Αναζήτηση αυτού του ιστολογίου

Κυριακή, 28 Ιουλίου 2013

CHRIST THE ANTIDOTE OF DEATH IN AN AGE OF DISBELIEF

 CHRIST THE ANTIDOTE OF DEATH
IN AN AGE OF DISBELIEF

            One of the great challenges of every human being that is born into this world is to discover the ultimate purpose for our existence.  As Orthodox Christians, we are brought into the Kingdom of God through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  This is called the New Creation that has been given to us by the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The first phase of a Christian’s life is in being given the gift of eternal life through Holy Baptism.  The second phase of one’s journey of faith is to make the saving message of Jesus Christ an integral part of our lives. This means making a personal commitment to Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Once we enter the age of discernment, we are called upon to take the gift of spiritual rebirth we received in baptism and give it meaning through our faith commitment to Jesus Christ.  When I say faith commitment, I mean that Jesus Christ becomes a living reality in our lives. This means that the Church and the sacraments that it offers us are more than just traditions and pietistic religious practices. There are far too many of our people today who look upon the sacraments as lifeless rituals. The third phase of our journey in Christian living is the adult stage where we are all immersed in the struggles of life with all its triumphs and tragedies.  It is during this critical time, as we live out our limited time here on earth, that we struggle to become Christ-like.  It is during this stage of life when all Orthodox Christians are called to prepare their souls to pass over from death to life in Jesus Christ. It is during this stage of life that Orthodox Christians are asked to live in obedience to the commandments of God, go to sacramental confession, and receive Holy Communion frequently.

            My dear friends, these thoughts of mine about our Orthodox Christian walk in life have been prompted by the untimely death of a spiritual child of mine. When these tragedies occur we often hear the question, is there any purpose to our struggles in life? My response to this question is there any meaning in life without Christ and His Holy Church in the face of our mortality?  These thoughts of mine about our Orthodox Christian walk in life have also been prompted by my recent discussion with three adult Orthodox Christian men born, baptized and raised in the Orthodox Christian Church. In spite of being raised in an Orthodox Christian environment, they still question the reality of Jesus Christ and life after death. These men today are grandfathers and are entering the twilight years of their lives, but it is apparent from our conversation that they have not yet made a commitment to Jesus Christ. It suddenly struck me, after having this conversation that these men suffer from a crisis of faith.  Having entered the Greek Orthodox priesthood some fifty-four years ago, I have been privileged to delve deeply into the profound meaning of life as revealed to us by Jesus Christ.  My priesthood has also allowed me to see up close the cycle of life unfolding before me. I have seen all the troubles we humans encounter as we move through this veil of tears called earthly life. Having had the privilege of studying the depths of Christ’s saving message, I find it indispensible for all of us to use the time that is allotted to each of us to seek a peaceful, holy, and tranquil end to our lives. If we prepare ourselves properly, our souls will joyfully enter the realm of eternity to dwell with Jesus Christ for all eternity.

            There is no doubt, my beloved spiritual fellow travelers, that there is a crisis of faith in the times in which we live.  There is also a crisis of faith in far too many of our people in the Orthodox Church today. In view of this fact, it seems that the burden of redirecting these people back to their spiritual roots falls to the Church and its priests.  Since this is not an easy task to accomplish, I find it most enlightening and beneficial for me to turn to the wisdom of the holy men and women of the Church who have lived Christ-like lives. The Elders Porphyrios, Paisios, and the Eldress Gabrilia are contemporary examples of holy people who opened the portholes of heaven to harvest the Grace and Wisdom of God. The Elder Porphyrios tells us: “That in the Church we are all one and Christ is the head of the Church.  We, the members of the Church, are the body as St. Paul tells us in Colossians 1:18.   The Church and Christ are one.  The body cannot exist without its head.  The body of the Church is nourished, sanctified and lives with Christ.  He is the Lord, omnipotent, omniscient, everywhere present and filling all things. He is the pillar and sure foundation of the Church. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the basis for everything.  Without Christ the Church does not exist.  Christ is the Bridegroom; each individual soul is the Bride.”

            The Elder goes on to say: “Christ united the Body of the Church with heaven and with earth: with angels, men and all created things, with all of God’s creation with the animals and birds, with each tiny wild flower and each microscopic insect.  The Church thus became the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Eph1:23)  Everything is in Christ and with Christ.  This is the mystery of the Church.  For the people of God there is no such thing as distance, even if they be thousands of miles apart.  However far away our fellow human beings may be, we must stand by them.  Some people regularly telephone me from a town on the edge of the Indian Ocean—Durban is what it is called, if I am pronouncing it correctly. It’s in South Africa, two hour’s drive from Johannesburg.  Indeed, a few days ago they came here. They were taking a sick person to England and they came here first to ask me to read a prayer. I was much moved.”

            The Elder Paisios is asked the following question: “Elder, what does ‘Καλό Παράδεισο mean? Could it mean Elder, may you enter the blessedness of Paradise?” The Elder replied. “In any case, in order for anyone to go to Paradise, one must endure much bitterness here in order to acquire a passport for that journey. What terrible things are happening in hospitals! What tragedies! What pain the world has! How many mothers, poor people, are being operated on while thinking of their children and the worry the whole family is going through. How many fathers have cancer and are receiving radiation and the torture they are enduring?  They can’t work but yet they continue to have expenses in order to support their families.

            “There are also others who are healthy and yet they still cannot make ends meet.  How much harder it is for someone who is sick or does not have the energy to work to fulfill all his obligations!  These people come to me with all their problems.  How much I hear from them every day! I hear about their continuous struggles and difficulties.  During the day I hear of all their suffering and at night I fall down fasting before I fall asleep.  I sense great bodily fatigue but inner peace.”

***Note: The greeting, Καλό Παράδεισο, (A Blessed Paradise), is a traditional greeting among many Orthodox monks and laymen.  It is used on the occasion of name days and other special occasions.  It replaces the common Greek phrase Χρόνια Πολλά, (Many Years), and thus more properly focuses not on more earthly years but inheriting a Blessed Paradise.

A PARALYZED BOY IS HEALED AT THE MONASTERY
OF PANAGIA MALEVI IN GREECE

            Nun Agne told us the following story.  “In 2007, a fifteen year-old boy came to the Monastery seeking healing since he was at death’s door.  He was from the Island of Cyprus and had suffered with cancer for most of his youthful years.  His father had died and his mother tried to remain strong for her sick son and for his younger brother Basil.  The child had gone through 23 operations without any success.  His condition got worse and the doctors at a large hospital in Athens told his mother that he needed more surgery.  They also told her they did not know whether or not he would survive the operation since he was paralyzed.  His mother, on the night before traveling to Athens, saw the Holy Mother in a dream and the Holy Mother said to her: ‘Don’t worry. I am Panagia Malevi.  Come to my home and Andrew will get well.’  The woman, as soon as she awoke asked her mother who Panagia Malevi was but the mother had no idea who she was.  They inquired and found out that the Monastery was in the area of Greece called Kainourgia.  Thus, the woman and her child took an airplane from Athens and upon arriving in Kainourgia they rented a taxi to come to our Monastery.”
           
            “According to the nun, the inhabitants of the village, the nuns and the taxi driver helped the mother with the wheelchair and brought her son into the Church to venerate the miraculous icon of the Holy Mother.  As soon as the child venerated the icon, he felt that the Holy Mother filled him with strength.  The child said that he felt that something strange penetrated his body and he immediately cried out: ‘let me walk.’  His mother and all those present were stunned by this.  Everyone began to cry and Andrew stood up. He first walked and then he began to run.  The nun Agne said: ‘I have been at this Monastery for forty years and I confess to you that at that moment, I felt the presence of Panagia (Holy Mother) very powerfully and I trembled.  Andrew left the Monastery walking normally.  He left his wheelchair here because he no longer needed it.’  The doctors who examined the boy after his visit to Panagia Malevi could not believe that the child was walking again and was still alive.  Oddly enough the tests furthermore showed that he still had cancer in much of his body but the child appeared to be healed.  Ever since that time Andrew and his mother visit the Monastery once a year to thank Panagia (Holy Mother).”

GLORY BE TO GOD IN HIS HOLY SAINTS

THE ELDER IAKOVOS TSALIKIS AND THE WONDROUS
MULTIPICATION OF FOOD

The following is a story that happened in the Monastery built by Saint David in 1550 on the beautiful Island of Evia.  I have been blessed to have visited this beautiful Monastery and reverenced the resting places of both Saint David and the Elder Iakovos Tsalikis.  The Elder was born in Asia Minor on November 5, 1920 and he fell asleep in the Lord on November 21, 1991.  He is a contemporary of the Elders Porphyrios and Paisios.  The miracle of the multiplication of the food through the intercessions of Saint David is truly a contemporary miracle and very few Orthodox Christians in America know about Saint David of Evia and the Elder Iakovos.  Both of these holy men were miracle workers while alive although more than five hundred years separates their ministries in the world. Remember that the Elder Paisios says that there are no distances that separate Christians in this universe.   +Fr. Constantine J. Simones

            “In August 1963, 75 people from Livanata, Greece came to visit the Monastery of the Elder Iakovos in Evia, Greece.  They came to work on the Monastery cistern, the spring of Holy Water.  Many came from Livanata, the homeland of St. David of Evia and had vowed to give something to the Monastery in honor of St. David.  They vowed to honor him either in work or with money.  These 75 men along with 15 others from the Monastery were working on the cistern. Fr. Iakovos was coordinating the work but he was the only one who could prepare the food during the stay of these good people.  He realized that he did not have enough food supplies on hand to feed this many people.  The food supplies they had on hand only lasted for one day and he had no money to buy more food.  He looked in all the supply rooms to find more food.  He was able to find only 3.25 kilograms of orzo and a half loaf of bread.  The monk Efthymios also had a half loaf of bread.  This certainly was not enough food to feed the one hundred people who were working on the cistern.  At this point, the Elder Iakovos became worried and did not know what to do.  He was on the verge of tears knowing that he could not feed all these people.  But suddenly he was struck with an idea.  He found a pot and put the orzo in it along with the two half loaves of bread he had.  He then went into the Church and stood before the icon of St. David and literally spoke to him:

            “My dearly beloved Saint, these people are working on your Monastery.  They are tired and hungry and I have nothing else to give them to eat other than this orzo, a little olive oil, and these two half loaves of bread.”  As the Elder was talking to St. David, he held out the food items that he had available to him.  “I entreat you to bless them so that all of the workers might eat and be filled.”  He put all the items into the pot and cooked them. He then proceeded to feed all the workers. They all ate and were filled and there were leftovers. Many people witnessed this miracle including the current Abbot Fr. Cyril.  Many years later, speaking about the miracles of St. David, Fr. Iakovos said: “My brothers, once again there was the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand.”
           
MOTHER GAVRILIA
THE ASCETIC OF LOVE
OCTOBER 15, 1897—MARCH 28, 1992
              
            Gavrilia was born in Constantinople on October 15, 1897.  She was the fourth and last child of Elias and Victoria Papayanni. She was a most unusual woman who spent most of her life living penniless as a neptic ascetic and missionary.  Neptic in Orthodox theology means prayerful wakefulness or prayerful watchfulness. She was a missionary to the lepers, the blind and the lost.  She offered her life as a humble offering, as a spiritual holocaust to both God and man.  Her life was a journey of true Christ-like love that covered four continents.  She ended her life being tonsured a nun at a Monastery on the Island of Leros, Greece on August 13, 1991.  The following are some of the precious words that came forth from her sanctified life: “Orthodox spirituality is knowledge acquired through suffering rather than through learning. Do not wish for many things, whether they are within or outside of your each.  Instead, take care of sanctifying the little that you have.  Man wants his freedom.  Why? So that he may be a slave to his own passions. Our purpose should be to have the Holy Spirit in our hearts, even when we have the parasite in our heads. We become the reflection of heaven by saying: ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ When God created us, He gave us life and breathed His Holy Spirit into us.  This is the Spirit of love.  When love deserts us, we become as dead as corpses.  We are not alive any more.  When thoughts of passing judgment on another person cross our mind, pray God to take them away at once, so that you may love this person as He does.  Then God will help you see your own faults.  If Christ were visible, could you have such thoughts?  We must love people and accept them in our hearts as God presents them to us.  It has been thus ordained by the Lord Himself and Orthodox Tradition. The agony of dying is the effort made by the soul to free herself and run towards God.  A miracle is the normal course of events according to God’s will.  What we call a miracle is only what is natural to God.”
           
            “What would you do if the Lord were present and visible?  Would you do certain things if He were here by your side?  Thinking this way protects us from committing sins.  Beyond the realm of love the will of God will protect you and teach you how to speak to others.  Since I am always submitted to the will of God, I can never be anxious about anything.  When we become the mirror in which the other person sees his own reflection and this mirror is filled with joy, he will surely see some joy also.  We have need of three things in life: first faith, second faith and third faith.”

            Her biographer says the following things about the final days of her life: “I remember that when on January 1, 1992, she was at the service for the blessing of the New Year’s Bread, she no longer concealed that she was leaving the world.  Seeing in her thoughtful gaze a reflection of heaven, we were filled with awe and a sense of nostalgia knowing that the separation was soon to take place.  Again, how could we not see her off with all our heart, with all our soul having an unexplainable joy which is not like any other?  During the last month of her life on earth, Mother Gavrilia was no longer seeing anyone except Bishop Nektarios and Father Nicodemus.  She kept silent.  Still, a few days before her passing away, she found the strength to speak and we recorded her words for her spiritual children.  She bid them farewell and gave them her last blessing.  She received Holy Communion, and in full readiness entered the gates of heaven.”

            “At a quarter past six that morning on March 28, 1992, a few minutes before sunrise, a different serenity filled her cell.  Suddenly, she lifted her arms to heaven and with trembling hands tried to tell us something.  We understood what it was the moment she gave up her last breath.  Probably she had seen or felt a presence.  What is most unbelievable is that, at that very moment, we heard quite clearly a youthful voice sing an unknown melody, joyfully, angelically.  This lasted a few brief seconds then silence and an absence and a void pervaded her monastic cell.”
 St. Makarios, the Great, of the Egyptian desert says the following words about unique spiritual people like Eldress Gavrilia:  “The good servants of the Lord permanently have at their sides angels to protect them; and when they depart from the body, again a host of angels take their souls and deliver them to the Lord, to Whom belong all glory, honor and worship, now and forever.  Amen.”    

            In conclusion, my dear people, in the face of this great cloud of witnesses that proclaim the living reality of the Jesus Christ, how can any of us deny the Lord of life in an age of disbelief? 

+Fr. Constantine J. Simones, July 25, 2013, Waterford, CT, USA         

THROUGH THE PRAYERS OF OUR HOLY MOTHERS AND
FATHERS LORD JESUS CHRIST, OUR GOD, HAVE MERCY ON US

AND SAVE US. AMEN.

Δεν υπάρχουν σχόλια: