Beloved brothers and sisters in Our Risen Lord, God and Our Only True Savior Jesus Christ,
CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ! ΑΛΗΘΩΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ!
A THANKSGIVING PRAYER OF SAINT BASIL THE GREAT
O Christ our God, and Master, King of the Ages and Creator of all, I thank Thee for all the favours which Thou has granted to me and for the participation in Thy pure and Life-Giving Mysteries (Sacraments). I beseech Thee, therefore, O Gracious and Loving Lord, guard me under Thy protection and under the shadow of Thy wings; and grant me with a clear conscience unto my last breath worthily to receive Thy Holy Things unto forgiveness of sins and unto life eternal. For Thou are the Bread of Life, the Fountain of Holiness, the Giver of all that is good, and to Thee we ascribe glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and from all Ages to all Ages. Amen.
On May 15th 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 Pachomius the Great; Saint Achillios the Wonder-Worker, Archbishop of Larissa.
OUR HOLY FATHER PACHOMIUS THE GREAT. Saint Pachomius was an Egyptian by birth and was a pagan in his youth. As a soldier, he took part in the Emperor Constantine's war against Maxentius. After that, learning from Christians about the one true God and seeing their devout life, Pachomius was baptized and went to the Tabennisiot desert, to the famous ascetic Palamon, with whom he lived in asceticism for ten years. Then an Angel appeared to him in the robes of a monk of the Great Habit at the place called Tabennisi and gave him a tablet on which was written the rule of cenobitic monastery, commanding him to found such a monastery in that place and prophesying to him that many monks would come to it seeking the salvation of their souls. Obeying the Angel of God, St. Pachomius began building many cells, although there was no-one in that place but himself and his brother John. When his brother grumbled at him for doing this unnecessary building, St. Pachomius simply told him that he was following God's command, without explaining who would live there, or when. But many men soon assembled in that place, moved by the Spirit of God, and began to live in asceticism under the rule of that St. Pachomius had received from the Angel. When the number of monks had increased greatly, St. Pachomius, step by step, founded six further monasteries. The number of his disciples grew to seven thousand. Saint Anthony is regarded as the founder of the eremitic life, and Saint Pachomius of the monastic communal life. The humility, love of toil and abstinence of this holy Father were and remain a rare example for the imitation of monks. Saint Pachomius performed innumerable miracles, and also endured innumerable temptations from demons and men. And he served men as both father and brother. He roused many to set out on the way of salvation, and brought many into the way of truth. He was and remains a great light in the Church and a great witness to the truth and righteousness of Christ. He entered peacefully into rest in 346 A.D., at the age of sixty. The Church has raised many of his followers to the ranks of the Saints: Sts. Theodore, Job, Paphnutius, Pecusius, Athenodoros, Eponichus, Soutus, Psois, Dionysius, Petronius and others.
+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: Acts 12:25, 13:1-12
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. John 8:51-59
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND CONTEMPLATION
"The distracted person is like a house without doors or gates. No treasure whatsoever can be kept in such a house. It is open for thieves, robbers, and harlots. The distracted life, completely full of earthly cares, gains for a person heaviness just as gluttony and surfeiting do (cf. St. Luke 21:34). Such a person is attached to the earth. He is occupied with only the temporary and vain. The service of God becomes for the distracted person an irrelevant subject. The very thought about this service is something for him wild, full of darkness, and unbearably heavy..." [St. Ignatius Brianchaninov].
"HOW CAN WE DIFFERENTIATE DELUSION FROM AUTHENTICITY?"
by Kyriacos C. Markides
[source: The Mountain of Silence]
I was about to raise these issues with Father Maximos when Stephanos who up to that point had remained silent, raised his own question. "Father Maximos," he asked, "how can we differentiate delusion from authenticity?" We as human beings, no matter how advanced we may be, carry within us the possibility of delusion. You may have a vision of God or you may hear the voice of God, as was the case with Elder Ephraim, and yet you may still think that it is a form of misperception of God from an unauthentic experience. Many people today claim that they hear the voice of God, that they see the Holy Virgin, Christ, and so on."
"I have known people who come and tell me that they hear messages from God, they hear this and they hear that, and I am pretty certain that they are deceiving themselves", I interjected.
"That's what I had in mind when I raised this question," Stephanos added. "How can we know that the experience of Elder Ephraim or that of Saint Paisios is a direct communication with God Himself and not a form of delusion? It's the same concern that Kyriacos and Maria raised."
"Look, God Himself, through His words and those of the elders, offered us some criteria," Father Maximos replied. "Most important, we can verify authenticity on the basis of experience. If you are experienced you can easily detect delusion, just like an experienced jeweler can detect a real diamond from a fake." He paused, stroked his black beard, and thought for a while. Then he continued, "When the soul is accustomed to the presence and taste of grace, it immediately then recognizes delusion, or what the Elders call plani (deception). On the surface something may look totally pure and innocent, giving you no reasons to doubt it or have any suspicions. Do you understand?" We nodded as we understood that he meant Satan. "I do not mean a wrong idea. If the soul is ill and dominated by vanity, pride and similar passions, then deception cannot be easily detected.
"Is this what the Gerondes mean," Stephanos asked, "when they say that it is humility that gives birth to discernment?"
"Correct," Father Maximos nodded. "By discernment they refer to the process by which one evaluates the origins of a spirit, whether it is from God or not from God. You see, without the soul's attainment of humility, discernment is impossible. Essentially discernment is none other than the sum total of experience, reason, and intuition. It is the capacity to recognize immediately that a particular spirit is one of deception. Elder Ephraim and Saint Paisios were highly experienced warriors of the spiritual struggle and reached great depths of humility. They therefore reached discernment and could differentiate a real message or communication from God from one of illusion and deception."
"Isn't it possible that a Saint may be deceived?" Maria wondered.
"On issues related to knowledge about worldly affairs, yes. But that's not delusion or plani (deception). It is simply error, which is the product of human imperfection. It is an intellectual mistake, a mistake related to the knowledge of this world. It is not a mistake based on discernment about good and evil spirits, or confusion as to whether a message comes from God or not from God. Do you understand? A saint may point to a tree, for example, and say, 'This is a pine tree.' When in reality it is something else. A saint is not necessarily a scientist of the external world. After Pentecost, the Disciples of Christ, being humble fishermen, did not all of a sudden become knowledgeable about this world. They were endowed with divine wisdom and gifts of the Holy Spirit, like healing and prophecy. They were not endowed with specialized knowledge about the material world."
"Father Maxime," I began, "there is much talk in the teachings of the elders about temptations and how to confront them. What we usually meant by that word," I went on to add, "is the pull toward some sinful act such as stealing, lying, fornicating, and so on. It is something that we assume will give us pleasure or satisfy some forbidden desire."
"This is only a small part of what the elders mean," Father Maximos responded. "As I explained yesterday, by temptation the Elders implied anything that causes difficulty or sorrow. A temptation can be a failure in come pursuit or a disappointment of some kind, anything that" Father Maximos stopped for a second and, turning toward me, he asked: "Do you remember what Christ offered us as a prayer? 'Lead us not into temptation...' "
"On the other hand," I responded as we resumed our pace, "I heard elders claim that temptations are good for us. That if all temptations were to be eliminated no one would be saved. Isn't that a contradiction?"
"No. It's a misconception. Christ refers to those temptations that have power over us and can damage our souls. He was not taking about all the unavoidable temptations that come our way. When handled properly, such temptations are spiritually beneficial."
"How is that?"
"The elders taught that no one is immune from temptations. Both the saintly and the sinful suffer from all sorts of trials and tribulations. Suffering is an integral part of the human condition. In fact, the pain and sorrow of the great Saints can be much more intense than that of the rest of us.
"You see," Father Maximos continued after taking a deep breath that sounded like a sigh, "most of us are unaware of the ways spiritual laws work in our lives. Consequently we complain and become impatient with the slightest provocation or difficulty that we encounter along our way. We become bitter and resentful, wondering why we and not others are stricken by this or that misfortune."
"It is an old question," I pointed out. "Why do tragedies happen to good people?"
"The reason why we raise such questions is because we are ignorant of the real purpose of our existence. Had we known, as the Saints do, we would welcome such temptations as opportunities for spiritual advancement," Father Maximos claimed. We remained quiet for a few seconds as we focused on our walk through a rugged turn of the footpath.
"It is very difficult to maintain such a perspective in the face of extreme grief," I suggested. "But, how do the elders explain the causes of human suffering?"
"They identify a variety of causes," Father Maximos replied as we entered a wooded area covered with pine needles along our path. "One cause may be our past actions. This is part of the spiritual law through which God rules the universe. It is the law of cause and effect.
"If you live by the sword you shall die by the sword," I muttered.
"No one is immune to this law," Father Maximos declared. "We are free agents. When we think and act in a way that cuts us off from God, this very estrangement prepares a fertile ground for painful episodes to happen. The powers of evil will be mobilized against us. Do you know why? Because we have given the green light for such sorrowful episodes to come our way. If we steal, for example, the police will come after us and we will end up in jail. It is not God that punishes us but the natural outcome of our own actions."
"This is simple to understand," I pointed out. "But what about painful experiences coming to us for no apparent reason?"
Noticing an inquiring look on my face, Father Maximos went on to elaborate. "Let us assume that we are deeply spiritual and we pray to God day and night to save our souls. At the same time we may not exert sufficient effort for the attainment of what we most crave for, to unite with God. We may simply lack sufficient momentum to reach such a state. It is also possible that we may not be aware that some of what we do or don't do may be harmful, as far as our goal of union with God is concerned. So we deprive ourselves of the progress that we should have made given our strength and the level of our spiritual development at that point."
"I suppose it would be similar to the case of promising students who do not exert enough effort to attain their full potential," I commented. "Well said. Good teachers who have only the well-being of their students in mind may on occasion employ punishment in order to stimulate them to work harder so they may actualize their inherent talents... Likewise we often fail to realize that we need to be more focused and serious with our spiritual life. Our hearts 'get stolen' as the Elders say, by the circumstances of our everyday life, and we don't seem to progress as much as we should. But at the same time we fervently seek God's grace. In doing so, however, we give the right to God to help us advance on our spiritual path. This is not done through some kind of magic but through the events around us."
With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God