Nobody should trust in himself but follow in everything the advice of the elders. And he should confess all the secrets of his heart sincerely without hiding anything (I)

1. of Paladius       

There was a certain Heron from Alexandria, a neighbor of mine, a handsome young man with a bright mind, a pure life, who was very thin because of his high ascetic strife, many of his acquaintances saying that he ate only once at three months in the meantime nourishing himself only with the Holy Eucharist and the wild plants if he found them somewhere. I

I saw this for myself once when I went with him and with the reposed Alvinos the Skete. The place was at a distance of about 40 miles and while we were traveling we ate and drank twice but that one did not taste anything. And while walking he recited psalms by heart (the longest one and other 15), the Epistle to the Hebrews, the book of Isaiah, a part of the book of prophet Jeremiah, saint Luke’s Gospel and the parables f Solomon and we could not keep the pace with him.

This one after big struggles and endeavours raised himself at a great height with that pride characteristic for madness and falling from there he became an example of pitiable fall because he boasted before the holy elders urged by the vain high opinion about himself cursing everybody and saying: `Those who follow your teachings are lost. We must not have other teachers except for Christ, since the Saviour Himself said: `Do not call anyone teacher on earth.`[2].

Thus the mind of this man as it happened with Valens, darkened so much because of the devastating pride that he fell from heights to the bottom ones and they put him in chains and he didn’t want to approach the Holy Eucharist.

In the end drawn by the devil as a strong fire descended in Alexandria, by God’s care to be healed by pain. There he fell into recklessness spending his time in theatres, hippodromes and pubs. Then he got possessed of lust and with his mind at the sin he spoke without cease to an actress. Being in that condition he got an excrescence on his dick and he was so sick for six months that his shameful parts got rotten and fell. Then he got cured and came to his senses and went back to the desert without his sexual organs. He remembered the previous ascetic way of living confessing to the fathers what had happened to him. But he didn’t have time to live as a monk because he died after a few days.

*

       Another one called Ptolemeus first lived a very austere ascetic life. He lived beyond the skete in a place named The Ladder where no monk could live because it was at a distance of 18 miles of water. But that one had jugs and sponge and he gathered the dew that fell in December and January, put it in jugs and doing this he saved water in this way for 15 years. In this time he didn’t meet with anyone estranging himself of the teaching and the encounters with the holy fathers but also of the Holy Eucharist and he reached such a madness that he  fell in a shameful teaching called `automatism`[3]. The enemy made him say that things have no essence merely existing by the fact that the world moves.

First this thought was brought into his mind by the enemy of life and afterwards when it entered his soul the devil told him: If the things are like this why are you tormenting yourself in this way? What would be the use since there is no reward? And what reward would be for your great struggles and who would be the one to reward you? What judgment can be as the Scriptures threaten since nobody takes care of anything that is alive?

Being possessed by such satanic thoughts the wretched Ptolemeus gave up on his ascetic struggles and he wandered all over as a madman. And even today he is still wandering through Egypt full of greed and enslaved by drunkenness not taling with anyone and roaming silently through markets: pitiable sight in the eyes of the Christians and reason for ridicule for those who don’t know our way of living. This disaster affected Ptolemeus because of his foolish pride, because he thought he had more knowledge than the holy fathers without meeting them at all for being guided by their teaching. Being without guidance he fell in the depth of the spiritual death – because those who don’t have any guidance fall like leaves.[4].

_____________________

[1]   Psalm 118.

[2]   Mt. 23,10.

[3]   Philosophical doctrine of Epicurus, who as saint Hippolytus of Rome said, thought that God is eternal and imperishable but He doesn’t take care of the world; there is no providence or fate everything happens by itself haphazardly (against all heresies, P.G. 16, 3049 B).

[4]   Pr. 11,14.

Excerpt from the book EVERGHETINOS – Ist edition 2007  Holy Monastery Vatoped vol. I, Theme 20 – Metropolis Press Publishing, Athens, Greece, 2007.

Christ’s work in the world

The Lord takes care of everything: of the condition of the sand grain from Sahara, of the situation of any galaxy, of my mood, of the birth of any tadpole.

For the material physical world He created laws and everything is governed by them. Is He interested in the inner life of men?

God acts by the laws created by Him but also in a direct way. This last means is usually called miracle. We believe not only in a Creator God but also in a Providential God. The inner life of man is the only important thing for God in this world. God’s providence includes everything but beside this He has given  freewill to men.

It is thought that Jesus Christ spoke in parables to be better understood by the simple men who surrounded Him. But how could they understand these parables if even some more educated men need an interpretation?

You can think of course that in those concrete historical circumstances the parables were more explicit for the listeners than today although even the apostles needed to interpret the Gospel.

The parable conceals and reveals in the same time spiritual truths giving to everyone the chance to understand them according to his education. The parable has a meaning and an image that’s why it is better memorized and requires a more active perception. The epistles of the apostles should not be regarded only as a comment upon the Gospels. They are the continuation of Christ’s teaching during the foundation of the Church and for the most part they are adapted to its needs.

Where can we read about Jesus’ childhood? What did he do from His birth until He started preaching?

All the authentic information that could be found in the ancient traditions about Jesus Christ’s childhood were collected by saint Demetrios of Rostov in the Reading Menaion  (1). The rest are apocryphal, fabrications and sometimes even malicious fakes. Jesus until 30 yo helped the righteous Joseph at carpentry.

`Please help me understand. Where did Jesus Christ save us from? To whom did He bring Himself us a ransom for us, meaning for the entire mankind? And why for the salvation of mankind God had to come on earth to incarnate Himself and die?

Redemption is a mystery and we approach the mystery by symbols and images that must be comprehended in a high spiritual meaning.

The word redemption means that Christ released us from slavery and gave us freedom. First we must understand in what slavery we fell.

Adam potentially comprised the whole mankind : symbolically speaking Adam was the spring of all rivers that water the earth and after his fall into sin in the spring it fell hell and poisoned the whole water. We are born genetically as bearers of the primary sin of Adam. What happened with the man after the fall into sin?

In metaphysical plan this meant the servitude of Adam and of his descendants for the devil who wanted to be higher than God. That’s why mystically we became open for the devil our new master and by the initial sin manifested and multiplied by the personal sins the attraction for sin became a power that acts all the time in the soul of the man. It took place an estrangement of God and man’s egocentrism and selfishness became manifest. The natural powers and attributes got corrupted: the spirit being separated of God closed itself and entered a status of drowsiness. In the soul took place a separation of the mind of the will and feelings. The previous contemplation of the mind was replaced by imagination and analysis. The feelings were stirred and they gave birth to passions, the will became weakened and the steadiness as well. The body stood against the soul by those inborn feelings and attributes that became evil fleshly inclinations. This state of corruption of the man has death as a final outcome. The loss of grace draws after it the decay. The end of this decay is the ash, death. The man the image and likeness of God was made as a ruler of the visible world but after his fall everything is subject to distortion and decay. He cannot bring back what he lost and he cannot recreate himself again. This thing can be done only by God. The redemption of men was an act of divine love for their return to their previous condition of grace. God is absolute love but also a perfect Judge that’s why the consequences for the sins of man as the pain, the decay, the death and the descent to hell God takes them over by His incarnation as a man. The redemption of men made by Christ is the replacement on the cross of the mankind with Himself. At this sacrifice took part both the divine love and justice. You ask: `for whom did Christ offer Himself as ransom for mankind?` He sacrifices Himself and receives the sacrifice. Because as God as a flawless Spirit He cannot renounce at justice and love at Himself, He fulfills love by justice and in this meaning love brings Christ in the sacrifice of the divine justice. The devil, the former master of men does not receive anything from this sacrifice, on the contrary he loses what he had gained. The Lord goes with His soul in hell but His soul is without sin and the hell cannot hold Him. He takes out of hell the souls of our ancestors because they were redeemed by the Sacrifice from Golgotha and the human mind cannot conceive its depth. The sacrifice must be in accordance with the One for whom it is brought and must comprise the whole mankind. But it became extremely high because God the Man sacrificed Himself on the Cross. But for the salvation of man beside the redemption there is a need for sanctification. For this reason for the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross the Holy Spirit descends on earth and founds the Church. The Church sanctifies and changes the souls of the men redeemed by the blood of the Saviour. The Christians are redeemed by the blood of Christ. The sin and death are defeated by Him, the Christians are free metaphysically but the inertia of sin is still active that’s why the life of the Christian is not a passive assimilation of the grace, but a struggle with the sin. The complete differentiation between good and evil will show at the Final Judgment.

  1. Reading Mineion, in 12 volumes, 1300 lives of saints, arranged after months and days, completing the Holy Service Mineion from the Russian Church

The children are not educated by praising them continuously

The children are not educated by praising them continuously. They become selfish and full of vanity. They will want all their life to be praised without cease by everyone even if sometimes they are told lies.

Unfortunately today everybody has got used to lie and the lovers of vainglory accept the lies, they are their nourishment. `Say anything, even if it is a lie or an irony`, they say. God doesn’t want this. God wants the truth. Unfortunately not everyone understands this and they do the opposite things.

The children when they are praised without discernment are taken into possession by the enemy. He arouses their selfishness and getting used from a small age with the praises of their parents and educators may make progress in learning but what’s the use of that? They will become selfish, not real Christians. Selfish people can never be Christians. The selfish people always want to be praised by everyone, to be appreciated by everyone and our God, our Church and our Christ don’t want this.

Our religion doesn’t want this kind of education. On the contrary, it aims that they children learn the truth. Christ’s truth attests the fact that if you praise a man, you make him selfish. The selfish man is a stray, guided by the devil, by the evil spirit. Thus growing in selfishness his first concern is to deny God and be an inadaptable selfish person in the society. You must say the truth, to let the man know it. Otherwise you keep him in his ignorance. When you say the truth to the other one, then he orients himself, takes heed, listens the others and refrains. Thus you will tell the truth to the child, you will rebuke him to make him understand that what he does it’s not good. What does Solomon, the wise say?

`Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them` (The Proverbs of Solomon 13, 24). But don’t beat him with the club because we go over the accepted limits and it happens the contrary.

By praising them since they are small we make our children be selfish. And the selfish one can be deluded, it is enough to tell him that he is good and you make his ego swallow. And this is what he tells you: `Ah, this one praises me, this one is good.` These things are not right. The man becomes more selfish, the disorders from his inner self begin, he suffers, he doesn’t know what to do. Selfishness is the cause of the spiritual anxiety. Even the psychiatrists if they study this thing will see that the selfish man is sick.

We should never praise or flatter our fellow men, but lead them to humbleness and the love for God. And we should never aim to make the others love us by praising them. We should learn to love not to ask to be loved. We should love all the people and make as many sacrifices we can for all our brothers in Christ, unselfishly, without waiting praises and love from them. They will do everything God will tell them. If they are true Christians we will praise God together for having met and for helping them or telling them a good word.

You should advice the school children in this way too. This is the truth. Otherwise they become inadaptable. They don’t know where they go and what they do and we are the reason for that because we made them be so. We haven’t guided them towards the truth, towards humbleness, towards the love for God. We made them selfish and now this is the result.

But there are children who have humble parents and they are told from an early age about God and about the holy humbleness. These children don’t create problems to their fellow men. They don’t get angry when you show them their mistake, they try to correct themselves and they pray to God to help them not to become selfish.

What can I tell you about myself, when I arrived in the Holy Mountain I went to some very saint elders. They never praised me. They always advised me how to love God and be humble all the time, to call God to strengthen my soul to love Him more. I have never known what means to be praised and never sought it. On the contrary, I was upset when my elders did not rebuke me. I said to myself: `May heaven swallow me, I haven’t found good elders.` I wanted to be rebuked by them, to treat me severely. If a Christian hears what I tell you know, he gets upset and doesn’t accept this. However this is how it’s good, to be humble and sincere.

My parents have never praised me either. I didn’t want it. That’s why, everything I did, I did it without any interest. Now when I am praised by people I feel embarrassed. What can I tell you…It touches my heart when the others praise me. But I did not suffer any harm because I learnt humbleness. And now why don’t I like to be praised? Because I know that the praise makes the man be hollow and draws away the grace of God. And the grace of God comes only through the holy humbleness. The humble man is the perfect one. Aren’t all these nice? Aren’t these true?

To anyone you tell this, he will say : `What are you saying, grandpa, if you don’t praise the child he cannot read, he cannot do anything…`But this happens so because this is how we are and we make the children be in the same way. We have strayed from the truth. The first people, Adam and Eve were simple and humble, that’s why they lived in heaven.

They had as they say in theological terms, the initial charismas, those  given by God from the beginning when He created the man, meaning life, immortality, conscience, self possession, love, humbleness and all the others. Then the devil cheated them by praising them. They filled themselves with selfishness, but the real nature of the man as he was created by God is humbleness. While selfishness is something unnatural, it is a disease, it is against nature.

Thus, when we encourage the super ego of the child with praises, we arouse his selfishness, we hurt him badly. We make him be more vulnerable to devilish influences. Thus when he grows up we make him go astray of the precious things of life. Don’t you think that this is the reason why the children get lost, why the men rebel? It’s the selfishness which was engrained in them from an early age by their parents. The devil is the great selfish, the great evening star. So we live with the devil, with the evening star inside ourselves. We don’t live in humbleness. Humbleness belongs to God, it’s something necessary to the human soul. It’s something organic. When it’s lacking it’s as if they body were heartless. The heart gives life to the body and humbleness gives life to the soul. Through selfishness the man is on the side of the evil spirit, meaning that he evolves with the evil spirit not with the good one.

This is what the devil did. He has made a maze from the earth so that we cannot understand with each other anymore. What are all these we have suffered and we are not aware of? You see how we were deluded? We’ve made from our planet and from our age a real clinic of psychiatry. And we don’t realize our mistake. We all wonder: `what have we become, where are we going, why our children have gone on such a way, why did they leave their home, why did they leave their life, their school? Why are these things happening?

The devil succeeded to make the man consider him absent and call him in other ways. The doctors, the psychologists say many times when a man suffers: `Ah, you have a neurosis`, you have an anxiety and other similar things. They cannot understand that the devil stirs and awakes selfishness in the man. But the devil exists; he is the spirit of the evil. If we say that he doesn’t exist it’s as if we denied the Evangel which speaks about him. He is our enemy who fights against us all our life, the enemy of Christ and for this reason he is called antichrist. Christ came on earth to save us from the devil and to redeem our souls.

That’s why we must teach the children to live humbly and plainly and never seek to be praised. We should teach them humbleness which is the health of life.

The conception of the modern society harms the children. This has a different psychology, a different pedagogy, it addresses to the children of the atheists. This conception leads to arbitrariness. And you see the results at the children and the youth. The youth are saying today loudly: `You must understand us!` But we should not approve them. On the contrary, we should only pray for them, we should say what is right, we will live in a righteous way and preach the righteousness but we will never adapt to their spirit. We should not damage the greatness of our faith. It is not worth to adopt their way of thinking when trying to help them. We must be who we are and preach the truth, the light.

The children will learn from the Parents. The teaching of the Parents will show them what is the meaning of confession, of irrational passions, how the saints defeated the evil which was inside themselves. And we will pray so that God may shelter in their hearts.

From the book `Elder Porphyrios is speaking to us`, Bunavestire Publishing, Galați, 2003

The difficult years are approaching …..

Αrchimandrite Ephrem Philotheos

The difficult years are approaching. When we see wars and earthquakes and different other events it means the time is near. We expect to see many thing happening. According to the prophecies of the Saints in the times of the end great events will take place. And the word of God and the words of the Saints are the truth. The struggle we expect to fight is for the faith in God, for the humanness of Jesus as long as we believe that Christ is God and made Himself man and descended on earth to free us and draw away the darkness of faithless and the lack of god. And we as some soldiers of Christ since we are the army of Christ have the duty to prepare and arm ourselves. When a state notices that another state prepares an attack, begins to prepare its defence and counterattack. This is what we should do too. And the preparedness is known.

We should believe first of all that if we have faith and humbleness we will attract Grace and this great power of Christ to confess. We should never think or dare to believe that this power belongs to us. We will say: `I am weak, unworthy, sinful, I am a nothing, a zero, I am the most wretched man.` Only humbleness will attract the power of Christ and he will defeat.

Since where Christ gives His supernatural power, there are accomplished supernatural things. Don’t ever believe that by our own personal human powers we will be able to face any scheming or intervention of the devil and of his accomplices. Never.

The man is helpless, he has no power to face these dangers without the power of God. Let us believe that when God will call us to make this confession, He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out, so that you can endure it.[1]

And when we will accept to make this confession humbly, we will receive grace from God to defeat the cunning and be rewarded.

So we should continue to correct our life, to make it be Orthodox in what regards the virtues and strives in order to feel, taste and believe in God for true. When we believe that Christ during the martyrdom of the saints made miracles with them and strengthened them in their struggle, we will feel His true presence within ourselves as the martyrs did. We see that during the martyrdoms of the saints, the martyrs and the hermits were visited by the divine grace, had divine revelations, experienced interventions of the grace these without being noticed by the others. And thus they received power. And these helped them endure the pain of the torments and they reposed in God.

Saint Paul the Apostle says in one of his Epistles:

 `who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength`[2] 

And they suffered so many others. By their faith the martyrs accomplished all these great deeds and they suffered so many other things. They stood against the emperors, tyrants, against torments, against fire and other dangers but they defeated and they were rewarded and sanctified themselves.

But we say: `Since we don’t see now any virtue and have only the deep darkness of sin and faithlessness especially in these countries where we are invaded by all faiths and races, the Satanists who have great influence and so many other confessions and heresies, how to appear the saints nowadays?

Since all virtue is missing, since we don’t have any more hermits as in the days of yore who sanctified themselves and the deserts as long as the faith will be shaken to its foundations, who will be the saints of the last times?

However, the saints will never be missing. The Church will give saints till the Second Coming. And because these years are very near and we wait to make this great confession, we have the duty to prepare ourselves and strengthen our children all the time even with a few words we know and strengthen them in the Orthodox Faith and in confession. That one who will be worthy to make this confession of faith in the years to come, which will be the last and the most exalted, this martyr will be ten times brighter in the Kingdom of heaven than the martyrs from the old times who are celebrated by our Church. Let us hope that we too by the grace of God will be worthy of this confession in the times of the end. Amen.

[1] I Corinthians 10, 13.

[2] Hebrews 11, 33-40.

Excerpt from the book The Art of Salvationto be published by Evanghelismos.

The prayer is the man’s dialogue with God

The Most Pure and Most Holy Spirit may enlighten my darkness to tell you a few words about the most beautiful virtue of prayer and of soul`s purity.

And as saint Dyonisios Areopagite says, God is above spirit. Thus due to His nature, God is so huge, so widely spread all over everything that the man can be with Him in any moment and with the spirit of faith can see Him and speak with Him. No other person is so close to us all the time as it is God.

It’s such a great honor for a man to have the privilege, to be considered worthy to speak with a man of a great rank here on earth and for this he considers himself important because he has this connection, this friendship relation. But God is above all people and angels. And we all have this privilege to speak with Him and see Him through the eyes of faith.

All the hymnography of our Church, all the troparions and praises are prayers. But more important than these is this small prayer called the prayer of the mind and which comprises these words: `Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me!` With this small prayer we can communicate with God without cease. This is what saint Paul, the Apostle tells us to do: Pray without cease, give thanks for everything. [1] This is the will of God.

The hermits of the first Christian centuries lived in caves and deserts in very remote places of the earth. In those times there were no printed books like nowdays so they had nothing to read. But what did they do day and night in the desert? They had the University of the Universe, of the whole creation. From creation they raised their mind to the contemplation of the Creator of everything, God. A hermit was making a walk one day and he saw a very beautiful flower. He hit it and said: `Don’t shout so loud!` By this he wanted to say that this flower was speaking a lot about the wisdom of God. Thus if such a small flower was so wonderfully created the more wonderful is God the Creator of everything!

The Holy Fathers said that all the creatures speak each one with its own voice. But in order to reach this stage, to listen to the voice of all creatures of the earth, the man must purify his whole soul, mind and heart by spiritual and physical struggle.

Great Arsenios knew a lot about the science of the world and he was a great philosopher. But afterwards he went in the desert and secluded himself and lived a very austere life to purify his heart. He did not speak with people and did not see anyone. And this man who had been very wise in the world by his personal struggle and seclusion received the philosophy of the Spirit which is far more greater and more precious in spiritual terms than the worldly one. They say that he used to raise his hands in prayer at sunset and left them down at sunrise when the sun touched his cheek with its rays. He kept his hands raised up all night long. But how could they stay up like this? Naturally it would be extremely hard. But by the help of God everything is possible to achieve. His entire heart and mind were in rapture, in contemplation in the Holy Spirit and he was initiated in the heavenly mysteries. He communicated directly with God.

From this we understand that in order to be perfectly united with God someone needs to separate himself of the rest of the people and of the worldly worries and in the spirit of silencing his mind to be able through prayer to talk with the Spring of all happiness, God. The mind of the man is the one which leads the whole activity of his spirit. If the mind purifies itself of dirty thoughts which defile it then in time the heart will be purified too.

`Blessed are the pure in their hearts for they shall see God`[2]. And since God is not anthropomorphous to be seen with physical eyes by someone, He makes Himself known in the heart of the man, in a secret inexpressible way when the heart is purified. When the Christian prays correctly with unspread mind, meaning that his mind is humbly focused on the words of the prayer, he begins to feel the fruit of the prayer. And the fruit of such a humble prayer means that the man gets humbleness or tears or repentance or a great joy and love for God.

[1] I Tessalonians 5, 18.

[2] Matthew 5, 8.

Excerpt from the book The Art of Salvation to appear atEvanghelismos.

God’s bondless love for us

To speak about love means to speak about God and this thing has no limits, God being endless. Most of the religions value love, compassion and empathy. Christian religion is called the religion of love for people, because many are the attributes specific to Christianity but more and stronger than anything else are mutual love and peace. (Saint John Chrysostom, Homily 31, 1, at Hebrews). Christianity considers love as having its roots in the essence of God. Saint John the Evangelist, the theologian of the divine love, expresses the plenitude of God’s being by the word of love: `God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.` (I John, 4, 16).

God is love in His essence not only in relation with the man but with the whole world. He is love by His overflowing over the world but He was love before the creation of the world as well. Love implies two or more persons who love each other. God is a Trinity of Persons who love each other, communicate with each other and commune one from another. Through Christ we learnt that God is love, that God is our loving Father and we are His sons.

God – the lover of mankind

In the prayers and services of the Orthodox Church one of the most significant divine names for glorifying God is lover of mankind. The ritual of the Liturgy and of the sacraments, of the hierurgies and praises, the whole Orthodox cult comprises a multitude of texts by which is invoked  the love for the mankind of God, the lover of mankind. God remains in a transcendence inaccessible to the man as a being, since nobody has ever seen God (John 1, 18; 4, 12). However, He revelates Himself, He manifests in relation with the world He created and sustains it alive by His energies. The grace of love for the mankind has been lucrative in the whole history of the fall and of the salvation, since what is that which God has not done to be loved by us? What means hasn’t He used? What has He ignored? We offended God when He has never done anything wrong to us, on the contrary He has done us good, giving us plenty of blessings…Let us think how many times we offend Him even after all this plenty of blessings and He still comforts us, how many times we run away of Him and He doesn’t neglect us but comes in our way and draws us towards Him. If we meditate about all these, we will surely be able to light within ourselves that longing and love for Him. (Saint John the Chrysostom, Commentaries and explanation of the Epistle to the Romans). That is why, in another place, the same Holy Father urges us in the following way: `God offered us many ways of salvation; let us not disregard them` (Homilies at the Acts XXI, 4).

The Incarnation of the Son – the revelation of the love of the Holy Trinity

In their works, the Fathers of the Church made many references at Christ’s ineffable descent for us, for making us partakers of His divinity. In the patristic literature it was especially emphasized the Incarnation of the Son of God, seeing in this the modality through which the human nature may participate at the divine glory. The Incarnation of the Word, meaning His descent among the beings He had created and the complete assumption of the human condition represents the central moment of history. The Incarnation of the Son means the Revelation of the triune love: `God’s love was manifested by the fact that God sent in the world His only Son, so that we may live through Him. (I John 4, 9). The whole Holy Trinity participates at the Incarnation of Christ the Lord: in the essence of the Son, Who accomplished the mystery of our salvation by His Incarnation was present the Father in His essence, not incarnating Himself, but willing the Incarnation of the Son. And in the essence of the Son was present the Holy Spirit in His essence, not incarnating but collaborating with the Son and the ineffable Incarnation for us (Saint Maximus the Confessor, Answers to Talasius, answer 60, in Filocaly…vol.III) saint Maximus confirming and reinforcing the word of saint Paul who says that `God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.` (II Cor. 5, 19).

God’s love precedes man’s love

Christ remains forever the eternal lover: more loving than any other friend, more righteous than any master, more comforting than any father, belonging more to us than any of our limbs, more beneficial for us than our heart.` Our duty consists in answering to Him with our love and in answering to all the people with the power of love given by Him. Saint Simeon the New Theologian says in this respect: `God always wants to reveal and show His love for us so that we, by understanding and respecting His great kindness, may wish to love Him.` (Saint Simeon the New Theologian, Moral speeches, word 10, in Philocaly…, vol. VI).

If He hadn’t touched us with His love in the bottom of our hearts, we wouldn’t have sought Him. What Christ requires from us is to understand how much He loves us because this understanding is the beginning of the love for Him and of His dwelling within ourselves: Did you begin to love God? God began to dwell within you. Love the One Who began to dwell within you so that your perfect Dweller may perfect you.` (blessed Augustine, Comment at I John P.L., XXXV, col. 2043). Thus we love Him because we were loved by Him first and thus united with Him through love we receive His love for us which is infinite. We who felt loved under the guidance of the Holy Spirit become more loving. We who felt forgiven under thr guidance of the Holy Spirit become more forgiving. We who felt sought under the guidance of the Holy Spirit became more honest. We who felt healed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit become healers of the others.

As `the Son of God became man for us, showing that God is not far from us, since He values the man that much that He makes Himself man.` (pr. Stăniloae, quoted workd), let us sanctify ourselves for Him and answer with love to His Love and give ourselves wholly for receiving Him wholly, Christ wishing to continue His Incarnation within everyone of us. Referring at the prompt, positive answer the man has to give to God-Love, a Christian writer from the first centuries writes: `You gave Your heart, God to Your believers. You offered us Your friendship not because You needed us but because we always need You…He made Himself like me so that I may receive Him. He made Himself human like me so that I may cloth myself with Him. And I was not frightened by Him when I saw Him because He was merciful with me. He became like me to understand Him. He took a face like mine so that I may never turn my face from Him.` (Odes of Solomon – Christian prayers from Ist-IInd centuries, p. 169).

By Incarnation, the Son of God became our brother 

Christ incarnated Himself to sanctify the human nature and to offer it the chance of deification. Saint Athanasius resumed this dogma as follows: `God made Himself man so that the man may become God.`(De incarnatione Verbi, 54), dogma which represents a synthesis of the Orthodoxy. We find this idea in the whole patristic literature. He became Son of man to make the men sons of God by grace. So Christ partook in everything belonged to us so that we may partake in what belongs to Him. This is Christ’s great love, that He loves us and He doesn’t want anything in change for this. How wonderful is the mystery of love! It makes God man and the man God. By Incarnation the Son of God became our brother and His Father became our Father.

The Incarnation became truth and certitude even for the simple man who intuited that it is the only salvatory truth, the only chance of the man offered due to the great Love of God. A story from the Limonarium by John Moshu, from the end of the 6th century is very illustrative in this respect. It relates that once a murderer being condemned to be beheaded, there was a monk who came behind him and who wanted to behead him. While going on his way seeing the monk coming after him said: `Don’t you have a cell, abba or anything else to do?` `I have a cell and work to do for sure.` `Then why don’t you stay in your cell to cry for your sins?` ` You are right, brother, says the monk, I do not care much about my salvation. That’s why I come to see how you die, so that in this way I may reach repentance.` `Go, abba. Sit in your cell and than God who saved us. Since the Lord Incarnated Himself and died for us, the man doesn’t die of eternal death.`(John Moshu, Limonarium, cap. 71).

God descends among men, became one like them, suffers and sacrifices Himself in their place. If in other religions the man is the one who sacrifices himself and God the One who receives that, in Christianity the one who sacrifices himself is mostly God, the man being mostly the receiver. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the love of God which ensures the victory of the human being, is the firstfruits of our resurrection. This is true love as it was understood by Gabriel Marcel in his famous saying: `To tell someone that you love him means to say: `you will never die` Referring at the plenitude of blessings showed by Christ by His Incarnation, Sacrifice and Resurrection, Peter the Damascene says: `What will we give in change to God for everything He gave us? For us God came among men. For the decayed nature The Word Incarnated Himself and dwelt within ourselves.God the Good Doer came to the ungrateful. The Redeemer came to the enslaved. The Sun of Justice came to those who sat in the dark. The One without passions went on the cross. The Light went in hell, the Life in death, the resurrection for the fallen ones. We shall praise Him: Glory to You, our Lord!`

Source: ziarullumina.ro

Christ Is Born

 Monk Moses the Athonite

Christ makes Himself man so that the man makes himself god. The man without Christ becomes inhuman. Christianity gave birth to true amiability and empathy and the amiability and empathy comfort humanity. Christ came into the world naked like any man but the man doesn’t think about this well. We think that this is the message of Christ’s Nativity.         

Modern life aims to estrange us of Christ. The man considers that his life with Christ is suffocating and limited. Thus being `free` gets enslaved by idols. Orthodoxy doesn’t speak anymore to the heart of the modern man. In Northern Europe or in the Far East is celebrated the birth of the man god. Europe is secularized, has lost its Christianity. Humanity has become inhumanity. Humanity, solidarity, asceticism, ecology, life after death are discussed ironically.   

And the man of nowadays from Southern Europe has forgotten that he is mortal and we all shall die. We think that we will live this life forever and we don’t understand that we are visitors and passengers. The feeling of earthly immortality leads the man to the endless chase of the fleshly pleasures, of money and vainglory. Most of the times the result is painful but the man doesn’t stop. Christ came into the world to elevate us and to tell us that we are ephemeral.

Blinded and always hungry after delights the man celebrates the Christian holidays and Nativity in the same way. Denying, ignoring or renouncing at afterlife, the man dedicates himself fully to the earthly affairs, to the present moment, to the pleasures of life. This materialistic view of life can never be a fail of Christianity because Christianity never dominates anyone, it is a free choice of the man on earth. 

The weakening of the Orthodox feeling made our Christians to celebrate the holidays in a worldly way. Shopping, consume, advertisement, fashion, copious meals, fancy clothes, the quest for the delights found in material goods left the soul desert.

Nativity in a world deformed by bitter statistics. Christ incarnates Himself for the deification of man, for the restoration of his unique, saint person. The man of nowadays whistles carelessly, limits himself at eating and drinking good wine, at watching TV and idling on the sofa or armchair, at tasting cakes. Infant Jesus is dumbfounded by the fallen condition of the man, who believes everything he sees and catches in his hand. He neglects his soul and the questions raised by his conscience. The life is inhuman, the behavior is shameless, full of selfishness and recklessness.

For whom did Christ came on earth? For all of us. But most of us obviously despise Him. So this means He failed? No, I Think that we failed and we haven’t humbled ourselves yet. We didn’t understand that Christ doesn’t need lawyers. Since His childhood Christ was  persecuted and ran to Egypt. The king was afraid of His presence and shed the blood of the children and filled Sion with the cries of the mothers. We imagine that we are really something and that we really do something. We did not understand that we are some nobodies, expelled and humbled and we won’t ever succeed in anything. We should stop saying a lot of words and let the example speak instead. Today we rather need examples of living than preaches.

Infant Jesus in the manger from Bethlehem is quiet but He teaches us loudly what means to be humble. The Orthodox Christians of nowadays need true repentance and humility. The times are hard but we make them even harder.

Ostentatious modernism, excessive consumerism made the man comfortless and joyless. The men of nowadays should remember how nice is communion with the others, should remember the joy and the grace of encounters, the nobleness of spirit that our saints had and taught by their own life.

Despite all these, my beloved ones:

Christ is born; glorify Him! Christ comes from heaven; go to meet Him! Christ is on earth; be exalted! Sing to the Lord, all the earth! And praise Him in gladness, O people, for He has been glorified!

The ten commandments of Christmas

These `commandments` have the role of helping us to celebrate Christmas in a more authentic way.

  1. Do not let Christ outside Christmas celebration (do not let yourself drawn by those abbreviations and evasions that exclude Infant Jesus, for example Xmas)
  2. Prepare your soul for the celebration of Nativity. Do not spend much on shopping, on material things to get a bitter taste after buying them. Value the things which could deepen the meaning of the celebration for you: family, friends, gifts, carols, relationships, words of endearment, a positive attitude, a warm smile…
  3. Do not let Santa Claus to replace Christ. Tell your children the story of Nativity and take out time for spending it with Christ and for celebrating Him.
  4. Avoid as much as possible to  show discontent towards a postman or a salesman.
  5. When you offer a gift, offer a part of you. This will increase the value of your gift a thousand times and the one who receives it will consider that he received a treasure.
  6. Do not evaluate gifts after their price. Even a cheaper thing may mean love and this is more precious than silver and gold.
  7. Do not ignore the poor. Share your blessings with those who will be less hungry and better clothed due to your gift.
  8. Do not neglect the church. Its program offer you the true meaning of the celebration.
  9. Be like a baby. Nobody can enter the Kingdom of Heaven nor feel the real atmosphere of Nativity if he doesn’t become spiritually like a small baby.
  10. Offer your heart to Christ. Let Him be on top of your Christmas list. We will surely have more enjoyable holidays if we take into account these commandments.

In winter we have patience expecting spring to come

`Abba, I noticed that I don’t make any spiritual progress and this upsets me.`

`Once someone planted a vineyard and although this didn’t have roots, he expected it to bring grapes, to make plenty of wine, to drink, to enjoy himself and get drunk. You are doing the same. You planted a sprout and you want to drink wine on the spot. Something like this is not possible. You don’t plant a vineyard today to drink wine tomorrow. You may eat a few bunches of grapes in a year. In two years you will eat a basket of grapes and in five years you will drink some wine. So struggle and have patience if you want to delight yourself with spiritual fruit.`

`Abba, I am not used to wait and I lose my patience easily.`

`You need patience and wisdom. You see, the man waits two-three hours to cook a meal, but he can’t wait two minutes to let it cool and without thinking he eats it hot and burns his mouth. When I go back to the Holy Mountain I’ll send you a holy icon of saint Ipomoni. They sent me two icons of some pious men and one with saint Ipomoni. I gave the icons with the pious men with my blessing and kept the one with saint Ipomoni.`

`Abba, now when you came didn’t you bring me any healing plant from the Holy Mountain?`

`In this season there are not healing plants in the Garden of Theotokos. Spring must come. But to see spring coming you must have a bit of patience to let winter pass. So the best, the most useful plant for you is patience.`

`Abba I feel that I am in the middle of a spiritual winter.`

If you want to see the weather changing and getting warmer so that you may bloom and bring fruit of virtue, you must enjoy both cold and sunny weather, because everything helps for good. We endure with patience the spiritual winter and our patience is given by the hope in the arrival of the spiritual spring. Later in summer we see the good brought by winter that filled the basins with water and killed the microbes with its frost.

God settled everything wisely for our salvation and helps us as a good Father. We are only asked to have a bit of patience.

Source: Pious Paisios the Athonite, Passions and virtues, p.296-297.

God’s kindness strives to save the man even by using the smallest motive !

God will chase the man who has a good disposition to find his salvation. God`s mercy will chase him until the last moment because He with the magnifier glass He has finds in the heart of the Christian small particles of desire for salvation. He will exploit those particles and will give him power to save his soul even in the last moment.

This is what I`ve found as a confessor. It happened to me to be near the deathbed of someone and in the last moment when his soul was about to leave his body I witnessed this great salvation. Therefore due to the grace of God I don`t fall into despair for any Christian Orthodox cause one day he will be caught by God`s vise and be saved no matter how burdened he is by sins.

There was a robber who had done many wrongdoings. Police was looking for him and in the end they found him, they hurt him with their guns and caught him. They arrested him and took him to the hospital. There was hospitalized a man with a holy life, a hermit who had come to town for a certain need and got sick and they took him to the hospital.

The robber as he was lying in the bed suffered of pains and felt that his health was not going well and he was going to die. He suffered painfully in his heart because he started to remember all the robberies, crimes, rapes, wrongdoings he had done. Where will I find a priest to confess? he thought. So for me there is no salvation.` And he cried without cease. He had a handkerchief and wiped his tears with it. Then he put it under his pillow and because of the pains he gave his soul.

The hermit who was there looked at him and pitying him cried and prayed for him. In the moment the robber gave his soul the hermit saw the demons who had brought evidence of his misdeeds. But two angels of God came there too, his guardian angel and Michael, the Archangel. There were a lot of demons and the angels were only two. They had come to take his soul. The demons were glad because they had in their hands undeniable proofs. They were saying to each other: Nothing escapes to us. God is jjust. The law will condemn him. God cannot ignore His justice and Law He gave to the people. Indeed nothing escapes from us. They were full of joy and partied.

The poor angels were saying to each other: What can we show now? What good has he done? Let`s search and try to find if he has done any good to anyone.` They searched and they found the wet handkerchief under his pillow. Then while the demons were so glad the angels said:

`Let`s weight what we found.`

`Of course` said the demons.

The angels brought the scale and the demons began to put there the deeds full of sins. On the other side the angels put the handkerchief. And the scale tray with the handkerchief touched the floor and the deeds were scattered as if the angels had put tones of iron. And they answered to the demons:

`Saint Gregory of Nyssa says: the shed gtear has the same power with the bath of repentance.` And the robber had a bath of repentance with his tears. He washed himself, he cried, he repented, he confessed before God, he cleansed his soul and according to God`s oikonomia God received his confession since it was no other way to save him. That is why we take him clean. Go away!`

And by saying this, the angels took the soul of the robber to heaven.

You see, my sons, how much God`s kindness strives to find the smallest motive to save the man! As the Prophet said:

`I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.`(Ezekiel 33:11)

That is why God has a long lasting patience and waits until we repent, to save us.

Excerpt from the book The Art of Salvation published by Evanghelismos.

This is what I`ve found as a confessor. It happened to me to be near the deathbed of someone and in the last moment when his soul was about to leave his body I witnessed this great salvation. Therefore due to the grace of God I don`t fall into despair for any Christian Orthodox cause one day he will be caught by God`s vise and be saved no matter how burdened he is by sins.

There was a robber who had done many wrongdoings. Police was looking for him and in the end they found him, they hurt him with their guns and caught him. They arrested him and took him to the hospital. There was hospitalized a man with a holy life, a hermit who had come to town for a certain need and got sick and they took him to the hospital.

The robber as he was lying in the bed suffered of pains and felt that his health was not going well and he was going to die. He suffered painfully in his heart because he started to remember all the robberies, crimes, rapes, wrongdoings he had done. Where will I find a priest to confess? he thought. So for me there is no salvation.` And he cried without cease. He had a handkerchief and wiped his tears with it. Then he put it under his pillow and because of the pains he gave his soul.

The hermit who was there looked at him and pitying him cried and prayed for him. In the moment the robber gave his soul the hermit saw the demons who had brought evidence of his misdeeds. But two angels of God came there too, his guardian angel and Michael, the Archangel. There were a lot of demons and the angels were only two. They had come to take his soul. The demons were glad because they had in their hands undeniable proofs. They were saying to each other: Nothing escapes to us. God is jjust. The law will condemn him. God cannot ignore His justice and Law He gave to the people. Indeed nothing escapes from us. They were full of joy and partied.

The poor angels were saying to each other: What can we show now? What good has he done? Let`s search and try to find if he has done any good to anyone.` They searched and they found the wet handkerchief under his pillow. Then while the demons were so glad the angels said:

`Let`s weight what we found.`

`Of course` said the demons.

The angels brought the scale and the demons began to put there the deeds full of sins. On the other side the angels put the handkerchief. And the scale tray with the handkerchief touched the floor and the deeds were scattered as if the angels had put tones of iron. And they answered to the demons:

`Saint Gregory of Nyssa says: the shed gtear has the same power with the bath of repentance.` And the robber had a bath of repentance with his tears. He washed himself, he cried, he repented, he confessed before God, he cleansed his soul and according to God`s oikonomia God received his confession since it was no other way to save him. That is why we take him clean. Go away!`

And by saying this, the angels took the soul of the robber to heaven.

You see, my sons, how much God`s kindness strives to find the smallest motive to save the man! As the Prophet said:

`I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.`(Ezekiel 33:11)

That is why God has a long lasting patience and waits until we repent, to save us.

Excerpt from the book The Art of Salvation published by Evanghelismos.