Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Elder Ephraim of Arizona-On the Divine Liturgy and Holy Communion.

                         Chapter Eighteen.

   On the Divine Liturgy and Holy Communion

1.What grandeur the Divine Liturgy has! When God looks upon His humble priest, how strongly he feels the majesty of the Liturgy! How much benefit the commemorated receive! How much God honors man by descending with the angelic orders during every Liturgy and nourishing man with His all-holy Body and Blood! Everything has been given to us. What thing, bodily or spiritual, corruptible or incorruptible, do we lack? Nothing. If He gives His deified, holy Body and Blood us every day, what is higher than this? Nothing, of course. In what mysteries God counts man worthy to serve, though he is made of earth! Oh, heavenly, inestimable love! One drop of divine love surpasses all the physical, worldly love under the sun.

2. In the Skete of St. Anne lived a certain hieromonk* Savvas, the famous “Papa-Savvas” as he was called. Fr. Joachim Spetsieris had him as his spiritual father. The Empress of Russia, Catherine, also had him as her spiritual father. He served the Liturgy every day; he was a God-bearing, clairvoyant teacher of noetic prayer. Once some people asked him, “What motivates you to commemorate so many names in the proskomidi**? He answered, “When I was younger, we called the bishop to consecrate the church above the Holy Monastery of St. Dionysios” (It was there that he first practiced hesychasm, with his elder, Papa-Hilarion, another famous spiritual father. ) “After the consecration, the bishop said to my Elder, ‘ May I give Papa-Savvas some names to commemorate for forty days, since he serves Liturgy every day?’ My Elder told him, ‘Give him as many as you want’. So he gave me sixty-two names. When I had completed thirty-nine Liturgies and was about to serve the fortieth, I leaned against the chanter’s stand and waited for my Elder to come, so that I could say the entrance prayers to serve Liturgy. I fell asleep and saw in my sleep that I was wearing priestly vestments and was standing before the Holy Table. On the Holy Table was the holy diskos (The “diskos” is a small plate with a large base used in the Divine Liturgy to carry the bread of the Eucharist. In the Western Christianity it is called the paten. ), for the Liturgy, and the holy chalice full of the holy Blood of Christ. Then I saw Papa-Stephen come and take the communion spoon and the paper from the proskomidi, approach the Holy Table, and put the paper on it beside the holy diskos. Then he dipped the spoon into the holy Blood of Christ and a name was erased. He dipped it again, and another one was erased, and so forth until all were done and the paper was clean. “Then I awoke, and in a little while my Elder came. Immediately I told him what I saw. The Elder said to me, ‘Didn’t I tell you not to believe in dreams?’ After the Liturgy he added, ‘You are not worthy for their sins to be forgiven; through the power of the Blood of Christ their sins were forgiven’. So this is the reason why I commemorate the names of everyone”.
*Hieromonk (ιερομόναχος )
Hieromonk is a monk who has been ordained to the priesthood.
**Proskomidi (προσκομιδή )
The Proskomidi is the service of preparation for the Divine Liturgy in which the portion to be used for the Eucharist is cut out of the prosphora, and during which the living and the dead are commemorated.

3. Immense is the benefit of the Divine Liturgy, of commemorations for the departed, etc.—of course, they are only full of benefit for those who repented, who had some signs of virtues, but did not have time to knead the bread of virtues due to negligence, indolence, and procrastination. For those people, the prayers of the Church and personal prayers, alms, philanthropic deeds, etc., fill up their deficiencies, through the abundance of God’s mercy! St. Cyril of Jerusalem says that in every Liturgy, all who are commemorated, for whom intercession is being made, receive immense benefit. The new Saint Photini the Nun of Asia Minor, in one of her many ecstasies of soul, saw a man who looked like a priest who said to her, “My daughter, give your names to the priest; give him also money for his toil to commemorate them, for the souls of those who have died receive great benefit! See to it that you do not forget to give the names to the priest!” The greatest charity, the greatest good, which more than anything else relieves a soul that finds itself in the other world, is the sacrifice of the divine Lamb upon the holy altar in the holy Liturgy. The benefit is immense because the innocent Lamb of God is sacrificed in order to purify men from their sins and to free them from the various bonds of captivity to the passions.

4. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (Jn. 3:14 ). And just as all who were bitten by the serpents and looked upon the suspended brass serpent were healed, likewise every Christian who believes in our Christ and hastens to His life-bearing wounds (by eating His Flesh and drinking His all-holy Blood ), is cured from the bites of the spiritual serpent of sin. By this most holy nourishment, he is given life unto renewal in a new creation, that is, a new life in conformity with His life-giving commandments. Oh, how essential it is for us in every way to approach this heavenly banquet, which this supernatural mystery of the Holy Table provides for us! The angels stand by invisibly. With utmost reverence the priests, who at this moment of the mystery are more honored than the angels, sacrifice the blameless Lamb. The angels minister and the faithful approach to eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ: “Partake of the Body of Christ; taste of the fountain of immortality” to live in Christ and not die in sin. Therefore, “let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup”, according to the divine Apostle, because “he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner, eats and drinks judgment to himself. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord” (cf. 1 Cor. 11:28-32 ). When someone wants to present himself to the king, he prepares himself for days—that is, with an overall preparation in cleanliness, speech, approach, manners, and so on—to attract the king’s sympathy and thus obtain the desired request. Corresponding to the incomparable difference between the two kings, every Christian ought to prepare for holy communion in order to obtain mercy and forgiveness. Cunning, flattery, affectation, and lies often adorn someone who approaches an earthly king so that he may obtain what he wants. Whereas holiness, a humble spirit, and simplicity of soul—which is more precious than perishable gold—must adorn the faithful Christian approaching the King of kings, Who looks upon the inner man. Let us also prepare ourselves with purified intellects, and, aspiring to the mortification of our senses from the passions, let us enter together with the holy Apostles into the Mystical Supper in purity, and let us partake of our sweet Jesus, so that He may abide with us unto the endless ages of ages. Amen; so be it!

5. With fear and reverence you should stand in church, for our Christ is invisibly present with the holy angels. He fills the attentive and reverent with grace and blessings, whereas He censures the inattentive as unworthy. Try to receive Communion as often as possible—you have my permission to do so freely—for Holy Communion is an excellent aid for those who struggle against sin.

6. You should approach the divine Mystery with much compunction, contrition, and awareness of your sins. Great is the mercy of God, Who condescends to enter within you without abhorring the multitude of your sins. Instead, out of boundless love and affection He comes to sanctify you and count you worthy to become a child of His and a co-heir of His kingdom.

7. Unworthily I serve the Liturgy to my God. The office is holy and awesome. Every day I offer the Lamb of God as a sacrifice pleasing to God, the Blameless One to the blameless Father and God, in order that He be merciful to us for everything through which we grieve Him, the most good God, Who sacrificed His Son for us. Oh, my God, Your beloved Son for us! Who are we to deserve such a supreme sacrifice? “When we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:10 ). The image of the prodigal son, who squandered the property of his father, shows us very clearly the reason why Christ died. The sin of Adam and Eve was the beginning and root of all grievous events that occurred until today and will occur until the end of the ages. That one disobedience, like a seed in the womb of Eve, gave birth to and transmitted a physical and spiritual death to the human race that proceeded from her. And how could poor Eve have imagined that a small taste of the fruit would create so much destruction and punishment that the Holy Trinity would be compelled to send one Person of the life-originating Trinity into the world to suffer from the work of His hands—from man—slaps, blows, scourging, spitting, and all kinds of cursing, and to be hanged on the Cross as a curse: “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” (cf. Deut. 21:23, Gal. 3:13 ). The Passion on the Cross and the life-bearing Resurrection of our Jesus—our sweet deliverance and the light of our darkened souls—which expiate every sinful soul, are reenacted in every Divine Liturgy. And if in the old law, in the shadow of things to come, the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer cleansed those who partook, how much more the all-holy Blood of Christ, which is partaken of in the holy altars of the holy Orthodox churches of God, will cleanse us from every sin and warm our souls with the divine eros of our sweetest Jesus! (cf. Heb. 9:13-14 ). Love is born of understanding. For if we do not comprehend and feel what God has given us and in particular to each one of us, and if we do not realize who we were because of our sins when God did this great deed of mercy—in short, if we do not come to know Him and ourselves—we will not bind our souls to the fear of Him, and we will not rejoice in the beauty of His eros. The Apostle Paul said to the Christians in order to arouse in them greater love and thanksgiving to God: “What fruit did you have then (in idolatry ) in the things of which you are now ashamed… for the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:21,23 ). If God had not called us to follow His holy way of self-knowledge and to be aware of our previous sinful life, and if divine illumination were absent, we never would have seen the way of light and of truth. He has called us all—some from childhood, others in middle age, others in old age. Being good, He took all of us as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, in order to make us participants in His divine kingdom. He loathed nothing—neither sore nor wound or sickness or the deformity of our souls’ spiritual features. But as a father He received us, as a mother He suckled us, and as an unmercenary physician He healed and clothed us in the first garment of sonship, of grace, overlooking the great debt of the sins of each one of us. Therefore, we owe Him infinite love and adoration. May love abide in the heart, as a living fountain gushing forth torrents of water, streams of divine eros. Not as the Israel of old—only honoring with their lips, while their heart was far from Christ—but as living fire saying, “Come to the Father”. Just as the athlete is tested in the arena and in the field of action, likewise the Christian is tested in the arena of struggles as to whether he truly loves God. Patience in the struggle against the various sins and courage at their onset to apply the divine commandments characterize the fervent worshipper of Jesus. Let us not grieve with transgressions, grumbling, disobedience, and various forms of sin, Him Who showed us boundless love and affection, but as grateful servants, let us strive to give rest to His compassionate heart, so that He may be comforted as the psalmist said: “He shall be comforted because of His servants” (Ps. 134:14 ).

Taken from  "Counsels from the Holy Mountain" By Elder Ephraim of Arizona+Philotheou(Mt.Athos)

St Makarios the Great-On how the soul ought to demean herself in holiness and purity..

Homily 7
This Homily teaches us how the soul ought to demean herself in holiness and purity, towards her Bridegroom. JESUS CHRIST.

 1. IF a glorious prince should take a liking to a poor woman that has nothing, and have her brought home to him for his spouse, she ought ever after to show all good will to this husband, and retain a constant love for him. But if she transgresses the bounds of decency and duty, then she is turned out of doors with disgrace and reproach, and is full of sorrow; reflecting from how great wealth she is fallen, and what glory she has lost. Thus also the soul, which CHRIST, the heavenly Bridegroom, shall espouse to himself, ought to please CHRIST, her lover; carrying herself in the house of this heavenly Spouse with a fair deportment, and a grateful sense of the grace bestowed upon her. Lo! such a soul is actually invested with the full command of all her Lord's goods, and her body becomes the glorious tabernacle of his Godhead. But if she do not the things that are pleasing to him, and is not perfectly observant of his will, then with reproach and disgrace is she disrobed of all her honor, as no way proper for the communion of the heavenly King. And after that, there commences an universal grief and lamentation over that soul among all the saints and intellectual spirits: angels, powers, apostles, prophets,, and martyrs, mourn for her. For as " there is joy in heaven," as the Lord has said, " over one sinner that repenteth," so is there great grief and mourning in heaven over one soul that falls from eternal life.
2. We must therefore strive, and with the utmost prudence take care to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling." Whosoever therefore you are, that have been made partakers of the Spirit of CHRIST, look upon yourselves in no case whatever, whether small, or great, to be above advice; neither do any despite to the Spirit of grace, that you may be never excluded from the life which you have been made to partake of. Let us therefore beg of GOD, that we, as many as have been partakers of his grace, may minister acceptably in the service of the Spirit, according to his will; that thus serving him according to his will with a spiritual service, we may inherit eternal life.

3. But can a man fall that has the gift of grace? Answ. If he grow careless, he certainly falls. For his enemies are never idle, or backward in the war. How ought you then never to desist from seeking after GOD? For the damage which you sustain by your neglect is exceeding great, though you may seem to be even established in the mystery of grace.

4. Are the perfect liable to affliction or war, or are they entirely free from care? Answ. An enemy never respites any from the war. And SATAN is perfectly void of mercy: wherefore neither is he backward to set upon any man whatever, though he does not attack all in the same measure and degree.

5. But there is need of much pains and labor, that a man may seek and lay the foundations, till' such a time as the fire shall come into the hearts of men, and purge away the thorns. And thus do they begin to be sanctified, giving glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, for ever. Amen.

Saint Justin Popovich-Man Is Sentenced to Immortality

By the Blessed Father St. Justin (Popovich), Archimandrite Of Chelije (+1979).

Man sentenced God to death; by His resurrection, God sentenced man to immortality. In return for a beating, He gives an embrace; for abuse, a blessing; for death, immortality. Man never showed so much hate for God as when he crucified Him; and God never showed more love for man than when He arose. Man even wanted to reduce God to a mortal, but God by His resurrection made man immortal. The crucified God is risen and has killed death. Death is no more. Immortality has surrounded man and all the words.
By the resurrection of the God-Man, human nature has been led irreversibly onto the path of immortality, and has become dreadful to death itself. For before the resurrection of Christ, death was dreadful to man, but after the resurrection of Christ man has become more dreadful to death. When man lives by faith in the risen God-Man, he lives above death, out of its reach; it is a footstool for his feet: O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (I Cor 15:55) When a man belonging to Christ dies, he simply sets aside his body, like clothing, in which he will again be vested on the day of dreaded judgement.
Before the resurrection of the God-Man, death was the second nature of man: life first, death second. But by His resurrection, the Lord has changed everything: immortality has become the second nature of man, it has become natural for man; and death is now unnatural. As before the resurrection of Christ, it was natural for men to be mortal, so after the resurrection of Christ, it is natural for men to be immortal.
By sin, man became mortal and transient; by the resurrection of the God-Man, he became immortal and perpetual. In this is the power, the might, the all-mightiness of the resurrection of Christ. Without it, there would have been no Christianity.
Of all miracles, this is the greatest miracle. All other miracles have it as their source and lead to it. From it grow faith, love, hope, prayer, and love for God. Behold: the fugitive disciples, having run away from Jesus when He died, return to Him because He is risen. Behold: the centurion confessed Christ as the Son of God when he saw the resurrection from the grave. Behold: all the first Christians became Christian because the Lord Jesus is risen, because death was vanquished. This is what no other faith has; this is what lifts the Lord Christ above all other gods and men; this is what, in the most undoubted manner, shows and demonstrates that Jesus Christ is the One True God and Lord in all the worlds.
Because of the resurrection of Christ, because of His victory over death, men have become, continue to become, and will continue becoming Christians. The entire history of Christianity is nothing other than the history of a unique miracle, namely, the resurrection of Christ, which is unbrokenly threaded through the hearts of Christians from one day to the next, from year to year, across the centuries, until the dreaded judgment.
Man is born, in fact, not when his mother brings him into the world, but when he comes to believe in the risen Christ, for then he is born to life eternal, whereas a mother bears children for death, for the grave. The resurrection of Christ is the mother of us all, all Christians, the mother of immortals. By faith in the resurrection, man is born anew, born for eternity.
"That is impossible!" says the skeptic. But you listen to what the risen God-Man says: All things are possible to him that believeth! (Mk 9:23). The believer is he who lives, with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his being, according to the Gospel of the risen Lord Jesus.
Faith is our victory, by which we conquer death, faith in the risen Lord Jesus. Death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin. The Lord has removed the string of death. Death is a serpent; sin is its fangs. By sin, death puts its poison into the soul and into the body of man. The more sins a man has, the more bites through which death puts its poison in him.
When a wasp stings a man, he uses all his strength to remove the sting. But when sin wounds him, this sting of death, what should be done? One must call upon the risen Lord Jesus in faith and prayer, that He may remove the sting of death from the soul. He, in His great loving-kindness, will do this, for He is overflowing with mercy and love. When many wasps attack a man’s body and wound it with many stings, that man is poisoned and dies. The same happens with a man’s soul, when many sins wound it with their stings: it is poisoned and dies a death with no resurrection.
Conquering sin in himself through Christ, man overcomes death. If you have lived the day without vanquishing a single sin of yours, know that you have become deadened. Vanquish one, two, or three of your sins, and behold: you have become younger than the youth which does not age, young in immortality and eternity. Never forget that to believe in the resurrection of the Lord Christ means to carry out a continuous fight with sins, with evil, with death.
If a man fights with sins and passions, this demonstrates that he indeed believes in the risen Lord; if he fights with them, he fights for life eternal. If he does not fight, his faith is in vain. If man’s faith is not a fight for immortality and eternity, then tell me, what is it? If faith in Christ does not bring us to resurrection and life eternal, then what use is it to us? If Christ is not risen, that means that neither sin nor death has been vanquished, than why believe in Christ? For the one who, by faith in the risen Lord, fights with each of his sins there will be affirmed in him gradually the feeling that Christ is indeed risen, has indeed vanquished the sting of sin, has indeed vanquished death on all the fronts of combat. Sin gradually diminishes the soul in man, driving it into death, transforming it from immortality to mortality, from incorruption to corruption. The more the sins, the more the mortal man. If man does not feel immortality in himself, know that he is in sins, in bad thoughts, in languid feelings. Christianity is an appeal: Fight with death until the last breath, fight until a final victory has been reached. Every sin is a desertion; every passion is a retreat; every vice is a defeat.
One need not be surprised that Christians also die bodily. This is because the death of the body is a sowing. The mortal body is sown, says the Apostle Paul, and it grows, and is raised in an immortal body. (I Cor 15:42-44) The body dissolves, like a sown seed, that the Holy Spirit may quicken and perfect it. If the Lord Christ had not been risen in body, what use would it have for Him? He would not have saved the entire man. If His body did not rise, then why was He incarnate why did He take on Himself flesh, if He gave it nothing of His Divinity?
If Christ is not risen, then why believe in Him? To be honest, I would never have believed in Him had He not risen and had not therefore vanquished death. Our greatest enemy was killed and we were given immortality. Without this, our world is a noisy display of revolting stupidity and despair, for neither in Heaven nor under Heaven is there a greater stupidity than this world without the resurrection; and there is not a greater despair than this life without immortality. There is no being in the world more miserable than a man who does not believe in the resurrection of the dead. It would have been better for such a man never to have been born.
In our human world, death is the greatest torment and inhumane horror. Freedom from this torment and horror is salvation. Such a salvation was given the race of man by the Vanquisher of death—the risen God-Man. He related to us all the mystery of salvation by His resurrection. To be saved means to assure our body and soul of immortality and life eternal. How do we attain this? By no other way than by a Theanthropic life, a new life, a life in the risen Lord, in and by the Lord’s resurrection.
For us Christians, our life on earth is a school in which we learn how to assure ourselves of resurrection and life eternal. For what use is this life if we cannot acquire by it life eternal? But, in order to be resurrected with the Lord Christ, man must first suffer with Him, and live His life as his own. If he does this, then on Pascha he can say with Saint Gregory the Theologian: Yesterday I was crucified with Him, today I live with Him; yesterday I was buried with Him, today I rise with Him. (Troparion 2, Ode 3, Pascha Matins)
Christ’s Four Gospels are summed up in only three words. They are: Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen! In each of these words is a Gospel, and in the Four Gospels is all the meaning of all God’s worlds, visible and invisible. When all knowledge and all the thoughts of men are concentrated in the cry of the Paschal salutation, "Christ is risen!", then immortal joy embraces all beings and in joy responds: "Indeed He is risen!..."
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