On the Beautiful Road of Love, a Letter of Elder Ephraim of Arizona

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I pray that the All-good God will send down upon you the All-holy Spirit, as He did to His divinely sent holy Apostles, so that you may be enlightened to walk the arduous path of salvation. “Behold now, what is so good or joyous as for brethren to dwell together in unity with love?” (cf. Ps. 132:1 ). There is nothing more beautiful than for a synodia to be replete with godly love. Then, everything is radiant; everything is full of beauty, while God above delights, and the holy angelic spirits rejoice above where love is boundless. “Love one another, as I have loved you. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:34,35). O love, whoever possesses you has a truly blessed heart, for within love, what could one possibly want and not find! Humility, joy, patience, goodness, compassion, forbearance, enlightenment, and so on, are all there. But in order to obtain this supremely wondrous love, we must constantly call upon the God of love to give it to us. When the name of God is remembered through the prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”, it contains within it eternal life, and eternal life is the God of love! Therefore, he who prays this prayer obtains true, godly love. So, onwards; behold the way and means of victoriously conquering love. Take courage and bravely proceed into the battle. Say the prayer constantly: orally and noetically. It is more beneficial to say it orally during the day, because at that time the nous is scattered by one’s work.

The beautiful road of love is effortless, and there is neither blemish nor stain in love, but rather the conscience testifies that the soul has boldness towards God. But when there is no love, the soul has no boldness in prayer, and as one defeated and cowardly, it cannot lift its head because it feels remorse for not having loved as God has loved it; it is a transgressor of the commandment of God. If we do not love our brother whom we have seen, how can we love God whom we have not seen” (cf. 1 Jn. 4:20 ). He who has true love has God; whoever does not have love does not have God in himself. The Holy Fathers say, “If you have seen your brother, you have seen God; your salvation depends on your brother”. The holy monastic fathers of old walked the path of salvation effortlessly, because they sacrificed everything so that they would not fall away from love. Love was their goal in life. Our path, though, is completely strewn with thorns which sprouted because we lack love. And this is why when we walk, we constantly bleed. The foundations of the house shake when we do not lay the foundation of love well.

Compel yourself, my child, for the sake of your soul. Compel yourself to comfort the brethren, and the Lord will comfort you—He will give you His grace. Have patience, have patience. Let everyone treat you like dirt, and He will give you His grace. Great is he who has more humility. God gives grace to the person who has fear of God and obeys everyone like a small child and constantly seeks God’s holy will. Such a person never seeks that his own will be done, but the will of God and of the others. He always says, “As you wish, as you know best”. He does not give his own opinion because he considers himself lower than everyone. When they tell him to do something, he eagerly says, “May it be blessed”. So, my child, this is what you should do, too. This makes the demons tremble, flee far away, and not approach anymore. They are very afraid when they see humility, obedience, and love towards all.

My child, just do your duty. If the others do not obey, leave it to God and be at peace. It is due to the devil’s jealousy, my child. Will the devil go out perhaps to the mountains to create temptations? He goes wherever people are struggling for their salvation. And since we, too, are seeking our salvation, he jumbles us up without our realizing it. Carry the burden of the brethren. God rewards everyone justly. The time will come when you will see how much He will give you for the pains you went through to look after so many souls. Labor in this world; keep helping, and you will never be deprived of God’s help. Now you are sowing; the time will come for you to reap. Pray that God will make you strong in patience, discernment, enlightenment, etc. I am constantly praying for you, but I have no boldness before God, and thus my prayer bears no fruit. Just think what the Fathers went through to save others. It is no small matter; you are helping the others, which is why the devil will take it out on you and afflict you. So start showing patience and bravery, and say: “I am ready to die in the battle helping my brethren to be saved, but God will not let me perish, since I am doing it for the sake of His love”. Yes, do so, and you will see how much strength and joy you will receive in the struggle. For sometimes impatience, despair, and pessimism deprive a person of God’s grace, and then he wrongly attributes it to the burdens he is bearing. But courage, self-sacrifice, bravery, and faith in God bring the grace of God. I pray that God will invigorate your spiritual nerves to fight with renewed strength.

Abide in the bond of mutual love, for love is the beginning and the end—the foundation. It is on love towards God and your brothers that “all the law and the prophets hang” (cf. Mt. 22:40 ). Without love we are a clanging cymbal—a big zero. According to the Apostle Paul, even if we give our body to be burned for Christ and distribute our belongings to the poor and mortify our life with harsh ascesis for Christ, yet lack love, we have accomplished nothing (cf. 1 Cor. 13:3 ). Therefore, with all our strength we must see to it that we keep a strong hold on mutual love, so that our trivial works may be approved by Him Who examines the secret thoughts of our hearts.

You write, my child, about someone who kept grieving you, and you cursed him, etc. No, my child, do not curse anyone, no matter how much he has harmed you. Our Christ tells us to love our enemies, so how can we speak evil? Seek forgiveness from God, and henceforth love him as your brother, regardless of whether or not you agree with him. Didn’t Christ on the Cross forgive his crucifiers? Then how can we do otherwise? Yes, my child, we must love everyone, regardless of whether they love us or not—that is their business.

My child, always justify your brother and reproach yourself. Never justify your deeds. Learn to say, “Bless”—in other words, “Forgive me”—and humility will dwell within you. Have patience and overlook your brother’s faults, remembering God’s forbearance towards your own faults. Love as Jesus loves you and as you want others to love you. Hold on to silence, constant prayer, and self-reproach, and then you will see how much mourning and tears and joy you will feel. But if you fail to hold on to them, in other words, if you neglect to apply them, then coldness and dryness will replace the above graces. Love the brethren. Your love will show when, despite all your brother’s weaknesses, you count them as nothing and love him. Love will keep you from all sins. Think of nothing but your own sinfulness. Reproach yourself constantly—this is the best path.

I pray your soul is in good health, for when it is healthy, it has patience in afflictions, it has self-denial with the body and in its thoughts; and it fears neither illnesses nor selfish thoughts. When the soul is healthy, it has love within itself; it does not scandalize others; it endures a brother’s harsh words; it does not expose his faults in public; it always has something good to say about his brother; it gives way in quarrels and escapes having bitter thoughts and distress. When the soul is healthy, it does not get angry, complain, talk back, murmur, disobey; it does not follow its own whims, and it does so many other things indicative of spiritual health. This health is what I seek from you; this is what I advise; for this do I pray.

Source: Pemptousia
Originally posted on: easternorthodoxspirituality.blogspot.gr

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Paschal Homily of Saint John Chrysostom

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If any man be devout and loveth God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast! If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord.
If any have laboured long in fasting, let him how receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; Because he shall in nowise be deprived therefore. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. And if any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness.

For the Lord, who is jealous of his honour, will accept the last even as the first. He giveth rest unto him who cometh at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who hath wrought from the first hour.

And He showeth mercy upon the last, and careth for the first; And to the one He giveth, and upon the other He bestoweth gifts. And He both accepteth the deeds, and welcometh the intention, and honoureth the acts and praises the offering.

Wherefore, enter ye all into the joy of your Lord; Receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival! You sober and you heedless, honour the day! Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away. Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.

Let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal Kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it.

By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered when it encountered Thee in the lower regions.

It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is thy sting? O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown! Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen! Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is risen, and life reigns! Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages.


Homily of Saint Ignatius on The Sunday of the Cross

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Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me (Mk. 8:34), said the Lord to his disciples, calling them unto Him, as we heard today in the Gospels.
Dear brothers and sisters! We too are disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, because we are Christians. We too are called unto the Lord, to this holy temple, to hear His teaching. We stand before the face of the Lord. His gaze is directed at us. Our souls are laid bare before Him; our secret thoughts and hidden feelings are open to Him. He sees all of our intentions; He sees the truth, and the sins we have committed from our youth; He sees our whole life, past and future; even what we have not yet done is already written in His book.[1] He knows the hour of our passing into immeasurable eternity, and gives us His all-holy commandment for our salvation: Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

Through living faith, let us lift up the eyes of our mind to the Lord Who is present here with us! Let us open our hearts, rolling back the heavy stone of hardness from its entrance; let us hear, ponder, accept, and assimilate the teaching of our Lord.

What does it mean to deny ourselves? It means leaving our sinful life. Sin, through which our fall occurred, has so encompassed our nature that it has become as if natural; thus, denial of sin has become denial of nature, and denying nature is denying ourselves. The eternal death that has struck our souls has become like life for us. It demands food: sin; it demands to be pleased—with sin. By means of such food and pleasure, eternal death upholds and preserves its dominion over man. But fallen man accepts the growth of the dominion of death in himself as growth and success in life. Thus, he who is infected with a fatal disease is overcome by the forceful demands of this disease and looks for foods that would strengthen him. He seeks them as the most essential foods, as the most needed and pleasant delights. The Lord pronounced His sentence against this eternal death, which mankind, sick with terrible fallenness, imagines to be life: For whosoever will save his life, cultivating in it the life of fallenness or eternal death, shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it (Mk. 8:35). Placing before our eyes the whole world with all its beauty and charm, the Lord says, For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? What good is it for man, what has he really acquired if he should come to possess not only some minor thing, but even the entire visible world? This visible world is no more than man’s temporary guesthouse! There is no item on the earth, not a single acquirable good that we could call our own. Everything will be taken from us by merciless and inevitable death; and unforeseen circumstances and changes often take them away even before our death. Even our own bodies are cast aside at that sacred step into eternity. Our possession and treasure is our soul, and our soul alone. What shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Mk. 8:37), sayeth the word of God. There is nothing that can recompense the loss of the soul when it is killed by eternal death, which deceitfully calls itself life.

What does it mean to take up our cross? The cross was an instrument of shameful execution of commoners and captives deprived of a citizen’s rights. The proud world, a world at enmity with Christ, deprives Christ’s disciples of the rights enjoyed by the sons of this world. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me (Jn. 15:19; 16:2–3). Taking up our cross means magnanimously enduring the mocking and derision that the world pours out upon followers of Christ—those sorrows and persecutions with which the sin-loving and blind world persecutes those who follow Christ. For this is thankworthy, says the Apostle Peter, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For even hereunto were ye called (1 Pet. 2:19, 21). We were called by the Lord, Who said to his beloved ones, In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (Jn. 16:33).

Taking up our cross means courageously enduring difficult unseen labor, agony, and torment for the sake of the Gospels as we war with our own passions, with the sin that lives in us, with the spirits of evil who vehemently make war against us and franticly attack us when we resolve to cast off the yoke of sin, and submit ourselves to the yoke of Christ. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, says the holy Apostle Paul, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph. 6:12). (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:4–5). After gaining victory in this unseen but laborious warfare, the Apostle exclaimed, But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world (Gal. 6:14).

Taking up our cross means obediently and humbly submitting ourselves to those temporary sorrows and afflictions that Divine Providence sees fit to allow against us for the cleansing away of our sins. Then the cross will serve us as a ladder from earth to heaven. The thief in the Gospels who ascended this ladder ascended from out of terrible crimes into most radiant heavenly habitations. From his cross he pronounced words filled with humility of wisdom; in humility of wisdom he entered into the knowledge of God, and through the knowledge of God, he acquired heaven. We receive the due reward of our deeds, he said. Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom (Lk. 23:41–42). When sorrows encompass us, let us also, beloved brothers and sisters, repeat the words of the good thief—words that can purchase paradise! Or like Job, let us bless the Lord who punishes us, Who is just yet merciful. Shall we receive good at the hand of God, said this sufferer, and shall we not receive evil? As it hath pleased the Lord so is it done; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 2:10; 1:21). May God’s promise, which is true, be fulfilled in us: Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. (Js. 1:12).

Taking up our cross means willingly and eagerly submitting ourselves to deprivations and ascetic labors, by which the irrational strivings of our flesh are held in check. The Apostle Paul had recourse to such a crucifixion of his flesh. He says, But I keep under [in Slavonic: “deaden,” or “mortify”] my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway (1 Cor. 9:27). They that are in the flesh, that is, those who do not restrain their flesh, but allow it to overcome the spirit, cannot please God (Rom. 8:8). Therefore, though we live in the flesh, we should not live for the flesh! For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die (Rom. 8:12) an eternal death; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live (Rom. 8:13) an eternal, blessed life. The flesh is essentially restrained by the spirit; but the spirit can only take control of the flesh and rule it when it is prepared to submit to its crucifixion. The flesh is crucified by fasting, vigil, kneeling in prayer, and other bodily labors placed upon it wisely and within measure. A bodily labor that is wise and within measure frees the body from heaviness and corpulence, refines its strength, keeps it ever light and capable of activity. They that are Christ’s, says the Apostle, have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts (Gal. 5:24).

What does it mean to take up our cross, and take up specifically our own cross? It means that every Christian should patiently bear those very insults and persecutions from the world that come to him, and not any others. This means that every Christian should manfully and constantly war with those very passions and sinful thoughts that arise in him. It means that every Christian should with obedience and dedication to God’s will, with confession of God’s justice and mercy, with thankfulness to God, endure those very sorrows and deprivations that Divine Providence allows to come upon him, and not some other things painted and presented to him by his proud dreams. This means being satisfied with those bodily labors that correspond to our physical strength, the ones that our flesh require in order to keep it in order, and not to seek after increased fasting and vigil, or all other ascetic feats beyond our measure, which destroy our physical health and direct our spirit towards high self-opinion and self deceit, as St. John Climacus describes.[2] All mankind labors and suffers upon the earth, but these sufferings differ; the passions differ that war against us, the sorrows and temptations differ that God sends us for our healing, for the cleansing away of our sins. What differences there are in people’s physical strength, in their very health! Precisely: every person has his own cross. And each Christian is commanded to accept this cross of his own with self-denial, and to follow Christ. He who has denied himself and taken up his own cross has made peace with himself and with his own circumstances, with his own position both internal and external; and only he can reasonably and correctly follow Christ.

What does it mean to follow Christ? It means studying the Gospels, having the Gospels as the only guide of the activity of our mind, heart, and body. It means adapting our thoughts to the Gospels, tuning the feelings of our heart to the Gospels, and serving as an expression of the Gospels by all our deeds and movements, both secret and open. As we said before, only the person who has escaped deceit through voluntary humility (Col. 2:18), who has desired to obtain true humility of wisdom where it abides—in obedience and submission to God—is capable of following Christ. He who has entered into submission to God, into obedience combined with complete self-denial, has taken up his own cross, and accepted and confessed this cross to be his own.

Beloved brothers and sisters! Bowing down bodily to worship the precious Cross of the Lord today according to the rule of the Holy Church, we bow down also in spirit! We venerate the precious Cross of Christ—our weapon of victory and banner of Christ’s glory—each confessing from his own cross, “I have received the due reward of my deeds! Remember me, O Lord, when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom!” By recognizing our sinfulness with thankfulness to God and submission to His will, we make our cross—that instrument of execution and mark of dishonor—an instrument of victory and sign of glory, like unto the Cross of the Lord. Through the cross we open paradise to ourselves. Let us not allow ourselves any evil murmuring, and especially not any soul-destroying blasphemy, which is often heard from the lips of the blind and hardened sinner, who writhes and thrashes upon his cross, vainly endeavoring to escape from it. With murmuring and blasphemy the cross becomes unbearably heavy, dragging to hell the one crucified upon it. “What have I done?” cries the sinner in denial of his sinfulness, accusing the just and merciful God of injustice and mercilessness, blaming and rejecting God’s Providence. The one who saw the Son of God crucified, mockingly and evilly demanded of him, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us (Lk. 23:39),—let him now come down from the cross (Mt. 27:42). But our Lord Jesus Christ was pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh and to endure death[3] in order by the cross to make peace between God and man, and to save mankind by death from eternal death. Having prepared the holy Apostles for this great event—the incarnate God-man’s sufferings and shameful death, potent to redeem the human race—the Lord informed the Apostles in good time that He must be given over into the hands of sinners, must suffer much, be killed, and resurrected. This forewarning seemed strange and unlikely to certain of the holy Apostles. Then the Lord called unto Him his disciples and said to them: Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. Amen.

St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov)
Translated by Nun Cornelia (Rees)

[1] St. Symeon the New Theologian, according to the book written in verse, homily 55.

[2] The Ladder of Divine Ascent, homily 26.

[3] Troparion to the Resurrection, tone 5.

From http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english


Prayer before Confession by Saint Symeon the Theologian

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O God and Lord of all! Who hath the power over every breath and soul, the only One able to heal me, hearken unto the prayer of me, the wretched one, and, having put him to death, destroy the serpent nestling within me by the decent of the All-Holy and Life-Creating Spirit. And vouchsafe me, poor and naked of all virtue, to fall with tears at the feet of my spiritual father, and call his holy soul to mercy, to have mercy on me. And grant, O Lord, unto my heart humility and good thoughts, becoming a sinner, who hath consented to repent unto Thee, and do not abandon unto the end the one soul, which hath united itself unto Thee and hath confessed Thee, and instead of all the world hath chosen Thee and hath preferred Thee. For Thou knowest, O Lord, that I want to save myself, and that my evil habit is an obstacle. But all things are possible unto Thee, O Master, which are impossible for man. Amen.


Life after Death, Homily by Saint John the Wonderworker

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Limitless and without consolation would have been our sorrow for close ones who are dying, if the Lord had not given us eternal life. Our life would be pointless if it ended with death. What benefit would there then be from virtue and good deed? Then they would be correct who say: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” But man was created for immortality, and by His resurrection Christ opened the gates of the Heavenly Kingdom, of eternal blessedness for those who have believed in Him and have lived righteously. Our earthly life is a preparation for the future life, and this preparation ends with our death. “It is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb 9:27). Then a man leaves all his earthly cares; the body disintegrates, in order to rise anew at the General Resurrection. Often this spiritual vision begins in the dying even before death, and while still seeing those around them and even speaking with them, they see what others do not see.

But when it leaves the body, the soul finds itself among other spirits, good and bad. Usually it inclines toward those which are more akin to it in spirit, and if while in the body it was under the influence of certain ones, it will remain in dependence upon them when it leaves the body, however unpleasant they may turn out to be upon encountering them.

For the course of two days the soul enjoys relative freedom and can visit places on earth which were dear to it, but on the third day it moves into other spheres. At this time (the third day), it passes through legions of evil spirits which obstruct its path and accuse it of various sins, to which they themselves had tempted it. According to various revelations there are twenty such obstacles, the so-called “toll-houses,” at each of which one or another form of sin is tested; after passing through one the soul comes upon the next one, and only after successfully passing through all of them can the soul continue its path without being immediately cast into gehenna. How terrible these demons and their toll-houses are may be seen in the fact that Mother of God Herself, when informed by the Archangel Gabriel of Her approaching death, answering Her prayer, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself appeared from heaven to receive the soul of His Most Pure Mother and conduct it to heaven. Terrible indeed is the third day for the soul of the departed, and for this reason it especially needs prayers then for itself.

Then, having successfully passed through the toll-houses and bowed down before God, the soul for the course of 37 more days visits the heavenly habitations and the abysses of hell, not knowing yet where it will remain, and only on the fortieth day is its place appointed until the resurrection of the dead.  Some souls find themselves (after the forty days) in a condition of foretasting eternal joy and blessedness, and others in fear of the eternal torments which will come in full after the Last Judgment. Until then changes are possible in the condition of souls, especially through offering for them the Bloodless Sacrifice (commemoration at the Liturgy), and likewise by other prayers.

How important commemoration at the Liturgy is may be seen in the following occurrence: Before the uncovering of the relics of St. Theodosius of Chernigov (1896), the priest-monk (the renowned Starets Alexis of Goloseyevsky Hermitage, of the Kiev-Caves Lavra, who died in 1916) who was conducting the re-vesting of the relics, becoming weary while sitting by the relics, dozed off and saw before him the Saint, who told him: “I thank you for laboring with me. I beg you also, when you will serve the Liturgy, to commemorate my parents” — and he gave their names (Priest Nikita and Maria). “How can you, O Saint, ask my prayers, when you yourself stand at the heavenly Throne and grant to people God’s mercy?” the priest-monk asked. “Yes, that is true,” replied St. Theodosius, “but the offering at the Liturgy is more powerful than my prayer.”

Therefore, panikhidas (i.e., Trisagion Prayers for the Dead) and prayer at home for the dead are beneficial to them, as are good deeds done in their memory, such as alms or contributions to the church. But especially beneficial for them is commemoration at the Divine Liturgy. There have been many appearances of the dead and other occurrences which confirm how beneficial is the commemoration of the dead. Many who died in repentance, but who were unable to manifest this while they were alive, have been freed from tortures and have obtained repose. In the Church prayers are ever offered for the repose of the dead, and on the day of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, in the kneeling prayers at vespers, there is even a special petition “for those in hell.”

Every one of us who desires to manifest his love for the dead and give them real help, can do this best of all through prayer for them, and particularly by commemorating them at the Liturgy, when the particles which are cut out for the living and the dead are let fall into the Blood of the Lord with the words: “Wash away, O Lord, the sins of those here commemorated by Thy Precious Blood and by the prayers of Thy saints.” We can do nothing better or greater for the dead than to pray for them, offering commemoration for them at the Liturgy. Of this they are always in need, and especially during those forty days when the soul of the deceased is proceeding on its path to the eternal habitations. The body feels nothing then: it does not see its close ones who have assembled, does not smell the fragrance of the flowers, does not hear the funeral orations. But the soul senses the prayers offered for it and is grateful to those who make them and is spiritually close to them.

O relatives and close ones of the dead! Do for them what is needful for them and within your power. Use your money not for outward adornment of the coffin and grave, but in order to help those in need, in memory of your close ones who have died, for churches, where prayers for them are offered. Show mercy to the dead, take care of their souls. Before us all stands the same path, and how we shall then wish that we would be remembered in prayer! Let us therefore be ourselves merciful to the dead. As soon as someone has reposed, immediately call or inform a priest, so he can read the Prayers appointed to be read over all Orthodox Christians after death. Try, if it be possible, to have the funeral in Church and to have the Psalter read over the deceased until the funeral. Most definitely arrange at once for the serving of the forty-day memorial, that is, daily commemoration at the Liturgy for the course of forty days. (NOTE: If the funeral is in a church where there are no daily services, the relatives should take care to order the forty-day memorial wherever there are daily services.) It is likewise good to send contributions for commemoration to monasteries, as well as to Jerusalem, where there is constant prayer at the holy places. Let us take care for those who have departed into the other world before us, in order to do for them all that we can, remembering that “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”


Homily on Wednesday of the First Week of Great Lent – The Danger of Hypocrisy

From http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english

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Beloved brethren! Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who commanded us to forgive our neighbors all their sins before we enter the podvig of fasting, also asked us to vigilantly preserve the fast itself free from hypocrisy. As a worm born within a fruit consumes what is inside, leaving only the outer covering, so does hypocrisy annihilate the whole essence of virtue. Hypocrisy is born of vainglory (cf. Mt. 6:1, 2, 5, 16). Vainglory is the vain desire and search for temporary human praise. Vainglory comes from a deep ignorance of God, or a deep forgetfulness of God, of eternity and heavenly glory. That is why in its blindness it insatiably strives to acquire earthly, temporary glory. It imagines this glory, as it also imagines earthly life, to be an eternal, inalienable possession. Vainglory, which seeks not the virtue itself but only praise for the virtue, labors diligently only that it might exhibit a mask of virtue before human eyes. Thus the hypocrite stands before humanity dressed in an outer garment of extreme deception: virtue—the essence of which he does not have at all—is seen on his exterior, while in his soul can be seen self-satisfaction and pomposity, because he first of all deceived and deluded in himself. He takes a sick delight in the vainglory that is killing him and in the misleading of his neighbor, and sickly and detrimentally delights in his successful hypocrisy. Along with all of this, he makes himself alien to God, for every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord (Prov. 16:5).
Vainglory and its offspring, hypocrisy, are ruinous at their very root—they deprive a person of all heavenly reward, representing the vain human praise he has chosen and desired as the only reward. The Lord condemned vainglorious hypocrites. Teaching His disciples to do good works in secret, the Lord says: Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly (Mt. 6:1, 2, 5, 16, 17, 18).

Vainglory and hypocrisy are terrible when they grow and mature, when they take command of a person, and become the rule of his behavior, a character trait. They shape a pharisee, who strives with frenzied and blind resolve to do all lawlessness and evil. They shape a pharisee, who needs a mask of virtue only in order to more freely and successfully drown in evil acts. The blind and hardened Pharisees committed a most horrible crime in between their human crimes: they committed deicide. And if only a worse crime could exist, they would not have hesitated to commit it as well.

Such is the lamentable picture of moral emptiness and moral calamity created by vainglory and hypocrisy in fallen human nature. Our Redeemer, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave us the most effective cure against all our infirmities both bodily and spiritual, commands us to cure hypocrisy at its root, at its source—in vainglory. Vainglory hungers and thirsts for human glory. The Lord commands us to mortify it with the hunger that is natural to it. He commands us to take away vainglory’s food and drink: human praise. He commands us to scrupulously hide all our good deeds from human eyes; He commands us to bring all good deeds, even our love of neighbor, wholly as a sacrifice to the One God. The Old Testament, which teaches holy truth to the mystical Israel through foretypes, says: And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt (Lev. 2:13). The salt in every gift and sacrifice to God made by the Israelite is the Christian’s thought and aim of pleasing God in every good deed.

In the light of Christ, in the light of the Holy Spirit, looking into the depth of the human heart and seeing there an image of the workings of various passions, the holy fathers and teachers of the Church call vainglory a multiform passion, the most subtle and difficult to fathom.[1] All other passions disturb a person’s peace and are quickly reproached by the conscience, while the passion of vainglory, to the contrary, flatters the fallen son of Adam, brings him supposed delight, and appears to be a spiritual consolation—a reward for his good deed. All other passions can be directly counteracted by their opposite virtues: gluttony is counteracted by abstinence, anger by meekness, and love of money by generosity. Vainglory apparently cannot be counteracted by a single virtue. Like a thief, it steals from a person his remembrance of God, His unspeakable magnificence, His unspeakable sanctity, in Whose sight even the heavens are not clean (cf. Job 15:15), and draws fallen man into admiring himself with approval and pleasure. I am not as other men are (Lk. 18:11), it says. In its blindness, from its own self-satisfaction, vainglory thanks God, forgetting that fallen man can only be thankful to God when he sees the multitude of his own sins and weaknesses; a vision united with the vision of the Creator’s inexpressible beneficence for His creation—perishing creation. Vainglory rejoices when it sees that a person is rich in virtues. It hopes to turn every virtue into a sin; it hopes to make every virtue a cause and reason for that person’s condemnation at Christ’s Judgment. It attempts to prophecy! It brazenly strives to work miracles, and dares to temp the Lord! Foreign to spiritual gifts, it seeks to represent itself as having them, or at least to induce the suspicion in other people that it possesses something supernatural. It deleteriously seeks to console itself through this deception. It is near the ascetic when he fasts, when he prays, when he gives alms, when he keeps vigil, and when he kneels, attempting to steal the sacrifice brought to God, and defiling it with man-pleasing, to render it useless. It stalks the slave of Christ in the solitude of his cell, in his reclusion. Not having an opportunity to bring the ascetic soul-destroying praise from onlookers, it brings him praise in his thoughts. It paints human glory delusively in his imagination. Often it acts without thought and fantasy; but it can be recognized only by the heart’s absence of blessed contrition, blessed remembrance of and contrition over sins. “If you do not have heartfelt lamentation,” said one great father, “you have vainglory.”[2]

Let us resolutely and with self-denial withstand the soul-destroying and flattering passion of vainglory! Let us withstand it, establishing on the rock of Christ’s commandments our weak heart, which wavers easily by itself as in the wind from the influence and force of various passions. Having rejected, and continually rejecting vainglory, we will thus be safe from another passion: from the terrible passion of hypocrisy. We shall perform our good deeds and podvigs according to the Savior’s instructions: in secret. When participating in the Church services and rites, we shall be cautious not to show any special flights of piety that might sharply differentiate us from our brothers. “Pay attention,” says St. John Climacus, “that when you are with your brothers, you would not seem more righteous than they are in anything. Otherwise, you will be committing two evils: you will wound the brothers with your spurious zeal, and unfailingly give yourself cause for high-mindedness. Be zealous in your soul, without exposing it by any gesture, look, word, or intimation.”[3] If we are in solitary reclusion, at solitary prayer, or at soul-profiting reading or contemplation, and a vainglorious thought slips in through a closed door, penetrating our very mind and heart, and portrays to us human glory to entice us like a painted harlot—let us quickly raise our thoughts to heaven before God. When the human mind is enlightened by spiritual contemplation of Divine glory and magnificence, and then descends from it to contemplation of its own self, it no longer sees any magnificence of mankind. It sees its poverty, sinfulness, weakness, and fallenness; it sees a death sentence pronounced upon all; it sees the corruption and stench of all, the gradual culmination of the sentence that no one can revoke. It will ascertain a correct understanding of man, foreign to vainglorious delusion, and cry out with St. Job: My Master, Lord! I have heard the report of thee by the ear before; but now mine eye has seen thee. Wherefore I have counted myself vile, and have fainted: and I esteem myself dust and ashes (Job 42:5-6 [Septuagint]). True humility comes from the knowledge of God. Amen.

St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov)
Translated by Nun Cornelia (Rees)

Source:
http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english

[1]St. John Cassian the Roman, On Eight Passionate Thoughts; St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, homily 22, on vainglory.
[2] St. Barsanuphius the Great, as cited by Ksanthopouli, chap. 25, The Philokalia, chap. 2 [Russian].
[3] The Ladder, Homily 4.


Saint John Chrysostom on Fasting

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When the fast makes its appearance, like a kind of spiritual summer, let us as soldiers burnish our weapons, and as harvesters sharpen our sickles, and as sailors order our thoughts against the waves of extravagant desires, and as travelers set out on the journey towards heaven. Lay hold of the pathway which leads towards heaven, rugged and narrow as it is. Lay hold of it, and journey on.

I speak not of such a fast as most persons keep, but of real fasting; not merely abstinence from meats, but from sins as well. For the nature of a fast is such that it does not suffice to deliver those who practice it unless it is done according to a suitable law. So that when we have gone through the labor of fasting we do not lose the crown of fasting, we must understand how and in what manner it is necessary to conduct the business since the Pharisee also fasted, but afterward went away empty and destitute of the fruit of fasting. The Publican did not fast, and yet he was accepted in preference to him who had fasted in order that you may learn that fasting is unprofitable unless all other duties accompany it.

Fasting is a medicine. But like all medicines, though it be very profitable to the person who knows how to use it, it frequently becomes useless (and even harmful) in the hands of him who is unskillful in its use.
For the honor of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices, since he who limits his fasting only to abstinence from meats is one who especially disparages fasting.
Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him. If you see an enemy, be reconciled with him. If you see a friend gaining honor, do not be jealous of him. And let not only the mouth fast, but also the eye and the ear and the feet and the hands and all members of your bodies.

Let the hands fast by being pure from plundering and avarice. Let the feet fast by ceasing from running to unlawful spectacles. Let the eyes fast, being taught never to fix themselves rudely on handsome faces, or to busy themselves with strange beauties. For looking is the food of the eyes, but if it be such as is unlawful or forbidden, it mars the fast and upsets the whole safety of the soul. But if it be lawful and safe, it adorns fasting. For it would be among things most absurd to abstain from lawful food because of the fast, but with the eyes to touch even what is forbidden! Do you not eat meat? Feed not upon lasciviousness by means of your eyes! Let the ear fast also. The fasting of the ear consists in refusing to receive evil speakings and calumnies. It is written, “You shall not receive a false report” (Exodus 23:1).

Let the mouth also fast from disgraceful speech. For what does it profit if we abstain from fish and fowl and yet bite and devour the brothers and sisters. The evil speaker eats the flesh of his brother and bites the body of his neighbor. Because of this Paul utters the fearful saying, “If you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal.5:15). You have not fixed your teeth in his flesh, but you have fixed your slander in his soul and inflicted the wound of evil suspicion, and you have harmed in a thousand ways yourself, him and many others, for in slandering your neighbor you have made him who listens to the slander worse, for should he be a wicked person, he becomes more careless when he finds a partner in his wickedness. And should he be a just person, he is tempted to arrogance and gets puffed up, being led on by the sin of others to imagining great things concerning himself. Besides this, you have struck at the common welfare of the Church herself, for all those who hear you will not only accuse the supposed sinner, but the entire Christian community….

And so I desire to fix three precepts in your mind so that you may accomplish them during the fast: to speak ill of no one, to hold no one for an enemy, and to expel from your mouth altogether the evil habit of swearing.
For as the harvester in the fields comes to the end of his labors little by little, so we too if we make this rule for ourselves and in any manner come to the correct practice of these three precepts during the present Fast and commit them to the safe custody of good habit, we shall proceed with greater ease to the summit of spiritual wisdom. And we shall reap the harvest of a favorable hope in this life, and in the life to come we shall stand before Christ with great confidence and enjoy those unspeakable blessings of which, God grant, we may all be found worthy through the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord, with whom be glory to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit unto ages of ages. Amen!