Orthodox Thought for the Day


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Great Martyr George & Thomas Sunday

Well done video on the life of St. George here:  http://trisagionfilms.com/project/holy-great-martyr-george/ 


We are More Blessed than the Apostles 


Christ is Risen!
We heard in the Gospel reading today about what assurance one of the twelve apostles—the apostle Thomas—received.
The Lord appeared to the disciples after His Resurrection. When He appeared, He showed them His hands and feet as proof of His Resurrection, and did so more than once. But the apostle Thomas, who was not present with them, expressed some doubt, and responded to the words of the disciples about how they had seen the Lord, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe (Jn. 20:25).
Eight days later the merciful Lord again appeared to the disciples, gathered in one house behind closed doors, and said to Thomas: Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing (Jn. 20:27). The apostle Thomas’ doubt has become to some extent proverbial, has grown wings, and become common knowledge, and often causes us modern Christians to even condemn the apostle Thomas. We wonder, how could he have doubted? In reality, even in the Gospels we see that there is nothing surprising in this. The apostle Thomas was not alone in his doubt.
If we look closely at the Gospel events after Christ’s Resurrection, we see with what doubt the apostles often responded to what was happening. They did not believe Mary Magdalene (cf. Mk. 16:9-11), and they did not believe Luke and Cleopas, when the Lord appeared to them on the road to Emmaus (cf. Lk. 24:1316), but they constantly doubted. Therefore, to confirm them in faith, the Lord gave confirmation of His human nature, by eating before them and showing them His wounds.
But what fruit the apostle Thomas’ doubt brought the Church! The Lord again proved that He is the true God, and that He is risen from the dead. And the Church even lauds this unbelief of Thomas in its hymns today, thanks to which we are strengthened in faith. Faith only asserts itself by this unbelief.
And the apostles, having often betrayed Christ, having feared just like normal people, and having experienced doubts, proved this faith with their whole lives and their apostolic ministries. They were stronger than the rulers of this world, stronger than the laws, stronger than pagan teachings, and stronger than the Pharisees with their ancient traditions; and they feared nothing, preaching the Gospel to all ends of the universe. They gave their lives for Christ, and like their Teacher, they also proved that life is mightier than death, and that the Lord is more important for us all than the temporary fulfillment of our passions. The apostles belonged to the family of those who saw Christ and believed.
Returning then to today’s Gospel reading, the Savior’s words, addressed to the apostle Thomas and the other disciples, acquire a particular importance for us. After the Lord showed Thomas His wounds, he said, My Lord and my God! (Jn. 20:28). This is the witness he brought. And Jesus answered, Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed (Jn. 20:29).
This firstly refers to the following generations of Christians, to the disciples of the apostles, the disciples of those disciples, and to us all. We have not seen Christ, come into the world in the flesh, and therefore we are worthy of such blessedness—having not seen Him, we believe. The fathers of the Church say that this bliss is a pledge of great blessings for us, perhaps greater than the holy apostles were accounted worthy of, but on condition that we, like the apostles, full of this blessedness, must give our entire lives to Christ, and serve His Gospel evangelism. This is the condition for felicity. Such a great gift the Lord gives us: We are more blessed in this world than the apostles.
There is another kind of people, who saw Christ and heard the Gospel message, but remained unbelieving. First among these was the Pharisees and the Sadducees, who understood Who it was that stood before them, Who came into this world. These were people of the Scripture, perfectly knowing the prophecies, but they did not receive Christ. And we, Christians, knowing the Gospel, often find ourselves in their place. Sometimes our knowledge as if further removes us from Christ.
It is especially important for people who have studied theology. How often, as historical examples tell us, people who have seemingly reached the heights of mental knowledge of God, having studied everything, having read everything, become terrible cynics and lead others into yet greater destruction.
May it not be so with us, dear brothers and sisters; may we be along with the apostles simple, faithful, sincere, and, of course, to the best of our ability, students and preachers of the risen Christ; may we be bearers of the good news of the all-conquering Gospel truth.
Christ is Risen!
Hieromonk Ignaty (Shestakov)
Translated by Jesse Dominick
23 / 04 / 2017

Friday, April 21, 2017

Five Rules of Paschal Joy

 Source:  http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/102789.htm
(Photos which are part of this article may be viewed at the link above).

According to what rules does Paschal joy abide in the soul, and what should we do if this joy leaves us?
Irina Sechina of Milorsedie.ru speaks [Russian] with Archpriest Konstantin Ostrovsky, head of the Krasnogorsk Deanery near Moscow:
It is disappointing that after all the labors of Great Lent, Paschal joy, having barely given comfort to our souls, quickly vanishes. We sadly eat our shish kebab and despondently watch our TV series—we are finally allowed to do that. But maybe our sorrow is not about this?
Joy does not depend on the feast.
It is a common occurrence when we, like other sinful people, immediately after Pascha return to the habits that we gave up for the time of Great Lent. Father Konstantin believes that spiritual “backsliding” of this kind is in the order of things.
“Through this the Lord shows us our weaknesses, so that we might learn humility. Many good virtues in us are poisoned by pride. This happens to each of us when as a person gets proud of his spiritual accomplishments.”
True, it is disappointing that we tend to quickly and to no purpose squander all that we gained over Great Lent. But we are disappointed not because we lose something good and precious but because we thought that we were able to preserve all this, that we would be good forever. It seemed we had enough strength to do it.
“According to St. Theophan the Recluse, if a humble person commits some minor sin, it does not surprise him. But if an arrogant person commits a sin, it comes as quite a surprise.”
And the latter may lose heart. In Fr. Konstantin’s view, the Lord teaches us in this way, and our main task is to reconcile ourselves to it. Then peace and joy will reign in our souls, and it will not depend on feasts or daily life.
“The life of every single person is in the hands of God. Each one of us. In order to feel it with all our hearts we need to commit our own selves into the hands of God, so that our only desire is to do the will of the Almighty. And the Lord also leaves something in us for training, in order to comfort us when we are meek and to humble us when we are arrogant.”
Joy does not tolerate pride.
In Fr. Konstantin’s opinion, our pride mingles with all aspects of our life, which are poisoned by it; thus, our spiritual joy as well as genuine repentance are transient. “We are unable to rejoice in God because we always rejoice in ourselves as well. We say, ‘I am so good, I have prayed so perfectly, the experience of Gospel events touch me so deeply—I truly grieve for Christ’s Passions, I truly rejoice at Pascha…’ Thus, joy cannot abide long in our souls, which are like vessels full of holes.”
St. Seraphim of Sarov heartily greeted everybody with the words: “Christ Is Risen!” He always witnessed to the Resurrection of Christ, and not only on Pascha, but all year round, because he sincerely believed and felt that Paschal joy accompanies us at all times.
Most of us do not feel Pascha that way—and that is normal. It is not necessary to artificially engender the feeling of joy. “In order to avoid disillusionment we should admit that we are not like St. Seraphim of Sarov and are unable to greet all with the words, ‘Christ Is Risen!’ with all our hearts,” Fr. Konstantin says.
“Now many write about joy. They say, ‘Why are modern Christians so gloomy if Christ called upon everybody to have joy.’ I think that to propagandize joy is absolutely incorrect. We come to church in order to pray and receive the Holy Body and Blood of Christ—our Church unity is based precisely on these things, not on emotions. This is what the Church is like.
“Calling forth some emotions is a dangerous mistake. These emotions will be false. Many Church Fathers even counsel us to conceal from others the gift of abundant spiritual joy (if God should grant it to you).”
Joy does not seek for itself.
As a matter of fact, the Church gives us all that is needed for natural, not artificial, joy.
Even if we just go to church on Holy Week or Bright Week, we will certainly find the right spirit there.
Many people read the Gospel, so even if it is hard for them to concentrate, they will still find it easy to understand the meaning of Church hymns and chants.
Our relationship with God is much deeper than our emotions.
Fr. Konstantin gives an example: “A mother of many children is tired. She grows faint from exhaustion and all she wants to do is sleep. But it does not mean that she no longer loves her children at the moment or loves them less than when she is nursing them or smiling at them.
“We know that many saints had different [spiritual] states. The podvigs (ascetic labors) of some saints were seen by everybody, while others did not perform any special outward spiritual labors, yet they achieved perfection and were glorified by God. One striking example is St. Dositheus. Outwardly he did not exceed any of the brethren in ascetic labors. Nobody noticed that he was performing the great labor of obedience. He cut off his own will for the sake of God’s will.”
Joy cannot be earned.
As is generally known, after the midnight Paschal service everybody breaks his fast. There is the cracking of eggshells, the smell of sausage, joyful hugs and toasts… At last! And shish kebabs in the country-houses, premieres at cinemas, rock music in our earphones instead of the “boring” classical music are ahead of us. And so, there is an impression that we regard Church life as our “obligation”, and Great Lent—as a prolonged mining shift.
So when the feast comes, our “interval between the shifts” comes with it: We take our hard hats off, wash the coal dust from our faces, and hurry to the fields to drink and make merry until the next shift… Meanwhile, the time of fasting, the opportunity to pray at the Liturgy, to receive Communion and all that happens at the Church are God’s great gifts of to us, and not our duties to Him.
Fr. Konstantin holds that we must be happy with these gifts and thank God even for several hours of Paschal joy:
“During the period of the Fast, God loosens the fetters of passions with which we are bound. The Fast is a gift of the Church, a gift to all of us. And Paschal joy after Great Lent is another gift and evidence of the reality of Divine grace—so that when Paschal joy is taken away from us (and it will inevitably be taken away), we might remember it, remember that it is really possible to rejoice in the Resurrection of Christ.” 
Joy lives by hope.
Our feelings are short-lived and weak, they deceive us. We have tasted a little Paschal joy, but after two movies and three evening parties our joy disappears and it is replaced with sorrow at our own weakness. How can we keep our balance? How can we not feel despondent, and at the same time, not indulge ourselves in our humility: “I am so weak, O Lord, there is no getting away from it. I admit that I am not St. Seraphim of Sarov, so let me go and watch the next TV series!”
Fr. Konstantin is of the opinion that humility is not enough—repentance is also needed. “Not only must we be conscious of our inability to refrain from watching entertainment shows, but we must also repent of it instead of giving way to despair. Imagine an inmate of a Nazi concentration camp who has joined an insurgent committee and is now preparing for an uprising. But while the revolt is being organized, he continues working at the fascists’ factories! Of course he is not particularly enthusiastic about it, but he does it with the hope that the uprising is underway, and that with the help of the allied army it will succeed.
“In our case, with the help of God we are freed from passions. So not only should we accept ourselves as we are, but we should also pray to God and ask Him to strengthen us in this struggle. ‘I have frittered away time throughout the week, have watched various rubbish on TV, have not thought about God, so I have lost the joy of the Resurrection of Christ. But I believe in Him, I believe that the Lord will reform me—however painful it may be for me to accept this—and will awaken my heart to love and joy’.”
Translation by Dimitry Lapa
18 / 04 / 2017

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Thank You for an Outpouring of Paschal Love

In excess of $5,000 was given in less than a week to assist in blessing our Orthodox Christian brethren in Kosovo on this sacred Feast.  Thank you for your care, beloved readers!



Sending you the joyous Paschal greeting, “Christ is Risen!”
Presbytera Candace

On the Paschal Joy

Bypassing Paschal Joy


Why Are We Never Happy? 


Why are we always unhappy about something; why can’t we rejoice and give thanks for all we have? We moan, grumble, and complain. This kind of behaviour, however, puts us at the great risk of missing out on the true joy of Pascha, of misunderstanding it, of not comprehending it… Protopriest Andrei Lorgus, the Rector of the Institute of Christian Psychology in Moscow, speaks out on this subject.  

Photo: Viktor Zazhipin, http://expert.ru/

I was an altar boy, when one Pascha, during the feast itself, I suddenly realised that I did not feel the joy of Pascha, of the Resurrection, as I had felt it before. It was a new feeling for me, very unsettling.  I saw it as a kind of symptom, an indication that something within me was not right; an indication that I was badly prepared for the Paschal feast: I might not have fasted properly, or spent Great Lent unwisely; I might have broken a rule or done something wrong forgetting to confess it later.  In other words, I assumed that the whole problem lay in my not having spent Great Lent well, and that was why the Paschal feast did not produce bright Paschal emotions in me.  And Pascha, the Resurrection of Christ, did not resonate in me with the joy that could have been.

And yet, the whole point of Great Lent is to prepare for Pascha, for the feast of the Resurrection of Christ; it has no importance of its own.  Apostle Paul says that if Christ is not raised, then our faith is vain (1 Cor. 15:17).  In other words, our faith is futile, if we do not believe in the Resurrection of Christ.  And this makes us contemplate that which is most important and most significant in Christianity, namely, faith in the Resurrection of Christ the Saviour.
This is why it is important.  We all know that we all are mortal.  Approximately around the age of six to seven or eight to ten we learn that one day we too will die.   We know that everything on earth changes and that everything will come to an end.  Everything will come to an end for us as well.  But the soul cannot accept it, which is why the most terrifying affliction for anybody on earth is death.  Death is what demeans all our joy; it demeans our youth, demeans love, it demeans domestic happiness, achievements, careers, and creativity.  For if I am to exist no more, what is the point of it all?  If everyone has to die, who am I labouring for, etc.?  In other words, death is the main obstacle to life and human happiness. People live in an unceasing, almost constant fear of death.  Fear of death is like the background of life.  From the moment a child becomes aware of his mortality, fear of death becomes a constant, sometimes conscious, at times unconscious, background of his life.  This fear of death consumes all joy; it consumes the satisfaction with one’s life, the joy of love, the joy of parenthood, the joy of creative success, and the joy of prayer.
So Christ comes and says, “There will be no more death.  I have conquered death.”  This is the Christians’ main happiness – the happiness of knowing that there is no more death.  This is the joy that comes to us on Pascha.  It is the joy of our own and each and everyone’s personal immortality.  We are now immortal in Christ; we have nothing to fear from now on; we can be happy.  The joy of Pascha should mean endless rejoicing, the resounding of bells, the singing of “Christ is Risen,” and love, an “all-embracing” love, as the Paschal stichera say.

Life is Not a Zebra

However, what happens to a person who does not experience such joy?  Not just Paschal, but everyday joy. This is when we ask the soul, what is happening within to prevent you from rejoicing?  Some say, and justly, sins deprive us of happiness.  That is true.  Sin, unrepented, unrecognized, and misunderstood, stands between us and the Risen Christ.  There is Confession though, isn’t there?

Often you hear believers say, “I repent, and I confess, and I commune. I commune every Sunday of Great Lent, but I experience no joy.  I seem to be doing everything right; I attended Holy Unction, went over my whole life and confessed all my sins, but there is still no joy.”  In that case, we must assume something else. Sins, forgotten or unconfessed sins, are not the only problem; there is something else.  Sin is no longer a barrier between us and Christ; something else has become a barrier.  Could it be a lack of faith in the most important, in the very victory over death?

Some say, “It could be a lack of belief in the resurrection of Christ,” and that is true.  We go back to the words of St. Paul, “If Christ is not raised; our faith is vain.” Could it really be that our faith is vain?  Could it be that our lack of faith in the resurrection of Christ robs us of the joy of Pascha?  Very often, when faithful Christians say, “I believe in Christ’s resurrection, but I have no joy,” something is going on there, in the depths of their souls.  There is an eclipse there; an eclipse of life itself, not only of the joy of Pascha. The essential purpose of life is eclipsed; the joy of simply living.  The joy of this morning’s sunrise; the joy of the blue sky; the joy of smiling back at a person who is smiling at me because I love him and he loves me, because I am meeting the image and the likeness of God.

The ability to rejoice is at the very heart of our soul.  I should say rather that the very nature of our soul, the spiritual substance, the spiritual essence is in itself rejoicing, is in itself blessedness, for it is an aspect of the being given to us by God.  He said, “You will be in My image and My likeness.” And He is Spirit, He is Love, He is All Blessedness.  The reflection of this blessedness is in the nature of our soul.  In other words, the soul is in its very nature Christian, as Tertullian said.  It is important to add that our soul in its very nature is also happiness and love.

So why aren’t we rejoicing if our souls are a torrent of love and the energy of joy?  It is because our souls are obscured and not only with sin.  We obscured it with fear; we concealed it beneath a thick armour of self-preservation.  Sometimes people cannot rejoice just because they think they will have to grieve.  Have you never heard the expression, “Life is like a zebra; first, comes a light streak, then a dark one.” Nothing can be more blasphemous.  Life is not a zebra. If life is with God, it is a life of light, of joy, and of love despite all the existing suffering and tragedies. Joyful is not the same as carefree; joy is not devoid of sorrow; happiness is not without suffering.  Yet, joy and happiness overcome suffering.  They overcome it because they are stronger, just as the Lord is stronger than the devil, because light is stronger than darkness.

Our Paschal joy is the deep conviction that just as Christ is Risen, joy is stronger than sadness.

Lent: Tuning into Joy

I think that Great Lent naturally creates a feeling of expectation, creates festive emotions.  It introduces us into the context of the events of the Gospel, into the philosophy of the Church, into an ecclesiastical understanding of what happens to a person’s soul and of what happened to Christ two thousand years ago.  I think there is more to it though.  Our experience of joy is lastingly connected to the internal perception of the life we lead and which was given to us by the Lord.  This perception of life is like a backdrop of our entire existence. And this holds true not just for Great Lent, not just for Pascha, it applies to our entire being.

Very often I am approached by people who no longer desire to live.  In these cases, it is almost impossible to speak to them of the joy of Pascha, because for them life is a burden and constant suffering.  And don’t assume that I’m referring to people suffering physically from pain, disabled people, or people afflicted by grief or tragedy.  Absolutely not.  I’m speaking of those who lost their purpose in life.

I think that Great Lent can help guide people in their search for a purpose simultaneously providing them with a very important framework for it.  This framework is planted in the texts of the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, and in other texts read during Great Lent, in the texts of the Lenten Triodion, in the texts of the Menaion and of the Octoechos, in other words, in the liturgical books that are read daily.

Those texts meditate on the heroes of the Old and New Testaments, on people searching to encounter God, who lived, suffered, rejoiced, sinned, and repented.  In other words, these texts contain, if I may say so, models of all human conditions, models of all our actions.

The ability to enjoy life is a special skill for adults, a skill that it is possible to acquire.  Traditions, culture, and the framework of life are all part of it.  Moreover, it is obviously an inner skill, an inner virtue – to live joyfully, to sense that life is joy, a gift, the greatest gift.  It is gratitude to God!  Knowing that your soul is a gift that will never be taken away, a priceless gift.  This kind of inner disposition is faith.

The disposition of the soul is the foundation of the personality.  On the contrary, fear and anxiety are like a veil that comes between the person and the world – a special perception of the world, a mistrust of the world…

For this reason, we can learn to rejoice.  Joy is an achievement; I would even call it, a commandment.  It is for this very reason that St. Paul says, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18)

                                                                               Oksana Golovko spoke to Protopriest Andrei Lorgus

Translated from the Russian by Maria Nekipelov

Friday, April 14, 2017

Recurring Miracle of the Holy Flame

The coming of the Holy Flame (which lights an oil lamp held by the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem every year on Holy Saturday) is a recurring miracle in the Orthodox Church.  The miracle has been documented consecutively since 1106 AD.  From the lighted oil lamp, the Patriarch ignites candles and shares the flame with the faithful.   


This miraculous flame that comes to the Patriarch while he is praying in Christ’s tomb (located within in the Holy Sepulcher Church, Jerusalem) intrigues people—whether believers of not. 

Pravoslavie.ru website has posted an excellent, if not somewhat lengthy, article titled The Holy Flame: the Greatness of the Miracle, and the Helplessness of the Skeptics.  It’s worth reading—and sharing with others who might have interest, too. 

Kali Anastasi to all!
Presbytera Candace

The personal experience of Holy Week

Therefore, no matter what we experience, or no matter how little we experience, let us attend these services, let us immerse ourselves in what they have to say to us. We will not try to forcibly squeeze some feelings out of ourselves: it is enough to watch; it is enough to hear. Let the events themselves—for these are events and not just memories—break us in body and soul. Then, when we forget ourselves and think rather of Christ, about what is really taking place during these days, we will reach also that Great Saturday when Christ is laid to rest in the tomb—and we also will find rest. When at night we hear the announcement of the Resurrection, we too will be able to suddenly come alive from that terrible numbness, from that terrible death of Christ, from Christ’s dying, of which we shall partake at least a little during these days of the Passion.  

On Great and Holy Friday

A homily given by St. Ignatius Brianchaninov

The Crucifixion
Fresco by Dm. Mironenko

And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts, and returned (Lk. 23:48).

What was this sight, which brought the onlookers to total bewilderment? What was this sight, which sealed the lips of the onlookers with silence, and yet struck their souls? They came as to a spectacle, just to satisfy their curiosity; they left the scene beating their breasts, carrying away a horrifying astonishment… What was this sight?

Not only did people look at this sight—the angels of God also looked upon it with terror and the deepest awe; their attention was no longer drawn to heavenly objects—their gaze was turned and riveted to the scene unfolding on the earth. The sun saw something it had never seen before, and, unable to bear what it saw, hid its rays like a man shutting his eyes against an unbearable sight; it cloaked itself in deep darkness, expressing with this dark cloak a sorrow so bitter—as bitter as death. The earth quaked and trembled beneath the event taking place upon it. The Old Testament Church rent its magnificent veil—that is how those experiencing an irrevocable calamity rack themselves, not sparing their most precious garments. All those who came to this sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts, and returned… What was this sight?

It was the sight we now commemorate in the present Church service, and behold in the sacred Image before our eyes. The sight was the Son of God, Who came down from the heavens, became man for the salvation of the human race, and was mocked and scourged by men.

What feeling, if not that of horror, should wholly envelope the heart at this sight? What state, if not a state of absolute bewilderment, should be our state of mind? What word could be pronounced at this sight? Does not every human word die upon the lips, before it can even proceed from the lips?

All those who came to this sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts, and returned.

They returned, smiting their breasts; they returned in bewilderment and fear, who had come to look at the Savior hanging on the tree of the cross, like a ripe and reddened fruit; they came to gape with probing thoughts, out of pompous and false self-importance. Faith was silent in them. The darkened sun called out to them, the quaking earth called out to them, the rocks, cracked with a loud noise and parted over the graves of corpses suddenly come to life by the death of the Savior. In vain did the curious come, for they returned in terror—not from the very act of deicide, but from the threatening gaze and voice of shuddering, insensible nature, expressing its knowledge of God before a humanity that had not recognized Him. Beating their breasts, they returned in fear for themselves, for their flesh and blood, for the sake of which the blood of the God-man was spilled, and His body tormented.

At the same time the Jews, who took their solace in the Law and boasted of their broad and exact knowledge of it, where bewildered when they beheld the events foretold by the Law and the prophets; when they beheld the voluntary Sacrifice of which they were the unwitting priests. At the same time that the Jews were bewildered and returned, shaken with dread and a dark presentiment of their own calamity, a pagan centurion stood fixed before the cross. He could not leave, for he was in charge of the watch that guarded the Sacrifice; to him was given that fortunate impossibility, because a faith was hidden in his heart that the Seer of hearts could see. When nature cried out its confession of God, the centurion gave an answer to the mysterious voice of nature, an answer to the mysterious testimony, by confessing clearly and for all to hear. Truly this was the Son of God (Mt. 27:54), he said of the executed stranger who hung before his eyes, recognizing in this executed stranger to be God.

The Jews, proud of their knowledge of the letter of the Law and their external ritual correctness, were bewildered before the crucified Son of Man and Son of God upon the cross. On the one hand they were stunned by the signs: the earthquake, the rending of the temple veil, the deep darkness that came at noon; on the other hand they were blinded and hardened by carnal reason and proud self-delusion, which pictured the Messiah as dazzling with earthly glory, as a magnificent king, the conqueror of the world, at the head of a great army, within a host of luxurious kingly palaces. Meanwhile the soldier, a pagan, confessed the executed stranger to be God; a criminal at that time confessed Him as God. "Come down from the cross!" the blind Judaic high priest and scribes said mockingly to the God-Man, not understanding what all-holy Sacrifice, what all-holy and all-powerful Whole Burnt Offering they were bringing to God. Come down from the cross, that we may see and believe (Mk. 15:30, 32). At that time, a coarse, ignorant thief recognized Him as God, and as One Who had ascended the cross by reason of His Divine righteousness, and not from any sin of His own. With his bodily eyes he saw one naked, crucified next to him, subjected to the same treatment with him, a helpless pauper, condemned by both the religious and civil authorities, tormented, punished, and again tormented and punished by all the expressions of hatred; but with the eyes of a humble heart, he saw God. The strong, glorious, intelligent, and righteous of the world covered God with cursing and mockery, while the thief turned to Him with a timely and effective prayer: Remember me, O Lord, when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom (Lk. 23:42).

The Most Holy Virgin stood by the cross and the crucified Lord. Her heart was pierced with grief as if by a sword: the prophecy of Elder Simeon was being fulfilled.[1] But She knew that the redemption of the human race was being fulfilled on the cross; She knew that Her Son, the Son of God, deigned to ascend the cross and offer Himself as a peace sacrifice for rejected mankind; She knew that the Lord, having brought the redemption of mankind by His death, will resurrect, and resurrect mankind with Himself. She knew this—and was silent. She was silent before the magnitude of the event; She was silent from the over-abundance of sorrow; She was silent before the fulfillment of God's will, which no voice can oppose.

The beloved disciple [John] of the Lord stood by the cross. He looked up at the height of the cross—in the ineffable love of the voluntary Sacrifice, and he contemplated Divine love. Divine love is the source of theology. Love is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and theology is a gift of the Holy Spirit (see Rom. 5:5). Love revealed to the Apostles the mystical meaning of redemption. God's love constraineth us, theologizes the disciple and emissary of Christ, reasoning thus: because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead (2 Cor 5:14). But the infinite love that the Lord had for mankind, and which only the Lord is capable of possessing, suffered on the cross in the person of the Lord; and all mankind died in the person of the Lord. If mankind suffered in Him, then it was justified in Him; if it died in Him, then it is also revived in Him. The Lord turned death into the source of life.

Suddenly came the voice of the crucified Lord from the cross to the Ever-virgin: Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! (Jn. 19:26–27). Destroying on the tree of the cross our forefather's and mother's sin, which they committed at the tree of paradise; giving mankind birth into a new life by a living-creating death, to the Lord passes the rights of the Father of mankind, and He proclaims His Mother according to the flesh to be the mother of his disciple and of all His disciples—the Christian race. The old Adam is replaced by the New Adam, and fallen Eve is replaced by the immaculate Mary. For if through the offence of one many be dead, said the Apostle [Paul], much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many (Rom 5:15). Through our Lord Jesus Christ, innumerable and unutterable benefactions are poured out upon the human race: not only was man redeemed, but he was also made a son of God by adoption.

Illumined by the contemplation of the great event, let us return, beloved brethren, to our homes, and bring along with us deep, saving thoughts, smiting our hearts with these thoughts. We remembered and vividly beheld the act of divine love; an act surpassing words, surpassing comprehension. Martyrs responded to this love by the streams of their blood, poured out like water; the saints responded to this love by the mortification of their flesh with the affections and lusts (Gal. 5:24); many sinners responded to this love with a flood of tears, heartfelt sighs, and the confession of their sins, and drew from it healing of their souls; many people burdened by sorrows and sickness responded to this love, and this love dissolved their sorrows by Divine consolation. Let us also respond to the love of our Lord Jesus Christ by our sympathy with His love: by a life according to His all-holy commandments. He demands this sign of love from us, and only this sign of love will He accept from us. If a man love me, said He, he will keep my words: He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings (Jn 14:23-24). If we do not respond to the Lord's love for us by our love for Him, then was not the blood of the God-Man shed in vain? Was not His all-holy body tormented for us in vain? Was not the Great Sacrifice placed upon the table of oblation and pierced in vain? Its intercession for our salvation is all-powerful; all-powerful also is its indictment against those who disdain it. The blood of righteous Able rose from the earth to heaven, and stood before God to accuse those who had shed that blood; the voice of the great Sacrifice rings out through the very heavens, on the very throne of the Godhead, upon which the great Sacrifice is seated. The voice of Its indictment is also God's sentence of eternal punishment to the enemies and disdainers of the Son of God. What profit is there in My Blood when I go down into corruption? (Ps. 29:9) announces the all-holy Sacrifice, accusing Christians whom It has redeemed, who took the price of It on themselves, and cast It down along with themselves into the stench of sin. Anyone who has made his soul and body members of Christ, redeemed by Christ and belonging to Christ, commits a terrible crime when he then makes them the members of an harlot (1 Cor. 6:15) through multiform merging with sin. Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy (1 Cor. 3:16–17). Amen.
St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov)
Translated by Nun Cornelia (Rees)
12 / 04 / 2012

[1]Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also, said the holy God-receiver to the Most Holy Virgin (see Lk. 2:35). 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Homily for Holy Wednesday

Hasten to the Tree of the Cross of Christ

St. Innocent (Borisov)
Today is the day of the Lord’s betrayal, a day dark and dolorous, which is why the Holy Church marks it on par with the day of the Lord’s death, with the seal of fasting throughout the whole year. He who loves his Savior will not break this seal, but will with all faithfulness maintain this sign of sorrow and mourning for His beloved. For, although the betrayal, as well as the death of the Lord, served as the consequences of the salvation of the whole world, all the same, this action was the darkest and most atrocious. I imagine it was even more criminal than the Crucifixion itself. For those who crucified the Lord did not know Him as they should have: For had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8). And who betrayed Him? His own disciple, one of the twelve—that is, the closest. He was betrayed by one who heard every one of the Lord’s conversations, was witness to His life and miracles, shared with Him, and continued with Him for more than three years, in joy and sorrow.
After all this, the betrayal by the traitor is so unexpected that the Church itself in bewilderment will wonder tomorrow, “What caused you to betray the Savior, O Judas? Did He expel you from the ranks of the apostles? Did He take from you the gift of healing? Did He send you from the table while taking supper with the others? Did He wash their feet and pass you by? How have you forgotten such good things? Your ingratitude is notorious, But His boundless long-suffering and great mercy are proclaimed to all!” (Matins of Holy Friday, Sedalen Tone 7).
Everything was done for Judas, and everything was despised by him! That he had no reason to lament and complain about his Teacher is demonstrated by his own words and terrible end: I have sinned, he said to the very men who would kill the Master, in that I have betrayed the innocent blood (Mt. 27:4).
What led you, you wretch, to this terrible sin? Avarice and the devil, say the Evangelists. Carrying the money chest, the Iscariot was addicted to what he was carrying, and turned out to be a thief. After that, the holy community of Jesus, which was dominated by a voluntary spirit of poverty and selflessness, became alien for him, heavy, repugnant to his soul, and infected with passion. Judas everywhere and in all things dreamed of lucre and silver pieces. The devil did not hesitate to take advantage of this miserably-disposed heart, and, establishing his dwelling in Judas’ soul, forced him to look at everything happening not with the eyes of faith and love, as the other apostles did, but with the self-serving eyes of publicans and Pharisees. That is how Judas looked upon the myrrh which Mary poured out upon the feet of Jesus, and, pretending to be a friend to paupers, he complained that it was not sold, and the money was not given to the disposal of his wickedness. Undoubtedly, Judas looked upon everything else this way too. “Why,” he thought, “do we walk from one corner of Judea to another like beggars? Why not take advantage of the people’s zeal, and take power into our hands, which belongs to Him anyway? After all, the Messiah should, in the end, reign over everyone and everything. Do we really have to wait for them to capture and execute us all? It will surely happen. Let others wait for that. The Iscariot is not so simple and near-sighted. He’ll get his before that.” “What are you waiting for?” the devil whispered in his ears.
Now the most favorable thing is for him to lag behind Jesus’ community. You see how the Sanhedrin seeks a chance to secretly take the Teacher. You can even do this subtly so the Master doesn’t consider you a traitor. For, what does it require? Just show where the Teacher stays at night. Moreover, they’ll pay you for this important service, and through this you’ll become connected with the top officials of the Sanhedrin. And it won’t be a big problem for Him: You yourself have seen how He more than once miraculously saved Himself from all the machinations and webs of His enemies; and He’ll save Himself now, and you will do your deed and make yourself happy. Take the opportunity, and hurry!
This miserable disciple truly hurries—to his death. Under the pretext of shopping for the feast, he finds occasion to secretly visit the high priests and arranges the betrayal with them. The desire not to present himself a lowly merchant, trading for blood, and to demonstrate an imaginary zeal for the good of the Sanhedrin, forces him to agree to the most insignificant price, in the hope of, in time, bigger and better rewards. For this he appeared even in the Garden of Gethsemane, with the appearance not of a traitor, but of a man returning from an errand, who therefore allowed himself to greet the Master as a friend, and even to kiss Him—although this kiss was itself a sign for those Jewish soldiers appearing then as if without any agreement with Judas. That is why none of the disciples could tell until the very end who the traitor was.
The Master alone saw and knew everything; He saw and spared no expense to save, not Himself, but this poor disciple. So much poignant teaching at the last supper! The washing of the feet, and the giving of the Body and Blood could touch the spirit of the reprobate, but it didn’t touch Judas! The passion of avarice suppressed all else!
But it was suppressed only temporarily. When the plan was accomplished, when the Master, instead of miraculously saving Himself from His enemies, gave Himself over to them as a lamb to the slaughter, Judas awoke and remembered all the good, holy, and Divine He saw in Jesus, and turned to remorse. The pieces of silver were thrown down, the Master’s innocence was publicly confessed; it remained only to, like Peter, cleanse his sin by tears and turn to the Lord and Master with faith. But the devil inspired something else: First he seduces him with impassivity, then he taunts him with his unforgiven guilt and sin. And now Judas hangs dead on a tree! Then, and not before, these terrible words overtook him in all their strength: It had been good for that man if he had not been born (Mt. 26:24; Mk. 14:41).
You see to what end the passion of avarice led this man, who was not even the evilest! For, if Judas had not promised much good from himself, he would not have been chosen as an apostle.
Let us, brethren, keep watch over these ailments, just as other passions, for they are all equally dangerous, and sooner or later, they will end in man’s spiritual and bodily death. But, having fallen, do not despond, and do not despair! There are no incurable diseases for the Heavenly Doctor. As long as we live, we can be saved, no matter how great our sins. If Judas himself, instead of the deadly tree, had hastened to the tree of the Cross of Christ with faith and repentance, then he would have entered Paradise with the repentant thief, without any silver pieces. This is how all the Divinely-wise fathers of the Church speak and teach about it. Amen.

Friday, April 7, 2017

My Tongue--Friend or Foe?

by Archpriest Artemy Vladimirov
Translated by Jesse Dominick

The identity of every one of us is unique and, moreover, can never be reproduced. It would seem that all have a soul and body, with much in common with one another to be found, but all the same, appearance, poise, and manner of dress are always individual, and especially our language, speech, words. Tell me a few words and I will tell you much about your soul.

Truly, our words, like it or not, reveal what is hidden deep within our hearts; or, as says the Gospel, out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh (Mt. 12:34). In what here is the enigma? To say briefly, the word reveals the mysteries of the mind and heart. The word reveals a man’s way of thinking. The word bears witness to which force—good or evil—lives in the human soul.

If your word be ingratiating and deceiving, brimming with the spirit of pride, vexation, or petulance, if your word be filled with the venom of condemnation, then how much more full of this is the heart, from the abundance of which you speak, opening but a smidgeon of that which you conceal within your miserable soul. And conversely, when you hear a word true and clear, a word good and sprightly, comforting and conciliating, it remains for us only to guess at the spiritual treasure, which is the soul of the one speaking. However, Christ the Savior instructs us to discern a man not by word alone, but also by deed. From their fruits ye shall know them.

Our mindset—or worldview—just like our language, depends greatly upon our manner of life. Conducting a life that is reprehensible and disgraceful, acting dishonestly and unconscionably, a man will choose a philosophy in accordance with his own spoiled disposition. And no matter how he tries to disguise himself by unctuous and grandiloquent words, the cat is out of the bag. A cruel and impure heart will always express itself and begrudgingly unfold, smiting and biting suddenly its simplehearted listener with some caustic, cynical or indecent wordlet, as if having fallen off unexpectedly from some sycophantic and high-falutin’ tongue.


And do you know that by means of a word you can heal, and, moreover, cultivate and nourish a soul pure and beautiful? From the outset, from your language (or, as they say, lexicon) must be deleted all words offensive and wounding to our moral sense. May no such putrescent words escape from your mouth. The holy apostle of Christ gives us this precept. As long as we permit such words to profane and pollute ours and other’s hearing, there can be no question of any moral, God-pleasing life. I tell you that for every idle word thatpeople say, on the Day of Judgment they will give answer; for you will be justified by your words or condemned by them, warns the Gospel.

When we have worked well upon ourselves and our lives, introducing into our consciousness, mind, and heart words true, holy, and incorruptible: God, the Lord, mercy, chastity, innocence, faith, true, peace, joy and all the rest—then our manner of thought will change and our hearts will become open to the influence of another power—the grace of God, which strengthens a Christian in his striving to fulfill the evangelical commandments. But how, you ask, can we introduce these wondrous words into our consciousness, how can we cleanse the mind by them, that the Holy Spirit would consecrate our hearts, thoughts, yearnings and deeds? The answer is simple: pray. All the prayers of the Orthodox Church, beginning with the Lord’s Prayer, are holy links that unite this word-bearing reasonable creation—man—with God the Word.

Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev, a great author of this great earth, deemed our Russian language mighty and beautiful, as within itself it unites, as in a single stream, two living currents—the element of the sacred Church Slavonic language and the element of the precise, expressive, succinct, and wise folk, conversational language, from the words of which was formed, not without Pushkinian genius, the Russian literary language. And then Mikhail Vasilievich Lomonosov wrote on the benefits of reading Church books to young people, and in Rus’ of old the Book of Hours and the Psalter were the textbooks for those beginning to explore grammar, and those acquiring practical reading competency.


I am convinced, that if at least one of our readers has a personal prayer book (as we call a collection of morning, evening, and other prayers),[1] he already does not allow himself to use any vituperative word, or to pronounce the name of God in vain or carelessly, as you hear all too often, unfortunately, in the mouths of modern men.

We all recall from childhood those adult admonitions on the so-called magical words: hello, please, thank you. But perhaps not all have delved into their inner meaning. In the past, uttering a greeting was to heartily wish your interlocutor long life in health and prosperity;[2] using the word “please,” was to express a reverential attitude to a man older in age and wise in life experience. Namely with the words “Welcome, elder” a traveler, exhausted from the road, was welcomed into your domicile in antiquity, or the invited was asked to sit in a place more honorable, nearer to the head of the family.[3] “Christ save you, Lord save you, God save you” is what infuses our modern “thank you”—not a simple verbal gratitude, nor a formula of courtesy, but a prayer for salvation, for the attainment of mercy from the Lord on the Day of Judgment.[4] I hope it is becoming clear that using these words “with meaning,” we warm our speech with the breath of Divine grace, make our converse with others truly warm and cordial, and draw upon our own souls the mercy of God.


How great the gift of words; how lamentable the consequences of this gift’s misuse. The tongue, gifted us by the Creator for the glorification of His name and the increase of good in dialogue with one another, can be the cause of condemnation unto death eternal for the impenitent sinner! And just think—the truth of God, as the Gospel promises, will from each of us demand a reckoning for our every idle word! For any word, empty, meaningless, spoken without meaning and without avail, can be chronicled in the category of “idle.” What to say about the rest—the sharp, caustic, obscene, vulgar, and wicked?! This is why there developed the saying: “My tongue—my enemy.” Thankfully, our readers know that the Merciful Lord in the Mystery of Confession forgives all, if you repent with the fervent intent to reform.

In conclusion, I would like to offer to you three small, golden rules for the tongue. Who fulfills them ceases to sin by the tongue, which, you will agree, is no small thing.

First rule.

“Think about what you say.” In other words, weigh in your mind that word which finds itself on the tip of your tongue. Reflect as you should, and then simply speak. And never regret it.

Second rule.

“Never say that which you don’t think.” Don’t be disingenuous, and don’t prevaricate. Better to remain silent than to speak untruth.

Third rule.

“Do not say all that you are thinking.” This rule does not call us, as, perhaps, it seems to some, to hypocrisy and opportunism, but it advises to properly value our collocutor and the position of his soul. Is he ready today to hear from you those words, which three days later would peacefully lay upon his heart? Will they bring to him the benefit you intended to speak? Does he need to hear your opinion on this question? And won’t you disappoint anyone, won’t you release another’s secrets with your careless word? And dozens of other questions could justify this rule. In a word, do not say all that you are thinking.

Some rhetoricians reduced these three cited rules into one golden formula for wise speech: “Think about what you say, to whom you say it, why you are saying it, where you are saying it, and what will be the consequences of it.”

We close our reflections upon language and word with a simple wish: read more kind, wise, good, and above all, holy books!
28 / 01 / 2017

[1] Fr. Artemy is here explaining the Russian term for “prayer book,” “молитвослов”—a combination of the words for “prayer” and “words”—presumably for any non-Orthodox readers who may happen to be reading the article.

[2] The more formal Russian greetings, “здравствуй” and “здравствуйте” literally mean “be healthy.”

[3] Fr. Artemy is here saying that the phrase “пожалуй, старче” (“welcome, elder”) was condensed into “пожалуйста,” which means “you’re welcome,” “please,” etc.

[4] “Спаси тебя Бог” (“God save you”), a prayer often said to express thanks to someone, was condensed into “спасибо” (“thank you”).