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.
THE PSALTER ACCORDING TO THE SEVENTY
The fool hath said in his heart: There is no God. They are corrupt and are a abominable in iniquities; there is none that doeth good. For behold, God helpeth me, and the Lord is the protector of my soul. He will bring evils upon mine enemies. Utterly destroy them by Thy Truth. Willingly shall I sacrifice unto Thee; I will confess Thy name, O Lord, for it is good. For out of every affliction hast Thou delivered me, and mine eye hath looked upon mine enemies.
"Prayer, as a the mystery of the unity of man with God, is truly an incomprehensible miracle which can become a daily experience in the soul of the pious believer who prays with attention and sincerity. Saint John Chrysostom, who has taught us so many things about prayer and who has bequeathed to us so many beautiful prayers, emphasizes that prayer is the most powerful thing in the life of a person, and nothing can be compared with prayer. Prayer is the unique and priceless gift of the creation to man, because it is through this most important divine gift of prayer that the creature is raised up to the Creator and the finite human person is empowered to converse with the infinite God."
On January 20th 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 Efthymius the Great; Saint Leo I the Great of Thrace; Saints Inna, Pinna, and Rimma in Scythia; Saint Efthymius Kereselidze, Confessor of Georgia; Saints Vassos, Efsevius, Eftychius, and Vasilades at Nicomedia; Holy Martyrs Thyrsos and Agnes; Saint Peter the Publican of Constantinople; Saint Anna at Rome; Saint Efthymius, Patriarch of Turnovo; Saint Efthymius the Silent of the Kiev Caves; Saint Laurence the Recluse of the Kiev Caves; New Holy Martyr Zacharias of Patras, Greece.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Bishops, Holy Ascetics, Holy Fathers, Holy Mothers, Holy Confessors, O Christ Our God have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
OUR RIGHTEOUS FATHER EFTHYMIUS THE GREAT. This Saint, who was from Melitene in Armenia, was the son of pious parents named Paul and Dionysia. He was born about 377 AD. Since his mother had been barren, he was named Efthymius--which means "good cheer" or "joy"--for this is what his parents experienced at his birth. He studied under Eftroius, the Bishop of Melitene, by whom he was ordained and entrusted with the care of the monasteries of Melitene. Then, after he had come to Palestine about the year 406 AD, he became the leader of a multitude of monks. Through him, a great tribe of Arabs was turned to piety, when he healed the ailing son of their leader Aspebetos. Aspebetos was baptized with all his people; he took the Christian name of Peter, and was later consecrated Bishop for his tribe, being called "Bishop of the Tents." Saint Efthymius also fought against the heretics: Nestorians, Eftychians, and Manichaeans When Evdokia, the widow of Saint Theodosius the Younger, had made her dwelling in Palestine, and had fallen into the heresy of the Monophosites which was championed in Palestine by a certain Theodosius, she sent envoys to Saint Symeon the Stylite in Syria, asking him his opinion of Eftyches and the Council of Chalcedon which had condemned him; Saint Symeon, praising the holiness and Orthodoxy of Saint Efthymius near whom she dwelt, sent her to him to be delivered from her error (the Holy Empress Evdokia is commemorated August 13th). He became the divine oracle of the Church, or rather, "the vessel of divine utterance," as a certain historian writes. He was the instructor and elder of Saint Savvas the Sanctified. Having lived for ninety-six years, he reposed in 473 AD, on January 20th.
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn. Fourth Tone
Be glad, O barren one, that has not given birth; be of good cheer, thou that has not travailed; for a man of desires hath multiplied thy children of the Spirit, having planted them in piety and reared them in continence to the perfection of the virtues. By his prayers, O Christ our God, make our life peaceful.
Kontakion. Plagal of Fourth Tone
Creation found delight and joy in thine august nativity and the good cheer of thy numberless miracles on thy divine memorial. Now bestowed thereof richly on our souls and wash clean the stains of our every sin, Efthymius most righteous, that we may chant: Alleluia.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: 2 Corinthians 4:6-15
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Luke 6:17-23
FROM THE HOLY ASCETICS AND HOLY FATHERS OF THE CHURCH:
"The real hunger of men is hunger for heaven, for eternal life, for God. The Lord Jesus first underlines this hunger and then prepares a table for its satisfying. This table is He Himself. 'I am the Bread of Life." If our earthly body is sustained by bread, our soul is fed and given life by Christ." (Saint Nikolai Velimirovich)
THE MEANING OF THE VERSE FROM THE PSALMS
by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, Hierotheos
This verse, as everyone who regularly attends Church, particularly Vespers (Esperinos), knows, comes from the 129 Psalm of David. The whole verse reads, "From the morning watch until the night, from the morning watch let Israel hope in the Lord".
The Prophet uses the word 'watch' here in its military sense of guard duty. A watch is the period or shift of guard duty undertaken by Roman soldiers, who divided the night into three-hour watches, with the guard changing every three hours.
According to the commentary by Saint Nicodemos the Hagiorite on this passage, "From the morning watch" refers to the final period of guard duty of the night, and from three until six o'clock in the morning, which was regarded as being already a daytime or morning watch. He writes "In olden times they gave the name 'watch' to periods of the night, because the soldiers keeping guard divided the night into four parts or watches during military campaigns. Each period or watch was three hours longs."
The interpretation of the passage, "From the morning watch until the night, from the morning watch let Israel hope in the Lord", therefore, is that Israel should hope in the Lord from daybreak until night and, by extension, our own hearts should hope in the Lord from morning until night. A parallel passage from Isaiah reads, "From the night my spirit will rise up early to seek Thee, O Lord".
Saint Nicodemos the Hagiorite cites various passages from ecclesiastical writers and Holy Fathers of the Church interpreting this verse.
Theodoret, for instance, says in his commentary on this passage from the Psalms that "From the morning watch until the night" is "the same as 'all through the day', for the morning watch is the last hour of the night, and the last guards keep watch until that time". In other words, you are to remember the Lord all day long from morning until evening, and your nous should be directed towards Him. For us this means towards Christ, whereas for the Hebrews it meant towards Yahweh. Attach your nous to Christ all through the day, and put your hope in Him.
Saint Nicodemos also quotes a passage from Saint John Chrysostom, who gives another, broader interpretation, that it is not just the day that is meant here, but the whole of life. Saint John Chrysostom says: "Let Israel hope all life long, in other words, night and day, for nothing is as conducive to salvation as always looking towards God and clinging to this hope." This means that you should hope in God throughout your life, and with your nous turned towards God and attached to Him, and you should cling to this hope as long as you live.
Saint Nicodemos also includes the interpretation of an anonymous writer, according to whom the Psalmist is urging us, "to struggle from our youth onwards, from the very beginning." In other words, he exhorts us to strive from when we are young. Origen gave the same interpretation, writing, "Someone should urge them on by telling them to live a godly life from their earliest youth."
According to these last interpretations, the Holy Psalmist says that, from the beginning, or morning, of our lives, from our youth, we ought to fight the good fight of faith, to live according to God's Commandments and be united with the Holy Triune God. It is from this perspective that we Orthodox Christians speak about imitating Christ. This does not mean imitating Him outwardly just by copying certain actions, but man's communion and union with Christ.
This verse of the psalm teaches in a prayerful way that man should cleave to God, be inwardly inspired, constantly remember God and be in communion with Him, either all day long, from morning to night, or throughout his life, from his youth until extreme old age. If we live this verse of the psalm, we shall continuously experience spiritual inspiration in our life: we shall be inspired.
I shall not spend any more time on this verse, but I have used it as a starting-point for going on to what I want to discuss next, and to say that we ought to be inspired, to possess spiritual inspiration within ourselves. My main purpose is to analyze a prayer written by Elder Sophrony of blessed memory to be said in the morning on rising from sleep.
Elder Sophrony's 'Prayer at Daybreak'
Living in this charismatic life, Elder Sophrony wrote a prayer, which he gave to the monks and nuns and to those associated with him, to read "on rising from sleep". If someone reads this prayer in the morning with contrition and attention, the whole day will be blessed.
It is a prayer for the hallowing of the day, but also for the advent of that great day, the Second Coming of Christ. It is imbued with a longing for rebirth, and the Christian prays for his spiritual regeneration, but it also expresses his yearning and his encounter with Christ.
That is why, as the title for my address, I selected the text "From the morning watch until the night". I should like to add the words, "and from the deepest night of this life until the great day of Christ's Second Coming...
Personal Relationship with God
Prayer is not an abstract state but a personal communion with God, and it presupposes a spiritual relationship. This has mainly come about since the Incarnation of Christ: prayer is offered in Christ by those living in Him. God is not an idea or an abstract concept. He is not an ideology, nor a grand architect of the universe. He is not a God that religious people of all faiths believe in and worship. He is Person (Three Persons): a Personal God. The Christian who wants to live in accordance with the Commandments of Christ must cultivate this personal relationship with God "in the person of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6).
At the beginning of the prayer the Elder writes:
"Eternal King without beginning, Thou that art before all worlds, my Maker, Who hast summoned all things from non-being into this life".
The prayer begins with a theological statement: the awareness that God is not simply the Creator of the world, but personally fashioned it. "My Maker", he says. In this prayer we are saying to God, "You are my Maker, You created me, You brought me from non-being into being". We often have the impression that God is an abstract idea and power, to Whom we ought to pray so that things will go well. We also have the impression that it was our parents who brought us into this life. Here the Elder stresses that God is our Maker, He created us through our parents.
Elsewhere in the prayer he writes:
"O God, my God."
He is not an abstract God, nor a God that other people believe in, but my own God.
Further on he says"
"O Thou Who art good, unto Whom all hearts be open".
He calls Him good. Many of us turn to God to tell Him our complaints. We even turn against Him because we consider that He is the cause of the misfortunes in our lives! The Elder says, "O Thou Who art good, unto Whom all hearts be open." He is good and knows the depths of our hearts. We do not know what other people have in their hearts. Often we do not even know what is in the depths of our own hearts. Only at those moments when Divine grace comes are we able to perceive what is concealed within us. God, however, knows the depths of our hearts.
Elsewhere Elder Sophrony expresses this relationship with God in the words:
"Cast me not away from Thy presence."
The Elder's relationship with the Person of God is so alive that He asks Him, as did David, not to reject him, not to turn His face away, not to stop being in communion with him.
He goes on to write:
"Grant me to love Thee as Thou hast commanded, with all my heart, and with all my mind, and with all my strength: with my whole being. For Thou alone art the holy protection and all-powerful defender of my life, and unto Thee I ascribe glory and offer my prayer."
For Elder Sophrony, and for all those who offer prayer personally to Him, God is a protector, an All- Powerful Defender of their lives, and they ascribe glory to Him. They love Him with all their heart and soul, and their whole being is offered to Him.
God is Person, and the one who prays has a personal relationship with Him. When someone prays he does not feel like an orphan. I mention this, because many times a day we pray saying, "Our Father which art in heaven", but we live our lives as if we were orphans. Although we call God--"Our Father"--we feel like orphans, we have a sense of being orphaned, as if there were no one in our lives to look after us and love us. This is a sign that we are praying with words and not our whole being.
Prayer ought to have a personal character. Saint John of the Ladder defines prayer as being "the converse of man with God". He borrows a word from marital relations, synousia (literally: 'being together' or 'intercourse'), to demonstrate man's relationship and communion with the Personal God. When someone prays he has this inner relationship, he has contact and communion with God, and all the powers of his soul and body are directed towards God, inspired by Him and in communion with Him. All the senses of the soul become as one.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God