20170827_083626“‘But I say to you,’ the Lord says, ‘love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you.’ Why did he command these things? So that he might free you from hatred, sadness, anger and grudges, and might grant you the greatest possession of all, perfect love, which is impossible to possess except by the one you loves all equally in imitation of God.”

~ Maximus Confessor.

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Love as Politeness

It was said of Abba Moses the Ethiopian, “that he had so much love, that going about in the night by the dwellings of all those around him, he secretly filled each one’s water pot with water.  And this was very tiresome.”
One of the fathers of our time tells us, “If we cannot be saints, let us at least learn to be gracious.”(Elder Aimilianos)
Can simple graciousness, what might be called politeness, somehow help people get closer to Christ?  It can be a step toward seeing the image of God in those around us.  Graciousness, politeness, tactfulness, go a long way toward bridging earth and heaven.  Perhaps there is not so much distance, as first appears, between being polite and loving one another.
It used to be called good manners, certain rules of social life that help us live together and get along with each other.  It is not age related, it can be expressed by anyone old or young.  Saint Paul describes the original Christian underpinnings of graciousness, saying:  “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.” (Rom.12,10).  But what exactly is graciousness?  What might be the characteristics of a gracious person?
A gracious person learns to control his behaviour, first inside himself, and then also inside his own home.  True graciousness begins from within the space of our heart; it is expressed inside our home, to our family members, then to our fellow-man, and it is addressed to everyone, without discrimination.
Graciousness does not demand, but gives.  A gracious person becomes “weightless”, that is, he does not become burdensome, but tries to apply the words of the Apostle Paul:  “In everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you.”(2 Cor.11:9).  A gracious person avoids harshness, because he is aware that it is a weakness, not a strength.  Graciousness is not abusive, does not speak unbecomingly, does not familiarize itself with being disrespectful, but behaves with prudence.
A gracious person respects and honours the elderly, is not hypocritical, is patient, willing, careful, pleasant, grateful, and tries never to become a tyrant or a nuisance.  A gracious person is meek and tolerant and does not give himself willingly over to the passion of anger.  He is careful with words, thinks before speaking, and tries to say what is appropriate.
Saint Gregory the Theologian advises that a gracious person is careful even about his gaze, how and how long he looks at others, which can sometimes offend his fellow-man, as well as his own heart.  He says if we observe, “observe decently”.
Graciousness can stop aggression or at least, considerably reduce it.  If we learn to smile, hold the door for someone, give way to someone, the world around us would start changing for the better.  Uphold these simple basic values, graciousness, tactfulness, politeness.  If people get used to being kind, a lot more time and effort would be needed to make them aggressive.  Such small expressions of love that shine in the routine of daily life connect us to God Who is Himself Consummate Love, and Who communicates and transmits a part of His Consummate Goodness to His creatures.
Ultimately graciousness is the overflowing of one’s soul towards our fellow man.  It is the fragrance of many virtues, it is a life lived in Christ.  “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”(2 Cor. 2:15)  It originates from the excess of the heart.  “I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart.” “My heart is inditing a good matter.” (Psalms 119 & 45)
So let us love each other.  Let us aspire to graciousness, become polite, and where ever we go try to leave a little trace of goodness.  This is not only a sign of being civilized, but also the sign of love, expressions of the Infinite in a routine gesture.

Never confuse the person, formed in the image of God, with the evil that is in him, because evil is but a chance misfortune, illness, a devilish reverie. But the very essence of the person is the image of God, and this remains in him despite every disfigurement.

~ St. John of Kronstadt

How Great is God’s Love!

(Saint Parisios of the Holy Mountain describes God’s Inexhaustible Love answering this question once asked him.  Do we disappoint God by constantly falling into the same sins?)
“We are God’s children and He loves us all the same.  One of the children of a father I once saw was mentally handicapped.  And although he kept wiping his runny nose on the father’s sleeve, his father hugged him, kissed him and caressed him, just as much as his other children.  God does the same thing.  Being the Good Father He is, God not only loves His accomplished children, but He also loves those who are spiritually weak, for whom He is all the more pained and concerned.”
~Saint Paisios
Divine life on earth begins to celebrate its victory with Pentecost, but that victory is a hidden one, a victory to be revealed beyond the bounds of history. And to participate in that victory, one must create courageous warriors within the confines of history. Christianity is a battle, all the more terrifying in the fact that, according to the Apostle, it “is not against flesh and blood,” i.e. not against people and governments, but against invisible, dark, mystical forces. While still here on earth, specifically here on earth, the Christian must enter the invisible world of Divine life; otherwise he is impotent before the world of invisible evil. He must recognize not only the full breadth, but also the full depth of Christianity, for only that will give him “the full armor of light” against the full armor of darkness.
It is the Liturgy, Holy Communion, that best leads us into the Mystery of Christianity, into its Mystical Supper. St. Cyprian of Carthage, a 3rd Century bishop and martyr, wrote that it is impossible to leave undefended and without weapons those who we send into battle; they must be surrounded by the protection of the Body and Blood of Christ… they must be armed by being frankly filled to satiation with Divinity.” (St. Cyprian of Carthage. To Cornelius. Works. Book 1).
We are not directed to seek after wonders. To the contrary: “This evil and adulterous generation seeks after signs.”We are not to seek after signs and wonders. We are directed to seek not after wonders, but the Miracle, the greatest Miracle in human experience: partaking of life by partaking of the Divine Body. That Miracle takes place in the Divine Liturgy.”
~ Sergei Fudel

To Live is to Love

It is only when we become increasingly aware, through the small loves in our life, of the Love that is altogether different and greater,  and through connection with this unique Love, however small a connection at first, that we begin to see.
The Holy Scripture speaks of developing the “mind of Christ” (Colossians 3).  This is not so much a form of intelligence, but a way to see the world.  It is a “way of looking” which leads to wholeness because through it we begin to see the world from the perspective of eternity.  When we take the long view, so to speak, many of the concerns that plague us and throw us off balance begin to recede into the background of our lives.  Paradoxically, the perspective of eternity helps us to become able to pay attention and enter into the present moment in a whole and holy way.
Mother Maria describes something of this way of looking and seeing.  “A soul, centered upon God is a power of peace.  Deeply sensitive to every form of discord and disunion in the world, it seizes upon it, to work it into peace by binding together within itself whatever is striving apart.  There are stores of comfort in such a soul, for its secret power of union lies in its vision of the world, seen as in the actual presence of Christ, and this is an entirely different world from that which is contemplated without Him.  Faithfully, it will ever refuse to take any other viewpoint.
The soul who lives in the presence of Christ sees in Him, as in mirror, every lapse of love on its own part.  But, of others, it sees, in the same mirror, not their sins but the perfection for which they were created and to which they are called.  Their failures, though visible, have no full reality in face of that vision seen in Christ.
This is one of the great mysteries of the Communion of Saints, that each perceives not his own glory, but the glory of the other.  Here surely, is the explanation of the unsearchable mystery of repentance that the Fathers saw growing greater and greater, the further the Christian advances on the way of perfection.
This vision of the glory of others is to the soul a source of great joy, a joy independent of any darkness and suffering which surrounds it.  It makes life singularly simple, because the care of the sins of others is taken away.  The one task, which it can perceive in the world, is to heal every breach in the presence of Love.  Forgiving will, therefore, come easily and naturally to such a soul.  The soul becomes entrusted with a life in heavenly measures, to be lived on earth.  In the strength of infinite compassion, it will turn human suffering and darkness within itself into glory and light.  This will remain its task, and its joy and delight, for it means to live heaven, while still on earth, and to know, whether in earth, heaven, or hell, no other reality than Love.”

Bloom Where You’re Planted

“We have to learn how to live with others, and with ourself, where ever God puts us, because no one can choose his own road.    Moreover, we have to learn how live in unfavorable conditions, amidst difficulties, as if they did not exist.  Because if you are forever reacting to, or simply unable to live in, the place where you happen to be, you won’t be able to live at all, because you’ll be revolting against what God has placed, or allowed to be placed, in your path.”

-Elder Aeimilianos

LOVE

“However hard I try, I find it impossible to construct anything greater than these three words, ‘Love one another’ — only to the end, and without exceptions: then all is justified and life is illumined, whereas otherwise it is an abomination and a burden.”

~ St Maria Skobtsova of Paris

Keeping Pascha

“We have celebrated the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ and I am thinking about what has inspired believers in our church during the last one thousand years. Today is exactly the day when we must ask the question, like believers before us: Why are we living on the earth? Why are we working hard? Why are we trying to have a good time? Why are we suffering? What is the meaning of life? There are many theories, many explanations from all the philosophers, but none of them fulfill us. All of them stop at the point of death. But our soul longs to keep living. It wants to be eternal. It wants to live without end. Life has meaning only if there is eternal life. If there isn’t eternal life, no matter how beautiful your life, at the end it is just poor life. It’s a pity sometimes to stand before a dead person who worked hard in life, did good works, suffered, was in many battles, but in the end saw no meaning, and he is dead and no one can help him. Great Solomon wisely said that the living dog is more blessed than the dead human. So we are happy, we are blessed, because we believe in eternal life. We know that the life of people is not life only until death. The soul doesn’t disappear. It lives. It lives forever. This is so whether you believe it or not and it is true whether you want it or not, true whether you are a believer or an unbeliever. So no matter what kind of life you lived before death, you enter eternal life, and not only your soul but your body. We come into eternal life in both body and soul.
We celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and we rejoice in it. And we see in it not only His resurrection but our resurrection.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the same as our resurrection. We believe that. We believe that in Christ each one of us will stand up. Many people do not believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ or in the resurrection of anyone. I don’t want to give them proof or argue with them. The main thing about their conviction, the thing their unbelief is founded on, is that it’s impossible for a dead person to come back to life. How can it happen? How can something that is just dust and bones live again? And what about bodies that are now only ashes? Or were cut into many pieces? Or were eaten by beasts or fish? How can such people’s bodies be made whole and come back to life? Our brain can’t overcome this dilemma. How is it possible? But then we can ask another question: What about everything that exists? All this beauty? There are so many things we don’t understand and can’t explain. Most things we can’t explain.
What do you think? Isn’t this huge miracle we live in as big a miracle as the resurrection? Do you think creation is easier than resurrection? If God is strong enough to create everything from nothing, to create the whole world and the whole universe, do you think it is difficult to resurrect what He has already created?
So don’t be discouraged by anyone who says it’s impossible. God has the power to create everything.
“So, brothers and sisters, we believe in eternal life. But it isn’t an easy belief. It is a belief that gives us responsibilities. We have to realize that each person, whether or not he wants God, must answer to God for his life–what he did, what didn’t do. He must stand judgment. It is a weakness not to believe in eternal life. Even if you don’t believe, it is no justification when you stand before God with sins and horrible deeds. Don’t imagine that you will be unjudgeable.
Our people have lived by great ideals. The big ideal that has been living in our people for a thousand years is to live in God’s truth. Not human truth. God’s truth. Our ancestors mostly wanted to live according to God’s truth. They suffered greatly. Many terrible things happened. There were dreadful persons. But somehow, no matter what sorrows there were, they were still trying to live according to God’s truth.
We need this too. God’s truth has to lead us. We have to have a spiritual life even if we are surrounded by an unspiritual life. We need to have Christian families even if we are surrounded by families that are breaking down. We need to work hard and sincerely, not for praise or money, but for the heart and soul of our neighbors.
Let us not think about bread for ourselves. Bread is something we need, yes, but the person who thinks about bread for himself has lost the spiritual dimension of life. But if he thinks of bread for his neighbors, then he is leading a spiritual life–a life of love, a life of caring for others. This is the spiritual life.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not only a joy for us, it is a great responsibility and a great task. It leads us to prepare for the Last Judgment. Let the Resurrection fill our hearts with belief in eternal life so that truth can take root in our hearts. Let us not only think about it in our minds but feel it in our hearts.”
~ Metropolitan Filaret, St. Vladimir’s Cathedral, Kiev

Within Reach of Eternity

“The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and blossom as the rose.  It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing.”(Isaiah 35:1-2)
“Only if the sky can forgo its stars, earth its grass, honeycombs their honey, streams their water, and breasts their milk, will our tongues be able to renounce their praise of the saints, in whom God is the strength of life and the fame of death.” (Saint Paulinus of Nola, 405A.D.)
“Even the earth and sand over Saint Nektary’s grave are imbued with the wondrous grace of God.  The Saint’s spiritual children recounted the following incident to me.  One old woman lived in Moscow in a small wooden house.  Seeing a huge construction project of many-storied buildings around her, and fearing for her little house, she began to beg for Saint Nektary’s intercession.  Sprinkling earth from the Saint’s grave around her dwelling, she began to pray earnestly to the Saint that he would help her to remain living in her little house, in which she had lived for so long.  And a miracle occurred.  The huge construction project reached her house, stepped over it, and kept going.  Only after her death was this house demolished.
I often had occasion to be the guest of an old woman who lived in Moscow on Mir Prospect Street in a wooden house.  She also did not want to move to another place.  She sprinkled earth from Saint Nektary’s grave in her room, and begged him to protect her.  And she continued living in that house up to her death.  Now imagine this, when she had reposed the house was torn down, and in it place, located practically in the very valuable city center, a flower garden was built.  I saw this with my own eyes.”
(Miracles of Saint Nektary of Optina, by Archpriest Leonty, Rector of Holy Transfiguration Church)
My dears, the Saints are close.  “We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.”  We live immersed within, and interpenetrated by, the spiritual world, the heavenly realms.  “Commune with the righteous”, Saint Isaac of Syria counsels, “through them you will approach God.”  The saints show us how to live.  They are theology incarnate.  Contact with the holy, communion with Divine Grace, is a tangible, palpable aid in life.

In the words of one mathematician and scientist:  “The distance between us and the spiritual world, the world of saints and angels, is considerably less than our outstretched arm.” (Boris Rauschenbach *)

With God, our soul touches eternity and it is as if the fabric of this material world were torn and the door to the eternal world opened — where there is no death, no loss, no illness, no time, and then nothing of this world can make you believe that the world is nothing more than mere matter, complex and simple chemical reactions, and a mere recurrence of living and dead substances.
The Saints are not an escape into a bygone age.  They are a strength of faith and courage on the path of Christian struggle. By tapping these well springs of sanctity, our hearts learn to burn with love for Our Lord Jesus Christ.
(*Boris Viktorovich Rauschenbach, 1915-2001, was a preeminent physicist and rocket engineer, who developed the theory, and instruments, for interplanetary flight control and navigation in 1955-1960s.  He is also notable for his studies in Christian Theology and Theory of Art)