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 EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ. ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
LIFE'S LESSONS: BEATITUDES
Blessed is the man who has the fear of God in him, for the Holy Spirit calls him blessed, saying: blessed is the man who fear the Lord.
Blessed is the man who has the love of God in him, for he bears God in himself. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God.
Blessed is he who has attained endurance, for a long-suffering man is great in understanding.
Blessed is he who is a stranger to anger and irritability, for anger does not beget a man of God's truth.
Blessed is he who has loved meekness, according to the Lord's word: blessed are the meek.
Blessed is he who has attained true obedience, for such a man imitates the Lord our Savior, Who was obedient even unto death.
Blessed is he who is a stranger to envy and rivalry, for it was by envy that death came into the world.
Blessed is he who does not defile his tongue with slander, for the heart of a slanderer is full of all manner of defilement.
Blessed is he who has attained abstinence, for this one virtue is a buttress for all the rest.
Blessed is he who is charitable to the poor, for he will find many to defend him at the judgment.
Blessed is he who leads an exalted life yet maintains an humble persuasion: he imitates Christ and with Him he shall sit in glory.
Blessed is he who forces himself to perform all manner of good deeds, for the forceful shall capture the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed is he who walks the straight path, for he will enter heaven bearing a crown.
Blessed are all these, for they shall stand boldly before the Judge and receive a holy reward from His hands.
[A Spiritual Psalter or Reflections on God by Bishop and Saint Theophan the Recluse. Also, from the works of our Holy Father and Saint Ephraim the Syrian]
On June 9th [Saturday of the Holy Spirit] 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 Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria; Saints Thekla, Mariamne, Martha, Mary and Enmatha; 3 Virgin-Martyrs of Chios; Saint Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria.
SAINT CYRIL, PATRIARCH OF ALEXANDRIA. He was of noble birth and a close kinsman of Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria, after whose death he was chosen as Patriarch. He fought three fierce battles in the course of his life: against the Novatianist heretics, against Nestorius the heretic and against the Jews of Alexandria. The Novatianists began in Rome, and were so called after their leader, the heretic priest Novatian. They were filled with pride at their virtues, went about dressed in white, banned second marriages and declared that one must not pray for those who had committed mortal sin nor receive back into the Church those who had once fallen away, however deeply they might repent. St. Cyril overcame them and drove them out of Alexandria, together with their bishop. The battle with the Jews was harder and bloodier. The Jews had been in the ascendant in Alexandria right from the time that Alexander the Great founded the city. Their hatred towards the Christians was vicious and mindless. They killed Christians by treachery, by poison and by crucifixion. After a long and difficult struggle, Saint Cyril succeeded in inducing the Emperor to drive the Jews out of Alexandria. His battle, however, against the heretic Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, was resolved at the Third Ecumenical Council in Ephesus. Saint Cyril himself presided at this Council, and also represented Pope Celestine of Rome at his request, he being prevented by old age from attending the Council. Nestorius the heretic was condemned, anathematized and exile by the Emperor to the eastern borders of the Empire, where he died. After the end of these battles, Saint Cyril lived in peace and guided Christ's flock with zeal. He went to the Lord in the year 444 A.D. It is said that he composed the hymn: 'Hail, Mother of God and Virgin.'
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: Romans 1:7-12
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Matthew 5:42-48
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND CONTEMPLATION
"And so, everyone should love God with faith and hope and strive to fulfill His works, traditions, and commands. But what are His works, traditions, and commands? Behold, beloved, they are these: This age is not rest and repose, but a battle, warfare, a market-place, trading, a school, a sea voyage. For these reasons you must labor in asceticism, not become despondent, not be idle, exercise yourself in the works of God" [ Geronda [Elder] Nazarius.
THE HOLY FEAST OF ALL SAINTS
The first Sunday after the Feast of Holy Pentecost is observed by the Orthodox Church as the Sunday of All Saints. This day has been designated as a commemoration of all of the Saints, all the Righteous, the Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors, Shepherds, Teachers, and Holy Monastics, both men, women and children alike, known and unknown, who have been added to the choirs of the Saints and shall be added, from the time of Adam until the end of the world, who have been perfected in piety and have glorified God by their holy lives.
Honoring the friends of God with much reverence, the Prophet-king David says, "But to me, exceedingly honorable are Thy friends, O Lord" (Psalm 138:16). And the holy Apostle Paul, recounting the achievements of the Saints, and setting forth their memorial as an example courage in the struggles for virtue, says, "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every burden, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1).
This commemoration began as the Sunday (Synaxis) of All Martyrs; to them were added all the ranks of Saints who bore witness (the meaning of "Martyr" in Greek) to Christ in manifold ways, even if occasion did not require the shedding of their blood.
Therefore, guided by the teaching of the Divine Scripture and Apostolic Tradition, we honor all the Saints, the friends of God, for they are keepers of God's Commandments, shining examples of virtue, and benefactors of mankind. Of course, we honor the known Saints especially on their own day of the year, as is evident in the menologion. But since many Saints are unknown, and their number has increased with time, and will continue to increase until the end of time, the Church has appointed that once a year a common commemoration be made of all the Saints. This is the feast that we celebrate on this coming Sunday (June 10th). It is the harvest of the coming of the Holy Spirit our God into the world; it is the "much fruit" brought forth by that "Grain of wheat that fell into the earth and died" (St. John 12:24); it is the glorification of the Saints as the "foundation of the Church, the perfection of the Gospel, they who fulfilled in deed the sayings of the Savior" (Sunday of All Saints, Doxastikon of Vespers).
In this celebration, then, we reverently honor and call blessed all the Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Righteous men, women and children, known and unknown, who have been added to the choirs of the Saints and shall be added, from the time of Adam until the end of the world, who have been perfected in piety and have glorified God by their holy lives. All these, as well as the orders of the Angels, and especially our Most Holy Lady and Queen of Heaven, the Ever-Virgin Mary the Theotokos, do we honor on this say, setting their life before us as an example of virtue and holiness, and entreating them to intercede in our behalf with God, Whose grace and boundless mercy be with us all. Amen.
Saint Symeon the New Theologian compares the communion of the Saints to a golden chain stretching back down the ages: "Those who have become Saints from one generation to the next through the fulfillment of the commandments take the place of the previous Saints and are united to them. They are illumined and become like them through communion with the Grace of God, and they all become a golden chain, each individual being connected with the previous one through faith, works and love. This golden chain is not simply an image of the state of being saved. It is the engine or mechanism, as it were, of our salvation. For if the purpose of our life is to become holy as God is Holy, how can we achieve this end if we do not attach ourselves to the golden chain, to those who have been holy before us and who can drag us into the Kingdom of the holy through their prayers?
The early Church did not canonize her Saints in a formal manner. But from the earliest times every Autocephalous Church had lists of bishops, living and reposed, who were recognized by that Church as having died in the True Faith. These lists are known as diptychs, and constitute another way of confessing the faith; for here, instead of confessing the faith by defining it, the Church confesses it by listing those bishops who "rightly divide the word of truth". By looking at these lists, and seeing which bishops are included in them and which are excluded from them, we can immediately determine what the faith of that Church is.
Although the early Church did not have a formal process of canonization, she did have rules, kanones in Greek, that urged the veneration of true Saints and punished the veneration of false saints. Thus the 20th Holy Canon of the Local Council of Gangra declares: "If anyone shall, from a presumptuous disposition, condemn and abhor the assembly [in honor of] the martyrs, or the services performed there, and the commemoration of them, let them be anathema..." Again, Holy Canon 34 of the Council of Laodicea decrees: "No Christian shall forsake the martyrs of Christ, and turn to false martyrs, that is, to those of the heretics, or those who formerly were heretics; for they are aliens from God. Let those, therefore, who go after them, be anathema." These holy Canons show that the question of who is a true martyr is important, and getting the answer wrong carries the most severe penalty.
According to Professor and Theologian Fr. George Florovsky, "Through Baptism the believer becomes a member of the Church, enters the "one Church of angels and men", becomes a "co-citizen of the Saints and ever with God," according to the mysterious and solemn words of Saint Paul-one comes "to Mount Zion, and to the city of the Living God, the Heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in Heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect." And in this great throng he is united unto Christ.
The Church is a Kingdom not of this world but an eternal kingdom, for it has an eternal King-Christ. The Church is a kind of mysterious image of eternity and a foretaste of the Resurrection of all. For Christ the Head of the Body is "the life and the resurrection" of his servants and brothers. The measure of births has not yet been fulfilled and the stream of time still flows. The Church is still in its historical wanderings but even now time has no power and no strength in it. It is as if the Apocalyptic moment is forestalled-when there shall be no more time and all time shall cease. Earthly death, the separation of the soul from the body, does not sever the tie between those who have faith, does not part and does not separate co-members in Christ, does not exclude the deceased from the limits and composition of the Church. In the prayer for the departed and in the order for burial we pray Christ "our Immortal King and God" to send the souls of the departed to the habitation of the holy, "to the abode of the righteous," "to the bosom of Abraham," where all the righteous are at rest.
Reverently the Church watches for any signs of grace which witness and confirms the earthly struggle of the departed. By an inner sight the Church recognizes both the righteous living and departed, and the feeling of the Church is sealed by the witness of the priesthood of the Church. In this recognition of its brothers and members who have "attained perfection" consists the mystical essence of that which in the Christian West is termed the "canonization of saints," and which is understood by the Orthodox Christian East as their glorification, magnification and blessedness. And firstly it is a glorification of God "wondrous is the Lord in His Saints." "God's Saints," said Saint John of Damascus, "reigned over and mastered their passions and kept uninjured the likeness unto the image of God, according to which they were created; they of their own free will united themselves with God and received Him into the habitation of their heart, and having thus received Him in communion, through grace, they became in their very nature like unto Him." In them God rests-they became "the treasures and the pure habitations of God." In this the mystery was accomplished. For as the ancient Fathers said-the Son of God became man so that men could be deified, so that sons of men should become sons of God. And in the righteous who attain love this measure of growth and "likening" unto Christ is fulfilled. "The Saints in their lifetime already were filled with the Holy Spirit," continues Saint John of Damascus...And it is not only to get help and intercession that the Holy Spirit teaches every believer to pray to the glorified Saints but also because this calling on them, through communion in prayer, deepens the consciousness of the catholic unity of the Church. In our invocation of the Saints our measure of love is exhibited, a living feeling of unanimity and of the power of Church unity is expressed; and, conversely, doubt or inability to feel the intercession of grace and the intervention of Saints on our behalf before God witnesses not only to a weakening of love and of the brotherly and Church ties and relationships but also to a decrease in the fullness of faith in eh Ecumenical value and power of the Incarnation and Resurrection."
The Orthodox Christian veneration of God's Saints stems from the belief that all of us, both those who are working on their salvation and those who have already achieved salvation, both the living and the reposed, make up a single family. The Church is a great society which encompasses both the visible and invisible worlds. It is a huge, universal organization, built on the principal of love, in which each individual must not only take care of himself, but also be concerned with the benefit and salvation of other human beings. The Saints are those people who, more than others, showed love for their fellow men during their life time.
We, Orthodox Christians, believe that when a righteous person dies, he does not break off his tie with the Church, but enters its higher, celestial domain -- enters the triumphant Church (the Heavenly Church). Having attained the spiritual world, the soul of a righteous person does not cease to think, desire, feel. On the contrary, these qualities of the soul unfold here more fully and perfectly.
Contemporary non-Orthodox Christians, having lost their living tie with the heavenly/earthly or "The Church Triumphant and Church Militant", have the vaguest and conflicting notions of the other world. Some of them believe that a man's soul goes to sleep after death and becomes disconnected from everything; others believe that even if a man's soul continues its activity after death, it no longer has any interest in the world which it has left. Still others believe that one should not pray to the Saints in principle, since Christians are in direct communion with God.
What is the teaching of the Holy Scripture in regard to the righteous ones who have departed from this world and the power of their prayers? In Apostolic times the Church was regarded as a single heavenly/earthly spiritual family. Holy Apostle Paul wrote to newly-converted Christians: "But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of Angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect" (Hebrews 12:22-23). In other words, you, having become Christian, have merged with a great family and the righteous ones therein. Holy Apostle Peter's words of farewell to the Christians of Asia Minor--"Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance" (2 Peter 1:15) -- clearly confirm that he promises to continue to take care of them when he departs for the other, spiritual world.
The Saints do not replace God and do not decrease the need to appeal to the Heavenly Father. After all, adult members in a family do not lessen the authority of the parents when they take care of their children together with them. Moreover, nothing gives greater joy to parents than to see older brothers and sisters taking care of younger ones. In the same manner our Heavenly Father rejoices when the Saints pray for us and try to help us. God's Saints have a stronger faith than we do and are closer to God because of their righteousness. Therefore, let us appeal to them as to our older brothers who intercede for us before the Throne of Our Almighty God.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God