Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS AND IS AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ. ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE LENTEN PRAYER OF SAINT EPHRAIM THE SYRIAN
O Lord and Master of my life, Give me not a spirit of laziness, of aimless curiosity, A spirit of lust for power over others and of vain talk.
Rather, grace me, Your servant, With the Spirit of purity, humility, patience and love.
Yes, O Lord King, Grant me discernment to see my own faults, And not to judge and condemn my fellow human beings.
For You are Blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.
On December 6th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers and every righteous spirit made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra; Saint Theophilos, bishop of Antioch; Saint Maximos, Metropolitan of Kiev; Saint Nicholas, missionary of Moscow; Saint Nicholas of Tobolsk; Saint Nicholas of Novo-Nikolskaya; Saint Nilus of Stolben; Saint Nicholas of Caramania, New Martyr in Smyrna.
SAINT NICHOLAS THE WONDERWORKER, ARCHBISHOP OF MYRA IN LYCIA. This Saint, famed throughout the entire world today, was the only son of his eminent and wealthy parents, Theophanes and Nonna, citizens of Patara in Lycia. They dedicated to God the only son He gave them and they named him Nicholas which means 'victor of the nations'. The time soon came for him to begin the study of the divine Scriptures, and due to his natural intelligence and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he quickly achieved a profound understanding of their contents. Attentive to preserving true chastity, he gazed upon God with a pure mind and was always to be found in the Lord's holy church, fulfilling the word of the Scriptures: "I have chosen rather to be an outcast in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of sinners." [Psalm 83]. Saint Nicholas was instructed in the spiritual life by his uncle Nicolas, bishop of Patara, and became a monk at 'New Sion', a Monastery found by his uncle. On the death of his parents, Saint Nicholas distributed all the property he inherited to the poor and kept nothing back for himself. As a priest in Patara, he was known for his charitable works, fulfilling the Lord's words: "Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth' (St. Matthew 6:3). When he embraced a life of solitude and silence, thinking to live in that way until his death, a voice from on high came to him: 'Nicholas, set about your work among the people if you desire to receive a crown from me.' Immediately after that, by God's wondrous providence, he was chosen as Archbishop of the city of Myra in Lycia. Merciful, wise and fearless, Saint Nicholas was a true shepherd to his flock. He was cast into prison during the persecutions of pagan Roman emperors Diocletian and Maximian, but even there continued to instruct the people in the Law of God. He was present at the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 325 A.D., and, in his zeal, struck Arius the heretic with his hand. For this act, he was removed from the Council and from his episcopal duties, until some of the chief hierarchs had a vision of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Most Holy Mother showing their sympathy with Saint Nicholas.
This wonderful Saint was a defender of the truth of God, and was ever a spirited champion of justice among the people. On two occasions, he saved three men from undeserved sentences of death. Merciful, trustworthy and loving right, he walked among the people like an Angel of God. People considered a Saint even during his lifetime, and invoked his aid when in torment or distress. He would appear both in dreams and in reality to those who called upon him for help, responding speedily to them, whether close at hand or far away.
There was a man living in Patara who was once wealthy and renowned, but his fortune waned. He fell into poverty and was scorned by those who before had regarded him highly. This man had three beautiful daughters, and when the necessities of life began to fail him, he decided to make his house a brothel and sell their bodies. Oh, what wicked schemes are born of destitution! The man had already devised his unseemly plan and was making preparations to fulfill it when God, Who loves us and does not wish to see us perish, sent down grace into the heart of His favorite, the holy priest Nicholas, mystically inspiring him to assist the wretch and turn him away from sin. Hearing of the father's poverty and learning by divine revelation of his foul scheme, Saint Nicholas felt deep pity for him and resolved to snatch him and his daughters from penury and sin as if from fire, by giving them generous alms. However, the Saint did not want to help the man openly, for two reasons: Firstly, obedient to the words of the Gospel, "Take heed that you do not your alms before men," (St. Matthew, ch. 6) and he sought to avoid the empty praise of men. Secondly, since the man was once rich and had only recently fallen on bad times, Saint Nicholas did not wish to humiliate him. Knowing how mortifying it is for someone who once enjoyed wealth and renown to accept alms (since he is reminded of his former prosperity), the Saint thought it best to obey Christ's words: "Let not thy left hand know what they right hand doeth". So great was Saint Nicholas' desire to avoid praise that he attempted to hide himself even from those whom he assisted! He went at midnight to the man's home, threw a large bag of gold into the house through a window, and fled. The next morning, when he rose, the man found the bag and untied it. Seeing the gold, he became frightened, thinking it was an illusion, since he knew of no one likely to aid him so generously. Only when he touched it did he become convinced that what he saw was real and permit himself to weep with happiness. Although he wondered for a long time who might be his benefactor, he could think of no one. Ascribing his good fortune to providence, he thanked God unceasingly, glorifying the Lord Who cares for all men. Without delay he married off his eldest daughter, using the gold to provide her dowry. Learning what the man had done, the wondrous Nicholas was very pleased and prepared to assist the second daughter. He made ready another bag of gold, of the same value, and unknown to all, went by night and threw it into the man's house through the same window. When the father rose the next morning and found the second bag, he was even more amazed than before, and falling to the floor, wept and cried, "O Merciful God, Who did purchase my salvation with Thy precious Blood, thou has ransomed my home and children from the snares of the enemy! I beseech Thee to reveal to me who it was that accomplished Thy will and served as minister of Thy kindness and love for man. Show me the earthly Angel that hath prevented us from perishing in sin, delivering us from destitution and by base plots. Behold, Lord, because Thy favorite has assisted me so generously, I am now able to find a husband for my second daughter and escape the nets of the devil, who hoped to multiply mine evil deeds, which even before this merited eternal punishment."
Thanking the Lord for His kindness, the man celebrated the wedding of his second daughter. He trusted that God would provide a lawful husband for his third child and again send him the money he needed. Because he wished to know who was bringing the gold, he did not sleep at night, but watched in the hope of catching sight of his secret patron. It was not long before Christ's favorite came a third time, walking very quietly, and again cast a bag of money through the window. The father heard it striking the floor and ran as fast as he could in pursuit of the Saint. When he caught up with him, he recognized Saint Nicholas, who was known to all because of his virtuous life and noble ancestry. He fell at the holy priest's feet and kissed them, calling the Saint his helper and deliverer and the rescuer of souls. "If the Merciful Lord had not inspired you to come to my aid," he exclaimed, "my daughters and I, the wretch, would have perished in the fires of Sodom. But glory to God, you have saved us from a grievous fall!" Only with the greatest difficulty did Saint Nicholas succeed in raising him to his feet and compelling him to swear that he would tell no one what had occurred as long as his benefactor remained alive. After speaking to the man at length about things profitable to the soul, the Saint permitted him to return home.
From this story it is evident what deep sympathy Saint Nicholas had for the poor. It would be impossible to tell every example of his generosity to beggars or to enumerate the hungry people he fed, the naked he clothed, or the debtors he delivered from usurers.
Saint Nicholas' countenance resembled that of an Angel, splendid with divine grace. A brilliant ray shone from his face, as from Moses', so that those who looked at him were astonished. Whoever was oppressed by some affliction or passion of soul had only to lay eyes on the Saint, and his sorrow was eased at once. As for those who conversed with him, they soon found themselves advancing on the path of virtue. Not only the faithful but unbelievers as well were moved to compunction and directed their steps toward salvation when they heard his sweet lips speak; the evil of unbelief implanted in their hearts since childhood was uprooted, and in its place the word of truth was sown.
God's great favorite lived in the city of Myra for many years, emanating divine goodness, as the sacred Scriptures say: "He was as the morning star amid clouds, and as the moon when full; as the sun shining upon the temple of the most high God, and as lilies by the well-spring of waters, and as precious myrrh that maketh everything fragrant" (Eccl. ch. 50). When he reached old age, the Saint paid the common debt due human nature, and after falling ill for a short time, ended this temporal life in a God-pleasing manner. He joyfully departed unto eternal blessedness to the sound of chanted psalms; his soul was escorted by holy Angels and met by the choirs of Saints. Bishops and clerics, monastics and laity from throughout the country of Lycia assembled on the sixth day of December to lay his body to rest in the Cathedral of Myra. Numerous miracles were worked by Saint Nicholas' holy relics, which gushed streams of fragrant, healing myrrh for the ailing. People began coming to his grave from every corner of the earth, hoping to be healed. They were not disappointed, for there was no disease the holy myrrh could not cure. He now enjoys eternal happiness in the Kingdom of heaven, continuing to help the faithful on earth by his miracles, and to spread the glory of God. He entered into rest on December 6th, 343 A.D.
On holy icons of Saint Nicholas, our Lord and Savior will often be seen on one side with the Gospels in His hand, and the Most Holy Theotokos on the other with an episcopal stole in hers. This has a twofold historical significance: it denotes, firstly, Saint Nicholas's calling to episcopal office, and secondly his vindication and re-instatement following the punishment for his clash with Arius the heretic. Saint Methodius, Patriarch of Constantinople saw our Savior in glory, standing by him and holding out to him the Gospels adorned with gold and pearls, and the Theotokos standing on his other side and placing a pallium on his shoulders. Shortly after this vision, John, the then Archbishop of Myra, died, and Saint Nicholas was installed as Archbishop of that city.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints and Holy Fathers, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 13: 17-21
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Luke 6:17-23
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND SANCTIFICATION
"Do not speak of both sides of your mouth, accustomed to saying one thing while your conscience is saying something else, for Scripture places such a person under a curse" (Sir. 28:13).
THE KINGDOM WITHIN US
by Saint Theophan the Recluse [source: The Art Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology]
Dwelling in the world of God
When we achieve constant inwardness, then we are also enabled to dwell in the world of God. The reverse is equally true: when this dwelling in another world becomes habitual, only then is constant inwardness secured.
Two essential preconditions--inwardness and vision
If our mind and heart are to be rightly guided on the path to salvation, there are two essential and unavoidable preconditions--inwardness and the vision of the spiritual world. The first condition introduces man into a certain spiritual atmosphere and the second plants him there more firmly, in a climate favorable to the flame of life. Therefore it may be said that we have but to produce these two preparatory states, and what follows will come of its own accord. People often complain that the heart is hardened, and this is not surprising. Man does not collect himself within, and so is unaccustomed to inward self-awareness; he fails to establish himself where he should, and does not know the place of the heart--so how can his life and its activities be directed aright? It is as if one removed the heart from its place and then demanded that life should continue.
The eye of the spirit
The purpose of the spirit, as its manifestation show, is to keep man in contact with God and with the divine order of things, independently of all the visible phenomena that surround and flow past him. To be able properly to fulfill such a purpose, the spirit must be naturally endowed with knowledge of God and of the divine order, together with the sense of a more blessed form of existence, which shows itself in a lack of contentment with all things material. This spiritual vision existed, one must suppose, in the first man until the Fall. His spirit clearly saw God and all things divine--as clearly as with normal eyes we today see an object before us. But after the Fall the eyes of the spirit were closed, and man no longer saw what it was natural for him to see. The spirit itself remains and has eyes--but they are closed. Its condition is like that of a man whose eyelids have become stuck together. The eye is intact, it thirsts for light, it longs to see the light, feeling that the lights exists; but the eyelids, being stuck together, do not allow the eye to open and to enter into direct contact with the light. Such is obviously the condition of the spirit in man since the Fall. Man has tried to replace the sight of the spirit by the sight of the mind, by abstract mental constructions, by ideologies; but this has always been without results, as we can see from all the metaphysical theories of the philosophers.
Paradise lost and Paradise regained
So you have begun to realize what real peace means. Glory be to God! Then what is the matter? Now you must advance into the realm where this peace is to be found. See Paradise lost, in order to sing the praise of Paradise regained. That is all that matters. Everything outside and apart from this peace is emptiness. And this peace is not far, it is almost within your grasp, although you must desire it, and to desire is not easy. May the Mother of God and your Guardian Angel help you!
The inward rule of Christ the King
The Kingdom of God is within us when God reigns in us, when the soul in its depths confesses God as its Master, and is obedient to Him in all its powers. Then God acts within it as master both to will and to do of His good pleasure' (Phil. 2:13). This reign begins as soon as we resolve to serve God in our Lord Jesus Christ, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Then the Christian hands over to God his consciousness and freedom, which comprises the essential substance of our human life, and God accepts the sacrifice; and in this way the alliance of man with God and God with man is achieved, and the covenant with God, which was severed by the Fall and continues to be severed by our willful sins, is re-established. This inner alliance is sealed, confirmed, and given the strength to maintain itself by the power of grace in the divine sacrament of baptism, and for those who have fallen after baptism, in the sacrament of Confession and Repentance: and afterwards it is constantly strengthened by Holy Communion.
All Christians live thus; and consequently they all bear the Kingdom of God within themselves, that is to say they obey God as King and are ruled by God as King.
Speaking about the Kingdom of God within us, one must always add: in the Lord Jesus Christ, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. This is the mark of the Christian--the Kingdom of God within us. God is the King over all, He is the Creator of all things and in His Providence watches over them all: but He truly reigns in the soul and is truly professed there as King only after the re-establishment of that union of the soul with Him which was broken by the Fall. And this union is effected by the Holy Spirit in the lord Jesus Christ, our Savior.
Outside is death: within is the Kingdom
The Kingdom of heaven is within you. In so far as the Son of God dwells in you, the Kingdom of Heaven lies within you also. Here within are the riches of Heaven, if you desire them. Here O sinner is the Kingdom of God with you. Enter into yourself, seek more eagerly and you will find it without great travail. Outside you is death, and the door to death is sin. Enter within yourself and remain in your heart, for there is God.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God