Orthodox Thought for the Day


Thursday, August 25, 2016

On love and the Cross of Christ

It is not possible to represent and to think of the Cross without love.  Where the Cross is, there is love.  In church you see crosses everywhere and on everything, in order that everything should remind you that you are in the temple of the God of love, the Temple of love crucified for us.   

Holy Cross Orthodox Church
Williamsport, Pennsylvania

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Your neighbor's sin

St. (Elder) Joseph of Optina
The very sin that each person thinks is so bad in his neighbor is the one that accuses himself, the accuser. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

On the benefit of the night hours

If you are willing to reflect on the meaning of night, you will also discover the infinite providence of the Creator. 
Night restores the tired body and relaxes limbs which are tense through the efforts of the day.  By means of rest, night helps them to regain their rhythm. 
And not only that.  Night sets you free from sorrow and relieves your worries.  It often reduces fever by making sleep a cure and by changing itself into a doctor’s assistant. 
That is the importance of night.  It is so great that often if you cannot benefit from your rest, you will not have the strength to face a new day. 
At night, as in a time of truce, the exhausted soul and the worn out body regain their energy and are prepared to take up their daily activity again.  On the other hand, if we prolong the day into night by staying awake to work or even to do nothing, we are condemning ourselves to being useless because gradually our strength is wasted.  

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Thou wast transfigured on the mountain, O Christ our God...

Blessings for the new calendar Feast Day of the Holy Transfiguration!

Some are aware, but many are not, that a miraculous cloud descends upon Mt. Tabor in the Holy Land each year on the Feast.  John Sanidopoulos has a number of posts on his blog that speak to this recurring miracle in greater detail.  Please take time to learn about it and be edified by the miraculous work of God, assuring us He is very much with us.  Start here:  http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/08/account-of-annual-miracle-on-mount.html


Your sister in Faith,
Presbytera Candace


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

On the relics of the Holy Proto-Martyr Stephen

I came across this edifying article this morning:

The source is Roman Catholic, the content edifying for this day of the revelation of St. Stephen’s relics:

The Traditional Catholic Liturgy

Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger

Finding of the Relics of St. Stephen, Protomartyr (August 3)

Urged by the approach of St. Laurence's triumph, St. Stephen rises to assist at his combat; it is a meeting full of beauty and strength, revealing the work of eternal Wisdom in the arrangement of the sacred cycle. But the present Feast has other teachings to offer us.

The fierce auxiliaries of God's anger against idolatrous Rome, after reducing the false gods to powder, must in their turn be subjugated; and this second victory will be the work of the Martyrs aiding the Church by their miracles, as the first was that of their faith—despising death and tortures. The received method of writing history in our days ignores such considerations; that is no reason why we should follow the fashion; the exactitude of its data, on which the science of this age plumes itself, is but one more proof that falsehood is as easily nurtured by omissions as by positive misstatements. Now the more profound the silence on the question, the more certain it is that the very years which beheld the barbarians invading and overturning the Empire were signalized by an effusion of virtue from on high, comparable in more than one respect to that which marked the times of the apostolic preaching. Nothing less was required to reassure the faithful on the one hand, and on the other to inspire with respect for the Church these brutal invaders, who knew no right but might, and felt nothing but disdain for the race they had conquered.

The divine intention in surrounding the fall of Rome in 410 with discoveries of Saints' bodies was clearly manifested in the most important of these discoveries, the one we celebrate today. The year 415 had opened. Italy, Gaul, and Spain were being invaded; Africa was about to share their fate. Amidst the universal ruin the Christians, in whom alone resided the hope of the world, put up their petitions at every sanctuary to obtain at least, according to the expression of the Spanish priest, Avitus, "that the Lord would inspire with gentleness those whom He suffered to prevail." It was then that took place that marvelous revelation which the severe critic Tillemont, convinced by the testimony of the time (Idati, Marcellini, Sozomenis, Augustini, etc.) allows to be "one of the most celebrated events of the fifth century." Through the intermediary of the priest Lucian, John, the Bishop of Jerusalem, received from St. Stephen the first Martyr and his companions in the tomb a message couched in these terms: "Make haste to open our sepulcher, that by our means God may take pity on His people in the universal tribulation." The discovery, accomplished in the midst of prodigies, was published to the whole world as the sign of salvation. St. Stephen's relics, scattered everywhere in token of security and peace, wrought astonishing conversions; innumerable miracles, "like those of ancient times," bore witness to the same Faith of Christ which the Martyr had confessed by his death four centuries earlier.

Such was the extraordinary character of this manifestation, so astonishing was the number of resurrections of the dead, that St. Augustine, addressing his people, deemed it prudent to lift their thoughts from St. Stephen the servant to Christ his Master. "Though dead," said he, "he raises the dead to life, because in reality he is not dead. But as heretofore in his mortal life, so now, too, he acts solely in the Name of Christ; all that you see now done by the memory of St. Stephen is done in that Name alone, that Christ may be exalted, Christ may be adored, Christ may be expected as Judge of the living and the dead."

Let us conclude with this praise addressed to St. Stephen a few years later by Basil of Seleucia, which gives so well in a few words the reason of this Feast: "There is no place, no territory, no nation, no far-off land, that has not obtained the help of thy benefits. There is no one, stranger or citizen, barbarian or Scythian, that does not experience, through thy intercession, the greatness of heavenly realities." (Oratio 41, De S. Stephano)

The following lessons from the Breviary epitomize and complete the history given by the priest Lucian:

During the reign of the Emperor Honorius the bodies of St. Stephen the Protomartyr, Gamaliel, Nicodemus, and Abibo were found near Jerusalem. They had long lain buried, unknown and neglected, when they were revealed by God to a priest named Lucian. While he was asleep, Gamaliel appeared to him as a venerable old man, and showed him the spot where the bodies lay, commanding him to go to Bishop John of Jerusalem, and persuade him to give these bodies more honorable burial.

On hearing this, the Bishop of Jerusalem assembled the neighboring bishops and clergy, and went to the spot indicated. The tombs were found, and from them exhaled a most sweet odor. At the rumor of what had occurred, a great crowd came together, and many of them who were sick and weak from various ailments went away perfectly cured. The sacred body of St. Stephen was then carried with great honor to the Holy Church of Sion. Under Theodosius the Younger it was carried to Constantinople, and from thence it was translated to Rome under Pope Pelagius I and placed in the tomb of St. Laurence the Martyr, in Agro Verano.

What a precious addition to the history of St. Stephen in Sacred Scripture is furnished us by the story of his finding! We now know who were those "God-fearing men who buried Stephen and made great mourning over him." Gamaliel, the master of Saul—later, St. Paul, the Doctor of the Gentiles—had been, before his disciple, conquered by Our Lord; inspired by Jesus, he honored, after his death, the humble soldier of Christ with the same cares which had been lavished by Joseph of Arimathea, the noble counselor, on the Man-God, and laid his body in the new tomb prepared for himself. Soon Nicodemus, Joseph’s companion in the pious work of Good Friday, hunted by the Jews in that persecution in which St. Stephen was the first victim, found refuge near his sacred relics, and dying a holy death was laid to rest beside him. The respected name of Gamaliel prevailed over the angry synagogue. While the family of Annas and Caiphas kept in its hands the priestly power through the precarious favor of Rome, Gamaliel—the grandson of Hillel—left to his descendants preeminence in knowledge, and his eldest line remained for four centuries the depositories of the only moral authority then recognized by the dispersed Israelites. But more fortunate was he in having, by hearing the Apostles and St. Stephen, passed from the science of shadows to the light of realities—from the Law to the Gospel, from Moses to Him whom Moses announced. More happy than his eldest born was his beloved son, Abibo, baptized with his father at the age of twenty, who, passing away to God, filled the tomb next to St. Stephen's with the sweet odor of heavenly purity. How touching was the last will of the illustrious father, when, his hour being come, he ordered the grave of Abibo to be opened for himself, that father and son might be seen to be twin brothers born together to the only true light!

Let us pray: The munificence of Our Lord had placed thee in death, O St. Stephen, in worthy company. We give thanks to the noble person who showed thee hospitality for thy last rest; and we are grateful to him for having, at the appointed time, himself broken the silence kept concerning him by the delicate reserve of the Scriptures. Here again we see how the Man-God wills to share His own honors with His chosen ones. Thy sepulcher, like His, was glorious; and when it was opened, the earth shook, the bystanders believed that Heaven had come down; the world was delivered from a desolating drought, and amid a thousand evils hope sprang up once more. Now that the Roman Church possesses thy body and Gamaliel has yielded to St. Laurence the right of hospitality, rise up once more, O St. Stephen, and deliver us from the new barbarians, by converting them, or wiping them off the face of the earth given by God to His Christ.

And from Pravoslavie, the burial place of St. Stephen revealed near Jerusalem:  http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/75301.htm

Holy Proto-martyr, Stephen, pray for us!

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Holy Seven Maccabee Children, their mother, Solomone, and teacher, Eleazar

Embracing the Tradition
Father Steven Kostoff
July 17, 2015

On August 1, we will commemorate the Seven Holy Maccabee Children, Solomone their mother, and Eleazar their teacher, all of whom were put to death in the year 168 BC.  As such, they were proto-martyrs before the time of Christ and the later martyrs of the Christian era.  They died because they refused to reject the precepts of the Law when ordered to do so by the Syrian tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes IV.  After conquering the Holy Land, Antiochus wanted to subvert the uniqueness of the Jews and force them to assimilate to the standards and practices of the prevailing Hellenistic culture.  By attacking the precepts of the Law, Antiochus was aiming to destroy the very heart of Judaism.  The Jews would then become like the “other nations,” and perhaps their smoldering resentment against their conquerors would be extinguished.  This, of course, did not happen, because the Maccabean revolt, led by Judas Maccabaeus, not only resisted but expelled the Hellenized Syrian invaders and restored the Kingdom of Israel to its former glory days one last time (142 - 63 BC) before the Romans under Pompey reduced the Kingdom of Israel to a conquered province.

To return to the story of the Maccabees, we find them, under the guidance of their teacher Eleazar, resisting the decree that they eat pork, which was prohibited by the Law.  Understanding that this was a threat against their entire traditional way of life, Eleazar refused and was subsequently tortured until he died.  He was simply asked to “pretend” to eat the meat, so as to encourage others to do so.  In reply, his dying words as recorded in the first book of Maccabees eloquently attest to his fidelity to the Law of God: “Send me quickly to my grave.  If I went through with this pretense at my time of life, many of young might believe that at the age of ninety Eleazar had turned apostate.  If I practiced deceit for the sake of a brief moment of life, I should lead them astray and bring stain and pollution on my old age. I might for the present avoid man’s punishment, but, alive or dead, I shall never escape from the hands of the Almighty. So if I now die bravely, I shall show that I have deserved my long life and leave the young a fine example to teach them how to die a good death, gladly and nobly, for our revered and holy laws.”

Following the death of Eleazar, the seven Maccabee brothers and their mother Solomone were arrested.  They were also tortured for refusing to eat pork, and one of them said:  “We are ready to die rather than break the laws of our fathers”  (2 Maccabees 7:2).  Enraged by such pious resistance, the tyrant ordered that all seven brothers be tortured by various inhuman means.  All of this was witnessed by their mother, who watched all seven of her sons perish in a single day.  Acting “against nature,” she encouraged her children “in her native tongue” to bravely withstand the assaults on their tender flesh: “You appeared in my womb, I know not how; it was not I who gave you life and breath and set in order your bodily frames.  It is the Creator of the universe who molds man at his birth and plans the origin of all things. Therefore he, in his mercy, will give you back life and breath again, since now you put his laws above all thought of self”  (2 Maccabees 7:22-23).  We find in her last sentence, a clear allusion to belief in the resurrection from the dead.

Especially poignant is the death of her last and youngest son.  He was promised riches and a high position if he only agreed to “abandon his ancestral customs.”  Solomone his mother was urged to “persuade her son,” which she did in the following manner: “My son, take pity on me.  I carried you nine months in the womb, suckled you three years, reared you and brought you up to the present age.  I beg you, child, look at the sky and the earth; see all that is in them and realize that God made them out of nothing, and that man comes into being in the same way. Do not be afraid of this butcher; accept death and prove yourself worthy of your brothers, so that by God’s mercy I may receive you back again along with them”  (2 Maccabees 7:27-29).  In verse 28, we hear the clearest declaration of the belief that God creates “ex nihilo”—from nothing—in the entire Old Testament.

The youngest of the brothers then died after both witnessing to the meaning of their martyrdom and warning the tyrant of his own inevitable fate:  “My brothers have now fallen in loyalty to God’s covenant, after brief pain leading to eternal life; but you will pay the just penalty of your insolence by the verdict of God.  I, like my brothers, surrender my body and my life for the laws of our fathers”  (2 Maccabees 7:36-37).  We then simply read, in verse 39, that “after her sons, the mother died.”

It is difficult to say to what extent we can actually relate to all of this today.  We may deeply respect the devotion to the Law that is exhibited in this moving story of multiple martyrdoms—and perhaps be especially moved by the beautiful words of the mother that express our own belief in the creative power of God, His providential care for us and the ultimate gift of resurrection and eternal life with God—but this is far-removed from our contemporary Christian sensibilities.  In fact, such devotion today could very well strike us as being overly zealous, if not fanatical.  The prospects of such martyrdoms are not exactly on our radar screens.  Be that as it may, I believe that we have something greater than mere passing importance that we can learn from this ancient story.

Also on August 1—we begin the Dormition Fast.  We are encouraged by the Church—our “Mother” we could say—to embrace the fast with the certainty that we are being guided into a practice that is designed to strengthen our spiritual well-being.  This is part of an Orthodox “way of life” that has been witnessed to for centuries by the faithful of the Church.  We also could say that such practices belong to the “laws of our fathers.”  By embracing such practices we continue in the Tradition that has been handed down to us, the Tradition that we have “received.”  To ignore such practices is to break with that Tradition.  That can lead to an erosion of our self-identity as Orthodox Christians, especially considering our “minority status” in the landscape of American religion.  The spirit of the tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes is alive and well in the constant temptation we face to assimilate to the surrounding society and its mores, which are often reduced to finding the meaning of life in “eating, drinking and making merry.”  There are no official decrees that demand that we abandon our Faith.  But there is a never-ending drone that “pollutes” the atmosphere with the seductions of a Godless way of life, precisely because of how pleasingly it is presented.  In other words, a dear price is paid for the comforts of conformity.

We are hardly being asked to be martyrs but we are being asked to manifest some restraint and discipline in order to strengthen our inner lives as we fast bodily to some extent.  If we convince ourselves that this is inconvenient, uncomfortable, or undesirable, then we place ourselves outside of the very received Tradition we claim to follow and respect.  Older members of the community can bear in mind the words of Eleazar and realize that we are setting an example for our younger members.  We are responsible for preparing the next generation.  Mothers—and fathers!—can exhort their children in a way that is encouraging and not just demanding.  This has nothing to do with mere “legalism,” but with a “way of life” that has been practiced for centuries by Orthodox Christians, and which is just as meaningful today as in the past.  And, as with the Seven Maccabee Children, it is ultimately a matter of choice.