St Gregory Nazianzen: Our success is always judged by comparison with our place in life

“I HOPE you saw her petticoat, six inches deep in mud, I am absolutely certain; and the gown which had been let down to hide it not doing its office.”

“Your picture may be very exact, Louisa,” said Bingley; “but this was all lost upon me. I thought Miss Elizabeth Bennet looked remarkably well when she came into the room this morning. Her dirty petticoat quite escaped my notice.”

Jane Austen (1775-1817), “Pride And Prejudice”. Lizzie had acquired her muddy petticoat because she was rushing to be beside her poorly sister.

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Actress Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet in 'Pride and Prejudice' by Jane Austen.

“Her dirty petticoat quite escaped my notice.” Actress Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen.

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OUR success is always judged by comparison with our place in life by our just and merciful Judge; and often one who is in public life and has had small success has had a greater reward than one who in the enjoyment of liberty [i.e. in a monastery] has not completely succeeded; as I think it more marvellous for a man to advance a little in fetters, than for one to run who is not carrying any weight; or to be only a little spattered in walking through mud, than to be perfectly clean when the road is clean.

To give you a proof of what I have said:—Rahab the harlot was justified by one thing alone, her hospitality, though she receives no praise for the rest of her conduct; and the Publican was exalted by one thing, his humility, though he received no testimony for anything else; so that you may learn not easily to despair concerning yourself.

St Gregory Nazianzen, Homily on Holy Baptism. Delivered on January 6, 381. Source.

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AND Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

Mark 12:37-44.

‘Never forget the first week of your marriage’

Elder Joseph, Abbot of the Vatopaidi Monastery on Mount Athos (+2009)

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AN example of practical comfort and support recommended to us by our Elders experienced in giving advice, of both sexes, for difficult times is:

“Do not ever forget the first week of your marriage”.

Be the same as you were then. Nothing separates you.

Elder Joseph Vatopaidinos. Source.

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MAY an Angel of the Lord go before them all the days of their lives. For you are the One who blesses and sanctifies all things, and to you we give glory, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and for ever, and to the ages of ages.

Service of Bethrothal. Source.

Discernment: giving comfort and rest to souls

TAKE my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

Matthew 11:29

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Monk Moses the Athonite

Monk Moses the Athonite

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DISCERNMENT (διάκριση) picks out what is right, chooses the good, assesses what is the better, flees extremes, walks the middle path. It looks for the best answer to any question put to it, for the most suitable solution.

Discernment is necessary for all people, but especially for teachers, guides, and counsellors.

Neither extreme strictness nor great indulgence are necessary. Ill-judged and undiscerning interventions embitter people, and make them despairing in everything.

In getting close to other people, stubborn, shallow and off-the-cuff methods bring no benefits.

Discernment emerges from knowledge, experience, spiritual husbandry and maturity. It is the result of self-examination, self-criticism, study, and divine illumination.

Discernment comforts and gives rest to souls. Lack of discernment wounds, wearies, and makes wretched. Guides have a responsibility. They do not create new problems with superficial directions.

In daily personal relationships, it is necessary to get close, to have real understanding, to work together, to be courteous and affable, to have a spirit of sacrifice.

In particular, when we put pressure on young people we do not help them. They react, they do not listen and they are distanced. Pushing a lot, shoving something down their throats, squeezing them, brings the opposite result to what was intended.

Discernment distances someone from the worst dangers in the spiritual life.

Discernment makes its friends strangers to every kind of error. It does not leave the disease to get worse.

Monk Moses the Athonite, in “Kivotos” (‘The Ark’), the magazine of the Diocese of Paros and Naxos, May-August 2012.
Source. This is my translation.

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An icon of the Panagia Theotokos, in the Ekatontapyliani church on Paros.

An icon of the Panagia Theotokos, in the Ekatontapyliani church on Paros.

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SEEING the ocean of life surge on a wave of temptations, hastening to thy calm harbour I cry to thee: O all merciful Lord, draw my life up out of corruption.

Theotokion

O LADY, do good unto my soul, amidst the evils of many temptations, and implore God beseechingly, who is the giver of all good things, to make me worthy of the kingdom that is on high.

At Matins for today. Source.

A wedding is no private affair, but the cosmic union of heaven and earth

HUSBANDS, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,

That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

Ephesians 5:25-27

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A wedding in an Orthodox Church

“Take up their crowns in thy Kingdom, unspotted and unblemished, and keep them without reproach unto the ages of ages.”

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WHAT better day for a wedding?

Not Saturday but Sunday. Not a private affair, discreetly tucked away on a quiet afternoon; but the holy mystery of the Church, proclaimed loudly and clearly from the rooftops. Not a ‘family gathering’ but the gathering of our family in God.

If we looked on this wedding with clouded eyes, we could ask: ‘Where is the organ playing “Here comes the bride”? Where is the bridal veil, the father of the bride, all the pretty bridesmaids and grooms? Where is the vow “Till death do us part”? Isn’t this ritual just part of the laws of nature: birth, marriage, death – “hatched, matched, dispatched”?’

But if we have eyes to see, we realise that Mother Nature is not in charge. Nature, and death, have no power – no authority – to part those that we unite this day. This is no private affair, in a quaint old historic church or a chapel in the valley. This is the cosmic union of heaven and earth.

If our eyes are clouded, all that we can see is nature: a man and a woman. But if we have eyes to see, we see the living icon of Christ, the eternal Bridegroom, and the icon of his Bride, our Holy Mother the Church.

If all that we see is ‘just another wedding’, all that we can offer is the cheap wine, the poor wine that all too quickly runs out. But if we have eyes to see, we toast them in the good wine, the rarest of all wines: the Blood of Christ, conqueror of death, who unites himself this day to his eternal Bride.

St Botulph Antiochian Orthodox Church, London: Eyes to See (Matthew 9.1-8 / John 2.1-12) (Source).

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O GOD, our God, who wast present in Cana of Galilee, and blessed the marriage there, bless also these thy servants, who in your providence have been joined together in the communion of marriage. Bless their comings in and their goings out. Fill their life with good things. Take up their crowns [here the Priest taketh the crowns from the heads of bride and bridegroom, and layeth them upon the table] in thy Kingdom, unspotted and unblemished, and keep them without reproach unto the ages of ages.

From the Crowning, at the close of the ceremony. My amateur translation, from Analogion.

Whosoever therefore shall humble himself…

WHOSOEVER therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 18:4

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An icon of Christ blessing the children

Christ blessing the children (Mt 19:13-14)

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SHOULD thoughts of self-praise, of self-satisfaction, occur to you, say:

“I myself am nothing; all that is good in me is accomplished by the grace of God.”
“What hast thou that thou didst not receive?” (1 Cor 4:7)
“Without Me ye can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).

Should the thought of despising any of your neighbours, or of your family occur to you, say:

“The entire man is the beautiful work of God’s hands; everything in him is very well ordered.” For “it was very good” (Gen 1:31).

St John of Kronstadt, “My Life in Christ” Part III (CCEL).

I will shelter under the shadow of Thy wings

O GOD, hearken to my petition; attend to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth have I cried to thee, when my heart was in trouble: thou liftedst me up on a rock thou didst guide me: because thou wert my hope, a tower of strength from the face of the enemy.

I will dwell in thy tabernacle for ever; I will shelter myself under the shadow of thy wings.

Psalm 60(61)

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An icon of the Resurrection, showing Jesus, Adam and Eve

An icon of the Resurrection, showing Jesus, Adam and Eve.

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IT can appear that in marriage, those wedded together are two in number.

Yet they are not two, but three.

The husband weds his wife, and the wife her husband, but the two of them together are also given in marriage to Christ.

So three take part in the sacrament, and moreover three remain in their life. […]

EVERYTHING that is done right to the end of the marriage service is a shadow and symbol which displays that Christ is there.

When you are sitting and suddenly catch sight of a shadow, you understand that someone is coming. You don’t see him: but you know it.

You get up bright and early and you see the reddening horizon in the east. In a moment, you say, the sun is going to rise… […]

Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra (b. 1934)

Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra (b. 1934)

WHEN you look at your marriage, your husband, your wife, when you look at your vexations, everything in your house, you should appreciate that they are indications of the presence of Christ.

It is as if you hear his steps, as if he is coming, as if you are now even on the point of hearing his voice.

These are all shadows which show that Christ is with us.

It is true that, because of our cares we feel like he is absent.

But we see him by means of the shadows and we are assured that he is with us.

Elder Aimilianos of Simonpetra (b. 1934).

From a series of quotations collected in “Ο Γέροντας Αιμιλιανός μας συμβουλεύει…” at Απόψεις για τη Μονή Βατοπαιδίου. My non-expert translation.

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HE that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.

[…]

BECAUSE he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.

He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him.

With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.

From Psalm 91(90), KJV.

There are many doors of good stewardship

THEN shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. […]

Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Mt 25:34-36, 40.

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The Resurrection of Christ

The Resurrection of Christ

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St Cyril of Jerusalem quoted the passage above, from St Matthew’s Gospel, and then went on:

LET the light of thy good works shine before men (Mt 5:16), and let not Christ be blasphemed on thy account.

Wear thou a garment of incorruption, resplendent in good works; and whatever matter thou receivest from God to administer as a steward, administer profitably.

Hast thou been put in trust with riches?  Dispense them well.

Hast thou been entrusted with the word of teaching?  Be a good steward thereof.

Canst thou attach the souls of the hearers?  Do this diligently.

There are many doors of good stewardship.  Only let none of us be condemned and cast out; that we may with boldness meet Christ the Everlasting King, who reigns for ever.

For He doth reign for ever, who shall be judge of quick and dead, because for quick and dead He died.

And as Paul says, For to this end Christ both died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and living (Rom 14:9).

St Cyril of Jerusalem (+386), “Catechetical Lectures” No. XV §26. Translation from CCEL.

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To St Cyril’s list, we could also add the stewardship of children.

GRANT unto us seed of a harvest, so that, having all sufficiency for ourselves, we may abound unto every good work that is also well-pleasing to thee, and see our children’s children like newly planted olive trees all around our table; and that, having been well-pleasing to thee, we may shine like starry lights in heaven, in thee our Lord: to whom belong all glory, might, honour and worship, now and for ever, and to the ages of ages.

Adapted from the Office of Crowning (Orthodox marriage service). The only change is that I have altered ‘them’ to ‘us’ etc. throughout. Original Greek at Analogion. See the full service in English at Anastasis.