Saturday, August 27, 2011

THE DORMITION OF OUR MOST HOLY LADY THEOTOKOS AND EVER VIRGIN MARY




After the Lord’s Ascension, the Mother of God remained under the care of the Apostle John the Theologian, and when he was absent, she lived in the house of his parents, near the Mount of Olives. For all the Apostles and all the faithful, she was a consolation and edification. Talking with them, the Mother of God told them of the wondrous events of the Annunciation, the conception without seed, and her birth of Christ without corruption, His childhood and earthly life. Like the Apostles, she instructed and strengthened others in the Christian Faith by her very presence, words, and prayers. The Apostles’ reverence for the Most Holy Virgin was extraordinary. Upon receiving the Holy Spirit on the remarkable day of Pentecost, they remained in Jerusalem for about ten years, serving for the salvation of the Jews and wishing to see and hear her divine words as often as possible. Many of the newly-enlightened in the faith even came from distant lands to Jerusalem in order to see and hear the Most Pure Theotokos.
During the persecutions brought by Herod against the young Christian Church (Acts. 12:1–3), the Most Holy Virgin Mary, together with the Apostle John the Theologian, departed in the year 42 for Ephesus, where the lot fell to the Apostle John to preach the Gospel. She was also in Cyprus at the home of St. Lazarus the Four Days Dead, who was acting Bishop there, and on the Holy Mountain of Athos, concerning which, according to St. Stephen the Hagiorite, the Mother of God said prophetically, “This place shall be the portion given me by my Son and God. I will be the Protectress of this place, and an Intercessor for it before God.”


The reverence of the ancient Christians for the Mother of God was so great that they preserved everything about her life that they could note from her words and deeds, and even left us a description of her appearance.
According to tradition based upon the words of the Holy Hieromartyr Dionysius the Aeropagite (†December 20, 107), St. Ambrose of Milan wrote in his work On Virginity about the Mother of God, “She was a virgin not only in body but also in mind, who stained the sincerity of its disposition by no guile, who was humble in heart, grave in speech, prudent in mind, sparing of words, studious in reading, resting her hope not on uncertain riches, but on the prayer of the poor, intent on work, modest in discourse; wont to seek not man but God as the judge of her thoughts, to injure no one, to have goodwill towards all, to rise up before her elders, not to envy her equals, to avoid boastfulness, to follow reason, to love virtue. When did she pain her parents even by a look? When did she disagree with her neighbours? When did she despise the lowly? When did she avoid the needy? Being wont only to go to such gatherings of men as mercy would not blush at, nor modesty pass by. There was nothing gloomy in her eyes, nothing forward in her words, nothing unseemly in her acts, there was not a silly movement, nor unrestrained step, nor was her voice petulant, that the very appearance of her outward being might be the image of her soul, the representation of what is approved." Click on link to read the rest.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

On Sobriety and Prayer



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Pray without ceasing—and pray without anger or thinking. Know that every thought that distances the mind from God, no matter how good it might seem in and of itself, is from the devil, who constantly sows high-sounding and irrational dreams only in order to distract the mind from God, from His commandments and His good works. The attention must not attach itself to any such thing, but rather it should firmly tear itself away and cleanse the heart in every way from evil suggestions. The devil tries very hard to distance the mind from God and enmesh it in worldly delights. But the soul should try in every way to struggle and not comingle with unclean thoughts; and in order to do this it should not fix its gaze upon that which the ancient and ever cunning seducer paints inside the head; that is, the images of things, faces and deeds into which the evil devil transforms himself. The poor person who has been drawn into this stands in one place, thinking that he is somewhere else; he sees, it seems to him, various faces, talks to them and carries on affairs with them, meanwhile this is none other than diabolical prelest.
Thus, having contained yourself within, bind the mind and cut off all unrelated thoughts with the name of Jesus Christ, who took away the sins of the world. Wherever you body stands, let your mind stand there also, so that there might be nothing between God and your heart that, like some cloud or curtain, might darken the heart and hide the face of God from it. If the mind should be sometimes distracted, it must not linger with those thoughts, so that its comingling with them would not be counted as deeds before God in the Day of Judgment, when God will judge the secret thoughts of men and every human thought will be confessed before Him. This podvig is bound up with many tempations both interior and exterior, but be brave. Blessed is the man who endures temptations, for having been tested, he will receive the incorruptible crown and become the temple of the great King—Christ, Who having built an abode within him, will settle into him and move him.... Having such a promise, let everything go and attend unceasingly to the Lord God; ask nothing more from Him that mercy, and that will be sufficient for you. In asking for mercy, ask for it with humility and contrition of heart, from morning till evening, and if possible, call out to Him all night also:
Lord Jesus Christ and Word of the Living God, through the prayer of the Theotokos have mercy on me.
Force yourself, and I repeat: force yourself, for this work requires great force. It is a narrow and sorrowful path that leads to the door of life, and only those who force themselves will enter in. (The Kingdon of God suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force) (Mt. 11:12). Do not distance yourself from God in your mind, and may your heart preserve the remembrance of the Lord Jesus Christ. The same sweet name repeat and repeat until it makes its resting place in your heart, and Christ will become magnified you.
Watch, and never abandon the rule of this holy prayer, for I have heard from the holy fathers who said: she who abandons this rule is no nun. Whether a nun be eating, drinking, walking or serving, she should ceaselessly call out: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.
Through the remembrance of the name of the Lord Jesus Christ the heart warms itself for the battle against the enemy; through the remembrance of the Lord the laboring soul seeks out everything, the evil and the good: it routes out the evil and implants the good. This remembrance triumphs over all the power of the devil in the heart and catches him, overcomes him and sunders him in half. Tirelessly call on the name of Jesus Christ, and having descended into the depths of the heart, it will burn up all the roots of sin and enliven the soul. Ceaselessly call upon the name of the Lord Jesus, and your heart will swallow the Lord, and the Lord will swallow the heart, and the two will be one. By the way, this is not the work of one day or even two, but sometimes of many years and a long period of time. Much labor and time is required before the enemy is expunged and Christ comes to dwell.
St. Theophan the Recluse
On the Jesus Prayer
The prayer which the holy fathers call the Jesus Prayer, is pronounced thus:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. The holy fathers teach us this prayer in many different ways. Saint John of the Ladder says: "Labor to enclose your mind in the words of the Jesus Prayer—pray aloud and attentively with the mind—the heart cannot help but participate in attentive prayer. Thus, whoever prays in this way will pray with his lips, his mind and his heart. Progressing in prayer, he will acquire prayer of the mind and heart, and thus attract Divine grace to himself." This method of St. John of the Ladder is the simplest, most understandable and best.
St. Nilus of Sora, one of our Russian ascetics, instructs us to be silent in thought—not to think during prayer, not of anything bad, nor even of anything good. Instead of any thought, he says to gaze ceaselessly into the depths of the heart and say: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner! According to the teaching of St. Nilus of Sora, one may pray standing, sitting, or lying down, not constraining the body so that the spirit can work freely, only regulating the breath, breathing quietly and frequently.
St. Seraphim of Sarov instructs the beginner to do the Jesus prayer without ceasing. While praying, he says, attend to yourself, that is, collect your mind and unite it with the soul. At first, for a day or two or more, say the prayer with the mind only, separately, attending to every word particularly. When the Lord will warm your heart with the warmth of His grace and unite you in one spirit, then this prayer will flow within you ceaselessly, and will be with you always, delighting you and nourishing you. And at first, you should say the prayer with your voice, that is with the lips, the tongue and speech—aloud to yourself alone. When the lips, the tongue and the feeling of prayer are satiated with pronouncing it aloud, then voiced prayer is ceased, and the prayer is prounounced in a whisper.

If It's Not Your Time, It's Not Your Time! Perfect Love Casts Out All Fear


The Martyrs Anicetas and Photios
Commemorated on August 12
      The Martyrs Anicetas and Photios (his nephew) were natives of Nicomedia. Anicetas, a military official, denounced the emperor Diocletian (284-305) for having set up in the city square an implement of execution for frightening Christians. The enraged emperor ordered Saint Anicetas to be tortured, and later condemned him to be devoured by wild beasts. But the lions they set loose became gentle and fondled up to him. Suddenly there began a strong earthquake, resulting in the collapse of the pagan temple of Hercules, and many pagans perished beneathe the crumbled city walls. The executioner took up a sword to cut off the saint's head, but he himself fell down insensible. They tried to break Saint Anicetas on the wheel and burn him with fire, but the wheel stopped and the fire went out. They threw the martyr into a furnace with boiling tin, but the tin got cold. Thus the Lord preserved His servant for the edification of many. The martyr's nephew, Saint Photios, saluted the sufferer and turn to the emperor, remarking: "O idol-worshipper, thine gods – be nothing!" The sword, held over the new confessor, instead struck the executioner himself. Then the martyrs were thrown into prison. After three days Diocletian began to urge them: "Worship our gods, and I shalt give ye glory and riches". The martyrs answered: "Perish thou with thine honour and riches!" Then they tied them by the legs to wild horses, but the saints, dragged along the ground, remained unharmed. They did not suffer either in the heated up bath-house, which tumbled apart. Finally Diocletian ordered a great furnace to be fired up, and many Christians, inspired by the deeds of Saints Anicetas and Photios, went in themselves with the words: "We are Christians!" They all died with prayer on their lips. The bodies of Saints Anicetas and Photios were not harmed by the fire, and even their hair remained whole. seeing this, many of the pagans came to believe in Christ. This event happened in the year 305.


Monday, August 22, 2011

A Sacred Place - The Solovki Monastery



This monastery is located on an island in the White Sea just 165km from the Artic Circle in the far north of Russia and was founded in 1429 by two hermits. After the Bolshevik Revolution, the Soviet authorities closed down the monastery and incorporated many of the buildings into Solovki, one of the earliest forced-labor camps of the GULAG during the 1920s and 1930s. The camp was mainly used for cutting trees, and when the trees were gone, the camp was closed.  It is again a monastery. No weapon formed against the Lord shall prevail...

Friday, August 19, 2011

What Are We Doing Here?

   "The Lord said of the future life that people there do not marry and are not given in marriage—that is, our everyday earthly relationships will have no place there. It would follow that none of the norms of earthly life will either. Neither science, nor art, nor governments, nor anything else will exist. What will there be? God will be all in all. And since God is spirit, He unites with the spirit and acts on what is spiritual, all life there will be a continuous flow of spiritual movements. There can be only one conclusion drawn from this: since our goal is the future life, and what is here is only a preparation for it, then to spend all the time of one’s life only on what is appropriate in this life alone and has no relevance to the future life means to go against our purpose, and to prepare ourselves for a bitter, most bitter lot. We are not absolutely required to drop everything; but while working as much as is necessary for this life, we must direct our main concern toward preparation for the future life, trying wherever possible to turn even earthly menial labour into a means for achieving this goal."  St. Theophan the Recluse of Russia

Thursday, August 11, 2011

WRITTEN FOR NUNS BUT BENEFICIAL FOR ALL

The following text is from Counsels and Instructions of a Spiritual Father To The Nuns of The Moscow Joy of All Who Sorrow Monastery, From the Guidance Of The Great Ascetics and Teachers of Monastic Life,compiled by the spiritual father of the Moscow Joy of All Who Sorrow Convent, Hieromonk Joseph (Moscow 1913). The book was written at the request of the nuns, who asked him for ongoing guidance in the monastic life. As is written in the preface, it is "addressed to the inhabitants of women's monasteries, to all who wish to step upon the path of monastic life, as well as to pious laywomen, who will find here a multitude of soul-saving counsels, and draw from it great profit for their souls." Fr. Joseph slightly changed the texts he cited in order to apply them to nuns, but these instructions are aimed at all spiritual strugglers, regardless of gender.
St. Elizabeth - A Convert From The Protestant Faith
Monastic Life
What is expected of those who desire to dedicate themselves to monastic labors:
1. First of all, to pray greatly and fervently to God and to ask His help in this matter.
2. To test yourself: are you firmly resolved to endure anything grievous [all difficulties] until your very death?
3. To ask God with all your soul that He would show you the monastery, the place of your ascetic struggle, and the mother abbess—your instructress and guide in the monastic life.
4. To ask and learn, to gather the necessary information from other people.
5. Having found what you are seeking, to commit yourself in perfect obedience to your superior, for this virtue—sincere obedience—is the main, most necessary and good fruit-bearing virtue in the life of a nun.
In this way, by making requests in prayer, and not by self-willed wandering in trackless lands, a nun may achieve success in the interior life and escape the deceptions, attacks and snares everywhere laid by the invisible enemies of our salvation.
Archbishop Juvenaly
Monastic Life
The Fundamental Rule of Monastic Life
The entire ranks of Godly-wise fathers and holy ascetics assures us by their counsels that whosoever desires to undoubtedly save herself in monasticism and to pass through the field of this struggle with profit for her soul, it is necessary, especially at the beginning, to have obedience; that is, to submit her will to the superior, who is experienced in the spiritual life—to do everything and to strive to think in agreement with her counsels and instructions, and also with the instructions of her spiritual father, but at the same time to diligently study the Holy Scriptures and works of the holy ascetical fathers.
This is the beginning of a correct monastic life. But this whole life, encompassing at times many years and even decades, should consist of an uninterrupted succession of spiritual labors—external ones performed by the body, and internal ones, by the powers of the soul. It is not sufficient for a nun to have only physical prayers, that is, prostrations, long psalmody and so on in this vein; interior work is also necessary—attention to oneself, guarding of the heart.
Archbishop Juvenaly
Monastic Life
Physical Labors of a Nun: Fasting Vigil and Physical Prayer
Fasting
1. Fasting and temperance are absolutely necessary for a struggler.
2. Fasting is not a virtue in and of itself, but rather only an instrument of virtue, that is a means and aid toward the acquisition of the virtues of purity and chastity.
3. A fast should be kept in mind and soul; the second, as guarding yourself from all that is unpleasing to God, is necessary for everyone at all times, while physical fasting should be conducted with great care and at the advice of those more experienced. This fast should not be beyond measure, but moderate and in accordance with a person's physical strength, so that the ascetic labor may be brought to its completion.
A young, sturdy and strong woman should wear herself out with appropriate fasting, according to the advice of her eldress or spiritual father, for otherwise it is difficult and even impossible to preserve physical purity. An older person who is sickly and altogether weak in body should, avoiding any excess, moderately strengthen her powers, and exchange the severity in fasting that is inaccessible to her due to bodily weakness for abstinence from all evil deeds, words and thoughts. The true podvig of a nun actually consists in this. The inability to fast severely because of one's physical weakness does not prevent one from achieving spiritual progress.
In our sad times, zeal for labors of fasting is apparently waning, and an inclination towards slackness is noticeable in the majority; but perhaps such zealots of labor and podvig may be found who might ask: "How is it that many of the saints, perhaps almost all of them, undertook great labors of fasting—for long periods of time eating nothing at all, and receiving great gifts from God: clairvoyance, healing and various miracles? Why shouldn't we emulate them with whatever strength we can find, and fast often and severely?"
The Holy Hierarch Basil the Great said: "One must exercise oneself in abstinence, which serves as an indispensable guardian of chastity and a sovereign over the mind, not allowing it to lunge here and there. But we think to determine abstinence not only as abstinence from foods, but first of all as abstinence from the roaming of the eyes. For what advantage is there if while abstaining from food, you devour with your eyes the lust of fornication, or eagerly listen with your ears to vain and devilish talk? There is no profit in abstaining from food without abstaining also from boasting, high-mindedness, vainglory and other passions."
Elder Basil of Moldavia writes: "Authentically it is not by fasting alone, but by fasting with humility that people are victorious over the invisible enemies of our salvation."
Vigil
St. John Climacus writes of vigilance: "The vigilant eye cleanses the mind, but long sleeping hardens the soul.
Vigilance is the quenching of fleshly fires, the deliverance from dreams, the filling of the eyes with tears, the softening of the heart, the preservation from thoughts, the best furnace for burning the food consumed, the subjection of evil spirits, the binding of the tongue, and the expulsion of daydreaming.
Excessive sleep is the cause of forgetfulness; while vigilance purifies the memory." (The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Homily 20.)
Vigilance, or physically keeping vigil, according to the words of the holy fathers, is essential to the nun. It cleanses the mind, refreshes and strengthens the memory and comprises the inevitable conditions for preserving chastity and conquering the passion of sloth.
But vigilance, like fasting, should also not be beyond measure, but in moderation and according to a person's physical strength.
Half the night, six or five hours a day—that is the amount of sleep designated by the holy fathers for a healthy person, as a general rule for moderate podvig and preserving one's strength and health. They also allow a short rest in the afternoon of about one hour.
It is necessary for a woman in a monastery who is laboring for the salvation of her soul to pray at night or attend the nightly praise of God—that is, Matins, for this is the best time for prayer. The rest and sleep needed by the body should be designated so that she receives before and after Matins about six hours per day, and if she be in strength, a little less. But undoubtedly in this, just as along every step in monastic life, except for one's own labor and zeal, the counsel of experienced eldresses or a spiritual father is needed.

Physical Prayer
Man is composed of soul and body, and therefore when he prays he should pray not only with his spirit, but with his body. Bodily prayer, or the bodily labor of prayer, should express itself in patient standing during church services and during prayers in the cell with prostrations. Bodily prayer is inseparable from spiritual prayer, and therefore its order is determined by the rules described below for spiritual prayer in various instances.
Archbishop Juvenaly
Monastic Life
Translation by Nun Cornelia (Rees)

Friday, August 5, 2011