For a young man who asked about prayer

My beloved brother in Christ, I wish you be well! Today I received your letter and I answer to everything you wrote to me. What you asked me does not require time or effort to think about how to answer.

For me the prayer of the mind is like any other craft, because I have been practicing it for more than 36 years.

When I came to the Holy Mountain I looked first for the hermits who practiced the prayer. At that time – about 40 years ago – there were many who had life in themselves. Virtuous people, elders of the old times. From these we chose spiritual advisers.

Thus the work of the mind is to strive to say permanently the prayer with your mouth. At the beginning quickly so that the mind has no time to form vain thoughts. Take heed only at the words: Jesus Christ have mercy on me! And when this is done for a long time, the mind gets used with it and shall say it all the time.

Sweeten yourself as if you had honey in your mouth and due to this you shall come to wish that you say it without cease. And if you leave it you are grieved.

When the mind gets used with it and fills with it – it learns it well – then it sends it to the heart. Because the mind is the one that feeds the soul and anything it sees or hears, be it good or bad, its role is to send it to the heart, where is the center of the spiritual and bodily power of man, the throne of the mind. When that one who prays keeps his mind so that it does not imagine anything, only takes heed at the words of the prayer, then breathing softly, with a little strife and will, takes it to the heart and keeps it there as in a grasp and says the prayer rhythmically: Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me!

At first he says the prayer for a few times and breathes once. Then after the mind gets used to staying in the heart, says a prayer at each breath. Lord Jesus Christ and breathes in at have mercy on me then breathes out. And this is repeated until the grace adumbrates him and begins to work inside his soul. After that everything is contemplation.

The prayer may be said everywhere, when you sit down, lie in bed, walk or stand. Pray without cease. Give thanks for everything, says the apostle. You should not pray only when you go to bed, but also when you stand or sit. Strife is required. When you get tired, sit down.Then again stand up so that you will not fall asleep.

This is called accomplishment. You show your good intention to God. Then everything depends on Him, if He gives it to you. God is the beginning and the end. His grace accomplishes everything. The grace is the driving force.

How love is born and works depends on the fulfillment of the commandments. When you wake up in the night and pray, when you see the sick and have compassion for him, when you see the widow, the orphans, the old people and pray for them, then God loves you. But you love Him too. He loves first and pours His. If you try to find Him only through prayer do not breathe without prayer. Only be careful not to receive any imagining because God is shapeless, He cannot be contained in images, He is without colour, beyond perfection. He cannot be subject of any reasoning. He works like a soft breeze in our minds.

Humility comes when you think how much you upset God when He is so kind, so sweet, so merciful, so loving; when He was crucified and suffered so much for us. When you think about all these and about many others suffered by God, they bring you humility.

Thus if you can say the prayer aloud, without cease in two three months you shall get used with it. The grace shall adumbrate you and cool you. Only say it aloud without cease. And when the mind takes it over you shall find rest and will not say it with your mouth. Then again when it is left by the mind, start it back with your mouth. You must strive at first to say it with your mouth until you get used with it. Then in all the years of your life, your mind will say it effortlessly.

When you come to the Holy Mountain as you say, come and visit us. But then we shall talk about other matters. You will not have time for prayer. You shall find prayer when your mind is peaceful. Here while going to the monasteries and other places your mind spreads to all the things you will hear and see.

I am sure you shall find prayer. Do not doubt it! Only knock right at the door of the divine mercy and Christ shall open it for you. It is impossible not to open it to you. Love Him much so that you receive much. On your love for Him, be it much or less, it depends the dedication, either much or less.

[1] it refers at the prayer: Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me! or the prayer of the mind

The Christian cannot find his salvation outside the Church, that by its establishment and Sacraments coming from the Savior, leads us towards the eternal life

We present you an interview with elder Varahiil from the monastery Noul Neamț, to discover the thoughts and advice of a monk with a high spiritual life.

Elder Varahiil came to the monastery Noul-Neamț in 1941, when he was 23 y.o. After the monastery was closed from 1962-1990, he lived at some monasteries from Russia and Ukraine from where he returns after the reopening. Together with father Sergei, the spiritual confessor of the entire Moldavia, the hieroschemamonk Selafiil, of 94 yo, his holiness is one of the oldest monks from this monastery. Here are some teachings given by elder Varahiil.

Reporter:

Father, how can the Christians find salvation nowadays?

Elder Varahiil:

We must have a right faith in God. We should not be lukewarm. We must know that God is eternal, He has no end and no beginning and He is triune – God Father, God Son, and the Holy Spirit. Our savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was sent on earth to baptize us in the name of the Holy Trinity, to give us by it the eternal life. He gave us the commandments and the righteous Law by means of which we can save our souls. The Christian cannot find salvation outside the Church, that by its establishment and Sacraments coming from the Savior, leads us towards the eternal life.

Reporter:

Father, some Christians come to the church so rarely – at wedding, baptism. Will they be saved?

Elder Varahiil:

This is too little. This is only formal. The Christian must keep the fasting periods, the divine feasts, must pray at home and at the church. He must confess himself and stop sinning, he must partake the Holy Eucharist, as it is required by the order of our holy Church. Otherwise nobody saves his soul for the eternal life.

Reporter:

What can you tell to those who say that they cannot fast?

Elder Varahiil:

Fasting does not mean to refrain completely from eating. This means that in the established days you should  not eat what is forbidden. But the man does not die if he eats bread, potatoes, tomatoes and all the other fasting victuals. This on the established days, during fasting periods, on Wednesdays and Fridays. By fasting in this way men cleanse their souls of passions and become healthier in body and soul.

Reporter:

There is an opinion that Gos is merciful and He shall forgive us with all our sins…

Elder Varahiil:

Until we refrain from sin, we cannot save our souls, we should not deceive ourselves. God is good but we must accomplish His will. If we follow our will, then God cannot receive us.

Reporter:

Father Varahiil, nowadays some Christians do not come to the Church, saying that the priests are bad. Are they right?

Elder Varahiil:

In fact todays there are some priests who do not know the Law and have no fear of God. However God works through them, because they have the grace they received by the sacrament of priesthood. If the priest is a sinner, he shall answer for his sins, but the services he ministers have working grace. The people must not judge them, because they commit great sins, they must leave them to the will of God. He shall reward them according to their deeds. If the priest commits sins, the people should not do the same. We must listen a priest like this and shall be saved through one, according to our faith.

Reporter:

Many Christians come to the monastery Noul-Neamț to confess, to accomplish other things. Why do they come purposefully to the monastery?

Elder Varahiil:

The people come here because the priests are more educated and they are monks, faithful people. And before in the monastery life was more severe than in the church, because here is another order, more prayer.

Reporter:

What can you say to those who renegate the Orthodox faith?

Elder Varahiil:

Today there are a lot of sects. All these people, if they do no repent, will be lost. The sects are a work of the devil. Only those who have the right, true faith, given to us by the Savior, find their salvation. But the others, even if they do not understand, they go to hell, because they are outside the Church, outside the body of Christ. In vain some of them pretend they repent and they are saved. The devil deluded them and they go on his way.

Reporter:

What can you tell us about pride, they say that in the later times the people will be proud and evil…

Elder Varahiil:

Pride is the greatest sin. Because of pride Lucifer, who was the first among angels, fell. And a third of the angels fell with him. If the angels who had a beautiful appearance when they fell turned into the ugly hideous demons, then the people from pride change themselves into something even worse. We have no reason for being proud, because the good deeds are not done by us, God does them through us.

Article posted on curierulortodox.info via ganduridinierusalim.com

Patristic teachings about meekness

Saint Nektarios in his book Know yourself says about the virtue of meekness:

Meekness is the peace of the soul that loves God and his fellow men. Meekness is a virtue loved by God, that pleases everybody who looks at its face. The meekness of character overflows like a rare beauty and enriches  with grace its entire ethos, giving pleasure to everybody who sees it. Meekness is a priceless fortune, is a divine name, is a divine charism, is the stairs that leads the man to the skies.

Meekness makes the man be an image of the meek Jesus, who warms the heart. Meekness is followed by humility, tolerance and patience. The meek is benevolent and friendly with everybody, and he treats the sinners leniently. It does not argue, it does not blaspheme, it does not curse, but lovingly corrects those who are wrong.1

Saint Basil the Great, in Monastic Ordinances says:„The anger at the right time is suitable  even for those who have great meekness. Because even Moses who was known as the meekest man on earth when time required it angered and he reached such a degree of unrest that he manifested his anger to the dismay of those who were his fellow countrymen when these were making their calf and when they served Belfegor. It is quite possible that the meek one may anger himself when the sense requires it but he does not destroy the virtue of meekness. When someone remains impassive and does not anger when the circumstances require it, it does not mean meekness but passivity.2

 

Saint Paisios explaining  that The Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, was saying: If I don’t want to get upset, for being glad and for not losing my peace, in order to be meek, I am careless.  The spiritual meekness is something and something else is the meekness coming from carelessness. Some say: I have to be glad because I am Christian. I have to be peaceful because I am Christian. But these are not Christians. Do you understand? This is carelessness, is worldly joy. The one who has these worldly traits is not a spiritual man. The spiritual man is entirely pain. Meaning that he feels pain for situations, for people but he is rewarded for this pain with divine comfort. He feels pain but he also feels inside himself the divine comfort, because God gives His blessings from heaven to the soul and the man rejoices in divine love. This is the real spiritual joy, which cannot be expressed and which overflows the heart.3

Saint John of  Kronstadt, explaining the Beatitudes says: Meekness is a peaceful disposition of the soul that believes with fermity and loves Jesus Christ and who suffers any evil caused to him by the people or by the guile of the devil. The meek man does not get irritated and  is not annoyed by opposition and obstacles, he forgives easily the offences of the people and prays for the goodness of his enemies, because he respects the human and Christian value. The meek man never pays back the evil with evil or the guile with guile. He does not get annoyed, he does not raise his voice wildly when the others offend or hurt him. God our heavenly Father always behaves with meekness with us when we do wrong things and upset Him. He does not punish us. He bears us and does always good to us. That is why we have the duty to become meek, lenient and patient with our brothers.  4

Saint John Chrysostom tells us how we should behave with people : Did he slander you? Praise him. Did he offend you? Speak well about him. He had bad thoughts against you? Do him good, reward him with the opposite ones if you truly care for his salvation and not for your passion, willing to take revenge. But despite all these you will say, he became worse although he was treated with long bearing patience. This is due to him, not to you. Do you want to know what God suffered? They destroyed His altars, killed his prophets and He suffered everything. Couldn’t He struck with thunder from heaven? No, after He had sent the prophets and they killed them He sent His Son. When they offended Him more He did them more good.5

 

1 Saint Nektarios of Pentapolis, Works, vol.5, p. 381.

2 Vasilio Apothisavrisma, ed. Fotodotes, p. 596.

3 Elder Paisios the Athonite, Spiritual Awakening, p. 50.

4 Saint John of Kronstadt, Beatitudes, edition by P. Botsis, p. 54.

5 Saint John Chrysostom, PSB (Greek), vol. 16A, p. 233.

Source: Orthodoxos Typos,  March, 7th  2014.

 

The sadness brought by the devil

The devil has this great aim to separate us of God. It won’t be easy to do it straightly because in this way many Christians who felt inside themselves the power of faith were crowned, knowing that the man is created by God and only for God and he cannot be separated of Him. The devil who is restless plans to separate indirectly the man of his Creator. He fights by all means to make the man fall into sin, in many kinds of sin and if he succeeds it doesn’t mean that he reached his great aim, he only gives him a great sadness, which makes the man consider himself lost, as if he couldn’t be forgiven and makes him fall into despair then the man separates himself of God and thus the enemy reaches his aim.

You should not bend your head and give up, no matter which and how would be the sin. Continue to acknowledge the Merciful Lord cause no misfortune means a thing if you have a faith as a rock. Do not fall into despair in no circumstances. The devil and maybe your weakness deceived you but you didn’t give your heart to him and you didn’t erase the name of God from your soul. Sinful as you are, God is indeed most loving and because you acknowledge Him, He is most merciful and forgiving.

He shall seek you Himself, He shall find you, He shall embrace you, He shall take you on His shoulders, He shall take you to the sheepfold and shall love you more than He loves other sheep, because you in fact didn’t leave Him. This is a great spiritual position and then the big falls from your life remain simple accidents.

I recommend an endless spiritual joy in your soul, because this proves that you are with Jesus Christ in your heart and your breath. Your heart will always vibrate a prayer without words. Thus a condition of master and of rejoicing peace will reign, even if you muddied yourself, because no matter which would be the reason of a discouraging sorrow, it is brought only by the devil.

The grace of God doesn’t come where is sadness, where is grief, because then you don’t know what to do with such a richness and waste it. Out of caution this grace doesn’t subjugate you, but it comes where is spiritual peace, where our being transforms this grace of God as a great jet device with your decision to move, to fulfill yourself and thus you reach the measure of the perfect man, for not saying that you would become a god by grace of course.

If you have this disposition of anxiety, sadness, the devil makes his nest and hatches his eggs. You cannot love anymore, you cannot see clearly in the future anymore, with the intellect God gave you, you cannot do these anymore because you are sad. Meaning that you are not able of anything – this is a devilish condition which is very hard to bear. When you are sad think about this thing: Hold on, there is a devil in here! And don’t accept that.

Especially do not be disheartened. Here lies the subtle fight of our holy paterikons and a great mystery of the spiritual life, to get back on our feet, without lingering anymore under the big and terrible rock of our fall. I tell you a word of great significance, in the spiritual order there is no fall only elevation.

No misfortune means a thing and nothing is lost as long as faith remains alive, as long as the head is lifted back and the soul doesn’t give up.

Father Arsenie Papacioc – about the devilish sadness

From Words of hope for the hopeless Anthology made by hieromonk Benedict Stancu, Sophia Publishing, Bucharest 2008, pg.68-70

Source: ganduridinierusalim.com

Words and stories of elder Paisios (Χ)

So much strife, so much endeavour so that the soul detaches of the world then it feels nostalgia. Even if he doesn’t intend to go in the world, however he think about it. The mind it is then like an unlanded plane. The devil succeeded. The monk spends his life at the monastery and his mind is in the world.

*

When the man thinks that he is worthless, he sees his dirt, but he feels comfort, hope, safety and then there is progress and spiritual benefit. While when he says that he is worthless, but he has stress and despair, then it means that something doesn’t go well. The more the eyes of the soul are cleansed, the worse he sees himself. When someone doesn’t see well, he sees himself in a very good condition. But if he will use the magnifying glass, he will see everything like a spiritual work which must be done.

*

When we don’t feel stress it is good to feel the uncleanness of our soul. Spiritual pain brings comfort, while the devilish pain brings stress.

*

The monk should never justify himself, nor receive thoughts. Then the heart gets purified and sees everything properly.

*

The people with a brisk nature are much helped by obedience. They must not run of obedience because they will harm themselves.

*

When a monk does not practice obedience, he forces his spiritual father to slap him. The father feels pain but not in his hand, only in his heart. With God it is the same. It is not enough how much He suffered for us. God suffers like the father who slaps his child, but since He brought him to the monastery to make him a monk, He shall save him by trials. The method is not pleasant but God is forced to use this way.

*

In order to get rid of the lukewarm spirit, it is necessary to come the grace of God. Why God doesn’t help me when I ask for His help? Because I am not obedient, I don’t open my heart, I don’t cleanse my vessel and I ask for wine. If He gives me, the wine will be defiled too. If God helps me in this situation, I shall be harmed for sure.

*

We should have zeal. We should use our zeal not at work but in the spiritual matters.

*

Long time ago at a monastery the treasurer behaved severely with the monks, with parsimony. So great was his parsimony that they nicknamed him rope. When this man died tried to find gold among his belongings, but they didn’t find anything. At his burial, the mule carers, who carried the wood from the mountain till the wharf were crying and sobbing because he had helped them a lot. Taking into account the family each one of them had to feed, this man bought and gave them one, two or three mules.

*

Humility is unknown to the Catholics, that’s why the grace cannot come to them.

*

A monk may have spiritual passions inherited from his parents, but if he doesn’t let the devil to stir them, those remain dead, because the grace of God chases them all away.

*

When we grumble about our home, about the monastery, our grumbling is heard by God.

*

In order to get rid of the old man, you must kill him. The old man must receive blows and insults, must learn humility and kill selfishness, pride, envy, stubbornness, own will. When he accept to give up on his own will, the tree of the old man is cut out. Humility comes in the same time with obedience.

*

In a monastery with a severe ordinance was living a careless monk. He was eating all the time and the only thing he did was to ring the bells. Some monks did his chores and said that he did them. Then that monk started to be rebuked by his conscience and thus the other monks became the cause of his change. These monks being at a very high spiritual level, were deeply concerned by the peace of their brother.  To be reached this level by someone, without any risk of damage, it is necessary to offer his love first to God so that it becomes pure, bright then after he loves God, he shall love the others as well.

*

When you love one of your brothers less and you love another one more, you’re your love is not divine.

*

The monk should receive with simplicity and from everyone rebukes and allow all the people from the monastery to become carvers of the new man. He should ceaselessly keep his mind at Christ.

*

The world differs very much of monachism. The laymen speak in the same voice but they do not live the same kind of life. In the same house the father does certain things and the mother does other things. In the monastery we speak and share the same kind of life (meaning that we have the same thoughts and living) We are from different places but the purpose is the same. We think in unison, we have the same kind of strife. We should feel that we are more than brothers because Christ unites us.

*

Cut your will. Have obedience towards your starets but even towards a simple servant. The starets has the responsibility and he shall give account, if any mistake is made. If you do not have obedience towards a simple servant you don’t have towards your starets either.

*

In the monachal life there is no right and just. Rights is what supports our purpose. Many times the irrational is right. If we do not bear not even a word of rebuke it means we are infants and we show our low spiritual level.

*

During martyrdom there is pain, but the love for Christ is bigger and overcomes it.

From the book From the Ascetic and Hesychast Tradition of the Holy Mountain –Evanghelismos Publishing, 2016.

 

The Dogmas

Metropolitan Jeremiah of Gortina

I said it often, my Christian brothers, that the most important, the greatest thing, above all the others, is our FAITH, our ORTHODOX FAITH. That’s why in our daily prayer we must say: My Lord, strengthen my faith in You, my love for You! Only if we have a right faith and live this faith in our daily life, only then we shall achieve our salvation and we shall sanctify ourselves. Our faith, my brothers, is not a human creation, it is a divine revelation. And this revelation (discovery) was brought to us by the Son of God, our Lord, Jesus Christ.

This faith of ours was formulated by the Holy Fathers in short sentences which are called DOGMAS. And the dogmas are inspired by God, as the Holy Scripture. The Holy Fathers formulated the dogmas in the ecumenical synods, where the Holy Spirit works.  The Holy Spirit buils the Church and He, the Holy Spirit works at the statement of our right dogmas of Faith, for our salvation.

Yes! The dogmas of our Faith are for our salvation. They give us the correct method for healing our souls of the sinful passions and they also show us the right path for finding and experiencing God. The heresy show a wrong way towards Gos, leads you to a different god, that is why we reject it and fight against it. „Filioque”, for instance, of the Catholics complicate our path to God. It leads us to a fake god, not to the true God of the Holy Scripture, to the One who was revealed to us by Jesus Christ.

Thus, the dogmas of our faith, my Christian brohers, are not only some theoretical truths, we must learn and cultivate, but are some truths which are ordained in our life by the Church and in our society, for proving ourselves true Christians in the world.

I said that the dogmas of our Faith were given to us for living them, since  by applying them in our life, we shall gain our salvation. The Holy Fathers lived the dogmas, their entire life was Orthopraxy (righteous work_ and that is why they spoke right about ORTHODOXY.

First the Holy Fathers experienced the divine ones and from their experience they learnt the divine ones. For this reason they became means of the Holy Spirit in formulating the dogmas of our Faith. That is why we have absolute trust in them, because their entire life was a true application of the truths of our Faith, of our Orthodox dogmas.

As Saint Simeon the New Theologian says : Those Holy Fathers wrote nothing else but what they did first and by doing that, they accomplished it.

As long as the holy dogmas of our Faith are our life and our experience as Christians, this means that even before the dogmas were formulated by the Ecumanical Synods, the Christians believed and lived them. Namely that Jesus Christ is like God, the Father and the Christians knew him from the beginning, they did not learn about Him in the year 325 when it took place the first Ecumenical Synod and it was formulated clearly the dogma of the divine nature of Jesus Christ.

They did this then because the heretic Arie was saying something opposite to it and his deceit had to be fought, because it brought much damage. But even before formulating in the dogma the truth of the divine nature of Christ, this truth was believed by the Christians, he was the life of the Church. Thus when the church formulates a dogma in an Ecumenical Synod, they do not found a new faith, but because these were the developments and it was required so, they formulate clearly the truth already given of the divine revelation. Pay attention to what I tell you my brothers! Our Orthodox Church does not create new dogmas! These is done by the Catholics, who always produce new dogmas, for example their dogma about the pope’s primate and infallibility.

My brothers, our whole faith, namely the dogmas of our Orthodox Faith, are found in the liturgical books of the Church, in those you hear here in our church from the priest and psalter. Thus when we gather here in the church for worshipping God by what we say from the liturgical books, we confess our Faith. And thus it must be done. In order to make our prayer be heard by God, it must be addressed to the true God. My beloved Christians, for learning the Orthodox faith, I recommend you to come to the Church and take heed at the words and chants sung by the priest and psalter, because there is found our Creed. But you should also have liturgical books at home and read them. Any family should have a prayer book and a Horologion. And you should read from there the morning prayers, the Akathist and the Oratory of Theotokos.

These holy imnographic creations are the works of the Holy Fathers, which became nourishment of many pious souls.

Even today there are composed holy services but as it is seen, many of these entirely lack the dogmatic teaching of our Faith, which we found it abundantly in our old liturgical books. I recommend you to buy the Octoechos, for the hymns of the great dogmatist of our Church, saint John the Damascene.

In the end, to understand the dogmas of our Faith, my brothers, is not easy because they are not understood with the intellect. Not because they would be irrational, but they are above the intellect. Our faith is not understood by the intellect, it is understood by the heart. That is why it is called faith, which derives from entrusting. Meaning that I love God and entrust myself to Him. Thus in a secret divine way when we listen with love for God and piety the words of the divine cult, our heart slowly begins to taste God, rejoices in Him and thus reaches by the grace of God, the knowledge of God. And when we apply the dogmas of our faith in our life, when we live in purity, then we receive an abundance of grace from God and taste and know better our Faith. Saint Simeon the New Theologian tells us again: If you don’t acquire experience, you don’t acquire the knowledge of the dogmas either. And saint Kosmas the Etilian, talking about the dogma of the Holy Trinity and wanting to be understood by all his listeners, said in his preach:

There is another way of understanding the Most Holy Trinity. What’s that? To make a true and complete confession, to partake with fear and piety with the most holy sacraments and then the grace of the Holy Spirit shall enlighten you to understand, because by study you shall not be able to understand.

Let us receive, my beloved, the dogmas of our Faith with purity and simplicity of heart, not being dominated by rationalism as the Westerners are, who imagine that they can understand the dogmas with their powerful mind and not only these, they also revoke them and conceive some new ones. The dogmatist of the Orthodox Church, saint John the Damascene, says: Let us receive the tradition of the Church with sincerity of the heart and not with many reasonings.

With plenty of blessings,

† Jeremiah  Metropolitan of Gortina and Megalopola

 

Christ love through the innocence of a baby’s hug

We were the only family with children in the restaurant. I sat Erik in a high chair and noticed everyone was quietly seated and talking. Suddenly, Erik squealed with glee and said, “Hi there.” He pounded his fat baby hands on the high chair tray. His eyes we crinkled in laughter and his mouth was bared in a toothless grin as he wriggled and giggled with merriment.

I looked around and saw the source of his merriment. It was a man whose pants were baggy whose toes poked out of would-be shoes. His shirt was dirty and his hair was uncombed and unwashed. His whiskers were too short to be called a beard, and his nose was so varicose that it looked like a road map. Read more

The great benefit deriving from fasting

Many Christians, ignoring the great benefit of fasting, keep it with displeasure or don’t keep it at all. However we have to receive the fasting gladly, not with indignation or fear. And this because fasting is not frightening for us, but for the demons. Bring it before a demonized person and that one will freeze with fear, will stand still as a stone, will be tied with invisible ties, especially when fasting is accompanied by its inseparable companion, the prayer. That is why Christ said: `This kind of demons does not come out except by prayer and fasting.` (Matthew 17, 21)

Therefore fasting drives away the enemies of our salvation and it is so terrifying for the oppressors of our lives that we should love it and not be afraid of it.

If we have to be afraid of something, we should be afraid of gluttony, especially when this is combined with drunkenness. Because it ties our hands on our back and makes us slaves of the tyrannical passions, while fasting on the contrary frees us from the tyranny of passions and gives us spiritual freedom. If it fights against our enemies and frees us from our slavery and gives us our freedom, what other proof of its love we need?

Not only the monks who have all their life – which resembles that of the angels – fasting as companion, but also some Christian laymen taking its wings elevated themselves at the height of the heavenly philosophy.

I remind you that the two prophets of the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah, although they had many other virtues due to which they got much intrepidity to God, when they wanted to speak with Him, they ran to fasting. This guided them towards God.

`We are afraid of it because it damages and sickens the body` you may say. On one hand I tell you that the more the exterior man deteriorates itself the more the inner one, which is our soul, renews itself.(II Corinthians 4,16) On the other hand if you want to study this matter properly you will discover that fasting protects the body as well. And if you don’t believe my words, ask the doctors and they will tell you better that fasting is the mother of our health and gluttony the cause of many diseases that destroy your body.

Therefore we should not be afraid of fasting as long as it protects us of so many evils. And I do not say this without a reason. I see so many people eating without refraining themselves before and after the fasting, making its use become vain.

Meaning that in our soul it is done what it is done with a sick body which starts to recover and tries to get up from bed and someone comes and gives it a hard blow and it falls back to bed worse than before. Something similar it happens inside our soul when before or after fasting we shade the clarity it gave to us with the darkness brought by gluttony.

But even when we fast, it is not enough to refrain from certain kinds of food in order to get a spiritual benefit. There is the risk that although we may keep the fasting periods ordained by the Church we might not get any benefit at all. How is that? When we refrain from food but we don’t refrain from sin, when we don’t eat meat but we eat the food of the poor, when we don’t get drunk with wine but with wicked wishes, when we spend all our day without food but we see shameful things. Then our fasting is useless.

That is why we should unite fasting with the fight against passions, with the refraining from sin, with the prayer and the spiritual strife. Only then fasting will bear fruits and will be a sacrifice pleasing God.

From the book Matters of life II – Saint John Chrysostom

The value of the Akathist of the Annunciation

priest Stefan Anagnostopoulos

Rejoice, unmarried Bride. And then over and over again: Rejoice, unmarried Bride!

As you know, beloved believers, as you see, in the Great Lent, on each Friday in our Church is sung the Akathist of the Annunciation. The akathist is one of the nicest holy services and in the same time one of the most elevating prayers. The akathist is always linked with the Small Compline.

In the Great Lent when we read the Great Compline, on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays the akathist is not read. But it is sung on Fridays and on Saturdays and Sundays is read with the Small Compline. The Akathist of the Annunciation is not read during the Holy Week or during the Bright Week. During the year it is necessarily linked with the Small Compline. Who reads the Akathist of the Annunciation every evening or even in the afternoons or in the mornings, will receive a lot of help from Theotokos.

In the Holy Mountain, which is considered the Garden of Theotokos, She is particularly honoured. For the Athonite monks Theotokos is the only guardian. Blessed we shall be if we get this spiritual feeling. Which means to feel that she is for us as well the only guardian, intercessor and suppliant.

The entire service of the Akathist with the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet relates to us first the Annunciation, the visit the Holy Virgin paid to Elisabeth, who as it is well known, was to give birth to the Honoured Forerunner. The akathist mentions as well the leaping of the baby in Elisabeth’s womb and the words she tells to the Holy Virgin.

Then it tells us about the suspicions of Joseph, the bethroted, who could not understand the great mystery of the Incarnation of God the Word in the womb of the Holy Virgin and afterwards about his unwavering trust in the truth revealed to him by the angel of God.

The akathist describes us briefly the birth of Christ, our Savior, the prosternations of the shepherds and of the magicians. Then the Candlemas, when our Lord was greeted by Simeon the God Receiver, the flee to Egypt and many other things.

Many words of blessing are told to Theotokos by archangel Gabriel, by Joseph, the bethroted, by the shepherds, the magicians, by the heavenly powers and all the Christians who believe in the divinity and humanity of our Lord, Jesus Christ, incarnated from the Holy Spirit through the intercession of the Holy Virgin Mary.

Our answer to these words of blessing is : Rejoice unmarried Bride! But what does it mean `rejoice, unmarried Bride!`? The bridegroom is here in the akathist God, the Father. His Bride is Mary, the Holy Virgin as long as she is the one who gave birth to the Son and the Word of God, who is consubstantial with the Father, as God and Man, in the person of Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church.

But Theotokos is `unmarried Bride` and She is indeed unmarried because she gave birth to Christ without man, from the Holy Spirit. How Christ the true God entered the womb of the Virgin it remains an incomprehensible mystery for our poor limited minds.

Incomprehensible is the way of procreation even for the angels and archangels and for all the other celestial powers. Only God knows the way He used for this procreation and for becoming Man, perfect man, without ceasing to be perfect God, God-Man Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

That is why, my brothers, the Christian who utters regularly with the rosary : Most Holy Mother of God, save us ! or Rejoice, unmarried Bride! that one will receive plenty of grace and he shall be blessed with a plenty of spiritual fortune and of course his demands are heard. In the tradition of our Church it has been preserved the following miraculous happening about the power the akathist has.

Long time agi, around the year 1800, there were many robbers, as it is well known, and they hid at crossroads and attacked the travelers. One of these who was a chief of robbers asked his comrades to stand at a crossroad where were passing many travelers from one town to another. And the robbers attacked these travelers and robbed them of their belongings. They did not do them any harm, they did not hurt them, they did not beat them, they only took their money and let them leave.

Once a holy monk passed through that crossroad. The robbers stopped him but because they did not have what to take from him they let him leave. But the monk did not leave, he asked the robbers to take him to their chief. Those people asked him:

What do you want from him?

I want to tell him something important. After a short time a very rich merchant will pass through this place with a lot of diamonds. And I want to tell to your chief how that man is dressed so that you can catch him easily.

And the robbers did that not for his sake but for the sake of the fortune they hope to catch. They took him to their chief. When the monk met him he told him to call all his people. The chief of the robbers gave that order and everybody came there.

`But one is missing`, the monk said. `Bring him here too!`

`He cannot come because he is cooking our lunch.`

`It is not possible, you must bring that one too!`

Then the captain sent one of his men to call that one, but he didn’t want to come so he was taken by force and brought before the monk. As soon as the cook saw the monk he did not want to look at him. And the monk did not look at him either. All of a sudden the cook started to tremble. Then the monk asked him:

`Why are you trembling, cook?`

That one being forced confessed that he was a demon and turned into a man to follow that captain of robbers.

That robber had a good habit: he used to pray to Theotokos every day. And how he prayed? He read Her Akathist at noon and in the evening. He took that habit from his mother since he had been a small child, when he had leanrt by heart the entire akathist. Later when he deviated from the good path and became a robber he continued to say the Akathist. So Theotokos was always near him and protected him. She protected him because She was waiting for an opportunity to save him. She was waiting to bring him to repentance, to make him change his life and save his soul.

The demon who made himself cook was sent by his chief to kill him and take his soul to hell. But he could not do it because he was impeded by the Akathist of Theotokos. He was waiting for an opportunity when the robber would have forgotten to say it. The he would have been found, without the protection of the Holy Mother of God, the devil would have caused a quarrel among robbers because of the division of the spoil and they would have killed their chief and the devil would have taken his soul to hell. But Theotokos protected him. She protected him due to Her Akathist.

Although that one was a robber, he was not a killer. Although his life was wicked, bad, pagan, God, Who does not want the death of the sinner but to see him come back and be alive and Who heard the prayers of Theotokos, gave him the chance to save his soul.

As soon as the robber heard that confession of the demon-cook he got enlightened. He realized his great sins and repented and saved his soul. His repentence moved the other robbers and by the advice of that holy monk they all were guided to the great sacrament of the mercy of God, to the holy sacrament of Confession. And after they corrected their deeds giving back what they had stolen, they all saved their souls. The Akathist of Theotokos saved them.

Therefore my beloved, the Akathist of the Annunciation has a great significance for our salvation when we read it or we say it every evening with piety. We receive prompt help in our daily effort and strive for defeating our passions, for defeating the evil, the sin and the devil.

Theotokos always urges us and tells us: Call me! Call me! Call my name and I shall always help you. Call me by saying: `Most Holy Mother of God, help me!` or `Most Holy Mother of God, help us!` Or `save me` or `save us`

This invocation is also a liturgical hymn, because every time we utter the name of Theotokos at the Holy Liturgy, at Vespers or Matins, the psalters answer by saying: `Most Holy Mother of God, save us!`

And I shall come – she promises to us – and I shall help you in your needs, in the temptations of your life, in all your troubles, in all your afflictions and sorrows. I shall always be beside you. And when I die I shall be your intercessor and I shall protect you of the unmerciful demons. And at the Second Coming of My Son and the Judge of All I shall be by your side as well.

Beloved Christians, let us love this prayer of the Akathist and always call the name of Theotokos and She will open the gates of heaven and will save us. I wish you all to be worthy of this happiness. Amen.

Looking at the horizon

`Who am I ?` one day a young man asked a wise starets.

`You are what you think you are.` `You shall understand this after the following short story:

One day, from the walls of the city, on sunset, a group of friends and acquaintances saw at the horizon two people embracing each other.

`They are a father and a mother` a child said happily.

`They are two lovers` a young ruffled man said.

`They are two friends who have met after many years` a loner said for himself.

`They must be two tradesmen who concluded a profitable business, a money lover commented.

`There is a father who is embracing his son returned from the war, a woman said with her eyes brimming with tears.

`They are for sure two lovers` commented a girl who was dreaming about romance.

`Who knows why they are embracing? Thought a man without feelings.

`How nice is to see two people embracing each other` a man of God said.

Each thought reveals to you who you really are, concluded the elder. Examine your thoughts all the time because they may reveal more about yourself than anything else.