Homily on the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman. On Worshipping God in Spirit and in Truth

A homily of St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, translated by Nun Cornelia (Rees)

The true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him (John 4:23)

Beloved brethren! Today we have heard in the Gospel that the true servants of the true God worship Him in Spirit and in Truth and that God seeks, that is, He desires to have such worshippers. If God desire to have such worshippers, then it is obvious that He will receive only such worshippers and servants, and they only are pleasing to Him. This teaching was imparted to us by the Son of God Himself. We believe in the teaching of Christ! We accept the all-holy teaching of Christ with all our love! In order to follow Him carefully, let us look at what it means to worship God the Father in Spirit and in Truth.
Truth is our Lord Jesus Christ, as He testifies of Himself: I am the way, the truth and the life (John 4:16). The Truth is the Word of God: Thy word is truth (John 17:17). This Word was pre-eternally in God, it was pronounced by God and to God; this Word is God, this Word is the Creator of everything that exists, both visible and invisible (cf. John 1:1,5; Colossians 1:16). This Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the Only- Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). No man hath seen God at any time, but the Word of God, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him (John 1:18). The Son of God, the Word of God confessed God before people, and fully manifested God to people; the Son of God showed people the truth that was incomprehensible to them, having irrefutably witnessed to it and impressed it upon them by abundantly bestowing divine grace. And of His fullness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (John 1:16–17). This means that Jesus Christ brought not some more or less detailed and clear understanding of grace and truth, but the grace itself, the truth itself, essentially bestowed upon people, instilled in people. We have been made partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

Truth has a characteristic Spirit. This spirit is called the Spirit of Truth (cf. John 15:26; 16:13). It is Spirit, proceeding from the Father (cf. John 15:26). It is the Holy Spirit of God (cf. John 14:26). It is the Spirit of the Son (cf. Galatians 4:6), as inseparably close to the Son, as comprising together with the Father and the Son one undivided and unmingled Divine Essence. Accepting the Truth, we also accept the Holy Spirit—that is why the All-Holy Truth says of Himself, that He will send the Holy Spirit from the Father to His disciples. Naturally, the Holy Spirit of Truth will be present where Holy Truth acts and will leave the effect of Its action. In like manner, where the Holy Spirit works, there will be an abundant manifestation of Truth, as the Lord also said to His disciples: Howbeit when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth (John 16:13). Describing the wondrous relationship of the Divine Word to the Divine Spirit, the Lord said of the Spirit: He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of Mine and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are Mine (John 16:14–15). The Spirit shows and manifests to people the Son co-natural to Him. The Holy Spirit spiritually forms the true Christian and transforms him into a dwelling-place of God (cf. Ephesians 2:22); He represents Christ and instills Him in the inner man (cf. Ephesians 3:16–17). He makes people God’s children by adoption, making them like unto Christ, establishing Christ-like qualities in them (cf. John 14:6).6 People who have been made children of God by adoption turn to Him in their prayers as to their Father, because the Holy Spirit very clearly and tangibly witnesses to the spirit of a person renewed by Him (cf. Romans 8:16) concerning that person’s union with God, his adoption by God. And because ye are sons, says the Apostle, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father (Galatians 4:6). Such worshippers are recognized as true worshippers of God! Such worshippers, who worship God in Spirit and in Truth, seek and receive God. There is no knowledge of God outside of true Christianity, and no service of God.

No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me (John 14:6), said the Lord. There is no God for those who do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ: Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father (1 John 2:23), and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him (John 3:36). It is impossible to approach God or to enter into any kind of communion with Him in any other way than through our Lord Jesus Christ, the only Intermediary, Intercessor and means of communion between God and man! There is no true knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ without the mediation of the Holy Spirit! No man, says the Apostle, can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 12:3). Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His (Romans 8:9). There is no virtue outside of Christianity that is worthy of Heaven! “Nothing good,” says St. Mark the Ascetic, “can be believed in or acted upon unless it be of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.” Unworthy of God are natural human good works, which proceed from our fallen nature, in which goodness is mixed with evil, and in which goodness is for the most part barely noticeable amidst the preponderance of evil. Fallen nature is capable exclusively of evil, as God Himself testified: The imagination of man is intently bent upon evil things from his youth (Genesis 8:21); If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children (Matthew 7:11; Luke 11:13). Such is the worth before the Gospels and God of natural human goodness and the activity proceeding from it. In vain does fallen nature glorify its great and famous good works! Such self-praise shows a terrible blindness! Such self-praise is an involuntary reproach against the famous works of men, inspired and nourished by vainglory. The stench of pride coming from these whited sepulchers is an abomination to God; pleasing to Him is the incense of humility.

That is why the Lord commanded fallen and blinded mankind to deny its nature, for man is unconscious of his woeful fallenness. To the contrary, he sees it as a magnificent triumph and seeks to escalate this triumph. For the sake of salvation, we must renounce sin! But sin has become so much a part of us that it has become our nature, our very soul. In order to renounce sin, it has become essentially necessary to renounce our fallen nature, to renounce our soul (cf. Mat-thew 10:39), to renounce not only the obviously evil deeds, but also the good deeds of the old man that the world honors and glorifies; it is essentially necessary to replace our manner of thinking with the mind of Christ and to replace our activity motivated by the senses and the dictates of carnal mindedness with the scrupulous fulfillment of Christ’s commandments. If ye continue in My word, said the Lord, then are ye My disciples indeed. And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:31-32). What remarkable and deep words! Their direct impact consists in the fact that sin holds man in slavery only through incorrect and false understanding. It is likewise clear that the destructive incorrectness of these understandings also consist precisely in an acceptance as good what is in essence not good, and in the non-acceptance as evil what is in essence, murderous evil.

He who is from God, hears the words of God (cf. John 8:43), said the Lord. Brethren! Let us humble ourselves before our Lord God! Unlike the hardened Jews, who rejected both the Lord and His teachings, let us show submission to the Lord and obedience to His all-holy and saving teachings! Let us set aside the manner of thinking that comes from our fallen nature and from the world, which is at enmity with God! Let us assimilate the manner of thinking that the Lord offers us through His holy Gospels! Let us follow the Truth, and we shall inherit the Truth. The Truth frees the human mind from the invisible bonds of error by which sin has shackled it. Moreover, the omnipotent Truth, having given spiritual freedom to the mind, renewed and enlivened it by life from above—by the Word of God, brings it out onto the path of Christ’s commandments and removes it from the way of unrighteousness (Ps. 118:29). The soul enlivened by the Truth hymns together with the inspired prophet: The way of Thy commandments have I run, when Thou didst enlarge my heart. Set before me for a law, O Lord, the way of Thy statutes, and I will seek after it continually. Give me understanding, and I will search out Thy law, and I will keep it with whole heart (Ps. 118:32–34). Such a soul will unfailingly become a partaker of the Holy Spirit, Who cannot but be present where Divine Truth is present and reigns; the Truth, Who in His mysterious counsel with the All-Holy Truth, speaks of Himself thus: I am a partaker with all them that fear Thee, and with them that keep Thy commandments (Ps. 118:63).

As long as man abides in his fallen nature, as long as he is immersed in the darkness of his exceedingly deep ignorance, he does not know how he should pray, he does not know what he should pray for (cf. Romans 8:26), and he is in-capable of serving God. Only faith in Christ gives knowledge of Truth; faith, expressed by the fulfillment of Christ’s commandments, draws the grace of the Holy Spirit to the heart of the faithful, as the God-inspired prophet said: I opened my mouth and drew in my breath, for I longed for Thy commandments (Ps. 118:131). Only a true Christian, a Christian in faith and deed, can be a true worshipper of God, worshipping and serving God as the Father, in Spirit and in Truth. Amen.

The Myrrh-Bearers, a meditation by Metropolitan Paul Yazigi of Aleppo

“Because of the savor of Thy good ointments Thy Name is Ointment poured forth, therefore do the virgins love Thee.” (Song of Solomon 1:3)

The Gospel passages which describe the coming of the Myrrh-Bearing Women to the Tomb of Christ makes us wonder & opens to us new dimensions for understanding the Resurrection in depth. The wondrous thing is that even though the myrrh-bearers came early in the morning to anoint the body of Jesus, they did not really anoint Him. The sweet savor of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:14-17) has risen from the grave; He is risen; He is not here (Mark. 16:6).

The anointing of a dead man with myrrh was a loving act in order to compensate for the corrupted body. The Pharaohs thought about an illusory eternity for the body, when they anointed their dead. The Jews thought anointing gave honor to the dead. The real anointing is putting on incorruptibility. Christ rose from the grave, Himself being precious myrrh of sweet fragrance. Therefore, human nature carried this precious & new myrrh. The myrrh-bearing women did not anoint Jesus. After His Resurrection, the new myrrh-bearers, humanity, were given the opportunity to put on Christ, and not just to be anointed. In the Songs of Solomon, the Church cries out to the Lord, “Thy Name is Ointment.” This ointment, this myrrh, becomes an anointing of every Christian by the rising of Christ from the grave. St. Nicolas Cabasilas wrote that after its fall, humanity built a wall of enmity & of separation between it & God. After the Resurrection of Christ, however, humanity put on glory & incorruptibility in Christ, & instead of the wall, anointing.

So the resurrection of Christ from the grave as new myrrh made the Church a channel of ointment to all, & allowed every Christian to be a myrrh-bearer. The sacraments and rituals of the Church, & all her life, is an anointing movement with this new myrrh of Christ. The Christian as a myrrh-bearer approaches not to anoint but to be anointed with the heavenly myrrh, so that He may die with Christ & rise with Him in His resurrection.

According to St. John of the Ladder, the secret of the new myrrh-bearers is that this new ointment reveals the identity of the bearers. They become themselves myrrh & sweet, not just in soul but also in body. The relics of saints that give forth myrrh are not rare cases in our Church.

The Church calls the Virgin Theotokos the precious myrrh. This new balm is the life of virtue, & the bearers of it are the men of prayer, & the soul that is full of virtues, purified from the old life of passions & corruption. As the Lord’s Name is ointment poured forth, the myrrh-bearers are the ones who carry this Name. For all the saints were like St. Paul who was not just living, but had Christ, the heavenly Myrrh, living in Him.

The women myrrh-bearers went to the grave moved by their love towards the Lord, expressing their rejection of corruption. Their mission was realized in the Church where Christ, the Myrrh of incorruptibility, is, & by Whom we are anointed in the sacraments, carrying a life of virtue.

So let us put on Christ, being clothed with an incorruptible body for life eternal. Amen.

Metropolitan +PAUL of Aleppo was taken captive by Muslim militants in Syria in April of 2013, and prayers are offered at every Divine Liturgy for his release by the faithful of the AOANA.

A Brief Homily for Forgiveness Sunday from St. Ignatius Brianchaninov

Beloved brethren! We have already reached the very gates of the holy fast! They are even now about to open before us! Already, according to the typicon of the Holy Church, we hear the instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ read to us today in the Holy Gospels about the correct way to begin the podvig of fasting. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, says the Gospel reading for today, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Mt. 6:14–15). The holy Church greets us with this announcement at the gates of the fast! This is the requirement the Church offers us on the very threshold of the spiritual chamber of repentance. We intend to prove our repentance for various sinful distractions through various deprivations and wearing out of the body. The Gospels requires mercy from us before sacrifice, so that the sacrifice would be pleasing to God.

All who wish to begin this podvig of fasting and prayer, all who wish to reap abundant fruits of your repentance! Hear the word of God, hear God’s commandment, and let go, forgive your neighbors their sins against you. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Amen.

Elder Thaddeus on the Souls of the Dead

Q. Fr. Thaddeus, what can you tell us about the souls of the dead?

A. We should not mourn the dead but instead pray fervently for our departed loved ones that God may grant them to dwell with the angels. This is what He wants from us. Mourning will get us nowhere. By mourning we not only can destroy our own health but can also harm the peace that the souls of the deceased have received from the Lord. We must pray for our loved ones. We must not be sorrowful and depressed. Excessive sorrow for our loved ones who have left this world is not a Christian act, but an act of godlessness. We prepare ourselves in this life for eternal life. We must be thankful for everything and thank God for taking the souls of our departed loved ones to Himself.

If they have departed this world without having repented, we must pray for them that God might forgive their sins. We must perform acts of mercy in their name & in their memory for the peace of their souls, and God will accept such acts of love.

Only the Lord can free a soul from meshes of thought in which it became entangled while in this life, and which still bind it in eternity. Only God can free such a soul. Therefore we must pray for our loved ones who are deceased. It is the most we can do: to pray that God grant rest to their souls and to give their baptismal names to priests & priest-monks who serve the Holy Liturgy every day so that they may pray for their souls.

Someone once approached St. Nikolai [Velimirovich] and asked him, Will the souls of unrepentant sinners be saved? He answered, They will, if there is someone who will pray for them. It is most beneficial for departed souls if 40 Liturgies are served for them and if, after that, someone gives a donation to the Church to continue commemorating them at the Holy Liturgy.

The Liturgy is, as we know, a Golgothan sacrifice. This means that the Lord Himself is sacrificed at the Holy Liturgy. When a priest takes out the particles from the prosphora for the repose of the departed & after receives Holy Communion, he says, O Lord, by Thy most pure Blood forgive the sins of all those commemorated today!

As you see, this is the most perfect prayer and the greatest sacrifice that we can offer up for our loved ones who have departed to God.

From Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life & Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, pp. 180-181.

The Triodion and the Sunday of the Publican & the Pharisee

Today, by the Grace of God, we begin to use in the liturgical services of the Church the Triodion, which many of our Holy & God-bearing Fathers, who were skilled in writing music, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit set to excellent & appropriate melodies. First of all to devise the 3 odes [a canon is a poetic composition based on a series of biblical odes, scriptural passages which are patterned after the psalms. The majority of these odes are taken from the Old Testament. A full canon consists of 9 (actually 8) odes based on 7 Old Testamental odes & 1 (the last) from the New Testament], patterned after the Holy & Life-Creating Trinity, was the great poet St. Cosmas, for the Great & Holy Week of the Passion of our Lord & God & Savior Jesus Christ, composing his Troparia with acrostics based on the name of each day. On this basis, the other Fathers — & more than anyone else, Sts. Theodore & Joseph the Studites -— in imitation of St. Cosmas wrote 3-ode Canons for the remaining weeks of the Holy & Great Lent, which they handed down to their own Monastery of the Studion; they arranged & metered the Odes to a greater degree, collecting & assembling the rest of the book from whatever patristic sources were available. Since the 1st day of the week is Sunday, the day of the Resurrection, & since it is both the 1st & the 8th day & the last day, they very wisely appointed the 1st Ode to be read on Monday, the 2nd day, the 2nd Ode on Tuesday, the 3rd day, the 3rd Ode on Wednesday, the 4th day, the 4th Ode on Thursday, the 5th day, the 5th Ode on Friday, the 6th day, the 6th & 7th Odes on Saturday, the 7th day, as well as the 2 others, the 8th & the 9th, which all of the days have in common as being the most important, just as the divine Cosmas did in the case of Great Saturday, for which he composed a four ode Canon; it was later made into a complete Canon by Bishop Mark of Hydrous, at the orders of Emperor Leo the Wise. It is not entirely accurate to call the book the Triodion; for it does not have three ode Canons throughout, & indeed it contains complete Canons as well; but I suppose that it received its name either from the fact that it has more three ode Canons than complete Canons, or because the Canons of Great Week were written first, as we have said.

Now, for our Holy Fathers, the purpose of the entire Triodion was to remind us in brief of God’s benefaction to us from the beginning & to instill in the memory of how we were fashioned by Him, & how we violated the commandment which He gave us for the sake of our nakedness; how we were banished from the delight of Paradise & expelled through the envy of our enemy the serpent, the Author of evil, who was brought down on account of his pride, & how we remained outcasts from the good things of Paradise & were led around by the Devil; how the Son & Word of God, moved by compassion, bowed the Heavens & came down, dwelt in the Virgin & became man for our sake, & through His own way of life showed us how to ascend back to Heaven, through humility, fasting & refraining from evil deeds, & through His other actions; how He suffered, arose & ascended to the Heavens & sent forth the Holy Spirit upon His holy disciples & apostles; & how He was proclaimed Son of God & perfect God by them throughout the world; what the divine Apostles accomplished through the Grace of the All-Holy Spirit; & that they gathered together all the Saints from the ends of the earth through their preaching, replenishing the world above, which was the goal of the Creator from the very beginning. This, then, is the purpose of the Triodion.

The present 3 Feasts: of the Publican & the Pharisee, the Prodigal Son & the Second Coming, were devised by the Holy Fathers as a preliminary exercise & an incentive to prepare us & make us ready for the spiritual arena of the Fast, by leaving behind our customary & loathsome habits. First of all they set forth for us the Parable of the Publican & the Pharisee, & they call this week the Proclamation. For, just as those who are about to depart for physical combats learn in advance from their generals the time of battle, in order that they may clean & polish their swords & make all the other due preparations, &, removing all impediments, may eagerly strip down for the contests & procure what is necessary; &, just as, prior to encountering the foe, their leaders cite accounts, stories & examples for them, stimulating their souls to zeal & warding off hesitation, cowardice, laziness & whatever else is hazardous; so also, the divine Fathers signal beforehand the forthcoming battle, through fasting, against the demons, in order that they may cleanse us of any passions that are lodged in our souls & of any poison that has been at work in us for a long time; &, furthermore, in order that we may hasten to acquire whatever good things we do not have &, properly armed, may thus advance in readiness for the contests of the Fast. Since the first weapon that we need in order to acquire virtue is repentance & humility, & since the greatest obstacle to its acquisition is boasting & pride, the Fathers set forth the present trustworthy parable from the Holy Gospel first of all. By means of the Pharisee, they urge us to lay aside the passion of boasting & self-conceit, & by means of the Publican, on the other hand, to seek after humility & repentance, the opposite of this passion. For, since boasting & self-conceit are the 1st 7 worst of the passions, because thereby the Devil fell from Heaven — he who was formerly called the Morning Star & who, through his pride, became darkness & was called by that name — & since Adam, the father of our race, was driven from the Paradise of delight on account of pride, the Holy Fathers exhort us, through these examples, in no way to boast of our own accomplishments or set ourselves up against our neighbor, but always to be humble; for “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” It is better to return, having sinned, than to be puffed up after achieving something.

For “I tell you,” says the Lord, “the Publican went down to his house justified rather than the Pharisee.” The parable, therefore, makes it clear that we should in no way be puffed up, even if we do good things, but should always humble ourselves & pray to God from the heart, even if we have fallen into the worst of evils, for we are not far from salvation.

The Publican was one who collected taxes from the rulers & purchased the farming of taxes in an utterly unjust way, & profited thereby. A Pharisee was one who supposedly set himself apart & surpassed everyone else in knowledge. A Sadducee was a descendant of Sadok, the high priest who assisted David against Absalom. Sedek meant righteousness. There were 3 sects among the Hebrews at the time of our Lord: the Es-senes, the Pharisees & the Sadduccees, who did not accept the resurrection of the dead, Angels or spirit.

The Mystery and the Process of Death

An interview with Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and St. Vlassios by Pavel Chirila,
Professor and Doctor at St Irene’s Hospit-al in Bucharest (Romania).
 Originally posted on Mystagogia

1. Question: Tell us something about death, something that comes spontaneously to you, something you consider extremely important.

Answer: What comes spontaneously to mind is that death is a terrible mystery, as we chant in the Funeral Service, which is a poem by St. John Damascene. This is related to the fact that the soul is violently detached from the harmony of its union with the body. It is also a sad event, because it is related to man’s corruptibility and mortality which is manifested in all life.

In addition, it brings to my memory the Service of the Resurrection of Christ, which we Orthodox celebrate with splendor. We hold lit candles in our hands and sing triumphantly the hymn of victory: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life”. This beautiful image shows our attitude to-wards life and death. We are corruptible and mortal, but we possess the “medicine of immortality”, which is the resurrected Christ. Employing modern terminology, we may say that by the incarnation of the Son and the union of humanity with the divine nature in the person of the Logos, a “spiritual cloning” has taken place; our mortal nature has been united with the life of God. This is why death has changed its name and is now called “dormition” (falling asleep), and the places where the departed ones are buried are called “cemeteries” (“dormitories” in Greek, where people sleep), not burial grounds.
So, when I see people holding a lit candle and chanting “Christ is Risen” on the night of the Resurrection of Christ, I understand better that we should regard death as a process of passing from the “land of Egypt” to the “land of Promise”, from death to life, which takes place in Christ, and as a hope for our resurrection which again takes place in Christ. It would be very fortunate if we were to anticipate death in this po-sition, holding the candle of the Resurrection and chanting “Christ is Risen”. After all, we are “strangers and pilgrims” in this life; our true country is elsewhere. I am always impressed by the words of St. Nicholas Cabasilas (14th cent.), that while we live here on earth we are like an embryo in our mother’s womb, and at the moment of death we are born, we get out of that womb. This is why in the Orthodox Church the saints are celebrated on the day of their dormition or their martyrdom, not on the day of their physical birth.

2. Question: We understand from Holy Scripture that there are 2 kinds of fear: a holy fear, which is fear of God and the beginning of wisdom according to the psalmist, and another kind of fear inspired by demons, which is pathological fear. To what category does the fear of death belong?

Answer: Indeed, there is a fear of God which is an energy of the grace of God and the beginning of sal-vation, that is, man fears/respects God and starts obeying His commandments; and there is a fear inspired by demons which causes anxiety and anguish. However, besides these 2 fears there is also another fear, so-called psychological fear, which is related to a person’s insecurity and emotional inadequacy.

The fear of death means something different for each person. For secular and atheist people it is related to the course to “nothingness”; that is, they think that they leave the only existing world and end up in the nothingness of non-existence. This is something that does not exist for us Orthodox. For Christians, the fear of death is related to the soul’s departure from the world they know, their friends and relatives, and its entry into another world they do not know yet. They do not know how they are going to live, what will happen with God’s judgment which follows death. This is why hope and proper preparation is needed.

Of course, those Christians who have reached the illumination of the nous [the perceptive mind where we can sense or perceive the presence of God] and deification and have been united with Christ transcend the fear of death, as exemplified by the life of the Apostles, the Martyrs and in general the Saints of the Church. In reading the Synaxaria, we see phrases like: “On this day saint (so and so) is perfected in peace” or “is perfected by the sword”, etc. It has to be underlined that in Greek the verb “teleioutai” means “is perfected”, is led to perfection, and differs from the verb “teleionei”, which means “ceases to exist”. We may also say that the life of the senses (“vios”) is terminated by death, while life (“zoe”) is perfected but not terminated.

What is important is that, with the spiritual life we live, we should defeat the fear of death and feel death as a path towards an encounter with Christ, the Panagia [All-holy Birthgiver of God] and the saints.

3. Question: We know from the Holy Tradition that at a person’s death angels, saints as well as demons are present. What can you tell us about this?

Answer: From the teaching of Christ and the whole tradition of the Church we know that both angels and de-mons exist, and they are not personifications of good or evil, but individual beings created by God. Demons were angels who lost communion with God. Many saints proved worthy to see angels, as well as demons of temptation, while in this life.

According to the teaching of our Fathers, angels and saints, often even Christ and the Panagia, appear to those about to die in order to support them, to strengthen them to avoid the fear caused by death. The de-mons also appear, especially when they are able to influence certain people because of their passions, and they demand power over their souls. We are reminded of this in the prayer to the Panagia in the service of the Compline (“Apodeipnon”): “At the hour of my death, care for my miserable soul and drive the dark faces of evil spirits far from it”.

From the teaching of the Church it is well known that each person has a “guardian angel” protecting him, and this is why there is a special prayer to the guardian angel in the service of the Compline. Fr. Paisios, a monk on the Holy Mountain, used to tell me that he would often see his guardian angel beside him and em-brace him. He used to say that we must strive to reach salvation, so that our guardian angel, who has been to so many pains to protect us and help us in our life, may not go empty-handed to God, if we are not saved due to our indifference.

I remember with emotion that my father, when he entered the church, would go to the northern gate of the Holy Altar and kiss the icon of Archangel Michael and ask him to receive his soul in due time, when he had repented, protect it from evil demons and lead it to God. Perhaps this prayer, among everything else, helped him have a good dormition and a happy, smiling face in the coffin.

4. Question: We read in Holy Scripture that mercy has exceeded judgment. Does this mean that almsgiving absolves a multitude of sins?

Answer: We have to see what mercy means. In reality, mercy is the feeling of divine grace, the love of God. When we pray saying “Lord have mercy”, we ask God’s mercy, God’s grace. He who experiences divine grace is generous to his brothers with all sorts of charity, expressed by prayer, theological words, material contributions, and thus puts into practice the beatitude “blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7). In this sense, it can be said that the feeling of God’s mercy and almsgiving transcends judgment.

He who has been transformed spiritually and has been united with God does not fear judgment, for what Christ said applies to him: “I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears My message and believes the One Who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

According to the teaching of the Fathers of the Church, there are three judgments. The first occurs throughout our life, when we are faced with the dilemma of whether to follow the will of God or to reject it, when we have to choose between a good and an evil thought. The second judgment takes place when the soul exits the body, according to St. Paul’s words “people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). The third and final judgment will be at the Second Coming of Christ. The 1st judgment is important.

St. Symeon the New Theologian says that, when a person is united with Christ in this life and sees the Uncreated Light, then the judgment has already taken place for him, and he does not wait for it at the 2nd Coming of Christ. This reminds us of the words of Christ I mentioned above.

At this point I would like to repeat the saying by St. Basil the Great and other Fathers of the Church that there are three categories of those who are saved, that is, the slaves who follow the will of God in order to avoid hell, the wage-earners who struggle to earn Paradise as a reward, and the sons who obey God’s will out of love for God. So, throughout our life we must advance spiritually and pass from the state of the slave to the state of the wage-earner and from there to the mentality of the son. This means to pass from fear and recompense to love. To love Christ, because He is our father, our mother, our friend, our brother, our bridegroom and our bride. This way we transcend the judgment.

5. Question: Tell us something about sudden death.

Answer: The assessment of sudden death depends on each one’s viewpoint. For secular people, sudden death is good, accepted and desirable, because they will not suffer, and they will not be tormented by ill-nesses and old age. For believing Christians, though, sudden death is bad, because they are not given the possibility to prepare better for their encounter with Christ and the heavenly Church. When someone visits a high-ranking official, he prepares accordingly. We should do the same with respect to our encounter with Christ.

Preparation, by repentance, is essential. This is why Father Paisios of everlasting memory used to say that cancer is a saintly illness because it has filled Paradise with saints, meaning that a long illness prepares people with prayer and repentance. According to the teaching of St. Maximus the Confessor, pain cures pleasure.
In any case, death is the most certain event. We see it around us, everything dies, all living creatures, our friends, our relatives. What is not certain and is unknown to us is the hour of death, when death will come. It may happen while sleeping, while walking, while travelling, while working, while entertaining our-selves, etc. This is why we should pray to God daily, as the Church does: “For the completion of our lives in peace and repentance, let us ask the Lord” and “For a Christian end to our lives, peaceful, without shame and suffering, and for a good account before the awesome judgment seat of Christ, let us ask the Lord”.

In the teaching of the holy Fathers, we come across the truth that one of the greatest gifts a person can have is the daily “memory of death”. When this is maintained with the grace of God, it leads man not to despair, hopelessness or psychological fear, but to inspiration, to prayer, creativity, even in human affairs, because he tries to finish his tasks and prepare properly. When we live each day as if it were the last day in our life, then even sudden death will find us ready.

6. Question: Which is the correct expression: “the hour of death” or “the moment of death”?

Answer: This depends on how one interprets the words “hour” and “moment”. In speech we often use the word “hour” meaning the moment. But I understand that your question refers to whether death is a process or a moment.

What can be said is that there is a process of death, that is, long illnesses lead man gradually to death, but the separation of soul and body takes place at a specific moment by the will of God.

This moment is important, because man’s mode of existence changes, and we cannot know how it will be from then on. We know the state where the soul is attached to our body, which communicates with the creation through the senses. We do not know by experience what is going to happen then and how we will be. At present we usually see the world created by God, people, friends, the beauty of earth, not angels and demons. Then, however, the soul will not see through the senses of the body but will see what is presently invisible. This is why the saints want to be conscious and pray during the process of death, in order to leave this world with prayer and to have the strength and grace of God accompanying them.

We have to say that the privilege of being able to pray during these hours and receive communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, in order to be surrounded by the grace of God when the soul leaves the body, is eliminated in our days with so-called life support equipment in Intensive Care Units. From a Christian viewpoint, the hour and moment of death requires an appropriate preparation, that is, Confession, Holy Communion, Holy Unction, prayer by family and friends, our own prayer. However, in Intensive Care Units, it is impossible to such an ecclesial-pastoral ministry. Thus, because of existing modern techniques and drugs, in our days more and more people die not being conscious of what goes on at that hour and mo-ment. This is an important problem. Modern medical methods pose a dilemma: “Prolongation of life or obstruction of death?”. With everything that is offered by medical science the question is: is our life pro-longed so that we repent and devote it to God or is death obstructed, which creates a lot of pain, physical and existential?

In any case, it is a great blessing from God for someone to die surrounded by his beloved ones who pray and, above all, to die living in the Church, with Holy Communion, prayer, the blessing of his Spiritual Father, the grace of God and the prayers of the saints. Our permanent wish should be a death like the one depicted in the icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos, with her in the middle surrounded by the love of Christ, the Apostles, the Hierarchs.

7. Question: Some people die unexpectedly. Is it true that God takes someone when his probability of salvation is at the maximum?

Answer: We Christians absolutely believe that we have been created by the God of love and that God directs our life, He gives life to us and He takes it when He considers it to be the right moment. We also know that God loves man whom He created and wants his salvation. Therefore, it is certain that God allows each man’s death to occur at the most appropriate moment.

Of course, God’s love does not abolish the freedom of man. Man has the ability to act positively or neg-atively, to respond to the love of God or to reject Him.

Since you said that some people die unexpectedly, I would like to remind you, that we should remember death continuously. We should not feel that we are going to live eternally on earth, because this is a spir-itual sickness. There is an alternation between life and death, similar to the alternation between day and night. Modern molecular biology stresses that death is inextricably linked with life, because among the genes there are the genes of aging, which are found in the mitochondria. So, from the moment of our concept-tion, death exists in the DNA, and we see death in our body with the death of cells and, generally, with aging, the passing of years, wrinkles, illnesses, everything which theologically is called corruptibility and mortal-ity. We should not be myopic and behave like an ostrich.

In this process we should know that God did not create us to die, that death is a consequence of the sin of Adam and Eve, and that God loves us and cares for us. He is our affectionate father. It is not correct on the one hand to pray with the “Lord’s Prayer”, the well-known “Our Father”, and call God “Father”, and on the other hand to live as orphans.

8. Question: The Orthodox faith attaches particular importance to repentance. We thank the Lord for giving repentance to us. Can repentance at the time of death be so great that a man is saved, even though he is burdened by great sins?

Answer: In our Orthodox Tradition, it is known that sin is not something moralistic; it is ontologically something, namely, the course from life according to nature to life contrary to nature. Thus, repentance is man’s return from life contrary to nature to life according to nature. With sin, man lost his communion with God, with his brother and with the creation. With repentance, he acquires this communion once again. So, repentance is associated with a progression in man’s liberation from everything enslaving him. The Fathers described this progression in 3 words: purification, illumination, deification, and this is what is call-ed therapy. This happens throughout life. Therefore, salvation is related to therapy. The physician of the body examines us, makes a diagnosis and recommends an appropriate therapeutic method which we should apply. The same holds true for the illness of the soul.

A confession at the time of death opens for man the way to salvation. If he did not have time to be cured spiritually, then the Church with its prayers helps man to salvation, bearing in mind that perfection is end-less, it is a dynamic not a static state.

Throughout our life we must have this “spirit of repentance”. We should consider how we were created by God and the point we have reached because of sin. If we read carefully the book of Genesis, according to the teachings of the Fathers of the Church, and see how Adam and Eve lived and what they became afterwards because of sin, then repentance will develop inside us.

So, someone who has the “spirit” of repentance throughout his life feels this repentance at the hour of death, and actually he feels it to a great degree. On the contrary, when he lives his life without repentance it is difficult to show repentance at the last moment.

My Geronda [spiritual father], of everlasting memory, the Metropolitan of Edessa Kallinikos, lived continuously with the memory of death. When he was told by the doctors that he has a tumor in the brain, he con-fessed right away, he wrote his will, he prayed and had absolute faith in God, saying: “Perhaps God said to me ‘stop’. I don’t need you any more”. He would pray continuously saying “Thy will be done”. He gave himself up to God and had a peaceful and saintly end, similar to his whole life.

Therefore, even though there is a possibility for someone who had some spark of love for God in him to repent at the hour of death, we should repent when we are healthy, so as to have the ability to be cured, that is, to proceed from self-love to the love of God and love of men, to reach selfless love out of selfish love.

9. Question: After man’s death, what are the links between the soul and this world?

Answer: Although the soul is separated from the body, man’s hypostasis [personality] still exists. As we see in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the rich man is conscious of his state, of his relatives who are still alive, and he cares for them. Thus, after death, men care for their beloved ones and ask God for their salvation. All our prayers to the saints are based on this truth. Of course, this link between the soul and living persons is spiritual, not material.

In the book of the Revelation of St. John which describes the celestial Divine Liturgy, one can see these relations of the saints with us and their prayer for all people living on earth. This is why our Fathers depict-ed in the Divine Liturgy this uncreated Divine Liturgy which takes place in the Heavens, in the uncreated Temple. In the Divine Liturgy we live the atmosphere of the heavenly Liturgy, and we anticipate it.
We ourselves often feel the love and protection of the saints, as well as of those close to us who have departed from this world and wish to meet them. A spiritual child of mine was very happy at the hour of death, because, as she said, she would meet this heavenly Church.

Therefore, the soul continues to live after its exit from the body; it is not led to non-existence. If a person lived in repentance during his life, then his soul after exiting the body will enter this heavenly Divine Liturgy and will pray, like a spiritual priest, for the whole world and will wait for the resurrection of the body. Then the soul will enter the body so that the body too participates in this heavenly Pascha celebration.

10. Question: What advice should we give to those close to us regarding our attitude to a person about to die on the day, or at the hour or at the moment of death?

Answer: The process of death is very important for each man, because in front of him is the road to salvation or the road to eternal perdition. Unfortunately, in these circumstances, many people look only after the physical health of their relatives and friends without regard for their eternal course. This is why we should take care that a person who is about to die confesses, receives Holy Communion, receives the grace of God through the Sacrament of Unction and does everything that our Church has available. In particular, we should live the last moments of the life of our beloved one in prayer. We should consider not simply that we are losing our relative, our friend, but that he is moving from one way of existence (with body and senses) to a different way of existence, without body. So, intense prayer is what is needed at that time.

I remember the last moments of my Geronda. I was beside his bed and could not offer anything else; I just prayed to God for his soul to be received by angels. An aunt of mine who was present thought that I was sad, as I concentrated and prayed. But I was just praying, because that moment is holy and crucial.

Overall, we must experience daily, as St. John Chrysostom says, that the present life is an “inn”. We entered this inn, we live, but we must take care to depart in good hope, without leaving anything here in order not to lose what is there. Furthermore, all of us Christians should realize that death has been defeated by the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ, that communion with Christ is a continuous transcendence of death and of the fear of death, that the exit of the soul from the body is a course towards the heavenly Church and the encounter with Christ, the Panagia and the saints, that the soul will return to the body, and the body will be resurrected and live eternally, according to the way it lived on this earth.

St. Maximus the Confessor writes that from the moment of death, and especially after the Last Judgment, there are two possibilities: those who are in communion with Christ will live in “eternal well-being” and the rest in “eternal woeful being”. So, everyone will enjoy “eternal being”. The difference is between “well” and “woeful”.

Therefore, our advice to the relatives and friends of those about to die is to have faith in Christ and confidence that we are not just citizens of this world, but we are travelers guided to our true country, which is Heaven. Our citizenship is above in Heaven. The desire for the Heavenly Land should overwhelm us.

What Christ Accomplished on the Cross

A talk delivered by Hieromonk Damascene at the Annual Lenten Clergy Confession of the New Gracanica Metropolitanate & the Western American Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Jackson, CA, March 4/17, 2004.

The topic of today’s talk—what Christ accomplished on the Cross—is of course a prime subject of contemplation during the Lenten season, as we prepare to prayerfully commemorate Christ’s passion, death & the inevitable consequence of His death: His holy Resurrection. As we call to mind & repent of our sins during the Holy Fast, we also call to mind that which has saved us from the eternal consequences of sin. We call to mind Christ’s life-creating death on the Cross, which He underwent for the salvation of each one of us.

The Orthodox dogma of our redemption—which includes the doctrines concerning Christ’s incarnation, death & Resurrection—is the chief dogma of our Faith, together with the dogma of the Holy Trinity. I have been especially contemplating & reading Patristic writings on this subject for a few years now. It is a vast subject. In this lecture I will try to outline its main points in a linear & chronological fashion. I will speak about the state of man before the Fall & after the Fall, & then speak about how Christ saved us from the consequences of the Fall through His incarnation, death & Resurrection. Finally, I will summarize all the present & future accomplishments of Christ’s redemptive work.

1. The Primordial State

Let us begin by discussing the state of man & the world before the Fall. A right understanding of this pre-Fall state is actually essential to a right understanding of the meaning of Christ’s death on the Cross. We have to understand what Adam fell from in order to understand what Christ restores us to.

According to the Patristic interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, before the Fall man’s body was not subject to death & corruption. He was made potentially immortal, that is, if he had not sinned he could have lived forever in an incorrupt body, partaking of the Tree of Life in the Garden. Before the Fall, man knew no pain, no sickness. He was not subject to old age. He was not subject to the elements; he could not be physically hurt. He knew no decay. His body, while still material & sensual, was more spiritual than the body we inhabit now. It was not grossly material, like the body we now have.

At his creation from the dust of the ground, man was created in Grace. The Holy Fathers (such as St. John Damascene) say that Adam’s body & soul were created at the same time & that when God breathed a living soul into him, He breathed also into him the Grace of the Holy Spirit. Before the Fall, the 1st man & the 1st woman had the Holy Spirit abiding within them.

The 1st man was not deified at the time of his creation, but he was created for deification, for union with God. By drawing ever closer to God in love, by seeking spiritual pleasure in God rather than physical pleasure through His senses, man was to become ever more holy & spiritual, ever more in the likeness of God, ever more transformed & deified by the Grace of God. Since God is limitless & unfathomable, the path of union with God was never to end. Man was created a little lower than the angels (Ps. 8:5, Heb. 2:7), but he eventually was to become higher than the angels, higher even than the highest ranks of the angels: “more honorable than the Cherubim & more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim.”

Moreover, as man became more spiritual & divinized by drawing closer to God, he was to make all of creation more spiritual & divinized as well, drawing everything closer to God. Many Holy Fathers—such as St. Macarius the Great, St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory of Sinai & St. Maximos the Confessor—teach that the entire creation was incorrupt before the Fall just as man was incorrupt: for the entire creation had been made for man. St. Symeon the New Theologian states explicitly that not only Paradise was incorrupt before the Fall: everything, the whole creation, was without death & corruption. Because he possessed both body & soul, man was the link between this incorrupt material world & the noetic world of the angels. As such, he was to unite the material world with the noetic world through his own ascent to God.

2. The Consequences of the Fall

Such was the lofty original state of man & the creation, & such was man’s lofty original calling. But as we all know & experience every day, the 1st man, Adam, fell from this state & brought himself & all of creation into a state of corruption & death.

The whole story of the Fall & why it occurred lies outside the scope of this lecture. What concerns us here, as we contemplate the theology of redemption, is the consequences of the Fall. Just as we must understand what we fell from in order to understand what Christ restores us to, so also we must understand what we fell into in order to understand what Christ delivers us out of.

To put it another way: through His death on the Cross & through His Resurrection, Christ gives us life. In order to understand what it means to be given life, we must understand the death into which we have been born.

As you will recall, in the book of Genesis God told Adam: Of the tree of the knowledge of good & evil thou shalt not eat: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Gen. 2:17). Now, we know that Adam did not die on the day he ate from the tree: according to the Scriptures he lived to be 930 years old. But according to St. Gregory Palamas & other Fathers, God’s words were true: Adam did die on the day he ate the fruit. He died spiritually. He lost the Divine Grace in which he had been created. He no longer had the Holy Spirit abiding within him. Because his nature had become corrupted, deifying Grace was now foreign to it. Before, God Himself abode within him through His Uncreated Energy. Now man became empty, devoid of Grace. He was separated from God. And, according to St. Gregory Palamas, this spiritual death made Adam subject to physical death, which in his case occurred after 930 years.

At the Fall, man’s nature was changed. He still had the image of God in him, but now he had become corrupted. His spiritual corruption made his body more grossly material, subject to physical corruption or decay after death. Also, his spiritual corruption made his soul unable to partake of eternal union with God after death. Paradise had been barred to Adam during his earthly life, & both Paradise & Heaven remained barred to him after death. After their death, Adam, Eve & all their posterity went down into Hades: a place of waiting, of separation from God.
Also, at the Fall, all of creation fell into corruption along with man: decay & death were introduced into the creation. In Romans 5:12 St. Paul says that By one man sin entered the world, & death by sin, & a little later, in Romans 8:20-21, he says that the creation entered into corruption because of man’s sin.

We are all the inheritors of the death & corruption that entered into man’s nature at the Fall. St. Gregory Palamas says that, through Adam’s one spiritual death, both spiritual & physical death were passed onto all men. This is because human nature is one: we are all of the family of Adam.

Orthodoxy does not accept the idea that we are guilty of Adam’s sin. No, Adam alone was guilty of his sin. However, we do share the consequences of his sin. We are born into corruption & with an inherited tendency or inclination toward sin. All of us sin, & so we deserve the consequences of sin: spiritual & physical death & eternal separation from God in Hades.

Between the time of Adam’s fall & the coming of Christ, there were many righteous men & women, whom we read about in the Old Testament. But they, even though their godly lives, were unable to reverse the consequences of the Fall. Grace could act on them from the outside, as it did on the Prophet Moses, so much so that he had to cover his radiant face as he descended from Mount Sinai. However, this was only a temporary radiance, as the Holy Scriptures & Fathers say. He & all the Old Testament prophets did not have the Grace of the Holy Spirit abiding within them, as their personal strength & power. And after death, everyone, even the most righteous, went down into Hades, being cut off from Paradise & Heaven.

During the Old Testament period, God gave Laws to the Hebrews to help them live righteous lives. He instituted animal sacrifices, which the Hebrews were to make as offerings for sin. These sacrifices were a prefiguration of Christ’s sacrifice, to prepare the people of God to understand & accept the meaning of Christ’s death on the Cross. But neither the sacrifices nor the Laws were able to restore mankind to the state he had lost at the Fall.
A perfect, blameless sacrifice was needed—a man who was without sin—in order to destroy the consequences of sin. That was why Christ came. The 1st Adam fell from his original designation, bringing everything into ruin. Therefore Christ, Who is called the 2nd Adam or the New Adam, came into the world to fulfill man’s original designation & restore what was lost. But Christ did even more than that. He not only restored man to what Adam was before the Fall: He gave man the possibility to become that which Adam was supposed to become, what Adam could have become had he not fallen.

3. The Means of Redemption

Now, having looked at the pre-Fall state & the consequences of the Fall, let us look more closely at how Christ restores man to the pre-Fall state &, in fact, beyond & above this state.

The how of the redemption, like the nature of God the Holy Trinity, is ultimately a mystery. And yet the Holy Scriptures & the Holy Fathers help us to approach this mystery. They enable us to understand & believe in our redemption by Jesus Christ in such a way that, believing, we can receive the gift of salvation.

Our redemption by Jesus Christ began with His incarnation. When He took flesh, He became like us in everything except sin (cf. Heb. 4:15). In assuming human nature, He deified it. Since human nature is 1, this gave us the potential of being deified as well: not deified by nature & Sonship, as Christ was, but deified by Grace & adoption.
But with Christ’s incarnation, man was still not able to actualize the potential for deification. Because of his spiritual corruption, man was an impure vessel. Because of the barrier of sin, man could not receive & keep the Grace of the Holy Spirit within himself. So Christ, having overcome the barrier of nature at His incarnation, now had to break down the barrier of sin. He would do this through His death. As St. Nicholas Cabasilas says, Christ broke down the 3 barriers that separated man from God: the barrier of nature by His Incarnation, the barrier of sin by His Death & the barrier of death by His Resurrection.

As God, Christ knew He had come to earth to die for man &, in dying, to rise from the grave. On the day before His crucifixion, He said: Now is My soul troubled; & what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour. But for this cause came I unto this hour (John 12:27).

Remember the statement of St. Gregory Palamas which I mentioned earlier: Through his single spiritual death (at the Fall), Adam brought a 2-fold death into the world—spiritual death & bodily death. St. Gregory goes on to say, “The good Lord healed this 2-fold death of ours through His single bodily death, & through the one Resurrection of His body He gave us a 2-fold resurrection. By means of His bodily death He destroyed him who had the power over our souls & bodies in death & rescued us from his tyranny over both.”

This, again, is because human nature is 1. St. Paul writes: If by 1 man’s offence death reigned by 1 [that is, Adam], much more they which receive abundance of Grace & of the gift of righteousness shall reign by 1, Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:17).

Following the words of Christ & St. Paul in the Scriptures, the Holy Fathers use a juridical or legal model to explain how Christ broke down the barrier of sin separating man from God.

The juridical explanation can be expressed in basic terms as follows: At the Fall, death was the sentence for sin. When He died on the Cross, Christ took upon Himself that sentence, but since He was without sin & thus undeserving of the sentence, the sentence was abolished for all mankind, & mankind was freed from the consequences of the primal transgression.

The word “redemption,” of course, comes from this juridical explanation. As Vladimir Lossky points out:
The very idea of redemption assumes a plainly legal aspect: it is the atonement of a slave, the debt paid for those who remained in prison because they could not discharge it.

By His death Christ ransomed man out of servitude to sin & redeemed man from the eternal consequences of sin which had been incurred at the Fall. Christ Himself spoke of this. He said of Himself: The Son of Man came … to give His life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28). In the Epistle to the Hebrews we read: Christ is the Mediator of the new testament [covenant], that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance (Heb. 9:15). And in the book of Revelation: Thou wast slain & hast redeemed us to God by Thy Blood (Rev. 5:9).

Christ paid the debt of sin that man himself could never pay. The Apostle John writes in his 1st Epistle: He [Christ] is the Expiation for our sins, & not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world (I John 2:2). And the Apostle Paul tells us: Ye are bought with a price (I Cor. 6:20, 7:23). St. Paul even says that Christ was made to be sin for us & made a curse for us (II Cor. 5:21, Gal. 3:13). Being totally without sin, He bore the penalty of sin on our behalf, so that we would be forgiven & purified of sin & freed from its curse. St. Gregory Palamas says:

Since Christ gave His Blood, which was sinless & therefore guiltless, as a ransom for us who were liable to punishment because of our sins, He redeemed us from our guilt. He forgave our sins, tore up the record of them on the Cross & delivered us from the devil’s tyranny.

Out of His infinite love for us, Christ died in place of us, so that we could be given life. St. Paul says: … That He [Christ] by the Grace of God should taste death for every man (Heb. 2:9); & elsewhere he says, God commendeth His own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). St. Athanasius the Great explains this as follows:

Taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to corruption & death, He surrendered His body to death in place of all & offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die & the law of death thereby be abolished.

Together with the juridical model of explaining how we are redeemed by Christ’s death, the Holy Scriptures & Holy Fathers use the model of sacrifice. As mentioned earlier, the Old Testament sacrifices were a prefiguration, a “type” of the 1 true Sacrifice that would be offered for the whole world: Christ, Who was sacrificed on the Cross. In the 1st Epistle of St. Peter we hear Christ described as a spotless Sacrificial Lamb: Ye were redeemed with the precious Blood of Christ, as a Lamb without blemish & without spot, Who was foreordained before the foundation of the world (I Peter 1:19-20). And in the Epistle to the Hebrews we read: Now once at the end of the world Christ hath appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:26).

Many of the Holy Fathers wrote on this theme of Christ as Sacrifice. Origen (who is not a Holy Father) &, following him, St. Gregory of Nyssa, posited that the sacrifice was offered to the devil. But St. Gregory the Theologian & all the Fathers after him rejected this idea. They often spoke of the sacrifice as being offered to God the Father, & sometimes they spoke of it as being offered to the Holy Trinity, since the Father, Son & the Holy Spirit are One God. St. Symeon the New Theologian writes: “God, Who is incomparably higher than the visible & invisible creation, accepted human nature, which is higher than the whole visible creation, & offered it as a sacrifice to His God & Father…. Honoring the sacrifice, the Father could not leave it in the hands of death. Therefore, He annihilated His sentence.

Why did the Son have to offer Himself in sacrifice to the Father? Why did God sacrifice Himself to God? Here we get at the crux of the mystery of Redemption. St. Gregory the Theologian urges us not to try to conform this mystery to human logic, not apply to it human conceptions that are unworthy of God. He says: “The Father accepts the sacrifice not because He demanded it or felt any need of it, but on account of economy,” that is, to fulfill the Divine plan of our salvation in accordance with the Divine ordering of creation.

St. Gregory Palamas sheds more light on this question. He says that God could have found other ways of saving man from sin, mortality & servitude to the devil. But He saved man in the way He did—by coming to earth, dying & resurrecting—because this was according to justice & righteousness. As the Psalmist says: God is righteous & loveth righteousness … & there is no unrighteousness in Him (Ps. 11:7, 92:15). Death was the just penalty for sin, & Christ paid that penalty. But because He was sinless, His death was unjust. Therefore, He justly destroyed death. This was God’s economy, completely in accordance with His righteousness.

The devil thought he could destroy Christ by inciting people to put Him to death. But Christ’s death proved to be the devil’s undoing because, unlike every other person who had ever lived, Christ did not deserve death. St. John Chrysostom offers us a vivid image to highlight this teaching: “It is as if, at a session of a court of justice, the devil should be addressed as follows:

‘Granted that you destroyed all men because you found them guilty of sin; but why did you destroy Christ? Is it not very evident that you did so unjustly? Well then, through Him the whole world will be vindicated.”

Christ saved us in the way He did not only to manifest His justice & righteousness, but also to manifest His love. St. Isaac the Syrian writes: “God the Lord surrendered His own Son to death on the Cross for the fervent love of creation. For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son to death for our sake (cf. John 3:16). This was not, however, because He could not have redeemed us in another way, but so that His surpassing love, manifested hereby, might be a teacher unto us. And by the death of His only-begotten Son He made us near to Himself. Yea, if He had had anything more precious, He would have given it to us, so that by it our race might be His own.”

4. The Consequences of Christ’s Redemptive Work

Now, having looked at how Christ redeemed us through His death on the Cross, let us turn to the saving fruits of Christ’s death. What does it mean for mankind to be ransomed from guilt, to be forgiven of sins? It means, in the words of St. John Damascene, that “the road back to the former blessedness [i.e., before the Fall] has been made smooth, & the gates of Paradise opened.” Through Christ’s death, we can be forgiven & cleansed of sin so as to receive what we would otherwise not be worthy of receiving: the Grace of the Holy Spirit within ourselves, as Adam had it before the Fall. Moreover, we can go where we would not otherwise be worthy to go: Paradise & Heaven. The 1st to receive this gift was one who was clearly unworthy, but who nevertheless believed in Christ & thus was redeemed through His death. This was the repentant thief on the Cross, to whom Christ said, Today thou wilt be with Me in Paradise (Luke 23:43).

The saving fruits of Christ’s death were made available not only to those who lived after Him, but also to those who lived before Him; for during His 3-day burial Jesus Christ harrowed Hades & brought to Paradise those righteous ones who had lain in Hades throughout the ages. “Christ’s death,” writes St. Symeon the New Theologian, “was an indispensable sacrifice also for the pious ones who died before His coming in the flesh.”

At His death, Christ broke down the barrier of sin. But there was one barrier left: death itself. This Christ broke down at His Resurrection. As in Adam all die, writes St. Paul, so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man according to his order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming (I Cor. 15:22-23). Through Christ’s Resurrection, all mankind has been made subject to future resurrection: physical, bodily resurrection. Those who receive Christ’s gift of salvation are resurrected unto eternal life, as He says; while those who reject it are resurrected unto damnation (cf. John 5:29). Once again, this is because human nature is 1. St. Paul affirms: For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead (I Cor. 15:21).
Christ’s death & burial can never be separated from His Resurrection. His Resurrection was an inevitable consequence of His death, since, as it is said in the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, “it was not possible for the Author of Life to be holden of corruption.” With Christ’s death & His Resurrection, all the consequences of the Fall are overcome: both spiritual death (the loss of the Grace of God) & physical death. What we sing in the Paschal hymn we mean quite literally: “Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death.”
In Christ alone there is true life. He offers us eternal life: first of all true spiritual life by having His life-giving Grace abiding within us; secondly, eternal spiritual life in His Heavenly Kingdom; & thirdly, eternal physical life in our resurrected bodies.

Let us look at these 3 in order. First of all, what does it mean to receive the life-giving Grace of the Holy Spirit through Christ’s redeeming death? St. Symeon answers this with a remarkable statement—that it is like receiving a new soul. He writes:

The souls of those who believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in His great & fearful Sacrifice [on the Cross] are resurrected by God in this present life; & a sign of this resurrection is the Grace of the Holy Spirit which He gives to the soul of every Christian, as if giving a new soul.”

In the Gospels, especially the Gospel of St. John, Christ makes several statements which reveal how His followers would be able to receive the Grace of the Holy Spirit by means of His death. In the temple Christ preached: He that believeth on Me … out of his belly shall flow rivers of Living Water. After quoting these words of Christ, the Apostle John explains: But this spake He of the Spirit, which they who believe on Him should receive: for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified (John 7:38-39).

St. John Chrysostom, in his commentary on this Gospel, explains further. When the Apostle John said Jesus was not yet glorified, he meant that Jesus had not yet been crucified. Christ was glorified in His sacrifice on the Cross, &, through this, He made man open to receive the Holy Spirit in his soul, in his inward being, so that the Grace would flow out of him like rivers of Living Water.

Later, in His last talk to His disciples before His passion & death, Christ tells them: I will pray the Father & He will give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth (John 14:16).
According to St. John Chrysostom, “Christ said this to show the time of the coming of the Spirit. For when He had purified them by His sacrifice, then the Holy Spirit would descend upon them. Yet why did He not come upon them while Jesus was still with them? Because the Sacrifice had not yet been offered up [that is, Christ had not yet died on the Cross]. But, when at length sin had been destroyed, & they themselves were being sent into danger & were preparing for the contests, it was necessary for the Comforter to come.”

A little later Christ says to His disciples in order to comfort them before His crucifixion & burial: It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you (John 16:7).

“But why did He not come before Christ had departed?” St. John Chrysostom asks rhetorically. “Because He could not come, since the curse had not yet been lifted, sin had not yet been forgiven, but all men were still subject to the penalty for it. ‘Therefore,’ He said, ‘that enmity must be destroyed, & you must be reconciled to God, & then you will receive the gift.’”

When Christ 1st appeared among His Apostles after His death & Resurrection, His 1st act was to breathe upon them & to say: Receive ye the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). He could say & do this at that point because He had purified them by His sacrifice on the Cross; He had loosed them from sin. And then, after He had ascended to Heaven & seated our human nature on the right hand of the Father, Christ sent down the Holy Spirit on His Apostles at Pentecost, as He had promised.

Since that time, those who have been baptized in Christ’s Church have received the Grace of God within themselves. We receive Christ’s gift of redemption & eternal life through His Church, which is His Body. It is in the Church that Christ bestows on us the saving fruits of His death & Resurrection. St. Symeon the New Theologian explains this beautifully:

One Person of the Holy Trinity, namely the Son & Word of God, having become incarnate, offered Himself in the flesh as a sacrifice to the Divinity of the Father & of the Son Himself & of the Holy Spirit, in order that the 1st transgression of Adam might be benevolently forgiven for the sake of this great & fearful work, that is, for the sake of this sacrifice of Christ, & in order that by its power there might be performed another new birth & re-creation of man in Holy Baptism, in which we also are cleansed by water mingled with the Holy Spirit. From that time people are baptized in water, are immersed in it & taken out from it 3 times, in the image of the 3-day burial of the Lord, & after they die in it to this whole evil world, in the 3rd bringing out from it they are already alive, as if resurrected from the dead, that is, their souls are brought to life & again receive the Grace of the Holy Spirit as Adam had it before the transgression. Then they are anointed with Holy Myrrh, & by means of it are anointed with Jesus Christ & are fragrant in a way above nature. Having become in this way worthy of being associates of God, they taste His Flesh & drink His Blood, & by means of the sanctified bread & wine become of 1 Body & Blood with God Who was incarnate & offered Himself as a Sacrifice.

The aim of the Christian life, says St. Seraphim of Sarov, is to acquire the Grace of the Holy Spirit. We receive the seed of that Grace within us at Baptism. And then, through our sacramental life in the Church, through a life of prayer & virtue, practicing the commandments of Christ, we are to cultivate & nurture this seed of inward baptismal Grace so as to acquire a greater measure of Grace. In being evermore filled with God’s Grace or Energy, we grow evermore in the likeness of Christ. Then, after our death, Christ will recognize us as His own & will receive us into His Kingdom.

At the beginning of this talk I mentioned that Christians are given the potential of attaining to a state even higher than Adam’s state before the Fall. Through Christ’s Incarnation, Death & Resurrection, man can not only be restored to what Adam lost; now he can attain to what Adam was meant to attain. Man can be filled with God’s Energy to such an extent as to be deified by Grace. Vladimir Lossky writes that “In breaking the tyranny of sin [through His work of redemption], our Savior opens to us anew the way of deification, which is the final end of man.”

St. Symeon the New Theologian, who experienced the Grace of deification, speaks of this as participation in the life of God Himself. “He Himself is discovered within me,” writes St. Symeon, “resplendent inside my wretched heart, enlightening me from all sides with His immortal splendor, shining on all of my members with His rays. Entirely intertwined with me, He embraces me entirely. He gives Himself totally to me, the unworthy one, & I am filled with His love & beauty. I am sated with pleasure & Divine tenderness. I share in the Light. I participate also in the glory. My face shines like that of my Beloved & all my members become bearers of the Light.”

What St. Symeon describes, as marvelous as it is, is only a foretaste of the future life in Heaven that is promised to Christ’s true followers. It is only the beginning of a progress that will never end. “Indeed,” says St. Symeon, “over the ages the progress will be endless, for a cessation of this growing toward the end without ending would be nothing but a grasping at the ungraspable. The One on Whom no one can be sated would then become an object of satiety. By contrast, to be filled with Him & to be glorified in His Light will cause unfathomable progress.”

Furthermore, the glory that now exists among the saints & angels in Heaven is only a foretaste of the glory that will be revealed at the General Resurrection, when all the saving fruits of Christ’s Incarnation, Death & Resurrection are to be fully revealed. Adam, it will be remembered, was supposed to raise the first-created world closer to God, to make it more spiritual through his own spiritual ascent to God. Adam failed in his purpose, so the New Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ, came to fulfill it. His redemptive work was already accomplished with His death & Resurrection. But the fruits of that work unfold over time. As Christians we have already tasted some of those fruits, but we are to know them in their fullness after the General Resurrection. For through Christ’s Resurrection, not only will man be resurrected in a renewed, spiritual body: the entire creation will be renewed & become spiritual. As the book of the Apocalypse says, there will be a New Heaven & a New Earth (cf. Revelation 21:1).

The Body of the resurrected Christ was incomparably more spiritual than the incorrupt body of Adam before the Fall. Christ’s resurrected, spiritual Body was like the spiritual body that Adam was supposed to attain by ascending to God in Paradise. Likewise, the New Heaven & the New Earth will be incomparably more spiritual than the incorrupt creation before the Fall. Through Christ the New Adam, the renewed creation will be what it would have been if the first Adam had raised it to God.

In his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul writes of the future age of the renewed creation which will come into being after the General Resurrection:

I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God [that is, us]. For the creation was made subject to futility, not willingly, but because of him [Adam] who subjected it [to futility] in hope [that is, in hope of the General Resurrection]. Because the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth & travaileth in pain together until now. And not only the creation, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, that is, the redemption of our body (Romans 8:18-23).

We can experience the redemption of our souls even now. But what exactly will the redemption of our body mean — that redemption which was made possible through Christ’s Resurrection? We can find no better description of this than in the words of St. Symeon, who undoubtedly beheld something of this future age in prophetic Divine vision. St. Symeon writes:

You should know likewise what is to be the glory & the brightly shining state of the creation in the future age. For when it will be renewed, it will not again be the same as it was when it was created in the beginning. But it will be such as, according to the word of the divine Paul, our body will also be. Concerning our body the Apostle says: It is sown in a natural body, but is raised a spiritual body (I Cor. 15:44) & unchanging, such as was the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, the 2nd Adam, after the Resurrection. In the same way also the whole creation, according to the commandment of God, is to be, after the General Resurrection, not such as it was created, material & sensuous, but it is to be re-created & to become a certain immaterial & spiritual dwelling, surpassing every sense, as the Apostle says of us, We shall not sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye (I Cor. 15:51). Thus also the whole creation, after it shall burn up in the Divine fire, is to be changed.
The heaven will become incomparably more brilliant & bright than it appears now; it will become completely new. The earth will receive a new, unutterable beauty, being clothed in many-formed, unfading flowers, bright & spiritual. The whole world will become more perfect than any word can describe. Having become spiritual & divine, it will become united with the spiritual world [of the angels]; it will become a certain mental Paradise, a heavenly Jerusalem, the inalienable inheritance of the sons of God. Such an earth has not been inherited as yet by a single man; we are all strangers & foreigners. But when the earthly will be united with the heavenly, then also the righteous will inherit that already renewed earth whose inheritors are to be those meek ones who are blessed by the Lord.

All this, the glory of the future age, has been made possible by Christ’s Death & Resurrection. Christ, being both God & man, already dwells in this glory, being in Heaven in His glorified, resurrected body. But we have another who already partakes of the glory that is to come after the General Resurrection. This is the Most Holy Mother of God. In her we see all the fruits of Christ’s work of redemption, for not only has she been deified in soul, she has been resurrected by Christ in a spiritual body like His own. She has already been fully glorified by God, with the glory that the saints will know only after the General Resurrection. Vladimir Lossky writes that the Mother of God “is the perfection of the Church already realized in a human person fully united to God, beyond the Resurrection & the Judgment. Like her Son, she was raised from the dead & borne up to Heaven—the 1st human hypostasis in whom was fulfilled the final end for which the world was created.” She has already become that which the first-created man & woman were supposed to become. She has been raised higher than the angels & become “more honorable than the Cherubim & more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim.” She is the crown of creation, the testament of the glory of the future age which will come into being through Christ’s redemptive work. Again Vladimir Lossky writes: “In the 2 perfect persons—the Divine person of Christ & the human person of the Mother of God—is contained the mystery of the Church.”

This, then, is the whole of what Christ accomplished through His Incarnation, Death & Resurrection. In the words of St. Gregory the Theologian: “We needed an incarnate God, a God put to death, that we might live. We were put to death together with Him, that we might be cleansed; we rose again with Him, because we were put to death with Him; we were glorified with Him, because we rose again with Him.”

Through the totality of Christ’s work of redemption, man is spiritually united with God & deified, & man’s body & the entire creation are to be renewed as a spiritual & divine dwelling place. Truly, as we see affirmed over & over again in the writings of the Fathers: “God became man so that man might become god.”

The Precious Cincture of the Theotokos

The cincture of the Blessed Virgin Mary, today divided into 3 pieces, is 1 of 3 remaining relics of her earthly life, the others being her veil & her tunic. According to tradition, the cincture was made out of camel-hair by the Vir-gin Mary herself, & after her Dormition, at her Assumption, she entrusted it to the Apostle Thomas. During the early centuries of the Christian era it was kept at Jerusalem & in the 4th century we hear of it at Zela in Cappadocia. In the same century, Theodosius the Great brought it back to Jerusalem, & from there his son Arcadius took it to Constantinople. There it was origin-ally deposited in the Chalcoprateion church, whence it was transferred by the Emperor Leo to the Vlachernae church (458). During the reign of Leo VI ‘the Wise’ (886-912), it was taken to the Palace, where it cured his sick wife, the Empress Zoe.

The following is a more detailed account of this healing, which is recounted on Aug. 31st. The Placing of the Venerable Cincture of the all-holy Theotokos in a church of Constantinople’s Chalcoprateia district took place during the reign of Emperor Theodosius the Younger. Before this the holy relic, entrusted to the Apostle Thomas by the Mother of God herself, was kept by pious Christians at Jerusalem after Her Dormition. During the reign of Emperor Leo the Wise, his wife Zoe was afflicted with an unclean spirit, & he prayed that God would heal her. The empress had a vision that she would be healed of her infirmity if the Cincture of the Mother of God were placed upon her. The emperor then asked the Patriarch to open the coffer containing the precious Cincture. The Patriarch removed the seal & opened the coffer, & the Cincture of the Mother of God appeared completely whole & undamaged by time. The Patriarch placed the cincture on the sick empress, & immediately she was freed from her infirmity. They sang hymns of thanksgiving to the all-holy Theotokos, then they placed the venerable Cincture back into the coffer & resealed it. She, as an act of thanksgiving to the Mother of God, embroidered the whole girdle with gold thread, giving it the appearance which it bears today.

In the 12th century, in the reign of the Emperor Manuel I Comnenus (1143-1180), the Feast of the Holy cinc-ture on 31 Aug. was officially introduced; previously it had shared the Feast of the Vesture of the Virgin on 1 July. The Cincture itself remained in Constantinople until the 12th century, when, in the course of a defeat of the Byzantine Emperor Isaacius by the Bulgar King Asan (1185), it was stolen & taken to Bulgaria, & from there it later came into the hands of the Serbs. It was presented to Vatopaidi by the Serbian Prince Lazarus I (1372-1389), together with a large piece of the True Cross. Since then it has been kept in the sanctuary of the monastery’s main church. Under Turkish rule, the brethren of the Monastery took it on journeys to Crete, Macedonia, Thrace, Constantinople & Asia Minor, to distribute its blessing, to strength-en the morale of the enslaved Greeks & to bring freedom from infectious diseases.

The miracles performed by the Holy Cincture throughout the ages are innumerable. The following are but a few examples:

At one time, the inhabitants of Ainos called for the presence of the Holy Cincture & the Vatopaidi monks accompanying it received hospitality at the house of a priest, whose wife surreptitiously removed a piece of it. When the fathers embarked to leave, although the sea was calm, the ship remained immobile. The priest’s wife, seeing this strange phenomenon, realized that she had done wrong & gave the monks the piece of the cincture, whereupon the ship was able to leave immediately. It was because of this event that a 2nd case was made. The piece in question has been kept in this down to the present.

During the Greek War of Independence of 1821, the Holy Cincture was taken to Crete at the request of the islanders, who were afflicted by the plague. When, however, the monks were preparing to return to the Monastery, they were arrested by the Turks & taken off to be hanged, while the Holy Cincture was re-deemed by the British Consul, Domenikos Santantonio. From there the Cincture was taken to the island of Santorini, to the Consul’s new home. News of this quickly spread throughout the island. The local bishop informed the Vatopedi Monastery & the Abbot, Dionysios, was sent, in 1831, to Santorini. The Consul asked the sum of 15,000 piastres to hand over the Cincture, & the people of the island, with touching eagerness, managed to collect together the money. Thus the Holy Cincture was bought back & Abbot Dionysios returned it to Vatopaidi.  

What had happen with the priest’s wife of Ainos was repeated in the case of the Consul’s wife. She too, unbeknown to her husband, cut off a small piece of the Holy Belt before it was handed back to the Abbot Dionysios. Within a very short period her husband died suddenly & her mother & sister became gravely ill. In 1839, she wrote to the Monas-tery asking that representatives should be sent to take possession of the piece which she had removed.

In 1864, the Holy Cincture was taken to Constantinople, since there was a cholera epidemic among the inhabitants. As soon as the ship bearing it approached the harbor, the cholera ceased & none of those already suffering from it died. This strange miracle excited the curiosity of the Sultan, who had the Cincture brought to the Palace so that he could reverence it.

During the time when the Holy Cincture was at Constantinople, a Greek of Galata asked that it should be taken to his house, since his son was seriously ill. When, however, the Holy Cincture arrived at his house, his son was already dead. The monks, however, did not give up hope. They asked to see the dead boy, & as soon as the Cincture was placed on him, he was raised from the dead.

In 1894, the inhabitants of Madytos in Asia Minor sought that the Holy Cincture should be taken there be-cause a plague of locusts was destroying their trees & crops. When the ship carrying the Cincture came into the harbor, the sky was filled with clouds of locusts, which then began to fall into the sea, so that it was difficult for the vessel to anchor. The people of Madytos, seeing the miracle, kept up a constant chant of Kyrie eleison from the shore.

Until our own times, the Holy Cincture has continued to work many miracles, particularly in the case of infertile women, who, when they request it, are given a piece of cord from the case holding the Girdle &, if they have faith, become pregnant.

“Most Holy Mother of God, Save Us!” The Cincture of the Virgin Mary Comes to Russia
An account of the 2011 pilgrimage of the portion of the Cincture of the Virgin Mary perserved at Vatopedi Monastery through Russia.

Winter is on in Russia, or rather the foretaste of Russian winter. Not the hard frost that freezes away all moisture, but rain mixed with snow wind-driven against you. You can still stand outside for a day without getting frostbite, but you would need some clear motivation. And that motivation is your love for the Mother of God & sure hope in her intercession.

It began with a heartfelt request by the Russian Fund St. Andrew the 1st-called to the abbot of Vatopedi Monastery on Mt. Athos, Archimandrite Ephraim, & a blessing from His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow & All Russia, who announced on Russian television:

“Thousands of pilgrims visit Vatopedi Monastery just to pray before this holy relic, to kiss this frag-ment of the garments of the all-holy Theotokos. People pray before the Cincture of the Theotokos for healing from illnesses. Many incurable illnesses, including cancer, recede at people’s fervent prayers before this holy relic. In Vatopedi Monastery the monks make small copies of this Cincture, & we know that some women who suffer from infertility wear these little sashes. If to this is added repen-tance, fervent prayer & strong faith, then this prayer reaches the throne of the Heavenly Queen; many incidents have been recorded of women subsequently being able to have children.

“This is a serious problem for our country (Russia), & an important subject. I hope very much that the men & women who visit this holy relic while it is on Russian soil will fervently pray before it, venerate it & ask the Heavenly Queen for help in their lives, including for the birth of children. May the presence of the Cincture of the Theotokos help many to understand the power of Divine grace & the heavenly world’s closeness to us.”
On Nov. 20, Patriarch Kirill celebrated his 65th birthday. He & the primates of several local Churches served Divine Liturgy in the cathedral, & the Holy Cincture’s presence lent even more solemnity to the service attended by thousands of people.

This revered relic of the Mother of God is brought down from the Holy Mountain once a year to towns & cities in Greece, accompanied everywhere by bishops, clergy, soldiers & hundreds of the faithful strewing laurel leaves before the procession. But despite requests from other countries such as Romania, Bulgaria & the United States, Vatopedi monastery, which is so closely associated with the relic that it is nicknamed “agiozonite”, or “that of the holy Cincture”, has not previously consented to release the relic—that is, if you don’t count Turkey.

The relic has been piously preserved in Vatopedi Monastery since the 14th century. Even the Turkish Sultans recognized its miraculous qualities. Therefore in 1872, when Constantinople was beset by a cholera epidemic, Sultan Abdul-Aziz requested that the Cincture be brought to the city, & he sent a ship to take it. No sooner had the ship approached the city when the epidemic abated. The amazed Muslim Sultan ordered the relic brought to his palace for veneration.

Now the relic has been brought to Russia by Archimandrite Ephraim & 20 monks from Vatopedi. Transportation & logistics were organized by the Fund of St. Andrew the First-Called. The response has been phenomenal. As of Sat., Nov. 26, nearly 2,000,000 Russians have come to cathedrals in major cities to receive their grace of the all-holy Theotokos. The original route included arrival in St. Petersburg (were Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met the delegation at the airport) on Oct. 20, Ekaterinburg, Norilsk, Vladivostok, Krasnoyarsk, Diveyevo, Saransk, Samara, Rostov-on-the-Don, Kaliningrad & finally Moscow, from which the delegation will return to Mt. Athos. But there were so many people in this vast country who ardently de-sired to venerate this holy relic of the Mother of God that more cities were added to the list: Tiumen, Volgograd & Stravropol. Even the number of days in Moscow was extended by decision of the Vatopedi brotherhood when they understood how many people were arriving to venerate.

Archimandrite Ephraim has been to Russia a number of times prior to this momentous visitation & has given talks in the monasteries. He was equally gracious even on this long, difficult journey, & in Ekaterinburg he communicated his inspiration to those assembled before the holy relic:

“We have come from the Holy Mountain of Athos -— a place of asceticism, silence, prayer, repentance, the Protectress & Directress of which is the Mother of God. The Holy Mountain is still called the Garden of the Mother of God, & therefore all the monasteries are dedicated to the Theotokos.

“Vatopedi monastery is the only monastery in the world that is adorned with 7 miracle-working icons of the Mother of God, & the Honorable Cincture (Cincture, in Greek, Zoni) of the Most Holy Theotokos. We have 3 reliquary cases with portions of the holy Cincture, given to the monastery by an emperor & a prince. The first was John Cantacuzen, the Byzantine emperor, who was closely connected with the monastery: his spiritual father lived there, the saint of our Orthodox Church, Savva the Fool-for-Christ. This saint lived several years in Constantinople before coming to the monastery, & the emperor understood that this was a man of God, thus taking him as his spiritual counselor. They say that the emperor himself became a monk in our Vatopedi monastery at the end of his life. The 2nd person to give a portion of the holy Cincture to the monastery was Grand Prince Lazar of Serbia, who suffered for the sake of Christ, & is now the protector & great martyr of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

“Apparently the Theotokos chose Vatopedi Monastery to be particularly adorned by her mercy: two donors who did not even know each other were enlightened by grace at the same time & gave this great holy relic to one & the same monastery. Our spiritual father, Elder Joseph of Vatopedi, who reposed 2 years ago, often said to us: ‘Where else would it please the Theotokos to preserve her holy Cincture but on the Holy Mountain, which is a place of purity, chastity, obedience—a place of virginity?’ You know, the Cincture was symbolic even under the Law of Moses. We know from the Old Testament that virgins wove them-selves Cinctures, & when the official wedding day arrived, a virgin would give this Cincture to her husband as a symbol of her virginity.

“The Cincture which many have already venerated & which many more will venerate was woven by the hands of the Theotokos. This Cincture was made of camel’s wool (which was, incidentally, scientifically investigated), embroidered with gold thread. Empress Zoe, wife of the Byzantine emperor Leo VI the Wise, embroidered it. Empress Zoe was seriously ill & saw the Mother of God in a dream. The Theotokos told her that she must persuade the Patriarch to take the Cincture out of its sealed reliquary, & if she puts it around her waist she will be healed. Although the holy reliquary was sealed by the Patriarch as early as the 4th century, Zoe’s husband the Emperor had the influence to make the Patriarch unseal it. The Cincture was placed on the sick Empress, & she was healed. As a sign of her gratitude, she herself embroidered the en-tire Cincture with gold thread. By the way, scholars say that this was also God’s Providence, because if the Cincture had not been sewn over with gold it would not have survived to this day.

“We have brought you this holy relic because we believe that its presence in your city will bring a great blessing & relief, much grace, protection, & strength. Venerating this holy Cincture we feel that the Theotokos herself is in our midst, she is in the heart of each one of us. Even those who say that they do not believe—know that they are only deceiving. I have personal experience of this—my father said that he does not believe, but when he fell sick I remember how he continually said, ‘My Theotokos, my Theotokos’ —- for she is in the heart & conscience of an Orthodox person…

“We once met a family in Athens -— today they are elderly. They told us how 60 years ago the Cincture was brought to Athens & it was in their home. They remembered this for so many years, were filled with joy over this, told people about it & were filled with grace … When the Cincture was again in Athens 12 years ago it was placed on a table, & the tablecloth on which it lay still exudes a fragrance. I pray that the grace of the Theotokos would fill your hearts also, & that you would understand what a great honor it is that we are Orthodox Christians, members of the Church & children of God.”

This outpouring of grace of the Mother of God was indeed felt throughout Russia over the period of the Holy Cincture’s presence here. Indeed all the Orthodox cannot but hold our Lord’s Mother dear—this is not a theory or a dogma but a fact. But perhaps nowhere was the Cincture so sought after as it was in the capital city of Moscow, where not only Muscovites endured many hours of waiting in the cold, but also people from around the country. Moscow is the hub of the transportation wheel in this highly centralized nation, & so for people not living close to the other cities on the delegation’s route, it was easier to come here to pray before the relic. The Cathedral of Christ the Savior, a beloved Moscow religious landmark, hosted the precious Cincture during its stay here.

From the day the Cincture arrived in the capital city on Nov. 19, around 700 buses were arriving from all over central Russia to meet it. Traffic was closed on Sat. & Sun. along the banks of the Moscow River so that “warm-up” buses could stand by unhindered. The wait-ing lines were divided into sectors, so that one measured group at a time could be calmly allowed into the cathedral. 133 buses were parked along the waiting line for people to warm themselves in, free food & hot tea were offered ‘round the clock at 69 different stations, & 440 chemical toilets were lined up for use. Even a local up-scale restaurant opened its doors to the pilgrims. The waiting line reached up to 4 kilometers in length.
It is no trifling matter to wait as long as 2 full days in line on a wintry street but these determined people continually felt the care of the Mother of God, & the organizers. Impromptu Akathists sounded here, there & every-where, punctuated by heartfelt sighs of “O Most Holy Mother of God save us!” A visit to the Cathedral was truly a visit to Holy Russia—bearded old men leaning on canes, stout, all-enduring babushkas, mothers with their children, the poor, the blind and the lame. Clergy led their flocks, monks & nuns were interspersed with & serving the many-thousand-fold worshippers. The uniformed police in their fur caps who guarded everyone’s safety even seemed more like angels than men. Moscow churches & monasteries saw a continual stream of people obviously fresh from provincial parts, carrying their bundles. Many described the experience as “Christmas, or Pascha”. It was like a combination of both of these great feasts -— the joy of Pascha, the luminous warmth amidst the fluttering snowflakes of Christmas; the light amidst the darkness, the glorious protection of the Mother of God that lightens every burden. It was impossible to deny the feeling that the Most Holy Mother of God was close, was visiting & blessing her children; & as Fr. Ephraim said in Ekaterinburg, this blessing will undoubtedly last, & even mark a change in the life of the city, perhaps even the whole country.

The media has been informing people for weeks prior to the event about how to venerate in an orderly manner. The line moves slowly forward until each person has his or her cherished moment of quickly kissing the reliquary, & they are then gently guided away by someone at a post. Several women efficiently hand out a “Cincture” blessed on the original, then a small paper icon & finally a paper triptych of the Mother of God with photographs on either side of the sacred reliquary.

Fri., Nov. 25. It is clear to all that at the current pace, many will leave without receiving the blessing of venerating the Holy Cincture in the Christ the Savior Cathedral. The organizers make the decision to raise the sacred relic on an arc to allow the faithful to pass underneath it & prayerfully receive its grace. The news-papers report that although the line is no shorter, the speed of entry has increased. The organizers announce that they will continue to distribute ribbons blessed on the Holy Cincture even after the delegation’s departure.

Sat., Nov. 26. The waiting lines are still several kilometers long & access to the Cathedral is due to close at 9:00 pm tomorrow. Again the Mt. Athos monks demonstrate their ascetical mercy & agree to extend the closing time to 4:00 am Monday…

Throughout the time of the Holy Cincture’s travels to the major Russian cities, you could see such English language headlines as “Russians queue to worship Greek ‘fertility’ relic”. Well, what can we say, that is how they see it. (One has to wonder why an aged man leaning on his cane would queue up for a “fertility relic”.) But while other headlines were appearing such as “Black Friday turns violent at 9 U.S. Walmart stores; at least 24 people injured”, people both inside the Christ the Savior Cathedral & outside it in the cold were praying to the Mother of God. Not all were praying for “fertility”, or even for good health. Most were praying to the Most Holy Mother of God to “save our souls” in eternity, amen.

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!”

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.