Like a swift sparrow

sparrow

O much-suffering Stephanie, * with the crown of the gifts of grace * hath the Lord now crowned thee, who gavest up thyself * to willing torments and pains in the nobility of thy soul: * ’twixt two palm trees thou wast bound, * and thereby thou wast rent in twain, * spreading out thy wings, * flying up unto God like a swift sparrow and forsaking to the fowlers * thy mortal body, O wondrous one. [Ainos (Praise) from the Orthros November 11]

*It is said that + Martyr Stephanie in Damascus was 16 years old at the time of her martyrdom.
*

Isn’t that an amazing transfiguration of a horrid death? What a stunning testimony to the transformative power of Christ’s Resurrection! This hymn reminded me today of St. Porphyrios and his precious advice on immersing ourselves in the Church’s hymns for their great healing power to overcome all the gloom, the sadness, the failure, and the death that seem to surround us.

*

The Elder Porphyrios once asked a pilgrim visiting him:

— Do you know the troparion that begins, “We celebrate the slaying of death …”?

— Yes, elder, I know it.

— Then say it.

—“We celebrate the slaying of death, the destroying of hell, the beginning of another way of life that is eternal. And leaping for joy, we sing a hymn to the Cause, the only blessed and most glorious God of our fathers.”

—Do you understand it?

—Certainly I understand it.

I thought that he was asking me for a translation into modern Greek.

The Elder then waved his hand dismissively saying,

— Little George, you didn’t understand anything at all! You said it quickly like a chanter in a hurry. Listen to what awesome things are said in this hymn: Through Christ and His resurrection, we do not get across a river, a gorge, a canal, a lake, or even the Red Sea. We have moved across an abyss that no human being could cross on his own. Ages came and went with the world waiting for this Pascha, for this passage. Our Christ passed from death to life! That’s why today “we celebrate the slaying of death, the destroying of hell.” Death is no more. We celebrate today “the beginning of another way of life that is eternal,” a life with Him.

Speaking with enthusiasm and conviction, the Elder was clearly moved. The elder paused and continued more energetically:

— Now there is no more chaos, no more death, no more slaying, no more Hell. Now everything is joy, thanks to the resurrection of our Christ. Human nature is resurrected with Him. Now we too can rise again that we might live with Him eternally … What bliss is contained in the Resurrection! “And leaping for joy, we sing a hymn to the Cause.” Have you seen how young goats now in the spring frolic on the green grass? They drink some of their mother’s milk and then prance about leaping for joy, and so do we celebrating the ineffable joy of the resurrection of our Lord.

He then stopped speaking. Pure joy was now in the air. And the elder continued,

—Can I give you some advice? In every sorrow, with every failure, in anything that causes you pain, collect yourself for half a minute and slowly say this hymn. Then, you will see that the most important thing in your life and in the life of the entire universe has already been accomplished with the resurrection of Christ. It is our salvation. And then, you realize that all our setbacks are so insignificant, that you don’t need to allow them to spoil your mood.

— St. Porphyrios, Wounded by Love

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Clay

clay.jpg

Clay robs clay.

Clay insults clay.

Clay slanders clay.

Clay gets rich at the expense of  clay.

Clay rules clay.

Clay punches clay.

Clay imprisons clay.

 

And in general:

Clay considers itself

wiser,

stronger,

richer,

nobler,

more valuable

to other clay.

Elder Joseph the Hesychast, Monastic Wisdom, Epistle 39

 

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 these last three months. I hope to share sometime this week ‘my’ plan for the coming month. Please pray for me!

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.

 

 

A note to a spiritual child in anguish

christ comforting a boy

You are not alone

Genesis 50:20

20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; butGod meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it isthis day, to save many people alive.

1 Samuel 16:7

7For the Lord doesnot seeas man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

 

Note to a spiritual child:

You are not alone!

 You have the Holy Spirit from your Chrismation,

 You have your Holy Guardian angel from your Baptism.

 You have your Patron Saint to pray for you,

 You have the Mother of God to protect you.

You have the prayers of the faithful at the Proskomede,

[…]

You have the mercy of Christ to forgive you at Confession,

You have the grace of Holy Scripture to comfort and assist you.

 You have the teachings of the Holy Fathers to guide you.

 You have your Father in Heaven who cares for you and who will save you.

 Do not say you are alone!

But beware, you do have someone else- the adversary who

will try to convince you that you are alone, isolated, separated;

do not listen to him or entertain his presence.

Fr. Jonathan

 

Saint Cyprian of Carthage: “Everyone falls alone, but we are being saved in the community”

 

Choice

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“Freedom, A Choice”,  a painting by Anila Ayilliath

 

Choice (*)

 

-Lord, let me come and join you in that land which beckons me, in those fields that I love.

-No, it is in this town that you must meet me.

-Lord, I long for the sun and the wilde flowers over there.

-I only have this black sky and these thorns to give you.

-But Lord, there is only noise and smoke here.

-There is something else as well; there is sin.

-Lord, I would so like to see again the blue water that you knew!

-Here, hearts are sick and souls are dying in darkness.

Lord, I could perhaps stay if you entered into my heart, if you took my hand. But when I see these streets […] my whole being revolts and escapes in thought over there. Must I therefore still stay here, with my sadness and my loneliness?

-My child, is it so difficult to decide? And to walk where I walk?”

(“Sunday Letters”, Lev Gillet, ‘A Monk of the Eastern Church’ by Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, p23)

*

* Dedicated to my spiritual father 

This dedication, initially made on 10/6/2017, holds true of course, only yesterday, when I re-discovered these letters last night, I thought every single iota of these verses was written for me! Piercing my heart … Each time, returning here is becoming increasingly difficult … 

St Gregory the Theologian in Spiritual Warfare

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Gregory the Theologian, 1408 – Andrei Rublev

Flee swiftly from my heart, all-crafty one.
Flee from my members and from my life.
Deceiver, serpent, and fire, Belial, sin,
death, abyss, dragon, night, snare, and frenzy,
chaos, manslayer, and ferocious beast!
Thou didst entice into perdition those
first-formed folk, my foreparents, offering them
at the same time the taste of sin and death.
Christ, the Ruler of all commandeth thee to
flee into the billows, to fall upon the rocks,
or to enter the herd of swine, O baleful one,
as once He bade that presumptuous Legion.
Nay, yield forthwith, lest I smite thee with the Cross,
whereat all things tremble;
Oh, flee!
I bear the Cross upon me, in all my members.
I bear the Cross whene’er I journey, whene’er I sleep.
I hold the Cross in my heart. The Cross is my glory.
O mischievous one, wilt thou never cease from
dogging me with traps and laying snares for me?
Wilt thou not dash thyself upon the precipices?
Seest thou not Sodom? Oh, wilt thou not speedily
assail the shameless herds of ungodly heretics,
who, having so recklessly sundered the Almighty
Godhead, have witlessly destroyed and abolished It?
But comest thou against my hoariness? Comest thou
against my lowly heart? Thou ever blackenest me,
O foe, with darksome thoughts, pernicious thoughts.
Thou hast no fear of God, nor of His Priests.
This mind of mine, most evil one, was verily
a mighty and loud-voiced herald of the Trinity.
And now it beholdeth its end, whither it goeth in haste.
Confuse me not, O slimy one, that I might, as pristine,
meet the pure lights of Heaven, that they might
shine like lightning flashes upon my life.
Lo, receive me; lo, I stretch forth my hands.
Farewell, O world! Farewell, thou who bringest woes upon me!
Pity be shown to all that shall live after me.

 

 

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

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February 29, 1980 [3rd Thursday of Lent]

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

 *

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