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:
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.
‘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:
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.
Time is continually passing; it is decreasing more and more. Every day that passes is another step toward death.
Let us kneel and pray with humility!
Every repentant soul is given words: it is granted enlightened prayer.
She was given the spirit of prayer the very moment she decided to repent and started to proceed toward the light and truth.
She expressed her repentance with all her heart because it had been revealed to her that Christ was her only Savior.
On account of God’s infinite compassion, let us thank Him and let us worship Him gratefully with all our soul.
If grace does not overshadow man, he does not change.
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.
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!
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:
“Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
“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 achievements… In 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 soul… seeing 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.