Orthodox Contemplation (Part III)

Holy Martyrs Romulus, Agapius, Publius, Timolaus, Alexander, Alexander, Dionysius and Dionysius

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


The Priest standing before the holy icon of Christ says: Almighty Lord, You have created all things in wisdom. In Your inexpressible Providence and Great Goodness You have brought us to these saving days, for the cleansing of our souls and bodies, for control of our passions, in the hope of the Resurrection. After the forty days You delivered into the hands of Your servant Moses the tablets of the Law in characters divinely traced. Enable us also, O Benevolent One, to fight the good fight, to complete the course of the fast, to keep the faith inviolate, to crush underfoot the heads of unseen tempters, to emerge victors over sin and to come, without reproach, to the worship of Your Holy Resurrection. For Blessed and Glorified is Your Most Honorable and Majestic Name, of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.



"There was an ascetic Elder dwelling in the lower part of Egypt. In his simplicity, this monk had said that Melchizedek was the Son of God. This fact came to the attention of the Blessed Cyril, Archbishop of Alexandria. Wishing to correct the error of the Elder, the Blessed Cyril summoned him. The Elder having come, the divine Cyril, knowing him to be a man of God who had performed many miracles and wonders, and knowing that when the Elder asked God about some matter, God would reveal to him the truth (and, moreover, knowing that what the Elder had said about Melchizedek he had said from naiveté and simplicity), he employed the following stratagem, saying to him: "Abba (Father), please listen to me. A certain thought tells me that Melchizedek is the Son of God, while another thought suggests to me that he is not the Son of God, but an Archpriest and, as such, a man. Since I do not know which of the two thoughts is true, and I have doubt and hesitations, I for this reason called you here, and I would like you to make supplications to God to reveal to you the truth." The Geronda, having boldness and courage before God, on account of his virtue and asceticism, replied to the Archbishop: 'Give me three days time, and I will ask God to reveal this matter to me, so as to solve your dilemma.' The Elder then departed, and for three days he implored God to reveal to him, the truth of the matter. Having received a revelation, on the third day, he went to tell the Archbishop: "Melchizedek was a man." Archbishop Cyril, with understandable curiosity, asked the Elder: 'How, Abba, were you informed of the truth?' The Elder answered: 'As I was praying, God revealed to me all of the Patriarchs, from Adam to Melchizedek. I saw all of them pass before me. And when the Archpriest Melchizedek passed before me, an Angel of the Lord said to me: 'This is the Archpriest Melchizedek; you may firmly trust, then, that this is true.'" From that time on, the Elder firmly preached that Melchizedek was a man."




On March 15th 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 faith: Holy Martyr Agapius of Gaza and those with him: Plesius (or Paisius) and Alexander of Egypt; Alexander of Gaza; Romulus of Diospolis in Palestine; Timolaus of Pontus; Dionysius of Tripolis in Phoenicia, and another Dionysius; who were martyred in Caesarea of Palestine; Holy Apostle Aristovoulos, Bishop of Britain, brother of Saint Barnabas the Apostle; Holy Martyr Nicander of Egypt; New Holy Martyr Manuel of Crete was perfected in martyrdom by the sword on the island of Chios, Greece in the year of our Lord 1792; Holy Virgin Martyr Leocritia of Cordova was beheaded by the Moors in the year of our Lord 859; righteous Father Nicander of Gorodnozersk.

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

HOLY MARTYR AGAPIUS, AND THE SEVEN WITH HIM: PUBLIUS, TIMOLAUS, ROMULUS, ALEXANDER, ALEXANDER, DIONYSIUS AND DIONYSIUS. They all suffered in Palestinian Caesarea at the hand of Urban, the governor, in the time of the pagan Roman Emperor Diocletian. All of the martyrs, apart from Agapius, were very young men and were not yet Christians. They had never been baptized with water, but their baptism was of blood. One day these seven were watching how the Christians were being tortured: one in fire, another on the gallows, a third before wild beasts, and when they saw with what patience the Christians endured all these tortures, they were inflamed with zeal for Christ, bound their own hands behind their backs and, thus bound, came before Urban saying: 'We too are Christians!' Urban's flattery and threats were in vain. Agapius, a prominent inhabitant of that city, who had previously suffered somewhat for Christ, joined them, and they were inspired with an even greater faith in and love for the Lord. They were all beheaded in 303 A.D., and went to the courts of the King of Heaven.


Let us sing of renowned Agapius, Timolaus, Romulus, the two Alexanders, and the two named Dionysius, who fought steadfastly in contest and wrestled to the ground the enemy's innumerable multitudes. Welling forth rivers of healings, O Martyrs, ye divinely purge away the passions of the earthborn. Wherefore, with faith and joy we laud your deeds of excellence. Lawfully ye finished the sacred struggle, and lawfully have ye been crowned by the almighty hand, O seven Martyrs, citizens of Heaven and peers of the Angels.



Holy Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 3:12-16
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Mark 1:35-44


"A brother asked the Geronda, 'How does the fear of God dwell in the soul?' The Geronda said, 'If a man is possessed of humility and poverty, and if he does not judge others, the fear of God will come to him.'" (The Sayings of theDesert Fathers)

Abba Euprepius said, 'Knowing that God is faithful and Mighty, have faith in Him and you will share what is His. If you are depressed, you do not believe. We all believe that He is Mighty and we believe all is possible to Him. As for your own affairs, behave with faith in Him about them, too, for He is able to work miracles in you also." (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers)


Excerpts from Metropolitan Kallistos Ware's "The Orthodox Way"



From Words to Silence

The more a man comes to contemplate God in nature, the more he realizes that God is also above and beyond nature. So the second stage of the spiritual Way leads him, with God's help, to the third stage, when God is no longer known solely through the medium of what He has made but in direct and unmediated union.

The transition from the second to the third level is effected by applying to the life of prayer the way of negation or apophatic approach. In Scripture, in the liturgical texts, and in nature, we are presented with innumerable words, images and symbols of God; and we are taught to give full value to these words, images and symbols, dwelling upon them in our prayer. But, since these things can never express the entire truth about the living God, we are encouraged also to balance this affirmative or cataphatic prayer by apophatic prayer. As Evagrius puts it, "Prayer is a laying-aside of thoughts." This is not of course to be regarded as the complete definition of prayer, but it does indicate the kind of prayer that leads a man from the second to the third stage of the Way. Reaching out towards the eternal Truth that lies beyond all human words and thoughts, the seeker begins to wait upon God in quietness and silence, no longer talking about or to God but simply listening. "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10).

This stillness or inward silence is known in Greek as hesychia, and he who seeks the prayer of stillness is termed a hesychast. Hesychia signifies concentration combined with inward tranquility. It is not merely to be understood in a negative sense as the absence of speech and outward activity, but it denotes in a positive way the openness of the human heart towards God's love. Needless to say, for most people if not all, hesychia is not a permanent state. The hesychast, as well as entering into the prayer of stillness, uses other forms of prayer as well, sharing in corporate liturgical worship, reading the Scripture, receiving the sacraments. Apophatic prayer coexists with cataphatic, and each strengthens the other. The way of negation and the way of affirmation are not alternatives; they are complementary.

But how are we to stop talking and to start listening? Of all the lessons in prayer, this is the hardest to learn. There is little profit in saying to ourselves, "Do not think," for suspension of discursive thought is not something we can achieve merely through an exertion of will-power. The ever-restless mind demands from us some task, so as to satisfy its constant need to be active. If our spiritual strategy is simply negative--if we try to eliminate all conscious thinking without offering our mind any alternative activity--we are like to end up with vague day-dreaming. In the Orthodox hesychast tradition, the work that is usually assigned to it is the frequent repetition of some short "arrow prayer," most commonly the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

We are taught, when reciting the Jesus Prayer, to avoid so far as possible any specific image or picture. In the words of Saint Gregory of Nyssa, "The Bridegroom (Jesus) is present, but He is not seen." The Jesus Prayer is not a form of imaginative meditation upon different incidents in the life of Christ. But while turning aside from such images, we are to concentrate our full attention upon, or rather within, the words. The Jesus Prayer is not just a hypnotic incantation, but a meaningful phrase, an invocation addressed to another person. Its object is not relaxation but alertness, not waking slumber but living prayer. And so the Jesus Prayer is not to be said mechanically but with inward purpose; yet at the same time the words should be pronounced without tension, violence, or undue emphasis.

Normally three levels or degrees are distinguished in the saying of the Jesus Prayer. It starts with the "prayer of the lips," oral prayer. Then it grows more inward, becoming "prayer of the intellect" (nous), mental prayer. Finally the intellect "descends" into the heart and is united with it, and so the prayer becomes the "prayer of the heart" or more exactly, "prayer of the intellect in the heart." Its eventual aim is to establish in the one who prays a state of prayer that is unceasing, which continues uninterrupted even in the midst of other activities.

 So the Jesus Prayer begins as an oral prayer like any other. But by virtue of the simplicity of the words, the hesychast advances beyond all languages and images into the mystery of God. In this way the Jesus Prayer develops, with God's help, into what Western writers call "prayer of loving attention" or "prayer of simple gaze," where the soul rests in God without a constantly varying succession of images, ideas and feelings. Beyond this there is a further stage, when the hesychast's prayer ceases to be the result of his own efforts, and becomes "self-acting" or "infused." It ceases to be "my" prayer and becomes the prayer of Christ's in me.

Please note: It is absolutely necessary for every Orthodox Christian to have a genuine and contrite prayer discipline and life. No one can claim to believe in God and not be willing to converse with Him throughout the day and life. Communion with the Almighty God, the Holy Trinity, is not only a blessing but life itself. A Christian cannot exist without constant and deliberate prayer. It is not any less important than the oxygen that we need to breathe and continue living. Without it we die! So without prayer we die spiritually!

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

+Father George