An Irish Welcome

Céad Míle Fáilte friend and rover ...
Wherever you come from and whosoever you may be.
That's an Irish greeting and it means

you are welcome
a thousand times over.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Who is so great a God as our God?

Akathist: Glory to the God Who Works Wonder

by Archpriest Lawrence R. Farley
At the Vespers for both Pascha and Pentecost, the churches ring with the question of the Psalmist,

“Who is so great a God as our God?
You are the God who works wonders!”

This cry comes from deep within the heart of the Psalmist, who was overcome with all that the God of Israel had done for His people (Psalm 77). Israel's God was not powerless, as the gods of the pagans were. He was living and active, filling His world with His works of love, revealing His power before all the nations on behalf of His people Israel.

In Christ, the God of Israel, the eternal Father, has shown the greatest of His wonders, saving not only His ancient covenant people, but also gathering all the nations into His transforming embrace. The Father has sent His Son to be the Saviour of the whole world (I Jn 4:14), and through His Son, He has sent His Spirit to make us all His adopted sons by grace, whereby we cry, "Abba! Father!" (Gal 4:5-6). By grace, we also have a share in Israel's God, and confess Him to be our Father. Thus the Psalmist's cry becomes our cry as well, and our hearts also swell at the thought of all that our God has done throughout the ages.

This Akathist forms a systematic meditation on the Scriptures following in the footsteps of the Tri-une God, celebrating all the wonders that our God has done, beginning from His work of making all things and culminating in His final work of making all things new are remembered, making it a celebration of His miracles. It begins from His work of making all things in Genesis and culminating in His final work of making all things new in Revelation ... Thus, it is exhaustively footnoted!

When one engages in this prayer, the heart swells at the thought of all that our God has done throughout the ages.

Source: Download Brochure

Saturday, February 27, 2010

On Cowardice and Negligence

(To a novice nun)

My beloved child, may our Panagia strengthen you in your spiritual struggle until the end.

I see your soul's discouragement; you are like the "tyros" in a war, that is, like the newly recruited soldiers who are taken to the battlefront. As soon as they see bullets flying, bombs dropping, etc., they lose their courage and want to flee. But the experienced generals make sure to mingle them with old, seasoned soldiers, and they encourage them until they grow accustomed to war.

I commend your desire and your wish to attain perfection and dispassion. All your efforts should aim at this goal. However, you must not forget with whom you have to wrestle. You have to wrestle against rulers, against principalities, against very wicked, dark powers, (Eph 6:12) against legions very experienced in battle; furthermore, you have to wrestle against the flesh and the world of passions, which are like painful wounds, and it takes skill, time, patience, and diligence to heal them.

As for your discouragement, know that this is an attack; cannon-shots of the enemy; it is one of the wounds of the passions. Therefore, it takes patience, perseverance, courage.

Do not let this darken the heaven of your hopes.

Trust that God knows all the inclinations of each person and that He has never overlooked good intentions and efforts without rewarding them sooner or later.

We see that the Holy Fathers in their early years endured droughts, terrible discouragement, and other deadly temptations. But they held on tightly to patience and forcefulness, and then grace visited them, in proportion to what they had previously endured.

You say that the eldress's mentality frightens you, as does your inexperience and the environment in general, as if it were inconducive to perfection because of temptations, etc. All these things are swept aside through humility and self-reproach. In other words, cast the blame on yourself. Say, "I am the cause of my discouragement, either because of my pride, or because I am still shortsighted and unable to orient myself properly, so it is only natural that I lose my hope." Likewise, the cloud can also be brushed aside through faith in your spiritual guide---as long as you abide by the rules of the fight.

We know from our patristic and hesychastic tradition that in the old days, young monks, after obtaining the blessing of some great Elder, would build cells and live by themselves, and only from time to time would they visit their Elder, tell him their thoughts, receive guidance, and depart again. And even though they did not have their Elder constantly hovering over their heads, they attained great heights of virtue only through his counsels. Know, my child, that above all these things in Christ---not only above our head, but even within us---and he rewards every good intention and effort.

Often humility, not genuine humility, of course, but humility poisoned by the devil---advises us with "humble" thoughts such as: "I am weak, so I need this and that in order to make progress, and since I am not given them, how can I be saved?" and so on. When we believe such thoughts, our spiritual nerves begin to be cut, resulting in spiritual torpor, etc. Whereas we should have been fortified by the counsels of an experienced spiritual father, so that we would not suffer this torpor. For we know that the devil transforms himself into an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14) and that every virtue can end up being extremely harmful in the abscence of experienced discernment. This is why the Fathers said, "Above all is discernment."

My dear child in the Lord, cast away your discouragement and say:

"I will compel myself until death. I will pursue perfection and attain dispassion. And if I do not attain it either because of my weaknesses or because my death intervenes, or for any other reason, I trust that, according to the teachings of our Fathers, God will rank me with the perfect."
"But I am seeking to enjoy the blessedness and the peace of God!" you might tell me. Yes; say to the enemy:

"God is within me. If I compel myself with prayer, humility, and tears, He will show me His holy face! Not only here in the monastery, but even if I were in Sodom, like Lot, God is able to grant me this holy desire of my soul."

So just attend to yourself and to your sins, and I trust that you will find more than you expect.

-- Selected from Counsels from the Holy Mountain from the Letters and Homilies of Elder Ephraim

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Regarding the fear that overcomes you at night, etc., know that it is from the tempter.
You will defeat him with faith in God.

In other words, you should reflect that God is everywhere present. "In God we live and move," (Acts 17:28) and nothing happens without God allowing it. Even if we find ourselves with the devil or amongst wild beasts, God is present! Neither the devil or the wild beasts are able to harm us if they do not have the authority from God to do so.

Why then should we lack this salvific truth of God---faith in His providence---and be afraid when there is nothing to fear? How can I be harmed, since God has authority over the devil and an evil person and everything that can harm me? And how will a person's guardian angel---who, by God's providence, never leaves him---permit him to be harmed, if he does not receive a command from the Lord to let him?

Therefore, my child, take courage. And when this fear comes upon you, say:
"Whom shall I fear? Who is able to harm me, since God governs everything? 'Even if I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for thou art with me'" (Ps. 22:4).
At the same time, say the Jesus prayer, and fear nothing.

Believe firmly in the truth of faith.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Australian Secrets - Coober Pedy underground church

Coober Pedy is a town located in northern South Australia and is known as the opal capital of the world, as nearly 95 percent of the world's opal supply comes from the local mines. This small town with a population of around 3000 has a unique way of life – nearly half of them live underground.

Back in 1916 when people moved into Coober Pedy to mine opal, the harsh summer temperature drove them into caves dug into the hillsides. When temperatures outside raged over 40 degree centigrade, underground temperatures remained comfortable and nearly constant year-round. Even today, the town folk prefer to build their homes in underground caves. In fact, many of these homes are abandoned mine shafts dug to search opal. Coober Pedy has around 250,000 mine shafts and signs like this are common.

The following photos are of the Serbian Orthodox church located in these caves:

A flight of alone to the alone ...

Then Peter said in reply, ‘Lo, we have left everything and followed You. What then shall we have?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you... Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for My name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life’

St Symeon the New Theologian in one of his Hymns speaks of monastic life as being with Christ rather than living alone:

But indeed he who possesses Christ dwelling in him,
How can he be said to be alone, tell me?
For the Father and the Spirit are united with my Christ.
How therefore can we speak of being a solitary
When the monk is united with the Three-in-one?
He is the one who is united with God even if he lives alone,
Even if he lives in a desert, even in a cave...
He who makes a heaven of his cell through virtue,
Contemplates and looks upon the Creator of heaven and earth,
Installed in his cell.

And he adores Him and is united always with the Light which never sets,
The Light without the darkness of evening, the unapproachable Light,
Which never leaves him, never completely wanders from him,
Day or night, whether he eats or drinks,
Not even in his sleep or on the road or in moving from place to place...
So those who by repentance are united with God,
Purify their souls in this world here
And they are considered as solitaries as they are separated from the others...
They communicate with the Father omnipotent...
Their cell is heaven, they indeed are a sun
And the light is on them, the unsetting and divine light...
Only such are monks and solitaries,
Those who alone live with God alone...

- Hymn 27,18-74 (SC 174,280). Cf. the words of Plotinus quoted in Chapter I above: ‘a flight of alone to the Alone’ (Enn.6,9,11).

Mental Vigilance

All distress begins from thoughts.

Thoughts begin to wonder; they arouse suspicion, mistrust, and condemnation. Therefore, one must keep watch and not allow them to wander at their own will. Those who control their thoughts have everything in order.

One cannot live without thinking, because the mind is given to us for this purpose. But we may have good, bad, or idle thoughts. Keeping vigilance over our mind consists in casting away bad or idle thoughts and keeping only the good ones which are in accord with the will of God and His Holy commandments, and doing this in every action or situation which may occur.

The measure of good thoughts is the word of God. In every case, keep your thoughts in accordance with Holy Scripture. If you do so, you will have order in your mind; and if your mind is in order, so will be your actions, and you will have harmony among yourselves.

Thus, work ...

Withdraw into yourself and make rules and regulations for your behaviour by which every external step and internal motion will be determined. All this will guide you to common successful labour for your salvation.

May God Bless your labour!

Monday, February 22, 2010

The vision of Elder Sophronius

The following vision clearly reveals the great benefit and salvation that comes from studying edifying books and the enmity which the demons have toward them. This vision was revealed some hundred years ago to a pious abbot of the Monastery of Niamets, which had been founded by Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky:

Some years after the repose of the righteous Paisius, the austerity of the monastery's life began to grow lax, on one hand because of the great wealth it had acquired, and on the other because of the great freedom that was allowed to people of the world who came to visit the monastery. Some came with their whole families to stay in the monastery for two or three months during the summer, spending their time in various worldly entertainments. The monks became negligent in their rule and began rather to care for their vineyards and gardens in the monastery's holdings.

One of the disciples of the saintly Paisius, Sophronius by name, being the abbot at the time, led an austere and spiritual life. One night, thinking that it had already dawned, Sophronius went out by the monastery's gate and looked towards the outer gate, at the place where the holy spring lies today. There he saw a man, black in appearance and fearful in form. He wore the garb of a military officer and cried loudly, as officers do when they are giving commands to their troops. His eyes were blood red and shone like flames of fire. His mouth was like that of an ape and his teeth protrued from his mouth. At his waist he had entwined around him a large serpent, whose head hung down with its tongue hanging out like a sword. On his shoulders there rested "galoons" shaped like the heads of asps and on his head he wore a hat, from which venomous snakes extended their bodies and wrapped themselves like hair around his neck.

When the abbot Sophronius saw this, he became petrified from fear. After a while, he came to himself somewhat and asked the officer of darkness what he sought on the monastery's premises at such an hour.

"Can it be that you do not know that I am the Chief Commander here in your Monastery?" answered the black one.

"We have no army here, and our country is enjoying a period of profound peace," replied the abbot.

"Then be it known to you," answered the black one, "that I am sent from the unseen hosts of darkness and we are here to wage war against the monastic order. When you make your promises at tonsure, you declare an unseen war on us and you inflict many wounds on us with your spiritual weaponry. Many times we retreat in shame, since the flame of your prayers burns us. Now, however, we no longer fear you, especially ever since Paisius, your abbot, died. He terrified us and we suffered much at his hands. Ever since he came here from the Holy Mountain with sixty other monks, I was sent with sixty thousand of our own troops to stop him. As long as he was in charge, we had no rest. In spite of all the temptations, devices and snares that we tried against him and hi smonks, we availed nothing. At the same time, the tongue of man cannot tell what terrible afflictions, hardships and trials we suffered during that man's sojourn here. He was an experienced soldier and his strategies always caught us off our guard."

"However, after he died things let up a bit and we were able to remove ten thousand of our troops from this front, and so fifty thousanf of us were left. When the monks began becoming negligent in their rule and began having more concern for their fields and houses and vineyards, we relieved another ten thousand of our troops from their duties here and the remaining forty thousand stood by to continue the offense. Then, a few years later, some of the monks decided to change Paisius' rule, and the monks became divided and some left. In the meantime, laymen were allowed to rent rooms in the monastery, and when they brought their women in also, we had a victory celebration and reduced our troops by another ten thousand. Later, when the schools for young boys were opened, the battle came well nigh to an end, and we were able to reduce our troops by another ten thousand, leaving only twenty thousand of us here to take care of the monks."

When the abbot Sophronius heard these things, he groaned within himself and asked the black one: "What further need have you to remain in the monastery, seeing how, as you yourself confess, the monks have given up their fight? What further work is there left for you here?"

Then being constrained by the might of God, the ugly one revealed his secret.

"It is true that there is no longer anyone to fight against us as of old, since your love has grown cold and you have become engrossed with worldly and earthly affairs. But there is still on thing left in this monastery that disturbs us and causes us anxiety. It is those filthy rags, I mean the books - perdition take them! - that you have in your library. We live in fear and trembling lest any of the younger monks ever take them into his hands and begin reading them. Once they begin reading those accursed rags, they learn of your ancient piety and your ancient enmity against us, and the little upstarts begin raging against us.

They learn that the Christians of old, both lay and monastic, used to pray unceasingly, fast, examine and confess their thoughts, keep vigil and live as though they were foreigners and strangers in the world.

Then, simple-minded as they are, they actually begin putting that foolishness into practice. Furthermore, they even take all of the Scriptures seriously. They rave and rail against us like wild beasts; let me tell you,

one of those hot-headed fools is enough to chase us all out of here. They become as unrelenting and uncompromising with us as your executed Leader (the Saviour).

We have come to have such peace and concord with you. But those so-called spiritual books of yours are a constant source of enmity and discord. Why can't we have peace? Why dont you read my books? Are they not spiritual also? ["Harry Potter"] For I too am a spirit, am I not? And I too inspire men to write books. But all that is needed is for one of those wretched rags which you call parchments to fall into the hands of some simple fool and a whole congregation begins anew and we are forced to flee and take up arms against you once more."

The poor abbot, unable any longer to keep silence, asked him, "What is your greatest weapon against the monastics in these our times?"

And he answered, "Our whole concern at present is to keep monks and nuns away from spiritual occupations, especially prayer and the reading of those smoky books. Why dont you spend more time taking care of your gardens and vineyards, of your fishing and schools for the young, of your hospitality for all those good people who come here during the summer for the fresh air and pure water? The monastics who busy themselves in such pursuits are caught in our nets like flies in a spider's web. Until all those books have been either destroyed or corroded with time, we will have no peace. They are like darts in our side."

No sooner had he finished these words, than the semantron was struck for the service of Matins. Straightway, the officer of the demonic hosts vanished like smoke. The abbot arose with great pain of soul because of these revelations and came into the church. When the monks had gathered, he told them with tears everything he had seen and heard during that terrible apparation. Then he commanded that all these things be recorded for the edification of those that would come after.

* Translated from the Greek periodical 'Hagioreitike Bibliotheke ("Holy Mountain Library"), Dec, 1962 and Jan, 1963.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Confessions of a blind woman ...

by Abbess Xeni of Aegina

hear and pity me,
for this, my situation,
and pray to God for me,
to give my wretched soul salvation.

Believe me, all of you, my brethren, truly I'll explain,
in me is found abundantly the works I now will name.

If you would like to know which virtues I have called my own,
I'll tell you: naked is my soul of good in every form.

Utterly devoid of virtue, sentenced to be damned,
and by every purity most utterly abandoned.

Poverty past bounds is mine, and wounds and ill diseases,
and being lost forever in the folds of death's deep creases.

Severe insentitivity and stupor overcome me,
anger, pride, hard-heartedness and evil have undone me.

To virtue I am cold as ice, but warm to wickedness,
always ready for laughter's lure and for talkativeness.

Instead of being compunctionate I'm totally unfeeling,
instead of weeping constantly, I laugh, the wretched worldling!

But there is something yet, that hides so perfectly these evils.

How long will I so fool the world, though I am like the devils,
with my false piety, fake virtue and hypocrisy?

When the world regards me highly, I rejoice and boast,
but when they criticise me, even kindly, I am sad, and mope.

Whomever of you knows me,
I exhort you to feel piety,
and when reminded of me,
weep for my iniquity.

Beg our God that someday enlightenment He will send me;
and by your prayers, my brethren, I hope that He will save me,
and from my somber wickedness and evil, He will free me.


Hattip to Fr. Demetrios Serfes.

Oh God, my Soul laments for You ...

by Abbess Xeni of Aegina (1867-1923).

A soul, of lamentations worthy, sorrows and is sighing,
and with a loud and fervent voice, the name of God is crying,
and saying, my God save me now, my God, have mercy on me,

O God, You've seen my darkness now, so shed Your light upon me,
my God, don't turn away from me, but quickly hear my pleading,
enlighten my soul's eyes, O God, with spiritual leading;
because they have been blinded from the sins within my depths.

O wretched self, I cannot see;
my God, I lose my steps.

Miserable me, I cannot see,
my God, where I am going,
or where I stand, or that I am a stranger, passed my knowing.

Many clouds and mists my soul in darkness shroud and cover,
and without measure I embitter You, my sweetest Savior.

O wretch, within I feel upheaval, mourning pierced my side,
for Your All-Holy Spirit, Lord, to me must be denied;
my soul must weep eternally her poverty of grace,
and without ceasing to lament in tears that woeful place.

I must avenge myself for all the pain sin makes me suffer,
and with the rivers of my tears, my deep repentance offer;
the tender earth to which I will return, with weeping drench,
to cleanse and flood away the traces of my sins' foul stench.

I am no longer worthy, Lord, to hope in Your compassion,
I'm worthy only of hell-fire, and suffering damnation.

But you,
my refuge is in You,
my God and my Salvation...


deemed a Mother in truth

The "Theotokions" in the Service of Matins, Sunday 21 February.

All surpassing every thought,
all surpassing glorious,
O Mother of God,
are your mysteries.

For while bearing the seal of purity and preserved in virginity,
you were deemed a Mother in truth, for to the true God you gave birth.

To Him pray fervently, entreating that our souls be saved.

O Theotokos, through you became manifest to us on earth the mystery, which was hid from eternity, and which the Angels themselves knew not: that God, uniting natures without confusion, becomes a man and accepts crucifixion for our salvation voluntarily. By virtue of this, resurrecting man whom He had first created, He saved our souls from death.

O pure Maiden, all the hosts of
holy angels were amazed at the awesome
mystery of your pregnancy and
birth, how He whose simple command
holds all things together is held
in your embrace as a mortal babe, the
pre‐eternal Word accepts an origin,
and He is nursed who nourishes the
whole world in His ineffable kindness.
And they extol you and glorify
you who are truly Godʹs Mother.

You are supremely blessed, O Virgin Theotokos.

For through Him who from you became incarnate, was Hades taken prisoner, and Adam has been
summoned back, and the curse has been neutralized, and Eve has been liberated; death has been put to death, and we have been brought to life. Therefore extolling we cry out:

O Christ our God, You are blessed, for so was Your good pleasure.

Glory to You.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Enlighten me Christ ...

Thursday night Vesper prayers:

I have been darkened by the devil's deceits, my Christ.

Enlighten me, enlightener of the faithful,

Who darkened the sun as you hung upon the cross,
Granting deliverance,
So that as I walk in the light of your precepts
I may see purely the saving rays of your resurrection!
Hanging as a vine upon the tree, Savior,
You satisfied the earth with the wine of incorruption.
Therefore, I cry to you:
I have been drunk always and darkened with sinfulness.
Satisfy me with the true sweet drink of compunction,
And strengthen me now through abstinence from pleasures
My gracious Savior and lover of mankind!

Great are the wonders of the cross!

It planted abstinence firmly in the church.
And uprooted adam's lack of it in paradise.
One tree in eden brought death to man,
But another on Golgotha granted eternal life to the world.

The cross is the fountain of paradise

Which released your life-bearing blood and water.

By your cross, gladden our lenten joy,
God of Israel who possess great mercy.

-- From the Triodion First Week of Lent Thursday Vespers.

Come, O powerful One!

A prayer by St Symeon the New Theologian


Come, O true light!
Come, O eternal life!

Come, O hidden mystery!
Come, O indescribable treasure!
Come, O ineffable thing!
Come, O inconceivable person!
Come, O endless delight!
Come, O unsetting light!
Come, O true and fervent expectation of all those who will be saved!
Come, O rising of those who lie down!

Come, O resurrection of the dead!

Come, O powerful one, who always creates and re-creates and transforms by your will alone!
Come, O invisible and totally intangible and untouchable!
Come, O you who always remain immobile and at each moment move all, and come to us, who lie in hades, you who are above all heavens.
Come, O desirable and legendary name, which is completely impossible for us to express what you are or to know your nature.

Come, O eternal joy!
Come, O unwithering wreath!
Come, O purple of the great king our God!
Come, O crystalline cincture, studded with precious stones!
Come, O inaccessible sandal!
Come, O royal robe and truly imperial right hand!
Come, you whom my wretched soul has desired and does desire!
Come, you who alone go to the lonely for as you see I am lonely!
Come, you who have separated me from everything and made me solitary in this world!
Come, you who have become yourself desire in me, who have made me desire you, the absolutely inaccessible one!

Come, O my breath and life!
Come, O consolation of my humble soul!
Come, O my joy, my glory, and my endless delight!

I thank you that you have become one spirit with me, without confusion, without mutation, without transformation, you the God of all; and that you have become everything for me, inexpressible and perfectly gratuitous nourishment, which ever flows to the lips of my soul and gushes out into the fountain of my heart, dazzling garment which burns the demons, purification which bathes me with these imperishable and holy tears, that your presence brings to those whom you visit.

I give you thanks that for me you have become unsetting light and non-declining sun; for you who fill the universe with your glory have nowhere to hide yourself. No, you have never hidden yourself from anyone but we are the ones who always hide from you, by refusing to go to you; but then,

Where would you hide, you who nowhere find the place of your repose?
Why would you hide, you who do not turn away from a single creature, who do not reject a single one?

Today, then, O Master, come pitch your tent with me; until the end, make your home and live continually, inseparably within me, your slave, O most-kind one, that I also may find myself again in you, at my departure from this world and after my departure may I reign with you, O God who are above everything.

O Master, stay and do not leave me alone, so that my enemies, arriving unexpectedly, they who are always seeking to devour my soul, may find you living within me and that they may take flight, in defeat, powerless against me, seeing you, O more powerful than everything, installed interiorly in the home of my poor soul.

Yea, O Master, just as you remembered me, when I was in the world and, in the midst of my ignorance, you chose me and separated me from this world and set me before your glorious face, so now keep me interiorly, by your dwelling within me, forever upright, resolute; that by perpetually seeing you, I, the corpse, may live; that by possessing you, I, the beggar, may always be rich, richer than kings; that by eating you and by drinking you, by putting you on at each moment, I go from delight to delight in inexpressible blessings; for it is
You, who are all good and all glory and all delight and it is to you, holy, consubstantial, and life-creating Trinity that the glory belongs, you whom all faithful venerate, confess, adore, and serve in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Do not say that it is impossible

For Pantelis:

Do not say that it is impossible to receive the Spirit of God.
Do not say that it is possible to be made whole without Him.
Do not say that one can possess Him without knowing it.
Do not say that God does not manifest Himself to man.
Do not say that men cannot perceive the divine light, or that it is impossible in this age!

Never is it found to be impossible, my friends.

On the contrary, it is entirely possible when one desires it.

-- St Symeon the New Theologian, Hymn 27.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Sign of the Cross

Cross: the guardian of the world,
Cross: the beauty of the Church,
Cross: the strength of kings,
Cross: the support of the faithful,
Cross: the angels' glory and the demons' injury.
The sign of the Cross dominates in the life of the Church.

But why?

Because from the time God, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself was nailed to the Cross and died for the salvation of the world, this instrument of punishment became an instrument of salvation. "... for no more it is an indictment to punishment but a proven trophy of our salvation" says a troparion. The object of shame became the glory of the Church. The symbol of a curse became "the release payment for the ancient curse". The wood, from mourning and death, became "sign of joy" and "treasury of life". And all these because upon the wood of the Cross with His immaculate body, the Lord nailed also our sins. As saint Paul writes; He gave us "the document erasing all our trespasses..... and nailed it on the Cross".

The Cross of Christ reconciled us with our heavenly Father, from Whom the devil separated us, by deceiving our forefathers. The Cross of Christ opened the kingdom of heavens to us, which, up until the Crucifixion, Hades swallowed insatiably even the righteous. That is why it has so much power and grace, the power and grace of Christ, which while He was crucified, He transferred it in a mystical and incomprehensible way to His holy Cross as the hymnology wisely tells us. "Your Cross, Christ, being visible wood in essence, yet it represents a divine reign and appearing perceptible to the world, noetically miraculously works our salvation...."

The Cross therefore has become the symbol of Christ Himself.
Symbol that causes the demons to tremble.

If therefore it is so, why then there are people who deny, detest and dishonour the Cross? "For those who trespass" writes the Apostle Paul, "to whom I would tell, now even crying I say, the enemies of the Cross of Christ, their end is perdition".

Truly, certain heretics are "enemies if the Cross". They say, the Cross is a tool of crime and granting it honour constitutes idolatry. They even maintain that the early Church did not use the sign of the Cross.

This view is fallacious.

Firstly, because our Church does not honour the Cross as though a random geometrical shape.
Secondly, because the honour given to the sign of the Cross already has its beginning from apostolic times.
Thirdly, because God Himself showed with supernatural events on different occasions and times that the Cross is His symbol.
And fourthly, because with the sign of the Cross were performed and are performed amazing miracles.

Let us however take things in their order:

A. The honour given to the Cross is inseparably tied with our Crucified and Resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ.
B. The honour to the sign of the Cross existed always and from the beginning in the Church.
C. God reveals the power of the Holy Cross with supernatural events.
D. The sign of the Cross is miraculous.

How can the sign of the Cross become a protection for us?
How can it become in our hands the terror of the demons?

If we do it correctly. If we do it as our Church shows us and teaches us, that is, with faith, piety, consciously, sacredly, humbly and with discretion.

In other words, how?

Firstly we bring together the three first fingers of the right hand, thus confessing our faith to God, who is at the same time three hypostases, three persons- "The Father , the Son and the Holy Spirit- of the same essence, united between them "inseparably" and "indivisibly". The other two fingers that touch against the palm, symbolize the two natures, the two wills and the two energies of our Lord, Jesus Christ, namely the divine and the human. This way we make a symbolic confession of our Orthodox faith, whose bases and foundations constitute the Trinitarian and Christological dogma.

Then we bring our hand to the forehead, the physical spot of our thought function, revealing in this way that we love God with all our mind and we dedicate all our thoughts to Him.

The hand then goes to the abdomen. This way we symbolically declare that we dedicate to the Lord all our desires and all our emotions.

Finally, we bring our hand to our shoulders, first to the right one and then to the left one, this way confessing that every bodily activity belongs to Him.

One other complementary interpretation, most theological in its simplicity is given to us in the fifth teaching of Saint Cosmas the Aitolian:

"Listen my Christians how the Cross is made and what it means. The Bible tells us that the Holy Trinity, God, is glorified in heaven more than the angels. What should you also do? You bring your three fingers of your right hand and not being able to ascend to heaven to worship, you place your hand to your head because your head is round and indicates the heaven and you say with your mouth; Just as Your angels glorify the Holy Trinity in heaven likewise I as an unworthy servant, glorify and worship the Holy Trinity. And as these fingers are three-they are separate and they are together- this way is also the Holy Trinity, God, three persons and a single God. You then lower your hand from your head and place it on your belly and say; I submit and worship You, my Lord, for You condescended and were incarnated in the belly of the Theotokos for our sins. You then place on your right shoulder and say; I supplicate You, my God, to forgive me and place me at Your right, along with the just. Then placing the hand on the left shoulder, you say; I implore You my Lord, do not place me at Your left, with the sinners. Then bending down to the ground you say; I glorify You my God, I submit and worship You, for as You were placed in the Tomb, so too will I be placed in the tomb. And when you stand erect, you indicate the Resurrection and say; I glorify You my Lord, I submit and worship You, for You arose from the dead, to grant us eternal life".
That is what is the meaning of the most holy Cross.

Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship,
O Master, and Thy holy Resurrection we glorify. (Thrice)
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
And Thy holy Resurrection we glorify.
Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship,
O Master, and Thy holy Resurrection we glorify.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The beauty of it all

By what boundless mercy, my Savior,
have you allowed me to become a member of your body?
Me, the unclean, the defiled, the prodigal.

How is it that you have clothed me
in the brilliant garment,
radiant with the splendor of immortality,
that turns all my members into light?

Your body, immaculate and divine,
is all radiant with the fire of your divinity,
with which it is ineffably joined and combined.
This is the gift you have given me, my God:
that this mortal and shabby frame
has become one with your immaculate body
and that my blood has mingled
with your blood.

I know, too,
that I have been made one with your divinity
and have become your own most pure body,
a brilliant member, transparently lucid,
luminous and holy.

I see the beauty of it all, I can gaze on the radiance.
I have become a reflection of the light of your grace.

- St Symeon the New Theologian from The Book of Mystical Chapters: Meditations on the Soul's Ascent from the Desert Fathers and Other Early Christian Contemplatives, Translated by John Anthony McGuckin.