Category Archives: saints

We would have been destroyed.

“The good thing is that God does not abandon us. Our Good God is guarding the world with both hands. In the past, He used only one. Today we face so many dangers….”

“Things are really bad… May God help us! It is like a mother whose children have all kinds of problems. One is cross-eyed, another is slow, and yet another is difficult to handle. Then on top of that, she has to care for the neighbors’ children so that they don’t climb up somewhere and fall down, or find a knife and get cut, or hurt one another. And she must be constantly on the watch, vigilant and attentive, while they have no sense of her anguish and worry. It’s the same with our world. People do not understand that it is God Who is helping us. With all the dangerous devices available to us, we would have been destroyed many times were it not for His help….”

“If you only knew how much the devil hates humanity and wants to annihilate us! How easily we forget who our enemy is! Do you know how many times the devil has wrapped his tail around the world and tried to destroy it? But God has not allowed it. He ruins his plans. When the devil tries to cause harm, God takes the evil and turns it into good. The devil may be ploughing the field now, but in the end it is Christ Who will sow the seeds.”

-St. Paisios of Mount Athos

The darkness has not overcome it.

And this is the verdict: The Light has come into the world, but men loved the darkness rather than the Light, because their deeds were evil. John 3:19

Today is the commemoration of the Beheading of John the Baptist, which we Orthodox Christians who use the Gregorian Calendar remember on August 29 every year.

John was the Forerunner of Christ, and his preaching of repentance prepared many hearts to receive Christ.  You might say that John intruded into (family) politics when he spoke up about the governor Herod’s unlawful relationship with his brother’s wife Herodias. It doesn’t appear that they had asked for his opinion, but Herodias was angry enough about it that she asked Herod, via her dancing daughter Salome, for John’s head on a platter, which was granted. In the Gospel of Mark is one passage that recounts these events.

The hymns lament that Herod and Herodias missed their opportunity to repent and gain eternal life, but rejoice that God was glorified by the prophet’s death as well as by his life, and speak of John continuing to preach repentance even to the souls in Hades.

Icon Reader tells in depth about the iconography of John the Baptist, who is often pictured with wings. These symbolize the fact that he was a prophet or messenger from God. He is also called an “angel of the desert,” because like angels he was not involved in normal mundane things. John is holding his own head on the platter; some Orthodox do not eat anything from a plate, or from anything round, on this day, and we all keep a fast in St. John’s honor.

I have a particular interest in the Glorious Forerunner’s beheading because the saint whose name I bear, Joanna, was married to Chuza, Herod’s steward, and used her connections to retrieve the head so that it could be given an honorable burial.

This is a repeat of most of my post from five years ago. This morning I attended Divine Liturgy for the feast and was more awed than ever by the life of Jesus’s cousin John who was imprisoned for speaking the truth. Then he was killed because, though Herod was “sorrowful” about this unexpected outcome, he was a coward and wanted what he wanted, no matter that he seemed to like talking with John about spiritual things. As we heard in today’s homily, the rulers of this world always operate on the terms of their power above all.

But The Forerunner went joyfully to his reward, as do all martyrs; what they want more than anything is to be with Christ. That’s why we celebrate their deaths, which are glorious as the Cross of Christ is glorious. On this feast day we also fast, because it is to us a sort of Holy Friday; and to help our prayers for strength to have courage ourselves, to live and die in the spirit of the martyrs, in bright contrast to whatever darkness is currently trying in vain to extinguish the inextinguishable Kingdom of God.

In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.
The Light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:4-5

Spinning out of control.

“In all nations, storms are gathering; minds are confused. May God save this poor world of ours that is blowing steam like a pressure cooker! Look at those in power! The schemes they come up with! They throw it all into a pressure cooker and leave it, boiling and boiling; the cooker is whistling now! The steam valve is ready to explode!”

“We have not yet realised that the devil has set out to destroy God’s creation and all His creatures. He has put together an alliance to destroy the world… He has become even more vicious now because he knows that he has but a short time. (cf. Revelation 12:12.) He resembles a criminal, who, when surrounded, thinks to himself, ‘There is no way out; they will get me,’ and he starts destroying everything around him. Or, he is like soldiers at war who, having run out of ammunition, draw their bayonets or swords and start slashing away at everything because they have nothing to lose. They say, ‘We are going to die anyway; let’s get as many of the enemy as we can.'”

“Wherever one turns, one thing is clear: things are falling apart! It’s not, for example, that we have a house, and we need to fix a window or something else. No, here it is an entire house that is in shambles — worse yet, the entire village. Things are spinning out of control. Only God can step in and stop it…. The world has an inflamed wound, full of pus, that needs to be opened and treated. But it’s too soon to open it now; evil must first run its course as it did back in Jericho (cf. Joshua 6.), a long time ago.”

-St. Paisios of Mt. Athos, 1924-1994
From With Pain and love for Contemporary Man

The elder’s pain and love.

I don’t know who all will be in my class when my parish’s church school program begins again next month. But I think I know what I’ll be teaching, and it includes gleanings from this book that I haven’t read yet, With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man. The arrangement of our classes and students and how and where they will meet is one more realm of decisions that has been affected by the coronavirus situation, and that is why I didn’t know until this week to get busy and start reading; I had expected to be using a different curriculum.

This big book was first published in Greek in 1996, as the first of several volumes of the monk’s teachings. Over the course of 28 years his spiritual counsels were carefully recorded in notes and on tape, by the sisterhood of St. John the Theologian monastery in Souroti, for whom he was a guide and helper. In the preface they tell about his response at the beginning of their project:

“When Elder Paisios realised what we were doing, he was rather irritated: ‘Why are you taking notes?’ he asked. ‘Are you saving them for an emergency? You should put my words into practice; put them to work! Who knows what you are saying in these notes! Let me see them.’ When we showed him a sample, particularly the notes of one Sister, his expression changed. He seemed comforted and reassured, and exclaimed with satisfaction, ‘My goodness! She is like a tape recorder! She wrote it exactly as I said it!'”

St. Paisios of Mount Athos: InjusticeThis man, who in 2015 the Orthodox Church formally recognized as a saint, was in 1924 born Arsenios Eznepidis, in Cappadocia in Asia Minor. This was just after the Greco-Turkish war, and just before those governments mutually agreed upon a population exchange that forced more than a million people to become refugees; his family was among them, and they moved to Greece. You can read all about his life here: St. Paisios, and in other articles and books. I just wanted to tell you a little bit in introduction, because I’m planning to share at least a few quotes from the saint as I go. For now I will leave you with this that I found elsewhere:

“What I see around me would drive me insane
if I did not know that no matter what happens,
God will have the last word.”

— Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain
1924-1974