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.
A PRAYER FOR THE PEOPLE
[from the Prayer Book of Serapion]
O loving God, we confess and bring before You our weaknesses, beseeching You to add strength to our efforts for correction and restoration. Forgive the sins we have committed until now and remit all our faults from the past, making each one of us into a new person in our soul. Help us to be Your authentic and pure servants. We entrust ourselves to You, Lord. Accept these people, Lord, and grant that we all become truly Your people. Make it possible for all to live without reproach and to be cleansed of sins. May they become such faithful people that they will be counted with the heavenly Angelic spirits and will all be with the elect and the Saints in heaven.
We pray for the Christians who have believed and have come to know You, our Lord Jesus Christ. May they all become steadfast in the faith, in the knowledge of the Truth, and in the reception of the teaching. We beseech You, Lord, for all of these Your people. Remove from them every enmity of sin and establish friendly relations with all. May Your Holy Name be always known and glorified among them.
Reveal to them the spiritual light of Your Truth and Your Holiness. May they all know You well as Holy Trinity--the Unbegotten Father, the Only-begotten Son before all ages and Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the All-Holy Spirit proceeding eternally from the Father.
We beseech You, O God of love and every compassion, for the men and women, the elderly and the children, for the poor and the wealthy. Show for all of them Your particular providential care, extending to all of them Your infinite love and assistance according to the needs of each person. Show compassion and forbearance to all of them, guiding those who may stray away from You to return in repentance and renewed faith.
We pray, Lord, for those who travel. Send to them a guardian Angel of peace, to travel with them and to be their companion so that no harm will come to them from any source, and they will be able to reach the destination of their journey and the end of their absence safe and satisfied. We pray also for those who are mourning, for those who are captives, and for those who are poor. Provide the necessary comfort and assistance for all those who are in some way suffering. Free the captives; deliver the poor from poverty; comfort and encourage all those who are being sorely tested in their afflictions. Lord, You alone have the power to bring solace and rescue to the afflicted.
We include in our prayer also those who are afflicted with sickness and disease. O Physician of our souls and bodies, pour upon them Your healing grace and restore them to a complete recovery of health in both body and soul. You are the Savior and the Benefactor of those who suffer. You are the Lord and Sovereign of all. And we have called upon You, O God, on behalf of all the people and all their needs, in Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, through Whom all glory, honor and worship belong to You, the Unbegotten Father, and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
On July 19th 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 Macrina, sister of Saint Basil the Great; Saint Dios, Abbot (Egoumenos) of Antioch.
OUR HOLY MOTHER MACRINA, SISTER OF SAINT BASIL THE GREAT. The eldest sister of Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory of Nyssa, she was as a girl betrothed to a young nobleman and, when her betrothed died, Macrina vowed never to enter into marriage, saying: 'It is not right for a girl, having once been betrothed, to turn to another; according to natural law there must be one marriage, as there are one birth and one death.' She justified this by her belief in the resurrection of the dead, regarding her betrothed not as dead, but as alive in God. 'It is a sin and a shame', she said, 'if the spouse does not keep faith when the partner goes to distant climes.' Then, with her mother Emilia, she became a nun in a monastery of virgins, where she lived in asceticism with the other nuns. They lived by the work of their hands, devoting the greater part of their time to pondering on God, to prayer and to a ceaseless lifting-up of their minds to Him. After a time, her mother died, and then her brother St. Basil. In the ninth month after Saint Basil's death, Saint Gregory came to visit his sister and found her on her deathbed. At the time of her death, Saint Macrina made this prayer to God: 'Thou, O Lord, givest rest to our bodies in the sleep of death for a little time, then Thou wilt waken them again with the last trump. Forgive me, and grant that, when my soul is parted from my body, it may be presented before Thee stainless and without sin, and that it may be as incense before Thee.' She then made the sign of the Cross on her brow, eyes, face and heart, and breathed her last. She entered into rest in the Lord in 379 AD.
+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: I Corinthians 7:24-35
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Matthew 15:12-21
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND CONTEMPLATION
"Saint Mark the Ascetic ascribes great importance to prayer. He knows that there are many ways of praying, but he is also aware that no method of prayer is harmful, unless what the person is doing is not prayer "but the activity of Satan". True prayer is bound up with spiritual knowledge, because someone who prays with the body and not with spiritual knowledge is like the blind man who called Christ the Son of David. There is also a link between real prayer and a clear conscience, and each needs the other...During prayer Christ touches a person's eyes and restores his noetic sight. Tears are proof of this. No one, however, should be proud of shedding tears because this is God's gift. Prayer is of great value because it restores the negligent and brings them back." [The Spiritual Law according to Saint Mark the Ascetic].
THE UNIVERSAL JUDGMENT
(Apocalypse, chapters 21 and 22)
by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky [souirce: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology]
There are numerous testimonies in Sacred Scripture of the actuality and indisputability of the future Universal Judgment: John 5:22, 27-29; Matt. 16:27; 7:21-23; 11:22, 24; 12:36, 41-42; 13:37-43; 19:28-30; 24:30; 25:31-46; Acts 17:31; Jude, vv. 41-15; II Cor. 5:10; Rom. 2:5-7; 14:10; I Cor. 4:5; Eph. 6:8; Col. 3:24-25; II Thes. 1:6-10; II Tim. 4:1; Apoc. 20:11-15. Of these testimonies the most complete picture of this Last Judgment by the Savior is given in Matthew 25:31-46 ("When the Son of Man shall come in His glory..."). In accordance with this picture we may draw conclusion regarding the characteristics of the Judgment. It will be:
Universal, that is, extending to all men living and dead, good and evil, and according to other indications given in the word of God, even to the fallen angels themselves (II Peter 2:4; Jude, v.6);
Solemn and open, for the Judge will appear in all His Glory with all His Holy Angels before the face of the whole world;
Strict and terrible, performed in all the justice of God--it will be "a day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God" (Romans 2:5).
Final and definitive, determining for all eternity the fate of each one who is judged. The result of the judgment will be eternal reward--blessedness for the righteous and torment for the evil who are condemned.
Depicting in the brightest and most joyful features the eternal life of the righteous after the Universal Judgment, the word of God speaks with the same positiveness and certainty concerning the eternal torments of evil men. "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire", the Son of Man will say on the day of judgment; "and these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal" (St. Matthew 25:41, 46). This condition of torment is presented in Sacred Scripture as a place of torment, and it is called gehenna. (The image of the fiery gehenna is taken from the Valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem, where at one time executions were performed, and likewise every kind of unclean thing was dumped, as a result of which a fire was constantly burning there to guard against infection.) The Lord: "If thy hand offend thee, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell (gehenna), into the fire that never shall be quenched, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched" (St. Mark 9:43-44, likewise 45-48). "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth," the Savior repeated many times concerning gehenna (St. Matthew 8:12 and other places). In the Apocalypse (Revelation) of Saint John the Theologian this place or condition is called "a lake of fire" (Apoc. 19:20). And in the Epistle of St. Paul we read: "In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (II Thes. 1:8). The image of the "worm that dieth not" and the "fire that is not quenched" are evidently symbolical and indicate the severity of the torments. [By "symbolical" our contemporary, rationalistic language understands "not real, nor more than an image"--a definition which would give a very misleading idea of the life of the future age. With regard to the images in which future blessedness and future torment are described, one might repeat the words of the Angel to Saint Macarius of Aleandria on the toll-houses]. Saint John Damascene remarks: "Sinners will be given over to everlasting fire, which will not be a material fire such as we are accustomed to, but a fire such as God might know" (Exact Exposition 4.27).
"I know," writes Saint John Chrysostom, "that many are terrified only of gehenna, but I think that the deprivation of that glory (of the Kingdom of God) is a torment more cruel than gehenna" (Homily 23 on Matthew). "This deprivation of good things," he reflects in a different place, "will cause such torment, such sorrow and oppression, that even if no punishment awaited those who sin here, it in itself (this deprivation) could torment and disturb our souls more powerfully than the torments of gehenna...Many foolish people desire only to be delivered from gehenna: but I consider much more tormenting than gehenna the punishment of not being in that glory. And I think that he who is deprived of it should weep not so much over the torments of gehenna as over being deprived of the good things of Heaven, for this alone is the cruelest of all punishments" (Homily 1, to Theodore).
We may read a similar explanation in Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (Against Heresies 5.27).
Saint Gregory the Theologian teaches: "Acknowledge the resurrection, the judgment, and the awarding of the righteous by the Judgment of God. And this awarding for those who have been purified in heart will be light, that is, God visible and known according to the degree of one's purity, which we also call the Kingdom of Heaven. But for those who are blinded in mind, that is, for those who have become estranged from God, according to the degree of their present nearsightedness, there will be darkness" (Homily 40, On Holy Baptism).
The Church, basing itself on the word of God, acknowledges the torments of gehenna to be eternal and unending, and therefore it condemned at the Fifth Ecumenical Council the false teaching of the Origenists that the demons and impious people would suffer in hell only for a certain definite time, and then would be restored to their original condition of innocence (apokatastasis in Greek). The condemnation at the Universal Judgment is called in the Apocalypse of Saint John the Theologian the "second death" (Apoc. 20:14).
But it is not for us to define the boundaries between the unutterable mercy of God and His justice or righteousness. We know that the Lord "will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (I Tim. 2:4); but man is capable, through his own will, of rejecting the mercy of God and the means of salvation. Saint John Chrysostom, in interpreting the depiction of the Last Judgment, remarks: "When He (the Lord) spoke about the Kingdom, after saying, "Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom." He added: which is "prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (St. Matthew 25:34); but when speaking about the fire, He did not speak thus, but He added: which is "prepared for the devil and his angels" (St. Matthew 25:41)." For I have prepared for you a Kingdom, but the fire I have prepared not for you but for the devil and his angels. But since you have cast your own selves into the fire, therefore accuse yourself for this" (Homily 70 on Matthew).
We have no right to understand the words of the Lord only conditionally, as a threat or as a certain pedagogical means applied by the Savior. If we understand it this way we err, since the Savior does not instill in us any such understanding, and we subject ourselves to God's wrath according to the word of the Psalmist: "Why hath the ungodly one provoked God? For he hath said to his heart: He will not make enquiry" (Psalm 9:34).
"...He (God) is good, and He only bestows blessings and never does harm, remaining always the same. We men, on the other hand, if we remain good through resembling God, are united to Him; but if we become evil through not resembling God, we are separated from Him. By living in holiness, we cleave to God; but by becoming wicked we make Him our enemy. It is not that He grows angry with us in an arbitrary way, but it is our own sins that prevent God from shining within us; and expose us to the demons who punish us. And if through prayer and acts of compassion we gain release from our sins, this does not mean that we have won God over and made Him change, but that through our actions and our turning to God we have cured our wickedness and so once more have enjoyment of God's goodness. Thus to say that God turns away from the wicked is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind" (Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 325).
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God