Excerpt from the homily on the Dormition of the Theotokos by St. Germanos of Con­stantinople

“It is time, My Mother,” says the Lord, “to take thee to Myself. Just as thou hast filled the earth & all who dwell in it with joy, O thou who enjoyest such grace, come, & make the heavens joyful once again. Make My Father’s dwelling-place radiant; be a spiritual guide for the souls of the Saints. For when they see thy glorious passage here to My side, escorted by angels, they will be convinced in their faith that their own place, too, through thee, will be to dwell here in My light. Come, then, in exultation; rejoice now, as thou didst rejoice at the archangel’s greeting. In every way thou now hast the dignity of thy title, ‘Full of Grace.’ As when thou wast about to conceive Me thou wast invited to rejoice, so rejoice again in My de-sire to take thee to Myself. Do not be disturbed at leaving behind the corruptible world, with all its de-sires. Forget about its power of corruption. For thou wilt not leave those who live in the world bereft of thy protection; but just as I, Who am not of the world, watch over those who live in it & take care of them, so thy patronage will not be taken away from those who live in the world, until its consummation.

“The extravagant demands of the flesh will no longer disturb thee. Thou art ascending to a fuller life, to joyful rest, to unconquerable peace, to an existence untroubled by cares, to delights free of passion, to permanent freedom from distraction, to unending enjoyment, to a Light that never fades, to a Day without evening—to Me, the Creator of all that is, including thee. Where I am, there is eternal life, incomparable joy, a dwelling-place without parallel, an indestructible city. Where I am, then, thou wilt also be: a Mother inseparably one with her undivided Son. Where God is, there is all goodness of heart, all delight, all bril-liance. No one who knows My glory wishes to abandon it. No one who comes to My rest seeks again the things of the corruptible world. Ask Peter if there was any comparison or likeness between the world & Mount Tabor, when he gazed for a short time on My Glory.
“When thou didst live in the world of corruptible things, I revealed My power to thee in visions; now that thou art passing from that life, I will show Myself to thee face to face. Give the earth what belongs to it, without anxiety. Thy body belongs to Me, & since the ends of the earth are in My hand, no one can take anything from Me. Entrust thy body to Me, just as I placed My divinity trustingly in thy womb. Thy soul, full of divine power, will see the Glory of My Father. Thine immaculate body will see the Glory of His only-begotten Son. Thy pure spirit will see the Glory of the all-holy Spirit.

“Death shall make no boast at thy expense, for thou hast given birth to Life Itself. Thou art My vessel; the mortal cracks caused by the fall shall not break thee apart. The overshadowing gloom shall not rob thee of sight. Come eagerly to the One Whom thou broughtest into the world. I want to make thee happy, as a son should do—to pay thee the pension due a Mother’s womb, to recompense thee for feeding My milk, to reward thee for thy nurture, to give thy maternal love its full return. Thou begot Me, Mother, as thy only Son; now make the choice to come & live with Me, for I know thy heart is not divided by love for another child. I revealed thee as My Virgin Mother; now I will make thee a Mother who rejoices in her Son. I will show the world now to be thy debtor, & when thou come to Me, I will glorify thy name still more. I shall build thee into the wall of the universe, into a bridge for those who are awash in the waves, an ark of salvation, a staff for the disabled, an advocate for sinners, a ladder to Heaven strong enough to bear the weight of all humanity as it climbs.

“Come, then, with joy! Open up Paradise, which thine ancestor Eve, thy natural sister, had locked. Enter into the joy of thy Son. Let go of the Jerusalem that is below, & hasten up to the Heavenly City; for the Jerusalem below, ‘lamentation will soon be multiplied,’ as Scripture has it, “like the lamentation for the pomegranate grove cut down in the plain” (Zach 12:11 [LXX]). Lie down to rest, if only in appearance, in Gethsemane, the place of thy tomb. I will not leave thee alone there for long. I will come to thee very quickly, when thou hast been buried in the sepulchre—not to dwell in thee again by being conceived, as I once was, but rather to take thee now to dwell with Me. Rest thy body confidently in Gethsemane, as once I rested My knees there in human prayer, before My Passion. I gave thee an image of thine own death, bending on that very ground the knees I took from thy body. As I came forth willingly, then, after that prostration, to a death on the Cross that was the Source of Life, thou, too, will pass immediately into Life when thy remains have been laid in the earth.

“Behold, My disciples are coming to receive thee; they, My spiritual sons who are filled with My light, will bury thee in all reverence & piety. I have bestowed on them the grace of adoption as sons, as thou thyself can testify (see John 19:26f). Se when thou art laid by them in the tomb, consider that it is My hands which are caring for thee; for it is not fitting that thou shouldest be laid to rest by anyone else but My Apostles, in whom the Holy Spirit makes His home & who represent My own Person. Only they can do honor to thou passing, O all-immaculate one!”

The 7 Holy Youths of Ephesus

The 7 Youths of Ephesus: Maximilian, Iamblicus, Martin-ian, John, Dionysius, Exacustodianus (Constantine) & Antoninus, lived in the 3rd century. St Maximilian was the son of the Ephesus city administrator, & the other 6 youths were sons of illustrious citizens of Ephesus. The youths were friends from childhood, & all were in military service together.

When the emperor Decius (249-251) arrived in Ephesus, he commanded all the citizens to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. Torture & death awaited anyone who disobeyed. The 7 youths were denounced by informants & were sum-moned to reply to the charges. Appearing before the emperor, the young men confess-ed their faith in Christ.
Their military belts & insignia were quickly taken from them. Decius permitted them to go free, however, hoping that they would change their minds while he was off on a military campaign. The youths fled from the city & hid in a cave on Mount Ochlon, where they passed their time in prayer, preparing for martyrdom.

The youngest of them, St Iamblicus, dressed as a beggar & went into the city to buy bread. On 1 of his ex-cursions into the city, he heard that the emperor had returned & was looking for them. St Maximilian urged his companions to come out of the cave & present themselves for trial.

Learning where the young men were hidden, the emperor ordered that the entrance of the cave be sealed with stones so that the saints would perish from hunger & thirst. 2 of the dignitaries at the blocked en-trance to the cave were secret Christians. Desiring to preserve the memory of the saints, they placed in the cave a sealed container containing 2 metal plaques. On them were inscribed the names of the 7 youths & the details of their suffering & death.

The Lord placed the youths into a miraculous sleep lasting almost 2 centuries. In the meantime, the persecutions against Christians had ceased. During the reign of the holy emperor Theodosius the Younger (408-450) there were heretics who denied that there would be a general resurrection of the dead at the 2nd Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some of them said, “How can there be a resurrection of the dead when there will be neither soul nor body, since they are disintegrated?” Others affirmed, “The souls alone will have a restoration, since it would be impossible for bodies to arise & live after 1,000 years, when even their dust would not remain.” Therefore, the Lord revealed the mystery of the Resurrection of the Dead & of the future life through His 7 saints.

The owner of the land on which Mount Ochlon was situated, discovered the stone construction, & his workers opened up the cave entrance. The Lord had kept the youths alive, & they awoke from their sleep, unaware that almost 200 years had passed. Their bodies & clothing were completely undecayed.

Preparing to accept torture, the youths once again asked St Iamblicus to buy bread for them in the city. Going toward the city, the youth was astonished to see a cross on the gates. Hearing the name of Jesus Christ freely spoken, he began to doubt that he was approaching his own city.

When he paid for the bread, Iamblicus gave the merchant coins with the image of the emperor Decius on it. He was detained, as someone who might be concealing a horde of old money. They took St. Iamblicus to the city administrator, who also happened to be the Bishop of Ephesus. Hearing the bewildering answers of the young man, the bishop perceived that God was revealing some sort of mystery through him & went with other people to the cave.

At the entrance to the cave the bishop found the sealed container & opened it. He read upon the metal plaques the names of the 7 youths & the details of the sealing of the cave on the orders of the Emperor Decius. Going into the cave & seeing the saints alive, everyone rejoiced & perceived that the Lord, by waking them from their long sleep, was demonstrating to the Church the mystery of the Resurrection of the Dead.

Soon the emperor himself arrived in Ephesus & spoke with the young men in the cave. Then the holy youths, in sight of everyone, lay their heads upon the ground & fell asleep again, this time until the General Resurrection.

The Emperor wanted to place each of the youths into a jeweled coffin, but they appeared to him in a dream & said that their bodies were to be left upon the ground in the cave. In the 12th century the Russian pilgrim Igumen Daniel saw the holy relics of the 7 youths in the cave.

There is a 2nd commemoration of the 7 youths on Oct. 22. According to 1 tradition, which entered into the Russian PROLOGUE (of Saints’ Lives), the youths fell asleep for the 2nd time on this day. The Greek MENAION of 1870 says that they first fell asleep on Aug. 4, & woke up on Oct, 22.

There is a prayer of the 7 Sleepers of Ephesus in the GREAT BOOK OF NEEDS for those who are ill & cannot sleep. The 7 Sleepers are also mentioned in the service for the Church New Year, Sept. 1.

Sayings of Our Righteous Father Sisoes the Great of Egypt

  • A brother whom another brother had wronged came to see Abba Sisoes and said to him, “My brother has hurt me and I want to avenge myself.”  The old man pleaded with him saying, “No, my child, leave vengeance to God.”  He said to him, “I shall not rest until I have avenged myself.”  The old man said, “Brother, let us pray.”  Then the old man stood up and said, “God, we no longer need you to care for us, since we do justice for ourselves.”  Hearing these words, the brother fell at the old man’s feet saying, “I will no longer seek justice from my brother, forgive me, abba.”
  • He also said, “When there is someone who takes care of you, you do not give him orders.”
  • A brother asked Abba Sisoes, “What shall I do, abba, for I have fallen?”  The old man said to him “Get up again.”  The brother said, “I have got up again, but I have fallen again.”  The old man said, “Get up again and again.”  So the brother said, “How many times?”  The old man said, “Until you are taken up either in virtue or in sin.  For a man presents himself to judgement in the state in which he is found.”
  • Abba Sisoes said, “Let yourself be despised, cast your own will behind your back, and you will be free from care and at peace.”

Our Righteous Father Sisoes the Great of Egypt is commemorated on 6 July.

 

On the Veneration of the Saints

On the Veneration of the Saints1

by Fr Georges Florovsky

CHRIST HAS CONQUERED THE WORLD. This victory is further unveil-ed & fulfilled in the fact that He built His Church. In Christ & through Christ the unity of mankind was brought about truly for the 1st time, for those who believed in His Name become the Body of Christ. And through uniting with Christ they unite likewise with each other in a most sincere concord of love. In this great unity all empirical distinctions & barriers are done away with: differences of birth in the flesh are effaced within the unity of a spiritual birth. The Church is a new people filled with grace, which does not coincide with any physical [geographical] boundaries or any earthly nation —neither Greeks nor Jews, & a struggle of faith, through the “Mystery of water,” through a union with Christ in the “Mysterious font,” through the “grace of becoming sons”; i.e. “sons of God” for Whom were all things created that are in heaven & that are in earth.” In Holy Christening the one to be enlight-ened leaves “this world” & forsakes its vanity, as if freeing himself & step-ping out of the “natural” order of things; from the order of “flesh & blood” one enters an order of grace. All inherited ties & all ties of blood are severed. But man is not left solitary or alone. For according to the expression of the Apostle “by 1 Spirit are we all baptized,” neither Scythians nor Barbarians–& this nation does not spring through a relationship of blood but through freedom into 1 Body. The whole meaning of Holy Christening consists in the fact that it is a mysterious ac-ceptance into the Church, into the City of God, into the Kingdom of Grace. Through Christening the believer becomes a member of the Church, enters the “1 Church of angels & men,” becomes a “co-citizen of the Saints & ever with God,” according to the mysterious & solemn words of St. Paul–one comes “to mount Zion & to the city of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem & to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly & Church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven & to God the Judge of all & to the spirits of just men made perfect.” And in this great throng he is united unto Christ. For, unus Christianus-nullus Christianus[“one Christian-no Christian”].

The essence of the Church is in its unity, for the Church is the Mansion of the One Spirit. This is not an ex-ternal & empirical unity or catholicity. The Ecumenical2 character of the Church is not something external, quantitative, spatial, not even any geographical quality & does not at all depend on the universal dispersal of believers. The visible unity of the Church is merely a result but not a foundation for the catholicity of the Church. Geographical “universality” is a derivative & not an essential necessity. The catholicity3 of the Church was not diminished in the 1st ages of Christianity when communities of the faithful were scattered like small islands, almost lost in the immense world of unbelief & resistance. It is likewise not diminished now when the majority of mankind is not with Christ. “Though a town or even a province fall away from the Ecumenical Church,” says Metropolitan Philaret (Metropolitan of Moscow, +1867), “the Ecumenical Church will always remain a complete & incorruptible body.” Likewise the Church will remain Ecumenical in the “last days” when it will be compressed into the “little flock,” when the mystery of “retreat” will be revealed & when faith will hardly be found on earth. For the Church is Catholic according to its nature.

If one seeks for external definitions, then perhaps the Ecumenical nature of the Church is best expressed by the feature of its “all-timeness” (of its running through all times). For believers of all ages & all generations, who are alive now, who lived & who will be born, belong to it in the same way. They all form 1 body, & through the same prayer are united into 1 before the 1 throne of the Lord of Glory. The experience of this unity through all times is revealed & sealed in the whole cycle of Divine worship. In the Church time is myste-riously overcome. The outpouring of grace seems to stop time, to stop the run of minutes & seasons, to overcome even the general order of consecutiveness & the disconnectedness of those things which took place at different times. In a unity with Christ through grace, in the gift of communion with the One, differ-ent epochs & generations are bound together in the communion of the one Spirit; all the members of the Church throughout all the ages become our living contemporaries. Christ reigns equally in the Church among the departed & among the living, for God is not God of the dead but of the living.

The Church is a Kingdom not of this world but an eternal Kingdom, for it has an eternal King–Christ. The Church is a kind of mysterious image of eternity & a foretaste of the Resurrection of all. For Christ the Head of the Body is “the Life & the Resurrection” of His servants & brothers. The measure of births has not yet been filled & the stream of time still flows. The Church is still in its historical wanderings but even now time has no power & no strength in it. It is as if the Apocalyptic4 moment is forestalled–when there shall be no more time & all time shall cease. Earthly death, the separation of the soul from the body, does not sever the tie between those who have faith, does not part & does not separate co-members in Christ, does not exclude the deceased from the limits & composition of the Church. In the prayer for the departed & in the order for burial we pray Christ “our immortal King & God” to send the souls of the departed to the habitations of the holy, “to the abodes of the righteous,” “to the bosom of Abraham,” where all the righteous are at rest. And with special expressiveness in these parting prayers we remember & call on the hosts of the righteous & on the Mother of God & on the powers of heaven [the angels] & on the holy Martyrs & on all the Saints as on our heavenly co-citizens in the Church. With powerful emphasis the all-timely & catholic consciousness of the Church is disclosed in the order of burial. The faithful who attain to a genuine union with Christ Himself in their struggle & in the saving “mysteries” cannot be parted from Him even by death. “Blessed are they who die in the Lord–their souls shall abide with the blessed.” And the prayers for the de-parted are a witness & measure of the catholic consciousness of the Church.

Reverently the Church watches for any signs of grace which witness & confirm the earthly struggle of the departed. By an inner sight the Church recognizes both the righteous living & the righteous departed, & the feeling of the Church is sealed by the witness of the priesthood of the Church. In this recognition of its brothers & members who have “attained to perfection” consists the mystical essence of that which in the Christian West is termed the “canonization of Saints” & which is understood by the Orthodox East as their glorification, magnification & blessedness. And firstly it is a glorification of God “Wonderous is the Lord in His Saints.” “God’s Saints,” said St. John of Damascus (theologian & hymnographer, Palestine, +749), “reigned over & mastered their passions & kept uninjured the likeness unto the image of God, according to which they were created; they of their own free will united themselves with God & received Him into the habitation of their heart; & having thus received Him in communion, through grace, they became in their very nature like unto Him.” In them God rests–they became “the treasures & the pure habitations of God.” In this the mystery was accomplished. For as the ancient fathers said–the Son of God became man so that men could be deified, so that sons of men should become sons of God. And in the righteous who attain to love this measure of growth & “likening” unto Christ is fulfilled. “The Saints in their lifetime already were filled with the Holy Spirit,” continues St. John of Damascus, “& when they died the grace of the Holy Spirit was still present with their souls & with their bodies in the graves & with their images & with their holy ikons not because of their nature but because of grace & its activity… the Saints are alive & with daring they stand before the Lord; they are not dead … the death of Saints is more like falling asleep than death,” for they “abide in the hand of God”; that is, in life & in light … And after He Who is Life itself & the Source of life was ranked among the dead, we consider no more as dead those who depart with a hope of resurrection & with faith in Him.” And it is not only to get help & intercession that the Holy Spirit teaches every believer to pray to the glorified Saints but also because this calling on them, through communion in prayer, deepens the consciousness of the Catholic unity of the Church. In our invocation of the Saints our measure of Chris-tian love is exhibited, a living feeling of unanimity & of the power of Church unity is expressed; &, con-versely, doubt or inability to feel the intercession of grace & the intervention of Saints on our behalf before God witnesses not only to a weakening of love & of the brotherly & Church ties & relationships but also to a decrease in the fullness of faith in the Ecumenical5 value & power of the Incarnation & Resurrection.

1 of the most mysterious manifestations of the oneness of the Church found within Orthodox Tradition is the contemplation of the “Protecting Veil of the Mother of God (Feast, Oct. 1st & in Greece, Oct. 28th),” of Her constant standing in prayer for the world, surrounded by all the Saints, before the throne of God. “Today the Virgin stands in the Church & with hosts of Saints invisibly prays to God for us all; angels & high priests6 worship; Apostles & Prophets embrace each other–it is for us that the Mother of God prays unto the Eternal God!” Thus the Church remembers the vision which was once seen by St. Andrew, the fool for Christ’s sake (ascetic, Constantinople, +936). And that which was then visibly revealed remains now & will stand for all ages. The “Contemplation of the Protecting Veil” of the Mother of God is a vision of the celes-tial Church, a vision of the unbreakable & ever-existent unity of the heavenly & the earthly Church. And it is also a foreseeing that all existence beyond the grave, of the Righteous & the Saints, is 1 untiring prayer, 1 ceaseless intercession & mediation. For love is the “union of all perfection.” And the blessedness of the righteous is an abiding in love. The Great Eastern Saint, St. Isaac the Syrian (hermit, sometime bishop of Nineveh, Iraq, +ca. 700), with incomparable daring, bore witness to the all-embracing power which crowns a Christian’s struggles. According to his words this struggle for God acquires fullness & completeness & attains its aim in purity –& purity is “a heart which is merciful to every created being.” And what is a heart that has such mercy? asks the saint, & answers: “A burning of the heart for all creation for men, birds, beasts, demons & all creatures. And from remembrance of them & contemplation of them such a man’s eyes shed tears: be-cause of a great & strong compassion which possesses his heart & its great constancy, he is overwhelmed with tender pity & he cannot bear or hear of or see any harm or any even small sorrow which creatures suf-fer. And therefore he prays hourly with tears for the dumb animals & for the enemies of Truth & for those who harm him that they should be guarded & that they should be shown mercy; & also for all the reptiles he prays, from this great compassion which is constantly aroused in his heart in likeness to God.” And if even on earth so fiery is the prayer of Saints, even with a more fiery flame it burns “there” in the “embrace of the Father” on the bosom of Divine Love, close to God, Whose Name is Love, Whose care about the World is Love. And in the Church Trium-phant7 prayers for the whole Catholic Church do not cease. As St. Cyp-rian (martyred bishop of Carthage, North Africa, +258) said—Christian prayer is for all the world; everyone prays not only for himself but for all people, for all form 1, & so we pray not with a particular individual prayer but with 1 common to all, with 1 soul in all. The whole deed of prayer must be determined by an ecumenical consciousness & unanimous love, which includes likewise those whose names are known to God alone. It is not characteristic of a Christian to feel himself alone & separated from all, for he is saved only in the unity of the Church. And the crown of all pray-er is that flaming love which was expressed in the prayer of Moses: “For-give their sin; & if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written…” The center of Church worship is Eucharistic worship. Here the whole Church is united also. Here a sacrifice is made & prayers are offered “for all & for all things,” here the whole Church is remem-bered the militant & the triumphant. In the mystery-action of the Liturgy “the powers of heaven invisibly celebrate with us,” they are present & celebrate with the celebrating priest. And unto great Saints it was granted sometimes by God’s grace to contemplate in visible form that which is hidden from the sight of the sinful–the co-celebration of the angels. Thus it is known that St. Seraphim of Sarov (Russian ascetic, +1833) on 1 occasion was granted to see the triumphant entrance of the Lord of glory surrounded by hosts of angels. Such an entrance of the Lord of glory is often represented in ikon form on the walls of the holy Altar, & not only as a symbol but likewise as an indication that invisibly all this actually takes place. And all the ikon decoration of the Church generally speaks of the mysterious unity, of the actual presence of the Saints with us. “We picture Christ, the King & the Lord, without separating Him from His army, for, the army of the Lord are the Saints”–said St. John of Damascus. Holy ikons are not only images of remembrance, “images of the past & of righteousness,” not only pictures, but are actually sacred things with which, as the fathers explained, the Lord is “present” & by grace is “in communion with them”. There exists some mys-terious objective tie between the “image” & the “prototype,” between the likeness & he/she who is repre-sented, which is specially marked in miracle-working ikons which show God’s power. “A venerating wor-ship” of holy ikons clearly expresses the idea of the Church’s conception of the past: it is not only a remem-brance directed to something gone, but a vision by grace of something fixed in eternity, a vision of some-thing mysterious, a presence by grace of those who are dead & parted from us, “a joyful vision of a unity of all creation.”

All creation has a Head in Christ. And through His Incarnation the Son of God, according to the wonderful expression of St. Irenaeus of Lyons (bishop in southeastern France, +ca. 200), “again commenced a long line of humanity.” The Church is the spiritual posterity of the 2nd Adam (Christ); & in its history, His redemptive work is fulfilled & completed, while His love blossoms & flames in it. The Church is a fulfillment of Christ & His Body. According to the bold words of St. John Chrysostom (bishop of Constantinople, +407), “only then is the Fulfiller the Head when a perfect body shall be formed.” There is some mysterious movement–which started from the awe-filled day of Pentecost, when in the face of the 1st chosen few it was as if all creation received a fiery christening by the Spirit towards that last aim, when in all its glory the New Jerusalem shall appear & the Bridal Feast of the Lamb shall begin. In the stretch of ages, the guests & the chosen are being gathered. The people of the eternal Kingdom are being assembled. The Kingdom is being selected & set aside beyond the limits of time. The fulfillment shall be accomplished in the last resurrection–then the com-plete fullness & glory & the whole meaning of Church catholicity shall be revealed.

1 From Creation & Redemption, Vol. III of the Collected Works of Georges Florovsky (Belmont, MA: Nordland Publishing Co.), 1976, pp. 201.208.

2 The word “ecumenical” properly refers to the whole of the Orthodox Christian world. It should not be here understood in the sense of the modern, so-called, ecumenical movement, which seeks to the union of all who profess Christ, whether they do so rightly or not.

3 The word “Catholic” is a Greek term, which means literally “according to the whole”. Its first documented use is in the epistles of St. Ignatius of Antioch (+107, to put him in context, St. John the Theologian, whom St. Ignatius knew very well, only wrote the Gospel which bears his name, his 3 epistles & Revelation ca. 90), where he uses the term to differentiate the true & authentic or “Catholic” Church from the gathering of heretical, so-called, Christians. It is used in this sense in the Creed where we profess our belief in the “One Holy, Catholic & Apostolic Church”. In this sense we Orthodox Christians refer to ourselves as the Catholic Church. Since Roman Catholics also maintain that they are the true Church of Christ (a claim which we do not recognize), they too apply the term to themselves.

4The word “Apocalypse” is a Greek word meaning “revelation [of things hidden]”. It is used her to refer to the revelation of the events at the end of time.

5As the word “ecumenical” is used here, it does mean “universal”, encompassing not only all who are of the Catholic Church in this life, but also all who have been united in the “communion of the Holy Spirit” in their several times and ages but have departed this life. It also encompasses the faithful angels as well.

6 The term “High Priest” of the new, Christian, dispensation when used in Orthodox tradition refers to a bishop.

7The Church Triumphant consists of all the holy ranks of angels & the Saints & the righteous who now rest in the joys of Pa-radise, awaiting the Day of Judgment, when they will receive their reward. In contrast, the Church Militant designates us, the Catholic Church still in this world, struggling against the passions to achieve that great purity.