Orthodox Thought for the Day

ORTHODOX THOUGHT FOR THE DAY

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Inner Meaning of the Paschal Greeting

We are forgiven, we are saved, we are redeemed. Christ is Risen! These words say everything: they are the foundation of our faith, hope, and love; of our Christian life; of all our wisdom and enlightenment; of the Holy Church, heartfelt prayer, and our entire future. These words destroy all human calamity, death, and evil; they give life, blessedness, and freedom! What miraculous power! Can one grow tired of repeating them? Christ is Risen! Can we ever have enough of hearing them? Christ is Risen!

But do we all understand the true meaning of these words: Christ is Risen? What does this mean: Christ is Risen? After all, Christ was risen neither today, nor yesterday, but many, many centuries ago. Who in our time can doubt that Christ indeed rose on the third day following His death? No one! In that case, to what are we witnessing when we respond to the greeting “Christ is Risen!” with the words “Truly He is Risen”? Are we witnessing only to our faith, or to something else as well?

Christians should participate in the very Resurrection of Christ. The Apostle Paul says: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain, ye are yet in your sins (1 Corinthians 15:17). It follows that we are celebrating the greatest Christian feast day, the feast of all feasts, for Christianity itself is founded upon the Resurrection of Christ. But should our celebration be limited to observing the church rubrics and to our presence in church? Where is the inner, spiritual meaning of this feast? Can remembrance alone of the great and global event of the Resurrection of Christ bring us salvation?
'
 
No, Christians should participate in the very Resurrection of Christ! Participate how? Through the Mystery of Confession and the Communion of the Holy Body and Live-Giving Blood of the Savior. During the days of Great Lent – the days of repentance, cleansing, and rebirth – we should renew our hearts in order to rise with Christ. Therefore, whoever has not participated in the very Resurrection of Christ has not understand and does not have within himself the true meaning of the words “Christ is Risen!” and the reply “Truly He is Risen!”
 
Likewise, the reply “Truly He is Risen!” alone does not demonstrate that we have the Resurrection of Christ in us and in our hearts. It is confirmed by joy in the Lord and demonstrated by love for Christ. Whoever loves, remembers God’s love and has no doubt in it. But remember, beloved brothers and sisters, how in your recent confession you repented for sometimes murmuring against God and for doubting His mercy; remember how you accused the Lord for your undeserved sorrows and unbearable sufferings; and even for the unwillingness to hear your prayers!

Remember how, living in sin, you were inclined to think the Lord merciless, both deaf and blind to your woes and needs! But now, having united with Christ, do you recognize that He is a God of love and mercy, and not of punishment? If you have indeed recognized this truth, then you have undoubtedly understood God in His designs and loved the Lord with a pure heart. Then Christ is risen in you, and you can now consciously reply to the joyful Christian greeting “Christ is Risen!” with the words “Truly He is Risen!” Amen.

Source: http://www.pravmir.com/the-inner-meaning-of-the-paschal-greeting/#ixzz2zO9QhH00

Holy and Awesome Saturday


 
On this holy, great and awesome Saturday when the human soul of Christ was torn away from His Body, and when His incorruptible, holy Body rested in the tomb, what a deep sense of awe and what horror, what terror filled all creation. … A sense of awe, because all creation had recognized in Him the Living God, God’s Word, the Creator of all things; and what terror, what horror at the sight of His death! Humans in their blindness, prisoners of sin, prisoners of their mortality could continue to live insensitive to what was happening. Pilate went his way, the soldiers continued in their barracks, the multitude dispersed having been present at an awesome, strange event, but an event that remained undeciphered for them; and the High Priest rejoiced, and Judas died. But the whole created world knew more about what had happened than the humans.
 
On the first great Sabbath, God Who had created all things, rested from His labours, and committed the care and the charge of the world He had made to man, man who belonged to the created world at the very root of it; because he was not made as a fulfilment, as the greatest of all beings in a line of evolution: he was made of the clay, of the dust of the earth; lower he could not go, but at the same time, because he was partaker of the lowest there was, he partook of everything that had been born of this primeval matter which God had called into existence.

At the same time man was possessed of the breath of God, belonged to two worlds, indeed, the world of the created and of the uncreated. And his vocation was to lead all beings into that fullness to which he himself was called; from purity and innocence to the maturity of holiness, to that maturity which Saint Paul describes when he says that all things in the world were made in such a way that God be all in all, that all things created be, as it were, the vesture of God, the Body of God, filled with divinity, partakers of it: man and all the rest partakers of the divine nature.

But then man fell, he betrayed his vocation, he fell away, and the world stood in dismay, lost, without a leader who would lead it to the fulfilment of its calling. It would continue to exist — yes; but it could not become what it was called to be without man; and Paul, perceiving this so deeply said that the whole creation is groaning for the revelation of the children of God, for the day when man should become man again, as God had wanted, called him to be, made him to be, and when all creatures would find in him a vision of what they were to become and a leader on the way to this becoming, this eternal growth into God.

And then Christ appeared, the Son of God Himself became the son of man, and all things created, from the smallest atom to the greatest galaxy recognised in Him the Creator, but at the same time in the body of the Incarnation, in His flesh, all things recognised themselves fulfilled, brought to perfection, recognised themselves as God longed for them to become. And they saw also that this was possible, because if it was possible in Christ, it was possible for all things to be pervaded with divinity, to be the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, to become the body of the God Eternal.

And then, on one tragic day, once more humanity betrayed both God and its own vocation, rejected the Living God Who had come to save what He had created, rejected the Son of God become the son of man, and nailed Him to the cross, and killed Him. When Adam betrayed his vocation, deeply was the whole world shaken, but there was hope, there still was hope: God was there. On that day, the whole creation trembled with horror, because not only the real Adam, the true and perfect man was now dead, but God had been defeated in him. Was there any hope? There was no hope … And we can see that the powers of heaven were shaken, that the sun lost its light, that the earth trembled, darkness came down upon the world because even God had been and conquered by human hatred and blindness: nothing was left, seemingly, but death, disintegration, the end.

What wonder when, from the depths of hell, victory resounded the sound of victory, when the whole creation became aware that the Christ’s human soul had descended into hell, into the place where God was not, could not be, into the place which by definition was the place of eternal, irremediable absence; but He had come to it in the glory, the shining, the resplendence of His Godhead, and darkness was banished; the place of radical separation had become a place filled victoriously by the divine presence; hell was no longer; victory was won by God, but not only by God, because it is the human soul of Christ, the man filled with divinity that has won this victory.

And the body? The body lay in the tomb uncorrupted, because corruption could not touch this Body that was filled with divinity, even when His human soul had been torn away from it. Hope came, shy, yet exulting; the whole creation knew now that victory was won and that all things were possible, all promises would be fulfilled, all longings will be satisfied. Only the world of man was still unaware of it. And we are today in that same holy and awesome Saturday, when the Son of God, the son of man rested from His labours. All creation knows the victory, all hell has been harrowed; now, it is for us to wait; to wait with all longing, all hope, all desire for the news to reach us, that not only hell was conquered but soul and body were reunited, that Christ the man had risen from the tomb, that all things were fulfilled, that the end had come — the end not as a point in time but as a goal attained: the vision of the perfect man united perfectly for ever with the Godhead, whose body stood not only for mankind, but for all the created, material and spiritual world.

Let us wait with awe, let us wait with gratitude, let us wait with the tenderness and adoration for the moment when we, on earth, will hear the news: Christ is risen from the dead, having trampled death by death, and to those in the tombs having been given life. Amen!

Source: http://www.pravmir.com/holy-awesome-saturday/#ixzz2zMs2n2wz

Friday, April 18, 2014

What is the purpose of Christ's death on the Cross?

On Passover night, lambs were supposed to be slaughtered and eaten. A Passover meal had to include a roasted lamb. But the rules of Kashrut (that which is allowed by Judaism) mandate that meat must not contain any blood. According to Josephus Flavius, 265 thousand lambs were slaughtered in Jerusalem for Passover. Herod Agrippa, in order to estimate the number of pious families, ordered that the number of sacrifices should be counted; they turned out to be 600 thousand… And it was necessary to drain all blood from all these hundreds of thousands of animals. If one keeps in mind that Jerusalem did not have a sewer system, one can imagine the amount of blood flowing down the city’s streets toward the stream of Kedron.

Kedron is located between the city wall and the Garden of Gethsemane where Christ was arrested. In the days before Passover, the stream of Kedron was filled, not so much with water, but with blood. Before our eyes is a symbol born out of the very reality: Christ, the New Testament Lamb, is led to His execution across a river which is filled with the blood of the Old Testament lambs. He came to spill His blood, so that there would no longer be a need to spill anyone else’s. The entire horrific might of the Old Testament cult could not seriously heal a human soul. “No one will be justified by the works of the Law…”

The passions of Christ begin in the Garden of Gethsemane. Here, He spent the last hours of His earthly life in prayer to the Father.

Luke the Evangelist, a physician by education, describes the image of Christ in these minutes with precision. He says that when Christ prayed, blood ran down His face like drops of sweat. This phenomenon is known to medicine. When a person is in a state of extreme nervous or psychological tension, then sometimes—quite rarely—this happens. The capillaries that are closest to the skin burst, and blood enters into sweat glands and mixes with sweat. In this process, large drops of blood can indeed form and run down a person’s face. When this happens, the person is severely weakened. And it is at this moment that Christ is arrested. The Apostles attempt to resist. Apostle Peter, who carried a “sword” with him (perhaps it was just a large knife), is ready to use this weapon to defend Christ, but hears from the Savior: “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” The Apostles scatter. Having just been awakened, no one is ready to follow after Christ. And only one of them, hiding in the bushes, follows the temple guards who are leading Christ into the city. He is Mark the Evangelist, who will later recount this episode in his Gospel. While Christ prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Apostles slept, despite Christ’s pleas that they not. In those days, it was customary to sleep naked, and Mark had no clothes on. When he jumped up, the young man hurriedly threw something over his body, and in this manner followed after Christ. He was spotted in the bushes, and the guards tried to catch him, so Mark was forced to leave his cloak in the hands of the guards and to run away naked (Mk. 14:51). This episode is worth mentioning because in essence it had been prophesied in the Old Testament. In the Book of the Prophet Amos (2:16), it was written about the day of the coming of the Messiah: “And those who are stout of heart among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day…” Mark indeed turned out to be the bravest—he was the only one who tried to follow after Christ—but he still had to run away naked from the guards…

When Christ is betrayed by Judas, He is arrested by the guards of the Sanhedrin, the highest governing organ of the Judean religious community. He is taken to the house of a high-priest for hasty judicial proceedings that employed false witnesses and false accusations. Trying to silence the conscience of those present, the high-priest says: “… it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” The Sanhedrin wishes to show the Roman rulers that it can tame the “troublemakers” on its own in order to give the Romans no reason for repressions.

The events that follow are described in the Gospel in detail. High-priests reached a verdict. The Roman procurator (locum tenens) Pontius Pilate does not find Jesus guilty of any charge presented by the Sanhedrin: “Corruption of the people, refusal to pay taxes to Caesar, the Roman Emperor, attempts to seize power over the Jewish people.” The high-priest Caiaphas, however, insisted on an execution, and eventually, Pilate agrees.

 
Note the part in the sentence where the Sanhedrin says: “He makes Himself God.” Thus, even those who were not at all sympathetic to Christ’s preaching thought that He made Himself equal to God, asserted for Himself divine dignity. Therefore, it was only natural that in the eyes of pious Jews who confessed the oneness of God, this was true blasphemy—but not at all calling oneself the Messiah. For example, Bar Kaaba, who around the same time also contested a messianic title, was not crucified, and his fate was much better. So, the sentencing is over and thus begins the night before the execution.

Golgotha, a small hill outside of the Jerusalem city walls, was a traditional place for public executions. It is for this purpose that several posts always stood at the top of that hill. Customarily, the one to be crucified had to carry a heavy beamfrom the city which served to make a cross. It was such a beam that Christ also had to carry, but as the Gospel says, could not take it all the way to Golgotha. He was too weak. Prior to this, Christ had already been punished once: He was flogged.

Today, based on information gleaned from studying the Shroud of Turin, we can say that flogging consisted of thirty-nine lashes with a scourge which had five thongs with lead balls tied at the end of each. During the beating, the scourge wrapped around the body and cut skin to the bone. Jesus received thirty-nine lashes because the Jewish law did not allow more than forty to be given. This was considered a capital punishment.

However, the law had already been broken. Christ was punished twice, while any law, including Roman law, forbidmore than one punishment for the same crime. Flogging was the first and the worst punishment. Not everyone survived it. Nonetheless, after this first punishment followed a second one—crucifixion. It appears that Pontius Pilate really tried to spare Jesus’ life and hoped that the sight of the Preacher who was beaten nearly to death and all covered in blood would satisfy the blood-thirsty instincts of the crowd.

This, however, did not happen. The crowd demanded an execution, and Jesus was led to Golgotha. Beaten and weakened, He fell along the way several times, and in the end the guards forced a peasant by the name of Simon, who was standing nearby, to take the cross and carry it the rest of the way. On Golgotha, the Lord is nailed to the cross. His feet are nailed to the post which is already there, and His hands to the beam which He carried; and then the beam is lifted up onto the post and nailed.

Over the course of two thousand years, the word “crucifixion” has been repeated so many times that its meaning is often lost to some degree, became less vivid. The enormity of the sacrifice given by Christ for all people—those who were and those who will be—has become less vivid in the minds of those living today.

So, what is crucifixion? Cicero called this punishment the most horrific of all invented by humans. Its essence is that a human body is hung on a cross in such a way that the center of gravity is in the chest. When the arms are raised above the shoulders and the person cannot find support in his legs, then the entire weight of the body rests in the chest. As a result of this tension, blood floods the chest muscles and stagnates in them. The muscles gradually begin to stiffen. Then comes asphyxiation: cramped chest muscles put pressure on the chest. The muscles do not allow the diaphragm to expand; the person cannot fill his lungs with air and begins to suffocate to death. Such an execution sometimes took several days. In order to speed it up, a person was not simply tied to the cross, but often nailed. Forged nails with ridges were pounded between the radius and ulna near the wrist. On its path, the nail met a bundle of nerves. By itself, touching a bare nerve causes horrible pain; here, these nerves were crushed. But this is not all. In order to breathe in this position, the person must find a fulcrum in his own body in order to free the chest for breathing. For a nailed person, the only fulcrum is his own feet which are also nailed through. The nail enters between the small bones of the foot. The man must push against the nail which goes through his foot, strengthen his knees, and lift up his body, thus relieving the pressure on the chest. Then he can take a breath. But because his arms are also nailed through, they begin to pivot around the nails. In order to take a breath, the man must pivot his arm around the nail, which is not smooth but covered with ridges and burrs. Such a movement is accompanied by pain on the verge of shock.

The Gospel tells us that Christ was on the cross for approximately six hours. In order to speed up the execution, the guards often broke the legs of the crucified with a sword at the ankles. The person then lost his last support and quickly suffocated. The guards who were on Golgotha on the day of Christ’s crucifixion were in a hurry. They had to finish their horrible deed before sunset because Judean law did not allow the handling of dead bodies after sunset, but they could not be left until the next day due to the approach of a great holiday, the Judean Passover, and three dead bodies could not be left hanging over the city. Thus, the team of executioners is in a hurry. Saint John specifies that the soldiers broke the legs of the two robbers who were crucified with Christ, but they did not touch Christ because they saw that He had already died. Thisis not difficult to see when a person is on the cross. As soon as the man stops constantly moving up and down, this means that he is no longer breathing, and thus he has died…

Luke the Evangelist tells us that when a Roman centurion pierced Jesus’ chest with a spear, blood and water came from the wound. According to doctors, this is a reference to the liquid which came from the pericardium. The spear pierced the chest from the right, all the way to the pericardium and the heart—this a professional strike of a soldier who aims at the side of the body which is unprotected by a shield and strikes directly at the heart. Blood cannot flow from a dead body. The fact that blood and water flowed from the wound means that earlier, before the last strike, blood mixed with the liquid in the pericardium. The heart could not bear the suffering. Christ died earlier from a ruptured heart.

They manage to take Christ off the cross before sunset, quickly wrap Him in a burial shroud, and put Him in a tomb. This is a stone cave which is cut in a rock near Golgotha. They put Him in the tomb, seal the entry into the small cave with a heavy stone, and place guards to ensure that the disciples not steal the body. Two nights pass and one day, and on the third day, when, full of sorrow at the loss of their beloved Teacher, the disciples go to the tomb in order to finally wash His body and complete all of the burial rites, they find that the stone is moved away, the guards are gone, and the tomb is empty. But just as their hearts were about to be filled with new sorrow—not only was their Teacher killed, but now they don’t even have the chance to properly bury Him—at this moment, an Angel appears to them and proclaims the greatest news: Christ is risen!

The Gospel describes several meetings with the risen Christ. It is amazing that after His resurrection Christ does not appear to Pontius Pilate of Caiaphas. He does not go to convince those people who did not recognize Him during His life. He appears only to those who believed and accepted Him before. This is a miracle of God’s respect for human freedom. And when we read the testimony of the Apostles about the resurrection of Christ, we are impressed by one detail: they do not tell of the resurrection as an event which happened somewhere to some other person, but as an event in their personal lives. And it is not something like: “Someone dear to me was raised from the dead.” No. The Apostles say: “We have been raised together with Christ.” From that time forward, every Christian can say that the most important event in his or her life happened in the days of Pontius Pilate, when the stone sealing the entrance to the tomb was found moved away and out came the Conqueror of death.

The Cross is the main symbol of Christianity. The Cross is the focus of sorrow. But the Cross is also the protection and the source of joy for a Christian. Why was the Cross necessary? Why were Christ’s sermons and His miracles not enough? Why was it not enough for our salvation and union with God that God, the Creator, became man, a creature? Why, in the words of Saint Gregory the Theologian, did we have a need not only of an incarnated God but also for a sacrificed One? What is the meaning of the Cross of the Son of God in the context of the relationship between man and God? What happened on the Cross following the crucifixion?

Christ said many times that He came into the world specifically for this moment. The last enemy, the ancient enemy against whom Christ battles, is death. God is life. All that exists, all that lives, according to Christianity and to the experience of any developed religious and philosophical thought, exists and lives through its participation in God, its connection with Him. But when a person sins, he destroys this connection. Then divine life no longer flows in him, no longer nourishes his heart. The person begins to “suffocate.” The person, as the Bible sees him, may be compared to a diver who is working on the bottom of the sea. Suddenly, because of some careless move, the hose which supplies oxygen from the surface becomes constricted. The man begins to die. In order to save him, it is necessary to restore the supply of oxygen from the surface. This process is the essence of Christianity.

Such a careless move which destroyed the connection between man and God was the original sin and all of the personal human sins that followed. People erected a barrier between themselves and God—not a spatial barrier, but a barrier in the heart. People became cut off from God. This barrier had to be removed. In order for people to be saved and to attain immortality, it was necessary to restore the connection with Him, Who is the only immortal One. In the words of the Apostle Paul, only God has immortality. People fell away from God, from life. They had to be “saved,” they had to be helped to acquire God—not some middleman, not a prophet, not a teacher, not an angel, but God Himself. Could people have built such a ladder of their merits, their good deeds, which would allow them, like the stairs of the Tower of Babel, to climb to heaven? The Bible gives a clear answer: no. Then, since the Earth cannot ascend to Heaven, Heaven comes down to Earth. Then God becomes man. “The Word became flesh.” God came to people. He did not come to find out how we live or to give us some advice about how to behave. He came in order that human life could unite with Divine life, could commune with it. Christ takes everything that is in human life, except sin, into Himself. He takes a human body, a human soul, a human will, human relationships—in order to warm man within Himself, to change him.

But there is one more property that is inseparable from the term “human.” During the epochs that passed since the expulsion from Paradise, man acquired one more skill; he learned to die. And God decided to also take into Himselfthis experience of death.

People have tried to explain the mystery of Christ’s suffering on Golgotha in different ways. One of the simplest schemes says that Christ gave himself as a sacrifice instead of us. The Son decided to please the Heavenly Father, so that the latter would forgive all people in light of the Son’s enormous sacrifice. This was the opinion of Western medieval theologians; often this is taught by popular Protestant preachers, and one can find such opinions even in Apostle Paul’s writings. This scheme comes from the worldview of a medieval man. In the archaic and medieval world, the gravity of a transgression depended on the person against whom the transgression was committed. For example, there is one punishment for killing a peasant, but a more serious punishment for killing a prince’s servant. It is in this way that medieval theologians often tried to explain the meaning of biblical events. In and of itself, Adam’s transgression was not very serious—he took an apple, that’s all—but the problem is that this was a transgression against the greatest ruler, against God.

A small, in itself miniscule, transgression, multiplied by Infinity against which it was committed, also became infinite. And respectively, in order to pay this infinite debt, there was a need of an enormous sacrifice. Man was not able to give this sacrifice for himself; thus, God gave this sacrifice in our behalf. Such an explanation fully agreed with a medieval mindset.

Today, we cannot find this scheme sufficiently sensible. In the end, we are left with a question: is it just that an innocent person is punished instead of the real perpetrator? Is it just if one person quarrels with his neighbor, but then when his heart softens, he decides: alright, I will no longer be angry with my neighbor, but in order to fulfill the law, I will go and slaughter my son, and then we will consider that the quarrel is over?

In fact, challenges to such popular theology were mounted by the Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church. Here is, for example, the reasoning of Saint Gregory the Theologian: “It is now left for us to investigate the question and dogma which is left by many without attention, but which I see as requiring much investigation. To whom and for what was spilled the blood that was spilled for us—the great and most glorious blood of God, and High-Priest, and Sacrificial Lamb? We were owned by the evil one, sold to sin, and with our voluptuousness we bought our own corruption. And if a ransom is paid to the one who owns, I ask: to whom and for what reason was such a ransom paid? If to the evil one, then how offensive this is! A robber receives the price of redemption, receives not only from God, but receives God Himself; for his torment he takes such an infinite ransom that it was enough to spare us! And if [the ransom is paid] to the Father, then first, why is the blood of the Only-Begotten pleasing to the Father, Who did not accept Isaac offered by [his] father, but replaced the sacrifice, giving a ram in place of reasonable sacrifice? Or, can we see from this that the Father accepts not because He had a need, but according to economy, and because man had to be sanctified by the humanity of God, that He Himself would redeem us by overpowering the tormentor, and that [He] would raise us up to Himself through the Son Who mediates and completes everything for the glory of the Father, Whom He obeys in everything? Such are the works of Christ, and what is beyond should be honored by silence.”

There were other attempts at explaining Golgotha. One of the schemes, a deeper and daring one in a way, speaks of a trickster who has been tricked. Christ is likened to a hunter. When a hunter wants to catch some animal or fish, he puts out bait or masks the hook with a lure. A fish takes that which it sees and find that with which it did not want to meet.

According to some Eastern theologians, God comes to earth in order to destroy the dominion of Satan. What is the dominion of death? Death is emptiness, non-existence. Therefore, it is impossible to simply chase death away. Death can only be filled from within. Destruction of life cannot be overcome by anything but creation. In order to enter into this emptiness and fill it from within, God took upon Himself the image of man. Satan did not learn the mystery of Christ, the mystery of the Son of God Who became man. He considered Him merely a righteous man, a saint, or a prophet, and thought that as any son of Adam, Christ is subject to death. And at the moment when the powers of death rejoiced that they were able to defeat Christ, expecting tomeet another human soul in hell, they met with the power of God Himself. This divine lightning comes down into hell, begins to unfold there, and destroys the entire crypt of hell. This is one of the images which is rather popular in ancient Christian literature.

The third image likens Christ to a physician. Saint Basil the Great says it in just these words: before sending His Son down to earth, God absolved all our sins. Christ comes as an experience physician in order to put together the broken human nature. By themselves, humans must take down all the barriers from within their own nature which separate them from God. In other words, humans must learn to love, but love is a very dangerous feat. In love, man loses himself. In some way, serious love is akin to suicide. Man stops living for himself and begins to live for another whom he loves—otherwise, it is not love. Man goes beyond himself.

However, each person has some part which does not want to go beyond itself. It does not want to die in love, it prefers to see everything from the perspective of its own little benefit. With this part, begins the death of the human soul. Could God have cut out this cancerous tumor which dwells in the human soul with an angelic scalpel? No, He could not. He created humans to be free (in His image and likeness) and would not corrupt His own image which He put into man. God acts only from within man, only through man. Two thousand years ago, the Son of the pre-eternal Father became the son of Mary in order for there to be at least one soul in this human world which could say to God: “Yes, take me, I do not want to have anything of my own. Your will be done, not mine.”

Then begins the sacrament of the divinization of the human nature of Christ. He is God from His very birth. On one hand, He possesses the divine consciousness, the divine “I am,” but on the other hand, He possesses a human soul which developed in the same way as any other child’s, youth’s, or man’s. Naturally, God instilled a fear of death in every living creature. Death is that which is not God. God is life. Every human soul, every living soul, naturally fears that which is most obviously not God. Death is most obviously not God. And Christ’s human soul has the fear of death—it does not cower, nor does it resist death. This is why in the Garden of Gethsemane, the human will and soul of Christ address God with the words: “I am deeply grieved, even to death… if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (Matt. 26:38-9).

At this moment falls the last barrier which could separate man from God—the experience of death. As a result, when death comes to Christ’s life and attempts to break and destroy it, death finds no material for itself. By the definition of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, agreed upon not only by the second-century Christians, the saint’s contemporaries, but also by the faithful of all times, death is a break. First of all, it is a break between soul and body, and also the second death, which in Christian terminology is a break between the soul and God. Eternal death. Thus, when this break, this split, tries to establish itself in Christ, to find a place in Him, it turns out that it has no place there. It gets stuck there because through the prayer at Gethsemane, Christ’s human will completely submitted to the divine will, united with it. The wedge of death could not separate Christ’s soul from the Divine nature of the Son of God, and as a result, Christ’s human soul remained to the end inseparable from His body. And this is why there is an almost immediate resurrection.

For us this means that from now on, human death is reduced to merely an episode in human life. Since Christ found a way out of death, this means that if a man follows Him, figuratively speaking “clings to His clothes,” then Christ will drag him through the corridors of death. And death will turn out to be a door, not a dead end. It is because of this that the Apostles say that the death of Jesus Christ is the most important event in their personal lives.

Therefore, we attain salvation not through the death of Christ, but through His resurrection. Death is chased out by the force of life. Christ does not merely “suffer” passions. No. He invades the dominion of death and grafts humanity to the source of eternal life—God.
There is also a fourth image that explains the events of Golgotha. The Earth where people live can be likened to a besieged planet. It so happened that in the heavenly realm at a time about which we know nothing, an act of apostasy took place…


We do not know its motives, we do not know how it happened, but we do know its consequences. We know that there was a division in the angelic world. Some number of the heavenly spiritual hosts refused to serve the Creator. From a human point of view this is easy to understand. Any being that recognizes itself as a person sooner or later faces a dilemma: to love God more than self, or to love self more than God. There was a time when the angelic world faced that choice. Most of the angels—as is supposed in both the biblical and Church experience—“stood firm” in purity and “stood firm” in God, but some number of them fell away. Among them was the angel who had been created the most beautiful, the wisest, and the strongest. He was given a marvelous name—Light-Bearer (Lat.—“Lucifer”; Slav.—“Денница”). He was not merely one of the singers of God’s glory. God entrusted him as ruler over the entire Universe.

According to the Christian worldview, each person and each nation has its own Guardian Angel. Lucifer was the Guardian Angel of the whole Earth, the entire human world. Lucifer was the “ruler of the Earth,” the ruler of this world.

From the first pages, the Bible shows us that the most horrible events in the cosmic chronicle happen because of man. From the point of view of geology, man is nothing but mold on the surface of an insignificant celestial body located on the edge of the Galaxy. From the point of view of theology, man is so important that it was because of him that a war was sparked between God and Lucifer. The latter thought that in his dominion people must serve the master of this dominion. In other words, [they should serve] him, Lucifer.

Unfortunately, through original sin, man let evil into his world, and the world was separated from God. God could speak to people to remind them of His existence. The whole tragedy of the pre-Christian world can be expressed through a simple phrase: “there was God, and there were people,” and they were apart, and between them was some thin, invisible, but very resilient wall that did not allow a human heart to really unite with God, that did not allow God to always stay with people. And so Christ comes in the image of a servant, as a carpenter’s son. God comes to people in order to raise “from within” a rebellion against the usurper. If one reads the Gospel carefully, then it becomes clear that Christ is not such a sentimental preacher as He may appear to us today. Christ is a warrior, and He says directly that He fights a war against an enemy who He calls “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31)—“arhontoukosmou.” If we carefully look at the Bible, we will see that the Cross and Golgotha are the price of human dabbling in the occult, their passion for “cosmic revelations.”

A further reading of the Bible will reveal another interesting mystery. In popular mythological thinking, demons dwell in a subterranean place. Folk understanding places hell under the earth, in a place of boiling magma. Rather, the Bible says that the “spiritual forces of evil” dwell in the heavenly places. In fact, they are called “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” not “subterranean” ones. It turns out that the world which people customarily call “the visible heaven” is not at all safe; it strives to enslave the human heart. “Forget about God, pray to me, my rewards are more certain!”—thus spoke a demon in Zhukosvky’s ballad “Gromoboi.” Christ wants to break through this aerial blockade. For this He comes here incognito, and for this He dies.

Saint Maximus the Confessor asks: “Why did Christ choose such a horrible kind of execution?”—and offers an answer: “in order to cleanse the aerial essence.” As Saint Maximus the Confessor explains, Christ dies in the air, not on earth, in order to abolish “the enemy powers which fill the middle place between heaven and earth.” The Cross sanctifies the “aerial space”—in other words, that space which separates people from Him Who is above the heavens. So, after Pentecost, the first martyr Stephen sees the heavens opened, and through this opening he sees “Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). The Cross of Golgotha is a tunnel punched through the thicket of demonic powers which aim to present themselves to man as the latest religious reality.

Therefore, if man is able to reach the zone which Christ has cleared from the preponderance of the spirits of evil, if he can offer his soul and his body for healing to Christ as the physician, Who in Himself and through Himself heals human nature, then he will be able to receive the freedom brought by Christ, the gift of immortality which He had in Himself. The meaning of Christ’s coming is in that the life of God became accessible to humans.

Man is created to be with God, but not with cosmic impostors. Created in the image of the Creator, he is called to go to the Creator. God Himself already made His step toward man. In order to free people from the cosmic blockade, from the muddy revelations of “planetary logi,” astral “mahatmas,” and the “rulers of the cosmos,” God broke through to us. He broke through all of the cosmic rubbish, for the Virgin Mary was pure. And He wrested us with His Cross from under the dominion of cosmic “aliens.” The Cross tied heaven and earth. The Cross united God and man. The Cross is the sign and the tool of our salvation. That is why on this day in churches it is sung: “The Cross is the guardian of the whole universe.” The Cross is erected. Human, you also get up, do not slumber! Do not get drunk with the spiritual surrogates. May not the Creator’s Crucifixion be fruitless for your life!

Source: http://www.pravmir.com/golgotha-what-is-the-purpose-of-christ-s-death-on-the-cross/#ixzz2zHXHrQrH

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Eucharist as the Gift of Life

We thank Thee, O King Invisible, Who… by the fullness of Thy mercy hast brought forth all things out of nothing into being. The priest reads these marvelous words during the secret prayers at the Liturgy. This is an authentic Christian feeling: joy and gratitude for being alive, since in our adult life another kind of thought quite often prevails. Life seems unbearable to us; we toil exhausted, and reproach God in our prayers for bringing us to life. There really are such bitter days in man’s life when he does not have the strength to live. Our shadows and specters walk along streets and squares; we breakfast without tasting anything; we converse without interest – and we are afraid even to ask: am I still alive or am I in a dream? I do not feel that the people around me are alive. From such a drowsy condition the words of this prayer seem absurd, even mocking. Would it not have been better never to have been born than to be so abused and to abuse others? But Christ came in order to return us to life, to fill us with life abundantly (Jn 10:10).

 

The gift of the Eucharist is the gift of life: Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you (Jn 6:53). One approaches the Eucharistic chalice when one lacks the strength to live. In the Holy Chalice we are given life in its pure form, we take it from a spoon, and revive our souls and bodies, infecting them with Divine life. The Lord created us so that we might live and receive this joy. In the Eucharist we receive not only some abstract life, but the joy of authentic life. One may even say that the taste for joy is given back to us. And for us as Christians this is very important, because the Lord has entrusted us with a special service in this world: to learn to love the people He brought to this place and at this time, and this is a very difficult task, and sometimes it is just intolerable. Therefore it is pleasant to listen to Horace, Pasternak’s presence is very nice, and Shakespeare is charming as ever, but this neighbor of mine, who is coughing behind the wall, these neighbors who shuffle around in their slippers, smack their lips at table, gossip, peep from around corners, who always want something from you – to love them? How is this possible? The gift of the Eucharist is the gift of love. Simply to smile at someone, to listen to him, to take his hurt into one’s heart – for this one needs strength, the strength of love. This strength is filled in us through communion with the authentic source of Life, Love, and Joy – communion with Christ the Lover of Man. Every Christian, approaching the Chalice and tasting of the gift of life with gratitude and thanksgiving, has the entire essence of his life filled to abundance with life, and becomes a source of joy and love for his neighbors. We see evidence of this in the lives of the saints. Many people went to the desert to St. Anthony for comfort, advice, and support. His speech was filled with grace, and the Holy Spirit spoke through his mouth. Once the saint noticed that one of his visitors never asked anything: he came in silence, and left in silence. The Elder asked him why he never asked anything. The visitor answered: “It is enough for me to look at you, Father.“ In the precence of an authentic Christian, everyone’s heart blossoms, and the desire to live returns. Such a Christian, like the sun, warms the frozen souls of people around him. This is the sunny, resurrecting, Paschal power of life in abundance that we drink from in the Eucharistic Chalice.

Great Thursday is the day of the institution of the Mystery of the Eucharist. One who today approaches the Holy Chalice mystically, “through all of time and space,“ participates in that first Eucharist, the first breaking of bread, which took place many centuries ago in a distant and strange country, by the Savior embarking on His way of the Cross. Thursday’s Liturgy is important to us also because here, at this point of Passion Week, we commune of the life of Christ so that we will be able to experience all the horror of His Cross and death. But all the stronger our gratitude and the more sincere our thankfulness to the Lover of Mankind, for Thou ceaseth not, until Thou hast done everything to bring us to Heaven, and grant us Thy Kingdom to come.

Translated from Russian by Olga Lissenkova
Edited by Hierodeacon Samuel (Nedelsky) and Isaac (Gerald) Herrin


Source: http://www.pravmir.com/sermon-for-holy-thursday/#ixzz2zCh3tePd

Help and save our benefactors, O Lord!

This spring marked the 15th anniversary of the NATO bombing of Serbia.  Many of you may remember that this tragedy occurred during Holy Week and Pascha of 1999.  Since then, the Serbian Orthodox of Kosovo and its environs have been living in a deteriorating condition.  Life there for the Orthodox is particularly difficult.  Not only are essential goods and services hard to come by, there is always a concern about personal safety and the safety of one’s few possessions.  As it now is, the remnant of Orthodox Christians living in Kosovo are just surviving, by the grace of God, through their prayers and endurance of hardships.  These Christians benefit much from being remembered by those who are bonded to them through our common fellowship and faith in Christ.     

The on-going ministry in Kosovo is greatly facilitated by the work of the Decani Monastery Relief Fund.  The Fund provides both loving humanitarian aid as well as spiritual support to those needing assistance.  Christians living in the area are continually challenged by their circumstances, many of which cannot be changed.  They live with genuine faith in the All-Holy Trinity and the power of prayer despite surrounding ruination.   

I would like to put before you, once again during this Holy Season, the deep needs of the Serbian Orthodox population in Kosovo.  It is not an exaggeration--many of them need assistance to obtain the basic necessities for life.  The Decani Monastery Relief Fund is a recognized non-profit organization with an excellent record of doing a blessed work in the area.       

Although I am aware of a plethora of needs around the world, all deserving of assistance in their own right, I have been closely aligned with the work of the Decani Fund for years and it’s near and dear to my heart.  I can vouch for all the good it does and the Christian spirit by which aid is provided.  The Fund’s president, Fr. Nektarios Serfes of Boise, ID, routinely puts shoe leather to faith to benefit the afflicted Serbian population there. 

As we move closer to Pascha, I would like to ask your assistance to help the Decani Fund provide a seasonal gift to the Orthodox of Kosovo.  This is a special gift of blessing and encouragement—a festal meal!   

Would you be willing to feed and bring some joy to an otherwise impoverished population of Orthodox brethren?  Let’s take the opportunity to invite brethren to our Paschal table by providing them a festive meal on the Feast of Feasts.  They may not sit across from you physically, but they will be at your table spiritually—and they will bless you for your kind-hearted generosity!   

Beloveds, receive the joy that comes through holy stewardship and the gift of one’s heart to another!  Think of how you would feel if you were on the receiving end.  As they say, what comes around, goes around.  God has planted us in the land of plenty…let us open our hearts and resources to our brethren!  Let the brethren say of you, Help and save our benefactors, O Lord!  And let God say of you, Well done, good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your Lord! 

Please, if you would, visit the Fund’s website.  You’ll find a Paypal option for making a donation of any amount.  All gifts will combine to provide festal food and all gifts are deeply appreciated:  http://www.thedecanifund.org/ 

From the heart, I thank you. 

Kalo Pascha to all!    

                                                           

Your sister in Christ,
Pres. Candace

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Remember imprisoned AB Jovan

Please light a candle and lift up prayers for imprisoned Archbishop Jovan of Skopje.  He and all those imprisoned for their faith need our supportive prayers:


 

A message written by Fr. Nektarios Serfes, below: 

Greetings in our Lord: Father Irenje, and Faithful in our Lord of the Holy Diocese of Archbishop Jovan of Skopje, 

Pomez Bog! 

May our Gracious God always bless you! Rejoice always in the Lord! 

Humbly I pray that you and all good Christians of your beloved diocese of the Venerable Archbishop Jovan have a spiritually rewarding Holy Week and a Glorious Holy Pascha. 

It deeply grieves me especially during Holy Week and in preparations for the Glorious Resurrection of our Lord that your beloved and Venerable Archbishop Jovan remains in jail. I am sure each of you are saddened that he will not be standing with you in prayer during these holy days. 

Archbishop Jovan we pray is free in his spirit, and we must not give up in doing all that is possible to appeal for him, and you know well that I am doing all that is possible in these appeals as I am roaring in the wilderness. Lord I cry unto Thee, O Lord hear me! 

As far as I am concerned Archbishop Jovan is on the Cross and he is praying these holy days with us in his cold cell and behind the walls of his confinement. The Archbishop is not alone because his Guardian Angel is with him, as well as our Lord standing next to him who hears his prayers of the Passion of our Lord, and he will proclaim as always with love the Glorious Resurrection which truly comforts him. 

May you dear Father Irenje and all loving faithful Christians of who all suffer persecution be at comfort knowing our God is with Archbishop Jovan, and God is always with those who love Him and suffer. 

God be with you All with His love and joy! 

A Glorious Holy Pascha to you all! 

Peace to your soul! 

God love and bless you!
 
Humbly in Christ our Lord,
+ Very Reverend Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes
Who prays for you and with you!

O Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me a sinner!
The Jesus Prayer

 
Where Archbishop Jovan of Skopje would like to be 

Where Archbishop Jovan of Skopje is