"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."
C. S. Lewis

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

On God's Indebtedness

"He who has compassion on the poor lends to God and He will repay Him for his good deed" (Proverbs 19:17). 

The poor man who begs and the rich man who gives, both are indebting the Lord, but only under the condition that the poor man begs in the name of the Lord with humility, and that the rich man gives in the name of the Lord with compassion. Everyone who receives should know that he receives that which belongs to God and everyone who gives should know that he gives that which belongs to God. Such giving has a price and such receiving has a price. All of us enter this world naked and naked shall we leave this world. All of us are beggars before the Lord for we possess nothing that we have not received from the Lord. Therefore, give to the poor man as God as given to you. You take what is another's and you give to your own when you perform charity.
 
The poor man is closer to you than all of your goods even as God, the Creator of men, every man is incomparably more precious than all of his goods. If you have been given riches, it was given to you for temptation: that your heart be tempted! That God and all the heavenly hosts see whether you understood from whom are all your riches and why they were given to you. Blessed are you if you know that your goods are from God and belong to God! Blessed are you if you consider the poor as your companions, among your family members and share with them from that which God has entrusted to you! 

O how immeasurable is God's love for mankind! Behold, all that you have belongs to God but, nevertheless, God considers Himself your debtor if you take from Him and give to the poor and He will repay you for your good. What kind of mercy can be compared to this! 

O Man-loving Lord, open our minds to understand the mystery of Your mercy and soften our hearts as wax, that as wax they burn and shine with the reflection of Your inexpressible mercy! 

To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.

+ + +

Bishop (St.) Nikolai Velimirovic, The Prologue From Ochrid: Lives of the Saints and Homilies For Every Day In The Year, June 18.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Tikhon, Metropolitan Of Moscow, Farewell Sermon On The Sunday Of Orthodoxy


Sunday, June 17, 2012
Feast of All Saints of North America

“...The lands of North America offer to Thee, O Lord, all the saints who have shone in them.”

I    I    I

T
 his Sunday is called “The Sunday of Orthodoxy” or “The Triumph of Orthodoxy,” since on this day the Holy Church solemnly commemorates her victory over Iconoclasm and other heresies.  And this triumph of Orthodoxy took place not just a thousand years ago.  No – for due to the mercy of God, the Church up to this day, now here and now there, gains victory and is triumphant over her enemies – and she has many of them. 
It is not a coincidence that the Church is likened to a ship, sailing amidst a ferocious, stormy sea which is ready to drown it in its waves.  And the further the ship sails, the harder the waves slam against it, the fiercer they attack it!  But the harder the waves hit the ship, the further they are thrown away and rejoin the abyss and disappear in it, and the ship continues its triumphant sailing as before.  For “the foundation of God standeth sure,” since the Church of Christ is built on an immovable rock, and “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
The Church of Christ is the kingdom not of this world.  It does not possess any of the attractions of the earthly world.  It is persecuted and slandered.  Yet it not only avoids perishing in the world, but grows and defeats the world!  This happens everywhere, and here in our land as well.  “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”
It is true that our Church here cannot boast of the quantity of its members, neither of their erudition.  Just like the “preaching of Christ crucified”, for some it seems lowly and contemptible, and for others it seems simple and foolish, but in reality “God’s power and wisdom” are concealed in it.  It is strong and rich with the authenticity of the doctrine which has been preserved unaltered, with full adherence to the guiding regulations of the Church, a deep sense of liturgical service, and a plenitude of grace.  And with all of this it is gradually attracting the hearts of people, and it is growing and getting stronger more and more in this country. 
You brethren have witnessed and seen for yourselves the growth and strengthening of Orthodoxy here.  Just a mere twelve to fifteen years ago, we, aside from faraway Alaska, barely had any churches here.  There were no priests, and the Orthodox people numbered only in a few dozens and maybe a few hundreds. And even they lived dispersed, far from one another. 
And now?  “The Orthodox are seen this day in this country.” Our temples appear not only in big cities but in obscure places as well.  We have a multitude of clergy, and tens of thousands of faithful – and not only those who have been Orthodox for a while, but those who have converted from among the Uniates.  Schools are opened, the brotherhoods are established.  Even strangers acknowledge the success of Orthodoxy here.  So how can we ourselves not celebrate “The Triumph of Orthodoxy,” and not thank the Lord who helps His Church!
But it is not enough, brethren, only to celebrate “The Triumph of Orthodoxy.”  It is necessary for us personally to promote and contribute to this triumph.  And for this we must reverently preserve the Orthodox Faith, standing firm in it in spite of the fact that we live in a non-Orthodox country, and not pleading as an excuse for our apostasy that “it is not the old land here but America, a free country, and therefore it is impossible to follow everything that the Church requires.”  As if the word of Christ is only suitable for the old land and not for the entire world!  As if the Church of Christ is not “catholic”! As if the Orthodox Faith did not “establish the universe”!
Furthermore, while faithfully preserving the Orthodox Faith, everyone must also take care to spread it among the non-Orthodox.  Christ the Savior said that having lit the candle, men do not put it under a bushel but on a candlestick so that it gives light to all. The light of the Orthodox Faith has not been lit to shine only for a small circle of people.  No, the Orthodox Church is catholic; she remembers the commandment of her Founder, “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature and teach all nations.”
We must share our spiritual richness, truth, light, and joy with others who do not have these blessings.  And this duty does not only lay upon the pastors and the missionaries but on the lay persons as well, since the Church of Christ, according to the wise comparison of the Holy Apostle Paul, is the body, and every member takes part in the life of the body.  By means of all sorts of mutually binding bonds which are formed and strengthened through the action of every member according to his capacity, the great Church body receives an increase unto the edifying of itself.
In the first centuries it was not only the pastors who were tortured, but lay persons as well – men, women, and even children.  And it was lay people likewise who enlightened the heathen and fought heresies.  And now in the same way, the spreading of the Faith should be a matter that is personal, heartfelt, and dear to each one of us.  Every member of the Church must take an active part in it – some by personal podvig spreading the Good News, some by material donations and service to “the needs of the holy persons,” and some by profuse prayer to the Lord that He “keep His Church firm and multiply it” – and concerning those unaware of Christ, that He would “proclaim the word of truth to them, open to them the Gospel of Truth, and join them to the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.” I have told this numerous times to my flock.  And today, upon my departing from this land, I once more command all of you to preserve and act upon this, and especially you brethren of this holy temple. 
You witnessed yourself last Sunday that “The foreknowledge of God drew you closer to the bishop’s cathedra, and that the awareness of this closeness elevates your Christian spirit and edifies the nature of your undertakings, inspiring you for everything good.” Your temple is a Cathedral.  It is preeminent in the diocese.  And being its parishioners, you brethren must give others an example in everything good that concerns the life of the Church, including caring for the Orthodox Faith. 
Furthermore, your parish is Russian, almost entirely consisting of people who came from Russia.  And to this very day Russia has been famous as a holy Christian land, whose adornment is the Orthodox Faith, the piousness of her people, and her temples of God.  So brethren, uphold here in a foreign land the glory of your motherland.  Manifest yourselves before the non-Orthodox as the Russian Orthodox people. 
I can say with comfort that in these days, with your zealous attendance at our temple, you’ve made a good impression on the local residents.  And you have especially gladdened my heart and expelled the sadness and grief which was felt not only by me in other places at the sight of empty temples during the feastday Church services. 
May the Lord strengthen you to excel in the Orthodox Faith more and more – my last prayer is about this . . .   Today I depart from you.  And so, farewell, fathers and brethren of this holy temple, who are close to me not only in spirit but in our joint prayers, labors, and residence!  Farewell to you, the rest of my flock scattered across the wide horizon of this land!  Farewell, all those of you wandering in the deserts, working in the mountains and in the depths of the earth, and those on the islands far out in the sea!
Farewell to you, my Cathedral temple!  You are dear and close to me.  It has been during the time of my service that you were opened, you were adorned during my time as well, and you were made a cathedral during my time.  Perhaps for some who have seen the large, magnificent temples in Russia, you might seem small and modest, and you do not shine with gold and silver and precious gemstones like those temples do.  But for Russian Orthodox people, who suffered here for a long time without a temple, you represent a precious treasure, and they rejoice that they have you – like the Jews who returned from the Babylonian captivity rejoiced at the time of the construction of the second temple, even though it was not as splendid as that of Solomon.  So:
“Oh Lord, the God of Israel!  May Thine eyes be open toward this house night and day, that Thou mayest hearken unto the prayer of Thy people when they shall pray in this place! . . . Moreover, concerning a stranger that is not of Thy people, when he shall come and pray in this house, hear Thou him from Heaven, Thy dwelling place!”
Farewell to you, this country!  For some you are the motherland, the place of birth; for others you gave shelter, work, and well-being.  Some received the freedom to profess the right Faith in your liberal land.  God spoke in ancient times through the prophet, “And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall you have peace.”
And so, let us pray to the Lord that He send this country “a plenitude of the earthly fruits, fair weather, timely rain and wind, and preserve it from the cowardly, flood, fire, sword, invasion of foreigners, and civil strife.”
Let God’s blessing be upon this country, this city, and this temple.  And let “the blessing of the Lord, with grace and love for man,” rest upon you all, “now and ever and unto the ages of ages.  Amen.”
I    I    I
Our father among the saints Tikhon of Moscow (Russian: Святитель Тихон, Патриарх Московский и всея Руси) (1865–1925), Enlightener of North America, was Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia (1917–1925). While in America, he established his cathedral in New York City, and presided over a vast archdiocese as the Archbishop of the American Missionary Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, encouraging and authorizing many publications in the English language. Among these, he encouraged the translation of the Divine Liturgy into English, and he wrote an extensive catechism based on the Nicene Creed and the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father...). His feast day is celebrated on April 7 by New Calendar churches, on March 25 by Old Calendar churches; his glorification is celebrated on September 26, and he is also commemorated on the feast of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, celebrated on the Sunday nearest to January 25, which was the date of the martyrdom of Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev, the first Bishop of the new martyrs.

Above is printed in translation St. Tikhon of Moscow’s last sermon during his years of ministry (1898 to 1907) as the Archbishop of the American Missionary Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church. Delivered on the Sunday of Orthodoxy in 1907 at the New York City Cathedral. English translation from the Russian by Alex Maximov, with editing by Dr. David C. Ford, St. Tikhon’s Seminary and Monastery Church, South Canaan, PA.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Holy and Immaculate Mysteries of the Lord


T
he body which is born of the holy Virgin is in truth body united with divinity, not that the body which was received up into the heavens descends, but that the bread itself and the wine are changed into God’s body and blood. But if you inquire how this happens, it is enough for you to learn that it was through the Holy Spirit, just as the Lord took on Himself flesh that subsisted in Him and was born of the holy Mother of God through the Spirit. And we know nothing further save that the Word of God is true and energizes and is omnipotent, but the manner of this cannot be searched out. But one can put it well thus, that just as in nature the bread by the eating and the wine and the water by the drinking are changed into the body and blood of the eater and drinker, and do not become a different body from the former one, so the bread of the table and the wine and water are supernaturally changed by the invocation and presence of the Holy Spirit into the body and blood of Christ, and are not two but one and the same.
Wherefore to those who partake worthily with faith, it is for the remission of sins and for life everlasting and for the safeguarding of soul and body; but to those who partake unworthily without faith, it is for chastisement and punishment, just as also the death of the Lord became to those who believe life and incorruption for the enjoyment of eternal blessedness, while to those who do not believe and to the murderers of the Lord it is for everlasting chastisement and punishment.
The bread and the wine are not merely figures of the body and blood of Christ (God forbid!) but the deified body of the Lord itself: for the Lord has said, “This is My body,” not, this is a figure of My body: and “My blood,” not, a figure of My blood. And on a previous occasion He had said to the Jews, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, ye have no life in you. For My flesh is meat indeed and My blood is drink indeed. And again, He that eateth Me, shall live.
Wherefore with all fear and a pure conscience and certain faith let us draw near and it will assuredly be to us as we believe, doubting nothing. Let us pay homage to it in all purity both of soul and body: for it is twofold. Let us draw near to it with an ardent desire, and with our hands held in the form of the cross let us receive the body of the Crucified One: and let us apply our eyes and lips and brows and partake of the divine coal, in order that the fire of the longing, that is in us, with the additional heat derived from the coal may utterly consume our sins and illumine our hearts, and that we may be inflamed and deified by the participation in the divine fire. Isaiah saw the coal. But coal is not plain wood but wood united with fire: in like manner also the bread of the communion is not plain bread but bread united with divinity. But a body which is united with divinity is not one nature, but has one nature belonging to the body and another belonging to the divinity that is united to it, so that the compound is not one nature but two.
With bread and wine Melchisedek, the priest of the most high God, received Abraham on his return from the slaughter of the Gentiles. That table pre-imaged this mystical table, just as that priest was a type and image of Christ, the true high-priest. For thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedek. Of this bread the show-bread was an image. This surely is that pure and bloodless sacrifice which the Lord through the prophet said is offered to Him from the rising to the setting of the sun.
The body and blood of Christ are making for the support of our soul and body, without being consumed or suffering corruption, not making for the draught (God forbid!) but for our being and preservation, a protection against all kinds of injury, a purging from all uncleanness: should one receive base gold, they purify it by the critical burning lest in the future we be condemned with this world. They purify from diseases and all kinds of calamities; according to the words of the divine Apostle, For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. This too is what he says, So that he that partaketh of the body and blood of Christ unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself. Being purified by this, we are united to the body of Christ and to His Spirit and become the body of Christ.
This bread is the first-fruits of the future bread which is ἐπιούσιος, i.e. necessary for existence. For the word ἐπιούσιον signifies either the future, that is Him Who is for a future age, or else Him of Whom we partake for the preservation of our essence. Whether then it is in this sense or that, it is fitting to speak so of the Lord’s body. For the Lord’s flesh is life-giving spirit because it was conceived of the life-giving Spirit. For what is born of the Spirit is spirit. But I do not say this to take away the nature of the body, but I wish to make clear its life-giving and divine power
s s s
St. John of Damascus, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Ch. XIII (The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Second Series Vol. IX; Eerdmans pg. 83-84)
 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Ancient Apostles Fast


"The Apostles almost always fasted."
Saint John Chrysostom (Sermon 57 on the Gospel of Matthew)
Patristic Testimony Concerning the Fast
 The fast of the holy Apostles is very ancient, dating back to the first centuries of Christianity. We have the testimony of St. Athanasius the Great, St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Leo the Great and Theodoret of Cyrrhus regarding it. The oldest testimony regarding the Apostles Fast is given to us by St. Athanasius the Great (†373). In his letter to Emperor Constance, in speaking of the persecution by the Arians, he writes: "During the week following Pentecost, the people who observed the fast went out to the cemetery to pray." "The Lord so ordained it," says St. Ambrose (†397), "that as we have participated in his sufferings during the Forty Days, so we should also rejoice in his Resurrection during the season of Pentecost. We do not fast during the season of Pentecost, since our Lord Himself was present amongst us during those days … Christ’s presence was like nourishing food for the Christians. So too, during Pentecost, we feed on the Lord who is present among us. On the days following his ascension into heaven, however, we again fast" (Sermon 61). St. Ambrose basis this practice on the words of Jesus concerning his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew 9:14, 15: "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”
St. Leo the Great (†461) says: "After the long feast of Pentecost, fasting is especially necessary to purify our thoughts and render us worthy to receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit ... Therefore, the salutary custom was established of fasting after the joyful days during which we celebrated the resurrection and ascension of our Lord, and the coming of the Holy Spirit.''
The pilgrim Egeria in her Diary (fourth century) records that on the day following the feast of Pentecost, a period of fasting began. The Apostolic Constitutions, a work no later than the fourth century, prescribes: "After the feast of Pentecost, celebrate one week, then observe a fast, for justice demands rejoicing after the reception of the gifts of God and lasting after the body has been refreshed."
From the testimonies of the fourth century we ascertain that in Alexandria, Jerusalem and Antioch the fast of the holy Apostles was connected with Pentecost and not with the feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul on June 29. In the first centuries, after Pentecost there was one week of rejoicing, that is Privileged Days, followed by about one week of fasting.
The canons of Nicephoros, Patriarch of Constantinople (806-816), mention the Apostle's Fast. The Typicon of St. Theodore the Studite for the Monastery of Studios in Constantinople speaks of the Forty Days Fast of the holy Apostles. St. Symeon of Thessalonica (†1429) explains the purpose of this fast in this manner: "The Fast of the Apostles is justly established in their honor, for through them we have received numerous benefits and for us they are exemplars and teachers of the fast ... For one week after the descent of the Holy Spirit, in accordance with the Apostolic Constitution composed by Clement, we celebrate, and then during the following week, we fast in honor of the Apostles."

Duration of the Fast
The Fast of the Apostles came into practice in the Church through custom rather than law. For this reason there was no uniformity for a long time, either in its observance or its duration. Some fasted twelve days, others six, still others four, and others only one day. Theodore Balsamon, Patriarch of Antioch (†1204), regarding the Apostle's Fast, said: "All the faithful, that is the laity and the monks, are obliged to fast seven days and more, and whoever refuses to do so, let him be excommunicated from the Christian community."
From the work On Three Forty Days Fasts, which is credited to a monk of the monastic community of St. Anastasios the Sinaite (6th or 7th century), we learn that the Fast of the holy Apostles lasted from the first Sunday after Pentecost to the feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God on August 15. Later, however, the Fast of the Dormition was separated from it and the month of July was excluded from the Fast of the Apostles. St. Symeon of Thessalonica speaks of the Apostle's Fast as of one week's duration.
In the Orthodox Church the Fast of the holy Apostles lasts from the day after the Sunday of All Saints to the 29th of June, the feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul. This fast may be of longer or shorter duration depending upon which day Pascha is celebrated. According to the Old Calendar it could last from as little as 8 days to as many as 42 days depending on the date of Pascha, but this is shortened by the New Calendar which sometimes obliterates the Fast altogether. If the feast of Pascha occurs sooner, then the Apostle's Fast is longer; if Pascha comes later, then the Apostle's Fast is shorter.

Prescription For the Fast
The Fast of the Apostles is somewhat more lenient than the Great Fast before Holy Week and Pascha. The Kievan Metropolitan George (1069-1072) approved the Rule for the Kiev Caves Monastery which does not allow meat or dairy products to be eaten during the Apostle's Fast. On Wednesday and Friday, they prescribed dry food, that is, bread and water or dry fruits. On Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday they permitted fish, wine and oil. In addition to this, they directed that one hundred prostrations (profound bows to the ground) be made daily, excepting Saturdays, Sundays and holy days (the Feast of the Birth of John the Baptist falls on June 23rd and fish, oil and wine is permitted no matter the day). This rule was transferred to Russia via the Kiev Caves Monastery who based their rule on that of the Monastery of Studios in Constantinople. We can thus assume this was the rule for the Fast practiced by both the Roman Empire and the Russian Empire. This is the rule still practiced today with possible minor variations among jurisdictions.

Monday, June 11, 2012

On Perfect Love, And What It Is In Action


I have seen [a man] who was so zealous and filled with desire for the salvation of his brethren that he often implored God, who loves man, with all his soul and with warm tears that either they might be saved or else that he be condemned with them. His attitude was like that of Moses (cf. Ex. 32:32; Num. 14:10ff.) and indeed of God Himself in that he did not in any way wish to be saved alone. Because he was spiritually bound to them by holy love in the Holy Spirit he did not want to enter into the kingdom of heaven itself if it meant that he would be separated from them. O sacred bond! O unutterable power! O soul of heavenly thoughts, or, rather, soul borne by God and greatly perfected in love of God and of neighbor!


 He, then, who has not yet attained to this love, neither seen a trace of it in his own soul nor in any way felt its presence, is still earthbound and among the things of the earth. Nay, rather, his nature is to hide himself beneath the earth like the so-called blind rat, since he is blind like it and capable of hearing only those who speak on the earth. What a terrible misfortune that we who have been born of God and become immortal and partakers of a heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1), who are "heirs of God and fellow-heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17) and have become citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), have not yet come to the realization of so great blessings! We are, so to speak, without feeling, like iron that is thrown into fire, or like a lifeless hide that cannot feel it when it is dipped in scarlet dye. This is still our attitude though we find ourselves in the midst of such great blessings of God and admit that we have no feeling of it in ourselves! Though we boast as if we were already saved and numbered among the saints, and make pretense and adorn ourselves with affected holiness like those who spend their lives in misery as performers in the music hall or the theater, we are like clowns and harlots who have no natural beauty and foolishly think to beautify themselves with cosmetics and unnatural colors. How different are the features of the saints who have "been born from above" (Jn. 3:3)!
O   O   O
St. Symeon the New Theologian, The Discourses (The Classics of Western Spirituality), VIII On Perfect Love, and What it is in Action (Paulist Press, New York: 1980) pp. 144-145.