Volume 22 Number 48 November 25, 2012
ORTHODOX FAMILY LIFE
Christianity is a way of life, not merely a social function we attend on Sunday mornings, quickly forgotten when we leave church. Christianity must be our daily bread from Sunday to Sunday, month to month, year to year. As followers of Christ, we take our direction and life style from Christ and the Church, not from the philosophies and institutions of today's super-industrial societies. Our willingness to take direction from Christ, rather than from the ideologies and agencies of our society, should be as responsive as Peter and Andrew who were
...casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He said to them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. (Matt. 4:18-20)
Most Christians live outside of monastic communities, married and in their own dwellings. Erroneous thinking prevails among many of these non-monastic Christians who feel that their following of Christ and the Church does not require the same dedication that is required of the monastic Christian. This is sheer rationalization; for all Christians, monastic or non-monastic, are equally called by Christ to repentance and to eternal salvation. There are no classes of Christians - all are equal and all are expected to be followers of Christ, regardless of their role or position in the Church.
It is extremely difficult for non-monastic Christians to live a Christian life style from day to day, from year to year, since they are continually exposed to and live within a society not merely non-Christian, but largely antithetical to Orthodox Christian beliefs and ideals. This should not discourage them from living a Christian life, because Christ Himself was well aware of the situation, for He stated, "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matt. 10:16).
A wellspring of strength available to Christians and their families for living as Christians in an alien environment is marriage, through which all members of the family become beneficiaries of God's numerous blessings. Too many times Christians overlook, ignore and even ridicule marriage - a state of life blessed by God through which He provides blessings to the couple and their offspring. Marriage has been blessed by God in His revelation to man, but the family members must be receptive to God's blessings in order for them to be efficacious.
From Marriage and the Christian Home, Rev. Michael B. Henning, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY.
NOVEMBER 28 - STEPHEN THE YOUNGER
Born in 713, Stephen was only but thirteen years old when a campaign of persecution was renewed after many years at the command of Emperor Leo the Isaurian. This happened not as pagan against pagan, but because of an issue which set Christian against Christian, in an internal strife spawned by the hue and cry against the sacred icons of the Church. Emperor Leo had sympathized with those who called for the elimination of the icons as a form of idolatry, arousing the monarch to the point where the order was issued that the icons be stripped.
The smoldering issue erupted into flames of internal strife with Leo's official pronouncement in 716. This was the year in which Stephen was admitted to the Monastery of Auxentios to begin his formal training as a monk under the guidance of Abbot John, who had ignored the royal edict and whose monastery and chapel abounded in the sacred icons. Three years later, at the age of sixteen, Stephen had the necessary qualifications; but he only intensified his study and meditation for another three years. He succeeded John as abbot when he was only thirty-three years old, elevated over men with many more years of service but with none of the rare qualities which had made the young monk the obvious choice.
With the ascension to the throne of Constantine V in 741, hostilities intensified within the Church because of yet another royal edict issued by a man who ruled by accident of birth, but whose theological ignorance was far from accidental. Swayed by the Iconoclasts, the new emperor allowed the iconoclasts a free hand, a hand that ripped the venerated icons from church after church and then turned its blasphemous paws in the direction of the monasteries, which had heretofore been unmolested, although pressured to some degree.
Under Abbot Stephen the Monastery of Auxentios had acquired a far-flung reputation for spiritual leadership and adherence to the canons of the church which included the display of icons regardless of outside sentiment. The military was pressed into service to support the Iconoclasts and help them overcome the resistance of Orthodox Christians who were appalled at the sight of a church interior barren of icons. The monastery of Abbot Stephen was singled out to serve as an example for others to follow. Chosen to head the ranks of the soldiers ordered to the monastery was a man by the name of Kallistos who had known the youthful Stephen in Constantinople.
When Stephen refused admittance to anyone representing imperial authority, Kallistos turned to the emperor who, in turn, ordered Stephen exiled to the island of Proikonesos. He returned two years later, only to be killed by an unruly mob of Iconoclasts. He died for Christ on 28 November 776.
From Orthodox Saints. Four Volumes. George Poulos. Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Brookline, MA.
NOVEMBER 30 - THE HOLY APOSTLE ANDREW THE FIRST-CALLED
He was the son of Jonah and brother of Peter, born in Bethsaida and a fisherman by profession. He was first a disciple of St John the Baptist, but, when John pointed to the Lord Jesus and said: "Behold the Lamb of God" (Jn. 1:36), St Andrew left his first teacher and followed Christ. After that, Andrew brought his brother Peter to the Lord. After the descent of the Holy Spirit, it fell to the lot of the first of Christ's apostles, St Andrew, to preach the Gospel in Byzantium and Thrace, then in the lands along the Danube, in Russia and around the Black Sea, and finally in Epirus, Greece and the Peloponnese, where he suffered. In Byzantium, he installed St Stachys as its first bishop; in Kiev he raised the Cross on high and prophesied a Christian future for the Russian people; in Thrace, Epirus, Greece and the Peloponnese, he brought many people to the Faith and gave them bishops and priests. In the city of Patras he performed many wonders in the name of Christ and brought many to the Lord, among whom were the brother and wife of the imperial governor, Aegeatus. Aegeatus, infuriated by this, put Andrew to torture and then crucified him. While he was still alive on the cross, the Apostle of Christ taught the Christians who were gathered round him. The people wanted to take him down from the cross, but he would not let them. Finally, the Apostle prayed to God and a strange radiance surrounded him. This light lasted for half an hour and, when it disappeared, the Apostle gave his holy soul into God's hands. Thus the first-called Apostle, who first of the twelve Great Apostles came to know the Lord and followed Him, finished his earthly course. St Andrew suffered for his Lord in the year 62. His relics were translated to Constantinople, but his head was later taken to Rome and one hand to Moscow.
"All is given to the apostles", says St John Chrysostom. This means: all gifts, all powers, all the fullness of the grace that God gives to all the faithful is given to the apostles. We see this in the life of the great Apostle Andrew the First-Called: how he is apostle and evangelist, prophet, pastor and teacher (Eph. 4:11). As an evangelist, he carried the good news of the Gospel to the four corners of the earth; as a prophet he prophesied the baptism of the Russian people and the greatness of Kiev as a city and as a center of Christianity; as a pastor he founded and organized many churches; as a teacher he tirelessly taught right up to his crucifixion, and then on the cross till his last breath. And, on top of this, he was a martyr. This was by a gift of the Holy Spirit that is not given to all. We see in this apostle, as in all the others, the fullness of the grace of the Holy Spirit.
That every act performed by a follower of Christ must be supported by grace is testified to by St Frumentius. When he returned to Abyssinia from Alexandria as a consecrated bishop, he began to perform great wonders, thus bringing the people to the Faith in great masses. The envious king then asked him: "You lived among us for so many years, and we never saw you work such wonders. Whence is it that you do so now?" To this blessed Frumentius replied: "This is not my action, but that of the grace of the priesthood", and the saint then explained to the king how he had, for the sake of Christ, forsaken his parents, marriage and the whole world, and how he had, through consecration at the hands of Athanasius, received the grace of priesthood, the grace of wonderworking.
From The Prologue from Ochrid. Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic. Lazarica Press. Birmingham, B30 1QE England.
DECEMBER 1 - THE HOLY PROPHET NAHUM
Born of the tribe of Simeon in a place called Elkosh, on the further side of the Jordan, he lived seven hundred years before Christ and foretold the fall of Nineveh two hundred years after the Prophet Jonah. The people of Nineveh had repented after hearing Jonah's preaching, and God had protected them and not destroyed them. But, with the passage of time, they came to forget God's mercy and turned again to evil. Nahum foretold their doom, warning them that, if they showed no repentance, they would receive no protection. The entire city was so utterly destroyed by earthquake, flood and fire that its location is no longer known. Holy Nahum lived for forty five years before going to his rest in the Lord, leaving us a small book of his true and genuine prophecies.
ST PHILARET THE MERCIFUL
From the village of Amnia in Paphlagonia, Philaret was at first a man of some substance, but, as a result of his constant almsgiving, he became utterly destitute. He was not afraid of poverty, and went on with his charitable works with trust in the Lord who has said: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy", paying no attention to the disapproval of his wife and children. Once, when he was ploughing in his meadow, a man came to him with the news of the death of his ox in harness, and of his inability to plough with only one ox, so Philaret unharnessed his own and gave it to him. He gave away his remaining horse to a man who was called away to battle, and the calf from his remaining cow and, when he saw how the cow pined after her calf, gave the man the cow as well. And so the aged Philaret was left hungry in an empty house. But he prayed to God, entrusting himself to Him. God does not abandon the righteous man, allowing him to be shamed in his hope. At that time, the Empress Irene was on the throne with her young son Constantine and, in accordance with the custom of the time, the Empress sent men through the whole Empire to find the best and most distinguished maiden to wed her son. By divine Providence, these men happened upon Philaret's home and beheld his very beautiful and modest granddaughter Maria, the daughter of Hypatia, and they took her to Constantinople. The Emperor was well pleased with her and took her to wife, and brought Philaret and all his family to the capital, showering honour and wealth upon them. Philaret did not become proud in this change of fortune but, with gratitude to God, performed still greater deeds of charity than before, remaining thus for the rest of his days. At the age of ninety, he called all his children to him and, having blessed them and instructed them to cleave to God and His Law, foretold to each of them how their lives would develop, just as our forefather Jacob did aforetime. When he had done this, he went to a monastery and there gave his soul into God's hands. At his death, his face shone like the sun and a sweet fragrance arose from his body, and miracles were worked over his relics. This righteous man of God went to his rest in 797. His wife and all his children and grandchildren lived and died in the Lord.
From The Prologue from Ochrid. Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic. Lazarica Press. Birmingham, B30 1QE England.
We must now say a few words about liturgical prayer. The prayer which is always going on in the church, may seem to lack spontaneity. It is indeed rigidly structured, because its aim is not only to express collective human spontaneity, but also to educate it. It is also an expression of beauty, but not just of the beauty which is present but of what the world could be, what God wishes it to be. We could discuss many details of the liturgy of the orthodox church, the actions, the icons, the bible readings. The liturgy is a school for spirituality, it is a situation and an encounter with God and the world in God. It has its own spontaneity which goes beyond the actual spontaneity of each of its members. It is the holy spontaneity of the community already fulfilled and in God. In the sacraments we come face to face with God not only through the word and its invisible grace but also through visible things. The waters of baptism become the primordial waters of life and also the water promised by Christ to the Samaritan woman. In the bread and wine which have already become the body and blood of Christ, we prefigure the day when God will be all in all. In the church we encounter God and the world in God. The Christian must also meet the world, in all its sadness and serve it like the son of God made man. He must be totally involved in this incarnation, it is part of being human and in it his prayer becomes intercession and intercession becomes the sacrifice of Calvary.
There is a tension between ecstatic encounter with God and our presence in the world. It is impossible to live God's life to the full without losing contact with earthly life. "This", says Symeon the new theologian, "happens not to the perfect but to novices". The ideal is a perfect union between the two, in which the whole man takes part, body, soul and spirit, like our Lord Jesus Christ, and some of the saints. Detached from the world and free from struggle and uncertainty, the soul gains a clarity and power before unknown to it. The feeling is keen, fervent and very pure. Detached from emotion and passion, the soul has power and light. The emotions obscure thought, but in this state thought is very clear. It is fully conscious and free - for the soul is never passive although it is freed from self engrossment and surrendered to God - it is in complete control and can either keep quite silent or pray actively. Sometimes the words of this prayer arise spontaneously from the heart and mind; sometimes there is deep silence. He contemplates with his whole self the divine uncreated light, the mysteries of the world and his own soul and body (St Isaac the Syrian quoted by Nil Skorski, Testament spiritual sure la vie des Skits).
All true prayer, that is prayer made in humility surrender to God, is sooner or later quickened by the grace of the Holy Spirit. This grace becomes the force behind every action and thus everything in life. It ceases to be an activity and becomes our very being, the presence in us of him who fills all things and leads them to their own fullness.
From Courage to Pray, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom of Sourozh and Georges LeFebvre. Saint Vladimir's Seminary Press, New York 10707.
GOD AS CREATOR: FROM THE FATHERS
O thou who coverest thy high places with the waters,
Who settest the sand as a bound to the sea
And dost uphold all things:
The sun sings thy praises,
The moon gives thee glory,
Every creature offers a hymn to thee,
His author and creator, for ever.
FROM THE LENTEN TRIODION
Great art thou, O Lord, and marvelous are thy works: no words suffice to sing the praise of thy wonders.
For thou by thine own will hast brought all things out of nothingness into being: by thy power thou dost hold together the creation and by thy providence thou dost govern the world.
Of four elements hast thou compounded the creation: with four seasons hast thou crowned the circuit of the year.
All the spiritual powers tremble before thee.
The sun sings thy praises;
The moon glorifies thee;
The stars supplicate before thee;
The light obeys thee;
The deeps are afraid at thy presence;
The fountains are thy servants.
Thou hast stretched out the heavens like a curtain;
Thou hast established the earth upon the waters;
Thou has walled about the sea with sand.
Thou has poured forth the air that living things may breathe.
The angelic powers minister to thee; the many-eyed cherubim and the six-winged seraphim, standing round thee and flying about thee, hide their faces in fear of thine unapproachable glory...
By the elements, by the angels and by men, by things visible and invisible, may thy most holy name be glorified, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
PRAYER AT THE GREAT BLESSING OF THE WATERS (FEAST OF EPIPHANY)
The divine risk, inherent in the decision to create beings in the image and likeness of God, is the summit of almighty power, or rather a surpassing of that summit in voluntarily undertaken powerlessness. For "the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Cor 1:25).
From The Orthodox Way. Archimandrite Kallistos Ware. St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, Crestwood, New York.
Pointy-Haired Boss: You wrote that your objective for the year is to... "obscurely toil to increase the unearned wealth of our parasitic stockholders". I'll add "and managers".
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