Follow by Email

Sunday, 30 July 2017

The Way of Life

"Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat; because strait in the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matthew 7:13-14).

With these words, O Christ-loving brothers and sisters, the Lord enjoins us to follow that narrow path in life, the way of afflictions, of privation and of bitter experiences, the way which leads to life eternal; there can be no other way there except this one of sorrows. Indeed there is a way, the broad, wide way, but this way leads to destruction, and even though it does lead to destruction there are many who, in the Lord's words, go in thereat. In the words of the holy Apostle Paul, the people who take the broad way in life live "according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience" (Eph. 2:2). 

Such people forget about God completely, and they always give themselves over to drunkenness, sexual licence, fornication, stealing, envy, hatred, pride, anger, laziness, irritability, self-love, love of money, extortion, slander, pleasing the stomach, foolishness and to the other lusts of their flesh. Let such people not think that they are alive. No, they have been a longtime dead, for of such the Holy Spirit says: l know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead" (Rev. 3:1). Then reflect, beloved brothers and sisters, how shall we, being dead, appear before the face of our Lord? Don't we know that He will then repudiate us? "I," He says, "am not the God of the dead, but the God of the living." And He goes on to emphasize this, saying: "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41).

This is the portion, beloved brethren, that will fall to those people who go by the broad way in this life. Then let the reader pause on these last words of the Lord, let him reflect deeply and ask himself: how will it be if in actual fact I come to hear that dread and fearsome sentence from the Lord, and am plunged in the eternal, inextinguishable fire of hades? And in that fire we will burn not for a hundred, a thousand or even a million years, but eternally. When as many ages have passed as there are drops of water in the oceans, as there are grains of sands over the whole of the earthly globe, then the torments of hades will be as if they have only just begun, and even then there will be as many ages to follow as have already been. This is what our living on the broad way, our luxuriating way of life, should tell us.

Very few journey in this life by the narrow path of afflictions. The Lord Himself said, that "few there be that find it" (Matt. 7:14). We might ask. Why is it thus? Because, according to the word of the Psalmist, "they are all gone astray, they are altogether rendered useless, there is none that doeth good, no not one" (Ps. 13:3). Woe to that town or that country, says Saint Demetrius of Rostov, in which there is not even one righteous man; such places are close to destruction and devastation; as an example of this we have the Old Testament cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. During the time that the righteous Lot sojourned there they were safe, but when he left, at that very same time, the whole land was destroyed. Then let us marvel that the very same Saviour bears so long with the present times, in which we see the destruction of cities, the devastation of lands, civil wars, the shedding of blood, and everywhere countless misfortunes. What is the reason for all this? Because, the same hierarch (St Demetrius of Rostov) himself replies, the number of the righteous has grown few.

So, beloved brethren, let us examine ourselves. Do we not resemble the Old Testament and the New Testament sinners, who go by the broad path, and of whom the Word of God says, "many will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door... and he shall answer and say: I know you not whence ye are" (Luke 13:24-25). Those who wish to go by the narrow path, that is, to lead a pious life, will always be persecuted and hated by all, for it is said: "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Tim. 3:12). All the holy Apostles pursued the earthly course of this life by this narrow way of much affliction, and they test this way well, desiring to show an example to those servants of God, who manifest a desire to journey by that narrow way. The holy Apostles said: "We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). And the Lord enjoins His disciples, and through them all His true followers, to journey by that same narrow way: lf any man will come after Me," He says, “let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matt. 16:24). 

From the Lord's words it is clear, that He does not in any way forcibly require anyone to follow Him, but He leaves this to the individual will of each man. He does not say that, whether you want it or not, you must suffer; rather He says: If any man will come after Me. I do not compel anyone, I do not require anyone, but I leave this to the individual will of each man. He who denies himself, renounces his own natural will and disposition, surrenders himself to the will of God, renounces everything for himself for the sake of Christ and for His sake is ready for every affliction, every deprivation, persecution and suffering, - in a word, such an one is prepared for every affliction even death itself. The Apostle Paul asks him that desires to set out on this narrow and much-afflicted path, and to continue thereon until the end of his earthly life, to first of all labour in prayer: "I exhort, therefore, that, first of all" that is before the start of every good endeavour, "supplications ... be made" (1 Tim.2:1). 

From this it is evident that without prayer it is not only impossible to make progress, but even to set out upon the accomplishment of any good deed. Saint Chrysostom says that without prayer it is in no way possible for one to have virtue as one's companion or travel the path of life with her. For who can begin to struggle in virtue, without having frequent recourse to, and falling down before, the One, Who is the Bestower and Granter of virtue? He who strengthens the desire for chastity and righteousness in himself by constant nourishing it, will he not pleasurably linger in converse with the One, Who requires this of us, and ever do this more and more? But I shall give my attention to showing briefly that, even if perforce we have been filled to repletion with every sin, the prayers, both those which are born within us and those which we initiate, quickly cleanse us from them. And, if such be the case, what can be greater and more divine than prayer, if it is demonstrated to be a healing medicine for those who are sick in soul? Consider the Ninevites, the first manifest as being cleansed through prayer of their many sins before God. As soon as prayer embraced them as her charges, immediately she made them righteous, - and the city, which formerly had been accustomed to live in dissipation, evil and every kind of lawlessness, was corrected, overthrowing her earlier evil practices, installing instead the laws of heaven, it committed itself to chastity and philanthropy, to meekness and care for the poor. It had been without these virtues and they had no place in their souls, but suddenly there settled in every soul that thing which makes for every righteousness, which disposes one to every virtue, and which casts out every evil. If, at that time, someone who had known Nineveh well had visited her, he would not have recognised the city, so speedily had she converted from the life of dissipation to that of piety. "Behold, here you have a clear and true demonstration of the fact that if one does not travel the path with prayer, it is impossible to perfect good deeds." And St John of the Ladder calls prayer “the mother of all the virtues" (Step 28). 

So then, imitator of Christ, if you are considering or if you have already set out on the narrow path in this life, with God's help your first duty is to be instructed in prayer; and as prayer if the mother of all the virtues, you must also unite it with the father, which is attention, for from a mother children are not born without a father. So from this mother, which is prayer there will be born no children, that is virtues, unless she is united to the father, which is attention. Thus, if with the help of God you learn to pray with attention, then spiritual fruits will come to you, such as the holy Apostle Paul recounts: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, goodness, kind-heartedness, faith, meekness, temperance, against such there is no law" (Gal. 5:22-23). Now perhaps, a desire to understand how one can learn to pray as is outlined above has come to the reader. To this we can in reply use the words of the blessed Patriarch Kallistos, who says: lf you desire to maintain the genuine activity of prayer, then emulate the psaltery player, who inclines his head a little and turns his ear to the strings, who skilfully plucks the strings that they emit a harmonious sound, and who himself is delighted by their melody.

Is this example clear to you? The psaltery is the heart, the strings are the feelings, the plucking of the strings is the remembrance of God (the repetition of the Jesus Prayer), and the player is the mind. The mind, mindful of God and of Divine things, elicits from the God-fearing heart holy feelings, from which a certain ineffable sweetness fills the soul and mind, which, when purified, is illumined with a Divine effulgence. The psaltery player sees nothing and hears nothing at all except his melody, by which he is delighted, and the mind at the time of prayer is actively sober, that is without any thoughts, and is immersed in the heart, and can pay no attention to anything save God alone. His whole inner being speaks to God with the voice of David: ‘My soul hath cleaved after Thee' (Ps. 62:8). Saint Hesychius the Presbyter of Jerusalem speaks of attentive prayer thus: "Here is an image and order for stillness of heart. If you wish to engage in spiritual warfare (successfully and as you should) then let that little animal, the spider, always be your example for stillness of heart; otherwise you will not be still in your intellect as you should be. The spider hunts and kills small flies; and you, if you will be like him, sitting in his spider's web, most assiduously remaining still in your soul, will continuously slay the children of Babylon,' that is evil thoughts, and for this slaying through David (Ps. 136:12) the Holy Spirit will bless you. If you do not achieve this, you will not be silent in mind as should be."

Do not think, beloved reader, that one can pray without attention, standing in prayer only physically, and that in this way you can achieve any virtue or please God. No, do not accept any such thoughts. This idea comes from the enemy, for he well knows that prayer without attention is not prayer, but simply empty words. Someone asked Saint Abba Agathon about this: "Tell me, Abba, what is greater bodily labour or the guarding of the heart?" The Abba replied to him: “Man is like a tree; bodily labours are the leaves, and the guarding of the heart is the fruit." Furthermore, according to the Scriptures, "every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire" (Matt. 3:10). Thus, beloved brothers and sisters, all that we have said might be summed up in the words of Saint Abba Esaias, who says: "Brethren, be attentive to yourselves. How long will you labour profitlessly, your work perishing through carelessness? How long will you submit to the enemy, who lives in us and entices us daily towards defilement, who deflects us from virtue, and does not permit us to lift up our eyes to contemplate the Divine light".

Examine yourself, poor one, you who were baptised into Christ and into His death! Think what a death He surrendered Himself to for you, and do you follow in His footsteps? Show me your morals - are they akin to Him, Whose image you bear? He is sinless and in all things gave Himself as an example for you to emulate. He loved lowliness, and you avoid lowliness. He did not have where to lay His head (Matt. 8:20), and you seek spacious and comfortable accommodation. He bore with every kind of abuse, and you do not want to accept any kind of reproach. He did not return evil for evil, and you thirst for vengeance. He did not become wrathful even when He bore sufferings from others, and you, when you are put upon by others, are enraged. In the depth of dishonour He was not in the least disturbed, and you are disturbed by the slightest disgrace. He benevolently called sinners to Himself, and with your words you even alienate your friends. He good-heartedly bore offenses, and you are irritated by a slight insult. He was condescending to sinners, and you exalt yourself over them and even over those who are better than you. He gave Himself over to those who afflicted Him that He might redeem them, and you are afflicted even by those are doing good for you. 

Think on this: that He gave Himself for you, and what for your part you give Him. Recognize Him from His deeds, and yourself from your own deeds. If you have died with Him [in Baptism], then who is it that is doing these things, these sins? And so, brethren, be attentive in your life lest your mind stagnate on account of your evil deeds, lest you lose time, lest you not achieve the peace of a son of God, which peace consists in these things: that in all things you guard your humility and innocence, that you not be at enmity with anyone, that you not find comfort in anything that God detests, and that you always have your sins before your eyes, and be dead to all evil deeds. For in such a way, the God "Who cannot lie" (Titus 1:2) will come to us and, in His kind-heartedness, will heal our infirmities. Amen.

Published as an anonymous paper by the Russian Saint Elias Skete on Athos in 1896. Published in English translation in The Shepherd September 2002

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Teaching Children about the Orthodox Faith

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

Some children, influenced by what they are taught at school, have a flawed understanding of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Three common errors are listed below:
  • The Jews worship the God of the Old Testament, but Christians worship the God of the New Testament.
  • The God of the Old Testament is God the Father.
  • The Old Testament was ‘nasty’ but the New Testament is ‘nice’.
Explain to children that the Trinity exists before time began, and that all the appearances of God in the Old Testament were the unincarnate Word of God. Christ took flesh in Bethlehem as the man Jesus Christ, but was not separated from the Father and the Holy Spirit as we hear in the Akathist Hymn:
Wholly present with those below was the uncircumscribed Word, yet in no way absent from those above; for this was a divine condescension and not a mere change of place; and His birth was from a virgin chosen of God.[1]
The difference between the two Testaments can be illustrated by comparing the slaying of Uzzah for touching the Ark of the Covenant to prevent it from falling with Christ’s forbearance when being beaten by the soldiers before the Crucifixion. In both Testaments, Christ’s power is undiminished because He is God, but in the New Testament He came as a Lamb to the slaughter to destroy death by His death. St. Philaret of New York explains:
The main distinction of the New Testament law from that of the Old Testament consists in that the Old Testament law looked at the exterior actions of man, while the New Testament law looks at the heart of man, at his inner motives. Under the Old Testament law, man submitted himself to God as a slave to his master, but under the New Testament, he strives towards submitting to Him as a son to submits to a beloved father.[2]
The Holy Spirit is also active in the Old Testament, because He is inseparable from the Father and the Son, as Metropolitan Hierotheos observes:
The Holy Spirit is active in the Old Testament as well, differently from the way He acts in the New Testament, in the Church. For, as we said before, in the Old Testament, He pointed out to the prophets the transgression of the commandments and revealed the coming of Christ, while in the New Testament He makes men sons of God and members of the Body of Christ and guides them to deification. [3]
The Orthodox Church is the true heir of the Old Testament Church. Fr. Michael Pomazansky explains that:
In this heritage, some things have an eternal significance and value, but others have ceased to exist and are significant only as recollections of the past and for edification as prototypes. The Church makes use of her Old Testament heritage authoritatively, in accordance with her understanding of the world, which is complete and superior to that of ancient Israel’s.[4]
It is worth explaining to children that the righteous and the sinners that died in the Old Testament all had a second chance to believe on Christ through the preaching of St. John the Baptist in Hades. The kontakion for the Beheading of John the Baptist begins: ‘The glorious beheading of the Forerunner was a certain divine dispensation, that the coming of the Saviour might also be preached to those in Hades.’ [5]

There are many types of Christ in the Old Testament, but make sure that children understand the difference between a type and the actual appearance of the Person.

Types of the Word of God in the Old Testament

The Paschal Lamb

On seeing Christ, John the Baptist cried out ‘Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world’(John 1:29). Christ is called the Lamb of God because He is offered in sacrifice for us. Christ is our Passover. He is our ‘Paschal Lamb that has been sacrificed’(1 Corinthians 5:7). Christ was sacrificed, or rather, He gave Himself as a sacrifice so that our sins might be forgiven. Christ became man out of love for man and offered Himself up on the Cross to forgive the sins of the whole world.


St. Paul makes clear that the Rock of Horeb is a type of Christ: ‘They drank from that spiritual Rock that followed them and that Rock was Christ’ (1 Corinthians 10:4). Christ is ‘the stone which the builders rejected that has become the head of the corner’ (cf. 1 Peter 2:7); He is the ‘rock of stumbling’ prophesied by Esaias (Is. 8:14), and the ‘chief cornerstone’ of the Church (Ephesians 2:20).


The Jews, after their escape from Pharaoh, wandered in the wilderness for forty years and were fed by manna sent from heaven. This manna prefigured Christ who is the true Bread of Life. St. Gregory of Nyssa explains that this bread had a physical substance, even though it was created in a miraculous fashion. He also links together the miraculous nature of the bread which required no sowing, harvesting, grinding or mixing to make it, with the birth of Christ from the Virgin:
The bread which came down from heaven is not some incorporeal thing. For how could something incorporeal be nourishment to a body? Neither ploughing nor sowing produced the body of this bread, but earth which remained unchanged was found full of this divine food, of which the hungry partake. This miracle teaches in anticipation the mystery of the Virgin. [6]

Extract from Young Children and the Church written by the Fathers of Saint Edward Brotherhood

[1] A Prayerbook for Orthodox Christians (Brookline: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1987) p.224.


[3] Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos, The Feasts of the Lord (Levadia, Birth of the Theotokos Monastery: 2003) p.316.

[4] Protopresbyter M. Pomazansky, The Old Testament in the New Testament Church (Jordanville: Holy Trinity Monastery,1977) p.5.

[5] The Great Horologion (Brookline: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1990) p. 591.

[6] A.J. Malherbe, E. Ferguson (trans.), Gregory of Nyssa – The Life of Moses (New York: Paulist Press, 1978) p. 88.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Saints celebrated in July

July falls neatly between the Apostles’ Fast, which ends after the Liturgy on 29th June / 12th July, and the Dormition Fast which begins on 1st / 14th August.  (Remember, though, that this year the day of the Saints Peter and Paul is also a fast day because it falls on a Wednesday).  Although the month falls in mid-summer, when generally the services are a little shorter – undoubtedly because the nights are shorter and because in agricultural societies there was much more work to do  –  yet we celebrate many of the most beloved saints in July.  Saints Cosmas and Damian of Rome, the Great Martyr Procopius, the Great Martyr Marina, the Venerable Seraphim of Sarov, the holy Prophet Elias (Elijah), the Righteous Anna the mother of the Theotokos, and the Great Martyr Panteleimon are among them.

    Among the other saints celebrated in July we have:-

    The Venerable Athanasius of Athos (5th / 18th July), whose feast day coincides with the renowned Russian monastic father, Sergius of Radonezh, was named Abraham in holy Baptism, and was born in the city of Trebizond.  He was orphaned early in life, and was raised by a certain good and pious nun. He imitated his foster mother in the disciplines of monastic life, and he also progressed well in his studies.  After the nun’s death, Abraham went to Constantinople, to the court of the Emperor Romanus, and was enrolled as a student under the renowned rhetorician Athanasius.  In a short while he attained the mastery of skill of his teacher and himself became an instructor.  Reckoning asceticism to be the true way of life, Abraham led a strict and abstinent life; he slept little and then only sitting upon a stool, and barley bread and water were his nourishment.  However his teacher Athanasius, succumbing to temptation, became jealous of him, and Abraham resolved to leave.  Just at that time the Venerable Michael Maleinos (feast day: 12th / 25th July) arrived in Constantinople.  Abraham sought his counsel and revealed to him his desire to become a monk.  

The holy elder, discerning in Abraham a chosen vessel of the Holy Spirit, instructed him in the ways of salvation. Once, during their spiritual talks, Saint Michael was visited by his nephew, Nicephorus Phocas, a renowned military officer and future Emperor.  The lofty spirit and profound mind of Abraham impressed Nicephorus, and all his life he regarded the saint with reverent respect and with love.  Having forsaken everything, Abraham went to the Saint Michael’s monastery, seeking to take up the monastic life.  He was tonsured with the name Athanasius.  With severe fasts, long prayer vigils and prostrations, struggling night and day, Athanasius attained such perfection, that he was blessed to live as a solitary.  Subsequently, having left the monastery at Kimineia, he made the rounds of many desolate and solitary places, and guided by God, he came to a place called Melanos, at the very extremity of Athos, far distant from other monastic habitations.  Here he built himself a cell and began to struggle.  The enemy of mankind tried to arouse in Saint Athanasius hatred for the place he had chosen, and bombarded him with constant suggestions to leave.  Saint Athanasius decided to suffer it for a year, and then wherever the Lord should direct him, he would go.  On the last day of that year’s duration, when he started his prayer rule, a Heavenly Light suddenly shone upon him, filling him with an indescribable joy, all the thoughts dissipated, and from his eyes welled up grace-filled tears. From that time Saint Athanasius received the gift of tenderness, and he became as strongly fond of the place of his solitude as before he had been tempted to loathe it.  

At this time Nicephorus Phocas, having had his fill of military exploits, remembered a vow he had made to become a monk and he sought out Father Athanasius to build a monastery and a church where the brethren could commune of the Divine Mysteries of Christ on Sundays.  Trying to shun cares and worries, the Venerable one would not at first consent, but seeing the fervent desire and good intent of Nicephorus, and discerning in this the will of God, he set about building a monastery.  He built a large church in honour of the holy Prophet and Forerunner John the Baptist, and another church at the foot of the hill, in the name of the All-Holy Virgin Theotokos. Around the church were cells, and thus the first monastery was founded on the Holy Mountain. Brethren flocked there from far and wide, desiring to become monastics in the Laura of Saint Athanasius on Athos.  The saint established the cœnobitic rule based on the ancient Palestinian monasteries.  

The Heavenly Protectress of Athos, the All-Pure Mother of God herself, was graciously disposed towards the saint. Many times he was granted to behold her. By the sufferance of God there once occurred such a dearth of food, that the monks one after the other left the monastery. The saint remained alone and in a moment of weakness he also considered leaving.  Suddenly he beheld a Woman, coming to meet him. “Who art thou and whither goest thou?” she asked quietly.  Saint Athanasius from an innate deference halted. “I am a monk here,” he answered, and told her about his plight. “And on account of a morsel of dry bread thou would forsake thy monastery, which was intended for glory from generation to generation?  Where is thy faith?  Turn back, and I shall help thee”. “Who art thou?” asked Athanasius. “I am the Mother of thy Lord,” she replied and bade Athanasius strike a rock with his staff, such that from the fissure there gushed forth a spring of water, which continues to this day in remembrance of that visitation.  

Thereafter brethren again gathered, and the construction work at the Laura continued.  Father Athanasius, foreseeing the time of his departure to the Lord, foretold his impending end and besought the brethren not to be troubled over what he had foreseen. “For Wisdom disposeth in ways other than people do judge.” The brethren were perplexed and pondered over these words of their father. He gave the brethren his final guidance and comforted all. Saint Athanasius entered his cell, and after prolonged prayer he emerged.  Alert and joyful, the holy hegoumen went up with six of the brethren to the dome of the church to inspect the construction work.  Suddenly, through the imperceptible will of God, the dome collapsed.  Five of the monks immediately gave up their souls to God.  Saint Athanasius and the architect Daniel were thrown down under the debris but remained alive. All heard him call out to the Lord: “Glory to Thee, O God!  Lord, Jesus Christ, help me!” The brethren with great weeping began to dig their father out from the rubble, but when they found him he had already given up his holy soul.  This occurred in the year 1003.  Thus even in the manner of his dying he gave us a lesson in not judging according to the perceptions of our fallen human state.
Our Holy Father Willibald, Bishop of Eichstatt (7th / 20th July), was born about the year 704 in Wessex, probably near where Southampton now stands. When he was three years old he was stricken with a sickness and his life was despaired of, but his parents laid him at the foot of a great cross which had been erected near their house. There they prayed with great fervour, and made a vow to God that should the child recover they would consecrate him to divine service. God accepted their pious offering, and the child was immediately restored to his health.  In fulfilment of their vow his parents kept the child until he was a little older at home, and when he was five years old placed him under the Abbot Egbald in the monastery at Bishops Waltham.

The young saint in all his thoughts and actions seemed to aspire only to heaven, and his heart seemed full only of God and His holy love.  He spent his childhood at Bishops Waltham and left the monastery when he was seventeen years old, and his brother Winibald nineteen, only to accompany his father and brother in a pilgrimage to the tombs of the Apostles at Rome and to the Holy Land.  They visited many churches in France on their way; but the father, who is venerated as Saint Richard and is called a king (though there seems to be no historical record of a king with that name at that time, perhaps he was a nobleman thought to be a king and his name has been modified from its original form), died at Lucca, where his relics are still venerated in the church of Saint Fridian. The two sons went on to Rome, and there took monastic vows.  

Subsequently Winibald was obliged to return to England, and Saint Willibald and some companions continued to visit the holy places which Christ had sanctified by His sacred presence on earth.  They added most severe mortifications to the fatigues of their journey, living only on bread and water, and when on land using no other bed than the bare ground.  They sailed to Cyprus and thence into Syria.  At Emesa the saint was taken by the Saracens for a spy, was loaded with irons, and suffered much in confinement for several months, till certain persons, who were moved with compassion for him, satisfied the caliph of his innocence and procured his freedom. The holy pilgrims then pursued their journey to the holy places, sanctified by the earthly life of our Saviour.  They likewise visited all the monasteries, lavras, and hermitages in that country, and with an ardent desire to learn they imitated all the most perfect practices of virtue, and whatever might seem most conducive to the sanctification of the soul.  After seven years spent on this pilgrimage the saint and his companions arrived safely in Italy.  There the celebrated monastery of Mount Cassino had been lately repaired by Pope Gregory II, and the saint chose that house to further his monastic endeavours.  He was first appointed sacristan, afterwards dean or superior over ten monks, and during the last eight years porter, which required his dealing with the lay people that visited.  

It happened that in A.D. 738 Saint Boniface of Crediton, the Apostle of Germany, came to Rome, and he begged Pope Gregory III that Willibald, who was his cousin, might be sent to assist him in his missions in Germany.  The pope desired to see the monk, and was much delighted with the history of his travels, and edified by his virtue. At the close of their conversation, he told him of Bishop Boniface’s request. Willibald desired to go back to his monastery to obtain the blessing of his abbot; but the pope told him his order sufficed, and commanded him to go without more ado into Germany. The saint did so in obedience. Accordingly he set out for Thuringia, where St. Boniface then was, and by whom he was ordained priest.  His labours in the country about Eichstatt, in Franconia and Bavaria, were crowned with success.  

In A.D. 746, he was consecrated by St. Boniface as Bishop of Eichstatt. This dignity made trial of his humility, but he used it to increase his zeal. The cultivation of so rough a vineyard was a laborious task, but patience and invincible meekness overcame difficulties. His charity was most tender and compassionate, and he had a singular talent for comforting the afflicted. He founded a monastery which resembled in discipline that of Mount Cassino, to which he often resorted. But his love of solitude did not diminish his pastoral solicitude for his flock. He was attentive to all their spiritual necessities, he often visited every part of his charge, and instructed all his people with indefatigable zeal and charity. His fasts were most austere, nor did he allow himself any indulgence in them or in his labours on account of his great age, till his strength was entirely exhausted.

Having laboured almost forty-five years in setting in order and sanctifying his diocese, he died at Eichstatt in A.D. 790, being eighty-seven years of age, and was buried in his own cathedral.  Since his repose he has been glorified as the worker of many miracles.  The two brother Saints Winibald and Willibald also had a sister, Walburga, who is greatly venerated in Bavaria and her sacred relics were later laid besides those of her brother, Saint Willibald.

Excerpt from the July issue of The Shepherd

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Homily on the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul

After His Resurrection, Christ said to the Apostle Peter who had denied Him: "When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself and walkedst whither thou wouldest; but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee and carry thee whither thou wouldest not" (John 21:18).

Without doubt with these words Jesus Christ foretold the martyric death of a disciple whom He loved, and actually this is confirmed by the words of the evangelist which follow: "This spake He, signifying by what death he should glorify God" (John 21:19). Furthermore the Greek text of these words gives one cause to think that Christ stretched out His hands in the form of the cross as He foretold to him death on a cross. In actuality the Apostle Peter was crucified head-down.

From the most ancient history of the Christian Church we know that all the other disciples of Christ ended their lives as martyrs. Only one, Saint John the Theologian, died a natural death, although even he did not escape sufferings. The Apostles knew that afflictions awaited them (John 16:33), but this in no way confounded them in boldly and zealously spreading the light of Christ's teaching. On the contrary, with joy they bore injurious beating (cf. Acts 5:40-41, Col. 1:24).

Evidently the example of their Divine Teacher always stood clearly before their eyes (John 13:15). "If they have persecuted Me," He said, "they will also persecute you (John 15:20), and this is quite understandable, because "the servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him" (John 13:16). Therefore they firmly proclaimed that through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). To them it would have seemed beyond comprehension that they should live in any other way than had their Teacher, Who had not where to lay His head (Luke 9:58). "If one died for all, then were all dead. But Christ died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again" (2 Cor. 5:14-15). This filled their hearts with the assurance that when our earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved, we have of God a building in the heavens, not made with hands, eternal (2 Cor. 5:1), to which they strove irrepressibly; having a desire to depart, says the holy Apostle Paul, and to be with Christ (Phil. 1:23). His desire was fulfilled before natural death overtook him: "Already they offer me in sacrifice" – he wrote not long before his end – "and the time of my departure is at hand" (2 Tim. 4:6). On the 29th June in the year 67 he was beheaded with the sword.

In this way the Apostles lived physically on earth, but spiritually they were in heaven. They were not disturbed by the bloody end which faced them, but on the contrary they rejoiced and counted it a blessing to follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is why the Apostle Paul even says with boldness: "Be ye imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (1 Cor. 4:16).

Of course, this does not mean that all are to be martyrs, for it was only to the Apostles that Jesus Christ foretold a martyric end, and even so He did so not to predestinate such a death. In any event what is important for us is that the holy Apostles' love of their Divine Teacher extended to selflessness: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13), and they actually did lay down their lives for they remembered Christ's precept, "He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me.... If a man love Me, he will keep My words" (John 14:21, 23). In such love there is no fear (see 1 John 3:17), for as the holy Apostle Paul cries out: "Who shall separate us from the love of God; shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?" (Rom. 8:35). No one and nothing can separate us (cf. Rom. 8:38-39).

O friends and brethren, may the example of Christ's holy disciples be instructive for us. Let not the afflictions and distress of this sinful and adulterous world make us fearful, for the Lord never sends trials which are greater than we can bear (1 Cor. 10:18). And all the blood poured out from the time of the Apostles to that of the numberless martyrs of our days will serve as the very best cement to bind all believing Christians into the one body, the Church of Christ, against which the gates of Hades shall not prevail (Matt. 16:18).

O holy, glorious and all-famed Chiefs of the Apostles, Peter and Paul, whose memory we now prayerfully keep, we call upon you assiduously: help us to abide in peace and concord that the love of Christ might be inflamed. Pray to God for us! Amen.

By Archpriest Leonid Kolchev 
Translated from a collection of sermons published in Copenhagen, 1938 

Thursday, 6 July 2017

New Blog

The Fathers of Saint Edward Brotherhood have just started a new blog! 'A Young Adult's Guide to the Orthodox Church' is aimed at Orthodox young people (and their parents!). This new blog will deal with both contemporary issues and aspects of traditional Orthodoxy in an approachable way mainly in the form of short articles and question and answer posts. Please feel to comment and leave your own questions which we will attempt to answer if we are able.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Guidance for Confession

From Hieroschemamonk Ambrose's Book,"On the Grace-filled Activity of the Prayer of Jesus"

With God's help, I came to Kiev. My first and most important desire was to prepare, confess and commune of the Holy Mysteries of Christ in that grace-filled place, and so I settled as near as possible to the God-pleasers [i.e. the saints whose sacred relics repose in the Caves Monastery - transl.], the better to be able to go to God's house. A good, elderly Cossack took me into his hut, and as he lived alone, it was peaceful and quiet for me there. Throughout the week during which I was preparing for confession, I often thought how best to confess. I began to remember things from my youth and to examine all my sins in detail, so as not to forget anything. I started to write everything that I remembered down even the most trifling things, and I wrote out a huge list.

I heard that seven versts [a verst is about two-thirds of a mile - ed.] from Kiev in the Kitaev Hermitage there was a spiritual father who lived an ascetic life and was very wise and prudent. Whoever visited him for his soul's profit, came away with a feeling of tenderness, restored by his spiritual instruction, and with a feeling of lightness in his heart. This delighted me and without delay I went to see him. Having asked his advice and talked with him, I gave him my list to look through. When he had read it, he told me:

"You, beloved friend, have written down much that is useless. Now, listen: 1) you must not say in confession those sins which you have formerly confessed and which have been absolved and which you have not repeated, for to do otherwise would be to be untrusting of the efficacy of the mystery of confession; 2) you must not mention other people who were involved in the circumstances of your sins, but must only judge yourself; 3) the Holy Fathers forbid us to tell our sins in every detail, but to identify them in general terms, lest by our particular fastidiousness we cause a temptation for ourselves and for the spiritual father; 4) you came to repent, but haven't repented of that which you did not think to repent of, that is how coldly and carelessly you are offering your repentance; 5) you have catalogued all the slight things, but have lost sight of the most important thing, you have not revealed the most grievous sins; you have not even recognized them or written down that you do not love God, that you hate your neighbour; that you do not believe the word of God and that you are overflowing with pride and self-esteem. In these four sins there is mixed all the abyss of evil and all our spiritual depravity. They are the main roots, from which spring all branches of our falls into sin."

Hearing this, I was amazed, and I began to speak: "Be merciful, venerable father, but how can I not love God, our Creator and Protector? How not believe in the word of God itself? - in it everything is true and holy. And I wish well to each of my neighbours; yes, and why would I hate them? In no way can I be proud; except for my innumerable sins, I have nothing at all to boast of. And in my state of poverty and illness, in what way can I enjoy sensual pleasures and lasciviousness? Of course, if I had been educated and rich, then without a doubt, I would have been guilty of the things you have said."

The elder replied: "It is a pity, beloved, that you have understood so little of what I have explained to you. So as to make you understand more quickly, I will give you the crib-sheet that I always use myself when I confess. Read it through and you will see clearly all that I have just told you, set out precisely." The spiritual father handed me his list, and I began to read it.


Having attentively turned my gaze upon myself, and observing my inner disposition, I am convinced by the experience that I do not love God, that I have no love for my neighbour, that I do not believe anything religious and that I am full of pride and sensual love. I have actually found all this in myself through this detailed examination of my feelings and actions, thus:

1) I do not love God.

For if I loved God, then I would unceasingly think about Him with heartfelt satisfaction; every thought of God would then bring me a delightful sweetness. On the contrary, I much more often and much more readily entertain worldly thoughts, and reflections on God seem to me heavy and dry. If I loved God, then conversation with Him in prayer would nourish me; it would delight me and draw me to uninterrupted communion with Him; but, on the contrary, not only am I not delighted by prayer, but even when occupied by it I feel it to be a labour, I have to fight against reluctance, I become enfeebled by laziness, and am always ready to turn my attention to something else of little importance, just so that I can shorten my prayers or even give them up.

When I am engaged in empty occupations time flies by for me unnoticed; but when occupying myself with God, when placing myself in His presence, every hour seems to me like a whole year. But if someone loves another, then he thinks of him throughout the whole day, he represents him to himself, he is concerned about him, and in whatever he may be occupied the beloved friend does not leave his thoughts; but for the course of a whole day, I hardly set aside even one hour, that I might immerse myself deeply in thoughts of God and that might ignite the love of Him within me, but the twenty-three hours I readily offer as a willing sacrifice to the idols which are my passions.

When conversing about worldly, vain things, and about subjects which are demeaning for the soul, I am full of spirits and I feel satisfaction, but when conversation turns to the things of God I dry up, becoming bored and indolent. If, moreover, I am involuntarily drawn into a conversation with others about sacred things, I try to turn the conversation quickly to something which will flatter my passions. I am insatiably curious about the news, about events in the world, about political developments; I greedily feed my obsession for knowing about the worldly sciences and about the arts, and that for acquisitions, but the study of God's Law [catechism], of the knowledge of God, and of religion, make no impression upon me at all; it does not feed my soul, and I study it not as the only indispensable study for the Christian but as a side-issue and accessory subject, to which I have to apply myself if perhaps I have some spare time or am at leisure.

To put it succinctly, if love for God is manifest in the fulfilment of His commandments - and the Lord Jesus Christ says, "If ye love Me, ye will keep My commandments," - and I not only do not keep them but even do not try much to do so, then according to the plain truth itself it follows that I do not love God. Saint Basil the Great confirms this, saying: :"If anyone does not keep His commandments, it is proof that he does not love God and His Christ"

2) I do not love my neighbour.

Because I not only do not lay down my soul (as the Gospel says) for the good of my neighbour, but I do not even sacrifice my honour, my benefit or my peace for the good of my neighbour. If I loved him, according to the Evangelical precept, as myself, them his misfortune would affect me as well, and his good fortune would bring me delight. But, on the contrary, I listen with great curiosity to unhappy news about my neighbour, and I am not distressed by it, but I remain indifferent to it, or, what is even more criminal, I find a certain satisfaction in this. And I do not cover the evil actions of my brother in love, but I noise them abroad, adding judgment thereto. His good standing, honour and happiness do not delight me, as should be the case, and what is even worse, they do not evoke in me a feeling of joy, but they very subtly arouse in me as kind of envy or of disdain.

3) I do not believe in anything religious.

Neither immortality, nor the Gospel. If I were firmly convinced and undoubtingly believed that beyond the grave there was life eternal with requital for deeds committed on earth, then I would reflect on this constantly; the very thought of immortality would horrify me and I would spend my life like a traveller preparing to return to his homeland. On the contrary, I do not even think about eternity, and I consider the end of this present life as but the limit of my existence. The secret thought nestles in me: who knows what will be after death?

If I say that I believe in immortality, then I say this only according to the intellect, but my heart is a long way from being firmly convinced of this, as my deeds make manifest and as does my continual concern for the good arrangement of the things of this perceptible life. If the Holy Gospel, being the word of God, were received in faith by my heart, I would be continually studying it, I would learn it, I would be satisfied by it and I would look upon it with the deepest reverence. Wisdom, goodness and love, which are hidden therein, would lead me to delight; I would be sustained by instruction in God's Law day and night, I would be nourished thereby, as it were by daily bread, and I would be heartfeltly drawn to fulfil its precepts. Nothing earthly would be strong enough to draw me away from it. But, on the contrary, when occasionally I read or hear the word of God, whether it be of necessity or through a desire to learn, even then I do not pay it the greatest attention, I feel dryness, inattentiveness and, as if it were just routine reading, I leave it without any particular benefit, and I readily rush on to turn to reading worldly things in which I find more satisfaction, and more new subjects to engross me.

4) I am full of pride and sensual self-love.

All my actions make clear that, seeing good in myself, I desire to make a show of it, either by getting praise from others thereby or by an inner love of self; and even though I manifest an apparent humility, yet I attribute everything to my own powers, and I consider myself superior to others, or, at the very least, in no way worse than they. If I notice some defect in myself, I try to excuse it, to cover it, as if it were some personal necessity or were harmless; being irritated by those who are disrespectful towards me, I consider them people unworthy of consideration; I am vainglorious of my talents; I consider my failures in undertakings as affronts; I gossip about and rejoice at the misfortunes of my enemies; and if I do attempt something good, then I have some purpose or praise, or some spiritual self-interests or worldly comfort in view. In a word, I constantly make an idol of myself, to which I offer unremitting service, always seeking sensual gratification and food for the satisfaction of my passions and vices.

From all that I have enumerated, I see that I am proud, adulterous, faithless, one who does not love God and hates his neighbour. What situation could be more sinful? The state of the spirits of darkness is better than my situation; although they do not love God and hate man, although they live by and are nourished by pride, yet at the very least they believe and, because of that belief, they tremble. But what of me? Surely it can only be a calamitous fate that awaits me? And how much severer and more punishing will be the sentence of the judgment in view of the inattentiveness and foolhardiness of life, which I have recognized in myself!

Having read the confession that the spiritual father had given me, I was horrified and thought to myself, "My God, how dreadfully sin has eaten into me, and until now I had not even noticed!" And so the desire to be cleansed of it forced me to ask guidance from this great spiritual father, in what way, as he had recognized the causes of all the evils, I could find the means of correction. This is how he began to explain:

"Do you not see, beloved brother, that the cause of not loving God is not believing, the cause of not believing is lack of conviction, and the cause of lack of conviction is failure to seek out the radiant truths of knowledge, negligence regarding the illumination of the soul. In a word, one can say: if you don't believe, it is impossible to love; if you are not convinced, it is impossible to believe. And in order to be convinced, it is imperative to gain a full and thorough understanding of the subject in hand; and it follows that it is absolutely necessary by means of reflection, of study of the word of God and of experimental observation, to inspire in the soul a thirst and a longing, or to explain it another way, a 'wonder' which will produce an unquenchable desire to comprehend things, and more deeply to penetrate matters in their essence."

"One spiritual writer formulated it thus: 'Love,' said he, 'usually develops from understanding, and the greater the depth and breadth of the understanding, so much the greater will be the love, and so much more opportunely will the soul be softened and conformed to the Divine love, while diligently looking towards the most praeter-perfect and most exquisite being of God and His unexcelled love for man’.”

"Well, now you see that the cause of the sins which you read out is slothfulness of mind with regard to spiritual matters, which quenches the very feeling of their usefulness. If you wish to know the way of escaping from this evil, then in every possible way strive for spiritual illumination, achieve it with diligent study of the word of God, with study of the Holy Fathers, with reflection, with spiritual counsel, and by conversing with those who are wise in Christ."

Translated from a photo-lithograph of the Los Angeles Vicariate of the Russian Church Abroad.