On the Mother of God - Part 2: On Developing a Closer Relationship with Her
Fr. Demetrios Carellas
ST. EMMELIA WEST CONFERENCE: “HAVE FAITH”
ST. NICHOLAS RANCH, DUNLAP, CALIFORNIA
APRIL 19-22, 2018
My dear brothers and sisters and kids in Christ, we’re going to continue. I’m father Demetros, and now we’re going to talk about some of the virtues of the Mother of God. But first, I want to share with you a miracle that happened to a spiritual daughter of mine this Great Fast. She was called into Jury Duty the day before the Great Fast began. Attempted murder. They expected 6-8 weeks, which meant she would miss all of the Great Fast, all of Holy Week, and Bright Week, too. And she said she went there and she begged them, she said “this can’t be,” she made all kinds of excuses, and nothing worked. They swore her in. She was sitting in the courtroom, ready to start the first day. And at that moment, she said, “I reached out to Panagia and I said, ‘Panagia I can’t do this. You have to do something for me. I can’t stay and miss the whole Great Fast of thy Son; I can’t do it, please do something!’” Immediately, the defense attorney and got up and said, “I would like Mrs. so-and-so to be removed from the jury.” Just like that! So tell me the Mother of God didn’t act quickly. So she got to see all the Great Fast and all of Holy Week and all of Bright Week, thanks to the Mother of God.
“Behold, what mind will fathom, or what tongue can express, or what master scribes hand will write the countless multitude of graces and compassions of the holy and ever-virgin Theotokos, which she manifests from day to day among the human race? She is a fervent intercessor with her Son, Christ God, for all those who entreat her. She is a calm harbor of all those battered by waves, who rescues them from spiritual and fleshly waves. She is the guide on the way of life for all who have gone astray. She is the one who seeks and converts those who are lost. She is the help and support of those who are afflicted. She is the intercessor and mediator of those who are repenting. She is the resurrection of the fallen Adam. She is the destruction of the tears of Eve. She is the comforter of those who mourn. She is the throne of the King and she bears the One who bears all. She is the ladder that reaches to heaven by which God descended to earth. She is the bridge that leads from earth to paradise. She is the wonder of angels, and she is the wound of the demons and their destruction. She is the tree of the immortal fruit. She sprouted forth the Planter (with a capital “P”) of life. She is the incense offered to God, the intercession on our behalf. She is the cause of boldness before God for all mankind. She is the mother of the Good Shepherd. She is the chasing away of invisible enemies. She is the opening of the gates of paradise. She is the unsilenced mouth of the apostles. She is the invincible courage of the martyrs, the power and strength of the Christians, the dawn of the never-setting day, the bearer of the Son of Truth.”
As I was first reading these holy words, I just spontaneously asked Panagia, I said “please, heal my sinful soul, so that I, and those with me today, might be blessed to experience a tiny crumb of the great love that St. Maximus the Confessor had. (This is who wrote this—6th century saint, St. Maximus the Confessor wrote this about our Panagia.) Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos reminds us that a primary characteristic inherent in every Saint is that they all have a deep love and respect for Panagia. And St. Maximus’ spiritual words testify to this. And then there is a statement from St. Gregory Palamas, who, by the way, often saw Panagia. He believes that she is the living icon of all that is good. These are his words now: “bringing together all the various beings He had to adorn creation, Jesus revealed the Theotokos as the union of the divine, angelic, and human beauty. A nobler elegance to enhance both worlds, originating from the earth but reaching up now, through her ascension, from tomb to heaven, to the heavens and beyond. She united things below with things above. She is superior to everyone in that she became immortal after death. And she alone lives in her body with her Son and God in heaven. Therefore, she pours down grace on those who honor her, and bestows on them the possibility of reaching up to her. She is a living icon of all goodness and kindness.” This saint also teaches us that, because the Panagia is much closer to God than anyone—including all the orders of the angels—her intercessory power is beyond description.
How many of you have been to the monastery in Wisconsin dedicated to St. John Chrysostom? Who has seen the platytera in the new chapel? I wish I’d brought a picture because I’ve never seen one like this before. There must have been at least 80 angels surrounding her holding Christ. And there were about four different types. Some appeared to be waiting in line, and some were going out like they already received a message; some were giving her a message, and she was holding a handkerchief. I’ve never seen this before in all the churches I’ve been in. The abbess of that monastery told me that a monk from Mount Athos happened to go in there and he began to weep. And he said, “Do you know what this napkin is?” And she said, “No, I don’t know.” and he said, “It’s what she uses to wipe our tears.”
You know, that list I read to you, especially the one from St. Maximus, we’d have to have a retreat that would last a few weeks to go through each one and share the great mystery that St. Maximus put into just a few words—all these heavenly virtues of the Panagia. But these heavenly and God-bestowed abilities are incarnate within her because of what she last said to the Archangel Gabriel when she accepted God’s will: “Behold, the slave of God. Let it be to me according to thy will.” Now, it’s important that I use the Greek word here: δούλη. Most translations say “handmaid of God,” or they say “servant of God,” but the Greek is clear. She’s saying “slave.” And it’s used again in the Epistles. Although the Lord called His disciples His friends—St. Paul, St. Peter, St. Yakovos, and St. Jude refer to themselves as the slave of God. Why? Because, in order to be free, I must be His slave. In order to be victorious, He must conquer me.
The slave of God. I feel that this consummate expression of the total surrender to God should become something that we all struggle, every minute of the day, to achieve as best as we possibly can.
The blessed Theophylact the Bulgarian described Panagia’s acceptance of this indescribable mission to give flesh to the Word of God in this manner: “I am the Writer’s tablet”—Writer with a capital “W”—“I am the Writer’s tablet, let the Lord write upon me whatever He wishes. Let the Lord do as He wills.”
Wow. What a great illustration to ponder, brothers and sisters. I am a tablet of which my most sweet Lord Jesus becomes the Writer. But, I must be open to whatever He chooses to write on that spiritual tablet, my temporal life. There can be no agendas. I must be totally willing, as Panagia said, to let the Lord do as He wills. How does one go about giving up the only thing that is ours to give—our free will—which is something that He gave to each one of us? We can find the answer by taking a look into a few of the paramount virtues of Panagia.
First we’re going to look at her obedience—what St. John of the Ladder describes, in a very mystical way, as “the tomb of the will, and the resurrection of humility.” The tomb of the will and the resurrection of humility. We can talk about that tonight if you want, in the Q&A discussion, because there’s a lot of good things to share about that. Indeed, Panagia’s life on earth is the consummate example of this verbal icon of obedience by St. John. Through God’s grace, she became as if dead to the passions, even though she was tempted in ways you and I cannot begin to imagine. Surely, for example, the evil one sent her a barrage of terrible thoughts as she watched Jesus hanging from the cross. But none of those temptations could overcome her, having buried her will through perfect obedience to her Son, she was given the grace not to fall into any of the passions. And that grace gave to the Panagia a humble spirit beyond words. When we surrender our will, even simple people can do that.
I’m going to share with you a true story. There was a monk named John in a monastery in Greece not too long ago. He’d been a monk for over fifty years, not a priest, just a simple monk—over fifty years. And, one day, he got this vision. And in this vision, he saw paradise—beautiful beyond words. And then he heard a voice: “Who’s there?” And he said, “monk John.” And the vision disappeared. Well, monk John was a very simple man. So, he thought, “well, maybe I am not exact enough. If Jesus will give me this vision one more time, I’ll give more explanation of who I am.” So, indeed, he gets the vision again, “I’m monk John, I was born in this village, my mother, my father…” and the vision went away again. So then he went to the elder of the monastery and he told him what happened. And the elder said, “monk John, you’ve been in this monastery longer than I’ve been alive in this world. Don’t you know what the answer is?” and he thought, and he said, “Oh, father, of course! Would you please pray? Please, God, give me this vision one more time so I can answer correctly.” Indeed, he got that vision, and indeed, the voice came and said, “Who’s there?” and he said, “You.” And he fell asleep.
That’s the ultimate purpose of my life and yours—to become Christ. Where the identity we have is solely Him. And we can only do that by surrendering our will. And it’s going to take a lot of work, in my case. I’ve got hoks on mine, unfortunately, and God in his mercy is finding more ways to help me let go of those hooks. But Panagia is just the classic perfection of that.
The key to Panagia being able to offer total obedience to God is that she willingly subjected her reason to God. That action is of utmost importance in anyone's struggle to surrender his or her free will to our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. God is mystery—therefore, we will never be able to explain Him or to comprehend Him with our brain. But, we can, through His grace, experience and know Him in our hearts.
In terms of the futility of trying to comprehend God, St. John of Damascus came up with the best definition. He said, “the most comprehensible thing we know about God is His incomprehensibility.” That says it in a nutshell for the Orthodox—we’re not going to comprehend Him, but we can experience Him in our hearts.
Can you imagine how many people today are still trying to comprehend Him? And that’s why I told you earlier today the philosophers in Greece weren’t able to understand St. Paul when he talked about the Resurrection. And that’s why Jesus’ eleven disciples were behind closed doors. Why? For fear of the Jews. But what about the women? They knew logically that there was a huge stone sealed, there were guards with weapons—and yet, they had a mission, and so they went. And that’s why they were the first to see Christ. Because they reacted from their heart and not from their brain. And that’s why men and women need each other. God made us different. And it really bothers me that so many women today are trying to become like men. We’ve got enough men; we need women who’ll be real women.
I remember one time I was making a hospital call and a woman was behind me so I opened the door for her, and she said, “that’s okay, I’m a liberated woman.” And I held the door and said, “that’s okay, because I’m a liberated man.” She got a little miffed but she went though the door.
You see, that gift of living from the heart. That’s why they saw Christ first. And that’s why St. Luke said—when they came and said, “we saw the Lord”—it seemed like nonsense to them because they were busy reasoning; “How did this happen? There were guards. There was a stone.” St. Nikolai Velimirovich explains to us that the living God is the only Lord of Life, so He has total freedom to do things that can’t be explained by natural law—things that even transcend those laws. But then, listen to what he expresses next. He says, “Nature”—in this case, this is the visible world in all of its components—“nature has become the tree of temptation to men. Hidden under the shadow of nature, because of his nakedness, man longs for God to visit him and dreads God’s visit.” Does that make sense? Of course it does. I’ll give you a clear illustration. I’ll take this to my grave, and unless God does something, I’ll see what I was supposed to see.
I was censing in church in the Great Vespers. And all of a sudden, I was experiencing that someone was before me on the throne where the bishop sits. Do you know what thought came next? “If I see a Saint, I’m going to be persecuted even more.” And the vision went away. See, I want to see Him, but I don’t want the consequences of seeing Him. I want to know God, but I want to know Him on my terms, and I don’t want to have to suffer by knowing Him better. That’s what He’s trying to say here. “When God does not visit him, he complains. But when he does, man rejects the visit.” That’s what happened to me. “As when, in paradise, Adam was placed between two trees, those of life and of knowledge, so now we, Adam’s descendants, are placed between two trees. God is the tree of life; nature is the tree of knowledge. By placing her reason in subjection to God’s will, our Theotokos chose the tree of life.” That’s the first thing that has to happen. We’ve got to put reason in subjection to the will of God. And she was blessed with true freedom through that total obedience.
Where, today, is a tiny remnant of Panagia’s obedience to God in our nation, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ? Especially among our children and our young adults? I feel that too many of our kids today have “double E degrees.” But I don’t mean Electrical Engineering. I mean Entitlement and Expectations. It’s kind of crazy today when a middle school kid feels entitled to a cell phone because his buddy has a cell phone. Anyone who has surrendered his or her will, knowingly or unknowingly, to this modern form of idol worship, can never know true obedience. With regards to the demonic expectation spirit, here is a nice axiom from the Church Fathers. I don’t remember who said it, but boy I’d love to be able to say that for a millisecond I lived it: “If you go through a day without expecting anything, then whatever happens in that day is exactly what you expected.” I love that one. “if you go through a day without expecting anything, then whatever happens in that day is exactly what you expected.” That person is free. That person is very free to have the Writer write His will on his or her tablet.
Let’s just pause for a minute and use our reason. What would it be like if every Orthodox Christian was trying to do that every day? What would this do to our world? [audience: "It would make it a better place."] You better believe it would make it a better place. And I bet you they’d be breaking our doors down to become Orthodox Christians. It breaks my heart to see how the anti-Christian spirit of the progressive movement—can’t even call it liberal anymore, I mean, it’s gone beyond—has taken such hold of so very many young souls. I see it especially—and this is what really hurts as a priest—when I’ve had the joy to hear the confession of a young man or a young woman from a time they were three or four to the time they go to college. And then, in many cases I don’t hear from them in four years because college changes them. And then in some cases, thank God, I get a call four or five years later and they say, “Do you remember me?” And I say, “How can I forget you? I’ve been praying for you every day!” And God brings them back.
They fail to see that this movement is not God-inspired, but a ploy of the evil one. They are losing their God-given unique identities and they are becoming the thrones of a movement that has already succeeded, with the help of ungodly laws and court decisions, and the total cooperation of the entertainment world, news media, the education system, and bringing much destruction to the second-most important thing in any society. The first [most important] is Christ; the second is the God-established family unit. And it is very simple. It’s a father and a mother and children. It is not two men; it is not two women. And, for some reason, we don’t talk about that too much. Because we’re afraid? I don’t know—I can’t understand this. Everybody says we should love everybody. Yes, we should love everybody. But there’s two things we should always have to be together, because when you separate them, you lose them both: love and truth. When you take truth away from love, neither one of them exist. And when you say that a marriage is between a man and a man, then there’s no truth there, I’m sorry. Even some Christian formations are changing their understanding of the traditional marriage and including same-sex couples. Today, far too many of our young people—thanks in part to many of their high school teachers, and unfortunately most of their college professors, as well as parental neglect many of them face in their childhood years—have adopted, hopefully only temporarily, the progressive mentality.
Forgive this simple definition, but this is how I look at the progressive mentality based on what I’ve seen. It seems to me, that to them it is more important to have an opinion on a topic rather than any information on that topic. And the vehement and the forcefulness with which one promotes this opinion is more important than the facts on which the opinion is based. Such a person is unable to accept the God-expressed obedience of our Panagia, because he or she does not want to give up what he believes is his freedom to live his life as he pleases. He has chosen nature, the tree of knowledge, as his God, and he cannot see that what he calls freedom is, in reality, slavery. Where is creativity today among our youth? I see a lot in this room, because you’re homeschooling. You’re keeping that creativity alive. But what about in school, where the bar keeps getting lower? And you’ve got to be careful about your creativity because you may cause someone else to feel upset. You may hurt somebody’s feelings. I just don’t know, sometimes I wake up and I say, am I really in this world? It just seems like a different world, a different planet.
This person focuses his life on acquiring the things of this world and defining happiness through these things. If you disagree with him, he will call you names, and seek to discredit you because he does not know what it means to have a respectful discussion with anyone who doesn’t share his opinions and lifestyle. If things go the opposite, as we’ve seen recently in this presidential election in 2016. There was violence when a certain person didn’t get elected, and there was the development of rooms with little soft cuddley animals to hold to help comfort them for their loss.
These are the future leaders of our country?
Because of her total surrender to God's will, our most beloved Panagia was in a constant state of absolute obedience to the one who is both her Son and her Lord. And that is why God has blessed her with all these heavenly virtues. St. Photios the Great gives us a brief, succinct description of the overall character of our most beloved Panagia in three words: holy, modest, vigilant.
Holiness is a divine gift which God bestows upon those of whom he deems to be worthy. And what’s so interesting, is the person who has been given that gift believes he doesn’t have that gift. As I’ve tried to briefly illustrate through the patristic teachings so far on Panagia, no person can ever be more worthy than her of being called holy. However, modesty and vigilance are two virtues that any person in here and anywhere else can struggle to acquire.
If we ask God’s help and guidance in placing these essential spiritual garments upon our souls, His grace will be forthcoming speedily. And if we are ever to be prepared to receive from God our personal mystical annunciation, it will not happen unless these two virtues are in place as part of our character: modesty and vigilance.
Let’s take a brief look at them. First of all, modesty. At least in the physical sense, it was really quite alive in the middle ‘50s. Nobody in this room but me was alive back then. I was a healthy young man. I was 13 or 14 in the middle ‘50s. And the thing I remember about it is, there was no confusion about what was right and what was wrong; what was truth, and what was false; what was good, and what was bad. There seems to be a confusion today. Back then, there wasn’t. Why? Simplicity. People were simple. And they cared about each other. Yes, where I lived, there was unfortunately discrimination based on color—thank God, my parents never raised me that way. They had on the bus, blacks in the back, and whites in the front. And I was very rebellious, I always sat in the back. Bus driver said, “You’re supposed to sit up front.” I said, “I like it back here.” But still, there was a spirit of helpfulness that I don’t see today—except maybe in Texas. (laughter) But people, they were always simple in their attitudes. Why? They didn’t have this thing here. This was non-existent. I mean, it wasn’t even in the dream world yet. Computers, where were they? Everybody had to write out everything. When you had to write a paper, you had to go to the library and open all these books, go up into the stacks, looking in the card catalog…
You know it’s funny, even in the sitcoms back then, the married couples slept in twin beds. I’m serious! Twin beds! And the blue law was in existance! Father told me the blue law was in California too. Just about everything was closed on Sunday until after church. So there was a spirit of worship—even though it was kind of a weak one, it was there. And that simplicity is what you need to give these kids. Don’t let the computers eat them alive. Don’t get too involved with those computers, kids. They do some good, but I think if I had my choice, I’d go back to the ‘50s, where we can talk to each other, and where right and wrong is black and white and there’s no grey.
Where's that modesty today? It’s quite interesting that 60 years later, the definitions of modesty haven’t changed. Listen to this, “freedom from vanity or excessive pride, freedom from ostentation.” Wow. Today, the poor kids—tattoos all over the place. They’re crying out. They’ve got all these things in their nose and they don’t realize that was a sign of slavery in the old days. When they had these things hanging from all over—that meant you were a slave. They’re looking for an identity, and they’re not finding it in the progressive movement, so they’re lost. They need us to be examples for them.
And here’s another one in modesty, “respectability in speech and dress.” Where has that gone today? I had a woman tell me one time, she said, “You know, it really bothered me, my daughter came with her four-year-old daughter—my granddaughter—and they both like street-walkers.” They were identically dressed. What do you teach a child when, in that innocence, you dress them like that? Today, many of our youth, and a significant number of people over 35, by their choice of words, clothing, and attitude, seem to be living as if certain characteristics of freedom have now become the exact opposite of what modesty has defined them to be. And of course, it’s because we’ve allowed pleasing our egos to become the driving force in our lives, instead of seeking to be—where? In union with God, like Panagia. She’s in union with Him—in union with Jesus Christ, by struggling day by day, through the church’s worship and teachings and sacraments, to surrender our will.
Every Divine Liturgy, when the priest lifts up the gifts, and says, “Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee on behalf of all, and for all”—at that moment, mystically lift up your will and say, “God, take whatever I don’t have hold of right now. Take a little portion of it.” About ten years ago, I added a prayer to the Mother of God. I said, “Please, beg thy Son to take another portion of my unconquered heart, so that before I breathe my last breath, there’s nothing left. It’s all His.”
Before taking a look at the virtue of vigilance, we should mention one virtue that’s closely connected to modesty, and that’s purity. At the moment that the Holy Spirit descended upon the Theotokos, both her body and her soul entered a state of purity, the degree of which no human being has ever experienced—total theosis. Total sanctification. Adam and Eve were in a spirit of illumination. That’s why, before they fell, they couldn’t drown, they couldn’t die, because they were in communion with God at one level. But then, theosis is total communion. Purity goes hand in hand with innocence, both of which are hard to find today, even among grade-school age children. What is being taught in so many public schools—in just about every state, in so-called “health classes,” even in kindergarten—is simply demonic. That’s the only word you can use—it’s demonic. Middle school children today are doing things that I didn’t even know existed when I was in middle school. And, thanks to the comments of a former president, they think they’re still virgins. Those who are feeding our youth with such lies must not be aware of the strong admonishment that God gave to anyone who would adulterate his little children through their false teachings: “It is impossible that stumbling blocks should not come, but woe to him through whom they come. It is more profitable to him if a millstone turned by an ass is put about his neck and he is cast into the sea, than he should cause one of these little ones to stumble.”
What you give your children in their early years—correct me if I’m wrong here, I read something in a psychological book that something like 50% of a person’s personality is formed by age two and 70% by age five—have you ever heard that? Maybe they lied to me, I don’t know. It may not be quite that neat, but let’s say this, though—what you give a child in the first five years is going to be very influential for the rest of their life, if it’s consistent. They’ll either learn rock songs, if you teach them, or they’ll learn the church songs. They’ll either learn to do their cross, or they’ll learn to do other things that maybe kids are doing in public schools that might not be so good to do. So, those early years are critical in the formation of a child. What you give them in the foundation before they leave and go into the world will be with them, even if they fall away for a brief period of time—because of college or whatever else—the foundation is there. So if you keep praying, I’m a firm believer that God will bring them back—every one—because they’ve got a foundation you’ve put there that's a good foundation. What they’ve built on it isn’t good, and that will fall away. But the foundation will be there to help them build the right structure, to help them build it again.
My dear—and you are my dear living icons of Jesus, that’s all of us, every one of us is a living icon of Jesus—our churches need to become very proactive in protecting the purity and innocence of our precious little ones, as well as actively and persistently defending the sacredness of all human life from conception to natural death. Our secularly humanistic, heathenistic, and politically correct society is more concerned about protecting the manta ray and the polar bear than protecting the right to life of the unborn child. Over 60 million babies are not living today, since that satanic supreme court decision that made it legal.
Being a sexually active teenager is hailed as normal today, and maintaining your virginity until you’re married is something abnormal. And then we get these new terms. This is one of my favorites: “gender fluidity.” When that first came into being for me about a year ago, there was a list of thirty-three genders, and male and female were #17 and #18. Now that list is over one hundred, and probably, as we speak, it’s probably one hundred and fifty by now. Gender fluidity—it’s crazy—and, of course, that brings in transgenderism. Even psychiatrists are coming out and saying, “you’re really messing these kids up if you’re trying to tell them they’re born a male but they can become a female…” Whatever—God help us. Homosexuality... Planned parenthood’s demonic sexual education guidelines that are being taught in so many public schools... If you can, go to the all life league website—but don’t have eaten for at least twelve hours because its so sickening—but go to the all life league website. They have what Planned Parenthood is teaching our kids today. It’s sickening. It’s vulgar. It’s demonic, and it’s all over the place. That is why we need Orthodox schools in as many parishes as possible, or at least turn our parishes into homeschool [co-op] centers. An Orthodox school can be started even in a small parish. The Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Yakima, Washington has 120 family units, and they have now, I think, through grade 6. They started out as a homeschool [co-op] center, and then they eventually turned it into a little private Orthodox school.
And parents with young children need to do all they can to preserve their little ones’ purity and innocence. Our youth should be encouraged, as young as possible, to reach out to Panagia every day. And they should be taught prayers to her: Akathist and Paraklasis, or small supplicatory canons. She’s going to be their bodily protectress against all filth and immorality in our culture today. Think of it for a minute, what their late teens and young adult years would be like if, for example, they’d been saying the Akathist to the Mother of God every day since they were ten years old. That’s going to have a great impact on them. And now, the monastery here has put out a couple of services. One is called, “I Cry to You, O Pure Maiden, a canon of repentance.” And there’s a canon of thanksgiving: “I Chant to You Odes of Thanks.” And the monastery which is now under [the Serbian jurisdiction] in Arizona has a number of Akathists to the Mother of God, one of which you all read today, “To the Nurturer of Children.” I tell every mother, “read that every day for your kids.” It’s a wonderful thing to do.
You and I, the clergy, the parents, the grandparents, the godparents, aunts, uncles—we must first bring Panagia very strongly into our own lives. How can we show our youth how truly blessed we are to have the Panagia as our mother if we ourselves are yet to personally realize this through our own intimate relationship with her? How often in a given week do I do an Akathist to the Mother of God, or do a supplicatory canon to her? How much do I presently know about her life? How many times in the past month have I prayed a prayer rope to her, saying “most holy Theotokos, save us?” What have my youngsters learned from me about our holy lady’s conception, her birth, her entrance into the temple, her annunciation, her indescribable dormition? How desperately, brothers and sisters, we need to be within the divine embrace of the virgin who gave flesh to Him, and fed—with her milk—Him who feeds the universe.
The Theotokos is the consummate example of perfection and all the virtues, not the least of which is vigilance, or watchfulness. The Theotokos was warned of the coming of the great temptations and sufferings for her when the righteous Symeon prophesied: “A sword shall go through thine own soul.” Her vigilance and humble spirit kept her from falling into those temptations. She never bragged about her Son as we brag about our kids. She kept, as it says, all these things in her heart. In his first epistle, St. Peter reminds us to “be sober-minded and watchful, because your adversary, the devil, is a roaring lion, walking about and seeking whom he might devour.” We need to put those words in our minds and our hearts every day.
Today, the great majority of Americans spend hours every day on their cell phones, computers, internet, video games, specialized social media outlets—and too many of those hours have nothing to do with their jobs, or their school or college assignments. How much time do we waste every day on that stuff? Because we’re not vigilant, we’re not guarding our hearts against the demonic assaults that attack us every day. And, because of this lack of vigilance, we find ourselves embracing too many of these sinful thoughts, which the evil one seeks to give us and place us under his control.
St. Paisios the Athonite, one day, was visited by a young man that was really upset. He said, “Geronda, I get these terrible thoughts, judgmental thoughts, sexual thoughts. How do I stop them?” And about that time, a plane was flying overhead. And he asked the young man, “Can I stop the plane from flying over my head?” And of course the young man said, “Well, of course not, I can’t do that.” “So look around,” he says, “can that plane land here, is there a runway?” He said, “Well, no.” He said, “Well same with the thoughts. These thoughts are coming from the outside, they’re demonic temptations. And they’ll keep coming until we depart this life. But the key is, don’t build a runway so they can land.”
Thank God, my spiritual father just happened to be visiting the monastery in Saxonburg when I was getting the most disgusting thoughts at the altar. And instead of just going right into the Jesus Prayer, I was saying, “where did that come from?” There’s your runway. “Why is this happening to me?” Runways—all kinds of runways for that thought to land. And he came and he admonished me and said, “These are not from you, they’re coming from the evil one. And if you try to deal with them in the way you are, you’re going to go insane. All you need to do is, when the thought comes, immediately go into the prayer. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” And he said, “if it’s really intense, just say two words, ‘my Jesus,’ or you can exchange it with ‘my Jesus, my Panagia.’” I have found that from that point on, any time I do that, the thoughts don’t land. The runways aren’t built. So remember that.
Of course, such patristic advice that I just gave you will be of use to people like you, because—I’m assuming this—you have some sort of spiritual discipline that you try to follow every day. I’m assuming you try to put Christ first in the trenches of your daily life, and I assume that you have a spiritual father to whom you regularly confess your sins and seek guidance. Forgive me, but many Orthodox Christians today do not have these three essential forms of soul therapy and soul protection actively at work in their daily lives. Again, think of the positive impact on our parishes, our jurisdictions, our nation, if these three things were part of all of us. If you and I were struggling to have that spiritual annunciation, where, one day, we can say to God, “I am the slave of the Lord. Just do whatever you want, I know it’s going to be right for me.”
My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, I thank you, and Christine, I thank you for being firm with me because I refused three times—I didn’t want to stay here for two weeks—but I’m very grateful that you’ve allowed me to stay, because I’ve learned a lot just seeing the people here, seeing their enthusiasm, and seeing the youngsters and how they play together with different ages. It’s a wonderful experience for me. I’m very grateful that you persisted and gave me the blessing to be here with all of you. Please be assured that my poor prayers are going to be with St. Emmelia’s homeschool society, and I’ll always pray that the Panagia will keep all of you as individuals under her holy protection. And I hope and pray that she will mystically embrace the heart of every homeschooling mother and father, filling all of you each day with renewed hope that her Son and our Lord is with them in their efforts to help their children become imitators of Panagia, to surrender their will to Jesus so he can mold them into living icons of goodness and kindness, as St. Gregory of Palamas described the Panagia. I believe that we need our most beloved Panagia’s intercession more today than ever before in the history of man. Ever since she told the servants at the wedding of Cana “whatsoever he tells you, do it,” we can have confidence in her Son fulfilling whatever she requests.
May these spirit-filled words of an 18th century hierarch from Greece, named Ilias, help us to solidify this confidence. What he’s doing here is as if Christ is talking to the Mother of God. And then, at the end of this, he brings it home to us: “Thou art my mother, I will not turn thee away. Ask whatever thou desirest, and I will do thy will, so that the world will know whom thou has as a Son, and whom I have as a mother. And with these words, for the generations to call thee blessed. Because thou art my mother, ask for the help of that sick person who is lying half-dead in bed. Ask freedom for that captive who wears chains for so long. Ask for that poor person who has fallen into such misfortune. Ask for that traveler who is in danger at sea. For, when they call upon thy name, let the sick be made well, let the captive be set free, let the poor be taken care of, let the one sailing be protected, because thou art my mother. Does that barren woman beg thee to grant her a child? That virgin, for thee to keep her honor? That farmer for thee to bestow an abundant harvest? Let their requests be fulfilled, only on behalf of thee, my mother’s entreaties, because thou art my mother.” And then the bishop directs it to you and me: “Now, this is how it is, oh Christians, for God to hear the supplications of other Saints, it is a favor, for he is the master of the Saints. But for him to hear the supplications of Mary the virgin, it is a debt, because he is the Son of the virgin. It is the law of God for a son to honor his mother, and since God received a mother, He is under that same law.”
There’s such a beautiful spirit of the Mother of God here at this monastery—and, as I told you, I want you to have her embrace—I want you to experience that mystical embrace. When I contact a spiritual child and she or he is in pain, I’ll usually start with, “may our most holy Theotokos embrace your precious soul, filling it with healing and a hope that does not put to shame.” And this icon of her really shows that tenderness. It’s entitled “The Protectress of the Abandoned and the Orphaned.” And we’re all abandoned by this world—so she’s there to embrace us and protect us.