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 CONTRITE PRAYER TO THE ALMIGHTY GOD
Lord, Our God, You have given Your peace to mankind; and the gift of the All-Holy Spirit You have sent to Your Disciples and Apostles, opening their lips with fiery tongues by Your power. Open also the lips of us sinners and teach how and for what we should pray. Lord, govern our life for You are the calm harbor for those who are storm-tossed. And make known to us the way we should go. Renew a right spirit within us, and establish our spiritual instability with Your governing Spirit. Each day, my we be guided brightly by Your Good Spirit toward what is beneficial for us, being empowered to observe Your Commandments, to remember always Your Glorious presence, which leads us to seek the salvation accomplished by Your for mankind, and not to be deceived by the corrupting pleasures of this world. Strengthen us, Lord, to desire rather the delight of future blessings, for You are truly Blessed and praised among Your Saints unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ, Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
A Homily on Prayer
by Saint John Chrysostom
"As Christians we are obligated to honor and appreciate the Saints of God for two reasons. The first reason is because all the Saints had placed the hope of their spiritual salvation upon the sacred prayers. The second reason is because the prayers which they offered to God with joy and fear have been preserved in their writings. Thus their spiritual treasures, having been transmitted to us, may draw all subsequent believers toward the zeal of these Saints. The way of life of the teachers must be transmitted to their pupils. Thus the pupils of the Saints, that is, us Christians, must prove ourselves to be imitators of their righteousness."
On January 9th 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 Polyefktos at Melitene in Armenia; Saint Peter, Bishop of Sevaste; Saint Efstratios of Tarsus; Saint Philip, Metropolitan of Moscow; Saint Jonah, founder of Holy Trinity Monastery in Kiev; Saint Adrian of Canterbury; Saint Parthena of Edessa; Saint Finian, Bishop of Lindisfarne.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Fathers, Holy Bishops, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
THE HOLY MARTYR POLYEFKTOS. OUR HOLY FATHER AMONG THE SAINTS PHILIP, METROPOLITAN OF MOSCOW. Saint Polyefktos, a soldier in rank, contested during the reign of Valerian, the year 255 A.D. He was from Melitene, a city in Armenia.
Our Holy Father among the Saints, Philip, Metropolitan of Moscow, was born in 1507 A.D. of a noble family, and served for a time in the royal court. While still a young man, he secretly left Moscow and entered Solovki Monastery in the north, about the year 1538, a little over a hundred years after its founding. Because of his spiritual stature he was chosen against his will to succeed Alexis in 1548. As Egoumenos (Abbot), Philip was a great builder and beautifier of Solovki Monastery. He laid the foundation for the Cathedral of the Holy Transfiguration, constructed cells, hermitages, and a hospital for the monks and for pilgrims, established a cattle yard on one of the islands, drained swamps and connected waterways by a series of canals and dams, built a mill and various workshops, and even invented ingenious machines and implements to help the monks in their work. His fame spread, and in 1566, by the will of Tsar Ivan IV, he was raised to the rank of Metropolitan of Moscow.
Tsar Ivan the Terrible revered Philip, even as Herod had revered Saint John the Baptist, and he had been a generous benefactor of Solovki Monastery. Saint Philip could not and would not approve or remain silent on the evil, the actions, horrors, murders and all manner of injustice and rapacity of the Tsar and the oprichniki who used their power to oppress the innocent. This of course angered the Tsar who threatened him with his wrath and told him (Philip) to resign his throne if he were not willing to comply. Saint Philip answered that he had not sought the Metropolitan's throne, and it was the Tsar who had deprived him of his hermitage on Solovki; but now that the pastoral burden was upon him, he would not remain silent when the canons of the Church were broken.
The Saint had to endure persecution of the Tsar who had torn him from his beloved monastery, the betrayal of his fellow hierarchs, and the slanders of his own spiritual children. He was imprisoned in Moscow, but because of the love of the people for him the Tsar feared him even in prison, and he was transferred to a monastery in Tver, where he spent a year in great hardships and continual prayer. On December 23, 1569, a royal messenger came, asking the Metropolitan's blessing for the Tsar's expedition to Novgorod, Saint Philip told him to do that which he came to do, then raised his hands in prayer to God. The Tsar's messenger fell upon him and suffocated the holy hierarch with a pillow. In 1591 his holy relics were transferred to Solovki, and in 1652 to the Dormition Cathedral in Moscow; many miracles were wrought through his holy relics.
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn of the Holy Martyr. Fourth Tone
Thy Martyr, O Lord, in his courageous contest for Thee received as the prize the crowns of incorruption and life from Thee, our Immortal God. For since he possessed Thy strength, he cast down the tyrants and wholly destroyed the demons' strengthless presumption, O Christ God, by his prayers, save our souls, since Thou art Merciful.
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn of the Hierarch. Plagal of Fourth Tone
O successor of first prelates, pillar of Orthodoxy, champion of truth, new confessor, Saint Philip, thou didst lay down thy life for thy flock. Wherefore, since thou hast boldness with Christ, pray for the suffering Russian land and them that worthily honor thy holy memory.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: 2 Timothy 2:1-10
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Mark 1:9-15
FROM THE HOLY ASCETICS AND HOLY FATHERS OF THE CHURCH:
"God wants us to become like the Angels. The Angels only glorify God. This is their prayer, glorification of God and nothing else. The glorification of God is a very subtle matter, it eludes human criteria. We are very material and earth-bound, and for that reason we pray to God in a self-interested manner. We ask Him to order our affairs, to help our business do well, to protect our health and to safeguard our children. But we pray in a human way and with self-interest. Doxology is prayer without self-interest. The Angels do not pray in order to receive something: they are selfless, God also gave to us the possibility for our prayer to be an un-ending doxology, an Angelic prayer. This is where the great secret lies. When we enter into this prayer, we will glorify God continually, leaving everything to Him, just as our Church prays 'We command our whole life to Christ our God.' This is the 'higher mathematics' of our religion! (Saint Porphyrios the Kapsokalyvite)
OUR STRUGGLE AGAINST THE PASSIONS
There are those of us who believe and think of passion as something that we should desire. If we are passionate about something it means that we are driven by desire to fulfill the task at hand. The meaning of the word "passion" (πάθος) in the early Church meant "to suffer". When we speak of Christ's Passion, we speak of His suffering during His torture and Crucifixion.
Everyone is afflicted by certain passions that occurred after the fall of Adam and Eve. This is the disease that was passed down to us. Also from the word "passion" we also derive the word, "passive." The passions are sin sicknesses that have occurred in our hearts after the fall that feel so natural we can have them operate in our lives and we are a passive victim. Because of this, to be healed from them, we have to fight hard. We don't fight in our own strength, but in the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. It is still a significant personal fight and struggle, however, because healing from the passions feels very unnatural to us. But in fact, the effects of the passions in our life is quite unnatural. We were never created for this. Many of the passions feel natural and pleasurable to us, like gluttony, pride, lust, anger, vainglory, and avarice, etc. But in reality, these things cause us to suffer spiritually and are pulling us away from God and Creator. We cannot serve two masters Christ teaches us. (Saint Matthew :24).
Abba Evagrius writes: "What a man loves, that he certainly desires; and what he desires, that he strives to obtain". In this life, we either strive to obtain God, or we strive to obtain the things that are opposed to God and are controlling us. Saint Innocent of Alaska (+1879) wrote:
"Every individual instinctively strives for happiness. This desire has been implanted in our nature by the Creator Himself, and therefore it is not sinful. But it is important to understand that in this temporary life it is impossible to find full happiness, because that comes from God and cannot be attained without Him. Only He, who is the Ultimate Good and the Source of all Good, can quench our thirst for happiness."
As pleasurable and deceptive as the passions are, we can be healed from them and find the eternal happiness that is in Christ. This process is often painful, but as Saint Paul writes, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18)
There are certain paths of healing for each kind of passion. The Holy Church Fathers defined each of the passions and laid out the way of healing. Saint John Cassion lays them out in this way:
Out of these eight main passions arise all other sins. The Holy Church Fathers assist us by defining these principle passions and the treatment for each. Abba Evagrius was probably the first Christian write to identify the list.
Why a list you may ask? Why can't we just deal with each sin as it comes up? Let's consider a medical illness. Having a correct diagnosis that underlies any number of symptoms will help the healer and the patient get to the root of the trouble. The passions are the roots of the trouble. Sometimes God allows the root to die systematically over time. Sometimes it feels as though we are just chopping down the top of the problem and not getting very far.
Here are some things to consider in you struggle against the passions:
They are easy to miss. Because passions are so "natural" and seemingly part of our nature they are easy to hold onto. We may hold onto anger because we feel justified. We may also hold onto it because "everyone gets angry." Overeating or gluttony seems common enough in the U.S. and other countries because they are blessed with abundance. But will God judge us any less when we indulge in a latte drink while others have nothing to eat or drink. This may sound harsh, but look at the Parable of the sheep and the goats. It is because "I was thirsty and you didn't give me anything to drink" that we might not be allowed into His Kingdom. Most advertising is centered around human passions. Lust is promoted on T.V. and the Internet constantly with sexual messages and various drugs to satisfy one's lust. Delectable food, food most glorious (gluttony). Lottery tickets, how to make millions and millions of dollars (Avarice/greed). Anger is represented by marital breakups, divorce, etc. The glamour models and better way to have sex and eating with no calories appeals to our envy and vainglory. Hollywood tragically promotes and exploits all the destructive and sinful passions of man.
Saint Isaac the Syrian said that it is a "greater miracle that a man can see his true self than the raising of the dead."
Our Holy Orthodox Church understood passions as the distortion of the natural tendencies. Lust is an unnatural use of sexuality. Gluttony is an unnatural use or connection with food. Greed is the unnatural attachment with the material world. Envy is an unnatural need and want for what one does not have. The passion of anger is an unnatural form of wrath. God, Himself can be wrathful, but obviously doesn't sin. We are called to not sin in our anger (Ephesians 4:26). Sloth or what we may call procrastination is an unhealthy form of 'rest' or 'letting go.' We must do some work to acquire healing from the passions. Some Christian writers thought that the passion of sloth might be as important as pride. Sloth is so powerful, you might know what to do to be saved, but you might do it too slowly, like the man who doesn't make it to the emergency room on time.
Since passions are unnatural to us, the healing first takes the form of being brought back to our natural state. Once we have acquired this, one's healing moves to the supra-natural state or "above" nature (few people attain this natural state and fewer yet attain the supra-natural state in this life).
Like Jesus' lesson about the weeds being left with the wheat and not pulled out immediately so as to not pull up some of the wheat with it, there seems to be a similar principle that the passions are slowly being healed and transformed to a more natural state, than just ripped out of our lives.
Unlike Western (Roman Catholic or Protestant) teaching that suggest that man is totally depraved and that his truest nature is sinful and wicked, the Holy Orthodox Christian Church teaches that we are ill with the illness of sin and the passions. Our true nature is to be healed. To love God, to adhere to His Commandments and live in all of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The reason why we do not possess this is because of our spiritual illness. The way to attain it is through repentance which leads to true healing.
Geronda (Elder) Ephraim the Philotheite, in his book, "Counsels from the Holy Mountain" writes: "Struggle, my child, for God's road is narrow and thorny; not inherently, but because of our passions. Since we want to eradicate from our heart the passions, which are like thorny roots, so that we may plant useful plants, naturally we shall toil greatly and our hands will bleed and our face will sweat. Sometimes even despair will overcome us, seeing roots and passions everywhere!
But with our hope in Christ, the Repairer of our souls, let us diligently work at clearing the earth of our heart. Patience, mourning, obedience, cutting off one's will--all these virtues help cultivate it. We must apply all our strength, and then God, seeing our labor, comes and blesses it, and thus we make progress.
Take courage, for the toil is temporary and ephemeral, whereas the reward is great in heaven. Struggle and be vigilant with your thoughts. Keep a firm hold on hope, for this shows that your house is founded on the rock--and the Rock is our Christ."
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God