*forgive the previous post that was sent out this morning. seems i didn’t hit the publish button when i originally wrote it so it’s a bit late. 😉
The following is taken from a new book published by St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY titled The Art of Salvation. The book is a compilation of letters written by Elder Ephraim to various spiritual children. It is the first volume of a series and the theme is repentance. It is absolutely fantastic!!
I picked my copy up while visiting Holy Protection Monastery in White Haven, PA this summer but it can also be purchased from Orthodox Christian Children. I try to read one homily each day. I’ve toted it along with me all summer through airports and on road trips and have been so encouraged and motivated by the wise counsels found within its pages. I’m already reading for the second time. The homilies are the perfect length to read in the tidbits of time a mama gets scattered throughout her day.
I posted the above photo on Instagram awhile back and someone asked how I manage to read with the littles around. I guess I never really thought about it because it’s something I’ve just always done. But I guess the trick, if you can call it that, is to read aloud. The boys just naturally get a little quieter. Sometimes I even catch them listening. But either way, it’s much easier to hear myself think when I’m talking out loud! 🙂
Love: The National Anthem of Paradise
My beloved brothers,
God is Love. “He who abides in love abides in God and God in him” (1 Jn. 4:17), thunders St. John the Evangelist, the Apostle of Love.
Love is the most beautiful flower within the garden of virtues, which collectively comprise the bouquet of discretion. It is the most vivid color within the rainbow the Heaven. It is the most precious pearl on the crown of faith. It is the key that opens all the doors of human relations. It is the medicine that cures every illness of the soul and body. It is the national anthem of Paradise.
A certain saint would pray with these words: “O Lord, allow me to help others, not for others to help me. Give me the strength to love, not to be loved. Give me the strength to be understanding, not to be understood.”
Love, the way it was taught by our Lord, not the way it is distorted by people, is an expression of sacrifice. It is a “sweet-smelling, spiritual aroma” (cf. Eph. 4:18). It is an expression of the heart, and an offering that issues from a clement soul.
Love is not measured by what you give, but according to how you give. Love is not stretching out your hand only, but giving your hearts as well. If you know how to share with others, then you know how to love. “For God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7), declares the Apostle Paul.
God loves the merciful person who gives eagerly, with a cheerful face, and on his own accord. Alms offered with sorrow are unacceptable and are spurned. The root of charity is found in the heart. It originates from our heart and ends in the palm of our hands. Charity transmits warmth to others when the fire of love co-exists. Alms without love is frigid and oppressive. It is a dead corpse void of the sun and light. It is a flower lacking beauty and fragrance. When someone gives without love, he is actually offering an insult. For what value does the most exquisite and expensive gift have when it is offered without a genuine smile?
Jesus asked us to pay close attention to the subject of alms. He condemned prideful almsgiving that is set on display. The saints have emphatically instructed us on this issue.
The extraordinary and marvelous manner by which St. Nicholas helped the three poverty-stricken girls has left its mark on history not due to the amount of money he gave-which certainly was noteworthy-but primarily for the discrete way in which he gave it. St. John Chrysostom states that “hunger is a terrible thing”. It can sometimes blind a person and lead him to act improperly. Such was the case for these three young ladies: they were in danger of being led to immorality, for their father had reached a state of hopelessness. However, St. Nicholas, who was full of love and discretion, rushed to his aid at the appropriate moment. He took every precaution for his virtuous work to take place in secret and to remain unknown to people. He implemented the Lord’s commandment: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3).
Wasting no time, he filled a satchel with gold coins and carefully approached their home late at night. He tossed the valuable package into the house through an open window and quickly left. In the morning, the girls’ father could hardly believe his eyes. When St. Nicholas learned the father used the money as a dowry to marry off his first daughter, he went back and threw another bag of gold into the house in the same way. The poor father offered heartfelt gratitude and praise to the Good Lord. Thus, he married off his second daughter.
Nevertheless, he wanted to discover the identity of his benefactor. He had a feeling that he would return a third time, so he remained awake late at night, listening for the sound that would betray his benefactor. He was prepared to run, to catch, and to discover the good person who had saved him and his daughters. This is indeed what occurred. The compassionate saint who loved the poor was unable to hide during his third secret attempt. As the father raced behind St. Nicholas, he recognized him and thanked him for saving three souls from immorality. St. Nicholas spoke to him with much love and adjured him not to mention this event to anyone.
St. John the Merciful, this great and unmatched laborer of love, would study the lives of the saints extensively. He was particularly impressed by the life of St. Serapion of Sidon, whom he revered greatly. St. John frequently related the following event from his life.
Once, St. Serapion, who was renowned for his asceticism and poverty, encountered an extremely poor man. He felt so sorry for him that he removed his cloak and gave it to the poor person. As he continued along his way, he saw another person who was quivering in the cold. What could he do? Without delay, he removed his remaining garment and offered it to his fellow man. He was left in a state of undress, only holding the Gospel in his hands. An acquaintance of his who saw him without clothes asked in surprise: “Holy man of God, who left you bare?”
“This did,” replied St. Serapion as he pointed to the Holy Gospel. It was not long before he sold even the Gospel in order to offer the money to the underprivileged. One of his disciples asked him: “Father, where is the small Gospel you used to have?”
“Didn’t the Lord say ‘sell your belongings and give to the poor?'” he replied. “This is the commandment I obeyed. I realized that I shouldn’t even spare this book that contains the Lord’s commandments, but rather sell it in favor of the poor.”
A certain man of God stated, “Each soul who is overcome with love is already a reflection of God.” Love both contains and transmits light. It is simultaneously a carrier and a emitter of light. “He who loves his brother abides in the light” (1 John 2:10).
The closer a person comes to God, the more enlightened and radiant he becomes. The more a person loves God, the more he loves others. “Have you seen your brother? You have seen God!” remarks St. Isaac the Syrian.
Truly, what good is it to conquer the universe if we cannot conquer our brothers with love. What good is it to explore and discover new galaxies if we do not succeed in finding the “star” of Bethlehem; that is, the God of love? What new cosmos are we expecting the telescopes to show us if we remain ignorant of the “new commandment” of love? Without love, all things are pointless, ugly and futile. “What a misfortune for us to lack love!” exclaims St. Tikhon of Zadonsk. All of man’s works and achievements acquire value only when they are accompanied by love.
Love, however, demands discretion, and discretion, in turn, is an art. If you are unfamiliar with the art of love, then you do not know how to love. Love overlooks the flaws of our brother. It forgives mistakes. It tolerates bad habits. It gives way to obstinacy. It avoids criticism. It is oblivious to sarcasm. It disperses suspicions. It does not accept slander. It does not pass judgment or debase others publicly. It covers all shortcomings in a polite and brave manner. “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil” (1 Cor 13:4-6), thunders the Apostle Paul. Love, through its simplicity and sincerity, is unaware of evil. It is crystal clear like water from a pristine lake. No fierce wave of evil or deceit can disturb it.
The person who loves is the greatest victor in the spiritual battle. He wins using a smile and kindness. In other situations, to yield constitutes defeat; however, concessions made on account of love are a victory. St. Gregory the Theologian advises: “Let us win using compassion.”
The trophies of love are glorious. The crowns of compassion are invaluable. Let us not forget that every great love is a crucified love. It carefully walks up all the steps leading to Golgotha. It feels pain, just as Christ suffered while on the Cross. Each offering demands sacrifice, and every sacrifice is valuable.
“Whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42), promises the Lord. Love conducts itself with discretion and kindness toward the person who is hungry, who is thirsty, who is a stranger, who is neglected, who is imprisoned-toward every suffering soul. People who are in jail are also our brothers. This is why the diving Apostle Paul orders, “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them” (Hebrews 13:3). We should feel as if we are confined in jail with them. The same holds true for various sorrows afflicting our brothers: we should share in their sorrow as if it were our own.
Someone stated the following: “The pain in this world is so vast! If you were to collect the tears that are shed each day from human eyes, you would find yourself before the largest river on earth.” Love must be implemented only when it is time to “rejoice with those who rejoice,” but it must also “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
Each nation has its own national anthem, and so does Christianity. It has the Anthem of Love, which the great Apostle to the nations Paul has expressed in a most exquisite manner, in the thirteenth chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians.
May this sweet and melodious hymn constantly be on our lips and in our soul. Amen.