Beloved brothers and sisters In Our Risen Lord, God and Only True Savior Jesus Christ,
CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ! ΑΛΗΘΩΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ!
A CLOSING PRAYER
Lord, keep us this evening without sin. Blessed are You, Lord, God of our Fathers, and praised and glorified is Your Name forever. Amen. Lord, let Your mercy come upon us, for we have trusted in You. Blessed are You, Lord; teach me Your commandments. Blessed are You, Master; grant me understanding of Your commandments. Blessed are You, Holy One; enlighten me with Your commandments. Lord, Your love endures forever; do not turn away from the work of Your hands. To You belong praise, song and glory, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.
On May 16th Our Holy Orthodox 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: Righteous Thedore the Sanctified of Egypt; St. Nicholas I, Patriarch of Constantinople; Saints Avdas and Avdiesous, bishops, with 38 holy Martyrs; St. Peter of Vlahernae; Holy Neomartyr Nicholas of Metsovo.
OUR HOLY FATHER THEODORE THE SANCTIFIED. He was a disciple of Saint Pachomius, being born and growing up an unbeliever. Coming to the true Faith as a young man, he was baptized and having heard of Saitn Pachomius, fled to him in his monastery unknown to his parents. Saint Pachomius made him a monk and came to love him for his rare zeal and his obedience. When his mother came to fetch him back home, he would not let her see him, but prayed to God to enlighten her with the truth. And indeed, his mother not only did not take her son back home but herself did not return. Seeing a women's monastery, ruled by St. Pachomius's sister, close by, she entered it and was tonsured. After a certain time, St. Pachomius, Theodore's brother, also came to the monastery and was tonsured. It once happened that the Bishop of Panopolis invited St. Pachomius to build a monastery for the many people who were desirous of the monastic life. St. Pachomius took Theodore with him, and entrusted to him the duty of building the monastery. Upon St. Pachomius's death, Theodore became Abbot (Egoumenos) of all St. Pachomius's monasteries and lived until great old age, guiding a multitude of monks on the way of salvation. He entered peacefully into rest and went to the Kingdom of eternal light in the year of our Lord 368 A.D.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: Acts 13:13-24
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. John 6:5-14
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND CONTEMPLATION
"One who has departed unrepentant and with an evil life cannot be helped by anyone in any way. But the one who has departed even with the slightest virtue, but who had no time to increase this virtue because of indolence, indifference, procrastination, or timidity, the Lord Who is a righteous judge and master will not forget such a one." [Saint John of Damascus]
THE THREEFOLD WAY
by Kyriacos C. Markides
[source: The Mountain of Silence]
There are in Christianity three identifiable stages in the search for God. These are so obvious. At that moment of realization, all the teachings that Father Maximos had passed on to me came together in a coherent whole.
The soul's journey toward God, I explained to Emily that day, must go through three identifiable and distinct stages. At first there is the state of catharsis, or the purification of the soul from egotistical passions It is then followed by the state of fotisis, or the enlightenment of the soul, a gift of the Holy Spirit once the soul has undergone its purification. Finally comes the stage of Theosis, union with God, as the final destination and ultimate home of the human soul. The last two stages are impossible to attain without having the soul first pass through the fires of catharsis from egotistical passions.
According to the wisdom tradition of the holy elders catharsis is essential in helping overcome two basic obstacles that keep us cut off from the knowledge and vision (theoria) of God. The most fundamental barrier is first and foremost the sum total of our worldly passions and desires. These passions are products of the enchantment and enslavement of our hearts and minds to the gross and transient material universe with its myriads of temptations and seductions.
The second fundamental barrier preventing us from knowing God is our exclusive reliance on our senses and rational intellect for understanding reality, which we have come to equate with gross matter. Most of Western philosophy and theology has fallen to this rationalistic and sensate fallacy.
By focusing primarily on the material world, we lose our connection to Heaven. We lose the relationship with God that Adam and Eve enjoyed prior to the Fall, or that the Prodigal Son had prior to his decision to leave the heavenly Palace. This split is at the core of our existential predicament and is the cause of all subsequent psychic turmoil and suffering.
How can humans heal the split and how can Catharsis be achieved? The Athonite response is through askesis, or spiritual exercise. The full time practitioner of "askesis" is the "ascetic" who, contrary to popular negative notions about the meaning of the world, is someone who engages exclusively in spiritual exercises to gain the ultimate prize of theosis. Like the marathon runner whose body is subjected to rigorous and often painful training, so must the "ascetic" be subject to similar systematic and strenuous training.
According to the Athonite elders, askesis implies the overcoming of the allurement of the senses that keep the mind and heart enslaved to this world of gross matter. Monks and nuns as well as committed laypersons must replace culinary pleasures with periodic and systematic fasting. Monks and nuns must also replace sexual life with abstinence in order to free their energy and redirect it exclusively towards the higher goal of establishing an "erotic" relationship with the Divine. Ownership of material objects must give way to total propertylessness and poverty. Furthermore, aspiring novices must empty themselves of all worldly desires and ambitions and give up whatever social positions of power and prestige they may have held in society.
Eastern Christianity offers some dramatic cases from history of individuals rejecting great wealth and power for the sake of a full-time contemplative existence. One such case was that of Saint Savva, the greatest of Serbian Saints who was once king of Serbia. He relinquished his throne, joined Chilandari, the Serbian monastery on Mount Athos, and later returned to Serbia to serve his former subjects as a spiritual teacher and healer.
Laypeople must develop a sense of inner freedom from external possessions, positions and feelings of self-importance. They are asked to use the objects of this world, but not to become emotionally attached and enslaved by them. Ordinary people living in the world can also engage in askesis, for, according to the holy elders, life itself is a form of askesis. When this is practiced, whatever event comes along must be seen as a "temptation" that be "exploited" spiritually for the attainment of humility, the real and only pathway to God. Humility, or the overcoming of egotistical passions, can be attained either within the context of monasticism or within life in the wider world with its myriad of positive and negative 'temptations'. Marriage, for example, is considered by the Ecclesia (Church) as a form of askesis, an arena for transcending one's ego absorption for the sake of the other. It is a mistake, Father Maximos argued, to consider marriage, as many traditional Christians do, as first and foremost a means of procreation. The primary aim of marriage is askesis engaged in by two people who are asked to overcome their separateness in their common ascent towards God.
When one is emptied of worldly attachments and concerns and attains kenosis, the mind may then be filled with the reality of God. Ceaseless prayer replaces the exclusive reliance on reason and the intellect to apprehend the nature of reality. Whether one lives in the world or in a monastery, the practice of prayer remains at the center of one's spiritual life.
When undertaking serious spiritual work one ideally needs an experienced guide, an elder who is divinely gifted. In the absence of an elder, the layperson may still be spiritually nurtured by the Holy Tradition of the Ecclesia. It is also possible to study sacred Orthodox books i.e., the holy writings of the holy Fathers and Mothers of the Church as well as the Holy Scripture, the lives and teachings of the Saints. The Saints, Father Maximos said repeatedly, can serve as beacons for navigating the spiritual path. They can teach us how to live and how to develop the type of discernment needed so we may distinguish the authentic from the unauthentic, the master or saint from the false prophet and impostor, angels from demons.
Fotisis, the enlightenment of the soul, cannot be attained by human effort. Fotisis is the natural consequence of the work carried out during the previous stage of catharsis and is offered to the heart as a gift by the Holy Spirit. It is only at the stage of catharsis that the human will can and ought to be actively engaged. Fotisis as a gift of grace is, among things, holy wisdom itself. In this state the purified soul, the saint, becomes a channel through which God reveals His wisdom, which is the true meaning of enlightenment, or fotisis.
The Christian holy elders teach that a soul which has been cleansed of egotistical passions and reached the stage of fotisis is usually endowed with gifts of the spirit such as prophetic vision, healing, clairvoyance, and other so-called "paranormal" abilities that seem to violate the known laws of physics. Most important, however, fotisis means the vision and the experience of Moses on Mount Sinai, or of Jesus on Mount Tabor, of the Apostles at Pentecost, and of all the saints throughout the ages.
"Ταύτα λελάληκα υμίν ίνα η χαρά η εμή εν υμίν μείνη και η χαρά υμών πληρωθή" (Ιω. ιε΄11).
Αληθινή κι΄ όχι ψεύτικη χαρά νοιώθη μονάχα όποιος έχει τόν Χριστό μέσα του, κι΄ είναι ταπεινός, πράος, γεμάτος αγάπη. Αληθινή χαρά έχει μονάχα εκείνος πού ξαναγεννήθηκε στήν αληθινή ζωή τού Χριστού. Κι΄ αυτή η αληθινή χαρά βγαίνει από καρδιά πού πονά και θλίβεται γιά τό Χριστό, και βρέχεται από τό παρηγορητικό δάκρυο τό οποίο δέν τό γνωρίζουνε οι άλλοι άνθρωποι, κατά τόν άγιο λόγο πού είπε το στόμα τού Κυρίου: Μακάριοι οι πενθούντες, ότι αυτοί παρακληθήσονται" (Ματθ. ε΄4).
With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God