ON PRAYER ROPES

All material things can be blessed. Things such as cars, tools, weapons, ladders are potentially dangerous, so – to Christians of right belief and worship – blessing them seems obviously the right thing to do. However, whilst some might argue that prayer ropes (komboskini, metanii, chotki) are intrinsically sacred (like holy ikons), these may not necessarily have been blessed, even when they are made by monastics. Material things (objects and persons) can, in any case, be blessed multiple times.

We are instructed (1 Thessalonians 5:17) to ‘pray without ceasing’ – the word ἀδιάλειπτος meaning ‘incessantly’, ‘constantly’. To make incessant prayer a reality in our daily life, we Orthodox Christians have been given the most wonderful gift of the Jesus Prayer. We use it daily.

The prayer rope is a useful aid in our daily prayers. Incidentally, in early Christian times, to count repetitions of prayers, beads were often used, to the effect that the Middle English word bēde which means ‘prayer’ (from the proto-Germanic bedą) came to be applied to the objects themselves. Hence, we have the modern English word bead, which is linked etymologically to the word bid, which means to ‘ask’.

Modern, bracelet-type, prayer ropes are worn on the left wrist when not being used for prayer – the right hand is for making the (sign of) the Cross. These bracelets should be worn with caution- they are not jewellery! They should be used for prayer never for decoration. If you find that you are wearing one without using it for prayer- for your sake: please take it off! And better still, gift it to someone who wants to pray. Let the prayer rope become worn out through repetitive prayer not through repetitively being worn. Longer prayer ropes should never be worn round the neck.

Simple prayer ropes are best. Overly decorative (flashy) ones are distracting and are best avoided. Remember: It is not the prayer rope itself which is significant, but the prayers which we say (with or without the aid of a prayer rope).

Prayer ropes come ‘unstretched’. They should be gently stretched before use so that the knots are separated from each other and so are easier to count.

May our ever-merciful God grant us to pray fruitfully, incessantly.

In Christ God,
Father Jakob

 

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“god-like freedom shut the door against predestination in any form”

To produce something new is always a gamble, and God’s creation of man in His image and after His likeness involved a certain degree of risk. It was not that He risked introducing an element of instability or shock into His Eternal Being but that to give man god-like freedom shut the door against predestination in any form. Man is at full liberty to determine himself negatively in relation to God- even to enter into conflict with Him. As infinite love, the Heavenly Father cannot abandon man whom He created for eternity, in order to impact to him His divine plenitude. He lives with us our human tragedy. We appreciate this risk, so breath-taking in its majesty, when we contemplate the life of Christ on earth.

~ Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov, His Life is Mine, Chapter 3: ‘The Risk in Creation’. New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001 (2nd ed.).

ALL SAINTS OF BRITAIN & IRELAND

The Church in the British Isles will only begin to grow when She begins again to venerate Her own Saints
~ Saint Arsenios of Paros [†1877]

At the Feast of All Saints of Britain (today, Sunday 10th June 2018) it is important to keep in mind that we are not trumpeting particular saints for their British-ness; this is no excuse for tribalism or nationalism, certainly not for the repulsive politics of racism or exclusion. It is sainthood– the saintliness of those who have shone forth in the British Isles and Ireland – that we are celebrating. The Saints of Britain are not necessarily or exclusively British saints. Some of them were local men and women, but many of them were not even remotely British by birth or blood or culture.
From wherever they came – and every one of us in these islands is ultimately from somewhere else – they all share the same final destination: not the United Kingdom but the Kingdom of the Heavens. All these saints were blessed, all attained salvation, all exemplified the qualities which we read today in the Beatitudes, the qualities of all true Christians – meekness, gentleness, mercy, peace, undergoing persecution and enduring the cross quietly and joyfully. These are not “magical” qualities reserved only for the few: “fullness of Christ” [Eph. 3:19] and “abundance of life” [Jn. 10:10] may be attained by every one of us. . . if we desire it with our whole heart and with our whole soul. As H.E. Bishop Irenei [Steenberg] of Sacramento points out: “If only we would take seriously our spiritual lives, we would all be saints”.

ORTHODOX CHURCH – PENTECOSTAL CHURCH

The “Pentecostal” [sic.] protestant view of history is incorrect. This version does not square with the known facts; it says that the conversion of St. Constantine the Great was followed by apostasy, with the resulting loss of Apostolic faith and the power that was given at Pentecost; Tradition (liturgy, bishops, veneration of the saints, etc.) replacing Scripture; that True Christianity wasn’t restored until the Reformation, and then only partially. And that it was only in the early twentieth century, with the “Pentecostal revivals” [sic.)], that the full power of the Holy Spirit (as manifested in the Book of Acts) was at last revived in these last days before Christ’s return.  This implies that the Holy Spirit was curtailed, moribund, or somehow went to sleep, for many centuries. This may well amount to that one thing unforgiveable (Mark 3:28-30) –  blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

We have no need for misreading history, nor for seeing the activity of the Holy Spirit in this (deluded) way. The Orthodox Church has the fullness of faith and life. Because She is truly “a new life with Christ and in Christ, guided by the Spirit” [Sergius Bulgakov, The Orthodox Church. Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1988, p. 1.]. We know through study and direct personal experience that the [Orthodox] Church is the original “Pentecostal” Church, for She is the Church of the Holy Apostles upon whom the Holy Spirit descended, just as our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ promised, fifty days after His Death and Resurrection. The Holy Spirit is “the life and voice of the Holy Spirit in her midst” [Lazarus Moore, Sacred Tradition in the Orthodox Church. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Light and Life Publishing, 1984, p. 9.], as Holy Tradition is “the breathing of the Holy Spirit” [St. John of Krondstadt, My Life in Christ Jordanville, New York: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1984, p.174.]. We, as members of the household of God, the Apostle tells us, have been built upon  –

the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in Whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
[Ephesians 2:20]

Saint Theophan the Recluse describes the necessity for being filled with the Spirit:

The Spirit of Grace lives in Christians from the time of Baptism and Chrismation. And to participate in the Sacraments of Repentance and Communion – is not this to receive the most abundant floods of grace? To those who already have the Spirit, it obviously is appropriate to say: “Quench not the Spirit” [1 Thessalonians, 5:19. But, how can one say to such people: “Be filled with the Spirit” ([Ephesians, 5:18]? Indeed the Grace of the Holy Spirit is given to all Christians, because such is the power of the Christian Faith. But, the Holy Spirit, living in Christians, does not effect their salvation by Himself, but works together with the free actions of each individual. In this sense, the Christian can offend or extinguish the Spirit – or else he may contribute to the perceptible manifestation of the Spirit’s action within him. When this happens, the Christian feels himself to be in an extraordinary state, which expresses itself in deep, sweet, and quiet joy  [. . . ]. Therefore, the commandment to be “filled with the Spirit” simply is an injunction to behave and act in such a manner as to co-operate with or allow free scope to the Holy Spirit, to make it possible for the Holy Spirit to manifest Himself by perceptibly touching the heart.
[Quoted in The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, compiled by Igumen Chariton of Valamo, translated by E. Kadloubovsky and E.M. Palmer, London: Faber and Faber, 1985, pp. 173-4.]

During every Divine Liturgy, on our behalf, the priest voices this plea:

We ask You, and pray You, and supplicate You: Send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here offered. O Lord, at the third hour You sent Your Holy Spirit upon Your apostles; do not take Him from us now, O Merciful One, but renew him in us, who pray to You [. . .] . And make this Bread the precious Body of Your Christ, and that which is in this Cup, the precious Blood of Your Christ, making the change by your Holy Spirit; that they may be to those who partake for the purification of the soul, for the forgiveness of sins, for the communion of Your Holy Spirit, for the fulfillment of the Kingdom of Heaven [.] 

And Saint Seraphim of Sarov, who famously said that the true end of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, says this of Holy Pentecost :

When our Lord Jesus Christ, after his Resurrection, vouchsafed to complete the work of our salvation, He sent to his apostles that breath of life which Adam lost, and He gave the grace of the Holy Spirit back to them. On the day of Pentecost, he bestowed on them the power of the Holy Spirit, which entered them in the form of a mighty wind and in the appearance of tongues of fire, filling them with the strength of his Grace. This light-filled breath, received by the faithful on the day of their baptism, is sealed by the rite of chrism on the members of their body, so that it becomes a vessel of grace. That is why the priest accompanies the anointing of the chrism with these words: “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit”. This grace is so great, so necessary and life-giving, that it is never withdrawn
[Valentine Zander, St. Seraphim of Sarov. New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1975, p. 89.] 

Always we Orthodox commence our prayers, whether together in the holy Temple or daily at home, with a Pentecostal prayer:

O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who are present everywhere and fill all things, Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life, come and abide in us, and cleanse us of every impurity and save our souls, O Good One. 

It is in the hearts and lives of Orthodox Christians, who are recipients of the Holy Mysteries, those who are engaged in the process of sanctification, that the Holy Spirit is active, just as in the Holy Mysteries. Those who are members of Christ’s One Body, the Church, are those who are united with Christ in His death and resurrection through Holy Baptism and who are then sealed by the Holy Spirit by the sacrament Mystery of Holy Chrismation, for they “have all been made to drink of the one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13),  This Spirit is the same Spirit Who anointed Jesus at His baptism, and remained upon Him in all fullness; the same spirit Who, following His Ascension into the Heavens, was poured out upon the Holy Apostles as tongues of fire. The same Holy Spirit Who eternally proceeds from the Father, Who is one in essence with the Father and the Son, glorified with them, Who spoke through the prophets” (The Symbol of Faith).

The Church, that is the holy Orthodox Church, is truly the Pentecostal Church. Let us beseech God that all people may come to know this Truth.  The prayer of Saint Silouan of Mount Athos is truly pentecostal: “I pray Thee, O Merciful Lord, for all the peoples of the world, that they may come to know Thee by the Holy Spirit”.
Amen. Amen. Amen.

Happy Feast!

Beloved Christians,

CHRIST IS ASCENDED!
Today, we celebrate one of the Great Feasts of the Church. A great feast of Christ, a great feast of our potential.
Christ comes down from the Heavens, is crucified and risen from the dead, destroying the power of the evil-one over mankind, and is ascended into the Heavens. But He ascends not as He came down to us. He ascends, taking with Himself a human body, a human soul, a human mind, a human will, all the attributes of human nature except of course for sin, for Christ’s human nature is human nature as it was first intended to be, not fallen human nature, but human nature redeemed and made beautiful and whole.
Today, we hear the words of our Saviour from His own lips:

And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all [people] to Myself.

This is the promise of our own ascension, our transfiguration into the likeness of God. Christ descends into Hades to liberate the dead and to liberate us all from death, He then ascends to the Heavens so that we, too, might ascend and become “children of light”.
We should note, however, that all these victories of Christ over the evil-one, death, and sin, are accomplished in utter humility. Just as at His Birth, His Crucifixion, and His Resurrection, so at Christ’s Ascension, there is nothing showy, no outward glory, no glamour, no fuss, no media coverage, just quiet humility. This is the true defeat of the evil-one: not pride or spectacle but humility. When He ascends, He promises us the Holy Spirit. Thus God is victorious in humility.

Blessed Augustine of Hippo writes:

[Christ] became Man for us[…]; and though He took to Himself a human form, He did not give up the divine. Omnipotence was veiled; infirmity made manifest. He was born, as you have come to know, that we might be reborn. He died, that we might not die for ever. And straightaway, that is, on the third day, He rose again from the dead; assuring us that we too shall rise on the last day.

We too, within the Holy Orthodox Church, are victorious, but only in faith, only in humility.

I wish you all a very Happy Feast of the ASCENSION OF CHRIST! May God bless us all.
Christ is Ascended!  He is Ascended in Glory!

In Christ God,
Father Jakob

 

The Saint and the Hornets’ Nest of Protestants

arsen st

From Saint Paisios, Saint Arsenios of Cappadocia (1989 edn.), pp.51-52:

Since Father Arsenios was very sensitive to Orthodoxy, he felt a deep responsibility towards his flock and was on guard to protect them also from the wolves in sheep’s clothing, the Protestants, who were spreading propaganda in the East through the teachers they sent to proselytize. For this reason Father Arsenios was forced to take on three assistants at the school as teachers, the best educated people in the village, and not to accept anyone from outside.
While the great fear initially was of the Turks, and he kept the existence of the school a secret for this reason, later on there was more reason to fear the Protestants, because they wanted to pollute the Orthodox faith of the little children.
Once they had sent a Protestant teacher, who, as soon as he arrived in Farasa, asked for the house of the Protestant Koupsis – who was paid to proselytize – to unload his things and to stay there. When Father Arsenios learned about the teacher, he went to meet him at once and said to him:
     “Leave now, with your things as they are, before you unload them, because in Farasa we don’t want another Protestant. The one we’ve got is enough, and the one Turk who’s been here for years.”
After this Father Arsenios also told the congregation at church:
     “Whoever passes the time of day with Koupsis, had better know that when they’re exhumed, their corpse will not have decomposed.”
This was the only way of isolating the hornet, Koupsis, who was always stinging the young mainly, by pouring into their tender souls the poison of his error, and he inflamed them by accusing Hatzefendis [=St Arsenios] of getting rid of teachers so as to leave the children uneducated. But now when nobody spoke to him, Koupsis was forced to recognise the error of his ways. He went to Father Arsenios, asked forgiveness and returned to the flock, too. In this way the hornets’ nest of the Protestants was destroyed.

QUESTION: Father, what ought we to do if we are unable to attend Divine Liturgy?

ANSWER: A good question! When we miss the Divine Liturgy, we naturally feel remorse (or should do!) because we are missing out on what Christ Himself says gives us life: His flesh and blood:  Jesus, therefore, said to them,

‘Truly, truly, I say to you, if you shall not have eaten the flesh of the Son of Man and not have drunk of His blood, you have not life in yourselves. (John 6:53-54)

That we feel sad about missing the Divine Liturgy is a good thing! Feeing bereft shows that we are hungering to be fed, hungering for life, hungering for the love of God. The Orthodox desire to attend is not forced, it does not arise from legalistic obligation, but grows naturally out of love – from a genuine spiritual and physical need. In our tradition we do not have a legalistic “Sunday obligation”. The attitude towards non-attendance, is a matter which highlights the distinctions between us and the Latins (Roman Catholics). With the RCs, attending mass is of legalistic necessity, but Holy Orthodoxy respects our freedom. We should want to plan ahead, to keep Sundays for God, to keep the feast days holy, to attend whenever we are not incapacitated by serious illness or bound by contract or unbreakable obligation. Our love of Christ gives birth in us to a natural desire to attend the Divine Liturgy – simply, naturally, out of profound love for God, to worship God, to be with God (Matthew 6:21; Luke 12:34).
The purpose of the Christian life is transfiguration and resurrection. The Apostle tells the Galatians to crucify the flesh with its passions and lusts (Gal. 5:24), and the Romans to offer their bodies to God as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1), and the Corinthians that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and that they (we) should ‘Glorify God in your body’ (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Saint Makarios writes of the transfiguration and resurrection of man:

In so far as each has been counted worthy through faith and diligence to become a partaker of the Holy Spirit, to that same extent his body also shall be glorified. (Homilies V.8 PG 24. 513B)

Why would we not want to attend? After all, Christ Himself is present in the Holy Eucharist.

People do not attend holy services for a multitude of reasons – some legitimate (“I cannot attend”) and some not (“I do not want to”); and sometimes not for any practical reason, but just because they lack zeal – they cannot make the effort. Some are afflicted by a lethargy which is hard to break. This is a common problem for those living in the west (and in those countries which are being increasingly westernised). That we do not live in a supportive Orthodox ‘culture’, and are so few and so isolated in the west, makes us easy prey for the temptations of evil spirits. However, in such poor soil, it is all the greater a victory for those who grow and flourish- who attend every time they are able!

There might, however, be a good reason why we are not able to attend (any priest will advise here). We note that in the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil we pray for “all who are absent with a good cause”. That is, we pray for all those unable to attend due to reasons which are honourable and worthy of a blessing. 

In missing the Divine Liturgy you (and also your child/children/godchildren- if you are keeping them away!) are missing out on the worship of God and participation in the Holy Mysteries. Non-attendance is not a breaking of rules but an issue of spiritual-health. And it would be foolish indeed to choose frivolity (shopping, cinema, the beach, dining out), over attending whenever one is able. Does it even need saying that spending Sundays and feast days without prayers, without prostrations, without repentance is not a good thing?
Those who have special duties in the holy temple should arrange cover and notify the priest that they will not be able to attend- this is common courtesy. The rest of the people are under no obligation to attend other than the desire borne out of their burning love for God.

What ought we to do when unable to attend? Standard, Orthodox, practice, if you are unable to attend the Divine Liturgy, is to pray Typica – this is the usual “replacement service” as it were. Typica is essentially a condensed form of the Liturgy – minus the Holy Eucharist of course, containing psalms, beatitudes, Creed, Lord’s Prayer; kontakion, Epistle and Gospel for the day. Alternatively, one could “be attentive” in another way: there are now websites with live streaming of the Divine Liturgy.
We should remember that the Church is the hospital for sinners and we miss our visits for treatment to the detriment of our spiritual health. To repeat, it is not so bad if we feel a genuine contrition, but we still make our confession for not attending. God knows our heart. And God forgives.

Getting the Most out of our Faith 1. HOLIDAYS = HOLY DAYS

In the secularised west, even here in the UK after five gruelling centuries of state-sponsored protestantism, the days of Christ’s Holy Crucifixion and His Nativity still remain national holidays. This continuation is testament to a time (from long before state-sponsored protestantism) when Christians recognised instinctively that feasts days are holy: they simply didn’t need to be told not to work.

Clearly, not everybody is able to take days off (students, teachers, emergency services, surgeons, those on a fixed rota, etc.), or is privileged to have 20+ days of annual leave, and so I thank God for all those who have heeded the advice to take time off during Holy Week (who at the very least took off Holy Friday), and planned ahead to take off the Great Feasts (or at least some of the feasts).
Our faith is incarnational. It is spiritual made manifest through the material and the temporal- it deals with things within time.

A ‘holiday’ is quite literally a ‘holy day’. It is a gift from God: a day with specific meaning and purpose. It is there to be used correctly – to be redeemed (Ephesians 5:16). To reap the fullest spiritual benefit we need to be away from the distractions of work – praying, attending holy services, worshipping God. Please, let us take time off for the feasts, take time off for our name-day – let’s not spend the feast days unworthily, and let us strive not to squander all the ‘holidays’ (holy days) in worldly pursuits.

Here are some important dates (weekdays) for your diary for the remainder of 2018:

17th May – Ascension of the Lord
29th June – Holy Apostles Peter and Paul
6th August – Holy Transfiguration
15th August – Dormition of the Theotokos
8th September – Nativity of the Theotokos
14th September – Exaltation of the Holy Cross
21st November – Presentation of the Theotokos

Most of these feasts are fixed dates, so are very easy to remember (hopefully, I don’t need to point out to anyone that 25th December is the Nativity of Christ!). Let us all take the Great Feasts seriously: come to church; pray, fast, prepare to partake of the Most Holy Eucharist on the Great Feast days; sharing fellowship with other Christians, have dinner with our beloved godchildren or godparent. . .

With love and prayers in Christ God,
Father Jakob

 

More necessary than breathing…

It is more necessary to learn to call on the name of God than it is to breathe. The Apostle Paul says that we are to pray without ceasing and by this he means that man is to remember God at all times, in all places, and under all circumstances. If you are making something, you should remember the Creator of all things; if you see light, you should remember Him who gave it to you; if you see the heavens, the earth, and sea and all that is in them, you should marvel and praise God who called them all into being; if you are clothing yourself, remember the blessings of your Creator and praise Him for being concerned about your well-being. In short, every action of every day should cause you to remember and praise God, and if you do this, then you will be praying ceaselessly and your soul will always be joyful.

~ Saint Peter of Damaskos