Orthodox Thought for the Day


Monday, April 30, 2012

Calm yourself

Even if your soul should suffer somewhat from an offense, keep the sorrow within yourself. For it is said, “Within me my heart is troubled,” (Psalm 142:4), that is, the passion has not come out, but has been humbled like a wave that has broken up on the shore.  Calm your raging heart. Let your passions be ashamed at the presence of reason in you, as playful children are ashamed before a man commanding respect. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

On the Mystery of Repentance

One of my all-time favorite spiritual books is Wounded by Love, the Life and the Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios.  The content of this book, I’ve found, is a balm for the soul, pure and simple.  Most Orthodox Christian bookstores carry this book, if you are looking for it and cannot find it, write to me and I’ll help you source one, if desired.  Here is an excerpt, starting on page 173, where you can read further if you have a copy at home.   

‘Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden…’

There is nothing higher than what is called repentance and confession.  This sacrament is the offering of God’s love to mankind.  In this perfect way a person is freed of evil.  We go and confess and we sense our reconciliation with God; joy enters us and guilt departs.  In the Orthodox Church there is no impasse.  There is no impasse because of the existence of the confessor who has the grace to forgive.  To be a confessor is a great thing.

I had the habit from the time I was a boy—and it’s a habit I still have—that whenever I sinned I went and confessed and everything went away.  I would jump for joy.  I am sinful and weak.  I resort to God’s compassion and I am saved, I become calm and I forget everything.  Every day I think that I sin, but I desire that whatever happens to me I turn it into prayer and I don’t keep it locked within me.

Sins makes a person very confused psychologically.  The confusion doesn’t dissipate whatever you do.  Only with the light of Christ does the confusion depart.  Christ makes the first move, ‘Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden…Thereafter we accept this light in our good will, which we express with our love towards Him, with our prayer and with the sacraments.

For the soul to repent it must first awake.  It is in this awakening that the miracle of repentance occurs.  This is where human will plays its role.  The awakening, however, is not something that rests only with the individual man or woman.  The individual on his own is unable to bring it about.  God intervenes.  Then divine grace comes.  Without grace a person cannot repent.  The love of God does everything.  He may use something—an illness, or something else, it depends—in order to bring a person to repentance.  Accordingly repentance is achieved through divine grace.  We simply make a move towards God and from then onwards, grace supervenes.

You may say to me, ‘If that is so, all things are done by grace.’  This is a fine point.  Here, too, we have a case of what I say, namely, that we cannot love God if God does not love us.  St. Paul puts it very well:  (Galatians 4:9) Now having known God, or rather having been known by God…The same happens with repentance.  We cannot repent unless the Lord gives us repentance.  And this holds for everything.  It is a case of the Scriptural principle (John 15:5), Without me, you can do nothing.  If there are not the pre-conditions for Christ to enter into us, repentance does not come.  The pre-conditions are humility, love, prayer, prostrations and labor for Christ.  If the sentiment is not pure, if there is no simplicity and if the soul is moved by self-interest, then divine grace does not come.  In that case, we go and confess, but we don’t feel relief.

Repentance is a very delicate matter.  True repentance will bring sanctification.  Repentance will sanctify us.

How our past affects us

From Wounded by Love, The Life and the Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios, pg 174:

There is, however, a secret.  There is a way for a person to be freed from this evil.  This way is a general confession, which takes place through the grace of God.  Your spiritual father might say to you, ‘How much I wish that we could be in a quiet place and that I could be free of all other duties so that you could tell me about your life from the beginning, from the time you first had consciousness of your self, about all the events you remember and how you reacted to them, not only the unpleasant memories, but also the pleasant ones, not only your sins, but also the good things, your successes and failures.  Everything.  Everything that goes to make up your life.’

I have often used this general confession and I have seen miracles worked through it.  The moment you relate these things to your confessor, divine grace comes and frees you from all the unpleasant experiences and wounds, the psychological traumas and feelings of guilt, because while you are talking, your spiritual father is praying fervently to the Lord for you to be liberated from all these things.

Some time ago a woman came to me and made a confession of this kind and she was greatly benefitted.  Her psychological state improved, because something had been tormenting her.  Now this woman sent a friend of hers to me and we went out and sat on the rock outside the monastery al Kallisia and she started to talk.  I said to her, ‘Tell me whatever you feel you need to.  If I ask you about something, then tell me.  If I don’t ask you, then continue talking, just as you feel you need to.’

I listened to all that she was telling me, not simply with attention but I observed the effect of prayer on her psychological world.  I looked inside her soul and I saw that grace was entering her, just as I saw her before me.  Because in the confessor there is grace and in the priest there is grace.  Do you understand what I am saying?  When someone is making confession, the priest is praying for him.  At the same time grace comes and frees him from the traumas in his soul, which have been tormenting him for years without his being aware of what caused them.  Yes, indeed, I believe very strongly in all this!

You can speak to your confessor just as you feel, but that’s not as important as it is that, as he prays, the priest looks into your soul and sees how you are and transmits to you the grace of God.  It has been proved that this looking into the soul is a spiritual radiation, which relieves you and cures you.  Don’t imagine that these are natural rays.  These things are true.  And what happened with Christ?  He took hold of the hand of the woman with an issue of blood and said, I felt power leaving me.  You’ll say, ‘Yes, but He was God.’  Christ, of course, was God, but did not the Apostles do the same?

All spiritual fathers and confessors have this grace and when they pray, they transmit it as conductors.  For example, if we want to switch on an electric heater in this room, then we need to take the cable and plug it in, otherwise it won’t work.  As soon as the cable is plugged in, however, the current passes through the cable.  These are spiritual matters of our religion.  We may speak about cables, but in reality this is ‘divine psychoanalysis.’

Friday, April 27, 2012

Our true calling

We were created for eternal life by our Creator, we are called to it by the word of God, and we are renewed by holy Baptism.  And Christ the Son of God came into the world for this, that He should
call us and take us there, and He is the one thing needful.  For this reason your very first endeavor and care should be to receive it.  Without it everything is as nothing, though you have the whole
world under you.

How to pray in times of temptation

When you pray to God in time of temptation do not say, 'Take this or that away from me', but pray like this: 'O Jesus Christ, sovereign Master, help me and do not let me sin against Thee. . .'  Abba Isaiah the Solitary

Thursday, April 26, 2012

That which is according to God

When anyone is disturbed or saddened under the pretext of a good and soul-profiting matter and is angered against his neighbor, it is evident that this is not according to God; for everything that is of God is peaceful and useful and leads a man to humility and to judging himself.  
St. Barsanuphius the Great

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Take up your cross

Do you believe that the words of your Lord, “take up your cross,” refer to you personally?  If you believe this, then take it up.  The Lord has laid it on your shoulders in this present grievous case.  Do not say it is too heavy; God knows better the measure of your strength.  To some God sends trials and sorrows, brought about by circumstances and in no way dependent on people, these are more easily borne.  To others He sends those caused by people, and they are harder, especially when we have done some good to those people.  The last case is the hardest to bear.  If God sends you this, know that it is precisely what is most useful to you, and to this realization add the inspiring thought: God sees that you are strong enough to bear it and expects you to actually bear it with a good heart, without complaining.  So, do not disappoint God's expectations.  From Unseen Warfare (as edited by St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain and St. Theophan the Recluse)

Monday, April 23, 2012

A basic principle of the spiritual life

You undertake different tasks, so you tell me, “in most cases unwillingly and without any eagerness--I have to force myself.”  But this, after all, is a basic principle in the spiritual life--to set yourself in opposition to what is bad and to force yourself to do what is good.  This is the meaning of the Lord's words, The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence and the violent take it by force, (Matt 11:12).  This is why following the Lord is a yoke.  If all were done eagerly, where would be the yoke?  Yet, in the end, it so comes about that everything is done easily and willingly.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

On the Great Martyr George

These are the words spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ to St. George before his martyrdom. From the manuscript of St. George kept in St. George’s Convent in Old Cairo:

“I swear by myself, my beloved George, that as there was no one borne of woman greater than John the Baptist, also no martyr resembles you. You will have no counterpart among them. I made your name spread in my kingdom and gave it grace and made it a port of safety for all mankind. Whoever, in distress, calls on your name, either man or woman, I will quickly answer and give them their heart’s request.”       

A few years back while traveling through Old Cairo, I had opportunity to venerate the chains of St. George and was blessed to find the above quote this evening while researching more about the history of the chains and the convent where they are kept.  Pres. Candace

With warmest appreciation to Full of Grace and Truth blogspot for its Wednesday, April 22, 2009 entry on the life and miracles of St. George the Great-martyr & Trophy-bearer:

Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!

Fresco of St. George the Great Martyr (Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)

St. George the Great Martyr, the Trophy-bearer - Commemorated on April 23rd (or on Bright Monday if his feast falls during Great Lent)

(The text below is taken and rearranged from: http://ocafs.oca.org/FeastSaintsViewer.asp?SID=4&ID=1&FSID=101184, and the text in brackets from: http://www.goarch.org/special/saintgeorge/index_html)

The Holy Great Martyr George the Victory-Bearer, was a native of Cappadocia (a district in Asia Minor), and he grew up in a deeply believing Christian family. His father was martyred for Christ when George was still a child. His mother, owning lands in Palestine, moved there with her son and raised him in strict piety. When he became a man, St George entered into the service of the Roman army. He was handsome, brave and valiant in battle, and he came to the notice of the emperor Diocletian (284-305) and joined the imperial guard with the rank of comites, or military commander.

Icon of St. George, and his parents, Sts. Gerontius and Polychronia (taken from: http://christopherklitou.com/icon_4_nov_gerontius_polychronia_parents_of_st_george.htm)

Of the many miracles worked by the holy Great Martyr George, the most famous are depicted in iconography. In the saint's native city of Beirut were many idol-worshippers. Outside the city, near Mount Lebanon, was a large lake, inhabited by an enormous dragon-like serpent. Coming out of the lake, it devoured people, and there was nothing anyone could do, since the breath from its nostrils poisoned the very air. On the advice of the demons inhabiting the idols, the local ruler came to a decision. Each day the people would draw lots to feed their own children to the serpent, and he promised to sacrifice his only daughter when his turn came. That time did come, and the ruler dressed her in her finest attire, then sent her off to the lake. The girl wept bitterly, awaiting her death. Unexpectedly for her, St George rode up on his horse with spear in hand. The girl implored him not to leave her, lest she perish. The saint signed himself with the Sign of the Cross. He rushed at the serpent saying, "In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." St George pierced the throat of the serpent with his spear and trampled it with his horse. Then he told the girl to bind the serpent with her sash, and lead it into the city like a dog on a leash. The people fled in terror, but the saint halted them with the words: "Don't be afraid, but trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and believe in Him, since it is He Who sent me to save you." Then the saint killed the serpent with a sword, and the people burned it outside the city. Twenty-five thousand men, not counting women and children, were then baptized. Later, a church was built and dedicated to the Most Holy Theotokos and the Great Martyr George.

St. George with scenes from his life, Kremikovtsi Monastery, Bulgaria (taken from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:LifeofStGeorge.JPG)
The pagan emperor, who did much for the restoration of Roman might, was clearly concerned with the danger presented to pagan civilization by the triumph of the Crucified Savior, and intensified his persecution against the Christians in the final years of his reign. Following the advice of the Senate at Nicomedia, Diocletian gave all his governors full freedom in their court proceedings against Christians, and he promised them his full support. St George, when he heard the decision of the emperor, distributed all his wealth to the poor, freed his servants, and then appeared in the Senate. The brave soldier of Christ spoke out openly against the emperor's designs. He confessed himself a Christian, and appealed to all to acknowledge Christ:

"I am a servant of Christ, my God, and trusting in Him, I have come among you voluntarily, to bear witness concerning the Truth."

"What is Truth?" one of the dignitaries asked, echoing the question of Pontius Pilate.

The saint replied, "Christ Himself, Whom you persecuted, is Truth."

Stunned by the bold speech of the valiant warrior, the emperor, who had loved and promoted George, attempted to persuade him not to throw away his youth and glory and honors, but rather to offer sacrifice to the gods as was the Roman custom.
St. George being taken to prison, from Decani Monastery (taken from: http://www.srpskoblago.org/Archives/Decani/exhibits/Collections/CycleStGeorge/CX4K3214.html)

The confessor replied, "Nothing in this inconstant life can weaken my resolve to serve God." Then by order of the enraged emperor the armed guards began to push St George out of the assembly hall with their spears, and they then led him off to prison. But the deadly steel became soft and it bent, just as the spears touched the saint's body, and it caused him no harm. In prison they put the martyr's feet in stocks and placed a heavy stone on his chest. The next day at the interrogation, powerless but firm of spirit, St George again answered the emperor, "You will grow tired of tormenting me sooner than I will tire of being tormented by you." Then Diocletian gave orders to subject St George to some very intense tortures. They tied the Great Martyr to a wheel, beneath which were boards pierced with sharp pieces of iron. As the wheel turned, the sharp edges slashed the saint's naked body. At first the sufferer loudly cried out to the Lord, but soon he quieted down, and did not utter even a single groan.

St. George being tortured on the wheel, from Decani Monastery (taken from: http://www.srpskoblago.org/Archives/Decani/exhibits/Collections/CycleStGeorge/CX4K3210.html)
Diocletian decided that the tortured one was already dead, and he gave orders to remove the battered body from the wheel, and then went to a pagan temple to offer thanks. At this very moment it got dark, thunder boomed, and a voice was heard: "Fear not, George, for I am with you." Then a wondrous light shone, and at the wheel an angel of the Lord appeared in the form of a radiant youth. He placed his hand upon the martyr, saying to him, "Rejoice!" St George stood up healed. When the soldiers led him to the pagan temple where the emperor was, the emperor could not believe his own eyes and he thought that he saw before him some other man or even a ghost. In confusion and in terror the pagans looked St George over carefully, and they became convinced that a miracle had occurred. Many then came to believe in the Life-Creating God of the Christians. Two illustrious officials, Sts Anatolius and Protoleon, who were secretly Christians, openly confessed Christ. Immediately, without a trial, they were beheaded with the sword by order of the emperor.
St. Anatolius the Commander, martyred along with St. George (April 23rd) (taken from: http://christopherklitou.com/icon_23_april_anatolius_the_general.htm)
Also present in the pagan temple was Empress Alexandra, the wife of Diocletian, and she also knew the truth. She was on the point of glorifying Christ, but one of the servants of the emperor took her and led her off to the palace. The emperor became even more furious. He had not lost all hope of influencing St George, so he gave him over to new and fiercesome torments. After throwing him into a deep pit, they covered it over with lime. Three days later they dug him out, but found him cheerful and unharmed.

St. George put into the pit of lime, and drinking the sorceror's poison (Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)
They shod the saint in iron sandals with red-hot nails, [“Run, George, towards the object of our desire!” said the Saint, invoking the Lord’s help. And once again he presented himself, whole and radiant with grace, before the tyrant.] and then drove him back to the prison with whips. In the morning, when they led him back to the interrogation, cheerful and with healed feet, the emperor asked if he liked his shoes. The saint said that the sandals had been just his size. Then they beat him with ox thongs until pieces of his flesh came off and his blood soaked the ground, but the brave sufferer, strengthened by the power of God, remained unyielding.

The Flagellation of St. George, from Decani Monastery (taken from: http://www.srpskoblago.org/Archives/Decani/exhibits/Collections/CycleStGeorge/CX4K3221.html)
The emperor concluded that the saint was being helped by magic, so he summoned the sorcerer Athanasius to deprive the saint of his miraculous powers, or else poison him. The sorcerer gave St George two goblets containing drugs. One of them would have quieted him, and the other would kill him. The drugs had no effect, and the saint continued to denounce the pagan superstitions and glorify God as before. When the emperor asked what sort of power was helping him, St George said, "Do not imagine that it is any human learning which keeps me from being harmed by these torments. I am saved only by calling upon Christ and His Power. Whoever believes in Him has no regard for tortures and is able to do the things that Christ did" (John 14:12). Diocletian asked what sort of things Christ had done. The Martyr replied, "He gave sight to the blind, cleansed the lepers, healed the lame, gave hearing to the deaf, cast out demons, and raised the dead." Knowing that they had never been able to resurrect the dead through sorcery, nor by any of the gods known to him, and wanting to test the saint, the emperor commanded him to raise up a dead person before his eyes. The saint retorted, "You wish to tempt me, but my God will work this sign for the salvation of the people who shall see the power of Christ." When they led St George down to the graveyard, he cried out, "O Lord! Show to those here present, that You are the only God in all the world. Let them know You as the Almighty Lord." Then the earth quaked, a grave opened, the dead one emerged from it alive.

St. George raising the dead man (Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)
Having seen with their own eyes the Power of Christ, the people wept and glorified the true God. The sorcerer Athanasius, falling down at the feet of St George, confessed Christ as the All-Powerful God and asked forgiveness for his sins, committed in ignorance. The obdurate emperor in his impiety thought otherwise. In a rage he commanded both Athanasius and the man raised from the dead to be beheaded, and he had St George again locked up in prison. The people, weighed down with their infirmities, began to visit the prison and they there received healing and help from the saint. A certain farmer named Glycerius, whose ox had collapsed, also visited him. The saint consoled him and assured him that God would restore his ox to life. When he saw the ox alive, the farmer began to glorify the God of the Christians throughout all the city. By order of the emperor, St Glycerius was arrested and beheaded. The exploits and the miracles of the Great Martyr George had increased the number of the Christians, therefore Diocletian made a final attempt to compel the saint to offer sacrifice to the idols. They set up a court at the pagan temple of Apollo. On the final night the holy martyr prayed fervently, and as he slept, he saw the Lord, Who raised him up with His hand, and embraced him. The Savior placed a crown on St George's head and said, "Fear not, but have courage, and you will soon come to Me and receive what has been prepared for you." In the morning, the emperor offered to make St George his co-administrator, second only to himself. The holy martyr with a feigned willingness answered, "Caesar, you should have shown me this mercy from the very beginning, instead of torturing me. Let us go now to the temple and see the gods you worship." Diocletian believed that the martyr was accepting his offer, and he followed him to the pagan temple with his retinue and all the people. Everyone was certain that St George would offer sacrifice to the gods. The saint went up to the idol, made the Sign of the Cross and addressed it as if it were alive: "Are you the one who wants to receive from me sacrifice befitting God?" The demon inhabiting the idol cried out, "I am not a god and none of those like me is a god, either. The only God is He Whom you preach. We are fallen angels, and we deceive people because we are jealous." St George cried out, "How dare you remain here, when I, the servant of the true God, have entered?" Then noises and wailing were heard from the idols, and they fell to the ground and were shattered.
St. George destroying the idol through his prayers, and saving the princess from the dragon, from Decani Monastery (taken from: http://www.srpskoblago.org/Archives/Decani/exhibits/Collections/CycleStGeorge/CX4K3205.html)
There was general confusion. In a frenzy, pagan priests and many of the crowd seized the holy martyr, tied him up, and began to beat him. They also called for his immediate execution. The holy empress Alexandra tried to reach him. Pushing her way through the crowd, she cried out, "O God of George, help me, for You Alone are All-Powerful." At the feet of the Great Martyr the holy empress confessed Christ, Who had humiliated the idols and those who worshipped them.

St. Alexandra the Empress, the wife of Diocletian who was converted through St. George's martyrdom (April 21st) (Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)
Diocletian immediately pronounced the death sentence on the Great Martyr George and the holy Empress Alexandra, who followed St George to execution without resisting. Along the way she felt faint and slumped against a wall. There she surrendered her soul to God. St George gave thanks to God and prayed that he would also end his life in a worthy manner. At the place of execution the saint prayed that the Lord would forgive the torturers who acted in ignorance, and that He would lead them to the knowledge of Truth. Calmly and bravely, the holy Great Martyr George bent his neck beneath the sword, receiving the crown of martyrdom on April 23, 303.

St. George being sentenced by Diocletian and being beheaded, from Decani Monastery (taken from: http://www.srpskoblago.org/Archives/Decani/exhibits/Collections/CycleStGeorge/CX4K3201.html)
[Carrying out the Saint’s desire, his servant took his precious relics back to his country, to Lydda (Diospolis) in Palestine, where innumerable miracles were worked in the great church that was built in his honor.]
The burial of St. George (Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)
The pagan era was coming to an end, and Christianity was about to triumph. Within ten years, St Constantine (May 21) would issue the Edict of Milan, granting religious freedom to Christians.

The tomb of St. George the Great-Martyr, as it exists today in Lydda, Palestine (taken from: http://www.stgeorge.org.mt/images/news/news007097.JPG)
[The veneration of Saint George enjoyed enormous popularity throughout the Christian world, both East and West. He was chosen to be the protector of countries like Georgia and England; thousands of churches have been dedicated to him and every Christian soul sees in him the incarnation of the virtues of valor, patience in affliction and trust in the help of grace that Christ, the Leader in battle, has enjoined on all the soldiers enrolled in His army of devotion.]

St George went on to become a talented officer and to amaze the world by his military exploits. He died before he was thirty years old. He is known as Victory Bearer, not only for his military achievements, but for successfully enduring martyrdom. As we know, the martyrs are commemorated in the dismissal at the end of Church services as "the holy, right victorious martyr...."
St George was the patron saint and protector of several of the great builders of the Russian state. St Vladimir's son, Yaroslav the Wise (in holy Baptism George), advanced the veneration of the saint in the Russian Church. He built the city of Yuriev [i.e., "of Yurii." "Yurii" is the diminutive of "George", as "Ivan" is of "John"], he also founded the Yuriev monastery at Novgorod, and he built a church of St George the Victory Bearer at Kiev. The day of the consecration of St George's Church in Kiev, November 26, 1051 by St Hilarion, Metropolitan of Kiev and All Rus, has entered into the liturgical treasury of the Church as a special church feastday. Yuriev Day is beloved by the Russian people as an "autumn Feast of St George." The name of St George was also borne by the founder of Moscow, Yurii Dolgoruky (+ 1157), who was the builder of many churches dedicated to St George, and the builder of the city of Yuriev-Polsk. In the year 1238 the heroic fight of the Russian nation against the Mongol Horde was led by the Great Prince Yurii (George) Vsevolodovich of Vladimir (February 4), who fell at the Battle at the Sita River. His memory, like that of Igor the Brave, and defender of his land, was celebrated in Russian spiritual poems and ballads. The first Great Prince of Moscow, when Moscow had become the center of the Russian Land, was Yurii Danilovich (+ 1325), the son of St Daniel of Moscow, and grandson of St Alexander Nevsky. From that time St George the Victory Bearer, depicted as a horseman slaying the serpent, appeared on Moscow's coat of arms, and became an emblem of the Russian state. This has strengthened Russia's connections with Christian nations, and especially with Iberia (Georgia, the Land of St George)."

St. George the Great Martyr and Trophy-bearer (http://ia600102.us.archive.org/13/items/Icoane/0423fGheorgheCal1.jpg)
Many of those associated with or converted by St. George's love for Christ and steadfastness in martyrdom are also celebrated as Saints. His father, St. Gerontius, was a Christian martyr whose feast is on November 4th (see the icon above). The fellow soldiers converted and baptized by St. George include the martyrs Sts. Protoleon, Victor, Akindynos, Zotikos, Zenon, Christopher, Severian, Theonas, Kaisarios and Anthony, and are celebrated on April 20th. St. Alexandra, the wife of Diocletian who was converted by St. George, along with her servants Sts. Apollo, Isaakios and Kodratos are celebrated as martyrs on April 21st. St. Polychronia, the mother of St. George, the martyrs Sts. Anatolius the Commander, Protoleon and Athanasius the former Sorcerer who were converted by St. George, and St. Glykerius whose ox was healed are commemorated along with St. George on April 23rd. Finally, the fellow prisoners of St. George and martyrs Sts. Eusebius, Neon, Leon, Longinus and another four others with them are honored on April 24th. How truthfully St. Seraphim put it, when he said: "Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you shall be saved"! Thus it is clear why the Synaxarion of St. George says that he played such an important role in the life of the Church of Constantinople that his feast extended from April 20th to April 24th (http://www.synaxaristis.googlepages.com/23απριλιου), most likely also to honor all those martyred with him for Christ.

12th Century mosaic icon of St. George the Great Martyr, from Xenophontos Monastery (http://ia600102.us.archive.org/13/items/Icoane/0423Gheorghe07.jpg)
It continues that since the 4th century there are churches dedicated to St. George in Syria, and in Egypt there were 40 churches and 3 monasteries in his honor, along with countless others in Greece, and in all Orthodox countries throughout the whole world. May St. George the Great-martyr, the Trophy-bearer, the Victorious, the Wonderworker intercede for all of us and help us!

For more information on St. George and the Monasteries of Zographou and Xenophontos on Mount Athos, see: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/04/st-george-protector-of-holy-monasteries.html.

For the role of St. George in the life of St. Theodore Sykeote, see: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2010/04/role-of-st-george-in-life-of-st.html.

For some of the many Epithets which the faithful have given to the Saint, see: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2010/04/epithets-of-st-george-great-martyr.html.

For a story of St. George's help (among other Saints) in healing a small boy, see: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2010/04/i-went-to-christouli-and-panagitsa-high.html.

For various miracles of St. George the Great Martyr for Muslims, see: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2010/04/selected-miracles-of-st-george-trophy.html.

Apolytikion of St. George the Great-martyr in the Fourth Tone
Liberator of captives, defender of the poor, physician of the sick, and champion of kings, O trophy-bearer, Great Martyr George, intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
Cultivated by God, you became manifest as an honorable tiller gathering for yourself the sheaves of virtue. For you sowed with tears but reaped with gladness; in the contest you competed with your blood and came away with Christ. By your intercessions, O Holy One, all are granted forgiveness of sins.

St. George the Great Martyr and Trophy-bearer, with scenes from his life (http://pravicon.com/images/sv/s0515/s0515007.jpg)

Christ is Risen from the dead, by death, trampling down upon death, and to those in the tombs, bestowing life!
Truly the Lord is risen!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Walking in the fear of God

When a man walks in the fear of God he knows no fear, even if he were to be surrounded by wicked men.  He has the fear of God within him and wears the invincible armor of faith.  This makes him strong and able to take on anything, even things which seem difficult or impossible to most people.  Such a man is like a giant surrounded by monkeys, or a roaring lion among dogs and foxes.  He goes forward, trusting in the Lord and the constancy of his will to strike and paralyze his foes.  He wields the blazing club of the Word in wisdom.  

Friday, April 20, 2012

The one who is helped by God

Fortunate is the man who has come to have God as his helper and to have his hopes in Him alone. Let the devil bear malice towards him, let all men persecute him and plot against him, let all his adversaries fight against him - he never fears anyone, because he has God as his helper. He remains always a victor, always glorified, always happy, always rich, always cheerful and joyful, even if he happens to fall into extreme poverty and into a great many adverse and grievous circumstances of this present life. For inasmuch as he hopes in Almighty God, he does not despair, he is not sorry, is not anxious, but expects help from Above. Fortunate, then, is such a man and worthy to be deemed happy, just as the Prophet-king David regards such a man as happy, saying: "Blessed is he whose helper is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God." Such were all the Prophets, the Apostles, the Martyrs, the Holy Ascetics and all the Saints from the beginning of time.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

On the life of grace

Wherever you are in your spiritual life, you are to begin right there to take part in the life of the Church, to offer struggles to God, to love each other, to become aware of the people around you, to see that you are responsible for them, for being at least kind and cheerful, trying to do good deeds. You are to be aware of the unhappiness of others, to cheer them up and help them out.  All of these things promote the life of grace in the Church.  +Fr. Seraphim Rose of blessed memory

St. Mary Magdalene & the red Paschal egg

Commemorated on July 22

On the banks of Lake Genesareth (Galilee), between the cities of Capharnum and Tiberias, was the small city of Magdala. Only the small village of Mejhdel stands on the site.

A woman whose name has entered forever into the Gospel account was born and grew up in Magdala. The Gospel tells us nothing of Mary’s younger years, but Tradition informs us that Mary of Magdala was young and pretty,and led a sinful life. It says in the Gospels that the Lord expelled seven devils from Mary (Luke. 8:2). From the moment of her healing, Mary led a new life, and became a true disciple of the Savior.

The Gospel relates that Mary followed the Lord when He went with the Apostles through the cities and villages of Judea and Galilee preaching about the Kingdom of God. Together with the pious women, Joanna, wife of Choza (steward of Herod), Susanna and others, she served Him from her own possessions (Luke 8:1-3) and undoubtedly shared with the Apostles the evangelic tasks in common with the other women. St. Luke wrote that at the moment of the Procession of Christ onto Golgotha, the women followed after Him weeping and wailing, but He consoled them. The Gospel relates that Mary Magdalene was present on Golgotha at the moment of the Lord’s Crucifixion. While all the disciples of the Savior ran away, she remained fearlessly at the Cross together with the Mother of God and the Apostle John.

The Evangelists also list among those standing at the Cross the mother of the Apostle James, and Salome, and other women followers of the Lord from Galilee, but all mention Mary Magdalene first. St. John, in addition to the Mother of God, names only her and Mary Cleopas. This indicates how much she stood out from all the women who gathered around the Lord.

She was faithful to Him not only in the days of His Glory, but also at the moment of His extreme humiliation. As St. Matthew writes, she was present at the Burial of the Lord. Before her eyes Joseph and Nicodemus went out to the tomb with His lifeless Body. She watched as they covered over the entrance to the cave with a large stone, entombing the Source of Life.

Faithful to the Law in which she was raised, Mary together with the other women spent the following day at rest since it was the Sabbath, coinciding with the Feast of Passover. But the rest of the day the women gathered spices to go to the Grave of the Lord at dawn on Sunday to anoint His Body according to the Jewish custom.

It is necessary to mention that, having agreed to go on the first day of the week to the Tomb early in the morning, the holy women had no opportunity to meet one another on Saturday. They went separately on Friday evening to their own homes and went out only at dawn the following day to go to the Sepulcher, not all together, but each from her own house.

St. Matthew writes that the women came to the grave at dawn, or as St. Mark wrote, extremely early before the rising of the sun. St. John wrote that Mary came to the grave so early that it was still dark. Obviously, she waited impatiently for the end of night, but it was not yet daybreak.

Mary went to the tomb alone. Seeing the stone pushed away from the cave, she ran to tell the close Apostles of Christ, Peter and John. Hearing the strange message that the Lord was gone from the tomb, both Apostles ran to the tomb and, seeing the shroud and cloths, they were amazed. The Apostles went and said nothing to anyone, but Mary stood before the entrance to the tomb and wept.
Wanting proof that the tomb really was empty, she went down to it and saw two angels in white garments, one sitting at the head, the other at the foot, where the Body of Jesus had been placed. They asked her, “Woman, why weepest thou?” She answered them with the words which she had said to the Apostles, “They have taken my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” At that moment, she turned around and saw the Risen Jesus standing near the grave, but she did not recognize Him.
He asked Mary, “Woman, why weepest thou? Whom dost thou seek?” She answered thinking that she was seeing the gardener, “Sir, if thou hast taken him, tell where thou hast put Him, and I will take Him away.”  Then she recognized the Lord’s voice. He spoke her name, and she gave a joyful shout, “Rabbi” (Teacher).

Respect and love, fondness and deep veneration, a feeling of thankfulness and recognition at His Splendor as great Teacher, all came together in this single outcry. She was able to say nothing more and threw herself down at the feet of Christ to wash them with tears of joy. But the Lord said to her: “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and tell them: “I ascend to My Father, and your Father; to My God and to your God.”

She ran again to the house where the Apostles still remained in dismay, and proclaimed to them the joyous message, “I have seen the Lord!” This was the first preaching in the world about the Resurrection.

Holy Scripture does not tell us about the life of Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection of Christ, but it is impossible to doubt that she must have stayed with the Apostles during the happier times after the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ. Thus, in the Acts of the Apostles St. Luke writes that all the Apostles stayed in prayer and supplication, with certain women and Mary the Mother of Jesus and His brethren.

Holy Tradition testifies that when the Apostles departed from Jerusalem to preach to all the ends of the earth, Mary Magdalene also went with them. She went beyond her native borders to preach in pagan Rome. Everywhere she proclaimed to people about Christ and His teachings. When many did not believe that Christ was risen, she repeated to them what she had said to the Apostles on the radiant morning of the Resurrection: “I have seen the Lord!” With this message she traveled all over Italy.
Tradition relates that in Italy Mary Magdalene visited Emperor Tiberias and proclaimed to him Christ’s Resurrection. She gave him a red egg as a symbol of the Resurrection, a symbol of new life with the words: “Christ is Risen!” Then she told the emperor that in his Province of Judea, the unjustly condemned Jesus the Galilean, a holy man, a miracle worker, powerful before God and all mankind, had been executed at the instigation of the Jewish High Priests, and the sentence confirmed by the procurator appointed by Tiberias, Pontius Pilate.

Thanks to Mary Magdalene the custom to give each other paschal eggs on the day of the Radiant Resurrection of Christ spread among Christians over all the world. On one ancient Greek manuscript, written on parchment, kept in the monastery library of St. Athanasius near Thessalonica, is a prayer read on the day of Holy Pascha for the blessing of eggs and cheese. In it is indicated that the abbot, in passing out the blessed eggs says to the brethren: “Thus have we received from the holy Fathers, who preserved this custom from the very time of the holy Apostles, therefore the holy Equal of the Apostles Mary Magdalene first showed believers the example of this joyful offering.”

Mary Magdalene continued her preaching in Italy and in the city of Rome itself. Evidently, the Apostle Paul had her in mind in his Epistle to the Romans (16: 6), where together with other ascetics of evangelic preaching he mentioned Mary (Mariam), who as he expressed “has bestowed much labor on us.” She extensively served the Church in its means of subsistence and its difficulties, being exposed to dangers, and sharing with the Apostles the labors of preaching.

She remained in Rome until the arrival of St. Paul, and for two more years following his departure from Rome after the first court judgment upon him. From Rome, St. Mary Magdalene, already bent with age, moved to Ephesus where the holy Apostle John worked. There, she finished her earthly life and was buried.

Her holy relics were transferred in the ninth century to Constantinople, and placed in the Church of St. Lazarus. In the era of the Crusades, they were transferred to Italy and placed in Rome under the altar of the Lateran Cathedral. Some of the relics of Mary Magdalene are said to be in Provage, France near Marseilles, where over them at the foot of a steep mountain a splendid church is built in her honor.

The Orthodox Church honors the holy memory of St Mary Magdalene, the woman called by the Lord Himself from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God. Formerly immersed in sin and having received healing, she sincerely and irrevocably began a new life and never wavered from that path. Mary loved the Lord Who called her to a new life. She was faithful to Him not only when He was surrounded by enthusiastic crowds and winning recognition as a miracle-worker, but also when all the disciples deserted Him in fear and He, humiliated and crucified, hung in torment upon the Cross. This is why the Lord, knowing her faithfulness, appeared to her first, and esteemed her worthy to be first to proclaim His Resurrection.

By permission of the Orthodox Church in America (www.oca.org)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Today, on Holy & Bright Tuesday, the memory of the New Martyred Ss. Raphael, Nicholas & Irene are honored in the Church.  Here offered are some of the writings of St. Raphael as compiled by Fr. Nektarios Serfes:

When a Christian exercises watchful care, he heals his soul and does not allow it to be lost....Do not let your soul go astray in matter, in the corruptible things of the world. Life has no value if we do not take care of the soul. Therefore, do not let yourselves go astray and lose your soul Read carefully the Gospels, because these were written with the Grace and the glory of God, to be read by the faithful that their life might shine.

On days when a Saint is celebrated, Christians ought to pray more ardently, with contrition and love, and entreat the Saint to intercede with God for the salvation of their soul. The feast day of every Saint is for Christians a serious reminder of the great sufferings which the Saints experienced for the sake of Christ's faith. They were glorified by God and with glory they received a place in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Let us then honor the Saints and invoke their help, in order that they might strengthen us in our prayer. And we may rest assured that our prayer will be listened to by God.

A guileless spirit is one which has no badness within it. Badness is a characteristic of the evil one, who seeks by means of wickedness to divert man from the path of virtue and from God. Consequently, great carefulness and effort are needed in order that there might reign in the soul a guileless and pure spirit.

How much care do people exercise in order to save their soul? What medicines do they use in order to protect it from the microbes of sin which threaten and attact it? And yet, the Lord has indicated the medicines: love, warm prayer, and humility. They must employ all of them, seeking at the same time the help of God, through which alone can the soul be regenerated and be freed from the microbes of sin...Sin must be banished from the soul: greed, rapacity, impatience, improper imagination.

Examine your self and strive to adorn it with love, humility, compassion and hope. Seek the regeneration of your soul, enlightened by the voice of the Gospel and helped by God. With fear and love for the Heavenly Father, proceed to sow the seeds of God's word on good soil. Cultivate the talent given by Christ for the salvation of your soul.

Shrine to the New Martyrs
SS. Raphael, Nicholas & Irene Hellenic Orthodox Church
Palm Harbor, Florida

Monday, April 16, 2012

Refuge in Thy Cross

May the soul that has sought refuge in Thy cross and inherited eternal incorruptible treasure, praise and exalt Thee together with the spirits that number her among Thy ranks. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

On the Paschal Festival

This is our festival, that we celebrate God coming to man that man might go back to God our Father.  Off with the old man, on with the new!  Once dead in Adam, now alive in Christ, born with Christ, crucified with Christ, buried with Christ, risen with Christ!  St. Gregory Nazianzus

I’d like to offer a posting from Mystagogy, the website of John Sanidopoulos, on the topic of Bright Week, originally posted back in 2010:

Monday, April 5, 2010

What Is "Bright Week"?

Bright Week, otherwise known as Renewal Week, begins on Pascha Sunday and ends on the following Sunday of Thomas. The name probably originates from the fact that the newly baptized catechumens from Pascha are newly illumined and bright. For them it is a time of regeneration and renewal. These newly baptized in ancient times wore all white for a week, hence the week sometimes being called White Week.

The seven days of Bright Week are seen as one day, a continuous Pascha celebration. According to the 66th canon of the Council in Trullo: "From the holy day of the Resurrection of Christ our God until New Sunday (i.e. Thomas Sunday) for a whole week the faithful in the holy churches should continually be repeating psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, rejoicing and celebrating Christ, and attending to the reading of the Divine Scriptures and delighting in the Holy Mysteries. For in this way shall we be exalted with Christ; raised up together with Him. For this reason on the aforesaid days that by no means there be any horse races or any other public spectacle." According to Bulgakov, in Imperial Russia, the taverns used to be closed during Bright Week, and no alcoholic beverages were sold. Furthermore, because of the continuous paschal celebration, there should be no fasting this week. And as the above canon states, this is a time of renewal for all Orthodox Christians and not just the newly baptized. It is a time for the faithful to bear spiritual fruit and generate new virtues for our own illumination as well.

In the Roman Empire, especially in Constantinople, this week had special joy and was celebrated with great pomp and splendor. The emperor would call the newly-baptized and the poor to a rich meal, while on Bright Thursday the Patriarch would have an honorary dinner for the clergy. Rich gifts were distributed by the emperor and official visitations were made. Prisoners with light offenses were released as well. These traditions are somewhat carried out today in Greece where state officials visit hospitals and military camps, and military sanctions are lifted.

The services of Bright Week are done joyfully and with the Royal Doors fully open. This unblocked view of the altar symbolizes the open door of Christ's empty tomb as well as the rent veil of the Jewish Temple, which was torn apart at the moment Christ died. The Gospel of John and Acts are read as well, which are the two New Testament books of renewal and beginnings.

Read more
Xristos Anesti!  Christ is Risen!
Alithos Anesti!  Truly He is Risen!

On this blessed Paschal morn, sharing with you a beautiful meditation from www.monachos.net:

'Yea, the Time has Come': Holy Pascha and the Mystery of the Liturgical Present

Thou, O Lord, shall rise up and have pity upon Sion, for it is time to have compassion on her. Yea, the time has come.   (Alleluia verse, Paschal Liturgy)

It is a long and laborious journey that leads to Pascha. Ten weeks, if the pre-Lenten period is taken into account, of fasting, of alms, of lengthened services and expanded vigils. The Psalter has been gone through fifteen times. Genesis and Proverbs have been read aloud in their fullness. The Gospels have been chanted over the grave of Christ and the Acts read in anticipation of His waking therefrom—for that waking shall be the foundation upon which the apostolic preaching will be grounded.

It has been in many ways an arduous journey. The blackness of sin and death have become ever more evident along the way, and in the latter days of Passion Week we have clad temple and priest alike in black garments symbolic of this vision. Sin and death are not avoided in the Lenten walk: they are met head-on, face to face in the overwhelming mystery of their dark reality. 'O my Saviour, why art Thou sleeping?' we asked as Christ was laid in the tomb. Our hope, our expectation, has been born out of the true substance of our world, torn apart by our sins, our lack of love, which cast love Himself into the grave. Where I have sinned, there has He walked.

But now, now at the end of this long anticipation, the time has come for the fulfilment of our hope. On Easter night, after all the lights of the church have been extinguished and true darkness overwhelmed our senses, the faithful leave the church into the cold of midnight. In procession behind the Gospel book they chant, 'Deem us on earth worthy to glorify Thee with a pure heart', circling the church or monastery in slow reverence. The procession at last ends before the doors of the church, firmly closed.

It has all come to this.

The Fast is now complete, the Triodion has been closed. We stand before the doors of the temple with nothing left to offer in preparation. We have fasted—many of us poorly, but such as we were able. We have kept waking vigil. We have even, at this final moment, cast ourselves out of the house of God—a liturgical excommunication of all humankind. There is nothing left for us to do. Only the Lord can transform Lent into Pascha. It is, in the most real way, 'time for the Lord to act'.1

Thou, O Lord, shall rise up and have pity upon Sion, for it is time to have compassion on her. Yea, the time has come.

The time has come. Since first we sinned in Eden, not only we but the whole cosmos has groaned for salvation to arise. As we were cast from paradise, so have we longed ever after for return. It is the event for which the whole world longs. And on this night, from the midst of our own fallen lives, we proclaim a mystery beyond comprehension: 'The time has come'.

Can this be so? Can I, who in the past weeks have seen so manifestly the terrible extent of my sin, be the one to proclaim in my own day that now is the time of redemption? Abraham in all his glory did not see this day; how, then, shall I! Yet the Church calls even such as us to attention:

Cast thine eyes about thee, O Sion, and behold! For lo, like divinely radiant luminaries thy children have assembled unto thee from the west, the north, the south and the east, blessing Christ unto the ages. (Troparion of the Eighth Ode, Paschal Matins Canon)

If we do thus cast our eyes around us to behold, we see a sight of immense wonder. The unfathomable mystery of this day is that it is this day that salvation is come upon the world. Today is the 'auspicious day of the Resurrection',2 today the 'dawning of the life of all'.3 Here, in our midst, is the glory of redemption. 'Christ is risen, and life doth reign!'.4

The transcendence of sacred, liturgical time is a hard reality to grasp, and it is difficult precisely because the truths it proclaims are so fearful to accept. 'Today I see Thee crucified, O Christ; today I see Thee buried'. If such words are more than mere liturgical poetry, if they relate to us something fundamentally real about our worshipping, liturgical life, then they are terrifying indeed. It is here, in my presence, that the great offering of life is made by the eternal Son. It is before my face that His love is revealed. Now is the time in which these great events of God's economy are wrought, for in the mystery of sacred time we are always in the present. Christ is in our midst, ever and always, and His life is that which is present among us. This may be the source of great awe and wonder in the terrible 'today...' proclamations of the passion and crucifixion, but more terrifying still is the proclamation that 'Today is the day of Resurrection',5 that 'the Lord's Pascha, that all-venerable Pascha, has dawned for us'.6 It must be with a spirit of inexpressable awe that we say, in the words of the megalynarion, 'Today the whole creation is glad and rejoices, for Christ is risen and hell has been despoiled'.7

There can be no greater blessing in the life of any member of Adam's race, than to be able to say in truth that today 'the time has come'. Our salvation appears before us. That procession by which we earlier departed the church does not end there before the closed doors. The time has come, but those locked doors and that darkness are not the end of the Lenten story. In the culminating moment of all our preparation and anticipation, the doors of the church are re-opened and we return therein to find the house filled with light. What was, moments ago, a dark grave is now the shimmering image of paradise. Or even more, as we say in the Paschal Hours:

How life-giving, how much more beautiful than paradise and truly more resplendent than any royal palace proved Thy grave, the source of our resurrection, O Christ.
(Sticheron at the Hours)

Even beyond the glories of Edenic paradise is the reality of God's Kingdom which on this day has triumphed over death—the final, great foe. The time for God's compassion is at hand, is now, and in our midst and lives the hope of Adam and all our race is accomplished. Nothing greater could ever be longed for or received. So do we all cry out with St John in his homily:

Christ is risen, and thou, O death, art overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead,
Is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be glory and dominion
Unto the ages of ages.

(Text by M.C. Steenberg, 2004)
1. The deacon's exhortation to the priest (or bishop) at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy. [back]
2. Troparion of the Eighth Ode, Paschal matins canon. [back]
3. Irmos of the Fifth Ode. [back]
4. From the Paschal homily of St John Chrysostom. [back]
5. From the stichera at the Praises, Paschal Matins. [back]
6. ibid. [back]
7. Megalynarion of the Ninth Ode. [back]