Monday, January 31, 2011

Are We Living In The End Times?


January 30, 2011

By Monk Moses the Athonite

In our difficult and turbulent times there is generally a small powerful group of people with certain metaphysical pursuits. Some find God as a necessity, as an armchair, and as a raft. Usually people find what they are looking for and what interests them. They do not want to get tired and toil much. They are satisfied with rough and easy solutions. In this way, sometimes religiosity exhausts them as formal obligations without any return. Sometimes they are lured by unscrupulous teachers who exploit their divine desire by offering them liberation, joyfulness, relaxation and rest.

In this pursuit there is a strong demonology, antichristology and eschatology, which unfortunately is established on a false foundation. Extremism, setting dates for the end of the world, reports about the birth of the Antichrist and so on, create terror and fear in the souls of Christians, which is improper and undesirable. Some talk more about the Antichrist and less about Christ. Their permanent occupation is the interpretation of the times. Many who are wise and prudent are concerned for the great concerns of the people. Every news story which confirms their suspicions becomes their permanent concern. We do not consider this overreaction normal.

People have abandoned the war against the unnatural passions and the cultivation of the natural virtues to engage all day with fantasies, fears, superstitions and the possibility of any magic performed on them, worrying if perhaps they acquired a certain number. They have forgotten study, prayer, good works, repentance, and the sacramental life of the Church in their struggle with subjective explanations and outlandish theories. These topics distance one from the essence, from the basis, and from the joy of spiritual life and lead people in a dark demonic labyrinth.

In saying this, we do not mean to say that there is nothing going on. We are not talking in favor of unhealthy complacency, or laziness, or being mislead, or indifference. There is definitely a need for wakefulness, for standing up, for upliftment, for courage, and for resistance to what is unholy, untrue and dishonest. The freedom of the human person is very important and should always and everywhere be defended in every way. All our attention should turn to what is essential, vital and true in themselves. Unfortunately many people are afraid to embrace truth, to see their internal nakedness. This is why they want to deal with what has personal benefits.

People today are anxious that perhaps they may not be able to use their spoons and forks, because they will not have anything to eat. They gather food for the difficult days ahead. Even without a date for the end? With what joy will they eat when their brethren around them are dying of hunger? Did not Christ teach the "Our Father"? Does it not say "give us this day"? In other words, even Christians are interested only in chewing? It is important to carefully see where the militancy of our Christians goes. Do not give these ironic lurkers who do not fear God, who lately have increased, the occasion to laugh.

We are judged by our choices. We have a responsibility for our choices. There is a necessary need for study, knowledge, experience, enlightenment and advice. Let me say it again. We all need sincere repentance, a healthy change, a change of mind, a new way of life, a new culture, another destination, a different goal, a higher aim, a meaningful life. Honorableness, righteousness, and honesty can return to this wretched place.

If the much debated citizenship card deprives us of our freedoms, then of course we should not receive it, obeying the decisions of the Church. But we should not ever have to live with suspicion, fantasies, exaggerations, fanaticism, extremism and factions. Fear, terror, panic and reactionary uprising against everything is not the proper way of spiritual life.

Are we in the end times? Have the signs of the times come? Has the Antichrist set his seal? Has the end of the world come? All will be done according to God's will. The ancient Saint Silouan said: "Even if heaven and earth unite, I will not be afraid." Christ gives believers fearlessness, calmness, hope, optimism and joy. Defeatism, gloom, pessimism and disorder never belongs to Christians.

May the celebrated saints, the Three Hierarchs, illuminate for us the path of discernment.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos

8th Century Church Beneath the 'Atlantis' of Lake Kremasta


Lake Kremasta (Λίμνη Κρεμαστών) is the largest artificial lake in Greece begun in 1965. The construction of the dam of Kremasta was completed in 1969 concentrating waters from four rivers: Acheloos, Agrafiotis, Tavropos and Trikeriotis.

The lake covered areas where prior to 1965 there existed twenty villages and dozens of churches and monasteries. 90,000 acres drowned and changed the lives of 2,000 inhabitants of the area.

Today people call this place the "Atlantis" of Evrytania for what lies beneath these waters. What stands out among the ruins is an 8th century Byzantine church called "Panagia of Episkopi" (Παναγία της Επισκοπής) which is being examined now by amateur divers 45 years later, according to Βήμα (01/28/2011).


The mission of these divers began in May of 2008 when they sought to uncover what lay beneath the lake. They encountered much difficulty however as the lake has a depth of 30 meters to 400 meters with high levels of red soil and debri that make everything look submerged in mud. After 15 meters visibility is complete dakness, and they faced the dangers of bitter cold and underground streams. The divers accepted defeat, howevers the locals had much hope in this mission of theirs to find the church they loved and remembered. They didn't give up.

According to Christos Euthymiou, board member of the Association of Amateur Divers 'Tithys', they were not looking for the church but just came upon it. It was discovered at a depth of 40 meters; at 32 meters they could touch the dome. They were amazed to find the church still standing! After conducting research and talking to the locals who knew the area prior to the flooding, they found out more about it.


The church before it was covered by the lake and after.

According to Maria Salomidi: "Even though I don't believe in God, this experience had an almost religious mystique. After so much effort and suffering, with all the emotions that we brought, for us to see the dome we were filled with joy, especially because we were sharing it with the people."

Archimandrite Damaskinos Vasilopoulos, a former resident of Episkopi, stated: "I was six years old when the waters covered everything and I still have memories of the violent uprooting and flight of the residents. For all of us, the fact that the church is still intact is of great importance."

Read more: Μια Ατλαντίδα στα βουνά της Ευρυτανίας

Saint Nikitas of the Kiev Caves and Bishop of Novgorod

St. Nikitas (Nicetas) of the Kiev Caves (Feast Day - January 31 and April 30)

"Those whose life is passed in small and modest efforts become free of dangers and have no need of special precautions. By always conquering desires they readily find the way leading to God." - St. Anthony the Great

"Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light." (II Cor. 11:14)

In this age of widespread spiritual indifference, a soul zealous to ascend the ladder of perfection is indeed worthy of praise. Zeal, however, must be accompanied by a profound sobriety and humility, else the soul - instead of rising to heavenly heights - will fall into a pit of vainglory, for the cunning enemy of our salvation is able to use our strengths, as well as our weaknesses, in trying to bring us to perdition. The lives of two monks, Isaac (Feb. 14) and Nikita, from the early history of the Kiev-Caves Lavra, are often cited as examples of the spiritual deception which can blind a soul whose zeal lacks the safeguards of sobriety and humility.

St. Nikita was tonsured in the Kiev-Caves Lavra. Very early in his monastic life he secluded himself in a cave. His decision to become a recluse was based on inexperience and was contrary to the will of the saintly abbot Nikon who refused to bless such an undertaking:

"My son! at your age such a life will not benefit you. You would do much better to remain with the brethren. In laboring together with them you will surely gain your reward. You yourself saw how our brother Isaac was seduced by the demons in his seclusion and would have perished had he not been saved by the grace of God through the prayers of our holy fathers Anthony and Theodosius."

"Never, my father," replied Nikita, "will I be deceived. I am resolved firmly to withstand the demonic temptations, and I shall pray to the man-loving God that He grant me the gift of working miracles as He did to the recluse Isaac who, to this day, continues to perform many miracles through his prayers."

"Your desire exceeds your powers. Take heed, my son, that you do not fall on account of your high-mindedness. I would enjoin you rather to serve the brethren, and God will crown you for your obedience."

The abbot's wise counsel could not tame Nikita's ambitious desire to be a recluse. The monastery's elders, however, did not forsake the headstrong novice in his foolishness; they continued to keep an eye on him and to pray for him.

It was not long before the recluse's cave became filled with a sweet fragrance and he heard a voice joining his in prayer. He reasoned to himself: If this were not an angel, he would not be praying with me, nor would I sense the fragrance of the Holy Spirit. The undiscerning recluse began to pray still more fervently: "Lord," he cried out, "appear to me that I might see Thee face to face!" The voice answered: "I shall send you an angel. Follow his will in everything you do."

Presently a demon appeared in the guise of an angel. First he told the novice to stop praying, that he himself would pray and that the recluse was to occupy himself with reading the Old Testament, and the Old Testament alone. The unfortunate novice was obedient to the demon: he stopped praying, falsely reassured by the constant presence of the "angel" praying at his side. The Old Testament he learned by heart.

The demon began telling Nikita all that was going on in the world, and on this basis the recluse began to prophesy. Laymen would come to his cave to listen to him. The monastery elders, however, noticed that the recluse never cited the New Testament, only the Old, and they understood that he had fallen into a state of prelest (spiritual deception). They broke into the cave, chased out the demon by their prayers, and dragged the recluse from his place of seclusion.

No sooner was Nikita parted from the demon than he forgot all he had learned of the Old Testament; he was convinced that he had never read it. Indeed, it appeared that he had even forgotten how to read, and when he came round he had to be taught all over again, like a child.

Nikita understood his error and wept bitterly in repentance. He began to struggle on the true path of humility and obedience. And the Lord, seeing his fervor, forgave him, in token of which He made Nikita a shepherd of His rational flock. Elevated in 1096 to the episcopal throne of Great Novgorod, Nikita was granted grace to work miracles. The Lord thereby assured the faithful that their archpastor had been fully cleansed of his delusion and that his labors of repentance had found favor with God. Once, for example, during a severe drought, God answered his prayer for rain; another time, a fire in the city was extinguished by his prayers. For thirteen years St. Nikita skillfully guided his flock before leaving this world on January 30, 1108 to enter into eternal and blessed repose with the saints.

St. Nikita was buried in Novgorod's St. Sophia's Cathedral which was frescoed according to plans he had designed. In 1551 the earthly remains of the holy hierarch were discovered to be incorrupt and he was officially canonized. On the eve of his glorification, a priest saw the Bishop in a dream: he was vested and censing the holy icons. When his coffin was opened, everyone was struck by the light which emanated from his face. Today his relics - encased in a large, intricately carved reliquary - are located in the church of the Holy Apostle Philip, the only church in Novgorod which remains open for worship.

St. Nikita had no beard and so he is depicted on his icons.

Source: Based on a translation from 1000 Years of Russian Sanctity compiled by Nun Taisia; Jordanville, 1983.


HYMN OF PRAISE: SAINT NIKITAS OF THE CAVES IN KIEV

By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

Nikitas, to the Creator, prayed,
That the Creator make him worthy,
That he, the Creator, may be able to see.
"Appear to me, O God, O God!"

O Nikitas, sin is pursuing you,
That this, from God, you implore!
Make yourself worthy and you will see
The All-eternal One in eternity.

The Immortal God does not allow
That mortal eye upon Him gaze;
Even to the celestial world, it is frightful
To gaze at the Almighty.

To us is given this life,
That, by it, to prepare ourselves,
That worthy, only after death
To gaze upon the eternal light.

But, Nikitas asks and prays,
That the Creator make him worthy,
That he, the Creator, may be able to see:
"Appear to me, O God Most High."

Then, to him the devil appeared:
"Bow down before me!" said he,
And Nikitas, the faster, the better,
Before him, on his knees he knelt!

For he thought it was an angel:
It was the devil all in glow,
With the glow of falsehood,
Filled Nikita's entire cell.

O, my brother, God, do not tempt;
This age is the age of preparation;
In this age is faith;

In that age however, is vision;
First the battle, then the victory;
First the pain, then satisfaction;
All occurs in its own time.

Metropolitan Hilarion: Unbelief Is Spiritual Blindness


January 31, 2011
Mospat.ru

Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Department for External Church Relations, celebrated on 30 January 2011 the Divine Liturgy at the Church of Our Lady the Sign to All the Afflicted-in-Bolshaya-Ordynka in Moscow.

After the liturgy he addressed himself to the congregation with the following archpastoral homily:

“Dear Brothers and Sisters, today we heard during the Gospel’s Reading the story of how the Lord Jesus Christ healed a blind man who was sitting at roadside, asking for salvation and healing. The Lord said to him, "Go, your faith has healed you" (Mk. 10:51-52).

“These words of our Saviour point to the direct relationship between spiritual vision and faith, between spiritual blindness and lack of faith. Unbelief is spiritual blindness that obturates God and the reality of the spiritual world. A non-believer is incapable of seeing the spiritual reality behind the phenomena of the visible world, which is present and co-exists with the material world. Spiritual blindness is the inability of man to see the hand of God in his life. A spiritually blind one ascribes all the good things in one’s life to oneself and thinks that if one succeeded in anything it happened thanks to one’s own talents, abilities and resources or through a coincidence. And when a temptation or trial or sorrow or suffering comes, such a person loses heart and falls into despair because this experience does not fit in his idea of happiness, success and prosperous life. Such a person does not see the causes of either positive or negative developments taking place in his life. It seems to him that all this is a chance, a good or bad luck.

“A spiritually blind man normally does not see his shortcomings. It seems to him that everything is all right in his life, that he always acts as appropriate, and if some problems arise in his relations with others, these others themselves are to blame because they underestimated, misunderstood something or did something wrong. He is certain: ‘I did everything in the right way, but all those around me did it wrong’.

“A spiritually sighted person, to whom the Lord has opened his eyes, sees the hand of God in everything, understanding that life is not a coincidence and that the Lord guides him like a mother fond of her children on the way to the Heavenly Kingdom. Such a person understands that if difficulties and problems arise in his relations with others, he has to ask himself: did I do it in the right way? Perhaps I have overlooked something or did or said something wrong? A spiritually sighted person is aware that the cause of many of his troubles and sufferings lies in himself.

“But if he scores a success, he first of all thanks God because he knows: He is the One from Whom all good things come. And even if a person himself achieves much through his own efforts, isn’t it the Lord Who has given him talents, health and strength to do it?

“This is the difference between the spiritual blind and spiritually sighted. Such people live next to us, in the same world, and move in the same circle. They can sit in the same office, live in the same flat, but they look at things quite differently. One of them is sighted while the other is blind; one believes, while the other does not. One, seeing a miracle, says, ‘It is a miracle of God which has happened so that my faith may be stronger’, whereas the other, witnessing a miracle, is sure that ‘It is a coincidence, there is no miracle’.

“The Lord has opened for us, believers, our spiritual eyes so that we may contemplate His beauty, be guided in our actions by His divine commandments and help those whose spiritual sight is still closed to see His presence in their life and to feel the hand of God in various life circumstances. We should in the first place show by our own example that God exists, that He is not somewhere far but here, among us, that God is not indifferent to our life but participates in it, helping us in every good task, preventing many troubles and sorrows and guiding us on the way to the Heavenly Kingdom.

“May the Lord give us all to be spiritually sighted, not to fall into spiritual blindness and remember that if the Lord has opened our eyes we should be especially attentive to ourselves, to each other and to our neighbours. If there is a spiritual blind person next to us, we should remember that we cannot heal him as the Lord did – with a wave of His hand, but we should help such a person to gradually heal himself from spiritual blindness. May God give that as many as possible people around us may see the presence of God and turn from non-believers to believers, that the Lord may make the Church grow and bring more and more new people to the faith, that people may turn from spiritually blind into sighted. Amen”.

Christianity: A Faith For The Simple


Christianity's founding ideals are anti-elitist – so should we be surprised if its followers are less educated than average?

Nick Spencer
January 31, 2011
Guardian.co.uk

In The God Delusion Richard Dawkins makes great play of the fact that so few "elite" scientists apparently believe in God. A more recent US study, by sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund, surveying 1,700 scientists and speaking to 275 of them, found that "nearly 50% of elite scientists [in the US] are religious in the traditional sense and over 20% … though eschewing religion, still see themselves as spiritual".

Ecklund's study aims to correct the idea that scientists are overwhelmingly atheistic, although it refuses to shy away from the overwhelmingly atheistic feelings of some, such as physicist Arik who "proudly" told Ecklund that his children "have been thoroughly and successfully indoctrinated to believe as I do that belief in God is a form of mental weakness".

For all that it tries to correct the picture of widespread scientific atheism, however, the study can't escape the fact that, although elite scientists in the US are more religious/spiritual than they are generally thought to be, they are still rather less religious/spiritual than the population as a whole.

Should we read anything into this? One over-hasty conclusion, a good example of what Sir Sir Humphrey Appleby called "minister's logic", is that it hammers another nail into God's coffin. Thus: 1) Elite scientists know more about the way the world works than other people. 2) A disproportionate number of elite scientists don't believe in God. 3) Therefore God (probably) doesn't exist.

What is interesting about this argument is not so much the questionable inference, as the questionable first premise. Our conviction that scientists, elite or otherwise, are somehow better qualified to discern the nature of reality is dubious. Elite scientists undoubtedly know vastly more about their subject than other people. But to imagine that that makes them somehow better qualified to adjudicate on big-picture questions is like saying because I know my home town like the back of my hand, I am well-equipped to lecture on European geography.

Beyond the fray of who believes what and whether it means anything, there is a wider and perhaps more interesting question of whether we should expect any correlation at all between a/theism and intelligence. If all intelligent people clustered at one end of the a/theistic pole, that would be highly suggestive.

But they don't. John Carey observed in the introduction to his Faber Book of Science that "when a scientist of James Clerk Maxwell's eminence uses molecular structure as an argument for the existence of God, few will feel qualified to laugh", before going on to remark, "of course, atheistical scientists are plentiful too". In as far as there is a correlation between a/theism and intelligence, it is far subtler than that.

Odd as it may be to admit, there is some reason within the Christian tradition to think that Christian believers should, on average, be less intelligent, or at least less well-educated, than their opponents. Before atheists get too exited by this, it isn't an admission that Christians are naturally stupid, though no doubt some will choose to read it that way.

Rather it is the recognition that there is a long-standing theme within Christian thought that sees the Christian message as having a particular appeal to the underclass, not only those socially and politically alienated, but also those the intellectually and educationally excluded.

Christ often remarked with particular relish, and disappointment, on the inability of the educated elite of his time to get what he was about. There is a distinct anti-elitist strand in his teaching, which reaches a peculiar, parenthetical climax half way through Luke's gospel when the evangelist observes: "At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children'." It was a theme that St Paul took up with enthusiasm: "God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise … the weak things of the world to shame the strong."

It was thus a fundamental tenet of Christianity that not only was the gospel for all, no matter how they were disenfranchised, but that it had a particular simplicity to it. It was this idea that led 17th-century radicals to assert, against their educated peers, that although learning was useful to lawyers and gentlemen, the pulpit was better suited to uneducated persons as they were more open to the Spirit's teaching. It was this idea that inspired early Chartists to seize upon the Bible as their justification. "What is [the Sermon on the Mount] but a manual of Chartism – a manual for Chartists?" asked the Northern Star rhetorically in 1842.

Nor was this simply a self-serving attitude, peddled by the ill-educated because they had most to gain from it. It was this idea that drove the exceptional linguist and Oxford scholar William Tyndale to risk and eventually lose his life so the ploughboy might read the Bible in his own language. It was this idea that inspired John Locke's doctrine of equality, which he justified not only by the creation stories of Genesis 1-3 but also by the accessibility of the gospel itself.

Christianity, he observed in The Reasonableness of Christianity, "is a religion suited to vulgar capacities". Both Christ and St Paul implied, sometimes none too subtly, that the philosophically sophisticated were "shut out from the simplicity of the gospel; to make way for those poor, ignorant, [and] illiterate". Given the long track record of this idea – that the gospel was simple because it had to appeal to the simple – it should not perhaps surprise us if the Christian community were indeed, en masse, a little less intelligent than the national average. Indeed, if Christianity is true to its founding ideals, that is precisely what we should expect.

Christians 'Indispensible' To Middle East Societies


January 29, 2011
Ekklesia

A leading commentator on Middle East issues has said that faith and civic leaders in the region have a responsibility to challenge "regimes that muzzle and polarise their peoples" along with the "religious totalitarianism" that fuels violence, discrimination and hatred towards minorities.

Writing on the website of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, which promotes nonviolence and conflict transformation, Dr Harry Hagopian says (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/14037) that the Middle East as a whole "stands on shifting sands" because of the interconnected growth in toxic religiosity and rejectionist politics.

But although the situation is serious, with murderous attacks against Christians and others, Dr Hagopian says that a fragile hope remains. "The overwhelming majority of ordinary Arab men and women of all persuasions - Christians, Sunnis, Shi’is, Kurds, Druze, Baha’is and others - are inherently decent people who simply wish to earn their daily bread and are eager to co-exist with their neighbours."

This is why, he suggests, popular movements to challenge top-down political rule and concerted efforts by faith communities "to educate their peoples to accept and respect the other, rather than kill or ostracise" are both vital.

In his research essay, 'Politics, Religion and the Middle East', Dr Hagopian (an ecumenical, legal and political consultant who is a former executive secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches) unpacks eight factors which are exacerbating the drift towards violent exclusionism and the marginalisation of minority communities in the region.

These are the decay of secular Arab nationalism, the brutal suppression of freedom and dissent, the feeding of regressive religious radicalism, the distorted and hegemonic policies of some Western countries, the failure to address the Israel-Palestine question justly, an inhospitable environment that alienates Arab Christians from others, wrangling and abuses of power within religious communities, and the aim of movements such as al-Qa’eda in provoking a confrontation between the Arab world and the West.

It is the combination of these factors, rather than blaming any one in isolation, which is so important, says Dr Hagopian. "Middle East Christians remain an indispensable alloy in the fabric of Arab societies. Historically predating Islam, they have as much claim to the region as any other religion, ethnicity or belief. They are co-equal citizens with their Muslim compatriots, with Jews in Israel and with those in the occupied Palestinian lands."

The true diversity of the region needs to be acknowledged, celebrated and protected by law, Dr Hagopian concludes.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Feast of the Three Hierarchs


By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

Each of these saints have their own feast day. St. Basil the Great, January 1; St. Gregory the Theologian, January 25; and St. John Chrysostom, January 27. This combined feast day, January 30, was instituted in the eleventh century during the reign of Emperor Alexius Comnenus.

At one time a debate arose among the people concerning who of the three is the greatest? Some extolled Basil because of his purity and courage; others extolled Gregory for his unequaled depth and lofty mind in theology; still others extolled Chrysostom because of his eloquence and clarity in expounding the Faith. Thus some were called Basilians, others Gregorians, and the third were called Johannites. This debate was settled by Divine Providence to the benefit of the Church and to an even greater glory of the three saints.

Bishop John of Euchaita (June 14) had a vision in a dream: At first, all three of these saints appeared to him separately in great glory and indescribable beauty, and after that all three appeared together. They said to him, "As you see, we are one in God and there is nothing contradictory in us; neither is there a first or a second among us." The saints also advised Bishop John that he write a common service for them and to order a common feast day of celebration.

Following this wonderful vision, the debate was settled in this manner: January 30 would be designated as the common feast of these three hierarchs. The Greeks consider this feast not only an ecclesiastical feast but their greatest national school holiday.


Read also:

History of the Feast of the Three Hierarchs

The Bogomils and the Three Hierarchs

“Roads to Damascus”: Crisis, Conversion, and Community in the Lives of the Three Hierarchs


HYMN OF PRAISE: THE THREE HIERARCHS: SAINT BASIL, SAINT GREGORY, AND SAINT CHRYSOSTOM

Fasting and Faith - Basil,
Theology - Gregory,
Acts of Charity - Chrysostom,
Golden mouths, mouths of honey!
All laborers of one work;
Three separately - three angels,
The three together as God is one,
No one is the main one, no one is secondary.
In eternity, they all agree,
You invoke one, all three help,
You hymn one, all three hear,
You glorify one, all three rejoice.
Three men, one whole;
Three hierarchs, one deed;
Three names, one glory;
To all three of them, Christ is the Head.


Apolytikion in the First Tone
The three greatest beacons of the Three-sunned Godhead, who lighted the whole inhabited world with the beams of their divine doctrines, the rivers of wisdom flowing with honey, who watered all creation with streams of the knowledge of God, Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian with famous John whose tongue spoke golden words, let all we lovers of their words now assembled honour them in hymns. For they ever intercede with the Trinity on our behalf.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
You have taken, Lord, the sacred, the God-inspired heralds, the high peak of your Teachers, for the enjoyment of your good things and for repose; for you accepted above every offering their toils and their death, you who alone glorify your Saints.

One Must Be As A Child To Enter God's Kingdom


By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

"Amen, I say to you, unless you convert and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 18:3).

Thus speaks the Lord and His word is holy and true. What kind of advantage do children have over adults? They have three advantages: in faith, in obedience and in forgiveness. The child asks the parent about everything and whatever the parent replies, the child believes its parent. The child is obedient to its parent and easily subordinates its will to the will of the parent. The child is forgiving even though he provokes easily, but the child forgives quickly. Our Lord requires these three from all men i.e., Faith, Obedience and Forgiveness. He seeks that men believe in Him unconditionally, as a child believes in its parent. To be unconditionally obedient to Him as a child is to its parent and to be forgiving in relation to one anther, not to remember evil and not to render evil for evil.

Faith, Obedience and Forgiveness are the three main characteristics of a child's soul. In addition to that, comes purity and joy. A child is not greedy; a child is not lustful; and a child is not vain glorious. The child has an eye unspoiled by vices and a joy unspoiled by worries.

O brethren, who can make us over again into children? No one, except the one Christ. He can make us over into children and help us to be born again and, that by His example, by His teaching and by the power of His Holy Spirit.

O Lord Jesus, perfect in obedience and meekness, Eternal Child of the Heavenly Father, help us to become as infants by faith in You, by obedience toward You and by forgiveness one toward the other. Amen.

Video: Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

Discourse to the Greeks Concerning Hades


Though this present work is attributed by many Church Fathers to Josephus, it is now believed to be (at least in its original form) the work of Saint Hippolytus of Rome. See more here.

1. NOW as to Hades, wherein the souls of the unrighteous are detained and rejoice in the righteous and of the good things they see, it is necessary to speak of it. Hades is a place in the world not regularly finished; a subterraneous region, wherein the light of this world does not shine; from which circumstance, that if in this region the light does not shine, it cannot be but there must be in it perpetual darkness. This region is allotted as a place of custody for souls, in which angels are appointed as guardians to them, who distribute to them temporary punishments, agreeable to every one's behavior and manners.

2. In this region there is a certain place set apart, as a lake of unquenchable fire, whereinto we suppose no one hath hitherto been cast; but it is prepared for a day afore-determined by God, in which one righteous sentence shall deservedly be passed upon all men; when the unjust, and those that have been disobedient to God, and have given honor to such idols as have been the vain operations of the hands of men, as to God himself, shall be adjudged to this everlasting punishment, as having been the causes of defilement; while the just shall obtain an incorruptible and never-fading kingdom. These are now indeed confined in Hades, but not in the same place wherein the unjust are confined.

3. For there is one descent into this region, at whose gate we believe there stands an archangel with an host; which gate when those pass through that are conducted down by the angels appointed over souls, they do not go the same way; but the just are guided to the right hand, and are led with hymns, sung by the angels appointed over that place, unto a region of light, in which the just have dwelt from the beginning of the world; not constrained by necessity, but ever enjoying the prospect of the good things they see, and rejoice in the expectation of those new enjoyments which will be peculiar to every one of them, and esteeming those things beyond what we have here; with whom there is no place of toil, no burning heat, no piercing cold, nor are any briers there; but the countenance of the fathers and of the just, which they see always, smiles upon them, while they wait for that rest and eternal new life in heaven, which is to succeed this region. This place we call The Bosom of Abraham.

4. But as to the unjust, they are dragged by force to the left hand by the angels allotted for punishment, no longer going with a good will, but as prisoners driven by violence; to whom are sent the angels appointed over them to reproach them and threaten them with their terrible looks, and to thrust them still downwards. Now those angels that are set over these souls, drag them into the neighborhood of hell itself; who, when they are hard by it, continually hear the noise of it, and do not stand clear of the hot vapor itself; but when they have a near view of this spectacle, as of a terrible and exceeding great prospect of fire, they are struck with a fearful expectation of a future judgment, and in effect punished thereby: and not only so, but where they see the place [or choir] of the fathers and of the just, even hereby are they punished; for a chaos deep and large is fixed between them; insomuch that a just man that hath compassion upon them cannot be admitted, nor can one that is unjust, if he were bold enough to attempt it, pass over it.

5. This is the discourse concerning Hades, wherein the souls of all men are confined until a proper season, which God hath determined, when he will make a resurrection of all men from the dead, not procuring a transmigration of souls from one body to another, but raising again those very bodies, which you Greeks, seeing to be dissolved, do not believe [their resurrection]. But learn not to disbelieve it; for while you believe that the soul is created, and yet is made immortal by God, according to the doctrine of Plato, and this in time, be not incredulous; but believe that God is able, when he hath raised to life that body which was made as a compound of the same elements, to make it immortal; for it must never be said of God, that he is able to do some things, and unable to do others. We have therefore believed that the body will be raised again; for although it be dissolved, it is not perished; for the earth receives its remains, and preserves them; and while they are like seed, and are mixed among the more fruitful soil, they flourish, and what is sown is indeed sown bare grain, but at the mighty sound of God the Creator, it will sprout up, and be raised in a clothed and glorious condition, though not before it has been dissolved, and mixed [with the earth]. So that we have not rashly believed the resurrection of the body; for although it be dissolved for a time on account of the original transgression, it exists still, and is cast into the earth as into a potter's furnace, in order to be formed again, not in order to rise again such as it was before, but in a state of purity, and so as never to be destroyed any more. And to every body shall its own soul be restored. And when it hath clothed itself with that body, it will not be subject to misery, but, being itself pure, it will continue with its pure body, and rejoice with it, with which it having walked righteously now in this world, and never having had it as a snare, it will receive it again with great gladness. But as for the unjust, they will receive their bodies not changed, not freed from diseases or distempers, nor made glorious, but with the same diseases wherein they died; and such as they were in their unbelief, the same shall they be when they shall be faithfully judged.

6. For all men, the just as well as the unjust, shall be brought before God the Word: for to Him hath the Father committed all judgment: and He, in order to fulfill the will of his Father, shall come as Judge, whom we call Christ. For Minos and Rhadamanthus are not the judges, as you Greeks do suppose, but He Whom God even the Father hath glorified: concerning Whom we have elsewhere given a more particular account, for the sake of those who seek after truth. This person, exercising the righteous judgment of the Father towards all men, hath prepared a just sentence for every one, according to His works; at Whose judgment seat when all men, and angels, and demons shall stand, they will send forth one voice, and say, just is Thy judgment; the rejoinder to which will bring a just sentence upon both parties, by giving justly to those that have done well an everlasting fruition; but allotting to the lovers of wicked works eternal punishment. To these belong the unquenchable fire, and that without end, and a certain fiery worm never dying, and not destroying the body, but continuing its eruption out of the body with never-ceasing grief: neither will sleep give ease to these men, nor will the night afford them comfort; death will not free them from their punishment, nor will the interceding prayers of their kindred profit them; for the just are no longer seen by them, nor are they thought worthy of remembrance. But the just shall remember only their righteous actions, whereby they have attained the heavenly kingdom, in which there is no sleep, no sorrow, no corruption, no care, no night, no day measured by time, no sun driven in his course along the circle of heaven by necessity, and measuring out the bounds and conversions of the seasons, for the better illumination of the life of men; no moon decreasing and increasing, or introducing a variety of seasons, nor will she then moisten the earth; no burning sun, no Bear turning round [the pole], no Orion to rise, no wandering of innumerable stars. The earth will not then be difficult to be passed over, nor will it be hard to find out the court of Paradise, nor will there be any fearful roaring of the sea, forbidding the passengers to walk on it; even that will be made easily passable to the just, though it will not be void of moisture. Heaven will not then be uninhabitable by men, and it will not be impossible to discover the way of ascending thither. The earth will not be uncultivated, nor require too much labor of men, but will bring forth its fruits of its own accord, and will be well adorned with them. There will be no more generations of wild beasts, nor will the substance of the rest of the animals shoot out any more; for it will not produce men, but the number of the righteous will continue, and never fail, together with righteous angels, and spirits [of God], and with his word, as a choir of righteous men and women that never grow old, and continue in an incorruptible state, singing hymns to God, who hath advanced them to that happiness, by the means of a regular institution of life; with whom the whole creation also will lift up a perpetual hymn from corruption to incorruption, as glorified by a splendid and pure spirit. It will not then be restrained by a bond of necessity, but with a lively freedom shall offer up a voluntary hymn, and shall praise him that made them, together with the angels, and spirits, and men now freed from all bondage.

7. And now, if you Gentiles will be persuaded by these motives, and leave your vain imaginations about your pedigrees, and gaining of riches, and philosophy, and will not spend your time about subtleties of words, and thereby lead your minds into error, and if you will apply your ears to the hearing of the inspired prophets, the interpreters both of God and of his word, and will believe in God, you shall both be partakers of these things, and obtain the good things that are to come; you shall see the ascent unto the immense heaven plainly, and that kingdom which is there. For what God hath now concealed in silence [will be then made manifest] what neither eye hath seen, nor ear hath heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man, the things that God hath prepared for them that love him.

8. "In whatsoever ways I shall find you, in them shall I judge you entirely;" so cries the End of all things. And he who hath at first lived a virtuous life, but towards the latter end falls into vice, these labors by him before endured shall be altogether vain and unprofitable, even as in a play, brought to an ill catastrophe. Whosoever shall have lived wickedly and luxuriously may repent; however, there will be need of much time to conquer an evil habit, and even after repentance his whole life must be guarded with great care and diligence, after the manner of a body, which, after it hath been a long time afflicted with a distemper, requires a stricter diet and method of living; for though it may be possible, perhaps, to break off the chain of our irregular affections at once,--yet our amendment cannot be secured without the grace of God, the prayers of good men, the help of the brethren, and our own sincere repentance and constant care. It is a good thing not to sin at all; it is also good, having sinned, to repent,--as it is best to have health always, but it is a good thing to recover from a distemper. To God be glory and dominion for ever and ever, Amen.

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“Roads to Damascus”: Crisis, Conversion, and Community in the Lives of the Three Hierarchs


By Monk Maximos of Simonopetra

Lecture Delivered on 30 January 2010

Introduction

On the Holy Mountain, we are taught that everything in a saint’s life is worthy of admiration, but not everything in a saint’s life is worthy of imitation. This is certainly true, yet to this rule the lives of the Three Hierarchs are an exception: everything about them is both admirable and worthy of imitation.

Tonight I want to look at the Three Hierarchs in light of the remarkable experiences that changed the course of their lives and transformed them into great teachers, fathers, and saints. As we shall see, each of the three underwent a crisis, a decisive turning point, that led to spiritual transformation. As I hope to show, these critical experiences, which were essentially conversion experiences, are the key to understanding who they were and what their lives can mean for us today.

My remarks are divided into two parts. I begin with what the Three Hierarchs themselves have to say about their experiences, drawing directly on the descriptions of these events found throughout their writings. In the second part, I focus on the significance and implications of these experiences, highlighting their practical relevance for our own lives

St. Basil of Caesarea

St. Basil of Caesarea was born (ca. 329/330) into a large, upper class, Christian family. He attended the best schools and universities of his day, and was groomed for a career in what we would call civic administration. He had a strong personality, a tremendous talent for management and organization, along with an adamantine will for success. Upon returning from his studies in Constantinople and Athens, he embarked upon a promising career in public speaking, which included ceremonial orations, political speeches in the public assemblies, and forensic speeches for litigants in the jury-courts. These were vitally important functions in the ancient world, and Basil proved to be a master of the art. At the age of twenty-five, he was poised to become one of the leading rhetoricians of his day. However, something happened to change all that. He tells us about it in one of his letters:

Having wasted much time on frivolous things, and having sacrificed virtually my entire youth to study the teachings of a wisdom that God had made foolish (cf. 1 Cor 1:20), I woke up, as if from a deep sleep, and beheld the wondrous light of the truth of the Gospel, and I recognized the uselessness of the wisdom “of the princes of this world, whose rule was doomed” (1 Cor 2:6). Shedding a flood of tears over my wretched life, I prayed for a guide who might form in me the principles of piety. Above all, my concern was to make some amendment in my character, which had been corrupted by long association with people of low morals (cf. 1 Cor 15:33). Having read the Gospel, I saw that a great means to attaining perfection was the selling of one’s possessions (cf. Mt 19:21), and the sharing of one’s wealth with those in need; along with the refusal to take any thought for this present life, so that the soul should not be attached to the things of the world; and I prayed that I might find someone who had taken this path, so that with him I could cross the deep and troubled sea of life.

Simply put, Basil saw the light; the wondrous light of the truth of the Gospel, and his life would never again be the same. This was a transforming event, a change in consciousness, like waking up from a deep sleep after a long, disorienting dream. It was a movement from darkness to light, from the reflected, dead light of human logic to the splendor of the truth itself. Moreover, Basil’s call to a new life did not create in him a self-affirming rush to action, but rather the desire, the need, for a guide, a teacher, a longing to find someone who was already on the path, which is a longing for a new mode of relation, and a new kind of community.

Basil doesn’t tell us much more about this event, which was surely one of the most important in his life. However, his younger brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa, provides us with an interesting detail that enables us to expand our frame of reference. In a lengthy comparison of Basil and Moses, Gregory notes that God had called both of them through a vision of divine light, which in the case of Moses was the light of the Burning Bush (Ex 3:2). According to Gregory, something similar happened to Basil: “In the middle of the night, there appeared to Basil an outpouring of immaterial light, and by means of divine power, his entire dwelling was illuminated by a light having no source in anything material.”

In placing emphasis on Basil’s vision of divine light, we must not forget that this experience was preceded and indeed precipitated by a crisis. Before the light there was darkness, before waking there was a deep sleep, and before vision there was spiritual blindness. And what are darkness and night and sleep if not the symbolic counterparts of death? Thus we should not minimize the fact that before spiritual change was possible, a critical point was reached, a struggle had taken place, the anguish of dying to the illusory sustaining hopes of the world, after which Basil was able to embark on a comprehensive reorganization of his plans and priorities, a reconstruction of his life in light of a new allegiance.

St. Gregory the Theologian

The life of St. Basil finds many parallels in the life of St. Gregory the Theologian (b. ca. 329/330), and this is not surprising, since they were friends, fellow countrymen, and members of the same social class. But whereas Basil was disinclined to publicize his personal experiences, Gregory is the first Church Father to have written an autobiography. During his retirement, Gregory wrote a lengthy poem reviewing his entire life, beginning with the events of his infancy and childhood. He describes the poem as “the history of his calamities,” and among the many vivid vignettes is the botched attempt to assassinate him when he was archbishop of Constantinople. Yet the principal crisis was surely the terrifying event that led to his conversion.

After his initial schooling in Caesarea, where he first met Basil, Gregory studied in Caesarea Maritima in Palestine – at the time a cosmopolitan cultural center – and afterwards in Alexandria, Egypt. But Gregory was a great Hellenist, and was determined to study in Athens, the heart of classical civilization. However, it was already winter, and the sailing season had ended, but he found a ship heading to Piraeus and recklessly got on board. As the ship sailed past the island of Pharos and its famous lighthouse, Gregory mused on his plans for the future: should he marry, assume control of his father’s estates, pursue a career in politics, or devote his life to literature and philosophy? For this wealthy and intellectually gifted young aristocrat, there seemed to be no limit to the possibilities. He was twenty years old, and his “youthful spirits,” as he tells us, “were ready to be swayed by chaotic impulses, like a young horse anxious to begin the race.”

However, the voyage would change everything, and prove to be decisive for the subsequent course of his life. While at sea, his ship was caught in the midst of a massive storm, and the experience frightened him so profoundly that it left him a changed man. For Gregory, the road to Damascus was the sea route to Athens. Gregory gives us two accounts of this episode, both of which are literary masterpieces worthy of Conrad or Melville; I quote from the lengthier of the two versions (which scholars call the De vita sua) :

I chose to leave Alexandria at a moment outside the sailing season, before the sea had settled down. This was an act of rashness and not good sense. I was making my way to Greece when the ship was struck by a squall. Everything became a great blackness; deafening thunderclaps resounded amidst flashes of lightning; the sails were in shreds, the mainmast was bent, and the rudder was useless, being torn forcibly from the helmsman’s hands. Mountainous seas swamped the vessel. A confused clamor arose, cries of sailors, officers, and passengers. And we were without water, since the moment the ship began to roll, the barrels containing that precious treasure were smashed and scattered to the depths. The sea continued to rage, and we were harassed for many days. The question was whether the sea, or the lack of water, would make an end of us. Driven this way and that, we had no notion of where we were sailing, and we could see no hope of being rescued by God. All of us feared a common death, but more terrifying for me was the hidden death, for those murderous waters were keeping me away from the purifying waters that divinize us. That was the cause of my lament and misfortune. For this I kept sending up cries and stretching out my hands, and my cries drowned out the pounding of the waves. My clothing was in tatters and I lay, miserable and prostrate, in the prow. There was not a shred of hope, no island, no mainland, no mountaintop on the horizon, no beacon light, no guiding star. What was I to do? Was there any way out of these dangers? Despairing of all hope here below, I turned to God, my life and my light, the source of terror and affliction but the gentle healer too, ever weaving good into the dark pattern. It was at that moment that I gave myself to God, and the sacred promises I made delivered me from the raging ocean.

As soon as Gregory had finished praying, the winds ceased, the sea grew calm, the ship found itself on course, and in a short time he was in Athens. True to his promises, he “tore himself away from the spirit of the world”, and devoted the rest of his life to the service of the Church.

If Basil had seen the wondrous light of the Gospel, Gregory experienced all the fury of the sea. It’s hard to imagine enduring even a few minutes of such overwhelming terror, yet Gregory was caught in the storm for an excruciating twenty days and nights. The real fear, however, was not the prospect of death by drowning, but the prospect of dying unbaptized. Like many fourth-century aristocrats, Gregory had postponed his baptism, and so along with his plans for the future, his eternal salvation was about to be destroyed. It’s probably safe to say that, while onboard the ship, he suffered some kind of breakdown, and his condition became so severe that the sailors found his cries more upsetting than the storm.

The experience left a permanent mark on him, and the motif of the “storm” appears constantly throughout his writings. Over time he came to see his whole life as a storm-tossed journey, which is to say that he continued to live in that definitive moment. Gregory’s conversion experience is surely the experiential source of his celebrated dialectical thinking, an example of which we saw in the poem, where God is described as both “the source of affliction” and “the gentle healer, ever weaving good into the dark pattern.”

St. John Chrysostom

The last of our Three Hierarchs, St. John Chrysostom, was born in the city of Antioch, sometime around the middle of the fourth century. Antioch is about two hundred miles to the south of Caesarea, and when Chrysostom was born, Basil and Gregory were young students memorizing passages from the Iliad. Like them, Chrysostom was born into a prominent Christian family, his father being the military governor of Antioch. Also like them, he had a keen mind, received the best education available, and was groomed to be a leading figure in the life of his native city.

Here, however, the similarity seems to end, since Chrysostom does not seem to have experienced the kind of crisis and conversion that we saw in the other two hierarchs. The comparative stability of his early years; the absence of a disruptive, disorienting event, is probably due to the influence of his mother. When Chrysostom was still an infant, his father died, leaving his mother a widow at the age of twenty. Refusing to remarry, she became emotionally dependent on the child, who bore a strong likeness to her deceased husband. When John was still fairly young, she made him promise that he would not leave home until after she died. She took a strong interest in his education, and spared no expense in seeing that John would be raised as a gentleman. She did not permit him to go abroad for his studies, but placed him at the feet of the greatest teachers in Antioch (the “Athens of Syria”).

Thus it was that Chrysostom became the student of Libaniοs, an upper class pagan rhetorician renowned throughout the Greek world. Among Libanios’ students were many distinguished men, yet it was the nimble-tongued John whom he designated as his successor. After he completed his studies, we know that Chrysostom pursued a career as a successful young lawyer. Despite the fact that his mother had pushed him into law school, there is no evidence that John was unhappy with his career. On the contrary, for a while he seems to have lived to the hilt the lifestyle of a rich young man enjoying his growing fame as a brilliant attorney.

Chrysostom tells us that in those days he was “still fettered with worldly desires and vanities,” and “had upset the balance of his life by an excess of youthful fantasies.” He says that he was “spending all his time in the law courts, frequenting the theater, and being passionately excited by the pleasures of the stage” (τόν ἐν τῷ δικαστηρίῳ προσεδρεύοντα καί περί τάς ἐν τῇ σκηνῇ τέρψεις ἐπτοημένον) (SC 272:64). Similar to what Basil says in his letter, Chrysostom likewise admits that he had “wasted his youth in the vanity of secular studies” (SC 272:132). It was only at some later stage that he “emerged from the billows of life,” and “renounced the cares of the world” (SC 272:64, 138)

And lest we think this is mere rhetoric, it was widely believed throughout Antioch that Chrysostom had initially declined priestly ordination, not out of humility, but because he was prideful, arrogant, ambitious, and enamored of worldly glory.

Needless to say, this is not the John Chrysostom we know, and thus some sort of change must have taken place prompting the young lawyer to abandon his career and place his talents in the service of the Church. It seems safe to say that beneath the surface, various cross pressures were at work, and the balance of John’s life would yet again be shifting. According to Archbishop Chrysostomos Papadopoulos: “It was at this time that John found himself confronting the problem that was his life, the solution to which was not going to come about easily.” So, on closer inspection, Chrysostom does seem to have passed through a kind of crisis, and eventually enacted a critical volte-face very similar to Basil.

It would be interesting to know more about this critical period in Chrysostom’s life, but we don’t. Chrysostom’s chief biographer, Palladios, tells us only that Chrysostom “abandoned the sophists” (ἀφηνίασεν τούς σοφιστάς), which some English translations (e.g., H. Moore, 1921, p. 37) render as “revolted against.” Theodore of Trimithous and Cosmas Vestitor, writing in the seventh and ninth centuries, respectively, both say that Chrysostom abandoned his career because he had been “wounded by divine grace.”

Another way to approach this question would be to look at what Chrysostom says about the different conversion experiences described in Scripture, especially the conversion of his great hero, St. Paul. Had we the time to consider this in detail, we would find that Chrysostom’s extraordinary interest in St. Paul was motivated by his ability to identify with the great Apostle, for just like himself, Paul was an educated lawyer with a delayed vocation.

Part Two: Crisis, Conversion, and Community

What we see in the lives of the Three Hierarchs is a basic element of the spiritual life: the experience of a crisis that leads to spiritual growth. This may be a dramatic, once-in-a-lifetime event; a disordering, disrupting experience that calls into question our taken-for-granted world, resulting in a change of values and interests. The specific form that such an experience takes will vary according to the circumstances of our lives. Not too many of us are at risk of shipwreck on the high seas, but there are other kinds of storms, such as a crisis in adolescence or mid-life; and there are other kinds of shipwrecks, such as the perception that one’s life is not what it should be, that one has reached a dead end, is trapped in a pattern of self-destructive behavior, and that some sort of change is necessary.

In addition to these extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, there’s also a sense in which every moment of life is a kind of crisis, or at least has the potential to be one, in the sense of being a turning point in which we are called on to make a critical choice. xxvii In his Letter to the Young, On How they Might Derive Profit from Greek Literature, St. Basil compares this situation to the famous story of “Herakles standing at the Crossroads”: one road leads to virtue, the other to vice, and Herakles must decide which way to go. And this, Basil says, is an image of each and every one of us, since we are called on continually to make a choice between God and the selfish desires of our ego.

In this way, Basil aligns Greek letters with the spirit of Christ, who said: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross every day and follow me, for whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it” (Lk 9:23-24). This means that in order to follow Christ, we must experience a kind of death. For something new to be born, something old has to die, but no one dies right away; it takes a long time to die, and so our whole life should be an ongoing conversion, an ongoing taking up of the cross, an ongoing surrender to God.

We often think that God is going to come into our life by means of some pleasant experience that will require little or no change on our part. However, God is more likely to enter our lives through a crisis, like a serious illness, or some other affliction, for these are the signs, not of God’s absence but of His active presence. As we saw in the lives of the Three Hierarchs, God comes to us in the eye of the storm, in the midst of our difficulties, in the midst of our confusion, our pain, and our suffering. Recall the words of Gregory, who learned by experience that God is both “the source of affliction” and “the gentle healer.” Affliction alone can tear us away from our isolated, individual existence and transform us into something much more whole and open. The self-consoling dreams and delusions of the ego make it hard for us to perceive the reality of God. But when all the illusions are swept away by some affliction, then I begin to call and cry out to God, like the psalmist who said: “In my affliction I cried out to the Lord, and He heard me” (Ps 18:5).

We see this very clearly in the case of St. Gregory: Gregory’s life was changed not by any mystical experience, not by any sublime meditation on the nature of reality, but because he confronted his death. For twenty days and nights, Gregory sat face to face with the prospect of his own annihilation. During that time he was forced to think of himself as non-existent, to see himself as dead already, and with the image of himself completely wiped out, he was able to see what was left without him. And what was left was everything else, all that was not himself, which he had never before seen and which now opened itself up to him and filled him to overflowing, so that through death he found life, and discovered that with the death of the self all things become the object of God’s perfect love.

So the crisis that engulfs me, the pain that I feel, is a kind of birth pang, for it is the initial movement of my soul longing to be united to God. And my longing for God is met by God’s longing for me, for it is God Who is seeking me in and through my sufferings, so that, in the end, a spiritual crisis is not the agony of man struggling to find God, but the agony of God struggling to find man. And so the pain that I feel is the pain of God searching for those who are lost, running after those that are far away, and until they are found and in His embrace, God will be in agony.

Conversion and Community

Another common element in the lives of the Three Hierarchs is their response to the crisis that brought God into their lives. In the wake of that experience, each of them was overcome by the desire to flee from the world and live exclusively with God. And so each of them spent a period of time in the desert, in the wilderness, in some kind of monastic retreat. Yet what’s so fascinating about the Three Hierarchs is that they didn’t remain in the desert. At a critical point, God called them back to the world in order to serve the Church. Consequently their flight to the desert is only part of the story, being a transitional stage in their journey back to community.

The pattern is well known. Christ retreated into the desert for forty days, after which he returned to the world to embark on His public ministry. St. Paul also spent a period of time in the desert, before beginning his apostolic work (cf. Gal 1:17-18; 2:1; 2 Cor 12:2). This pattern, with its crucial middle stage of flight and exile, has all the marks of a classic rite of passage, in which one is segregated from society before returning to it, armed with new knowledge and better prepared to rejoin the life of the community.

This is an ancient practice, and was very much part of the cultural world of the Three Hierarchs. Since St. Basil has taught us to “derive profit from Greek literature,” we might profitably illustrate this practice by turning to what is surely Plato’s most famous dialogue. Most of Plato’s dialogues are carefully constructed, beginning with the first word. One of these dialogues is the Republic, the first word of which is «κατέβην» (“I went down”) which is to be understood in various ways: the “going down from Athens to Piraeus” with which the dialogue begins; the going down from the exterior world of so-called reality to an interior world of transformation; ultimately it is the going down into death, in order to learn if death is the end of mortality or a way to immortality. The movement culminates in the “Myth of the Cave,” in the going down into that cave with the intention to rise from it. The dialogue closes with the vision of “Judgment in the Underworld,” from which one returns bearing an important message – what Socrates calls the “saving tale, that must be brought back from that other world,” making the one who returns from such a “crisis” (κρίσις /crisis) a “messenger to mankind.” Thus, the Republic does not give us a simple story of linear progress, but a dramatic construction of departure and return, and this is the existential core around which the dialogue is built, and which in a Christian context was enacted by the Three Hierarchs.

However, leaving the desert did not mean leaving behind the lessons of the desert. And so what we see in the Three Hierarchs is a synthesis of monastic ideals and practice with active service to the Church. Gregory articulates this very clearly in his Funeral Oration for Basil. Far from being opposed to the active life of pastoral care, the life of prayer and contemplation is a requirement for effective priestly service. To accept a position of priestly authority without the lessons of the desert is both foolish and dangerous, and thus the active life of love and service must be complemented by the life of prayer and contemplation. According to Gregory, the bishop is someone who joins to his performance of episcopal duties a commitment to ascetic ideals, two modes of life that Gregory saw united in Basil, whose experience of God in the desert was the source and foundation of his entire ministry.

After they renounced the world, Basil and Gregory became monks. After he “abandoned the sophists,” Chrysostom spent four years as an ascetic living in obedience under an elder, and then two years living in a cave. But having fallen ill, he was unable to care for himself, and so returned to the world, where his life was filled with troubles. Yet he tells us that if he “had to choose between the difficulties of working in the world and the tranquility of monastic life, he would prefer pastoral service a thousand times.”

* * *

Every crisis is an opportunity for spiritual growth, and it was the experience of crisis and conversion that enabled the Three Hierarchs to become instruments of God’s grace. In finding God, in allowing God to find them, they found themselves. In finding their own voice, we find in them a universal voice. In fulfilling the task of their own time, they produced work valid for all time, and though they lived more than a thousand years ago, we continue to honor their life and work. But in the midst of our celebrations, we ought not to forget the words of St. John Chrysostom: «ἡ τιμή τοῦ ἁγίου εἶναι ἡ μίμησις τοῦ ἁγίου» .

God speaks to all of us, but we don’t always listen, and if we do listen we don’t always do what He says, or if we do, we get tired easily and give up. But the Three Hierarchs, like all the saints, heard, acted, and never wavered in their resolution to live for God. And in giving their lives to God, they lost nothing; on the contrary, in losing their life they found it (cf. Mt 10:39), and whatever they gave to God was returned to them a hundredfold and they have inherited eternal life (cf. Mt 19:29).

The “memory of the righteous is not without praise,” and so I will close with words of praise taken from the hymnology of today’s feast:

Δεῦτε τῆς οὐρανίου Τριάδος οἱ λατρευταί,
τήν ἐπίγειον τριάδα, τῶν θείων Ἱεραρχῶν εὐφημήσωμεν:
τόν Γρηγόριον, τῆς θεολογίας τόν ἐπώνυμον,
τόν Βασίλειον, τῆς βασιλείας τόν φερώνυμον,
καί Ἰωάννην, τόν ὄντως χαριτώνυμον,
τούς σοφιάς βυθούς,
τοῦ Πνεύματος τά ρεῖθρα τά ὠκεάνεια,
τάς πηγάς τάς ἀεί βλυζούσας τό ὕδωρ τό ζῶν τό ἁλλόμενον,
τούς διαυγεῖς μαργαρίτας,
τούς ἐπιγείους φωστῆρας,
τῆς Ἐκκλησίας τούς οἴακας,
τά ἀγλαόκαρπα δένδρα,
τούς οἰκονόμους τῆς χάριτος,
Χριστοῦ μου τό στόμα,
καί τῆς Τριάδος τούς ὑπερμάχους,
τούς ἐξ αὐτῆς ἀμέσως ἐλλαμπομένους,
καί πρεσβεύοντας ἀπαύστως ὑπέρ τῶν ψυχῶν ἡμῶν

New Martyr Dimiter of Sliven, Bulgaria

St. Demetrius the New Martyr of Sliven (Feast Day - January 30)

The Holy New Martyr Demetrius was born on October 9, 1818 in Sliven, Bulgaria. His parents had no children for the first eight years of their marriage. Their prayers to God were answered, and their sons Stephen and Demetrius were born.

Demetrius was the younger son, and was brought up in a pious manner. He did not go to school, but he attended church frequently and memorized many prayers and services.

After their parents died, Stephen left home and went to Wallachia. Demetrius remained in the family home, which soon collapsed because of its age. The Muslims used this excuse to seize the surrounding property, and Demetrius became a servant to one of them. The family tried to convert him to their religion, but Demetrius resisted such attempts. "Our Orthodox Christian religion was given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ," he said, "while yours was given to you by Muhammad, a mere man."

They threw Demetrius out of the house when they heard this, and he later became a baker. Even while selling his bread in the marketplace, Demetrius proclaimed the Orthodox Faith and pointed out the deficiencies of Islam. Naturally, this outraged the Muslims, and they began to plan their revenge.

A new kadi came to Sliven, and Demetrius was chosen to prepare the food. The local beys chose him because they knew he had insulted Islam. The kadi offered him tobacco and liquor, but Demetrius said that he did not smoke or drink. When he tried to leave, the kadi said, "Let me make you a Muslim. You see what a good life we have. If you convert, I will tell your master to give you his daughter in marriage, and half of his riches."

Demetrius answered sarcastically, "Oh, sure."

Mistaking this for a serious reply, one of the Muslims began wrapping cloth around the young man's head in the form of a turban. Demetrius threw the turban to the ground and ran from the house. Some of the Hagarenes chased him, but were unable to catch him. For three days he hid in the village of Ichera without food or water.

Demetrius went to a bishop and told him his story. The bishop encouraged him to remain Orthodox, then sent him away with a gold coin and a wooden cross.

Exchanging the coin for change, Demetrius gave half the money to the poor. Then he went up to a Muslim guard and said that he was the one they were seeking. He was escorted back to Sliven with his hands tied behind him. When he met an Orthodox Christian Demetrius said, "Forgive me, brethren. I gave myself up to these ungodly people for the glory of our Faith."

When St Demetrius was thrown into prison, he asked for the priest Stephen to visit him. His request was refused, but Fr Stephen learned that Demetrius was incarcerated and tried to have him freed. The kadi ordered Demetrius to be brought to him while he was dining with other officials.

The kadi asked Demetrius if he was willing to accept Islam. Christ's holy martyr informed him that he had never promised to become a Muslim, and he had no intention of doing so. "If you took my irony for truth, I am sorry for you." He went on to call Muhammad a false prophet, and his followers sons of Satan.

The kadi told Demetrius that if he did not become a Muslim, he would be put to death. Then he sent him back to prison for three days to consider this. When he was brought before the kadi again, Demetrius refused to convert. Then he was ordered to be executed.

When the other Christians heard of Demetrius's fearless confession of faith and his impending death, they brought Father Stephen to him. Demetrius told the priest he was afraid that he would not be able to endure the tortures. Fr Stephen urged him to remain strong and bear witness to Christ.

St Demetrius remained in prison for a whole year. His tortures continued, and no one was able to help him. At the beginning of the year, many Muslims gathered and shouted for the kadi to execute Demetrius. Therefore, he summoned Demetrius before him. The fearless martyr remained unshaken in his resolve, and mocked their faith.

For the last time Demetrius was offered the choice of converting to Islam or being put to death. He said he would remain a Christian whatever they did to him. Father Stephen came to the prison to hear the saint's confession and give him Communion.

On the morning of January 30, 1841 Demetrius was brought to the place of execution. He asked forgiveness of the Christians he met, entreating them to pray for him. Then they ordered him to kneel on the ground for beheading. The first stroke did not sever his head, and he remained motionless. With the second stroke, the martyr's head fell to the ground. The Christians soaked cloths in his blood, and Fr Stephen collected some of the blood-soaked earth in a box.

The holy relics remained unburied all night. The kadi ordered the body to be thrown into the river the next day, because Muslims believe that the bodies of those who insult Muhammad should not be received by the earth. After a sufficient bribe had been paid, the kadi released the body for burial in the garden of the monastery. St Demetrius now lives in the heavenly Kingdom, glorifying most holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit throughout all ages.

Source

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Papa Dimitri Gagastathis: Life and Teachings


Fr. Dimitrios was born in the village of Platanos in the prefecture of Trikala, Greece, on August 1, 1902. His parents Chrerstos and Catherine Gagastathis were pious men. On April 10, 1921, he was drafted into the army in Asia Minor. He also served in several places in Macedonia. On June 18, 1924, he was discharged from the army. In February 1928, he married Elisabeth Koutsimpiris from Platanos. The same year he was ordained reader by the Bishop of Trikki Polycarp. On Mary 24, 1931, he was ordained deacon, and on the 26th of the same month he was ordained priest by the same bishop.

From his marriage he had nine daughters. Five of the six that live today are married, while the youngest one became a nun, consecrated to the worship of God. For forty-two whole consecutive years, he served as the parish priest of his village. On October 1, 1973, he resigned for reasons of health. Since then, he remained confined at home, living as a saint with incessant prayer, glorifying and thanking God for the trial of his illness. He delivered his holy soul to the hands of the living God on January 29, 1975, in peace.

Throughout his life, he was pious, just, simple, humble, merciful, industrious, full of faith and love for God and for his neighbor, praying incessantly for the sake of the whole world. He tended his rational sheep as a good shepherd and became a teacher to everyone, instructing by his words, his letters and, above all, by his holy life.

The ever memorable Fr. Dimitrios worked for the Holy Church of Christ with all his strength. We believe that the Good God, Whom he unselfishly loved and self-denyingly served, and Whose infinite mercy he constantly begged for, has already taken him in the joyous dwellings of Paradise, to rejoice eternally in the blessedness of His Kingdom, through the prayers of the Most Holy Theotokos, the Queen of all the Holy Archangels, his protectors, and of all the Saints.


Gleanings From Papa Dimitri's Writings

On Prayer

I'm definitely not educated, but I can empirically tell you - that's what life has taught me - that it's at night and on en empty stomach that one can pray better.

We haven't placed Christ inside us and that's why we don't know what's love, peace, concord, etc.

Since I can't preach, let me at least weep for my sins and for those who have gone astray.

Prayer is a telephone, a wireless, by which one communicates directly with God. You dial the number on the telephone of prayer to speak with God and He answers. You hear Him clearly, you feel Him very close.

Prayer comes first in the larynx, then goes up to the brain and then down to the heart. And then well, theaters come to the eyes. From that point on there's nothing more to be said. It's true that in the beginning, you'll have difficulties. You'll try to pray and at time so you won't be able to, at times you'll have wandering thoughts and temptations, and at other times you won't be able to wake up at night. But you must insist. The Lord, seeing your disposition, will uphold you and deliver you from all temptations. We must not waste the whole night sleeping, because then Satan does whatever he wants with us.

Nightly prayer is of great value. The people sleep and God listens.

No matter where I go, I stick to my program, which was been called "According to the order of Melchisedek" and has been countersigned by many spiritual Fathers.

Vespers, Supplication prayers, preaching, Compline with the Salutations of the Theotokos - a most blessed job...

I have seen many things in my life, one of them being that prayers, supplications and Divine Liturgies have caused many to return to the Church's fold.

I entreat God and His Saints to enlighten all those astray so that may believe and come back to the bosom of the Church, which always keeps her arms open and waits for them. This is all I know to say and keep bothering God, the Most Holy Theotokos, the Archangels and all the Saints. If they don't like this, may they forgive me, as I'm unlearned and don't know what I should be asking for.

We must not with too much boldness to God and to the Most Holy Theotokos. We are all sinners and God doesn't hear a sinner's voice.

Despite that I'm a sinner, I kept asking persistently based on "Ask, and it shall be given you, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you" (Matt. 7:7). This is what I understood in my life: What is impossible with men, is possible with God (Luke 18:27).

Fasting

Fasting is a great thing. Adam was expelled for not keeping it. We must love fasting, because through it the passions go away, the heart and body are purified, and once we are made thus free, we can pray better. Our fasting must be accompanied with a lot of obedience and humility. We must do whatever God wants. We must have a lot of humility. We are nothing in the sea of God's love and goodness. What does God say? "Upon whom shall I look, except upon the meek and the humble and the one who fears my words?"

Humility And Obedience

The great vitures are three: humility, obedience, and love.

When there is no love and obedience to the local bishop, everything is ruined.

We cannot have boldness before God when we are not obedient, humble. Our heart must be simple in order to receive the word of God. No selfishness or hard-heartedness. Simplicity of heart makes us similar to God and to the saints. Everything is simple. The simple man is neither wicked nor can he think something wicked. He is resettles. He is like a child. His prayer is readily received. He prays for the others and for his sins.

How can you not weep when you see how much you've grieved God, the Angels and the Saints, who wait for you in Heaven and benefit you while on earth?

Love

Love cannot be limited to one person alone nor can the fruits of one's work be confined in a single environment. The lamp that is put on the table enlightens the whole house and everyone in it Matt. 5:15).

I can't find rest. I want to help everyone who asks me for help, even the whole world.

When you love God and all men with your heart, then you are in God's law. We shall be judged because we don't love.

I don't pray for myself. I love men so much that I pray only for the others.

How can you not pray for the afflicted, the sick, the poor?

Never be afraid for a man who loves. In him God dwells.

You ask me to make a Liturgy for you so that God may enlighten you to do well in the exam. I'm serving Forty Liturgies for you and you ask for one?

Have love among you, humility and obedience. God and the Angels rejoice in these... Love all the Most Holy Theotokos, Her who so much helps out human and sinful race.

The purpose of whatever prayers and services we do is to come closer to God and get to love Him more.

Demons

Satan doesn't know our thoughts. He knows only whatever he himself puts in our minds, as well as whatever he figures out from our movements, and whatever he hears from our words... Satan opposes every Christian who strives sincerely. However, no one must be afraid of the demons. They are smoke, dust and stench. They don't have power over men. God allows the temptations to try men's faith. They can be found even in the church, even during the time of Divine Liturgy. The put bad thoughts in the minds of the people and distract them from prayer and attention to the divine mystery. However, at the time of the Cherubic Hymn and of the Great Entrance, they depart. Only Lucifer, their leader, can enter in the sanctuary. No one else. I was once serving liturgy at night, when they came into the church and started overturning the chairs. The archdemon came into the sanctuary, shut the window and grabbed me by the throat to strangle me. I asked help from the Archangels, and when they roosters crowed in the morning, they all went away. "This generation goes away only through prayer and fasting" (Mark 9:29). Satan must not find any cowards, because he does whatever he wants with them. Satan is afraid of the pure and sincere confession, of humility and love. Where these exist, he just cannot enter.

On The Calendar Issue

How do the old-calendarists say that our Sacraments are invalid? In 1947, while I was doing the service of Sanctification and chanting "Great art Thou, O Lord, and Great art Thy works," a smoke came out of the cup and the water was heated up. Even in the cups that pious Christians held, the water was heated up. How then can you tell me that the Sacraments are invalid?

How can God work miracles with the new calendar, if it is not right? How did the miracle of Saint Bessarion happen in the village of Dousiko? This is enough to show to us that the right faith, love and the keeping of the commandments play an important role in the sanctification of man. I take account of nothing else. I wrote about this matter to Fr. Philotheos Zervakos (St. Nectarios' disciple) and he responded to me rightly - and so also I believe, the unlearned one, from my life's experience - that thirteen days can neither take you out from or put you into the Kingdom of Heaven... I also asked the Archangels about it and they told me "Stay where you are."

Contemporary World

We find it impossible in this day and age to work well in this life according to God's will, because we lack the two wings of love and humility.

God saved us from communism, but Satan delivered us to materialism.

Now it's time to weep and pray for the condition of today's world. We must pray that God may enlighten them to see the way of God, the way of truth and of righteousness.

Both clergy and people today have lost their spirituality. They constantly talk only about material and political things.

Through her weeping icon, the Theotokos shows that she's sad, because she sees what Russia suffers by the atheists, and because she's blasphemed by many.

Living Faith

Our Faith is alive, but we abandoned it because selfishness and materialism drew us away.

Indeed our Faith is alive, but we don't want to follow it, because it's a bit heavy and requires some commitments from our part. People want freedom and a depending slope so that they don't get tired and sweat, buy they don't know that this descent leads to a bad end. The way of perdition looks initially good, happy and easy. It offers artificial delights and pleasures, but all this vanishes quickly. We must pray incessantly on their behalf. Perhaps some soul might be save. In particular, we - the priests - have a tremendous responsibility before God and men.

Miracles happen every minute, but we don't perceive them because we are stone hearted. Soft-heartedness and simplicity are what's needed...

Church Services

The good chanter and the priest play a great role in good church services.

When chanting, you must understand and feel what you say. Don't get proud that you supposedly chant beautifully. You must live what you say. Once I was chanting a hymn of Apostle Peter that was about his denial. When I said "...and he cried bitterly," I saw tears coming out from his icon. The saint must have been pleased...

The priest's cassock is superior to trousers. It's got double grace...

Retribution

God will definitely give whatever He owes to us; we'll get paid according to our work. It must not strike us bad...

In my wallet I carry Christ's icon. He takes care of every human need. I always have the wallet open, and it's always full. Whatever one may give, God gives back double. ONe one hand man gives away, and on the other hand God brings in.

Sickness And Suffering

We patch up the body. But what is more important and we should always keep healthy is the soul. As we run to doctors and to spas and spend a lot of money for the body, so also we must turn to the spiritual father for the soul - which, moreover, is free-of-charge...

We must be glad in our trials and take special care lest we become indignant at the last minute and be punished in hell. Our life is a meal. Whether the meal is prepared well or not depends on us. But even if the meal is prepared well, we may not partake of it, should we kick over the table at the last minute. "Taste and see" (Ps. 34:8) that Christ is the Lord of eternal life.

Monasticism

Monasticism is Christ's army and Satan's enemy. The monasteries are the outposts of the Church. Without outposts, the enemy will capture us. Prayer in monasteries reaches God like a bullet. As a foreign army fears the aircraft and hides, so also Satan fear the prayer of the monastics and goes away.

Heresies

When the dignitaries of the foreign churches came to Trikala, I went at first to see them, but then I said to myself: "Papa Dimitri, get out of here fast and don't even look back..." We must not accept them. I've been following this principle many hears now. It was somewhat rude of me. But better be on good terms with God, rather than with the people...

We've been encircled by Free-Masonry and many fight our Church, but I believe that they try in vain, as the chief of the Church is Christ Himself, and she's not going to perish.

We must all pray, both old and young, that God and the Most Holy Theotokos enlighten the high-ranking men of the Church so that they may love one another and work for the Church which is being under attack by the foreign heresies.

Truth

I think I've grieved then a little, but truth is bitter and must needs be revealed for the benefit and salvation of their souls.

Youth

The young, male and female, have take the way downhill and they will neither see nor hear, while no one goes out there to stop them. But how could he, anyway, as the adults are worse?...

Daily Life Problems

I never worried anxiously about anything. I cared for my children without weariness and anxiety. God Who gave them to me took also care of everything.

The one who runs to magicians and fortune-tellers is called a rascal and loses protection even from God.

Self appraisal

I don't remember anything from this life; only heavy load of my sins.

If you learn that I left this world, don't get sad, but rather be happy because the Church will have gotten rid of the most sinful and unlearned priest of the era.

Prayers Composed by Papa Dimitri

Prayer Of A Priest

Jesus, the good Shepherd, I thank You, because you gave even to me, the small and weak one, the same command that You gave to Your apostles, when You told him: Feed my lambs, feed my sheep" (John 21:17).

Never would I dare, O Lord, to accept such a heavy mission, if I didn't believe that Your grace remedies what is weak and makes up for what is lacking.

Therefore, in this moment, in which I feel my shortcomings so intensely, I, your priest, Your sacrificer, the small shepherd of Your flock, implore You.

Uphold me, O Lord, keep my heart pure, whole, free from money and attached to Your commandments.

Take away from Your servants selfishness, ostentation and worldliness.

Keep him from anger, rancor, envy and jealously.

Make me a man of prayer, so that not only with my lips, but also with my heart I may praise and glorify Your Holy Name.

Help me not forget the holy feelings of my first liturgy, and by them to chase away the germ of habit, which every so often comes into me.

Help Your priest, O Lord, be always an angel of comfort for the afflicted, a source of spiritual invigoration for the disheartened, a guide towards Your peace, and a source of joy for the wounded.

Help me, my Savior, combine in my life and work tenderness with firmness, tact with strength, sensitivity with strictness.

Reduce my faults, so that no one may fall because of my weakness.

Teach me, Lord, how to instruct the children, inspire the youth, advise the adults, turn back the sinners, encourage those who are about to die.

Teach me, O Lord who know the hearts of men, how to perform the Mysteries of Your Church and especially the Mystery of Holy Confession. During that time, make me be a perfect psychologist and an affectionate father.

Help me in my parish an inspiration of good works and a leader in God pleasing endeavors, so that all may be won over for their own happiness and for the glory of Your Name. Amen.

Daily Prayer

O God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of those far off in the sea, the Good Shepherd, Who gave Your soul as ransom for Your rational sheep, Who do not desire the death of a sinner, but that he may turn back and live, the Forbearing, the All merciful, the All compassionate, Who gave us repentance for the remission of sins, Who are full of mercy and love for mankind, forgive all our sins that we have committed since our childhood, in words, in ignorance, in mind, voluntarily and involuntarily; forgive also all sinners and blasphemers and give to us, to those, and to all men, true repentance, pure and sincere one, to enlighten, guide instruct, uphold, strengthen and confirm us on the unshakable rock of the Faith, the rock of Your divine commandments, so that having put off the old man of sin and put on the new man in Christ, we may live the remaining time of our life in chastity, holiness, justice, piety and in God pleasing manner and be made worthy of Your Heavenly Kingdom; may that we all attain this through the prayers of YOur most pure Mother and of all Your saints. Amen.

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