“Acquire the Spirit of peace. . .”

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This is perhaps the most famous quotation from St Seraphim of Sarov, born Prokhor Moshnin, one of Orthodox Russia’s most beloved wonder-workers, monks and elders (startsy).

The saint was born in 1759 in Kursk during the reign of Empress Elizabeth (Yelizaveta Petrovna), daughter of Peter I, and died near Sarov in 1833 during the reign of Emperor Nicholas I.

O Holy Father Seraphim, pray to God for us!

A centering prayer for compassion

forgiveness

Each morning after or before you pray, and each night before you sleep, say these words slowly and deeply, so that the peace of God which “passes all understanding” may fill your heart and the Lord’s grace may quiet your soul.

“I was created by God out of His love.

I am alive today by His grace.

I will die in hope of eternal life with Him.

Through His mercy, I will rise again in the glory of the resurrection.”

Then, look or think upon anyone who has hurt or wronged you, and, keeping him or her in mind,  reflect on this person that:

“You were created by God out of His love.

You are alive today by His grace.

You will die in hope of eternal life with Him.

Through His mercy, you will rise again in the glory of the resurrection.”

If, in this way, you can truly look upon your fellow man with kind intent, even a person who hurt or wounded you, then you not only do a good work in God’s sight, but you lessen any pain in your soul. By allowing the grace of the Holy Spirit to work and move through you in a spirit of forgiveness, any anger and bitterness in your soul will dissipate, replaced with genuine compassion and deep Christian love. This freedom from anger and bitterness is the fruit of all regenerative redemption, healing of soul, and inner peace.

Thoughts on the grace of God in our lives and the transforming power of His love

How this suffering world would be transformed if we could more freely acknowledge to each other the real presence of God in our lives! Think of how society would be transformed if more of us could understand and connect with each other on this deep spiritual level! These moments, which so deeply transform and illumine us, are little theophanies, moments of revelation of divine love and whisperings of God’s grace by the Holy Spirit.

These manifestations of our Savior’s love for us touch the very soul and warm the heart of the man or woman open to receiving them. It is these moments which serve to convert and orient one’s soul towards her Creator, which can and should inspire us to seek after God with all our being.

How transformational and glorious these manifestations of divine love and grace are in the lives of those who discern them! If men and women felt free to acknowledge to their fellows this abundant grace of God and manifestations of His love in their lives, the whole world would realize how much more united in His love it actually is. They would see how, in the words of St. John of Damascus (675-749), “The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God”. The Lord who has created all existence, who has painted this icon of His children whom He has fashioned in His image, works with human soul in tapestries of grace and love, His Spirit like a fire warming the noetic hearts of the faithful.

If only more people in the Church felt that they could share their experiences of divine grace, which can come upon any person at any time when they have opened themselves to receiving it! This grace, always a miracle when it visits a person by the power of the Holy Spirit, is bestowed on the heart and soul of someone who seeks after God daily and at all times, who discerns Him as that which is “everywhere present and fillest all things”. Those who have discerned this grace know what it is to live and believe the words of Blessed Augustine (354-430) even if he or she has never heard them: “To fall in love with God is the greatest romance.”

Such a person who truly loves Him and discerns His presence in their life constantly remembers the Lord’s chief command, both to those of the Old and New Covenant, to the blood of the House of Israel (Deuteronomy 6:5) and to the new Israel of the New Dispensation, that we must love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and all our might (Matthew 22:37-40). The person who remembers the Lord’s commandments, truly endeavoring to love God with all their being, is on the path to that mystical union with His divine energies and love which shines in the faces of the saints. Such a person is immersed in the lifelong process of theosis: the miraculous and mysterious awakening and transformation of the noetic inner heart and soul of man in union with God’s loving grace through which he or she is divinized.

“God became man so that man might become God”, wrote St. Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria (296-373) in his treatise On the Incarnation. St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (130-202), who died almost a century before St. Athanasius’ birth, wrote similarly, “In His unbounded love, God became what we are that He might make us what He is.” This teaching is a universal witness of the early Church, present in all the writings of the earliest Fathers who knew the apostles of Christ or who were trained by their disciples and their disciples’ disciples, and so on.

How can man become God when he is so clearly imperfect? St John Climacus (“John of the Ladder”), St Isaac the Syrian, St Silouan the Athonite, Elder Cleopa (Illie) and so many other holy men and women write of the process of salvation and divinization- for man can only be divinized to the degree that he allows himself to be completely opened to the saving and transformative loving grace of God- as a ladder of gradual, lifelong spiritual ascent. Elder Cleopa (+1998) offers beautifully clear instruction on the ladder of ascent in prayer and spiritual introspection and communion with God here.

The ladders of spiritual growth and increasing discernment through prayer, fasting, repentance and love for God are mutually interconnected to the point of pursuing the same end, reaching for the same transformation in and through and by Christ. First comes the recognition and aversion to sin as anything which separates us from God’s grace and love of the other. Then comes the ceasing of sin and the promptings of repentance, turning away from sinful mindsets and actions, and turning anew to the love of God, With this increasing discernment comes the ability to pray with the lips and the mouth and gradually, the mind; that is, to remember how to pray and what one wants to pray, and to increasingly understand the significance and meaning of what one prayers. Still, this is not the highest level of prayer, which the saints call “prayer of the heart”, the deepest level of communion with God when one’s mental comprehension of what one prays, one’s psyche, descends into the nous, the spiritual eye or the inner heart of one’s soul. Without a lifelong cultivation of ceaseless prayer (1 Thess. 5:17) and repentance, we may mount the ladder rungs again and again, but never truly begin to ascend in prayer.

We cannot become God by our very essence, which is created, no more than a child can ever become identical in essence to its parent, but we are gradually transformed as our noetic heart and soul open more to the energy and promptings of the Holy Spirit. Man can thus mysteriously and miraculously  become united to His Creator by the most intimate adoption of sonship. Insofar as man, a created being endowed by God with an immortal spirit, can be united to Him through immersion and participation in His illuminative grace and love, he can be transformed and made divine.

To receive true forgiveness, we must truly forgive others

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“This is the rule we have: if you forgive others, it is a sign that the Lord has forgiven you. But if you refuse to forgive, then your own sins remain with you.”

-St Silouan of Mount Athos

“He who has not completely forgiven those who stumble, and has not brought his heart to God free from grievance and illuminated with the light of reconciliation with his neighbor, will fail to attain the grace of the blessings he has prayed for.

Indeed, he will justly be handed over to temptation and to evil, so that, having retracted his judgments of other people, he may learn to purify himself of his own sins.

Scripture here means by temptation the law of sin, of which the first man was free when he was created. And by ‘what is evil’ it means the devil, who has mixed this law of sin with human nature, deceitfully persuading man to transfer his soul’s desire from what is permitted to what is forbidden, and to turn aside to the transgression of the divine commandment.

The result of this is the loss of the incorruptibility which had been given by grace.”

-St Maximos the Confessor, d. 662

A former aid to Byzantine Emperor Heraclius who entered monastic life, St Maximos the Confessor, also known as Maximos the Theologian and Maximos of Constantinople, was a monk, master theologian, and prolific scholar who lived from 580-662.

“Cry out to Christ your God, Searcher of hearts. . .”

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“Woe is me, a sinner. What has happened to me? Why should I destroy myself so wrongly? I still have time for repentance.

The Lord calls me: Shall I procrastinate? How long, my soul, will you remain in your sins?  How long will you put off repentance?

Think of the judgment to come, cry out to Christ your God: Searcher of hearts, I have sinned; before Thou condemnest me, have mercy upon me!

At Thy awesome return, O Christ, may I not hear ‘I know you not’ (Matthew 25:12)! For we have placed our hope in Thee, our Savior, even though in our negligence we fail to keep Thy commandments.

But, we pray Thee, spare our souls. Alas, Lord, for I have grieved Thee and did not perceive it; yet behold, through Thy grace I have begun to perceive!”
-St Peter of Damascus

Discerning the grace of God in all tribulations

In these trying times, now more than ever I discern the abundant and infectious grace of the Holy Spirit present in all things, in all people. My soul feels its quiet whispering peace amidst the tumult of my heart, and in every breath I take, every blink of my eyes, I see God at work in the world healing and restoring His beloved creation. I feel a sense of quiet adoration and wonder toward God permeating all that I am. Even in moments of heartache, I stand in awe at the beauty and grace evident all around me. All that happens in our lives enables us to grow, even if we do not yet understand. True understanding comes with time and in the fullness of God’s providence.

The blinding delusions of sin

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Who does not know how difficult it is, without God’s special grace, for a sinner to turn from the way of sin that is so dear to him to the path of virtue?

How deeply sin takes root in the heart of the sinner, and in all his being — how it gives the sinner its own way of looking at things, by means of which he sees them quite differently to what they are in reality, and shows him everything in a kind of alluring light.

It is for this reason that we see that sinners very often do not even think of their conversion, and do not consider themselves to be great sinners, because their eyes are blinded by self-love and pride. And if they do consider themselves sinners, then they give themselves up to the most terrible despair, which overwhelms their mind with thick darkness and greatly hardens their heart.

-St John of Kronstadt

Saint John of Kronstadt (1829-1908) is one of the most beloved Russian saints to whom thousands would come seeking his ascetic and pastoral advice. He served most of his life as a priest at St Alexander Nevsky’s Cathedral in Kronstadt outside St Petersburg. He wrote widely on many topics, especially on the profound existential need to cultivate transcendent Christian love and forgiveness.