This Was From Me

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A famous letter written by Saint Seraphim of Vyritsa and sent to his spiritual child, a bishop who was in a Soviet prison at that time, for consolation and counsel, to let him know that God the Creator addresses to the soul of man. In text and a Youtube rendering. Both this and my previous blogpost reflect what I have been going through the last three months. I have never experienced more acutely that I am indeed the lost sheep and in dire need for rescue than in the last three months. I hope to share sometime this week ‘my’ plan for the coming month. Please

This was from Me

Have you ever thought that everything that touches you touches Me as well? For that which touches you touches the apple of My eye.

You are dear in my eyes, precious, and I have loved you; therefore it is a particular pleasure for Me to educate you.

When temptations arise against you, and the enemy comes like a river, I want you to know—This was from Me.

Your weakness needs My strength, and your safety comes from giving Me the opportunity to fight for you. If you find yourself in difficult circumstances, among people who do not understand you, who do not take what you like into consideration, who alienate you—This was from Me.

I am God, Who arranges circumstances. It was no accident that you find yourself in the place where you are; this is the place I have appointed for you. Did you not ask that I teach you humility? Well, then, look: I have placed you in precisely that place, in that school, where this lesson is learned. Your surroundings and those who live with you are only fulfilling My will. If you find yourself in financial difficulty, if you find it hard to make ends meet—This was from Me.

For I have your material means at my disposal. I want you to call unto me, for you to be dependent upon Me. My reserves are inexhaustible. I want you to be confirmed in fidelity to Me and to My promises. May it not be said to you in your need: “You did not believe in the Lord your God.”

Are you in a night of suffering? Are you separated from your loved ones and those close to your heart? This was from Me.

I am the Man of suffering, Who has tasted affliction. I have allowed this so that you would turn to Me, so that in Me you would find eternal comfort. If you have been let down by your friend, to someone to whom you opened your heart—This was from Me.

I allowed this disappointment to touch you so that you would know that your best friend is the Lord. I want you to bring everything to Me and to speak to Me.

Has someone slandered you? Give this to me, and bring your soul closer to Me, your Refuge, to hide from the “contradiction of the nations.” I shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your judgment as the noonday. If your plans have been destroyed, if you are downtrodden in soul and tired—This was from Me.

 

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The Lost Sheep by Sir John Everett Millais, Bt, (1864)

You made plans, and brought them to Me, so that I would bless them. But I want you to leave Me in charge of the circumstances of your life, and then responsibility for everything will be Mine, for this is too difficult for you; by yourself you can not manage them, for you are only an instrument, and not the actor. If unanticipated problems of life have visited you, and if despondency has seized your heart, then know—This was from Me.

For I want your heart and your soul to be always aflame before My eyes; to conquer faint-heartedness of the soul in My name. If you do not hear from your dear ones and friends for a long time, and in your faint-heartedness fall into despondency and grumbling, know—This was from Me.

By this anguish in your spirit, I test the strength of your faith in the surety of My promise and the strength of your boldness in prayer for these dear ones of yours. Was it not you who entrusted them to the Protection of My All-Pure Mother? Was it not you who once entrusted their care to My providential love? If serious illness, either temporary or incurable, has visited you, and has confined to your bed, then know—This was from Me.

For I want you to know Me even more deeply in you bodily infirmities, so that you would not grumble over this trial sent to you, that you would not try to penetrate My plans through different means for the salvation of people’s souls, but that you would uncomplainingly and submissively bow you neck under My goodness towards you. If you have dreamed of performing some special deed for Me, and instead haven fallen onto a bed of sickness and weakness—This was from Me.

Then you would have been immersed in your activities, and I would not have been able to attract your thoughts to Me, for I want to teach you My deepest thoughts and lessons, so that you would be in My service. I want to teach you to recognize that you are nothing. Some of My best co-workers are those who have been cut off from vital activity, that they would learn to wield the weapon of unceasing prayer.

Have you unexpectedly been called to occupy a difficult and responsible position? Go, place it on Me. I entrust these difficulties to you so that the Lord God would bless you for this in all your deeds, on all your paths, in everything that will done by your hands. On this day I put into your hands a vessel of holy oil. Use it generously, My children! Every difficulty that arises, every word that insults you, every obstacle to your work that could elicit in you a feeling of annoyance, every revelation of your weakness and inability, shall be anointed with this oil.

Remember that every obstacle is a Divine instruction. Every sting will be dulled when you learn to see Me in everything that touches you. Therefore place the word I have declared to you today in your heart: This was from Me. For this is not an empty matter for you—this is your life.

 

 

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St. Gabriel’s fiery zeal

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Excerpt from the life of Saint Gabriel the Confessor and Fool for Christ of Georgia,   including rare video footage of him

 

“It is quite difficult for the contemporary generation to imagine the unusual spiritual ability of the young monk, who adopted unprecedented and astonishing steps during the terrible communist regime. … The Soviet government planned to keep him in the psycho-neurological hospital forever. But God had preserved the life of His chosen one not for such a fate. It is interesting to read an excerpt from the medical conclusion:

Georgian SSR Tbilisi Healthcare City Psycho-Neurological Hospital 19/1 – 1966, Tbilisi, 1, Electroni Str.

#666Patient: Vasili Urgebadze, born in 1929, 6 class education. Address: 11, Tetritskaro Str.

The patient is stationed in the city psycho-neurological hospital on 18.VIII.1965, and is brought from the prison for forced treatment. Diagnosis: psychopathic person, inclined to schizophrenia-like psychosis blanks. He was discharged from the hospital on 19/11/65. According to anamnesis he had a vision of a ghostly evil spirit with horns on the head at the age of 12… The patient proves that everything bad that is taking place in the world is due to Evil. From the age of 12 he started to go to churches, prayed, bought icons, and studied church literature… He ate nothing on Wednesdays and Fridays. Grown-ups and soldiers laughed at his nonsense: “On Wednesday Judas sold Christ for thirty silver coins, and on Friday the Jewish priests crucified him”; he was totally hallucinating. It was clear from the case that at the 1 May 1965 demonstration, he burnt a big portrait of Lenin, hanging on the building of the Council of Ministers. After interrogatory he said he did this because the picture of the Crucifixion of Christ should hang there and that it was not possible to idolize an earthly man – the doubt appeared in regard to his psychic health, due to which he was sent to court-psychopathic expertise. The examination showed the patient’s orientation is disoriented in place, in time, and in environment. He talks to himself in a low voice: he believes in the existence of heavenly beings, God and angels, etc. While talking, the main axis of a psychopath is always turned to that everything depends on God’s Will, etc. He is isolated from the other mental patients in the department. When someone talks to him, he surely mentions God, angels, and icons, etc. He is unable to criticize his condition. He was treated with the aminazinophrazia and syptomicine therapy, after which he passed commission.

Act of stationary #42 1965

Chairman of the commission: candidate of medicine, chief physician T. Abramishvili,

Members: J. Shalamberidze and physician Kropov.

He was discharged from the hospital on 19 Jan. 1965 and was taken home by his mother.

Physician: Lezhava 19 Jan. 1966.

 

… From that time on, Father Gabriel decided to completely change his lifestyle, which was too painful for him. Now he was determined to pretend as being mentally ill and to outwardly refuse his usual way of life. Instead of being in silence, he loudly preached in the streets. If till now he completely refused to drink wine, now he drank among people and pretended to be drunk. To pretend being foolish is an unusual feat which requires a spiritual strength and divine mind. “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (I Cor. 1:25).

 

Source: Mystagogy Resource Center by John Sanidopoulos

Martyrdom Before the Crucifix

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Third in her ‘series’ of Cross-related visions, Abbess Thaisia sees a Crucifix. Always these visions take place in the midst of heavy trials and tribulations, when she begins to lose heart and starts to languish… Here, the Holy Hierach St. Nicholas visits her to sternly admonish her. Below follows another except from her Autobiography:

“Then once I had a dream. I was walking along a road in an open field. I had to turn right, but there was no path in that direction; there were only beds of planting vegetables, very long ones. They looked as they do in autumn after the vegetables have been harvested, and the furrows between the beds were dirty and wet. I stopped and considered how to turn right. To go along the furrows would mean getting dirty and wet, but to walk across the beds would be a muddy, sticky business. Suddenly, I saw an old bishop coming in my direction with a staff in his hand. I thought, ‘I’ll wait and see, and whichever way he goes I will go too.’ Coming close to me, he said: ‘Come with me, I will show you the way.’ Leaning on his staff with his left hand, he took me with his right hand and led me along a bed, saying: ‘Although it’s muddy and you will often get stuck, the path is high; look how much dirt and water there is along the low path.’ We walked together for a long time. He continued preaching, and I talked to him without fear, although I recognised him as St. Nicholas. Finally we came to some church or chapel (I don’t remember which), and went in. Inside was a large Crucifix, and on the right, hanging on the wall, was an icon of St. Parasceva. I began to prostrate myself before the Crucifix. As soon as I touched the floor with my head, the holy man struck me on the neck with such force that I thought he would chop my head off. I had hardly recovered when another blow followed, and then another, and so on to five. ‘Why is he beating me?’ I asked myself. ‘Does he really want to chop my head off? But why would he want to do that?’ ‘Don’t argue, don’t act wise,’ he answered my thought. ‘If I struck you, it was because I had to. You have forgotten that one must obey without arguing. You don’t have to show off your  knowledge.’ I stood up, and the holy hierarch looked at me, smiling kindly. He pointed at the icon of martyr Parasceva, saying: ‘Here she is, the bride of Christ. She allowed her head to be cut off as an offering to her Bridegroom; whereas you are unable to suffer even a little, and you keep on philosophising while you still don’t possess spiritual wisdom. Humble yourself; endure, and you will be saved.’ “

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For her first Vision-Encounter with our Lord’s Cross, go to The Cross-Baptism

For her second Vision-Encounter with our Lord’s Cross, go to The Fool-for-Christ and the Cross

Bearing our Three Crosses

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Jesus told his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) What does it mean to take up our cross daily? This is a question that St. Theophan the Recluse addressed in a series of homilies in 1885.

First, let’s examine what is meant by the Cross. St. Theophan says the following:

The Lord accomplished our salvation by His death on the Cross; on the Cross He tore up the handwriting of our sins; through the Cross He brought upon us grace-filled gifts and all heavenly blessings.”

But there is more, as the above is Christ’s Cross, and we must take up our personal cross. St. Theophan says:

When the personal cross of each of us is united with Christ’s Cross, the power and effect of the latter is transferred to us and becomes, as it were, a conduit through which “every good gift and every perfect gift” (James 1:17)  is poured forth upon us from the Cross of Christ.

The message is clear that there is more to our salvation than just believing in Christ, His Incarnation, His Crucifixion and Resurrection. In addition to His Cross, our personal cross is equally essential for our salvation.  

But, what is our personal cross? Saint Theophan outlines three kinds.  One is outward, another is inward and a third is spiritual.

1. The outward cross involves the trials and tribulations of our life. St. Theophan describes them as follows:

These are sorrows, misfortunes, the loss of loved ones, failures at work, every sort of deprivation and loss, family troubles, adversities related to outward circumstances, insults, offenses, wrongful accusations, and, in general, our earthly lot… Neither eminence, nor riches, nor glory, not any kind of earthly greatness will deliver one from them.

He makes the important point that we must make use of these difficulties in life in accordance with God’s intention for our salvation. So, why does God allow us these difficulties in life? Saint Theophan says he gave them to us “so that we would live on earth, not as someone in his own land, but as a stranger and a foreigner in a foreign land.” As foreigners, we are to seek our return to His kingdom. To understand this we must refresh our understanding of the story of Adam and Eve told in Genesis, and how they were originally living in Paradise in union with God. But they disobeyed Him and suffered the consequences of death and sorrow and sickness, and were ousted and banned from Paradise. This is our outward cross to bear, the difficulties of a mortal life outside of Paradise. And how are we to bear them?  St. Theophan tells us to “endure them and don’t be annoyed…bear your lot with equanimity.”

Remember, these difficulties encountered in life are similar for all of us. We are all subject to misfortune and sorrow. God allows them for our benefit.  St. Theophan tells us,

The Lord wants to wash away some sin, or to lead us away from a sinful deed, or to cover up a greater sorrow with a smaller one, or to give us an occasion for patience and for demonstrating faithfulness to the Lord, so as to show forth the glory of His mercy on us later… If you don’t clearly see precisely what God wanted to give you through sorrow that has overwhelmed you, raise up in your heart  the general, non-speculative belief that everything that comes from the Lord is for our good, and give a shove to your disturbed soul: this is what is pleasing to God. Endure! He whom punishes is like a son to Him!

Enduring your sorrows with faith are what it means to bear your personal cross. Enduring with the love of God, giving thanks for all He gives us, you are bearing your cross in a way that will bring salvation.  Saint Theophan says,

“Arouse gratitude within yourself, humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, repent, and correct your life.” 

2. The second kind of cross is inward. This is the struggle against the passions. Saint Paul says, “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Gal 5:14). Saint Theophan says,

There is a cross upon which these passions and lusts are crucified. To crucify the passions means to weaken them, suppress them, and uproot them… When someone is fighting against the passions, sometimes it seems as if his hands were nailed, as if he is wearing a crown of thorns on his head, as if his living heart is pierced.

The culprit is self love, advises Saint Theophan. He writes,

Anger burns, envy dries one up, lust enfeebles one, miserliness does not let one eat or sleep, and offended pride murderously eats away at one’s heart… Everyone has them. As soon as there is self love, there are all the passions, for this is the mother of the passions…

So what is one to do?  Saint Theophan says,

One has only to turn the knife around and, instead of satisfying the passions, to strike oneself with it, to strike the passions with it, beginning the fight against them and contradicting them in everything… One must say to every passionate person: “You’re perishing on the cross of passions. Destroy that cross and set up another: the cross of the fight against it. And you’ll be crucified on it unto salvation!”…. go courageously to the cross of self-crucifixion, through the crucifixion and uprooting of the passions and lusts. Let us turn away from self-pity and become inflamed with zeal for self-accusation… the Cross is the tree of life.

3. The third cross is the devotion to the will of God. It is not enough to crucify the passions. This is only preparatory for this step which involves our obedience to God’s will. We are now ready to offer ourselves up as a sacrifice to God. We follow Christ’s example in the Garden of Gethsemane before His Crucifixion. Christ prayed that He be spared, but was resolute in saying, “Nonetheless not as I will, but as Thou will” (Mark 26:39). CHrist as fully man bound his will with that of God. It is as Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lies in me” (Gal 2:20). Saint Theophan says this is the “height of Christian perfection… It is the beginning of he future state after the resurrection, when God will be “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28). Those who are perfect live and act through God alone.”

Saint Theophan further says,

Many have the idea that Christianity is the same as other kinds of life, but this is not so. It begins with repentance, ripens through the fight against passions, and is perfected when  the pure, inner man, immersed in God, is crucified with Christ… If Christians do have pleasures they are purely incidental. The most distinguishing characteristics of their existence are sufferings and sickness––inward and outward, voluntary and involuntary. We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom, and into that which is within it.….If you want good for yourself, get rid of pleasures and enter on the path of the cross of repentance, burn up in the fire of self-crucifixion, be tempered in tears of heartfelt contrition––and you’ll become gold, or sliver, or a precious stone, and in due time you’ll be taken by the Heavenly Householder as an adornment for His most bright and most peaceful mansions.

Reference: Three Homilies of the Bearing of the Cross by Saint Theophan the Recluse in The Orthodox Word, No. 285, 2012, pp 187-202.

A Saint’s last Christmas with the Theotokos

 

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A visitation of the All-holy Theotokos in St. Valeriu’s prison cell

“Let us lift up the hearts!” Any visitation from our Lady warrants our immediate attention. I was not surprised by Her words “that deliverance will come, albeit through fire and devastation. The world still has to suffer….”. But these words put me to shame: “Today, the sons of darkness are bolder than the sons of light.”

For the complete narrative of the visitation, go here

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For the life of  St. Valeriu Gafencu the New Confessor of Romania (+ 1952), go here

 

Blessed Christmas all! May the light of Christ bring you peace and joy!

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The appearance of the All-holy Theotokos in St. Valeriu’s prison cell on the saint’s last Christmas

During the night of his last Christmas, toward dawn, Valeriu testified to his friend Ioan Ianolide:

Γέννηση του Ιησού Χριστού_ Рождество Христово_ Nativity of Christ-icone17af3c43e89991487750a4d5“This night, I kept vigil. I sang my carol to come. I wanted it to be very beautiful. I sang it in my head. I heard it in the high heavens, from where it descended. Rather difficult for me, since I don’t know musical notes and I have to sing by ear. So I was awake, lucid and serene, when all of a sudden, I noticed a photograph of Seta – the girl he loved – in my hand. Amazed by this, I lifted my gaze and at the head of my bed I saw the Mother of God, clothed all in white, vivid, real.
She was without her child. Her presence seemed material to me…

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A Martyr’s Spirit in Daily Family Life

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A true story by Elder Aimilianos 

“Once, when I was in a hurry to come here to the monastery to speak to you, I took a taxi, so I wouldn’t be late. On the way, I asked the driver:
“Tell me, do you ever get to eat lunch or dinner with your Wife?”
You know what sort of work these drivers have, and how they almost never know when they are going home.
“Every day” he told me, “both lunch and dinner.”
“How do you manage it? What time do you eat?”
“Lunch starts from 10:00 in the morning, and goes till 4:00 in the afternoon, and dinner is from 6:00, often till 2:00 in the morning.”
Do you understand? At 10:00 in the morning, his wife had the meal ready and waited for him, whatever time he arrived so that they could eat together. And in the evening, she waited for him from 6:00, often till 2:00 in the morning. Doesn’t this impress you? This is what martyrdom in life means: a life of love.
Martyrdom in daily life is action done out of love for the other person, making a sacrifice, setting aside one’s own selfish needs for the benefit of another.”

The Church at Prayer, Archimandrite Aimilianos, p 160