Saturday, June 23, 2012

Vol. 2 Issue 2

Vol. 2 Issue 2
The Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete as a call to repentance.
Holy Metropolitan St. Philaret
            As you can see and hear, dear ones, the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete is uniquely filled with a spirit of deep repentance.  When St. Andrew of Crete, the great righteous luminary of the Orthodox Church wrote it, he firstly judges himself in all things then humbles himself before God and like a rank sinner asks for His forgiveness of his sins. 
Sometimes in life a person’s conscience suddenly awakens, as they say, and loudly speaks to the person.  This is especially true when a person has lived a dissolute life up to that point.  The person gave no thought to God, or of the soul, or of eternity – or of anything!  Later, the pure Light suddenly shines in the person’s soul and the person sees in the light of this truth, his or her entire sinfulness. 
            In such an instance, the Church helps the sinner who has realized his or her extreme irresponsibility or fault by showing examples of those who repented and through repentance were able to rise from the depths of sin straight to the heavens.  That is why a penitent person should never fall into despair.  One should humble oneself, when sins eat away at one’s conscience and when one’s soul aches from them.  One must humble oneself before God acknowledge one’s worthlessness in all things and how useless one is, but never despair. 
            We hear of blessed Mary of Egypt in this canon.  It is hard to imagine falling lower than she did, having disgraced her female honor and dignity completely, yet her repentance made her, as the Church says, a handmaiden of Christ.  The venerable Zosima, a great saint in his own right, saw with his own eyes how she crossed over the Jordan River as if on dry land and ascended from the earth to the heavens while praying.  This is what repentance bequeaths to all who repent sincerely! 
            A sermoner noted, while offering another example, that St. Mary’s repentance was longlasting.  She asked for repentance even longer than all the many years that she sinned, until she truly became “an earthly angel and a person of heaven.”  The other example is that of the Good Thief, who did not repent like St. Mary, but came to his senses only while suffering horribly on the cross just hours before his death, and what is it that he hears?  He asks the Lord only to remember him in His Kingdom.  As is often noted, our Lord fondly gives more than He is asked and that is why the Good Thief heard this answer, “Today (not on that day, when I shall return, but this day, today) you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43)  In citing this example of how a person who had sinned all his life and came to his senses only at the very end had been received, the sermoner notes that an Orthodox person does not have the right to despair, does not have the right to worry that his or her repentance will not be accepted, when the repentance of the thief was accepted. 
            Let us also consider the words of St. John Chrysostomos, who the Church calls the “prophet of repentance” for his special standing in the Church, as he liked to underline that where there is repentance, God’s mercy must be present.  In a sense, the Lord welded, joined His mercy to the repentance of humankind.  With good reason, He had said already in the Old Testament that who so ever comes to Him with genuine repentance then as the Lord said, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson (that is dark red), they shall be white like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)  Therefore, while acknowledging one’s sinfulness, remember at the same time that true repentance is a feeling not only of sorrow or dejection, but a genuine understanding of one’s sinfulness and dissoluteness along with joy, since we know that if we truly repent, that the Lord will not turn us away and will accept us as He accepted the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).  Amen.

This Sunday is called the Sunday of the Prodigal Son because of the Gospel parable read on this day.  We have come to the end of the second preparatory week before the Holy Fast established by the Church for our benefit.  The preceding week was fast-free, that is, there was no fast on Wednesday and Friday. 
Last Sunday we heard the Gospel parable about the Publican and the Pharisee, in which the publican, realizing his sinfulness, could say nothing good about himself except for "God be merciful unto me, a sinner."  The Pharisee, on the other hand, listed many of his supposed merits before God Who is All-knowing, among which was fasting, saying,  "I fast twice a week".  We do not know whether the publican fasted or not, but the Pharisee's fasting did not bring him benefit and was not credited to him as a virtue. 
In order to feel the bitterness of sin more acutely, the Holy Orthodox Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, has done away with fasting on Wednesday and Friday of the preceding week as a reproof of pharisaic fasting. But as this canceling of fast days before Lent may be a cause of some confusion, the Holy Apostle Paul in today's Apostle reading explains this, saying, "All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any." (1 Cor. 6, 12). 
Blessed Theodorit said, “This is because you live not under the law, but you are free and have the full right to choose. It is not always beneficial for you to take advantage of this right, for as soon as you commit an impropriety you lose this right and become a slave to sin." 
Indeed, if we take a quick look at the Old Testament, which is based on the Law of Moses, we notice that the people of the Old Testament had few choices. Actually, they generally did not have any choices, except on rare occasions. If someone committed a sin, he was punished, often condemned to death by stoning. For example, the sin of fornication was punished by death, murder was punished by murder. The basic rule was "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."  There was no place in the Old Testament for such strugglers as St. Mary of Egypt, the Holy Apostle Paul, the Canaanite woman, and others, because there was no spiritual freedom.  Everyone was under the law, and the law was, if you sinned, you were punished. 
In the New Testament, sin could be atoned by repentance, while true repentance can be attained only by a free realization of one's sinfulness. As a result, no one can be forced to repent! 
And the Holy Apostle goes on to say, "Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them... " (1 Cor. 6:13) 
Whoever wants to exercise this freedom, let him do so, for the belly is made for food, but he should remember that this will come to an end, for in the life beyond the grave any food will be superfluous for people. 
Thus, food was made by God to be used properly and not to be abused. This can be applied to all things in general, for the Apostle teaches us saying, “I will not be brought under the power of anything.”  The improper use of fasting by the Pharisee did him harm, as shown by the Apostle reading and the fact that the Holy Church reproves it. 
This does not mean that fasting should be set aside completely, as the Protestants have done, and it seems, Catholics now as well. Our Lord Himself set an example for fasting, and the Apostles fasted also as indicated in the Gospel.  For the healing of a possessed person, the Lord clearly prescribed fasting, telling His disciples that this kind is not cast out except by prayer and fasting.  Therefore, anyone who rejects fasting in general is implying that the Lord was not right when He fasted or he or she is contradicting themselves.
So, the Holy Apostle Paul at the end of today's Apostle reading calls us “to glorify God in your body … and in your spirit...,” saying that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. How is this so?  When we partake of the Christian sacraments, we receive the gifts and the seal of the Holy Spirit. This can be compared best of all to a seed; if we receive a seed and we water it, it will sprout. If we neglect it, it will not bring forth anything, and if we neglect it further, it will dry up completely. Likewise with the gifts of the Holy Spirit; they are given to us, but we can fail to use them! 
These are all laws of spiritual life and how difficult they are for us to understand, mainly due to our carelessness. Indeed, we understand physical laws of nature and we do not consider them outdated. We accept them as they are, while with spiritual laws, there are always the “educated” people who want to change them. The laws which God established can never be abolished and the consequences of such “wisdom” are always sorrowful.
            There are many things we can do, but they are usually far from useful to our spiritual and physical life. The Lord did not forbid us to use earthly blessings in “moderation.”  Bearing in mind Holy Apostle Paul's counsel that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, let us present it as a sacrifice of abstinence and sanctify our soul with the remembrance of God's various blessings to us.  Let us try somehow to adorn our spiritual life, so that our body can truly be called temples of God.  The Lord will not disdain our efforts, as the father of the prodigal son did not disdain his son, but will bless us in this life here, and will not leave us when we cross over into eternity, to Whom is due glory to the ages.  Amen. 
+ Joseph
Bishop of Washington, D.C.
February 7/20, 2011

A Christian Presses On
Nikolay Vasilievich Gogol
(A letter to Mr. S.) 
My dear friend, consider yourself nothing less than a school kid or student.  Don’t think you’re too old to learn.  That your abilities have achieved true maturity and development and that your character and soul are fully formed and cannot be improved upon.  There is no final course for a Christian, he or she is an eternal student and a student to the last days.  Ordinarily, a person usually achieves full mental development at thirty years of age.  From thirty to forty, a person’s abilities can still improve somewhat, but after forty there is little progress and everything he or she accomplishes is not only not better than before, but even worse and less vital than before.  This is not the case for a Christian.  Where others are constrained by their finished state that is where it starts for him or her.  After even the most capable and most gifted people get past forty years of age, they get dense, tired and weak.  List all the philosophers and the leading geniuses of this world.  Their best years are at the peak of their maturity.  Later, they slowly outlived their brilliant mind and in their older years even fell into their second childhood.  Remember Kant, who in his final years lost his memory and passed away like a child. 
Take a look at all the saints and you’ll see that they became stronger mentally and spiritually the closer they get to old age and death.  Even those who weren’t endowed by nature with any amazing gifts and were considered ordinary and dimwitted all their lives impressed everyone later with the wisdom of their speeches.  How’s that possible?  It’s possible because they always embodied that strength to achieve, which most people usually have in their youth, when they see achievements before them for which they will be rewarded by general applause, and when distant horizons loom and are a lure for the young.  The horizons and deeds have faded and the strength to achieve has faded, but for a Christian, the horizon radiates eternally and deeds shine eternally.  Like a youngster, the Christian thirsts for the battles of life and he or she has what it takes for the fight and how to win, because his or her opinion of oneself as someone always eager to learn reveals new personal shortcomings, which necessitate new battles.  That is why all of his or her abilities not only can’t fall asleep and weaken, but are stimulated constantly, and the desire to be a better person and earn applause in the heavens spurs the person more than even the most ambitious person is prodded by his or her ambitions.  That is the reason why a Christian advances when others retreat and that is why he or she becomes wiser the farther they go. 
Intellect is not our highest quality.  Its duty is no more than being a policeman.  It can only bring order and arrange all that which we have already.  It cannot advance forward until all our other abilities improve, which then improves our intellect.  Preoccupied with reading, thinking and listening to all the school materials forces it to advance only slightly forward.  Sometimes it holds it back by interfering with its development.  It relies to a great extent on our spiritual condition.  As soon as passions begin to boil, it already begins to act blindly and stupidly.  If the soul is at peace without any roiling passions, the intellect becomes clearheaded and acts properly.  Reason is without a doubt a noble quality, but it is obtained only after defeating ones passions.  Only those who don’t neglect their personal character possess reason.  Yet reason is not enough for a person to progress forward.  There is another noble quality called wisdom, which only Christ Himself can give us. 
Wisdom is not allotted to any one of us at our birth, it is not inherent in any of us, but is a heavenly blessing.  Those who already possess intellect and reason can obtain wisdom only by praying for it day and night and asking God for it day and night, lifting ones soul to a dovelike peace and cleansing ones soul as much as possible to accept this heavenly guest, which is frightened by domiciles where the spiritual home has not been set right and which is lacking in complete harmony.  If it enters the home, then a heavenly existence begins for the person and he or she experiences all the pleasure of being a student.  Everything becomes a teacher to the person, the entire world is a teacher, the lowliest of people can be a teacher for them.  He or she can extract wisdom from the advice of a simple person.  A simple object can lend a grain of wisdom and the entire universe opens itself to that person like an open book.  The person will mine it for its treasures more than others, because unlike the others he remains a student.  But if this person thinks even for a second that his or her education is complete, that he or she is no longer a student and takes umbrage at some lesson or schooling, then wisdom will be taken instantaneously from that person and he or she will remain in the dark, like King Solomon in his final days.