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How to celebrate Feasts and Holidays

December 2, 2009 1 comment

An Excerpt from With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man by Elder Paisios the Athonite (+1994)


Every Orthodox Christian should read this book!

Although Elder Paisios is often addressing monastics, most of it is highly relevant to lay people who want to live authentic Orthodox lives. In his numerous comparisons of modern society with the older times he remembers so well, the Elder offers us glimpses into an Orthodox way of life that has largely been lost today, but which can still be restored and preserved to some degree. He beautifully and simply shows how life-giving Holy Tradition can be.   Patrick Barnes

“Let Us, the Faithful, Celebrate a Spiritual Feast” [1]

Our Lord Jesus Christ, with His great love and joy which fill the souls of the faithful during His holy feast days, exalts us spiritually and truly resurrects us. All we need to do is participate in these feasts and celebrate them with a spiritual appetite; for once we taste the heavenly wine to which the Saints will treat us, we will become drunk in spirit.

—Geronda, what must we do to live a spiritual life during these feasts?

— To live through Christ’s feasts in a spiritual way, we must keep our minds focused on the holy days themselves and not on the work that we have to do to prepare for them. We should think about the events of each holy day (Christmas, Theophany, Pascha and so on) and say the Jesus Prayer glorifying God in our heart. This way we will celebrate with reverence every feast day of the Church. For most people, who live in the world, Christmas is the time to eat pork, Pascha to eat lamb and the Carnival at the beginning of Lent, the time to throw confetti. But for the true monks, every week is Holy Week. Every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday they experience Holy and Great Wednesday, Holy and Great Thursday, and Holy and Great Friday, that is, the days of the Passion of Christ, and every Sunday is for them Pascha, the Day of the Resurrection. Why must we wait until Holy Week to remember the Passion of Christ? Why should we be like people who live in the world? Can’t we realize what Christ is risen means, without eating lamb? You see, Christ said, Therefore be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh. [2] He did not say, “Get ready right now!” From the moment Christ said, “Be ready!” we must all, but especially monks and nuns, be constantly vigilant and ready.

We must study and live through these divine events all the time. When someone studies the events of each feast day, he will be naturally moved to pray with particular reverence. Then, during liturgical services, our mind will be absorbed by the events we are celebrating and we will follow with great reverence the chanting of hymns. When our mind thinks divine thoughts, we get to live through these holy events, and in this manner we are transformed. We think of a Saint for whom we have a special devotion, or of the Saint whose feast day we are celebrating, and our mind rises higher toward Heaven. And when we keep the Saints in mind, they keep us in mind too, and they come to our assistance. This is how we can start a friendship with them one that will last forever. And so, even though we may live alone, we will actually share our lives with everybody: with the Saints, the Angels, the whole world. Imagine, being alone, and feeling their company! This is the living presence of the Saints who are God’s children and will reach out to help us, their poor brothers and sisters.

Our Saints have shed blood, sweat and tears for the love of Christ. We should always celebrate them with reverence, and they will be there to help us. Every time we hear their Synaxarion “On this same day, we commemorate Saint …,” we must rise to our feet, like soldiers standing at attention when the names of their fallen comrades who died heroically are being read. “On this day of the month soldier so and so … fell in action heroically defending the country in such and such a front.”

If we want to really feel the significance of a feast day, we must abstain from all work. On Holy and Great Friday, for instance, the only thing we should be doing is praying. For people who live in the world, Holy Week is full of chores and obligations. On Holy and Great Friday, they will exchange good wishes “Happy Easter! May you live a long life! May your son find a good bride!” This is so wrong! On Holy and Great Friday, I will lock myself in my Kalyvi. Silence will be of great help to the soul during feast days. It’s very much like the time that follows the reception of the Great Schema, when a monk or nun will spend a whole week in silence to allow divine Grace to fill the soul and to appreciate what has actually taken place. In silence, we get the opportunity to rest a little, to study and pray. When a good thought crosses our mind, when we examine ourselves, or say the Jesus Prayer, we will really come to feel something of the divine event celebrated on that day.

“Better Is a Little That the Righteous Has” [3]

It is unfortunate that in our days we don’t use freedom to do good and become holy; instead, we use freedom to become more secular. In the past, people would work all week and rest on Sunday, a holy day. Now, they rest on Saturday as well. But are their lives more spiritual? Or are they more sinful? If people spent their time on spiritual work (prayer, spiritual study and so forth), things could have been different; people would live more conservative and decent lives. But we poor human beings try to rob time from the spiritual things, from Christ. People who live in the world will arrange to do all their heavy chores on Sundays. They are trying to find one Sunday for this chore, a holy day for another, and that’s how they bring God’s wrath on themselves. Why would the Saints then come to their assistance? Turn Sunday into a chore day? Never! Even if others offer to help us on that day, we should never accept it. Not on a Sunday.

We will not allow God to be in charge. And so, everything that we do without faith in God has nothing to do with Him; it belongs to the world. It does not have His blessing and for this reason the outcome is never good. When this happens we like to say, “It’s the devil’s fault.” Well, not really. It’s not the devil’s fault but ours, for not letting God help us. When we work on holy days, we give the devil rights and then he gets involved in our affairs. The Psalm reads, Better is a little that the right eons has than the abundance of many wicked. [4] This is the kind of life that will receive a blessing. The rest is as worthy as shavings. But in order to live this way, we must have faith, philotimo and reverence, and put God in charge of our lives. Otherwise, we’ll never get the job right whether it is on holy days or on week days and we’ll end up spending our time on nonsense. And you’ll see that God will never abandon you. I have never worked on a Sunday or a feast day, and God has never left my side and has always blessed my work.

I remember once, some threshing machines were brought to the village, and my father was notified that they could start on Sunday from our fields, and then move downhill to other lots. My father said to me, “What should we do? The machines are here.” “There is no way I will work on Sunday,” I replied. “We can do it on Monday.” “But,” my father objected, “if we miss this opportunity, we’ll have such a hard time threshing with the horses.” “That’s fine with me,” I said. “If I have to, I’ll be threshing all the way to Christmas.” So, I went to Church anyway, without giving the matter any more thought. Well, as the machines started coming toward our field, they broke down. “Forgive us, but the machines won’t work. We’ll take them to Yiannena and fix them, and when we come back on Monday, you will be first in line”! So instead of threshing on Sunday, they ended up threshing on Monday. I’ve seen this kind of thing happen so many times.

What Are Laypeople Supposed to Do?

How different was the spirit of Monasticism in the old days! I remember how laypeople, who celebrated the Feast of the Holy Cross according to the new calendar, would come to the Holy Mountain after the feast and bring us grapes. Sometimes, the day they arrived, we would be celebrating the Feast of the Holy Cross according to our calendar. But the Fathers would never go to unload the boat on such a day. They would send them back, or just leave them there, both the caique and the grapes. They would do the same if an olive oil or wood shipment would happen to arrive on the day of a feast. And the Monasteries were poor. The monks were thinking “What will people say if they see monks working on this day?” They would rather have a storm take the load, and lose the oil and the grapes, than to go and unload the ship, miss the Feast and scandalize souls.

Not so today… I happened to be at a Monastery on the eve of a feast day, and the monks were unloading grapes. The entire Coenobium later gathered together to squeeze them. That night they were supposed to have a Vigil, but they decided to postpone it and transfer it to another time. And that was a major Feast! “In the case of need even a law may be transferred…” In another place, they were repairing a Monastery damaged by fire, on a Sunday. Just wait size=”1″>.. it will burn down again! When people who live in the world see these things, they naturally say to themselves, “Feast days mean nothing anymore.”

We monks should be especially careful not to work on feast days, not only because doing so is a sin, but because we also become a cause for scandal; we sin twice.

People who live in the world are looking for an excuse to justify their sins. They may be working day and night and never observing the feasts, but let them see a monk or nun working on some emergency, and the devil will whisper to them, “Take a look; if priests work, why not you?” A nun may be seen simply airing a blanket on a Sunday, and if people see her, they will think, “Well, if nuns are working, what’s wrong with us going to work?” That’s why we need to be very careful; we don’t want to cause a scandal.

—Geronda, what if a workman wants to work on a feast day, let’s say on the Entrance of the Theotokos to the Temple?

—To work in the Monastery on the Feast day of the Entrance of the Theotokos in the Temple? No, that’s not right! He should not be allowed to work.

—Geronda, this actually did happen. One of the Sisters did not think of telling the workman to come another day.

—Then the Sister needs to be given a canon. [5]

—Geronda, on a feast day, after the Vigil is over, if one becomes sleepy, can they do some handwork while saying the Jesus Prayer?

—Can’t she do prostrations? Let her do prostrations to overcome her sleepiness. Why do handiwork?

—How about on Sunday? Is it right to weave a komboschoini after a Sister has performed her spiritual duties?

— Why should you weave a komboschoini? Why not enjoy this day’s full spiritual nourishment? Unfortunately the spirit of the world is entering our Monasteries. From what I hear, there are Monasteries where, on Sunday afternoons or in the afternoon of a feast day, they will return to their chores and duties. As if they have children that are dying from hunger or owe heavy debts that will force them to auction their house! Where’s the need? Of course, it’s different with the monk or nun who serves the visitors, or the cooks who serve in the kitchen. Someone needs to be there to do the necessary work.

Sometimes people bring me fish. “Take it and go away,” I tell them. What will happen if people start bringing a live fish here, a dead fish there? If someone brings you fish here in the Monastery on a feast day, you would have to clean and cook it and so on. How will you be able to enjoy the feast day? Do you remember Father Menas in the Skete of Saint Anna?

A fisherman brought him fish on a Sunday morning, for the feast day. “They’re fresh, Geronda,” he said. “Today is Sunday, when did you catch them and they’re so fresh?” he replied, puzzled. “This morning,” the man answered. “Throw them away, son, they’re anathematized,” Father Menas responded. “And if you want to make sure that I’m telling you the truth, give one to the cat and see if it will eat it.” And indeed, the fisherman threw the cat a fish but the animal turned its head away, with repulsion. That’s how sensitive monks were in those days!

Now, on great feast days, you’ll see Monasteries full of workers and technicians… Once, on the Feast of the Theotokos in August, a Monastery had a whole crew working with chain saws in the forest, gathering wood. Even though it was a clear day, suddenly it got cloudy, and lightning struck just next to the woodcutters, who were so terrified that they left without even notifying anyone that the forest was on fire. It took them forever to put out the fire. The following Sunday, two wood cutting crews went out again. These fires are God’s wrath, because we have turned Sundays and feast days into working days. And the sad thing is that we don’t realize what we are doing. We are pushing God’s tolerance and patience to its limits.

If there is a need for something, the monks will pray, saying the Jesus Prayer one hundred times each, and God will enlighten someone to send them one hundred thousand drachmas. The monk’s job is prayer. If we don’t put our trust in God, who will? Those who live in the world? God feels obligated to hear the prayer of the monk who has entrusted his life to Him. When I lived in the Coenobium, there was a monk who assisted the Abbot. He was not quick at all; in fact, he never left before the Divine Liturgy ended, and yet he always managed to finish all his chores. I, on the other hand, who was quicker and left before the Liturgy ended to prepare the assembly room, would be running into all kinds of problems. Sometimes I would mishandle the coffee beaker and the coffee would spill all over; other times I would drop the cups and the glasses; something would always go wrong! But he would wait until the end of the Liturgy. He would cross himself and trust in God to help him. If he were ever reprimanded, he would accept it with humility. He was humble and benefited twice as much.

When we don’t get stuck on unimportant details, which would cause no harm if omitted, we will benefit twice as much from whatever good we do, and give to the Saints, whose feasts we celebrate, double the praise they are due. We should try to the best of our ability, not to devote ourselves to work at the expense of our spiritual life, which should always come first; this way, no matter what job we do, we’ll have the blessing of God. It’s our spiritual life that must come first, not material things. If we put our work ahead of everything else and put prayer in second place, this means that for us work is more important than prayer. It is pride and irreverence that lie behind this attitude. The work of the spiritually bankrupt cannot be sanctified. If we put spiritual matters first, God will take care of us. When we monks don’t observe feast days, what are laypeople supposed to do? If we don’t do our spiritual work and plead with the Saints to help us, who will? What happens is that we end up saying all the time that we believe in God, but in reality we don’t even trust in Him. If we monks and nuns, who wear the monastic cassock, will not respect the Canons of the Church, and violate and dishonour Her age-old traditions, what possible meaning can our lives have?

Normally, we must cease all work before the Vespers of Sunday or of a feast day. If arrangements can be made, it is better to work more on the previous day, and avoid any work after the Vespers of a festal celebration. It is a different matter, if, in the event of an emergency, some light tasks need to be taken care of in the afternoon of a Sunday or a feast day. But even in such cases, the work should be done with discretion. In the old days, when farmers out in the fields heard the church bell announcing Vespers, they would do the sign of the cross and cease all work. The women of the neighborhood would do the same. They would stand up, cross themselves and stop knitting or anything else they were doing. And God would bless them. They had their health and enjoyed life… Now they have abolished the feast days, distanced themselves from God and the Church, and not surprisingly, end up spending all the money they earn on doctors and hospitals… Once, a man came to my Kalyvi and said, “My boy gets sick very often and doctors cannot figure out what’s wrong with him.” “Stop working on Sundays and things will change,” I told him. He followed my advice, and his little boy recovered.

I always tell people that if they want to avoid calamities in their life, they should stop working on Sundays and feast days. Work schedules could be arranged to keep these days free. Where there is spiritual sensitivity, everything is possible; solutions will be found. That’s really the issue here. Even if a particular solution is to our disadvantage, and we suffer a loss, in the end we’ll be twice blessed. But so many people fail to understand this. They do not even attend the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy sanctifies. If a Christian will not go to Church on Sunday, how will he be sanctified?

It’s unfortunate, but, the way things are going, people will do away with feast days, and with everything else. You see, they are even changing their names, and are forgetting their Saints whose name they bear. If they are named Vasilike, they change it to Vicky; Zoe (Life) to Zozo—which sounds like saying zo (animal) twice! They have come up with new feasts, Mother’s Day, May Day, April Fools’ Day… Pretty soon they’ll say, “Today is Artichoke Day, tomorrow Cypress Day, later the birthday of the inventor of the atom bomb, or of soccer and so on…” But God will not abandon us…

Endnotes

1. This is a troparion of the 6th ode to the second Canon of the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple (November 21).

2. Mt 24:44.

3. Ps 37:16.

4. Ps 37:16.

5. Canon: the discipline imposed by a Spiritual Father upon the believing sinner in the context of the Mystery of Repentance, for his or her correction. Such discipline could take the form of fasting, alms giving, prayer, abstinence from Holy Communion for a specified time and so on.

From: With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man (Souroti, Thessaloniki, Greece: Holy Monastery “Evangelist John the Theologian”, 2006), pp. 368-379.

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Elder Paisios: The sign of the times, 666

November 1, 2009 Leave a comment


The sign of the times, 666


by Elder Paisios of Mt Athos of ever-blessed memory


After the devil’s cataclysm, God’s sunshine will appear.Behind the worldly spirit of today’s “freedom,” the lack of respect for the Church of Christ, older people, parents and teachers who have fear of God, is hidden spiritual slavery, anxiety and anarchy which lead the world to an impasse, the destruction of man’s body and soul.

Therefore, behind the perfect system of the computerized “convenience cards”, is hidden the universal dictatorship, the slavery of the Antichrist. Also “he causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: his number is 666” (Rev 13:16-18).

St. Andreas of Caesarea writes, “On the dirty name of the Antichrist. Time and experience will reveal to those who are vigilant the accuracy of the numbers and anything else written about him … but divine grace did not wish that the name of the scourge be written in the Holy Bible; a lot will be found written on the subject…”

Oddly enough, many spiritual people, apart from the fact that they give their own interpretations on this issue, are afraid of the evolving secular filing-system. They should also be concerned in a spiritual way, however, and help Christians by alerting them positively on the subject and strengthen their faith, so that they can feel God’s consolation.

I wonder! Don’t they question what is going on? Why don’t they put a question mark next to their mind’s interpretations? What if they help the Antichrist in marking more people? How can they sway these people from losing their souls? “For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Mk 13:22).

Those who give their own interpretations will be led astray.

Things are very clear. The ‘beast-with 666’ in Brussels has swallowed almost all the countries in its computers. The card, the identification cards, the introduction to the mark, what do they indicate? Unfortunately, we only listen to the radio when we want to hear the weather report.

What will Christ tell us? “Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times” (Mt 16:3).

After the card, the identification cards and the establishment of the filing-system, they will maliciously proceed to the marking by announcing on Television that someone stole another person’s card and withdrew all his money from his bank account. On the other hand, they will advertise the “perfect system”, the marking of the Antichrist’s name, 666, on the hand and forehead with laser beams which will not be externally detectable.

Unfortunately, some that think of themselves as knowledgeable will swaddle (bind) “their spiritual children, as if they were babies in order to console them by telling them ‘it doesn’t matter, it’s nothing, as long as you have faith inside you’. While we see that St. Peter externally denied Christ, and it was a denial, they deny the holy mark of Christ, which was granted to them through the Holy Baptism – the Seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit”, by accepting the mark of the Antichrist. These will claim they have Christ inside them!

Unfortunately, some “knowledgeable” people shared the same logic during the years of the holy martyrs and tried to change the minds of the prospective martyrs. St. Basil the Great writes, in his speech on Martyr Gordios, “many people were being irrational by trying to convince the martyr to deny Christ with his words only, and keep his faith in his soul, in his inner disposition, claiming that God does not pay attention to our words but to our disposition. However, martyr Gordios was rigid in his belief and replied, “the tongue, which is created by Christ, cannot bear to utter anything against Him… Do not deceive yourselves, God cannot be mocked, he judges us according to our own mouth, he justifies us by our words, and by our words, he convicts us”.

Also, Dekios had issued a decree ordering Christians to avow the religion of paganism; those who did and offered a sacrifice to the idols, were granted a certificate and thus were saved from martyrdom. The Church considers these people who denied Christ, together with those who gave money to the committee of pagans and took the certificate without denying Christ, the so-called “liveloforoi”, as being apostates and sinners.

We have many examples, such as the miracle of St. Theodoros that is celebrated every year on the Saturday of the First Week of the Great Lent. “Julian, the Apostate, knowing that Christians are cleansed more by fasting strictly during the First Week of the Great Lent, which for this reason we call Pure Week, chose to pollute them during this specific period. He, therefore, secretly ordered that food, which had been polluted by the blood of the idols’ sacrifices, be put out in the market place during this week. By holy appearance Martyr Theodoros appeared to Archbishop of Constantinople Evdoxios in his sleep. The martyr revealed the mystical message to the Archbishop and asked him to gather the faithful people immediately on Monday morning, and alert them not to eat from this food. Instead, he offered them “kolliva” (boiled wheat given at memorial services) to replace the shortage of food. The aim of the Apostate was thus annulled and the devout people were protected and kept pure.

Abstaining from the pollution of the idols is a rule of the Apostles. “…The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter …abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:6, 20).

Despite what I just reported, unfortunately, we hear today a lot of nonsense from those considered “knowledgeable”. Some people say, “I will accept the identification card with the number 666, but I will put the sign of the Cross next to it”. Others say, “I will accept being marked on the forehead with the number 666, but I will also put the sign of the Cross next to it”. They think that by this way they can be sanctified, but this is only an illusion.

Only what is accepted with Holy Water is sanctified. For instance, water can be blessed and become Holy Water. Urine cannot be sanctified. A stone can be turned into bread by a miracle. Whatever is dirty, cannot be sanctified. Therefore, putting the sign of the cross next to it cannot sanctify the symbol of the Antichrist (devil) on our identification card, our head or hand.

We have the power of the Holy Cross (our holy symbol) and the divine grace of Christ, only as long as we have the holy marking of the Holy Baptism. In other words, we have denied the devil and sided with Christ, and received the Holy Marking (the seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit).

May God enlighten us. With lots of pain and love in Christ.

Amen.


Mount Athos,
Panagouda Cell of Koutloumousiou Monastery,
Saturday, First Week of Lent, 1987.
alfa si omega

Elder Arsenie – On Suffering

October 18, 2009 Leave a comment

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