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.
FROM THE LITURGY OF THE PRESANCTIFIED GIFTS Prayer for the Catechumens preparing for Holy Baptism
Master, let the Light of Your Countenance shine on those who are being made ready for Holy Illumination, and who yearn to thrust aside the defilement of sin. Illumine their minds; confirm them in the faith; sustain them in their hope; perfect them in love; make them precious members of Your Christ, Who gave Himself as a ransom for our souls. For You are our Illumination, and to You we offer up glory: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
THE FIRST PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL
O God, Great and Praised, through the Life-Giving death of Your Christ, You have borne us from corruption to immortality. Liberate all our senses from killing passion, setting over them as a benevolent sovereign our inner reason. Let the eye be averted from every evil sight, and the ear be deaf to idle talk. May the tongue be purged of unseemly speech. Purify these lips that praise You, Lord. Make our hands abstain from wicked deeds, doing only such things as are pleasing to You, thus sealing with Your grace all our members, and our mind.
THE SECOND PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL
Holy Master, Infinitely Good, we entreat You, rich in mercy, to be gracious to us sinners, and to make us worthy to receive Your Only Son and Our God, the King of Glory. For behold, His spotless Body and Life-Giving Blood are about to make their entrance at this hour, to be laid on this mystical table, invisibly attended by a multitude of the heavenly host. Grant that we may receive them in blameless communion, so that as the eyes of our understanding see the Light, we may become children of Light and of day.
On how to fight against the dumb sensory will, and on the training necessary for the will to acquire experience in virtues.
by Saint Theophan the Recluse
"Every time your free will is acted upon and pulled on the one hand by the dumb sensory will and on the other by the Will of God, voiced through conscience, each of them seeking to conquer it, you must, if you are sincerely to strive for good, use suitable methods on your part to assist God's Will in gaining victory. For this purpose, then:
a) As soon as you feel impulses of the lower, sensory and passionate will, you must immediately use every effort to resist them and now allow your own will to incline towards them, however slightly. Crush them, cut them off, drive them away from yourself by an intense effort of will.
b) To achieve this more successfully and with a better result, hasten to kindle in yourself a wholehearted aversion to such impulses, as to your enemies, who seek to steal and destroy your soul--be angered with them.
c) At the same time do not forget to appeal to our Lord Jesus Christ, our Helper in all endeavors, asking for His assistance and protection, and for the strengthening of your better will; for without Him we can succeed in nothing.
d) If these three inner actions are sincerely practiced in your soul, they will never fail to give you victory over evil impulses. But this would mean only driving the enemies (demons) away. If you wish to strike at their very heart, then, if it is feasible, at once do something opposed to the suggestion of the passionate impulse and, if possible, resolve to do so always. This latter practice will finally free you completely from the renewal of the attacks you experience."
TODAY'S SYNAXARION (THE COMMEMORATION OF TODAY'S SAINTS):
On April 1st (Kalo mena or May we have a good and blessed Month) 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, Teachers and every righteous spirit made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Saint Mary of Egypt; Saint Macarius the Confessor of Pelecete; Saint Melition, Bishop of Sardis; Venerable Achaz, King of Judah; Saint Abraham of Bulgaria; Holy Martyrs Gerontius and Vasilides; Gerondius of Kiev Caves; Saint Efthimius of Suzdal; Saint Varsanuphius of Optina; Saint Michael, fool-for-Christ of Russia; Schema-Bishop Macarius (+1944); Saint John of Shavia in Georgia; Saint Tewdric of Tintem.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Bishops, Holy Mothers, Holy Fathers, Holy Confessors, Holy kings, Holy Ascetics, Holy Righteous, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
OUR RIGHTEOUS MOTHER MARY OF EGYPT. When Saint Mary was only twelve years old, she left her parents and departed to Alexandria, where she lived a depraved life for seventeen years. Then, moved by curiosity, she went with many pilgrims to Jerusalem, that she might see the Exaltation of the Venerable and Holy Cross. Even in the Holy City she gave herself over to every kind of licentiousness and drew many into the depth of perdition. Desiring to go into the church on the day of the Exaltation of the Cross, time and again she perceived a certain invisible power preventing her entrance, whereas the multitude of people about her entered unhindered. Therefore, wounded in heart by this, she decided to change her way of life and reconciled herself to God by means of repentance and the guidance of the Theotokos. Invoking our Lady the Mother of God as her protectress, she asked her to open the way for her to worship the Cross, and vowed that she would renounce the world. And thus, returning once again to the church, she entered easily. When she had worshipped the Precious and Life-Giving Wood, she departed that same day from Jerusalem and passed over the Jordan. She went into the inner wilderness and for 47 years lived a most harsh manner of life, surpassing human strength; alone, she prayed to God. Toward the end of her life, she met a certain hermit named Zosimas, and she related to him her life from the beginning. She requested of him to bring her the Immaculate Mysteries (Holy Communion) that she might partake of them. According to her request, he did this the following year on Holy and Great Thursday. One year after this, Father Zosimas again went the place that he met her and found her dead, laid upon the ground, and letters written in the sand near her which said: 'Abba (Father) Zosimas, bury here the body of wretched Mary. I died on the very day I partook of the Immaculate Mysteries, Pray for me.' Her death is reckoned by some to have taken place in the year of our Lord 378, by some, in 437 A.D. and by others, in 522. She is commemorated also on the Fifth Sunday (This coming Sunday) of Holy and Great Lent. Her life was recorded by Saint Sophronius of Jerusalem.
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn. Plagal of Fourth Tone
In thee the image was preserved with exactness, O Mother; for taking up thy cross, thou didst follow Christ, and by thy deeds thou didst teach us to overlook the flesh, for it passeth away, but to attend to the soul since it is immortal. Wherefore, O righteous Mary, they spirit rejoiceth with the Angels.
Kontakion. Second Tone
By the toils of thy struggles, O God-inspired one, thou didst hallow the harshness of the desert. Wherefore, we glorify thy memory, as we honor thee with hymns, O Mary, glory of the righteous.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Isaiah 40:18-31; Genesis 15:1-15; Proverbs 15:7-19
SAYINGS FROM THE HOLY ASCETICS, HOLY MOTHERS AND HOLY FATHERS OF THE CHURCH:
"By accepting a suspicion against the neighbor, by saying, 'What does it matter if I put in a word about my suspicion? What does it matter if I find out what my brother is saying or what a guest is doing?' the mind begins to forget about its own sins and to talk idly about his neighbor, speaking evil against him, despising him, and from this he falls into the very thing he condemns. Because we become careless about our own faults and do not lament our own death, we lose the power to correct ourselves and we are always at work on our neighbor." (Saint Dorotheos of Gaza).
"FROM FAITH TO FAITH"
by Archimandrite Zacharias [Source: Remember Thy First Love (Revelation 2:4-5)]
The Three Stages of the Spiritual Life in the Theology of Elder Sophrony
If we are to belong to the Church of Christ, the new creation, we need the gift of faith. This gift is the most important of the many gifts which the Holy Spirit bestows upon the members of the Body of Christ. Our gift of faith will attach us to this glorious Body, the Church, of which Christ Himself is the Head, and will allow us to enter into communion with the abundance of divine life that flows from the Head of this Body into its members. In this wise, we, small and weak members though we be, become, through our communion in the Body of the Lord Jesus, partakers of the gifts of the strong members of this Body--the Saints, who dwell both on earth and in heaven.
Thus are we enabled to grow strong and overcome sin, and to become rich though we are poor; we are regenerated and in our turn become precious in the sight of God. But if we live negligently in the Church of Christ we fail to be in harmony with the life of this Body, we fail to honor the gift contained within it--the Holy Spirit--and we become a burden to all its other members, that is, our brethren in Christ. It is therefore infinitely important that we discover and explore our gift of faith so that in due time it may bear such fruit as will sustain both our own life and that of our brethren.
At first, our faith is necessarily immature and needs to grow and develop within us. This first faith involves the turning of our whole being towards God; it orientates our spirit towards the One God Who is without beginning. Our faith, then, gradually enters upon an intermediate stage, which consists of hoping and trusting in God, particularly in situations where humanly speaking everything seems to be without hope. And eventually, we grow into a more perfect form of faith: the disposition of the soul is now stable, and she begins to live the words of the Apostle: 'For unto you it is given not only to believe on Christ, but also to suffer for his sake.' (Phil. 1:29).
We should add, however, that our faith is not simply an inner matter; it always reflects the times we live in as Christians. The Fathers of the fourth century-- a time of great flowering for the Church--repeatedly said that the Christians of the last times would neither have the strength to endure ascetic hardship nor be able to perform the godly works of the Fathers of old. But they added that those who would succeed in simply keeping the faith would be more greatly glorified in heaven than those Fathers who had worked miracles and even raised the dead to life. In other words, it is the privilege of our times to preserve the fullness of our faith, and this requires a greater measure of grace than that by which our Fathers raised the dead. The Lord Himself asked, 'When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?' (St. Luke 18:8). His words reflect the same thing: if faith be found among men at His Second Coming, this will be something very great indeed. We see that God judges us with respect to the generation in which we live. Father Sophrony would say that we are all leaves on the same tree of humanity and nothing can separate us from the life of this tree. So if our time is characterized by a general falling away from the faith of our Fathers, our success in preserving it will be the more sublime because of the apostasy surrounding us.
But we must be resolute: either we live according to our faith or we do not. The Book of Revelation says we must not allow ourselves to loiter, lukewarm in the false security of a kind of middle ground (cf. Rev. 3:16). In our day, we are witnessing a dynamic increase of evil, and we find ourselves caught in a surge of iniquity even as it gathers force. As Christians we must place ourselves in a different, indeed a contrary, dynamic increase which grows not away from but towards God, so that evil itself will spur us on to do good. Father Sophrony had the gift of discerning God's purposes when people asked him how to cope with distressing situations: he knew that even the most tragic circumstances can have great spiritual benefits hidden within them. But we are wholly responsible for the direction we choose to follow: we can either remain inert and lifeless, or we can engage with the dynamic increase of life in God.
(To be continued)
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God