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!
PSALM 66 (67)
God be merciful to us and bless us, And cause His face to shine upon us, That Your way may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations. Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the people praise You. Oh, let the nations be glad and sing for joy! For You shall judge the people righteously, And govern the nations on earth. Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You. Then the earth shall yield her increase; God, our own God, shall bless us. God shall bless us, And all the ends of the earth shall fear Him.
On May 17th 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: Holy Apostles Andronikos and Junia of the Seventy; Saints Nectarios and Theophanes, builders of Varlaam Monastery at Meteora; Saint Athanasius the New of Christianopolis; Saint Ephrosynos of Moscow.
THE HOLY APOSTLE ANDRONICOS. One of the Seventy, he was a kinsman of the Holy Apostle Paul, as Saint Paul wrote (Romans 16:17), remembering also Saint Junia, St. Andronicus's helper. Saint Andronicos was made bishop of Pannonia, and did not stay in one place, but preached the Gospel throughout the whole of Pannonia. With Saint Junia, he was successful in bringing many to Christ and in demolishing many temples of idolatry. Both of them had the grace of wonder-working, by which they drove out demons and healed every sort of sickness and disease. They both suffered for Christ, and thus received a twofold crown: of Apostleship and of Martyrdom. Their holy relics were found in the excavations in Eugenius.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints and Holy Apostles/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 14:20-28
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. John 9:39-10:9
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND CONTEMPLATION
"In our living together we are one another's hands, ears, and feet. Marriage redoubles our strength, rejoices our friends, causes grief to our enemies. A common concern makes trials bearable. Common joys are all the happier, and accord makes riches more pleasant; it is even more delightful than riches for those without wealth. Marriage is the key of moderation and the harmony of the desires, the seal of a deep friendship". [St. Gregory theTheologian]
ILLNESSES OF THE HEART
by Kyriacos C. Markides
[source:The Mountain of Silence]
"The most basic illness that the holy elders talk about," Father Maximos began, "is ignorance. In their language, however, ignorance does not mean lack of the right information or the right kind of intellectual knowledge. What they really mean is the heart's ignorance of God. And this lack of direct experience of God renders human beings incapable of knowing what it means to live apart from God. Consequently they are not conscious of how abysmal their deprivation and predicament is."
"What you don't know you don't miss," I added. "I suppose it is analogous to people who are content to live in polluted cities. They are perfectly happy because they have never experienced the clean, fresh air of the mountains and the countryside."
"That's a good analogy. Speaking for myself, every time, I go down to Nicosia (Cyprus) I have a problem with the water. I just can't drink it. It cannot be compared to the mountain water we have here. But for the people who live in the city, their water tastes fine. So, it is similar to our relationship in with God. There is a period in our lives when we have no experience of God whatsoever. Therefore, we do not miss Him. Then, either through sudden illumination or through a long process of practice we get glimpses of God's presence. My own feeble experience of God helped me understand what Christ really meant when He said 'I am the light that lightens the world.'"
"I then became aware," Father Maximos continued,"of the darkness that I was living in up to that point. It was a darkness so thick that you could grasp it with your hands, even cut it with a knife. When we don't know, we are content with the darkness. Recognition emerges when we experience the Light, not before. You see, while we are in the dark, not only do we assume that it is the natural state of things but that it is also beautiful."
I told Father Maximos that what he just said reminded me of Plato's parable of the cave...
"Plato's light that was outside the cave," Father Maximos pointed out, "is in reality Christ, and those who see the light are the Saints who have been witnesses to the Light through the eons. The cave dwellers who do not respond to the message are those whose hearts are shut and who therefore are non-receptive to the Good News. That is why the holy elders advise that before you speak to someone about God, you must pray for that person so that grace may proceed ahead of you and prepare the ground. But even so, people whose heart is shut cannot experience the Light, no matter what."
Father Maximos went on to say that ultimate therapy of the heart requires a tremendous amount of effort before it can have "gnosis theou, knowledge of God." Knowledge of God is not gained through books on theology and dogma. Knowledge of God can only be attained through long and arduous spiritual practices.
"We lost the knowledge of God," he went on to say, "at the moment when we transformed the Ecclesia (Church) from experience into theology, from a living reality into moralistic principles, good values and high ideals. When that happened," Father Maximos said humorously, "we became like tin cans with nothing inside."
There was passion in Father Maximos's words. I still recall an incident when he jokingly rebuked a group of young theologians who introduced themselves as "theologians". "To call yourselves theologians," he teased them, "means that you have become graced by the knowledge of god, like Saint John the Theologian or Saint Basil the Great. Have you? Can you truly call yourselves theologians because you just read some books and earned a degree in so-called 'theology'? Don't you think this is rather presumptuous on your part?" Father Maximos offered them a lesson that day about knowing God through the heart. He told them that a poor and humble peasant may become a saint as a result of arduous spiritual askesis (practice) and ceaseless prayer, and therefore have knowledge of God, whereas a scholar who publishes volumes on theology but who is proud because of his worldly achievements may be completely ignorant of God.
"After ignorance as the primary illness of the heart," Father Maximos went on, "there is the related illness of forgetfulness. The heart does not remember God. It forgot how to be in a prayerful state." "Not being in a prayerful state is considered an illness?" I wondered. "But of course. The Saints repeated this truth time and again over the centuries; that the natural state of a human being is the continuous contemplation and memory of God. I do not mean by that a cerebral memory of God but a memory that works from within the heart."
"How does that work? How can I remember God in the heart? It is easy for me to nod in agreement with what you just said but I am still not clear on how such a state is attained."
"Let me explain, the mind is a form of energy, right? It is natural that whatever we do, such as reading, writing, washing the floor, cooking and so on, we do it by employing our mind. It is at work. For those who engage in spiritual askesis (exercise), however, the most important center, the center of the heart, is also at work. So while their mind is focused on a certain activity, such as washing dishes, their heart is doing something else simultaneously. I am fully aware that it must be difficult to comprehend this. But believe me it is possible. The heart is attached to God, lives with God, functions in God, and is joyous with the presence of God while the praying person is absorbed in worldly activities. They may be even asleep but their heart functions within the grace of the Holy Spirit."
"This, I suppose, takes place naturally when a person masters the art of prayer, how to pray ceaselessly. This is what you said before, right?" I interjected.
"Exactly. The method within the Athonite spiritual tradition for attaining that state is to learn how to say the Efche [ευχή], the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner), continuously. It is the practical way of mobilizing the mechanism of the heart to open up to grace. You see, Kyriaco, embedded in the name of Jesus is the very power of God, By invoking, therefore, the sacred name repeatedly we invited the grace of God to take possession of our hearts and minds, protecting us from harmful effects. As Elder Sophrony put it, the name of Jesus Christ for the believer is like a high fortress wall that gives the soul the strength to resist harmful influences from outside."
"Father Maximos said, "It is easier at that early stage of the practice to recite the prayer when you do some task that does not require concentration, such as washing dishes. But you inexperience should not discourage you. This is a challenge that you can overcome with time. Keep in mind that at the early stages of spiritual practice you must not be concerned with the quality of the prayer, whether your mind is focused on the words or not. Whatever you do at that stage, your mind will be wandering. There is no way to avoid that. But the Prayer has its own power and energy. As you repeat it in your mind or aloud it will have a gradual impact within your psycho-spiritual world. Believe me," Father Maximos added, "it will work like a bulldozer which opens up the road, gradually demolishing rocks and pushing the dirt away. That is how the Prayer works. It opens the road for Grace to visit the heart. And when that happens, then the heart works by itself independently of whatever else you do. It enters into an ongoing relationship with God."
With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God