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.
STAYING TO THE END OF THE DIVINE SERVICES
by Saint Gregory Palamas
Only John the Virgin acquired as his mother by grace the only Virgin among mothers (Then he said to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home St. John 19:27). He was especially beloved of Christ, and, more than the other Evangelists, he was called "the son of" that "thunder" with which the Lord went up to heaven and thundered (St. Mark 3:17). Therefore, he preached more loudly to make absolutely clear to us everything about the Master's resurrection from the dead and to relate how He appeared after His resurrection. Last Sunday in church we heard Him saying through the Gospel he wrote, "The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him" (St. John 20:1-2).
Now we have heard him saying, "But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre" (St. John 20:11). When Saint John, together with Saint Peter, listened to Mary and ran to the tomb where life began, they saw what they saw, believed because of the signs, and went away astonished to their own homes. Mary, on the other hand, remained standing outside the tomb and weeping. This proves that she had not yet received any assurance of the Master's resurrection, even though she had come twice to the tomb with different people. The first time was with the Mother of God (Theotokos), as St. Matthew relates, writing, "In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre, and so on (St. Matthew 28:1). Then she came with Peter and John, who went away marveling, having believed because of what they saw. So she had come twice to the tomb with others, and whereas all her companions had believed and been given assurance, she was crying inconsolably because she had received no assurance at all.
We can see the same happening with regard to virtuous struggles. Grace comes immediately to meet some of those who strive, giving them assistance of the "earnest of their inheritance" (Ephesians 1:14), letting them taste the promised prizes, as if stretching out a loving hand to welcome them and anointing them for further struggles. With others, however, grace waits for the end of the struggle, and prepares for them the crown of patience as well. As one of the God-bearing Fathers says, "Some receive holy rewards before their labor, some during labors, and some when they depart."
This happens because the wise Providence of God orders our affairs in many different ways and lovingly bestows on each one of us what is appropriate and profitable both for virtuous deeds and the mysteries of faith. Arranging matters for Mary Magdalene in His love and wisdom, the Master deemed it right that she should not yet at that point have received assurance of His resurrection, leading and encouraging future generations in the direction of patience through her example. Let us hear what she was afterwards accounted worthy of because she persevered and continued to wait by the tombs. "As she wept", it says, "she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, and seeth two Angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain" (St. John 20:11-12).
Her act of bending down and turning her eyes with extreme longing to the tomb was the result of her excellent disposition. Firstly, we must consider that, although it was still dark, as the Evangelist said earlier (St. John 20:1), she clearly distinguished, even from outside, everything and everyone inside the cave. This shows that even though it was still dark outside, since the full light of day, as visible to our eyes, had not yet come, that cave was full of the Light of the Resurrection. Mary saw this Light with God's help, and it increased her longing for Christ even more, and enabled her eyes to perceive a vision of angels. Not only did she see them but she was able to speak with them. Such was that light.
She saw them arrayed in white, not just because of the purity and brilliance of their angelic nature, but because they were illuminating and clarifying the Mystery of the Resurrection, while at the same time actually celebrating with us the truly radiant day of the Master's resurrection. They were sitting down so that she would realize that they had not just come, but had been there before, even though previously they had not been visible. In this way she would understand their rank as she considered who these who had been invisibly present could be. I think it was the desire to be as near as possible to the place where the Master's body had lain that made them sit down. As if they were clinging lovingly to the tomb, they were sitting one at the head and the other at the feet, showing that Christ's Divinity, as symbolized by the place where His head lay, was equally beloved and precious to the Angels as His incarnation, represented by the place of His feet. "And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou?" (St. John 20:13)...
"...When they rant to the tomb, they saw only the linen cloths and the napkin, whereas she, "by reason of the determined and patient endurance with which she remained to the end standing at the door of the cave," saw not just the Angels but also the Lord of the Angels risen from the dead in the flesh, before the Apostles saw Him. She heard Him with her own ears and became a minister of the Commandments form His Divine mouth.
This temple, this Orthodox church, is a figure of that cave. Or rather, it is more than a figure, being almost another such cave, for it has a place where the Master's body is laid, the area within the veil and the most holy table there. Anyone who is determined to hasten to that truly divine cave that holds God, stands there and remain to the end, gathering his thoughts and lifting them up to God, will not only recognize the words of divinely inspired Scripture proclaiming, like Angels, the Divinity and humanity of the Logos/Word made man for our sake, "he will also certainly see the Lord with the eyes of his mind and, we can say without exaggeration, his bodily eyes." For if anyone looks with faith at the mystical table and the bread of life placed upon it, he sees the person of the Logos/Word of God, "Who was made flesh for our sake and dwelt among us" (St. John 1:14). If he shows himself a worthy receptacle, he will not only see but become a partaker of Him, receive Him to dwell within him, and be filled with His Divine grace. Just as Mary saw what the Apostles at that time longed to see, so he is accounted worthy to see and enjoy things that "the Angels," according to the Apostle, "desire to look into" (I Peter 1:12), and by contemplating them and sharing in them, he is rendered completely Godlike.
Wherefore, brethren, lift up towards virtue the hands that hang down, and the feeble knees, "and make straight paths for your feet," walking in the Lord's straight roads of righteousness, chastity, love, humility and truth (cf., Hebrews 12:12-14). Hatred, falsehood, deception, envy, acquisitiveness, pride and their like are, by contrast distorted, winding roads. Even if someone does not do these things but just loves them and thinks about them with his mind, they make him worthy of God's aversion. For whereas man regards the outward person, "God looks at the heart," and He it is Who searches hearts and thoughts" (cf., Revelation 2:23).
While we are gathered together in Christ's Temple, "Gird up the loins of your mind," as Peter, the chief Apostle, says, "be sober to the end, and hope for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (I Peter 1:13). It is impossible for anyone who stands in God's holy Church collecting his thoughts, lifting His mind to God, occupying his understanding with the sacred singing from the beginning until the end and waiting patiently, not to undergo a divine change, in accordance with his attention to God and His teachings. Through this attention a certain warmth is born in the heart which chases away evil thoughts like flies, creates spiritual peace and comfort in the soul and bestows sanctification on the body, according to him who said, "My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned" (Ps. 39:3). One of the God-bearing Fathers also taught us this, saying, "Strive as hard as you can to ensure that your inner labor is according to God's will, and you will conquer the outward passions." The great Paul, too, urged us towards this, saying, "Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh" (Galatians 5:16).
Somewhere else St. Paul exhorts us, "Stand therefore, having your loins gift about with truth" (Ephesians 6:14). When our thoughts revolve around the divine subjects and abide in God's truth, holding back and taking care of the desiring part of the soul and driving away the body's desires and carnal thoughts leave us. Then the grace of the Spirit takes possession of the quiet soul, and gives it a taste of the unspeakable good things to come, which no passionate and negligent "eye has seen, nor ear hear," neither have entered into the heart of such a man (cf., I Corinthians 2:19). This taste is the earnest of these good things, and the heart which accepts these pledges becomes spiritual and receives assurance of its salvation. So anyone who wishes to gain this assurance and understand exactly about these spiritual pledges should conduct himself as today's words have guided with God's Saints and share in the eternal unspeakable good things promised to them.
To which may we all attain by the grace and love for mankind of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom belong glory, might, honor and worship, together with His Father without beginning and the Life-Giving Spirit, both now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen. (Source: Orthodox Heritage)
"Never confuse the person, formed in the image of God, with the evil that is in him: because evil is but a chance misfortune, an illness, a devilish reverie. But the very essence of the person is the image of God, and this remains in him despite every disfigurement" (Saint John of Kronstadt).
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!"--Saint John Chrysostom
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God