A blessed Triodion (and Great Lent), a blessed new month and springtime to all of you! I have missed you!
And struggling… Trying to put into practice “The Good Shepherd” chant-song dedicated to the spiritual fathership. Not sure what is more difficult: lack of grumbling and complaining; a gladsome face; readiness to serve or silence? As to the Kingdom’s violence or the hard work to spend ourselves on behalf of each other or … there is clearly no way out with personal preferences … Oh dear!
— Come here my blessed brothers,
All of us who are standing in a circle around our Good Shepherd.
Come, let us all offer unto him most welcome gifts:
One of us his gladsome face,
Another one his lack of grumbling and complaining;
Another one his readiness to serve,
And yet another one his silence.
And let us all offer unto him the Kingdom’s violence,
the hard work to spend ourselves
On behalf of each other,
And the care so that our obedience unto our Lord
Is never broken.
Let us all please with such offerings our dearest Father.
— And now, you, beloved, most honourable Father,
Cease not, tire not praying to God,
Seeking His Mercy for all of us,
Atoning for our sins.
Disobedient, defiled children are we,
Yet for the sake of your love for your children,
May we all be drawn together,
Unto the Kingdom of Heaven.
Psalm 73, written approximately 2.500 years ago. “Their kindred said in their heart together, “Come, let us abolish all the feasts of God from the earth.” Is this scripture fulfilled in our lives nowadays? (Luke 4:21) Unprecedented and appalling! No Easter in so many countries all over the world and quite probably no Christmas again in most. So many enemies of our Lord! May our Lord have pity on us. Lord have Mercy! A blessed Christmas to all, hopefully inside a church and with a proper church service, Holy Liturgy and Holy Communion. Your prayers
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.
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.
Wishing you a blessed Dormition Fast!
May the Holy Cross purify the very air we breathe.
A Homily on Pentecost by the Joyous Pustinnyk
1When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5 And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. 7 Then they were all amazed and marvelled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” 12 So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?”
The Day of Pentecost was a day of wonder. The assembled disciples were gathered together and we are told that they had a unity – they were of one accord and agreement and in one place. They were not divided as God had divided those who tried to scale heaven with the tower at Babel in Genesis 11. God divided their tongues (their languages) and confusion reigned in Genesis- here we have the reversal of that command.
Suddenly, we are told, there comes a rushing mighty wind which filled the whole house. Imagine the scene, those seated are amazed by this sudden phenomenon. The wind of God, the breath of God which breathed life into mankind at Creation moves with mighty power amongst them. This is followed immediately by tongues as of fire, alighting on the heads of the assembled gathering. John the Baptist had foretold that the Christ would come and Baptise them with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Luke 3:16. This fire is a manifestation of the uncreated energy of God which brings illumination of the mind to man. It rested on the assembled and empowered them to speak in different languages. They were filled with the Holy Spirit, the One who brings knowledge and power. Here is fulfilled then the prophecy of the Prophet Joel.
“I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.” Joel 3:1 This is significant because in the Old Testament the gift of the spirit (the ruach), had only been given to a few- Patriarchs, Prophets and some of the Judges but now to all those who will receive Him.
As Christians our hearts should be aflame with the Holy Spirit. We should not” quench the Spirit” ( 1 Thess 5:19) It is possible to kindle the flame of the spirit with acts of love strengthened by divine Grace. The spirit is quenched by distractions that take our focus away from Godly virtues, by indulging in worldly matters and the fleshly and material things. God lights the grace of the Holy Spirit in our souls at Chrismation and His presence glows brighter and clearer when we we have zeal for God’s statutes and reflect His mercy and compassion to others. The spirit is relit through repentance.
Recently we have enjoyed good weather, despite the terrible pandemic and as our bodies are warmed through the sunshine and heat; likewise our hearts are warmed when we bathe in the energies of the Son’s Light. Of course this requires a sacrifice of time on our part, allotting a space each day to prayer and to water this seed in our heart through acts of kindness. Then, like the basil that grows on my window sill- the seed will germinate and grow. One very effective and simple way to promote this is through saying the Jesus Prayer throughout the day. The flame in our hearts is kept alive through fuelling it with prayer, as the combustion engine requires petrol so our souls require prayer and then zeal will follow.
Wind, smoke, fire, earthquake, the dove, these are likenesses, manifestations, symbols as it were of the Holy Spirit each metaphor carrying a particular characteristic attribute. We do not write any Icon of the Holy Spirit- the only icon would be a saint in whom the Holy Spirit makes His dwelling.
Our Lord teaches us that the Kingdom of Heaven is within us and St Paul tells us that our body is indeed the temple of the Holy Spirit. The flame burns so that we shine as lights in the world. Light does not draw attention to itself but brings light to everything else.
The Holy Spirit gave the apostles and disciples the ability to speak in different languages and for those present to hear them speaking in their own language.
Then they were all amazed and marvelled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?
Communication is restored! God speaks and the world comes into being. God speaks through the prophets: “Thus says the Lord” and they foretell the future; God speaks in the Law eg.“Do not steal” and His statutes are made, but now God speaks in all those who through Grace have been given the Holy Spirit. St Paul reminds us that we should not worry what to say if called to account. The Holy Spirit will speak for us because He is the counsellor and the advocate. Indeed, we cannot pray unless the Spirit prays with us and in us.
So if prayer is “petrol” for the engine, here is some “fuel” for your journey. It is a beautiful prayer which I say at the beginning of each day. It is from the Optina Fathers:
“O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace, help me in all things to rely upon Your holy will. In every hour of the day reveal Your will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul and firm conviction that Your will governs all. In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by You. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray, and Yourself, pray in me. Amen.”
It is a blessing that, although unworthy, we are afforded the saving word in our own languages to hear the wonderful works of God. Those who heard the message of salvation were amazed and perplexed saying to one another: “Whatever could this mean?” Perhaps it means that we, who are drawn from North and South and East and West may hear the word of God and keep it and so enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. We see in the events of the Tower of Babel Gen 11:1-9 how human pride tried to scale the heights of heaven and resulted in division; we see at Pentecost Acts 2:1-12 how the descent of the Holy Spirit opened the way to unity with the Most Holy Trinity.
“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean….and blot out my iniquities….Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Your presence; and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.” Ps.50: 7,9-11
1 June 2020
Now is the Judgement of this World
In the last chapters of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the Lord Himself warns us in the most intense and frightening way about the catastrophes which will precede His Coming. He foretells that that evil will be uncontrollable and people’s afflictions will be so unbearable that they will ask the mountains to cover them, so that they may not see the terrible day of the Lord’s coming: ‘There shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword,’ ‘men’s hearts shall fail them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth’. Even the affliction of God’s elect will be extreme and the pain will be insufferable for the surrounding world. Nevertheless, in spite of the tragic character of these words, the Almighty Jesus says suddenly: ‘And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.’ The Apostle Paul also reassures us that God will not allow us to be tempted above our strength, but that together with the temptation He will grant a way to escape.
The Book of Revelation, which provokes fear in many, speaks in essence about the final victory of the Lamb Christ and of His elect, who ‘loved not their lives unto death’ ‘and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’. Terrible signs and apocalyptic afflictions had already become a fact from the moment of Christ’s crucifixion: the sun was darkened, the earth was shaken, the dead came to life and so forth. This prophetic event has repeated itself throughout the current of history. From early Christianity until our times, the fury ‘of the murderer of men’ has tried again and again to exterminate with inconceivable cruelty every trace of the seed of Christ. How many times have torturers, devils in human bodies, subjected the faithful to unprecedented torments? And how many holy ascetics throughout the centuries, like the contemporary example of our Fathers Silouan and Sophrony, have condemned themselves to be thrust there where Satan is so as to be burnt in the outer fire? Nevertheless, Christ’s blood on the Cross, the blood of the Martyrs and the endless tears of the holy ascetics became the power of triumph in the Church.
When we are threatened by death from all sides, the power of our faith diminishes because love has grown cold and because our expectation of salvation has grown weak. However, if we still stand steadfast and say with courage to the Lord, ‘Amen, come Lord Jesus’ for our deliverance, then God will give us that faith which overcomes not only the world but even death. Thus we will understand the true meaning of the words of the great Apostle Paul: ‘Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.’ This does not mean that sin is blessed, but that when evil will multiply above measure, the faithful will wage war against it with greater tension. The crisis and the adversity of those days will force some to turn to Him Who alone is ‘able to save them from death’, and in this struggle they will surely be given the gift of the great grace. Those who have recourse to human means will either become themselves criminals or will fall into dark despair. All things will be polarised and the pain will be a two-edged sword, for it can become either a privilege for those who follow the way of the Lamb or a plunge in despair and wickedness for those who spare their own life. ‘He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.’
The calamities and general panic will be followed by the coming of the Beloved Lord, bringing all His grace, eternal life, the life that we all wait for and that is ‘hidden with Christ in God’. His Coming will grant joy that ‘no man taketh from us’. Seeing the end approaching, whether it is the general or our personal end, we turn our spiritual gaze towards God saying: ‘Who is sufficient for these things? Do Thou Thyself help us to be ready for anything Thy providence will allow. We can only be saved through Thy power and grace. We can do nothing good upon earth. Come quickly, O Lord.’
Elder Sophrony spoke about the end of times in a positive way, being inspired by the living experience of the Saviour God. He never spoke about the sign of the antichrist. His mind was on the sign of Christ, the circumcision of the heart, caused by His spotless love. He did not wish to frighten people with the imminent end, the coming afflictions, the rage of the enemy against those who follow the meek and lowly Christ, ‘the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world’. On the contrary, he derived inspiration from his strong hope in the coming of the Author of our faith, so that with our head high we may hasten to meet the Lord Jesus, Who is coming again just as He ascended to heaven, ‘while blessing’, calling His own to be ‘with Him unto all ages’, with the words: ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father.’
The crisis of our time is nothing other than a privilege and a challenge for us, which hides within it the great gift of faith. It is a unique opportunity to prove our faith and to give the Almighty Lord the possibility to manifest His power in our weakness and poverty.
As Saint Sophrony writes, Christ, our example, ‘does not have a tragic character and neither does His saving Passion… The tragedy is not in Him but in us.’ Moreover, through the Gospel, we discover that two diametrically opposed states coexist harmoniously in the Person of the Lord: the tragic nature of His work for our salvation and the triumph of His imminent victory. In the final moments of the life of the Lord, we hear from His holy mouth His most momentous words:
- As He was going up to Golgotha, He turned towards the women who were following Him, saying: ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.’
- ‘My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ and at the same time, He said to the thief, ‘Verily, verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise’.
- ‘His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground,’ and a little later, He prayed, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’
- ‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death’, and further on ‘Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.’
The Lord was hastening towards His voluntary Passion and shameful death, so as to take upon Himself the tragedy, the shame and pain of the whole Adam. His irrevocable purpose was to open Heaven for us and lead us to the banquet of His love. Thus, deadlock and tragedy cease to afflict us, and there is no room for despair. ‘The Lord gives the faithful a foretaste of the vision of His eternal victory; the tragedy of the fall, the dark abyss of death, are overcome by Christ, Who does not reject us, but receives us in His bosom.’
A little while before the Passion, the Lord offered peace to His disciples. Elder Sophrony explains: ‘The essence of Christ’s peace is perfect knowledge of the Father. So it is with us – if we know the Eternal Truth lying at the root of all being, then all our anxieties affect merely the periphery of our existence, while within us reigns the peace of Christ.’
In a similar way, in our own epoch, when the ‘power of darkness’ is roaring, the Lord cries and thunders with His voice, ‘Lift up your heads’ for grace is drawing nigh and do not be terrified by the hardness of heart of those all around. Seeing the injustice in the world which is in accordance with the prophecy of the Lord: ‘The world hateth you’, and seeing sinners prosper, the Christian is consumed by zeal for righteousness. His inspiration would fade away if he did not have the assurance of the Book of Revelation: ‘Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.’ The man of faith lives with the expectation of the coming of the Lord, because without expectation there is no hope, without hope there is no salvation, for ‘by hope we are saved’, and without salvation there is no Christianity. True Christianity is the expectation of the coming of the Lord; deprived of it, man can only surrender to complete despondency, as expressed by the Apostle, ‘Let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.’
In the beginning of the history of Christianity, the whole Church lived with the daily expectation of the Second Coming. The early Christians had a very highly developed eschatological hope. They had their face turned steadfastly to the east. The hope of Christ’s coming kept them in great tension, and imparted to them such grace that it rendered them fit for the sacrifice of martyrdom. The prayer that they bore on their lips and in their heart was ‘Let Thy grace come, and let this world pass away’. It is not that they did not love creation, but having tasted heaven in their heart, they knew that they were not made for that which is unstable and transitory. Their spirit, created for eternity, longed for boundlessness. As they lived continually in the presence of God, His grace brought the ends of the world upon them. They prayed that the end of man’s tragic history might come, yet gloriously, by entrance into the searchless infinity of God.
Until the Almighty Saviour comes again into this world, the tares shall grow together with the wheat of God. From the moment the enemy sowed them through sin, no victory, nothing good could be achieved without toil and combat, oftentimes even unto blood, following the Lord, Who courageously foresaw at the end of His path the resurrection and salvation of the world. When the trumpet shall sound the end of the world, then ‘the Lord shall consume (Satan) with the Spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy (the sinner) with the brightness of His Presence.’
As the Lord forewarned His disciples about the end of the world which would take place in His Person, so as to deter their stumbling when it should come, thus also now we must know that all things related to the Last Judgement have been prophesied and we ought to await them with courage. ‘Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.’ The evil servant says, ‘My Lord delayeth his coming,’ and the foolish virgins, while the Βridegroom tarried, ‘all slumbered and slept’ without taking ‘oil in their vessels’. However, the crown belongs ‘unto all them who love His appearing’ and unto those who endure ‘as seeing him who is invisible’. The Master does not tarry: ‘The Lord is not slack concerning his promise as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.’ During a time of crisis and despair among the nations, when iniquity abounds, the gift of faith and expectation gestates within the faithful. Blessed is the servant who will say with trust, ‘Amen, come Lord Jesus.’
Our era is often considered to be post-Christian, but this is only because this world, in its arrogance and self-justification, has never known authentic Christianity or the true spirit of holiness. This spirit makes man a ‘new creation’ in the image and likeness of the Holy Trinity, and imparts to him a ‘royal priesthood’ wherein he presents to God every creature through his prayer of intercession.
When people are confronted with the signs of the end times, many in the world who do not know Christ are paralysed with confusion. It is a fact that in our days the dynamics of the fall have intensified to an extreme degree in the whole world. The current of Cain’s fratricide seeks to eradicate the spirit of humility and evangelical love that has the power to save the world. The passions of dishonour have developed into an art which contends to devastate even the life of God’s elect. The world goes through ‘a famine of hearing the words of the Lord’, not because the word of God disappeared, but because people no longer turn to it in order to find peace. They prefer to smother the insurmountable problems of their times by ‘bread and circuses’.
The crisis that the world is currently going through has one magnificent aspect. It constitutes a true privilege and a great challenge for the Church in its work for the evangelisation and spiritual regeneration of man. The tribulations which are coming will force many souls to seek a Saviour from heaven and to find the path of salvation. This crisis is a challenge especially for us, priests, in our holy ministry to the world. The Lord speaks through the mouth of His Prophet Isaiah saying: ‘Comfort ye, comfort ye my people.’
How can we, as priests, offer to our fellow men the incorruptible consolation of the New Israel, which is none other than Christ Himself?
The Apostle Paul writes in the Epistle to the Romans that the ‘casting away’ of the Jews for their lack of faith became the cause of the ‘reconciling’ of the world. Could perhaps, now also, the devastating image of the world’s turning away from God become a cause for its regeneration in faith? If this has already taken place in a few individuals and groups, could it not then be generalised and bring about the reconfiguration of the whole world? The power for this belongs to the Lord but it requires the co-operation of our humility.
In our age, which is a period of suffering, poverty, despair and great travail, people are in need of comfort. As we have said, Christ is the incorruptible consolation and salvation of the world. Christians and, more especially, the priests of God, are His humble instruments which offer this comfort to the world. Christ relates easily to them that are sick, to them that are sore broken. In His very nature He is the God of mercy and of every consolation. We need to teach the faithful to approach Him with a humble spirit and a contrite heart, and then of a surety they will be able to find contact with Him and the repose which is bestowed by the grace of His salvation.
The Church has imparted to its clergy very strong means by which we can console the people of God:
Firstly, we can encourage them to pray in His Name, because there is none other Name under heaven given to men through revelation, whereby they may be saved. Through the invocation of the Name of the Lord we enter into His Presence, because His Name is inseparable from His Person, and then the power of His Presence renews us. The Name of the Lord becomes a source of comfort and regeneration. Particularly nowadays, when Christians cannot find sanctuary in the services of the Church, the Name transforms the heart into a temple not made by the hands of man, wherein Christ imparts power and peace.
Secondly, we can encourage the faithful to study the word of God. Thus, they will learn the language of God, which He used to speak to us, and they will speak to Him with the same words inspired by the Holy Spirit. In this way, the Spirit will pray within them. As through the word of the Lord all things came into being, so now, through the power of His word, the faithful are regenerated. Moreover, the word of God was not given in order to frighten man, but to instill courage within him and restore his soul. To whomever approaches it with faith, it imparts ineffable consolation and peace, as well as the strong conviction that ‘the Lord has overcome the world’ and is ‘with us always even unto the end of the world’. His word will never pass away. Thus, He addresses to us the word that He delivered to His chosen people: ‘Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away. Fear thou not; for I am with thee…for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.’
Finally, under normal circumstances, we also comfort the people of God by offering them the Holy Liturgy. It is vital that in our parishes or in whichever place we serve, we draw together a nucleus of people who understand the power of the great Mystery of the Divine Eucharist. New people will continually be attracted to this core and the number of faithful will increase. We should encourage people to come to the Liturgy prepared and with a positive disposition, offering their whole life to God together with the precious gifts. When the Lord responds to the offering of His people, saying, ‘The Holy things unto the holy’, they receive in return the very Life of the Risen Lord. They have the opportunity to exchange their corruptible and desolate life with the incorruptible and blessed life of God. This exchange is indeed unequal and fearful, but also the most lovingkind at the same time. Afterwards, the faithful sing a triumphal hymn of thanksgiving and spiritual victory: ‘We have seen the true light; we have received the heavenly spirit; we have found the true faith. We worship the undivided Trinity for the same has saved us.’ This is the ever new song of the children of God who become like ‘them that dream’ in the Liturgy. And when it is not possible to attend the Liturgy, we accept it and strive to make the cry of our prayer reach His throne as a ‘bloodless, reasonable and acceptable’ sacrifice before Him. As Saint Silouan said: ‘We are given churches to pray in, and in church the holy offices are performed according to books. But we cannot take a church away with us, and books are not always to hand, but interior prayer is always and everywhere possible… the soul is the finest of God’ s churches, and the man who prays in his heart has the whole world for a church.’ When circumstances do not allow us to attend the Liturgy, God is not unjust, but grants His abundant grace to those who thirst for communion with Him and devote all their strength to finding ways of contact with him. However, if the possibility is open for us to participate in the Holy Liturgy, it would be a great delusion to consider that our own personal prayer can make up for the rich communion of gifts of God’s elect in heaven and on earth.
As priests, we are able to comfort the people who approach us by all the means through which we ourselves obtain divine consolation and peace in our heart every time we enter into the living presence of the Redeemer. As Saint Paul writes: ‘Blessed be God…Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.’
However, if we desire the pastoral ministry wherewith the Church has entrusted us to be well-pleasing to the Lord and fruitful, imparting inspiration and life to the suffering people of our times, then we must be mindful to fulfil one necessary prerequisite: our every priestly work ought to be in accordance with the word of the Lord: ‘He that serveth is greater than he that sits at meat.’ That is to say, our ministry will have a prophetic character and we shall minister blamelessly ‘being clothed with the grace of priesthood’, when we follow in the footsteps of Him Who said: ‘I came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.’ We as priests ought always to humble ourselves and to place ourselves lower than the people that we serve, who come to us for help, so that they may feel honoured and open their hearts to the word of grace. The most perfect example of imparting the Gospel to the rejected is given by the Lord in his meeting with the Samaritan woman, a heretic who led a dissolute life. Honouring her through His humble love, He proved her to be equal to an Apostle of His word. We should never behave as those who have power, but on the contrary, as those who comfort, surrendered to the work of God, and to the humble sacrifice of love. In this way, we will justify the title ‘Father’ with which Christians address us and we will impart hope to our brethren who are in need and adversity, reviving the gift of faith in their life.
Just to support one another and preserve our faith under the apocalyptic circumstances that threaten us, is in itself a precious gift of the Holy Spirit. This is confirmed in one of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers:
‘The holy Fathers were making predictions about the last generation. They said, “What have we ourselves done?” One of them, the great Abba Ischyrion replied, “We ourselves have fulfilled the commandments of God.” The others replied, “And those who come after us, what will they do?” He said “They will struggle to achieve half our works.” They said, “And to those who come after them, what will happen?” He said, “The men of that generation will not accomplish any works at all and temptation will come upon them; and those who will be approved in that day will be greater than either us or our fathers.”
As a final consideration on our subject, we will refer to the word of Saint Silouan the Athonite, ‘Keep thy mind in hell and despair not.’ Crushed by despair and the hell of demonic attacks, Silouan heard this word in his heart, which ordinarily should have crushed him even further and led him into utter despair. Nevertheless, the counterweight of faith strengthened him and opened unto him the perspective of the Gospel which is: death – resurrection, the despair of hell – the Kingdom of Light. He says with simplicity, ‘I started to do what the Lord advised me and my mind was cleansed and the Spirit witnessed in my heart to salvation.’
For someone to reach the light, it is essential first to go willingly through darkness with confidence in the word of Christ. In order to enter life we must pass through death following Christ and through this life as ‘living from the dead’, because only close to Christ are we able to lose our life and find it again.
Whoever voluntarily and continually judges himself in the light of Christ’s commandments, becomes stronger than any other judgment. If we confront the crisis of contemporary life with the wisdom of the Gospel, it can be transformed into a springboard for a rich entrance into eternity.
Consequently, if we encourage the faithful to turn to God with pain of heart in those days, they will be convinced that the grace of the Holy Spirit is abundant, plentiful and palpable in the life of the world, because eternity is opening up wide before us. Precisely for this event we are prepared by the word of the Lord, ‘Lift up your heads…’ ‘The time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.’ The great and last trial comes upon earth, but also the greatest grace which accompanies the coming of the Lord and which will bring strength for the living to be transformed and for the departed to be resurrected, in order to receive altogether the promised perfection of the Almighty Jesus in the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
 John 12:31.
 See Rev. 22:11.
 Cf. Luke 21:30.
 Luke 21:23.
 Cf. Luke 21:26.
 Luke 21:28.
 1 Cor. 10:13.
 Rev. 12:11.
 Rev. 7:14.
 John 8:44.
 Rom. 5:20.
 Cf. Heb. 5:7.
 Rev. 22:11.
 Col. 3:3.
 Cf. John 16:22.
 Cf. 2 Cor. 2:16.
 Cf. Rev. 13:8 and 17:8
 Cf. Luke 24:51.
 Cf. 1. Thess. 4:17.
 Matt. 25:34.
 On Prayer (Περὶ Προσευχῆς), (Essex: Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist, 21994), p. 82.
 Luke 23:28.
 Matt 27:46.
 Luke 23 43.
 Luke 22:44.
 Luke 23:34.
 Mark 14:34.
 Mark 14:61-62.
 Archim. Sophrony, The Mystery of Christian Life (Τὸ Μυστήριο τῆς Χριστιανικῆς ζωῆς), (Essex: Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist, 32016), p. 417.
 Cf. Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), We Shall See Him as He Is, trans. Rosemary Edmonds, (Tolleshunt Knights, Essex: Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist, 2004), p. 68.
 Luke 22:53.
 Luke 21:28.
 John 15:19.
 Rev. 22:12.
 Rom. 8:24.
 1 Cor. 15:32.
 Cf. 2 Thess. 2:8 (see Greek text).
 Matt. 24:48.
 Matt. 25:4-5.
 2 Tim. 4:8.
 Cf. Heb. 11:27.
 2 Pet. 3:9.
 Cf. Amos 8:11-14; On Prayer, p. 105-106.
 Isa. 40:1-2.
 Rom. 11:15.
 Acts 4:12.
 Cf. John 16:33.
 Cf. Matt. 28:20.
 Isa. 41:9-10 and 13.
 Ps. 126:1.
 Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), Saint Silouan the Athonite, trans. Rosemary Edmonds, (Tolleshunt Knights, Essex: Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist, 1991), p. 294.
 2 Cor. 1:4.
 See Luke 22:27.
 Cf. Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45.
 Acts 20:32.
 The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1975), p. 111.
 See Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), Saint Silouan the Athonite, trans. Rosemary Edmonds (Tolleshunt Knights, Essex: Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist, 1991), p. 437 and 460.
 Rom. 6:13.
 1 Cor. 7:29-31.
By a Joyous Pustinnyk
+ Sunday of Thomas
The Assurance of Thomas – Believing not Doubting and Three Conversion Narratives
19 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24 Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
26 And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Jesus said to him,“Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
We live in a labyrinthine catastrophe of coronavirus. We seek desperately to discover the way out, an exit strategy. In Greek myth Ariadne had a thread to follow, in our holy faith and in truth we have the Risen Christ to rescue us from the caves of Hades. He is the Resurrection and the Life. We see in the icon of the Resurrection how the Risen Lord reaches down into the labyrinth of Hades to raise Adam and all the rest of humanity from death to life. Because of Christ we are able to live, to sleep and to live again in Victory! Jesus Christ has abolished death and the fear of death.
In order to escape the insecurity of our mortality, the fear of death, some seek power and wealth, without success. Others seek to lose themselves in earthly pleasures without satisfaction. The T.V. tries to ameliorate the suffering with a proliferation of food programmes, it offers distractions of comedy, whilst at the same time delivering the grim statistics. The human “panaceas” are to no avail because human aspirations alone do not address the soul, the spirit.
We read in the gospel how Thomas was not there on the first appearance of Christ to His Apostles- he arrives eight days later and his sceptical/ doubting nature is replaced by belief when he sees the wounds of Christ. He sees the wounds! Christ invites Thomas to place his fingers in the place where the nails were and to place his hand in the wound in His side. The Resurrected Christ bears the marks of the Crucifixion. Thomas is reduced to humble faith“ My Lord and my God!” Often we need to be stripped of our scepticism, arrogance and sophistication and this can only be done by revelation when we meet Christ and experience His power and love.
Beyond the Bible accounts and the Apostolic Era, we can find countless examples of people who have met the Living Lord, who like Thomas arrived at the point of faith in their life, stripping themselves of their pretensions and intellectual pride.
Metropolitan Anthony Bloom whom I was privileged to met in the 1980’s was such a person. As a young man, frustrated with his life, he sat down more in anger and challenge towards God, than in hope, to read St Mark’s Gospel. Before reaching the end of the third chapter of the Gospel, he suddenly became aware that, on the other side of his desk there was a presence and the certainty that it was Christ was overwhelming which never left him. It was a turning point in his life, like the experience that St Paul had on the road to Damascus. Because he encountered the Living Christ he knew from that point onward that he would give his life to Christ. Like St Thomas, Anthony was able to confess there and then “My Lord and my God.”
The account of C.S. Lewis’ conversion is equally amazing:
“You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalene( College, Oxford), night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England” (Surprised By Joy, ch.14, p.266).
C. S. Lewis felt embraced by the love of God and experienced an abiding joy:
“I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape?… The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation”.
Christ appeared to Alexander Sozhenitsyn who was one of Russia’s finest authors and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Critical of the athesistic Godless state of the USSR in which he was brought up, he was sent to the Gulags but in 1971 he joined the Russian Orthodox Church. During his long eight years spent in the labour camp and during his struggle with cancer, Christ appeared to him. Christ gave him the power and perseverance to stand up to and expose the violence of state persecution.
All three 20th century Christians were able to say: “Christ is Risen!” because they had encountered the Living Lord Jesus. The risen Christ appeared in the upper room with His wounds and gave the Apostles His peace and He gives the same to us today who live behind locked doors. This is not all. Christ bestows upon us Life. We may not have seen the Lord Jesus but we are blessed and we experience His suffering, love and joy. The signs that Jesus did, the appearances that He has made down the centuries are records of witnesses that we may believe.
30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
He is Risen Indeed!