Friday, August 5, 2022

Death and Afterlife 21 - Why Pray for the Departed?


If the departed cannot repent after their death why do we pray for them?

We know that the Apostle Paul prayer his deceased friend Onesiphorus. Writing to Timothy he prayed, “The Lord grant to him that he may find mercy from the Lord in that Day” (2 Tim 1: 18).

St. Epiphanius of Salamis, writes the following about two decades later (c. AD 374): Useful ... is the prayer fashioned on their behalf, even if it does not force back the whole of guilty charges laid to them. And it is useful also, because in this world we often stumble either voluntarily or involuntarily, and thus it is a reminder to do better. 

Are there exceptions?

The Church also prays on behalf of the one who is passing on, for him to be forgiven any sins which he may have committed which were not of the degree that leads to death [cf. 1 Jn 5: 16– 17]. In our services we continually pray for the departed.

So are there sins that may not lead to death? Some say uncompleted sins, sins that have not been fully carried out. Or, sins of ignorance, sins committed unintentionally, or sins that are latent, or sins of negligence, for example.

The Fathers of the Orthodox Church generally teach, that we must make our choice for or against God in this life. Once we have passed to the other life we will have no opportunity to escape from hell if we have not repented in this life.

What good do our prayers for the dead accomplish?

Most of the Fathers say that our prayers for the departed if they are sinners can lessen their suffering but not actually release them from their sinfulness.

Testimony from Mother Erene

Mother Erene, in a conversation with a previously departed nun, Mother Martha, asked her, “Why do you not hold Liturgies for me?”

“I won’t be given any benefit because everyone will be given according to his or her work. But when I feel that you are thinking about me and praying for me, I come among you during the Liturgy and feel happy. I love being among you and seeing you. And as I pray for you, I like to feel that you remember me in your prayers.”

Intercessory prayer remains a mystery. 

Metropolitan Kolistos Ware says prayer is a mystery:When one living person prays for another living person, we do not understand the manner whereby such prayer proves efficacious.

We cannot fathom the precise relationship between the act of prayer, the free will of the other person, and God’s grace and foreknowledge.

Nevertheless, from our personal experience we know that intercession between the living is effective, and we continue to practice it.

The fact, then, that we do not know exactly how our prayers benefit the dead is not a reason for ceasing to pray for them.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Death and Afterlife 20 - What is Hades?


What kind of place is Hades?

Saint Hippolytus the Roman writes: Hades is the place “in which all souls are detained until the time that God has determined.”

This is not a place where people enter a dormant existence. It is where eternal torment begins and continues in Hell after the Second Coming. We are tormented by all the desires we carried with us, but are now not able to fulfill.

Ezekiel; says:

“If a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live....

But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die.” (Ezek 18: 21–22, 24)

God allows us to judge ourselves before He judges us through our conscience.

Bishop Theophilus of Antioch (c. AD 180):

He ... will examine all things, and will judge righteous judgment, rendering merited awards to each.

To those who seek immortality by patient endurance in well-doing, He will give life everlasting, joy, peace, rest and an abundance of good things.

To the unbelieving and despisers, who do not obey the truth but are obedient to unrighteousness, when they will have been filled with adulteries and fornications, ... there will be anger and wrath, tribulation and anguish. At the end, everlasting fire will possess such men.

Repentance is not possible at this time.

St. John Chrysostom also tells us, “When we depart to that place, we have no longer the option of repentance, nor of washing away our misdeeds.”

This same sentiment is echoed by St. Cyprian of Carthage:, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory Nazianzen.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Death and Afterlife 19 - Will We Chose Hades or Paradise?


A journey into the unknown.

In this series we have explored the nature of the journey we will face after we die. We know it is not really death because our soul lives on. In this journey we will face a struggle without pain as the soul separates from the body, and then we will enter an unknown territory. There will be an ordeal as we struggle to find the proper path based on the condition of our soul and the time of our physical death. So what happens next?

Next we experience either a foretaste of Heaven or of Hell. 

Our soul will settle in what is called Paradise or Hades awaiting to be rejoined with our spiritual bodies at the Second Coming of Christ as promised. Our residence will for the time being be in a temporary state as a result of our own condemnation. Were we strong and persistent in our desire to be united with God, or were our passions still powerful enough that we were influenced by the forces of the demons who are trying to pull us towards hades, away from God?

This new state is analogous to sleep.

St Aphrahat the Persian (Demonstration 8.19) writes:

The errant servant while he is sleeping desires not to awake, for he knows that when the dawn shall come and he shall awake, his lord will scourge and bind him.

But the good servant, to whom his lord had promised gifts, looks expectantly for the time when dawn shall come and he shall receive gifts from his lord. And even though he is soundly sleeping, in his dream he sees something like what his lord is about to give him, whatsoever he has promised him, and he rejoices in his dream, and exults, and is gladdened.

As for the wicked, his sleep is not pleasant to him, for he imagines that lo! the dawn has come for him, and his heart is broken in his dream.

But the righteous sleep, and their slumber is pleasant to them....Then in the watch of the dawn they awake with joy.

But as for the wicked, their sleep lies heavy upon them, and they are like a man who is laid low by a great and deep fever, and tosses on his couch hither and thither, and he is terrified the whole night long, which lengthens itself out for him and he fears the dawn when his lord will condemn him.

Which will it be Hades or Paradise?

Monday, August 1, 2022

On Truth and Love - Saint Theophan the Recluse

Consider this lesson when thinking about how many are responding to many of the social issue of our time. Many times they try to persuade Christins to accept almost anything because of love. Saint Theophan uses John's Gospel to shows how dangerous this is. The following is written by Saint Theophan the Recluse

The Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, is a teacher of love. 

Love breathes through his gospel, lessons about love fill his epistles and his life serves as a striking example of love. He expounded on all the mysteries of love – its source, its movement in deeds, and its culmination – and where it leads all that follow it, to the heights…

Contemporary wise men say, believe as you like. 

They possess a special kind of vain wisdom called “Indifferentism” by which they reason say: believe as you like, it makes no difference – just love everyone like brothers, be charitable to them, and have a good influence on them. They point out that the Evangelist John the Theologian writes only about love. For him, love is light and life and all perfection. According to his words the person who does not love walks in darkness, abides in death, and is a murderer. It is well known that when he grew old and was unable to walk they carried him to church. There he only admonished, “Brethren! Let us love one another.” Thus he so valued love. They tell us that we also should love like that and only love, believing any way we wish. I myself have had to listen to such “wisdom.” Perhaps you have also had to listen to or will hear something similar to this.

How does this contradict the fundamentals of Christian good sense?

...These so-called “wise” people desire to build everything without God – their external welfare and their morality. From this, they strive wherever possible to craftily weave a school of thought where there is no need to talk about God. And they beat their drums about love. They tell us to love one another and here there is nothing to think about God. It is especially on this point where the Holy Evangelist routs them. 

True love involves a close bond with God’s love.

Although St John continuously, and exactingly reminds us to love one another, he also places love in such a close bond with God, with love for God and the knowledge of God, that it is impossible to separate them. Behold where love originates, Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. And he adds, Beloved if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. (I John 4:10, 11). 

Our mutual love must be the action of faith in the Lord is not all right to believe as you want. Further, he teaches, Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; (John 4:7) If we love one another, God dwelleth in us … (I John 4:12) God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him. (I John 4:16). You see, he does not say a word about love without speaking about God and the Saviour. Love is from God and leads to God. Thus he who says that he loves his brother, and does not know and love God and the Saviour, is a liar and the truth is not in him (John 4:20,2:4). 

To love your neighbor you must love God.

Therefore it is possible to summarize the entire teaching of the Holy Evangelist on love in the following words: in order to love your neighbor you must love God, and in order to love God, you must, of course come to know Him within yourself and especially in His salvific activity on us. We must know and believe. What does the will of God consist of? In faith and love: thus the commandment says: That we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another. (I John 3:23).

Our faith is the source of love.

It does not only command us to love but to believe in the Lord, and in such a way that faith is the source of love. If one were to gather into one all the places where St. John the Evangelist speaks only of love, one could still not confirm his teaching by the false reasoning: only love and believe as you want. 

Can there be faith independent of love?

Besides his teaching on love he also speaks of faith, independent of the law of love. Behold how he categorically rejects those who say, believe as you want. 

What does John preach about from the very first verses: 

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looketh upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us; That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. (I John 1:1-3). 

The most important point with all the apostles is the teaching about communion with God through the Lord Jesus Christ, from which proceeds communion of the faithful with one another. How can we have the one without the other?

Who is a liar?

Further he asks the question: who is a liar? and answers thus: Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father… Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son o f God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. (I John 2:22, 23. 4:15). The whole matter is summed up in confessing the Lord Jesus Christ to be the Son of God and to be God. How then could one possibly say, “Believe any way you want”? Then there follows the warning: Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Herein know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist. (I John 4:1-3) 

He who says, “Believe as you want” does not confess Jesus Christ, 

For if he did confess Christ he would not speak thus. Therefore he cannot be from God. Where then is he from? – truly from the antichrist. 

Essence of Christianity

Finally, the Holy Evangelist describes the whole essence of Christianity thus: And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. (I John 5:11-12). Who possesses the Son of God? Those who believe in His name. Therefore he says, and writes: unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life … (I John 5:13).

Without belief in the Son of God there is no eternal life.

Consequently, he who does not believe in the Son of God, has not eternal life. Could it possibly make no difference how one wants to believe? No. We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us light and understanding, that we may know the true God, and that we may be in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life (I John 5:20). These excerpts should be enough, I suppose, in order to show the Indifferentists that in vain do they seek to find support for their lie in the teaching of the Theologian. It is more than likely that they make such claims without having ever read his holy and divinely inspired writings, but rather quote him based on rumors about his overflowing love. Let them even now find something else besides the above argument, to defend their teaching to us believers. One word alone from the beloved disciple is sufficient to discredit their teaching and without any doubt to confirm our belief explicitly in that which was given to us by the Lord through the Holy Apostles and preserved by the Church.

False love of those who attribute acts charity as true love.

I would only add the following consideration to the decisive words of the Apostle and Evangelist John: having estranged themselves in their minds from the Lord, these unbelievers grasp at acts of charity whose source and support are precisely in love. They act in this way only to be founded on something without the assurance that they have found a solid basis. If only they had a clear understanding of how it is indeed possible for man to act in a fruitful way, they would never remain fixed on their teaching. The essence of the matter is – that we are not in the proper state. Therefore we cannot act in the right way. 

We must be in the right state for acts of love.

In order for us to act in the correct way, we must enter into the right state. By our own powers we are not capable of doing this. The Lord, having come to the earth, lifted up man to the right state. He did not lead man into this state for His own sake but rather that man would accept from Him renewed humanness and thus gain the possibility of acting properly. 

The proper state begins with Baptism.

We obtain this state through Holy Baptism, for those who are baptized into Christ have put on Christ. From the time of Baptism we become one with the Lord and begin to live His life and act by His power. Those who would claim love or the right action (for love is the fullness of the law) should first accept all the premises of Christianity in order to be able to walk rightly and deny their own falseness (lie). This is impossible without faith, for faith is the root of Christianity and the beginning of everything.

To love we must first believe in Him

The Lord Himself says this: Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except ye abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing. If a man abides not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned (John 15: 4-6). When someone begins to expound to you about love or fruitful action independent of true belief, tell him: Wait, first believe correctly. By faith acquire all the salvific precepts of Christianity. Through them be united with the Lord, make your life and strength depend on Him like you would on an injection for your health and then you will begin to act in a fruitful way. It is a fact that the witness to a righteous life is fruitful activity in love, but in order to attain it and to remain in it, one must accept all of God’s Truth with faith and pass through all of God’s sanctifying actions [on one’s self]. Only under these conditions, i.e., by abiding in True Love, may we grow up into Him in all things, Who is the head, even Christ (cf. Eph. 4,15). We could summarize thus: he who does not have the right Faith cannot enter into the proper state, and he who does not enter into the right state cannot properly act. Now do you see how one cannot say: “Believe as you wish, only love”?

Beware of institution’s that have faith in reality.

Faith is not only the image of the knowledge of God and of our relationship to Him; it also includes all the salvific institutions [not just the Church as an establishment but all that is contained within the Church for salvation] given by God. These salvific institutions maintain active faith. Our so-called wise men might not actually be opposed to Christian teaching, but, more than anything else, they are repulsed by Christian institutions. Since these institutions are nothing more than faith in reality and in action, then their main sin is that they do not want to act in the spirit of the Faith. One is only amazed at how these people so persistently expound about deeds and labors but remove themselves from activity in the realm of holy Faith. There is something amiss here. Surely they are acquainted with the laws of logical thought. There is such duplicity here that one must assume that they are not in fact doers, but are acted upon – they are the tools of a foreign spirit, and such a spirit that is itself foreign to Truth. 

Be on guard of evil reasoning of this world.

Brethren, having understood this, let us guard ourselves against the evil reasoning of this world. Only those who have never tasted the Truth can waver in it. Let us fulfill with humility and in the spirit of truth all that our holy Faith demands. Then we will have, and carry within, a witness which will bring to naught all false arguments from without. May the Lord illumine us by His Truth. Amen.


Sunday, July 31, 2022

Avoiding Temptations - Saint Isaac the Syrian

Saint Isaac the Syrian advises beware of idleness:

Idleness allows us to fall into the hands of demons

Do not neglect spiritual disciplines. This overcomes idleness

Remember that God’s negative judgment comes because we allow evil forces to tempt us causing us to fail in our duty or incorrectly use our resources

Necessary disciplines

“Love your neighbor, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, be kind, be content with what you have, be generous to others, don’t judge, weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.”

Remember the goal

The goal is to love our neighbor as Christ while we live in this world.

What is required:

Active pursuit of spiritual life, Repentance and Prayer

What is most important: 

Learning to love the unlovely, seeking opportunities to be generous, 

rejecting judgmental thoughts, practicing loving kindness and mercy even when you don’t feel like it.


Saturday, July 30, 2022

The Divine Liturgy - Greatest Gift of All

The Greatest Gift.

The Divine Liturgy is the greatest of all gifts the Lord has given us. That is not to minimize all the other gifts we have received. It is He who has given us life. Also it is He who has given us the wonder and beauty of the earthly world He created for our sustenance and enjoyment. What beauty we find in the flowers, the streams, the forests, the mountains, oceans, lakes and deserts. In addition, the Earth is alive with so many amazing creatures. Beyond these gifts is His Incarnation where He came to transform human life so we could be untied with Him, His divinity. Through Him humanity is united with the divine. Also, He gave up His life voluntarily on the Cross for our salvation showing us the path to eternal life with Him by His Resurrection and Ascension. But, the greatest gift is what He has left for us, His Body and Blood that we partake in the Divine Liturgy. In this, even though Jesus is not physically with us, we are united with Him, in full communion with Him. We are filled with His love and His divine energies. This empowers us to continue to do His work, to be a temple of His spirit, and able to shine with a divine radiance His love to others. What a beautiful gift!

Never refuse this gift!

We should not refuse this gift ever. When we come to the Church each Sunday we should seek forgiveness for all our sins and prepare ourself out of our Love of Him by offering our thanks for His sacrifice and all He has provided for us. We should come with the purpose to partake of this gift. To ignore it and to sit by idly observing, we are in a real way refusing communion with God.

A grand mystical happening.

The Divine Liturgy is a coming together of the heavenly church and the earthly church. We are joined with the angels and the saints. We amplify the angelic voices when we offer hymns glorifying Him. We have icons reminding us of the presence power of the saints who also join us.

The Church is more than an Organization

It is too easy to think of the church as another organization or institution. Yes, we do have a council and a president and legal charter. We do need to support the maintenance of the church through our contributions, but all these activities are subordinate to what the Church is. It, with its members, is the Body of Christ. In the Liturgy we all are joined as one body as we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. It is in this way we express our love and receive the strength do do His will.

God wants Union.

Remember that our God wants to be united with us out of His love. The Divine Liturgy is a gift that surpasses all things. We cannot afford to turn our heads at the time His gifts are presented and we are called to come and partake. When we ignore this call it is like we are shutting the door in His face. Instead, we must recognize our unworthiness and come forward to receive this gift out of our love and desire to be united with Him. Through our participation we are consecrating our whole being to be united with Him and to do His work

Saint Nicodemus says,

"Ask God, in Whom you believe and Whom you love that in you He increase love, a desire for unity with Him, and fervor of love for Him. 

"As you partake of this holy gift remember how powerful it is.  Allow it to nurture in you meekness, giving you greater patience in you daily work and a greater love of God."

“Through Divine Communion Christ implants in us the seeds of immortality, as He Himself said, ‘Whosoever eats My flesh and drinks my Blood, has eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:54).”

Inspired by Saint Nicodemus. What has God Done for Our Salvation, "The Greatness of the Divine Eucharist," pp 6-10

Friday, July 29, 2022

Jesus Prayer - Elder Aimilianos

What is Jesus Prayer

It is so short! It is a repetition of these words: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”

What happens when we repeat it

We acquire a spiritual dynamism that does not come from us, but from God Himself.

It is comprehensive

It comprises the divinity. It includes Christ Himself, Who immediately enters into communion with our hearts.

It’s habit forming

This invocation helps us to acquire a habit, so that the remembrance of Christ within us becomes unceasing. So everything around us and inside our hearts becomes filled with God.

Not magical formula or mechanical work or psycho-somatic exercise

…about which one might think that it has access to a kind of gnostic or syncretic knowledge… or that this exercise would bring spiritual results… or that through this formula, man can tend towards infinity or to a faceless god. The repetition is just an intensification, and a focusing, and a rooting of the Name of Christ and thus of Christ Himself, in our daily lives. 

What does it do?

It creates within man the power to unceasingly invoke God, and therefore, the human participation, offers him a state of joy and spiritual happiness, and other charisms. 
And then, when man reaches this primary stage, well, he understands that Holy Spirit mediates between his personality and the Personal God!

It is, I would say, the only prayer which, clearly creates our preconditions to be able to find God daily, and also, easily, to find Him and rejoice in God. 
Through this prayer, the One Who is unseen becomes visible in our lives.

What is its purpose?

It is what is being worked by God in you.
What God works in our inner being… What He works is an experience. But it is not only the experience of God! It is also a revelation of the way He comes, of how the coming of God happens. The Personal God within the human personality… And of course, He comes in Light!
 And one still feels and understands at the end of his or her ascent, the union which is performed…
And with this union, the purification comes, the spiritual advancement comes, the growth of the little baby which is being born into man.

The purpose of Prayer, in a word, we could say, is a perfect mystery of the unseen God, the One now felt, and the visible person… a mystery performed by God. This mystery has been revealed to us by the Fathers of the Church. We also know from experience, always, how to become a recipient of God. Not through reasoning and meditation, but in a way that God penetrates the human person, and transforms it entirely. And so, he or she becomes a person who can taste, understand and comprehend this mystery.

It is a continuous climb

It is an ever-rising communion, perfect, unchanging. I mean, no person changes, neither one, nor the other. There is a divine vision and a communion with the unseen.