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.
PRAYER FOR THE ACCEPTANCE OF GOD'S WILL
O Lord, I know not what to ask of Thee. Thou alone knowest what are my true needs. Thou lovest me more then I myself know how to love. Help me to see my real needs which are concealed from me. I dare not ask either a cross of consolation. I can only wait on Thee. My heart is open to Thee. Visit and help me, for Thy great mercy's sake. Strike me and heal me, cast me down and raise me up. I worship in silence Thy Holy Will and Thine inscrutable ways. I offer myself as a sacrifice to Thee. I put all my trust in Thee. I have no other desire then to fulfill Thy will. Teach me how to pray. Pray Thou Thyself in me. Amen.
On July 23rd 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 Christina faith: Saint Phokas the Hieromartyr; Ezekiel the holy Prophet; Saint Anna (Hannah), mother of holy Prophet Samuel; Eight holy Martyrs of Carthage; Saint Nectarius, Bishop of Yaransk, Russia; Saint Anna of Levkadio; holy Martyr Apllonius; Soldier holy Martyrs who suffered torments by the Bulgarians.
THE HIEROMARTYR APOLLINARIUS. He was a disciple of the holy Apostle Peter and was born in the city of Antioch. Saint Peter took him with him from Antioch to Rome, and, in Rome, consecrated him Bishop of Revenna. Arriving in Ravenna, Saint Apollinarius went into the house of a soldier, Irenaeus, whose blind son he healed and by this brought the whole family to the Christian faith. He also healed the wife of the military governor of Ravenna of a grave infirmity, and baptized his whole household. At the governor's request, Saint Apollinarius remained in his house as his guest. Here he formed a house-church, and lived in that house for twelve years, preaching the Gospel and baptizing unbelievers. He was grievously tormented in various ways by the pagan elders, but the strong right Hand of God upheld him and preserved him. He was finally condemned to exile in Illyria in the Balkans But the boat in which he was sailing capsized in a storm and, from among all the travelers, only Saint Apollinarius, together with two soldiers and three of his priests, was saved. Saved so miraculously, the soldiers came to believe in the power of Saint Apollinarius' God and were baptized. Then Saint Apollinarius began preaching the Gospel throughout the Balkans, travelling as far as the Danube. He then went to Thrace, where he spread the Gospel against great opposition. After three years of working in the Balkans, he was driven back to Italy. He went to Ravenna, where the faithful welcomed him with great joy. Hearing of this, the pagan elders wrote to Emperor Vespasian about Saint Apollinarius, calling him a magician and asking if he should be put to death as an opponent of their gods. The Emperor replied that it was not necessary to kill him, but that he should be made to sacrifice to idols or driven from the city, for, he said: 'It is not seemly to take revenge on someone on behalf of the gods, for they can themselves be revenged on their enemies if they are angered.' But, in spite of this imperial decree, the pagans assaulted Saint Apollinarius and stabbed him with daggers. This servant of God died of his wounds and went to the Kingdom of God. His holy relics are preserved in Ravenna, in the church dedicated to him.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints and Holy Martyrs, 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 9:13-18
Holy Gospel Lesson: Saint Matthew 16:1-6
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND CONTEMPLATION
"Jesus Christ, being meek and humble of heart strove for adulation but directed all toward the glory of His Father. We also must not parade ourselves or seek recognition. For instance, do you help your neighbors, do you give alms, do you live more piously than those around you, are you wiser than your friends, or are you in some way above others? Do not brag about it. Remember that all your praiseworthy attributes are not ours but gifts of God. Yours are the weaknesses, mistakes and sins. Following Jesus Christ means accepting with faith and submitting to all that Christ taught without question and with simplicity of heart. He who accepts Jesus Christ's words becomes His disciple, but he who fulfills His commandments with complete devotion becomes His true and devoted follower" (Saint Innocent of Alaska).
SALVATION AS TRANSFIGURATION: THE LITURGICAL SOTERIOLOGY OF SAINT MAXIMUS THE CONFESSOR
by Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, Institute at St. Paul University, Ottowa, ON
Between the Patristic age and our own, there is a great gulf fixed. The former age was one in which highly sophisticated theological disputes were thrashed out frequently at the cost of exile, excommunication, and even death for those on the wrong side. Our present age, by contrast, is one in which many people doubt the very concept of truth, and are supinely indifferent to the ongoing existence of incommensurate and patently contradictory "truths", thinking none of them worth dying for. Moreover, even many Christians, especially in North America and Western Europe, doubt many (especially moral) truths of the faith "once delivered to the Saints."
Father Alexander Schmemann cautions us, any return to the holy Fathers will prove destructive if we seek only to return to their ideas or their texts, and not to their spirit and mind.
The problem with a textual approach to the holy Fathers, including Saint Maximus, is that their life was not lived in books but in churches and monasteries, in prayer and at Liturgy. If we in our day seek to understand what Saint Maximus has to teach us about salvation, we will be sorely mistaken if we look only to his written works and do not undertake the practices necessary for such salvation. Reading St. Maximus, in other words, is not enough: we must also act.
Saint Maximus the Confessor returns to the examples of Moses, Abraham, the Prophets and Patriarchs, and the Saints who, in possessing "the inerrant knowledge concerning God and divine things…rightly proceed along the straight path." That straight path is secured through ascetic struggle against the sins to which our fallen nature is prone to begin the process of knowing God: "Ascetic struggle destroys evil and through the demonstration of the virtues cuts off from the world those who are completely led through it in their disposition." "Such a struggle," Saint Maximus writes in another place, "overthrows the flesh, sense and the world, through which the relationship of the mind to the intelligible is dissolved, and by his mind alone through love comes to know God."
For Saint Maximus the Confessor, ascetic struggle as the first stage in the process of salvific transfiguration aims most simply at the "complete mortification and cessation of desire in the senses," or what is commonly known among Orthodox Theologians as apatheia. One arrives at such a state through ascetic struggle, which in itself composed of the disciplining of the bodily desires--including "conceit…pride and self-esteem,""ignonimity of mouth," "gluttony," and "envy"--chiefly through prayer until one becomes completely "oblivious of wealth and health and other transient goods which the virtues transcend." For Saint Maximus, then, the first step along the path to salvation is to undergo that rigorous training which any mountaineer would undertake before attempting to scale a high mountain.
So too, in the spiritual life, the ascent to Mount Tabor and the uncreated light of Christ's saving Divine Power can only be attempted by those who first undertake the rigorous practice and discipline of the body in order to purify the soul and leave the world behind, ascending to God who is without form and beyond the world. As Lev Gillet notes: "Before attaining the light of transfiguration, the hard path of asceticism is necessary."
After one has begun the process of ascetic discipline, one begins to move to the next stage in the salvific process of deification (theosis). That stage consists in the acquisition of virtue, which Saint Maximus defines simply: "Virtue is a stable and utterly dispassionate state of righteousness." For Saint Maximus the Confessor, such a state is intrinsically valuable, sought for its own sake as much as for its role as the "divine chariot" carrying us to God. As he puts it, if a man "has virtue alone and for their sake, he is blessed…If you take away all bodily and external advantages from the condition of general blessedness, and leave nothing whatever but the virtues, it remains a state of blessedness. For virtue, by itself, is sufficient for happiness.
While Saint Maximus does acknowledge that the acquisition of virtue is a gift from God, he stresses repeatedly that the responsibility is ours to accept or reject: "The Lord has given us the tropos of salvation and the eternal power to become sons of God, henceforth, our salvation is in our power." It is not, in other words, within God's power to force us to cooperation with His will:"Created man cannot become a son of God and god by grace through deification (theosis) unless he is first through his own free choice, begotten in the spirit." Once a man makes that choice, then the entire panoply of salvation, and the entire pantheon of saintly warriors, open up to him:
"For God provides equally to all the power that naturally leads to salvation, so that each one who wishes can be transformed by divine grace. And nothing prevents anyone from willing to become Melchizedek and Abraham and Moses, and simply transferring all these saints to himself, not by changing names and places, but by imitating their forms and way of life."
Of those forms of life crucial for the virtues, none rates so high an encomium as that of humility, which Saint Maximus regards as the highest of all virtues. Humility is the characteristic virtue of the Saints who "hold fast to the form of the virtues par excellence, I mean humility. Now humility is a firm safeguard of all that is good, undermining everything that is opposed to it. As he puts it elsewhere, "The highest of all blessings (is) humility, that conserves other blessings and destroys their opposite."
One of the blessings that virtue, founded upon humility, conveys, is the ability to read and understand divine revelation, especially scriptural revelation: "As soon as anyone practices the virtues with true intelligence, he acquires a spiritual understanding of the Scripture" and thus, avoids the literalism that Saint Maximus denounces in many places. Such a reading of Scripture is part of the acquisition of spiritual knowledge leading to contemplation and ultimately our salvation: "Every lover of salvation is totally committed either to the practice of virtue or to the contemplative life. For without virtue and spiritual knowledge no one can attain salvation in any way whatsoever." To the matter of spiritual knowledge, then let us turn next to understand this further step in the climb up the Mount Tabor of our salvation.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God