Archive for September, 2009

Classic Chrysostom. How to read St John Chrysostom.

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Psychology and Theology.

Refuting all our excuses for sins.

 

In my study of Ephesians for our Sunday adult class, besides reading the scripture, and related scriptures, I read the homilies of St John Chrysostom. He has a habit of ending his homilies with a lofty moral admonition, that often, somewhat confusingly, has little or nothing to do with the text he had just elucidated.

 

His 2nd Homily to the Ephesians[1] has just such an admonition, and it is one of the best examples of his mastery of human psychology and dedication to living a moral life. He had just finished an incredible exposition of:

 

“In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:  (12)  That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.  (13)  In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,  (14)  Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.” (Eph 1:11-14 KJV)

 

Then he teaches us the connection between belief and morality, and disabuses us of any excuse we may have for our sins. It is rare to find such masterful psychology and theology in the same place.

 

This homily within a homily is long, but well worth reading and taking to heart. He who has eyes to read and a good attention span, let him read.

 

Any emphasized text and notes within [brackets], below is my editing. Before we get to our feature, a few pointers.  

 

How to Read St John Chrysostom.

 

When reading St John Chrysostom, there are a few things to keep in mind.

 

First, he was holy and is the most respected and trusted homilist of all time.

 

Second, if you do not understand or do not agree, you are probably wrong. Only personal holiness will help you to understand.

 

Third, when he seems to go off on a tangent, just roll with it. There may be something fantastic just around the bend.

 

Fourth, if you read a translation that has those stodgy English “stiff upper lip” (I always envision an Englishman in a tweed jacket smoking a pipe and pontificating) type of comments, do not pay too much attention[2]. They seem to have never understood point 2, above.

 

….

 

Moral. Let not the hearing, however, make us too much at our ease; for although He does it for His own sake, yet notwithstanding He requires a duty on our part.

 

If He says, "Them that honor Me I will honor, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed," (1 Sam. ii. 30.) let us reflect that there is that which He requires of us also. True, it is the praise of His glory to save those that are enemies, but those who, after being made friends, continue His friends. So that if they were to return back to their former state of enmity, all were vain and to no purpose.

 

There is not another Baptism, nor is there a second reconciliation again, but "a certain fearful expectation of judgment which shall devour the adversaries." (Heb. x. 27.) If we intend at the same time to be always at enmity [by ‘enmity, St John means that we refuse to struggle against our sins and sinful passions P.S. ] with Him and yet to claim forgiveness at His hand, we shall never cease to be at enmity, and to be wanton, to grow in depravity, and to be blind to the Sun of Righteousness which has risen.

 

Do you not see the ray that shall open your eyes? render them then good and sound and quicksighted. He has showed you the true light; if you shun it, and runnest back again into the darkness, what shall be your excuse? What sort of allowance shall be made for you? None from that moment. For this is a mark of unspeakable enmity. When indeed you knew not God, then if thou were at enmity with Him, you had, be it how it might, some excuse. But when you have tasted the goodness and the honey, if thou again abandonest them, and turnest to your own vomit, what else are you doing but bringing forward evidence of excessive hatred and contempt?

 

‘Nay,’ you will say, ‘but I am constrained to it by nature. I love Christ indeed, but I am constrained by nature.’ If you are under the power and force of constraint, you will have allowance made; but if thou yield from indolence, not for a moment. [many of my homilies, inspired John, make this point. We must *try* to change. God will not hold us responsible for what we cannot do, but we will be judged for what we can do or can become able to do, but do not do P.S/]

 

 

Now then, come, let us examine this very question, whether sins are the effect of force and constraint, or of indolence and great carelessness.  [this “compare and contrasting forms the bulk of the rest of the homily P.S.]

 

 

The law says, "You shall not kill." What sort of force, what sort of violence, is there here? Violence indeed must one use to force himself to kill, for who amongst us would as a matter of choice plunge his sword into the throat of his neighbor, and stain his hand with blood? Not one. You see then that, on the contrary, sin is more properly matter of violence and constraint.

 

For God has implanted in our nature a charm, which binds us to love one another. "Every beast (it says) loves his like, and every man loves his neighbor." (Ecclus. xiii. 15.) Do you see that we have from our nature seeds which tend to virtue; whereas those of vice are contrary to nature? and if these latter predominate, this is but an evidence of our exceeding indolence.

 

 

Again, what is adultery? What sort of necessity is there to bring us to this? Doubtless, it will be said, the tyranny of lust. But why, tell me, should this be? What, is it not in every one’s power to have his own wife, and thus to put a stop to this tyranny? True, he will say, but a sort of passion for my neighbor’s wife seizes hold on me. Here the question is no longer one of necessity. Passion is no matter of necessity, no one loves of necessity, but of deliberate choice and free will.

 

Indulgence of nature, indeed, is perhaps matter of necessity, but to love one woman rather than another is no matter of necessity. Nor is the point with you natural desire, but vanity, and wantonness, and unbounded licentiousness.

 

For which is according to reason, that a man should have an espoused wife, and her the mother of his children, or one not acknowledged? Do you not know that it is intimacy that breeds attachment. This, therefore, is not the fault of nature.

 

Blame not natural desire. Natural desire was bestowed with a view to marriage; it was given with a view to the procreation of children, not with a view to adultery and corruption. The laws, too, know how to make allowance for those sins which are of necessity, or rather nothing is sin when it arises from necessity but all sin rises from wantonness.

 

God has not so framed man’s nature as that he should have any necessity to sin, since were this the case, there would be no such thing as punishment. We ourselves exact no account of things done of necessity and by constraint, much less would God, so full of mercy and loving-kindness.

 

 

Again, what is stealing? is it matter of necessity? Yes, a man will say, because poverty causes this. Poverty, however, rather compels us to work, not to steal. Poverty, therefore, has in fact the contrary effect. Theft is the effect of idleness; whereas poverty produces usually not idleness, but a love of labor. So that this sin is the effect of indolence, as you may learn from hence.

 

Which, I ask, is the more difficult, the more distasteful, to wander about at night without sleep, to break open houses, and walk about in the dark, and to have one’s life in one’s hand, and to be always prepared for murder, and to be shivering and dead with fear; or to be attending to one’s daily task, in full enjoyment of safety and security? This last is the easier task; and it is because this is easier, that the majority practice it rather than the other. You see then that it is virtue which is according to nature, and vice which is against nature, in the same way as disease and health are.

 

 

What, again, are falsehood and perjury? What necessity can they possibly imply? None whatever, nor any compulsion; it is a matter to which we proceed voluntarily. We are distrusted, it will be said. True, distrusted we are, because we choose it.

 

For we might, if we would, be trusted more upon our character, than upon our oath. Why, tell me, is it that we do not trust some, no, not on their oath, while we deem others trustworthy even independently of oaths. Do you see that there is no need of oaths in any case? ‘When such an one speaks,’ we say, ‘I believe him, even without any oath, but you, no, not with your oaths.’ Thus then an oath is unnecessary; and is in fact an evidence rather of distrust than of confidence. For where a man is over ready to take his oath, he does not leave us to entertain any great idea of his scrupulousness. So that the man who is most constant in his use of oaths, has on no occasion any necessity for using one, and he who never uses one on any occasion, has in himself the full benefit of its use. Some one says there is a necessity for an oath, to produce confidence; but we see that they are the more readily trusted who abstain from taking oaths.

 

 

But again, if one is a man of violence, is this a matter of necessity? Yes, he will say, because his passion carries him away, and burns within him, and does not let the soul be at rest. Man, to act with violence is not the effect of anger, but of littleness of mind. Were it the effect of anger, all men, whenever they were angry, would never cease committing acts of violence.

 

We have anger given us, not that we may commit acts of violence on our neighbors, but that we may correct those that are in sin, that we may bestir ourselves, that we may not be sluggish. Anger is implanted in us as a sort of sting, to make us gnash with our teeth against the devil, to make us vehement against him, not to set us in array against each other.

 

We have arms, not to make us at war amongst ourselves, but that we may employ our whole armor against the enemy.

 

Are you prone to anger? Be so against your own sins: chastise your soul, scourge your conscience, be a severe judge, and merciless in your sentence against your own sins. This is the way to turn anger to account. It was for this that God implanted it within us.

 

 

But again, is plunder a matter of necessity? No, in no wise. Tell me, what manner of necessity is there to be grasping: what manner of compulsion? Poverty, a man will say, causes it, and the fear of being without common necessaries. Now this is the very reason why you ought not to be grasping. Wealth so gotten has no security in it. You are doing the very same thing as a man would do, who, if he were asked why he laid the foundation of his house in the sand, should say, he did it because of the frost and rain. Whereas this would be the very reason why he should not lay it in the sand. They are the very foundations which the rain, and blasts, and wind, most quickly overturn.

 

So that if you would be wealthy, never be rapacious; if you would transmit wealth to your children, get righteous wealth, at least, if any there be that is such. Because this abides, and remains firm, whereas that which is not such, quickly wastes and perishes. Tell me, have you a mind to be rich, and do you take the goods of others? Surely this is not wealth: wealth consists in possessing what is your own. He that is in possession of the goods of others, never can be a wealthy man; since at that rate even your very silk venders, who receive their goods as a consignment from others, would be the wealthiest and the richest of men. Though for the time, indeed, it is theirs, still we do not call them wealthy. And why forsooth? Because they are in possession of what belongs to others. For though the piece itself happens to be theirs, still the money it is worth is not theirs. Nay, and even if the money is in their hands, still this is not wealth. Now, if consignments thus given render not men more wealthy because we so soon resign them, how can those which arise from rapine render them wealthy?

 

However, if at any rate you desire to be wealthy, (for the matter is not one of necessity,) what greater good is it that you would fain enjoy? Is it a longer life? Yet, surely men of this character quickly become short-lived. Oftentimes they pay as the penalty of plunder and rapaciousness, an untimely death; and not only suffer as a penalty the loss of the enjoyment of their gains, but go out of life having gained but little, and hell to boot. Oftentimes too they die of diseases, which are the fruits of self-indulgence, and of toil, and of anxiety.

 

Fain would I understand why it is that wealth is so eagerly pursued by mankind. Why surely for this reason has God set a limit and a boundary to our nature, that we may have no need to go on seeking wealth beyond it. For instance He has commanded us, to clothe the body in one, or perhaps in two garments; and there is no need of any more to cover us. Where is the good of ten thousand changes of raiment, and those moth-eaten?

 

The stomach has its appointed bound, and any thing given beyond this, will of necessity destroy the whole man. Where then is the use of your herds, and flocks, and cutting up of flesh? We require but one roof to shelter us. Where then is the use of your vast ground-plots, and costly buildings? Do you strip the poor, that vultures and jackdaws may have where to dwell? And what a hell do not these things deserve?

 

Many are frequently raising edifices that glisten with pillars and costly marbles, in places which they never so much as saw. What scheme is there indeed that they have not adopted? Yet neither themselves reap the benefit, nor any one else. The desolateness does not allow them to get away thither; and yet not even thus do they desist. You see that these things are not done for profit’s-sake, but in all these cases folly, and absurdity, and vainglory, is the motive.

 

And this, I beseech you to avoid, that we may be enabled to avoid also every other evil, and may obtain those good things which are promised to them that love Him, in our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom to the Father, together with the Holy Ghost, be glory, strength, honor forever. Amen.

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

This article is at:

http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2009-09-29_classic-chrysostom+how-to-read-john-chrysostom+the-master-of-morality-and-psychology.html

AND

http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2009-09-29_classic-chrysostom+how-to-read-john-chrysostom+the-master-of-morality-and-psychology.doc

 

New Journal entries, homilies, etc. are on our BLOG: http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime

 

Journal Archive: http://www.orthodox.net/journal

 

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.

 

Redeeming the Time BLOG: http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime

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)

 



[1] St John Chrysostom, Homily 2 on Ephesians. New Advent Fathers CD. About forty bucks, shipping included. Such a deal! Also online.

 

[2] These are in the “Eerdmans’s” translation, which is excellent, and has things the New Advent translation does not have, but it is more expensive. It is also online at http://www.ccel.org.

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The Raising of Lazarus Church,Muromansky Monastery

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

The Model for our new temple

 

Sep 14/27 2009 Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

 

 

This is the oldest known wooden building in Russia, the “Raising of Lazarus Church”. It was originally at Muromansky Monastery and now resides in the Kizhi open air museum[1].

 

It served as the model for initial design of our new temple. It is a humble wooden structure, and we are a humble parish. We are starting small, although our temple will be larger and taller than this one.

 

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

This article is at:

http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2009-09-27_raising-of-lazarus-church-muromansky-monastery-the-model-for-our-new-temple.doc

&

http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2009-09-27_raising-of-lazarus-church-muromansky-monastery-the-model-for-our-new-temple.html

 

 

New Journal entries, homilies, etc. are on our BLOG: http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime

 

Journal Archive: http://www.orthodox.net/journal

 

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.

 

Redeeming the Time BLOG: http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime

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)

 



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Exaltation of the Holy Cross. We preach Christ crucified. Audio Homily 2009.

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

LISTEN NOW

1 Corinthians 1:18-24 18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. 20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. 22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: 23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; 24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.



If the "LISTEN NOW" link does not work, copy this URL into your browser: http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/feasts-of-the-savior-exaltation-of-the-cross_2009-09-27+we-preach-christ-crucified.m3u

If this file does not work for you, try the direct link to the actual mp3 file:http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/feasts-of-the-savior-exaltation-of-the-cross_2009-09-27+we-preach-christ-crucified.mp3



RSS feed of Sunday and some weekday homiliesRSS feed of Sunday and some weekday homilies:http://feeds.feedburner.com/OrthodoxChristianSermonsOnTheGospelsEpistlesAndOtherTopics

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The Church is shown to be a many-lighted heaven. Happy anniversary to us. Construction progress – the walls are almost done.

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

Sep 13/26 2009

Saturday before the Exaltation of the Holy Cross


Mike has reminded us that TODAY is the one year anniversary of our closing on the land upon which our new temple is being built.

 

This just so happens to be the day we commemorate “The Commemoration of the Renewal of the Temple of the Resurrection of Christ at Jerusalem”.

 

Years ago, we would sing the Kontakion for this feast at the end of Vigil. I learned this from another parish, and I think it is a local usage among some Greeks. I am thinking of reviving the custom. This Kontakion  is certainly apropos for any temple, especially when we are building:

 

The Church is shown to be a many-lighted heaven

that doth shine a guiding light upon all them that do believe;

wherein while standing we cry aloud:

Do Thou Thyself now establish this house, O Lord.

(Kontakion, Tone 4)

 

Here is a Homily on the Dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, by St Dimitri of Rostov.

 

After many months in the “valley in the shadow of death” (in the halls of the McKinney building commission), we have been making good progress on the building.

 

The walls are more than half done. Here are some photos from Thursday evening, when we served a small blessing of the waters and blessed the temple construction.

 

SE view (the door is facing East) with a little worshipper. The Western window will be in the Narthex, and the windows set higher in the sanctuary. The most Eastern window will be in the altar

SE view (the door is facing East) with a little worshipper.

The Western window will be in the narthex, and the windows set higher in the sanctuary. The most Eastern window will be in the altar.

 

Looking through the front door into the sanctuary. I am serving a small blessing of the waters.

Looking through the front door into the sanctuary. I am serving a small blessing of the waters.

 

 

 

I am standing about where the iconostasis will be.

I am standing about where the iconostasis will be.

 

 

The Front door and porch, with our deaconess.

The Front door and porch, with our deaconess.

 

 

This is our church, there is no steeple, and when you look through the door, you see one people.

This is our church, there is no steeple, and when you look through the door, you see one people.

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

This article is at:

http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2009-09-26_the-church-is-shown-to-be-a-many-lighted-heaven+happy-anniversary.doc

&

http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2009-09-26_the-church-is-shown-to-be-a-many-lighted-heaven+happy-anniversary.html

 

New Journal entries, homilies, etc. are on our BLOG: http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime

 

Journal Archive: http://www.orthodox.net/journal

 

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.

 

Redeeming the Time BLOG: http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime

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)

 

 

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The Cross Is the Sign of Christianity A Christian Cannot Be Without His Cross: On the Inevitability of Suffering

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

by New Hieromartyr John, Archbishop of Riga and Latvia

Who, For His Unyielding Witness to the Truth
Suffered Many Persecutions And Was Burned Alive By Communist Assassins
In the Night of October 12, 1934.

 

New Hieromartyr John, Archbishop of Riga and Latvia, Who, For His Unyielding Witness to the Truth Suffered Many Persecutions And Was Burned Alive By Communist Assassins In the Night of October 12, 1934"21From that time, Jesus began to show to His disciples that it is necessary for Him to go away to Jerusalem, and to suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and to be killed, and to be raised the third day. 22And Peter took Him to himself and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘May God be gracious to Thee, Lord; this in no wise shall be to Thee.’ 23But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get thee behind Me, Satan; thou art an offense to Me, for thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men.’" (Mt. 16:21-23)

 

This revelation of the Lord concerning the sufferings which awaited Him, struck His disciples like a thunderclap from a clear sky. Earlier, He had told them that His path was also their path: The servant is not greater than his master. "He who does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me" [Mt. 10:38]. And in the lives of Christ’s true disciples there is a time of suffering passion when each must enter his own Jerusalem, ascend his Golgotha and the fateful cross, and take up the fateful cup – even unto death.

 

Even the sons of this world each have their own Golgotha. Unforeseen and uninvited, suffering enters the house. You must suffer whether you like it or not. The bitter "must." This "must" is bitter even for the faithful disciple of Christ. And the cross of suffering frightens even him. In his soul is heard the voice of Peter: ‘have mercy on yourself, do not let this happen, protect yourself.’

 

And this is not surprising, for after all, the Great Sufferer Himself prayed: "If it be possible, take this cup from Me" [cf. Mt. 26:39; Mk. 14:36; Lk. 22:42]. This "must" is altogether necessary and we are powerless to stand against it. "From that time, Jesus began to show to His disciples that it is necessary for Him to go away to Jerusalem, and to suffer many things…." [Mt. 16:21].

 

If the way of the Lord leads to Jerusalem, if His fate is to be decided by the scribes, the Pharisees, the elders, then it is natural that He must suffer and be killed. This Jerusalem towards which Christ directed His steps is not the Heavenly Jerusalem, but an earthly city filled with the spirit of this world, which had fallen away from its God, not recognizing, not comprehending the visitation of the Lord.

 

This is the same Jerusalem which, at the altar of the Lord, killed the prophets and stoned those who were sent to it [cf. Mt. 23:37; Lk. 11:47-51]. And the world, my brothers, even unto this day stands on that same foundation. Perhaps it does not have the same outward appearance. Nowadays they do not crucify people on crosses as they did Peter, nor are people stoned like Stephen. People have become too indifferent towards faith to suffer for its sake.

 

Our path is less rocky and whoever murmurs at the harshness and the evil of this world should know that he is far from suffering unto blood. Nevertheless, now as never before, the words of the Lord contain a sacred truth:

 

"If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world–but I chose you for Myself out of the world–therefore the world hateth you" [Jn. 15:19].

 

It cannot do otherwise.

 

The natural desire of man’s heart is to live at peace with everyone. Many a youthful heart has decided to follow the path of reliance on oneself: ‘I want to get along with everyone; I must not antagonize anyone.’ But even the best-intentioned soon realize that this is impossible. Even the meekest lamb is sure to meet on his way a ferocious wolf that says: ‘You are a thorn in my side.’

 

He who believes must confess his faith. He who desires to serve God in this world must act according to his faith. But every confession inevitably arouses antagonism and every action is sure to meet with hostility. To see that his honest persuasion and striving are not recognized by the world; that his good deeds are everywhere met with opposition; that there where he sows only love, he must reap evil – this is obviously very grievous to the follower of Christ. And he is often ready to ask, together with his Master: ‘What evil has been done to you? Or how have I offended thee?’[1]

 

The truth which you proclaim and which you confess and which the world cannot gainsay, or the righteousness manifest in your life which silently reproaches the world, or the peace of the Lord written on your face which the world cannot forgive, or the heavenly other-worldliness of your behavior which shames and accuses their earthly way of life – this is how you have offended the world. And the world would sooner pardon you of ten vices and crimes which get you on a level with others, than forgive one good deed which elevates you above the rest.

 

Why did Cain murder Abel? Because Cain’s actions were evil and the actions of Abel were good and righteous [cf. 1 Jn. 3:12].

 

Why did the scribes and Pharisees condemn the Savior? Because He was Light and darkness cannot abide the light [cf. Jn 3:16-21].

 

Do not be astonished then, my dear brothers, if the world hates you. It is to be expected. This is nothing unusual.

 

Do not let evil mockings and the vicious hatred of evil doers lead you astray. Go along the straight road with the name of the Lord, through the world which lies in evil and think in yourself : "I must…" and the world cannot do otherwise. It would not be the world if it did not prefer the lies of its errors to truth; egoism to love; its laziness to zeal for God; worldly vanity to righteousness. I am not a disciple of Christ, not His soldier, if I do what is pleasing to everyone, if I go along the broad path together with the crowd instead of keeping to the narrow path where there are few travelers.

 

And so let us step forward in the name of the Lord with the conscious awareness that "I must."

 

 

There is another aspect to this "I must." When the Son of Man told His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and there to suffer much and to die, He was aware that this was necessary even for Himself.

 

Because He was obedient unto death, even death on the cross, God raised Him up and gave Him a name above every name [Phil. 2:8-9].

 

If the Heavenly Father so willed that even His only-begotten Son would drink from the cup of suffering, is it for us sinners who are so imperfect to shun this cup of suffering, this school of suffering, when we are such a long way from perfection and still have so much to learn in order to become worthy disciples of the Great Sufferer?

 

 

Some think: ‘How much more fervently and willingly I would serve my Lord if only my life’s path were easier, if it were not so thickly strewn with sharp rocks.’ In saying this, you yourself obviously do not know who and what you are, what is beneficial for you and what is harmful, what you need and what you do not need. It is true when they say that a man tolerates least of all his own well-being. Days of happiness, days of success, when everything goes according to one’s own wishes – how many times have such days woven a fatal net which captures the soul? What dissoluteness grows on man’s heart, like rust on the blade of an unused battle-sword, or like a garden which becomes overgrown if not tended by the gardener’s shears.

 

Tell me, O Christian, what preserves you from haughtiness which so easily penetrates even the strongest hearts, even the hearts of Christ’s disciples? Is it not the cross of suffering?

 

What humbles the passionate inclinations of the flesh which so quickly and easily spread in times of well being and prosperity, like insects in a swamp on a sunny day?

 

What teaches you to shun this uncleanness? Is it not the rod of misfortunes and sorrows?

 

What arouses you from the sleep of self-assurance, lulled to sleep as we so easily are by times of happiness: Or what is more conducive to a routine of laziness than cloudless, carefree days of prosperity?

 

At such times a storm can only be regarded as a blessing.

 

What will draw you out of the dangerous state of insensibility? Will not sorrows? Will not illness?

 

What tears us away from our worldly attachments, the love for the world and all that is in it? Is it not necessity and misfortunes?

 

Do not trials teach us to take life more seriously? Do not sorrows teach us to be prepared for death?

 

Wild brambles of the heart cannot be uprooted without the pruning shears of the Heavenly Gardener and the good fruit of truth and righteousness will not grow without the rain of tears and sorrows.

 

Nowhere can true obedience be better tested than in the bearing of the bitter cup of sorrows, when one can only say:

 

"…not my will, but Thine be done, Father" [cf. Mt. 26:39; Mk. 14:36; Lk. 22:42].

 

And submission to God’s will is never manifested so clearly as in days and hours of storm when in the midst of menacing and frightful waves the Christian gives himself totally into the hands of Him Whose very hand holds these waves and tempests.

 

When can the steadfastness, courage, and strength of a soldier of Christ be better demonstrated than when trials and obstacles must be turned into deeds, than in the war against evil, or in times of danger? All the noble strength of the Christian soul, of the Christian character shines forth most brightly in times of distress, misfortunes and sufferings. All the miracles of God’s grace are most evident in times when the waters of grief and misfortunes flood our souls and we are forced to recognize our helplessness, our weakness and draw all strength and understanding from Almighty God.

 

 

Or, when God Himself chastises you and calls you to account, are you going to ask "what for" and "why"? Or when the Lords sends you to the school of the cross, will you say: "I have not need of its teachings"? Rather you must say: "I need this; I must go to this school of the cross; I must suffer with Christ in order to be raised with Him" [cf. Rom. 6:3-8; 2 Tim. 2:11-12]. When the Lord chastens me I must think and feel like a child chastened by the loving right hand of the Lord, like a grapevine under the pruning shears of the gardener, like iron beneath the smith’s hammer, like gold in the purifying fire.

 

This "I must" is of God and I must not shrink from it.

 

 

If you, my friends, agree to what I say, here in the house of God, then hold onto this principle when you are visited by grief, and yours becomes the way of the cross. These are basic truths which must be repeated before each bed of sickness and with each student entering the school of sorrows. Pastors know this. He who preached these truths a thousand times to others must repeat them for himself in every situation. Thou, Lord, help us to understand more fully and to plant deep within ourselves this lesson of the divine "I must."

 

 

Even the ancient Greeks and other people bowed before the divine will, before sacred duty, before immutable destiny, man’s dependence upon Providence. The submission of one’s will before this divine "I must," the exact fulfillment of divine decrees – in the wise this was called wisdom, in heroes, it was courage, in the righteous, sanctity.

 

How much more willingly must we Christians fulfill our duty when we know that we are not being led by blind faith, but by the good will of the Father which led even Christ to Golgotha and the Cross, but through Golgotha and the Cross to the glorious Resurrection. And so we must put our faith and trust in Him even when we cannot comprehend the meaning of the guidance. Mankind would have been deprived of so much goodness, such glory and blessedness, if the Savior had harkened to the voice of Peter: ‘defend yourself’.

 

Let each soul bow before the divine "I must;" for the will of God is good, perfect, guiding all men to salvation.

 

And you, O son of dust and corruption, bend your neck under His almighty hand before which your strength is as nothing.

 

Trust to divine wisdom before which your light is but a dark shadow.

 

Give yourself over to the fatherly guidance of Him who desires not enmity and sorrows, but peace and blessedness for all mankind.

 

When you submit your thoughts and your will to His thought and will, then no cup will be for you too bitter, and no cross too heavy. You will be able to withstand it. Such is the will of God.

 

 

If your spouse, children, friends, and everyone you love surround you; if they try to persuade you to have pity on yourself, not to destroy yourself – do not look at their tears, do not listen to their pleadings. Point to the Heavens and say: "Do not burden my heart; thus it is pleasing to God and I must. You are reasoning according to man’s wisdom and not God’s." And if from your own heart there cries out the voice of flesh and blood, and begins to persuade you: "…this cannot happen to you; defend yourself…" – turn away from this counsel of your own heart and follow after that which glorifies God.

 

 

We can more easily bear our afflictions if we keep in mind the example of the Savior. See with what peaceful and holy determination He goes to His Passion. And then follow Him along the path of the cross until with His last breath you hear from His lips the divine words: "It is finished"[Jn. 19:30]. And then ask yourself: are not you inspired by this example? Do you not understand now the commandment: "…he who wishes to follow Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow after Me" [Mt. 16:24; Mk. 8:34; Lk. 9:23]? Do you not share the conviction of that disciple who said: "I cannot wear a crown of roses when my Savior is wearing a crown of thorns"? At the cross of Christ even the most suffering souls among us can find consolation. I have endured, and even now endure much, but my Divine Savior endures still more.

 

 

And if you find this example too lofty, read what the holy Apostle Paul says:

 

"Thrice was I beaten with rods; once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils in the city in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness" [2 Cor. 11:23-30].

 

See what he endured for Christ’s sake, how many times he was beaten, stoned, imprisoned, and then understand how far we are from him.

 

 

Everywhere the cross is the sign of Christianity. A Christian cannot be without his cross. Amen.

 




This homily is in HTML and WORD formats at http://www.orthodox.net/sermons

 

Life of New Hieromartyr John, Archbishop of Riga and Latvia  (http://www.orthodox.net/russiannm/john-archbishop-and-hieromartyr-of-riga.html)

 

ST. JOHN POMMER OF RIGA AND LATVIA, LIFE AND PASSION, by Dr. Ludmilla Keller.

Available at St Nectarios Press: http://www.stnectariospress.com/cgi-bin/shopper.cgi?preadd=action&key=JOR

 

Other locations of this homily:

 

 



[1] from the hymns of Great and Holy Friday of Passion Week

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Venerable Theodora Sep 11/24 2009

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

True Repentance

False Accusation

A sinner helping other sinners not to sin

 


 

Today we remember Venerable Theodora. Like so many lives of the saints, her life is amazing and instructive. It is not the run of the mill “she was holy all her life and did not even cry when she was a child” story, nor even a story about a holy “nun”, although she was one in a manner of speaking.

 

I spoke briefly about her at today’s liturgy. The spectacle of her repentance is to great for me, who knows little about repentance, to even think about, much less talk about, but we must always try to talk about holy things for our own edification and the edification of those around us. As a priest, I am even more responsible for this, even though I feel unable to fully understand the immensity of her podvig. This is the lot of the priest; he is a sinner trying to help other sinners not to sin.

 

The Gospel reading for Venerable Theodora is the same as that for St Mary of Egypt – the passage about the woman caught in adultery whom the Jewish leaders wanted to stone, but after Christ confronted them, they slunk away, leaving her alone and safe. At this point, our Lord spoke to her:

 

“…Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?  (11)  She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” (John 8:10-11)

 

This reading should give you some sort of idea about Theodora. She was an adulteress, having fallen into this sin one time. Her conscience so tormented her that she cut her hair, dressed as a man, and gained admittance to a monastery, in order to offer up repentance to God.

 

This may seem strange on two counts. One may ask why did she pretend to be a man? The reason probably lies in the circumstances of her time – there were many men’s monasteries and fewer for women. These were dangerous times, and women were at great risk living in the wilds without protection. She was able to pass as a man easily because monastic clothing is loose, and the commonness of eunuchs in that society would explain away her beardlessness.

 

Perhaps some may think it was strange that in order to repent from her sin against her husband, she left him secretly. For most people who fall into adultery, this would not be the right option, but Theodora’s soul was of especially fine quality, full of compunction, endurance and courage. The end of her story shows that her decision was the right one, for her and her beloved husband (and of course, a cast-off child that she raised in the fear of God as her own).

 

Although her actions were certainly novel, they are not the amazing and fearfully wonderful part of her story.

 

Theodora lived incognito as the monk Theodore, and her exemplary life attracted the malice of the devil. A loose woman with child accused her of being the father, and she accepted this accusation without complaint, causing her to be expelled from the monastery, with the newborn infant boy to care for.

 

How can we lazy and indolent moderns understand the immensity of her struggles? She not only endured slander and shame without murmuring, but also great danger and suffering, since she lived in the wilderness with few resources. Her temptations were manifold – cold and heat, hunger and demonic visitations. All of this could be ended by her divulging her true identity.

 

After seven years, the abbot, seeing her repentance, allowed her and the child Back in the monastery, and she died two years later. At that time, no doubt when the monks were preparing the her body for burial (we wash the body with holy water with oil), her identity was discovered. Her husband found out about her death, attended her funeral, and ended up living as a monk in her former cell.

 

How inscrutable are God’s ways! It is true, and we say we believe that:

 

“… we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28)

 

How easy it is to say this, and how difficult to completely trust in God and live according to what we say! Venerable Theodora has much to teach us. Her repentance, meekness and endurance are bold accusers of our mediocre lives.

 

 

 

From the Prologue (http://www.westsrbdio.org/prolog/my.html?day=11&month=September):

 

The Venerable Theodora

Theodora was from Alexandria and the wife of a young man. Persuaded by a fortune-teller, she committed adultery with another man and immediately felt the bitter pangs of conscience.

 

She cut her hair, dressed in men’s clothing and entered the Monastery of Octodecatos, under the male name of Theodore. Her labor, fasting, vigilance, humbleness and tearful repentance amazed the entire brotherhood.

 

When a promiscuous young woman slandered her, saying that Theodore had made her pregnant, Theodora did not want to justify herself, but considered this slander as a punishment from God for her earlier sin.

 

Banished from the monastery, she spent seven years living in the forest and wilderness and, in addition, caring for the child of that promiscuous girl. She overcame all diabolical temptations: she refused to worship Satan, refused to accept food from the hands of a soldier, and refused to heed the pleas of her husband to return to him-for all of this was only a diabolical illusion, and as soon as Theodora made the sign of the Cross everything vanished as smoke.

 

After seven years, the abbot received her back into the monastery, where she lived for two more years, and reposed in the Lord.

 

Only then did the monks learn that she was a woman; an angel appeared to the abbot and explained everything to him. Her husband came to the burial, and then remained in the cell of his former wife until his repose.

 

St. Theodora possessed much grace from God: she tamed wild beasts, healed infirmities, and brought forth water from a dry well. Thus, God glorified a true penitent, who with heroic patience repented nine years for just one sin.

 

She reposed in the year 490.

 

 

Another similar story about Theodora

 

 

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

This article is at:

http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2009-09-24_venerable-theodora-true-repentance-false-accusation-a-sinner-helping-other-sinners-not-to-sin.doc

 

 

 

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Prayer of Intercession – A Prayer in Accord. Father Arseny, a Cloud of Witnesses

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Thou hast said by Thy pure lips that “If two or three agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them in by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.”

 

Inscrutable are Thy words, O Lord. Thy love of mankind knows no limits. Thy mercy is without end.

 

We, Thy servants (name those praying), pray in accord for Thy servants (mention names and circumstances).

 

Help us in all our works, today, tomorrow, and on any day, that these may be to Thy glory. But not as we will, but as Thou dost will. Thy will be done. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. (“A prayer in accord”, quoted in “Father Arseny, a Cloud of witnesses”, Pp 213-214)

 

 

Fr Arseny, "A Cloud of Witnesses" book coverThis prayer is quoted by Fr Arseny in one of his talks on prayer, in the second book on his God-pleasing life, “Fr Arseny, a Cloud of Witnesses”.

 

I strongly recommend both books about Fr Arseny. They are definitely in my “top ten” of books about righteous ones. These books will (should) shake up your world. I have felt a great sense of my own complacency and laziness and the sheer weight of superfluous and foolish things I do many times when reading these books. I though I worked pretty hard, and I may work a little bit more that your average bear, but Fr Arseny’s labors, faith and overall disposition make me ashamed. I want to do better, and moreover, seeing the changes in so many people in these books gives me great hope that I can. Isn’t this one of the best reasons to read spiritual literature?

 

If you are looking for inspiring books about the righteous, these two books will fit the bill. Read these books in order to see where you need to change, to have desire to change, and confidence that you can change.

 

The prayer cited above is excellent to use in just about any circumstance. Fr Arseny explained that it was written in the 16th century, but never published in any prayer book. It is not known where it came from, but it was evidently well known by Fr Arseny and those he knew. He detailed how it is used:

 

“As a rule, when tragedies or sorrows arise, several Orthodox Christians agree to read this prayer at the same time every day and ask God for the healing of the sick one, for mercy to the fallen one, for the salvation of a soldier or a captive. The people praying can be in different homes or even in different towns, but they all read the prayer at the same time, whether in the morning, during the day, or in the evening” (Ibid, p 212)

 

A few words of caution. There is no magic here. There is commitment, between like-minded Christians, and this is expressed by attempting to pray the same prayer at the same time. It really does not matter when a person prays; it only matters that he does pray with faith.

 

We could easily do this as a parish. Each day, in our morning prayer, we could pray this prayer, with the line inserted at its proper place: “We, Thy servants (the faithful and friends of St Nicholas), pray in accord for our parish.”

 

There are many other things in the two Fr Arseny books that have absolutely shattered me. I hope to get to them in subsequent posts. We all have a very long way to go to be true Christians in thought, word and deed.

 

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

This article is at: http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2009-09-23_a-prayer-in-accord-father-arseny-a-cloud-of-witnesses.doc & http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2009-09-23_a-prayer-in-accord-father-arseny-a-cloud-of-witnesses.html

 

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Nativity of the Theotokos. Grace beginneth to produce splendid fruit. The all-holy mountain.

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

Sept 8/21 2009


O wondrous miracle! / The well-spring of Life is born of the barren woman, / and grace beginneth to produce splendid fruit. / Be glad, O Joachim, / as thou art the father of the Theotokos! / There is none to compare with thee among mortal parents, O God-pleaser! / For the Maiden who contained God, / the divine dwelling-place, the all-holy mountain, // hath been given to us by thee! (Nativity of the Theotokos, Matins, Praises, Tone I, spec. mel.: "O wondrousmiracle")

 

 

Reader Nicholas and I discussed this sticheron at vigil tonight. We agree that an exegesis of the phrase “and grace beginneth to produce splendid fruit” would be very interesting and edifying.

 

I think that the “grace” mentioned is that which caused a barren woman (St Anna) to be with child, and the “splendid fruit” is the Theotokos, being formed in Anna’s womb.

 

Another interpretation, is, after the “well-spring of life is (has been) born”, the grace of God is working within her (the Theotokos) to prepare her to produce the “splendid fruit”, the God-man, Jesus Christ

 

In either case, the sheer beauty of the thoughts in this sticheron is a balm to the soul.

 

How can we mortals, with our small thoughts understand how the Theotokos could become a “divine dwelling place”? We know this to be true, although we cannot understand it, because we are not holy. It is a Christian dogma that Mary, a mortal woman, gave birth to God, that is, Jesus Christ, God and man. How can this be? We can sing ten thousand hymns and never understand it, but we do not need to completely understand beauty to be profoundly moved and changed by it.

 

The last reference to the Theotokos in this hymn is that she is “the all-holy mountain” This is from the psalms:

 

Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in his holy mountain.  (2) The city of the great King is well planted on the mountains of Sion, with the joy of the whole earth, on the sides of the north. (Psalm 47:1-2, Sept, Brenton)

 

Our services are full of references to the Theotokos as the “all-holy mountain”. Another similar psalm verse that is a “type” of the Theotokos is:

 

The mountain of God is a butter mountain, a curdled mountain, a butter mountain. Why suppose ye that there be other curdled mountains? This is the mountain wherein God is pleased to dwell, yea, for the Lord will dwell therein to the end. (Psalm 67:15-16, Sept, Boston)

 

 

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

This article is at: http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2009-09-21_nativity-of-the-theotokos+grace-beginneth-to-produce-splendid-fruit+all-holy-mountain.html

&

: http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2009-09-21_nativity-of-the-theotokos+grace-beginneth-to-produce-splendid-fruit+all-holy-mountain.doc

 

 

 

New Journal entries, homilies, etc. are on our BLOG: http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime

 

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Sunday Before The Exaltation A promise that only one man can deliver, after the cross. Audio Homily.

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

LISTEN NOW

John 3:13-17 13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.



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The Nativity of the Mother of God

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

Once upon a time (about 2000 years ago), in a land not so far away (Israel), there lived an old man and woman by the name of Joachim and Anna. They had lived their whole life in faith and the fear of God, observing his commandments faithfully. It is said that, being wealthy, they gave 1/3 of their income to God and 1/3 to the poor.

The holy couple had hoped for a child all their life, but were childless, and Anna had passed the age for bearing children. In ancient Israel, children were considered God’s greatest blessing to a couple, and childlessness was considered a great curse. Because of this Joachim was reproached by others, and even turned away by the priest when he traveled to Jerusalem to make his offering to God. But on one such occasion, an angel of God appeared to Joachim and promised him a child. At the same time, another angel appeared to Anna, bringing the same news. This child, they were told, was to be great in the sight of God.

And so it was. Anna soon bore a child, whom she named Mary. In a very real sense, this event marked the beginning of our salvation, for Mary was to be  the Mother of our Savior. Through the grace bestowed on her by God, through her parents’ decision to dedicate her to the Lord, and through her own choice – hour by hour and day by day – to seek only Him, she became a fitting vessel for the Incarnation of God and the salvation of mankind.

On Monday, September 21st, the Church celebrates the Nativity (Birth) of the Most Holy Theotokos. At the Vigil service at 6pm on Sunday, we will sing and read the praises offered to her by the Church’s great hymnographers, joining in the heavenly celebration of our own salvation, and then we will celebrate of the Divine Liturgy at 9am on Monday. This is one of the 12 great feasts of the Church, and we should all make an effort to attend as many of the services as possible, and to spend the day — to the extent possible — in prayer and reflection on the life of the Holy Virgin.

The Church’s great hymnographers write that no words are sufficient to sing the praises of Mary, the Theotokos and Mother of God. But in the spirit of love and thanksgiving, and for our edification, many of them tried anyway, and some of their words can be found here:
http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2009/09/on-nativity-of-theotokos-various-church.html.

The following account of the birth of the Theotokos is taken from the Prologue from Ochrid

(http://www.westsrbdio.org/prolog/prolog.cgi):

The Holy Virgin Mary was born of aged parents, Joachim and Anna. Her father was of the lineage of David, and her mother of the lineage of Aaron. Thus, she was of royal birth by her father, and of priestly birth by her mother. In this, she foreshadowed Him Who would be born of her as King and High Priest. Her parents were quite old and had no children. Because of this they were ashamed before men and humble before God. In their humility they prayed to God with tears, to bring them joy in their old age by giving them a child, as He had once given joy to the aged Abraham and his wife Sarah by giving them Isaac. The Almighty and All-seeing God rewarded them with a joy that surpassed all their expectations and all their most beautiful dreams. For He gave them not just a daughter, but the Mother of God. He illumined them not only with temporal joy, but with eternal joy as well. God gave them just one daughter, and she would later give them just one grandson-but what a daughter and what a Grandson! Mary, Full of grace, Blessed among women, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Altar of the Living God, the Table of the Heavenly Bread, the Ark of God’s Holiness, the Tree of the Sweetest Fruit, the Glory of the race of man, the Praise of womanhood, the Fount of virginity and purity-this was the daughter given by God to Joachim and Anna. She was born in Nazareth, and at the age of three, was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem. In her young womanhood she returned again to Nazareth, and shortly thereafter heard the Annunciation of the Holy Archangel Gabriel concerning the birth of the Son of God, the Savior of the world, from her most-pure virgin body.

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