First obedience and then prayer


The following are thoughts of Elder Ephraim of Katounaki, a loose translation from an article in Serbian:

“…If you live in obedience, you will find the path to your salvation.  To give you an example. I was once sitting in my cell, occupying my time with noetic prayer, while my brother was doing something regarding seals for prosphora breads. I found myself in a state of grace (vision of the uncreated light). Grace can be in a person for a short period of time. Five minutes. One hour. It can also be for two, three hours. The monk from the next cell called me to lunch. I didn’t want to leave right away, until the grace leaves me. But because of such thoughts – disobedience, grace instantly left me and  I said to myself: “What have you done?” Because of disobedience I instantly lost grace. The holy fathers tell us that obedience must take the first place and then prayer. I had prayer but not obedience, and lost prayer as well. Being obedient, prayer can be preserved. Therefore, prayer proceeds from obedience. With obedience, prayer can be much more fervent. Thus, I received disobedience, I lost prayer – twice the damage.

I repeat: from obedience – prayer! The holy fathers say that one does not go to the monastery to pray, but to learn obedience.

Elder Ephraim of Katounaki

The Words of God are Sweeter Than Honey

A homily delivered a few days after the Feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos a few years back by His Grace Bishop Mitrophan of Eastern America:

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10: 41,42)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Thus says the Lord Christ to Martha who was greatly worried about how she would offer her hospitality to the Lord. She even addresses our Savior reproachingly – why her sister will not help her. Hospitality has been a great virtue since ancient times, as the Lord has stressed on many occasions. And Martha has probably listened to Christ’s preaching about this virtue and it is for this reason that she puts such effort in offering Him her warmest hospitality. She wanted to fulfill the Savior’s words in her deeds. It shouldn’t go without mentioning that, there with Jesus, were also His Disciples. To Martha’s reproachful words, our Savior replies what is more beneficial for us. What is that “good part” which will not be taken from Mary? Yes, it is important to feed the body but it is more important to feed the soul. It is as if Christ was saying: I did not come, nor did My Disciples come, to fill your stomachs, for I fed five thousand with five bread and two fish. I came, first of all, to feed man’s soul which is in need of a completely different food. This food which you are preparing, anyone can prepare. But this food which Mary is asking of Me, no one else can give her. For My words are the words of life. On the other hand, I will give her and you another food, My body, and another drink, My blood, from which you shall never go hungry nor thirsty.

Practicing hospitality has its value only until that moment it takes us away from the Lord. Let us remember those that are fed in the desert. People forget about eating and yet they don’t go hungry. They don’t complain to Christ, or the Apostles, that they haven’t anything to eat, since their souls are already fed with the eternal bread, His life-creating words. Christ, therefore, does not forbid hospitality, but the concern one puts in serving and being filled with more and more foods. It is as if Christ wants to say: Martha, you and the others need only one kind of food: the daily bread. I am that bread. The food which you prepare is only for today or for a few days. While Mary seeks from Me the food which is eternal. Yes, hospitality is good and it should be nurtured. But listen to My words and live by them and believe Me you will have less need for transcient food. With these words our Savior gave a message also to the Apostles, who will on another occasion say through the Apostle Peter: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

Beloved brothers and sisters,

Holy Scripture is filled with examples of how people had a longing to be fed with God’s words. We mention the Prophet Samuel. He was a child when the Lord appeared to him. He did not doubt this but had a firm faith, saying: “Speak, for Your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:10). The words of God are sweeter than honey (Ezekiel 3:1-3); at times  they can even be as a “joke” as was the case with the holy Prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 20:7-9), but the holy people of God fulfilled them.

But now we look at the other Mary, the Most Holy Theotokos, who had completely surrendered herself listening to the words of God and His holy will, saying to Archangel Gabriel: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to Your word” (Luke 1:38). And she gathered all of this into one beautiful song of thanksgiving to the Lord: “My soul magnifies the Lord…” (Luke 1:46-55). Her entire earthly life was in giving to God. No one, with the exception of Her Son, fulfilled the will of God as she did. For this reason does she remain for all future generations an example above all examples.

The Holy Apostles listened to the word of God and were obedient to His will as well. No where in the New Testament will we find the Apostles questioning why they go here or there, why are they preaching in this region and not that one, rather, they were committed to the grace of God (Acts 14:26). And Christians throughout the centuries have done the same. They not only listened to the words of Christ but they taught their children as well, for instance St. Sophia taught her three daughters, St. Julitta her son Cyriac, St. Bassa his three sons, so that they gave even their lives for Him. Others have given their children to God from a very young age, as did the parents of St. Euthymius the Great.

And what is it with us Christians today? Do we listen to God’s word or do we prefer more to be guests or having guests? Can we at least listen to God’s word if not live by it  (fulfill it) as well? However, let us not forget that the Lord said: “Blessed are not those who hear but those who fulfill.” I am afraid that we have time for everything else but our souls and the souls of our children. Parents today worry more about the material state of their children rather than the spiritual. But how could they worry about the soul of their children when they don’t worry about their own soul? A few days ago a priest complained to me that parents wish to enroll their children in folklore without the obligation of having to attend Church School classes. This is not the only case with us. I believe that those parents know nothing of their faith. And even if they know something, that faith is passive or, better yet, it is dead (James 2:26). Neither parents nor their children, not even God’s Church, has any use from such a faith.

It is said of the Roman emperor Titus that he had a goat that went everywhere freely. But that no one might steal or injure the goat, the emperor hung a golden plate around its neck on which was written: Do not touch me, I am the emperor’s! Let us not forget, our souls and the souls of our children belong to the Heavenly King! The hands of iniquity must not touch them. Our souls are intended for God’s Kingdom. We have been bought with a price, the blood of the precious and blameless lamb (1 Cor. 6:20; 1 Peter 1:18-20).

Let us feed our souls with the eternal Gospel. And not only our souls but the souls of our neighbors and we will never regret it. God will help us in our work, according to the words of St. Nikodim of Serbia, the protector of this holy dwelling: “The all-powerful God, who knows our weaknesses, will give us spiritual strength, if we first show our effort.”

We pray to our Lord and His All Holy Mother, whose Falling Asleep we are celebrating, the Holy Father Nikodim as well as today’s saints: St. Irenaeus of Lyons, the holy Martyr Lupus and all the Saints, that He open our hearts (Acts 16:14), that we be attentive to His words, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. AMEN!

The Virtue of Punctuality

H/T: St. George San Diego (here)

The time to arrive for any Divine Service is before it is scheduled to begin. Sadly, it has become the custom of most Orthodox Christians to come to Church late. We are not speaking here, about occasional tardiness due to unforeseen circumstances, but the habitual practice of being late due to a lack of concern for being on time.

Does it really matter? Evidently, not in the mind of many, however not only do we hinder our own spiritual growth by consistently showing up late but, we also disturb our brothers and sisters in Christ who arrived on time and are already prayerfully communing with God. Hence, we should make the effort to arrive a few minutes early not simply to physically prepare ourselves but, more importantly, to shed the worldly baggage we bring with us — to “lay aside the earthly cares” — which, whether we are aware of it or not, has a profound impact on all those around us. Such faithful action not only nourishes our own soul, but sends an important message to our children, visitors and inquirers alike. Think of how odd it appears to visitors who, more often than not, arrive early for Church, and find the place almost empty.

Brothers and sisters, it is absolutely vital that we constantly remind ourselves of the great blessing we’ve been given by God in Holy Orthodoxy! An Orthodox Church is that part of God’s creation, which has been set apart and “reclaimed” for the Kingdom of God. Within its walls the heavenly God dwells and moves; the heavenly and earthly realms meet; Angels assist the Priest during the Divine Liturgy and Saints and members of the Church Triumphant join with the Faithful in the Divine Services. Coming into the Church, we, as it were, leave this world and enter the heavenly realm. Who would want to be late for that?

Given these very significant spiritual realities, beloved, let us begin to approach the Divine Services with a new found attitude of awe and reverence. Do we not make every effort to be to our jobs and secular appointments on time? How much more effort then, should we make to arrive punctually at our meeting with the heavenly realm?

Source: Fr. Luke Hartung Blog: The Dormition of the Theotokos Serbian Orthodox Mission

Prayer as Communion

H/T: Fr. Ted’s blog (here)

“The first to reflect theologically on prayer as communion was Origen, perhaps the greatest Christian thinker of all time.  In his work On Prayer Origen conceived of the highest purpose of prayer as participation in the life of God.  Prayer was neither to inform God about our material needs nor to change His providential purposes in our lives, but rather to lift up our hearts and minds to heaven in order to gaze at the divine glory and be illuminated with the radiance of God.  In prayer the believer is ‘mingled’ … with the Spirit of the Lord whose glory fills heaven and earth.  The praying believer is purified and changed into a new creation and the whole of life becomes ‘a single great prayer.’  … The element of communion shows that prayer is not merely a means to an end but an end in itself.  Through prayer we seek not merely the gifts of God but God Himself, that is, to be with Him, live in Him, and delight in His presence.  Saint Isaac the Syrian (d. 550AD) says that the primary purpose of prayer is to attain divine love.”

(Theodore Stylianopoulos, THE WAY OF CHRIST, p 103)