Orthodox Thought for the Day


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

End of month resources

Information provided here may be useful as October 31 approaches...

Many Christians recognize the darkness that casts itself 'round about on the celebration of halloween each year. Some choose to ignore the festivities, some opt for alternative activities, some see it as purely harmless fun.  In recent years, I have come to view it as an opportunity for prayer and education.  Here below is a short life of Saints Cyprian & Justina; Cyprian who was once a sorcerer and converted to Orthodox Christianity in the third century.   

By reading the life of the Saints below, parents and young people can reckon that the phenomenon of sorcerers is not something that is pure fantasy found in fiction books only.  It is real power energized by demonic forces, but not power that is greater than that offered by God Himself, to Whom the demons are subject and tremble.  Note the power of the making of the sign of the Cross in this account...


Ss. Cyprian and Justina  
 In the reign of the pagan emperor Decius (249-251), there lived in the city of Antioch inAsia Minor a famous philosopher and magician whose name was Cyprian.  His parents were pagan and when he was still a child, they sent him to study sorcery and demonic wisdom. Cyprian learned all sorts of evil tricks which hewas able to perform with the help of demons.  He could send diseases upon people, produce thunder, cause damage to crops, and finally he even learned howto call forth the dead from the graves and force them to speak by means of various magic spells.  He became a great sorcerer, magician and destroyer of souls.  God had given him a good mind, but Cyprian used all his knowledge to serve evil.  He became the faithful slave of the prince of darkness.

Returning to Antioch, it was not long before Cyprian was teaching others how to perform evil tricks: some he taught to fly in the air, others to sail in boats on the clouds, still others to walk on water.  By the pagans he was greatly honored as a chief priest and most wise servant of their horrid gods.  The prince of darkness himself, as Cyprian later related, spoke with him face toface and praised him for his obedience, promising to help him in everything during his earthly life.  Cyprian described how he saw the prince of darkness sitting on a throne and surrounded by a countless number of evil spirits.

Through his wicked way of life, Cyprian had already placed himself in the jaws of the devil.  But the Lord Who, in His great love for mankind, desires that all men be saved, wished also to save Cyprian.  And He did this in the following way...

There lived in Antioch at that time a certain maiden named Justina who had chosen Christ as her bridegroom.  She served Him with her whole heart, with fervent prayer and a pure life.  Seeing her virtuous life, the devil, the hater of mankind, became angry and began to do her harm.

In the same city there lived a young man named Aglaias who was very rich and led a very worldly life of pleasure.  Once it happened that he saw Justina as she was going to church and he was struck by her beauty.

By evil trickery, the evil one planted in his heart shameful feelings towards the maiden.  Aglaias, burning with passion, tried by every means to win the love of Justina and thereby deceive her into falling into sin with him. But Justina firmly resisted for she had already chosen Christ as her bridegroom.  Finally, unable to deceive her himself, Aglalas asked Cyprianto help him, promising him much gold and silver if he should succeed.

Cyprian called on one of the evil spirits who proudly said that he should have no trouble implanting the same impure thoughts into the heart of Justina.  The next night, when Justina was praying, she noticed that some wicked thoughts had entered her head and she felt as though her body were possessed by a sinful attraction for Aglaias.  Recognizing that this was caused by the evil schemes of the devil, she only increased her prayers.  This put the demon to shame and he was forced to flee.  The inward battle stopped and Justina glorified God and sang a song of victory.

Then Cyprian sent a more powerful demon.  But, he, too, was unable to overcome the maiden.  Finally the prince of darkness himself, disguised as a woman, came to Justina and tried to deceive her using words of Scripture.  But Justina saw that this, too, was the work of the devil.  She protected herself with the sign of the Cross and the wicked one immediately vanished in great shame.

Seeing how powerless even the prince of darkness was against Justina, Cyprian became angryand demanded to know what weapon the maiden used against them.  The devil admitted: "We cannot behold the sign of the Cross, but flee from it,because it scorches us like fire and banishes us far away."

Having become convinced that nothing could conquer the power of the sign of the cross and the name of Christ, Cyprian came to his senses and said to the devil, "O destroyer and deceiver of all.  Now I have discovered your true weakness;  woe is me.  For, I, too, have been deceived.  Get away from me, you wretched one."  Angered by these words, the devil threw himself at Cyprian in order to kill him. But Cyprian protected himself with the sign of the Cross and the devil immediately leaped away from him like an arrow shot from a bow.

Fully realizing his sins, Cyprian went to the Christian bishop and begged him to give him holy baptism. He then gave him all his books of magic to be burned. Seeing his genuine repentance, the bishop baptized him and burned his books in front of all the believing people.  Cyprian completely changed his life and began to work not only for his own salvation, but also to help others.  Soon he was made a bishop and Justina became the abbess of a convent.

The devil was angry at this betrayal of one of his former servants.  He inspired the pagan rulers with the idea that Cyprian and Justina were their enemies because they were leading people away from the pagan gods to the worship of Christ.  Many deceived pagans went to the governor and demanded that Cyprian and Justina be put to death.  After they had bravely withstood many tortures, these two servants of the true God were beheaded with a sword.  The devil had thought to destroy Cyprian and Justina, but instead, they had gained crowns of martyrdom and eternal life with Christ our God, to Whom be glory and honor forever. Amen.

 (Adapted from the Life of Ss. Cyprian and Justina, The Orthodox Word , Vol.XII, 5)

Here's a thought--the lives of these Saints can make an interesting great Sunday School reading and opening for discussion in classes held close to Oct. 31.

I decorate our front door on halloween night with a sign that an artistic Orthodox friend created at my request--it has a circle with a line through it (like the old "ghostbusters" symbol) superimposed over the word Halloween, i.e., "No" Halloween.  Under it that it says, "Come back on St. Nicholas Day, December 6, for a sweet treat!"  Any kid who shows up on December 6 will get a bag of gold wrapped foil coins from our house and receives an awareness of the "real" St. Nicholas of Myra. 

Orthodox churches might consider offering this positive alternative on halloween night--an akathist prayer service to St. Cyprian.  The Book of Akathists, Vol. 2 published by Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY, contains the Akathist to St. Cyprian.  St. Isaac of Syria Skete has two beautiful mounted icons of the Saint--one of Ss. Cyprian & Justina together(http://skete.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=product.display&product_id=671) and one of St. Cyprian alone:  http://skete.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=product.display&product_id=401 

These are just a few thoughts of ways that one can give glory to God and wise teaching through the lives of His Saints in contrast to traditional halloween fare.

Pres. Candace

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Let's strive to radiate good will

Let’s have love, meekness and peace.  In that way, we help our brother when he is possessed by evil.  Our example radiates mystically, and not only when the person is present, but also when he is not.  Let us strive to radiate our good will.  Even when we say something about a person whose way of life does not meet with our approval, the person is aware of it and we repel him.  Whereas, if we are compassionate and forgive him, then we influence him—just as evil influences him—even if he does not see us. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

On blame, discernment and love

In the realm of the Spirit of God all things are different. Here one justifies all things in the behavior of others.  Everything!  What have we said?  Christ sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  I say that you are to blame, even if you tell me that he or she is the one at fault.  In the final analysis you are to blame in some respect and you will discover in what respect you are at fault when I tell you that you are to blame.  You should acquire this sense of discrimination in your life.  Inquire more deeply into everything and don’t regard things superficially.  If we don’t go to Christ, if we don’t endure patiently when we suffer unjustly, we will be tormented continually.   The secret is to deal with situations in a spiritual way.  St. Symeon the New Theologian writes in a similar vein:   

‘We need to regard all of the faithful as one and think that each of them is Christ.  We need to have such love for each individual that we are ready to sacrifice our very life for him.  Because we ought never to say or think that any person is evil, but rather to regard all as good.  And if you see a brother troubled by passions, do not hate him.  Hate rather the passions that are assailing him.  And if you see that he is being tormented by desires and habits from former sins, have even greater compassion on him, lest you also fall into temptation, since you are made of matter that easily turns from good to evil.  Love for your brother prepares you to love God more   Accordingly, the secret of love for God is love for your brother.  Because if you don’t love your brother whom you see, how can you possibly love God whom you don’t see?  He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?’ 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Christian is gracious

A Christian is gracious.  We should prefer to be wronged.  If love enters us we forget the wrongs we have been done.  This is where the secret lies.  When the evil comes from afar, you cannot avoid it.  The great art, however, is to show disdain for it.  With the grace of God, even though you see it, it will not affect you, because you will be full of grace. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Help through prayer and a right attitude

When someone has a vice we should try to bombard him with rays of love and compassion so that he may be cured and freed.  These things are achieved only through the grace of God.  Think that this person is suffering more than you.  In a cenobitic monastery when someone is at fault, we should not tell him that he is to blame.  We must adopt an attitude of care, respect and prayer.  We must endeavor not to do anything harmful.  When we endure insults from our brother, it counts as martyrdom.  And it is something we should endure with joy. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Regard others with sympathy

We should feel the malice of the other person as an illness which is tormenting him and which he is unable to shake off.  And so we should regard our brethren with sympathy and behave with courtesy towards them, repeating in our hearts with simplicity the prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ,’ so that the grace of God may strengthen our soul and so that we don’t pass judgment on anyone.   

We should regard all people as saints.  We all carry within us the same ‘old self.’  Our neighbor, whoever he is, is ‘flesh of our flesh,’ he is our brother and, according to St. Paul, we owe no one anything, except to love one another.  We can never pass judgment on others, for no one ever hated his own flesh. 

Reacting without love

Let’s suppose someone is all alone in the desert.  Suddenly he hears a voice crying out in distress in the distance.  He follows the sound and is confronted by a horrendous sight:  a tiger has grabbed hold of a man and is savaging him with its claws.  The man is desperately shouting for help.  In a few minutes he will be torn to pieces.  What can the person do to help?  Can he run to his side?  How?  It’s impossible.  Can he shout for help?  Who will hear him?  There is no one within earshot.  Should he perhaps pick up a stone and throw it at the man to finish him off?  ‘Certainly not,’ we would say.  But that’s exactly what can happen if we don’t realize that the other person who is acting badly towards us has been taken hold of by a tiger, the devil.  We fail to realize that when we react to such a person without love, it is as if we are throwing stones at his wounds and accordingly we are doing him great harm and the ‘tiger’ leaps onto us and we do the same as him and worse.  What kind of love do we have then for our neighbor and, even more importantly, for God? 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

On personal injuries

When someone injures us in whatever way, whether with slanders or with insults, we should think of him as our brother who has been taken hold of by the enemy.  He has fallen victim to the enemy.  Accordingly we need to have compassion for him and entreat God to have mercy both on us and on him, and God will help both.  If, however, we are filled with anger against him, then the enemy will jump from him to us and make a mockery of us both.  A person who condemns others does not love Christ.  Our egotism is at fault.  This is where condemnation of others stems from.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How to be loved by others

Let us scatter our love selflessly to all, without regard to the way they act towards us.  When the grace of God enters us, we will not be concerned about whether they love us or not or whether they speak to us politely or not.  We will feel the need to love all people.  It’s egotism on our part to wish for others to speak to us politely.  If they don’t, we shouldn’t be upset.  Let them speak to us as they wish.  We needn’t become beggars for love.  Our aim should be to love them and pray for them with all our soul.  Then we will become aware that all people love us without our seeking it and without our begging for their love.  They will love us freely and sincerely from the depths of their heart without our blackmailing them. When we love without seeking to be loved, people will gather around us like bees.  This is true for everyone.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The pinnacle of love

Above everything is love.  The thing that must concern you, my children, is love for the other person, for his soul.  Whatever we do, whether it is prayer or offering advice or pointing out some error, let us do it with love.  Without love, prayer is of no benefit, advice is hurtful and pointing out errors is harmful and destructive to the other person who senses whether we love him or not and reacts accordingly.  Love, love, love!  Love for our brother prepares us to love Christ more.  Isn't that perfect?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Develop love for God and attain happiness

Love towards one's brother cultivates love towards God.  We are happy when we secretly love all people.  Then we will feel that everyone loves us.  No one can attain to God unless he first passes through his fellow men.  For the person who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?  (I John 4:20).  We need to love and sacrifice ourselves selflessly for everyone without seeking recompense.  A love that seeks something in return is selfish.  It is not genuine, pure and sincere.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The one thing needful

One thing is needful in our life—love, adoration of Christ and love towards our fellow men.  What is required is for us all to be one, with Christ as the head.  This is the only way in which we will acquire grace, heaven and eternal life. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The beauty and bond of married love

When a couple is united, even if the husband is abroad on a journey, distance ought not to diminish the joy of their love.  Near or far, it is always the same law that unites them.  Together or apart, it is always the same bond that guarantees the privileges of conjugal love.  Even if one of the two is traveling a long way away, the same yoke of shared blessings unites them closely one to the other, because they have accepted the yoke of grace not only on their bodies but also on their souls. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The easy path

If you would be simple hearted like the Apostles, would not conceal your human shortcomings, would not pretend to be especially pious, if you would walk free from hypocrisy, then that is the path. While it is easy, not everyone can find it or understand it.  This path is the shortest way to salvation and attracts the grace of God.  Unpretentiousness, guilelessness, frankness of soul - this is what is pleasing to the Lord, who is lowly of heart.  Except ye become like children, ye shall not enter the Kingdom of God, (Mt. 18:13). 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Grace for the lover of God's Word

Devote yourselves to the Scriptures.  Love reading and studying them.  The more I hear the Psalter and the poetic canons, the more I want to hear them.  They are so close to life and engaging that I cannot have enough of them.  Read clearly and distinctly, word by word.  Read the words aloud and listen to them; that’s a great help.  And where you come across a particularly meaty passage, read it again to understand it better.  What can I say?  I listen to the words again and again with an unquenchable thirst.  They sweeten the soul.  That is what is important.

And so since you will thirst for the words of the poetic canons, of the Psalter and of all the church service books and since you will desire to read, hear and take them to heart, as soon as the simantron sounds, you will run at once with love and eagerness to hear the first words of the daily cycle of prayer, ‘On rising from sleep, we fall down before You, Good Lord.’ That’s the way to achieve the object of your desire.  The soul then reverts to its original luster, to its primeval state, to its ancient beauty.  What does God say, On whom shall I look, if not on the meek and peaceful man who fears my words, (Isaiah 66:2, LXX).  Christ gives grace to the person who loves His words and all good things come easily to him. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Addressing the distresses of life

All the unpleasant things which are within your soul and cause you anxiety can become occasions for the glorification of God and cease to torment you.  Have trust in God.  Then you will forget your worries and become His instruments.  Distress shows that we are not entrusting our life to Christ.  Doesn’t St. Paul say, ‘We are afflicted on every side, but not distressed?’ 

Deal with everything with love, kindness, meekness, patience and humility.  Be rocks.  Let all the waves break over you and turn back leaving you untroubled.  You’ll say, ‘That sounds fine, but is it possible?’  The answer is ‘Yes, always—with the grace of God.’  If we look at things in human terms, of course, it is impossible.  But instead of affecting you adversely, all these things can be of benefit to you, increasing your patience and your faith.  Because all the difficulties that surround us represent a kind of gymnastics for us.  We exercise ourselves in patience and endurance.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Forgiveness--a poem

That God may forgive us, let us forgive men.

We are all on this earth as temporary guests.

Prolonged fasting and prayer is in vain

Without forgiveness and true mercy.

God is the true Physician; sins are leprosy.

Whomever God cleanses, God also glorifies.

Every merciful act of men, God rewards with mercy.

He who returns sin with sin perishes without mercy.

Pus is not cleansed by pus from infected wounds,

Neither is the darkness of the dungeon dispelled by darkness,

But pure balm heals the festering wound,

And light disperses the darkness of the dungeon.

To the seriously wounded, mercy is like a balm;

As if seeing a torch dispersing the darkness, everyone rejoices in mercy.

The madman says, "I have no need of mercy!"

But when he is overcome by misery, he cries out for mercy!

Men bathe in the mercy of God,

And that mercy of God wakens us to life!

That God may forgive us, let us forgive men,

We are all on this earth as temporary guests.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A remedy for the angry person

What can an angry person do? He must pray and pray for healing. For the sake of his faith, for the sake of his insistence, the Lord will change his heart.