Excerpts from letters to prisoners. Holy Week, 2015

The Purpose of Life & The Image and likeness of God     

Confessing the same stuff over and over. FIGHT!     

Life is simple.

Troubles and the Medicine of Immortality   Fighting Thoughts

Behold the man! What is truth! Holy Week - Holy Friday - At the tomb    

 

Note: I wrote a bunch of letters, many personal, and a general letter, with an attempt that those I minister to would get the letters by Pascha. I found out later that they received the letters Bright Monday or Tuesday. Oh well. The following are excerpts about certain subjects, with some things taken out so the correspondent could not be identified.

The Purpose of Life. 2

The Image and likeness of God. 2

Confessing the same stuff over and over. 2

FIGHT! 2

Why were Zacharias and Elizabeth childless?. 3

Life is simple. 3

A New Commandment 3

Troubles and the Medicine of Immortality. 3

Fighting Thoughts. 4

Behold the man! What is truth! Holy Week - Holy Friday - At the tomb John 18:38; John 19:5. 4

 

 

Dear in Christ .... Today is Holy Thursday, the day our Lord instituted the Eucharist, and the night of His arrest. I have been very busy with services morning and evening and reading the Gospels, and a million other things, and have been trying to write letters to all of you all week! If I do not get them done today, I will not get them to you before Pascha. I plan to send everything by jpay, so I cannot send a real long letter. I have had a hard time getting to see anybody. XXXX had a count problem, and George and I waited a long time, then went home without seeing anyone, and XXXX was locked down this week. I was disappointed that you were locked down, as I planned to come and serve. The next time I come, I will serve a snappy liturgy and bring food (which I am jumping through hoops to get approved): Greek sweet bread, Greek salad, and my world famous coffee.

 

The Purpose of Life

 

I ask everyone a question. It is the most important question a man can consider. It has many forms, but basically: "What is the purpose of your life?" is the best rendering. Please answer this question as best you can, and we will discuss it in group or by letter. It is the beginning of learning about the church.

 

The Image and likeness of God

 

Another question I ask (do not feel bad if this is hard - you are not being graded) is to explain the significance of IMO the most significant verse in scripture: "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.  (27)  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." (Gen 1:26-27).

 

The whole purpose of the church is to help us realize and accomplish the promise contained in these two verses from Genesis.

Confessing the same stuff over and over.

FIGHT!

Son, do not be afraid to confess. We are sinners and should not be surprised about our sins, and our habits. Sin is an addiction, therefore it always involves habit. It takes a lot of time to conquer our sins, and as we slowly get stronger, we fall, and then we get up, and we fall and then we get up. This is the way of life for all of us who struggle.

 

Do not have any "false shame" about your repeated sins. That kind of shame is actually pride, and it is because we let the demons fool us. They want us to delay or stop confession because we are ashamed to "say the same sins over and over". Do not listen to them! You are a Christian, and you are trying. You will be victorious.

 

I was going to read the life of St Mary to you and give your a copy, but the prison intervened with a count problem,  and I did not see anybody. Her life was 17 years of the same old sins, even when she was in the desert, away from wine, and drinking songs, and men! The sins were still in her head, and she did not give up the struggle. After 17 years of struggle, she became like an angel. 

 

Please talk to me. I always have ideas about habitual sins. The most important one is FIGHT! -- even if you always, or almost always lose. That means struggling against habitual sin before it happens, during it, and especially after. The aftermath of sin is devastating, and we tend to give up, and veg out, because we feel unworthy and dirty. That is the most important time to fight!

 

We must be like the Publican, who would not even look up, but cried out, beating his breast: "God be merciful to me a sinner!". I have a book that will help you - but you must use it. In the meanwhile, after you have sinned, say this, making a bow and the sign of the cross, 50 times: "God cleanse me a sinner and have mercy on me". I have known a lot of people who have conquered habitual sins. I can say more in person - I have a ton more letters to write. You have my poor daily prayers for you. If you FIGHT the sin, even a little, before after, and even during, then the Lord will see your courage, and magnify your effort.  Just FIGHT! -- and you will be okay.

 

Why were Zacharias and Elizabeth childless?

 

About Zacharias and Elizabeth: the church does not believe that they did not have children because they had sinned, but rather, as part of God's providence.  Remember, Luke says: "And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless." (Luke 1:6). when the angel announced the news to Zacharias, he had weak faith, and doubted, and for this was told he would be dumb until the child was born. On the day of St John's birth, his tongue was loosed, and he broke out in a marvelous song (Luke 1:67-79)

 

Life is simple.

 

I still think life is simple for you. It is always simple. How could it not be, when our Lord tells us: "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light." ? (Mat 11:30) We make life complex. Life is about fulfilling our purpose, and God has made us capable of doing that, when He made us in His image. We do good and avoid evil. When we do evil, we repent. We fulfill the  two great commandments (Love of God, and love of neighbor), because they make us more like God, so we can know God.

 

You have complications in your life because of your desires, but still, life is simple. You are in prison, and your loved ones are far away. You should be chaste and pray, and grow towards holiness. I know this is hard, but in essence, that's it!

 

There is so much happiness when we follow the will of God! Read the Gospels, pray, use that prayer book I gave you, read the Psalter. You will find a kindred spirit in David if you read the Psalms carefully.

 

A New Commandment

 

I like your favorite scripture: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.  (35)  By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." (John 13:34-35) We are going to read that tonight in a long service, called the Twelve Gospels, which basically covers the entire passion of the Lord, and all of His teaching from Palm Sunday through Holy Thursday night, when He was arrested. these verses were spoken Thursday night.

 

When we love as God loves us, we become like God. That is a good verse to hold close, and it will help you in many situations when you must make a decision.

 

Troubles and the Medicine of Immortality

 

I loved your letter. I also was concerned about your troubles, and will try to offer some inept words. Yes, my friend, we can have eternal life because of the incarnation of the God-man Jesus Christ, and his conquering of sin and death. He offers us his actual body and blood to change us from the inside. We call it the "medicine of immortality", and have the blessed hope of salvation when we partake of Him, because of His words:

 

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.  (48)  I am that bread of life.  (49)  Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead.  (50)  This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.  (51)  I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.  (52)  The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?  (53)  Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.  (54)  Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.  (55)  For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.  (56)  He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.  (57)  As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.  (58)  This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever." (John 6:47-58)

 

It is really hard to quote just a little bit of scripture! I like the way you put it the man who would not wear the wedding garment wanted to have things on his own terms. He was disobedient. He did not respect the gift of eternal life. He was the type concerning which the Lord said: " And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46) 

Fighting Thoughts

 

Let's talk about what you experienced during the fast. Thoughts come and go. They are like the wind. It is very hard to control them. The most critical thing we must do regarding thoughts is to resist them. We cannot always stop them, but we can resist them. Even if we do not do so well in this, the Lord sees our effort, and He will help us.

 

Make sure to never "own" your thoughts. I mean that your thoughts are not who you are. You may have desires, flashes of the past, and even terrible thoughts. They are attacks from the demons. They are probing for a weakness. If they cannot get you to desire the things you are thinking of and act on the thoughts, they want you to "own" them and believe yourself to be a terrible, unrepentant person, who is guaranteed to eventually fall. This leads to despondency, which is actually a kind of unbelief. and then we give up on prayer, and fasting, and reading, and we get in big trouble. Do not believe this lie! Just resist the thoughts. Pray.

 

When I have oppressive thoughts, I pray the Jesus prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy". sometimes I shorten it to "Jesus have mercy". I you pray, they will go away in time. Satan is a coward, and he will flee from heartfelt prayer.

 

Concerning mood swings. Yes, in your world, more bad things can happen more quickly. You must pray when your heart is not right. You can do this anytime, and anywhere. It is kind of like the spiritual way to "count to ten". simple prayer works best. I pray for the person who is bothering me: "Lord have mercy on N.". I also rebuke my thoughts and ask the Lord to deliver me from them.

 

 

God bless you! We have a tradition to have a sermon when standing before the "tomb" of the Lord on Good Friday. I will explain about that later, but I wanted to include something for you from this week. Priest Seraphim Holland PO 37, McKinney, TX 75070 972 658-5433

 

Behold the man! What is truth! Holy Week - Holy Friday - At the tomb
John 18:38; John 19:5

 

Brothers and sisters, behold the Man. That’s what Pilate said. He also said, “What is truth?”

 

To “behold the man” is to behold truth, but Pilate didn’t notice. Why didn’t he notice?

Because he did not live according to the truth.


Why was Jesus Christ crucified? Because people did not live according to the truth.

Why was the crowd, the tumult, why was the crown of thorns, the sham trial, the false witnesses?           

Because people did not live according to truth, and therefore they did not recognize Truth.

When the Scripture says something, we must listen. Pilate said, “Behold the Man.” So we must then obey this instruction. So now the Man is in the tomb. Of course we know that He resurrected Himself only a short time after. We know that, as God, He knew all things and could do all things; and, as Man, He allowed himself to be tried and executed as a criminal, to be buried, to be mocked. The question is, why did they happen? Because they did not behold the Man, and because we do not behold the Man.


The Christian life is about truth, purity, goodness. The reason why we were created is to be good and true and pure. But we’re not good and true and pure. So we need help, and our Savior came to give it to us. And this help was in Him becoming Man, living the life that we must have, that we must live ourselves if we are to be blessed, if we are to be happy.


He fulfilled this life, and He made us capable of fulfilling it ourselves. He taught about it and He did it. And yet when He came to His own, His own rejected Him. And we are His own. And if we have the proper attitude about ourselves, we would also say that we have a part with that crowd because every moment of our life we are asked to behold the Man.

 

It’s not to look at someone. It’s not to know who someone is. It is to live as the person you are beholding. This is what “behold the Man” means. Now,  to Pilate it didn’t mean that. To Pilate it just meant: ‘Look at Him, He’s a problem for me, please settle down so that there is not a riot for the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the ruling class, and the elite.” He was dangerous, and they were jealous of Him.


Many of the people did not really understand, and they were easily swayed by convincing arguments of those that were better educated than them and promised them things.  But truly, to obey this command -- and it is a command; it was given by a pagan, but it is a command, “Behold the Man” -- to truly behold Him, we must be like Him.

 
So He dedicated His whole life to death. He was born to die. But not just to be dead, so that He would arise and we would have life.


So if we are to behold Him, we are to live like Him. We know that He is not in the tomb for long. We are not really sad on this day concerning these events. We should be sad, though, that these events were necessary because of us. We don’t live as we should. But we can.

Recently I told you that Holy Week is a week of contrasts. There are many things that are so diametrically opposed to one another:

 

The children greeted our Lord on Palm Sunday, and then only a few days later there were people yelling, “Crucify Him, crucify Him, we have no king but Caesar, and His Blood be upon us and on our children.”

 

Judas plotted for only 30 pieces of silver to sell Him without a price, Who did not have a price, could not be priced. And the woman who had been delivered from her sins came and anointed His feet with fine ointment and tears and wiped them with her hair.

Peter and Judas were alike and very different. They were alike in that, being weak men, they sinned. Judas, by plotting to have Christ delivered because of his avarice. Peter, by boasting and then being afraid and denying Him. And Judas was so sorry. We just read that. We’ve actually read it I think now four times in a short few days. Judas was sorry. He knew what he did was but he went out and hanged himself.

And Peter wept bitterly after he denied the Lord three times, and later the Lord restored him. Why? Because Peter stayed with the disciples. He still loved the Lord. He didn’t know how, but somehow he had to make it right.


This is the model we have, that we must follow. We are like Judas and Peter in sin. But we would be like Peter in repentance. Peter beheld the Man. Because of his love for Jesus, he was restored.

 
So may we also behold the Man. Not a dead man in a tomb. Not even a live man in Heaven. But the God-Man in our hearts, speaking to us at all times, helping us, teaching us, rebuking us, comforting us. Will we behold Him? That is the command that you must answer and give an answer for every day and every moment of your life. May God help us to do that.

 

---

 

Here is something I said on Pascha in 2009: I must say a few words on this holy day, not too many, because the hour is late, and we're not accustomed to praying late at night.

 

What is it that we celebrate, brothers and sisters, what do we celebrate today?

 

We celebrate two healings: the God-man, with His two natures - a son twice - healed us of death and sin. And if you read carefully this gospel, it speaks of this - not openly, but in a way that is mystical and spiritual.

 

Now, we all know that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. What His rising from the dead did was made our flesh able to become pure. And to the pure all things are pure as it says in the scriptures. If we become purified with the help of God, because now we're capable of becoming this, we will know God. Not only will we know God, but we will become sons of God.

 

Now really, death and sin are two sides of the same coin: where there is death, there is darkness, and sin also darkens the soul. No one can be happy when their soul is darkened with sin, and inevitably, sin brings about death. But the lord broke this cycle where man is born, and inevitably He sins, and inevitably He dies, and is not able to see God, because our lord lived as God in man, made His flesh able to see God - now if He was only begotten of the father, He always knew God as God's son: eternally, but, as a man, He had to make His flesh invigorated, so that it could see God.

 

We can appropriate this great salvation. Now how do we appropriate it? St. John says as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become sons of God, even to them that believe on His name, which were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man but of God.

 

Brothers and sisters if you want to truly feel the resurrection, if you want to have joy that cannot be taken away from you, then you must receive Christ. And what is this receiving? The Lord gives us commandments, perfect and wonderful commandments; His yoke is easy and His burden is light, and He desires us to follow these commandments and He makes us capable of following these commandments; and if we struggle to follow them, it is a certainty that the lord will make His abode with us and we will be happy. Happiness that the world doesn't know, happiness that never ever grows old.

 

This is what we celebrate on Pascha, that we can become complete, we can become whole, we can become perfected, we can have absolute happiness, for eternity, knowing God.

 

But the Lord didn't just break the bonds of death: He broke the bonds of sin too, because as a man He lived without sin. He was like us in all things. He was tempted in all ways, just as any other man would be tempted, except that He did not sin. So He made our flesh change, just as the old covenant changed into the new, the old man, who would live in sin and die and go into the grave, was changed into the new man, who would live, and would be capable - if He would receive Christ, of living righteously, and when He dies, He would not die the death of eternal damnation, but He would be alive in Christ. This is what the resurrection does for us: makes us able to see God.

 

Glory be to God that He has given us so many blessings. He's given us grace and truth and grace for grace. May God help you to live righteously so that you can feel in every aspect of your life the presence of God and joy.

 

Amen.

 

Another: in 1997: Tonight, brothers, and sisters, I wish to bring you one word. We sang just a moment ago, “As many have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ”. This is sung at several great feasts, preeminently Pascha. Why do we sing this hymn today? What does it have to do with Pascha?

 

Look at the example of the apostles and all the Saints. For them, the Lords resurrection, with the subsequent giving of the Holy Spirit, ENABLES them to become like the Lord in virtue! This is the meaning of Pascha! Now we are ABLE to live, ABLE to know God, ABLE to become sweet. Without our Lord living as a man, and breaking the hold death held on the flesh, we would not be able to live, truly be alive, and be in Christ, that is, put on Christ.

 

He broke much more that Hades hold on us after this life. His resurrection heals us now, enables us to attain to the knowledge of Him, and as the Apostle says today - to become sons of God.

 

This is only possible by putting on Christ. If you do not do this, by sincere struggle, the stone at your tomb will not be rolled away, and there will be no resurrection in it’s cold, darkened contents.

 

Put on Christ! Live like Him! Struggle to live virtuously. Put away evil and do good, knowing that all this is possible because Christ did all these things as a man, and therefore we can too, and His resurrection breaks any hold death has on our flesh in this life or the next,  if we only live!

 

---

 

Christ is risen! Truly He is risen! No fasting the entire week after Pascha!

 

Priest Seraphim Holland  St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

This article is at:

http://www.orthodox.net/full-voice/prison-ministry-letters_2015-04-09+excerpts-from-letters+purpose-of-life-confessing-the-same-stuff-life-is-simple.doc

http://www.orthodox.net/full-voice/prison-ministry-letters_2015-04-09+excerpts-from-letters+purpose-of-life-confessing-the-same-stuff-life-is-simple.html

 

 

Blog posts & local parish news are posted to our email list. Go to here: http://groups.google.com/group/saint-nicholas-orthodox-church to join.

Use this for any edifying reason, but please give credit, and include the URL of the article. This content belongs to the author. We would love to hear from you with comments! (seraphim@orthodox.net)