The Santa Story…

appoopa

This is how the Malayalam speaking people of Kerala, a small state in southern India addresses “Santa Claus” in the most loveable way. Appoopa means old man; a dear old man Santa, the Christmas father. He is our childhood hero, who is imagined as an old man in a red robe and a white long beard, with his most famous red hat, travelling on a sleigh, pulled by a reindeer. b0b126bbfaebcd8f7f86f942ebd04252Christmas time is here and its time to remember our childhood hero. Children singing the Christmas rhyme, “Dreams of Santa,Dreams of snow….. ” hang stockings on their front doors with the hope that Santa would place gifts in it, just before bedtime, believing the age old story of “Santa Claus”.       

Who is this Old Man? Is he just a popular legendary character that most of us are aware of? 

St-NickSt. Nicholas of Myra is a little known name, even for the most faithful devotees. But all around the world, he is a well admired figure in another name “Santa Claus!” writes the author of the book, “Eventual Annals of Nazaranis” 1 . A portion of the mortal remains of this fourth century Saint entombed at Kale, Turkey was shifted to Bari, Italy in the eleventh century. But a very few now know that a small portion of the Holy Relics of Santa Claus is kept in Kerala for more than a century. Until 1999, nobody knew about it. 

St. Nicholos was born around 280 CE at Patara in the present day Turkey. He was the only son of pious parents Theophanes and Nonna, who had vowed to dedicate him to the Lord. As the fruit of the prayer of his childless parents, the infant Nicholos from the very day of his birth revealed to people the light of his future glory as a wonderworker. His mother, Nonna, after giving birth was immediately healed from illness. The newborn infant, while still in the baptismal font, stood on his feet three hours, without support from anyone, thereby honoring the Most Holy Trinity. Saint Nicholas from his infancy began a life of fasting, and on Wednesdays and Fridays he would not accept milk from his mother until after his parents had finished their evening prayers.  He lost both his parents in his younger days and became a priest at the age of nineteen. 

From his childhood St. Nicholas thrived on the study of Divine Scripture; by day he would not leave church, and by night he prayed and read books, making himself a worthy dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. Bishop Nicholas of Patara rejoiced at the spiritual success and deep piety of his nephew. He ordained him a reader, and then elevated Nicholas to the priesthood, making him his assistant and entrusting him to instruct the flock. 

In serving the Lord the youth was fervent of spirit, and in his proficiency with questions of faith he was like an Elder, who aroused the wonder and deep respect of believers. Constantly at work and vivacious, in unceasing prayer, the priest Nicholas displayed great kind-heartedness towards the flock, and towards the afflicted who came to him for help, and he distributed all his inheritance to the poor. 

The Bishop of Patara decided to go on pilgrimage to the holy places at Jerusalem, and entrusted the guidance of his flock to Saint Nicholas, who fulfilled this obedience carefully and with love. When the bishop returned, Nicholas asked his blessing for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Along the way the Saint predicted a storm would arise and threaten the ship. Saint Nicholas saw the devil get on the ship, intending to sink it and kill all the passengers. At the entreaty of the despairing pilgrims, he calmed the waves of the sea by his prayers. Through his prayer a certain sailor of the ship, who had fallen from the mast and was mortally injured, was also restored to health. 

When he reached the ancient city of Jerusalem and came to Golgotha, Saint Nicholas gave thanks to the Savior. He went to all the holy places, worshiping at each one. One night on Mount Sion, the closed doors of the church opened by themselves for the great pilgrim. Going round the holy places connected with the earthly service of the Son of God, Saint Nicholas decided to withdraw into the desert, but he was stopped by a divine voice urging him to return to his native country. He returned to Lycia, and yearning for a life of quietude, the Saint entered into the brotherhood of a monastery named Holy Sion, which had been founded by his uncle. But the Lord again indicated another path for him, “Nicholas, this is not the vineyard where you shall bear fruit for Me. Return to the world, and glorify My Name there.” So he left Patara and went to Myra in Lycia. 

Upon the death of Archbishop John, Nicholas was chosen as Bishop of Myra after one of the bishops of the Council said that a new archbishop should be revealed by God, not chosen by men. One of the elder bishops had a vision of a radiant Man, Who told him that the one who came to the church that night and was first to enter should be made archbishop. He would be named Nicholas. The bishop went to the church at night to await Nicholas. The saint, always the first to arrive at church, was stopped by the bishop. “What is your name, child?” he asked. God’s chosen one replied, “My name is Nicholas, Master, and I am your servant.” 

After his consecration as archbishop, Saint Nicholas remained a great ascetic, appearing to his flock as an image of gentleness, kindness and love for people. This was particularly precious for the Lycian Church during the persecution of Christians under the emperor Diocletian (284-305). Bishop Nicholas, locked up in prison together with other Christians for refusing to worship idols, sustained them and exhorted them to endure the fetters, punishment and torture. The Lord preserved him unharmed. Upon the accession of Saint Constantine (May 21) as emperor, Saint Nicholas was restored to his flock, which joyfully received their guide and intercessor. 

Despite his great gentleness of spirit and purity of heart, Saint Nicholas was a zealous and ardent warrior of the Church of Christ. Fighting evil spirits, the saint made the rounds of the pagan temples and shrines in the city of Myra and its surroundings, shattering the idols and turning the temples to dust. 

In the year 325 Saint Nicholas was a participant in the First Ecumenical Council. This Council proclaimed the Nicean Symbol of Faith, and he stood up against the heretic Arius with the likes of Saints Sylvester the Bishop of Rome (January 2), Alexander of Alexandria (May 29), Spyridon of Trimythontos (December 12) and other Fathers of the Council.

Nicholas_the_WonderworkerSaint Nicholas, fired with zeal for the Lord, assailed the heretic Arius with his words, and also struck him upon the face. For this reason, he was deprived of the emblems of his episcopal rank and placed under guard. But several of the holy Fathers had the same vision, seeing the Lord Himself and the Mother of God returning to him the Gospel and omophorion. The Fathers of the Council agreed that the audacity of the Saint was pleasing to God, and restored the Saint to the office of bishop. 

Having returned to his own diocese, the Saint brought it peace and blessings, sowing the word of Truth, uprooting heresy, nourishing his flock with sound doctrine, and also providing food for their bodies. 

Miracles: 

10a-st-nick-dowry-goldEven during his life the saint worked many miracles. There was a certain formerly rich inhabitant of Patara, whom Saint Nicholas saved from great sin. The man had three grown daughters, and in desperation he planned to sell their bodies so they would have money for food. The saint, learning of the man’s poverty and of his wicked intention, secretly visited him one night and threw a sack of gold through the window. With the money the man arranged an honorable marriage for his daughter. Saint Nicholas also provided gold for the other daughters, thereby saving the family from falling into spiritual destruction.

In bestowing charity, Saint Nicholas always strove to do this secretly and to conceal his good deeds. One of the greatest was the deliverance from death of three men unjustly condemned by the Governor, who had been bribed. The saint boldly went up to the executioner and took his sword, already suspended over the heads of the condemned. The Governor, denounced by Saint Nicholas for his wrong doing, repented and begged for forgiveness. 

Witnessing this remarkable event were three military officers, who were sent to Phrygia by the emperor Constantine to put down a rebellion. They did not suspect that soon they would also be compelled to seek the intercession of Saint Nicholas. Evil men slandered them before the emperor, and the officers were sentenced to death. Appearing to Saint Constantine in a dream, Saint Nicholas called on him to overturn the unjust sentence of the military officers. 

He worked many other miracles, and struggled many long years at his labor. Through the prayers of the saint, the city of Myra was rescued from a terrible famine. He appeared to a certain Italian merchant and left him three gold pieces as a pledge of payment. He requested him to sail to Myra and deliver grain there. More than once, the saint saved those drowning in the sea, and provided release from captivity and imprisonment. 

Having reached old age, Saint Nicholas peacefully fell asleep in the Lord. His venerable relics were preserved incorrupt in the local cathedral church and flowed with curative myrrh, from which many received healing. During the crusades, a portion of his relics were stolen. After several shifting, it finally reached Bari, Italy on May 9, 1087 CE. It was officially placed there in 1089 CE by Pope Urban 2. Later, a basilica was built around it and that was consecrated in 1197 CE. In 1960’s, Roman Catholic Church removed his feast from the list of major saints.

Saint Nicholas In the Byzantine 2 Tradition: 

25-tubBishop Nicholas of Myra is known as “St. Nicholas the wonderworker” in the Byzantine tradition. The revitalizing of the three assassinated children stood as the prime among his miracles.

The name of the great saint of God, the hierarch and wonderworker Nicholas, a speedy helper and suppliant for all hastening to him, is famed in every corner of the earth, in many lands and among many peoples.

In Russia there are a multitude of cathedrals, monasteries and churches consecrated in his name. There is, perhaps, not a single city without a church dedicated to him. The first Russian Christian prince Askold (+ 882) was baptized in 866 by Patriarch Photius (February 6) with the name Nicholas. Over the grave of Askold, Saint Olga (July 11) built the first temple of Saint Nicholas in the Russian Church at Kiev. Primary cathedrals were dedicated to Saint Nicholas at Izborsk, Ostrov, Mozhaisk, and Zaraisk. At Novgorod the Great, one of the main churches of the city, the Nikolo-Dvorischensk church, later became a cathedral. 

Famed and venerable churches and monasteries dedicated to Saint Nicholas are found at Kiev, Smolensk, Pskov, Toropetsa, Galich, Archangelsk, Great Ustiug, Tobolsk. Moscow had dozens of churches named for the saint, and also three monasteries in the Moscow diocese: the Nikolo-Greek (Staryi) in the Chinese-quarter, the Nikolo-Perervinsk and the Nikolo-Ugreshsk. One of the chief towers of the Kremlin was named the Nikolsk. 

Many of the churches devoted to the saint were those established at market squares by Russian merchants, sea-farers and those who traveled by land, venerating the wonderworker Nicholas as a protector of all those journeying on dry land and sea. They sometimes received the name among the people of “Nicholas soaked.” 

Many village churches in Russia were dedicated to the wonderworker Nicholas, venerated by peasants as a merciful intercessor before the Lord for all the people in their work. And in the Russian land Saint Nicholas did not cease his intercession. Ancient Kiev preserves the memory about the miraculous rescue of a drowning infant by the saint. The great wonderworker, hearing the grief-filled prayers of the parents for the loss of their only child, took the infant from the waters, revived him and placed him in the choir-loft of the church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) before his wonderworking icon. In the morning the infant was found safe by his thrilled parents, praising Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker. 

Many wonderworking icons of Saint Nicholas appeared in Russia and came also from other lands. There is the ancient Byzantine embordered image of the saint, brought to Moscow from Novgorod, and the large icon painted in the thirteenth century by a Novgorod master. 

Two depictions of the wonderworker are especially numerous in the Russian Church: Saint Nicholas of Zaraisk, portrayed in full-length, with his right hand raised in blessing and with a Gospel (this image was brought to Ryazan in 1225 by the future wife of Prince Theodore, the Byzantine Princess Eupraxia, who perished in 1237 with her husband and infant son during the incursion of Batu); and Saint Nicholas of Mozhaisk, also in full stature, with a sword in his right hand and a city in his left. This recalls the miraculous rescue of the city of Mozhaisk from an invasion of enemies, through the prayers of the saint. It is impossible to list all the grace-filled icons of Saint Nicholas, or to enumerate all his miracles.  

The Dutch and the Saint’s introduction to India: 

How did Saint Nicholas become Santa Claus? 

The Dutch continued to celebrate the feast day of Saint Nocholas on December 6. His legendary habit of secret giving especially to the children, made his feast as a day for gifting. 

It was a common practice for children to put out their shoes the night before. In the morning, they would discover the gifts that St. Nicholas had left there for them. Dutch immigrants brought St. Nicholas, known to them as ‘Sint Nikolaas’ or by his nickname Sinterklaas, and the gift giving ways to America in the eighteenth century. Thereafter St. Nicholas went through many transformations in America. Eventually Sinterklaas became Santa Claus. Instead of giving gifts on December 6, he became a part of Christmas. 

During those centuries, the red pastoral mantle of Bishop Nicholas turned to the loose robe of Santa Claus. Several European traditions contributed to his current legends such as residence in north-pole, travel on sleigh that was pulled by the reindeer named Rudolph, passage through smokestacks etc. The European invaders probably the Dutch introduced the concept of Santa Claus to India. He was accustomed to the Nazranis just as a legendary character not with any Christian or saintly background, because they were ignorant about Saint Nicholas at all. 

Saint Nicholas in the Oriental Orthodox Churches: 

St. Nicholas is venerated among the Oriental Orthodox Churches also but not as admired as in the Byzantine tradition, because many are ignorant about the Saint.

In Syriac tradition he is known as Mar Nikolavos or as Mar Sokha, the Episcopes of Myra. Even though the Malankara Nazranis had West Syriac relations from the seventeenth century onwards, St. Nicholas was unfamiliar to them even at the end of the twentieth century. 

But St. Nicholas was mentioned in several Church almanacs of the Nazranis from the eighteenth century onwards. The almanac written in 1795 CE on the south wall of old Chathannoor church, mentions Dhanu 6 according to Malayalam Era as the feast of Mar Nikolovas. Interestingly, the same date is marked as the feast of Mar Sokha, the Episcopes of Myra in the almanac published in 1872 CE by Fr. Edavazhikkal Philipose Cor-episcopa. It is repeated in the almanac published by Fr. Karuchira Geevarghese Remban (later Catholicos Baselius Geevarghese 1) in 1906 and 1907 CE. Since the feast of St. Nicholas was not mandatory according to the West Syriac tradition and there is no church here dedicated to him, the Nazranis were oblivious of Mar Nikolavos. 

In between, the holy relics of St. Nicholas reached Kerala in 1895 CE through St. Gregorios of Parumala, the first canonized Indian Saint. He was on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem as the guest of Geevarghese Mar Gregorios, the West Syriac metropolitan of Jerusalem that year. He was accommodated at St. Mary’s monastery of the Syriac Orthodox Church. In his travelogue ‘Oorslem Yaathra’ (The Journey of Jerusalem) published in 1895…StMarkEnt

(At St. Mark’s) on the south wall within the railings, the holy relics of abundant Saints and very tiny fraction of the cross are kept. Upon my request, father (Bishop of Jerusalem) had given me a few of them…. 

On his return, St. Gregorios of Parumala handed over six of them to Fr. Konat Mathen Malpan (later Cor-episcopa) along with the gospels copied by him in Syriac. This offering was a mark of respect to his guru (teacher) Metropolitan Konat Geevarghese Mar Yoolios who departed in 1884 CE. Even though St. Gregorios did not mention any Saint in particular in his travelogue, Fr. Mathen Malpan, the paternal grandnephew of Mar Yoolios, specifically mentioned all six he received including the relics of Mar Sokha, the Episcopes of Myra in his chronicles of the period 1895-1903 CE (Konat Mal. MS No. 54) 

IMG_20181207_002444 (2)Konat family was functioning as the teachers of Syriac language and theology for several centuries. Fr. Abraham Malpan 1, a well-known scholar, shifted from Mammalassery to Pampakuda in Ernakulam District, Kerala. He built St. John of Ephesus Church there in 1824 CE and continued teaching the clerics. The holy relics offered by St. Gregorios were deposited in different plaques stating the content. In 1903 CE, they were placed in the cross tower in front of the Church, built along with Church. 

Since then nobody bothered to link Mar Sokha with St. Nicholas until 1999 CE. No Churches were built in his name. His feast was never celebrated. In 1999, Dr. Kurian Thomas came across the almanacs mentioned above and a further research disclosed that both St. Nicholos and Mar Sokha, the Episcopes of Myra is the same person according to the Syriac tradition. The biography of St. Gregorios of Parumala revealed his offering to the Konat family in 1895.

Further search confirmed the links through the chronicles of Fr. Mathen Malpan. Through an article in the Christmas edition of Malayala Manorama, a vernacular daily, the present author announced this discovery in 1999. 

IMG_20181207_002300 (2)Still the content of the casket is a mystery. Nobody knows what is there sealed in the casket. It could be a piece of bone, teeth or nail; nobody knows. Fr. Dr. Johns Abraham Konat, the grandson of Fr. Mathen Malpan and the present custodian of the relics have no intention to examine it. It will remain a mystery like the gifts Christmas Appoopa (father) puts in the children’s stockings. 

st nicolas cross tower

 

 

 

 

The first cross tower in India  in the name of Saint Nicholas along with other Saints, other than the Pampakuda (Kerala) cross tower was consecrated on 30th November, 2018 at St. Thomas Orthodox Church, Madurai, Tamilnadu by H.G. Dr. Yuhanon Mar Diascoros.

 

This article reveals that Santa Claus is not just an imaginary hero, as we all have dreamt ninos-con-san-nicolas-20386off. St.Nicholos (Santa Claus) is a real life hero, who has been a refuge and intercessor to many. And now, after knowing these facts about our Christmas Appoopa, we have the real reason to explain to our little kids of the wonders of this wonder worker, and inspire them to seek for the intercession of this great Saint and wonderworker. May his intercession be a strong refuge to all.

 

*****References*********

1. Eventual Annals of Nazranis by Meledath Kurian Thomas

2. Spiritual Fragrance Publishing of Russian Orthodox Church

Orthodox Study Journal~~Youth Issue 4/Oct-Nov 2018

DISCOVERING THE REAL YOU: OUR NATURE AND ITS HIDDEN TREASURES

Creation was not a necessary or spontaneous effect of God’s nature as many scientific or philosophical studies may indicate. In accordance to Orthodox Church’s understanding, it is a free act of divine will that brought into existence beings radically different from God. Created beings are radically different because they are created and contingent (dependent) creatures made by uncreated and absolute Triune God.

God freely chose to create out of love, for He “brought creatures into being not because He had need of anything” writes St. Maximus the Confessor (590 – 662 AD), “but so that they might participate in Him in proportion to their capacity and that He Himself might rejoice in His works [cf. Ps. 104:31], through seeing them joyful and ever filled to overflowing with His inexhaustible gifts.”

According to the Psalmist, God created cosmos (whole universe) by his Word: “he spoke, and it came into be; he commanded, and it stood forth” (Ps 33:9) and as he says through the Prophet Isaiah, “so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose” (Isa. 55:11). The Word of God, is effective and realizes what it is spoken to do, this is something we have to believe and make as foundation of our faith on Christ. This tells us that God had a particular motive from which he created the world, and a particular purpose for which he created it and it is only because of this motive and purpose of God, the world has meaning. 1

Because its motive is from God and its purpose is in God, the meaning of the world is not found within itself but transcends (rises above) all that is created by God. In fact, everything that God does has one single transcendent purpose: to unite everyone and everything to himself.

Jesus_Menas_Icon_AmitiéThis purpose can be known to us because the world (created by the Logos/God) is rational (having or exercising reason). Since we are able to know this purpose and reason, the notion or the idea (as proposed by many scientific or philosophical studies) that the world has an existence and meaning in and of itself, or that “nature” can somehow be considered apart from God is wrong or heretical to the teachings of our Eastern Oriental Church. This notion, that we and the world are “down here” while God is someplace “up there,” common in Western popular conceptions, both Christian and secular, is alien to Orthodox Christian thought. Transcendence (Superiority) of God must not lead us to forget that he is immanent (innate or ingrained) in the world as well. So each of us who are in this world should remember that there is no place where God is not present. Thus each person bears an individual responsibility for himself (our own soul and body) and equally important is caring for all the creation, for God is present in all of it. In order to achieve and align ourselves (Creation) with motive and purpose of our Creator’s, we must focus attention on us as individuals (thoughts, words and actions) and the choices we make every day, every moment. These are the only things within our control. The way we respond to or understand the rest of the world are all external, mostly connected to another person, situation, objects, climate or any other creation. And the world around us is continuously changing, change happens due to the choices we make (good or bad), grace of God is always available to us as He is omnipresent.

Man is created in the image and likeness of God, and it is his nature to desire good or to desire virtue. Virtue is the natural health of the soul, says St. Isaac the Syrian. The choices that man makes based on his own understanding makes his soul unhealthy. This in turn creates chaos and confusion in him. He looks out for solutions to feel satisfied and feel at ease and peace. Such solutions become the guidance that aims just at moral improvement. Guidance that only aims for moral improvement is anthropocentric–it is centered on man, and in it, human effort dominates, and not the grace of God. It then seems as if it is our own morality that saves us, and not the grace of God. Life under these conditions does not give us genuine experiences of God, therefore the psyche (soul) is not truly satisfied because its thirst remains unquenched. This method of guidance has been tried, and it failed because it does not represent the784px-Descent_of_the_Modernists,_E._J._Pace,_Christian_Cartoons,_1922 genuine spirit of Christ’s Church. It is often responsible for atheism and for many people’s indifference towards the spiritual life, especially among the young. 2

To understand this a bit more, let us look into a simple conversation between a Dad and Son

Son: “Daddy, May I ask you a question?”

Daddy: “Yeah sure, what it is?” Son: “Dad, how much do you make an hour?”

Daddy: “That’s none of your business. Why do you ask such a thing?”

Son: “I just want to know. Please tell me. How much do you make an hour?”

Daddy: “I make Rs. 500 an hour”. “Oh”. The little boy replied, with his head down. Looking up, he said “Dad, May I please borrow Rs. 300?”

The father was furious and said “If the only reason you asked that is so you can borrow some money to buy a silly toy or other nonsense, then march yourself to your room and go to bed. Think why you are being so selfish. I work hard every day for such, this childish behavior.” The little boy went quietly into his room and shut the door. The man sat down and started to get even angrier about the little boy’s questions. How dare he ask such questions only to get some money? After about an hour or so, the man had calmed down, and started to think: “May be there was something he really needed to buy with that Rs. 300 and he really didn’t ask for money very often!”

The man went to the door of the little boy’s room and opened the door. “Are you asleep son?” He asked.

“No daddy, I’m awake”, replied the boy. “I’ve been thinking. Maybe I was too hard on you earlier; said the man. “It’s been a long day and I took out my aggravation on you. Here’s the Rs. 300 you asked for.”

A father giving his son adviceThe little boy sat straight up smiling “Oh thank you dad” he said. Then searching under his pillow he pulled some crippled up notes. The man, seeing that the boy already had money, “Why do you want money if you already had some?” the father grumbled. “Because I didn’t have enough but now I do. Daddy I have Rs. 500 now. Can I buy an hour of your time? Please come home early tomorrow. I would like to have dinner with you” the little boy replied.

From such experiences in life often results in the following:

• The boy understands that if he has the money he can buy his dad’s time. As he progresses in life, he can come to a conclusion that only if he earns money can he get something. Money can buy anything for him later on in life.

• He learns to understand that he can obtain his satisfaction by getting what he desires.

• The dad is ready to spend his time only if it’s beneficial for him.

• We also notice that the dad seeks a sort of satisfaction of achievement, every time he goes up to the son thinking he can achieve something by doing something for his son, he only gets disappointed, which in turn is causes anger and frustration in him.

All of the above few results that we can infer is pointing out to the fact that the entire experience of the son is completely centered on man. The boy is making efforts based on his own understanding and reasoning. This kind of human effort dominates when he becomes successful in getting his Dad’s time. This kind of effort from the boy or the morality makes him seem that it has helped him, but eventually in the long run, his soul still feels something is lacking. This is because his effort was his own and was not made with the understanding of God.

The soul always yearns a union with God and things which are above. The reason being: that is how God created us. The soul that is invisible like the invisible God is made in the image and likeness of God. Anything that is made in the image of God is virtuous and all perfect and all good like Him. It always yearns to be like him.

The fall of Adam and its effects of corruption, death, division and separation was introduced in the world. Thus handicapped, Adam was unable to realize his role in the divine plan. The body which is created from earth has a yearning towards earthly things. Christ however, by assuming human nature and restoring it to its original function, was himself able to accomplish this cosmic task, and each person regenerated in Church and baptized into Christ is empowered to do the same. This task involves overcoming all the division and separation in the created order and unifying it and offering it back to God. Thus a human should strive through this battle to achieve the real purpose of God by moderating himself from the worldly comforts not allowing his soul to get affected by the morality or any sort of understanding the world gives without God. Then only, can he truly know God. And grow towards uniting himself with God, which is the real purpose of man, to achieve theosis. Our work in this world needs to be part of what St. Paul calls “a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:10), “for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible….all things were created through him and for him.” (Col 1:16, 17).

The above said reasons of an anthropocentric society is the reason why most youngsters today cannot accept the Orthodox way of life. With technological advancements, consumerism and the like, there are lot of challenges youngsters have to confront to lead/choose this way of life. There always arises a conflict internally because it is not the normal way of life for most people in our society. This normal way of life is the life, the world offers, but the Orthodox way of life is offered by Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and Life, through the Church as the most practical life for people faced with the challenges of life. It is the way of living that will make your life less stressful and more meaningful. Many of the early Church fathers or Saints who followed this life are examples, who through their writings guide us every day. It is our choice to decide what we want to follow. This is the freedom God has given us.

As monks/priests or as laymen we have the same goals. The life of monks are the most honored way of living for Christ. Again this is a calling, which have to be chosen with the help of God. Most of us are called to live in the world with our families, but like the monks we too have to seek holiness and union with God. The principles of our spiritual growth are the same no matter which path we chose.

Most of us never take the time to reflect on the purpose of our lives. In a moment of grief or in times of the death of a loved one, we begin to think about what life is all about. Death is the reality where we are headed to, but we too often refuse to think about this seriously because of the unknown and the fear it presents.

When often asked to many: What is the purpose of your life? The answer would vary according to one’s experience of life. Most of the answers would be “To be a good father or mother”; “To provide for my children and help them to success in life”; “To be successful in all that I do”; “To become famous”; “To have a great career” etc. None of these answers are the purpose of our life.

As young people, we often fall into such man centered traps and confusions by setting up purposes for our life like the above. The reason being: we are ignorant about the actual purpose of our life. We do not understand the actual role of the Church in our lives. We only read the Scriptures but we do not live the spiritual life mentioned in the Scriptures. We admire nature based only on its outward appearance, not trying to understand the inner principle. We come to conclusions based on our senses, which is what we see and hear. Someone who does not make progress in his spiritual life will suffer in his understanding of creation and of the Scriptures. Without understanding the life of the Orthodox Church, its faith and the traditions, one becomes blind and short-sighted (2 Peter 1:9) and suffers from ignorance of the true cause of created beings [God].

As St. Mark the Ascetic quotes: “Think nothing and do nothing without a purpose directed to God. For to journey without direction is a wasted effort”. So true to the words of St. Mark, only by loving God and a purpose directed to God can we discern our actions in line with God’s purpose. The purpose of life taught by the Apostles and the Church Fathers is finding union with God (theosis). Christ came down as man and showed us how to live through His teaching and lived as an example. He showed us that we have nothing to fear in death.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 1:17). Anything that is good comes from the revelation of God, and the mind that is not prepared properly will never understand God, or His revelation to the human heart. According to the Scriptures: “He that has ears to hear, let him hear”. We all have ears, but not all of us hear.

“So, while we have been called for this great purpose; to unite with God; to become gods by Grace; and to enjoy this great blessing for which our Maker and Creator made us, we often live as if this great and noble aim does not exist for us. Because of this, our life is filled with failure. Our Holy God molded us for Theosis (Deification), so if we are not deified, our whole life is a failure. The Anthropocentric Humanism is a self-sufficient humanism in the socio-philosophical system which is separated from and made independent of God. It leads contemporary man to a civilization based on selfishness, and this has brought modern humanity to an impasse. In the name of the development and liberation of humanity it wishes to estrange us from our Orthodox Christian faith. 2

And who is behind such confusions in the world? The story that follows serves as an eye opener to each one of us:

satanLate at night in the deserted cell a novice monk prayed. He was very tired, having worked hard for the day, and now he hastily recited words, hurrying to finish a long rule. He got off several times, stopped, and then continued on just as quickly. And he did not see how a figure had grown under the window. The uninvited guest was huge and stood, leaning over, listening to every word, and on his face a smirk wandered. When he heard that the novice mixed up the words of the prayer, he pushed the door with his shoulder and found himself inside.

The owner was taken aback. In front of him, stupid and ugly, stood … the devil.

‘Well? Do you want to talk?’ the guest visibly grinned. The man waved his hands, backed into a corner, and fell, squeezing into the wall. ‘Go away, go away! Go away, go away!’ He whispered. His hand lifted, his prayer rope hanging helplessly. The devil grinned, mockingly looked at the prayer rope and moved closer ‘No, now I won’t leave without you. You’re mine!’ The novice shook his head ‘Not! Not! Not yours!’ his lips repeated in horror. Devil replied ‘How is it not mine? Chatterbox you! Hurry up! Let’s go!’ The face of the novice was sweating. He tried to control himself, but he was choking on the foul smell that the devil was spreading around him and wanted to turn away. ‘Why do you turn your face?’ the devil barked suddenly. ‘I heard how you pray!’ and he began to hastily pronounce words, mimicking the novice.

The novice blushed painfully. ‘Do you recognize yourself?’ mocked the demon. ‘Yes’, the novice recognized himself and his haste, and how he confused words. But still, he was the one who loved and worshiped God, and therefore raised his eyes and, feeling a sudden courage, firmly said ‘I am not yours! I’m a Christian!’

‘Ha ha ha!!!’ cried the devil. ‘Christian! Many of you, wander the earth!’ He made a movement, and in a flash the wall of the cell opened, and the whole world opened up to the eye of the novice. Many people, overtaking each other, hurried somewhere, hurried and confused. Tense, with tired faces, they seemed like clockwork toys. “Here they are,” the devil grinned mockingly, “human dolls.” Devil asked hastily ‘How do you think they have time to think? Do something deep and serious?’ The novice shook his head longingly. ‘Where is it then to be in time?’ And the devil continued ‘the whole world lives like this: running, running. Hastily eat, hastily communicate with friends. Do you know what it is called? Devilish hurry. And devilish means mine!’

And with these words he imperiously and demandingly stretched his paw ‘Get up!’ The man shivered. He realized that if now, at this moment, he did nothing, he would fall forever into the painful power of these clawed, ruthless paws. But how can he help himself, even if prayer is the only means and there is no saving power on his lips? And suddenly … Quietly, firmly and clearly, he said ‘Our Father!’ The words sounded distinct, and the demon frowned.

‘Hallowed be thy name! Thy kingdom come!’ he uttered every word: hard, slowly, deeply, and the prayer that had already been spoken a thousand times thoughtlessly, suddenly found a new power. ‘Thy will be done …’

the guest felt bad, he twisted his nose, not finding a place for himself. And when the novice finished the prayer and all the same clearly and firmly said “Amen!” The devil twitched and disappeared.

The cell became quiet. Shedding tears, the novice crawled to the altar and grabbed the icon of the Mother of God. “Sorry, sorry!” he whispered. He wept for a long time, asking for forgiveness, and then discovered his rule and slowly, calmly and distinctly began to read it. The devil wandered through the forest for a long time, looking around at the novice’s hut. Before dark, now it was glowing with fire. It was the heat of prayer, and even from here, from afar, he burned the demon with an intolerable flame. He was angry, his teeth glittered, but he could not get any closer…

So finally, the CHOICE is left up to us, to follow the path of theosis or to live as confused human beings, giving up ourselves to the schemes of the devil.

References:  1.Creation and heart of man, Fr. Michael Butler & Andrew P Morris.

2. Words of Archimandrite George, Egoumenos (Abbot) of Gregoriou (Saint Gregory) Holy Monastery on Mount Athos (Holy Mountain), Greece

3. ibid

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