On lack of faith

Lack of faith, fear for the future and forgetting about the good providence of God often lead to acts, which later on we must regret much.

Sunday of all Saints

“…whosoever shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father…”

Dear brothers and sisters!

Having joyously celebrated the Decent of the Holy Spirit on last Sunday, today, we cheerfully honor the memory of all the saints, who, being filled with divine grace, by the manifestation of the miracles worked by God in their lives, shone like the stars in the firmament of the Church. Today, more than ever, the Holy Church reveals to us the meaning of the words of the Lord: “him will I confess.”

The Lord teaches us that no one, lighting a candle, hides it, but rather sets it on high so that its light would be visible and useful to many. Today, on the memorial of all the saints, the narrow way into the kingdom of heaven, the way to salvation, is lit by the light of their holy lives as with a multitude of candles, lit and set high in the heavens by the Lord God Himself. Indeed, one should not look at the multitude of miracles, worked by those who pleased God by the power of the Holy Spirit, as anything other than the light which is illuminating for us the way to God, showing us the example which is worthy of all honor and imitation according to one’s strength.

How great is God’s providence which, by miracles, clearly glorifies the laborers of piety, who were hiding from this world and earthly glory in the deserts, in the caves, in the forests, and under the guise of foolishness and madness! How many saints spent their earthly days in wont, in sickness, and in suffering, at the same time delivering others from sorrows of all kinds! Saint Anthony the Great, healing people, always used to say: “The Lord Jesus Christ healeth thee” in such manner giving the glory to God, always considering himself the chief of sinners.

For their great humility, for the patient endurance of many torments and sufferings, for sincere love toward Himself and toward the neighbor, for the confession of Him in the face of death, the Lord confessed – glorified – His saints in His kingdom. In our days, there are left among us those who please God, those who do His will. But for our sins, for the hardness of our hearts, for our immeasurable high-mindedness and for our pride, the Lord hid them from us and does not reveal unto us the light of their sanctity in order not to have to judge us more harshly on His righteous judgment.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us follow the example of those, whom God did glorify, whom the Church does hymn, in order that together with them we may obtain the kingdom of heaven. Amen!

Priest Viatcheslav Davidenko

Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the first Ecumenical Council

“…That they be one, even as We are…”

Dear brothers and sisters!

How much meaning is in these words of the Lord! Praying for His disciples, for His Church, God the Son asks God the Father that we, Orthodox Christians, members of the Body of Christ, be one even as the Holy Trinity is one. Let us note that the Lord does not say ones, but specifically one, that is one whole and not many that are whole.

Oneness is a quality of the Most Holy Trinity, our God. Oneness with God and with the Church is a quality of every Saint. Oneness is a quality that is seen less and less frequently in us and our contemporaries.

The enemy of the race of men, the enemy of the Church of Christ, has fought against the unity of the faithful since the beginning of time. Yet in all the history of mankind he did not reach such progress as in our days. Never before, as it is now, have nations, and even families been stripped of their unity.

Armed with pluralism, individualism, and pretended freedom of self-expression, we have severed our spiritual oneness with the Holy Church, and thus, with God. While masses of people unite for the achievement of political or economical goals, the spiritual oneness and unity is subjected to criticism and mockery everywhere.

From the billboards to the TV screens, from all sides we are called to indulge our uniqueness one more time, to proceed according to our own understanding one more time, to attain our own personal goal with no regard for the established customs of the surrounding society one more time. Simultaneously, any inclination to follow the advice of the old days, in the best of cases, is seen as old-fashioned, and in the worst, as the weakness of character or even retardation.

All of this makes a person appear more and more like a mad animal which by its own intent separates from the flock, and being alone, perishes in the paws of a predator.

Yes, man is not a herd animal; man is created in the image and likeness of God. The oneness and unity of the Church is not at all a mindless crowd. As such, it would not hold up even at the first attack of the enemy. The personal free will of its members is not crushed in the oneness and unity of the Church. The oneness and unity of the Church are the life in Christ, the union with God.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, how shall we attempt to live in Christ, if we have torn within ourselves the spiritual unity with His Church: with each other?

May the words of the Lord be fulfilled in all of us! May we all be one, for our God – the Most Holy Trinity – is One. Amen!

Priest Viatcheslav Davidenko

Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women

Christ is Risen!!!

Today, on the third Sunday after Pascha, we commemorate the holy Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodimus – the secret disciple of the Lord – and the myrrh-bearing women: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Cleopas, Salome, Joanna, Martha and Mary – the sisters of Lazarus – and Suzanna, along with others who came with them to the tomb of the Lord. The myrrh-bearing women are specifically remembered on this Sunday because they were the first to see the risen Lord, and Joseph and Nicodemus because they were the ones who buried Him.

The great mercy of God reveals itself in the narration of today’s gospel: the frail women, bravely carrying the sweet spices to the Lord’s tomb, become the first witnesses of His resurrection from the dead. The frail women, desiring faithfully to serve the Lord, Who has fallen asleep, are the first to see the empty tomb. Faithful to the Lord even after His death, they are the first to learn that He is alive.

How harmonious is this narrative with the words of the Lord: “They that are faithful to the end, shall be saved!” How often, in our times, the faithful behold and come to know the great mercy of God! Thus, some, at the time of attentive prayer, unexpectedly behold the grace of the Holy Spirit, descending upon the holy gifts during the Divine Liturgy. Others see different mysteries of God, not asking Him for visions, but only having a desire to serve Him faithfully.

Let us remember the words of the Lord to Thomas, words which we heard last Sunday: “Blessed are they, who have not seen, and yet believed,” and let us not seek visions, lest we fall into beguilement and the deception of the devil. Let us ask help of the Lord, that we may keep the faith to the end, and together with the myrrh-bearing women, may obtain salvation. Amen.

Priest Viatcheslav Davidenko

About temptations

Do you wish to overcome a temptation? Thank the Lord for it and receive His immediate aid. Complaining, on the contrary, makes one weak.

On God’s grace in our deeds

“…God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” (James 4:6)

Often, in the church and generally in life, we see the following: someone is putting all his efforts, one might say trying to jump out of his skin, in order to do good, to serve God and neighbour, but his efforts produce only temptations, confusion, and offences. I’m certain that I also in the past and in the present was and am, at times, a temptation for my neighbour.

Why?

The reason for this is in the passions within us, in pride, self-opinion, self-love, self-will, love of glory, vainglory, and others. The main reason for stumbling in all our good beginnings is our pride. It distances us from God, Whom we aspire to serve and deprives us of His grace. Without God’s grace our work, if it doesn’t become sin, loses it’s benefit and becomes a cause of temptations.

How often do we see people serving, singing, teaching, organizing, doing, and yet all of it takes place with a certain indescribable additive that evokes repulsion and disgust of those around? All of this is the action of pride, or another passion, covered by good intentions, yet clearly stripping the good work of God’s blessing and His grace.

Having poured out the grace of the Holy Spirit on the Holy Apostles, the Lord called all into unity. The grace of the Holy Spirit always unites the faithful and even those, who were never acquainted before, often accept each other as old friends when they are united by the grace of God.

That is why humility is always the foundation of success in all our works.

Something from the life of St. Symeon the Stylite could serve as a good example here. When he began his struggle, the desert fathers, who didn’t see such an ascesis before, gathered and discussed whether it was from God, or not. Then, they sent to St. Symeon brothers, who told him that the fathers do not bless him to live upon the pillar. As soon as he heard that, immediately, he began to climb down, but they stopped him saying that now they see – in his readiness to be obedient – that his way of struggle is from God. Thus, by his humility he acquired God’s grace and blessing for his struggle.

There is another very instructive story about the bad influence of passions on our works:

A disciple of some elder brought a basket of vegetables and said it was an offering of some man. The elder told his disciple that he will not eat of those vegetables because of the stench of stinginess coming from them. The disciple was surprised and told the elder that he himself didn’t smell anything. Then, the elder told him to take the vegetables to the cows, which will also refuse to eat them. The disciple obeyed and was very much surprised when the cows only mooed and turned their heads away from the basket with vegetables.

Alas, our passions – and our pride first and foremost – also invisibly defile our good works and make them a source of temptation and confusion for others. That is why let us strive with our whole heart, with our whole mind, and with all our strength, to found all our deeds in humility. Then, the grace of God will always abide with us and our neighbours will not be tempted. Then, God Himself will be our Helper and His angels will always help us as well.

On giving of thanks

The holy apostle Paul teaches us to thank the Lord always and in all things. However, the feeling of gratitude, for the most part, is familiar to us only when all things are smooth, when everything is going our way. Alas, in times of temptations our first reaction is grumbling, vexation, irritation. All of this does not attract the grace of God toward us, but quite the opposite, it drives it away from us. Our negative thoughts and feelings, like raging waves, toss the ship of our heart hither and thither, hindering the captain – the mind – in steering, at times threatening altogether to break it over the rocks – over bitter sorrow.

Blinded, devoid of reason by ingratitude in times of temptation, we are like sick people, who grumble and complain against the doctor for bitter, but beneficial medicine.

Let us remember Joseph the Most Comely, whom his brothers, first, wanted to kill, but then sold him into slavery, into Egypt. In all his sorrows he continued to thank the Lord and to serve Him faithfully, and for that he was rewarded with honour and glory, having become a great chief in Egypt, second to Pharaoh in power, and a saviour from hunger not only for the Egyptians, but also for his brothers.

Thanksgiving to the Lord for everything, especially for sorrows, calms the tempest of feelings and thoughts, giving the mind ability to see circumstances clearly, and consequently, the ability to make correct decisions, ones beneficial for the salvation of the soul. Ingratitude, grumbling, and sorrow darken our reason, cover the eyes of our soul with thick wall of smoke and darkness and do not allow it to see God. The one, who believes, knows that without God even joy is not a joy.

Therefore, let us try every day, every hour, at all times and in all things to fulfill this bright commandment: to thank the Lord for all things. The words of thanksgiving in our mouth will be sweet as honey, which by its sweetness helps us swallow bitter medicine. Thus, our gratitude will sweeten our sorrow and grief, will make it more tolerable, and at times altogether help us see everything in a different – Divine – light and will heal our heart, having purified it of bitterness and having filled it with joy in the Lord, Who, in all our sorrows, is our Quick and Almighty Protector.

On self-will

Very often, one can even say, in the majority of cases, we come to church in the search for help, especially during the time of trouble, sorrow, or grief. The heart shows us the way, gives us a direction; the soul of every person yearns for God and inexorably attracts one to the church. Having crossed the threshold of the church, having heard the most accessible and comforting prayer “Lord, have mercy”, little by little, we become eyewitnesses and participants of a great miracle: our repentance, renewal, and healing.

At first look, it seems that this process is extremely simple: church is perceived as a pharmacy, or a store – you come, get what you need, and continue on your way. However, such an approach – even when it is at the subconscious level – always ends in a disappointment. Some for a short while, others for a number of years try to get something from God; I shall dare to say that some try to get their own way with all righteous and unrighteous means.

In some cases, everything is resolved in good time: we are churched and begin to see our needs differently. Yet at other times, on account of our weakness of soul and our willfulness, we get stuck in erroneous opinions, built upon and by all means founded on our fleshly reasonings. Stubbornly striving after our goal, there are times, when we undertake considerable efforts: we fast too strictly, take upon ourselves extended prayer rules, read one after another books on spiritual life, look for elders, in order to use their blessings as some seal of approval for our desires and actions. In other words: we become great zealots, yet without proper understanding.

In itself, fasting, prayer rule, reading of spiritual books is without doubt of great benefit, save for the times when they are, in essence, some bargaining tool in trading with God. I really need something, so I’ll fast more strictly, I’ll say some extra prayers, will read some books, and look, perhaps, the Lord will give me what I want. How always painful it is to see such, though most sincere, yet still mistaken way of thinking.

Such an approach toward spiritual life was already condemned by the Lord. Blinded by our desires, we do not hear His strict warning. Addressing pharisees, lawyers, and scribes, the Lord accused them for trying by all means to keep the letter of the law, at the same time violating its spirit. The Lord said: “Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:24)

What did He want to say by those words? The Lord did not abolish the law, He fulfilled it and taught us to live by the commandments. Consequently, we should fast, pray, and read the Holy Gospel. Only we must always remember that we do all that in order to have the strength to fight with our passions: with pride, avarice, hardness of heart and others. Our passions are those camels, which we swallow, in other words, we do not pay due attention to fighting them.

If we use the weapons for the spiritual struggle with the passions for our own self-centered goals and then, when, in the end we do not get what we want, we are mistaken about the reasons for our sorrows and consider ourselves righteous and worthy of God’s help, we run the risk of becoming exhausted and mentally ill, of losing our faith, of becoming angry with the church and its ministers, the risk of becoming a prey of the evil one.

Such are the consequences of self-will.

God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Saint Isaac the Syrian said that grace is bestowed not for the virtues, but for the humility, which is born in those, who try to acquire the virtues and come to see their falls, sins and shortcomings.

In the garden of Gethsemane, the Lord gave us an example of how we should pray and ask God: “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39) In this short prayer the Lord humbles Himself twice, saying first: “if it be possible”, and then: “nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”

Let us also, when we seek help from God, seek deliverance from sorrows, believe with our whole heart in His loving providence for us sinners, knowing that everything always happens for the better, for our benefit. Let us always remember that the words “Thy will be done” are part of the Lord’s prayer. Then, no sorrow, no trial will be able to darken our reason and separate us from the love of God and commitment to His Church.

On daily bread

Every Orthodox Christian, at least once a day, says the Lord’s prayer: “Our Father…” Everyone knows the words “give us this day our daily bread” very well. Alas, not everyone ponders enough on the meaning of these words.

In our prayers, both public and private, we often ask the Lord to have mercy on us and to save us. Directing our spiritual gaze on the Lord’s sufferings on the cross, on His death and resurrection, we say that He did save us on the cross. In other words, we recognize that the Lord, on His part, accomplished everything necessary for our salvation, now before us is the task of doing our part. Salvation is the result of the cooperation of God and man. The Lord doesn’t save anyone against his will; everyone has to make the choice: whether to accept the Lord’s salvation, or not. Every Orthodox Christian should be acquainted with the saying of the holy fathers: “God does not save us without us.”

To some degree, the above may be applied to “our daily bread”. The Lord gave us the earth and its fruits for the nourishment and restoration of our physical strength. We must make an effort in order to gather these fruits, to sow the new seeds, to work the earth and to gather the new harvest. Undoubtedly, not everyone in life is a farmer, but everyone does work in his vocation and does acquire the necessary means by his labour. Consequently, one is nourished – one physically supports the building of new cells in one’s organism – by that, which he grows on his own land, or purchases at the market, or in a store. To a certain extent, the expression: “we are what we eat” may be understood in its literal sense.

The same should be applied to our spiritual life. The “cells” of our soul are generated, built from the material that we ingest spiritually. If we read, or listen to, the Holy Scriptures, writings of the holy fathers, lives of the saints, and other books beneficial for the soul, if we listen to church chants and prayers, then, our soul will be made of good materials. If, on the other hand, we direct our spiritual gaze toward the mass media and use the TV, the internet, and print publications in order to fill our soul with all sorts of entertainment programs, secular movies (the spirit of which, at times, is directly opposed to the teaching of our orthodox faith), and simply useless news, then, alas, our soul may be compared to a person, whose diet is destructive for the organism, with a person, who is trying to obtain nourishment only from sweets instead of bread.

Without a doubt, it is difficult, at sometimes altogether impossible, for a person living in a contemporary secular society, to limit one’s spiritual diet solely to church materials. Some people, as part of their job responsibilities, may have to come into daily contact with various information, be it movies, or television news. However, everyone knows that healthy balance in a food diet is a must; many also know that there are times, when vitamins, or special supplements, are necessary in order for the organism to manage stress. We must act similarly in the spiritual life: at times we must increase our prayer, or spiritual reading, in order to provide our soul with proper nourishment, the necessary quantity of “spiritual cells” for its proper constitution.

May God help us gather the bread for our soul – prayer and spiritual reading – every day with understanding and good discernment, so that we would have the spiritual strength to live a true Christian life, according to God’s commandments. Amen.

Transfiguration of the Lord

Thou wast transfigured on the mountain, O Christ God, and Thy disciples beheld Thy glory as far as they could bear it; so that when they should see Thee crucified, they would know that Thy suffering was voluntary, and would proclaim to the world that Thou art truly the Radiance of the Father.
Kondakion of the feast, tone 7

On this radiant day, when the Church of Christ celebrates the wondrous transfiguration of the Lord on mount Tabor, it is appropriate to pay attention not so much to the miracle itself, but rather to its meaning for the disciples and apostles, and for us as well.

For what reason was the Lord transfigured before His disciples and why did He reveal His glory to them?

From the kondakion of the feast it is apparent that He did that in order for them to understand that His suffering will be voluntary and not a terrible twist of fate. The Lord foresaw His sufferings and accepted them without murmuring for the sake of our salvation. The Lord, Whose face and even garments, were radiant like lightning, radiant with otherworldly light, was silent before Pilate and did nothing to avoid a terrible and agonizing death. He, Who created heaven and earth, Who was transfigured on Tabor and Who revealed His divine glory, humbly stretched out the very hands, that were radiant like lighting, upon the cross.

Having pondered on so great a Divine condescension, let us hasten, brothers and sisters, to the light of Tabor. Let us cleanse our hearts from the darkness of fleshly and spiritual passions that blind us and prevent us from seeing the pure and joyous light of the Lord. If our hearts are heavy with grief and the sorrows of this life, let us call to mind the Lord’s sufferings. Let us remember that the Lord, Who was transfigured on Tabor, humbly endured betrayal, blasphemy, beating and death upon the cross. Then, we shall understand that sorrows and sufferings cannot separate us from the Lord, Who endured all. Then, illumined by the light of the grace of God, each of us will bear his cross with peace and thanksgiving.

May the Lord illumine us with His light and fill our hearts with joy. Amen.

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