Jul 31, 2009

Intense Prayer

I am rereading Gifts of the Desert, by Kyriacos C. Markides.  Markides is in conversation with Fr. Maximos (bishop of Cyprus) concerning crying out to God for help.

"When a person is crushed by sorrow then his prayer may become more intense," Father Maximos continued.  "Saint Silouan, the twentieth-century Russian elder from Mount Athos, knew a layman, a worker who prayed with great intensity.  'Where did you learn to pray like that?' he asked him.  The laborer replied that he did so during the war when it was a tossup whether he was going to live or die."

To further illustrate the point, Father Maximos related the extraordinary experience of an Athonite elder he knew personally: "One day after vespers were over the elder went to his cell to continue praying on his own.  While doing that, he marveled at the thought that everybody - all two thousand or so monks on the entire Athonite peninsula - was pramt. athosying during that very moment.  Then, he wondered what the Holy Mountain looked like under such intensive prayer.

"At that very moment he experienced himself being catapulted by the Holy Spirit high up in the air.  It was as if he were looking down from an airplane.  From that high point, he saw the Athonite peninsula spurting out flames like an active volcano, as if the entire mountain was on fire.  Some of the flames went straight up to heaven.  Others seemed weak, like the flame of a small candle, while yet others were flickering and barely visible.  Yet, there was one, this elder claimed, that was like a fiery river that went straight up.  He then overhead a voice coming from heaven saying 'What you have witnessed is the Holy Mountain and these are the prayers of the monks that go up to God.'  Then the elder asked, 'And whose prayer is this great river of fire?'  God replied that it was the prayer of a certain abbot at a certain monastery, whose name cannot be revealed since this abbot is still alive.

"You see," Father Maximos went on and rested back on his armchair, "God is not some kind of impersonal intelligence.  God is personal and communicates with us, speaks to us, and can catapult us to other parts of his kingdom as in the case of that abbot."

Jul 30, 2009

This Was from Me

Translated from the original Russian by Hierodeacon Samuel, Monastery of St Job of Pochaev, Munich, Germany, for the Orthodox Christian Information Center. Posted on 3/6/2008.

Translator's note: Inasmuch as the text below was distributed from hand-to-hand in samizdat form for several decades, printed versions include competing explanations of its authorship and origin. The most common attribution is to St Seraphim of Viritsa, who was said to have written it in 1937 to a certain bishop, his spiritual son, who was at the time in prison. It is almost entirely certain, however, that the author is in fact Metropolitan Manuel (Lemeshevsky) of Kuibyshev and Syzran (1884-1968). It is known that St Seraphim of Viritsa and Metropolitan Manuel were acquainted, and therefore it could be speculated that this meditation represents the latter's record of the saint's spiritual teaching.
Saint Seraphim of Viritsa's Spiritual Testament

Have you ever thought that everything that touches you touches Me as well? For that which touches you, touches the apple of My eye.  You are dear in my eyes, precious, and I have loved you; therefore it is a particular pleasure for Me to educate you.

When temptations arise against you, and the enemy comes like a river, I want you to know - This was from Me.  Your weakness needs My strength, and your safety comes from giving Me the opportunity to fight for you. If you find yourself in difficult circumstances, among people who do not understand you, who do not take what you like into consideration, who alienate you - This was from Me.

I am God, Who arranges circumstances. It was no accident that you find yourself in the place where you are; this is the place I have appointed for you. Did you not ask that I teach you humility? Well, then, look: I have placed you in precisely that place, in that school, where this lesson is learned. Your surroundings and those who live with you are only fulfilling My will.

If you find yourself in financial difficulty, if you find it hard to make ends meet - This wast__seraphim_of_viritsas from Me.  For I have your material means at my disposal. I want you to call unto me, for you to be dependent upon Me. My reserves are inexhaustible. I want you to be confirmed in fidelity to Me and to My promises. May it not be said to you in your need: You did not believe in the Lord your God.

Are you in a night of suffering? Are you separated from your loved ones and those close to your heart? - This was from Me.  I am the Man of suffering, Who has tasted affliction. I have allowed this so that you would turn to Me, so that in Me you would find eternal comfort.

If you have been let down by your friend, by someone to whom you opened your heart - This was from Me. I allowed this disappointment to touch you so that you would know that your best friend is the Lord. I want you to bring everything to Me and to speak to Me.  Has someone slandered you? Give this to me, and bring your soul closer to Me, your Refuge, to hide from the contradiction of the nations. I shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your judgment as the noonday.

If your plans have been destroyed, if you are downtrodden in soul and tired - This was from Me.  You made plans, and brought them to Me, so that I would bless them. But I want you to leave Me in charge of the circumstances of your life, and then responsibility for everything will be Mine, for this is too difficult for you; by yourself you cannot manage them, for you are only an instrument, and not the actor.

If unanticipated problems of life have visited you, and if despondency has seized your heart, then know - This was from Me.  For I want your heart and your soul to be always aflame before My eyes; to conquer faint-heartedness of the soul in My name.

If you do not hear from your dear ones and friends for a long time, and in your faint-heartedness fall into despondency and grumbling, know - This was from Me.  By this anguish in your spirit, I test the strength of your faith in the surety of My promise and the strength of your boldness in prayer for these dear ones of yours. Was it not you who entrusted them to the Protection of My All-Pure Mother? Was it not you who once entrusted their care to My providential love?

If serious illness, either temporary or incurable, has visited you, and has confined you to your bed, then know - This was from Me.  For I want you to know Me even more deeply in your bodily infirmities, so that you would not grumble over this trial sent to you, that you would not try to penetrate My plans through different means for the salvation of people’s souls, but that you would uncomplainingly and submissively bow your neck under My goodness towards you.

If you have dreamed of performing some special deed for Me, and instead have fallen onto a bed of sickness and weakness - This was from Me.  Then you would have been immersed in your activities, and I would not have been able to attract your thoughts to Me, for I want to teach you My deepest thoughts and lessons, so that you would be in My service. I want to teach you to recognize that you are nothing. Some of My best co-workers are those who have been cut off from vital activity so that they would learn to wield the weapon of unceasing prayer.

Have you unexpectedly been called to occupy a difficult and responsible position? Go - place it on Me. I entrust these difficulties to you so that the Lord God would bless you for this in all your deeds, on all your paths, in everything that will done by your hands. On this day I put into your hands a vessel of holy oil. Use it generously, My children! Every difficulty that arises, every word that insults you, every obstacle to your work that could elicit in you a feeling of annoyance, every revelation of your weakness and inability, shall be anointed with this oil.

Remember that every obstacle is a Divine instruction. Every sting will be dulled when you learn to see Me in everything that touches you. Therefore place the word I have declared to you today in your heart: This was from Me. For this is not an empty matter for you - this is your life.

Jul 26, 2009

Handing Over the Bride

More from the homilies of John Chrysostom (347-407)

Evangelical churches do not impart the same significance to John the Baptist (Forerunner) as does the Orthodox faith.  So, I was always puzzled by this seemingly radical statement by Jesus concerdeisis of pantocrator theotokos forerunnerning John:

I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.  - Luke 7:28

Obviously I was missing something pretty grand in the whole scheme of things for Christ to make such a claim about John.  Indeed, in the Orthodox church, where there is an icon of Christ, one often finds an icon of his mother, Mary (Theotokos) on His left and an icon of John the Baptist on His right. Through my reading of the early Church Fathers, I am learning more about the significance of John's role in ushering in the salvation of the human race.  John Chrysostom offers a wonderful allegory to help explain one aspect of John's incredible ministry.
...says the Evangelist [the Apostle John], "John stood, and says, Behold, the Lamb of God." Christ utters no word, His messenger says all. So it is with a bridegroom. He says not for a while anything to the bride, but is there in silence, while some show him to the bride, and others give her into his hands; she merely appears, and he departs not having taken her himself, but when he has received her from another who gives her to him. And when he has received her thus given, he so disposes her, that she no more remembers those who betrothed her. So it was with Christ. He came to join to Himself the Church; He said nothing, but merely came. It was His friend, John, who put into His the bride's right hand, when by his discourses he gave into His hand the souls of men. He having received them, afterwards so disposed them, that they departed no more to John who had committed them to Him.

And here we may remark, not this only, but something besides. As at a marriage the maiden goes not to the bridegroom, but he hastens to her, though he be a king's son, and though he be about to espouse some poor and abject person, or even a servant, so it was here. Man's nature did not go up, but contemptible and poor as it was, He came to it, and when the marriage had taken place, He suffered it no longer to tarry here, but having taken it to Himself, transported it to the house of His Father.

- Gospel of John, homily 18

Jul 23, 2009

Is Life Fair?

It is difficult at times to live in this world without making comparisons between our situation, oscalesur resources, our abilities, our accomplishments and those of other people.  We desperately want things to be "fair" - of course,  as we define fairness.  We cannot imagine that there could be any good, any advantage, any ultimate purpose achieved by inequality.  But life is different lived in the Kingdom of God.

When Abba Antony thought about the depth of the judgments of God, he asked, 'Lord, how is it that some die when they are young, while others drag on to extreme old age? Why are there those who are poor and those who are rich? Why do wicked men prosper and why are the just in need?' He heard a voice answering him, 'Antony, keep your attention on yourself; these things are according to the judgment of God, and it is not to your advantage to know anything about them.'

- Saying of St. Antony the Great

John 21:20-23

Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?”

Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?”

Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”

Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die.

Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?”

Jul 22, 2009

Sons of God

More from the homilies of John Chrysostom (347-407)

As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become sons of God. (John 1:12)

Whether bond or free, whether Greeks or barbarians or Scythians, unlearned or learned, female or male, children or old men, in honor or dishonor, rich or poor, rulers or private persons, all, He says, are deemed worthy the same privilege; for faith and the grace of the Spirit, removing the inequality caused by worldly things, has moulded all to one fashion, and stamped them with one impress, the King's. What can equal this lovingkindness?

A king, who is framed of the same clay with us, does not deign to enroll among the royal host his fellow-servants, who share the same nature with himself, and in character often are better than he, if they chance to be slaves; but the Only-Begotten Son of God did not disdain to reckon among the company of His children both publicans, sorcerers, and slaves, nay, men of less repute and greater poverty thagold nuggetn these, maimed in body, and suffering from ten thousand ills.

Such is the power of faith in Him, such the excess of His grace. And as the element of fire, when it meets with ore from the mine, straightway of earth makes it gold, even so and much more Baptism makes those who are washed to be of gold instead of clay; the Spirit at that time falling like fire into our souls, burning up the image of the earthy (Corinthians 15:49), and producing the image of the heavenly, fresh coined, bright and glittering, as from the furnace-mould.

- Gospel of John, Homily 10.2

Jul 21, 2009


More from the homilies of John Chrysostom (347-407)

Vainglory - I have known this word all my life but never understood it in the terms that John Chrysostom explains.
For when men alter a right faith for reputation's sake, and dishonor God that they may be in high repute themselves, tell me, what excess of stupidity and madness must there not be in what they do? Other passions, even if they are very hurtful, at least bring some pleasure with them, though it be but for a time and fleeting; those who love money, or wine, or women, have, with their hurt, a pleasure, though a brief one. But those who are taken captives by this passion, live a life continually embittered and stripped of enjoyment, for they do not obtain what they earnestly desire, glory, I mean, from the many. They think they enjoy it, but do not really, because the thing they aim at is not glory at all. And therefore their state of mind is not called glory, but a something void of glory, vaingloriousness, so have all the ancients named it, and with good reason; inasmuch as it is quite empty, and contains nothing bright or glorious within it, but as players' masks seem to be bright and lovely, but are hollow within, (for which cause, though they be more beautiful than natural faces, yet they never draw any to love them,) even so, or rather yet more wretchedly, has the applause of the multitude tricked out for us this passion, dangerous as an antagonist, and cruel as a master. Its countenance alone is bright, but within it is no more like the mask's mere emptiness, but crammed with dishonor, and full of savage tyranny.

- Gospel of John, Homily 3.5

Jul 19, 2009

The Raging Seas

ChrysostomI am currently reading some of the homilies of John Chrysostom (347-407) and will be posting selections from his insights into scripture.  For those unfamiliar with this particular saint, a brief description may prove helpful.

As Archbishop of Constantinople, he was a well known bishop and preacher from the fourth and fifth centuries in Syria and Constantinople.  He was famous for his eloquence in public speaking and his denunciation of abuse of authority in the Church and the Roman Empire of the time.  After his death, he was named Chrysostom, which comes from the Greek word Χρυσόστομος – “golden-mouthed.”

For confusion arises within us, not from the nature of circumstances, but from the infirmity of our minds; for if we were thus affected by reason of what befalls us, then, (as we all sail the same sea, and it is impossible to escape waves and spray,) all men must needs be troubled; but if there are some who stand beyond the influence of the storm and the raging sea, then it is clear that it is not circumstances which make the storm, but the condition of our own mind. If therefore we so order the mind that it may bear all things contentedly, we shall have no storm nor even a ripple, but always a clear calm.

- Gospel of John, Homily 3.2