Emulating Abraham the hospitable, O Philaret,
thou didst honor the life-creating Trinity,
which did not manifest Itself to thee in the guise of three strangers,
but in the guise of a multitude of the wretched
to whom thou didst zealously minister.
St Philaret the Merciul, Dec 1. Matins Canon, Ode 4
We remembered St Philaret the Merciful this Sunday (Dec 1/14). As is always the case, the vigil contained many "pearls". These are precious moments, when something "hits you", and you feel deeply a theological and moral truth, usually accompanied by a fervent desire to do better in one’s life. Other times, a deep consolation is felt, and a quiet confidence that indeed, one can become good, and have the strength to do all that is necessary in this difficult life.
These moments are short, and often few and far between, but they thoroughly nourish the soul. "Without vision, the people perish". We need to feel truth deeply, viscerally, in order to be strengthened to act. I believe with all my heart that vigil is absolutely essential for our spiritual well-being, because of the moments God gifts us with during the long service. Oh! if we could only preserve the warm pious feelings we have but for a few moments!
I can not even say accurately what this hymn meant to my soul when I heard it chanted, even though, even at this time over a day removed from hearing it, I know exactly what it meant to me. Pious feelings cannot be fully explained.
An inaccurate summary: We have the privilege of encountering God and entering into the life of the Holy Trinity whenever we act morally, with kindness to another person. We were born for this. At no other time are we more alive, and closer to God, and know God, than when we are being kind. What a privilege it is to participate with the Holy Trinity in God’s economy!
From the village of Amnia in Paphlagonia, Philaret was at first a man of some substance, but, as a result of his constant almsgiving, he became utterly destitute. He was not afraid of poverty, and went on with his charitable works with trust in the Lord who has said: ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy’, paying no attention to the disapproval of his wife and children. Once, when he was ploughing in his meadow, a man came to him with the news of the death of his ox in harness, and of his inability to plough with only one ox, so Philaret unhamessed his own and gave it to him. He gave away his remaining horse to a man who was called away to battle, and the calf from his remaining cow – and, when he saw how the cow pined after her calf, gave the man the cow as well. And so the aged Philaret was left hungry in an empty house. But he prayed to God, entrusting himself to Him. God does not abandon the righteous man, allowing him to be shamed in his hope. At that time, the Empress Irene was on the throne with her young son Constantine and, in accordance with the custom of the time, the Empress sent men through the whole Empire to find the best and most distinguished maiden to wed her son. By divine Providence, these men happened upon Philaret‘s home and beheld his very beautiful and modest grand-daughter Maria, the daughter of Hypatia, and they took her to Constantinople. The Emperor was well-pleased with her and took her to wife, and brought Philaret and all his family to the capital, showering honour and wealth upon them. Philaret did not become proud in this change of fortune but, with gratitude to God, performed still greater deeds of charity than before, remaining thus for the rest of his days. At the age of ninety, he called all his children to him and, having blessed them and instructed them to cleave to God and His Law, foretold to each of them how their lives would develop, just as our forefather Jacob did aforetime. When he had done this, he went to a monastery and there gave his soul into God’s hands. At his death, his face shone like the sun and a sweet fragrance arose from his body, and miracles were worked over his relics. This righteous man of God went to his rest in 797. His wife and all his children and grandchildren lived and died in the Lord.
From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
©1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK