Orthodox Thought for the Day


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

On cleaning the whole cup

Even when your body does nothing, sin can be active in your mind.  When your soul inwardly repulses the evil one’s attack by means of prayer, attention, remembrance of death, godly sorrow and mourning, the body, too, takes its share of holiness, having acquired freedom from evil actions.  This is what the Lord meant by saying that someone who cleans the outside of the cup has not cleansed it inside, but clean the inside and the whole cup will be clean (ct. Matt 23:25-26). 

On admittance to the marriage feast

People who trust solely in the apparent righteousness of the outward way of their life are like the foolish virgins (cf. Mt. 25:1-12), who did indeed preserve their outward virginity, yet in spite of this were not admitted to the marriage-feast; they also had some oil in their vessels, that is, they possessed some virtues and external achievements and some gifts of grace, so that their lamps remained alight for a certain time. But because of negligence, ignorance and laziness they were not provident, and did not pay careful attention to the hidden swarm of passions energized within them by the evil spirits. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Pray and petition in behalf of recently abducted bishops

From the desk of a brother in Christ, Fr. Deacon Nicholas B: 
(printed with permission)
As you are aware, the suffering of our fellow Christians in Syria has come to the forefront of our minds because of the kidnapping of Metropolitan Paul of Aleppo, the blood brother of the Patriarch of Antioch, and his brother Metropolitan of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Aleppo. I wanted to share a wonderful resource for following the events there - Notes on Arab Orthodoxy. I've been so touched by the courage and faith of the posts (especially given the context of Holy Week), that I wanted to share some profound quotes and the link with all of you - both for edification and also for prayers for those who will not be able to celebrate the services because of these tragic events.   
First, a letter from the Patriarch of Antioch, John X:

"Therefore I call on everyone, faithful and clergy, to approach Palm Sunday with a new spirit, remembering the Passion of our Lord and connecting it with what we are living today. Let the Resurrection occur in every human heart, as the Lord has raised Lazarus from the dead. Let us work to have Christ triumphantly enter into the world's heart through our service and ministry, as He entered victoriously to Jerusalem."
From Father Younes Younes:

"It slipped their [referring to the kidnappers'] minds that there is someone who preceded them in their sin and dared to conspire against the Good Shepherd and to crucify the Lord of Glory. He thought that the affair would end with a stone rolled over the door of the tomb. Did those who kidnapped Sayyedna Paul and Sayyedna Youhanna not learn that the Shepherd was struck but the sheep were not scattered, since they were established on the rock of faith? That the Shepherd was crucified and His Church was born from His pierced side? That the Shepherd was buried, but rose victorious over death?
And one more, from Archimandrite Touma Bitar:

Now, we pray to God that He safely return the two bishops. This comforts, strengthens, and makes firm, especially the faltering among us! But let us pray to God first of all that He strengthen the two bishops, wherever they are, to make them perfectly firm in faith and in bearing witness to Christ the Lord, and that He repel from them the snares, so that they will not grow weak. This is part of the battle that is not against flesh and blood, because "our struggle... is against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12)...  
All three of these posts are beautiful and inspiring, and I highly recommend visiting the website and reading them in their entirety. There is an online petition to the White House if you would like to participate in signing here. You can see the statement of the Assembly of Bishops to Secretary of State, John Kerry, here.
Please continue your prayers for the two hierarchs and for their flocks and all those suffering on behalf of the Faith.

Focusing on Holy Monday & Tuesday

On the All-Comely Joseph as a type of Christ

On the Wise and Foolish Virgins


Negligence in one's holy calling

He who has been counted worthy of the heavenly calling, and by this calling has been sanctified, if he grows negligent in it, although washed becomes defiled: counting the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a profane thing and despising the Spirit of grace, (Heb 10:29), he hears the words, Friend, how came you to be here without a wedding garment?  For the banquet of the saints is spotless and pure; for many are called, but few chosen, (Mat 22:12). 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

A sermon for Palm Sunday

by Nick Brown


Throughout the entire history of the known world, men have conquered other men. Rulers have conquered cities. Emperors have conquered entire nations. At times, Kings have strived to conquer the entire world. But there remains one uncharted territory that has eluded men of power all throughout history. This unconquered territory is the human heart, and its sole conqueror is Christ the king.

Today we celebrate together one of the great feasts of the Church calendar — the feast of Palm Sunday. Today we gather together to celebrate Christ’s entry into the city of Jerusalem. Today we celebrate Christ as the king who enters our own personal Jerusalem — our hearts. Today’s feast day is a momentary feast of joy and celebration, because tonight we begin the final leg of our journey towards Pascha. Our mood changes from one of joy this morning to one of solemnity, almost of sorrow this evening as we lead up to the great sacrifice that Christ performed for us on the cross.

The feast of Palm Sunday has been celebrated in our Church since the earliest days of Christianity, but the use of Palms in connection with religious celebrations goes all the way back to Old Testament times. Oddly enough Palm trees did not grow around the city of Jerusalem, and people would often buy imported Palms for religious celebrations, in particular The Feast of Tabernacles celebrated at the temple in Jerusalem. The Palm branch was used as a visual tool proclaiming the sovereignty of God as the true king of the Israelites.

With the expectation of the Messiah, and the events of Christ’s ministry on earth, word travelled quickly around Judea that Jesus was the one whom the prophets had spoken about and whom everyone was expecting. Yesterday Christ performed a miracle by raising Lazarus from the dead, the miracle that foreshadowed his glorious resurrection next Sunday. Now everyone is convinced that this is the Messiah-king who will save the Israelites. And Christ fulfils the prophecy of Zachariah, entering Jerusalem on a donkey. All of Israel is preparing to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, and Christ enters also as the salvific king who will save Israel not from the tyranny of the Roman Empire, but from the curse of death through His own death and resurrection.

For Orthodox Christians around the world, we celebrate these events as they happened not only in the past, but as they also happen today. We celebrate Christ as the king who enters our hearts, our own personal Jerusalem. But is Christ able to enter? Is there room in our hearts for Christ to rule as king? Often the doors of our hearts are locked. Often Christ is unable to enter because there is already another king of the heart — ourselves. And how do we solve this problem of trying to let Christ in? How do we instill within ourselves the one thing that is missing- God?

The answer is to surrender. Surrender to the will of God. Surrender your life to the one who gave you life. We are constantly bound and held captive by the temporal things of this life. We are prisoners of our own selves, of this world, of our careers, of money, of the politicians who rule over us, we are even slaves to our own passions. The only way to find peace, to find true happiness, to experience true love is to surrender yourself to God, to make Him your king, to live in total communion with Him. And the way in which we turn our hearts from the kingdom of the self into the kingdom of God is through constant daily prayer, reflection, and meditation, frequent Holy Communion, frequent Confession, reading and understanding the Scriptures. So many people complain that they can’t find time to come to Church, they can’t find time to pray and read the Scriptures, they can’t find time to fast, or go to Confession and Holy Communion. The reason they don’t have time is that they are slaves to their own selves, to their own will. If we don’t have time for God, then why on earth should God have any time for us? But God always has time for us. He is constantly knocking at the door to our hearts, to our lives and asking to come in. Some of the Church Fathers go so far as to liken God to a crazed lover who constantly seeks to be with the one that He loves — us, and who would do absolutely anything to be with the people that He loves.

Today, as we receive our Palm branches at the end of the Divine Liturgy, let us take them to our homes and place them somewhere where we can always see them. Let the Palms remind us that Christ is the king of our families, that Christ is the king of our hearts, that Christ is the only true answer to happiness and meaning in our lives. And if we do proclaim Christ as our king, let us try and make time for Him in our daily life, let us be reminded that He is the one with whom we will be spending eternity. Let us be reminded that our careers, our education, our finances, our homes, all of the basic material needs in our lives are only temporary. Let us prioritise and place Christ the king as the primary concern in our lives. It is only when we have done this that we will find true peace and happiness in such a confused and complex world. Amen.

From Greek Orthodox Church of Saint George, Brisbane QLD

Commemorating Lazarus Saturday


Friday, April 26, 2013

Thoughts on love, gratitude, illness and presumption

If we love Christ, all things will change in our lives.  We do not love Him in order to receive some reward such as health.  Rather we love Him out of gratitude, without thinking of anything, only of the love of God.  Nor should we pray with any ulterior motive and say to God, ‘Make such and such a person well, so that he may come close to You.’  It is not right to point out ways and means to God.  How can we presume to say to God, ‘make me well’?  What can we tell to Him who knows everything?

Beware: the sin of anger

A man who is angry, even if he were to raise the dead, is not acceptable to God. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Bear with one another and pardon

Besides loving each other, we must bear with each other and pardon, ‘forgive them that trespass against us,’ in order that our Heavenly Father may ‘forgive us our trespasses,’ (Matthew 6:14).  Thus, with all your soul honor and love in every man the image of God, not regarding his sins, for God alone is Holy and without sin; and see how He loves us, how much He has created and still creates for us, punishing us mercifully and forgiving us bounteously and graciously.  Honor the man also, in spite of his sins, for he can always amend. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Check your heart when seeking God's will

If a man really sets his heart upon the will of God, God will enlighten a little child to tell that man what is His will.  But if a man does not truly desire the will of God, even if he goes in search of a prophet, God will put into the heart of the prophet a reply like the deception in his own heart. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Preparing for Holy Communion: a prayer to the Theotokos

O Mother of God, who surpasses every mind and word!  O Virgin who exceedest all earthly virginity, for even before the Divine birth was thou a Virgin beyond all virgins—and such didst thou remain both during and after the birth!   

Thee, O Lady do I beg, thee do I entreat, O merciful and man-befriending Mother of the merciful and man-befriending God:  defend me at this hour if ever thou wilt do so, for now am I most in need of thy protection and thy help. 

I am all a mire of filth and sin, a dwelling place of soul-corrupting passions.  Yet I intend to approach the all-pure and terrifying Mysteries of thy Son and God, and therefore do I suffer fear, and trembling embraces me because of the unbearable multitude of my sins. 

But if ever I am to remain without communion on the pretext of my unworthiness, then shall I fall into a great abyss of evil and bring upon myself great chastisement.  I anguish over both the first alternative and the second. 

To thee do I run; be kind to me, my all-pure Lady.  Take advantage of thy motherly boldness before thy Son and God, and gain for me forgiveness of my former sins.  Vouchsafe me to be made pure and enlightened by communion of the Mysteries, and show me how to spend the remainder of my life in repentance, purity and humility.  Remain always with me in my thoughts, words and deeds, in all the movements of my soul and body, instructing me, leading me and guiding me, deflecting from me all hostile powers, and preserving me and providing thy servant, however worthless, with thy grace in every way. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Don't be surprised if...

Do not be surprised if you fall every day and do not surrender. Stand your ground bravely and you may be sure that your guardian angel will respect your endurance. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

On the flowering of the Spirit within

The demons try to undermine your inward resolution by buffeting your souls with an untold variety of temptations.  Yet out of these many tribulations a garland is woven for you; Christ’s power ‘comes to its fullness in us in our weakness, (II Cor 12:9).  It is usually when our situation is most gloomy that the grace of the Spirit flowers within us.  ‘light has shone in the darkness for the righteous, (Ps 112:4 LXX), if, that is, ‘we hold fast to our confidence and the rejoicing of our hope firmly to the end,’ (Heb 3:6). 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

On carrying out the Lord's commandments

When we are compelled by our conscience to accomplish all the commandments of God, then we shall understand that the law of the Lord is faultless (cf Ps 19:8 LXX).  It is performed through our good actions, but cannot be perfected by men without God’s mercy. 

In time of tribulation

If a fierce storm of tribulations fall upon us, let us not be terror stricken as if we had to overcome the disaster in our own strength, since both our Counsel and our Strength is Christ, and through Him we can do all things, without Him nothing, Who, to confirm the preachers of the Gospel and the ministers of the mysteries, says, Lo, I am with you always even to the consummation of the age, (Mt 28:28).  And again He says, these things I have spoken to you that in Me you may have peace.  In this world you shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, because I have overcome the world, (Jn 16:33).  The promises, which are as plain as they can be, we ought not to let any causes of offense to weaken, lest we should seem ungrateful to God for making us His chosen vessels, since His assistance is powerful as His promises are true. 

Boston Marathon tragedy

People have started writing to me about the tragedy at the Boston Marathon yesterday.  What happened is deeply grievous.  We were coming back home from a few days of church service in New Hampshire where my husband has a temporary assignment.  We found out about what happened not long after arriving home.  

We have been spared the sorrow of knowing anyone personally who was killed or injured through the blasts.  But, in the relationship we share through our humanity, there is no one who is unaffected as we all share the same fragility and vulnerability throughout our lifetimes.  May God grant His mercy on all the souls which departed this life and all those injured, and otherwise traumatized persons, and all the families/friends affected.  What happened is no small thing. 

The Boston Metropolis mobilized right away to meet needs in a tangible way and his Eminence Metropolitan Methodios issued a statement yesterday afternoon.  See below:   

To the Reverend Clergy and Faithful Stewards of the Metropolis of Boston


We are all shocked with today's terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon.  Once again, evil reared its ugly head and countless of our fellow citizens have been victimized.  Our prayers and thoughts are with the victims and their families, as well as our governor, mayor, and police officials.  We stand by our law enforcement agencies and all the heroic first responders as they begin the process of fully investigating this act of terrorism, and bring to justice those responsible. 

Today is Patriot's Day during which we remember the heroes of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and the first battles of the American Revolutionary War.  Annually on this day, the historic Boston Marathon takes place as a long-standing tradition which brings together diverse people from across our community, the nation, and around the world, to celebrate the virtues of hard work and perseverance in one of the world’s most well-known sporting events.  Let us not be deterred by this cowardly act of hatred, but stand united in the exercise of freedom and justice, as we pray for peace and love to reign in our society.

I ask our parishes throughout the Metropolis to offer prayers for the repose of the souls of those who tragically lost their lives today, and to pray for the healing of all those who were injured.  May the God of Peace and Mercy bring His peace upon our community.  I pray that you and your loved ones are safe and secure.  We will continue to stay in touch as further details on this evolving tragedy emerge.  

With Archpastoral Love,
+ Metropolitan Methodios

Monday, April 15, 2013

Keeping God's commandments brings its reward

By keeping the Commandments the soul is purified and the mind, too, is enlightened and starts to function as nature intended it to.  The command of the Lord gives light and enlightens the eyes, (Ps. 19:8). 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

That which is truly needful

Discern the wiles of the enemy with the light of grace and, throwing yourself before God with tears, confess your weakness, counting yourself nothing, even though the deceiver tries to persuade you to think otherwise.  Do not even ask for spiritual gifts unless they contribute to your salvation and help you to remain humble.  Seek the knowledge that does not make you conceited, but leads you to the knowledge of God.  Pray to be released from the tyranny of the passions before you die, and to depart this life in a state of dispassion or--more humbly--of compassion for the sins of others. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Living God is the God of the penitent

Behold, let no one say, I have committed many sins—there can be no forgiveness for me.  He who says this does not know that God is the God of the penitent, that He came to earth not to save the righteous, but to call sinners to repentance, and that when someone repents the heavens rejoice over him. 

True repentance consists of withdrawing from sin and nurturing hatred for it.  For, lo, when someone says from his heart:  I have hated deceit and been repelled by it—then God accepts him with joy. 

But behold, also let no one dare to say:  I have not sinned.  He who says this is blind; he has shut his eyes.  He deceives himself and knows not that Satan is robbing him blind—both in word and deed and through thoughts.  For who can boast that he has an innocent heart and that all his senses are pure? 

No one is sinless, no one is clean of defilement, no man is free from guilt except Him alone Who for our sake was impoverished though He was rich.  He alone is sinless Who took upon Himself the sins of the world, wants all men to be saved, desires not the death of a sinner and is a lover of mankind, abundantly benevolent, kindhearted and sincerely loving. 

Let us also run to Him, for all sinners who have run to Him have found salvation. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Love humility

Do you wish to lead a proper life?  Exercise humility, for without it, it is impossible to lead a proper life.   

Do all your work in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ, and thus shall your fruits be carried up to heaven. 

A man begins to go astray when he withdraws from humility.  He who has abandoned God does the evil spirit oppress, as he did Saul. 

The enemy’s snares are smeared with honey.  He who is attracted by the sweetness of honey becomes caught in the snares and filled with all manner of woe. 

Love humility and you will never fall into the devil’s snare, for soaring on humility’s swift wings you will always remain above the enemy’s snares. 

Arrogance is like a very tall but rotten tree.  All of its branches are brittle and if someone climbs upon it, he immediately falls from the height he has attained. 

Blessed is he who is enriched with good hopes and illuminated with good thoughts: his glory is great and everlasting. 

Let us strive for sober attention, that we might recognize our sins and be constantly humbled, that we might not nurture, like the serpent, a high opinion of ourselves or wickedness. 

Let us love sobriety, that we might have a pure heart and that we might preserve the temple entrusted to us undefiled by sinful corruption. 

Wondrous is prayer accompanied by sighs and tears, especially if the tears are shed in secret. 

He who prays in his mind with faith beholds the Lord before himself.  For in Him do we live, move and exist. 

If your heart has been hardened, weep before the Lord, that He might shine upon you the illumination of knowledge and grant that with an ardent heart you might be carried up to Him. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A prayer of St. Dimitry of Rostov

Open, O doors and bolts of my heart, that Christ the King of Glory may enter!  Enter, O my Light, and enlighten my darkness, enter, O my Life, and resurrect my deadness; enter, O my Physician, and heal my wounds; enter, O Divine Fire, and burn up the thorns of my sins; ignite my inward parts and my heart with the flame of Thy love; enter, O my King, and destroy in me the kingdom of sin; sit on the throne of my heart and reign in me alone, O Thou, my King and Lord. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Martyrdom by crucifixion in 1918



The Martyric Death and Posthumous Miracles of
Archpriest Constantine Podgorsky (1918)
By Nikolai Kolchurinsky 

(Translated from the Russian-language journal
Pravoslavnaya Beseda [Moscow], no. 6, 2004)

The Transvolgan land is a land of varied peoples and varied speech:
Mordvinians, Chuvash and Russians; and, like peas in a field, Tartar
villages are scattered everywhere. But all are of one house—all are
under the protection of the Most Pure One, and the Grace of God
is everywhere, especially where there is faith in God
and faithfulness to Him to the end.…

Ever so quietly and brightly shines the August morning, but it does not seem so much like a summer day. All around is the broad, free expanse of the forested Mordvinian steppe.1 And amidst the meadows, amidst the fields and groves, is a village, in which there stands a wooden church. I enter and hear the singing of the Liturgy—it is our Slavonic Liturgy, but the melody is unusual. It’s similar to Mordvinian folk music, but so beautiful that it seems marvelous, even to one who is familiar with it.… Three elderly women are singing, but their voices sound so heartfelt, so pure. Inside the church it’s quiet—there is only a barely audible, soft conversation in Mordvinian between some elderly women parishioners by the candle-box.

1 The Mordvinian Republic is located approximately 220 miles southeast of Moscow.—Ed.

This is the village of Bolshoye Ignatovo, and the Church of Archangel Michael. What has brought me to this remote settlement at the junction of the Mordvinia, Chuvash and Gorky (Nizhni Novgorod) provinces, where it seems as though the din and the nervous race of the twenty-first century cannot be felt; where it seems as though you’re living in another time; where in the whole large village (even though it’s the regional center) there is only one two-storied house, and the rest are single-storied, simple, rural homes?

In this place, far away from large cities, amazing events have occurred and continue to occur, which at the present time are attracting masses of pilgrims from the neighboring Transvolgan provinces. Why are so many striving to get to this village, to this small wooden church?

Here are the relics of a New Martyr. At the beginning of the twentieth century Archpriest Constantine Podgorsky lived and served as a pastor in the neighboring village of Kirzhemany.  He was a zealous shepherd and benefactor: though he possessed agricultural lands and income, the benefits from them did not go to his family, despite the fact that he had ten children. With this money he built schools in the neighboring villages, where he himself taught reading and writing to the children.

His matushka likewise taught school, and in addition they both headed the Temperance Society. Fr. Constantine and his matushka were respected and loved by the local residents, and it has come down to us that Batiushka possessed the special gift of being able to see a person’s secret sins and, revealing them, to skillfully bring him to repentance.…

The revolution came to Transvolga. The straightforward and honest Fr. Constantine remained the same man under the new authorities, and when the terrible news of the death of the Royal Family reached him, he, “without respect of persons,” began to serve Pannikhidas (memorial services) for them. The “comrades” quickly took notice of him: such a man obviously hindered those who wanted to “level the churches and prisons to the ground” (though, as we know, things turned out quite the opposite as far as prisons were concerned).

The last drop that overflowed the cup of patience of the new authority’s representatives was the Liturgy served by Fr. Constantine on November 7, 1918.1 This was the day on which the revolutionaries, who had come to Kirzhemany to conduct the requisitioning of farm produce (the “delegates,” as they were later called in the village), were trying to organize a festive meeting in honor of the first anniversary of the October revolution. But for some reason the anniversary of the new authority did not call forth the anticipated enthusiasm from the local residents. The “delegates,” having finished the agricultural requisitioning, came for the grain and cleared away everything, including what belonged to those whose sons were fighting in the Red Army.

For the most part, the people did not go to the meeting, but went to church and celebrated the feast of Great-martyr Demetrius of Thessalonika. Also on that day in the village, according to a customary old pious tradition, the people shared grain with those who had had a poor harvest. They shared voluntarily: He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack (II Cor. 8:15).

The next day the militant proletariat burst into the church during services and, tearing the priestly vestments from Fr. Constantine, dragged him out into the street in his underwear and began to beat him cruelly. They beat him for several hours, as the old residents of Kirzhemany later told their children and grandchildren. Fr. Constantine, who was fairly strong, could perhaps have put up some resistance—if not to save his life then at least to save himself from terrible sufferings—but he resolved to endure everything to the end.… Later, after the beating, they harnessed the priest to a light carriage and drove him through the whole village. The villagers, stricken with fear, locked themselves in their homes and did not dare show themselves on the street. When the sufferer had no more strength to pull the carriage, they put a horse-collar on his neck and led him throughout the village, not ceasing to beat him with a whip and with whatever else came to hand. (Fr. Constantine’s body showed signs of the beating: a fractured skull, a broken-off finger, and the marks of the whipping.) At the end, they dragged the now weakened priest by the hair to the high church porch and crucified him on the church doors.…
1 October 25 according to the Julian Calendar, which was still in effect in Russia in 1917.—Ed.

The next morning the church warden and the guard took Fr. Constantine’s body down and, dressing him in priestly vestments, laid him in a pine coffin into which they placed, along with the Gospel, the nails with which Fr. Constantine had been affixed. The “delegates” did not permit them to bury the priest in the cemetery, and Fr. Constantine was buried in a vacant plot of land. God’s punishment did not wait long: on the return trip to the city both “delegates” died when they fell through the ice along with the cart on which they were traveling.…

With time this horrible story was almost erased from the people’s memory. The majority of the witnesses were afraid even to hint at what had happened. But all the same, some passed on the truth about the crucified sufferer to their children and grandchildren, and showed them his burial site where, as local inhabitants affirmed, several healings had taken place during the Soviet years. At the place of his burial people had placed Orthodox crosses, but each time the authorities removed them, and in the end the spot was forgotten.

In 1992, Fr. Alexander Nikitin, the superior of the Archangel Michael Church in Bolshoye Ignatovo, situated a few miles from Kirzhemany, wanted to locate the grave site of Fr.  Constantine, about whose sufferings the local residents had informed him. But he only succeeded in finding the site in 2001, when the niece of one of Fr. Constantine’s spiritual daughters pointed out the approximate location of the grave.

Despite the fact that Fr. Constantine’s grave site was only approximately known, on the morning of June 13 Fr. Alexander along with several local inhabitants decided to carry out the transfer of the martyr’s remains. As amazing as it might seem, when they began to dig after serving a Pannikhida, they immediately discovered the grave and became witnesses to something extraordinary. “I was bewildered in soul; there was a panic within me”—this is how Fr. Alexander subsequently described his feelings, and with good reason. Barely had they removed the turf from the surface of the ground when everyone present immediately began to sense an amazing fragrance. At a depth of about six feet they found the coffin, entirely whole, with straw beneath it, which was also intact. (It was a local custom to spread grass or straw in a grave and then place the coffin on top of it.) When they opened the coffin they saw within it the priest’s body, dressed in incorrupt gold vestments, and a Gospel with a bookmark in it. The Gospel could be leafed through and read. The body itself, from which proceeded the amazing fragrance, was likewise incorrupt and light-colored. There were signs of the terrible beatings on his body, and on his hands were the wounds from the nails. In the coffin were four large forged nails, obviously the ones with which Fr. Constantine had been affixed. The body was so well preserved that a forensic expert who was present at the disinterment of the body was even able to determine the cause of death (after eighty-three years!), which was loss of blood. When the relics were brought up to the surface, several springs of pure water began to flow in the grave, where the coffin had been. 

After the body had been placed on the ground it continued to emit the fragrance and, despite all apprehensions, was not subject to any corruption whatever for a significant length of time; it only quickly began to darken, and soon became a dark brown color, which is often the case with holy relics. Soon afterwards, with the bishop’s blessing, Fr. Constantine’s body was re-buried in the altar of the Archangel Michael Church in Bolshoye Ignatovo. (There had been a large wooden church in Kirzhemany, but it had been totally destroyed in the 1970s, and the remains had been carried off for firewood. However, to this day pious residents have preserved pieces of the doors on which the martyr had been crucified.) The broken-off finger, which became separated when Fr. Constantine’s body was exhumed, was permitted to be preserved separately. It was placed in a special small shrine which is carefully kept in the altar of the Archangel Michael Church in Ignatovo.

Fr. Alexander brought the finger out of the altar for me. Seeing it, I fell to my knees. “What are you doing? He hasn’t been glorified yet,” I heard from Fr. Alexander. Such is the unalterable norm of Church discipline: if he has not been glorified, then this is not a holy relic, and only Pannikhidas can be served. But all the same I bowed down and kissed that holy object, feeling with my lips that the finger was soft, like that of a living man, and sensing the wondrous fragrance that proceeded from it. (According to Fr. Alexander, neither the strength nor the nature of the fragrance has changed since the day the relics were exhumed.)

But even all of these soul-shaking facts do not exhaust the astounding and glorious events connected with Fr. Constantine Podgorsky. After the uncovering of the relics healings began to take place, and from such illnesses before which medicine is powerless: childhood cerebral palsy, epilepsy and cancer.… Fr. Alexander related something that took place before everyone’s eyes: a child suffering from cerebral palsy was brought to the coffin so he could kiss the relics. After this the wheelchair was rolled back, but the child got on his feet and went over to the coffin himself to kiss the relics a second time.… And the two singers, whose voices sounded so beautiful in the church, turned out also to have been healed after both had been told they needed surgery.

The body of the Hieromartyr is hidden beneath the earth, but people come and ask for simple Pannikhidas to be served. They leave, and then send letters of gratitude to Fr. Alexander—letters in which they inform him of their healings. Fr. Alexander is a thorough man. “The truth has no need of embellishment; it speaks for itself,” is his thought. He asks all those who have received healings through prayer at the relics of the New Martyr to send him medical statements testifying to the veracity of the healing.

“How many of these statements have you received, Fr. Alexander, over the past three years,” I asked him, thinking to myself that he would probably say several dozen. “Well, as it turns out just yesterday Fr. Andrew and I counted them—there are 1,024. And there is a whole pile of letters without certification—but those are, for the most part, letters about healings from demonic possession, and doctors don’t issue medical statements for those.” The truth speaks for itself.

The only thing holding back the canonization of Fr. Constantine is the absence of documentation witnessing to the fact that he had actually been a victim of repression in 1918. Information on the tragedy that took place on November 8, 1918, in Kirzhemany has as its source only the oral tradition of the local inhabitants. The times were such that a scrupulous system of shadowing and monitoring was still a long way off for the NKVD, and everything was decided “situationally,” without trial or investigation, according to the principle: “Silence, you orators! You have the floor, Comrade Mauser!”
1 One couldn’t say it more accurately than did the poet (Mayakovsky).

But Fr. Alexander is at peace: “How long did it take before St. Seraphim was glorified? When it’s pleasing to God, it will all work out.…”  The truth speaks for itself.… If we recall the Lives of the ancient Martyrs, we will find an abundance of instances of the incorruption of their relics and a great multitude of striking miracles connected with them. As regards the Russian New Martyrs of the twentieth century, incorrupt relics are rarely encountered (the holy relics of Nun-Martyr Elizabeth being one of the few exceptions). Likewise, one does not hear about a multitude of remarkable miracles from their holy relics, as is the case with the relics of the martyrs of the first centuries. And perhaps the thought will slither into the heads of some: “Were they really martyrs?” But the events at Kirzhemany and Ignatovo put the dot on the “I,” and it remains for the most faultfinding of skeptics to agree. 

Yes, we live in the twenty-first century but, as it turns out, events have taken place now that are similar to those that took place in the first centuries of Christianity. When I left Ignatovo, I thought, “Is there another place like this anywhere else on earth?”  I don’t know.…
1 From the poem “Left March” by Vladimir V. Mayakovsky (1918).—Ed.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

On the Holy Eucharist

Strive to increase from day to day your faith in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist, and never cease to wonder at the miraculous mystery of it, reflecting on how God manifests Himself to you in the guise of bread and wine, and becomes essentially present in you, to make you more holy, righteous and blessed. For blessed are they who do not see, yet believe; according to the words of the Savior (cf. Jn. 20:29). Try to set alight in yourself a warm desire for this sacrament and to make progress every day both in your fervent readiness to do only God's will, and in spiritual wisdom, making it the queen and ruler over all your actions of the spirit, the soul and the body. Every time you take communion, while partaking of this bloodless sacrifice, offer yourself as a sacrifice to God, that is, profess your complete readiness to endure every affliction, every sorrow and every wrong you may meet in the course of your life, for the sake of the love of God, Who sacrificed Himself for us. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

St. Gregory Palamas on holy almsgiving

You should secretly give from what you have to those in need, so that you receive from God, Who sees in secret, a hundred times more, as well as life eternal in the age to come, (cf. Mt 6:4, Mk 10:30). 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

On the need to uphold one another

Learn from your own experience to sympathize with those in trouble, and never to terrify with destructive despair those who are in danger, nor harden them with severe speeches, but rather restore them with gentle and kindly consolations and as the wise Solomon says, ‘Spare not to deliver those who are led forth to death, and to redeem those who are to be slain, (Prov 24:11) and after the example of our Savior, break not the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax (cf Matt 12:20), and ask of the Lord that grace, by means of which you yourself may faithfully learn both in deed and power to sing, ‘the Lord has given me a learned tongue that I should know how to uphold by word him that is weary (Isaiah 50:4): for no one could bear the devices of the enemy, or extinguish or repress those carnal fires which burn with a sort of natural flame, unless God’s grace assisted our weakness, or protected and supported it.