How to Live According to the Faith

Lessons of the Great Archpastor, the Ever-memorable Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow* (November 19, 1867)

Faith in Christ has existed on earth for almost 2,000 years now, and is in no way overcome. Hundreds of thousands of people have joyously borne terrible torments out of love for Christ, for faith in Him. And if in present times there have appeared men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith (II Tim. 3:8) and stood against the Faith and the Church of Christ, all their efforts are in vain: the Lord said that the gates of hell shall not prevail against [His Church] (Matt. 6:18). Let us look at ourselves. Is there among us firm faith and love for Christ? Do we not stifle it with our passions, laziness, doubts? Ah, friends, without faith in the Lord Christ there is no salvation! We must by all means kindle in ourselves the spirit of faith, that is, stimulate it, feed it with prayer, the Word of God, patience, sincere remembrance of the Saviour Who suffered for us. All of this can be done every day.

What to do in the morning

When you wake up, first of all let your soul and heart say “Glory to Thee, O Lord, Who has preserved us this night! Glory to Thee, Who has shown us the light! Lord, bless this day for us!” In doing this, think about how God gives you the day which you could not give to yourself, and devote the first hour, or perhaps the first quarter hour of the day given you and offer it as a sacrifice to God, in grateful, supplicatory prayer. The more zealously you do this, the more you will sanctify your day, the more strongly you will protect yourself from the temptations that we meet every day.

The Dwelling and Clothing of the Christian

From the start of the morning and throughout the day, make the thought about Christ the soul of your life, the moving force of your actions. So, for example, if you glance over your dwelling, remember Christ in the manger, in swaddling clothes, lying on straw, all this life not having a place to lay His head, finally imprisoned, nailed to the Cross, and thank God for your house, your shelter, however humble and poor it may be. Do not envy magnificently decorated mansions: the mansion of Christ is a pure heart!

As you dress in your simple clothing, remember Christ stripped naked and then robed in the clothing of mockery. Do not dwell on apparel, do not follow slavishly the whims of fashion, but try to garb yourself in goodness, humility, meekness, long-suffering, gazing mentally on the meek and humble heart of Jesus.

If you are eating a meal, remember the vinegar and gall that Christ tasted, and do not demand plentiful, luxurious food and drink: the heavenly Guest loves to enter not the house of feasting, but always to the one that opens the door of his heart to Him. Place in your heart Christ suffering and dying on the Cross, and in His unseen presence mortify your passions and lusts.

Contact with people

Later, when you deal with people, both relatives and others, before saying a word, think about what will be its effect, and think even more seriously before you do something in their presence, for actions speak louder than words.

Worldly Affairs

If you are undertaking anything, before asking any other adviser, ask the advice of faith. Appeal in the words of the Apostle: Lord, what wilt Thou have me do? (Acts 9:6). Is what I would undertake pleasing to Thee, Lord? If it is pleasing, bless it; if not, do not let me do what is displeasing to Thee. And then listen to what the Lord tells you in your conscience, in your reason, in the counsels of pious and wise people and, having begun the course that you select, pray in your heart, O Lord, make haste to help me (Ps. 69:1).

Absences

If you are going anywhere, go with God, as our pious forbearer said as a farewell, walk before me as the Lord Himself demanded (Gen. 17:1); always see Him before you, for He is at thy right hand (Ps. 15:8). As much as possible keep in your thoughts and in your heart that God sees you, so that you may be both ashamed and afraid to attempt anything unworthy before the eyes of God.

Word and Feelings

If you enter the company of people, behave with extreme caution. If you hear a word of praise for yourself there, be careful: praises frequently conceal flattery and can arouse in you self-satisfaction and neglect of your further improvement. If you hear an insulting or humiliating word, take care not to become inflamed with anger which worketh not the righteousness of God (James 1:20). Answer the one who insults you either with silence or a meek word of truth. If you hear a word that accuses a neighbor, be careful that you not take part in the sin of someone else’s tongue. Do not join in words that are more harmful to the one who judges than to the one being judged. If you hear a word that saddens one with bad news, be careful lest your sorrow become stronger than your common sense; dissolve it with hope in God’s mercy and with the warm prayer: O my Rejoicing, deliver me from them which have encircled me (Ps. 31:7). Endure without complaint sorrows and misfortunes. Sorrows are inescapable on the path leading to the Kingdom of God! Many are the sorrows of the righteous! Christ Himself endured them; the Mother of God endured them as well. Without sorrows we will not be saved, but even in the depth of sorrow believe that the Lord loves you truly, and is only testing you. Remember: you sometimes return home from afar by a bad road, in a storm, in frost, or in terrible heat, but you go patiently, willingly; likewise patiently go by the difficult and sorrowful path to the heavenly home, the Kingdom of God.

Caution regarding harmful books

If you see in a letter or a book a word of unbelief irreverence, or indecency, turn your eyes away from it quickly, do not entice yourself with the thought of reading it out of curiosity or for amusement. Do not touch filth. Do not play with fire. Do not desire to experience the taste of poison.

In general, in your relations with people be peaceable, just, compassionate, do good even to your enemies, imitating Him Who shines His sun on both the evil and the good.

If you will live and act in this manner, then, when you pray, nothing will obstruct your prayer’s path to heaven.

Attending Church

When the time comes, and especially the time put aside for God and His temple, a feast day or the hour of Divine Services, hurry to tear yourself away from business and worldly cares and voluntarily and zealously offer yourself to God in His church. When you enter the church bring to mind the promise of the Lord to those that gather in His name: there am I in the midst of them (Matt. 18:20), and stand reverently in church, as before the very face of Christ, and pray to Him that he sanctify you by His holiness, animate you by His prayer, and enlighten you with the word of the Gospel and the Grace of the Mysteries.

Take note of this, too: in the church, angels serve with us and guard the holiness dwelling there. Once, in the Lavra of Saint Theodosius near Jerusalem, Abba Leontius, coming one Sunday to church to receive the Holy Mysteries, saw an angel standing on the right side of the Holy Table, and when the elder, being afraid, turned to run to his cell, the voice of the angel called to him: “From the time this Holy Table was consecrated, I have been charged to stay by it.” Remember this, beloved, and stand reverently. And, if you feel that only your body is standing in church, while your mind thinks of home, or the market, or a place of merriment, collect yourself. Hurry to bring back your mind that has strayed, join it to God in your heart, force it to strive towards God, Who looks upon you. When you hear the word of God, open up not only your bodily ears, but your spiritual ones as well, open your heart, receive this heavenly Bread and with it nourish not only your memory, but also your life and work.

On Communion

When you are preparing to be a communicant of the Body and Blood of Christ, or are simply present at this Mystery, cleave in mind and heart to the Cross and the Tomb of the Lord, to the Body of Christ, suffering, dying, buried, risen, glorified and believe that your faith’s touching Him will be more substantial than the touching of His garment by the woman with an issue of blood, and Christ’s power [will] go out (Luke 8:46) to purify and elevate your powers of soul and body.

How to celebrate feastdays

Having left church and returned home, do not rush to worldly business on days dedicated to God: business that you illicitly conduct in festal times will bring you no benefit. Realize most of all that if you do not come to thank and glorify God in His church, then you can be sure that He will not send down His blessing on your business outside the church (Haggai 1:9). And if sometimes you decide to excuse yourself from attending the church, be in fear lest you suddenly be overtaken by death and lest it be said of you: Remember that thou in thy lifetime received thy good things… but now (in eternity) thou art tormented (Luke 16:25). God preserve you from this fate.

Never forget that your soul is also God’s temple, and if at any time an impure thought and evil desire draws near to your soul, and will draw your body as well towards sin, hasten to protect yourself with the words said to the first Christians, and consequently to you: Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? (I Cor. 3:16). Then say to yourself: how can I dare to ruin the temple of God, by sin and inequity! How can I be so bold as to insult and alienate the Holy Spirit!

What to do in the evening

Now the day has ended—you are going off to sleep. Ponder the thought that God gives you rest from labors, and take the first fruits of the time of your rest and dedicate it to God with pure and humble prayer. Its fragrance will draw an angel close to preserve your rest. While preparing for sleep, remember death, of which sleep is an image and threshold, and with a prayer of faith surrender yourself to Him that is the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25). But when you can conquer sleep, or when it does not conquer you, remember [the Lord’s] name in the night (Ps. 118:55).

Such should be the constant disposition and activity of the believer that he may gradually draw near to that state of soul in which the holy Apostle Paul says of himself: I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me… Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me (Gal: 2:20)!

Translated by Seraphim F. Englehardt From “Orthodox Life” [in Russian], No. 10, 1952

Originally printed in Orthodox Life Vol. 45 № 6, November-December 1995.
This article may not be used in any form without the express consent of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York.
www.holytrinitypublications.comol@jordanville.org

* Metropolitan Philaret, the author of this article, was glorified (canonized) as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1995.

Beeswax Candles: A Daily Obedience at the Monastery

“For thou wilt light my candle: the LORD my God will enlighten my darkness.” –Psalm 18:28

In the order of the Blessing of Bees in the Book of Needs, the priest asks the Lord to “bless and sanctify these bees by Thine own deep compassion, that they may abundantly bear fruit for the beauty and adornment of Thy temple and Thy holy altars.” Pure beeswax, like wine, wheat, and olive oil, is an important element of worship in the Orthodox Church, and pure beeswax candles are used both in private and liturgical worship not simply to illumine dark spaces, but to symbolize the Eternal and Uncreated Light of Christ. In the words of Metropolitan Vitaly: “By lighting a candle, each Christian enters into closer contact with the church and the service, participating in it more actively and invisibly warming his soul by the visible light of the candle.”

As with other monastic obediences, candle-making is a prayerful and sacramental work. Candles are used in every act of worship throughout the entire church year, and it is for this reason that candles are often needed in large quantities by parishes, monasteries and individuals. It takes a large amount of bees to create a significant amount of beeswax, and the beehives at the Hermitage are simply not large enough to create the wax needed for candle-making. Thus, the wax that goes into Hermitage beeswax candles is primarily supplied from other beekeepers, as well as from recycled candles stubs.

All of the candles produced at the Hermitage are traditionally made by dipping. Beeswax is first cleaned through a process of fine straining to remove any natural impurities. Then the candles are carefully dipped to produce many varieties of candles for many different purposes. On a normal day, anywhere from 700 to 4,000 candles are handmade at the Hermitage—the number depending on the size and diameter of the candles being produced.

Beeswax candles have always been the traditional candle of choice of the Orthodox Church, partly for their purity and beauty, but also because of their cleanliness. Paraffin candles, a popular (and cheaper) alternative, are made from petroleum and other chemicals, and they create smoke and fumes that are not only unhealthy for people, but over time can destroy icons and frescos. The use of beeswax candles ensures the longer life of icons and the beauty of the church.

Candles have always had a vital role in the life of the Church—both in the corporate cycle of divine services and in the private prayers and piety of the Faithful. The spiritual meaning of the candle was beautifully expressed by Met. Vitaly when he said: “The burning candle represents the entire life of the faithful, from birth to death. It stands for the inner flame of love for and devotion to God. A Christian should burn like a candle before God, and his whole being should gradually be consumed by this divine flame thus marking the end of his earthly life.”

“I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” –John 8:12

From the first issue of Kairos Quarterly.

“My Son, Give Me Thine Heart”

A Homily on the Rich Young Ruler (Luke 18:18-27)

Depiction of the conversation between Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, from an illuminated manuscript

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today’s Gospel reading tells us of the rich young ruler who earnestly desired eternal life and asked Christ how he could inherit this desire. Christ first gives him some basic commandments of the law to see if the man had kept these. He replied that he had kept them all from his youth. Christ, knowing the young man’s heart and loving him tells him: Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow Me. And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.

This man’s heart was divided. Blessed Theophylact tells us,

Because the ruler was a lover of money, the Lord promised him treasure in heaven, but the ruler did not give heed, because he was a slave of his money. Therefore when he heard what the Lord had asked of him, he was sorrowful. For the Lord had counselled him to deprive himself of his wealth; yet that was the very reason he wanted eternal life in the first place, so that he could live forever enjoying his many possessions. That he was sorrowful shows that he was sincere and not devious. Not one of the Pharisees was ever sorrowful; instead, they raged even more against the Lord when they heard His answers to their questions.

For this man, riches clove his heart in two and his love for God was divided. Ye cannot serve God and mammon (Matthew 6:24). But riches alone do not hinder one from possessing eternal life. The heart is deep (Psalm 64). Solomon writes in the book of Proverbs, My son, give me thine heart (Proverbs 23:26). God wants our hearts to love Him as our first love. But often, we live outwardly, appearing that we love God by our demeanour and actions, going through the motions, doing what is expected of us. Sometimes we are unaware of our hearts being divided, such as the rich young ruler, and God lovingly points it out to us to help us rid ourselves of those things that obstruct our loving Him as we should. And sometimes we are aware of it, but hide it from others and even from ourselves, keeping up appearances, and thinking that we are getting by just fine, dividing our hearts between a sincere but weak love for God and a love for not only riches, which may not be the case with most of those sitting here, but love of the esteem of others, love of our image of ourselves as wise, holy, affable, smart, witty, clever, simple, well-liked, etc. etc. One might say our love of God is in competition with our love of the false image of ourselves, or some secret desire in our hearts that we are ashamed to admit not only in confession but even to ourselves.

I think that one of the reasons that God sometimes gives the gift of clairvoyance to certain holy people, is so that those holy people, who have loving and pure and undivided hearts can see into the hearts of others and tell them what is there that is blocking their love for God from becoming full and fruitful. Some of you have experienced this before, and we all have read about the reaction people have when they realize the holy elder or confessor before them can read their hearts and minds and see everything inside of them. I believe part of the reason God gives this gift is because He loves us so much, He wants people to realize that He sees everything inside of us, all the filth and the passions that we hide from others and he looks on us with boundless compassion. Many of us for various reasons doubt this most basic spiritual reality, but these doubts are a sickness, not reality. Christ looks at our hearts and knows what is there and the passions and sins that keep us from His love; nothing is hidden from Him. And yet, we often live and slink about in our inner darkness, thinking nobody sees what’s inside of us. Perhaps nobody around us does, but of course God does. But we don’t really believe this, and so God enlightens some people with this gift to show us that yes, He does see everything and will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart (I Cor. 4:5), all so that we might love Him with pure and undivided hearts.

The demons cannot read our minds and know our hearts, and still less can guess what good is there, but they know us very well and can guess pretty well what sinful inclinations are inside of us. All of this is so that they can accuse us before God in order to destroy us, if we give them access by indulging our passions and not bringing them into the light by confession and repentance. But God sees our hearts and minds with perfect clarity and with perfect love and compassion and will never seek to expose us to ridicule or condemn us but to lovingly help us. It is up to us to respond to this and seek to cleanse our hearts by repentance and confession, because if we don’t, no clairvoyant elder or miracle-working saint can help you if you nourish and cling to those things in your heart that keep you from loving God. God will not violate our freewill, but wants us to freely love Him with hearts aflame.

How happy and free and with such a full heart the rich young ruler mentioned in today’s Gospel would have been had he responded to Christ’s injunction as the apostles did and sold all that he had and given it to the poor and followed Christ. But the money had a hold on his heart and he could not, or I should say would not let that go. And he went away very sorrowful.

In contrast to the rich young ruler, we have so many saints to show us the way to have a pure and undivided heart; to have a heart that burns with love for Christ. Who of us can claim to have this? Nobody is born with this, but we must seek it and yearn for it, ask for it from God, from the saints, and live so as to acquire this kind of heart. Christ is calling us to give our hearts to Him. Do we desire to answer by dropping everything that clutters our hearts and follow Him with our hearts burning within us?

One saint came to my mind while thinking of a heart that was fully Christ’s and burned with love for him: St. Ignatius the God-bearer. St. Nikolai Velimirovic reflects on the heart of St. Ignatius in the Prologue reading for December 20th. He writes:

The holy martyrs, seized with the love of Christ, were like unquenchable flames. This love eased their sufferings and made their deaths sweet. St. [John] Chrysostom says of St. Ignatius: “He put off his body with as much ease as one takes off his clothes.” Traveling to Rome to his death, Ignatius feared only one thing: that Christians would somehow prevent his martyrdom for Christ, by their prayers to God or in some outward manner. Therefore he continually implored them, in writing and in speech, not to do this. “Forgive me,” he said. “I know what is for my benefit. I but begin to be a disciple of Christ when I desire nothing, either visible or invisible, save to attain Christ. May every diabolical torture come upon me: fire, crucifixion, wild beasts, the sword, tearing asunder, the crushing of my bones, and the dismemberment of my whole body-only that I may receive Jesus Christ. It is better for me to die for Christ than to reign to the ends of the earth…. My love is nailed to the Cross, and there is no fire of love in me for any earthly thing.” When he was brought to the circus, he turned to the people with these words: “Citizens of Rome, know that I am not being punished for any crime, neither have I been condemned to death for any transgression, but rather for the sake of my God, by Whose love I am overcome and Whom I insatiably desire. I am His wheat, and the teeth of the wild beasts will grind me to be His pure bread.” When he had been devoured by the wild beasts, by God’s providence his heart remained among the bones. When the unbelievers cut open the saint’s heart, they saw inside, inscribed in golden letters, the name Jesus Christ.1

And so I leave you with the words of Solomon that express the most important thing that God wants from us: My son, give me thine heart.

Amen.

—A sermon delivered at Holy Cross Monastery on January 14/27, 2013, commemoration of St. Nino, Equal-to-the-Apostles, Enlightener of Georgia and the Apodosis of Theophany, Thirtieth Sunday after Pentecost.

1 St. Nikolai Velimirovic. The Prologue of Ohrid, December 20th entry.

Image: Jesus and the rich young man, Gospel of King Gagik of Kars, ca. 1050, Jerusalem, Armenian Patriarchate, ms no. 2556, fol. 330. Reproduction courtesy of Dickran Kouymjian, Index of Armenian Art, Armenian Studies Program, California State University, Fresno.

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