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 CONTRITE PRAYER TO OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST
+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
O Christ our God, at all times and at every hour, in heaven and on earth, You are worshiped and glorified; You are long-suffering, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate, You love the righteous and have mercy upon the sinners; You call everyone to salvation through the promise of future blessings; receive, O Lord, our prayers at this hour and direct our life toward Your Commandments. Sanctify our souls; make our bodies chaste; correct our thoughts; purify our intentions; and deliver us from every grief and pain that comes from evil. Encompass us by Your holy Angels, so that guarded and guided by them we may attain to the unity of the faith and to the knowledge of Your inapproachable glory, for You are Blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.
TODAY'S SYNAXARION (THE COMMEMORATION OF TODAY'S SAINTS):
On August 20th 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 of every righteous soul made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Holy and venerable Samuel the Prophet; St. Philip, Bishop of Heraclea, and with him Holy Martyrs Severus, Memnon, and 37 soldiers in Thrace, Greece; St. Lucios the Senator of Cyprus; St. Heliodoros and Dosa in Persia; St. Photini, at the church of Vlachernae; St. Oswin, king and Holy Martyr of Northumbria; St. Philibert of Jumieges.
+ By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Confessors, Holy Soldiers, Holy Senators, Holy Bishops, Holy Kings, Holy Prophets, Holy Mothers, Holy Ascetics, Holy Fathers, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
HOLY MARTYR LUCIOS THE SENATOR OF CYPRUS. Saint Lucios was a pagan idolater during the late third-century persecutions of the pagan Roman emperor Diocletian, and was the Chief Counselor in the city of Cyrene in Libya. However, one day St. Lucios witnessed the mutilating tortures that were inflicted upon Saint Theodore, Bishop of Cyrene, by the pagan Governor Dignianus, and the ensuing miraculous signs and wonders. St. Lucios felt great compunction, and he embraced Christianity and was baptized. When the governor learned that Lucios had become a Christian, the two talked, and the governor also became a Christian. The two men sailed to Cyprus, but there encountered another Christian-hating governor. Lucios confessed to being a Christian, and he destroyed the altar of the idols with prayer. He was beheaded for this, and Governor Dignianus collected his holy relics and buried them.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: 2 Corinthians 7:1-10
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Mark 1:29-35
INSPIRING WORDS FROM THE HOLY ASCETICS, HOLY MOTHERS AND HOLY FATHERS OF THE CHURCH:
"Everything has been given to us. What thing, bodily or spiritual, corruptible or incorruptible, do we lack? Nothing. If He gives His deified, holy Body and Blood to us every day, what is higher than this? Nothing, of course. In what mysteries God counts man worthy to serve, though he is made of earth! Oh, heavenly, inestimable love! One drop of Divine love surpasses all the physical, worldly love under the sun." (Elder (Geronda) Ephraim of the Holy Mountain)
THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE AND THE TREE OF LIFE
(Source: The Feasts of the Lord by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos)
Some troparia (hymns) of the Christmas feast say that Christ, through His Incarnation, is the Tree of Life. The dismissal (Apolytikion) of the forefeast of Christmas is characteristic, it says: "Make Bethlehem ready, Edom has opened to all, prepare Ephratha, now in the cave the Tree of Life has blossomed from the Virgin. And Paradise, that womb in which the Divine plant, to eat of which we shall not die like Adam, has been made known. Christ is born, resurrecting the image which has previously fallen".
In this troparion (hymn) the new Adam, who is Christ, is contrasted with the old Adam. The first Adam ate of the tree, lost Paradise and thus caused the illness of the whole human race, with the entrance of corruption and death, whereas the New Adam, Who is Christ the Tree of Life, gives life to all who will unite with Him. The New Paradise is the womb of the Theotokos (Mother of God), and of course the Church, and the tree of life is Christ Himself. Adam's descendant can eat of this Tree and enjoy the true life.
In what follows I must speak about just what this tree of life in Paradise was and how Christ by His Incarnation becomes the Tree of Life for man.
THE TWO TREES IN THE ORIGINAL PARADISE
The Old Testament preserves some indications of the blessed life of Adam and Eve in Paradise. According to the teaching of the Holy Fathers, Paradise was intelligible and tangible. It was intelligible because it was man's communion with God, for after His creation Adam's nous (soul) was in a state of illumination, and by God's energy and his own synergy he should have attained deification (theosis). It was tangible as well, because it was a specific place.
There were many trees in Paradise, but two of them were different from the others. One was the tree of knowledge, and Adam received a command not to eat of it. "And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, 'From every tree in the garden you may freely eat; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat the fruit of it, you shall surely die" (Genesis 2:16-17). The other tree was the tree of life. And as the Old Testament says, after the man disobeyed and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God drove him out of Paradise "and He placed Cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life" (Genesis 3:24). The reason why God expelled the man from Paradise after his disobedience was that after his fall he was not to eat of the tree of life. "And now, lest he put out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" (Genesis 3:22).
So it seems that there were two trees in Paradise which had a special meaning and purpose, the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life. From one he ate and died and from the other he was prevented from eating, lest he remain in the fallen and evil state forever. So here we see God's love for mankind. He expels man from Paradise so that he will not remain mortal forever, but may repent and at the suitable time, through the Incarnation of the Son of God, may taste of the tree of life and overcome death and enter paradise again. So then man's expulsion from Paradise was not punishment by God, but an act of His love and philanthropy.
THE PATRISTIC INTERPRETATION OF THE TWO TREES
The Holy Fathers, interpreting Holy Scripture within the life of the Church and their personal experience, have handed down to us excellent analyses of these two trees.
We should first mention Saint Gregory the Theologian's interpretation of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In one of his homilies he says that this tree was neither planted in wickedness nor forbidden out of jealousy. This means that nothing created by God was evil, but everything was very good. Man was not forbidden to eat of this tree out of jealousy lest he attain deification (theosis). Moreover, this tree was the vision of God. "For the plant was vision of Light". Man was to eat at the appropriate time, because first he was to be trained spiritually, and this would constitute his deification (theosis). God forbade him to eat of it because he was still imperfect, he had not been suitably prepared, just and perfect and solid food does great harm to those who still need milk. The bad thing was that Adam partook of the tree of knowledge "at the wrong time, unsuitably." And since he missed the mark ('amartia', the Greek word for sin which means 'missing the mark') and lost divine grace, it was necessary that he did not then eat of the tree of life as well, lest he be permanently confirmed in the fall and death. The taste of the tree of life was "great and splendid", and this is why God commanded that it be guarded not by Angels and Archangels nor Principalities, Authorities, Powers, and Dominions, but by the Cherubim, who belonged to the first rank of Angels.
Saint John of Damaskos, having in mind the interpretation by Saint Gregory the Theologian, whom he regarded as his spiritual father, follows the same tradition. He writes that the tree of knowledge is a test, a trial and a school to test man for obedience or disobedience. This tree was called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because it gave to anyone who ate of it the power to know its nature, a thing that is good for the perfect and bad for the imperfect and those who lack control over their sensation. The tree of life is so called because it has an energy which provides life either for those worthy of life or for those not enslaved to death.
This interpretation of Saint John of Damaskos shows that man had to be tested before eating of the tree of knowledge and then to eat of the tree of life and live eternally with God. Without practice and preparation it is not possible for anyone to attain deification (theosis) and communion with 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
Glory Be To GOD For All Things!
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry)
The sinner and unworthy servant of God