A Pilgrimage to Holy Land

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“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
So that everyone who believes in him
may not perish but have eternal life. “
John 3:16

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 The little city hermit feels blessed beyond words can express. In a few days he is really going to  follow Jesus’ steps in Holy Land!

 

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Saint Paisios the Hagiorite (1924-1994) – II

At some point, the Cell’s door, of the old and poor building, would open and the Elder, who had been inside involved in discipline and heart prayer for the salvation of his soul and the souls of his brothers, would appear. His face was always exhilarated and his attitude cordial. He would receive us and ask us to sit in the “outdoors dorter” on seats made of pieces from tree trunks. He would shake our hands and at the same time offer us loukoumia and water according to the tradition of Mt. Athos.

Paisios at Kelli Panagouda

There, under the trees, with the songs of the birds “as the vocal drone”, the Elder would start talking to us with “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68) either answering our questions or making comments on his own on the basis of information from “above” about the needs of each one of us. Here is the miraculous thing! The pilgrims were of various ages, professions, characters, spiritual and intellectual levels. Some of them were conscious of who was sitting in front of them and exactly what they were looking for. Some were there because they had heard something about him. Others were there with an ill-tempered and negative mood. He, guided by the Holy Spirit, offered “as every man had need” (Acts 2:45 ).

I will never forget, in relation to the above, the Elder’s behaviour towards a Spanish student of Fine Arts, follower of the Pope, who happened to be amongst us in the “outdoors dorter” at some visit. At some point, the Elder turned to him with affection and interest making use of some Italian words and phrases he remembered from the Italian occupation so that he could communicate with him. Then, he gave him many pieces of advice in the Greek language and revealed to him many truths that, as he explained to us, the Holy Spirit would help him feel regardless of the fact that the different language would not allow him to understand. More specifically, when another visitor made the comment that “the foreign student does not understand what you are saying to him in Greek”, he answered that “he will understand what he is meant to understand”.

His advice to all his visitors was to have a spiritual father. This is why after giving answers and advice to questions or problems put forward by the people, he would finally send them to their spiritual fathers to lay the burden of their sins, which were the cause of all problems, under their stoles.

Many Christians, therefore, leading autonomous lives, selfishly, as orphans, “as sheep having no shepherd” (Matthew 9:36 ) took his advice, found a spiritual father and started living according to the Church. Their lives and the lives of the ones around them changed. Here I would like to mention something that the Elder always recommended for his wedded visitors. “Have the same spiritual father with your wife. Because as the carpenter uses the same plane to work on two pieces of wood and make them fit, the same way the spiritual father will use the same “plane” to work on the character of both spouses so as to make them fit. Whereas if you have different spiritual fathers, you will face difficulties.”

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I would like to mention something else extremely important that the Elder said on another occasion. I was with a group of people in the “outdoors dorter”, when another group came, amongst whom there was an assistant professor of the Medical School of the University of Athens who held the Elder in great veneration. The professor asked Fr. Paisios at some point with pain, interest and love: “There are, Elder, many colleagues of mine, doctors, who have good intentions, good feelings, “bowels of mercies” (Colossians 3:12 ) but do not believe. What can we do for them?” “Listen,” says the Elder”, “pray for them because under these circumstances they deserve God’s mercy.” He had said the same about some teachers and professors on another occasion.

The Elder, as a genuine man of God, had consolidated and immovable ideas “in the things he hast learned and hast been assured of” (2 Timothy 3:14 ). He knew and taught “by word and deed” (Romans 15:18 ) that in the issues of faith there is no swaying, negotiation or compromise. He clearly knew that there is no greater unhappiness and bigger danger for the Christian than to deny his faith and accept deceit. As we know, many deceived people, people that did not feel rest, urged by his reputation, went to meet him and discuss their existential problems. It is true that many of those people went there full of delusions and left repented, seeking then guidance in their spiritual fathers.

If, therefore, someone gets involved with some of the heresies and para-religions that have flooded our country mainly in recent years as well as if someone advances in the initiations, rites and other demonic activities imposed in order to become a member, this means a conscious or unconscious negation of the faith to the Trinitarian God, Christ, the Church and the Baptism, I once asked the Elder: “What should we do with these people when they repent and want to return to the Church?” “You will say,” he said, “the Service for the One that returns to the Orthodox Church. The people that return will denounce the bad faith with libel, they will confess the faith of the Church by reciting the Symbol of Faith and then you will anoint them with the holy unction.”

All of us are very much concerned about our dear departed, their state and what we can do about them. We used to ask the Elder about this and wanted really convincing answers. He would emphatically advise us to pray a lot for them. “Prayers,” he said, “memorial services, liturgies, mercies are very much to the benefit of the departed ones.” “You should pray more,” he added, “for the departed ones than the living. Because there is nothing they can do on their own any more, but we can help them attracting God’s mercy through praying and the other means we have mentioned so that their state can be improved or even change, because they are still under judgment.” And he concluded by saying in his characteristic way: “Is it a small thing to take our departed one from a sunless basement to a sunny apartment through our prayers?”

At some point, I remember, he mentioned something overwhelming as regards the departed ones and our stance for them. There was a suicide once, a person who put an end to his life by falling from a bridge into a river. This man, as the Elder said, repented while he was falling, asked for forgiveness, his repentance was accepted and his soul was received by a Lord’s angel. We must learn not to despair; and pray for our brethrens asking for God’s mercy and according to the words of St. Isidoros Pilousiotis: “do not forerun God’s judgment.” (P. G. 78, 377) and be judges of the others.

Georgios Chr. Efthymios

Source: Pemptousia

The Shroud and the Furnace

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“The priest’s cassock is the flag of the Church of our Christ: for this reason we must try hard to honor it, we who wear it, with a holy life, so that those who don’t wear it will honor and respect it.”

Blessed Elder Amphilokhios of Patmos (1889-1970)

*

The first day he put on a cassock, a seminarian got a letter from a friend, a few years his senior. This is what he learned about his cassock:

A cassock. Today in your eyes it is more beautiful than a bride’s dress. You are truly and rightfully happy wearing it; after all, you have been waiting for it since the time you entered the seminary.

I can only hope that you will be equally happy when it has come to be what its color implies, i.e. a deadly shroud and a dying uniform. Today it is a bride’s dress you enthuse over, along with your family and friends. Be as enthusiastic about it when it starts to be your solitary confinement, cage and furnace where God will melt and purify you, an uncomfortable hermitage.

This bride’s dress, when necessary, will be your armor, provided you care to remember and use it this way. Wearing a cassock can and should be a form of prayer in itself, but it does not become a prayer just by putting it on.

Pockets. The deep ones are meant to store all the things you will share with others. Always have something to give away to the needy and children. Remember that they will appreciate a little money, your smile, and a word of solace more than your impeccable hymn singing. This is because people need first and foremost to hear that they are loved, and even more so to feel that this is true.

An inside breast pocket. It is not meant for holding an expensive pen. Carry in it letters you do not know how to answer, notes with the names of those you have promised to pray for, other people’s bills you have decided to pay, addresses you know should be visited, as their occupants will never come to you on their own, pictures of dogs, cats, grandchildren, and people in love as well as tree leaves and drawings nursery students have offered you. Keep this pocket filled at all times.

May your cassock always be a nuisance and a stumbling block when you start putting on airs and strutting like a peacock, falling prey to your vaulting ambitions. May you always stumble on it when you are led astray. Do not worry – it will stick in your way.

Do not be afraid to tuck it up and run to help your neighbor, even if you will look like a clown.

Sleeves can be rolled up. The cuff reminds you that a cassock is no dress uniform, but work clothes. But roll up your sleeves only to do the work He wants you to do, never to further your own agenda.

I sincerely wish that your cassock would show white salt marks: the ones on the back will be the signs of your sweat, the ones on the chest will be the marks of tears, both yours and those who, hugged by you, will confide in you their hundreds of worries big and small, grave and frivolous. I wish that these white salt marks would appear sooner than the first streaks of grey in your hair.

Do not be afraid to crumple and soil your cassock, coming to the rescue of the needy and wounded. Do not hesitate to tear it up to make bandage and dressing for human wounds. Remember that, if need be, it can be converted into a cloak or a tent.

May it quickly show traces of wear and tear on the knees and shoulders, signs of your prayer and bearing other people’s burdens. May it not show such signs on the behind and elbows, indicatorsthat you have sat down a lot or elbowed your way through the crowd.

Love your cassock but do not love yourself in it.

First and foremost, love the Church who has given it to you. And love Jesus, who has offered you the Church and who has offered you to the Church, for which I am myself so grateful to Him.

Remember that passengers on a bus or on the metro believe they have more right to take a seat than a priest. Frankly speaking, it is immaterial whether they are right or not. What matters is that even when people hate you, they must not hate God.

More and more people will look at you; after all, your cassock gives you a lot of visibility. It also intimidates, and there will be fewer people brave enough to criticize you. This does not mean, however, that there will be no grounds for criticism.

Remember that your cassock is not the packaging of a completed product. The Lord has clothed you in it to mercifully hide your inadequacies and deficiencies. Now that you know this, blessed are you if you behave accordingly (John 13:17).

 

By Dk. Michał Lubowicki

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Shedding Blood

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On the need to cut off the passions quickly before the soul becomes used to them

 

Set your minds, brethren, to the examination of your affairs and don’t neglect yourselves, because even a little neglect can lead us into great danger. I lately paid a visit to a monk and found him recovering from an illness. As we were talking I learned that he’d been alone and had contracted a fever that lasted seven days. It was then forty days since the fever had left him and he still hadn’t regained his former strength. You see, brethren, what a trial it is if something goes wrong with you. People usually dismiss a small disorder and don’t realize that if a little thing happens to injure their body, especially if it’s weak to start with, they’re going to need a great deal of time and effort to put it right again. In this case, the poor man had a temperature for only seven days, and look how many days he suffered without recovering. It’s the same with the soul: you commit a small sin and you spend a lot of time, shedding blood, before it’s put right.

We find a variety of reasons for illnesses of the body: it may be that the medicines were old and therefore didn’t work; the doctor wasn’t experienced and tried the wrong remedy; or patients lacked the discipline to comply with what the doctor told them. Now we can’t say this about the soul- that the Doctor lacks experience or doesn’t prescribe the right medicine- since Christ is the Doctor Who knows everything and applies the proper remedy for every sickness: for empty ambition, humility; for love of pleasure, temperance; for avarice, almsgiving. In other words, each disease of the soul has a commandment which is the appropriate remedy. The Doctor’s not incompetent and the remedies are never out-of-date or ineffective, because the more Christ’s commandments are applied, the fresher they become. So, the only impediment to the soul’s healing is our own recalcitrance.

We should attend to ourselves and be vigilant while there’s still time. Why do we neglect ourselves? We should be doing good, so that we’ll find help in time of trial. Why do we fritter away our lives? We’re always hearing this, but we don’t care much about it and are indifferent to it. We see our brothers [in the monastery] snatched away from the midst of us and it doesn’t put us on our mettle, even though we know that, in a little while, we too will be facing death. Since the moment we sat down to talk, we’ve used up two or three hours of our time and are that much closer to death. We see that our time’s running out, but that doesn’t frighten us. Why don’t we remember the saying of that Elder that, if you lose gold or silver you can always find more to replace it, but time, once lost to idleness and negligence, can never be found again? No matter how hard we try to regain one hour of this time, we’ll never do so. How many people long to hear the word of God and don’t find it, yet we who hear it are indifferent to it and aren’t roused by it. God knows, I’m astonished at the callousness of our souls, by the fact that we can be saved, yet don’t want to be. Because we could cut off our passions at birth but we don’t bother to. We allow them to grow and harden, so that we make the last evil greater than the first. As I’ve told you often enough, it’s one thing to pull up a blade of grass and another to uproot a great tree…

I’ve told you the different ways that people fall into bad habits. If someone loses their temper once, this doesn’t make them irascible; if they fornicate once, this doesn’t make them fornicators, nor, if they give alms once, are they charitable. Virtue and vice are formed in the soul by repeated actions, and ingrained habits bring with them peace or punishment. We speak of virtue bringing rest to the soul and vice bringing punishment. Why is there this difference? Because virtue is natural and inherent in us; the seeds of virtue within us are ineradicable… The case of vice is entirely different. By doing repeatedly something which is wicked, we’ll acquire a habit which is foreign to us, which isn’t natural….

There’s one more thing you ought to know about this, though, which is that it sometimes happens that a soul has an ingrained tendency towards one particular passion. If it indulges that passion even only once there’s an immediate danger that it’ll turn into a fixed habit…

So there’s a need for great vigilance and zeal, plus fear, if we’re to avoid falling into bad habits. Believe me, brothers, anyone with a single passion that’s become a habit is destined for punishment. Even if you do ten good works for every one resulting from a bad habit, the latter will prevail over the good actions. If an eagle almost escapes a snare but is held fast by a single claw, it’s lost the power to get away. It’s outside the net, but is still half-held by it. The hunter can strike it down at will. So it is with the soul: if it has one passion set into a bad habit, the enemy can strike it whenever he pleases, because he has the upper hand over the soul through that passion. This is why I’m always telling you not to allow a passion to take root in your soul. We have to struggle, and pray to God night and day, lest we fall into temptation. As people, we’ll be defeated and slip into sin, but if so, let’s get up again quickly, do penance and weep when we’re faced with God’s goodness. Let us be vigilant and continue to strive. Then, seeing our good intentions, our humility and our contrition, God will give us a helping hand and extend His mercy to us. Amen.

 

Abba Dorotheos

The Priest Who Did Not Want to Serve the Divine Liturgy

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This is something that is happening at every service, though we may not have eyes to see…it is happening!!!

“There was once a priest who did not want to serve the liturgy because it was a cold winter day.

The temperature was 10 degrees below zero and the priest knew that the only person who was likely to come to the service was the chanter. The priest had no idea about the Church’s teaching on the presence of the Triumphant Church and how the Divine Liturgy benefits the living and the departed. With difficulty he forced himself to go to church. On the way to church he kept wishing that the chanter would not come so that he would not have to serve and go home. However, the chanter did come.

The priest did the Prothesis (or Proskomedia, the service of preparing the holy gifts) in a hurry and began the Divine Liturgy. Shortly after, some bishops, priests, monks and nuns and some lay people arrived. Most of them sat in the choir section and began to chant so beautifully that the priest forgot about how cold and lonely he was earlier. His whole body was warm and his whole being was all a flame…. When he did the small entrance he noticed that the church was full of people – most of them familiar – he did not pay much attention and just continued with the Divine Liturgy. …

To find out what happened next during that Liturgy, go to …

Source: The Priest Who Did Not Want to Serve the Divine Liturgy

Does Orthodoxy Matter? A Case Study

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And here’s the challenging question …

In the absence of an Orthodox church nearby would you be prepared to pray at home rather than pray with the heterodox?

 

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Orthodoxy means “true glory” or “true faith.”  We Orthodox think very highly of the word.  Or do we?  When it comes down to it, does Orthodoxy actually matter all that much to us (as it should)?  Orthodox Christians in the west find themselves living among many different Christianities and it can sometimes be tempting to think that notwithstanding some of the more obvious differences, (icons, the Theotokos, fasting, worship, for example), all these Christian traditions share much the same faith as us.  If you are of this opinion, then I am sorry to have to disappoint you, but it just isn’t true at all.  How so?

I am going to consider this issue by looking at a case study which reveals the damage that heresy can do in our personal lives, our relationships and even to the society and world that we live in.  It is a fictional story, but quite typical.

John and Mary go to an Evangelical Anglican Church.  John is Orthodox (Greek tradition).  Mary is Anglican.  This is her second marriage, being a young widow with one teenage son (Ian, 15) still living at home. She now has two children with John, daughters, aged 5 and 7.  John would prefer to go to his local Greek Church but his wife is a committed Anglican, and their children, although baptised in the Orthodox Church (with the exception of Ian), prefer the “lively worship songs”, as they put it, which are included in the church’s family service.  Ian is very involved in the local youth group and is thinking eventually of becoming an Anglican minister.  Does Orthodoxy then matter to John?  Well, yes, but only in a remote nostalgic sort of way.  It is some years now since he has attended Divine Liturgy, the last time was at Pascha in 2008.  His stepson, Ian, will have nothing to do with what he considers to be the “stuffy incomprehensible worship” at his stepdad’s church which he has visited once, just after his stepfather’s marriage.

Ten years later ….

Neither John nor Mary now regularly attend the Anglican Church.  John still hasn’t been back to the Orthodox Church since Pascha 2008 and Mary doesn’t like the new Vicar who is a woman.  Mary is quite a conservative evangelical believer who maintains that a woman should not be in a place of authority within the Church over men.  (This is the evangelical doctrine of the”headship of the male.”)  Her two daughters, now 15 and 17 still attend on their own and are very active in the youth group.  Ian, who shares his mother’s conservative outlook, has also left the church, disagreeing with what he believes to be the Anglican Church’s tolerance of homosexual partnerships.  He has started attending a very conservative Baptist church that teaches pure Calvinism, in particular, the doctrines known as TULIP (from the first letter of each doctrine), namely:-

Total Depravity – As a result of Adam’s fall, all humanity, is dead in sins and therefore damned.  Humanity’s nature is corrupt and utterly incapable of godliness.

Unconditional Election – Because man is dead in sin, he is unable to initiate a response to God; therefore, from eternity God elected certain people to salvation and others to damnation. Election and predestination are unconditional; they are not based on man’s response because man is unable to respond to God, nor does he want to.

Limited Atonement – Because God determined that certain people should be saved as a result of His unconditional election, He determined that Christ should die for the elect alone. All whom God has elected, and for whom Christ died, will be saved but the rest will be damned to hell for all eternity; again as determined by God’s sovereign will.

Irresistible Grace – Those whom God elected He draws to Himself through irresistible grace. God makes man willing to come to Him. When God calls, man responds.  Man cannot choose to love God by his own choice and freedom.

Perseverance of the Saints – The precise people God has elected and drawn to Himself through the Holy Spirit will persevere in faith to the end. None whom God has elected will ever be lost; they are eternally secure even though they may sin grievously after election.

Although Ian is a pious and committed believer these doctrines trouble him.  He begins to doubt that he is one of the elect, chosen by God for salvation.  His sinful life (he occasionally resorts to prostitutes) troubles him greatly but his church tells him that he is unable to make any right choice and save himself.  Ian enters a very dark period of depression, made much worse by the impact of these heresies on his mental health.  His fragile relationship with his atheist girlfriend disintegrates.  He seeks medical help for a latent depression which has now become the full blown clinical variety.

Five years further on, the two daughters are now at the same university, one just about to graduate but they have been unable to find an evangelical church they like nearby, so they have stopped attending church on the grounds that they believe in Christ and are saved, so what’s the point?  Back home John and Mary now lead thoroughly secular lives.  John sometimes thinks wistfully of his childhood back in Cyprus when he used to attend church with his Nana but this seems to him a very distant idealised time now.  He hopes, nonetheless, that his wife or children will respect his wish for an Orthodox funeral if he dies first.

So, did Orthodoxy matter to John?  Well yes, particularly earlier on, but for most of his adult life only in a nominal sort of way.  He had certainly not been catechised in his youth and his grasp of the faith, therefore, had always been somewhat tenuous.  Did Anglican evangelicalism then strike him as being similar to Orthodoxy?  Well yes, mostly.  He only saw differences in the worship style which often set his teeth on edge.  Let’s face it.  He attended the evangelical Anglican Church for the sake of his wife and family.  When they stopped going, so did he.  There is only one God after all and this was just a different way of being a Christian, it seemed to him.  He did lament his stepson’s involvement in the Calvinist church because he could see how its refusal of human freedom and choice, its dark doctrines of divine election to salvation or damnation, did not feel right to him, but he couldn’t really say why. 

Did Mary his wife ever consider Orthodoxy when the lady Vicar arrived?  Well, no, why should she?  Her husband rarely spoke of his childhood faith and she concluded that it could not have meant much to him in that case, so why should she consider it?  John and Mary now spend a conventional Sunday together as most couples do in their street, getting up late, going to the gym occasionally, shopping at B&Q, taking a drive into the countryside; just the usual and normal things everyone does nowadays.  Both still consider themselves as Christians, but obviously not of the fanatical sort whom they blame, quite rightly, for destroying Ian’s piece of mind.  As for the two girls, well they eventually graduated and now have families of their own.  Churchgoing, however, has become completely alien to all their families with the rest.

So, does Orthodox Christianity matter to you?
Does it matter enough for you to find out about it in more depth?
Does it matter enough for you to practice it as faithfully as you can, notwithstanding the distractions of modern life?
Does it matter enough for you to stay loyal to this faith no matter what challenges are presented to it by both family life and society as a whole?

And here’s the challenging question …

In the absence of an Orthodox church nearby would you be prepared to pray at home rather than pray with the heterodox?