does not neglect the role played by the efforts that man makes. The Staretz is very conscious of the importance of the initial action; this is why he says, "I beg you, try," and states, "In the beginning, force your heart to love your enemies." The efforts one makes must manifest themselves in a general way in a straight intention and constant good will, stretched toward the realization of God's command. God will not fail to respond.

For the person who feels discouraged by such a demanding task, St. Silouan reassures him: "Seeing your good intention, the Lord will help you in everything." The Staretz who felt in himself so acutely human powerlessness and weakness seems to think constantly of these words of the Apostle: "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength" (Phil 4:13) and witnesses in his own experience the mighty help that everyone can receive from God.
For Christ there are no enemiesThe Staretz would say that for Christ there are no enemies -- there are those who accept "the words of eternal life," there are those who reject and even crucify; but for the Creator of every living thing, there can be no enemy. So it should be for the Christian, too, who "in pity for all must strive for the salvation of all."

Wherein, then, lies the force of the commandment, "Love your enemies"? Why did the Lord say that those who keep His commandments would know from very experience whence the doctrine?

. . . . God is love, in superabundance embracing all creatures. By allowing man to actually know this love the Holy Spirit reveals to him the path of fullness of being. To say "enemy" implies rejection. By such rejection a man falls from the plenitude of God. . . ."The whole paradise of Saints lives by the Holy Spirit, and from the Holy Spirit nothing in creation is hid," writes the Staretz. "God is love and in the Saints the Holy Spirit is love. Dwelling in the Holy Spirit, the saints behold love and embrace it, too, in their love."

. . . .[It] is possible to judge whether a given state of contemplation was a reality or an illusion only after the soul had returned to consciousness of the world; for then, as the Staretz pointed out, if there were no love for enemies and so for all creatures, it would be a true indication that the supposed contemplation had not been a real communion with God.

-- The Monk of Mount Athos (London: Mowbrays, 1973) by Archimandrite Sophrony; pp 70-71

The Great Sacrament of Marriage ( Archimandrite Aimilianos )

Nobody would dispute that the most important day in a person's life, after his birth and baptism, is that of his marriage. It is no surprise, then, that the aim of contemporary worldly and institutional upheavals is precisely to crush the most honorable and sacred mystery of marriage. For many people, marriage is an opportunity for pleasures and amusements. Life, however, is a serious affair. It is a spiritual struggle, a progression toward a goal—heaven. The most crucial juncture, and the most important means, of this progression is marriage. It is not permissible for anyone to avoid the bonds of marriage, whether he concludes a mystical marriage by devoting himself to God, or whether he concludes a sacramental one with a spouse.

Today we will concern ourselves primarily with sacramental marriage. We will consider how marriage can contribute to our spiritual life, in order to continue the theme of our previous talk. We know that marriage is an institution established by God. It is "honorable" (Heb 13.4). It is a "great mystery" (Eph 5.32). An unmarried person passes through life and leaves it; but a married person lives and experiences life to the full.

One wonders what people today think about the sacred institution of marriage, this "great mystery", blessed by our Church. They marry, and it's as if two checking accounts or two business interests were being merged. Two people are united without ideals, two zeros, you could say. Because people without ideals, without quests, are nothing more than zeros. "I married in order to live my life", you hear people say, "and not to be shut inside four walls". "I married to enjoy my life", they say, and then they hand over their children—if they have children—to some strange woman so they can run off to the theater, the movies, or to some other worldly gathering. And so their houses become hotels to which they return in the evening, or, rather, after midnight, after they've had their fun and need to rest. Such people are empty inside, and so in their homes they feel a real void. They find no gratification there, and thus they rush and slide from here to there, in order to find their happiness.

They marry without knowledge, without a sense of responsibility, or simply because they wish to get married, or because they think they must in order to be good members of society. But what is the result? We see it every day. The shipwrecks of marriage are familiar to all of us. A worldly marriage, as it is understood today, can only have one characteristic—the murder of a person's spiritual life. Thus we must feel that, if we fail in our marriage, we have more or less failed in our spiritual life. If we succeed in our marriage, we have also succeeded in our spiritual life. Success or failure, progress or ruin, in our spiritual life, begins with our marriage. Because this is such a serious matter, let us consider some of the conditions necessary for a happy, truly Christian marriage.

In order to have a successful marriage, one must have the appropriate upbringing from an early age. Just as a child must study, just as he learns to think, and take an interest in his parents or his health, so too must he be prepared in order to be able to have a successful marriage. But in the age in which we live, no one is interested in preparing their children for this great mystery, a mystery which will play the foremost role in their lives. Parents are not interested, except in the dowry, or in other such financial matters, in which they are deeply interested.

The child, from an early age, must learn to love, to give, to suffer deprivation, to obey. He must learn to feel that the purity of his soul and body is a valuable treasure to be cherished as the apple of his eye. The character of the child must be shaped properly, so that he becomes an honest, brave, decisive, sincere, cheerful person, and not a half, self-pitying creature, who constantly bemoans his fate, a weak-willed thing without any power of thought or strength. From an early age, the child should learn to take an interest in a particular subject or occupation, so that tomorrow he will be in a position to support his family, or, in the case of a girl, also to help, if this is necessary. A woman must learn to be a housewife, even if she has an education. She should learn to cook, to sew, to embroider. But, my good Father, you may say, this is all self- evident. Ask married couples, however, and you'll see how many women who are about to marry know nothing about running a household.

Once we reach a certain age, moreover, the choice of one's life partner is a matter which should not be put off. Neither should one be in a hurry, because, as the saying goes, "quick to marry, quick to despair". But one should not delay, because delay is a mortal danger to the soul. As a rule, the normal rhythm of the spiritual life begins with marriage. An unmarried person is like someone trying to live permanently in a hallway: he doesn't seem to know what the rooms are for. Parents should take an interest in the child's social life, but also in his prayer life, so that the blessed hour will come as a gift sent by God.

Naturally, when he comes to choose a partner, he will take to account his parents' opinion. How often have parents felt knives piercing their hearts when their children don't ask them about the person who will be their companion in life? A mother's heart is sensitive, and can't endure such a blow. The child should discuss matters with his parents, because they have a special intuition enabling them to be aware of the things which concern them. But this doesn't mean that the father and mother should pressure the child. Ultimately he should be free to make his own decision. If you pressure your child to marry, he will consider you responsible if things don't go well. Nothing good comes from pressure. You must help him, but you must also allow him to choose the person he prefers or loves—but not someone he pities or feels sorry for. If your child, after getting to know someone, tells you, "I feel sorry for the poor soul, I'll marry him", then you know that you're on the threshold of a failed marriage. Only a person whom he or she prefers or loves can stand by the side of your child. Both the man and the woman should be attracted to each other, and they should truly want to live together, in an inward way, unhurriedly. On this matter, however, it is not possible to pressure our children. Sometimes, out of our love, we feel that they are our possessions, that they are our property, and that we can do what we want with them. And thus our child becomes a creature incapable of living life either married or unmarried.

Of course, the process of getting acquainted, which is such a delicate issue—but of which we are often heedless—should take place before marriage. We should never be complacent about getting to know each other, especially if we're not sure of our feelings. Love shouldn't blind us. It should open our eyes, to see the other person as he is, with his faults. "Better to take a shoe from your own house, even if it's cobbled", says the folk proverb. That is, it's better to take someone you've gotten to know. And acquaintanceship must always be linked with engagement, which is an equally difficult matter.

When I suggested to a young woman that she should think seriously about whether she should continue her engagement she replied: "If I break it off, my mother will kill me". But what sort of engagement is it, if there's no possibility of breaking it off? To get engaged doesn't mean that I'll necessarily get married. It means that I'm testing to see whether I should marry the person I'm engaged to. If a woman isn't in a position to break off her engagement, she shouldn't get engaged, or, rather, she shouldn't go ahead with the marriage. During the engagement, we must be especially careful. If we are, we will have fewer problems and fewer disappointments after the wedding. Someone once said that, during the period of getting to know me another, you should hold on to your heart firmly with both hands, as if it were a wild animal. You know how dangerous the heart is: instead of leading you to marriage, it can lead you into sin. There is the possibility that the person you've chosen sees you as a mere toy, or a toothbrush to be tried out. Afterwards you'll be depressed and shed many tears. But then it will be too late, because your angel will have turned out to be made of clay.

Don't choose a person who wastes his time at clubs, having good time, and throwing away his money on traveling and luxuries. Neither should you choose someone who, as you'll find out, conceals his self-centeredness beneath words of love. Don't choose a woman as your wife who is like gun powder, so that as soon as you say something to her, she bursts to flames. She's no good as a wife.

Moreover, if you want to have a truly successful marriage, don't approach that young woman or man who is unable to leave his or her parents. The commandment of Christ is clear: man leaves his father and mother, and is united to his wife" (Mk 10.7). But when you see the other person tied to his mother or father, when you see that he obeys them with his mouth hanging open, and is prepared to do whatever they tell him, keep well away. He is emotionally sick, a psychologically immature person, and you won't be able to create a family with him. The man you will make your husband should be spirited. But how can he be spirited when he hasn't realized, hasn't understood, hasn't digested the fact that his parents' house is simply a flower-pot in which he was put, to be taken out later, and transplanted somewhere else?

Also, when you're going to choose a husband, make sure that he's not an uncommunicative type—in which case he'll have no friends. And if today he has no friends, tomorrow he'll find it difficult to have you as a friend and partner. Be on your guard against grumblers, moaners, and gloomy people who are like dejected birds. Be on your guard against those who complain all the time: "You don't love me, you don't understand me", and all that sort of thing. Something about these creatures of God isn't right. Also be on your guard against religious fanatics and the overly pious. Those, that is, who get upset over trivial things, who are critical of everything and hypersensitive. How are you going to live with such a person? It will be like sitting on thorns. Also look out for those who regard marriage as something bad, as a form of imprisonment. Those who say: But I've never in my whole life thought about getting married.

Watch out for certain pseudo-Christians, who see marriage as something sordid, as a sin, who immediately cast their eyes down when they hear anything said about it. If you marry someone like this, he will be a thorn in your flesh, and a burden for his monastery if he becomes a monk. Watch out for those who think that they're perfect, and find no defect in themselves, while constantly finding faults in others. Watch out for those who think they've been chosen by God to correct everyone else.

There is another serious matter to which you should also pay attention: heredity. Get to know well the father, the mother, the grandfather, the grandmother, the uncle. Also, the basic material prerequisites should be there. Above all, pay attention to the person's faith. Does he or she have faith? Has the person whom you're thinking of making the companion of your life have ideals? If Christ means nothing to him, how are you going to be able to enter his heart? If he has not been able to value Christ, do you think he will value you? Holy Scripture says to the husband that the wife should be "of your testament" (Mal 2.14), that is, of your faith, your religion, so that she can join you to God. It is only then that you can have, as the Church Fathers say, a marriage "with the consent of the bishop," that is, with the approval of the Church, and not simply a formal license.

Discuss things in advance with your spiritual father. Examine every detail with him, and he will stand by your side as a true friend, and, when you reach the desired goal, then your marriage will be a gift from God (cf. 1 Cor 7.7).God gives his own gift to each one of us. He leads one person to marriage and another to virginity. Not that God makes the choice by saying "you go here", and "you go there", but he gives us the nerve to choose what our heart desires, and the courage and the strength to carry it out.

If you choose your spouse in this way, then thank God. Bring him into touch with your spiritual father. If you don't have one, the two of you should choose a spiritual father together, who will be your Elder, your father, the one who will remind you of, and show you God.

You will have many difficulties in life. There will be a storm of issues. Worries will surround you, and maintaining your Christian life will not be easy. But don't worry. God will help you. Do what is within your power. Can you read a spiritual book for five minutes a day? Then read. Can you pray for five minutes a day? Pray. And if you can't manage five minutes, pray for two. The rest is God's affair.

When you see difficulties in your marriage, when you see that you're making no progress in your spiritual life, don't despair. But neither should you be content with whatever progress you may have already made. Lift up your heart to God. Imitate those who have given everything to God, and do what you can to be like them, even if all you can do is to desire in your heart to be like them. Leave the action to Christ. And when you advance in this way, you will truly sense what is the purpose of marriage. Otherwise, as a blind person wanders about, so too will you wander in life.

What then is the purpose of marriage? I will tell you three of its main aims. First of all, marriage is a path of pain. The companionship of man and wife is called a "yoking together" (syzygia), that is, the two of them labor under a shared burden. Marriage is a journeying together, a shared portion of pain, and, of course, a joy. But usually it's six chords of our life which sound a sorrowful note, and only one which is joyous. Man and wife will drink from the same cup of upheaval, sadness, and failure. During the marriage ceremony, the priest gives the newly-weds to drink from the same cup, called the "common cup," because together they will bear the burdens of marriage. The cup is also called "union," because they are joined together to share life's joys and sorrows.

When two people get married, it's as if they're saying: Together we will go forward, hand in hand, through good times and bad. We will have dark hours, hours of sorrow filled with burdens, monotonous hours. But in the depths of the night, we continue to believe in the sun and the light. Oh, my dear friends, who can say that his life has not been marked by difficult moments? But it is no small thing to know that, in your difficult moments, in your worries, in your temptations, you will be holding in your hand the hand of your beloved. The New Testament says that every man will have pain, especially those who enter into marriage.

"Are you free from a wife?"—which means, are you unmarried?—asks the Apostle Paul. "Then do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you are not doing anything wrong, it is no sin. And if a girl marries, she does not sin, but those who marry will have hardships to endure, and my aim is to spare you" (1 Cor 7.27-28). Remember: from the moment you marry, he says, you will have much pain, you will suffer, and your life will be a cross, but a cross blossoming with flowers. Your marriage will have its joys, its smiles, and its beautiful things. But during the days of sunshine, remember that all the lovely flowers conceal a cross, which can emerge into your sunshine at any moment.

Life is not a party, as some people think, and after they get married take a fall from heaven to earth. Marriage is a vast ocean, and you don't know where it will wash you up. You take the person whom you've chosen with fear and trembling, and with great care, and after a year, two years, five years, you discover that he's fooled you.

It is an adulteration of marriage for us to think that it is a road to happiness, as if it were a denial of the cross. The joy of marriage is for husband and wife to put their shoulders to the wheel and together go forward on the uphill road of life. "You haven't suffered? Then you haven't loved", says a certain poet. Only those who suffer can really love. And that's why sadness is a necessary feature of marriage. "Marriage", in the words of an ancient philosopher, "is a world made beautiful by hope, and strengthened by misfortune". Just as steel is fashioned in a furnace, just so is a person proved in marriage, in the fire of difficulties. When you see your marriage from a distance, everything seems wonderful. But when you get closer, you'll see just how many difficult moments it has.

God says that "it is not good for the man to be alone" (Gen 2.18), and so he placed a companion at his side, someone to help him throughout his life, especially in his struggles of faith, because in order to keep your faith, you must suffer and endure much pain. God sends his grace to all of us. He sends it, however, when he sees that we are willing to suffer. Some people, as soon as they see obstacles, run away. They forget God and the Church. But faith, God, and the Church, are not a shirt that you take off as soon as you start to sweat.

Marriage, then, is a journey through sorrows and joys. When the sorrows seem overwhelming, then you should remember that God is with you. He will take up your cross. It was he who placed the crown of marriage on your head. But when we ask God about something, he doesn't always supply the solution right away. He leads us forward very slowly. Sometime[s] he takes years. We have to experience pain, otherwise life would have no meaning. But be of good cheer, for Christ is suffering with you, and the Holy Spirit, "through your groanings is pleading on your behalf" (cf. Rom 8.26).

Second, marriage is a journey of love. It is the creation of a new human being, a new person, for, as the Gospel says, "the two will be as one flesh" (Mt 19.5; Mk 10.7). God unites two people, and makes them one. From this union of two people, who agree to synchronize their footsteps and harmonize the beating of their hearts, a new human being emerges. Through such profound and spontaneous love, the one becomes a presence, a living reality, in the heart of the other. "I am married" means that I cannot live a single day, even a few moments, without the companion of my life. My husband, my wife, is a part of my being, of my flesh, of my soul. He or she complements me. He or she is the thought of my mind. He or she is the reason for which my heart beats.

The couple exchanges rings to show that, in life's changes, they will remain united. Each wears a ring with the name of the other written on it, which is placed on the finger from which a vein runs directly to the heart. That is, the name of the other is written on his own heart. The one, we could say, gives the blood of his heart to the other. He or she encloses the other within the core of his being.

"What do you do?" a novelist was once asked. He was taken aback. "What do I do? What a strange question! I love Olga, my wife". The husband lives to love his wife, and the wife lives to love her husband.

The most fundamental thing in marriage is love, and love is about uniting two into one. God abhors separation and divorce. He wants unbroken unity (cf. Mt 19.3-9; Mk 10.2-12). The priest takes the rings off the left finger, puts them on the right, and then again on the left, and finally he puts them back on the right hand. He begins and ends with the right hand, because this is the hand with which we chiefly act. It also means that the other now has my hand. I don't do anything that my spouse doesn't want. I am bound up with the other. I live for the other, and for that reason I tolerate his faults. A person who can't put up with another can't marry.

What does my partner want? What interests him? What gives him pleasure? That should also interest and please me as well. I also look for opportunities to give him little delights. How will I please my husband today? How will I please my wife today? This is the question which a married person must ask every day. She is concerned about his worries, his interests, his job, his friends, so that they can have everything in common. He gladly gives way to her. Because he loves her, he goes to bedlastand gets up first in the morning. He regards her parents as his own, and loves them and is devoted to them, because he knows that marriage is difficult for parents. It always makes them cry, because it separates them from their child.

The wife expresses love for her husband through obedience. She is obedient to him exactly as the Church is to Christ (Eph 5.22-24). It is her happiness to do the will of her husband. Attitude, obstinacy, and complaining are the axes which chop down the tree of conjugal happiness. The woman is the heart. The man is the head. The woman is the heart that loves. In her husband's moments of difficulty, she stands at his side, as the empress Theodora stood by the emperor Justinian. In his moments of joy, she tries to raise him up to even higher heights and ideals. In times of sorrow, she stands by him like a sublime and peaceful world offering him tranquility.

The husband should remember that his wife has been entrusted to him by God. His wife is a soul which God has given to him, and one day he must return it. He loves his wife as Christ loves the Church (Eph 5.25). He protects her, takes care of her, gives her security, particularly when she is distressed, or when she is ill. We know how sensitive a woman's soul can be, which is why the Apostle Peter urges husbands to honor their wives (cf. 1 Pet 3.7). A woman's soul gets wounded, is often petty, changeable, and can suddenly fall into despair. Thus the husband should be full of love and tenderness, and make himself her greatest treasure. Marriage, my dear friends, is a little boat which sails through waves and among rocks. If you lose your attention even for a moment, it will be wrecked.

As we have seen, marriage is first of all a journey of pain; second a journey of love; and, third, a journey to heaven, a call from God. It is, as Holy Scripture says, a "great mystery" (Eph 5.32). We often speak of seven "mysteries", or sacraments. In this regard, a "mystery" is the sign of the mystical presence of some true person or event. An icon, for instance, is a mystery. When we venerate it, we are not venerating wood or paint, but Christ, or the Theotokos, or the saint who is mystically depicted. The Holy Cross is a symbol of Christ, containing his mystical presence. Marriage, too, is a mystery, a mystical presence, not unlike these. Christ says, "wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am among them" (Mt 18.20). And whenever two people are married in the name of Christ, they become the sign which contains and expresses Christ himself. When you see a couple who are conscious of this, it is as if you are seeing Christ. Together they are a theophany.

This is also why crowns are placed on their heads during the wedding ceremony, because the bride and groom are an image of Christ and the Church. And not just this, but everything in marriage is symbolic. The lit candles symbolize the wise virgins. When the priest places these candles into the hands of the newly-weds, it is as if he is saying to them: Wait for Christ like the wise virgins (Mt 25.1-11). Or they symbolize the tongues of fire which descended at Pentecost, and which were in essence the presence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2.1-4). The wedding rings are kept on the altar, until they are taken from there by the priest, which shows that marriage has its beginning in Christ, and will end in Christ. The priest also joins their hands, in order to show that it is Christ himself who unites them. It is Christ who is at the heart of the mystery and at the center of their lives.

All the elements of the marriage ceremony are shadows and symbols which indicate the presence of Christ. When you're sitting somewhere and suddenly you see a shadow, you know that someone's coming. You don't see him, but you know he's there. You get up early in the morning, and you see the red horizon in the east. You know that, in a little while, the sun will come up. And indeed, there behind the mountain, the sun starts to appear.

When you see your marriage, your husband, your wife, your partner's body, when you see your troubles, everything in your home, know that they are all signs of Christ's presence. It is as if you're hearing Christ's footsteps, as if he was coming, as if you are now about to hear his voice. All these things are the shadows of Christ, revealing that he is together with us. It is true, though, that, because of our cares and worries, we feel that he is absent. But we can see him in the shadows, and we are sure that he is with us. This is why there was no separate marriage service in the early Church. The man and woman simply went to church and received Communion together. What does this mean? That henceforth their life is one life in Christ.

The wreaths, or wedding crowns, are also symbols of Christ's presence. More specifically, they are symbols of martyrdom. Husband and wife wear crowns to show that they are ready to become martyrs for Christ. To say that "I am married" means that I live and die for Christ. "I am married" means that I desire and thirst for Christ. Crowns are also signs of royalty, and thus husband and wife are king and queen, and their home is a kingdom, a kingdom of the Church, an extension of the Church.

When did marriage begin? When man sinned. Before that, there was no marriage, not in the present-day sense. It was only after the Fall, after Adam and Eve had been expelled from paradise, that Adam "knew" Eve (Gen 4.1) and thus marriage began. Why then? So that they might remember their fall and expulsion from paradise, and seek to return there. Marriage is thus a return to the spiritual paradise, the Church of Christ. "I am married" means, then, that I am a king, a true and faithful member of the Church.

The wreaths also symbolize the final victory which will be attained in the kingdom of heaven. When the priest takes the wreaths, he says to Christ: "take their crowns to your kingdom", take them to your kingdom, and keep them there, until the final victory. And so marriage is a road: its starts out from the earth and ends in heaven. It is a joining together, a bond with Christ, who assures us that he will lead us to heaven, to be with him always. Marriage is a bridge leading us from earth to heaven. It is as if the sacrament is saying: Above and beyond love, above and beyond your husband, your wife, above the everyday events, remember that you are destined for heaven, that you have set out on a road which will take you there without fail. The bride and the bridegroom give their hands to one another, and the priest takes hold of them both, and leads them round the table dancing and singing. Marriage is a movement, a progression, a journey which will end in heaven, in eternity.

In marriage, it seems that two people come together. However it's not two but three. The man marries the woman, and the woman marries the man, but the two together also marry Christ. So three take part in the mystery, and three remain together in life.

In the dance around the table, the couple are led by the priest, who is a type of Christ. This means that Christ has seized us, rescued us, redeemed us, and made us his. And this is the "great mystery" of marriage (cf. Gal 3.13).

In Latin, the word "mystery" was rendered by the word sacramentum, which means an oath. And marriage is an oath, a pact, a joining together, a bond, as we have said. It is a permanent bond with Christ.

"I am married", then, means that I enslave my heart to Christ. If you wish, you can get married. If you wish, don't get married. But if you marry, this is the meaning that marriage has in the Orthodox Church, which brought you into being. "I am married" means I am the slave of Christ.

Archimandrite Aimilianos

Saying thank you to God

How often do you find yourselves being asked by your parents to say, "thank you?" Whenever you are offered a treat from a friend or an adult helps you out, you hear a voice from over your shoulder, "Now, what do you say?" Of course your parents want you to be respectful and use good manners, and this is why they teach you to say, "Thank you," but I wonder if we truly know what it means to be thankful.

Thankfulness is a state of being and a way of life for all Orthodox Christians, for you and me. A thankful spirit is a key characteristic of a Christian. It sets us apart from the world. It makes us different.

Thankfulness is more than a comparison of our own circumstances to someone else's. It is more than having enough food to eat, a nice home, good health, or financial security, because any of these can be lost in an instant. Thankfulness is being grateful to God for who we are, His sacrifice for us, and the hope and joy of everlasting life.

But how do we show our thankfulness to God?

Faith in Good Works:
First, the Orthodox Christian life is a life of faith — faith in a Lord who laid His life down for our salvation. No one would deny the fact that the Christian life is one full of faith. But St. James tells us that if we have true Christian faith, it will be shown in our good works. He writes, "What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself (James 2:14,17)." He is telling us that if you have faith in Christ, and your life is locked into that faith, then your faith will naturally lead you to do good works.

The proof of your faith is in good works. Can the proof be found in your life? Again St. James says, "But prove yourselves doers of the word and not just hearers who delude themselves" (James 1:22). Too often we join the people who hear but fail to produce the works that would make us doers. By doing the good works that Jesus taught us to do, we show by our actions that our faith is real. The proof of thanksgiving in the Christian Life is Faith that produces good works.

Love Equals Sacrifice:
But it doesn't just stop here. The Christian Life is a life of Love. Love not in just words but in action, and love in action is Sacrifice. Love is sacrifice. St. John tells us "We know love by this that He laid down His life for us (1 John: 3)." We must sacrifice our will for the will of Christ, just as He sacrificed His will for the will of the Father.

Many of you might be involved in sports and many of your games might take place on a Sunday morning. What do you? Do you continue to participate in a league that causes a conflict between you and your faith that holds Sunday morning as a time dedicated to the sacred worship? A faith that offers the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion for all the faithful to receive Him and become one with Him.

Which will you choose? If you sacrifice your participation in this league that plays on Sunday mornings, it is a real way of showing that you put God first. It shows that Christ is so important in your life that you want to show it by offering thanksgiving and worship to Him at Sunday Divine Liturgy.

We have already said that Works are the proof of Faith, and Sacrifice shows our Love. But there is one more aspect of our thankfulness to Christ that we need to think about.

Discipleship/Apostles for Christ:
What does it mean to be a disciple? We know the original 12 Disciples followed Jesus, and traveled with Him during His ministry. They lived with Him and ate with Him, took on His ways, His teachings, His values, and His character. Not only that, but they also became apostles by teaching the faith to others, helping others to know Jesus.

They were true followers, true disciples of Jesus. We as Orthodox Christians in the 21st Century are also disciples by living as He taught us. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, "If you abide in my word you are my disciples indeed (John 8:31)." Jesus was saying that if you are trying to live your life the way I have taught you, then you are my follower. You can truly be called a Christian.

If you love the way He has told you to love — by SACRIFICE — then you are part of Him and the proof of your thankfulness is clear. If you try to walk in Faith, do His Works, and are obedient to His will, the proof of your thankfulness is clear.

A tree branch stays alive and bears fruit only because it is attached to and draws nourishment from the tree. We are the branches and Jesus is the tree. We draw nourishment through Him.

Being thankful to God is not just an idea. Often we say things but there is no substance behind it. Today we talked about real ways of showing our thanks to God -- not just in words but in the way we offer our lives to God:
Faith leads us to do works of charity, help those in need, offering our time and talents;

Love encourages us to sacrifice our lives and be obedient to the will of God, so that our will is the same as the will of God; and

Living a Christ-centered life and walking in His ways, as His disciples and apostles did, bring us to the very center of our Faith.

May the mercy and love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ be with all of you. Amen!!


Ό δε Ιησούς κάτω κύφας τω δακτύλω έγραφεν εις την γήν. (Ίωαν. η 6)

Κάποτε ό πανάγαθος Κύριος καθόταν μπροστά στο ναό της Ιερουσαλήμ. Μιλούσε σε κάποιους ανθρώπους και ή γλυκιά διδασκαλία Του έτρεφε τις πεινασμένες καρδιές. Γύρω Του σιγά σιγά μαζεύτηκε ένα μεγάλο πλήθος (βλ. Ίωάν. η" 2). Μιλούσε στους ανθρώπους ό Κύριος για την αιώνια μακαριότητα, για την ατελεύτητη χαρά πού περιμένει τούς δίκαιους στην αιώνια κατοικία, στους ουρανούς. Οι άνθρωποι χαίρονταν με τη διδασκαλία Του, με τα θεϊκά Του λόγια.

Ή πίκρα πολλών απογοητευμένων ψυχών κι ή έχθρα πολλών ανθρώπων πού τούς είχαν προσβάλει, έσβηναν όπως το χιόνι μόλις τ" αγγίξουν οι θερμές ακτίνες του ήλιου. Ποιος ξέρει πόσο θα κρατούσε ή υπέροχη αύτη σκηνή ειρήνης κι αγάπης πού έσμιγε τη γη με τον ουρανό, αν δεν την είχε διακόψει κάτι αναπάντεχο. Ό Μεσσίας αγαπά τους ανθρώπους και δεν κουράζεται ποτέ να τους διδάσκει. Και οι ευλαβείς πιστοί δεν κουράζονται ποτέ ν" ακούν την θαυμάσια θεραπευτική και σοφή διδασκαλία του.

Μα ξαφνικά έγινε κάτι φοβερό, μεσολάβησε μια ενέργεια εχθρική. Κι αιτία ήταν, ως συνήθως, οι γραμματείς κι οι φαρισαίοι.

Τί έκαναν εκείνοι; Μήπως είχαν συλλάβει τον αρχηγό κάποιας συμμορίας ληστών; Όχι, τίποτα τέτοιο. Έσερναν βίαια μια δυστυχισμένη αμαρτωλή γυναίκα πού είχε συλληφθεί να μοιχεύει. Την έφερναν θριαμβευτικά λοιπόν με άγριες κι εκκωφαντικές κραυγές. Μόλις την παρουσίασαν μπροστά στο Χριστό, φώναξαν:

- Διδάσκαλε, αυτή ή γυνή κατείληπται έπ'αυτοφώρω μοιχευομένη-και εν τω νόμω ημών Μωυσής ένετείλατο τάς τοιαύτας λιθάζειν. συ ουν τί λέγεις;

Δάσκαλε, τη γυναίκα αυτή την πιάσαμε «έπ" αυτοφώρω» να διαπράττει την αμαρτία της μοιχείας. Κι ό Μωυσής λέει στο νόμο του πώς τέτοιες γυναίκες πρέπει να τις λιθοβολούμε. Εσύ τί λες; (Ίωάν. η'4-6).

Την υπόθεση την παρουσίασαν μ" αυτόν τον τρόπο αμαρτωλοί άνθρωποι πού κατηγορούσαν τις αμαρτίες των άλλων, αλλά έκρυβαν με επιμέλεια τις δικές τους. Το πλήθος τρομοκρατήθηκε κι έκανε χώρο στους πρεσβύτερους. Μερικοί φοβήθηκαν πολύ κι έφυγαν. Ό Κύριος τούς μιλούσε για ζωή και μακαριότητα, ενώ αυτοί οι φωνακλάδες ούρλιαζαν για το θάνατο.

Θα "ταν σκόπιμο να ρωτούσα: Γιατί όλοι αυτοί οι πρεσβύτεροι κι οι φύλακες του νόμου δε λιθοβόλησαν μόνοι τους την αμαρτωλή γυναίκα; Γιατί την έφεραν μπροστά στον Ιησού; Ό νόμος του Μωυσή τούς έδινε το δικαίωμα να την λιθοβολήσουν. Κανένας δε θα βρισκόταν να προβάλει αντίρρηση, να τούς κατηγορήσει. Ποιος διαμαρτύρεται στις μέρες μας όταν απαγγέλλεται ή ποινή του θανάτου σε κάποιον εγκληματία; Γιατί οι Εβραίοι πρεσβύτεροι έφεραν την αμαρτωλή γυναίκα στον Κύριο;

Όχι, δεν περίμεναν οι πρεσβύτεροι να πετύχουν κάποια μετατροπή της ποινής ή ν" αποσπάσουν επιείκεια από μέρους Του. Κάθε άλλο μάλιστα. Την έφεραν μ" ένα προμελετημένο και μοχθηρό σχέδιο: να παγιδεύσουν τον Κύριο, να πει λόγια αντίθετα στο νόμο κι έπειτα να τον κατηγορήσουν.

Ήθελαν μ" ένα χτύπημα να τελειώνουν με δύο ζωές: μια της αμαρτωλής γυναίκας κι άλλη μια τού Χριστού.

«Συ ουν τί λέγεις;». Γιατί τον ρώτησαν αφού ό νόμος του Μωυσή ήταν σαφής; Ό ευαγγελιστής αποκαλύπτει το δόλο τους με τα έξης λόγια: «Τούτο δε ειπόν έκπειράζοντες αυτόν, ίνα σχώσι κατηγορίαν κατ αυτού» (Λουκ. η" 6). Το είπαν αυτό για να τον βάλουν σε πειρασμό και να βρουν έπειτα αιτία να τον κατηγορήσουν.

Είχαν ξανασηκώσει μια φορά τα χέρια τους για να τον λιθοβολήσουν, αλλά τους ξέφυγε. Τώρα όμως πίστευαν πώς βρήκαν μια ευκαιρία να πραγματοποιήσουν την επιθυμία τους. Και θα γινόταν αυτό εκεί μπροστά, στο ναό του Σολομώντα, όπου φυλάσσονταν ο πλάκες των εντολών στην Κιβωτό της Διαθήκης, μπροστά σ" ένα μεγάλο πλήθος ανθρώπων.

Θα γινόταν εκεί όπου Αυτός, ό Χριστός, θα "πρεπε να πει κάτι αντίθετο στην εντολή του Μωυσή. Κι έτσι θα πετύχαιναν το στόχο τους. Θα λιθοβολούσαν μέχρι θανάτου τόσο το Χριστό όσο και την αμαρτωλή γυναίκα. Και βέβαια ήταν πολύ πιο πρόθυμοι να λιθοβολήσουν το Χριστό παρά την πόρνη, όπως αργότερα ζήτησαν με περισσό ζήλο από τον Πιλάτο να ελευθερώσει τον ληστή Βαραββά αντί για το Χριστό.

Όλοι όσοι παρευρίσκονταν στη σκηνή περίμεναν δύο πράγματα να γίνουν: είτε με την ευσπλαχνία Του ό Κύριος να ελευθερώσει την αμαρτωλή γυναίκα, παραβιάζοντας έτσι το νόμο, είτε να τηρήσει το νόμο και να τους πει: «Πράξετε όπως ορίζει ό νόμος». Έτσι όμως θα παρέβαινε τη δική Του εντολή για έλεος και καλοσύνη. Στην πρώτη περίπτωση θα τον καταδικάζανε σε θάνατο. Στη δεύτερη θα γινόταν ρεζίλι, άξιος χλευασμού και περιφρόνησης.

Με το πού του έκαναν την ερώτηση «σύ ουν τί λέγεις;» οι κατήγοροι, επικράτησε νεκρική σιγή. Σιγή ανάμεσα στο πλήθος πού είχε συγκεντρωθεί και σιγή ανάμεσα στους κριτές της αμαρτωλής γυναίκας. Ή σιγή είχε κόψει και την ανάσα στην ψυχή της αμαρτωλής γυναίκας. Μεγάλη σιγή επικρατεί στα μεγάλα τσίρκα όταν οι θηριοδαμαστές περιφέρουν τα λιοντάρια και τις τίγρεις και τούς δίνουν εντολές να εκτελέσουν διάφορες κινήσεις, να λάβουν περίεργες για ζώα στάσεις και να παίζουν σύμφωνα με τις διαταγές τους.

Μπροστά μας όμως τώρα δεν έχουμε θηριοδαμαστές, αλλά τον δαμαστή των ανθρώπων. Κι αυτό είναι ένα καθήκον πολύ πιο δύσκολο από το προηγούμενο. Συχνά είναι πολύ πιο σκληρό να ημερέψεις εκείνους πού έχουν εξαγριωθεί λόγω της αμαρτίας, παρά να ημερέψεις εκείνους πού είναι άγριοι από τη φύση τους. «Σύ ουν τί λέγεις;», του είπαν πιεστικά γι" άλλη μια φορά με πρόσωπα πού τα φλόγιζε ή κακία.

Τότε ό νομοθέτης της αγάπης και της ευσέβειας έσκυψε κι άρχισε να γράφει ήρεμα με το χέρι Του στο έδαφος (βλ. Ίωάν. η" 6). Τί έγραφε ό Χριστός στο χώμα; Ό ευαγγελιστής κρατά σιγή εδώ, δε μας αναφέρει τί έγραφε ό Χριστός. Ήταν πολύ κακό κι αποτρόπαιο αυτό για να το γράψει στο βιβλίο της χαράς. Το αναφέρει ή παράδοση όμως κι είναι κάτι τρομερό. Ό Χριστός έγραψε κάτι αναπάντεχο πού θα ξάφνιαζε τούς πρεσβύτερους, τούς κατήγορους της αμαρτωλής γυναίκας. Με το δάχτυλο Του αποκάλυψε την κρυφή ανομία τους. Γιατί αυτοί οι διαπομπευτές των αμαρτιών των άλλων ήξεραν πολύ καλά να κρύβουν τα δικά τους κρίματα. Είναι όμως άσκοπο να προσπαθείς να κρύψεις κάτι από το μάτι πού τα βλέπει όλα.

Σύμφωνα με την παράδοση λοιπόν, έγραψε ό Κύριος στο έδαφος:

Ό Μ(εσουλάμ) έκλεψε θησαυρό από το ναό.
Ό Ά (σήρ) διέπραξε μοιχεία με τη γυναίκα του αδελφού του.
Ό Σ(αλούμ) έχει κάνει ψευδομαρτυρίες.
Ό Έ(λέντ) έχει δείρει τον πατέρα του.
Ό Ά(μαρίς) είναι σοδομίτης.
Ό Ί(ωήλ) έχει προσκυνήσει τα είδωλα.

Αυτά έγραψε, τη μια πρόταση μετά την άλλη, το δάχτυλο του δίκαιου κριτή. Κι εκείνοι στους οποίους αναφέρονταν τα λόγια αυτά έσκυψαν και τα διάβασαν με ανέκφραστο τρόμο. Έτρεμαν από φόβο, δεν τολμούσαν να κοιτάξουν ό ένας τον άλλον στα μάτια. Ξέχασαν πια τελείως την αμαρτωλή γυναίκα. Το μόνο πού σκέφτονταν ήταν ό εαυτός τους, ό δικός τους θάνατος πού είχε χαραχτεί στο χώμα. Ούτε μια γλώσσα δεν είχε τη δύναμη να κινηθεί, να ξανακάνει την ενοχλητική και πονηρή ερώτηση: «Σύ ουν τί λέγεις;»

Ό Κύριος δεν είπε τίποτα. Αυτό πού είναι τόσο βρώμικο, του πρέπει να γραφτεί στο βρώμικο χώμα. Ένας άλλος λόγος πού ό Κύριος έγραψε στο χώμα είναι ακόμα πιο δυνατός και πιο σπουδαίος. Αυτό πού γράφεται στο χώμα σβήνει εύκολα. Ό Χριστός δεν ήθελε να μάθει ό καθένας τις αμαρτίες τους. Αν το ήθελε αυτό, θα τις είχε διακηρύξει μπροστά σε όλους. Και τότε όλοι θα τούς κατηγορούσαν και θα τούς λιθοβολούσαν μέχρι θανάτου, σύμφωνα με το νόμο.

Εκείνος όμως, ό άκακος αμνός του Θεού, δε ζήτησε εκδίκηση ή θάνατο για κείνους πού του είχαν προετοιμάσει χιλιάδες θανάτους, πού ήθελαν το δικό Του θάνατο περισσότερο απ" όσο ποθούσαν για τούς ίδιους την αιώνια ζωή. Ό Κύριος ήθελε μόνο να τούς διορθώσει, να τούς μάθει πώς πρέπει να σκέφτονται τον εαυτό τους, ν" ασχολούνται με τις δικές τους αμαρτίες. Ήθελε να τούς υπενθυμίσει πώς ενώ τούς βάραινε το φορτίο των δικών τους αμαρτιών, δεν έπρεπε να κρίνουν τις αμαρτίες των άλλων. Αυτό μόνο ήθελε ό Κύριος. Κι όταν αυτό έγινε, το χώμα Ισοπεδώθηκε πάλι κι όσα είχαν γραφτεί σβήστηκαν.

Μετά απ" αυτά ό Κύριος σηκώθηκε και τούς είπε ήρεμα: «Ό άναμάρτητος υμών πρώτος λίθον βαλέτω έπ" αυτήν» (Ίωάν. η'7). Όποιος από σας είναι αναμάρτητος, ας της ρίξει την πρώτη πέτρα. Αυτό λειτούργησε σα να αφαίρεσε κάποιος τα όπλα των εχθρών κι υστέρα τούς είπε: «Και τώρα πυροβολήστε!»

Οι πρώην αγέρωχοι δικαστές της αμαρτωλής γυναίκας έστεκαν τώρα αφοπλισμένοι, ένιωθαν αυτοί τώρα σαν ένοχοι μπροστά στον κριτή, άφωνοι, ακίνητοι, λες κι ήταν καρφωμένοι στη γη. Ό πανεύσπλαχνος Κύριος όμως έσκυψε πάλι κι έγραφε στη γη. Τί έγραψε αύτη τη φορά; Ίσως τις άλλες κρυφές αμαρτίες και ανομίες τους, ώστε για μακρό χρονικό διάστημα να μην ξανανοίξουν το στόμα τους.

«Ίσως και να "γραφε τι λογιών άνθρωποι πρέπει να "ναι οι πρεσβύτεροι και οι άρχοντες των λαών. Αυτό δεν μας ενδιαφέρει και τόσο πολύ εμάς τώρα. Εκείνο πού είναι σπουδαίο, είναι πώς με το γράψιμο στο χώμα πέτυχε τρεις στόχους: πρώτο, έδωσε τέλος και διάλυσε την καταιγίδα πού του είχαν ετοιμάσει οι πρεσβύτεροι των Ιουδαίων δεύτερο, ξύπνησε τη ναρκωμένη τους συνείδηση στις νεκρωμένες καρδιές τους, έστω και για λίγο- και τρίτο, γλίτωσε την αμαρτωλή γυναίκα από το θάνατο. Αυτό γίνεται φανερό από τα λόγια του ευαγγελίου: «οι δε άκούσαντες έξήρχοντο εις καθ εις, άρξάμενοι από των πρεσβυτέρων, και κατελείφθη ό Ιησούς και ή γυνή εν μέσω ουσα» (Ίωάν. η" 9).

Εκείνοι δε σαν άκουσαν τα λόγια Του άρχισαν να φεύγουν ό ένας μετά τον άλλον, με πρώτους τούς πρεσβύτερους στην ηλικία. Στο τέλος έμεινε μόνος ό Ιησούς και ή γυναίκα, πού έστεκε όρθια ανάμεσα σε όλους.

Το προαύλιο του ναού ξαφνικά άδειασε. Δεν έμεινε κανένας, έκτος από τούς δύο πού οι πρεσβύτεροι τούς είχαν καταδικάσει σε θάνατο, δηλαδή ή αμαρτωλή γυναίκα κι ό αναμάρτητος Χριστός. Ή γυναίκα έστεκε όρθια, ό Χριστός ήταν σκυφτός κι έγραφε στο έδαφος. Για λίγο επικράτησε απόλυτη σιγή. Μετά ό Κύριος ανασηκώθηκε, κοίταξε τριγύρω κι αφού δεν είδε κανέναν είπε στη γυναίκα: «Γύναι, που είσιν; ουδείς σε κατέκρινεν;». Που είναι οι κατήγοροι σου; Κανένας δεν σε κατέκρινε, δε ζητάει το λιθοβολισμό σου;

Ό Κύριος γνώριζε πώς κανένας δεν την καταδίκαζε τώρα. Αλλά θέλησε με την ερώτηση Του να της εμπνεύσει εμπιστοσύνη, ώστε να μπορέσει ν" ακούσει και να κατανοήσει καλύτερα αυτά πού θα της έλεγε στη συνέχεια. Λειτούργησε όπως ένας επιδέξιος γιατρός, πού πρώτα δίνει κουράγιο στον άρρωστο κι ύστερα του χορηγεί τη θεραπεία. Ουδείς σε κατέκρινεν; Ή γυναίκα κατόρθωσε να ξαναβρεί τη λαλιά της κι απάντησε: «ουδείς, Κύριε». Κανένας δεν με κατακρίνει πια, Κύριε. Τα λόγια αυτά τα πρόφερε ένα αξιολύπητο πλάσμα, πού πριν από λίγο δεν έλπιζε να ξαναμιλήσει, ένα πλάσμα πού ένιωθε μια ανάσα πραγματικής χαράς Ίσως για πρώτη φορά στη ζωή της.

Τελικά ό αγαθός Κύριος είπε στη γυναίκα: «Ουδέ εγώ σε κατακρίνω πορεύου και από του νύν μηκέτι άμάρτανε» (Ίωάν. η'11). Ούτε εγώ σε κατακρίνω. Πήγαινε. Μόνο από τώρα και στο έξης μην αμαρτήσεις ξανά.

Όταν οι λύκοι χαρίζουν τη ζωή στα θύματα τους, τότε, όπως είναι φυσικό, ούτε ό βοσκός θέλει να πεθάνουν τα πρόβατα. Είναι σημαντικό όμως να βεβαιωθούμε πώς ή αθώωση πού πρόσφερε ό Χριστός σημαίνει πολύ περισσότερα από την αθώωση πού προσφέρουν οι άνθρωποι. Όταν οι άνθρωποι δεν σε κατακρίνουν για την αμαρτία σου, σημαίνει πώς δεν ορίζουν κάποια τιμωρία για την αμαρτία, μα αφήνουν την αμαρτία πάνω σου. Όταν όμως δεν κρίνει ό Θεός, σημαίνει πώς συγχωρεί την αμαρτία σου, σε απαλλάσσει απ" αυτήν, την απομακρύνει σαν πύον και καθαρίζει την πληγή της ψυχής σου.

Γι" αυτό και τα λόγια ουδέ εγώ σε κατακρίνω, είναι σα να λένε: «Οι αμαρτίες σου συγχωρούνται, κόρη. Πήγαινε και μην ξαναμαρτήσεις».

Τί ανέκφραστη χαρά! Ή χαρά της αλήθειας! Ό Κύριος αποκάλυψε την αλήθεια σε κείνους πού λογαριάζονταν χαμένοι, άπολωλότα. Τί χαρά δικαιοσύνης! Ό Κύριος «έποίησε» δικαιοσύνη. Τί χαρά ελέους! Ό Κύριος έδειξε το έλεος Του. Τί χαρά της ζωής! Ό Κύριος διατήρησε τη ζωή. Αυτό είναι το ευαγγέλιο του Χριστού. Σημαίνει καλή αγγελία, ευχάριστη είδηση. Αυτά είναι τα καλά νέα, ή διδασκαλία της χαράς. Αυτή είναι μια σελίδα από το Βιβλίο της Χαράς.




Οι πληροφορίες προέρχονται από τον Οργανισμό Αντισεισμικού Σχεδιασμού και Προστασίας (Ο.Α.Σ.Π.)

1. Ισχύει η οδηγία κάλυψης κάτω από ένα τραπέζι σε περίπτωση σεισμού, ή έχει αντικατασταθεί από το «τρίγωνο ζωής»;

Σε περίπτωση σεισμού, ο Ο.Α.Σ.Π. όπως και όλοι οι διεθνείς οργανισμοί προτείνει ως καταλληλότερη οδηγία αυτοπροστασίας την κάλυψη κάτω από ένα γερό τραπέζι, γραφείο ή θρανίο (κρατώντας με το χέρι το πόδι του επίπλου) για όσο χρόνο διαρκεί η δόνηση.

Έρευνες έχουν δείξει ότι οι περισσότεροι τραυματισμοί στους σεισμούς που πλήττουν τις Η.Π.Α. γίνονται όταν οι άνθρωποι που βρίσκονται μέσα σε κτίρια προσπαθούν να μετακινηθούν μέσα στο κτίριο ή προσπαθούν να το εκκενώσουν κατά τη διάρκεια της δόνησης. Για το λόγο αυτό συνιστάται η άμεση επιλογή μιας ασφαλούς θέσης μέσα στο χώρο που βρισκόμαστε, όπως π.χ. η κάλυψη κάτω από ένα γερό τραπέζι, η οποία να είναι όσο το δυνατόν πιο κοντινή σε σχέση με την αρχική μας θέση. Η κάλυψη αυτή ουσιαστικά προστατεύει το άτομο από τυχόν επικινδυνότητες (τζάμια που σπάζουν κ.ά.)
Τα τελευταία χρόνια τόσο στην Ελλάδα όσο και στο εξωτερικό φτάνουν σε διάφορους παραλήπτες ηλεκτρονικά μηνύματα που σχετίζονται με το συγκεκριμένο θέμα. Αυτό οδήγησε τη FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), τον Αμερικάνικο Ερυθρό Σταυρό και άλλους αρμόδιους φορείς να τοποθετηθούν σχετικά με το ζήτημα που έχει προκύψει μέσω ανακοινώσεών τους, όπου συνεχίζουν να προτείνουν ως καταλληλότερη οδηγία την ώρα του σεισμού το: «σκύψε, καλύψου και κρατήσου (drop, cover and hold on)».

2. Μπορεί κάποιος να προφυλαχθεί κάτω από την κάσα της πόρτας την ώρα του σεισμού;

Μόνο εάν βρίσκεται σε κτίριο από φέρουσα τοιχοποιία, δηλαδή πέτρινο ή πλινθόκτιστο κτίριο. Στα κτίρια από οπλισμένο σκυρόδεμα η κάσα της πόρτας δεν προσφέρει κάποια ιδιαίτερη προστασία. Η βασική οδηγία αυτοπροστασίας σε οποιαδήποτε περίπτωση είναι: σκύψε, καλύψου κάτω από ένα γερό, ξύλινο τραπέζι ή γραφείο και κράτησε το πόδι του.

3. Ο καλός καιρός ευνοεί τη γένεση του σεισμού;

Οι σεισμοί οφείλουν τη γένεσή του σε εσωτερικές διεργασίες της γης. Οι περισσότεροι από αυτούς προκαλούνται από την καταπόνηση του λιθοσφαιρικού υλικού εξαιτίας της κίνησης των λιθοσφαιρικών πλακών. Η εστία του κάθε σεισμού βρίσκεται αρκετά έως πολλά χιλιόμετρα κάτω από την επιφάνεια της γης. Είναι αυτονόητο λοιπόν ότι οι καιρικές συνθήκες, δηλαδή ο καλός ή ο άσχημος καιρός, η ζέστη ή το κρύο, το καλοκαίρι ή ο χειμώνας, δεν σχετίζονται με την εκδήλωση των σεισμών.

4. Ποιες είναι οι σωστές ενέργειες που πρέπει να κάνει κάποιος όταν βρίσκεται μέσα σε κτίριο και γίνεται σεισμός;

Όταν κάποιος αισθανθεί σεισμική δόνηση, πρέπει να παραμείνει στο χώρο του και να καλυφθεί άμεσα κάτω από ένα γερό τραπέζι ή ένα γραφείο. Θα πρέπει να απομακρυνθεί, όσο είναι δυνατόν, από επικινδυνότητες όπως: παράθυρα, ογκώδη αστήριχτα έπιπλα κ.λπ. Θα πρέπει να παραμείνει καλυμμένος μέχρι να σταματήσει η δόνηση.

Σε περίπτωση που δεν υπάρχει τραπέζι ή γραφείο στο χώρο που βρίσκεται, θα πρέπει να μειώσει το ύψος του πλησιάζοντας στο έδαφος στο κέντρο του δωματίου και να προστατέψει το κεφάλι και τον αυχένα με τα χέρια του.

5. Ποιες είναι οι σωστές ενέργειες που πρέπει να κάνει ένα Άτομο με κινητική αναπηρία κατά τη διάρκεια του σεισμού;

Την ώρα της δόνησης θα πρέπει να παραμείνει στην θέση του, μακριά από επικινδυνότητες, όσο αυτό είναι δυνατόν. Αν χρησιμοποιεί αμαξίδιο πρέπει όταν αισθανθεί το σεισμό να βάλει φρένο και στη συνέχεια να καλύψει το κεφάλι του και τον αυχένα με τα χέρια του ή με κάποιο άλλο αντικείμενο, σκύβοντας όσο το δυνατόν περισσότερο.

6. Εάν κάποιος βρίσκεται σε θέατρο ή σε κινηματογράφο και γίνει σεισμός ποιες είναι οι σωστές ενέργειες που πρέπει να κάνει;

Πρέπει να παραμείνει στο κάθισμά του για όση ώρα διαρκεί η δόνηση, να σκύψει όσο μπορεί το κεφάλι του και να προστατέψει το κεφάλι και τον αυχένα με τα χέρια του.

7. Τι πρέπει να κάνει αμέσως μετά το σεισμό κάποιος που βρίσκεται μέσα σε κτίριο;

Μετά το τέλος της σεισμικής δόνησης θα πρέπει, διατηρώντας την ψυχραιμία του, να φορέσει παπούτσια και κατάλληλα για την εποχή ρούχα και να κλείσει τους γενικούς διακόπτες (ηλεκτρικού ρεύματος, φυσικού αερίου, νερού). Στη συνέχεια θα πρέπει να εκκενώσει προσεκτικά το κτίριο από το κλιμακοστάσιο, παίρνοντας μαζί του τα εφόδια έκτακτης ανάγκης, όπως: φακό, ραδιόφωνο με μπαταρίες, νερό, κλειδιά, φάρμακα κ.ά. Θα πρέπει να κινείται γρήγορα και προσεκτικά, χωρίς να τρέχει, μέχρι να φτάσει στον προεπιλεγμένο κοντινό, ανοικτό, ασφαλή χώρο καταφυγής (πλατεία, πάρκο κ.λπ.).

8. Ποιος ήταν ο σεισμός με το μεγαλύτερο μέγεθος στην ιστορία του πλανήτη;

Ο σεισμός που έπληξε τη Χιλή στις 22 Μαΐου του 1960 είχε μέγεθος 9.5, το οποίο είναι το μεγαλύτερο μέγεθος όλων των εποχών. Περισσότεροι από 1.655 άνθρωποι έχασαν τη ζωή τους, 3.000 τραυματίστηκαν και 2.000.000 έμειναν άστεγοι στη νότια Χιλή. Οι οικονομικές επιπτώσεις του σεισμού στη Χιλή ανήλθαν σε 550 εκατομμύρια δολάρια. Το τσουνάμι που δημιουργήθηκε προκάλεσε 61 ανθρώπινες απώλειες στη Χαβάη, 138 στην Ιαπωνία και 32 στις Φιλιππίνες. Επίσης είχε οικονομικές επιπτώσεις της τάξης των 75 εκατομμυρίων δολαρίων στη Χαβάη, 50 εκατομμυρίων δολαρίων στην Ιαπωνία και 500.000 δολαρίων στις δυτικές ακτές των Η.Π.Α.

9. Ποιος ήταν ο σεισμός με τις περισσότερες ανθρώπινες απώλειες στην ιστορία του πλανήτη;

Ο σεισμός (Μ=8) που έπληξε την Κίνα (Shaanxi) στις 23 Ιανουαρίου του 1556 και είχε περισσότερους από 830.000 νεκρούς, είναι ο σεισμός με τις περισσότερες ανθρώπινες απώλειες όλων των εποχών. Σύμφωνα με τις επίσημες αναφορές ο σεισμός που έπληξε την Αιτή στις 12 Ιανουαρίου του 2010 είχε 316.000 νεκρούς, οπότε είναι το δεύτερο στην ιστορία του πλανήτη σεισμικό συμβάν από άποψη αριθμού ανθρωπίνων απωλειών.

10. Ποιος ήταν ο σεισμός με τις περισσότερες ανθρώπινες απώλειες στην Ελλάδα;

3550 άνθρωποι σκοτώθηκαν και 7000 τραυματίστηκαν κατά τη διάρκεια του σεισμού που έπληξε τη Χίο στις 3 Απριλίου του 1881. Το νότιο τμήμα του νησιού υπέστη μεγάλες καταστροφές, κυρίως τα χωριά: Νένητα, Βουνό, Φλάτσια, Καλαμωτή, Κοινή, Καλλιμασιά, Δίδυμα. Παρατηρήθηκαν επίσης κατολισθήσεις και βραχοπτώσεις, ρωγμές, καθώς και φαινόμενα ρευστοποίησης. Έγιναν εκατοντάδες μετασεισμοί, πολλοί από αυτούς εξίσου καταστρεπτικοί με τον κύριο σεισμό, μέχρι και το 1884.

11. Ποια είναι η διαφορά μεταξύ «μεγέθους» και «έντασης»;

Η ένταση αποτελεί το μέτρο των επιπτώσεων του σεισμού στις κατασκευές, στο περιβάλλον και στον άνθρωπο. Το μέγεθος αποτελεί το μέτρο της ενέργειας που εκλύεται από την εστία κατά τη διάρκεια της σεισμικής δόνησης.

12. Σε ποιες περιοχές εκδηλώνονται σεισμοί;

Σεισμοί εκδηλώνονται σε όλο τον πλανήτη. Οπωσδήποτε όμως το μεγαλύτερο ποσοστό των σεισμικών δονήσεων γεννιούνται σε ενεργά ρήγματα, στις παρυφές των λιθοσφαιρικών πλακών.

13. Μπορεί να προβλεφθεί ένας σεισμός;

Πρόγνωση είναι η γνώση του μεγέθους, του χρόνου γένεσης και του επίκεντρου ενός σεισμού πριν αυτός εκδηλωθεί. Η πρόγνωση των σεισμών είναι ένα θέμα που παρουσιάζει μεγάλο θεωρητικό αλλά και πρακτικό ενδιαφέρον και αποτελεί ένα είδος πρόκλησης για τους επιστήμονες. Η έρευνα στον τομέα αυτό προχωράει συνεχώς, ο στόχος όμως της συστηματικής παροχής προγνώσεων βραχείας διάρκειας δεν έχει ακόμη επιτευχθεί, ώστε να μπορεί να προβλεφθεί ο ακριβής χρόνος γένεσης, το επίκεντρο και το μέγεθος ενός σεισμού πριν την εκδήλωσή του. Τα αποτελέσματα της έρευνας για τη μακράς διάρκειας πρόγνωση είναι πιο ενθαρρυντικά. Έχουν γίνει σημαντικά βήματα στον εντοπισμό περιοχών που έχουν αυξημένη πιθανότητα γένεσης ισχυρών σεισμών.

14. Έχει αυξηθεί η σεισμική δραστηριότητα τα τελευταία χρόνια;

Σύμφωνα με στατιστικά στοιχεία από το NEIC περίπου 20.000 σεισμοί εκδηλώνονται κάθε χρόνο ή 55 ανά ημέρα. Όμως λόγω της εξέλιξης της τεχνολογίας, των επικοινωνιών και κατά συνέπεια των δυνατοτήτων καταγραφής των σεισμικών συμβάντων, καθώς και λόγω του αυξημένου ενδιαφέροντος του πληθυσμού γι αυτό το θέμα, όλοι οι πολίτες ενημερώνονται για την εκδήλωση σεισμών γρηγορότερα και συστηματικότερα από ότι στο παρελθόν. Πιο συγκεκριμένα, σύμφωνα με στατιστικά στοιχεία της υπηρεσίας US Geological Survey από το 1900 έως σήμερα, περίπου 16 ισχυρές σεισμικές δονήσεις εκδηλώνονται κάθε χρόνο σε όλο τον πλανήτη.

Πιο συγκεκριμένα 15 έχουν μέγεθος μεγαλύτερο από 7 βαθμούς της κλίμακας Richter, και μία μέγεθος μεγαλύτερο από 8. Μόνο 8 φορές από το 1973 έως το 2011 έχει ξεπεραστεί ο προαναφερόμενος μέσος όρος, το 1976, το 1990, το 1995, το 1999, το 2007, το 2009, το 2010 και το 2011 (περισσότερα στοιχεία:

15. Κατά πόσο τα δίκτυα φυσικού αερίου παρέχουν ασφάλεια σε περίπτωση σεισμού;

Τα δίκτυα φυσικού αερίου κατασκευάζονται από αγωγούς πολυαιθυλενίου, δηλαδή από υλικό εύκαμπτο, οπότε η ίδια η ελαστικότητά του επιτρέπει να ακολουθεί τις μετακινήσεις της γης την ώρα του σεισμού, άρα να μην παρουσιάζει ιδιαίτερες βλάβες. Επιπλέον, στις συνδέσεις των καταναλωτών με τα δίκτυα 4 bar, τοποθετείται στον παροχετευτικό αγωγό βαλβίδα αυτόματης διακοπής της ροής (flow-limitor) σε περίπτωση που υπάρξει μέσα στον αγωγό ροή μεγαλύτερη από την καθορισμένη, καθώς και βαλβίδα αποκοπής στο ρυθμιστή (shut-off).

16. Γιατί δεν λειτουργούν τα «τηλέφωνα» μετά από έναν ισχυρό σεισμό;

Αμέσως μετά το σεισμό παρατηρείται αυξημένη χρήση των τηλεφωνικών γραμμών από μεγάλο μέρος του πληθυσμού. Αυτή η υπερφόρτωση μπορεί να προκαλέσει βλάβες στα τηλεφωνικά κέντρα, οπότε για την αποφυγή των βλαβών κλείνουν αυτόματα ολόκληροι τομείς όταν ένα συγκεκριμένο ποσοστό συσκευών βρίσκεται σε χρήση. Αυτή είναι και η κύρια αιτία δυσλειτουργίας των γραμμών σταθερής και κινητής τηλεφωνίας.

17. Τι είναι ο αντισεισμικός κανονισμός και από πότε άρχισε να ισχύει στην Ελλάδα;

Ο Αντισεισμικός Κανονισμός κάθε χώρας είναι το νομικό κείμενο που περιέχει το σύνολο των κανόνων που καθορίζουν τις ελάχιστες απαιτήσεις για το σχεδιασμό αντισεισμικών κατασκευών, το οποίο αναθεωρείται και επικαιροποιείται όποτε κριθεί αναγκαίο. O πρώτος Ελληνικός Αντισεισμικός Κανονισμός στην Ελλάδα συντάχθηκε και άρχισε να ισχύει το 1959. Το 1984 συμπληρώθηκε με πρόσθετα άρθρα, η αποκλειστική εφαρμογή των οποίων άρχισε το 1985. Το 1995 τέθηκε σε αποκλειστική εφαρμογή ο Ν.Ε.Α.Κ. (Νέος Ελληνικός Αντισεισμικός Κανονισμός), ενώ από το 2001 ισχύει ο Ε.Α.Κ. – 2000 (Ελληνικός Αντισεισμικός Κανονισμός – 2000). Από τότε μέχρι σήμερα, στο αρχικό κείμενο του Ε.Α.Κ. – 2000 έχουν γίνει τροποποιήσεις, συμπληρώσεις και διευκρινήσεις που κρίθηκαν αναγκαίες. Το 2003 συμπεριλήφθηκε στον Κανονισμό ο Νέος Χάρτης Ζωνών Σεισμικής Επικινδυνότητας. Στο Χάρτη αυτό υπάρχουν 3 Ζώνες Σεισμικής Επικινδυνότητας σε αντίθεση με τον προηγούμενό του που υπήρχαν 4.

Where There is Humility. there is God... ( Elder Arsenie Papacioc

Archimandrite Arsenie (Papacioc), was one of the oldest and most respected of the elders still living in Romania. He was a representative of that golden pleiade of Romanian spiritual fathers of the twentieth century who have no equal in their fervency of faith, and experience in asceticism in the austere conditions of an uninhabited desert. He is like an abba of the ancient patericons, possessing experience combined with spiritual wisdom, a refined understanding of the secrets of the human soul, and a remarkable literary gift. Elder Arsenie labored in asceticism in the impenetrable forests of the Romanian mountains, together with Fr. Cleopa (Ilie), was persecuted by the god-hating authorities, and was imprisoned for his faith. He was the father-confessor of the monastery of St. Mary in Tekigroul, near Constanci. The wise Romanian elder, who would have turned 97 on August 11, 2011, reposed in the Lord on July 19, 2011.

The following questions were asked of the elder by Archimandrite Ioannichie (Balan; 1930­–2007)—a talented spiritual writer and poet, author of the Romanian Patericon, and co-ascetic and biographer of Elder Cleopa (Ilie).

* * *

—Fr. Arsenie, tell us, how can we be saved from our many earthly cares, so that we might have more time for prayer?

—Fr. Ioannichie, pure prayer from the heart and lips to God is a great work! Prayer is a sharp arrow that all the saints have aimed at heaven for thousands of years, and not only they, but also the simplest Christians. Prayer has pierced the heart of the heavens, perhaps it has reached those who were displeased with the earth's inhabitants, and salvific replies have returned along the same path; thus was faith preserved on earth from generation to generation.

Brother Christian, you also have your own history: you have entered into the great Christian union—the Church—and are forever redeemed by the Savior's sacrifice. That means that you are of great worth, and you have a great and noble responsibility. Is it so difficult for each of us to simply and directly ask God to help us in our troubles and sufferings, and to thank Him?!

Where is the man who has nothing to ask of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Mother of God? They say that the Mother of God is offended by those who never ask her for anything! She is the prayerful intercessor for people; and as much as God can do through His power, so much can the Mother of God do by Her prayer. Show that you are the child of the Mother of God, having a child's heart in your breast!

And we can be free of earthly cares only if we want to be—after all, our salvation depends upon us. As souls given by God, we must show more will, in order not to immerse ourselves in these earthly cares and burden ourselves with them to such an extent. We shall manage our lives as people of higher thought, and as responsible human beings. If we were to ask those who are saved and living in heaven, "What did it cost you to attain such blessedness?" they would reply, "Time, a little time well spent on the earth!" That means that we have absolutely no other time to bring our souls to perfection—souls that are called, gifted, and full of such resolve.

We must think about the fact that we are called "the angelic ranks" [the monastic rank is called the angelic rank. –OC]. Angels pray unceasingly, throughout eternity.

—What is the easiest way to overcome in the struggle against fornication and fleshly thoughts?

—In order to overcome in the struggle against fornication, in whatever stage it may be, we must first of all ask for grace from the Good God. This is not a short term battle, because we must definitely achieve total victory. At first, each one sees that he is powerless to withstand it; but with God all things are possible.

He who enters into this struggle must:

–want to be freed of this struggle, no matter what happens;

–pray with all his heart to the Mother of God, and ask her help;

–avoid, as much as possible, all circumstances that might arouse passions;

–do not accept into your mind those suggestions that might seem innocent, but then begin to solidify into images. Route all these thoughts, changing your mind to prayer—but your own prayer, and not something someone else recommended, no matter who that might be; into prayer with your own sighing, even if it is without words.

If the attack is aggressive, pleasurable, and vanquishing, one must call out to the Mother of God, and not give in. During the first phases, he should confess contritely and purely, not sparing himself and not blaming incidents, circumstances, or other individuals. He will be greatly helped if he goes to confession often.

Fr. Ioannichie (Balan)

The father-confessor will understand him, console him, and assure him that he is not alone, yet not allow him to harden in his motivations, as if it were all "necessary and perfectly natural."

The father-confessor should have zeal and kindness in order to be able to tear his spiritual child away from this secret and many-headed passion. It is recommended to read books and everything that has as its goal the preparation for death. The lost one will be forgiven through repentance, no matter what sin he committed, and this will be a great achievement; but let no one deceive himself or suppose that he can find any forgiveness without repentance. Because of this sin, you cannot ever know what heaven and hell really are; and one should think about this and pray.

A person who is more spiritually inclined, but nevertheless gets wounded to a greater or lesser extent and then passes through the bath of repentance, counts this as a misfortunate accident. He will have a serious reason for truly meek humility—and this gives God more joy than when someone thinks highly of himself as never having fallen.

This is not a paradox, but divine justice and mercy. He, the Master of the house and Good Pastor, left his sheepfold of sheep and went to find the lost sheep, and then happily put it on His shoulders and carried it into the gates of the Kingdom of glory. I once read what I am telling you now: "Brother Christian, believe me, there are two kinds of joy, which cannot be combined—you cannot rejoice here on earth in pleasures that are transient and sinful, and then reign with Jesus Christ." "Then, iniquity will stop its mouth" (cf. Ps. 106:42). "Thou fool, the time that you use for evil digs a pit for you, and tomorrow eternity will come!" Saying this, I think that the father confessor can encourage the person who is struggling with onslaughts from without, and with nature from within.

—How can one conquer and route ambition and prideful thoughts from himself?

—A hideous and impure passion! All evil catches a fish in this murky water! God does not even want to hear about a proud person! He takes all grace away from him, so that he might stumble—maybe then he will become humble, as the Scripture says (cf. 1 Pet. 5:5).

He abandons him, and that person becomes a great abomination; He takes from him all sense of beauty, leaves him to roam around in chaos, in all manner of filthy back alleys of the world. He has no image, or likeness, or healthy reason. The holy fathers say truly, "Wherever there was a fall, pride first did its work." No other passion will liken you to a devil like pride.

All passions can, let's say, be excused due to nature and bad life circumstances; but pride cannot be justified by anything! It has an unbearable insolence—it attaches itself to any virtue if it can, and it even hides behind humility, which serves as its shield. We see this very often, and to prove what I am saying, it is as one father said: "That proud one is so humble!"

Because it is so dangerous and so broadly present in all ages and ranks, it would be good if no one would disdain any person, no matter how unimportant he may be—for Christ is within him—and would even ask his opinion, even if it is for a lark. This would be the first step, one length along the path of the Gospels.

It would be good to ask everyone's opinion, no matter who you are; for who knows? After all, God's grace rests more often upon the simple and unnoticed. Make a prostration, as they say, if only for the sake of humbling the body—for this also shows good manners—and you will see how much you need these people with whom God has assigned you to live. You will see, and will be convinced in life that wisdom really does abide more in places where there is humility—for God is there.

Lucifer fell irreparably; his grandiose fall happened due to one word only: "I". Having fallen, he became an adversary for eternity, an abomination of desolation. Let no one be deceived, thinking that without true purification in the only water of humility he can enter into the Kingdom from which the angels fell!

These are, in brief, my thoughts and exhortations about this, so that one might realize that God created us beautiful only for Himself!

—What can one do to restrain the tongue and acquire the gift of silence?

—This is truly a serious matter—to not be the master of your tongue. As the saints say, "The tongue leads us to great falls." More vanity than benefit comes from loquacity, and malignant gossip brings great danger not only in this world, but also in the next. They say that most of the people in hell are those who murdered with malicious words!

Brother, you must love you brother. Isn't this the Savior's most important commandment? He gave this commandment as the crown of all His teachings—that the only way to salvation is love; and He ascended the unforgettable and soul-rending Golgotha!

We must always reiterate to people the responsibility that we bear for our lifetime, the only time given to us, so that we would set a lock upon our tongue and purify our hearts from evil. St. Gregory the Theologian says: "We must answer for every superfluous word, even more so for every shameful word"; how much more horribly for every murderous word! The Patericon is very useful in this regard with its chapter on "The benefit of silence."

St. Isidore of Pelusium says, "Speaking with benefit is a blessing, but if it is reinforced by deeds, it is crowned." "For life without words brings greater benefit, while a commanding word evokes anger. If word and life are united they comprise the personification of all philosophy."

Treasure the Lord in your heart and let your attention abide there, and remain there before the Lord without leaving. Then you will notice every speck of dust in yourself. This is how mystical knowledge begins. It is a mirror for the mind and a lamp for the conscience. It dries up lust, extinguishes rage, humbles anger and disperses sorrow, tames insolence, scatters despondency, gives clarity to the mind, casts out sloth, truly humbles you and makes your reason undeceivable; it wounds the demons, and purifies the body. Such a person is no longer the participant in any wicked deed, but rather is alien to it. He thinks all the time, "Who shall I go to? I am a worm…" This is something different, having to do with remembrance of death and man's eternal lot, and belongs to mystical knowledge.

From: Ne vorbeşte părintele Arsenie. Ediţia îngrijită de а Arhimandrit Ioanichie Bălan. Vol. 1–3. Editura Mănăstirea Sihăstria, 2004. Archimandrite Arsenie (Papacioc), Archimandrite Ioannici (Balan)

THE VALUE OF PATIENCE(PART 5) - St. John Chrysostom

Let us never forget that all the saints, prophets, righteous, apostles, martyrs, and confessors did not enjoy comfort and prosperity, indulgence and
pleasure, human honor and glory, but on the
contrary, they experienced poverty and deprivation, pain and suffering, ridicule and debasement, torture and bitter death. In every time period, all the people of God who want to keep His commandments and live according to His will taste the demonic darts of jealousy and malice.

If you also desire to follow the Lord, you must keep in mind that you will face dangers, you will suffer persecution, and you will taste bitter poison. The
wise Sirach clearly warns us: "My son, if you have decided to serve the Lord, prepare your soul for temptation”(Sirach 2:1). The Apostle Paul also makes the following unmistakable confirmation: "And all they who desire to live godly in
Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Tim. 3:12). For this reason, when you do something good and you receive something bad in return, not only should you not be sad but you should also rejoice. Not only should you not be discouraged, but you should become more eager to execute good works. In this manner you will also be crowned with the incorrupt wreath of eternal life, just as Christ's
disciples were. Now they participate in His heavenly glory; whereas,while they were still on the earth,they experienced nothing other than persecution and sorrows. "For we have become a spectacle unto the world," writes one of these
apostles. "We hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are slapped, and we wander from place to place
homeless...When we are reviled, we bless. When we are persecuted, we are patient. When we are defamed, we respond with love.

We have become as the filth of the world" 
(1 Cor. 4:9-13).
Do you know who gives us this awe-inspiring description concerning the sufferings and the patience of the apostles? It is the apostle who suffered more than all the rest, the Job of the New Testament, the divine SaintPaul. From the day that Christ appeared to him up until the martyrdom with which he concluded his life, he knew nothing other than trials and sorrows. A short while prior to being
apprehended, he said the following words to the presbyters of Ephesus: "At the instruction of the Holy Spirit, I go unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there. I only know this: In every city I go to, the Holy Spirit informs me that bonds and afflictions are in store for me." (Acts 20:22-23).

"Well, since bonds and afflictions are waiting for you, then why are you going there?" we could ask the Apostle Paul. To this he would reply, "This is
precisely why I am going there. So I can be apprehended and chained; in order to be imprisoned and accused—even to die for Christ." "Hold on, Apostle! Aren't you embarrassed to go all over the world bound as a criminal? When people see you in this state, aren't you afraid they may attribute weakness to the God Whom you preach and thus not believe in Him?" Now the Apostle Paul will respond to us with a verse from one of the epistles he wrote to the Philippians: "The things
which happened unto me have actually turned out
unto the furtherance of the gospel. So that my bonds in Christ have become evident in all the palace, and in all other places. And most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear" 

(Ph. 1:12-14).
Do you see how the bonds have greater power than even the resurrection of the dead? He was tied and imprisoned in Rome, and yet he made most of its
citizens become his followers. When he was tied and imprisoned in Jerusalem, he made the ruler
Felix tremble with fear (cf. Acts 24:25) and king Agrippa stand in amazement (Acts 26:28). When he was in chains on the ship, he exercised control over
the sea and calmed even the fierce storm, and thus he saved two hundred and seventy six people from certain death (Acts 27:1-44). 

St. John Chrysostom

The 7 Deadly Sins - Constantine Zalalas

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