Monthly Archives: August 2014
August 29, 2014
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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.
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.
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.
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…
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!
August 15, 2014
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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!
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