Παρασκευή, 31 Μαΐου 2019

Is the Kingdom of Heaven Really Within You?

(icon from here)
 
In Scripture Jesus tells us “The Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21) How do we know this? We know it  when we experience joy, not just happiness, but a feeling that transcends happiness.  It is a feeling that comes from the heart when we know God is with us. 
But what is the opposite of this? Elder Paisios tells us that it is “when we have anxiety, feelings of guilt, then there is a portion of hell within us.”
When we are sadled with anxiety we have left Paradise and find ourselves mired in hell. This is common condition for most people today. Many drugs that we regularly take are for relieving us from this anxiety we experience in our daily life. But we are capable without any medications to experience joy from all our activities in life.
Elder Paisios says, 
It isn’t difficult to achieve this; but unfortunately, egoism prevents us from this spiritual magnificence.”
What is required to change this anxiety into joy? The key according the Elder Paisios is to allow God to govern our lives. The involves a surrender of our ego to the Church, to Christ whose Church is His Body. In the Church we are guided through the services, sacraments, teachings about prayer and ascetic practices like fasting to overcome our ego-centeredness and become Christ-centered.  But first we have to choose to surrender to the teachings of the Church.  
We must pray often and for sure every morning and evening. We need to follow the liturgical calendar, and participate regularly in the sacraments, especially Holy Communion and Confession. We must follow the fasting guidelines fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays as well as during the  fasting periods like Great Lent. We must read Scripture and the writings of the Holy Fathers.  We must make Christ and participation in His Church a top priority in our lives as well as the life of our entire family. Scripture says, “Seek you first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33) Elder Paisios says,
People today have made their lives difficult, because they are not satisfied with a few things, but are constantly chasing after more and more material goods. But those who would like to live a genuine spiritual life must first of all be satisfied with a few things. When their life is simplified, without too many concerns and nuisances, not only will they be liberated from the worldly spirit, they will also have plenty of time available for spiritual things. Otherwise they will tire themselves out by trying to follow the fashion of the times; they will lose their serenity and will gain only great anxiety.”
Examine your life and search for all those things which are not necessary, that only complicate what otherwise could be quite simple.
The elder gives a very simple example of a man who asked him to come to his home. When he arrived he notices that the man took of his shoes and walked carefully on his toes.  He asked him, “Why are you walking like that?”  He replied, “Its nothing Geronda; I am walking careful so that I don’t ruin the parquet.”
See how easy it is to complicate our lives? We decorate, we clean, we strive to make money so we can redecorate only to worry about maintaining an appearance. The same goes with our clothing.  Also our hobbies, our vacations and so forth.  How about all the activities we have our children enrolled in. They keep us busy as well as themselves. Where is time for the creative time at home doing art things with Mom or Dad as I remember from my youth; for apple picking, for building a model railroad, for reading, for climbing trees and and laying on top the vines that have grown over them gazing into the heavens  wondering how far the sky goes? We organize everything these days and it only complicates our lives, shuts us off from joy making it more burdensome financially and more stressful to keep up with it all. Joy is replaced with achievement which is always only temporary happiness.   Seek simplicity in your life and you can discover the Kingdom of God within.
 
By Elder Paisios of Mount Athos, Spiritual Counsels IV: Family Life, p160
 
Click

Saint Paisios of Mount Athos (1924-1994), Feast day: July 12
Three contemporary Orthodox Saints & the African peoples
Saint Paisios of Athos in the Youth Culture of Grece...
Elder Paisios and the Aroma of Reverence
The Orthodox Church in Angola, st. Eleftherios (the "Man of Freedom") & st. Paisios of Holy Mount
The Miracle of St. Euphemia the Great-Martyr and St. Paisios the Athonite

"THE WAY" - An Introduction to the Orthodox Faith
The Church as the Liberated Zone: "All we Christians are terrorists..."
Giving Thanks for All Things – The Cruciform Life
Theosis, St. Silouan and Elder Sophrony
Theosis (deification): The True Purpose of Human Life
LIVE, BEYOND THE LIMITS!

Blessed Xenia, Napoleon and their Contributions to Our History



The Catalog of Good Deeds
 
There is likely not a single history textbook that speaks of Blessed Xenia of Petersburg, whose memory we celebrate today [January 24/February 26]. Yet every history textbook unfailingly contains something about Napoleon and his deeds. These two people lived at approximately the same time: at the turn of the nineteenth century. Are their contributions to history indeed completely incommensurate?

Napoleon’s deeds are well-known: hundreds of thousands of victims (some of whom are buried here, in Sretensky Monastery); devastated and plundered churches – not just in Russia, but also in Venice, for instance, and throughout all of Europe; and the ruined lives of many. In his time Napoleon also wielded tremendous spiritual influence, as evidenced by the works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, for example. Raskolnikov, tormented by doubts – “Am I a trembling creature, or have I the right?” – hacked away at the old woman with an axe, one might say, with Napoleon’s name on his lips…

The life of Blessed Xenia is likewise well-known to us: at the age of twenty-six, still quite a young woman, she was suddenly widowed. She took upon herself the ascetic struggle of foolishness for Christ’s sake, abandoning her home, wandering about in her invariable red jacket and green skirt, or green jacket and red skirt, being subjected to constant ridicule and insult, while remaining in unceasing prayer. For her years-long ascetic struggle, incomprehensible to the world, Blessed Xenia received from God the grace to help people quickly and effectively; her role in the fates of thousands had been manifest clearly and triumphantly.

Her special gift was in arranging many people’s family lives. Once, while visiting the Golubev family, Blessed Xenia announced to their seventeen-year-old daughter: “Here you are making coffee while your husband is burying his wife at Okhta. Run there quickly!” The girl, confused, did not know how to react to such strange words, but Blessed Xenia compelled her – literally with a stick – to go to the Okhta cemetery in St. Petersburg. There, burying his young wife who had died in childbirth, stood a doctor who was weeping inconsolably and finally lost consciousness. The Golubevs tried to comfort him as best as they could. This is how they became acquainted. The acquaintance continued after a certain period of time and, one year later, the doctor proposed to the Golubevs’ daughter; their marriage was as happy as could be. Similar cases of how Blessed Xenia helped in arranging families are innumerable: she truly became a begetter of human lives.

Napoleon is buried in central Paris, in the chapel dome of Les Invalides, to which
tourists eagerly come to peek at his sarcophagus of red porphyry mounted on a pedestal of green granite. No one comes to pray or to ask him for something; for our contemporaries, Napoleon is just a museum piece, a part of the ossified past. His influence today is negligible: at best, it can provide hackneyed material for films or for pseudo-historical exercises for budding graphomaniacs. 

 
Blessed Xenia’s grave has been, for more than two hundred years already, a source of healing, efficacious help in difficult circumstances, and resolution of intractable problems. For example, Blessed Xenia appeared to a man suffering from alcoholism, telling him sternly: “Give up drinking! The tears of your mother and wife have flooded my grave!” Need I mention that this man never touched the bottle again?

Every day thousands of people gathered (and continue to gather) at Blessed Xenia’s grave, asking her help and leaving notes with cries for help; these notes have always covered the saint’s chapel like a garland. Hundreds, thousands, and millions of notes have called upon her name. But has a single such note ever been left at Napoleon’s grave of red porphyry on a green pedestal? 


In contemporary historical studies, the term “social history” is becoming increasingly widespread. This is a very promising direction, because it draws attention to the lives of simple people, to the meaning of “small deeds” in the life of society, and to the decisive roles of ordinary people in the historical process. 

 
 

 
One would be wrong to think that history is made by the mighty of this world or upon the peaks of political power; history is not at all what we are shown on television. Real history takes place in the human heart: if someone cleanses himself through prayer, repentance, humility, and patience in affliction, then his role in his own life, and thus in the lives of those around him – and thus in all human history – increases immeasurably.

Blessed Xenia did not head a government, did not gather an army of thousands, and did not lead it on campaigns of conquest; she simply prayed, fasted, humbled her soul, and patiently endured all offense. Yet her influence on human history has been immeasurably greater than that of any Napoleon. Even if the history textbooks do not talk about this…

Christ, however, speaks to us of this in the Gospel: For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?[Mark 8:36]. Having in mind the example of Napoleon and Blessed Xenia, these words become all the more convincing.

History is made neither in the Kremlin nor in the White House, neither in Brussels nor Strasbourg, but rather here and now in our hearts, if they are open to God and to people. Amen.

 
See also
 
A Miracle of Saint Xenia the Fool In France
SKITE SAINTE FOY - Monastère Orthodoxe en Cévennes
Monastery of Saint Silouan the Athonite in Saint-Mars-de-Locquenay, France
LA SAUVEGARDE DE LA CREATION DANS LA TRADITION ORTHODOXE
The ancient Christian Church - About Orthodox Church in the West World
Travelers on the way to light

Saints of the early days of May, whos creating volcanoes in souls...
How “White” is the Orthodox Church?
Orthodox Mission in Tropical Africa (& the Decolonization of Africa)
Grace and “the Inverted Pyramid”
Weak, Sick, Poor, Tired: A Story for Losers
The Kingdom of Heaven, where racial discrimination has no place

"THE WAY" - An Introduction to the Orthodox Faith
"Universal healthcare is theft": Capitalism vs Christianity
The Church as the Liberated Zone: "All we Christians are terrorists..."
Giving Thanks for All Things – The Cruciform Life
Theosis, St. Silouan and Elder Sophrony
Theosis (deification): The True Purpose of Human Life
LIVE, BEYOND THE LIMITS!


Τετάρτη, 29 Μαΐου 2019

"Tales from Dystopia", memories of the apartheid era in South Africa from an Orthodox Christian writer...

 
(Orthodox Christian Blog from South Africa)

Tales from Dystopia is a series of blog posts I am writing of memories of the apartheid era in South Africa.
I started it because of some comments made by some South African Christian bloggers about the need to remember history so that we are not tempted to repeat the mistakes of the past. Some were also too young to remember what the apartheid era was really like. And some noted a tendency of some, even those who had lived through it, to say that it was not so bad, and that it had good intentions, and that in any case we should forget about the past and “move on”.
But it is not so easy to “move on” if we forget about the past, because the past is also a great weight to which we are tethered, which keeps us from “moving on”.
So here are some memories. They are just one person’s memories, but if others follow a similar idea and write about their own memories, we may get a fuller picture, and be better able to come to terms with the past.
If you don’t have a blog, it is quite easy to start one at sites like WordPress or Blogger, and just start recording your memories of the time. and encourage others to do so as well. Many of those who struggled against the evil of apartheid are dead, and their stories perhaps did not get recorded in the history books, but they live on in the memories of others, and those others can record them and share them in blogs.


You can see also
 
How “White” is the Orthodox Church?  
Orthodox Mission in Tropical Africa (& the Decolonization of Africa)

Grace and “the Inverted Pyramid”
Weak, Sick, Poor, Tired: A Story for Losers
The Kingdom of Heaven, where racial discrimination has no place
"THE WAY" - An Introduction to the Orthodox Faith
 

"Universal healthcare is theft": Capitalism vs Christianity

The Church as the Liberated Zone: "All we Christians are terrorists..." 
Giving Thanks for All Things – The Cruciform Life
The Orthodox Church in South Africa

Orthodox South Africa (tag)  
 

Κυριακή, 26 Μαΐου 2019

Being Saved – The Ontological Approach

I cannot begin to count the number of times I wished there were a simple, felicitous word for “ontological.” I dislike writing theology with words that have to be explained – that is, words whose meanings are not immediately obvious. But, alas, I have found no substitute and will, therefore, beg my reader’s indulgence for dragging such a word into our conversations.
From the earliest times in the Church, but especially beginning with St. Athanasius in the 4th century as the great Ecumenical Councils took shape, the doctrines of the Church have been expressed and debated within the terms related to being itself. For example, St. Athanasius says that in creating us, God gave us “being” (existence), with a view that we should move towards “well-being,” and with the end of “eternal being” (salvation). That three-fold scheme is a very common theme in patristic thought, championed and used again in the work of St. Maximus the Confessor with great precision, as he matured the thought of the Church as affirmed in the 5th Council.
At the same time, this language of being was used to speak about the nature and character of salvation, the same terms and imagery were being used to speak about the Trinity and the two natures of Christ. That language continues up through the Seventh Council and is the language used to define the doctrine of the veneration of the Holy Icons. Conciliar thought, carried on within the terms of being (being, non-being, nature, person, existence, hypostatic representation, essence, energies, etc.) can be described as speaking in the language of “ontology.” Ontology is the technical name for things having to do with being (“onto” as a prefix in Greek means “being”). There is a “seamless garment” of theological exposition that can be discerned across the range of the Councils. It is ontological in character.
Tremendous work and discussion on the part of the fathers resulted in a common language for speaking about all of these questions. Thus, the term “person” (an aspect of “being”) is used both for speaking about the Trinity as well as speaking about human persons and the one person of Christ in two natures. It is the primary “grammar” of Orthodox conciliar thought. No other imagery or language receives the kind of imprimatur as the terms raised up into the formal declarations of the Church’s teaching. To a degree, everything else is commentary.
Many other images have been used alongside the ontological work of the Councils. The Church teaches and a good teacher draws on anything at hand to enlighten its students. Nevertheless, the dogmatic language of the Church has been that of “being.”

So what constitutes an “ontological” approach to salvation?
Here is an example. “Morality” is a word and concept that applies to behavior and an adherence to rules and laws. “Immorality” is the breaking of those laws. You can write about sin (and thus salvation) in the language of morality and never make reference to the language of being. But what is created becomes a sort of separate thing from the conciliar language of the Church. Over the centuries, this has often happened in theology, particularly Western theology (Protestant and Catholic). The result is various “departments” of thought, without a common connection. It can lead to confusion and contradiction.
There is within Orthodoxy, an argument that says we are on the strongest ground when we speak in the language of the Councils. The language of “being” comes closer to accurately expressing what is actually taking place. Though all language has a “metaphoric” character, the language of being is, I think, the least metaphorical. It is about “what is.”
Back to the imagery of morality. If you speak of right and wrong in terms of being, it is generally expressed as either moving towards the path of well-being-eternal-being, or moving away from it, that is, taking a path towards non-being. What does the path of non-being look like? It looks like disintegration, a progressive “falling apart” of existence. The New Testament uses the term phthora (“corruption”) to describe this. Phthora is what happens to a body when it dies. Death, in the New Testament, is often linked to sin (“sin and death”). It is the result of moving away from God, destroying our communion with Him.
For most modern people, death is seen as simply a fact of life, a morally neutral thing. It can’t be a moral question, we think, because you can’t help dying. But, in the New Testament and the Scriptures, death is quite synonymous with sin. When Adam and Eve sin, they are told that it will result in death (a very ontological problem). A moral approach to that fact tends to see “sin” as the defining term and death as merely the punishment. The ontological approach sees death itself as the issue and the term that defines the meaning of sin. Sin is death. Death is sin.
And so, the language of the Church emphasizes that Christ “trampled down death by death.” In the language of ontology, that simple statement says everything. “He trampled down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowed life.” This includes the destruction of sin, freedom from the devil, forgiveness of sins, etc. But all of those things are included in the words of “death” and “life.”


An advantage in speaking in this manner can again be seen in comparing it to a simple moral approach. Morality is about actions, obedience, and disobedience. It says nothing about the person actually doing those things (or it can certainly avoid that topic). It can mislead people into thinking that being and existence are neutral sorts of things and that what matters is how we behave. This can be coupled with the modern heresy of secularism in which it is asserted that things have an existence apart from God, that the universe is just a “neutral no-man’s land.” The ontological approach denies this and affirms that God upholds everything in existence, moment by moment. It affirms that existence itself is a good thing and an expression of God’s goodness. It says as well that it is the purpose of all things that exist to be in communion with God and move towards eternal being. It is the fullness of salvation expressed in Romans 8:21-22.
Moral imagery also tends to see the world as disconnected. We are simply a collection of independent moral agents, being judged on our behavior. What I do is what I do, and what you do is what you do, and there is nothing particularly connected about any of it. The language of being is quite different. Everything in creation that exists shares in the commonality of created being. What happens to any one thing effects everything else. There is true communion at the very root of existence.
And it is this communion of being that the fathers use when they speak of Christ’s Incarnation and our salvation. When the Creed says, “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man,” it is speaking about salvation. It does not say, “Who, in order to pay the penalty that was due…” Such language can be used and has been used, but it is not at the heart of the Conciliar words of the Church. It is not recited every Sunday.
So how does Christ save us in terms of being? In essence (no pun intended), He became what we were in order to make us what He is. He became man, entering and restoring the full communion which we had broken. The Lord and Giver of Life, the Author of our Being entered into dying humanity. He took our dying humanity on Himself and entered into the very depths of that death (“suffered death and was buried”). He then raised that same dying humanity into His own eternal life. This is our forgiveness of sins. If sin is death, then resurrection is forgiveness. Thus we sing at Pascha:
“Let us call brothers even those that hate us and forgive all by the resurrection.” That sentence only makes sense in terms of the ontological language in which it is written.
We do bad things (immoral things) because we have broken communion with God. “Sins” are the symptoms and signs of death, decay, corruption, and disintegration at work in the soul. If left unattended, it will drag us into the very depths of near non-being in what can properly be described as hell. This is reflected in the Psalm verse, “The dead do not praise the LORD, Nor any who go down into silence.” (Psa 115:17)
In Holy Baptism, we are asked, “Do you unite yourself to Christ?” This is the language of being and communion. St. Paul tells us that in Baptism we are united to Christ in His death and raised in the likeness of His resurrection. He then adds that we should “walk in newness of life.” That union with Christ and infusion of His Life creates a moral change that can be described in the language of being.
The unity of language, I believe, is very helpful and salutary. It is easy for modern believers, nurtured in the language of morality, to hear teachings about the Trinity and the two natures of Christ, etc., and think, “What has any of that got to do with my life?” That is a natural conclusion when salvation is expressed in a language that is separated from the language of the doctrinal foundations of the Church.
There are some who have pushed the moral language into the language of the Trinity, such that what is important is the Son’s propitiation of the Father’s wrath. Such terms find no place within the Conciliar thought of the Church and can (and have) created problems. It is not that such terms have no use nor that they have never been used by any of the Fathers at any time. But they have a long history of being misused and distorting and obscuring the foundational doctrines of the Church.

In my own life, I personally found the language of being, when applied to my salvation, to explain the meaning of Scripture more thoroughly and connect my daily life and actions to the most fundamental doctrines of the Church. It allowed me to read St. Athanasius, St. Basil, St. Gregory, St. Maximus and a host of others without feeling that I had come to something foreign. It more than adequately addresses moral questions, whereas moral language cannot address anything else and creates problems and heresies when it is imported into the language of the Trinity. I should add that I have worked within this for nearly 30 years and have found nothing within Scripture than cannot be understood within the ontological understanding and that doing so frequently takes you deeper into understanding what is actually going on. It also forces you to ask the questions of “how does this relate to everything else?”
I hope this little introductory train of thought is helpful for those who are thinking about these things. It should explain why I see this as important and something that goes to the very heart of the Orthodox faith.


Sunday of the Samaritan woman (5th Sunday of Pascha): "Close to God is he who in his daily life becomes the light of Christ who enlightens his neighbours..."


Please, click here!...


Τρίτη, 21 Μαΐου 2019

SAINT CONSTANTINE: FROM LEGEND TO REVILEMENT / Saint Constantin le Grand, le premier empereur chrétien, et le Sainte Hélène (21 May)

Click:

Saint Constantin le Grand, le premier empereur chrétien, et le Sainte Hélène (21 May)

Photo d'ici: «En trente et un ans de règne, Constantin avait su mettre fin aux luttes fratricides de la Tétrarchie et pacifier les frontières de Rome, il avait rétablit l’autorité de l’Etat dans les provinces de l’empire et œuvré pour rétablir la justice. En réformateur, il avait continué l’œuvre entreprit par son prédécesseur Dioclétien. 
En bâtisseur, il avait fondé la capitale d’un de empire qui aura l’une des plus longue longévité de l’Histoire. En chrétien, il avait amorcé la conversion de l’empire, tout en essayant de mettre fin aux querelles qui minaient le christianisme. Mais tout en respectant les païens. Parmi toute la ribambelle de monarques et de dirigeants qui se sont affublés le surnom de " Grand ", il est sûrement l’un des seuls à l’avoir mérité»
 
 
Είναι άγιος ή όχι ο Μ. Κωνσταντίνος;
 

Η αγιότητα του Μ. Κωνσταντίνου
 

Το πολιτικό μανιφέστο του αγ. Κωνσταντίνου

Άγιος Κωνσταντίνος, από το θρύλο στην ύβρι
 

Ο ρόλος του αυτοκράτορα στην Α΄ Οικουμενική Σύνοδο



 
Feast Day of Sts Constantine the Great & Helen in the Orthodox Church of Burundi, 2019 (from here)
 

Τετάρτη, 15 Μαΐου 2019

Saint Theodore the Sanctified, Disciple of the Venerable Pachomius the Great





Saint Theodore was called “Sanctified” because he was the first in his monastery ordained to the priesthood.
Saint Theodore came from Egypt and was the son of rich and illustrious Christian parents. The yearning for monastic life appeared early in him. Once there was a large party at the house of his parents during the feast of Theophany. The boy did not want to take part in the festivities, grieving that because of earthly joys he might be deprived of joys in the life to come. He secretly left home when he was fourteen and entered one of the monasteries.
Hearing about Pachomius the Great [May 15], he burned with the desire to see the ascetic. Saint Pachomius received the young man with love, having been informed by God beforehand about his coming. Remaining at the monastery, Saint Theodore quickly succeeded in all his monastic tasks, particularly in the full obedience to his guide, and in his compassion towards the other brethren. Theodore’s mother, learning that he was at the Tabennisi monastery, came to Saint Pachomius with a letter from the bishop, asking to see her son. Saint Theodore did not wish to break his vow to renounce the world, so he refused to meet with his mother.
Seeing Saint Theodore’s strength of mind and ability, Saint Pachomius once told him to instruct the brethren on Holy Scripture. Saint Theodore was then only twenty years old. He obeyed and began to speak, but some of the older brethren took offense that a new monk should teach them, and they departed. 

St. Pachomius the Great & the Angel (from here)
 
Saint Pachomius said to them, “You have given in to the devil and because of your conceit, your efforts will come to naught. You have not rejected Theodore, but rather the Word of God, and have deprived yourselves of the Holy Spirit.”
Saint Pachomius appointed Saint Theodore as overseer of the Tabennisi monastery, and withdrew to a more solitary monastery. Saint Theodore with filial love continued to concern himself over his instructor, and he looked after Saint Pachomius in his final illness, and when the great abba reposed in the Lord, he closed his eyes. After the death of Saint Pachomius, Saint Theodore directed the Tabennisi monastery, and later on he was at the head of all the Thebaid monasteries. Saint Theodore the Sanctified was famed for his holiness of life and a great gift of wonderworking, and he was well known to Saint Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria. Saint Theodore reposed in his old age in the year 368. 

Σάββατο, 11 Μαΐου 2019

Love is a wound!...

The truth is that love is counted by the wounds that it leaves on the soul and the body

Fr. Haralambos Libyos Papadopoulos
Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries

Those we had loved had probably tormented us very much. 

Those we had loved, we had most probably likewise tormented.

The mark that love imprints inside us is not the words that we have exchanged, but rather the pain we have felt, the sacrifices we have made and the light that we have partaken of...


In the words of the Metropolitan of Gortyna in one of his evening sermons:

“When Christ needed to convince His disciples that it was truly He -their Lord- who had appeared before them, He did not display the triumph of His Resurrection, but instead his wounds.”

He said:  “Come and see My wounds; place your hand on the wounds of My love for you.”

What He was essentially saying to them was:  “Don’t you remember Me?  Don’t you recognize Me?  It is I, who have loved you even to the death.  Just look at the proof of My wounds.”

In the Kingdom of God, we will not be identified thanks to our successes and our achievements, but our sorrows and the torments we have suffered

Just like that poor, suffering woman undergoing dialysis who happened to show her wounds to the Elder (Saint) Paisios, and calmly saying:  "Look, Elder, at my open wound... you can clearly see my bone through it ..."  

To which the Saint replied: "I can't see any bone through your wound; what I can see however, is Paradise..."

  
Translation: K.N.

Τετάρτη, 1 Μαΐου 2019

Where God Really Wanted…


Fr. Polycarpos of Hagia Anna
Orthodox Missionary Fraternity

Diocese of Madagascar
Madagascar
 
Wherever one serves the Lord and the Church, it is there that he finds joy and rest. This is the law and the criterion. The distinguishing feature which makes the man truly attracted and renders him unable to resist this inconsolable power, this mystical calling which will not hesitate to ask for even the ultimate sacrifice. What our Lord in John’s Gospel mentions as the highest of all sacrifices: «Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”, (John 15:13). Therefore, it is until there that one has to walk…

Yes, even as far as there, in these dark paths of death, which, though, hide in them the Light and Peace of Christ. When one looks at the Crucified Christ, behind the real pain of our Lord, behind His full of blood face and His firmly shut eyelids, His bloodstained Most Holy Body, one can distinguish three things: the first is obvious and, of course, it is nothing else but the ultimate sacrifice on the Cross. The second is immediately visible after the first one, and it is the form of His Most Holy Body which, though nailed to the Holy Tree, with modesty and humility takes His last breath on earth, His arms open, ready to embrace man, His child, who at that moment becomes His enemy and puts Him up on the wood of the Cross, which until then was considered utterly dishonorable. 


This is how our Lord delivers His spirit. This is the reason why the Wood which takes His form is consecrated, and now becomes the overwhelming and noble trophy against the devil. Finally, behind all this, if one wants to look carefully, one will distinguish two great things: Peace and Rest. «This is the day of rest». Indeed, there is no other greater donation, other expectation, other ending than the rest which the fine iconographer depicts on the face of Crucified Jesus.

These three things, sacrifice love and rest of the soul, are the ultimate criteria for the choices we make in our life. Where one finds them, one should never let go of them but should keep them as something truly valuable, which will shine in front of them and help them go through the difficult times in life.

Ankilibe. Our few personal belongings have been loaded into the pirogue. I help our two guides, faithful lads of our coastal parish, to drop it into the water of the Indian Ocean. Golden blue sea! The wind, tired of blowing for so long, weak as well as aged but not forgotten companion of the South, comes and kisses the sail of the pirogue that we have already raised, and with as much strength has been left in it, blows it to the opposite shore. The burnt by the sun and the salt bodies of our two faithful guides, figures I had forgotten, are now passing again before my eyes, fighting with the sea, and driving the pirogue with the paddles where God really wanted …to the opposite shore. 
 
 
Soalary. The opposite shore of the Bay of Toliara. It is late in the evening now, and all of us tired, disembark at the shore. We leave the pirogue on the beach and keep on walking. Anxiety reaches its highest point. We go through the village market. People can hardly remember you. Your feet are sinking in the sand, and now you are standing outside the hut of one of the catechumens. The voice comes out easily but your guts are burning inside of you as your anxiety is growing. «Where are you! I am the priest. «The father’s figure bashfully appears in the dark. He approaches me and greets me. He does not seem to have realized what is going on around him. He comes closer and embraces me. His arms tighten up around me. «Father, we did not expect to see you again.» 
 
We stayed up until late at night and we were talking. He was a father to seven children, one of whom, a little boy, had a hernia. Before I left, I had given him some money to have the child operated but I had also told him to pray for his child because God could heal it. The father, a simple-hearted man, said that during my absence, he had not forgotten my words and that his child had been cured without being operated. Simple, pure hearts, hearts that we, the people of the modern world, have denied and forgotten. People with simple faith; poor creatures that struggle really hard to support their children and family. However, it is these people who see the miracle. We have ceased to see the wonders of life. The miracle of God. 


Now in the poor but so beautifully and warmly prepared hut, I can hear the sound of the waves of the Indian Ocean. The images seem to be rolling like a movie inside of you. The serene song of the sea. The children’s laughs. The catechetical sessions in the makeshift grass huts that are used as temporary churches. The sacred services underneath the «kili»trees, the traditional trees of the south. The people’s complaints. The poor mother who is trying to breastfeed her little toddler from her withered breasts and asks for a little money to buy rice, some medicine. The songs of our youth, our festivals, the confessions under the sun, the baptisms, the diseases, the dangers, the hands of the robber, our dead children, the tears, the pain, a whole life!The sun is already rising and the bodies, dark figures, like the spirits of the people who you loved and who followed you to the distant land of ordeal, now come to life beside you, and you see them again struggle along with you so that you can reach where God really wanted!
 
Fr. Polykarpos is a monk of the Skete of Hagia Anna, Mount Athos. Since 2010, he has been serving the Orthodox Mission in Madagascar.
 
See also
 
Orthodox Madagascar (tag in our blog)
  
 The new Orthodox Bishop of Toliara and South Madagascar Prodromos (photo from here)