Orthodox Thought for the Day


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The manner of gift giving

The gift is doubled by the manner of giving.  St. John Chrysostom

Soup Kitchen ministry


Thank you for your loving consideration of the needs of the Orthodox in Kosovo. 

Just wanted to share with you that, at present, there are six soup kitchens in operation in Kosovo and some which also operate as homeless shelters.  They have needs: 

            New aprons for food service workers / New kitchen towels 

If you want to provide any of these items, please send them to Fr. Nektarios Serfes in Boise as soon as possible.  He needs to be packed and ready to leave the States on October 13: 

V. Rev. Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes
2618 West Bannock Street
Boise, Idaho 83702

Thank you,
Presbytera Candace

Monday, September 29, 2014

On lost time

The time which you lend to God is not lost:  He will return it to you with abundant interest. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

II Corinthians 8:1-5 and us

Beloved Readers, 

I am guessing that none of you are ignorant of the plight of persecuted Christians in today’s world.  Even the media, with its ability to filter out whatever news it may wish, oftentimes allows us to see the horrors of persecution or oppression being aimed at Christians around the globe.  It may be that we are now living in an age of unprecedented Christian witness and martyrdom which will likely increase over time.  When you see or hear of such things, what is your reaction?  

If you have the flame of the Holy Spirit within, you are no doubt moved in your soul, offering a prayer and thinking, “What can I do to bring comfort or aid to people in such straits?”  Indeed, what can you do?  What can I do?  Will it matter whether or not we do anything at all?  

From the earliest days of the Church, we can read about Christians with means giving to those brethren, equally loved by God, who are in hard straits.  Even more than that, we read about impoverished Macedonian Christians in II Corinthians (8:1-5) who wanted so much to give to those in need that they gave liberally out of poverty.  Why?  Brethren in Palestine had been sorely afflicted by famine.  The Macedonian believers gave liberally, from scant means, to relieve the misery of the Palestinian brethren, their hearts aflame with love for God.  And, their impoverished giving has been recorded in the Bible as commended by God.  All they’d hoped to do was have a small part in relieving the misery of Christian brethren—yet God honored their act in the recording of His Word.  How much value did God set on their gift! 

There is nothing new under the sun, brothers and sisters.  We who live in relative peace and affluence have an opportunity to minister to brethren who live in hardship under routine oppression and/or persecution.  It’s a privilege for me to bring before you a  charity which has my love, support and recommendation—The Decani Monastery Relief Fund.  The founder and president of the Fund, Rev. Fr. Nektarios Serfes, is known to me personally.  He and those who administer this fund have and continue to do a faithful work to relieve oppression of the Christians in Kosovo/Metohija (Serbia). 

The Orthodox Christian population of Kosovo/Metohija have been living under hardship conditions for more than a decade.  Every year becomes more difficult and austere regarding living conditions and provisions for the remaining Christian populace.  Some of you already know of the devastation that was wrought in recent years--destruction of holy and sacred shrines, churches and monasteries (visit www.kosovo.net for more details of acts against the holy places).  Now, there exists an overall oppression of Christians in the area, a persistent attempt to drive them from their ancient homeland, one which dates back to the 14th century and prior.  Many of the destroyed churches are a testament to the ancient Christian heritage of these people.  Sadly, life today is particularly harsh for the Serbian Orthodox of Kosovo/Metohija. 

See photos of ancient churches which were destroyed here:  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/monitoring/media_reports/1717349.stm

Our beloved brother in Christ, V. Rev. Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes, president of the DMRF, will be traveling to the area on October 13.  He will bring humanitarian aid, inasmuch as brethren provide, to relieve the hardship of many families, elderly and children in the area.  Winter is coming and the often brutal cold season always presents greater needs and problems for the Christian populace:  lack of heat, lack of electricity, scanty food and more.  Take a moment and imagine yourself raising children or living as an elderly person in a cold climate without proper heat, unstable utilities, insufficient food while sometimes coping with illness.  This is no small thing, brethren, it is hardship.  And the situation appears to be indefinite in nature.  How long shall these people bear this cross?  The mercy is, you can help relieve the difficulties of these suffering Christians.  The Decani Monastery Relief Fund has been faithfully ministering to genuine needs in the area for the past 16 years.  Visit this link to read about what the Fund routinely provides for the needy:  http://www.thedecanifund.org/ 
I would like to ask everyone who is reading—would you be willing to send a gift to the DMRF?  Many times people shy away from a direct appeal, with a strong sense of--I can’t give much right now.  So many people feel this way, you are not alone.  And, it’s true, you may not be able to give what you’d like.  However, please do not let that stop you from doing something to relieve hardship from the lives of our brethren.     

Doing something rather than nothing is meaningful.  If it means that more food or firewood can be purchased for the benefit of a family or an elderly person or a school, then it IS worth something, especially to the receivers.  And if the gift is given with a heart that is turned to God, wanting to share His love and His comfort with the brethren—then your gift will be more like that of the impoverished Macedonian Christians in II Corinthians whom God commended.  What a beautiful thought!   

So, let me ask you…will you send a love gift of any amount to the DMRF today?  Fr. Nektarios looks forward to distributing that which can be purchased with these means when he arrives in Kosovo/Metohija.  What happiness there will be in bringing gifts which represent your sacrificial love to the brethren.  You may be sure the recipients will bless you with much joy!  
Paypal link for the Decani Monastery Relief Fund found herehttp://www.thedecanifund.org/ 

If you read the recent Orthodox Thought, “Smart Thinking about Almsgiving,” you’ll recognize that one never loses anything by helping those in need—one only gains by it.  Herein lies an opportunity, dear brethren.  I hope and pray with all my heart that you will respond as the Spirit of God leads you. 

With faith & love,
Presbytera Candace 
Prefer to send a check?  

Decani Monastery Relief Fund
c/o V. Rev. Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes
2618 West Bannock Street
Boise, Idaho 83702

The DMRF is Non-profit from Federal Income Tax under section 501© (3)
The Decani Monastery Relief Fund has the blessings of the local bishop His Grace Bishop Teodosije as well as Archimandrite Sava, Abbot of the Decani Monastery.  Also, the blessings of His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew and the Synod of Bishops, His Eminence, Metropolitan Isaiah, Presiding Hierarch of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Denver, His Grace Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia (Great Britain) and the Friends of Mt. Athos.

“Kosovo Maiden” (1919) by Uroš Predić. Oil on Canvas 

This extremely famous painting is based on an equally famous
Serbian epic poem, in which a young beauty searches
the battlefield for her betrothed husband and
helps wounded Serbian warriors with water, wine and bread
after the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 between Serbia and
the Ottoman Empire.  Tragically, she discovers
from this soldier that her betrothed has been slain.
So much of the Serbian national story is distilled
in this one canvas.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Smart thinking about almsgiving

You must not think of giving alms to the poor as an expense but as a source of income.  It is not an outlay of money, but it is a profitable business.  For you get back more than you give.  You give bread and get back eternal life.  You give a coat and get back a garment of immortality.  You give your house to be shared, and you receive back a heavenly Kingdom. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

God is for you

If you tell others your personal misfortunes, if you describe to them in tragic tones the evils which have befallen you, you may find some consolation in your distress—that is, if you think that talking about your troubles will make them evaporate.  But if you share with your Master the sufferings you feel in your soul, it is much surer that you will receive comfort and consolation in abundance.  People often grow weary of one who comes to them with wailing and bitter laments.  At times, they even push such a person from their path to get rid of him.  But God does not act in this way.  He lets the wailing person come to Him and even draws him to Himself.  Even if it takes you all day to share you misfortunes with God, He will love you all the more and will grant your petitions. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On self-justification

We relinquish a light burden when we condemn ourselves, but we take upon ourselves a heavy burden when we attempt to justify ourselves.  

Monday, September 22, 2014

Your way of life

Make your way of life a robe which is woven together from good moral conduct and correct doctrine. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

On bearing illness #2

In the book Wounded by Love, St. Porphyrios related this,

I thank God for granting me many illnesses.  I often say to Him, My Christ, Your love knows no limits!  How I am alive is a miracle.  Among all my other illnesses, I also have cancer of the pituitary gland…I am in dreadful pain.  But, I pray, taking up the cross of Christ with patience…I’m in great pain, but my illness is something very beautiful.  I feel it as the love of Christ.  I am moved and I give thanks to God.  It is on account of my sins.  I am sinful and God is trying to purify me.  When I was sixteen years old, I asked God to give me a serious illness, a cancer, so that I would suffer for His love and glorify Him through my pain…God did not forget my request and He gave me this benefaction after so many years!  Now I do not pray for God to take from me the very thing I desired.  I am glad that I have it so that I can participate in His sufferings through my great love.  I have the chastisement of God:  For the Lord chastises the one He loves, (Heb. 12:6).  My illness is a special favor from God, who is inviting me to enter into the mystery of His love…That’s why I do not pray for God to make me well, rather I pray for Him to make me good.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

On bearing illness #1

Let us not be resentful or faint-hearted when something unexpected happens to us, but allow Him, who knows all these things well, to test our soul in the fire for as long as He wants; for He does this in the interest and for the benefit of those being tested…A physician is a physician not only when he bathes and feeds the sick man…but even when he cauterizes and cuts…Knowing therefore that God is more tender-loving than all physicians, do not enquire too curiously about His therapy or ask Him for an explanation of it. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

September 14: Some miracles wrought by the wood of the Cross

From the September 10, 2009 posting at Full of Grace and Truth blogspot:

Miracles of the Precious Cross of Christ, and Fr. Stavros Tsangarakis from Rethymno, Crete

Since the feast of the Holy Cross is coming soon, the following is the incredible account of a Fr. Stavros Tsangarakis from Rethymno, Crete who is the protector of a most precious treasure of Orthodoxy: a piece of the Precious True Cross of Christ which works endless miracles for the faithful. This is a very brief summary of the amazing account of this Cross and Fr. Stavros, which is taken from two tapes by Constantine Zalalas, available online here: http://www.pantocrator.net/en/modules.php?name=Downloads&d_op=getit&lid=140 and http://www.pantocrator.net/en/modules.php?name=Downloads&d_op=getit&lid=141.

Many places are blessed to treasure portions of Christ's Cross, but this Cross of Fr. Stavros has certain special properties:

1. When Fr. Stavros or another priest places the Cross on the bare skin of a sick person, it adheres or sticks like a magnet where there is sickness or illness.

2. The Cross heals through various numbers of crossings or blessings of the sick person.

3. When the person is healed, or when the sick person is about to have an operation which will heal the person, it no longer sticks to them. 

This great treasure was originally in the possession of Fr. Stavros' mother. When Fr. Stavros was young, he accidentally fell from a height, and his injuries were so great that even the doctor acknowledged that he had died. Everyone was preparing for his burial, at which point his mother remembered the Precious Cross that was in her possession, and she crossed him. A few hours later, he was brought back to life. This cross worked countless miracles in the hands of Fr. Stavros' mother, who, after the death of her husband, was tonsured a nun with the name Philothei. In 1975, Nun Philothei passed away, and the Cross was delivered to Fr. Stavros, who treasures it to the present day, and in whose hands it continues to work countless miracles.

One of the many miracles mentioned occurred when Fr. Stavros brought the Precious Cross to the Monastery of St. John Chrysostom in Wisconsin. Many sick people hastened to venerate it and seek healing. One of these was a Native-America woman with a large, malignant tumor on her chest. With fear and faith she approached and was blessed with the Cross, and a few days later, her tumor had totally disappeared, to the amazement of her Roman Catholic doctors. She had such selflessness that she said to Fr. Stavros: "Father, pray for the Indian nations and their well-being.” This likely helped attract God’s merciful healing to her.

May Christ have mercy on us, save us and protect us, by the Power of His Precious and Life-giving Cross! 
Icon showing the veneration of the Precious Cross (taken from: http://lent.goarch.org/sunday_of_the_cross/learn/)

Excerpt from the Akathist to the Spiritual Ladder, The Precious Cross
Kontakion 1
Thrice-blessed and all-worshipful Cross of Christ, we the faithful venerate and magnify you being joyous at your divine Exaltation. But since you are the trophy and unconquered weapon, by your grace protect, cover, and shelter those who cry to you: Rejoice, O Wood most blessed.
Eikos 1Angels from Heaven invisibly circle the life-bringing Cross in fear, and seeing it now brilliantly shedding light-bestowing grace upon the faithful, amazed they stand and cry to you such words as these:
Rejoice, O Cross, guardian of the world;
Rejoice, the glory of the Church;
Rejoice, you that bountifully gush forth with healings;
Rejoice, you that enlighten the ends of the earth;
Rejoice, Wood fragrant with life, and treasury of wonders;
Rejoice, fitly-joined, thrice-blessed, and bestower of graces;
Rejoice, for you are the divine footstool;
Rejoice, for you were ordained for the worship of all;
Rejoice, bowl of nectar, full to the brim;
Rejoice, torch of the radiance above;
Rejoice, you through whom the creation is blessed;
Rejoice, you through whom the Creator is worshipped;
Rejoice, O Wood most blessed.
(taken from: http://www.geocities.com/canonical_orthodox_2000/akathist_holy_cross.html)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

For more information about the wood of the Holy Cross, see the Ortho Thought for the Day posting for March 20, 2014:  http://otftd.blogspot.com/2014/03/on-wood-of-holy-cross.html

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sept. 13 St. Cornelius the Centurion

Soon after the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross and His Ascension into Heaven, a centurion by the name of Cornelius settled at Caesarea in Palestine.  He had lived previously in Thracian Italy.  Although he was a pagan, he distinguished himself by deep piety and good deeds as the holy Evangelist Luke says (Acts 10:1). 

The Lord did not disdain his virtuous life, and so led him to the knowledge of truth and to faith in Christ.  Once, Cornelius was praying in his home. An angel of God appeared to him and said that his prayer had been heard and accepted by God. The angel commanded him to send people to Joppa to find Simon, also called Peter. Cornelius immediately fulfilled the command.

While those people were on their way to Joppa, the Apostle Peter was at prayer, and he had a vision: three times a great sheet was lowered down to him, filled with all kinds of beasts and fowl. He heard a voice from Heaven commanding him to eat everything. When the apostle refused to eat food which Jewish Law regarded as unclean, the voice said: “What God hath cleansed, you must not call common” (Acts 10:15).

Through this vision the Lord commanded the Apostle Peter to preach the Word of God to the pagans. When the Apostle Peter arrived at the house of Cornelius in the company of those sent to meet him, he was received with great joy and respect by the host together with his kinsmen and comrades.

Cornelius fell down at the feet of the apostle and requested to be taught the way of salvation. St Peter talked about the earthly life of Jesus Christ, and spoke of the miracles and signs worked by the Savior, and of His teachings about the Kingdom of Heaven. Then St Peter told him of the Lord’s death on the Cross, His Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, Cornelius believed in Christ and was baptized with all his family. He was the first pagan to receive Baptism.

He retired from the world and went preaching the Gospel together with the Apostle Peter, who made him a bishop. When the Apostle Peter, together with his helpers Sts Timothy and Cornelius, was in the city of Ephesus, he learned of a particularly vigorous idol-worship in the city of Skepsis. Lots were drawn to see who would go there, and St Cornelius was chosen.

In the city lived a prince by the name of Demetrius, learned in the ancient Greek philosophy, hating Christianity and venerating the pagan gods, in particular Apollo and Zeus. Learning about the arrival of St Cornelius in the city, he immediately summoned him and asked him the reason for his coming. St Cornelius answered that he came to free him from the darkness of ignorance and lead him to knowledge of the True Light.

The prince, not comprehending the meaning of what was said, became angry and demanded that he answer each of his questions. When St Cornelius explained that he served the Lord and that the reason for his coming was to announce the Truth, the prince became enraged and demanded that Cornelius offer sacrifice to the idols.

The saint asked to be shown the gods. When he entered the pagan temple, Cornelius turned towards the east and uttered a prayer to the Lord. There was an earthquake, and the temple of Zeus and the idols situated in it were destroyed. All the populace, seeing what had happened, were terrified.

The prince was even more vexed and began to take counsel together with those approaching him, about how to destroy Cornelius. They bound the saint and took him to prison for the night. At this point, one of his servants informed the prince that his wife and child had perished beneath the rubble of the destroyed temple.

After a certain while, one of the pagan priests, by the name of Barbates, reported that he heard the voice of the wife and son somewhere in the ruins and that they were praising the God of the Christians. The pagan priest asked that the imprisoned one be released, in gratitude for the miracle worked by St Cornelius, and the wife and son of the prince remained alive.

The joyful prince hastened to the prison in the company of those about him, declaring that he believed in Christ and asking him to bring his wife and son out of the ruins of the temple. St Cornelius went to the destroyed temple, and through prayer the suffering were freed.

After this the prince Demetrius, and all his relatives and comrades accepted holy Baptism. St Cornelius lived for a long time in this city, converted all the pagan inhabitants to Christ, and made Eunomios a presbyter in service to the Lord. St Cornelius died in old age and was buried not far from the pagan temple he destroyed.

Rejoice with me, beloved readers!

For all of you who have prayed for my well-being before and after surgery, I am grateful!  I am also pleased to report that I just got off the phone with the doctor’s office.  The pathology report returned a negative on cancer in the lymph nodes—it appears it was contained only within the uterine cavity.  The tumor had filled the organ and my body had been working hard to keep it contained.  After the surgery, I felt so much better, probably due to having relieved the body of its burden.  Fearfully and wondrously made are we!  I am very glad I had the procedure done when I did because it could have become quite serious before long.

I am rejoicing with tears, so grateful to God, Panagia, the Saints and to all of you, my Christian family and prayer supporters. 

Love in Christ,
Presbytera Candace

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Sept 9, Synaxis of Ss. Joachim & Anna, Holy & Righteous Ancestors of God

with thanks to fULL OF GRACE AND TRUTH BLOGSPOT for their Wednesday, September 9, 2009 POSTING

The Synaxis of The Holy & Righteous Ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna

Icon depicting Sts. Joachim and Anna, and in the center, their daughter, the Theotokos (Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)  

The Synaxis of The Holy & Righteous Ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna - Commemorated on September 9th

"Righteous Saint Joakim, son of Barpathir, was a descendant of King David, to whom God had revealed that from the descendants of his line would be born the Saviour of the world. Righteous Saint Anna was the daughter of Matthan and through her father she was of the tribe of Levi, and through her mother – of the tribe of Judah. The spouses lived at Nazareth in Galilee. They were childless into their old age and all their life they grieved over this. They had to endure derision and scorn, since at that time childlessness was considered a disgrace. But they never grumbled and only but fervently prayed to God, humbly trusting on His will. Once during the time of a great feast, the gifts which Righteous Joakim took to Jerusalem for offering to God were not accepted by the priest Ruben, who considered that a childless man was not worthy to offer sacrifice to God. This pained the old man very much, and he, regarding himself the most sinful of people, decided not to return home, but to settle in solitude in a desolate place. His righteous spouse Anna, having learned, what sort of humiliation her husband had endured, in prayer and fasting began sorrowfully to pray to God for granting her a child. In his desolate solitude and with fasting Righteous Joakim also besought God for this. And the prayer of the saintly couple was heard: to both of them an Angel announced, that there would be born of them a Daughter, Who would bless all the race of mankind. By order of this Heavenly Messenger, Righteous Joakim and Anna met at Jerusalem, where through the promise of God was born to them the Daughter, named Mary.

Sts. Joachim and Anna embracing their daughter, the Most-Holy Theotokos (taken from: http://uncutmountainsupply.com/proddetail.asp?prod=1JA90)
Saint Joakim died a few years later after the Entry into the Temple of his Blessed Daughter, at about age 80. Saint Anna died at age 70, two years after him, spending the time in the Temple alongside her Daughter." (from the Prologue of St. Nikolai, taken from: http://www.holytrinityorthodox.com/calendar/los/September/09-01.htm)
"Sts Joachim and Anna are often invoked by couples trying to have children." (http://ocafs.oca.org/FeastSaintsViewer.asp?SID=4&ID=1&FSID=102546)

Sts. Joachim and Anna embracing (taken from: http://www.holytrinityorthodox.com/calendar/los/September/09-01.htm)
Apolytikion in the Second Tone
As we celebrate the memory of Thy righteous ancestors, O Lord, through them we beseech Thee to save our souls.
Kontakion in the Second Tone
Now Anna is glad, for from the bonds of barrenness hath she been released; and nourishing the all-pure one, she doth summon all together, that they might praise Him Who from her womb hath bestowed upon mortal men the only pure Mother who hath not known man.

(taken from: http://goarch.org/chapel/saints_view?contentid=201)

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Monday, September 8, 2014

On the birth of the Theotokos

A homily of the abbot of
the Great and Holy Monastery of Vatopedi, Mount Athos,
Archimandrite Ephraim,
in the refectory of the monastery at the
Feast of the Mother of God on September 8th

The Panagia has a central place in divine worship. Feasts of the Mother of God frame the ecclesiastical year; it begins with the feast of the Birth of the Theotokos, and ends with the feast of the placing of the Holy Girdle of the Theotokos. 

Today is a cause for spiritual joy and rejoicing, my dear brothers and fathers, for today we celebrate the birth of the ever-virgin and God-bearing Maria, that most fragrant flower who sprung forth “from the root of Jesse.” We celebrate the “birthday of universal rejoicing,” which constitutes the “entrance of all of the feasts and the prelude to the mystery of Christ,” according to St. Andrew of Crete. Birth, which became the agent of the rebirth, of reconstruction, and the renewal of all things. Today she is born who will give birth, in time and in an incomprehensible and strange fashion, to the timeless and pre-eternal God the Word, the Creator and Savior of the world.  

            In the Old Testament there are many passages that foreshadow, prefigure, and prophesy Her. She is the completion, the fulfillment of the Old Testament pedagogical preparation of humanity for its acceptance of the incarnated Savior God. Our Panagia was prefigured by the burning bush in Moses’s vision, by the God-written plaques and the tabernacle of the Law, by the heavenly manna, by the golden seal, by the lamp and the altar, the blossoming rod of Aaron, by Jacob’s ladder, the wool of Gideon, Daniel’s uncut mountain, the fiery furnace which with its fire cooled the Three Children, as well as by the Holy of Holies in the tent of witness. The Theotokos is the borderline between the Old and the New Testament. For the Old Testament, she was the message of the prophets, the hope of the righteous; while in the New Testament she becomes the sweetness of the angels, the glory of the apostles, the courage of the martyrs, the delight of the venerable, the boast of humanity, which is why she is glorified by “every generation.” 

            All of creation awaited her birth. Our Panagia is the “fruit of creation” according to St. Nicholas Kavasilas, she is the measure that all of creation is to attain. Just as the tree exists for its fruit, in the same way creation exists for the Virgin and the Virgin for Christ. The Fathers emphasize that not only people, but also the heavens and the earth, all of visible and invisible creation were created for the spotless Virgin. When God, at the beginning of the ages, fixed his gaze on His creation, He said that it was “very good,” He essentially saw before Him the fruit of all creation, the All-Holy Theotokos, and His praise was truly the “good report of the Virgin.”
            On this day, all creation receives a blessing from the birth of our spotless Lady. “This new creation,” was not simply the greatest woman on earth, nor the greatest woman of all periods, but it was she who alone could draw heaven to earth, to make God into man. The creator God the Word created human nature in such a way that when He needed to be born, He would be born from His mother. The invisible and unseen God comes to earth through her and becomes visible; He is united and communes with creation in a more substantial and united manner. Through His human nature, He unites all of creation in His hypostasis and divinizes creation. The unique and un-representable God takes on the “form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7), human flesh and a rational soul, lives among men and walks upon the earth. The “One who is unable to be held” will fit into the virginal womb of the Theotokos, such that His All-Holy Mother will be regarded as the “land that held Him who could not be held.” 

            Today Anna’s barrenness is overcome and the “keepsake of all the world,” as St. Cyril of Alexandria described her, is born. Many times in the Old Testament, God made a similar miracle: with Sarah the wife of the patriarch Abraham, with Rebecca the wife of Isaac, with Anna the mother of the prophet Samuel, with Elizabeth the mother of the prophet and forerunner John the Baptist. But today’s miracle is very different from these miracles. The children of the aforementioned mothers, whose barrenness was miraculously cured, might have been virtuous and holy, but only Mary the child of Anna and Joachim was “the one who was full of grace,” and was made, unbelievably for both men and angels, the Mother of God. 

            Our Panagia was not born through a virginal, supernatural conception, as the Roman Catholics mistakenly believe, but after natural relations between Joachim and Anna. Anna’s natural barrenness was overcome thanks to God’s immediate intervention as an answer to the prayers of the righteous grandparents of God. The elderly Joachim and Anna came together without any fleshly attraction or pleasure, but only out of obedience to God. In this way, with this action they put a stamp on their chastity. In this way, the Virgin was conceived, “chastely in the bowels of Joachim and Anna.” That she was conceived chastely means that the way she was conceived was pure. However, in order for the Virgin to be free of the ancestral sin, to have had an immaculate conception, she would have had to have been born of a virgin, as Christ was. 

            In order to bear such a child, the righteous grandparents of God revealed an unshakeable faith, unswerving patience, they fed the hope that does not put to shame, they had great endurance in the prayer that God would fulfill their request. And they did not endure their barrenness for a short period. The tradition says that Anna conceived the Theotokos after fifty years of barrenness.

            This stance of the grandparents of God should be an example for all of us, my dear brothers and fathers. It’s not only our lay brothers, who are unable to conceive children, who should not lose their trust in God for, “the things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:27), but for us monks also and all the faithful who fight the “good fight.” 

            We often give up, or grow impatient in our struggle and say that we haven’t realized anything, we don’t sense grace, we get anxious. So, saddened as we are, our zeal is quenched, we slacken our fighting spirit and our asceticism. 

            We mustn’t be this way, though, my brothers. What would have happened if, because God didn’t respond immediately to their prayers, the grandparents of God had stopped calling on Him and believing that they would receive? What if they had stopped calling out, beseeching God, hoping? What great patience and strength they showed for so many years! 

            So as to develop the spiritual “need for great patience,” St. Isaac the Syrian lived the lessening, the absence of divine grace, the pains of noetic warfare, for thirty years. He received a constant stream of divine grace after these long years of bloody battle and patience. We refer to this, especially for us monks, who were called to receive the fullness of grace. Patience in sorrows is necessary, faith in the promises of God, perfect obedience to the will of God and hope, for we “always ought to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). God knows when it is in our interests to give us His inexplicable, unexplainable, and priceless divine gift, His divine grace as a constant state. “Spiritual gifts come upon us,” Abba Isaiah notes, we don’t decide when and how we receive them. 

            In fact, before God gives us some blessing, a gift, He often tests us with a temptation, the result of which determines whether or not we’re found worthy to receive this divine gift. We note this, also, in the grandparents of God who, when the time approached for God to give them a child, He allowed them to be tested even further. It was the Feast of Tabernacles, and when they went to the temple to offer gifts the priest Rubin shamed them by telling them that they weren’t worthy to offer gifts to God, as they hadn’t had any children for Israel. The grandparents of God were very saddened after this, but they did not despair. They took refuge in “deep prayer,” Joachim went to the mountain and Anna went to the garden, and their prayer was finally heard, when the angel of the Lord informed each one individually that the conception would take place, along with the birth of a child that would be known throughout the world. 

            And so we, too, my dear brethren and fathers, let us show ungrudging patience in our sorrows and in temptations, which God allows for our own good and spiritual growth. I pray that our Lady Theotokos and the grandmother of God Anna, who have the gift of healing barrenness, might heal our barren hearts, lacking spiritual good works, so that God might send His sweetest divine grace into our hearts, which beautifies, renews, destroys death, and saves man from corruption. 


From Pemptousia.com