Posts from the ‘Classes’ Category

The Great Litany, part 2 (Liturgy 5)


Audio may be found HERE

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Tonight, we will continue our look at the Great Litany of the Divine Liturgy. And I’ll remind us, as we hear and discuss the petitions, that this Litany, and the whole of the Liturgy, is our prayer for the whole world. We come to the Church and we lift up not only ourselves, but all those we love, all those we struggle with, our sins and our faults and our dreams, and we lift up the whole of the world to God in prayer.

Tonight, we begin with the petition: “For this God-protected land, its President, all civil authorities, and for those who serve in the armed forces, let us pray to the Lord.” I think this is an important petition for us in America; we struggle sometimes to know how to take patriotism and what our country may be doing locally and throughout the world and balance that with our faith. This petition gives us what we might call “Patristic patriotism” – we pray for our country, even referring to it as “God-protected” – the Fathers tell us that not only do people and Churches have guardian angels, but our countries do as well. We pray for our President and all civil authorities – the Scriptures plainly tell us that the leaders of nations are placed in power by the will of God. So no matter how we might feel, we pray for our nation and our leaders. We also pray for those who serve in the armed forces – again, whether we like situations or not, we pray for God’s protection over those men and women who serve our nation in the armed forces. We have many Saints who were warriors and soldiers, and they witnessed to Christ while at the same time serving in the army – this has always been seen as a noble things in the Church.

“For this city, for every city and country, and for those who in faith dwell therein, let us pray to the Lord.” We pray for our city, we play for the place that we live. It’s incredible the detail that we go into during these petitions. In addition to our city, we expand and pray for every city and country, and for those who in faith dwell in them. We’re praying again for the world. And we’re praying pretty specifically.

“For favorable weather, for an abundance of the fruits of the earth, and for peaceful times, let us pray to the Lord.” We recognize clearly that our Lord is in control of everything, so we pray that our weather will be good, and we pray for abundant crops. When Adam was expelled from Paradise, he was condemned to till the earth for his food. We continue to do that same thing, and we ask that God bless our efforts with a good harvest so that everyone will have enough to eat. We also pray again, as we did in the first 3 petitions, for peaceful times. We pray that the world can be at peace. This particular phrase placed in this petition also recognizes that many conflicts are over land and food – so the blessing of a fruitful harvest should help the world continue in peace.

“For travelers by land, by sea, and by air, for the sick and the suffering, for captives, and for their salvation, let us pray to the Lord.” Here we pray for a rather wide range of people. In addition to particular prayers for travelers that the priest prays from the Book of Needs, we always pray for those who travel in every Great Litany. We also pray for those who are sick and suffering, and for those who are captives. It’s very important what we say in our prayer – we don’t pray for the healing of the sick and for the freedom of captives – we pray for their salvation. Many people will remember in their hearts the people they know who are sick or in prison during this Litany. But we pray for the salvation of their soul, for the healing and freedom of the soul, rather than the body. Even when the priest visits someone who is ill or in prison, the prayer looks like this – healing is mentioned, if it is God’s will, but the focus of the prayer is the soul’s salvation, union with God.

“For our deliverance from all tribulation, wrath, danger, and necessity, let us pray to the Lord.” On the heels of praying for the salvation of others, we pray for conditions which are amenable for our own salvation. We ask that God deliver us from tribulation (difficult times), wrath (anger, malice), danger, and necessity. Necessity is interesting – we have needs to live, but we asked to be delivered from necessity in the sense of the needs of life exercising control over us. Notice that we don’t ask God merely to keep these things away from us – we know that temptations will come our way, that is part of human life in a fallen world. We ask for deliverance, we ask for the grace to deal with the temptations that come to us, that by God’s grace we can overcome the evil one and be delivered from our temptations.

We’ll look at the last 2 petitions and the prayer and the exclamation next time. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Author Matthew Jackson

The Great Litany, part 1 (Liturgy 4)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Last week we began speaking about the Liturgy with the opening exclamation – “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages, Amen.” This week we’ll continue forward by looking at the Great Litany. Elder Sophrony said that even though most of us may never attain to pure and perfect prayer, that the prayer of the Liturgy is truly hypostatic prayer. The prayer of the Liturgy is prayer for salvation of the whole world. We see this demonstrated very clearly in the Great Litany. Looking at the Litany also offers us the perfect opportunity to explore a little bit the concept that we spoke of on the first Saturday of our talks about the Liturgy – praying with the Liturgy.

“In peace let us pray to the Lord.” We desire to pray to God in peace, interiorly at peace with ourselves, and with others and with God – when we’re truly at peace we have only one thought at any given moment, and our one thought during the Liturgy is to pray to the Lord. We begin by praying for peace, and not only our own peace, but we continue in the second petition: “For the peace from above and for the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord.” We could say enormous amounts about any of the petitions, an entire homily on each, but during the course of these homilies we’ll just touch on a few ideas, and you can continue to explore the meanings on your own. These opening petitions bring to our mind not only a prayer for worldly peace, but also our Lord’s words that we should have no quarrel with our brothers when we come to offer our worship to God. As the priest intones these petitions, it offers us the chance to pray for anyone that we might have struggles with, and many people also pray for various difficult situations throughout the world (Egypt, Iraq, etc). We also pray here for our salvation, a prayer that we’ll repeat constantly in the Liturgy – a pray that we be united to Christ.

“For the peace of the whole world, for the good estate of the holy churches of God, and for the union of all men, let us pray to the Lord.” We continue here very much in the same vein as the first two petitions, praying for the peace of our world and for the union of all men. As our Lord prays to the Father, all of mankind is to be one – we’re to love our brother as ourself, to carry the burden of the other, to exist in harmony and in unity. “I pray Thee that they be one as We are One.” Again, the perfect place to continue remembering the people in our lives. We also pray for the holy churches of God, the churches throughout the world, that they exist in peace and remain firm in the faith. This offers us the opportunity to remember those people and those places where Christians are persecuted today.

“For this holy house, and for those who with faith, reverence and fear of God enter herein, let us pray to the Lord.” We move then to pray for our parish specifically, and for all of those people who come here to worship God. We ask God’s special blessing on those who come with faith in Him, with reverence, and with the proper fear of God. We come here to worship, not to fulfill a duty or an obligation, and not as simply part of a weekly routine. We come to the Church to offer our lives to God, and praise Him in all things. Again, this offers us a place to remember in our hearts those people we love, especially people who are part of our community here at Holy Resurrection.

One final litany for today – “For our (enter bishops’ names here), for the honorable presbytery, the diaconate in Christ, for all the clergy and the people, let us pray to the Lord.” We go from praying very specifically for our parish to a more general prayer, still a prayer for the Church. We pray for the leaders of the Church in the world, and actually for our bishop particularly. In the OCA we pray for the Metropolitan, and we pray for the bishop of our diocese. If you happen to be in a service where a bishop is serving, he also prays for his brother bishops. At this particular time in the life of our OCA, this offers us all a chance to lift up a prayer to God for a bishop for a godly bishop for our diocese, and to fill the Metropolitan see as well. We then move on to pray for the clergy of the Church – for the priests and the deacons specifically, and also for “all the clergy and the people.” We really are praying again for everyone. As we mention the clergy in the litany, you might notice that the clergy in the altar acknowledge each other at this time, and all of us can bring to mind our parish priest and remember him before God in prayer.

Next week we’ll continue with the Great Litany.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Author Matthew Jackson

Upcoming Adult Church School Class

St. Silouan and Elder Sophrony

Beginning this Sunday (September 9), I will teach a once monthly adult Church school class at our parish of the Holy Resurrection. Our text for the class will be “The Monk of Mount Athos” by Archimandrite Sophrony. We will spend our time together exploring the life and teaching of our father among the saints, Silouan the Athonite. Below, I will post the letter that I gave all of the adults at the parish who intend to attend the class. It gives a general topic and reading list for our time with St. Silouan.

I will post here from the class each month.

***
Troparion for St. Silouan the Athonite: By prayer didst thou receive Christ for thy teacher in the way of humility; and the Spirit bare witness to salvation in thy heart; wherefore all peoples called unto hope rejoice this day of thy memorial. O sacred Father Silouan, pray unto Christ our God for the salvation of our souls.

Kontakion for St. Silouan the Athonite: In thine earthly life thou didst serve Christ, following in His steps; and now in heaven thou seest Him Whon thou didst love, and abidest with Him according to the promise. Wherefore, O Father Silouan, teach us the path wherein thou didst walk.

Dearest in the Lord-

Christ is in our midst!

From now until our Lenten classes will begin (March and April 2013) we will be looking at the book “The Monk of Mount Athos” by Archimandrite Sophrony. The general layout of the classes is detailed below (which also gives a good idea of ‘reading assignments’ month by month):

September: Intro & The Life of the Saint (chapters 1-4 [CD talk])
October: The Life of the Saint (chapters 1-4, 10)
November: Doctrinal Teaching (chapter 5)
December: Doctrinal Teaching (chapter 5)
January: Prayer/Imagination (chapters 6-7)
February: “Keep thy mind…” & conclusion (chapter 9 (also 8))

Even though the book is small, it is very dense and lovely and filled with wonderful things for us to learn, discuss, and apply. I plan to have some “teaching” time in each class, but I also hope that much of our time is open discussion and questions. As you read, please note any questions or points that you’d like to discuss, and hopefully we’ll get around to all of those things during the course of this study.

Do not stress about reading for the first class next week – we will be doing something that will not be impacted by whether or not you’ve read in the book. We will spend two weeks on the first 4 chapters (and the last), so the majority of discussion will actually take place in the October session.

I look forward to our time together in Church School this year. Continuing to feed our Faith and to grow in Christ is the most important thing we can do with our time – and I pray the class will help you all do that each and every day.

God bless!
Priest Matthew

“Blessed is the Kingdom…” (Liturgy 3)

AUDIO HERE

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Today we’ll continue our look at the Holy Liturgy of our Church, and we’ll consider only one short phrase. As we begin the Liturgy, the priest lifts up the Holy Gospel and prays, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages, Amen.” This begins the Liturgy for us in this place. Yet the Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church tell us that the worship around the throne of God is never ceasing. The beginning of our Liturgy here in this place raises us up to join in that never-ending worship in the Heavenly Kingdom. The heavens don’t come down to worship with us – we are lifted up to the heavens to worship with the angels and the Saints and all of the people who are worshipping around the throne of Almighty God. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, as St. Paul says, because during the Liturgy we are present in the Kingdom of God. We enter the eternal now, where everything is present – we sing that Christ is born, or is Risen, or is come today (even the Second Coming is spoken of as present now). There is only one altar upon which worship to God is offered, and that is the altar in the Heavenly Kingdom. During the Holy Liturgy, the altar here in our Church becomes one with the Heavenly altar. We offer the same worship that every other parish and all of the angels and saints offer unto God. This is why the Liturgy is such a great work, such a great mystery, because we are joined with the heavens, we are present with God, and the grace of God is poured out abundantly on us as we’ve gathered together to worship.

As to the actual words the priest says, they set the tone for the remainder of our worship. “Blessed” – all of the Liturgy is about praise of God and thanksgiving to God. Worship is not centered on me and what I want and what I think I might need – worship is centered on God. We are here to bless and praise Him, to offer thanksgiving and to lift up our prayers. We give God the first place, we give Him all the space in our hearts and lives, and we worship Him. “Blessed is the Kingdom” – Christ is always preaching to people about the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom draws near, the Kingdom is within you, today you will be with me. The Kingdom not only refers to “heaven,” but the Kingdom truly is life in and with God. We as Christians are constantly trying to manifest the Kingdom in our lives. Our calling is to live in the Kingdom even here on this earth. And while we are offering the prayer of the Liturgy, we are living in the blessed Kingdom of God. Hopefully, when we depart from the service, we’ll carry that Kingdom within us and out into the world. The opening phrase ends with defining whose Kingdom we are blessing – the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We very clearly, proudly, and lovingly proclaim, for all of eternity to hear, that we worship the one true God. We worship the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. We worship the Holy Trinity, one God in three Persons, of whom the Incarnate Jesus Christ our Lord and God is the second Person. We worship the God of the Nicene Creed, the God of the angels and the Saints. We have no space for idols or distractions – and we truly live this as we worship and pray in the Divine Liturgy of our Holy Church.

As we hear this “Blessed is the Kingdom…” in each and every Liturgy, let us not grow used to hearing this as some normal phrase. May we always remember that these words lift us up to heaven – that we stand before the very throne of the dread Lord of Glory, and we offer Him our worship and our prayers along with the angels and the Saints. Truly, blessed is His Kingdom!

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Author Matthew Jackson

Liturgy 2

AUDIO HERE

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Today I would like to continue our look at the Divine Liturgy of our Church. We’ll have one more general look, tonight, before we get more specific beginning with next week’s Vespers homily. Tonight I would like us to consider the overall make up of the Divine Liturgy. You could say that the structure of the Liturgy is divided into 3 parts – the Proskomede, the Liturgy of the Catechumens, and the Liturgy of the Faithful.

The Proskomede is served by the priest alone, and very rarely is there anyone else around to actually witness the service. It would be nice to walk through that service in some detail, and perhaps we’ll have the chance to do that at some point. But for now, we can say that this service is a preparation service. The bread and wine are prepared, which are later to be offered to Christ and communed by the people as His very Body and Blood. Along with this preparation, the priest also prays, and if you look at the prayers and commemorations, the priest prays for the whole world. This is why many Fathers say that the most powerful prayers in our Church are those offered at the Proskomede. Why? Because as the priest remembers each person, he places a particle on the paten, and after Communion all of the particles are placed into the Chalice, which holds the Body and Blood of Christ. The priest prays – may the sins of all those here remembered be washed away by Thy blood and the prayers of all the Saints. All those prayed for at this service of Proskomede are joined with the Body and Blood of Christ – there is no more powerful prayer than this.

The second part of the Liturgy (or first, as some people reckon the Proskomede as its own service) is the Liturgy of the Catechumens. This section begins with “Blessed is the Kingdom…” and ends with the Litany of the Catechumens. It’s called the Liturgy of the Catechumens because, historically, it is the part of the service that catechumens were able to attend. At the dismissal of the catechumens, at the end of the Litany of the Catechumens, the catechumens all had to leave the Church. “Depart catechumens, all catechumens depart…” The structure of the Liturgy of the Catechumens very much mirrors the worship of the Jews in the synagogue. This makes sense – as the early Christians were forced out of the synagogues, they patterned their worship on what they knew. This section of the Liturgy contains prayers (Litanies), the singing of hymns and psalms (between the Litanies), reading from the Scriptures (Epistle and Gospel), and finally a teaching from the Scriptures (homily). This parallels what Jewish worshipers would have seen in the synagogue. And this was the “public” portion of the worship of the Church.

After the Litany of the Catechumens, we begin what is called the Liturgy of the Faithful. It is called this because, again, historically, only people who were members of the Church would be allowed to stay. This is where they Mystery of the Lord’s Body and Blood takes place – and the ancient Church was adamant that only those partaking of the Body and Blood were to stay. You can even hear in the language of this portion of the service, it’s assumed that all present will be communing. In fact, one of the strongest penances used to be that a person could be present for the Liturgy of the Faithful, but not allowed to commune. It was particularly heart-wrenching to be deprived of the grace of the Holy Mysteries. There’s a lot for us to learn in that. This is the particularly Christian portion of our service – the offering of the gifts to the Lord, and receiving them back as His very Body and Blood. After Communion, you’ll notice that the service ends very quickly, and the people are sent into the world to carry the Light of Christ with them. The Father’s say that the Liturgy doesn’t end with the dismissal, but that we carry on this service with us into the world.

Next week we’ll begin walking slowly through the Liturgy of the Catechumens, hopefully learning and being able to participate ever more fully in the worship of our Holy Church.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Author Matthew Jackson

Genuine and false experiences of the Grace of God

Recorded speech of Abbot, Archimandrite George of our Holy Monastery of Saint Gregory of the Holy Mountain at Stratoni of Halkidiki, on 14/27 January 1989, at the invitation of the Most Reverend Nicodemus, Metropolitan of Hierissou, of the Holy Mountain and Ardameri

Source: Magazine, “Saint Gregory” of the Holy Monastery of Saint Gregory, of the Holy Mountain. Found online at: http://www.impantokratoros.gr/2D843221.en.aspx [with slight language and punctuation corrections made by me]

I am very pleased seeing at this evening’s meeting, a holy and blessed gathering, the honourable presbytery led by the preacher of the Holy Metropolis, but also yourselves, a pious crowd, who through the blessing and invitation of your Most Reverend Metropolitan and Head Shepherd, you are gathered here this evening so that all of us confess our true faith to our God-Man Lord. Your presence this evening is not only the attendance for a lecture but also the testimony of the Orthodox faith, which my humility will profess by mouth while you profess it with your presence. And as the Lord said in the Holy Bible: “Whoever confesses Me in front of men, I shall confess him in front of My Father in Heaven.”

The purpose of our life, as you know, is our union with God. As the Holy Bible says, man was created “in His image and likeness,” namely to unite with Him. The likeness of man with God, our holy Fathers call it “theosis.” Can you see how great is the purpose of man’s life? Not simply to become better, more virtuous, more courteous by God, by grace. And what is the difference between Holy God and the deified man? That our Maker and Creator is God by nature according to His nature, while we become gods by grace, for although by nature we remain men, with His grace we are deified.

When man unites with God by grace, he receives also the experience of God, feels God. For otherwise how could we unite with God without feeling His grace?

The first ones created in Paradise, before they sinned, could converse with God, could feel the divine grace. God created man to be priest, prophet, and king. Priest to accept His existence and the world as gifts of God, and to offer in return himself and the world to God eucharisticly and doxologically. Prophet to understand the mysteries of God. King to reign in the material creation and in himself. To use nature not as a tyrant, but as a ruler. Not to abuse creation but to use thankfully. Today man does not use nature logically but acts self-centredly and foolishly, with the result of destroying his natural surrounding and within it destroying himself.

If man had not sinned and replaced his love and obedience to God with his selfishness, he would not have separated from God; he would have been king, priest and prophet. However, Holy God who hurts for His creature, wishes to return man back to the state where he again can become true priest, prophet and king. To be able to again receive the experience of God and to unite with Him. For this, in the history of the Old Testament we see God preparing slowly the salvation of man with the coming of His Only Son. He thus gives graces like those that man had before his fall, like the grace of prophesy. In the Old Testament there were men, like prophet Elijah, prophet Essiah, prophet Moses, who received the prophetic grace and saw the glory of God. Except this grace was not generally given to all, nor was it for the full period of their lives, but was partial grace that God gave them for a specific purpose and for defined occasions. Namely, whenever God wished these just men to declare the coming of Christ to the world or to declare His Will, they were given the capacity to receive some experiences and revelations.

However, prophet Joel prophesied that a time will come when God will give the grace of the Holy Spirit not only to select men and for a specific purpose, but to all the people. Here is what the prophesy of Joel says: “…I shall pour My Spirit upon all flesh”, I shall give My Spirit to every person, “and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions” (Joel 2:28). Namely, my people will see spiritual visions, will see the mysteries of God. This pouring of the Holy Spirit happened during Pentecost. Then, the grace of the Holy Spirit was given to the whole Church. This grace was not given during the period of the Old Testament because Christ was not yet incarnate. The communion of man with God had to first be restored, for God to give the grace of the Holy Spirit to all the people. This communion our Saviour Christ achieved through His incarnation.

The first union that God had with man in Paradise was not hypostatic and for this it failed. The second union is hypostatic, namely, personal. In the hypostatic face of Christ, human nature was united undisturbed, properly, indivisibly, inseparably, with the divine nature for ever. No matter how much men sin, it is no more possible for human nature to separate from God, because in Jesus Christ, the God-man, it is united for ever with the divine nature.

For man, therefore, to be able to receive the Holy Spirit, to become priest, king and prophet, to know the mysteries of God and to feel God, he must become member of the Body of Christ, of the Church. Jesus Christ is the only one, true and perfect priest, king and prophet. What Adam and Eve were created to do, failed due to sin and selfishness, was done by Christ. Now all of us, united with Christ, can partake in the three offices of Christ: the royal, the prophetic and the priesthood. At this juncture we must clarify that with the holy baptism and Chrismation, the Christian receives the priesthood but not the special priesthood that is obtained through tonsuring and through which the liturgists of the Church receive the grace to perform in the Church and to shepherd the laity.

Laity, again, is not only the non-priestly but those who through holy baptism and Chrismation receive the right to be members of the people of God and the Body of Christ, to participate in the three offices of Christ. In fact the more healthy, conscious, and active member of the people of God and of the Body of Christ is the Christian, that much more closely he participates in the hierarchal, prophetic and royal right of Christ, and that much greater experience and feeling of His grace he receives as we see in the lives of the Saints of our Faith.

Forms of experience of the grace of God

What are the experiences of grace that a Christian can receive so that his faith and Christian life not be for him something mental and external, but true spiritual feeling of God, a communion with God, a habitation of God in which the complete man participates?

It is foremost an internal information that through faith in God he finds the true meaning of his life. He feels that his faith in Christ is a faith that comforts him internally, that gives meaning to his life, and guides him, that it is a strong light that illumines him. When he perceives the Christian faith within himself this way, he begins to live the grace of God. God is not something external to him.

Another experience of the grace of God man receives when he hears in his heart the invitation of God to repent for his dark and sinful deeds, to return to the Christian life, to confess, to enter on the road of God. This voice of God he hears inside him is an early experience of the grace of God. All those years he lived away from God he could not understand anything.

He starts to repent: he confesses to the Confessor for the first time in his life. After confession he feels a great peace and joy that he never felt before. And then he says: “I have been comforted”. This comfort is the visit of the divine grace in a soul that has repented and God wishes to comfort it.

The tears of a repenting Christian when he prays and asks to be forgiven by God or when he confesses are tears of repentance. Those tears are very comforting. They bring lots of peace to the soul of man. Then man feels that these are the gift and experience of divine grace.

The deeper man repents and comes to a greater love of God and prays with godly eros, that much those tears of repentance become tears of joy, tears of love and divine eros. Those tears that are higher than the tears of repentance, are also a higher visitation and experience of the grace of God.

We approach to commune the Body and Blood of Christ having repented, confessed, with fasting and spiritual preparation. After the Holy Communion what do we feel? Deep peace in our soul, spiritual joy. This too is a visitation of Divine grace and experience of God.

There are however other higher experiences of God. The higher experience of God is the vision of the Uncreated Light. This Light the disciples of the Lord saw on the Mount of Transfiguration. They saw Christ shine like the sun with heavenly and divine light, which is not material, created light, like the sun and the other created lights. It was the Uncreated Light, namely the Light of God, the Light of the Holy Trinity. Those who are completely cleansed from their passions and sin, and pray with true and clean prayer, they are found worthy of this great experience to see the Light of God in this life. This Light is what would be shining in the eternal life. Not only to see it from now but they are also seen from now in this Light. For this Light envelops the Saints. We do not see it, but the clean of heart and saints see it. The bright crown that is painted around the faces of the Saints is the Light of the Holy Trinity that has illumined and sanctified them.

In the life of the Great Basil we read that Great Basil, when he was praying in his cell, they could see him shine wholly as well as his cell was illumined by the uncreated Light. We see the same in the lives of many saints.

So therefore for someone to be found worthy to see the uncreated Light is one of the highest experience of God, which is not given to every one but to very few, those who have progressed in spiritual life. According to Abba Isaac in every generation almost one man manages to see lucidly the uncreated Light. There are however even to day Christians who are worthy to have this unique experience of God.

Of course we should also say that everyone that sees the light does not mean that he sees the uncreated Light. The devil deceives and shows them other lights, demonic or psychological, to believe that it is the uncreated Light, when it is not. For this every Christian that hears something or has a certain experience, must not accept it as if from God, because he could be deceived by the devil. He must however confess it to his Confessor who will then tell him whether it is from God or if it is a deceit of demons. A lot of caution is needed in such cases.

Determination of a pure experience of the grace of God

Let us now look at the conditions which ensure whether different experiences we have are genuine and not false.

The first condition is that we should be men of repentance. If we do not repent of our sins and cleanse ourselves of our passions we cannot see God. As the Lord says in His beatitudes, “Blessed are the clean of heart for they shall see God.” The more man cleanses himself from his passions, repents and returns to God, that much better he could feel and see God.

To attempt to receive experiences of God with artificial ways and methods as is done in the heresies of Hinduism, in Yoga, is false. Those experiences are not from God. Those are experiences that are derived from psychological ways.

The Holy Fathers tell us: “Give blood and receive spirit”. In other words, if you do not give the blood of your heart with your repentance, prayer, fasting, asceticism, you cannot receive the grace of the Holy Spirit. True spiritual experiences are given to those who through humility do not ask for spiritual experiences but ask God for repentance and salvation. To those who are humble and say, “My God, I am not worthy to receive a visitation of your grace and divine and heavenly solace and spiritual pleasures.” To those, however, who through pride ask God to give them experiences, He will not give them true and genuine experiences due to their pride. So, therefore, the second condition is humility.

The third condition to receive true spiritual experience is to be in the Church, not outside the Church. For outside the Church the devil will deceive us. When a sheep becomes separated from the flock, it will be destroyed by the wolf. Within the flock there is security. The Christian inside the Church is secure. However, when he leaves the Church, he is exposed to his deceits, of other people and of demons. We have many examples of many people who did not obey the Church and in their Spiritual state they fell into deceits. And they believed that they see God or that they are visited by God when in reality the experiences they had were demonic and destructive to them. Also it helps greatly to have a pure and warm prayer. The truth is that at the time of prayer God gives most of the spiritual experiences to man, for this, those who pray with longing, zeal and patience, receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit and feeling of the grace of God.

As you may know, there is a prayer we say at the Holy Mountain and which you may also be saying: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me the sinner.” This prayer, which is characterized as noetic, heartfelt and unremitting when it is said with humility, with longing and persistence, brings in the heart of man the feeling of the grace of God.

False experiences of the grace of God

People have false experiences of God when they believe that by themselves, with their own powers, in heresies, in groups, in religious gatherings, outside the Church, they can receive the grace of the Holy Spirit. They gather and some new “prophet” acts the leader and they believe they are receiving the grace of God.

It happened that I was present at a gathering of Pentecostals in the States in 1966 while I was there. Their “church” was a hall of a school. First, someone started to play some music with soft and gentle sounds which as it went on it was becoming progressively more intensive, deafening and frantic so that it caused excitement. The music finished and the preacher started. He too started gently and as he continued he would scream louder. At the end he too created an excited atmosphere. And then when all the people suffered from auto suggestion and hysteria, they started to scream and move their hands and give out unintelligible shouts. I felt that the Spirit of God was not there, which is a Spirit of peace and not of disturbance and excitement. The Spirit of God does not come with artificial and psychological ways. Instead I felt sorry for the children that were there with their parents for they could suffer the consequences of this mass neurosis.

A young man who became a monk at the Holy Mountain and who first went through the Hindu yoga (you should know that there are approximately 500 Hindu heresies in Greece) described to me what experiences they try to have there. When they wished to see light they would rub their eyes so that they could see little stars. When they again wished to hear unusual sounds they performed some sort of pressuring of the ears so that they would create sounds.

Similar psychological experiences that are produced artificially, some heretics attribute them to the Holy Spirit.

Other experiences in heretic gatherings are not only psychological. They could be demonic. The devil manipulates the seeking of such experiences by some people and presents them different signs which are not of God but theirs, diabolical. They cannot understand that they are victims of the devil.

They believe these signs are heavenly and from the Holy Spirit. The devil also can give them some prophetic capability as he gives to the “mediums.” The Lord has, however, fore-warned us, “There will rise false christs and false prophets and will give you great signs and wonders, insomuch that if it were possible they shall deceive the very elect” (Matt 24:24). They won’t simply do miracles and wonders, scary signs. Like the Antichrist when he will come he will not do bad things. He would do benefactions, healing of the sick and other impressive things to deceive the people, if possible even the elect, to believe him as saviour and follow him.

That is why we must be careful. Every one who can do signs and prophesies is not always from God. Again as the Lord says: “Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord have we not prophesied in Your name? And in Your name cast out devils? And in Your name done many wonderful works? And then will I say unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me you that work iniquity” (Matt 7:22-23).

I knew a young man who was led astray by occult and Pentecostal heresies who confessed that the different experiences they had when they were members of these heresies, were diabolical.

A previous Pentecostal man for example confessed that at the Pentecostal gatherings when some “prophetess” would prophesy he felt a demonic disturbance and that when he tried to say the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me the sinner”, the speaking in tongues would start and drown him, impeding him from saying the prayer.

Because the devil transforms to an angel of light, we must be careful with experiences. The Apostle John advises us “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1). Not all the spirits are from God. Those who have the Apostle’s Paul gift of discernment of spirits (1 Cor. 12:10) can discern the spirits, if they are from God or if from the devil. The Confessors of the Church have this gift. That is why when we have such problems we must seek our Confessor and he will determine the source of every experience.

Even the monastics can be deceived. We have cases at the Holy Mountain where monks were deceived by such experiences. For example, an angel appeared to a monk – while it was the devil- and told him “Come to the peak of Athos to show you great miracles”. He guided him there and he almost fell over a cliff, had he not invoked the divine help. He made the mistake to believe the vision as if of God when he shouldn’t have. The monastics know when they have a vision they must tell it to their Elder and he will tell them if it is from God or from the demons. Where there is pride, therefore, deceit is very possible.

About Pentecostals
[*Pentecostal groups have missionary efforts among the already Christian Greeks, and they also emphasize “experiences” of God – this is why the Abbot chooses to speak about them in this talk]

The experiences of the Pentecostals are not from God. For this, not only they are not helped to come to Church but instead they are driven away from the Church. For only the devil is interested in driving people out of the Church.

Also their divisions in many heresies and groups is proof they do not comprise the true Church of God. Protestantism consists of thousands of heresies. One of the protestant heresies is Pentecostalism. Only in the USA there are over 39 different Pentecostals. Many of the Pentecostal heresies have no relationship between them. Here are some titles of some of the Pentecostal groups: “Congregation of the Church of God of the Mountain”, “Integrated Congregation of the Church of God”, “Theater Gar”, “Sleepless Mission”, “Church of Mother Horn”, “Church of Mother Robertson”, “Jesus and Sleepless Mission”, “Remainder of the Church of God”, “Fire born Church of God’s sanctity of America”, “Church of Mogara Cook”, “National Spiritual Davidic Union Temple Church of God”, “Church of the Square Bible”.

If the Spirit of God existed in these groups, there would have been a union, there would have been one Church and not so many different and opposing groups.

Also, some of the demonstrations that take place at their gatherings, such as trembling, dropping to the ground as if dead, screaming unrecognizable sounds, are not from the peaceful Spirit of God. Similar phenomena we find in idolatric religions. There are also many similarities with the spiritualist phenomena.

They also cultivate a spirit of pride believing that the whole Church of two thousand years is deceived, while they discovered the truth in 1900. The first one who created the group of Pentecostals is an American. The first Pentecostal in Greece, Michael Gounas, preached, “After so many centuries in the land of Greece the outset of the visitation of God happened like the day of the Pentecost”. According to him, the visit of Christ started in Greece by him like in the day of the Pentecost! All these years there was nothing. Do you see the satanic egoism and pride?

What happens now with the sought after gift by them of “speaking in tongues?” In truth, in the New Testament there is reference to “speaking in tongues”. The holy Apostles on the day of the Pentecost spoke the tongues of the people who had come for pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to teach them the Good News. The gift of the speaking in tongues is a grace given by God to the Apostles for a specific purpose: To proselytize the non-Christians to the Christian faith. The holy Apostles, when speaking in tongues, did not speak meaningless sounds like demoniacs. They spoke tongues, not any tongues, but the tongues of those who were in Jerusalem and could not speak the Jewish language, so that they could hear of the greatness of God and believe. So the meaningless cries have no relation to the gift of “speaking in tongues” which the Pentecostals maintain.

The Orthodox Church is the place of the genuine experience of the Grace of God

The Church of Pentecost is our Orthodox Church. And why is she? Because she is the Church of the incarnation and humanism of Christ, of His crucifixional death, His Resurrection and of the Pentecost. When from the complete work of Christ we isolate only one part, we over emphasize it and falsely explain it, this becomes one-sided and a heresy. Only the Church that accepts and lives the whole work of Christ, including Pentecost, is the true Church of Pentecost. Can there be Resurrection without a Cross? Unless man crucifies himself with fasting, prayer, repentance, humility, asceticism, could he see God? The Cross precedes in the life of Christ and of the Christian, and the Resurrection and Pentecost follows. While they want Resurrection and spiritual gifts, without crossing themselves through repentance, asceticism, fast and obedience to the Church. That is why they do not comprise the Church of the Pentecost.

At every Divine Liturgy of our Church we have Pentecost. How does the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ? Don’t they become through the descent of the Holy Spirit? There is Pentecost! Every Holy Altar of the Orthodox Church is the Altar of Pentecost. At every baptism we have Pentecost. With the grace of the Holy Spirit, man becomes a Christian and becomes one with the Body of Christ. Every tonsuring of a Deacon, priest and of course a hierarch is a new Pentecost. The Holy Spirit descends and makes a man an operative of God.

Every confession of a Christian is again Pentecost. The moment the Christian kneels to his Confessor and with humility tells him his sins with repentance and the Confessor reads him the blessing of forgiveness, he is forgiven by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

At every gathering and at every mystery of the Church it is a continuation of Pentecost, because they are performed in the presence of the Holy Spirit. For this almost all activities, the prayers and the mysteries of the Church begin with a prayer: “Heavenly King, the Paraklete (Comforter), the Spirit of truth…… come and dwell in us……” We ask the Paraklete to come, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. And He comes. Wherever the Orthodox Church meets, the true Church of Christ, there also is the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Every Saint of our Church is a spirit-bearing man, full of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, a man of Pentecost.

The Sunday prayer requests: “Thy Kingdom come” meaning: “May the grace of Thy Holy Spirit come”. The kingdom of God is a grace of the Holy Spirit. So with the “Our Father”, we seek the Holy Spirit.

The prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner,” this too is done through the grace of the Holy Spirit. For as the Apostle Paul says: “no on can say Lord Jesus, if not from the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3). No one can invoke Jesus Christ but only through the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, only the holy water of the Orthodox remains unspoiled. Those who have holy water at your home, you know that no matter how old it is, it never spoils.

This is our faith, the true and Orthodox one.

To depart from this faith and follow some American recent “saviours” who believe that the Church starts with them? Just imagine what demonic conceit they have! The Church exists for two thousand years and they say that from them, the Pentecostals and other heretics begins the true faith.

When in the 14th century the western monk Varlaam fought the Orthodox teaching on the divine energies and the uncreated Light, as they lived it at the Holy Mountain, God brought forth the agiorite [of the Holy Mountain] hieromonk Gregory Palamas a great theologian and teacher of the Orthodox Faith. As now, if the Pentecostal heresy did not exist we would not have gathered here. We would not have made our faith more profound. We would not have confessed our faith. Thus in the end it goes against the heresies and the devil what they set out to achieve against the Church. The Apostle Paul says: “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be manifest among you” (1Cor 11:19). There must also exist heresies for the faith to appear in the persevering ones. Now that our holy Church is attacked by atheism, carnal pleasures, the heresies through the radio, television, newspapers and other means, this is the time that the faithful and true Orthodox Christians and fighters and witnesses of the Orthodox faith will appear.

In these very critical times, any Orthodox Christian who keeps his Orthodox faith in Christ, will receive great blessing and great reward from Holy God. And this because in this evil and corrupt time he was not led astray by the contemporary idolatry, and the false gods, he did not bent a knee to them but remained steadfast and immovable in our Orthodox Faith.

We wish therefore that no Greek Orthodox become a traitor, a Judas and apostate of our holy Orthodox faith. May all those that were led astray by the evil one due to their ignorance, into deceits and heresies be illumined by God and return to our holy Orthodox faith that they may have the hope of salvation.

We may all be sinners but when we are within our holy Orthodox Church we have the hope of salvation. On the contrary even if we were “righteous” outside the Church we have no hope of salvation. All of us who are within the Church, we shall repent, we shall confess, we shall be forgiven and God shall have mercy on us. Outside the Church who will save us? What Holy Spirit will forgive our sins and which Church will intercede after our death for our souls? Therefore, any Orthodox who dies Orthodox should know he/she has a hope of salvation. However, anyone who departs from the Church, even if he believes he has done good works, has no hope of salvation.

For this, our brothers, let us remain in our Orthodox Church faithful and immovable with a holy stubbornness to our end so that we may all have, with the grace of God and the blessing of the Theotokos hope for our salvation.

Liturgy 1

AUDIO HERE[1st paragraph missing from audio]

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

This evening I’d like to begin a series of homilies that will most likely last several months, but I think that the topic is important enough for us to spend some time thinking on it on Saturday evenings for a while. I’d like for us to spend some time walking through and carefully and prayerfully considering the Holy Liturgy of the Church. Just like with anything, the better we understand the Holy Liturgy, the more fully we’re able to enter into the service. So during this cycle of homilies, we’ll be talking about each section of the Liturgy in some detail, including the Litanies, the hymns, and even the prayers of the priest that are usually not heard by the faithful.

A few weeks ago we talked about preparing for the Liturgy, including our prayers and fasting and general state of mind and spirit, so I’ll not go over that again. What I’d like us to think of today is again a more general topic – what is meant by a phrase that we hear quite often, to “pray the Liturgy.” We hear this phrase, praying the Liturgy, yet quite often we also hear it said that we’re not to be concerned with our own private prayers during the Liturgy, but rather we’re to be joined to the community in this “work of the people.” So what does this all mean? According to the usage of the Fathers, any time we’re communicating and communing with God, this is called ‘prayer.’ The Fathers go so far as to say that all of our lives should become a prayer before God. We should constantly be in communion with God, bringing His grace into that place where we happen to be at any time. I think this understanding of prayer is important when considering our activity during the Divine Liturgy. The Liturgy is a a prayer before God – truly, it’s the greatest prayer that God has revealed to us, because it includes the Holy Mystery of Communion with the Body and Blood of our Saviour. So we’re to come to the Liturgy to join our prayer with the prayer of the Liturgy and the prayer of the people of God. It’s true that the Holy Liturgy is not a time for “private prayer” – yet at the same time, that doesn’t mean that we don’t pray during the Liturgy. There are many times when we may feel called to pray about a certain thing by the words of the Liturgy, several times when the Liturgy actually calls on us to lift up personal prayers (like when we pray for the living and for the dead). In saying that the Liturgy is not a time of personal prayer, what is meant by that is more along the lines of saying that we don’t do our morning prayer rule during Liturgy, we don’t do our Pre-Communion Prayers or read an akathist during the Liturgy. But as St. Paul says we are to pray without ceasing, the same is true during the Holy Liturgy. The entire Liturgy is a prayer, so our participation in that prayer is prayer. And we may also have things that we need to lift up to God over the course of the Holy Liturgy – that is a wonderful prayer to offer, and an ideal time to offer it.

Our entire lives are called to be prayer. And in the Holy Liturgy, we are called to offer everything we are to God. The only way to express this is to say that we are called to pray the Liturgy. To lift up all that we are: body, soul, mind, strength, weakness, worry, joy, those who are part of us in any way…we offer God ALL that we are. And all of those things that we offer to God are blessed and sanctified and joined to His Holy Body and His Holy Blood. “Let Thy Holy Spirit come down upon us” we pray – and He does, He comes down upon all that we are. And this is why we’re called to pray the Holy Liturgy.

Next week, God willing, we’ll look at the various sections of Liturgy in a general way, saying a few things about the larger overview, and then getting more specific as time goes on.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Author Matthew Jackson