Category Archives: suffering and being an Orthodox Christian

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

 

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


 

 

Faith vs. Knowledge

Part 2

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

 

 

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

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

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

The first degree of knowledge (Common Knowledge):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May God bless you!

In Christ,

Veronica

Faith vs. Knowledge Part 1, Podcast Airing on OCN, July 2nd


" I have lifted up my eyes to the mountain where comes my help. My help comes from the Lord Who made heaven and earth.

Mt Lassen

 

 Faith vs. Knowledge

Part I

Why is it so challenging sometimes to have faith?

What does worldly knowledge

have to do with our lack of faith?

Let’s find out!

 

 

 

 

I am so inspired about our podcast today! When my husband read Homily 52 by St. Isaac the Syrian to me about a year ago I felt as if the Lord had given me an answer to multiple pleas and prayers. I had been struggling for years to understand how to have faith – especially with regards to my health issues and my spiritual life. Reading and re-reading this homily has changed my life!

Wonderful is God in his Saints! Let us begin our study of Faith vs. Knowledge from St. Isaac the Syrian…

“It is well known that knowledge cannot exist without investigation… But faith requires a way of thinking that a single, limpidly pure and simple, far removed from any deviousness or invention of methods… This should be a clear tip off to us that we are not in the right frame of mind, not present to faith when our thinking becomes too complicated, worldly solution oriented and logical. The home of faith is a childlike thought and a simple heart.

Knowledge keeps within the boundaries of nature (St. Isaac is referring to our earthly/scientific nature here) in all its paths; but faith makes its journey above nature. (Faith is part of our spiritual nature.) Knowledge (what we understand in a worldly context) does not allow itself to experience anything that is ruinous to nature (this means anything that is a leap of faith, requires stepping out of what we know and putting our faith in the providence of God), and it keeps far away from it; but faith readily submits itself to this and says, ‘Upon the asp and the basilisk shalt thou tread, and thou shalt trample upon the lion and the dragon.’ Faith is fearless!

Fear accompanies knowledge; but confidence accompanies faith. The more a man journeys in the pathways of knowledge, the more he is shackled by fear and cannot be found worthy of freedom from it; but he who follows faith straightway becomes a free man and a ruler of himself, and as a son of God he freely wields all things with authority…

When I read this for the first time how my heart leapt! Of course we can surmount our earthly sorrows and struggles if we put our faith in Christ! I understood that my fears are based not only on my past, but, in what I have learned in the world to survive, which does not support the life of my spirit.

But knowledge can do nothing without matter. Knowledge is not so bold as to attempt anything that has not been given to nature. How so? The liquid nature of water cannot support upon its back the footsteps of a body; the man who comes too close to fire burns himself; and whosoever should rashly oppose nature in this fashion brings himself into peril… But faith transgresses them with authority, saying: ‘If thou go through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, and the rivers shall not overflow thee.’ Faith has many times worked such things before the eyes of all creation…

Christ walked on water, He and is Saints have healed countless people, Christ fed 5,000 with only a few loaves and fishes, and more… He fed and healed their soul.

If knowledge were given the opportunity to attempt such things, it would in no wise be persuaded. (This is where I hear myself saying, “You cannot do this Veronica because of this and that…. Just what the devil wants me to think and believe, but it is not true. I can choose to not listen to this voice that has spoken to me for years.) For it is by faith that men have entered into the flames and bridle the burning power of the fire, walking unharmed as the midst thereof, and they have trodden upon the back of the sea as on dry land. All these are above nature and opposed to the ways and means of knowledge….

Do you see how faith has shaken the foundations of knowledge and proven it futile in all its ways and laws? Do you see how knowledge keeps within the limits of nature? Do you see how faith passes above nature in traveling on the pathway of its journey? Yes! This is why Christ came to earth!

The ways and means of knowledge governed the world for a little more or less than 5000 years, and man was in no wise able to raise his head from the earth and perceive the power of his Creator. For this was not until our faith shone forth and freed us from the gloom of earthly labors and futile slavery that seeks fruitless distraction.

How much time have I spent in my life with fruitless distractions – to take me away from the pain of my seeming failures or disappointments in life? Am I not ready to focus my mind and heart on something higher? Yes!

There is no knowledge that is not needy, however rich it might be; but heaven and earth cannot contain the treasures of faith. The man whose heart is upheld by the confidence of faith will never be in want; and when he has nothing, by faith he possesses all, as it is written: ‘All things whatever you shall ask in prayer, ye shall receive’, and again, ‘The Lord is at hand, have care for nothing.’”

So let us now go to Elder Joseph, Monastic Wisdom to further help our spiritual understanding of what St. Isaac is saying to us…

Let us return to our starting point on faith, the fear of the Lord….

 

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, says the wise Solomon, and the Fathers agree. And I say to you, ‘Blessed and thrice blessed is the man that fears the Lord.’ (Ps.111:1) (When a person truly fears God and has dedicated his life to God – he knows that God is capable of working anything in his life, especially that which is beyond our understanding, for that person trusts and knows God in his heart. He believes that God is greater than his mind. I am still working on this one!)

From this divine fear, faith in God is born. Then a person believes wholeheartedly that since he has completely dedicated himself to God, God intern assumes all solicitude for him… So when this faith takes root, that kind of knowledge is completely abolished which gives rise to doubt about everything, decreases faith, and many times eliminates it (for it has nature on its side, since we were brought up with it). But once faith is victorious after many trials, it turns and gives birth to spiritual knowledge, or rather is given as a gift, which does not oppose faith, but flies with its wings and explores the depths of the mysteries. And these two: faith and knowledge, knowledge and faith, are thence forth inseparable sisters.

Elder Joseph is reminding us that we have many trials to endure for the acquisition of faith – so take courage – our sufferings have a purpose!

If you leave everything to God, behold that you have acquired faith, and certainly, without a doubt, you will have Him as your helper. So even if you are tried 1 million times and Satan tempts you in order to dull your faith, choose death 1 million times and do not comply with human knowledge. And in this manner the door of mysteries will open. Then you will marvel that although you were formerly bound with the chains of human knowledge, now you fly above the earth with divine wings and breathe another air of freedom, which others lack.

Conversely if you see that human knowledge reigns in you, and if at the slightest danger you lose your head in despair, know that you still lack faith. Therefore, you do not yet have all your hope in God, and do not yet trust that He is able to save you from every evil. Take care to correct yourself here, as we have said, so that you are not deprived of such a great good.” Elder Joseph, Monastic Wisdom

May we pray to St. Issac and Elder Joseph to help us learn to surmount our worldly knowledge and acquire faith!

God bless you,

Veronica

Link to the first part of the full text of Homily 52

Ps

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

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

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


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Humility

Christ is Risen! In Truth He is Risen!

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

(Mt. 18:4)

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

My resources for this two podcast will be:

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

Abba Dorotheos, Discourses and Sayings

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

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

St John Climacus

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

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

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

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

Certainly I have no trouble praising the humble!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 St John Climacus

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

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

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

Abba Dorotheos, Discourses and Sayings

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

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

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

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

Christ is Risen! In Truth He is Risen!

Veronica Hughes

 

 

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


Venus at early dawn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PRAYER

Summary of Veronica’s Commentary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May God bless your prayers and Lenten Journey!

In Christ,

Veronica

Part 2 of Homily 52 by St. Issac the Syrian, the degrees of knowledge


Rainbow from our upper deck

 

 

 

 

 

No matter how many times I read Homily 52, especially concerning the degrees of knowledge, I am reminded how captured I am by what I know and how challenging, yet fulfilling and inspiring staying connected to one’s faith is by comparison.

What I know is so ingrained in my being! Lord have mercy!  Glory to God and His Saints! Who we are is not what we know according to the world, but what God has blessed us to know by His grace.

In Christ,

Veronica

Homily 52, Part II, by St. Issac the Syrian

Question:  Whom does he resemble that has been deemed worthy to taste the sweetness of faith but afterwards turns again to unspiritual knowledge?

Answer:   He resembles the man who has found a pearl of great price and exchanges it for a copper obol, who has abandoned self–sufficient freedom and turned to the ways of destitution, filled with fear and slavery.

It is not that knowledge is blameworthy, but that faith is higher; and if we find fault, it is not knowledge that we blame. Far be it! Rather it is to distinguish the erring modes by which it goes against nature, and how it becomes kindred to the orders of the demons–which distinctions we shall clearly make hereafter; and how many steps there are in which knowledge journeys; what is the difference in each of them; by what conceptions it is awakened in each mode when it abides therein; in which of these modes (when it walks therein) it opposes faith and goes forth outside of nature; what are the distinctions in knowledge; in which degree (when knowledge returns to its primary aim) it comes into its nature and by its good discipline becomes a stepping–stone for faith; and how far the distinctions of its degree reaches; how it passes from these modes to higher ones; which are the modes of that other degree that is first in honor; when it is that knowledge unites with faith and becomes one with it and from it receives the vesture of fiery intellections; when it is inflamed by the Spirit, acquiring the wings of dispassion; and when it is exalted above servitude to things earthly into the realm of its Creator, with the aid of other modes. But for the moment it is suitable that we should know only that faith and its working is higher than knowledge.

Knowledge is perfected by faith and acquires the power to ascend on high, to perceive that which is higher than every perception, and to see the radiance of Him that is incomprehensible to the mind and to the knowledge of created things. Knowledge is a step whereby a man can climb up to the lofty heights of faith; and when a man has reached faith, he no longer has need of knowledge. ‘Now,’ it is said, ‘we know in part and we noetically perceive in part, but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.’ Faith, therefore, now shows us, as it were before our eyes, the reality of that future perfection. It is by our faith that we learn those things that cannot be comprehended, not by the investigation and power of knowledge.

These are the works of righteousness; fasting, alms, vigil, holiness, and the rest of such works performed by the body. Love for one’s neighbor, humility of heart, forgiving those who have sinned, recollection of good things, investigation of the mysteries concealed in the Holy Scriptures, the mind’s occupation with good works, the bridling of the soul’s passions, and the rest of such virtues, are performed in the soul-all these require knowledge, for knowledge guards and teaches their order. All these are known as virtues, but they are still only steps by which the soul ascends to the more lofty height of faith.

The way of life proper to faith is more exalted than the working of virtue, and it is not labor, but perfect rest, consolation, words in the heart, and it is accomplished by the intellections of the soul. All these wondrous modes of spiritual discipline–the practice of which in the spiritual life is awareness, delight, fruition of the soul, burning love, joy in God, and the rest–and whatsoever things in this discipline are bestowed upon the soul accounted worthy of the grace of that yonder blessedness, and whatsoever things are subtly indicated in the Divine Scriptures, all these things are accomplished through faith by God, Who is boundless in His gifts.

A difficulty:  But if any says, if all these good things, and the aforementioned works of virtue, the abstention from evils, the discernment of those subtle thoughts that sprout up in the soul, the battle with thoughts, the struggle with the inciting passions, and the rest of such things which even faith itself cannot manifest its power in the soul’s actions–if it is knowledge that accomplishes all these good things, then how can knowledge be considered to be opposed to faith?

Solution:   We say that there are also three intelligible degrees in which knowledge ascends and descends, and according to the variation of the modes wherein it walks, it submits to change and becomes the cause of either harm or help. There are three degrees: body, soul, and spirit. And although knowledge is single in its nature, yet it becomes more gross and more subtle and changes its provisions and the activities of its conceptions in relation to the noetic and sensible realms. So hearken and learn the order of its activity and causes whereby it harms or helps. Knowledge is a gift bestowed by God on the nature of rational beings in their very creation. It is naturally simple and undivided, even as the light of the sun: but according to its activity, knowledge undergoes changes and additions.

On the first degree of knowledge:

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

This measure of knowledge does not reckon that there is any noetic power and hidden steersman over a man whatsoever, nor any divine care that shelters and takes concerned for him. It takes no account of God’s providential governance; but on the contrary, it attributes to a man’s diligence and his methods every good thing in him, his rescue from what harms him, his natural ability to avert the plights and many adversities that secretly and manifestly accompany our nature.

This degree of knowledge presumes that all things are by its own providence, like those men who assert that there is no divine governance of visible things. Nevertheless, it cannot be without continual cares and fear for the body. Therefore it is appraised to faintheartedness, sorrow, despair, fear of the demons, trepidation before men, the rumor of thieves and the report of murders, anxiety over diseases, concern over want and lack of necessities, fear of death, fear of sufferings, of wild beasts, and of other similar things that make this knowledge like a sea more turbulent by great waves at every hour of the night and day. For knowledge does not know how to cast its care upon God through the confident trust of faith in Him; wherefore in all things that concern it, it is constantly engaged in devising devices and clever contrivances. But when in some instance the modes of its contrivances prove fruitless, it strives with men as though they hindered and opposed it, since it does not see in this the mystical hand of providence.

The tree of knowledge of good and evil, the tree that uproots love, is planted in this very knowledge. It investigates the minute faults of other men and the causes thereof, and their wickednesses; and it arms a man for stubbornly upholding his opinion, for disputation, and aids him in cunningly employing devices and crafty machinations and other means, which dishonor a man. In this knowledge are produced and are found presumption and pride, for it attributes every good thing to itself, and does not refer to God.

Faith, however, attributes its works to grace. For this reason it cannot be lifted up with pride, as it is written: ‘Not I, but the grace of God which was with me’; and also, ‘Knowledge puffeth up,’ which the blessed Apostle said of this same knowledge, since it is not mingled with faith and hope in God, but he said it concerning true knowledge, far be it!

By humility, true knowledge makes perfect the soul of those who have acquired it, like Moses, David, Esaias, Peter, Paul, and the rest of the saints who have accounted been worthy of this perfect knowledge to the degree possible for human nature. And by diverse theorias and divine revelations, by the lofty vision of spiritual things and by ineffable mysteries and the like, their knowledge is swallowed up at times, and in their own eyes they reckon their souls to be dust and ashes.

But that other knowledge is puffed up, even as is meet, since it walks in darkness and values that which belongs to it by comparison with things of earth, and it knows not that there is something better than itself. And so all (who claim to such knowledge) are seized by the uplifting of pride, because they measure their discipline according to the standard of the earth in the flesh, they rely upon their works, and their minds do not enter into in comprehensible matters.

But as many as reflect upon the waves of the glorious splendor of the Godhead, and whose labor is on high, their minds do not turn aside with interventions and vain thoughts. For those who walk in the light cannot go astray, and for this reason all those who have strayed from the light of the knowledge of the Son of God, have turned away from the truth, journey in these pathways just mentioned.

This is the first degree of knowledge; in it a man follows the desire of the flesh. We find this knowledge blameworthy and declare it to be opposed not only to faith, but to every working of virtue.

On the second degree of knowledge:

But when knowledge renounces the first degree and turns toward deep reflections on the love of the soul, then it practices the aforementioned good deeds with the help of the soul’s understanding, in co-operation with the senses of the body, in the light of the soul’s nature. These deeds are: fasting, prayer, mercy, reading of the divine Scripture, the modes of virtue, battle with the passions, and the rest. For all these good things, all the various excellences seen in the soul and the wondrous means that are employed for serving in Christ’s court in the second degree of knowledge, are made perfect by the Holy Spirit through the action of its power. This knowledge makes straight the pathways in the heart which lead to faith, wherewith we gather supplies for our journey to the true age.

But even so, this knowledge is still corporeal and composite; and although it is the road that leads us and speeds us on our way toward faith, yet there remains a degree of knowledge still higher than it. If it goes forward, it will find itself raised up by faith with the help of Christ, that is, when it has laid the foundation of its action on seclusion from men, reading of the Scriptures, prayer, and other good works by which the second degree of knowledge is made perfect. It is by this knowledge that all that is excellent is performed; indeed, it is called the knowledge of actions, because by concrete actions, through the senses of the body, it accomplishes its work on the external level.

On the third degree of knowledge, which is the degree of perfection:

Here now how a knowledge becomes more refined, acquires that which is of the Spirit, then comes to resemble the life of the unseen hosts which perform their liturgy not by the palpable activity of works, but through the activity accomplished in the meditation of the understanding. When knowledge is raised above the earthly things and the cares of earthly activities, and its thoughts begin to gain experience in inward matters which are hidden from the eyes; and when in part it scorns the recollections of things (whence the perverseness of the passions arises), and when it stretches itself upward and follows faith in its solicitude for the future age, in its desire for what has been promised us, and in searching deeply into hidden mysteries: then faith itself swallows up knowledge, converts it, and begets it anew, so that it becomes wholly and completely spirit.

Then it can soar on wings in the regions of the bodiless and touch the depths of the unfathomable sea, musing upon the wonders and divine workings of God’s governance of noetic and corporeal creatures. It searches our spiritual mysteries that are perceived by this simple and subtle understanding. Then the inner senses awakened for spiritual doing, according to the order that will be in the immortal and incorporeal life. For even from now it has received, as it were in a mystery, the noetic resurrection as a true witness of the universal renewal of all things.

These are the three degrees of knowledge wherein is brought together a man’s whole course in the body, in the soul, and in the spirit. From the time when man begins to distinguish between good and evil until he takes leave of this world, his soul’s knowledge journeys in these stages. The fullness of all wrong and impiety, and the fullness of righteousness, and the probing of the depths of all the mysteries of the spirit are wrought by one knowledge in the aforementioned three stages; and in it is contained the mind’s every movement, whether the mind ascends or descends in good or in evil, or in things midway between the two.

The Fathers call these stages natural, supranatural, and contranatural. These are three directions in which the memory of a rational soul travels up or down, as has been said: when the soul works righteousness in (the confines of) nature, or when through her recollection she is caught away to a higher state than nature in the divine vision of God, or when she goes out of her nature to herd swine, as did that young man who squandered the wealth of his discretion and laborers for a troop of demons.

A recapitulation of the three degrees of knowledge:

The first degree of knowledge renders the soul cold to works that go in pursuit of God. The second makes her fervent in the swift course on the level of faith. But the third is rest from labor, which is the type of the age to come, for the soul takes delight solely in the mind’s meditation upon the mysteries of the good things to come. But since a man’s nature is not yet completely elevated above the state of morality and the heaviness of the flesh, and is not yet perfected in the spiritual state that transcends this other state that is liable to aberration, it is unable to attain to the perfection that knows no cessation in its liturgy; and while a man is in this world of deadness, he cannot entirely take leave of the flesh’s nature.

So long as a man still abides in the nature of the flesh, he is in continual transition from one (state) to another. At one time, as a poor man and a pauper, his soul performs her service in the second, middle degree, working virtue that is inherent in her nature by means natural to the body. At another time, like those who have received the Spirit of adoption in the mystery of freedom, the soul employs the gift of the Spirit, given that according to the beneficence of its Bestower; but afterward she again returns to the loneliness of her works, that is, those wrought by the body. The soul keeps watch over the body, lest the crafty one take her captive through the enticements found in this age, and by troubled and erring thoughts. So long as the soul is closed behind the veil of the door of the flesh, she has no confidence, for there is no perfect freedom in this imperfect age.

Every working of knowledge is for the sake of activity and training; the working of faith, however, is not performed in deeds, but is accomplished by spiritual insights to the naked activity of the soul, and it transcends the senses. For faith is more subtle than knowledge, just as knowledge is more subtle than palpable deeds. All the saints who have been found worthy to attain to this spiritual discipline (which is awestruck wonder at God) pass their lives by the power of faith in the delight of that discipline which is above nature.

By faith we mean not that wherewith a man believes in the distinctions of the Divine and worshipful Hypostases, in the singular and unique nature of the very Godhead, and the wondrous dispensation to mankind to the assumption of our nature, although this faith is also very lofty. But we call faith that light which dawns in the soul by grace, and by which the testimony of the mind establishes the heart in freedom from doubt through the full assurance of hope that is remote from all conceit. This faith manifests itself not by the tradition of the hearing of the ear, but with spiritual eyes it beholds the mysteries concealed in the soul, and the secret and divine riches that are hidden away from the eyes of the sons of the flesh, but are unveiled by the Spirit to those who are brought up at Christ’s table in the study of His laws. The He said, ‘If ye keep My Commandments, I will send you the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, Whom the world cannot receive, and He shall teach you all truth.’

The Comforter shows a man the holy power that dwells within him at every moment, and the protection, of the noetic force that shelters him always and drives away from him all harm, that it should not touch his soul or his body. The luminous and noetic mind visibly perceives this (holy power) with the eyes of faith, and the saints gain greater knowledge of it through experience. This power is the Comforter Himself Who, in the strength of faith, consumes the parts of the soul as with fire. The soul then rushes forward, despising every danger because of her trust in God, and on the wings of faith she soars aloft, taking leave of visible creation, and as though drunken, she is ever found in the awestruck wonder of solicitude for God; and with simple, uncompounded vision, and with invisible perception of the Divine nature, the understanding becomes accustomed to attending to reflection upon that nature’s hiddenness. For until the coming of that which is the perfection of the mysteries, and until we be found worthy of their manifest revelation, faith administers unspeakable mysteries between God and the saints. Of these may we be deemed worthy of the grace of Christ, here as an earnest, but there in the substance of truth in the kingdom of the Heavens together with those who love Him. Amen.