Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
A PRAYER TO THE HOLY APOSTLES
Holy and Glorious Apostles, Disciples called by God, teachers of the ecumene, all-wise and Spirit-bearing heralds of the Logos (Word), accept our prayer and intercede to the Lord on behalf of our souls.
Holy Apostles, Peter and Paul, who were the mystics and revealers of True wisdom, intercede with the Light-Giving Lord to rekindle the Light of the Paraklete (Holy Spirit) also in our own souls, so that we may shake off spiritual indolence and restore the soundness of our mind.
Holy John, eagle of Theology, beloved and visionary of the ineffable revelations and the Divine Mysteries, intercede to Christ, the Logos (Word) that He may always manifest and reveal to us the Gospel of His Truth and His Holy Will.
Saints of God, Andrew and James, You who wiped out the darkness of idolatry with your inspired teaching, intercede to the Lord to dissolve also the darkness of contemporary idolatry, so that redeemed from error we may worship and glorify the All-Holy Trinity.
Divine Disciples, Philip and Bartholomew, you who were clear-sounding trumpets of Christ, intercede to the Lord that we too may proclaim and preach the Commandments of the Savior Jesus Christ, without becoming disheartened by the difficulties of the world.
Saint Thomas and Matthew, you who became excellent servants of the Logos (Word) of God Who appeared on earth, and of the faithful souls, intercede that we too may serve the Lord and our brothers and sisters in the spirit of true discipleship.
Rivers of the source of Living water, Saint James and Thaddeus, you who irrigated with Divine waters the desert land of God, irrigate again our souls that thirst for the Truth for salvation.
Spiritual shepherds and lambs of the Arch-Shepherd Christ, Holy Apostles Simon and Mathias, intercede to the Lord that He may send our workers into His vineyard and produce zealous priests and shepherds for His Church. Amen.
On October 7th 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, Teachers and every righteous spirit made perfect in faith: Holy Great Martyrs Sergius and Bacchus; Holy Martyrs Julian the Presbyter and Caesarius of Africa, the Deacon, at Terracina in Campania; Holy Martyr Eusebius the Presbyter and Felix, who were beheaded; Saint Leontius the Consul; Holy Hieromartyr Polychoronius, Priests of Nicaea; Righteous Ninety-nine Holy Fathers of Crete; Holy Hieromartyr Polychronius, Bishop of Babylon in Persia, and those with him: Parmenius, Elymas, and Chrysotelos the Presbyters; Saints Luke and Mocius the Deacons; and Saints Abdon, Sennen, Maximos, Polytelius, and Olympiades; Holy Virgin Martyr Justina of Padua; our Righteous Father Sergius the Obedient of the Kiev Caves; our righteous Father; Holy Father Sergios of Nurma, who dwelt in Vologda; holy Father Joseph the Wonderworker of Khevi in Georgia; new Holy Hieromartyr Sergius, Bishop of Narva, who was slain by the atheists in the year 1930.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, holy Martyrs and Hieromartyrs, O Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
THE HOLY MARTYRS SERGIUS AND BACCHUS. These Holy and wonderful Martyrs and heroes of the Christian faith were at first nobles at the court of the Emperor Maximian. The emperor himself valued them greatly for their courage, wisdom and zeal, but, when he heard that these great nobles of his were Christians, his love for them turned to fury. And once, when there was a great offering of sacrifices to idols, the emperor summoned Sergius and Bacchus to offer sacrifice together with him, and they openly refused to obey him in this. Beside himself with anger, the pagan Roman emperor ordered that their robes, rings and marks of eminence be stripped from them and they be dressed in women's clothing. He then put iron yokes on their necks and led them thus through the streets of Rome, to be mocked by each and all. The emperor then sent them to Asia, to Antiochus the governor, for torture. Antiochus had achieved his distinguished rank with the help of Sergius and Bacchus, who has at one time recommended him to the emperor. When Antiochus began to urge them to deny Christ and save themselves from dishonorable suffering and death, the two Saints replied: "Both honor and dishonor, both life and death--all are one to him who seeks the Heavenly Kingdom." Antiochus threw Sergius into prison and ordered that Bacchus be tortured first. The servants took turns in beating Holy Bacchus until his whole body was broken into fragments. His spirit went forth from his broken and bloodstained body and was borne to the Lord by Angels. Saint Bacchus suffered in the town of Varvallis. Then Holy Sergius was led out. Iron shoes studded with nails were put on his feet, and he was driven out into the Syrian town of Resapha, and there beheaded with the sword. His soul went to Paradise where, together with his friend Bacchus, he received the wreath of immortal glory from Christ his King and Lord. These two glorious knights suffered for the Christian faith in about 303 A.D.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: Galatians 4:28-31; 5:1-10
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Luke 7:36-50
FROM THE HOLY VOICE OF THE HOLY ASCETICS AND FATHERS OF THE CHURCH:
"Prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you". (1 Peter 1:13)
THE STRUGGLE IN PRAYER
by Archimandrite Sophrony [source: His Life Is Mine]
O Holy Spirit, Eternal King and Giver of Life incorruptible: Look down in Thine infinite mercy on the infirmities of our nature. Illumine and hallow us. Let the Light of Thy knowledge shine forth in our darkened hearts. And in the earthen vessels of our nature manifest Thine invincible strength.
Prayer is infinite creation, the supreme art. Over and over again we experience an eager upsurge towards God, followed only by a falling away from His Light. Time and again we are conscious of the mind's inability to rise to Him. There are moments when we feel ourselves on the verge of insanity. 'Thou did give me Thy precept to love but there is no strength in me for love. Come and perform in me all that Thou has commended, for Thy commandment overtaxes my powers. My mind is too frail to comprehend Thee. My spirit cannot see into the mysteries of Thy Will. My days pass in endless conflict. I am tortured by the fear of losing Thee because of the evil thoughts in my heart".
Sometimes prayer seems to flag and we cry, 'Make haste unto me, O God' (Psalm 70:5). But if we do not let go of the hem of His garment, help will come. It is vital to dwell in prayer in order to counteract the persistently destructive influence of the outside world.
Prayer cannot fail to revive in us the divine breath which God breathed into Adam's nostrils and by virtue of which Adam "became a living soul" (Genesis 2:7). Then our regenerated spirit will marvel at the sublime mystery of being, and our hearts echo the Psalmist's praise of the wonderful works of the Lord. We shall apprehend the meaning of Christ's words, "I am come that [men] might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (St. John 10:10).
But this life is full of paradox, like all the Gospel teaching. "I am come to send fire on earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled" (St. Luke 12:49). Unless we go through this fire that consumes the decaying passions of our nature, we shall not see the fire transformed into light, for it is not Light that comes first, then Fire: in our fallen state burning precedes enlightenment. Let us, therefore, bless God for this consuming fire. We do not know altogether but we do at least know 'in part" (I Cor. 13:9) that there is no other way for us mortals to become "children of the resurrection" (St. Luke 20:36), to reign together with Christ. However painful this re-creating may be; however it may distress and lacerate--the process, agonizing as it is, will be a blessed one. Erudition requires long labor but prayer is incalculably harder to acquire.
When the Gospel and Epistles become real for us we see how naive were our past notions of God and life in Him so far does Reality surpass man's imagining: "eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered in to the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love Him' (I Cor. 2:9). Even a whisper of the Divine is glory beyond compare to all the content of life lived apart from God.
Straight is the way, and thorny and sorrowful. We shall heave many a sigh as we go along. The peculiar fear which is "the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10) will clutch at our heart and twist our whole being outside in to concentrate attention on what is happening within. Impotent to follow Christ, we stop short in dread. "Jesus went before [the disciples]; they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid" (St. Mark 10:320.
None of us can escape suffering if we would be born into a new life in God--if we would transform our natural body into a spiritual body. (As Saint Paul said, "it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body" (I Cor. 15:44). Only the power of prayer overcomes the resistance of matter and releases our spirit from this cramped, inert world into the vast open spaces radiant with Light.
The mind is bewildered by the trials that befall us in our struggle for prayer. It is not easy to identify their cause or their kind. Until we go "into the sanctuary of God" (Psalm 73:17) we shall often hesitate, unsure whether our works are pleasing to the All-Holy. Since we are not exempt from sin we can only think that it is our wrong-doing which provokes the storms raging around us--though Saint Peter reminded the early Christians in their despair that "the Spirit of glory" (I Peter 4:14) rested upon them. One thing, however, is not open to doubt: the hour will come when all our trials and tribulations will disappear into the past. Then we shall see that the most painful periods of our life were the most fruitful and will accompany us beyond the confines of this world, to be the foundation of the Kingdom "which cannot be moved" (Hebrews 12:28).
The omnipotent God summoned us from the void. By nature we are of the void; yet even from God we expect consideration and regard. Suddenly the Almighty reveals Himself in boundless humility. The vision floods our entire being and instinctively we bow in adoration. Even this does not seem enough but however much we try to humble ourselves before Him we still fall short of His humility.
Prayer to this God of love and humility rises from the depths of our being. When our heart is filled with love for God we are wholly aware of our closeness to Him--although we know full well that we are but dust (cf. Gen. 3:19). Howbeit, in the visible form of our nature the Immortal God described the likeness of His invisible Being, and thus we apprehend eternity. Through prayer we enter into divine life; and God praying in us is uncreated life permeating us.
In making us in His image, after His likeness, God placed us before Him, not as action of His, entirely subject to Him, but as fact even for Him--as free beings and by virtue of this, relations between man and God are based on the principle of freedom. When we take advantage of this freedom and commit sin, we thrust God aside. This liberty to turn away from God is the negative, tragic aspect of free will but it is necessary if we are to take hold of the life which is truly Divine, life which is not predetermined.
We have the diametrically opposite alternatives: either to refuse God--the very essence of sin--or to become sons of God. Because we are made in the likeness of God we naturally desire the divine perfection which is in our Father. And when we follow Him we are not submitting to the dictates of some extraneous power: we are merely obeying our own impulse to assimilate His perfection. "Be ye therefore perfect, even as Your Father which is in Heaven is perfect " (St. Matthew 5:48).
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name Thou has given me to perceive Thy Holiness, and I would fain be holy in Thee. Thy Kingdom come May Thy glorious life enter into me and become mine. Thy will be done in the earth of my created being, as it is in heaven, in Thee Thyself, from all eternity. Give us this day our daily bread. The true bread which comes down from heaven, and gives life unto the world (St. John 6:32-33). And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive them that trespass against us. By Thy Holy Spirit grant me so as to forgive others that nothing may prevent me from receiving Thy forgiveness. Lead us not into temptation Thou knowest my perverseness; that I am ever ready to transgress. Send Thine Angel to stand in the way for an adversary against me when I would sin (cf. Num. 22:22). But deliver us from the evil one Deliver me from the power of the mortal enemy (Satan), the adversary of man and God.
At first we pray for ourselves; but when God by the Holy Spirit gives us understanding our prayer assumes cosmic proportions. Then, when we pray "Our Father" we think of all mankind, and solicit fullness of grace for all as for ourselves. Hallowed be Thy Name among all people. Thy Kingdom come for all peoples that Thy Divine life may become their life. Thy Will be done: Thy Will alone unites all in the love of Thee. Deliver us from the evil one--from "the murderer" (St. John 8:44) who, far and wide, sows enmity and death. (According to our Christian interpretation evil--like good--only where there is personal form of being. Without this personal form there would be no evil--only determined natural processes).
The problem of evil in the world generally and in mankind particularly poses the question of God's participation in the historical life of the human race. Many lose their faith because it seems that, if God existed, evil could not be so rampant and there could not be such widespread senseless suffering. They forget that God cares for man's freedom, which is root principle of His creation in the Divine Image. For the Creator to interfere when man inclines to evil would be tantamount to depriving him of the possibility of self-determination and would destroy him altogether. But God can and does save individuals and nations if they tread the road He designates.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God
P.S. As some of you know I was not in town for almost an entire week due to my participation at the Metropolis of Chicago Clergy-Laity Congress in Nebraska. At this congress we all witnessed a miracle that took place in front of our eyes: The storm and tornadoes that threatened us at the time when we were conducting the Paraklesis holy service to our Theotokos. The storm stopped outside the city (Sioux City, Nebraska) where we were it, broke up in to two sections, went around the city and reformed north of the city and continued its destructive path. Our Panagia and Theotokos prevented the storm from destroying the city and us with it. Glory be to God!