Drawing closer to the Mother of God during Advent, Part I airing on OCN mid-Nov.


Most of us are not thrilled about fasting – which part of the struggle we all confront when we begin a fast. How do we joyfully and thankfully approach fasting? How do we prepare ourselves to receive Christ into the manger of our souls? How can the Mary be a guide to us this Advent? In this episode I will draw on the wisdom of St. Gregory Palamas and the life of Mary, even before her conception, to help us prepare for the Advent Fast.

My resource for this podcast is:

The Life of Mary, The Theotokos, Written and compiled by Holy Apostles Convent

St. Dionysios the Areopagite, October 3, The Great Synaxtarisis of the Orthodox Church

To Encourage Fasting, from Homilies Six and Seven, The Homilies of St. Gregory Palamas

So let’s start with St. Gregory and a few of his counsels regarding fasting:

“The invisible serpent, the originator of evil, is inventive, versatile and extremely skillful in contriving wickedness (with regards to any attempts to acquire virtue, which is part of the reason why we fast.)… First of all he points out how laborious and difficult it is to accomplish virtue. In this way he fills us with laziness and despair, as though we were attempting difficult to impossible things and were therefore incapable of putting our intentions into action. Then he engenders disbelief in the rewards, which God has promised to those who struggle. Here God is using the devil to test our resolve and commitment.

But we, brethren, should rise above these traps by our soul’s courage, eagerness and faith. We should bear in mind the fact that just as the earth cannot yield worthwhile fruit without labor so the soul cannot acquire anything, which pleases God or leads to salvation, without spiritual struggles.

The last 2 podcasts I did on The Dance between Temptations and Grace addressed this very subject. One cannot earn grace without surmounting temptations with God’s help.

But while it is possible to find earth, which is unsuitable for cultivation, every human soul is naturally suited to virtue…

This is good news!!! Our soul thirsts and hungers for God. Let us remember why we made the commitment to fast as Orthodox Christians…

Let us give up transitory things in exchange for things that endure, and receive what is beneficial in exchange for what is harmful, transforming short-term toil into a means to gain eternal ease. If we labor here for the sake of virtue we shall certainly attain to the rest promised in the age to come. He who promised is trustworthy and is at hand to help all who readily take on the struggle for virtue. If He can do all things gives us His help, is anything impossible to achieve?” From Homily Six, St. Gregory Palamas

Upholding the fast in other ways:

“In this time of fasting and prayer, Brethren, let us with all our hearts forgive anything real or imaginary we have against anyone. May we all devote ourselves to love, and let us consider one another as an incentive to love and good works, speaking in defense of one another, having good thoughts and disposition within us before God and man. In this way our fasting will be laudable and blameless, and our requests to God while we fast will be readily received. We shall rightly call upon Him as our Father by grace and we can boldly say to Him, “Father, forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12).

It is important for us to fast according to our conscience and strength, relying not on our strength, but God’s or our attempts to fast from certain foods and passions will fail miserably. So let us turn to the life of the Mother of God to see how even before her conception, her life can be a guide to us in finding our right disposition this Advent fast.

From The Life of Mary, The Theotokos, prior to her conception:

The Archangel Gabriel appears to Joachim and Anna, who are struggling with being childless, and tells them about the daughter they will conceive:

“Fear not Joachim, I am the angel of the Lord and have been sent by God to tell thee that thy prayers have been heard and thy charitable deeds have gone up into His presence. God has seen thy shame and has heard the reproach of unfruitfullness, which has been unjustly brought against thee; for God is the avenger of sin, not of nature.

Therefore, when He shuts up the womb of anyone, He does so that He may in a more wonderful manner open it, so that which is born may be acknowledged to be the gift of God and not the product of lust…

Let’s look at these wonderful words from the Archangel Gabriel and find the beginning of the right approach to Advent…

Thy prayers have been heard – Let us begin this Advent fast asking in our prayers for God to help us. We want conceive purity in our hearts and souls – to prepare our souls to receive Christ more fully through our humble attempts to keep the fast.

Thy charitable deeds have gone up to His presence – Let us be charitable during Advent to those around us by our manner of being and giving.

God has seen thy shame and has heard the reproach of unfruitfullness – God has seen our shame – He knows we have often fallen short of the mark – that unseen adversaries persecute us and afflict us, and our passions take us away from Him. But with God anything is possible!

“Believe in the fact that conceptions very late in life, and in the case of women that have been barren, are usually attended by something wonderful. Accordingly, Anna, thy wife, will bring forth a daughter to thee and ye shall call her Mary. According to thy vow, she shall be devoted to the Lord from her infancy, and she shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from her mother’s womb. ”

Let us believe that it is never too late to make an effort for the Lord – and that effort will help us conceive something wonderful in our soul. According to our promise – we will strive to uphold the fast so that we too can be filled with the Holy Spirit!

“Mary shall not eat or drink anything unclean, nor shall her conversation or life be among the crowds of the people, but in the temple of the Lord, that it may not be possible to say, or so much as to suspect, any evil concerning her.

Let us do our best to fast, not just from food, for some of us due to age or health issues cannot observe a strict fast, but we can guard our tongue, refrain from the passions, give alms to others, and be in church or in prayer at home more frequently.

…So in the process of her years, Mary shall be in a miraculous manner born of one that was barren, so she shall, while yet a virgin, in an incomparable manner, bring forth a Son of the most high, the Savior of all nations.

So in a miraculous manner we too can receive the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit and bring forth Christ in the manger of our souls.

She, His Handmaiden, shall bring forth the Lord, both in grace, and in name, and in work, the Savior of the world.”

We too by our efforts during this Advent can attract the grace of God to us.

To draw closer to the Mother of God and Jesus in prayer this Advent I want to extend an invitation to all my listeners to join me praying either an Akathist or Canon to the Mother of God during the Nativity Fast.

I found a lovely download of both the Akathist to the Mother of God and to Jesus for only $7.95 on Orthodox Christian Recorded Books, http://www.ocrb.org/, that I plan to use to help me fulfill my prayer commitment.

My next podcast will continue on with the theme of drawing closer to the Mother of God and how her efforts attracted the Grace of God. Until then…

“Let us ascend to the Holy Mountain,” wherein it is written that St. Dionysios went to Jerusalem while the Theotokos was still in the world… As he beheld her divine appearance and awesome beauty, and also the choir of angels that guarded her, and as he heard her heavenly words, he was astonished and awestruck, and admitted that everything about her indicated she was the Mother of God.

St. Dionysios the Areopagite

Thank you for joining me and have a blessed start to Advent and Happy Thanksgiving.

In Christ,

Veronica

The Dance Between Temptations and Grace, Part II, Airing on OCN beginning of November


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“For it is absolutely necessary for the grace of God to leave, once a tried struggler has acquired a good taste of it in the beginning, so that he may be tested and become a practiced soldier in Christ.” Elder Joseph

My last few podcasts have focused on fighting our spiritual battles as members of the Church Militant on earth. We wage our spiritual war against unseen forces through the temptations that God sends our way to test us. Understanding the necessity temptations, accepting that they are part of our life as Christians is essential – otherwise we cannot attract the grace of God to help us win our spiritual battles. Grace is withdrawn and returned to us – Why? Elder Joseph, Elder Ephraim and St. Nicholai Velomirovic, my resources for this podcast, will explain this mystery to us….

From My Elder Joseph the Hesychast

By Elder Ephraim

‘For it is absolutely necessary for the grace of God to leave, once a tried struggler has acquired a good taste of it in the beginning, so that he may be tested and become a practiced soldier in Christ. And without such temptations, no one has ever ascended to perfection… the grace of God withdraws in order to make us, as we have said, practiced soldiers of war, so that we are not infants forever. But the Lord wants us to become worthy men and brave fighters – able to guard His riches and that is why He allows us to be tempted.’

“We learned from Elder Joseph that temptations require forcefulness and resistance in order for the passions to abate.

Temptations make a person more experienced, so that he is more careful. They make him say, ‘Without God I can do nothing. I can’t even have faith. Did we hear this? How I struggled for years to acquire faith, but I was missing this understanding…. If God wills, I have faith; if he doesn’t, I won’t. If a person can say this with conviction, he is building on rock. If he can’t, he is building on sand. A rock is solid, and not even waves can break it, but sand shifts with the waves and the wind, and the house built on it can collapse. The rock is the awareness that one can do nothing without the power and grace of God. But in order for this rock to be formed, one must go through many trials in life to learn through experience man’s weakness and God’s omnipotence.’

Elder Ephraim…

He inspired us to aim all our pursuits, all our desires, and all our actions towards this goal: to induce grace to come and stay with us. The focus was on grace because only through grace can we succeed in being freed from the ‘old man,’ (Rom. 6:6) and because without grace we will not be able to do anything. As the Lord said, ‘Without Me ye can do nothing.’ (John. 15:5)

The primary reason why he emphasized the acquisition of God’s grace so much was because only God’s grace will bring us the love of God, which is our real goal. He proved to us with detailed explanations that there is nothing more worthy for man to occupy himself with then the love of God. Everything else–even virtues–is vanity in comparison with it. The goal and center of Christian life is the love of God.”

So let’s recap the essential lessons Elders Joseph and Ephraim are teaching us about how to attract the grace of God to us:

We are nothing and can do nothing without God – our spiritual life is built upon this rock or our spiritual foundation will not be secure – it will be sand under our feet.

In our weakness we find God’s strength – ‘My grace is sufficient for you.’ as St. Paul learned.

We cannot even have faith without God granting it to us – so praying to God to deepen our faith, especially through our trials is what attracts the grace of God to us, carries us through our sufferings and trials and deepens our love of God, which is the goal and center of our Christian life.

I will also repeat what I learned from my research for this set of podcasts:

Our goal is not to seek or pray for an end to our sufferings. Rather, we pray for God’s grace to carry us through our temptations and trials. We strive to trust in God’s wisdom and His timeline. It is our faith in Him, which He gives us, that lifts us up and lightens the burden of our sufferings. Then we can bear our suffering and trials completely differently, for we experience them in Christ and with Him. That is how the martyrs were able to endure their trials.

According to the Saints, who is our strongest aid in our regeneration by Grace – the Mother of God. In honor Mary and the Advent Fast, I will be devoting my next several podcasts to the Mother of God. It is Mary that can help us to prepare the manger of our soul to receive Christ this Nativity. She is the highest example of transformation by grace.

 Now let’s go to St. Nicholai for his commentary on the dance between temptations and grace…

“The love of God, like a fragrant oil, is shed upon our hearts in no other way than by the Holy Spirit, the all-good and all-powerful Spirit. Though we are utterly undeserving of it, the Spirit of God pours the divine law of God into our hearts in the mystery of Chrismation.

But we sometimes neglect this love and estrange ourselves from God by sin and fall into spiritual weakness. And the Holy Spirit, unable to dwell in an unclean vessel, departs from our hearts. When the Holy Spirit departs from us, joy and strength, peace and fortitude depart at once with Him, and we become miserable, and enfeebled, disturbed and afraid.

But the all–good Spirit of God only puts Himself at a distance from us; he does not abandon us completely. He does not abandon us, but rather offers us, as to sick men, medicines through the mysteries of repentance and Holy Communion. It is so important in our modern times to go frequently to both confession and communion. For these sacraments allow us to commune directly with Christ and renew ourselves for the battles we fight. Why? And when we have cleansed ourselves anew by repentance and communion, then God the Holy Spirit makes His abode in us again and pours the love of God into our hearts.

We fall down and get up; we fall down again and get up again. When we fall, the Spirit of God stands beside us and lifts us up, if we desire to be so lifted. And when we are on our feet, the Spirit of God stands with us until, through our sinfulness and stupidity, we fall again. And so we are by turns a fruitful meadow and a wasteland, sons of repentance and of perdition, of fullness and emptiness, of light and darkness.

O all–good Holy Spirit, our God, do not depart from us either when we need Thee or when we do not feel the need of Thee. Abide with us until our death, and save us for life eternal. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.”

St. Nicholai Velimirovic, The Prologue May 24

And to return where we started this podcast…

“He inspired us to aim all our pursuits, all our desires, and all our actions towards this goal: to induce grace to come and stay with us. The focus was on grace because only through grace can we succeed in being freed from the ‘old man,’ (Rom. 6:6) and because without grace we will not be able to do anything. As the Lord said, ‘Without Me ye can do nothing.’ (John. 15:5)”

This is exactly what the Mother of God did!!!

Let us begin to ponder the mystery of the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit within Mary’s womb – the ultimate attraction of the Grace of God! ‘Hail, Mary full of Grace the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for thou hast born the Savior of our souls.’

In Christ,

Veronica

The Dance Between Temptations and Grace, Part 1


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The Dance Between

Temptations and Grace

Part 1

 

 

“As the Vespers service finished, I reflected on the newly tonsured nuns. They had waited years for this moment. They had struggled and fought temptations, passions, bad thoughts, and here they were at the true beginning of their monastic life. Things would become harder, but also sweeter. There would be periods of grace and periods of difficult temptations, as St. Syncletike herself taught:

‘We put out to sea. At first we sail with a favorable wind, then the sails spread, but later the wind becomes adverse. Then the ship is tossed by the waves and is no longer controlled by the rudder. But then in a little while there is calm, and the tempest dies down, then the ship sails on again. So it is with us, when we are driven by the spirits who are against us, we hold to the Cross as our sail and we can set a safe course’.”

St. Syncletike, “Life and Struggles of Syncletike”

The Scent of Holiness, Lessons from a women’s Monastery, Constantina R. Palmer

My resources for this podcast are:

The Scent of Holiness, Lessons from a Women’s Monastery, by Constantina R. Palmer

Letter 23, The Monastic Wisdom of Elder Joseph

St. Nickolai Velimirovic, The Prologue

Why do temptations and suffering befall us? How I hated and tried my best to overcome suffering in New Age and Eastern religions – to no avail – as many of you might have read in my book, The Pearl of Great Price. Only by the grace of God and Orthodoxy have I come to an understanding with suffering and temptations.

We are Christians following Christ’s example, ‘The way to the Father is through the Son’. If Christ was tempted – so too will we be tempted. If Christ carried His Cross – so too do we have our crosses to bear. It is through our temptations and crosses that we draw and attract the grace of God to us. This Grace of the Holy Spirit refines and purifies our souls, bringing us into refreshment and joy in Christ. This is our regeneration in grace in a nutshell.

Let’s hear what Elder Joseph has to say about the right attitude and preparation to have towards periods of both temptations and grace.

Letter 23, The Monastic Wisdom of Elder Joseph

“Grace always precedes a temptation as if to notify you saying, ‘Prepare yourself and lock your doors.’

When you see comfort in your heart… prepare yourself at once. Don’t say, ‘I have been given rest,’ but load your weapons–tears, fasting, vigils, and prayer–and set sentries on your senses to guard your nous. Ask yourself, ‘I wonder, from where will the battle begin? From the demons? From men? Or from my own nature?’ Don’t get drowsy before the battle trumpet sounds, and during the battle, your struggle and victory will show.

It is when grace is acting within you that you should be afraid. Conversely, when you see temptations and afflictions oppressing you from all sides, you should rejoice. Don’t grieve, don’t grumble, and don’t be despondent. Give courage to yourself, for joy and comfort will come. ‘Be brave, my soul,’ you should say, ‘This is only a temptation, a trial, an affliction. Afterwards you will have peace and joy and grace for many days. Thank you, my dear Christ,’ and you should say, ‘for in mine affliction Thou hast made room for me,’ (Ps. 4:1), and ‘with chastisement hast Thou chastened me,’ (Ps. 117:18) and ‘Thou didst bring my soul out into a place of refreshment.’ (Ps. 65:12)”

This is our striving to be brave and pray, knowing, ‘This too shall pass’.

So what do we do when we have implored and prayed God to remove a trial from us, but it continues… St. Nicholai Velimirovic and St. Paul have a few words of encouragement for us on this matter:

‘My grace is sufficient for thee.’ (II Cor. 12:9)

Christ did not even spare His holy apostles from temptations, and He therefore gave them grace. (Let us take heart – God will give us the grace to endure. Let us have faith in our God, for God is growing our faith in Him through our trails.) When Satan himself began to wreak his malice on the Apostle Paul, Paul prayed that Satan be removed from him. But the Lord replied: ‘My grace is sufficient for thee.’ In other words: if you have to suffer at Satan’s hands, My grace is sufficient for your suffering. If you have to struggle with Satan, again My grace is sufficient for you. If you desire to overcome Satan, again My grace is sufficient. Grace is a weapon that can be used for everything. Grace is stronger than all adversaries, all assaults, and all the powers of darkness. Grace is both unconquerable and conquering.

Therefore my brethren, we must pray to God to give us His almighty grace. (So rather than praying for our suffering to end, we are praying for the grace to patiently endure our suffering and have our trails bring us closer to God and others. For if we patiently endure our suffering with Christ in prayer, He will shoulder our burdens and lighten our load.) Grace is God dwelling in us. Grace is the Kingdom of God in us. When God’s grace is within us, then it is day in our souls. And the day means light, knowledge and freedom from fear. (We pray and strive to be faithful and grateful to our Lord for both the good and bad so as to attract His grace to us.)

We cannot ask here on earth, my brethren, for a greater gift from God than divine grace. Should we receive the entire universe as a gift, it would be less than the grace of God.

O most rich Lord, Thou inexhaustible fountain of almighty grace, brake and plow through our hardened hearts by grace, that we may weep before Thy great goodness and our horrendous ingratitude. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen. St. Nickolai Velimirovic, The Prologue, May 26

Thank you dear saints for these inspiring words!

In Christ,

Veronica

Part 2 on Spiritual Violence, airing on OCN Oct. 22


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“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matt 11: 12)

St. Ambrose writes: “This is the weapon of a righteous man: to win while retreating, as skilled archers are able, while in retreat, to hit those stronger than themselves.”

What are the arrows we aim at our adversaries?

“Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. ” “We bless them because we must consider them our benefactors. For anyone who persecutes us and puts us to the test, lightens the punishment that we will suffer for our own sins. We will also bless them when God gives us the great crown of the contest.”(Matt. 5: 44–45)

Blessed Theophylact, The Gospel of St. Matthew

What are our shields and armor?

“Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

The whole armor of God is: ‘Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, make no provision for the flesh.’ (Rom. 13:14), following the commandments of God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. (Rom. 13:9-10) By doing so we draw the grace of God to us.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Our enemies are our sinful thoughts, our envy, strife and fears, which cause the grace of God to withdraw from us – leaving us open to the attacks of the cunning one. ‘let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light’. (Rom. 13:12)

Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Stand honestly in our good works for love of God and neighbor, in our faith and love.

Stand therefore, having your loins girth about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.

Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereonto with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints;

And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel. (Eph. 6: 10-19)

Let us turn now to St. John Chrysostom for his interpretation of parts of this passage:

“As the word has power to do all things, so also has he who has the spiritual gift. For ‘the word of God’, he says, ‘is living and active and sharper than any two edged sword’ (Heb 4:12)… By ‘the word of God in this place’, he means on the one hand the ordinances of God, or the word of command, on the other hand that it is in the name of Christ. For if we keep his commandments, with these we will kill and slay the dragon himself, the crooked serpent (Is. 27:1)… ‘With all prayer and supplication’, … Do not limit it I say to certain times of the day, for hearing what he is saying: approach at all times, ‘prayer without ceasing’ .” (Thess. 5:17).

St. John Chrysostom, Homily 24 on Ephesians 6

We change the world through the act of living and sharing the Gospel by and through our presence. God makes use of his witnesses, his saints, and our efforts to live as Christians to bring forth change in others. Others see our light with the eyes of their soul. Some are drawn to it and some react and flee from it. However small, our efforts to change ourselves in Christ will bear fruit in God’s time and providence. Why do we even make the effort? Why do some risk their lives for the gospel? “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things that God hath prepared for those that love Him.” (Isa. 64:4)

So let up put on our amour of light in Christ and be a witness to those around us.

Finally, here is a story of a modern martyr and witness for Christ:

“Night after night for three years, Jamil endured the same abuse. Different groups of men–leaders of a local Islamic group–came to his home and took turns beating him. In their eyes, he was an infidel, in his small central Asian village, and he was leading others astray from Islam.

Jamil was raised in a moderate Muslim family, but his older brother adopted more radical beliefs when serving a prison sentence. Jamil’s curiosity was piqued by his brother’s views, so he began his own search for spiritual truth. During his studies, he met Christians who shared the gospel with him. Jamil knew he had found the one true God, and he turned his back on Islam for good.

He immediately began sharing the gospel, leading his Islamist brother to Christ as well as three other siblings. He planted four house churches before his church sent him as a missionary to a village composed entirely of Muslims.

Jamil shared the gospel as he worked to support his family. News of his Christian faith quickly spread among the villagers, and they soon decided that he had to be stopped. That’s when the nightly beatings began. They couldn’t allow infidels in their village.

One night as the leaders of the local Islamic group were leaving on a hunting trip, they barged into Jamil’s home at dinnertime to deliver their nightly beating. And this time they were hungry. Turning to Jamil’s wife one of the men gruffly said, “You cook for us!” They sat on the floor around the table looking at her as if they were daring her to refuse their demand. Jamil’s wife looked questioningly at her husband, hoping Jamil would tell her what to do. “Cook for them.”, he told her.

Jamil’s wife dutifully prepared the meal and served the men who had beaten her husband. As they ate, Jamil saw his opportunity and began to share the gospel with them. He knew that sharing the Gospel could lead to more beatings or even worse the beating of his son and possibly his wife. As the men finished their meal, Jamil ended his gospel presentation by saying, “May God bless your hunt.”

The men were astonished. “We came here to eat your food and beat you, but now we cannot,” said the leader. “We will leave you in peace.”

Jamil and his wife were stunned at their response as they push back from the table and left the house.

Days later, the leader of the group invited Jamil to his home to share the Gospel with his family. As the villagers observed all that happened the Gospel began to make headway.”

Voice of the Martyrs, September 2014

This moving story sums up our life as Christians and how we fight our spiritual battles for Christ armed with the Gospel, repentance, humility, prayer and love we find our courage in Christ.

Let us pray for Jamil, his family and all those who are suffering for Christ’s sake throughout the world.

In Christ,

Veronica

Part 1, Spiritual Violence, airing September 19th


Sunrise During a Forest Fire

Sunrise During a Forest Fire

“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.”

(Matt 11: 12)

Our Lord’s life and ministry was one of spiritual violence – from the death of 14,000 children by Herod to His own voluntary death. Let us explore His words in greater depth to understand what Christ meant by “the violent take it (the Kingdom of Heaven) by force.”

First let us listen to Blessed Theophylact and his commentary on this passage from the gospel of Matthew, which is proceeded by:

“Christ by saying of Himself that He is greater than John the Baptist, strongly urges them to believe in Him, showing that many are by force acquiring the Kingdom of Heaven, that is, faith in Him. And there is need of great force, for in order to leave father and mother and to despise one’s own life, how much force is needed?”

Good question to leave us with!

Our first step in acquiring the Kingdom of Heaven, according to not only St. Theophylact, but many Saints of the Church, is our faith in Christ, which I have discussed in past podcasts. I invite those of you who are new listeners to go back and listen to some of my podcasts on faith.

Our second step, which is what we are going to explore in this first of two podcasts on spiritual violence is ‘the violent’, which is us, as the Church Militant on earth, ‘take the Kingdom of Heaven by force’. Blessed Theophylact is saying that there is a need for great force – what does he mean?

For an answer to this question I will turn to St Theophan the Recluse:

“…In a Christian it is a battle with oneself involving much labor, intense and sorrowful, and he must dispose his faculties for something for which they have no inclination. (This lack of inclination is due to our fallen world and nature.) Like a soldier, he must take every step of land, even his own, from his enemies by means of warfare, with the double-edged sword of forcing himself and opposing himself.

St Theophan the Recluse, The Path to Salvation

Let us explore these two concepts of forcing and opposing one’s self:

Forcing is an act of will. In the case of a Christian, we must first put our faith and will in God’s will and love, striving to follow His commandments and Christ’s life example. This is an essential effort on our part that is uncomfortable to our fallen nature, yet so essential to our spiritual nature. It feels violent and that is where the term spiritual violence comes from. It feels as if we are opposing ourselves, which is partially true. The opposition, which will give life to our spirit in Christ, is against our fallen nature, our passions, sinful thoughts and actions.

Now let us review how we oppose our fallen nature, passions and sinful thoughts and actions:

Going back to our Lord’s quote again:

“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.”

St. John spoke of the baptism of repentance – but in and of itself, repentance before Christ was incomplete. That is why Christ says “the violent take it by force”, for we need to have repentance with faith and love in Christ to win our spiritual battles or we lack the force to ‘fight the good fight’. Repentance is a form of spiritual violence we render on ourselves, a form of ascesis, to draw to us the grace of God, which will aid us in our battles.

Christos Yannaras, The Feedom of Morality, says the following about repentance and being a soldier for Christ:

“Repentance is a change in our mode of existence: man ceases to trust in his own individuality. He realizes that existing as an individual, even a virtuous individual, does not save him from corruption and death, from his agonizing existential thirst for life. This is why he takes refuge in the Church, where he exists as someone loving and loved. He is loved by the Saints, who give him a ‘name’ of personal distinctiveness and take him into the communion of their love despite his sinfulness; and he himself strives to love others despite their sinfulness, to live free from the necessities of his mortal nature. He struggles to overcome his individual resistances, his individual wishes and autonomous impulses, not in order to “improve himself” individually, but in order to measure up to the “frenzied” love of Christ and the Saints, to the preconditions required for personal life (in Christ) as opposed to natural survival.”

In light of this passage, how shallow is the worldly concept of improving one’s self! How much time have we spent pursing this goal rather than winning the Kingdom of Heaven? Can we see how much ‘improving ourselves’ is in opposition the teachings of Christ?

How much more inspirational it is to ‘measure up to the “frenzied” love of Christ and the Saints, to the preconditions required for personal life (in Christ) as opposed to natural survival.’

Thus we must assert ourselves in Christ, for the sake of Christ and love of our neighbors, which draws God’s grace to us.

What are other tools our Lord gave us in our efforts to render spiritual violence to our passions and sinful inclinations and aid our regeneration by grace? Let’s see what St. Paul has to say:

“For Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds (our passions and ingrained worldly beliefs we have constructed to defend ourselves without God.); casting down imaginations (Again here the Holy Fathers caution us to avoid slipping into our imagination which can lead us astry – we rather want to strive to seek inspiration from all the Church has provided us), and every high thing that exalted itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; and having inner readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.”

(2 Cor 10:3-6)

This is spiritual violence – when we realize our enemies are not our neighbors but our sinful thoughts and actions. Let us get angry at them rather than at others! Again what is our goal in being an active member of the Church Militant?

Let’s go back to St Theophan the Recluse for the answer to this question:

“Finally after long labors and exertions, the Christian principles appear victorious reigning without opposition; they penetrate the whole composition of human nature, dislodging from it demands and inclinations hostile to themselves, and place it in the state of passionlessness and purity, making it worthy of the blessedness of the pure in heart–to see God in themselves in sincerest communion with Him.”

St Theophan the Recluse, The Path to Salvation

May God aid us in our spiritual struggles! My God help us to win the Kingdom of Heaven! Let us go forth and participate more fully in the Church Militant and our regeneration by grace.

In part 2 of this series on spiritual violence we will explore more of the tools Christians use to ‘fight the good fight’ and attract the grace of God to us.

In Christ,

Veronica

Part 2 on Prayer, The Reverent Approach to Loving Union with God, airing August 20th


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Part 2 on Prayer

The Reverent Approach

to Loving Union with God

 

 

 

If we live in the world – we most likely are struggling with our prayer life. How can we transform our prayers so that they are more meaningful? How can we focus our mind in our hearts so that we can commune more deeply with our Creator? Let’s find out!

My resources for this podcast are from the Art of Prayer by Igumen Chariton of Valamo quoting St. Dimitri of Rostov and St. Theophan the Recluse

Now to one of my favorite Saints, St. Theophan the Recluse

Three types of prayer: of the lips, of the mind, of the heart

“What is the cause of this division of prayer into parts? Because it happens that sometimes through our negligence the tongue recites the only words of prayer, but the mind wanders elsewhere: or the mind understands the words of the prayer of the heart does not respond to them with feeling. In the first case prayer is only oral, and is not prayer at all, in the second, mental prayer joins the oral, but this prayer is still imperfect and incomplete. Complete and real prayer comes only when prayer of the word and thought is joined by prayer of feeling.

What constitutes real prayer?

Spiritual or inner prayer comes when he who prays, after gathering his mind within his heart, from there directs his prayer to God in words no longer oral but silent: glorifying Him and giving thanks, confessing his sins with contrition before God, and asking from Him the spiritual and physical blessings that he needs. You must pray not only with words, but with the mind, and not only with the mind but with the heart, so that the mind understands and sees clearly what is said in words, and the heart feels what the mind is thinking. All these combined together constitute real prayer, and if any of them are absent your prayer is either not perfect or is not prayer at all.”

From what St. Theophan has stated, I am reminded that a lot of my time in prayer is filled with distraction and or lack of feeling. Here is more of what St. Theophan has to say about the right feeling to have in prayer…

“Feeling towards God–even without words–is a prayer – words support and sometimes deepen the feeling.

This gift of feeling is given to you by the mercy of God. How?

First and foremost by having humility, ascribing everything to grace, and nothing to yourself. Secondly by regarding yourself as dust and ashes.”

This is a reminder that humility and contrition are the first steps towards gathering our mind into our heart so as to have the proper attitude when approaching prayer. Asking God in His tender mercy to awaken the proper feeling within us. What is the next step…?

Body, soul and spirit

“The body is made of earth; yet it is not something dead but alive and endowed with a living soul. Into this soul is breathed a spirit–the Spirit of God, intended to know God, to reverence Him…

This brings us back to one of our other important themes in my podcasts – the fear of God and the proper reverence towards Him with love…with bowed head, humbly standing in prayer before the holy icons, all the Saints and God, we…

Draw down our mind into our heart

Turn to the Lord, drawing down the attention of the mind into the heart and calling Him there. With the mind firmly established in the heart, stand before the Lord with all reference and devotion. If we were to follow this small rule unfailingly, then passionate desires and feelings would never arise, nor would any other thought in our prayers.”

How I struggle and forget to follow St. Theophan’s rule of preparation, but what a difference it makes! That is why we cross ourselves and venerate icons when entering church – to put ourselves in the right place and frame of mind and heart. This is so important when approaching prayer especially at home.

Taking 2 minutes to prepare ourselves for prayer, presenting ourselves humbly to our Creator with contrition…. I am personally taking a new commitment to do this and encourage those of you who feel so moved to join me. These detailed steps can be downloaded from my blog. Go to pearlofgreatpriceorthodox.com and click on the navigation button for my blog.

What is next?

Most elders suggest you start with the normal beginning of prayer and recite about 5-10 minutes of oral prayers like the 50th Psalm and the Creed so as to gather your thoughts. They also call this drawing in the nous. St. John of the Ladder says, ‘Confine your mind within the words of the prayer.

Back to St. Dimitri for a few more helpful suggestions:

Prayer should be short, but often repeated

“From those who have experience in raising their mind to God, I learned that, in the case of prayer made by the mind from the heart, a short prayer, often repeated, is warmer and more useful than a long one… Short yet frequent prayer, has more stability, because the mind, immersed for a short time in God, can perform it with greater warmth. And St. John of the Ladder also teaches: ‘Do not try to use many words, lest your mind become distracted by the search for the words. Because of one short sentence, the publican received the mercy of God, and one brief affirmation of belief saved the Robber. An excessive multitude of words in prayer disperses the mind in dreams, while one word or short sentence helps to collect the mind.’

And so collect all your thoughts: laying aside all outer worldly cares, direct your mind towards God, concentrating it holy upon Him.”

Loving union with God

“… the duty of all Christians–especially of those who’s calling dedicates them to the spiritual life–is to strive always and in every way to be united with God, their creator, lover, benefactor, and their supreme good, by whom and for whom they were created. This is because the center and final purpose of the soul, which God created, must be God Himself alone, and nothing else …

No unity with God as possible except by an exceeding great love… To kindle in his heart such a divine love, to unite with God in an inseparable union of love, it is necessary for man to pray often, raising the mind to Him. For as the flame increases when it is constantly fed, so prayer, made often, with the mind dwelling even more deeply in God, arouses divine love in the heart. And the heart, set on fire, will warm all the inner man, will enlighten and teach him, revealing to him all its unknown and hidden wisdom, making him like a flaming seraph, always standing before God within his spirit, always looking at Him within his mind, and drawing from this vision the sweetness of spiritual joy.”

Thank you St. Dimitri and St. Theophan!

My next two podcasts will feature quotes in support of OCN’s effort to raise our awareness and prayerful support of all the Christians in the Middle East that are enduring suffering and persecution for Christ’s sake. Until then, please keep our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world in your hearts and prayers…

God bless you!

Veronica

Ps

All the photographs I post on my blog were taken by either my husband or me. If you would like to see more of our photographs and the wilderness cards we sell go to:

http://www.pearlofgreatpriceorthodox.com/pearl-wilderness-cards_280.html%5B/embed%5D

 

 

 

Faith vs. Knowledge Part 2, Podcast airing July 16th on Pearls of Great Price, OCN


 

 

Faith vs. Knowledge

Part 2

It is not that knowledge is blameworthy, but that faith is higher…

 

 

What are the distinctions in knowledge; in which degree (when knowledge returns to its primary aim – the spiritual life) it comes into its nature and by its good discipline (fasting, alms, vigils, holiness… love for one’s neighbor, humility of heart, forgiving those who have sinned, recollection of good things, investigation of the mysteries concealed in the Holy Scriptures, the mind’s occupation with good works, the bridling of the soul’s passions, and the rest of such virtues) becomes a stepping–stone for faith…. when it is that knowledge unites with faith and becomes one with it… when it is inflamed by the Spirit, acquiring the wings of dispassion; and when it is exalted above servitude to things earthly into the realm of its Creator?

If only more folks that are into seeking in the New Age and Eastern religions knew about the depth of our faith! That is why I wrote my first book, The Pearl of Great Price. Orthodoxy is the fulfillment of all my seeking thanks to saints like St. Isaac the Syrian. 

“There are three intelligible degrees in which knowledge ascends and descends…. and becomes the cause of either harm or help.

The first degree of knowledge (Common Knowledge):

When knowledge cleaves to the love of the body, it gathers up the following provisions: wealth; vainglory; honor; adornment; rest of the body; special means to guard the body’s nature from adversities; assiduity in rational wisdom, such as is suitable for the governance of the world and which gushes forth the novelties of inventions, the arts, sciences, doctrines; and all other things which crown the body in this visible world. This is called common knowledge, for it is naked of all concerns for God. And because it is dominated by the body, it introduces into the mind an irrational importance, and its concern is totally for this world.

It is not that most of us purposely exclude God, but we are so programed by our worldly knowledge that we forget about God. We think our survival is dependent on us! Part of this is true, for we need to work and be responsible in life, but how hard it is to remember that all is created and sustained by God – not us. When in our survival mode…

This measure of knowledge does not reckon that there is any noetic power and hidden steersman over a man whatsoever, nor any divine care that shelters and takes concerned for him… Nevertheless, it cannot be without continual cares and fear for the body. Therefore it is appraised to faintheartedness, sorrow, despair, fear of the demons, trepidation before men, the rumor of thieves and the report of murders, anxiety over diseases, concern over want and lack of necessities, fear of death, fear of sufferings, of wild beasts, and of other similar things that make this knowledge like a sea more turbulent by great waves at every hour of the night and day.

When we are thinking in the above manner this should be a clear tip off to us that we have stepped out of connection with God and have fallen into worldly knowledge and concerns without turning to God first.

The tree of knowledge of good and evil, the tree that uproots love, is planted in this very knowledge. In this knowledge are produced and are found presumption and pride, for it attributes every good thing to itself, and does not refer to God.

The second degree of knowledge (the knowledge of actions):

But when knowledge renounces the first degree and turns toward deep reflections on the love of the soul, then it practices the aforementioned good deeds with the help of the soul’s understanding, in co-operation with the senses of the body, in the light of the soul’s nature (this knowledge takes into account the existence of God and the soul). This knowledge makes straight the pathways in the heart which lead to faith, wherewith we gather supplies for our journey to the true age.

We are learning to act for and with God. We are being purified of that knowledge that obstructs faith – memories, beliefs and patterns of behavior that we learned.

But even so, this knowledge is still corporeal and composite; and although it is the road that leads us and speeds us on our way toward faith, yet there remains a degree of knowledge still higher than it. If it goes forward, it will find itself raised up by faith with the help of Christ… it is called the knowledge of actions, because by concrete actions, through the senses of the body, it accomplishes its work on the external level.”

I think that most of us are waging our spiritual battles in the mist of these first two degrees of knowledge. To achieve the third degree of knowledge, St. Isaac says we need to leave the world, but if we have families and work in the world, how can we do so? By entering the closet of our soul in prayer. My next several podcasts will focus on prayer and practical suggestions from the Holy Fathers about how to enter the closet of our soul and find our deep heart in Christ. Then we can begin to access…

The third degree of knowledge, which is the degree of perfection where:

“…knowledge becomes more refined, acquires that which is of the Spirit… When knowledge is raised above the earthly things and the cares of earthly activities, and its thoughts begin to gain experience in inward matters which are hidden from the eyes; and when in part it scorns the recollections of things (whence the perverseness of the passions arises), and when it stretches itself upward and follows faith in its solicitude for the future age, in its desire for what has been promised us, and in searching deeply into hidden mysteries: then faith itself swallows up knowledge, converts it, and begets it anew, so that it becomes wholly and completely spirit.

The Fathers call these stages natural, supranatural, and contranatural. These are three directions in which the memory of a rational soul travels up or down So long as a man still abides in the nature of the flesh, he is in continual transition from one (state) to another…”

I will add that as the soul travels up and down this journey in faith, we are also simultaneously experiencing purification, illumination and maybe even God given moments of theosis. I know we all would prefer to be done with our struggles, but the challenging news is that for most of us, the process of regeneration by grace will continue until our last breath. That is why we need faith and hope. We can begin to understand the process of regeneration by grace more clearly in hindsight, in God given moments of illumination and consolation we can see what God was teaching us. Then we fall back into our trials and struggles for a time with worldly knowledge and our passions. This is the cycle that is repeated over and over again until our soul is perfected in God.

But we call faith that light which dawns in the soul by grace… This faith manifests itself not by the tradition of the hearing of the ear, but with spiritual eyes it beholds the mysteries concealed in the soul, and the secret and divine riches that are hidden away from the eyes of the sons of the flesh, but are unveiled by the Spirit to those who are brought up at Christ’s table in the study of His laws. He said, ‘If ye keep My Commandments, I will send you the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, Whom the world cannot receive, and He shall teach you all truth.’

The Comforter shows a man the holy power that dwells within him at every moment, and the protection, of the noetic force that shelters him always and drives away from him all harm, that it should not touch his soul or his body. The luminous and noetic mind visibly perceives this (holy power) with the eyes of faith… This power is the Comforter Himself Who, in the strength of faith, consumes the soul as with fire. The soul then rushes forward, despising every danger because of her trust in God, and on the wings of faith she soars aloft, taking leave of visible creation… she is ever found in the awestruck wonder of solicitude for God…

Thank you St. Isaac of Syria and by your prayers may we too experience the gift of faith.

If you missed my podcast – Part 1 of Homily 52 – I encourage you to listen to it when you have the chance.

Here is the Link to the second half of the full text of Homily 52

May God bless you!

In Christ,

Veronica

First podcast in a series on Faith, airing June 4th


Faith and Rainbows have a lot in common!

Faith and Rainbows have a lot in common!

 

 

 

Faith and ‘The fear of God’

Christ has Ascended! From Earth to Heaven!

I often choose the quotes and subjects for my podcasts based on what I want to learn more deeply myself, while preparing the way for a deeper understanding of our regeneration by grace.

I am going to be spending several podcasts on faith – a complex virtue. Faith is not understandable by our mind, but by our heart. Just as one cannot have obedience without humility, one cannot have faith without also having ‘the fear of God. “The ‘fear of God’ is the beginning of virtue and it is said to be the offspring of faith.” St Isaac the Syrian

That is our task today – to look at what is means to have a healthy ‘fear of God’, which leads to developing faith.

My resources for this podcast are:

The Bible Dictionary

The Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian

Abba Dorotheos, Discourses and Sayings

Remember Thy First Love, Archimandrite Zacharias

 

Let’s start with the biblical concept of faith versus contemporary definition of faith.

Contemporary definition of faith:

Faith, faithfulness in contemporary English is derived from Latin fides. In a worldly sense faith denotes trust and dependability.

The biblical concept from the Bible Dictionary:

“Throughout the Scriptures faith is the human response to God’s self-revelation.” When God reveals Himself people fall down in fear, humbled and trembling. From such a revelation there is a dynamic deepening of faith and change bringing forth actions in obedience to God. For example:

St. Paul on the road to Damascus

The Light of Christ’s divinity on Mt. Tabor that was revealed to his Apostles

“Old Testament authors use the ‘fear of the Lord’ to underscore the importance of submission to God through what He has revealed objectively; this submission occurs subjectively in the minds, wills and emotions of the those who trust God’s word.

Since the fall of humanity God nurtures and inspires faith in Him through what He says and does for the benefit of people who need Him and fear Him.

Thus biblical faith is a kind of limited personal knowledge of God.” The Bible Dictionary

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” and of faith…

What are the elements of a healthy ‘fear of the Lord’?

“The ‘fear of God’ is the beginning of virtue and it is said to be the offspring of faith. It is sown in the heart when a man withdraws his mind from the attractions of the world to collect its thoughts, wandering about from distraction, into reflection upon the restitution to come.” Homily 1, St. Isaac the Syrian

“Indeed, it is this fear of God that helps our heart emerge… As soon as this godly fear takes hold of our heart and we begin to feel God’s life-giving energy, we enter into a personal relationship with the personal God, with the God who has revealed Himself, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. This relationship is an event, which transcends all human understanding.” Remember Thy First Love, Archimandrite Zacharias

Most saints agree that there are stages in the development of the ‘fear of the Lord’. The first stage is initiated by fear of eternal damnation or punishment – our wake up call.

Both my husband and I began our conversion process with such a wake up call.

Let’s here what Abba Dorotheos has to say about the stages in learning the ‘fear of God’:

“There are two kinds of fear: one preliminary, the other perfect; the one found in beginners–as someone called it ‘of the devout’; the other in those perfect in holiness, of those having arrived at true love. One forms a desire of God through fear of condemnation; that is as we have said, the starting point. His starting point is not ‘what is good’ but the fear of torments.”

The desire is very important – for this is the movement of our will towards God. God will not act in us without permission. Our desire to know God gives God permission to help us.

“Another forms the desire for God because he loves God himself, loves Him and knows what is acceptable to God. Such a man is goodness itself, knowing what it is to be with God. See! This is the man who has true love, which St. John calls ‘perfect love’, and that love leads a man onto perfect fear. Such a man fears and keeps to God’s will, not for fear of punishment, not to avoid condemnation, but, as we have said, because he has tasted the sweetness of being with God; he fears he may fall away from it; he fears to be turned away from it. This is the perfect fear, which is generated from perfect love and throws out that preliminary fear. That is why St. John says that ‘perfect love casts out fear’. But it is impossible to come to perfect fear except through that preliminary fear.

There are, as St. Basil says, three stages through which we can be pleasing to God. The first, that of fearing punishment; makes us acceptable and we are in a state of slaves. (We are slaves to our passions and fallen state, which the fear of God brings to light)

The second, the state of servants working for wages, fulfilling orders for our own advantage and, by doing so, earning our wages. (learning to please God and follow his commandments)

The third is the state of sons, where we strive for the highest good. For a son, when he comes to maturity, does his father’s will not for fear of being beaten, nor to receive a reward from him, but because he knows he is loved. He loves and honors his father, and is convinced that all his father possesses is his own. Such a man is worthy to hear, ‘You are no longer a slave, but a son, an heir of God through Christ’.” Abba Dorotheos, Sayings and Discourses

Some quotes from the Bible Dictionary along with my commentary about how to acquire ‘the fear of God':

1. “Someone who fears God dreads disappointing Him.” Not only do I dread disappointing Him, I dread being separated from Him, His grace and love. This is the next step up from fear of punishment or damnation. Fear of losing God’s love and grace becomes more of a motivation for me than punishment.

2. ‘To fear God’ is to believe Him with a reverential awe, even to the point that emotional trepidation occurs.” How often have I experienced this trepidation when, I see how God has forgiven me for my past. In more practical terms – how He delivered me from an auto accident. Think of how many times God has saved us from ourselves. He, Who commanded the sea to be calm!

3.‘To fear God’ is to know Him personally.” Once we begin to repent, humble ourselves before God, start to desire to be and act from obedience with love, our deeper regeneration by grace begins. We learn to regard God with reverential fear, for He is our Creator – this puts us in a humble position, which allows for a personal relationship with God as I talked about in my last podcast.

4. ‘To fear the Lord’ is used synonymously with to serve Him in sincerity and truth (Joshua 24:14). “

“The beginning of man’s true life is the fear of God. But the fear of God will not be persuaded to dwell in a soul together with distraction over outward things. For by serving the senses, the heart is scattered, driven away from delight in God…” St. Isaac the Syrian

5. To serve God with sincerity and truth requires our ascetic labors to draw our senses away from the outward pleasures of the world. To please God from love vs. our ego is the challenge. “When we love God, our reverential ‘fear of the Lord’ produces joy and fulfillment.” (Eccles. 12:13).

6. ‘To fear Him is to maintain a firm conviction that the Lord’s directives are reliable (Ps. 119:89–91). Even in the face of our trials and tribulations, the key is to maintaining a firm conviction that the Lord’s directives are reliable comes through the consistency of our prayer and sacramental life in the Church and living the Sermon on the Mount. For those who missed my podcast on Prayer during Holy Week – perhaps listening to it will be a support to you in your process?

7. “Through Jeremiah God predicted that he would make an everlasting covenant through which He would enable people ‘to fear Him forever’ (Jer. 32:40), a covenant in which God will write His law on the hearts of His people and allow them all to know Him personally.” (Jer. 31:33–34).

“The consistent theme of salvation by faith and our ‘fear of the Lord’ can be traced through God’s acts and deeds in both the Old and New Testaments.”

“Be wise, then, and lay the ‘fear of God’ as the foundation of your journey, and in but a few days it will bring you before the gates of the kingdom with no windings on the way.” St Isaac the Syrian, Homily 1

In our next podcast we will continue our study of faith related to love vs worldly knowledge, as well as degrees of faith.

Christ has Ascended! From earth to heaven!

In Christ,

Veronica

Ps

All the photographs I post on my blog were taken by either my husband or me. If you would like to see more of our photographs and the wilderness cards we sell go to:

http://www.pearlofgreatpriceorthodox.com/pearl-wilderness-cards_280.html%5B/embed%5D

Humility, airing May 21, Veronica’s next podcast on OCN


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Humility

Christ is Risen! In Truth He is Risen!

“Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

(Mt. 18:4)

“How is it that the Saints never recognize their saintliness? Simply put: they see themselves in comparison to God. The sinfulness they see in themselves is the truth, because before God, who is infinitely holy, infinitely perfect, they cannot escape the reality of their unholiness and imperfection. … Along with their repentance and contrition there is an indescribable joy, peace, gentleness, and love.” Thirty Steps to Heaven

My resources for this two podcast will be:

  • The Ladder of Divine Ascent, St. John Climacus
  • Thirty Steps to Heaven, The Ladder of Divine Ascent for All Walks of Life, Archmandrite Vassilious Papavassilios
  • Abba Dorotheos, Discourses and Sayings

Abba Dorotheos, Discourses and Sayings

“One of the fathers used to say, ‘Before anything else we need humility: being ready to listen whenever a word is spoken to us, and to say, ‘I submit’, because through humility every device of the enemy, every kind of obstacle, is destroyed.’ … The holy man wishes to show us that neither the fear of God, nor faith, nor self-control, nor anyone of the other virtues can set us right without humility.”

Being ready to listen – to obey – which was part of our last podcast. Humility and Obedience work hand in hand. We cannot practice one without the other.

St John Climacus

“Humility is not merely one of the virtues–it is the virtue that makes all others possible and that purifies our wills and motives…

If pride turned some of the angels into demons, then humility can doubtless make angels out of demons. So take heart, all you sinners.”

I do take heart! But what a struggle it has been for me, a first born baby boomer to understand what it means to be truly humble.

“There is a difference between being humble, striving for humility, and praising the humble.”

Certainly I have no trouble praising the humble!

Perhaps I am off base here, but I would say most of us are in the ‘striving to be humble’ category. We manage to be humble part of the time, but not all of the time.

“And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” Mt. 23:12

Let’s look at some concrete examples and helpful hints about the nature of humility:

  • Humility is constant forgetfulness of one’s achievementsIn theory I would like to be living this, but wanting recognition is so ingrained in me. I have even managed to get recognition in a humble way, but that is not humility. We are fulfilling God’s plan for us through acquiring humility, which is victory over our passions vs. worldly success.
  • The admission that in all the world, one is the least important and is also the greatest sinner…. I could not possibly be as bad as so and so that I just judged or gossiped about – oops! I failed again miserably to be humble and non-judgmental!
  • It is the mind’s awareness that one is weak and helpless…. How many of us want to be weak and helpless? Yet, when we are at our weakest points in life, is that not when we have the most profound sense that God is truly with us, carrying us through our struggles?
  • It is to forestall one’s neighbor at a contentious moment and to be the first to end a quarrel… When I feel hurt, wronged or that I am right, I have to fight to lower myself to the ground – hummus – the earth from which the word humility is derived.
  • The acknowledgment of divine grace and divine mercy… We give acknowledgment to God first. He is the source of everything good. The Jesus Prayer helps me with this one.
  • The disposition of a contrite soulseeing how my actions and thoughts effect or hurt others. Acknowledging my state of sin helps me to be contrite.
  • The abdication of one’s will… practicing being non-judgmental and obedient helps with this one.

“Humility is a grace in the soul and with a name known only to those who have experienced it.”

Grace does come to my soul when I manage to be humble – Glory to God! Thank you St. John!

“The monk got up and on the wall of his cell he wrote in sequence the names of the major virtues: perfect love, angelic humility, pure prayer, unassailable chastity, and others of a similar kind. The result was that whenever vainglorious thoughts began to puff him up, he would say: “Come let us go to be judged.” Going to the wall he read the names they there and would cry out to himself: “When you have every one of these virtues within you, then you will have an accurate sense of how far from God you still are.”

Here are some more helpful hints about humility, especially in prayer:

Thirty Steps to Heaven, the Ladder of Divine Ascent for All Walks of Life

“This is why, in the services of the church, our prayers are always simple, modest, and spiritual in nature: we ask for mercy, forgiveness, guidance, deliverance, and salvation.”

Prayer is the means God gave us to be in communication with Him – to give ourselves to Him in prayer. Prayer is meant to be our offering to God – no strings attached! We cannot judge God if He does not answer us right away – He knows what is best for us and when to answer our prayers.

“We do not ask for wealth, success, the fulfillment of our wishes and ambitions. If we pray for the latter things, we are not really praying at all, at least not to the true God. Instead we are praying to the god of our imagination and ego–the god who gives me exactly what I want or may give me what I want if I do certain things to appease him. Those who truly know God do not pray that way.”

This form of prayer is taking from God and quite pagan.

 St John Climacus

“Who, or what, begets humility?” is God himself.

“And if I am moved to tears, it is because I acknowledge that I am what I am only because of His love, compassion, and holiness, and not by any virtue of my own.”

This is the quote I feel has the deepest meaning for me and captures the essence of humility. I have nothing to do with who I am except that I have lovingly turned my will towards God.

Abba Dorotheos, Discourses and Sayings

“This seems a strange thing, for humility alone is the opposite to vainglory, and it is from this, I suppose, that it guards a man… Humility is a great thing (as we keep on saying) and it is powerful to bring down grace to the soul.”

“Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” James 4:6

“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up.” James 4:10

Let us strive brothers and sisters in the Lord to humble ourselves and be obedient to our Lord who humbled Himself for our sakes and was obedient unto death– and we will feel the grace of the Resurrection even more deeply this Pascal season.

Christ is Risen! In Truth He is Risen!

Veronica Hughes

 

 

“Prayer”, Airing 4/16/14, Veronica’s next podcast on OCN


Venus at early dawn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PRAYER

Summary of Veronica’s Commentary:

The second building block in our cooperation with God in our regeneration by grace is PRAYER. Cooperation implies communication, respect, intimacy and love.  All of these need to present when we pray. The Orthodox Church has given us a starting structure for our prayer life:

  • Maintain a personal prayer and fasting rule that you strive to practice everyday, which grows and deepens as we mature in our faith
  • Attend church regularly, receiving confession and communion, including on feasts of the Church, during Great Lent and other fasting periods
  • Read the daily gospel and epistle readings appointed by the Church calendar, as well as the lives of the some of saints for each day.

Orthodox Christianity is not a stagnant religion. Once one has integrated and is practicing a basic prayer rule, we strive to not sit on our laurels, but deepen and increase our time in prayer slowly and gradually over time.

As Christians we must constantly do battle with our fallen nature. When temptations arise, rejoice! Seek relief in prayer with God. It is through those temptations that we learn our only true comfort rests in our Lord.

When we fall into doubt, worries or fears, know that God has not stepped away from us. Let us strive to question ourselves, especially now during Lent. Perhaps we have become complacent in our prayer rule and or have unknowingly started relying on ourselves again?

It is so easy for us to become distracted or take God for granted when we get busy or worried. Then we unknowingly start to slip and fall into old habits and states of sin. Hours or days later, when the pain of our fall becomes unbearable, then perhaps we realize we have stepped away from God or need God to help us start over again.

To correct our behavior, God essentially narrows our focus. It is through our temptations and sufferings that God strives to wake us up to our state of sin. We are all so accustomed to avoiding and mitigating our suffering through temporary fixes, which fasting removes or lessens, which ultimately will not help us, but prolongs our suffering.

Personal prayer is one of the means God gave us to help us to restore and continually renew our connection with Him. When we humbly put ourselves before God again in prayer, we heal. Therefore, arm your self with prayer!

We also need a right attitude towards prayer, which Elder Prophyrios will help us to clarify:

Wounded by love, the Life and the Wisdom of Elder Prophyrios

“One thing is our aim–love for Christ, for the church, for our neighbor. Love, worship of, and craving for God, the union with Christ and with the church are paradise on earth.

Let us love Christ and let our only hope and care be for him.

But are we inflamed by love for Christ? Do we run into the Beloved when we are exhausted to find rest in prayer or do we do it as a burdensome duty and say, ‘ Now I have to do my prayers and prostrations’…? Divine eros is what’s missing. Prayer of this kind could even be harmful.

Pray to God with fervor and love in a calm state of mind, with meekness and gentleness, without forcing yourself.

The object is not to sit and afflict and constrict yourself in order to improve. The object is to live, to study, to pray and to advance in love–in love for Christ and for the church. Don’t say ‘I’ll force myself and now I’ll pray to acquire love and become good’.”

Christ stands outside the door of our soul and knocks for us to open to Him, but He doesn’t enter. He doesn’t want to violate the freedom, which He Himself gave us…. Christ is courteous. He stands outside the door of our soul and knocks gently. If we open to Him, He will enter us and give us everything–Himself–secretly and silently.

We will not be able to know Christ unless He knows us… Nor can we love Him unless He loves us. Christ will not love us if we are not worthy for Him to love us. In order for Him to love us, he must discover something special in us. You may desire, demand, struggle and entreat, but you receive nothing. You prepare yourself to acquire those things, which Christ desires in order for divine grace to enter you, but it cannot enter when that special ingredient you require is lacking. What is that? It is humility. Without humility, we cannot love Christ… humility and selflessness in worship of God… ‘Do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing’. (Matt 6:3)

No one must see you; no one must understand the motions of your worship towards the Divinity. All these things must be hidden and secret, as with the hermits.”

May God bless your prayers and Lenten Journey!

In Christ,

Veronica

O Come, O Come Emanuel…., Part 3 on the Mother of God, The Holy Manifestation of her Virtue, The Incarnation of the Word


The Nativity Icon

The Nativity Icon

Happy Holidays! Blessed Nativity!

“O come, O come Emanuel! Held ransom captive Israel. That mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appears. Rejoice! Rejoice Emanuel shall come to thee O Israel.”

We are awaiting the Incarnation of the Word, as Mary did so many years ago. St. Nickolai Velomirovic will be giving us his inspiring words about the ‘vesture’ the Mother of God wove for herself in preparation for the coming of the Messiah….

“This, the most holy Mother of God, is the King’s daughter. ‘Her clothing is wrought of gold.’ This is the virtue of her soul. That ‘vesture’, is understood as virtue, is clear from the parable of the marriage of the King’s son. The man who was not clad in a wedding garment was driven from the King’s table and punished (Matt. 22:11). True faith in God was the golden clothing of the most holy Virgin, and virginity, meekness, compassion, holiness and prayer, consecration to the will of God and all the other virtues were like embroideries on this golden clothing. All her beauty was the work of Christ the Lord, hidden within her and born of her.

‘Consecration to the will of God’ is what touched my heart in this passage. What could I newly consecrate to God this Christmas? What little corner of my stubborn will could I change and offer to Jesus for all He gave to me?

The soul of each faithful Christian is like the King’s daughter. All the beauty of such a soul is in Christ and of Christ, Who is within the soul. A soul without Christ, the Son of righteousness, is in darkness, with neither form nor comeliness, as the whole universe would be without form and beauty without the physical sun.”

St. Nickolai Velomirovic, The Prologue, October 23

‘The soul of each faithful Christian is like the King’s daughter. All the beauty of such a soul is in Christ and of Christ, Who is within the soul.’ What beautiful words! Dear Mother of God help us and guide us to weave our vesture of virtue and spiritual beauty. Mary struggled all her life for virtue and wove a wonderful garment for her soul. She then brought forth the Sacred Fruit of our salvation. Our struggles for virtue can also bring forth many fruits.

To help us transition with Mary to the Incarnation of the Word I chose a passage from the Life of Mary regarding the icon of the Nativity, which upon closer examination, as interpreted by St. Gregory of Nyssa, can help us enter more deeply into the mystery of the Incarnation:

“The dark background of the nativity icon in the cave can be explained by a homily attributed to St. Gregory of Nyssa, where he compares the Birth of Christ in a cave and the spiritual light shining forth in the shadow of death that encompassed mankind. ‘Thus, the black mouth of the cave symbolically means the world, stricken with sin through man’s fault, in which the ‘Sun of righteousness’ shone forth.

The place where Mary brought forth virginally and painlessly was an empty and uninhabited place. It could be compared to the wilderness, as depicted in the Nativity icon. The world did not accept Him, but the wilderness offered refuge.

Taking refuge as Mary did prior to the birth of Christ, we go into the cave of our heart. There we indwell our prayers and the words, ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me’.

I know keeping our mind on prayer is so hard for many of us this time of year as we draw closer to Christmas. There is so much to do, but as St. Theophan the recluse shared with us in my last podcast: ‘Secret meditation sets our feet on the path of inner prayer, which is the most direct road to salvation. We may leave all else and turn to this work and all will be well. Conversely, if we fulfill all other duties and neglect this one task we shall bear no fruit.’

Our indwelling of prayer welcomes Christ and offers Him a refuge in our hearts – where – by the grace of God – we are waiting for Him to be born. So let us remain faithful in our hearts to the ‘one thing needful’. I know for those of us that are more Martha than Mary – especially as we prepare for Christmas – this is a hard thing to remember. The presents and food are not what is essential.

Back St. Gregory…

It was there, in Bethlehem, the ‘House of Bread’, that the symbol of the Eucharist was given–manna. Now, He who rained manna upon his people, Israel, Himself has become the bread of the Eucharist. The wilderness will also offer the manger where He chose to lie, thereby symbolizing the Lamb upon the altar. The cave, the manger, the swaddling clothes are indications of the emptying or kenosis of the Godhead, His utter abasement and humility.

The emptying or kenosis of the Godhead prefigures our self-emptying in preparation to receive Christ in our hearts this Nativity and whenever we receive His Divine Body and Blood. How blessed we are! What a joy it is to commune with our Lord in so many ways! What a divine communion, what love and grace, what incomparable joy our dear Panagia was blessed to experience carrying our Lord in her womb and then in her arms. May we too experience a little piece of this joy on Nativity!

Let us hear what St. Romanus has written in the voice of the Theotokos expressing the mystery of the incarnation of the Word and how Mary realized that in giving her will to God she not only remained who she was, but became so much more of her true self. May this to be true for us as we offer our humble selves to the Lord:

“Thou art my fruit, Thou art my life: from Thee have I learned that I remain what I was. Thou art my God: for seeing the seal of my virginity unbroken, I proclaim Thee to be the unchangeable Word, now made incarnate. I have known no seed, and I know that Thou art the destroyer of corruption: for I am pure, yet thou hast gone forth from me. As Thou hast found my womb, so Thou hast left it. Therefore, all creation shares in my joy and cries with me: rejoice, thou who art full of Grace.” St. Romanus

Dear Panagia, help us to stay in our hearts in prayer as we await the coming of the Messiah…

“O come, O come Emanuel! Held ransom captive Israel. That mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appears. Rejoice! Rejoice Emanuel shall come to thee O Israel.”

May you have a blessed Christmas!

To honor of this holy season I will be taking a short vacation for the month of January returning to the air and my blog mid-February. For those of you who are new listeners or missed my earlier podcasts – this is a perfect time to catch up!

Thank you so much for tuning in.

God bless you and Happy New Year as well!

In Christ,

Veronica

Mary, the First Hesyachist – Part II – “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart”


Mary, the First Hesyachist

Part II

“But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart”

While in the womb of the Advent Fast, awaiting the birth of Christ, let us enter into the prayer life of the Theotokos, whom St. Gregory Palamas called the first hesyachist and reflect on the value of secret meditation of the heart, which Mary pioneered. “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Lk. 2:19)

My resources for this podcast are:

The Life of the Virgin Mary, The Theotokos

Holy Apostles Convent with quotes from St. Gregory Palamas

The Art of Prayer, compiled by Igumen Chariton of Valamo

Quotes from St. Theophan the Recluse

Elder Joseph

From the Life of Mary quoting St. Gregory Palamas

“The sojourn of the Virgin Mary in the temple is described by St. Gregory Palamas in terms that make Mary the model of the hesychastic life. Extolling constant prayer, the saint indicates that the Virgin was the first to take it upon herself to pray unceasingly. According to St. Gregory her asceticsim therein did not lead her to come to an understanding of the grace received from the time of her conception, but to learn more of the nature of the sins of Adam. It was there that she perceived and realized that ‘no one could halt the murderous rush, which was bearing away the human race.’

Thus she was filled with pity for people who were brought to ruin and condemnations for disobedience. Therefore, she resolved to have her heart, mind and soul to dwell on God, and endeavored to remain attentive and struggle in prayer. She would pray for the human race and God’s great mercy.

She understood the most excellent way to converse with God was through holy silence and silence of the mind. Hence, she withdrew from the world and put away all earthly things. Through this, by God’s grace, she pioneered a new path to God, the path of silencing the thoughts. Abiding in prayer day and night, and maintaining silence, she cleansed her heart and was inexpressibly united with God.

Rising above all creation and creatures, the all holy Virgin contemplated God’s glory more fully than did Moses, and communed with divine grace in such a way that defies words and even reason… the young virgin Mary gave herself up entirely to God and repulsed from herself every impulse to sin, yet still she felt the weakness of human nature more powerfully than others.

Therefore, she greatly desired the coming of the Savior… She became an abode of every virtue, turning her mind away from every worldly and carnal desire. This was fitting for her who was to conceive God within herself.

St. Gregory Palamas praises Mary in superlative terms, writing: ‘Today a new world and a wonderful paradise has appeared. In it and from it a new Adam is born to reform the old Adam and renew the whole world… God has kept this Virgin for Himself before all ages. He chose her from among all generations and bestowed on her grace higher than that given to all others, making her, even before her wondrous childbirth, the saint of saints, giving her the honor of His own house in the Holy of Holies… wishing to create an image of absolute beauty and to manifest clearly, to angels and men, the power of His art. God made Mary truly all beautiful… He made of her blend of all divine, angelic and human perfection, a sublime beauty embellishing the two worlds, rising from earth to heaven and surpassing even the latter.’”

We can see from these revelations given to St. Gregory that Mary developed and diligently practiced secret meditation on God in her heart, which for her led to the incarnation of God within her womb. This was Mary’s role in our salvation.

Where can the diligent practice of secret mediation of the heart lead us?

Let’s explore what St. Theophan the Recluse has to say about secret meditation of the heart…

“Gather yourself together in your heart, and there practice secret meditation. By this means, with the help of God’s grace, the spirit of God will be maintained in its true character – burning sometimes less and sometimes more brightly. Secret meditation sets our feet on the path of inner prayer, which is the most direct road to salvation. We may leave all else and turn to this work and all will be well. Conversely, if we fulfill all other duties and neglect this one task we shall bear no fruit.”

St. Theophan is telling us that secret meditation is “The one thing needful.” How do we start to dwell in our heart in prayer?

“Some Godly thoughts come nearer to the heart than others. Should this be so after you have finished your prayers, continue to remain dwelling on such a thought and feeding on it. This is the way to unceasing prayer.”

Here are some examples of what St. Theophan is talking about:

Secret meditation most often takes the form of indwelling The Jesus Prayer, prayers to our Most Holy Theotokos and other supplications to the Saints. Other Fathers have also recommended the recitation of a verse from the Psalms, a part of a prayer you love, and or hymns from church. For example: Because I am musically oriented and love to sing –I indwell hymns through out my day. Be creative, as you would with anyone you love. If you are prone to depression or despondency, it is good to indwell joyful praises to God – that bring forth gratitude, which is a good remedy for despondency.

Wouldn’t we all rather give our praises to God than negative thoughts? Our goal is to quietly and secretly please God and express our unique love towards Him.

‘Praying always with prayer and supplication in the spirit.’ (Eph. 6:18)

“Prayer must not be an occupation for a certain period of time, but a permanent state of spirit… In other words, prayer must not only be outward, but also inward, an activity of the mind in the heart. In this lies the essence of prayer, which is raising the mind and heart towards God.

It is clear that the practice of prayer is not something carried out at certain hours, but requires a permanent walking before God, a dedication of all one’s activities to Him…its secret is love of the Lord. As a bride, loving the bridegroom is not separated from him in remembrance and feeling, so the soul, united with God in love remains in constancy to Him, directing warm appeals to Him from the heart.”

St. Theophan the Recluse

“As a bride, loving the bridegroom is not separated from him in remembrance and feeling, so the soul, united with God in love remains in constancy to Him, directing warm appeals to Him from the heart.” This is what the Theotokos did! What love she developed for God! Mary can help us if we just call on her with love and faith to devote more of our day to God as did Elder Joseph who has these words to say about calling on the Panagia, our heavenly Mother:

“Embrace in your arms the icon of the Panagia as if she were alive, as you embraced your dear mother when you were little. Tell her all your pain, wet her icon with your pure tears, then you will derive consistent consolation. She will intercede with her Son, Who is so good, Who loves the good, has mercy on the bad, and forgives repenting sinners. He will open the noetic eyes of your soul and fill your heart with love and divine eros. And then your eyes will become two fountains of tears.” Elder Joseph

Glory to God and his Saints! Let us strive to use the remainder of this fasting period to incorporate a little more unceasing prayer into our daily life.

For new listeners who want to draw closer to the Mother of God in prayer this Advent, I want to extend an invitation to join me and other listeners each day in praying either an Akathist or Canon to the Mother of God. I found a lovely download of both the Akathist to the Mother of God and to Jesus for only $7.95 on Orthodox Christian Recorded Books, http://www.ocrb.org/, that I am using to help me fulfill my prayer commitment.

Since this is the Christmas Season, I also invite those of you who are looking for a unique gift for friends or family to consider giving them a copy of my book, The Pearl of Great Price, The Spiritual Journey of a New Age Seeker to the Light of Christ and the Orthodox Church through the OCN Amazon Store banner on any OCN website page. With every purchase you make on Amazon through the OCN Amazon Store you will be supporting the wonderful work of the Orthodox Christian Network.

If you want a signed copy with a spiritual thought as well, you can obtain that through my author’s website, once again, pearlofgreatpriceorthodox.com. Please make sure you order your copy from before the 12th of December for Western Christmas.

I have yet one more podcast in this series on the Drawing Closer to the Mother of God – airing mid-December.

May God continue bless you in your efforts and struggles this Advent,

In Christ,

Veronica

Podcast on Martyrdom, In support of our persucuted brethren in Christ,


The Holy Macabees

The Holy Macabees

“Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake.

Rejoice and be exceedingly glad for great is your reward in heaven.”

“When the military governor wanted to make Marinus the soldier (commemorated August 7th), an officer, an envious man denounced him as a Christian. The governor gave Marinus three hours to think and choose life or death, to deny Christ or to die. Marinus, hearing the words of his superior, went to the local bishop, Theotechnus, to ask his advice. The bishop took him into the church, stood him before the gospel and then, indicating first the Gospel and then the sword that Marinus was wearing, said to him: ‘Choose, brave man, one of these two: either carry a sword and serve the transient king, being lost eternally at your death, or become a soldier of the King of heaven and lay down your life for His holy name, recorded in this book, and reign with Him in immortal life.’ Marinas at once made up his mind, kissed the Holy Gospel and went out–to go through death to life eternal.”

St. Nicholai Velimirovic, The Prologue, August 8th

This month on OCN we are honoring those being persecuted for Christ’s sake. To help us draw closer to those who have been martyred for the faith in the Middle East I have chosen passages from the Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church about the Holy Maccabean Martyrs, August 1st.

I was deeply moved by their martyrdom and felt their story and the footnote taken from their account gave the essence of the path of Christian martyrdom. Whether thrust upon a Christian or chosen, this footnote pretty much sums up what we, as Christians believe about martyrdom, and our future life in Christ after death. Martyrdom is considered a good death for a Christian.

The Holy Macabees suffered for their faith in 167 BC at the hands of the infamous Antiochos IV Epiphanes. Here is a brief summary of their contest:

First the Holy Priest, Eleazar, 90 years old, was tortured and withstood all attempts to tempt him away from God. Then all 7 sons of Solomone Maccabee, one by one were tortured in front of their mother for their faith. Solomone did not weep, but encouraged her sons in their struggle and contest.

When her last son, 3 years old, remained steadfast and refused to eat meat sacrificed to idols, he was more severely tortured than all his brothers combined and finally thrown into flames. Solomone then threw herself into the flames with her son so as to remain untouched and join her children in life eternal.

What mourning with joy did I feel when I read the full account of their sufferings – as I do when I read about the Christians being persecuted and killed in Iraq and throughout the world. I have the same feelings on Holy Friday. Let us explore further the roots of martyrdom so that we can pray for those being persecuted from the right orientation.

Historical background on the footnote associated with the Holy Macabees:

“The book of Maccabees, the source of their lives, was a series of books relating to events centering around Judas Maccabeus and other heroes and heroines in the Jewish struggle for religious and political freedom. During the third and second centuries before Christ, persecution was unleashed against the Jews by Egyptian and Syrian kings, particularly the infamous Antiochos IV Epiphanes.

These books of the Maccabees have special characteristics not usually seen in the other books of the Old Testament.

  1. These books show martyrdoms as the substitutionary atonement that expiates nation’s sin and purifies the land: “For they, winning admiration not only from men in general, but even from their persecutors, for their manliness and endurance, became the means of the destruction of the tyranny against their nation, having conquered the tyrant by their endurance, and so that by them their country was purified (1 Macc. 1:11).” “And, the nation through them obtained peace, and having renewed the obervance of the law in their country, drove the enemy out of their land (4 Macc. 18:4).”

As with our Lord, His Death became the means for the destruction of tyranny – so too we see here that Christian martyrdom brings about the destruction of the tyrant, the devil working through men. As with our Savior, His voluntary Death was an atonement for our sins. Thus the martyrs’ sacrifice is intimately connected with a deeper spiritual atonement.

God brings good out of all evil. We, with our worldly eyes cannot see the hidden spiritual battles that are being fought in Iraq or other countries where our brethren are being persecuted. We must hope for our brethren. Their blood is not spilled in vain. Our brethren in the Middle East are suffering in the hallowed grounds of our Jewish forefathers and many countless Saints of the Church.

  1. Martyrs are immediately immortal, received by the Patriarchs, and living in God: they believed, “that to God they die not; for, as our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, they live in God (4 Macc. 7:19).”

We must take consolation in our Lord, Christian martyrs receive crowns of victory and are immediately raised to heaven.

  1. Second Maccebees, especially celebrates the deeds of the martyrs, and that the reposed saints pray for us on earth: “Osias, who had been high priest, a virtuous and good man…prayed for the whole body of the Jews. This being done, in like manner there appeared a man with gray hairs, and exceedingly glorious, who was of a wonderful and excellent majesty. Then Osias answered, saying, “This is a lover of the brethren who prayeth for the people, and for the holy city, to wit, Jeremias the prophet of God. “Thereupon, Jeremias, holding forth his right hand, gave to Judas Maccabeus a sword of gold. And in giving it spake thus: “Take this holy sword, a gift from God, with which thou shalt wound the adversaries (2 Macc. 15:11-16).”

The Church triumphant is in heaven praying for all Christians on earth. We are the Church Militant. We are “fighting the good fight”, each of us in our own arena. Therefore…

  1. The living, too, may also pray and offer sacrifices for the dead: Judas Maccebeus came up to take the bodies of their men that had been slain, in order to give them a proper burial. He soon discovered that idols were hidden under the coats of the dead: thus, God permitted them to be slain. Judas and his men “Betook themselves unto prayer and besought God that the sin committed might wholly be put out of remembrance. Besides that, noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves from sin. And when he had made a gathering throughout the company to the sum of two thousand drachms of silver, he sent it to Jerusalem to offer a sin offering. He did therein very well and honestly, in that he was mindful of the resurrection. For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should have risen again, it would have been superfluous and vain to pray for the dead. And also in that he perceived that there was great favor laid up for those that died godly, it was a holy and good thought. Thereupon, he made expiation for the dead that they might be delivered from sin (2 Macc. 12:42-45).”

…the living, too, may also pray and offer sacrifices for the dead: Thereupon, he made expiation for the dead that they might be delivered from sin….

We can raise our prayers to God for His holy ones that have died and are suffering. Our prayers make a difference.

They betook themselves unto prayer and besought God that the sin committed might wholly be put out of remembrance. Some of those who have died may not be free of sin, so let us pray that God accept their sacrifices and suffering in His Name.

We are mindful of the resurrection…. And that there is great favor laid up for those that die godly.

Each of us has a talent we cannot keep hidden with regards to our suffering brethren in Christ and their family members who are worried beyond worry here in the US and other countries for their loved ones in danger.

Pray To God:

Pray for the strengthening of our brothers and sisters in Christ that are being persecuted as Solomone, the mother of 7 children prayed for her sons and supported them through their trials and torments by her prayers.

Pray for those Christians who cannot flee or choose not to flee the persecutions taking place in Iraq, we need to pray for God to give them courage. Let us pray that their hearts stay connected with their Creator, focusing on the life in Christ to come.

Let us pray for their families abroad that they do not lose hope and can bear the cross now thrust upon them in a Christian manner for the salvation of their souls.

For those fleeing, we need to pray for their safe passage and endurance.

Finally, let us not fall into despair and doubt the wisdom of our Creator, but pray. Let us practice what we have been hearing from the saints regarding interior prayer. Let us bring our minds into our hearts when we fall into despair or anger about our brethren in Christ who are suffering. “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.” Elder Prophoryos says that when we pray the Jesus prayer we are praying for everyone in need.

For those of us who are too sensitive to see the videos or photos, let us refrain from them in order to stay strong in heart for our persecuted ones and their family members.

We are called by God to not hate our enemies, but to pray for them. We are called by God not to harden our hearts in the face of the temptations and trials that assail us.

St. Maximos the Confessor’s life and martyric sufferings were about love. Let us here his moving summation of the path of love:

“ ‘If I have prophecy, and know all the mysteries and all the knowledge, and if I have all the faith, so as to remove mountains from one place to another, but I have not love, I am nothing. And if I dole out all my goods, and if I deliver up my body that I may be turned, but I have not love, I am being profited nothing. Love is long-suffering (1 Cor. 13:2, 3).’

It is in love that the whole of Christian life is summarized and contained. Love is the preference of God to all creatures, even one’s own body. Fraternal charity or love of neighbor, which is opposed to anger and self-love, advances the communal life of the Church. All are equally loved. It is love that unites one with God and divinizes one. He who is perfect in love and has attained the summit of detachment knows no difference between ‘ mine and thine’, between faithful and unfaithful, between slave and free man, or between male and female.’ Having risen up of the tyranny of the passions and looking to nature, in all men, he considers all equally and is disposed equally towards all. For in Christ ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male and female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).’ ”

Therefore let us go forth and do violence on the passions that well up in us in support of our suffering brethren. This will be the subject of my next podcast. “The Kingdom of Heaven is taken by Violence.” What is the difference between earthly violence and spiritual violence?

Thank you Holy Macabees and all the saints!

In Christ,

Veronica

 

“Enter into thy closet and shut the door.” Matt. 6:6, The first in a Series on Internal Prayer


St. Veronica

 

Internal Prayer

and

Finding One’s Deep Heart

 

 

 

St. Veronica

When I wrote this post it was my name’s day old calendar!

“Those who only hear about spiritual meditation and prayer and have no direct knowledge of it are like a man blind from birth, who hears about the sunshine without ever knowing what it really is.”  St. Dimitri of Rostov

Please join Veronica Hughes, St. Dimitri of Rostov, and Elder Zacharias for the first of several podcasts on the art of prayer and finding one’s deep heart.

Today we will begin our deeper exploration into the art of prayer. Yes, prayer is an art, which like any other art requires diligence and practice for us to master…

My resources for this podcast are:

The Art of Prayer

by Igumen Chariton of Valamo

1. Quoting St. Dimitri of Rostov (1651–1709): one of the most celebrated preachers in the history of the Russian Church. His chief literary work was a great collection of the Lives of the Saints.

2. Remember Thy First Love, Elder Zacharias

So let’s pick up where we left off in our last podcast about levels of knowledge and the way we can deepen our faith, transforming worldly knowledge into spiritual knowledge by following our Lord’s words…

“Enter into thy closet and shut the door” (Matt. 6:6)

“…Those who only hear about spiritual meditation and prayer and have no direct knowledge of it are like a man blind from birth, who hears about the sunshine without ever knowing what it really is. Inner spiritual training begins with the words of Christ, ‘When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret’.(Matt. 6:6)

Man is dual: exterior and interior, flesh and spirit. The outer man is visible, of the flesh; but the inner man is invisible, spiritual– what the Apostle Peter terms… ‘the hidden man of the heart, which is not corruptible,… a meek and quiet spirit’ (1 Pet. 3:4)… the works of the outer man are visible, but those of the inner man are invisible, according to the Psalmist: ‘The inner man and the heart are very deep’…

This is my first mention of what some elders call one’s deep heart – finding Jesus in our heart is one of the primary goals of our prayer life.

Here is what Elder Zacharias says about our finding our heart in Christ:

“…God may well seek man’s heart. But because man uses his freedom wrongly and has become enslaved by so many attachments, God’s grace is prevented from entering man’s heart and dwelling there….”

Part of the purpose of prayer is to draw us away from that first degree of knowledge – worldly attachments and thoughts, then to help us find the strength to turn our will to God and develope a healthy fear of God.

Back to Elder Zacharias

“…And once the fear of God lays hold of our heart, we begin to see how unable we are to pursue a relationship with God.” Veronica again… Why? Until our development of a healthy fear of God moves out of fear of condemnation or punishment and into wanting to please and then love God – there is no possibility for intimacy with God. Intimacy with God is accomplished by means of prayer and love…. Back to Elder Z…

“It is by His grace alone that we are rendered able to pursue a relationship with God… How do we attract the grace of God to help us? Contrition humbles the heart of man and humility opens the heart to receive the Holy Spirit, the grace of the Comforter, which is man’s only true consolation…. (Vs worldly consolation, which is temporary and part of the first degree of knowledge we spoke of in our last 2 podcasts) …the Holy Spirit then provokes man’s heart to contrition… It melts the mountains of impurity that sit upon the heart. It breaks the rocks of the hardness of man’s inner being, and helps him to find his ‘deep heart’.

How might this finding of one’s deep heart come about? So man undergoes a primordial ‘earthquake’ when he suffers such trials as are necessary to teach him that one thing alone is needful–the discovery of his heart.”  And I will add – for in the heart we find God. Elder Zacharias, Remember Thy First Love. 

In continuation of our study about our regeneration by grace, here we see again repeated the necessity of the fear of God – not just for discovering faith, but for finding our heart in Christ, as well as contrition, which melts our heart and makes it receptive to God. When entering our closet to pray, the awareness of both help to focus our minds in our heart.

Back to St. Dimitri…

“Training, then, must be twofold, outer and inner: outer in reading books, inner in thoughts of God; outer in love of wisdom, inner in love of God; outer in words, inner in prayer; outer in keenness of intellect, inner in warmth of spirit; outer in technique, inner in vision…

Both internal and external have a place when used to support our relationship with God vs the acquisition of worldly knowledge. Our strivings for attracting the grace of the Holy Spirit come through acquiring the virtues. St. Seraphim of Sarov said that the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit is the most important striving we must have.

Prayer is likewise twofold, exterior and interior. There is prayer made openly, and there is secret prayer; I will add that the secret prayer most recommended is the Jesus Prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.’… prayer with others and solitary prayer; prayer undertaken as a duty and prayers that are voluntarily offered. Prayer as a duty, performed openly according to Church rules, in company with others, has its own times: the Midnight Office, Matins, the Hours, the Liturgy, Vespers and Compline.

Voluntary prayer, which is in secret on the other hand, has no fixed time, being made whenever you wish, without bidding, simply when the spirit moves you… Though I will add that most elders recommend a structure for our inner prayer during specific times of the day to start to develop the practice of unceasing prayer mentioned by St. Paul.

The first kind is performed aloud by the lips and voice, the second only in spirit. Once more I will also add here that many elders recommend beginning our practice of the Jesus Prayer aloud at first. The first is performed standing, the second, not only standing or walking, but also lying down, and in a word, always–whenever you happen to raise your mind to God.

This is very good news for those of us with infirmities or age related challenges. What do we do when we cannot go to Church as often as we would like or stand to do our prayers… we do them however we can and whenever we can. My internal prayer life has replaced my external attendance in Church, which has turned out to be such a blessing!

The first, made in the company with others … but the second is performed when you are alone in the shut closet, according to the word of the Lord.

The closet is twofold, outer and inner, material and spiritual: the material place is of wood or stone, the spiritual closet is the heart or mind…. Therefore the material closet remains always fixed in the same place, but the spiritual one you carry with you and you wherever you go. Wherever a man is, his heart is always with him, so having collected his thoughts inside his heart, he can shut himself in and pray to God in secret, whether he be talking or listening, whether among few people or many… All that is necessary is to raise your mind to God, and descend deep into yourself, and this can be done everywhere… according to the Gospel words of Christ himself: ‘The kingdom of God is within you.’ (Luke 17:21). Explaining this text, St. Markarios of Egypt writes: ‘The heart is a small vessel, but all things are contained in it; God is there, the angels are there, and there also is life in the kingdom, the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace.’

Our new frontier in our regeneration by grace is the discovery of our deep heart! How inspiring!

Man needs to enclose himself in the inner closet of his heart more often than he need go to church: and collecting all his thoughts there, he must place his mind before God, praying to Him in secret with all warmth of spirit and with living faith.”

I want to add that many of us must first do our prayers more externally – those of us that are converts or returning to the Church – for that is where we begin our work in reestablishing our communion with God through confession and Holy Communion. Once a solid foundation of regular church attendance has been formed, the Lord will call us to a deeper level of prayer.

Thank you St. Dimitri and Elder Zacharias! Our next podcast will focus on practical steps to take to anchor our prayer life in the loving union with God.

God bless you!

In Christ,

Veronica

 

 

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