Category Archives: Eastern Orthodox Christianity

The Aquisition of the Holy Spirit – Step One: The Break with the World


The Break with the World:

Step 1: Renunciation

A friend of God is one who lives in communion with all that is natural and free from sin and who does not neglect to do what good he can. The self-controlled man strives with all his might amidst the trials, the snares, the noise of the world, to be like someone who rises above them.” St. John of the Ladder

Every Christian is called to a life of renunciation: ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it’ (Luke 9:23–24).

What we seek is what we once were, something we all know and have tasted: innocence… Thus St. John tells novices of the monastic life to look to infants as their example… ‘Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 18:3).”

Thirty Steps to Heaven, Vassilious Papavassiliou

“Do whatever you may. Speak evil of no one. Rob no one. Tell no lie. Despise no one and carrying no hate. Do not separate yourself from the church assemblies. Show compassion to the needy. Do not be a cause of scandal to anyone. Stay away from the bed of another, and be satisfied with what your own wives can provide you. If you do all this you will not be far from the kingdom of heaven.”

Those who enter this contest must renounce all things, despise all things, deride all things, and shake off all things, that, they may lay a firm foundation. A good foundation of three layers and three pillars is innocence, fasting and temperance. Let all babes in Christ begin with these virtues taking in their model natural babes. For you never find in them anything sly or deceitful.” St. John

“Christians renounce the world by living for something other than the world. By living thus, we become the light of the world.”

Thirty Steps to Heaven, Vassilious Papavassiliou

How does this step apply to our tendency to judge others? This month as part of my renunciation of the world I am going to be using the Apostles Fast to help me refrain from judging. I think this is one of the key ways in which I lose my footing and the grace of God, judging. I am not meek and lowly of heart or as a little child when I judge others or myself. There is an entire step of the Ladder devoted to slander or judgment, which we will delve into in a future podcast. For now let us look at how judging is worldly. What are the results of our judgments? Can we begin to renounce our judgments?

“For the guarding of peace of soul, it is also necessary to flee from judging others. By non-judgment and silence, peace of soul is preserved.” St. Seraphim of Sarov

My next podcast will be about Step 2 – Detachment.

Finally here is a wonderful passage about the difference between the spirit of this world and the Spirit of God:

‘Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God.’

(1 Cor. 2:12)

“The spirit of this world, my brethren, is the spirit of pride and brutality. The Spirit of God is a spirit of meekness and grace. God’s Apostle emphasizes that Christ’s followers have not received the spirit of this world but the spirit which is of God; that is, which proceeds from God the Father like a refreshing fragrance from flowers, flowing through the soul of a man, making it strong, radiant, peaceful, thankful and gentle.

Men are by nature good and gentle, Tertullian writes: ‘the soul of man is Christian by nature’, but is excited and enraged by the spirit of this world. The spirit of this world makes sheep and wolves, while the Spirit of God makes wolves into sheep.

The apostle adds that, ‘we have received the Spirit of God in order to know the things that are freely given to us of God’, that we might see, then, what is of God and what is not, and that we might feel the sweetness of that which is of God and the bitterness of that which is not of Him but of the spirit of this world. While man is outside his own nature, he finds the bitter sweet and the sweet bitter. But when by the Spirit of God, he returns to his true nature, he tastes as sweet as sweet and bitter as bitter.

Who can turn a man back to God? Who can heal a man of the poison of sinful bitterness? Who can teach him by experience to differentiate true sweetness from bitterness? No-one other than the Spirit, which is of God.

Therefore, we pray, my brethren, that God will give us His Holy Spirit, as He gave Him to his Apostles and saints. And when that Holy Spirit comes and abides in us, the kingdom of God has come to us, in which we are all sweetness, goodness, light, meekness and grace.

O Holy Spirit, thou Spirit of meekness and grace, come and abide in us. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.”

St. Nicholai Velomirovic, The Prologue, May 20

Come and abide in us indeed!

Have a blessed start to the Apostles Fast!

A friend of God is one who lives in communion with all that is natural and free from sin and who does not neglect to do what good he can. The self-controlled man strives with all his might amidst the trials, the snares, the noise of the world, to be like someone who rises above them.” St. John of the Ladder

Every Christian is called to a life of renunciation: ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it’ (Luke 9:23–24).

What we seek is what we once were, something we all know and have tasted: innocence… Thus St. John tells novices of the monastic life to look to infants as their example… ‘Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 18:3).”

Thirty Steps to Heaven, Vassilious Papavassiliou

“Do whatever you may. Speak evil of no one. Rob no one. Tell no lie. Despise no one and carrying no hate. Do not separate yourself from the church assemblies. Show compassion to the needy. Do not be a cause of scandal to anyone. Stay away from the bed of another, and be satisfied with what your own wives can provide you. If you do all this you will not be far from the kingdom of heaven.”

Those who enter this contest must renounce all things, despise all things, deride all things, and shake off all things, that, they may lay a firm foundation. A good foundation of three layers and three pillars is innocence, fasting and temperance. Let all babes in Christ begin with these virtues taking in their model natural babes. For you never find in them anything sly or deceitful.” St. John

“Christians renounce the world by living for something other than the world. By living thus, we become the light of the world.”

Thirty Steps to Heaven, Vassilious Papavassiliou

How does this step apply to our tendency to judge others? This month as part of my renunciation of the world I am going to be using the Apostles Fast to help me refrain from judging. I think this is one of the key ways in which I lose my footing and the grace of God, judging. I am not meek and lowly of heart or as a little child when I judge others or myself. There is an entire step of the Ladder devoted to slander or judgment, which we will delve into in a future podcast. For now let us look at how judging is worldly. What are the results of our judgments? Can we begin to renounce our judgments?

“For the guarding of peace of soul, it is also necessary to flee from judging others. By non-judgment and silence, peace of soul is preserved.” St. Seraphim of Sarov

Finally here is a wonderful passage about the difference between the spirit of this world and the Spirit of God:

‘Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God.’

(1 Cor. 2:12)

“The spirit of this world, my brethren, is the spirit of pride and brutality. The Spirit of God is a spirit of meekness and grace. God’s Apostle emphasizes that Christ’s followers have not received the spirit of this world but the spirit which is of God; that is, which proceeds from God the Father like a refreshing fragrance from flowers, flowing through the soul of a man, making it strong, radiant, peaceful, thankful and gentle.

Men are by nature good and gentle, Tertullian writes: ‘the soul of man is Christian by nature’, but is excited and enraged by the spirit of this world. The spirit of this world makes sheep and wolves, while the Spirit of God makes wolves into sheep.

The apostle adds that, ‘we have received the Spirit of God in order to know the things that are freely given to us of God’, that we might see, then, what is of God and what is not, and that we might feel the sweetness of that which is of God and the bitterness of that which is not of Him but of the spirit of this world. While man is outside his own nature, he finds the bitter sweet and the sweet bitter. But when by the Spirit of God, he returns to his true nature, he tastes as sweet as sweet and bitter as bitter.

Who can turn a man back to God? Who can heal a man of the poison of sinful bitterness? Who can teach him by experience to differentiate true sweetness from bitterness? No-one other than the Spirit, which is of God.

Therefore, we pray, my brethren, that God will give us His Holy Spirit, as He gave Him to his Apostles and saints. And when that Holy Spirit comes and abides in us, the kingdom of God has come to us, in which we are all sweetness, goodness, light, meekness and grace.

O Holy Spirit, thou Spirit of meekness and grace, come and abide in us. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.”

St. Nicholai Velomirovic, The Prologue, May 20

Come and abide in us indeed!

Have a blessed start to the Apostles Fast!

In Christ,

Veronica

Preserving Our Stillness and Joy, airing in May 2015 on OCN


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Preserving Our Stillness and Joy

It has been a while since I have recorded a podcast. The week before the weekend of The Cross, I contracted a terrible flu, which went viral and affected my brain! It was the most intense experience I have ever lived through. I had hallucinations for 10 days I went to the hospital twice. I did not sleep for most of those days and as time went on became quite innocent and about the age of a 3 year old!

My doctors had no idea what was causing my altered mental status. I underwent all kinds of tests – none of which helped to indicate what was causing my altered mental status. Finally, they gave me an anti-viral IV and medicine to allow me to sleep, At 3 AM the following morning – I came back! Glory to God!

Had it not been for the grace of God, the sacraments of the church, my husband’s support and the prayers of many people – I am not sure I would be here today in my right mind. Glory to God for all things! It has taken me a while to recover my self and I am so thankful to be well and back to my life again celebrating the Resurrection of our Lord.

Therefore, I thought I would draw on our dear Saints to discuss how we can maintain or guard the sanctity and peace of our souls in times of distress.

My husband strove during our battle with the flu and I am sure demonic forces to keep me positive even in the face of my altered mental status by continually saying to me: “God is good. God brings good from everything. Glory to God for all things!” These simple phrases became one of my anchors while I waited for God to heal me.

What else can we do to maintain our inner stillness and joy, especially as we slowly re-enter the fallen world after Pascha or deal with very challenging experiences?

My resources for this podcast are:

St. Seraphim of Sarov

St Nicholai Velomirovic, The Prologue

The Gospel according to St. John

Let’s start with St. Seraphim of Sarov

“We must endeavor by every means to keep peace of soul. Do not be troubled by the insults of men. It is necessary at all costs to restrain oneself from anger, and by watchfulness over oneself, to keep the mind and heart from vain movement… For the guarding of peace of soul, it is also necessary to flee from judging others. By non-judgment and silence, peace of soul is preserved. When a man attains to such a state, he receives divine revelation. For a man to be able to keep himself from judging others, he must be vigilant over himself; he must not dare to receive vain thoughts from another, and must be as one dead before all that is of this world. We must tirelessly keep our hearts from vain thoughts and impressions (Prov. 4:23). By constant watchfulness over the heart, a purity of heart is born in which God is seen, according to the words of eternal truths: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God’.” (Matt. 5:8).

St. Seraphim of Sarov

We spent all of Lent practicing ‘watchfulness over the heart’ – now we are asked to continue our watchfulness – in the spirit of the Resurrection. How do we do that?

This is what St. Nicholai has to say about the fears that can assail us:

‘Fear not; I am the first and the last; I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore. Amen.’ (Rev. 1:17-18)

“Thus says the Lord Jesus to His beloved disciple John in a vision on the island of Patmos. Fear not–what? Fear not the persecution of the church by the pagans. Fear not the torturers who martyr My faithful on all sides. Fear not kings who raise up persecution against the Christians. Fear not the successors of the chief men of this world, who ridicule My humiliation and My death. Fear not the demons, who blind men by the passions so they do not see the truth that I brought on earth. Fear nothing!

Christ is Risen!

Lord, how do I not fear? When the whole world gathers to ridicule us to our faces, small in number and unretaliating as we are, how can we not fear?

Fear not, for I am the first and the last, Alpha and Omega, and all those armies of mockers against you are nothing but a transient whirlwind of corpses. I am from before time began, I am after time ends; before the beginning of all and after the fulfillment of all things created, I am. And they are all shut up in the one span of time, which I have measured out to every creature, and beyond that span they cannot exist.

Let us rejoice at this – Christ is Risen!

Fear not, for ‘I was dead; and behold, I am alive’. Do not even fear death. I am before death and after death. Death is my servant, and I sent death into the world to serve Me. I gave Myself into My servant’s hands for three days. Then I commanded him to let Me go–and, behold, I am alive. I am the ruler of death as of life. I am the ruler of time as of eternity. Fear not!

I am alive for evermore and you will be alive with Me; you, and all who remain faithful to Me and are unafraid will be alive with Me. I am Alpha and Omega.”

St. Nicholai Velomirovic, The Prologue, March 21

Christ is Risen!

O eternal and immortal Lord, grant that these Thy words may ever sound in the souls of Thy faithful people whenever persecution rises up against Thy Holy Church. Let us not fear, being held by the right hand of God. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

St Nicholai Velomirovic, The Prologue, March 21

“I am the light of the world. He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Christ is Risen! Let us pray to our Risen Lord to deliver us from all our distress.

May you have a blessed completion of this Pascal Season, an awesome Ascension and Pentecost.

Christ is Risen!

Sensual Judgment and Curiosity, the Robbers of Our Communion with God and Inner Stillness, airing March 2015


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Sensual Judgment and Curiosity

The Robbers of Our Communion with God and Inner Stillness

“Try to be free of curiosity, for it can defile stillness as nothing else can.” St. John Climacus

In this podcast Veronica examines the sensual aspect of our fallen nature and how our physical senses and curious tendencies can entice and entrap our souls robbing us of our stillness and relationship with God.

‘Have mercy on me O God, have mercy on me.’ If we were still in paradise, what would be most natural for us would be to turn our minds and hearts towards our Creator, but here we are in the fallen world.

Least we should be lulled to sleep by the world and its temptations, Lent serves to remind us, ‘We are fallen.’ We are being mislead, but by what? ‘How, dear Lord can we be lead astray so often?’ How is it that we continually put distance between God and ourselves – all the while thinking, ‘There is nothing amiss. Everything is fine.’

My research for this podcast started with the term ‘sensual judgment’ used by St. Nicholai Velomirovic in a passage in The Prologue. I pondered its meaning for a few moments. ‘Sensual judgment’ was a show-stopper for me. I had never thought of judgment being in relationship with sensuality or being based upon sensual perceptions. The more I pondered the deeper meaning of ‘sensual judgment’ – the more I thought the term so accurate.

I recalled when I was seeped in the New Age and Eastern religions I thought how I felt and what I perceived through my senses, including my ‘sixth sense’, was an accurate perception of reality.

However, when I became Orthodox I realized I had been trapped in my sensual perceptions and far, far away from true spiritual discernment. I was in a state of ‘sensual judgment’, for I was using what my senses perceived as my measuring stick for reality, my means of judging what was good. If it felt good – then it must be good – right? Wrong! This was a life changing understanding for me.

What about now? Am I still under to dominion of my senses. Yes! Perhaps I am less captured, but an onion has many layers… So let’s take a good look at this onion called ‘sensual judgment’ and how our senses, fueled by curiosity, imagination and self-will can lead us astray rob us of our communication with God and our inner stillness.

Here is what St. Nicholai has to say about the milk of sensual judgment and the gradualness of spiritual development:

“For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, we have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For everyone that uses milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongs to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrews 6:12–14)

Those who are fed on the milk of sensual judgment cannot easily differentiate between good and evil. They generally come to the conclusion that all faiths are of equal value, that sin is the indispensable shadow of virtue and that evil is a necessary companion of good.

A true Christian cannot come to these utterly mistaken conclusions. For a true Christian is a mature man, who does not feed on milk, who is distrustful of sensuality, who has a finer judgment and makes a finer distinction between the value of the enduring and transient. To the Christian, surely, clear guidance is given by the revelation of God to distinguish between good and evil; but he has need of long and serious study to reach perfection, to be able to know in every given situation what is good and what is evil…

St. Nickolai Velomirovic, The Prologue, Jan. 11th

No wonder one Lent is not sufficient to change us! Who has not been raised on the milk of sensual judgment? How is it that our senses often run our lives?

For help with these questions I turned to St. Theophan the Recluse and his book, The Path of Salvation.  What follows are instructions St. Theophan is giving to parents for raising their children to be the master of their passions. How I wish my parents had read this book!

St. Theophan:

It is impossible not to use the senses, for it is only through them that one may note the things one must know for the glory of God and for our own good. But in doing this it is impossible to avoid curiosity, which is an irresistible inclination to see and hear without purpose–what is being done where, and how things are… Curiosity consists of trying to know everything without order, without aim, without distinguishing whether it is needful or not.

…curiosity, which is an irresistible inclination to see and hear without purpose – what a shocker this was to me! I thought curiosity was a good thing. Here is my first example of how sensual judgment has misdirected me. Curiosity is not a ‘good’ thing. Curiosity is a distraction and the dictionary definitions of curiosity back this up as you will see…

Definitions for curiosity:

1) A desire to learn or to know. (this desire must be directed and have a purpose according to St. Theophan

2) The desire to know about matters of no concern to one; nosiness.

3) Something novel or extraordinary that arouses interest.

The last two definitions brought to my mind gossip and the arousal of my passions in unhealthy ways.

My husband and I were discussing how pernicious unstructured curiosity is.

Here are a few examples we thought of in our own experience about this:

The distraction of computers and other devices like our cell phones – how we are going from site to site or video game or other games. Channel surfing and watching too much TV – we are curious about the previews of movies or TV shows

These are all things the Church asks us to moderate or abandon during Lent – for good reason. We thought of all the time we have wasted in our life with these distractions, which means that time could have been given to God or others we love.

 

How many of us suffer from distraction during our prayers? Here St. Theophan is explaining the reason why. Curiosity leads to imagination and fantasy. I can see how I just follow my thoughts during prayers. I am curious and attracted by them and off I go…. 5 min. later I ask myself, ‘Where have I been?’ How many wasted moments has curiosity bought me?

Back to St. Theophan

One who is unable to master the senses and imagination will inevitably be distracted…being overcome by curiosity, which will chase him from one subject to another until he is exhausted and all this without fruit.

What the senses do is to see, to hear, to feel–in general to experience, to test. This is why our senses are the first rousers of curiosity, which later, because of them, goes over into the imagination and memory and, having acquired a seed in them, becomes an unconquerable tyrant for the soul.

Great Lent is our opportunity to turn the tables on this so-called tyrant of our soul, our senses. How do we do this?

Back to St. Theophan:

When man was in union with God, he found delight in divine and sacred things by the grace of God. After his fall he lost this taste and thirsted for what is sensual. The grace of baptism has removed this, but sensuality is again ready to fill the heart. One must not allow this; one must guard the heart.

The most effective means for the education of the true taste in the heart is a church–centered life… sympathy for everything sacred, pleasure in remaining in the midst for the sake of quietness and warmth, separation from what is bright and attractive and worldly vanity…

A soul that has been calmed and ordered in this way will not, in accordance with its natural disorderliness, hinder the development of the Spirit. This is a person who is committed to …having unfailingly in mind not to ignite the passion for sensual enjoyments, and to train one to deny oneself.

Thus here is more validation for the need of our fasting periods. We are fasting not just from food, but, from the indulgence of our senses, curiosity and imagination. If we want to be that spiritually mature man that St. Nickolai referred to, who has true spiritual discernment we need to learn to control the sensual aspect of our fallen nature. No wonder Lent is so challenging!

In conclusion here is what both St. Theophan and St. Nicholai have to say to encourage us to ‘fight the good fight’ this Lent…

…The beginning of a Christian life in a man is a kind of re-creation, an endowing of new powers, of new life… This seed of life (the resolution one makes to live a Christian life) is not surrounded by elements favorable to him. And besides this, the whole man–his body and soul–remain unadapted to the new life, unsubmissive to the yoke of Christ. Therefore from this moment begins in a man a labor of sweat–a labor to educate his whole self, all his faculties, according to the Christian standard.

Back to St. Nicholai to complete what he started…

Let us strive, my brethren, each day and each hour, to refine our hearts, that they may be able at all times to differentiate between good and evil…

O Lord, Thou lover of mankind, warm our hearts with the good that is from Thee. Bring us to our senses, Lord, that we may learn to distinguish good from evil. Strengthen us, O Master, that we may always cleave to good and cast away evil, to Thy glory and our salvation. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

Amen! Thank you St. Nicholai and St. Theophan!

My next podcast will focus on Inner Stillness – The Fruit of Our Spiritual Labors.

God bless you Lenten struggles!!!

Veronica

Entering the Arena–Great Lent Begins Again, Podcast airing mid-Feb. 2015


Icon of The Prodigal Son

Icon of The Prodigal Son

Entering the Arena–Great Lent Begins Again

It’s that time of year again most of us fear and love at the same time. Great Lent! One of my pastors said, ‘How we enter and participate in the first week of Lent is very important. Our struggles in the first week, in Pure Week, set the tone for our Lenten Journey.” How can we best approach Pure Week and Lent in general? Elder Ephraim of Arizona will answer that question for us.

My resource for this podcast is:

Homily #1

The Art of Salvation – a wonderful new book that has been published with homilies of

Elder Ephraim, most of which are for lay people.

I feel that this homily is such a gift. I will be reading selected paragraphs from this first homily without interruption and giving a summary of the important points at the end.

Elder Ephraim:

‘I see Your Bridal Chamber adorned, O my Savior, and I have no wedding garment that I may enter therein. O Giver of Light, make radiant the garment of my soul, and save me,’ chants our Church during Holy Week.

The Christian soul, the repentant soul, the soul who is conscious of her sinfulness and accountability, turns her eyes toward the Bridegroom of the Church and woefully exclaims, ‘My Savior and my Benefactor: You were crucified for me the sinful soul. I do not possess a clean, radiant garment cleansed with tears and repentance. I do not have a pure garment…

Please, I beg of You, O Heavenly Bridegroom of my soul: make me radiant, and cleanse the garments of my soul. Give me the required means of purification in order for this garment to become radiant, and make me worthy of partaking and dwelling in Your heavenly and eternal bridal chamber…

Souls who have been cleansed and purified with tears sense this heavenly bridal chamber. They taste it now at the present time. They see it with the eyes of their soul. They desire it, long for it, and yearn for the day and the hour when they will go to dwell in it.

The Apostle Paul had a glimpse of it and exclaimed with full surprise and amazement, ‘Oh, the depth and riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!’ (Rom. 11:33)…

We are invited to become inhabitants of and to dwell in this heavenly bridal chamber, to assemble with the angels and saints in the heavenly bridal room, in the Jerusalem above, in the beauty of the Heavenly Kingdom, in the unapproachable light… once we have purified the garment of our soul….

Our Church helps us tremendously with the purification of our soul’s garment, which we are called to achieve. For this reason, during these holy days, during this time of the year that has opened up for us again–through general fasting, by abstaining not only from food, but mainly from evil desires–every Christian who longs for salvation must collect his thoughts and decisively struggle to live more modestly, moderately, and plainly. He must cease trying to look attractive externally and turn toward his internal embellishments. The external for the vessel will be destroyed, it will disintegrate, it will decay and become food for the worms. However nothing can ruin the beauty of the soul; on the contrary, the Spirit of God remodels it to a more noble state.

Time is continually passing; it is decreasing more and more. Every day that passes is another step toward death. We should know that even one tear of repentance is equivalent to a spiritual bath. Just as the body feels refreshed when it bathes, and just as clothes become clean when they are washed, similarly, the tears of a repentant soul purify the heart, purify the mind, purify the body, purify life, purify speech, and purify a person’s every action…

‘Let us kneel and pray with extreme humility!

Every repentant soul is given words: it is granted enlightened prayer. We observe this with the harlot in the Gospel reading of Holy Wednesday (Matt. 26:6:–16). How did this woman of the street know how to pray? She was given the spirit of prayer the very moment she decided to repent and started to proceed toward the light and truth. How beautiful are her words to the Savior! She knelt in front of Him and, undoubtedly had an inner dialogue with Him! She expressed her repentance with all her heart because it had been revealed to her that Christ was her only Savior. Everyone else had deceived her. She realized that only Jesus Christ was the one who would give her light, relief, joy, and the remission of her many offenses.

‘Except me.’ She said, ‘the sinner. Except this sea of my sins!

Every sinful soul who sheds tears and wets the feet of our Christ noetically also receives the same blessing as the harlot. Not only was she herself saved but she also became a bright example for every straying soul by pointing to the way, the path, and the light of return. If one could penetrate the soul of this woman–the very moment she was bewailing, crying, and wetting the immaculate feet of Jesus–one would witness how light she became as the tremendous weight was lifted from her, and how much peace her conscience received. On account of her repentant tears, Christ granted complete remission of all her sins.

This is the case for every person who returns to him. Christ bestows bountiful forgiveness, as long as a person repents sincerely…. Let us follow the bright road of repentance! If we sincerely repent, God will accept our repentance and establish a new relationship with us….

On account of God’s infinite compassion, let us thank Him and let us worship Him gratefully with all our soul. If God were not so infinitely compassionate, no one would be saved. No one at all! There is no one, nor has there ever been, nor will there ever be anyone on earth who is blameless, without fault, and without stain. No one can boast that he has preserved his heart clean and unblemished. Nonetheless, God’s compassion is so effective, this medication is so powerful and potent that it wipes out everything. It makes wondrous interventions, performs unbelievable operations, and saves a man’s soul from certain death…

The bridal chamber has been opened. Christ is patiently waiting for us; we must not delay. We have now entered the arena of fasting and purification, and the bath of repentance is awaiting us. Let us use our time wisely now that all things are conducive to repentance.

And if God grants tears to our eyes, let us thank Him, let us humble ourselves, and let us confess to Him our weaknesses. Let us admit that we are incapable and unworthy of repentance, and that only with His compassion do we sincerely repent. If we believe in God and if we acknowledge our sinfulness, we do so only through His grace and compassion. If grace does not overshadow man, he does not change. If we decide to return, if we repent, if we change our lives, this is all due to the indescribable grace of God. If the grace of God has come upon us, this means that Grace will accept us.

Let us compel ourselves to remain vigilant and watchful, and let us ward off negligence and indolence because they hinder God’s love towards man. Oftentimes the demon comes to make us feel tired and worn out. ‘Don’t do prostrations,’ he whispers to us. ‘Don’t get up to pray now. You are tired! Sleep a little longer because you have to go to work’, and many other things. Let us force ourselves because we do not know what may happen in the moments that follow. If He finds us forcing ourselves to struggle, He will rank us with the faithful servants…

Let us therefore, force ourselves to struggle in everything, so that we may enter the bridal chamber of Christ–because ‘To them who struggle belongs the Kingdom of Heaven’ (Matt. 11:12). Amen.

Selected passages from Homily #1 from The Art of Salvation, Elder Ephraim of Arizona

My Summary of key points of Elder Ephraim:

  1. Through general fasting, by abstaining not only from food, but mainly from evil desires–every Christian who longs for salvation must collect his thoughts and decisively struggle to live more modestly, moderately, and plainly.

  2. Time is continually passing; it is decreasing more and more. Every day that passes is another step toward death.

  3. Let us kneel and pray with humility!

  4. Every repentant soul is given words: it is granted enlightened prayer.

  5. She was given the spirit of prayer the very moment she decided to repent and started to proceed toward the light and truth.

  6. She expressed her repentance with all her heart because it had been revealed to her that Christ was her only Savior.

  7. On account of God’s infinite compassion, let us thank Him and let us worship Him gratefully with all our soul.

  8. If grace does not overshadow man, he does not change.

  9. Let us compel ourselves to remain vigilant and watchful, and let us ward off negligence and indolence because they hinder God’s love towards man.

What more can I say – Elder Ephraim has said it all. May the beginning of your Lenten struggles be blessed and grace-filled.

God bless you,

Veronica

Orthodox Missionary Work, Finding the Lost Sheep, Podcast airing early Feb. 2015


The Good Shepherd Mosaic in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna, Italy

The Good Shepherd Mosaic in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna, Italy

Orthodox Missionary Work, Finding the Lost Sheep

Chapter 15 of the Gospel of Luke begins with, “Then drew near to Him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him… What man of you having a hundred sheep, if he should loose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine, and go after that which is lost until he find it? And when he hath found it, layeth it on his shoulders rejoicing. And when he cometh home, pulleth together all his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, rejoice with me; I have found my sheep which was lost. “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety-nine just persons, which need no repentance.” (Luke 15:1-7)

Shortly after this statement our Lord tells the parable of the prodigal son.

In this time of preparation for Great Lent when we are called to start to look within ourselves more deeply, let us reflect upon the absolute necessity of missions and missionary work.

Why do we try to spread our Faith to people who have their own beliefs? A good question and one that is essential for us to answer, for our salvation and the salvation of others are dependent upon sharing the “Good News”. We were all lost sheep and prodigal children prior to someone leading us to our baptism or conversion. What then is the motivation of this underlying call we as Christians have to bring others to Christ?

My resources for this podcast are:

Fr. Martin Ritsi and Archbishop Anastasios speaking about The Purpose and Motive of Mission

The Letter of Yanovsky, November 22, 1865 concerning his conversion thanks to St. Herman

Fr. Martin Ritsi

“Why do we try to spread our Faith to people who have their own beliefs?

Somewhere along my journey toward the missionary vocation, I came across an Orthodox perspective presented by Archbishop Anastasios in a paper called, The Purpose and Motive of Mission. This paper became a watershed for me, since it seemed to encompass everything I had been learning and experiencing as a student and missionary….

Without question, the foundation for mission is the glory of God and the redemption of all creation. The Scriptures emphasize this theme over and over again, beginning with Creation itself, and leading us through the rejection of that glory and the subsequent entrance of death into the world. Jesus’ life, from this perspective, is a manifestation of the glory of God. In Christ, human nature is redeemed and the universal order restored. Finally, the Church becomes a participant in proclaiming this redemption until the Parousia, when the glory of God is fully revealed.

Participation in spreading the glory of God is so basic to the Christian spirit that it may be called an inner necessity. Archbishop Anastasios explains:

The question of the motive of mission can be studied from several angles: love of God and men, obedience to the Great Command of the Lord (Matthew 28:19), desire for the salvation of souls, longing for God’s glory. All these surely, are serious motives. . . . However, we think that the real motive of mission, for both the individual and the Church, is something deeper. It is not simply obedience, duty or altruism. It is an inner necessity. “Necessity is laid upon me,” said St. Paul, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16). All other motives are aspects of this need, derivative motives. Mission is an inner necessity for the faithful and for the Church. If they refuse it, they do not merely omit a duty, they deny themselves.

This inner necessity is an outgrowth of our being made in God’s image. Throughout history, we can clearly see God’s purpose in the revelation of His glory, the drawing of all things to Himself, and the establishment of His Kingdom. In addition, we can see that God has shared this mission with humanity, from Abraham to Jesus’ disciples and on to the Church today.

Thus mission work is not a task, which is simply imposed upon us; nor is it rooted solely in our obedience, respect, or even love of God. Rather it is the actualization of our inherent nature to participate in the fulfillment, destiny, and direction of humanity and all creation as it is drawn back to God and towards the coming of His Kingdom.”

Veronica:

What Father Ritsi and Archbishop Anastasi have shared with us reminded me of my motivation when I wrote my book, The Pearl of Great Price, The Spiritual Journey of a New Age Seeker to the Light of Christ and the Orthodox Church. As soon as I was baptized I realized that I had to write a book about my experience – it was an inner necessity that I had to fulfill; in part due to gratitude, for I was saved; in part to bare my story to those as unconsciously lost as I was in the seductions of the New Age and Eastern religions. Writing my book was a calling I had to answer and fulfill. A calling that came from deep inside of me.

We as Christians are called to share the Gospel, but the expression of our calling is unique to each of us. Given I had spent more than 25 years seeking what I have now found in the Orthodox Church – how could I hide my ‘talent’ Christ had given me in the ground and not tell my story? My conversion was hard fought! It was a life changing experience for me to become Orthodox and yet another life changing experience for me to write my story.

I realized when I had finished my book that God works our salvation through our ministries and labors. I had lead so many people away from Christ during my years as a metaphysical teacher and spiritist, for which I have wept many tears. So you can only imagine how thrilled beyond words I was, when some fifteen years after my conversion, after 6 long years of work I published my book. Then a few months later I personally sold my book to a woman who then came to our church bazaar. A week later she came to church and is now a member of our faith! So true are the words of our Lord about the one lost sheep. There is not only rejoicing in heaven but in my heart and soul!

Back to Fr. Ritsi…

Conclusion

In this article, we have considered the longstanding and sometimes forgotten tradition of Orthodox missionary work. Space has not allowed us to explore in depth the loving characters, the powerful visions, the solid strategies, and the intensely sacrificial lives of so many Orthodox missionaries…

I have attempted to give a taste—if ever so faint—of the rich flavor of a vibrant history that continues in the present and which is at the very heart of our being. As Orthodox, we have been, and must be, involved in missionary work. We have a firm historical tradition and developed principles which tell us this.

Most importantly, we have an understanding that bringing God’s love, compassion, and message to the world, drawing people to Him and establishing worshiping communities among all nations and in all cultures is not merely an imposed command or a religious principle—it is a part of our own nature as we are created in the image and likeness of God.

Participation in missions, both as individuals and as a Church, is an action necessary to our fully being who we are. Without it something will be lacking. With two-thirds of our world still missing the love and joy of being in Jesus Christ, we have much to do. May the Lord guide us to actualize this dimension of ourselves so that His saving power may be known among all nations.”

As Fr. Ritsi and Archbishop Anastasios have so eloquently stated, each one of us has an inner call to share our life in Christ with others. Had it not been for the efforts of St. Herman, St. Innocent and so many others, would we have an Orthodox Church in America?

If you have not yet found your way to share support missionary work, then the first step is to pray for God to show you His will and calling for you. Let us not leave our ‘talent’ the Lord has given us buried in the ground.

The next quote I will read to you is from a letter written by one of St. Herman’s converts – I think this sums up the great task and necessity of sharing the gospel set before us by our Lord:

Letter of Yanovsky, November 22, 1865

I was thirty years old when I met Father Herman. Here it should be said that I was brought up in the naval corps, knew many sciences and read much, but unfortunately… I was only in name a Christian, while in soul and in deed I was a freethinker, a deist, as are nearly all who are brought up in the military corps and in public institutions. How unfortunate that no attention is given this: that God’s Law is everywhere taught superficially, even in the seminaries; yes, and even from the theological academies there come out students, even Masters, who are very learned, but do not have an active faith in their heart, and thus do not live in a Christian way.

All the more did I fail to recognize the godliness and sanctity of our religion, in that I had read many atheist writings of Voltaire and other philosophers of the 18th Century. Father Herman immediately noticed this and wished to convert me. But this was not easy! I had to be convinced, to be shown the sanctity of our religion; and, therefore, much time, knowledge, and the ability to speak well and convincing was required.

To my great amazement, the simple, uneducated monk, Father Herman, being inspired by grace, spoke and argued so wisely, powerfully, and convincingly that, it seems to me, no kind of learnedness and earthly wisdom could withstand his words. In actual fact Father Herman had a great innate intelligence and sound thinking, had read many spiritual patristic books; and most important, he had the grace of God!

But since in a short winter’s day I had no time at all to devote myself to him, he therefore came to me every day for evening tea, and sometimes also for dinner, and we conversed until midnight, and sometimes after; he never stayed the night. Neither rain nor snow nor storm kept the zealous Elder from visiting me and returning the half mile home alone at midnight! He came to me regularly every day in an old ryassa, without a coat; I warmed him with tea and I conversed with him without ceasing: on God’s Law, on eternity, on the salvation of the soul, on Christian life, and other things. A sweet discourse flowed from his mouth in an unceasing, enthralling torrent . . !

Then at midnight, or after, the Elder went home alone with his staff in every kind of storm and cold weather; no one accompanied him on the slippery rocky path; but angels accompanied him and supported him: “For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways” (Ps. 90:11). And Christian love warmed him, with which he was penetrated for the salvation of his neighbor.

By such constant conversations and by the prayers of the holy Elder the Lord completely converted me to the true path, and I became a real Christian. For all this I am obliged to Father Herman. He is my true benefactor.

(Letter of Yanovsky, November 22, 1865)

By the prayers of St. Herman and all the saints – may we too share the “Good News”, pray for and help our missionaries.

For those of you that are interested in my book, The Pearl of Great Price, you can go to my author’s website: pearlofgreatpriceorthodox.com. For a Kindle copy – go to Amazon.

God bless you!

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

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 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

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