Monthly Archives: July 2020

“According to your faith be it done to you.”

7th SUNDAY OF MATTHEW, Matthew 9: 27-35

In today’s Gospel reading about the two blind men (Mat.9, 27-35) the path towards faith is depicted: we are shown how from a state of blindness one can be transformed to a state of seeing, how one can receive what one asks. Sin makes man blind, for the devil does not wish man to see God – his Creator. Spiritual blindness might be acknowledged only by admitting ones sinfulness. Furthermore, it is essential to follow Christ – that is to fulfill His commandments, God’s will, and patiently carry one’s cross. Also, one must “Shout” – in other words, pray strongly with zeal. When our prayer is not answered right away, Christ is testing our faith. Continue reading

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St Paraskevi the Great Martyr of Rome

“Holy Virgin Martyr Paraskeva of Rome was the only daughter of Christian parents, Agathon and Politia, and from her early years she dedicated herself to God. She spent much of her time in prayer and the study of the Holy Scriptures. After the death of her parents St Paraskeva distributed all of her inheritance to the poor, and consecrated her virginity to Christ. Emulating the holy Apostles, she began to preach to the pagans about Christ, converting many to Christianity. Continue reading

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Approaching the Holy Chalice

Every time we approach the holy chalice to receive Communion to the Body and Blood of Christ we say a prayer that contains words that must become true on our lips, otherwise they are a lie before God. We say to God that we are the worst sinner, we are the chief sinner that there is. Continue reading

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Orthodox Heritage With My Own Eyes

Pastor Richard Wurmbrand is an evangelical minister who spent fourteen years in Communist imprisonment and torture in his homeland of Romania.  In 1945, when the Communists seized Romania and attempted to control the churches for their purposes, Richard Wurmbrand immediately began an effective “underground” ministry to his enslaved people and the invading Russian soldiers.  He was eventually arrested in 1948.  Richard spent three years in solitary confinement, seeing no one but his Communist torturers.  Pastor Wurmbrand was released in a general amnesty in 1964. Realizing the great danger of a third imprisonment, Christians in Norway negotiated with the Communist authorities and paid for his release from Romania.  In May 1966, he testified in Washington before the Senate’s Internal Security Subcommittee and stripped to the waist to show eighteen deep torture wounds covering his body. What follows is a small part of the many experiences he had while he was imprisoned.

My former fellow-prisoner the Romanian-Orthodox Deacon John Stanescu, suffered in jail for his faith.

Colonel Albon, director of the slave labor camp, was informed that someone had dared to preach in a cell. He entered the cell carrying a cane and demanded to know the culprit. When no one responded, he said, “Well, then all will be flogged.”

He commenced at one end of the cell, and there was the usual yelling and rising in tears. When he came to Stanescu, he said, “Not ready yet? Strip this minute!”

Stanescu replied, “There is a God in heaven, and He will judge you.”

With this, his fate was sealed. He would surely be beaten to death. But just at that moment, a guard entered the cell and said, “Colonel, you are called urgently to the office. Some generals have come from the Ministry.”

Albon left, saying to Stanescu, “We will see each other again soon.” However, the generals arrested the colonel (Communists hate and jail each other for no reason), and after an hour Albon was back in the cell, this time as a prisoner.

Many inmates jumped to lynch him. Now Stanescu defended the defeated enemy with his own body, receiving many blows himself as he protected the torturer from the flogged prisoners. Stanescu was a real priest.

Later I asked him, “Where did you get the power to do this?”

He replied, “I live Jesus ardently. I always have Him before my eyes. I also see Him in my enemy. It is Jesus who keeps him from doing even worse things.” Beware of a faith without a cross!

When I was in jail I fell very, very sick. I had tuberculosis of the whole surface of both lungs and four vertebra were attacked by tuberculosis. I also had intestinal tuberculosis, diabetes, heart failure, jaundice, and other sicknesses I can’t even remember. I was near to death.

At my right hand was an Orthodox priest by the name of Iscu. He was Abbot of a monastery. This man, perhaps in his 40’s, had been so tortured he was near to death. But his face was serene. He spoke about his hope of heaven, about his love of Christ, about his faith. He radiated joy.

On my left side was the Communist torturer who had tortured this priest almost to death. He had been arrested by his own comrades.

And so it happened that the Communist torturer who had tortured this priest nearly to death had been tortured nearly to death by his comrades. And he was dying near me. His soul was in agony.

During the night he would awaken me saying, “Pastor, please pray for me. I can’t die, I have committed such terrible crimes.”

Then I saw a miracle. I saw the agonizing priest calling two other prisoners. And leaning on their shoulders, slowly, slowly he walked past my bed, sat on the bedside of his murderer, and caressed his head – I will never forget this gesture. I watched a murdered man caressing his murderer! That is love – he found a caress for him.

The priest said to the man, “You are young; you did not know what you were doing. I love you with all my heart.” But he did not just say the words. You can say “love,” and it’s just a word of four letters. But he really loved. “I love you with all my heart.”

Then he went on, “If I who am a sinner can love you so much, imagine Christ, Who is Love incarnate, how much He loves you! And all the Christians whom you have tortured, know that they forgive you, they love you, and Christ loves you. He wishes you to be saved much more than you wish to be saved. You wonder if your sins can be forgiven. He wishes to forgive your sins more than you wish your sins to be forgiven. He desires for you to be with Him in heaven. He is Love. You only need to turn to Him and repent.”

In this prison cell in which there was no possibility of privacy, I overheard the confession of the murderer to the murdered. Life is more thrilling than a novel – no novelist has ever written such a thing. The murdered – near to death – received the confession of the murderer. The murdered gave absolution to this murderer.

They prayed together, embraced each other, and the priest went back to his bed. Both men died that same night. It was Christmas Eve. But it was not a Christmas Eve in which we simply remembered that 2000 years ago Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It was a Christmas Eve during which Jesus was born in the heart of a Communist murderer.

These are the things I have seen with my own eyes…

Pastor Richard Wurmbrand

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Gabriel, an atheist philosophy student at Mount Athos

Some years back, a young student approached me. He told me he was an Atheist, although being very reluctant but also having the intensity of a serious seeker, but that he would be content to believe and yet he could not. He tried for years [to believe] without any effect.

[He told me that] he spoke with educated and professors, without having satisfied his thirst for something important. When he heard about me. Continue reading

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Who is Christ?

During the festive season we celebrate the birth of Christ. Some, in our society, ask ‘why do we celebrate the birth of Jesus?” St. John the Theologian answers this question as a glad tiding, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-3, 14). Continue reading

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Zeal of Faith – The Holy Prophet Elijah (Elias), the Tishbite

Feast Day 20 July

A prophet of the ninth century BC, Elijah the Tishbite is remembered in Scripture and Christian tradition as the foremost example of zealous loyalty to the living God. He lived during the reign of Ahab, King of Israel (Northern Kingdom, 875-854 BC) and Ahab’s pagan wife Jezebel who tried to introduce the religion of Baal to the Jews. Because of his uncompromising struggle against paganism, his miraculous deeds, and his ascension into heaven on a flaming chariot, Elijah gained the stature of the “pillar of prophets.” His fame grew until he was expected to return from heaven as the forerunner of the Day of Lord (Mal. 4:5; Wis. Sir. 48:10). As the representative of the prophets, he appeared together with Moses at the transfiguration of Christ (Mk. 9:4-5).

The story of Elijah and his zeal for the God of Israel is told in 1 Kings, chapters 17-18. After announcing to Ahab a severe drought, the prophet hid himself by a brook and was fed by ravens. This is how he is usually depicted in his icons. Later he left Israel and stayed with a foreign widow and her son near Sidon, their food being provided by the jar of meal and cruse of oil which were miraculously unspent during the time of the drought. When the widow’s son died or was near death, Elijah restored the boy to life (1 Kings 17:10-24).

The dramatic moment came when Elijah confronted Ahab with apostasy and challenged the priests of Baal to a contest—to decide whether the Lord or Baal was true God. All gathered on Mount Carmel and Elijah said to the people of Israel: “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God/follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). From morning until noon, four hundred and fifty priests of Baal prayed to their god and danced around their altar in frenzy, cutting themselves with lances and swords, but no fire from heaven came to burn the sacrificial animal. After this Elijah asked that water be poured over his altar and he prayed to God with profound trust to let it be known that He was the God of Israel. In the words of 1 Kings 18:38-39:

Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and they said, “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God.”

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Our Holy Mother Righteous Macrina

Feast Day 19 July

The eldest sister of St Basil the Great and St Gregory of Nyssa, she was as a girl betrothed to a young nobleman and, when her betrothed died, Macrina vowed never to enter into marriage, saying: ‘It is not right for a girl, having once been betrothed, to turn to another; according to natural law there must be one marriage, as there are one birth and one death.’ She justified this by her belief in the resurrection of the dead, regarding her betrothed not as dead, but as alive in God. ‘It is a sin and a shame’, she said, ‘if the spouse does not keep faith when the partner goes to distant climes.’ Then, with her mother Emilia, she became a nun in a monastery of virgins, where she lived in asceticism with the other nuns. They lived by the work of their hands, devoting the greater part of their time to pondering on God, to prayer and to a ceaseless lifting-up of their minds to Him. After a time, her mother died, and then her brother Basil. In the ninth month after Basil’s death, Gregory came to visit his sister and found her on her deathbed. At the time of her death, Macrina made this prayer to God: ‘Thou, O Lord, givest rest to our bodies in the sleep of death for a little time, then Thou wilt waken them again with the Last Trumpet. Forgive me, and grant that, when my soul is parted from my body, it may be presented before Thee stainless and without sin, and that it may be as incense before Thee.’ She then made the sign of the Cross on her brow, eyes, face and heart, and breathed her last. She entered into rest in the Lord in 379.

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The World Needs Light, Not More Darkness

Homily for the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council in the Orthodox Church

It is not hard to find examples of Christians whose behaviour disappoints and scandalizes us. Whether people we know personally or simply those we know about, it is easy to find ourselves thinking that others hardly seem to be “the light of the world.” There is a powerful temptation, of course, to point our finger at others for not beaming radiantly with the holy light of our Lord. Before we even begin to think about how our neighbours are doing, however, we must first take a painfully honest look at our own souls. Continue reading

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“Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town…”

FIFTH SUNDAY OF MATTHEW, Matthew 8: 28-34 – 9:1

“Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town.” (Mt. 9:1)

This is, indeed, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, a puzzling reference, for which city or town could be considered “His own” when only a few verses earlier He himself said that “foxes have dens, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Mt. 8:20)? Continue reading

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