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.
PRAISE TO THE LORD WHO TOOK FLESH FOR OUR SALVATION
Praise to Him Who descended to us in human form! Praise to the Invisible One Who became visible for our sake! Praise to the Eternal One Who tasted death for us! Praise to the Mysterious One Whom no mind can comprehend, and Who through His grace made Himself manifest by taking on flesh!
Blessed is He Whose good will brought Him to His Mother's womb and bosom, to be born and reared! Blessed is He Who partook of death and thus granted life to mankind. Blessed is He Who made our flesh a dwelling place for His mysterious being. Blessed is He Who declared to us His mysteries in our own tongue.
Praise to Him Who liberated us, having been bound for our sake. Glory to Him Who is plenteous in mercy, Who has redeemed us without taking anything in return. Praise to the Judge Who accepted condemnation for our sake.
Let us worship Him Who has enlightened our mind with His teaching and laid down a path for His word in our hearing. Let us give thanks to Him Who has grafted His fruit to our tree.
Praise to Him invisibly cultivates our spirit. Blessed is He Who attuned the senses of our spirit, that it might ever play songs of exaltation to Him on its lyre.
[A Spiritual Psalter or Reflections on God by St. Ephraim the Syrian ]
On July 12th 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 Martyrs Proclus and Hilarion of Ancyra; Holy Martyr Mamas; St. Serapion, bishop of Vladimir; Venerable Veronica; St. Michael Maleinus; Saint Arsenius of Novgorod; Saint Simon of Volomsk; Saint Theodore and his son John of Kiev.
THE HOLY MARTYR PROCLUS AND HILARION. These holy martyrs were born in Kallippi in Asia, St. Proclus being Hilarion's uncle. They suffered in the time of Trajan. The judge asked St. Proclus: 'Of what race are you? St. Proclus replied: 'I am of the race of Christ, and my hope is in my God.' When the judge threatened him with torture, he said: 'When you are afraid to transgress the Emperor's commands and risk falling into temporal punishment, how much more do we Christian fear to transgress against God's commands and fall into eternal torment!' While St. Proclus was being tortured, St. Hilarion came up to the judge and said: 'I too am a Christian!' After many tortures, the two of them were condemned to death, St. Proclus being crucified and St. Hilarion beheaded with the sword. They both entered into the joy of the Lord.
SAINT VERONICA. This is the woman with the issue of blood, whom the Lord healed (St. Matthew 9:20). In gratitude to the Lord her Healer, Saint Veronica caused a statue of the Lord Jesus to be made, before which she prayed to God. By tradition, this statue was preserved up to the time of Julian the Apostate, when it was altered to become a statue of Zeus. This is one of the very rare occasions that a holy statue has been used in the Eastern Church. As is known, this later became a common custom in the Western (Latin) church. Saint Veronica remained faithful to Christ till death, and entered peacefully into rest.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs and Holy Confessors, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 3:18-23
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Matthew 13:36-43
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND CONTEMPLATION
"Man has to make good use of his mind. He must put it to work for the grandeur of God, to seek God. He must not make his mind a god. Those who are bright should be advanced spiritually. One quick look and they understand. When we make good use of our mind, we can be of great help to others; otherwise, we can cause them great pain." [Geronda Paisios of Mt. Athos]
AN ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN STUDY ON UNCEASING PRAYER
by John K. Kotsonis PhD. (Physics), PhD. in Patristic Studies
Thesis: Unceasing prayer, as defined in the New Testament, supported by the Fathers of the Church, expanded and explained in Orthodox Literature, is an extremely significant aid and a very efficient accelerator for our personal spiritual growth. As it develops, it engenders a direct, clear and constant relationship with God, which is necessary and sufficient condition for our theosis (deification).
The work focuses on the unceasing continuous prayer, especially the "Jesus Prayer," or "Prayer Of The Heart"-its origin, evolution, approach and results. The text mirrors the structure of the Thesis statement.
1. Unceasing prayer is defined in the New Testament, supported by the holy Fathers of the Church, expanded and explained in Orthodox Literature.
Prayer is our attempt to speak with God and establish a personal connection with him. As Orthodox Christians, we know that we are expected to maintain a powerful, direct and personal relationship with God through prayer and receive the divine grace that flows from it. The union that follows is the ultimate gift from God and our birthright in the words of Saint John Climacus: "Prayer is by nature a dialogue and a union of man and God. Its effect is to hold the world together. It achieves a reconciliation with God."
Ever since the Fall, humans have tried to keep their connection with God alive and functioning through prayer. However, an integrated prayer in God 's name could not be offered until His Incarnation (including His Crucifixion and Resurrection) was complete. After that point, the faithful can rely on His promises that He will make sure our legitimate, and properly placed, requests are fulfilled. Christ has pledged that He will act on our behalf, that He will be our personal intercessor, which is something the Prophets of the Old Testament never had. Our prayers, are now blessed by the value of Christ's human experience, including His sacrifice and victory over death and He has promised to respond to our requests made in His name. We also know that prayer was a big part of Jesus' life and that He prayer very frequently, as we read throughout the New Testament. For example, the Gospel of Saint John, chapter 17, contains a deeply moving prayer that Jesus offered to His Father. This long prayer was tailored to the circumstances He was facing at the time, but it can also be seen as a grand template of a multi-faceted divine invocation that addresses many of the general issues and principles of His mission as a human.
Christ taught us to pray with faith, sincerely and with humility in our hearts. Having faith is perhaps the most fundamental Christian quality, because without it we cannot communicate with God, please Him or get anything back from Him. Words may be flowing, but they are empty because our deeper mind and heart are fighting and belittling this activity. As logic is good yardstick for our endeavors in this (created) universe, faith in God is our guide towards (and in) His uncreated sphere of existence. We must have faith in His love, His power, and His infinite wisdom. A common expression, paraphrasing Christ Himself, is "all things are possible to those who believe." Jesus stressed the value and power of prayer in faith as an integral part of His overall teaching. In addition, our prayer should be sincere and not like that offered by many Pharisees who did not pray from the heart and whose lives were not in accord with their prayers. This is an absolute requirement for successful prayer that He will respond to because God must be approached in spirit and in truth. As we know from the Old Testament, many of the Psalms demonstrate the urgency that the faithful feel when approaching God. This deep desire and sense of urgency is also shown in the Parable of the persistent friend and in the desperate pleading of the Syro-Phoenician woman on behalf of her sick daughter. Last, we should be humble in praying, like any servant would be when asking for a great favor of a powerful master. Since humility is expected from all Christians, and the difference between true, humble prayer vs. just bragging about our hypothetical goodness is aptly demonstrated in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (St. Luke 18:9-14). Jesus abhorred pride and arrogance because He is simple and meek Himself. Humility is the companion virtue of repentance and obedience, but is also very synergistic with a host of other key virtues.
Christ taught us to pray in obedience, repentance and forgiveness for all, especially our enemies. Being obedient to His will is very important since for a good prayer we must all gradually move our lives in the direction of our petitions. In the way we honor God as our Lord. Towards this goal, Christ urged us not to pray with arrogance but to focus first on keeping His Father's Commandments. Of course, Jesus' personal example throughout His Ministry on Earth, especially His deeply moving prayers towards the end of the Mystical Supper (St. John 17) and in the Garden of Gethsemane during the night of His betrayal and arrest are excellent guidelines here. With obedience comes repentance, which is another key requirement to successful prayer, as explained clearly in the Parable of the Prodigal son. Because sin separates us from God, if we want to get closer to Him we must turn back, repent. This is shown in both the Old and New Testaments. Connected with repentance is confession for our prayers to be heard and answered. Christ was very clear that if we want forgiveness from God, He expects us, as a prerequisite, to forgive others who may have hurt us; a requirement that is also clearly stated in the Lord's Prayer. In giving us this prayer, He wanted us to understand His fundamental rule and spiritual law: If we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven. Following His example in forgiving those who hurt us is the apex of our obligation to Him. As we forgive, we are truly His disciples and many of Christ's parables center on this important point. On His Sermon on the Mount, Christ repeated that theme several times. We are really like Him when we let go of negative feelings, and even forget, about people abusing us. Forgiveness is the precursor to detachment, which is absolutely necessary for clear, effective prayer. Furthermore, the combination of forgiveness and detachment from passions (apatheia) grows into love for all, even for our enemies, which is the one virtue without which all others are valueless and useless. In agreement with these points, several Holy Fathers taught that humble, prayerful obedience is the mother of all virtue.
Christ taught us to pray in privacy, with fasting and untiring persistence. In teaching the need of privacy in our praying, He told us not to pray at the street corners for others to see and admire us, but in our own room with the door closed; and He also gave us several examples of Himself praying in solitude. Fasting is another very useful practice, which enhances and confirms our lack of blind obedience on, even freedom from our passions and the physical world in general. Christ often emphasized prayer augmented by fasting because their combination is truly powerful, as mentioned in many passages of both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Following this line of thinking, prayer added to fasting and obedience is even more powerful because these virtues reinforce each other, and so on. He also taught us to prayer with persistence, like the parable of the friend asking for bread at midnight and also the parable of the unjust judge. In the same way that Jacob did, we must pray until it is answered because, as we persist, the Holy Spirit gradually teaches us how to remove impediments (i.e., pride, impatience, lack of faith) to true connection with God, for this reason, we need to stay the course and He is happy to see us do that. Job, Abraham, Jacob, David, Elijah, Bartimaeus and the Canaanite Woman are excellent examples here. However, our prayers are not answered because of what we do (although avoiding sin empowers them) but because, seeing our effort, He extends His grace and accepts them, when He chooses. The need for persistence is also embedded in the Lord's Prayer ("…Give us this day our daily bread…") indicating that this prayer should be repeated at least once per day.
Last, Christ taught us to pray in alignment with the Divine Will because when our human actions are in tune with His plans, all requests are granted. We must desire the Divine Will and not our own, both in asking for something good for our soul and in receiving what God decides to give in return. We should be moved to prayer because God desires us to pray and not because we have things that we need Him to provide. In this way, our main intent (in both our mind and heart) should be to unite our will with the will of Christ, obey Him in everything and in no way attempt to bend His will towards our own. Our petitions must be for the glory of God, or else they are weak; selfish or evil desires must be shunned. We must have His mind and act in accord with His will and in harmony with His commandments. As we live in communion with Him, our will is His will, which is the will of the Father, and our prayers are offered to the entire Holy Trinity. Once of the best ways to align our prayers with the Divine Will is to use Jesus' name in them life the Apostles who knew the power of using Jesus' name in prayer. In using His name, we show our frame of mind and we don't just use a form of rote speech. We show that we, on our own, have no right to ask for anything from the Father, but that the Son authorized our request. In addition we pray in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit empowers and blesses true prayer that emanates from our spiritual essence, our heart, asking that we be accepted back in the place which God has already prepared for us. In this way the Holy Spirit makes us sensitive to our weakness and sinful tendencies, and encourages the transformation (in repentance and humility) that strengthens our bond with God even further. As our mind clears, our human, rebellious thoughts atrophy, slow down and stop. Then, our unceasing supplication to Christ rests in our heart, fully aligned with the Holy Spirit, and our Father in Heaven hers our prayer and makes Himself know to us.
THE JESUS PRAYER
"LORD JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD, HAVE MERCY ON ME, A SINNER"
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God