Paradise and Hell in the Orthodox Tradition (Part III)

St Spyridon the Wonderworker and Bishop of Tremithus

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.

OUR SINCERE PRAYER TO OUR MOST BELOVED LORD

Lord our God, we pray to You, we, Your sinful and unworthy servants, beseech you to consider the petition of Your humble supplicant and to show mercy upon us. For all these evil things that have befallen us are a result of our sins and transgressions. For the sake of Your Name, Lord, do not abandon us to the very end, do not dissolve Your covenant, and do not take away Your love and mercy from us. O Father Who are in heaven, through the grace of Your Only-begotten Son and the merciful communion of Your Holy Spirit, forgive and remember no more our sins and transgressions. May Your Loving-Kindness, Lord, overtake us quickly for we have become very weak. Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of Your Name. Have mercy on us according to Your great love for mankind; have mercy on us according to the multitude of Your Loving-kindness and forgive our sins and transgressions. Yes, Lord Almighty, we are repentant sinners and we send up our prayer to You. Hear the voice of our supplication, O Lord, and turn away from us the dangers which threaten the human race, dissolved the clouds of devastation from a possible new war, and solidify Your peace among us, so that Your All-Holy Name will be glorified, the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

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TODAY'S SYNAXARION:

On December 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, Teachers and every righteous spirit made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Saint Spyridon the Wonderworker of Trimythus; Saint Herman, Wonderworker of Alaska; Synaxis (Assembly) of the First Holy Martyrs of the American land: Juvenal, Peter the Aleut, Anatole of Irkutsk, Seraphim of Uglich, and priests John of Chicago and Alexander of New York; Saint Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem; Saint John, Metropolitan of Zichne; St. Therapontes, Egoumenos (Abbot) of Monza; Saint John, Egoumenos of Zedazeni, Georgia; Saint Anthus of Palestine and Amonathas of Pelusium, monks; Saint Synesius of Rome.

+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Fathers, Holy Monks, Holy Bishops, Holy Ascetics, Holy Egoumenoi, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us.  Amen.

OUR FATHER AMONG THE SAINTS SPYRIDON THE WONDERWORKER, BISHOP OF TRIMITHUS IN CYPRUS. Saint Spyridon, the God-bearing Father of the Church, the great defender of Corfu (Kerkyra) and the boast of all Orthodox, had Cyprus as his homeland. He was simple in manner and humble of heart, and was a shepherd of sheep. When he was joined to a wife, be begat of her a daughter whom they named Irene. After his wife's departure from this life, he was appointed Bishop of Trimythus, and thus he became also a shepherd of rational sheep. When the First Ecumenical Council was assembled in Nicaea, he also was present, and by means of his most simple words stopped the mouths of the Arian heretics who were wise in their own conceit. By the Divine grace which dwelt in him, he wrought such great wonders that he received the surname "Wonderworker." So it is that, having tended his flock piously and in a manner pleasing to God, he reposed in the Lord about the year 350 A.D., living to his country his sacred relics as a consolation and a source of healing for the faithful.

About the middle of the 7th century, because of the incursions made by the barbarians at that time, his sacred relics were taken to Constantinople, where they remained, being honored by the emperors themselves. But before the fall of Constantinople, which took place on May 29, 1453, a certain priest named George Kalokhairetes, the parish priest of the church where the Saint's sacred relics were, as well as those of Saint Theodora the empress, were kept, took them away on account of the impending peril. Travelling by way of Serbia, he came as far as Arta in Epirus, a region in Western Greece opposite to the isle of Corfu. From there, while the misfortunes of the Christian people were increasing with every day, he passed over to Corfu about the year 1460. The holy relics of Saint Theodora were given to the people of Corfu; but those of Saint Spyridon remain to this day, according to the rights of inheritance, the most precious treasure of the priest's own descendants, and they continue to be a staff for the faithful in Orthodoxy, and a supernatural wonder for those that behold him; for even after the passage of 1,500 years, they have remained incorrupt, and even the flexibility of his flesh has been preserved.

OUR RIGHTEOUS FATHER HERMAN OF ALASKA. THE HOLY NEW MARTYR PETER THE ALEUT. Saint Herman (his name is a variant of Germanos) was born near Moscow in 1756. In his youth he became a monk, first at the Saint Sergius Hermitage near saint Peterburge on the Gulf of Finland; while he dwelt there, the Most Holy Mother of God appeared to him, healing him of a grave malady. Afterwards he entered Valaam Monastery on Valaam Island in Lake Ladoga; he often withdrew into the wilderness to pray for days at a time. In 1794, answering a call for missionaries to preach the Gospel to the Aleuts, he came to the New World with the first Orthodox mission to Alaska. He settled on Spruce Island, which he called New Valaam, and here he preserved, even in the face of many grievous afflictions--mostly at the hands of his own countrymen--in the loving service of God and of his neighbor. Besides his many toils for the sake of the Aleuts, he subdued his flesh with great asceticism, wearing chains, sleeping little, fasting and praying much. He brought many of the native people to Christ by the example of his life, his teaching, and his kindness and sanctity, and was granted the grace of working miracles and of prophetic insight. Since he was not a priest. Angels descended at Theophany to bless the waters in the bay; Saint Herman used this holy water to heal the sick. Because of his unwearying mission labors, which were crowned by God with the salvation of countless souls, he is called the Enlightener of the Aleuts, and has likewise been renowned as a Wonderworker since his repose in 1837.

THE HOLY NEW MARTYR PETER THE ALEUT. Saint Peter suffered martyrdom in San Francisco, at the time that California belonged to Spain. An Aleut from Alaska, he and his companions were captured in California by the Jesuits from Spain. When he refused to abandon Orthodoxy to accept Latinism (i.e., to become Roman catholic), which they wished to force upon him, the Jesuit missionaries submitted him to a martyrdom like that suffered by Saint James the Persian, cutting him apart joint by joint. He died from loss of blood in steadfast confession of his Orthodox Christian Faith in 1815.

Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn of the Hierarch. First Tone

Thou was shown forth as a champion of the First Council and a wonderworker, O Spyridon, our God-bearing Father. Wherefore, thou didst speak unto one dead in the grave, and didst change a serpent to gold. And while chanting thy holy prayer, thou hadst Angels serving with thee, O most sacred one. Glory to Him that hath glorified thee. Glory to Him that hath crowned thee. Glory to Him that worketh healings for all through thee.

Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn of the Righteous One. Fourth Tone.

Blessed ascetic of the Northern wilds and gracious intercessor for the whole world, teacher of the Orthodox Faith, good instructor of piety, adornment of Alaska and joy of all America, Holy Father Herman, pray to Christ God that he save our souls.

Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn of the Martyr. First Tone

O Peter, upon the rock of thy faith hath Christ built His Church, and in the streams of thy blood hath He hallowed our land. In thee thy people hath been sanctified, O Aleut; from the farthest islands of the West hath He raised thee, a light unto all. Glory to Him that hath glorified thee. Glory to Him that hath crowned thee. Glory to Him that worketh healings for all through thee.

TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:

Holy Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 5:8-19
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. John 10:9-16

FROM THE HOLY ASCETICS AND HOLY FATHERS OF THE CHURCH:

"As sins consist mostly of malice and pride, it is necessary to treat everyone who suffers from the malady of sin with kindness and love. This is an important truth, which we often forget. Very often we act in the opposite manner: we add malice to malice by our anger, we oppose pride to pride. Thus, evil grows within us, and does not decrease; it is not cured--rather it spreads." (St. John of Kronstadt)

PARADISE AND HELL IN THE ORTHODOX TRADITION (PART III )
by Father George Matallinos, Dean of the Athens University School of Theology

(6) The mystery of Paradise-hell is also experienced in the life of the Church in the world. During the sacraments, there is a participation of the faithful Orthodox Christians in grace, so that grace may be activated in our lives, by our course towards Christ. Especially during the Divine Eucharist, the Uncreated--Holy Communion--becomes inside us, either paradise or hell, depending on our condition. But mostly, our participation in Holy Communion is a participation in paradise or hell, throughout history. That is why we beseech God, prior to receiving Holy Communion, to render the precious gifts inside us not as judgment or condemnation, or as eternal damnation. Participation in Holy Communion is thus linked to the overall spiritual course of the faithful.

Holy Communion inside us becomes the "inferno" and "spiritual death." Not because it is transformed into those things of course, but because our own uncleanliness cannot accept Holy Communion as "paradise." Given that Holy Communion is called "medication for immortality" (Saint Ignatius the God-bearer, 2nd century), the same thing exactly occurs as with any medication. If our organism does not have the prerequisites to absorb the medication, then the medication will produce side-effects and will kill instead of heal. It is not the medication that is responsible, but the condition of our organism. It must be stressed, that if we do not accept Christianity as a therapeutic process, and its sacraments as spiritual medication, then we are led to a "religionizing" of Christianity; in other words, we "idolatrize" it. And unfortunately, this is a frequent occurrence, when we perceive Christianity as a "religion."

Saint Basil the Great tells us: "Everything we do is in preparation of another life. Our life must be a continuous preparation for our participation in "Paradise"-our community with the Uncreated. And everything begins from this lifetime. That is why the Holy Apostle Paul says: "Behold, now is the opportune time. Behold, now is the day of redemption" (2 Cor. 6:2).

Every moment of our lives is of redemptive importance. Either we gain Eternity, the Eternal Community with God, or we lose it. Consequently, we can now understand why Oriental religions and cults that preach reincarnation are injuring mankind; they are virtually transferring the problem to other, (nonexistent of course) lifetimes. The truth is, however, that only one life corresponds to each of us, whether we are saved or condemned. This is why Saint Basil the Great continues: "Those things therefore that lead us towards that life, we need to say should be cherished and pursued with all our might; and those that do not lead us there, we should disregard, as something of no value." This is the criterion of Christian living.

A Christian continuously chooses whatever favors his salvation. We gain Paradise or lose it and end up in hell, in this lifetime. As Saint John the Evangelist says: "He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (St. John 3:18).

Consequently, the work of the Church is not to "send" people to Paradise or to hell, but to prepare them for the Final Judgment. The work of the Clergy is therapeutic and not moralistic or character-shaping, in the temporal sense of the word. The essence of life in Christ is preserved in monasteries-naturally wherever they are Orthodox and, of course, patristic. The purpose of the Church's offered therapy is not to create "useful" citizens and essentially "usable" ones, but citizens of the celestial (Uncreated) Kingdom. Such citizens are the Confessors and the Holy Martyrs, the true faithful, the Saints.

However, this is also the way that our mission is supervised: What are we inviting people to? To the Church as a Hospital and a Therapy Center, or just an ideology that is labeled "Christian?" More often than not, we strive to secure a place in "Paradise," instead of striving to be healed. That is why we focus on rituals and not on therapy. This of course does not signify a rejection of worship. But without ascesis (spiritual exercise, ascetic lifestyle, act of therapy), worship cannot hallow us. The grace that pours forth from it remains inert inside us. Orthodoxy doesn't make any promises to send mankind to any sort of paradise or hell; but it does have the power, as evidenced by the incorruptible and miracle-working relics of our saints (incorruptibility=theosis), to prepare man so that he may forever look upon the Uncreated Grace and the Kingdom of Christ as paradise and not as hell.

Please note: On Thursday: Orthros at 9:00 a.m. and Divine Liturgy at 10:00 a.m.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George