Sunday, 25 May 2014
Saturday, 17 May 2014
One day, I was wandering in the wilderness and meditating on its valleys, mountains, and many wild beasts which become tame to humans. So I gave thanks to the Lord... As I ventured through the wilderness, I noticed many different trees and springs. Under one of the trees I found a skull which had turned white from the extreme heat and cold of the wilderness climate. I glorified the Lord and wondered who this skull belonged to and what life that person lead. I wished it had a tongue so that it could reveal to me what it is now experiencing. I looked towards the east and prayed to God, asking him to reveal to me its secret.
Before I had finished my prayers I heard a voice calling, "Father Stephanos, listen to me and remember my words for it will be a warning to you and your brothers.Warn them about the fearful judgement day; woe to those who don't pray and are not vigilant, for in the great day of the resurrection of bodies, no brother will defend his brother, nor father his son, but faithful work and mercy will bring one closer to God. Prayer lightens up brightly like a lantern, so beware and do not tarry. Tell my words to all in the hope that they will learn and so avoid coming to the place where I am; in torment and unquenchable fire and restless worms... My story is that I was a greedy merchant and even though I had a lot of money and treasures, I envied everybody and never gave money to the poor. I had no mercy on anyone and never prayed. Nothing I did pleased or glorified the Lord. I had good sons who loved all people and carried out many acts of love and mercy. They advised me to do good, but I refused to listen and thus did not give them access to my money. But despite the fact that I had great possessions, I was never satisfied with what I had...
One day I travelled to a distant country, for the purpose of trading. I took camels and servants, and was prepared to spend time during my journey in an oasis. I hired a guide for direction and took lots of money and goods for trade.After one day of travelling through the wilderness, the guide lost his sense of direction, and so for three days we roamed about the wilderness, not knowing where we were going. Woe to him whom God is not his leader! The morning heat was scorching, so the camels died, the servants escaped and I was left alone. The love of worldly possessions and luxuries prevented me from seeking shelter in a cave, so I stayed for three more days eating from the food remaining, until there was nothing left. I felt as if I was about to die, and I was very disturbed at how quickly life was disappearing considering I had done no good deeds to save me, and I had no power to raise myself up out of my present misery.
The next day, my eyes became heavy, so that I could no longer see, and on the third day my eyes opened, and I saw a very frightening angel, holding a sword of fire and from his mouth he breathed fire. He ordered my soul to leave my body, and after grabbing it, he gave it to the devil. So they stabbed my soul with a fork and brought me to this place of torment where I was thrown and left alone... I saw in the bottomless pit an old man whom I knew in the world and his deeds were just as bad as mine...he too was being tormented. I asked him for what reason he was cast here, and he said, "My terrible deeds..."
Suddenly I heard great thunder which no one on earth could bear hearing, and there he was, the angel in charge of torment. He grabbed me and cast me into Hades, where I remain until this hour." I Stephanos asked him, "Can you see those in Paradise?" He answered, "No one can see them, for between us and them is an unmeasurable distance. Woe to me and that hour when neither money nor possessions nor children saved me... So take heed to my words Father Stephanos, never delay to do good or pray, and alert all people to my words. I was always disobedient to my parents, and a lover of worldly desires. I never lived according to the commandments, and never had faith in Jesus Christ, even though I knew all along that the Lord who came into this world was incarnated of the Virgin Mary, and was resented by His own. I knew that through faith, the Holy Baptism and the sacrament of Holy Communion one could be saved, but because of my pride, I refused to abide in them. Never neglect these gifts!" He repeated these words three times and said, "I have been ordered to speak these words to you!" Then he ceased to speak.
I, Stephanos, took the skull into the cave, dug a hole and buried it. I then went to my brethren and told them all the things which took place. Together we prayed and asked the Lord our God to make us worthy to live in obedience, according to His will; to live in the hope of eternal life with our Saviour Jesus Christ, which has been promised to us after the resurrection of the dead. To Him is everlasting glory, amen.
Thursday, 8 May 2014
During the reign of one of the Orthodox kings over Rome, there lived a Roman prince who was responsible for one hundred soldiers. Filled with the grace of God, he expressed to the king his desire to leave this materialistic world and seek the company of God as a monk in the wilderness.
He sailed to Alexandria and then travelled on foot to Tor Sinai...This took place two hundred years after the death of Abba John Aklimakos, the writer of 'The Ladder of Virtues of the Sinai Fathers, and Abba Anastasi of Sinai, the guardian of monks'. During Abba John's time, there were two hundred and fifty monks residing in the Sinai monastery. Abba Stratios dwelt in this monastery in strict ascetism; being fervent in spirit and in the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so he was clothed with the 'eskeem' of monasticism.
After spending several years living within the monastery and serving his fellow brothers with sincere love, he asked his spiritual father for his blessings and permission so that he may venture into the wilderness to dwell there. He left, taking with him a head covering and a palm branch and went praising God saying, "I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth" (Psalm 121:1,2).
He kept walking until the Lord led him to a cave within the inner wilderness, and there he dwelt, in strict ascetism and fervencies and relentless spiritual struggle. He fed on the grass which grew on nearby rocks and drank fresh water from natural springs. He spent all his days praying and fasting, and only when he felt the need, would he feed upon a handful of grass and a mouthful of water. He lived as such for twelve years...
The Lord revealed to him that after forty days, he will depart from this temporary world and be united with the beloved Lord Jesus Christ, and the whole host of saints and angels. When Stratios felt the hour of his death approach, he made the sign of the cross in the wind and immediately the wind carried him and brought him safely inside the monastery. There he met his spiritual father who had aged very much, and when he saw Stratios, he asked, "Who are you?" The saint replied, "I am your son Stratios, who resided with you in this monastery twelve years ago...I have come to you because my hour of deliverance is at hand, and I would like to spend the rest of my time on earth, here with my fathers in this monastery." His spiritual father embraced him with joy, then called all the monastery fathers to him, by ringing the bells.
Immediately the fathers gathered and when they saw their fellow brother and hermit Stratios, they all rejoiced. They gave him a separate cell, and after he entered, he closed the door...he then left the monastery without anyone seeing him, and went straight to the tomb of Abba John Aklimakos, the writer of the Sinai Fathers and Abba Anastasi. He knelt at Abba John's tomb so that the prayers of these blessed saints who lived two hundred years before him, may help him. As he was kneeling and praying an angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, "Stratios, the two saints John and Anastasi have come to you to bless you, O pure saint, before you depart from this world." Stratios immediately turned and saw the two saints saying to him, "We will also be present during your deliverance and the release of your soul, and we will pray for you in the cell your fellow brothers have given you." Having said this, they departed and Stratios returned to his cell.
He did not tell anyone of the things which took place, except his disciple to whom he said, "My son, after thirty seven days pass, open the door of my cell, as it will be the day of my deliverance...do not be neglectful in this command, for I want you to bury my body..."
As the day approached, they knocked on his door, but no one answered. So they pushed open the door of his cell and found him kneeling and covered from head to toe in rough cloth...Beside him they found a censor filled with coal and burning of sweet smelling incense. This signified that the hermit fathers had come to pray on him...
The monastery fathers prayed on him, then buried him with great reverence and honour in the place where their saintly forefathers had been laid. From his pure body came the beautiful scent of incense, which was a blessing to many. To our Lord be all glory, honour and worship now and unto the end of all ages, amen.
Wednesday, 7 May 2014
In the case of our Desert Father, the incident once occurred. Two men were on the way to visit Anthony when they ran out of water. One of them died, while the other lay down on the ground and was waiting likewise for death. At the same time Anthony on his mountain summoned two monks who were his guests and instructed them, “Take a jar of water, and quickly take the road to Egypt. Two brothers were on the way here, but one is already dead and the other one soon will be if you do not hurry. This was just now revealed to me while I was praying” [59.2-3]. The rescue of the man dying of thirst was successful.
The saint often foresaw the arrival of visitors days in advance and could even tell the purpose of their visit. Occasionally Anthony could also observe the purely spiritual, invisible world and thereby gained insights into the personal destiny of the human soul after death and separation from the body. He was sitting one day on the mountain and suddenly spied in the air a man who was being led upward and was welcomed by others who were overjoyed. It was simultaneously revealed to him that it was the soul of the monk Amoun, who lived in Nitria, a thirteen days' journey distant from Anthony. One can imagine the amazement of his friends when Anthony told them that the monk, with who they were acquainted, had just died. About a month later brothers came from Nitria and were able to confirm that Amoun had died at precisely the hour when Anthony had seen his soul travel to heaven. In further visions the saint saw the fate of the human soul after death."