Daily Devotional for August 8-14
*Reflections from St Nikolai this week
The word of God is food for the soul. The word of God is both power and light for the soul. He who reads the word of God gives food, power and light to his soul. He who can, should read the word of God in Holy Scripture, and he who cannot should listen to him who reads Holy Scripture. All the saints emphasized the benefit of reading Holy Scripture. St. Seraphim of Sarov says: “The soul should be provided with the word of God. For the word of God, as Gregory the Theologian says, is the bread of angels, which feeds the soul that is hungry for God. But, above all, one should read the New Testament and the Psalter. From this proceeds illumination of the mind… It is very beneficial to read the word of God in solitude and to read the entire Bible with understanding. The Lord gives His mercy to a man for endeavoring to do this, more than for other good deeds, and fills him with the gift of understanding. When a man provides his soul with the word of God, then he is filled with the understanding of good and evil.”
Prayer: O Gentle Light of the holy glory of the immortal, heavenly, holy, blessed Father, O Jesus Christ: Having come to the setting of the sun, having beheld the evening light, we praise the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: God. Meet it is for Thee at all times to be hymned with reverent voices, O Son of God, Giver of life. Wherefore, the world doth glorify Thee.
*Eastern Vesper Hymn
By laying their hands on the chosen faithful, the apostles consecrated bishops, priests and deacons. It is apparent from this that the Christian Faith is not only a teaching but also a power. It is not enough merely to know; it is also necessary to have power. It is not enough merely to be chosen by men; one must also be confirmed by God. If power were not necessary for the priestly vocation, neither would the laying on of hands be necessary; only teaching passed from mouth to ear would be needed. The laying on of hands, therefore, signifies the transfer of authority and the descent of power on the chosen one. The power is in the grace of God, Who strengthens man, sanctifies and illumines him. Truly, the grace of God is that which teaches, leads, shepherds, and through the Sacraments strengthens the flock of Christ. A priest is the vessel of this inexpressible, awesome and all-sufficient power of grace. Blessed is that priest who understands what a precious treasury he has become! Blessed is he if the fear of God does not leave him day and night until his last breath! There is no greater honor on earth, no greater responsibility than the calling of the priesthood. By the laying on of hands by the bishop, the priest has come into contact with the heavenly and eternal source of grace and with the authority of the apostles. By this, the priest has become a companion in grace and a concelebrant with all the Orthodox priests from apostolic times until today, with the great hierarchs, with the countless number of saints, confessors, miracle-workers, ascetics and martyrs. He is gently adorned by their dignity, but he bears the burden of their merit, their example, and their reproach.
Prayer: Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
This life is a spiritual struggle. To conquer or to be conquered! If we conquer, we will enjoy the fruits of victory through all eternity. If we are defeated, we will endure the horrors of destruction through all eternity. This life is a duel between man and all that opposes God. God is an almighty Ally to all who sincerely call upon Him for help. “This life is not a joke or a plaything,” says Father John of Kronstadt, “but men turn it into a joke and plaything. The capricious play around with the time given to us for preparing for eternity; they play around with empty words. They gather together as guests, they sit and chatter and after that they sit and play this or that game. They gather in theaters, and there they entertain themselves. All of life is an amusement for them. But woe unto them who do nothing but entertain themselves!”
Prayer: Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world: have mercy upon us. Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world: have mercy upon us. Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, grant us peace.
The holy apostles did this, and it is commanded that we do the same. The Apostle James writes to us: Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him (James 5:14-15). One must not call anyone except the priests, the elders of the church. One must not anoint him in any other name except the name of the Lord, so that it will not appear to be witchcraft. No one will be able to raise him except the Lord Himself, neither can anyone forgive his sins except the One Lord. Why oil and not something else? Because it is commanded, and so that we may show obedience and faith. Why is it commanded that we be baptized with water, and chrismated with myrrh, and communicated with bread and wine? That is God’s choice and God’s prudence, and it is for us to believe and to obey. Various elements are used in the different Mysteries, but the grace of God is one as our Lord is one, and everything is from the Lord. Why does our Lord need material objects in order to pour out His grace upon us? The Lord does not need material objects, but we do; as long as we are material, we need them. Condescending to our weakness, the Lord uses matter. To the incorporeal angels He gives grace in an incorporeal manner. Oil alone is ineffectual in itself, just as every other material is ineffectual in itself; but the grace of God is all-powerful. Through oil the Lord gives the grace of His Holy Spirit, and that grace heals the sick, raises the infirm, and restores sanity to the insane. O my brethren, how inexpressible is God’s goodness! What did God not do for us? And what more could we possibly desire? He knew all of our needs beforehand, and He foresaw the cures in advance for all of them. He only seeks from us that we believe in Him and fulfill His prescriptions. Is it not insolent and shameful that we often conscientiously fulfill the prescriptions of physicians, mortal men like us, and neglect the prescriptions of the Immortal God?
Prayer: O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance. Grant victory over their enemies to Orthodox Christians, and protect Thy people with Thy Cross.
No one has ever spread as much shameful slander about Christ the Lord as the Jews. Their Talmud seethes with evil and malice toward the Lord. But all of those worthless calumnies are refuted by the most prominent historian of the Jews, Josephus Flavius, a rabbi and scholar who lived near the end of the first century after Christ. Josephus writes: “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call Him a man; for He was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to Himself both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ. And when Pilate, at the denunciation of the most eminent men among us, had Him condemned to the cross, those that had loved Him from the first did not forsake Him. He appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold, and they foretold many other things concerning Him. And the sect of Christians, so named after Him, remains to the present day.” Thus wrote a man who did not believe in Christ but was a scholar free of prejudice and malice.
Prayer: O my God relying on Thy infinite goodness and promises, I hope to obtain pardon of my sins, the help of Thy grace, and life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer.
*Act of Hope
If someone knew the number of stars in the heavens and the names of the fish in the sea and the amount of grass in the field and the habits of the beasts in the forest, but did not have the fear of God, his knowledge would be as water in a sieve. And his knowledge would make him a greater coward in the face of death than the completely ignorant. If someone could guess all the thoughts of mankind and foretell the fate of mankind and reveal every secret that the earth conceals in its depths, but did not have the fear of God, his knowledge would be as milk poured into an unclean container, by which all the milk would be spoiled. And, in the hour of his death, his wisdom would not shine even as much as a piece of charcoal without a flame, but would make the night of his death even darker. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. How can he who has not begun aright finish aright? Whoever has started out on a wrong path from the beginning must turn back and take up the correct beginning, that is, he must set his feet on the right path. He who does not have fear of God cannot have love for God. What are we talking about? He who has no fear of God has no faith in God. The greatest ascetics, those who mortified themselves and who lived a life of asceticism day and night for forty or fifty years, were filled with the fear of God until death, and these, the most sinless among mortals, cried out at their hour of death: “O God, have mercy on me a sinner!”
Prayer: O my God I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all-good and worthy of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life.
*Act of Contrition
The veneration of icons is an integral part of Orthodoxy, from which it cannot be separated. That the veneration of icons appears to some people to be the same as idolatry is no proof against icons. To the Jews it seemed that Christ worked miracles by the power of Satan and not God, and to the Romans it seemed that the Christian martyrs were ordinary sorcerers and magicians. St. Nicephorus said to Leo the Armenian, the iconoclastic emperor: “An icon is a divine thing, but not to be worshiped.” Then he explained how God commanded Moses to make a serpent of brass and to raise it in the wilderness, even though just before this He had commanded: Thou shall not make unto thee any graven image (Exodus 20:4). The latter He commanded in order to save the chosen people from the idolatry of the Egyptians, and He commanded the former that He, the One and Most-high God, might manifest His power through a visible thing. In the same manner He manifests His power through icons. This is His holy will and our aid for salvation. If icons are things of little significance or even idolatry, why would many of the holiest and most spiritual men and women in the history of the Church have suffered to the death for icons?
Prayer: O my God I love Thee above all things, with my whole heart and soul, because Thou art all-good and worthy of all love. I love my neighbor as myself for the love of Thee. I forgive all who have injured me, and ask pardon of all whom I have injured. (Act of Charity)