Tag Archives: grace of God

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

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


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

My resource for this podcast is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upholding the fast in other ways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Dionysios the Areopagite

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

In Christ,

Veronica

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


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

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

From My Elder Joseph the Hesychast

By Elder Ephraim

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

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

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

Elder Ephraim…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Nicholai Velimirovic, The Prologue May 24

And to return where we started this podcast…

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

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

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

In Christ,

Veronica

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


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Part 2 on Prayer

The Reverent Approach

to Loving Union with God

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

What constitutes real prayer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Body, soul and spirit

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

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

Draw down our mind into our heart

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

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

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

What is next?

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

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

Prayer should be short, but often repeated

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

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

Loving union with God

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

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

Thank you St. Dimitri and St. Theophan!

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

God bless you!

Veronica

Ps

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

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

 

 

 

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


 

 

Faith vs. Knowledge

Part 2

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

 

 

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

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

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

The first degree of knowledge (Common Knowledge):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May God bless you!

In Christ,

Veronica

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

 

 

First of two podcast on Obedience and Humility, airing May 7th on OCN


Part I – Obedience

Christ is Risen! In Truth He is Risen!

 

 

 

 

 

When researching for this podcast I realized that I could not talk about humility without first speaking about obedience, for according to many of the Holy Fathers, from obedience comes humility.

“Obedience and humility go hand-in-hand. They feed and nourish one another. We cannot learn obedience without humility, and we cannot acquire humility without obedience. Together, these two virtues can take us to the very heights of spiritual perfection.”

Thirty Steps to Heaven, The Ladder of Divine Ascent for all walks of life

What does St. Paul say about this dynamic duo?

“And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even death on the cross.” Phil. 2:8

In this season of rejoicing, let us reflect on the obedience and humility of Our Lord, which freed us from sin and death, which allowed us to be resurrected in Him.

The key to unlocking our regeneration is grace hinges on these two virtues, for grace will not come to us if either obedience or humility is missing.

My resources for this:

  • My Elder Joseph the Hesychast by Elder Ephraim
  • Thirty Steps to Heaven, The Ladder of Divine Ascent for All Walks of Life by Archmandrite Vassilious Papavassilios
  • The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus

The Fruits of Obedience

My Elder Joseph the Hesychast

“Francis (the future Elder Joseph) and Father Arsenios behaved like angels towards their elders. They prepared the food, clean the house, and did whatever was necessary with joy and love. In fact, they even try to foresee what the elders would need in order to please them more. They had so much reverence for those old monks that they were even more obedient to them than children to their real parents. For this is the true meaning of obedience: to remove your ego from the center of your soul and to place God and your elder there…

For many of us who do not have an elder, our elder come in the form of those around us– our daily obedience’s – to our spouses, parents, pastors, teachers and employers with joy and love.

…It was not long before they saw the fruits of their obedience. Because of their obedience, it was natural that they found great ease in prayer. In this way, Francis realized from his own experience why the holy Fathers praised holy obedience….

Isn’t that amazing! They found great ease in prayer due to their obedience! Elder Ephrim also commented that when he first became a novice he was quite ill with beginning stages of TB. He understood though that by keeping perfect obedience if he died he would go directly to heaven! Therefore, he was not concerned about dying.

…Ever since then, Francis held holy obedience as the foremost virtue. He emphasized no other virtue more than this one. In fact, he later wrote to someone: ‘Personally, I have never seen anything more comforting in my soul than perfect obedience.’…

When Papa–Ephraim was an old man, he recollected the good old days and said: ‘O, blessed obedience! What can I tell you? When I was under obedience, I had a special kind of grace, a different kind of prayer. It was as if I were flying, for prayer springs from obedience–not obedience from prayer. Be obedient for now, and later you will acquire grace.’…

…Elder Joseph told us: ‘When a person is obedient to an elder, it doesn’t matter if the command is wrong; it will turn out well for him simply because he is being obedient. It doesn’t matter who his elder is. What good did it do Judas that he had Christ? None! … What good did it do Adam, who was in paradise, and his ‘elder’ in a sense was God? None, because he was disobedient.”

“When Grace comes to a man, it makes him God. But when it departs from him, then he is ready to fall into every heresy, every delusion, every moral deviation, and even damnation. Everything is supported by the grace of God. But Grace also has its requirements before it will dwell in man. It seeks his good intentions, his willpower, and his struggle. Together with grace, man becomes an angel. Without grace, he deviates and becomes a demon.” St. John Climacus

I know this from experience with my husband and parents. In times of great stress – when I trusted in their instructions and followed them – when I was obedient to their wishes, in spite of my fears and thoughts, things worked out in a marvelous manner – far better than I could have imagined.

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

Step 4 – Obedience

“…The virtue of obedience is rooted not in fearful pragmatism, but in humility. True obedience, like true love, cannot be forced–it must be free. Obedience and humility go hand-in-hand. They feed and nourish one another. We cannot learn obedience without humility, and we cannot acquire humility without obedience. Together, these two virtues can take us to the very heights of spiritual perfection…

…From obedience comes humility… and from humility comes discernment. (St. John Cassian, Conference 2.)

Take courage from this. For few are able to do something as basic and simple as to obey, then you are already on your way to learning one of the greatest and highest virtues of all: humility. People may think obedience is for children. They are right! No one is as humble as a little child. Thus no one practices obedience better than infants. Let us remember what we said in chapter 1: Children are the greatest example of what God wants us to be…

Obedience to God

It may seem blindingly obvious, but we are obedient, above all, to God. And this is expressed not only in keeping his commandments, but also in the action of prayer. Only an obedient heart can truly pray, for the end of prayer is not speaking to God, but hearing and heeding what he is saying back to us. Furthermore only a humble person can really pray, because only when we are humble do we not rely wholly on our own judgments, actions, and capabilities….

The root of the word obedience come from French, obieir or Latin, oboedire: to hear or to listen to. It is only though our obedience – that we can eventually hear God in our heart.

…for the end of prayer is not speaking to God, but hearing and heeding what he is saying back to us.

…If our obedience is sincere, it bestows upon us the peace from above. If we practice it ungrudgingly (even if we do not like what we have been asked to do), we will find inner stillness and ‘the peace of God, which passes all understanding’. Phil. 4:7

Obedience in Marriage

Obedience is part and parcel not only of monastic life, but also of married life. Husband and wife are subject to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21). They are not to seek their own will, but must subject themselves to the will of the other, for they are no longer two independent individuals, but one flesh. No marriage can work if the two do not sacrifice their own wills in loving obedience.

How well I know this after 27 years of marriage to my dear, patient husband! Until we made being obedient to God our first priority, we could not become obedient to each other. Our prayer life has helped us to trust each other and to trust that we can place our obedience with love in each other if our trust is first in God. This came out of many struggles….

St. John Climacus

For obedience is entirely foreign to the hypocrisy and one’s own will.

Obedience is the tomb of the will and the resurrection of humility.

Stay tuned for our next podcast on humility…

Christ is Risen! In Truth He is Risen!

In Christ,

Veronica

 

“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