“Help Lord, I am sinking!”

 

footprints in the sand

Homily on  MATTHEW 14:22-34 — 9th Sunday of St Matthew

A Homily and a favourite Poem

 

“At that time, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately he spoke to them, saying “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they entered the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret.”

The Gospel writer presents us with a vivid scene on the Lake of Gennesaret. Peter sinking beneath the waves is a picture that resonates with our own condition when we are overcome with anxiety, guilt, sin, overwork, doubt and grief. We become immersed in the conditions that surround us, unable to focus on anything else. The waves seem to be too high and we begin to sink under the waves of pressure.

Peter may have had in mind the Psalm when in his panic and despair he cries out to Christ:

Psalm 69:1-2

Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
Where there is no standing;
I have come into deep waters,
Where the floods overflow me. 

We see that our Lord, after he had dismissed the crowds goes up into the hills to commune with His Father. After prayer he goes to the Lake of Galilee but His disciples had already gone fishing and it was dark, the fourth watch of the night,3.00 am.-6.00a.m.  It is in the middle of the night when fear may overcome us. There was a strong wind that caused a storm on the waters. He walks on the water towards the disciples boat. His disciples thinks it is a ghost and they are terrified. We notice here how the storm outside, had entered into them and they cry out with fear. It is then when they were at their most vulnerable that Christ speaks His words of reassurance:

“Take heart, it is I, have no fear.”

When we find ourselves battered without and within by the storms of life then Christ will come to us bidding us to take courage and trust in Him.

 Peter immediately responds:

 “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” The “if” signals a doubt in the mind of the apostle.

One word from our Lord,“Come!” So Peter jumps out of the boat, but he takes his eyes of faith from the Lord Jesus Christ and is more concerned about the surrounding turmoil and prevailing storm and begins to sink beneath the waves. This is precisely what often happens to us. We lose focus, we are distracted, we take our eyes from Him Who is the Lord over all Creation and we are embroiled, consumed, overwhelmed by the condition(s) in which we find ourselves.

Peter cries out: “Lord, save me!” and the Saviour does just that, despite his lack of faith, extending his arm for Peter to grasp. How speedily this vision takes us to the Icon of the Resurrection in which our extends His arms and  brings Adam and Eve out from Hades. This is what Christ does for us, but we also can extend that saving “hand” of friendship, that word of comfort to others whose faith is weak, who feel lost; those that are sinking under the waves of anxiety. We see how Christ immediately comes to the rescue.

The miracle here is not that Our Lord Jesus walked upon water, but that His word and action is immediate towards His disciples! The One who made the Heavens and the Earth, the Sea and all that is therein, is Lord over all nature. He who multiplies five loaves and two fish to feed 5000 can walk upon the waters, can turn water into wine, can calm the storm, can cause a multitude of fish to be caught. The real miracle is that Christ knows our needs and responds to them immediately. He is with us always even unto the end of the age and His hand supports us and saves us now and unto eternal life.

 Lord save us!

  And when they entered the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Christ is indeed our Saviour and the Son of God 

The poem “Footsteps in the Sand “so eloquently illustrates the nature of our loving and saving Lord Jesus Christ:

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”

 

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The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 45

nail

 I am pleased to report that Kimberly the Cucumber, Tom the Tomato plant and Kristian the Capsicum Chili Pepper are flourishing.  Kimberly has many flowers and the small cucumbers are beginning to develop, Tom is growing taller and taller every day and producing many cherry tomatoes and Kristian is, at last, turning from green to yellow, which, I am reliably informed, he should!  The one thing in common with all these plants is that they have all needed some physical support to grow with bamboo garden canes. The cucumber has tendrils, so she wound herself to the cane without any help, the other two have required a little assistance to be tied with string to their main support.

We humans too need all the help and support to grow in the spiritual life.

 

The Nail

 

Trisagion: Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us. 

 

  • Philippians 4:13

 

I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

 

Luke 22:32 

“But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”

 

The matchstick strikes brief heat and light

The nail stays firm with its great might,

The matchstick though is small and frail

Unlike the large and sturdy nail.

 

But when we place them side by side

The nail assumes parental pride,

The matchstick from the nail will take

Its strength and so it will not break.

 

Good God above whose hallowed name

Invests His strength to gird our frame,

Holy God, Holy and strong

Stay close to us our whole life long.

You cannot destroy the passions on your own, but ask God, and He
will destroy them, if this is profitable for you.

St. Anatoly of Optina

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 43

mount athos ascetics

Huts of the hermits at Karoulia (Athos)

A poem, the Desert Fathers, C.S. Lewis reflection and The Invisible Naked Ascetics of Mount Athos

I live in an old stone faced terraced property, built in the 1850’s. Yesterday morning as I was cleaning the bay windows at the front of my house, I thought to myself: “the Victorians knew how to build things to last.” Some would argue that the Victorian period was the golden age of engineering and architecture in Britain. Even though my house is small and the consequence of a vast building programme because of the industrial revolution, it is built on firm foundations.

 

The Builder

 

Matthew 21:42

  Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:

 The stone which the builders rejected

Has become the chief cornerstone,

This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

 

The Builder laid the living stones carefully and correctly;

Having mixed the cement of love, every stone had its special place.

Each was uniquely chosen and equipped

To support its neighbours of the human race.

 

There were apostolic and prophetic stones in the foundation.

They formed the base and shape of the temple.

Unseen, these sustained the saintly stones;

Rough hewn, finely crafted and simple.

 

Some builders today construct boxes

For the purpose of separation.

There are others who build Churches

To enable reconciliation.

 

The Father is building a Palace

No mortgage required and no loan,

 for us to live free in His mansions

With Christ as the Chief Cornerstone.

 


“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” 

C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity

 

*

Two old men lived together for many years and they had never fought with one another The first said to the other, “Let us have a fight like other men.” The other replied, ”I do not know how to fight.” The first said to him ”Look ,I will put my brick between us and I will say: it is mine; and you will reply: no, it is mine; and so the fight will begin.” So they put a brick between them and the first said,” This brick is mine,”and the other said,” No it is mine.”And the first replied, ”If it is yours ,take it and go.” So they gave it up without being able to find a cause for an argument.

Saying from The Desert Fathers

 

The Invisible Naked Ascetics of Mount Athos

 

 

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 41

scaling-the-heights-of-hubris

I recall being at the Monastery of Sambata de Sus Monastery in Romania and concelebrating at a Holy Liturgy with seven other priests. Even though I do not speak the language, except for a few words, I understood the whole of the Liturgy and felt a unity in the Holy Spirit; it was as if I was hearing the Holy Eucharist in my own language. I can truly say that experience was not unique, I have felt that same mystical knowledge and full participation of worship in Greece. Our Parish itself is a little Pentecost composed of people from all over the world. The whole experience of worship is permeated with the Holy Spirit’s presence whose gifts and fruits we enjoy.

 

1 John 4:16

….. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

 

This is The Holy Spirit’s gift and His language is love.

 Deconstructing the tower of Babel

 

Genesis 11

The Tower of Babel

 1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. 

 3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” 

 

“Let’s scale the heights and take the lights 

of the firmament.

We’ll call the tune and pocket the moon.

Come on! let’s grab the Sun and that being done

We will be called great!

Let’s create another state by

 Storming heaven’s gate and gain control.”

 

 From below…the bright “hello”

 Led to a sad “goodbye.”

The smile became a rueful sigh.

And people asking why?

And who are you?

What did you say?

That once friendly question where

is met by a beleaguered stare!

From nostalgic then to…. tell us when?

The change from common sense

 to non-sense came because of man.

What was his plan?

 To build a tower and to steal God’s power!

 

Much later in an upper room, 

Diners seated round a table

Take bread and wine,

  And as they are able

  De-construct the tower of Babel.

 God initiates a conversation

His language: love, for every nation.

And from above that which was lost

Is found, and invested with a Pentecost!

 

 A soldier asked Abba Mios if God accepted repentance. After the old man had taught him many things, he said, “Tell me, my dear, if your cloak is torn, do you throw it away?” He replied, “No, I mend it and use it again.” The old man said to him, “If you are so careful about your cloak, will not God be equally careful about his creature?” 

Baldness and the Comb

saint porphyrios

— What is ‘experience’ in spiritual life, dearest Father?

— A comb that you acquire when you go bald.

— So, isn’t it useless?

— No, because you can then use it to comb the hair of others!

Saint Porphyrios’ words; Testimony of Metropolitan Neophytos Morfou

 

*Photograph above: Saint Porphyrios venerated by bees ☦️🐝

In the region of Kapandriti near Athens, a wonderful thing happens. Ten years ago, a devout beekeeper named Isidoros Ţiminis, thought to place in one of his hives an icon of the Crucifixion of the Lord. Soon thereafter, when he opened the hive, he was amazed that the bees showed respect and devotion to the icon, having “embroidered” it in wax, yet leaving uncovered the face and body of the Lord. Since then, every spring, he puts into the hives icons of the Savior, the Virgin Mary and the Saints, and the result is always the same. He placed a photograph of Elder Porphyrios (before he was canonized) in the hive, and the bees showed the same respect and veneration as towards other saints. (Mystagogy Resource Center)

Judgment in Three Acts

spring storm

 I was busy, stressed and prayer-less shopping at a supermarket when one of the employees called me out persistently, at least 3-4 times, ‘insisting’ I stop right there and turn around. Why? … She wanted to greet me with “Christ is Risen!” 

*

I finally met that person I had spent the whole day judging and quarrelling about with my family. How dare he try to solve that problem, my problem –my pain and my suffering–  in a different way than I would? … He was right! Not only did he also help me but he did so gently, with a great sense of humour and compassion.

*

I was walking back home when a wretched, ragged beggar stopped me and asked for a little money.  “Excuse me, ma’am. Please help me. I have not had anything to eat for the last two days!” He followed me pleading for quite some time. My heart was cold and I gave him nothing. I only turned back and looked at him perplexed at the softness of his voice. Then, he looked me in the eyes and gently blessed me: “May the Theotokos intercede for you and keep you under Her Protecting Veil!”  Ashamed, I changed my mind and decided to give him a little money, but  … too late! He vanished before my eyes!

*  Text by C. Photo by Jason Tiilikainen

 

 

 

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 26

BELIEVE

Believe …

Hristos a înviat

 

I recall on my first visit to Romania attending the funeral of an old lady in a small village. The Parishioners had kept vigil all night before the funeral, waiting patiently outside her home, saying fervent prayers for their departed friend. There were weeping and sorrow mixed with resurrection hope and humble faith together with profuse expressions of sympathy and compassion for the bereaved family.

St Columba ordains a priest.

In central Scotland, there was a priest called Molluch who wanted to be a priest although he could not read or write. He approached St Columba on one of the saint’s missionary journeys to that region.  St Columba wanting to test Molluch’s faith told him to go and fish in the nearby lake and when he had caught a fish to come back. Puzzled by this instruction but obedient Molluch took a small coracle to the lake and started fishing. For two days and two nights, he caught nothing but on the third day he caught a fish. However, on catching the fish he took pity on it; carefully removing it from the hook, he returned it to the water. Rowing back to shore Molluch confessed to the saint and told him what had happened. St Columba commended him for his patience, compassion, and humility; qualities which he saw as necessary for the priesthood. St Columba ordained Molluch who duly proved to be an excellent priest.

O What Faith

Luke 7:9; “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel.”

Gentle gentile strong and brave

Built a synagogue and gave

A chance of life to his dear slave:

By his faith.

He showed his care and great compassion

In more than any normal ration

When humility was not the fashion:

He showed faith.

A Centurion ruled with iron glove

But this one knew of Him above

Whose hands could heal with powerful love:

Given faith.

Considerate in his way and kind

A virtue one would rarely find

In one so masterful a mind:

Blessed by faith.

His faith was simply of the best

Surpassing Israel and the rest

Such trust which passes every test:

This is faith.

To the glory of God

Sayings from the Desert Fathers

The old men used to say, “If someone has faith in another and hands himself over to him in complete submission, he does not need to pay attention to God’s commandments but he can entrust his whole will to his father. He will suffer no reproach from God, for God looks for nothing from beginners so much as renunciation through obedience.”

 
Εν Χριστώ

The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 22

orthodox pilgrims climbing

Hristos a înviat!

 

From my little chapel in my front room, I never serve the Divine services in slippers! Somehow, although this would be more appropriate and comfortable, it seems rather casual and disrespectful; so I always put on my clean shoes as I would as in Church! I’m sure no one would notice my feet under my cassock, but I know, and I know that all things should be done in order as the Apostle Paul reminds us.( 1 Corinthians 14:40) To dress correctly befitting the task is something that we should not easily dismiss. It was good to see some of the gentlemen wearing ties at Pascha!!

I remember mountain walking in Transylvania with my spiritual brother and some students some years ago- a variety of inappropriate footwear seemed the fashion- trainers, sandals and even grandfather’s old brown brogues, but no walking boots! Needless to say there were some very sore feet at the end of each day.

 

  St Columba and the shoes of Turf. ( part I of 2)

In the early Church in these islands with few writing materials, the Gospel was often conveyed by singing bards. A message came to St. Columba (who was also a singing bard) that the leading Bishop in Ireland had outlawed this practice and that” he was not to set foot on the Island of Ireland!” St Columba remembering how many had been converted on earlier missions by singing the Gospel stories decided to go back to Ireland but in order not to contravene the Bishop’s instructions he cut and took two turfs of soil from Iona with him on the boat. On reaching Ireland he tied these two turfs to his feet!

Mountain Walking in Transylvania

Summer 2003

Matthew 7:14: “Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way

which leads to life ,and there are few who find it.

The climb was hard following the track

It tired the legs and wrenched the back;

Clearer and lighter was the air

Greater and slower was the care.

In which we made our way.

The thin line of friends began to spread,

Like a spider’s hoary thread

On the mountain climb together

Stretched in love for one another.

As we walked the way

Stopping often to refresh and rest,

To view the scene, to pray, to jest,

To share a thought, to catch a sigh

To marvel at the birds on high.

As we walked His Way.

Our destination now in sight,

We summon up our little might,

To reach the summit and the goal

With all our heart, mind, strength and soul.

With Him who is the Way.

 

What toil we must endure, what fatigue, while we are attempting to
climb hills and the summits of mountains! What, that we may ascend
to heaven! If you consider the promised reward, what you endure is
less. Immortality is given to the one who perseveres; everlasting
life is offered; the Lord promises His Kingdom.

St. Cyprian 

 
 Eν Χριστώ

A Window to Heaven

coliva_in_biserica

Today,  another blessing and surprise encounter awaited me!  But let me start from the very beginning. Early at dawn, I went Elder Symeon’s monastery for Matins, Holy Liturgy and the Memorial service on Saturday of Meatfare.  The service was one of the longest ones I have ever attended; the priests were reading for hours (!) long lists of names of our departed brothers and sisters. What a consolation and a hope to literally be a member of His Body, which our Mother Church will never forget or give up!

Such Mercy and Love outpoured on us all! We also prayed for all our brothers who,  throughout the ages, because of untimely death in a faraway place, or other adverse circumstances, have died without being deemed worthy of the appointed memorial services. The divine Fathers, being so moved in their love for man, have decreed that a common memorial be made this day for all pious Orthodox Christians who have reposed from all ages past, so that those who did not have particular memorial services may be included in this common one for all. 

I was also very impressed by how some of the faithful ended their lists of fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, children, relatives names with “benefactors, friends, enemies”. Enemies?! Now that was something that I had never heard of before but which I will certainly start adding to my personal diptychs. 

kollyva

Somehow, in all this, Sister Aggeliki of Blessed Memory warmed my heart.

Fleetingly, another thought crossed my mind, about a good man I was told about the other day who consciously decided not to have an Orthodox burial, but cremation instead. And so it happened. When Elders were asked if we could at least give his name for Forty Day Liturgies or for a Trisagion, we were told “no” because “his wish has to be honoured”. This shadowed side, the darkness into which a stubborn sinner can choose to throw himself … Lord have mercy…

Today, we, the militant church, felt outnumbered by the triumphant and invisible Church. Oh, how soon, we too will cross to ‘the other side’. I am so looking forward to meeting my +Elder Gregorios, +Sister Aggeliki …

“But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare”. Oh! those cares of life!  May we have “an acceptable defence before His dread Judgment Seat.”

43538

And then, it happened! At the coffee and the kollyva that followed. There, out of the blue, I met Vassiliki, a frail but very bright woman, 91 years old, who immediately impressed me with her radiant smile, joy and generosity of spirit. In just a few minutes, we realised that we had both worked, side by side, together with Sister Aggeliki. That was it. Now nobody could stop Kyria Vassiliki from sharing case upon case, from court to hospitals, with the liveliest details, all her memories with Sister Aggeliki. She kept telling me how special Sister Aggeliki was! As if I did not know!

Blessed Sister Aggeliki, a legend in our town, I never had a doubt that all those orphans and ill children and families in need which you have tirelessly helped and supported will be offering their thanks to God for you on heaven and in earth. But what touches most my heart is how “easily” you “gave up” your novitiate at St. Nektarios’ monastery in Aegina, at your spiritual father’s word, to stand by and support your elderly, ill mother and your mentally-ill sister.

How patiently you bore your Cross, living an unmercenary doctor’s and nun’s life in a city and waiting until the last 6 months of your life to finally receive the great schema! How all these very harsh circumstances at home did not deter you from offering your love and medical services to everybody for free.  How could you, Sister Aggeliki, retain your sense of humour, enthusiasm and joy when such reality was awaiting you back home every day?

Every single day and night at the mercy of your mentally ill sister — such a martyrdom! I have spent lots of mornings and evenings at your home and your poor sister was giving you such a hard time! Anybody else but you would have “committed” her to a mental institution, but not you.  Because you told me that in the midst of such paranoia, your sister loved God and you wanted to take care of her, take her to church, to holy communion and … Sister Aggeliki was also appalled by the shock treatments psychiatrists applied to medical patients back in those decades.

And that martyrdom and Cross was only one of the many you courageously bore, dear Sister Aggeliki. How could you compose spiritual poetry and theatrical plays and oratoria attracting such wide audiences? And all that and so much more.

I have so many questions to ask you, dear Sister. Please help me understand your answers and prayers “across the other side”.

+ Memory Eternal, Sister Aggeliki, pray for us, “τούς ζῶντες τούς περιλειπόμενους”, “all us who are alive [and] remain unto the Coming of the Lord  (1 Thessalonians 4:15). 

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sister aggeliki tsaousi

For more information about Saturday of Souls, here