My beloved spiritual children 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.
A PRAYER OFFERED BY THE CELEBRANT PRIEST
Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom
With these blessed Powers, O Merciful Master, we also cry and say: Holy art Thou and All-Holy, Thou and Thy Only-begotten Son and Thy Holy Spirit. Holy art Thou and All-Holy and magnificent is Thy Glory, Who hast so loved Thy world as to give Thy Only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting Life. Who when He had come and fulfilled the whole dispensation for us, in the night in which He was betrayed,--or rather, surrendered Himself for the life of the world,--He took bread in His Holy and Immaculate and blameless hands; and when He had given thanks and blessed it, and hallowed it and broken it, He gave it to His Holy Disciples and Apostles..."
ORTHODOX TEACHING ON THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
Compiled by Archimandrite Panteleimon (Source: Eternal Mysteries Beyond the Grave)
The entire human race has always possessed a belief in the existence of a Supreme Being. He has endowed the universe with a motion which proceeds according to a strict order, a wise goal, and a plan. Every creature and every single object in the world He has destined to its particular purpose. The smallest insect testifies to the wisdom of its Creator; every flower petal is witness to His omnipotence.
According to the words of Holy Scripture, creation is but another witness to the existence of the Creator of the world: "The heavens have declared His righteousness" (Psalm 96:6); "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made" (Romans 1:20). The examination of the visible world must bring every man still closer to faith in God.
Finally, there is another witness to the existence of an omnipotent, all-wise, and Infinitely Good Creator. This reliable witness is our soul, which has an inborn necessity to long for the highest good.
Faith in God gives a man a firm, morally sound direction. It gives him a desire to live virtuously; it ennobles human nature, pointing to its divine origin and its moral likeness to God. It makes a man calm and comforts him in misfortune by this thought, at least, that it is God Who has allowed these misfortunes to come about because of His purposes, which are wise but not intelligible to us (i.e., in the cases of the patriarch Job and Joseph). Finally, faith in God endows each of us with the assurance that a man's life is not limited by the confines of this life but will continue beyond death into infinity.
Thus the Truth of God's existence has equally firm proof in the history of mankind, in the data of experience, and in the testimony of our own soul. The more man penetrates into recognition of God in nature, the more he observes his own personal experience and is careful to preserve kindness in his heart and purity in his conscience, the clearer does the truth of God's existence become for him.
God's Being is beyond the comprehension, not only of men, but also of Angels. He is the "unapproachable Light." If our eye tires of the created light of the visible sun, how can the eye of our reason help weakening before the Light of the Eternal Spiritual Sun, before Whom even the highest of the Angels cover their faces? The limited reason of man is too weak to comprehend God, as his hand is too weak to scoop out the sea; or, rather, his reason is weaker even than his hand. Can his hand scoop out the sea? Even if this were possible, since the sea has its limits and a measurable depth, it still would be impossible for the very limited vessel of man's mind to suffice for the comprehension of the abyss of God's wisdom, whose breadth is limitless and whose depth is immeasurable.
In recognizing God, we are hindered not only by the natural limitations of our reason but also because our reason has been darkened by sin. "I am surprised at those numerous people," says St. Symeon the New Theologian, "who do not tremble at occupying themselves with theology while they are full of sin... We, who do not know either ourselves or that which is before our very eyes, are fearless enough to dare to philosophize about that which is incomprehensible to us; and especially when we are empty of the grace of the Holy Spirit, Who enlightens and teaches all."
There will come a time when many mysteries will be fully revealed to us but to achieve this state we must cover a long and very demanding journey of correct spiritual development.
The entire Gospel, this great foundation of Christianity, is a disproof of the monstrous idea that the meaning of man's life lies only in science and reason.
The divinely revealed teachings which are expressed in the Holy Bible have endured centuries, although numerous enemies have struggled against them. The Holy Bible was not composed by one author; it came into being gradually, over a period of approximately 1,400 years. It consists of 76 separate books. A great number of various authors have contributed to its growth: learned and unlearned, kings and workers, clergy and simple farmers, statesmen and shepherds.
For entrance into the Kingdom of God and into the Church which has been founded by the Lord on earth, for the fulfillment of Christ's commandments, and for a recognition of the mysteries of His teaching--for all this, it is necessary to be blessedly reborn of the Holy Spirit. It is absolutely impossible to actuate Christ's law in our life with the help of nothing but our weak strength, which is prone to sin. Only with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, when our being has been renovated by the force of a new life, full of grace, does the law of Christ become comprehensible.
Christianity has not yet been understood and properly valued by the world. But Christianity is precisely that "unperishing treasure" for which people search so avidly. This treasure is a real, inner communion with Christ, which develops into the limitless joy of eternity.
Spiritual experience testifies to the closeness of our spirit to God's Spirit, to the influence of God on our soul when it comes into a vivid closeness with Him. In this feeling of God's presence or proximity lies the very essence of religious feeling or faith.
For us, faithful and believing sons and daughters of the Church, there can exist no doubt whatsoever about the Divinity of Jesus Christ, our Savior. But let us talk to a skeptic, and he will declare that Christ was merely a man. This thought is not new. Many centuries ago, Arius, who was later punished by a revolting death, declared the same thing. Now, however, people have gone beyond his position. This heresy is not enough for Satan. He is intent on manifesting his evil power. Now his servants preach that Christ never existed at all, that He is merely a legend, a myth! We are pained, and fear for those who express thoughts of this kind; but let us speak calmly. The appearance of great men in history was by no means prepared for so that they should be known about in advance and expected. The coming of Christ, on the other hand, was predestined thousands of years before it happened, and with such clarity and in such detail that even the place, the time, the entire Orient knew about and expected someone infinitely great Who would come from Judea and to Whom all the nations would subject themselves. Apart from Jesus Christ, there has been no person on earth in whom the entire sum of all these signs and prophecies proved itself.
The life of Jesus Christ was accompanied by events so great as have never occurred in the life of any great man; and actions so great as none of the founders of other religions accomplished, nor did other great men achieve so much. The Roman centurion, a pagan who stood at the Cross and saw the signs that took place during the Lord's sufferings and death, recognized Him as the Son of God.
How many souls appear to strive diligently toward Christ and yet do not find faith in Him? Unremittingly they are troubled by doubts; they cannot admit or recognize many things.
In vain do we think that our doubts are something new that never happened before. Such doubts existed even during our Lord's own time and then repeated themselves and still repeat themselves all the time, since the enemy of the human race never rests and perpetually works for our destruction. Alone, without Christ, we cannot overcome Satan's evil power. But if we are reborn in grace into a communion with our Savior, we receive the ability to struggle and to overcome our enemies.
TWO VISIONS OF THE HEAVENLY KINGDOM
Many holy men have been taken by the Holy Spirit to Paradise and from there have penetrated to heaven, to the heaven of heavens, to the very Throne of the Lord, Who is surrounded by fiery Seraphim and Cherubim. Thus the holy man St. Symeon the Stylite saw in Paradise marvelous gardens, and in them the soul of the first man Adam, and the soul of the repentant thief who turned to Christ on the Cross and was the first of all men who was led by God into Paradise after Christ's work of redemption was complete (The Life of St. Symeon the Sylite, May 24th).
Of all the visions of the Holy Fathers that are known to us, the most vivid and detailed vision of Paradise is that which appeared to Saint Andrew, a fool-for-Christ, who for two weeks supernaturally contemplated the invisible Paradise. He told his vision to a man who knew his secrets, Nicephorus.
"I saw that I was in a beautiful and most marvelous garden. My spirit was exalted, and I thought: what is this? I know that I am living in Constantinople; how then can I be here? I cannot understand this. I was truly amazed and did not know whether I was in the body or outside my body; only God knows. But I saw myself dressed in a most light garment which seemed woven from lightning; on my head was a crown made of large flowers, and I was girded with a belt worthy of a king. I rejoiced in this beauty, marveled at it with my mind, and rejoiced in my heart at the sweetness of God's Paradise as I walked through it. I saw many gardens with tall trees which moved their tops and were pleasant to look at; their branches emitted a wonderful fragrance. Some of the trees were perpetually in bloom; others were full of golden leaves; still others bore various fruit of unspeakable beauty and sweetness. It is impossible to compare these trees to any that grow on earth, for it was God's hand, and not that of any man, that had planted them. There were countless multitudes of birds in these gardens. Some were sitting on the branches of the trees and sang beautifully--so beautifully that I did not remember who I was, so sweetly was my heart affected. It seemed to me that their song reached the very height of heaven. These beautiful gardens were growing in rows, like armies lined up against each other.
As I was walking there and felt my heart expand, I saw a great river that was flowing in the midst of the gardens and watering them. On the other bank there was a vineyard. Its vines were full of golden leaves and golden bunches of grapes, and they were great and broad. From all four sides there blew quiet fragrant winds, and the gardens moved in the breeze and created a wonderful sound with their rustling leaves."
Saint Andrew was taken up not only into Paradise but also, like the Holy Apostle Paul, even up to the Third Heaven. He went on as follows: "After this, I grew afraid and felt that I was standing higher than the surface of heaven. A youth whose face was like the sun was walking before me. I was following him. Finally I saw a beautiful and great Cross which resembled a rainbow in its colors.
Around it were standing flamelike singers who sang a sweet song of praise to the Crucified Lord. The youth who had led me approached the Cross, kissed it, and made a sign to me that I should do likewise. I fell before the Cross with great fear and joy and carefully kissed it. As I was doing so, I was filled with unspeakable spiritual sweetness and sensed a much greater fragrance than that of Paradise.
Once past the Cross, I looked down and saw an abyss under me, for it seemed to me that I was walking on air. I grew afraid and cried out to my guide, 'I am afraid of falling into the abyss!' He turned to me and said, 'Fear not, we must rise higher,' and gave me his hand. As I took it I saw that we were above the second surface of heaven. There I saw marvelous men and their great peace, and the joy of their perpetual festival, which is inexpressible in the tongues of men.
After this we entered a wonderful flame which did not burn but only enlightened us. I once again became afraid, and once again he who led me turned to me and gave me his hand and said, 'We must rise to the Third Heaven, and even higher.' At this word we were already above Third Heaven, and there I heard many heavenly powers, who were singing and praising God."
(To be continued)
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God