Saturday, 20 April 2013

Met.Anthony Sourozh-On The Sunday of Saint Mary of Egypt

 Saint Mary Of Egypt

by Metropolitan Anthony Sourozh

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Week after week we feel that we are coming closer and closer to the glorious Resurrection of Christ. And it seems to us that we are moving fast, from Sunday to Sunday as it were, to the day when all horrors, all terrors, will have disappeared.

And yet so easily do we forget that before we reach the day of the Resurrection we must, together with Christ, together with His apostles, tread the road of the Crucifixion. 'So we are ascending to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they shall crucify Him, and the third day He will rise’. All we notice is that He will rise. But do we ever think of the way in which the disciples went to Jerusalem, knowing that the Crucifixion was at hand? They were moving in fear. They were not yet mature enough to be those who would give their lives for the message to be spread. They were moving in fear. When Christ told them that they would go now to Jerusalem, return to the city which had then renounced Christ, put Him into danger of His life, they said to Him, 'Let us not go.' And only one disciple, Thomas, said, 'No. Let us go with Him, and die with Him.'

This disciple is the one whom, foolishly I believe, we call the Doubter: the one who was not prepared to give his trust to God, his faith, his life, his blood, without certainty. But his heart was unreservedly given to Christ. How wonderful to be such a man! But the other disciples would not desert Christ. They walked towards Jerusalem.

And we have today another example of one who went through a tragedy before they met Christ. It is Mary of Egypt. She was a sinner. She was a harlot. She was unfaithful to God in her soul and in her body. She had no reverence for this body which God had created and this soul. And yet she was tragically confronted with the fact that there was no way for her into the temple of God unless she rejected evil and chose purity, repentance, newness of life.

Let us reflect on the disciples who almost begged Christ not to return to Jerusalem, because Jerusalem was a city where all prophets had died; and they did not want Christ to die, and they were afraid. Let us ask ourselves how much we resemble them. And let us ask ourselves freely today how do we resemble, or not, Mary of Egypt - Mary who had lived her life according to her own ways and desires, followed all temptations of her body and soul; and one day realised that as she was, she could not enter the temple of God.

So easily do we enter the divine temple, forgetting so easily that the church into which we come is a small part of a world that has chosen to be alien to God, that has rejected God, lost interest in Him; and that the few believers have created for God a place of refuge - yes, the church is the fullness of Heaven, and at the same time a tragic place of refuge, the only place where God has a right to be because He is wanted. And when we come here, we enter into the divine realm. We should come into it with a sense of awe, not just walk into it as into a space but walk into it as a space which is already the divine Kingdom.

If we were in that mood we would, when we come to the doors of the church, be, however little, like Mary of Egypt. We would stop and say, 'How can I come in?' And if we did that with our whole heart, broken-heartedly, with a sense of horror of the fact that we are so distant from God, so alien, so unfaithful to Him, then the doors would open and we would see that we are not simply in a big space surrounded with walls but we are in a space which is God's Heaven come to earth.

Let us therefore learn from this experience what it means to go step by step towards the Resurrection, because in order to reach the Resurrection we must go through Calvary, we must go through the tragedy of Holy Week and make it our own, partaking with Christ and His disciples and the crowds around in the horror, the terror of it; and also experience it as a scorching fire that will burn in us all that is unworthy of God and make us clean. And perhaps one day, when the fire will have burnt everything which is not worthy of God, each of us may become an image of the burning bush, aflame with divine fire and not consumed, because only that which could survive the fire of God would have remained is us. Amen.

St Gregory Palamas on the Fifth Sunday of Lent

 Saint Gregory Palamas

There are certain parts of the sea which teem with huge beasts like sea monsters. Those who sail there hang bells from their ships, so that the creatures panic and flee at the sound. Many wild things far more horrible breed in the sea of our life: the evil passions and the even more evil demons who supervise them. God’s Church sails upon this sea like a ship, and instead of bells it has spiritual teachers to ward off the invisible beasts by the holy sound of their teaching. Prefiguring this, Aaron’s robe had sweet-sounding bells fastened to its edge, and it was decreed that when Aaron ministered their sound should be heard (Exodus 27.21-35).
Turning the literal into the spiritual to good effect, let our words ring out to you now spiritually, especially in this time of fasting when visible and invisible beasts make terrible attacks. The visible ones are gluttony, drunkenness, and the like. The ones that lie invisibly in wait are vainglory, pride, self-conceit and hypocrisy. The same sound puts such beasts to flight and safeguards those who practice fasting.
Fasting and self-indulgence are opposites, like life and death. Fasting is a commandment of life as old as human nature, for it was originally given by God to Adam in paradise (Genesis 2.16-17), as a guardiand of the life and grace engendered in him by God Himself. Self-indulgence, on the other hand, is a counsel of death for both soul and body, craftily given by the devil to Adam in paradise by means of Eve (Genesis 3.1-6), for banishment from life and estrangement from God-given divine grace. God did not make death, nor does He delight in the destruction of the living. Does anyone want to find life and grace in God and from God? Let him flee lethal self-indulgence and run towards fasting and prayer which make divine, that he may return to paradise rejoicing.
When Moses fasted forty days on the mountain he soared to the height of divine vision and received tablets of godliness (Exodus 34.28). Meanwhile the Hebrew people down below made themselves drunk, sank into ungodliness and cast an idol in the form of a calf, like the Egyptian god Apis (Exodus 32.1-8). If Moses had not stood before God, having made atonement earlier through the merciless killing of many of his people, God would not have spared them at all (Exodus 32.9-34.27). If we too need God’s mercy, let us not become drunk on wine or weigh ourselves down by eating our fill, for debauchery and ungodliness accompany such behaviour (Ephesians 5.18). Elijah also saw God, but he too was purified by fasting (1 Kings 19.8-12). Daniel attained to divine vision and saw one of the archangels, who granted him knowledge of things to come, but he had stayed without food for twenty whole days beforehand (Daniel 10.1-21). Another prophet was killed by a lion because he ate against God’s will (1 Kings 13.11-26). You all know about Esau, Isaac’s son, who, through gluttony, lost his father’s blessing as well as his other rights as the first born son (Genesis 25.25-34; 26.34-35; Hebrews 12.16). We should be afraid lest, by being intent on our stomachs, we fall away from the blessings and inheritance promised to us by our Father on high. You are also not ignorant of the three youths devoted to fasting (Daniel 1.11-15), who, without turning their feet or bodies, trampled on the furnace in Babylon which had been heated seven times more on their account (Daniel 3.16-27).
If we practise true fasting we shall trample here and now on the fire in our flesh and quench it, and in the time to come we shall pass unharmed through the furnace when each one’s work will be tried by fire (1 Corinthians 3.11-15). As for the Lord of the prophets, what can we say about Him? When He took flesh and became man for our sake, He taught us the way to defeat the devil by the fact that, while fasting, He was completely victorious over him when he stirred up every kind of temptation against Him. He also told His disciples, with reference to the deaf and dumb spirit, that “This demon comes forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9.29; Matthew 17.21).
Let us show you, brethren, what sort of fasting is true and pleasing to God. You should be aware that we do not commend physical fasting for its own sake, but because it brings about other, greater benefits for the soul. As the divine Paul says, “Bodily exercise profiteth a little” (1 Timothy 4.8). Speaking from experience, our God-bearing Fathers do not approve of fasting for days on end. They consider it more acceptable to eat once a day without satisfying your appetite. This is what they refer to as a moderate and resonable fasting, as the Scripture says as well: not to be led astray by a full stomach and the pleasure of eating, but to leave your food while still feeling hungry. The type and quantity of food should be appropriate to the strength and disposition of the eater’s body, to preserve his health as far as possible. If a weak person eats foods appropriate to his weakness in moderation, without supplementing the necessities with more satisfying extras, and if he seeks nourishment not enjoyment, something to drink not drunkenness, and moderate consumption not excess, self-indulgence and abuse, he will not be deprived of holiness.
This is the starting point of true fasting which is pleasing to God. But Christianst laid it down as a rule and held it in honour on account of its outcome, the purification of the sould. What good does it do to abstain from bodily food and to be defeated by fleshly ways of thinking and passions? What advantage is it to refrain from wine and be tormented by thirst, but to be drunk without wine—as it says in the Scriptures, “Woe unto them that are drunken, but not with wine” (Isaiah 51.21; 28.1 LXX; 29.9)—and for our souls to be stirred up with anger and ill-will? How dow we benefit by avoiding luxurious spreads, if our soul remains unhumbled, or by depriving our flesh of its fatness, without humbling our soul in fasting as David did? What good does it to us if we are free of the vapour given off by excessive food, but our mind is rendered useless by vain cares and thoughts and our prayers to God also become of no avail?
Fasting is beneficial when it is undertaken for quelling desire, humbling the soul, transforming hatred, extinguishing anger, erasing remembrance of wrongs, and for the purity of the understanding and the practice of prayer. If you are well off, let your surplus food be a consolation for the needy. When you fast like this you not only suffer with Christ and are dead with Him, but you are risen with Him and reign with Him for ever and ever. If through such a fast you have been planted together in the likeness of His death, you shall also share in His resurrection and inherit life in Him (Romans 6.5). Should the faster be tempted, he overcomes his tempter. Should he not be, he preserves the peace of his soul and body by bruising his body, according to Paul, and bringing it into subjection, for fear of being rejected (1 Corinthians 9.27). If Paul was afraid of this, how much more should we be? The faster brings his body into subjection and his soul is tried and tested. On the other hand, when someone fattens up his flesh, which is soon to perish, not eating to live, but rather living to eat, like animals we are preparing to slaughter, and supplements necessary foods with extras in order to make it fat and prosperous, either to rouse its evil desires or simply for sensual, bodily pleasure, obviously all he is doing is preparing more abundant food for the worms. David the prophet puts it well when he sings, “What profit is there in my blood, when I go down into the pit?” (Psalm 30.9).
When you are fasting and limiting your food, do not store up the surplus for the following day. The Lord made us rich through becoming poor, and you, by your voluntary hunger, should nourish those who are starving against their will. Then your fasting will be like a dove bearing an olive sprig which brings your soul the good tidings of deliverance from the flood (Genesis 8.11). “If you take away from the midst of thee”, says the great Isaiah, “the yoke, the putting forth of the finger and speaking vanity: and if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity and thy darkness be as the noonday” (Isaiah 58.9-10). If you do not wish to give what is yours, at least keep away from what belongs to others and do not take possession of what is not yours, by unjustly seizing and keeping things, sometimes even from people poorer than yourselves. Otherwise you may rightly hear from the same prophet, “Is it such a fast that I have chosen? saith the Lord, even if your bend thy neck as a ring, thy fast will not be acceptable, but loose the bands of wickedness, dissolve the ties of oppressive contracts, and tear up every unjust bond. Then shall they light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall compass thee” (Isaiah 58.5-8 LXX).
If you do not give even what you have in excess of your needs to the poor, at least to not acquire extra things at their expense. When Christ, the Master of all, dispatches those on His left into the fire and curses them, He does not condemn them for seizing what belongs to others, but for not sharing with those in need (Matthew 25.41-45). Extortioners and unjust men will not be resurrected to appear and be judged, but only for an immediate greater judgment and condemnation. Even here such people appear never to have stood before God with their whole souls. “They eat up my people”, it says, “as they eat bread, and call not upon the Lord” (Psalm 14.4). That rich man whose ground brought forth plentifully (Luke 12.16-21), and that other one who was clothed in purple and fine linen (Luke 16.19-21) were justly condemned, not for wronging anyone, but for not sharing what was theirs. Treasures are common to all, as they come from the common storehouses of God’s creation. Anyone who appropriates what is common as his own is greedy, though not perhaps to the same extent as someone who openly takes possession of other people’s belongings. The first, as an evil servant, will, alas, undergo the terrible punishment of being cut off. The second will be submitted to things even more dreadful and terrifying. Neither will ever be able to escape these penalties, unless they receive the poor with hospitality, the one making good use of the things entrusted to him by God, the other distributing what he has accumulated by evil means.
The great Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, your ancestors in fact, says, “As touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselve are taught of God to love one another” (1 Thessalonians 4.9).
The Lord said to certain people, “If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham” (John 8.39). We should be afraid lest we hear these words, not addressed to us now, but, perish the thought, pronounced on that terrible day, when kinship will be judged rather by similarity of deeds. On that day all those who have loved poverty in Christ, or at very least have loved the poor, all who have despised glory, eagerly desired self-control, not just listened to but put into action the divine decrees in the Gospels, wil, according to the prayer of the Father of us all by grace, be one in a way surpassing nature. “Grant them”, He says, “that they all may be one; as we are one” (John 17.21-22). On that day the all-discerning sword of the Spirit will divide a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and will make those whose ways are different strangers to one another (Matthew 10.34-37). If this happens here, how much more there, where the All-knowing declares to those who were not like Him in virtue, “I know you not” (Matthew 25.1-12; Luke 13.25-27). It seems that they did not possess the heavenly likeness, and were not merciful as our Father is merciful. They did not share their possessions with the needy, as He freely shared His good things with everyone. They were not kind to their neighbours, nor did they make those far away their neighbours through their good works. Because of this dissimilarity with Himself, He who is good neither knew them nor brought them into His dwelling. If He acts in this way, those who lived here according to His will and are going to reign with Him there, will presumably say the same to those related to them by blood who do not resemble them in virtue.
If someone says he is their brother, he will hear, alas, that no man can ransom his brother. If someone says he was their father, he will hear that God is the only father. And if someone says he is their child, he will hear the words, “If you were my child, you would imitate me, but as it is, you are the child of that father whose desires you accomplish. Away with you and dwell with him for ever. I do not know you. Everything that is God’s is mine, but you are not God’s. What was mine and yours has now gone. We hated it ever in that fading world, and so we became heirs of this kingdom.” The holy Fathers referred to “mine” and “yours” as cold words, and wherever they are found, the bond of love is absent and Christ has departed. Even in those days this passion of possessiveness produced love of self, love of money, hatred of one’s fellow man, and every kind of evl in those it had overcome, and it still disgraces them now.
Brethren, please let us be afraid of these truly dreadful evils. Let us organize our lives as it pleasing to God. Let us forgive that we may be forgiven, let us be merciful to those in need that we may receive mercy many time more abundantly. He who impoverished Himself to the uttermost for our sakes, Himself receives our alms, and in His munificence He will multiply the reward. We must either be poor as He was, and so live with Him, or share what we have with those who are poor for His sake, and so be saved through them. Let us acquire merciful hearts and give positive proof of brotherly love and of devotion towards the Father and Master of all. You will never find a more acceptable time to do this than these days of the fast. If you join almsgiving to fasting you will blot out every sin, venerate the saving passion with boldness, join in the rejoicing at Christ’s resurrection and gain eternal redemption.
May we all attain to this in Christ Himself our God, to whom belong all glory, honour and worship, with His Father without beginning and the all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and for ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

St.Theophylact of Ochrid-Can Ye Drink of the Cup That I Drink of?


Fifth Sunday of Lent
Can Ye Drink of the Cup That I Drink of?

Mark 10:32b-45

From The Explanation of the Gospel of St. Mark

by Blessed Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria

32-34. And they were on the road going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid. And He took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto Him, saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem: and the Son of Man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles: and they shall mock Him, and shall scourge Him, and shall spit upon Him, and shall kill Him: and the third day He shall rise again. Why does He foretell the things that will happen to Him? To prepare and to calm the minds of the disciples, so that having heard of these things beforehand they would more easily endure them, and not be overwhelmed all at once in their anguish. He also foretold these things so that they would know that He suffered them of His own will. Although He knows these things beforehand, and is able to flee from them, He does not do so, thus making it abundantly clear that He willingly gives Himself over to His sufferings. The Lord takes the disciples aside privately to speak with them alone. For His Passion is a mystery to be revealed only to those closest to Him. And this is why on the road He leads the way before them all, wanting to separate His disciples from the rest of the crowd. But also, by leading the way, He shows that He hastens to His Passion, and does not evade His death which is for our salvation. Although He lists all these sorrowful things that will happen, yet there is one consolation, that He will rise on the third day.
35-39. And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto Him, saying, Master, we want that Thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall ask. And He said unto them, What do ye want that I should do for you? They said unto Him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on Thy right hand, and the other on Thy left hand, in Thy glory. But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? And be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? And they said unto Him, We can. Another Evangelist says that the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Christ (Mt. 20:20). It is likely that both events took place. The apostles were embarrassed, and had their mother go first, and then they themselves approached Christ in private. This is what the Evangelist means here when he says that they come unto Him, that they approach Him in private, apart from the others. Let us learn what it was they asked. They thought that His going up to Jerusalem meant that He was going to ascend the throne of an earthly kingdom, and that after He had become king He would suffer those things which He said He would suffer. With this understanding, they are asking to sit at His right hand and His left. This is why the Lord rebukes them for asking for something foolish. Ye know not what ye ask, He says. You are thinking that My kingdom is an earthly kingdom, and you are asking for an earthly throne. But it is not so; rather, these things are beyond your understanding. To sit at My right hand is something so great that it goes beyond what even the angelic hosts can do. You are craving honor and glory, but I am calling you to die. By baptism and cup He means the cross. For a cup of wine is something a man gladly accepts, and it quickly puts him to sleep. And baptism is something which is done to cleanse sins. But James and John gave their promise without understanding what He said, thinking that He was speaking of an actual cup of wine, and the washing of the body which the Jews performed before they ate.
39-40. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized with shall ye be baptized: but to sit at My right hand and at My left hand is not Mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared. Martyrdom, He is saying, will be yours, and you will die for Truth's sake. (For bold confession of the Truth James was beheaded in Jerusalem in 45 AD, and John was cruelly tortured in Rome and then exiled to the island of Patmos. Tr.) But to sit at My right hand and at My left is not Mine to give. Two questions may be asked: first, has it been prepared for anyone to sit there? Second, is the Master of all unable to bestow this seat? In answer we say that no one will sit at His right or at His left. Although in many places of Scripture you hear mention of sitting upon a seat in heaven (Mt. 19:28, Lk. 13:29, Eph. 2:6, etc.), understand that this refers to great honor, not a chair. It is not Mine to give has this meaning: it is not for Me, the Just Judge, to bestow this honor as a favor, for that would not be just. Instead, this honor has been prepared for those who have contested and struggled for it. It is as if a just king had set a day for a contest of athletes, and then some of his friends come to him and say, "Give us the crowns." The king would say, "The crowns are not mine to give; rather, a crown is prepared for that contestant who shall compete and win." So too with you, 0 sons of Zebedee, you shall be martyrs for My sake; but if there is one who, along with martyrdom, exceeds you in every virtue, he shall precede you in honor.
41-45. And when the ten heard it, they began to be much displeased with James and John. But Jesus called them to Him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are thought to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your servant: and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. The disciples are still subject to human weaknesses, and here they are stung with envy. This is why the ten were displeased with the two. When did they begin to be indignant? When they realized they had not been received by the Lord, and thought they had been pushed away. As long as the ten were shown honor by the Lord, it did not bother them that the Lord held these two in special honor. But here when they see these two asking for honor, the others could no longer endure it. Although they act in this imperfect way now, later you will see each one of them conceding the first place of honor to the other. Christ heals them, first calming them by calling them to Himself, and then showing them that to grasp for honors and to desire the chief place is the behavior of Gentiles. For the Gentile princes lord it over others in a tyrannical and domineering manner. But it is not so with My disciples, He says; instead let him who would be great serve all the others, for the mark of a great soul is to endure all things and to serve everyone. The example of this is near at hand: the Son of Man Himself did not come to be served but to serve, and, what is even greater, He came to give His life as a ransom for many. What could be greater and more marvelous than a man who not only serves, but even dies for the sake of the one he serves? Yet the Lords serving and His humble lowering of Himself to be with us has become the exaltation and the glory of Him and all creation. Before He became man, He was known only to the angels; but after His incarnation and crucifixion, His glory is even greater and He reigns over all the earth.
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