Who am I in this crowd?

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In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

Today Christ enters the path not only of His sufferings but of that dreadful loneliness which enshrouds Him during all the days of Passion week. The loneliness begins with a misunderstanding; the people expect that the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem will be the triumphant procession of a political leader, of a leader who will free his people from oppression, from slavery, from what they consider godlessness – because all paganism or idol-worship is a denial of the living God. The loneliness will develop further into the dreadful loneliness of not being understood even by His disciples. At the Last Supper when the Saviour talks to them for the last time, they will be in constant doubt as to the meaning of His words. And later when He goes into the Garden of Gethsemane before the fearful death that is facing Him, His closest disciples, Peter, John and James – whom He chose to go with Him, fall asleep, depressed, tired, hopeless. The culmination of this loneliness will be Christ’s cry on the cross, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” Abandoned by men, rejected by the people of Israel He encounters the extreme of forsakenness and dies without God, without men, alone, with only His love for God and His love for mankind, dying for its sake and for God’s glory.

The beginning of Christ’s Passion is today’s triumphal procession. The people expected a king, a leader – and they found the Saviour of their souls. Nothing embitters a person so much as a lost, a disappointed hope; and that explains why people who could receive Him like that, who witnessed the raising of Lazarus, who saw Christ’s miracles and heard His teaching, admired every word, who were ready to become His disciples as long as He brought victory, broke away from Him, turned their backs on Him and a few days later shouted, “Crucify Him, crucify Him.” And Christ spent all those days in loneliness, knowing what was in store for Him, abandoned by every one except the Mother of God, who stood silently by, as She had done throughout her life, participating in His tragic ascent to the Cross; She who had accepted the Annunciation, the Good Tidings, but who also accepted in silence Simeon’s prophecy that a sword would pierce her heart.

During the coming days we shall be not just remembering, but be present at Christ’s Passion. We shall be part of the crowd surrounding Christ and the disciples and the Mother of God. As we hear the Gospel readings, as we listen to the prayers of the Church, as one image after another of these days of the Passion passes before our eyes, let each one of us ask himself the question, “Where do I stand, who am I in this crowd? A Pharisee? A Scribe? A traitor, a coward? Who? Or do I stand among the Apostles?” But they too were overcome by fear. Peter denied Him thrice, Judas betrayed Him, John, James and Peter went to sleep just when Christ most needed human love and support; the other disciples fled; no one remained except John and the Mother of God, those who were bound to Him by the kind of love which fears nothing and is ready to share in everything.

Once more let us ask ourselves who we are and where we stand, what our position in this crowd is. Do we stand with hope, or despair, or what? And if we stand with indifference, we too are part of that terrifying crowd that surrounded Christ, shuffling, listening, and then going away; as we shall go away from church. The Crucifix will be standing here on Thursday and we shall be reading the Gospel about the Cross, the Crucifixion and death – and then what will happen? The Cross will remain standing, but we shall go away for a rest, go home to have supper, to sleep, to prepare for the fatigues of the next day. And during this time Christ is on the Cross, Christ is in the tomb. How awful it is that, like the disciples in their day, we are not able to spend one night, one hour with Him. Let us think about this, and if we are incapable of doing anything, let us at least realise who we are and where we stand, and at the final hour turn to Christ with the cry, the appeal of the thief, Remember me, Lord, in Thy Kingdom! Amen.

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh
THE LORD’S ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM
1980, 30 March

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Contrition and Repentance

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Peter denies Christ, Bloch Carl (1834-1890)

“Thinking of my own sinfulness brings the need for contrition (μεταμέλεια). We are not speaking yet about repentance (μετάνοια), but about contrition. Repentance is a gift of the Holy Spirit. God will give it to me. For example, you did something and then say “Oh no! What have I done? Why did I not listen to the Gerondas? Now I will have to hear the Gerondas’ admonition!” This is being contrite. But when I call you and tell you, “My child, what have you done?” If you confess your error and say “Punish me, Geronta!”, and I don’t punish you, but rather grant you to take Communion, you will say, “How good is Geronta! How I am and how he is! Look at the Grace of God! Oh my soul does not suffer to sadden God!” Now repentance begins. Contrition is one thing, repentance is another.’

Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra

… ” “

The Eight Means of Temptation

Parintele Cleopa de la Sihastria

By Elder Cleopa (Ilie) (1912-1998) of Sihastria Monastery in Romania

The Holy Fathers say (this is how Fr. Cleopa began to express concisely his spiritual experience to us, inherited from the Holy Fathers and personally experienced by him, as every one of his words clearly confirms) that on the path of salvation one is tempted by the devil from eight sides: from the front, from behind, from the left, from the right, from above, from below, from inside, and from the outside.

1. One is tempted from behind when one continuously remembers the sins and evil deeds one has committed in the past, recalling them anew in one’s mind, reshuffling them, engaging them, despairing because of them, and contemplating them sensually. Such a remembrance of how we have sinned in the past is a demonic temptation.

2. One is normally tempted from the front through fear at the thought of what the future holds: of what will happen to us or to the world; of how much longer we will live; of whether we will have anything to eat; of whether there will be a war or any other kind of serious and frightful event to come; and, in general, by making all kinds of guesses, predictions, prophecies, and everything else that induces fear of the future in us.

3. One is tempted by the devil from the left through the call to commit obvious sins and to behave and act in ways that are known to be sinful and evil, but which people do nonetheless. This temptation is a direct call to sin openly and consciously.

4. There are two ways in which the devil tempts from the right. The first is when one performs good deeds and actions, but with a bad or malicious intent and purpose. For example, if one does good or acts well out of vainglory, to receive praise, to obtain a position, to acquire fame, or in order to attain some benefit for oneself – it follows that one is doing such good out of vanity, avarice, and greed. The performance of good deeds for bad purposes is sinful and vain. The Holy Fathers liken such a performance of good deeds (such as fasting and almsgiving) to a body without a soul, inasmuch as the purpose for which a deed is accomplished is its soul, while the deed itself is its body. Therefore, the performance of good deeds with an ungodly purpose is essentially a temptation coming from the right, that is, coming under the guise of good. The second demonic temptation from the right comes through various apparitions and visions, when one receives visions of the devil in the form of God or an Angel of God. The Holy Fathers call trusting these specters from the devil, or accepting these demonic phenomena, delusion or deception [prelest].

5. Further, the devil tempts one from below when one is capable of performing good deeds or holy virtues but is too lazy to do so; or when one knows that one should make greater efforts and labors in ascetic struggles (in virtues and good deeds), and is capable of doing so, but does not do so out of laziness or because one is looking for excuses for one’s laziness. One thereby spiritually rejects these virtues by doing much less than one could in fact do.

6. Temptations from above (Elder Cleopa, in order better to explain this to us, demonstrated with his hands the direction from which one or another temptation came; he then briefly repeated what the direction of the temptation he had just described was) also come about in two ways. The first is when one takes upon oneself ascetic struggles that exceed one’s strength, thereby recklessly straining oneself. This happens, for instance, when one is sick but imposes a fast on oneself that is beyond one’s strength; or generally when one overdoes any ascetic struggle that is beyond one’s spiritual and physical capacity. Such obstinacy lacks humility and is unreasonably presumptuous.

Another temptation from above is when one strives to learn the mysteries of Holy Scripture (and of God’s mysteries in general), but does not do so according to one’s spiritual maturity. That is, when one wants to penetrate the mysteries of God in Holy Scripture (or in the saints, the world, and life in general) in order later to explain and teach these mysteries to other people when one is not spiritually mature enough to do so. The Holy Fathers say that such a person wants to chew through a bone with baby teeth. St. Gregory of Nyssa speaks about this in his work, The Life of Moses. He says that it was for this reason that God commanded the Israelites, who were imperfect, to eat only the meat (which is like milk for the teeth) from the Passover lamb – and, moreover, with bitter herbs – and not to break into pieces or to eat the bones, but rather to burn them in fire (cf. Exodus 12: 8, 10, 46). This means that we, too, should interpret only those mysteries in Holy Scripture (and in our faith in God generally) that correspond to our spiritual maturity and to eat (absorb) them with bitter herbs, that is, with everything that life brings us (suffering, grief); we should not bite into the mysteries of Holy Scripture, Divine knowledge, and God’s Providence, like so many hard bones, with our baby teeth; they are susceptible to fire only, that is, they become clear only in ripe spiritual maturity and in experienced souls that have been tested by grace-filled Divine fire.

7. One is tempted from within by that which one has in one’s heart and by that which proceeds from the heart. The Lord Jesus Christ clearly stated that it is from within, from one’s heart, that sinful and impure thoughts, desires, and lusts proceed (cf. Matthew 15:19) and tempt one. Temptations come not only from the devil, but also humanly, from the evil intentions and skills, lusts, evil desires, and inner love of sin that proceed from an unclean heart.

8. Finally, the eighth door to demonic temptation is opened from the outside, through external things and occasions, that is, through everything that enters from outside through one’s senses, which are the soul’s windows. These external things are not evil in and of themselves, but by means of them one’s feelings can be tempted and induced to evil and sin.

These, then, are the eight means by which everyone is tempted, regardless of whether one is in the world or in seclusion.

(Having completed listing all eight means by which one is tempted, Elder Cleopa briefly repeated them and then added the ways and means with which to combat each of these temptations.)

Against each of these temptations – from behind, from the front, from the left, from the right, from above, from below, from inside, and from the outside – one must fight by means of watchfulness (the Elder used precisely this Slavonic word [trezvenie]), that is, attentiveness, carefulness, and wakefulness of soul and body; wakefulness and vigilance of spirit; sobriety and discernment; attention to one’s thoughts and actions; or, in a word: judgment. On the other hand, by means of constant prayer that invokes the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that is, through unceasing prayer. (Here Fr. Petronius added in Greek: “Prosochi kai prosefchi” – that is, as the Holy Fathers put it, “by attention and prayer.”)

In other words (the Elder added), the Holy Fathers said that the battle against all temptations and passions consists in the following: guarding all one’s mind, soul, and body from temptation – this is our ascetic struggle, from our human point of view; from the Divine side, one must continuously and prayerfully call upon the help of the All-Merciful Lord Jesus Christ – and this is that unceasing and primary prayer of the hesychasts called the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

Elder Ephraim’s Prayer Diary of the Great Lent (II)

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February 29, 1980 [3rd Thursday of Lent]

I feel sinful and dirty. The true awareness of my nothingness greatly helps me to see God.
“Thou shalt gladden him in joy with Thy face” (Ps. 20:6). Oh, that divine face! It has Eros and Beauty from the Glory, from the supremely radiant Light of the Trinity’s effulgence. This is what the transcendent Beauty of God is: a divine electrification and contact with God the Father, His humility and condescension. Oh, how unlimited the humility and simplicity of God is! The humility and condescension of the awesome God astounds and overwhelms me! How filthy and dirty man is! Even though he has so many sins and is so guilty, he feels haughty and behaves egotistically. There is nothing stupider than this.
The angels are celebrating in heaven, dressed in white with inconceivable beauty within the supremely  bright light of God. They are chanting — and what are they chanting! Their hymns are pure bliss. But that which makes them stay in this blessed state is the grace of humility and true self-knowledge.
Unfortunately, I am proud, which is why I lack this joy and grace. Like a helpless creature, like a thirsty deer, I seek, cry out, and long to be watered by the true Fountain —  my God  —  with a divine drink, with the water springing up into eternal life (cf. Jn. 4:14). “When shall I come and appear before the face of my God?” (cf. Ps. 41:2) I weep, seeking my God. When I touch Him, I feel him and weep. But how this is happening, I do not know; one thing I do know, and that is that I feel Him as much as He wants and corresponding to the humility I feel for my dirty self. My God and Father, open the eyes of my blind soul to see my nature, the nothingness of my nothingness, and through it to see You, the most lovely Light, Who gives eternal life to mortal man. Enlighten my darkness, O divine, lovely Light.
 Amen

 *

For the first part of his Lenten Diary, go to Elder Ephraim’s Prayer Diary of the Great Lent (I)

Elder Ephraim’s Prayer Diary of the Great Lent (I)

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February 17, 1980

I experienced amazement and divine wonder tonight in my poor prayer. My nous tasted God. “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9)

All this is a fruit of the labor of my Holy Elder, who truly toiled inside the caves of Athos with fasts, vigils, weeping, and tears. I, on the other hand, am a miserable, hideous monstrosity; an unmonastic monk; a sluggard eating the labor of my father, Saint Joseph. If God did not have mercy on me through his intercessions, I would be spiritually lost.

The festival in heaven entices me—there in the eternal and immutable blessings, where only silence reigns, since it is the only thing one is able to do. But when shall I behold the face of my lovely Father!!! When shall I be satisfied with His glory? Oh, what beauty! But I am a filthy stench and the demons’ joy.

My God, forgive me, the nothing of nothingness. Only Your mercy saves me from my evil self…

February 18, 1980

The communication of my sinful soul with the supremely radiant God was very wonderful tonight. The heavenly world is a different realm; a different mode of life; a different atmosphere.

My God, what can I, the miserable pauper, say about what You are! You are a stupendous and immense delight. You are impalpable, and yet how are You touched? For when this contact happens, the soul is electrified with divine electricity, and sweet and beautiful tears run and run from my eyes. But in the heart, what happens!

My incomprehensible, inexpressible, and lovely God, what can I, the miserable one say about You! There are no words, there is no man capable or competent to do so. One can only feel reverence, worship, sacredness, and divine love in silent amazement.

Oh, how much I would like to be no longer on earth with the uncertainty of my salvation! Oh, if only I were already in the world of my God, my Father, my worship. There is eternity, certainty, and security.

I weep because I am the greatest sinner in the whole world. I mourn the uncertainty of my salvation. I do not know if I shall be saved. Here is the crux of the matter. Alas! I wonder, shall I reach the calm haven of eternal bliss? I wonder, shall I see the glory of my God?

Have pity on me, O only-begotten Logos of God,

My Jesus Christ

He Broke the Fast

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A Short Story by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Sometimes it happens like this: a person tries to keep the fast, but then he falls and feels that he has defiled his whole fast, and that there is nothing left from his feat. In fact, it is far from being like this. God looks at this fast from a different viewpoint. I can explain this to you with one example from my personal experience.

When I was a doctor, I was dealing with one poor Russian family. I did not take any money from them because they just had no money. Once, during Great Lent, when I was fasting especially strictly, trying no to violate any church rules, when they invited me for dinner. It turned out that during whole Lent they were saving money to buy a small chicken and treat me. I looked at that chicken and saw the end of my fasting feat in it. Of course, I ate a piece of it. I could not afford to offend them.

I went to my spiritual father and told him about the misfortune that had happened to me. I told him that I was fasting almost perfectly during Lent, but then I ate a piece of chicken during the Holy Week. Fr. Athanasios looked at me and said:

– You know what? If God looked at you and saw that you have no sins and that a small piece of chicken could defile you, He would protect you from that. But God looked at you and saw that there was so much sinfulness in you that no chicken can defile you more than that.

I believe that many people can use this example in order not to blindly follow the church canons, but be honest people first of all. Sure, I ate a piece of chicken: not as something dirty, but as a gift of human’s love. I remember an episode from the book by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, where he wrote that everything what exists in this world is God’s love. Even the food we eat is the Divine love in edible form.

From the book by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, “The Works”

Reblogged from The Catalogue of Good Deeds