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Ascension, by Petar Bilić

Welcome to Orthodoxify Your Life! - a blog dedicated to those who wish to learn about Eastern Orthodox spirituality and practice. Very few of the articles available here are original - they've been compiled from various sources, mostly from Bishop Alexander of Blessed Memory, and enriched by photos and icons of many people who've contributed to this presentation. This site is under the patronage of St. George the Greatmartyr. Fell free to enjoy our contents.

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Prayer Rule







Monday, May 25, 2020

Akathist to Our Sweetest Lord Jesus Christ

Kontakion 1

Warrior-Chieftain and Lord, Vanquisher of hell, I Thy creature and servant offer Thee songs of praise, for Thou hast delivered me from eternal death. But as Thou hast unutterable loving-kindness, free me from every danger, as I cry: 

Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me!

Ikos 1

Creator of Angels and Lord of Hosts! As of old Thou didst open ear and tongue to the deaf and dumb, likewise open now my perplexed mind and tongue to the praise of Thy Most Holy Name, that I may cry to Thee: 

Jesus All-Wonderful, Angels' Astonishment! 
Jesus All-Powerful, Forefathers' Deliverance! 
Jesus All-Sweetest, Patriarchs' Exaltation!
Jesus All-Glorious, Kings' Stronghold! 
Jesus All-Beloved, Prophets' Fulfillment! 
Jesus All-Marvellous, Martyrs' Strength! 
Jesus All-Peaceful, Monks' Joy!
Jesus All-Gracious, Presbyters' Sweetness! 
Jesus All-Merciful, Fasters' Abstinence! 
Jesus All-Tenderest, Saints' Rejoicing! 
Jesus All-Honorable, Virgins' Chastity! 
Jesus everlasting, Sinners' Salvation! 
Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me! 

Kontakion 2

As when seeing the widow weeping bitterly, O Lord, Thou wast moved with pity, and didst raise her son from the dead as he was being carried to burial, likewise have pity on me, O Lover of men, and raise my soul, deadened by sins, as I cry: 

Ikos 2

Seeking to know what passes knowledge, Philip asked: "Lord, show us the Father"; and Thou didst answer him: "Have I been so long with you and yet hast thou not known that I am in the Father and the Father in Me?" Likewise, O Inconceivable One, with fear I cry to Thee: 

Jesus, Eternal God! 
Jesus, All-Powerful King! 
Jesus, Long-suffering Master! 
Jesus, All-Merciful Saviour! 
Jesus, my gracious Guardian! 
Jesus, cleanse my sins!
Jesus, take away my iniquities! 
Jesus, pardon my unrighteousness!
Jesus, my Hope, forsake me not! 
Jesus, my Helper, reject me not! 
Jesus, my Creator, forget me not! 
Jesus, my Shepherd, lose me not! 
Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me! 

Kontakion 3

Thou Who didst endue with power from on high Thy Apostles who tarried in Jerusalem, O Jesus, clothe also me, stripped bare of all good work, with the warmth of Thy Holy Spirit, and grant that with love I may sing to Thee:

Ikos 3

In the abundance of Thy mercy, O Jesus, Thou hast called publicans and sinners and infidels. Now despise me not who am like them, but as precious myrrh accept this song:

Jesus, Invincible Power!
Jesus, Infinite Mercy!
Jesus, Radiant Beauty! 
Jesus, Unspeakable Love!
Jesus, Son of the Living God! 
Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner! 
Jesus, hear me who was conceived in iniquity! 
Jesus, cleanse me who was born in sin! 
Jesus, teach me who am worthless! 
Jesus, enlighten my darkness! 
Jesus, purify me who am unclean! 
Jesus, restore me, a prodigal! 
Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me! 

Kontakion 4

Having an interior storm of doubting thoughts, Peter was sinking. But beholding Thee, O Jesus, in the flesh walking on the waters, he confessed Thee to be the true God; and receiving the hand of salvation, he cried:

Ikos 4

When the blind man heard Thee, O Lord, passing by on the way, he cried: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! And Thou didst call him and open his eyes. Likewise enlighten the spiritual eyes of my heart with Thy love as I cry to Thee and say: 

Jesus, Creator of those on high! 
Jesus, Redeemer of those below! 
Jesus, Vanquisher of the powers of hell! 
Jesus, Adorner of every creature! 
Jesus, Comforter of my soul! 
Jesus, Enlightener of my mind! 
Jesus, Gladness of my heart!
Jesus, Health of my body! 
Jesus, my Saviour, save me! 
Jesus, my Light, enlighten me! 
Jesus, deliver me from all torments!
Jesus, save me despite my unworthiness! 
Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me! 

Kontakion 5
As of old Thou didst redeem us from the curse of the law by Thy Divinely-shed Blood, O Jesus, likewise rescue me from the snares in which the serpent has entangled us through the passions of the flesh, through lustful suggestions and evil despondency, as we cry to Thee: 

Ikos 5
Seeing the Creator in human form and knowing Him to be their Lord, the Hebrew children sought to please Him with branches, crying: Hosanna! But we offer Thee a song, saying: 

Jesus, True God! 
Jesus, Son of David! 
Jesus, Glorious King! 
Jesus, Innocent Lamb! 
Jesus, Wonderful Shepherd! 
Jesus, Guardian of my infancy! 
Jesus, Nourisher of my youth! 
Jesus, Praise of my old age! 
Jesus, my Hope at death! 
Jesus, my Life after death! 
Jesus, my Comfort at Thy Judgment! 
Jesus, my Desire, let me not then be ashamed. 
Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me! 

Kontakion 6

In fulfillment of the words and message of the inspired Prophets, O Jesus, Thou didst appear on earth, and Thou Who art uncontainable didst dwell with men. Thenceforth, being healed through Thy wounds, we learned to sing: 

Ikos 6
When the light of Thy truth dawned on the world, devilish delusion was driven away; for the idols, O our Saviour, have fallen, unable to endure Thy strength. But we who have received salvation, cry to Thee: 

Jesus, the Truth, dispelling falsehood! 
Jesus, the Light above all lights! 
Jesus, the King, surpassing all in strength! 
Jesus, God, constant in mercy! 
Jesus, Bread of Life, fill me who am hungry! 
Jesus, Source of Knowledge, refresh me who am thirsty! 
Jesus, Garment of Gladness, clothe my nakedness! 
Jesus, Veil of Joy, cover my unworthiness! 
Jesus, Giver to those who ask, give me sorrow for my sins! 
Jesus, Finder of those who seek, find my soul! 
Jesus, Opener to those who knock, open my wretched heart! 
Jesus, Redeemer of sinners, wash away my sins! 
Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me! 

Kontakion 7
Desiring to unveil the mystery hidden from all ages, Thou wast led as a sheep to the slaughter, O Jesus, and as a lamb before its shearer. But as God Thou didst rise from the dead and didst ascend with glory to Heaven, and along with Thyself Thou didst raise us who cry: 

Ikos 7

The Creator has shown us a marvelous Creature, Who took flesh without seed from a Virgin, rose from the tomb without breaking the seal, and entered bodily the Apostles' room when the doors were shut. Therefore, marvelling at this we sing:

Jesus, Uncontainable Word! 
Jesus, Inscrutable Intelligence! 
Jesus, Incomprehensible Power! 
Jesus, Inconceivable Wisdom! 
Jesus, Undepictable Deity! 
Jesus, Boundless Dominion!
Jesus, Invincible Kingdom! 
Jesus, Unending Sovereignty! 
Jesus, Supreme Strength! 
Jesus, Eternal Power!
Jesus, my Creator, have compassion on me! 
Jesus, my Saviour, save me! 
Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me! 

Konlakion 8
Seeing God wondrously incarnate, let us shun the vain world and set our mind on things divine; for God descended to earth to raise to Heaven us who cry to Him: 

Ikos 8

Being both below and above, Thou didst never falter, O Thou immeasurable One, when Thou didst voluntarily suffer for us, and by Thy death our death didst put to death, and by Thy Resurrection didst grant life to those who sing: 

Jesus, Sweetness of the heart! 
Jesus, Strength of the body! 
Jesus, Purity of the soul! 
Jesus, Brightness of the mind!
Jesus, Gladness of the conscience! 
Jesus, Sure Hope! 
Jesus, Memory Eternal! 
Jesus, High Praise! 
Jesus, my most exalted Glory! 
Jesus, my Desire, reject me not! 
Jesus, my Shepherd, recover me! 
Jesus, my Saviour, save me! 
Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me! 

Koniakion 9
The Angelic Hosts in Heaven glorify unceasingly Thy most holy Name, O Jesus, crying: Holy, Holy, Holy! But we sinners on earth, with our frail voices cry: 

Ikos 9
We see most eloquent orators voiceless as fish when they must speak of Thee, O Jesus our Saviour. For it is beyond their power to tell how Thou art both perfect man and immutable God at the same time. But we, marvelling at this Mystery, cry faithfully: 

Jesus, Eternal God! 
Jesus, King of Kings! 
Jesus, Lord of Lords! 
Jesus, Judge of the living and the dead! 
Jesus, Hope of the hopeless! 
Jesus, Comforter of the mournful! 
Jesus, Glory of the poor! 
Jesus, condemn me not according to my deeds! 
Jesus, cleanse me according to Thy mercy! 
Jesus, take from me despondency! 
Jesus, enlighten the thoughts of my heart!
Jesus, make me ever mindful of death! 
Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me! 

Kontakion 10

Wishing to save the world, O Sunrise of the East, Thou didst come to the dark Occident of our nature, and didst humble Thyself even to the point of death. Therefore Thy Name is exalted above every name, and from all the tribes of earth and heaven, Thou dost hear:

Ikos 10

King Eternal, Comforter, true Christ! Cleanse us from every stain as Thou didst cleanse the Ten Lepers, and heal us as Thou didst heal the greedy soul of Zacchaeus the publican, that we may cry to Thee with compunction and say: 

Jesus, Treasurer Incorruptible! 
Jesus, Unfailing Wealth!
Jesus, Strong Food! 
Jesus, Inexhaustible Drink! 
Jesus, Garment of the poor!
Jesus, Defender of widows! 
Jesus, Protector of orphans!
Jesus, Helper of toilers!
Jesus, Guide of pilgrims! 
Jesus, Pilot of voyagers! 
Jesus, Calmer of tempests! 
Jesus, raise me who am fallen! 
Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me! 

Kontakion 11

Tenderest songs I, though unworthy, offer to Thee, and like the woman of Canaan, I cry to Thee: O Jesus, have mercy on me! For it is not my daughter, but my flesh violently possessed with passions and burning with fury. So grant healing to me, who cry to Thee: 

Ikos 11

Having previously persecuted Thee Who art the Light that enlightens those who are in the darkness of ignorance, Paul experienced the power of the voice of divine enlightenment, and understood the swiftness of the soul's conversion to God. Likewise, enlighten the dark eye of my soul, as I cry:

Jesus, my All-powerful King! 
Jesus, my Almighty God!
Jesus, my Immortal Lord! 
Jesus, my most glorious Creator! 
Jesus, my most kind Teacher and Guide! 
Jesus, my most compassionate Shepherd! 
Jesus, my most gracious Master! 
Jesus, my most merciful Saviour! 
Jesus, enlighten my senses darkened by passions! 
Jesus, heal my body scabbed with sins!
Jesus, cleanse my mind from vain thoughts! 
Jesus, keep my heart from evil desires!
Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me! 

Kontakion 12

Grant me Thy grace, O Jesus, Absolver of all debts, and receive me who repent, as Thou didst receive Peter who denied Thee, and call me who am downcast, as of old Thou didst call Paul who persecuted Thee, and hear me crying to Thee: 

Ikos 12
Praising Thy Incarnation, we all glorify Thee and, with Thomas, we believe that Thou art our Lord and God, sitting with the Father and coming to judge the living and the dead. Grant that then I may stand on Thy right hand, who now cry:

Jesus, Eternal King, have mercy on me! 
Jesus, sweet-scented Flower, make me fragrant! 
Jesus, beloved Warmth, make me warm! 
Jesus, Eternal Temple, shelter me!
Jesus, Garment of Light, adorn me! 
Jesus, Pearl of great price, beam on me! 
Jesus, precious Stone, illumine me! 
Jesus, Sun of Righteousness, shine on me! 
Jesus, holy Light, make me radiant! 
Jesus, deliver me from sickness of soul and body!
Jesus, rescue me from the hands of the adversary! 
Jesus, save me from the unquenchable fire and from the other eternal torments! 
Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me! 

Kontakion 13 [3 times]
O most sweet and most generous Jesus! Receive this our humble prayer, as Thou didst receive the widow's mite and keep Thy faithful people from all enemies, visible and invisible, from foreign invasion, from disease and hunger, from all tribulations and mortal wounds, and deliver from future torments all who cry to Thee: 

Ikos 1 Repeated
Creator of Angels and Lord of Hosts! As of old Thou didst open ear and tongue to the deaf and dumb, likewise open now my perplexed mind and tongue to the praise of Thy Most Holy Name, that I may cry to Thee: 

Jesus All-Wonderful, Angels' Astonishment! 
Jesus All-Powerful, Forefathers' Deliverance! 
Jesus All-Sweetest, Patriarchs' Exaltation!
Jesus All-Glorious, Kings' Stronghold! 
Jesus All-Beloved, Prophets' Fulfillment! 
Jesus All-Marvellous, Martyrs' Strength! 
Jesus All-Peaceful, Monks' Joy!
Jesus All-Gracious, Presbyters' Sweetness! 
Jesus All-Merciful, Fasters' Abstinence! 
Jesus All-Tenderest, Saints' Rejoicing! 
Jesus All-Honorable, Virgins' Chastity! 
Jesus everlasting, Sinners' Salvation! 
Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me! 

Kontakion 1 Repeated

Warrior-Chieftain and Lord, Vanquisher of hell, I Thy creature and servant offer Thee songs of praise, for Thou hast delivered me from eternal death. But as Thou hast unutterable loving-kindness, free me from every danger, as I cry: 
Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me! 

Prayers to our Lord Jesus Christ 

O All-wise and All-gracious Lord, Our Saviour, Who didst enlighten all the ends of the world by the radiance of Thy Coming, and Who didst call us into Thy Holy Church through the promise of the inheritance of incorruptible and eternal good! Graciously look down on us, Thy worthless servants, and remember not our iniquities, but according to Thy infinite mercies forgive all our sins. For though we transgress Thy holy will, we do not deny Thee, Our God and Saviour. Against Thee alone do we sin, yet Thee alone do we serve, in Thee alone do we believe, to Thee alone do we come, and Thy servants only do we wish to be. Remember the infirmity of our nature and the temptations of the adversary and the worldly enticements and seducements which surround us on all sides, and against which, according to Thy word, we can do nothing without Thy help. Cleanse us and save us! Enlighten our minds that we may firmly believe in Thee, our only Saviour and Redeemer! Inspire our hearts that we may wholly love Thee, our only God and Creator! Direct our steps that we may unstumblingly walk in the light of Thy commandments! Yea, our Lord and Creator, show us Thy great and abundant kindness, and make us live all the days of our life in holiness and truth, that at the time of Thy glorious Second Coming, we may be worthy to hear Thy gracious call into Thy Heavenly Kingdom. Grant us, Thy sinful and unprofitable servants, to receive Thy Kingdom, and that in the enjoyment of its ineffable beauty, we may ever glorify Thee, together with Thy Eternal Father and Thy Ever-living Divine Spirit to the ages of ages. Amen. 

Sweetest Lord Jesus, strong Son of God, Who didst shed Thy precious Blood and die for love of my love, I am ready to die for love of Thy love. Sweetest Jesus, my Life and my All, I love and adore Thee. Thee only do I wish for my Spouse, as Thou dost wish me for Thy bride. I give myself to Thee. I surrender myself to Thee. O Jesus, Thou Whose heart is ever turned to me, heal my heart, that I may feel the sweetness of Thy love, that I may taste no sweetness but Thee, seek no love but Thee, love no beauty but Thee. I have no desire but to please Thee and to do Thy will. Teach me to repent, and to take up the Cross daily and follow Thee with joy. Teach me to pray with faith and love. Thyself pray in me, that with Thee I may love my enemies and pray for them. Jesus, Thou art life in my death, strength in my weakness, light in my darkness, joy in my sorrow, courage in my faint heartedness, peace in my agitation, obedience in my prayer, glory in my dishonour, and deliverance from my dishonour. Glory and thanks to Thee Jesus my Saviour and Healer. Amen. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


Praises to the Virgin, 16th Century

The akathist hymn is one of the most well-loved services of devotion in the Orthodox Church. Although there is some debate concerning the particulars of its authorship, many scholars agree with the pious tradition which states that the Akathist was composed in the imperial city of Constantinople, "the city of the Virgin," by St. Romanos the Melodist, who reposed in the year 556. The Akathist Hymn has proved so popular that many other hymns have been written following its format, particularly in the Russian Orthodox Church. These include Akathists to Our Lord Jesus Christ, to the Cross, to various saints, etc.

The word "akathistos" literally means "not sitting," i.e., standing; normally all participants stand while it is being prayed. The hymn is comprised of 24 stanzas, alternating long and short. Each short stanza (kontakion) ends with the singing of "Alleluia." Each longer stanza (ikos) ends with the refrain: "Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded."

The majority of the hymn is made up of praises directed to the Mother of God, always beginning with the salutation of the Archangel Gabriel: "Rejoice." In each of them, one after the other, all the events related to our Lord's incarnation pass before us for our contemplation. The Archangel Gabriel ( in Ikos 1) marvels at the Divine self-emptying and the renewal of creation which will occur when Christ comes to dwell in the Virgin's womb. The unborn John the Baptist (Ikos 3) prophetically rejoices. The shepherds (Ikos 4) recognize Christ as a blameless Lamb, and rejoice that in the Virgin "the things of earth join chorus with the heavens." The pagan Magi, (Kontakion 5) following the light of the star, praise Her for revealing the light of the world.

As the hymn progresses, various individuals and groups encounter Christ and His Mother. Each has his own need; each his own desire or expectation, and each finds his or her own particular spiritual need satisfied and fulfilled in Our Lord and in the Mother of God. So too, each generation of Orthodox, and each particular person who has prayed the Akathist, has found in this hymn an inspired means of expressing gratitude and praise to the Mother of God for what she has accomplished for their salvation.

In the same way, may the readers of the akathists find God, the Theotokos and the Saints to be a help and consolation for their souls as well.

Akathist to Our Sweetest Lord Jesus Christ

OFFSITE: Akathist to the Holy Virgin - Original, unaltered article by Fr. Michael Carney 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Prayer Rule

Check out our Bible Illustrated project!

The basis of the Orthodox Christian’s life is fasting and prayer. Prayer, said Saint Philaret of Moscow, "is the conversation of the soul with God." And as in a conversation it is impossible to hear one side all the time, so in prayer it is good to sometimes stop and listen to the Lord’s answer to our prayer.

The Church, daily praying "for all and for all," determined for every one a personal, individual prayer rule. The content of this rule depends on the spiritual growth, the living conditions, the person’s opportunities. The prayer book offers us morning and evening prayers, accessible to anyone. They are directed to the Lord, to the Mother of God, to our Angel Protector. With the blessing of the confessor, the private rule can include prayers to particular saints. If there is no opportunity to read the morning prayers before icons in a peaceful setting, then it is better to read them along the way than to omit them entirely. In any case, one should not breakfast before reading the prayer "Our Father."

If a person is ill or very tired, then the evening rule can be read not right before sleep, but a short time before that. But just before lying down to sleep, one should read the prayer of St. John of Damascus: "Lord and Lover of Mankind, is it possible that this bed will be a coffin…" and everything following it.

It is very important to include in the morning prayers the reading of remembrances. It is absolutely necessary to pray for the peace and health of the Most Holy Patriarch, the ruling archbishop, the spiritual father, the parents, relatives, godparents and godchildren, and for all people, with whom one way or another we are connected. If one cannot be reconciled with another person, even if not through one’s own fault, he is required to remember the "one who hates" and truly desire him good.

In the personal (cell) rule of many Orthodox are included the reading of the Gospel and the Psaltery. Thus, the Optina monks blessed many to read, during the day, one chapter of the Gospel, in order, and two chapters of the Apostolic letters. In addition, the last seven chapters of the Apocalypse were read, one each day. In this way, the reading of the Gospel and the Apostle (that is, the book with the Apostolic letters) were finished concurrently and a new cycle would be begun.

The prayer rule is determined by the one praying, and is confirmed (the rule, as well as any changes) — by the confessor. Once determined, the rule becomes in its way a commandment, and any deviation from it must be looked upon as a deviation, which must be told the confessor.

The main purpose of the prayer rule — is to dispose the soul of the Christian to active association with God, to awaken in him repentant thoughts, to purify the heart of sinful corruption. For this reason, by thoroughly fulfilling what is required, we learn, by the words of the Apostle, "praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit…with all perseverance and supplication for all saints" (Eph. 6:18).

OFFSITE: Beginning Orthodoxy, Part 2 - The orginal article


Check out our Bible Illustrated project!

Many Protestants would argue that using a prayer book results in formal, ritualistic prayer and stifles a truly personal relationship with God. By contrast, some Orthodox are of the opinion that it is wrong to pray without a prayer book, that this can lead to spiritual presumption and deception. What, in fact, is the purpose and proper place of the prayer book in Orthodox practice?

In the Holy Gospel, Christ gave an example and many instructions in how to pray. When the disciples asked our Savior to teach them to pray He taught them - and us through them - the Lord's Prayer. Prior to the Incarnation of the Lord the holy prophets and righteous had offered many beautiful prayers which are recorded in the Old Testament, especially the Psalms. But even before the saints were inspired to compose and offer these prayers we read how when Enos, the grandson of Adam and son of Seth, was born that they then began to call upon the name of the Lord God (Gen. 4:26). Prior even to that, newly-created man conversed with God in Paradise.

With the fulfillment of the expectations and promises of the Old Testament in Christ we now call upon the name of the Lord in the words of the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me!" But in addition we also have a rich treasure of psalms, hymns and prayers with which we can offer our thanksgiving and praises, our petitions and repentance to our God and His Saints.

Prayer has been called the science of sciences and art of arts, and rightly so. We should be aware of the need to pray just as the disciples did, and we should beg the Lord to teach us just as they did. In our own persistent and sincere efforts at prayer, as well as through reading the Scriptures and writings of the saints we can obtain this instruction.

The Prayer Book consists of prayers composed by Saints of God that have been collected in a convenient form for our daily use. The words of these prayers give direction and expression to our desire and need to pray. The teach us what kind of things we should pray for and how to express ourselves reverently and humbly before God and His saints. Because of our ignorance about spiritual matters we need these prayers to open our eyes to our true spiritual needs.

In using the Prayer Book we must first set aside other worries and tasks, gather our thoughts and concentrate on offering our prayers to God. Before opening the book we may want to stand quietly before the icons, making the sign of the Cross and asking the Lord, the Mother of God, our Guardian Angel and the Saints to help us to pray. Some people light a lamp or candle or burn incense so that these offerings accompany their sacrifice of prayer.

We might think of our prayer as the flame that burns the wax, gathered by the bees from many flowers like the spiritual nectar of the prayers gathered in the Prayer Book from many saints. The inspired words of these prayers can be like pearls of fragrant incense placed on the hot coals of a fervent heart whence there rises up a sweet-smelling sacrifice pleasing to the Lord.

Reading unfamiliar prayers offers our minds and hearts fresh images and thoughts and insights. But when we use prayers that are very familiar, even prayers that we know by heart, various expressions and words have special force or touch our heart in different ways at different times, on different occasions. When we offer these words in prayer with attention and sincere feeling they become living words, as it were. This is also true of proper reading of the Holy Scriptures and Fathers. We may repeat a particularly moving or meaningful phrase several times.

Some people never learn many prayers by heart and always rely on reading them from a book. Others learn them by memory and find it easier to concentrate on prayer without the book. Whichever case applies, the goal is to pray sincerely, to commune with God and His Saints.

Hannah, the mother of Samuel, set an example for all generations of heart-felt prayer, "Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard" (I Kings 1:13).

A great man of wonder-working prayer, St. John of Kronstadt, discusses this in his own spiritual diary:

"Outward prayer is often performed at the expense of inward prayer, and inward at the expense of outward; that is, when I pray with my lips or read, then many words do not penetrate into the heart, I become double-minded and hypocritical; with my lips I say one thing, whilst in my heart I feel another. The lips speak truth, whilst the disposition of the heart does not agree with the words of the prayer. But if I pray inwardly, heartily, then, without paying attention to the pronunciation of the words, I concentrate it upon their content, their power, gradually accustoming my heart to the truth, and thus entering into the same disposition of spirit in which the words of the prayer were written. In this way I accustom myself, little by little, to pray in spirit and truth in accordance with the words of the Eternal Truth: They that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). When a man prays outwardly aloud, then he cannot always follow all the movements of his heart, which are so rapid that he is necessarily obliged to pay attention to the pronunciation of the words, to their outward form. Thus the prayers of many... who read rapidly become quite untrue; with their lips they seem to pray; in appearance they are pious, but their hearts are asleep, and do not know what their lips say. This proceeds from the fact that they hurry, and do not meditate in their hearts upon what they are saying. We must pray for them, as they pray for us; we must pray that their words may penetrate into their hearts and breathe warmth into them. They pray for us in the words of holy persons, and we must pray for them also.

When praying, we must pronounce each word from the heart with the same power that is contained in each one of them, just as medicines are usually taken with a curative power corresponding to each of them, and bestowed upon them by the creator. If we leave out the power or the essence of the medicine, then it will not take effect, but will only set our teeth on edge; likewise, if during prayer we pronounce the words, disregarding their power, without feeling in our heart their truth, we shall not derive any benefit from the prayer, because true, fruitful prayer must be in spirit and in truth."

In striving to fulfill the commandment of the Apostle to pray without ceasing (I Thes. 5:17), it is helpful to cultivate the habit of praying. This means that at certain times of the day we by habit, as a rule, devote ourselves to prayer. It also means cultivating this habit in our thought patterns so that as often as possible our mind and thoughts turn to God in prayer.

When a person has become accustomed to praying with the Prayer Book, he finds these prayers express very eloquently various needs and feelings, but there are also occasions when in private we may need to express some particular offering or petition to God in our own words. But even here, the divinely-inspired prayers of the saints can teach us the language of prayer.

In his advice to people cultivating a rule of prayer in their lives, the saintly bishop Theophan the Recluse recommended the daily morning and evening prayers in the Prayer Book. But after a person learns these prayers and develops a habit of praying each day he also advises to take note of the amount of time they usually devote to prayer and to use this time saying the Jesus Prayer on some occasions. Since the state of our mind and soul are constantly changing, at various times and under various conditions, it is profitable to pray in different ways, sometimes with prayers from the Prayer Book or Psalms, sometimes in our own words, sometimes with the Jesus Prayer or other short prayers, sometimes aloud, sometimes silently.

Becoming familiar with the prayers in the Prayer Book adorns our minds and memories with sanctifying offerings to God. Habitually making the effort to pray sincerely and attentively releases us from the tensions and anxieties of our worldly life so that the peace and grace of God can cleanse and heal, so that our soul can find freedom from its frustrations to find its rest and fulfillment in God. Prayer is not just reading or thinking; it is an offering from our entire being: mind, heart, body and soul.

In addition to the morning and evening and other daily prayers, most prayer books also contain prayers of intercession for others, both the living and the dead, as well as intercessory canons to the saints and in particular to the all-holy Mother of God. We can make use of these when fulfilling our obligation to pray for others.

Let us conclude with some further words of instruction from St. John of Kronstadt: "When you ask for life, faith, and spiritual understanding for others, do you ask sincerely, not hypocritically, only with your tongue? Do you desire from all your soul that they should progress in these? Are you yourself progressing in the same? Do not you yourself remain in the bondage of the passions? Beware, the Master sees everything with His clearest eyes; it is necessary to pray to Him with understanding, in the simplicity of your heart, with a fervent spirit.

Why has our sincere prayer for each other such great power over others? Because of the fact that by cleaving to God during prayer I become one spirit with Him, and unite with myself, by faith and love, those for whom I pray, for the Holy Spirit acting in me also acts at the same time in them, for He accomplishes all things.

Endeavor to attain to a child-like simplicity in your relations to men and in your prayer to God. Simplicity is man's highest good and dignity. God Himself is perfectly simple, for He is perfectly spiritual and perfectly good. And do not let your soul be divided between good and evil."

OFFSITE: An Aid to Prayer Some Thoughts on the Use of a Prayer Book - Original article
OFFSITE: Jordanville Prayerbook - A very useful compilation

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Sacred Scripture

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A new commandment I give unto you,
that you love one another, as I have loved you
 - John 13:34

We believe that the Scriptures constitute a coherent whole. They are at once divinely inspired and humanly expressed. They bear authoritative witness to God's revelation of Himself—in creation, in the Incarnation of the Word, and the whole history of salvation. And as such they express the word of God in human language. We know, receive, and interpret Scripture through the Church and in the Church. Our approach to the Bible is one of obedience.

Reading the Bible with Obedience 

First of all, when reading Scripture, we are to listen in a spirit of obedience. The Orthodox Church believes in divine inspiration of the Bible. Scripture is a "letter" from God, where Christ Himself is speaking. The Scriptures are God's authoritative witness of Himself. They express the Word of God in our human language. Since God Himself is speaking to us in the Bible, our response is rightly one of obedience, of receptivity, and listening. As we read, we wait on the Spirit.

But, while divinely inspired, the Bible is also humanly expressed. It is a whole library of different books written at varying times by distinct persons. Each book of the Bible reflects the outlook of the age in which it was written and the particular viewpoint of the author. For God does nothing in isolation, divine grace cooperates with human freedom. God does not abolish our individuality but enhances it. And so it is in the writing of inspired Scripture. The authors were not just a passive instrument, a dictation machine recording a message. Each writer of Scripture contributes his particular personal gifts. Alongside the divine aspect, there is also a human element in Scripture. We are to value both.

Each of the four Gospels, for example, has its own particular approach. Matthew presents more particularly a Jewish understanding of Christ, with an emphasis on the Kingdom of Heaven. Mark contains specific, picturesque details of Christ's ministry not given elsewhere. Luke expresses the universality of Christ's love, His all-embracing compassion that extends equally to Jew and to Gentile. In John there is a more inward and more mystical approach to Christ, with an emphasis on divine light and divine indwelling. We are to enjoy and explore to the full this life-giving variety within the Bible.

Because Scripture is in this way the word of God expressed in human language, there is room for honest and exacting inquiry when studying the Bible. Exploring the human aspect of the Bible, we are to use to the full our God-given human reason. The Orthodox Church does not exclude scholarly research into the origin, dates, and authorship of books of the Bible.

Alongside this human element, however, we see always the divine element. These are not simply books written by individual human writers. We hear in Scripture not just human words, marked by a greater or lesser skill and perceptiveness, but the eternal, uncreated Word of God Himself, the divine Word of salvation. When we come to the Bible, then, we come not simply out of curiosity, to gain information. We come to the Bible with a specific question, a personal question about ourselves: "How can I be saved?"

As God's divine word of salvation in human language, Scripture should evoke in us a sense of wonder. Do you ever feel, as you read or listen, that it has all become too familiar? Has the Bible grown rather boring? Continually we need to cleanse the doors of our perception and to look in amazement with new eyes at what the Lord sets before us.

We are to feel toward the Bible with a sense of wonder, and sense of expectation and surprise. There are so many rooms in Scripture that we have yet to enter. There is so much depth and majesty for us to discover. If obedience means wonder, it also means listening.

We are better at talking than listening. We hear the sound of our own voice, but often we don't pause to hear the voice of the other person who is speaking to us. So the first requirement, as we read Scripture, is to stop talking and to listen—to listen with obedience.

When we enter an Orthodox Church, decorated in the traditional manner, and look up toward the sanctuary at the east end, we see there, in the apse, an icon of the Virgin Mary with her hands raised to heaven—the ancient Scriptural manner of praying that many still use today. This icon symbolizes the attitude we are to assume as we read Scripture — an attitude of receptivity, of hands invisibly raised to heaven. Reading the Bible, we are to model ourselves on the Blessed Virgin Mary, for she is supremely the one who listens. At the Annunciation she listens with obedience and responds to the angel, "Be it unto me according to thy word" (Luke 1:38). She could not have borne the Word of God in her body if she had not first, listened to the Word of God in her heart. After the shepherds have adored the newborn Christ, it is said of her: "Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19). Again, when Mary finds Jesus in the temple, we are told: "His mother kept all these things in her heart" (Luke 2:51). The same need for listening is emphasized in the last words attributed to the Mother of God in Scripture, at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee: "Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it" (John 2:5), she says to the servants — and to all of us.

In all this the Blessed Virgin Mary serves as a mirror, as a living icon of the Biblical Christian. We are to be like her as we hear the Word of God: pondering, keeping all these things in our hearts, doing whatever He tells us. We are to listen in obedience as God speaks.

Understanding the Bible Through the Church 

In the second place, we should receive and interpret Scripture through the Church and in the Church. Our approach to the Bible is not only obedient but ecclesial.

It is the Church that tells us what is Scripture. A book is not part of Scripture because of any particular theory about its dating and authorship. Even if it could be proved, for example, that the Fourth Gospel was not actually written by John the beloved disciple of Christ, this would not alter the fact that we Orthodox accept the Fourth Gospel as Holy Scripture. Why? Because the Gospel of John is accepted by the Church and in the Church.

It is the Church that tells us what is Scripture, and it is also the Church that tells us how Scripture is to be understood. Coming upon the Ethiopian as he read the Old Testament in his chariot, Philip the Apostle asked him, "Understandest thou what thou readest?" And the Ethiopian answered, "How can I, unless some man should guide me?" (Acts 8:30-31). We are all in the position of the Ethiopian. The words of Scripture are not always self-explanatory. God speaks directly to the heart of each one of us as we read our Bible. Scripture reading is a personal dialogue between each one of us and Christ—but we also need guidance. And our guide is the Church. We make full use of our own personal understanding, assisted by the Spirit, we make full use of the findings of modern Biblical research, but always we submit private opinion—whether our own or that of the scholars—to the total experience of the Church throughout the ages.

The Orthodox standpoint here is summed up in the question asked of a convert at the reception service used by the Russian Church: "Do you acknowledge that the Holy Scripture must be accepted and interpreted in accordance with the belief which has been handed down by the Holy Fathers, and which the Holy Orthodox Church, our Mother, has always held and still does hold?"

We read the Bible personally, but not as isolated individuals. We read as the members of a family, the family of the Orthodox Catholic Church. When reading Scripture, we say not "I" but "We." We read in communion with all the other members of the Body of Christ, in all parts of the world and in all generations of time. The decisive test and criterion for our understanding of what the Scripture means is the mind of the Church. The Bible is the book of the Church.

To discover this "mind of the Church," where do we begin? Our first step is to see how Scripture is used in worship. How, in particular, are Biblical lessons chosen for reading at the different feasts? We should also consult the writings of the Church Fathers, and consider how they interpret the Bible. Our Orthodox manner of reading Scripture is in this way both liturgical and patristic. And this, as we all realize, is far from easy to do in practice, because we have at our disposal so few Orthodox commentaries on Scripture available in English, and most of the Western commentaries do not employ this liturgical and Patristic approach.

As an example of what it means to interpret Scripture in a liturgical way, guided by the use made of it at Church feasts, let us look at the Old Testament lessons appointed for Vespers on the Feast of the Annunciation. They are three in number: Genesis 28:10-17; Jacob's dream of a ladder set up from earth to heaven; Ezekiel 43:27-44:4; the prophet's vision of the Jerusalem sanctuary, with the closed gate through which none but the Prince may pass; Proverbs 9:1-11: one of the great Sophianic passages in the Old Testament, beginning "Wisdom has built her house."

These texts in the Old Testament, then, as their selection for the feast of the Virgin Mary indicates, are all to be understood as prophecies concerning the Incarnation from the Virgin. Mary is Jacob's ladder, supplying the flesh that God incarnate takes upon entering our human world. Mary is the closed gate who alone among women bore a child while still remaining inviolate. Mary provides the house which Christ the Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24) takes as his dwelling. Exploring in this manner the choice of lessons for the various feasts, we discover layers of Biblical interpretation that are by no means obvious on a first reading.

Take as another example Vespers on Holy Saturday, the first part of the ancient Paschal Vigil. Here we have no less than fifteen Old Testament lessons. This sequence of lessons sets before us the whole scheme of sacred history, while at the same time underlining the deeper meaning of Christ's Resurrection. First among the lessons is Genesis 1:1-13, the account of Creation: Christ's Resurrection is a new Creation. The fourth lesson is the book of Jonah in its entirety, with the prophet's three days in the belly of the whale foreshadowing Christ's Resurrection after three days in the tomb (cf. Matthew 12:40). The sixth lesson recounts the crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites (Exodus 13:20-15:19), which anticipates the new Passover of Pascha whereby Christ passes over from death to life (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7; 10:1-4). The final lesson is the story of the three Holy Children in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3), once more a "type" or prophecy of Christ's rising from the tomb.

Such is the effect of reading Scripture ecclesially, in the Church and with the Church. Studying the Old Testament in this liturgical way and using the Fathers to help us, everywhere we uncover signposts pointing forward to the mystery of Christ and of His Mother. Reading the Old Testament in the light of the New, and the New in the light of the Old—as the Church's calendar encourages us to do—we discover the unity of Holy Scripture. One of the best ways of identifying correspondences between the Old and New Testaments is to use a good Biblical concordance. This can often tell us more about the meaning of Scripture than any commentary.

In Bible study groups within our parishes, it is helpful to give one person the special task of noting whenever a particular passage in the Old or New Testament is used for a festival or a saint's day. We can then discuss together the reasons why each specific passage has been so chosen. Others in the group can be assigned to do homework among the Fathers, using for example the Biblical homilies of Saint John Chrysostom (which have been translated into English). Christians need to acquire a patristic mind.

Christ, the Heart of the Bible

The third element in our reading of Scripture is that it should be Christ-centered. The Scriptures constitute a coherent whole because they all are Christ-centered. Salvation through the Messiah is their central and unifying topic. He is as a "thread" that runs through all of Holy Scripture, from the first sentence to the last. We have already mentioned the way in which Christ may be seen foreshadowed on the pages of the Old Testament.

Much modern critical study of Scripture in the West has adopted an analytical approach, breaking up each book into different sources. The connecting links are unraveled, and the Bible is reduced to a series of bare primary units. There is certainly value in this. But we need to see the unity as well as the diversity of Scripture, the all-embracing end as well as the scattered beginnings. Orthodoxy prefers on the whole a synthetic rather than an analytical approach, seeing Scripture as an integrated whole, with Christ everywhere as the bond of union.

Always we seek for the point of convergence between the Old Testament and the New, and this we find in Jesus Christ. Orthodoxy assigns particular significance to the "typological" method of interpretation, whereby "types" of Christ, signs and symbols of His work, are discerned throughout the Old Testament. A notable example of this is Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem, who offered bread and wine to Abraham (Genesis 14:18), and who is seen as a type of Christ not only by the Fathers but even in the New Testament itself (Hebrews 5:6; 7:l). Another instance is the way in which, as we have seen, the Old Passover foreshadows the New; Israel's deliverance from Pharaoh at the Red Sea anticipates our deliverance from sin through the death and Resurrection of the Savior. This is the method of interpretation that we are to apply throughout the Bible. Why, for instance, in the second half of Lent are the Old Testament readings from Genesis dominated by the figure of Joseph? Why in Holy Week do we read from the book of Job? Because Joseph and Job are innocent sufferers, and as such they are types or foreshadowings of Jesus Christ, whose innocent suffering upon the Cross the Church is at the point of celebrating. It all ties up.

A Biblical Christian is the one who, wherever he looks, on every page of Scripture, finds everywhere Christ.

The Bible as Personal 

In the words of an early ascetic writer in the Christian East, Saint Mark the Monk: "He who is humble in his thoughts and engaged in spiritual work, when he reads the Holy Scriptures, will apply everything to himself and not to his neighbor." As Orthodox Christians we are to look everywhere in Scripture for a personal application. We are to ask not just "What does it mean?" but "What does it mean to me?" Scripture is a personal dialogue between the Savior and myself—Christ speaking to me, and me answering. That is the fourth criterion in our Bible reading.

I am to see all the stories in Scripture as part of my own personal story. Who is Adam? The name Adam means "man," "human," and so the Genesis account of Adam's fall is also a story about me. I am Adam. It is to me that God speaks when He says to Adam, "Where art thou?" (Genesis 3:9). "Where is God?" we often ask. But the real question is what God asks the Adam in each of us: "Where art thou?"

When, in the story of Cain and Abel, we read God's words to Cain, "Where is Abel thy brother?" (Genesis 4:9), these words, too, are addressed to each of us. Who is Cain? It is myself. And God asks the Cain in each of us, "Where is thy brother?" The way to God lies through love of other people, and there is no other way. Disowning my brother, I replace the image of God with the mark of Cain, and deny my own vital humanity.

In reading Scripture, we may take three steps. First, what we have in Scripture is sacred history: the history of the world from the Creation, the history of the chosen people, the history of God Incarnate in Palestine, and the "mighty works" after Pentecost. The Christianity that we find in the Bible is not an ideology, not a philosophical theory, but a historical faith.

Then we are to take a second step. The history presented in the Bible is a personal history. We see God intervening at specific times and in specific places, as He enters into dialogue with individual persons. He addresses each one by name. We see set before us the specific calls issued by God to Abraham, Moses and David, to Rebekah and Ruth, to Isaiah and the prophets, and then to Mary and the Apostles. We see the selectivity of the divine action in history, not as a scandal but as a blessing. God's love is universal in scope, but He chooses to become Incarnate in a particular corner of the earth, at a particular time and from a particular Mother. We are in this manner to savor all the uniqueness of God's action as recorded in Scripture. The person who loves the Bible loves details of dating and geography. Orthodoxy has an intense devotion to the Holy Land, to the exact places where Christ lived and taught, died and rose again. An excellent way to enter more deeply into our Scripture reading is to undertake a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Galilee. Walk where Christ walked. Go down to the Dead Sea, sit alone on the rocks, feel how Christ felt during the forty days of His temptation in the wilderness. Drink from the well where He spoke with the Samaritan woman. Go at night to the Garden of Gethsemane, sit in the dark under the ancient olives and look across the valley to the lights of the city. Experience to the full the reality of the historical setting, and take that experience back with you to your daily Scripture reading.

Then we are to take a third step. Reliving Biblical history in all its particularity, we are to apply it directly to ourselves. We are to say to ourselves, "All these places and events are not just far away and long ago, but are also part of my own personal encounter with Christ. The stories include me."

Betrayal, for example, is part of the personal story of everyone. Have we not all betrayed others at some time in our life, and have we not all known what it is to be betrayed, and does not the memory of these moments leave continuing scars on our psyche? Reading, then, the account of Saint Peter's betrayal of Christ and of his restoration after the Resurrection, we can see ourselves as actors in the story. Imagining what both Peter and Jesus must have experienced at the moment immediately after the betrayal, we enter into their feelings and make them our own. I am Peter; in this situation can I also be Christ? Reflecting likewise on the process of reconciliation—seeing how the Risen Christ with a love utterly devoid of sentimentality restored the fallen Peter to fellowship, seeing how Peter on his side had the courage to accept this restoration—we ask ourselves: How Christ-like am I to those who have betrayed me? And, after my own acts of betrayal, am I able to accept the forgiveness of others—am I able to forgive myself? Or am I timid, mean, holding myself back, never ready to give myself fully to anything, either good or bad? As the Desert Fathers say, "Better someone who has sinned, if he knows he has sinned and repents, than a person who has not sinned and thinks of himself as righteous."

Have I gained the boldness of Saint Mary Magdalene, her constancy and loyalty, when she went out to anoint the body of Christ in the tomb (John 20:1)? Do I hear the Risen Savior call me by name, as He called her, and do I respond Rabboni (Teacher) with her simplicity and completeness (John 20:16)?

Reading Scripture in this way—in obedience, as a member of the Church, finding Christ everywhere, seeing everything as a part of my own personal story—we shall sense something of the variety and depth to be found in the Bible. Yet always we shall feel that in our Biblical exploration we are only at the very beginning. We are like someone launching out in a tiny boat across a limitless ocean.

"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" - Psalm 118(119):105

OFFSITE: How to Read the Bible - Original article, by Bishop Kallistos Ware