Letting God be God

 

dormition2

The Dormition Feast – A Homily on St. Luke. (10:38-42; 11:27-28) and a Story and a Farewell

Letting God be God

At that time, Jesus entered a certain village; and a woman named Martha received Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to His teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to Him and said, “Lord, dost Thou not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.” As He said this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore Thee, and the breasts that Thou didst suck!” But He said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” 

*

In the Gospel for the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, we meet that familiar scene in the house of Martha and Mary. Martha is busy preparing the food and Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to Him. Martha we are told “was distracted”. The burden of work she felt was laid unfairly upon her. Her distraction, her preoccupation had led to resentment and so she intrudes upon our Lord’s teaching:

“Lord, don’t you care…. Tell her to help me.” In her frustration and anger, she not only questions our Lord’s awareness, but she also gives Him advice and tells Him what He should do.

This, unfortunately, is what we sometimes do. We try to tell the One who cares for us beyond measure, the Son of God, what He should be doing for us.

 At the wedding of Cana in Galilee, the Mother of God notices that they had run out of wine. “ They have no wine.” This is in effect both a statement and a request and a tangible example of the intercessions of the Theotokos. His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” The Mother of God is always vigilant about our needs too and continually intercedes for us before the throne of grace.

Asking is different from demanding. The problem is that we want to give God advice rather than seek help from Him and do whatever He says. We want God to assist us in going our own way.

St Dorotheos of Gaza said: “ Nothing is more harmful than self-direction, nothing more fatal. I never allowed myself to follow my thought without seeking advice.” This is why we have spiritual fathers in the Orthodox Church, not that their advice is perfect but that we have another a reference point in spiritual trigonometry. Often it is not advice that a person seeks from their spiritual father, but they come to him because they want to know that their spiritual father cares for them, that he can be trusted to hear their complaint, their sins, to walk with them, share their burden and to love them. How much more does God love us and know our needs even before we ask?

More than advice it is God’s action that saves us.  The Old Testament was full of advice which the people of Israel ignored. What was needed was someone to rescue them and us.

We see in the Falling Asleep of the Most Holy Theotokos that our Lord would not allow His mother to see corruption. He takes her to Himself and opens the way for us too. 

*

There is a story of a man who fell into a pit. The first man came along and offered him advice.” If you get out of that pit you should learn your lesson not to make the same mistake again.” A second man came along and offered him advice on how to get out of the pit the man had fallen into. A third man came and offered no advice. Without any hesitation, he went down into the pit and helped the man out. 

This is what Christ does. St John of Kronstadt writes:

Such are the comforting truths which the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos brings us: it assures us that Christ the Saviour, born from the Most-pure Virgin Mary, removed from us the curse of our sins and granted to all of us resurrection from the dead on the last day of the world. Is this not comforting for every Christian believer?

And having such an expectation of a general resurrection from the dead, let us try throughout our entire life to become worthy of the glorious resurrection into eternal life by means of constant repentance, battle with our passions and the temptations of the flesh and the world, and strive for success in all virtues, in order to eternally enjoy the infinite, incorruptible, surpassing all understanding, all feeling and all expectation – the blessings of the Heavenly Kingdom, together with God, the Mother of God, the holy angels, and all the saints. Amen.

 We should let God be God because only He can bring us to Life in the Resurrection. His word and His action save. So if we have to speak, we have no occasion or need to give Christ advice or tell Him what to do. Rather we should follow the words of the Most Holy Theotokos:

“Whatever He says to you, do it.”

*

Dear friends in Christ, I fear that this will be my last blog post for quite some time, as I am about to retreat for God knows how long. Please keep me in your prayers as I will keep you and all mankind in mine.

“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, 

that they also may be one in us ” (John 17:21, KJV)

 

“Help Lord, I am sinking!”

 

footprints in the sand

Homily on  MATTHEW 14:22-34 — 9th Sunday of St Matthew

A Homily and a favourite Poem

 

“At that time, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately he spoke to them, saying “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they entered the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret.”

The Gospel writer presents us with a vivid scene on the Lake of Gennesaret. Peter sinking beneath the waves is a picture that resonates with our own condition when we are overcome with anxiety, guilt, sin, overwork, doubt and grief. We become immersed in the conditions that surround us, unable to focus on anything else. The waves seem to be too high and we begin to sink under the waves of pressure.

Peter may have had in mind the Psalm when in his panic and despair he cries out to Christ:

Psalm 69:1-2

Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
Where there is no standing;
I have come into deep waters,
Where the floods overflow me. 

We see that our Lord, after he had dismissed the crowds goes up into the hills to commune with His Father. After prayer he goes to the Lake of Galilee but His disciples had already gone fishing and it was dark, the fourth watch of the night,3.00 am.-6.00a.m.  It is in the middle of the night when fear may overcome us. There was a strong wind that caused a storm on the waters. He walks on the water towards the disciples boat. His disciples thinks it is a ghost and they are terrified. We notice here how the storm outside, had entered into them and they cry out with fear. It is then when they were at their most vulnerable that Christ speaks His words of reassurance:

“Take heart, it is I, have no fear.”

When we find ourselves battered without and within by the storms of life then Christ will come to us bidding us to take courage and trust in Him.

 Peter immediately responds:

 “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” The “if” signals a doubt in the mind of the apostle.

One word from our Lord,“Come!” So Peter jumps out of the boat, but he takes his eyes of faith from the Lord Jesus Christ and is more concerned about the surrounding turmoil and prevailing storm and begins to sink beneath the waves. This is precisely what often happens to us. We lose focus, we are distracted, we take our eyes from Him Who is the Lord over all Creation and we are embroiled, consumed, overwhelmed by the condition(s) in which we find ourselves.

Peter cries out: “Lord, save me!” and the Saviour does just that, despite his lack of faith, extending his arm for Peter to grasp. How speedily this vision takes us to the Icon of the Resurrection in which our extends His arms and  brings Adam and Eve out from Hades. This is what Christ does for us, but we also can extend that saving “hand” of friendship, that word of comfort to others whose faith is weak, who feel lost; those that are sinking under the waves of anxiety. We see how Christ immediately comes to the rescue.

The miracle here is not that Our Lord Jesus walked upon water, but that His word and action is immediate towards His disciples! The One who made the Heavens and the Earth, the Sea and all that is therein, is Lord over all nature. He who multiplies five loaves and two fish to feed 5000 can walk upon the waters, can turn water into wine, can calm the storm, can cause a multitude of fish to be caught. The real miracle is that Christ knows our needs and responds to them immediately. He is with us always even unto the end of the age and His hand supports us and saves us now and unto eternal life.

 Lord save us!

  And when they entered the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Christ is indeed our Saviour and the Son of God 

The poem “Footsteps in the Sand “so eloquently illustrates the nature of our loving and saving Lord Jesus Christ:

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”

 

ENCOUNTERS WITH SAINTS (3)

Little great saints

When Saint Paraschiva arrived and took residence in the icon corner, she brought along four friends on the very same icon, smaller and framing her. Saint Filofteia, I have already written about, but the other three were completely unknown to me, so I started to get to know them. Great was my surprise to find that although there are many icons depicting them and they are much loved especially in Romania, two of the three have no feast day in the Romanian orthodox calendar. The more I learnt about them, the more drawn I was to them. They are so little known beyond their homeland and yet so inspiring in their striving for God, that I felt they needed a place in the Stavronian.

The first of the three, seen in the middle of the icon is Saint Teofana Basarab. By her baptism name Theodora, she was born around 1310, daughter of Basarab I of Wallachia (southern modern-day Romania). She was given in marriage for political reasons to Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria, heir to the Bulgarian throne and took up residence with her husband in Lovech in Bulgaria. Lovech became under the influence of Theodora an important cultural centre, where byzantine manuscripts as well as manuscripts from Mt Athos were copied and translated. Theodora had four children, whom she raised in the faith. She was much loved by all for her gentleness, humility and virtue. Her husband became Tsar in 1330 and the new Tsaritza continued her tireless cultural and spiritual endeavours in Tarnovo, the capital. In 1347, Ivan Alexander tired of his wife and repudiated her. In order to avoid political conflict, she did not return to her father’s court, but retired to a monastery near Tarnovo and became a nun, taking the name of Teofana. Here she lived in humility and asceticism, accepting meekly all her misfortunes. The Tsar married his Jewish mistress and baptised her Orthodox, giving her his first wife’s name, Theodora. The new wife poisoned one of Teofana’s three sons, who passed away. Mother Teofana continued in her life of holiness in the monastery until her eldest son became Tsar of half of Bulgaria and then joined him at Vidin, the new Capital, where together with her daughter in law, she set an example of virtuous life and encouraged monasticism, founded a centre for compiling and popularising lives of saints, copying and translating spiritual works. The date of her death is unsure, but the holiness of her life was so great, that the Bulgarian church canonized her as early as 1371. Her feast day in the Bulgarian Orthodox calendar is the 28th October.

On the right of the tsaritza, mother, wife and nun, we can see Saint Theodora of Sihla carrying a cross, a saint who has found a place in the Romanian Orthodox synaxarion. Saint Teodora of Sihla, commemorated on the 7th August, was born around 1650 in an area of incredible natural beauty of mountains and forests in northern Romania. Her desire to serve the Lord took shape early on in her life, after the death of her only sister, but her parents did not agree that she should enter a monastery and gave her in marriage to a holy young man in the vicinity. Since the marriage was not blessed with children, both husband and wife decided to enter monasteries. They both received monastic tonsure in the same skete in Poiana Marului. In a few short years, Saint Theodora advanced greatly in obedience, prayer and asceticism. When the Turks invaded the Buzau valley, Theodora and her spiritual mother fled to the mountains. They lived for several years in fasting, vigil and prayer, enduring cold, hunger and many temptations from the evil one. When her spiritual mother passed away, the saint went to venerate the wonder working icon of the Theotokos in Neamt and was guided to seek spiritual advice from Hieromonk Barsanuphios of the Sihastria skete, who advised her to go and live alone in the wilderness for a year. “If, by the grace of Christ, you are able to endure the difficulties and trials of the wilderness, then remain there until you die. If you cannot endure, however, then go to a women’s monastery, and struggle there in humility for the salvation of your soul.” Together with her new spiritual father, Paul she went in search of a dwelling and moved in a cave on mount Sihla. Here she lived in complete solitude only seeing her spiritual father, who came to bring her the Holy Mysteries. She grew in asceticism and she would keep vigils all night long with her arms lifted up to Heaven and fed on herbs and drank water from a small channel cut into the cliff, known to this day as St. Theodora’s spring. As the Turks attacked villages and monasteries around Neamt and people started fleeing to the mountains, the saint gave up her cell and retired to an even remoter cave. Discovered by the Turks, the saint was miraculously rescued by the Lord and continued her spiritual struggles completely forgotten by the world into old age. Like Mary of Egypt, her clothes became rags and like the prophet Elijah, she was fed by the birds, often depicted on her icon. The monks of the Sihastria skete saw birds come to pick up bread and fly off with it in their beak in the same direction. Guessing that some ascetic might live in the vicinity and guided by the Holy Spirit, the Hegumen and two monks went in search through the wood. They saw a great light and as they approached, they found Saint Theodora levitating and shining with great light praying. The Saint had been praying for the Lord to send her a confessor and the Holy Mysteries. The next morning, two monks went to find the saint and Father Anthony heard her confession and gave her the Holy mysteries, after which St Theodora passed away saying “Glory to God for all things!” The monks buried her in her cave and her relics remained incorrupt. News of her death spread and people came to venerate her tomb. Her former husband, Hieromonk Eleutherios came to the cave and made a cell for himself in the vicinity, below the cliffs of Sihla, where he remained for the following 10 years until his repose. Saint Theodora’s relics were moved to the Kiev Caves monastery in the 19th century. The inscription on Saint Theodora’s scroll reads: “Life is blessed for those in the wilderness as they fly upon the wings of Divine love” (Sunday Matins).

 

The third saint of the icon is Saint Mavra of Ceahlau, who does not have a feast day in the synaxarion but who is much loved. She lived in the same area as St. Theodora on the Ceahlau mountain in northern Romania. Born sometime in the middle of the XVIIIth century, a record of her life is found in the writings of Fr. Ioanichie Balan. Raised by God fearing parents, Mavra (Mary at baptism) ached with love for God. She entered the monastery at 20 years old at the skete Silvestru. In a short time, Mavra became renowned for her humility, obedience, gentleness and unceasing prayer. Lover of silence, she built herself a little hut outside the monastery where she lived in solitude, joining the community only in the daytime and keeping vigil in her hut at night. She slept only for a few hours sitting up on a chair, ate very little dry bred and vegetables once a day and did hundred of metanias every day. As time went by, she withdrew deeper into the mountain in a clearing called to this day The Nuns’ clearing (Poiana maicilor). Here, she struggled with temptations and endured the bitter mountain cold, wind and snow. The nuns in the skete followed her to ask for spiritual guidance and built their own small cells around the clearing to be near her and join her in her vigils. Such was her gentleness and holiness, that all animals of the forest loved her and were tamed by her. Wherever she went, a deer followed her. She passed to the Lord surrounded by her spiritual daughters and was buried in an unknown place in The Nuns’ clearing.

The question that sprang to mind was how come these three saints are often depicted together when they are so different: one was an princess and queen, promoter of culture, long suffering wife and mother, the other two simple women, of whom only one had known wedlock, leading austere and ascetic lives. They are united, beyond their Romanian origins, by their great love of God, by willingness to take up His Cross and above all, by humility.

By Alexandra McC.

 

ENCOUNTERS WITH SAINTS: PART 1 & PART 2

Saint Paraschiva of the Balkans

Saint Paraschiva of the Balkans2Saint Paraschiva of the Balkans

Saint Filothei was the first to arrive in my home, but the most tenacious saint was Saint Paraschiva of Iaşi.

I feel most humble and sad about my behaviour to Saint Paraschiva. The story goes that around 10 years ago a very pious Romanian lady moved away and gave me a quantity of spiritual books and religious objects and icons. I was by then more open to icons and decided I had to find a place for them. Since I had little contact with the Romanian church, I had not actually heard of Saint Paraschiva and did not know who she was. There was a very large and imposing icon of her, which I placed in the dining room as the only room large enough to accommodate it. There it remained, but I never felt any connection with it. I found it a little frightening if anything.

A few months ago, I decided I had to make room for more icons because the saints were beginning to arrive to my home in numbers. I decided to ask of my Romanian friends if anyone could accommodate St. Paraschiva. Someone was thrilled to welcome her, and I was so humbled to see the love with which this friend took the icon. Back home I felt a little sad that I was so lacking in love and hospitality. Since the lockdown began, I started tackling my cellar which is a little like Alladin’s cave, but mostly full of old and useless things. Hidden behind a pile of books I found a very large print of St. Paraschiva!

I have no idea where it came from. My heart leapt up with joy and found it very beautiful. I felt she gave me the chance to make up for my previous indifference and unkindness. I placed her icon at the centre of my icon corner, and everything felt right in the house after that. How patient and kind the Saint was! Around the Figure of the saint there are 4 other Romanian women saints among which St Filofteia herself. I would like to think that she brought friends. I might be wrong, but I feel the arrival of these Romanian great saints is like a call from afar for me to go back in some way to my spiritual roots and discover new riches.

Anyway, St Paraschiva is here to stay at the heart of my home, and I hope that through prayer we may become closer and closer. Reading about her life was most interesting because I had thought she was a purely Romanian saint since her relics are to be found in Iaşi and there is such great devotion to the saint all over Romania. I remembered that two parishioners had a very lively argument about Saint Paraschevi or Paraschiva or Petka (not to be confused with St Paraskevi of Rome, 2nd century martyr) and whether she was Romanian or Greek. Both ladies must have loved her very much and wanted to claim her as their own. As a matter of fact, she is well known and greatly loved in all Orthodox countries.

I discovered that she was as most people know, born in modern day Turkey of Byzantine parents in the 11th Century. As a child, she heard the words of St Mark’s Gospel in church: “Whoever wants to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me,” and was greatly moved. They awakened in her great zeal to relinquish her comfortable life and embrace asceticism. She gave away all her clothes to the poor. As her family opposed her calling, she ran away from home to Constantinople and then to Chalcedon and then to Heraclea Pontica. The Theotokos appeared to her on many occasions. She lived a very austere life and her voyages took her to Jerusalem, where she wanted to spend the rest of her life.

She entered a monastery in the Jordanian desert where she lived a greatly ascetic life. She saw an angel who asked her to return to her birthplace, where she continued her life for 2 more years as a stranger. She died at the age of 27. Her body was buried by the sea as a stranger in an unmarked place. By divine providence, her body was discovered uncorrupted and placed in the church of the Holy Apostles and great miracles were performed by the saint there. Her relics travelled all over the Balkans including Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia until, in 1641 her relics were brought to Iaşi in Romania. On the 26th December 1888, her relics have miraculously survived a great fire which turned to ashes everything around except the relics of the saint.

Her feast day is on the 14th October. Pilgrimage at the shrines located in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Iaşi has become one of the major religious events in Romania. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims gather each year in Iaşi in the second weekend of October to commemorate St. Parascheva, while the city itself established its Celebration Days at the same time. Innumerable are her miracles and it seems whatever the problem, Saint Paraschiva will intercede successfully.

Troparion of St. Paraschiva, Tone 4:

You are worthy of praise, Paraskeva. You loved the ascetic and hesychast life. You ran with longing to your Bridegroom, Christ. You accepted His good yoke in your tender years, marking yourself with the sign of the Cross. You fought against impure thoughts; through fasting, prayer and the shedding of tears you quenched the burning coal of the passions. Now in the heavenly bridal chamber of Christ, as you stand together with the wise virgins intercede for us who honor your precious memory.

Kontakion of St. Paraschiva, Tone 6:

Let us all piously praise all-honorable Paraskeva, the intercessor for the afflicted. She gave up her earthly life and received eternal incorruption. Therefore, she has been granted the grace to work wonders by the command of God.

ENCOUNTERS WITH SAINTS/ PART B

By Alexandra McC.

The Feeding of the Five Thousand and a Story

 

Feeding the 5000

The Feeding of the Five Thousand is the only one of the great nature miracles that is recorded in all four Gospels. The Lord had spent the whole day teaching the crowds and with compassion, healing the sick.  The disciples, as evening approached, were tired and hungry after a long day; they display a rather different pragmatic solution. They say to our Lord, ”….send them away!” The large assembly had become an inconvenience and an intrusion into their cosy circle of fellowship and did not want to share Christ or their food with all these people. We may show the same resentment to those who impinge on our cosy arrangements. We too may ask ourselves why bother with these outsiders, what can we do for them ? We are not equipped to provide for their needs!

 

This combination of self interest and self justification is met with a strong response from our Lord:

”They need not go away-you give them something to eat!”

They,(the crowds) do not have to go- they need sustenance. You do something about it!

The poor, the hungry, the lonely, the oppressed, the sad, the sick, the bereaved need someone to care for them, to love them, to listen to them, to forgive them, to heal them and to understand their needs and to feed them. He who had ministered to their spiritual needs and fed their spiritual hunger was not going to send them away empty. 

Luke 1:53

53 He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.

Their physical needs were just as important. Christ cares for the whole person -body and soul. 

The command to feed the crowd,” You feed them!” is met with incredulity. How are we going to feed all these people, “we have only five loaves and two fish” ( we might add-and they are for us!)  We simply cannot interpret this miracle as a demand to give people spiritual food- it is not possible to preach to an empty stomach.

Christ asks the disciples to bring what little food that they had for Him to bless and multiply. It is not that the disciples alone have to do everything but to offer up what they have to Christ and then He does the rest. It is the same for us, even if we have only a grain of mustard seed and plant it, it will become great. God always multiplies what we offer. When we offer nothing we will receive nothing.

*

 There is the story of the four beggars gathering one evening who were bemoaning the meagre amounts of food they had received that day.

The first said, “I begged until sunset and all I received was a scrap of meat.”

The second said, “ I didn’t get anything but I managed to pick up a few discarded vegetables from the market place.”

The third said,” A merchant threw me a handful of herbs”

The fourth said,” I have a handful of beans, that’s all.”

 One of them suggested that they put all the contents into a boiling pot and make a savoury stew.

They all agreed that this was a splendid idea. The first thought to himself “I’ll just pretend to put the meat into the pot. The others wont know the difference and I’ll eat it later.” The same idea occurred to the second, third and fourth beggars.  In turn they all pretended to put their portions into the pot- it was dark so that the others didn’t notice. After a time one of them said “ It must be ready now”. So each took a bowlful of hot water from the pot in absolute silence learning the stark truth that selfishness is tasteless and barren.

Psalm 33

I will bless the Lord at all times, His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
In the Lord shall my soul be praised; let the meek hear and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.
I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my tribulations.
Come unto Him, and be enlightened, and your faces shall not be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his tribulations.
The angel of the Lord will encamp round about them that fear Him, and will deliver them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man that hopeth in Him.
O fear the Lord, all ye His saints; for there is no want to them that fear Him.
Rich men have turned poor and gone hungry; but they that seek the Lord shall not be deprived of any good thing. 

 The early Church practised great charity and we should do no less

 Acts 4

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. 

 

 Divine equations have a simple synergy and formidable formula: Us plus God equals Miracles

God’s arithmatic is very generous: 5+2 = 5000 +12

 

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 46

SONY DSC

The Birds’ Symphony by George Tsintsifas

Symphonia

Yesterday, I heard two familiar pieces of music on the radio. It took me back to when I studied music at school. There, as part of preparations for our examinations we followed the music scores of Bach’s Brandenburg Concert #3 and Schubert’s Fifth Symphony whilst listening to vinyl L. P. recordings of these works. It was both a duty and joy to follow and listen under the observations and instructions of a good teacher. Over and over again, our small group of pupils would listen to the recordings until we became so familiar that we knew them off by heart for the exam to follow. Some years later, I was pleased to hear these works played in concert by a live Orchestra. That initial schoolboy learning process was transposed into wonder as I witnessed each member of the Philharmonic playing their part under the conductor for the audience’s delight. 

In an Orchestra, breath and hands on musical instruments bring sound to notes, as breath gives voice to words in praise of God and hands bring mercy and kindness to others. Just as music is the fuel to stir emotions, Christian love is the engine to move faith and hope into action. Our Christian life too, often starts with listening and following the scores (the Bible/the Liturgy/the Church Fathers), paying attention to the Teacher and Conductor of our life (Christ), and then working together (in fellowship)for the benefit and joy of others(evangelism). 

 

 Theme: Working together in Harmony

Luke 15:25
“Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.

 

When one desert father told another of his plans to “ shut himself into his cell and refuse the face of men, that he might perfect himself,” the second monk replied, “ Unless thou first amend thy life going to and fro amongst men, thou shall not avail to amend it dwelling alone.”

 

Many arrived and adjusted themselves to a listening mode in the auditorium.

The orchestra entered, settled themselves, tuned up and looked intently for the Conductor’s command.

Sound and silence became a dialogue.

Both the ones who played and those who listened melded into a dynamic organism;

 a heartbeat giving life to a body.

The union of loving strings buzzed as bees in a hive,

To shrive the withered minds and weary limbs,

 And having worked the nectar and shared the pollen from the hours of practice and rehearsal,

Produced the honey for those seated to taste.

 The audience feasted on the abundant sweet notes

 And were swept along and above to a higher form;

 from their mundane routine to another dimension.

They were moved, transported to the land

Of awe filled tears,

Where harmony is the currency,

Where sunshine sparkles

and dances on the ears.

 Beads of infinity permeate the throng in this communion song;

Inspiring first emotion, then empathy, followed by wonder and finally joy.

Such joy as can never be captured but glimpsed-only glimpsed,

In a gilded moment, felt in the heart,

digested in that part 

of the mind which is forever a child’s laugh or first remembered summer.

As food is energy to the body so is music nourishment for the soul.

Such provision was encouraged by a ministering angel’s smile, sent

In order for us to repent from worldly guile.

 

We are drawn into that scented circle, inexorably and imperiously drawn

By that mysterious sound that claims and wraps our tender frame.

“But why so little music in the Gospels?”

“Hosannas” with palms endorse a King 

And older Psalms, of course, to sing!

But where is the chorus for our dreams? 

Only for the Prodigal it seems!

Was music not given by God to grace the mind of all,

 make glad the heart, to heed the call?

Is there not harmony at the centre of the Universe?

Or is it that our lives in Christ should rehearse

 for heaven;

 reverse the ego’s trend and blend to be

 a sounding board with others in that greater symphony.

Epilogue

A Harmony with Thee

Glory be,

 Viva Vivaldi,

 Not I but we, 

Was blind now see, 

Oh Mystery,

Oi Agioi kai Angeloi,

 In unity 

with The Holy Trinity. 

 

A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.

 

Saint Basil the Great

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 45

nail

 I am pleased to report that Kimberly the Cucumber, Tom the Tomato plant and Kristian the Capsicum Chili Pepper are flourishing.  Kimberly has many flowers and the small cucumbers are beginning to develop, Tom is growing taller and taller every day and producing many cherry tomatoes and Kristian is, at last, turning from green to yellow, which, I am reliably informed, he should!  The one thing in common with all these plants is that they have all needed some physical support to grow with bamboo garden canes. The cucumber has tendrils, so she wound herself to the cane without any help, the other two have required a little assistance to be tied with string to their main support.

We humans too need all the help and support to grow in the spiritual life.

 

The Nail

 

Trisagion: Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us. 

 

  • Philippians 4:13

 

I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

 

Luke 22:32 

“But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”

 

The matchstick strikes brief heat and light

The nail stays firm with its great might,

The matchstick though is small and frail

Unlike the large and sturdy nail.

 

But when we place them side by side

The nail assumes parental pride,

The matchstick from the nail will take

Its strength and so it will not break.

 

Good God above whose hallowed name

Invests His strength to gird our frame,

Holy God, Holy and strong

Stay close to us our whole life long.

You cannot destroy the passions on your own, but ask God, and He
will destroy them, if this is profitable for you.

St. Anatoly of Optina

Adam and Eve my little apple trees

20200701_113238

Grown from pips!

20200630_113324

Kimberly, Tom and Kristian

20200630_174046

Dear Friends in Christ,
I hope that you are all well and safe. I apologise for my disappearance but I have recently started “offcially” chanting at two (!) parishes in the suburbs of Thessaloniki. In fact, I am so busy chanting all the time (or preparing for the services) and I spend so much time in church that I sometimes have to politely decline a chanting obedience since I cannot be in both parishes at the same time 🙂
Church services in Greece have dramatically multiplied since the release of the lockdown, for as long as it lasts, so chanters are in great demand as there is no end to our vigils, processions and forty days liturgies!

How are the churches doing in your countries?

sparrow1
PS. Not my hand 🙂 This is from a spiritual brother in Lesvos who is the closest I have known of a “bird whisperer” 🙂
Christ is in our midst!

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 45

castles in the air

Building Castles in the Air

One of my parishioners was kind enough to bring me some strawberries and raspberries yesterday from her allotment. Setting apart her own hard work, which is considerable, she had been reflecting on the Wisdom of Creation, especially God’s economy and His timing for the ripening of the fruits.  The vegetables, nuts and fruits ripen at various times of the year, giving us an excellent sufficiency and supply, dispersed over many months.

I have many pots of flourishing Basil on my window sill; all at different stages of growth. I am able to give these little gifts to others as a small offering back to God. His economy, from Greek oikonomia,- “management of a household,”is indeed a mysterious outpouring of grace.

Throughout this pandemic, the beauty of Creation has been a constant source of comfort and encouragement. Sadly, human economics is often motivated by greed, power and self interest, but despite this, we see how God replenishes the earth.

Worldly economy is driven by pride, but simpler values and needs are seen in times of crisis. The Great Wall of China could not contain the coronavirus, but Christ builds human bridges of love to care for others who are sick.

As King David observed in writing the Psalm:

 “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”

 God is humble, loving and plenteous in mercy. What a wonderful world we would have, if we followed His example and obeyed His commands.

 

Building Castles in the air

Reflections on a walk in the City of London

 

Luke 3:5:”Every valley shall be filled 

every mountain and hill brought low;

The crooked places shall be made straight

And the rough ways smooth;”

 

 Soaring glass houses in the London skies

Shrink the deserted souls of EC 1.

There grow commercial plants that fertilize

 The f.t. index by a deal well done.

 

Pretty palaces where the cool, jet set

Drive in darkened windows on alloy wheels;

Which rotate around the secret text and debt

In guarded boardrooms and brunch- type meals.

 

Life is wealth for such giants of the air

 Served by tube and Liverpool Street station;

The stocks and bonds without guilts and care

For the needs of the poor and their own salvation.

 

 God sees the hearts of these important men

Who dispense numbers from their golden towers.

He writes history’s balance sheet with His pen

 New Babel falls by mans’ own fallen powers.

 

Yet in the shadow of Goliath’s feet

Lies a sacred stone of royal David’s line;

St. Botolph’s within the good Bishopsgate

Where wounded souls are healed through bread and wine.

 

High life soon stumbles and submits to grief

 Let white flags of surrender be unfurled,

Your treasure be beyond the hand of thief

Walk humbly in the graveyard of the world.

 

As abba Macarius was returning to his cell from the marsh carrying palm-leaves, the devil met him with a sharp sickle and would have struck him but he could not. He cried out, “Great is the violence I suffer from you, Macarius, for when I want to hurt you, I cannot. But whatever you do, I do and more also. You fast now and then, but I am never refreshed by any food; you often keep vigil, but I never fall asleep. Only in one thing are you better than I am and I acknowledge that.” Macarius said to him, “What is that?” and he replied, “It is because of your humility alone that I cannot overcome you.”

 

The poem was written shortly before the Bank Crisis and great economic recession of 2007-8.