- Faithfulness and obedience
- Giving to the poor = giving to Christ
- Obedience and humility
- Bearing sufferings
- Modesty of a women
- Pray before you eat
- Spiritual man fears a lack of suffering
- The sharp conscience of the saints
- Arius’ hypocrisy
- Spiritual wisdom is irrespective of your age
- The dilemma of the proud
- The second coming of Christ
- About Christ’s prophecy concerning His glory
- About the believing people and the unbelieving elders
This is all extracted from the “Prologue from Ohrid” by the modern-day Serbian saint – St Nikolai Velimirović. You can probably buy it on amazon as a hard or soft copy.
How was Moses able to fast for forty days? How were the many Christian ascetics able to live a long life in extreme abstinence from food and drink? For the physical man who does not know about the spiritual life, it is impossible to believe. It is impossible even to prove it to him for the understanding of this is achieved only by experience. When the torturers of St. Basiliscus detained him for three days without food and water and when they offered him food to eat, he refused saying that he was not hungry.
“I am,” says he, “filled with immortal food and do not want to receive mortal food. You are fed by earthly bread, but the heavenly word of God feeds me; wine makes you happy, and the Grace of the Holy Spirit makes me happy; meat satisfies you and fasting satisfies me; physical power strengthens you and the Cross of Christ strengthens me; gold makes you rich and the love of Christ enriches me; clothing adorns you, and good works adorn me; you are made happy with laughter and I am comforted by the Spirit through prayer.” Here is a man, one out of many, and there are many more upon whom the word of the Lord is confirmed. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God!” (St. Matthew 4:4).
Faithfulness and obedience
Faithfulness and obedience to the will of God is necessary to adorn the life of every Christian. As is seen in the life of St. Agapius, God glorifies the faithful and the obedient. When he was a young man, this saint was captured by pirates, was taken to Asia and was sold to a certain Arab. For twelve years Agapius remained quietly and obediently a slave of this Arab. For twelve years he prayed to the All-Holy Mother of God to help him gain his freedom from bondage.
One night, the Virgin Mother of God appeared to him and said, “Arise and go without fear to Mt. Athos to your elder.” Agapius arose and came to his elder on Mt. Athos, the Holy Mountain. When the elder saw Agapius, he was saddened, thinking that Agapius had fled from his master.He said to him, “My child Agapius, you have deceived your master, but you can never deceive God. On the day of the dreadful judgment, you will have to render an answer for that money with which your master purchased you to serve him. Therefore, you must return and faithfully serve your master.”
Agapius, faithful and obedient to the will of God, returned immediately to Asia, reported to his master, and informed him about everything that had happened. The Arab, learning all of this, was amazed and was overcome with the charity of Christians. He desired to see Agapius’ s elder. The Arab arrived at the Holy Mountain, accompanied by his two sons. Here, he and his two sons were baptized. All three of them were tonsured as monks.
They remained there until their deaths, practicing the strict life of asceticism, at first, under the guidance of Agapius’ s spiritual father, and afterwards, by Agapius himself. Thus, the one-time cruel masters became the obedient disciples of their former slave, faithful to the will of the God of the obedient Agapius.
Giving to the poor = giving to Christ
He who gives to the poor, gives to Christ. This is the meaning of the Gospel teaching, and it has been confirmed in the experience of the saints. Upon his repentance, Peter the Merciful gave alms to the poor wherever the opportunity presented itself. On one occasion Peter encountered a shipwrecked man who had barely managed to save his naked body from the wreck. The man begged him for some clothing. Peter removed his costly cloak and clothed the naked man with it. Shortly afterward, Peter saw his cloak in the shop of a merchant, who had it displayed for sale. Peter was very saddened that the shipwrecked man had sold his cloak instead of using it for himself.
Peter thought: “I am not worthy; the Lord does not accept my alms.” But later, the Lord appeared to him in a dream. He appeared as a handsome man, brighter than the sun, with a cross on His head, wearing Peter’s cloak. “Peter, why art thou sad?” asked the Lord. “My Lord, why would I not be sad, when I see that which I gave to the poor being sold at the market?” Then the Lord asked him: “Dost thou recognize this garment on Me?” Peter replied: “I recognize it, Lord; that is my garment with which I clothed the naked man.” Then the Lord spoke to him again: “Therefore do not be sad; thou gavest it to the poor man, and I received it, and I praise thy deed.”
Obedience and humility
Obedience, coupled with humility, is the foundation of the spiritual life, the foundation of salvation and the foundation of the overall structure of the Church of God.
The great John Damascene – great in every good thing – as a monk left a deep impression on the history of the Church by his exceptional example of obedience and humility.
Testing him one day, his elder and spiritual father handed him woven baskets and ordered him to take them to Damascus and sell them there. The elder established a very high price for the baskets, thinking that John would not be able to sell them at that price but would have to return with them.
John, therefore, firstly had to go on a long journey; secondly, he had to go as a poor monk to the city where he, at one time, had been the most powerful man after the Caliph; thirdly, he had to seek a ridiculously high price for the baskets; and fourthly, should he not sell the baskets, he would have made this enormous journey, there and back, for nothing.
In this way, the elder wished to test the obedience, humility and patience of his famous disciple. John silently prostrated before the elder and, without a word, took the baskets and started on his journey. Arriving in Damascus, he stood in the market place and awaited a buyer. When he told the interested passers – by the price of his goods, they laughed at and mocked him as a lunatic.
He stood there the whole day, and the whole day he was exposed to derision and ridicule. But God, Who sees all things, did not abandon His patient servant. A certain citizen passed by and looked at John. Even though John was clad in a poor monk’s habit and his face was withered and pale from fasting, this citizen recognized in him the one-time lord and first minister of the Caliph, in whose service he had also been.
John also recognized him, but they both began to deal as strangers. Even though John named the all-too-high price of the baskets, the citizen purchased and paid for them without a word, recalling the good that John Damascene had once done for him. As a victor, holy John returned to the monastery rejoicing, and brought joy to his elder.
If your entire life passed smoothly and without worry, then weep for yourself.
For the Gospel and the experience of the people, with one accord assert that no one has, without great suffering and pain, left behind any great and beneficial work on earth or was glorified in the heavens.
If, however, your earthly sojourn is completely adorned with sweat and tears to attain justice and truth, rejoice and be exceedingly glad for truly great is your reward in the heavens.
Do not ever succumb to the insane thought that God has abandoned you. God knows exactly how much one can endure and, according to that, measures the sufferings and pains of everyone.
St. Nil Sorsky says: “When even men know how much weight a horse, or a donkey or a camel can carry and, according to that they are loading them according to their strength; when a potter knows how long to leave the clay in the kiln for it to be neither shattered nor over-baked, how could God not know how much temptation a soul can bear to make it ready and fitted for the Kingdom of Heaven?”
Modesty of a women
One of the most beautiful adornments of a woman is her modesty and immodesty in a woman is the most unnatural and most repulsive spectacle in the world.
A wonderful example of feminine modesty was shown by St. Macrina in her life.
In her youth, a bitter wound opened up on her breast; even though her mother counseled her to show the wound to a doctor and seek a remedy, Macrina did not agree to it.
She had completely dedicated herself to God and would not allow even the thought of exposing her body before men and not even before her own mother.
One evening Macrina earnestly prayed to God; from her eyes tears flowed, which fell to the dust before her. With unwavering confidence in her Lord, with her fingers she mixed the dust with her tears and with that anointed her wound.
The next day she awakened healthy. When her mother, with great sorrow entered to see her daughter, Macrina did not want to reveal that the Lord healed her (out of humility, concealing the miracle which she herself performed through her prayer) but begged her mother saying: “I will be healed, my mother, if you place your right hand on my bosom and make the sign of the cross over the spot of the wound.”
The mother reached out her hand and made the sign of the cross over that spot but did not feel the wound anymore but only the scar of the healed wound. Thus did St. Macrina conceal her body out of modesty and her miracle-working out of humility.
Pray before you eat
It is not the same to eat your meal with a blessing and to eat it without a blessing.
Every meal is the table of God, which God Himself has set for us. This is why it is necessary as a householder to thank God and to beg for His blessings.
Blessed food is more tasty and more satisfying while unblessed food is untasty, unsatisfying and unhealthy.
On one occasion, Emperor Theodosius the Younger went for a walk in the surroundings of Constantinople and seeing the hut of a monk stopped and visited.
The elder asked the emperor would he desire something to eat? “I do,” answered the emperor. The elder brought bread, oil, salt and water before the emperor. The emperor ate and drank and then asked the monk: “Do you know who I am?”
“God knows who you are,” replied the monk.
“I am Emperor Theodosius.” The monk bowed down before the emperor silently.
The emperor said to him: “I am an emperor and am born of an emperor but, believe me, never in my life have I eaten so tastily as I have today with you.”
“And do you know why?” answered the elder.
“Because,” he continued, “we monks always prepare our food with prayer and blessing; it is from that, that bitter food for us is transformed into tasty; with you, however, food is prepared with much labor and you do not seek a blessing (from God) and because of that tasty food becomes tasteless.”
Spiritual man fears a lack of suffering
Fear in suffering and fear of not suffering -this is one and the same fear and it signifies the fear of a spiritual man as to whether or not God has distanced Himself from him.
When St. Catherine suffered many and difficult tortures, our Lord appeared to her and she asked Him: ‘Where were You until now, 0 Lord, to comfort me in so many sufferings?”
The Lord answered her: ‘ I was here in your heart.’
But as great a fear can come upon a spiritual man when, sufferings do not come his way for a long time.
A monk once entered a church in Alexandria and saw a woman kneeling before the icon of the Savior and weeping tears cried out to the Lord: ‘You have abandoned me O Lord, O Merciful One, have mercy on me!”
Following the prayer the monk asked her: Who has wronged you that you so bitterly complain to God?”
The woman replied: “Up to now, no one has wronged me, that is why I am weeping because God has abandoned me and for three years did not visit me with any sufferings. During this time, I was neither sick, nor my son, nor has any of my household livestock perished.”
The sharp conscience of the saints
Among the saints exists a very sharp [acute] conscience. That which average people consider a minor sin, the saints consider to be a great transgression.
It is said of the Abba Daniel that on three occasions robbers captured him and took him into the forest. Fortunately, on two occasions he saved himself from slavery but the third time when he wanted to escape, he struck one of them with a stone, killed him and fled.
This murder preyed on his conscience as heavy as lead. Perplexed as to what he should do, he went to the Alexandrian Patriarch Timothy, confessed to him and sought advice.
The patriarch consoled him and absolved him from any epitimija [penance]. But his conscience still worried him and he went to the pope in Rome. The pope told him the same thing as did Patriarch Timothy.
Still dissatisfied, Daniel visited in succession the other patriarchs in Constantinople, Antioch and Jerusalem confessing to all of them and seeking advice. But, he remained unsatisfied.
Then he returned to Alexandria and declared himself to the authorities as a murderer. The authorities arrested him. When the trial was held before the prince, Daniel related everything that had happened and begged to be killed in order to save his soul from eternal fire.
The prince was amazed at all of this and said to him: “Go, Father, and pray to God for me even though you kill seven more!”
Dissatisfied with this, Daniel then decided to take a leperous man into his cell and to serve him until his death and when this one dies to take another. Thus he did and so, in this manner, quieted his conscience.
It is said of St. Peter of Alexandria that he never climbed the steps and sat on the patriarchal throne in church, but rather stood or sat before the steps of the throne. When the faithful complained that their hierarch did not sit in his place, he replied: “Whenever I approach the throne, I see a heavenly light and power upon it, and that is why I do not dare climb and sit on it.”
Beside this vision, St. Peter had another, yet more wondrous vision. While he was in prison, the impious heretic Arius hypocritically pretended that he had repented of his heresy, and sent word to the captive Peter that he had renounced his heresy, with an appeal to Peter to receive him into the Church again.
Arius did this only because he thought that Peter would be martyred, and he could then acquire the patriarchal throne and disseminate and strengthen his heresy. Before he gave any reply, Peter prayed to God in the prison.
During prayer, a mystical light illumined the prison, and the Lord Jesus appeared to him as a twelve-year-old boy, shining brighter than the sun, so that it was not possible to look at Him directly. The Lord was clothed in a white tunic, rent down the front from top to bottom. He clutched the garment around Himself with His hands, as though to hide His nakedness.
At this, St. Peter was in great fear and horror. He cried out: “Who, O Savior, has torn Thy garment?” The Lord replied: “The madman Arius. He tore it, for he alienated My people from Me, whom I acquired by My Blood. Be careful not to receive him in communion with the Church, for he has cunning and diabolical thoughts against Me and My people.”
At this, St. Peter sent word to his priests, Achilles and Alexander, that he could not receive Arius’s petition, for it was false and cunning; and the saint pronounced a curse on Arius in both worlds. He also prophesied that Achilles, and then Alexander, would succeed him as patriarch, and so it was.
Spiritual wisdom is irrespective of your age
St. Simeon the New Theologian, in speaking about a handsome twenty year old youth, George by name, who, despite his beauty and youth and living among the conceited of the world, recognized the path of salvation and was enlightened by spiritual wisdom, concludes with these words: “Do you understand how youth does not hinder nor does old age help a man, if he does not have reason and the fear of God.”
What prevented the young Apostle John from believing in Christ the Lord? What were the benefits of age to the Jewish elders when they were blinded in mind and in their blindness sentenced the Son of God to death? Nothing, nothing prevents youth in the young, even in our time, from giving their faith and love to Christ, who created them out of love. Nothing benefits the age of the aged in our time if their souls are poisoned with maliciousness toward Christ. Young and old bodies are nothing more than a new and an old garment of the soul. One or the other of these garments can conceal a healthy or a sick soul. Our goal is a healthy and clean soul.
The dilemma of the proud
No one, not even the Lord Himself, can easily instruct the proud. No one wants to give instructions to him who cries out that he knows everything.
“For great is the power of God; by the humble, He is glorified” says the wise Sirach. (The Book of Ecclesiasticus – Sirach 3:19), David also speaks about God saying, “He guides the humble to justice, He teaches the humble His way” (Psalm 25:9).
The proud person is he who wants to teach everyone and himself does not want to be taught anything by anyone.
The humble is he who does not wish to teach anyone but continually desires to be taught regardless by whom.
An empty spike [ear] of grain raises its head above the entire field and the full spike [ear] of grain hangs down with bowed head.
O proud man, if only your Guardian Angel would somehow remove the veil from your eyes and show you the endless open sea of all that you do not know, you would kneel before every man before whom you have exhibited pride and kneel before every man whom you have belittled.
You would cry out lamenting, “Forgive me, forgive me! I do not know anything!” Often times, to the humble and pius the time when they are about to die is revealed, but the death of the proud comes unexpectedly and without warning.
St. Gregory Dialogues speaks of a bishop, Carpus, who daily celebrated the Divine Liturgy and how suddenly someone appeared from the other world and said, “Continue to do what you are doing in serving me and may your legs never grow tired or your hands weakened.
On the feast day of the Dormition of the Mother of God [The Assumption], you will come to Me and I will give you your reward in My Heavenly Kingdom, together with all of those for whom you have prayed at the Divine Services.”
After a year, on the feast of the Dormition, Bishop Carpus celebrated the Divine Liturgy of God, sought forgiveness from his priests, and gave up his soul to God. His face glowed like the sun.
The second coming of Christ
About the second coming of ChristWhen the Son of Man comes in His glory and all the angels with Him, He will sit upon His glorious throne” (St. Matthew 25:31).
This is how our Lord spoke just before His most horrible humiliations, before being bound, before being spat upon, before being slapped, and before being ridiculed prior to His crucifixion. In His most darkest hour, He speaks about His most vivid and most glorious hour. Before His most terrible and miserable departure from this world, He speaks about His second coming in His glory.
At first, He came from the cave in Bethlehem, humble and unseen, and the second time, He will come on the clouds of His angels. The first time as though He sprouted out of the earth, and the second time He will appear from the heavens. The first time He stood and knelt on the ground, and the second time He will be sitting on His throne of Glory.
When He comes again on His throne of Glory, He will not be unseen by anyone. No one will ask, as did the wise men [the Magi] before his first coming,
“Where is the King?” (St. Matthew 2:2). At this time, everyone will see the King and recognize Him as the King. But this vision and recognition will be for some, their joy and for some, their fear and terror. Just think of the joy of those who have fulfilled His commandments, those who have prayed in His Name, those who have performed good works and especially those who have suffered for His Name! Just think of the fear and terror of all those who have spat on Him, struck Him and crucified Him in Jerusalem.
O, Merciful Lord, forgive all of us who call upon Your Name and who because of our weaknesses, sin against You; forgive us before that great marvelous hour when You begin to appear in Your glory with all Your holy angels.
About Christ’s prophecy concerning His glory
“From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven”(St. Matthew 26:24).
He who does not see God as the merciful Samaritan on earth will see Him as the Dreadful Judge in Heaven. So blinded were the leaders of the Jews that they were unable to see in Christ the Lord neither God, nor the Messiah, nor a Prophet, nor even a simple good man. They placed Him beneath ordinary good people. Not only that, they placed Him even lower than the thieves. They released Barabas and they condemned Christ! In general, they did not even consider Christ a man. They spit upon Him; they mocked Him; they made a masquerade of Him, as some cheap and unneeded thing.
Exactly at that moment when the Jews maliciously played with Christ as some cheap and unneeded thing, the Lord suddenly opened His mouth and spoke, “From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of Heaven.” What a distance there is between what Christ is in truth and that which the Jews held Him to be!
The Son of Man, Who sits on the right hand of Power, is the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who was seen as such soon after that by the Holy Arch-Deacon Stephen and many many others. The Son of Man Who comes on the clouds with angels and countless numbers of powers and heavenly hosts is again that same Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, as He was seen in His Revelation, written by St. John, the Theologian and Evangelist.
O my brethren, do not be misled by deluding and illusionary tales of those men who speak, “When we see Christ in the Heavens as God, then we will believe in Him.” That faith will be a little too late, and in vain will that vision be.
With our faith we must see Christ as God in that humiliated, spat upon, beaten, bloodied, and ridiculed man; in that silent and condemned One in the court of Caiaphas Whom the Jews considered as something cheap and unneeded and Whom they turned into a masquerade.
This is the Faith that is valued in the heavens. This is the Faith that is rewarded by resurrection and immortality. This is the Faith which, until now, nurtured and transplanted to heaven numerous armies of the holiest souls, of the strongest characters, the most forbearing heroes and the most illustrious minds. O humiliated Lord, raise us up to this Faith.
About the believing people and the unbelieving elders
“When the Messiah [Christ] comes, will He perform moresigns than this man has done?” (St. John 7:31).
The Lord Jesus performed miraculous works before all and all saw but not all believed. The people witnessed His miracles and believed in Him. Servants heard His words and believed in Him. But the leaders of the people and the masters of the servants also witnessed His miracles and did not believe in Him. And so, in those days the words of the Savior came true: “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” (St. Matthew 19:30). “For behold, some who are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (St. Luke 13:30). Those who were first in honor and authority were last in having faith in Him; and those who were last in honor and authority were the first in having faith in Him.
Why did the people and servants believe and the princes and scribes not believe? Because, the people and servants considered themselves insignificant and unimportant and did not have any personal pride nor envy toward Christ. The people and servants, without malice and prejudice, looked upon the divine miracles and listened to the divine words and were amazed and rejoiced. The princes and the scribes considered themselves first among the people and in the world and so they were filled with pride and envy and were unable, even for a moment, to look upon the miraculous works nor to listen to the divine words without malice and envy.
Brethren, do you see how man, without humility and meekness, is unable even to recognize truth nor to rejoice in the truth? Do you see how the proud and the envious do not even allow God to be ahead of them? As did Satan, at one time!
Lord Jesus, eternal truth cleanse our hearts of pride and envy that we may be able to see You and to rejoice in You.
To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.