Saturday, 26 October 2013

Saint Tikhon Of Zadonsk-On Holy Baptism

Saint Tikhon Of Zadonsk
"He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved" (Mk. 16:16). Our Lord and Saviour gave us this saying for our confirmation and consolation. For what is more comforting to a faithful and baptized soul than this saying that promises it eternal salvation?

Beloved Christians, glory be to God that we both believe in the Gospel and are enlightened with holy Baptism. But let us look at the power of holy Baptism and we shall see what we were before Baptism and what we became after Baptism, that we may receive lively consolation from this.
Through holy Baptism we were delivered from every calamity and we received all true blessedness by the grace of God. Before Baptism we were far from God, but through Baptism we became close to God. Before Baptism we were enemies of God, but through Baptism we became reconciled to God, and God was reconciled to us. Before Baptism we were children of God's wrath, but through Baptism we were made vessels of God's mercy. Before Baptism we were children of darkness and children of the devil, but through Baptism we were made children of light and children of God. Before Baptism we were defiled in sins, but through Baptism we were washed, sanctified and justified.
Before Baptism we were lost, but through Baptism we were saved. Before Baptism the doors to everlasting life and the Kingdom of Heaven were closed to us, but through Baptism they were opened and those that preserve the grace of holy Baptism enter in unhindered. We receive these and other benefits of God through holy Baptism. We receive them freely without any merit on our part, solely from His love for man, for what can he deserve who is lost? Glory to the goodness of God! Glory to His love for mankind! Glory to His compassion! Glory to His generosity! "Blessed be the name of the Lord from henceforth and for ever more!" (LXX-Ps. 112:2 [KJV-Ps. 113:2]).
The Only-Begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ our Saviour, earned this supreme mercy from God for all of us. He earned it through His most precious Blood and His death. Beloved Christians, let us remember holy Baptism, and let us consider whether we live worthily of holy Baptism, lest that holy Baptism be to our greater condemnation on the day of Christ's Dread Judgement, where every iniquitous word, deed, and thought will be judged.
Holy Baptism is like a door by which those that are baptized enter into the holy Church and become "fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God" (Eph. 2:19). But not just so, but before Baptism there are renunciations and vows:
1.We then renounced Satan and all his evil works. Satan is a wicked and evil spirit. He was created good by God, but he and those of like mind with him apostatized from Him, and so from light they became dark, and from good they became evil and wicked. His works are idolatry, pride, deceit, falsehood, flattery, guile, envy, malice, plunder, adultery, prodigality, all uncleanliness, slander, blasphemy and every sin; for he is the inventor of sin, and he beguiled our ancestors in paradise and led them into sin and apostasy from God. We renounce this wicked spirit and all his evil works before Baptism.
2.We renounce every vanity, pride and pomp of this world, as ones called to and renewed for everlasting life.
3. We promise to serve Christ the Son of God in faith and in truth together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and to follow in His footsteps.
4. Thus we establish a covenant between God and us. We, who have renounced Satan, promise to serve God and be faithful to Him. God accepts us in His supreme mercy and promises us an inheritance in everlasting life and the Kingdom, and washes us who are defiled by sin in the laver of Baptism. He sanctifies and justifies us, as the priest says over everyone who is baptized, "Thou art washed, thou art sanctified, thou art justified" (cf. 1 Cor. 6:11).
Beloved Christians, let us remember these renunciations and vows, and consider whether we keep them; for it is a grave thing to lie to God, and it is very dangerous to be found false before Him. Let us consider, then, whether any of us have not gone back to Satan, whether we have not renounced Christ and abandoned Him? Let us consider on whose side we find ourselves, on Satan's or on Christ's. One serves and belongs to him whose will he performs. He renounces Christ not only he who renounces His holy name and does not confess Him to be the Son of God and his Saviour, but also he who sins against conscience and recklessly breaks His holy commandments. This is the teaching of the Apostles. For the Apostle says, "They profess that they know God; but in works they deny Him, and the rest" (Tit. 1:16).
Do you see that people reject God in works too, and not just with their lips? Is anyone a prodigal, and does he commit adultery? He rejects Christ. Does anyone hate his neighbor and seek him out to harm him? He has apostatized from Christ. Does anyone steal; does he rob and take away his neighbor's goods? He has departed from Christ. Does anyone deceive and flatter his neighbor? He is no longer with Christ, but in all these things he submits to the enemy of salvation, and so he does not stand in the promises which he made to God, and so he has lied to God. Let us examine then, beloved, our conscience and our life. To which side do we belong, to Christ's or to His enemy's? To the good, or to the evil? To the lot of the saved or to that of the lost? He that is not with Christ is the enemy of Christ. For Christ Himself said, "He that is not with Me is against Me" (Mt. 12:30).
Beloved, let us watch ourselves and let us be with Christ here in this world, as we have vowed at Baptism: let us be with Christ here that we may be with Christ in the age to come, according to His promise that cannot lie, "Where I am, there shall also My servant be" (Jn. 12:26). Let us serve Him here as our King and God, that on the Day of Judgement He will acknowledge us as His laborers and number us with His faithful servants and open unto us the doors of everlasting joy. Remember the vows made at Baptism.So that you may act on the aforementioned points, you must remember the vows you made at holy Baptism. For though not you yourself but your sponsor made those vows before God on your behalf, you promised then, spitting on Satan, and on his pride, and on his service, and on his evil works - you promised, I say - and vowed to serve Jesus Christ your Lord and Redeemer in faith and in truth, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit.Consider, Christian, what vows you made and to Whom. It is a grievous thing to lie to a man, how incomparably more grievous it is to lie to God. "God is not mocked" (Gal. 6:7). When a Christian does not stand on his promises and does not keep them, what mercy, then, should he expect from God, to Whom he lied? He that keeps his promises shall find himself in God's mercy and in His Kingdom. He remains faithful to God, and God will hold him in mercy and in His protection as His own. And this is what the prophet sings to God, "With the holy man wilt Thou be holy, and with the innocent man wilt Thou be innocent. And with the elect man wilt Thou be elect, and with the perverse wilt Thou be perverse" (LXX-Ps. 17:26-27 [KJV-Ps. 18:25-26]).
Christians! All they that commit iniquity and act against their conscience do not keep their vows. These include fornicators, adulterers, and all defilers, robbers, thieves, brigands, the sly, the crafty, deceivers and the guileful, revilers and men of evil speech, drunkards, fault finders, the hateful, and the malicious, they that live in the pride and pomp of this world, and all that do not fear God. They have all lied to God and have not kept their vows, and are outside of the holy Church, though they may even go to churches and pray and receive the Mysteries and build churches and adorn them and display other signs of a Christian. Since they shall be powerfully put to the test at the Judgement of Christ and tormented more there than Turks and idolaters, avoid these deeds, Christian, and do not imitate the aforementioned doers of iniquity, lest you be condemned with them to eternal fire by the just judgement of God, "where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched" (Mk. 9:44, 46, 48), but by all means endeavor so to live and act as the word of God teaches, as was said above. Keep in mind those vows of yours, and this will guide you toward the Christian life and restrain you from every evil and do you good. If you notice that you yourself do not keep those vows, then repent and begin the Christian life anew, lest you appear before God in a lie, and perish with liars. "The fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death" (Apoc. 21:8).It is impossible to adequately describe and weep over the unfortunate condition of that Christian who has given himself over to lawless acts after holy Baptism, and commits iniquity. He is deprived of all that blessedness of which he had been found worthy in Baptism by the grace of God, and of his own will he casts himself into that calamity from which he had been delivered. But rather, he falls into a greater calamity, for he had known the truth but he did not wish to live in it. He knew God, but he did not wish to worship Him.He knew the way that leads to eternal blessedness, but he did not wish to walk in it. He vowed to work for God, but he lied to Him. He was washed, he was sanctified, he was justified, but he was deprived of it all. He became a child of God, but he lost that most glorious nobility. He became an heir of everlasting life and the Kingdom, but he wasted that inheritance. And this is what the Apostle says about such ones, "For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them" (2 Pet. 2:21).
See, O Christian, how great is the calamity of a Christian who has committed iniquity! It is not apparent now, since it is not seen with bodily eyes, but with spiritual: but it will become evident then, when all our secret and manifest deeds are revealed before the whole world, that is at the second coming of Christ.Then that poor Christian will know and will behold his great calamity and destruction. We must truly bewail the condition of such a Christian with much tears and weeping. For just as one washed in a bath is again sullied with dirt and mud, so likewise a Christian washed in the laver of Baptism is defiled again with iniquity.Just as one who out of filthy rags was clothed in purple and fine linen again takes off those beautiful garments and puts that foul rag on again, so everyone who commits iniquity after holy Baptism does likewise. For out of the rags of sin he was also clothed in Christ's robe of justification, but having spurned that beautiful garment he again puts on the rag of sin.Just as one who comes from the darkness into the light and again returns to the darkness, so it is likewise with him who came from the darkness of sin to the light of Christ, the true Light, and returned again to that same darkness. Just as one who was freed from slavery and captivity comes to freedom and again returns to that same bitter bondage, so likewise a Christian who commits iniquity was delivered by the grace of Christ from the bitter slavery and captivity of the devil, but he returns to that misfortune.Just as a man delivered from a deep pit falls again into that pit, so likewise a Christian that commits iniquity has been delivered from the pit of eternal perdition, but of his own will he casts himself again into that pit. "But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire" (2 Pet. 2:22). 
To this calamitous condition belong o Prodigals, fornicators, and all that defile themselves in any way. o Thieves, brigands, robbers, and all that in any way unjustly acquire another's goods. o Malicious people, and those that harm the lives of their neighbor. o The sly, the cunning, hypocrites, and those that deal deceitfully with their neighbor. o Blasphemers, revilers, and slanderers. o Judges that give judgement according to bribes and gifts, and not according to their oath and to justice. o Cruel masters. o Merchants that sell inferior material for better, cheap for expensive, rotten for good, and take higher prices for their wares than they are worth. o Those that work sorcery and those that summon them to their homes. o All those that act against conscience and recklessly break the Law of God.
 "To all such has happened - according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire."Beloved Christians, washed in the laver of holy Baptism, let us examine ourselves, whether any of us have not turned away from Christ and fallen into the calamitous condition mentioned above. Whoever opposes the law works for the devil and is already far removed from Christ.Woe to Christians that commit iniquity after holy Baptism! "It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the Day of Judgement than for such Christians" (Mt. 10:15)!Poor Christian, examine yourself and beware lest you become the eternal captive of the devil and destruction. "Their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched" (Mk. 9:44). O God, spare Thy rational creature, made in Thine own image!
 from: Journey to Heaven Counsels On the Particular Duties of Every Christian Our Father Among the Saints, Tikhon of Zadonsk, Bishop of Voronezh and Elets Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 2004.

Theophan the Recluse, On prayer, Homily 1

On the feast day of the Entrance into the Temple of the Most-holy Theotokos,(November21,new calendar) I find it timely to give you instruction in prayer - the main work of the temple. A temple is a place of prayer and arena of prayer's development. For us, entry into the temple is entry into a prayerful spirit. The Lord has the kindness to call our hearts His temple, where we enter mentally and stand before Him, ascending to Him like the fragrant smoke of incense. We are going to study how to attain this state.

Gathering in the temple, you pray, of course. And in praying here, you surely ought not abandon prayer at home. Therefore, it would be extraneous to speak to you about our duty to pray, when you already pray. But I do not think that it is extraneous in any way to give you two or three rules about how to pray, if not in the way of teaching, then simply as a reminder. The work of prayer is the first work in Christian life. If in everyday affairs the saying: "live and learn" is true, then so much more it applies to prayer, which never stops and which has no limit.

Let me recall a wise custom of the ancient Holy Fathers: when greeting each other, they did not ask about health or anything else, but rather about prayer, saying "How is your prayer?" The activity of prayer was considered by them to a be a sign of the spiritual life, and they called it the breath of the spirit. If the body has breath, it lives; if breathing stops, life comes to an end. So it is with the spirit. If there is prayer, the soul lives; without prayer, there is no spiritual life.

However, not every act of prayer is prayer. Standing at home before your icons, or here in church, and venerating them is not yet prayer, but the "equipment" of prayer. Reading prayers either by heart or from a book, or hearing someone else read them is not yet prayer, but only a tool or method for obtaining and awakening prayer. Prayer itself is the piercing of our hearts by pious feelings towards God, one after another – feelings of humility, submission, gratitude, doxology, forgiveness, heart-felt prostration, brokenness, conformity to the will of God, etc. All of our effort should be directed so that during our prayers, these feelings and feelings like them should fill our souls, so that the heart would not be empty when the lips are reading the prayers, or when the ears hear and the body bows in prostrations, but that there would be some qualitative feeling, some striving toward God. When these feelings are present, our praying is prayer, and when they are absent, it is not yet prayer.

It seems that nothing should be simpler and more natural for us than prayer and our hearts' striving for God. But in fact it is not always like this for everyone. One must awaken and strengthen a prayerful spirit in oneself, that is one must bring up a prayerful spirit. The first means to this is to read or to hear prayers said. Pray as you should, and you will certainly awaken and strengthen the ascent of your heart to God and you will come into a spirit of prayer.

In our prayer books, there are prayers of the Holy Fathers - Ephraim the Syrian, Makarios the Egyptian, Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, and other great men of prayer. Being filled with the spirit of prayer, they were able to up that living spirit into words, and handed it down to us. When one enters into these prayers with attention and effort, then that great and prayerful spirit will in turn enter into him. He will taste the power of prayer. We must pray so that our mind and heart receive the content of the prayers that we read. In this way the act of praying becomes a font of true prayer in us. I will give here three very simple instructions: 1. always begin praying with at least a little preparation; 2. do not pray carelessly, but with attention and feeling; and 3. do not go on to ordinary work immediately after prayer.

Even if prayer is common for us, it always demands preparation. What is more common for those who can read and write than reading and writing? However, sitting down to read or write, we do not immediately begin, but we calm ourselves before beginning, at least to the point that we can read or write in a peaceful state. Even more so preparation for the work of prayer is necessary before praying, especially when what we have been doing before praying is of a totally different nature from prayer.

Thus, going to pray, in the morning or in the evening, stand for a moment, or sit, or walk, and strive in this time to focus your thoughts, casting off from them all earthly activities and objects. Then call to mind the One to Whom you are praying, Who He is and who you are, as you begin this prayerful petition to Him. From this, awaken in your soul the feeling of humility and reverent awe of standing before God in your heart. As you stand piously before God, all of this preparation may seem small and insignificant, but it is not small in meaning. This is the beginning of prayer and a good beginning is half the work.

Having stood up in your heart, now stand before your icons, make a few prostrations, and begin with the usual prayers: "Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee. O Heavenly King…", and so on. Do not read hurriedly; pay attention to every word and let the meaning of each word enter into your heart. Accompany your words with prostrations. With this effort, the reading of prayers becomes pleasant to God and fruit-bearing. Pay attention to every word, and let the sense of each word enter into your heart; understand what you are reading and feel what you are understanding. No other rules are necessary. These two – understanding and feeling – have the effect of making prayer fitting, and fruitful. For example, you read: "cleanse us from every stain" - feel your stain, desire cleanliness, and ask it from the Lord with hope. You read: "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" - forgive all in your soul, and having forgiven everyone everything in your heart, ask for forgiveness for yourself from the Lord. You read: "Thy will be done" - completely give up your own will to the Lord in your heart, and honestly be prepared to meet everything that the Lord is well-pleased to send to to you with a good heart. If you read each verse of your prayers in this way, then you will be truly praying.

In order to facilitate the development of true prayer, take these steps: 1) keep a prayer rule according to the blessing of your spiritual father - not more than you can read unhurriedly on a normal day; 2) before you pray, in your free time become familiar with the prayer in your rule, fully take in each word and feel it, so that you would know in advance what should be in your soul as you read. It will be even better if you learn the prayers by heart. When you do this, then all of your prayers will be easy for you to remember and feel. There is only one final difficulty: your thoughts will always stray to other subjects, therefore: 3) you must struggle to keep your attention focused on the words of your prayer, knowing in advance that your mind will wander.

When your mind does wander during prayer, bring it back. When it wanders again, bring it back again. Each and every time that you read a prayer while your thoughts are wandering (and consequently you read it without attention and feeling,) then do not fail to read it again. Even if your mind wanders several times in the same place, read it again and again until you read it all the way through with understanding and feeling. In this way, you will overcome this difficulty so that the next time, perhaps, it will not come up again, or if it does return, it will be weaker. This is how one must act when the mind wanders. On the other hand it may happen that a particular word or phrase might act so strongly on the soul, that the soul no longer wants to continue with the prayer, and even though the lips continue praying, the mind keeps wandering back to that place which first acted on it. In this case: 4) stop, do not read further, but stand with attention and feeling in that place, and use the prayer in that place and the feelings engendered by it to feed your soul. Do not hurry to get yourself out of this state. If time cannot wait, it is better to leave your rule unfinished than to disturb this prayerful state. Maybe this feeling will stay with you all day like your guardian Angel! This sort of grace-filled action on the soul during prayer means that the spirit of prayer is becoming internalized, and consequently, maintaining this state is the most hopeful means of raising up and strengthening a spirit of prayer in your heart.

Finally, when you finish your prayers, do not immediately go off to any sort of work, but remain and think at least a little about what you have just finished and what now lies before you. If some feeling was given to you during prayer, keep it after you pray. If you completed your prayer rule in the true spirit of prayer, then you will not wish to quickly go about other work; this is a property of prayer. Thus our ancestors said when they returned from Constantinople: "he who has tasted sweet things does not desire bitter things". So it is with each person who has prayed well during his prayers. One should recognize that tasting this sweetness of prayer is the very goal of praying, and if praying leads to a prayerful spirit, then it is exactly through such a tasting.

If you will follow these few rules, then you will quickly see the fruit of prayerful labor. And he who fulfills them already without this instruction, of course, is already tasting this fruit. All praying leaves prayer in the soul - continual prayer in this manner gives it root, and patience in this work establishes a prayerful spirit. May God grant this to you by the prayers of our All-pure Mistress, the Theotokos!

I have given you initial basic instruction in the ways of raising up in yourselves a prayerful spirit, that is, how to pray in a way appropriate to the meaning of prayer - at home in the morning and the evening, and here in the temple. But this is not yet everything. Tomorrow, if God helps, I will teach you a second method. Amen.

Translated from the Russian by Rev. Fr. Michael van Opstall – January 2007
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...