Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Life Of Practical Simplicity

In the following, think of the simplicity of the earliest Christians.  They lived the faith and this was how Christianity was spread. They had no scholarly papers, not even a Bible.  They heard, believed and lived the truths that were taught them.  It is worthwhile to reflect on this simplicity.  It is the same simplicity exhibited by the life of Elder Porphyrios.  

Matthew the Poor wrties,
If we look back to the early days of the Church, we are astonished at its power, especially that of the newly-founded Churches. In spite of the fact that the people were simple and ignorant of the Bible... their spiritual life and their demonstrations of faith, love, and zeal were fine examples of a powerful life lived according to the precepts of the Gospel... Even up to the present time, we still draw on their faith and tradition, and understand only with difficulty the letters that were written to them, which they understood easily and lived out.
Those simple people understood the Gospel. They understood the Gospel. They understood that it was a life to be lived, not principles to be discussed, and they refused to understand it on a purely academic level. Up to this day, faithful followers of Christ still draw life for themselves from the living spring of the understanding of those early Christians.
These early communities, burning with love for Christ, had no creeds, no patrology, no expositions of Scripture, but the few words of Christ that reached their ears immediately became their creed, needing no explanations or teaching or interpretation, but needing, as they saw it, to be experienced and lived. Through experience they would discover the power of the words and bring to light the mysteries they contained. And so their zeal and love and faith in Christ and the Gospel would grow.
When they heard “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” they sold everything and laid their money at the feet of the apostles.
When they heard “Blessed are those who mourn now,” they despised all suffering and weariness in the service of the Lord.
When they heard “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” they bore the cruellest humiliations and insults and attacks.
When they heard “Watch and pray,” they met in the catacombs to watch and pray all night.
When they heard “Love your enemies,” history recorded no resistance put up by the Christians, whether positive or negative, against their persecutors. And they bowed their necks to the sword in humility and obedience to honor the word of Christ.
This was for them the meaning of reading the Gospel and understanding it. There was born in them a hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God, and this is why the Holy Spirit was at His most active in working with them. He would give power to the word, strengthen their hearts, support them in weakness, lead them in the darkness, comfort them in distress, and accompany them along the way till they gave up their spirit into the hand of its Creator with great glory.
This is our challenge.  We must learn to thirst after God, to love him with our whole hearts, to desire to follow His commandments, to have a feeling of contriteness when we cannot do as He wishes us, to ask forgiveness, to seek with zeal ways to change our behavior.  With our love of Him comes His grace to aid us in loving others.  This is what is necessary for an Orthodox Way of Life. 

Reference: The Communion of Love, by Matthew the Poor.

Monday, August 30, 2010

"Aim at Simplicity"

Saint Basil the Great give us great wisdom. 
How are we to come to this humility and leave behind us the deadly swelling of arrogance? By exercising ourselves in it in all things, and by keeping in mind that there is nothing which cannot be a danger to us. For the soul becomes like the things to which it gives itself, and takes the character and appearance of what it does.
Let your demeanor, your dress, your walking, your sitting down, the nature of your food, the quality of your being, your house and what it contains, aim at simplicity. 
And let your speech, your singing, your manner with your neighbor, let these things also be in accord with humility rather than with vanity. 
In your words let there be no empty pretence, in your singing no excess sweetness, in conversation be not ponderous or overbearing. In everything refrain from seeking to appear important. 
Be a help to your friends, kind to the ones with whom you live, gentle to your servant, patient with those who are troublesome, loving towards the lowly, comforting those in trouble, visiting those in affliction, never despising anyone, gracious in friendship, cheerful in answering others, courteous, approachable to everyone, never speaking your own praises, nor getting others to speak of them, never taking part in unbecoming conversations, and concealing where you may whatever gifts you posses."

St. Basil the Great, Homily on Humility, 20

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Praying for Others

What are we to pray for?  We should pray for "the Church, for the world, for everyone," says Elder Porphyrios.  We cannot just pray for ourselves.  We must have a strong desire for the world to become sanctified.

When we are suffering or in need, we should ask others to pray for us.  When we all pray with faith and love seeking God's help He intervenes and this is when miracles happen.

Elder Porphyrios speaks to prayer for others.
Prayer for others which is made gently and with deep love is selfless and has great spiritual benefit.  It brings grace to the person who prays and also to the person for whom he is praying.  When you have great love and this love moves you to prayer, then the waves of love are transmitted and affect the person for whom you are praying and you create around him a shield of protection and you influence him, you lead him towards what is good.  When He sees your efforts, God bestows His grace abundantly on both you and on the person you are praying for.
He then adds,
But we must die to ourselves. Do you understand?
We cannot pray properly without humility. This is essential.  Our own wisdom is never sufficient. The personal advice we give to others is not the secret. In prayer we seek God's grace. His grace comforts and heals.

The Elder says,
The secret lies in our devotion, our prayer to God for what is best for our brethren to come about through the grace of God.  That is the best.  What we are unable to do will be done through His grace.
Pray always, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy."

Reference: Wounded By Love, p 132

Friday, August 27, 2010

Pray with Love and Yearning

When we pray we must pray with love and yearning. Through prayer our soul is filled with divine love.

Elder Porphyrios says,
Lord Jesus Christ Have Mercy On Me
Pray to God with love and yearning. And when you repeat the prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me." Say it slowly, humbly, gently and with divine love. Pronounce the name of Christ with sweetness. Say the words one at a time: "Lord...Jesus...Christ...have mercy on me,"  smoothly, tenderly, affectionally, silently, secretly, mystically, but with exaltation, with longing, with passion, without tension, force of unbecoming emphasis, without compulsion and pressure. In the way a mother speaks to the child she lovesL "my little boy...me darling girl...my little Johnny...my sweet Mary!" 
This prayer will lead you to silence.  Gradually the words are lost. The soul prefers silence. There comes a time of true prayer where there is nothing but silence.  And as the Elder says, "The flood of divine love fills the soul with joy and exultation."

Reference: Wounded by Love, p 127

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Spiritual Guide is a Must for Practicing the Jesus Prayer

Why is a guide necessary?  Because you can easily be lead astray.  In prayer, you may experience visions or lights which are demonic and lead you to pride.  A guide can help you deal with such such experiences.  He can help you avoid being trapped by your pride and self will.  He can guide you in a progressive way, growing step by step to the stage where you will see the true light.

Elder Porphyrios speaks of the danger of delusion,
And if in this spiritual dimension desire is enkindled, not by your good self, but by the other self, the egotistical self, then undoubtably you will begin to experience a pseudo-joy. But in your outward life you will be ever more aggressive and irascible, more quick-tempered and fretful.  These are the signs of a person who is deluded.  

A guide must be a person who is experienced in the prayer of the heart.  It cannot be someone who prays mechanically and has not experienced prayer with the grace of God.  Such a person will only be able to tell you what he has read in books.

A spiritual guide will keep you out of danger of delusion.

The Elder advises,
This is the teaching. We say that prayer cannot be taught, but in point of fact it can be taught when you live with someone who truly prays. When you take a book about prayer and read it, it may be that you don't understand anything.  But when you have an elder next to you who prays, whatever he tells you about prayer you understand and take to heart.

Reference: Wounded By Love, pp 124 - 126 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How to Pray the Jesus Prayer

Elder Porphyrios gives us some instruction on prayer using the Jesus Prayer.

He says,
Prayer should be interior, prayed with the mind and not with the lips, so as not to cause distraction witht he mind wandering here and there.  Let us bring Christ into our mind in an unforced manner by repeating very gently, 'Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.'  don't think anything except the words, 'Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.' Nothing else. Nothing at all. Calmly, with open eyes, so that you are not in danger of succumbing to fantasies and delusions, and with care and devotion, turn towards Christ.  Repeat the prayer in an unforced manner and not continually, but when there is the disposition and an atmosphere of compunction which is a gift of divine grace. Without grace you fall into a state of self-hynotism and you can end up seeing lights and delusions and become mentally deranged.
Prayer should not be seen as a chore or an obligation but rather an act of love.  There is no need for techniques such as a stool, bowing the head or closing the eyes.  True prayer is not dependent on anything external.

Reference: Wounded By Love, pp 121-122

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How Does One Pray in the Heart?

Once a monk from the Holy Mountain who practices the Jesus prayer visited Elder Porphyrios and inquired about how he said the Jesus prayer.  Here is the dialogue that took place:
"How do you say the Jesus Prayer? Do you sit on a stool? Do you lower your head and concentrate?"
"No, " I replied. "I say, 'Lord Jesus Christ...' clearly in my mind giving attention to the words.  'Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me... Lord Jesus...' That is how I do it in my mind and pay attention to the words."
"That's not right at all, Elder," he said.  "The way you describe it is quite erroneous, not to say deluded.  The mind needs to be in the heart.  That is why it's called 'prayer of the heart.'"
"I'll tell you something else," I said to him. "Sometimes when I would be facing some temptation, I would bring into my mind the image of the Christ on the cross with his transfixed hands and feet dripping with blood and with the crown of thorns piercing his brow and with myself kneeling before him and saying to Him, 'Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me'."
"And you didn't bring your mind into your heart?" he interrupted.
"No." I replied.
"You are deluded," he said to me. "The mind must be in the heart.  That's why it's called 'prayer of the heart.' Delusion!"
He got up to leave.
"Elder!", I said to him. "Listen and I'll tell you something.  When I am repeating the prayer in my mind, sometimes my joy becomes more and more intense.  And when my joy becomes ever stronger with the words, "Lord Jesus Christ...", I feel my mind leaping within me along with my heart. That is, I feel my mind plummeting into my heart and there I experience all this joy as I say the prayer.  I begin with the mind and then my mind moves on its own when when joy comes."
"So that's how you pray! That indeed is the way!" he said to me. "Forgive me for saying 'delusion'."

Monday, August 23, 2010

Elder Porphyrios Teaching the Jesus Prayer.

This is a story one of the spiritual children of Elder Porphyrios told about how he taught them to pray. 

He placed us towards the east, two of us to his left and two to the right, with him in the middle. “Now we’ll pray noetically. first, I will say the words, and you will repeat them. But be careful, without anxiety or force, you’ll say the words calmly, humbly, with love and sweetness.” The Elder started off with his fine, delicate and eloquent voice, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” He said it very slowly, word by word, without forcing it at all. It was a though he had Christ before and he was begging him, with a log pause after the word “Christ”, Coloring his words “have mercy on me” with an entreating tone. And we repeated it each time, trying to imitate his stance, the color of his voice and if it at all possible his spiritual disposition. At some point, the Elder stopped saying the prayer out loud and just continued whispering it on his lips. We did the same thing. How long did our night-time prayer take? I don’t remember. All I remember was that the Elder imparted an emotion to us that I cannot express with human words. 
More on Jesus Prayer....

Reference, With Elder Porphyrios, by C. Yiannitsiotis, p 55

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Porphyrios' Advice on the Jesus Prayer

Elder Porphyrios teaches that the prayer of the heart is for those who have already attracted the grace of God. 

He warns,
I mustn't be done with the thought.  "I'll learn it, I'll so it, I'll acquire it", because in this way we may be led to egoism and pride.
This is the serious danger for those who set out to practice the Jesus Prayer to seek the divine light of God.  They apply it like an external method.  It is their ego acting, their self will seeking some kind of pleasure from God.  This will most likely result in only increasing ones pride and will attract much assistance from the devil.  You may experience visions and lights which encourage you on your quest. Meanwhile your relationships with others will worsen. You we be seen as aloof and impatient.  It is a very dangerous situation.

Elder Porphyrios says,
Not only experience and genuine desire, but also wisdom, care and prudence are required if our prayer is to pure and pleasing to God.

Reference: Wounded By Love, p. 121

Friday, August 20, 2010

In Prayer What Is Meant By "Simplicity of Heart"?

Be mindful of the Lord in goodness and seek Him in simplicity of heart; for He is found with those who do not tempt Him, and appears to those who are not unfaithful to him. Wisdom 1:1 - 2
Elder Porphyrios tells a story about a converstion on prayer he had with a visiting Bishop.

He asked the Bishop, "What is meant by praying 'in simplicity of heart and artlessness?'"
The Bishop replied, "Praying with simplicity."
The elder then asked, "And do you understand what that means, your Emenince?"
He responded, "Yes I do."
The Elder then said, "Well, I don't. It is a mystery. It's something that happens only with divine grace."
The Bishop replied, "You are quite right. I don't understand either. An I'm grateful to you for reminding me that simplicity and artlessness can only be understood and achieved though divine grace."
The lesson is that true prayer cannot be gained by any external set of rules or method.  It only comes based on a humble loving relationship with God. Prayer is mystical and comes with grace.

The Elder tells us,
Simplicity and gentleness are a very saintly mode of spiritual life, but you cannot learn this in an external way. It must suffuse itself mystically within you so that your soul embraces this mode of life through the grace of God.
Reference: Wounded By Love, p 118 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What Should We Ask For In Our Prayers?

Elder Porphyrios says we should not ask in our prayer for something like "free me from illness" or "solve my problem".  What we should ask for is for His support and strength to deal with what we are given in life. It is natural for us to ask God for what we want.  But this is self centered.  Do we know what it is that God wants?

Elder Porphyrios says,
We shouldn't continue relentlessly in order to acquire what we want; rather we should leave all things to the will of God. What happens when we peruse what we want?  These always increase and we are never satisfied with what we have. The more we chase after these wants the more elusive they become. If we pray for good grades next we will ask for a good job.  Then it will be for a better job and so forth.
What should we ask for in our prayer?

The Elder says,
In our prayer we should ask only for the salvation of our soul.... The secret is to ask for your union with Christ with utter selflessness, without saying "give me this" or "give me that."... We should ask for the will of God to be done.
The enemy is our egoism.

Reference: Wounded By Love, p 117

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Why are our prayers not heard?

Our prayers are not heard because we are not worthy.
Elder Porphyrios tells us that "the slightest murmuring against your neighbor affects your soul and you are unable to pray."  We must make ourselves worthy for prayer he advises us.  And our unworthiness comes from our inability to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Jesus says,
If you bring your gift to the altar and there you remember that your brother holds something against you leave your gift before the altar and go first to be reconciled with your brother and then offer your gift. Matt. 5:23 - 4
True prayer is not easy.  It is based on a close relationship with God.  It requires a self-giving to God and His will.

Elder Porphyrios says,
Those who desire and crave to belong to Christ and who abandon themselves tot he will of God become worthy.
This is the greatest spiritual challenge to give up our will and submit it to God's will.  It is a necessity to be able to keep all of His commandments.  This is the sign of our love of God.

Jesus says,
He who has my commandments and keeps them, he is the one who loves me; and he who loves me shall be loved by my Father and I will love him and will manifest myself to him. John 14:21
To be in union with God takes great effort on our part.

The Elder says,
We have to wrestle with the roaring lion.
More on Orthodox Prayer

Reference: Wounded by Love, p 116 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Is God Trying to Get our Attention with the Floods, Earthquakes, and Heat?

I was recently asked to write something about earthquakes and other natural disasters. What do they mean from a spiritual view point? Are they an indication of God's dissatisfaction with us? Or, are they just random occurrences due to the unguided forces of nature?

My first thought was to avoid this question. I sensed that my own personal views might be at odds with the teachings of the Church. Without thinking very deeply about this, I would fall in the camp of those who say they are just random unfortunate events. This is an easy way to explain them away and say they have no spiritual meaning. My deeper spirit pushed me on to find a better answer based on the teachings of the Church. After all, there are many such lessons in Scripture and everything we do has a spiritual meaning.

The Orthodox view begins with the belief that all happens with the awareness of God. He is all powerful, Creator of all. If he wanted, he could prevent any natural calamity. Secondly, we believe that all God does is out of love for us. So, in understanding a natural disaster we have to realize that God lets them happen out of His Love for us. This Love wants to bring us into union with him with eternal life in Paradise as we were originally created.
Here are a few thoughts from the Wisdom of our Church Fathers:

St. Isaac the Syrian: 
A time of trial is beneficial to everyone: the diligent are tried so that their wealth may increase; the lax, so that they may be preserved from harm; those spiritually asleep, so that they may prepare themselves for watchfulness; those whose who are far from God, so that they approach Him; those who are God’s close associates, so that they may come closer to Him in freedom of speech.
St. Basil the Great says, 

If no one makes an effort to repent over the causes of woeful manifestations: why there is drought, why rain, why thunderbolts, why hail? This is for us, who have unrepentant hearts, and who have not been converted until we are stricken.
St. John Chrysostom speaks also about the need to correct our lives and place our hope in God: 

"Leave to God the time for the end of calamity, and we shall only pray; we ourselves shall live piously; for it is our affair to turn to virtue, while it is God's affair to stop calamities.” 
In another work, this great preacher warns: 
”God is powerful to stop all catastrophes, but until He sees our conversion, He does not put a stop to our woes.”
Elder Paisios when asked, "Why God does allow a calamity to happen?" responded.:

There are all kinds of reasons. Sometimes God will allow something to happen so that something better may come out of it, and other times He wants to educate us. Some people are rewarded and others pay a debt; nothing is wasted. You know, whatever God allows, even when human being perish, it is done out of love for man, because God has a "heart."
Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica says,

By thoughts man often disturbs the order of creation.  That is how the first people were destroyed––in a flood––because of their evil thoughts and intentions.  This is true even today; our thoughts are evil, and therefore we do not bear good fruit.  We must change.
Saint Paul says,

"We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" (Romans 5: 3-5)
From the Priest's Prayer for calamities

" O Lord Who alone art rich in mercy, and in the lovingkindness of Thy goodness dost hearken to the supplication of us, Thy sinful and unworthy servants, arranging and directing us all toward our benefit, guiding our life by Thy wise providence, and in every way desiring our salvation; Who by nature art long-suffering and great in mercy; Who dost chastise and healest again; Who dost rebuke gently and with love for man, not to destroy the work of Thy hands, but to bring it to its primal goodness and to its original nobility, which we have destroyed in the feebleness of our understanding and by the counsel of the most accursed one;... Still Thy wrath, O Lord; absolve, O Lord; have mercy, O Lord, and forsake us not utterly because of our iniquities, neither punish Thou others with our wounds. Grant that we may become chaste through the sufferings of others. "
Calamities and natural disasters are a mystery to mankind beyond our full comprehension.  We only know the tribulation and suffering that occur because of them. We must remember that we live in a fallen world that is dominated by sin. The aim of life on this earth is to perfect our souls so that we will be saved, that we will find union with God, and live with Him eternally. What happens in this fallen world, death, sickness, natural disasters and all kinds of trials and tribulations make up the fire that purifies us.

You may also find enlightening the
Prophecy of Saint Nilus
Or this article
Patient Endurance by Fr. George Morelli

Another post on this Blog on Evil

“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thes 5: 16-18)

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Homily On The Dormition Of The Mother Of God

By Elder Thaddeus on Jan. 31,1998

I thank the Lord and the Most Holy Mother of God that He has willed to embellish this feast day of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos through the angelic voices of the children who sang so beautifully. This reminds me of the days of my youth, before the war, when I was a monk in the holy Patriarchate of Pech, the Serbian Zion as some call it. The choir from Pech used to sing the responses at Holy Liturgy every feast day at the monastery. It was a mixed choir, very well organized, and the choir director was a remarkable person. I have heard many choirs from Belgrade and other places, but that choir from Pech was quite extraordinary. Today, when I said, "Blessed is the Kingdom …,” the children responded with "Amen." This reminded me of those days of my youth and it touched my heart.
When the chanting is as beautiful as this, we are freed from all our cares and our interest for earthly things and we ascend into eternity with the Lord, His angels, and the saints, where our true Fatherland and our Kingdom is. If our Fatherland were of this world, then we would live here in a state of well‑being, peace, and joy. However, this life for us Christians is, so to say, an epitimia. In this life we must prepare ourselves for life in the Heavenly Kingdom and we must attain Divine peace. No one can give us that peace; only God can give peace to created beings and to us if we seek Him and long for Him with all our heart and if we desire to become one with Him. He wants our souls to be united with Him, with His Divine will. He wants our entire being to become one with Him in order that we may feel the joy of living. We, on the other hand, get very involved in this material life and we have no time to think about our soul, about our inner peace. We are always shattering our inner peace.
We have many examples by which we can learn. The Lord gave us first of all the Most Holy Theotokos. It was His will that the Most Holy Theotokos remain with the holy Apostles to comfort and encourage them after His Resurrection and Ascension. One of the God‑bearing Fathers, a native of Athens, St. Dionysios the Areopagite, wished to see the Most Holy Mother of God. When he arrived in Jerusalem, they took him to the home of St. John the Theologian, where the Most Holy Theotokos lived. When he entered her chamber, he was at once free of all cares and worries and was overcome with ineffable joy and peace. This is how he describes his meeting with the Most Holy Theotokos: "Had I not learned in my Youth about the True God, for me the Most Holy Theotokos would have been God."

See what peace, stillness, and joy radiate from the Most Holy Theotokos! God has allowed peace and joy to radiate from every soul that is one with Him. Divine peace and joy emanate from such a person and we feel good in his presence. Do you see what the Kingdom of Heaven means? The Kingdom of God is… righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14: 17).
The Most Holy Mother of God prays for us ceaselessly,. She is always visiting us. Whenever we turn to her in our heart, she is there. After the Lord, she is the greatest protection for mankind. How many churches there are in the world that are dedicated to the Most Holy Mother of God! How many healing springs where people are cured of their ailments have sprung up in places where the Most Holy Theotokos appeared and blessed those springs to heal both the sick and the healthy! She is constantly, by our side, and all too often we forget her.
You have seen that in this life anyone, even our closest of kin, can abandon us. We all have our weaknesses and often hurt the people closest to us. They can turn their backs on us because of our rudeness, or they can forgive us but still be hurt. But the Lord and His Most Holy Mother ... Oh, how many times have we insulted God and the Most Holy Theotokos, but when we repent and turn to them in our hearts, they forgive us everything, never remembering our sins and evil deeds!
You have already realized how unbelievably quickly life goes by. One does not notice this as much in one's youth, but when the years bear down upon us, we see that a lot of time has passed and that very little is left of this life. Where do we go when the end of our life comes? We know where we are going while we are still here, but what happens afterwards? Where are we going? Have we prepared for the Heavenly Kingdom, for our true homeland? Only the meek and those with pure hearts will enter it. Have we taken care to cleanse our heart while in this life, the heart that gives us such a hard time in this life? Have we said to ourselves, "Heart, you have caused me enough pain; humble yourself and be a patient, long‑suffering heart!"
The Lord has said that we save our souls by patient long-suffering. We know that many misfortunes and sorrows come upon both the pious and the impious, both the righteous and the sinful. We all receive our share of misfortunes––this is a means of learning to accept everything in peace. On our own we have no strength, but God has strength. It is to Him that we must turn, deep down in our heart, and He will give us the strength to overcome all difficulties, for it is very important to rise above all those little things that take away our inner peace. We rarely pay any attention to this but allow the injustice that we come across everywhere in our lives to shatter our inner peace. Often we are the ones who do injustice to others. It may seem to us at the time that we are doing the right thing, but later it turns out that we were very wrong. We must learn to overcome all these little things with peace, united with the Lord, so that disquiet will not enter us from the outside, and so that we will always have our inner peace.
God is at the center of every persons life. He is in our heart whether we accept Him or not. He never separates Himself from us because He is the Giver of life Who gives life to every created being. We have buried Him with our worries and worldly cares, which destroy the peace within us, and that is why we have no peace or rest. No one on earth can give us unshakable inner peace. Money cannot give us peace, neither can fame, honor, a high-ranking position, nor even our closest friends and family. The only Giver of peace and life is the Lord. He gives peace, stillness, and joy to the angels and the saints, to us and to every created thing. Therefore we must repent and turn to the Lord.
What is repentance? Repentance is a change of one's way of life; it is discarding the old man and all of his evil habits and turning toward God, toward the Truth. Repentance means becoming quiet, peaceful, humble, and meek. Everyone knows that it is very pleasing to be in the company of a person who is meek, peaceful, and kind. A person who has no peace generates restlessness and radiates it all around, so that in the company of such a person we feel unsettled, and we too become restless. This is because we have not united with the Lord through unceasing prayer. We have peace when we are with the Lord and His Most Holy Mother; she is always here to help whenever we call upon her. In her we have unshakable support, which remains the same for all ages and which will not change. We cannot find this support anywhere else on earth, not even among our family members, let alone in things like riches, earthly power, and honor. We can be left without all these things, but the Lord and His Most Holy Mother will never leave us.
And so, my children, as we celebrate the great feast day of the Most Holy Theotokos, let us prepare ourselves for the heavenly life, let us teach our hearts to always long for God as the angels do, and for the Most Holy Theotokos, for she is our Intercessor and prays unceasingly for us weak ones before the throne of her Son. Whenever we turn to her in our hearts, she is always there to help. Countless are those on this earth whom she has comforted, and countless are the souls she has led from the depths of hades to the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us, therefore, learn to become accustomed to the Heavenly Kingdom while we are still in this life. The Heavenly Kingdom is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. We need to humble our hearts, which take insults so deeply, and also our so‑called dignity, for we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven in pride, as when we take to heart each slander our neighbor casts. We must accept our lessons from everyday life, for each day brings us cares, worries, and insults. We must learn not to take insults to heart, for who knows what awaits us during the course of our earthly lives? God is merciful to us and has concealed our future from us. Otherwise, not one among us would be able to go on, knowing what the future holds for him. We must live through many misfortunes and sorrows in order to learn how to rise above all these problems that disturb our inner peace. We must learn to acquire the Divine peace and joy of the angels and saints, for the Kingdom of Heaven is acquired while we are still in this life.
In this life we are in heaven one moment and in hades the next. You can see this for yourself and learn from it. When our thoughts are quiet and kind, when we forgive every slander and insult, we have Divine peace, joy, and stillness! But when we become angry because of someone's unkind words, we are at once in hades! Everything collapses, and we lose all the joy of living that we had before. Can you see how terrible living in hades is? Here, in this life, we are given the chance to taste both the heavenly life and the life of hades. We should choose that which gives us peace, the Heavenly Kingdom. We all desire this, without any exceptions, whether our lives are good or bad. All people long for peace and goodness, for ineffable love that never changes, and only God is this kind of love. He alone is unchangeable. He is always the same, and He is the  basis of all things––preeminently of mankind. He is ever waiting for us to return to His embrace, but all we do is shy away from Him. He wants to give us peace and to comfort us so that we may experience the joy of living, but all we ever see are the cares and worries of this world.
From the beginning of our lives, we have all sinned gravely. The Lord has warned us to be very careful lest we have a life of hardship and sorrow, and endure much pain until we humble ourselves and realize that we have sinned. For the Lord has said, Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee (Ex. 20:12). That is the law. The Lord showed us how to honor our parents by His own example when, as His suffering on the Cross was nearing an end, He entrusted His Most Holy Mother to His beloved disciple, John. He said to His Mother, Woman, behold thy son! (John 19:26). And to His disciple He said, Behold thy mother! (John 19:27).
(In the Aramaic tongue in which our Lord spoke, the word “woman" implies greater honor than the word "mother." Today it is difficult for us to understand how the Lord could have addressed His mother as "woman." Likewise, when the Lord was in Cana of Galilee, the Most Holy Theotokos turned to Him and said, They have no wine (John 2:3). And He said to Her, Woman, what is that between Me and thee? Mine hour is not yet come (John 2:4). In our language, when we say "woman" this has a somewhat disrespectful meaning, but when we say "mother" it is much more intimate and affectionate. But in the Aramaic tongue, the word "woman" is much more respectful.)
See how the Lord took care of His Mother in His last hour upon the earth! What do we do with our parents? God forbid that we should continue to treat our parents the way we do. Even from our childhood we do not honor our parents, but we want to live long and well. How can we live well if we have disobeyed this God-given law from our childhood? 'The law of this world, which is ever changing, punishes every violation against it. How then do we expect not to be punished for disobeying the Heavenly Law?––the Word of God, which never changes, but stays the same for all ages, for it is Spirit and Life.
We are the offspring of disobedient parents. When disobedience entered our forebears Adam and Eye, our nature suddenly changed. It became corrupt, foul smelling, prone to decay, and mortal. Death entered us. Before the Fall our forebears were immortal. Only God, our Creator, can bring us back to our original state, as He created us. It is for this reason that He Who is love came down to earth and was born of the Virgin as a child. It is for this reason that He lived for thirty‑three years among men. He wanted to teach us the truth and to show us that He is love. We need to look to the Lord, His Mother, the apostles and the saints as examples and renew our life. We must repent and leave behind our former way of life with all our bad habits, and we must strive to learn obedience. If anyone has hurt us––our parents, our brother or sister, a neighbor––then we must forgive them all from the heart, and when we have done so, the Lord will know. Our forgiveness must not be confined to words only. The Lord wants us to forgive from the heart. Our neighbor will then feel our forgiveness and no words will be necessary. The person will know in his heart that we have forgiven him.
How does a person know in his heart that he has been forgiven? People have thoughts. We are like a fine thought‑apparatus. We are connected to each other by our thoughts. When we think of a person, he immediately receives our thoughts. But since we are distracted and our thoughts are scattered, we cannot discern who it is that is sending us thoughts or the kind of thoughts he is sending us. On the other hand, the person who has peaceful thoughts, who is united with the Lord and whom the Lord has freed from distractions, this person knows exactly which thoughts are his own, which ones come from the enemy and which ones are from friends. Feelings and thoughts coming from the minds of our fellow men reach us. This is why I say to you that when we forgive from the heart, our neighbor can feel this and the burden that has been oppressing his soul is no more.
This is the way to learn about the heavenly life and to acquire inner peace. Let us turn to the Most Holy Theotokos in our hearts and ask her to intercede for us, that the Lord might give us strength and that He might number us among His angels and saints who glorify God throughout all eternity. Amen. 
Reference:  Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, pp163 - 170

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Through Prayer We Unite our Mind With God

To be able to have our mind continually turned towards God in love we must pray and meditate on His words. Elder Porphyrios advises that prayer is not based on our effort. It is only done with the Holy Spirit. He says, “In human prayer effort represents only a time millionth part.”

He says we need to have the proper surroundings

The reading of Scripture, the singing of psalms, the light of an oil lamp, and the fragrance of incense all create the appropriate atmosphere so that everything happens naturally, in simplicity of heart.
It is important to create a quiet place in our homes for our daily prayer. 

He advises us to pray for the divine light to shine within us to open our spiritual eyes to understand His divine words. To pray the words, “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us,” we need divine eros, he says.
Love is sufficient to bring us into a suitable frame of mind for prayer. Christ will come on His own and He will stoop over our soul as long as he finds certain little things which gratify Him: good intention, humility and love….
There are some preconditions for this to take place.  He advises, 
Our heart must be pure and free from all impediments. It must be devoid of hatred, egotism and malice. We must love His and He must love us…. the secret is to ask for forgiveness.
The message is always the same. Love.  Love God with all your heart and you will receive His grace.  You will have a pure heart and your mind will be suitable for prayer.  No effort will be needed.

More on Orthodox Prayer....

Reference: Wounded By Love, pp 113 - 115

Friday, August 13, 2010

Illness as the Love of Christ

Elder Porphyrios suffered many illness during his life. It was the reason he could not stay on Mount Athos. Even though he suffered more than a normal person, he would thank God for his illnesses.

He says,
I am in great pain, but my illness is something very beautiful. I feel it as the love of Christ. I am given compunction and I give thanks to God. It is on account of my sins. I an sinful and God is trying to purify me. 
Normally we pray asking God to heal us, to free us from a maladies. But the Elder takes a different course. When he was sixteen he asked God to give him a cancer so He should suffer for His love. His elder told him to not pray in this way because it was egoism. He didn’t continue with this kind of prayer but he did receive his wish.

He says,
Now I do not pray for God to take away from me the thing I asked HIm for. I am glad that I have it so that I can participate in His suffering through my great love. 
I do not pray for God to make me well… I pray for my soul, for God to forgive my transgressions. I am not taking medicines, nor did I go for surgery, not even for tests…. The grace of God sustains me. I try to give myself to Christ, to approach Christ and to be one with Christ… 
We benefit greatly from our illnesses, as long as we endure them without complaint and glorify God, asking for His mercy… 
Often we do the opposite of this.  Some even get angry at God for their sickness.  Next time you you are sick, think about all that God gives you and how difficult it is for you to do all He expects of us.  Try giving thanks to God for this time of humbling.  Through your contrition and thankfulness, you will receive grace so His will can be done for you.

Reference: Wounded By Love, 224 - 231

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Our Heart Can Transmit Either Good or Evil

We are not always aware of the powers we have. Depending on the disposition of our heart we can transmit either good or evil, Elder Porphyrios advises us. He warns us to be very careful to see things with a positive view.

He says, 

Even the slightest anger or indignation does harm. We need to have goodness and love in our soul and to transmit these things. 

We need to be careful not to harbor any resentment against those who harm us, but rather to pray for them with love… We need always to have thoughts of love and always to think good of others. 
He highlights for us the example of Saint Stephen. As he was being stoned to death he prayed, “Lord do not hold this sin against them.” How many of us can do this? Not many, but this is our potential with the love of God filling our mind at all times. Grace flows at these times enabling us to act in saintly ways. Saint Stephen had this love of Christ in his mind and heart as he was being stoned. He sets an example for us to follow.

If we pray with love for others this is also transmitted. It is important to be in touch with this invisible power of our soul. In both good and bad, this power is transmitted over great distances.

He says, 

If we pray with love for someone, whatever the distance that separates us, the good is transmitted. So distances do not affect the power of good and evil. We can transmit these across boundless distances. 
This is not something Elder Porphyrios is talking about in any theoretical way. After he became a monk he was given though God’s grace the powers of clairvoyance. In his autobiography he recounts a story of seeing his elders returning when they were on the other side of the mountain. He could visualize water under the ground when seeking a well for his monastery. One of his spiritual children, Constantine Yiannitsiotis, recounts how he saw in both people and things the cause of events. In his book, With Elder Porphyrios, he offers many examples of these powers in action. He understood the past as well as the future.

The person who receives this gift of clairvoyance is one who loves God as Elder Porphyrios does. Such power is an act of divine grace. The Elder gives us the preconditions for this.

He says, 

Only a person who has humility receives these gifts from God; he attributes them to God and he uses them for His glory. The good, humble, devout man who loves God, deluded or led astray. He feels in his heart that he is truly unworthy, and that all those things are given to him so that he may become good, and for that reason he makes his ascetic struggle. 
Our aim must be to become holy and God may then grant us additional powers. Grace does not come to those who are ego-centered. It comes only to those who are humble, selfless, and love God above all else.

Reference: Wounded by Love, pp 212 - 214

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Way to Peace in The Workplace

A lesson for the workplace. Elder Thaddeus (1914 - 2003) is another modern day holy person who teaches the Way of Love.  He gives us a very practical example that applies to many of us today.
I often remember the story of Sister J. ... Once she came together with an organized group of pilgrims, and complained, saying, 'I cannot bear this any longer!  People are so unkind to each other!’  She went on to say that she was going to look for another job.  I advised her against it, as there were few jobs and a high level of unemployment.  I told her to stop the war she was fighting with her colleagues. 'But I am not fighting with anyone!’ she said.  I explained that, although she was not fighting them physically, she was waging war on her colleagues with her thoughts, by being dissatisfied with her position.
She argued that it [i.e., her work situation] was beyond anyone's endurance.  'Of course it is,' I told her, 'but you can't do it yourself.  You need God's help.  No one knows whether you are praying or not while you are at work.  So, when they start offending you, do not return their offenses --- either with words or with negative thoughts. Try not to offend them even in your thoughts; pray to God that He may send them an angel of peace.  Also ask that He not forget you.  You will not be able to do this immediately.  However, if you always pray like that, you will see how things will change over time, and how people will change as well.  In fact, you too are going to change.’
At that time, I did not know whether she was going to heed my advice.  This happened in the Tumane Monastery in 1980.  In 1981, I was sent to the Vitovnica Monastery.  I was standing underneath the quince tree, when I noticed a group of pilgrims that had arrived.  She was in the group, and she came up to me to receive a blessing.  And this is what she said to me, 'O Father, I had no idea people were so good.'  I asked her whether she was referring to her colleagues at work, and she said she was.  'They have changed so much, Father, it’s unbelievable!  No one offends me anymore, and I can see the change in myself as well.'
If there were just one such person in every company, factory or office!  That would be the way toward peace.  Only one person, who is prayerfully connected to God, is needed; and we will have peace everywhere --- in the family, at work, in the government, and everywhere.  It is in the presence of such a person that we are freed from gloomy and cumbersome thoughts.

Reference: Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life and Teachings of  Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica,  pp 93 - 94