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Thursday, 25 February 2016

ELDER EPHRAIM OF ARIZONA - THE MYSTERY OF REPENTANCE..



From "The Art Of Salvation"By Elder Ephraim Of Arizona.


Homily 10
My blessed children,As we are aware, our good God has granted us the great Mystery of Holy Confession as a sacred baptismal font, wherein a person washes his soul, becomes whiter than snow, and is transformed into a new man in Christ.
We must continuously offer much thanksgiving to God for this enormous blessing He has left for us! He has kept His heart wide open for us and allows us to enter comfortably every time we desire to be cleansed.


No matter how much a person has sinned, no matter how much he has rolled in iniquity, no matter how much he has darkened his soul, he can easily and instantly become as white as a dove, even whiter than snow. 
Is there any greater blessing or fortune than this for man?
Simultaneously,however, something else takes place as well. There is great joy “in Heaven on account of one sinner who repents” (Lk. 15:7). Not only does a sinful person become blissful and secure his salvation, but he also becomes the cause for the angelic ranks to celebrate with immense joy, and to hold a glorious, triumphant concert before God,because they were informed of a sinful person’s repentance.
Abba Pambo was a renowned hermit, one of the foremost ascetics after Saint Anthony the Great. At one point during Great Lent, specifically Holy Week, he went to attend church. He sat outside the entrance and watched the monks and laypeople as they entered.
With his gift of clairvoyance, he could penetrate into each person’s spiritual state.
As people entered the church, he noticed that some of them were fragrant and dressed in white. Furthermore, he observed that angels were preceding and following these souls, who were radiant to different degrees. 
Lastly, a man with a darkened soul entered, accompanied by various beasts and sinister beings. This revealed and testified to the many crimes he had committed.
As soon as Abba Pambo witnessed this sight, he was deeply grieved and saddened. 
He felt pain in his soul, and,as a man of God, he withdrew to a concealed area, where he knelt and began to pray, beseeching God to be merciful to this man, to enlighten him,and lead him to repentance. 
His eyes became swollen from the copious tears, which fell and soaked the ground.
Once the service had ended, he went and sat near the entrance again and anxiously waited to see if there had been any change in the soul of the person whom he had lamented.

The people who had entered with radiance were now exiting brighter and shinier. 
They were covered with myrrh,which made the entire surrounding area fragrant,and their angels followed them with greater joy.
This revealed that they had derived benefit from the Church service.
Suddenly, the sinful person who had previously entered with the dark soul exited clean and white. The demons who were initially following him had disappeared. His guardian angel was now accompanying him gleefully. 
The joy of the saint, as you can imagine,was immense. On account of his great delight—which he could not keep to himself—Abba Pambo climbed upon a boulder and started to shout, “Come and see the works of our God; how great, wondrous, and glorious they are!” (cf. Ps. 65:4).

When the fathers heard these words from the saint, they suspected that something marvelous had occurred. 
They surrounded him and began asking, “Saint of God, what is the reason for your great joy?” 
“My fathers, call that man over here. I want to ask him something.”
They called the sinful person, and Abba Pambo asked him, “Tell us, man of God, about yourself, and what moved you to come to the church of God today?”
The man then declared, “Father, my sins are innumerable. 
My crimes are horrible, and my actions are filthy.
Today, since the centers of entertainment and sin are closed on account of Holy Week, I could not go out to enjoy myself as usual. So, as a matter of formality, I decided to attend the service of Great Friday.
During the service, however, I heard the Prophet Isaiah commanding, ‘Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean. Put away the evils from your souls before My eyes.
Cease from your evils.Learn to do good. Seek judgment and redeem the wronged. 
Defend the orphan, and obtain justice for the widow. 
And come,let us reason together,says the Lord. And although your sins are like crimson, I shall make them white like snow; and although they are as scarlet, I shall make them white like wool’ (Isa. 1:16-18).
I then thought and asked myself, ‘How long will I persist in sin?
How long will I remain estranged from God?
How long will I not reconcile with Him? Why don’t I ask Him to forgive me?
Why don’t I change my life, since my soul will become as white as snow and lamb’s wool? I will become a new person.God is calling me; how long will I delay?’
‘Approach!’ ‘Come!’ So I decided to obey God, Who was speaking through the prophet. I made the decision, O saint of God, to completely change my life after I exited the church. I have decided to repent and proceed to Holy Confession.”

Then the saint related what he had seen with his gift of clairvoyance, how he beseeched God with tears for this person, and how he indeed witnessed his soul become white and clean, even before the man confessed. 
As soon as he decided to return,the Heavenly Father immediately opened His loving embrace. God purified him and granted him the initial impetus that helps man to reach and bow under the sacred epitrachelion.
Here we see just how easily God accepts a sinful person, how He waits for him, how much the prayers (of the angels and holy men) help, and especially the immense importance and value that we must place on the Mystery of Confession.
If a person does not humble himself, he will not proceed to Holy Confession, he will not walk through this “low” door of humility. When Greece was under Ottoman rule, there was a certain prominent Patriarch exiled on Mount Athos.

On August 15th,our Panagia is honored with exceptional ceremonies, and fathers from throughout the Holy Mountain gather at the great Church of Protaton in the capital of Karyes in order to laud the Virgin Mary. 
During this period,hermits bring their handicrafts with them,and lay them out on display for sale.
Amongst the hermits was a spiritual father of small stature who was also selling his handicrafts. He was an experienced and clairvoyant spiritual father. 
The Patriarch slowly came into sight from a distance as he proceeded toward the elder. 
When he passed in front of the elder, he declared, “My spiritual father, I will come to visit your hermitage.”
The spiritual father replied, “My dear bishop and Patriarch, my door is short and you cannot bend so low.” “No, I will bend down.”“You cannot, because the door is very short, and you hold a high position.”
With this hint, the spiritual father made him realize that he will make it to confession only if he humbles himself.
The chief obstacles preventing us from proceeding to confession are our pride and our egotism. “How will I reveal my sins?” 
Man is overcome by shame.However, we should be ashamed when we are about to sin. 
At that moment, shame will prevent us from sinning.
Conversely, when we need to proceed to this great sacrament of salvation, we must hurry without delay.

If we were diagnosed with cancer and learned that there is a preeminent oncologist at the North Pole, we would immediately make every possible effort to obtain the required funds and go to receive treatment for our physical illness.
We would not take into account the difficulties, trouble, expense, or anything else. We would drop everything and run.
We would humble ourselves without reservation, as long as we became well.
When, however, we have the cancer of sin threatening us with death of the soul, shouldn’t we disregard everything (our job, our pay, the distance)and run toward the confession room to kneel,to reveal our wounds, to receive medicine, to become well, and thus escape from the dreadful death of the soul?

As human beings, we are unaware of the moment our Lord will come. He warned us:
“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (Mt.25:13). 
Run, He commands. Don’t waste any time. For you do not know when the Lord will decide to take your life and lead you to the supreme and fearful courthouse, from which no person is exempt.
We have not grasped the significance of Holy Confession and our time on earth. 
Our life is so unstable! At any given moment, we may be summoned to the courthouse and depart to encounter the Judge.
Now that we are still alive, we can gain Christ’s favor. Through repentance and confession, we can appear before Him with a clean conscience.
An incident involving Papa-Bartholomew[34] comes to mind.
He was an elderly monk who lived at the skete of Saint Basil in the wilderness of Mount Athos.
For a time, he also was a disciple of my elder.
I met him once when we were living as hermits at the skete of Saint John.
Originally, Papa-Bartholomew was a monk, perhaps still a novice, at a certain monastery outside of Mount Athos. 
This monastery had a spiritual father to whom he would confess.
One day, his spiritual father fell very ill. Papa- Bartholomew approached him and asked, “My spiritual father, are you leaving for the next life?
Do you want me to bring you a confessor? I see that you’re not doing so well!”
God was speaking through this young monk.
His words and questions were the final rope of salvation for his spiritual father. The spiritual father collected saliva in his mouth and spat, in order to estimate how much strength and life he had remaining; in order to decide, as subsequently became apparent, if he had to confess or not.
He wanted to confess just before his last breath a serious matter that was heavily weighing down his conscience, which he had repeatedly silenced and suppressed as she cried out, “Correct thyself!”
After he spat, he answered, “I still have some life in me. No, I don’t need a confessor.”“OK,” replied Papa-Bartholomew, and he departed for his daily chores. 
He had not taken more than a few steps, when God—immediately—judged the matter. He heard his spiritual father yelling, “I want a confessor! I shouldn’t have become a priest!”
The young monk ran to bring a confessor. When he returned, however, the spiritual father’s tongue had been bound. He could no longer speak; his mind was no longer working properly. He had already begun his departure from this life without having confessed.
Of course, he panicked at the final moment. God, in His infinite compassion, sent the young novice to remind his spiritual father, the teacher, the person who advised and confessed others, that he himself had not made a proper and life-saving confession.

A person is not alarmed when he is prepared, when he has everything in order, when he has settled and cleared his criminal record—as much as possible—with God.
But how can one set things perfectly straight with God and with the frightful courthouse that awaits us?
We are human beings,and we all transgress against God.
I, who have so many responsibilities and sins, am the biggest transgressor. However, I trust that God will take into account and not overlook my sincere desire and effort to prepare myself, as much as possible, for the moment of death.
I pray that He has mercy on my lowliness and sinfulness.
I must have one thing in mind: I must contemplate and concentrate on how to relieve myself from the accountability of my sins,and how I can sin less.
Why? Because until the moment I hand over my wretched soul to God, I will continuously sin!
My God, help me to sin less, so I am found without even the slightest fault when I stand trial.
Our Church prays ceaselessly through the deacons who petition,“For a Christian end to our lives, without suffering, without shame,peaceful, and for a good account before the awesome judgment seat of Christ.” 
This petition applies to all of us. We should ask God to grant us a peaceful end and the ability to give a good account.

We witnessed souls who had this type of a blessed end, and who, I believe, found mercy and attained boldness before God. They left calmly and peacefully, despite their prior battle with the demons, with illnesses,with evil thoughts, and many other temptations.

Nevertheless, their end was blessed and thrice blessed.
This is proof that the soul prepared itself,was not troubled, and gave a good account.“One thing is needed” (Lk. 10:41): to be found in a good state at the frightful moment of death.
I am not sure if any of you have first-hand knowledge and personal experience of how difficult this moment is for man.
When Saint Anthony the Great was informed that his end was nearing,he began to cry. His monks asked, “Are you are also afraid of death, father?”
“My children, ever since I became a monk, I never once forgot this moment. And this is why I never neglected my monastic obligations.”

Saint Irene Chrysovalantou also began to cry when she was informed that she would die. 

Abba Arsenios, an exceedingly holy and great saint of the desert, had a rag tied to his belt, which he used to wipe his tears day and night.
A holy Patriarch said to him, “Arsenios, Arsenios! You cried throughout your entire life, but you will not cry in the next life!”
My elder would speak to us about the departure of the soul, as this was his constant preoccupation.
Oftentimes during the night he would chant compunctious hymns from the funeral service and cry. 
He implanted these things within us as well. 
We would frequently weep and lament for our own mistakes. 
It was not necessary to throw water on our faces—we would wash ourselves with the sanctified water of tears.

This was the elder’s advice as well.

According to his words, these initial attempts served as “the good beginning,” which would in turn lead to an excellent end. He would always speak to us concerning “the good beginning,” because he knew from experience that whoever makes a good beginning will also have an excellent end.
What does “excellent” mean? To be prepared when death comes, as best possible—because no one is completely ready.
The virtue of repentance can never be perfected because man can, even with his thoughts, sin at the final moment.
How dangerous this is as well! How much skill must we have in order to confront all the things that will occur then! 
At that moment, the devil attempts to evoke hopelessness and despair.
He recounts man’s various sins and argues, “There is no chance of salvation.” The pain and hardship of bedridden infirmity have taken their toll on the soul. 
The heart and mind have grown weary as well. The devil takes advantage of this vulnerable condition, and he cunningly imparts thoughts of despair.
At that time, man thirsts for even a single word of encouragement from anyone who is present. As a result, people who are about to die surrender themselves before the compassion of God. 
We see tears rolling from their eyes as their soul departs from the body.
What does this indicate?It indicates that a person sees the truth and encounters the presence of both the bright and dark angels. At that moment a person sees the dark angels unraveling their scrolls and presenting man’s sins in an attempt to instill fear and induce despair.

“You’re not escaping,” they threaten.

During this moment of desperation, when a person sees his angel approaching, he immediately turns in that direction and begs the angel to save him. While fervently pleading and petitioning, he weeps.
This is why we witness these tears in people who are dying. 
These things will also happen to all of us without exception.
May God grant us repentance. May God grant us the strength to face and confront our conscience courageously,to examine and emend our conscience beforehand. 
This takes courage! For the deeper we insert the scalpel into our wound, the better it will be cleaned.
We will feel pain, of course, but in the process we will acquire the much sought after peaceful conscience.
How beautiful it is when a person knows that he has done everything that was expected of him!
Of course, small sins will always exist, but we should be as ready as possible.
A person will enjoy the reward of his effort, pain, and sorrow that he experienced during the Mystery of Confession.
Such a person“prepared himself, and was not troubled” (cf. Ps. 118:60).

The Lord warns us,“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (Mt.25:13).
Prepare yourselves because you don’t know when Christ will come. “But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into” (Mt. 24:43). 

A thief seizes the homeowner,binds him “hand and foot,” and then robs him.
In order to become clean and free of the passions, we must confess continuously—not at the final moment of our life.
The saints would cry; we, however, remain indifferent.
We occupy ourselves with so many trivial things, but we disregard what is of paramount importance,“the one thing needed”: to remember and prepare for our departure.
This is what I ponder during the day. At night as well, after awaking from sleep, I think of how I will die, and how my soul will depart. 
When I bring to mind my numerous sins, I fear that even the demons will be dumbfounded. They will not be able to keep an exact tally of my various,numerous sins. I have so many responsibilities! I confess the many mistakes I make as a mortal human being! I am so sinful.
I doubt if I will be saved.

May God grant us the ability to correct and prepare ourselves, so that we are found ready.
Let us attend to Holy Confession often. Let us be careful not to hide sins, not to hide thoughts, because this is the origin of our falls. 
My blessed elder would tell us, “If you see a monk who has fallen or abandoned his monastery, it is because he hid his thoughts. If you see a person who is deluded, this happened to him because he concealed his thoughts.”
Many things took place in his days at Karoulia.
He told us of certain monks who hid their thoughts and subsequently became deceived. Some ascetics killed themselves because they believed they were seeing angels, when in fact they were seeing demons. 
The deception consisted of the following thought: “Don’t say anything to your Elder.”
For this reason, we should not hide anything. We should repel this difficulty, because we all feel ashamed—and I first.
“How will I say this?” we think, when in essence it is easy. In a split second,when a person reveals what is on his mind, he is freed, and afterwards he wonders: 
“What was preventing me from confessing?” It was the demon who did not want to be exposed by the light of sacred and purifying confession, who did not want you to attain forgiveness and enlightenment. 
The demon always rejoices when things are hidden.
Thieves do not steal as much during the day; they steal more often during the night. Similarly, the demons hide within the night of concealed thoughts, and this is when they harm us.
As I have mentioned to you in the past, I once confessed a person the moment his soul was departing.
It is necessary,O man, to prepare yourself ahead of time.
When you go to sleep, are you certain that you will wake up? If an earthquake takes place, the roof can cave in and bury you alive—you’re instantly finished! 
As you walk about, you can become dizzy, lose your balance,fall, hit your head, and die on the spot. 
People also die in car accidents constantly. 
Others end their lives with a sudden heart attack. Can a person call a spiritual father at that moment to confess?
The dark tempter blinds us and clouds our mind, our conscience, and our thoughts. 
He serves us ignorance and wicked indolence, and we forget our purpose, which is the salvation of our soul. 
We all know very well—and I first—that our present life is transient and of little value. 
We see people dying and being buried constantly. We pass by cemeteries, and we fully realize that this is where we will also end up. 

We are perfectly aware from the Holy Scriptures that we will encounter the entire truth as outlined in our Gospel, and yet we insist on remaining distant from God.

Our condition is similar to one recorded in a certain patristic text. An angel responded to a person who asked for forgiveness at the final moment of his life, “Why didn’t you prepare yourself when the sun was shining high in the sky during midday? 
Now that the sun has set and you are departing for the other world you’ve decided to concern yourself with and to attend to your soul?
What were you doing all these years that went by?
Where did you squander the valuable currency of time?” Regrettably, we squander it aimlessly as we occupy and concern ourselves with various unimportant matters.
Yes,we definitely mismanage our time. 
Of course, he who teaches others must first practice what he preaches. “My brethren,let not many of you become teachers,knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (Jas. 3:1),warns Saint James the Apostle.
As if my own sins aren’t enough, I proceed to teach others as well.May our good God send His mercy and enlightenment to wake us up while it is still early,while we are still breathing, so that we are not filled with remorse and regret later, when mercy and the ability to correct ourselves will no longer be available.
In such an instance, it will be too late, and regret will be futile. At that time we will think, “I would give everything in order for God to grant me a few minutes to repent and return.” 
A person would give everything for a little time to settle his debt with God. Now we have years ahead of us and so much time at our disposal, but we do not use it to our advantage.
We possess enough“money” (i.e., time) to buy God’s Kingdom in its entirety. However, we are so frugal and such cheapskates—we give nothing to God and our soul. We allocate so much time for so many other things, for so much sin,for so much corruption,for so much hell, but we are extremely stingy when it comes to the Kingdom of God, which is the only thing that should concern us.

The devil manages to distract us. He tangles us up, prevails upon us, robs us of our time, and turns us upside-down. 
And soon, when the hour of death draws near, he will unveil everything and set it forth on display plainly before us. 

At that point in time, we will gaze dumbfounded at the reality and truth, but it will be too late; we will not be able to correct anything. 
We should do whatever we can now that we have time at our disposal. Let us not allow time to slip away pointlessly. Only a few things are needed. God does not demand hard labor, toil, or money—nothing at all. 

He only wants us to allot some time to confess our sins (so He can forgive us) and, henceforth, to walk the correct path, which is so very blissful. This path does not contain bitterness, does not lead to despair, and does not impart anything evil to man. No! On the contrary, God’s path is full of light.

It bestows joy, peace, serenity, happiness, and health to the soul and body of man, because Christ is the source of infinite happiness.
The devil, on the other hand, is penniless and miserable. 
He has nothing good to offer, and, as a miserable being, he transmits misery to whomever follows his path, and to whomever listens to his destructive advice and suggestions.

When we obey God, He gives us all that He has. God is Light, and he gives us light. 
God is Paradise, and He gives us  paradise. 
God is forgiveness, and He gives us forgiveness. 
God is Life, and He gives us life.
God is eternal bliss, and He grants us eternal bliss—completely free.
Why should we fail to acquire all these good things?
Why make ourselves miserable?
Nothing other than a little enlightenment and a small amount of effort to change our way of life is required to enter the highway that ends at the Golden Gate of the Heavenly Kingdom.
The Kingdom of Heaven is the heart of Christ. If our soul acquires the characteristics of the Heavenly Father, then as a child of God, it will freely enter into the heart of God, into a vast, endless, and inexpressible blessedness.

Let us begin this holy return. We should feel exceptional gratitude and infinite joy for having the ability to wash our soul at all times, to become completely spotless, and thus to be led to the Throne of God in this beautiful, clean condition, when God calls us.

Furthermore, with the knowledge we possess, we have an obligation to help the people whom we know by leading them to repentance, to the path of God, and to Holy Confession.
This monumental and virtuous deed will be rewarded.
It is a great achievement if we manage to lead one of our brothers to repentance and confession.

Let us pray for our fellow Christians to find the path of salvation. In addition to our personal petitions during prayer,we should have a portion of petitions allotted for the people who do not know God. 
This is an active expression of love for our fellow man.

When we love our brothers, we fulfill God’s commandment, and we have God within us because, “God is love,and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 Jn. 4:16).

I pray for all of us to wake up, light our lamps, and prepare ourselves with repentance as we patiently wait for the coming of the Lord, so we can enter with Him into the glorious chamber of His Kingdom. Amen.


Taken from "The Art Of Salvation"By Elder Ephraim Of Arizona.

Published by The Holy Monastery of Saint Nektarios,Roscoe,NY.

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