Personal prayer (second part)

  1. What significance has the prayer on the knees, the prostrations face down to earth, the crossing of hands on the chest or the raising of the arms in the air metanies and many others?

By kneeling for prayer we confess our piety, repentance and helplessness before God. The prostration face down to earth expresses our humbleness before God. Judith prayed with her face down to earth before going in the camp of the enemies (Judith 9,1) this is how the Savior prayed in the Garden of Olives (Matthew 26,39), this is how the person who comes to receive the angelic face of monasticism waits on the porch of the church to have his hair cut.

 Metany which is a kneeling down followed by a quick raising up making the sign of the cross expresses the fact that we fell because of the sin and by Christ’s incarnation we raise back on our feet. Metany is of two kinds: big and small. The big one is a kneeling down to earth by bending the knees and by it we honor or are thankful for the divine mercy and the small metany is a high bending of the body until the left hand touches the earth. By it we honour the mercy of the saints. The crossing of the hands on the chest expresses the inner raising of the heart to God. The raising of the hands in the air means the inner raising of the heart to God. The raising of the arms in the air expresses our love for God and our union with Christ the Crucified One. Saint Apostle Paul commands that the man should pray in any place raising their arms without anger and hesitation  (I Timothy 2, 8).

This is how Moses prayed during the fight with the Amalekites (Ies. 17, 2-12), how

Solomon prayed at the sanctification of the temple (11 Chronicles 6,12), this is how the priests pray at the Holy Liturgy before coming out of the altar with the Holy Gifts before their transformation.

At the common prayer made in the church, during the holy services the big metany is not recommended o Sundays and from the Resurrection of the Lord until Whitsuntide.

  1. How should we pray, aloud or in our minds?

 

We can pray in our mind or aloud or in both ways during the same prayer. Someone can pray even when he walks or during his daily activities, without being noticed by the others. This is called mental prayer and is used by those who from various reasons cannot pray in another way. The prayer said aloud has its own significance. It expresses the inner feelings of the man  (Matthew 12, 34) and creates the bond with the other sons of the Church and brothers in Christ strengthening the common faith. This kind of prayer is useful and natural because the man consisting of soul and body these both have to glorify God. (Hosea 14, The prayer said aloud arouses the feelings of the heart and intensifies piety of the person who says it and of the one who listens it. Ultimately, the prayer said aloud  by many people gathered together invoke God louder as the Savior said: `

`For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.` (Matthew 18, 19-20).

  1. The prayer uttered only by mouth and the visible signs and movements which do not express any moving of the heart have any value?

The prayer of the person who prays only by mouth has no power.

For the prayer made only by mouth the Savior rebuked the Pharisees:

`These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.`
(Matthew 15, 8). And if the visible signs and movements which accompany our prayers do not express a deep feeling have no meaning. The one who makes many metanies, hits his chest and does other things of this kind without any inner feeling is a hypocrite. God asks us to worship Him in spirit and truth. (John 4,23)

Saint John Damascene

Saint John Damascene is an example of a brave defender of the Orthodox faith against the disrespectful emperors and archbishops. This enlightener of the Church lived during the iconomachist emperors Leon Isaurus and Constantine Copronymus. His father, Sergius, had a high political rank in Damascus,  being a favourite of the Sarasin leaders from Syria. After the death of his father, Saint John received that rank which had belonged to his father. Leon`s lack of piety was terribly condemned by the saint through letters and speeches. The pagan fortress of the iconomachists was destroyed by the wisdom of Saint John who strengthened the believers and defended Orthodoxy falling as a lightening on the head of those heretic emperors, bishops, atheists.

The saint did not recognize any right of the emperors and archbishops to interfere in the divine cult breaching the canons of God and of the Church changing these holy traditions and giving laws against the Holy Fathers who settled canons and borders which nobody had the right to change. Once he wrote to the shameless emperor:  `I obey you in the matters regarding the life of the city, the taxes, customs, trades which are under your power. In what relate to the situation of the Church we have pastors who tell us the word (God bearer fathers) and formulate the ecclesiastical canons. We don’t change the eternal `borders` settled by our Holy Fathers but keep the traditions as we received them. Because if we continue to shake the building of the Church even if only slightly this small thing will destroy it completely. The church is sanctified with the blood of Christ and adorns itself with His saints. If we stop honoring these icons this is an innovation. `Never change the holy canons settled by your Fathers.` And I don’t refer at those  before the birth of Christ but at those after Him. Many things have been written and preserved by the Church about icons until today. I don’t accept to be settled an orderliness in the Church by imperial laws but by the written and unwritten patristic tradition.

 (From the Second Word about the Holy Icons of saint John Damascene)

The man should not cease to show love to his wife

In marriage love is necessary for a reason more justified than any other. The reason is the nature of the woman, fruit of love (she was created from Adam`s rib and the rib is near the heart) who is not complete if she misses love. The woman spreads love out of her maternity, asking to be loved in return as long as by her nature and position (of mother and wife) she loves.

The history and order of things attest the fact that the husbands want to succeed in their attempt to live in harmony and normality, between them it must exist love all the time, especially from the man for his woman. Christ did this thing too. He sacrificed Himself to make it be glorified.

Saint John Chrysostom this great hierarch calls the man to show love to his wife all the time and all his toil and efforts have a single purpose: to make her happy.

This thing unfortunately is missing very much today and the consequences are disastrous. The meaning and the nature of the union were forged under the influence of the European chaos which has no respect for what belongs to the human personality, or for the spiritual and moral values our ancestors preserved by sacrifices.

Because the multiplication of men is made by lawful union, the devil, the open enemy of the man, tries furiously to break the habits and the bond of love and unity.

The great value of marriage must not be rejected by living a guilty and abnormal life so that we won’t be as the old apostates of the moral values disinherited by God: `my Spirit won’t remain in these men because they are only flesh. (Genesis 6,3) And He gave the deluge for punishing apostasy.

To ease the accomplishment of this role the husband should be for the wife depending on circumstances sometimes father, other times brother or friend and always her man. If he does this thing, his wife will show him a peaceful and harmonious attitude, she being many times kinder and more generous but other times when facing some insignificant events gets discouraged and is afraid.

The husband’s proofs of love are not exaggerated or false because only in a lawful marriage the real authentic love may be manifested since the man and the woman become a single body. Any other proof of tenderness and sympathy is not equivalent with being body in the lawful marriage from which it appears the spring of human life.

Even the name of the female gender requires the exercise of completion by the man`s love, this being a   main reason of jealousy, feeling that is in excess at the woman. The best way to chase away the woman’s jealousy is the real authentic manifestation of man`s love towards his wife.

In the general altered situation caused by man`s estrangement of God it is impossible not to have temptations. (Luke 17,1) It is required much attention for keeping the bond of marriage. We should quit temptations because they cause the misunderstandings. We recommend especially to the man who is head to be loyal to his love and bond with his wife, because the devil and his servants will not stop to war them for harming the root of life itself.

An example of real comfort and support in the difficult moments, given by our elders and which addresses to both husbands is this : `Don’t ever forget the first week from your marriage.` You are both as you were then. Nothing separates you.

I recommend to the men: `live wisely with your women since they are weak creatures  (1Pt.3,7).

This means that the estrangement of the woman heals through love and delicacy not through rebukes and anger. Don`t criticize your wife when she makes a mistake especially in time of temptation and dispute. Fulfill the word of David :

`And I as a deaf did not hear and as a dumb who does not open his mouth.`

(Ps. 37,13).

Later when you are alone, without the children – if there are any – embrace your wife tenderly and tell her : `My dear, don`t you know how much I love you ?` I want you to be an honorable woman. What you have done is not for your honor.` Only then she will accept her mistake and she will truly ask for forgiveness. These things are gained through experience. If you rebuke her when she makes a mistake she will become stubborn, will answer back, will get upset, will use all kinds of pretexts and lies. Wisdom prevails if it is used the remedy of love.

From our studies from what we heard and saw I drew the conclusion that the greatest responsibility for any bad thing which occurs in a marriage belongs to the men because they don`t show their love for their wives. They love the women but unfortunately not their own. This is the root of evil. Then there are stirred jealousy and doubt – with the well known consequences, especially when those around them agree that something is going on.

The meaningful counsels `tolerate and you will be tolerated` and `accept one another` must be steadily followed for having a normal marriage. The men have many mistakes and severity. Usually the lack of attention and the moral concessions- which are in excess in our times – abound. If something similar happened with the woman the revenges and punishments would be countless. The love for the wife is completely justified because the only person who will always stand by the man’s side is his wife, all the others around him will gradually disappear but the marriage of the pious husbands will continue in the hereafter.

 Source: Gérontos Iosíf Vatopaidinoú, «Syzitíseis ston Áthona», Psyhofelí Vatopaidiná 13, p. 141-164.

Lord Jesus Christ enlighten my children!

Everything is accomplished through prayer, silence and love. Did you become aware of the fruit of prayer? Love in prayer, love in Christ. This is beneficial indeed. The more you will love your children with a worldly love – and this is often pathological – the more they will get entangled and the worse it will be their behavior.

But when the love between you and your children will be Christian and holy then you won’t encounter any difficulty. The holiness of the parents sanctifies the children.

In order to let this happening the divine grace must be manifested in the souls of the parents. Nobody gets holy by himself. The same divine grace will enlighten, warm up and enliven the souls of the children.

Many times they call me from abroad and ask me about their children and about other things.

Today for instance I was called by a mother from Milan and she asked me how to behave with her children. I told her:

“Pray when it is needed, speak to the children with love. Pray more and say less words to the others.`

Let us not become disturbing but pray in secret then speak and God will let us know in our hearts if our word is received by the others. If it is not received we should not continue speaking. We should pray in secret.

Because even by speaking we may become disturbing and make the others oppose resistance or sometimes rebel. That is why it is better if someone tells them in a secret way in their hearts by secret prayer than in their ears.

Listen to me: first pray then speak. This is what you should do with your children. If you give them advice all the time you become boring and when they grow they will feel a kind of burden.

So choose prayer first. Speak to them by prayer. Tell everything to God and God will put these inside their hearts. Meaning that you should not advice aloud to be heard. You can do this too but above all you must speak about your  children to God. Tell Him: `Lord Jesus Christ enlighten my children. I entrust them to You. You gave them to me but I am helpless and I cannot guide them well. For this reason I beg You to enlighten them.` And God shall speak to them and they will say: `Oh, I shouldn’t have upset my mother for what I have done!` And this by the grace of God will come out of them.`

This is the perfect thing, if the mother speaks to God and God speaks to the child. If this is not done then you speak over and over again in their ears and in the end everything becomes a kind of oppression. And when the child grows he begins to oppose resistance, to take revenge on his mother and father who oppressed him. While there is one perfect thing: to let the love in Christ speak and the holiness of the father and the mother. The irradiance of the holiness and not of the human effort heals the children.

When the children are hurt and traumatized by a severe thing do not be surprised if they oppose resistance and speak in a nasty way. In fact they don’t want this but they can’t do otherwise in the hard moments. Then they feel sorry.

But if you get annoyed you become as one with the cunning in the difficult moments and he mocks all of you.

Pious Porphyrios, Pious Porphyrios is speaking to us,  Egumenița Publishing

Ascension of the Lord

`Let us lift our hearts up`! (Holy Liturgy)

Today, my beloved ones, is a day of celebration. Each feast settled by our Holy Church has its own aim. As a traveler walks in the summer under the burning rays and when he sees a tree, stops and rest under his shadow, this is how we are in this life. We live in a desert world, missing great, high feelings. We suffer because of so many troubles. And every feast is a tree full of dew and good fragrance which gives us spiritual peace and power to continue our difficult life journey.

The feast from today is a royal feast. It is the crown of all the feasts dedicated to the Lord. If the Birth of Christ is the beginning and the root, the feast of today is the culmination, the completion. Let us take a look upon this wondrous event we celebrate today.

***

After His Ressurection, our Lord remained 40 days here on earth. But He did not stay during this time without working. He showed up in many places and in different moments to his disciples and apostles. What for? Every time the Lord appeared  before His disciples He gave them first His blessing and peace `which is beyond all imagination` (Philippians 4,7) and for which our Church prays without cease. Then He taught them the highest lore about the Kingdom of heaven, He told them that they should not remain in Jerusalem but scatter in all the corners of the world and preach the Gospel. And in the end He prophesied that His Kingdom which is spiritual could never be undermined or destroyed by any devil or power. By these apparitions all His disciples even the most incredulous, Thomas, became fully aware that the Lord is risen.

For the last time the Lord appeared in front of His disciples on the Mountain of Olives, outside Jerusalem. There on a peak they saw Him for the last time.

They were all gathered for the day of Ascension. How many? About the same number are gathered today on the day of Ascension. There were the twelve disciples (Judas was replaced by Mathias), seventy disciples, the myrrhous women and in the middle of the gathering was the Holy Mother of God. They were 120 souls altogether.

Thus while the Lord raised His hands and blessed them for the last time, in that very moment it took place the miraculous event.

Christ’s immaculate feet which we are not worthy to touch (Do not touch Me! He said, John 20, 17) those feet which for three years walked on mountains and valleys, ravines and desert places to meet and save the lost sheep, those feet which were nailed on the wood of the Cross and whose wounds fed and wetted the earth.

The blessed feet of our Lord now ceased to touch the earth. His Body lighter than air began to rise to the skies. A holy and thrilling moment.

Strange thing – you will say. Is it possible that the body of a man to rise to the skies?

But if the man who is a shadow of God succeeded to find modalities to rise above the clouds with the wings of the airplane and cross the space with spaceships then how could it be difficult for the Almighty God who created the human mind to rise to the skies? And notice the difference: the Man rises by a means of transport (plane, spaceship, balloon etc) Even prophet Elijah in the Old Testament rose to the skies in a chariot. But here we have an unique case. Christ rose without the help of any mechanical means. A cloud – which is the symbol of divinity, raised Him. `A cloud surrounded Him`(Acts 1,9)

This wondrous fact shook the heavenly world. Christ was risen to the skies. He flew above the stars, passed by the sun and the galaxies and all the material creation

And when He reached the borders and touched the spiritual world which is guarded by the angels and archangels with their swords then they heard the same voice which was heard by prophet Isaiah: `Who is This?` (Isaiah 63,1) Who is This One Whose clothes are colored by blood? Why are His clothes red? Who is this man who dared to cross the skies and come here? And other angels answered with the prophetical words of the Psalter: `This is the powerful in war.` He comes from below, from the earth where he fought an unique war and defeated, He defeated the scholars and Pharisees, the emperors of the earth, He defeated first of all the devil, the sin and death. Therefore He is risen triumphantly. And then it was heard another voice: Lift up your heads, you gates;    be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in. (Psalm 23, 7-10).

Thus if high above in heaven the angels celebrate, here on earth the disciples experience other feelings. They rejoice but they also feel sadness. They had Christ beside them for three years. They loved Him more than their fathers. For Him they left their jobs, families, children and women, their old parents and followed Him everywhere. And now? He is leaving, is risen to the skies. All of us who were present near their father or mother when they died and left us felt what it means to be orphan. And their Father left for the sake of His disciples. For this reason somewhere in the troparion the Church chants: `Our Master do not  leave us orphans, life giver Christ do not leave us orphans!`

And indeed Christ did not leave His disciples to be orphans. After ten days He sent them the Holy Spirit. And This announced them – because the Holy Spirit announces thre heart – that Christ is of course very high, above the skies but He is also near, nearer than anyone as He ascertained Himself:

`And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.` (Matthew 28, 20).

***

My brothers ! If you read the Apocalypse (Apocalypse 12, 14) you will see that the Spirit of God speaks there about a misterious eagle with great wings. Who can be this eagle? Isn’t it the bicephalous eagle of Byzantium? This eagle of the Apocalyupse is the Lord Himself. He is the One Who takes us and raises us above.

`Let us lift our hearts up` we hear at the Holy Liturgy. We need to raise our mind, our heart, our whole life to heaven. The men of our times showed a great interest to hear about someone who was the first to fly to the Moon and the other planets, a Russian, an American, an Englishman?

Vanity of vanities? are all these (Ecclesiast 1, 2). No matter how high they would fly, they would still be very close to earth.

By the Ascension of Christ Who is God-Man, the nature of the man rose to such a height he could have never conceived. Christ is the first man who opened the skies and from now on the heavens are open for the man. The road is open. Step ahead! Christ strengthens us. Everyone of us if He wants can become a spiritual, not a material spaceship and He ascends and reaches the height where are the angels and the archangels.

These are not myths or tales. No, my brothers. If these are lies, then let’s burn all ojur books. No. Our religion is alive. If you believe in Christ do not envy and do not stare at rockets. Everyone of you, every soul even of the most humble man should become a spiritual rocket which crosses the skies and rises to heavens reaching the Holy Trinity where the angels and archangels together with the saints glorify the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

† Bishop Augustin

(Athens, 1960)

Go ahead and sanctify yourself

A faithful young man who had married a girl who had no connection with faith went to the father to ask for his advice. The elder being put in front of the accomplished fact understood immediately which were the weaknesses of the wife and told him: `Now go ahead and sanctify yourself You have no other solution! You will fight every day more and more to sanctify yourself and your wife seeing your face radiating the joy of Christ will envy you and want to imitate you. The elder found the best solution for every problem.

Once I asked him: Your holiness, this spiritual and physical attraction which appears between a man and a woman is demonic?` The elder said:`Sometimes yes, sometimes not, it depends.`

At the next meeting I mentioned again that problem and he answered more precisely: `You know what we use to call happiness in marriage exists but with a condition: if the husbands gained a spiritual fortune, loving Christ and fulfilling His commands. Thus they will come to love each other for real and be happy. Otherwise they will be poor spiritually, they will be unable to offer love and they will face demonic problems which will make them unhappy.`

 Another time he described the things better for me. I asked him: Your holiness, I heard that if the problem of not fulfilling the physical and sentimental wishes of the two remains unsolved it finds its solution only at death.

The elder reacted vehemently: `No, don’t call it problem. Look, it’s like this: and he drew with his palm and fingers a movement over the blanket from the bed showing something which moved first crawling then slowly raising from the earth and in the end ascending to heaven. This image he drew opposes that one depicted by the romantic descriptions of some ecstatic love stories which begin from the heights and in the end fall on the earth in the most unnatural way. The image described by the elder in gestures related to the spiritual fortune which naturally creates a way upwards or downwards depending of its existence or absence.

He said something to a brother :

`If your wife reproaches to you that you are too busy with the church affairs don’t give her any answer. Go and take a walk and when she changes her mood and cooks in the kitchen go to her, pat her on her head and kiss her or her cheek. This will calm her and she will forget everything you did before.`

To another brother he said : `Be careful not to bother your wife too much. And don’t be too mad after her. Be balanced and don’t exaggerate.`

`Many times the women want to be like the men and they like to wear manly clothers and do the same things and movements like the men`, told me elder Porphyrios once.`

The elder said to a sister: `The women who are jealous on their husbands get sick of cancer. This happens even to the wives of the priests. All sicknesses are caused by troubles even the kidney stones.`

For correcting the flaws of a brother as we all did the elder took examples from nature and from his life and said:

`Son, you should know that nothing is at random. Everything has a meaning and nothing happens without a reason. Not even a leaf can fall without the will of God. For this reason you should not get upset for what happens to you. Only in this way we can sanctify ourselves.Forildren instance you are upset because of your family and you worry either for your wife or for your children. But you should know that only in this way you can make spiritual progress.If it weren’t for them you could not make any spiritual progress. God gave them to you purposefully. Well, you will say – continued the elder – but is it right to suffer because of our dear ones? Yes, I answer, because this is what God wants. And you are oversensitive and because of your sorrow you have stomachaches and all your abdominal cavity hurts, am I right?`

`You are right, father. But is it so bad to be sensitive?`

`Yes, it is bad when someone is as sensitive as you, since your sorrow will cause you all kinds of physical diseases and not only those. Don’t you know that all the psychical diseases are demonic?` said the elder.

`No, I don’t know that` said the brother

`Well, you found it now from me` said the elder.

Konstantinos Yannitsiotis, Near elder Porphyrios,  Bunavestire Publishing Bacău – 2002

The mother cannot be replaced by anyone in raising the children

To be a mother is a ministration and the first condition of an honest ministration is abnegation. The real mother devoted tom her call doesn’t say: this is the son I bore for myself. She thinks: Here is a child who was born in the world for its goodness (Luke 1, 66) – and asks the earth, the sky and the hell bending above the cradle of this weak creature. The answer depends in a great measure on education and especially on the maternal education.

Many things depend on the beginning of this education: in the orientation given tom the child in his first years of life is hidden the embryo of his future life. The first years of the child are in his mother’s hands. And indeed in these years who can replace the mother for the child? The father? But the father doesn’t have enough inclination, time or patience while the mother has them in plenty.

Nobody understands as well as the mother what character has her child, which are his weak and strong points and what she can do with his temperament.

Nobody knows better than the mother till where she can go on being severe and till where she can go on being lenient, nobody knows better than her the art of awaking in her child the desire to know, of drawing his attention and giving him practical advice. Nobody except the mother is able to make this young offshoot grow properly. The greatest influence which exists in human relationships is that one given by the mother.

Do not ask from her systematic actions: she acts rather from inspiration than from calculation. It may seem that she acts at random but leave in her care the education of the child and her motherly feeling will reach the target better than all the reasoning of the father – and what wonderful changes happen with the children under the influence of their mother!

Archpriest Dimitrios Sokolov, How to educate the child in an Orthodox way, Sophia Publishing, București, 2011, pp. 58-59

The Holy fathers speaking about humbleness and pride

Humbleness is God’s garment, says saint Isaac the Syrian and becoming human through it He hides His glory for not burning His Creation when it sees Him. The Holy Fathers distinguish between kinds of humbleness and pride in relation with the man and God. Humbleness  begins with the love for the fellow men and involves the acknowledgment of the fact that the source of our entire biological and spiritual life is exterior, is God. But it is not only a comprehensive act of rational understanding but also of knowledge by struggles and strives to gain virtues.

Depending on the spiritual criterion taken into consideration humbleness has more aspects. In accordance with the subject of the relation, the man or God, we distinguish two levels. In this respect abba Dorotheus explained: `The initial humbleness means that someone considers his brother wiser than him and outrunning him in everything and simply expressing it as saint Paul said, by considering himself lower than all the others. And the second humbleness means to consider that God alone is the maker of all good. This is the perfect humbleness of the saints. This is born in the soul naturally by accomplishing the commandments. Thus the saints the closer they get to God the more sinful they see themselves. And saint John Casian reinforces this statement: Nobody can reach the final aim of perfection of purity otherwise than by a true humbleness which he shows towards his brothers and then to God.

 

The humbleness of the sinner and the pride of the righteous

According to the spiritual level of the God loving man, we can distinguish a humbleness of the sinner who is in course of purification, an intermediary level of the one who still struggles against his passions and a perfect level which belongs to the dispassionate. The sinner who repents humbly in his heart for his mistakes reaches the first step of humbleness.

`You must know, taught saint John Chrysostom, that a humble sinner outruns a proud righteous. Remember the Pharisee and the publican from the Gospel. See what the Pharisee says: ` The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.` (Luke 18, 11). Oh, what a foolishness! The pride of this Pharisee did not only make him boast above all the human race but he foolishly despised the publican who was not far from him. In addition to this the saint mentions the reactions of the publican: `He did not answer to the offence with an offence, he did not get mad to offend but suffered everything obediently. By patience the arrow of the enemy became for him a healing remedy which brought him glory and holy wreath. Everyone of us is called to follow the model of the publican not by imitating his sins, but by humble thinking.

At the stage when virtue is not complete, humbleness is at the level of struggling against passions, the mind trying to find reasons for humbling itself. Saint Isaac the Syrian added that humble in his thought cannot be called not even the one who humbles himself recalling his sins and mistakes when he remembers them before feeling his heart crushed and drawing away his proud thoughts when they appear, although this thing is praiseworthy. But if he still has any proud thought it means he did not reach humbleness and tries to gain it by different methods. Even if this thing is praiseworthy however he has not gained humbleness only wants it but he doesn’t own it. The simple fact that sometimes you feel your heart crushed or you cry when you pray it doesn’t mean you’ve reached the height of humbleness. For instance, when you have tears while praying in the presence of other people they might be brought by demons to draw you to vainglory and believe about yourself that you are special and distinguish yourself from the flock of the believers. Completing the words of this struggler for piety, Diadochus of Photice emphasized: `He has a more humble mind because of the weakness of his body or of those who hate without a reason those who are concerned by justice or the fight against the bad thoughts.` Sty this stage sadness and discouragement are still present because of the longing after the earthly happiness. But the one who struggles had to pass through the first to teach the second.`

Humble thinking is the natural quality of the perfect ones

Saint Isaac the Syrian distinguishes as the peak of perfection the supernatural humbleness, charisma which is given to the saints only after they have gained all virtues.

`Only by the accomplishment of virtues humbleness may be reached. The perfect one although he has laudable deeds, hides them and considers himself as being nothing. In the same manner saint John Chrysostom said: Humbleness doesn’t mean a sinner should consider himself being a sinner indeed but true humbleness is when someone knows he did many great good deeds and he doesn’t have any high thoughts about himself, but says as saint Paul: `

 

`My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent.` (1 Corinthians 4, 4). `The holy man does not need to find reasons in his mind to humble himself, but gained this in all these in a perfect natural way without forcing himself, saint Isaac the Syrian added. Since he received it in himself as a great charisma. This humbleness is present in his heart not by a rational mental effort but longingly. `The perfect humbleness appears when the mind is enlightened by the divine grace by feeling and perfect confidence`, saint Diadochus of Fotice confirmed. Then `the soul has humble thoughts as a natural attribute, since being filled by divine kindness he cannot be influenced by vainglory even if he fulfilled without cease the commandments of the Lord but considers himself more humble than all the others because of the communion with the divine kindness. In this situation the spiritual athlete is not impressed anymore by the riches of this world and doesn’t feel the terrible arrows of sin.`

We find an apparent humbleness at the man who temperamentally is meek and quiet but has not spiritual strife. Because he writes: `Not everyone who is meek and quiet or understanding and gentle by nature reached the stage of humble thinking.` As saint Isaac the Syrian remarked the man learns only by trials. And without trial he doesn’t know humbleness.` And Diadochus of Photice said that `we could not reach the brightness of humbleness if the grace did not soften us bringing upon us the educative pains to make manifest our free will.` For reaching humbleness it is not enough to read books or invoke in our mind humble thoughts. It is necessary to acknowledge thoroughly that we cannot do anything good without God. But we must first pass through the oven of misfortunes to feel our helplessness and increase our prayers asking for the divine help. `And when someone knows that he missed God’s help he prays a lot and the more he multiplies them the more humble he becomes in his heart. Since as saint Isaac the Syrian noticed that it’s impossible not to humble yourself when you pray and demand. ` A broken and contrite heart God will not despise.` (Psalm 50, 19) Farther on this long spiritual way the heart humbles itself by pains and educative abandons from God which results in making the thoughts from our mind stop wandering: `Since humbleness makes the mind become focused.`

Thus the humble man is focused, recollected and prays with his mind undissipated. The gain of this focused prayer is the fact the heart feels God’s help. Because it finds a trustworthy power moving in itself. Sand when the man feels the divine help being present there helping him, his heart fills with faith and he understands by this that the prayer is the means through which he finds help and spring for salvation.

The devil is helpless when he is confronted with humbleness

Many trials and temptations are brought by God against those who love Him. Thus many times He frightens them with the natural passions and with the dirty ugly thoughts and sometimes with diseases and infirmities. Other times with poverty with the lack of the bare necessities. And other times with the pains of a terrible fright, with the abandonment and with the visible fight coming from the devil by which He uses to frighten them. And some other times by many terrible things. These misfortunes are the spiritual bell by which God calls His lovers not to fall into the sleep of idleness or because the struggler is vulnerable to some things or for waking the fear of what is to come in the future.

As a result of this the more awake we are the less idle in using our mind the more humble we are, the more thankful and we have the presence of spirit to blame ourselves for the evil we suffer. Because of our pride many misfortunes strike us so that the mind should be awake. While doing good deeds the man must also be alert all the time and protect his soul and think that he is a created being vulnerable to any fall. Since everyone being a created being needs God’s power to help him.`

The man with a humble heart doesn’t oppose another man using the shield of his pride to protect his hurt selfishness. The humble one cannot be hurt, upset, angered. But in the heart of the proud it grows the `tree of misdeed` mentioned by Mark the Hermit who spoke about the passions of sadness, anger and distress. We very often ignore this subtle connection between pride and a common sadness, distress or anger. The humble man is peaceful but the proud one causes conflicts: `Many quarrels are caused by pride, but wisdom is with the one who listens the advice. (Proverbs 13, 10) The humble one is loved by God by men and even the wild beasts that bend their heads and lick his feet and hands because from them comes that scent diffused by Adam before the fall.

More than this saint Isaac the Syrian said: even the devils despite all their evilness, pride and cruelty when they approach him become powerless. And all their cunning is annihilated and their scheming vanishes and their misdeeds stop. But the proud one is in conflict with God and people (Luke 26, 41) His despising look, his proud walk, his arrogant defiant ironical malicious sarcastic talk attract only the evil spirits who make him a vessel of their evilness. Moreover the proud one will not need any devil. Because he is a devil and an enemy himself and he fights against himself` added saint John Chrysostom. The proud man doesn’t know himself at all, saint John Chrysostom remarked, since he attributes to himself qualities that are gifts from God.

`What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?` (I Cor. 4, 7), saint apostle Paul asked the proud one. On the contrary the humble one said saint John Cassian refrains from pride whenever he does good deeds saying to himself: `Without me you cannot do anything.`(John 15, 5) or `If the Lord did not build the house, the builders would try in vain.`(Psalm 26, 1), or `It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.` (Romans 9, 16).

Vainglory and discretion

Besides these the proud one seeks to be recognized, admired, appreciated and honored by men. This is the passion of vainglory characterized by saint John Chrysostom as being the `waste of our toils, the loss of our efforts, the relative of disbelief, the forerunner of pride and the wreckage of the vessel in the port.` According to saint John Cassian vainglory is considered as the beginning of pride, passion which wars especially the perfect ones who defeated the passions of debauchery and anger. The humble man is only a presence who becomes visible by his material but absolutely discrete gestures. He doesn’t compare himself with anyone else but himself and considers himself a sinner and thinks he doesn’t do anything good. Saint Peter the Damascene advised to be followed this spiritual model: If someome has all the physical and spiritual virtues he should consider he owes it all that to God as one who took many by grace being unworthy of that.`

And saint Isaiah the Hermits adds: `Humbleness means when someone doesn’t compare himself to see what level he reached by one of his deeds, in looking at it, at its greatness and ignore that. Humbleness means as well: not to argue, to have obedience, to keep your look down, to have your eyes shut, to refrain from lying, from prattling, from opposing others, to toil a lot, to suffer offences, to hate rest and never upset anyone.` Moreover one of the qualities of humble thinking according to the same spiritual writer consists in giving up at one’s own will favouring the neighbor consciously with discernment.

The healing of pride

 

Saint Basil the Great appreciated that the proud one `heals himself if he believes in the words of the one who said: `God is against the proud and He gives grace to the humble.` (Iac. 4, 6), in other words meaning to be afraid of the way it will be judged pride.` Our Lord Jesus Christ warns us about the sad consequences of pride: ` Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.(Matthew  23, 12; Luke 14, 11).

And Mark the Ascete said: `When you see a thought promising you vainglory be sure it prepares shame for your.` Pride as well as humbleness has two forms:

one when you consider yourself above other people and despise them and another when you consider you owe to you your physical, intellectual, spiritual, material and social gifts and successes.

When the man focuses on the brightness and the beauty of the other one without looking at his flaws, he has the chance to avoid the first form of pride.

 

 

More than this, as abba Dorotheus teaches us: `to consider yourself below all the others opposes the first kind of pride. Since how can someone who considers himself below all the others see himself above his brother or defame him, or despise him. In the same time the accept of the offences, of the disgrace and defamations are healing remedies for pride.` And the second kind of pride heals by ceaseless prayer: `The one who prays without cease to God becomes worthy to succeed in something, he knows where his help comes from and he cannot boast himself or consider that his achievements were his merit, only thinks that he owes them to God and is always thankful to Him and always pray to Him fearing not to lose His help and see himself weak and helpless.` Pride unlike other passion cannot be healed by personal efforts.

Saint John Chrysostom left us a word which until now arouses in everyone of us a positive uneasiness : `The intemperate may be healed by men, the cunning by angels and the proud ones only by God.` Let’s walk every day in the spirit of humbleness which doesn’t mean to place ourselves below the others which implies  a kind of choreography meaning to descend from a higher place. The humble man does not descend from somewhere, but admits with spiritual objectivity to be the last of all. Saint Makarios said `the humble never falls, where could fall that one who is below all?`.

Humbleness doesn’t mean that a sinner should consider himself a true sinner but real humbleness means when someone knows he did many great deeds and he doesn’t think anything great about himself only says as saint Paul:

`My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent.` (1 Cor. 4, 4).”

Saint John Chrysostom

 

The theory of reincarnation is dangerous

As any other young man with thirst for knowledge and who read and shared with his close ones various theories about life and life I was preoccupied by the idea of reincarnation. This philosophical and religious theory which says that the spirit survives the death of the body for coming back after a time in a new body. Manhy people believe in reincarnation. `Child if you believe in the theory of reincarnation you are like lost. Let me tell you why.

In the theory of reincarnation they speak many times about the fact that this is the level you reached in this life and in the coming lives you are to evolve. In this situation it appear a feel of self sufficiency. You accept the idea, get used to it, waiting that the new life would offer you something better. To improve yourself without any personal contribution if possible. In other words you give up so easily at fight. And here I don’t mean the fight with others but the right fight with yourself with the passions that control you. Thus if you are a drunkard or an alcoholic  living with the hope that the future life will bring you perfection if you don’t stand to fight, what will you do? You lose the fight without opposing any resistance. You lose all the time. In this match let’s call it so, you don’t even get a remise, as for victory there is now way to reach it.` I said that they  speak about the transmigration of the soul in all the forms of life, this passing from the vegetal liufe to the animal one then would become human.

The answer of the father was brief: `We should not forget that the man is the supreme creation of God, he was created from the beginning what he is.` Tjhere isn also the Darwinist theory and according to it on the scale of evolution we were the ones who won as against the rest of the animals on earth. `These are poor interpretations. Let me give you an example which I remember from the Gospel of John:

` Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.  He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.

How can someone be born when they are old? Nicodemus asked. Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born! Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.`

As you see the interpretation may be simplistic, it may be said that is a new birth. It’s clear this is the theory of reincarnation, say some people. But how many think that the rebirth take place during the same life? It doesn’t refer at the passing through death and the coming back to life. It refers at the abandonment of the old self and at the adoption of the new one, of the man who died for death and was resurrected for eternal life, of the man who left the passions and was revived for the eternal life. This is rebirth not the strange and simplistic interpretation which was given so superfluously. But in order to be revived in the true meaning of the word and I don’t refer here at the physical freedom, you need to renounce at sins.

In other words not to be controlled by a master anymore, the master being the one that dominates you without being able to oppose any resistance. It is the one which tells you eat in excess, drink in excess, smoke, be debauched, lie, don’t forget, be proud etc. You free yourself of your master when you succeed to defeat it, to escape its influence. This is true freedom that is spoken of. But for this it is needed a tough fight, with enormous sacrifices. It is hard to fight against an invisible adversary. But if God wills you see the results of your fight. If you have heed you see everything clearly.

In the first phase you will be sure that you have no choice. Awareness is the first stage of the struggle. When you are not aware you are hit. After you become aware the questions arise: what am I going to do now? How am I going to do it? The Orthodox Church has the answer. The saints are the example of the struffle fought till the end, a struggle which is finally won. Their path should be ours too. They walked on the path of the Orthodox Church. Our path should be the same. Not for other reasons but there is no other way to have the same final. Otherwise we would see myrrh gusher saints from all the confessions. Am I right?

The myrrh of the saints shows us that the path shown by the Orthodox Church is the right one the one to be followed if we want the reward. You cannot hope to get any reward without struggle. Son you enter the tranches from the moment you are born on the front line directly in the fight. There is no neutrality status. You cannot stand on the edge of the ground. Who thinks there is neutrality is completely wrong. They don’t have any struggle. They do everything comes in their mind without opposing any resistance, without having any discernment most of the times. Maybe there is an opposition given by the law of moral. But in the end they are caught anyway. And now we return to reincarnation idea which gives self satisfaction and distracts from the right struggle here and now.

Do you want to believe in reincarnation, do you think you will come back on earth more developed next time? Do you want to give up on the actual struggle?

Do you want to postpone the fight till a next time, in another life? It would be a pity because life isn short. How would be if a saint venerated his own holy relics? It’s quite funny. When someone dies many say that he passed away to non existence while Orthodoxy says that he passed into eternity. It doesn’t say at all that he prepares to come back.

I think that I was explicit enough. Now listen to me well not paying attention to what some people or others think. Our God is too rich to use the technique of recycling.

Excerpt from the book Down to earth, author Ionuț Riteș.

The myrrh of repentance

So many were the sinners who were received by Christ in such a nice way!

Apostle Peter abandoned Him but he understood his mistake, repented and shed rivers of tears, crying bitterly…He had his heart open and there entered the rays of self knowledge and repentance. And the Lord looked at him with mercy, encouraging him: `Even if you abandoned Me, when you come back, strengthen your brothers!` And he became the great apostle Peter. While Judas who betrayed Him had no humbleness and repentance, fell into despair and lost the game.

We have other persons in the life of Christ who were great sinners but by returning they were saved.

There is the prostitute who is presented by the Church in the first days of the Passion Week. What a beautiful repentance, what beauty! This woman who was was addicted to sins received the ray of light in her soul and knew her Saviour! Christ charmed her with the beauty of His mercy and with the eye of His love and she immediately ran to the myrrh seller and said:

`Give me the most expensive myrrh you have, the price doesn’t matter!`

`But its price is very high. You cannot buy it…`

`I can buy it because my repentance is retrieved. It would not matter for me at all how much it would cost Give me the myrrh quickly to go and anoint the One who absolved me of my sins and gave me back my purity. The One who stretched out His hand and I came out of my old self. I adore the Master!` and wiped them with her hair.

And she ran with the myrrh in her hands and fell before Him anointing His most holy feet and the Lord seeing her soul was gushing so much myrrh gave her courage addressing to the so called lovers of men who protested because of the money wasted on that myrrh:

`Leave this woman do what she likes. She came before My burial and anointed My body. This deed will be for her eternal memory.

Meaning that she was to become an example of repentance and return of the sinful man to Christ’s feet.

You see, Christ was not disgusted at all but received the myrrh of her repentance and love. Because behind the material myrrh was hidden the myrrh of repentance. This is what was received by Christ who told her: `Your sins, my daughter, are forgiven and loose. Go in peace since you don’t owe anything to God anymore!

Excerpt from The Art of Salvation – Archimandrite Ephrem Philotheos Evanghelismos Publishing