Monday, August 31, 2009

1st Beatitude: Poor in Sprit

Blessed are the poor in spirit, because theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

What is poverty of spirit?

Saint Gregory says there are two kinds of riches: Material wealth and Virtue. Now the Lord instructs us not to put our trust in accumulating material riches.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matt 6:19-21)

In other words everything material is subject to decay or loss. On the other hand the Lord commands us to strive for spiritual wealth. These once gained cannot be lost.

Gregory points out that there are two kinds of poverty. We can be poor in virtues like justice, wisdom or prudence. When we are poor in this sense we lack what is most important. But another kind of poverty is where we are voluntarily poor in all that has to do with sinfulness. Gregory says, "He who is the man whom the word presents as enjoying that poverty which is called blessed, whose fruit is the Kingdom of Heaven."

The aim "of the life of virtue," says Gregory, "is to become like God." But he acknowledges that for mankind to live without passions and sinfulness is impossible. What we can do is to imitate God to the extent that is possible based on our nature. "If we do this," he says, "you will have put on the blessed form."

Our downfall comes when we make our aim to follow our passions, to seek only pleasure from material things or sensual pleasures. To become like God we must aim for a life based on virtue. This will come with a voluntary humility. We must voluntarily give up the aim of sensual and material pleasure. Paul advises that this is the way of Christ, "Who for us became poor, being rich, that we through His poverty might become rich. (2 Cor 8:9)"

Gregory highlights that the kind of humility we call "poor in spirit" is not easy to obtain because we are filled with pride. This was the downfall of Adam and Eve. To purge this from our way of being, Jesus advises us that we must remove it from our character by trying to imitate Him who became poor of His own will. The apostle Paul says,

"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant. (Phil 2:5-7)."

As Gregory says, "The Ruler of rulers, the Lord of lords puts on voluntarily the garb of servitude. The Judge of all things becomes a subject of governors; the Lord of creation dwells in a cave; He who holds the universe in His hands finds no place in the inn, but is cast aside into the manger of irrational beasts. The perfectly Pure accepts the filth of human nature, and after going through all our poverty passes on to the experience of death. Look at the standard by which to measure voluntary poverty!"

Gregory gives us some advice about how to overcome our pride by examining our nature. Think of our creation. We are made from clay. He says, "the high dignity of the proud is related to bricks." He sarcastically advises to beware of uncovering the shame of our relatives, things we don't want others to know about us, for if we do our pride might be uncovered. Then he become quite descriptive.

Do you not look at both ends of man's life, where it begins, and how it ends? No, you pride yourself on your youth, you look at the prime of your age and are pleased with your handsome appearance, because your hands can move quickly and your feet are nimble, because your curls are blown about by the breeze and your cheeks show the first signs of a beard. You are proud because your clothes are dyed in brilliant purple and you have silk robes embroidered with scenes from war or hunting or history. Perhaps you also look at your carefully blackened sandals delightfully adorned with elaborate needlework patterns. At these things you look but at yourself you will not look? Let me show you as in a mirror who and what sort of a person you are.

Have you never gazed at the mysteries of our nature in a common burial ground? Have you not seen the heaps of bones one on top of the other? Skulls denuded of flesh, fearful and ugly to look at with their empty sockets? Have you not seen their grinning jaws and the other limbs, strewn about at random? If you have seen these things, you have seen yourself. Where will then be today's blooming youth? Where the lovely color of your cheeks, the fresh lips, the fine brilliance of the eyes flashing under the circle of their brows? What will then have become of the straight nose beautifully set between the cheeks? What of the hair falling down to the neck, and the curls round the temples? Where will be the hands skilled with the bow, the feet controlling the horses? The purple and fine linen, the mantle, the girdle and the sandals? The neighing horses with their race-course? What will have become of all the things that now feed your conceit? Where, in these bones, are all these things about which you are now so greatly puffed up? What dream is so fleeting? What are these hallucinations? What shadow eluding touch is as unsubstantial as the dream of youth that vanishes the moment it appears?

He does not stop here but then addresses those in middle age.

But what shall we say about the middle-aged, who are, indeed, settled in years, but whose moral life is unsettled, and whose pride is a growing disease, though they call this moral cancer highmindedness? The foundation of this pride is usually high office and the power that goes with it. For they are affected by it either in the office itself, or whilst preparing for it; even talking about it will often fan the latent disease. But what words could penetrate their hearing which is already filled with the voice of the heralds? Who shall convince people in such a frame of mind that they are just like actors parading on the stage? For these, too, don a delicately polished mask and a gold-embroidered purple robe, and proceed solemnly in a chariot. Nevertheless the disease of pride does not invade them on account of this. But their frame of mind remains at the procession the same as it was before they appeared on the stage; and later they are not sorry to have to descend from the chariot and to discard their dignity....

For they imagine themselves master over life and death, because, having to judge men, they bestow on some the sentence of acquittal, while condemning others to death. And they do not even realize who is the true Master of human life, who determines the beginning as well as the end of existence. ...

Hence he ought to be poor in spirit, and look at Him who for our sake became poor of His own will; let him consider that we are all equal by nature, and not exalt himself impertinently against his own race on account of that deceptive show of office, but, being truly blessed, he will gain the Kingdom of Heaven in exchange for humility in this transitory life.

Then he concludes his discussion as follows.

Would you like to know who it is that is poor in spirit? He who is given the riches of the soul in exchange for material wealth, who is poor for the sake of the spirit. He has shaken off earthly riches like a burden so that he may be lightly lifted into the air and be borne upwards, as says the Apostle, in the cloud walking on high together with God.

Gold is a heavy thing, and heavy is every kind of matter that is sought after for the sake of wealth–but virtue is light and bears souls upwards. Truly these two, heaviness and lightness, are opposed to each other. Therefore, if a man has attached himself to the heaviness of matter, it is impossible for him to become light. Since, then, we ought to tend to the things above, let us become poor in the things that drag us down, so that we may sojourn in the upper regions.

The Psalms show us the way: He hath distributed, he hath given to the poor, his justice remaineth for ever and ever.

Friday, August 28, 2009

What is a Beatitude?

Beatitude is not a word used in our normal conversation. It is a word that is not easily translated into English. Sometimes it is defined as happiness, but this grossly misses the mark. Saint Gregory defines it as follows:

"Possession of all things held to be good, from which nothing is absent that a good desire may want."

It is not just goodness but a goodness "from which nothing is absent " that is good. It's hard to imagine the magnitude of this goodness. What then is truly blessed to be called a Beatitude?

Saint Gregory tells us,
"the one thing truly blessed is the Divinity itself. Whatever else we may suppose It to be, this pure life, the ineffable and incomprehensible good, is beatitude. It is... grace , wisdom, and power; this true light that is the fount of all goodness, mighty above all else; the one thing lovable which is always the same, rejoicing without end in infinite happiness. Even is one has said about It all one can, yet one has said nothing worthy of It."

Gregory is teaching us that the idea of a Beatitude is nothing like an emotional state of human happiness which comes and goes. It is the infinite goodness and perfection we find only in the Divine. So How can we ever be deemed worthy to be called blessed? Saint Gregory reminds us that we are created in the image of God and therefore we should be called blessed when we live up to this image within. But we know, as he points out, that this perfect image has been disfigured by our sinfulness. This is the whole reason for the Incarnation of Christ, His teaching, crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, and the establishment of His Church. He came to cleanse us and restore us to the perfect image we had at the time of creation. In the Beatitudes we find the characteristics we must have to gain this blessedness. They provide the path to Theosis or union with God.

Gregory writes,
"But as he who fashioned man made him in the image of God; in a derived sense that which is called by this name should also be held blessed, inasmuch as he participates in the true beatitude... When we have put off the shame of sin, we shall be restored once more to the blessed form."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Why Study the Beatitudes?

If Jesus were to give a power point presentation the Beatitudes would be his bullet points on the screen.
They are important because they represent a summary of all of Jesus' teaching.

We do not know historically exactly when or where Jesus spoke these important words. We do know it was on a "mountain. Possibly Mount Tabor. His disciples followed Him there and he instructed them.

Saint Gregory writes,

Who among those present is a disciple of the Word, and sufficiently so to ascend with Him from the low ground–from superficial and ignoble thoughts to the spiritual mountain of sublime contemplation? This mountain leaves behind all shadows cast by the rising hills of wickedness; on the contrary, it is lit up on all sides by the rays of the true light, and from its summit all things that remain invisible to those imprisoned in the cave may be seen in the pure air of truth. Now the Word of God Himself, who calls blessed those who have ascended with Him, specifies the nature and number of the things that are contemplated from this height. He points them out, as it were, with His finger; here the Kingdom of Heaven, there the inheritance of the earth that is above, then mercy, justice, consolation, kinship with the God of all creation, and the fruit of persecution, that is, to become a friend of God. And whatever other things there may be visible, the Word points them out with His finger from the summit of the mountain, so that hope may contemplate them from the height of the peak.

See how Saint Gregory uplifts us! He is planning on taking us on a journey to a high spiritual place, "the spiritual mountain of sublime contemplation." As we will see later he views the Beatitudes as a series of steps leading us to union with God, and when we reach the summit we will find the Lord in all His glory.

Saint Gregory invites us as sinners to make the journey up the mountain. He wants us to clearly understand what Jesus is saying so we can "follow Him to the heights," to the "summit of hope."

Saint Gregory continues,

Since, then, the Lord ascends the mountain, let us listen to Isaias who cries: Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord. If we are weak through sin, let our feeble hands and weak knees be strengthened, as the Prophet instructs us. For when we have reached the summit, we shall find Him who heals all illness and languor, who takes up our infirmities and bears our diseases. Let us therefore ascend quickly, so that we may be established with Isaias on the summit of hope and see from this vantage point the good things that the Word shows to those who follow Him to the heights. May God the Word open His mouth also for us, and teach us those things which to hear is bliss. May the beginning of the teaching He pronounces become to us the beginning of contemplation.

As we meditate on these eight points, we too will grow in the virtues.

Next we will look at the first Beatitude, about the poor in spirit.

What did Jesus mean by "poor in spirit"?

Quotes for Gregory are taken from His sermons on the Beatitudes which can be found in Ancient Christian Writers volume 18. It includes his sermons on the Lord's Prayer and the Beatitudes. The translation is by Hilda C. Graff.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I am going to start a series of posts on the Meaning of the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-10) based on the commentary given to us by Saint Gregory of Nyssa.

And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

First a brief comment about Saint Gregory. He is one of my favorite fathers. His writings take you to realms beyond this world. He is thorough and yet mystical.

He is the younger brother of Basil the Great and became the standard bearer for the teachings of Basil after Basil died. Many believe his most important work was his contribution to the Second Ecumenical Council where he was instrumental in crafting and gaining agreement on the final addition made to the Creed.

He is referred to as the Father of the Fathers.

Here is what is written in part in The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church:

"Saint Gregory delivered the inaugural address at the synod... Before the closing of the synod, by a decree of the emperor, issued at Herakleia, Saint Gregory was nominated as one of the bishops who were to be esteemed as chief authorities on the Orthodox Faith... Also, through the Godinspired endeavors of Saint Gregory of Nyssa, the Symbol of the Faith (Creed) was enlarged by the addition of the article concerning the Holy Spirit, and four other clauses were also added to the Creed. The additional clause "of Whose kingdom there shall be no end" was supplied, due to the heresy of Apollinarios the millenarian. Arti cle 8, in reference to the Holy Spirit, was also provided: "...the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son is equally worshipped and glorified, Who spoke by the prophets. " In his treatise On The Holy Spirit, written against the followers of Makedonios, he affirms that "we confess that the Holy Spirit is of the same rank as the Father and the Son, that, while not to be confounded with the Father in being never originated, nor with the Son in being the Only-begotten.”...

In the year 383, St Gregory of Nyssa participated in a Council at Constantinople, where he preached a sermon on the divinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit. In 386, he was again at Constantinople, and he was asked to speak the funeral oration in memory of the empress Placilla. Again in 394 St Gregory was present in Constantinople at a local Council, convened to resolve church matters in Arabia.

"St Gregory of Nyssa was a fiery defender of Orthodox dogmas and a zealous teacher of his flock, a kind and compassionate father to his spiritual children, and their intercessor before the courts. He was distinguished by his magnanimity, patience and love of peace.

"Having reached old age, St Gregory of Nyssa died soon after the Council of Constantinople. Together with his great contemporaries, Sts Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian, St Gregory of Nyssa had a significant influence on the Church life of his time. His sister, St Macrina, wrote to him: "You are renowned both in the cities, and gatherings of people, and throughout entire districts. Churches ask you for help." St Gregory is known in history as one of the most profound Christian thinkers of the fourth century. Endowed with philosophical talent, he saw philosophy as a means for a deeper penetration into the authentic meaning of divine revelation."

Saint Gregory of Nyssa is commemorated on January 10th.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Written Code Kills, But the Spirit Gives Life

How frequently we put our emphasis and trust in written documents that proclaim the truth of our faith. We study them and write about them. We try and interpret them, defend them, develop rationales for them. But, wait a minute. Paul tells us that we feel competent to engage in this mental rational dialogue not by our own smartness, but by what God has given us. He writes, "Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent..." So, its not our cleverness that is important, but what?

Paul says further, [God] has made us competent "to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in Spirit." Isn't he saying that the aim of all our rational thinking, our studying, our reading of blogs, is not the end, but what really counts is our acquisition of Spirit?

In the Church we put great emphasis on the creed and the writings of the Apostles and Fathers, on the Catechism and so forth, but Paul is cautioning us about our reliance on such written codes. He proclaims, "God made us o be ministers of a new covenant." What does this mean? This new covenant is based on a relationship with God. He is reminding us that we are to be ministers in helping others, as well as ourselves, build a loving relationship with God. Why, so the Spirit will become active in our activities. It is in this way that we become alive.

He says further "the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life." I think what he is trying to communicate to us is that what is most important is our acquisition of the Holy Spirit living in our hearts actively influencing our decisions. This is what gives us life in Christ. If we put our faith in understanding written documents and do not undertake the training and effort to control our animal passions, allow them and their associated desires govern us, and do not allow the Spirit to guide us, we are "dead."

This should be the main emphasis of an Orthodox Way of LIfe. It requires our personal effort beyond a mental understanding. We begin by studying the Bible and the teachings of the fathers but we must develop an active relationship with God through prayer and learn to discipline our minds so that we allow the Spirit to act in all our choices. We need to continually seek forgiveness for our errors and make efforts to change and perfect our way of being. We need to participate in the liturgical cycle of the church, the services and the fasting called for. Above all we need regular daily prayer life. All of this is part of our training to allow the Spirit to guide us.

We are all imperfect and in need of help to overcome the forces of this worldly life. No one is exempt from this need. Nurturing this need is the role of the Church. It is a spiritual hospital where we can gather in a supportive community to perfect ourselves so we can undertake the work of freeing the Spirit within each of us.

The message? Beware of putting too much emphasis on trying to figure out the Truth and forcing it into some kind of philosophical order. Be sure to put emphasis on prayer, fasting, worship and participation in the sacraments. As Paul so clearly says, "The written code kills but the Spirit gives life."

BRETHREN, such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life.

St. Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians 3:4-6

Monday, August 24, 2009

Southern Ten Commandments

Not sure where this came from. Enjoy!

Ten Commandments

Some people have trouble with all those 'shall's' and 'shall not's' in the Ten Commandments. Folks just aren't used to talking in those terms. So, in middle Tennessee they translated the 'King James' into ' Jackson County ' joke (posted on the wall at Cross Trails Church in Gainesboro , TN ).

(1) Just one God

(2) Put nothin' before God

(3) Watch yer mouth

(4) Git yourself to Sunday meetin'

(5) Honor yer Ma & Pa

(6) No killin'

(7) No foolin' around with another fellow's gal

(8) Don't take what ain't yers

(9) No tellin' tales or gossipin'

(10) Don't be hankerin' for yer buddy's stuff

Now that's plain an' simple. Y'all have a nice day!

Learning to Pray

Would your kids ever leave the house without brushing their teeth or putting on shoes?


In the same way, we can begin to see prayer as an essential part of our day, for the benefits are greater than fresh breath or comfortable feet! Let us teach our children to start small, with an icon of Christ and just five minutes, but strive for consistency. The goal is to remember, thank, and glorify God each and every day by coming to meet Him face to face. By doing this, we grow to rely on Christ and He becomes the center of our lives.

Remember, when we pray, we open the communication between us and God in a very personal way. There’s no one who knows us better than our Lord. He is with us each step of the way, and He knows exactly what we need.

In the Orthodox Church, we learn how to pray from the Saints who are illumined by God and who share in His glory. When we use their prayers that were written and passed on to us, we become like them and follow them into union with God. Certainly, we can also speak from the heart, but to rely on the words of the Saints for help is the most accurate way of reaching our Lord –
for not every ship that sets sails reaches it’s destination.

From Blog Orthodox Education

Friday, August 21, 2009

Become a Letter from Christ

When we think about what it means to live an Orthodox Way of Life we need to be careful not to simply commend ourselves for our good intentions. Saint Paul suggests that we think of ourselves as being a "letter from Christ ." He is not suggesting some superficial outward appearance or practice, but something that is part of the most central aspect of our being. Paul advises that this letter is "written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God."

What does this mean written with "the Spirit of the living God"? This is not a mental attitude but something that results from an openness that unconditionally embraces a loving God. It's based on a surrender to God's Will. It's based on our humility and full acceptance that our will is not what is most important.

So how do we write on our heat with the Spirit? This is what an Orthodox Way of Life is all about: Allowing the Spirit to transform us into a "Letter from Christ delivered by us."

We have discussed in earlier posts about the Ten Principles of an Orthodox Way of LIfe. Review them, strive to live them, don't become discouraged if it seems difficult, and you will surely become "a letter from Christ."

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all men; and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Saint Paul 2 Cor 3:1-3

Ten Principles of an Orthodox Way of Life

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Polamalu on Spirituality and Fatherhood.

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu shares some of his view on fatherhood and faith in an interesting interview in Pittsburgh Magazine. Here are a few excerpts.

You view your parental role as being a role model spiritually as well?
As a parent, I don't want to talk out of both sides of my mouth; I don't want to act a certain way and be another way. Not everybody has a material struggle, but everyone has a spiritual struggle. So with my son, it's important for him to first understand the spiritual struggle and, as a result of that, know how to [deal with] the physical struggles that he has in his life - whether it's dealing with not enough or too much of something.

So it's a matter of being an example?
I think talking is overrated. Anybody in the world can talk about doing anything. The hardest thing is to do it. It's important for my son to understand, for example, why we pray, why we go to church. It's important for him to grow up in an atmosphere of watching us do it, to understand that nothing is given to you in life. Everything must be worked at in order to be obtained - whether it's something material or it's salvation.

What is your greatest wish for your child?
Without a question, my greatest wish would be for him to understand the spiritual struggle and to be a pious Orthodox Christian. That's what I want for myself, as well. Sometimes parents want their children to be what they never were. And that's one thing that I am gracious for Paisios to have: that he's able to grow up in the Orthodox church around monastics and priests that I was never able to experience as a kid - to grasp that, not take it for granted and really culture that.

How would you define the spiritual struggle you referred to earlier?
It's the struggle of good and evil, and with that comes the struggle with greed, jealousy, materialism, sexual morality, pride, all these types of struggles that we face every day, in every second of the day.

Full interview by Gina Mazza in the Pittsburg Magazine.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I Am a Good Christian - Why Do I Need Confession?

... I am a steward of the Church, I help with the Greek Festival, I come to Church regularly, I am a good Christian overall, this is definitely not for me. I would have nothing to say.”

This way of thinking is not uncommon for a lot of the people. People are afraid of Confession because they don’t understand it. This is why a fair percentage of them just toss it on the same dusty shelf along with fasting, regular prayer schedule and church attendance. It is just something that they don’t want to deal with.

Part of the problem is a gross misconception about this sacrament: Confession is only for grave sins like murder, adultery, grand theft auto and the sort. The other sins are just normal, regular “stuff” that everybody does therefore they don’t need to be confessed. So if I don’t have anything big to confess then I don’t go to Confession.

Regarding our life with such lenience makes us to overlook many faults and shortcomings that are important for our spiritual progress. We glance at our lives through a distorted mirror, and we construct a false mental idea about who we really are. Having a skewed image about ourselves, thinking that we are actually better that we are in reality is a huge stumbling block in our path toward salvation.

Often people consider that overcoming the big sins is actually the final destination and once they reach a comfortable stage many loose the drive to go further, to be “perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” (Mat 5:48), to reach “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13).

The spiritual life is about reaching this very perfection in Christ. If our final goal is to achieve the likeness of God, then our spiritual journey has no end. Stopping at any point on the way and thinking that we’ve reached the destination is only foolishness and deception. The moment I think I’ve reached the end, the ascent is over, and, without realizing it I am actually going down, starting to loose what I have accomplished so far.

The image taken from the vision of Jacob, the ladder going from earth unto to heaven is the perfect depiction of our spiritual ascent. In the classical iconographic representation some people are climbing the ladder; others are falling down from it, some falling even when they had only a few steps till the end. This is because our struggle for salvation does not end after passing one or two big steps but only after reaching all the stages, after living not just some of our life but all our life. We can still loose everything in a heartbeat if we loose our focus.

From this perspective every aspect of our spiritual life is important. Obviously the big things are central but many times one does not get there overnight but often after a period filled with the “petty” stuff that pile up and lead to greater things. We don’t have to wait until something big happens, but we should maintain our spiritual health by regularly checking our vital spiritual signs.

The true nature of Confession is deeply therapeutic. Confession is not a tribunal but is a hospital for the sick. The priest is not a judge that analyzes the facts and then gives you a sentence; he is rather a doctor that tries to diagnose the state of your soul and helps you improve its spiritual shape. If there is disease he applies treatment, if there is health he assists you reach the next stage in your heavenly ascent.

If we expect help from the Church on our spiritual life, we cannot contend ourselves with general advice: be good, don’t kill, don’t steal etc. In Church we are part of a shared support system that can apply personalized training to every one of us. Confession is at the foundation of this institution, because through Confession we can receive honest feedback about our real spiritual stage and recommendations for development. Missing on this important sacrament is to reject a big part of our spiritual experience and slap on the helping hand extended to us all the way from heaven.

by Fr. Vasile

in Gladsome Light Dialogues – An Orthodox Blog

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Appearance of the Theotokos to The Apostles

The Virgin also appeared to the holy Apostles after her repose, as did her Son. After the Ascension of our Lord, whenever the Apostles shared a meal together, it was their custom to leave a place at their table for the Master Christ.

After her bodily disappearance from the tomb, it was towards evening and they sat down in order to refresh themselves with a little food.

As was their custom, they would cut a cube of bread and place it at the head

of the table as Christ's portion. And when they finished the meal and offering thanks, they would elevate this portion, proclaiming, "Great is the name of the Holy Trinity! 0 Lord Jesus Christ, help us!" And each would partake of a small piece thereof as a blessing. This custom continued not only when they were together but even when they were far from one another.

At this meal, however, they spoke and thought of nothing but of the Virgin's empty tomb. Now when they had finished eating and had come to the conclusion of their prayers, they again followed their custom of lifting up the portion of bread put aside to honor the Lord and glorify the Trinity. Suddenly, they heard angelic singing. Raising their eyes, they beheld standing, in the air, the Theotokos, who was surrounded by a multitude of angels. She was suffused with an ineffable light, and said to the Apostles, "Rejoice, for I am with you all the days of your liVeS!"32 Indeed, she is not only with her Son's Apostles, but she is also with all the faithful and devout Orthodox Christians of all the ages.

Upon seeing her, they were filled with joy and cried aloud, "All-holy Mother of God, save us!" This is what they exclaimed instead of the usual, "Lord Jesus Christ, help us." Thus they were all convinced that the Mother of God, like her Son, had risen on the third day and had been translated bodily into the heavens. Ever since, a piece of bread has also been set aside in her name, hence the appellation, Panagia, or All-holy (one).33 For a precious keepsake, the Apostles then returned to the tomb and took the shroud for the consolation of the sorrowful and as authentic evidence of her rising from the tomb .

Thus, they were convinced that the Mother of Life, although she had died, yet rose, like her Son, to eternal life; and that her body, having been raised, was lifted up to Heaven by Jesus, her Son and the Saviour of our souls.

Thus, in the pure Virgin, vanquished were the laws of nature. Her virginity was preserved in birthgiving, and life was united with death. And remaining a virgin after giving birth, and alive after death, she prays unceasingly, as our Mother, for her inheritance.

Then, Peter, in fervent faith and abundant tears, exclaimed: Rejoice, Mother of the Creator, ascending to the world on high. Rejoice, thou who wast taken above the heavens, being more spacious than heaven. Rejoice, thou who brought gladness unto the heavenly hosts with thy passage above. Rejoice, thou who art received into the most splendid Jerusalem on high. Rejoice, thou who art entering most joyfully the temples not made with hands. Rejoice, Queen of the cherubim and seraphim. Rejoice, refuge and deliverance of the faithful. Rejoice, help and defense of thy heritage. Rejoice, 0 intercessor unto God for all the Christian world. Rejoice, 0 all-good bestower of all that is good.

As we know, through divine providence, the Apostle Thomas was not present during the funeral procession. Having thoughts within himself, he also rejoiced in her

Dormition and translation, and cried out, Rejoice, thou who wast taken from the earth in the hands of thy Son. Rejoice, thou who ascended on high to enjoy His glory. Rejoice, thou who wast escorted above by all the leaders of the angels. Rejoice, thou who wast extolled with majestic hymns at the gates of heaven by the superior hosts. Rejoice, 0 earthly heaven raised up unto the tabernacle on high. Rejoice, 0 throne of the Lord, who ascended from earth into the heavenly kingdom. Rejoice, 0 our intercessor and strong

defense. Rejoice, intercessor of sinners unto salvation. Rejoice, Queen of them that call themselves by thy Son's name and, who, after God, art the hope of the heavenly

kingdom. Rejoice, Mother of Life who, after the Lord, art unto us hope of eternal life.

Then the same cloud by which the Apostles had been brought carried them back each to his own place. Thus, they were witnesses not only to the Ascension of the Saviour but also to the translation of her who gave Him birth.

Each Apostle then continued preaching and telling the great things of God, and praising our Lord Jesus Christ.

Life of the Virgin Mary pp 487-489

Monday, August 17, 2009

Testimonies of The Assumption of the Theotokos

St. Gregory of Tours (538-594), in his Book of Miracles, testifies to his belief in the Dormition of the Virgin--the first of its kind in the West: "Finally when blessed Mary having completed the course of this life, and was to be called from the world, all the Apostles gathered to her house from their different regions. And when they had heard that she was to be taken from the world, together they kept watch with her; and lo, the Lord Jesus came with His angels. Taking her soul, He gave it to the Archangel Michael and withdrew. At dawn the Apostles raised her body with a pallet and they placed it in a vault and they guarded it awaiting the coming of the Lord. And lo, a second time the Lord stood by them and he ordered the holy body to be taken and borne to Paradise; there having rejoined the soul exultant with His elect, it enjoy-. the good things of eternity which shall know no end."

Saint Joseph the Hymnographer (c.816-886), confirming her bodily assumption, writes that Thy tomb declared that thou wast buried, and it now openly shows that thou hast been bodily borne to the heavens.11

Saint Cosmas (7th-8th c.), also speaking of her bodily translation, writes: The Lord and God of all gave thee as thy portion the things that are above nature. For just as He kept thee virgin in thy childbirth, so did He preserve thy body incorrupt in the tomb; and He glorified thee by a divine translation, showing thee honor as a son to his mother.12

St. John of Damascus (c.676-c.750), writes: "But even though, according to nature, thy most holy and happy soul is separated from thy most blessed and stainless body, and the body as usual is delivered to the tomb, it will not remain in the power of death and is not subject to decay. For just as her virginity remained inviolate while giving birth, when she departed from life her body was preserved from destruction and only taken to a better and divine tabernacle which is not subject to any death."" Continuing, he writes: "It was fitting that she, who in childbirth had kept her virginity undamaged, should also, after death, keep her body free from all corruption.,'14 He then speaks of the benefit of her translation. For Christ translates her, as His own Mother, into a dwelling far better and more divine, the Holy of Holies.15

Saint Gregory Palamas (+1359) writes that "the 'Ark of holiness' was resurrected, as was Christ Who had risen from the dead on the third day. Her burial clothes afforded the Apostles a demonstration of her resurrection from the dead.

As in the case of their Master, her burial clothes, too, alone remained in the tomb for their scrutiny." 16

Saint Modestos of Jerusalem (+634), confirming her eternal bodily incorruptibility, writes: "As the most glorious Mother of Christ, our Saviour and God Who is the Giver of Life and immortality, she has been endowed with life by Him. She has received an eternal incorruptibility of the body, together with Him Who has raised her up from the tomb, and has taken her up to Himself in a way known only to Him." 17

Saint Neophytos the Recluse (1134-1220) also speaks of her bodily translation, writing: "That pure and holy body, placed by the Apostles in the sacred place of Gethsemane, was borne to the God of the Apostles and delighted in those things which 'eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man"' [I Cor. 2:9]

Under the presidency of the great Patriarch Dositheos, a statement was made at the Council of Jerusalem, in 1672, that "though the immaculate body of Mary was locked in a tomb, yet, like Christ, she was assumed and translated into the heavens on the third day."19

Jesus: If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you to myself; that where I am, you may be there also." (John 14:3)

Life of the Virgin Mary p483-485