Common-place Book: n. a book in which common-places, or notable or striking passages are noted; a book in which things especially to be remembered or referred to are recorded.
Monday, April 28, 2008
Iconographer Vladimir Grigorenko
Thursday, April 24, 2008
"Putin Picks a Church"
The Orthodox Church, in a manner of speaking, made the front page of yesterday's New York Times. Lead articles in the Times are generally not favorable to their subjects. This article, "At Expense of All Others, Putin Picks a Church," tries hard to put a negative spin on the subject, but I suppose it is all in your perspective.
The writer investigates the plight of Russian Protestants, supposedly suffering from an oppressive and heavy-handed state bureaucracy, aided and abetted by their co-conspirators in the Russian Orthodox Church. The story fits nicely in the Times' well established pattern of Putin-bashing.
There are several problems with the story, however. For starters, the title itself is ludicrous: "At Expense of Others, Putin Picks a Church." I find this image of Putin choosing among churches as an American would shop between denominations to be amusing. Can you really imagine Vladimir Putin trying to decide between, say, the Freewill Baptists, or Missouri Synod Lutherans, or say the New Life Covenant Believers Outreach Center (or is it the New Covenant Believers Outreach Life Center?), rather than say, the Orthodox church which has been the faith of his nation and forebears for over 1,000 years now?
The writer strives to work up a case for the "persecution" of Russian Protestants. I suspect that Russians know a thing or two about real persecution, and this ain't it. To label it such demeans and dishonors the tens of millions of martyrs for the Faith under the Soviet Union. For example, an evangelical Baptist group was prevented from renting a theater for a Christian music festival. That's correct. Oh, the horror of it all! (Would that 90% of Christian music concerns in this country suffer a similar fate.) But I am being cynical, I suppose. The truth is, these groups are merely being inconvenienced. True, some bureaucrats are making their ministry harder with unnecessary red tape and intimidation--in the most time-honored Russian tradition. But a little perspective is in order: Russia without an overbearing, ham-fisted bureaucracy--whether it be czarist, Soviet or Putinist--would hardly be Russia.
Others complain that some government bureaucrats and Orthodox priests do not show proper respect to Protestants, labeling them "sects" and "heretics." We are accustomed to making distinctions between the term "denomination" (which is acceptable) and "sect" (which is unacceptable). Many Americans assume our situation to be normative, and one that should be a model for less enlightened lands. We are too deep in the forest to see the truth behind the shopping mall this is American religiosity. Our situation is nothing short of bizarre. Russians see little substantive differences between denomination and sect. Why should we expect them to play our silly word games?
Americans are united (if, in fact, we still are) around a few core ideals. As I see it, Russians are united around their ethnicity as Russians, their shared history and struggles, in which Orthodoxy is inextricably linked to their very Russianness. When one grasps that, it is easier to understand why they look at what American Protestantism has wrought and say "Thanks, but no thanks."
Many Russians perceive it as alien to their culture. This suspicion was not helped when Western missionaries rushed in after the fall of communism. Eager evangelicals viewed the society as completely atheistic. To the extent that they were aware of Russian Orthodox Christians, they were dismissed as superstitious quasi-Catholics, who were not really Christian at all. I know, for I was an evangelical in those days. The Russian Orthodox Church, which had to begin rebuilding, retraining and teaching at that same time, was obviously frustrated by the crush of Western missionaries. But the situation is changing. The Church is resurgent in Russia today. Recent polls find that 71% of the nation considers themselves Orthodox. Studies also point out that there is something of a "baby boom" underway, and that with such, Russia may be slowing turning from the path of demographic suicide.
Archbishop Ioann, the chief Russian Orthodox priest in the Belgorod region, said Russians had a deep connection to Orthodoxy that the government should nurture. “In essence, we have begun to live through a period that is like the second Baptism of Russia, just as there was before the Baptism of ancient Russia,” he said, referring to Russia’s adoption of Christianity in the year 988.
He said the church wanted warm ties with other faiths, though it was hard to overlook the foreign connections of Protestants. “You know, what else alarms me, the majority of them are born — I must apologize, but I will tell the truth — from the West’s money,” he said. “Naturally, they need to play the role of the offended ones who need protection.”
I have given this article so much attention partly because it forced me to confront my own possible hypocrisy. For while I am coming across as a little dismissive of Protestant missionary efforts in Russia, I am the flip side of that coin: an Orthodox convert in America. So, it a fair question to ask of myself. Orthodoxy is indeed alien to our particular culture. Our convert bloggers love to debate the impact of the Americanization of Orthodoxy in this country. I don't intend to wade off into those types of fruitless pontifications. But here and there, Orthodoxy is taking root in American soil. The difference between the two situations, as I see it, is in what each group offers the prospective convert. At its core, Western evangelicalism offers Russians a "personal relationship with Jesus." This relationship is highly individualistic and centered upon the study of the Bible. In portraying evangelicals, the writer of the Times story lumps Lutherans, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists and Baptists together. That, in fact, proves my point. What Western evangelicalism really offers Russia is...confusion. What Orthodoxy offers American converts is not confusion, but clarity, communion, commonality and connectivity. Our ancient worship is the same, whether in be in Moscow, Athens, Damascus, Tbilisi, Sofia, Kiev, Belgrade, Anchorage, San Francisco or our little mission behind the Pine Curtain in East Texas; as well as the worship of a church that was already ancient before the New World was discovered, a seamless connection to the saints and martyrs of 2,000 years. So, what is truly alien here? Perhaps it is a superficially Christian nation too long disconnected from the roots of its faith and culture.Read the story, here.
A Spiritual Psalter from the works of our Holy Father Ephraim the Syrian
Christ the Resurrector will appear in the heights with glory. He will bring the dead to life and raise those in the graves. The children of Adam, who was made of earth, will all arise together and give praise to the Resurrector of the dead.
Let not your hearts be sad, ye mortals. The Lord's day shall come and He will awaken and gladden us who have reposed. Those who have kept the law shall be roused before the Lord, and the angels shall rejoice in the day of resurrection.
Let not your souls be sorrowful, ye who were redeemed by the cross and called into the kingdom. The Lord's day shall come; He will give voice to the deceased and the dead will arise and give Him praise.
let us glorify and worship Jesus, the Word of God, Who, according to His love, came to save us by His cross and is coming again the resurrect Adam's children in the great day when His majesty shall shine forth.
Grieve not, ye mortals, over your corruption. Christ the King shall shine forth from on high; He who is omnipotent shall beckon and thus raise the dead from their graves, and clothe them with glory in His kingdom.
If death has reigned and laid waste to our nature because Adam sinned and violated the commandment, then shall we not be justified and saved all the more by the sufferings of Christ Who has vanquished death and vindicated our nature?
Our Lord has granted the deceased hope and consolation, for He Himself rose from the grave, vanquished death, promised resurrection and life, and bestowed great blessings on Adam and all his children.
Praise and glory to the Father Who created us, to the Son Who saved us by His cross, and to the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to the all-praised and incomprehensible Trinity Who raises the dead and clothes their bodies with glory.
All the deceased will arise at the sound of the trumpet and sing praise to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Resurrector of their bodies.
O Father who created Adam from dust, O Son Who by Thy cross delivered Adam's race from ruin, resurrect me and set me at Thy right hand, that I might glorify Thy name!
Thee do I worship, O Christ our Savior. Thou art the resurrector and savior of all the departed who were baptized in Thy name and confessed Thy cross and Thy death.
Blessed is Christ who promised life and resurrection to Adam's children in the day of His coming. We too shall arise and exalt Him along with the saints who have been pleasing to Him.
Praise to Thee! By Thy resurrection didst Thou grant all the mortal race the hope of life and resurrection. And we offer Thee praise, for Thou art the resurrector of all flesh.
Ye mortals, exalt and praise Him Who by His death emptied the dominion of death and promised all the mortal race life and resurrection.
May the soul that has sought refuge in Thy cross and inherited eternal incorruptible treasure praise and exalt Thee together with the spirits that number her among Thy ranks.
Meet it is to worship the Father Who sent us His only-begotten Son, Who saved our race from death and Satan, and sits at the right hand of His Father entreating His compassion on behalf of all of us.
GLORY BE TO GOD!
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
A Spiritual Psalter from the works of our Holy Father Ephraim the Syrian
The soul says: in the hostel of the body have I lived, and the Master of the house has sent for me. I can stay no longer, for the one who is sent for me urges me to go, saying: come out of your house; leave this dwelling, So remain in peace, O flesh, you temporary dwelling, and may I behold you with you on the day of resurrection.
Those who are to take me came with haste, and I did not know of it. The one sent for me now stands before me, and I had no sense of it. Deliver me, O our Lord, from the condemnation into which the devil fell, that hater of Thy blameless sons, and together with Thy saints lead me into the kingdom, that I might sing praise and glorify Thee with them.
The soul says to the body: How bitter is your cup mingled with death! How terrifying is the time and how difficult is the hour of trial! Take leave of the world, O comfortable dwelling in which I did reside so long as it pleased the Lord.
What sorrow will fill the heart of the sinner in the hour when the Judge Christ sits upon His terrible throne. All generations will stand before Him and all the secrets of the heart shall be exposed! Terrible is the judgement, terrible is the Judge, terrible is that hour!....
blessed is he who is sheltered by Thy goodness at that time, O Lord.
I accepted Thee, O Son of God, to accompany me on my journey, and when I hungered thou didst satisfy me, O savior of the world.
May fire flee from my members; may the fragrance of Thy flesh and blood drive it away. May baptism be for me an unsinkable ship.
May I behold Thee, O our Lord, in that place in the day of resurrection.
Woe is me, burdened with unprecedented sins! The number of my transgressions exceeds the number of grains of sand in the sea and they afflict me like so many iron shackles, for I lack the boldness to gaze upon the heights of heaven.
To whom shall I run, if not to Thee, O Lover of mankind? Have mercy on me, O god, according to Thy great mercy, and according to the multitude of thy compassions blot out mine iniquity.
To Thee do I run, according to thy great goodness and thy charity.
Thee have I angered, yet to thee do I run, according to Thy great capacity to forget evil-doing.
Thee have I offended, yet to Thee do I run, according to Thy great love for mankind, and I entreat and cry to Thee: Turn Thy face from my sins and blot out all mine iniquities. Create a clean heart in me, O God, and renew a right spirit within me!
I have nothing to offer thee, neither a good deed, nor a pure heart; but hoping in Thy compassion I lay myself down, that thou mightest bring me to contrition and unwavering observance of Thy commandments, and that I might not fall so easily into sin again, but serve Thee from henceforth in reverence and truth all the days of my life.
O Virgin Lady, O Mother of the man-befriending God! Direct my heart to contrition and humble it; fill mine eyes with saving tears and illuminate them with the light of thy prayers, that I might not fall asleep in the sleep of death.
sprinkle me with the hyssop of thy loving-kindness and cleanse me. Wash me with my tears, that I might be made whiter than snow.
O Mother of my Lord Jesus Christ, receive this my shameful confession and mine entreaty. Ravish my mind and keep the remainder of my life in repentance without offence.
At the time when my humbled soul departs from my body, when--woe is me!--I will have to speak with the enemies outside the gates; then, O Lady, regard me with thy merciful eye; free me from all the merciless tormentors and the terrible taskmasters of the prince of this age; be my defender and destroy all record of my sins. Lead me saved and unashamed to the throne of thy Son and His unoriginate Father and the All-Holy Spirit--the light-creating Trinity, one in essence.
Blessed is the man who obtains boldness in the terrible day of judgement and hears with the others: come, ye who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom that has been prepared for you since the creation of the world!
Then each man, when he sees himself in the light, will begin to examine himself and wonder: can this be me? And how did it happen that I who am unworthy have made it here?
The angels will come with great joy and begin to glorify the saints and extol their lives: their struggles, restraint, vigilance, prayers, voluntary poverty, perfect lack of acquisitiveness, tolerance of thirst, perseverance in hunger, constant maintenance of prayerful attention, joy in nakedness endured for the love of Christ--all this shall the angles proclaim with joy to the righteous.
And in answer the righteous will say to them: There was not even one day when we could be found with as much as one good deed.
The angels will remind them anew of the times and places where they performed their deeds, and again they shall marvel at the themselves and begin to glorify god, seeing that their bodies shine in the heavens more than light--and thus are they repaid for the minor deprivations and sorrows they suffered voluntarily on earth.
They found a treasure hidden in a field and, having sold all they had on earth, they acquired it and found a wondrous pearl. By their suffering did they receive and harbor this pearl in t themselves and, though they were unaware of it, they prepared themselves an undefiled and incorrupt garment.
The labor of ascetic struggle is not great, but great is the respite it brings. The struggle to achieve restraint is brief, but the repose that is its reward lasts unto the ages of ages.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
A Spiritual Psalter from the works of our Holy Father Ephraim the Syrian
O all-praised and all-good Lady, O fountain of loving-kindness, O abyss of love for mankind! Though I am unclean and committed to this adulterous and rebellious world, careless in both word and deed and even in the exercise of my free will, and want only to lay waste to my life, yet thou, who art a loving and sympathetic Mother of God, be not repelled by me, a wanton sinner, and before it is too late accept the supplication presented to thee by my defiled lips and, with thine all-good and pleasing prayers, incline the Judge to be merciful to me.
Open to me the benevolence of thy compassionate Son; entreat Him to overlook my sinful failings, direct my thoughts to repentance, show me to be accomplished in observing His commandments; do not let me become a morsel for the corrupter of souls--the devil. But by thine intercession renew me who have grown old in a multitude of sins. Correct my decrepit life, that I, having thee as mine intercessor, O all-good mistress, might stand fearlessly before the Judge and escape terrible torment. By thine intercession make me an heir of glory; entreat my Creator that I may obtain all this.
Woe is he who abides in sin and can find no time for repentance, for in that place shall he repent, mourning his sins to no avail unto the ages.
Woe is he who says: now shall I enjoy the flesh and I will repent in old age--for suddenly death will capture him like a snare and his hope will perish.
Woe is he who knowingly chooses to sin with the intention to repent when morning comes, for he knows not what the coming day or the night that precedes it will bring.
Woe is he who knows what is good but lends a hand to the evil one, for on the day of his exit the wicked angels will take him.
Woe is he who by his evil deeds causes his neighbor to stumble, for in the day of judgement he will give an account for every error that he seduced others into committing with his evil ways.
Woe is he who has renounced the world yet clings to a worldly way of thinking, for the parable about the man who has put his hand to the plough yet looks back pertains to him.
woe is he who follows the desires of the flesh and is loath to attend to his soul, for his life and his hopes will be scattered over the earth.
woe is he who does not make haste and use all his strength to prepare himself here, that he might there be justified.
Blessed is the good and Merciful One Who rejoices over us when we repent and without reproach accepts us with joy according to His love.
Blessed is the Good One Who opens His door to the good that they might enter therein, and also does not lock the door of His goodness to the evil if they are converted.
blessed is He Who grants everyone the means to inherit the heavenly kingdom: the righteous inherit it through good deeds, and sinners through repentance.
Blessed is He Who for the sake of sinners gave Himself up to death and revilement, Who suffered humiliation in order to grant sinners life.
Blessed is He Who created us according to His loving-kindness, Who descended to save us by the cross, and Who is to come again to resurrect us in the great day of His coming.
Vouchsafe me also, O Good One, according to Thy goodness, to behold Thy compassion in the day of judgement, and to sing Thee praise together with the righteous unto the ages of ages.
Blessed are they who have loved God, and because of their love for Him have come to despise all that is earthly.
Blessed are they who weep day and night, for they shall be delivered from future wrath.
Blessed are they who willingly humble themselves, for they shall be exalted.
Blessed are they who exercise restraint, for the joys of paradise await them.
Blessed are they who afflict their bodies with vigilance and feats of asceticism, for the delight of paradise has been prepared for them.
Blessed are they who have cleansed themselves of all evil thoughts, for the Holy Spirit dwells within them.
Blessed are they who with all their soul love God more than this world, for they shall be called friends of Christ.
Blessed are they who have willingly borne their cross and actively followed Christ, for they shall attain the Jerusalem on high.
Blessed are they who have girded their loins with truth and keep their lamps ready, expecting the heavenly Bridegroom for they shall reign with Him in the heavenly kingdom.
Blessed is he who has obtained the eyes of the mind and unfailingly applied them in contemplation of future blessings, for he shall inherit those good things to come.
Blessed is he who never fails to keep the day of judgement before his eyes, and endeavors to be found pleasing to God in that day.
Blessed is he who has conquered the carnal pleasures, for at the trial of the last day he shall be made bold.
Blessed is he who has wept for God on earth, for his fruits shall be borne in heaven.
Monday, April 21, 2008
A Spiritual Psalter from the works of our Holy Father Ephraim the Syrian
The days pass and fly away. The hours run without stopping. In the headlong rush of time the world nears its end.
Not one day will allow another to accompany it; not one hour will wait for another that they might fly by together. Just as it is impossible to stop and hold back running water with one's fingers, so the life of one born of woman cannot remain stationary.
The life of each person who enters the world is already weighted and measure--he has neither the means nor the ability to step beyond the appointed limit.
God has determined the measure of man's life, and the days divide this appointed measure into parts. Each day imperceptibly takes its part away from your life and each hour unrestrainably runs along its course with its little share. The days destroy your life, the hours subvert its edifice, and you rush to your end, for you are but vapor.
the days and hours, like thieves and robbers, rob and steal from you. the thread of your life is gradually torn and shortened. The days deliver your life up to burial, the hours lay it in the grave, and together with the days and the hours does your life on earth disappear.
The life that you live today will depart and fly away at the end of this day, for every day takes away its part of your life and leaves with it. Every day delivers its part up to burial; every hour lays its portion in the grave, and in the swift flight of time they depart, disappear and are transformed into nothingness.
So swiftly do the days pass, so quickly too does life fly by--it has no opportunity to stop and stand in one place. If the sun were to stand still int he heights and the moon were to be restrained from its movements, then the time appointed for your life could also stop, could cease rushing to its end.
The kindhearted God gives us what we ask for not because of our prayers; rather does He nourish us according to His compassion, for it is He Who created us.
Without our asking, the Supreme majesty granted us His own Son Who for our sake appeared on earth and, although we did not ask Him to do so, He offered Himself as a sacrifice for our salvation.
For who asked the Father to give His own Son up to death on the cross? Or who entreated the Son to die for sinners?
To which righteous man did the thought occur to ask the Father to give up His Son for transgressors?
It is truly an unprecedented event, and the thought occurred to no one.
The Father gave us His Son to death on the cross, and through His death sinners obtained life. And if He gave away His greatest treasure, can there be any obstacle to prevent a man who asks such a Lover of mankind from receiving all that he needs?
so let us ask Him, for he does give. Let us announce to Him our wishes, for He will not refuse us. Let us entreat Him, for He wants to satisfy our needs in every way possible.
But in accordance with His justice, He expects our prayer to come to His door, and this prayer has reconciled justice and sinners.
If kindness were to forgive transgressions without prayer, it would be a violation of justice, and no one would contemplate justice any more.
Mankind would gradually be given up to lawlessness, for the Judge would fail to apply the staff of correction. Each man would joyfully continue to sin, for there would be no one to correct him.
Such kindness, however beneficial it might be for us, would soon turn to harm, for it would give sinners cause to ever multiply their sins.
And it is a good thing that in the world, also, justice prompts the use of punishment. For punishment causes the sinner to shudder and put an end to his sinful ways. It brings the sinner to contrition of heart, for it is he who has brought punishment upon himself. And thus the sinner puts aside his iniquities, if only for a short while, and seeks forgiveness for his sins.
Who will not thank Thee, O our Lord? For Thy justice is good and Thy punishment is a gift of grace. Thou art truly good in all Thy doings.
With the staff of justice dost Thou humble the heads of sinners who sin with shameless arrogance and cannot be converted without extraordinary inducement.
May Thy punishment, O Lord, united with Thy loving-kindness, be our mentor. May Thy right hand help us to take advantage of Thy punishment.
Lo, I try to gather my thoughts from every corner, but I am unsuccessful, for the things responsible for the passions of my thoughts remain in me. I have not yet been freed from the influence of the evil spirits that will detain me on my upward path toward heaven. I have not yet acknowledged the weight of the multitude of my sins. Those who have plunged me into sin now bear fruit in the flesh of my body.
How long shall I who am wretched continue to become intoxicated in the absence of wine, and neglect my self as if it were alien to me? Like a wicked servant who concocts plots to harm his master, so do I scheme to undermine my own salvation, as if someone else were to suffer the injury my actions produce. I do not want to be vigilant; daily do I offend Thy great patience. My wickedness stands before mine eyes. Yet Thou wilt be patient wit me according to Thy kindness.
Grant me, O Lord, the remedy of conversion, that I might be healed of all the evil that is in me. Grant that I might enter the realm of restraint. Grant that I might spend all the days of my life in contrition of heart. Enlighten the clouded eyes of my mind, that I might rush zealously to embark on the path that leads to thy vineyard.
The time of my life has run low, spent in vain cares and shameful thoughts. My life has come upon the eleventh hour. O Lord, steer my ship with its cargo and grant understanding to this powerless merchant, that I might complete my purchase while I still have time. For the hour of departure has arrived--it already looms before my eyes--and I took fright exceedingly when I saw my poverty.
I sin and hide so that no man will see me; but the Lord sees me when I do evil. If a man sees me I am ashamed; but I feel no shame before God. Have compassion and mercy on us, O Judge and Master of judges! If a man be converted, whether sooner or later, Thou wilt accept him.
What shall I do with my sins? I do not know. My mind cannot imagine what I might use to wash and cleanse myself. If I took it into my head to wash with water, then the seas and the rivers would not be sufficient to cleanse me. Yet if I wash myself with the blood and water that flowed from the rib of the Son of God, then will I be cleansed, and compassion will be showered upon me.
Tremble, O sinner, at the coming judgement; with tears and sorrow run to repent. While prayer is still accepted, pray here, that you might be accepted there. Pray, while death has not yet come and carried away your soul, for then all prayer and supplication will be in vain, then even tears will be of no avail.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
A Spiritual Psalter from the works of our Holy Father Ephraim the Syrian
The Lord is an omniscient giver of gifts. He considers what would benefit the supplicant; and when the Lord sees that a man is asking for something harmful or even merely useless, the Lord does not answer his prayer and refuses him that which he thought good. The Lord hears every prayer, and he whose prayer is not answered receives from the Lord the same saving gift as he whose prayer is answered.
If two people approach the Good One, one in need and the other with a debt to pay, He will give to the one and forgive the other. Thus both walk away from the Giver's door with gifts: the one in need receives delivery from necessity, and the debtor receives forgiveness of his debt.
In every possible way God shows that He is a merciful Giver of gifts: He bestows upon us His love and shows us His kindness. And this is why He will not answer even one inappropriate prayer if its fulfillment would bring us death and ruin.
even in this case, however, when He refuses to grant what we ask for, He does not leave us without a most useful gift, for He removes from us harm and opens to us the door of His compassion.
Therefore be sure that every prayer that is not fulfilled is certainly harmful; but a prayer that is answered is beneficial. The Giver of gifts is just and good and will not leave your prayers unanswered, for in His goodness there is no malice and in His truth there is no envy.
Standing by the coffin I gazed therein and beheld the corruption of the flesh. In the grave it had become repulsive--there was nothing to resemble an attractive face; instead dry, crumbling bones covered with corruption were to be seen. With sorrow and grief I withdrew from the coffin, carried by my thoughts to that time when we will be resurrected to the sound of the trumpet and will glorify Thee for the resurrection prepared for Adam's descendants and say: Praise to Thee, O Lord of all!
I heard what is written about the resurrection in the Gospel; I thanked God and exclaimed: praise to the all-holy nature of Thy dominion, that in the beginning adorned our nature and honored it with Thine image, and in the last times sent down Thy Son!....And He saved us from ruin and will come again to resurrect all of Adam's race. He will carry the righteous up to heaven and cast the lawless into gehenna--and they will exclaim: just is thy judgement, O Lord and King! Praise to Thee, O Lord of all!
Long-suffering is the Lord, and he draws all of us toward His kingdom; but He requires of us an account for our carelessness during this short time.
He will say to us: for you did I take on flesh, for you did I visibly walk about the earth, for you was I beaten, for you was I struck on the face, for you was I crucified and raised on the cross, for you who dwell on earth was I given vinegar to drink, in order to make you holy and heavenly. I have granted you My kingdom, called all of you My brethren and sent down to you the Holy Spirit.
What more is there that I could do but have not done in order to save you? The only thing I do not want to do is to constrain your free will so that your salvation would become a matter of necessity, not of your own choosing.
Tell me, O sinners who are mortal by nature: What have you endured for My sake, for your Master Who suffered for you?
Let us all come together to worship Him and weep before the Lord Who has created us, and let us say: How shall this race of sinners repay thee, O incomprehensible, good and kindhearted God? Thou Who hast illumined all the universe with grace, illumine also the eyes of our hearts, that we might love thee, O master, and with love always perform Thy holy writ.
Behold the cup of thy terrifying blood, filled with light and life. Grant us understanding and enlightenment, that with the love and sanctity of faith we might approach it and that it might be unto us for the forgiveness of sins and not for condemnation.
Terrible is the approach of death to people who are passionate, sinful and weak, who have not tried to live blamelessly in this vain world.
Those who labor, and accomplished strugglers of piety, rejoice at the hour of departure. seeing before their eyes the great labor of their struggle, vigilance, fasting, prostrations, prayer, tears, and sackcloths, their souls rejoice when they are summoned from their bodies to enter into repose.
but parting with this life gives exceeding sorrow to the sinner, who sees before his eyes his negligence and its bitter fruits....What repentance shall then embrace the heart of him who has here neglected his salvation! Alas, O my soul, alas, why dost thou neglect thy life! All of a sudden thy summons will come--what wilt thou do in that place if thou hast been careless here? What wilt thou do before the throne of the just Judge? How is it that the enemy robs thee, but thou dost not realize it? How is it that the enemy steals from thee heavenly riches, but thou art so distracted that thou dost not know it,
Have mercy on me, O long-suffering Son of god and sinless Christ! Grant me, O my Savior, to contemplate the life to come, that I might perform Thy will. In my old age at least make me a participant in thy grace, that I might at least complete my untoward life with a good end.
How shall I who am negligent stand before Thy terrible throne? How shall I who am impatient and useless enter into the community of those who have here brought forth the fruits of righteousness? by what traits will they acknowledge me when the saints and the righteous upon their heavenly beds recognize each other according to their deeds?
No, you have no cause to flatter yourself! The righteous, the chaste and the humble will walk in unapproachable light, but the sinful, the slothful, the proud, the haughty and those who carelessly live for their own gratification like I do--will find themselves in the eternal and unquenchable fire.
Be sobered, O my soul, and pray with tears. Cry out from all thy heart that before the end comes thou mightest be converted and make a good start.
Grant this to us, O Lord, by the prayers of our immaculate Lady the Theotokos and all thy saints, for Thou art blessed unto the ages.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
A Spiritual Psalter from the works of our Holy Father Ephraim the Syrian
Come let us make an effort; come let us fall down before God, let us steadfastly lament and shed tears before Him, that He might grant us spiritual enlightenment.
Discern the wiles of our enemy, the adversary who hates all good, who places in our path pitfalls and seductions, ruinous acquisitiveness, commendation of this age, carnal pleasure, as well as the expectation that this life will last for long, fear of ascetic struggles, a slothful attitude toward prayer, drowsiness when psalms are sung, and bodily rest.
We are as apathetic and careless as he is assiduous. We are as inattentive as he is crafty, even though we know that our days have been shortened, that the time has come and the Lord of glory will come in the majesty of His beauty with the terrible powers of His kingdom to reward everyone according to his deeds.
I fear that the Lord's promise might be fulfilled with respect to us: that many shall come form the east and the west, from the north and from the sea, and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but we shall be driven out.
I beseech Thee, O Christ, light of truth, born of the blessed Father, being His image and the radiance of His hypostasis, Who sittest at the right hand of His majesty, Who art my life and the praise and joy of those who love Thee: save me, a sinner, in thy kingdom and reward me not according to my deeds, but save me according to Thy grace and have compassion on me according to Thy kindness, for Thou art blessed and glorified unto the ages.
Why does the image I have taken on mislead me? Why am I a stranger to virtue, committing repulsive deeds before God who sees all?
Justly did the pharisees suffer to have their errors exposed by Christ the Savior, Who labeled their appearances hypocrisy. And I deserve such reproach most of all. But when my conscience exposes my errors I become indignant, for the truth is bitter for those who desire just to make an appearance rather than being.
Indeed, if one were to peel away my appearance, he would find worms inside. If the whitewashed cover is removed, everyone will see what lies in the grave. However, let this not be brought out into the open here; surely the fire will try all and discover what I am at the judgement.
Woe is me! How will I endure the exposure of my lawless deeds and thoughts!....Have mercy on me, O god, according to Thy great mercy and according to the multitude of Thy compassions absolve my iniquities. Hearken unto me according to Thy goodness, O Master, and reject not my supplication; for Thou dost not cast away those who truly repent.
It is true that even my repentance is impure, for I spend one day repenting and two offending Thee. But send my heart fear of Thee and confirm my soul on the rock of true repentance. May the light of Thy grace overcome the darkness that is in me.
Condescend to my prayer, O good Lord, not because I am correct, for in me is no good, but according to Thy compassion and Thy great and unutterable goodness. Raise up my members shattered by sin; enlighten my heart clouded by evil desire; save me from my sinful habits, that the adversary may not overthrow me in the end.
Thy grace has made it possible for me to call upon Thy name, O Lord. O only good One, Who hast created us all, forgive the transgressions and sins of Thy sinful and ungrateful servant.
I know, O Lord, that my sins exceed those of all other men, but I have as my refuge the abyss of Thy compassions which exceeds all things. I am confident that Thou wilt accept and have mercy on all who approach Thy goodness, for it pleases Thee to behold repentance, and Thou rejoicest at the ascetic struggles of Thy servants.
Grant me, Thine unworthy servant, tears, that with an enlightened mind, with love and faith, I may entreat Thine incomparable goodness and be cured of my hidden sores. Show miserable me Thy charity. Deliver me from the torment I deserve. May Thy grace be preached all about, to the benefit both of the countless multitudes who are careless, and me as well.
As Thou didst fill the water pots with Thy blessings, so likewise fill my heart with Thy grace and Thy goodness. When a caring mother is rejected by her child, she does not scorn him, for her motherly care triumphs over all; may my sins likewise not surpass Thy grace.
I know that I will be punished even for idle words, for evil thoughts, for mere desire. Yet as soon as an opportunity to satisfy my pleasures presents itself, I immediately forget everything, and like a fool indulge in all manner of sin. I am a vainglorious, wrathful cripple, a lazy, dissolute glutton, a sensualist covered with impurities who hourly strays into error--and I do not realize it.
Only hope in the manifestation of Thy grace, O man-befriending master, consoles me and keeps me from despair. Whether Thou so desirest or not, save me, O all-good Lord, according to Thy great kindness.
As if I were standing before Thy terrible throne, O Lord, i who am condemned see both my deeds exposed and the judgement Thou wilt pass on miserable me, to remove me from Thy holy face and cast me into unbearable torment. and just as I will call upon Thee at that time, so now do I cry out, trembling and with tears: just art Thou, O most just Judge, and just is thy judgement, that commits no error in judging me.
As if I were standing in that place, I address the angels: O kind and most radiant angels, shed tears for me, for I did not even have mercy on myself. I scorned God's mercy, and it is truly fair that I be punished. The Lord offered me mercy, but I lacked discernment and never paid it proper attention; and now with good reason does He turn from me.
Then, of course, the angels will tell me in anger: this is not the time for repentance, but for reckoning. Prayer no longer has any power, and tears of repentance are of no consequence. Here there is an abundance only of tears shed in torment. Here are heard not sighs of contrition, but ceaseless groans and cries of pain. Go and receive the bitter and harsh reward for your deeds. Burn in flames like impure matter, fueling the inextinquishable fire of gehenna. Enjoy, for you are a son of obscurity and love everlasting darkness. Gaze upon the black apparitions for the sake of which you have disdained the eternal light--and be glad.
There, in that place will be endless weeping and fervent gnashing of teeth. Alas, my poor soul stripped of all deeds, how shalt thou gazed upon the impartial Judge, the angels and archangels, and those born on earth there present in infinite numbers?
Alas, how thou shalt suffer then, my soul, but thou wilt not be heard. Everything will change, everything will be different. The righteous will rejoice forever and sinners will endure eternal torment. They brought no joy to the God of all, and shall themselves be alien to all joy unto the ages.
So let us cry unto God, O soul, while we are here: save us, before we perish unto the end!
A Spiritual Psalter from the works of our Holy Father Ephraim the Syrian
When you stand before God, recall those who serve earthly authorities. take the example of slaves before their masters when considering your position.
Recall your sinfulness and call upon God's assistance. Learn from the saints and ask for God's grace in the fulfillment of any task. Be not proud of god's grace and do not succumb to lawlessness.
If you succeed in doing good, do not praise yourself above men. If you sin through ignorance, do not lose heart because you are a man. Boast not of your successes, and do not despair when you sin.
Actively strive for good and harbor an equal hatred for evil.
Do not pas judgement when you give advice, for you know not God's mysteries.
it is better for you to be delivered to the sword than to succumb to anger. It is better to hide anger in the heart than to express it.
Do not indulge in empty chatter, and do not sit in places where passionate conversation is held. seek not gratification in laughter and pleasure in jokes, that you might not become distracted.
Be not fond of gatherings teeming with crowds, for they engender commotion in the soul.
Avoid banquets, in order not to become a debaucher even in the absence of women.
Avoid delicacies, that you might not become passionate. Take care to bridle the flesh, that it might not plunge its rider--the mind--into danger.
Master your senses and protect them from corrosion by rust as a warrior protects his weapons.
Spend the better part of your time in seclusion, that you might be able to discern what is and is not beneficial for you when you are in the society of people.
Behold, let no one say: I have committed many sins--there can be no forgiveness for me. He who says this does not know that God is the God of the penitent, that He came to earth not to save the righteous, but to call sinners to repentance, and that when someone repents the heavens rejoice over him.
True repentance consists of withdrawing from sin and nurturing hatred for it. For, lo, when someone says from his heart: I have hated deceit and been repelled by it--then God accepts him with joy.
But behold, also let no one dare to say: I have not sinned. He who says this is blind; he has shut his eyes. He deceives himself and knows not that Satan is robbing him blind--both in word and deed, through all of the senses, sight, hearing and touch, and through thoughts. For who can boast that he has an innocent heart and that all his senses are pure?
No one is sinless, no one is clean of defilement, no man is free from guilt except Him alone Who for our sake was impoverished though He was rich. He alone is sinless Who took upon Himself the sins of the world, wants all men to be saved, desires not the death of a sinner and is a lover of mankind, abundantly benevolent, kindhearted and sincerely loving.
Let us Also run to Him, for all sinners who have run to Him have found salvation.
At the terrible judgement the Lord will say to those at His right hand: come, O sons of My light, blessed heirs of My kingdom. Come, ye who for My sake have been impoverished, hungered and thirsted, who loved not the world nor all that is in it. come, ye who for My sake have left all worldly power and joy, brothers and friends, parents and children. Come, ye who have dwelt in deserts, on mountains, in caves and crevices in the earth together with beasts, and rejoice with the angels in heaven. Come, all ye who are merciful and hospitable. Come, all ye who have walked the strait and narrow path. come, ye who are blessed of My Father; inherit the kingdom that has been prepared for you since the creation of the world.
And to those at His left hand He will say: go away from Me, into the fire that lies without. Go away from Me, ye heartless ones, who have hated both brothers and Christ. Ye were not merciful and neither shall ye obtain mercy. Ye did not heed My noble gospels and My blessed disciples--and neither shall I heed your lamentation. You lived a life of luxury on earth, enjoyed good things in your life, and here there is nothing more for you to receive--you have already taken what is yours. Daily I called out to you through the Scriptures, but when you heard, you mocked those who read them. And now I say to you: I know you not. go away from Me, Ye accursed souls, into the eternal fire that is prepared from the devil and his angels.
And they will enter into eternal torment, but the righteous will enter into eternal life.
As the Creator, Thou knowest what Thou hast created. As the Judge, Thou knowest what Thou hast condemned (after the fall). As the One Who become man, Thou knowest what Thou hast designed for our salvation.
Thou gavest me an undefiled nature, but my father Adam has covered it with much impurity and made it infirm. To this impurity have I added enjoyment of vain things--and now I involuntarily endure punishment. Corruption has infected my very nature, and so I am distressed, like one caught in a storm at sea.
Have mercy on me, as my Creator. Be sympathetic toward my infirmity, as the One Who became man for my sake. Reject me not because of my passions, but instead scatter them, in recognition of my will to strive. Do no disdain me on account of my impurity, but instead attend to my contrition and desire to better myself.
If Thou art repelled by my defiles thoughts, turn Thine attention to my lamentation and to the way I condemn myself for my own sensuality.
I have the will but I cannot say that I have the strength. I give what I have. Consider my situation and if it pleases Thee to give me what I lack, grant it to me.
I am a pauper, robbed by the serpent. I am infirm, bound by corruption. I lack strength, for I am overwhelmed by sin. I have lost Thy gift and therefore lack perfect understanding. I have lost communion with Thee and therefore know not where I am headed.
I have nothing. If anything is found in my possession, it is because Thou hast taken pity on me and given it to me. I am exceedingly poor; if I am to become rich it will all be a gift from Thee. It will all be Thine, just as it was Thine before.
I beg only for grace--I confess that if I am to be saved, I shall be saved through Thee.
Monday, April 14, 2008
A Spiritual Psalter from the works of our Holy Father Ephraim the Syrian
How shall I mourn the blindness of my soul? How shall I mourn my calamitous ignorance of my own self? How shall I mourn my passionate and unrepentant arbitrary exercise of my free will? The ascetics are comforted, consoled by the Holy Spirit; but I agonize and complain of the wretchedness that is caused by my own apathy. I have sunk to the level of the senseless beasts and become like unto them. Wretched as I am, I have been stripped by my own laziness, because I alienate myself from those who stand vigil and pray.
Regard me with mercy, O Master, from Thy holy heights. Look upon the impenitence of my poor soul, and by the judgements that Thou knowest, have mercy on me and correct me. As if standing before Thy throne and touching Thine immaculate feet, i beseech and beg Thee with contrite heart: have mercy on me; show Thy loving-kindness to Thy creature; freely convert me by Thy grace.
I know that Thou canst do all things and that nothing is impossible for Thee. Wait not for my corrupt will to exercise itself, for I lack the ambition to correct myself.
May every visible and invisible being weep for me, who have grown old in sins and passions. Weep for me who appear to those who see me to be chase, yet inwardly am ever adulterous.
Take an interest, at lats, in your salvation, O sinner. Seclude yourself, collect your thoughts and say to yourself: how much time have you spent feeding the lusts of your flesh and imagination, and what benefit has it brought you; what have you attained by doing this? Alas, my soul, what a state we have reached, what disorder!
Look--everyone around me is adorned with virtues and truly fears God; but I alone walk in darkness. Early in the morning do I repent of my deeds, yet a short while later I commit even worse errors. The Lord has given me strength and health and lo! I take this for granted and incur the wrath of my Creator.
Why art thou so apathetic, O my soul? Why art thou so careless? After all, thou canst not stay here forever. When the end comes, the Lord will send His angel to get thee and thou wilt have to leave this place whether thou so want or not. What then?
Acknowledge at last your extreme wretchedness, O man, and stop contradicting Him Who created you and opposing His commands. Boldly say to the enemy who seduces you:
You, O devil, made me an object of shame for angels and men when I took your irreverent advice. You inspired me to think: for once I will satisfy my craving and lo! this small act became for me a great abyss and I gave myself up to your shameful desires. The water found a small crack and made of it a big crevice.
You have clouded my mind with impure thoughts and hurls me from sin to sin. You have annihilated my restraint on the pretext of bodily infirmity. You have alienated me from prayer and vigilance. You have implanted in me love for money, excusing this with the approaching long years of old age. You have dried up my tears. You have hardened my heart. You have made me stray from obedience to Christ. You have multiplied my distractions. You have made me insubordinate. I have reached the point where I fail to labor over needful things and occupy myself with vain endeavors instead. You have taught me envy and slander. You have made me haughty, irritable and wrathful. You have taught me gluttony, drunkenness and sensuality. You have trained my thoughts to scatter while I read and sing psalms; thus I pray and do no know for what; I read psalms and meanwhile I surrender my thoughts to unrestrained wanderings.
Having thus exposed the wiles of the enemy, tell him with conviction: I have had enough of you, O devil. And leave the evil one and join yourself to the man-befriending God. Are you wounded? Despair not. Have you fallen? Get up and say bravely: now i have begun. Fall down before your merciful master and confess your sins.
But before you say anything he will already know what you intended to say. Before you open you lips, He will see what is in your heart. You will not be able to say, "I have sinned," before you see Him stretch forth His hands to receive and embrace you.
Approach with faith and He will cleanse you straightway as He cleansed the leper, lift you from your bed as He lifted the paralytic, and raise you from the dead as He raised Lazarus.
I who am all covered with sores run to Thy loving-kindness. Accept my sighs as Thou didst accept the tear of the harlot.
Thou knowest, O Master, the failings of human nature. Remember that from his youth evil thoughts press diligently upon a man and be not wroth with me to the end, but open to me Thy hand and the door of Thy loving-kindness. May my recklessness not surpass Thy solicitude.
Accept, O Master, and hearken unto mine impure and unworthy supplication, Thou Who savest those who hope in Thee, Who rejectest not the prayer of sinners, Who stretchest forth Thy hand to those who have been cast to the ground. Guide me in fear of thee and give me tears of contrition.
I have lifted up the mental eyes of my soul to Thee, O Lord. Cast me not away from Thy face, for blessed is Thy name unto the ages.
I have incurred Thy wrath with my sins, O Lord; but it is against Thy will that Thou art wroth, for Thou overflowest with abundant mercy and Thy majesty is beyond provocation.
Thou art a sea of compassion and our errors are but a drop of tainted water. Surely one drop cannot disturb and unencompassalbe sea.
Thou dost not become anxious when Thou art displeased, and Thou art not wroth when Thou punishest. If Thou wert to become wroth when Thou punishest, the world could not withstand Thy wrath.
Thy blows are filled with love. Thy punishment burns with compassion. I accordance with Thy love, even when Thou punishest Thou strivest only for good.
The staves with which Thou punishest are carved from the wood of thy loving-kindness. No matter what Thy staff touches, the blow brings great benefit.
When a master punishes his pupil, he bats him not out of hatred, but because he wishes to bring him profit; and out of love does he meter out punishment. Thy blow also strikes from love, for Thou dost not punish out of malice. Thou, O Lord, desirest our own good, and Thou showest Thy lovinng-kindness in many ways.
It is not difficult for Thee to endure our errors, for Thou hast created our nature. Thou art not burdened by Thy creation,f or Thou knewest us before we were created.
Who will endure the hardships of caring for a baby if not the mother who bore him? Who will endure the errors of the world, if not the Lord of all?
It is easy for the Creator to endure all the difficulties wroth by His creatures, for if He had not wanted to endure these difficulties He would not have created them.
Will a woman forget her child or fail to love those who issue from her womb? But even if a woman were to forget her child, God will not forget the world He has created.
His natural compassion was moved, and He conceived and bore creation. Like a babe from his mother's womb, so did the world come forth from His will.
And lo, He gather up and carries the world, like a mother carries the fruit of her womb, feeding it with her milk.
The kindhearted father bore us and nourishes us with the blood of His Son. Thus does a mother give her child her papas to suck, in order to feed him.
A babe sucks at the breast and receives fro his mother the food that he requires. He draws out all the food he needs from his mother's paps.
A babe does not know how to turn away and search for food anywhere else than at his mother's side. Thus the world also takes life-sustaining nourishment only from Thee, O Creator; and no one but thee alone can feed it.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
A Spiritual Psalter from the works of our Holy Father Ephraim the Syrian
Know that there are eight evil thoughts that bring about all that is vile: those of sensuality, lechery, love of money, anger, inappropriate grief, despondency, vainglory, and pride. All these conduct warfare with every man.
If you want to conquer sensuality, cherish restraint, have fear of God--and you will conquer it.
If you want to conquer lechery, cherish wakefulness and thirst, ever contemplate death, never converse with women--and you will conquer it. If you want to conquer love of money, cherish non-acquisitiveness and frugality.
If you want to conquer anger, acquire meekness and generosity, and keep in mind how much evil the Jews did to our Lord Jesus Christ; yet He, the man-befriending god, did not become angry with them; but on the contrary He prayed for them, saying: Father, forgive them this sin, for they know not what they do.
If you want to overcome inappropriate grief, never grieve for anything that is transient. If people injure you with words or upset you or dishonor you, do not grieve; but, on the contrary, rejoice. Grieve only when you sin, and even in this case do not go to extremes, that you might not fall into despair and perish.
If you want to overcome despondency, take up some handiwork for a short while, or read, or pray frequently.
If you want to conquer vainglory, love not praise, nor honor, nor fine clothes, nor precedence, nor favor; but on the contrary, cherish occasions when you are reprimanded and dishonored, when false charges are brought against you--and reproach yourself for being more sinful than any sinner.
If you want to conquer pride, then whatever you do, say not that you do it by your own labors, or with your own strength. But if you fast or stand vigil or sleep on the bare ground or sing psalms, or serve in the altar of do a great number of prostrations, say that it was done with god's help and protection, not by your own strength and effort.
Praise to Him Who descended to us in human form! Praise to the Invisible One who became visible for our sake! Praise to the Eternal One Who tasted death for us! Praise to the Mysterious One Whom no mind can comprehend, and Who through His grace made Himself manifest by taking on flesh!
Blessed is He Whose good will brought Him to His mother's womb and bosom, to be born and reared! Blessed is He Who partook of death and thus granted life to mankind.
Blessed is He Who made our flesh a dwelling place for His mysterious being. Blessed is He Who declared to us His mysteries in our own tongue.
Praise to Him Who liberated us, having been bound for our sake. Glory to Him Who is plenteous in mercy, Who has redeemed us without taking anything in return. Praise to the Judge Who accepted condemnation for our sake.
Let us worship Him Who has enlightened our mind with His teaching and laid down a path for His word in our hearing. Let us give thanks to Him Who has grafted His fruit to our tree.
Praise to Him Who invisibly cultivates our spirit. Blessed is He Who attuned the senses of our spirit, that it might ever play songs of exaltation to Him on its lyre.
Approach the compassionate Father, O sinner, and confess your sins, saying with tears: I have sinned against heaven and before Thee, Lord God Almighty, and am no longer worhty to be called Thy son, nor even to pronounce Thy glorious name with my sinful lips, for I have made myself unworthy of heaven and earth by incurring Thy wrath, O good Master!
I beseech Thee, O Lord, cast me not aways from Thy face and turn not away from me, that I might not perish. If Thy hand had not protected men, I would have perished already; I would be like dust before the wind: it would be as if I had never appeared in the world. Indeed, from the time that I left Thy path, I have not encountered one good day, for a day spent in sin, though it may seem good, is actually the bitterest of all bitter things.
And from this day forth shall I hope on Thy mercy, that thou wilt give me strength to work our my salvation. Now do I fall down before Thee and beseech Thee: help me, who have strayed from the path of truth. Shower me with Thy compassion like the prodigal son, for i have made a shame of my life and squandered the wealth of thy grace. Have mercy on me and scorn me not, due to the depravity of my life. Have mercy on me, as Thou hadst mercy on the harlot and the publican; have compassion for me as Thou hadst compassion for the thief: on earth he was rejected by everyone, but thou didst accept him and make him an inhabitant of the sweet paradise. Accept also my repentance, for I too have been rejected by everyone. Thou, O Lord, came3st not to save the righteous, but to call sinners to repentance--accept therefore also me, who repent before Thee.
Grant forgiveness, O Lord; send also strength. Convert me, that I might live in sanctity, according to Thy holy will. Sanctify my heart that has become a den and dwelling-place of demons.
I am unworthy to ask forgiveness for myself, O Lord, for many times have I promised to repent and proved myself a liar by not fulfilling my promise. Thou hast picked me up many times already, but every time I freely chose to fall again.
Therefore I condemn myself and admit that I deserve all manner of punishment and torture. How many times hast thou enlightened my darkened mind; yet every time I return again to base thoughts! My whole body trembles when I contemplate this; yet every time sinful sensuality reconquers me.
How shall I recount all the gifts of Thy grace, O Lord, that I the pitiful one have received? Yet I have reduced them all to nothing by my apathy--and I continue in this manner. Thou hast bestowed upon me thousands of gifts, yet miserable me, I offer in return things repulsive to Thee.
Yet Thou, O Lord, inasmuch as Thou containest a sea of long-suffering and an abyss of kindness, do not allow me to be felled as a fruitless fig tree; and do not let be be burned without having ripened on the field of life. Snatch me not away unprepared; seize not me who have not yet lit my lamp; take not away me who have no wedding garment; but, because Thou art good and a lover of mankind, have mercy on me. Give me time to repent, and place not my soul stripped naked before Thy terrible and unwavering throne as a pitiful spectacle of infamy.
If a righteous man can barely be saved, then where will I end up, I who am lawless and sinful? If the path that leads to life is trait and narrow, then how can I be vouchsafed such good things, I who live a life of luxury, indulging in my own pleasures and dissipation? But Thou, O Lord, my Savior, Son of the true God, as Thou knowest and desirest, by Thy grace alone, freely turn me away from the sin that abides in me and save me from ruin.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
A Spiritual Psalter from the works of our Holy Father Ephraim the Syrian
Daily do I provoke Thy long-suffering patience, O Master. Before mine eyes are both my wretchedness and Thy loving-kindness.
Because I am in the power of the unclean enemy who ever oppresses me, day and night shall I call upon Thy loving-kindness with tears, that Thou mightest deliver me from his attacks. For who can withstand the Evil One, if Thy grace withdraws from him even for one minute, O Master?
Hour after hour does the enemy oppress my soul with both words and deeds. May thy power, O Christ, that rebuked the waves of the sea, rebuke him also, that he may have no power over me, Thy servant. For daily does he renew his wicked scheming against me, and rush to seize my mind, drawing it away from the sweetness of Thy Divine commandments and the saving teachings they contain. Quickly send Thy grace, O Master, to drive the great serpent and all his defiled and wicked thoughts away from Thy servant.
The offended widow approaches the heartless and unjust judge, that he might defend her from her adversary; but I approach my kindhearted Master Who is long-sufffering and good, Who has in His power heaven and earth, that He might be quick to hear me. Thou Who offerest Thy defense to all who hope upon Thee day and night, neither tarry in defending me, O Master. Snatch me away from the enemy and direct my path to Thee that, having conquered the enemy by Thy grace, I might bless Thee, Who are kindhearted and long-suffering, and glorify Thee Who alone desirest the salvation of all men.
the good God grants us the enlightenment of knowledge, and His grace ever visits our hearts. If she finds peace there, she enters and dwells constantly in the soul. But if she does not find the heart pure, she immediately withdraws. Yet compassion encourages her to descend anew and visit us sinners, for we are all inconstant because of our fee will, but not by nature.
We are always distracted and weak, envious and wicked; often do we think evil of one another; we occupy ourselves with wicked ideas, and are always plunged in a mire of unclean thoughts. Thus when grace comes to visit us and encounters in our hearts the stench of unclean thoughts, she immediately withdraws without seeking an entrance, that she might make her habitation there and dwell is us, as is pleasing to her. She leaves only a trace of her radiant sweetness ion the heart, so that one might recognize that grace has visited him but not found an entrance, and, having delighted in grace's radiance, might seek her out.
Do you see God's Providence? Do you see Christ's loving-kindness? Do you see how god Who is Holy ever loves us and wants us to be saved? Blessed is the man who ever strives to prepare a pure heart for grace, that when she comes she might find the fragrance of virtues and a sacred place in the soul and reside therein unto the ages of ages.
Up till now and in this very day, with my face ashamed and hung low do I dare to speak to thee, O master of the angels and Creator of all things--I, who am earth and dust, a distance to men and an insult to mankind; I, who am condemned, all covered with wounds and filled with despondency. How shall I lift my gaze to meet Thy grace, O Master? How shall I find the boldness to move my impure, polluted tongue? How shall I begin my confession?
I who am wretched have immeasurably offended Thy name and lived wantonly, more so than the prodigal son. In my person have I defiled and injured Thine image, for I have not heeded Thy commandments.
I know, O Lord, that because of the multitude of my spiritual stains and my impurity I am not worthy to bear Thy holy name; I cannot stand before Thee in prayer; I cannot look up and behold the heights of heaven, for I have opened the door to reprehensible desire and surrendered to unseemly impulses; and thus have I defiled my poor soul with passions and blackened my soul's garment with the immorality of my will. My whole mind is filled with demonic thoughts. By all my deeds and thoughts have I distressed Thy grace, and I continue repeatedly to do so. Yet ever do I please and gratify my enemy who wages war against me.
My conscience exposes my mind's error; in my heart I cover my face with shame. Before the judgement that awaits me I condemn myself.
Triumphantly do the wanton habits that never leave me drag me along. Ever do I soil myself in the mire of sensuality. I am every entangled in defiled thoughts; from my youth have I become a vessel of corrupting sin. And to this day, though I daily hear of the judgement and of the just deserts to be meted out, I have no will to oppose carnal lust. Ceaselessly do I submit myself to pitfalls; ceaselessly do i make myself a prisoner.
Woe is me, O Lord; dreadfully have I squandered Thy long-suffering patience! Woe is me; how many years have I spent offending Thy Holy Spirit! Woe is me; the time of my life has been spent in all manner of vain endeavors!...But, O Lord, do Thou not expose me in Thy fury; do Thou not exhibit my hateful, disgraceful deeds in a place of universal shame before all angels and men, to my dishonor and eternal condemnation, although I do indeed merit every dishonor and condemnation. According to Thy great compassion alone, have mercy on me and cleanse all my sins before the judgement.
I reflected upon the day my life will end--and I groaned when I saw the multitude of my transgressions and the heaviness of mine iniquities, and when I considered how my errors will be revealed for all to see. There, there will be no place for repentance, tears and prayers; instead, everyone will receive his reward according to his labors, recompense according to his deeds; and neither weeping nor suffering will incline the just Judge to mercy. Show me Thy kind mercy, O Lover of mankind!
In the day when the graves of the dead are opened, the trumpet will sound. Its voice will thunder, great trembling and awe will embrace the universe, all the angels will descend on Thy command to separate the good from the bad, clouds of fire will appear and carry off the pure bodies of the saints. In that day, may Thy compassion be shown also to me, that I might stand at Thy right hand, O good Lord, and obtain mercy!
In m thoughts I descended into the graves to see our corruption,k and when I had examined what Lay therein I cried: Turn not away from Thy servant, O Lord! Resurrect me who am perishing, and I will praise Thy dominion; overthrow the Evil One who rejoiced over me in the my day of sorrow and have mercy on me, for I have hoped in Thee.
In the end a merciless judgement awaits those who have sinned and not repented of their wicked deeds. But those who have acted righteously and kept the commandments of their Lord shall receive from Him the good things of heaven and inherit eternal life. There shall the righteous rejoice over their labors; the saints shall delight in the rewards they will receive.
Lodge all of us in Thy bridal chamber, O Lord, Who art kindhearted toward sinners!
Thursday, April 10, 2008
A Spiritual Psalter from the works of our Holy Father Ephraim the Syrian
The holy Fathers, who loved God and become accomplished in sufferings and temptations, received from the Heaven King imperishable crowns with glory and praise.
But I, who am miserable, sin without any temptation; I irritate and embitter my Master.
However, having learned through experience of Thy vast and unutterable compassion, O Lord, I beseech the greatness of Thy grace. Save me and grant Thy servant his heart's request, from the treasures of Thy loving-kindness, that Thy grace might ceaselessly stream forth in my heart and lips like a river; that my heart might, through Thy grace, become a pure and undefiled temple that receives in itself the heavenly King; that the finger of grace might set my tongue perpetually in motion, like the string of a lyre, to the service of Thy glory, O Lover of mankind; and that I may ceaselessly, throughout the days of my life, glorify and bless Thee with love with both heart and lips.
O Christ the Savior! Grant me my heart's request, that my tongue might become like unto a sweet-sounding flute; that by comforting, enlightening and educating others I might pay off a small portion of my great debt and, protected by Thy mercy, I might be saved when every soul is set trembling before Thy terrifying glory.
Verily, O Master, only-begotten Son of God, hearken unto me and accept the petition of Thy servant as an offering. I, a sinner, am saved by Thy grace. to Thee Who savest a sinner by Thy compassion, is due all glory unto the ages.
A trumpet will sound from the heavens, saying: Awake, ye beloved of Christ. Lo, the heavenly King has come to give you repose and joy in eternal life in return for your ascetic labors. Awake and behold Christ the King, the immortal Bridegroom, whom you have loved. Behold His kingdom that He has prepared for you. Come and rejoice together with Him in inexpressible joy.
And those righteous and worthy of God shall soar high in the air in unutterable glory, and all the lawless will remain below with great shame. Those who have labored here shall receive bliss and joy; all the sinners shall receive shame and chastisement.
Blessed is he who has labored here to render himself worthy in that hour, and pitiful is he who has made himself unworthy in that hour. the clouds will gather all the saints from the earth and carry them to heaven, but angels will snatch away the lawless and cast them into the oven that burns with unquenchable fire.
Who shall give my head abundant waters and my eyes a fountain ever gushing tears, that I might weep for myself day and night, entreating God that I might not be found unworthy in the hour of His coming, and not hear from my Master the terrible sentence: go away from Me, O worker of iniquity; I know not from whence thou art.
O God on high, only Immortal One! Show this sinner Thy great compassion in that hour, that my hidden deceit might not be made known to the witnesses there: the angels, archangels, prophets, apostles, righteous and saints. Save this lawless one by Thy grace and compassion, and lead him into the sweet paradise together with the righteous who are perfect. Accept the supplication of thy servant, according to the prayers of the saints who have been pleasing to Thee!
O Mother of God, who surpassest every mind and word! O virgin who exceedest all earthly virginity, for even before the Divine birth wast thou a Virgin beyond all virgins--and such didst thou remain both during and after the birth!
Thee, O Lady do I beg, thee do I entreat, O merciful and man-befriending Mother of the merciful and man-befriending God: defend me at this hour if ever thous wilt do so, for now am I most in need of thy protection and thy help.
I am all a mire of filth and sin, a dwelling place of soul-corrupting passions. Yet I intend to approach the all-pure and terrifying Mysteries of thy Son and God, and therefore do I suffer fear, and trembling embraces me because of the unbearable multitude of my sins.
but if ever I am to remain without communion on the pretext of my unworthiness, then shall I fall into a great abyss of evil and bring upon myself great chastisement. I anguish over both the first alternative and the second.
to thee do I run; be kind to me, my all-pure Lady. Take advantage of thy motherly boldness before thy Son and god, and gain for me forgiveness of my former sins. Vouchsafe me to be made pure and enlightened by communion of the Mysteries, and show me how to spend the remainder of my life in repentance, purity and humility. Remain always with me in my thoughts, words and deeds, in all the movements of my soul and body, instructing me, leading me and guiding me, deflecting from em all hostile powers, and preserving me and providing thy servant, however worthless, with thy grace in every way.
O Giver of all good things, O fountain of healing and treasure of compassion, Thou only good and kindhearted God, Who ever grantest good things to those who ask! I beseech Thee, that thine abundant grace might descend upon me and gather together my mind and heal my hidden sores anew, for distractions and wandering thoughts constantly renew my secret sores.
O long-suffering Lord Who ever curest with grace and compassion, heal the great spiritual infirmities that are within me, a sinner!
I have nothing to give Thee, O Master, in return for Thy cures. And what price could be put on Thy cures? neither heaven nor earth can give a reward worthy of them. It is impossible to purchase these holy heavenly cures, for they are priceless. Thous givest them only in return for tears, O our Savior; and in return for bitter weeping dost Thou grant them to all.
O my Master, grant me who am unworthy daily tears and strength, that my heart, enraptured and streaming forth fountains of tears, might be ceaselessly illuminated by pure prayer, and that a few tears might blot out the weighty record of my sins, and a small measure of weeping might extinguish the fire that burns therein. For if I weep here, there will I be delivered from the inextinguishable fire.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
A Spiritual Psalter from the works of our Holy Father Ephraim the Syrian
I entreat the Mother of God: O Birthgiver of the never-setting Light, hear the words that I proclaim before thee!
I who am miserable wallow in mire; I am all covered with impurities, completely blackened. Even the earth have I defiled with the multitude of my sins, O my Lady. And thus, with sighs does she cry out on my behalf to the incorruptible Judge, calling forth both heaven with its stars and the sun as witnesses.
And already the storm of my thoughts plunges me into despair....I, a prodigal, have laid all my hope upon thee, O Mother of God. Thou alone, who didst bear the Deliverer of the world in thy womb, loosen my unloosenable bonds. Whiten thou me, who am blackened and have been turned into darkness, with tears of repentance. Thou, who hast given birth to my life, raise up me who am slain by my carelessness, and lead me who have become alienated from God and the angels back to them, O Mother of God!
Awesome indeed is the miracle! How the Lord has tolerated my sins! How is it that He has not conveyed me who am miserable to the depths of hell while still alive! How is it that He has not sent from on high His invisible staff or His sword to strike me down....Without a doubt, thou, O Lady, hast granted me life by thine intercessions. Thou seekest my repentance--O All-good virgin give it to me, Thy servant--for thou art my wall, my harbor and my rampart.
Our Lord Jesus, O venerable King, Who by Thy suffering hast vanquished death the torturer; O Son of God Who hast promised us new life and the heavenly kingdom: removed from us all harm, that Thy grace might dwell in us, so that in the day of Thy coming we might come out to meet Thee in accordance with Thy good will, that we might behold Thee and stand before Thee with you.
Blot out our sins with Thy forgiveness, that we might praise Thy name because of Thine acts of kindness. Vouchsafe all of us, O Lord, according to Thy grace to glorify and worship Thy Divinity.
May the eyes that here have seen Thy glory there behold Thy great mercy. May the ears that here have heard the sound of thy words hear there also the sounds of rejoicing. May the lips that here have glorified Thee in Thy churches be vouchsafed there also to sing praise to Thee. May the tongue that here has cried "Holy, holy, holy" there also be turned to praise Thee. May the hands that have held Thy flesh and blood receive from Thee pardon from debts. May the feet that have entered the holy temple there also walk about the dominion of life.
Send our congregation, our brotherhood that worships Thy Divinity, the entire fullness of Thy saving gifts. May Thy supreme love remain with us, and may it make us worthy to offer thee due praise.
Open Thy door to our prayer, and may our service be pleasing to Thee.
Turn to us, O Good One,k according to Thy compassion; and drive away from us all harm, that we might ceaselessly praise Thee, O Lord, and Thy Father and the Holy Spirit.
Cast not aside my supplication, O good Lord! Unworthy lips cry out to Thee, together with an impure heart and a soul defiled by sins.
Hearken unto me, O Lord, according to Thy goodness. Confirm my heart in fear of Thee. Set my feet on the rock of repentance. May Thy goodness, O Lord, vanquish my sinfulness. May the light of Thy grace overcome the darkness that is in me.
Thou, O Lord, Who didst open the eyes of the blind man, open the darkened eyes of my heart. Thou Who didst cleanse lepers with Thy word, cleanse the stains of my soul. May Thy grace, O Lord, be a fire in me, consuming my impure thoughts.
Thou alone art good. Thou art the Light that surpasses all light. Thou art the joy that surpasses all joy. Thou art the Peace that surpasses all peace. Thou art the true Life. Thou art the Salvation that endures unto the ages.
I, who am deserving of every punishment, who merit every kind of torture, fall down before Thee, O Good One, with my supplication. I beseech Thee, O Redeemer, let not the adversary seize me in the end.
But do Thou, O good and merciful Lord, raise up my members paralyzed by sin; enliven my soul slain by iniquity, enlighten my heart clouded by wicked lust, deliver me from every evil deed; implant in me Thy perfect love, O Lord Jesus Christ, Savior of the world; and write the name of Thy servant in the book of life; grant me a good end, that, having secured victory over the devil, I might bow down unashamed with all the righteous before the throne of Thy kingdom.
Woe is me, O soul, for thou dost remain senseless in the present life, daily indulging in selfish pleasures and comforts and leading a dissolute life. In the age to come thou shalt cry like the rich man; thou shalt be tormented int he flames of eternal fire.
Woe is me, O soul, that thou canst not endure any sorrows inflicted by thy brother, nor even a word of insult; rather, thou art quick to contradict and oppose others. For this thou shalt lose the crown of patience and meekness and wilt be judge with those who begrudge others.
Woe is me, O soul, for thous hatest and revilest thy brother and dost allow others to do the same. For this thou shalt be punished with the murderers, for he who hates his brother is a murderer.
Woe is me, O soul, that thou dost scorn God's commandments and presume that salvation comes wit the label "Christian"' for on that terrible day thou shalt hear the Lord say: Not everyone who says to Me, "Lord, Lord," shall enter the kingdom.
Woe is me, O soul, for thou dost love the glory of men, honor, luxurious garments, and material acquisitions. For this in the day of judgement thou shalt be an abomination before God; thou shalt be cast away from His face and numbered withe the arrogant demons.
Woe is me, O soul, for thou dost sin daily, yet day after day dost thou postpone repentance. Death will overtake thee suddenly, like a thief in the night, and thou wilt be led away in bonds to gehenna, shedding tears and denouncing thy folly in vain.
Woe is me, O soul, that thou dost tremble not, thinking about the terrible day of judgement, when all the powers of heaven shall be moved with fear, and about how thou shalt appear before the face of God wearing a robe of shame and defilement.