Just as I am

A monk praying among the rocks

A monk praying among the rocks

AN Englishwoman found herself poised to reject both prayer and God because, burdened as she was by so much torment in asking the question “How can I discover prayer?”, she had received formulaic answers from others. Hearing that Fr Sophrony had come to France, she sought him out and asked him the same question.

Fr Sophrony replied to her, “With God there’s no need to play the politician. Turn to the Lord, who is in your heart, just as you are.” And she found such potent prayer, that as Fr Sophrony said of her, she would pray for hours together with her head touching the floor. That is no small thing for a Westerner. That lady was baptised Orthodox many years ago now.

Told by Fr Rafail Noica. My translation from Greek. Source.

You can read more about Fr Rafail here on Gabriel’s Message.

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JUST as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Charlotte Elliot.

On the altar of the heart

BY faith didst thou justify the Forefathers (cf. Heb 11), a betrothal beforehand of the Church gathered from the nations. Let the saints in glory boast, for from their seed there is a glorious fruit, she that bare thee without seed. At their intercessions, O Christ God, save our souls.

Apolytikion at Vespers for the Sunday of the Forefathers. Source.

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TODAY is the Feast of the Forefathers, the saints of Israel before and after the giving of the Law of Moses, but before the birth of Christ.

This seems an appropriate day for St Bede’s reflections on the ways in which the Jewish Temple prefigured the Christian’s life of prayer.

*

THE altar of gold signifies the hearts of the perfect who are justified, resplendent in the light of purity and inward brightness.

Even the position of that altar is well suited for signifying their elevated state.

It stood in front of the gate of the holy of holies, as we clearly read in the account of the making of the tabernacle.

On this altar, it seems, they burned sacrifices not of blood, or first-fruits, but of incense, whose smoke rising on high would envelop the Ark, and fill the Mercy Seat with the odour of sweetness.

In this is expressed a symbol of the faithful.

An altar and priest in an Orthodox church

“With the temporal world forgotten, they seek after heavenly things with absolute concentration, just as if they were standing in the precincts of the Mercy Seat.”

With the preoccupations of the temporal world forgotten, they seek after heavenly things with absolute concentration, just as if they were standing in the precincts of the Mercy Seat, and not far from the curtain by which the holy of holies was divided from the temple.

They inhabit the earth bodily, but for the other part, which relates to the whole inner man, they have their converse in the heavens.

And from this altar there ascends into the holy of holies, where the Ark is kept, a smoke of incense, as the prayers of the saints, fanned by the flames of charity, reach up to heaven, where Christ sits at the right hand of the Father.

It is not sacrifices of blood which are burned on this altar, but rather of incense, because what such men offer, like so many priests, in praise to God on the altar of their hearts are not works of flesh and blood.

They offer to him pledges of tears and prayer, for the sake of their longing for the heavenly kingdom.

St Bede, monk of Jarrow (+735). On The Temple of Solomon, chapter 22. My translation.

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THE myrrh-bearing women offered unto thee, O Lord, a morning hymn of tears. For bearing scented herbs of sweet perfume, they made haste to gather at thy grave, there to anoint thine immaculate body. But an angel was seated upon the stone, and unto them gave these glad tidings: Why do you seek the living among the dead? For being God he is risen, trampling down death, pouring out on all the great mercy.

AN ANGEL, lightning-bright, upon thy life-giving tomb said unto the myrrh-bearing women: The Redeemer hath emptied the grave, he hath despoiled hades, and risen on the third day, for he alone is God, and all-powerful.

MARY Magdalen sought thee out, coming to thy tomb on the first day of the week. When she found thee not, she broke into lamentation and cried out with weeping, Alas my Saviour, how canst thou be stolen away, King of all? But two life-bearing angels there within the tomb cried: Why art thou weeping, O woman? I am weeping, said she, because they have taken my Lord from the tomb, and I do not know where they have laid him. But she turned round, and she saw thee, and straightway cried out: My Lord and my God, glory be to thee!

THE Hebrews shut life in the tomb, but the robber opened paradise upon his tongue, crying out and saying: He who was crucified beside me was crucified on my account, he hanged with me upon a tree, and appeared unto me upon his throne, seated with the Father: for he is Christ our God, who hath the great mercy in his gift.

At the Liturgy on Sundays of the Third Tone. Source.

‘She is waiting only for you to pray’

I HEARD somewhere that no prayer goes to waste.

No petition which goes up with sincerity, full of tears, is ever wasted.

It goes straight to his Throne.

He, my friend, is always watching you. Not with a fierce expression, not like a evil-spirited avenger.

But like an affectionate father, ready to put up with it if you strike out, ready if you are anxious to comfort you.

However, you have a mother too. Your own mother, who loves you more than you can imagine…

Panagia Glykophilousa (sweetly kissing) by Photios Kontoglou (detail)

Panagia Glykophilousa (sweetly kissing) by Photios Kontoglou (detail)

She is the sweetest mother in the world. When you need something and seek her out, she immediately comes.

If you cry from your heart, that moment she will be at your side.

Do you know how? With a caress. A silent, heavenly caress.

The embrace of the Panagia is the greatest, the most secure, the most affectionate, the most beautiful.

She is waiting only for you to pray. For you to love her child and to pray. Let your prayers be as the stars of the heavens.

Brothers and sisters, I tell you who are reading this: “Do not be anxious! Look up…”

From Agioreitiko Vima.

**

NO ONE who maketh haste unto thee cometh away ashamed, pure Virgin Theotokos. But he asks grace of thee, and he receives the gift, as it best advances his request.

From Vespers for today. Source.

Elder Paisios: The Panagia attends to the smallest details

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain is one of the most beloved of all the monks of the Athonite revival. He was kind, patient, and understanding.

ELDER, why does the Panagia sometimes give me what I ask for straightaway, and other times not?

WHENEVER we are in need, the Panagia always answers our prayer straightaway; when we are not, she leaves us be, so that we can acquire a little bravery.

Once, when I was at the Philotheou Monastery, immediately after the vigil of the Panagia [the Feast of the Dormition, August 15] the Rector sent me on an errand with a letter for the Iveron Monastery.

As it turned out, I had to go down to the seashore at the monastery and wait for a little old monk who came by boat, to accompany him to our monastery – a half hour’s journey on foot.

Elder Paisios the Athonite (1924-1994)

Elder Paisios the Athonite (1924-1994)

I was just coming off a fast and a vigil. Then, I used to separate the fast of the Dormition [August 1-15] into two: until the Transfiguration [August 6] I didn’t eat anything at all, I would eat on the day of the Transfiguration, and after that until the Dormition again I wouldn’t eat anything.

So, I left immediately after the vigil and it never even occurred to me to take so much as a few nuts. I got to the Iveron Monastery, I handed over the letter, and went down to the seashore to wait for the boat [there’s a picture of the coastline at the Iveron here]. He was to come at four in the afternoon, but he was late arriving.

Meanwhile, I started to get faint. A little way off, there was a pile of tree trunks, like telegraph poles, and I said to myself, “I’ll go and sit there where it is a little out of the way, and no one will see me and start asking questions about what the matter is”.

When I had sat down, the idea came to me that I might say a prayer rope to the Panagia to fix something for me.

Immediately though I rebelled against this idea and said, “Wretched fellow, are you going to bother the Panagia with such nothings?!” Then I saw in front of me a monk. He had a round loaf, two figs and a big bunch of grapes. “Have these” he said, “to the glory of our Lady the Panagia”, and vanished.

Oh, then I fell apart. Weeping took hold of me, and I didn’t want to eat any more… Dear oh dear! What a mother she is! That she should think of such tiny details!

Source.

May the Lord send forth into your holy souls the comforting Spirit

MAY the God and Lord of all Who dwells in the heavens, Who gives us breath and life and everything, and constantly cares for our salvation, send forth into your holy souls the comforting Spirit; may He enlighten Your nous as He enlightened the Disciples of our Savior; may He shine the light of His divine radiance upon your entire spiritual and noetic being; may your whole heart burn with divine eros as did Cleopas’s, and may it leap for joy learning of the conception of the new Adam, and the utter destruction of the old Adam along with all his passions.

Elder Joseph the Hesychast

Elder Joseph the Hesychast

Then, in this manner, tears will continuously flow every moment like a fountain streaming forth sweetness. Amen.

Elder Joseph the Hesychast. “Monastic Wisdom”, Letter XXXVI, p. 186.

(The nous is the eyes of the heart or soul.)

Love is the holy and beautiful thing which gladdens the soul

THERE is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

We love him, because he first loved us.

1 John 4:18-19.

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Christ washing the feet of the Apostles

“We love him, because he first loved us.” Christ washing the feet of the Apostles.

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SOME words of Elder Porphyrios’s, as best as I can translate them.

WHAT is simple is also the most precious.

So struggle in the spiritual life simply, gently, without violence. The soul struggles and is cleansed with the study of the words of the Fathers, in getting psalms by heart, scriptural passages, with chanting, with the Prayer. Give yourself to these spiritual things, and leave all the rest.

We can attain to the worship of God easily, without shedding blood. There are two paths that lead us to God, the hard and the wearisome, with fierce assaults on evil, and the easy one with love.

There are many who have chosen the hard way and have “shed blood to gain the Spirit”, such that they attain to great virtue.

I find that the shorter road is that of love. You too should follow it.

So maybe you can have another go. Study to pray, and have it as your goal to progress in the love of God and the Church. Do not wage a war of chasing the darkness from the chamber of your soul. Make a little chink for the light, and the darkness will scatter.

The same holds true for the passions and weaknesses. Don’t engage in battle with them, but turn them into strengths which defy evil.

Busy yourself in troparia, canons, in the worship of God, in intense divine longing [θείο έρωτα]. All the holy books of our Church, the Paraklitiki, the Horologion, the Psalter, the Menaia, contain holy words, words of intense longing for our Christ.

When you give yourself to this attempt with longing, your soul will be sanctified in a simple fashion, secretly, without you noticing it.

Elder Porphyrios the Kapsokalyvite

Elder Porphyrios the Kapsokalyvite

The lives of the saints and more particularly the life of St John Kalyvites [link] have made an impression on me.

The saints are friends of God. All day long, you can delight in and relish their accomplishments, and imitate their lives. The saints have given themselves entirely to Christ.

Little by little, through this study you will acquire meekness*, humility, love, and your soul will be cheered.

Don’t opt for negative ways to correct yourself. You don’t need to be afraid of the devil, or of punishment, or anything. These things create a reaction.

I myself have a little experience of these things. The aim is not to sit bolt upright, to afflict yourself, to strain, but to improve. The aim is to live, to study, to pray, to make progress in love, the love of Christ, the love of the Church.

This is the holy and beautiful thing which gladdens the soul and liberates it from every kind of evil, this is the effort one makes to be united with Christ.

To love Christ, to long for Christ, to live in Christ, like the Apostle Paul who said: “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” [Gal 2:20].

This is your goal.

Source.

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Ω γλυκύ μου έαρ (Great Friday hymn),
absolutely heart-rendingly sung by Nektaria Karantzi.

 **

LET us lift up our souls on wings to divine love, by unceasing prayer, and by self-control, and contemplation.

Theotokion

CHRIST rested in thee, the only blessed, and from thee he clothed himself in his own flesh.

Source.

* “Meekness” [πραΰτης] “is the opposite to self-assertiveness and self-interest; it is equanimity of spirit that is neither elated nor cast down, simply because it is not occupied with self at all” (W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words).

Elder Sophrony: Prayer and the experience of spiritual liberty

AND he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors.

But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.

Luke 22:25-26

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An Orthodox monk feeds a small bird

“It is natural that he should be after the likeness of His Creator – that he should recoil from exercising control over others while himself being free and independent by virtue of the Holy Spirit within him.”

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POWER tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton (1834-1902).

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PRAYER affords an experience of spiritual liberty of which most people are ignorant.

The first sign of emancipation is a disinclination to impose one’s will on others.

The second – and inner release from the hold of others on oneself.

Mastery over the wish to dominate is an extremely important stage which is closely followed by dislike of constraining our brother.

Man is made in the image of God, Who is humble but at the same time free.

Therefore it is normal and natural that he should be after the likeness of His Creator – that he should recoil from exercising control over others while himself being free and independent by virtue of the Holy Spirit within him.

Those who are possessed by the lust for power cloud the image of God in themselves. The true life departs, leaving a tormenting void, a distressing tedium. Life is bereft of any meaning.

When the Holy Spirit by its gentle presence in our soul enables us to master our passions we realise that to look down on others is contrary to the spirit of love.

And if I have not charity everything else – even the gifts of prophecy, of understanding all mysteries, or of performing miracles – profits me nothing (cf. 1 Cor. 13:1-3).

Elder Sophrony of Essex, in “His Life Is Mine”, tr. Rosemary Edmonds (SVS Press 1977), p. 73. Available here.

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Theotokion

THOU hast queenly power over all creation, O Mistress: with the medicine of thy intercession, quickly set my soul at liberty, for it is cruelly ruled over by the passions, O Bride of God; and make me a servant of thy son and God.

At Matins, on Thursdays of the Third Tone. My amateur translation, from Analogion.

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O LORD and Master of my life, give me not the spirit of sloth, needless meddling, lust for power and idle talk.

But grant unto me, Thy servant, a spirit of sound discretion, humility, patience and love.

Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see mine own faults and not to condemn my brother, for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.

The Prayer of St Ephraim (my translation).