Κυριακή 29 Μαρτίου 2020

The Ladder of the st John of Sinai (4th Sunday of Great Lent)

The Ladder of Divine Ascent is an ascetical treatise on avoiding vice and practicing virtue so that at the end, salvation can be obtained. Written by Saint John Climacus initially for monastics, it has become one of the most highly influential and important works used by the Church as far as guiding the faithful to a God-centered life, second only to Holy Scripture There is also a related icon known by the same title. It depicts many people climbing a ladder; at the top is Jesus Christ, prepared to receive the climbers into Heaven. Also shown are angels helping the climbers, and demons attempting to shoot with arrows or drag down the climbers, no matter how high up the ladder they may be. Most versions of the icon show at least one person falling. 
From here: Our venerable and God-bearing Father John Climacus (ca. 579 - 649), also known as John of the Ladder, John Scholasticus, and John Sinaites, was a seventh century monk at St. Catherine's monastery at the base of Mount Sinai. In Greek, his epithet is Κλιμακος (Klimakos). The Orthodox Church celebrates his feast day on March 30. He came to the monastery and became a novice when he was about 16 years old, and when he died in 649 he was the monastery's abbot. He wrote a number of instructive books, the most famous of which is The Ladder of Divine Ascent. (It is because of this book that John is known as "Climacus," which means "of the ladder".) It describes how to raise one's soul to God, as if on a ladder. This book is one of the most widely read among Eastern Orthodox Christians, especially during the season of Great Lent which immediately precedes Pascha (Easter), and on the fourth Sunday of Great Lent he is especially commemorated.

History of The Ladder

John, whilst a hermit living at the Sinai Peninsula, was recognized for his humility, obedience, wisdom (which was attained through spiritual experience), and discernment. He already had a reputation for being extremely knowledgeable about how to practice a holy life. St. John, igumen of the Raithu Monastery, one day asked St. John Climacus (also known as John of Sinai) to write down his wisdom in a book. At first hesitant to take on such a task, John of Sinai eventually honored the request, and he proceeded to write The Ladder. St. John Climacus received his name "Climacus" ("of the Ladder") because of this work, and his writing The Ladder (later called The Ladder of Divine Ascent) has been compared to the Holy Prophet and God-seer Moses receiving the Law. This work was initially used by monastics. In fact it is read by monastics to this day during the Great Fast. It is also suggested as Lenten reading for those who are still "of this world"; yet this should be done with caution and under the guidance of a spiritual father. This work has made its mark on the lives of innumerable saints, including St. Theodore the Studite, St. Sergius of Radonezh, St. Joseph of Volokolamsk, St. Peter of Damascus, and St. Theophan the Recluse, amongst many others. 
Structure and purpose

The aim of the treatise is to be a guide for practicing a life completely and wholly devoted to God. The ladder metaphor—not dissimilar to the vision that the Patriarch Jacob received—is used to describe how one may ascend into heaven by first renouncing the world and finally ending up in heaven with God. There are thirty chapters; each covers a particular vice or virtue. They were originally called logoi, but in the present day, they are referred to as "steps." The sayings are not so much rules and regulations, as with the Law that St. Moses received at Sinai, but rather observations about what is being practiced. Metaphorical language is employed frequently to better illustrate the nature of virtue and vice. Overall, the treatise does follow a progression that transitions from start (renunciation of the world) to finish (a life lived in love).
The steps are:
  1. On renunciation of the world
  2. On detachment
  3. On exile or pilgrimage; concerning dreams that beginners have
  4. On blessed and ever-memorable obedience (in addition to episodes involving many individuals)
  5. On painstaking and true repentance which constitutes the life of the holy convicts; and about the Prison
  6. On remembrance of death
  7. On joy-making mourning
  8. On freedom from anger and on meekness
  9. On remembrance of wrongs
  10. On slander or calumny
  11. On talkativeness and silence
  12. On lying
  13. On despondency
  14. On that clamorous mistress, the stomach
  15. On incorruptible purity and chastity, to which the corruptible attain by toil and sweat
  16. On love of money, or avarice
  17. On non-possessiveness (that hastens one Heavenwards)
  18. On insensibility, that is, deadening of the soul and the death of the mind before the death of the body
  19. On sleep, prayer, and psalmody with the brotherhood
  20. On bodily vigil and how to use it to attain spiritual vigil, and how to practise it
  21. On unmanly and puerile cowardice
  22. On the many forms of vainglory
  23. On mad pride and (in the same Step) on unclean blasphemous thoughts; concerning unmentionable blasphemous thoughts
  24. On meekness, simplicity, and guilelessness which come not from nature but from conscious effort, and about guile
  25. On the destroyer of the passions, most sublime humility, which is rooted in spiritual perception
  26. On discernment of thoughts, passions and virtues; on expert discernment; brief summary of all aforementioned
  27. On holy stillness of body and soul; different aspects of stillness and how to distinguish them
  28. On holy and blessed prayer, the mother of virtues, and on the attitude of mind and body in prayer
  29. Concerning Heaven on earth, or Godlike dispassion and perfection, and the resurrection of the soul before the general resurrection
  30. Concerning the linking together of the supreme trinity among the virtues; a brief exhortation summarizing all that has said at length in this book
Guide to reading The Ladder

St John of the Ladder (icon from here
Like with other ascetical and spiritual texts, this one should be read carefully. Since the original audience was those practicing the monastic life, the language is very strong when contrasting the life of the world and the life devoted to God. This is one of the reasons why this work should be read under the guidance of a spiritual father. This work can be read at once with careful attention and intense concentration, trying to replicate as much as possible the monastic life. Yet it can also be read in its individual steps as well. The bottom line is that a spiritual father should be there as a guiding hand with this work.
English language editions

The Ladder of Divine Ascent, published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery. (ISBN 0943405033) This edition, based on Archimandrite Lazarus Moore's translation is generally preferred over the Paulist Press edition of the Ladder—especially because of the verse numberings, which are the standard way of referencing Climacus' sayings (these are also present in older versions of Archimandrite Lazarus' translation). It is also physically beautiful and much nicer to have on one's bookshelf. It contains an icon of "The Ladder," many other embellishments, and is printed on high quality paper. All that said, the Paulist Press edition is also worth having, especially because of the helpful introduction by Bishop Kallistos.
  • Luibheid, Colm; Russell, Norman. John Climacus: The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Paulist Press. [ISBN 0809123304]
  • Mack, John. Ascending the Heights: A Layman's Guide to the Ladder of Divine Ascent. [ISBN 1888212179]
See also
Secondary literature
See also

Σάββατο 21 Μαρτίου 2020

Why Monasticism? - St. Silouan of Mount Athos

American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of N. America

Do you have monks and nuns in your church?
I don’t believe in that, they’re wasting their life doing nothing…
…..unless they’re out helping people like Jesus did.

I had this conversation recently with a man named Jim who is a member of another Christian denomination.  The topic of monasticism was started by the news of the canonization of the nun Mother Theresa of Calcutta by the Roman Catholic Church.  In Jim’s view, she is an example of a good nun, that is, one who went out and helped people rather than living behind the walls of a monastery.
Monasticism:  the way of life of monks and nuns, is at the very heart of our Orthodox Faith and is the foundation of spirituality for all Orthodox Christians:  priests, monastics and lay people.  In fact, the very spiritual center of Orthodox Christianity is Mount Athos:  a remote peninsula which is an autonomous  part of Greece.  It is the home to 20 ancient monasteries, many over 1,000 years old and numerous smaller sketes and hermitages.  One of the bright lights to shine forth from this region is a recently canonized saint who has become well known throughout the world – Staretz (Elder) Silouan of Mount Athos. 

His Life

Saint Silouan was born Simeon Ivanovich Antonov in 1866 to pious Orthodox parents in the Tambov region of Russia.  His youth was much like other village young people of his day and much like the lives of many youth today. While he was attracted at times to the spiritual life and seeking God, he was more attracted by the pleasures of village life.   He worked as a carpenter on the estate of a nearby noble and spent his free time drinking vodka with his friends, playing his concertina and socializing with the village girls.  It was said that he could drink three bottles of vodka without feeling any effects.  Young, strong and handsome he was popular with these girls and one evening fell into the sin of fornication.  On one occasion a young man who had too much to drink and wanting to show off for the girls, threatened Simeon and tried to take his concertina.  In Simeon’s own words:
 At first I thought of giving in to the fellow but then I was ashamed of how the girls would laugh at me, so I hit him a great blow to the chest.  His body shot away and he fell backwards with a heavy thud in the middle of the road.  Froth and blood trickled from his mouth.  All the onlookers were horrified.  So was I.  “I’ve killed him,” I thought, and stood rooted to thespot… It was over half an hour before he could rise to his feet.
One day, shortly before he began his required military service, he dozed off to a light sleep and dreamt that a snake crawled down his throat.  He woke up to hear a voice saying: “Just as you found it loathsome to swallow a snake in your dream, so I find your ways ugly to look upon”.  Simeon later reported he saw no one but was convinced that it was the beautiful voice of the Mother of God coming to rescue him from the evil pit his life had become.  This vision/dream would alter the rest of his life, he began to be ashamed of how he was living his life.  As an example of the change in him, one evening, while serving his military service, he and a few of his friends went to a tavern where there was much loud music, dancing and carousing.  Simeon sat quietly and hardly spoke which led his companions to inquire why he was so quiet.  Simeon said:
I’m thinking that here we sit in a tavern, eating, drinking vodka, listening to music and enjoying ourselves, while at this very hour on Mount Athos they are in
church for vespers and will be at prayer all night.  And I’m wondering which of us will put up the best defense before God’s Judgment Seat – them or us?
At the age of twenty-seven in 1892 he left his native Russia and came to Mount Athos, where he became a monk at the Monastery of St. Panteleimon and was given the name Silouan, the Russian version of the Biblical name Silvanus. He was given the obedience (work duty) at the monastery mill, sleeping little, fasting severely and praying continually.  He struggled against sinful memories from his past life and practiced the Jesus Prayer.  Though barely literate, he received the grace of unceasing prayer and saw Christ in a vision. After long years of spiritual trial, he acquired great humility and inner stillness. He prayed and wept for the whole world as for himself, and he put the highest value on love for enemies.

He was never ordained to the diaconate or priesthood but continued his ministry as a monk in which he devoted himself to praying for all people.
A monk is a man who prays for the whole world….. I tell you that when we have no more men of prayer the world will come to an end and great disaster will befall – as, indeed, is happening already.
Having repented and received God’s mercy for his past life, Father Silouan felt great compassion for all people.  He wrote:   
“But when a man sees in himself the light of deliverance from sin there awakens in his soul a mighty compassion for all who ‘fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23) and prayer for the ‘whole Adam’ fills his being.” 
After a period of time, Father Silouan was appointed one of the stewards of St. Panteleimon’s monastery, helping in the administration of a monastery with over 1,000 monks and overseeing 200 laymen who worked in the monastery’s many workshops.  After assigning the work tasks for the day, Father Silouan would return to his room to pray and weep for the men who had left their families in their villages to seek employment in far off Mount Athos.  He wrote:
He who has the Holy Spirit in him, however slight a degree, sorrows day and night for all mankind.  His heart is filled with pity for all God’s creatures, more especially for those who do not know God, or who resist Him, and therefore are bound for the fire of torment.  For them, more than for himself, he prays day and night, that all may repent and know the Lord. 
Father Silouan died in the monastery after an illness on September 24, 1938. He was glorified by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1987 and his relics are enshrined in the St. Panteleimon’s Monastery on Mount Athos.  His writings were edited by his disciple and pupil, Archimandrite Sophrony who later established a monastery in England and became known as a staretz himself. 

Why Monasticism?

In Jim’s view, the life of monks and nuns are only worthwhile if they are “doing something”, that is, ministering to the people of the world in an active way.   Unfortunately my friend was Biblically illiterate and did not know the story of Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus.  One day Jesus was visiting in their home and Martha was busy with preparing and serving the food while her sister Mary just sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to His words.  How did Jesus respond?
 “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

According to Jesus, Mary who sat with Him and listened to Him had chosen what was most important and needed.  Certainly our Lord knew that someone had to prepare the food and as a man he felt the pangs of hunger but He was emphasizing that a person can become so busy doing things for God that they forget simply to be with Him and to love Him.  This is a danger especially for clergy who can become so busy doing ministry that they neglect simply to be quiet with their Lord.  Being with the Lord in prayer is vitally important because through it we connect with Him who is the source of peace, the source of love, the source of strength, the source of life.   The world needs Marthas but the world also needs to appreciate and value Marys, which my friend Jim failed to understand. 
 One of the best illustrations of the importance and role of monasticism is found in the teachings of a recently canonized saint of our church:  St. Paisios of Mount Athos.   
 The army has many divisions and each one fights from its own position; the navy at sea, the airplanes in the air and the army on the land.  A very specialized position is the one of the radio operator.  His main characteristic is that he connects all the army divisions with the headquarters, which send help in case of emergency.  The radio operator must not be close to the combat zone, but higher up in a quiet place, so that he may clearly transmit the messages.  When the soldiers fight and are in danger, they should not say to the radio operator:  “What are you doing up there?  Come and fight with us.”  His duty is to stay where he is and receive orders from headquarters, and keep them up to date regarding the outcome of the combat.
 - Very Rev. Dr.  Edward Pehanich

For Further Reading

Orthodox Spiritual Life According to St. Silouan the Athonite
Archimandrite Sophrony     St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press

St. Silouan the Athonite, Archimandrite Sophrony    St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press

Saint Silouan the Athonite as a Model for our Lives

Theosis, St. Silouan and Elder Sophrony 
Elder Sophrony Sakharov († July 11, 1993)

Παρασκευή 13 Μαρτίου 2020

Pandemics and Holy Communion (Orthodox Church)

Announcement by Metropolitan Nikolaos of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki
Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries
Source here Translation: A.N. 

Metr. Nicholas (Hatzinikolaou) was born on April 13, 1954 in Thessalonica, Greece. He began his post secondary education at the University of Thessalonica where he studied physics. After graduating, he served his obligation with the Greek military services. He then moved to the United States and continued his postgraduate studies in astrophysics at the University of Harvard from which he received a Master of Arts degree, followed by further studies in engineering and biomedical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, from which he received a Doctor of Philosophy degree. Additionally, he undertook studies in theology at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts, earning Master's degrees in Theological Studies and Theology.
In addition to his studies, he worked as a researcher and research assistant in the Cardiovascular laboratory at the England Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and taught at Harvard University. During this time he was a scientific colleague at NASA and the Arthur D. Little Company. He returned to Greece about 1987.
Entering a monastic life, he resided at Mount Athos for two years before he was tonsured a monk on March 18, 1989 at the Stomion Monastery at Konitsis in northern Greece at which time he received the name Nicholas. Later, Monk Nicholas joined the Monastery of Simonopetra. Mnk. Nicholas was ordained a deacon on March 19, 1989 and a priest later that year on September 10. From May 1990, Father Nicholas served as parish priest at the Holy Ascension metochion of Simonopetra Monastery in Byrona (Vyronas), a suburb of Athens.
Fr. Nicholas was elected to the episcopate by the Synod of Bishops of the Church of Greece on April 26, 2004. He was consecrated Metropolitan of Mesogaias and Lavreotikis on April 30, 2004 by Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens, assisted in the consecration by fifteen other hierarchs, in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens.
Since his ordination as a priest, Metr. Nicholas has continued his involvement in the medical and related arts. From 1991, he taught university courses involving medical, bioethical, and theological content at the medical schools of the Universities of Athens and Crete and the Theological School of Balamand in Lebanon. In 1993, he founded the Greece Center for Biomedical Ethics. In 2003, he received his Doctor of Theology degree in Christian Ethics and Sociology (Ethics) at the Aristotle University of Thessalonica. He also served as the director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics. Since 1998, he has been the President of the Synodical Bioethics Committee of the Church of Greece. [Orthodoxwiki]

Beloved brethren,
During the relatively recent threat of the swine flu pandemic, there also arose – albeit unnecessarily – the issue of contagious illnesses spreading through Holy Communion.
It is unfortunate that yet another such attempt is being made to “deconstruct” our Faith (often with impious dialectic, timorous style, and no genuine, well-meaning argumentation), at a time when we have been left with no other support to hold on to.
So, with this opportunity, I thought it would be good to mention certain truths that are deemed necessary for salvaging the valuable treasure of faith within us.
For over 2000 years, our Church has been transmitting the grace of Her Sacraments in the all-familiar, human and blessed manner, for “the healing of soul and body”.
The Church has never been troubled by the contemporary logic of disrespectful doubting; instead, the faithful have continued to live with the experience of a confirmed, major miracle. Could it ever be possible for one’s communion with God to become a cause for sickness or even the slightest harm?
Is it ever possible for the Body and the Blood of our Lord and God to contaminate our body and our blood?
Is it ever possible for a 2-millennia-old, daily experience to be crushed by the rationalizing and the cold shallowness of our times?
The faithful - both the healthy and the sick - for entire centuries have been receiving Holy Communion from the same Communion Spoon, which we never wash and we never disinfect; and yet, nothing detrimental has ever been observed.
Priests who serve in hospital chapels – even in hospitals for contagious diseases – will serve Holy Communion to the sick patients, and afterwards piously consume the remainder inside the Holy Chalice, and are known to enjoy a healthy longevity.
Holy Communion is everything that the Church and the faithful hold sacred; the most powerful medicine for the soul and the body.  This is also a teaching – a teaching and experience of our Church.

Hoy Communion in the Orthodox Church of Rwanda

Those who disbelieve in the miracle of the Lord’s Resurrection, those who mock His birth by a Virgin Mother, those who deny the fragrance that proceeds from saints’ holy relics, those who shun whatever is holy and sacred, those who plot against our Church, those who seek to eradicate even the smallest trace of faith from our souls, it is only natural that they would try to take advantage of any opportunity to insult the most sacred Mystery of the Holy Eucharist.
The fact that the Anglicans and the Papists have decided “for precautionary reasons” to discontinue the transmission of their “holy communion” in England and New Zealand respectively, if true, does not indicate (as some assert) prudence and freedom, but instead indicates in the best possible manner the vast distance between them and our Orthodox Church, who is Eucharistic in Her theology and Her way of life; Who lives, believes and preaches the Mystery, as opposed to the other Christian groups which are indirectly confessing the absence of Grace and signs from God in their self-designated mysteries, as well as the lack of an ecclesiastic identity.  Life without any Sacrament is tantamount to a sickness without any medication.
Unfortunately, the big problem is NOT the flu virus, as proclaimed by the Media, nor is it the virus of worldwide panic, as disseminated by medical societies; it is the virus of disrespect and the germ of little faith.  And the best “vaccine” for fighting it, is our frequent partaking of the Sacrament of Holy Communion, “with a clean conscience” and “blamelessly”.  Our response to this unholy provocation of our days is our Orthodox way of living.
It would be good if our spiritual fathers were to exhort the faithful – with discretion, and wherever they discern that there are no spiritual impediments – to receive Holy Communion more frequently during these difficult times.  Those of us who have received their blessing should definitely approach the Chalice of Life more frequently, but naturally “with the fear of God, plenty of faith, and sincere love”.

The Priest who served Holy Communion in the Spinalonga Island Leper Colony, using the same Spoon for himself after serving all the lepers
Source:  here (in Greek)
Photos from here
For ten whole years, Monk Chrysanthos Koutsouloyannakis was the consolation of the lepers on Spinalonga. He blessed and served Holy Communion to the sick by reaching out and receiving Holy Communion himself from the same Spoon, without any fear of the disease and its consequences.
Those who had met him spoke of an exuberant, benevolent form whose aim was to alleviate the suffering of people who were ailing. They characterized him as a “godsend” and a “holy man”.
More information on Monk Chrysanthos has been taken from the newspaper 'Orthodox Truth' and the testimony of Dimitris Papadakis, a former High School Headmaster and Chairman of the Heraklion Literary Society of Crete, who had met him personally.

“Dumped like manure in a filthy manure pit”
“In 1947 the pastor of Spinalonga, Fr. Meletios Vourgouris, had obtained permission from the Bishop of Petra, Fr. Dionysios Maragoudakis, for a 2-month leave, from July 20th to September 20th, to go to the Holy Land. Upon expiry of his leave, he did not return to his post. The Bishop couldn't find a priest to replace him”, Papadakis said.
Mr. Papadakis did not fail to mention his touching acquaintance with Father Chrysanthos, underlining: “I had the good fortune to become acquainted with Monk Chrysanthos on August 15th of 1967 at the Toplou Monastery. He was a short-bodied, ascetic form, with a white beard. The years weighed heavily on his shoulders. His cassock and his monk’s cap were both faded”.
“I was outside the Katholikon (=the Main church) with Father Chrysanthos one morning, when a very elderly man appeared. As soon as he spotted Father Chrysanthos, he exclaimed with great surprise and joy: 'Father Chrysanthos!’ At that same moment, two embraces opened wide. Inside Father Chrysanthos' humble cell, I was given the opportunity to acquaint myself with the stranger, but also to nudge him into talking about his experiences during his contacts with the priest on the island: 'I was a leper' - he said – ‘I lived on Spinalonga for many years. Our illness had deformed us. The fear of infection made all the healthy people not even dare to approach us. The doctor, the nurses, the other civil servants and the women who washed our clothes, would all leave the island with a motorboat a little before sundown, and go to the village of Plaka to the west and opposite Spinalonga Island.  Journalists called Spinalonga the 'Island of the living dead', and officials did not wish to stay the night with the lepers.
We all felt the need for a priest. He alone could comfort us with God's word and support us spiritually. But a priest would come to our island from Elounda only twice a month.
He would come Saturday evening, serve Vespers, and then depart. He would come again the next day, serve the Divine Liturgy, and depart. He would also come at other times: for the unavoidable necessity to inter our dead!
One day some of us men were sitting in the yard of our café, which was close to the main gate.  Then a priest appeared at a distance.  We all understood that he had come to the island to officiate in the church. As soon as he saw us, he approached us. He bade us good morning kindheartedly.
We all stood up and welcomed him with a slight bow. But none of us extended their hand to greet him. A leper must never shake hands, the reason being, he might transmit his accursed sickness. But then he greeted us all with a handshake! He told us very simply that he would be staying with us, to help us fulfill our Christian duties. Our emotion was immense.”

The narration regarding the second day on Fr. Chrysanthos’ island was as follows: “The next day we went to the church of St. Panteleimon. All of us - men, women and children - participated with due solemnity in the Divine Liturgy, which was served with Doric simplicity and unfathomable piety. That Sunday we didn’t receive Holy Communion. We had not been informed in time for the Divine Liturgy and we had not fasted. At the end of the Liturgy, we received the Antidoron bread morsels from his hand. And as we took the Antidoron, we ALL kissed his hand!
It was something that he himself had aspired to do; as he distributed the Antidoron, he intentionally moved his hand closer to our mouths.  Everyone’s eyes filled with tears of emotion.
Before his arrival, we would take the Antidoron ourselves, from a reed basket that the sacristan placed on the candle counter. On the following Sunday, practically all of us went to church. The church was packed, as was its courtyard. On that day, we all received Holy Communion. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, we noticed that our priest was consuming the remnant of the content in the Holy chalice, after all of us had partaken of it!
All of us stood with eyes opened wide in surprise. We thought we were dreaming. Large beads of hot tears welled up from our eyes. The previous priest would pour the remnant of the Holy Chalice into the special disposal crucible (naturally per Divine Providence); he would not consume it himself.
The priest-monk Chrysanthos stayed with us night and day. And he stayed with us for ten whole years! During those years, he showed his love for all of us. He would visit us at our homes. He guided us all. He helped the poor with what little money he had; and he did that, by observing the gospel words: ‘Don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing’. Like all the other patients of Spinalonga, I too am grateful to Father Chrysanthos for .....”, but was unable to complete his phrase. He burst into a muted sobbing”.
“Father Chrysanthos,” continued Mr. Papadakis, “with his gaze focused on the floor as he listened to the descriptions by the former leper, commented with an inner grandeur: “ 'I don’t believe what I did was something so great. It is what every officiator of the Most High and what every Christian would have done.  I just helped our fellow-man as much as I could, to lift up their Cross upon their Calvary. After all, their sickness is not transmitted with Holy Communion – with the Body and the Blood of Christ.’ “

He stayed there to tend to the graves!
Father Chrysanthos - emotionally charged - spoke to Mr. Papadakis about his decision to stay on the island when everyone had departed from it: 'The Spinalonga Leper Colony was shut down. It was July of 1957. Everyone left the island; only I remained there.' I asked him why, and he replied: 'I had to tend to the graves of the Hansenites. Furthermore, as I stood before their graves, I had to chant prayers for the repose of their souls. I abandoned the island in 1959. My health was shaken. That’s when I left the island. My Bishop placed me in this Monastery.’ “...

Κυριακή 8 Μαρτίου 2020

Sunday of the Orthodoxy (first Sunday of Great Lent): Who Christ is for us and how we worship Him?

From here
We have come to the end of the first week of the holy salvific, and great Lent. We heard the prayerful canon of St. Andrew of Crete, in which we recalled people and events from the history of the Church, the history of humanity. But it is not for the sake of a history lesson that we gathered in church each evening. While hearing about the sinners of old who lived thousands of years ago in far-away places, we sorrowfully recognized our own sins. But it turns out that from the righteous ones we are truly separated by thousands of years and kilometers. Today, on the first Sunday of Great Lent, we recall one more event from Church history. In memory of the defeat of the iconoclast heresy, the Holy Church established in the 9th century the feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. This heresy, which tormented the Body of Christ for over a century, was condemned at the seventh Ecumenical Council[1] and again by the Synod of Constantinople, the period of Christological debates within the Church came to an end, and the Orthodox teaching was re-established.
The iconoclast heresy rejected not only the icon as a window through which a ray of light may shine into the darkened human soul, but also the Orthodox teaching about Christ as fully God and fully human in the hypostasis of God the Son.
But, like everything in the Church, this feast is established not merely for historiographic reasons, and it is not by accident that the Fathers of the Church established this feast on the first Sunday of Great Lent. The Triumph of Orthodoxy in the soul of each one of us is the goal of Great Lent; triumph over falsehood, heresy, and the snares of the devil, and achieving Orthodoxy in our souls is the goal of our whole life. And one of the central issues of the Orthodox state of our soul and our life is the question of Who Christ is for us and how we worship Him. It is precisely this question that Christ posed to His disciples (Matt. 16:15), and upon the rock of Peter’s answer established His Church (Matt. 16:18).
In the end, it is an incorrect answer to this question that defines every heresy. “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15) Only God, Who appeared in human form as a ghost, a mirage? Only human—a great prophet who knows the mysteries of God—but only human? Whom did the Most Holy Virgin bear—a human, who was destined to become the chosen vessel of the Holy Spirit, or pre-eternal God Himself?

Sunday of the Orthodoxy 2019 in Philippines (from here)
Finally, which prototype does the Church venerate of the icon- undescribable and unimaginable God, Whom no one has ever seen (John 1:18), a created Body, which can be depicted but is a creature like all others, or the incarnate hypostasis of God the Son? How do we relate to Christ? As a hireling, expecting to receive our reward according to a contract, as an accused man who is sure of his acquittal because someone else took the blame for his crime, or as a person dying from a fatal illness who entrusts his life to the hands of a merciful Physician, begging for healing? Each heresy found its own answers to these questions, and each time the Church Fathers rose up to defend the Orthodox teaching.
This is why our Church is holy, apostolic, and patristic. It is holy, because it is created by the Holy Spirit Who sanctifies, enlightens, cleanses, and makes the Church whiter than snow. The Spirit of God prepares the Church, the bride of Christ, to stand before the Divine Groom blameless, untarnished by sin, falsehood, and heresy.
We call the Church Apostolic, because the apostles, the pillars of the Church, having received God’s grace on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4) and authority from Christ to bind and loose for the salvation of human souls (Matt. 16:19), freely gave this Grace through bishops to the entire Church. As grapes do not grow other than on a grapevine, in the same way there cannot be a Church without a bishop. Without apostolic succession there can only be a club of amateur gardeners who get together to read gardening manuals, but there cannot be a Church.

"Death has robbed a student of Social work department - Elijah Ngigi he was a humble and hardworking student that I knew for a period of time. As to his death he landed in the hands of cruel men who shortened his dreams. may his sour rest in peace" (Orthodox College of Africa).

We call the Church patristic because the holy fathers brought the fruits of righteous life and true theology on Christ’s vine, from which we eat, being strengthened in our life and faith.
The Holy Orthodox Church, our loving mother, protects us, her children, from all evil. And gives us only the healthiest and most nutritious fruits, and shields us from harmful and poisonous things. We, in turn, often do not listen to the mother’s advice and run from good. Even worse, we begin to puff up with pride, imagining that we are more educated, wiser, and more spiritual than the holy fathers, and that the path that led them to salvation is not acceptable for us, that it is archaic, that we know better which rules and rubrics to follow and which ones to ignore. To borrow a description from the Protodeacon Andrei Kuraev, we act like a person who enters the cockpit of a modern jetliner and, not comprehending the purpose behind the controls, declares that half of them are unnecessary; or as a person who has not even passed Biology 101, but enters a neurosurgeon’s office and declares that half of the surgical instruments are useless because he does not understand their purpose.

It is just as unintelligent to come to the tree of the Church, not knowing how to grow and ripen fruit, and to declare that the roots are unnecessary, the trunk can be cut down, the branches broken off. It is not for us to create the Church; “I will create”, says Christ. Ours is either to be in it and bear fruit or to be cut off from the Church and to entertain ourselves by reading gardening manuals.
Let us then, brothers and sisters, follow the spirit of the holy fathers and apostles, emulating their lives. Let us follow the Church rubrics and keep the fast. Let us live our lives in such a way that the Triumph of Orthodoxy, defeat of heresy, may become the state of our souls and not merely a historic event.
The Seventh Ecumenical Council convened on September 24, 787 in Nicaea.

A symbol of freedom of worship

"We carry icons this day around the church as a symbol of freedom of worship. It's indeed a great blessing to all Orthodox Christians. During this festive season of great Lent, we fast and pray for the needy persons. May God bless you abundantly."

Πέμπτη 5 Μαρτίου 2020

Christian asceticism, Philip Pullman & Orthodox “therapeutic treatment”

Khanya (Orthodox Christian blog from South Africa

One of the things that struck me about Philip Pullman’s His dark materials trilogy was that in spite of his apparent rejection of Christian asceticism, he has his protagonists opt for something pretty close to it in the end. It seemed to me to be a strange kind of inconsistency, and a pretty basic one. Perhaps it was because Pullman didn’t really have much clue about what Christian asceticism is all about.
Philip Pullman is proudly anti-Christian, so perhaps it isn’t surprising that he wouldn’t bother to learn much about something he despises.
I found it more surprising, however, to read the following in Matt Stone’s blog the other day
Part of my indifference towards fasting, if not outright antipathy, has been the traditional conjunction between it and asceticism. With asceticism being the epitome of mind-body dualism, and incarnational Christianity being its holistic antithesis, I couldn’t see how any discipline that encouraged a distain for the body could actually be all that helpful.
Matt is a Christian, and moreover one who has tried to learn about a wide variety of Christian traditions. So how could he say that asceticism is “the epitome of mind-body dualism, and incarnational Christianity being its holistic antithesis”?
That is almost an exact inversion of what Christian asceticism is all about.
Admittedly Matt does say that in the context of a reevaluation of fasting, but he implies that in reevaluating it he is trying to see fasting as something disconnected with asceticism, which remains a bad thing in his eyes.
What with that, and Lent beginning tomorrow, it seemed to be a good time to try to write something about Christian asceticism, if only to remind myself what I should be doing in Lent.
The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church (which has an English and Anglican bias, but tries to report from a range of Christian traditions) notes that the Greek askesis (exercise or training) denotes a system of practices designed to combat vice and develop virtues.
In the NT the word occurs only once — as a verb, askein, ro strive — at Acts 24.16. In 1 Cor. 9.25 the Christian life is compared to the games in which every man that striveth… is temperate in all things. But the idea, present already in the OT, esp in the Wisdom books, is prominent throughout the NT. It is summed up in the Lord’s call to his disciples: ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me’ (Mk. 8.34), with its emphasis on the two sides of Christian asceticism, the negative one of self-denial and the positive one of the following of Christ. This invitation to practise self-abnegation is frequently reiterated, mostly in very strong terms (Mt. 10.38f., Jn. 12.25), being shown to involve constant watchfulness (Mt. 24.42, 25.13, &C.) and fasting (Mt. 6.16-18; Mk. 2.18-20) and, in many cases, renunciation of all earthly possessions (Mt. 19.21, Mk. 10.28, Lk 9. 57-62), and perpetual chastity (Mt. 19.12). St Paul counsels the same ideal repeatedly inculcating the necessity of keeping up the struggle against the inclinations of the ‘old man’…
The metaphor of struggle is taken up in the Russian term of asceticism, podvig, which indicates the spiritual struggle, or spiritual warfare that Christians are called upon to engage in. The very fact that this spiritual struggle should involve such bodily exercises as fasting should show that it is incarnational, and has nothing to do with a body/mind dualism. In Gesthemane our Lord Jesus Christ urged his disciples to “watch and pray”. When they had struggled to expel demons, he told them that some demons could only come out by prayer and fasting. Watchfulness, prayer and fasting are central to Christian asceticism.
All this is fairly general. But just as there are different Christian traditions, so there are varieties of Christian asceticism. Orthodox asceticism is essentially therapeutic. Bishop Hierotheos of Nafpaktos remarks
Protestants do not have a “therapeutic treatment” position. They suppose that believing in God, intellectually, constitutes salvation. Yet salvation is not a matter of intellectual acceptance of truth; rather it is a person’s transformation and divinization by grace.
As St Paul says, “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2). It is the whole person, body, soul and spirit, that is to be transformed.
And so we come to the beginning of Lent, and Lent is marked by fasting — abstaining from food, or from certain kinds of food. Why do we do this? In the third chapter of Genesis we read about the fall of man. And the fall was caused by food. Man became alienated and estranged from God by loving food more than God. This is basically idolatry — loving the gift rather than the giver, the creature rather than the creator. So by fasting, the relationship can be transformed, restored, renewed. Our physical hunger is transformed into hunger for God.
And this is not a mind/body dualism, but it is in order, as St Paul says, that we present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is our reasonable worship (Rom 12:1).
PS: Some interesting comments from C.S. Lewis on asceticism here.