Tthe Holy Church, which rejects the impious worship of angels devised by idolaters and heretics of old, has received from the divinely inspired Fathers the tradition of celebrating with reverence the Synaxis of the Holy Angels. In the days of the Old Testament, the people of God, having fallen away from their Creator, began to worship that which the Lord created. They made idols after the likeness of things visible, of that which is in heaven above and earth beneath, the work of their own hands. At that time, when the people offered oblations unto the sun, the moon, and the stars as gods, imagining that these possessed living souls, they also began to worship angels. The Book of Kings makes mention of this, saying that they "burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the twelve signs of the Zodiac, and to all the host of heaven," that is, to the angels; for the host of heaven is comprised of the angels, as is said in the Gospel: "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host."
The Lord, Who lives in the heavens, wishing to appear on earth and abide with men, first prepared a dwelling place of His glory: His Most Pure Mother. For it is the custom of kings that in whatsoever city they desire to live, a place of residence be prepared for them beforehand. And as the palaces of earthly kings are constructed by the most skilled craftsmen, of the most costly materials, and on the most elevated sights, which are more beautiful and spacious than all the other dwellings of men, in the same manner the palace of the King of Glory must be erected. In the Old Testament, when God desired to dwell in Jerusalem, Solomon built a temple for Him, employing Hiram, a most wise master, who possessed full knowledge of every art and science, and was skilled in every enterprise. He constructed the temple with materials of great value: with costly stone, with aromatic woods of cedar and cypress brought from Lebanon, with pure gold, and upon a high place: that is, upon Mount Moriah. The temple was of great beauty. On its walls were portrayed the likeness of cherubims, and of various trees and ﬂowers. The temple was so spacious that the whole Israelite people could be accommodated without crowding, and the glory of the Lord would descend in ﬁre and a cloud. Nevertheless, that temple did not suffice to contain within itself the Uncontainable God, for even though Solomon built Him a temple, "The Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands. 'What house will ye build me', saith the Lord: 'or what is the place of my rest?'"
The memory of the just takes place with rejoicing, said Solomon, the wisest of men; for precious in God's sight is the death of His saints, according to the royal David. If, then, the memory of all the just is a subject of rejoicing, who will not offer praise to justice in its source, and holiness in its treasure-house? It is not mere praise; it is praising with the intention of gaining eternal glory. God's dwelling-place does not need our praise, that city of God, concerning which great things were spoken, as holy. David addresses it in these words: "Glorious things are said of thee, thou city of God." What sort of city shall we choose for the invisible and uncircumscribed God, who holds all things in His hand, if not that city which alone is above nature, giving shelter without circumscription to the supersubstantial Word of God? Glorious things have been spoken of that city by God himself. For what is more exalted than being made the recipient of God's counsel, which is from all eternity?
All of you who, by taking off the cloak of irrationality because of the Word’s self-emptying,? have raised up your minds from the earth and learned to think “the things that are above,” (Col 3.2) come now – if you trust me – as I spread out before you a spiritual banquet of words: let us ascend with the Word today, as he goes up the high mountain of the Transfiguration! Let us take off the material, shadowy life that we wear, and put on “the robe woven from above as a single whole,” (cf John 19.23) made beautiful in every part by the rays of spiritual virtue. Christ himself, the pure goal of life, the supernatural Word of the one who begot him, the one who came down from above for our sakes and became a poor man in our flesh out of love for humanity, wishes us – who are already purified in life and mind, who have been given the spiritual wings of sincere thoughts – to make this ascent with him. This is clear from the fact that he takes with him chosen Apostles to be nearer in their relationship to him than ever, and leads them up the high mountain. What is he going to do, what is he planning to teach them? By revealing to them the glory and radiance of his own divinity, more brilliant than lightning, he had, a little earlier in a mystical way, transformed the nature which had once heard the words, “You are earth, and to earth you shall return” now he will reveal it in full view by his transfiguration.
If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. (Matt. 16:24)
The best known of the Orthodox saints of modern times, St. Seraphim of Sarov, has much to teach the Orthodox Christians of these last times. Unfortunately, the striking nature of some of his spiritual experiences – which indeed stand in glaring contrast to the ordinary Christian experience of our days – has led some to miss the whole point of his teaching.
St. Seraphim was born in 1759 in Kursk, in the heart of Holy Russia, to a pious merchant family. Raised in the fear of God and strict Orthodox life, he also knew very early the mercies of God at first hand; at the age of ten he was miraculously healed of a serious affliction by the Mother of God through her Kursk Icon (which now is in America and continues to work miracles).
Through the reading of Scripture and other basic Christian literature, a deep desire for spiritual things was kindled in him and he began to long to serve God in the monastic calling.
Upon the counsel of the holy recluse Dositheus of Kiev, he went to Sarov Monastery where, at the age of 27, he was tonsured a monk. By a life of constant prayer and unceasing spiritual warfare, he drew upon himself God’s grace and was granted the gifts of prophecy, discernment and healing. Thousands flocked to him for counsel and hegreeted all who came to him with the words “Christ is Risen!” No one who came to him left without consolation and an answer to his spiritual need. More than once he was seen in uncreated light, shining more brightly than the sun.
The day of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul is the culminating feasts of the Gospel. Although the last event in the life of Christ which is related in the Gospel as His Ascension into heaven (Mark 16:19; Luke 24:51), the preaching of the Apostles is closely bound up with the Gospel. The Gospel tells us of their being chosen, and the Gospel indicates beforehand the end of Apostolic activity.
Telling of the appearance of Christ on the sea of Tiberias and the restoration to apostleship of Peter, who by his triple confession corrected his triple denial, the Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian speaks also of the prediction to the Apostle Peter concerning the end of his struggle. When thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whether thou wouldest not. This spoke He, signifying by what death he should glorify God (John 21:18-19).
It was not pleasing to the Lord then, to reveal the face of each of the other Apostles, although, when sending them to preach, He predicted to them, the persecutions that awaited them (Matt. 10:17-36). Now, to the question of Peter about John, Christ replied: If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me (John 21:22).
The Orthodox Church lovingly beholds the saints of God, who shone forth in faith in and love for God, patterning their lives on the Gospel. It is rare for a week to go by when divine service is not held in our church in honor of some saint. In those churches where services are celebrated daily, there are saints that are commemorated every day. Songs of praise for them are lifted year round. We do not hear the entire life histories of each saint in church, but in the troparia and kontakia that are sung, we learn in brief outlines of the image of the saint, his or her works and spiritual beauty. The soul of a saint, invisibly present wherever he is remembered with love, arouses in our hearts feelings of faith and love.
The saints are no strangers to us. For we are all of one Christian family! Of course, they do not live in our homes, we do not see them directly: but let us be bound with them in love! Love overcomes time and space.
Parents — especially mothers — know that a child does not need to be within one’s range of sight at all times in order for us to love them. In fact, whoever may not be at home with us, is more desired and missed. That is the nature of our love for the saints. We love them, even though they lived long ago, and we know them only through words. Our common love for Christ is shared with them, it relates us, unites us within one family.
The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit share one nature, one essence, one substance. That is why the Three Faces are the Trinity, one-in-substance. Humans also have one nature, one substance.
But while God is the Indivisible Trinity, divisions occur in mankind constantly... The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have common thought, common will, common actions. What the Father desires, the Son also desires, and the Holy Spirit also desires. Whatever the Son loves, so do the Father and the Holy Spirit also love. Whatever is pleasing to the Holy Spirit, is pleasing to the Father and Son. Their actions are also common among them, all act in conjunction and in accord.
1. The Jews kept the Feast of the Passover, the crossing from Egypt to the land of Palestine, as laid down in their law, and we have celebrated the gospel Pascha, the passage of our human nature in Christ from death to life (cf. JN. 5:24; I JN. 3:14), from corruption to incorruption (cf. I COR. 15:42, 50). What words can express the superiority of this celebration over the solemnities of the old law and the events commemorated on its holy days? No one can adequately state how much more excellent it is. The enhypostatic Wisdom of the most high Father, God's pre-eternal Word who is beyond all being, who was united with us in His love for mankind and lived among us (JN. 1:14), has now revealed through His actions a cause for celebration even more distinctly superior than Pascha's excellence. For we now celebrate the transition of our nature in Him, not just from the subterranean regions up on to the earth, but from the earth to the heaven of heavens, and to the throne above the heavens of Him who rules over all.
2. Today the Lord not only stood with His disciples after His resurrection, but was also parted from them and was taken up into heaven as they watched (Acts 1.9-11), ascended and entered into the true Holy of Holies and sat down on the right hand of the Father, far above all principality and power and every name and honor that is known and named, either in this world, or in that which is to come (cf. Eph. 1.20-21). There were many resurrections before Christ’s resurrection, and similarly, there were many ascensions before His ascension. The Spirit lifted up Jeremiah the prophet, and an angel took up Habakkuk (Bel & Dr. 33-39 LXX). In particular it is written that Elijah went up with a chariot of fire (2 Kgs. 2.11). But even he did not go beyond the realms of earth, and the ascension of each of those mentioned was just a sort of movement lifting them up from the ground without taking them out of the area surrounding the earth. Similarly, the others who were resurrected all died and returned to the earth. By contrast, Christ has risen and death no longer has dominion over Him (cf. Rom. 6.9), and now He has ascended and sat down on high, every height is below Him and bears witness that He is God over all (Rom. 9.5).
On this day, the sixth Sunday of Pascha, we celebrate the miracle which our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ performed for the man who had been blind from birth.
This miracle, like those of the Samaritan woman and the paralytic, was brought about through the use of water in this way: As Christ was speaking with the Jews and showing them that He is together with the Father, existing before Abraham, they sought to stone Him. He then left that place where He had been speaking with them and met a blind man who was wandering about and who had been blind from birth, having only the shape and form of eyes. When the Savior saw him, His Disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). The reason they asked this is because they had heard Him telling the paralytic at the Sheep's Pool, “Behold, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you” (John 5:14), as if to say that “the sins of the parents are visited upon the children...”