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The Dance Between Temptations and Grace, Part 1


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The Dance Between

Temptations and Grace

Part 1

 

 

“As the Vespers service finished, I reflected on the newly tonsured nuns. They had waited years for this moment. They had struggled and fought temptations, passions, bad thoughts, and here they were at the true beginning of their monastic life. Things would become harder, but also sweeter. There would be periods of grace and periods of difficult temptations, as St. Syncletike herself taught:

‘We put out to sea. At first we sail with a favorable wind, then the sails spread, but later the wind becomes adverse. Then the ship is tossed by the waves and is no longer controlled by the rudder. But then in a little while there is calm, and the tempest dies down, then the ship sails on again. So it is with us, when we are driven by the spirits who are against us, we hold to the Cross as our sail and we can set a safe course’.”

St. Syncletike, “Life and Struggles of Syncletike”

The Scent of Holiness, Lessons from a women’s Monastery, Constantina R. Palmer

My resources for this podcast are:

The Scent of Holiness, Lessons from a Women’s Monastery, by Constantina R. Palmer

Letter 23, The Monastic Wisdom of Elder Joseph

St. Nickolai Velimirovic, The Prologue

Why do temptations and suffering befall us? How I hated and tried my best to overcome suffering in New Age and Eastern religions – to no avail – as many of you might have read in my book, The Pearl of Great Price. Only by the grace of God and Orthodoxy have I come to an understanding with suffering and temptations.

We are Christians following Christ’s example, ‘The way to the Father is through the Son’. If Christ was tempted – so too will we be tempted. If Christ carried His Cross – so too do we have our crosses to bear. It is through our temptations and crosses that we draw and attract the grace of God to us. This Grace of the Holy Spirit refines and purifies our souls, bringing us into refreshment and joy in Christ. This is our regeneration in grace in a nutshell.

Let’s hear what Elder Joseph has to say about the right attitude and preparation to have towards periods of both temptations and grace.

Letter 23, The Monastic Wisdom of Elder Joseph

“Grace always precedes a temptation as if to notify you saying, ‘Prepare yourself and lock your doors.’

When you see comfort in your heart… prepare yourself at once. Don’t say, ‘I have been given rest,’ but load your weapons–tears, fasting, vigils, and prayer–and set sentries on your senses to guard your nous. Ask yourself, ‘I wonder, from where will the battle begin? From the demons? From men? Or from my own nature?’ Don’t get drowsy before the battle trumpet sounds, and during the battle, your struggle and victory will show.

It is when grace is acting within you that you should be afraid. Conversely, when you see temptations and afflictions oppressing you from all sides, you should rejoice. Don’t grieve, don’t grumble, and don’t be despondent. Give courage to yourself, for joy and comfort will come. ‘Be brave, my soul,’ you should say, ‘This is only a temptation, a trial, an affliction. Afterwards you will have peace and joy and grace for many days. Thank you, my dear Christ,’ and you should say, ‘for in mine affliction Thou hast made room for me,’ (Ps. 4:1), and ‘with chastisement hast Thou chastened me,’ (Ps. 117:18) and ‘Thou didst bring my soul out into a place of refreshment.’ (Ps. 65:12)”

This is our striving to be brave and pray, knowing, ‘This too shall pass’.

So what do we do when we have implored and prayed God to remove a trial from us, but it continues… St. Nicholai Velimirovic and St. Paul have a few words of encouragement for us on this matter:

‘My grace is sufficient for thee.’ (II Cor. 12:9)

Christ did not even spare His holy apostles from temptations, and He therefore gave them grace. (Let us take heart – God will give us the grace to endure. Let us have faith in our God, for God is growing our faith in Him through our trails.) When Satan himself began to wreak his malice on the Apostle Paul, Paul prayed that Satan be removed from him. But the Lord replied: ‘My grace is sufficient for thee.’ In other words: if you have to suffer at Satan’s hands, My grace is sufficient for your suffering. If you have to struggle with Satan, again My grace is sufficient for you. If you desire to overcome Satan, again My grace is sufficient. Grace is a weapon that can be used for everything. Grace is stronger than all adversaries, all assaults, and all the powers of darkness. Grace is both unconquerable and conquering.

Therefore my brethren, we must pray to God to give us His almighty grace. (So rather than praying for our suffering to end, we are praying for the grace to patiently endure our suffering and have our trails bring us closer to God and others. For if we patiently endure our suffering with Christ in prayer, He will shoulder our burdens and lighten our load.) Grace is God dwelling in us. Grace is the Kingdom of God in us. When God’s grace is within us, then it is day in our souls. And the day means light, knowledge and freedom from fear. (We pray and strive to be faithful and grateful to our Lord for both the good and bad so as to attract His grace to us.)

We cannot ask here on earth, my brethren, for a greater gift from God than divine grace. Should we receive the entire universe as a gift, it would be less than the grace of God.

O most rich Lord, Thou inexhaustible fountain of almighty grace, brake and plow through our hardened hearts by grace, that we may weep before Thy great goodness and our horrendous ingratitude. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen. St. Nickolai Velimirovic, The Prologue, May 26

Thank you dear saints for these inspiring words!

In Christ,

Veronica

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

The first building block of our regeneration by Grace is Love, Podcast 4/2/2014 on OCN


Moon Rise over Mt Lassen from our cabin

Moon Rise over Mt Lassen from our cabin

PODCAST 4/2/14 – ABOUT LOVE

For love is of God and everyone that loves is born of God, and knows God. He that does not love, does not know God, for God is love. (John 4: 7-8)

A summary of my commentary:

The first essential building block in our efforts to be cooperative with God in the process of our transformation by grace is LOVE. We are born in the Spirit when we are received into the Church. We are born into Love. We know from the saints that our conversion in the Spirit begins and ends with love. In order for our conversion in the Spirit, our second baptism, to be an active force in our life, one needs to turn his or her will with love towards God. Unless our will comes into motion and is redirected towards God, there is no conversion. Our will is fickle and not to be trusted unless it is directed towards God with love.

At some point in our life as an adult, we have the opportunity to re-choose and embrace our first baptism. This is where our will comes into play – what gives God permission to help us to heal and transform by His grace is our choice to walk with Him in love in the Church. Our task is to find the way to enter into the light of Christ. Whoever loves Christ and other people truly lives life.

… to those who are being repainted by God’s grace in the divine likeness; when the luminosity of love is added, then it is evident that the image has been fully transformed into the beauty of the likeness. Love alone among the virtues can confer dispassion on the soul, for ‘love is the fulfilling of the law’ (Rom. 13:10) in this way our inner man is renewed day by day through the experience of love and in the perfection of love defines its own fulfillment.

May God be merciful and guide us through our loving cooperation with His will.

In Christ,

Veronica

St. Sinceltike, The Great Synaxaristes, Celebrated Jan 5th

(The sayings of this holy mother, a nun and later abbess of a convent she founded, were written by St. Anthanasius the Great. It is thought that she aided the saint when in exile while he lived in a well for six years.)

“First we must preserve what was revealed by the grace of God: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they soul, and they neighbor as thyself’ (Lk. 10:17).

These two commandments are the summit of the law, and upon them rests all the fullness of grace. These words are few, but great and continuous is their power because all that is good and beneficial to the soul hangs on these two commandments.

According to the testimony of the divine Paul, ‘ the end of the commandment is love’ (1 Tim 1:5). Whatever useful words have been spoken, according to the grace of the Holy Spirit, they commence with love and they conclude with love. Therefore, salvation is this twofold love. I must, however, add what each of us knows. We must always desire to possess love, which is the greatest virtue of all.”

Metropolitan Anthony of Surozh

We cannot partake deeply in the life of God unless we change profoundly. It is therefore essential that we should go to God in order that He should transform and change us, and that is why, to begin with, we must all become converts. Conversion in Latin and Hebrew means a turn, a change in the direction of things. The Greek word … means a change of mind.

Conversion means that instead of spending our lives looking in all directions, we should follow one direction only. It is a turning away from a great many things that we know are ultimately not good for us. The first impact of conversion is to modify our sense of values: God being at the center of all, everything acquires a new position and a new depth. All that is God’s; all that belongs to Him is positive and real. Everything that is outside of him ultimately has no value or meaning.

But it is not change of mind alone that we can call conversion. We can change our minds and go no further: what must follow is an act of will and unless our will comes into motion and is redirected towards God, there is no conversion; at most there is only an incipient, still dormant and inactive change in us.”

Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic, The Prologue, Jan 29th

Oh my brethren, our will is as elusive as a will-o’-the-wisp; let us not follow it and perish. But let us follow the will of the Lord who loves mankind, who alone knows what is best for us.

Elder Prophyrios, Wounded by Love

“He who loves little, gives little. He who loves more, gives more. And he who loves beyond measure, what has he to give? He gives himself!

Our task is to find the way to enter into the light of Christ…  The essence of the matter is for us to be with Christ; for our soul to wake up and to love Christ and become holy; to abandon herself to divine eros. Thus He too will love us. Then the joy will be inalienable. That is what Christ wants most of all, to fill us with joy, because he is the wellspring of joy….  Whoever loves Christ and other people truly lives life.”

St. Diadochos of Photiki, The Philokalia, #89 

Part II

“…In portraiture, when the full range of colors is added to the outline, the painter captures the likeness of the subject, even down to the smile. Something similar happens to those who are being repainted by God’s grace in the divine likeness; when the luminosity of love is added, then it is evident that the image has been fully transformed into the beauty of the likeness.

Love alone among the virtues can confer dispassion on the soul, for ‘love is the fulfilling of the law’ (Rom. 13:10) in this way our inner man is renewed day by day through the experience of love and in the perfection of love defines its own fulfillment. “

“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