Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
Christ is in our midst! He was and is and ever shall be. Ο Χριστός έν τώ μέσω ημών. Και ήν και έστι και έσται.
THE PRAYER OF SAINT EPHRAIM THE SYRIAN
(Especially during the period of Great and Holy Lent, this prayer is used both at the Hours and during any extra devotions. Normally it is accompanied by prostrations (metanoies), to help bring the body to a feeling of patience and humility)
O Lord and Master of my life, do not give me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk. But give rather a spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Your servant. Yes, Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother, for blessed are You unto ages of ages. Amen.
On February 20th 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 and Teachers of Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Vessarion the Great of Egypt; Saint Sadoc and 128 holy Martyrs; St. Leo, Bishop of Catania; St. Cindeus, Bishop of Pisidia; St. Cornelius of the Pskov Caves; Righteous Plotinos; St. Agatho of the Kiev Caves; St. Vassarion of Murom; St. Macarius and 34 monks and novices of Valaam.
ON THE 19TH OF FEBRUARY WE CELEBRATE SAINT PHILOTHEI-THE LADY SCHOOLMISTRESS OF ATHENS, GREECE: Saint Philothei (sometimes called Philothea) was born in Athens in 1522 to an illustrious family. Against her will, she was married to a man who proved to be most cruel. When he died three years later, the Saint took up the monastic life and established a women's monastery, in which she became a true mother to her disciples. Many women enslaved and abused by the Muslim Turks also ran to her for refuge. Because of this, the Turkish rulers became enraged and came to her monastery, dragged her by force out of the church, and beat her cruelly. After a few days, she reposed, giving thanks to God for all things. This came to pass in the year 1589. She was renowned for her almsgiving, and with Saints Hierotheos and Dionysios the Areopagite is considered a patron of the city of Athens.
Certainly philanthropy was one of Saint Philothei's main motives. At a time when there were no hospitals, no shelters for the poor, no homes for the elderly, no asylums, and no shelters for the protection of women, their place was taken by monastic institutions.
In addition to her dedication to a virtuous life, practicing philanthropy by offering protection, giving alms and ministering to the poor and sick, providing Christian education by teaching everyone ecclesiastical letters and liturgical knowledge, the holy woman contributed the following:
First, she founded schools for the children of the Athenians, to open their eyes to the tradition and renown of their ancestors. 'Lay hold of instruction, lest at any time the Lord be angry' (Psalm 2:12). St. Philothei brought this scriptural quotation to reality. With her flickered the hope of the rebirth of Byzantine Empire and the early deliverance from the bestial yoke of the conquerors.
Second, St. Philothei aimed at protecting the daughters of Athens from the disgrace of conversion to Islam. The anger of being subjected to conversion existed not only for the noble daughters who were forcibly abducted by the Turks because of their beauty and grace, but also for the simple ones, the peasant girls, who were forced to work in Turkish homes and farms in order to sustain themselves. Pressure, necessity and ignorance (the great deceiver) were causes in forcing the maidens into submission.
However, Saint Philothei, with her monastery of virgins (Παρθενώνα), her schools, her monastery metochia, and family ties, was capable of either strengthening those under duress or sending them away and hiding them. This was done until her conscience recovered or the danger subsided; and until fear was replaced by a spirit of faith and sacrifice for the sake of the Christian Faith...
Apolytikion in the Plagal of the First Tone
The famed city of Athens doth honor Philothea, the righteous Martyr, whose relics it now revereth with joy; for while living in sobriety and holiness, she hath exchanged all earthly things for the everlasting life through great contests as a Martyr; and she entreateth the Savior to grant His mercy unto all of us.
Kontakion in the Third Tone
We all honor Philothea with jubilation of spirit, as this day we reverently worship her venerable relics. For she lived her whole life working kindness and mercy; and the righteous one, receiving a martyr's ending, is deemed worthy to entreat God that all be granted eternal life with the Saints.
+ By the holy intercessions of Your Saints and Holy Martyrs, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: 3 John 1:1-15
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Luke 19:29-40, 22:7-39
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND CONTEMPLATION
"Necessity, therefore, obliges us daily to uproot thorns from the earth of our nature so long as it exists and because of our prolonged toil at this husbandry the thorns will diminish; but you will be unable entirely to cleanse yourself from them... Cessation from this causes a multitude of thorns to spring up." (Saint Isaac the Syrian)
PARADISE AND HELL ACCORDING TO ORTHODOX TRADITION
by Protopresbyter George Metallinos, Professor of Orthodox Theology
On the Last Sunday of Lent "we commemorate the Second and Incorruptible Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." The expression in the Synaxarion, "we commemorate" confirms that our Church, as the Body of Christ, re-enacts in its worship the Second Coming of Christ as an "event" and not just something that is historically expected. The reason is that, through the Holy Eucharist, we are transported to the celestial Kingdom, to meta-history. It is in this orthodox perspective, that the subject of paradise and hell is approached.
In the Gospels (St. Matthew , ch. 5), mention is made of "Kingdom" and "eternal life". In this excerpt, which is cited during the Divine Liturgy of this Sunday, the "Kingdom" is the divine destination of mankind. The "fire" is "prepared" for the devil and his angels (demons), not because God desires it, but because they are without repentance [i.e.., unwilling to turn, to re-think, and participate in redemption]. The "Kingdom" is "prepared" for those who remain faithful to the will of God. The uncreated glory is Paradise (the "Kingdom"). "Eternal fire" is hell (v.46). At the beginning of history, God invites man into paradise, into a communion with His uncreated Grace. At the end of history, man has to face both paradise and hell. We shall see further down what this means. We do however stress that it is one of the central subjects of our faith -- it is Orthodox Christianity's "philosopher's stone."
Mention of paradise and hell in the New Testament is frequent. In St. Luke 23:43, Christ says to the robber on the cross: "Today you will be with me in paradise". However, the robber also refers to paradise, when he says: "Remember me, Lord...in Your Kingdom". According to St. Theophylaktos of Bulgaria, for the robber was in paradise, in other words, the Kingdom. The Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12:3-4) confesses that, while still in this lifetime, he was "swept up to paradise and heard unspoken words, which are impossible for man to repeat." In Revelation, we read: "To the victor, I shall give him to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of my God" (2:7). And St. Arethas of Caesaria interprets: "Paradise is understood to be the blessed and eternal life". Paradise, Eternal life, Kingdom of God, are all related. Reference o hell: St. Matthew 25:46 ("to everlasting torment"), 25:41 ("everlasting fire"), 25:30 ("the outermost darkness"), 5:22 ("the place of fire"), 1 John 4:18 ("...for fear contains torment"). These are ways that express what we mean by "hell."
Paradise and hell are not two different places. Such an idea is an idolatrous concept. Rather they signify two different conditions [ways or states of being], which originated from the same uncreated source, and are perceived by man as two, differing experiences. More precisely, they are the same experience, except that they are perceived differently by man, depending on his internal state.
This experience is the sight of Chris in the uncreated light of His divinity, of His "glory". From the moment of His Second Coming, through to all eternity, all people will be seeing Christ in His uncreated light. That is when "those who worked good deeds in their lifetime will go towards the resurrection of life, while those who worked evil in their lifetime will go towards the Resurrection of judgment" (St. John 5:29). In the presence of Christ, mankind will be separated (like "sheep" and "goats", to His right and His left). In other words, they will be discerning in two separate groups: those who will be behold Christ in paradise (the "exceeding good, the radiant") and those who will be looking upon Christ as hell ("the all-consuming fire" of Hebrews 12:29).
Paradise and hell are the same reality. This is what is depicted in the portrayal of the Second Coming. From Christ, a river of fire flows forth. It is radiant like a golden light at the upper end of it, where the Saints are. At its lower end, the same river is fiery, and it is in that part of the river that the demons and the unrepentant (the "never repentant" according to a hymn) are depicted. This is why in St. Luke 2:34 we read that Christ stands "as the fall and the resurrection of many." Christ becomes the resurrection into eternal life for those who accepted Him and followed the means given for the healing of the heart. To those who rejected Him, however, He becomes their separation and their hell.
Among the Patristic testimonies, Saint John of Sinai (of the Ladder or Climacus) says that the uncreated light of Christ is "an all-consuming fire and an illuminating light." Saint Gregory Palamas observes: "Thus, it is said, He will baptize you by the Holy Spirit and by fire. In other words, by illumination and judgment, depending on each person's predisposition, which in itself will bring upon him that which he deserves." Elsewhere, (Essays, P. Christou Publications, vol. 2, page 145): The Light of Christ, "albeit one and accessible to all, is not partaken of uniformly, but differently."
Consequently, paradise and hell are not a reward or a punishment (condemnation), but the way that we individually experience the sight of Christ, depending on the condition of our heart. God doesn't punish in essence, although, for educative purposes, the Scripture does mention punishment. The more spiritual that one becomes, the better he can comprehend the language of the Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Man's condition (clean-unclean, repentant-unrepentant) is the factor that determines the acceptance of the light as "paradise" or "hell.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God