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 CONTRITE AND HEARTFELT PRAYER TO OUR LORD
Make us worthy, O Lord, to be kept without sin this evening. Blessed are You, O Lord, the God of our fathers, and praised and glorified is Your Name unto the ages of ages. Amen. Lord, let Your mercy be upon us, even as we have placed our hope in You. Blessed are You, O Lord, teach me Your Commandments; Blessed are You, O Master, make me prudent by Your Commandments; Blessed are You, O Holy One, enlighten me with Your Commandments; Lord, Your mercy endures forever, do not overlook the creations of Your own hands. To You belong praise, hymns and glory, to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
On November 7th Our Holy Orthodox Christian commemorates, honors, and holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Preachers, Apostles, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Teachers and every righteous spirit made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Saint Hieron and 32 Holy Martyrs of Melitene; Saints and Holy Martyrs: Auctus, Tavrion, and Thessaloniki at Amphipolis; Kassina, Melasippus, Antoninos, and 40 children, at Ancyra; Saint Alexander of Thessaloniki; Saint Gregory, brother of Saint Gregory the Wonder-worker; Saint Lazarus of Mt. Galesion near Ephesus; Saint Zosimas of Vorbozoma; Willibrord, Archbishop of Utrecht; holy Martyr Athenodoros.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Archbishops, Holy Children, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
HOLY MARTYRS AUCTUS, TAVRION, AND THESSALONIKI AT AMPHIPOLIS IN MACEDONIA. Saint Thessaloniki was the daughter of Cleonas, a wealthy and well-known priest of the idols in Amphipolis. However, she was a Christian and she took no pride in her father's status. Cleonas tried desperately to separate his daughter from the Christian faith. Finally, he had Thessaloniki undressed and beaten with rawhide by four men, and her sides beaten with clubs, and he disinherited and exiled her. Still, St. Thessaloniki would not deny Jesus Christ. She died from her wounds. When Auctus and Tavrion openly condemned Cleonas for this murder, they were arrested and also accused of being Christians. The two were stoned and thrown into a blazing furnace. But God preserved them by Divine grace and they walked out of the flames. Though this perplexed the judge, he still beheaded them.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: Philippians 3:1-8
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Luke 13:1-9
FROM THE HOLY VOICE OF THE HOLY ASCETICS AND HOLY FATHERS OF THE CHURCH:
"Worldly glory is a reef, covered on all sides by water, of which the sailor passing over it is unaware, until his ship dashes against it. On account of the fissure created by this collision, the ship is filled with water and sinks. So also, vainglory does not cease from inundating the soul of him who dashes against it with the bitter and turbulent waters of worldly vanity; until it drowns and destroys him" (Saint Isaac the Syrian).
DEATH AND THE FUTURE LIFE
Dr. Constantine Cavarnos points out in his excellent summation of this topic:
"The Orthodox Church has a full and very precise teaching on the question of man, the nature of the soul, the relationship between the body and the soul, the nature of death, Paradise and Hell, and the general destiny of man. This teaching is contained in the writings of the God-bearing Fathers and Teachers of the Church--most notably in the writings of the ascetics and mystics--, in the lives of the Saints, and in the Church's Hymnography and Iconography".
To the Orthodox Christian, the afterlife is an essential part of this life. In our Liturgical life, we attain true communion with our fellow Christians only when that which is Heavenly is joined with the earthly and the living join chorus with those gone forth before us. Indeed, the culmination of our Christian life is realized in the eating and drinking of the flesh and blood of one Who died, yet still lives, Who brings to death life, and Who joins the living and dead in the Eternal life of the Resurrection.
"In the mystical life of the Church, there is a constant interaction between the Eternal and the time-bound. Theosis, in which man reaches his highest state of perfection on earth, being bound in the body yet cleansed of the passions, rests on the constant interplay and interaction of the Eternal world and the world that is subject to death. Participating in the divine, imperfectly communing with the perfect, our Holy Fathers and Saints, who by grace shine forth even in our day--though in ever fewer numbers--reveal in their lives a spiritual reality that links every true-believing Orthodox believer to the Eternal and it is from the sayings, reports, witness, and written words of these holy men and women that we know, too, as much as it is possible to know, too, as much as it is possible to know in darkness what is a pure property of light, something of the nature on the life after death" (Archbishop Chrysostomos).
Death is without doubt the most perplexing subject known to man. The wisest of the secular sages throughout the centuries of human existence have not been able to unravel, of fully reveal the cause and ultimate meaning of, this dilemma. Even less have they been able to help man to deal with it properly. "Only the Christian Faith, which holds fast to the word of the resurrection, offers a certain, a secure and a sure hope for victory over death. And this hope is a gift of God".
We live in a society that worships the body and material possessions (vanity, hedonism, and materialism) and cares next to nothing for the soul. Suicide is near its all time high--especially among teenagers--because of the tremendous despair that is generated when a soul made in the image of God is confronted with the meaninglessness and fragmentation of life without God in the modern world. The Orthodox Church has an answer to all of these problems, and offers sure hope for those who are at the end of their rope and may be ready to take their own life. As our Lord once said, "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (St. Matthew 16:26).
TWO VISIONS OF SAINT ANDREW THE FOOL-FOR-CHRIST.
A vision of Saint Andrew the Fool-for-Christ: Holy Andrew, walking one day along the streets of Constantinople, saw a great and splendid funeral. A rich man had died, and his cortege was magnificent. But when he looked more closely, St. Andrew saw a host of little black men capering merrily around the corpse, one grinning like a prostitute, another barking like a dog, a third grunting like a pig, a fourth pouring something filthy over the body. And they were mocking the singers and saying: 'You're singing over a dog!' Saint Andrew, marveling, wondered what this man had done. Turning round, he saw a handsome youth standing weeping behind a wall. 'For the sake of the God of heaven and earth, tell me the reason for your tears', said St. Andrew. The young man then told him that he had been the dead man's guardian Angel, but that the man had, by his sins, greatly offended God, casting his Angel's counsel from him and giving him over utterly to the black demons. And the Angel said that this man was a great and unrepentant sinner: a liar, a hater of men, a miser, a shedder of blood and a dissolute man who had turned three hundred souls to immorality. In vain was he honored by the Emperor and respected by the people. In vain was this great funeral. Death had caught him unrepentant, and the harvest had come without warning.
ON THE POWER OF REPENTANCE TO SAVE A SOUL.
Can a sinner, in the space of ten days, make full repentance of his sins? By the immeasurable grace of God, he can. In the time of the Emperor Maurice, there was a well-known bandit in the region around Constantinople. Both in the countryside and in the capital itself, he inspired fear and trembling. Then the Emperor himself sent him a Cross, as a pledge that he would not punish him if he gave himself up. The bandit took the Cross, and did indeed give himself up. Arriving in Constantinople, he fell at the Emperor's feet and begged his forgiveness. The Emperor kept his word, had mercy on him and let him go free. Immediately after that, the bandit fell gravely ill and sensed that death was near. He began to repent bitterly of all his sins, and implored God with tears to forgive him as the Emperor had. He shed many tears in his prayer, so that the handkerchief with which he wiped them became soaked, and he died after ten day of prayerful weeping. The night of his death, the doctor who had been attending him had a strange vision in a dream: when the bandit on the bed breathed his last, a number of little black men gathered round him, flourishing bits of paper on which his sins were written, and two glorious Angels also appeared. A pair of scales was placed in the middle, and the little black men gleefully put all the bits of paper on it, and their side of the scales was loaded while the other was empty. 'What can we put in?' the Angels asked each other.' 'Let's look for something good in his life.' Then there appeared in the hand of one of the Angels the handkerchief soaked with tears of repentance. The Angels quickly placed it on their side of the scales, and it at once outweighed the other with all its papers. Then the little black men fled, howling in anguish, but the Angels took the man's soul and carried it to Paradise, glorifying God's love for mankind.
AN APPEARANCE OF A MONK TO HIS BROTHERS.
The Orthodox Church possesses an inexhaustible treasure in the evidence of life after death. To note one example among many; one which at the same time witnesses that the spirit of man lives after bodily death and that voluntary obedience brings blessed immortality: when Saint Theodosius the Great had found a monastery, he had at first only seven monks. To establish them well in remembrance of death, he ordered them to dig a grave. When the grave was ready, St. Theodosius stood over it, gathered the seven of them together and said: 'Well, my children; the grave is now ready! Is there among you one who is ready for death, to be buried in this grave?' One of them, a priest called Basil, fell to his knees and besought St. Theodosius's blessing to die. Saint Theodosius ordered that the memorial services be held for Basil on the third, ninth and fortieth day, as is the tradition for the departed. When the fortieth memorial was finished, Basil, in full health, lay down and died. And he was buried in the new grave. On the fortieth day after his burial, Basil appeared in the morning among the brethren in church and sang with them. At first only Saint Theodosius saw him, but he prayed to God that he would open the eyes of the others. Then all the brethren looked and saw Basil among them. One of the brethren, Letius, joyfully spread his arms wide, intending to embrace Basil, but the latter disappeared. Basil's voice was heard: 'Save yourselves, my fathers and brethren, save yourselves.'
We live in a society in which most people have very confused and false understanding of the future life. From the popularity of "near-death experiences", to the typical Hollywood portrayal of bliss beyond the grave regardless of how one lived their life, most people embrace a mish-mash of notions about what is in store for them when their souls parts from their body. These false views of the future life serve to encourage man in his pride, vanity, and carelessness. Ideas have consequences, and these ideas have led innumerable souls to eternal peril. Fr. Seraphim of Platina said: 'Needless to say, traditional Orthodox writings on death constitute a reading material infinitely more profound and more profitable than the popular 'after-death' books of our day, which, even when they are not merely sensational, simply cannot go much below the spectacular surface of today's experiences for what of a coherent and true teaching on the whole subject of life after death."
For the Orthodox Christian, however, a proper understanding of the future life is essential to living in a God-pleasing, joyous, and fulfilled manner on earth. Orthodox understand that Hell is a choice; that a person's view of the future determine how he or she lives in the present; and that, as Saint Isaac the Syrian once said: "This life has been given to you for repentance; do not waste it in vain pursuits." Meditation upon one's death and the Judgment that awaits him is not something that promotes morbid introspection, but rather the true repentance that leads to the fullness of life and joy in Christ. May this soon be your discovery as well.
Saint Ignaty (Brianchaninov) wrote: "What significance can our virtue have in the judgment of God? What value can our virtue have in the eyes of God to Whom even Heaven is impure? Remind and remind yourself: 'I shall die, I shall die for certain! My fathers and forefathers died; no human being has remained forever on earth. And the fate that has overtaken everyone awaits me too!' Do not fritter away the time given you for repentance. Do not rivet your eyes to the earth on which you are a momentary actor, on which you are an exile, on which by the mercy of God you are given a chance to change your mind and offer repentance for the avoidance of hell's eternal prisons and the eternal torment in them. Use the short spell of your pilgrimage on earth to acquire a haven of peace, a blessed refuge in eternity. Plead for the eternal possession by renouncing every temporal possession, by renouncing everything carnal and natural in the realm of our fallen nature. Plead by the fulfillment of Christ's Commandments. Plead by sincere repentance for the sins your have committed. Plead by thanking and praising God for all the trials and trouble sent you. Plead by an abundance of prayer and psalmody. Plead by means of the Jesus Prayer and combine with it the remembrance of death."
Personal note: Every American President is concerned about what kind of legacy he will live behind when his turn is over and even after death. The Christian however is not concerned about his legacy but God's just judgment. All of us will give an accounting of how we lived the life that he has given us at the Second Coming. If we lived it in sin and selfishness or we lived it according to His divine Commandments. Death is not the end; it is the beginning of the true life that awaits us beyond the grave, if indeed we have begun to live it here. Christ, "the resurrection and the life" (St. John 11:25), came, was crucified, resurrected, ascended to heaven and waits for us there, as He assures us: "I go (to heaven) to prepare a place for you" (St. John 14:2). Therefore, death does not reveal our finiteness; it reveals our infiniteness, our eternity. This is why the Christian meditates and ponders upon the mystery of death in a way that is productive, positive, and dynamic. For this present life is an arena in which the great battle is waged for the sake of immortality and Eternity.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God