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April 16, 2017
     The Christian faith is life, which is Christ Himself. As our Savior Himself said: "I am the way, the truth and the life." (John 14:6) Today, on the day of the Resurrection, these words are more powerful than ever. Life has become one person. The source of life has conquered death in a mystical battle recapitulating the whole of creation. However, to approach life, we must walk along the path of Christ. Along this path, we have seen temptation, despair, hatred, solitude, and weakness, to the point that every good seemed impossible, to the point that evil seemed to be victorious over life. But no! In the silence of the grave in which life reposed for three days, Christ was victorious, risen from the dead, celebrating the triumph of life. "The Lord has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His Love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins." (Colossians 1:13-14) Pascha celebrates life. Let us sing, rejoice, be happy, love one another, and bear on ourselves the gracious seal of the Holy Spirit, thus becoming true disciples of Christ. Bearing witness to life is our primary mission. During the days of Holy and Great Lent, we struggled and prayed to God to grant us the virtues, as the symbols of the new life we receive today. During the Resurrection Service, we sing: "Resurrection Day! O peoples, let us brilliantly shine! Pascha, the Lord's Pascha! For Christ our God has out of death passed us over into life, and likewise from earth to heaven, as we now sing unto Him a triumphal hymn."
     Our mission today is to offer the world everything that we received today. Our mission today is to make the experience of Christ's resurrection the horizon of our daily life. Our mission today is to embody what we proclaim with Saint Paul and sing during the sacrament of baptism: "You who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, Alleluia." In other words, how can we change our life into a life in Christ? Through Christ's Resurrection, the spiritual and the material worlds were reconciled. The
Christian communities did not oppose the material world; they embraced the world and offered it to the Lord with thanksgiving. As Christians, we are fully aware of the life of the world for which Christ has given His life. The early Christian Epistle to Diognetus beautifully reflects on this original experience: "In a word, what the soul is in a body, this the Christians are in the world. The soul is spread through all the members of the body, and Christians through the divers cities of the world."
     In today's world, where we are surrounded by an unhealthy fascination for sin and evil, the message of life we carry to the world is profoundly important. The spiritual strength we receive during these joyful days should be nourished by our participation in Holy Communion, during which we participate in the source of life and receive the Holy Body and Blood of Christ as the most precious gifts. For Saint Nicholas Cabasilas, the fourteen-century Saint, there is no life in Christ without the sacraments of the Church. They reactivate in us the mystery of the events we witnessed this past week: Christ's betrayal, passion, crucifixion, death and resurrection. This is how our union with God has been realized and is still realized in the Church waiting for the Kingdom to come, because Christ: "is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living." (Mark 12:27)
With Paternal Love and Blessings, † E V A N G E L O S Metropolitan of New Jersey 

April 9, 2017
     "Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice. Let your forbearance be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts through Christ Jesus. 
     BLESSED are they that mourn, and woe unto them that laugh (Matthew 5:4; Luke 6:25), says Christ. How then says Paul, Rejoice in the Lord always? Woe to them that laugh, said Christ, the laughter of this world which arises from the things which are present. He blessed also those that mourn, not simply for the loss of relatives, but those who are pricked at heart, who mourn their own faults, and take count of their own sins, or even those of others. This joy is not contrary to that grief, but from that grief it too is born. For he who grieves for his own faults, and confesses them, rejoices. Moreover, it is possible to grieve for our own sins, and yet to rejoice in Christ. Since then they were afflicted by their sufferings, for to you it is given not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him (Philippians 1:29), therefore he says, Rejoice in the Lord. For this can but mean, If you exhibit such a life that you may rejoice. Or when your communion with God is not hindered, rejoice. Or else the word in may stand for with: as if he had said, with the Lord. Always; again I will say, Rejoice. These are the words of one who brings comfort; as, for example, he who is in God rejoices always. Yea though he be afflicted, yea whatever he may suffer, such a man always rejoices. Hear what Luke says, that they returned from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be scourged for His name. (Acts 5:41) If scourging and bonds, which seem to be the most grievous of all things, bring forth joy, what else will be able to produce grief in us? 
     Again I will say, Rejoice. Well has he repeated. For since the nature of the things brought forth grief, he shows by repeating, that they should by all means rejoice." (St. John Chrysostom)

March 19, 2017
     O Lord and Master of my life, give me not the spirit of sloth, idle curiosity (meddling), lust for power and idle talk.
     But grant unto me, Thy servant, a spirit of chastity (integrity), humility, patience and love.
     Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see mine own faults and not to judge my brother. For blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.

     Take care, my brothers and sisters, for the Evil One wars against spiritual strugglers in sundry ways. He works against man with unimaginably hypocritical cleverness. Thus, before a sin is committed, the Enemy diminishes its significance in the eye of strugglers. More than any other sin, he puts before them the desire for fleshly pleasure as such a small thing that, prior to succumbing to it, it appears as insignificant to the conscience of a brother or sister as throwing a glass of cold water on the ground. When, however, the fleshly desire is fulfilled, then the Evil One greatly puffs up the sin in the conscience of the sinner, kindling in his soul numberless thoughts of despair, like black waves from Hell, so that the brother's good thoughts of repentance are submerged and he is hurled into the depths of hopelessness. Seeing from the foregoing, my brothers and sisters, the machinations of the Enemy, take care not to be duped in some misdeed, persisting in it and despairing of your salvation; rather, after rising from your fall, return to the Lord your God. And be confident that He will have compassion on you, for our Lord is tender-hearted and full of compassion, rich in mercy and long-suffering, and He does not punish those who sincerely repent, but immediately greets them with joy.
     Therefore, when the Enemy of your soul whispers, "You have lost all, you cannot be saved," answer him: "I do not despair of my salvation, for I have a compassionate and long-suffering God. And this conviction upholds me in my belief that He Who commanded that we forgive our fellow man for his transgressions against us even seven times seventy that He, by the same token, will forgive the sins of all who with their whole souls turn to Him." With such reflections and with the Grace of God, most assuredly all warfare with Satan will depart from you. (St. Ephraim, Evergetinos Vol. 1)

March 12, 2017
     In a Russian village not so long ago, a pious middle-aged Russian woman, striving to live a conscientious Christian life, went to see her priest for confession. Having listened to her for a while, and perceiving her general instability of thought and therefore also life, the elderly priest took a small metal cross into his hand, and in a friendly, but stern manner, struck the woman twice upon the head saying, ‘you silly woman, go inside, go inside, and you will find rest'. This unorthodox behaviour of the confessor, in a strange way, is a most practical and direct way to express what we mean by the term Hesychasm.
     When one speaks about the heart, in an Eastern Christian context, one is somewhat obliged to talk about Hesychasm also. Furthermore, when one is talking about Hesychasm, St Gregory Palamas inevitably enters the equation. The heart possesses a centrality few can claim. If one accepts that man is the centre and crown of creation, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the heart is at the centre of the world. If this can be applied to the material world, even more so does it appertain to the spiritual. For the heart is the meeting point between the Creator and creation, between God and man. St Augustine asks the following question. ‘Where can we find God?', and continues in answer, ‘not on earth, for He is not here. And not in heaven, for we are no there. But in our own hearts we can find Him.' (Monk Vartholomaous).
     "Man looks at the outward person, but God regards the heart, and if it is full of foul or evil thoughts, that man deserved to have God turn away from him. That is why the apostle exhorts us to pray without wrath and doubting (1 Timothy 2:8). To teach us to strive for the spiritual circumcision of our hearts, the Lord pronounces the pure in heart and the poor in spirit blessed. He stresses that the reward for this purity of heart is seeing God, and He promises the kingdom of heaven to the poor (Matthew 5:8, 3). By the poor He means those who live frugally and in need. But it is not only such people whom He calls blessed, but also those who are like them in spirit, those who, because of their inner humility of heart and their good purpose, have arranged their outward life accordingly" (St. Gregory Palamas). 

March 5, 2017
First Sunday of Lent: The Triumph of Orthodoxy     
     The iconography of our Orthodox Church, with all of its symbolism and spiritual meaning, is central to the Church's teaching. People are greatly influenced bywhat they contemplate, and so the Church, in its love for its faithful, hasgiven us iconography in order to help us contemplate God. The Church haselevated iconography to a place of prominence as a teaching tool. What theGospels proclaim with words, the icon proclaims visually.
     The very meaning of the icon has as its foundation the incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ. "And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). Christ is "the icon of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15), and His transfiguration on Mount Tabor offers support of this (Matt. 17:1-13). It is because Christ became man and allowed man to glimpse the divine glory of heaven that we are able to write icons and venerate images of Christ, the Theotokos and the saints. If Christ had not become incarnate, and had not revealed to us his transfigured glory on the Mount, it would be impossible to depict the spiritual realm of Heaven in icons. Precisely because of the incarnation and transfiguration, everything in the icon is represented in relation to Divinity. This impacts all parts of the icon, from how the face is painted, to the robes, to even the "scenery" of the festal icons. While the incarnation is the basis of iconography, the icon itself, in its role as a window into Heaven, affirms the incarnation and speaks of God's great mysteries. The chief task of the icon is to proclaim the wonder and mystery of Christ, the Theotokos and the saints, while reminding us they were human like we are, and calling us to the same spiritual perfection which Christ's incarnation allows us to seek. All naturalism, whether it is spacial, figural or proportional, is set aside and man, landscape and architecture are shown in a transfigured state. (Michael Goltz)    

March 5, 2017
First Sunday of Lent: The Triumph of Orthodoxy     
     The iconography of our Orthodox Church, with all of its symbolism and spiritual meaning, is central to the Church's teaching. People are greatly influenced bywhat they contemplate, and so the Church, in its love for its faithful, hasgiven us iconography in order to help us contemplate God. The Church haselevated iconography to a place of prominence as a teaching tool. What theGospels proclaim with words, the icon proclaims visually.
     The very meaning of the icon has as its foundation the incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ. "And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). Christ is "the icon of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15), and His transfiguration on Mount Tabor offers support of this (Matt. 17:1-13). It is because Christ became man and allowed man to glimpse the divine glory of heaven that we are able to write icons and venerate images of Christ, the Theotokos and the saints. If Christ had not become incarnate, and had not revealed to us his transfigured glory on the Mount, it would be impossible to depict the spiritual realm of Heaven in icons. Precisely because of the incarnation and transfiguration, everything in the icon is represented in relation to Divinity. This impacts all parts of the icon, from how the face is painted, to the robes, to even the "scenery" of the festal icons. While the incarnation is the basis of iconography, the icon itself, in its role as a window into Heaven, affirms the incarnation and speaks of God's great mysteries. The chief task of the icon is to proclaim the wonder and mystery of Christ, the Theotokos and the saints, while reminding us they were human like we are, and calling us to the same spiritual perfection which Christ's incarnation allows us to seek. All naturalism, whether it is spacial, figural or proportional, is set aside and man, landscape and architecture are shown in a transfigured state. (Michael Goltz)    

March 5, 2017
First Sunday of Lent: The Triumph of Orthodoxy
     The iconography of our Orthodox Church, with all of its symbolism and spiritual meaning, is central to the Church's teaching. People are greatly influenced bywhat they contemplate, and so the Church, in its love for its faithful, hasgiven us iconography in order to help us contemplate God. The Church haselevated iconography to a place of prominence as a teaching tool. What theGospels proclaim with words, the icon proclaims visually.
     The very meaning of the icon has as its foundation the incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ. "And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). Christ is "the icon of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15), and His transfiguration on Mount Tabor offers support of this (Matt. 17:1-13). It is because Christ became man and allowed man to glimpse the divine glory of heaven that we are able to write icons and venerate images of Christ, the Theotokos and the saints. If Christ had not become incarnate, and had not revealed to us his transfigured glory on the Mount, it would be impossible to depict the spiritual realm of Heaven in icons. Precisely because of the incarnation and transfiguration, everything in the icon is represented in relation to Divinity. This impacts all parts of the icon, from how the face is painted, to the robes, to even the "scenery" of the festal icons. While the incarnation is the basis of iconography, the icon itself, in its role as a window into Heaven, affirms the incarnation and speaks of God's great mysteries. The chief task of the icon is to proclaim the wonder and mystery of Christ, the Theotokos and the saints, while reminding us they were human like we are, and calling us to the same spiritual perfection which Christ's incarnation allows us to seek. All naturalism, whether it is spacial, figural or proportional, is set aside and man, landscape and architecture are shown in a transfigured state. (Michael Goltz)

February 26, 2017
     The hymnography of the Church compares the season we are entering today, Holy and Great Lent, to a stadium, a place of spiritual warfare, where we face our own weaknesses and passions. Nobody is perfect, but that does not mean that we should not walk on the path to perfection. Very few people are saints, but that does not mean that we are not all called to holiness. Rare are those who have had a transformative experience of God in their lives, but that does not mean that we should give up on the conversion of our hearts.
     The blessed time of Holy and Great Lent teaches us, during the forty days until we reach the doors of Holy Week and ultimately of Holy Pascha, that "all is vanity" as it is written in the Bible (Ecclesiastes 1:1). It is a time of self-criticism, an opportunity to look back at our lives and to consider what matters and what we should abandon. By the presence of God in our lives, the light of His divine grace reveals the truth about ourselves, so we can change and become Christlike, cleaning the image of God in us and exploring the powerful mystery of God's likeness. On the feast of the Resurrection, having walked the path of conversion and virtue, we will see the shadow of an empty sepulcher, at the pinnacle of our spiritual journey. Our faith is not about a vacuum, but about the fullness of the grace. As it is written in the Book of Revelations, God has the power to "make all things new" (Revelations 21:5). In the seemingly tragic silence of that morning, three days after Christ's crucifixion, sorrow turned to joy, the joy of a personal encounter with our risen Lord.
     We must prepare ourselves for this mystical encounter. This is the significance of the journey we start today: becoming ready to welcome the Savior. Throughout the ages, our Orthodox Church, following the teaching of the Holy Scriptures, of the Canons and of the Holy Fathers, has offered us useful rules. If I had to summarize them, I would invite you to focus on three things: fasting, prayer and conversion. In the Orthodox Church, we fast from certain types of food. But fasting is not an end in itself. The spirit of fasting is to practice abstinence from everything that prevents us from being open to God and to our neighbors. If we reflect a little more on that and honestly consider what prevents us from dedicating our time to God, we will quickly acknowledge how much time and energy we waste on things that are not essential and give us the illusion of reality. We should explore how to balance the temptations of today's lifestyle with simplicity, especially when it comes to the use of technology and social media. If you have any question about how you should be fasting, do not hesitate to ask your parish priest for spiritual advice. Fasting is so important in our Orthodox tradition that the Holy and Great Council, convened in Crete in June 2016, even issued a document that speaks specifically about the issue of fasting. It says: "Accordingly, the Triodion praises fasting as grace that is full of light, as an invincible weapon, the beginning of spiritual struggles, the perfect path of virtues, the nourishment for the soul, the source of all wisdom, life imperishable, an imitation of the angelic life, the mother of all good things and virtues." (par.1)
     Fasting is not sufficient if we do not complete it with prayer. As your Spiritual Father, I encourage you to avail yourselves to the prayers of the Church, the divine services that structure these forty days. You will (re)discover the beauty of a poetic language, the sweetness of the sacred space, the closeness of our loving God talking to your heart. Personal prayer is also essential and can be done easily everywhere by just remembering the name of Jesus, as we are taught by the Desert Fathers. As Saint Macarius of Egypt (295-392) wrote: "Those who draw near to the Lord ought to make their prayers in quietness and peace and great composure, and to fix their minds upon the Lord not with unseemly and confused outcries, but with effort of the heart and vigilant thoughts."
     Fasting and prayer naturally lead to conversion. Conversion, metanoia in Greek, is another word for repentance but goes beyond asking God for forgiveness. Conversion is a life changer that works in us by the transformative grace of the Holy Spirit. This is what I meant by exploring God's likeness in our lives by recognizing the image of God in mankind and the seal of the Creator in the whole world. By changing our hearts by the power of love, we will also transform the world around us. As Christ Himself said: "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35) 
With Paternal Love and Blessings, † E V A N G E L O S Metropolitan of New Jersey

February 19, 2017
Philokalian Distinction Between Orthodoxy and Herasy    
     "Orthodoxy exists, only where the method for the perfect faith is familiar and is applied. Wherever the path to theosis is unknown - even if the ground is characterized as "Orthodox" - that is where a heretic way of existence is pursued and is consequently non-Orthodox. Heresy, as a heretic way of existence, is oblivious to the experience of theosis. Instead, it "religionizes" the faith (it seeks to bridge the gap between man and God with the external-ritual media of a religion). The religionizing of the faith refutes the faith, as does its ideologicalizing. Heretics theologize intellectually, academically, and they cannot discern between truth and fallacy. Thus, "Orthodox" is the one who does not formulate heretical views, but the one who purifies himself, in order to attain Holy-Spiritual enlightenment. According to Saint Gregory of Nyssa, heretics show up, wherever "theumens" (enlightened ones) are absent. The ecumenical dialogue would have acquired a certain meaning, if it dealt with these problems and not with "scientific" compromises for the purpose of seeking solutions.
     Heresy is repulsed, not with violence or with legal or police measures, but with the experience of Theosis. Wherever this experience exists, there the Church exists. Unfortunately, in contemporary Christian societies, the seeking of Grace is tending to vanish altogether, and only monasticism is the area in which this seeking of the "perfect faith" has been preserved. This is why only monasticism is left as the continuance of Apostolic-Patristic spirituality.
     The seeking of the perfect faith is the criterion for the genuineness of the ecclesiastic Mission; because with regard to the Missionary matter, certain basic questions are raised: What is the meaning of the term "Mission"? What is preached by it? Where are non-Christians invited? To which church? Which Christ? Are they invited so that they might be saved, or merely to become the followers of a certain authoritative circle?
     Orthodoxy is not afraid of persecutions, but only heresy, because only heresy can irrevocably harm the Faith.
Orthodoxy, as Orthodoxy, gives birth to Saints and thus remains in the world a place of sanctification and sanctity." (Fr. George D. Metallinos. From the Book "THE WAY" An Introduction to the Orthodox Faith) 

February 5, 2017
We ought all of us always to give thanks to God for both the universal and the particular gifts of soul and body that He bestows on us. The universal gifts consist of the four elements and all that comes into being through them, as well as all the marvelous works of God mentioned in the divine Scriptures. The particular gifts consist of all that God has given to each individual. These include:
  • wealth - so that one can perform acts of charity; 
  • poverty - so that one can endure it with patience and gratitude; 
  • authority - so that one can exercise righteous judgment and establish virtue; 
  • obedience & service - so that one can more readily attain salvation of soul; 
  • health - so that one can assist those in need and undertake work worthy of God, 
  • sickness - so that one may earn the crown of patience; 
  • spiritual knowledge & strength - so that one may acquire virtue; 
  • weakness & ignorance - so that, turning one's back on worldly things, one may be under obedience in stillness and humility; 
  • unsought loss of goods and possessions - so that one may deliberately seek to be saved and may be helped when incapable of shedding all one's possessions or even of giving alms; 
  • ease & prosperity - so that one may voluntarily struggle and suffer to attain the virtues and thus become dispassionate and fit to save other souls, 
  • trials and hardship - so that those who cannot eradicate their own will may be saved in spite of themselves, and those capable of joyful endurance may attain perfection.
All these things, even if they are opposed to each other, are nevertheless good when used correctly; but when misused, they are not good, but are harmful for both soul and body. 

January 29, 2017
     Today our Holy Church celebrates the memory of our Fathers among the Saints, great Ecumenical Teachers and Hierarchs, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom. According to the teaching of our Orthodox Church, no saint should be considered higher than another. This is why in the 11th century, a joint feast was established in order to end dissension among Christians in the imperial city of Constantinople. By proclaiming the Synaxis of the three Hierarchs we are taught once again that unity should be at the heart of every liturgical celebration.
     As Orthodox Christians, our Church life is marked by a series of steps celebrating this spiritual unity. By our baptism, we are united to Christ's resurrection. By our chrismation, we are bound by the grace of the Holy Spirit. By receiving Holy Communion, we become partakers of God's grace given for "the life of the world". By the sacrament of confession, we are reconciled with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. During the sacrament of Marriage, the mystery of the relationship between Christ and His Church is embodied by the new married couple. Union and unity are reasons for spiritual joy and celebration. It is important to reflect on this aspect of today's feast, as we collectively proclaim the memory of the most influential Church Fathers. 
     Progressively, the memory of the three Hierarchs was associated with the Greek Letters. They do not simply represent the state of philosophy and theology during the 4 th century; they also represent a crucial aspect of the relationship between faith and reason. Particularly in our society, with its materialistic way of thinking, faith is often said to be incompatible with reason, and even more so with scientific knowledge. But as Saint John Chrysostom once wrote: "Some, who seek out everything by reasoning, turn aside from the faith; but reasoning produces shipwreck, while faith is a safe ship. For where there is no faith, there is no knowledge; when anything springs from our reasoning, it is not (true) knowledge." Although God is a mystery which the seed of faith has planted in our hearts, at the same time God illuminates our reason and encourages us to search for truth in the rational, as well as in the spiritual worlds. The three Holy Hierarchs teach us that the protection of the faith comes with a deep love for wisdom, as well as for the transmission of this wisdom. For Church and school go together. In the history of the Orthodox Church, especially at the time of the Ottoman Empire, the Churches were the main institutions which provided education. They were known as the krypha scholia, as "secret schools." 
     As your Metropolitan and Spiritual Father, I wholeheartedly encourage parents to expose our youth as much as possible to their rich cultural and spiritual tradition, which is their personal legacy to them. I would also like to acknowledge the wonderful work done in our schools by talented teachers who work with dedication and perseverance. Through the prayers of the Three Hierarchs, Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory the Theologian and Saint John Chrysostom, may we all become the true followers of their life and teaching, in the spirit of unity, communion and charity. May their commitment for a culture illuminated by the Holy Spirit encourage us according to the psalms: "The mouth of the righteous shall meditate on wisdom." (Psalm 36:30)
With Paternal Love and Blessings, † E V A N G E L O S Metropolitan of New Jersey

January 22, 2017
Dealing with Spiritual Depression and Anxiety
     The weather shifts from cloudy to clear and then back to rain; thus it is with human nature. One must always expect clouds to hide the sun sometimes. Even the saints have had their dark hours, days and weeks. They say then that "God has left them" in order that they may know truly how utterly wretched they are of themselves, without His support. These times of darkness, when all seems meaningless, ridiculous and vain, when one is beset by doubt and temptations, are inevitable. But even these times can be harvested for good.
     The dark days can best be conquered by following the example of St. Mary of Egypt. For forty-eight years she dwelt in the desert beyond Jordan, and when temptations befell her and memories of her former sinful life in Alexandria beckoned her to leave her voluntary sojourn in the desert, she lay on the ground, cried to God for help and did not get up until her heart was humbled. The first years were hard; she sometimes had to lie this way for many days; but after seventeen years came the time of rest.
     On such days stay quiet. Do not be persuaded to go out into social life or entertainment. Do not pity yourself, seek comfort in nothing but your cry to the Lord: "Haste thee, O God, to deliver me! Makes haste to help me, O Lord (Psalm 70:1)! I am so fast in prison that I cannot get forth (Psalm 88:8)," and other such appeals. You cannot expect real help from any other source. For the sake of chance relief do not throw away all your winnings. Pull the covers over your head; now your patience and steadfastness are being tried. If you endure the trial, thank God who gave you the strength. If you do not, rise up promptly, pray for mercy and think: I got what I deserved! For the fall itself was your punishment. You had relied too much on yourself, and now you see what it led to. You have had an experience; do not forget to give thanks. "Way of the Ascetics," by Tito Colliander, San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1982, pp. 84-85)

January 15, 2017
Letter about falling down and getting up
     I received your letter, my child, and I saw your anxiety. But don't be sad, my child. Don't worry so much. Even though you have fallen again, get up again. You have been called to a heavenly road. It is not surprising for someone running to stumble. It just takes patience and repentance at every moment. Therefore, always do a metanoia (repent) when you are wrong and don't lose time, because the longer you wait to seek forgiveness, the more you allow the evil one to spread his roots within you. Don't let him make roots to your detriment. 
     Therefore, don't despair when you fall, but get up eagerly and do a metanoia saying, "Forgive me, my dear Christ. I am human and weak." The Lord has not abandoned you. But since you still have a great deal of worldly pride, a great deal of vainglory, our Christ lets you make mistakes and fall, so that you perceive and come to know your weakness every day, so that you become patient with others who make mistakes, and so that you do not judge the brethren when they make mistakes, but rather put up with them.
     So every time you fall, get up again and at once seek forgiveness. Don't hide sorrow in your heart, because sorrow and despondency are the joy of the evil one. They fill one's soul with bitterness and give birth to many evils. Whereas the frame of mind of someone who repents says, "I have sinned! Forgive me Father!" and he expels the sorrow. He says, "Am I not a weak human? So what do I expect?" Truly, my child this is how it is. So take courage.
     Only when the grace of God comes does a person stand on his feet. Otherwise, without grace, he always changes and always falls. So be a man and don't be afraid at all. Do you see how that brother you wrote about endured the temptation? You, too, should do likewise. Acquire a brave spirit against the temptations that come. In any case, they will come. Forget about what your despondency and indolence tell you. Don't be afraid of them. Just as the previous temptations passed by the grace of God, these, too, will pass once they do their job.
     Temptations are medicines and healing herbs that heal our visible passions and our invisible wounds. So have patience in order to profit every day, to store up wages, rest, and joy in the heavenly kingdom. For the night of death is coming when no one will be able to work anymore. Therefore, hurry. Time is short. You should know this too: a victorious life lasting only one day with trophies and crowns is better than a negligent life lasting many years. Because one man's struggle, with knowledge and spiritual perception that lasts one day, has the same value as another man's struggle, who struggles negligently without knowledge for fifty years.
     Without a struggle and shedding your blood, don't expect freedom from the passions. Our earth produces thorns and thistles after the Fall. We have been ordered to clean it, but only with much pain, bloody hands, and many sighs are the thorns and thistles uprooted. So weep, shed streams of tears, and soften the earth of your heart. Once the ground is wet, you can easily uproot the thorns. - Elder Joseph the Hesychast

January 1, 2017
     As we prepare to enter the year 2017, we should carry with us a spirit of prayer nd thanksgiving for the many gifts God has granted us during the course of the past ear. Each of us should also ask ourselves the question: during this year have I met the Lord? Have I given Him enough space to change me by His divine grace? Have I recognized the many prints He has left along the path of my life? We have tried, but it as not enough. We could have done more. We should do more, as our world has become a place of insecurity and uncertainty. But how?
     Saint Paul wrote that anyone who wishes to work for the Lord will face many difficulties. But as God said to him: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9) So let us look for that grace, and consider what our Church celebrates today as part of the answer. On January 1st, our Orthodox Church commemorates the feast of the circumcision of our Lord Jesus Christ nd the feast of Saint Basil the Great. These two celebrations may seem unrelated, but they express the same spiritual truth: there is no spiritual life without sacrifice.
     Following the law of the Old Testament, Christ submitted Himself to the Jewish practice of circumcision, offering Himself as a sign of consecration. The Apolitikion of the feast reads: "Fulfilling the Law, of Your own will You accepted circumcision in the flesh, to bring an end to the shadow, and to remove the passions that cover us." Christ's offering only increased during the time of His preaching, until His ultimate sacrifice on the Cross. "And being found in appearance as man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the Cross." (Philippians 2:13) Life is given to us, as sacrifice turns it into the sacred mystery of love.
     Saint Basil the Great, who lived in the 4th century, embodied this sacred mystery of love throughout his life, shaping our Orthodox Philanthropy by his monastic life and theological knowledge. His charitable program is expressed as a form of prayer in his Divine Liturgy: "Free those who are held captive by unclean spirits; sail with those who sail; travel with those who travel; defend the widows; protect the orphans; liberate the captives; heal the sick... For You, Lord, are the helper of the helpless, the hope of the hopeless, the savior of the afflicted, the haven of the voyager, and the physician of the sick."
If we want this year 2017 to be worthy of God, of our Christian baptism, of the holy name of Orthodoxy, we must as a Church become to all, to each person who may need us, a vision of what mankind can be and what a community of people can hope for under God's love.
May the gift of the New Year 2017 and the Grace and Blessings of our Lord be with all of you and your beloved families.
With Paternal Love and Blessings, † E V A N G E L O S Metropolitan of New Jersey   
December 25, 2016
     It is time to rejoice, time to share the light of life, time to spread love as the sign of our faith, time to be amazed as we behold the mystery unfolding in the darkness of the cave in Bethlehem. The mystery of our faith is entirely present, embodied by the tiny baby who overnight has become the center of the world, as God enters the doors of humanity. Mankind is amazed as reason encounters its limits. Faith speaks to our intellect and grace calls on our hearts to acknowledge the power of the living God, surrendered into the hands of a newborn. The essence of our Orthodox Christian faith shines with humility and simplicity. Today we welcome the true God and His infinite love for us. We welcome Jesus with the angelic hymn: "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth." We welcome the beginning of a new humanity, closer to the divine than ever before. 
     We are so used to celebrating the earthly birth of our Lord Jesus Christ that we too often forget our sense of wonder at this miracle. Life is a miracle in itself. But when the source of life enters life, it creates an extraordinary new reality in which things remain the same but are entirely different. It is the same experience that Saint John the Theologian had when he wrote in the book of Revelation: "Now, I saw a new heaven, and a new earth... Then, He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new." (Revelation 21:1-5) Our world seems to have remained the same, old, weary and crushed under the weight of the past. But today we are no longer under the old law, we have been set free from the past through the body of Christ... Now, as Saint Paul wrote, "we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter." (Romans 7:4-6)
     As we celebrate Christ's glorious Nativity, let us reflect on the sense of wonder that we must rediscover. The same wonder that the Theotokos herself experienced when she held her divine child for the first time. The same wonder that the Magi experienced when they saw Jesus. The same wonder that we experience again today as we approach the icon of the feast, and which calls us to live with the joyful memory not of the past, but of the Kingdom to come, singing: "The Father was well pleased; the Logos became flesh; and the Virgin gave birth to God who became man. A Star reveals Him; Magi bow in worship; Shepherds marvel, and creation rejoices." (Sticheron 2) 
     As Orthodox Christians living in a world which is deeply polarized and divided, it is our mission to offer to our society the genuine meaning of communion as community by seeing others, our neighbors, through the eyes of wonder. It is a similar wonder when parents meet their newborn for the first time, love their child at first glance, even though they still have to get to know him or her. Loving must come before knowing, although today all too often we know more than we love. Love is the free gift that we should offer the world, especially during Christmas time. May the Joy of Christmas and the Grace and Blessings of our Incarnate Lord be with all of you and your beloved families.
With Paternal Love and Blessings, † E V A N G E L O S Metropolitan of New Jersey   

December 18, 2016
Sunday Before the Birth of our Lord
     For alone who beside the Father could clearly understand the Light which was before the world, the intellectual and essential Wisdom which existed before the ages, the living Word which was in the beginning with the Father and which was God, the first and only begotten of God which was before every creature and creation visible and invisible, the commander-in-chief of the rational and immortal host of heaven, the messenger of the great counsel, the executor of the Father's unspoken will, the creator, with the Father, of all things, the second cause of the universe after the Father, the true and only-begotten Son of God, the Lord and God and King of all created things, the one who has received dominion and power, with divinity itself, and with might and honor from the Father; as it is said in regard to him in the mystical passages of Scripture which speak of his divinity: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." "All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made."
     This, too, the great Moses teaches, when, as the most ancient of all the prophets, he describes under the influence of the divine Spirit the creation and arrangement of the universe. He declares that the maker of the world and the creator of all things yielded to Christ himself, and to none other than his own clearly divine and first-born Word, the making of inferior things, and communed with him respecting the creation of man. "For," says he," God said, Let us make man in our image and in our likeness." And another of the prophets confirms this, speaking of God in his hymns as follows: "He spoke and they were made; he commanded and they were created." He here introduces the Father and Maker as Ruler of all, commanding with a kingly nod, and second to him the divine Word, none other than the one who is proclaimed by us, as carrying out the Father's commands. (Eusebius Pamphilius, Ecclesiastical History CHAPTER II. "Summary View of the Pre-existence and Divinity of Our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ")

December 11, 2016
Morning Prayer of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow
     O Lord, I do not know what to ask of Thee. Thou alone knowest what I need. Thou lovest me more than I know how to love myself. O Father, grant Thy servant what I myself do not know how to ask. I do not dare to ask a cross of Thee, nor consolation; I only stand before Thee with my heart open; Thou seest the needs that I myself do not know. Look, and work in me according to Thy mercy; smite and heal me, cast me down and raise me up! I am reverent and silent before Thy holy will and ways that are unfathomable to me. I offer myself as a sacrifice to Thee; teach me to pray. Do Thou Thyself pray in me. Amen. 
     St. Philaret was born in 1782 in the suburban town of Kolomna, east of Moscow, to a clergyman’s family. He studied at the local seminary, but his intellectual and literary talents were extraordinary, and in 1817 he was consecrated a bishop. By 1826 he was Metropolitan of Moscow, which was the chief hierarchical position in Russia during that period when there was no Patriarchate there. St. Philaret left a voluminous inheritance of what can be truly called patristic works. He also composed prayers, one of which has become for many a part of many people’s morning prayers. It is a prayer not for what we want, but for what God wills—that He would always be before us, working in us His Holy will.

December 4, 2016
Today we commemorate St. John of Damascus. Following is an excerpt of his on the veneration of icons:
     "Worship is one thing, veneration another. The invisible things of God have been made visible through images since the creation of the world. We see images in creation which remind us faintly of God, e.g. in order to talk about the holy and worshipful Trinity, we use the images of the sun and rays of light, a spring and a full river, the mind and speech and the spirit within us, or a rose tree, a sprouting flower, and a sweet fragrance. Also events in the future can be foreshadowed mystically by images. For instance, the ark represents the image of Our Lady, the Mother of God. So does the staff and the earthen jar. The bronze serpent shows us the one who defeated the bite of the original serpent on the Cross; [Jn 3:14-15] the sea, water and the cloud depict the grace of baptism. [I Cor. 10.1] ...
     If you dishonor and reject images because they are produced by matter, consider what the Scripture says: "The Lord said to Moses, 'I have called Bezelel of Judah, and filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, understanding and knowledge of many crafts, to make artifacts from gold, silver, brass, marble, precious stones, and various kinds wood.'" [Ex. 31.1-5] This is the glorification of matter, which you call inglorious. How then, can you make the law a pretence for giving up what it orders? If you invoke the law it against images, you should keep the Sabbath, and practice circumcision. "If you observe the law, Christ will not profit you. You who are justified in the law are fallen from grace." [Gal. 5.2-4] Israel of old did not see God, but we see the Lord's glory face to face. [2 Cor. 3.18] God ordered twelve stones to be taken out of the River Jordan, and explained why. "When your son asks you the meaning of these stones, tell him how the water left the Jordan by God's command, and how the ark of the covenant was saved along with all the people." [Jos. 4.21-22] So how can we not record in images the saving pains and miracles of Christ our Lord, so that when my child asks me, "What is this?" I may say, "That God the Word became man, and that for His sake not Israel alone passed through the Jordan, but the whole human race regained their original happiness. Through him human nature rose from the lowest depths of the earth higher than the skies, and in his Person sat down on the throne his Father had prepared for him."

November 27, 2016
Fasting in the Holy Orthodox Church
     We believe that the period before Pascha (Easter) and the Nativity (Christmas) are not times for celebration, as the western churches believe. The Orthodox Church, from the beginning of Christianity (read Eusebius, from the time of St. Constantine the Great, who quotes writers who knew personally the Apostles) has always seen these times as times of prayer, penitence, and fasting. We wait until the Birth of Christ and his Resurrection until we celebrate. Only then do we feast. In fact, for a week after these events, fasting is prohibited. We must, however, prepare ourselves for His Birth and Resurrection when they occur. Being all sinners, we cannot do this without penance, and that includes fasting. 
     Fasting from foods is intended as spiritual preparation for an experience of deeper communion with God. Each person is a unity of body and soul. A right spiritual diet and a discipline of fasting go together and strengthen each other. Just as prayer benefits not only the soul but also the body so also fasting from foods benefits not only the body but also the soul. Fasting and prayer make us more sensitive to God's personal presence. At important times of their lives the Prophets fasted and prayed. So did Jesus, the Apostles, Saints and Church Fathers. 
     Fasting must be undertaken willingly and not by compulsion. God doesn't need our fasting. We don't fast as a kind of personal punishment for our sins. We cannot pay God back for sins but we can only confess them to Him to receive forgiveness. Fasting with a willing spirit and not just with an attitude of fulfilling a religious obligation means that we keep the purposes of fasting always before us which is to develop self-control and to remember God and His Kingdom. That way we fast not only in what we eat but also in how much we eat. Fasting is simplicity of eating. We leave the table not with loaded stomachs. Being a little hungry during the day becomes a constant reminder of God, of our dependence on Him, and of the fact that the Lord alone can give us "food that lasts for eternal life" (Jn 6:27). In fasting and prayer, he reveals Himself to us as our true food and drink.
     (Rules for Lenten Fasting in the Orthodox Church) In order to help in your Lenten Fasting, the following is a brief description of the Lenten Fast in terms of categories of food and times of abstinence of foods from the various categories. The purpose of this outline of the regulations on fasting is to help educate you on fasting and abstinence in general. This is the "letter of the law" on fasting. It is important for you and your family to participate in the "spirit of the law", working this out with your family and even your priest for your salvation. 
Categories of Foods 
  Category I        Meat and Meat Products (includes beef, pork, chicken, etc., as well as items which have beef gelatin [such as some commercial brands of gelatin], lard [some commercial breads and crackers], etc.) 
  Category II      Dairy Products (includes butter, eggs, milk, cheese, etc., as well as items containing dairy whey, milk extracts, etc.) 
  Category III    Fish (includes sardines, tuna, bass, trout, shark, pike, etc. but not shell fish such as lobster, shrimp, crab, oysters, scallops, clams, mussels, etc.) 
  Category IV    Olive Oil (according to some, this would extend to all oil) and Wine (which includes all alcoholic beverages) 
Foods permitted throughout Lent:
Shellfish (such as lobster, shrimp, crab, oysters, scallops, clams, mussels, etc.) 
Vegetables and Vegetable products (including grains [rice, wheat, flour, pasta {non-egg pasta}, etc.] vegetable gelatins, etc.) 

November 20, 2016
Feast of the Entrance into The Temple of Our Most Holy Lady The Theotokos
     The Feast of the Entrance into the Temple of Our Most Holy Lady the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary is celebrated on November 21 each year. The Feast commemorates when as a young child, the Virgin Mary entered the Temple in Jerusalem. The birth and early life of the Virgin Mary is not recorded in the Gospels or other books of the New Testament, however this information can be found in a work dating from the second century known as the Book of James or Protevangelion. When Mary was three years old, Joachim and Anna decided that the time had come to fulfill their promise and to offer her to the Lord. Joachim gathered the young girls of the neighborhood to form an escort, and he made them go in front of Mary, carrying torches. Captivated by the torches, the young child followed joyfully to the Temple, not once looking back at her parents nor weeping as she was parted from them.
     The holy Virgin ran toward the Temple, overtaking her attendant maidens and threw herself into the arms of the High Priest Zacharias, who was waiting for her at the gate of the Temple with the elders. Zacharias blessed her saying, "It is in you that He has glorified your name in every generation. It is in you that He will reveal the Redemption that He has prepared for His people in the last days." Then, Zacharias brought the child into the Holy of Holies-a place where only the High Priest was permitted to enter once a year on the Day of Atonement. He placed her on the steps of the altar, and the grace of the Lord descended upon her. She arose and expressed her joy in a dance as wonder seized all who saw this happen. The Virgin Mary dwelt in the Temple for nine years until, reaching an age for marriage, she was taken from the Temple by the priests and elders and entrusted to Joseph as the guardian of her virginity.
     The Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple signifies her total dedication to God and her readiness for her future vocation as the Mother of the Incarnate Lord. This is a feast of anticipation. As honor is shown to Mary, the faithful are called to look forward to the Incarnation of Christ, celebrated in a little more than a month by the Feast of the Nativity on December 25.

November 13, 2016
The Archangels
     Angels were created as messengers of God. The Scriptures reveal that God created nine orders of angels: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominations, Principalities, Powers, Virtues, Archangels, and Angels. Out of this order come the familiar seven Archangels which include Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Raguel, Sariel, and the fallen Lucifer. Before outlining the roles of the two that have been most prominent with man in the divine plan of the universe, it is required to cite him who has been the source of evil in our world with whom others, divine and mortal have had to contend with over the centuries since the dawn of man.
     Lucifer, whose ambitions were a distortion of God's plan, is known to us as the fallen angel, with the use of many names, among which are Satan, Belial, Beelzebub and the Devil. An outcast since his expulsion from Paradise, this force of evil has been a thorn in the side of mankind and in all probability responsible for the miseries which Christianity has been striving to eliminate throughout the world.
     The Archangel Michael is the outstanding figure in the eyes of the Greek Orthodox Church and is depicted in the many houses of worship in an icon always on the extreme left where he is pictured as a guardian of Paradise from whence Adam and Eve were evicted. In some icons he is seen with a flaming sword as a symbol of the righteousness that called for the casting out of the Garden of Eden of Adam and Eve after they had fallen victim to Satan in the form of a serpent. Among other things, it was Archangel Michael who was sent by God to countermand the command of God himself that Abraham sacrifice the life of his own son Isaac. Archangel Michael was also the messenger who warned Lot to flee from the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
     Archangel Michael's involvement with mankind is also seen in other ways, including his protection of Jacob from the wrath of his brother Esau over a matter of inheritance for which there are probate courts today. The Scriptures also tell us that it was Michael who battled the Devil for the soul of Moses following the death of the founder of the Israel nation. The Devil based his claim on the soul of the great Moses on the basis of Moses having killed an Egyptian prior to the Exodus, but the defence of the monumental figure of the Bible by Michael saved the soul of Moses from the clutches of Satan.
     We are further told that it was Michael who stood by Joshua during his first encounter with his enemies in the land of Canaan. Mentioned in the New Testament numerous times, in which his lofty position is recognised, accounting for many miracles recounted as being attributed to the handiwork of Michael, chief of which is the changing of the course of a river at a place called Chonais in Asia Minor. Michael's many miracles are commemorated by the church on September 6 of each calendar year.
     A sweep of the eyes to the other end of the icon screen in Greek Orthodox churches falls on the Icon of St. Gabriel, seeming like twin sentinel with Michael over all mankind. Gabriel's name is synonymous with redemption, particularly since he was chosen to be sent by God to bring the electrifying news to the Virgin Mary that she was about to become the mother of God. What ensued changed the course of history and brought the promise of the deliverance of man through Jesus Christ. On the left is the symbol of guilt, on the right the symbol of salvation and between
those can be seen the inspiring spiritual greats who have woven an enduring fabric to clothe all mankind and keep him from exposures that are life threatening.
     Few are aware of the assignments of the lesser known and not so often mentioned saints, aside from Michael and Gabriel and the fallen one. Scant mention is made of the others but much could be made out of their responsibilities as ordained by God through painstaking study of Scriptures which the average reader overlooks because of what is considered more interesting or engrossing. Gabriel is principally mentioned in the Book of Daniel but there are others who have been mentioned who could do with considerably more attention.
     Too little is said of Raguel, who is in charge of the spirits of humans but Sariel, whose duties are not defined whose role as avenger upon the world of lights is somewhat confusing. This brings us down to Sariel, whose duties are not clearly defined. However there is a clear definition of Uriel's role as leader of angelic hosts who guard the underworld (Sheol). Together this holy group is honoured with a feast day on November 8.

November 6, 2016
Christ's Tomb Uncovered After Five Centuries
     For the first time in centuries, archaeologists opened Christians' holiest spot - the tomb of Jesus Christ located in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem. This will give researchers an unprecedented opportunity to analyze the original rock surface where Jesus' body was laid. The only remains that have survived till today are Christ's burial bed and fragments of the walls and the cave entrance. To protect the ancient relics from pilgrims, who tried to take it to pieces, the bed was closed with marble stone in 1555. Now, almost 500 years after, scientists have removed the stone from the burial place to find out what the tomb initially looked like. When the marble plate of was pushed, the researchers discovered a gray-beige stone surface beneath it. In order to find out what this surface is, the scientists will conduct the instrumental studies.
     This burial shelf is now enclosed by a small structure known as the Edicule, from the Latin aedicule, or "little house." The last time it was reconstructed was in 1810 by the Greek Orthodox community after a devastating fire two years before.
In 2015, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem with the consent of the two major communities invited a team from the National Technical University of Athens to study and restore the Edicule of the Tomb once again. Communities of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre approved the restoration in March 2016, provided that the works will be finished by Easter 2017.
     The project cost the US $4 million. This amount was added to the royal donation from King of Jordan Abdullah II and another US $1.3 million from Mica Ertegun, the widow of the founder of Atlantic Records, an American record label.
According to the Gospel, the body of Jesus Christ after his death was put in one of the burial caves carved into the mountain. That is where he rose on the third day. And during the excavation in the 4th century, Flavia Iulia Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine I, allegedly stumbled upon the cross, and then founded the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on this spot.
     Now the Tomb of Jesus is considered one of the most important Christian relics. It is part of a complex of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre along with Calvary, or Golgotha, the Church of the Resurrection, the underground Chapel of the Finding of the True Cross, several churches and monasteries. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is shared by six denominations of the Christian church, each of which has its own side-altar and prayer hours. Sputnik News, Oct. 29, 2016

October 23, 2016
Some quotes on the Prayer "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me" from our Holy Fathers
     In the First Epistle to the Thessalonians the Apostle Paul says: "Pray without ceasing". St. John Chrysostom in his speech about sobriety and prayer, says the following: "Brothers, be always occupied with the intellectual prayer and do not move far away from God until you receive God's mercy and pity. Never ask for anything but for His infinite mercy and this is enough for your salvation. When asking for His mercy, cry aloud in entreaty with humble and contrite heart form morning to night and, if possible, during the whole night, saying unceasingly: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us". 
     St John Climacus says the following: "Win the enemies in jour mind with the name of God. You will not find any other weapon more effective than this! Similarly you will manage both to appease your passions inside yourself and to efface them with the aid of the prayer". 
     St. Seraphim of Sarov says: "When mind and heart are united in prayer and the soul is wholly concentrated in a single desire for God, then the heart grows warm and the light of Christ begins to shine and fills the inward man with peace and joy. We should thank the Lord for everything and give ourselves up to His will; we should also offer Him all our thoughts and words, and strive to make everything serve only His good pleasure."
     St. Isichios writes about the prayer: "Through the constant remembrance and invocation to Jesus Christ, a holy condition is created in our mind. This happens, if we appeal to Jesus Christ with fervor, crying aloud towards Him in entreaty day and night, so that repetition leads to habit and habit becomes second nature!". 
     Saint Hieromartyr Cosmas Aetolos (+1779) says: "I advise you to make a Comboschini, all of you, young and old, and hold it in your left hand and cross yourselves with your right hand and say: 'Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me'".... "I advise all Christians to make Crosses and Comboschinis and I pray to God to bless them, so they can keep them as amulets".

October 16, 2016
     It is truly with profound joy that Orthodox Christians around the world are preparing to celebrate with one mind and one soul the 25th Anniversary of the 270th Successor of the Apostle Andrew, His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who was elected by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate on October 22, 1991, and Enthroned as Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch on November 2, 1991. 
During these past 25 years, His All Holiness has distinguished himself as not only a dynamic and visionary Spiritual Leader of worldwide Orthodoxy, but has also proven to be a blessed World Leader, becoming a living bridge between nations and peoples. Perhaps as no predecessor before him, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has been a foundational catalyst for ecumenical dialogue amongst the world's religions, and has especially advanced the dialogue with our sister Christian Church, the Roman Catholic Church and in particular with its Pontiff, Pope Francis. Heralded as the "Green Patriarch," His All Holiness has brought global attention to our ailing environment by hosting a plethora of environmental symposiums throughout the world. As an Apostle of Love and Reconciliation, he has boldly spoken out against terrorism and religious oppression, ignoring the potential dangers and repercussions to himself and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. His outreach to religious leaders beyond Christianity, such as Judaism and Islam, are just a few examples of his willingness to truly be a Disciple of Christ and to proclaim convincingly the Good News and the Truth to all nations. 
     Numerous Universities, Colleges and Academic Institutions have bestowed honorary degrees upon His All Holiness in recognition of the invaluable work and progress that he has contributed to on the world stage, and in particular, in promulgating peace and conflict resolution across the globe. An erudite scholar, His All Holiness has authored various books and articles, not only concerning our Orthodox Faith, but also on contemporary social, biomedical, ethical, educational, and political issues that confront not only Orthodox Christians, but indeed, all inhabitants of the Earth. His crowning achievement, among many, is the recent Holy and Great Council that was held on the island of Crete this past June, which brought together Orthodox Leaders from the various jurisdictions throughout the world, under the sage leadership of His All Holiness. After so many years since a Holy and Great Council was held, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was indeed blessed by God to preside over this historical event, which has cemented his unparalleled and unequivocal seal of vision and perseverance in the annals of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and of Orthodoxy. 
     Hence, it is with particular joy that I invite all of you to a special Divine Liturgy celebrating the 25th Anniversary of His All Holiness' Election and Enthronement as the "First Among Equals" to be held on Saturday, October 22, 2016 at the Metropolitan Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Theologian in Tenafly, NJ. The Orthros will begin at 9:00am followed by the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy. I look forward to celebrating with all of you this most jubilant occasion in the life of our Church. Praying that Almighty God continues to bestow many more years of strength and divine illumination upon our Spiritual Father and Leader, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, I remain, † E V A N G E L O S Metropolitan of New Jersey  

September 25, 2016
     I once met a woman who claimed she never doubted her faith, and had never experienced even a moment when she didn't believe everything the Church taught. Within that same year, this woman had abandoned her faith, and apostatized from Orthodoxy. Her fear of harboring even a little doubt about her belief in God, and her trust in the Church's teachings, had left her vulnerable. She did not understand that although the counterpart of belief is unbelief, doubt itself must be viewed as simply a hesitation between two positions. Doubt does not contradict faith, for it is not the same as unbelief. Doubt can, and should, serve as the catalyst to our moving deeper into the spiritual aspects of what it means to be human, and being part of a family of believers who are on a journey into the Heart of God. Faith, if it be true, challenges the status quo, and catapults us forward out of our complacency. 
     When we try to make doubt as unbelief, we place ourselves into a contradictory state, as though we have to choose which side we will place ourselves. Are we a believer, or are we an unbeliever? When we think we have to place ourself in one category or another, we forget that doubt, in its very essence, is a place between two positions. This is when the physicality of the Orthodox Church comes into play, for the architecture of our temples, the beauty of our vestments, the mystery of our icons, and the smell of the incense we offer to God in our divine services, play the role of being a bridge between the material world and the spiritual realm. As we journey together, we experience a reconnection between ourselves and the God Who created us, and the Incarnation of God in our midst becomes a reality that we experience. 
     Orthodoxy, as this bridge between the physical and the spiritual, allows us not only to grow in wisdom, but helps us track the many different stages of spiritual development throughout the whole of our lifetime. Our lifelong journey is one that seeks to receive some level of illumination (theoria), and is not just the blind adherence to some "statement of faith". In other words, Orthodoxy is far more than a simple adherence to our Creeds, our practices, our worship, and our doctrine. 
     Orthodoxy is a faith that is deep enough to allow her believers to confront the complexities of our human experience, while at the same time recognizing that not all is understood in this life, but viewed as Mystery. So, the view that believers never doubt, is simply not true. Doubt is not the opposite of faith, but rather the vehicle by which we are challenged to go deeper into the Mystery that is true faith. Nothing keeps we true believers from struggling with uncertainty, for it is this very uncertainty that keeps us from complacency. Complacency is the true enemy of faith, and the inhibitor of spiritual growth. It is complacency that keeps us from the Kingdom of God, and the joy that comes when we are in communion with Christ. It is not a question of choosing sides, but of surrendering to Divine Wisdom. (Abbot Tryphon)

September 18, 2016
Often state policy and legislation undermine the Christian faith. What should we as Christians do in such situations? Remain silent or speak up? Below is St. Paisios' advice on the topic.
     Today, when one is concerned over the condition of our nation, then that's a confession of faith in itself, because the State is opposing the divine law. It's legislating laws that are contrary to the law of God. I have heard Spiritual Fathers advising their spiritual children, "Don't get involved in affairs of the State". Now if they had attained such a high level of sanctity through prayer that they didn't care about anything worldly, then I would be the first to kiss their feet. But they're only indifferent, they don't want to rock the boat. Indifference is unacceptable even among worldly people, and even less so among spiritual people. An honourable, spiritual person should do nothing indifferently. The Prophet Jeremiah exhorts us by saying "Cursed is he who does the work of the Lord with slackness"
     Geronta is the silence of the Church an indication of approval?
Yes. Someone wrote some blasphemous things about Panaghia and no one spoke up. Then I told someone, "Did you see what so-and-so has written?" And he told me, "Well, what can you do with those people? You'll get soiled if you try to deal with them." They're afraid to speak up.
     What did he have to fear Geronda?
That people might write something about him and ridicule him in the press. And so he tolerates blasphemous things about Panaghia. We want others to pull the chestnuts out of the fire so that we can have our peace of mind. This indicates a lack of love. Then man begins to act out of self-interest. This is why we see an all-too familiar spirit today: "Get to know so-and-so because he will then speak well of you. Be on good terms with so and-so and he will not speak badly of you, and so forth.
     After all, we must not be taken for fools, we must not become victims." Another person remains indifferent and does not speak up. "l do not speak out," he says, "so that I won't be written up in the newspapers." In other words, most people are completely indifferent. For a long time no one would write anything, but now some little effort is being made. Years ago I had scolded someone on the Holy Mountain. "You are over-patriotic" he retorted. Not too long ago he came back to find me and say "They have destroyed everything, family, education...." And I, in turn, told him, "You are over-patriotic!'

September 11, 2016
When Can We Help Others Spiritually?
     If we work to correct ourselves and look more intently towards our "inner" activity rather than our external, giving precedence to divine help, we can in turn be of greater and more positive help to others. We will also achieve an inner serenity that will quietly help the souls of the people we encounter because spiritual serenity reflects the virtue of the soul and transforms souls.
     When someone applies himself to external activity before having polished his spiritual inner state, he may struggle spiritually, but he will be fraught with worry, anxiety, lack of confidence in God and frequent loss of serenity. If he does not improve himself, he cannot say that his interest for the common good is pure. When he is liberated from the old self and all things worldly, then he will receive divine Grace and be not only at peace with himself, but also able to bring peace to everyone else. But if he has not received the Grace of God, then he can neither govern himself nor help others in order to bring about a divine effect. He must first be immersed in divine Grace and then utilise his resulting sanctified powers for the salvation of others.
(From Spiritual Awakening (Spiritual Counsels of Elder Paisios)

September 4, 2016
Guarding Our Thoughts ...exercise, coupled with the prayer, pushes aside negative thoughts...
     Our thoughts really do have an impact on our world. Negative thoughts about family members or fellow employees change our relationships. If we dislike someone at work and allow ourselves to think poorly of them, they are likely to fulfill our low expectations. If we pray for them and ask God to bless them, while asking the Lord to bless our interaction with them, they become changed for the good and so do we.
     We've all heard the image of the one person whose cup is half empty, while the other person's cup is half full. The former person is likely to go through life with unfulfilled goals, while the latter will see their world blossom as a beautiful garden. Even all the weeds in that garden will be seen as beautiful if we keep negative thoughts at bay.
     I've counseled depressed individuals over the years to take a brisk walk every day for at least forty minutes while saying the Jesus Prayer. Their depression subsides within days because the exercise, coupled with the prayer, pushes aside negative thoughts and sends depression into the abyss from which it originated.
     Our negative thoughts keep us from the joy that is ours in Christ and keeps that joy from uplifting others. If we fight off negative thoughts we allow Christ to change us and those around us. Saint Seraphim of Sarov said that if we acquire peace, a thousand around us will be saved. Negative thoughts do not promote peace! (Hegumen Tryphon, Abbot of All-Merciful Saviour Monastery) 

August 28, 2016
To a Modest Man Who is Repenting for Some of His Words
     You have done well for repenting right away. God has left repentance for salvation. If that was not the case‚ not even the Apostles would have been saved‚far less other people. You have sinned with the tongue‚ re¬pented with the heart. You said an evil word against your neighbor. As if you threw a spark into dry straw. The whole village heard it and made a mockery of it. The neighbor was bitter and sued you. You paid a lot‚ and became more miserable. You are bitter with yourself. It is not so hard for you that the court has punished you‚ but it is hard that your offended neighbor keeps punishing you. He does not wish to speak with you anymore. He keeps quiet and turns away from you. What should you do? Leave it to God and time. Pray to the all-seeing Creator that He would give some goodwill to your neighbor. Use every opportunity to say a good word about your neighbor‚ and wait. God‚ a good word and time will do their job. And one day‚ you will again go to church together with your pacified neighbor.
     And as the lesson for the future‚ remember the words of the Savior‚ I say to you that in the day of the tenable judgment‚ people will give account for every empty word they uttered. Does this say to you that each vicious and false word strikes against the order of the universe and offends the Creator? A good or bad word that we say about a person‚ even if said in the greatest secrecy‚ is felt by the whole universe and by the Creator of feelings. Or how could we keep our words unknown from Him to whom even our thoughts are all known! Ancient Greeks said that the spear of their hero Achilles could wound with one side and heal with the other. We do not know about Achilles' spear‚ but we do know for sure that this is true for the human tongue. Wounds are caused by the tongue and are also healed by the tongue. With it we bless God and curse men. (Jas. 3: 9)
     In one of our villages‚ this terrible event took place. A mother had an only son‚a student in school. The mother was mad at the son and in her anger she said these senseless words‚ "If I were to never see you again‚ I'd be happy!" The child was so distraught by these words that he took a gun and shot himself. Beside himself‚ he left a student's writing board on which he wrote‚ "Here mother‚ I remove myself forever from before your face‚ just to make you happy!" O‚ the miserable happiness of the mother! After that happened‚ the mother sat by the fireplace every night‚ putting out the fire with her tears until she was eventually found dead one morning‚ wasted‚ by the putout fireplace.
     Do you see what a senseless word does? But I will not leave you without an example of what a sensible word can do. During the war‚ a soldier who was easily frightened was sent into patrol. Everyone knew how easily scared he was. Everyone laughed when they heard that the commander was sending him out. Only one soldier did not laugh. He came up to his friend to encourage him. But the scared soldier said‚ "I will surely die. The enemy is very close." The friend answered‚ "Don't worry brother‚ God is closer!" These words rang out in the scared soldier's soul like a big bell. And they kept ringing until the end of the war. And that frightened soldier came back from the war decorated with medals for courage. That good word transformed and strengthened him so much - "don't worry‚ God is closer." Peace and health to you from God! (St. Nikolai Velimirovich)

August 21, 2016
You are having a rough time...
     The deepest, the purest and most permanent benefit comes to the soul exactly at a time when man has nothing to rely on, to fall back on and in a way, when he is hanging in the void. Then, if man is well intentioned and seeks refuge in God, there is hope that true repentance and every other virtue will come to the soul.It often happens that God leads things to such a point, that in a way, man cannot bear it. God knows how much every soul can bear. But at a time when things happen precisely this way -not once, but many a time- whoever has even minimal trust in God, learns to trust even more. Thus, the old man dies. Selfishness dies and so does the spirit of profanity one may have in them.
     Let us not deceive ourselves. There are very few souls which trust God with honesty and are not misled by self love. The majority of us, unless we go through rough times -when we know not what to do, when we feel lost and can no longer bear it, when we are in a deep turmoil-, we will not learn the lesson of repentance. Hopefully, in the most positive judgment, you are humble and have all the virtues, too. That's how it looks. But deeper, your soul is still in darkness. It's got sclerosis.You have to sweat and strain yourself in order to get rid of the old man. Just like the snake, which painfully shuffles its skin so that the new skin underneath can be seen. Man has to undergo hardship unheard of. Otherwise, the soul cannot be sorted out, cannot become smooth. Otherwise, the soul doesn't repent, nor does it overcome certain things. The "dregs" of the old man do not easily scrub off. Man makes allowances for himself. He loves himself and doesn't cast himself aside. Man has to undergo such hardship to the point that he feels that he truly can't bear it any longer. But he has to pull through. In spite of not being able to bear it, man has to. And in order to come through, he will have to resort to the "intervention reserve". What I mean is that he will surrender to God wholeheartedly. He will completely denounce himself, himself which constantly holds things back.
     Our virtue is just cover up, which conceals all sickness and sinfulness nesting deep in your heart. That's why God allows for things to turn out in such a way, that you despair. That's why God allows for things to turn out in such a way, that nothing stays in place. Except, for a subtle saving hope which is hardly discernible. That's how you denounce yourself. While God allows hardship, obstacles and temptations to come for our own good, we panic. We actually think that God has abandoned us, exactly because these things come.While God through these things is present and wants to do work in our hearts, we are scared; we are seized by cowardice, despair. And God leaves us. In this case, we neither benefit nor make any advance. And whoever doesn't make any advance goes backwards. He doesn't simply stay put. Man should surrender himself in the hands of God like prey, like a victim, in the sense that the old man should little by little die. The old man should be sacrificed. Every intention to salvage himself or support his self love and thus feel fake joy, should little by little taper off.
     In order to reach a good spiritual state, in order for spiritual work to be done in your heart, so that you see sin dying out in you, so that you start having real communication with God, you will have to ride out a lot of storms. Such storms, that you will feel all is lost. So, at times when you are in a good spiritual state, you can keep up the good work and study a bit more, listen to the word of God, pray better, believe more. If you do so, this will act as good yeast in your heart and when hard times inevitably come, you can lean and rely on that.
     Why does God allow for man to be in dire straits, when he doesn't simply think (but also everything shows indeed) that all is lost as well as his soul, despite his taste of Grace and spiritual experience? Because the sin of man cannot otherwise die. Man tries to hold on to his ego in a thousand ways. Like someone who no matter how drenched he gets in the rain, he still tries to keep some spot dry. However, if he gets thrown into a water reservoir, there is no hope for a dry spot on him. Likewise, man throws himself in a pool of hopelessness and despair and as all human support gives way, there is nothing he can rely on to hide - in the sense of saving- his ego. And he surrenders his ego to death. [Archimandrite Symeon (Kragiopoulos)]

August 14, 2016
The Most-Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary
     In the theology and piety of the Orthodox Church, a special place of honor is given to the Mother of God the Most-Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, who is reverenced by the Orthodox as being more honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious, beyond compare, than the Seraphim. As Orthodox we style her as the most exalted among God's creatures; but we do not regard her as some sort of goddess, the 4th Person of the Trinity, as some accuse us; nor do we render her the worship due God alone. Just as with the Holy Icons, the veneration due Mary is expressed in quite different words in the Greek writings of the Fathers than that due God.
     At many of the Divine Services, the Deacon exclaims: Commemorating our Most-Holy, Most-Pure, Most-Blessed and Glorious Lady Theotokos and Ever -Virgin Mary with all the Saints.... And here we can see three basic truths expressed concerning her. The Virgin Mary is honored because she is Theotokos the Mother of God not of His divinity, but of His humanity, yet of God in that Jesus Christ was, in the theology of the Church, both God and Man, at one and the same time, in the Incarnation. Therefore, the honor given Mary is due to her relationship to Christ. And this honor, rather than taking away from that due God, makes us more aware of God's majesty; for it is precisely on account of the Son (Himself God) that she is venerated. Of times, when men refuse to honor Mary, it is because they do not believe in the cause of her veneration the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity.
     We also speak of the Theotokos as being Ever-Virgin, which was officially proclaimed at the 5th Ecumenical Council (Constantinople 553; the dogma concerning Mary as being Theotokos was proclaimed in 431 at the 3rd Ecumenical Council in Ephesus). This notion does not actually contradict Holy Scripture, as some would think. And His mother and His brothers came; and standing outside they sent to Him and called Him (Mark 3:31). Here the use of the word brothers in the original Greek can mean half-brother, cousin, or near relative, in addition to brothers in the strict sense. The Orthodox Church has always seen brothers here as referring to His half-brothers.
If Mary is honored as Theotokos, so too, she is honored because she is Panagia All-Holy. She is the supreme example of the cooperation between God and Man; for God, Who always respects human freedom, did not become incarnate without her free consent which, as Holy Scripture tells us, was freely given: Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word (Luke 1:38). Thus Mary is seen by the Church as the New Eve (as Christ is the New Adam) whose perfect obedience contrasted the disobedience of the First Mother, Eve, in Paradise. As St. Irenaeus says, the knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed through the obedience of Mary; for what Eve, a virgin, bound by her unbelief, that Mary, a virgin, unloosed by her faith [Against the Heresies, III, xxii, 4],
     As All-Holy and Most-Pure, Mary was free from actual sin, but, in the opinion of most Orthodox theologians, although not dogmatized by the Church, she did fall under the curse of Original Sin as does all mankind. For this reason by virtue of her solidarity with all humanity the Theotokos died a bodily death. Yet, in her case, the resurrection of the body had been anticipated; and she was assumed body and soul into Heaven; and her tomb was found empty an event celebrated in the Feast of the Falling-Asleep (or Dormition) of the Most-Holy Theotokos (Aug. 15). Thus, as the hymns of that Feast proclaim, she has passed from earth to heaven, beyond death and judgment, living already in the age to come. She enjoys now the same bodily glory all of us hope to share one day.
     Whereas the Church has officially proclaimed as dogmas the doctrines concerning the Trinity and the Incarnation, the glorification of the Mother of God belongs to the Inner Tradition of the Church. As the noted Orthodox theologian, Vladimir Lossky writes: It is hard to speak and not less hard to think about the mysteries which the Church keeps in the hidden depths of her inner consciousness.... The Mother of God was never a theme of the public preaching of the Apostles; while Christ was preached on the housetops, and proclaimed for all to know in an initiatory teaching addressed to the whole world, the mystery of His Mother was revealed only to those who were within the Church.... It is not so much an object of faith as a foundation of our hope, a fruit of faith, ripened in Tradition. Let us therefore keep silence, and let us not try to dogmatize about the supreme glory of the Mother of God [Panagia, in The Mother of God, ed. E.L. Mascall, p.35].

August 7, 2016
On the Transfiguration of Our Lord
     Upon Mount Tabor, Jesus revealed to his disciples a heavenly mystery. While living among them he had spoken of the kingdom and of his second coming in glory, but to banish from their hearts any possible doubt concerning the kingdom and to confirm their faith in what lay in the future by its prefiguration in the present, he gave them on Mount Tabor a wonderful vision of his glory, a foreshadowing of the kingdom of heaven. It was as if he said to them: "As time goes by you may be in danger of losing your faith. To save you from this I tell you now that some standing here listening to me will not taste death until they have seen the Son of Man coming in the glory of his Father. "Moreover, in order to assure us that Christ could command such power when he wished, the evangelist continues: Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter, James and John, and led them up a high mountain where they were alone. There, before their eyes, he was transfigured. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Then the disciples saw Moses and Elijah appear, and they were talking to Jesus.
     These are the divine wonders we celebrate today; this is the saving revelation given us upon the mountain; this is the festival of Christ that has drawn us here. Let us listen, then, to the sacred voice of God so compellingly calling us from on high, from the summit of the mountain, so that with the Lord's chosen disciples we may penetrate the deep meaning of these holy mysteries, so far beyond our capacity to express. Jesus goes before us to show us the way, both up the mountain and into heaven, and - I speak boldly - it is for us now to follow him with all speed, yearning for the heavenly vision that will give us a share in his radiance, renew our spiritual nature and transform us into his own likeness, making us for ever sharers in his Godhead and raising us to heights as yet undreamed of.
     Let us run with confidence and joy to enter into the cloud like Moses and Elijah, or like James and John. Let us be caught up like Peter to behold the divine vision and to be transfigured by that glorious transfiguration. Let us retire from the world, stand aloof from the earth, rise above the body, detach ourselves from creatures and turn to the creator, to whom Peter in ecstasy exclaimed: Lord, it is good for us to be here. It is indeed good to be here, as you have said, Peter. It is good to be with Jesus and to remain here for ever. What greater happiness or higher honor could we have than to be with God, to be made like him and to live in his light?
     Therefore, since each of us possesses God in his heart and is being transformed into his divine image, we also should cry out with joy: It is good for us to be here - here where all things shine with divine radiance, where there is joy and gladness and exultation; where there is nothing in our hearts but peace, serenity and stillness; where God is seen. For here, in our hearts, Christ takes up his abode together with the Father, saying as he enters: Today salvation has come to this house. With Christ, our hearts receive all the wealth of his eternal blessings, and there where they are stored up for us in him, we see reflected as in a mirror both the first fruits and the whole of the world to come. This excerpt from a sermon on the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus by St. Anastasius of Sinai 

July 31, 2016
"The Psalms Are My Refuge": Archbishop Anastasios on Prayer
     His Eminence Archbishop Anastasios (Yannoulatos) arrived in Albania in 1991, to assume archpastoral duties in this impoverished country, which during the Communist period had been militantly atheistic. Since that date, under his guidance and through his prayer, the Orthodox Church in Albania has experienced what has rightly been proclaimed a "Resurrection" (Anastasis!).
     Jim Forest, a well-known Orthodox journalist and head of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship (OPF), visited the Church in Albania a few years ago and met with the Archbishop and many other people there who are involved in various kinds of mission work. The fruit of that visit was a remarkable little book, published by the World Council of Churches in 2002, entitled The Resurrection of the Church in Albania. Voices of Orthodox Christians. Jim has kindly given permission to quote from that book a portion of Archbishop Anastasios' thoughts on prayer (pages 123f). They are vibrant words that issue from a living experience of the God of love, who is present and acting in the midst of the world's turmoil and suffering. Yet their simplicity and depth is such that they offer direction to anyone who seeks, in the midst of everyday activities, to commune with the life-giving Trinity.
     "Prayer summarizes a longing. The problem is that so often we become ego-centered, lacking humility. Thus it is good to pray, ‘Oh Lord, deliver me from myself and give me to Yourself!'-a cry of the heart. It is similar to the prayer, ‘Lord, I believe, please help my unbelief.' Often it is necessary to pray for forgiveness. "Many times in my life, there has been no opportunity for long prayers, only time to go quickly into what I call the ‘hut of prayer'-very short prayers that I know by heart or to make a very simple request: ‘Show me how to love!' Or, when you have to make a decision, ‘Lord, help me make the right estimation and come to the right judgment, to make the right action.' Then there is the very simple prayer, ‘Your will be done.' I have also learned, in Albania, what it means to be a foreigner, to come from a country many regard with suspicion. This, however, can help one become more humble. It helps one pray with more intensity, ‘Use me according to Your will.' Often I pray, ‘Lord, illumine me so that I know Your will, give me the humility to accept your will and the strength to do your will.' I go back to these simple prayers again and again.
     "Many times, the psalms are my refuge. You realize that in the spontaneous arising of certain phrases from the psalms you are hearing God speak to you. Perhaps you are reciting the psalm, ‘My soul, why are you so downcast...' And then another phrase from the psalms arises which is a response. It is an ancient Christian tradition that a bishop should know many psalms by heart. The psalms provide a spiritual refuge. In each situation there is a psalm that can help you, in those critical moments when you have no place of retreat. Perhaps you remember the words, ‘Unless the Lord guards the house, they who guard it labour in vain.' You are reminded that your own efforts are not decisive. You also come to understand that your own suffering is a sharing in God's suffering. It is a theme St. Paul sometimes writes about. You come to understand that the resurrection is not after the cross but in the cross."

July 24, 2016
Prayer Today
     Life and prayer are completely inseparable. A life without prayer is a life which is unaware of an essential dimension of existence. It is a flat life, without depth, a two-dimensional life in space and time. It is a life that is satisfied with the visible, with our neighbour, but with our physical neighbour, in whom we fail to discover the immensity and eternity of his destiny. The value of prayer consists in discovering, affirming and living in accordance with the fact that everything has a dimension of eternity and of boundlessness. The world in which we live is not a profane world; it is a world which we know only too well how to profane, but in itself it comes from the hands of God, it is loved by God. The value which God attaches to it is the life and death of his Son, and prayer manifests our recognition of this fact, our discovery of the fact that in the eyes of God every person around us, every thing around us has a sacred value and, being loved by God, becomes precious to us. Not to pray is to leave God out of our existence, — not only God, but all that He signifies for the world He created, the world in which we live. Now we often think that it is difficult to coordinate life and prayer. This is a complete mistake, resulting from a false idea of life as well as of prayer. We think that life consists of being on the move and that prayer consists in going off somewhere into retirement and for getting all about our neighbour and our human situation. This is untrue! It is a slander against life and a slander against prayer itself. In order to understand prayer one must first get into solidarity with the whole reality of man, with his destiny and that of the whole world: assume it totally. And that is t essential act which God accomplishe’ in the Incarnation. This is the total aspect of what we call intercession. Ordinarily when we think of intercession we think that it consists of politely reminding God of what he has forgotten to do. Intercession consists of taking a step which brings us to the heart of tragic situations, — a step which has the same quality as the one taken by Christ, who became man once for all. It means stepping into the heart of situations from which we can never find our way out again; a Christian, Christ-like solidarity which is simultaneously oriented towards two opposite poles. Christ incarnate, true man and true God, has total solidarity with man in his sin when he turns towards God, and total solidarity with God when he turned towards man. It is this double solidarity which makes us in a sense a stranger to both sides and at the same time united with both sides. This is fundamentally our Christian situation. You ask: “What shall we do?” Prayer arises from two sources: either from our wonder at God and the things of God — our neighbour and the world around us, in spite of its shadows; or else from the sense of tragedy, our own, and especially other people’s. Berdyaev said: “When I am hungry it is a physical fact; if my neighbour is hungry it is a moral fact.” That is the tragedy as it appears to us at every moment. My neighbour is always hungry: he is not always hungry for bread, he is sometimes hungry for a human gesture, a glance of affection. And this is where prayer begins, in this sensitization to the wonders and the tragedy. As long as this lasts, everything is easy: in wonder we pray easily, just as we pray easily when we are in the grip of a sense of tragedy. But otherwise? At other times life and prayer must be made one. For instance, get up in the morning, stand before God and say: “Lord, bless me, and bless this day that is beginning”, and then treat the whole day as a gift of God and consider yourself as God’s envoy in this unknown which is the new day. This simply means something very difficult: that nothing which happens today will be alien to the will of God: everything without exception is a situation in which God will have placed you in order that you should be His presence, his love, his compassion, his creative intelligence, his courage… And on the other hand, every time you encounter a situation, you will be the one whom God has put there to perform the office of a Christian, to be a particle of the body of Christ and an action of God. If you do that, you will easily see that at every moment you will have to turn to God and say: “Lord, clarify my intelligence, strengthen and direct my will, give me a heart of fire, help me.” At other moments you may say: “Thank you, Lord!” And if you are wise and know how to be thankful, you will avoid the folly that is called vanity or pride, which consists of imagining that one has done something that one could have left undone. It is God who has done it. It is God who has given us this marvelous gift of having that to do. And when in the evening you present yourself again before God and make a quick examination of the day, you will be able to sing his praises, glorify Him, thank Him, weep over others and weep over yourself. If you begin to connect your prayer to life in this way, the two will never again be separated, and life will be like a fuel which at every moment is feeding a fire that becomes richer and richer, more and more burning, and which little by little will transform you yourself into that burning bush that is told about in Scripture.
July 17, 2016
The Fathers of Nicea: Why Should I Care?
     Those for whom ancient history is irrelevant and who equate "old" with "out-dated" (or better yet, "medieval" with "barbarically primitive") will have trouble appreciating the Fathers of the First Council of Nicea, since they met and produced their work well over a thousand years ago, in 325 A.D. How could a creed so old be remotely relevant today? Accordingly, some churches have produced their own creeds (such as the United Church of Canada, which produced its own creed for alternative use in 1968. It is a cautionary tale, for it began "Man is not alone; he lives in God's world" and they soon enough found that political correctness demanded its alteration to "We are not alone; we live in God's world"). Among other things, the Fathers of Nicea declared the full divinity of Jesus of Nazareth by saying that He was homoousios with the Father-of the same essence as Him. Later attempts to create consensus would suggest that maybe it could be said that Jesus was homoiousios with the Father-"of like essence". After all, it has been pointed out, it only involves the difference of one letter, and a tiny one at that. Why fight over a single iota, a single "i"? Who would care? Why should any sensible person get worked up over whether the pre-incarnate Word was homoousios with the Father orhomoiousios? The ruckus of Nicea and afterward only went to prove how miserable and contentious those Christians were.
     A moment's thought however will reveal the nonsense of saying that Jesus was homoiousios with the Father. He was of "like essence"? What could that possibly mean? That He was divine-ish? God in an honourary kind of way? Sort of God? Almost God? Anyone not obviously drunk and who thinks for a second will realize that the distance between God and His creation is infinite, so that one is either absolutely God or not God at all. The eternal Creator, without beginning or limit, stands on one side of an ontological abyss, and all creation stands on the other side. One can't be a little bit God any more than one can be a little bit pregnant. Like pregnancy, divinity is an all or nothing kind of thing-either one is completely divine or not divine at all. Either Jesus was God and homoousios with the Father or He was created and of a completely different essence than the Father. Even Arius, the villain of the Nicene piece, got that much right. But still one may ask: why should we care? Sure, we confess His divinity, but what does it really matter?
     This is why it matters: salvation consists in giving one's life, heart, and soul to God, living and dying for Him down to one's last breath and one's last drop of blood. The issue is: may we give such loyalty, allegiance, love, and commitment to Jesus of Nazareth, or not? If He is not truly God, then giving Him such allegiance would be idolatry. No one sensibly would live and die so totally for a mere celebrity. And if the Nicene Fathers were wrong and Jesus is simply just an ancient celebrity, we ought not to give Him our lives. Our admiration, perhaps, but not lives and our worship. But in fact the Fathers of Nicene were right, and Jesus of Nazareth is God in the flesh-Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, homoousios with the Father. It is through Him that all things were made, and to Him that all things shall return with bowed knee. It is our salvation that we bow the knee in love to Him even now before that final end, and confess that the road to His city runs through our heart. (FR. LAWRENCE R. FARLEY)

July 10, 2016
     Have you heard the story about the baptism of the Gauls?
     The Gauls were a feared warlike people who in ancient times inhabited what is now France and Belgium. By the time of the Christian era they had been conquered by the Roman Empire and were supposedly under its control. The extent of this control varied and there were numerous Gallic uprisings. A number of Christian missionaries ventured into Gallic territory and many of the Gauls were baptized. Further, when a converted warrior was baptized in a river or stream, he would hold one arm high in the air as the missionary dunked him under the water. This seemed a peculiar custom and the missionaries soon learned the reason. When the next battle or skirmish broke out, the warlike Gaul could proclaim: "This arm is not baptized!" He would then grab his weapon and ride off to destroy his enemy.
     Stewardship is About Getting Completely Wet :The reason I share this story is because I find it compelling: the picture of someone trying to keep one part of their body, one aspect of their identity, free from the influence of baptism. Another reason I have shared the story is because, like baptism, stewardship is about getting completely wet. It is about looking at ourselves, discovering what it is that we would like to keep dry, and then immersing whatever that is in the waters of Holy Baptism.
Keeping our Money Dry: Stewardship is about giving to God. It is about turning total control of our lives over to God. But when we hear the word stewardship, what is the first thing that we think of? Many people say, "Money," and there may be two reasons for that. First, there is a lingering misconception among many Orthodox that stewardship is just a fancy word for "fund-raising." But stewardship is not fund-raising. It is a way of life. Second, in today's world, money is the one thing that many of us would most like to keep dry. Many of us want to go under the water with that outstretched arm clutching ... not an ax or a war-hammer, but a purse or wallet. And that is why, when we talk about stewardship today, we often talk about money more than we do about anything else.
Stewardship Involves Lots of Things: For some years now we have been trying to get people to realize that stewardship is not just about money. Someone came up with the phrase "time, talents, and treasures." There is also the whole matter of "stewardship of the earth," taking proper care of the planet that God has given us (Genesis 1:26; Psalm 8:6): conserving water, recycling paper and aluminum, preserving wetlands and rainforests. Or we might speak of "stewardship of our families" (Exodus 20:12; Proverbs 22:6; Mark 7:9-13; 1 Timothy 5:8): nurturing our marriages, raising happy and healthy children, caring for elderly parents. In truth, stewardship may involve lots of things. Properly speaking, stewardship is about all of life, about giving ourselves to God and using all that God has given us in grateful and appropriate ways. Yet we talk mostly about money because more than anything else we find money to be the greatest challenge.
      It Involves Talk about Money: The Bible reports Jesus as saying, "You cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24); mammon refers to money and the things that money can buy - material possessions. Jesus might have said this about "God and politics" or about "God and sports" or about God and any number of other things that might become obsessions. But he didn't. He said, "God and mammon."-money. The Bible also presents the apostle Paul as saying, "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:10). Paul might have said this about "the love of status" or "the love of power" or the love of any number of other things. But he didn't. He said money. Money and material possessions are especially prominent candidates for idolatry and are chief contenders for unwarranted affection. A Christian writer said, that humans need to experience three conversions: (1) a conversion of heart, (2) a conversion of the mind, and (3) a conversion of the purse.
Is Your Money Off-Limits to Spiritual Inspection: Even baptized people like to keep their money dry. In fact, many of us try to rope off this one area of our life as "off-limits" to spiritual inspection. "It's nobody's business what I do with my money," we say, not realizing just how foolish that sounds. It's God's business, isn't it? But here is something that many people do not know: what the Bible teaches about stewardship is good news! When we come to understand and practice what the Bible says about stewardship, we will have happier, better lives.
John Kaloudis received his M.Div. from Holy Cross School of Theology. The article originally appeared in Orthodox Observer, the MAY Issue 2016 • Vol. 81 • No. 1315

July 3, 2016
The Prayers of Those Who Love Us
     I am asked very often how to outgrow the struggle which is ours so often when we try to read the prayers which the saints have coined, which were born in their experience of life.
     There was a time when I read with great faithfulness all the prayers which the Church offers us in the morning, in the evening and on other occasions. But I could not always identify with them. They were prayers which were strange to me. I had not grown to that measure of faith or to that measure of love for my neighbour. There were passages in the prayers which I could say sincerely; but there were passages which I could not say; partly because they went against my experience, my feeling, partly because I had not grown to that measure of faith and spiritual experience.
     My spiritual father gave me advice on that. He said to me: ‘For a year I forbid you to use any of the prayers of the books of prayer. Before you go to bed, make the sign of the Cross and then lie down and say, "Lord, at the prayers of those who love me, save me," and begin to ask yourself who are those who love you - who love you so much, so deeply, so truly, that you don't need even to pray, because their prayers are your shield and your way?' I tried it. One name after the other came. And every time a name floated up, I stopped one moment and said, ‘How wonderful! He loves me, she loves me! Oh God, bless him, bless her, for the love she can give me as a present.' And then another name came, and another name, and so many came to my mind: people whom I had forgotten and whose love supported me, carried me. It was so wonderful to be loved. First I thought of the nearest, the dearest: my father, my mother, my grandmother, my friends. And then names came which I did not expect: people whom I had met a long time before, and forgotten, and who had been faithful friends.
     And then I remembered my angel guardian. I remembered Christ, who had loved me in such a way that He gave His life for me. I remembered the Mother of God. I remembered our Father who is in Heaven. And all the world became so wonderful because it was a world, a sea of love, that carried me like a little ship. I learnt something from this; and I wish you could try and learn. But there is another side to it. It was not I alone who needed the love and prayers of others. Others need them; and I began to ask myself, is there anyone whom I love who could say the same words as I have said: at the prayers of those who love me, save me? And then names came, faces came, people first whom I loved, people for whom I had affection; then people to whom I was indifferent, about whom I could not care. And I thought, how terrible! They may need the love of one person and I am not that person. And I turned to God and said, ‘Lord, I don't know how to love this person. But you have given your life for him, for her, as You have given it for me. Lord, bless, save, guide, be the way, be the door that opens into eternity for this person.'
And then the world became so vast, so deep, so beautiful. It became a world in which we all are saved by one another's love and by the love of God.
     Think of that. And may the blessing of the Lord be upon you, by His grace and love towards mankind, always, now and forever and world without end. Amen. - Source: Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh Archive

June 26, 2016
     The first Sunday after the Feast of Holy Pentecost is observed by the Orthodox Church as the Sunday of All Saints. This day has been designated as a commemoration of all of the Saints, all the Righteous, the Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors, Shepherds, Teachers, and Holy Monastics, both men and women alike, known and unknown, who have been added to the choirs of the Saints and shall be added, from the time of Adam until the end of the world, who have been perfected in piety and have glorified God by their holy lives. Honoring the friends of God with much reverence, the Prophet-King David says, "But to me, exceedingly honorable are Thy friends, O Lord" (Ps. 138:16). And the Apostle Paul, recounting the achievements of the Saints, and setting forth their memorial as an example that we might turn away from earthly things and from sin, and emulate their patience and courage in the struggles for virtue, says, "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every burden, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us" (Heb. 12:1).
     Therefore, guided by the teaching of the Divine Scriptures and Apostolic Tradition, we honor all the Saints, the friends of God, for they are keepers of God's commandments, shining examples of virtue, and benefactors of mankind. Of course, we honor the known Saints especially on their own day of the year, as is evident in the Menologion. But since many Saints are unknown, and their number has increased with time, and will continue to increase until the end of time, the Church has appointed that once a year a common commemoration be made of all the Saints. This is the feast that we celebrate today. It is the harvest of the coming of the Holy Spirit into the world; it is the "much fruit" brought forth by that "Grain of wheat that fell into the earth and died" (John 12:24); it is the glorification of the Saints as "the foundation of the Church, the perfection of the Gospel, they who fulfilled in deed the sayings of the Savior" (Sunday of All Saints, Doxastikon of Vespers).
     In this celebration, then, we reverently honor and call blessed all the Righteous, the Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors, Shepherds, Teachers, and Holy Monastics, both men and women alike, known and unknown, who have been added to the choirs of the Saints and shall be added, from the time of Adam until the end of the world, who have been perfected in piety and have glorified God by their holy lives. All these, as well as the orders of the Angels, and especially our most holy Lady and Queen, the Ever-virgin Theotokos Mary, do we honor on this day, setting their life before us as an example of virtue, and entreating them to intercede in our behalf with God, Whose grace and boundless mercy be with us all. 

June 19, 2016
How does the Holy and Great Council impact the parish?
After decades of preparation and discussion, and now with the leadership of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Holy and Great Council will at last take place on the island of Crete on the feast of Pentecost. The Council is certainly an important global ecclesial event; however, many of us might be wondering how it will affect the lives of our local parishes. How will the council's decisions and statements be relevant to the everyday Orthodox believer? 
     As the hierarchs discuss various ecclesiastical matters, they will also address their impact on the lives of all Orthodox Christians. For example, the Council will not only promote fasting as a religious disciple, but as a means by which Orthodox Christians can show their love and care for their neighbor as they resist the selfish ways of the world. 
     Every day of our lives each of us is confronted with pressing social and moral issues such as marriage and family; war, discrimination and inequality; as well as bioethics and the environment. Think about how many of our families include members who are Roman Catholics and Protestants. Many of our loved ones are married to non-Orthodox Christians, which means that the discussion related to the dialogue between the Orthodox Church and other Christians Churches directly impacts our lives. 
     Finally, let us commit ourselves to prayer, to pray for our Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and all the patriarchs and archbishops of the autocephalous Churches; let us pray for the hierarch-delegates, the advisors, and stewards, who will attend the Holy and Great Council. The voice of the Holy and Great Council will be heard throughout the world. I encourage each of you to follow closely via the web and social media. 
By Rev. Dr. Nicholas G. Louh, Parish Priest: St. John the Divine Greek Orthodox Parish, Jacksonville, FL

June 12, 2016
Who will attend the Holy and Great Council?
     On the feast of Pentecost, when the Church celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, more than 500 people - bishops, priests, monastics, and lay men and women - will participate in the Holy and Great Council, to be convened in Crete. Among those present will be the Primates of all 14 Orthodox autocephalous (or self-governed) churches; more than 300 bishops; almost 100 advisers, numerous stewards and students. Certainly, the eyes and ears of the world will be focused on Crete, eager to receive updates from representatives of the Holy Council and by the journalists present. Founded on the day of Pentecost - as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church - the Orthodox Church is a communion (or commonwealth) of 14 local Churches, which include the ancient patriarchates of:
  • Constantinople; who's head, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, serves as presiding bishop of the Orthodox Church or "first among equals;"
  • Alexandria, headquartered in Egypt, it is responsible for the church in Africa and is largely a missionary church; 
  • Antioch, where the followers of Christ were first called "Christians;"
  • And Jerusalem, the earliest church, where the Apostles held the first council described in the Book of Acts.
Then there are the ten local churches that have more recently received autocephalous and patriarchal status - most dating from the second millennium to the last century. These include:
  • Russia (today, the largest Orthodox Church in population);
  • Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Georgia (though Georgia is unique in this group in so far as it traces its Christian origins in the fifth century);
  • Cyprus (an Apostolic Church that was established as an autocephalous Church in the fifth Century);
  • Greece, Poland, Albania, and the Czech and Slovak Lands (as the most recent Autocephalous church).
He called all to unity. May we respond with charity and generosity. By Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis, Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate & V. Rev. Archimandrite Dr. Nathanael Symeonides

June 5, 2016
His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, on the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church
     With the grace of God - who has instituted and inspired the Church through the ages, who has guided and enlightened the Fathers of the Church through local and ecumenical councils - we will convene the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church in Crete this June. All of the Primates of the fourteen Autocephalous Orthodox Churches, together with delegations of hierarchs and advisors, will assemble in order to demonstrate and declare the unity of the Body of Christ, as well as to pronounce and proclaim a message of hope and love to a world that longs for the joy and life of the Gospel of Christ. The foremost goal of this Pan-Orthodox Council is to profess that the Orthodox Church is the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church united in the holy sacraments, the sacred canons, and the ecumenical councils.We recognize that the world expects a vibrant voice on many pressing challenges, but we considered it necessary also to address some pastoral issues within our Church. The fact that Orthodoxy will express its conciliarity on a global level after so many centuries constitutes a very decisive step.We fervently ask the plenitude of the Church - clergy and laity, men and women, old and young - to pray for this unique and historical event. We especially ask that you implore God to strengthen and inspire the leaders of the Church to manifest their unity in a world afflicted by conflict and division.
      May God bless the Holy and Great Council. And may His abundant grace be with all of you.. - His All-Holiness Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch

May 29, 2016
History of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church
     The Orthodox Church is the church of the apostles, the church of the martyrs, the church of the fathers, the church of the councils. Through the centuries, the Orthodox Church convened local and regional, great and greater, as well as universal or ecumenical councils. Just as every celebration of the holy Eucharist is a confirmation of the communion between each person with his or her community, and that local community with the universal Church, so too, every council is a reaffirmation of the unity between each local and self-governing Orthodox church with the universal Church. In fact, St. John Chrysostom - the renowned fourth-century archbishop of Constantinople - boldly states that "council" is another name for "church."In this spirit and from its responsibility and privilege to ensure inter-Orthodox unity and facilitate inter-Orthodox cooperation, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has tirelessly labored to convene a Pan-Orthodox Council since the early 1900s.Preparations for this council began in earnest in 1961 and continued through the 1960s, while pre-conciliar conferences, tasked with forming the council's agenda and its rules of operation, met in 1976 through 1986. After a long hiatus created by immense political and ideological changes, as well as the unprecedented social and religious challenges resulting from the collapse of the Iron Curtain, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew revived the process in 2008. So, after almost a century, the agenda was finalized, the documents were edited, and the process was completed in January 2016. Yet, despite hesitation and apprehension, despite reservation and even resistance, the Holy and Great Council is being convened at the Orthodox Academy of Crete-steps from a ninth-century Monastery of the Virgin Mary-from June 16 to June 27, 2016.  By Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis, Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
     He called all to unity. May we respond with charity and generosity. 
We fervently ask the plenitude of the Church - clergy and laity, men and women, old and young - to pray for this unique and historical event. We especially ask that you implore God to strengthen and inspire the leaders of the Church to manifest their unity in a world afflicted by conflict and division. May God bless the Holy and Great Council. And May His abundant grace be with all of you. - His All-Holiness Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch

May 22, 2016
On the Healing of the Paralytic
Having lately come across the incident of the paralytic who lay upon his bed beside the pool, we discovered a rich and large treasure, not by delving in the ground, but by diving into his heart: we found a treasure not containing silver and gold and precious stones, but endurance, and philosophy, and patience and much hope towards God, which is more valuable than any kind of jewel or source of wealth. For material riches are liable to the designs of robbers, and the tales of false accusers, and the violence of housebreakers, and the villany of servants, and when they have escaped all these things, they often bring the greatest ruin upon those who possess them by exciting the eyes of the envious, and consequently breeding countless storms of trouble. But the spiritual riches escape all these occasions of mischief and are superior to all abuse of this kind, laughing to scorn both robbers, and housebreakers, and slanderers, and false accusers and death itself. For they are not parted from the possessor by death, but on the contrary the possession becomes then more especially secured to the owners, and they accompany them on their journey to the other world, and are transplanted with them to the future life, and become marvellous advocates of those with whom they depart hence, and render the judge propitious to them. This wealth we found in great abundance stored in the soul of the paralytic. And you are witnesses who with great zeal drew up draughts of this treasure yet without exhausting it. For such is the nature of spiritual wealth; it resembles fountains of water, or rather exceeds their plenteousness, being most abundant when it has many to draw upon it. For when it enters into any man's soul it is not divided, not diminished, but coming in its entireness to each remains continually unconsumed, being incapable of ever failing: which was just what took place at that time. For although so many have applied to the treasure, and all are drawing upon it as much as they can- but why do I speak of you, seeing that it has made countless persons rich from that time to the present day, and yet abides in its original perfection? Let us not then grow weary in having recourse to this source of spiritual wealth: but as far as possible let us now also draw forth draughts from it, and let us gaze upon our merciful Lord, gaze upon His patient servant. He had been thirty and eight years struggling with an incurable infirmity and was perpetually plagued by it, yet he did not repine, he did not utter a blasphemous word, he did not accuse his Maker, but endured his calamity bravely and with much meekness. And whence is this manifest? You say: for Scripture has not told us anything clearly concerning his former life, but only that he had been thirty-eight years in his infirmity; it has not added a word to prove that he did not show discontent, or anger or petulance. And yet it has made this plain also, if any one will pay careful attention to it, not looking at it curiously and carelessly. For when you hear that on the approach of Christ who was a stranger to him, and regarded merely as a man, he spoke to him with such great meekness, you may be able to perceive his former wisdom. For when Jesus said to him Will you be made whole? he did not make the natural reply you see me who have been this long time lying sick of the palsy, and do you ask me if I wish to be made whole? Have you come to insult my distress, to reproach me and laugh me to scorn and make a mock of my calamity? He did not say or conceive anything of this kind but meekly replied Yea Lord. Now if after thirty-eight; years he was thus meek and gentle, when all the vigour and strength of his reasoning faculties was broken down, consider what he is likely to have been at the outset of his trouble. For be assured that invalids are not so hard to please at the beginning of their disorder, as they are after a long lapse of time: they become most intractable, most intolerable to all, when the malady is prolonged. But as he, after so many years, was so wise, and replied with so much forbearance, it is quite clear that during the previous time also he had been bearing that calamity with much thankfulness. (St. John Chrysostom)

May 15, 2016
Sunday of the Myrrhbearing Women
‘And they said among themselves: "Who shall roll away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?" This was the subject of the Myrrh-bearing Women's conversation as they climbed up to Golgotha, looking for nothing unexpected. The women's weak hands where not strong enough to roll the stone away from the tomb's entrance, for it was very great. Those poor women! They did not remember that the labour to perform which they were hastening so zealously to the tomb had already be performed during the Lord's earthly life. At Bethany, at supper in the house of Simon the Leper, a woman had poured precious spikenard over Christ's head. The omniscient Lord said at the time about this woman: "In that she hath poured this ointment on My body, she did it for My burial" (Matthew 26:12). He had a clear foreknowledge that His body would, in death, receive no other anointing. You may ask: then why did Providence allow these devout women to be so bitterly disappointed? To buy precious myrrh, to come fearfully through the dark and sleepless night to the tomb and not to perform that loving act for which they had sacrificed so much? But did Providence not reward their efforts in an incomparably richer way, in giving - in place of the dead body - the living Lord?'
+ St. Nikolai Velimirovich, "22. The Second Sunday After Easter: The Gospel on the Myrhh-Bearing Women," Homilies Volume 1: Commentary on the Gospel Readings for Great Feasts and Sundays Throughout the Year

May 8, 2016
     ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ!!! CHRIST IS RISEN!!!"When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother "Woman, behold your son!' Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!' And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home" (Jn 19: 26-27)
     The joy of having a mother is to be able to celebrate her love, her care and her kindness every day. If in the history of salvation, it was central that our incarnate God took on human nature through the free consent of a woman, it is because becoming a mother relates to the mystery of sharing. In the case of Jesus Christ, the Theotokos, the Virgin Mary, the paradigm of motherhood par excellence, gave her Son everything she was, so that God could assume the limitations of our nature. Jesus gave all humanity a Mother in the person of the Theotokos when He entrusted her and Saint John the Theologian to one another. She is closer to us than we have ever been to anybody, or even to ourselves, because she has loved and suffered the divine glory and the tragedy of her Son in which all lives are recapitulated. This is why we pray during all of our services: "Commemorating our most holy, pure, blessed, and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary, with all the saints, let us commit ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God.
The mystery of sharing is at the heart of the vocation of motherhood. First, it is by sharing love under the merciful eye of God that we exist. There is no sharing without otherness and the presence of the other, the person with whom a shared love brings a new life into being. Second, the mystery of sharing is life itself. Nothing can replace the joy of giving birth, a joy so powerful that it immediately erases the pain of labor and celebrates the triumph of life. Last but not least, in motherhood the mystery of sharing becomes an ascetic and sacrificial reality. On a daily basis, mothers live out devotion and self-denial with much prayer. Motherhood is sharing love, life and sacrifice. 
Let us celebrate Mother's Day by saying a genuine and loving "Thank you" to all mothers, because, after all, we should not take motherhood for granted. It is always a gift from above. This is the Orthodox ethos in all things. Indeed, as Saint Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: "in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." (1Th 5: 18) 
     To all of you, my beloved spiritual sons and daughters in the Risen Lord, I wholeheartedly extend my abiding love and fervent prayer during this joyful and luminous Paschal Season. HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!
     With Paternal Love and Blessings, † E V A N G E L O S Metropolitan of New Jersey  
May 1, 2016
     ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ!!! CHRIST IS RISEN!!! "Come receive the light, from the never-setting light; and glorify Christ who has risen from the dead!" Only yesterday, we were with Christ in the Upper Room. Only yesterday, we were with Christ in the garden of Gethsemane. Only yesterday, we were with Christ on Golgotha. But today, we are drawn into His glorious resurrection, and we are inspired by a divine joy that fills our hearts. We became new men and women, renewed by the sacrifice of infinite love. 
     We should no longer be afraid: let us become like Christ, since Christ has chosen to become like us, to be united to us. On this day of Pascha, we enter the doors of the Kingdom. As Saint Paul wrote to the Ephesians: God "made us alive together with Christ, and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly place in Christ Jesus." (Eph 2:5-6) 
     By our baptism, we are grafted onto Christ's resurrection. Not only do the three immersions of baptism represent our faith in the Divine Trinity, they connect us directly to the mystery of our Lord's death. The grace of this sacrament, which makes us Christians, is the same as the light flowing from the tomb. When Saint Paul commands us to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 13:14), he means to reactivate the grace of our baptism and the signs of our consecration by the Holy Chrism, offered to us as the "Gifts of the Holy Spirit. At Pascha we should remember why we are Christians, why we choose to follow Christ, why we have decided and still decide every day to carry the cross of our lives, following the Lord who gave Himself up "for the life of the world." 
     Christ's mission on earth started in the cave of Bethlehem and culminated in an empty tomb: the circle of life did not end, but opened onto the bright reality of the Kingdom. The Resurrection stands at the crossroads of time and history, but today the places that witnessed these divine events struggle to preserve and safeguard not only the monuments but also the unique spirit of the Gospel in the place where the term "Christians" was first used. Thus, "remembering His saving passion and life giving cross, His three day burial and resurrection from the dead, His ascension into heaven, and enthronement at Your right hand, God and Father, and His glorious and awesome second coming" (Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great), while we are filled with the joy of the Resurrection, we should also remember our brothers and sisters who are suffering in the Middle East and pray for them as the expression of our brotherly love. As Saint Paul wrote: "But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection." (Col 3: 14)
     Today, we received the light of faith and joy. Let us treat this light with respect and honor. It was given to us freely, and freely we shall share it with our family, with our friends, with this world that lives in constant fear; a fear so vastly different from the fear of God, that is the root of "wisdom." (Pr 1:13) 
     I close with the words that Saint John Chrysostom, who so vividly lived the mystery of our salvation, ended his Paschal Sermon: "Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!" 
With Paternal Love and Blessings, † E V A N G E L O S Metropolitan of New Jersey 

April 24, 2016
     Let us go together to meet Christ on the Mount of Olives. Today he returns from Bethany and proceeds of his own free will toward his holy and blessed passion, to consummate the mystery of our salvation. He who came down from heaven to raise us from the depths of sin, to raise us with himself, we are told in Scripture, above every sovereignty, authority and power, and every other name that can be named, now comes of his own free will to make his journey to Jerusalem. He comes without pomp or ostentation. As the psalmist says: He will not dispute or raise his voice to make it heard in the streets. He will be meek and humble, and he will make his entry in simplicity.
     Let us run to accompany him as he hastens toward his passion, and imitate those who met him then, not by covering his path with garments, olive branches or palms, but by doing all we can to prostrate ourselves before him by being humble and by trying to live as he would wish. Then we shall be able to receive the Word at his coming, and God, whom no limits can contain, will be within us.
In his humility Christ entered the dark regions of our fallen world and he is glad that he became so humble for our sake, glad that he came and lived among us and shared in our nature in order to raise us up again to himself. And even though we are told that he has now ascended above the highest heavens - the proof, surely, of his power and godhead - his love for man will never rest until he has raised our earthbound nature from glory to glory, and made it one with his own in heaven.
     So let us spread before his feet, not garments or soulless olive branches, which delight the eye for a few hours and then wither, but ourselves, clothed in his grace, or rather, clothed completely in him. We who have been baptized into Christ must ourselves be the garments that we spread before him. Now that the crimson stains of our sins have been washed away in the saving waters of baptism and we have become white as pure wool, let us present the conqueror of death, not with mere branches of palms but with the real rewards of his victory. Let our souls take the place of the welcoming branches as we join today in the children's holy song: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the king of Israel.
This reading on the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem in humility is an excerpt from a Palm Sunday sermon (Oratio 9 in ramos palmarum: PG 97, 990-994) by Andrew of Crete, a bishop and Early Church Father who died in 740 AD.     

April 17, 2016
     On the Fifth Sunday of Lent the Orthodox Church commemorates our Righteous Mother Mary of Egypt. The feast day of Saint Mary of Egypt is April 1, however, she is also commemorated on this Sunday due to her recognition by the Church as a model of repentance. Following are a few quotes from Fathers of the Church on the subject of repentance:
"Repentance raises the fallen, mourning knocks at the gate of Heaven, and holy humility opens it." St. John Climacus - "The Ladder of Divine Ascent" (Step 25); "Repentance signifies regret, change of mind. The distinguishing marks of repentance are contrition, tears, aversion towards sin, and love of the good." St. Nectarios of Aegina; "Repentance is the second grace and is begotten in the heart by faith and fear. Fear is the paternal rod which guides our way until we reach the spiritual paradise of good things. When we have attained thereto, it leaves us and turns back." St. Isaac the Syrian - "Ascetical Homilies"; "The main thing in repentance is the anguish of the heart over being deficient in the Lord's eyes and a firm resolution to try to be diligent in everything in the future." St. Theophan the Recluse - "The Spiritual Life"
     Apolytikion: Plagal of the Fourth Tone
In you the image was preserved with exactness, O Mother; for taking up your cross, you did follow Christ, and by your deeds you did teach us to overlook the flesh, for it passes away, but to attend to the soul since it is immortal. Wherefore, O righteous Mary, your spirit rejoices with the Angel.
     Kontakion: Fourth Tone
Having escaped the gloom of sin, O blest Mary, and shining brightly with the light of repentance, thou didst present thy heart to Christ, O glorious one, bringing HimHis Holy and all-immaculate Mother as a greatly merciful and most bold intercessor. Hence, thou hast found the pardon of thy sins and with the Angels rejoicest for evermore.

April 10, 2016
    From St. John Climacus Whose Memory We Commemorate Today   
     "In all your undertakings and in every way of life, whether you are living in obedience, or are not submitting your work to anyone, whether in outward or in spiritual matters, let it be your rule and practice to ask yourself: Am I really doing this in accordance with God's will?" (Step 26, Section 91)
     "All creatures have received from the Creator their order of being and their beginning, and some their consummation too. But the end of virtue is endless. For the Psalmist says: Of all perfection I have seen the end, but Thy commandment is exceeding spacious and endless. If some good ascetics go from the strength of action to the strength of divine vision, and if love never faileth, and if the Lord will guard the coming in of your fear and the going out of your love, then the end of love will be truly endless. We shall never cease to advance in it, either in the present or in the future life, continually adding light to light. And however strange what I have said may seem to many, nevertheless it shall be said. According to the testimonies we have given, I would say, blessed father, even the spiritual beings [i.e. the angels] do not lack progress; on the contrary, they ever add glory to glory, and knowledge to knowledge." (Step 26, Section 153)

April 3, 2016
    Two Instructions on the Meaning of the Cross   
     "Did you see how baptism is a cross? Learn that even Christ called baptism the cross when He used the name of baptism interchangeably [with that of the cross]. He called your baptism a cross. 'I call my baptism a cross,' he says. Where does He say this? 'I have a baptism to be baptized with, of which you do not know.' And how is it clear that He is speaking of the cross? The sons of Zebedee came up to Him - rather, the mother of the sons of Zebedee, saying 'Command that these my two sons may sit, one at thy right and and one at thy left hand, in thy kingdom.' A mother's request, even if it was an inconsiderate one! How then did Christ answer? 'Can you drink of the cup of which I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?' You see that He called the cross a baptism."(St. John Chrysostom, Baptismal Instructions)
     "Many indeed are the wondrous happenings of that time: God hanging from a Cross, the sun made dark, and again flaming out; for it was fitting that creation should mourn with its Creator. The Temple veil rent, blood and water flowing from His side: the one as from a man, the other as from What was above man; the earth was shaken, the rocks shattered because of the Rock; the dead risen to bear witness of the final and universal resurrection of the dead. The happenings at the Sepulchre, and after the Sepulchre, who can fittingly recount them? Yet not one of them can be compared to the miracle of my salvation. A few drops of Blood renew the whole world, and do for all men what the rennet does for milk: joining us and binding us together."
(St. Gregory the Theologian)

March 27 2016
    "From all kinds of perils free me so that unto you I may cry aloud: Rejoice, O unwedded Bride."
     Mary, the Holy Virgin and Theotokos, is one of the best-known people in the Bible. She is the model of all Christians. She said yes to God and His entrance into time and History. She said yes to the vocation of her Son. She said yes to the extreme pain of watching her Son being arrested, questioned, tortured, accused, judged, crucified, put to death, and according to Saint Gregory Palamas, was the first to witness His glorious resurrection. She saw His ascension. She was among the disciples on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was sent to the Apostles. The Holy Gospel tells us her words: "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." (Lk 1:38) She agreed to accept her unprecedented vocation, fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies. "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Immanuel." (Is 7:14) She stands at the crossroads of two eras.
     Like her life, her death, too, was extraordinary. She was the first person to experience the reality of resurrection after Christ's Resurrection. Death is no longer an end or the beginning of eternal suffering. Death has become a true Pascha, a Passover between temporary life and eternal life. According to Saint Irenaeus of Lyon, the Theotokos recapitulated our sinful humanity - she is the new Eve, the new Ark of the Covenant, the new humanity, resurrected mankind in which faith in Christ transforms all things in the Kingdom which is to come. "For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith." (Adv. Haer., III, 22)

Today we celebrate the Holy and Glorious feast of the Annunciation, the beginning of the maternal calling of this mother-to-be, the Theotokos. The title of Theotokos, instituted by the Holy Fathers during the 3rd Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431), refers both to the mystery that links Christ, as God, and Mary, His Mother, in a profound spiritual way through the incarnation, but it also refers to a more personal destiny. In the whole history of humanity, no other individual can claim the unique vocation of the Mother of God. Not only does she share everything that we are by nature, but her glory also extends beyond the simple Jewish woman of her time that she was. 
     The faith of the Theotokos makes her our closest ally in life, sharing our pains, knowing our doubts, seeing our struggles. The Greek poet Kavafis once wrote: “The sea has drawn a sailor into its abyss. His mother, unaware, but lest aught chance amiss, goes forth and lights a taper at the candle-stand of the Holy Mother, praying that soon he comes to land (…) the icon listens gravely and grieves to hear her yearn, knowing she yearns for one that shall no more return.” (Supplication) We pray to Her because we believe that Her proximity with Her Son, Jesus Christ, may help us to take part in God’s grace and may protect us from “wrath, danger and distress.” 
     This is also why the Theotokos is so closely linked to the History of our Greek Nation as its protector. The Greek heroes of the early 19th century followed the sense of freedom they inherited from their faith. For the first time in Southeastern Europe the word “independence” meant something. For the first time after 400 years, the Greek people fought for their freedom, initiating all movements of liberation within the Ottoman Empire, which would quickly become the “sick man of Europe.” For, as Saint Paul wrote: “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Co 3:17) Today, let us pray for the Hellenic Republic and its people as a way of expressing our sincere solidarity and love, as they face a terrible humanitarian and financial crisis. 
     Praying that this Holy and Great Feast of the Annunciation to the Theotokos will bring all of you, my beloved, the blessings of Our Most Holy Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary, and exclaiming MOST HOLY THEOTOKOS SAVE US, I remain 
† E V A N G E L O S Metropolitan of New Jersey 
March 20, 2016
    "The more frequently they are seen in representational art, the more are those who see them drawn to remember and long for those who serve as models, and to pay these images the tribute of salutation and respectful veneration." (Horos of the 7th Ecumenical Council)   
     Today, on the First Sunday of Holy and Great Lent, our Holy Church invites us to commemorate what we call the Triumph of Orthodoxy or the Sunday of Orthodoxy. In this case, the word Orthodoxy should not be understood in a confessional sense. It means the victory of the right faith to which the icons, and their veneration bear witness. The icons are a vivid symbol of what we believe, and of who we believe in. Not only did the 7th Ecumenical Council (787) allow us to pray to, to venerate, and to pay homage to the person represented through their image, icons are also a confession of our faith in Jesus Christ as God and man, as dead and resurrected, as Almighty yet crucified. God stands at the crossroads between two opposite forces and merges them with the power of His love for all of creation. Because of the Divine Incarnation of Christ, the Old Testament prohibition on representing God has been overcome by the fact that Christ, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, has entered into time and History. 
     Reason tries to describe the face of God using words. The heart uses shapes, colors and nuances. Words are transformed into images that speak to us in a mystical way. Our hearts begin to understand the loving presence of God in our lives when reason reaches the limits of understanding. This is why Christian teaching is so often considered foolishness. According to Saint Paul: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (1 Cor 1:18) With humility, let us pray in front of the icons, in Church and at home, because when we gaze into an icon, the saint on the icon also gazes into us. 
     The spiritual reality of icons is directly connected to the person represented. Our veneration goes to the saint who fulfilled the human vocation of becoming by grace what God is by nature. All of us are icons of the loving God. We are made in the image of God, granting us dignity and freedom. But our sinful weakness has deteriorated the full expression of this image, this dignity, and this freedom. The season of fasting during Holy and Great Lent should give us at least a taste of the image of God in all of creation. To restore the image of God in ourselves, our Holy Church invites us to purify our eyes and to acknowledge the presence of God in our lives. We must turn away from our bad habits, our selfishness, and the fullness that hardens our hearts to love. Let us try to make our freedom the means of our conversion and undertake our spiritual warfare. 
     The ascetic efforts of prayer and fasting remain useless if we forget the charitable mission of the Church. This is why it is essential to acknowledge and support the crucial work of the Philoptochos Sisterhood of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of New Jersey. Your support is essential and makes a tremendous difference in our sisters' mission. A special offering tray will be passed today in all of the Parishes of our Holy Metropolis so you can actively participate in the fast by helping the poor through your unselfish and generous giving. Our faith is one of love and mercy. Begin this Great Lenten Season by fighting poverty and injustice, and by granting healing to your soul and spirit through your heartfelt financial assistance to our Metropolis of New Jersey Philoptochos Sisterhood. Please support them according to your heart, and "your Fathers who sees in secret will reward you openly." (Mat 6:6) May this Holy and Great Lent bring you many blessings, love, humility, patience and all of the virtues that we need for our salvation, and may we journey together to our Lord's glorious Resurrection with joy, praying for each other and for those in need.

     With Paternal Love and Blessings, † E V A N G E L O S Metropolitan of New Jersey 

March 13, 2016
    "Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man." (Mt 15:11)
     In these first days of Holy and Great Lent, we enter the doors of purity. Our Holy Church invites us all, according to our strength, to follow the divine commandments of God in order to prepare ourselves to witness the glorious resurrection of Christ. We must get ready for this great encounter. We must purify our lives from all of their weaknesses, great and small. Our spiritual tradition teaches us to fast in different circumstances, not only by giving up certain foods, but by reorienting our whole life.
     Fasting is identical to spiritual life. In the Old Testament, fasting was already central. "And I prayed before the Lord a second time, as at the first, forty days and forty nights, I neither ate bread nor drank water..." (Dt 9:18). The Lord himself fasted in the wilderness before beginning His public mission in the world. Fasting is not a diet. It is spiritual warfare, and it guides us towards abstinence and repentance. But remember that food itself does not make us good or bad. It is simply a visible sign of our spiritual life. What about the invisible signs of fasting? Saint John Climacus insists that: "If I bind him (selfishness) by fasting, by condemning my neighbor I am handed over to him again. If, desisting from judgment, I overmaster him, then being proud of this, I am subjected to him again." (15, 88)
     If you do not know how to fast, do not be afraid to ask your Parish Priests. Do not be afraid to go to confession, which is a crucial part of the invisible fast. But above all, do not be afraid to be joyful when you fast. The Church invites us to change, to become a better person, to love our neighbors, to help our families, to serve others and offer charity with simplicity of heart. Over the course of years, we are so easily absorbed by the world, running from place to place, constantly being urged to consume and to immerse ourselves in social networks. It is time to say stop and to pray. It is time to rediscover the beauty of silence and to act with simplicity.
     Fasting becomes a symbol of our life, of our life in Christ that should be consecrated to the Lord, especially through our participation in the Divine Eucharist. Christ is our point of reference. All of our efforts converge towards Him. Link the practice of fasting to attending services as often as you can during these forty days, so that the emptiness created by fasting is filled by the grace of God, which comes through prayer. Because fasting is not a diet nor a question of ritual purity, and because we do not all have the same strength and physical ability to abstain from all animal products, we need to ask ourselves what in our lives is superficial and distracts us from doing good. Some people can follow all of the requirements, others cannot. What is important is to find the right balance through which our small sacrifices take part in the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. "But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps." (1 Pt 2: 20-21)
     I would also like to ask all the faithful of our Metropolis to pray during this period for the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church that will be held in Crete on the feast of Pentecost. This is a historic event in the life of our Church and we should all pray for its success. Its success not only means reaching agreements on various ecclesiastical issues, but also showing that Christ gave His life for "the life of the world." Let us pray for the Holy and Great Council. Let us pray for His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, whose mission in the service of Orthodox Unity is essential for the mystery of communion. By our common prayer we all become participants in this spiritual kairos as a way of glorifying our loving God. May this Holy and Great Lent bring you many blessings, love, humility, patience and all of the virtues that we need for our salvation, and may we journey together to our Lord's glorious Resurrection with joy, praying for each other and for those in need.
     With Paternal Love and Blessings, † E V A N G E L O S Metropolitan of New Jersey 

March 6, 2016
    "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15)
     The very moment faith enters the soul is that moment when we turn toward God in repentance and recognize we can not live without Him. As we grow in our faith we come to realize we must remain in a continual state of repentance, for grace abounds in the heart of the man who is repenting. We come to see the truth that the saints were those who never ceased to call upon the Lord in repentance. Never did they think themselves worthy of anything but God's wrath, and their continued plea was for mercy. 
     This humility spawned God's love in the hearts of these saints, and works of love and mercy grew out of God's indwelling love within their hearts. Their works showed forth that their love and good works came out of that deep state of repentance, and their love was the proof of God's indwelling Spirit in their hearts. Saint Gregory the Great said, "The proof of love is in the works. Where love exists, it works great things. But when it ceases to act, it ceases to exist." 
     If we do not do good works, love does not dwell in our heart, and we have no faith. "Yea, a man may say, You have faith, and I have works: show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works (James 2:18)." 
The Liturgy reminds us, only those with faith and love may draw near to receive the Holy Mysteries. Our participation in the Body and Blood of the Lord provides each of us with the opportunity to be Christ-bearers in the world in which we live, and others will know we belong to Christ, "by our love" (John 13:35). (Abbot Tryphon) 

February 28, 2016
    "In Confession, One Should Not Seek to Justify Himself" - From the Talk by St. Paisios of Mt Athos
     Why do we sometimes fail to engage in the battle needed to correct ourselves, despite the fact that our conscience accuses us?
     This can happen because of some kind of spiritual breakdown. If a person is seized with panic because of some temptation that befalls him, he wants to take up a spiritual struggle, but has neither the necessary disposition nor the spiritual powers to do so. In such a case, he needs to internally put himself in order with the help of Confession. With the help of Confession, one receives consolation, bolsters his powers, and through the grace of God, once again finds the determination to do battle. If one does not appropriately put himself in order, some other temptation may come crashing down upon him. As a result, finding himself in such a sorrowfully oppressed condition, he breaks down even more, is smothered by ideas, becomes despondent, and cannot take up the struggle at all. Moreover, in Confession, try to be specific. It is not enough to list your sins during confession - e.g. "I envy, become angry," etc. In order to receive help, you need to confess your specific failings. In failing to make a concrete/specific confession, one laughs at Christ. If one does not confess the truth to his spiritual director, does not reveal his sin to him so that the spiritual director might be able to help him, he does himself serious harm, like unto a sick person who does his health great harm by hiding his illness from his physician. Moreover, one who has acted unjustly toward someone else, or by his behavior has wounded someone, must first of all go to the one he has offended and humbly ask his forgiveness, be reconciled with him, and afterwards must confess before his spiritual director in order to receive absolution. In this way, God's grace comes to him. If one should confess such a sin to his spiritual director without first having asked forgiveness of the one he has wounded, it will be impossible for his soul to be at peace, for in such a case the [sinner] does not humble himself.

February 14, 2016
    "Approaching the Holy Chalice": Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh
     Every time we approach the holy chalice to receive Communion to the Body and Blood of Christ we say a prayer that contains words that must become true on our lips, otherwise they are a lie before God. We say to God that we are the worst sinner, we are the chief sinner that there is.
     And isn't it natural that so often we say these words thinking, ‘This was true of the saints, who could feel that way, but I can't feel that I am the worst of sinners'. When we look around, when we look at the state of the world in which we live, we can see a number of people who in our eyes are worse than we are. And regarding this I would like to remind you of a passage in the diary of Saint John of Kronstadt, who also asked himself the same question, and in the end answered it in the affirmative: ‘Yes, I am the worst of all the sinners I know'.
     And the reason he gave for this judgement of his was that he was aware of how much God had given him, and how little he had given to God in response.
     I think we must all of us begin in this frame of mind, ask ourselves: What are the gifts which God has bestowed upon us? What is it that makes us so happy in ourselves, or makes others so happy in us, rightly or wrongly? And when we have come to understand how much we have received, then we can ask ourselves: what are the fruits which we have borne of these gifts?
     And we will see that, according to the first Beatitude, there is nothing in us, in our life, which is our own, of our own making. God gave us life. He gave us a body, a soul, a mind. He gave us all that fills our lives with richness. All that we are and all that we possess are gifts of his. Do we give Him gratitude for it, or do we appropriate these gifts, thinking no, they are our own really? And even when we are aware of the fact that they are not of our making, that it is God who has given us all that we are and all that we have, do we know how to be grateful and also to ask ourselves the question which I have already mentioned: what have I done with all the gifts of God? And if we go ever more deeply within ourselves and in our lives, can we begin to be able to say: yes, I really am the worst of all the sinners around me because I am so richly endowed by God and look how little, how very little, I have brought to God and to my neighbour as a result of it?
     Let us all reflect on this. And when we come next time to Communion and we think or say these words, let us say them with at least a beginning of understanding that yes, it is true, and I know why. But come with an incipient understanding, because it takes a very long time for us to see how richly God has endowed us and how poorly we have responded to Him. But gradually, step by step, these words will become true and we will receive Communion with a new depth of broken-heartedness and with gratitude. Amen.

February 7, 2016
    "The Psalms Are My Refuge": Archbishop Anastasios on Prayer
     "Prayer summarizes a longing. The problem is that so often we become ego-centered, lacking humility. Thus it is good to pray, ‘Oh Lord, deliver me from myself and give me to Yourself!'-a cry of the heart. It is similar to the prayer, ‘Lord, I believe, please help my unbelief.' Often it is necessary to pray for forgiveness.
     "Many times in my life, there has been no opportunity for long prayers, only time to go quickly into what I call the ‘hut of prayer'-very short prayers that I know by heart or to make a very simple request: ‘Show me how to love!' Or, when you have to make a decision, ‘Lord, help me make the right estimation and come to the right judgment, to make the right action.' Then there is the very simple prayer, ‘Your will be done.' I have also learned, in Albania, what it means to be a foreigner, to come from a country many regard with suspicion. This, however, can help one become more humble. It helps one pray with more intensity, ‘Use me according to Your will.' Often I pray, ‘Lord, illumine me so that I know Your will, give me the humility to accept your will and the strength to do your will.' I go back to these simple prayers again and again.
     "Many times, the psalms are my refuge. You realize that in the spontaneous arising of certain phrases from the psalms you are hearing God speak to you. Perhaps you are reciting the psalm, ‘My soul, why are you so downcast...' And then another phrase from the psalms arises which is a response. It is an ancient Christian tradition that a bishop should know many psalms by heart. The psalms provide a spiritual refuge. In each situation there is a psalm that can help you, in those critical moments when you have no place of retreat.
     Perhaps you remember the words, ‘Unless the Lord guards the house, they who guard it labour in vain.' You are reminded that your own efforts are not decisive. You also come to understand that your own suffering is a sharing in God's suffering. It is a theme St. Paul sometimes writes about. You come to understand that the resurrection is not after the cross but in the cross."

January 31, 2016
    Yes I do want to be Saved! 
     A young monk once said to his elder, "Elder, what do I have to do to find salvation?" The elder responded "Do you really want to be saved?." All of us have the desire to be saved, but to what degree do we really have this desire and put it into action?
The young monk said: "Elder, yes, I do want to save my soul, but, the question is how? Is there an answer?"
     The Elder said: "This is a common question that confronts all of us, and is asked regularly. Firstly, we need to acknowledge, that, in no other is there salvation than Christ Himself; ‘for there is no other name under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved' (Acts 4:12). The problem, however, does not depend on, how I can be saved, but, how can I make God's desire for me, my own desire, ‘who desires all men to be saved...' (1 Tim 2:4). For us to be saved we must first have the desire to be saved. Then, we must put this desire into action. That is, to do all that is required, from our part, for our salvation and to make use of all that the Church offers us, for the purpose of our salvation. We need to: trust God, live in obedience to God, have faith in God and to adjust and apply our life according to God's Commandments. Of course all this must be done with the wise guidance of our spiritual father."

January 24, 2016
    The Importance of Self-Knowledge According to St. Nectarios the Wonderworker: 
     The need of knowing ourselves has been taught by both religion and philosophy. Thales the Milesian held that the beginning of all the virtues is self-knowledge. The Oracle at Delphi called self-knowledge "the foremost and best part of true knowledge." Clearly, then, self-knowledge is the beginning of all virtue and wisdom. Now if the precept "Know thyself" is imposed upon us by our cognitive power as a Divine law written in our mind, we ought, as rational and morally free beings, to respect it and observe it."
     He who knows himself knows his duties towards himself, towards God, and towards his neighbour, and that piety, justice, truth and knowledge should be for him the touchstone on which he tests all his acts that have reference to God, to himself, and to his neighbor....He who knows himself is never puffed up, never filled with pride, but first of all he knows his shortcomings and faults, always comparing himself with the ideal prototype, in the likeness of which he ought to develop himself, inasmuch as he sees how much he falls short of it.

January 17, 2016
    The Importance of Self-Knowledge According to St. Nectarios the Wonderworker: 
    There is in man by nature the power of self-knowledge, because man is a spiritual and morally free being, having free will and the power of knowing.... But in order to acquire perfect knowledge of himself, man must first will and move towards self-inquiry and make himself an object of his study. Without willing, none of the things that ought to be done can be done.
     Unless one wills, one's moral powers remain idle, no wise leading their possessor to knowledge. The will activates them and renders them manifest. In man, the faculty of the will, strengthened by the faculty of reason and that of free choice and self-control, overcomes all obstacles and succeeds in everything: ‘I will' becomes ‘I can' in the man that acts with knowledge and freedom.
     Man ought to will to know himself, to know himself, to know God, and to understand the nature of things as they are in themselves, and thus become an image and likeness of God.
     Those who know themselves are praised in adages as wise. The writer of the Proverbs, Solomon, says: "Those who know themselves are wise;" (Prov. 13:10) and he advises: "Know thyself and walk in the ways of your heart blameless." (Eccl. 11:9)

January 10, 2016
    The Importance of Self-Knowledge According to St. Nectarios the Wonderworker: 
Self-knowledge is man's foremost duty. Man, as a rational, morally free and religious being, is a being of lofty rank and has been destined to become like God, in Whose image he was created, and a participant in Divine goodness and blessedness. But in order to become a divine likeness, good and blessed, and to commune with God, man must first of all know himself. Without self-knowledge man goes astray in his thoughts, is dominated by diverse passions, tyrannized by violent desires, troubled about many and vain things, and leads a disorderly, distracted life, erring in all things, wandering on the way, staggering at every step; and he stumbles, falls, and is crushed. He drinks every day potions of sorrow and bitterness, fills his heart with grief, and lives an unbearable life." He who does not know himself does not know God, either. And he who does not know God does not know the truth and the nature of things in general. . . . He who does not know himself continually sins against God and continually moves farther away from Him. He who does not know the nature of things and what they truly are in themselves is powerless to evaluate them according to their worth and to discriminate between the mean and the precious, the worthless and the valuable. Wherefore, such a person wears himself out in the pursuit of vain and trivial things, and is unconcerned about and indifferent to the things that are eternal and most precious.
December 27, 2015
    Let's Celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas: O Christ, what shall we offer You for Your coming on earth as a Man for our sake? Every creature that has its being from You give thanks to You: the angels offer hymns of praise, the heavens give a star: wise men present their gifts, and the shepherds, their wonder; the earth provides a cave and the desert a manger. As for us, we offer You a Mother, a Virgin Mother. O God who are from all eternity, have mercy on us! (from the service of Great Vespers)
     The presents have been opened, the food has been eaten, and the Christmas tree is really starting to shed-yes, your house is showing the effects of Christmas Day. Now you begin to focus on putting your house and life back together from the hectic pace you have likely kept since Thanksgiving. But while the "holiday season" may be winding down-for Christians the Christmas season is just getting started. You've heard of the 12 days of Christmas, right? This is when they begin!
     The 12 days of Christmas refer to the period between Christmas and the Eve of Theophany/Epiphany (January 5). This is a time of celebration-rejoicing in the birth of our Lord and Savior! As the angels proclaimed to the shepherds, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:10-11).
     The 40 day fasting period before Christmas is meant to be a preparation for the coming of Jesus! The messages on television and in magazines tell us generally to "rejoice" and "be merry" (which they usually equate with material gifts) but as Orthodox Christians we must remember the reason for the rejoicing and the merriment comes from the birth of God the Word-Jesus. Once the Christ child enters this world, then, we have something to celebrate!
     So, how do we celebrate the 12 days of Christmas in our homes? We strive each and every day to remember the joyous gift we received on Christmas. As we read in John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." In recognition of the Feast, the Church has designated no fasting during these days except for January 5th, the eve of Theophany, which is a strict fast day. At Pascha, we all know that we greet one another by saying "Christ is risen!" and responding "Truly He is risen!" for 40 days. Did you know that there is a similar greeting for Christmas? Christ is born! Glorify Him!
     Remember the reason for the season by keeping your mind focused on Christ and His Church. One way of doing this is to keep aware of the different saints celebrated each day and as well as the daily scripture readings. (Melissa K. Tsogranis) 

December 25, 2015
Christ is born, glorify Him. Christ from heaven, go out to meet Him. Christ on earth, be exalted. Sing to the Lord all the whole earth; and that I may join both in one word, let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad, for Him who is of heaven and then of earth. Christ in the flesh, rejoice with trembling and with joy; with trembling because of your sins, with joy because of your hope.
     This is our present Festival; it is this which we are celebrating today, the Coming of God to Man, that we might go forth, or rather (for this is the more proper expression) that we might go back to God - that putting off of the old man, we might put on the new; and that as we died in Adam, so we might live in Christ, being born with Christ and crucified with Him and buried with Him and rising with Him. For I must undergo the beautiful conversion, and as the painful succeeded the more blissful, so must the more blissful come out of the painful. For where sin abounded grace did much more abound; and if a taste condemned us, how much more does the passion of Christ justify us? Therefore let us keep the Feast, not after the manner of a heathen festival, but after a godly sort; not after the way of the world, but in a fashion above the world; not as our own, but as belonging to Him who is ours, or rather as our master's; not as of weakness, but as of healing; not as of creation, but of re-creation. (St. Gregory of Nazianzus)

December 13, 2015
     If you have anything against any man, forgive it: you come here to receive forgiveness of sins, and you also must forgive him that has sinned against you. Else with what face will you say to the Lord, Forgive me my many sins, if you have not yourself forgiven your fellow-servant even his little sins. Attend diligently the Church assemblies ; not only now when diligent attendance is required of you by the Clergy, but also after you have received the grace. For if, before you have received it, the practice is good, is it not also good after the bestowal? If before you be grafted in, it is a safe course to be watered and tended, is it not far better after the planting? Wrestle for your own soul, especially in such days as these. Nourish your soul with sacred readings; for the Lord has prepared for you a spiritual table; therefore say thou also after the Psalmist, The Lord is my shepherd, and I shall lack nothing: in a place of grass, there has He made me rest; He has fed me beside the waters of comfort, He has converted my soul :- that Angels also may share your joy, and Christ Himself the great High Priest, having accepted your resolve, may present you all to the Father, saying, Behold, I and the children whom God has given Me. May He keep you all well-pleasing in His sight! To whom be the glory, and the power unto the endless ages of eternity. Amen. (St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 1)
December 6, 2015
     The Liturgy after the Liturgy: During the Divine Liturgy, setting "aside all earthly cares," and drawing "near in faith and love and in the fear of God," "we...receive the King of all invisibly upborne by the angelic hosts." Immediately after the Divine Liturgy, we pray with St. Symeon Metaphrastes:
     "Freely You have given me Your Body for my food, You who are a fire consuming the unworthy. Consume me not, O my Creator, but instead enter into my members, my veins, my heart.... Cleanse me, purify me, and adorn me.... Give me understanding and illumination... Show me to be a temple of Your One Spirit and not the home of many sins."
     When we return to all of our earthly cares, how can we bear the gift of the Divine Liturgy in the world? What should our liturgy after the Liturgy involve?
The Liturgy has to be continued in personal, everyday situations. Each of the faithful is called upon to continue a personal liturgy on the secret altar of his own heart, to realize a living proclamation of the good news "for the sake of the whole world." Without this continuation, the Liturgy remains incomplete.... The sacrifice of the Eucharist must be extended in personal sacrifices for the people in need, the brothers [and sisters] for whom Christ died.... the continuation of Liturgy in life means a continuous liberation from the powers of the evil that are working inside us, a continual reorientation and openness to insights and efforts aimed at liberating human persons from all demonic structures of injustice, exploitation, agony, loneliness, and at creating real communion of persons in love (Archbishop Anastasios).
     St. John Chrysostom also emphasizes the Eucharistic character of our works of mercy on the altar that "is composed of the very members of Christ, and the body of the Lord becomes an altar. That altar is more venerable even than the one [in the sanctuary] which we now use. For it is holy because it is itself Christ's Body [which] you may see lying everywhere [among the poor], in the alleys and in the market places, and you may sacrifice upon it anytime." (September 13, 2012 by Fr. John D. Jones).

November 29, 2015
     The Christian ought not to grudge another's reputation, nor rejoice over any man's faults (1 Corinthians 13:6); he ought in Christ's love to grieve and be afflicted at his brother's faults, and rejoice over his brother's good deeds (1 Corinthians 12:26). He ought not to be indifferent or silent before sinners (1 Timothy 5:20). He who shows another to be wrong ought to do so with all tenderness (2 Timothy 4:2), in the fear of God, and with the object of converting the sinner (2 Timothy 4:2). He who is proved wrong or rebuked ought to take it willingly, recognizing his own gain in being set right. When any one is being accused, it is not right for another, before him or any one else, to contradict the accuser; but if at any time the charge seems groundless to any one, he ought privately to enter into discussion with the accuser, and either produce, or acquire, conviction. Every one ought, as far as he is able, to conciliate one who has ground of complaint against him. No one ought to cherish a grudge against the sinner who repents, but heartily to forgive him (2 Corinthians 2:7). He who says that he has repented of a sin ought not only to be pricked with compunction for his sin, but also to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance (Luke 3:8). He who has been corrected in first faults, and received pardon, if he sins again prepares for himself a judgment of wrath worse than the former (Hebrews 10:26-27). He, who after the first and second admonition (Titus 3:10) abides in his fault, ought to be brought before the person in authority, if haply after being rebuked by more he may be ashamed. If even thus he fail to be set right he is to be cut off from the rest as one that makes to offend, and regarded as a heathen and a publican (Matthew 18:17), for the security of them that are obedient, according to the saying, "When the impious fall the righteous tremble." He should be grieved over as a limb cut from the body. The sun ought not to go down upon a brother's wrath (Ephesians 4:26), lest haply night come between brother and brother, and make the charge stand in the day of judgment. A Christian ought not to wait for an opportunity for his own amendment, because there is no certainty about the morrow; for many after many devices have not reached the morrow. He ought not to be beguiled by over eating, whence come dreams in the night. He ought not to be distracted by immoderate toil, nor overstep the bounds of sufficiency, as the apostle says, "Having food and raiment let us be therewith content" (1 Timothy 6:8); unnecessary abundance gives appearance of covetousness, and covetousness is condemned as idolatry (Colossians 3:5). A Christian ought not to be a lover of money, nor lay up treasure for unprofitable ends. He who comes to God ought to embrace poverty in all things, and to be riveted in the fear of God, according to the words, "Rivet my flesh in your fear, for I am afraid of your judgments." The Lord grant that you may receive what I have said with full conviction and show forth fruits worthy of the Spirit to the glory of God, by God's good pleasure, and the cooperation of our Lord Jesus Christ. (St. Basil, Letters).

November 22, 2015
     The Christian ought never to murmur either in scarcity of necessities, or in toil or labour, for the responsibility in these matters lies with such as have authority in them. There never ought to be any clamour, or any behaviour or agitation by which anger is expressed, or diversion of mind from the full assurance of the presence of God. The voice should be modulated; no one ought to answer another, or do anything, roughly or contemptuously, but in all things moderation and respect should be shown to every one. No wily glances of the eye are to be allowed, nor any behaviour or gestures which grieve a brother and show contempt (Romans 14:10). Any display in cloak or shoes is to be avoided; it is idle ostentation. Cheap things ought to be used for bodily necessity; and nothing ought to be spent beyond what is necessary, or for mere extravagance; this is a misuse of our property. The Christian ought not to seek for honour, or claim precedence (Mark 9:37). Every one ought to put all others before himself (Philippians 2:3). The Christian ought not to be unruly (Titus 1:10). He who is able to work ought not to eat the bread of idleness (2 Thessalonians 3:10), but even he who is busied in deeds well done for the glory of Christ ought to force himself to the active discharge of such work as he can do (1 Thessalonians 4:11). Every Christian, with the approval of his superiors, ought so to do everything with reason and assurance, even down to actual eating and drinking, as done to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). The Christian ought not to change over from one work to another without the approval of those who are appointed for the arrangement of such matters; unless some unavoidable necessity suddenly summon any one to the relief of the helpless. Every one ought to remain in his appointed post, not to go beyond his own bounds and intrude into what is not commanded him, unless the responsible authorities judge any one to be in need of aid. No one ought to be found going from one workshop to another. Nothing ought to be done in rivalry or strife with any one. (St. Basil, Letters)

November 13, 2015
To Macarius and John. 
     The labours of the field come as no novelty to tillers of the land; sailors are not astonished if they meet a storm at sea; sweats in the summer heat are the common experience of the hired hind; and to them that have chosen to live a holy life the afflictions of this present world cannot come unforeseen. Each and all of these have the known and proper labour of their callings, not chosen for its own sake, but for the sake of the enjoyment of the good things to which they look forward. What in each of these cases acts as a consolation in trouble is that which really forms the bond and link of all human life-hope. Now of them that labour for the fruits of the earth, or for earthly things, some enjoy only in imagination what they have looked for, and are altogether disappointed; and even in the case of others, where the issue has answered expectation, another hope is soon needed, so quickly has the first fled and faded out of sight. Only of them that labour for holiness and truth are the hopes destroyed by no deception; no issue can destroy their labours, for the kingdom of the heavens that awaits them is firm and sure. So long then as the word of truth is on our side, never be in any wise distressed at the calumny of a lie; let no imperial threats scare you; do not be grieved at the laughter and mockery of your intimates, nor at the condemnation of those who pretend to care for you, and who put forward, as their most attractive bait to deceive, a pretence of giving good advice. Against them all let sound reason do battle, invoking the championship and succour of our Lord Jesus Christ, the teacher of true religion, for Whom to suffer is sweet, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). (St. Basil, Letters).

November 8, 2015
     My brethren, entertain no other conception of the kingdom of the heavens than that it is the very contemplation of realities. This the divine Scriptures call blessedness. For the kingdom of heaven is within you. The inner man consists of nothing but contemplation. The kingdom of the heavens, then, must be contemplation. Now we behold their shadows as in a glass; hereafter, set free from this earthly body, clad in the incorruptible and the immortal, we shall behold their archetypes, we shall see them, that is, if we have steered our own life's course aright, and if we have heeded the right faith, for otherwise none shall see the Lord. For, it is said, into a malicious soul Wisdom shall not enter, nor dwell in the body that is subject unto sin (Wisdom 1:4). And let no one urge in objection that, while I am ignoring what is before our eyes, I am philosophizing to them about bodiless and immaterial being. It seems to me perfectly absurd, while the senses are allowed free action in relation to their proper matter, to exclude mind alone from its peculiar operation. Precisely in the same manner in which sense touches sensible objects, so mind apprehends the objects of mental perception. This too must be said that God our Creator has not included natural faculties among things which can be taught. No one teaches sight to apprehend colour or form, nor hearing to apprehend sound and speech, nor smell, pleasant and unpleasant scents, nor taste, flavours and savours, nor touch, soft and hard, hot and cold. Nor would any one teach the mind to reach objects of mental perception; and just as the senses in the case of their being in any way diseased, or injured, require only proper treatment and then readily fulfil their own functions; just so the mind, imprisoned in flesh, and full of the thoughts that arise thence, requires faith and right conversation which make its feet like hinds' feet, and set it on its high places. The same advice is given us by Solomon the wise, who in one passage offers us the example of the diligent worker the ant, and recommends her active life; and in another the work of the wise bee in forming its cells, and thereby suggests a natural contemplation wherein also the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is contained, if at least the Creator is considered in proportion to the beauty of the things created. (St. Basil, Letters)

November 1, 2015
     The study of inspired Scripture is the chief way of finding our duty, for in it we find both instruction about conduct and the lives of blessed men, delivered in writing, as some breathing images of godly living, for the imitation of their good works. Hence, in whatever respect each one feels himself deficient, devoting himself to this imitation, he finds, as from some dispensary, the due medicine for his ailment. He who is enamoured of chastity dwells upon the history of Joseph, and from him learns chaste actions, finding him not only possessed of self-command over pleasure, but virtuously-minded in habit. He is taught endurance by Job [who, not only when the circumstances of life began to turn against him, and in one moment he was plunged from wealth into penury, and from being the father of fair children into childlessness, remained the same, keeping the disposition of his soul all through uncrushed, but was not even stirred to anger against the friends who came to comfort him, and trampled on him, and aggravated his troubles.] Or should he be enquiring how to be at once meek and great-hearted, hearty against sin, meek towards men, he will find David noble in warlike exploits, meek and unruffled as regards revenge on enemies. Such, too, was Moses rising up with great heart upon sinners against God, but with meek soul bearing their evil-speaking against himself. [Thus, generally, as painters, when they are painting from other pictures, constantly look at the model, and do their best to transfer its lineaments to their own work, so too must he who is desirous of rendering himself perfect in all branches of excellency, keep his eyes turned to the lives of the saints as though to living and moving statues, and make their virtue his own by imitation. (St. Basil, Letters)

October 25, 2015
     "We will necessarily add this also. Proclaiming the death, according to the flesh, of the only-begotten Son of God, that is Jesus Christ, confessing his resurrection from the dead, and his ascension into heaven, we offer the unbloody sacrifice in the churches, and so go on to the mystical thanksgivings, and are sanctified, having received his holy flesh and the precious blood of Christ the Savior of us all. And not as common flesh do we receive it; God forbid: nor as of a man sanctified and associated with the Word according to the unity of worth, or as having a divine indwelling, but as truly the life-giving and very flesh of the Word himself. For he is the life according to his nature as God, and when he became united to his flesh, he made it also to be life-giving." (Council of Ephesus, Session 1, Letter of Cyril to Nestorius [A.D. 431]).
     Lord, loose, remit, and forgive all the sins, which I have committed against You in word, deed or thought, willingly or unwillingly, in knowledge or ignorance. Forgive them all, as You are good and love mankind. Through the prayers of Your most pure Mother, of Your ministering angels, the holy powers and all the saints who have pleased you throughout the ages. Grant that I may receive Your most pure Body and precious Blood, uncondemned, for the healing of soul and body and the cleansing of my wicked thoughts. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. (St. John Chrysostom)

October 18, 2015
     "We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [i.e., has received baptism] and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus" (St. Justin Martyr, First Apology 66 [A.D. 151]). 
     Master and Lord, Jesus Christ our God, You alone have authority to forgive my sins, whether committed knowingly or in ignorance, and make me worthy to receive without condemnation Your divine, glorious, pure and life-giving Mysteries, not for my punishment, but for my purification and sanctification, now and in Your future Kingdom. For You, Christ our God are compassionate and love mankind and to You we give glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit now and forever and ever. Amen. (Prayer of St. John of Damascus)
October 11, 2015
     This Body, by the indwelling of God the Word, has been made over to divine dignity. Rightly then, do we believe that the bread consecrated by the word of God has been made over into the Body of God the Word. For that Body was, as to its potency, bread; but it has been consecrated by the lodging there of the Word, who pitched His tent in the flesh. From the same cause, therefore, by which the bread that was made over into that Body is made to change into divine strength, a similar result now takes place. As in the former case, in which the grace of the Word made holy that body the substance of which is from bread, and in a certain manner is itself bread, so in this case too, the bread, as the Apostle says, "is consecrated by God's word and by prayer"; not through its being eaten does it advance to become the Body of the Word, but it is made over immediately into the Body by means of the word, just as was stated by the Word, "This is My Body!" ...In the plan of His grace He spreads Himself to every believer by means of that Flesh, the substance of which is from wine and bread, blending Himself with the bodies of believers, so that by this union with the Immortal, man, too, may become a participant in incorruption. These things He bestows through the power of the blessing which transforms the nature of the visible things to that [of the Immortal]. (The Great Catechism 37)
     The bread again is at first common bread; but when the mystery sanctifies it, it is called and actually becomes the Body of Christ. So too the mystical oil, so too the wine; if they are things of little worth before the blessing, after their sanctification by the Spirit each of them has its own superior operation. This same power of the word also makes the priest venerable and honorable, separated from the generality of men by the new blessing bestowed upon him. (Sermon on the Day of Lights or On the Baptism of Christ)
     He offered Himself for us, Victim and Sacrifice, and Priest as well, and "Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." When did He do this? When He made His own Body food and His own Blood drink for His disciples; for this much is clear enough to anyone, that a sheep cannot be eaten by a man unless its being eaten be preceded by its being slaughtered. This giving of His own Body to His disciples for eating clearly indicates that the sacrifice of the Lamb has now been completed. (St. Gregory of Nyssa,c. 335 - 394 A.D.)

October 4, 2015
     Our Lord Jesus took in His hands what in the beginning was only bread; and He blessed it, and signed it, and made it holy in the name of the Father and in the name of the Spirit; and He broke it and in His gracious kindness He distributed it to all His disciples one by one. He called the bread His living Body, and did Himself fill it with Himself and the Spirit. And extending His hand, He gave them the Bread which His right hand had made holy: "Take, all of you eat of this, which My word has made holy. Do not now regard as bread that which I have given you; but take, eat this Bread [of life], and do not scatter the crumbs; for what I have called My Body, that it is indeed. One particle from its crumbs is able to sanctify thousands and thousands, and is sufficient to afford life to those who eat of it. Take, eat, entertaining no doubt of faith, because this is My Body, and whoever eats it in belief eats in it Fire and Spirit. But if any doubter eat of it, for him it will be only bread. And whoever eats in belief the Bread made holy in My name, if he be pure, he will be preserved in his purity; and if he be a sinner, he will be forgiven." But if anyone despise it or reject it or treat it with ignominy, it may be taken as a certainty that he treats with ignominy the Son, who called it and actually made it to be His Body.
     After the disciples had eaten the new and holy Bread, and when they understood by faith that they had eaten of Christ's body, Christ went on to explain and to give them the whole Sacrament. He took and mixed a cup of wine. Then He blessed it, and signed it, and made it holy, declaring that it was His own Blood, which was about to be poured out...Christ commanded them to drink, and He explained to them that the cup which they were drinking was His own Blood: "This is truly My Blood, which is shed for all of you. Take, all of you, drink of this, because it is a new covenant in My Blood. As you have seen Me do, do you also in My memory. Whenever you are gathered together in My name in Churches everywhere, do what I have done, in memory of Me. Eat My Body, and drink My Blood, a covenant new and old." (St. Ephraim, c. 306 - 373 A.D.) (Homilies 4:4; 4:6)

September 27, 2015
     "This is the first Commandment,- You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and your soul, and with your might according as you are able. The sign that you love God, is this, that you love your fellow; and if you hate your fellow, your hatred is towards God. For it is blasphemy if you pray before God while you are angry. For your heart also convicts you, that in vain you multiply words: your conscience rightly judges that in your prayers you profit nought. Christ as He hung on the height of the tree, interceded for His murderers; and you (who art) dust, son of the clay, rage fills you at its will. You keep anger against your brother; and do you yet dare to pray? Even he that stands on your side, though he be not neighbour to your sins, the taint of iniquity reaches unto him, and his petition is not heard. Leave off rage and then pray; and unless you would further provoke, restrain anger and so shall you supplicate. And if he (the other) is not to encounter you in fury, banish rage from that body, because it is holden with lusts." (Homily on Admonition and Repentance, St. Ephraim the Syrian).

September 20, 2015
On the Cross of Christ
     Let us then not be ashamed of the Cross of our Saviour, but rather glory in it. For the word of the Cross is unto Jews a stumbling-block, and unto Gentiles foolishness, but to us salvation: and to them that are perishing it is foolishness, but unto us which are being saved it is the power of God. For it was not a mere man who died for us, as I said before, but the Son of God, God made man. Further; if the lamb under Moses drove the destroyer (Exodus 12:23) far away, did not much rather the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), deliver us from our sins? The blood of a silly sheep gave salvation; and shall not the Blood of the Only-begotten much rather save? If any disbelieve the power of the Crucified, let him ask the devils; if any believe not words, let him believe what he sees. Many have been crucified throughout the world, but by none of these are the devils scared; but when they see even the Sign of the Cross of Christ, who was crucified for us, they shudder. For those men died for their own sins, but Christ for the sins of others; for He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth. It is not Peter who says this, for then we might suspect that he was partial to his Teacher; but it is Esaias who says it, who was not indeed present with Him in the flesh, but in the Spirit foresaw His coming in the flesh. Yet why now bring the Prophet only as a witness? Take for a witness Pilate himself, who gave sentence upon Him, saying, I find no fault in this Man (Luke 23:14): and when he gave Him up, and had washed his hands, he said, I am innocent of the blood of this just person. (Matthew 27:24) There is yet another witness of the sinlessness of Jesus-the robber, the first man admitted into Paradise; who rebuked his fellow, and said, We receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing amiss ; for we were present, both you and I, at His judgment. (St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures).
September 13, 2015
On Colossians 2:8
     Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, etc.
     Vice mimics virtue, and the tares strive to be thought wheat, growing like the wheat in appearance, but being detected by good judges from the taste. The devil also transfigures himself into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14); not that he may reascend to where he was, for having made his heart hard as an anvil , he has henceforth a will that cannot repent; but in order that he may envelope those who are living an Angelic life in a mist of blindness, and a pestilent condition of unbelief. Many wolves are going about in sheeps' clothing , their clothing being that of sheep, not so their claws and teeth: but clad in their soft skin, and deceiving the innocent by their appearance, they shed upon them from their fangs the destructive poison of ungodliness. We have need therefore of divine grace, and of a sober mind, and of eyes that see, lest from eating tares as wheat we suffer harm from ignorance, and lest from taking the wolf to be a sheep we become his prey, and from supposing the destroying Devil to be a beneficent Angel we be devoured: for, as the Scripture says, he goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8) This is the cause of the Church's admonitions, the cause of the present instructions, and of the lessons which are read. (St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures).
September 6, 2015
     Baptism is the end of the Old Testament, and beginning of the New. For its author was John, than whom was none greater among them that are born of women. The end he was of the Prophets: for all the Prophets and the law were until John (Matthew 11:13): but of the Gospel history he was the first-fruit. For it says, The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, etc.: John came baptising in the wilderness. You may mention Elias the Tishbite who was taken up into heaven, yet he is not greater than John: Enoch was translated, but he is not greater than John: Moses was a very great lawgiver, and all the Prophets were admirable, but not greater than John. It is not I that dare to compare Prophets with Prophets: but their Master and ours, the Lord Jesus, declared it: Among them that are born of women there has not risen a greater than John (Matthew 11:11): He says not among them that are born of virgins, but of women. The comparison is between the great servant and his fellow-servants: but the pre-eminence and the grace of the Son is beyond comparison with servants. Do you see how great a man God chose as the first minister of this grace?- a man possessing nothing, and a lover of the desert, yet no hater of mankind: who ate locusts, and winged his soul for heaven : feeding upon honey, and speaking things both sweeter and more salutary than honey: clothed with a garment of camel's hair, and showing in himself the pattern of the ascetic life; who also was sanctified by the Holy Ghost while yet he was carried in his mother's womb. Jeremiah was sanctified, but did not prophesy, in the womb (Jeremiah 15:): John alone while carried in the womb leaped for joy (Luke 1:44), and though he saw not with the eyes of flesh, knew his Master by the Spirit: for since the grace of Baptism was great, it required greatness in its founder also.
(St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures).

August 30, 2015
Patriarchal Message for the New Ecclesiastical Year and the Day for the Protection of the Natural Environment
     "All of creation is renewed by the Holy Spirit, returning to its original state." (Anavathmoi, First Tone)
     "Blessed are you, Lord, who alone daily renew the work of your hands." (Basil the Great)
Brother concelebrants and blessed children in the Lord,
     As everyone knows, September 1st of each year has been dedicated at the initiative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate - and recently also by the Roman Catholic Church - as a day of prayer for the protection of the natural environment. On this day, we especially beseech the supreme God to gladden His creation so that human life therein may be joyful and fruitful. This prayer includes of course the petition that the inevitable natural climate changes may occur and be permitted within tolerable levels both for human survival and for the planet's sustainability.
     Nonetheless, we humans - whether as individual groups or collectively - behave contrary to this very request. For we suppress nature in such a manner that unforeseeable and undesirable changes occur to the climate and environment, which are negatively affected in their normal functions with consequent implications for life itself. The cumulative result of actions by particular individuals as well as by corporate and state activities with a view to reforming the natural environment so that it might produce more resources for those who take advantage of it only leads to the destruction of creation, which was created good by God and thus functions in a balanced way.
    Those of us who appreciate the danger of climate change that is only increasing by day for our planet as a result of human actions raise our voice to highlight this crisis and invite everyone to explore what could be done "so that life is not lost for the sake of greed." (United Nations Declaration).T herefore, as Ecumenical Patriarch, we have expended years of efforts to inform the faithful of our Church and all people of good will about the grave risks deriving from growing (ab-)use of energy resources, which threatens increasing global warming and threatens the sustainability of the natural environment.
     Orthodox Christians have learned from the Church Fathers to restrict and reduce our needs as far as possible. In response to the ethos of consumerism we propose the ethos of asceticism, namely an ethos of self-sufficiency to what is needed. This does not mean deprivation but rational and restrained consumption as well as the moral condemnation of waste. "So if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content" (1 Tim. 6.8), as the Lord's Apostle urges us. And after the multiplication of the five loaves and the satisfaction of five thousand people, excluding women and children, Christ Himself ordered His disciples to collect the remainder "so that nothing would be lost." (John 6.12) Unfortunately, contemporary societies have abandoned the application of this commandment, surrendering to wastefulness and irrational abuse to satisfy vain desires of prosperity. However, such conduct can be transformed for the sake of creating resources and energy by more appropriate means.
     Brothers and sisters, children in our common Lord and Creator, human beings have destroyed creation through greed by focusing exclusively on this earth and its earthly benefits, which we endeavor to increase constantly, like the "rich fool" in the Gospel parable. (Luke 12. 13-21) We ignore the Holy Spirit, in whom we live and move and have our being. This signifies that the response to the ecological crisis can only be successfully realized in the Holy Spirit, through whose grace our human efforts are blessed and all creation is renewed, returning to its original state, as it was created and intended by God - namely, "very good." This is why the responsibility of humanity, as God's co-creator endowed with free will, is immense for any proper response to the ecological crisis.
     This earth resembles "an immense pile of filth." (Pope Francis, Laudato Si', 2015) And impurity implies more than simply material things; it primarily includes spiritual things. There are the impurities that essentially stem from the passionate thoughts of humanity. With firm faith in the Pantokrator and Creator of all creation, we Orthodox Christians are called to carry out the work of an evangelist and missionary with regard to the protection of creation. That is to say, we are called to rekindle the joyful gospel message to the modern troubled world and awaken the sleeping spiritual nature of a humanity diversely and multifariously distressed in order to convey a message of hope, peace and true joy - the peace and joy of Christ.
     This is what we believe and proclaim from the most holy Apostolic and Patriarchal Ecumenical Throne. And we invite everyone to soberness of life, purification of passionate thoughts and selfish motivations, so that we may dwell in harmony with our neighbors and with God's creation. Finally, we pray with Basil the Great, "who extolled the nature of things": "Blessed are you, Lord, who alone daily renew the work of your hands. Blessed are you, Lord, who created light and darkness, distinguishing between them from each other. Blessed are you, Lord, who created all things and constructed the shadow of death by blackening the day into night. Blessed are you, Lord, who created humankind in your image and likeness, who made the day for the work of light and the night for human nature to rest . . ." (Psalter and Prayer Book, Pantokrator Monastery, Mt. Athos, 2004)
     This is our message, conviction and exhortation to you all: Let us stand well; let us stand in awe before God's creation.
     May the grace and boundless mercy of our Lord, the Creator of all creation, both visible and invisible, be with you all and with the whole world, now and to the endless ages. Amen.
     September 1, 2015
     +Bartholomew of Constantinople

August 16, 2015
Encyclical of Archbishop Demetrios for the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos - August 15, 2015
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
     We commemorate today, on this blessed Feast of the Dormition of our Most Holy Lady the Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary, the holy repose of the Mother of our Lord and seek her intercessions for deliverance, refuge, and salvation in Christ.  From her resting place among the Saints she continues to radiate the grace of God offering solace and strength to those in need.  Through her repose and her constant ministry on our behalf, the Theotokos shows the power of faith and the promise of life beyond death.
     For this reason this is a Feast of celebration and joy.  It is also a Feast of hope and assurance.  In the Kontakion of this day we sing, "Neither the tomb nor death had power over the Theotokos, who is ever watchful in her prayers and in whose intercession lies unfailing hope."  First, we are filled with hope on this day as we look to the beautiful example of a life dedicated to the will and love of God.  She has shown us the path to communion with Him.  Through her witness of complete faith and unwavering obedience the Virgin Mary guides us in trusting in the divine will and committing all of our ways unto the Lord.
     Second, through her life and repose we see the miraculous power of God and the blessings of a life long relationship with Him.  This power made her the dwelling of the Son of God.  It is the divine power that sustained her throughout the life and ministry of our Lord and made her a paragon of virtue and a pillar of strength.  The power of God transformed her repose into a witness of holiness and a feast of joy for a life that draws all humanity to the Savior.
     Our services for this Feast are a prayerful and much needed reminder of the hope that we find in the Theotokos.  In times of distress and need we find comfort and strength in the intercessions of one who knows our struggles and embodies the compassion of our Lord.  We also seek the intercessions, deliverance, and comfort of the Theotokos for all who are in need and struggling through tragedy, want, and despair.  For many of our brothers and sisters in Greece, this has and continues to be a time of hardship and uncertainty.  Too many are lacking basic necessities or face the possibility of great need in the months and years ahead.  On this day, a very special Feast for Orthodox Christians, we seek the intercessions of our Most Holy Lady.  In this time her comfort is needed.  Her aid is sought so that hope may be nurtured in the hearts of those seeking deliverance.
On this day as we commemorate her repose, may we ask for the intercessions of the Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary for those in great need, especially the people of Greece.  May we follow her example of service to God and humankind.  And may our worship be a faithful witness of the power and life that she has shown through her life.
     With paternal love in Christ,
    Archbishop of America

August 9, 2015
Sermon on the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos
Magnify O my soul, the honourable Translation of the Mother of God from earth to heaven." (Refrain for the 9th Ode of the Canon) 
     Let us be happy, beloved brothers and sisters that we belong to the Holy Orthodox Church, worthily and rightly glorifying the Most Holy Sovereign Theotokos on this eminent day out of all the days of the year with special solemnity. There exists on earth many societies and entire governments that do not consider the need nor the obligation to call upon and glorify the Queen of heaven and earth, the Mother of Our Divine Lord Jesus Christ, and other saints and angels; to submissively serve Her lovingly, as the true Mother of God. Sadly in Russia nowadays we have heretics (among us) who actively dishonor the Mother of God, the saints, their icons, their relics and their festivals. O, if only they also unanimously with us glorified the worthy Queen of heaven and earth! 
Today the Holy Church solemnly glorifies the honorable Dormition or translation of the Mother of God from earth to heaven. A wonderful translation - she died without serious illness, peacefully. Her soul is taken up in the divine hands of Her Son and carried up into the heavenly abode, accompanied by the sweet singing of angels. And then, her most pure body is transferred by the apostles to Gethsemane where it is honorably buried, and on the third day it is resurrected and taken up to heaven. You see this on the icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos. On it is represented the life-bearing body of the Theotokos laying on a bier, surrounded by the apostles and hierarchs, and in the center of the icon the Lord holding in His hands the most pure soul of the Theotokos. The translation of the Mother of God is a paradigm of the translation in general of the souls of Christians to the other world. 
     We say that our dead have "fallen asleep" or "passed away." What does this mean? This means that for the true Christian there is no death. Death was conquered by Christ on the cross. But there is a translation, i.e, a rearrangement of his condition, i.e. his soul is in another place, in another age, in another world beyond the grave, eternal, without end, that is what is meant by "falling asleep". It is as if it were a temporary dream after which, by the voice of the Lord and the fearful yet wonderful trumpet of the Archangel, all the dead shall live and come forth each to his place: either to the resurrection of life or to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:29). This is what the Christian means by translation. We should be ready for this translation, for the day of the general resurrection and judgment, for this indescribable world event, recorded in the Holy Scriptures. 
     This preparation for the meeting of the heavenly King before the dread judgment seat, after death, is essentially the person's preparation throughout the whole of his life. This preparation means a change in all his thoughts, and the moral change of all his being, so that the whole man would be pure and white as snow, washing clean everything that defiles the body and spirit, so that he is adorned with every virtue: repentance, meekness, humility, gentleness, simplicity, chastity, mercifulness, abstention, spiritual contemplation, and burning love for God and neighbor. 
     Our preparation for meeting the heavenly King, and for the inheritance of eternal life in heaven, should consist of these things. The heavenly King desires souls adorned with immutable virtue, souls prepared so that the Very Lord Himself could abide in them. Do not marvel that the Very Lord wants to live in us. In fact the human soul is more spacious than the heavens and the earth, for it exists in the image of God. And if one removes sins from the soul, the Lord of all will settle in it and will fill it with Himself. "We will come to him and make our dwelling with him" (John 14:23), says the Lord about the souls who love Him. 
     And so, ye participants in the Christian feasts, and especially the present feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, ye who are brightly adorned with every virtue and translated to the heavenly kingdom, to Her Son and God, proclaim to each and every one about preparing their souls to be the dwelling place of the Lord, about continual repentance, and about the incorruptible adornment of Christian virtue. Let your death also be unashamed and peaceful, serving as the pledge of a good answer at the dread judgment seat of Christ. Amen. (St. John of Kronstadt)

August 2, 2015
A Meditation On The Transfiguration of Our Lord By St. Anastasios of Sinai
     Upon Mount Tabor, Jesus revealed to his disciples a heavenly mystery. While living among them he had spoken of the kingdom and of his second coming in glory, but to banish from their hearts any possible doubt concerning the kingdom and to confirm their faith in what lay in the future by its prefiguration in the present, he gave them on Mount Tabor a wonderful vision of his glory, a foreshadowing of the kingdom of heaven. It was as if he said to them: "As time goes by you may be in danger of losing your faith. To save you from this I tell you now that some standing here listening to me will not taste death until they have seen the Son of Man coming in the glory of his Father. "Moreover, in order to assure us that Christ could command such power when he wished, the evangelist continues: Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter, James and John, and led them up a high mountain where they were alone. There, before their eyes, he was transfigured. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Then the disciples saw Moses and Elijah appear, and they were talking to Jesus. 
     These are the divine wonders we celebrate today; this is the saving revelation given us upon the mountain; this is the festival of Christ that has drawn us here. Let us listen, then, to the sacred voice of God so compellingly calling us from on high, from the summit of the mountain, so that with the Lord's chosen disciples we may penetrate the deep meaning of these holy mysteries, so far beyond our capacity to express. Jesus goes before us to show us the way, both up the mountain and into heaven, and - I speak boldly - it is for us now to follow him with all speed, yearning for the heavenly vision that will give us a share in his radiance, renew our spiritual nature and transform us into his own likeness, making us for ever sharers in his Godhead and raising us to heights as yet undreamed of.
     Let us run with confidence and joy to enter into the cloud like Moses and Elijah, or like James and John. Let us be caught up like Peter to behold the divine vision and to be transfigured by that glorious transfiguration. Let us retire from the world, stand aloof from the earth, rise above the body, detach ourselves from creatures and turn to the creator, to whom Peter in ecstasy exclaimed: Lord, it is good for us to be here.
     It is indeed good to be here, as you have said, Peter. It is good to be with Jesus and to remain here for ever. What greater happiness or higher honor could we have than to be with God, to be made like him and to live in his light?
     Therefore, since each of us possesses God in his heart and is being transformed into his divine image, we also should cry out with joy: It is good for us to be here - here where all things shine with divine radiance, where there is joy and gladness and exultation; where there is nothing in our hearts but peace, serenity and stillness; where God is seen. For here, in our hearts, Christ takes up his abode together with the Father, saying as he enters: Today salvation has come to this house. With Christ, our hearts receive all the wealth of his eternal blessings, and there where they are stored up for us in him, we see reflected as in a mirror both the first fruits and the whole of the world to come.
July 26, 2015
St. John of Damascus on the Icons
     But since some find fault with us for worshipping and honouring the image of our Saviour and that of our Lady, and those, too, of the rest of the saints and servants of Christ, let them remember that in the beginning God created man after His own image (Genesis 1:26). On what grounds, then, do we show reverence to each other unless because we are made after God's image? For as Basil, that much-versed expounder of divine things, says, the honour given to the image passes over to the prototype. Now a prototype is that which is imaged, from which the derivative is obtained. Why was it that the Mosaic people honoured on all hands the tabernacle (Exodus 33:10) which bore an image and type of heavenly things, or rather of the whole creation? God indeed said to Moses, Look that thou make them after their pattern which was showed you in the mount. The Cherubim, too, which o'ershadow the mercy seat, are they not the work of men's hands (Exodus 25:18)? What, further, is the celebrated temple at Jerusalem? Is it not hand-made and fashioned by the skill of men (1 Kings viii)?
     Moreover the divine Scripture blames those who worship graven images, but also those who sacrifice to demons. The Greeks sacrificed and the Jews also sacrificed: but the Greeks to demons and the Jews to God. And the sacrifice of the Greeks was rejected and condemned, but the sacrifice of the just was very acceptable to God. For Noah sacrificed, and God smelled a sweet savour (Genesis 8:21), receiving the fragrance of the right choice and good-will towards Him. And so the graven images of the Greeks, since they were images of deities, were rejected and forbidden.
     But besides this who can make an imitation of the invisible, incorporeal, uncircumscribed, formless God? Therefore to give form to the Deity is the height of folly and impiety. And hence it is that in the Old Testament the use of images was not common. But after God in His bowels of pity became in truth man for our salvation, not as He was seen by Abraham in the semblance of a man, nor as He was seen by the prophets, but in being truly man, and after He lived upon the earth and dwelt among men (Baruch 3:38), worked miracles, suffered, was crucified, rose again and was taken back to Heaven, since all these things actually took place and were seen by men, they were written for the remembrance and instruction of us who were not alive at that time in order that though we saw not, we may still, hearing and believing, obtain the blessing of the Lord. But seeing that not every one has a knowledge of letters nor time for reading, the Fathers gave their sanction to depicting these events on images as being acts of great heroism, in order that they should form a concise memorial of them. Often, doubtless, when we have not the Lord's passion in mind and see the image of Christ's crucifixion, His saving passion is brought back to remembrance, and we fall down and worship not the material but that which is imaged: just as we do not worship the material of which the Gospels are made, nor the material of the Cross, but that which these typify. For wherein does the cross, that typifies the Lord, differ from a cross that does not do so? It is just the same also in the case of the Mother of the Lord. For the honour which we give to her is referred to Him Who was made of her incarnate. And similarly also the brave acts of holy men stir us up to be brave and to emulate and imitate their valour and to glorify God. For as we said, the honour that is given to the best of fellow-servants is a proof of good-will towards our common Lady, and the honour rendered to the image passes over to the prototype. But this is an unwritten tradition , just as is also the worshipping towards the East and the worship of the Cross, and very many other similar things.
     A certain tale , too, is told , how that when Augarus was king over the city of the Edessenes, he sent a portrait painter to paint a likeness of the Lord, and when the painter could not paint because of the brightness that shone from His countenance, the Lord Himself put a garment over His own divine and life-giving face and impressed on it an image of Himself and sent this to Augarus, to satisfy thus his desire.
     Moreover that the Apostles handed down much that was unwritten, Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, tells us in these words: Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught of us, whether by word or by epistle (2 Thessalonians 2:15). And to the Corinthians he writes, Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things, and keep the traditions as I have delivered them to you (1 Corinthians 11:2).

July 19, 2015
St. John of Damascus on our Lord at Prayer
     Prayer is an uprising of the mind to God or a petitioning of God for what is fitting. How then did it happen that our Lord offered up prayer in the case of Lazarus, and at the hour of His passion? For His holy mind was in no need either of any uprising towards God, since it had been once and for all united in subsistence with the God Word, or of any petitioning of God. For Christ is one. But it was because He appropriated to Himself our personality and took our impress on Himself, and became an ensample for us, and taught us to ask of God and strain towards Him, and guided us through His own holy mind in the way that leads up to God. For just as He endured the passion, achieving for our sakes a triumph over it, so also He offered up prayer, guiding us, as I said, in the way that leads up to God, and fulfilling all righteousness (Matthew 3:15) on our behalf, as He said to John, and reconciling His Father to us, and honouring Him as the beginning and cause, and proving that He is no enemy of God. For when He said in connection with Lazarus, Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You hear Me always, but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that You have sent Me (John 11:42), is it not most manifest to all that He said this in honour of His Father as the cause even of Himself, and to show that He was no enemy of God ?
     Again, when he said, Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: yet, not as I will but as You will (Matthew 26:39), is it not clear to all that He said this as a lesson to us to ask help in our trials only from God, and to prefer God's will to our own, and as a proof that He did actually appropriate to Himself the attributes of our nature, and that He did in truth possess two wills, natural, indeed, and corresponding with His natures but yet in no wise opposed to one another? Father implies that He is of the same essence, but if it be possible does not mean that He was in ignorance (for what is impossible to God?), but serves to teach us to prefer God's will to our own. For that alone is impossible which is against God's will and permission. But not as I will but as You will, for inasmuch as He is God, He is identical with the Father, while inasmuch as He is man, He manifests the natural will of mankind. For it is this that naturally seeks escape from death.
     Further, these words, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me (Matthew 27:46)? He said as making our personality His own. For neither would God be regarded with us as His Father, unless one were to discriminate with subtle imaginings of the mind between that which is seen and that which is thought, nor was He ever forsaken by His divinity: nay, it was we who were forsaken and disregarded. So that it was as appropriating our personality that He offered these prayers. 

July 12, 2015
St. John of Damascus On Free Will
     We hold, therefore, that free-will comes on the scene at the same moment as reason, and that change and alteration are congenital to all that is produced. For all that is produced is also subject to change. For those things must be subject to change whose production has its origin in change. And change consists in being brought into being out of nothing, and in transforming a substratum of matter into something different. Inanimate things, then, and things without reason undergo the aforementioned bodily changes, while the changes of things endowed with reason depend on choice. For reason consists of a speculative and a practical part. The speculative part is the contemplation of the nature of things, and the practical consists in deliberation and defines the true reason for what is to be done. The speculative side is called mind or wisdom, and the practical side is called reason or prudence. Every one, then, who deliberates does so in the belief that the choice of what is to be done lies in his hands, that he may choose what seems best as the result of his deliberation, and having chosen may act upon it. And if this is so, free-will must necessarily be very closely related to reason. For either man is an irrational being, or, if he is rational, he is master of his acts and endowed with free-will. Hence also creatures without reason do not enjoy free-will: for nature leads them rather than they nature, and so they do not oppose the natural appetite, but as soon as their appetite longs after anything they rush headlong after it. But man, being rational, leads nature rather than nature him, and so when he desires anything he has the power to curb his appetite or to indulge it as he pleases. Hence also creatures devoid of reason are the subjects neither of praise nor blame, while man is the subject of both praise and blame. 
     Note also that the angels, being rational, are endowed with free-will, and, inasmuch as they are created, are liable to change. This in fact is made plain by the devil who, although made good by the Creator, became of his own free-will the inventor of evil, and by the powers who revolted with him , that is the demons, and by the other troops of angels who abode in goodness.

July 5, 2015
St. John of Damascus on the Oneness and Unity of God
     We have, then, adequately demonstrated that there is a God, and that His essence is incomprehensible. But that God is one and not many is no matter of doubt to those who believe in the Holy Scriptures. For the Lord says in the beginning of the Law: I am the Lord your God, which have brought you out of the land of Egypt. You shall have no other Gods before Me (Exodus 20:2-3). And again He says, Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord (Deuteronomy 6:4). And in Isaiah the prophet we read, For I am the first God and I am the last, and beside Me there is no God. Before Me there was not any God, nor after Me will there be any God, and beside Me there is no God (Isaiah 43:10). And the Lord, too, in the holy gospels speaks these words to His Father, And this is life eternal, that they may know You the only true God (John 17:3). But with those that do not believe in the Holy Scriptures we will reason thus.
     The Deity is perfect , and without blemish in goodness, and wisdom, and power, without beginning, without end, everlasting, uncircumscribed , and in short, perfect in all things. Should we say, then, that there are many Gods, we must recognise difference among the many. For if there is no difference among them, they are one rather than many. But if there is difference among them, what becomes of the perfectness? For that which comes short of perfection, whether it be in goodness, or power, or wisdom, or time, or place, could not be God. But it is this very identity in all respects that shows that the Deity is one and not many. 
     Again, if there are many Gods, how can one maintain that God is uncircumscribed? For where the one would be, the other could not be. 
     Further, how could the world be governed by many and saved from dissolution and destruction, while strife is seen to rage between the rulers? For difference introduces strife. And if any one should say that each rules over a part, what of that which established this order and gave to each his particular realm? For this would the rather be God. Therefore, God is one, perfect, uncircumscribed, maker of the universe, and its preserver and governor, exceeding and preceding all perfection.
Moreover, it is a natural necessity that duality should originate in unity.

June 28, 2015
St. John of Damascus On Proof of God's Existence
     That there is a God, then, is no matter of doubt to those who receive the Holy Scriptures, the Old Testament, I mean, and the New; nor indeed to most of the Greeks. For, as we said , the knowledge of the existence of God is implanted in us by nature. But since the wickedness of the Evil One has prevailed so mightily against man's nature as even to drive some into denying the existence of God, that most foolish and woe-fulest pit of destruction (whose folly David, revealer of the Divine meaning, exposed when he said , The fool said in his heart, There is no God), so the disciples of the Lord and His Apostles, made wise by the Holy Spirit and working wonders in His power and grace, took them captive in the net of miracles and drew them up out of the depths of ignorance to the light of the knowledge of God. In like manner also their successors in grace and worth, both pastors and teachers, having received the enlightening grace of the Spirit, were wont, alike by the power of miracles and the word of grace, to enlighten those walking in darkness and to bring back the wanderers into the way. But as for us who are not recipients either of the gift of miracles or the gift of teaching (for indeed we have rendered ourselves unworthy of these by our passion for pleasure), come, let us in connection with this theme discuss a few of those things which have been delivered to us on this subject by the expounders of grace, calling on the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All things, that exist, are either created or uncreated. If, then, things are created, it follows that they are also wholly mutable. For things, whose existence originated in change, must also be subject to change, whether it be that they perish or that they become other than they are by act of will. But if things are uncreated they must in all consistency be also wholly immutable. For things which are opposed in the nature of their existence must also be opposed in the mode of their existence, that is to say, must have opposite properties: who, then, will refuse to grant that all existing things, not only such as come within the province of the senses, but even the very angels, are subject to change and transformation and movement of various kinds? For the things appertaining to the rational world, I mean angels and spirits and demons, are subject to changes of will, whether it is a progression or a retrogression in goodness, whether a struggle or a surrender; while the others suffer changes of generation and destruction, of increase and decrease, of quality and of movement in space. Things then that are mutable are also wholly created. But things that are created must be the work of some maker, and the maker cannot have been created. For if he had been created, he also must surely have been created by some one, and so on till we arrive at something uncreated. The Creator, then, being uncreated, is also wholly immutable. And what could this be other than Deity?
      And even the very continuity of the creation, and its preservation and government, teach us that there does exist a Deity, who supports and maintains and preserves and ever provides for this universe. For how could opposite natures, such as fire and water, air and earth, have combined with each other so as to form one complete world, and continue to abide in indissoluble union, were there not some omnipotent power which bound them together and always is preserving them from dissolution?
      What is it that gave order to things of heaven and things of earth, and all those things that move in the air and in the water, or rather to what was in existence before these, viz., to heaven and earth and air and the elements of fire and water? What was it that mingled and distributed these? What was it that set these in motion and keeps them in their unceasing and unhindered course ? Was it not the Artificer of these things, and He Who has implanted in everything the law whereby the universe is carried on and directed? Who then is the Artificer of these things? Is it not He Who created them and brought them into existence. For we shall not attribute such a power to the spontaneous. For, supposing their coming into existence was due to the spontaneous; what of the power that put all in order ? And let us grant this, if you please. What of that which has preserved and kept them in harmony with the original laws of their existence ? Clearly it is something quite distinct from the spontaneous. And what could this be other than Deity ?

June 21, 2015
St. John of Damascus On What We Can Know About God
     It is necessary, therefore, that one who wishes to speak or to hear of God should understand clearly that alike in the doctrine of Deity and in that of the Incarnation , neither are all things unutterable nor all utterable; neither all unknowable nor all knowable. But the knowable belongs to one order, and the utterable to another; just as it is one thing to speak and another thing to know. Many of the things relating to God, therefore, that are dimly understood cannot be put into fitting terms, but on things above us we cannot do else than express ourselves according to our limited capacity; as, for instance, when we speak of God we use the terms sleep, and wrath, and regardlessness, hands, too, and feet, and such like expressions.
      We, therefore, both know and confess that God is without beginning, without end, eternal and everlasting, uncreate, unchangeable, invariable, simple, uncompound, incorporeal, invisible, impalpable, uncircumscribed, infinite, incognisable, indefinable, incomprehensible, good, just, maker of all things created, almighty, all-ruling, all-surveying, of all overseer, sovereign, judge; and that God is One, that is to say, one essence ; and that He is known , and has His being in three subsistences, in Father, I say, and Son and Holy Spirit; and that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one in all respects, except in that of not being begotten, that of being begotten, and that of procession; and that the Only-begotten Son and Word of God and God, in His bowels of mercy, for our salvation, by the good pleasure of God and the co-operation of the Holy Spirit, being conceived without seed, was born uncorruptedly of the Holy Virgin and Mother of God, Mary, by the Holy Spirit, and became of her perfect Man; and that the Same is at once perfect God and perfect Man, of two natures, Godhead and Manhood, and in two natures possessing intelligence, will and energy, and freedom, and, in a word, perfect according to the measure and proportion proper to each, at once to the divinity, I say, and to the humanity, yet to one composite person ; and that He suffered hunger and thirst and weariness, and was crucified, and for three days submitted to the experience of death and burial, and ascended to heaven, from which also He came to us, and shall come again. And the Holy Scripture is witness to this and the whole choir of the Saints.
      But neither do we know, nor can we tell, what the essence of God is, or how it is in all, or how the Only-begotten Son and God, having emptied Himself, became Man of virgin blood, made by another law contrary to nature, or how He walked with dry feet upon the waters. It is not within our capacity, therefore, to say anything about God or even to think of Him, beyond the things which have been divinely revealed to us, whether by word or by manifestation, by the divine oracles at once of the Old Testament and of the New.
June 14, 2015
St. John of Damascus on the Nature of the Godhead
     No one has seen God at any time; the Only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. The Deity, therefore, is ineffable and incomprehensible. For no one knows the Father, save the Son, nor the Son, save the Father (Matthew 11:27). And the Holy Spirit, too, so knows the things of God as the spirit of the man knows the things that are in him (1 Corinthians 2:11). Moreover, after the first and blessed nature no one, not of men only, but even of supra-mundane powers, and the Cherubim, I say, and Seraphim themselves, has ever known God, save he to whom He revealed Himself.
     God, however, did not leave us in absolute ignorance. For the knowledge of God's existence has been implanted by Him in all by nature. This creation, too, and its maintenance, and its government, proclaim the majesty of the Divine nature. Wisdom 13:5 Moreover, by the Law and the Prophets in former times and afterwards by His Only-begotten Son, our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ, He disclosed to us the knowledge of Himself as that was possible for us. All things, therefore, that have been delivered to us by Law and Prophets and Apostles and Evangelists we receive, and know, and honour , seeking for nothing beyond these. For God, being good, is the cause of all good, subject neither to envy nor to any passion. For envy is far removed from the Divine nature, which is both passionless and only good. As knowing all things, therefore, and providing for what is profitable for each, He revealed that which it was to our profit to know; but what we were unable to bear He kept secret. With these things let us be satisfied, and let us abide by them, not removing everlasting boundaries, nor over-passing the divine tradition (Proverbs 22:28).
     It is necessary, therefore, that one who wishes to speak or to hear of God should understand clearly that alike in the doctrine of Deity and in that of the Incarnation , neither are all things unutterable nor all utterable; neither all unknowable nor all knowable. But the knowable belongs to one order, and the utterable to another; just as it is one thing to speak and another thing to know. Many of the things relating to God, therefore, that are dimly understood cannot be put into fitting terms, but on things above us we cannot do else than express ourselves according to our limited capacity; as, for instance, when we speak of God we use the terms sleep, and wrath, and regardlessness, hands, too, and feet, and such like expressions.

June 6, 2015
Saints: The Glory of the Church
     Holiness or sainthood is a gift (charisma) given by God to man, through the Holy Spirit. Man's effort to become a participant in the life of divine holiness is indispensable, but sanctification itself is the work of the Holy Trinity, especially through the sanctifying power of Jesus Christ, who was incarnate, suffered crucifixion, and rose from the dead, in order to lead us to the life of holiness, through the communion with the Holy Spirit. In the Second Letter to the Thessalonians St. Paul suggests: "But we are bound to thank God always for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because from the beginning of time God chose you to find salvation in the Spirit that consecrates you, (en agiasmo Pneumatos) and in the truth that you believe. It was for this that He called you through the Gospel we brought, so that you might possess for your own the splendor of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2: 13–14).
     The ultimate goal of the saint is to imitate God and live the life of deification (theosis). St. Maximos the Confessor (seventh century) writes that the saints are men who have reached theosis; they have avoided unnatural development of the soul, that is, sin, and tried to live the natural way of life (i.e., living according to created nature), turning and looking always towards God, thus achieving total unity with God through the Holy Spirit (On Theology, 7.73).
     It may be stated here that the Saints are first of all "friends" of God. Secondly, through their genuine piety and absolute obedience to God, they pleased Him and have therefore been "sanctified" both in soul and body, and subsequently glorified in this world. Third, they have been accepted in God's bosom after their passing from the world into eternal life. Fourth, many of them have been given special "grace" or "favor" to perform miracles either before their departure from this world or after. Fifth, they have been granted the special gift to pray and intercede for those still living in this world and fighting the "good fight" for the glory of God and their own perfection in Christ. This intercession springs from the fact that they also are part of the "Communion of Saints". They share prayers and good works with Christians on earth and there is a constant interaction and unity between the glorified saints in Heaven and Christians who still live in the world.

May 31, 2015
The Holy and Great Feast of Pentecost 2015
     My Beloved,
     “After this it shall come to pass that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophesy” (Joel 3:1). “When the day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).
     According to St. John Chrysostom, the strong wind that “filled” the house where the disciples were sitting underlines the fullness of the Holy Spirit and that Pentecost is a source and baptismal font of the Spirit. The Old Testament was void of such occurrences because, with Pentecost, the Church not only has the grace of the Holy Spirit but most especially the permanent hypostatic or personal presence of the Spirit Himself, the third Person of the Holy, Life-giving, and Consubstantial Trinity. The Spirit’s activity is different than in previous times and infinitely greater as the scriptures recount the “rush of a mighty wind” that “filled all the house” where the apostles were gathered and the “tongues as of fire” that “rested” on their heads. The verb “rested” reveals that the Spirit resided steadily and permanently in the disciples. The disciples did not receive grace this time; rather, they were transformed into “a source of the Spirit” that could dispense grace at will, as a lamp that lights other lamps without diminishing its own light. The Golden-mouth Saint echoes: “As with a lamp, one can light as many other lamps as he likes, without diminishing its light. This is what happened with the apostles at that time. For the word ‘fire’ does not indicate merely the profuseness of grace, but also that they received the very source of the Spirit. This is why the Lord said that those who believe in him will receive a ‘living water’ that ‘will become in him [or her] a spring of water welling up to eternal life’ (John 4:14).” The “wind” that entered into the disciples became like a baptismal font of living water, a source of spiritual power, with which the disciples carried out their ministry. In the case of the apostles, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in their mind “to well up” as an inexhaustible source, to act without intermissions and interruptions, since it is a “living” source that is always active. “That which is always active is called ‘living.’ For the grace of the Spirit, once it has entered the mind to dwell there, springs up every source and is not interrupted, nor emptied, and does not stand still. Thus, by referring to springs and rivers, the Lord also indicated the inexhaustible abundance” of Spiritual power and presence.
     “Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, who has the ‘essence’ and the ‘authority’ of the Father and the Son, we become like angels as we approach the grace. We are not changed by nature, but in a way that is even more marvelous: remaining in human nature, we demonstrate the way of life of the angels.” As the fire in the hands of the craftsman transforms the amorphous and shapeless matter into beautiful vessels and objects, so also in many ways the Holy Spirit transforms human beings into a new creation. Then, such men and women, while “remaining in their human nature, they become like angels in their way of life.” The radical and realistic activity of the Spirit is further likened by Chrysostom to “the sun who appears and darkness is dispelled.”
     “Come, all peoples, let us worship the Godhead in three persons: the Son in the Father, with the Holy Spirit. For the Father begat the Son before all ages, co-eternal and equal in majesty, and the Holy Spirit was in the Father, glorified with the Son: a single power, a singe essence, one Godhead, which we all worship saying, ‘Holy is God, Who created all things with the Son, with the cooperation of the Holy Spirit. Holy and mighty, through Whom we have known the Father and the Holy Spirit came into the world. Holy immortal, the Paraclete Spirit, which proceeds from the Father and abides in the Son: Holy Trinity, glory to You’” [Doxastikon, Great Vespers of the Holy Spirit]. The Feast of Pentecost is an eschatological event. It is the day of the final and perfect end; it is living in perfect and complete eternity right here and now – the eschaton. The “last days” are inaugurated as St. Peter the Apostle preached in the first sermon to the Christian Church on Pentecost Sunday from the prophecy of Joel 3:1. Pentecost ushers in a new era, in which we are called to pursue sainthood by acquiring the Holy Spirit, by opening ourselves to the fullness of Christ’s revelation to mankind, and by anticipating the Kingdom of God, yet to be fully revealed, but already fully present in our midst as we entreat the Holy Spirit to “come and abide in us” now and in the life of the world to come.
     “Blessed are You, O Christ our God, who made fishermen all wise, sending upon them the Holy Spirit and, through them, netting the world. O Loving One, glory to You.” [The Apolytikion of Pentecost]
     My beloved and spiritual children in the Lord, receive the mystical descent of the Holy Spirit upon your hearts and souls in order to strengthen your discipleship and allegiance to the Master and Only-Begotten Son of God, just as He descended and energized the Twelve Apostles and made them Fishers of Men. May He catch all of us with the net of the Holy Gospel and inspire us, too, to be heralds of the Good News of the Resurrection and of the Kingdom among mankind through our faith and deeds.
     Furthermore, the week of June 1-7 is totally fast free in honor of the Third Person of the Holy, Consubstantial, Life-giving and Undivided Trinity – God the Holy Spirit. What a blessed time of the year!
     With Paternal Love and Blessings,
     † E V A N G E L O S † Metropolitan of New Jersey

May 24, 2015
Memorial Day Prayer
Heavenly Father, as our nation pauses today to remember those in the military who have given their lives for freedoms we enjoy, we pray You would have us all look to You for strength, comfort and guidance. Be with all who serve in our Armed Forces. Bless them and their families. Grant them Your loving protection. Let peace prevail among all the nations, O God. Especially let Your mercy rest upon our land, even as we acknowledge with thanksgiving Your past goodness on this country. Preserve the lives of the men and women in uniform as they defend our citizenry. Most of all, we pray that You would turn the hearts of all – military and civilian – to Your holy Kingdom where we find the true peace for our sinful souls that surpasses all understanding. Keep us repentant of sin. Move us to know, take hold and treasure Your saving grace. In the name of our Lord and Savior and Your beloved Son Jesus Christ, who alone gives this peace and hope for eternity, we pray. Amen.

May 17, 2015
On the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord 
      On the Feast of the Ascension, the Orthodox Church does not merely commemorate an historical event in the life of Christ. On this day, the Church celebrates Christ's physical departure from the world and His glorification with God the Father.
     For forty days after His Resurrection, Jesus remained on earth. Filled with the glory and honor of His Divinity, He appeared to His Disciples at various times and places. By eating and drinking with His followers and conversing with them about the Kingdom of God, Jesus assured them that He was truly alive in His risen and glorified Body. (The glorification of Jesus refers to His Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension into heaven. When we speak of Christ's glorified Body, we refer to Its honor, splendor, majesty and visible radiance - it gave off rays of bright light!)
     The time span of forty days is used symbolically in the Holy Scriptures and by the Church to indicate that an appropriate amount of time has passed for "completeness". [The rains of the great flood lasted for forty days. Christ prayed in the wilderness for forty days. We fast for forty days to prepare before the feasts of the Nativity and the Resurrection (Pascha). - NTK]
     Ascension falls on the fortieth day after the Resurrection. On this day, Jesus appeared to His Disciples and gave them His last commandment - to preach the Kingdom of God and the repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name to all nations, beginning with Jerusalem. Then He led them out of Jerusalem toward Bethany to the Mount of Olives. He lifted up His hands and blessed them. As His Disciples were looking on, He was lifted up - or "ascended" - and a cloud took Him out of sight. While they were looking up, two angels in white robes appeared and said to them: "Why are you men from Galilee standing here looking into the sky? Jesus, Who has been taken up from you into heaven, this same Jesus will come back in the same was as you have seen Him go there."
     The Ascension is, therefore, a sign and symbol of the Second Coming. Christ will return to the earth in the same manner as He left it. When the risen Lord returns again in glory, God's will for mankind will be fulfilled.
We celebrate the Ascension with the same great joy the Apostles had when they were promised that the Holy Spirit would come to bear witness to the presence of Christ in the Church. Ascension day is joyful, not only because Christ is glorified, but also because we are glorified with Him. We are joyful because He goes to "prepare a place" for us and because He is forever present before the Father to intercede for us.

May 10, 2015
A Mother's Love
There are times only when a Mother's Love
Can understand our tears,
Can soothe our disappointments
And calm our fears.
There are times when only a Mother's Love
Can share the joy we feel
When something we've dreamed about
Quite suddenly is real.
There are times when only a Mother's faith
Can help on life's way
And inspire in us the confidence
We need from day to day.
For a Mother's heart and a Mother's faith
And a Mother's steadfast love
Were fashioned by the Angels
And sent from God above... by Michael O. Adesanya 

May 3, 2015
      The Church has always believed that Our Lord Jesus, by the action of the Holy Spirit, is truly and wholly present when the bread and wine have been consecrated to be His Body and Blood. This is such that, after this change during the great prayer of offering called the Anaphora, we must be willing to say, without equivocation, that what we see and partake of is the Body and Blood of Christ. The witness of the Holy Scriptures is forthright in declaring it (see, for instance 1 Cor. 10:16–17, 11:23–29; and, of course, John 6:32–71). The early Church Fathers also witness to the Church’s unchanging tradition regarding this true, full, yet mysterious reality. As respected historian J. N. D. Kelly writes: "Eucharistic teaching, it should be understood at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e., the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior’s body and blood." (Early Christian Doctrines, 440, emphasis added). Let the early Church Fathers speak for themselves, noting carefully the early dates of their writings:
St. Ignatius of Antioch
     "I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible" (Letter to the Romans 7:3 [A.D. 110]). "Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God…They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes" (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1 [A.D. 110]).
St. Justin Martyr
     "We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [i.e., has received baptism] and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus" (First Apology 66 [A.D. 151]).
St. Irenaeus of Lyon
     "If the Lord were from other than the Father, how could he rightly take bread, which is of the same creation as our own, and confess it to be his body and affirm that the mixture in the cup is his blood?" (Against Heresies 4:33–32 [A.D. 189]). "He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own body, from which he gives increase unto our bodies. When, therefore, the mixed cup [wine and water] and the baked bread receives the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, the body of Christ, and from these the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they say that the flesh is not capable of receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life—flesh which is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and is in fact a member of him?" (ibid., 5:2).
St. Cyril of Jerusalem
     "The bread and the wine of the Eucharist before the holy invocation of the adorable Trinity were simple bread and wine, but the invocation having been made, the bread becomes the body of Christ and the wine the blood of Christ" (Catechetical Lectures 19:7 [A.D. 350])...Do not, therefore, regard the bread and wine as simply that; for they are, according to the Master’s declaration, the body and blood of Christ. Even though the senses suggest to you the other, let faith make you firm. Do not judge in this matter by taste, but be fully assured by the faith, not doubting that you have been deemed worthy of the body and blood of Christ…[Since you are] fully convinced that the apparent bread is not bread, even though it is sensible to the taste, but the body of Christ, and that the apparent wine is not wine, even though the taste would have it so,…partake of that bread as something spiritual, and put a cheerful face on your soul" (ibid., 22:6, 9).

April 26, 2015
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh: and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6)
      Great mysteries are they, of which the Only-begotten Son of God has counted us worthy; great, and such as we were not worthy of, but such as it was meet for Him to give. For if one reckon our desert, we were not only unworthy of the gift, but also liable to punishment and vengeance; but He, because He looked not to this, not only delivered us from punishment, but freely gave us a life much more bright than the first, introduced us into another world, made us another creature; If any man be in Christ, says Paul, he is a new creature (2 Cor 5:17). What kind of new creature? Hear Christ Himself declare; Unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. Paradise was entrusted to us, and we were shown unworthy to dwell even there, yet He has exalted us to heaven. In the first things we were found unfaithful, and He has committed to us greater; we could not refrain from a single tree, and He has provided for us the delights above; we kept not our place in Paradise, and He has opened to us the doors of heaven. Well said Paul, O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God (Rom. 11:33)! There is no longer a mother, or pangs, or sleep, or coming together, and embracings of bodies; henceforth all the fabric of our nature is framed above, of the Holy Spirit and water. The water is employed, being made the Birth to him who is born; what the womb is to the embryo, the water is to the believer; for in the water he is fashioned and formed. At first it was said, Let the waters bring forth the creeping things that have life (Gen. 1:20); but from the time that the Lord entered the streams of Jordan, the water no longer gives forth the creeping thing that has life, but reasonable and Spirit-bearing souls; and what has been said of the sun, that he is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber (Ps. 18:6), we may now rather say of the faithful, for they send forth rays far brighter than he. That which is fashioned in the womb requires time, not so that in water, but all is done in a single moment. Here our life is perishable, and takes its origin from the decay of other bodies; that which is to be born comes slowly, (for such is the nature of bodies, they acquire perfection by time,) but it is not so with spiritual things. And why? Because the things made are formed perfect from the beginning. (St. John Chrysostom, Homily on the Gospel of John)

April 19, 2015
      The first Sunday after Easter commemorates the Apostle Thomas’ doubting, then assurance, of Christ’s Resurrection.
     Described in John 20:19-31, the Icon of the feast describes the moment eight days after the Resurrection when Christ appeared amidst His disciples. It was His second appearance to the Apostles, yet the young Tomas had not been present first time round and had said to the others: “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” Here, now, Christ appears miraculously within the disciples’ hiding place, the door firmly shut; and yet He is real, and invites Thomas: “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving but believing”.
     The composition of the icon: Christ’s arm raised, His right side revealed, Thomas bending down to poke it, has been established since at least the 5th century, as evidenced by a first millennium ivory diptych showing the Resurrection; this is unsurprising, as the icon takes its cue from the written description in John’s Gospel.
     Where the Icon does, in part, give a deeper interpretation of the account is in the inscriptions found on images of Thomas touching Christ’s wounds. The term “doubting Thomas” is a familiar one, referring to the Apostle and used to describe someone who unreasonably doubts someone’s word.
     However, the inscriptions of Orthodox Icons do not bear this description of Thomas. In Greek, the inscription reads Η ψηλάφηση του Θωμά, that is, the “Touching of Thomas”, making no reference to Thomas’ doubt. In Slavonic the meaning is even clearer as the inscriptions read Уверение Фомы, i.e. the “Assurance of Thomas”. Usually, English icons translate the Slavonic and inscribe their icons “The Belief of Thomas”.
     The icon does not show “Doubting Thomas”, but the reassured Thomas. The Thomas who, bending before Christ to touch His wounds exclaims: “My Lord and my God!”. The Church Fathers recognized that whilst Thomas doubted, his doubt was not unreasonable, and as such Christ responded, spurring Thomas to a confession of Jesus’ Divinity more explicit than anywhere else in the Gospels.
     Looking out from the scene, Christ’s response to Thomas is also for us: “Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen Me yet have believed.”
April 5, 2015
Palm Sunday: He Comes in Humility (St. Andrew of Crete)
      Let us go together to meet Christ on the Mount of Olives. Today he returns from Bethany and proceeds of his own free will toward his holy and blessed passion, to consummate the mystery of our salvation. He who came down from heaven to raise us from the depths of sin, to raise us with himself, we are told in Scripture, above every sovereignty, authority and power, and every other name that can be named, now comes of his own free will to make his journey to Jerusalem. He comes without pomp or ostentation. As the psalmist says: He will not dispute or raise his voice to make it heard in the streets. He will be meek and humble, and he will make his entry in simplicity.
     Let us run to accompany him as he hastens toward his passion, and imitate those who met him then, not by covering his path with garments, olive branches or palms, but by doing all we can to prostrate ourselves before him by being humble and by trying to live as he would wish. Then we shall be able to receive the Word at his coming, and God, whom no limits can contain, will be within us.
     In his humility Christ entered the dark regions of our fallen world and he is glad that he became so humble for our sake, glad that he came and lived among us and shared in our nature in order to raise us up again to himself. And even though we are told that he has now ascended above the highest heavens - the proof, surely, of his power and godhead - his love for man will never rest until he has raised our earthbound nature from glory to glory, and made it one with his own in heaven.
     So let us spread before his feet, not garments or soulless olive branches, which delight the eye for a few hours and then wither, but ourselves, clothed in his grace, or rather, clothed completely in him. We who have been baptized into Christ must ourselves be the garments that we spread before him. Now that the crimson stains of our sins have been washed away in the saving waters of baptism and we have become white as pure wool, let us present the conqueror of death, not with mere branches of palms but with the real rewards of his victory. Let our souls take the place of the welcoming branches as we join today in the children’s holy song: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the king of Israel. 

March 29, 2015
The Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos
     About the year 626, the Persians, Avars, and Slavs came with a great host and besieged the imperial city of Constantinople while the Emperor Heraclius and the main body of the Byzantine army were absent in the East. Enemy ships filled the sea, especially the Golden Horn, and on land the adversaries were ready for attack with foot-soldiers, horses, and engines of war. Though the citizens courageously withstood them, yet they were few in number and would be unable to repulse the attack of such a great host. Hence, they could not count on any other means of salvation, except the protection of the Theotokos. And truly, suddenly a violent tempest broke up all the ships and submerged them, and the bodies of the invaders were cast out near the Blachernae quarter of the city where the famous Church of the Theotokos stood. Taking courage from this, the people went forth from the city and repulsed the remaining forces, who fled out of fear. In 673, the city was miraculously delivered yet again, this time from an invasion of the Arabs. Then in 717-718, led by the Saracen general Maslamah, the Arab fleet laid siege once more to the city. The numerical superiority of the enemy was so overwhelming that the fall of the Imperial City seemed imminent. But then the Mother of God, together with a multitude of the angelic hosts, appeared suddenly over the city walls. The enemy forces, struck with terror and thrown into a panic at this apparition, fled in disarray. Soon after this, the Arab fleet was utterly destroyed by a terrible storm in the Aegean Sea on the eve of the Annunciation, March 24, 718. Thenceforth, a special "feast of victory and of thanksgiving" was dedicated to celebrate and commemorate these benefactions. In this magnificent service, the Akathist Hymn is prominent and holds the place of honour. It appears that even before the occasion of the enemy assaults mentioned above, the Akathist Hymn was already in use as the prescribed Service for the Feast of the Annunciation, together with the kontakion, "When the bodiless one learned the secret command," which has the Annunciation as its theme. It was only on the occasion of the great miracle wrought for the Christian populace of the Imperial City on the eve of the Annunciation in 718 that the hymn "To thee, the Champion Leader" was composed, most likely by Saint Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople.
     Historians have ascribed the Akathist Hymn to Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople (638), to Saint George the Confessor, Bishop of Pisidia (818), or even to Saint Photius the Great (891), all of whom lived either at the time of or after the above-mentioned sieges. However, it appears most likely from its language, content, and style that the true composer of the Akathist Hymn is Saint Romanus the Melodist (6th century).

March 22, 2015
On the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
     The biblical story of the Feast of the Annunciation is found in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke (1:26-39). The Archangel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary, who was living in Nazareth, and said to her, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you.” Mary was perplexed and wondered what kind of greeting this was. The angel told her not to be afraid, for she had found favor with God. He said, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary responded to the angel by asking how this could happen since she had no husband. The angel told her that the Holy Spirit and the power of God would come upon her, and that the child to be born of her would be called holy, the “Son of God.” The angel then proceeded to tell the Virgin Mary that her cousin Elizabeth had conceived a son in her old age (John the Baptist), and affirmed that with God nothing is impossible. In faith and obedience to the will of God, Mary replied to the angel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be according to your word.” Upon her response, the angel departed. It is on the Feast of the Annunciation, that Orthodox Christians commemorate both the divine initiative of God, whereby He took on flesh from the Virgin for our salvation, and the human response, whereby Mary freely accepted the vocation offered to her. He elected to become man, and He desired to do this with the willing agreement of her whom He chose as His mother. Mary could have refused, for she was not a passive instrument, but an active participant with a free and positive part to play in God’s plan for our salvation. Thus, when on this and other feasts the Orthodox Church honors the Theotokos, the Mother of God, it is not just because God chose her but also because she herself chose to follow His will.

March 15, 2015
“O Invincible and incomprehensible and divine power of the precious and life-giving Cross, forsake not us sinners.” (From the order of Great Compline)     
     The Cross is the mighty and profound symbol of Christianity, a symbol whose meaning is inexhaustible...Gazing upon the Cross with his mind and heart, the Christian goes deeper into that symbol and grows spiritually. Just as a plant needs fertile soil, moisture, and sunlight in order to grow, so a Christian needs the Cross of Christ in his spiritual and physical life, for the Cross of Christ provides him with nourishment, drink, warmth, and light.
     Does everyone know what the Cross is for Christians? Does everyone understand that the depth of meaning and substance of that Christian symbol is truly inexhaustible? Let us attempt to concentrate a bit in order to piously reflect on the Cross, on that same Cross which the Holy Church brings out on the Sunday of Orthodoxy to remind us of the Passion of Christ.
     Our difficult, awful, evil, hurried time does not allow us to focus our concentration. People crave entertainment, a variety of experiences, productions, ideas, feelings, and actions. The Cross calls us toward the opposite. In it there is no movement, no change, no external variation. The Cross demands that we concentrate our attention upon the depths of the soul. Then, in its simplicity, stillness, and silence, its infinite substance and bottomless depth of meaning opens up to us.
     To a true Christian, the Cross of Christ cannot but evoke a reciprocal, grateful, compassionate and sacrificial love for the Lord, together with a yearning to be crucified with Christ. After all, the Cross wordlessly prays about that very thing. In bearing a Cross upon one’s breast, or signing oneself with the sign of the Cross, or crossing one’s arms over one’s breast, we Christians testify that we are ready to carry the Cross without complaint, to carry it humbly, voluntarily, and joyfully, for we love Christ and want to share in His suffering, for His sake. The Cross of Christ not only calls us to voluntary suffer, but also shows us the example of undeserved travails crowned with the highest honor, the Crown of Thorns upon His Holy Head. And the whole “Karamazov” question… how can the suffering of innocent children be justified… is resolved so clearly and profoundly simply by just looking upon the Savior, the Innocent One, nailed to the Cross. However, the Cross is not simply a symbol of suffering. It is also a symbol of victory, and of the triumph of love and truth. It is also a symbol of the eternal joy that follows temporary suffering, a joy that nothing can ever take from us. The Cross truthfully promises us that every little tear will be wiped away, that all sorrow borne for Christ’s sake, will turn to joy, that the droplets of tears, blood, and sweat a Christian who loves Christ sheds before his death will become diamonds, rubies and pearls of inexpressible beauty in the Kingdom of Heaven.
     The Cross calls us to spiritual struggle, and promises us help, victory, triumph, and the glory of the Resurrection. (Pramvir).
March 8, 2015
Second Sunday of Great Lent: St. Gregory Palma
     This divine Father, who was from Asia Minor, was from childhood reared in the royal court of Constantinople, where he was instructed in both religious and secular wisdom. Later, while still a youth, he left the imperial court and struggled in asceticism on Mount Athos, and in the Skete at Beroea. He spent some time in Thessalonica being treated for an illness that came from his harsh manner of life. He was present in Constantinople at the Council that was convened in 1341 against Barlaam of Calabria, and at the Council of 1347 against Acindynus, who was of like mind with Barlaam; Barlaam and Acindynus claimed that the grace of God is created. At both these Councils, the Saint contended courageously for the true dogmas of the Church of Christ, teaching in particular that divine grace is not created, but is the uncreated energies of God which are poured forth throughout creation: otherwise it would be impossible, if grace were created, for man to have genuine communion with the uncreated God. In 1347 he was appointed Metropolitan of Thessalonica. He tended his flock in an apostolic manner for some twelve years, and wrote many books and treatises on the most exalted doctrines of our Faith; and having lived for a total of sixty-three years, he reposed in the Lord in 1359.
     His holy relics are kept in the Cathedral of Thessalonica. A full service was composed for his feast day by the Patriarch Philotheus in 1368, when it was established that his feast be celebrated on this day. Since works without right faith avail nothing, we set Orthodoxy of faith as the foundation of all that we accomplish during the Fast, by celebrating the Triumph of Orthodoxy the Sunday before, and the great defender of the teachings of the holy Fathers today.
     “If from one burning lamp someone lights another, then another from that one, and so on in succession, he has light continuously. In the same way, through the Apostles ordaining their successors, and these successors ordaining others, and so on, the grace of the Holy Spirit is handed down through all generations and enlightens all who obey their shepherds and teachers.” (St. Gregory Palamas, “On how the Holy Spirit was manifested and shared out at Pentecost”).
     “If from one burning lamp someone lights another, then another from that one, and so on in succession, he has light continuously. In the same way, through the Apostles ordaining their successors, and these successors ordaining others, and so on, the grace of the Holy Spirit is handed down through all generations and enlightens all who obey their shepherds and teachers.”
+ St. Gregory Palamas, “On how the Holy Spirit was manifested and shared out at Pentecost”

March 1, 2015
Saturday of Souls: Why we Pray for the Dead
     On the Saturday before the Sunday of the Last Judgment the most Divine Fathers appointed a commemoration of all those who, from ages past, have piously fallen asleep, in the hope of resurrection unto life eternal.
     Since it often happens that certain people suffer death prematurely, in a foreign land, at sea, on trackless mountains, on precipices, in chasms, in famines, wars, conflagrations, and cold weather, and all manner of other deaths; and perhaps, being poor and without resources, they have not been vouchsafed the customary psalter readings and memorial services, moved by love for mankind, the Divine Fathers ordained that the Orthodox Catholic Church make commemoration of all people, a tradition which they inherited from the Holy Apostles, in order that those who, due to some particular circumstance, did not receive the customary obsequies individually, might be included in the present general commemoration, indicating that whatever is done on their behalf confers great benefit on them.
      This is one reason why the Church of God performs the commemoration of souls. A second reason is that, since the Fathers intended, as is fitting, to assign the observance of the Second Coming of Christ to the following day, they appointed a commemoration of all souls on this day, as if propitiating the dread and unerring Judge to show them His innate compassion and place them in the promised Paradise of delight.
     A third reason is that, since they intended to expound the banishment of Adam on the following Sunday, they devised the present commemoration, on this day of rest, as a respite from, and end of all human affairs, so that they might start from the beginning, that is, the banishment of Adam—for the final event that we will experience is the examination by the impartial Judge of all the deeds that we have committed in our life—and so that, putting fear into men thereby, they might make them ready for the contests of the Fast.
     We always commemorate souls on Saturday, because Sabbaton (Sabbath) means “rest” in Hebrew; and since the dead have rested from worldly and all other cares, we offer supplications for them also on the day which means “rest.” It has become customary for us to do this every Saturday. On the present Saturday, we observe a universal commemoration, beseeching God for all the pious.

February 22, 2015
     “Before rushing to judgment about someone...”
     Some time ago on Mt. Athos there lived a monk in Karyes. He drank everyday to the point of intoxication and became a source of scandal for the pilgims.
     Eventually he passed away and, with relief, some faithful went to Elder Paisios to inform him, with apparent joy, that this tremendous problem was now resolved. Elder Paisios answered, that he already knew about the death of the monk, because he saw an entire host of angels that had come to receive his soul.
     The pilgrims were at a loss and protested and some tried to explain to Elder Paisios precisely about whom they were speaking, thinking that the Elder had not understood.
     Elder Paisios then explained: “This particular monk was born in Asia Minor, a little before the catastrophe [1922], when the Turks were rounding-up all the boys. So that the Turks would not take the boy from them, his parents took him along on the harvest and, to prevent his crying, put raki in his milk to make him sleep.
     Because of this, as he grew older, he became an alcoholic. Then, after being warned by various doctors not to marry and have a family, he came to the Holy Mountain and became a monk.
     His Elder instructed him to make prostrations and prayers every evening and beseech the Virgin to help him reduce by one glass each day the number of drinks he took. The struggle continued and, with the passing of time he would drink but two to three glasses, but still got drunk.”
     What the pilgrims saw was an alcoholic monk who scandalized them. God, on the other hand, saw a struggling combatant who with great ardour was able to reduce the passion that tormented him.
Without knowing why each person is engaged in whatever it is he is doing, with what right to we judge his effort? (Translated from the Greek by Fr. George A. Alexson from the “tokandylaki.blogspot.gr").
     Now, my beloved, that we are entering the arena of Great Lent, let us remember that the Church calls us to a heightened effort of prayer, fasting, vigil and works of charity. I offer you this story from the life of the Elder, now Saint, Paisios, as an added incentive towards recognizing the need to concentrate on our own faults and sins and avoid the deadly trap of judging others (Matt. 7:3). May our Lord give us the strength to complete this Lenten journey in peace, joy and spiritual progress. God bless!

November 16, 2014
     … that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye (may be) rooted and grounded in love (Ephesians 3:17).
     With faith, Christ comes into the heart, and with Christ comes love. Thus man is rooted and grounded in love. First then, there is faith; then with faith comes Christ's presence in the heart; then with Christ's presence, the presence of love; and with love, all ineffable goodness. In a few words, the Apostle delineates the whole ladder of perfection. The beginning is faith and the end is love; and faith and love are joined in a living, undivided unity by the Living Lord Jesus Christ's presence in the heart. By strengthening faith, we further abolish the distance between ourselves and the Lord Jesus Christ. The stronger one's faith, the closer one is to Christ. Ultimately, one's heart is filled with Christ and cannot be separated from Christ, just as one's lung cannot be separated from the air. Then a man may, with tears of joy, communicate with Christ by the prayer of the heart-``Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner''-and the heart is imperceptibly filled with light and ardent love. In this way, love is united with faith and hope; and when they are united, the boundaries between them are lost, so that man cannot even think of determining of how far faith goes, and where hope and love begin. When the living Christ dwells in a man, then he no longer perceives faith, hope or love in himself, nor does he name them. Instead, he sees only Christ and names only Him. This is just like a fruit-grower in autumn who considers the ripe fruit on the tree, and speaks no more of blossoms and leaves but of fruit, ripe fruit.
     O Lord Jesus Christ, supreme height of all our endeavors and the destination of all our travels, draw near to us and save us.
November 9, 2014 - Is Jesus your personal Savior?
     I too come from a strong evangelical Protestant background and the idea of Jesus Christ as my personal Savior is strong in my upbringing. I think the Protestant emphasis comes from the recognition that just a simple acknowledgment of Jesus as Messiah or as Son of God or even as the Accomplisher of Salvation is not enough, but that there must also be some type of commitment involved.
     In the Orthodox Church the understanding is much more organic than in the Protestant confessions. In Protestantism, the individual is saved by a personal (meaning relating to me alone) action of God and the Church is the collection of all of those saved individuals. Salvation is an individual state, according to this view. The Orthodox Faith teaches us that salvation is not individual but corporate - the whole Church is saved together and apart from the Church we cannot be saved. The conversion experience as a "saving act" is not a part of Orthodox faith - rather this conversion experience (accomplished by baptism, btw) is only the door into the saving ark of the Church. Jesus by His death and (more importantly) resurrection has defeated sin death and the devil and has unlocked the door to paradise (it had been closed against fallen man and guarded by an angel with a flaming sword) and leads us in. Will we follow? - that is what "salvation" is all about; following Christ into paradise.
     The words individual and personal bring up another interesting and important aspect. Within Orthodox teaching we can say that Jesus is our personal Savior in that He takes individuals (a being that is independent and separated from all others) and makes them persons (a separate being that is united to other beings in a larger whole, in this case the Church) This contrast between individuals and persons is a little bit of an extrapolation from the doctrine of the Trinity. We worship One God (individual) in three persons. Similarly there is only One Church (individual) which is made of many persons. The emphasis on individuality in western and especially American culture is in this sense anti-Christian and derives from and incorrect understanding of the Church which is the result of the reformation in Western Europe and the resulting theology which had to justify salvation apart from the Church. We must remember that salvation is corporate - the whole Church is saved together and will be presented as a single entity as the Bride of Christ (there is only one Bride - Jesus is not a polygamist) at the 2nd coming. Our individual judgment is not whether we are saved or not, but rather we are part of the Church and following Christ. If we are part of the Church following Christ then we are saved along with the whole Church but if we cease to follow Christ and separate ourselves from the Church by placing our own judgment and will as higher and more important than that of the Church, then we are not saved because we have "jumped out of the ark". (Fr David Moser - St Seraphim Orthodox Church - Boise, Idaho)
October 26, 2014 - The Meaning of the Orthodox church's Memorial Services
     BOILED WHEAT (KOLYVA)- The boiled wheat is offered because man is also a seed and like a fruit from the earth. Like a seed he is placed in the earth now, and he will be raised up and blossom forth again by God's power.
     THIRD DAY SERVICE - The third day service is celebrated for the reason that the reposed one received his being through the Trinity, and having been translated, he hopes to be changed back to the ancient beauty in which man was first made before the fall, or one better [at the resurrection].
     NINTH DAY SERVICE - The ninth day service is celebrated that his spirit may dwell together with the holy spirits, the angels, since it is immaterial as is their nature. They are ranked according to nine orders, and in three trinities they proclaim and praise God in Trinity.
     40TH DAY SERVICE - The 40th day service is celebrated in the memory of the Savior..'s Ascension 40 days after His Resurrection and that the reposed one, when he is resurrected, may be taken up in the clouds to meet the Judge, our Savior and Master, and thus be with Him forever (1Thes. 4:17).
     3RD, 6TH, 9TH, AND 12 MONTH SERVICES - Now the third, sixth, and ninth months are also celebrated--to proclaim the Trinity, the God of all and His glory, and on behalf of the deceased. For by the Trinity a man is fashioned, and when he is loosed from the body he returns to Him, and by the Trinity he hopes for the resurrection. And thus we also perform memorials at the end of the [first] year because we proclaim the Trinity, and the [12-month-] year is divided into four trinities. Additionally, the end of the year is celebrated because it is the consummation, and our God the Trinity is the Life of all and the cause of being, and He shall be the restoration of all and the renewal of human nature.
ANNUAL MEMORIAL SERVICES FOR THE DEAD - Each year [thereafter] the relatives observe the memorial of the departed to demonstrate that he lives and is immortal of soul and he shall be restored when the Creator raises up his body. And the offering of Boiled Wheat (Kolyva) bears witness that, as Christ died according to the flesh and was raised up and lives, thus, we too, as St. Paul says, all shall be raised up and live in Him.
(Excerpts from On The End of Our Life, by St. Symeon of Thessaloniki) Translated by George S. Gabriel)
October 19, 2014 - Wandering Thoughts during Prayer (from Letter 31)
     Thoughts wander when one is reading spiritual works and during prayer. What should one do? No one is free from this. There is no sin in it, only vexation. Having wandering thoughts becomes a sin when one willingly allows flightiness of mind. But if thoughts scatter involuntarily, what fault can there be? There is fault, though, when one notices thoughts wandering and, taking no action, one wanders along with them. When we catch our thoughts wandering off, we must bring them back to their proper place at once.
     To be free from the tendency to have wandering thoughts during prayer, one must concentrate and pray with warmth. Before prayer, one should prepare for such an effort by making prostrations and by a moment of reflection.
     Accustom yourself to pray your own prayers. For instance: it is the essence of evening prayer to thank God for the day and everything that happened, both pleasant and unpleasant; to ask forgiveness for all wrongs committed, promising to improve during the next day; and to pray that God preserve you during sleep. Express all this to God from your mind and from your whole heart.
     The essence of morning prayer is to thank God for sleep, rest and regained strength and to pray that He will help us do everything to His glory. Express this to Him with your mind and with your whole heart. Along with such prayers in the morning and evening, present your greatest needs to the Lord, especially spiritual needs. Besides spiritual needs, present your worldly cares, saying to Him as would a child: "See, O Lord, my sickness and weakness! Help and heal!" All this and the like can be spoken before God in your own words, without the use of a prayer book. Try this and, if it works, you may leave the prayer book altogether; but if not, you must pray with the prayer book, otherwise you might end up with no prayer at all. (Bishop Theophan the Recluse, ON PRAYER, From His Letters)
October 12, 2014 - On Redeeming the Time
     In the life of Saint Dimitri of Rostov, as told in Blessed Bishop Nicolai Velimirovic's Prologue from Ochrid, we can read that the saint was in the salvific habit of chanting the hymn "O Theotokos and Virgin, Rejoice" every hour when the clock struck.
     Of course, he was a monk and even a saint. He lived in a monastery, and led a life dedicated to prayer and the learning and keeping of God's commandments. We poor ones lead a life most often not dedicated to those things which are for the salvation of our souls, but to the cares of this world and self-gratification, even though the evangelical commandments, which St. Dimitri followed so well, apply to all Christians.
     We engage in both important and frivolous pursuits, and are often surrounded by people using bad language, and with bad ideas. Everywhere, whether in the office or supermarket, among our families, friends and brethren, or even when alone, temptations, distractions and sinful images assault us. It is very easy to forget WHO WE ARE (that is, who we have as our Father), and to lose a sure knowledge of the presence of God within our hearts as we go about our tasks. Perhaps we say our morning and evening prayers faithfully (perhaps not), but we may go long periods during the day that we do not remember God, or pray even a little bit. To always have the remembrance of God within us is certainly beyond our capabilities for the moment, but we can make a good start by emulating Saint Dimitri's good habit.
     Christian! Strive to remember God at least every hour. Purchase a watch which beeps every hour, or a clock with chimes. Decide upon a short prayer or prayers to say every hour when you are "called to prayer." Perhaps you may say "Meet it is," or the Jesus prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner," or the prayer of the publican "O God be merciful to me a sinner and cleanse me." You may merely cross yourself and call God to mind. The content or variety of prayers is not so important, and is a matter of personal preference. The important idea here is to somehow shake ourselves out of our lethargy at least every hour, so that we do not forget God.
     If you observe this practice faithfully, you will begin to see almost immediate results. You will find yourself praying more often, and able to listen to the prompting of your guardian angel, who previously could not be heard above the din. You may notice with unnerving frequency that you were about to be angry or were gossiping, or about to be mastered by some other passion as the clock strikes. If that is the case, then, you have an opportunity to immediately turn to God, and ask forgiveness, then say "your prayer." It is a much better thing to remember God while sinning, and to turn back to Him, than to keep on sinning and not think about Him.
     In our household, everyone has this habit. Every time the wall clock chimes, we cross ourselves. Even our youngest one, Natalie, who is two years old, remembers, and is in fact the self appointed family sentry who makes sure none of us will forget our duty. ( Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky)
October 5, 2014 - "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 1:7)
     If someone were to know the number of stars in the heavens and the names of the fish in the sea and the amount of the grass in the field and the habits of the beasts in the forest and would not have the fear of God, his knowledge is as water in a sieve. And before death, his knowledge makes him a greater coward than the completely ignorant.
     If someone were able to conjecture all the thoughts of mankind and to foretell the fate of mankind and to manifest every mystery that the earth conceals in its depths and not have the fear of God, his knowledge is as milk poured into an unclean container from which all the milk is spoiled.
     And in his hour of death, his wisdom will not shine even as much as a piece of charcoal without a flame, but his night of death will make his death even darker. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."
     How can he who has not begun correctly, finish correctly? Whoever started out on a wrong path from the beginning must turn back and must take-up the correct beginning, i.e., he must tread with his feet on the correct path. He who does not have the fear of God cannot have the love for God.
     What are we talking about? He who has no fear of God has no faith in God. The greatest ascetics, those who mortified themselves and who for a period of forty or fifty years daily and nightly lived a life of mortification until death, were filled with the fear of God and these, the most sinless among mortals, cried out in their hour of death: "O God, have mercy on me a sinner!"
     The fear of God is the salt of total piety. If there is not that salt then all of our piety is inspid and lax. The fear of God girds the loins, girdles the stomach and makes the heart sober, restrains the mind and flogs self-will. Where is repentance without the fear of God? Where is humility? Where is restraint? Where is total chastity? Where is patience? Where is service and obedience?
     O my brethren, let us embrace this word as the holy truth: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." O Lord Almighty, implant Thy fear in our hearts. To Thee be glory and thanks always. Amen. (Bishop Nikolai of Zicha and Ochrid)
September 12, 2014 - Exaltation of the Life-Giving Cross
     "The pagan Roman emperors tried to completely eradicate from human memory the holy places where our Lord Jesus Christ suffered and was resurrected for mankind. The Emperor Hadrian (117-138) gave orders to cover over the ground of Golgotha and the Sepulchre of the Lord, and to build a temple of the pagan goddess Venus and a statue of Jupiter. Pagans gathered at this place and offered sacrifice to idols there. Eventually after 300 years, by Divine Providence, the great Christian sacred remains, the Sepulchre of the Lord and the Life-Creating Cross were again discovered and opened for veneration. This took place under the Emperor Constantine the Great (306-337) after his victory in the year 312 over Maxentius, ruler of the Western part of the Roman empire, and over Licinius, ruler of its Eastern part. In the year 323 Constantine became the sole ruler of the vast Roman Empire. In 313 he had issued the Edict of Milan, by which the Christian religion was legalized and the persecutions against Christians in the Western half of the empire were stopped. The ruler Licinius, although he had signed the Edict of Milan to oblige Constantine, still fanatically continued the persecutions against Christians. Only after his conclusive defeat did the 313 Edict of toleration extend also to the Eastern part of the empire. The Holy Equal of the Apostles Emperor Constantine, having gained victory over his enemies in three wars with God’s assistance, had seen in the heavens the Sign of the Cross, and written beneath: “By this you shall conquer.” Ardently desiring to find the Cross on which our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, St Constantine sent his mother, the pious Empress Helen (May 21), to Jerusalem, providing her with a letter to St Macarius, Patriarch of Jerusalem. Although the holy empress Helen was already in her declining years, she set about completing the task with enthusiasm. The empress gave orders to destroy the pagan temple and the statues in Jerusalem. Searching for the Life-Creating Cross, she made inquiry of Christians and Jews, but for a long time her search remained unsuccessful. Finally, they directed her to a certain elderly Hebrew by the name of Jude who stated that the Cross was buried where the temple of Venus stood. They demolished the pagan temple and, after praying, they began to excavate the ground. Soon the Tomb of the Lord was uncovered. Not far from it were three crosses, a board with the inscription ordered by Pilate, and four nails which had pierced the Lord’s Body (March 6). In order to discern on which of the three crosses the Savior was crucified, Patriarch Macarius alternately touched the crosses to a corpse. When the Cross of the Lord touched the dead one, he came to life. Having beheld the raising of the dead man, everyone was convinced that the Life-Creating Cross was found. Christians came in a huge throng to venerate the Holy Cross, beseeching St Macarius to elevate the Cross, so that even those far off might reverently contemplate it. Then the Patriarch and other spiritual leaders raised up the Holy Cross, and the people, saying “Lord have mercy,” reverently prostrated before the Venerable Wood. This solemn event occurred in the year 326. During the discovery of the Life-Creating Cross another miracle took place: a grievously sick woman, beneath the shadow of the Holy Cross, was healed instantly. The elder Jude and other Jews there believed in Christ and accepted Holy Baptism. Jude received the name Cyriacus and afterwards was consecrated Bishop of Jerusalem. St Helen took part of the Life-Creating Wood and nails with her to Constantinople. The holy emperor Constantine gave orders to build at Jerusalem a majestic and spacious church in honor of the Resurrection of Christ, also including under its roof the Life-Giving Tomb of the Lord and Golgotha. The temple was constructed in about ten years. St Helen did not survive until the dedication of the temple, she died in the year 327. The church was consecrated on September 13, 335. On the following day, September 14, the festal celebration of the Exaltation of the Venerable and Life-Creating Cross was established. 

August 10, 2014
     Archbishop Demetrios calls for prayers for the Christians in the Middle East - Jul 29, 2014
     They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, or any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (Rev. 7: 16-17) 
     To the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of Parish Councils, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Members of Philanthropic Organizations, the Youth and Youth Workers, and the entire Orthodox Christian Family in the United States of America.
     Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ, For decades, the region considered a cradle of civilization and the birthplace of Christianity has become an arena of violence, resulting in the loss of countless lives. While the source of violence has varied in each instance, what is consistent in every case is that the blood of innocent victims has saturated the Middle East. This is especially true of Christians, who have endured unimaginable suffering because of their faith.
The ongoing conflict in the Holy Land has forced Christian communities to live along the margins of society in the very place of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection. The conflict in Syria has led to the destruction of churches, monasteries and orphanages. Christians are kidnapped, ransomed, and killed. Over a year ago, Metropolitan Paul and Archbishop John of Aleppo of the Greek Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox Patriarchates of Antioch were kidnapped and they are still missing. Further east, in the Iraqi city of Mosul, the entire Christian population has been eradicated.
     Local Christian communities have consistently responded to this terror with the Gospel’s mandate to love one’s neighbor unconditionally. Where extremists have embraced genocide, Christians have demanded coexistence and have provided refuge for those suffering persecution. They do so, recalling the words of the Book of Revelation, that through love, they shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them. For the Lamb shall be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (Rev. 7: 16-17).
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, As we enter the blessed period of the Dormition of the Most-Holy Mother of God, we must remain steadfast in Christ’s promise to care for those persecuted for righteousness’ sake. We are confident that our Lord will grant to them the Kingdom of Heaven (Mt. 5:10), however, as members of the one Body of Christ (Rom 12: 4-5), we must not forget our calling to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters. Together, we must intensify our prayers, asking for an end to the bloodshed and for the prevalence of God’s peace in the tormented lands of the Middle East. As we chant the Paraklesis Services and pray to the Most-Holy Theotokos for God’s mercy and peace, may we also heed the calling of the Bible to open our mouths for the mute and for the rights of all who are destitute. Open our mouths and defend the rights of those in need (Prov. 31: 8-9). 
     With Paternal Love in Christ, ✝ Archbishop Demetrios of America
June 15, 2014
     Honouring the friends of God with much reverence, the Prophet-King David says, "But to me, exceedingly honourable are Thy friends, O Lord" (Ps. 138:16). And the divine Apostle, recounting the achievements of the Saints, and setting forth their memorial as an example that we might turn away from earthly things and from sin, and emulate their patience and courage in the struggles for virtue, says, "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every burden, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us" (Heb. 12:1).
     This commemoration began as the Sunday (Synaxis) of All Martyrs; to them were added all the ranks of Saints who bore witness (the meaning of "Martyr" in Greek) to Christ in manifold ways, even if occasion did not require the shedding of their blood.
     Therefore, guided by the teaching of the Divine Scriptures and Apostolic Tradition, we the pious honour all the Saints, the friends of God, for they are keepers of God's commandments, shining examples of virtue, and benefactors of mankind. Of course, we honour the known Saints especially on their own day of the year, as is evident in the Menologion. But since many Saints are unknown, and their number has increased with time, and will continue to increase until the end of time, the Church has appointed that once a year a common commemoration be made of all the Saints. This is the feast that we celebrate today. It is the harvest of the coming of the Holy Spirit into the world; it is the "much fruit" brought forth by that "Grain of wheat that fell into the earth and died" (John 12:24); it is the glorification of the Saints as "the foundation of the Church, the perfection of the Gospel, they who fulfilled in deed the sayings of the Saviour" (Sunday of All Saints, Doxasticon of Vespers).
     In this celebration, then, we reverently honour and call blessed all the Righteous, the Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors, Shepherds, Teachers, and Holy Monastics, both men and women alike, known and unknown, who have been added to the choirs of the Saints and shall be added, from the time of Adam until the end of the world, who have been perfected in piety and have glorified God by their holy lives. All these, as well as the orders of the Angels, and especially our most holy Lady and Queen, the Ever-virgin Theotokos Mary, do we honour today, setting their life before us as an example of virtue, and entreating them to intercede in our behalf with God, Whose grace and boundless mercy be with us all. Amen.
June 8, 2014
     “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven.” 
     Do you perceive the type? What is this Pentecost? The time when the sickle was to be put to the harvest, and the ingathering was made. See now the reality, when the time had come to put in the sickle of the word: for here, as the sickle, keen-edged, came the Spirit down. For hear the words of Christ: Lift up your eyes, He said, and look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest (John 4:35). And again, The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few (Matthew 9:38). But as the first-fruits of this harvest, He himself took [our nature], and bore it up on high. Himself first put in the sickle. Therefore also He calls the Word the Seed. When, it says, the day of Pentecost was fully come (Luke 8:5, 11): that is, when at the Pentecost, while about it, in short. For it was essential that the present events likewise should take place during the feast, that those who had witnessed the crucifixion of Christ, might also behold these. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven (Acts 2:2). Why did this not come to pass without sensible tokens? For this reason. If even when the fact was such, men said, They are full of new wine, what would they not have said, had it been otherwise? And it is not merely, there came a sound, but, from heaven. And the suddenness also startled them, and brought all together to the spot. As of a rushing mighty wind: this betokens the exceeding vehemence of the Spirit. And it filled all the house: insomuch that those present both believed, and in this manner were shown to be worthy. Nor is this all; but what is more awful still, And there appeared unto them, it says, cloven tongues like as of fire (Acts 2:3). Observe how it is always, like as; and rightly: that you may have no gross sensible notions of the Spirit. Also, as it were of a blast: therefore it was not a wind. Like as of fire. For when the Spirit was to be made known to John, then it came upon the head of Christ as in the form of a dove: but now, when a whole multitude was to be converted, it is like as of fire. And it sat upon each of them. This means, that it remained and rested upon them. For the sitting is significant of settledness and continuance. St. John Chrysostom, Homily on Acts).
June 1, 2014 - John 17:6
     I have manifested Your Name unto the men which You gave Me out of the world; Yours they were, and You gave them Me, and they have kept Your word.
     'Messenger' of great counsel (Isaiah 9:6, Septuagint), the Son of God is called, because of the other things which He taught, and principally because He announced the Father to men, as also now He says, I have manifested Your Name unto the men. For after having said, I have finished Your work, He next explains it in detail, telling what sort of work. Now the Name indeed was well known. For Esaias said, You shall swear by the true God (Isaiah 65:16). But what I have often told you I tell you now, that though it was known, yet it was so only to Jews, and not to all of these: but now He speaks concerning the Gentiles. Nor does He declare this merely, but also that they knew Him as the Father. For it is not the same thing to learn that He is Creator, and that He has a Son. But He manifested His Name both by words and actions.
     Whom You gave Me out of the world. As He says above, No man comes unto Me except it be given him (John 6:65); and, Except My Father draw him (John 6:64); so here too, Whom you gave Me (John 14:6). Now He calls Himself the Way; whence it is clear that He establishes two things by what is said here, that He is not opposed to the Father, and that it is the Father's will to entrust them to the Son.
     Yours they were, and You gave them Me. Here He desires to teach that He is greatly loved by the Father. For that He needed not to receive them, is clear from this, He made them, He cares for them continually. How then did He receive them? This, as I said before, shows His unanimity with the Father. Now if a man choose to enquire into the matter in a human manner, and as the words are spoken, they will no longer belong to the Father. For if when the Father had them, the Son had them not, it is evident that when He gave them to the Son, He withdrew from His dominion over them. And again, there is a yet more unseemly conclusion; for they will be found to have been imperfect while they yet were with the Father, but to have become perfect when they came to the Son. But it is mockery even to speak thus. What then does He declare by this? That it has seemed good to the Father also that they should believe in the Son.” (St. John Chrysostom, Homily on the Gospel of John)
May 18, 2014 - The Samaritan Woman at the Well
     A woman came. She is a symbol of the Church not yet made righteous. Righteousness follows from the conversation. She came in ignorance, she found Christ, and he enters into conversation with her. Let us see what it is about, let us see why a Samaritan woman came to draw water. The Samaritans did not form part of the Jewish people: they were foreigners. The fact that she came from a foreign people is part of the symbolic meaning, for she is a symbol of the Church. The Church was to come from the Gentiles, of a different race from the Jews.
     We must then recognize ourselves in her words and in her person, and with her give our own thanks to God. She was a symbol, not the reality; she foreshadowed the reality, and the reality came to be. She found faith in Christ, who was using her as a symbol to teach us what was to come. She came then to draw water. She had simply come to draw water; in the normal way of man or woman.
Jesus says to her: Give me water to drink. Listen now and learn who it is that asks for a drink. Jesus answered her and said: If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, perhaps you might have asked him and he would have given you living water. 
     He asks for a drink, and he promises a drink. He is in need, as one hoping to receive, yet he is rich, as one about to satisfy the thirst of others. He says: If you knew the gift of God. The gift of God is the Holy Spirit. But he is still using veiled language as he speaks to the woman and gradually enters into her heart. Or is he already teaching her? What could be more gentle and kind than the encouragement he gives? If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, perhaps you might ask and he would give you living water. 
     What is this water that he will give if not the water spoken of in Scripture: With you is the fountain of life? How can those feel thirst who will drink deeply from the abundance in your house? 
He was promising the Holy Spirit in satisfying abundance. She did not yet understand. In her failure to grasp his meaning, what was her reply? The woman says to him: Master, give me this drink, so that I may feel no thirst or come here to draw water. Her need forced her to this labor, her weakness shrank from it. If only she could hear those words: Come to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Jesus was saying this to her, so that her labors might be at an end; but she was not yet able to understand. Saint Augustine of Hippo.
May 4, 2014
     Our Epistle Lesson today is from Acts 6: 1-7. It concerns the election of deacons for service in the Church. As we contemplate the qualities mentioned by the Apostles prerequisite for service, we offer this sermon from St. Augustine regarding the nature of genuine Christian leadership.
      You have often learned that all our hope is in Christ and that he is our true glory and our salvation. You are members of the flock of the Good Shepherd, who watches over Israel and nourishes his people. Yet there are shepherds who want to have the title of shepherd without wanting to fulfil a pastor’s duties; let us then recall what God says to his shepherds through the prophet. You must listen attentively; I must listen with fear and trembling.
     The word of the Lord came to me and said: Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel and speak to the shepherds of Israel. We just heard this reading a moment ago, my brothers, and I have decided to speak to you on this passage. The Lord will help me to speak the truth if I do not speak on my own authority. For if I speak on my own authority, I will be a shepherd nourishing myself and not the sheep. However, if my words are the Lord’s, then he is nourishing you no matter who speaks. Thus says the Lord God: Shepherds of Israel, who have been nourishing only themselves! Should not the shepherds nourish the sheep? In other words, true shepherds take care of their sheep, not themselves. This is the principle reason why God condemns those shepherds: they took care of themselves rather than their sheep. Who are they who nourish themselves? They are the shepherds the Apostle described when he said: They all seek what is theirs and not what is Christ’s.
     I must distinguish carefully between two aspects of the role the lord has given me, a role that demands a rigorous accountability, a role based on the Lord’s greatness rather than on my own merit. The first aspect is that I am a Christian; the second, that I am a leader. I am a Christian for my own sake, whereas I am a leader for your sake; the fact that I am a Christian is to my own advantage, but I am a leader for your advantage.
     Many persons come to God as Christians but not as leaders. Perhaps they travel by an easier road and are less hindered since they bear a lighter burden. In addition to the fact that I am a Christian and must give God an account of my life, I as a leader must give him an account of my stewardship as well. (Sermo 46, 1-2: CCL 41, 529-530)
April 27, 2014
     But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said, Except I shall see in His hands —I will not believe.
     As to believe carelessly and in a random way, comes of an over-easy temper; so to be beyond measure curious and meddlesome, marks a most gross understanding. On this account Thomas is held to blame. For he believed not the Apostles when they said, We have seen the Lord; not so much mistrusting them, as deeming the thing to be impossible, that is to say, the resurrection from the dead. Since he says not, I do not believe you, but, Except I put my hand— I do not believe. But how was it, that when all were collected together, he alone was absent? Probably after the dispersion which had lately taken place, he had not returned even then. But do thou, when you see the unbelief of the disciple, consider the loving kindness of the Lord, how for the sake of a single soul He showed Himself with His wounds, and comes in order to save even the one, though he was grosser than the rest; on which account indeed he sought proof from the grossest of the senses, and would not even trust his eyes. For he said not, Except I see, but, Except I handle, he says, lest what he saw might somehow be an apparition. Yet the disciples who told him these things, were at the time worthy of credit, and so was He that promised; yet, since he desired more, Christ did not deprive him even of this. 
     And why does He not appear to him straightway, instead of after eight days? John 20:26 In order that being in the mean time continually instructed by the disciples, and hearing the same thing, he might be inflamed to more eager desire, and be more ready to believe for the future. But whence knew he that His side had been opened? From having heard it from the disciples. How then did he believe partly, and partly not believe? Because this thing was very strange and wonderful. But observe, I pray you, the truthfulness of the disciples, how they hide no faults, either their own or others', but record them with great veracity.
     Jesus again presents himself to them, and waits not to be requested by Thomas, nor to hear any such thing, but before he had spoken, Himself prevented him, and fulfilled his desire; showing that even when he spoke those words to the disciples, He was present. For He used the same words, and in a manner conveying a sharp rebuke, and instruction for the future. (from St. John Chrysostom's Homily on the Gospel of John).

April 13, 2014 - Condemned to Immortality: A meditation on the Resurrection
People condemned God to death; with His Resurrection He condemned them to immortality. For striking Him, God returned embraces; for insults, blessings; for death, immortality. Never did men show more hate towards God than when they crucified Him; and God never showed His love towards people more than when He was resurrected. Mankind
wanted to make God dead, but God, with His Resurrection, made people alive, the crucified God resurrected on the third day and thereby killed death ! There is no more death. Immortality is surrounding man and his entire world. 
With the Resurrection of the God-Man, the nature of man is irreversibly led toward the road of immortality and man's nature becomes destructive to death itself. For until the Resurrection of Christ, death was destructive for man; from the Resurrection of Christ, man's nature becomes destructive in death. If man lives in the faith of the Resurrected God Man, he lives above death, he is unreachable for her; death is under man's feet. Death where is thy sting? Hell, where is thy victory? And when a man who believes in Christ dies, he only leaves his body as his clothes, in which he will be dressed again on the Day of Last Judgement. 
Before the Resurrection of the God-Man, death was the second nature of man; life was first and death was second. Man became accustomed to death as something natural. But after His Resurrection the Lord changed everything: and it was only natural until Christ's Resurrection, that the people became mortal, so after Christ's Resurrection it was natural that the people became immortal. 
Through sin, man becomes mortal and temporal; with the Resurrection of the God-Man, he becomes immortal and eternal. In this lies the strength, in this lies the power, in this lies the might of Christ's Resurrection. Without the Resurrection there is no Christianity. Among the miracles, this is the greatest one; all other miracles begin and end with it. From it sprouted the faith and the love and the hope and the prayer and the love toward God. (Archiamandrite Justin Popovic).

March 30, 2014 - St. John of the Ladder   “This Saint gave himself over to the ascetical life from his early youth. Experienced both in the solitary life of the hermit and in the communal life of cenobitic monasticism, he was appointed Abbot of the Monastery at Mount Sinai and wrote a book containing thirty homilies on virtue. Each homily deals with one virtue, and progressing from those that deal with holy and righteous activity (praxis) unto those that deal with divine vision (theoria), they raise a man up as though by means of steps unto the height of Heaven. For this cause his work is called "The Ladder of Divine Ascent." The day he was made Abbot of Sinai, the Prophet Moses was seen giving commands to those who served at table. Saint John reposed in 603, at eighty years of age. See also the Fourth Sunday of the Fast.
     Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone:  With the rivers of your tears, you have made the barren desert fertile. Through sighs of sorrow from deep within you, your labors have borne fruit a hundred-fold. By your miracles you have become a light, shining upon the world. O John, our Holy Father, pray to Christ our God, to save our souls.
     Kontakion in the First Tone:  As ever-blooming fruits, thou dost offer the teachings of thy God-given book, O wise John, thou most blessed, while sweet'ning the hearts of all them that heed it with vigilance; for it is a ladder from the earth unto Heaven that conferreth glory on the souls that ascend it and honour thee faithfully.

March 23, 2014     “Every action, therefore, and performance of miracles by Christ are most great and divine and marvellous: but the most marvellous of all is His precious Cross. For no other thing has subdued death, expiated the sin of the first parent, despoiled Hades, bestowed the resurrection, granted the power to us of contemning the present and even death itself, prepared the return to our former blessedness, opened the gates of Paradise5, given our nature a seat at the right hand of God, and made us the children and heirs of God, save the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. For by the Cross7 all things have been made right. So many of us, the apostle says, as were baptized into Christ, were baptized into His death, and as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ9. Further, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. Lo! the death of Christ, that is, the Cross, clothed us with the enhypostatic wisdom and power of God. And the power of God is the Word of the Cross, either because God’s might, that is, the victory over death, has been revealed to us by it, or because, just as the four extremities of the Cross are held fast and bound together by the bolt in the middle, so also by God’s power the height and the depth, the length and the breadth, that is, every creature visible and invisible, is maintained… The tree of life which was planted by God in Paradise pre-figured this precious Cross. For since death was by a tree, it was fitting that life and resurrection should be bestowed by a tree.” (St. John of Damascus, “An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith”, Chapter XI, Concerning the Cross).

March 2, 2014 - Meat Fare Sunday
     The Holy Fathers have appointed the commemoration of Adam's exile from the Paradise of delight here, on the eve of the holy Forty-day Fast, demonstrating to us not by simple words, but by actual deeds, how beneficial fasting is for man, and how harmful and destructive are insatiety and the transgressing of the divine commandments. For the first commandment that God gave to man was that of fasting, which the first-fashioned received but did not keep; and not only did they not become gods, as they had imagined, but they lost even that blessed life which they had, and they fell into corruption and death, and transmitted these and innumerable other evils to all of mankind. The God-bearing Fathers set these things before us today, that by bringing to mind what we have fallen from, and what we have suffered because of the insatiety and disobedience of the first-fashioned, we might be diligent to return again to that ancient bliss and glory by means of fasting and obedience to all the divine commands. Taking occasion from today's Gospel (Matt. 6:14-21) to begin the Fast unencumbered by enmity, we also ask forgiveness this day, first from God, then from one another and all creation.
     Seasonal Kontakion: O Master, Prudence, Guide of Wisdom, Instruction to the foolish and Defender of the poor, strengthen my heart and grant it discernment. Give me words, Word of the Father, for behold, I shall not keep my lips from crying out to You, "O Merciful One, have mercy on me who has fallen."

February 23, 2014 - On this Sunday we commemorate the Second Coming of our Lord.
     The foregoing two parables -- especially that of the Prodigal Son -- have presented to us God's extreme goodness and love for man. But lest certain persons, putting their confidence in this alone, live carelessly, squandering upon sin the time given them to work out their salvation, and death suddenly snatch them away, the most divine Fathers have appointed this day's feast commemorating Christ's impartial Second Coming, through which we bring to mind that God is not only the Friend of man, but also the most righteous Judge, Who recompenses to each according to his deeds.
     It is the aim of the holy Fathers, through bringing to mind that fearful day, to rouse us from the slumber of carelessness unto the work of virtue, and to move us to love and compassion for our brethren. Besides this, even as on the coming Sunday of Cheese-fare we commemorate Adam's exile from the Paradise of delight -- which exile is the beginning of life as we know it now -- it is clear that today's is reckoned the last of all feasts, because on the last day of judgment, truly, everything of this world will come to an end.
     All foods, except meat and meat products, are allowed during the week that follows this Sunday.

January 19, 2014     Saint Macarius the Great was from the Thebaid of Egypt, a disciple, as some say, of Saint Anthony the Great. He was born about 331 and struggled in asceticism in the desert at Scete. Although young, he was called "the child elder" because of his great wisdom and austere manner of life. He was ordained presbyter and reposed in 391, at the age of sixty. There are fifty homilies ascribed to him.
     It is said of Saint Macarius that he became as a God upon earth, for even as God protects the whole world, so did he cover the faults he saw as if he did not see them. Once he came back to his cell to find a thief taking his things and loading them on a camel. Macarius' non-possessiveness was so great that he helped the thief load the camel. When the camel refused to rise, Macarius returned to his cell and brought a small hoe, said that the camel wanted the hoe also, loaded it on, and kicked the camel telling it to get up. The camel obeyed Macarius' command, but soon lay down again, and would not move until everything had been returned to Macarius. His contemporary, Saint Macarius of Alexandria, was so called because he came from Alexandria and was therefore of that Greek-speaking colony; while Saint Macarius the Great is also called "of Egypt," that is, he belonged to the ancient race native to Egypt, the Copts.
     Apolytikion in the First Tone: Thou didst prove to be a citizen of the desert, an angel in the flesh, and a wonderworker, O Macarius, our God-bearing Father. By fasting, vigil, and prayer thou didst obtain heavenly gifts, and thou healest the sick and the souls of them that have recourse to thee with faith. Glory to Him that hath given thee strength. Glory to Him that hath crowned thee. Glory to Him that worketh healings for all through thee.
     Kontakion in the Fourth Tone: The Lord God established thee, O great ascetic, in the house of abstinence, like an unerring star that lit the farthest regions with guiding light, Father of Fathers, O righteous Macarius.

January 6, 2014 - Theophany 
     About the beginning of our Lord's thirtieth year, John the Forerunner, who was some six months older than Our Saviour according to the flesh, and had lived in the wilderness since his childhood, received a command from God and came into the parts of the Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance unto the remission of sins. Then our Saviour also came from Galilee to the Jordan, and sought and received baptism though He was the Master and John was but a servant. Whereupon, there came to pass those marvellous deeds, great and beyond nature: the Heavens were opened, the Spirit descended in the form of a dove upon Him that was being baptized and the voice was heard from the Heavens hearing witness that this was the beloved Son of God, now baptized as a man (Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:1-22). From these events the Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ and the great mystery of the Trinity were demonstrated. It is also from this that the present feast is called "Theophany," that is, the divine manifestation, God's appearance among men. On this venerable day the sacred mystery of Christian baptism was inaugurated; henceforth also began the saving preaching of the Kingdom of the Heavens.
     Apolytikion in the First Tone Lord, when You were baptized in the Jordan, the veneration of the Trinity was revealed. For the voice of the Father gave witness to You, calling You Beloved, and the Spirit, in the guise of a dove, confirmed the certainty of His words. Glory to You, Christ our God, who appeared and enlightened the world.
     Kontakion in the Fourth Tone You appeared to the world today, and Your light, O Lord, has left its mark upon us. With fuller understanding we sing to You: "You came, You were made manifest, the unapproachable light."
November 21, 2013

     On November 21 we celebrate the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple
According to the tradition of the Church, the Theotokos was brought to the Temple at three years of age, where she was consecrated to God and spent her days until she was fourteen or fifteen years old; and then, as a mature maiden, by the common counsel of the priests (since her parents had reposed some three years before), she was betrothed to Joseph.
     Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Today is the prelude of God's pleasure and the proclamation of man's salvation. The Virgin is clearly made manifest in the temple of God and foretells Christ to all. Let us also cry out to her with mighty voice, "Hail, fulfillment of the Creator's dispensation."
     Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
Today, the most pure temple of the Savior, the precious bridal chamber and Virgin, the sacred treasure of God, enters the house of the Lord, bringing the grace of the Divine Spirit. The Angels of God praise her. She is the heavenly tabernacle. span>

November 17, 2013

 "Yet I live; and yet no longer I, but Christ lives in me."
     In these words, I am crucified with Christ, he alludes to Baptism and in the words nevertheless I live, yet not I, our subsequent manner of life whereby our members are mortified. By saying Christ lives in me, he means nothing is done by me, which Christ disapproves; for as by death he signifies not what is commonly understood, but a death to sin; so by life, he signifies a delivery from sin. For a man cannot live to God, otherwise than by dying to sin; and as Christ suffered bodily death, so does Paul a death to sin. Mortify, says he, your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, passion; Colossians 3:5, and again, our old man was crucified, Romans 6:6 which took place in the Bath [i.e., Baptism]. After which, if you remain dead to sin, you live to God, but if you let it live again, you are the ruin of your new life. This however did not Paul, but continued wholly dead; if then, he says, I live to God a life other than that in the Law, and am dead to the Law, I cannot possibly keep any part of the Law. Consider how perfect was his walk, and you will be transported with admiration of this blessed soul. He says not, I live, but, Christ lives in me; who is bold enough to utter such words? Paul indeed, who had harnessed himself to Christ's yoke, and cast away all worldly things, and was paying universal obedience to His will, says not, I live to Christ, but what is far higher, Christ lives in me. As sin, when it has the mastery, is itself the vital principle, and leads the soul whither it will, so, when it is slain and the will of Christ obeyed, this life is no longer earthly, but Christ lives, that is, works, has mastery within us. His saying, I am crucified with Him I no longer live, but am dead, seeming incredible to many, he adds, "And that life which I now live in the flesh, I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God." (St. John Chrysostom, Homily on Galatians).

November 8, 2013
webassets/Powers.jpg      On November 8th we celebrate the Archangels Michael and Gabriel and all the Heavenly Powers
All the Angels, according to the Apostle Paul, are ministering spirits, - sent forth to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation - (Heb. 1:14). God set them as overseers of every nation and people, and guides to that which is profitable (Deut. 32:8); and while one Angel is appointed to oversee each nation as a whole, one is also appointed to protect each Christian individually. He commands them to guard them that hope on Him, that nothing should harm them, neither should any evil draw nigh to their dwelling (Ps. 90:10-12). In the Heavens they always behold the face of God, sending up to Him the thrice-holy hymn and interceding with Him in our behalf, seeing they rejoice over one sinner that repents (Esaias 6:2-3; Matt. 18:10; Luke 15:7). In a word, they have served God in so many ways for our benefit, that the pages of Holy Scripture are filled with the histories thereof. It is for these reasons that the Orthodox Catholic Church, wisely honouring these divine ministers, our protectors and guardians, celebrates today the present Synaxis that is, our coming together in assembly for their common feast to chant their praises, especially for the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, who are mentioned in the Scriptures by name. The name Michael means "Who is like God?" and Gabriel means "God is mighty." The number of Angels is not defined in the divine Scriptures, where Daniel says that thousands of thousands ministered before Him, and ten thousands of ten thousands attended upon Him -(Dan. 7:10). But all of them are divided into nine orders which are called Thrones, Cherubim, Seraphim, Dominions, Powers, Authorities, Principalities, Archangels, and Angels.
     Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
O Commanders of the Heavenly Host, we the unworthy beseech you, that through your entreaties you will fortify us, guarding us in the shelter of the wings of your ethereal glory, even as we fervently bow before you crying: "Deliver us from all danger, as Commanders of the Powers on high! "

October 27, 2013
webassets/Protection.jpg      On October 28th we celebrate the Feast of the Protection
The Feast of the Protection commemorates the appearance of the most holy Theotokos in the Church of Blachernae in Constantinople in the early sixth century, as recorded in the life of Saint Andrew the Fool for Christ's sake. While the multitudes of the faithful were gathered in church, Epiphanius, the friend of Saint Andrew, through the Saint's prayers, beheld the Virgin Mary above the faithful and spreading out her veil over them, signifying her unceasing protection of all Christians. Because of this we keep a yearly feast of gratitude, imploring our Lady never to cease sheltering us in her mighty prayers.
     Apolytikion in the First Tone
O Virgin, we extol the great grace of thy Protection, which thou didst spread out like a bright cloud beyond all understanding; for thou dost invisibly protect thy people from the foe's every assault. Since we have thee as our shelter and certain help, we cry to thee with our whole soul: Glory to thy great deeds, O most pure Maid. Glory to thy shelter most divine. Glory to thy care and providence for us, O spotless one.
     Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Let us the faithful hasten to the Theotokos now and venerate her sacred veil, as we chant unto her, singing hymns to praise and honour her, as is fitting; for she shelt'reth with her shelter and all her faithful flock and preserveth them unharmed from all calamities, as they cry to her: Rejoice, Protection most radiant.

October 20, 2013
webassets/Dimi.jpg      On October 26th we celebrate the memory of St. Demetrius
Saint Demetrius was a Thessalonian, a most pious son of pious and noble parents, and a teacher of the Faith of Christ. When Maximian first came to Thessalonica in 290, he raised the Saint to the rank of Duke of Thessaly. But when it was discovered that the Saint was a Christian, he was arrested and kept bound in a bath-house. While the games were under way in the city, Maximian was a spectator there. A certain friend of his, a barbarian who was a notable wrestler, Lyaeus by name, waxing haughty because of the height and strength of his body, boasted in the stadium and challenged the citizens to a contest with him. All that fought with him were defeated. Seeing this, a certain youth named Nestor, aquaintance of Demetrius', came to the Saint in the bath-house and asked his blessing to fight Lyaeus single-handed. Receiving this blessing and sealing himself with the sign of the precious Cross, he presented himself in the stadium, and said, "O God of Demetrius, help me!" and straightway he engaged Lyaeus in combat and smote him with a mortal blow to the heart, leaving the former boaster lifeless upon the earth. Maximian was sorely grieved over this, and when he learned who was the cause of this defeat, he commanded straightway and Demetrius was pierced with lances while he was yet in the bath-house, As for Nestor, Maximian commanded that he be slain with his own sword.
     Apolytikion in the Third Tone
The world has found in you a great champion in time of peril, as you emerged the victor in routing the barbarians. For as you brought to naught the boasts of Lyaios, imparting courage to Nestor in the stadium, in like manner, holy one, great Martyr Dimitrios, invoke Christ God for us, that He may grant us His great mercy.

October 13, 2013
webassets/council.jpg      Today we celebrate the Fathers of the 7th Ecumenical Council On the Sunday that falls on or immediately after the eleventh of this month, we chant the Service to the 350 holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, which gathered in Nicaea in 787 under the holy Patriarch Tarasius and during the reign of the Empress Irene and her son, Constantine Porphyrogenitus, to refute the Iconoclast heresy, which had received imperial support beginning with the Edict issued in 726 by Emperor Leo the Isaurian. Many of the holy Fathers who condemned Iconoclasm at this holy Council later died as Confessors and Martyrs for the holy Icons during the second assult of Iconoclasm in the ninth century, especially during the reigns of Leo the Armenian and Theophilus.
     Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
You are greatly glorified, O Christ our God, who established our Fathers as luminaries upon the earth, and through them led us all to the true Faith. O Most compassionate, glory to You.

October 6, 2013
webassets/thomas.jpg      The name Thomas means, "twin." He was one of the Twelve, a Galilean by birth. Sophroneus (not the famous Patriarch of Jerusalem [7th Century, celebrated March 11], but a friend of Jerome's), quoted also by Jerome, says that Saint Thomas preached to the Parthians, Pesians, Medes, Hyrcanians, Bactrians, and neighbouring nations. According to Heracleon, the Apostle died a natural death; according to other accounts, he was martyred at Meliapur His tomb was known by Saint John Chrysostom to be at Edessa in Syria, to which city his holy relics may have been translated from India in the fourth century.
     Apolytikion in the Third Tone
O Holy Apostle Thomas, intercede to our merciful God, that He may grant our souls forgiveness of sins.
     Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
Christ's Apostle, who was filled with God's divine grace, he who was His genuine and faithful servant in all truth, all-lauded Thoms exclaimed aloud in deep repentance: Thou art both my God and Lord.

September 29, 2013

Arab Spring or Tornado?: Editorial by His Eminence Metropolitan Philip, Antiochian Orthodox Church
     Since the so-called Arab Spring began in Libya in 2011, we have seen the devastation and destruction of that Arab country by Libyan and NATO forces. This Arab Spring has since spread to Tunisia and Egypt, the most populated Arab country. This fire has burned relentlessly in Gaza and all of Palestine since 1948. It is spreading into Jordan, Bahrain, and Iraq and has caused the most devastation in Syria, where many of us have ancestral roots. Unfortunately, the American and European news outlets are not reporting such stories to the world, neither through the written word nor graphic photographs like the ones you see in this sad issue of The WORD magazine. The WORD has been able to obtain these pictures and information from reliable sources. Syria has been most victimized and experienced the most devastation by this seemingly endless war. The WORD believes that the only country that can bring peace to this most explosive region of the world is the United States of America, because America has leverage over Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Europe.
     For more than two years, a savage war has been raging in Syria. It has consumed more than 100,000 Syrians and left thousands of refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Canada, and Australia, to name a few. Billions of dollars have been lost in the properties of cities like Damascus and its suburbs, Dara'a, al-Kousyr, Homs, Hama, Aleppo, Deir al-Zoor and others in Northern Syria. Our distinguished President, Barack Obama, and our Secretary of State, John Kerry, have been calling the world to arm the rebels (the Free Syrian Army) to continue the fight and topple the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. We do believe that there must be a peaceful solution to this war in Syria; if it continues, however, it may burn the whole Middle East, including our American interests in the region. Therefore, one might ask what the solution is. Surely it is not more arms for Syrians to kill each other. What Syria needs is a peace conference between the Syrian regime and the opposition, supervised by the United Nations.
     Syria does not need more arms. Syria needs more financial aid, more relief to millions of Syrians who have lost everything and more relief to thousands of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and other countries. The war in Syria is also shaking the political situation in Lebanon. This is precisely why the Lebanese have not been able to form a government or agree on a new parliamentary law. No, Mr. President, and no, Mr. Secretary of State, arming Syrians against Syrians will not bring peace to Syria; instead, more war and bloodshed. What Syria needs most of all is peace, "for blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called children of God" (Matthew 5:9).
     Lastly, it pains us beyond measure that two of our venerable Orthodox archbishops have been kidnapped while on a humanitarian mission in the suburbs of Allepo and have yet to be found. We ask all peace-loving people to pray for their release from captivity, because in our liturgy we always pray for captives and for their salvation.
May Christ, who is our Peace, grant our leaders wisdom and understanding, and to all our victims and martyrs of this so-called Arab-Spring, rest and eternal life.
     His Eminence Metropolitan Philip

September 22, 2013

    Progress Reflected in 4th Annual Assembly Meeting: The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America is holding its 4th Annual Assembly Meeting in Chicago. Following the first day of meetings the Assembly issued the following release:

     The first day of meetings of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America reflected a growing collegiality and cooperation among those present. Forty-three hierarchs representing 11 jurisdictions are in attendance. The morning began with hierarchs participating in a common celebration of the Divine Liturgy at the Holy Virgin Protection Cathedral in Des Plaines, IL.
     “Today…we are here together in unity and joy in full awareness of the truth that the love of Christ has brought us together and is with us,” said Archbishop Demetrios, Chairman of the Assembly, in his opening remarks to the hierarchs. “As we stand with awe, having prayed the Divine Liturgy and received the precious Body and Blood of our Lord, we are not only in God’s presence but also more importantly, we experience His presence as one undivided Body—His Body.”
     His Eminence asked the hierarchs to keep in mind a number of issues over the course of the next several days: the threat to Orthodox Christians in other parts of the world and the kidnapped Syrian bishops whose whereabouts are still unknown; the responsibility to offer a complete and authentic image and experience of Christ to faith-seeking Americans; and an acknowledgment of our many blessings and the accompanying responsibility to promote and share the Orthodox faith to those who are suffering and in need.
     His Grace Bishop Basil, Secretary of the Assembly, initiated a candid conversation in the afternoon on the vision of the Assembly, and how the Assembly is to interpret and act on the Chambésy decision. Break-out groups followed, in which hierarchs shared their views and then reported back to the group at-large. Further discussion on this topic, including proposals for canonical restructuring, is planned for Wednesday.
     An outcome of Tuesday’s meeting was the creation of a new committee to oversee agencies and endorsed organizations. The committee will review recommendations that have been made as to the relationship between the Assembly and its agencies and organizations, and determine criteria for future agency and organization endorsement. The committee’s members will be those hierarchs who serve as agency liaisons, with a chairperson to be appointed. Sept. 18, 2013

September 15, 2013

    Exaltation of the Holy Cross: Saint Helen, the mother of Saint Constantine the Great, when she was already advanced in years, undertook, in her great piety, the hardships of a journey to Jerusalem in search of the cross, about the year 325. A temple to Aphrodite had been raised up by the Emperor Hadrian upon Golgotha, to defile and cover with oblivion the place where the saving Passion had been suffered. The venerable Helen had the statue of Aphrodite destroyed, and the earth removed, revealing the Tomb of our Lord, and three crosses. Of these, it was believed that one must be that of our Lord, the other two of the thieves crucified with Him; but Saint Helen was at a loss which one might be the Wood of our salvation. At the inspiration of Saint Macarius, Archbishop of Jerusalem, a lady of Jerusalem, who was already at the point of death from a certain disease, was brought to touch the crosses, and as soon as she came near to the Cross of our Lord, she was made perfectly whole. Consequently, the precious Cross was lifted on high by Archbishop Macarius of Jerusalem; as he stood on the ambo, and when the people beheld it, they cried out, "Lord have mercy." It should be noted that after its discovery, a portion of the venerable Cross was taken to Constantinople as a blessing. The rest was left in Jerusalem in the magnificent church built by Saint Helen, until the year 614. At that time, the Persians plundered Palestine and took the Cross to their own country (see Jan. 22, Saint Anastasius the Persian). Late, in the year 628, Emperor Heraclius set out on a military campaign, retrieved the Cross, and after bringing it to Constantinople, himself escorted it back to Jerusalem, where he restored it to its place.

September 8, 2013

    Nativity of the Theotokos: According to the ancient tradition of the Church, the Theotokos was born of barren and aged parents, Joachim and Anna, about the year 16 or 17 before the birth of Christ. Joachim was descended from the royal line of David, of the tribe of Judah. Anna was of the priestly tribe of Levi, a daughter of the priest Matthan and Mary, his wife.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
     Your birth, O Theotokos, brought joy to the whole world, for from you dawned the sun of righteousness, Christ our God. Freeing us from the curse, He gave us His blessings. Abolishing death, He granted us eternal life.
Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
     In your holy birth, Immaculate One, Joachim and Anna were rid of the shame of childlessness; Adam and Eve of the corruption of death. And so your people, free of the guilt of their sins, celebrate crying: "The barren one gives birth to the Theotokos, who nourishes our life."

September 1, 2013

    Beginning of the Ecclesiastical New Year: To the present day, the Church has always celebrated the beginning of the New Year on September 1. This was the custom in Constantinople until its fall in 1453 and in Russia until the reign of Peter I. September 1 is still festively celebrated as the New Year at the Patriarchate of Constantinople; among the Jews also the New Year, although reckoned according to a moveable calendar, usually falls in September. The service of the Menaion for January 1 is for our Lord's Circumcision and for the memorial of Saint Basil the Great, without any mention of its being the beginning of a new year.
     Apolytikion in the Second Tone
Creator of the universe, setting times and seasons by Your sole authority, bless the cycle of the year of Your grace, O Lord, guarding our rulers and Your nation in peace, at the intercession of the Theotokos, and save us.
     Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
You who created all things in Your infinite wisdom, and set the times by Your own authority, grant Your Christian people victories. Blessing our comings and goings throughout this year, guide our works according to Your divine will.

August 25, 2013

    August 29: The Beheading of St. John the Baptist: The divine Baptist, the Prophet born of a Prophet, the seal of all the Prophets and beginning of the Apostles, the mediator between the Old and New Covenants, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, the God-sent Messenger of the incarnate Messiah, the forerunner of Christ's coming into the world (Esaias 40: 3; Mal. 3: 1); who by many miracles was both conceived and born; who was filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother's womb; who came forth like another Elias the Zealot, whose life in the wilderness and divine zeal for God's Law he imitated: this divine Prophet, after he had preached the baptism of repentance according to God's command; had taught men of low rank and high how they must order their lives; had admonished those whom he baptized and had filled them with the fear of God, teaching them that no one is able to escape the wrath to come if he do not works worthy of repentance; had, through such preaching, prepared their hearts to receive the evangelical teachings of the Savior; and finally, after he had pointed out to the people the very Savior, and said, "Behold the Lamb of God, Which taketh away the sin of the world" (Luke 3:2-18; John 1: 29-36), after all this, John sealed with his own blood the truth of his words and was made a sacred victim for the divine Law at the hands of a transgressor.
     This was Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Galilee, the son of Herod the Great. This man had a lawful wife, the daughter of Arethas (or Aretas), the King of Arabia (that is, Arabia Petraea, which had the famous Nabatean stone city of Petra as its capital. This is the Aretas mentioned by Saint Paul in II Cor. 11:32). Without any cause, and against every commandment of the Law, he put her away and took to himself Herodias, the wife of his deceased brother Philip, to whom Herodias had borne a daughter, Salome. He would not desist from this unlawful union even when John, the preacher of repentance, the bold and austere accuser of the lawless, censured him and told him, "It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife" (Mark 6: 18). Thus Herod, besides his other unholy acts, added yet this, that he apprehended John and shut him in prison; and perhaps he would have killed him straightway, had he not feared the people, who had extreme reverence for John. Certainly, in the beginning, he himself had great reverence for this just and holy man. But finally, being pierced with the sting of a mad lust for the woman Herodias, he laid his defiled hands on the teacher of purity on the very day he was celebrating his birthday. When Salome, Herodias' daughter, had danced in order to please him and those who were supping with him, he promised her -- with an oath more foolish than any foolishness -- that he would give her anything she asked, even unto the half of his kingdom. And she, consulting with her mother, straightway asked for the head of John the Baptist in a charger. Hence this transgressor of the Law, preferring his lawless oath above the precepts of the Law, fulfilled this godless promise and filled his loathsome banquet with the blood of the Prophet. So it was that that all-venerable head, revered by the Angels, was given as a prize for an abominable dance, and became the plaything of the dissolute daughter of a debauched mother. As for the body of the divine Baptist, it was taken up by his disciples and placed in a tomb (Mark 6: 21 - 29)

August 18, 2013

    "He took the loaves, therefore, and broke them, and gave them by His disciples, hereby to honor them; and not in honor to them only, but also that, when the miracle had been done they might not disbelieve it, nor forget it when it had past, their own hands bearing them witness. Wherefore also He suffers the multitudes first to have a sense of hunger, and waits for these to come to Him first and ask Him, and by them makes the people sit down, and by them distributes; being minded by their own confessions and actions to prepossess them every one. Therefore also, from them He receives the loaves, that the testimonies of what was doing might be many, and that they might have memorials of the miracle. For if even after these occurrences they forgot, what would not have been their case, had He omitted those provisions? And He commands them to sit down on the trampled grass, instructing the multitudes in self-denial. For His will was not to feed their bodies only, but also to instruct their souls. As well by the place therefore, as by His giving them nothing more than loaves and fishes, and by setting the same before all, and making it common, and by affording no one more than another, He was teaching them humility, and temperance, and charity, and to be of like mind one towards another, and to account all things common. And He broke and gave to the disciples, and the disciples to the multitude. The five loaves He broke and gave, and the five multiplied themselves in the hands of the disciples. And not even here does He stay the miracle, but He made them even to exceed; to exceed, not as whole loaves, but as fragments; to signify that of those loaves these were remains, and in order that the absent might learn what had been done. For this purpose indeed He suffered the multitudes to hunger, that no one might suppose what took place to be illusion. Let us learn therefore ourselves also to wait upon Jesus; but not for His bounty in things sensible, lest we be upbraided like the Jews. For ye seek me, says He, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Therefore neither does He work this miracle continually, but a second time only; that they might be taught not to be slaves to their belly, but to cling incessantly to the things of the Spirit. To these then let us also cling, and let us seek the heavenly bread, and having received it, let us cast away all worldly care.

August 11, 2013

     Concerning the Dormition of the Theotokos, this is what the Church has received from ancient times from the tradition of the Fathers. When the time drew nigh that our Savior was well-pleased to take His Mother to Himself, He declared unto her through an Angel that three days hence, He would translate her from this temporal life to eternity and bliss. On hearing this, she went up with haste to the Mount of Olives, where she prayed continuously. Giving thanks to God, she returned to her house and prepared whatever was necessary for her burial. While these things were taking place, clouds caught up the Apostles from the ends of the earth, where each one happened to be preaching, and brought them at once to the house of the Mother of God, who informed them of the cause of their sudden gathering. As a mother, she consoled them in their affliction as was meet, and then raised her hands to Heaven and prayed for the peace of the world. She blessed the Apostles, and, reclining upon her bed with seemliness, gave up her all-holy spirit into the hands of her Son and God.
     With reverence and many lights, and chanting burial hymns, the Apostles took up that God-receiving body and brought it to the sepulchre, while the Angels from Heaven chanted with them, and sent forth her who is higher than the Cherubim. But one Jew, moved by malice, audaciously stretched forth his hand upon the bed and immediately received from divine judgment the wages of his audacity. Those daring hands were severed by an invisible blow. But when he repented and asked forgiveness, his hands were restored. When they had reached the place called Gethsemane, they buried there with honor the all-immaculate body of the Theotokos, which was the source of Life. But on the third day after the burial, when they were eating together, and raised up the artos (bread) in Jesus' Name, as was their custom, the Theotokos appeared in the air, saying "Rejoice" to them. From this they learned concerning the bodily translation of the Theotokos into the Heavens.
     These things has the Church received from the traditions of the Fathers, who have composed many hymns out of reverence, to the glory of the Mother of our God (see Oct. 3 and 4).
     Apolytikion in the First Tone: In birth, you preserved your virginity; in death, you did not abandon the world, O Theotokos. As mother of life, you departed to the source of life, delivering our souls from death by your intercessions.
     Kontakion in the Second Tone: Neither the grave nor death could contain the Theotokos, the unshakable hope, ever vigilant in intercession and protection. As Mother of life, He who dwelt in the ever-virginal womb transposed her to life.

August 4, 2013

The Transfiguration of our Lord
     Our Lord had spoken to His disciples many times not only concerning His Passion, Cross, and Death, but also concerning the coming persecutions and afflictions that they themselves would endure. Since all these evils were near at hand, but the enjoyment of good things which they hoped to receive in their stead was yet to come, our Savior desired to give them full assurance, evidently and openly, concerning that glory which is prepared for those who endure to the end. Therefore, fulfilling that which He had promised shortly before, that "there be some standing here which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in His Kingdom" (Matt. 16:28), He took His three foremost disciples and ascended Mount Tabor, where He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as the light. Suddenly, together with this dread and marvelous effulgence of light, there appeared those pinnacles of the Prophets, Moses and Elias, who spoke with the Lord Jesus concerning His saving Passion which was about to take place. Standing before Him as reverent servants, they showed that He is the Lord of both the living and the dead, for Moses came forth from Hades, having died many centuries before, and Elias, as it were from heaven, whither he had been taken up while yet alive. After a little while a radiant cloud overshadowed them and out of the cloud they heard that same voice which had been heard at the Jordan at the Baptism of Christ, testifying to the Divinity of Jesus and saying: "This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well-pleased; hear ye Him" (Matt. 17: 5).
     Such are the marvels, truly worthy of God, celebrated in this present feast, which is an image and prefiguring of the future state of the righteous, whose splendor the Lord spoke of, saying: "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun" (Matt. 13:43). It is because of this that the Kontakion of this Feast is said daily (when there is not a great feast) in the Service of the Typica in perpetual commemoration of the glory that will be the lot of the Saints. According to tradition, the Lord's Transfiguration came to pass forty days before His Crucifixion; this is why the Transfiguration is celebrated forty days before the Exaltation of the Cross.

Apolytikion in the Grave Tone
     You were transfigured on the Mount, Christ God revealing Your glory to Your disciples, insofar as they could comprehend. Illuminate us sinners also with Your everlasting light, through the intercessions of the Theotokos. Giver of light, glory to You.

July 14, 2013
      "And let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful."
     For almsgiving is the mother of love, of that love, which is the characteristic of Christianity, which is greater than all miracles, by which the disciples of Christ are manifested. It is the medicine of our sins, the cleansing of the filth of our souls, the ladder fixed to heaven; it binds together the body of Christ. Would you learn how excellent a thing it is? In the time of the Apostles, men selling their possessions brought them to them, and they were distributed. For it is said, Distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. Acts 4:35 For tell me how, setting aside the future, and not now considering the kingdom that is to come, let us see who in the present life are the gainers, those who received, or those who gave. The former murmured and quarreled with each other. The latter had one soul. They were of one heart, and of one soul, it is said, and grace was upon them all. Acts 4:32 And they lived in great simplicity. Do you see that they were gainers even by thus giving? Tell me now, with whom would you wish to be numbered, with those who gave away their possessions, and had nothing, or with those who received even the goods of others? (St. John Chrysostom)

July 7, 2013
      "But now that faith has come which leads to perfect manhood we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus."
     The Law then, as it was our tutor, and we were kept shut up under it, is not the adversary but the fellow-worker of grace; but if when grace has come, it continues to hold us down, it becomes an adversary; for if it confines those who ought to go forward to grace, then it is the destruction of our salvation. If a candle which gave light by night, kept us, when it became day, from the sun, it would not only not benefit, it would injure us; and so does the Law, if it stands between us and greater benefits. Those then are the greatest traducers of the Law, who still keep it, just as the tutor makes a youth ridiculous, by retaining him with himself, when time calls for his departure. Hence Paul says, But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. We are then no longer under a tutor, for you are all sons of God. Wonderful! see how mighty is the power of Faith, and how he unfolds as he proceeds! Before, he showed that it made them sons of the Patriarch, Know therefore, says he, that they which be of faith, the same are sons of Abraham; now he proves that they are sons of God also, For you are all, says he, sons of God through faith, which is in Christ Jesus; by Faith, not by the Law. Then, when he has said this great and wonderful thing, he names also the mode of their adoption, Ver. 27. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ, did put on Christ.
     Why does he not say, For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have been born of God? for this was what directly went to prove that they were sons—because he states it in a much more awful point of view; If Christ be the Son of God, and you have put on Him, thou who hast the Son within you, and art fashioned after His pattern, hast been brought into one kindred and nature with Him. (St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on Galatians).

June 30, 2013
      Honouring the friends of God with much reverence, the Prophet-King David says, "But to me, exceedingly honourable are Thy friends, O Lord" (Ps. 138:16). And the divine Apostle, recounting the achievements of the Saints, and setting forth their memorial as an example that we might turn away from earthly things and from sin, and emulate their patience and courage in the struggles for virtue, says, "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every burden, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us" (Heb. 12:1).
     This commemoration began as the Sunday (Synaxis) of All Martyrs; to them were added all the ranks of Saints who bore witness (the meaning of "Martyr" in Greek) to Christ in manifold ways, even if occasion did not require the shedding of their blood.
     Therefore, guided by the teaching of the Divine Scriptures and Apostolic Tradition, we the pious honour all the Saints, the friends of God, for they are keepers of God's commandments, shining examples of virtue, and benefactors of mankind. Of course, we honour the known Saints especially on their own day of the year, as is evident in the Menologion. But since many Saints are unknown, and their number has increased with time, and will continue to increase until the end of time, the Church has appointed that once a year a common commemoration be made of all the Saints. This is the feast that we celebrate today. It is the harvest of the coming of the Holy Spirit into the world; it is the "much fruit" brought forth by that "Grain of wheat that fell into the earth and died" (John 12:24); it is the glorification of the Saints as "the foundation of the Church, the perfection of the Gospel, they who fulfilled in deed the sayings of the Saviour" (Sunday of All Saints, Doxasticon of Vespers).
     In this celebration, then, we reverently honour and call blessed all the Righteous, the Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors, Shepherds, Teachers, and Holy Monastics, both men and women alike, known and unknown, who have been added to the choirs of the Saints and shall be added, from the time of Adam until the end of the world, who have been perfected in piety and have glorified God by their holy lives. All these, as well as the orders of the Angels, and especially our most holy Lady and Queen, the Ever-virgin Theotokos Mary, do we honour today, setting their life before us as an example of virtue, and entreating them to intercede in our behalf with God, Whose grace and boundless mercy be with us all. Amen.

June 23, 2013
MiscPics.tmp/pentecost.jpg      After the Saviour's Ascension into the Heavens, the eleven Apostles and the rest of His disciples, the God-loving women who followed after Him from the beginning, His Mother, the most holy Virgin Mary, and His brethren-all together about 120 souls returned from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem. Entering into the house where they gathered, they went into the upper room, and there they persevered in prayer and supplication, awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit, as their Divine Teacher had promised them. In the meanwhile, they chose Matthias, who was elected to take the place of Judas among the Apostles.
     Thus, on this day, the seventh Sunday of Pascha, the tenth day after the Ascension and the fiftieth day after Pascha, at the third hour of the day from the rising of the sun, there suddenly came a sound from Heaven, as when a mighty wind blows, and it filled the whole house where the Apostles and the rest with them were gathered. Immediately after the sound, there appeared tongues of fire that divided and rested upon the head of each one. Filled with the Spirit, all those present began speaking not in their native tongue, but in other tongues and dialects, as the Holy Spirit instructed them.
     The multitudes that had come together from various places for the feast, most of whom were Jews by race and religion, were called Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and so forth, according to the places where they dwelt. Though they spoke many different tongues, they were present in Jerusalem by divine dispensation. When they heard that sound that came down from Heaven to the place where the disciples of Christ were gathered, all ran together to learn what had taken place. But they were confounded when they came and heard the Apostles speaking in their own tongues. Marvelling at this, they said one to another, "Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?" But others, because of their foolishness and excess of evil, mocked the wonder and said that the Apostles were drunken.
Then Peter stood up with the eleven, and raising his voice, spoke to all the people, proving that that which had taken place was not drunkenness, but the fulfilment of God's promise that had been spoken by the Prophet Joel: "And it shall come to pass in the last days, that I shall pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy" (Joel 2:28), and he preached Jesus of Nazareth unto them, proving in many ways that He is Christ the Lord, Whom the Jews crucified but God raised from the dead. On hearing Peter's teaching, many were smitten with compunction and received the word. Thus, they were baptized, and on that day about three thousand souls were added to the Faith of Christ.
     Such, therefore, are the reasons for today's feast: the coming of the All-holy Spirit into the world, the completion of the Lord Jesus Christ's promise, and the fulfilment of the hope of the sacred disciples, which we celebrate today. This is the final feast of the great mystery and dispensation of God's incarnation. On this last, and great, and saving day of Pentecost, the Apostles of the Saviour, who were unlearned fishermen, made wise now of a sudden by the Holy Spirit, clearly and with divine authority spoke the heavenly doctrines. They became heralds of the truth and teachers of the whole world. On this day they were ordained and began their apostleship, of which the salvation of those three thousand souls in one day was the comely and marvellous first fruit.
     The feast of holy Pentecost, therefore, determined the beginning of the priesthood of grace, not the beginning of the Church. Henceforth, the Apostles proclaimed the good tidings "in country and town," preaching and baptizing and appointing shepherds, imparting the priesthood to them whom they judged were worthy to minister, as Saint Clement writes in his first Epistle to the Corinthians (I Cor. 42).

June 16, 2013
MiscPics.tmp/Arius.jpg      The heresiarch Arius was a Libyan by race and a protopresbyter of the Church of Alexandria. In 315, he began to blaspheme against the Son and Word of God, saying that He is not true God, consubstantial with the Father, but is rather a work and creation, alien to the essence and glory of the Father, and that there was a time when He was not. This frightful blasphemy shook the faithful of Alexandria. Alexander, his Archbishop, after trying in vain to correct him through admonitions, cut him off from communion and finally in a local council deposed him in the year 321. Yet neither did the blasphemer wish to be corrected, nor did he cease sowing the deadly tares of his heretical teachings; but writing to the bishops of other cities, Arius and his followers requested that his doctrine be examined, and if it were unsound, that the correct teaching be declared to him. By this means, his heresy became universally known and won many supporters, so that the whole Church was soon in an uproar.
     Therefore, moved by divine zeal, the first Christian Sovereign, Saint Constantine the Great, the equal to the Apostles, summoned the renowned First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea, a city of Bithynia. It was there that the shepherds and teachers of the Church of Christ gathered from all regions in the year 325. All of them, with one mouth and one voice, declared that the Son and Word of God is one in essence with the Father, true God of true God, and they composed the holy Symbol of Faith up to the seventh article (since the remainder, beginning with "And in the Holy Spirit," was completed by the Second Ecumenical Council). Thus they anathematized the impious Arius of evil belief and those of like mind with him, and cut them off as rotten members from the whole body of the faithful.
     Therefore, recognizing the divine Fathers as heralds of the Faith after the divine Apostles, the Church of Christ has appointed this present Sunday for their annual commemoration, in thanksgiving and unto the glory of God, unto their praise and honour, and unto the strengthening of the true Faith.

June 9, 2013
MiscPics.tmp/Blind.jpg      The Lord Jesus was coming from the Temple on the Sabbath, when, while walking in the way, He saw the blind man mentioned in today's Gospel. This man had been born thus from his mother's womb, that is, he had been born without eyes. When the disciples saw this, they asked their Teacher, "Who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?" They asked this because when the Lord had healed the paralytic at the Sheep's Pool, He had told him, "Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee" (John 5:14); so they wondered, if sickness was caused by sin, what sin could have been the cause of his being born without eyes. But the Lord answered that this was for the glory of God. Then the God-man spat on the ground and made clay with the spittle. He anointed the eyes of the blind man and said to him, "Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam." Siloam (which means "sent") was a well-known spring in Jerusalem used by the inhabitants for its waters, which flowed to the eastern side of the city and collected in a large pool called "the Pool of Siloam."
     Therefore, the Saviour sent the blind man to this pool that he might wash his eyes, which had been anointed with the clay-not that the pool's water had such power, but that the faith and obedience of the one sent might be made manifest, and that the miracle might become more remarkable and known to all, and leave no room for doubt. Thus, the blind man believed in Jesus' words, obeyed His command, went and washed himself, and returned, no longer blind, but having eyes and seeing. This was the greatest miracle that our Lord had yet worked; as the man healed of his blindness himself testified, "Since time began, never was it heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind," although the Lord had already healed the blind eyes of many.

June 2, 2013     
     One of the most ancient cities of the Promised Land was Shechem, also called Sikima, located at the foot of Mount Gerazim. There the Israelites had heard the blessings in the days of Moses and Jesus of Navi. Near to this town, Jacob, who had come from Mesopotamia in the nineteenth century before Christ, bought a piece of land where there was a well. This well, preserved even until the time of Christ, was known as Jacob's Well. When our Lord Jesus Christ, then, came at midday to this city, which is also called Sychar (John 4:5), He was wearied from the journey and the heat, and He sat down at this well. After a little while the Samaritan woman mentioned in today's Gospel passage came to draw water. As she conversed at some length with the Lord and heard from Him secret things concerning herself, she believed in Him; through her many other Samaritans also believed.
     Concerning the Samaritans we know the following: In the year 721 before Christ, Salmanasar (Shalmaneser), King of the Assyrians, took the ten tribes of the kingdom of Israel into captivity, and relocated all these people to Babylon and the land of the Medes. From there he gathered various nations and sent them to Samaria. These nations had been idolaters from before. Although they were later instructed in the Jewish faith and believed in the one God, they worshipped the idols also. Furthermore, they accepted only the Pentateuch of Moses, and rejected the other books of Holy Scripture. Nonetheless, they thought themselves to be descendants of Abraham and Jacob. Therefore, the pious Jews named these Judaizing and idolatrous peoples Samaritans, since they lived in Samaria, the former leading city of the Israelites, as well as in the other towns thereabout. The Jews rejected them as heathen and foreigners, and had no communion with them at all, as the Samaritan woman observed, "the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans" (John 4:9). Therefore, the name Samaritan is used derisively many times in the Gospel narrations. After the Ascension of the Lord, and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the woman of Samaria was baptized by the holy Apostles and became a great preacher and Martyr of Christ; she was called Photine, and her feast is kept on February 26.

May 26, 2013     
     Close to the Sheep's Gate in Jerusalem, there was a pool, which was called the Sheep's Pool. It had round about it five porches, that is, five sets of pillars supporting a domed roof. Under this roof there lay very many sick people with various maladies, awaiting the moving of the water. The first to step in after the troubling of the water was healed immediately of whatever malady he had.
     It was there that the paralytic of today's Gospel way lying, tormented by his infirmity of thirty-eight years. When Christ beheld him, He asked him, "Will you be made whole?" And he answered with a quiet and meek voice, "Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool." The Lord said to him, "Rise, take up your bed, and walk." And straightaway the man was made whole and took up his bed. Walking in the presence of all, he departed rejoicing to his own house. According to the expounders of the Gospels, the Lord Jesus healed this paralytic during the days of the Passover, when He had gone to Jerusalem for the Feast, and dwelt there teaching and working miracles. According to Saint John the Evangelist, this miracle took place on the Sabbath. Our Lord is always ready to help us cope with the maladies of life, spiritual and physical. While we may have no one else to assist us, we can always depend on His mercy and kindness, to lift us up and give us hope eternal in His Father's kingdom.

May 19, 2013     
     The third Sunday after the Feast of Holy Pascha is observed by the Orthodox Church as the Sunday of the Holy Myrrhbearers. The day commemorates when the women disciples of our Lord came to the tomb to anoint His body with myrrh-oils but found the tomb empty. As the woman wondered what this meant, angels appeared proclaiming that Christ had risen from the dead.
     About the beginning of His thirty-second year, when the Lord Jesus was going throughout Galilee, preaching and working miracles, many women who had received of His beneficence left their own homeland and from then on followed after Him. They ministered to Him out of their own possessions, even until His crucifixion and entombment; and afterwards, neither losing faith in Him after His death, nor fearing the wrath of the Jewish rulers, they came to His sepulcher, bearing the myrrh-oils they had prepared to anoint His body. It is because of the myrrh-oils that these God-loving women brought to the tomb of Jesus that they are called Myrrh-bearers.
     Of those whose names are known are the following: first of all, the most holy Virgin Mary, who in Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40 is called the mother of James and Joses (these are the sons of Joseph by a previous marriage, and she was therefore their step-mother); Mary Magdalene; Mary, the wife of Clopas; Joanna, wife of Chouza, a steward of Herod Antipas; Salome, the mother of the sons of Zebedee; Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus; and Susanna (Luke 8:1-3; 23:55-24:11, 22-24. John 19:25; 20:11-18. Acts 1:14.) 
     Together with them we celebrate also the secret disciples of the Savior, Joseph and Nicodemus. Of these, Nicodemus was probably a Jerusalemite, a prominent leader among the Jews and of the order of the Pharisees, learned in the Law and instructed in the Holy Scriptures. He had believed in Christ when, at the beginning of our Savior's preaching of salvation, he came to Him by night. Furthermore, he brought some one hundred pounds of myrrh-oils and an aromatic mixture of aloes and spices out of reverence for the divine Teacher (John 19:39). Joseph, who was from the city of Arimathea, was a wealthy and noble man, and one of the counselors who were in Jerusalem. He went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus, and together with Nicodemus he gave Him burial. Since time did not permit the preparation of another tomb, he placed the Lord's body in his own tomb which was hewn out of rock, as the Evangelist says (Matthew 27:60).

May 12, 2013
webassets/thomas.jpg      The Orthodox Church observes the Sunday of Thomas one week following the celebration of the Sunday of Holy Pascha. The day commemorates the appearance of Christ to His disciples on the evening of the Sunday following Passover. It also commemorates the appearance of the Lord to His disciples eight days later when Thomas was present and proclaimed "My Lord and my God" upon seeing the hands and side of Christ.
This Sunday is also called Antipascha (meaning "in the stead of Pascha," not "in opposition to Pascha") because with this day, the first Sunday after Pascha, the Church consecrates every Sunday of the year to the commemoration of Pascha, that is, the Resurrection.
While the tomb was sealed, You, O Life, did shine forth from the grave, O Christ God; and while the doors were shut, You did come unto Your disciples, O Resurrection of all, renewing through them an upright Spirit in us according to Your great mercy.
     Kontakion (Plagal of the Fourth Tone)
With his searching right hand, Thomas did probe Your life-bestowing side, O Christ God; for when You did enter while the doors were shut, he cried out unto You with the rest of the Apostles: You are my Lord and my God.

April 28, 2013
     "Buried with you through Baptism, Christ our God, we have been granted immortal life by your Resurrection, and we sing your praises, crying: Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord."
     "Palm Sunday summons us to behold our king: the Word of God made flesh. We are called to behold Him not simply as the One who came to us once riding on a colt, but as the One who is always present in His Church, coming ceaselessly to us in power and glory at every Eucharist, in every prayer and sacrament, and in every act of love, kindness and mercy. He comes to free us from all our fears and insecurities, 'to take solemn possession of our soul, and to be enthroned in our heart,' as someone has said. He comes not only to deliver us from our deaths by His death and Resurrection, but also to make us capable of attaining the most perfect fellowship or union with Him. He is the King, who liberates us from the darkness of sin and the bondage of death. Palm Sunday summons us to behold our King: the vanquisher of death and the giver of life.
     St. Theophan the Recluse wrote the following words about the inward rule of Christ the King:
     “The Kingdom of God is within us when God reigns in us, when the soul in its depths confesses God as its Master, and is obedient to Him in all its powers. Then God acts within it as master ‘both to will and to do of his good pleasure’ (Philippians 2:13). This reign begins as soon as we resolve to serve God in our Lord Jesus Christ, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Then the Christian hands over to God his consciousness and freedom, which comprises the essential substance of our human life, and God accepts the sacrifice; and in this way the alliance of man with God and God with man is achieved, and the covenant with God, which was severed by the Fall and continues to be severed by our willful sins, is re-established.”

April 21, 2013
     On the fifth Sunday of Great Lent we commemorate St. Mary of Egypt. Hers is a powerfulstory of great significance for all who truly seek repentance and forgiveness of sins. The story of her life is available in print and on the internet. It is well worth the effort to read about her struggle to turn from a life a sin to the path of sainthood, especially in preparation for Confession and the celebration of Holy Week and Pascha. Following is a hymn in her honor and a prayer of repentance we can use to inspire our hearts to seek forgiveness and reconciliation with our Lord.
     Having escaped the gloom of sin, O blest Mary, and shining brightly with the light of repentance, you did present your heart to Christ, O glorious one, bringing Him His Holy and all-immaculate Mother as a greatly merciful and most bold intercessor. Hence, you have found the pardon of your sins and with the Angles rejoice for evermore.
A prayer of Repentance
     O Lord our God, good and merciful, I acknowledge all my sins which I have committed every day of my life, in thought, word and deed; in body and soul alike. I am heartily sorry that I have ever offended you, and I sincerely repent; with tears I humbly pray to You, O Lord: of Your mercy forgive me all my past transgressions and absolve me from them. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your Grace, to amend my way of life and to sin no more; that I may walk in the way of the righteous and offer praise and glory to the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

April 14, 2013      
     On the fourth Sunday of Great Lent we commemorate the author of The Ladder of Divine Ascent, St. John Climacus.  His book was written for monastics, but it remains one of the most important contributions to understanding the development of the spiritual life of Christians both laymen and monastics.  All Christians are called to do battle with the Evil One.  All of us are in one way or another tormented, like the poor boy in this morning's Gospel, by the devil's minions.  How can we "win" our spiritual battles and eventually the war itself?  Our only hope is to heed the words of our Lord, "This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting" (Mk 9:29).  Following are a few quotes from the Ladder on prayer and fasting:
     "Prayer is by nature a dialog and a union of man with God.  Its effect is to hold the world together.  It achieves a reconciliation with God....Prayer is the mother and daughter of tears.  It is an expiation of sin, a bridge across temptation, a bulwark against affliction....Prayer is future gladness, action without end, wellspring of virtues, source of grace, hidden progress, food of the soul, enlightenment of the mind, an axe against despair, hope demonstrated, sorrow done away with."
     "To fast is to do violence to nature.  It is to do away with whatever pleases the palate.  Fasting ends lust, roots out bad thoughts, frees one from evil dreams.  Fasting makes for purity of prayer, an enlightened soul, a watchful mind, a deliverance from blindness.  Fasting is the door of compunction, humble sighing, joyful contrition, an end to chatter, an occasion for silence, a custodian of obedience, a lightening of sleep, health of the body, and agent of dispassion, a remission of sins, the gate, indeed, the delight of Paradise." 

April 7, 2013      
     "Hail, life-giving Cross! the fair Paradise of the Church, Tree of incorruption that blossoms for us with the enjoyment of eternal glory. Through you the hosts of demons are driven back, the companies of the Angels rejoice with one accord and the congregations of the faithful keep the feast. You are an invincible weapon, an unbroken stronghold; you are the victory of kings and the glory of priests. Grant us also now to draw near to the Passion of Christ and to His Resurrection."
     "In Paradise of old the enemy stripped me naked by a tree, for by my tasting it he brought in death. But now the Tree of the Cross, that bears the clothing of life for mortals, has been fixed on the earth, and the whole world filled with every joy. Seeing it worshipped, you peoples, let us with one accord raise our cry to God with faith, ‘His house is full of glory!'"
     These two hymns, the first from Vespers, the other from Matins for the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross, speak to us of the centrality of the Cross in our salvation. When our Lord invites us (Mt. 16:24) to "take up our cross and follow Him," He does so because He knows that, without the Cross there is no resurrection: if we fail to participate in His death how can we experience the life-changing depths of His Resurrection? So existentially and spiritually imperative is the Cross that St. Paul writes: "But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal. 6:14). Let no one who earnestly seeks salvation be deceived: "where there is a Christian, there is the cross, and where there is no cross, there is no Christian" (St. Theophan the Recluse). Let us chant with all our heart: Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy holy Resurrection we glorify. 

March 31, 2013
     On the Second Sunday of Great Lent, we celebrate the memory of St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica. On this day, the Holy Church speaks to us about the mystery of light, which we must come to know, if we want to behold the Resurrection of Christ. St. Gregory of Thessalonica and the theological arguments of the fourteenth century connected with his name taught that the light of the Transfiguration is uncreated light. Refuting the heresies of the western theologians, this teaching reminded Christians of the words of the Scripture stating that God is light. By confessing God the Father and God the Son, Light from Light, true God of true God, we believe that God the Light created another light—the one described in the book of Genesis: “God said, let there be light.”
     These dogmatic questions were not abstract or removed from the life of the Church. They should not be removed from us, either. It is wrong to look at them as simple theological or scholarly discussions that have no relation to our life. That would mean only one thing: that the light about which God speaks to us—the light in which there is no darkness—will remain unseen to us, and we do not regret or repent that we remain in darkness. All the problems in the Church are, in the final analysis, bound up with the fact that certain mysteries of faith become abstract. They cease to be living, essential questions that decide our fate; and we lose the depth of faith, and the fullness of our Christian calling, which we should be realizing in the Church.

March 24, 2013
     The first Sunday of the Great Fast is called the Sunday of Orthodoxy. What do we mean by "orthodoxy"? The word "orthodoxy" stems from the Greek word "orthodoxia" (orthos=right; doxa=opinion) which signifies the true faith and the true worship of God. The orthodoxy that we celebrate today is universal orthodoxy, professed by the entire Church of Christ in the battle against the heresy of Iconoclasm (Gr - eikon=image; klastes=a breaker; - an image breaking heresy). The Sunday of Orthodoxy is a festival for the whole Church. It is the festive celebration of the decisive victory over Iconoclasm and other heresies. The purpose of this feast is to pay solemn public homage and veneration to the holy icons of Jesus Christ, the Blessed Mother of God, and all the Saints. The Church of Christ deeply respects and honors the holy icons as it also does holy relics. She places them in church for public veneration and recommends that we venerate them privately in our homes, and wear small icons around our necks in the form of little crosses or medals.
     Following is the special Hymn/Apolytikion for the feast:
"We worship your most pure icon, loving Lord, as we ask pardon of our offences, Christ God. For by your own choice you were well-pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh, to deliver from the slavery of the enemy those whom you had fashioned; therefore with thanksgiving we cry to you: You have filled all things with joy, our Saviour, by coming to save the world."

March 15, 2013
     Today, the Sunday before the beginning of Great Lent, is known as "Cheesefare Sunday" or "Forgiveness Sunday."  By "Cheesefare" we are reminded that,  it is the last day during which milk, eggs, fish and other such products are permitted in our diet.  By "Forgiveness" the Church reminds us that before we can be reconciled with the Father, we must first be reconciled with one another (Mt. 5, 23-24).  The integrity of the lateral relationship between us and God depends mightily on the horizontal relationship between ourselves and our brethren.  St. Tikhon of Zadonsk spells it our clearly when he writes, "Do we forgive our neighbors their trespasses?  God also forgives us in his mercy.  Do we refuse to forgive?  God, too, will refuse to forgive us. As we treat our neighbors, so also does God treat us.  The forgiveness, then, of your sins or unforgiveness, and hence also your salvation or destruction, depend on you yourself.  For without forgiveness of sins there is no salvation.  You can see for yourself how terrible it is."    
     The Triodion announces as well that today we commemorate "The casting out of Adam from Paradise."  One of the hymns for Vespers portrays the distress Adam experienced on this dreadful occasion: "Adam sat before Paradise and, lamenting his nakedness, he wept: 'Woe is me!  By evil deceit was I persuaded and led astray, and now I am an exile from glory."  Truly, the struggle of Great Lent is first, to feel within the depths of our being the horror of alienation from God and, then, to enter the arena of spiritual warfare through which, by the grace of the Spirit, we are healed and the separation overcome.  May our Lord give us courage to return in humility and repentance to the road that returns us to His Kingdom.  Kali Sarakosti!

March 10, 2013
     Today is known as "Meat-fare Sunday" on our liturgical calendar, because it is the last day on which the consumption of meat is allowed as we prepare for Great Lent. Beginning tomorrow, one should, as best one can, abstain from meat until Easter. The use of butter, milk, eggs and cheese is allowed during this week until the following Sunday when, on the next day (March 18), we begin Great Lent in earnest. In this way, the Church gradually prepares us for the rigors of our Lenten journey, reminding us that, as we step away from the use of certain foods, we must also stand fast in our efforts to refrain from all other things that harm us morally and spiritually. Fasting is but one aspect of our spiritual discipline; combined with prayer, acts of compassion and ascesis, it enables us to remember the goal of Lent: to greet the Risen Lord wholly renewed in faith and good works, filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit.
     Today's Gospel reading testifies to our Lord's warning that faith alone is inadequate. The wedge driven between faith and good works during the protestant reformation has no place in true Christian spirituality. In today's parable faith is presupposed; good works, however, are all too often lacking in those who protest that they "knew" Christ but could not see Him in the "least of these My brethren." Let us take care not to fall into this unfortunate category, but in all our brothers and sisters let us see the majesty of God's image and likeness. Of what good will our Lenten journey be, if, in the end, it does not make us more Christ-like?