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.
SAYINGS OF THE HOLY FATHERS
By Monk John Vranos, Saint Xenia Skete
The Monastic Schema is called angelic, because a monk in the Orthodox Christian Church lives like a flesh-bearing Angel. He prays continually. He praises God for His infinite wisdom and power, by which He created Heaven and earth. He offers up thanksgiving to God, because he is God's creation. God feeds us, clothes us, and provides for our salvation. The monk asks God for forgiveness for his many faults and calls on Him to help him, as He knows, so that he might be saved in the end.
God! Hearing His Name, the monk feels deep reverence and measureless love. What on earth is sweeter and more wonderful, to what else could he attach his love and his thoughts? Absolutely nothing. He is filled with wonder when he sees the creations of God: animals, birds, flowers, the huge mountains, the boundless sea. Then he observes himself. He contemplates the harmony and symmetry of his limbs, and he sees that the construction of his body does not differ very much from that of an animal's. From this he perceives that he too is a creation, a creature--but more glorious, more honorable than all other creatures. He is the image of God, endowed with reason.
God the Creator! Hearing these words, the monk is filled with wonder. God the All-Wise, the All-Mighty, the Eternal and Immortal, the Unseen and Everywhere Present.
The monk loves to pray continually. When he cries mentally to God, God answers Him mystically in his heart, sometimes as a quiet breeze that fills him with boundless peace and happiness, sometimes with mystical and inexplicable tremors full of longing towards Him, filling his eyes with tears. For an Orthodox monk, God is not a philosophical concept. He is the Living Father with Whom he converses daily, Whom he feels always near him, within him, ready to protect him and to teach him what he should do in every difficult situation. How wretched he would be if he did not know God! No. He is not able to live without God, nor has his life any meaning without Him. With much justice, therefore, is the monastic schema called Angelic. For the continual delight of Angels also is communion with God, contemplation of Him. Their work is to worship Him.
But how great is the ignorance of men! When they hear that someone has become a monk they think that "something is the matter with him," and that he fell victim to "religious fanaticism!" How is it possible for the unfortunate ones to understand the height of monastic life when their minds are covered by a dark cloud of passion and various cares? Entertainments, immoral songs, the multitude of periodicals and newspapers continually occupy the minds of these unfortunate men. The adversities of life, various occupations, financial problems, beat upon the man every day like strong waves and absorb all his energy. When does he have time to think of God? To seek to learn what He is? When can his mind be silent, and when can he find time to devote himself to continual prayer, the only means by which one can come to personal communion with God and know the condition of one's soul?
This obligation lies heavy on a monk--the obligation of love for his fellow men, who do not have the opportunity and the strength to worship God as is necessary. He feels a great and holy duty to help the others as he is able. And through his help they are raised up to the knowledge of God, and gain salvation. "The light of monks is Angels; the light of the world is the monastic state," writes a certain Saint.
CONFESSION: THE DOOR TO SPIRITUAL LIFE
The beginning of the present book is dedicated to Confession. And this is correct, because the Sacrament of Repentance and Confession of sins is the door or the entrance through which a sinful passes over to the true Christian path. It is the first and indispensable act which is necessary for that person who decides to change his behavior, to abandon the habit of sin, and to follow a holy Christian life. The sinner faces a certain difficulty when he wants to confess, because of shame. Let each one of us know, however, that this small shame which we feel in confessing our sins to only one person will deliver us from the great shame we will feel on the Day of Judgment, when our sins will be revealed before all men. It is therefore necessary to endure the shame of confession. Let us take note of a fact of which many people aren't aware--confession not only effaces as many sins as we confess, but in addition, gives us the strength to not commit the same sin again. In confirmation of this, Saint Symeon the New Theologian cites the 122nd Canon of the Synod of Carthage: "Whoever, therefore, says that the grace of God, to which one may lay claim through Jesus Christ our Lord, is able only to remit the sins of those who have already gone astray, and doesn't hold that it also helps in not committing others sins, let him be anathema."
That which some do out of ignorance, that is, confessing their sins before an icon of Christ and not to a priest, are wrong. For sins to be remitted it is necessary for our spiritual father to read the prayer of forgiveness for us, placing his hand on our head.
We must confess our sins with all seriousness, with feeling, and if possible, with tears for our sins. He who hides a sin out of shame and does not confess it, will gain nothing good from the Mystery (Sacrament) of Confession.
THE SPIRITUAL FATHER ACCORDING TO THE LIGHT OF ORTHODOX TRADITION
Adapted from Symeon P. Koutsas
The Significance of the Relationship
Every human being has a father according to the flesh, a biological arrival to life. The Orthodox Christian, however, in addition to his natural or biological father, also has a spiritual father. The spiritual father is he who gave him spiritual rebirth, who introduced him to the life in Christ, who guides him on the path of salvation. The natural birth brings us into life; it makes us members of the human race. Our rebirth in Christ, however, makes us members in the community of our Church and offers us the ability to live a life in Christ. Saint Symeon the New Theologian, one of the most genuine advocates of spiritual fatherhood to whom we will refer often in this text, writes to one of his spiritual children, "We conceived you through teaching, we travailed you through repentance, we gave you birth through patience, labors, great pains, and daily tears" (Epistle 3, 1-3). As we observe here, spiritual rebirth parallels natural birth; the second one, mirroring the first, includes three stages: conception, gestation, and birth.
In the early Church,, where the vast majority of the faithful received Holy Baptism as adults, the spiritual father (for the Christian) was the ecclesiastical shepherd, the one who was in charge of his catechesis (religious instruction), who would take him through the sacrament of Baptism, and who would then continue to be his guiding hand in the life of Christ. Today, since most of us receive our baptism as infants, the Christian's spiritual father is not necessarily the priest who baptized him but the one who at some point in his life "touched him," "reached him," and began to guide him on the journey toward a conscious faith and a responsible Christian life.
The example of the Apostle Paul, the spiritual father of the Christians of Corinth, Greece, along with those in many other cities, allows us to see very clearly the mystery of spiritual fatherhood in all its heavenly splendor. Addressing the Christians of Corinth, he writes, "For if you have myriads of tutors in Christ, yet you have not many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I begot you through the Gospel" (1 Corinthians 4-14). For the Christians of Corinth, the Holy Apostle Paul was not simply a tutor or a teacher in Christ, but a father, he who gave them spiritual rebirth and who introduced them to the family of the redeemed. His Apostolic heart was ablaze from the love for his spiritual children, and this Christian, fatherly love maintained a central position and was the primary force behind his Apostolic concerns. He wished to offer them not only the gospel but his soul as well as he writes in 1 Thessalonians 2-8, "Thus being desirous of you we were well pleased to have imparted to you not only the gospel of God but also our own souls because you have become beloved to us." He was laboring painstakingly to from Christ inside them (Galatians 4:19): "My little children for whom I again travail until Christ should be formed in you!" He never stopped counseling "each and every one" with tears, striving for their spiritual development and for their stability in the life of Christ (Acts 20:13; Ephesians 4:12-16). This Pauline perception, which serves as a milestone for the content and essence of spiritual fatherhood, permeates the entire Orthodox Holy Tradition.
(To be continued)
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.
Glory Be To GOD For All Things!
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God