A CONVERSATION WITH ELDER SOPHRONY († JULY 11)

Archimandrite Ephraim of Vatopedi,
& Elder Sophrony (Sakharov) | Source

In The photograph aboveThe abbot of the Great and Holy Monastery of Vatopaidi, Archimandrite Ephraim, in the garden of the Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Essex (1992) with Elder Sophrony, among the many pilgrims who found spiritual comfort near the venerable Elder

Elder Sophrony: [heretoforeE.S.:“]  “O Heavenly King and Comforter, the Spirit of truth, who art in all places and fillest all things, treasury of blessings and giver of life, come and abide in us and cleanse us of all that defileth, and save our souls, oh Thou who are good.” Welcome, holy abbot…

If during our conversation I do anything unusual, please forgive me. These days I don’t hear or see very well.

Archimandrite Ephraim: [heretoforeA.E.:“]  Considering your age, you’re doing very well.

E.S.: Ninety-six years old…I’ll tell them to bring us the letter from Vatopedi from our archives.

A.E.: Yes, I would like to see it.

E.S.: You know, I’m one of your own.

A.E.: This is a blessing for us.

E.S.: I don’t know. It is a blessing for me, that they gave me leave with such willingness. And circumstances have shown that God blessed it. After I left the Holy Mountain, though, I became very ill. I had a stomach ulcer and I suffered from gastrorrhagia, I was also very poor. I had to undergo a difficult operation, and they had to remove nearly my whole stomach. For twelve years I had great difficulty eating. I got something later on, but it’s fake.

A.E.: It was God’s will, Elder, that you came here.

E.S.: I’ll tell you what, abbot, I’m always afraid to say that something [from God] happens to me, but it seems to me that nothing took place according to how I imagined it, but everything came from God.

A.E.: This is what the conscience of the Church also witnesses to, it seems that it was from God. And that it is a work that has a history behind it. And [this monastery’s] history has been stamped by God, that’s what the facts witness to.

E.S.: Yes, but I am only bold enough to say, “Lord have mercy on me and save me.” Only to a certain extent can I say that it happened according to the providence of God.

A.E.: Elder, your monastery is an oasis in the desert [of a culture] of materialism.

E.S.: We’re just…eh! How can I explain it to you…we’re thankful to those who rule this country, and to the queen, and other officials. But Orthodox life outside of Greece is difficult. Not all of our thought: theological, ascetical…connects with the tradition of the West, with the Catholics and Protestants. But these are the ones who rule this place.

A.E.: From everything I have observed here, Elder, you live wisely. During the years that you have been here, you have acted with great discernment, which is why you’ve been able to help people greatly in hidden ways. And this is a very important thing for a spiritual person.

E.S.: Well…let me tell you. You’re an abbot. And I was, in a certain way, an abbot. And I was always hung from a thread above the abyss, shouting at God for everyone, for everything…because nothing happens by human strength.

A.E.: And I’m sure that you must have had many difficulties here, Elder.

E.S.: Oh…it’s better not to talk about them…. But even this, to a certain extent, is a question for us. Recently, I published a book, a spiritual autobiography [We Shall See Him as He Is].

A.E.: We’ve read it, Elder.

E.S.: Of what interest would a purely factual biography have been? I only recount spiritual events in this book. And the book has appeared, somehow, at just the right time.

A.E.: What you have provided is a living witness.

E.S.: I didn’t write a theological text, I only wrote down my experience, from fear and because I’m bold to say, “Lord have mercy, Lord save me.” But…I don’t understand…. I became ill many times with fatal sicknesses and yet I’m still alive. I don’t know why…

A.E.: The Church needs you, which is why God has extended your life. Your life is a miracle. We are amazed at how you are still living considering the illnesses you have had and still have. Many spiritual people are amazed that you’re still alive.

E.S.: In 1986 they invented a machine that can diagnose cancer and they opened me up and found that I had the worst type of cancer, and they were expecting me to die. There was no chance of an operation, of radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or something similar. They left me to waste away…. Six years have passed and I’m living in my seventh year since then, and I don’t know how. After the stomach operation I had, which completely cut up my insides, for twelve years I couldn’t eat. Two years after that, I was a bit better.

A.E.: Your Elder, St. Silouan, wanted you to see his official canonization by the Church.

E.S.: And I don’t know how the providence of Christ made it happen. He placed me at the feet of my Elder. The contemporary spiritual, theological problem concerns the person [πρόσωπο]…I lived completely by revelation. Revelation reveals that “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14). If He says, “I am” it means that He is a person. This is why in one of the chapters in the book to which I referred earlier I note that the word “I” has great significance. For it expresses the person. God says, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). Science cannot say this. Only revelation can say this. And we need to base ourselves on revelation, which the Lord never refuted…. So, when I sent the book that is right behind you to His All Holiness [the Ecumenical Patriarch], I didn’t want to write a theological textbook, but simply to describe the experience of an Orthodox monk.

A.E.: This book will be very useful, Elder.

E.S.: May God allow it to be so…may God allow it to be so…

A.E.: People today are confused, I would say very confused, and a contemporary, unique Orthodox witness is necessary to wake them up.

E.S.: Yes, I say that, I say it with boldness because it is a fact. This book is not an intellectual contrivance, I refer to actual facts.

A.E.: It’s that fruit of divine grace.

E.S.: It’s from this perspective that I was emboldened to write. Perhaps this autobiography will help someone find the solution to his or her own personal problem.

A.E.: This book has also helped us on the Holy Mountain a great deal.

E.S.: [Elder Sophrony speaks, in turn, of the translation of his book into Modern Greek]…but they have translated it into the simple language, which cannot express subtle meanings.

A.E.: It doesn’t properly express them, Elder, but you need to translate it into Modern Greek because young people don’t know Ancient Greek. You need to make an “Economy,” and give the blessing for your book to be translated into Modern Greek as well, because unfortunately, most young people’s language skills are lacking today.

E.S.: So…if it’s in a good language already, what’s happening with it?

A.E.: It is in a good language, and we want it in this language. But unfortunately, our young people today are not able to understand it.

E.S.: And this translation can be made now.

A.E.: Yes, it can be done.

E.S.: I understand, holy abbot. I wonder, though, if many people understand this book?

A.E.: They don’t understand it in its full depth, but they may not understand it for another reason, because of its language. In our monastery, we have quite a few young monks. The young monks don’t know Greek, even though they are Greek, because unfortunately in Greece various factors have managed to adulterate the Greek language.

E.S.: What I’m trying to say is that this book, by its very nature, because the providence of God lead me to Silouan, is about spiritual practices of the very highest kind. A deeper, more extreme form of asceticism does not exist. And from this, one can discern that it is from God. “Keep your mind in hell and despair not….”

A.E.: Your book, St. Silouan the Athonite, was the reason that many people came to the Holy Mountain to become monks. And throughout Europe, the book led many heterodox to Orthodoxy.

          St. Silouan the Athonite (1866-1938).

E.S.: It can also help people in Russia, because they have completely lost the ascetic culture. Seventy years of captivity…

A.E.: A number of Russian bishops came to Vatopedi and told us that the Russians are pious, but because of their persecutions they don’t have an inner life.

E.S.: They lost asceticism and this can help. The Roman Catholics, as I have heard for many years, from the time I began to do philological studies and have had contact with them, have said that the Orthodox Church cannot say that it is, “the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” It isn’t catholic, it’s a part of them, how can we express it, they [the Orthodox] are ethnic bodies who live with hatred among themselves.

A.E.: Unfortunately, that’s what they say.

E.S.: And I… and I…

A.E.: You prove the opposite, though.

E.S.: Twelve monastics, twelve nationalities. Patriarch Athenagoras the First understood this idea as well. He had a great deal of experience, which was why I was bold and asked that our holy monastery be a dependency of St. Paul’s Monastery [on Mount Athos]. And he, through the other Athenagoras (of London), said, “tell Sophrony to give me…to send me a request for Stavropegic status.”

A.E.: And, that Stavropegic status was granted so easily, is an indication that God wanted this monastery to be established. It is also very encouraging that you are directly connected to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

E.S.: …and from my writings, as some people have said, it seems that monasticism is not human, but is a call from God. And if some read this book, they will say that it is not monks who choose this path by human means, but it is a call from God. From this perspective, the book may be theological, the theology, that is to say, that accompanies the asceticism of the Orthodox ascetic. This is why the references in the book are only made to Holy Scripture. And thank you very much for your letter regarding the book. I’ll tell you why. Few people are able to understand this book. Even on the Holy Mountain, where Silouan lived for nearly half a century, few understood the spiritual height of the Elder. They had such fear…but also such boldness for the love of God! He did not speak openly about his spiritual condition, but hid.

A.E.: They didn’t understand him…those who lived alongside St. Silouan in the monastery did not understand him, and some spoke ironically about him. Unfortunately, they did not understand with whom they were dealing. Which is also why we don’t have his relics, you took some, though he was such a great Saint.

E.S.: Me, sinner that I was—lost that is to say, he was very beneficent to me…. He was the greatest gift of divine providence that God gave to me…

A.E.: Because He knew that you would make good use of it, that’s why He showed it to you. And, humanly, you are the reason that St. Silouan’s legacy has shone forth. And he waits for you in heaven with open arms.

E.S.: I don’t have him…

A.E.: That’s the way it is…

E.S.: Why? Why don’t I have him? Because many have told me that they have prayed to Silouan and their request was immediately fulfilled. Many times Athonites have also experienced something similar, his quick response to their prayers suggests to them that he was a Saint.

[One of the other monks from Essex then speaks]: Elder, may I say something?

E.S.: Certainly…but ask the holy abbot.

[Monk]: Your monk, Fr. Silouan, was at Koutloumousiou the day after the celebration, during Matins, and a thought came into his head, “I wonder if St. Silouan has the ability to pray for us?” And as soon as Fr. Silouan thought this, that same moment, Fr. Athanasius from Simonopetra came up to him and said, “You know, Fr. Silouan, I have a relic of St. Silouan, which is not only fragrant, but one time it even gushed myrrh. And Fr. Silouan replied to him, ‘God gave me the answer almost immediately, because I was just wondering if St. Silouan could hear our prayers.’”

E.S.: The writing of his biography was not a human work. It was his own work…and when the Archbishop of Cyprus ordained our beloved spiritual father, Fr. Zacharias, hierodeacon, he was asked to give a word. And he prayed to Silouan. He sat and immediately wrote, what can I tell you? Something that supersedes human measure. His answer and aid came immediately.

A.E.: And you, Elder, you must have had personal experience with the boldness of St. Silouan.

E.S.: Let me tell you, holy abbot, the story of this boldness. On the second day of Pascha [Monday of Bright Week], in either 1930 or 1931, an educated Russian hermit monk, he was an engineer, came to visit me in my cell at the Monastery of St. Panteleimon’s. “Fr. Sophrony, how will we be saved?” I loved this person. He was a very gentle and sweet person, but also very clever. I prepared him a cup of tea, gave it to him, and told him, “Stand on the edge of the abyss and when you feel that it is beyond your strength, break off and have a cup of tea.”

The next day, I ran into Elder Silouan, with whom I had not yet had personal contact, but I could sense his spiritual strength. And he said to me,

“Was Fr. Vladimir with you yesterday?”

I didn’t answer him, that is, I didn’t say, “yes, he was,” rather I said,

“Perhaps I said something wrong?”

Silouan answered, “No, but what you told him was beyond his strength, beyond his measure. Come and let’s talk.”

That’s how he called me to speak with him. And because of this phrase, “Stand on the edge of the abyss and when you don’t have any more strength, rest a little and have a cup of tea,” our relationship began, our spiritual connection. Afterwards, I went to the Elder and he taught me regarding, “Keep your mind in hell and despair not1.”

A.E.: This is great love of wisdom, Elder.

E.S.: Great love of wisdom…. And you know how I feel, holy abbot? What I suffer because of this? What did the Lord mean with the phrase, “Keep your mind in hell,” which was for Silouan the pronounced removal of grace for a whole hour before the appearance of Christ? He clearly saw his eternal destruction and after this the Lord appears without any word, He didn’t say anything…for a moment. And when this happened, without any word, without words, he began to pray for all humanity and it became a state of being, not a thought, but a state of being. And when the Lord said, “Keep your mind,” Silouan saw Him. This is why it was only Silouan who understood the depths of the word regarding this state. For us self-reproach is appropriate, but not this state. And the conversation, his talk with Christ, was very, how to say it…very brief. This is what he said:

“I see demons.” “The proud suffer from this.” “But how can I become humble, Lord?” “Keep your mind in hell and despair not.” And then He left.

A.E.: This is why, Elder, on Mount Athos Elder Silouan and Elder Joseph the Hesychast are regarded…

E.S.: Ah! He was a soldier of the spirit. One of the seven greatest ascetics that I met in my life.

A.E.: …as the contemporary Elders who re-introduced, through their experiential way of life, the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas to Athonite monasticism.

E.S.: Yes, yes…I had gone two or three times to Elder Joseph, who was still at St. Basil’s. Did you get to meet him?

A.E.: I didn’t meet him. I wasn’t found worthy of meeting him.

E.S.: This state that Silouan experienced is related to the great Fathers of Egypt [the desert fathers]. Abba Poimen, when they told him that he would go to the heavenly kingdom, replied, “Believe me brothers, where Satan was thrown, that’s where I’m going to be thrown.”

A.E.: This is the spirit of the Fathers…

E.S.: And Anthony shared the thought of the shoemaker of Alexandria, “Everyone will be saved, and only I will be damned.” These are states of spiritual struggle.

A.E.: Self-reproach as a state of being.

E.S.: Right…as a state.

A.E.: As a never-ending state.

E.S.: Like theology. Theology is the content of our prayers. And an example of this theology is the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. The whole anaphora is theology and is expressed through prayer. But then theology comes as a state of being. John the Theologian, from an academic point of view, was not a theologian, he says things simply. His theology, however, is a state of being. Whatever he says becomes dogma for everyone. The fathers around us have great devotion for the Elder and somehow, somehow they understand what he was all about.

A.E.: About whom, Elder?

E.S.: About Silouan…he was one of them. And if I take those to my right, or those to my left, it’s the same. In fact, this past Monday I encouraged my brethren to describe in a better way the path of battling against passionate thoughts. Because one of the sisters has written a book on the upbringing of children and though what she writes is simple, they are things that don’t come into our minds. And perhaps it’s necessary to describe the way of battle, for Silouan speaks of these things, but he does not describe how it happens. When the Lord fought with Satan in the desert, there we have some kind of an interpretation of the battle. But what I’m trying to say is that perhaps people need to learn how they can battle against passionate thoughts? I discuss this topic a bit in my book on the Elder…but what do you think? In the first book, I explain that every passionate thought is tied to the earth, with matter, and always takes a certain form, it’s a certain type. And if our heart or word does not accept this form, the passion stops. But sometimes, in the beginning, hand to hand combat needs to take place. People who don’t understand then ask, “But how does this happen?”

A.E.: You did very well to analyze the way this battle works, for you have written about these things in a contemporary manner.

E.S.: I asked my brethren to try to describe it, but it’s dangerous for one to write, do you understand? It’s not an easy thing. This problem needs to be expressed in some way.

A.E.: This is a very subtle issue, Elder.

E.S.: Silouan would say, of course he was without passion, “If a thought upsets us, we are free to discard this thought and to focus our attention on something else.” He was able to do this; other people, however, are like slaves to passionate thoughts.

A.E.: Many times, a passionate thought makes our life a living hell.

E.S.: Yes, and it turns our whole being upside down…

A.E.: And it’s at a high price that the Fathers lend us their wisdom, Elder.

E.S.: Yes…Silouan says that we are free to focus our attention on something else, so that captivity to the passionate thought, for him, is not a real problem. The bad thought comes and he thinks of other things. Theoretically, as Silouan says, this is simple. In action, however, and for us untrained ones, it is very difficult. Truly, the passionate thought sticks and torments, such that the combat is as if fighting hand to hand with Satan. I am very grateful to God that He saw me fit to become a monk on the Holy Mountain. I was there for twenty-two years.

A.E.: And we are very grateful to God that we were able to meet you today. [Elder Sophrony does not answer. Some monk asked, “Did you not hear, or did you not want to hear?”]

E.S.: I didn’t hear…. Unfortunately, the West in this respect is undeveloped. They study theology from books.

A.E.: With the intellect…

E.S.: Yes. But the only study that enables us to sense what God is like, is the ascetic life according to the commandments of the Gospel. When our life is lived according to the will of God, then we understand that there cannot be a difference between the commandments and the mind of God Himself. When we think according to the commandments, then our mind gets used to thinking as God Himself thinks. And regarding theosis, they say: but what is theosis? With obedience to the abbot from the beginning, one’s will is cut off, then in obedience to the Gospel commandments one reaches this state. We do small things but the results must become great. Through obedience we enter into the life of divine Being. We have good descriptions of this in the writings of St. Nicodemus the Athonite.

A.E.: He was a great Saint. St. Nicodemus described the ascetic, neptic life in detail.

E.S.: Yes…you know that we have the official proclamation of Silouan’s canonization framed, in the same kind of frame that they use in the Holy Community of the Holy Mountain.

    above photo: The underground crypt at the Holy Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex. In the middle is the tomb of Elder Sophrony of blessed memory

A.E.: When the official Patriarchal proclamation came to the Community, for St. Silouan’s inclusion in the official list of Saints of the Orthodox Church, they sent us a copy for our archives, and they sent one to all of the monasteries of the Holy Mountain. Because the Saint was an Athonite…

E.S.: And I’m a Vatopedinos…and I’m a Vatopedinos!

A.E.: Idiorhythmic, however. You’re an idiorhythmic Vatopedinos!

E.S.: Not idiorhythmic, because I was at St. Andrew’s Skete, which was a coenobium. [At this point, the fathers begin to laugh.] They’re laughing…

A.E.: They’re happy. They’re not laughing, Elder, they’re happy!

E.S.: Yes, and I love them. To think and to live the way they do, in the present state of Europe, is a great thing. While in Greece, the whole atmosphere is full of faith, of theology, of asceticism.

A.E.: Greece is also going through a crisis right now. The European, rationalistic way of life has been introduced to Greece, and it’s going through a spiritual crisis.

E.S.: We’ll see. Because recently, great ascetics have reposed…no one can say that Greece is dead. It is very much alive.

A.E.: It is alive, in one sense, but it is in danger from the secular and rationalistic spirit of the West, and we are greatly distressed. We are concerned for Greece.

E.S.: Fair enough, but don’t you think we’ll be victorious?

A.E.: Yes, we believe that. But you know, Elder, we are also concerned about the Holy Mountain.

E.S.: In what way?

A.E.: Because, you see, the young monks that come are used to comfortable living and do not acclimatize easily to the ascetic tradition of the place.

E.S.: If that’s the case, then you will arrange their asceticism according to their capabilities, in particular the study of the past so that they can be freed of their secular ideas, and rather study the lives of the holy Fathers and the Apostles. You understand what I’m trying to say…if that is where their thoughts are, they will not spend time with the passions. Remember the example from the Gerontikon. There was a grace-filled ascetic who had a secular education and had been very wealthy. When another ascetic visited him, a person that had been a poor shepherd in the world, he saw the bed of the grace-filled ascetic and how he lived comfortably, and he was scandalized. When, however, he learned that in the world he had lived a luxurious life, with great wealth, he accused himself and confessed that the wealthy man was now living ascetically, while he himself was living comfortably.

A.E.: Yes, yes I remember that story.

E.S.: When I was a spiritual father at Simonopetra, the older monks would complain about the younger monks, and the younger monks complained about the older monks. I would say to the older monks, “From where did you receive these children?” “From the world.” “What did they learn there? How did they live?”

A.E.: That’s the way it is.

E.S.: Don’t expect them to become perfect right away. I have told others, as well, that when they learn things from the world, they are living in sin. They need to free themselves through asceticism. This is how I tried to make them understand the need for patience. Now, holy abbot, let’s wrap this up, because the service will begin. We were very glad that you wanted to come, and that I had the chance to see my abbot.

A.E.: Let it be blessed, Elder. I bring to you the respects of my Elder, who asks that you remember him and pray for him.

[Another monk asks Elder Sophrony]: Do you remember Elder Joseph, who came here two years ago?

E.S.: Yes, yes of course…. We need to finish, though…tomorrow we’re celebrating the consecration. You know, for some Saints and great teachers of the Church, there is no service, but for Silouan, on the Holy Mountain there are four.

A.E.: Silouan is a great Saint.

E.S.: For me, I have written about it…for me he is truly great.

A.E.: For you, he is the greatest.

E.S.: For me, he is great…

A.E.: Which Saints have you included in the consecration? Which relics?

[Another monk responds]: We included the two Theodores (the martyrs) and the venerable Silouan.

A.E.: Through the prayers of our holy Father, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us.

[All together]: Amen!

A.E.: Thank you, Elder.

E.S.: God seldom allows ascetics to meet, and that’s the way it happened. This was precisely the reason…now…how did you know it?

A.E.: I didn’t understand your last sentence. How did I know what, Elder?

E.S.: That ours would be a meeting in the Holy Spirit.
…………………………………………………………………………………………………….
1   Keep your mind in hell and despair not.  A spiritual advise given by St Elder Silouan. “mind in hell” refers to an acute awareness of our sinfulness and how it is we separate ourselves from God. Such is the condition in Hades so is it present within us now. “and despair not” speaks of our proper response of humility & repentance because of the sight of our inner hell before our sight.  Of this humility & repentance shall the soul draw down God’s favor of Divine Grace & Peace.

Prayer of the Heart for the Faithful Living in the World

ARCHIMANDRITE EPHRAIM OF VATOPEDI | Source

The question is always being asked, “Is it possible for those living in the world to occupy themselves with noetic [1] prayer?” To those who ask we answer quite affirmatively, “Yes.” In order to make this exhortation of ours comprehensible to those interested, but at the same time to make aware those who are unaware, we will briefly explain this, so that no one will be placed in a quandary by the various interpretations and definitions of noetic prayer that exist.

Generally speaking, prayer is the sole obligatory and indispensable occupation and virtue for all rational beings, both sentient and thinking, human and angelic. For this reason we are enjoined to the unceasing practice of the prayer [2].

Prayer is not divided dogmatically into types and methods but, according to our Fathers, every type and method of prayer is beneficial, as long as it is not of diabolic delusion and influence. The goal of this all-virtuous work is to turn and keep the mind of man on God. For this purpose our Fathers devised easier methods and simplified the prayer, so that the mind might more easily and more firmly turn to and remain in God. With the rest of the virtues other parts of man’s body come into play and senses intervene, whereas in blessed prayer the mind alone is fully active; thus much effort is needed to incite the mind and to bridle it, in order that the prayer may become fruitful and acceptable. Our most holy Fathers, who loved God in the fullest, had as their chief study uniting with God and remaining continuously in Him; thus they turned all of their efforts to prayer as the most efficient means to this end.

There are other forms of prayer which are known and common to almost all Christians which we will not speak about now; rather we will limit ourselves to that which is called “noetic prayer”, which we are always being asked about. It is a subject that engages the multitude of the faithful since next to nothing is known regarding it, and it is often misconstrued and described rather fantastically. The precise way of putting it into practice as well as the results of this deifying virtue, which leads from purification to sanctification, we will leave for the Fathers to tell. We paupers will only mention those things which are sufficient to clarify the matter and to convince our brethren living in the world that they need to occupy themselves with the prayer.

The Fathers call it noetic because it is done with the mind, the “nous”, but they also call it “sober watchfulness” [3] which means nearly the same thing. Our Fathers describe the mind as a free and inquiring being which does not tolerate confinement and is not persuaded by that which it can’t conceive on its own. Primarily for this reason they selected just a few words in a single, simple prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me”, so that the mind would not require a great effort in order to hold on to a long, protracted prayer. Secondly, they turned the mind within, to the center of our reason, where it resides motionless with the meaning of the divine invocation of the most sweet Name of our Lord Jesus, in order to experience as soon as possible the divine consolation. It is impossible, according to the Fathers, for our all-good Master, being thus called upon continuously, not to hear us, He Who desires so much the salvation of men.

Just as a natural virtue that is aspired to can only be achieved by the conducive means, so also this holy work requires some nearly indispensable rudiments: a degree of quiet; freedom from cares; avoidance of learning about and spreading the “news” of things going on, the “giving and taking” as the Fathers put it; self discipline in all things; and an overall silence which stems from these things. Moreover, I don’t think this persistence and habit will be unattainable for devout people who take an interest in this holy activity. The good habit of a regular prayer time, morning and evening, always about the same time, would be a good beginning.

With surety we have emphasized perseverance as the most indispensable element in prayer. Rightly it is stressed by St. Paul, “Continue steadfastly in prayer.”(Col. 4:2) In contrast to the rest of the virtues, prayer requires effort throughout our entire lifetime, and for this reason I repeat to those who are making the attempt not to feel encumbered, nor to consider the need for endurance as a failure in this sober-minded work.

In the beginning it is necessary to say the prayer in a whisper, or even louder when confronted by duress and inner resistance. When this good habit is achieved to the point that the prayer may be sustained and said with ease, then we can turn inwardly with complete outer silence. In the first part of the little book (Way of the Pilgrim) a good example is given of the initiation into the prayer. Sound persistence and effort, always with the same words of the prayer not being frequently altered, will give birth to a good habit. This will bring control of the mind, at which time the presence of Grace will be manifested.

Just as every virtue has a corresponding result, so also prayer has as a result the purification of the mind and enlightenment. It arrives at the highest and perfect good, union with God; that is to say, actual divinization (theosis). However, the Fathers also have this to say: that it lies with man to seek and strive to enter the way which leads to the city; and if by chance he doesn’t arrive at the endpoint, not having kept pace for whatever reason, God will number him with those who finished. To make myself more clear, especially on the subject of prayer, I will explain how all of us Christians must strive in prayer, particularly in that which is called monological [4] or noetic prayer. If one arrives at such prayer he will find much profit.

By the presence of the Jesus Prayer man is not given over to temptation which he is expecting, because its presence is sober watchfulness and its essence is prayer; therefore “the one who watches and prays does not enter into temptation.” (cf. Matt. 26:41) Further, he is not given over to darkness of mind so as to become irrational and err in his judgments and decisions. He does not fall into indolence and negligence, which are the basis of many evils. Moreover, he is not overcome by passions and indulgences where he is weak, and particularly when the causes of sin are near at hand. On the contrary his zeal and devotion increase. He becomes eager for good works. He becomes meek and forgiving. He grows from day to day in his faith and love for Christ and this inflames him towards all the virtues. We have many examples in our own day of people, and particularly of young people, who with the good habit of doing the prayer have been saved from frightful dangers, from falls into great evils, or from symptoms leading toward spiritual death.

Consequently, the prayer is a duty for each one of the faithful, of every age, nationality, and status; without regard to place, time or manner. With the prayer divine Grace becomes active and provides solutions to problems and trials which trouble the faithful, so that, according to the Scriptures, “Everyone that calls on the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21)

There is no danger of delusion, as is bandied about by a few unknowledgeable people, as long as the prayer is said in a simple and humble manner. It is of the utmost importance that when the prayer is being said no image at all be portrayed in the mind; neither of our Lord Christ in any form whatever, nor of the Lady Theotokos, nor of any other person or depiction. By means of the image the mind is scattered. Likewise, by means of images the entrance for thoughts and delusions is created. The mind should remain in the meaning of the words, and with much humility the person should await divine mercy. The chance imaginations, lights, or movements, as well as noises and disturbances are unacceptable as diabolic machinations towards obstruction and deception. The manner in which Grace is manifested to initiates is by spiritual joy, by quiet and joy-producing tears, or by a peaceful and awe-inspiring fear due to the remembrance of sins, thus leading to an increase of mourning and lamentation.

Gradually Grace becomes the sense of the love of Christ, at which time the roving about of the mind ceases completely and the heart becomes so warmed in the love of Christ that it thinks it can bear no more. Still at other times one thinks and desires to remain forever exactly as one finds oneself, not seeking to see or hear anything else. All of these things, as well as various other forms of aid and comfort, are found in the initial stages by as many as try to say and maintain the prayer, in as much as it depends on them and is possible. Up to this stage, which is so simple, I think that every soul that is baptized and lives in an Orthodox manner should be able to put this into practice and to stand in this spiritual delight and joy, having at the same time the divine protection and help in all its actions and activities.

I repeat once again my exhortation to all who love God and their salvation not to put off trying this good labor and practice for the sake of the Grace and mercy which it holds out to as many as will strive a bit at this work. I say this to them for courage, that they don’t hesitate or become fainthearted due to the bit of resistance or weariness which they will encounter. Contemporary elders that we have known had many disciples living in the world, men and women, married and single, who not only arrived at the beginning state but rose to higher levels through the Grace and compassion of our Christ. “It is a trifle in the eyes of the Lord to make a poor man rich.” (Sir. 11:23) I think that in today’s chaos of such turmoil, denial and unbelief there exists no simpler and easier spiritual practice that is feasible for almost all people, with such a multitude of benefit and opportunity for success, than this small prayer.

Whenever one is seated, moving about, or working, and if need be even in bed, and generally wherever and however one finds oneself, one can say this little prayer which contains within itself faith, confession, invocation and hope. With such little labor and insignificant effort the universal command to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17) is fulfilled to perfection. To whatever word of our Fathers one might turn, or even in their wonderful lives, he will encounter hardly any other virtue given so much praise or applied with such zeal and persistence, so that it alone constitutes the most powerful means of our success in Christ. It is not our intention to sing the praises of this queen of virtues, or to describe it, because whatever we might say would instead rather diminish it. Our aim is to exhort and encourage every believer in the working of the prayer. Afterwards, each person will learn from his own experience what we have said so poorly.

Press forward you who are doubtful, you who are despondent, you who are distressed, you who are in ignorance, you of little faith, and you who are suffering trials of various kinds; forward to consolation and to the solution to your problems. Our sweet Jesus Christ, our Life, has proclaimed to us that “without Me you can do nothing.” (Jn. 15:5) Thus behold that, calling upon Him continuously, we are never alone; and consequently “we can and will do all things through Him.” (cf Phil. 4:13) Behold the correct meaning and application of the significant saying of the Scripture, “Call upon Me in your day of trouble and I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” (Ps. 49(50):15) Let us call upon His all-holy Name not only “in the day of trouble” but continuously; so that our minds may be enlightened, that we might not enter into temptation. If anyone desires to step even higher where all-holy Grace will draw him, he will pass through this beginning point, and will be “spoken to” [5] regarding Him, when he arrives there.

As an epilogue to that which has been written we repeat our exhortation, or rather our encouragement, to all the faithful that it is possible and it is vital that they occupy themselves with the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”, the so-called “noetic prayer”, with a sure faith that they will benefit greatly regardless of what level they may reach. The remembrance of death and a humble attitude, together with the other helpful things that we have mentioned, guarantee success through the grace of Christ, the invocation of Whom will be the aim of this virtuous occupation. Amen.

Endnotes

As several of the Greek words used in this text do not have direct English equivalents, it was decided to add a small glossary at the end to help the reader understand with more preciseness the meaning of text.

  1. noetic: of the “nous”, the intellect. The intellect in this case is not simply the reasoning faculty of man, but the faculty of the heart that is able to comprehend natural and spiritual realities through direct experience. It is the faculty by which one may know God through prayer. Thus noetic prayer is also often called the “prayer of the heart.”
  2. the prayer”: When used with the article “the”, as opposed to a general type of prayer, it refers to the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” The Jesus Prayer is rooted in the early monastic tradition of the Church, with the words having been drawn from the New Testament.
  3. sober watchfulness (Gr., nipsis): often translated as both “sobriety” and “watchfulness” it in fact incorporates both. It is a non-morbid seriousness in which the “nous”, the intellect, maintains an alertness and awareness of its immediate state.
  4. monological: In this instance it refers to the fact that when the prayer is being said by the person, on the humanly observable level it appears as if only the one praying is speaking; doing a monologue, that is. The activity of God usually remains imperceptible, especially for those in the beginning stages.
  5. spoken to:” refers to the numerous biblical instances of God speaking to the hearts and minds of His righteous ones, communicating Himself directly to those who were pure of heart and seeking Him through prayer.

Humbleness Is The Key To Keep The Grace

 

By Fr. Raphael Noica (of Essex)

Monasticism is like living something from the age that shall come, in which, as the Savior says: “They neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the Angels of God in heaven” (Matthew 22:30). We [monks] are not like the angels, yet life has a tendency towards that, and when you receive the call [to monasticism], you don’t know what hit you, because in this [human] nature you don’t have any confirmation. So then, of course, you need someone to validate or invalidate your call. Because if you don’t [do this], you will suddenly find – or you will start to think: I’ll go to madhouse with my calls!

So, the Spiritual Father can validate or invalidate this thing on some level, but even this level is quite difficult to be defined. The essential line is this: I’m the only one who knows if I am for monasticism or not. Nobody else [would]! And the Spiritual Father can validate or invalidate, but he can’t… Father Sophrony [Sakharov] had [in Paris] Fr. [Sergius] Bulgakov as Spiritual Father and when he confessed to him that he would like to go in Mount Athos to became a monk, his Spiritual Father replied to him with a French saying: “The best is the enemy of the good”. Father Sophrony considered this word of his Spiritual Father, but he didn’t accept it – finally he went to Mount Athos and became a monk.

I got you here to a very difficult matter, to a thinking in which we all must assume our responsibility before God, before eternity – and not only in patterns in which we entered, but yet in a spirit of responsibility and obedience. And I say again: monasticism exists only in the intimate dialogue of every soul with God our Creator. So, I am deeply touched by the love of that sister for her own monasticism and for you; she thinks if she was fulfilled [in monasticism], you will be fulfilled too. But if this [call] isn’t from God – not for her reasons (they have some value, but they’re relative) – the most important thing, the absolute thing is to find into God: is this my way, or not? And: are really the hardships I endure a sign that I’m not on the right path, or they are some obstacle that needs to be overcome – all of these, through prayer…

 

Question: What prayers do I need to make, for me to find out?

Fr. Raphael: Begin [to pray] with this question. Put it before God – any prayer. Ask Him: “O, Lord, how should I pray? What do You expect of me?” Any thought you have – just add to it “Lord!”; add to your thinking a bit of “Lord!”, add [Him] to all your thoughts. This way, if you add a bit of “Lord!”, instead of you thinking like an engine which runs for nothing, your thinking will become prayer, and the engine will start to move the wheels.

 

Question: Is it possible to have matrimony, and also holiness and Jesus’ Prayer?

Fr. Raphael: The holiness is the nature of the man, the one that we should acquire in this ephemerality, and it isn’t something special for man – I mean it’s something different from transient, for biological life. The holiness is the nature that’s eternal in God, so it’s the nature of man. And either in matrimony, either in monasticism, either in other ways – if they are – the man always seeks the holiness. But we transformed the sanctity into a pattern; we made from it a false image; we put the Saints onto a pedestal which is very high and distant from us, and we look at them with a reversed binocular, to make it even more distant – and afterwards we are wondering why we don’t get there.

 

Question: And how do we escape from these patterns?

Fr. Raphael: O, may Lord deliver you! You may have a little too much confidence in your youth. [You have to keep] always before your eyes the fact that God is a God of Love and, from there, [you have] to seek and to examine why [is happening] anything that hurts you…

I don’t like what I heard – Why? Because I’m a sinner, or because that word isn’t right.

And for the rest, I say again: May God guide you! The path [together] with God is the path of freedom. The freedom is, of course, dangerous – but I also got this image, when I was afraid to soar. I said to myself: But, if I won’t go… – let’s say we’re travelling to the Jerusalem above – if we won’t go on road because we’re afraid that something may happen to us on the way there, we’ll know only one thing for sure: we will remain here. If we’ll go, fine, maybe we won’t get there (which is not the case [when we are] together with God), but if we think [like] “Maybe we’ll get there, maybe we won’t get there”, we still have in our imagination 50% and 50%. If I stay, [if I remain], I have a 100% certitude I won’t get there!

I want, with all these, to give you a bit of courage. But with God, as long we stick to God, is impossible not to get there, as Christ said: “My sheep shall never perish, neither shall any one pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28). And He added immediately: “My Father is greater than all; and no one is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10:29). I emphasize this “no one is able”! Yet man is gifted with such a great Divine freedom, that in my freedom I don’t have my Salvation guaranteed – God didn’t put me in a concrete box. I have a frightful freedom, but this doesn’t mean God can’t support me until the end. I can’t express myself here more concrete, more correct, less clumsy, because we are at some boundaries where the human reason isn’t applicable anymore. We have for the one side absolute certainty that we will get there, because Christ said “no one is able to pluck them”, and for the other side my freedom, which could separate me from God in any moment; but if I add “God forbid!”, I can’t get separated.

There is one more thing: when we begin to see Who is the God of Love, Who is also Almighty, you’ll begin to see that you can’t get lost with this God – it’s impossible! [It is] when you see that our fallen nature is so evil, that everything God does for our Salvation we undo for our perdition, [that] you can’t save yourself in no way. We live, as a Serbian woman said many years ago, [thinking]: “I am tormented in Orthodoxy by this incertitude: that I may be saved, or I may be not. I would rather be like Protestants, who are sure that they are already saved!”

But something in her words “scratched” me and, after some time, I realized that we Orthodox aren’t living in incertitude, but into a double certitude. As I see myself, it’s impossible to save myself. Look, Christ spilled His blood for the Hebrew people and for the entire world, and the Jews called “His blood [to be] on us and on our children” (Matthew 27:25) as a curse. So, how can be saved such a man, even with the almighty love of God? And yet, when you see that God Christ, with divine power, divine word, tried to put off that curse, saying to the women of Jerusalem: “Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children” (Luke 23:28) – meaning “weep for those upon you called some minutes ago My blood, as a curse, and I spill it for Salvation.” [We have] such a God, Who even then doesn’t get offended!… And [Who], when they put nails through His hands, says: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34); [Who], when He was dying by our hands, gives for our Salvation His body, broken by us; gives His blood, spilled by us – only if we want to. Well, with such a God, Who defeated even the Hell when He got there, making a path up to the staying to the right of Father – with such a God, how could you get lost?!

So, we have two certitudes: with me, salvation is totally impossible, and this is part of my confession. But, if I confess this, I also confess God – it is impossible to be lost with God. And, between these two impossibilities, I think God’s impossibility must triumph. It’s enough just to cling and stay, not to despair until the end because of enemy’s assaults – and [finally] God will draw me into his fishing net.

 

Question: How can we know if we have Grace after Liturgy?

Fr. Raphael: Notice one thing: when we are in Grace, we feel that everything is beautiful, that everything can’t have something else but a happy end. When we lose the Grace, we feel the darkness is so great, that we’ll never get out of it. Notice this is the characteristic of that condition. There is not and cannot be tragedy in God, however tragic our life may be. But those things of Hell and of falsehood are as any things of Hell – the work of falsehood wants us to despair. This is one thing, and I emphasize these effects for you to notice.

The second thing is we put very much emphasis on the preparation before Communion, for us to be, supposedly, worthy of commune. I say “supposedly” because we remain unworthy. Our worthiness is Christ. [Yet I see] we don’t understand well the need to find how to keep Communions’ Grace after Communion. In a way, this thing is more important than the preparation; this preparation before Communion is not for us to be worthy. This preparation is to prepare the soil of our soul. […] The most important thing is how to keep that Grace.

In this matter, I say to you, if you look to all the Philokalic Fathers, humbleness is the key. But what is humbleness? Because, beyond a certain pattern, we don’t know what humbleness is. For one thing, humbleness is spiritual realism. If I am the greatest sinner, then may God grant me the power to see I am the greatest sinner amongst people! This is a divine vision, that doesn’t belong to human reason, neither to comparison with the others. [Humbleness] belongs to a spiritual way of seeing things, a realist one. This is not a mannerism, but spiritual realism.

Secondly, Father Sophrony [Sakharov] defined humbleness as that quality of divine love which gives itself to the loved one without returning upon itself. This “without returning upon itself” means the humble one doesn’t consider upon himself, but seeks towards his loved one. Yet humbleness doesn’t mean just humiliation and carelessness for humiliation, but also care for the fulfillment of the loved one. Why? Because it lives through the loved one. It seeks into the loved one, it empties itself into the loved one, for it to receive in its emptied ego the loved one – for the loved one to rest into it, and for it to rest into the loved one. And that, in our [ecclesiastic] language, is called “perichoresis” – Father Sophrony used to called this “the pharmaceutical language of modern theology” [Fr. Raphael smiles], but [it is] a word which is the essence of eternal love.

On the other hand, I think a second definition will give you a better understanding of what we need to seek. Humbleness isn’t a thing by itself, it belongs to love. Father Sophrony said to me one day: “You think that what Saint Silouan said were great things, but know this: the only great thing is humbleness, because the pride prevents love.” Pride dwells in itself, and then, if I live in myself, neither of you will have place [here], nor God. But if I learn to empty myself, to give myself with the aim that God and whole humanity will have place [in me], then every person become a bearer of God and of the entire Universe. This is humbleness.

And then, [following] these paths, we’ll find both the justification to draw near the Holy Communion – [or] the worthiness, if you prefer, because the worthiness is not ours: then Christ will partake with us His worthiness. And, living in this spirit, we’ll be able to keep the Grace we receive in Communion.

 

Question: And, yet, how can we keep the Grace? …

Fr. Raphael: Well, by persisting on this path of humbleness. I mean, there are many things to say, but I say again – you will find your way through God, [together] with your Spiritual Father, each of you. The general path is the humbleness. Humbleness is the key to keep the Grace.

 

Question: And what if we don’t know what [humbleness] is, and we ask Lord to give us [humbleness]?

Fr. Raphael: [Then] Lord shall give it to you, so ask it from Lord – speaking of correct understanding…

________

Editor Note:

Perichoresis (from Greek: περιχώρησις perikhōrēsis, “rotation”) is a term referring to the relationship of the three persons of the triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) to one another. Circumincession (later circuminsession) is a Latin-derived term for the same concept.
from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perichoresis

Transcript from a conversation with youth of Association of Romanian Orthodox Christian Students, Bucharest, 14 March 2002

Published on www.pemptousia.com

 

The Theology And Memory Of Elder Sophrony (Sakharov)

Dr. Christopher Veniamin

 

Archimandrite Sophrony was born Sergei Symeonovich Sakharov in Moscow on September 23, 1896. He emigrated to Western Europe in 1921. A year later he would settle in Paris, pursuing his career as an artist. In Paris, the future monk returned to the faith of his fathers, holy Orthodoxy. In 1926, Sergei entered the St. Panteleimon Monastery on Mt. Athos, where he would become a disciple of the great elder, St. Silouan of Mt. Athos. He was given the name Sophrony in monastic tonsure. In 1947, circumstances forced Fr. Sophrony to move to Paris, where he wrote about his elder, St. Silouan. In 1958, he moved to England and founded the Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights. 

On July 11, 1993, Elder Sophrony reposed in the Lord. Today marks the twenty-second anniversary of his repose. 

In honor of his repose, we offer below two sources coming from his spiritual children who are transmitters of his theology and memory. The first is an aduio recording of Archimandrite Zacharias of Elder Sophrony’s monastery in Tolleshunt Knights and Dr. Christopher Veniamin, professor of Patristics at St. Tikhon’s Seminary in South Canaan, PA, sharing remembrances and teachings of Elder Sophrony, and the second is an article authored by Dr. Veniamin on the concept of “theosis” in the teachings of Elder Sophrony and his own great elder, St. Silouan the Athonite.

 

 

“Theosis” in Saint Silouan the Athonite and Staretz Sophrony of Essex

 

As a young boy, I had the blessing of serving each Sunday in the altar of the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist, Essex, England. One day when I was still a lad of only fifteen or sixteen years of age, following the Divine Liturgy, and whilst standing in the Prothesis of All Saints Church, Father Sophrony asked me why I was looking so thoughtful. Embarrassed that I was preoccupied with such mundane matters, I had to confess that school examinations were on the horizon, and that I wanted to do well in them. To my surprise, however, Father Sophrony did not belittle my worldly anxiety, but gently nodded his head, and agreed that it was indeed important to do well in examinations, and that to do so required much toil and sacrifice. But then he also added, as though to a friend, that “in this world there is nothing more difficult than to be saved.”

The force of the truth of these words struck deep in my heart. We often encounter, in ourselves and in others, the attitude which suggests that Salvation is something that we can leave until later; once, that is, we have taken care of more pressing matters. Father Sophrony’s perspective was quite different, however. By pointing to the incomparable difficulty of attaining to Salvation, he was clearly placing it at the very top of our list of urgent priorities. And when one pauses to consider all the great achievements of mankind, past and present, whether they be of a scientific or literary character, in the world of politics or finance or physical endeavour. Father Sophrony’s words seem bold and even provocative—a hard saying (John 6:60)—but nevertheless fundamentally quite true.

Upon later reflection, I realized that the reason why Father Sophrony’s words rang so true that day is because of the wealth of meaning which Salvation has for us in the Orthodox Church. By others, Salvation is often understood simply in terms of “deliverance from sin and its consequences and admission to heaven,” in terms of escaping damnation, that is, and reaching a safe place where we can no longer be tormented by the enemy. According to the Fathers of the Church, however, Salvation is not so prosaic a matter, for it involves the “theosis” (the deification or divinization) of the entire human person in Christ; it involves, that is, becoming like unto Christ to the point of identity with Him; it involves acquiring the mind of Christ (as Saint Paul affirms in the second chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, verse sixteen), and indeed it signifies the sharing in His very Life.

In our brief and humble examination of the content and meaning of theosis or deification in Saint Silouan and Staretz Sophrony, I should like to focus on three main areas: 1. Christ as the measure of our deification, 2. Love for enemies as the measure of our likeness to Christ, and 3. Holy Relics as a witness to the love of Christ in us.

 

  1. Christ as the Measure of Our Deification

Christ is the measure of all things, both divine and human. Since the divine Ascension, our human nature has been raised up to the right hand of God the Father. As Father Sophrony points out, in His divine Person, the Son and Word of God was of course always seated on the right hand of the Father, being con-substantial with Him. The divine purpose for the human race, however, is seen in the union of our human nature to the divine Person of Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, in its being raised to the right hand of the Father.

St Paul, the great Apostle of the Word of God made flesh, identifies the divine purpose of the Incarnation with our adoption as sons of God: But when the fulness of the time was come. God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons. God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ” (Gal. 4:4-7).

In Christ Jesus, therefore, we encounter both true and perfect God and true and perfect man. In other words, we see in Him not only the great God and Saviour (Tit. 2:13), but also what or who we have been called to become—sons and heirs of God the Father. St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, in refuting the heresy of the Gnostics of the second century, described the divine purpose succinctly thus: “[I]f the Word is made man, it is that men might become gods.”[1]

And the champion of Nicene Orthodoxy, Athanasius the Great, writing in the fourth century, reaffirms the Biblical and Irenaean position: “God became human,” he says, “that we might be made gods” (autos gar enenthrop-esen, ina emeis theopoiethomen).[2] “God became human that we might be made gods.” What a daring statement! But what exactly does it mean for us to become gods? Can we created mortals become uncreated and immortal? Is this not an impossibility? An impiety? Or even a blasphemy? In what, then, does our becoming gods, our deification or divinization—our theosis—consist?

As Archimandrite Sophrony explains in his spiritual autobiography, We Shall See Him As He Is: “Christ manifested the perfection of the Divine image in man and the possibility for our nature of assimilating the fulness of divinization to the very extent that, after His ascension. He placed our nature ‘on the right hand of the Father.'”[3] Note here that the expression “on the right hand of the Father” (ek dexion tou Patros) denotes nothing less than equality with the Father. Thus, since the time of the divine Ascension of Christ, our human nature has been deified in Him, and raised up to the right hand of God the Father.

Significantly, however, Archimandrite Sophrony also adds the following: “But even in Him our nature did not become one with the Essence of the Uncreated God. In Christ, incarnate Son of the Father, we contemplate God’s pre-eternal idea of man.”[4] So, in Christ Jesus we find man’s rightful place, “on the right hand of the Father,” sharing in the divine Life; but, as with the two natures in Christ, man has been called to be united with God without mixture or confusion of any kind, that is to say, we never cease to be His creatures, since He alone is Uncreated. This fundamental distinction is of inestimable significance in Patristic theology.

Nevertheless, in the union of our human nature to the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, we also see what in theological terminology is called the communicatio idiomatum, that is, the exchange of natural properties belonging to each of Christ’s two natures. This may also be described in terms of the interpenetration of the natural energy of each of the two natures in Christ in the other. As a simple illustration of this we have the Gospel narrative of the Transfiguration in Luke 9:28, where we first see Christ praying, performing, that is, an act which is proper to His human but not to His divine nature; while moments later, we find His humanity sharing in, indeed resplendent with His divine glory, which is proper only to the divine nature. Saint Cyril of Alexandria describes the scene in this way: “The blessed disciples slept for a short while, as Christ gave Himself to prayer. For He voluntarily fulfilled His human obligations (ta anthropina). Later, on waking they became beholders (theoroi) of His most holy and wondrous change.”[5]

Staretz Sophrony points out that the union of the human nature in Christ is of course hypostatic or prosopic, that is to say, that Christ is a divine Person, the Person of the Son and Word of God; but, it is equally important to note that the union of the two natures in Christ is also energetic.[6] The significance of this energetic interpenetration of the divine and human natures in each other is of paramount importance for us human beings in that it forms the basis of our own union with God, which is also energetic and not essential or hypostatic. In other words, it proves to us that the example of Christ is also realizable, also attainable, by us human persons, and that theosis to the point of divine perfection, far from being optional, is in fact an obligation. It is in this sense that Staretz Sophrony understands the exhortation: Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48).

Father Sophrony also highlights another mystery concerning the Life of Christ on earth as a model and pattern for our own Life in Christ. This is revealed in the fact that even with the human nature of Christ we may observe a certain growth or dynamism, or, as Holy Scripture puts it, a certain “increase:” And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man (Luke 2:52). Thus, before all things had been fulfilled, even after the hypostatic union of human nature to the divine Person of the Word; even after His assumption of our humanity into His Divine Person; even Christ, in His human aspect, appears as increasing in perfection. Hence, He also undergoes temptations (Luke 4:1-13, Hebr. 2:18); and even reached the point of agony (Luke 22:44). This, as Father Sophrony remarks, is due principally to a certain division which may be observed in Christ before His Glorious Ascension, owing to the asymmetry of His natures. Following His Ascension, and the sitting of Christ the Son of Man on the right hand of God the Father, we have the new vision of the Christ-Man as equal to God, not of course according to His nature, but according to His energy.

Father Sophrony cautiously notes, however, that this does not refer to Christ’s hypostatic “aspect,” for the pre-eternal and uncreated Word remained such even after His Incarnation. Nevertheless, in the human “aspect” of His union and existence, we find once again the model and pattern for our own Life in Christ, for, as Staretz Sophrony puts it: “Christ is the unshakable foundation and the ultimate criterion for the anthropological teaching of the Church, whatever we confess concerning the humanity of Christ is also an indication of the eternal divine plan for man in general. The fact that in the Christ-Man His hypostasis is God, in no way diminishes the possibility for us humans to follow His example (cf. John 13:15),[7] after which in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren (Hebr. 2:17).

“If it is true that Christ is the ‘Son of Man,’ consubstantial with us, then it follows that everything that He accomplished in His earthly life must likewise be possible for the rest of the ‘sons of men.'” And for this reason, Father Sophrony adds that “if we confess His full and perfect theosis, it behoves us also to hope for the same degree of theosis for the saints in the age to come.”[8] The fundamental theological concern behind all that we have said so far is soteriological, that is to say, it concerns our Salvation in a most fundamental way. Why? Because of the simple fact that we cannot live with Christ if we are not like Him in all respects. As the great hierophant John the Theologian and Evangelist proclaims: We know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure (1 John 3:2-3).

We shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. So, if we wish to be eternally with Christ, we must become like Him; and this process of becoming Christlike, this purification, invariably involves repentance—a fundamental change in our whole way of life, in our very “mode of being.”

Saint Symeon the New Theologian, in his Hymn no. 44 reiterates this point in the following way:

The Master is in no way envious of mortal men that they should appear equal to Him by divine grace, neither does He deem His servants unworthy to be like unto Him, but rather does He delight and rejoice to see us who were made men such as to become by grace what He is by nature. And He is so beneficent that He wills us to become even as He is. For if we be not as He is, exactly like unto Him in every way, how could we be united to Him? How could we dwell in Him, as He said, without being like unto Him, and how could He dwell in us, if we be not as He is?[9]

And again concerning the awesomeness of our inheritance, the great Paul, in Romans, writes the following:

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ, if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Rom. 8:16-18).

Father Sophrony also makes another very interesting and important observation concerning the example given by Christ and our own theosis or deification. He points to the fact that even though the deification of Christ’s human nature was, as Saint John Damascene says, effected from the very moment in which He assumed our nature, nevertheless Christ as Man shied away from anything which might give the impression of auto-theosis, that is to say, self-deification or self-divinization. That is why we see the action of the Holy Spirit underlined at His Holy Birth: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee… therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35); also, the Holy Spirit descends upon Christ at His Baptism in the Jordan (Matt. 3:15); and concerning the Resurrection, the Scriptures speak thus: God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory (1 Pet. 1:21); and finally, Christ Himself, teaching us the way of humility and how always to ascribe glory to Our Heavenly Father, says: If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true. There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true (John 5:31-32).

The same movement may be observed in the Divine Liturgy. The Words of Institution—”Take eat, this is my body,” “Drink of this all of you, this is my blood”—by themselves are not regarded as sufficient to effect the consecration of the Holy Gifts; they must be accompanied by the Epiklesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit, precisely in order to avoid any notion of self-deification, to avoid, that is, giving the impression that simply by speaking the words which Christ spoke, we are able to transform the Holy Gifts into the precious Body and Blood of Christ. (Of course, at the heart of this movement lies the truth that the action of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is always one and the same: the Three Divine Hypostases always act together, always act in unison, which is an expression of Their consubstantiality.) Thus, it behoves us to beseech God the Father to send down the Holy Spirit, by Whose power the change of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is effected.[10]

 

  1. Love for Enemies as the Measure of Our Likeness to Christ

Now although Saint Silouan himself, as far as I am aware, does not actually use the term theosis, the deification of the human person in Christ is certainly a golden thread which may be traced throughout his writings. For Saint Silouan, the fundamental criterion by which a person may measure his or her likeness to Christ is love for one’s enemies (cf. Matt. 5:43-45). As he says:

“Christ prayed for them that were crucifying him: Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34). Stephen the Martyr prayed for those who stoned him, that the Lord lay not this sin to their charge (Acts 7:60). And we, if we wish to preserve grace, must pray for our enemies.”

Herein lies the mystery of the divine “mode of being,” God’s very way of life: humility. Humility on the ascetic plane, explains Father Sophrony, is manifested as regarding one’s self as the worst of all sinners, while on the theological plane, humility is revealed as love, which is given freely and completely[11]. Saint Silouan, who was himself possessed of this divine love, humbly warns us to be watchful:

“If you do not feel pity for the sinner destined to suffer the pains of hellfire, it means that the grace of the Holy Spirit is not in you, but an evil spirit. While you are still alive, therefore, strive by repentance to free yourself from this spirit.”[12]

The struggle for Christlike love for one’s enemies and humility, and against pride, is a very great one indeed; and that is why the saints, the true imitators of Christ and sharers in His love, are great indeed. Saint Silouan writes:

I am a sorry wretch, as the Lord knows, but my pleasure is to humble my soul and love my neighbour, though he may have given me offence. At all times I beseech the Lord Who is merciful to grant that I may love my enemies; and by the grace of God I have experienced what the love of God is, and what it is to love my neighbour; and day and night I pray the Lord for love, and the Lord gives me tears to weep for the whole world. But if I find fault with any man, or look on him with an unkind eye, my tears will dry up, and my soul sink into despondency. Yet do I begin again to entreat forgiveness of the Lord, and the Lord in His mercy forgives me, a sinner.

“Brethren,” Saint Silouan continues:

“Before the face of my God I write: Humble your hearts, and while yet on this earth you will see the mercy of the Lord, and know your Heavenly Creator, and your souls will never have their fill of love.”[13]

So, we see that the love of Christ fills the very being of His saints.

 

  1. Holy Relics as a Witness to the Love of Christ in Us

But whither does this all-embracing Christ-like love lead? The answer for Saint Silouan is a simple one:

Love of God takes various forms. The man who wrestles with wrong thoughts loves God according to his measure. He who struggles against sin, and asks God to give him strength not to sin, but yet falls into sin again because of his infirmity, and sorrows and repents—he possesses grace in the depths of his soul and mind, but his passions are not yet overcome. But the man who has conquered his passions now knows no conflict: all his concern is to watch himself in all things lest he fall into sin. Grace, great and perceptible, is his. But he who feels grace in both soul and body is a perfect man, and if he preserves this grace, his body is sanctified and his bones will make holy relics.[14]

There are, described in this passage, four stages of love, the fourth and highest of which is that which is attested to by the penetration of Divine Grace into the body, into the very marrow of a person’s being. And this is identified by Saint Silouan as the highest state of perfection, the highest state of holiness. “He who feels grace in both soul and body is a perfect man, and if he preserves this grace, his body is sanctified and his bones will make holy relics.”

As with Christ’s voluntary death, in which it was not possible for the Body of the Logos of Life to see corruption, and which was thus raised together with His human soul on the third day,[15] so too will it be with the bodies of those saints which have known great grace in this life, and who have been able to preserve it.[16] They too, even after death, are not separated from the grace and love of God, neither in soul nor in body, and hence their bodies are revealed as holy relics.

Here we are confronted with an overwhelming mystery: that man is not truly man, not truly a human person or hypostasis, without his body. For this reason, even great saints patiently await the Second and Glorious Coming of Christ, when by Grace they will become united once more with their bodies. There will not be a Judgment for them; for they have already been judged—by holy self-condemnation. The Second Coming of Christ, then, will be for them the moment of their full realization as persons, and thus the inauguration of their full and perfect participation in the Life in Christ, which is at one and the same time the Life of the Most Holy Trinity.

The sole exception to this, of course, is the Mother of God, the Theotokos, who, as the Mother of Life, even after death, could not be held by the grave, but, like her Son, “passed over into life.” She, therefore, even now, as a fully realized human hypostasis, enjoys the blessed Life to which we have all been called.

In our first section, we noted an important passage in Saint Paul, from his Epistle to the Romans, concerning sonship, suffering and the final glory. Please allow me to repeat it once more:

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Rom. 8:16-18).

The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us, that is, in our adoption as sons, in our Salvation, in our theosis in Christ. That is why Saint Gregory Palamas affirms that “except for sin nothing in this life, even death itself, is really evil, even if it causes suffering.”[17] Speaking of the torments that the martyrs were willing to endure, Saint Gregory explains that “the martyrs made the violent death which others afflicted on them into something magnificent, a source of life, glory and the eternal heavenly kingdom, because they exploited it in a good way that pleased God.”[18]

Christ’s word is charged with His divine energy, life and power; so too are His divine actions and His Life on earth as Man. When we fill ourselves with His words, and strive earnestly to live according to His command and example, to love even our enemies as He did—as He does—so too do we, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, enter into the sphere of Life which is contained in them. There is, as Father Zacharias puts it, “an exchange of lives” which takes place. We thus become, in our souls and in our bodies, partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4) through union with His flesh, His humanity—sharers, that is, in the very divine Life of Christ Himself, which is at the same time the Life of the Most Holy Trinity.

We are saved not as individuals but as persons, as members of the Body of Christ, of which Christ is the Head. We are united with Him—and through Him, with the other members of His Body.

Notice the following words from Father Sophrony’s We Shall See Him As He Is:

“Through His incarnation the everlasting Logos of the Father gives us to partake of His Blood and His Flesh in order thereby to pour into our veins His eternal Life, that we may become His children, flesh of His Flesh, bone of His Bone (cf. John 6:53-57).”[19]

In Holy Relics, therefore, we do not see dead bones—far from it. In Holy Relics we see the result of communion with the Lord, the result of sharing the very Life of the Most High God (cf. Rom. 9:5) —communion with Him Who is Self-Life, Life Itself (autozoe). United with Christ, then, though we pass through the valley of the shadow of death (Ps. 23:4), we pass from death to Eternal Life. This is the point at which the created meets the uncreated, the point at which earth meets “heaven face to face,” and the point at which we created, mortal human beings are transfigured by Him into Divine Life.

Thus are the perfect. Thus are the saints. Thus are they whose very bones have preserved grace to the end. Holy Relics are the earthly remains of those who have been taught by none other than Christ Himself to love their enemies even unto death, the death of the Cross, which is His glory, and which by grace becomes their glory too. Love for enemies is not a moral injunction, it is the fundamental criterion for the Christian way of life. This is Salvation. Yea, this is theosis.

Truly, then, “in this world there is nothing more difficult than to be saved.” But as we begin to perceive Salvation as theosis, so too do the dry bones seen by the Prophet Ezekiel begin to receive Life:

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, and caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live… And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord (Ezek. 37:1-14).

[I] shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live; Even so, come. Lord Jesus (Rev. 22:20).

 

FOOTNOTE__________________________________________________________

[1] Adversus Hereses V, pref.

[2] De Incarnalione LIV.

[3] We Shall See Him As He Is, translated by Rosemary Edmonds (Tolleshunt Knights, Essex: Patriarchal and Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, 1988), p. 193.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Homitiae diversae IV in transfigurationem (Patrologia Graeca 77:10138); cf. Ad Nestorium 12, anathema 4 (Acta Conciliorum Oecumenicorum I, 1, 1:41), where the concept of the communicatio idiomatum is formulated in a succinct manner. The reality of the hypostatic union and the communicatio idiomatum in Christ can be discerned in the fact that Christ conversed with the people sometimes oikonomikos, as man, and sometimes with divine authority (mat’ exousias tes Iheoprepous), as God, Ad Successum episcopum Diocaesareae 171.6 (ACO I, 1, 6:153). As a result of the communicatio idiomatum, it is also permissible to say that the Son of God was born, cf. Contra Nestorium 2 (ACO I, 1, 6:18-21), and Ad Nestorium 6.3 (1:35), and died, cf. ibid., 4.5 (27-28) and 12, anathema 12(42); Contra Nestorium 5; 7(6:101-3; 105-6). See also De adorations in spiritu el veritate 10 (PG 68:656C) and cf. Thesaurus de Trinitate 32 (PG 75:560C), where Cyril maintains that the human nature of Christ possessed essential idiomata of God, while at the same time remaining distinct from His divinity, Cf. also De recta fide ad Arcadiam et Marinam 177 (ACO I, 1,5:107-8). For further details see my “The Transfiguration of Christ in Greek Patristic Literature: From Irenaeus of Lyons to Gregory Palamas” (Oxford D. Phil, thesis, 1991), pp. 134-135.

[6] Asceticism and Contemplation [in Greek], translated by Hieromonk Zacharias (Tolleshunt Knights. Essex: Patriarchal and Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, 1996), p. 152.

[7] For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.

[8] For all of the above, see: Asceticism and Contemplation, pp. 138-139.

[9] See ibid., pp. 151-152.

[10] Ibid., p. 153.

[11] Ibid., p. 156.

[12] Saint Silouan the Athonite, translated by Rosemary Edmonds (Tolleshunt Knights, Essex: Patriarchal and Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, 1991), p. 352.

[13] Ibid., pp. 362-363.

[14] Ibid., pp. 438-439.

[15] Cf. the Troparion: “In the tomb according to the flesh, As God in hell with the soul, In paradise with the thief, And on the throne with the Father and the Spirit Wast thou, O Christ, omnipresent, incircumscript.” Translation taken from the Orthodox Liturgy of the Patriarchal and Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex (Oxford University Press, 1982). p. 63.

[16] Cf. Saint Gregory Palamas’ Homily XVI, On Holy Saturday, 17.

[17] Ibid., 33.

[18] Ibid. Quotations taken from The Homilies at Saint Gregory Palamas, edited with an introduction and notes by Christopher Veniamin, and translated by Christine Selte (Mt. Thabor Publishing).

[19] Op.cit., pp. 192-193.

 

 

SOURCE:

Originally delivered at the St. Tikhon ‘s annual lecture series, September 30, 1997.

Originally published in Alive in Christ: The Magazine of the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania, Orthodox Church in America. 1997. Vol. XIII.3, pp. 22-27.

This article is now available as the first chapter of the book The Orthodox Understanding of Salvation: “Theosis” in Scripture and Tradition (Dalton, PA: 2014, repr. ed.) from Dr. Veniamin’s Mount Thabor Publishing and is also available as a single piece in Kindle.

Reprinted http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/80597.htm 10/07/2015.

New Martyr Alexander Jacobson

I.M. Andreyev

 

     “Are you a Christian, then?”

     “Yes, I am an Orthodox [Christian] Jew,”
                           –replied St Alexander Jacobson, smiling joyfully.

 

 

 

andreyev-and-fr-adrian-rymarenko-spring-19602
Ivan M. Andreyev & Fr Adrian (Rymarenko) Spring 1962

In the year 1929, in the frightful concentration camp of Solovki, beginning with the end of the winter there was a great increase of scurvy, and towards spring 18,000 prisoners of the fourth division of the camp (the division that occupied the island of Solovki itself), the number of those afflicted reached 5000. I, as an imprisoned physician, was offered, apart from my usual work, to take upon myself the supervision of one of the new scurvy barracks for 500 prisoners.

     When I came to this barracks I was met by a young Jewish orderly with a very handsome, lively face. He turned out to be a fourth-year medical student. To have such a qualified helper was a great rarity and an immense help. Alexander Yakovlevich Jacobson (such was his name) went around the whole barracks with me and showed me all the patients. Concerning each one, he told me in detail his diagnosis and the characteristic traits of the disease. The patients were all in a very serious condition. Rotting and pussing gums afflicted with the sores of scurvy gangrene, an immense swelling of the joints, bleeding from scurvy in the form of blue spots in the extremities were what came first to the eyes in a hasty examination. A more thorough investigation revealed that many of them turned out to have serious complications in the inner organs: hemorrhagic nephritis, pleuritis and pericarditis, serious afflictions of the eyes, and so forth. From the explanations of the orderly, I understood that he knew precisely what was what in the symptomatology of diseases, and he made correct diagnoses and prognoses. Read more “New Martyr Alexander Jacobson”

Sermon on the Nativity of the Virgin Mary

St. Andrew, Archbishop of Crete

The present Feast is for us the beginning of feasts.st-andrew-of-crete

Serving as boundary to the law and to prototypes, at the same time it serves as a doorway to grace and truth. “For Christ is the end of the law” (Rom 10:4), Who, having freed us from the letter (of the law), raises us to spirit.

Here is the end (to the law): in that the Lawgiver, having made everything, has changed the letter in spirit and gathers everything in Himself (Eph 1:10), enlivening the law with grace: grace has taken the law under its dominion, and the law has become subjected to grace, so that the properties of the law not suffer reciprocal commingling, but only so that by Divine power, the servile and subservient (in the law) are transformed into the light and free (in grace), so that we are not “in bondage to the elements of the world” (Gal 4:3) and not in a condition under the slavish yoke of the letter of the law. Read more “Sermon on the Nativity of the Virgin Mary”

True Orthodoxy

 

by +ARCHBISHOP AVERKY

of Syracuse and Holy Trinity Monastery
Of Blessed Memory

Few people today know that the Orthodox Church is nothing less than that Church which has preserved untainted the genuine teachings of Jesus Christ, the very teachings delivered to every subsequent generation of believers. These teachings came down the centuries. from the Holy Apostles, explicated and carefully interpreted by their legitimate successors (their disciples and the holy Fathers), traditioned and conserved unaltered by our Eastern Church which is alone able to prove her right to be called “the Orthodox Church.”

The divine Founder of the Church, our Lord Jesus Christ, said clearly, “I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against Her” (St. Matt xvi, 18). To the Church, He sent the Holy Spirit. The Spirit descended upon the Apostles, the Spirit of Truth (St. John xv, 16f) Who “manifests all things” to Her and guides Her (St. John xvi, 13), protecting Her from error. Indeed, it was to declare this Truth to men that the Lord came into the cosmos, according to His own words (St. John xviii, 31). And Saint Paul confirms this fact in his letter to his pupil, the bishop Timothy, saying that, “the Church of the living God is the ground and pillar of the Truth” (I Tim iii, 15).

Because She is “the ground and pillar of the Truth,” “the gates of Hell cannot prevail against Her.” It follows, then, that the true Christian Church—palpably unique since Christ established but one Church—has always existed on earth and will exist to the end of time. She has received the promise of Christ, “I will be with you even unto the end of the age.” Can there be the slightest doubt that the Lord refers here to the Church? Any honest and sane judgment, any act of good conscience, anyone familiar with the history of the Christian Church, the pure and unaltered moral and theological teachings of the Christian religion, must confess that there was but one true Church founded by our Lord, Jesus Christ, and that She has preserved His Truth holy and unchanged. History reveals, moreover, a traceable link of grace from the holy Apostles to their successors and to the holy Fathers. In contrast to what others have done, the Orthodox Church has never introduced novelties into Her teachings in order to “keep up with the times”, to be “progressive”, “not to be left at the side of the road,” or to accommodate current exigencies and fashions which are always suffused with evil. The Church never conforms to the world.

Indeed not, for the Lord has said to his disciples at the Last Supper, “You are not of this world.” We must hold to these words if we are to remain faithful to true Christianity—the true Church of Christ has always been, is and will always be a stranger to this world. Separated from it, she is able to transmit the divine teachings of the Lord unchanged, because that separation has kept Her unchanged, that is, like the immutable God Himself. That which the learned call “conservativism” is a principal and, perhaps, most characteristic index of the true Church.

Since the TRUTH is given to us once and for all, our task is to assimilate rather than to discover it. We are commanded to confirm ourselves and others in the Truth and thereby bring everyone to the true Faith, Orthodoxy.

Unfortunately, there have appeared in the very bosom of the Church, even among the hierarchy, opinions expressed by well-known individuals which are detrimental to Her. The desire to “march with the times” makes them fear that they will not be recognized as “cultured”, “liberal” and “progressive.” These modern apostates to Orthodoxy are “ashamed” to confess that our Orthodox church is precisely the Church which was founded by our Lord Jesus Christ, the Church to which appertains the great promise that “the gates of Hell will not prevail against Her,” and to which He confided the plenum of divine Truth. By their deceit and false humility, by their blasphemy against the Lord, these false shepherds and those with them have been estranged from the true Church. They have given tacit expression to the idea that “the gates of Hell” have “prevailed” against the Church. In other words, these apostates say that our holy Orthodox Church is equally “at fault” for the “division of the churches” and ought now to “repent” her sins and enter into union with other “Christian churches” by means of certain concessions to them, the result being a new, indivisible church of Christ.

This is the ideology of the religious movement which has become so fashionable in our times: “The ecumenical movement” among whose number one may count Orthodox, even our clergy. For a long time, we have heard that they belong to this movement in order “to witness to the peoples of other confessions the truth of holy Orthodoxy,” but it is difficult for us to believe that this statement is anything more than “throwing powder in our eyes.” Their frequent theological declarations in the international press can lead us to no other conclusion than that they are traitors to the holy Truth.

As a matter of historical fact, the “ecumenical movement”—of which the WCC is the supreme organ—is an organization. of purely Protestant origin. Nearly all the Orthodox Churches have joined, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia being the most notable exception. Even those churches behind the “iron curtain” have joined. For some time the Russian Patriarchate resisted, flattering herself with the purity of her Orthodoxy and quite naturally viewing this movement as hostile to Orthodoxy. She has since become a member.

The Russian Synod almost stands alone in her opposition to the “ecumenical movement.” How can we explain her isolation from the rest of “global Orthodoxy”? We must understand the situation in terms of the words that “this Must take place” (St. Luke xxi, 9), that is, the “great apostasy” clearly predicted by the Lord (Sol ii, 3-12). “it is permitted by God,” as [St.] Ignatius Brianchaninoff said almost a century ago. (Another spiritual father, Theophan the Recluse, announced with grief that the horrendous apostasy would begin within Russia.)[St.] Ignatius wrote: “We are helpless to arrest this apostasy. Impotent hands will have no power against it and nothing more will be required than the attempt to withold it. The spirit of the age will reveal the apostasy. Study it, if you wish to avoid it, if you wish to escape this age and the temptation of its spirits. One can suppose, too, that the institution of the Church which has been tottering for so long will fall terribly and suddenly. Indeed, no one is able to stop or prevent it. The present means to sustain the institutional Church are borrowed from the elements of the world, things inimical to the Church, and the consequence will be only to accelerate its fall. Nevertheless, the Lord protects the elect and their limited number will be filled.”

The Enemy of humanity makes every effort and uses all means to confound it. Aid comes to him through the total co-operation of all the secret and invisible heterodox, especially those priests and bishops who betray their high calling and oath, the true faith and the true Church.

Repudiation of and preservation from the apostasy which has made such enormous progress demands that we stand apart from the spirit of the age (which bears the seeds of its own destruction). If we expect to withstand the world, it is first necessary to understand it and keep sensitively in mind that in this present age all that which carries the most holy and dear name of Orthodoxy is not in fact Orthodox. Rather, it is often “A fraudulent and usurped Orthodoxy” which we must fear and eschew as if it were fire. Unlike this spurious faith, true Orthodoxy was given and must be received without novelty and nothing must be accepted as a teaching or practice of the Church which is contrary to the Holy Scriptures and the dogma of the Universal Church. True Orthodoxy thinks only to serve god and to save souls and is not preoccupied with the secular and ephemeral welfare of men. True Orthodoxy is spiritual and not physical or psychological or earthly. In order to protect ourselves from “the spirit of the age” and preserve our fidelity to the true Orthodoxy, we ought firstly and with all our strength live blamelessly: A total and rigorous commitment to Christ, without deviation from the commandments of God or the laws of His holy Church. At the same time, we must have no common prayer or spiritual liaison with the modern apostasy or with anything which “soils” our holy Faith, even those dissidents who call themselves “Orthodox.” They will go their way and we will go ours. We must be honorable and tenacious, following the right way, never deviating in order to please men or from fear that we might lose some personal advantage.

The sure path to perdition is indifference and the lack of principles which is euphemistically called “the larger view.” In opposition to this “larger view” we put the “rigor of ideas” which, in modernity, it is fashionable to label “narrow” and “fanatical.” To be sure, if one adopts the “modern mentality,” one must consider the holy martyrs—whose blood is “the cement of the Church”—and the Church Fathers—who struggled all their lives against heretics—as nothing less than “narrow” and “fanatical.” In truth, there is little difference between “the broad way” against which the Lord warned and the modem “larger view.” He condemned the “broad way” as the way to “gehenna.”

Of course, the idea of “gehenna” holds no fear for those “liberals” and avant-garde theologians. They may smugly “theologize” about it, but in rashly and wantonly discussing “the new ways of Orthodox theology” and acquiring a number of disciples, they give evidence that they no longer believe in the existence of Hell. This new breed of “Orthodox” are really no more than modem “scholastics.”

In other words, the way of these “progressivists” is not our way. Their way is deceptive, and it is unfortunate that it is not evident to everyone. The “broader” or “larger view” alienates us from the Lord and His true Church. It is the road away from Orthodoxy. This view is sinister, maliciously invented by the Devil in order to deny us salvation. For us, however, we accept no innovations, but choose the ancient, proven way, the way in which true Christians have chosen to serve God for 2,000 years.

We choose the way of fidelity to the true Faith and not the “modern way.” We choose faithfulness to the true Church with all Her canons and dogmas which have been received and confirmed by the local and universal Councils. We choose the holy customs and traditions, the spiritual riches of that faith transmitted complete and entire to us from the Holy Apostles, the Holy Fathers of the Church, and the Christian heritage of our venerable ancestors. This alone is the faith of the true Orthodox, distinct from the counterfeit “orthodoxy” invented by the Adversary. We receive only the Apostolic Faith, the Faith of the Fathers, the Orthodox Faith.

 

 

From The Orthodox Christian Witness, wherein it appeared translated from the French in La Foi Transmise (Nov. 1968), pp. 19-22.

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On the Transfiguration: a sermon

Saint Gregory Palamas
Archbishop of Thessalonica

For an explanation of the present Feast and understanding of its truth, it is necessary for us to turn to the very start of today’s reading from the Gospel: “Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James and John his brother, and led them up onto a high mountain by themselves” (Mt 17:1). Read more “On the Transfiguration: a sermon”

An Open Monastic Epistle

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An Open Monastic Epistle To Our Readers, Supporters & Spiritual Children,

Dear in Christ,

Let Us Be Truthful.
I do not wish to offer you the wrong impression. Indeed I have worked many hours on this website in order to offer the facts about Western Orthodoxy and what we here at the Hermitage –within the ROCOR– are struggling to restore & preserve; that being a combined cenobinic/eremitic life under the typikon of St Benedict of Norcia and the tradition of St Romuald of Ravenna. We are the only ones recalling the Hesychastic example of our ancient Benedictine founder St Romuald of Ravenna.  That’s not all. We insist that our liturgical life conform to an Orthodox standard. Not a Papist or Anglican heterodox standard posing as “orthodox”. This means our Liturgical Rites must have an origins prior to the Great Schism and no later than 1072 a.d. (this is the final cut off date when we can say all of the West was lost to heresy). The Anglo-Roman Rite, that we observe, has its origins circa. mid to late 900s. Unlike so many other “Western Rite” Orthodox whose criteria are far more liberal, that is, post 1054 a.d.

To those Western Rite “purest” who complain there is so much Slavic on this website. 
Our ancient founder St Romuald lived in Byzantine Ravenna (now in Northern Italy) & Istria (now a County in Croatia). He founded and reformed monasteries throughout Europe and the edge of Eastern Europe. In his later life, prior to founding Camaldoli, he spent time as a hermit in a cave by the Lim Channel in Country Istria after which he founded the Abbey & Church of Sveti Miljenko Arhandeo in Klostar. It is historically well known that both Western liturgical & Eastern liturgical Churches in the West Balkan region were Slavic speaking, even after the Great Schism the Western Church remained Slavic speaking until the 20th c. when it began its use of the vernacular Croatian1. .  We do not advocate the use of old languages other than the vernacular since that is proper according to Orthodox Canons. It would be permissible to adopt the balkan culture appropriate in support of the Western Orthodox monastic life as once lived at the Klostar Abbey of St Michael the Archangel in County Istria, Croatia if we knew what that had been. Yet, as in our monastic customaries it is permissible in our own ćelije, future hermitages and monasteries practice to use Church Slavonic or Serbo-Croatian as a liturgical language but never in the potential parochial environments such as our missions or parishes. 

What you read here is all true. It is our goal that this lifestyle should survive for generations after our repose. But as I write this, “us” is simply myself. Yes the Hermitage has been around since 1999 however in needless isolation due to our previous attachment to the former jurisdiction. Since being received in the Russian Church outside Russia there has been an increased interest in what we are doing here. 

The Hermitage Van.
Still the Hermitage can no longer be sustained solely on my Federal Disability Income (which is within Government Poverty Levels). Not so very recently, the Hermitage van had fallen in a state beyond repair it seems. We have attempted repairs but the van seems to prefer the repair shop better than the Hermitage driveway!  Without dependable transportation how are we to go about our essential errands (to the bank, grocery store, medical appointments and such) in our sorry state of disability? We have no real local support here. No one to turn to. Walking is not an option. This is an urgent priority that only our friends in the Orthodox World can help us with by donating at our The Hermitage Fund.

Novi Klostar Hermitage’s Need for a New Home.
We are housed in the rented first floor flat of a two-family house in the city suburbs. Therein, we have two monastic cells. The (living) room that houses the Oratory dedicated to Our Saviour Hagios Hesychios is inadequate for this purpose. And for the purpose of growth & accommodating the vocation of new Western Orthodox monastics this current dwelling is inadequate! This must change for the better if we expect to grow and expand and realize St Romuald’s vision!  But it will never happen by our doings alone. I am disabled & at the time of this writing 59 years of age. What we need in this circumstance is a donation of property someplace in Central New York State appropriate for monastic life.

Friends’ Society of Ss. Cyril & Methodius 
a membership-type of foundation to receive those large donations for such capital projects we are planning (see more here). God Willing! That’s if we can drive to the bank or lawyers office! In the mean time, you may give what you will through our The Hermitage Fund

If you wish for us to remember you in prayer let us know who you are.

May God Grant you many years!

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Monks of Novi Klostar Hermitage of St John the Divine

http://rocor-hermits.org/
+St. Ethelwold the Confessor, bishop, “Father of Monks,” at Winchester
+St. Kenneth, hermit of Gower, Wales
Sunday, August 1,os 2016

 NOTES____________________________________________

  1. The two monks later canonized as Saints Cyril and Methodius, brothers from Thessaloniki, were sent to Great Moravia in 862 by the Byzantine emperor at the request of Prince Rastislav, who wanted to weaken the dependence of his country on East Frankish priests. The Glagolitic alphabet, however it originated, was used between 863 and 885 for government and religious documents and books, and at the Great Moravian Academy (Veľkomoravské učilište) founded by the missionaries, where their followers were educated. The Kiev Missal was dated to the 10th century.

In 886 an East Frankish bishop of Nitra named Wiching banned the script and jailed 200 followers of Methodius, mostly students of the original academy. They were then dispersed or, according to some sources, sold as slaves by the Franks. Many of them (including Naum, Clement, Angelarious, Sava and Gorazd), however, reached Bulgaria and were commissioned by Boris I of Bulgaria to teach and instruct the future clergy of the state in the Slavic languages. After the adoption of Christianity in Bulgaria in 865, religious ceremonies and Divine Liturgy were conducted in Greek by clergy sent from the Byzantine Empire, using the Byzantine rite. Fearing growing Byzantine influence and weakening of the state, Boris viewed the introduction of the Slavic alphabet and language into church use as a way to preserve the independence of the Bulgarian Empire from Byzantine Constantinople. As a result of Boris’ measures, two academies, one in Ohrid and one in Preslav, were founded. From there, the students traveled to other places and spread the use of their alphabet. Some went to Croatia (Dalmatia), where the squared variant arose and where the Glagolitic remained in use for a long time.  (excerpted from Wikipedia, “Glagolitic alphabet”)

 

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Monks in D.C.

The first Russian Orthodox monastery could be opened in the US capital of Washington D.C. or in its vicinity, Metropolitan Jonah, a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) told.

biomet.jonahThe first Russian Orthodox monastery could be opened in the US capital of Washington D.C. or in its vicinity, Metropolitan Jonah, a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) told.

“In the area, not necessarily in D.C… It will be Russian tradition, of course, you know, the services will also be in English, as well as in [Church] Slavonic… [The monastery] has a very specific outreach [program] to educate people about Orthodoxy and Russian culture and Russian spiritual culture,” Metropolitan Jonah said, answering a question about his plans to establish a monastery in Washington D.C.

The monastery would be designed for educating people and would become the first Russian monastery in the vicinity of the US capital, as the only existing Orthodox monastery is of the Greek tradition, although, it had previously belonged to the Georgian Orthodox Church, he added, noting that the most important current task is to find the required funds and a suitable site, which may be outside of the city proper.

“We have the Holy Archangels Orthodox Foundation, which has been supporting my ministry… which will be a good initial basis to support the monastery. It’s hard to state [the amount of funds needed]. If we go in stages, we could get started from about $500,000. To build a complex, it will probably be at least two million,” the bishop outlined.

Jonah noted the Washington D.C. area needed a Russian monastery not only because of the Russian emigrant population in the US capital but also due to the many Orthodox worshipers with different backgrounds living in the area.

The monastery’s brethren currently consists of three or four people, but it is set to grow, the bishop said, explaining that services are currently held at his own house and are attended by a small number of worshipers.

Jonah was the Archbishop of Washington and New York and Metropolitan of All America and Canada of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) in the period of 2008-2012. A year ago, the metropolitan was accepted as a bishop of the ROCOR, a part of the Russian Orthodox Church. Previously, Jonah served as abbot of the St. John of San Francisco Monastery in California for 12 years.

Source: Mirage News