Man, as far as his body is concerned, is like a lighted candle. A candle must be consumed; thus also the body must die. But the soul is immortal, and so our care also must be more for the soul than for the body: For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Mk. 8:36)...
One should always endure any trial for the sake of God with gratitude. Our life is a single minute in comparison with eternity; and therefore, according to the Apostle, the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Rom. 8:18).
Bear it in silence when an enemy offends you, and open your heart to the Lord...
Without sorrows there is no salvation. On the other hand, the Kingdom of God awaits those who have patiently endured. And all the glory of the world is nothing in comparison.
-St. Seraphim of Sarov
4 January, 2014
When glorifying entire hosts of saints, great holy hierarchs are normally glorified first, and we have all grown accustomed to the fact that, at the head of this host of holy hierarchs, there always stand the three great Universal Hierarchs and Teachers: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom. This is understandable, because each of these great hierarchs has laid his precious gifts into the treasure of theology and ecclesial struggle. Therefore the Church specially glorifies them, having established a feast of all three of them together and likewise celebrating triumphant services on each of their individual days. The glorification of that great holy hierarch whose memory we today glorify, the Holy Hierarch and Wonder-Worker Nicholas, stands in a special position.
He did not leave behind such a rich spiritual inheritance as these three great men; but, at the same time, we all know how solemnly the Church glorifies him. The feast days of St. Nicholas, in their solemnity, even resemble the Twelve Great Feast Days. Why? Because he incarnate in his life that virtue that is accessible, understandable, and dear to every person and to every heart, even to those who have renounced all else that is holy. This is love and mercy.
It is no accident that Russians called St. Nicholas "Nicholas the Merciful." His miracles are as numberless as the stars in heaven. But I would like to remind you of one touching miracle of his mercy. This was not some time back in antiquity, but in our own days, in the city of Harbin, where I lived for more than forty years.
The city of Harbin, the Harbin Station. At the station a large image of St. Nicholas the Wonder-Worker, before which hundreds of candles were always burning, enjoyed the special reverence of all who passed through. These candles were placed there by people who were leaving and by those seeing them off; prayer was there constantly raised to the great Holy Hierarch, so that he would cover all travelers with his protection. There were always many people in this place, because the rail traffic there was very busy.
Once the people who were there saw (they themselves related this; this is their own account; it was early spring, when the Songhua River, on which Harbin rests, was having its spring ice drifts), that a Chinese man suddenly came running, completely wet from head to toe. He ran up to the image, collapsed onto his knees, stretched out his arms, and said something in Chinese. It turned out, as related by those who knew Chinese, that he was thanking the Holy Hierarch for salvation from destruction. Here is what had happened: he (the Chinese man) for some reason was hurrying at great speed from one bank to another. But the river was wide, and there was ice on it. He decided to risk it: he ran onto the ice, jumping from one ice floe to another. He slipped, fell, and ended up underneath the ice. Already choking and perishing, he remembered this wonderworking image that was revered not only by the Russian Orthodox, but also by his pagan compatriots. Drowning, he desperately cried out: "Old Man from the station, help!" He lost consciousness and became completely immersed in the water – he was already perishing… When suddenly he found himself on the other bank of the river, wet but alive and unharmed! So he started running, even though the station was far away, and ran there to give thanks before the image of the great Holy Hierarch for this absolutely clear and awesome miracle of his mercy and love.
Bear in mind that the entire Far East, and the entire Chinese country, venerates St. Nicholas very much. Once a Russian hunter strayed far, far into the taiga or steppe and there came upon the Chinese countryside, where he sought rest. Welcoming hosts took him in, where he saw an old image of St. Nicholas over their door. He thought: "What can these pagans do with this? Why do they need it?" And he wanted to take it from them. The host was offended, saying: "Why do you want to take this Old Man from us? He is so kind; he helps so much. We will never give him up!"
Thus the entire human race, and not just the Orthodox Church, glorifies this Holy Hierarch. Therefore, whenever someone feels himself to be in a difficult position, or has some kind of need, he turns to St. Nicholas. Of the hundreds of appeals that are carried to the great Holy Hierarch there, in the heavenly world, he hears and fulfills them all, if only the supplicant has appealed with firm, strong faith. Therefore the Russian people so love St. Nicholas and constantly pray: "Holy Hierarch Nicholas, pray unto God for us!" Amen.
20 December, 2013
Let us faithfully praise the Virgin Mary, for she is brought into the Holy of Holies, to be raised in the Lord. Ekos from Matins.
On this day, my brethren, the holy Church celebrates the solemn Entry into the temple in Jerusalem of the three-year-old child, Mary—the blessed daughter of righteous parents, Joachim and Anna—to be in instructed in the Lord. Zacharias—the elder and high priest—meets her with priestly splendor; and as he was instructed to do by the Spirit of God, he brings her, accompanied by young maidens, into the most interior part of the temple, the Holy of Holies, where the high priest himself enters but once a year, and where the Holy of Holies, the Lord Himself dwelt—for she was to become the Mother of His flesh.
How did the most blessed Virgin spend her time in the temple? Taught the Hebrew written language and prayer by the Holy Spirit through the maidens, she spent her time in prayer, reading of the word of God (as you can see on the icon of the Annunciation), in divine contemplation, and handiwork. Her love for converse with God and for reading the word of God was so great that she forgot about food and drink, and an Archangel brought her heavenly food at God's request, as the Church sings in the stichera for today's feast.
What an excellent example for fathers, mothers, and their children; for Christian maidens and youths! They are obligated as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, as servants of the Heavenly Queen, the Mother of God, and Founder of Spiritual Instruction (meaning the Church to which they belong), to emulate as well as they can her fervent love for God, her zeal for reading the word of God, for prayer, for divine contemplation, self-restraint, and love of labor! If we do not want to be falsely called spiritual members of Christ's Church—that holy House of God, the Queen and Mother of which is the Most Holy Virgin—then we should also have the same thoughts as She has. May her children by grace be of one spirit with Her! Let them learn from her how to love the Lord, our Creator, more than anything else in the world, more than father and mother, more than anyone dear to us; how to avidly study the word of God—something unfortunately not seen amongst the disciples of Jesus Christ; learn with what warmth of heart and love we must pray to the Lord; how we must dedicate ourselves to him wholeheartedly; how to entrust our fate to His wise and all-good Providence; with what purity, meekness, humility, and patience we must always clothe and adorn ourselves and not with the vain embellishments of this adulterous and sinful world which knows no bounds of luxury and elegance in bodily clothing; how to love a life with God and the saints more than to dwell in the tents of sinners (Ps. 83:11).
Since the Most Holy Virgin was brought into the temple to be instructed in the Lord, let us talk now about the benefit and necessity of going to the church of God as the house of God and place where we are raised for the Heavenly Fatherland. We are called Christians, and we are all called by Jesus Christ to the Heavenly Fatherland, to be heavenly citizens, Divine inheritors, co-inheritors with Christ. Our calling is very high, our duties are also just as important; our spirit should be very exalted, holy, meek, and humble.
Who will show us what makes up our Christian calling and duty, of what spirit we must be, and how we should behave ourselves in various life situations? Who will give us the strength to live in the spirit of Christ—holy? The Church gives us all this. We can receive these spiritual powers in the temple of God through the Sacraments. Here a heavenly, unearthly spirit hovers; here is the school of Jesus Christ, in which future heavenly citizens are educated. Here you will receive heavenly lessons from the Divine Teacher, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit in the Gospels. Here is heavenly food and heavenly drink, spiritual, heavenly garments, and spiritual armaments against the enemies of salvation. Here you will receive the peace that is a foretaste of heaven, so necessary to our spiritual activity and education, and strength for spiritual labors and struggle with sin. Here we partake of sweet conversation with our Heavenly Father and the Most Holy Queen and Mother of God, with the angels of the Lord and saints. Here we learn how to pray, and for what to pray. Here you will find examples of all the Christian virtues in the saints who are glorified each day by the Church. Here, gathered together in the house of God, as children of one Heavenly Father, as members of the mystical body of Christ, we learn how to love one another—member loving member, as members of Christ, as Christ Himself.
See how beneficial, how necessary it is for a Christian to visit God's church. It is a school of faith and piety founded by God, a sacred treasure According as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3), the treasury of all the Mysteries of Christ! But the benefit and necessity for the Christian of attending God's church is more clearly revealed by comparing the church with the vain world, to which we prefer to go instead of church. What do you find in the world, and what in church?
In the world, at every step there is vanity, delusion, and vice; in the church is truth, sanctity, and every kind of virtue. In the world is corruption, sin, and death; in the church is the incorruption of the saints and eternal life. Outside the church you see objects of worldly vanity that feed on the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 Jn. 2:16). You see the things that constantly entice and captivate people, and cause them to neglect the commandments of God, the Creator and Savior of all. For example, here in this building were kept fabrics of every sort and color. Those fabrics are the object of adoration of the daughters of men. They lived for them, were inspired by them, rejoiced over them, but not over God. Here the sparkle of various items of silver and gold stunned and enticed the gaze of those who worship everything glittering and beautiful. In a word—no matter where you direct your attention in the world, you will see only decay, vanity, and sin; everywhere is the earthly and worldly. Empty, vain conversations, vain activity that gives almost no reminder of heaven, God, and the other life. Only in pious homes do the icons of the Lord Jesus Christ, His Most Pure Mother, and His saints remind the thoughtful that we, Christians and members of Christ, members of His kingdom, look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come, in which we shall unite with the Lord and the saints, having cleansed ourselves of all defilement of flesh and spirit.
Thus, do you see what a difference there is between the temple--the house of God, and the world? Do you see how beneficial and necessary it is for a Christian to visit the temple of God in order to educate himself for the Heavenly Fatherland, in order to bring the spirit of Christ into himself, to engender heavenly, saintly manners? For, where else besides God's temple will you hear the word of God; where, beside in church, will you receive the mysteries of faith; where will you obtain the strength to live in a Christian way? All of this is in church and from church.
Love going to God's church, and prepare a temple of your own selves for God: Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:5). Let parents, teachers, and relatives take or send their children to church often, every Sunday and feast day without fail, and not to the theatre, where they will only learn what the young should not know. In church, they will hear the name of the Lord more frequently; they will learn the great truth of the creation of the world and mankind; they will come to know the Savior, the Mother of God, and the names of the saints. They will learn about the resurrection of the dead, the future judgment, the future life, and the eternal torments of sinners. They will learn from the Spirit of God to be good Christians; and that is more valuable than anything in the world. Amen.
St. John of Kronstadt
2 December, 2013
Your church is dedicated to the Protection of the Mother of God. This is one of the most beloved feasts of the Russian people, one of the most pleasing. When I have occasion to speak about how the All-Pure Virgin covered the worshippers in the Blachernae Church with her omophorion, I always point out that there were, of course, different people in this church: the pious and godly; the not very pious; perhaps some who had grown cold; and perhaps even the very sinful. But did the Mother of God inquire into this? Did she separate the good from the bad?
No, she covered everyone with her omophorion! That is why we all firmly trust that, although we often prove ourselves unworthy of God's mercy – and, on the contrary, worthy of God's wrath, judgment, and righteous and well-deserved punishment – nonetheless the Mother of God stands with her omophorion between us and the Lord, Whom we anger with our sins. We are capable of provoking God. The Holy Hierarch Theophan the Recluse once wrote sorrowfully:
"What a wonderful Lord we have: long-suffering and abundant in mercy; Who never grows angry to the end; Who does not remain at enmity unto the ages; Who forgets His wrath as soon as we turn to Him with repentance! But we are capable of bringing even such a Merciful and Long-Suffering One to wrath, so as to oblige Him to take up the rod of vengeance, although He is endless mercy and compassion."
But it often happens that when the Lord turns His wrathful gaze upon us sinners, He does not see us – for the Mother of God has covered us with her omophorion and prays to Him for us all: for the good and for the evil; for the righteous and for sinners; for the pious and for the impious. For everyone! So always remember, when you come here to the Church of the Protection of the Mother of God, that here you are safeguarded as nowhere else in the world. Therefore you should always pray to the Mother of God with faith and trust.
If an earthly mother said about her children that she had some who were good and obedient, and others who were disobedient, she might say: "For a mother they are all equal: whichever finger you cut from a hand, it is all equally painful." It is the same thing with us. To the Heavenly Mother, to whom the Lord gave to adopt the entire human race – and that means all of us – everyone is equally dear.
How she grieves for the disobedient and ungodly and, for her part, prays to the Lord, that He might put aside His avenging sword and might still have mercy upon those who can be set aright! Do not forget about this and always pray to her with trust, that she might cover us with her Almighty Omophorion! Amen.
15 October, 2013
For those who celebrate the commemoration of the miraculous appearance of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God, nothing could be more joyous than if we announced that this grace-filled Protection is spread even over us. But who could be the bearer of these glad tidings? Whose eye is capable of seeing the Most Holy Intercessor, "in the air, praying to Christ for us?" There are no obvious mystical seers like blessed Andrew and Epiphanius among us; and the hidden mysteries known only to the Lord will remain hidden unto the ages.
Nevertheless, we also, standing now in church, are not without a witness. In fact, it is the most reliable testimony that the Protection of the Most Blessed Virgin is spread also over us. Who is this witness? Not an earthly person, not even an angel, but our Protectress herself! With boldness and surety I say this on Her behalf; for isn't Her holy and miracle working icon, which we see in this church, the constant, visible pledge of Her invisible protection?... We know from the history of miracle-working icons that in times of heaven's wrath against human sins, these icons suddenly hid themselves and appeared in other places, or disappeared entirely. Therefore, as long as our Protectress does not abandon her place here, as long as she does not deprive her image of the grace-filled power of working miracles, as long as she receives our prayers and grants us timely help—we can, despite all our impurity, maintain a steadfast assurance that we are under her grace-filled Protection.
And can the Most Blessed Virgin not heed the prayers of those who run to her with true faith and love? Again I dare to speak in her name: she cannot! And this inability is what makes up her glory. This, by the way, is what makes heavenly protectors different from earthly ones—the earthly ones can protect, or they can not protect, even if the one asking for protection is worthy of it. But heavenly protectors cannot not protect the worthy: where there is sincere prayer, there is their help; where there is faith and love for them, there are they—this for them is a sacred necessity. Even less can the Mother of God ignore pure prayers, she cannot refuse to give speedy help, for as a special reward for her great and unsurpassed service for the salvation of mankind, she has been given the right as the first Intercessor for all those in need, the joy and protection of all the sorrowing.
What may produce this most treasured surety in the Mother of God's protection over us? Carelessness over the work of our salvation? Fearlessness in violating the law of God? Putting off our repentance from day to day? No, brothers and sisters, this would be an abuse of heavenly mercy and an insult in the face of our most holy Protectress. The most pure of all Virgins cannot offer protection for sins; she only protects sinners, and only those who repent. Whoever wishes to be always under her grace-filled Protection must continually distance himself from every kind of sin; for every sin breaks our union with her. She prays for you on high, but you must pray for yourself here below; she protects you through her merits before her Son, but you must array yourself in merits through faith and love. Otherwise, if we give ourselves over to sin we will have the same problem as the Israelites had. Moses received the law from God on Mount Sinai, but they grew bored during his absence, forged the golden calf at the foot of the mountain, and starting bowing down to it and making mischief. Seeing this, the Lord immediately cut off His conversation with Moses and said, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves… Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them (Ex. 32:7, 10). Won't her Son and God, Whom it is meet to worship, say something similar to our most holy Intercessor if we, like the Israelites, give ourselves over to lawlessness? "You pray and intercede for them, and I am ready to show all mercy to those for whom I endured death. But look at what they are doing! While you pray, they are worshipping the golden calf, offering sacrifices to the idols of their passion and trampling upon my laws. Where is there room for mercy? They are bringing wrath upon themselves. They need a punishment to wake them up and bring them to their senses, and not mercy and consolation. Leave me be, and in My wrath I will consume them with the fire that they themselves have kindled.
Brothers and sisters, this example, which is both terrible and instructive, was before that same country of Greece in which the miraculous Protection of the Mother of God was manifested—which we commemorate today. What signs of special protection did she not show toward her people? How many times were the Scythes and Hagarenes defeated by the Victorious Leader beneath the walls of Constantinople? But when the Mother of God saw that her protection was not improving those she protected, that they needed not mercy but instructive punishment, she took her protection away from them. And three centuries of slavery to the Mohamedans, together with all its attendant forms of humiliation, were barely enough for Greece in order to regain the Mother of Gods' Protection, which is now visibly beginning to spread over the Greek people.
The same thing can happen to every soul that does not take care for its salvation in hope of the Mother of God's intercession. God's judgment is the same in both the small and the great: glory… honor, and peace to all who do good and to those who repent of their evil, but tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that does evil, and remains in evil! (cf. Rom. 2:9–10).
Knowing this, let us run without any doubts to the protection of the Most Blessed Virgin; but let us not bring our sins to be covered by that protection, without first cleansing them away with the tears of our repentance. The Mother of God heals all infirmities, assuages all sorrows, and covers those very sins, just as soon as they are united with a heart that is broken over them. But she does not and cannot cover those hardened in their sins! Amen.
From: Holy Hierarch Innocent (Borisov), Archbishop of Cherson. Works. Homilies and Sermons (Edinets-Brichansk Diocese, 2006), 1:602–604.
14 October, 2014
St. Anthony was born in Rome in 1067, soon after the Church of Rome had separated itself from the Universal Church. His parents remained faithful to the Orthodox teachings of the Eastern Churches, and raised their son in a spirit of Orthodox piety. St. Anthony was given a good education, and was able to read the Holy Scriptures in both Latin and Greek.
His parents died when he was seventeen, and he had already determined to dedicate his life to serving God. He took no interest in his material inheritance and, distributing it among the poor, left the noisy city with its many distractions in search of solitude. In a remote area of the country the youth joined a small community of monks who had likewise preserved their Orthodox faith. He spent twenty years there in ascetic labors, until the community was discovered by the Latins who demanded that the monks submit to the authority of the Papal Church. The persecuted monks were forced to disperse.
St. Anthony settled on a large rock at the very edge of the sea. There he labored for more than a year in solitary prayer, nourishing himself with wild grasses and roots. On September 5, 1105 a violent storm arose. An enormous wave lifted the rock on which the Saint was standing and miraculously transported it--as if it were a light boat-- across the sea, north to the river Neva, across Lake Ladoga, then upstream along the river Volkhov, until it arrived, by God's will, at Great Novgorod. On the Feast of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos, the stone halted 3 versts from Novgorod on the banks of the River Volkhov near the village of Volkhov. This event is testified to in the Novgorod Chronicles.
The Saint was overjoyed to learn from a Greek merchant that he was among Orthodox people. He gradually learned the language and was warmly received by the ruling bishop, St. Nikita the Hermit (January 31 and May 14). The bishop, hearing of St. Anthony's miraculous voyage, marveled and looked upon him as an angel of God. "The Lord has granted you great gifts, like unto those bestowed upon the ancient God-pleasers. God transported Elijah in a fiery chariot, the holy apostles flew through the air on clouds, and you have come to us across the waters on a rock. Through you the Lord has visited and blessed these newly-converted peoples."
There on the shore where the Saint had landed the bishop blessed him to build a church. In 1117, the saint built a stone church in honor of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos (in memory of the feast on which he miraculously arrived there). The church, built during the lifetime of St Anthony in the years 1117-1119 by the renowned Novgorod architect Peter, and adorned with frescoes in the year 1125, has been preserved to the present time.
St. Nikita's successor, the bishop St. Niphon, persuaded St. Anthony to become a priest and elevated him to the rank of abbot in 1131. St. Anthony wisely guided the monks in his care, without relaxing his ascetic labors. His cell and cell-chapel were so small that his spiritual struggle could be compared to that of the stylite saints.
In another year, fishermen recovered the barrel containing St Anthony's inheritance, cast into the sea many years before. The saint recognized his barrel, but the fishermen did not want to give it to him. Before a judge, St Anthony described the contents of the barrel, and it was returned to him. The saint used the money to buy land for the monastery. Spiritual asceticism was combined at the monastery with intense physical labor.
In his humility, St. Anthony had begged Bishop Nikita never to reveal the story of his miraculous voyage, but, nearing the end of his life, the Saint related the story to one of his monks, Andrew, and after his repose, on August 3, 1147, the miracle was made known to the glory of God and the edification of the faithful.
The monastery preserved St. Anthony's cenobitic rule, the rock on which he had been miraculously transported to Novgorod, a reed which he had held during his voyage, his vestments, and six icons dating from the Saint's lifetime.
St. Anthony's relics lay incorrupt in an open reliquary in the cathedral. His glorification in 1597 was promoted by Archimandrite Cyril of Trinity - St. Sergius Lavra, who received healing after praying before the Saint's relics.
His memory is also celebrated (uncovering of his relics) on the first Friday after the Feast of the Foremost Apostles Peter and Paul (June 29), and on January 17, on the same day that St Anthony the Great is commemorated. The first Life of St Anthony the Roman was written soon after his death by his disciple and successor as igumen, the hieromonk Andrew. A Life, with an account of the uncovering of the relics, was written by a novice of the Antoniev monastery, the monk Niphon, in the year 1598.
St. Anthony the Roman is considered the father of monasticism in the Novgorod region.
15 August, 2013