Beloved brothers and sisters in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ! ΑΛΗΘΩΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ!
Having beheld the Creator in human form and knowing Him to be the Master, the Hebrew children hastened to please Him with branches, crying: Hosanna! But we offer Thee a song, saying:
Jesus, True God!
Jesus, Son of David!
Jesus, Most-Glorious King!
Jesus, Blameless Lamb!
Jesus, Most-Wonderful Shepherd!
Jesus, Guardian of mine infancy!
Jesus, Nourisher of my youth!
Jesus, Praise of mine old age!
Jesus, my Hope at death!
Jesus, my Life after death!
Jesus, my Comfort at Thy judgment!
Jesus, my Desire, put me not then to shame!
On April 30th 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 James the Holy Apostle and brother of Saint John the Theologian; Saint Maximus of Ephesus; St. Clement the Hymnographer; St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov) of Russia (+1867); New Holy Martyr Argyre of Prusa; Uncovering of the holy relics of Saint Basil, Bishop of Amasia; St. Niketas of the Kiev Caves, Bishop of Novgorod; New Holy Martyr Alexis of Plotava.
HOLY APOSTLE JAMES OF THE TWELVE, BROTHER OF SAINT JOHN THE THEOLOGIAN. Holy Apostle James was called James the Greater to distinguish him from the other Apostle James who was called James the Lesser. He was one of the two apostolic sons of Zebedee. He witnessed three important events: Jesus raising the daughter of Jairus from the dead, the Transfiguration of Christ with his brother and Peter, and the agony on Gethsemane. Saints James and John were great preachers and teachers of theology, and for this Jesus called them "Sons of Thunder". Saint James preached in Spain and other lands. He later returned to Jerusalem, where he boldly preached about Jesus Christ. The sorcerer Hermogenes argued with Saint James, who converted him and his pupil Philip to belief in Christ. Because of this, he was arrested by Herod Agrippa and was martyred by the sword in Jerusalem in the year of Our Lord 44 A.D. He was the first Apostle to be martyred. When Apostle James was sentenced to death, a false witness named Josiah saw the courage and cheerfulness in Apostle James and he became convinced that Jesus must be the True God. He confessed his faith before the onlookers, and he was beheaded with Saint James by the same sword. The holy relics of Saint James are in Spain in the Cathedral of Compostela.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Apostles 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: Acts 12:1-11
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Luke 9:1-6
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND CONTEMPLATION
"The person who fights people out of fear of being mistreated or reproached, will either suffer even more on account of what happens to him here or will be punished mercilessly in the age to come". [Saint Mark the Ascetic]
ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN MONASTICISM
"Then Peter said, 'See, we have left all and followed You.' So He said to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times mores in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life" (St. Luke 18:28-30). [source: Saint Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery in Florence, Arizona]
The innermost spiritual sense of Orthodox Monasticism is revealed in joyful mourning. This paradoxical phrase denotes a spiritual state in which a monk in his prayer grieves for the sins of the world and at the same time experiences the regenerating spiritual joy of Christ's forgiveness and resurrection. A monk dies in order to live, he forgets himself in order to find his real self in God, he becomes ignorant of worldly knowledge in order to attain real spiritual wisdom which is given only to the humble ones.
With the development of monasticism in the Church there appeared a peculiar way of life, which however did not proclaim a new morality. The Church does not have one set for moral rules for the laity and another for monks, not does it divided the faithful into classes according to their obligations towards God. The Christian life is the same for everyone. All Christians have in common that "their being and name is from Christ." This means that the true Christian must ground his life and conduct in Christ, something which is hard to achieve in the world.
What is difficult in the world is approached with dedication in the monastic life. In his spiritual life the monk simply tries to do what every Christian should try to do: to live according to God's commandments. The fundamental principles of monasticism are not different from those of the lives of all the faithful. This is especially apparent in the history of the early Church, before monasticism appeared.
In the Tradition of the Church there is a clear preference for celibacy as opposed to the married state. This stance is not of course hostile to marriage, which is recognized as a profound mystery, but simply indicates the practical obstacles marriage puts in the way of the pursuit of the spiritual life. For this reason, from the earliest days of Christianity many of the faithful chose celibacy. Thus Athenagoras the Confessor in the second century wrote: "You can find many men and women who remain unmarried all their lives in the hope of coming closer to God."
From the very beginning the Christian life has been associated with self denial and sacrifice: "If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me". Christ calls on to give ourselves totally to Him: "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me".
Finally, fervent and unceasing prayer, obedience to the elders of the Church, brotherly love and humility, as well as the essential virtues of the monastic life were cultivated by the members of the Church from its earliest days..
One cannot deny that the monk and the married man have different ways of life, but this does not alter their common responsibility towards God and His Commandments. Every one of us has his own special gift within the one and indivisible body of Christ's Church. Every way of life, whether married or solitary, is equally subject to God's absolute will. Hence no way of life can be taken as an excuse for ignoring or selectively responding to Christ's call and His Commandments. Both paths demand effort and determination.
Saint John Chrysostom is particularly emphatic on this point: "You greatly delude yourself and err, if you think that one thing is demanded from the layman and another from the monk; since the difference between them is in that whether one is married or not, while in everything else they have the same responsibilities…Because all must rise to the same height; and what has turned the world upside down is that we think only the monk must life rigorously, while the rest are allowed to live a life of indolence". Referring to the observance of particular commandments in the Gospels, he says: "Whoever is angry at his brother without a cause, regardless of whether he is a layman or a monk, opposes God in the same way. And whoever looks at a woman lustfully, regardless of his status, commits the same sin". In general, he observes that in giving His Commandments Christ does not make distinction between people: "A man is not defined by whether he is a layman or a monk, but by the way he thinks."
Christ's Commandments demand strictness of life that we often expect only from monks. The requirements of decent and sober behavior, the condemnation of wealth and adoption of frugality, the avoidance of idle talk and the call to show selfless love are not given only for monks, but for all the faithful.
Therefore, the rejection of worldly thinking is the duty not only of monks, but of all Christians. The faithful must not have a worldly mind, but sojourn as strangers and travelers with their minds fixed on God. Their home is not on earth, but in the kingdom of heaven: "For here we have no lasting city which is to come." The Church can be seen as a community in exodus. The world is its temporary home but the church is bound for the Kingdom of God. Just as the Israelites, freed from bondage in Egypt, journeyed towards Jerusalem through many trials and tribulations, so Christians, freed from the bondage of sin, journey through many trials and tribulations towards the Kingdom of Heaven.
In the early days this exodus from the world did not involve a change of place but a change of the way of life. Because God was and is everywhere and fulfills everything, the rejection of the world and turning towards God was not understood in physical sense but as a change of the way of life. This is especially clear in the lives of the early Christians. Although they lived in the world they did not belong to it: "In the world but not of the world." And those who lived in chastity and poverty, which became later fundamental principles of the monastic life, did not abandon the world or take to the mountains.
Physical detachment from the world helps the soul to reject the worldly way of life. Experience shows that human salvation is harder to achieve in the world. As Saint Basil the Great points out, living among men who do not care for the strict observance of God's Commandments is harmful. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to answer Christ's call to take up one's cross and follow Him within the bounds of wordily life. Seeing the multitude of sinners, one not only fails to see his own sins but also falls into temptation to believe that he has achieved something, because we tend to compare ourselves with those who are worse than we are. Furthermore, the hustle and bustle of everyday life distracts us from the remembrance of God. It does not only prevent us from feeling the joy of intense communion with God, but leads us to contempt and forgetfulness of the Divine Will.
This does not mean that detachment from the world guarantees salvation, but sure does help us a lot our spiritual life. When someone devotes himself wholly to God and His will, nothing can stop him from being saved. Saint John Chrysostom says: "There is no obstacle to a worker striving for virtue, but men in office, and those who have a wife and children to look after, and servants to see to, and those in positions of authority can also take care to be virtuous.
Saint Symeon the New Theologian observes: Living in a city does not prevent us from carrying out God's commandments if we are zealous, and silence and solitude are of no benefit if we are slothful and neglectful". Elsewhere he says that it is possible for all, not only monks but laymen too, to "eternally and continuously repent and weep and pray to God, and by these actions to acquire all the other virtues."
Orthodox monasticism has always been associated with stillness or silence which is seen primarily as an internal rather than external state. External silence is sought in order to attain inner stillness of mind more easily. It is intense vigilance and total devotion to God. Living in a quiet place the monk succeeds in knowing himself better, fighting his passions more deeply and purifying his heart more fully, so as to be found worthy of beholding God.
[To be continued]
With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God