Wednesday August 18, 2021 / August 5, 2021
9th Week after Pentecost. Tone seven.
Dormition (Theotokos) Fast. By Monastic Charter: Strict Fast (Bread, Vegetables, Fruits)
Forefeast of the Transfiguration of our Lord. Martyr Eusignius of Antioch (362). New Hieromartyr Stephen priest (1918). New Martyrs Eudocia and Novices Daria, Daria, and Maria (1919). New Hieromartyr Simon bishop of Ufa (1921). New Hieromartyr John deacon (1938). Venerable Job the Gorge-dweller on the Mezen River (Solovki) (1628). Hieromartyrs Fabian (250) and Antherus (Antheros) (257), popes of Rome. Martyr Pontius at Cimella in France (257). Martyrs Cantidius, Cantidian and Sibelius (Sobel), of Egypt. Righteous Nonna (374), mother of St. Gregory the Theologian.
The Early Fathers of the Church teach us that, when God created Adam and Eve, they were clothed in the Divine light of God Himself. Sadly, when they sinned, they lost the glory of God, and that’s when they realized they were naked. This is our past, which we lost because of sin.
Through the lifegiving work of our Lord Jesus Christ, however, this is also our future. In Matthew 13:43, we hear from the Mouth of our Savior that, in the Kingdom of Heaven, “the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” The same promise is echoed by God in Daniel 12:3. This is our future, a principle known in the Orthodox Church as theosis or deification.
Theosis refers to the process by which we become partakers of God’s divine nature, as St. Peter teaches in his second epistle. Of course, as His Holiness Pope Shenouda III of thrice-blessed memory made clear, this does not mean that we share in the essence of God; in other words, we don’t become God Himself. His Holiness was echoing the teaching of the Early Church Fathers, such as St. Cyril of Alexandria, who teaches that we cannot become the sons of God in exactly the same way that Christ is the Son of God, because He is the Son of God in His nature whereas we are sons of God through adoption. Theosis or deification, therefore, does not mean that we aspire to be God Himself, for this is a great sin, the very sin of pride that caused Satan, who was one of the exalted cherubim, to fall like lightning from heaven.
Instead, theosis refers to how our Lord Jesus Christ introduced immortality and incorruption into our human nature. God created man to be immortal and incorrupt, but when man chose to disobey God and sin, he lost this immortality and incorruption. God, in His great love for us, did not leave us in this state. Rather, He condescended from the heights of His glory and took our weak and sinful human nature from the Holy Theotokos St. Mary so that He could sanctify and restore it. We remember this in the Liturgy of St. Gregory when the priest prays, “You blessed my nature in Yourself.” When we are baptized as Christians, and when we live the pure and perfect Christian life, we unite ourselves to Christ and, through the Holy Spirit, share in His immortality and incorruption. This is why we partake of the Eucharist as a means of consuming Christ’s true Body, which is immortal and incorrupt. This is our way of receiving immortality and incorruption through Christ. In addition, we continue struggling to live the pure Christian life through prayer, meditation on the Holy Scripture, fulfilling the commandments, and all of the things we know we are called to do. The more we do this by the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, the more we transcend our human nature and become partakers of the divine nature.
This is our future, our calling in life. It is for us to struggle to live the Christian life so that we may participate in the life of Christ and share in His immortality and incorruption.
Our holy and Orthodox Church, in the beauty of Her Tradition, reminds us of our calling every time we set foot inside the church. When we enter an Orthodox Church, we are immediately confronted with the icons of Christ, the Holy Theotokos, and the saints. These icons are intended to remind us of the divine life through several features: first, they are painted on a fine golden background, which represents the transfigured divine life; second, the saints are depicted with a nimbis or halo around their heads, which literally represents the luminous cloud of the divinity that surrounded their lives; third, all of the features of the saints, such as the mouth, nose, and ears are painted in a very fine way.
What do all of these things mean?
They remind us that these holy saints lived a transfigured life in the light of Christ’s divinity; they reflected His light in the world. When we gaze upon those holy icons, we are being told, “Be like that!” The Church is telling us that we can have this life through the imitation of our Savior and His holy saints.
In fact, this is one of the significant differences between an Orthodox church and a non-Orthodox church, such as a Protestant house of worship. When you walk into a Protestant house of worship, you see that the walls are bare. Perhaps there are some flowers or television screens, but there are no icons; there is no incense; there is no depiction of divine beauty. The reason for this difference lies in how each church sees salvation. For Orthodox Christians, salvation is to imitate Christ and to share in His divine light for all eternity; it is to become like Him and to shine brighter than the sun in Him forever. For non-Orthodox Christians, this is not the case. Many non-Orthodox see salvation as simply receiving forgiveness of sins and living the same way we live now, but in the Kingdom of Heaven. 1 How sad it is to think that the Kingdom of Heaven is simply a model of our life here on earth. In reality, there is something much better awaiting the righteous. Meditate on the icons around you here in the church and you will get a glimpse of what that is.
Let us therefore celebrate the Feast of our Lord’s Transfiguration as the feast in which we gaze upon our glorified past, which we lost because of sin, as well as the glorified future we hope to achieve through the imitation of Christ and His holy saints.
Source: Become Orthodox
Commemorated on August 5
Saint Nonna, the mother of Sainted Gregory the Theologian (i.e. Gregory of Nazianzus, + 25 January 389), was the daughter of Christians named Philotatos and Gorgonia. Saint Nonna was also an aunt of Sainted Amphylokhios, Bishop of Iconium (Comm. 23 November). Her parents raised her in Christian piety. Saint Nonna entered into marriage with Gregory of Arianzus, the rich landowner of an estate in the Arianzus and Nazianzus districts. The marriage was advantageous by earthly considerations, but grievous for the pious soul of Nonna. Her husband Gregory of Arianzus was a pagan, a follower of the sect of the Supremists (Hypsistarii), under which he venerated a supreme god and observed certain Jewish rituals, while at the same time he worshipped fire. Pious Nonna prayed much, that her spouse should turn to the holy truth. Saint Nonna’s son, Saint Gregory the Theologian, wrote thus about this: “This was something she could not calmly bear, that the one half be conjoined with God, whilst the other part itself – should remain apart from God. On the contrary, she wanted, that to the fleshly union there should also apply a spiritual union. Wherefore both day and night she recoursed to God, with fasting and many a tear she besought Him to grant the salvation of her husband”. Through the prayers of Saint Nonna, her husband Gregory had a dream vision in his sleep. “It seemed to my father, – writes Saint Gregory, – as though he (which never before had he done, though many a time his wife had sought and asked it), it seemed as though he was singing the following verse of David: I was glad when they said of me, let us go into the house of the Lord (Ps. 121 : 1). The singing itself was unprecedented, and moreover with the singing was actually the desire to do so! When she heard about this, it was the fulfilling of her wish, and profiting the moment, she explained the vision to good effect, and in which was the complete truth”. The elder Gregory went to the First OEcumenical Council at Nicea, where he made known his conversion to Christ. And he was ordained presbyter and then bishop of Nazianzus and devoted himself totally to the Church. At the same time as his ordination to bishop, his spouse Saint Nonna was made a deaconness. With the same zeal with which she had raised her children, she now occupied herself in performing works of charity.
“She knew, – says Saint Gregory the Theologian, – one thing to be truly noble – to be pious and to know, from whence we have come and whither we go; and that there is one innate and trusty wealth – to use up one’s substance on God and on the poor, especially the impoverished kindred.
If one woman be distinguished for frugality, and another for piety, it being difficult to combine both qualities, then she however excelled all both in the one and in the other, and in each she attained the height of perfection, and she had both combined as one in her. In her, the one quality could not suffer impairment without the other, but rather each the other sustained. What time and place of prayer ever eluded her? On this daily was her very first thought. Better it be said, who, in setting about praying, had such trust to receive the besought? But even more amazing is this, that she, although she might be powerfully shaken by sorrows, even those of strangers, yet never did she give herself over to hollow wailing to the extent, that the voice of sorrow should win out over thanksgiving, or that the tears should fall endlessly, secretly sealing their mark, or with the onset of the bright feast to remain in garb of sorrow, though there befell her repeatedly many a sorrow. Wherein for the soul, out of a characteristic love for God, everything human was made subject to the Divine. I refrain from speaking about her deeds more secret, which God alone hath witnessed and about which perhaps knew her faithful servants, being in this her confidants”.
The final years brought Saint Nonna many a sorrow. In the year 368 died her younger son Caesarius, a young man, of brilliant expectations; and in the following year died her daughter. The brave old woman bore these losses with a submission to the will of God.
In the year 370 bishop Gregory, then already an old man already up in age, participated in the ordination of Saint Basil the Great as Bishop of Caesarea. Saint Nonna, who was somewhat younger than her husband, was likewise readied to enter into the next life, but through the prayers of her beloved son was prolonged her time on earth. “My mother, – wrote her son, – always was strong and brave, all her life she never complained of infirmities; but sickness had befallen her. From many a suffering, not mincing words, the least oppressive – was an aversion to food, continuing for many days and untreatable by any of the doctors. How then did God sustain her? He did not send down manna, as to Israel of old; He did not split open a rock, for a spring of water to issue forth for the thirsty people; not through rambling words, as with Elias, not through a prophetic ecstasy, as once with Daniel, languishing with hunger in the pit. But then in what form? It seemed to her that I, her especially beloved son (she presupposed me in her sleep to be no one else), that I had appeared to her suddenly by night with a basket of the whitest bread, and then having pronounced prayer over these loaves and blessing them with the Sign of the Cross, as is our custom, I gave her to eat, and with this her strength returned and increased. And this night-time vision was for her something that actually happened, since she became herself again and was no longer an hopeless case. And what happened with her became apparent in a clear and evident manner. With the break of day I had gone to her early in the morning, and for the first time saw her in her former fine condition, and so I chanced as usual to ask: how was her night and did she need anything? Without a bit of hesitation quite fluently she said: “Thou thyself, beloved son, hath fed me and now thou dost ask about my health. O, how good and caring thou art!” At this moment her attendants motioned to me by gestures, that I should not contradict her, but I have taken her words at face value and so that the actual truth should not distress her”.
Early in the year 374 reposed the hundred year old elder bishop Gregory. Saint Nonna, after this almost never emerging from the church, soon after his death died at prayer in the temple on 5 August 374.
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.
THE HOLY MARTYR PONTIUS
Pontius, with his companion Valerius, walked,
But, with sorrow, his heart was overcome.
His father and mother were both Roman senators,
But a bitter enigma tormented his soul;
All worldly wisdom, a fable, to him seemed.
“Oh, where is truth?” he asked. Truth, he sought.
Thus, both walked, absorbed in thought,
At eventide, beside a Christian church.
They went in and saw the splendor;
They saw the splendor and heard the chanting:
“Silver and gold, the gods of the nations are;
Eyes have they, but are blind as clay;
And ears have they, but are deaf as a stone;
And mouths have they, but cannot speak.
Weaker than themselves, the weak ones created gods,
And thus they become like their creations–
One after the other, in bowing down to them,
And haviong foolish hope in lifeless things!”
The two sorrowful young men, two slaves of the idols,
Heard these words and trembled;
Then, to the icon of Christ, they came closer,
And to the honorable priest, entrusted their hearts.
The truth Faith to them, the priest revealed,
And showed them that idolatry is meaningless and bloody.
Into the church walked, the two young noblemen,
Though renowned and respected throughout Rome.
Into the church they went, downcast and sorrowful,
But emerged radiant and joyful.
This is how Valerius begins the biography of his companion, St. Pontius: “Who can believe, if God does not grant it? Who can lead a life of asceticism, if the Lord does not help? Who can receive the wreath of martyrdom, if Christ does not give it?” God can do all, and God wills all that is for the salvation of men–if only men pray to Him. By prayer, St. Nonna converted her husband Gregory and her son Gregory (who would become known as the Theologian) to Christianity. By prayer, Monica brought Augustine out of a wayward life, to the path of good works and faith. By prayer, St. Basil converted his teacher Evulios. By prayer, King Hezekiah prolonged his life for fifteen years. By prayer, St. Simeon the Stylite turned back the Persians and Scythians from attacking the land of Greece with an army already prepared. All the stars in the heavens could be more easily counted than all the miracles worked on earth by prayer.
To contemplate the miraculous strength of Samson (Judges 14):
1. How the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, so that he was able to tear lions apart with his hands, and was able to snap the rope by which he was bound, and was able to slay many Philistines;
2. How the Spirit of the Lord withdrew from him when he confided the secret of his strength to a heathen woman [Delilah] and was then slain [Judges 16].
About how God cleanses repentant sinners
“Though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
Oh, the boundless mercy of God! In His greatest wrath upon the faithless and ungrateful people, upon the people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters (Isaiah 1:4), as princes of Sodom (Isaiah 1:10), and upon the people who have become as the people of Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:10): in such wrath, the Lord does not abandon mercy but rather calls them to repentance–just as, after terrible lightning, a gentle rain falls. Such is the Lord–long-suffering and full of mercy: neither will He keep His anger forever (Psalm 103:9). Only if sinners cease to commit evil, and learn to do good, and turn to God with humility and repentance, will they become white as snow. The Lord is mighty and willing. No one but Him is able to cleanse the sinful soul of man from sin, and by cleansing to whiten it. No matter how often linen is washed in water with ashes and soap–no matter how often it is washed and rewashed–it cannot achieve whiteness until it is spread under the light of the sun. Thus, our soul cannot become white, no matter how often we cleanse it by our own effort and labor, even with the help of all the means of the Law–until we, at last, bring it to the feet of God, spread out and opened wide, so that the light of God may illumine and whiten it. The Lord condones and even commends all of our labor and effort. He wants us to bathe our soul in tears, to wring it out by repentance, to press it by the pangs of the conscience, and to clothe it with good deeds. After all of this, He calls us to Him: Come now, says the Lord, and let us reason together (Isaiah 1:18). That is, “I will look at you, and I will see if there is Me in you; and you will look upon Me, as in a mirror, and you will see what kind of person you are.”
O Lord, slow to anger, have mercy on us before the final wrath of that Dreadful Day.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.