“Just as a calm and sheltered harbour provides great security to the ships moored there, so does the temple of God: when people enter it, it snatches them away from worldly affairs as from a storm, and gives them the capacity to stand and listen to God’s words in calm and security. This place is the bedrock of virtue and the school of spiritual life…You need only set foot on the threshold of a church and at once you are liberated from the cares of daily life. Go on into the church, and a spiritual dew will envelop your soul. The stillness there moves you to awe, and teaches you how to live spiritually. It elevates your thoughts and prevents you from remembering things or matters belonging to the present life. It transports you from earth to heaven. And if there is such great gain from simply being in church when no service is going on, then how much benefit will people derive from being present…when the holy Apostles proclaim the Gospel, Christ stands in our midst, God the Father receives the Mysteries that are performed and the Holy Spirit gives His own joy.”
– St. John Chrysostom
Hat-tip to Matthew Howell
“The Church is without beginning, without end and eternal, just as the Triune God, her founder, is without beginning, without end and eternal. She is uncreated just as God is uncreated. She existed before the ages, before the angels, before the creation of the world – before the foundation of the world, as the Apostle Paul says (Eph. 1:4). She is a divine institution and in her dwells the whole fullness of divinity (Col. 2:9). She is an expression of the richly varied wisdom of God. She is the mystery of mysteries. She was concealed and was revealed in the last of times. The Church remains unshaken because she is rooted in the love and wise providence of God.
The three Persons of the Trinity constitute the eternal Church. The angels and human beings existed in the thought and love of the Triune God from the beginning. We human beings were not born now, we existed before the ages in God’s omniscience.
The love of God created us in His image and likeness. He embraced us within the Church in spite of the fact that He knew of our apostasy. He gave us everything to make us gods too through the free gift of grace. For all that, we made poor use of our freedom and lost our original beauty, our original righteousness, and cut ourselves off from the Church. Outside the Church, far from the Holy Trinity, we lost Paradise, everything. But outside the Church there is no salvation, there is no life. And so that compassionate heart of God the Father did not leave us exiled from His love. He opened again for us the gates of Paradise in the last of times and appeared in the flesh.
With the divine incarnation of the only-begotten Son of God, God’s pre-eternal plan for the salvation of mankind was revealed again to men. In his epistle to Timothy the Apostle Paul says, ‘Incontrovertibly, the mystery of faith is great. God was revealed in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory’ (1 Tim. 3:16). The words of the Apostle Paul are dense in meaning: divine, heavenly words!
God in His infinite love united us again with His Church in the person of Christ. On entering into the uncreated Church, we come to Christ, we enter the realm of the uncreated. We the faithful are called to become uncreated by grace, to become participants in the divine energies of God, to enter into the mystery of divinity, to surpass our worldly frame of mind, to die to the ‘old man,’ and to become immersed in God. (Cf. Col. 3:9, Rom. 6:6, Eph. 4:22) When we live in the Church, we live by Christ. This is a very fine-drawn matter, we cannot understand it. Only the Holy Spirit can teach us.
The head of the Church is Christ and we humans, we Christians, are the body. The Apostle Paul says: He is the head of the body, of the Church. (Col 1:18)
The Church and Christ are one. The body cannot exist without its head. The body of the Church is nourished, sanctified and lives with Christ. He is the Lord, omnipotent, omniscient, everywhere present and filling all things, our staff, our friend, our brother: the pillar and sure foundation of the Church. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the basis – everything. Without Christ the Church does not exist. Christ is the Bridegroom; each individual soul is the Bride.
Christ united the body of the Church with heaven and with earth: with angels, men and all created things, with all of God’s creation with the animals and birds, with each tiny wild flower and each microscopic insect. The Church thus became the fullness of Him who fills all in all, (Eph. 1:23) that is, of Christ. Everything is in Christ and with Christ. This is the mystery of the Church.
Christ is revealed in that unity between His love and ourselves: the Church. On my own I am not the Church, but together with you. All together we are the Church. All are incorporated in the Church. We are all one and Christ is the head. One body, one body of Christ: You are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Cor. 12:27) We are all one because God is our Father and is everywhere. When we experience this we are in the Church. This is our Lord’s wish for all the members of the Church as expressed in His great high-priestly prayer: that they may be one. (John 17:11,22) But that’s something you can only understand through grace. We experience the joy of unity, of love, and we become one with everyone. There is nothing more magnificent!
The important thing is for us to enter into the Church – to unite ourselves with our fellow men, with the joys and sorrows of each and everyone, to feel that they are our own, to pray for everyone, to have care for their salvation, to forget about ourselves, to do everything for them just as Christ did for us. In the Church we become one unfortunate, suffering and sinful soul.
No one should wish to be saved alone without all others being save. It is a mistake for someone to pray for himself, that he himself may be saved. We must love others and pray that no soul be lost, that all may enter into the Church. That is what counts. And it is with this desire one should leave the world to retire to a monastery or to the desert.
When we set ourselves apart from others, we are not Christians. We are true Christians when we have a profound sense that we are members of the mystical body of Christ, of the Church, in an unbroken relationship of love – when we live united in Christ, that is, when we experience unity in His Church with a sense of oneness. This is why Christ prays to His Father saying, that they may be one. He repeats the prayer again and again and the apostles emphasise it everywhere. This is the most profound aspect, the most exalted meaning, of the Church. This is where the secret is to be found: for all to be united as one person in God. There is no other religion like this; no other religion says anything of this sort. They have something to say, but not this mystery, this exquisite point of the mystery which Christ demands and tells us that this is how we must become, that he wants us to be His.
We are one even with those who are not close to the Church. They are distant on account of ignorance. We must pray that God will enlighten them and change them so that they too may come to Christ. We see things in a human light, we move on a different plane and imagine that we love Christ. But Christ, who sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous, (Matt. 5 :45) tells us: Love your enemies (Matt. 5:44). We need to pray that we may all be united, united in God. Then, if we live out this prayer, we will achieve corresponding results; we will all be united in love.
For the people of God there is no such thing as distance, even if they be thousands of miles apart. However far away our fellow human beings may be, we must stand by them. Some people regularly telephone me from a town on the edge of the Indian Ocean – Durban is what it’s called, if I am pronouncing it correctly. It’s in South Africa, two hours drive from Johannesburg. Indeed, a few days ago they came here. They were taking a sick person to England and they came here first to ask me to read a prayer. I was very moved.
When Christ unites us, distances don’t exist. When I leave this life it will be better. I’ll be closer to you.”
– Elder Porphyrios
Elder Porphyrios of the Holy Mountain
“Pray for the Church, for the world, for everyone. The whole of Christendom is contained in prayer. If we pray only for ourselves, that conceals self-interest. But when you pray for the Church, you are also embraced within the Church. In the Church is Christ, united with the Church and with the Father and with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Trinity and the Church are one. Your desire must be for this: for the world to be sanctified and for everything to belong to Christ. Then you enter into the Church and you live in the joy of Paradise. You live with God, because the whole fullness of divinity dwells in the Church.
Pray for others more than for yourself. Say, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,’ and you will always have others in mind. We are all children of the same Father; we are all one. And so, when we pray for others, we say ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,’ and not, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on them.’ In this way, we make them one with ourselves.”
– Elder Porphyrios, Wounded by Love
By the grace of God, I was ordained to the Holy Diaconate at St. Tikhon’s Monastery on February 5, 2011. I was ordained under the blessed hands of the Right Reverend Tikhon, Bishop of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania. I ask for all of your prayers for myself and my family as I begin my service in the Church.
Abbot Sergius is fastening the orarion.
Waving the fan over the Holy Gifts
The first Litany of Thanksgiving
Troparion and Kontakion for our Father among the Saints Ansgar, Enlightener of Denmark and Sweden (February 3)
Troparion – Tone 4
Ever moved by love for God and man, / O Ansgar, like the apostles thou didst journey afar / to bring salvation to the benighted, / offering up thine afflictions upon the altar of thy heart, / in thy toils and distresses / bearing witness unto thy Savior like a martyr, / enduring perils on land and at sea for His sake, / undaunted by temptations and tribulations. /// Wherefore, pray with boldness that our souls be saved.
Kontakion – Tone 6
Throughout the North the heathen raged, / clinging to the emptiness of idolatry, / assembling together against Christ and His Church. / But the valiant Ansgar broke asunder the bonds of false belief / and freed the Danes and Swedes from demonic oppression, / giving their lands to God for His inheritance, / even the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession. / Wherefore, in the fear of the Lord and with trembling /// they served Him, rejoicing, in Orthodox manner.