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 shall ever be. Ο Χριστός έν τώ μέσω ημών. Και ήν και έστι και έσται.
Those living in the Monasteries and the Hermitages, having asked forgiveness from the Geronda (Elder), retire to their cells where they recite the following prayer:
Lord, forgive those who hate us and those who wrong us; do good to those who do good; to our brethren and relatives, grant their requests for salvation and eternal life; visit the sick and grant them healing; govern those at sea; accompany the travelers; to those who serve us and those who help us grant remission of sins; forgive those who have asked us to pray for them and have mercy on them according to Your great mercy. Remember, Lord, all our fathers and brethren departed this life and rest them where the Light of Your face shines. Remember, Lord, our brethren, the captives, and spare them from every tribulation. Remember, Lord those who labor and bring forth fruit in Your holy Churches, and grant them all requests for salvation and eternal life. Remember us, as well, Lord, Your humble and sinful servants and illumine our mind with the Light of Your knowledge and guide us in the way of Your Commandments; through the intercessions of Your Most Sacred Mother, Our Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, and all Your Saints; for You are Blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.
On March 28th 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 Stefanos the Wonder-worker of Trigleia; Saints Priscus, Malchus, and Alexander in Caesarea; Saint Hilarion of Pelekete; Saint John, Bishop of Manglisi; Saint George, Bishop; Saint Efstratios the Holy Martyr of the Caves of Kiev; Saints Parados and Peter, presbyters; Saint Hilarion of Pskov; Saint and Prince Enravota-Boyan of Bulgaria; Saint Hesychios the Theologian, Presbyter of Jerusalem.
SAINT HESYCHIUS THE THEOLOGIAN, PRESBYTER OF JERUSALEM. Saint Photios said that the writings of St. Hesychius, more than any others, are suitable for those who do not entertain the abstract, but direct their energy to the practical works of the active spiritual life. His fifth-century works are found in the Philokalia, an eleven-hundred-year collection of Orthodox wisdom. He was a student of Saint Gregory the Theologian. Later he became a monk of the Church's most famous teachers. He was known for his ability to bring clarity to the Gospels. Saint Theodore the Studite called him one of the great teachers of the Church, together with Saint Basil the Great and Saint John Chrysostom.
+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:
Old Testament: Isaiah 41:4-14
Old Testament: Genesis 17:1-9
Old Testament: Proverbs 15:20-16:9
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND CONTEMPLATION
"God is kind and He is kind to an immeasurable extent...Your sins piled one above the other do not overtop the Greatness of God's love. Your wounds are not too great for the skill of the Doctor. There is only one course of treatment for you to follow: rely on Him in faith. Explain frankly what is wrong to the Doctor and say with the Psalmist: 'I acknowledge my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity.' (Psalm 32:5) Then you will be able to go on with the Psalmist to say: 'Then did you forgive the guilt of my sin." [Saint Cyril of Jerusalem]
THE SPIRITUAL STRUGGLE OF THE ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN
"The true goal of our Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. Fasting, vigils, prayer, charity and all good deeds done for the sake of Christ are but means for the acquisition of the Holy Spirit." [Saint Seraphim of Sarov]
From an Orthodox perspective, we are not seeking "spirituality", rather we are seeking the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Orthodox life is a wholly creative, progressive existence which, in Lossky's words, is a "renunciation of, and moving away from, all that is fixed and stagnant, and reaching out toward the final consummation".
Spiritual life and holiness, which is its fruit, does not exist only in the past. We can see holiness in our predecessors and learn from them, but we are not examining spiritual life like an exhibit in a historical museum. It is a living reality to which we are all called. Every human being has a spiritual dimension. God is not partial: He calls each one into existence with personal love, and endows each human with the potential to share His Own life. Saint Peter using the terminology of his time said that we are called to "become partakers of the Divine Nature" (2 Peter 1:4). And that is what holiness is: "Be holy, for I am holy, and I will that you have all that I have, unreservedly." This is God's invitation to us all, whatever our place in society, or our rank in the Church: the rank of the laity, or that of the clergy. Saint Silouan writes: "Everyone in this world has his task to perform, be he king or patriarch, cook, blacksmith or teacher, but the Lord Whose love extends to everyone of us will give greater reward to the man whose love for God is greater." And again: "Not everyone can be an emperor or a prince; not everyone can be a patriarch or an abbot, or a leader; but in every walk of life we can love God and be pleasing to Him, and only this is important."
Spiritual life is life which takes into account the spiritual dimension of human beings. Working at our relationship with God is not like a hobby for a certain category of person. As people say, "He or she is the religious type". It is not an optional extra. It is what makes our life really human. Biology and psychology, when they exclude the divine input into the human make-up, give an incomplete picture. Secular man is merely a superior animal, and actually subhuman. Without spiritual effort we will not cultivate our spirit. It cannot be obliterated, but it can be stifled and atrophied, ignored or denied. Only if we live as life which is spiritual will we ever be fully ourselves, fully reintegrated as persons. Spiritual life includes our psychological and our physical aspects. What I think and do on every level of existence affects my soul. And when my soul is touched by God's grace, by thinking, my feeling and my body is also blessed.
The fullness of life in God is only accessible in the God-man, that is, in the One Who shares our human nature as well as having Divine Nature, as One of the Holy Trinity. The Orthodox Church gives us a true Prototype: we can see, and hear, and touch, and taste, the Absolute Being; we can experience the fragrance of God's actual Being. Thus we can go to the end of the Church's path with confidence. No other path, however noble its practices, its morals, and its aspirations, goes safely to the very end. Though nobody is totally bereft of grace, fullness of sanctity presupposes orthodox doctrine. Our teaching is unsurpassed; it is not out of date. It has borne fruit in many different ages and circumstances and cultures. Orthodoxy is for everyone; we can understand why Tertullian said that "every soul is innately Christian."
Thus spiritual life could be defined as "life in Christ." To be "in Christ" means to be incorporated into his actual body, and to be anointed with His Spirit--Christ means "the Anointed One"--and adopted as a child of His Heavenly Father. Christian faith is not only saying "yes" to the Creed. It means "putting on Christ" (Gal. 3:27): How? By Baptism, which, precisely, is preceded by a confession of faith. We easily take this great gift for granted, but those who are converted in the mission field or as adults can tell us from their experience that is a passage from darkness to Light, from death to Life. We sometimes forget that at Baptism the priest said over us, "Thou art washed, thou art sanctified, thou art justified, in the Name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of God." These magnificent words, borrowed from Saint Paul's letter to the Corinthians, can seem like a mere ritual formula if we neglect to actualize the divine gift of Grace in our life. The seed of spiritual life has been sown in us. We "sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints" (1 Cor. 1:2). That is our task.
If we are certain that we "have found the True faith", we have nothing to fear from the plethora of spiritual paths around us, even though it seems confusing. "For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7).If we remain faithful, and continually enrich our experience and knowledge of the Church's life and teaching, we will be all the better fitted to help our contemporaries.
We often emphasize changing our ways at the beginning of the New Year or during one of the great fast periods of the Church, but any time is a good time to begin forming a good habit. In fact, the best time to root out the bad and institute the good is always in the present moment. "Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold now is the day of salvation." (2 Cor. 6:2).
It is important to realize that change does not happen without struggle and effort. Sometimes that struggle is the adjustment of our schedule or lifestyle to incorporate whatever habit we are trying to establish. We should also realize that there are forces working against our efforts towards the good and virtuous. The Holy Fathers of the Church have typically listed three such negative forces. First, we must contend against our own sinful inclinations and passions, our weaknesses of the flesh and our mortality. Secondly, we must be aware of the Evil One and his demons, who ceaselessly wage spiritual war against us and our noble purpose. Finally, we must remember that we live in a fallen world whose values oppose those of God. To forget any of these aspects of the spiritual war and not be willing and ready to struggle against them with the help of God is to not be serious in our goal of establishing a good habit.
What causes spiritual despair? First, relentless attacks from the devil. The devil attacks the one struggling to grow in Christ. The Evil One doesn't bother with the casual or lukewarm Christian or the habitually immoral person -- they do not need the devil to attack and destroy them, they are self-destructive. The devil attacks the committed and practicing Christian.
A priest once shared this story with me:
It seems that a certain monk in a monastery had an ability to see demons attacking people. And so one day, the abbot of his monastery sent him to the nearby city to see how many demons were there. So, the monk ventured down the road from the monastery towards the city. It was a large city, filled with all kinds of people doing all kinds of things. And as he journeyed through the city, he looked and he looked and he saw no demons. He was very puzzled by this. All these people, and yet no demons attacking them. Finally, he saw one demon laying under the shade of a tree, and the demon was sleeping. The monk headed back towards the monastery. And as he approached the monastery, he saw legions and legions of demons, climbing up the monastery walls, tearing at the gates, sitting in the bell tower of the church, and going in and out of the windows of the cells where the monks lived. The monk reported to the Abbot, 'I went to the city where there are many people and I saw only one demon and he was sleeping. Why at this monastery, where we are but a few monks, why are there so many demons all around us?' The Abbot answered, 'My son, you see in the city, people are so busy, their lives are filled with things, they succumb to temptations constantly, they have squeezed God out of their lives, there is no work for the demons to do. So they leave the people alone. But here in the monastery, where we try to pray constantly, where we try to rejoice in the things of God constantly, this is where they are at work constantly.'
Satan tempted Christ Himself, we read in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Saint Matthew. And Christ was hungry and in His own agony -- He wasn't surrounded by throngs of people, or by a circle of His disciples and close friends. He was alone in the desert, praying and fasting for forty days, and this is where Satan made his attack. So, if Satan can attack the Lord Himself, then it is no surprise that Satan can attack someone like us.
That is why when we strive to pray, sometimes it is a struggle--it doesn't bring great serenity each time we bow our head in prayer, or even each time we come to the Divine Liturgy or other holy services of the Church. Sometimes there are weeks and even months of spiritual struggle, spiritual frustration and despair. However, we must never give up and surrender to Satan and his demons no matter how difficult and painful it may be. Our Almighty God and Creator is always with us ('Μεθ' ημών ο Θεός΄). "Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, For God is with us." We cannot forget that although the Evil One can tempt us he can never impose his will and evil ways on us.
Negligence, the unsleeping danger for the Orthodox Christian. Negligence is a terrible conspirator against our lives and has wronged us many times, and we must never cease to regard it as our most implacable enemy. In the language of the Holy Fathers this called Akidia as well as negligence and sloth, which all mean the same thing--spiritual death. We shall not go into what the Holy Fathers have said about this pestilence, except that it is included among the eight evil thoughts as a comprehensive vice. The means of grace against negligence are prayer, tears, and faith.PRAYER, TEARS, AND FAITH.
Saint Hesychius gives this advice on our struggle to overcome the passions:
Humility, in so far as its adversaries in combat are the demons of pride, so that he will have at hand Christ's help in his heart, for "the Lord resists the proud" (St. James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5).
Attentiveness, so that one does not allow the heart to have any thought, no matter how good it seems.
Denial, so that as soon as one has detected a thought that has come, he may repulse it immediately with anger.
Prayer, so that after refuting a thought, one may immediately cry out to Christ with 'groanings which cannot be uttered' (Romans 8:26). Then the ascetic will see the enemy bound or chased by the honorable name of Jesus, like dust by the wind, or like smoke that vanishes with its dreams.
Spiritual life will involve some "mortification" for all of us. One example of this is the fasts that we undertake together at certain periods of the Church year, precisely to help us to pray and to cleanse our heart of sinful passions. Saint Paul goes on to say that, "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For you have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but you have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, 'Abba, Father". "The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God" (Romans 8:13-16). When "the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon us" (I Peter 4:14), then it will be evident that there is spiritual life and sanctify today.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God