On Serving God and Neighbor

Hieromartyr Phocas the Bishop of Sinope

Hieromartyr Phocas the Bishop of Sinope

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.

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TODAY'S SYNAXARION (THE COMMEMORATION OF TODAY'S SAINTS):
On September 22nd 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 Hieromartyr Phocas of Sinope, the Bishop and Wonderworker, who was perfected in martyrdom by being terribly burned in a bath-house in the reign of Trajan; Saint Phocas the Gardener of Sinope; Holy Martyr Isaac and Martin; Holy Twenty-six Righteous Martyrs of the Monastery of Zographou, who censured the Latin-minded Emperor Michael Paleologos the Eighth, and the Patriarch John Beccus, were perfected in martyrdom when they were burned alive in a tower; our Righteous Father Cosmas; Holy Martyrs of the Theban Legion: Maurice, Exuperius, and Candidus the Commanders and those with them, who suffered martyrdom at Agaunum in Cisalpine Gaul under the pagan emperor Maximian; our righteous Father Jonas of Yashozero.

+ By the Holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Gardeners, Holy Righteous, Holy Fathers, Holy Ascetics, Holy Confessors, Holy Mothers, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

THE HOLY HIEROMARTYR PHOCAS, BISHOP OF SINOPE. Saint Phocas was known for the many miracles he worked and for his Apostolic zeal in shepherding the flock of Sinope. He contested for the Faith during the reign of the Emperor Trajan, in the year 102 A.D., when he was burned to death in a bath-house. A homily in his honor was composed by Saint John Chrysostom. The translation of his holy relics is celebrated on July 23rd.

Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn of the Hieromartyr. Fourth Tone

As a sharer of the ways and a successor to the throne of the Apostles, O inspired of God, thou foundest discipline to be a means of ascent to divine vision. Wherefore, having rightly divided the word of truth, thou didst also contest for the Faith even unto blood, O Hieromartyr Phocas. Intercede with Christ our God that our souls be saved.

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Kontakion of the Hieromartyr. Second Tone

The Master hath established thee as a divinely-radiant, luminous, and spiritual sun shining upon the multitude of the Church's faithful, O glorious Martyr Phocas; for He hath accepted thy life, faith, and contests as fragrant myrrh, since He alone is abundant in mercy.

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TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:

Holy Epistle Lesson: Galatians 4:28-31; 5:1-10
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Luke 3:19-22

INSPIRING WORDS FROM THE HOLY ASCETICS, HOLY MOTHERS AND HOLY FATHERS OF THE CHURCH:

"All of us Christians, without exception, have an obligation to always be in a state of prayer...Every Christian simply must struggle always with the work of prayer and to pray without ceasing, as Saint Paul actually exhorts all Christians to "pray unceasingly" (1 Thess. 5:17).

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ON SERVING GOD AND NEIGHBOR
By Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica (Source: Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives)

Even as a child I greatly desired to serve God. Even then I knew that here on earth everything was some kind of service. Parents attend to their children and children attend to their parents. Everyone serves someone else. That was when I decided that I wanted to serve God. Since He is the Parent of all mankind and the entire universe, one should serve Him Who is the greatest of all. As a young child I very much wanted to do that. When I grew older, I knew I could not tell my parents--they would never have given me their blessing--but when I came of age I went to a monastery.

My mother had fallen asleep in the Lord a long time before that, but my father was still living and he objected. Even so, when I told him of my wish to receive the monastic tonsure, I asked his blessing. Thank God, my father gave me his blessing.

We should defend one another, for we are brothers-especially we who are of one Faith. There is an example of this in history. Once, when an official delegation of Constantinopolitan dignitaries was sent to the Saracens to negotiate peace, the Saracens argued that Christians disobeyed God's commandment. They said: "Why do you Christians disobey Christ's commandment to love your enemies, but instead persecute and kill us?"

Now, a certain Cyril was part of this delegation. His answer to the Saracens was: "If, in a certain law, there are two commandments that must be fulfilled, which man shall be more righteous, he who fulfills both commandments or he who fulfills only one of them?" The Saracens answered, "He that fulfills both, of course." Then Cyril said, "As individuals we forgive our enemies, but as a community we lay down our lives for one another. For the Lord has said that there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's neighbor. As a community we protect one another and lay down our lives for one another. Not only is your aim to enslave us physically, you also aspire to enslave us spiritually. It is for this reason that we defend ourselves. This, therefore, is justified."

Then there is also the example of Saint Ioannicius the Great. He was a soldier for twenty years. He was amazing--whenever he fought a battle, he won. He had never been defeated. He never gave a thought to his own life but laid down his own for others. And the Lord preserved him. Later, when he became a monk, he was a great Saint and Wonderworker. There were many such holy warriors. The Holy King David says: "Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered" (Psalm 31:1). Righteousness acts never in its own interest, but in the interest of fellow men.

Any work we do here on earth is God's work. However, we always work with reservation, without sincerity. Not only can God not bear that, but no human being can. We know that the universe belongs to God, that the Earth is God's planet, and that everything belongs to God, no matter what type of work we do.

Whether a person is good or not, pious or not, a dedicated worker or not, he will answer for it. We should not think too much about who our superiors are, or who our employer is. What we should bear in mind is that every type of work on earth and in all the universe is God's work, and as such it should be performed from the heart, without reservation. When we do so, we can free ourselves from our interior resistance. Every action of ours will then help our neighbor, beginning with our family, wherever we may be. So we must always be sincere. Then we radiate peace, quiet, and love, and we are loved in return. With our thoughts we either attract or repel enemies, friends, family, and neighbors. However, people usually take this lightly and suffer a lot as a result.

Strictness toward our neighbor is dangerous. The strict can progress to a certain point only, and they remain merely at the level of physical abstinence. One must be kind, meek, and merciful in one's relationships with people.

If in each family there were just one person who served God zealously, what harmony there would be in the world! I often remember the story of Sister J. She used to come and talk to me often while I was still at the Tumane Monastery. Once she came, together with an organized group of pilgrims, and complained, saying, "I can't bear this any longer! People are so unkind to each other!" She went on to say that she was going to look for another job. I advised her against it, as there were few jobs and high level of unemployment. I told her to stop the war she was fighting with her colleagues. "But I'm not fighting with anyone!" she said. I explained that, although she was not fighting physically, she was waging war on her colleagues in her thoughts by being dissatisfied with her position. She argued that it was beyond anyone's endurance. "Of course it is," I told her, "but you can't do it yourself. You need God's help. No one knows whether you are praying or not while you are at work. So, when they start offending you, do not return their offenses either with words or with negative thoughts. Try not to offend them even in your thoughts; pray to God that He may send them an Angel of peace. Also ask that He not forget you. You will not be able to do this immediately, but if you always pray like that, you will see how things will change, too." At that time I did not know whether she was going to heed my advice.

This happened in the Tumane Monastery in 1980. In 1981 I was sent to the Vitovnica Monastery. I was standing underneath the quince tree when I noticed a group of pilgrims that had arrived. She was in the group and she came up to me to receive a blessing. And this is what she said to me, "Oh, Father, I had no idea that people were so good!" I asked her whether she was referring to her colleagues at work and she said she was. "They have changed so much, Father, its unbelievable! No one offends me anymore, and I can see the change in myself, as well." I asked her whether she was at peace with everyone, and she answered that there was one person with whom she could not make pace for a long time. Then, as she read the Gospels, she came to the part where the Lord commands us to love our enemies. Then she said to herself, "You are going to love this person whether you want to or not, because this is what the Lord commands us to do." And now, you see, they are best friends!

If there were just one such person in every company, factory, or office! That would be the way toward peace. Only one person who is prayerfully connected to God is needed, and we will have peace everywhere--in the family, at work, in the government, and everywhere. It is in the presence of such a person that we are freed from gloomy and cumbersome thoughts.

(To be continued)

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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.

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Glory Be To GOD For All Things!

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

+Father George