Fr John’s articles on different relevant topics for our attention can be found here:
Our Church Fathers often say, that in Paradise, when Adam and Eve could see God and know Him with experience of their hearts, their natural state was gratitude and praise. Because out of experience of encounter with God comes exactly gratitude and praise:” Praise the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy is endless”. This was a state of the Heavenly Kingdom, state of eternal life. And this state we lack since Adam and Eve sinned and cut themselves from God.
Incarnation of the Son of God restored that initial state of eternal life. And in our Easter canon we sing: “we celebrate the beginning of another eternal life”… ( ode 7). As it was before the first sin occurred, so it is now: the essence of that eternal life is to know God :” And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” ( Jn.17.3). Our Eucharist is thanksgiving and praise , and total union with Christ ( Jn. 6.56) , so in the Holy Communion we experience that eternal life:” Whoso eateth my flash and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life” ( Jn.6.54).In our Liturgy we experience ” how merciful is the Lord”. Only after such an experience our faith becomes strong. And when our faith is strong, our heart is full of joy, because through our faith we experience true joy, peace, love.
We celebrate the Easter feast as a victory of Christ, His power shown even in hell – it is no more our necessary and inevitable destination, because of our personal sins. Is it not the greatest joy possible?
Well, existence and life are not synonyms, existence does not necessarily means life. When we observe many conflicts, sorrows, injustice, illness in one`s life, we often say: it isn’t life! Yes, because life is only where God is – He gives us life, as we already said. Those without any practical experience of God in their hearts and in faith are very vulnerable to commit suicide. For example, hell is just existence, but not life, that`s why Christ liberated us from the power of hell. And Christ shares His power over hell, His Resurrection with everyone, if we just want to accept His proposal. That`s why this feast is so significant.
What happened during that critical morning of Resurrection wasn`t something spectacular at all: everything happened without witnesses, in the dark, and does not weigh down on us with its evidence. We see in Gospels people will experience His victory not prepared, without to rehearse any victorious song, actually far from the tomb of resurrection. And very often they hear:”Be not afraid”.
During this Bright Week it is important not to pretend to be pompous, not to pretend we know every secret of God, but also not to maintain it`s just a fairy tail without any evidence. Reality is much more simple. His Resurrection spread many sounds, colours, smells, and use to penetrate our hearts when we are not ready for, when we are sure it is impossible. Will You get through?
And is it possible not to smile to Him Who caused all these things?
SECRETS OF LIFE WITH GOD
I asked for strength-God gave me difficulties to become strong.
I asked for wisdom-God gave me problems to solve them.
I asked for success- God gave me muscles to work.
I asked for courage- God gave me dangers to overcome them.
I asked for patience- God gave me situations when I had to wait for.
I asked for love- God gave me many difficult people to help them.
I asked for blessing- God gave me potentions.
So, I received all I needed. My prayer WAS answered.
(added by Fr John 31/3/17)
THE HOLY CROSS
This week the Holy church invites us to pay our particular attention to the Cross. Why does the Church focus on it in halfway through our Lenten journey? Because, if we strictly carried out all instructions/ directives of the Church, our physical strength and energy is weakened already. Then it is easier for demons to approach us and start whisper: “All right, enough, have pity on you. Just have a look at people around you: they ignore the Great Lent completely, and nothing happened to them they look really happy. Will you still believe in all those medieval fairy tales?”
But the Church teaches us, that in such moments the Cross is our strength. The Church sings:” The Cross is the guardian of the whole world, the Cross is the beauty of the Church, the Cross is the strengthening of the faithful, angel`s glory (!)”
The Holy Church teaches us we should not only wear small cross on our chest, but also that every Christian has his own cross in his life. For Christ Himself His Cross was the Will of His Father. We don`t know why the Father decided to choose the Cross for His son. I am sure it was enough for the Father to see His Son`s tears when He wept over Jerusalem, in order to forgive humans. Perhaps, the Cross was more necessary for us, humans, in order to realize: “Oh, THAT`S HOW God loves us”. So, the Cross of Christ wasn`t a decision of a high priest, or of Pilate at all. The Cross=to accept your mission in your life. It means to live in accordance with the Law of God, don`t listen to demonic whispers. It means to carry out your duties and responsibilities very sincerely – at work, in your family – even when nobody is watching you. Sometimes it isn`t easy indeed, but we are to meet those tests with dignity, and not allow them to destroy our personality. We shouldn`t be in uproar, but to remember about Christ and Mary on Golgotha instead.
Only after having completed His mission with dignity and with confidence in His Father`s wisdom,, Christ was seated above all creation, in His human body (as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity He is always above all creation). Sincere fulfilment of our mission in our life is a necessary condition for us to be among the closest to God in the Heavenly Kingdom.
In our mind and intellect we understand why the Cross is in the centre (some our saints told us the Universe itself is created in the shape of Cross). But it should move to our philosophy of life too. It isn`t easy to make a pain joyful. Very often pain is incomprehensible, brings uproar against God, complications in relations with others. But exactly in such moments God is ready to reveal Himself to us -not in logic, not in mental hypothesis, but in live experience: I broke my stereotypes, I behaved myself differently this time- and I felt real joy, God and His Gospel helped me to do it . And it means- the Cross won once again in this world.
The prisoners of Solovki were able to love their enemies; many keep caring for the sick for many long years with great patience; many parents pray for the repentance of their children for years. These are examples of the victory of the Cross. And the prayer helps us to do it, especially in the Church during our services. God wants us to be a family: I pray for all those around me, and I know they do the same. Our Holy Fathers told us, that it is the height of pride to pray only at home, pretending that oneself alone is right, and others are wrong and in heresy. But the Holy Spirit promised to remain with the universal community of the Church and not with separate egoists, pretending they have their separate private door to the Heavenly Kingdom. They strive for private “enlightments” in order to feel themselves unique, they don`t want to accept their Cross as a member of the Church community. And demons are very ready to “enlighten” such poor persons, rendering all their prayers to have been in vain.
Let us not be ashamed of the cross on our chest, and not be ashamed of our being members of the Orthodox Church.
Fr. John. 22/3/2017
Our Church fathers often wrote, that we as a humankind are in the centre of a great battle between two spiritual powers: God and demons. Whose side will humankind choose and join? Those spiritual powers are much stronger then we are, therefore we are unable to fight just with our human abilities and powers, we are unable to become perfect just relying on our human abilities. We have to accept power much more stronger then the power of demons – God`s Grace. God always shares His powers with us, helps us, if we just don`t refuse to continue our fight, to change ourselves.
Where we should search for that power of God? In the Sacraments of the Church, of course. Christ left these sacraments for us to be able to reach our final goal – to become divine, as God is. Well, God`s essence and human essence (or nature) differ infinitely, we`ll always depend on God`s life. But we are able to be as God is – immortal, spending our life in love. We know God is Merciful, Loving, Forgiving us. And we experience Him such in the sacrament of confession first of all. When we confess our sins, we allow God to be God – to forgive us, to love us. He wants to do it constantly, but our personal sins are real obstacle for Him to do it.
Today even many Christians – although they confess their sins periodically, do not repent. Their life -style remains the same. Many often confess the same sins again and again. Why? Because they forgot their final goal: they are to become divine, according to God`s Will. They are satisfied being just “a good person”. Very often they consider Sacrament of Confession just as therapeutic treatment, to make them happy again. And they say:” Yes, now I feel myself better, now I`m good again” .But “to become divine person” has nothing to do with ” feel myself happy”. Feeling is something very impermanent, and Church fathers advised never to rely on our feelings.
After we pulled out our sins – those real weeds – there still remains long, hard and intensive work: to fill that empty space with the Holy Spirit. Only He is able to accomplish that Divine Will- to take us into the very centre of God`s Triune life, to make each of us the divine person as well. So, we can say, that the goal of Great Lent period is a sincere, real encounter with God in Confession, and of course, in the Eucharist. If we don`t – we miss something very essential…
THE PRAYER OF ST. EPHREM THE SYRIAN
“O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. Yea, o Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen”.
This is our program for the Great Lent period. This prayer is a treasure of the Church for this period. Our saints invited us to nourish ourselves from the treasure of the Church as much as possible in order to strengthen our faith. We have all we need: church buildings, the Holy Scripture, spiritual guides. And the time of our life. The time is the most precious treasure. We waste it in idle talks, curiosity, daydreams, long sleep. When we start a new year, we should always remember this precious gift and treasure- the time we have … Have we made any effort to meet our Lord in that current year, or current week? Did we recognized Him in those we met last week, last month? He is present in those who suffer, in the person who does not protest, who is innocent.
The final goal of every knowledge is God Himself. Exactly in the prayer of St.Ephrem the Syrian we ask for such spiritual knowledge, to know the real situation of this world, of our souls- in order to see everything what is happening to us in the Spirit of God Himself. St.Ephrem was weeping to God almost all his life, and therefore was granted a gift of spiritual knowledge.
Usually we know what outwards sloth is, but when it penetrates our souls as well, we start to live an artificial life, unnecessary and useless to others.
If one is despondent, in despair, he is constantly dissatisfied, irritated, in state of unrest. If such condition continues too long time , one is in danger of committing suicide then. Lust of power is contrary to Gospel teaching, Christ himself lived a completely different style of life. Pride is the source of this lust: we imagine we have knowledge and authority to teach other people, to interfere into their lives. But such a person is always hated by others, and becomes unable to fight against his pride and lust of power.
Who loves idle talking, is like an empty barrel, unable to save his good thoughts, feelings, knowledge. But he still has lots of contempt, slander, flattery. Our faith teaches us evil words are able to kill our soul very fast. A word is something powerful, this world was created by the Word of God.
So, the period of Great Lent is given to us to contemplate: “how do we use our time- this precious gift of God.” Our eternity starts in this time but we are still concerned just about our food and entertaining. God wants to give us so much, but we are satisfied with too little- and this is our main sin and spiritual blindness. Let’s pray the prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian sincerely and very often.
The commandment to abstain was the first commandment Adam received after he was created. And he became a transgressor and sinned, when he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Since that moment dreadful damage has penetrated the human race. Since that moment the devil also has access to the very heart of fallen man.
Adam had been a perfect creature of God before, without anger or sadness, but since the moment of sin, passions became a real flame of hell in his heart, without hope of restoration of his former relationship with God.
Christ Himself began His ministry of Salvation of fallen sinners with fasting in desert, for 40 days and nights. Thus He showed us the necessity of fasting for our spiritual development, in order to become perfect again. Through our physical fasting we should grow in Spirit, to be able to defeat Satan in his suggestions, as Christ did it three times in the wilderness.
For us to be able to follow the narrow path of salvation (and not the broad one of damnation) we must remember that our physical fasting is not the only remedy to help us overcome our sinful desires and passions. We must strive to co-operate with God’s purposes to purify our hearts and make our soul immaculate once again. And our fasting is just one more tool towards this goal.
During Lent we should remember the Scripture: “Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it” (1 Pt. 3.11).
Even Church members are very often satisfied with merely physical fasting, imagining that in this way we fulfill the demands of Lent. But such thinking may be a hypocrisy. One may abstain from meat and milk, but even in this period of Lent one may cause distress to someone… Or maybe you were discontented during a time of a testing or trial, and allowed an inner rebellion against God… Or you may hold on to every envy and insult of my past, still focused on this picture of our past, and not attuned to the reality of this new day God gave us … Are we thankful for our intrinsic value? Are we grateful for all gifts God granted us? Because exactly this is of great importance in order for our soul to become immaculate once again.
So, when fasting, let us try to remove from our soul as soon as possible every greed, envy, hypocrisy, self-confidence, self-love, contempt of others. The Holy Church warns us in its liturgical prayers of this period not to be overjoyed due to physical fasting. If a person’s soul is not yet purified from those passions and sinful desires, such a soul still remains very remote from God.
So, we enter the time of self-control, analysis, self-judgement and forgiveness. And St. Ephraim the Syrian reminds us, that if we don’t forgive others, our fasting and prayers are in vain.