Orthodox Thought for the Day


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

On the beliefs and practices of the Church

Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church some we possess derived from written teaching others we have received delivered to us “in a mystery” by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force.  

And these no one will gainsay;—no one, at all events, who is even moderately versed in the institutions of the Church.  For were we to attempt to reject such customs as have no written authority, on the ground that the importance they possess is small, we should unintentionally injure the Gospel in its very vitals; or, rather, should make our public definition a mere phrase and nothing more.

For instance, to take the first and most general example, who is thence who has taught us in writing to sign with the sign of the cross those who have trusted in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ?  What writing has taught us to turn to the East at the prayer?  Which of the saints has left us in writing the words of the invocation at the displaying of the bread of the Eucharist and the cup of blessing?  For we are not, as is well known, content with what the apostle or the Gospel has recorded, but both in preface and conclusion we add other words as being of great importance to the validity of the ministry, and these we derive from unwritten teaching.  

Moreover we bless the water of baptism and the oil of the chrism, and besides this the catechumen who is being baptized.  On what written authority do we do this?  Is not our authority silent and mystical tradition?  Nay, by what written word is the anointing of oil itself taught?  And whence comes the custom of baptizing thrice? And as to the other customs of baptism from what Scripture do we derive the renunciation of Satan and his angels?  Does not this come from that unpublished and secret teaching which our fathers guarded in a silence out of the reach of curious meddling and inquisitive investigation?  

Well had they learnt the lesson that the awful dignity of the mysteries is best preserved by silence.  What the uninitiated are not even allowed to look at was hardly likely to be publicly paraded about in written documents.  

On the leave-taking of the Nativity Feast

I behold a new and wondrous mystery!  My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. 

The Angels sing!

The Archangels blend their voices in harmony!

The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise!

The Seraphim exalt His glory! 

All join to praise the holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven.

He who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side the Sun of Justice. 

And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields.  For He willed, he had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things move in obedience to God. 

This day He Who Is, is Born; and He Who Is becomes what He was not.  For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His.  Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassibility remaining unchanged. 

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His Incarnation has he departed from the Godhead. 

And behold,

Kings have come, that they might adore the heavenly King of glory;

Soldiers, that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven;

Women, that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of childbirth into joy;

Virgins, to the Son of the Virgin, beholding with joy, that He Who is the Giver of milk, Who has decreed that the fountains of the breast pour forth in ready streams, receives from a Virgin Mother the food of infancy;

Infants that they may adore Him Who became a little child, so that out of the mouth of infants and sucklings, He might perfect praise;

Children, to the Child Who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod;

Men, to Him Who became man, that He might heal the miseries of His servants;

Shepherds, to the Good Shepherd Who has laid down His life for His sheep;

Priests, to Him Who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchisedech;

Servants to Him Who took upon Himself the form of a servant that He might bless our servitude with the reward of freedom;

Fishermen, to Him Who from amongst fishermen chose catchers of men;

Publicans, to Him Who from amongst them named a chosen Evangelist;

Sinful women, to Him Who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant;

And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God Who taketh away the sins of the world. 

Sincere therefore all rejoice, I, too, desire to rejoice.  I, too, wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival.  But I take my part, not plucking the harp, not shaking the Thyrsian staff, not with the music of pipes, nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ.  For this is all my hope, this my life, this my salvation, this my pipe, my harp.  And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I, too, with the angels, sing, Glory to God in the Highest; and with the shepherds: and on earth, peace to men of good will.

Monday, December 30, 2013

A thought for the 6th day of Christmas

He who was above all creation was in our human condition. The invisible One was made visible in the flesh.  He who is from the heavens and from on high was in the likeness of earthly things. The immaterial One could be touched. He who is free in His own nature came in the form of a slave.

He who blesses all creation became accursed. He who is all righteousness was numbered among the transgressors.

Life itself came in the appearance of death. All this followed because the body which tasted death belonged to no other but to Him who is the Son by Nature.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

More on the 12 Holy Days

“This is our festival, this is the feast we celebrate today, in which God comes to live with human beings, that we may journey towards God, or return – for to speak thus is more exact – that laying aside the old human being we may be clothed with the new, and that as in Adam all have died so we may live in Christ, born with Christ and crucified with him, buried with him, and rising with him. For it is necessary for me to undergo the good turnaround, and as painful things came from more pleasant things, so out of painful things more pleasant things must return. “For where sin abounded, grace super-abounded,” and if the taste [of the forbidden fruit] condemned, how much more does the passion of Christ justify? Therefore we celebrate the feast not like a pagan festival, but in a godly manner, not in a worldly way, but in a manner above the world... 
Now welcome for me his conception and leap for joy, if not indeed like John in the womb, then like David when the ark came to rest. Be awed at the census record through which you have been recorded in heaven, and revere the birth through which you have been released from the bonds of birth, and honor little Bethlehem, which has brought you back to paradise, and bow before the manger through which you who were without reason have been fed by the Word.  Know, like the ox, your owner – Isaiah exhorts you – and like the donkey know your master’s crib, whether you are among those who are pure and under the law and chew the cud of the Word and are prepared for sacrifice, or whether up till now you are among the impure and unfit for food or sacrifice and belong to the Gentiles. Run after the star, and bring gifts with the magi, gold and frankincense and myrrh, as to a king and a God and one dead for your sake. With the shepherds give glory, with the angels sing hymns, with the archangels dance. Let there be a common celebration of the heavenly and earthly powersFor I am persuaded that they rejoice and celebrate with us today, if indeed they love humankind and love God, just as David represents them ascending with Christ after his Passion as they come to meet him and exhort each other to lift the gates.” 

Continuing the celebration of the Twelve Holy Days of Christmas

“Lord allow us today to celebrate Your true Nativity, of which the present festival puts us in mind. This day is like Yourself: it is the friend of man. Year by year it returns throughout the centuries, growing old with the aged, renewing itself with the newborn child. Year by year it comes to us, passes, then returns, full of the same grace. It knows that human nature cannot do without it. Like You, it comes to the rescue of our imperiled race. The whole round earth is thirsting for your Nativity, Lord. In that one joyful day are contained the all the ages to come; it is one, yet it multiplies itself to infinity. May it then resemble You again this year, and make peace between heaven and earth. 

All days bear the imprint of Your goodness, but today Your goodness brims over. The other days of the year borrow their loveliness from this one; the coming festivals owe to it all their dignity and luster. Your Nativity, O Lord is a treasure great enough to pay the common debt. Blessed be that day which gave back the light of the sun to us who were astray in the dark, which brought us the sheaf of divine plenty and gave us that vine from which the wine of salvation would be pressed... 

"For a Child is born unto us, and a Son is given unto us.” You Who are Your Father’s Son have become Your mother’s child; in Heaven, infinite: here, tiny; abiding in Your Father’s bosom, yet carried in Your mother’s womb. Changeless in Godhead, peerless in Your humanity, because for ever One and the same in both; in Your divine nature our Creator, and in Your humanity, our Redeemer.” 

Friday, December 27, 2013

A small glimpse of desecration in Kosovo

Fr. Nektarios Serfes shared with me the content of the link below.  Use the link to read the article and to view a photo.  Sad to say, it is disturbing: 

May the True and Living God forgive those who have set their faces against Him and His people. Hatred can only be overcome by love.  May those whose hearts are broken by these actions find supernatural strength to pray with holy love for the repentance of the persecutors.
Serbian Prince St. Lazar 

Again, I ask you to remember the Serbian Orthodox people, sufferers in Kosovo-Metohija, with prayer.  If you can also offer any practical assistance, by the mercy of God, the Decani Monastery Relief Fund will distribute what is donated to the destitute there:

Decani Monastery Relief Fund
C/O Very Rev. Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes
2618 West Bannock Street
Boise, Idaho 83702-4705

In His love,
Presbytera Candace

On St. Stephen, the Protomartyr

Posting as appeared on the Full of Grace and Truth blogspot, Tuesday, December 27, 2011:

St. Stephen the Protomartyr and Archdeacon

Christ is born! Glorify Him!
St. Stephen the Apostle, Protomartyr and Archdeacon - Commemorated on December 27 (http://pravicon.com/images/sv/s1949/s1949011.jpg)  
The Holy Protomartyr and Archdeacon Stephen was the eldest of the seven deacons, appointed by the Apostles themselves, and therefore he is called "archdeacon." He was the first Christian martyr, and he suffered for Christ when he was about thirty. In the words of Asterias, he was "the starting point of the martyrs, the instructor of suffering for Christ, the foundation of righteous confession, since Stephen was the first to shed his blood for the Gospel."
Filled with the Holy Spirit, St Stephen preached Christianity and defeated Jewish teachers of the Law in debate. The Jews maligned St Stephen, saying that he had uttered blasphemy against God and against Moses. St Stephen came before the Sanhedrin and the High Priest to answer these charges. He gave a fiery speech, in which he recounted the history of the Jewish nation, and denounced the Jews for persecuting the prophets, and also for executing the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ (Acts ch. 7).
During his speech, St Stephen suddenly saw the heavens opened and Jesus Christ standing at the right hand of God. The Jews shouted and covered their ears, and rushed at him. They dragged him out of the city and stoned him, but the holy martyr prayed for his murderers. Far off on the heights stood the Mother of God with the holy Apostle John the Theologian, and She prayed fervently for the martyr. Before his death St Stephen said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. O Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." Then he joyfully gave up his pure soul to Christ.
The Martyrdom of St. Stephen the Protomartyr (http://pravicon.com/images/sv/s1949/s1949002.jpg)
The body of the holy Protomartyr Stephen, left to be eaten by beasts, was secretly taken up by the Jewish teacher Gamaliel and his son Habib, who buried Stephen on his estate. They both believed in Christ, and later received holy Baptism.
St Stephen is also commemorated on August 2 (Translation of his relics) and on September 15 (Uncovering of his relics in the year 415).
Part of the Holy Skull of St. Stephen the Protomartyr, treasured by the Holy Monastery of Vatopedi, Mount Athos (http://www.agiooros.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=11347&start=10)

Saint Fulgentius of Ruspe on the feast of St. Stephen (circa 500 AD)
Yesterday we celebrated the birth in time of our eternal King. Today we celebrate the triumphant suffering of his soldier.

Yesterday our king, clothed in his robe of flesh, left his place in the Virgin’s womb and graciously visited the world. Today his soldier leaves the tabernacle of his body and goes triumphantly to heaven.

Our king, despite his exalted majesty, came in humility for our sake; yet he did not come empty-handed. He brought his soldiers a great gift that not only enriched them but also made them unconquerable in battle, for it was the gift of love, which was to bring men to share in his divinity. He gave of his bounty, yet without any loss to himself. In a marvellous way he changed into wealth the poverty of his faithful followers while remaining in full possession of his own inexhaustible riches.

And so the love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven; shown first in the king, it later shone forth in his soldier. Love was Stephen’s weapon by which he gained every battle, and so won the crown signified by his name. His love of God kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob; his love for his neighbor made him pray for those who were stoning him. Love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment. Strengthened by the power of his love, he overcame the raging cruelty of Saul and won his persecutor on earth as his companion in heaven. In his holy and tireless love he longed to gain by prayer those whom he could not convert by admonition.

Now at last, Paul rejoices with Stephen, with Stephen he delights in the glory of Christ, with Stephen he exalts, with Stephen he reigns. Stephen went first, slain by the stones thrown by Paul, but Paul followed after, helped by the prayer of Stephen. This, surely, is the true life, my brothers, a life in which Paul feels no shame because of Stephen’s death, and Stephen delights in Paul’s companionship, for love fills them both with joy. It was Stephen’s love that prevailed over the cruelty of the mob, and it was Paul’s love that covered the multitude of his sins; it was love that won for both of them the kingdom of heaven.

Love, indeed, is the source of all good things; it is an impregnable defense,- and the way that leads to heaven. He who walks in love can neither go astray nor be afraid: love guides him, protects him, and brings him to his journey’s end.

My brothers, Christ made love the stairway that would enable all Christians to climb to heaven. Hold fast to it, therefore, in all sincerity, give one another practical proof of it, and by your progress in it, make your ascent together.
The Martyrdom of St. Stephen the Protomartyr (http://pravicon.com/images/sv/s1949/s1949008.jpg)
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
For the struggles you endured for Christ God, a royal diadem crowns your head, O First Champion of Martyrs. For you refuted the folly of the Jews and beheld your Savior on the right of the Father. Ever beseech Him, therefore, for our souls.

Kontakion in the Third Tone
Yesterday the Master arrived in the flesh, today the servant departs from the flesh. Yesterday He who reigns was born. Today the servant dies for Him by stoning, the Protomartyr, the divine Stephen.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Made rich through His poverty

The Logos became man, so that man might become Logos.  Being rich, He became poor for our sakes, so that through His poverty we might become rich, (cf. II Cor 8:9).  In His great love for man, He became like us, so that through every virtue we might become like Him. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas Eve miracle


An Undying Love

When I was in jail I fell very, very ill. I had tuberculosis of the whole surface of both lungs, and four vertebrae were attacked by tuberculosis. I also had intestinal tuberculosis, diabetes, heart failure, jaundice, and other sicknesses I can’t even remember. I was near to death.

        At my right hand was a priest by the name of Iscu. He was abbot of a monastery. This man, perhaps in his forties, had been so tortured he was near to death. But his face was serene. He spoke about his hope of heaven, about his love of Christ, about his faith. He radiated joy.

        On my left side was the Communist torturer who had tortured this priest almost to death. He had been arrested by his own comrades. Don’t believe the newspapers when they say that the Communists only hate Christians or Jews—it’s not true. They simply hate. They hate everybody. They hate Jews, they hate Christians, they hate anti-Semites, they hate anti-Christians, they hate everybody. One Communist hates the other Communist. They quarrel among themselves, and when they quarrel one Communist with the other, they put the other one in jail and torture him just like a Christian, and they beat him.

        And so it happened that the Communist torturer who had tortured this priest nearly to death had been tortured nearly to death by his comrades. And he was dying near me. His soul was in agony.

        During the night he would awaken me, saying, “Pastor, please pray for me. I can’t die, I have committed such terrible crimes.”

        Then I saw a miracle. I saw the agonized priest calling two other prisoners. And leaning on their shoulders, slowly, slowly he walked past my bed, sat on the bedside of this murderer, and caressed his head—I will never forget this gesture. I watched a murdered man caressing his murderer! That is love—he found a caress for him.

        The priest said to the man, “You are young; you did not know what you were doing. I love you with all my heart.” But he did not just say the words. You can say “love,” and it’s just a word of four letters. But he really loved. “I love you with all my heart.”

        Then he went on, “If I who am a sinner can love you so much, imagine Christ, who is Love Incarnate, how much He loves you! And all the Christians whom you have tortured, know that they forgive you, they love you, and Christ loves you. He wishes you to be saved much more than you wish to be saved. You wonder if your sins can be forgiven. He wishes to forgive your sins more than you wish your sins to be forgiven. He desires for you to be with Him in heaven much more than you wish to be in heaven with Him. He is Love. You only need to turn to Him and repent.”

        In this prison cell in which there was no possibility of privacy, I overheard the confession of the murderer to the murdered. Life is more thrilling than a novel—no novelist has ever written such a thing. The murdered—near to death—received the confession of the murderer. The murdered gave absolution to his murderer.

        They prayed together, embraced each other, and the priest went back to his bed. Both men died that same night. It was a Christmas Eve. But it was not a Christmas Eve in which we simply remembered that two thousand years ago Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It was a Christmas Eve during which Jesus was born in the heart of a Communist murderer.

        These are things which I have seen with my own eyes.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

How to learn to love the Lord

How did St. John the Theologian attain such lofty love for the Lord and become a model of love for all of us? I think that he did this in the same way that people begin to love one another. They see the beauty and goodness of a person and become attracted to them with all their heart. In like manner St. John saw the beauty of the Lord and was attracted to Him. He sensed the Lord's special love for him and likewise was inflamed with love for Him. He saw the great, wondrous, and fruitful works of the Lord and, moved by fervent piety, he became completely devoted to Him. He tasted the sweetness of love for Him and, immersed with his whole heart in this love, took rest in it. Here follows the path of assent in love for the Lord. Let us enter upon it, and in the end we will acquire it.

First: St. John saw the beauty of the Lord and was attracted to it. In the same manner love among people is born. They see someone's beauty, spiritual or physical, and begin to love one another. Let us lift up our mind to the contemplation of the Lord's beauty, and surely we will not remain cold and indifferent towards Him. The Lord's beauty is the sum total of all His perfection. "Look and observe, what does the Lord lack?" says St Tikhon of Zadonsk. Anything that you might desire can be found with the Lord in indescribable and unlimited fullness. Do you seek blessedness? He has eternal and true blessedness. Are you seeking beauty? Comely art Thou in beauty more than the sons of men; (Ps. 44:3). Do you seek nobility? Who is more noble than the Son of God? Are you looking for honor? Who has more honor or is more elevated than the King of the heavens? Do you seek wisdom? He is the Person (Hypostasis) of God's Wisdom. Do you want gladness? He is the joy and gladness of blessed spirits and the chosen of God. Do you need comfort? Who can comfort you more than the Lord Jesus? Do you seek rest? Here is the eternal rest of those souls that love Him. Do you want life? He is the fountain of life. Are you afraid of being lost? He is the way. Do you fear deception? He is Truth. Are you in fear of death? He is life as He Himself assures us: I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. In short, all the perfection, beauty, and goodness that the human soul could love is found in Him. Force your mind to grasp this and, you will not be able to do otherwise than love the Lord. St. Catherine the Great Martyr promised to love the one in whom she would see the same wealth that she possessed, the same beauty, the same wisdom she boasted of, expecting that in the whole world she would not find such a person. But when she came to know the Lord, she saw that compared to His beauty, wisdom, and wealth her own was nothing and contemptible. She then gave herself completely to Him, clinging to Him and offering herself to Him as a sacrifice.

Secondly, St. John the Theologian, sensing the Lord's love for him, was inflamed with love for Him. Sincere and selfless love, when experienced from another, always inspires a corresponding feeling. Let us experience the Lord's love and kindle our love for Him. "What did the Son of God not do for us?" asks St. Tikhon. "What did He not attain for us? What did He not bear and suffer for the sake of our poor and needy souls? What labors and sufferings did He not take upon Himself in order to bring us, who had fallen away, to His Heavenly Father? He came down from Heaven in or der to raise us, who had been cast out of Paradise, up to Heaven. For our sake He was born in the flesh in order to bring us unto Himself through spiritual regeneration. He humbled Himself for our sake, in order to lift us up. He became impoverished, in order to enrich us wretched ones. He suffered dishonor and wounds in order to heal and glorify us. He died for us in order to give life to us who were dead. Behold what condescension and humility His perfect love and sympathetic mercy brought Him to." Has not each one of us experienced this movement of God's love? How often have we fled from this love by sinning? Every time, because of one phrase, "I am guilty and will not do it again," have we been reunited through His mercy. How many times have we angered Him by giving into the temptation of the delights of this world. Then when we turned to Him again we were admitted to the Lord's Table, to partake of His Body and drink His Blood. Is this not the embrace of His merciful love? Christ is among us in our everyday life. Who among us has not experienced His caring nearness to us, in deliverance from misfortune, illness, sorrow, difficult circumstances, in all needs spiritual and physical? Is it possible not to respond to such great love and turn to One who so untiringly loves us? Is it possible because of distraction and inattention to forget about the Lord's love for us? Having known and remembered this love, it is then impossible not to experience a feeling of love for the Lord no matter how calloused one's heart might be. He who continually walks in the presence of God's love will always be kindled with love for Him. Such is the nature of love!

Thirdly: St. John tasted the sweetness of love for the Lord and with perfect peace rested on his breast. Love is in itself a gift which can be compared with no other. It brings a blessing which is higher than anything in heaven or on earth. The Lord says, He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me: and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him, and If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him. (Jn.14:21,23). How comforting are these words! What great and exalted promises the Son of God offers to those who love Him - that the true lover of Christ will share in friendship with the Father and His Son! The human mind cannot fathom God's goodness. God Who is great, endless, and unattainable, desires to have friendship with man whom He created and who is His slave. He desires to have friendship as long as man does not reject it ...fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ (I Jn.13) writes St John. Where the Son and the Father are, there also the Holy Spirit is not excluded. Behold what the love of Christ attains! He who loves is worthy to be the dwelling and home of of the Most Holy Trinity. The Tri-Hypostatic God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - is well disposed to dwell in man by Grace. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. (I Jn. 4,16). Blessed indeed is such a heart! Even here on the earth it feels joy which is abundantly poured forth into the hearts of the chosen unto eternal life. The heart tastes the very essence of "how good the Lord is" and possesses that which is meant by the words, The Kingdom o f God is within you.

For there where God is, is also all that belongs to Him. If God is within you because of your love, than you will have His justification for your sins, deliverance from your captivity, peace instead of your evil conscience, joy instead of your misery, comfort instead of your sorrow, justification at God's judgment, assistance against your enemies, wisdom and intelligence instead of confusion and ignorance, strength in your weakness (from St. Tikhon same citation). If the Lord dwells in you for the sake of your love, then who can be against you, what harm can befall you? If He is your peace, then who can disturb you? If He is your joy and comfort, then who or what can cause you sorrow? If He is your strength, then who can overcome you? If He is your King, then who can subjugate you? I f God is with us then who can be against us, boldly exclaims St. Paul together with all those who love the Lord (Rom. 8:31). Such is love, and behold what it brings with it! Those who enter into the love of the Lord feel that they are more and more filled and perfected. For love is the bond of perfectness (Col. 3,14).

If you desire to love the Lord then strive to contemplate with your mind His beauty, or the fullness of His perfection, sense the warmth of His love and taste the sweetness of love itself with your heart. One cannot learn love, it takes place in the hidden places of the heart. It is sown in secret and ripens unobserved, like seed cast on the ground which sprouts without the knowledge of the sower, bringing forth a stem, an ear of grain and seed in the ear. Love is sown mysteriously, always, however, from the effect on the heart, the object of love. Turn your mind in your heart to the radiant, visage of the Lord, full of love and worthy of love, and from His eyes a spark will descend into your heart and kindle it with love for Him. He who stands by a fire is warmed by it, and he who turns to the Lord with his mind and heart is warmed by the fervor of His love, and himself begins to return a warm disposition towards Him. ...The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts... (Rom. 5:5), the Apostle Paul teaches. Love is a gift, but a gift prepared for everyone who seeks it: only desire it and seek, and immediately you will receive it. Just as the Lord embraces everyone, so it is impossible not to love Him. However, since not everyone turns to Him and seeks Him, so not everyone loves Him. For indeed He loved us first, and therefore we should love Him [even after the fact].

As it is, we have loved something instead of Him, something not pleasing to Him and not blessed by Him - and are not capable of loving Him since we have but one heart and not two. Therefore we cannot work for God and mammon [the world]. Remember, brethren, that the friendship of the world is enmity with God (James 4:4). Enmity with God! This is terrible! But worse are the words, If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema, Maranatha (I Cor. 16:22). Such was the expression of St. Paul's zealous love.

Let us dwell on these things brethren, and force ourselves to love the Lord with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our strength. Even better, let us arouse the love for Him sleeping in us and bring it out into action to be seen by us and everyone. Amen.

May 8,1864

The feast of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist. Translated from the Russian original, "Bogougodnaya zhizn voobshche", Sermons of Bishop Theophan the Recluse, pp. 75-81. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The beautiful life of St. Ignatios of Antioch

Please visit the link below to learn about the life of St. Ignatios, the God-bearer of Antioch, whose commemoration is December 20 each year.  St. Ignatios is reckoned by Church history to be the child who sat on Christ's lap in Matthew 18:4.  He became a tremendous witness for Christ, a holy hierarch, a teacher of the precepts of God, who gave up his life for the love of Christ in the arena.  

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The most important education

Where the Church Today Fails the Youth

The Education of Youth Today 

By Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol 

In the Church, education means "direction", the direction of people not to specific ideas or values or ideals, but the education of people to love our Lord Jesus Christ. Education in the Church means to teach people to love Christ, because this is what it is all about. The Church speaks of love towards God. A secularized conception of religion, of the Church, speaks of faith in God and only this. But perfection in the Church is the love that will remain forever, since both faith and hope will be abolished on the last day and that which will remain will be love. Therefore the challenge is for people to learn to love God. To have faith in God is a basic first step, which ascends to the next step and the next step. We are not to remain only there, because a person cannot give their entire life to something they simply believe in. If they are such an idealist, they can do it, as is done in other situations of everyday life we see around us. Yet in the Church that which exists is the love of Christ. For us, Christ is what it is all about. Christ is the One who is the Teacher of everybody. See how beautifully the Lord says this in the Gospel: "Learn from Me...". That is, people learn from Christ, from the same Christ, from the life of Christ, from the words of Christ, but above all by the experience of the love of God within them. That's why this experience is so strong that it overcomes all other loves in the world. 

It is not enough, brethren, to tell our children about the ideas of the Gospel, it is not enough to say that the Gospel and the Church is the best anyone can give them, and that love, joy, freedom, and justice is beautiful. Of course all these things are beautiful, but that which a young person needs today is to learn to love Christ. To learn how that which the Church gives is Christ, and this is something the world cannot give them. People can always learn to respect their fellow men, to love them, to be honest, sincere, fair, democratic, liberal, and all that. The Church is not needed to teach these things which nature itself teaches. Our human self and human existence teach us freedom, justice, democracy, respect and love for others. What the Church has to tell us about is the love of Christ. And here, allow me to tell you, is the point at which Christians today stumble, because we consider the Church to be an ideological system and that it is enough for us to be good people. That it is enough for us to observe our duties. That it is enough for our kids to have their boundaries. To not be mischievous. To not do bad things. Sometimes they say things that we hear, we smile with grace of course, but this does not express the Church. What do they say? "It is better to be in church, rather than to be involved with drugs." "It is better to be in church, rather than to be in prison." It's as if the Church is the opposite of drugs and prison. One would say, as the camel once said: "Isn't there a straight road, a middle road?" So, it is either the Church or drugs? So, whoever is not in church is doing drugs? Certainly not! You don't need to be in church to be honorable, noble, honest, a good spouse, a good parent, a good student, and all the other good you have in you. This is why we often cannot understand why our children have another relationship with God. Why we who are older cannot understand. We say: "Why do you want that thing? Isn't it enough that you became a good person and a good scientist and you have your work to offer the world and society? Why do you want more? These are exaggerations, fanaticism, eccentricities, and illnesses." Why do we express such views? Because we measure our lives not by love but by duty. "Do your duty and that is enough." But love, my brethren, has no limits. When you love God, you have no boundaries. It's like when you have love for a certain person. If you have love for a person, you want to be with them, to unite your life with theirs. Can you put boundaries on such love? Love is a fire which burns in the heart of man. It does not enter into the limits and molds of logic, but it acts alone, from the heart and not from the head. The Church teaches and calls people to love Christ above all. 

You know, one could observe in older times the phenomenon in the Church when there were very many children. We remember, those of us who are older, that until a certain age almost all children went to Catechetical School, to Church, and they had a relationship with God. After a certain age they were lost. At fourteen, fifteen, or eighteen. Some went to the army, some went to get an education, and the efforts of the people were lost, such as the catechists and others. Why do you think this is the case? Where was the mistake made? Okay, of course there is human weakness, human challenges, and cares which proliferate as a person grows. But the "wrong of the Church", to say in quotation marks, is not the Church itself, but we people of the Church who, unfortunately, did not realize that what we had to give our children was the love for Christ. We taught them the ideas of the Gospel: "Be a good child, an honorable child, have love for others, do charity work, be an upright person." But the love for Christ we did not speak about. This is because theology for us was idealistic, philosophical, and humanistic. We ignored the love of God, and what it means to love Christ. For this reason it was not very important for people to learn to fast, to do vigil, to confess, to commune, to read the live of the Saints. No. It was enough to read other books. The lives of the Saints were set aside. The ascetic life of the Church was set aside. Man, who was invited to experience Christ in the mystery of the Church, was set aside. Other things got in the way. This is why we were losing people, one after another, when they reached puberty age. Of course, sin has its power and experience. This is something that attracts humans and makes them captive. On the other hand, what will draw people back? Ideas? Ideas are dead shadows of reality. An idea cannot keep you, no matter how much of an ideologue you are.  

Fortunately those days are gone, and today it seems we have recovered, rediscovered, our roots and our traditions. And we see young people in the churches. We see young people loving God, entering the church with a new outlook, a new perspective. They may have their difficulties, their problems, their falls, and their weaknesses like all of us. But they listen for the love of God. And this is what we must tell our children, my brethren. To learn to love God. When they love God, then is revealed within the experience of the love of God. Then they learn and obtain a strong spiritual antibody within themselves, which is a counterweight to the weight of sin. And with this, if they are wounded by sin, they will have the presence of the love of Christ to comfort their hearts. They know they cannot be saved by their own power, they will not be saved by their own outlooks, but with the love of God, the compassion of God, the mercy of God, and the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross for all of us.  

If we talk about education in the Church today, we are talking exactly about this initiation, this directive - Help people to love God.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos

Friday, December 13, 2013

Your gift will be as to Christ Himself

Beloved readers,

I hope you were able to take time to read the recent posting “Holy New Martyrs of Serbia, pray for us!”  The article detailed a rather breath-taking martyric witness of the Serbian Orthodox Church that has taken place within the recent past century. 
The Orthodox of Serbia have and continue to suffer as witnesses for Christ’s sake.  Today a faithful population continues living, with much hardship, in the war-ravaged areas of Kosovo-Metohija. 

I thank our father and brother in Christ, Fr. Nektarios Serfes (Ss. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Boise) who keeps the suffering Serbs under his eye and in his heart.  As president of the Decani Monastery Relief Fund, he keeps us apprised of the current situation.  The Fund provides assistance to those in significant hardship in Kosovo-Metohija, of whom there are many. 

In this war-torn area, there are routinely shortages of food, electricity, heat, medical assistance and farm equipment.  The latter affects the livelihoods of the Serbian populace.  Think of this equation:  harsh winter weather + lack of basics = a life of cold, painful hardship.  Families with children and the elderly feel the deprivations acutely.   

Can you imagine sending your child to a school with little to no heat in the midst of harsh winter weather?  How would you maintain your family’s health when they are poorly nourished?  What if someone gets sick and you can’t buy medicine?  What to do when a dental problem or emergency arises?  What’s it like to live in a home without hot water, limited heat and lack of firewood?  What’s it like to live without sufficient electricity to wash or dry clothing in the dead of winter?  How do the elderly or otherwise infirm manage?  When war has visited a land, many of the conveniences once had are no more.  People survive these conditions, but it is extremely difficult.   

We Christians who live in countries of abundance may not even have a cognizance of these things as we hustle and bustle to make our lives merry this winter season.  We may not even connect that these people are the “neighbor” spoken of in the New Testament.  The majority of these sufferers are brethren in Christ, part of the family of God who look to Him in faith to fulfill their many needs.  Most of these people have no options left except their hardship position which they endure with faith. 

Please, if you would consider this request—Fr. Nektarios is doing his best to raise enough money to purchase pigs that will feed 200 needy families in Kosovo-Metohija this Christmas.  One pig costs $100 and will feed a family for two weeks.  When there is hardship and someone comes alongside to help, those benefitted give thanks to God for their benefactor.  And, the Lord in His goodness does not forget the beneficence done in His Name.  He rewards it eternally. 

Here, beloveds, is an opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of those whom you will never likely meet in this life, nor will they be able to repay you.  But you will sense their thanks resounding in your heart.  You may well meet them in the next life and receive an eternal reward for blessed benevolence.   

With this in mind, would you be willing to provide a Christmas meal that will last some days for the needy in Kosovo-Metohija this season?  Can you fund one or more pig roasts?  Can you fund part of a pig roast?  Would you and a relative or a handful of friends combine resources to buy a roast?  One person cannot do everything but many joining together can accomplish a lot.  You can be the cause of much rejoicing and thanksgiving to God this Christmas.  Your gift will be as to Christ Himself. 

Here’s how to make a donation: 

Decani Monastery Relief Fund
C/O Very Rev. Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes
2618 West Bannock Street
Boise, Idaho 83702-4705

The Decani Monastery Relief Fund collects monies throughout the year to meet on-going needs.  If you can donate toward a holiday meal or to meet other on-going needs throughout the year, God bless and reward you! 

Some of the ministries of the Decani Monastery Relief Fund include: support of six soup kitchens and four schools, provisions for local homeless shelters, churches, and monasteries; direct assistance for needy families, children and elderly through payment for medical care/surgical procedures, and funding for the purchase of necessary utilities and food.  The Fund assists in purchasing firewood during winter months for homes & schools and seeks to provide a whole pig (i.e., pork roast, meat which will last a couple weeks) for needy families during the festive holiday seasons of Christmas and Pascha.  

Fr. Nektarios Serfes, on behalf of The Decani Monastery Relief Fund, thanks you all from the depths of his heart. 

Your sister in Christ,
Presbytera Candace

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The 12 Days of Christmas--they're when?

Dear all,  

This is one of my all-time favorite articles and I like to share it with other Orthodox brothers & sisters during the month of December.  The Twelve Days of Christmas are, indeed, Orthodox!

~May your Twelve Days of Christmas be blessed~ 

Love in Christ,
Presbytera Candace 

From the web site of St. Luke the Evangelist Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois:

The Twelve Days of Christmas - They're When?
By Pearl Homiak

Believe it or not, December 25th is the first day of Christmas.  You'd never know it, especially if you happen to be shopping any time after Halloween.  Plastic crèches, soldiers, and Santa Clauses; Christmas trees, colored and sometimes blinking lights; red ribbons, candy canes, and homes and lawns with varying degrees of lighted decorations-all begin to mushroom each year from the beginning of November, and sometimes even sooner. 

I remember that when I was very young Christmas was hardly even mentioned before Thanksgiving.  No one that we knew put up a Christmas tree until a few days before Christmas (December 25th; "Orthodox Christmas" took place on January 7th in those days.  However, most Orthodox people decorated for Christmas on December 25th, which was celebrated as a gift-giving day. January 7th was reserved for the religious observance of Christmas).  Even department stores held off until their day-after-Thanksgiving sales.  Christmas parties took place after Christmas, and people sang and played recordings of Christmas carols from Christmas Eve until New Year's Day or even up to Epiphany.  The Christmas season was a meaningful time back then, but what is it now? 

There is a song we all know called "The Twelve Days of Christmas" that describes gift giving over a period of time-twelve days.  St. Ephraim the Syrian first mentioned the period of the "twelve days," according to one source, sometime before the year 400.  The Council of Tours made it official in 597. This period of time begins at Christmas and ends at Epiphany. 

The origin of the song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas," has been recently disputed. I had no idea it was more than a cute song until a friend of mine e-mailed an explanation of it to me a few years ago.  According to the missive I received, the song was actually a "catechism song" used by Catholics in England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  The song was supposedly used to teach children the tenets of the faith during this period, when law forbade practicing Catholicism.  As such, the song's gifts and other images have the following religious representations (compiled from various sources):
  • True love = God
  • Me = every baptized person
  • Partridge = Jesus Christ, who, like a bird, will protect God's defenseless children
  • Pear tree = the Cross, which was made from a tree.
  • 2 Turtle doves = the Old and New Testaments; also, two turtle doves were sacrificed when Jesus was first brought to the temple,
  • 3 French hens = faith, hope, and charity (sacrificial giving); also, gold, frankincense, and myrrh from the Wise Men
  • 4 Calling birds = the four Gospels and/or the four Evangelists
  • 5 Golden rings = the first five books of the Old Testament (the Pentateuch) which gives the history of man's fall from grace
  • 6 Geese a-laying = the six days of creation
  • 7 Swans a-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:6-8); also, the seven sacraments
  • 8 Maids a-milking = the eight Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10); also, milking symbolizes Christ's love for us
  • 9 Ladies dancing = the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)
  • 10 Lords a-leaping = the Ten Commandments
  • 11 Pipers piping = the eleven faithful Apostles
  • 12 Drummers drumming = the twelve points of the Apostles Creed; also, the twelve Apostles preaching
Recently I came across a different source of the song.  It seems that several centuries ago in France children played a non-religious memory game called "The Twelve Days of Christmas."  Each child recited a verse of the song. If someone missed a verse he/she had a consequence.  This game was apparently first recorded in a book published in England in the late 18th century.  However, the game could have been known for a long time before that.  Further, the religious application of it might have been based on the French game in the first place. Who knows?  And, anyway, is it really important?  There is more than one way to convey the tenets of faith, and singing representative songs is one way to do it. 

We still hear the song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas," but it has nothing to do with Christianity.  (I haven't found any information about children today playing a game called by the same name).  Sadly, many modern-day children don't know the real story of Christmas, of Christ's Nativity. For them Christmas is only a great decorating, celebrating, and present-getting time that happens to begin revving up after Halloween and reaches its high point on December 25th.  (Even Thanksgiving gets minimized).  After that, everything returns to "normal," except for more celebrating on New Year's Eve. 

Maybe people think the "twelve days of Christmas" start on December 13th and are the most important shopping days before Christmas.  To some people "the twelve days of Christmas" might even be the twelve Saturday-and-Sunday-department-store-best-sale-days between Halloween and Christmas (there really are twelve Saturdays and Sundays during this time, and don't most people shop then)? 

I see nothing wrong with shopping well in advance for the sake of my personal economy and more unique and unhurried gift selection.  (In fact, one year I actually got all of my Christmas shopping done before advent started.  The only store I went to during advent was the grocery story, and that as rarely as I could.  What a meaningful advent and Christmas I had that year!).  However, the untimely pre-season decorating, the never-ending-department-store-carol-playing, and the during-advent Christmas partying are too much for me.  I'm all for getting things back into perspective.  We shouldn't allow ourselves to be dictated to by advertising and department store companies.  Let's put the celebration of Christmas back where it belongs. 

Awhile back I decided to make changes in my Christmas-related habits to refocus my celebration of Christ's Nativity.  I stopped playing tapes of Christmas carols during advent.  Instead, I started playing them on Christmas day.  We also continued to turn the TV off during advent, something we have done for more than twenty years (except for one chaotic year). 

Over the last several years I have deliberately been sending my Christmas cards after December 25th when I can truly say, "Christ is Born! Glorify Him!"  It just seems to make more sense that way.  While everyone else is watching TV or snoozing after Christmas dinner, I sit down after the dishes are done and write out my Christmas cards.  If I send out a Christmas letter, I write it then.  Within the next couple of days, I mail out my cards with joy, rather than the hurry-up-let's-get-this-over-with anxiety that plagues pre-Christmas card-senders.  If I'm not home for Christmas, then I get the cards ready for mailing the next day.  So if you receive a Christmas card from me shortly after Christmas, it's not late.  It's right on time! 

I like the idea of Christmas starting instead of ending on December 25th.  We usually don't celebrate our own birthdays until the day they occur or later.  So why do we, in effect, celebrate Jesus Christ's birthday (Nativity) so long in advance?  Christmas trees and outdoor decorations could still be put up ahead of time.  However, they don't have to be turned on until Christmas Eve.  After all, no one would light the candles on a birthday cake two months before the birthday party. 

It doesn't take much effort to make these changes, but it does feel weird at first.  Yet it's not a matter of bucking the establishment.  It's really all about getting things back into perspective.  And it just makes sense. 

Our society has come a long way from St. Ephraim the Syrian's statement about the significant twelve-day period between Christmas and Epiphany.  However, I question our ultimate destination.  We seem to proclaim Christmas earlier and earlier as time goes on… Focusing our celebration of Christmas after December 25th could help us do that. 

The Twelve Days of Christmas became important to western Christians many centuries ago.  However, this period ultimately degenerated to become filled with superstitions, fear, and other negative elements.  The song," The Twelve Days of Christmas," was used to teach spiritual truths, then it, too, degenerated, becoming a cute folksong.  From now on let's limit the pre-Christmas hustle and bustle.  Let's use the real "twelve days"-between Christmas and Epiphany--to pull away from the over commercialization of Christ's Nativity.  Let's start making the Twelve Days of Christmas something special and joyful-a real celebration of Christ's birth-for us in America and for our children. We will be glad we did. 

Click here for the Christian catechism hidden in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” song…http://www.cresourcei.org/cy12days.html 

The above is not an Eastern Orthodox site—however, it gives credence to the celebration of the Twelve Days and makes reference to fundamentals of the Christian faith embedded into a familiar Christmas song.