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.
PRAYERS OF THE FIRST HOUR (8:00 A.M.)
O Eternal God, the Uncreated Light, Infinite and without beginning, The Creator of all creation, the inexhaustible source of mercy, the deep ocean of goodness, and the unsearchable abyss of loving-kindness for mankind, let the Light of Your Countenance, O Lord, shine upon us. Illuminate our hearts, O Spiritual Sun of Righteousness, and fill our souls with Your Gladness. Teach us always to meditate and to speak of Your judgments, and to constantly confess to You, our Master and Benefactor. Direct the work of our hands to conform with Your will, and support us in doing what You love and what pleases You. Thus, even through our unworthiness, Your All-Holy Name will be glorified, the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit of the One Godhead and Kingdom, to Whom befits all glory, honor and worship, unto the ages of ages. Amen.
by Saint Isaac the Syrian
"When one is made worthy to achieve unceasing prayer, he has reached the goal of all the virtues, and is, henceforth, made into a dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit. But if he has not yet received precisely the grace of the Holy Spirit, he will not be able to attain to and perfect this unceasing prayer with facility. It is said (by Saint Paul in Romans 8:26) that when the Spirit dwells in someone, he does not cease praying, precisely because the Spirit Himself prays unceasingly in him. Then, whether one is eating or drinking, sleeping or doing anything else, including even when in a deep sleep, the pleasant fragrances and aromas of prayer will rise up without effort from his heart, and prayer will never be separated from such a person, even if it may appear externally that he has ceased praying. Prayer will continue uninterruptedly within his heart in secret...For even this external silence of pure persons is prayer, as noted by a certain Saint. And these divine movements and activities of the pure heart and mind are but meek and gentle voices through which God is praised and glorified in secret."
On January 8th 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 Domniki; Holy Hieromartyr Karterius; Saint Emelianos and Elladios; Saint George Hozevite; Carterios of Caesarea; Atticus and Cyrus, Patriarchs of Constantinople; Agathon of Egypt; Abo the Perfumer of Baghdad; Saint Elias of Egypt; Prophet Shemaiah; Saint Gregory of Ochrid; 2 Gregory's of the Kieve Caves; Saint Paisius of Uglich; Saint Macarius of Vatopedi; Saint Isidore and 72 companions Holy Martyrs Yuriev.
ON SPIRITUAL OBEDIENCE
"For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous". (Romans 5:19)
Commentary: "Through Christ's obedience, healing is brought to man's human will. Therefore, 'many are made righteous' and are able by grace to participate in God's righteousness. Indeed, many Saints become so filled with grace that they pass extensive periods of time without sinning, for they allow the healing power of Christ to fill their human will." (Orthodox Study Bible)
As Orthodox Christians we constantly turn the Holy Fathers of the Church as well as the Desert Fathers for answers to our many important questions about our Christian faith.
Beyond the Holy Scripture, the entire ascetic traditions of our Church emphasizes the significance of obedience for the life in Christ. The Gerondikon or Sayings of the Desert Holy Fathers gives abundant examples of the importance of obedience in the life in Christ. A well known anecdote recounts the story of Saint John the Dwarf, who, upon entering the desert, was told, by spiritual elder to continue watering a dry stick which had been planted into the ground, and to keep on doing this until it bore fruit. Indeed, the story is intensified when we are told that the novice had to travel throughout the whole night to collect water, something, which, besides being irrational would have been physically and mentally exhausting. The pinnacle moment of the story is reached when we discover that one morning, in the third year, upon going to water the 'dead stick', St. John found that it had flowered and produced much fruit. It is said that his spiritual elder took it to the community and told the brothers: "Take and eat the fruit of obedience!"
Another story relates the perfect obedience of a disciple, who, having been called by his spiritual father, responded immediately, not even completing the letter of the alphabet that he had been writing while copying a manuscript. From this, we can see that all sayings in the Gerondikon seek to emphasize, in the strongest of terms the importance of obedience for a person out to live an ascetic life. At this point ask: 'what happened to the free will of that person?
The Gerondikon is clear in stating that the practice of obedience, even when it may seem at first 'irrational" acquires a profound meaning only when it is understood as a means of discipline and training of the soul of the believer. Just as disobedience was the cause of the fall of the first Adam, so too, obedience becomes the means, by which man can be restored to his primordial state of existence. That such a teaching is Scriptural can be seen from the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Romans, which relates to Christ's saving obedience as an example for all people of faith: "For just as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one Man's obedience the many will be made righteous" (Romans 5:19).
"Just as Christ, through His obedience opened the door to Paradise through to God the Father, so too, will all human beings be led to the glory of God through their obedience (cf 2 Cor. 9:13). That is, the self-seeking ego, which entered human history with the fall of Adam can only be transformed to a communal manner of existence-that is, a life in communion with God and the world around--with daily struggle of the Christian believer to become obedient in all things." As such, obedience to be 'the first of virtues'. In an age of secularism and of radical individualism, where the person has become the measure of all things, such stories relating to ascetical obedience become all the more significant examples which can lead to our true freedom.
Indeed, the insistence, by the Orthodox Christian Tradition, that obedience is not given to something abstract but to specific persons is also stressed in the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Hebrews: "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account" (13:7).
One of the great ascetics and Holy Fathers is of course Saint John Climacus who in his teaching of the Christian life considered obedience to be a foundational virtue without which one could not advance spiritually in their journey to encounter God.
In "The Spiritual Guide in Orthodox Christianity" written by Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia says: "If we are climbing a mountain for the first time, we need to follow a known route; and we also need to have with us, as companion and guide, someone who has been up before and is familiar with the way. to serve as such a companion and guide is precisely the role of the 'abba' or spiritual father--of the one whom the Greek call geron or geronda and the Russians starets, a title which in both languages means 'old man' or 'elder.'
"The importance" he writes, "of obedience to a geron (elder) is underlined from the very first beginnings of Eastern Christian monasticism. It is clearly evident, for example, in the sayings attributed to Saint Antony of Egypt:
"I know of monks who fell after much toil and lapsed into madness, because they trusted in their own works and did not give due heed to the commandment of his who says, 'Ask your father, and he will tell you' (Dent 32:7). If possible, for every step that a monk takes, for every drop of water that he drinks in his cell, he should entrust the decision to the old men, to avoid making some mistake in what he does."
The need for spiritual guidance is a master-theme throughout the Apophthegmata or Sayings of the Desert Fathers:
"The old men used to say: 'If you see a young monk climbing up to heaven by his own will, grasp him by the feet and throw him down, for this is to his profit...If a person places his faith in someone else and surrenders himself to the other in full submission, he has no need to attend to the commandment of God, but he needs only to entrust his entire will into the hands of his father. Then he will be blameless before God, for God requires nothing from the beginners so much as self-stripping through obedience."
A contemporary Russian Orthodox priest, Father Alexander Men--himself much revered as a spiritual father before his tragic and untimely death at unknown hands in 1990--wisely insisted that monastic observances cannot be transferred wholesale to parish life: "We often think that the relation of spiritual father requires that the former be always obedient to the latter. In reality, this principle is an essential part of the monastic life. A monk promises to be obedient, to do whatever his spiritual father requires. A parish priest cannot impose such a model on lay people and cannot arrogate to himself the right to give peremptory orders. He must be happy recalling the Church's rules, orienting his parishioner's lives, and helping them in their inner struggles."
Metropolitan Kallistos recalls two elders of our own day, whom he had the privilege and happiness of knowing personally. The first was Father Amphilochios (+1970), at one time abbot (egoumenos) of the Monastery of Saint John on the Island of Patmos, and subsequently geronta to a community of nuns which he had founded not far from the Monastery. What most distinguished his character was his gentleness, his humor, the warmth of his affection, and his sense of tranquil yet triumphant joy. His smile was full of love, but devoid of all sentimentality. Life in Christ, as he understood it, is not a heavy yoke, a burden to be carried with sullen resignation, but a personal relationship to be pursued with eagerness of heart. He was firmly opposed to all spiritual violence and cruelty. It was typical that, as he lay dying and took leave of the nuns under his care, he should urge the abbess (egoumenissa) not to be too severe on them: "They have left everything to come here, they must not be unhappy."
Two things in particular I recall about him. The first was his love of nature and, more especially, of trees. "Do you know," he used to say, "that God gave us one more commandment, which is not recorded in Scripture? It is the commandment: love the trees." Whoever does not love trees, he was convinced, does not love Christ. When hearing the confessions of the local farmers, he assigned to them as a penance (epitimion) the task of planting a tree; and through his influence many hill-sides of Patmos, which once were barren rock, are now green with foliage every summer.
His second example of a twentieth-century starets known to him personally was Saint John Maximovitch (+1966). Russian bishop in Shanghai, then in Western Europe, and finally in San Francisco.
In private conversation he was abrupt yet kindly. He quickly won the confidence of small children. Particularly striking was the intensity of his intercessory prayer. It was his practice, whenever possible, to celebrate the Divine Liturgy daily, and the service often took twice the normal space of time, such was the multitude of those whom he commemorated individually by name. As he prayed for them, they were never mere entries on a list, but always persons. One story that I was told is typical. It was his custom each year to visit Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY. As he made his departure after one such visit, a monk gave him a slip of paper with four names of those who were gravely ill. Saint John received thousands upon thousands of such requests for prayer in the course of each year. On his return to the monastery some twelve months later, at once he beckoned to the monk and, much to the latter's surprise, from the depths of his cassock Saint John produced the identical slip of paper, now crumpled and tattered. "I have been praying for your friends," he said, "but two of them"--he pointed to their names---"are now dead, while the other two have recovered." And so indeed it was.
Even at a distance he shared in the concerns of his spiritual children. One of them, Father (later Archbishop) Jacob, superior of a small Orthodox monastery in Holland, was sitting at a late hour in his room, unable to sleep from anxiety over the financial and other problems which faced him. In the middle of the night the phone rang; it was Saint John, speaking from several hundred miles away. He had telephoned to say that it was time for Father Jacob to go to bed: "Go to sleep now, what you are asking of God will certainly be all right."
Such is the role of the spiritual father. As Saint Barsanuphius expressed it, "I care for you more than you care about yourself."
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God