Archive for the ‘Great Lent’ Category

Lazarus Saturday I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. New Audio Homily.

Friday, April 15th, 2011

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Synopsis: We cannot exhaust all the theological profundity of the story of the resurrection of Lazarus. This short homily after Presanctified liturgy, 3 days before Lazarus Saturday, focuses on just one thing: Martha's interaction with Jesus and the reality that is difficult to fully believe UNLESS it is lived: "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live"

More homilies on the Saturday of Lazarus are HERE


If the "LISTEN NOW" link does not work, copy this URL into your browser: http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/great-lent-week-06-saturday_2011-04-13+lazarus-saturday+i-am-the-resurrection-and-the-life-he-that-believeth-in-me-though-he-were-dead-yet-shall-he-live_john11-1-45.m3u

If this file does not work for you, try the direct link to the actual mp3 file:http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/great-lent-week-06-saturday_2011-04-13+lazarus-saturday+i-am-the-resurrection-and-the-life-he-that-believeth-in-me-though-he-were-dead-yet-shall-he-live_john11-1-45.mp3


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Lazarus Saturday. The Resurrection applies to us NOW.

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Lazarus Saturday

The Resurrection applies to us NOW.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Today we look toward the resurrection, and we look also set our eyes on the  resurrection we will celebrate with great fervor and zeal and festivity in only another week.  But today we look at our resurrection, very explicitly because Lazarus was a man like us and was dead and already decomposing, and our Lord raised him from the dead. 

 

Imagine what he felt.  He was in Hades, and he heard the voice of God, all the way in Hades, and He brought him back in an instant, in a flash.  He knew the power of God, and those around saw that power, as Jesus, with a loud voice said, "Lazarus, come forth."  And the same voice calls us — the same voice calls us to come forth.  The same voice says, "I am the resurrection.  If you believe in Me you will have eternal life."  We must believe.  We must understand.  We must also live according to the way Christ is, and then you will understand what it means to be a Christian. 

 

Did you see the two ways that the sisters dealt with the death of their brother?  One stayed still in the house, and one ran out to Jesus.  They both believed,  but their faith was weak, and they'd never heard of a man who was four days dead being raised from the dead. 

 

They'd heard of a person who had died that day being raised from the dead.  Christ had done it twice.[1]  They knew of Saint Elias who had raised someone from the dead[2], and of the prophet Elisha[3], but in both of those cases the man was dead one day. 

 

Now a man had been dead four days, and it was beyond their understanding how he could be raised from the dead.  They thought of a far-off time when there would be the resurrection of all things.  They didn't think really of how it applied to then and now. 

 

The resurrection applies to us now brothers and sisters.  Not later — now.  It changes us now, makes us able to live now.  It comforts us now.  It burns away our passions and our sins now.  "The kingdom of God is within you,"[4] Christ said.  The Resurrection and the Life lives within us now

 

We must understand this.  We must live this. 

 

And we must approach Christ in these two ways that his beloved friends approached him.  Mary sat still in the house: we must pray, we must develop within ourselves great love, great fervor, and unshakable belief.  We must also be active in our faith.  We must go to Christ.  We must beg Him for the things we need. And we must live according to the way He has told us to live.  He has told us, live within the ark of the church, to fast, to pray, to partake of all the things that the church has given us. This is the activity that Martha points to. 

 

Both are necessary.  Neither one is enough to save a soul.  We must have fervent belief, and we must live within that belief. 

 

Slightly more than seven days from now — no, actually it will be Friday evening — I will read a sermon of Saint Epiphanius[5] in which he speaks of when Jesus Christ, the resurrection and the life, when down into Hades.  We have a taste of that today.  We should meditate very carefully, and think what it would be like to be in the depths of Hades, to be in the depths of hopelessness, to see our flesh and see how weak it is, and for God to say, "Come forth", and break everything that is holding us fast.  A Christian must really understand this.  This is what the resurrection means for us.  It is how we reach our perfection. 

 

It is very painful.  It is painful for me, and I tell you, it might sound strange, but I hope and I pray that it is painful for you.  I hope that you see the uselessness of so much in what we call this life, that you see the depravity, both in yourself and outside of yourself, and that you long to be made whole, to be made complete.  A Christian must be like that.  He must be like a stranger in a strange land, like Moses.  He must consider himself to only be passing through on the way to the heavenly city, to Zion, to Jerusalem, to perfection. 

 

This is what we are going after, you know.  And we see that God can perfect.  He didn’t just raise Himself from the dead; He raised us from the dead.  This must be understood.  And it's not just something you read in a book and understand.  It's not just a point of doctrine or a question to be answered.  It's in the heart.  If you know that God raised you from the dead, you won't want to do anything but to become like Him, and you will know that you can become like Him.  You have been promised that you can become like Him.  This is the meaning of the resurrection. 

 

This is why God raised Lazarus from the dead.  To show us the power of the resurrection in us, because we're weak.  He knows.  We might say, "He did it, but he is God. So how does that apply to me?"  Just like Mary and Martha, I know that some day we'll be raised from the dead in the resurrection, but they didn't apply it to their life now. 

 

This is why Lazarus was raised from the dead.  And it's also why Jesus waited.  Not only so Lazarus would die. He certainly, as God, could have arranged that He was near the town, but He was far away from the town and after He was told about Lazarus, He went slowly to Bethany and took four days. He waited so that He could teach us something that is very important: that we must wait, we must be patient, we must have faith even when it appears that things are not as we would wish them to be, and when they don’t change. Jesus Christ can take a man, stinking, from the grave, after four days, and raise him from the dead, He can raise us. 

 

But don't believe in the resurrection later; believe in the resurrection nowLive in that belief.  Try to change because of that belief.  Believe that you can be changed. 

 

I don't care what it is that assails you.  God can heal you.  Not later, but now.  Don't believe in the resurrection — later.  Believe in the resurrection and the life, Who is with us, now. 

 

We're about to partake of His holy body and blood for our sustenance, that medicine of immortality.  Our immortality, you know, begins with our baptism.  And we are just increasingly fulfilling it every day that we live. 

 

Live in the light of the resurrection. Believe it.  Believe that you will change.  And when you hear God's voice saying, "Come forth" at the resurrection, you will be filled with joy.  May God help you.

 

 

The Gospel for the Raising of Lazarus

John 11:1-45

 

Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. {2} (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) {3} Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. {4} When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. {5} Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. {6} When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was. {7} Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again. {8} His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again? {9} Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. {10} But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him. {11} These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. {12} Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. {13} Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. {14} Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. {15} And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him. {16} Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellowdisciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him. {17} Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already. {18} Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off: {19} And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. {20} Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house. {21} Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. {22} But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. {23} Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. {24} Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. {25} Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: {26} And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? {27} She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world. {28} And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee. {29} As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him. {30} Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him. {31} The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there. {32} Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. {33} When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, {34} And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. {35} Jesus wept. {36} Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! {37} And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died? {38} Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. {39} Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days. {40} Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God? {41} Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. {42} And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. {43} And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. {44} And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go. {45} Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him.

 

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.    

 

This and other Orthodox materials are available in from:

St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

·         Mailing Address: Box 37, McKinney, TX 75070

·         Rectory Phone: 972/529-2754

·         Email: seraphim@orthodox.net

·         Web Page: http://www.orthodox.net

·         Redeeming the Time Blog: http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime/

 

This homily is at:

http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/great-lent-week-06-saturday_2009+lazarus-saturday+the-resurrection-applies-to-us-now_john11-1-45.html

http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/great-lent-week-06-saturday_2009+lazarus-saturday+the-resurrection-applies-to-us-now_john11-1-45.doc

 

http://www/.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime

Archive of commentaries: http://www.orthodox.net/scripture

Archive of homilies: http://www.orthodox.net/sermons

 

To receive regular mailings of sermons, and scriptural and services commentary and other things throughout the church year, read our blog “Redeeming the Time” (http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime). You may also subscribe to the RSS Feed or receive its postings by email.

 

Our parish Email list (http://groups.google.com/group/saint-nicholas-orthodox-church) also has all the latest postings from our website and blog; everyone is welcome to join.

 

All rights reserved.  Please use this material in any edifying reason. We ask that you contact St. Nicholas if you wish to distribute it in any way.  We grant permission to post this text, if completely intact only, including this paragraph and the URL of the text, to any electronic mailing list, church bulletin, web page or blog.

 

 

 

 



[1] See Luke 7:11-15 (the raising of the son of the widow of Nain), and the raising of the daughter of the ruler of the Synagogue, Jairus (Mark 5:22-43 and Luke 8:41-56)

[2] Elias raised the son of the widow of Sarephta,  (3 Kings 17:17-24 Septuagint., 1 Kings 17:17-24 Hebrew version)

[3] Elisha raised the son of the Shunammite women (who he had prophesied the barren woman would bear, and who is held to be Jonah the prophet) (4 Kings 4:17-37 Sept, AKA 2 Kings 4:18-37 Heb.)

[4] Luke 17:21

[5] A sermon is often given before the tomb after the Lamentations of Good Friday. It is our custom to speak extemporaneously, and then for a smaller group to gather before the tomb to hear the half hour sermon of St Epiphanius read.

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Mary of Egypt Shows Us How to Repent How to Cultivate a Repentant Spirit. Audio, HTML, Doc

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Sunday of St Mary of Egypt. Fifth Sunday of Great Lent

2011

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 

 

St. Zosima and St. Mary of Egypt. From the iconostasis of the side-church of St. Mary of Egypt, Sretensky Monastery, Moscow
St. Zosima and St. Mary of Egypt. From the iconostasis of the side-church of St. Mary of Egypt, Sretensky Monastery, Moscow

This Sunday, the Fifth of Great Lent, we celebrate Saint Mary of Egypt, and she perhaps is the quintessential example of repentance. We read her life this week, a truly, a magnificent and wonderful life. It is so wonderful that Saint Sophronius actually comments, parenthetically, that there will be those who cannot believe that this really happened because of the weakness of their flesh[1].

What was St. Mary’s repentance? What did it consist of? It is the same for us as for her. It is when our conscience changes, when our conscience convicts of us something.

 

Now in her case, of course, it was a great shift. She had gone from leading an incredibly heedless life to recognizing her impurity and going deeply into the desert. She made a complete shift in her life. We make little micro shifts and we go back and forth.

Let us see what the Church says about her repentance. Let us feel it in our heart. We just sang it in the Vespers.

 

“The pollution of past sins prevented thee from entering the church to see the elevation of the Holy Cross, but then thy conscience and the awareness of thine actions turned thee, 0 wise in God, to a better way of life, and having looked upon the icon of the blessed Maid of God, thou has condemned all thy previous transgressions, 0 Mother worthy of all praise, and so has gone with boldness to venerate the Precious Cross.”

So it says that “thy conscience and the awareness of thine actions turned thee.”

 

Now of course she was venerating the Most Holy Cross, the Precious Cross that was in Jerusalem. It was in a larger piece at that time. And she was changed. But it wasn’t the Cross that changed her. It wasn’t the Mother of God that changed her. It was her repentance and her turning to God that changed her.

And this change actually took a long time. If you read her life carefully, it took 17 years[2] from the time of her repentance for her to no longer be plagued with carnal thoughts and imaginings and drinking songs and desire for wine and for meat and for all of the things that she had before. It took her 17 years to be cleansed of those desires, and she wasn’t indulging in any of them; she was in the desert and seeing no people whatsoever, eating almost nothing, being burned by the sun and frozen by the frost. And yet it took 17 years, which included such things as: lying on the ground for a day and a night, begging the Lord to remove from her these thoughts of songs and these desires and these carnal imaginings and, as the life says, a desire for embraces.

But the pivotal thing was her conscience turned. And after her repentance she still thought of herself as dust and ashes and as sinful Mary.

So this gives us an indication, brothers and sisters, of how we should live.

 

What we have to do is this: We have to cultivate in ourselves the knowledge of what’s wrong with us, that there are things that we just don’t do right, and there are things we do that are wrong. We must cultivate this idea in ourselves. The world doesn’t like us to do this because it’s just too hard to do, so the world labels it as sometimes poor self-esteem or as not having faith.

Saint Mary had great faith such that when she prayed she was above the ground a forearm’s length. But she also was well aware of her sinful life and never forgot it, not a day, not a moment.

It’s said of Saint Peter the Apostle that he desired, when he was going to be crucified he asked to be crucified upside down because he didn’t feel he was worthy to be crucified in the same way that his Lord was crucified. This is the same Peter, of course, who denied the Lord three times before His
crucifixion during His trial. He never forgot that. Even though the Lord cleansed him of that sin and restored him and told him to “feed My lambs, feed My sheep”[3]. And Peter of course did all those things, fed the lambs and fed the sheep and became a great apostle. But he never forgot that sin.
 

Jude, one of the sons of Joseph the Betrothed, and an apostle, never forgot that he sinned against the Lord when Joseph wanted to divide up his inheritance and divide it four ways for four sons, Ruben and Jude and James and Jesus; and Jude didn’t want to do it. He said our Lord was not Joseph’s son. So he wanted to divide it three ways. So James (he was one of the seventy Apostles, and the first bishop of Jerusalem) offered to have his portion be given to the Lord. Jude repented of that sin many times over, and never forgot it. He referred to himself as Jude the brother of James[4], even though he was one of the twelve apostles, and his brother was not.

 

This is the kind of feeling we should have to cultivate about ourselves, brothers and sisters: Humility,  so that our conscience can turn.
 

Now in our case our conscience is going to have to turn every day, so we must cultivate it with silence, with prayer, with fasting, with reading of the Holy Scriptures and holy things, with long services.

 

Short services don’t cut it, really. Oh, they’re helpful, but long services really help. And if you don’t know this, take me on my word and try it. It will be hard. Sometimes it will be boring. Sometimes you will think, ‘Wow, I’m just thinking about everything but the services.’ But if you go to long services for a long time, it really changes you, it kind of warms you, and it shapes you.

What things are there that kill our conscience? Well, how about responding to five hundred text messages a day on your smart phone? I think we should call them stupid phones. I’m not so sure this technology is good for our souls. Oh, yes, it can be used in a good way. But now we are flooded by stuff all the time. How about watching a lot of TV? How about reading magazines that are frivolous or even sinful? How about gossip, pride and indulgence of our desires? The list is very long, actually, of the things that kill the conscience, compared to the list of things that enable the conscience to turn. It’s really a very small list of things that enables the conscience to be changed and a long list that can kill the conscience.

We must cultivate in ourselves, brothers and sisters, all things that can turn our conscience and make us aware.

Saint Mary of Egypt lived 17 years of heedless sin. It never crossed her mind during that time that she was sinning. She just did it. She did terrible things. She edited her story, she told Abba Zosimas, because she just couldn’t bear to tell him all the things that she had done. But she was not ashamed of any of them until her time of repentance, and then she had changed so magnificently.
 

Let me read you one thing also that applies to this from matins. I read things from matins as often as possible in this sermon[5] because, to be honest, the majority of my flock never hears matins, and I think that it’s the most important service that you can attend in the week. Part of that is because it comes in our usage after Vespers so that there is a time, of softening, getting you ready for deeper prayer[6]. It is very hard to pray walking through the door. Also, the content of matins is so beautifully, intricately theological. But it’s not just theological; there’s a warmth to the prayers of Matins that is truly amazing. Whether it is said in the morning (unless it is abbreviated almost beyond recognition) or in the evening, it does not matter. Truly, this is a service that I lament that so much of my flock does not experience. It’s very, very important.

The following is from one of the sessional hymns during the canon, after the third ode.

 

“I am held fast in the mire of sin, and there is no strength or courage in me; the tempest of my trespasses has overwhelmed me. Look upon me, 0 Virgin, I entreat Thee, for thou has borne the Word Who alone loves mankind. Deliver me from every sin, from all the passions that destroy my soul, and from every ill inflicted by the enemy, that I may sing with joy. Intercede with thy Son and God, 0 Undefiled, that remission of transgressions may been given to those who in faith take refuge beneath thy protection.”

“I am held fast in the mire of sin.” That’s what Saint Mary tells about herself when she repented. And for those 17 years that she was held fast in that mire, she felt it deeply. And after she was delivered from it and lived more like an angel than a human being, she still remembered.

We must cultivate in ourselves this feeling. Ask yourself, do you feel this about yourself? Do you really feel deeply that you are held fast in the mire of sin, that there is no strength in you, or courage in you? This is not to feel absolutely defeated, this is not to say I can’t accomplish anything. This is to say I can’t accomplish anything without help. We must have this humility about ourselves.

If we consider ourselves to be held fast in the mire of  sin – it’s true whether you believe it or not – then we will make progress, because we will beg the Lord for help. We will beg the most Holy Theotokos to pray for us. We will beg our Guardian Angel to guard and keep us and the saints to intercede for us, and we will change. And when God whispers to us in those words that cannot be uttered from the Holy Spirit[7], we will react to them, we will understand and then and we will change.

 

But we must have the right disposition. And the right disposition is to say I am a terrible sinners, the worst of all sinners and yet God will save me by His mercy. We must cultivate this feeling. Saint Mary had it, and we should be in awe of her repentance. But not believe for a moment that her repentance is only a unique experience, a unique event not to be repeated. No, it should be repeated every day, with us too. God calls us to this level of repentance also.
 

So cultivate this idea in your heart, brothers and sisters.

 

It’s not easy to do. Like I said, there are things you can do. Prayer and fasting, giving yourself more time for prayer, the Jesus prayer, is pretty much essential. Things you shouldn’t do: Watching television and foolish books and gossip and all the rest.

But primarily, with all these things that you should do and shouldn’t do, you must put your trust in God completely, and that’s what Saint Mary did and that’s what all the saints did. And the reason we are mediocre is because we don’t do this completely.

 

So may God help us to completely trust in God.
 

“The blessing of the Lord be upon you through His grace and love for mankind, always now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”[8]

 

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2011.    

 

This and other Orthodox materials are available in from:

St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

·         Mailing Address: Box 37, McKinney, TX 75070

·         Rectory Phone: 972/529-2754

·         Email: seraphim@orthodox.net

·         Web Page: http://www.orthodox.net

·         Redeeming the Time Blog: http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime/

 

This homily is at:

http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/great-lent-sunday-05_2011-04-09+mary-of-egypt-shows-us-how-to-repent+how-to-cultivate-a-repentanct-spirit.doc

http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/great-lent-sunday-05_2011-04-09+mary-of-egypt-shows-us-how-to-repent+how-to-cultivate-a-repentanct-spirit.html

AUDIO: http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/great-lent-sunday-05_2011-04-09+mary-of-egypt-shows-us-how-to-repent+how-to-cultivate-a-repentanct-spirit.mp3

 

http://www/.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime

Archive of commentaries: http://www.orthodox.net/scripture

Archive of homilies: http://www.orthodox.net/sermons

 

To receive regular mailings of sermons, and scriptural and services commentary and other things throughout the church year, read our blog “Redeeming the Time” (http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime). You may also subscribe to the RSS Feed or receive its postings by email.

 

Our parish Email list (http://groups.google.com/group/saint-nicholas-orthodox-church) also has all the latest postings from our website and blog; everyone is welcome to join.

 

All rights reserved.  Please use this material in any edifying reason. We ask that you contact St. Nicholas if you wish to distribute it in any way.  We grant permission to post this text, if completely intact only, including this paragraph and the URL of the text, to any electronic mailing list, church bulletin, web page or blog.

 

 

 

 



[1]And let no one think (continues St. Sophronius) that I have had the audacity to write untruth or doubt this great marvel –may I never lie about holy things! If there do happen to be people who, after reading this record, do not believe it, may the Lord have mercy on them because, reflecting on the weakness of human nature, they consider impossible these wonderful things accomplished by holy people.” (From the Life of St Mary of Egypt, read on the fifth Thursday of Great Lent – http://www.orthodox.net/saints/mary-of-egypt.html )

 

[3] John 21:15-17 “So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I have affection for thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.  (16)  He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I have affection for thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.  (17)  He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, hast thou affection for me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, hast thou affection for me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I have affection for thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

 

 

[4] For example: “Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called:  (2)  Mercy unto you, and peace, and love, be multiplied.” (Jude 1:1-2 KJV)

[5] It is our custom at St Nicholas, as often as possible to give a short homily between Vespers and Matins, during our vigil service for Saturday night. Some people leave after Vespers and never hear the matins service.

[6] Matins is just as effective is served IN ITS ENTIRETY in the morning, before liturgy. Morning is a wonderful time to pray, when our thoughts are more collected. A very short matins, with much of the “meat” taken out of it, served in the morning, is not so useful. We would prosper much more as a people if this unfortunate practice, of serving services that have the name, but not the content that is so beneficial to the soul.

[7] Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

[8] This is the last blessing said by the priest at the end of Vespers, just prior to the beginning of the Six Psalms of Matins.

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Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. St Mary of Egypt.

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

St Mary of Egypt and St Zosimas - Coptic iconLISTEN NOW

Synopsis:The Gospel for St Mary of Egypt presents a "riddle" to us: "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.". The Lord tells us she is forgiven because of her love! What does this mean? It is very important to understand. We see in both Gospels 3 examples of what to do or not do to nurture this kind of love.

More homilies on the 5th Sunday of Great Lent are HERE

Luke 7:36-50 36 And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee's house, and sat down to meat. 37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, 38 And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. 40 And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. 41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. 42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? 43 Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. 44 And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. 45 Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. 48 And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. 49 And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? 50 And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.


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Mary Of Egypt Shows Us How To Repent. How To Cultivate A Repentant Spirit.

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

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Synopsis: In our continuing series of small homilies between Vespers and matins, based upon the texts of the services, we examine the repentance of St Mary of Egypt, and see how we can emulate it. Her repentance was not a one time, unique event! We must find ways to cultivate a repentant spirit; the hymns discussed today give us much to do to accomplish this.
 
"The pollution of past sins prevented thee from entering the church to see the elevation of the Holy Cross; but then thy conscience and the awareness of thine actions turned thee, O wise in God, to a better way of life. And, having looked upon the ikon of the blessed Maid of God, thou hast condemned all thy previous transgressions, O Mother worthy of all praise, and so hast gone with boldness to venerate the precious cross" (5th Sunday of Lent, Sat Vespers, Lord I have cried)
 
"I am held fast in the mire of sin, and there is no strength or courage in me; the tempests of my trespasses hast overwhelmed me. Look upon me, O Virgin, I entreat thee, for thou hast borne the Word who alone loves mankind. Deliver me from every sin, from all the passions that destroy my soul, and from every ill inflicted by the enemy, that I may sing with joy; Intercede with thy Son and God, O undefiled, that remission of transgressions may be given to those who in faith take refuge beneath thy protections." (5th Sunday of Great Lent, Matins, Sessional Hymn after the 3rd Ode)

More homilies on the 5th Sunday of Great Lent are HERE


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Life of St Mary of Egypt – By the numbers

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011


St Mary of Egypt http://www.orthodox.net/ikons/mary-of-egypt-03.jpg0.

·         St Mary had never read any books; she was illiterate. She evidently never went to church after her baptism, until the day of her repentance.

I never learned from books. I have never even heard anyone who sang and read from them. But the word of God which is alive and active, by itself teaches a man knowledge.

1.

·         St Mary walked across the Jordan one time (each way); during the second meeting with Abba Zosimas when he brought her the Holy Mysteries.

“And as he was pondering thus he saw the holy woman appear and stand on the other side of the river. Zosimas got up rejoicing and glorifying and thanking God. And again the thought came to him that she could not cross the Jordan. Then he saw that she made the sign of the Cross over the waters of the Jordan (and the night was a moonlight one, as he related afterwards) and then she at once stepped on to the waters and began walking across the surface towards him.”

·         Abba Zosimas was the only human being she saw after she went into the desert.

"Believe me, I have not seen a human face ever since I crossed the Jordan, except yours today. I have not seen a beast or a living being ever since I came into the desert.”

·         St Mary’s life is the only one that is appointed to be read in a service in church.

2.

·         Abba Zosimas saw St Mary alive 2 times, and traveled into the desert 2 times in the story. He met her the first year after a twenty days journey into the desert, and the second year he was ill and unable to travel, and met her near the monastery, and the third year he traveled to the same place he had met her on his first journey, and found her dead with instructions to bury her.

·        
St Mary received the holy mysteries after her repentance just two times; on the day of her repentance, and during the second meeting with Abba Zosimas.

Running on I passed the gates and still weeping went on my journey. Those I met I asked the way, and after walking for the rest of that day (I think it was nine o'clock when I saw the Cross) I at length reached at sunset the Church of St. John the Baptist which stood on the banks of the Jordan. After praying in the temple, I went down to the Jordan and rinsed my face and hands in its holy waters. I partook of the holy and life-giving Mysteries in the Church of the Forerunner and ate half of one of my loaves.

·         The Life of St Mary is read in two parts during matins for the 5th Thursday of Great Lent, when the Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete is also sung in its entirety.

 

St Mary of Egypt with St Zosimas http://www.orthodox.net/ikons/mary-of-egypt-02.jpg3.

·         The third time Abba Zosimas saw St Mary, she was dead, and had written him a message to bury her.

·         St Mary most likely was in an Orthodox Church only three times in her life – at her baptism, when she venerated the Holy Cross, and when she received Holy Communion at the Monastery on the Jordan.
 

·         When St Mary left the church of the resurrection, she was given three coins, with which she bought loaves; this would be the only cooked food she would eat until she met Abba Zosimas for the last time.

With these words I left the porch of the church and set off on my journey. As I was leaving the church a stranger glanced at me and gave me three coins, saying: `Sister, take these.'  And, taking the money, I bought three loaves and took them with me on my journey, as a blessed gift.

·         There are three Saints involved in the life of St Mary: St Sophronius, who wrote it down, and of course, Abba Zosimas and St Mary.

 

4.

·         St Mary attempted to enter the church of the resurrection unsuccessfully 3 or 4 times.

The holy day of the Exaltation of the Cross dawned while I was still flying about — hunting for youths. At daybreak I saw that everyone was hurrying to the church, so I ran with the rest. When the hour for the holy elevation approached, I was trying to make my way in with the crowd which was struggling to get through the church doors. I ad at last squeezed through with great difficulty almost to the entrance of the temple, from which the life-giving Tree of the Cross was being shown to the people. But when I trod on the doorstep which everyone passed, I was stopped by some force which prevented by entering. Meanwhile I was brushed aside by the crowd and found myself standing alone in the porch. Thinking that this had happened because of my woman's weakness, I again began to work my way into the crowd, trying to elbow myself forward. But in vain I struggled. Again my feet trod on the doorstep over which others were entering the church without encountering any obstacle. I alone seemed to remain unaccepted by the church. It was as if there was a detachment of soldiers standing there to oppose my entrance. Once again I was excluded by the same mighty force and again I stood in the porch. Having repeated my attempt three or four times, at last I felt exhausted and had no more strength to push and to be pushed, so I went aside and stood in a corner of the porch.

St Mary of Egypt with St Zosimas. Coptic Icon. http://www.orthodox.net/ikons/mary-of-egypt-coptic.jpg5.

·         The Life of St Mary is read in two parts during matins for the 5th Thursday of Great Lent.

·         The fifth time St Mary attempted to enter the church, she was able to, because of the intercession of the Mother of God.

And only then with great difficulty it began to dawn on me, and I began to understand the reason why I was prevented from being admitted to see the life-giving Cross. The word of salvation gently touched the eyes of my heart and revealed to me that it was my unclean life which barred the entrance to me. I began to weep and lament and beat my breast, and to sigh from the depths of my heart. And so I stood weeping when I saw above me the icon of the most holy Mother of God. And turning to her my bodily and spiritual eyes I said:

`O Lady, Mother of God, who gave birth in the flesh to God the Word, I know, O how well I know, that it is no honor or praise to thee when one so impure and depraved as I look up to thy icon, O ever-virgin, who didst keep thy body and soul in purity. Rightly do I inspire hatred and disgust before thy virginal purity. But I have heard that God Who was born of thee became man on purpose to call sinners to repentance. Then help me, for I have no other help. Order the entrance of the church to be opened to me. Allow me to see the venerable Tree on which He Who was born of thee suffered in the flesh and on which He shed His holy Blood for the redemption of sinners an for me, unworthy as I am. Be my faithful witness before thy son that I will never again defile my body by the impurity of fornication, but as soon as I have seen the Tree of the Cross I will renounce the world and its temptations and will go wherever thou wilt lead me.' Thus I spoke and as if acquiring some hope in firm faith and feeling some confidence in the mercy of the Mother of God, I left the place where I stood praying. And I went again and mingled with the crowd that was pushing its way into the temple. And no one seemed to thwart me, no one hindered my entering the church.”

 

A “few years”

·         St Mary ate the bread she brought into the desert very slowly.

"I had two and a half loaves when I crossed the Jordan. Soon they dried up and became hard as rock. Eating a little I gradually finished them after a few years."

St Mary of Egypt. http://www.orthodox.net/ikons/mary-of-egypt-01.jpg

6.

·         Saint Zosimas met St Mary as he was singing the Sixth Hour.

He had already walked for 20 days and when the 6th hour came he stopped and, turning to the East, he began to sing the sixth Hour and recite the customary prayers. He used to break his journey thus at fixed hours of the day to rest a little, to chant psalms standing and to pray on bent knees.

“And as he sang thus without turning his eyes from the heavens, he suddenly saw to the right of the hillock on which he stood the semblance of a human body”

9.

·         St Mary saw the cross at nine in the morning, probably at matins.

(I think it was nine o'clock when I saw the Cross)

 

12.

·         St Mary lost her virginity and began her life of debauchery at 12 years old.

My native land, holy father, was Egypt. Already during the lifetime of my parents, when I was twelve years old, I renounced their love and went to Alexandria. I am ashamed to recall how there I at first ruined my maidenhood and then unrestrainedly and insatiably gave myself up to sensuality It is more becoming to speak of this briefly, so that you may just know my passion and my lechery.

 

17.

·         St Mary lived profligate life in Alexandria for 17 years.

“For about seventeen years, forgive me, I lived like that. I was like a fire of public debauch.

·         St Mary struggled in the desert against her profligate passions for seventeen years before she felt great relief. We should remember this regarding our struggles. Relief will happen if we endure and are patient.

"Believe me, Abba, seventeen years I passed in this desert fighting wild beasts — mad desires and passions. When I was about to partake of food, I used to begin to regret the meat and fish which of which I had so much in Egypt. I regretted also not having wine which I loved so much. for I drank a lot of wine when I lived in the world, while here I had not even water. I used to burn and succumb with thirst. The mad desire for profligate songs also entered me and confused me greatly, edging me on to sing satanic songs which I had learned once. But when such desires entered me I struck myself on the breast and reminded myself of the vow which I had made, when going into the desert. In my thoughts I returned to the icon of the Mother of God which had received me and to her I cried in prayer. I implored her to chase away the thoughts to which my miserable soul was succumbing. And after weeping for long and beating my breast I used to see light at last which seemed to shine on me from everywhere. And after the violent storm, lasting calm descended.

And how can I tell you about the thoughts which urged me on to fornication, how can I express them to you, Abba? A fire was kindled in my miserable heart which seemed to burn me up completely and to awake in me a thirst for embraces. As soon as this craving came to me, I flung myself on the earth and watered it with my tears, as if I saw before me my witness, who had appeared to me in my disobedience, and who seemed to threaten punishment for the crime. And I did not rise from the ground (sometimes I lay thus prostrate for a day and a night) until a calm and sweet light descended and enlightened me and chased away the thoughts that possessed me. But always I turned to the eyes of my mind to my Protectress, asking her to extend help to one who was sinking fast in the waves of the desert. And I always had her as my Helper and the Accepter of my repentance. And thus I lived for seventeen years amid constant dangers. And since then even till now the Mother of God helps me in everything and leads me as it were by the hand."

 

20.

·         Abba Zosimas met Mary for the first time on his 20th day of travel in the wilderness  (see entry for 79)

 

42.

·         The brothers of the Monastery by the Jordan would spend the whole of the fast, 42  full days, when the would go into the desert in the evening of Forgiveness Sunday and arrive back to the Monastery on Palm Sunday (Lent is 6 full weeks of seven days)

There was a rule in that monastery which was the reason why God brought Zosimas there. At the beginning of the Great Fast [on Forgiveness Sunday] the priest celebrated the holy Liturgy and all partook of the holy body and blood of Christ. After the Liturgy they went to the refectory and would eat a little Lenten food.

Then all gathered in church, and after praying earnestly with prostrations, the elders kissed one another and asked forgiveness. And each made a prostration to the abbot and asked his blessing and prayers for the struggle that lay before them. After this, the gates of the monastery were thrown open, and singing, "The Lord is my light and my Savior; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defender of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 26:1) and the rest of that psalm, all went out into the desert and crossed the River Jordan. Only one or two brothers were left in the monastery, not to guard the property (for there was nothing to rob), but so as not to leave the church without Divine Service. Each took with him as much as he could or wanted in the way of food, according to the needs of his body: one would take a little bread, another some figs, another dates or wheat soaked in water. And some took nothing but their own body covered with rags and fed when nature forced them to it on the plants that grew in the desert.

After crossing the Jordan, they all scattered far and wide in different directions. And this was the rule of life they had, and which they all observed — neither to talk to one another, nor to know how each one lived and fasted. If they did happen to catch sight of one another, they went to another part of the country, living alone and always singing to God, and at a definite time eating a very small quantity of food. In this way they spent the whole of the fast and used to return to the monastery a week before the Resurrection of Christ, on Palm Sunday. Each one returned having his own conscience as the witness of his labor, and no one asked another how he had spent his time in the desert. Such were rules of the monastery. Everyone of them whilst in the desert struggled with himself before the Judge of the struggle — God — not seeking to please men and fast before the eyes of all. For what is done for the sake of men, to win praise and honor, is not only useless to the one who does it but sometimes the cause of great punishment.

 

47.

·         St Mary spent 47 years in the desert after her repentance.

 “Zosimas asked her:  "How many years have gone by since you began to live in this desert?" She replied: "Forty-seven years have already gone by, I think, since I left the holy city."

 

53.

·         At the age of 53, Abba Zosimas left the Monastery of his repentance, and traveled to Palestine, to a monastery by the river Jordan. 

Zosimas used to relate how, as soon as he was taken from his mother's breast, he was handed over to the monastery where he went through his training as an ascetic till he reached the age of 53. After that, he began to be tormented with the thought that he was perfect in everything and needed no instruction from anyone, saying to himself mentally, "Is there a monk on earth who can be of use to me and show me a kind of asceticism that I have not accomplished? Is there a man to be found in the desert who has surpassed me?"

Thus thought the elder, when suddenly an angel appeared to him and said:

"Zosimas, valiantly have you struggled, as far as this is within the power of man, valiantly have you gone through the ascetic course. But there is no man who has attained perfection. Before you lay unknown struggles greater than those you have already accomplished. That you may know how many other ways lead to salvation, leave your native land like the renowned patriarch Abraham and go to the monastery by the River Jordan."

 

76.

·         St Mary was 76 years old when she met Zosimas (She began her life of debauchery at 12 years, lived in Alexandria for 17 years from that time, and then in the desert for 47 years until she met Abba Zosimas).

 

77.

St Mary died the day of the second meeting with Abba Zosimas, in her 77th year. On Abba Zosimas second trip into the desert, when he thought he would see the saint alive for the 3rd  time, he found her dead, and the words in the sand showed him that she had died on the day she saw him the previous year.

Then on the opposite bank of the river, her face turned towards the rising sun, he saw the saint lying dead. Her hands were crossed according to custom and her face was turned to the East. Running up he shed tears over the saint's feet and kissed them, not daring to touch anything else.

For a long time he wept. Then reciting the appointed psalms, he said the burial prayers and thought to himself: "Must I bury the body of a saint? Or will this be contrary to her wishes?" And then he saw words traced on the ground by her head:

"Abba Zosimas, bury on this spot the body of humble Mary. Return to dust that which is dust and pray to the Lord for me, who departed in the month of Fermoutin of Egypt, called April by the Romans, on the first day, on the very night of our Lord's Passion, after having partaken of the Divine Mysteries." [St.

Reading this the elder was glad to know the saint's name. He understood too that as soon as she had partaken of the Divine Mysteries on the shore of the Jordan she was at once transported to the place where she died. The distance which Zosimas had taken twenty days to cover, Mary had evidently traversed in an hour and had at once surrendered her soul to God.

 

100.

Abba Zosimas lived to be almost one hundred years old.

Zosimas returned to the monastery glorifying and blessing Christ our Lord. And on reaching the monastery he told all the brothers about everything, and all marveled on hearing of God's miracles. And with fear and love they kept the memory of the saint. Abbot John, as St. Mary had previously told Abba Zosimas, found a number of things wrong in the monastery and got rid of them with God's help. And Saint Zosimas died in the same monastery, almost attaining the age of a hundred, and passed to eternal life. The monks kept this story without writing it down and passed it on by word of mouth to one another.”

 

522.

"Abba Zosimas, bury on this spot the body of humble Mary. Return to dust that which is dust and pray to the Lord for me, who departed in the month of Fermoutin of Egypt, called April by the Romans, on the first day, on the very night of our Lord's Passion, after having partaken of the Divine Mysteries." [St. Mary died in 522 A. D.]

 

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2011.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

This article is at:

http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2011-04-05+life-of-saint-mary-of-egpyt-by-the-numbers.doc

http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2011-04-05+life-of-saint-mary-of-egpyt-by-the-numbers.html

 

RELATED LINKS:

·         Synaxarion for the Fifth Sunday of Great Lent

·         Questions about St. Mary of Egypt

·         The Life of our Holy Mother Mary of Egypt – From The Great Canon, the Work of Saint Andrew of Crete

 

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.

 

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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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Scourged By The Whips Of Sin. Understanding Sin And Repentance

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

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Synopsis: We must understand the nature and effect of sin. The Matins canon, especially, in the Triodion, describes this in many important ways. Sin is not so much things we do or do not do, as it is our condition – weakened and often estranged from God. Let us look at the Matins Canon for the 4th week of Great Lent as it continues the Lenten theme of exploring the parable of the prodigal son and understand about the "whips of sin", but looking at 3 stichera form the canon:
 
"My mind has been scourged by the whips of sin by wicked thieves and evil thoughts. Heal me, Christ my Savior, and save me for Thou art rich in mercy" (Matins Canon, 4th Sunday of Great Lent, Ode 1)
 
"I have wasted my God-given life on the passions, O Master, and I am fiercely scourged in every part by my transgressions; but I turn to Thee for refuge and I pray: Have pity on me" (Matins Canon, 4th Sunday of Great Lent, Ode 6)
 
"Scourging my mind with the passions, thieves have seized my wealth and left me as one dead, but take pity on me and save me O Lord. " (Matins Canon, 4th Sunday of Great Lent, Ode 1)

More homilies on the 4th Sunday of Great Lent are HERE


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What does fasting do. 4th Sunday of Great Lent.

Monday, April 4th, 2011

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Synopsis:Why do we fast? Few people understand that we fast because of a requirement of our nature and because of the nature of the demons. "This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting" (Mark. 9:29). Let us understand why we fast and put off all legalism concerning this essential practice.

More homilies on the 4th Sunday of Great Lent are HERE

Mark 9:17-31 17 And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; 18 And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not. 19 He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me. 20 And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. 21 And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child. 22 And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. 23 Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. 24 And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. 25 When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. 26 And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead. 27 But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose. 28 And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out? 29 And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting. 30 And they departed thence, and passed through Galilee; and he would not that any man should know it. 31 For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day.


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Christianity is simple. Lent is about changing. Exegesis of the Beatitudes.

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

Fourth Sunday of Great Lent
Saint John Climacus

Christianity is simple. Lent is about changing.

Exegesis of the Beatitudes.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Ladder of Divine Ascent, http://www.orthodox.net/ikons/ladder-of-divine-ascent-04-russian-16thc.jpg Today, brothers and sisters, on this fourth Sunday of Great Lent, we remember Saint John Climacus who is known as Saint John of the Ladder. The icon of The Ladder of Divine Ascent in our church shows the monks that are climbing up towards Jesus Christ. It is a metaphor for our life and for how we must continually ascend, we must continually add virtue to virtue.

But where should we begin? The Lord gives us a place to begin. He says to us, “Blessed are the poor in spirit because theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”  This is the beginning.

 
Pride destroys anything that is good. To be poor in spirit is to be humble, to recognize what is in yourself, to recognize how strong you are, that you are weak without Christ. It is to recognize that you are like the man who looks in the mirror but unlike the one in the scriptures, remembers when he leaves what he still looks like. It is to be the person who knows that he owed ten thousand talents and had it all forgiven. This is to be poor in spirit.

 

This is not a small step. It is the beginning, but it is a great step because it is in direct contradiction to the world. The world is full of pride, full of arrogance, blind and self-centered self-love.  And unfortunately we should not be of the world, but we are, and so we are like that as well. We love ourselves more than others. We think of ourselves more highly than others. We continually put ourselves in advantageous positions. If you look at your life carefully, you will see that you’re far from being poor in spirit, and this is only the first rung. But to at least begin is a good thing.

So let us remember that we are the person who did owe the ten thousand talents. We are the person that was formerly far off in exile and has now been brought near to Christ, and by grace we have been saved through faith and that it is not of ourselves.

If we remember those things, then there will be opportunities in our life when we somehow by the grace of God and not of ourselves that we recognize the kind of person we are, and that recognition motivates us to do the right thing at the right time.

 

It is not possible to be good until we are humble. There are two things we need to know in order to be saved. We need to know about God, and we need to know about ourselves. We need to know the greatness of God and to know the littleness of ourselves. And if we see the difference between the two, then we will not think of ourselves so highly. But this is just the beginning. The Lord gives us, as it were, the ladder in the beatitudes. They ascend.

 

So you start with being humble. You start with recognizing in yourself that there is nothing good without God. It’s so easy for us to say this. We can quote the Scriptures about it, but do we really live it? If we live it, then we consider others more important than ourselves, then we consider that we are slaves of God and that we should do like we are told. To be humble encompasses all of the virtues.

Then also, it says that “blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted.” What is this?

 

In order to truly be Christian, one should have mourning in our heart. Mourning for what? Mourning for the human condition, mourning for the fact that things are not as they should be. We see sadness. We see violence. We see disillusionment. We see depression. We see all these things in the world. They’re not as the world is supposed to be. That’s not what God intended for us. Isn’t this terribly sad? Shouldn’t we mourn this? And shouldn’t we have within ourselves the knowledge of who we are, and that should make us sad as well?

We should *not* have some sort of neurosis and always consider that there is nothing good about ourselves, since God lives within us. But isn’t it sad that so much is given to us and yet so little is done by us and that in the world how there is cacophony of evil? This is terrible. Every time that someone dies it’s a tragedy. It’s not what God intended. Every time that someone is proud, every time that someone is hurtful, every time that someone steals or lies, this was not as God intended. This is terribly sad. We should mourn this, and the first place to start is to mourn within yourself that you have been given so much and yet do so little.

Now, the world doesn’t understand this, and that’s why there is so much pop ideology about accepting ourselves. That’s why every sin there is, is accepted because we cannot understand as a society what it is to truly mourn that which is within us that is not good. We consider it to be neurotic. We say, oh, we don’t love ourselves then. The Christian loves himself because God loves him, but the Christian is realistic about the kind of person he is and wishes to become better. This is a very hard thing to learn because our society just continually hammers against it.

It’s very difficult to recognize in yourself the things that need improvement and not to fall into some sort of neurotic self loathing. It’s not what God has intended. We should just be like, say, the athlete who wishes to become faster and recognizes that he is not yet at the goal that he has given himself, so he works hard for that goal. Every day that he runs does he lament and say, oh, “woe is me; I’ll never be able to be fast enough?” Not if he is a great athlete. If he is a great athlete, he continually presses towards the mark and eventually he gains it.

It’s the same thing with Christianity. We must recognize that we are missing the mark and desire with all of our heart to have this mark. That really is also part of the — one of the beatitudes ties into it: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled. You can’t hunger and thirst for something unless you’re hungry and thirsty, unless you recognize what is wrong. If we are to climb this ladder successfully, first we must humble ourselves. Next we must mourn our condition and mourn that of the human condition.

A Christian never thinks of just ourselves; it begins with understanding ourselves and understanding how God has been good to us, and then immediately translates into concern for everyone else. That’s why Jesus Christ spoke so often about loving our fellow man. If we say we love God and hate our brother, we are a liar and the truth is not within us, says Saint John.

So if we see within ourselves that which is lacking and we mourn it, then we should also see that other people also lack and we should mourn their lack, not to judge them but just to know that they are also part of the human condition which expresses itself in many different ways. Weaknesses that we have, other people don’t have. Strength that we have, other people have weaknesses. It matters not. It is from the same source. That is, our weakness of the human condition, and we should mourn this.

“Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”

 

That’s a difficult thing. To be meek is to allow the will of God to occur in our life in everything. Do you see how it builds? How can you trust God unless you don’t trust yourself? To be poor in spirit is to not trust yourself. To be meek is to completely and totally trust God. You cannot trust God until you put aside your own esteem for your own opinions. And you cannot truly trust God until you mourn that which is lacking within you because God can give it.

Now, this is the one thing that I really wanted to talk about, that we can apply. It is very difficult for us to be humble. It is very difficult for us to really mourn all that we are and that we are not. But there is something that we can do. It is a virtue that is above humility. It is above mourning, and yet it also is reachable even if we have not yet become completely humble and completely mourn our condition.

 

We must be merciful. “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” If you can live your life by some creed, live it by this one. Be merciful as our Lord was merciful.

What does it mean to be merciful? It means that we empathize with everyone’s condition. You cannot empathize with everyone’s condition until you’ve really understood your own. And we reach out to others whether it is through prayer or whether it is through some work or whether it is through some action, we’re merciful.

Just recently I saw something where at work there is a particular person who sort of is the scapegoat for all kinds of things. She often is kind of confused when she gets her reports, and she’s a little bit haphazard and sometimes even possibly a little bit lazy in some of the care she gives. And so people who consider themselves so great and high and mighty are constantly talking about her: “Can you believe what she did yesterday? Can you believe what she told me? She didn’t even know that this person had this operation”, and such. What kind of ugliness is this? It’s so easy to be merciful and just to not speak about it. Or to be merciful and to give a word of encouragement to this person who really feels kind of beaten on. And it’s true, she is beaten on.

 

To be merciful is to put yourself in her position. Now, perhaps she does some things that are not right. Being merciful doesn’t mean we pretend that something doesn’t exist. But to be merciful is to put yourself in her position. How does she feel?

To be merciful is to consider the feelings of others. We can do this. We can do this right now. And this ladder is not just where you ascend and you have to have one virtue before you have another; before you have the perfection of the next virtue in the ladder, you must have perfected the virtue below it. But we can in some extent, to some degree, participate in all of these virtues on the ladder. We can attempt to humble ourselves. We can mourn. We can be meek. We can be merciful. But I submit to you that it should be easy for us to not judge others and to be merciful to them if we just look at ourselves. And so this higher virtue also helps us to fulfill the lower ones. It’s a difficult task.

Look in your life. And see how often you are petty with someone, how often you judge them, how often you’re not kind to someone. And notice how you’re not kind to people that really can’t return anything to you or can’t hurt you in any way. I mean, you’re certainly kind to your boss, right? Or at least in his presence, right? But you don’t necessarily have to be kind in your own mind, shall we say, to someone who is not that important, like this nurse I told you about. She doesn’t have a very good reputation among the other nurses. So if a person wants to take a pot shot at someone, she is a likely target because she doesn’t have any credibility. What a sad thing to do though. Because then we are forgetting what we are like, forgetting that we are capable of the same mistakes she makes.

To be merciful is to be like God. It says that God is love, right? But what is love except to be merciful to others, to care about others, to empathize with others?

 

Christianity is quite simple; I’ve told you this many times. And Lent is quite simple. Oh, yes, there are complicated services, and we have to be concerned about what foods we eat or don’t eat, and many of us try to read more and try to pray more and try to do all sorts of things that are good for the soul.

In its essence, Lent is all about changing. It’s all about becoming better. And what better way is there to be changed than to be more merciful because, if we are more merciful, we are more like our God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Christianity is very simple. We complicate it because we want to complicate it. Because then we sort of have a smoke screen around us. It’s hard to be brutally honest with ourselves. Christianity is brutal honesty with ourselves and with others.

And Christianity is to become like Jesus Christ. What better way to attempt to be like Jesus Christ and attempt to be merciful as He was merciful. Look in your life. See how often, the way you live, what you say, what you do, how you treat people, is far from merciful. I mean, all of us have heard of the golden rule, right? Everyone knows it, even people that don’t believe in God. If we live according to this way of life, to treat others as we would wish to be treated, regardless of whether or not they in our mind are worthy of such treatment, then we will be fulfilling the Gospel, the law of God.

Make no mistake about it; Christianity is about fulfilling the commandments, all of them. And this ladder continues to stretch higher and higher. I haven’t even mentioned all of the beatitudes. And the beatitudes themselves are a distillation of the Old Testament law. And they even are not complete. Because the only way to really complete all of the virtues is to live the Christian life fully. And the beatitudes only mention but a few things, as it were the cornerstones, the main things.
But as we grow in the Christian life we will see virtue upon virtue that we didn’t know existed before.

May God help us during this Lent and all of our life to be merciful. I ask you, I beg of you, look in your life today and tomorrow and the next day. This week, see where you have not been merciful. If you look and you ask, you will find and you will be amazed how often you’re not merciful to others. You should be able to think of a dozen instances or more of times, places, people that you don’t care about enough.

Remember that if we do not judge, we won’t be judged. I have told you before, this is the easiest way to get into the Kingdom of God, is to not judge. But this not judging, which is really inherent in being merciful, is a middle ladder. It’s not a beginning ladder. So in order to not judge, you must humble yourself and you must really desire righteousness, and you must trust God.

So it is true, if you do not judge, you will be saved, but in order to not judge, you must encompass the other virtues as well. But I’ve said just a minute ago, these virtues, although they ascend, you can also have one that is higher help one that is lower. So let us be merciful to others, and God will be merciful to us. Amen.

 

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2007.    

 

This and other Orthodox materials are available in from:

St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

·         Mailing Address: Box 37, McKinney, TX 75070

·         Rectory Phone: 972/529-2754

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·         Redeeming the Time Blog: http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime/

 

This homily is at:

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http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/great-lent-sunday-04_2007-03-18+saint-john-climacus.doc

AUDIO: http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/great-lent-sunday-04_2007-03-18+saint-john-climacus.mp3

 

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Archive of commentaries: http://www.orthodox.net/scripture

Archive of homilies: http://www.orthodox.net/sermons

 

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The Significance of Fasting in the Struggle against Fallen Spirits. By St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov)

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

Homily on the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent

The Significance of Fasting in the Struggle against Fallen Spirits

By St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov)

 

Saint Ignaty Briachaninov http://www.orthodox.net/ikons/ignaty-briachaninov-03.jpgThe Lord said to His Apostles about the evil spirits, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting” (Mark. 9:29).

 

Here is a new aspect of fasting!

 

Fasting is acceptable to God when it is preceded by the great virtue of mercy; fasting prepares a reward in heaven when it is foreign to hypocrisy and vainglory; fasting works when it is joined with another great virtue – prayer.

 

How does it work? It not only tames the passions in the human body, but it enters into battle with the spirits of evil, and conquers them.

 

How can fasting, which is actually a bodily podvig [ascetical labor], work or cooperate with prayer in a war against spirits? Why do the bodiless spirits submit to the power that fasting has over them?

 

The reason fasting works against the evil spirits lies in its powerful influence upon our own spirits.

 

When the body is tamed by fasting, it brings freedom, strength, sobriety, purity, and refinement to the human soul. Our spirit can withstand its unseen enemies only when it is in such a state.

 

But as for me”, said the God-inspired David,When they (the demons) troubled me, I put on sackcloth. And I humbled my soul with fasting, and my prayer shall return to my bosom” (Psalm 34:13).

 

Fasting gives the mind sobriety, while prayer is the weapon the mind uses to drive away the invisible adversary. Fasting humbles the soul, and frees it from the callousness and inflatedness brought on by satiety; while the prayer of one who fasts becomes especially strong. Such prayer is not just external, but comes from the very soul, from the depths of the heart. Fasting directs and carries prayer to God.

 

The dark and evil spirits committed two serious crimes:[1] the first crime caused their expulsion from the hosts of holy angels; the second crime was the cause of their irrevocable banishment. They lifted their heels against God in heaven. Their chief, blinded by conceit, wanted to become equal to God. For their crime they were cast out of heaven to the earth below, and there they began to envy the blessedness of newly-created man.

 

Then they committed a new crime: seducing man, and luring him into his fall. This latter crime of the fallen angels finally decided their lot – they impressed themselves into evil by it; God’s grace entirely departed from them because of it; they were given over to their own selves, to their own evil, and to their own sin that they had conceived and borne in themselves, and which they allowed to penetrate their nature.

 

Now, a good thought or feeling will never come to an outcast angel. He is entirely submerged in evil, desires evil, and invents evil. Scorched with an unquenchable thirst for evil, he seeks to be sated with evil, but cannot. All the evil he does or can perform seems to him little next to the evil that he imagines and which his insufferable thirst for evil seeks. Created as a light-bearing angel, he was cast down lower than all the beasts of the earth for his crimes. "Because thou hast done this murder of a man, said God in His wrath to Satan when He caught him at the scene of the crime in paradise, near the man and woman whom he had caused to fall, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life (Gen. 3:14).

 

A bodiless spirit is condemned to thoughts and feelings that are only earthly and passionate; his life and treasure is in them. A spirit, he has lost the ability to do anything spiritual – he is completely engrossed in fleshly works. A spirit who lives a mental life is demoted from the hosts of spirits to a fleshly state, and he takes a place lower in rank than all cattle and beasts of the earth. Cattle and beasts act according to the laws of their nature, while the fallen spirit, who is mingled into the nature of cattle and beasts, is mingled into a nature that is foreign to his own, and humiliating. He neither wants nor is able to act correctly in this nature – he continually abuses this nature.

 

This sinful materiality of the fallen angel makes him subject to the effect of fasting, which frees our spirit from the flesh’s reign.

 

When the fallen angel approaches a person who is fasting,

he does not see the material domination that he needs and desires;

he cannot stir up the blood that has been beneficently cooled by fasting;

he cannot arouse the flesh that is not inclined to play, for it has been restrained by fasting;

the mind and heart are not obedient to him, for they have felt an especial spiritual vigor due to fasting.

 

Seeing this resistance, the proud, fallen spirit departs, because he cannot endure being resisted or contradicted. He loves unhesitating agreement and submission. Despite the fact that he crawls upon his belly, despite the fact that he eats only dust, the thought of being like God has not left him, and he looks for people to worship him.

 

He audaciously showed the Son of God all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and promised to give him all power over them and the glory of them, demanding to be worshipped in return (Luke 4:5-7). Even now, he does not cease to present to those who follow the Son of God all the beauty of the world, painting it in their dreams with the most tempting features and colors in order to extract worship of himself by whatever trick. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you, said the Apostle James (James. 4:7); and another Apostle said, Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked (Ephesians. 6:16).

 

Let us raise our eyes to eternity through the power of faith, to the unspeakable blessedness that awaits the righteous in eternity; likewise let us observe the equally unspeakable torments that await the serpent’s unrepentant and stubborn followers. We can have such contemplation when the body is put in order and maintained within the order of fasting; when with the pure prayer that is only obtainable through fasting, we cleave to the Lord, and become of one spirit (1 Cor. 6:17) with Him.

 

“The serpent crawls continually upon the ground as he was sentenced to do from on High,” says St. John Chrysostom. “If you wish be to safe from his poisonous bite, let your mind and heart be always above the earth.”[2] Then you will be able to resist him, and that proud serpent who cannot endure resistance will flee from you.

 

Where are the people who are possessed by evil spirits? Where are those people whom he would tear and torment, like he tore and tormented the youth mentioned today in the Gospels? Apparently there aren’t any, or they are very rare – thus reasons the person who sees everything superficially, and brings his life as a sacrifice to distractions and sinful pleasures.

 

But the holy fathers saw things differently. They say, “From the moment they caused man to be exiled from paradise and separated from God through disobedience, the devil and the demons received the freedom to mentally stir any person’s rational nature, both day and night.”[3]

 

Very similar to those torments and tearing of the Gospel youth’s body by the evil spirit are the sufferings of the soul that willfully submits itself to the influence of the evil spirit, and who accepts as truth that murderous lie which the devil ceaselessly shows to us in order to make us perish, hiding it behind a façade of truth to more easily deceive us, and to succeed in his wickedness. Be sober, be vigilant, the Apostle Peter warns us, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith (1 Pet. 5:8–9).

 

What does the fallen angel use against us? Mostly sinful thoughts and fantasies.

 

He runs from those who resist him, but he sways, torments, and destroys those who do not recognize him, who enter into conversation with him, and entrust themselves to him. He himself crawls on his belly and is incapable of spiritual thought. He vividly depicts this transitory world with all its allurements and pleasures; meanwhile he enters into conversation with the soul about how it can make its pipe dreams come true. He offers us earthly glory, he offers us riches, he offers us satiety, and delight in fleshly impurities. As St. Basil the Great expresses it, the devil not only received a feeling for fleshly impurities, but since he was created as a bodiless spirit, he gave birth to them.[4]

 

He presents all this as a fantasy, but he also provides illicit ways to realize these illicit dreams. He casts us into sorrow, depression, and despair. In a word – he tirelessly works to obtain our destruction in seemingly decent as well as indecent ways: by obvious sin, by sin hidden behind a good façade, and by waiving the bait of pleasure in front of us.

 

This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith, says St. John the Theologian (1 John 5:4). Faith is our weapon of victory over the world; it is also our weapon of victory over the fallen angels.

 

Who has looked with the eye of faith to the eternity proclaimed by God’s Word and not cooled to the world’s quickly-passing beauty?

 

What true disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ will want to trample upon His all-holy commandments for the sake of sinful pleasure, which seems alluring before it is tasted, but is vile and murderous after tasting?

 

What power over the disciple of Christ has the enchanting picture of earthly benefits and pleasures, or even the horrifying picture of earthly calamities, which the evil spirits draw in order to bring the viewer to depression and despair, when magnificent pictures of eternity are impressed upon his soul through the power of God’s Word, before which all earthly scenes are pale and insignificant?

 

When St. John the Theologian proclaims that the victory that overcometh the world is our faith, he salutes the true children of Christ who have overcome the world on their victory over the fallen angel and his minions: I write unto you, young men, he says, because ye have overcome the wicked one (1 John. 2:13). Here “young men” is what he calls Christians who are renewed by Divine grace.

 

When a servant of Christ shows courage and constancy in his struggle against the evil spirits as he should, then Divine grace descends into his soul and grants him victory, and his youth shall be renewed as the eagle’s (Ps. 102:5) – youth which never ages, with which he was adorned by the Creator when he was created, and which he exchanged for incurable agedness at his voluntary fall. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever (1 John. 2:15–17).

 

Beloved brethren! Why shouldn’t we also be victors over the world and over its prince?

 

People like us have overcome them, people clothed in flesh and human weakness. Not only valiant men have been victorious over them, but also frail elders, weak women, and little children; they won, and left us no excuse for losing if we give ourselves up to them. The same world with all its allurements was before them, the same invisible serpents crawled around them, applying every effort to taunt out their souls and make them to live in the dust. The hearts and thoughts of the conquerors were raised up!

 

Guarding their bodies with fasting, they tamed them and stopped the impulse for earthly pleasures in them!

 

Through fasting, they gave their spirit the opportunity to abide in ceaseless sobriety and vigilance, and the opportunity to unsleepingly heed and watch out for the multifarious snares of the devil!

 

By lightening their bodies – and even their very spirits – with fasting, they gave the spirit the opportunity to cleave to the Lord with pure and constant prayer, to receive Divine aide, to enliven their faith from hearing (cf. Rom. 10:17), from hearing to make their faith substance (cf. Heb. 11:1) and spiritual strength – and by this strength to obtain decisive victory over the world and the evil spirits.

 

St. John the Theologian calls such faith the confidence that we have in God, and he teaches us from his own holy experience that it is attained through prayer that is heard [by God].[5]  The righteous as if see the invisible God through such faith, as the Apostle Paul said.[6] Naturally, the world hides from view at the sight of God! The transitory world becomes as if non-existent, and the prince of the world has no support in his warfare.

 

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith (1 Pet. 5:8–9), taking the shield of faith (Eph. 6:16) – faith that is active, living, grace-filled.

 

Only the ascetical laborer of Christ is capable of such faith. He has prepared himself for warfare with the evil spirits by forgiving his neighbors’ sins – that is, through mercy and humility – and has entered the fight bearing the weapon of fasting and prayer. Amen.

 

 

 

This and other Orthodox materials are available in from:

St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

·         Mailing Address: Box 37, McKinney, TX 75070

·         Rectory Phone: 972/529-2754

·         Email: seraphim@orthodox.net

·         Web Page: http://www.orthodox.net

·         Redeeming the Time Blog: http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime/

 

This homily is at:

http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/great-lent-sunday-04_2011+the-significance-of-fasting-in-the-struggle-against-fallen-spirits+by-st-ignatius-brianchaninov.html

http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/great-lent-sunday-04_2011+the-significance-of-fasting-in-the-struggle-against-fallen-spirits+by-st-ignatius-brianchaninov.doc

 

http://www/.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime

Archive of commentaries: http://www.orthodox.net/scripture

Archive of homilies: http://www.orthodox.net/sermons

 

To receive regular mailings of sermons, and scriptural and services commentary and other things throughout the church year, read our blog “Redeeming the Time” (http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime). You may also subscribe to the RSS Feed or receive its postings by email.

 

Our parish Email list (http://groups.google.com/group/saint-nicholas-orthodox-church) also has all the latest postings from our website and blog; everyone is welcome to join.

 

All rights reserved.  Please use this material in any edifying reason. We ask that you contact St. Nicholas if you wish to distribute it in any way.  We grant permission to post this text, if completely intact only, including this paragraph and the URL of the text, to any electronic mailing list, church bulletin, web page or blog.

 

 

 

 



[1] St. John Cassian, Discourses 8, 9, 10.

 

[2] St. John Chrysostom, “Homily 8, on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans.”

 

[3] St. Symeon the New Theologian, The Philokalia, Part 2. See the Homily of Nicephorus the Monk.

 

[4] From the Kanonik, (Canon Book), the first prayer against defilement.

 

[5] See 1 John 5:13–15

 

[6] See Hebrews 11:27

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