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Homily of St. Gregory Palamas on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul

Posted in Uncategorized on June 28th, 2012 by frmtassos – Comments Off

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Christ is in our midst!

As the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul is almost upon us, I thought that it would be nice to read what one of the other great luminaries of the Church, St. Gregory Palamas had to say about these two great leaders. Following is his Homily twenty-eight.

1. The commemoration of each of the saints on the appointed feast day is an occasion for town and country, citizens and their rulers to share in rejoicing, and brings great benefit to all who celebrate. “The memory of the just is praised”, says the wise Solomon (Prov. 10:7 Lxx), “When the righteous is praised the people will rejoice” (cf. Prov. 29:2 Lxx). If a lamp is lit at night, its light shines for the service and enjoyment of everyone present. Similarly, through such commemorations, each saint’s God-pleasing course, his blessed end, and the grace bestowed on him by God, because of the purity of his life, bring spiritual joy and benefit to the whole congregation, like a bright flaming torch set in our midst. When the land bears a good harvest everyone rejoices, not just the farmers (for we all benefit from the earth’s produce); so the fruits which the saints bring forth for God through their virtue delight not only the Husbandman of souls, but all of us, being set before us for the common good and pleasure of our souls. During their earthly lives, all the saints are an incentive to virtue for those who hear and see them with understanding, for they are human icons of excellence, animated pillars of goodness, and living books, which teach us the way to better things. Afterwards, when they depart this life, the benefit we gain from them is kept alive for ever through the remembrance of their virtues. By commemorating their noble deeds, we offer them that praise which, on the one hand, we owe them for the good they did our Ancestors, but which, on the other, is also fitting for us at the present time, on account of the help they give us now.
2. When we call to mind what they accomplished we add nothing to their good deeds. How could we, given that we are not even competent to depict their virtue as it really is? For the sake of the sublime rewards promised by God, they strove honourably to the limit of human nature and showed us a way of life that was equally sublime. We certainly do not augment their treasures by praising them—not at all! But we do increase their bounty to us by looking up towards them as lanterns aglow with divine light, and by understanding better and welcoming the beautifying power which comes from them.
3. If, as we have said, we commemorate each of the saints with hymns and appropriate songs of praise, how much more should we celebrate the memory of Peter and Paul, the supreme Leaders of the pre-eminent company of the Apostles? They are the fathers and guides of all Christians: Apostles, martyrs, holy ascetics, priests, hierarchs, pastors and teachers. As chief shepherds and master builders of our common godliness and virtue, they tend and teach us all, like lights in the world, holding forth the word of life (Phil. 2:15-16). Their brightness excels that of the other radiantly pious and virtuous saints as the sun outshines the stars, or as the heavens, which declare the sublime glory of God (cf. Ps. 19:1), transcend the skies. In their order and strength they are greater than the heavens, more beautiful than the stars, and swifter than both, and as regards what lies beyond the realm of the senses, it is they who reveal things which surpass the very heavens themselves and indeed the whole universe, and who make them bright with the light “in which there is no variableness neither shadow of turning” (cf. Jas. 1:17). Not only do they bring people out of darkness into this wonderful light, but by enlightening them they make them light, the offspring of the perfect light, that each of them may shine like the sun (Matt. 13:43), when the Author of light, the God-man and Word, appears in glory.
4. The appearance to us this day of both these luminaries together brightens the Church, for their meeting produces a wealth of light, not an eclipse. It is not the case that one has a higher orbit and is placed above, while the other is lower down and passes under his shadow. Nor does one rule the day, the other the night, such that one would overshadow the other if they appeared opposite each other. Light is not produced by one and received by the other in such a way that the latter’s radiance would vary sometimes depending on the distance between them. Rather, both share equally in Christ, the everlasting Source of eternal light, and have attained to the same height, glory and radiance. That is why the coming together of these lights signifies their solidarity and support for one another and illuminates the souls of the faithful twice over.
5. The first traitor, who incited the first man to desert God, saw Him Who had earlier made Adam, the father of the human race, later re-creating Peter as the father of all true worshippers. He not only saw, but also heard the Creator saying to Peter: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). Once the prince of evil found this out, being the epitome of wicked envy, he tempted Peter, the first leader of God’s faithful people, as he had previously tempted Adam, the founder of the race of men. Realizing that Peter was endowed with intelligence and afire with love for Christ, he did not dare make a direct attack. Instead he came upon him from the right flank, cunningly deceiving him into being excessively eager. At the time of the saving Passion, when the Lord told His disciples, “All ye shall be offended because of me this night” (Matt. 26:31), Peter disobediently contradicted Him. He also exalted himself above the others, saying that even if everyone else were offended, he would not be (Matt. 26:33). Because he had been beguiled into arrogance, he fell further than the rest, so that by humbling himself more than them he might eventually appear more radiant. Unlike Adam who was tempted, vanquished and completely brought down, Peter, having been tempted and led astray a little, overcame the tempter. How? Through his immediate condemnation of himself, his intense sorrow and repentance, and the medicine which brings forgiveness, tears. “A broken and contrite heart”, it says, “O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:17), and “Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of” (2 Cor. 7:10), and “They that sow their supplications in tears shall joyfully reap forgiveness” (cf. Ps. 126:5).
6. Anyone who looks at Peter will see that through repentance and painful grief he not only adequately healed the denial into which he had been drawn, but he also completely rooted out of his soul that passion which had made him fall behind the others. Wishing to demonstrate this to everyone, the Lord, after His Passion in the flesh for our sake and His rising on the third day, used those words to Peter
which we read in today’s Gospel, asking him, “Simon, son of Jonah, lovest thou me more than these” (John 21:15), meaning, “more than these disciples of mine”. But see how much humbler he has become. Whereas before, even without being asked, he set himself above the rest and said that even if all forsook the Lord, he would not; now, on being asked whether he loves Him more than the others do, he affirms that he loves Him, but leaves out the word “more”, saying “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee” (John 21:15, 16, cf. 17).
7. What does the Lord do? Since Peter has shown that he has not lost his love for Him and has now acquired humility as well, He openly fulfils the promise made long before and tells him, “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15). When He was referring to the company of believers as a building, He promised to make Peter the foundation stone, saying, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). On the other hand, when He was talking in terms of fishing, He made him a fisher of men with the words, “From henceforth thou shalt catch men” (Luke 5:10). But when He speaks of His disciples as sheep, He sets Peter over them as a shepherd, saying, “Feed my lambs, feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). It is clear from this that the Lord’s desire for us to be saved is so great, that He asks of those who love Him only one thing: to lead us to the pasture and fold of salvation.
8. Let us long to be saved, and obey those who lead us in that direction through their words and deeds. As long as each of us wishes to take the road leading to salvation, the teacher, prepared by our common Saviour, is at hand, together with the Giver of salvation, Who, in His overwhelming love for mankind, is more than ready without being called or beseeched. Christ asks Peter three times so that three times he can reply affirming his faith, thus healing his threefold denial with his threefold confession. Thrice Christ appoints him over His sheep and lambs, placing under him the three categories of those being saved: slaves, hirelings and sons, or, alternatively, virgins, chaste widows and those honourably married. But when Peter was asked again and again if he loved Christ, the Scripture tells us he was grieved by the repeated questioning (John 21:17), supposing that the Lord did not believe him. Knowing that he loved Christ, aware that his questioner knew him better than he knew himself, and feeling under pressure, Peter not only confessed that he loved Him, but also proclaimed that the Lord he loved was “God over all” (Rom. 9:5), by saying, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee”, because only “God Who is over all” is all-knowing.
9. Once Peter had made this heartfelt confession, the Lord ordained him Shepherd and Chief Pastor of His whole Church, and also promised to encompass him with such strength, that he who previously was unable even to stand being spoken to and questioned by a young girl (John 18:17), would endure unto death, even death on a cross. “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast younger”, both physically and spiritually, “thou girdest thyself”, meaning, you used your own strength, “and walkest whither thou wouldest”, doing what you liked and living according to your natural inclinations. “But when thou shalt be old”, having reached the peak of your physical and spiritual age, “thou shalt stretch forth thy hands”. With these words, Christ indicates that Peter will die on a cross, and bears witness that his crucifixion will not be involuntary. “Thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee”, meaning strengthen, “and carry thee whither thou wouldest not”, that is to say, out of this life (cf. John 21:18). Our nature is unwilling to be dissolved in death, and Peter’s superhuman martyrdom also demonstrates our attitude as human beings to life. “Strengthened by Me”, Christ tells him, “you will willingly endure all these things for my sake and bear witness to me; for the desire to do so is not natural but supernatural to human nature”.
10. Peter was the sort of man who can be described in a few words. As for Paul, on the other hand, what tongue or how many and what sort of tongues can depict even to a limited extent his endurance unto death for Christ’s sake? He was put to death every day, or rather he was always dead, no longer alive himself, as he tells us, but having Christ living in him (Gal. 2:20). For love of Christ he not only counted everything in the present world as dung (Phil. 3:8), but even put things to come in second place compared to the Lord. “For I am persuaded”, he says, “that neither death, nor life, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (cf. Rom. 8:38-39). He had zeal for God, and was jealous over us with divine jealousy (2 Cor. 11:2). The only one to equal him in this was Peter, but hear how humble he is when he says of himself, “I am the least of the Apostles, that am not meet to be called an Apostle”(1 Cor. 15:9).
11. Given that Paul made the same confession of faith as Peter, and had the same zeal, humility and love, surely they received the same rewards from Him Who measures everything with completely just scales, yardstick and plumbline. Anything else would be unreasonable. That is why the Lord told Peter, “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18), whereas He said to Ananias of Paul, “He is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles and kings” (Acts 9:15). Which name? Clearly the name we have been given, the name of Christ’s Church, which rests on the foundation stone of Peter. Notice that Peter and Paul are equal in prominence and glory, and both hold up the Church. Consequently the Church now bestows one and the same honour on both, and celebrates them together with equal esteem. As we consider the outcome of their lives, let us imitate how they lived, or at least how they were restored through humility and repentance, even if we cannot attain to their other great and exalted achievements, which are appropriate to great men and fitting for great men to emulate. In fact, some aspects of their lives are probably impossible for anyone to imitate. Amendment through repentance, however, is more appropriate for us than for the great, since we all sin many times every day, and unless we lay hold of salvation through continuous repentance, we have no hope of it from any other source.
12. Repentance is preceded by awareness of our sins, which is a strong incentive to mercy. “Have mercy upon me”, said the Psalmist and Prophet to God, “for I acknowledge my transgressions” (Ps. 5 1:1, 3). Through his recognition of sin he attracted God’s compassion, and through his confession and self-condemnation he obtained complete forgiveness. “I said”, the Psalmist tells us, “I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my heart” (cf. Ps. 32:5), because acknowledgment of our sins is followed by condemnation of ourselves, which in turn is followed by that sorrow for our sins which Paul calls “godly sorrow” (2 Cor. 7:10). After godly sorrow confession and prayer to God with a contrite heart come naturally (Ps. 51:17), as does the promise to keep away from evil from now on. This is repentance.
13. This is how Manasseh escaped being punished for his sins, even though he had fallen into many great and serious transgressions, and wallowed in them for years on end (2 Chr. 33:1-20). As for David, the Lord set aside his sin because of his repentance, nor did he deprive him of his Prophetic gift. When Peter resorted to repentance, he not only recovered from his fall and obtained forgiveness, but was also appointed to protect Christ’s Church. As you see, Paul too was rewarded with this role after his conversion, once he had made progress and become more closely God’s own than the others. Repentance which is true and truly from the heart persuades the penitent not to sin any more, not to mix with corrupt people, and not to gape in curiosity at evil pleasures, but to despise things present, cling to things to come, struggle against passions, seek after virtues, be self- controlled in every respect, keep vigil with prayers to God, and shun dishonest gain. It convinces him to be merciful to those who wrong him, gracious to those who ask something of him, ready with all his heart to bend down and help in any way he can, whether by words, actions or money, all who seek his assistance, that through kindness to his fellow-man he might gain God’s love in return for loving his neighbour, draw the divine favour to himself, and attain to eternal mercy and God’s everlasting blessing and grace.
14. May we all attain to this by the grace of the only-begotten Son of God, to Whom belong all glory, might, honour and worship, together with His Father without beginning and the all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and for ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

From The Homilies of Saint Gregory Palamas, Volume Two, translated by Christopher Veniamin (St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2004). This superb two-volume set is very readable and edifying. It should be in every Orthodox Christian home and read often. You will benefit greatly from St. Gregory’s relevant and eloquent homilies, which were mostly delivered to lay people living in modern (for that day), cosmopolitan Byzantine cities.

A History of the Apostle’s Fast

Posted in Uncategorized on June 11th, 2012 by frmtassos – Comments Off

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Christ is in our midst!

I recently received an email from Kh. Kyra Lewis with the following information on the Holy Apostle’s fast. It is great information that I would like to share with all of you.

May you have a most blessed Apostle’s Fast.

Fr. Michael Tassos

“The Apostles almost always fasted.”
Saint John Chrysostom (Sermon 57 on the Gospel of Matthew)

Patristic Testimony Concerning the Fast

The fast of the holy Apostles is very ancient, dating back to the first centuries of Christianity. We have the testimony of St. Athanasius the Great, St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Leo the Great and Theodoret of Cyrrhus regarding it. The oldest testimony regarding the Apostles Fast is given to us by St. Athanasius the Great (†373). In his letter to Emperor Constance, in speaking of the persecution by the Arians, he writes: “During the week following Pentecost, the people who observed the fast went out to the cemetery to pray.” “The Lord so ordained it,” says St. Ambrose (†397), “that as we have participated in his sufferings during the Forty Days, so we should also rejoice in his Resurrection during the season of Pentecost. We do not fast during the season of Pentecost, since our Lord Himself was present amongst us during those days … Christ’s presence was like nourishing food for the Christians. So too, during Pentecost, we feed on the Lord who is present among us. On the days following his ascension into heaven, however, we again fast” (Sermon 61). St. Ambrose basis this practice on the words of Jesus concerning his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew 9:14, 15: “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridgeroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”

St. Leo the Great (†461) says: “After the long feast of Pentecost, fasting is especially necessary to purify our thoughts and render us worthy to receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit … Therefore, the salutary custom was established of fasting after the joyful days during which we celebrated the resurrection and ascension of our Lord, and the coming of the Holy Spirit.”

The pilgrim Egeria in her Diary (fourth century) records that on the day following the feast of Pentecost, a period of fasting began. The Apostolic Constitutions, a work no later than the fourth century, prescribes: “After the feast of Pentecost, celebrate one week, then observe a fast, for justice demands rejoicing after the reception of the gifts of God and lasting after the body has been refreshed.”

From the testimonies of the fourth century we ascertain that in Alexandria, Jerusalem and Antioch the fast of the holy Apostles was connected with Pentecost and not with the feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul on June 29. In the first centuries, after Pentecost there was one week of rejoicing, that is Privileged Days, followed by about one week of fasting.

The canons of Nicephoros, Patriarch of Constantinople (806-816), mention the Apostle’s Fast. The Typicon of St. Theodore the Studite for the Monastery of Studios in Constantinople speaks of the Forty Days Fast of the holy Apostles. St. Symeon of Thessalonica (†1429) explains the purpose of this fast in this manner: “The Fast of the Apostles is justly established in their honor, for through them we have received numerous benefits and for us they are exemplars and teachers of the fast … For one week after the descent of the Holy Spirit, in accordance with the Apostolic Constitution composed by Clement, we celebrate, and then during the following week, we fast in honor of the Apostles.”

Duration of the Fast

The Fast of the Apostles came into practice in the Church through custom rather than law. For this reason there was no uniformity for a long time, either in its observance or its duration. Some fasted twelve days, others six, still others four, and others only one day. Theodore Balsamon, Patriarch of Antioch (†1204), regarding the Apostle’s Fast, said: “All the faithful, that is the laity and the monks, are obliged to fast seven days and more, and whoever refuses to do so, let him be excommunicated from the Christian community.”

From the work On Three Forty Days Fasts, which is credited to a monk of the monastic community of St. Anastasios the Sinaite (6th or 7th century), we learn that the Fast of the holy Apostles lasted from the first Sunday after Pentecost to the feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God on August 15. Later, however, the Fast of the Dormition was separated from it and the month of July was excluded from the Fast of the Apostles. St. Symeon of Thessalonica speaks of the Apostle’s Fast as of one week’s duration.

In the Orthodox Church the Fast of the holy Apostles lasts from the day after the Sunday of All Saints to the 29th of June, the feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul. This fast may be of longer or shorter duration depending upon which day Pascha is celebrated. According to the Old Calendar it could last from as little as 8 days to as many as 42 days depending on the date of Pascha, but this is shortened by the New Calendar which sometimes obliterates the Fast altogether. If the feast of Pascha occurs sooner, then the Apostle’s Fast is longer; if Pascha comes later, then the Apostle’s Fast is shorter.

Prescription For the Fast

The Fast of the Apostles is somewhat more lenient than the Great Fast before Holy Week and Pascha. The Kievan Metropolitan George (1069-1072) approved the Rule for the Kiev Caves Monastery which does not allow meat or dairy products to be eaten during the Apostle’s Fast. On Wednesday and Friday, they prescribed dry food, that is, bread and water or dry fruits. On Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday they permited fish, wine and oil. In addition to this, they directed that one hundred prostrations (profound bows to the ground) be made daily, excepting Saturdays, Sundays and holy days (the Feast of the Birth of John the Baptist falls on June 23rd and fish, oil and wine is permitted no matter the day). This rule was transferred to Russia via the Kiev Caves Monastery who based their rule on that of the Monastery of Studios in Constantinople. We can thus assume this was the rule for the Fast practiced by both the Roman Empire and the Russian Empire. This is the rule still practiced today with possible minor variations among jurisdictions.

Life of St. Mary of Egypt

Posted in Uncategorized on March 27th, 2012 by frmtassos – Comments Off

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Our Holy Church prescribes that the life of St. Mary of Egypt be read during the Compline and Canon of St. Andrew this week; however, because of the length of the service, I am omitting it from the Wednesday evening service; nonetheless, the text is extremely important to us. Therefore, I am including it here for you to read when you have time.

May our Lord continue to guide you and strengthen you on this Lenten journey.

With love in Christ,

Fr. Michael Tassos

 

The Life of our Holy Mother Mary of Egypt

By St. Sophronios, Patriarch of Jerusalem

(560-638; Patriarch from 634-638)

“It is good to hide the secret of a king, but it is glorious to reveal and preach the works of God;” (Tobit 12:7) so said the Archangel Raphael to Tobit when he performed the wonderful healing of his blindness. Actually, not to keep the secret of a king is perilous and a terrible risk, but to be silent about the works of God is a great loss for the soul. And I (says St. Sophronios), in writing the Life of St. Mary of Egypt, am afraid to hide the works of God by silence. Remembering the misfortune threatened to the servant who hid his God-given talent in the earth (Matt. 25:18-25), I am bound to pass on the holy account that has reached me. And let no one think (continues St. Sophronios) that I have had the audacity to write untruth or doubt this great marvel—may I never lie about holy things! If there do happen to be people who, after reading this record, do not believe it, may the Lord have mercy on them because, reflecting on the weakness of human nature, they consider impossible these wonderful things accomplished by holy people. But now we must begin to tell this most amazing story, which has taken place in our generation.

There was a certain elder in one of the monasteries of Palestine, a priest of holy life and speech, who from childhood had been brought up in monastic ways and customs. This elder’s name was Zosimas. He had been through the whole course of the ascetic life and in everything he adhered to the rule once given to him by his tutors as regard spiritual labors. He had also added a good deal himself whilst laboring to subject his flesh to the will of the spirit. And he had not failed in his aim. He was so renowned for his spiritual life that many came to him from neighboring monasteries and some even from afar. While doing all this, he never ceased to study the Divine Scriptures. Whether resting, standing, working or eating food (if the scraps he nibbled could be called food), he incessantly and constantly had a single aim: always to sing of God, and to practice the teaching of the Divine Scriptures. Zosimas used to relate how, as soon as he was taken from his mother’s breast, he was handed over to the monastery where he went through his training as an ascetic until he reached the age of fifty-three.

After that, he began to be tormented with the thought that he was perfect in everything and needed no instruction from anyone, saying to himself mentally: “Is there a monk on earth who can be of use to me and show me a kind of asceticism that I have not accomplished? Is there a man to be found in the desert who has surpassed me?”

Thus thought the elder, but suddenly an angel appeared to him and said: “Zosimas, valiantly have you struggled, as far as this is within the power of man; valiantly have you gone through the ascetic course. But there is no man who has attained perfection. Before you lay unknown struggles greater than those you have already accomplished. That you may know how many other ways lead to salvation, leave your native land like the renowned patriarch Abraham and go to the monastery by the River Jordan.”

Zosimas did as he was told. He left the monastery in which he had lived from childhood, and went to the River Jordan. At last he reached the community to which God had sent him. Having knocked at the door of the monastery, he identified himself to the monk who was the porter, and the porter told the abbot. On being admitted to the abbot’s presence, Zosimas made the usual monastic prostration and prayer. Seeing that he was a monk the abbot asked: “Where do you come from, brother, and why have you come to us poor old men?”

Zosimas replied: “There is no need to speak about from where I have come, but I have come, father, seeking spiritual profit, for I have heard great things about your skill in leading souls to God.”

“Brother,” the abbot said to him, “Only God can heal the infirmity of the soul. May He teach you and us His divine ways and guide us. But as it is the love of Christ that has moved you to visit us poor old men, then stay with us, if that is why you have come. May the Good Shepherd Who laid down His life for our salvation fill us all with the grace of the Holy Spirit.”

After this, Zosimas bowed to the abbot, asked for his prayers and blessing, and stayed in the monastery. There he saw the elders proficient both in action and the contemplation of God, aflame in spirit, working for the Lord. They sang incessantly, they stood in prayer all night; work was ever in their hands and psalms on their lips. Never an idle word was heard among them; they knew nothing about acquiring temporal goods or the cares of life. But they had one desire—to become in body like corpses. Their constant food was the Word of God, and they sustained their bodies on bread and water, as much as their love for God allowed them. Seeing this, Zosimas was greatly edified and prepared for the struggle that lay before him.

Many days passed and the time drew near when all Christians fast and prepare themselves to worship the Divine Passion and Resurrection of Christ. The monastery gates were kept always locked and only opened when one from the community was sent out on some errand. It was a desert place, not only unvisited by people of the world but even unknown to them.

There was a rule in that monastery which was the reason why God brought Zosimas there. At the beginning of the Great Fast, on Forgiveness Sunday, the priest celebrated the Divine Liturgy and all partook of the holy body and blood of Christ. After the Liturgy, they went to the refectory and would eat a little Lenten meal.

Then all gathered in church and after praying earnestly with prostrations, the elders kissed one another and asked forgiveness. And each made a prostration to the abbot and asked his blessing and prayers for the struggle that lay before them. After this, the gates of the monastery were thrown open, and, singing, “The Lord is my light and my Savior; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defender of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 26:1) and the rest of that psalm, all went out into the desert and crossed the River Jordan. Only one or two brothers were left in the monastery, not to guard the property (for there was nothing to rob), but so as not to leave the church without Divine Service. Each took with him as much as he could or wanted in the way of food, according to the needs of his body: one would take a little bread, another some figs, another dates or wheat soaked in water. And some took nothing but their own bodies covered with rags and fed when nature forced them to it on the plants that grew in the desert.

After crossing the River Jordan, they all scattered far and wide in different directions. And this was the rule of life they had, and which they all observed—neither to talk to one another, nor to know how each one lived and fasted. If they did happen to catch sight of one another, they went to another part of the country, living alone and always singing to God, and at a definite time eating a very small quantity of food. In this way they spent the whole of the Fast and used to return to the monastery a week before the Resurrection of Christ, on Palm Sunday. Each one returned having his own conscience as the witness of his labor, and no one asked another how he had spent his time in the desert. Such were rules of the monastery. Every one of them whilst in the desert struggled with himself before God, the Judge of the struggle, not seeking to please men and fast before the eyes of all. For what is done for the sake of men, to win praise and honor, is not only useless to the one who does it but sometimes the cause of great punishment.

Zosimas did the same as all. And he went far, far into the desert with a secret hope of finding some father who might be living there and who might be able to satisfy his thirst and longing. And he wandered on tireless, as if hurrying on to some definite place. He had already walked for twenty days and when the sixth hour came he stopped and, turning to the East, he began to sing the Sixth Hour service and recite the customary prayers. He used to break his journey thus at fixed hours of the day to rest a little, to chant psalms while standing and to pray on bent knees.

And as he sang thus without turning his eyes from the heavens, he suddenly saw to the right of the hillock on which he stood the semblance of a human body. At first he was confused thinking he beheld a vision of the devil, and even started with fear. But, having guarded himself with the sign of the Cross and banished all fear, he turned his gaze in that direction and in truth saw some form gliding southward. It was naked, the skin dark as if burned up by the heat of the sun; the hair on its head was white as a fleece, and not long, falling just below its neck.

Zosimas was so overjoyed at beholding a human form that he ran after it in pursuit, but the form fled from him. He followed. At length, when he was near enough to be heard, he shouted: “Why do you run from an old man and a sinner? Slave of the True God, wait for me, whoever you are; in God’s name I tell you, for the love of God for Whose sake you are living in the desert.”

The woman said: “Forgive me for God’s sake, but I cannot turn towards you and show you my face, Abba Zosimas. I am a woman and naked, as you see, with the uncovered shame of my body. But if you would like to fulfill one wish of a sinful woman, throw me your cloak so that I can cover my body and can turn to you and ask for your blessing.”

Here terror seized Zosimas, for he heard that she called him by name. But he realized that she could not have done so without knowing anything of him if she had not had the power of spiritual insight. He at once did as he was asked. He took off his old, tattered cloak and threw it to her, turning away as he did so. She picked it up and was able to cover at least a part of her body.

Then she turned to Zosimas and said: “Why did you wish, Abba Zosimas, to see a sinful woman? What do you wish to hear or learn from me, you who have not shrunk from such great struggles?”

Zosimas threw himself on the ground and asked for her blessing. She likewise bowed down before him. And thus they lay on the ground prostrate, asking for each other’s blessing. And one phrase alone could be heard from both: “Bless me!”

After a long while the woman said to Zosimas: “Abba Zosimas, it is you who must give blessing and pray. You are dignified by the order of priesthood and for many years you have been standing before the holy altar and offering the sacrifice of the Divine Mysteries.”

This flung Zosimas into even greater terror. At length with tears he said to her: “O mother, filled with the spirit, by your mode of life it is evident that you live with God and have died to the world. The Grace granted to you is apparent—for you have called me by name and recognized that I am a priest, though you have never seen me before. Grace is recognized not by one’s orders, but by gifts of the Spirit, so give me your blessing for God’s sake, for I need your prayers.”

Then giving way before the wish of the elder, the woman said: “Blessed is God Who cares for the salvation of men and their souls.”

Zosimas answered: “Amen.”

And both rose to their feet. Then the woman asked the elder: “Why have you come, man of God, to me who am so sinful? Why do you wish to see a woman naked and devoid of every virtue? Though I know one thing—the Grace of the Holy Spirit has brought you to render me a service in time. Tell me, father, how are the Christian peoples living? And the kings? How is the Church guided?”

Zosimas said: “By your prayers, mother, Christ has granted lasting peace to all. But, fulfill the unworthy petition of an old man and pray for the whole world and for me who am a sinner, so that my wanderings in the desert may not be fruitless.”

She answered: “You who are a priest, Abba Zosimas, it is you who must pray for me and for all, for this is your calling. But as we must all be obedient, I will gladly do what you ask.”

And with these words she turned to the East, and raising her eyes to Heaven and stretching out her hands, she began to pray in a whisper. One could not hear separate words, so that Zosimas could not understand anything that she said in her prayers. Meanwhile he stood, according to his own word, all in a flutter, looking at the ground without saying a word. And he swore, calling God to witness, that when at length he thought that her prayer was very long, he took his eyes off the ground and saw that she was raised about a forearm’s distance from the ground and stood praying in the air. When Zosimas saw this, even greater terror seized him and he fell on the ground weeping and repeating many times, “Lord, have mercy.”

And whilst lying prostrate on the ground he was tempted by a thought: Is it not a spirit, and perhaps her prayer is hypocrisy?

But at the very same moment the woman turned around, raised the elder from the ground and said: “Thoughts, tempting you about me, trouble you, Abba, telling you I am a spirit, and that my prayer is feigned. Know, holy father, that I am only a sinful woman, though I am guarded by Holy Baptism. And I am not a spirit but earth and ashes, and flesh alone.”

And with these words she guarded herself with the Sign of the Cross on her forehead, eyes, mouth and breast, saying: “May God defend us from the evil one and from his designs, for fierce is his struggle against us.”

Hearing and seeing this, the elder fell to the ground and, embracing her feet, he said with tears: “I beg you, by the Name of Christ our God, Who was born of a Virgin, for Whose sake you have stripped yourself, for Whose sake you have exhausted your flesh, do not hide from your slave, who you are and whence and how you came into this desert. Tell me everything so that the marvelous works of God may become known. A hidden wisdom and a secret treasure—what profit is there in them? Tell me all, I implore you, for not out of vanity or for self-display will you speak but to reveal the truth to me, an unworthy sinner. I believe in God, for Whom you live and Whom you serve. I believe that He led me into this desert so as to show me His ways in regard to you. It is not in our power to resist the plans of God. If it were not the will of God that you and your life would be known, He would not have allowed me to see you and would not have strengthened me to undertake this journey, one like me who never before dared to leave his cell.”

Much more said Abba Zosimas. But the woman raised him and said: “I am ashamed, Abba, to speak to you of my disgraceful life; forgive me for God’s sake! But as you have already seen my naked body I shall likewise lay bare before you my work, so that you may know with what shame and obscenity my soul is filled. I was not running away out of vanity, as you thought, for of what have I to be proud—I who was the chosen vessel of the devil? But when I start my story you will run from me, as from a snake, for your ears will not be able to bear the vileness of my actions. But I shall tell you all without hiding anything, only imploring you first of all to pray incessantly for me, so that I may find mercy on the Day of Judgment.”

The elder wept and the woman began her story. “My native land, holy father, was Egypt. Already during the lifetime of my parents, when I was twelve years old, I renounced their love and went to Alexandria. I am ashamed to recall how there I at first ruined my maidenhood and then unrestrainedly and insatiably gave myself up to sensuality. It is more becoming to speak of this briefly, so that you may just know my passion and my lechery. For about seventeen years, forgive me, I lived like that. I was like a fire of public debauch. And it was not for the sake of gain—here I speak the pure truth. Often when they wished to pay me, I refused the money. I acted in this way so as to make as many men as possible to try to obtain me, doing free of charge what gave me pleasure. Do not think that I was rich and that was the reason why I did not take money. I lived by begging, often by spinning flax, but I had an insatiable desire and an irrepressible passion for lying in filth. This was life to me. Every kind of abuse of nature I regarded as life.

“That is how I lived. Then one summer I saw a large crowd of Libyans and Egyptians running towards the sea. I asked one of them, ‘Where are these men hurrying to?’ He replied, ‘They are all going to Jerusalem for the Exaltation of the Precious and Life-giving Cross, which takes place in a few days.’ I said to him, ‘Will they take me with them if I wish to go?’ ‘No one will hinder you if you have money to pay for the journey and for food.’ And I said to him, ‘To tell you the truth, I have no money, neither have I food. But I shall go with them and shall go aboard. And they shall feed me, whether they want to or not. I have a body—they shall take it instead of pay for the journey.’ I was suddenly filled with a desire to go, Abba, to have more lovers who could satisfy my passion. I told you, Abba Zosimas, not to force me to tell you of my disgrace. God is my witness, I am afraid of defiling you and the very air with my words.”

Zosimas, weeping, replied to her: “Speak on for God’s sake, mother, speak and do not break the thread of such an edifying tale.”

And, resuming her story, she went on: “That youth, on hearing my shameless words, laughed and went off. While I, throwing away my spinning wheel, ran off towards the sea in the direction which everyone seemed to be taking. And, seeing some young men standing on the shore, about ten or more of them, full of vigor and alert in their movements, I decided that they would do for my purpose (it seemed that some of them were waiting for more travelers whilst others had gone ashore). Shamelessly, as usual, I mixed with the crowd, saying, ‘Take me with you to the place you are going; you will not find me superfluous.’ I also added a few more words calling forth general laughter. Seeing my readiness to be shameless, they readily took me aboard the boat. Those who were expected came also, and we set sail at once.

“How shall I relate to you what happened after this? Whose tongue can tell, whose ears can take in all that took place on the boat during that voyage! And to all this I frequently forced those miserable youths even against their will. There is no mentionable or unmentionable depravity of which I was not their teacher. I am amazed, Abba, how the sea stood our licentiousness, how the earth did not open its jaws, and how it was that hell did not swallow me alive, when I had entangled in my net so many souls. But I think God was seeking my repentance. For, He does not desire the death of a sinner but magnanimously awaits his return to Him. At last we arrived in Jerusalem. I spent the days before the festival in the town, living the same kind of life, perhaps even worse. I was not content with the youths I had seduced at sea and who had helped be to get to Jerusalem; many others—citizens of the town and foreigners—I also seduced.

“The holy day of the Exaltation of the Cross dawned while I was still flying about, hunting for youths. At daybreak I saw that everyone was hurrying to the church, so I ran with the rest. When the hour for the holy elevation approached, I was trying to make my way in with the crowd which was struggling to get through the church doors. I at last squeezed through with great difficulty almost to the entrance of the temple, from which the life-giving Tree of the Cross was being shown to the people. But when I trod on the doorstep through which everyone passed, I was stopped by some force which prevented my entering. Meanwhile I was brushed aside by the crowd and found myself standing alone in the porch. Thinking that this had happened because of my woman’s weakness, I again began to work my way into the crowd, trying to elbow myself forward. But in vain I struggled. Again my feet trod on the doorstep over which others were entering the church without encountering any obstacle. I alone seemed to remain unaccepted by the church. It was as if there was a detachment of soldiers standing there to oppose my entrance. Once again I was excluded by the same mighty force and again I stood in the porch.

“Having repeated my attempt three or four times, at last I felt exhausted and had no more strength to push and to be pushed, so I went aside and stood in a corner of the porch. And only then with great difficulty it began to dawn on me, and I began to understand the reason why I was prevented from being admitted to see the life-giving Cross. The word of salvation gently touched the eyes of my heart and revealed to me that it was my unclean life which barred the entrance to me. I began to weep and lament and beat my breast, and to sigh from the depths of my heart.

“And so I stood weeping when I saw above me the icon of the most holy Mother of God. And turning to her my bodily and spiritual eyes I said: ‘O Lady, Mother of God, who gave birth in the flesh to God the Word, I know, O how well I know, that it is no honor or praise to thee when one so impure and depraved as I looks up to thine icon, O Ever-Virgin, who didst keep thy body and soul in purity. Rightly do I inspire hatred and disgust before thy virginal purity. But I have heard that God Who was born of thee became man on purpose to call sinners to repentance. Then help me, for I have no other help. Order the entrance of the church to be opened to me. Allow me to see the venerable Tree on which He Who was born of thee suffered in the flesh and on which He shed His holy Blood for the redemption of sinners and for me, unworthy as I am. Be my faithful witness before thy son that I will never again defile my body by the impurity of fornication, but as soon as I have seen the Tree of the Cross I will renounce the world and its temptations and will go wherever thou wilt lead me.’

“Thus I spoke and, as if acquiring some hope in firm faith and feeling some confidence in the mercy of the Mother of God, I left the place where I stood praying. And I went again and mingled with the crowd that was pushing its way into the temple. And no one seemed to thwart me; no one hindered my entering the church. I was possessed with trembling, and was almost in delirium. Having gotten as far as the doors which I could not reach before—as if the same force which had hindered me cleared the way for me—I now entered without difficulty and found myself within the holy place. And so it was that I saw the life-giving Cross. I saw too the Mysteries of God and how the Lord accepts repentance. Throwing myself on the ground, I worshipped that holy earth and kissed it with trembling.

“Then I came out of the church and went to her who had promised to be my security, to the place where I had sealed my vow. And bending my knees before the Virgin Mother of God, I addressed to her such words as these: ‘O loving Lady, thou hast shown me thy great love for all men. Glory to God Who receives the repentance of sinners through thee. What more can I recollect or say, I who am so sinful? It is time for me, O Lady, to fulfill my vow, according to thy witness. Now lead me by the hand along the path of repentance!’

“And at these words I heard a voice from on high: ‘If you cross the Jordan you will find glorious rest!’ Hearing this voice and having faith that it was for me, I cried to the Mother of God: ‘O Lady, Lady, do not forsake me!’

“With these words I left the porch of the church and set off on my journey. As I was leaving the church a stranger glanced at me and gave me three coins, saying: ‘Sister, take these.’ And, taking the money, I bought three loaves and took them with me on my journey, as a blessed gift. I asked the person who sold the bread: ‘Which is the way to the Jordan?’ I was directed to the city gate which led that way. Running onward, I passed the gates and still weeping went on my journey.

“Those I had met I asked the way, and after walking for the rest of that day (I think it was nine o’clock when I saw the Cross) I at last reached at sunset the Church of St. John the Baptist which stood on the banks of the Jordan. After praying in the temple, I went down to the Jordan and rinsed my face and hands in its holy waters. I partook of the holy and life-giving Mysteries in the Church of the Forerunner and ate half of one of my loaves. Then, after drinking some water from the Jordan, I lay down and passed the night on the ground. In the morning I found a small boat and crossed to the opposite bank. I again prayed to Our Lady to lead me whither she wished. Then I found myself in this desert and since then up to this very day I am estranged from all, keeping away from people and running away from everyone. And I live here clinging to my God Who saves all who turn to Him from faintheartedness and storms.”

Zosimas asked her: “How many years have gone by since you began to live in this desert?”

She replied: “Forty-seven years have already gone by, I think, since I left the holy city.”

Zosimas asked: “But what food do you find?”

The woman said: “I had two and a half loaves when I crossed the Jordan. Soon they dried up and became hard as rock. Eating a little I gradually finished them after a few years.”

Zosimas asked: “Can it be that without getting ill you have lived so many years thus, without suffering in any way from such a complete change?”

The woman answered: “You remind me, Zosimas, of what I dare not speak. For when I recall all the dangers which I overcame, and all the violent thoughts which confused me, I am again afraid that they will take possession of me.”

Zosimas said: “Do not hide from me anything; speak to me without concealing anything.”

And she said to him: “Believe me, Abba, seventeen years I passed in this desert fighting wild beasts—mad desires and passions. When I was about to partake of food, I used to begin to regret the meat and fish of which I had so much in Egypt. I regretted also not having wine which I loved so much; for I drank a lot of wine when I lived in the world, while here I had not even water. I used to burn and succumb with thirst. The mad desire for profligate songs also entered me and confused me greatly, edging me on to sing satanic songs which I had learned once. But when such desires entered me I struck myself on the breast and reminded myself of the vow which I had made when going into the desert. In my thoughts I returned to the icon of the Mother of God which had received me and to her I cried in prayer. I implored her to chase away the thoughts to which my miserable soul was succumbing. And after weeping at length and beating my breast I used to see light at last which seemed to shine on me from everywhere. And after the violent storm, lasting calm descended.

“And how can I tell you about the thoughts which urged me on to fornication, how can I express them to you, Abba? A fire was kindled in my miserable heart which seemed to burn me up completely and to awake in me a thirst for embraces. As soon as this craving came to me, I flung myself on the earth and watered it with my tears, as if I saw before me my witness, who had appeared to me in my disobedience, and who seemed to threaten punishment for the crime. And I did not rise from the ground (sometimes I lay thus prostrate for a day and a night) until a calm and sweet light descended and enlightened me and chased away the thoughts that possessed me. But always I turned to the eyes of my mind to my Protectress, asking her to extend help to one who was sinking fast in the waves of the desert. And I always had her as my helper and the accepter of my repentance. And thus I lived for seventeen years amid constant dangers. And since then even until now the Mother of God helps me in everything and leads me as it were by the hand.”

Zosimas asked: “Can it be that you did not need food and clothing?”

She answered: “After finishing the loaves I had, of which I spoke, for seventeen years I have fed on herbs and all that can be found in the desert. The clothes I had when I crossed the Jordan became torn and worn out. I suffered greatly from the cold and greatly from the extreme heat. At times the sun burned me up and at other times I shivered from the frost, and frequently falling to the ground I lay without breath and without motion. I struggled with many afflictions and with terrible temptations. But from that time until now the power of God in numerous ways had guarded my sinful soul and my humble body. When I only reflect on the evils from which our Lord has delivered me I have imperishable food for hope of salvation. I am fed and clothed by the all-powerful Word of God, the Lord of all. For it is not by bread alone that man lives. And those who have stripped off the rags of sin have no refuge, hiding themselves in the clefts of the rocks.” (Job 24; Heb. 11:38)

Hearing that she cited words of Holy Scripture, from Moses and Job, Zosimas asked her: “And so have you read the psalms and other books?”

She smiled at this and said to the elder: “Believe me, I have not seen a human face ever since I crossed the Jordan, except yours today. I have not seen a beast or a living being ever since I came into the desert. I never learned from books. I have never even heard anyone who sang and read from them. But the word of God which is alive and active, by itself teaches man knowledge. And so this is the end of my tale. But, as I asked you in the beginning, so even now I implore you for the sake of the Incarnate word of God, to pray to the Lord for me who am such a sinner.”

Thus concluding here tale she bowed down before him. And with tears the elder exclaimed: “Blessed is God Who creates the great and wondrous, the glorious and marvelous without end. Blessed is God Who has shown me how He rewards those who fear Him. Truly, O Lord, Thou dost not forsake those who seek Thee!”

And the woman, not allowing the elder to bow down before her, said: “I beg you, holy father, for the sake of Jesus Christ our God and Savior, tell no one what you have heard, until God delivers me of this earth. And now depart in peace and again next year you shall see me, and I you, if God will preserve us in His Great Mercy. But for God’s sake, do as I ask you. Next year during Lent do not cross the Jordan, as is your custom in the monastery.”

Zosimas was amazed to hear that she knew the rules of the monastery and could only say: “Glory to God Who bestows great gifts on those who love Him.”

She continued: “Remain, Abba, in the monastery. And even if you wish to depart, you will not be to do so. And at sunset of the holy day of the Last Supper, put some of the life-giving Body and Blood of Christ into a holy vessel worthy to hold such Mysteries for me, and bring it. And wait for me on the banks of the Jordan adjoining the inhabited parts of the land, so that I can come and partake of the life-giving Gifts. For, since the time I communicated in the temple of the Forerunner before crossing the Jordan even to this day I have not approached the Holy Mysteries. And I thirst for them with irrepressible love and longing. Therefore, I ask and implore you to grant me my wish, bring me the life-giving Mysteries at the very hour when our Lord made His disciples partake of His Divine Supper. Tell John the Abbot of the monastery where you live. Look to yourself and to your brothers, for there is much that needs correction. Only do not say this now, but when God guides you. Pray for me!”

With these words she vanished into the depths of the desert. And Zosimas, falling down on his knees and bowing down to the ground on which she had stood, sent up glory and thanksgiving to God. And, after wandering through the desert, he returned to the monastery on the day all the brothers returned.

For the whole year he kept silent, not daring to tell anyone of what he had seen. To himself he prayed God to show him again the face that he desired. When the first Sunday of the Great Fast came, all went out into the desert with the customary prayers and the singing of psalms. Only Zosimas was held back by illness; he lay in a fever. And then he remembered what the saint had said to him: “And even if you wish to depart, you will not be able to do so.”

Many days passed and, at last recovering from his illness, he remained in the monastery. And when the monks returned and the day of the Last Supper dawned, he did as he had been ordered. Placing some of the most pure Body and Blood into a small chalice and putting some figs and dates and lentils soaked in water into a small basket, he departed for the desert and reached the banks of the Jordan and sat down to wait for the saint. He waited for a long while and then began to doubt.
Then raising his eyes to Heaven, he began to pray: “Grant me O Lord, to behold that which Thou hast allowed me to behold once. Do not let me depart in vain, being the burden of my sins.”

And then another thought struck him: “And what if she does come? There is no boat; how will she cross the Jordan to come to me who am so unworthy?”

And as he was pondering thus he saw the holy woman appear and stand on the other side of the river. Zosimas got up rejoicing and glorifying and thanking God. And again the thought came to him that she could not cross the Jordan. Then he saw that she made the sign of the Cross over the waters of the Jordan (and the night was a moonlight one, as he related afterwards) and then she at once stepped onto the waters and began walking across the surface towards him.

And when he wanted to prostrate himself, she cried to him while still walking on the water: “What are you doing, Abba, you are a priest and carrying the divine Gifts!” He obeyed her, and on reaching the shore she said to the elder: “Bless, father, bless me!”

He answered her trembling, for a state of confusion had overcome him at the sight of the miracle: “Truly God did not lie when He promised that when we purify ourselves we shall be like Him. Glory to Thee, Christ our God, Who has shown me through this Thy slave how far away I stand from perfection.”

Here the woman asked him to say The Creed and The Lord’s Prayer. He began; she finished the prayer and, according to the custom of that time, gave him the kiss of peace. Having partaken of the Holy Mysteries, she raised her hands to Heaven and sighed with tears in her eyes, exclaiming: “Now Thou lettest Thy servant depart in peace, O Lord, according to Thy word; for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.”

Then she said to the elder: “Forgive me, Abba, for asking you, but fulfill another wish of mine. Go now to the monastery and let God’s grace guard you. Next year come again to the same place where I first met you. Come for God’s sake, for you shall again see me, for such is the will of God.”

He said to her: “From this day on I would like to follow you and always see your holy face. But now fulfill the one and only wish of an old man and take a little of the food I have brought for you.”

And he showed her the basket, while she just touched the lentils with the tips of her fingers, and taking three grains she said that the Holy Spirit guards the substance of the soul unpolluted. Then she said: “Pray, for God’s sake pray for me and remember a miserable wretch.”

Touching the saint’s feet and asking for her prayers for the Church, the kingdom and himself, he let her depart with tears, while he went off sighing and sorrowful, for he could not hope to vanquish the invincible. Meanwhile she again made the Sign of the Cross over the Jordan, and stepped onto the waters and crossed over as before. And the elder returned filled with joy and terror, for he had not asked the saint her name. But he decided to do so next year.

And when another year had passed, he again went into the desert. He reached the same spot but could see no sign of anyone. So, raising his eyes to Heaven as before, he prayed: “Show me, O Lord, Thy pure treasure, which Thou hast concealed in the desert. Show me, I pray Thee, the angel in the flesh, of which the world is not worthy.”

Then on the opposite bank of the river, her face turned towards the rising sun, he saw the saint lying dead. Her hands were crossed according to custom and her face was turned to the East. Running up he shed tears over the saint’s feet and kissed them, not daring to touch anything else.
For a long time he wept. Then reciting the appointed psalms, he said the burial prayers and thought to himself: “Must I bury the body of a saint? Or will this be contrary to her wishes?”

And then he saw words traced on the ground by her head: “Abba Zosimas, bury on this spot the body of humble Mary. Return to dust that which is dust and pray to the Lord for me, who departed in the month of Fermoutin of Egypt, called April by the Romans, on the first day, on the very night of our Lord’s Passion, after having partaken of the Divine Mysteries.” St. Mary fell asleep in the Lord in 522 A.D.

Reading this, the elder was glad to know the saint’s name. He understood also that, as soon as she had partaken of the Divine Mysteries on the shore of the Jordan, she was at once transported to the place where she died. The distance which Zosimas had taken twenty days to cover, Mary had evidently traversed in an hour and had at once surrendered her soul to God. Then Zosimas thought: “It is time to do as she wished. But how am I to dig a grave with nothing in my hands?”

And then he saw nearby a small piece of wood left by some traveler in the desert. Picking it up he began to dig the ground. But the earth was hard and dry and did not yield to the efforts of the elder. He grew tired and was covered with sweat. He sighed from the depths of his soul and, lifting up his eyes, he saw a big lion standing close to the saint’s body and licking her feet. At the sight of the lion he trembled with fear, especially when he called to mind Mary’s words that she had never seen wild beasts in the desert. But guarding himself with the Sign of the Cross, the thought came to him that the power of the one lying there would protect him and keep him unharmed. Meanwhile the lion drew nearer to him, expressing affection by every movement.

Zosimas said to the lion: “The Great One ordered that her body was to be buried. But I am old and have not the strength to dig the grave, for I have no spade and it would take too long to go and get one. So can you carry out the work with your claws? Then we can commit to the earth the mortal temple of the saint.”

While he was still speaking the lion with his front paws began to dig a hole that was deep enough to bury the body. Again the elder washed the feet of the saint with his tears and, calling on her to pray for all, covered the body with earth in the presence of the lion. It was as it had been, naked and uncovered by anything but the tattered cloak which had been given to her by Zosimas and with which Mary, turning away, had managed to cover part of her body. Then both departed. The lion went off into the depth of the desert like a lamb, while Zosimas returned to the monastery, glorifying and blessing Christ our Lord. And on reaching the monastery he told all the brothers about everything and all marveled on hearing of God’s miracles. And with fear and love they kept the memory of the saint.
Abbot John, as St. Mary had previously told Abba Zosimas, found a number of things wrong in the monastery and got rid of them with God’s help. And Saint Zosimas died in the same monastery, almost attaining the age of one hundred, and passed to eternal life. The monks kept this story without writing it down and passed it on by word of mouth to one another. But I (adds Sophronios) as soon as I heard it, wrote it down. Perhaps someone else, better informed, has already written the life of the Saint, but as far as I could, I have recorded everything, putting truth above all else. May God Who works amazing miracles and generously bestows gifts on those who turn to Him with faith, reward those who seek light for themselves in this story, who hear, read and are zealous to write it, and may He grant them the lot of blessed Mary together with all who at different times have pleased God by their pious thoughts and labors.

And let us also give glory to God, the eternal King, that He may grant us also His mercy in the Day of Judgment for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord, to Whom belongs all glory, honor, dominion and worship with the Eternal Father and the Most Holy and Life-giving Spirit, both now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Soul Saturday Liturgies

Posted in Uncategorized on February 16th, 2012 by frmtassos – Comments Off

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

I am writing to remind you of the fact that this Saturday at 9:30 a.m. we will commemorate the first of two Soul Saturday Divine Liturgies at St. Luke’s. As we draw nearer to the beginning of Great Lent, the Orthodox Church celebrates the universal commemoration of all those who have fallen asleep on the Saturday before the Sunday of the Last Judgment. The Church also prescribes that Soul Saturday Divine Liturgies be celebrated on the first four Saturdays in Great Lent.

Last year we began the practice of celebrating Soul Saturday Divine Liturgies with the Saturday before the Sunday of the Last Judgment and the first Saturday in Great Lent. The second commemoration, i.e. on the first Saturday of Great Lent, was chosen because it is also the commemoration of St. Theodore of Tyre. St. Theodore was a soldier in the city of Alasium in the 4th century. He was commanded to offer sacrifice to idols yet he confessed his faith in Christ instead. He was charged with setting a fire in a pagan temple and was thrown into prison and condemned to death by burning. He climbed onto the bonfire and with prayer gave up his holy soul to God. It is said that the fire did not consume his body. Fifty years after his death, the emperor Julian the Apostate, wanting to commit an outrage upon Christians, commanded the city-commander of Constantinople during the first week of Great Lent to sprinkle all the food provisions in the market-places with the blood of idol-sacrifices. Saint Theodore, having appeared in a dream to Archbishop Eudoxios, ordered him to inform all the Christians, that no one should buy anything at the market-places, but rather to eat cooked wheat with honey – kolivo ( kut’ya or sochivo). In memory of this occurrence the Orthodox Church annually makes celebration of the holy GreatMartyr Theodore of Tyre on Saturday of the first week of Great Lent.

Here is what Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote about Meat-Fare Saturday in his book Great Lent, A Journey to Pascha:

“On the eve of that day (Meat-Fare Saturday), the Church invites us to a universal commemoration of all those who have “fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection and life eternal.” This is indeed the Church’s great day of prayer for her departed members. To understand the meaning of this connection between Lent and the prayer for the dead, one must remember that Christianity is the religion of love. Christ left with his disciples not a doctrine of individual salvation but a new commandment “that they love one another,” and He added: “By this shall all know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love is thus the foundation, the very life of the Church which is, in the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch, the “unity of faith and love.” Sin is always absence of love, and therefore separation, isolation, war of all against all. The new life given by Christ and conveyed to us by the Church is, first of all, a life of reconciliation, of “gathering into oneness of those who were dispersed,” the restoration of love broken by sin. But how can we even begin our return to God and our reconciliation with Him if in ourselves we do not return to the unique new commandment of love? Praying for the dead is an essential expression of the Church as love We ask God to remember those whom we remember and remember them because we love them. Praying for them we meet them in Christ who is Love and who, because He is Love, overcomes death which is the ultimate victory of separation lovelessness. In Christ there is no difference between living and dead because all are alive in Him, we love Christ: this is the law of the Church and the obvious rationale for her of prayer for the dead. It is truly our love “in Christ” and how wrong, how hopelessly wrong, are those Western Christians who either reduce prayer for the dead to a juridical doctrine of “merits” and “compensations” or simply reject it as useless. The great Vigil for the Dead of Meat-Fare Saturday serves as a pattern for all other commemorations of the departed and it is repeated on the second, third, and fourth Saturdays of Lent.”

Great Lent A Journey to Pascha, Alexander Schmemann, Crestwood, NY, 1990, pgs.23-24

Reading from the Psalter

Posted in Uncategorized on February 7th, 2012 by frmtassos – Comments Off

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

As some of you have noticed, we have recently begun to read some of the psalms after the Great Litany at Vespers. After consulting with the ecclesiarchs of the diocese, we have reinstituted the reading of the psalms at this point because of their importance in the liturgical life of our church. The reading from the book of psalms or Psalter is one of the most ancient practices in both the Jewish and Christian faiths. The rubrics for virtually all Orthodox Christian churches direct that the Psalter be read or chanted beginning at the Vespers on Saturday night. Here are just a few words from the Holy Fathers on the importance of the psalms:

St. John Chrysostom

If we keep vigil in the church, David comes first, last, and central. If early in the morning we want songs and hymns, first, last, and central is David again. If we are occupied with the funeral solemnities of those who have fallen asleep, or if the virgins sit at home and spin, David is first, last, and central. O amazing wonder! Many who have made little progress in literature know the Psalter by heart. Nor is it only in cities and churches that David is famous; in the village market, in the desert, and in uninhabitable land, he excites the praise of God. In monasteries, among those holy choirs of angelic armies, David is first, last, and central. In the convents of virgins, where there are the communities of those who imitate Mary, in the deserts where there are men crucified to the world, who live their life in heaven with God, David is first, last, and central. All other men at night are overcome by sleep; David alone is active, and gathering the servants of God into seraphic bands, he turns earth into heaven, and converts men into angels.

St. Basil the Great

When, indeed, the Holy Spirit saw that the human race was guided only with difficulty toward virtue, and that, because of our inclination toward pleasure, we were neglectful of an upright life, what did He do? The delight of melody He mingled with the doctrines so that by the pleasantness and softness of the sound heard we might receive without perceiving it the benefit of the words, just as wise physicians who, when giving the fastidious rather bitter drugs to drink, frequently smear the cup with honey. Therefore, He devised for us these harmonious melodies of the psalms, that they who are children in age, or even those who are youthful in disposition, might to all appearances chant, but in reality, become trained in soul. For, never has any one of the many indifferent persons gone away easily holding in mind either an apostolic or prophetic message, but they do chant the words of the psalms, even in the home, and they spread them around in the market place, and, if perchance, someone becomes exceedingly wrathful, when he begins to be soothed by the psalm, he departs with the wrath immediately lulled to sleep by means of the melody.

A psalm implies serenity of soul; it is the author of peace, which calms bewildering and seething thoughts. For, it softens the wrath of the soul, and what is unbridled it chastens. A psalm forms friendships, unites those separated, conciliates those at enmity. Who, indeed, can still consider as an enemy him with who he has uttered the same prayer to God? So that psalmody, bringing about choral singing, a bond, as it were, toward unity, and joining people into a harmonious union of one choir, produces also the greatest of blessings, love. A psalm is a city of refuge from the demons; a means of inducing help from the angels, a weapon in fears by night, a rest from the toils of the day, a safeguard for infants, and adornment for those at the height of their vigour, a consolation for the elders, a most fitting ornament for women. It peoples the solitudes, it rids the market places of excesses; it is the elementary exposition of beginners, the improvement of those advancing, the solid support of the perfect, the voice of the Church. It brightens feast days, it creates a sorrow which is in accordance with God. For, a psalm calls forth a tear even from a heart of stone. A psalm is the work of angels, a heavenly institution, the spiritual incense.

From the Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticus

Pambo, our holy father, being an illiterate man went to one of the fathers who knew letters for the purpose of being taught a psalm. And, having heard the first verse of the thirty-eighth psalm, “I said I will take heed to my ways lest I sin with my tongue,” he departed without staying to hear the second verse, saying, “this one will suffice if I can learn it in deed.” And when the father who had given him the verse reproved him because he had not seen him for the space of six months, the blessed one answered that he had not yet learned in deed the verse of the psalm. After a considerable lapse of time, being asked by one of his friends whether he had made himself master of the verse, he answered thus, “In all of nineteen years, I have only just succeeded in accomplishing it.”

Glory to God for all things!

Fr. Michael Tassos

 

All quotations are from The Psalter According to the Seventy, Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Boston, MA, 1987.