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 LITURGY OF THE PRESANCTIFIED GIFTS
THE PRAYER OF THE SECOND ANTIPHON
O Lord, do not rebuke us in Your anger; do not chastise us in Your wrath; but deal with us according to Your loving kindness, as Healer and Physician of our souls. Guide us to the harbor of Your will; enlighten the eyes of our hearts that we may know Your Truth; but grant that the rest of this day may be peaceful and without sin, as may our whole life, through the prayers of the Theotokos and of all the Saints. For Yours is the dominion, and Yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
On February 23rd 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: Saint Polycarpos of Smyrna; Saint Gorgonia, sister of Saint Gregory the Theologian; Saints John, Antiochos, Antoninos, Zevinas, and Polychronios of Syria; Saint Damian the God-lover of Philotheou; Saint Damian of Esphigmenou, Mt. Athos; Saint Polycarp of Briansk; St. Moses of White Lake; St. Alexander, Founder of the Monastery of the Unsleeping.
THE HIEROMARTYR POLYCARPOS OR POLYCARP, BISHOP OF SMYRNA: This great, apostolic man was born a pagan. Saint John the Theologian brought him to the Christian faith and baptized him. St. Polycarp was left an orphan in early childhood and a noble widow, Callista, after a vision in a dream, took him in, rearing and educating him as her own son. St. Polycarp was God-fearing and compassionate from his early years. He made great efforts to emulate the life of St. Bucolus, the then Bishop of Smyrna, and of the Holy Apostles John and Paul, whom he had met and heard. St. Bucolus ordained him priest and, at the time of his death, proclaimed him his heir in Smyrna. The Apostolic bishops, who had gathered for St. Bucolus's funeral, consecrated St. Polycarp bishop. From the very beginning he was endued with the power of miracle-working. He cast out the evil spirit from a servant of some prince and put out a great conflagration in Smyrna by his prayers. Seeing these things, many pagans regarded him as one of the gods. He brought rain in a drought, healed sickness, had the gifts of insight and prophecy, and so forth. He suffered in the time of the pagan Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Three days before his death, he prophesied: 'In three days I shall be consumed by fire for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ!' When, on the third day, the soldiers arrested him and took him for trial, he cried out: 'May this be the will of the Lord my God! When the judge urged him to deny Christ and recognize the Roman gods, Saint Polycarp said: 'I cannot exchange the better for the worse.' The Jews especially hated Saint Polycarp and endeavored to have him burned. When they place him, bound, on the pyre, he prayed long to God. He was very old and grey, and he shone like an Angel of God. All the people saw how the flames licked around him but did not touch him. Frightened by such a phenomenon, the pagan judge ordered the executioner to stab him with a lance through the flames. When this was done, a vast flow of blood gushed out and extinguished the whole fire, and his body remained whole and unburned. At the Jews' persuasion, the judge ordered that St. Polycarp's dead body be burned according to the Greek custom, and so they dishonorably burned his body. Something that they had failed to do while he was alive. Saint Polycarp suffered in the year of our Lord 167 A.D., on Holy and Great Saturday.
+ 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:
General Epistle of Jude 1:11-25
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Luke 23:1-31; 33, 44-56
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND CONTEMPLATION
"When someone patiently endures temptations, difficult situations and problems, God provides him with the best solutions. Therefore, we must always be obedient and humble ourselves; that is to say, endure everything, hoping for the grace of God to function in our lives. This is why instead of taking action, we wait for God to act on our behalf." (Geronda [Elder] Paisios)
DISCERNING GOD'S WILL FOR OUR LIVES
by Saint John Climacus
Saint John Climacus (of the Ladder) introduces the twenty-sixth step thus:
"Among beginners, discernment is real self-knowledge; among those midway along the road to perfection, it is a spiritual capacity to distinguish unfailingly between what is truly good and what in nature is opposed to the good; among the perfect, it is a knowledge resulting from divine illumination, which with its lamp can light up what is dark in others. To put the matter generally, discernment is--and is recognized to be--a solid understanding of the will of God in all times, in all places, in all things; and it is found only among those who are pure in heart, in body, and in speech."
How many times do we struggle to know God's Will for our lives? As Saint John notes: "There are many roads to holiness--and to hell. A path wrong for one will suit another, yet what each is doing is pleasing to God."
How are we to live our lives? What are we to do? In a moment of crisis, when a decision has to be made and made quickly, what does God want us to do? What will please Him? What will bring us heavenly rewards? Am I hearing the voice of God or the voice of self--or, worse still, the voice of Satan? How do I know? Anyone who is traveling the spiritual road knows in the depths of his being how agonizing these questions truly are.
"As the hart parched with thirst pants for running water (cf. Psalm 41:2), the monk longs for a knowledge or grasp of the good and divine will."
Saint John speaks very practically in response to this longing. Out of his personal tried and trusted experience, he offers advice for those who would know God's Will. First, he insists:
"Those who wish to discover the Will of God must begin by mortifying their own will. Then, having prayed in faith and simplicity, all malice spent, they should turn humbly and in confidence to their fathers or even their brothers and they should accept their counsel as though from God Himself, even when the advice comes from those who do not seem very spiritual."
Saint John's words must be carefully examined in order to be understood. He recognizes that it is easy for us to say that we want to know God's Will when, in fact, we really only want our own will. It is also easy for us to convince ourselves that what God wants is what we want, and then to imagine that our voice is the voice of God. This deception (known as απάτη in Greek or as prelest in Slavonic) leads us to hell. Once we have confused our voice with God's, we are easy prey for the devil.
Humility, the recognition that our will is confused and confusing, is the necessary prelude to knowing the Will of God. To keep us from playing games with ourselves, and to ensure that we are totally humbled before God so that we can be guided by Him, Saint John suggests that we make no decisions without advice and agreement from others. Do nothing without a blessing? This blessing may be obtained from our Father Confessor, from the writings and examples of the Saints, or from our spiritual brothers and sisters.
"God, after all, is not unjust. He will not lead astray the souls who, trusting and guileless, yield in lowliness to the advice and decision of their neighbor. Even if those consulted are stupid, God immaterially and invisibly speaks through them and anyone who faithfully submits to this norm will be filled with humility."
Saint John also mentions other ways to develop humility and to gain discernment.
"Some of those trying to discover the will of God abandoned every attachment...They prayed hard for a fixed number of days and they laid aside any inclination of their souls, whether to do something or to resist it. In this way they figured out what God willed, either through some direct manner of intelligible communication from Him or by complete evaporation from their souls of whatever it was they had proposed to do."
The more detached we are from those things which feed the flesh and its desires, and the more attached we are to those things which feed our soul, the more we are able to discern the will of God for our lives. In addition, those things which are of God last, whereas the things of our flesh fade.
Saint John continues: "Others found so much trouble and distraction in whatever they were doing that they were led to think that bother of this sort could have come only from God, in accordance with the sayings, 'We wanted to come to you once and once again, but Satan prevented us" (1 Thess. 2:18).
How refreshing are these words, and how contrary to our normal way of thinking! We often start something which we think is of God, and as soon as it get difficult we grow discouraged and think that maybe we made a mistake, maybe it really wasn't of God. How different is the reasoning of Saint John! If we start something and experience tremendous troubles in the doing of it, then we are probably on the right track.
Satan will only oppose something that is good; the better and purer it is, the more Satan will try to stop us at every turn. Remember: Jonah found everything ready and in order for him when he was running away from God. The boat was in port and there was plenty of room.
However, lest we err in the opposite direction, Saint John gives us another angle:
"But there were others who found that venture of theirs had proved unexpectedly successful, and so they inferred that it had pleased God, and they went on to declare that God helps everyone who chooses to do the right thing" (cf. Romans 8:28).
To know God's will is not easy; we often make mistakes. This should keep us humble, but is should not depress us. Saint John writes:
"God is not unjust. He will not slam the door against the man who humbly knocks. In everything we do, in what has to be done now or later, the objective must be sought from God Himself. And every act that is not the product of personal inclination or of impurity will be imputed to us for good , especially if it is done for the sake of God and not for someone else. This is so, even if the actions themselves are not completely good.
An active soul is a provocation to demons, yet the greater our conflicts the greater our rewards. There will be no crown for the man who has never been under attack, and the man who perseveres in spite of any failures will be glorified as a champion by the Angels.
God judges us by our intentions, but because of His love for us He only demands from us such actions as lie within our power. Great is the man who does all that lies within his power, but greater still is the man who, in all humility, tries to do more.
Our eyes are a light to all the body. Discernment of the virtues is a light to all the mind." [From the book "Ascending the Heights" by Father John Mack]
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God