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Icon of the Prodigal Son

Today is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. It is the second Sunday of the Pre-Lenten period.

“The Lord overlooks nothing. Even secrets are open to Him. Let us then do everything as if He were dwelling in us. Thus we shall be His temples, and H will be within us as our God – as He actually is. This will be clear to us just to the extent that we love Him rightly.” ~~ St. Ignatius of Antioch. Letter to the Ephesians.

“When, in my wretchedness I ran away from Thy fatherly love, I squandered in wickedness the riches Thou hadst given me. And so now, like the Prodigal Son, I cry out to Thee: I have sinned in Thy sight, O Merciful Father: receive me now that I repent and make me as one of Thy hired servants” ~~ Kontakion, Sunday of the Prodigal Son

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Lord, have mercy: The most misunderstood prayer in the Christian West
By Amelia Bacic-Tulevski

http://www.orthodoxwriter.com/2012/03/lord-have-mercy-most-misunderstood.html

A really excellent commentary by an Orthodox woman with deep understanding of Orthodox history, theology, and spirituality. Check out her other posts and her books while you are on her website.

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Repentance

 

“If the Humility of Christ becomes the way of our life, any place may, and will, become a place of Resurrection.” ~ Gerontissa Gavriela

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From an e-mail I received this morning:

“Through the great, saving mercy of God, Father Damian (Hart) had a peaceful repose, Saturday evening, March 7 at 11:13 Pacific time. May his memory be eternal!

Father Damian had been suffering from small-cell lung cancer that metastasized to his brain. When treatment failed, he went back to the monastery where he was tenderly cared for by the monks there. They read the Prayers at the Departing of the Soul from the Body as he reposed.

This is a very bittersweet moment. The Ol’ Curmudgeon and I helped him found the Monastery of the Glorious Ascension in Resaca GA, and he was instrumental in helping us think through our decision to move to ROCOR. We loved him. He was a wonderfully kind confessor, and a good priest. He was a dedicated monk. The world is poorer for him no longer being here. My tears are mingling with the tears of all the others who mourn him.

My correspondent included the following sermon which Father Damian preached on Holy Cross Day, September 14, 2004:

THE UNIVERSAL ELEVATION AND THE EXALTATION OF THE PRECIOUS AND LIFE-CREATING CROSS

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

We are celebrating the Feast of the Life-creating Cross which drove away darkness and brought in the Light. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. (John 12 : 32) As we keep this Feast, we are lifted up with the crucified Christ, leaving behind us earth and sin so that we may gain eternal life. Saint Andrew, Bishop of Crete, wrote: So great and out­standing a possession is the Cross that he who wins it has won a treasure. Rightly could I call this treasure the fairest of all fair things and the costliest, in fact as well as in name, for on it and through it and for its sake the riches of salvation that had been lost were restored to us. (Oratio 10 in Exaltatione sanctae crucis: PG 97, 1018 – 1019)

Had there been no Cross, Christ could not have been crucified. Had there been no Cross, Christ Who is Life itself could not have been nailed to the tree. And if Life had not been nailed to it, there would be no streams of immortality pouring from Christ’s side, blood and water, for the world’s cleansing. The legal bond of our sin would not be canceled, our transgressions would not have been blotted out, we should not have obtained our freedom, we should not have enjoyed the fruit of the tree of life and the gates of paradise would not stand open. Had there been no Cross, death would not have been trodden underfoot, nor hell harrowed.

Therefore, the Cross is called Honorable, Precious, and Life-creating. The Cross is Honorable because it is both the sign of God’s suffering and the trophy of his victory. The Cross is Precious because through the Cross the many noble acts of Christ found their consummation–all in fact, for both his miracles and his sufferings were fully rewarded with victory. The Cross is Life-creating because it stands for Christ’s suffering, for on it he freely suffered death for us men and for our salvation; and it is also Christ’s trophy because it was the means by which the devil was wounded and death conquered; the iron-barred gates of hell were smashed, and the Cross became the one common salvation of the whole world.

The Cross is called Christ’s glory; it is saluted as His triumph. We recognize it as the cup He longed to drink and the climax of the sufferings He endured for our sake. As to the Cross be­ing Christ’s glory, listen to His own words: Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. (John 13 : 31) And again from the high priestly prayer which He prayed the night on which He gave Himself up for the salvation of the world: And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. (John 13 : 31) And once more: Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice (the same confirming voice which spoke after His Baptism in Jordan and was heard by Peter, James, and John on Tabor at the Transfiguration) from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. (John 13 : 31) Here He speaks of the glory that would accrue to Him through the Cross. And if you would understand that the Cross is Christ’s triumph, hear once more what he himself also said: And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. (John 12 : 32)

And Christ is lifted up, again and again and again for all men. He is lifted up for all men at each Divine Liturgy just after the Words of Institution: This is My Body; this is My Blood, when the common elements which we have offered back to God become the Precious and Holy and Im­maculate Sanctified Gifts–those Holy Things of which, by God’s mercy, we receive a portion–those Holy Things which He has sanctified for us and given to us that They may be a provision on the way to life eternal, an acceptable defense at the fearful judgment seat of Christ, and the means that we have, together with all the Saints, to be made partakers of those eternal good things, which the Lord has prepared for those who love Him (Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great): Thine own of thine own we offer unto thee on behalf of all and for all. And again He is lifted up for all men, just before at the Fracture, just before we receive these Precious Gifts, when His Immaculate Body is commingled with His Precious Blood: Holy Things are for the holy. He does indeed draw all men unto Him, for He Himself fills all things, being Himself uncircumscribed. Now you see that the Mystery of the Cross is Christ’s glory and triumph and our salvation.

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

Flo10.gif image by ewriggs

My correspondent concluded –

“And so, let our sadness be a bright sadness as we mourn the repose of Father Damian. Let us take up our Cross and let us put our confidence in our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ Who loveth man. Let us give joyous thanks for the life of Father Damian, ever proclaiming: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”

May his Memory be Eternal!

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St. Ephraim (Ephrem) the Syrian gave us the prayer said more than any other in Great Lent:

O Lord and Master of my life
Take from me the spirit of sloth faintheartedness, lust of power and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of Chastity, Patience, Humility and Love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King,
Grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother
For Holy art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.

What do we know about him? Here is one biography of him found on the website of Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church:

The Monk Ephrem the Syrian
Commemorated on January 28 / February 10

The Monk Ephrem the Syrian, a teacher of repentance, was born at the beginning of the IV Century (his precise year of birth is unknown) in the city of Ninevah (Mesopotamia) into the family of impoverished toilers of the soil. His parents raised their son in piety. But from the time of his childhood he was known for his quick temper and irascible character, and in his youth he often had fights, he acted thoughtlessly, and even doubted of God’s Providence, until he finally recovered his senses from the Lord’s doing, guiding him on the path of repentance and salvation. One time he was unjustly accused of the theft of a sheep and was thrown into prison. And there in a dream he heard a voice, calling him to repentance and rectifying his life. After this, he was acquitted of the charges and set free.

Within Ephrem there took place a deep repentance. The youth withdrew outside the city and became an hermit. This form of Christian asceticism had been introduced at Ninevah by a disciple of the Monk Anthony the Great, – the Egyptian Wilderness-Dweller Eugenios (Eugene).

Among the hermits especially prominent was the noted ascetic, a preacher of Christianity and denouncer of the Arians, the bishop of the Ninevah Church, Saint James (Comm. 13 January). The Monk Ephrem became one of his disciples. Under the graced guidance of the holy hierarch, the Monk Ephrem attained to Christian meekness, humility, submission to the Will of God, and the strength without murmur to undergo various temptations. Saint James knew the high qualities of his student and he used them for the good of the Ninevah Church – he entrusted him to read sermons, to instruct children in the school, and he took Ephrem along with him to the First OEcumenical Council at Nicea (in the year 325). The Monk Ephrem was in obedience to Saint James for 14 years, until the bishop’s death.

After the capture of Ninevah by the Persians in the year 363, the Monk Ephrem abandoned the wilderness and settled in a monastery near the city of Edessa. Here he saw many a great ascetic, passing their lives in prayer and psalmody. Their caves were solitary shelters, and they fed themselves off a certain plant. He became especially close with the ascetic Julian (Comm. 18 October), who was one with him in a spirit of repentance. The Monk Ephrem combined with his ascetic works an incessant study of the Word of God, gathering within it for his soul both solace and wisdom. The Lord gave him a gift of teaching, and people began to come to him, wanting to hear his guidances, which produced a particular effect upon the soul, since he began with self-accusation. The monk both verbally and in writing instructed everyone in repentance, faith and piety, and he denounced the Arian heresy, which during those times was disrupting Christian society. And pagans likewise, listening to the preaching of the monk, were converted to Christianity.

He also toiled no little at the interpretation of Holy Scripture – with an explication of the Pentateuch (i.e. “Five Books”) of Moses. He wrote many a prayer and church-song, thereby enriching the Church’s Divine-services. Famed prayers of Saint Ephrem are to the Most Holy Trinity, to the Son of God, and to the Most Holy Mother of God. He wrote for his Church songs for the Twelve Great Feastdays of the Lord (the Nativity of Christ, the Baptism, the Resurrection), and funereal song. Saint Emphrem’s Prayer of Repentance, “O Lord and Master of my life…”, is said during Great Lent, and it summons Christians to spiritual renewal. The Church since times ancient valued highly the works of the Monk Ephrem: his works were read in certain churches, at gatherings of the faithful, after the Holy Scripture. And now at present in accord with the Church Ustav (Rule), certain of his instructions are prescribed to be read on the days of Lent. Amidst the prophets, Saint David is pre-eminently the psalmodist; amidst the holy fathers of the Church the Monk Ephrem the Syrian – is pre-eminently a man of prayer. His spiritual experience made him a guide to monks and an help to the pastors of Edessa. The Monk Ephrem wrote in Syrian, but his works were very early translated into the Greek and Armenian languages, and from the Greek – into the Latin and Slavonic languages.

In numerous of the works of the Monk Ephrem are encountered glimpses of the life of the Syrian ascetics, the centre of which involved prayer and with it thereupon the toiling for the common good of the brethren, in the obediences. The outlook of the meaning of life among all the Syrian ascetics was the same. The end purpose of their efforts was considered by the monks to be communality with God and the diffusion of Divine grace within the soul of the ascetic; the present life for them was a time of tears, fasting and toil.

“If the Son of God be within thee, then also His Kingdom is within thee. Here then is the Kingdom of God – within thee, a sinner. Go inwards into thine self, search diligently and without toil thou shalt find it. Outside of thee – is death, and the door to it – is sin. Go inwards into thine self, dwell within thine heart, for since there – is God”. Constant spiritual sobriety, the developing of good within the soul of man gives unto him the possibility to take upon himself a task like blessedness, and a self-constraint like sanctity. The requital is presupposed in the earthly life of man, it is an undertaking by degrees of its spiritual perfection. Whoso grows himself wings upon the earth, says the Monk Ephrem, is one who soars up into the heights; whoso down here purifies his mind – there glimpses the Glory of God; in what measure each one loveth God – is that measure wherein is satiated to fullness by the love of God. Man, cleansing himself and attaining the grace of the Holy Spirit while still here, down upon the earth, has a foretaste therein of the Kingdom of Heaven. To attain to life eternal, in the teachings of the Monk Ephrem, does not mean to pass over from one sphere of being into another, but means rather to discover “the Heavenly” spiritual condition of being. Eternal life is not bestown man as a one-sided working by God, but rather like a seed, it constantly grows within him through effort, toil and struggle.

The pledge within us of “theosis” (“obozhenie” or “deification”) – is the Baptism of Christ, and the primal propulsion for the Christian life – is repentance. The Monk Ephrem was a great teacher of repentance. The forgiveness of sins in the sacramental-mystery of Repentance, according to his teaching, is not an external exoneration, not a forgetting of the sins, but rather their complete undoing, their annihilation. The tears of repentance wash away and burn away the sin. And moreover – they (i.e. the tears) vivify, they transfigure sinful nature, they give the strength “to walk in the way of the commandments of the Lord”, encouraging the hope on God. In the fiery font of Repentance, wrote the Monk, “thou dost sail thyself across, O sinner, thou dost resuscitate thyself from the dead”.

The Monk Ephrem, in his humility reckoning himself the least and worst of all, at the end of his life set out to Egypt, to see the efforts of the great ascetics. He was accepted there as a welcome guest and received for himself great solace in his associating with them. On the return journey he visited at Caesarea Cappadocia with Sainted Basil the Great (Comm. 1 January), who wanted to ordain him a priest, but the monk considered himself unworthy of priesthood, and at the insistence of Saint Basil, he accepted only the dignity of deacon, in which he remained until death. Even later on, Saint Basil the Great invited the Monk Ephrem to accept the cathedra-chair of a bishop, but the saint feigned folly to avoid for himself this honour, in humility reckoning himself unworthy of it.
Upon his return to his own Edessa wilderness, the Monk Ephrem intended to spend the rest of his life in solitude. But Divine Providence again summoned him to service of neighbour. The inhabitants of Edessa were suffering from a devastating famine. By the influence of his word, the monk induced the wealthy to render aid to those that lacked. From the offerings of believers he built a poor-house for the destitute and sick. The Monk Ephrem then withdrew to a cave nigh to Edessa, where he remained to the end of his days.
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.

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Most of us do at least some looking back (retrospecting) around the end of the year. What went wrong, what went right, what do we want to change in the new year, and will we really carry through with those changes?

We mostly don’t do that unless there were some real BIG disasters. Generally, the Ol’ Curmudgeon and I make our analyses and resolutions at the time of the disaster.

Today we received in the mail a Christmas present from some very, very dear friends. It is a CD, and we opened it to be sure that’s what it was because they were asking if we had received it.

It is a beautifully packaged CD of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir doing Orthodox chants of the 17th and 18th centuries. Had to put it on. Shouldn’t have done that, or, perhaps it is a good thing we did. The first band was “Let my Prayer Arise” (in Old Church Slavonic). On about the second Refrain, I burst into tears. First, I cried out to God to forgive me. Then I rushed (well, “cripped my way”) downstairs to throw myself in the Ol’ Curmudgeon’s arms and beg his forgiveness! We are still in the Lenten period before the Nativity, and I was, and am, filled with remorse for all the things left undone, and all the wrong things done – both externally and internally.

We all are lax and don’t discipline ourselves sufficiently both in our spiritual lives and in our secular lives. In fact, we artificially divide our spiritual and secular lives as if they were two different things. But they are not. They are both our LIFE. Not both PARTS of our life, but both ARE our life. They should be intricately intermeshed so that they are indistinguishable. Yet, even we, the Orthodox, who, of all, should know better, separate our lives into the spiritual and secular.

God should be at the center of our lives, and all that we do should glorify Him. I was overwhelmed by my sin – by missing that mark for which I am aiming. I was overwhelmed by how far I miss the mark – every minute of every day. As an example, I read medical records and decipher whether someone “missed the mark” in caring for the patient. It is frequently my judgment that determines if a case is to be brought against the providers. Yet, all too frequently, I don’t pray about it before, during and after I read the records and write my report. It is these kinds of sins that overwhelmed me. Not making God the center of my life, not “integrating” my life into God.

So, like an Orthodox Christian, I shall get up once more, start anew, and try to “get it right” this time. Despite my trying, however, most likely I will fail because of my own shortcomings. But we are not called upon to do the impossible, simply to keep trying to do that which is “right” – which leads us closer to God.

May God have mercy upon us all.

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St. Ephraim of Syria’s 55 Beatitudes # 48 – 55:

Blessed the one who has kept the mastery of his eyelids and has not deceived himself with either mind or senses with regard to the skin of the flesh that after a little while oozes putrefaction.

Blessed the one who has before his eyes the day of departure and has hated pride, before the weakness our nature has been proved as it rots in the tomb.

Blessed the one who considers those who sleep in their coffins in graves and has rejected every foul smelling desire, for he will rise in glory when the heavenly trumpet sounds, rousing all the children of humankind from sleep.

Blessed the one who observes with spiritual understanding the choirs of stars shining with glory and the beauty of the heavens and longs to contemplate the Maker of all things.

Blessed the one who keeps in mind the fire that came down on Mount Sinai and the sounds of the trumpets and Moses standing there with fear and trembling and who does not neglect his own salvation.

Blessed the one who does not set his hope on man, but on the Lord, who is coming again in great glory to judge the universe with justice, for he will be like a tree planted by waters and will not fail to bear fruit.

Blessed the one whose thought has been with grace, like a cloud filled with rain, and which waters souls for the increase of fruits of life; his praise will be for everlasting glory.

Blessed are those who watch according to God continually, for they will be overshadowed by God in the day of judgement, becoming sons of the bridal chamber, in joy and gladness they will see the Bridegroom. But I and my like, idle and pleasure-loving, will weep and lament as we watch our brothers in everlasting glory, while we are in torments.

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