Wednesday, 14 November 2012

How to Give Alms to the Homeless..

We meet homeless people nearly every day on our life's path; people who are often contemptuously called ”bums.” We see them at the train station, near the subway, in town squares and parks, and of course, at the churches, asking for money. Each time we see them, our hearts deliberate painfully over the question, ”Should we give them alms, or not?” Then, other questions immediately arise, ”How much? How should we give them? Is there any sense in giving at all?”

People are generally divided into two groups. The first are those who give according to their means to all, without thinking about it or asking any questions, following the Lord's words, Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away (Mt. 5:42). The second group is of those who do not give money to ”bums,” considering that we mustn't indulge the ”bum mafia,” for we participate in their sin of drunkenness and sponging, lying, etc. by giving money to them. These people are ready to fulfill Christ's commandment and are willing to help people, but only those who really need help. They cite the words of the holy fathers in support of this—that the greatest virtue is discernment, for fasting, prayer, alms, or any other virtue will bring a person no benefit if done beyond our strength or out of season.[1] Truly, no one would give anyone money for a rope to hang himself, no matter how tearfully or insistently he begs it. That rope could be a bottle of liquor, which strangles the neck of the beggar each day with increasing strength, or the rope of lies that you would indulge by giving money. There are hundreds and thousands of such ropes.
So what must we do to fulfill the commandment of Christ and please the Lord in the best way? The answer is simple: love. Try also not to do anything without love. Then everything will settle into place, and even the question itself will seem silly. As we know, Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing (1 Cor. 13:3). Of course, it is hard to just up and love every homeless person, but it is usually quite possible to show compassion for every person that the Lord has brought to us. I would like to share a little practical experience in helping the homeless under various circumstances.
For example, you are walking to work, and a tipsy beggar asks you for money. What should you do? Don't be lazy—ask him why he needs money. They are often asking for food. This is the simplest case. Then you need to go with him to the nearest grocery store and buy him something he hasn't had for many long years. Give him a holiday, as if this were your old classmate. Something tasty and filling, like good sausage, chicken, cheese, yogurt—in other words, something that they could never get for themselves because it is too expensive to eat in sufficient quantities. Even if the homeless person was lying to you at first about food, he will nevertheless be thankful. Try to transfer this thankfulness to the Lord, let him thank the Lord, and not you personally. For example, tell him that it was Christ Who sent you to him today. Then it will be both bodily and spiritual alms. Try to see a deeply suffering person in him; and if you cannot see in even the last ”bum” the image of God, perhaps very soiled, clouded over, but nevertheless the great image of God, then perhaps you need to discuss this with your spiritual father and pray about it.
Ask the homeless person what his name is, where he hangs out and how often, when is his birthday, is he baptized. Be sincere and kind with him. Homeless people are very sensitive to insincerity. Do not hasten to judge him. We do not know what we ourselves would be if the Lord had deprived us of His protection and hadn't guarded us from the demon of drunkenness and other vices. Wouldn't we be much worse than that person? In a word: love him. Love him to the extent of your heart's capacity; love him sincerely, for Christ's sake. And if even a little love is born in your heart for this person, then the next time, when you are leaving your house, you will probably be prepared for another meeting with him: take some food from home, some warm clothing, a book, or something he might like. You will leave fifteen minutes early for work and find him; wait for him, call him by his name, show some concern for him, and increase love in this world, the lack of which is felt ever more sharply. Thus, from day to day you can live for the sake of Christ, taking care of one poor person. Do not just buy yourself off with money, do not limit yourself to one-time help. It is good, but it is not a perfect fruit. You can't just love for a half an hour and then forget about it.
The only warning is: do not give money for any reason, and do not cave in to their persuasion! Those on the streets in such difficult straights, spiritually sick, are in the absolute majority of cases not capable of using money properly. Buy him the thing he needs, get into his shoes, and understand his problems.
It is important to care for a person's body, but it is even more important to care for his soul. Do this without being intrusive: let your heart tell you when to talk to him about confession, prayer, or about God's infinite mercy; about how true life and healing are possible only through the Lord's healing of his soul, which cannot happen unless he wants it. Sometimes a person hungers for this and wants to hear it right away, but sometimes this happens only years later. St. John of Kronstadt writes about this: ”Know that material alms should always be followed by spiritual alms: with affectionate, brotherly, and pure-hearted love for your neighbor. Do not allow him to notice that he is become beholden to you, do not appear proud. See that your material alms do not lose their value through your failure to provide the spiritual.”[2]
Of course, not all possible instances are limited to food, and there are many others.[3] But it is all united by one thing: It is impossible to fulfill Christ's commandment to Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful (Lk. 6:36) without love. With regard to the homeless, this becomes especially obvious. But this relates to other instances: if you help a sick person, you must not just buy medicine; you can't just send a prisoner a package; you can't just send toys to a children's home, etc. This is all very good, but without sincere love this all often loses value, gives cause for sin and vice amongst those who receive it and those who dispense it.[4] Medicines can make other sick people jealous, prisoners can lose your food packages in a card game; and children in children's homes can become little extortionists. We return again and again to the same question: what should we do? And the answer is always the same: love, love for the sake of Christ. Pray for the sick one, visit him, console him, buy him medicine, talk with other patients, give them little joys and holidays, talk about God's greatness and mercy; correspond with the prisoner, send him packages, console him and preach, give him hope and make him think about the life he has lived; visit children, bring them toys, draw with them, sing, treat them to cakes, teach them to pray, hope and trust the Lord God, etc. And live this way from day to day for the sake of Christ. Of course, many do not have enough time for all of this. In that case, at least help those who sincerely do these things, and pray for them with your whole heart, which was undoubtedly created for love.
But never take on labors beyond your strength: never take a homeless person to your own house for the night, do not go alone to places where they congregate, do not borrow money from someone else to give to the homeless. You have to be frank about the fact that the majority of people in this social stratum are spiritually very sick, often psychologically as well, and always physically. Such attempts often end tragically. They are often just the consequence of pride and neophyte zeal.
In the mind of some people lives a myth that if you give a person an apartment and work, he will get better. Practical experience shows that this is not the case. Without peace with God, without a divine miracle of healing of the soul, this is not possible. But we can be God's co-laborers, increasing love and helping a person to turn and face God.
Furthermore, it has to be said that mercy need to be shown toward all—the rich and the poor, the good and the bad; only we must not indulge mortal sins of lying, drunkenness, promiscuity, and others, and we must approach everyone with love and discernment. ”He who gives alms, in imitation of God, does not discriminate in bodily needs between the mean and kind, the righteous and the unrighteous”[5]
Thus, in very complicated situations I have had to say sincerely to a persistently lying homeless person that I absolutely do not believe him, but I will help him for Christ's sake, for the sake of the love that Christ has given for him. It is important that without love, even such a great virtue as discernment can turn into judgment, justification of one's own greed, and laziness. We have to pray that God would give us the gift of discernment. This gift is given for a life in Christ that is kind and full of mercy.[6]
When going to do works of mercy, we must not forget to pray to God that He would give us the strength and knowledge to fulfill His commandment as is pleasing to Him. In general, prayer is an inalienable part of works of mercy. Without prayer, it is almost impossible to do anything pleasing to God. We can calculate, make agreements, be sure of success; but if there was no prayer, then our works are like a house built upon sand. A homeless person who has not eaten meat for a long time can feel sick after eating it now; a new jacket can become the cause of his getting beaten; renewed identification documents can be stolen by his ”friends” and used for criminal purposes which could have unforeseen consequences; medical help could cause complications; and the list goes on.
If we have talked with someone it would be good to pray briefly about that person, even if we do not know his name, but especially if we do know it. Some pastors bless to read the prayer, ”O Heavenly King,” especially if the conversation turns to spiritual matters. When you approach someone, it would be good to smile sincerely. After all, it is wonderful to be a participant, fulfiller, and conduit of God's mercy.
You must never combine your gifts with reproaches against his way of life, with moralizing and unsolicited advice. You have to help him simply, without trying to teach him. It is hard enough for him, even if it is his own fault; added reproach and moralizing would only be one more aggravating circumstance for him. Our job is not to aggravate, but to try to ease his burden if only for a second. You can only give advice after getting to know and love the person, if he trusts you, and only with prayer and inner humility.
When talking with ”bums,” we have to watch that presumption does not show up in our speech. And if while giving alms we allow ourselves to be high-minded toward the person or vainglorious, this will wipe out our virtue, make our behavior vile in the Lord's eyes; and He will without fail punish us for this if we do not repent of it.
This may all seem hard to fulfill, but it is worth the effort. These labors of mercy are real, active proof of our faith and love for Christ. Most important of all: the Lord helps us when we do acts of mercy. He gives us special grace, often even despite our vanity and laziness. If a person sincerely tries to please and love the Lord, the Lord covers and corrects him; even more than that—He turns our mistakes into something glorious. Grace begins to transform our souls, and the grain of the Kingdom of Heaven begins to grow. A person begins to feel this special joy of a new spiritual reality more and more each day: Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field (Mt. 13:44). Abiding in this grace so transforms the soul that work which seemed impossible becomes simple and even desired.
By helping people, do not hope to change the world and all the homeless, do not expect them to thank you—do it all for the sake of Christ's love. Do not despair or be afraid if after all your efforts someone turns your alms toward evil. ”Give to every one who asks you, and ask it not back; for the Father wills that to all should be given of our own blessings (free gifts). Happy is he who gives according to the commandment, for he is guiltless. Woe to him who receives; for if one receives who has need, he is guiltless; but he who receives not having need shall pay the penalty, why he received and for what.… And also concerning this, it has been said, Let your alms sweat in your hands, until you know to whom you should give.”[7]
It goes without saying that in our time there are saintly people living, but for ordinary sinful city dwellers, worn out by the rat race of consumerism, deprived of prayer of the heart, not capable of perfect fasting, not having time for apostolic service, sunk in credit card bills and everyday affairs, ”Alms given for the sake of Christ, for the sake of love for Him, cleanses us of sins more than sacrifices, opens the heavens more than virginity, and can make one equal to the apostles.”[8]
A few words must be said also for those who never give alms at all to ”bums,” considering that these people are themselves at fault for all their problems. I will say this: Perhaps you are right, but isn't the Lord able to help and resurrect even the dead? Does the Creator of the universe, heaven and earth and all that exists need our pennies and millions? Is it really important to Him which pocket carries our ten-dollar bill? Or can't He feed the hungry, clothe the freezing, give shelter to the homeless? The good Lord can do all these things, but He has entrusted them to us. 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 hungered, 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. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, 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. 25:4–40). And in order to serve Christ we don't have to have lived two thousand years ago; we can simply give a bowl of soup to a homeless person and say to God: ”You are hungry, Lord. Here, eat.”
*   *   *
This article was written from experience in the Russian reality, but it is no less true anywhere. It is regrettable, however, that the abundance of Russian commentary to the article remains untranslated, for it shows how much thought was given to the problem. Here is but one short thread:
From Natasha and son:
For those who are not bums: if you have to spend the night (any time of the year) in the city, but not in a home, without comforts [running water, etc.], without a bed, in your clothes, on a cold stone or cement floor, in a desolate or dirty place, it is utterly impossible to get some sleep without alcohol or sleeping pills. After one such night your whole organism hurts, especially your head, your eyesight deteriorates to half, your thought and speech processes slow down, and you have a horrible feeling of untamable hunger, boredom and hopelessness.
I did not drink or gamble away my home—I was simply sent out to the streets by the owner as someone who is not a member of the family. That is, I am a poor person with a child, and not a professional beggar, and I pray for my benefactors each time they give me alms…
I am a bum, I have AIDS and hepatitis C. I don't have the appearance or strength it takes to get work or an apartment—serious pains, distracted attention, sudden allergy attacks (Bannister's disease), endogenic toxicity. I don't drink or smoke, but I look like a homeless nothing (my kidneys and liver can't handle the toxicity). Precious Almsgivers are goodness! Give, give under the condition that you are giving to a person unto salvation in Christ, and not for this senseless fallen life; tell him, ”Here, I am giving you this so that you would go to Church and pray to Christ in the church for yourself and me!...” Give with a name: ”Pray for me (name)!!!” Then there is sense to giving every day (also for those for whom you can't pray in church or at home).… Remember, O Lord, my benefactors—Your righteous ones, for through their alms they have given me faith in You and hope in Your mercy!!!
From Tatiana:
A very good article, but I was most of all touched by the commentary from Natasha and son. Poor woman. How can I help you?

Teimuraz Kristinashvili
translated by

19 / 10 / 2010

The Life of Mary(Theotokos) is Set Before Virgins as an Example

The life of Mary is set before virgins as an example, and her many virtues are dwelt upon, her chastity, humility, hard life, love of retirement, and the like; then her kindness to others, her zeal in learning, and love of frequenting the temple. St. Ambrose then sets forth how she, adorned with all these virtues, will come to meet the numberless bands of virgins and lead them with great triumph to the bridal chamber of the Spouse.
Let, then, the life of Mary be as it were virginity itself, set forth in a likeness, from which, as from a mirror, the appearance of chastity and the form of virtue is reflected. From this you may take your pattern of life, showing, as an example, the clear rules of virtue: what you have to correct, to effect, and to hold fast.
The first thing which kindles ardour in learning is the greatness of the teacher. What is greater than the Mother of God? What more glorious than she whom Glory Itself chose? What more chaste than she who bore a body without contact with another body? For why should I speak of her other virtues? She was a virgin not only in body but also in mind, who stained the sincerity of its disposition by no guile, who was humble in heart, grave in speech, prudent in mind, sparing of words, studious in reading, resting her hope not on uncertain riches, but on the prayer of the poor, intent on work, modest in discourse; wont to seek not man but God as the judge of her thoughts, to injure no one, to have goodwill towards all, to rise up before her elders, not to envy her equals, to avoid boastfulness, to follow reason, to love virtue. When did she pain her parents even by a look? When did she disagree with her neighbours? When did she despise the lowly? When did she avoid the needy? Being wont only to go to such gatherings of men as mercy would not blush at, nor modesty pass by. There was nothing gloomy in her eyes, nothing forward in her words, nothing unseemly in her acts, there was not a silly movement, nor unrestrained step, nor was her voice petulant, that the very appearance of her outward being might be the image of her soul, the representation of what is approved. For a well-ordered house ought to be recognized on the very threshold, and should show at the very first entrance that no darkness is hidden within, as our soul hindered by no restraints of the body may shine abroad like a lamp placed within.
Why should I detail her spareness of food, her abundance of services—the one abounding beyond nature, the other almost insufficient for nature? And there were no seasons of slackness, but days of fasting, one upon the other. And if ever the desire for refreshment came, her food was generally what came to hand, taken to keep off death, not to minister to comfort. Necessity before inclination caused her to sleep, and yet when her body was sleeping her soul was awake, and often in sleep either went again through what had been read, or went on with what had been interrupted by sleep, or carried out what had been designed, or foresaw what was to be carried out.
She was unaccustomed to go from home, except for divine service, and this with parents or kinsfolk. Busy in private at home, accompanied by others abroad, yet with no better guardian than herself, as she, inspiring respect by her gait and address, progressed not so much by the motion of her feet as by step upon step of virtue. But though the Virgin had other persons who were protectors of her body, she alone guarded her character; she can learn many points if she be her own teacher, who possesses the perfection of all virtues, for whatever she did is a lesson. Mary attended to everything as though she were warned by many, and fulfilled every obligation of virtue as though she were teaching rather than learning.
Such has the Evangelist shown her, such did the angel find her, such did the Holy Spirit choose her. Why delay about details? How her parents loved her, strangers praised her, how worthy she was that the Son of God should be born of her. She, when the angel entered, was found at home in privacy, without a companion, that no one might interrupt her attention or disturb her; and she did not desire any women as companions, who had the companionship of good thoughts. Moreover, she seemed to herself to be less alone when she was alone. For how should she be alone, who had with her so many books, so many archangels, so many prophets?
And so, too, when Gabriel visited her (Lk. 1:28). did he find her, and Mary trembled, being disturbed, as though at the form of a man, but on hearing his name recognized him as one not unknown to her. And so she was a stranger as to men, but not as to the angel; that we might know that her ears were modest and her eyes bashful. Then when saluted she kept silence, and when addressed she answered, and she whose feelings were first troubled afterwards promised obedience.
And holy Scripture points out how modest she was towards her neighbours. For she became more humble when she knew herself to be chosen of God, and went forthwith to her kinswoman in the hill country, not in order to gain belief by anything external, for she had believed the word of God. “Blessed,” she said, “art thou who didst believe” (Lk. 1:56). And she abode with her three months. Now in such an interval of time it is not that faith is being sought for, but kindness which is being shown. And this was after that the child, leaping in his mother’s womb, had saluted the mother of the Lord, attaining to reason before birth.
And then, in the many subsequent wonders, when the barren bore a son, the virgin conceived, the dumb spake, the wise men worshipped, Simeon waited, the stars gave notice. Mary, who was moved by the angel’s entrance, was unmoved by the miracles. “Mary,” it is said, “kept all these things in her heart” (Lk. 2:19). Though she was the mother of the Lord, yet she desired to learn the precepts of the Lord, and she who brought forth God, yet desired to know God.
And then, how she also went every year to Jerusalem at the solemn day of the passover, and went with Joseph. Everywhere is modesty the companion of her singular virtues in the Virgin. This, without which virginity cannot exist, must be the inseparable companion of virginity. And so Mary did not go even to the temple without the guardianship of her modesty.
This is the likeness of virginity. For Mary was such that her example alone is a lesson for all. If, then, the author displeases us not, let us make trial of the production, that whoever desires its reward for herself may imitate the pattern. How many kinds of virtues shine forth in one Virgin! The secret of modesty, the banner of faith, the service of devotion, the Virgin within the house, the companion for the ministry, the mother at the temple.
Oh! how many virgins shall she meet, how many shall she embrace and bring to the Lord, and say: “She has been faithful to her espousal, to my Son; she has kept her bridal couch with spotless modesty.” How shall the Lord Himself commend them to His Father, repeating again those words of His: “Holy Father, these are they whom I have kept for Thee, on whom the Son of Man leant His head and rested; I ask that where I am there they may be with Me” (Jn. 17:24). And if they ought to benefit not themselves only, who lived not for themselves alone, one virgin may redeem her parents, another her brothers. “Holy Father, the world hath not known Me, but these have known Me, and have willed not to know the world” (Jn 17:25).
What a procession shall that be, what joy of applauding angels when she is found worthy of dwelling in heaven who lived on earth a heavenly life! Then too Mary, (in Hebrew Miriam) taking her timbrel, shall stir up the choirs of virgins, singing to the Lord because they have passed through the sea of this world without suffering from the waves of this world (Ex. 15:20). Then each shall rejoice, saying: “I will go to the altar of God; to God Who maketh my youth glad” (Ps. 43[42]:4); and, “I will offer unto God thanksgiving, and pay my vows unto the Most High” (Ps. 50 [49]:14).
Nor would I hesitate to admit you to the altars of God, whose souls I would without hesitation call altars, on which Christ is daily offered for the redemption of the body. For if the virgin’s body be a temple of God, what is her soul, which, the ashes, as it were, of the body being shaken off, once more uncovered by the hand of the Eternal Priest, exhales the vapour of the divine fire. Blessed virgins, who emit a fragrance through divine grace as gardens do through flowers, temples through religion, altars through the priest. 

From: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 2:10, Ambrose: Selected Works and Letters, "Concerning Virgins", Book II, Chapter II.

14 / 08 / 2011

What Time Is It for Your Child?

John weighed seven pounds, seven ounces on the day he was born. His first days of life were highlighted by bouts of crying and long periods of sleeping. On the drive home from the hospital, a few days later, John’s mother glanced down, looked at her new baby, and for a moment she smiled.
Then she looked ahead. “Honey,” she began, as she stared at her husband, “I know we decided to keep our careers so that we can be financially secure, but now I’m having second thoughts. I want to give our son the most attention we can. I want us to reconsider having me stay at home with him.”
Her husband shook his head in frustration. “We discussed this, remember?” he shot back. “We can’t afford to have one of us at home all the time. It doesn’t make sense.” For the next few minutes the proud new parents shared their thoughts and uneasiness of leaving their child in the care of someone other than his parents.
Conversations like the one above are common among new parents. Every parent wants the best for their child, yet mapping out how to exactly deliver that parenting has become more and more difficult. This struggle of parenting in contemporary society can be encapsulated by one word: time. We know that parenting takes time, but modern parenting has divided the concept of time into two categories – quality time and quantity time.
For so many hardworking parents “quality time” has become a very important concept. But what exactly is quality time? At a very basic level it can be defined as an activity that promotes communicating and sharing. For time to be deemed “quality time” it needs to be enriching and stimulating. Spending time watching television isn’t the ideal, but spending time working on a project or playing a game together is. A quick look at the historical development of the notion of quality time reveals some important information. Quality time arrived on the scene in the early 1970’s. Research indicated that the more actively mothers were involved with their babies, talking and cooing and so forth, the better it was for the babies’ cognitive and social development. The implication was that in order to have high-quality time, a fair amount of pure time had to be invested. Therefore, quality time originally assumed quantity time, but eventually the “quality not quantity” philosophy of parenting won out, simply because in our over scheduled and stressed society there was little opportunity for quantity time. Parents hoped that quality time at least made up for the lack of quantity time—so long as it was better and bigger, and more meaningful time.
Yet this ideology is flawed because parents simply can’t plan special moments of bonding or epiphanies with their child as they are unpredictable. They tend to happen within the every day mundane activities of parenting and within the notion of quantity time.
St. Theophan the Recluse touches on the issue of parenting time in his book titled: On the Upbringing of Children. He advises parents to preserve the blessing that baptism gives their child and to immerse their lives in its upbringing. The father and mother are to “disappear into the child and put their whole soul into his welfare,” he says. One of St. Theophan’s teachings on the upbringing of children centers on the establishment of developing a sound foundation – a foundation that takes a lot of effort and time. The development of this foundation is necessary to stand firm against what he refers to as the “shock waves of youth.” In other words, everything parents say and do in the early years is reflected in the latter ones. A great deal of this depends on the time we spend on our children. Much of good parenting also involves discipline and teaching. It’s through this process that children not only develop a sound conscience as good behavior becomes automatic; but it’s also through this process that good, productive habits become cemented into the child’s life. These skills need close and constant monitoring. And this is why quantity time is also important.
“The reason why the grace of Baptism is not preserved,” St. Theophan states, “is because the order, rules and laws of an upbringing are not kept.” And so the challenge for new parents is not only to establish order and rules, but to be around to see that their children live by them. Spiritually, we know that children form their ideas about God through their parents. It’s in the praying together, the listening of stories about Saints, in reading the Bible and especially in modeling Christlike behavior, that children form a lasting perception of God. When this doesn’t occur there is a void. “The family is recognized as the ‘home church,’ says Sophie Koulomzin in her book Our Church and Our Children, “and the task of parents is really a kind of a lay priesthood. Within a Christian family our Christian faith must be incarnated; it must be brought to life in the daily, hourly experience of living.”
Make no mistake, parenting isn’t simple and there are no cookie-cutter families. There are many legitimate reasons for parents to leave their child to the care of a friend or a day care center. Nowadays, most couples rely on two incomes and many single parents are trying to raise their child with minimum support. However, our faith calls for time to be both quality and quantity; therefore it’s good for parents to openly assess how much of a balance there is in the way they parent. For if parents want their children to develop consistent habits, if they want their children to develop a quality relationship with Christ, they have to sacrifice time and energy.
Next time your child asks you what time it is, and you look to give the chronological answer, remember that the most important time together isn’t measured merely by minutes, but by quantity and quality time. 

Fr. Athanasios Papagiannis is a recently ordained priest serving at Assumption Church in Chicago. A licensed clinical social worker and former teacher, he is a 2010 graduate of Holy Cross School of Theology and a 2002 graduate of Aurora University.

25 / 10 / 2011

Elder Ephraim of Vatopaidi-"Do Not Look for Joy Outside of Yourself"

A talk given in the New-Tikhvin women's Monastery, Ekaterinburg, Russia, October, 2011, during the visit of the Cincture of the Mother of God to Russia.

 Your Eminence, eminent bishops, honorable fathers, dear Mother Abbess, brothers and sisters! It is a great joy for me to be in your monastery once again. As you know, this time we have arrived with the holy Cincture of the Mother of God. This is a very special holy shrine — very precious from the spiritual point of view. By God's providence we have brought the relic to this city in order to sanctify the city, and of course, for the sake of the monastics who live here. We know how pleasing the monastic life, and in general the existence of monasteries is to the Mother of God. We know how many times in the history of the Church the Mother of God appeared to chaste and pure souls and said, "There is my icon, take it and build a monastery." The Holy Mountain is the only existing monastic republic, dedicated entirely to her. The Most Pure Virgin is the Protectress of Mt. Athos. She herself told St. Peter the Athonite to go and live on the Holy Mountain, and said that he and his co-strugglers will be under her direct Protection. "I myself will be your Protectress, Healer, and Nourisher," she said. Appearing to St. Athansius the Athonite, she said the same thing she had said to St. Peter, adding, "I will be your Economissa (steward) and I will take care of all of you; but I want only one thing from you—that you keep your monastic vows." And to this day we, the Athonites, delight in her patronage and special intercession.
Therefore, my dear ones, it is a great blessing that we have come to monasticism. Our elder Joseph of Vatopedi of blessing repose very often said to us, "There is no greater blessing for a person than when God calls him to the monastic life. May the monk never, not even for a second, ever forget that God Himself called him." When we remember how we left the world, what went along with us then, we see that God's grace was upon us, that it accomplished our renunciation of the world, and led us to the monastery. Here we must fulfill three virtues in their entirety: non-acquisitiveness, obedience, and chastity. These virtues lead us in the spiritual life, root us in it, and help us attain the fullness of maturity in Christ.
Monasticism is the path of perfection, and therefore we monastics are called to acquire the fullness of grace. Not long ago, one monk came to me and said, "You know, I have no time to read." I said to him, "My child, the monastery is not a place of reading. You have come to the monastery not to read, and not even to pray. You have come to deny yourself and submit yourself to spiritual guidance. If you give yourself over in obedience to the abbot and not try to get as comfortable as possible in this life, then you will fulfill Christ's commandment exactly. He never said anything accidently, but always unmistakenly, and He said to us monks: Whoever will come after me, let him take up his cross and follow Me."
Whoever in the monastery fulfills his own desires and dreams is not denying himself. A monk should not have any dreams at all—no ambitions or plans. He comes as a man condemned to death, lifts his arms and says to the abbot, "Do with me as you will." By this he fulfills another of Christ's words: "He who wants to save his own soul will lose it." And if a monk understands the meaning of these words and places them at the foundation of his life, he will have a correct understanding of podvig, and all his problems will be solved. He becomes an organ of God's Providence and fully imitates our Lord Jesus Christ, Who, although sinless, came and stood on the level of us penitents, as if He also needed repentance. Christ did not just give commandments from the heavens for us to observe; He Himself came to us and demonstrated them to us in practice. And what did He say to us, absolutely clearly? "I have come not to do my own will, but the will of my Father Who sent Me." Our blessed elder Joseph told us in his talks, "What do you think, brothers: if Christ were to fulfill His own will—would that have been sinful? Nevertheless, He did not do that, so that He could be One Who first does, and then teaches." Man's will and desire is a brass wall. Not a clay, not a stone, not a cement, but a brass wall separating him from God. Blessed is the monk who obeys. Obedience is not a discipline; it is something different. Obedience is when you give over your heart. Monastic life is fully Christ-centered. Therefore the elder does not use his spiritual children's obedience for his own purposes. His task is to convince the monk to submit his will to the will of God.
If you have any questions, ask them and I will answer them if I can.
—How can one notice the appearance of a sinful thought, and cut off in time a passionate thought that infect us while it is still at the state of suggestion?
—Do not be over-preoccupied with thoughts—they need to be treated with disdain. One monk in our monastery once came to me and said, "I need to confess." I saw that he was carrying a notebook. I asked him, "What is that you have?" "It is my confession," he answered. "Well, give it to me," I said. "I will read your notebook." Just imagine—thirty pages of thoughts! I said to him, "Do you think you need to confess every thought that comes into your head? You'll end up in a psychiatric hospital that way!" He had written down even the thoughts that came to him during services. I told this brother, "Thoughts that come in do not mean anything." Even if the mind inclines toward them for a moment, this does not mean anything, absolutely nothing! Forget them! You need to confess only those thoughts that do not go away for a long time, that stay in the mind for days or weeks; but in general thoughts are soap bubbles.
I will tell you about yet another incident from life. One young man, a church-going man, fell into gluttony—he wanted to eat a shish kebob on a Wednesday, and went to buy it. He came to the store and the salesman said, "Forgive me but I just sold the last one." This young man then came to me and said, "This is what happened, and I would have eaten a shish kebob!" I said to him, "But you did not eat it? That is all! You gave in to a thought, but did not sin in deed." How is it with us? First there is the thought, and then it becomes a word, and then a deed. But a sin is considered committed when it becomes a deed. Therefore, be attentive and do not be preoccupied much with thoughts; disdain them. "For the thoughts of mortal men are miserable" (Wis. 9:14), literally, "Thoughts are cowardly"
—Fr. Ephraim, to what do you think monastics in Russia should be paying particular attention, so that our monasteries would be stronger and flourish?
—You need to pay attention to obedience. A monk should obey and not have passionate attachments; this especially relates to women monastics. I have one women's monastery, and when I go there, it all begins: "Geronda, pray for my aunt, my nephew, my nephew's neighbor. Geronda, pray for my brother, for my sister's friend." You shouldn't be concerned with your aunt's, your nephews' or their neighbors' needs. Pay attention to this, because the virtue of exile is particularly hard for women; they tend to be very attached to their relatives. They start praying fervently for them, but under the guise of prayer for their relatives, their hearts cleave to them again. Obedience, however, tells us to give ourselves wholly to Christ. Whoever does not renounce his property, says the Lord, cannot be my disciple. These are the words of Christ, Who was merciful, Who was a teacher of mercy! But do you remember what the man said after the Savior called him to follow Him? "Allow me to go and bury my father." He was not lying, after all; he would have done just that. But Christ said, "No let the dead bury their dead. You follow Me." Why do you think He said that? Because man's mind is called to illumination, and compared to this illumination, this sanctity, everything is insignificant, nothing. Or, for example, many people write letters to their relatives who are monks. The brothers ask me, "Geronda, should I answer the letter?" "No," I say, "you don't need to answer it. Pray for them, and that will be your greatest offering."
—How can a complicated and responsible monastic job having to do with monastery property management be combined with the commandment not to care for tomorrow?
—Whoever cares for these things is doing them in obedience—he has a "carefree care". St. Silhouan the Athonite was the steward, not even of the monks, but of the lay workers. At the same time he was a great man of silence, a true hesychast. Pay attention to this! Do you remember how he himself admitted in his recollections: "The abbot told me to be the steward of the workers, and I inwardly resisted. 'Oh, father, what are you burdening me with…'" He did not accept it right away only inwardly, and did not show swift obedience, although he went and did this job. But the level of his spiritual progress did not allow him the right to resist even inwardly. He himself admitted that for this resistance against the abbot he had headaches his whole life as a penance. So, be very careful. Look at how Christ mysteriously, in an amazing way equated the will of a lawful organ—that is, the abbot—with His own will. What does He say? "Whoever hears you hears Me, and whoever rejects you rejects Me." Therefore, another great saint of our times, Elder Porphyrius of Kavsokalyvia, emphasized the significance of joyful obedience.
—How can repentance be combined with spiritual joy, compunction and inner peace? Both are needed, but apparently contradict each other.
—To the extent that a person repents and has that inner lamentation commanded by Christ, he will feel simultaneously that this lamentation is joy-producing. Do not contemplate spiritual things by using the feelings or sentimentality. One may weep because he has a psychological problem, another weeps from sentimentality, while a third weeps for spiritual reasons. Unfortunately, we have not worthily responded to God's call—I am speaking of myself—and we do not measure up to God's grace and long-suffering for us. But we have known holy elders, our contemporaries, who had compassion for people and prayed for everyone with great pain of heart. They were always peaceful, joyful, and easy to be around. This is the wonder of a spiritual person.
—Do you think that the monastic virtues of the ancient fathers are possible in modern monasticism?
—Both monasticism and man have always been the same throughout all times. Of course, people of the twenty-first century unfortunately do not have the same self-mastery or strength as the ancients had. But if a person wants this, he can labor in asceticism according to his strength and experience the same grace as did the ancient fathers.
—How can we avoid depression when repenting? Where is the boundary between repentance and depression?
—In order to help us discern this, we have spiritual guides. One day a nun came to elder Porphyrius, who was clairvoyant. She had read much about remembrance of death and had begun to feel depressed from it, because it was beyond her strength. As soon as the elder saw this nun he could immediately see what the problem was. Before she even said anything, he said to her, "You do not have a blessing to exercise the remembrance of death. Think only about Christ's love." Thus, the podvig of repentance should be directed by a spiritual guide who looks at each person's spiritual state. When my elder, Joseph of Vatopedi, was young, he put much effort into self-criticism and began to get depressed because of it. Then our "grandfather", Joseph the Hesychast, said to him, "Son, work with this—but only a little, not too heavily." Of course, after maturing spiritually he had no problem with this practice.
It is because the spiritual state of the monk must be observed that the holy fathers prescribed that the spiritual father, the abbot, be always in the monastery. Of course, he can be absent for a few days, but in general he is continually with the brothers. Our laypeople, for example, see their spiritual father once or twice a month, the more reverent ones once a month; continual association with a spiritual father is not for them. But the holy fathers did institute this for monks because monks are as if walking a tightrope, and they need continual help.
—How can we discern salvific memory of death from ordinary fear of death, which even non-religious people feel?
—One person told me that he used to be very afraid of death. After he began coming to Mt. Athos, this fear disappeared completely. God gave him such a gift. Psychological fear is not a good fear; it rejects [death], but remembrance of death in Christ is victory over death.
Once a group of pilgrims came to our monastery, and after Compline I talked with them a little. I do not know why, but I began to talk with them about remembrance of death. There was one psychologist among them. He said to me later, "Father, we came to you on the Holy Mountain, and you began talking to us about such sad things." At first I did not understand what had happened. He then said, "Couldn't you have found something else to talk about? Why talk about death?" He was continually tapping his wooden armchair—a superstitious action against the evil eye. However, remembrance of death in Christ does not cause depression in people—it fills them with joy. After all, in Christ we conquer death, and pass over from death into life! We monks are the heralds of eternal life. Why? Because we already have a presentiment of the Kingdom of God in our hearts. Do you remember what Abba Isaiah said? "Remember the Kingdom of Heaven, and it will draw you in little-by-little." That is why a monk is always joyful. He already tastes the Kingdom of God with his spiritual senses. And the Lord Himself says that this Kingdom is within us.
—How can we fulfill the Apostle's command: "Be joyful at all times" and acquire true spiritual joy?
—When a monk gradually obtains constant communion with God, the fruits of this communion will be joy. True joy is not a psychological but a spiritual state. St. Nectarios, a great saint of our times, put it very well in a letter he wrote: He who seeks sources of joy within himself has gone astray, and is in a state of delusion. For example, one person we love, comes from abroad to our monastery. Naturally, we rejoice that he is with us. But as much as we rejoice in his presence, we equally grieve when he leaves. We can take this thought further. We love a certain person, but God takes him from us and he leaves this life, and the love we had for him turns into equal pain after his death. Therefore, a person should not absolutize the joys that are outside of him. The source of joy is in his heart; it is the constant presence of grace. Therefore a man of God is always peaceful and calm at both joyful and sad events.
—How can we unite the commandment of love for neighbor with the obligation to be concentrated and silent?
—Here also discernment is needed, because we often fall into extremes. For example, one of our brothers in the monastery did not have a very good voice. I said to him, "You know, son, don't sing in the catholicon (the main church), but sing in our smaller churches, with three or four other fathers". So he came one day to sing; there were four of them, but then the cook came and then there were five. The brother stopped singing and said to the cook, "Either you or me." The cook was surprised. "Why?" he said. The brother answered, "The Elder blessed me to sing only when there were up to four brothers in the choir." What am I trying to say? We must have a correct understanding of our spiritual father's commandments. We have to know when to talk and when to be silent. After all, silence can come from egoism, or neurasthenia; but there is also spiritual silence. I once asked my monks not to talk during services. So, during a service, one brother came up to another brother and asked him about something to do with the kitchen, and instead of answering him, the other showed him by a gesture that it is forbidden to talk (he placed his finger over his lips). This is not obedience. He was obligated to answer because this was something necessary. But when a monk loves silence, God gives him the opportunity and the time to be silent. 
Archimandrite Ephraim of Vatopedi
Translation by

29 / 11 / 2011

The Place of Lives of Saints in the Spiritual Life

St. Justin Popovic

 1-The Significance of the Lives of the Saints

In order to begin to understand the importance of the Lives of the Saints for our spiritual lives, I believe we can turn to no better or more thorough source than St. Justin Popovich's Introduction to his own compilation of the Lives of the Saints. A theologian, St. Justin saw no dichotomy between the Lives of the Saints and the theological writings of the Church. For him, as for the Church, theology and the Lives of the Saints form one whole. He called the Lives of the Saints "experiential theology" or "applied dogmatic theology," and he viewed them and wrote about them in a theological manner. Likewise, he viewed theological writings as an expression of the experience of the life of Grace in the Church, and not just an intellectual, abstract or polemical exercise.
How does St. Justin view the Lives of the Saints theologically? At the center of all of St. Justin's thought is the Theanthropic vision: the fact that God became man in Jesus Christ, uniting human nature with Divine Nature. The fact of the God-man, the Theanthropos, is the axis of the universe: it is the reality according to which everything else must be viewed, whether it be the nature of the Church or the problems and issues of everyday life.
Thus, when St. Justin looks at the Lives of the Saints, he does so in the light of the God-man. Real and true life—eternal life in God—became possible only with the Incarnation, death and Resurrection of the Saviour, and this life is the Life of the Saints. St. Justin saw the Lives of the Saints as bearing witness to one life: the Life in Christ.
St. Justin wrote: "What are Christians? Christians are Christ-bearers, and, by virtue of this, they are bearers and possessors of eternal life.... The Saints are the most perfect Christians, for they have been sanctified to the highest degree with the podvigs of holy faith in the risen and eternally living Christ, and no death has power over them. Their life is entirely Christ's life; and their thought is entirely Christ's thought; and their perception is Christ's perception. All that they have is first Christ's and then theirs.... In them is nothing of themselves but rather wholly and in everything the Lord Christ."[1]
The Saints live in Christ, but Christ also lives in them through His Divine Energies, His Grace. And where Christ is, there is the Father and the Holy Spirit also. Christ says, Abide in Me, and I in you; and elsewhere He says, If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him (John 15:4; 14:23).
Thus, St. Justin makes bold to say that the Lives of the Saints not only bear witness to the Life in Christ: they may even be said to be the continuation of the Life of Christ on earth. "The Lives of the Saints," says St. Justin, "are nothing else but the life of the Lord Christ, repeated in every Saint to a greater or lesser degree in this or that form. More precisely, it is the life of the Lord Christ continued through the Saints, the life of the incarnate God the Logos, the God-man Jesus Christ Who became man."[2]
This is an amazing thing that St. Justin is saying: when we read the Lives of the Saints, we are reading the Life of our Lord Jesus Christ. This in itself should be enough to convince us of the importance of filling our souls with the Lives of the Saints.
St. Justin also says that the Lives of the Saints are a continuation of the Acts of the Apostles. "What are the 'Acts of the Apostles'?" he asks. "They are the acts of Christ, which the Holy Apostles do by the power of Christ, or better still: they do them by Christ Who is in them and acts through them. "And what are the 'Lives of the Saints'? They are nothing else but a certain kind of continuation of the 'Acts of the Apostles.' In them is found the same Gospel, the same life, the same truth, the same righteousness, the same love, the same faith, the same eternity, the same 'power from on high,' the same God and Lord. For the Lord Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever (Heb. 13:8): the same for all peoples of all times, distributing the same gifts and the same Divine Energies to all who believe in Him."[3]
With these words of St. Justin before us, we might well ask ourselves if Orthodox spiritual life is even possible without the testimony of the Lives of the Saints. The answer to this, I believe, must be "no." True spiritual life begins when we live in Christ and Christ lives in us, right here on this earth. And the Lives of the Saints bear witness to us that the Life of Christ on earth did not end with His Ascension into Heaven, nor with the martyrdom of His Apostles. His Life continues to this day in His Church, and is seen most brilliantly in His Saints. And we, too, in our own spiritual lives, are to enter into that continuing, never-ending Life.
I spoke recently to an Orthodox priest who had converted to Orthodoxy from Protestantism. He told me that, when he was received into the Church, the officiating priest told him: "You will never be truly Orthodox without reading the Lives of the Saints." Later, when he himself became a priest, he found that the most pious people in the churches are those who read the Lives of the Saints, and that those who make the most progress in the spiritual life are those who read the Saints' Lives. 
The Orthodox Faith is not, first of all, of the head. First of all, it is of the heart: it is felt
and believed by the heart. Through the Lives of the Saints, we develop an Orthodox heart. Our monastery's co-founder, Fr. Seraphim Rose, emphasized constantly this "Orthodoxy of the heart," especially in his writings and talks at the end of his life; and he frequently referred to Lives of the Saints as a means of developing this. 
2. How to Make Use of the Lives of the Saints
Having looked at the importance and meaning of the Lives of the Saints, let us look now at the various ways we can make use of them in our spiritual lives.
First, we look to the Saints as our examples. Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ (I Cor. 11:1), the Saints say to us along with the Holy Apostle Paul. As Christians, we want to grow in the likeness of Christ, to have that likeness shine in us. For this to occur, we need to look often to the Saints to see that shining likeness: we must look to them for real, practical examples of how to live. St. Basil the Great gives this analogy:
"Just as painters, in working from models, constantly gaze at their exemplar and thus strive to transfer the expression of the original to their own artistry, so too he who is eager to make himself perfect in all kinds of virtue must gaze upon the Lives of the Saints as upon statues, so to speak, that move and act, and must make their excellence his own by imitation."[4]
Secondly, we must look to the Saints as our heavenly friends, as our brothers and sisters in the Faith, and as our preceptors. We read about them not as people who are dead, but as people who are living. And this is even more immediate than just reading a biography about someone who is still alive. Let's say we are reading the biography of some famous living person. As we read it, we may dream of perhaps one day meeting this person, or perhaps of writing him a letter and having it actually reach him, and even of receiving a reply from him, despite the fact that he is so famous that thousands of people are probably writing to him. Reading the Lives of the Saints offers us much more than this, because the Saints are alive in God, and are not bound by time and space in the same way we are. We can address them in prayer immediately and at any time, even right in the middle of reading their Lives. And they will hear us. Besides our private prayers to them, the Church offers us many other ways of communing with them as our friends and honoring them as our preceptors. We sing their troparia, we venerate their icons, we perform services to them, and with a blessing from our Bishop we can even compose services in their honor.
As we read the Lives of the Saints each day, we will discover little by little those Saints whom our hearts go out to. They will become our close friends, those whom we pray to most of all, those in whom we confide our joys and sorrows. As Archimandrite Aimilianos, the present Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Simonos Petras on Mount Athos, writes: "These close friends will be the guides of our choice and a great comfort to us along the strait and narrow way that leads to Christ. We are not alone on the road or in the struggle. We have with us our Mother, the All-Holy Mother of God, our Guardian Angel, the Saint whose name we bear, and those close friends we have chosen out of the Great Multitude of Saints who stand before the Lamb (Rev. 7:9). When we stumble through sin, they will raise us up again; when we are tempted to give up hope, they will remind us that they have suffered for Christ before us, and more than us; and that they are now the possessors of unending joy. So, upon the stony road of the present life, these holy companions will enable us to glimpse the light of the Resurrection. Let us search, then, in the Lives of the Saints, for these close friends, and with all the Saints let us make our way to Christ."[5]
St. Justin Popovich, as we have said, called the Lives of the Saints "applied dogmatic theology." The Saints are proofs and illustrations of the reality of Christ, of His saving work of redemption. The Saints are transformed human beings, proof positive that people are redeemed, purified, illumined, transformed and recreated by Jesus Christ.
St. Justin also calls the Lives of the Saints "applied ethics." They are embodiments of the life of Divine virtue that is possible only in Jesus Christ. They are embodiments of the life of Grace in the Church, through the Holy Sacraments, through the life-giving Body and Blood of the Lord.
Fr. Seraphim Rose once counseled a budding Orthodox writer to make use of the Lives of the Saints as "applied dogmatic theology" and as "applied ethics." Fr. Seraphim said that, when one is writing on a spiritual subject, one should try to not only discuss it in the abstract, but to give living examples from the Lives of the Saints. Fr. Seraphim wrote to his fellow Orthodox writer: "If I have any suggestion for your future articles, it would simply be to keep in mind the Lives of the Saints. In your article, there is a point that would be more forceful by references to the life of the author of the citations, who is a Saint. You quote St. John of Kronstadt on 'love'—but he is not merely a great Orthodox Saint of this century, he is a very incarnation of the love he talks about, and there is scarcely to be found a parallel in the Lives of other Saints to his absolute self-crucifying love and service to others, blessed by God in the manifestation of an abundance of miracles that can only be compared to those of St. Nicholas."[6]
3. An Example of How to Make Use of the Lives of the Saints
I will now attempt to implement Fr. Seraphim's advice here. In speaking about how to make use of the Lives of the Saints, I will give the example of a Saint who made use of them to an astounding degree. This is Fr. Seraphim's mentor, and the Bishop who blessed the establishment of our Brotherhood: St. John Maximovitch, Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco.
Archbishop John was born Michael Maximovitch in the city of Kharkov in southern Russia in 1896. As a boy he collected religious and historical books, and loved above all to read the Lives of the Saints. Being the oldest child, he had a great influence on his four brothers and one sister, who knew the Lives of the Saints through him.
When he was eleven years old Michael was sent to the Poltava Cadet Corps (military academy). When he graduated in 1914, he wished to attend the Kiev Theological Academy. His parents insisted, however, that he attend Law School in Kharkov, and out of obedience to them he put away his own desire and began to prepare for a career in law.
It was during his university years that the Orthodox education and outlook which Michael had received in his childhood came to maturity. Young Michael saw the point of this upbringing. He saw that the Lives of the Saints, in particular, contain a profound wisdom which is not seen by those who read them superficially, and that the proper knowledge of the Lives of the Saints is more important than any university course. And so it was, as his classmates noticed, that Michael spent more time reading the Lives of the Saints than attending academic lectures, although he did very well in his university studies also. One could say that he studied the Orthodox Saints precisely "on the university level': he assimilated their world-outlook and their orientation toward life, and studied the variety of their activity and ascetic labors and practice of prayer. He came to love them with all his heart, was thoroughly penetrated by their spirit—and began to live like them. Many years later, during the sermon he gave when he was consecrated a Bishop, he said: "While studying the worldly sciences, I went all the more deeply into the study of the science of sciences, into the study of the spiritual life."
In 1921, as the Russian Civil War was raging, Michael—then twenty-four years old—was evacuated with his entire family to Belgrade. There he entered the University of Belgrade, from which he graduated in 1925 in the faculty of theology. A year later he was tonsured a monk in Serbia and was given the name John, after his own distant relative, St. John Maximovitch of Tobolsk. During the same year he was ordained a hieromonk. 
For five years Hieromonk John was a teacher and tutor at the Seminary of St. John the Theologian in Bitol, Serbia. The city of Bitol was in the diocese of Ohrid, and at that time the ruling bishop of this diocese was another future Saint: St. Nikolai Velimirovich. St. Nikolai valued and loved the young Hieromonk John, and exerted a beneficial influence on him. More than once he was heard to say, "If you wish to see a living Saint, go to Bitol to Father John."
One of the seminarians who was at the Bitol Seminary at that time recalls: "Bishop Nikolai often visited the seminary and spoke with the teachers and students. For us his meeting with Fr. John was unusual. After mutual prostrations, there was an unusually cordial, loving conversation. Once, before parting, Bishop Nikolai turned to a small group of students (of whom I was one) with these words: 'Children, listen to Fr. John; he is an angel of God in human form.' We ourselves became convinced that this was the correct characterization of him. His life was angelic. One can rightly say that he belonged more to Heaven than to earth. His meekness and humility were like that recorded in the Lives of the greatest ascetics and desert-dwellers."
By this time, it had indeed become evident that Fr. John was an entirely extraordinary man. It was his own students who first discovered what was perhaps his greatest feat of asceticism. They noticed at first that he stayed up long after everyone else had gone to bed; he would go through the dormitories at night and pick up blankets that had fallen down and cover the unsuspecting sleepers, making the sign of the Cross over them. Finally it was discovered that he scarcely slept at all, and never in a bed, allowing himself only an hour or two each night of uncomfortable rest in a sitting position, or bent over on the floor praying before icons. Years afterward he himself admitted that since taking the monastic vows he had not slept lying in a bed. Such an ascetic practice is a very rare one; yet it is not unknown in the Orthodox tradition of the Lives of the Saints. In the fourth century, St. Pachomius the Great of Egypt was told by an angel to have his monks follow this practice.
In 1934, Fr. John was consecrated a Bishop in the Russian Church in Belgrade, and he was assigned to the diocese of Shanghai in China. The first thing he did in Shanghai was to restore Church unity, establishing contact with the Serbs, Greeks, and Ukrainians. He paid special attention to religious education. He actively participated in charitable activities, especially after seeing the needy circumstances in which the majority of his flock, refugees from the Soviet Union, were placed. He organized a home for orphans and the children of needy parents. He himself gathered sick and starving children off the streets and dark alleys of Shanghai's slums: Russian children, Chinese children, and others. The orphanage housed up to a hundred children at a time, and some 3,500 in all.
It soon became apparent to his new flock that Archbishop John was a great ascetic. The core of his asceticism was prayer and fasting. He ate once a day at 11 p.m. During the first and last weeks of Great Lent he did not eat at all, and for the rest of this and the Christmas Lent he ate only bread from the altar. His nights he spent usually in prayer, and when he finally became exhausted he would put his head on the floor and steal a few hours of sleep near dawn.
Then it became known that Archbishop John not only was a righteous man and an ascetic, but was also so close to God that he was endowed with the gift of clairvoyance, and was a great miracle-worker. There are many, many firsthand accounts of both his clairvoyance and his miracle-working, which show him to be equal to the great Saints of ancient times. On more than one occasion, he was seen surrounded in the Uncreated Light of deification while praying.
In 1949, the Communists took over China. Archbishop John was forced to evacuate his flock, including his entire orphanage. He brought 5,000 refugees to camps in the Philippines. He himself went to Washington, D.C. to get his people to America. Legislation was changed and almost the whole camp came to the New World—thanks to St. John. Later he was assigned to Western Europe, and then to San Francisco, where reposed in 1966.[7]
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about St. John's life is that he manifested in himself so many different kinds of sanctity. It was as if, through the intense study of the Lives of the Saints that he had undertaken in his early years, he had internalized and made his own the whole realm of Orthodox sanctity, in all its varied forms. He was a true student of the Saints, one who sought to follow in their footsteps, and thus to follow in the footsteps of Christ. By living like the Saints, he became one of them. 
Let's look at some of the varied forms of sanctity that could be seen in Archbishop John:
1. He was first of all a great ascetic in the tradition of the ascetic, monastic Saints of old, such as St. Macarius the Great, St. Pachomius the Great, and others. 
2. He was a clairvoyant reader of hearts, and one who could identify and name people he had never seen before. Enlightened by the Grace of God, he could hear and answer people's thoughts before they would express them. He also foretold the future, including the time of his own death. In this way, he was very much in the tradition of the great monastic elders of the past, especially the clairvoyant Russian elders such as those of Optina Monastery. 
3. He was an almsgiver in the tradition of St. Philaret the Almsgiver, St. John the Almsgiver, etc. We have seen how he sacrificed himself for orphaned children, going himself into dangerous slums and houses of prostitution in order to rescue children from starvation or unhealthy environments. He was constantly giving to and working to help the needy. He himself wore clothing of the cheapest Chinese fabric. He often went barefoot, sometimes after having given away his sandals to some poor man. 
4. He was a hierarch and theologian, a Church writer and apologist who defended the Church against error, much in the tradition of St. Athanasius the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and others. Besides his many published sermons, rich in theological content, he wrote valuable theological treatises in order to defend traditional Orthodox teachings which were being undermined in modern times. One of these works, in which he presents the Orthodox teaching on the Mother of God in contrast to Protestant and Roman Catholic distortions, has been published in English.[8] He also wrote an extensive essay pointing out the fallacies of the modern teaching of Sophiology. 
5. He was an apostle, evangelist and missionary to new lands, in the tradition of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, St. Nahum of Ohrid and others. When he was in Western Europe, he worked hard to establish indigenous Orthodox Churches in France and the Netherlands: churches made up of the native peoples of these lands who had converted to the Orthodox Faith. He understood that the Orthodox Church is universal, and he said that the Orthodox Gospel of Christ must be spread throughout the world. Later, when he came to America, he instituted English Liturgies in addition to Slavonic Liturgies, in a Cathedral that had only known Slavonic Liturgies. He helped and supported our newly begun St. Herman Brotherhood, which was dedicated to bringing Orthodoxy to the English-speaking world. 
6. He was a healer and miracle-worker, in the tradition of St. Martin of Tours, St. Nicholas of Myra in Lycia, and others. Through his prayers, he healed people of almost every imaginable malady; and he continues to do so after his repose. 
7. He was a loving and self-sacrificing pastor, in the tradition of St. John of Kronstadt and all the other hierarch and priest Saints of ages past. So great was his love that everyone felt that he or she was his "favorite." He was overflowing with self-sacrificing love for his flock, and for those outside of his flock as well, such as a dying Jewish woman whom he suddenly healed with the words "Christ is Risen." 
8. He was a deliverer of his people from captivity, in the tradition of St. Moses the God-seer. As we have seen, he brought 5,000 Orthodox believers out of Communist China and into freedom in America. 
9. Finally, he was to a limited degree a fool-for-Christ in the tradition of St. Andrew the fool-for-Christ and others. He could not be a fool-for-Christ in the full sense of the term, since this would compromise the dignity of his hierarchical office. And yet at many times he did things which were at odds with the ideas of the world, and thus he evoked censure from people who did not see him for what he was: a man of God. He was criticized, for example, for serving barefoot, and for wearing a collapsible cardboard mitre that had been lovingly made for him by his orphans.
We have now looked at nine different types of sanctity manifested in this one Saint, St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. Nine types which he had learned about through his study of the Lives of the Saints.
What the contemporary hagiographer Constantine Cavarnos says of modern Saints in general applies perfectly to St. John: "Modern Saints admire and imitate the older ones: they follow closely their example, study their teaching carefully, and—what is extremely significant—they confirm it. Those of the modern Saints who write or preach amplify and illustrate the teaching of the older Saints, and relate it to modern realities."[9]
4. "Remember the Saints of God"
It should not be thought that, after his formative years at the Cadet Corps and at the University of Belgrade, St. John finished his profound study of the Lives of the Saints. Quite the contrary: he continued to learn about the Saints right up until the time of his repose.
St. John believed that, in whatever land an Orthodox Christian found himself, it was his responsibility to venerate and pray to its national and local Saints. Wherever St. John went—Russia, Serbia, China, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Tunisia, America—he researched the Lives of the local Orthodox Saints. He went to the churches housing their relics, performed services in their honor, and asked the Orthodox priests there to do likewise. By the end of his life, his knowledge of Orthodox Saints, both Western and Eastern, was seemingly limitless.
Here is a story which illustrates St. John's love for the Saints, and how he went out of his way to learn about them and venerate them:
One of St. John's spiritual children was Archimandrite Spyridon, who later became the father confessor of our monastery in the 1970s. Like St. John, Fr. Spyridon was born in Russia, but went to Serbia following the Russian Revolution. He knew St. John from a young age, when St. John was still studying at the University of Belgrade.
When Serbia fell to the Communists, Fr. Spyridon and many of his fellow Russians settled on the border of Italy and Serbia, in a refugee camp in the Italian city of Trieste. Fr. Spyridon was ordained to the priesthood in 1951 and was assigned as a pastor of the camp church in Trieste. 
At this time, St. John had just been assigned as the Bishop of Western Europe, and so he would visit Fr. Spyridon and his flock in the refugee camp in Trieste. When St. John came to the place where Fr. Spyridon served, he was already fully informed about the early Western Saints of Trieste—such as Justus the Martyr, after whom the city had originally been called Justinopolis, St. Sergio the Martyr, and St. Frugifer, the first bishop of Trieste. Finding that nothing had been done to venerate the local Saints, Archbishop John was disappointed. Fr. Spyridon later said how he regretted not having thought of it before. No one had done such a thing: the Saints of Trieste had largely been forgotten, and it was St. John who restored their local veneration. Before doing anything else in Trieste, he took Fr. Spyridon to the relics of the Saints, vested in an epitrachelion and a small omophorion. With a censer and a cross in his hand he would descend into the crypts under cathedrals where, according to his long lists of information, the Saints had been buried. He would sing troparia and kontakia written on pieces of paper which he would pull out his pockets, imploring the Saints to intercede for the city. And only then would he go to celebrate the services in Fr. Spyridon's camp church. 
As Fr. Spyridon recalled, St. John acted as if the ancient local Saints were present wherever he walked. Before leaving Trieste, he contacted local Roman Catholic clergy, acquiring from them various permits so that the Orthodox church in Trieste would have free access to the relics and sites of the Saints. Then he gave Fr. Spyridon strict instructions on how to commemorate the Saints, how he should take his parishioners to the shrines of all local Saints on their feast-days, venerate them, sing services to them, and so on. St. John said that no services should be conducted without first addressing these local Saints, and no Liturgies performed without first commemorating them at the proskomedia.[10]
While in Western Europe, St. John collected the Lives and icons of Orthodox Saints from many different Western European countries, who lived before the time of the schism of the Latin Church. Since most of these Saints were included in no Orthodox Calendar of Saints, St. John compiled a list of these Saints with information about their lives, and submitted this to his Synod of Bishops for inclusion in the Orthodox Calendar. 
Since he was an Apostle of Christ, St. John called upon each local Saint he learned about to provide heavenly help in evangelizing new lands. As Archbishop of San Francisco, he called upon all the Saints of America, including the most local of all Saints, the Native American St. Peter the Aleut, who was martyred in California.
Archbishop John had an especially great devotion to St. Herman of Alaska as a patron of the American Orthodox mission. He sought to have St. Herman canonized, and this occurred four years after St. John's repose, in 1970. 
On June 28, 1966, St. John came to the Orthodox bookshop in San Francisco that had been started with his blessing by our St. Herman Brotherhood. After he had blessed the shop and printing room with the icon, he proceeded to talk to the brothers about Saints of various lands. As Fr. Seraphim Rose later recalled: "He promised to give us a list of canonized Romanian Saints and disciples of Paisius VelichkovskyPaisius Velichkovsky, Elder. He mentioned having compiled (when in FrancFrancee) a list of Western pre-schism Saints, which he presented to the Holy Synod."[11]
In particular, St. John Maximovitch, Archbp talked to the brothers in the shop about St. Alban, St.n, the first martyr of Britain. Out of his little portfolio he pulled a short life of the Saint, together with a picture postcard of a Gothic cathedral in the town of St. Albans, England. St. Albans near, London in which he had been buried. St. John looked into the brothers' eyes to see if they got the point. St. Alban, like most of the Saints of Western Europe, was not in the Orthodox Calendar; and St. John was letting them know that he should be venerated by Orthodox Christians, especially in English-speaking lands. 
This turned out to be St. John's last contact with the shop and our Brotherhood while he was alive on this earth. Four days later he reposed in Seattle. 
Right after St. John's repose, Fr. Seraphim Rose wrote in his Chronicle of our Brotherhood: "Amid the talk of the 'testament of Vladika John,' what has our Brotherhood to offer? This seems to be clearly indicated both by our very nature and by Vladika John Maximovitch, Archbp's instructions to us. On his last visit to us especially, he talked of nothing but Saints—Romanian, English, French, Russian. Is it not therefore our duty to remember the Saints of God, following as closely as possible Vladika's example? I.e., to know their lives, nourish our spiritual lives by constantly reading of them, making them known to others by speaking of them and printing them—and by praying to the Saints."[12]
This, then, is St. John's testament to our Brotherhood, and I believe to all Orthodox Christians: To remember the Saints of God.
St. John himself wrote beautiful words about the Saints. These words well express what he saw as the essence of sanctity, as well as the blueprint of his own life. "Holiness is not simply righteousness," St. John wrote, "for which the righteous merit the enjoyment of blessedness in the Kingdom of God, but rather it is such a height of righteousness that men are filled with the Grace of God to the extent that it flows from them upon those who associate with them. Great is their blessedness; it proceeds from personal experience of the Glory of God. Being filled also with love for men, which proceeds from the love of God, they are responsive to men's needs, and upon their supplication they appear also as intercessors and defenders for them before God."[13]
5. The Call to Sanctity
In remembering the Saints of God according to the testament of St. John, we must always remember, as he did, that each one of us is called to be a Saint.
The Saints, says St. Justin Popovich, are the most perfect Christians, who have been sanctified to the highest degree. The Saints, says St. John Maximovitch, are those who show forth in themselves a height of righteousness and are filled with the Grace of God to such an extent that it flows from them upon those around them. Both St. Justin and St. John are saying the same thing. The Saints are deified human beings, who are filled with the Grace, the Uncreated Energies of God, and who live the Divine-human life of Christ in the Church.
Every Orthodox Christian partakes to some extent of this Divine-human life. St. Justin Popovich writes: "Christ's life is continued through all the ages; every Christian is of the same body with Christ, and he is a Christian because he lives the Divine-human life of this Body of Christ as Its organic cell. 
"Life according to the Gospel, holy life, Divine life, that is the natural and normal life for Christians. For Christians, according to their vocation, are holy." To become completely holy, both in soul and in body—that is our vocation. This is not a miracle, but rather the norm, the rule of faith. "Having united themselves spiritually and by Grace to the Holy One—the Lord Christ—with the help of faith, Christians themselves receive from Him the Holy Energies that they may lead a holy life."[14]
It is our task as Christians, then, to acquire more and more of this Divine-human life, to go deeper and deeper into it, to grow more and more in the likeness of Christ, to be filled with more and more of his Grace. Perhaps we will never acquire such Grace as was seen in St. Nicholas the of Myra in Lycia, St. Sava of Serbia, St. Seraphim of Sarov, St. Nektarios of Pentapolis, or St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, but we are called to be growing toward such an overflowing measure of Grace.
If we have much further to go in the spiritual life, we are not alone: even the greatest Saints had further to go. "Sanctification admits of degrees," explains Constantine Cavarnos. "The sanctification or perfection of a human being attained even in theosis [deification] is not complete during this life. It is an 'unfinished perfection,' as it is called in the Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus."[15]
Furthermore, spiritual perfection or holiness is not even complete in the other world; it grows endlessly in the life to come. St. Symeon the New Theologian, himself a deified human being, writes concerning this: "Through a clear revelation from Above, the Saints know that in fact their perfection is endless, that their progress in glory will be eternal, that in them there will be a continual increase in Divine radiance, and that an end to their progress will never occur."[16]
6. Overcoming Doubt and Discouragement
The Saints of God—the martyrs and ascetics, miracle-workers and apostles—truly did accomplish those great feats which we read about in their Lives. If we have underlying doubts regarding the veracity of these accounts, we should acquaint ourselves more thoroughly with the Lives of Saints who lived in times close to our own—Saints like Archbishop John of Shanghai and San Francisco—so that by seeing what is possible in our own times through the power of Christ, we may believe in what occurred through that same power in the remote past. St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, in his Introduction to The New Martyrologion, discusses this in connection with the New Martyrs of the Church: "The antiquity of the period during which the early Saints lived, the long time that has intervened from then to the present, can cause in some, if not unbelief, at least some doubt and hesitation. One may, that is, wonder how humans, who by nature are weak and timid, endured so many and frightful tortures. But these New Martyrs of Christ, having acted boldly on the recent scene of the world, uproot from the hearts of Christians all doubt and hesitation, and implant or renew in them unhesitating faith in the old Martyrs. Just as new food strengthens all those bodies that are weak from starvation, and just as new rain causes trees that are dried from drought to bloom again, so these New Martyrs strengthen and renew the weak, the withered, the old faith of present-day Christians."[17]
What St. Nicodemus says about the relevance of the New Martyrs to contemporary Orthodox Christians can, of course, be applied to all the other orders of modern Saints: hierarchs, missionaries, monastics, etc. 
Even if we do not have doubts concerning the veracity of the Lives of the Saints, we may come up against another stumbling block: discouragement that their feats of asceticism and faith are beyond us. If we ever experience this, we must pray for more humility. As Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonos Petras says, "Reading about the exploits of the Saints discourages only the proud who rely on their own strength. For the humble it is a chance to see their own weaknesses, to weep over their insufficiency and to implore God's help."[18]
St. John Climacus tells us: "The man who despairs of himself when he hears of the supernatural virtues of the Saints is most unreasonable. On the contrary, the Saints teach you supremely one of two things: Either they arouse you to emulation by their holy courage, or they lead you by way of thrice-holy humility to deep self-contempt and the realization of your inherent weakness."[19]
As we study the Lives of the Saints, humility must be our safeguard. We need to soberly apply what we read to our own conditions and circumstances, realizing our own infirmity, not thinking too much of ourselves, not dreaming of ascetic feats that truly are beyond us. As Fr. Seraphim Rose used to say, we must take spiritual life step by step, and not expect to make one great leap into sanctity. 
At the same time, however, we must not make excuses for ourselves, as if we are somehow separated from the Saints by some eternally unbridgeable gulf. The Saints are our fellow Orthodox Christians. The Saints have lived, and still live, the same life in the Church that we live. They are sinners like we are, but they have borne the fruits of repentance and have been transfigured by Christ. They are more perfect than we are, but we are called to seek their "unfinished perfection" as God gives us strength. 
May St. Justin Popovich be a guide to us in understanding the theological significance of the Lives of the Saints, and may St. John Maximovitch be an example to us of how to make us of the Lives of the Saints in our own spiritual lives. The Saints are called stars in the spiritual firmament. May we, by remembering the Saints of God, also begin shine in that firmament. And by making the Saints our friends and preceptors now, may we have them as our heavenly companions in the never-ending Kingdom of Light. Amen.

From The Orthodox Word, Vol. 37, No. 6 (221, Nov.–Dec. 2001), pp. 261-281. Copyright 2001 by the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, California. Used with permission.
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