Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

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

Mary, the First Hesyachist – Part II – “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart”


Mary, the First Hesyachist

Part II

“But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart”

While in the womb of the Advent Fast, awaiting the birth of Christ, let us enter into the prayer life of the Theotokos, whom St. Gregory Palamas called the first hesyachist and reflect on the value of secret meditation of the heart, which Mary pioneered. “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Lk. 2:19)

My resources for this podcast are:

The Life of the Virgin Mary, The Theotokos

Holy Apostles Convent with quotes from St. Gregory Palamas

The Art of Prayer, compiled by Igumen Chariton of Valamo

Quotes from St. Theophan the Recluse

Elder Joseph

From the Life of Mary quoting St. Gregory Palamas

“The sojourn of the Virgin Mary in the temple is described by St. Gregory Palamas in terms that make Mary the model of the hesychastic life. Extolling constant prayer, the saint indicates that the Virgin was the first to take it upon herself to pray unceasingly. According to St. Gregory her asceticsim therein did not lead her to come to an understanding of the grace received from the time of her conception, but to learn more of the nature of the sins of Adam. It was there that she perceived and realized that ‘no one could halt the murderous rush, which was bearing away the human race.’

Thus she was filled with pity for people who were brought to ruin and condemnations for disobedience. Therefore, she resolved to have her heart, mind and soul to dwell on God, and endeavored to remain attentive and struggle in prayer. She would pray for the human race and God’s great mercy.

She understood the most excellent way to converse with God was through holy silence and silence of the mind. Hence, she withdrew from the world and put away all earthly things. Through this, by God’s grace, she pioneered a new path to God, the path of silencing the thoughts. Abiding in prayer day and night, and maintaining silence, she cleansed her heart and was inexpressibly united with God.

Rising above all creation and creatures, the all holy Virgin contemplated God’s glory more fully than did Moses, and communed with divine grace in such a way that defies words and even reason… the young virgin Mary gave herself up entirely to God and repulsed from herself every impulse to sin, yet still she felt the weakness of human nature more powerfully than others.

Therefore, she greatly desired the coming of the Savior… She became an abode of every virtue, turning her mind away from every worldly and carnal desire. This was fitting for her who was to conceive God within herself.

St. Gregory Palamas praises Mary in superlative terms, writing: ‘Today a new world and a wonderful paradise has appeared. In it and from it a new Adam is born to reform the old Adam and renew the whole world… God has kept this Virgin for Himself before all ages. He chose her from among all generations and bestowed on her grace higher than that given to all others, making her, even before her wondrous childbirth, the saint of saints, giving her the honor of His own house in the Holy of Holies… wishing to create an image of absolute beauty and to manifest clearly, to angels and men, the power of His art. God made Mary truly all beautiful… He made of her blend of all divine, angelic and human perfection, a sublime beauty embellishing the two worlds, rising from earth to heaven and surpassing even the latter.’”

We can see from these revelations given to St. Gregory that Mary developed and diligently practiced secret meditation on God in her heart, which for her led to the incarnation of God within her womb. This was Mary’s role in our salvation.

Where can the diligent practice of secret mediation of the heart lead us?

Let’s explore what St. Theophan the Recluse has to say about secret meditation of the heart…

“Gather yourself together in your heart, and there practice secret meditation. By this means, with the help of God’s grace, the spirit of God will be maintained in its true character – burning sometimes less and sometimes more brightly. Secret meditation sets our feet on the path of inner prayer, which is the most direct road to salvation. We may leave all else and turn to this work and all will be well. Conversely, if we fulfill all other duties and neglect this one task we shall bear no fruit.”

St. Theophan is telling us that secret meditation is “The one thing needful.” How do we start to dwell in our heart in prayer?

“Some Godly thoughts come nearer to the heart than others. Should this be so after you have finished your prayers, continue to remain dwelling on such a thought and feeding on it. This is the way to unceasing prayer.”

Here are some examples of what St. Theophan is talking about:

Secret meditation most often takes the form of indwelling The Jesus Prayer, prayers to our Most Holy Theotokos and other supplications to the Saints. Other Fathers have also recommended the recitation of a verse from the Psalms, a part of a prayer you love, and or hymns from church. For example: Because I am musically oriented and love to sing –I indwell hymns through out my day. Be creative, as you would with anyone you love. If you are prone to depression or despondency, it is good to indwell joyful praises to God – that bring forth gratitude, which is a good remedy for despondency.

Wouldn’t we all rather give our praises to God than negative thoughts? Our goal is to quietly and secretly please God and express our unique love towards Him.

‘Praying always with prayer and supplication in the spirit.’ (Eph. 6:18)

“Prayer must not be an occupation for a certain period of time, but a permanent state of spirit… In other words, prayer must not only be outward, but also inward, an activity of the mind in the heart. In this lies the essence of prayer, which is raising the mind and heart towards God.

It is clear that the practice of prayer is not something carried out at certain hours, but requires a permanent walking before God, a dedication of all one’s activities to Him…its secret is love of the Lord. As a bride, loving the bridegroom is not separated from him in remembrance and feeling, so the soul, united with God in love remains in constancy to Him, directing warm appeals to Him from the heart.”

St. Theophan the Recluse

“As a bride, loving the bridegroom is not separated from him in remembrance and feeling, so the soul, united with God in love remains in constancy to Him, directing warm appeals to Him from the heart.” This is what the Theotokos did! What love she developed for God! Mary can help us if we just call on her with love and faith to devote more of our day to God as did Elder Joseph who has these words to say about calling on the Panagia, our heavenly Mother:

“Embrace in your arms the icon of the Panagia as if she were alive, as you embraced your dear mother when you were little. Tell her all your pain, wet her icon with your pure tears, then you will derive consistent consolation. She will intercede with her Son, Who is so good, Who loves the good, has mercy on the bad, and forgives repenting sinners. He will open the noetic eyes of your soul and fill your heart with love and divine eros. And then your eyes will become two fountains of tears.” Elder Joseph

Glory to God and his Saints! Let us strive to use the remainder of this fasting period to incorporate a little more unceasing prayer into our daily life.

For new listeners who want to draw closer to the Mother of God in prayer this Advent, I want to extend an invitation to join me and other listeners each day in praying either an Akathist or Canon to the Mother of God. I found a lovely download of both the Akathist to the Mother of God and to Jesus for only $7.95 on Orthodox Christian Recorded Books, http://www.ocrb.org/, that I am using to help me fulfill my prayer commitment.

Since this is the Christmas Season, I also invite those of you who are looking for a unique gift for friends or family to consider giving them a copy of my book, The Pearl of Great Price, The Spiritual Journey of a New Age Seeker to the Light of Christ and the Orthodox Church through the OCN Amazon Store banner on any OCN website page. With every purchase you make on Amazon through the OCN Amazon Store you will be supporting the wonderful work of the Orthodox Christian Network.

If you want a signed copy with a spiritual thought as well, you can obtain that through my author’s website, once again, pearlofgreatpriceorthodox.com. Please make sure you order your copy from before the 12th of December for Western Christmas.

I have yet one more podcast in this series on the Drawing Closer to the Mother of God – airing mid-December.

May God continue bless you in your efforts and struggles this Advent,

In Christ,

Veronica

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


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

My resource for this podcast is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upholding the fast in other ways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Dionysios the Areopagite

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

In Christ,

Veronica

Part 2 on Spiritual Violence, airing on OCN Oct. 22


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“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matt 11: 12)

St. Ambrose writes: “This is the weapon of a righteous man: to win while retreating, as skilled archers are able, while in retreat, to hit those stronger than themselves.”

What are the arrows we aim at our adversaries?

“Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. ” “We bless them because we must consider them our benefactors. For anyone who persecutes us and puts us to the test, lightens the punishment that we will suffer for our own sins. We will also bless them when God gives us the great crown of the contest.”(Matt. 5: 44–45)

Blessed Theophylact, The Gospel of St. Matthew

What are our shields and armor?

“Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

The whole armor of God is: ‘Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, make no provision for the flesh.’ (Rom. 13:14), following the commandments of God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. (Rom. 13:9-10) By doing so we draw the grace of God to us.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Our enemies are our sinful thoughts, our envy, strife and fears, which cause the grace of God to withdraw from us – leaving us open to the attacks of the cunning one. ‘let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light’. (Rom. 13:12)

Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Stand honestly in our good works for love of God and neighbor, in our faith and love.

Stand therefore, having your loins girth about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.

Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereonto with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints;

And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel. (Eph. 6: 10-19)

Let us turn now to St. John Chrysostom for his interpretation of parts of this passage:

“As the word has power to do all things, so also has he who has the spiritual gift. For ‘the word of God’, he says, ‘is living and active and sharper than any two edged sword’ (Heb 4:12)… By ‘the word of God in this place’, he means on the one hand the ordinances of God, or the word of command, on the other hand that it is in the name of Christ. For if we keep his commandments, with these we will kill and slay the dragon himself, the crooked serpent (Is. 27:1)… ‘With all prayer and supplication’, … Do not limit it I say to certain times of the day, for hearing what he is saying: approach at all times, ‘prayer without ceasing’ .” (Thess. 5:17).

St. John Chrysostom, Homily 24 on Ephesians 6

We change the world through the act of living and sharing the Gospel by and through our presence. God makes use of his witnesses, his saints, and our efforts to live as Christians to bring forth change in others. Others see our light with the eyes of their soul. Some are drawn to it and some react and flee from it. However small, our efforts to change ourselves in Christ will bear fruit in God’s time and providence. Why do we even make the effort? Why do some risk their lives for the gospel? “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things that God hath prepared for those that love Him.” (Isa. 64:4)

So let up put on our amour of light in Christ and be a witness to those around us.

Finally, here is a story of a modern martyr and witness for Christ:

“Night after night for three years, Jamil endured the same abuse. Different groups of men–leaders of a local Islamic group–came to his home and took turns beating him. In their eyes, he was an infidel, in his small central Asian village, and he was leading others astray from Islam.

Jamil was raised in a moderate Muslim family, but his older brother adopted more radical beliefs when serving a prison sentence. Jamil’s curiosity was piqued by his brother’s views, so he began his own search for spiritual truth. During his studies, he met Christians who shared the gospel with him. Jamil knew he had found the one true God, and he turned his back on Islam for good.

He immediately began sharing the gospel, leading his Islamist brother to Christ as well as three other siblings. He planted four house churches before his church sent him as a missionary to a village composed entirely of Muslims.

Jamil shared the gospel as he worked to support his family. News of his Christian faith quickly spread among the villagers, and they soon decided that he had to be stopped. That’s when the nightly beatings began. They couldn’t allow infidels in their village.

One night as the leaders of the local Islamic group were leaving on a hunting trip, they barged into Jamil’s home at dinnertime to deliver their nightly beating. And this time they were hungry. Turning to Jamil’s wife one of the men gruffly said, “You cook for us!” They sat on the floor around the table looking at her as if they were daring her to refuse their demand. Jamil’s wife looked questioningly at her husband, hoping Jamil would tell her what to do. “Cook for them.”, he told her.

Jamil’s wife dutifully prepared the meal and served the men who had beaten her husband. As they ate, Jamil saw his opportunity and began to share the gospel with them. He knew that sharing the Gospel could lead to more beatings or even worse the beating of his son and possibly his wife. As the men finished their meal, Jamil ended his gospel presentation by saying, “May God bless your hunt.”

The men were astonished. “We came here to eat your food and beat you, but now we cannot,” said the leader. “We will leave you in peace.”

Jamil and his wife were stunned at their response as they push back from the table and left the house.

Days later, the leader of the group invited Jamil to his home to share the Gospel with his family. As the villagers observed all that happened the Gospel began to make headway.”

Voice of the Martyrs, September 2014

This moving story sums up our life as Christians and how we fight our spiritual battles for Christ armed with the Gospel, repentance, humility, prayer and love we find our courage in Christ.

Let us pray for Jamil, his family and all those who are suffering for Christ’s sake throughout the world.

In Christ,

Veronica

Podcast on Martyrdom, In support of our persucuted brethren in Christ,


The Holy Macabees

The Holy Macabees

“Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake.

Rejoice and be exceedingly glad for great is your reward in heaven.”

“When the military governor wanted to make Marinus the soldier (commemorated August 7th), an officer, an envious man denounced him as a Christian. The governor gave Marinus three hours to think and choose life or death, to deny Christ or to die. Marinus, hearing the words of his superior, went to the local bishop, Theotechnus, to ask his advice. The bishop took him into the church, stood him before the gospel and then, indicating first the Gospel and then the sword that Marinus was wearing, said to him: ‘Choose, brave man, one of these two: either carry a sword and serve the transient king, being lost eternally at your death, or become a soldier of the King of heaven and lay down your life for His holy name, recorded in this book, and reign with Him in immortal life.’ Marinas at once made up his mind, kissed the Holy Gospel and went out–to go through death to life eternal.”

St. Nicholai Velimirovic, The Prologue, August 8th

This month on OCN we are honoring those being persecuted for Christ’s sake. To help us draw closer to those who have been martyred for the faith in the Middle East I have chosen passages from the Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church about the Holy Maccabean Martyrs, August 1st.

I was deeply moved by their martyrdom and felt their story and the footnote taken from their account gave the essence of the path of Christian martyrdom. Whether thrust upon a Christian or chosen, this footnote pretty much sums up what we, as Christians believe about martyrdom, and our future life in Christ after death. Martyrdom is considered a good death for a Christian.

The Holy Macabees suffered for their faith in 167 BC at the hands of the infamous Antiochos IV Epiphanes. Here is a brief summary of their contest:

First the Holy Priest, Eleazar, 90 years old, was tortured and withstood all attempts to tempt him away from God. Then all 7 sons of Solomone Maccabee, one by one were tortured in front of their mother for their faith. Solomone did not weep, but encouraged her sons in their struggle and contest.

When her last son, 3 years old, remained steadfast and refused to eat meat sacrificed to idols, he was more severely tortured than all his brothers combined and finally thrown into flames. Solomone then threw herself into the flames with her son so as to remain untouched and join her children in life eternal.

What mourning with joy did I feel when I read the full account of their sufferings – as I do when I read about the Christians being persecuted and killed in Iraq and throughout the world. I have the same feelings on Holy Friday. Let us explore further the roots of martyrdom so that we can pray for those being persecuted from the right orientation.

Historical background on the footnote associated with the Holy Macabees:

“The book of Maccabees, the source of their lives, was a series of books relating to events centering around Judas Maccabeus and other heroes and heroines in the Jewish struggle for religious and political freedom. During the third and second centuries before Christ, persecution was unleashed against the Jews by Egyptian and Syrian kings, particularly the infamous Antiochos IV Epiphanes.

These books of the Maccabees have special characteristics not usually seen in the other books of the Old Testament.

  1. These books show martyrdoms as the substitutionary atonement that expiates nation’s sin and purifies the land: “For they, winning admiration not only from men in general, but even from their persecutors, for their manliness and endurance, became the means of the destruction of the tyranny against their nation, having conquered the tyrant by their endurance, and so that by them their country was purified (1 Macc. 1:11).” “And, the nation through them obtained peace, and having renewed the obervance of the law in their country, drove the enemy out of their land (4 Macc. 18:4).”

As with our Lord, His Death became the means for the destruction of tyranny – so too we see here that Christian martyrdom brings about the destruction of the tyrant, the devil working through men. As with our Savior, His voluntary Death was an atonement for our sins. Thus the martyrs’ sacrifice is intimately connected with a deeper spiritual atonement.

God brings good out of all evil. We, with our worldly eyes cannot see the hidden spiritual battles that are being fought in Iraq or other countries where our brethren are being persecuted. We must hope for our brethren. Their blood is not spilled in vain. Our brethren in the Middle East are suffering in the hallowed grounds of our Jewish forefathers and many countless Saints of the Church.

  1. Martyrs are immediately immortal, received by the Patriarchs, and living in God: they believed, “that to God they die not; for, as our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, they live in God (4 Macc. 7:19).”

We must take consolation in our Lord, Christian martyrs receive crowns of victory and are immediately raised to heaven.

  1. Second Maccebees, especially celebrates the deeds of the martyrs, and that the reposed saints pray for us on earth: “Osias, who had been high priest, a virtuous and good man…prayed for the whole body of the Jews. This being done, in like manner there appeared a man with gray hairs, and exceedingly glorious, who was of a wonderful and excellent majesty. Then Osias answered, saying, “This is a lover of the brethren who prayeth for the people, and for the holy city, to wit, Jeremias the prophet of God. “Thereupon, Jeremias, holding forth his right hand, gave to Judas Maccabeus a sword of gold. And in giving it spake thus: “Take this holy sword, a gift from God, with which thou shalt wound the adversaries (2 Macc. 15:11-16).”

The Church triumphant is in heaven praying for all Christians on earth. We are the Church Militant. We are “fighting the good fight”, each of us in our own arena. Therefore…

  1. The living, too, may also pray and offer sacrifices for the dead: Judas Maccebeus came up to take the bodies of their men that had been slain, in order to give them a proper burial. He soon discovered that idols were hidden under the coats of the dead: thus, God permitted them to be slain. Judas and his men “Betook themselves unto prayer and besought God that the sin committed might wholly be put out of remembrance. Besides that, noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves from sin. And when he had made a gathering throughout the company to the sum of two thousand drachms of silver, he sent it to Jerusalem to offer a sin offering. He did therein very well and honestly, in that he was mindful of the resurrection. For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should have risen again, it would have been superfluous and vain to pray for the dead. And also in that he perceived that there was great favor laid up for those that died godly, it was a holy and good thought. Thereupon, he made expiation for the dead that they might be delivered from sin (2 Macc. 12:42-45).”

…the living, too, may also pray and offer sacrifices for the dead: Thereupon, he made expiation for the dead that they might be delivered from sin….

We can raise our prayers to God for His holy ones that have died and are suffering. Our prayers make a difference.

They betook themselves unto prayer and besought God that the sin committed might wholly be put out of remembrance. Some of those who have died may not be free of sin, so let us pray that God accept their sacrifices and suffering in His Name.

We are mindful of the resurrection…. And that there is great favor laid up for those that die godly.

Each of us has a talent we cannot keep hidden with regards to our suffering brethren in Christ and their family members who are worried beyond worry here in the US and other countries for their loved ones in danger.

Pray To God:

Pray for the strengthening of our brothers and sisters in Christ that are being persecuted as Solomone, the mother of 7 children prayed for her sons and supported them through their trials and torments by her prayers.

Pray for those Christians who cannot flee or choose not to flee the persecutions taking place in Iraq, we need to pray for God to give them courage. Let us pray that their hearts stay connected with their Creator, focusing on the life in Christ to come.

Let us pray for their families abroad that they do not lose hope and can bear the cross now thrust upon them in a Christian manner for the salvation of their souls.

For those fleeing, we need to pray for their safe passage and endurance.

Finally, let us not fall into despair and doubt the wisdom of our Creator, but pray. Let us practice what we have been hearing from the saints regarding interior prayer. Let us bring our minds into our hearts when we fall into despair or anger about our brethren in Christ who are suffering. “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.” Elder Prophoryos says that when we pray the Jesus prayer we are praying for everyone in need.

For those of us who are too sensitive to see the videos or photos, let us refrain from them in order to stay strong in heart for our persecuted ones and their family members.

We are called by God to not hate our enemies, but to pray for them. We are called by God not to harden our hearts in the face of the temptations and trials that assail us.

St. Maximos the Confessor’s life and martyric sufferings were about love. Let us here his moving summation of the path of love:

“ ‘If I have prophecy, and know all the mysteries and all the knowledge, and if I have all the faith, so as to remove mountains from one place to another, but I have not love, I am nothing. And if I dole out all my goods, and if I deliver up my body that I may be turned, but I have not love, I am being profited nothing. Love is long-suffering (1 Cor. 13:2, 3).’

It is in love that the whole of Christian life is summarized and contained. Love is the preference of God to all creatures, even one’s own body. Fraternal charity or love of neighbor, which is opposed to anger and self-love, advances the communal life of the Church. All are equally loved. It is love that unites one with God and divinizes one. He who is perfect in love and has attained the summit of detachment knows no difference between ‘ mine and thine’, between faithful and unfaithful, between slave and free man, or between male and female.’ Having risen up of the tyranny of the passions and looking to nature, in all men, he considers all equally and is disposed equally towards all. For in Christ ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male and female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).’ ”

Therefore let us go forth and do violence on the passions that well up in us in support of our suffering brethren. This will be the subject of my next podcast. “The Kingdom of Heaven is taken by Violence.” What is the difference between earthly violence and spiritual violence?

Thank you Holy Macabees and all the saints!

In Christ,

Veronica

 

Faith and Illumination, airing June 18th on OCN


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Faith and Illumination

The Holy Spirit has descended!

From heaven to earth!

 

 

 

 

 

In this second podcast about Faith, during the season of Holy Spirit, we will explore the relationship between faith and illumination, our regeneration in grace, and our second baptism.

My resources for this podcast are:

St. Nickolai Velimirovic, The Prologue

Remember Thy First Love, Archimandrite Zacharias

Fr. George Calciu

 

Let’s start with St. Nickolai:

‘Awake, thou that sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light’

(Eph. 5:14).

“The holy Apostle Paul, in common with all the other Christian apostles and saints, teaches all that he teaches from personal experience. For the Christian, faith is experience, not theory or human sophistry.”

We cannot convince people of our faith, rather as Fr. George Calciu, who spent 17 years in Romanian prisons says, “I had learned from experience that, people are changed only by the fire of your faith, by the dedication of your attitude to them and to God, because this is the most powerful proof.”

“Paul had lain as one spiritually asleep. He was dead in spirit while he opposed the Christian faith. But he awoke and got up and, with a risen spirit, was illumined by Christ. He could see himself in the time when he fell into spiritual sleep, then in the time when he awoke, then when he got up, then when he rose in spirit and finally when he was illumined by Christ…

The illumining of Christ is necessary to a man at the beginning as well as at the end. For, without Christ illumining, he cannot awaken or get up or rise from the dead, as neither can he later by himself live in faith or die in hope… the apostle himself received the illumining of Christ at the beginning, on the road to Damascus, then later again. The first illuminating brought him to Christ and the second established him in Christ. We all receive the first illumining at baptism, and the second through faith and the fulfilling of the commandments of the Lord.”

St. Nickolai Velimirovic, The Prologue, April 30th

Here St. Nickolai is referring to our second baptism, our regeneration by grace: the second through faith and the fulfilling of the commandments of the Lord. Fulfilling our part – is what draws the grace of the Holy Spirit to us, to allow our love of Christ to help us fight against our passions and be obedient and humble.

Back to St. Nickolai:

“The heart is apparently a small organ, but God can abide in it. And when God abides in it, it is filled to overflowing and nothing else can stand in it. If, however, the whole world were to dwell in it, without God, it would remain empty. My brethren, let Christ the risen and living Lord dwell in your hearts by faith, and your hearts will be filled to overflowing. For he can in no other way abide in your hearts other than by your faith. If you have no faith, Christ will remain only on your tongue or on paper, or on the wall or in a museum.”

Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic, The Prologue, April 21

Are there some of you that struggle with “let Christ dwell in our hearts”? I did for years.

How I prayed for years to understand “let Christ dwell in our hearts” I still struggle with keeping the fire of my faith and love for Christ before me.

Here is what Elder Zacharias says about acquiring Faith and Christ in our hearts:

“This wonderful account shows clearly how the mind of man gradually ascends to true knowledge of God once he accepts the word of Christ. First he discovers the divine power of this word and his faith is strengthened.”

Believing in the words of Christ written in the gospels and by his eye-witnesses, the apostles, opens our hearts to illumination by the Holy Spirit – often when we least expect it… Then our faith is strengthened.”

“He then accepts the truth of Christ–God, being guided by right doctrine.”

We must entreat God and his Saints to help us accept this Truth if we as of yet do not fully grasp it or lose it frequently. We must continue to ‘fight the good fight’ with our fallen nature and allow God to cleanse our nous – our spiritual inner eye…

“His inner eye is cleansed and he begins to see clearly with Whom he is in contact. Light spreads throughout his soul until his heart is flooded with the divine light of the Sun of Righteousness. He becomes a child of the day, for the Daystar has risen in his heart. He is then united to God and worships Him in spirit and in truth. With his whole heart he worships this God who has honored him with His grace, knowing that He alone is the one true God and Savior of the world.”

Remember Thy First Love, Elder Zacharias

This is the reward of our labors.

Our Lord has Risen! He has Ascended! And He has sent His Holy Spirit to us! How wonderful it is to share this joy with our neighbors – this Light in the darkness of our fallen world.

In this after season of the Holy Spirit following Christ’s Resurrection, let’s turn to Fr. George Calciu again to help us understand how to share our Faith in the Risen Lord:

“Christ is Risen! In truth He is Risen! This is the single argument we have for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We can invoke the information of the Bible: to the unfaithful it means nothing. We can speak from the Holy Fathers; again it is nothing to them. Therefore it was enough for me to say in front of the colonel, ‘Christ is Risen!’ We need no other proof. Because of just trying to prove to the colonel that Jesus really rose from the dead, I felt something wrong in my orientation. Since then I gave up trying to give proofs to the guards or to the inmates, the criminals. I had learned from experience that, people are changed only by the fire of your faith, by the dedication of your attitude to them and to God, because this is the most powerful proof.”

The convicts sent to murder Fr. Calciu found themselves converted, kneeling, weeping in their cell while Fr. Calciu was serving Divine Liturgy bathed in Uncreated Light!

Let us go forth with the Light of Christ we faithfully hold in our hearts. O Holy Spirit purify and illumine our hearts, and deepen our faith.

In Christ,

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

Elder Paisius of Greece has a new disciple! Recommended reading, The Gurus, the Young Man and Elder Paisius


Bubba and Elder Paisios of Mt. Athos

Our little dog, Bubba, loves to sit on the stairs in our cabin in process in Platina, CA, right above the icon of Elder Paisios of Mt. Athos.

If you would like to read a remarkable book related to Orthodoxy and Eastern Religions and Gurus – in addition to my book – look no further!

My experiences were quite tame in comparison – thank goodness!

Veronica Hughes

The Gurus,
the Young Man
and Elder Paisius

by Dionysius
Farasiotis

This powerful memoir tells the story of a Greek youth who, out of a desire to know the truth empirically, began to experiment in yoga, hypnotism, and various occult techniques. Eventually drawn back to the Faith of his forefathers—Orthodox Christianity—he visited the ancient monastic republic of Mount Athos in his native Greece, where he was brought to a knowledge of the Truth of Jesus Christ by the saintly Elder Paisios (1924–1994). Nevertheless, believing he had only found “part of the truth” on the Holy Mountain, he chose to give the “same opportunity” to Hindu yogis that he had given to Elder Paisios and other Orthodox monks. Thus, at the age of twenty-five, he embarked on a trip to India, where he undertook his search in the ashrams of three famous gurus, one of whom was worshipped as a god. His experiences in India, along with his subsequent encounters with Elder Paisios on Mount Athos, are recounted in the present book in vivid detail.

Popular in Greece since its first publication there in 2001, The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios is a page-turning narrative of both outward adventures and inward struggles. What stands out most in this book, however, is the radiant image of Elder Paisios, possessed of divine gifts, laboring in prayer for his fellow man, and overflowing with unconditional love. Through this, one sees the uncreated Source of the elder’s love and of the author’s spiritual transformation: the true God-man Jesus Christ, Who honors man’s personal freedom while drawing him, through love, into everlasting union with Himself.

Softcover, 320 pages, $17 US
ISBN 978-1-887904-16-2

Historical Comment about the New Age from my You Tube Channel and my response:


Comment:

New Age practices and philosophies sometimes draw inspiration from major world religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Chinese folk religion, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism; with strong influences from East Asian religions, Gnosticism, Neopaganism, New Thought, Spiritualism, Theosophy, Universalism and Western esotericism. The term New Age refers to the coming astrological Age of Aquarius.

My Reply:

This is an accurate summation of the movement. After twenty plus years of spiritual searching in a New Age and Eastern religions and practices, I am so grateful to now be Eastern Orthodox. There were partial truths in all that I participated in, but now I realize that most were a distraction and some were spiritually dangerous! I was slowly being seduced to the dark side in the guise of enlightenment.

By the grace of God my soul was preserved!. The Eastern Orthodox Church is the ancient Church. If one is searching for mystical fulfillment, sound spiritual doctrine and communion with God – all this can be found in Eastern Orthodox Christianity. All else pales in the Light of Christ and His Church.

Veronica Hughes

St. Seraphim Orthodox Church Hosts Veronica Hughes for Book Event


Link to a short Video from Book Event with Veronica Hughes, Jan. 25 2012


Pearl of Great Price
Please join us for a “Book Event” at 7 PM, on Wednesday, January 25. Author Veronica Hughes will be here to speak on her book “Pearl of Great Price” which chronicles her journey from disillusioned baby-boomer Roman Catholic—to practitioner of Hatha yoga, EST, Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism, to teacher of the occult, metaphysics, psychic healing, and Theosophy—to faith in Jesus Christ in the Orthodox Church.

St. Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church
90 Mountain View Ave.
Santa Rosa, CA 95407    info@saintseraphim.com
707-584-9491 (Phone)
707-585-9445 (Fax)

Upcoming Book Event with Veronica Hughes, 7 PM, on Wednesday, January 25


Upcoming Book Event with Veronica Hughes, 7 PM, on Wednesday, January 25

Pearl of Great Price
Please join us for a “Book Event” at 7 PM, on Wednesday, January 25. Author Veronica Hughes will be here to speak on her book “Pearl of Great Price” which chronicles her journey from disillusioned baby-boomer Roman Catholic—to practitioner and teacher of Hatha yoga, EST, Hinduism, occult, metaphysics, psychic healing, Tibetan Buddhism and Theosophy—to faith in Jesus Christ in the Orthodox Church.

St. Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church
90 Mountain View Ave.
Santa Rosa, CA 95407    info@saintseraphim.com
707-584-9491 (Phone)
707-585-9445 (Fax)