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Sunday, February 27, 2011

“Simplify your Lives” with Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain

Secular people say, “How lucky are the wealthy people who live in palaces and have all kinds of conveniences:” In truth, blessed are those who have succeeded in sim­plifying their lives and freeing themselves from the yoke of worldly progress, of the many conveniences that have become inconveniences, and have consequently rid themselves of the dreadful anxiety that plagues so many, people today. 

If man does not simplify his life, he will end up tormenting himself. But if he simplifies it, all his anxiety will go away.
  A German man at Sinai told a very intelligent Bedouin boy, “You are intelligent, you can become literate.” “And then?” the boy asked. “Well, then you will become a car mechanic.” “And then?” the boy repeated. “Then you’ll open a car shop.” “And then?” the boy asked again. “Then you will grow up and you will hire others to work for you, and you will have your own staff.” “In other words,” the boy said, “I will pile one headache on top of the other. Isn’t it better now that my mind is free of worries?” 

Most head­aches are the result of all these thoughts we have about doing this and doing that … But if our thoughts were spir­itual in nature, we would feel divine consolation and be cured of headaches.
  These days I stress simplicity to lay people too, be­cause many of the things they do are not necessary and they end up being consumed by anxiety. I speak to them of austerity and asceticism. I constantly scold them, “If you want to get rid of anxiety, simplify your lives!” That is how most divorces start. People have to do too many things, too many obligations and they get dizzy. Both parents work and abandon the children. 

The result is fa­tigue and nervousness, which causes small issues to turn into large quarrels and then to automatic divorces; that’s “where they end up. But if they simplified their lives, they would find rest and joy. Stress is catastrophic.
  Once I was at a very plush house where they told me in conversation, “We live in Paradise, while other people are in such great need.” “You live in hell,” I replied. “God said to the rich man, Fool, This night your soul is required of you (Lk. 12:20). If Christ were to ask me, ‘Where should I put you in a house like this or in prison?’ I would reply, ‘In the dark prison.’ Because a prison would do me good; it could remind me of Christ, the holy martyrs, the ascetics who lived in the holes of the earth, it would remind me of monastic life. The prison would resemble my cell a bit and I would be happy. 

But what would this palace of a house remind me of and how would that help me? That is why I find prison cells much more restful than a worldly living room. I even find it more restful than a beautiful monastic cell. I would rather spend one thousand nights in a prison cell, than one day in a plush house.”
  Once, when I was staying with a friend in Athens, he asked me to receive a family man who could only see me very early in the morning, at dawn, because that was the only time he had available. He arrived in a cheerful mood praising God in every other word. He was full of humility­ and simplicity and begged me to pray for his family. 

This brother, who was about thirty-eight years old, had seven children. At home, they were eleven souls, because his parents lived with him, and they all shared the same room. He spoke with great simplicity, “The room fit us all if we stand up, but if we lie down it is a bit tight. ”Thank God, now we are constructing a shed to use as a kitchen and we are doing fine. Father,” he said “at least we have a roof over our head, while other people live in. the open air.”
  The man was an ironer. He lived in Athens and had to leave everyday before dawn to arrive in Peiraeus in time for work in a dry-cleaning shop. He was suffering from varicose veins as a result of having to stand up all that: time and his legs bothered him a lot, but his love for his family made him forget his pain and discomfort. In fact he pitied himself constantly for not having, as he said any love in his heart, because he did not do any acts of Christian charity and praised his wife for being charitable Apparently, besides taking care of her children and her parents in-law, she would wash the clothes of some elderly men in the neighbourhood, tidy up their homes and even cook a little something, like soup, for them. 

 You could see divine Grace depicted on the face of this good family man. He had Christ in his heart and was full of joy, just like his one-room house was filled with heavenly bliss. Compare this man with people who do not have Christ in their heart; they are filled with anxiety. Take two of then and try to fit them in a house large enough for eleven people; they will not find a way to fit.
  Even some spiritual people will sometimes not be able to live together, no matter how much space they ­have available, because they don’t have the fullness of Christ in their heart. If the women of Pharasa could see our luxuries, especially in some Monasteries, they would say, “We have abandoned God and He will send down fire to burn us!”

  I remember them performing all their chores in matter of seconds. They had to take the goats out, first in the morning, and then tidy up the house. After that they would go to the Chapels or gather in caves and those who could read would read the Life of the Saints of the day. Next they would do their prostrations and say the Jesus Prayer. And they would work and work without getting tired. Those days, a woman had to know how to  mend clothes. And they would mend the clothes by hand; there were a few sewing machines in cities but no sewing machines in the villages and if I remember right, in the whole town of Pharasa there was one, maybe two they used to sew their family’s clothes and they were very comfortable to wear. They would also knit socks by hand. 

They had a caring taste (meraki) but they also had enough time for all these chores because they did things in a simple way. The people of Pharasa did not pay attention to details. They enjoyed the joy of monastic life. And if, for example, the blanket did not sit right from one side of the bed and you told them, “Straighten out the blanket,” they would respond, “Why, does it prevent you from praying?”

  This kind of joyful monastic life is unknown today. Most people believe that they should not go into any trouble, or be deprived of anything. But if they thought in monastic terms and lived with more simplicity, they could find the peace they are seeking. Instead, they are filled with anxiety and despair. They say, “So and so was very successful because he built two apartment buildings, or because he learned five languages and so on. And I do not even own one apartment and I do not even speak one foreign language. Oh, I am good for nothing!” A person with a car thinks, “This man has a better car; I should buy one too.” So he buys the better car, but he feels no joy because someone else has an even better one. He buys even better car but then he learns that others have their own private aeroplanes and he is unhappy again. 

There is no end to this. But a person who doesn’t have a car re­joices when he praises God. “Thank God,” he says, “even if I do not have a car, I have strong legs and I can walk. How many people are there in the world who do not have legs and cannot take care of their needs and go for walks? I at least have my legs!” And a lame person says, “There are some people who are missing both legs,” and that makes him rejoice.

  Ingratitude and greed cause a lot of harm. The person possessed by material things is always possessed by wor­ries and anxiety because he trembles at the thought that he may lose both his belongings and his soul. One suet wealthy man came from Athens and told me, “Father, my children will not listen to me anymore, I have lost them;” “How many children do you have,” I asked him. “Two” he said. “I raised them in luxury. They had everything they wanted. I even bought them a car,” In the course of  the conversation, I found out that he and his wife each had their own car.

 “Dear man,” I said, “instead of solving your problems you made them worse. Now you need a large garage to put all the cars and a mechanic to service them. You will have to pay him fourfold and moreover all four of you are in danger of killing yourselves at any time. On the contrary, if you had simplified your life your family would be united and you would have under­standing for each other, and none of the problems you are describing. It’s not your children’s fault. It is your fault for not trying to educate them in other ways.” A family ­does not need four cars, a garage and a mechanic and so on. Let one of you reach his destination a bit late. All these conveniences beget difficulties.

Another family man arrived at my Kalyvi (monk cell) once. He had family of five. He told me: “Father, we have a car and we are thinking of buying another two. It would help us a lot.” I said “Did you think of how difficult this is go­ing make your life? If you have one car you can easily park it somewhere; where are you going to put three of them? You will need a garage and an extra tank of fuel. And moreover, you will put your life in danger. It’s better to have only one car and limit your outings. You will have time to see your children. You will have peace of mind. Simplifying one’s life is the most important thing.” “I never thought of that,” he replied.

  –  Geronda (Elder in Greek), a man told us that twice he could not stop his car alarm. The first time it was due to a fly and the second time, he tried to get in the car the wrong way.
  – People’s lives are sheer misery because they do not simplify things. Most of the conveniences we have cause difficulties. Those who live in the world often suffocate from abundance. They have filled their life with gadgets and devices but this only makes it more difficult to enjoy it. If we don’t simplify things, one convenience will result into numerous difficulties and we will end up miserable.
  When we were little, we used to cut off the spool at the end and put a wedge in it, turning it into a nice and enjoyable game for ourselves. Small kids enjoy playing with a toy car much more than their father enjoys his new Mercedes. If one asks a little girl, “What do you want, a doll or an apartment building?” you will see that she will say “a doll”.  But in the end, small children too get to know the vanity of the world.

  – Geronda, what helps the most when one is trying to grasp the joy of austerity?
  - It helps if you can grasp the deeper meaning of life seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you. (Mt. 6:33).  Simplicity begins from there, so does every proper approach of life.

Interview with Bishop Kallistos Ware on Church and Nationalism

Bishop Kallistos Ware answers a question about the relationship between church and nation in an interview. 

The first thing that comes to my mind and nothing very surprising originally in what I’m going to say now is, we Orthodox have to reflect about the relationship between church and nation between faith and ethic culture. We recognize that in the last ten centuries in many parts of the Orthodox world, the universality the Church, it’s catholicity has been obscured by strong national loyalties, and that people have sometimes thought of themselves Greek, Serb or Russian before they think themselves as Orthodox Catholic Christens, and so the church has been often hijacked by a national agenda. 

This is still happening in Russia for example and Ukraine; there is an immense upsurge of nationalism following the fall of communism. There is also revival of the faith but there is a danger of two narrow a link being made between national identity and what it is to be a baptized Christian. So, I think we have to work on that one, but the church does get hijacked and becomes a common instrument for a national program.

I remember a Greek professor many years ago named Kalamiris said “strictly speaking we should not talk about the Greek Church, the Russian church, the Serbian church, we should talk about the Orthodox Catholic Church in Greece, the orthodox catholic church in Russia in Serbia, because what comes first is ‘I believe in one Holy Catholic and Apostolic church.’”

But! National values are very precious; I do not want to see a vague orthodox cosmopolitanism that does not stand for anything in particular. We must not simple throw all our traditions overboard and say ‘let’s just be Christians’ because Christianity has to be incarnated, in a particular culture. For example, here is a glass of water, what matters is the water inside the glass, but I can’t drink the water without the glass. Sometimes I can go to a mountain stream and drink its water, but I can’t do that everyday, especially here in Wichita America any many other places as to say *laughs*. 

Now what matters in a church point of view is the living water in the orthodox catholic faith but the national culture often acts as a glass so that we can receive this water. So we shouldn’t be too quick in America perhaps to throw aside all our national traditions, because after all America has its identity but its not clear what its meant to be an American orthodox, in a way that it is very clear what it means to be Serbian orthodox, Romanian orthodox, Arabic orthodox etc. In that way, we must not allow the national traditions to dominate and limit us, but we can use them.

St. Macarius of Egypt: What kind of change Christ works in the Christian


He that comes to God, and desires to be the person that sitteth with Christ upon his throne, ought to come to him upon this very view, that he may be changed from his former state and conversation; that he may be a new man, who carries nothing of the old man about him: “For if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” For our Lord Jesus Christ came for this very reason, that he might change, renew, and create afresh this soul that had been perverted by vile affections, tempering it with his own divine Spirit. He came to work a new mind, and a new soul, and new eyes, new ears, a new spiritual tongue; yea, to make them that believe in him new men, that he might pour into them the new wine, which is his Spirit.
For as the enemy, when he had gotten man into his own hands, wrought him anew for himself, having clothed him with vile affections, and poured into him the spirit of sin; so also the Lord, having redeemed him from the enemy, wrought him anew, and poured his own Spirit into him. For he that changed the nature of the burning fire to bedew them that were in the furnace, and for Daniel’s sake tamed the nature of the lions, can also transform the soul that was grown wild by sin into his own goodness and peace by the Holy Spirit of promise.
For as the shepherd can heal a diseased sheep and keep him from the wolves, so the true Shepherd is able to heal the sheep that was lost, even man from the leprosy of sin. The priests and Levites, and the teachers that were before, were never able to heal the soul by their oblations of gifts and sacrifices; yea, they were not able to heal themselves. “For it was not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sin.” But the Lord can heal every disease, and every sickness of the soul. And the true healing of the soul is from the Lord only.
The good shepherd therefore healeth the sheep. But the sheep itself can never heal the sheep. And unless man be healed, there is no entrance for him into the congregation of the Lord in heaven. Thus also was it said in the law through a shadow: “A leper shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord.” But he commanded the leper to go to the priest, who was to bring him into the house of his tabernacle, put his hands upon the leprosy, the place marked with the infection, and heal it. After the same manner, Christ, the true high priest of good things to come, in condescension to leprous souls, enters into the tabernacle of their body, takes care of their disorders, and healeth them. And thus will the soul be able to enter into the heavenly church of the saints of the true Israel. But every soul that bears the leprosy of sin in her affections, and will not come to the true high-priest and be taken care of now, finds no admission into the camp of the saints. It behoves therefore the soul that truly believeth in Christ, to be changed from her present nature into another nature, which is divine, and to be wrought new herself through the power of the Holy Spirit. And to obtain this, will be allowed to us who believe and love him in truth, and walk in all his holy commandments.
No man can of himself go over the sea unless he have a vessel, which is able to go upon the waters; after the same manner is it impossible for the soul to pass over the sea of sin, and the abyss of the powers of darkness unless it receive the Spirit of Christ that walks, and makes its way over all wickedness, by means of which he will arrive by a quick and straight passage at the heavenly port of rest.
But as a ship stands in need of a pilot, in order to sail well; the Lord himself is a pilot to the faithful soul, and conveys it through all the waves of wickedness, and the strong winds of sin, without Christ, it is impossible for any one to get over the wicked sea of the powers, of darkness. “They mount up”, says the Psalmist, “to the heavens, and go down again to the depths.” But he is well acquainted with the whole art of a pilot, and tramples upon their fierce waves. For he, says the apostle, “Having himself been tempted, is able to succour them that are tempted.”
We ought therefore to believe with our whole heart his unspeakable promises, to love the Lord, and to be industrious in all virtues, and to beg continually, that we may receive the promise of his Spirit entirely and perfectly; that so our souls might be quickened whilst we are yet in the flesh. For unless the soul shall in this world receive the sanctification of the Spirit through much faith and prayer, and be made partaker of the divine nature (through which it will be able without blame and in purity to per form every commandment), it is unfit for the kingdom of heaven. For whatever good a man has possessed in this world, the same shall in that day be his life, through the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit for ever! Amen.

St. Seraphim of Sarov on Love


Neither do walls or rich furniture make a home. Millionaires in magnificent mansions may never know a home. But where there are good relationships, where love binds the family together and to God, there happiness is always to be found. For good relationships are heaven anywhere. Monotony and misery cannot exist where there is love. But the fire of love must be kept burning warmly and brightly with the sweet wood of sacrifice. In teaching us to cross out the "I" out of life, our Lord tells us the secret of happiness; what the Saints call the ecstasy of self-forgetfulness. For divine love is always self-effacing, seeks to give rather than to receive, to serve rather than to be served, to love rather than to be loved, and will sacrifice anything for the beloved. Only then does love become a clean and holy fire in the heart, and not an ugly flare of lust.

1. On God

God is a fire that warms and kindles the heart and inward parts. Hence, if we feel in our hearts the cold which comes from the devil - for the devil is cold - let us call on the Lord. He will come to warm our hearts with perfect love, not only for Him but also for our neighbor, and the cold of him who hates the good will flee before the heat of His countenance. 
2. On Hope
All who have firm hope in God are raised to Him and illumined by the radiance of the eternal light. If a man does not let excessive concern for himself turn him away from love for God and for acts of virtue, then this hope is true and wise. But if a man places all his hope in his own affairs and turns to God with prayer only when unforseen misfortunes befall him, and seeing no means in his own powers to avert them begins to rely on the help of God, his hope is vain and deceptive. True hope seeks first of all the Kingdom of God, and is confident that every earthly necessity of temporal life will doubtless be given... The heart can have no peace so long as it does not acquire such hope... It is of this hope that our Savior's most holy words speak to us: "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are burdened, and I shall give you rest" (Matt. 11:28); that is, hope in Me and you shall be comforted in your labor and cares.

3. On Love for God

He who has achieved perfect love exists in this world as though he does not exist in it, for he considers himself a stranger to what is visible, and patiently awaits the invisible. He is wholly turned away from it towards love for God and forgetful of every other love. The soul, full of love or God, then leaves the body; it has no fear of the unsubstantial power of this world, but flies off with angels as though from a foreign land to a land of its own.

4. On the Preservation of Truths One has Come to Know

One should not open one's heart to another unnecessarily. Out of a thousand you will find only one that will preserve your secret.

With a person of this world, one must speak of worldly things, but with a man whose mind is of a spiritual nature one must speak of heavenly things.

5. On Talkativeness

An attentive man need but talk a lot with such as are of a contrary disposition for his inner self to be thrown into confusion.

But the really deplorable thing is that this results in the extinguishing of the fire which our Lord Jesus Christ came to re-establish in our hearts. For nothing so weakens the fire kindled in the heart of a monk by the Holy Spirit for the sanctification of his soul as communication and talk and chatter, excepting conversations with those who are sons of the divine mysteries, conversations for the restoration of the mind and for spiritual fellowship.

6. On Prayer

A man who has decided to serve the Lord God must practice awareness of God and uninterrupted prayer to Jesus Christ, mentally repeating: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner." After dinner one can say this prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, through the prayers of the Theotokos, have mercy upon me, a sinner;" or resort directly to the Most Holy Theotokos, praying: "Most Holy Theotokos, save us;" or repeating the angelic greeting: "Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos." With such exercise, with preservation from distraction and with the maintenance of peace of mind, it is possible to come to God and become one with Him. For, according to the words of Issac the Syrian, we cannot come near to God without uninterrupted prayer (Homily 69).

St. John Chrysostom well described the virtue of prayer. Prayer, he said, is a mighty weapon, an unlimited treasure, independent wealth, a quiet haven, a reservoir of silence; it is the root and the source and the mother of ten thousand blessings (Homily on Inscrutability, 5).

If in prayer it happens that the mind is caught up by distracting thoughts, then one should bow down to our Lord God and ask for forgiveness, saying: I have sinned, O Lord, in word, deed and thought, and all my senses.

One must always strive against giving in to mental distractions. Through these the soul is turned away from the consciousness of God and His love to the activity of the devil. As St. Macarios says: "All the eagerness of our enemy is to turn our thought away from remembrance of God and of fear and love of Him" (Homily 2, Ch. 15).

When the mind and the heart are united in prayer, and nothing disturbs the soul's contemplation, then the heart is warmed by spiritual heat and the light of Christ operates, filling the whole inner man with peace and joy.

7. On Sorrow

A soul filled with sorrow, made mindless and frenzied, cannot either accept good advice or answer proffered questions with gentleness. Whoever masters passions masters sorrow as well.

He who loves the world cannot but sorrow, whereas he who has turned away from the world is eternally joyous.

As fire purifies gold, so sorrow that is in accord with God purifies a sinful heart.

8. On Despondency

Just as the Lord cares for our salvation, so the devil, the killer of men, strives to lead man to despondency.

When despondency seizes us, let us not give in to it. Rather, fortified and protected by the light of faith, let us with great courage say to the spirit of evil: "What are you to us, you who are cut off from God, a fugitive from Heaven, and a slave of evil? You dare not do anything to us: Christ, the Son of God, has dominion over us and over all. Leave us, you thing of bane. We are made steadfast by the uprightness of His Cross. Serpent, we trample on your head."

9. On Patience and Humility

One should always endure all things with gratitude, for God's sake.

Our life is but a minute in comparison with eternity. Therefore, according to the Apostle, "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).

When someone disparages and abuses you, try as far as possible to forgive him, in accordance with the Gospel: "Of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again" (Luke 6:30).

When people revile us, we should consider ourselves unworthy of praise. If we were worthy, all would defer to us.

We should always and foremost humble ourselves, following the teaching of St. Isaac of Syria: "Humble yourself and you will behold the glory of God."

Therefore let us love humility, and we shall behold the glory of God. His glory is imparted to us in proportion as we become humble.

If there were no light all things would be dark. Similarly, without humility there is nothing in man but darkness.
10. On Care of the Soul

We should have every concern for our soul, and should strengthen our body for this reason only, that it may assist in the strengthening of the soul.

Voluntarily to exhaust our body to the point that the spirit is exhausted is an unreasonable mortification, even if it is done to acquire virtue.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ministry of the Laity By Fr N. Afanassieff

As the title of this article shows, it confines itself to the ministry of the laity within the Church; it does not deal with the very varied forms of lay ministry outside the Church. I recognize the disadvantages involved in restricting my subject in this way, but in my view the ministry of the laity within the Church is much more important than their ministry outside it, because the latter is to a large extent determined by the former. Moreover, the question of the ministry of the laity outside the Church is not a complicated problem for the Orthodox conscience. The Orthodox Church has always accepted and fully approved the principle of the laity undertaking missionary work, education, scientific and social work.
Most of the time the Orthodox Church left the laity almost complete freedom in this field of their activity, merely insisting on a minimum of supervision from the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

Today the doctrine of the laity occupies a central position in theology. This may represent an attempt to appreciate the role of the laity after centuries of passivity in the Catholic Church and (to a certain extent) in the Orthodox Church. The problem of the laity has now been raised, and this fact alone is of value, because it shows a change of mind within ecclesiastical thought; at the same time it may be regarded as "a sign of the times." The laity are regarded as a special state within the Church, differing almost ontologically from the "clergy," and having definite duties and (more rarely) rights and its own activities, all of which have undergone considerable changes during the course of history. This conception of the laity is a heritage of medieval Catholicism, which still carries much weight in contemporary theology. The Catholic theologians always speak of "the Church of the laity" and "the Church of the priests," (Y.M.J. Congar, Jalons pour une theologie du laicat. Paris, 1954, p.223) which shows that there is a split in the theological concept of the Church, the one Body of Christ.

In The Early Church

It is hardly surprising that the question of the laity never arose in the Early Church. In accordance with the ecclesiological consciousness of the time, the Church (being one body) always acted as a whole; any action taken by part of its members involved the action of the whole Church, and any action undertaken by the Church was undertaken by all its members. To use contemporary terms, which were coined at an early date (at any rate they were known to Tertullian), action undertaken by the laity was also action undertaken by the hierarchy of the Church; and action undertaken by the latter was also action undertaken by the laity. They could not act independently, because neither of them constitutes the Church when separated from the other.

In the writings of the Apostles we only find the word "laos" = the people of God, which included all the members of the Church whatever their position. (As far as we know the word laikos was used for the first time by Clement of Rome.) That does not mean that at the time of the apostles (and in the periods which followed) all the members of the Church formed a sort of amorphous mass in which there were no distinctions; or that at that time the situation within the Church was as described by Tertullian and opposed by him when he wrote about the Gnostics: "Today they have one bishop, tomorrow a different one; a man who is a deacon today will be a reader tomorrow; a man who is a priest today will be a layman tomorrow." (Praescript., c. XLI, 8.) Ever since the time of the Apostles there has been a differentiation between the members of the Church based on the diversity of the ministries accomplished by the members of the Church. In other words, the differentiation was functional, not ontological.

A Permanent Ministry

Life in the Church, to which every Christian is called, is a permanent ministry, in which the Christian serves God through the Church, and serves the Church itself. "For the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many," (Mark 10:45; cf. Matt. 20:28.) This was the new principle, hitherto unknown to human society, which was the basis of the Church's life. (Th. W.N.T., B. II., page 81.) In the Church, life and ministry are one and the same, because in the Church the Holy Spirit, by which and in which the Church lives, forms the principle of activity. Where the Spirit is, there is life also, and hence action and ministry. The whole of St. Paul's doctrine about "the work of the ministry" is based on the words of Christ quoted above. The work of ministry is incumbent upon all the members of the Church, but they do not all minister in the same way; they render service in accordance with the gifts they have received (1. Cor. 12:4-6).

The facts given in the New Testament writings, especially in the Epistles of St. Paul, enable us to distinguish between two kinds of ministry within the Church: one accomplished by the whole people; the other accomplished by certain persons who were specially called. Owing to this, a difference developed between the members who exercised a special ministry and those who exercised the general ministry. During the course of the historical process which I have no time to describe here, this fundamental division between the members of the Church has led to the formation of two groups: the laity and the ecclesiastical hierarchy. This differentiation is based on the diversity between the forms of ministry; it does not mean that some members had ministries and other had not. But during the course of history in the Western Church, and to some extent in the Eastern Church also, the laity were deprived of their ministry; the fact that there can be no inactive members in the Church was forgotten.

The ministry of the laity is the manifestation of the ministry of the whole people of God. The laity serve in the Church when the whole of God's people serves. Hence in the Church nothing is done without the people, for the Church is the people of God gathered together "in Christ." The laity, as members of God's people, take part in everything that happens in the Church, but they do so in accordance with the ministry to which God's people is called.

The Ministry Of The Laity

After this brief introduction of general premises, I can tackle the question of the ministry of the laity in the Church. At present, in accordance with the doctrine of the Orthodox Church (and with that of the Catholic Church) ministry in the Church is expressed in three domains; the liturgy, church-government and teaching. Catholic theology resolutely excludes the laity from all these activities in the Church, considering that they belong solely to the competence of the clergy. Only recently a few timid attempts have been made to reconsider this question. The Orthodox Church is far less categorical in this domain, and in fact the actual life of the church is to a large extent a contradiction of its "manual theology." According to this theology, the laity "undergo" the sacramental acts (so to speak), but do not accomplish them; the laity do not participate in the fulfillment of the sacraments. On the other hand the laity have recently been admitted to an important share in the government of the church, and even to some extent in its teaching. It is one of the paradoxes of our contemporary life that the laity are excluded from the priesthood, although they are called to it as members of God's people in the sacrament of aggregation to the Church.

On entering the Church each member is installed in the Church (through the sacrament of aggregation) for the ministry of the general priesthood. "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (I Peter 2:9; cf. Rev. 1:6; Rev. 5:10). From the time of Tertullian a vast number of misconceptions accumulated around the doctrine of the royal priesthood. On the one hand there was a tendency to minimize this doctrine to such an extent that it became nothing but a meaningless formula. On the other hand we find erroneous conceptions of this doctrine which consider any member of the Church as a priest entitled to accomplish any of the acts of the Liturgy. Under the influence of the individualism that has penetrated into church life, we are inclined to consider the pronounced "you" (in the biblical texts quoted above) as being addressed to isolated members of the Church. But in actual fact the pronoun "you" in the New Testament writings does not indicate several persons together, but refers to a whole body - in this case to all the Christians gathered in a church assembly, in other words the Church as God's people. Every member is really installed with a view to the royal priesthood, but he does not fulfill it for himself or for others; he only fulfills it when liturgical acts are fulfilled by the Church as a whole, i.e. when God's people is gathered with its head (Greek: proistamenos) in the church assembly.


It Is Not The Priest Alone

Among the many examples of this in the writings of the early fathers, I will merely quote that of Saint John Chrysostom: "It is not the priest alone who renders thanks (he is speaking of the Eucharist): it is the whole people.'' (John Chrysostom. In II Cor. XVIII, 3.) The Eucharist is celebrated by the whole people, but only when its chief is at its head, for without him there is no people; in the same way, there is no head unless the people are present also.

According to the expression of Theodore of Mopsuestia, the bishop is "the mouth-piece of the Church", for it is through him and in him that the ministry of the priesthood accomplished by God's people is manifested. This means that every Christian present, as a member of God's people, is cooperating with the bishop whenever he accomplishes a Liturgical act.

This con-celebration by the laity is effective and real, not ceremonial. In the Liturgy the laity are not passive - for those whom God has appointed to the ministry of the royal priesthood cannot be passive. On the contrary, they participate actively; the liturgical acts are performed by the head of the Church with the con-celebration of the laity. The feeling is deeply rooted in the Orthodox Church (though it is not always translated in actual life) that the bishop or priest cannot celebrate the Eucharist without the people, and the people cannot celebrate the Eucharist without the bishop. The people is appointed for the service of the royal priesthood, and the bishop is appointed to preside over the people. ‘Thou has made us unto our God kings and priests; and we shall reign on earth" (Rev. 5:10.) This refers to all, and not to some. It means that Christ has made all His followers into God's people, so that they may serve their God and their Father (Rev. 1:6) in the Church and through the Church, to serve Him when God's people is gathered under the leadership of their head whom God has appointed to this ministry.

The Role Of The Church Member In Governance And Teaching

The priesthood belongs to God's people as a whole, and every member plays an active part in the Liturgy as co-minister with his bishop. But in what way do the church members participate in church-government and in the Church's teaching? Are they the co-ministers of their bishops in these spheres also? As we know, since early times the people of God was governed and instructed by those who had been set to the ministries of government and teaching. "He gave some (to be) apostles; and some (to be) prophets; and some (to be) evangelists; and some (to be) pastors and teachers" (Eph. ~:11, cf. I Cor. 12,28.) Like teaching, government is a special ministry in the Church for which special gifts are indispensable. Among God's people there were always some who carried out these ministries. Those who were so destined were called by God not in the sacrament of "baptism by water and the spirit" but by the sacrament of ordination, in which they received special gifts. If church-government and teaching are special gifts of the Spirit which are not given to everyone, but only to those who are called, that means that God's people as a whole do not possess that gift. Church-government and teaching are prerogatives of those who are specially called, and not of the whole of God's people. The people does not govern itself nor instruct itself; it is governed and instructed by its pastors, in accordance with the will of God who gave the work of the ministry. Since they do not possess the gifts of government or of teaching, the faithful cannot be co-members of the bishop in the spheres of government and teaching.

Does this mean that in the sphere of government and teaching the faithful are entirely passive? The government and teaching carried out by the bishops does not exclude the participation of the faithful, but their participation is of a different kind from the work of the bishops. The people does not possess the gifts of government and teaching, but it does possess the gifts of "judgment" and of investigation, which are a special kind of ministry entrusted to the Church as God's people. "Let the prophets speak, two or three; and let the others judge" (I Cor. 14:29; cf. I Thess. 5:21). The task of the people is to "judge" and examine what goes on in the Church; that is the ministry of witness which springs from the ministry of the royal priesthood.

The Ministry of Witness

The bishop governs God's people not in his own name (ex sese) and not as a "right" (as if he received the power from the people), but in the name of God, because he is set by God "in Christ" for the ministry of government. Thanks to the fact that it possesses the gifts of investigation and of "judgment," the people testifies that everything which happens in the Church (under the leadership of its pastors) is done in accordance with God's will according to the revelation of the Spirit. In the early Church the people participated in all the acts of the church - receiving catechumens and penitents, ordination, excommunication, etc. For all later times the early Church presented a pattern of church unity, in which the Church as a whole, and every individual member, lived and worked in accordance with God's will. The bishop governs God's people not in isolation from it, but from within the midst of his flock (Acts 20:28); and the faithful are governed by their bishop not passively but with their own active participation, thanks to full knowledge of what is happening in the Church and testimony concerning what is God's will.

In the early Church this testimony was expressed through the consent given by the people to everything that was to be done in the Church, and through the reception of what had happened in it as being in accordance with God's will. However, it would be a mistake to think that the consent of the people had a juridical quality, like that given in representative bodies today. The words "consent" and "reception" do not mean that the people expressed its personal opinion or desire concerning the accomplishments of this or the other church act. The church authorities were not dependent upon the faithful's will, which had not enough authority of its own to take action. The Church does not live and act through the will of men, but through the will of God. Consent and acceptance mean that in accordance with the testimony of the Church the bishops teach and govern according to the will of God.

That is the basis on which the faithful participate in church-government, and in teaching. It was observed only during the first centuries. After the time of Constantine the organization of the Church no longer gave any room to the people's ministry of witness and today it has become practically impossible. I cannot trace here the whole history of lay participation in church government. I can only state that little by little the laity had less and less share in it, and sometimes none at all. (The Orthodox Church always retained the idea that it was necessary for the laity to share in the activity of the Church; in proof of this one can quote the epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs, and especially the decisions of the Council of Moscow of 1917/18.)

Reviving The Work Of The Laity

But the norm remains the same, for it corresponds to the nature of the Church. Even if it cannot be fully applied today, this norm shows us which course we ought to take if we want to revive the work of the laity in the Church. It is thought that we can do so by inviting some representatives elected by the laity to share in church-government, side by side with the bishop. (It was in conformity with this way of thinking that the laity were called by the Council of Moscow to participate in the government of the Church. But its decisions have only been applied by the Russian Churches abroad.) Perhaps this is the easiest way to revive the work of the laity in church-government. But does it correspond to the nature of the Church and to its doctrine of the ministries? How can ordinary elections of lay representatives (on the same lines as modern political elections) really endow them with the ministry of government and confer upon them the grace required for this ministry? And if the representatives elected by the laity do not possess the gift of government, how can they govern the Church? It is surprising that this question is not even raised when speaking of the laity.

In the Church the different forms of ministry can only be fulfilled through the gift of the Spirit; hence the persons who fulfill those ministries must be appointed by the Church. Orthodox theology, like Catholic theology, regards ordination in the Church as a sacrament, i.e. as an act of the Church whereby the gifts of the Spirit requested in the Church's prayers are bestowed by God. Ordination, therefore, does not mean the appointment, election or nomination by the congregation of persons whom it would like to fulfill a certain ministry. Neither the bishop himself, nor the congregation by itself, can nominate anyone to a ministry in the Church, for it is God Himself who calls His servants to exercise such ministries. "And He gave some..." (Eph. 4:11.) Moreover when the laity are admitted to church-government by election or nomination, the following question arises: if certain laymen participate in the government of the Church does that really mean that God's people is participating in it?

For God's people it does not matter whether the bishop governs alone or whether he is helped by lay representatives. It does not matter because in both cases the people is not exercising the ministry of witness to which it is called by God, and which is its particular ministry in church-government. The people cannot transfer this ministry to representatives, because it belongs to the people as a whole, and not to separate members. Democratic principles, however perfect, have no place in the Church, for the Church is not a democracy; it is the people of God chosen by God and appointed by Him to serve Him in the Church. The activity of God's people has nothing to do either with universal suffrage or with representative government, for it depends on grace. The laity, as such, cannot govern and teach in the Church with those who have received the gifts of the Spirit, and who are called to govern and to teach in the House of God.

Ministries Based On The Gifts Of The Spirit

In order to agree with the doctrine of the Church one could follow the same course, taking one's stand however on grace and not on law. We know that the multiplicity of ministries has gradually disappeared from the life of the Church and been replaced in fact by one single ministry: the priesthood. Does not our time demand the revival by the Church of certain ministries which existed in former times, or even the creation of new ministries? Without a doubt, the new conditions in the life of the Church require new ministries. Like the ministries at the time of the apostles, these ministries should be based on the gifts of the Spirit in order to correspond to the nature of the Church. In other words, the persons to whom the Church would entrust these ministries should be appointed by the Church.

If it is indispensable to create a Council for the government of the Church, in addition to the bishop, why not revive the ancient ministry of the presbyters, who would be elected by the Church and established for the ministry of government, as the members of the Presbyterium were in early times? If the hierarchy of the Church seeks persons to be teachers, why not revive the ancient ministry of the Didascales ? But in the strict sense of the word , both will cease to be laity, because they will be accomplishing a special ministry in the Church. By clinging to the legal sphere, we bring about a confusion of ministries, because we admit the laity (who always remain what they are) to ministries which are not within their competence. And according to the will of God, the ministries must not be confused, but differentiated. Furthermore, in this way we create ministries which are devoid of grace, thus introducing into the Church the notion of differentiation between the sacred and the secular - whereas in reality everything in the Church is sacred, nothing is secular.

Hand In Hand

The revival of the ministries exercised in the early Church should go hand in hand with a revival of the ministry of witness of the whole people, for we must revert to a form of church-life in which the people participates in all its activities. In this connection we should recall the words of Cyprian of Carthage, which have been forgotten during the course of history: "From the very beginning of my episcopacy I made it a rule not to take any decision without your advice (i.e. the advise of the Presbyters) and without the agreement of the people." (Epist. XIV, 4.) 

Christians, who are living members of the Body of Christ, live in the Church. Their lives are a constant ministry, which begins as soon as they enter the Church and are established as God's kings and priests. Life in the Church means life with the Church. Hence God's people participates in every manifestation of the Church's life. If any sphere of it were closed to God's people, that would mean that there is a secular sphere within the Church, or that the faithful have ceased to be God's people. 

It is in the sphere of the Liturgy that the ministry of the faithful has been most actively shown; the faithful are, in the real sense of the word, co-ministers with their bishop. In the sphere of church-government and teaching, God's people is governed and taught by those who have been appointed to those ministries. In these spheres the gift of witness belongs to God's people, which testifies that the bishops appointed by God in the sacrament of order are governing and teaching in accordance with God's will. The ministry exercised by the bishop and the ministries exercised by the faithful are different ministries which cannot be confused, but which cannot exist without one another. This difference of ministries is conditioned by the diversity of the gifts of the Spirit. "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all." (1. Cor. 12:4-6.)

This article is reprinted with permission from The Ecumenical Review, April 1958 (No. 3, Vol. X), World Council of Churches, Geneva.

Fr. Afanassieff was a noted Orthodox theologian and a former professor at St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute, Paris, France.

3 Wishes - Fr. Thomas Hopko

My Three Wishes

by Fr Thomas Hopko

Since I travel a lot around the USA and Canada, I'm often asked what I think about our churches. When that happens, I always mention my three wishes.

My first wish is that our church buildings would be neater, and that holy things would be treated with greater respect. Our churches, and the offices, rooms and halls in and around them, are often quite messy. Icons, crosses, winding sheets, vestments, service books, calendars and educational materials are often scattered around. They are piled on tables and chairs, left on the floor, or stuffed carelessly in closets and cabinets. Empty wine and oil bottles, dried up flowers, palms and branches, candle stubs and boxes, and all kinds of ecclesiastical paraphernalia, are often strewn around the altar area, and in adjoining rooms and offices. Church halls and rooms also often abound with the depressing remnants of classes, meetings, sales, parties and projects.

A special part of my "first wish" is that churches in temporary quarters, and even some churches in permanent buildings, would not use cast-off or poorly made altar tables, liturgical stands, candle stands, icon screens, icons, holy pictures, altar covers, vestments and server's robes that often don't fit, and should have been discarded long ago, or never used in the first place. It is spiritually more effective, in my opinion to have a few good, simple and beautiful things in church, rather than lots of old, expensive and worn out stuff. I also wish that when church things need to be packed and unpacked, greater care would be taken that they be neat and presentable.

My second wish is that greater care would be exercised in assigning people to do things in church. Some priests, deacons, servers, singers and church officers are incapable of performing their duties. Sometimes they just can't do them. Sometimes they could do them if they were better trained. And sometimes they try to do things beyond their competence, including things that they don't really have to do, like, for example, singing to difficult liturgical music at church services, or following rubrics too legalistically.

When people read, sing or serve in church only because they "have always done it, and we can't replace them," or they "have to be included or need to have a turn," or because "they need something to do," or because "it's cute," as in the case of children, or because "we have to get through this somehow," the result is that the people who come to church dismiss what is done as trivial and unimportant. The same is true when people who can't make icons, sew vestments, build furniture, or even design buildings, are allowed, and even encouraged, to do so, with their poor products being used, sometimes for many years. More than one person has remarked to me that our churches seem to be the only places where people who can't do things are permitted, and even encouraged and assigned, to do them.

My third wish has to do with words. I feel so sorry for words, and for those who have to hear them, in most of our churches. Words in church, like words everywhere, are to be used and pronounced properly. Our clergy, singers and readers often pronounce and accent words wrongly, not only in foreign languages, but even in English, sometimes even when they know what is correct. They do this because of the way the reading, chanting and singing are done in their traditional non-English languages and cultural styles. This, in my view, again causes people not to take what is said and sung in church as serious, important and meaningful for their "real lives." Experiencing the way reading, singing and serving are done in some of our churches almost makes one feel as if the church were some sort of game or hobby for those who like to do such things.

Because I'm mostly invited to preach when I visit churches, I don't get to hear many sermons. But when I do, I have the impression that the preachers don't spend much time and energy in preparing their words. In most instances the scripture readings, verses and hymns at the service are not the main inspiration for the sermons. And it seems that the lack of care in this area has nothing to do with education or charisma. In fact sometimes those who are less trained and less gifted actually speak more effectively than those who know a lot and speak easily because they prepare themselves better and work harder at their task.

Though I don't get to hear many sermons in our churches, I do get to hear many greetings, announcements, appeals for contributions and requests for participation in events and projects. I shudder over how many powerful and beautiful services and sacraments in our churches are spoiled by the careless, lengthy and sometimes even frivolous ways in which this necessary duty is often done. I believe that greetings, announcements and appeals have to be prepared as carefully as sermons, with a brevity, dignity and sobriety that befit words that are spoken in church. I also believe that these necessary words should be said at the end of church services, and sermons should be delivered at some point within them, normally after the scripture readings.

So my third wish is that those who preach, read, chant, sing and speak in our churches would be more respectful of words.

My "three wishes" for our Orthodox churches in the USA and Canada, therefore, are these. I wish for clean, neat and orderly church buildings, sanctuaries, offices and halls; with proper appointments and equipment, and greater love and respect for "holy things." I wish for capable clergy, readers, singers, servers, musicians, iconographers, architects and church workers who demonstrate the importance and seriousness of what is said, done and shown in church. And I wish for the careful and respectful use of words in church, with proper pronunciation and accenting.

Having revealed my "three wishes," I'm delighted to say that I have seen committed, careful and capable clergy and people in our churches who perform their duties admirably. Their ministries are truly inspiring, enlightening, encouraging and edifying for those whom they serve.

May God guide us all, as we work for His glory and the good of His people.


Fr. Thomas Hopko's 55 Maxims

WHAT ARE THE BASIC elements of a victorious Christian life?

In response to a request, the Rev. Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir's Theological Seminary, prepared a list of 55 Maxims for Christian Living.

As we are in the midst of Great Lent, he read and discussed this list in the most recent episode of the podcast Speaking the Truth in Love:

1. Be always with Christ.

2. Pray as you can, not as you want.

3. Have a keepable rule of prayer that you do by discipline.

4. Say the Lord’s Prayer several times a day.

5. Have a short prayer that you constantly repeat when your mind is not occupied with other things.

6. Make some prostrations when you pray.

7. Eat good foods in moderation.

8. Keep the Church’s fasting rules.

9. Spend some time in silence every day.

10. Do acts of mercy in secret.

11. Go to liturgical services regularly.

12. Go to confession and communion regularly.

13. Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings. Cut them off at the start.

14. Reveal all your thoughts and feelings regularly to a trusted person.

15. Read the scriptures regularly.

16. Read good books a little at a time.

17. Cultivate communion with the saints.

18. Be an ordinary person.

19. Be polite with everyone.

20. Maintain cleanliness and order in your home.

21. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.

22. Exercise regularly.

23. Live a day, and a part of a day, at a time.

24. Be totally honest, first of all, with yourself.

25. Be faithful in little things.

26. Do your work, and then forget it.

27. Do the most difficult and painful things first.

28. Face reality.

29. Be grateful in all things.

30. Be cheerful.

31. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.

32. Never bring attention to yourself.

33. Listen when people talk to you.

34. Be awake and be attentive.

35. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.

36. Speak simply, clearly, firmly and directly.

37. Flee imagination, analysis, figuring things out.

38. Flee carnal, sexual things at their first appearance.

39. Don’t complain, mumble, murmur or whine.

40. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.

41. Don’t seek or expect praise or pity from anyone.

42. We don’t judge anyone for anything.

43. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.

44. Don’t defend or justify yourself.

45. Be defined and bound by God alone.

46. Accept criticism gratefully but test it critically.

47. Give advice to others only when asked or obligated to do so.

48. Do nothing for anyone that they can and should do for themselves.

49. Have a daily schedule of activities, avoiding whim and caprice.

50. Be merciful with yourself and with others.

51. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.

52. Focus exclusively on God and light, not on sin and darkness.

53. Endure the trial of yourself and your own faults and sins peacefully, serenely, because you know that God’s mercy is greater than your wretchedness.

54. When you fall, get up immediately and start over.

55. Get help when you need it, without fear and without shame.


Vatican II and the Orthodox Bishops by Fr. Thomas Hopko


Orthodox Christians devoted to accountability are surely aware that accountability in behavior cannot be separated from accountability in understanding since practice (praxis) is necessarily connected to vision (theoreia).
This conviction inspires me, given the present state of things, to raise the following question:
"Is it possible that the teaching of the Second Vatican Council about the ministry of bishops in the Roman Catholic Church is now being taught and practiced in an adapted and altered form in our Orthodox churches today?"
Let me explain why I raise such a question.
According to the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church, following Vatican I and the Council of Trent, bishops are not organically connected to the specific dioceses in which they serve. They rather have their episcopal position and power by virtue of their personal sacramental consecration as bishops. They are, so to speak, considered to be bishops in their own right, and not in virtue of their ministries as heads and overseers of actually existing ecclesial communities to which they belong. As such, they can be moved about from church to church, and even function in bureaucratic positions with titles of sees that no longer exist and therefore without being the leading member of any particular church, and without having any flock at all.
In this teaching and practice, bishops are not elected by the people of their dioceses and confirmed by all the bishops of the regional church to which they belong who, as brother bishops, affirm their election by first examining their faith and behavior, and then, when all is found to be acceptable, by consecrating them through the “laying on of hands.” They are rather appointed directly by the Pope of Rome. While their validity as bishops derives from their sacramental consecration, their legitimacy as bishops derives from their communion with the Pope, and their submission to him.
Together with the Pope, and under his immediate direction, and in obedience to his unique authority considered to derive directly from God (whatever “politicking” may have produced him by vote of the qualified bishops in the college of cardinals, all Vatican-appointed men with titular pastorates of churches in the diocese of Rome), the bishops as consecrated individuals corporately form a “college” (collegium) that governs the universal catholic Church. And, as just noted, they do so by virtue of their union with the See of Rome and in submission to its bishop who is believed to be the unique “successor of Peter” and “vicar of Christ” and “supreme pontiff of the Church” who possesses direct and immediate episcopal authority and jurisdiction over every member of the universal church, including all the other bishops, and who also possesses the authority to speak infallibly on matters of faith and morals when speaking from the chair of Peter (ex cathedra Petri) not from the consensus of the Church (ex consensu ecclesiae) but rather in, by and from himself (ex sese).
In this understanding, the bishops of a regional Roman Catholic Church like, for example, the RCC of the United States or the RCC of Canada, may for practical purposes form a local “episcopal assembly”. In the United States such an assembly exists. It is called The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). This conference elects its president and officers. It hires its employees and operates its offices. It organizes and coordinates certain ecclesial activities. It makes statements about church teachings and policies. It represents the Catholic Church in public life. And it leads and represents the regional Catholic Church as a whole, i.e. as a federation of Catholic archdioceses and dioceses in the USA. But this assembly of bishops has no ecclesial or ecclesiastical status whatsoever. According to Roman Catholic doctrine, it is not essential to the Church’s being and it need not exist. As the saying goes, it may be established for the church’s “well being” (bene esse) while being not at all necessary to the church’s “very being” (esse). It is not a canonical body. It is not an episcopal synod. It has no official place or status in the Church’s essential structure. It surely does not govern a self-governing church in communion with all other self-governing churches. It exists and operates exclusively under the direction of the Pope of Rome and the Vatican’s curial officers who are appointed by the Pope and answerable to him alone.
The Orthodox Church, of course, has no infallible Pope who exercises direct and immediate episcopal jurisdiction over all the Church’s members in the world, including the other bishops. It has no bishop of any see that can speak in any way binding on all the faithful in matters of faith and morals.
[Those interested in this subject should read the decrees of Vatican II, especially the decree on the constitution of the Church called Lumen Gentium. They may also read John O’Malley’s book recently published by Harvard University Press called "What Happened at Vatican II" And on the relationship between the RCC “episcopal assembly” in the US and the Vatican, Archbishop Rembert Weakland’s memoir published by Eerdmans entitled "A Pilgrim in an Pilgrim Church" is especially instructive and illuminating.]

The Orthodox Church, of course, has no infallible Pope who exercises direct and immediate episcopal jurisdiction over all the Church’s members in the world, including the other bishops. It has no bishop of any see that can speak in any way binding on all the faithful in matters of faith and morals. It has no curia. It has no magisterium. It has no college of cardinals. It has no international advisory council of bishops from around the world. It has no “ecumenical council”, or a council of any kind, that can be considered authoritative, still less infallible, before its decisions are taken and are universally accepted – or perhaps rejected — by all the churches that recognize each other as Orthodox.
According to traditional Orthodoxy, using the celebrated third century formula of St. Cyprian of Carthage in his controversy with the bishop of Rome, Christ’s Church knows no “bishop of bishops” (episcopus episcoporum). The “episcopate is one” (episcopatus unus est) and all of the Church’s bishops hold the same episcopal authority and exercise the same episcopal service “in solidarity” (in solidum) with each other. The holy hieromartyr also teaches that the bishop of every church who makes St. Peter’s confession of faith and receives the Holy Spirit with the authority of “binding and loosing”, sits on the “seat of Peter” (cathedra Petri.) And St. Cyprian also holds, as proven by his famous letter 69, that the bishop in his own church does nothing by himself, but acts in everything in harmony with the church’s “common council” to which, as a member and head of the church, he is accountable for everything he says and does.
These convictions, formulated so clearly and so well by St. Cyprian, are proclaimed and defended by all Orthodox doctrines and canons through the centuries. They are also demonstrated in Orthodox liturgy, including the rites of election and consecration of bishops. The Orthodox Church unequivocally rejects the teachings of Vatican Council I about the special position, prerogatives and powers of the Bishop of Rome. And today the Orthodox Church, it seems to me, should also reject the explanation of Vatican II about how bishops function in the Church, and how they and their churches are to relate to each other, including even to autocephalous churches and their primates.
So what might a version of the Vatican II doctrine about bishops look like in the Orthodox Church?
It might be that Orthodox “episcopal assemblies” will be established and organized not by an “apostolic see” with special powers, but by common agreement of the synods and primates of the world’s autocephalous churches. These “episcopal assemblies” will come into being in regions where no common autocephalous Orthodox church, with its synod of bishops headed by its episcopal primate, exists. The bishops of the autocephalous churches that are virtually all “national” or “ethnic” in character will control their bishops and dioceses in these regions even when the majority of their members are no longer of the ethnicity or nationality of the autocephalous church to which they belong. The names of the primates of the autocephalous churches will be raised in the liturgies of the churches that belong to them in the given region, either in all the churches, or just by the bishops, or just by the local primates. The synods of the autocephalous church will appoint the bishops and organize their dioceses in the region, or will at least confirm or reject local elections and decisions. And then, all the bishops in the regions belonging to different autocephalous churches will together form an “episcopal assembly” under the joint direction and corporate guidance of the autocephalous churches to which they belong led by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Thus the autocephalous churches will act together as a kind of “corporate Orthodox papacy” governing the regional episcopal assemblies whose actions will be subject to their review, revision and even ultimate rejection if they consider that to be necessary.
In this understanding, the regional “episcopal assemblies” will, for example, be allowed, and even encouraged, to undertake common missionary, educational and philanthropic activities, and to represent Orthodoxy in social and governmental activities. They may also be allowed to organize their dioceses as they see fit, and to care for all legal, fiduciary and financial matters as they decide. But only the synods of bishops of the autocephalous churches under the direction of their primates will ultimately approve or disapprove their activities. Only they will have authentic synodical status and genuine canonical authority. The local, regional assemblies of bishops will have none at all. They will not elect their own officers, but will be structured according to the order of the autocephalous churches. In the United States this would mean Constantinople would be first, then Antioch, the Moscow, etc. They will remain subject to the universal “collegium” in which they are included by virtue of their membership in the given autocephalous churches to which they belong. Thus the regional “episcopal assembly” will exist and operate solely within the areas and conditions that the universal “collegium” allows them. They will not elect their own bishops, at least not without approval subject to certain conditions of the autocephalous churches to which they belong. And they will certainly not be self-governing “sister churches” equal to and identical with all the others, however much it may be claimed that this is the ultimate goal of their existence.
Given the origin and history of the Orthodox ecclesiastical “jurisdictions” in North America, and given the behavior of the autocephalous churches, and given the activities to date of the United States Episcopal Assembly and the relationship of its “member jurisdictions” to the old world patriarchates from which they originate, one can only hope that what we are now experiencing is not the working out of an “Orthodoxized” version of the Vatican II doctrine. Time will tell as the process goes on. And what will surely be told as time goes by is how our Orthodox bishops in North America and throughout the world understand themselves, and their episcopal service in their own churches, and their relationship to each other in their local regions, and their relationship to all the Orthodox Churches that make up Christ’s holy Church in the world as a whole.

Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko
Dean Emeritus, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary

Friday, February 18, 2011

Injustice Is a Great Sin by Elder Paisios of Mount Athos

(ELDER PAISIOS OF MOUNT ATHOS : Spiritual Counsels with pain and love for Contemporary Man", Part 1, Chapter 4, p. 87-104, Holy Monastery "Evangelist John the Theologian" SOUROTI, THESSALONIKI, GREECE)

Injustice Draws the Wrath of God

It is important for a man to have God's blessing. It is great wealth! What God blesses will stand firm; it will not crumble. Whatever is not blessed, will crumble. Injustice is a great sin. All sins have some "ex­tenuating circumstances", but injustice has none. Injust­ice draws the wrath of God. It is a tremendous thing! Those who commit injustice set their heads on fire. You see them do all kinds of injustices, and then their loved ones die and they seem not to care at all. How can people who are so unjust prosper? They do the things they do, they give the devil rights over them, and for this reason they suffer so much, they get sick and so on and then they come to you and say, "Pray that I get well!"

Most bad and harmful things happen when we wrong other people. For example, when a fortune is made un­justly, the owners may live a few years like royalty, but, in the end, they will spend all their money on doctors. Remember the saying: "What is gathered by the wind is also scattered by the wind." Or remember what the Psalm says, “Better is a little that the righteous hath than the abundance of many wicked” (1). What they collect is spent, blown away. Rarely will an illness, a bankruptcy and so on be sent as a trial from God. In such cases, one's reward will be great, and he will later become richer, as hap­pened with Job. Some people are buried and their bodies do not decompose; it's usually because they have done some kind of injustice.

The Unjust Person Is Tormented

An unjust person and in general all those who commit injustice and do not ask for forgiveness, end up haunted by their conscience and the indignation of those they have treated unjustly. For if the wronged do not forgive and complain, then the unjust are tormented and suffer very much. They cannot sleep. They feel like they are at the mercy of crashing waves that twist them around from every side. It's a mystery how the perpetrator is informed of this! When we love somebody and think about him in a good way, he knows it. So too, in this case, the victim's pain tears the unjust into pieces! It does not matter where he may be, in Australia or in Johannesburg; as long as the person he has treated unfairly is indignant with him, he cannot find peace.

- And what happens if he is insensitive?

- Do you think that insensitive people do not suffer? The best they can do is resort to some sort of entertainment to be distracted. Then again, those wronged may have forgiven the offender but still harbour some resentment. In this case, the victim suffers to a degree, but the wrongdoer suffers to an even greater extent from his victim's indignation. But if the perpetrator seeks forgiveness and his victim refuses to forgive him, then it's the victim that suffers. There is no greater fire than the inner burning of the soul by the conscience. Unless one repents in this life for the injustices he has committed and makes reparation, his soul will be tortured and eaten away by woodworm and in the eternal life by the "sleepless worm". Even if he has no other way of showing repentance, the least he can do is have the right intent.

I remember how this one lawyer, who committed many injustices, suffered at the end of his life. He practised his profession in a province with many stockbreeders. Naturally, their herds would damage the fields, and many shepherds would hire him because he could convince the Justice of the Peace or the agronomist with his cunning arguments. The poor farmers could rarely find justice for damage done to their crops, and they even found themselves in trouble. Everyone knew this lawyer and no honest man went near him. I should tell you about the advice that a Spiritual Father gave a sensitive shepherd.

This shepherd had a small herd and a sheep dog. The dog had given birth to puppies and he gave them all away except one that he kept for the mother. It happened that this ewe had gone missing leaving behind its little lamb that was still suckling. With its mother missing, the little lamb would run after the dog to find nourishment, some­thing that relieved it as well. Thus, the two animals had got used to each other and one would find the other. As hard as the poor shepherd tried to separate them they would not part. Because the shepherd was a sensi­tive man, he thought of asking his Spiritual Father if the lamb's meat would be edible or not. Knowing how poor the shepherd was, the Father thought for a while and then said to him, "My son, this lamb is not edible because it fed on the dog's milk, but you know what you should do? Since all the other shepherds bring gifts of lambs and cheese to this certain lawyer, you should bring him this lamb to eat. He is the only one who has a blessing to eat it, since everyone knows what an unjust man he is."

When this unjust lawyer reached old age, he became bed-ridden and suffered from nightmares for years and could not sleep. He also suffered a stroke and could not even speak. The Father tried to make him at least write down his sins, but he had lost control of himself. The Spiritual Father was thus forced to read him the blessing of the Seven Youths (2) so that he could close his eyes and get some sleep. He would even read exorcisms to give him a little peace, until finally the man passed away and was laid to rest. May God grant him the true rest.

- Geronda, many people believe that they are under a magical spell. Is it really possible to put a spell on some­one?

- If a person repents and goes to confession, such spells are not effective. For witchcraft to stick, a person must be guilty of some injustice, such as harming someone or fooling a girl. In this case, he must repent and ask for for­giveness, confess, settle spiritually and restore the wrong he has done. Otherwise, even if all the priests in the world would read an exorcism for him, the spell would still not go away. But even if no witchcraft is involved, the resentment borne by the soul he has treated unjustly is enough to torment him.

There are two forms of injustice: material and moral. Material is when we harm another person with regard to material things. Moral injustice is when the wrong is of a moral nature, such as when a man deceives a woman; and if she happens to be an orphan, the burden on his soul is five-fold. Do you know that bullets will go after wrong­doers in war? There you can clearly see the justice and protection of God. There's no room for dishonour in war. A bullet will find its way to an immoral person.

Once, my company was on its way to replace a bat­talion. On the way, we got hit and returned fire. I remem­ber that one man from my company had actually com­mitted a dishonourable act the day before. He had raped a pregnant woman, poor woman. And guess what? He was the only one who got killed that day! Horrible, isn't it? Everybody was saying, "This beast deserved to die." In the end, the devious and cunning try to escape one way or another, but they are not spared. We know from experi­ence that those who truly believe and, as a result, live an honest, Christian life, have their honest bodies protected from enemy fire; it's like they carry a relic of the Holy Cross and even more than that.

One’s Descendants Are Also Tormented by Injustice

- Geronda, when I left to join the Monastery, my family was unjust to me. Should I ask for what legally belongs to me?

- No, that's not the proper thing to do.

- I fear that something bad may happen to them as a result of this injustice.

- Now, this is what I call pure philotimo. If I were you, I would tell them, "I want nothing for myself. But I would like you to give the share that is rightfully mine to the poor, with your own hands, starting with our poor rela­tives. I am asking for this because I don't want the wrath of God to fall on your children". You see, sometimes a father may give away his fortune for the good of his soul, to create a charitable institution for example, and leave nothing to his own child.

The grandparents in a family may have done some­thing wrong and still live a good life, without conse­quences. But their children or grandchildren may suffer. They become sick and are forced to give the money their ancestors made unjustly, to doctors, to pay back the injus­tices of their grandparents.

A family I once knew was going through many dif­ficulties. The head of the family got very sick first, went through a lot, was bed-ridden for a few years, and then passed away. Then his wife died and later his children, one after the other. His fifth and last child passed away recently. Even though they were a very rich family, they lost everything and ended up poor, because they had to sell their property to pay the doctors and the various ex­penses. I used to wonder why all these horrible things, sickness and accidents, were happening to them. I hap­pened to know some of the members of the family and it did not seem to me to be the good kind of trial, the kind that God sends to those He favours. Rather, it seemed to me that God's spiritual laws were put into effect. I wanted to be certain, so I tried to find out more about the family from reliable sources, namely, some old folks who lived in the same town.

I learned that the man had inherited a certain fortune from his father which he increased by doing all sorts of wrong things. So, if a widow, say, were to ask him for a loan to pay for her daughter's wedding, and promised to return the money once she had harvested the crops, he would ask for a piece of land she owned. And, as she was in great need, she would have to sell him the land at any price he offered. Another man would ask him for a loan to pay the bank and promise to repay him after having harvested the cotton. He would demand the poor fellow's land and would get it for nothing, as the farmer was afraid the bank would come after him. When someone else asked him for a small loan to pay the doctors, he would seek to take his cow from him, for pennies. This is how he made his fortune. The pain he caused to all these poor people was returned not only to him and his wife but also to his children. So, the spiritual laws came into effect and caused them to suffer the very same things that their ac­tions had caused to others. In order to pay all their medi­cal expenses, and so on, they sold their land for nothing and after becoming poor, they left this life for good one after the other. God, of course, with His love and sense of justice will judge them accordingly. The others who were harmed, all the poor folk who were forced to sell out their belongings to pay off the doctors, all these people will be rewarded for the injustices they endured. And, of course, the unjust will also pay their due.

The One Who Wrongs Us Is Our Benefactor

- Geronda, how should we consider someone who treats us in an unfair way?

- How should we consider him? We must treat him like a great benefactor who makes deposits on our behalf in God's Savings Bank. He is making us eternally wealthy. This is not a matter of minor importance. Are we not sup­posed to love our benefactors? Shouldn't we express our gratitude to them? In the same way, we must love and feel grateful to the person who has treated us unjustly, because he benefits us eternally. The unjust receive etern­al injury, whereas those who accept injustice with joy will be justified eternally.

A pious family man had suffered many injustices in his work. But he was full of kindness and endured it all without complaining. He came to the Kalyvi once and told me all about it and then asked me, "What do you advise me to do?" "What you should do," I said, "is to expect the divine justice and the divine return and to be patient. Nothing is lost. In this way, you are putting 'money' in God's 'Savings Bank'. You will surely receive dividends in the next life, for all the trials you are going through now. You should know that the Good Lord rewards the unfairly treated person even in this life. And if He does not always reward him, He will surely do so with his children. God knows. He has providence for His creature. Where there is patience, things fall into place. God provides. We need patience, not logic. Since God is watching, He is observing us, we must surrender unconditionally to Him. You see, the Righteous Joseph did not say a thing when his brothers sold him into slavery. He could have said, I am their brother'. But he said nothing, until God spoke and made him king (3). But when one has no patience, he suffers. From that point on he wants things to come his way, as it suits him, and as is comfortable for him. But, of course, he does not find comfort that way, and things don't come out the way he wants them to come."

When someone is wronged in this life either by men or by demons, God does not worry, because the soul bene­fits as a result. Many times, however, we say that we are wronged, while in reality we are the ones causing the harm. We must be careful to distinguish the two.

"Render Therefore to All Their Due” (4)

- Geronda, when we purchase something for the Monastery, some people don't want to issue us a receipt. What must we do?
- They should always issue you an invoice and you should limit your needs and demands. This is what I would do. God will provide for what you need. If we monks ask people not to issue invoices, we make others sin. They think to themselves, "Since the Monasteries are doing it..." When we, who are supposed to obey the commandments of God, operate in this fashion, what will people think? Won't they be scandalized? The Holy Scripture reads, Render therefore to all their due. Even when I send a letter with a person and not through the post office, I still put a stamp on it. Lay people may justify their ac­tions, but if the Monasteries act like them, there will be little honesty left and the Gospel will be put aside. When we do not give from our possessions - and if any one would sue you and take thy coat, let him have thy cloak as well (5) - we are giving a negative sermon, a negative ex­ample, that allows the secular people to find an excuse for their faults. They are looking for a way to comfort their conscience. We must be careful because we will have no justification for our actions on the Day of Judgment. Our goal should be primary to defend the spiritual principles and not only the material things. When, for some reason, they do not give you an invoice, you must consider this a spiritual loss.

- Geronda, it happens sometimes that someone gives a small amount as a donation to the Monastery and wants a receipt for a bigger amount in order to present it as a tax-deductible expense. What must we do in this case?

- You must tell them, "We don't issue receipts for a big­ger amount. If you don't agree, we will return your money and you may find someone else who may accommodate you." Be careful not to catch this disease.

- Geronda, a workman asked us to fire him so that he would collect unemployment benefits while still working for us.

- Oh no, that is not right. Even a person with only a bit of conscience left in him would not do such a thing. It does not become a Monastery to get involved in such matters. It is better that you pay the workman a double wage, even if you are in financial difficulty, in order to discourage him from such behaviour. It's that serious. Blessed deeds bring more blessings, while injustice brings disaster. You should be very careful with these matters. Avoid bargaining with the workmen either. This is why we have fires and other catastrophes in Monasteries.

An employee takes an oath to perform his job in an honest way. For us monastics, this oath is twice as de­manding. The promise we make is spiritual, and if we break it, the sin for us is twice as bad. Be careful to strike a balance, and create a different, a higher standard. I de­tect a wound swelling. It will break and clear up. God will not give His Grace in a wrong situation, because the only one being helped in that case would be the devil. Be careful to put sincerity and honesty first. Otherwise, you will end up like a drunken man who cannot walk straight. Can anyone in that condition stand on his own two feet? God's wrath will come and we'll be put to the test. In the first phase, gold will be separated from brass. In the sec­ond phase, it will become clear how many carats of gold each one of us is worth.

The world is full of lies. People now grow into liars. They have made up a new kind of conscience. I will not become a liar and turn into something I am not, because society demands it. I'd rather tell the truth and suffer. One must be careful not to enter in the orbit of secularism. Of course, our financial system today is of little help. People are forced to declare a smaller income.
Once, I scolded some income tax officials who hap­pened to be believers. "What are you doing?" I asked them. "You must make sure to keep some of the yeast intact. I know of too many things that go wrong! Some­one comes to the Revenue Service and says, 'I have an income of one million drachmas.' The official declares that the man has an income of three million drachmas. He assumes that he is revealing only a part of his income, as is common practice, and that this hike will make up the difference. If, however, he is dealing with a conscientious person, tripling his income in this manner will backfire; it will make the man cheat on his taxes the next year. In other words, instead of helping change the situation for the better, you are making things worse." "But we don't know when they are telling us the truth," the income tax person said. "When you start leading a spiritual life, you will know," I replied. "Then you will be able to under­stand and discern the difference. God will inform you, and you will know."

How the World Has Cheapened

People's malice has exceeded all bounds. They try to deceive one another and they consider it to be an achieve­ment! Our world has become so cheap! Everything they make these days is a fake. And imagine that today people make more money than their parents and grandparents who were poor and only made a little. The quality of most things is so cheap. One day someone brought me some tomato plants. Each plant was inside a very small bag containing coarse soil, and some coarse sand to keep the moisture. They didn't even bother to pour some water or manure; they had sprinkled some on the top like salt and pepper! When I took them out of the bag, I realized that their roots were rotten. I had to put a layer of soil on top, so that the plants could grow new roots.

They are so clever in tricking people! Listen to this. Someone had brought me a big box with pastries. "I will open it," I said to myself, "when I have a large company.

If I open it now, it will attract ants." So, one day, I had a large gathering and I figured that the box should be enough and I should even have some left-over. As soon as I opened it, I saw that it was full of wrappings ... and the actual container with the sweets was so tiny. The rest of the box was empty. Another time, they brought me a fancy box with pastries, all wrapped in ribbons. "I will keep it," I thought, "for the students of the Athonias Academy” (6). Well, inside there were Turkish delights, stale and hard as a rock! I would never treat people with this kind of sweet!

- Geronda, don't they see that this is a type of injus­tice?

- No! They consider it to be an achievement. Sin has become fashionable nowadays and cheating someone is considered to be a sign of cleverness. Unfortunately, the secular spirit sharpens the mind in deception and peo­ple consider it a clever achievement to wrong their fel­low human beings. There's even an expression, "He's as smart as a devil; he gets things done." Inside, of course, the man suffers from the checks of his conscience, his little hell.

The Just Person Has God on His Side

Not all people fit well in the world today, especially those who want to lead spiritual and honest lives; they seem to have such a hard time.

- Geronda, why don't they fit?

- When someone is sensitive and finds himself in a harsh environment and people make his life hell, how can he put up with it? Either he has to begin cursing, or he must leave. But that's difficult because one needs to make a living. His boss tells him, "I trust you because you don't steal, but put some rotten produce among the fresh. Take these fresh clover bales and stick some fermented ones in the package." He even makes him manager in order to keep him on the job and the poor man has to do as told to stay employed. And of course, he cannot sleep at night and starts taking sleeping pills. Do you know how hard life is for honest people? They run into all kinds of difficulties and have to take all kinds of abuse from their employers. Life becomes hell for them. And they cannot quit because they have a family to feed. If they stay on, it's trouble everyday. They are between a rock and a hard place. Wherever they turn their eyes, they see a dead end. It makes one go crazy. So, they carry on and try to man­age as best they can.

In another case, one employee did all the work while another colleague would only show up to collect his pay check. I know of someone who was department head somewhere. When the new government came to power, they removed him from the post and replaced him with a party member who had not even graduated from High School. They made him department head but he knew nothing about the work and so they could not really send the previous manager away to some other position. What did they do? They just added a second desk in the office. The old boss did the work and the new one was just sitting there smoking, chatting and drinking coffee ... and being completely shameless. And in addition to this, he would say whatever came to his mind while all responsibility fell on the other employee who was doing all the work, until he finally couldn't put up with the situation anymore and left the job, the poor soul. "Maybe I should go some­where else, there's not enough space for two desks," he said one day and got up and left, because the new head was making his life hell. We are not talking about one or two days. It is unbearable to have someone like that over your head every day.

The just person is usually given the worst position, or may even lose his position to others. They abuse him and step all over him. Don't we have the saying, "They walk over corpses; they stop at nothing?" But the more people push the just and righteous person down, the more the Good God lifts him up, like a cork. It's not easy though and it takes a lot of patience. Patience clears up so many things. The person who wants to live a virtuous life and be honest in his work, be it a labourer, a merchant, or whatever else, must accept the fact that, once he begins work, he may have to reach the point of not being able to even pay the rent, for example, if he has a store, for the blessing of God to come to him. But he should not have this as his goal: "If I should reach that point, then I will surely have plenty of customers." One must not think that way or aim at that, because then, God will not bless him. But when he decides to live as God wills and resolves not to cheat or overprice things, God will not abandon him.

Another person may gain much profit by overpricing. At first, he makes a lot of money and becomes rich, but then people find out that he is dishonest, and his busi­ness goes stony broke. On the other hand, the honest mer­chant gains customers and hires more employees. So he is tested in the beginning, but wins in the end. The good person is tried and tested by evil and cunning people; he has to pass through the card (7).

When someone follows the devil's path, and comes up with tricks and all kinds of deceptive schemes, God will not bless his work. Schemes of deception don't work; they appear to flourish, but they collapse in the end. It's important that we start with God's blessing in everything we do. A just man has God on his side. And if he has some boldness before God, then miracles hap­pen. When someone lives according to the Gospel, he is entitled to divine help. He walks with Jesus Christ. What can we say? The man has earned His blessing. This is the foundation of it all. Once that is given, there is nothing to fear. The important thing is that Christ, Panaghia and the Saints should find rest in everything we do, and when that happens, we will have their blessing and the Holy Spirit will overshadow us. Honesty is the most precious Holy Cross. If someone is dishonest even if he has a piece of the Honourable Cross on him, it's like he has nothing. But if one is honest, he has God's help even though he doesn't have a piece of the Honourable Cross. Now, if he has both, well, then he's got everything!

The Just Person Is Rewarded in This Life

I have seen injured souls who have endured injustice with good thoughts, and have been showered with God's Grace in this life. Many years ago a pious, simple and good-natured Christian man came to see me. He asked me to pray so that Christ may enlighten his children when they grow up, to endure without grudges a great injustice done against them by their relatives. He told me the af­fair. As far as I could see, he was really a man of God.

He was the oldest of five children. After the untimely death of his father, he stood by his younger siblings like a good father. He worked hard, increased the family for­tune, bought more property, land and so on, and helped his two sisters get married. His younger brothers got mar­ried too and they took all the good fields, the olive groves and so on, leaving him with a few useless, barren and sandy fields. In the end he got married too, and had three children. By that time, he was older, and was worried about his children, that they may be bitter over the in­justice when they would grow up. He used to say to me, "I am not concerned about it for myself, because I read the Psalter. I do one reading in the afternoon and two be­fore dawn. I almost know it by heart. You don't read any­where in the Psalms that the unjust prosper. God looks after the just. You see, Father, I am not sad for the land I lost, but for my brothers who are losing their souls." He went away at that time, and visited me again some ten years later.

He was very happy: "Remember me, Father?" he asked, "remember me?" "Of course," I replied and asked how he is doing. "I am wealthy now," he said. "And how did you get rich, my good brother?" I asked him. "Well, all that useless, sandy land of mine appreciated greatly because of its location on the beach. This time, I have come to ask your advice about how I should spend my money." "You should make sure your children have a home to stay and put aside enough money for their edu­cation." "I have enough for that," he said, "and more." "Well, then give some to your poor relatives and to other poor people that you know." "I have done so, Father," he said, "but it's still a lot." "Then, you should give some to repair the Church in your village and the Chapels in the countryside." "I have done that too," he said, "and I still have plenty." "Then," I told him, "I pray that Christ guides you to do good to those who really need it." I asked him about his brothers. He started weeping. "I don't know, Father, I have lost track of them. They sold their land in the village, the olive groves and the fields, and I have no idea where they are now. They had gone to Germany first, then to Australia and that's the last I've heard of them." I was sorry I had asked about his brothers. I hadn't realized how sad he would get. I tried to console him and he left at peace. I told him that we should both pray to get good news from them. Later I remembered the Psalm, / have seen a wicked man overbearing, and towering like a cedar of Lebanon. Again I passed by, and, lo, he was no more; though I sought him, he could not be found. That's exactly what happened to this man's brothers.

There's nothing worse than the injustice. Make sure you have God's blessing in whatever you do.


 1. Ps 37:16

2. Seven Youths of Ephesos (252 A.D.). Their Feast Day is commemorated on 22 October and 4 August.

3. Cf. Gen 37:20 f.

4. Rom 13:7.

5. Mt 5:40.

6. The Athonias was established in 1748 on Mount Athos as an Academy of Greek studies. Today it functions as an Ecclesiastical High School.

7. Card is a wire-toothed brush or a machine fitted with rows of wire teeth, used to disentangle fibres, as of wool, prior to spinning.

8. Ps 37:35-36.



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