Orthodox Thought for the Day


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Rejoice and be exceedingly glad...

Blessed Are You When Men Shall Revile You and Persecute You and Say All Manner of Evil Against You Falsely, For My Sake. Rejoice and Be Exceeding Glad, For Great is Your Reward in Heaven

March 30, 2014
Our Lord’s words are “powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow,” for the Word and Son of God is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). He knows that listeners to His voice desire more than to marvel at the blessed poor in spirit, meek, merciful, and peacemakers. They want to become what they admire and the Lord already begins to accomplish that transformation by shifting from speaking about them in the third person to speaking to you in the second and to the blessedness that is yours if you follow Him, swimming upstream in rapids cascading down in the direction of vice, and in the process you find that others revile you, others persecute you, and others slander you for the Lord’s sake, and yet you rejoice and are exceedingly glad!
Feeling persecuted, reviled, and slandered in a dark and dangerous world where no one can be trusted is not a healthy state when considered apart from Christ. In fact, it could serve as an apt description of a paranoid personality disorder. Those suffering with such a disorder fear that they are not capable of handling threatening situations on their own and believe that trust cannot be given to anyone. They have very little self-efficacy and ill-boding over many things. Not so, for the Christian Christ calls us to become. Christians who face reviling and persecution for His sake also are able, like Saint Paul, to confess: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phillipians 4:13), for “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us” (Romans 8:37). They trust in the Lord with all their heart and become “like Mount Zion, which cannot be removed but abideth forever” (Psalm 125:1). And if a limited range of choices and narrowed freedom of inner movement characterize those who suffer from psychopathology, those who are persecuted for righteousness on the contrary feel more freedom, as Saint Athanasius observes when he writes, “the more the enemies hem us in, let us be all the more at liberty; although they revile us, let us come together” ( Letter 11).
No stranger to persecution and revilement himself, Saint Nikolai of Zicha wrote these words to a suffering woman, “According to Christ’s teaching—blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake—those who are put to shame and slandered for Christ’s sake will rejoice and be glad in the homeland of angels, along with these people, happy are those who trust their Savior for they shall be saved, those who burn with love toward the Creator and His creatures, for they will be crowned with unfading glory, those who sacrifice their earthly life, for they shall obtain life in heaven. This is the true and unceasing happiness which our Lord has revealed and declared to mankind. For this kind of happiness, kings have sacrificed their crowns, the rich men their riches, martyrs their lives—as easily as the trees cast away their leaves in the fall” (Letter 89 “To An Unfortunate Woman Who Asks, ‘Why Does the Gospel Not Talk About Happiness?”).
How do Christians manage such heroic and free acts with the ease of trees shedding their leaves? How can they rejoice and be glad in situations that would leave most people, even the most psychologically healthy, with only the most negative options from among which to choose, such as shuddering at such situations, being afraid, becoming angry, or becoming despondent? The answer is that they have become like Christ, the sole purpose of the Beatitudes and incarnation of God the Word. They “have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) and look at the world in a radically different way through the Light of God that illumines and warms all of creation. Saint John Chrysostom in his second Eutropian homily— delivered after Eutropius had fled authorities and left the sanctuary offered by the Church—said to the Christians present, “I saw the swords and I meditated on Heaven; I expected death, and I thought about the resurrection; I beheld the sufferings of this lower world, and I took account of the heavenly prizes; I observed the devices of the enemy, and I meditated on the heavenly crown: for the occasion of the contest was sufficient for encouragement and consolation. True, I was being forcibly dragged away, but I suffered no insult from the act; for there is only one real insult, namely sin: and should the whole world insult you, yet if you do not insult yourself you are not insulted. The only real betrayal is the betrayal of the conscience: do not betray your own conscience, and no one can betray you.”
Christians always have an additional option. They can always rejoice and be exceedingly glad, because they can always turn their minds from earth to heaven, from death to life, from man to God. This is the secret of the martyrs and of all Christians truly worthy of that most honorable and majestic name. Again, Saint Nicholai of Zycha in his Prayers by the Lake, once wrote, “When your mortal brothers hear about your sufferings they consider them unbelievable and unbearable, for they can really imagine themselves only in your suffering and not in your love, in the meaning of your sufferings. Oh, if they could only imagine themselves in your love also! All your sufferings would seem like nothing to them, just as they seemed to you. Just as the cold rain and the howling of the wind seem like nothing to a mother as she hurries home to her child. To one who has a goal greater than the world, the world can do nothing. One who hurries to a home wider than space, space cannot contain. One who has a love more precious than temporal creations, can neither be impeded nor trampled by time. Across all rugged terrain and through all stormy tempests Love leads His beloved ones and draws them to Himself.” And so, it should come as no surprise at all that “they rejoice and are exceedingly glad, for great is their reward in heaven,” a reward they already experience in the depths of their humble, meek, merciful, pure, and peaceful hearts that have become living tabernacles of the Son of God.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Sunday of St. John Climacus--thru prayer & fasting

Then one of the crowd answered and said,
“Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit.
And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down;
he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth,
and becomes rigid.
So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not.
He answered him and said,
“O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you?
How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me“.
Then they brought him to Him.
And when he saw Him, immediately the spirit convulsed him
and he fell on the ground and wallowed, foaming at the mouth.
So He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him? “.
And he said,
“From childhood. And often he has thrown him
both into the fire and into the water to destroy him.
But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us“.
Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes“.
Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears,
“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief! “.
When Jesus saw that the people came running together,
He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it:
“Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you,
come out of him and enter him no more!"
Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him.
And he became as one dead, so that many said,
“He is dead."
But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.
And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately,
“Why could we not cast it out? "
So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting“.
Then they departed from there and passed through Galilee,
and He did not want anyone to know it.
For He taught His disciples and said to them,
“The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men,
and they will kill Him.
And after He is killed,
He will rise the third day.“

Mark 9: 17-31
As Christians, we often experience the same frustrations
that the father of the demon possessed child
and the disciples did in today’s Gospel.
Many times people come to the Church
seeking help from God in their prayers,
but their prayers go unanswered.
And many times we as Christians want to help
some family suffering in some great need,
and yet we are unable to provide the particular spiritual help they need,
and we see them languishing in their pain despite our best efforts to help them.

Jesus tells the disciples
that in the particular case brought to them
by the father in today’s Gospel Lesson,
that the only way to resolve the spiritual problem
is through prayer and fasting.
The Gospel Lesson is given to us
at this time of year because we are in Great Lent
that season where we are supposed
to  be engaged in intense prayer and fasting.
And in today’s lesson
we come to understand fasting and prayer
as an act of love for others.
For the ‘self-denial‘ of Lenten fasting
isn’t praised in today’s Gospel lesson
as a means for us to attain Salvation for our own souls,
but rather as a means to drive out evil spirits from the world.
 We aren’t fasting for our own selfish interests
– to gain our own Salvation;
we are fasting to help liberate our fellow humans from demonic influence.
Fasting in this sense is not about “ME”.
It is about God’s love for the world
and that some of God’s Kingdom goals only can be accomplished
through intense prayer and fasting.
This of course presents to us the counter-intuitive notion
that for Christians to live for the world, means ‘to pray and fast.’
 This 4th Sunday of Great Lent we remember Saint John Climacus
who wrote a book about a ladder reaching to Heaven.
It is a symbolic image which serves to remind us as Christians
that we are on a sojourn.
All of Great Lent is a journey, prayer, fasting, charity and repentance
are the ways we move along this journey toward our destination:
the Kingdom of God.
 We are reminded through Lent that the world we live in is the world of the Fall,
a world in which sin and death are still dominant players.
We are reminded that the world we live in is not the Paradise
wherein God put the first human beings,
nor even is this the world into which Eve and Adam were expelled,
because our world is after the Great Flood
and so many things separate us from Paradise and Adam and Eve.
This world also is not the Kingdom of God:
death and corruption and suffering are the signs of this.
So we are sojourning through a time and place 
which are neither are original home nor our final destination.
We need to actively travel through this time and place 
and again I remind you this means repentance, going to confession,
being generous and charitable, forgiving others, asking forgiveness,
praying, studying the Scriptures, fasting
and focusing on loving God and neighbor.
 The reality of our spiritual sojourn on earth is
that we don’t see the entire picture of what is happening,
what has happened, or what is yet to come.
We know that Jesus is the Son of God
Who came into the world and Who descended into Hades, the place of the dead.
He rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven.
Christ reveals to us that there is this greater reality:
that place from which He came and to which He returned after His life on earth.
And He revealed to us that the place of the dead is not our final destination either.
Christ reveals to us that we normally see
only a part the entire cosmos which God created.
This is why we are often troubled by our inability
to understand what is going on in the world.
We can observe only the world of the Fall,
a world in which death, earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear melt downs take place.
It is a world in which the powers opposed to God still operate.
Hebrews 2:14 tells us that it is the devil who has power over death.
We cannot accomplish God’s will through death - not through abortion, capital punishment or bombing enemies into submission.
Death is an enemy of God and of humankind.
Death is not even the way to heaven:
the phrase “die and go to Heaven”
does not occur in the New Testament.

God is destroying both death and the devil.
The world of the Fall is not a world of Justice.
People die unfairly and due to events
that are no fault of their own.
It is a world in which humans afflict death on one another 
to try to gain control over each other,
even in Church.
That reminds us that we live in the world of the Fall,
for again as Hebrews 2:14 tells us,
the devil has the power of death.
We are sojourning through this world.
We have the power to transform our own lives through the Gospel
- to live not relying on the power of death,
but on that power which destroys death.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Be a winner

The Holy Fathers teach us that the one who forgives always wins. Whatever the occasion may be, if you forgive, you immediately cleanse your soul and become fit for paradise. If you have forgiven those who plotted to murder you, you have become equal to the martyrs. If you have forgiven an insult, you have gained peace and won the Kingdom of Heaven. If you have generously overlooked the rumors and slanders against you, you have dulled the sting of your foe. If you have returned a good for evil, you have shamed your enemy. If you have swallowed a sarcastic insult to your honor,  you have become worthy of heavenly honors. If, being of higher rank in life, you have asked the pardon of a lesser man, you have not only not disgraced yourself, but you have furthered your spiritual maturity.  If you are not to blame but ask the offender to forgive you, you have thus helped his soul to be delivered from the hell of hatred and have covered many of your own sins, too. If you have abased your pride, you have exalted your humility. 

Rules for a saving confession by Archimandrite Seraphim Aleksiev

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A rough and rugged life

You complain that your life is 'rough and rugged.'  But whatever we do is always like that.  Where there are men, there are passions, narrow-mindedness, selfishness, conceit.  Thus it is all the more necessary for us to maintain ourselves at a certain depth, to keep in mind the all-embracing, final goal before us, to destroy in ourselves all that is petty and trivial: then we shall find it easier to suffer with the faults of others.  O God, send us patience, generosity and meekness.  We are working, not for ourselves, but for God:  and therefore all conflicts will be settled, not through our own great efforts, but through God's wisdom. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

On the acquisition of humility

You always ask that the Lord would grant you humility.  But you see, it is not given as a gift from the Lord.  The Lord is always ready to help people to acquire humility, as well as all good things, but it is necessary that the person work on himself.  As the Holy Fathers say, "Give blood, and receive spirit."  This means you have to labor to the spilling of blood, and then you will receive spiritual gifts.  You seek and request spiritual gifts, but you are stingy about spilling your blood; that is, you do not want anyone to touch you or disturb you.  How can you obtain humility in an undisturbed life?  For humility consists in seeing yourself as below all creatures.  When people bother you and you see that you cannot endure it, and get angry with them, then you will have to consider yourself lower.  If at this you lament and reproach yourself for your exaltation and incorrigibility and sincerely repent about it before God, then you are on the path to humility.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

March 25: The Holy Annunciation

Today’s Feast is indeed the Feast of
the True knowledge of God,
as foreseen by the Fore-fathers.
This is the Feast of the Formation of Christ in the flesh, announced by the Archangel Gabriel
and accepted by the Virgin,
and it occurs therefore nine months
before the Birth of Christ at Christmas.
It is, as the hymns of the Church tell us,
the Crown of our Salvation,
the beginning of everything.
This is why its Greek name is ‘Ευαγγελισμος’ [Evangelismos],
which comes from the word ‘Ευαγγελίων’ meaning ‘Good News’.
This is the feast of the Good News, the Feast of the Gospel.
Without this Feast, there would have been
no Good News, no Gospel.
Its usual English name is the Annunciation.
For it is the Feast not of an announcement,
but of the Announcement.
It is the ultimate Announcement, for it is the Announcement that God has become man,
the Announcement of the Presence of
the Wisdom of God amongst us,
not of the wisdom of man as before Christ,
but of the Wisdom of God.
It changes everything in World’s History,
overshadowing and surpassing all
that old human wisdom
of ancient Greece, Egypt, India and China.
But however Divine this high feast is, it is also human.
The humanity of this Feast is not only in that today God becomes an embryo,
it is also in that today the Virgin becomes a Mother.
This is why today the Church is in blue,
the colour of the Virgin-Mother
and why this Feast is also known as ‘Lady Day’ in England.
Today, in accepting the announcement of the Archangel Gabriel, in accepting the Will of God, the Virgin becomes the most high of all mankind,
‘More honourable than the Cherubim
and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim’

She exceeds in her sacrifice all other men and women in human History,
past, present and future.
She becomes linked with all eternity
and surpasses humanity while remaining human.
In a word,
this earthly being becomes through her sacrifice the Mother of God,
which is why we, though still on earth,
commemorate her in Heavenly blue.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Shine, Cross of the Lord

Shine, Cross of the Lord, shine with the light of thy grace upon the hearts of those that honor thee.  With love inspired by God, we embrace thee, O desire of all the world.  Through thee our tears of sorrow have been wiped away: we have been delivered from the snares of death and have passed over to unending joy.  Show us the glory of thy beauty and grant to us thy servants the reward of our abstinence, for we entreat with faith thy rich protection and great mercy.  Hail! life-giving Cross, the fair Paradise of the Church, Tree of incorruption that brings us the enjoyment of eternal glory: through thee the hosts of demons have been driven back; and the hierarchies of angels rejoice with one accord, as the congregations of the faithful keep the feast. Thou art an invincible weapon, an unbroken stronghold; thou art the victory of kings and the glory of priests.  Grant us now to draw near to the Passion of Christ and to His Resurrection.  Hail! life-giving Cross, unconquerable trophy of the true faith, door to Paradise, succor of the faithful, rampart set about the Church.  Through thee the curse is utterly destroyed, the power of death is swallowed up, and we are raised from earth to heaven: invincible weapon, adversary of demons, glory of martyrs, true ornament of holy monks, haven of salvation bestowing on the world great mercy.  Come, Adam and Eve, our first father and mother, who fell from the choir on high through the envy of the murderer of man, when of old with bitter pleasure ye tasted from the tree in Paradise.  See, the Tree of the Cross, revered by all, draws near!  Run with haste and embrace it joyfully, and cry to it with faith: O precious Cross, thou art our succor; partaking of thy fruit, we have gained incorruption; we are restored once more to Eden, and we have received great mercy.  Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen.

Learn about the Church with the shining cross

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Seek love

If you wish to be saved, seek no other thing here in this world as much as love. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

On the wood of the Holy Cross

It was inevitable that something so mysterious and powerful would accumulate a rich history of legends that seek to explain its origins and its meaning. Legends are not necessarily fictional stories. They are simply stories that have been written down so that they can be read (Latin legere, "to read") again and again. They may not, in fact, be historically accurate, but they are often "true", nonetheless, because they express meaning figuratively, if not literally. One of the loveliest of these legends tells how basil plants sprang up from the ground under the Cross where drops of the Savior's blood fell. A related tradition says that Helena was aided in her search for the True Cross by a bed of basil that was growing over the very place where the Cross had been buried. Another tradition says that a sprig of basil which growing out of the wood of the Cross itself. The name of the herb comes from the same root as the Greek word for "king," basileus, thus it is an herb made for a king. In Orthodox churches, the cross that is exalted liturgically on this feast, traditionally rests on a bed of basil during the Liturgy. Basil may be blessed and distributed to the faithful on Holy Cross Day, and it would be appropriate to prepare and eat dishes that include basil, such as pesto, as part of the home celebration of the feast. Here is a Prayer for the blessing of basil.

Almighty and merciful God: Bless, we beseech thee, this royal herb of basil. As its aroma and taste delight our senses, may it recall for us the triumph of Christ, our Crucified King and the power of his blessed Passion and precious Death to purify and preserve us from evil; so that, planted beneath his Cross, we may flourish to thy glory and spread abroad the fragrance of his sacrifice; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

There are two different traditions about the origins of the wood of the Cross. The more familiar, Western, tradition relates that as Adam lay dying he instructed his son Seth to go the gate of Garden of Eden and to ask the cherubim guarding the entrance for a seed from the Tree of Life. This seed was placed in Adam's mouth after he died and was buried with Adam. The seed germinated and grew into a great tree which gave shelter to creatures of all kinds. In time, the origin of the tree and even the fact that it had grown over the grave of the first human being was forgotten. When the time came for Solomon to build the Temple in Jerusalem, wood was needed and he directed that this great, sturdy tree be cut down to be used in the construction. This was done. However, the wood from the tree was never suitable for the places it was needed. A board was either too short or too long, no matter how carefully it was measured. At last, the wood was discarded. A few years later, a bridge was being built for one of the approaches to Jerusalem and the discarded wood was incorporated into the project. When the Queen of Sheba came to visit Solomon, it was necessary for her to cross this bridge. As she did, she heard a voice with a message which she reported to her host. She told Solomon that the wood of this bridge would be the means by which a new kingdom and a new order would be established in Jerusalem. Fearing that he would be overthrown and his kingdom taken from him, Solomon had the bridge torn down and the wood thrown into a cistern outside the wall of Jerusalem. There it lay for nearly a thousand years until it was once again put into service in the making of a cross for the execution of a man who claimed to be King of the Jews and became again what it had always been: the Tree of Life.

The Eastern tradition of the origins of the wood of the Cross is much simpler and rests on the interpretation of a prophecy in the Book of Isaiah: "The glory of Lebanon shall come to you, the cypress, the plane, and the pine, to beautify the place of my sanctuary; and I will make the place of my feet glorious." (Isaiah 60:13) According to this tradition, after Lot fled from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, his uncle Abraham gave him a triple seedling, consisting of a cypress, a plane, and a pine. Lot took the seedling and planted it in the wilderness, where the three trees continued to grow together. Lot, badgered by the devil who wished to prevent the tree from growing, traveled back and forth to the Jordan River to get water for the tree. Many years later, when Solomon was building the Temple (here the legends converge for a brief moment), the tree was cut down and the wood was used in the construction. When Herod was rebuilding the Temple, this wood was taken out and discarded, and was later taken up again to be used for the Cross of Jesus. The first part of the verse from Isaiah refers to the three different woods being used in the building of the Temple. The interpretation of the final phrase, "I will make the place of my feet glorious," is that it is a reference to the footrest to which Jesus' feet were nailed on the Cross. Tradition says that the place where the tree grew was outside of the city of Jerusalem. A monastery has stood on that site since the 5th century. A series of icons, which can be seen on this website, depicts this version of the legend, though it omits the portion of the legend about the Temple.

The Cross has been depicted in different ways over the years. In the earliest years of the Church, the Cross was not depicted at all artistically. Through a combination of horror at the sheer brutality of crucifixion, which was still employed as a method of execution, and fear of persecution for openly professing Christianity by displaying obvious symbols associated with it, the Cross was rarely, if ever, used as a symbol of any sort by Christians in the first few centuries. Even when scenes from the life of Jesus were portrayed artistically, the Crucifixion was not. The vision at the Milvian Bridge, wherein Constantine saw a cross and heard the words, "In this sign conquer," began to change this attitude, for two reasons. First of all, the conversion of the emperor removed the threat of persecution. Secondly, out of reverence for the Savior, Constantine outlawed crucifixion as a method of execution. As a result, people began to lose their sense of the outrageousness of this form of punishment: they did not see people suffering in this way and had no experience of its personal impact. Crucifixion was known as an idea, not a reality, and was, to a certain degree, sanitized in the public mind. Even so, the first common representations of the Cross were of an empty cross, sometimes stylized and even decorated, which helped to remove the harsher aspects of it even more from the mind.

The next stage in the development of the Cross in art, with Jesus actually shown on a cross continued to avoid portraying him suffering. He was on the Cross, but he was alert, eyes open, and body relatively relaxed; alive, not dead, and not suffering. While the Church recognized that he suffered on the Cross, the emphasis was on his triumph. Indeed, the theology of the Church, enacted in its weekly Liturgy, saw the Cross and Resurrection as one event, not two. And that event entailed the victory of Christ and the redemption of his people. There was no irony in the fact that the imperial legions were led by standards with the Cross emblazoned on them. The cross to which the same soldiers, only a few years before, would have fastened criminals for their execution, was now a proud banner of victory in war. Suffering and death had nothing to do with it. It was left for a later age, and a culture to the West, to put emphasis on the suffering of the Cross. Even today, Orthodox icons of the Cross mute the suffering. Unlike medieval Western crucifixes on which a twisted body writhes in pain, Jesus in Orthodox icons appears almost peaceful.
Excerpted from:  http://fullhomelydivinity.org/articles/cross.htm

March 20: St. Cuthbert of Lindesfarne

Among the Orthodox Saints, we have St. Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindesfarne, a true star among the English Saints. St. Cuthbert is known to be a wonder-working Saint of God and numerous miracles are attributed to him.  His relics were found sweet, fragrant and incorrupt 400+ years after his death.  

Today, I provide a link to St. Bede’s writing on the life and miracles of St. Cuthbert which is truly inspiring and definitely worth reading:  http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/bede-cuthbert.asp 

Here also is a link to an Orthodoxwiki article on the Saint’s life:  http://orthodoxwiki.org/Cuthbert_of_Lindisfarne 

Front cover

Text page

The St. Cuthbert Gospel

The St. Cuthbert Gospel (formerly known as the Stonyhurst Gospel) is the oldest intact European book.  Made in the late 7th cent., the manuscript contains the Gospel of St. John, and was apparently placed in the coffin of St. Cuthbert when he was re-interred at Lindisfarne in 698.  St. Cuthbert's coffin was subsequently translated to Durham Catherdral, where it was opened in September, 1104, and the Gospel book was discovered lying by his head.

The Gospel was preserved as a precious relic in Durham Cathedral until the Dissolution of the Monasteries under King Henry VIII.  After passing through several hands, it came to rest in the library of Stonyhurst College in England (hence the name "Stonyhurst Gospel").  It has recently been purchased by the British nation and is on display in the British Library.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A healing prayer

Elder Sophrony wrote, "If any of  my readers is suffering from some psychological wound occasioned by failure in life, he can attain to regal freedom of spirit and radically change his whole life if he turns to God every day with a personal prayer such as this, for example," 

Prayer at Daybreak

Eternal King without beginning, You who are before all worlds, my Maker, Who have summoned all things from non-being into this life: bless this day that You, in Your inscrutable goodness, give to me. By the power of Your blessing enable me at all times in this coming day to speak and act for You, to Your glory, in Your fear, according to Your will, with a pure spirit, with humility, patience, love, gentleness, peace, courage, wisdom and prayer, aware everywhere of Your presence.

Yes, Lord, in Your immense mercy, lead me by Your Holy Spirit into every good work and word, and grant me to walk all my life long in Your sight without stumbling, according to Your righteousness that You have revealed to us, that I may not add to my transgressions.

O Lord, great in mercy, spare me who am perishing in wickedness; do not hide Your face from me. And when my perverted will would lead me down other paths, do not forsake me, my Savior, but force me back to Your holy path.

O You Who are good, to Whom all hearts are open, You know my poverty and my foolishness, my blindness and my uselessness, but the sufferings of my soul are also before You. Wherefore I beseech You: hear me in my affliction and fill me with Your strength from above. Raise me up who am paralyzed with sin, and deliver me who am enslaved to the passions. Heal me from every hidden wound. Purify me from all taint of flesh and spirit. Preserve me from every inward and outward impulse that is unpleasing in Your sight and hurtful to my brother.

I beseech You: establish me in the path of Your commandments and to my last breath do not let me stray from the light of Your ordinances, so that Your commandments may become the sole law of my being in this life and in all eternity.

O God, my God, I plead with You for many and great things: do not disregard me. Do not cast me away from Your presence because of my presumption and boldness, but by the power of Your love lead me in the path of Your will. Grant me to love You as You have commanded, with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my mind, and with all my strength: with my whole being. 

For You alone are the holy protection and all-powerful defender of my life, and to You I ascribe glory and offer my prayer.

Grant me to know Your truth before I depart this life. Maintain my life in this world until I may offer You true repentance. Do not take me away in the midst of my days, and when You are pleased to bring my life to an end, forewarn me of my death, so that I may prepare my soul to come before You.

Be with me then, O Lord, on my great and sacred day, and grant me the joy of Your salvation. Cleanse me from manifest and secret sins, from all iniquity hidden in me; and give me a right answer before Your dread judgment-seat.

Monday, March 17, 2014

St. Patrick, Enlightener of Ireland

March 17 marks the feast day of Saint Patrick – Bishop of Armagh and Enlightener of Ireland.  This may come as a surprise to many that St. Patrick was and is an Orthodox Saint centuries before Rome split from the Holy Apostolic Church.

The rule of thumb for Orthodox Christians is that a Latin Christian who lived after the Great Schism of 1054, while they may have lived exemplary lives, are not saints in the full sense of the Church’s understanding.  But because he lived from c. 385 to 17 March 460/461 Patrick is considered part of the undivided Church and therefore is an Orthodox saint. 

St. Patrick’s Life 

The name “Patrick” is derived from the Latin “Patricius” which means “highborn.”  He was born in the village of Bannavem Taburniae.  Its location is uncertain; some scholars place it on the west coast of England, while others place it in Scotland.  His father was Calpurnius, a Roman Decurion (an official responsible for collecting taxes) and a deacon in the church.  His grandfather, Potitus, was a priest.
This means that Patrick had a solid Christian upbringing and was well acquainted with the refinements of Roman civilization.  But he lived on the edge of civilization at a time when the Roman Empire was under siege by barbarians.  When Patrick was sixteen he was kidnapped by pirates, taken to Ireland, and there sold as a slave.  He was put to work as a herder of swine on a mountain in County Antrim.
Looking back on his youth, he recounts:
I was at that time about sixteen years of age. I did not, indeed, know the true God; and I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people, according to our deserts, for quite drawn away from God, we did not keep his precepts, nor were we obedient to our priests who used to remind us of our salvation.  (Confessio §1)
Although Patrick had a Christian upbringing, he took his faith for granted.  This complacency would be shaken by the calamity of being taken into exile.  For the next six years he spent much of his time in solitude and prayer which would prepare him for life as a monastic. During this time Patrick also learned the local language which would prepare him for his future work as a missionary bishop.
But after I reached Ireland I used to pasture the flock each day and I used to pray many times a day. More and more did the love of God, and my fear of him and faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day [I said] from one up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number. . . .  (Confessio §16)
His escape from slavery resulted from two visions.  In the first vision it was revealed that he would return home.  The second vision told him his ship was ready.  He then walked two hundred miles to the coast, succeeded in boarding a ship, and reunited with his parents.
Sometime later Patrick studied for the priesthood under St. Germanus in Gaul (France). 
Eventually, he was consecrated as a bishop and entrusted with the mission to Ireland.  Patrick had a dream in which he heard the Irish people begging him to come back to them.  There were other missionaries in Ireland but it was St. Patrick who had the greatest success.  For this reason, he is known as “The Enlightener of Ireland.”
Evangelizing the Irish people was not an easy task.  The Irish populace regarded him with hostility and disdain.  He was a foreigner and, worst yet, a former slave.  Despite the opposition, Patrick persevered in his missionary calling and baptized many into Christ.  This resulted in churches and monasteries all across Ireland.
In his autobiography Patrick described his motivation for doing missionary work:
I am greatly God’s debtor, because he granted me so much grace, that through me many people would be reborn in God, and soon after confirmed, and that clergy would be ordained everywhere for them, the masses lately come to belief, whom the Lord drew from the ends of the earth, just as he once promised through his prophets: ‘To you shall the nations come from the ends of the earth. . . . (Confessio §38)
St. Patrick’s missionary labors would result in a blessing, not just to the Irish, but to humankind as well.  How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill tells how Ireland became an isle of saints and scholars, preserving Western civilization while the Continent was being overrun by barbarians.
American culture has been richly blessed by the presence of the Irish.  In the US, March 17th has become something close to a national holiday.  While in many instances St. Patrick’s day has become more of an excuse for partying, it can also be made into an occasion for renewing our faith in Christ.
Lessons From the Life of St. Patrick
One, Patrick was blessed with being born into a family of committed believers but had drifted away from God.  He saw his captivity as punishment for his earlier sins but also as an opportunity to return back to God.  Similarly, we need to remember to be vigilant in our spiritual life but also to be mindful that God can use hardships as a means of spiritual growth.
Two, life is often more fragile than we know.  Patrick lived on the edge of Roman civilization where life was often far from stable or secure.  He was among the thousands who were taken captive by the barbarians.  For those of us who feel like the world as we know it is on the verge of collapse, we need to remember God rules over human history even while this sovereignty seems hidden from our eyes.
Patrick lived in a time when the Roman world was under siege by barbarian forces and at a time when a new Christian society was emerging.  In 410 Rome was sacked by Alaric and soon after that the western half of the Roman Empire slid into the dark ages.  But thanks to Emperor Constantine’s foresight the Roman Empire continued in the New Rome of Constantinople which was founded in 330.  Roman civilization would endure another thousand years in the East until the Ottoman conquest in 1453.
Three, God worked through the tragedies in Patrick’s life.  Patrick’s abduction took him away from his Christian surroundings into an unreached people group.  His time as a slave gave him a knowledge of Irish culture and language that would later enable him to preach Christ.   The practical skills acquired now can be used for God’s kingdom in the future.
Four, trials and hardship can become a means of spiritual growth. The lonely work as a goatherd prepared Patrick for the monastic life of solitude and prayer.  In our life are hidden opportunities for prayer and meditation waiting to be discovered.
Five, the earlier hardships gave Patrick an inner toughness and steadfastness that would enable him to preach Christ in the face of fierce opposition.  Rather than complain about our current hardships we can allow them to teach us the inner strength to persevere and prepare us for some future task ordained by God.
Six, Patrick’s life and mission teach us the importance of the Great Commission to Orthodox Christianity.  The Christian faith is broad and catholic, it is meant for all peoples, not just for particular ethnic groups.
Finally, I would be remiss not to notice the challenge Saint Patrick presents to our Protestant friends who are so interested in the early church fathers and the lives of the pre-schism saints.  This interest is also based on the fact that these saints did not embrace Rome’s later innovations like forbidding priests to marry, Mary’s immaculate conception or her being co-redemptrix for our salvation, papal supremacy over all bishops, and papal infallibility.  St. Patrick (385-460/461) lived around the time of other great saints like Ambrose of Milan (c. 339-397), Augustine (354-4300, Basil the Great (c. 329-3790, Athanasius (329-373), Jerome (c. 345-c. 419), Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 310- c. 386). 
Saint Patrick embraced the Orthodoxy of his day, e.g., the Liturgy, the office of the bishop, the first and second Ecumenical Councils, the Nicene Creed without the Filioque, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and monasticism.  It is commendable that Protestants are using St. Patrick to rediscover their historic roots, but one should stop to ponder whether it is wise to pick and choose their heroes of the faith.  Are they doing it because it is the cool thing to do today or because it is part of Holy Tradition?  Wouldn’t it be better to embrace the Holy Tradition taught and proclaimed by St. Patrick?  And wouldn’t it be wiser to embrace the entire communion of saints recognized by historic Orthodoxy?  Wishing you all a blessed St. Patrick’s Day!  Text above excerpted from an article by Robert Arakaki titled “Is Saint Patrick an Orthodox Saint?” www.orthodoxbridge.com
Pasting postings about St. Patrick from the Ortho Thought for the Day blogspot: