It is a phrase that is heard frequently in Orthodox services: “Through the prayers of our holy fathers, have mercy on us and save us!” The meaning of that phrase is enlarged and enlightened in the writings of the Elder Sophrony. The following excerpt is from his book, St. Silouan the Athonite.
Prayer for the whole world, for all Adam, in many instances distracts the monk from putting himself at the service of individuals. One may question whether this withdrawing from individual service means refusal of the concrete for the sake of the abstract? Not at all, for the whole Adam is not an abstraction but the most concrete fullness of the human being.
The ontological unity of humanity is such that every separate individual overcoming evil in himself inflicts such a defeat on cosmic evil that its consequences have a beneficial effect on the destinies of the whole world. On the other hand, the nature of cosmic evil is such that, vanquished in certain human hypostases [persons] it suffers a defeat the significance and extent of which are quite disproportionate to the number of individuals concerned.
A single saint is an extraordinarily precious phenomenon for all mankind. By the mere fact of their existence – unknown, maybe, to the world but known to God – the saints draw down on the world, on all humanity, a great benediction from God. The Staretz [St. Silouan] writes:
‘Because of these people, I believe the Lord preserves the world, for they are precious in His sight, and God always listens to His humble servants and we are all of us all right because of their prayers.’
‘Prayer keeps the world alive and when prayer fails, the world will perish…”Nowadays,” perhaps you will say, “there are no more monks like that to pray for the whole world.” But I tell you that when there are no more men of prayer on earth, the world will come to an end and great disasters will befall. They have already started.’
The saints live by the love of Christ. This love is Divine strength, which created, and now upholds, the world, and this is why their prayer is so pregnant with meaning. St. Barsanuphius, for instance, records that in his time the prayers of three men preserved mankind from catastrophe. Thanks to these saints – whom the world does not know of – the course of historical, even of cosmic events, is changed. So then, every saint is a phenomenon of cosmic character, whose significance passes beyond the bounds of earthly history into the sphere of eternity. The saints are the salt of the earth, its raison d’etre. They are the fruit that preserve the earth. But when the earth ceases to produce saints, the strength that safeguards it from catastrophe will fail.
Tonight, before you go to bed, pray: “O Lord, through the prayers of our holy fathers, have mercy on us and save us!” And be grateful.
Fr Sophrony’s Prayer
O Eternal Lord and Creator of all things, in your inscrutable goodness you have called me into this life and have given me the grace of baptism and the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. You have instilled in me the desire to seek your face. Hear my prayer!
I have no life, no light, no joy, no strength, no wisdom without you, O God. Because of my unrighteousness, I dare not lift my eyes in your presence. But I obey you who said:
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11)
Truly, truly I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father He will give it to you in my name. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16)
Therefore I now dare to approach you. Purify me from all stain of flesh and spirit. Teach me to pray rightly. Bless this day which you give to me, your unworthy servant.
By the power of your blessing enable me at all times to speak and to act with a pure spirit to your glory; with faith, hope and love, humility, patience, gentleness, peace, purity, simplicity, sobriety, courage and wisdom. Let me always be aware of your presence.
In your boundless goodness, O Lord God, show me your will and grant me to walk in your sight without sin.
O Lord, unto whom all hearts are open, you know what I need and what is necessary for me. You know my blindness and my ignorance. You know my infirmity and corruption. My pain and anguish are not hidden from you. Therefore I beg you: Hear my prayer and teach me by the power of your Holy Spirit the way in which I should walk. And when my perverted will leads me otherwise, O Lord, do not spare me, but force me back to your way.
Grant me, Lord, to hold fast to what is good by the power of your love. Preserve me from every word and act which corrupts the soul, and from every impulse that is unpleasing in your sight and harmful to the people around me. Teach me what I should say and how I should speak. If it be your holy will that I be quiet and make no answer, inspire me to be silent in a peaceful spirit that causes neither harm nor hurt to my fellow human beings.
Establish me in the path of your commandments, and until my last breath do not let me stray from the light of your ordinances. May your commandments be the sole law of my being in this life and for all eternity.
O Lord, I pray to you: Have mercy on me. Spare me in my affliction and misery and hide not the way of salvation from me.
In my foolishness, O God, I plead with you for many and great things. Yet I am ever mindful of my wickedness, my baseness, my vileness. Have pity on me! Cast me not away from your presence because of my foolish presumption. Increase rather in me the right presumption of your grace and grant that I, the worst of people, may love you with all my mind, all my heart, all my soul and all my strength, as you have commanded.
By your Holy Spirit, Lord, teach me good judgment and sound knowledge. Let me know the truth before I die. Maintain my life in this world until the end that I may offer worthy repentance. Do not take me away while my mind is still blind and bound by darkness. When you are pleased to end my life, give me warning that I may prepare my soul to come before you. Be with me, Lord, at that awesome hour and assure me by your grace of the joy of my salvation.
Cleanse me from secret faults. Purify me from hidden iniquities. Give me a good answer at your dread judgment seat.
Lord of great mercy and measureless love for all people: Hear my prayer! Amen.
with editing by Fr. Thomas Hopko
Christians throughout history have occasionally got onto an apocalyptic bandwagon, reading world events and deciding the end must be near. Some of this is normative for Christians as Scriptures do contain some warnings about the end times. World events seemed to indicate the world must be coming to an end: The Christian Byzantine Empire thought of itself as chosen by God to live “on earth as it is in heaven.” They were stung and stunned by the rise of Islam and its seemingly unstoppable advances against the Christian Empire. The end of the world seemed near. Then Byzantium fell to the Turks and many imagined the apocalypse. But history continued on. The Russian Empire was viewed by its Orthodox members as heaven on earth, but its Christian adherents began to fear the world’s end as the Empire teetered on the brink of destruction. Then communism came to power and many thought it was definitely the end times, yet history kept moving on into the future. Communism fell, and time moved on.
Americans have grown increasing apocalyptic about every great or small political battle. So many Americans lately have come to feel doom if the political party they oppose comes to power. Every election, I hear some talking about having to leave America if “the other political party wins.” Some see a cataclysmic end to the cosmos if the president, congress or supreme court gets anything wrong. Fear and hatred become preached and taught by those from any end of the political spectrum. Some feel that once again we are at the end of the world because the Supreme Court is slated to make some decision on gay marriage and gay rights.
Recently a friend sent me a conversation from some of the Greek elders on Mount Athos regarding the end times. The elders were discussing the fear that was griping Europe in 1986 as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster was unfolding. Many saw it as the events described in Scripture about the world’s end and the coming of the AntiChrist. Feeling threatened once again by world events people were convinced evil was being unleashed on earth. This is an excerpt of a longer article in which the Elders tell us why they don’t fear the Antichrist nor the apocalypse:
One day Elder Porphyrios had told me:
“Father Athanasios (taking me by the hand tightly), I’m blind now, my eyes do not work physically because I have cancer of the pituitary gland, but I have spiritual eyes and see. Before you leave, I want you to tell me, what did Elder Aemilianos say about 666 and the Antichrist?”
This was in the days of Chernobyl. People were upset by this and went by the dozens every day, particularly to Elder Porphyrios near Athens, asking: “What will happen? Will the Antichrist come and stamp us with 666″?
The Elder asked me: “Tell me, my child, what did Elder Aemilianos say about 666 and the Antichrist?”
I told him: “He told us in a gathering a few days ago to not worry. We should be interested in having a vibrant relationship with Christ and not give much attention to the Antichrist, because then he will become the center of our lives and not Christ.”
. . .
He told me: “For us Christians, when we experience Christ there is no Antichrist. . . .
When we have Christ inside us, can the Antichrist come? Can anything opposite this enter our souls? For this reason, my child, today we do not have Christ within us and because of this we worry about the Antichrist.
When Christ is within us, everything becomes Paradise. Christ is everything, my child, and the Opposer we should not fear; this you should always tell people.
. . .
And you should tell the people to not fear the Antichrist. We are children of Christ, we are children of the Church.”
Here are the ways in which we can cooperate with God’s grace and form this conscience within ourselves:
1 . We are to have much love for our .Saviour, with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. We are not to divide our love between God and the world. For a beginner this means that when we pray we should struggle mightily to concentrate and avoid distractions: we are to be wholly in God. Furthermore, as St. John of Kronstadt teaches:
“Love for God begins to manifest itself, and to act in us, when we begin to love our neighbor as ourselves, and not to spare ourselves or anything belonging to us for him, as he is the image of God: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God Whom he hath not seen? (I John 4:20).”
St. John says that this is the only love which is real, and lasting:
“The purer the heart becomes, the larger it becomes; consequently it is able to find room for more and more loved ones; the more sinful it is, the more it contracts; consequently it is able to find room for fewer and fewer loved ones–it is limited by a false love; self-love.”
2. We must pray often, both at church and at home. St. Gregory of Sinai says that the great gift which God gives us in Holy Baptism is buried by us, just as a treasure is buried in the ground–‘and common sense and gratitude demand that we should take good , care to unearth this treasure and bring it to light.” One of the most important ways to do this is by acquiring the habit of prayer. Blessed Theophan the Recluse explains further
“Those who only hear about spiritual meditation and prayer and have no direct knowledge [experience] of it are like men blind from birth, who hear about the sunshine without ever knowing what it really is. Through this ignorance they lose many spiritual blessings, and are slow in arriving at the virtues which make for the fulfillment of God’s good pleasure.”
3. We must carefully read and study Holy Scripture. Although many saints had the habit of reading through the entire Psalter and New Testament every week, we should at least read the Gospel and Epistle appointed in the Church Calendar for each day. According to St. Seraphim of Sarov, “It is very profitable ‘to occupy oneself: with the reading of the word of God in solitude, and to read the whole Bible intelligently…in order that the whole mind of the reader might be plunged into the truths of Holy Scripture, and that from this he might receive warmth.”
4. Attendance at Divine Services and frequent reception of Holy Communion is vital to the development of an Orthodox conscience. Of this, St. John of Kronstadt writes:
“The Divine Liturgy is truly a heavenly service on earth, in which God Himself, in a particular, immediate, and most close manner is present and dwells with men ….There is on earth nothing higher, greater, more holy, than the Liturgy; nothing more solemn, nothing more life-giving.”
St. Tikhon of Zadonsk observed: “TheChristians of old frequently received communion as the cause and food of immortality, wherefore even up to our own time the Holy Church daily exhorts us to ‘draw near with fear of God and with faith’. At the present day people have neither, as the facts abundantly prove; only once a year, and even then almost under compulsion, do they approach the Table of Immortality …. Men hasten joyfully to banquets, but to this spiritual and most Sacred Table to which Christ invites them they come under compulsion.”
5. We should read the writings of the Holy Fathers of the Church and the Lives of the Saints. Blessed Theophan the Recluse explained this to one of his spiritual children in the following way:
“The spiritual life is a special world into which the wisdom of men cannot penetrate… This is a subject which embraces much and is lofty and sweet to the heart …. If you seriously desire to enter onto this path, then you won’t have time to turn to the study of other subjects.. for human philosophizing cannot even be compared with spiritual wisdom.”
Therefore, if we wish to learn ways that are pleasing to God, it stands to reason that we will set aside time in order to study the writings and lives of those who have drawn close to Him while still in this life, for according to St. John of Kronstadt there are rich and .poor in the spiritual world just as there are in worldly society:
“As the poor ask charity of the rich, and cannot live without help· from them, so also in the spiritual order the poor must have recourse to-the rich. We are the spiritually poor, whilst the saints, and those who shine even in this present life by their faith and piety, are the spiritually rich. It is to them that we needy ones must have recourse.”
6. We are to practice the presence of God in our daily life. St. John of Kronstadt explains it in this way:
“Believe that God sees you as undoubtedly as you believe that anyone standing face to face with you sees you, only with this difference, that the Heavenly Father sees everything that is in you, everything that you are …. God is nearer to us than any man at any time. Therefore we must always set God before us, at our right hand, and there behold Him; we must be strong, and in order not to sin we must so place ourselves that nothing can thrust God from our thoughts and hearts, that nothing can hide Him from us, that nothing may deprive us of our beloved Lord, but that we may every hour, every minute, belong to Him, and be perpetually with Him, as He Himself is perpetually with us, as He constantly cares for us and guards us”.
7. We should often, if not daily, examine our souls and repent of the sins we find there. St. Mark the Ascetic writes: “The conscience is nature’s book. He who applies what he reads there experiences God’s help.” Thus, Elder Macarius of Optina wrote in a letter of spiritual direction:
“The Lord calls to Him all sinners; He opens His arms wide, even to the worst among them. Gladly He takes them in His arms, if only they will come. But they have got to make the effort of coming. They must seek Him, go to Him. In other words, they must repent. It is not He that rejects those who do: not repent. He still longs for them, and calls them. But they refuse to hear His call. They choose to wander away, in some other direction.” Therefore, St. John of Kronstadt explains: “Conscience in men is nothing else but the voice of the omnipresent God moving in the heart–the Lord knows all …. Watch your heart throughout your life; examine it, listen to it, and see what prevents it from uniting itself with the Lord. Let this be your supreme and constant study …. Examine yourself more often; see where the eyes of your heart are looking.”
And then, as Blessed Theophan the Recluse counsels:
“Repent, and turn to the Lord, admit your sins, weep for them with heartfelt contrition, and confess them before your spiritual father.” St. Hesychios the Priest tells us that according to St. Basil the Great, “a great help towards not sinning and not committing daily the same faults is for us to review in our conscience at the end of each day what we have done wrong and what we have done right. Job did this with regard to both himself and to his children [cf. Job 1:5], These daily reckonings illumine a man’s hour-by-hour behaviour.”
8. Struggle mightily to avoid judging others. God alone has the right to judge, for as St. Tikhon of Zadonsk says:
“Do not judge others, for you cannot know what is inside the other man. Do not condemn, for he may still rise whilst you may fall. Be-ware of even talking about others, lest you start judging them. Enquiring into other people’s sin is a curiosity hateful to God and man…because, by judging, man usurps the powers of the only judge, Christ …. Above all, when judging another we cannot know whether perchance he has not already repented and been forgiven by God.”
If we are willing to arrange our lives in the above manner, resolving not to withdraw from this holy labor even if it means suffering and also death, then, from the very moment that we begin, grace starts to flow into us, according to Blessed Theophan the Recluse:
“The help of God is always ready and always near, but is only given to those who seek and work.”
At their regular session here on May 29, 2015, the members of the Holy Assembly of Hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church announced the glorification of two clerics who served in North America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries—Bishop Mardarije [Uskokovic] and Archimandrite Sebastian [Dabovich]. Both saints are being recognized as “preachers of the Gospel, God-pleasing servants of the holy life, and inspirers of many missionaries” for their pastoral labors in America and their homeland.
The glorification came in response to a recommendation by the Episcopal Council of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America.
The annual commemorations of Saint Mardarije of Libertyville, Bishop of America-Canada, and Saint Sebastian of Jackson will be observed on November 29/December 12 and November 17/30 respectively.
Saint Sebastian was born Jovan Dabovich in San Francisco, CA in 1863—in the midst of the US Civil war. His parents were Serbian immigrants from Sassovae. From his early youth he was devoted to the Church and spent much of his time at the city’s Holy Trinity Cathedral, where he later served as a reader and teacher. In 1884, he was assigned to assist at Archangel Michael Cathedral, Sitka, AK. Shortly thereafter, he was sent to Russia for training and formation as a missionary priest. After completing three years of studies at the Saint Petersburg and Kyiv Theological Academies, he was tonsured to monastic rank and ordained to the diaconate in 1887.
Returning to San Francisco, he served as a deacon at the cathedral and taught in the newly established pastoral school. On August 16, 1892, he was ordained to the priesthood and assigned to pursue missionary work in California and Washington. The following year, he succeeded Father [now Saint] Alexis Toth as rector of Saint Mary Church, Minneapolis, MN and taught at the Missionary School.
In 1894, Father Sebastian returned to California, where he established the first Serbian Orthodox parish in the US in Jackson, CA. Two years later, he was reassigned to San Francisco’s Holy Trinity Cathedral while continuing his missionary efforts in Jackson. In recognition of his abilities, Archbishop Tikhon assigned him as part of the North American Mission’s Administration. During this time he wrote a book titled The Ritual, Services and Sacraments of the Holy Orthodox Church. In 1902, he was transferred to Alaska, where he served as Dean of the Sitka Deanery.
With the development of additional Serbian parishes in the US, Archbishop Tikhon reassigned Father Sebastian to head the Serbian Mission in America in 1905. The Mission was based in Chicago, where Archimandrite Sebastian had organized and served as rector of Holy Resurrection Serbian Orthodox Church. He continued to guide the Serbian Mission through July 1910, when at his own request he returned to missionary work. With the opening of Saint Platon Seminary, Tenafly, NJ in 1913, he served as a member of the faculty and also was involved in numerous conferences and discussions with non-Orthodox Christian confessions. In these meetings, he was sympathetic and understanding, yet firm in his desire to reveal Orthodox Christianity as the fullness of truth and the Church of Christ.
While Archimandrite Sebastian was obviously a candidate for the episcopacy is America, he likewise felt the calling to minister in his ancestral Serbia. He served as a chaplain to the Serbian Army during the Balkan War and World War I. In 1916, he requested a release from the North American Mission to serve in Serbia, where he ministered for the remainder of his life. He fell asleep in the Lord on November 30, 1940 and was interred in the Monastery of Zicha by his friend and Father Confessor, Bishop Nikolai [Velimirovic].
Saint Mardarije was born Ivan Uskokovic in Podgoritsa, Montenegro, in 1889. In 1907, he embraced monasticism at the Studenitsa Monastery and then relocated to Russia to study at the Saint Petersburg Theological Academy. After graduation, he was ordained by the Russian Orthodox Church and sent as a missionary to America. In 1919, he was one of five Serbian Orthodox priests who participated in the Second All-American Sobor, held in Cleveland, OH in February 1919, at which time it was recommended that the Serbian Church in Belgrade advance him to the episcopacy to organize a Serbian Orthodox Diocese in America. Unfortunately, at this most chaotic time in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church, it was impossible to secure the written blessing of Patriarch [now Saint] Tikhon of Moscow. Later in 1919, Archimandrite Mardarije returned to Belgrade, where he was assigned as head of the Rakovitsa Monastery and principal of its monastic school. Subsequently, Bishop [now Saint] Nikolai [Velimirovic] of Ohrid was sent by Patriarch Dimitriye to administer the fledgling diocese. Having likewise returned to America, Archimandrite Mardarije served as Saint Nikolai’s Deputy for two years, and continued to administer the diocese after the latter’s return to Belgrade.
On April 26, 1926, Archimandrite Mardarije was consecrated to the episcopacy in Belgrade. Prior to his episcopal consecration, he had carried out most of the actual work of organizing the Serbian diocese. He also served as parish priest in Chicago and purchased with his personal funds the land for Saint Sava Monastery in suburban Libertyville.
From the moment of his return to America, Bishop Mardarije undertook a wide range of ministries. He did not spare himself, nor did he fear work, although he knew that he was gravely ill with an advancing case of tuberculosis. In 1927, he convened the first National Church Assembly of the Serbian Orthodox American-Canadian Diocese to address a variety of organizational issues. At a clergy conference held in Youngstown, OH in 1931, he renewed his appeal for all to work for the unity and good of the diocese. His kindness, patience and reluctance to use punitive measures resulted in a great measure of unity within the diocese by the time of his repose on December 12, 1935 at the age of 46 years. He was interred at Libertyville’s Saint Sava Monastery.
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Creamation: A Message from St. Nikolai Velimirovic (1956)
You ask me, why is the Orthodox Church against cremation. First of all, because it considers it violent. The Serbs still shudder with the crime of Sinan Pasha, who burned the dead body of St. Sava on Vrachar.
Do people burn dead horses, dogs, cats and monkeys? I have not heard of this. I have heard of and seen them buried. Why should the dead bodies of people who are the lords of all animals on earth endure violence? Would it not be in all respects much more reasonable to incinerate dead animals, especially in big cities, than people?
Second, because this pagan and barbaric habit disappeared from Europe thanks to Christian civilization two thousand years ago. Anyone who wants to reinstate it doesn’t do anything else, neither civilized nor modern nor new, but something ancient which has long expired.
In England, which one can hardly call uncivilized, this form of Neopaganism is very much hated by the people. To tell you a case: during the years of World War II a famous Yugoslav lost his mind. When asked before he died, he said his only desire was to have his body burned.
Our little Yugoslavian community watched as this man was reduced in the incinerator of Golders Green. When the dead body entered the burning furnace we began to tremble with horror. Then they shouted to us on the opposite side of the furnace, “wait a quarter of an hour to see your compatriot in the form of ashes”. We waited over an hour and were mystified why the fire struggled with the dead body, and we asked the stoker about this. He apologized saying the furnace was cold, “it is not heated every day, since rarely do volunteers get handed over to the fire”. Listening to this we were dissolved, unable to wait at the edge for our compatriot. And we know that in London over a thousand human beings die every day.
I am in America, I saw the graves of the great Presidents Wilson, Roosevelt, Lincoln and many other important persons. None of them are cremated. Now this surprised me, that among the descendants of Saint Sava there could be found those who are like-minded with Sinan Pasha!
But why create an issue that has already been solved? If we want to be loaded with unnecessary worries, then someday we could be troubled by the question on whether to kill our decrepit men and women as do some primitive tribes? And we will create clubs to propagate this “idea”!