The Way into the Kingdom of Heaven (Part VIII)

Protomartyr and Equal of the Apostles Thecla

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

[Saint John of Damascus 676-760 AD)

O compassionate and most merciful Lord Jesus Christ, My God, Who came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the first, have mercy on me before my death; for I know that a dread and fearful judgment is waiting for me, before all creation, when the revelation of all my accursed and most profane deeds takes place; they are truly unforgivable and unworthy of remission for they outnumber the multitude of the sands of the sea. Therefore, I do not dare to ask for their forgiveness, O Master, because I have transgressed against You more than all the people; I have lived more prodigally than the prodigal son; I have become Your debtor more than the one of the ten thousand talents; I have been more unjust than the publican; I have brought death to myself more than the thief; I have loved prostitution more than the harlot; I have transgressed without repentance more than the Ninevites; my transgressions, more than Manasseh's, have risen higher than my head, and as a heavy burden they have pressed heavily upon me and I have been wretched and utterly bowed down to the extreme...Therefore, save me for Your mercy's sake, O Master Who loves mankind, so that Your All-Holy and Most Glorified Name may be glorified in me, too, O Lord, my God, Who became like me, for my sake. And if I should be numbered with all the Saints, I, too, will glorify You, my Most Good God, Jesus Christ, Who loves mankind together with Your Father, Who is without beginning, and Your Most Holy, Good, and Life-Creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.



On September 24th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors, and entreats the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers and every righteous spirit made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Holy Great Martyr Thecla, the Equal to the Apostles; Righteous Father Coprius of the Monastery of Saint Theodosius the Cenobiarch in Palastine; Righteous Father Stephen, First Crowned king of Serbia; Saints David and Vladislav of Serbia; Righteous Father Nicander the Faster, Wonderworker of Pskov; Holy Righteous Martyr Galaction of Vologda; Righteous Father Abramius of Mirozh; On this day we commemorate the miracle wrought by the Most Holy Mother of God on the Island of Cythera, wherein she raised up a paralytic through her holy icon which was found in a myrtle-tree.

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

THE HOLY PROTOMARTYR THECLA, EQUAL TO THE APOSTLES. Saint Thecla was born in Iconium of eminent pagan parents. She was betrothed at the age of eighteen to a young man, at the time that the Holy Apostle Paul came to Iconium with St. Barnabas to preach the Gospel. Listening to Saint Paul for three days and nights, Saint Thecla turned utterly to the Christian faith and vowed to live in virginity. Her mother, seeing that she shunned her betrothed and thought no more of marriage, first talked to her and then beat her and starved her. Finally, she gave her over to the judges and demanded, wicked mother that she was, that St. Thecla be burned. The judge threw her into the flames, but God preserved her unharmed. St. Thecla then became a follower of the Holy Apostle Paul, and went with him to Antioch in Syria. Attracted by St. Thecla's beauty, an elder of the city attempted to take her by force, but Saint Thecla tore herself out of his grasp. The elder denounced her to the governor as a Christian who was averse to marriage. The governor condemned her to death and threw her to the wild beasts, but the animals would not touch the body of this holy virgin. Amazed at this, the governor asked: "Who are you, and what is the power that you have in you, that nothing can do you harm?' Saint Thecla replied: "I am a servant of the living God." Then the governor let her go free, and she began to preach the Gospel and succeeded in bringing many to the True Faith, among whom was an eminent and honored widow, Tryphena. After this, Saint Thecla, with the blessing of the Holy Apostle Paul, withdrew to a solitary place near Seleucia. She lived a long time there in asceticism, healing the sick with miraculous power in this way bringing many to Christianity. The doctors in Seleucia were jealous of her and sent some young men to assault her, hoping that, in losing her virginity, she would lose also her miraculous power. Saint Thecla fled from these insolent young men and, when she saw that they would catch her, prayed to God for help in front of a rock, and the rock opened and hid the holy virgin and bride of Christ. This rock was her hiding place and her tomb. Saint John Chrysostom says of this wonderful Christian heroine and Saint: "I seem to see this blessed virgin going to Chris with virginity in one hand and martyrdom in the other."


Holy Epistle Lesson: II Timothy 3:10-15
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Luke 10:38-42, 11:27-28


"Abba[Father] Isaiah questioned Abba Poemen on the subject of impure thoughts, Abba Poemen said to him, 'It is like having a chest full of clothes, if one leaves them in disorder they are spoiled in the course of time. It is the same with thoughts. If we do not do anything about them, in time they are spoiled, that is to say, they disintegrate.' Abba Joseph put the same question and Abba Poemen said to him, 'If someone shuts a snake and a scorpion up in a bottle, in time they will be completely destroyed. So it is with evil thoughts: they are suggested by the demons, they disappear through patience."

by Saint Innocent of Alaska

"It is impossible to enter the Kingdom of Heaven or even come close to it without the assistance of the Holy Spirit".


4. The Holy Spirit can be received through prayer. Prayer is the simplest, surest, and more available means to receive the Holy Spirit. Because we are composed of body and soul, they both should participate in prayer. The primary elements of prayer are concentration and sincerity, which are attained by inner effort. Nevertheless, the body should not remain uninvolved; it must assist the soul in prayer by standing in reverence, making prostrations, making the sign of the Cross, raising the hands, and reading the prayers aloud. Other favorable external conditions also help in prayer: solitude, silence, icons with burning lampadas before them (vigil lights), incense, and when in Church, Church Iconography and architecture along with soft and harmonious chanting, beautiful ceremonies, etc.

But to achieve concentration and warmth during prayer is not easy. Here, first of all, it is important to establish a regular time for prayer (for instance, mornings and evenings), and to develop stability and patience. You should constantly overcome haste, distraction, indifference and insincerity. In addition, you must strive to warm your heart with love for God. Only a sincere prayer brings comfort and peace to the Christian believer. All the righteous ones strove throughout their lives to learn the art of prayer. Nevertheless, your personal effort is not enough. It is the Holy Spirit Who makes our prayer to be fervent and to come from the bottom of our heart. This was well known to the Saints who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, stood day and night in prayer in sweet rapture, failing the while to notice time fleeting away.

Pray even though at first your prayer may be weak and imperfect because of your sinfulness and estrangement from God. Pray with diligence and fervor; train yourself to be sincere in your conversation with God. Thus, little by little you will learn to pray and will start to feel a sweet comfort. The Holy Spirit will have mercy on you and will come and reside in you if you show faithfulness in your efforts at prayer.

The Holy Scripture teaches: "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17). How is this possible for people living in a secular world? If you are to pray all the time, how then are you to perform your other duties? The advice of perpetual prayer is directed not toward outward but toward inner prayer. If desired, you can turn to God internally whether you are alone or with others. Only he who does not want to pray will not find the time for prayer.

 5. Fasting and works of mercy aid prayer. The holy Fathers of the Church recommend: "If you want your prayer to fly up to God, then give it two wings: fasting and almsgiving."I

What is fasting and why is it necessary? Fasting is a voluntary self-restriction in food, drink and pleasure. The purpose of fasting is to quiet or calm and lighten the body and to make it obedient to the soul. Overfilled flesh demands comfort and rest, disposing us to laziness, the well-fed body rises up against its Master, the soul, and wants to rule over it. While fasting, you should limit not only the type of food (dairy and meat products) but also the amounts, restricting yourself to the minimal needs of the body. Then your fasting will become useful.

While fasting outwardly you should also fast internally, restraining your tongue from sinful, idle chatter and moderating your desires and your anger while driving off unkind thoughts and impure fantasies. Experience shows that there is nothing harder than to stop the wandering of thoughts and to direct your mind to thoughts of God and prayer. This may be likened to the taming of wild horses that have long been stubborn and unruly.

Non-spiritual people do not even suspect how difficult it is to control the wandering of thoughts. Being occupied with worldly affairs, they consider their thoughts to be busy with worthwhile concerns. Only when they begin to strive toward a spiritual life and try to reflect on spiritual topics, do they begin to notice that their thoughts are murky. This is somewhat like the waters of a shallow lake. As long as its surface remains undisturbed, it looks clear; but when it is stirred, the silt from its bottom darkens the water, making it appear murky. Likewise, in the depths of our heart there lay various passions. Like silt, they rise and darken the soul when a Christian attempts to expose and struggle with them. As the Holy Fathers have explained, when people turn to God, the devil strives to darken their soul with bad thoughts and feelings in order to confuse them and distract them from their good intentions. But we must not yield to them!

(to be continued)

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

+Father George