Orthodox Thought for the Day

ORTHODOX THOUGHT FOR THE DAY

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Driving away the soul's enemy

Further counsel from St. John Chrysostom: 

“When the enemy derides you for some sin which you see in yourself, and you, hearing this, do not answer him with insults but begin to sigh and to entreat God, you will smooth over your sin.  Lest you think that I am merely consoling you with empty words, I will call on the testimony of Holy Scripture.  There were a Pharisee and a Publican.  The latter had reached the vilest depths of sin, and the former jealously guarded his righteousness.  Once, both of them went to the temple to pray.  The Pharisee stood and said, God, I thank Thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican, (Luke 18:11).  And the Publican, standing on the side, did not answer with insults, and did not say any sinful words like those that we hurl at each other every day, but sighed bitterly and smote upon his breast, saying, God, be merciful to me a sinner (Luke 18:13), and went away justified.   

 

Do you see how quickly he was justified?  He got soiled, and he washed away the spot; he realized his sins and was released from them, the accusation of sin turned into a loosening of sin, and the enemy became a benefactor against his own will.  Is there anything more gracious than this?  If there any other, easier way of breaking free from sin?  Otherwise, how long the Publican would have labored, fasted, kept vigil, lain on the ground, given away his property to the poor, and sat in ashes in order to erase his sins.  Now, without doing any of these things, he was freed from all sin and disgrace with just a word.  The slander of the man who had obviously insulted him brought him the crown of righteousness without long-lasting efforts and labors.” 

 

Such are the fruits of true Christian endurance and long-suffering.  The man who is not quick to anger and knows how to endure is helping his own salvation.  The man who does not immediately take offense, but waits meekly, is humble.  The humble one always seeks the blame for everything that befalls him in himself and never in others.  Thus having realized that he himself is to blame for the insults which are hurled at him, he is angry with himself and not with others.  He unites with those that attack him and in this way in alliance with his enemies, he easily and quickly drives away the real enemy of his soul—sin.  To be continued…

Road to reward


 

Counsel from St. John Chrysostom: 

..If we quarrel, let us be reconciled quickly!  If we make peace with our enemy, our success is double:  we have snatched both ourselves and him from the claws of the evil one.  If we do not succeed in persuading our enemy to be reconciled, we should not continue in our spitefulness towards him, we should not hate him as he hates us so that the loss will not be doubled and our soul perish together with his.  In such cases, the wisest thing we can do is forgive him, so that if he perishes at least we will not be devoured by the devil.  If we forgive him and put up with him our salvation is certain, because endurance is no small feat.  According to the Holy Fathers, endurance equals martyrdom.  That is why the long-suffering and forgiving, even though they may have sinned much in the past, will be crowned with imperishable crowns like the holy martyrs.  To be continued...

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Forgiveness is key

Beloved readers, 

On this eve of Holy and Great Lent, I would like to share with you a favorite book that is worth reading (and re-reading).  It is called “The Meaning of Suffering and Strife & Reconciliation”  by Archimandrite Seraphim Aleksiev which is published by St. Herman Press and can be ordered from their website.  

 

In the chapter titled, “Punished Stubbornness,” we have this account on pp 74-77.  It should be enough to wake us up spiritually.  Through it, we reckon how great the grace of God is and how it can be lost through willful stubbornness when it comes to forgiving:
 
In the first centuries of Christianity when the followers of Christ were cruelly persecuted by the authorities, a priest by the name of Sapricius and a layman by the name of Nicephorus lived in the city of Antioch.  The other people considered them to be natural brothers because they loved each other so much.  They lived with sincere love for a long time until the devil, being very jealous of their harmonious life, succeeded in planting the seed of strife between them.  Under his influence they quarreled, were separated, and came to hate each other so much that they did not even want to meet each other on the road.  After living like this for quite a while, Nicephorus came to his senses and when he realized that their mutual hatred came from the devil, asked some of his friends and neighbors to go to the preist Sapricius and to ask him for forgiveness.  Sapricius, however, did not forgive him, and Nicephorus repeated his attempt for reconciliation.   
 
He then sent people for the third time, but it was all in vain—Sapricius hardened his heart and remain implacable.  At last Nicephorus himself went to Sapricius, fell at his feet, and humbly began to beg, “Forgive me, Father, for God’s sake, forgive me!”  Sapricius did not even look at him, and Nicephorus went away from him disgraced and rejected. 
 
At this time, an unexpected persecution against the Christians broke out in Antioch.  The more distinguished Christians were arrested first, and Sapricius, being a priest, was among them.  When they brought him before the governor for questioning and asked him what his name was, he said, “Sapricius.”  “And from what family are you?” the governor asked him.  “I am a Christian,” was the firm reply.  “Are you a clergyman?”  asked the governor again.  “I am a priest,” said Sapricius.   
Then the governor said, “Our king, the ruler of this land, ordered all Christians to sacrifice to the gods.  And whoever does not obey the king’s order must know that he will be sentenced to death after various tortures.”   
 
Sapricius stood before the ruler and without flinching answered, “We Christians, O governor, have Christ as King, because He alone is a true God and Creator of the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them.  And all the gods of the pagans are demons.”
 
At these words the governor was enraged and ordered that Sapricius be tortured very cruelly.  The sufferer endured all tortures bravely and said to the governor, “You have power over my body, but not my soul.  Only my God, Jesus Christ Who has created it, has power over it.” 
 
The judge, when he saw Sapricius’ firmness, sentenced him to death by beheading, and the martyr was led to the place of his execution. 
 
In the meantime, Nicephorus heard about all of this, ran out of his home, intercepted Sapricius on the road, fell at his feet, and began to implore him, “Martyr of Christ, forgive me!  I have sinned against you.”   
Sapricius did not answer.  His heart was still filled with demonic spite.  The humble Nicephorus hurried along another street, again intercepted Sapricius, and implored him:  “Martyr of Christ, forgive me!  As a human I sinned against you.  Now you are being given a heavenly crown by Christ, because you confessed His Holy name before many witnesses.” 
 
Sapricius, blinded by hatred, remained implacable.  Even his tormentors wondered at his obstinacy and bitterness and spoke to Nicephorus:  “We have never seen such a crazy man as you.  This one is going to his death, but you are asking him so persistently for forgiveness!  Can he harm you even after his death?  Why do you need to make peace with him?”   
Nicephorus replied, “You do not know what I am asking of the confessor of Christ, but God knows.”  When they came to the place where Sapricius was to be beheaded, Nicephorus again said to him, “I beg you, martyr of Christ, forgive me!” 
 
Nicephorus begged for a long time, but Sapricius did not have pity on him.  God then took away His grace from Sapricius, and he immediately fell away from Christ.  When his tormentors told him to bow down so that they could cut off his head, he suddenly became afraid and cried, “Do not kill me!  I will do everything that the king orders.  I will bow to the gods, and I will sacrifice to them.”  Thus Sapricius lost God’s grace and his salvation with it, because of his spite.  Neither the endured tortures nor the admonitions of the good Nicephorus not to deny Christ at the end of his feat helped.  Then the Blessed Nicephorus confessed before the executioners that he was a Christian and that he, like the rest of those who believed in Christ, did not and would not sacrifice to the gods; and he asked that he be killed in the place of Sapricius.  After consulting the governor, the tormentors let Sapricius go free and killed the Blessed Nicephorus. 
 
Thus Sapricius fell away from Christ and passed away in his malice.  Nicephorus was honored with martyrdom and was saved.
 
When we hear of the behavior of the inexorable Sapricius, we unwittingly remember the wondrous words of the holy Apostle Paul, “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing,” (I Cor. 13:3).  Even martyrdom without love does not save.  Even though you may have carried out the greatest of feats, if you are irreconcilable to your personal enemies, you are destroying all your good deeds and dooming yourself to death.
 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

On the Last Judgment by St. Ignatios Brianchaninov



Christ Pantocrator and the Last Judgment, 1300. Mosaic in the baptistry of San Giovanni, Florence, Italy

The Son of man shall come in His glory
(Mt. 25:31)


Beloved brethren! Not long ago, we beheld our Lord Jesus Christ born in the manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, placed in the cradle, having taken upon Himself with His humanity all human weakness other than sin.

Not long ago, we beheld Him persecuted by Herod, fleeing from the murderer’s sword to Egypt, returning to Judea, not daring to remain there, moving to Nazareth—a poor and unimportant town in inglorious Galilee, receiving baptism on the level of those who needed baptism, preaching repentance and the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. We beheld this not long ago, and we are preparing ourselves for a new, utterly astounding sight. In order to become worthy of this sight to the extent possible for humans, we intend to pre-purify our spiritual eyes—our mind and heart—through the podvig of fasting.

We intend to refine through the podvig of fasting our own flesh, so that this veil which covers our spiritual nature would not be excessively thick and impenetrable, not prevent us from beholding with the required purity, faith, and contrition our Savior Who is crucified for us, Who has destroyed on the cross the wall of division between us and God (cf. Eph. 2:14). And a terrifying, most formidable sight also awaits us: the second coming to earth of our Lord Jesus Christ. We can behold the first coming in pious remembrance, while the second coming has been represented to us by the Word of God in a picture of graphic eloquence and power. This picture can salvifically shake our souls with fear of God, arouse us from our deep negligence over our eternal lot, as from a lethargic sleep brought upon us by our fleshly life. The Son of man shall come in His glory.

Filled with deep and constant humility was the first coming of our Lord to earth and His time on earth. The Lord paid no attention to all that is respected and valued highly by the world. He did not deign to appear in the flash and thunder of earthly glory; He did not deign to appear surrounded by pompousness and magnificence; He did not deign to appear amidst shouts of festivity and triumph.

He came to earth as to the land where the transgressors of God’s commandments were banished. He resided in it and acted upon it as in a land of sorrows, to which those who once lived in paradise were cast down for transgressing God’s commandment in paradise; He abided there and acted upon it as the Redeemer of the lost, becoming a participant in all the misfortunes that befell iniquitous mankind. He was as one of the impoverished and rejected of men. He was a stranger, with no place to lay His head. He was persecuted, covered about with dishonor, and He constantly rewarded evil with good: For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them (Lk. 9:56).

He ended His earthly pilgrimage with the torturous and shameful death of a criminal, the death of a slave, for whom even the very manner of death is not equal by right to that of the citizens of the world. Such was the first coming on earth of the Son of God. In time, there will also be His second coming to us: The son of man shall come, who is also the Son of God, in His glory. His first coming was that of the Redeemer, Who submitted Himself to all the human weaknesses, taking them upon Himself in order to destroy them by Himself. The second coming will be the coming of the Judge, to receive mankind's account of its behavior in relation to the redemption God gave it. When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall He sit upon the throne of his glory: And before Him shall be gathered all nations (Mt. 25:31–32), in order to present their deeds to Him for judgment, and receive either reward or punishment from Him according to their deeds.

When we receive word that some earthly authority and judge is coming, we take all measures to put our affairs in order and thus be found deserving of approval. Even more so should the Judgment of Christ concern us, for by it will the eternal lot be determined for each one of us. The judge is terrifying, unspeakably terrifying. He is terrifying in His magnitude, His omnipotence; He is terrifying because He sees into the depth of the human spirit, and no secret human thought, not the subtlest feeling is hidden from Him. Self-justification has no place at His judgment—not only will the man dead in sin not be justified, but no man living shall be justified (Ps. 142:2), though he lived a righteous life. Thou shalt prevail, cries the God-inspired Prophet [David] to the coming judge, when Thou art judged (Ps. 50:5 )!

Every human being will tremble when he appears before the Judge—not only sinners, but even the righteous. Sinners will tremble in despair at the expectation of their impending torment, and from the extraordinary fear that will produce an upheaval in them capable of changing the universe. They will cry to the hills and crevasses: And [they] said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand (Rev. 6:16–17)? They will tremble and sing His praises, albeit belated. The Creator hid His unapproachable and unbearable glory in a cloak of humility— only then could the creation freely possess thoughts and feelings, freely pronounce a word, and freely win favor through its acts.

When the Creator appears in His glory, the creation's freedom will wither before the magnitude of His glory, just as when this freedom, which remains our own possession even under extraordinary circumstances, is as if destroyed by the force of circumstance. The most hardened enemies of the Lord, the very Sanhedrin who crucified Him and swore their hatred for Him, will cry out with praise when they meet the Judge, as the Lord foretold to them: Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven (Mt. 26:64). For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord (Mt. 23:39).

The righteous will tremble from the measureless glory of the appearing Judge; they will look at their own righteousness, and in the light of Higher Truth, their righteousness will appear to them as the ragged garment of a beggar. They will not see any surety of mercy for them in their righteousness. They will await mercy only from God's boundless mercy. The very Angels of God will come in fear and shame because of the revealed greatness of their God (cf. Lk. 21:27), Who hath committed all judgment unto the Son: That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father (Jn. 5:22–23). Insensible, material nature will not be able to withstand the gaze of the Son of God: And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places (Rev. 6:14).

At the judgment of Christ, a justification for mercy will be demanded as an active expression of love, and only mercy will deserve mercy, as a manifest proof of love. I will have mercy, and not sacrifice (Mt. 9:13), announced the coming terrible and impartial Judge. Mercy will bring justification for those who love mercy, while those who rejected it will be condemned. Mercy will stand boldly before the Lord, and present all its children to Him. It will present those who showed it materially, who fed their hungry brothers, received strangers into their homes, clothed the naked, visited the sick and imprisoned.

Mercy will present to Christ those who wrought it secretly in their souls, who had mercy upon their neighbor by refraining from judging him when he stumbled, forgiving him any insults and offences, rendering him blessings for his curses, and good deeds for his evil ones. Mercy will present to Christ the pastors of the Church, who gave their brethren incorruptible food—the Word of God; who clothed those naked in sin with the garments of virtue, supplied spiritual medicine to those sick of soul, and patiently visited with edification those imprisoned by their unbelief or the darkness of error. It will present to Christ the humble monks [and nuns], who sought the mysterious and essential knowledge of Christ dwelling within them, who thirsted with a blessed thirst for the Gospel truths, taking all care to clothe themselves in the likeness [of God] and holiness, who purified themselves of the subtlest human infirmities—the passions of life, and thus attained the Gospel freedom.

Mercy will present to Christ also those who were only able to show mercy to themselves, who visited themselves with self-criticism and freed themselves from the poverty, sickness, and prison of sin through repentance. Repentance is impossible for the hardened heart: the heart must be softened, filled with sympathy and mercy toward its catastrophic state of sinfulness. Only when the heart is embraced and filled by mercy can it become capable of repentance. Only when it has abandoned its condemnation of others can it turn and look at itself; and, salvifically condemning itself, apply the cure of its wounds by repentance.

Christ Himself redeemed all people and every person. The person who turns out to be capable only of mercy toward himself, and showed this mercy by nourishing his hungry soul with the Word of God, by giving it to drink of those feelings which proceed from the Holy Spirit, by turning it from its destructive wandering in all manner of sin to the house of piety and virtue, by clothing it in good deeds, healing its former sins by confessing them and by acting in ways that oppose them, by leading himself from the prison of his carnal mind and state into reason and a spiritual state—will be considered as having done all of this for the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

Mercy will present to Christ all those who practiced it, and will intercede with Him for mercy and eternal blessedness. Come, He will say to them, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me (Mt. 25:34–36, 40).
St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov)
Translated by Nun Cornelia (Rees)
04 / 03 / 2011

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

St. Haralambos & When Nero Commands...

Dear Readers, 

Blessings for this Feast Day of St. Haralambos, it is believed his martyrdom took place in the year 202 AD.  Please see the Ortho Thought for the Day entry for the martyrdom of St. Haralambos here:  http://otftd.blogspot.com/2012/02/honoring-martyrs_3595.html 

 

A brother in Christ has translated and published a young adult historical novel by Orthodox author Aliki Kafetzopoulou (author of The Purple Mantle and Diamonds on the Bosphorus).  By the title, you can tell that the story revolves around the experience of the Early Church.  Many of you are fans of Aliki K.’s writing and I thought you’d want to know about this fine new book!  

You can find it on Amazon.com or you can contact Epignosis Publishing publisher@epignosispublishing.com for volume discounts available to resellers.   


God’s peace,
Presbytera Candace

Thursday, February 5, 2015

We must implore His help

The will of God is seen in His commandments, which we must strive to fulfill in our relations with our neighbors, but in cases of breaking and not fulfilling them, we must offer repentance.  Our will is corrupted and continuously needs to be forced to fulfill the will of God, and we must implore His help.