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.
Monthly Archives: February 2015
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.”
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. 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.”
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.” 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)
St. John Cassian the Roman, On Eight Passionate Thoughts; St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, homily 22, on vainglory.
 St. Barsanuphius the Great, as cited by Ksanthopouli, chap. 25, The Philokalia, chap. 2 [Russian].
 The Ladder, Homily 4.
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!
As our Lenten journey is rapidly approaching, let us reflect on the words of Saint Theophan the Recluse regarding fasting.
“Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.”(Маt. 15:11)
The Lord did not say this because he did not approve of fasting or because he considered fasting unnecessary – indeed, He Himself fasted, and taught His disciples to do so, and established fasts in His Holy Church. He said this, then, not to discourage fasting. Rather, he says it to teach us that when we fast we should not limit ourselves merely to eating little and avoiding cooked foods, but should also refrain from indulging the appetites and passionate inclinations of the soul. This is, of course the most important thing. Fasting, in its turn, serves a powerful means of accomplishing this.
The passions are rooted in the flesh. When the flesh is weakened through fasting, then it is as if the fortress of the passions has been undermined, and its strength crumbles. On the other hand, to overcome the passions without fasting would be as remarkable as standing in a fire without being burnt. How is it possible for one who continually indulges his flesh with food, sleep and rest to maintain any sort of attention and purpose in spiritual matters? For such a one to turn from the earth, directing his attention to invisible things and striving them, is just as difficult as it is for an enfeebled bird to rise up from the earth.
As we move through Cheesefare Week, let us ready ourselves for the upcoming Forgiveness Sunday, or Cheesefare Sunday, with a homily by Saint Tikhon.
Today is called “Forgiveness Sunday.” It received this name from the pious Orthodox Christian custom at Vespers of asking each other’s forgiveness for discourtesy and disrespect. We do so, since in the forthcoming fast we will approach the sacrament of Penance and ask the Lord to forgive our sins, which forgiveness will be granted us only if we ourselves forgive each other. “If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”(Matt. 6. 14, 15)
Yet it is said to be extremely difficult to forgive discourtesy and to forget disrespect. Perhaps our selfish nature finds it truly difficult to forgive disrespect, even though in the words of the Holy Fathers it is easier to forgive than to seek revenge. (St. Tikhon of Zadonsk after St. John Chrysostom) Yet everything in us that is good is not accomplished easily, but with difficulty, compulsion and effort. “The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.”(Matt. 11. 12) For this reason we should not be discouraged at the difficulty of this pious act, but should rather seek the means to its fulfillment. The Holy Church offers many means towards this end, and of them we will dwell on the one which most corresponds to the forthcoming season of repentance.
“Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother.” The source of forgiving our neighbors, of not judging them, is included in seeing (acknowledging) our sins. “Imagine,” says a great pastor, who knows the heart of man, Father John of Kronstadt, “picture the multitude of your sins and imagine how tolerant of them is the Master of your life, while you are unwilling to forgive your neighbor even the smallest offense. Moan and bewail your foolishness, and that obstruction within you will vanish like smoke, you will think more clearly, your heart will grow calm, and through this you will learn goodness, as if not you yourself had heard the reproaches and indignities, but some other person entirely, or a shadow of yourself.” (Lessons on a Life of Grace, p. 149) He who admits his sinfulness, who through experience knows the weakness of human nature and its inclination toward evil, will forgive his neighbor the more swiftly, dismissing transgressions and refraining from a haughty judgment of others’ sins. Let us remember that even the scribes and Pharisees who brought the woman caught in adultery to Christ were forced to depart, when their conscience spoke out, accusing them of their own sins. (John 8. 9)
Unfortunately, brethren, we do not like to acknowledge our transgressions. It would seem natural and easy for a person to know his own self, his own soul and his shortcomings. This, however, is actually not so. We are ready to attend to anything but a deeper understanding of ourselves, an investigation of our sins. We examine various things with curiosity, we attentively study friends and strangers, but when faced with solitude without extraneous preoccupation even for a short while, we immediately become bored and attempt to seek amusement. For example, do we spend much time examining our own conscience even before confession? Perhaps a few minutes, and once a year at that. Casting a cursory glance at our soul, correcting some of its more glaring faults, we immediately cover it over with the veil of oblivion until next year, until our next uncomfortable exercise in boredom.
Yet we love to observe the sins of others. Not considering the beam in our own eye, we take notice of the mote in our brother’s eye. (Matt. 7. 3) Speaking idly to our neighbor’s detriment, mocking and criticizing him are not even often considered sins but rather an innocent and amusing pastime. As if our own sins were so few! As if we had been appointed to judge others! “There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy” ? God. (James 4. 12) “Who art thou to judge another’s servant? It is before his own master that he stands or falls.” (Rom. 14. 4) “Thou hast no excuse, O man, whoever thou art who judgest. For wherein thou judgest another, thou dost condemn thyself. For thou who judgest dost the same things thyself.” (Rom. 2. 1) “Examine yourselves, whether you are in the faith; put yourselves to the test.” (2 Cor. 13. 5) The pious ascetics provide a good example of this. They turned their minds to themselves, meditated on their own sins and avoided judging their neighbors at all costs.
One pious starets, noticing that his brother had committed a sin, sighed and said, “Woe is me! As he sinned today, so will I tomorrow.” And the following is a story about another ascetic, Abba Moisei. A monk committed a sin. The brethren, who had assembled to decide his case, sent for Abba Moisei, but the humble starets refused to attend the council. When the rector sent for him a second time, he appeared, but in quite a striking manner. He had taken an old basket, filled it with sand and was carrying it on his back. “What does this mean?” asked the monks, catching sight of him. “See how many sins I bear behind me?” answered Moisei, pointing to the heap of sand. “I don’t see them, yet I have come to pass judgment upon another.”
So therefore, brethren, following the example of the ascetics, upon observing others’ sins, we should consider our own sins, regard our own transgressions and not judge our brother. And should we hold anything against him, let us pardon and forgive him, that our merciful Lord may forgive us also.
St. Tikhon (Bellavin)
Then Bishop of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands
Later – Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia