Reflecting on One’s Life 


Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)

St Paul learned through hard experience how to be content in every situation. He was able to reflect on his life daily and always place himself in God’s hands and in God’s plan. And this certainly didn’t happen because things were always going well for him or because God protected him from any suffering or problems. According to his own comments (see for example 2 Corinthians 11:23-28), he suffered frequently and yet still saw himself in God’s hands and so trusted that whatever happened, God was with him.


Taking time to reflect on one’s life is one tool a Christian can use to evaluate his/her life in order to give thanks to God for blessings received, to change one’s heart/mind/direction in life (i.e., repent), to make corrections in one’s life or to double down on things that one needs to add or do more of. From the desert fathers we read the following spiritual advice which though originally given to monks has implications for every Christian.

Abba Nisteros said: ‘In the evening and at dawn the monk ought to take stock: “Of the things that God wills, what have we done and what of the things that God wills not have we done?” – and thus to investigate his own entire life; for Abba Arsenius lived in this way. Endeavor to stand before God each day without sin. Pray to God as though you are in his presence, for he truly is present. Do not make rules for yourself; judge nobody. It is foreign to the monk to swear, to commit perjury, to lie, to curse, to deride, to laugh. He who is honored or praised beyond his worth is severely punished.’  (GIVE ME A WORD, p 213)

51592737644_c054ae1083_wWorth repeating from the above spiritual direction is “Pray to God as though you are in his presence, for he truly is present.” We should strive to make ourselves aware of God’s presence at every moment of our lives. Whether we are in church or at home, whether we are playing, vacationing, working, exercising, resting, shopping, surfing the internet, or in any other activity, we need to cultivate in our hearts and minds awareness that we are always in God’s presence.  Creating that awareness of God’s presence helps keep God close to our hearts rather than thinking of God as some distant or remote deity who has no concern for us.

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.

(Psalm 139:7-10)


Secret Charity 


But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:3-4) 

From the desert fathers we read this enlightening story: 


 Abba Theonas and Abba Theodore said that in the time of the Patriarch Paul, there was a maiden in Alexandria who lost both her parents – and they possessed a great fortune. The girl was unbaptized at the time <of her bereavement>. One day she went apart into the garden which her parents had left her (for there are gardens in the middle of the city, in the houses of the great ones). Whilst she was in the garden, she saw a man preparing to hang himself. She rushed to him and said: ‘What are you doing, good man?’ He said to her: ‘Look, leave me alone woman, for I am in great affliction’. The maiden said to him: ‘Tell me the truth, for perhaps I may be able to help you’. He told her: ‘I am heavily in debt and my creditors are putting pressure on me to repay them. I have chosen to die rather than to lead such a woeful existence.’ The maiden said to him: ‘I beg of you, take whatever I have and give it to them; only please do not destroy yourself’. He took what she offered and paid off his debts.


Then the girl began to run into difficulties. Having no one to look after her (because she had been deprived of her parents) and being in great need, she began to prostitute herself. Some people who knew her, and knew the standing which her parents had enjoyed in society, said: ‘Who knows the judgment of God or why he allows a soul to fall for some reason or other?’ Then sometime later, the girl fell ill – and came back to her senses. Consumed with remorse, she said to her neighbors: ‘For the sake of the Lord, have mercy on my soul; speak to the pope about making me a Christian’. But they all laughed at her and said: ‘As if he would accept this woman who is a prostitute!’ This caused her great distress. Whilst she was in this condition and very frustrated, an angel of the Lord stood by her – in the form of the man on whom she had compassion. He said to her: ‘What is the trouble?’ She replied: ‘I desire to become a Christian and nobody will stand up for me’. He said: ‘Do you really want this?’ She replied: ‘Yes, I beg of you’. He said to her: ‘Take courage; I will get some people to take you to church’. He brought two others who were also angels and they carried her to the church. Then they transformed themselves into a illustrious personages with the rank of prefect. They summoned the clergy charged with the responsibility for baptisms, and these asked: ‘Your charity will vouch for her?’ They answered: ‘Yes’. Then the clergy did what was called for in the service for those who are about to be baptized; then they baptized her in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and they vested her in the garment of the neophyte.


Clothed in white, she returned home carried by the angels, who set her down and promptly disappeared. When the neighbors saw her all in white, they said to her: ‘Who baptized you?’ – and she told them of those who had taken her to church, how they had spoken to the clergy and how the clergy had baptized her. They asked her who those people were; to which the woman would give no answer. So they went and reported the matter to the pope. He summoned those in charge of the baptistry and said to them: ‘Did you baptize this woman?’ They admitted that they had <baptized her>, adding that she had been vouched for by so and so of prefectorial rank. The bishop sent for those whom they had named and inquired of them whether they had vouched for her. They said: ‘We are not aware of having done so, nor do we know anybody else who has’. Then the bishop realized that this was divine business.


He summoned the woman and said: ‘Tell me, daughter, what good have you done?’ She said: “I am a prostitute and a poor woman too; what good could I do?’ He said to her: ‘Are you not aware of ever having done any good <deed> at all?’ She said: ‘No. Except that I once saw a man about to hang himself because he was being harassed by his creditors. I gave him my entire fortune and freed him <of his debt>. She said this, and fell asleep in the Lord, released from both her voluntary and her involuntary deeds of sin. Then the Bishop glorified God and said: Righteous you are O God, and upright are your judgments (Psalm 118:137.)  (John Moschos, THE SPIRITUAL MEADOW, pp 185-187)


Past, Present and Future Sense of Salvation 


Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us…  (2 Corinthians 1:9-10)

In the above quote, St Paul reveals the complex nature of salvation: 1) it is something attained in the past in Christ’s life, death and resurrection; 2) it is present in our lives today; 3) it is something yet to be fulfilled, and so we are still moving toward it but awaiting it.


When one bishop was asked if he was saved, he replied, ‘I have been saved, I am being saved, and I shall be saved.’ Salvation has to do with the works and accomplishments of the man Jesus Christ. Salvation also has to do with our daily walk in the faith and our growth in the Spirit. Salvation also has to do with the final victory of God over all of His enemies at the end of time. (AM I SAVED?, p 12)

Salvation in these many dimensions is also reflected in Hebrews 13:8 – Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever. It is also reflected in the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom in which we give thanks to God not only for what God has done for our salvation in the past, but also for what (at least in a temporal point of view) still is to be accomplished: “It was You Who brought us from non-existence into being, and when we had fallen away You raised us up again, and did not cease to do all things until You had brought us up to heaven, and had endowed us with Your kingdom which is to come.” Indeed, we thank God for something that has yet to happen.


Salvation is historical (I am saved), and salvation is a process (I am being saved), and also, salvation is a future event (I will be saved). All three tenses of ‘save’ are found in the New Testament. Salvation is also universal (Christ died for all humanity), and it is personal (I am asked to believe that Christ died for me).

Salvation is a gift from God. Salvation is accomplished by God for us. Salvation requires me to choose and decide whether I will believe and follow God in faith and love. Salvation means deliverance, redemption, healing, protection, rebirth, restoration, reconciliation, transfiguration, justification, sanctification, love and grace. (AM I SAVED?, pp 12, 54-55) 

Straining Forward to Christ 


Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14) 

St Paul says he has not yet attained the perfect spiritual life, but rather he is ever pressing toward that goal in Christ. Perfection in the mind of St Gregoy of Nyssa is not a plateau to be reached, but rather is the striving towards God, which has no plateau. Perfection is growing endlessly, yet there is a goal – Jesus Christ. Metroplitan Anthony Bloom writes: 

In what I have said, in the description that I have given of our shortcomings, it was clear that there was an ideal, an absolute standard towards which we should aim. At the same time it is obvious that none of us – indeed, not even the saints whose lives we can read – have fulfilled or do fulfill this perfection. There is always something unfulfilled, imperfect. 


And this is a tension in which we all find ourselves. Unless we have a vision of the absolute, we cannot tend towards it. At the same time we must not despair of what we are, because we cannot judge our own condition; we can judge only one thing: the degree to which we long for fulfillment, the degree to which we long to be worthy of God, worthy of love, worthy of compassion — and worthy not because of any achievements of ours, but because of the longing, the hunger, and the trust that we can give to the Lord. (CHURCHIANITY VS CHRISTIANITY, pp 10-11) 


We are to ever press forward to the goal, that is the nature of the spiritual life for Christians. The goal is ever before us and we keep moving in that direction toward the eschaton. We will not find it by looking for some past ‘golden age’ or by trying to make the present ever more like the past.  We will not find it by discovering the historical Jesus.  The past is the wrong direction for it is what lies behind that St Paul forgets in his love for Christ. The Kingdom of God is still ahead of us.  Christ glorified is whom we are seeking. We will not even find it at Golgotha or at the Holy Sepulchre because they too belong to the past. Even interpretations of the Liturgy which focus on the past are looking in the wrong direction. We find it in Christ who still lies ahead of us. The Liturgy orients us in that direction to the Kingdom and life in the world which is still to come.  We are to read the Bible not to discover the past but to find our way to God’s coming Kingdom.


I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29) 

Can’t See The Kingdom of God?


But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Luke 11:20)


For as much as God’s people through history have claimed to desire God’s Kingdom, it is amazing how blind we are to it whenever it is revealed to us. In the time of Christ, Jesus does God’s will, bringing the Kingdom to Israel, and yet most couldn’t see it and some even accused Him of doing Satan’s bidding. So concerned were those people about religious rules and regulations, that they preferred to see Christ’s mighty deeds as satanic since he didn’t observe their religious rules. Of course, He declared Himself to be Lord of those rules as God’s Word, however, the religious leaders were more interested in religion than in the Kingdom. Archimandrite Aimilianos points out that from the beginning humans have missed the signs that God was giving them, and so missed the mark of what humans are created to be. He talks about Adam, the first human, totally missing the opportunity to live in God’s Kingdom because after he sinned, broke a rule, he wasn’t willing to admit his fault and seek mercy from his Creator (and experience God’s blessed Kingdom). Instead, he chose to try to live apart from God, rather than have to experience God’s self-revelation. Adam’s story is our story.


And so it was with Adam: ‘I’m over here, hiding, because I was afraid to see you, because I’ve sinned. I’m afraid that you wouldn’t accept my excuses; that you’d say it was all my fault. I was afraid that you would no longer acknowledge me as your child.’ To be sure, Adam’s desire to justify himself, the various excuses he contemplated, were the signs of certain death. And This is why St Makarios says: ‘When Adam fell away from God, he died spiritually.’ Seeking to justify himself, Adam condemned himself to life without God.


Until then, the damage wasn’t fully done; the blow could have been blunted, the tragedy averted. This was the critical moment, which we all must face, when it becomes clear whether we’ll choose God or our self. As a general rule, we choose our self. Every day we repeat the sin of Adam. He fell when he opened his soul to the poison of the serpent, but there was still hope that he might turn and embrace God. He could have raised his arms to God and cried: ‘God, I am your voice, your self-expression; I am your creation, your child, and I have sinned. Bend down and hold me; save me before I perish completely!’ Instead, he said, in effect: ‘What do you want, God? Have you come here to judge me?’   (THE WAY OF THE SPIRIT, p 239)

Roots of the Lord’s Prayer 


Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” So He said to them, “When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Luke 11:1-4) 


The Lord Jesus was greatly attuned to the Jewish spiritual tradition, as one might expect from the Word of God. Many of his teachings echo teachings found in the Jewish scriptures. This is also true of the Lord’s Prayer which Jesus offered to His disciples when they requested that he teach them how to pray. Biblical scholar David Instone-Brewer comments: 

The Lord’s prayer appears to be an abstract of the 18 [Benedictions]. It is very similar to the earliest abstract preserved in rabbinic literature, though with important differences. It was used in the early church in the same way as the 18 [Benedictions] – i. e., they prayed it three times, standing, and used it as an outline for a longer prayer.  


The Lords prayer is similar to many Jewish prayers, especially its reference to God’s name and Kingdom (which occurred in almost all Jewish prayers), God’s holiness (as in the various versions of the Qiddush), prayer for God’s will (as in Eliezer’s abstract…), food (as in Benediction #9), and forgiveness (as in Benediction #6). What is unusual is the call for ease from trouble and the prayer that God should ‘forgive us as we forgive.’ Eliezer’s abstract is the clearest parallel to the call for perfection, as well as containing a striking parallel to Jesus’ prayer, ‘your will be done on earth as in heaven’ (Mark 14.36 /Matthew 26.42//Luke 22:42): 

Eliezer’s abstract 


  1. Eliezer … says: 

May your will be done in the heavens above 

and grant the ease of spirit to those who fear you 

and do what is good in your eyes. 

Blessed [is he] who listens to prayer.

. . . 

The most basic form of the prayer is: 

Your will be done in heaven 

Grant ease to those who fear you 

and do what is good in your eyes.  



St Tabitha 

Today the Orthodox Church remembers St Tabitha the Widow, raised from the dead by the Apostle Peter. Her story is recorded in Acts 9:36-42 :

 Now there was at Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. In those days she fell sick and died; and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him entreating him, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter rose and went with them. And when he had come, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping, and showing tunics and other garments which Dorcas made while she was with them. But Peter put them all outside and knelt down and prayed; then turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, rise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and lifted her up. Then calling the saints and widows he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.


As the scripture lesson indicates Tabitha was known for her kindness and charity. Little else is known about her.  I admit I find these lives of saints in which little is reported other than an act of kindness appeal to me far more than hagiographies which are filled with magic, miracles and other legends which often lead me to doubt the life altogether.  Miracles remain popular with many people and in history the lives of the saints became increasingly formulaic filled with miracles and magic phenomena of all kinds. Sadly, some think a person fulfilling a Gospel command or willingly dying for the faith is not enough for sainthood. For my part, I find it miraculous when a common person actually fulfills a Gospel command. That is a life which can be imitated and that it why I find it more inspiring than a legendary life which is inimitable. St Tabitha is one such woman saint.  We can imitate her in her aid to the needy.

If you see a person pure and humble, that is a great vision. For what is greater than such a vision, to see the invisible God in a visible person. (St Pachomius the Great)


From the OCA website, we read her life:

Saint Tabitha, the widow raised from the dead by the Apostle Peter, was a virtuous and kindly woman who belonged to the Christian community in Joppa. Being grievously ill, she suddenly died. At the time, the Apostle Peter was preaching at Lydda, not far from Joppa. Messengers were sent to him with an urgent request for help. When the Apostle arrived at Joppa, Tabitha was already dead. On bended knee, Saint Peter made a fervent prayer to the Lord. Then he went to the bed and called out, “Tabitha, get up!” She arose, completely healed (Acts 9:36).


Saint Tabitha is considered the patron saint of tailors and seamstresses, since she was known for sewing coats and other garments (Acts 9:39).

For those who like to sew, you have a patron saint in Tabitha.

Working Out Our Salvation


… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain. (Philippians 2:12-16) 


St Paul tells us to work out our salvation which means it takes some energy on our part to live out the life in Christ. God works in and with us (synergy), but we have our part to do, and we have to navigate through the world of the fall which challenges us as we have to make moral choices in our daily lives. The work we do here prepares us for life in the world to come as St Nicholas Cabasilas explains: 

The life in Christ originates in this life and arises from it. It is perfected, however, in the life to come, when we shall have reached that last day. It cannot attain perfection in men’s souls in this life, nor even in that which is to come without already having begun here. Since that which is carnal, the mist and corruption which derived from the flesh, cannot inherit incorruption (1 Corinthians 15:50), it casts a shadow over that life in this present time. Therefore Paul thought it to be a great advantage to depart in order to be with Christ, for he says, ‘to depart and to be with Christ is far better‘ (Philippians 1:23).


But if the life to come were to admit those who lack the faculties and senses necessary for it, it would avail nothing for their happiness, but they would be dead and miserable living in that blessed and immortal world. The reason is, that the light would appear and the sunshine with its pure rays with no eye having been formed to see it. The Spirit’s fragrance would be abundantly diffused and pervading all, but one would not know it without already having this sense of smell. (THE LIFE IN CHRIST, p 43)


According to Cabasilas we have to train our eyes and all our senses to see spiritually in this world, so that we can fully enjoy what God reveals to us in the life of the world to come.  

A Sharp Thorn of Grace 


And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)


St Paul wanted God to free him from his torment – the thorn in the flesh, whether physical, mental or spiritual – and God told him, “NO!” Now many of us might wish that God would answer our prayers clearly, but what if what we were sincerely pleading God to deliver us from is something that God wants in our life? What if God’s clear response to our prayer is “No way!” Would we lose faith? St Paul didn’t. Rather, he gracefully accepted that his infirmity was something God was allowing for some mysterious reason. For St Paul it appears that his ego had to be limited for a reason known only to God, and St Paul accepts that. He realizes he is God’s servant and God apparently wanted him to experience some weakness in his life, an infirmity perhaps to remind him of his human limits. Paul remained a faithful servant and accepted that God’s plan for him and world included a weakness in his own life which required him to remain dependent on God to help him through his struggles. Roman Catholic scholar Vincent Pizzuto comments:


Try as we might, we fail to love as much as we are loved. Neither can we pray as we ought. And too often our demons have the upper hand. But the beauty of these failures is that in and through them we come to realize our utter poverty before the richness of God’s love.  We come to realize our total dependence on the mercy of God. We come to realize we cannot save ourselves but can only accept our deification in Christ despite ourselves. Our failures become the seeds of God’s success. Paul understands this as a radical abandonment to God’s grace: A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:7b-10)


We should not miss in Paul’s experience a description of what we would call the death of ego: to be “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ.” He is describing spiritual freedom by which the ego is no longer vulnerable to manipulation by the false self. Asceticism exposes our weaknesses and attachments, opening us to the ever-present need for God’s sustaining presence in our lives. When the scaffolding of our distractions and the false pretenses of our self-sufficiency fall away, we at once discover our inability to save ourselves and the freedom of realizing we do not have to: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.


To fail in the ascetical life is not to fail in the spiritual life but to discover the sustaining presence of Christ dwelling in us. Asceticism is not an effort to make oneself worthy before God but rather to learn what it means to completely abandon oneself into the hands of God in every situation. For the desert contemplatives, anxiety and worry were interior signs of a lack of trust in God. It is perhaps also a subtle form of idolatry, whereby the ego is given central place in the inner sanctuary of the heart, which belongs to God alone. By contrast, apatheia is the expression of faith in a state of total surrender of one’s cares to God. (Contemplating Christ: The Gospels and the Interior Life, Kindle Loc 2189-2207)


St Abercius, Equal to the Apostles 

St Abercius, who is commemorated in the Church today, is given the high appellation of “Equal to the Apostles” by the Orthodox Church.  I can hear some of you saying, “Who?”

This title has been bestowed on only a few saints in the 2000 year history of the Church. Whatever led the Church to bestow this honor on Abercius seems lost in history, for today little is known of him. It always intrigues me that some saints have long hagiographies written about them, some full of embellishments and miracles, while others, even ones given very honorary titles, were almost forgotten in history (see also my posts on St Olympias, or The Holy Martyr Apphia , or St Phoebe the Deaconess, or St Junia).  For example on Orthodox Wiki we read this about the saint:

Abercius is said to have evangelized extensively throughout Syria, Cilicia, and Mesopotamia traveling even to Rome, visiting cities and villages, healing the sick and preaching the Kingdom of God. It is upon these great works that he is referred to as one Equal-to-the-Apostles. During his time in Rome, Abercius is said to have been imprisoned by Marcus Aurelius.

After returning to Hieropolis, St. Abercius reposed about 167.


And from OCA webpage we read a slightly more embellished life with some typical ‘miracles’ that commonly appear in the lives of saints to make them appear more saintly:

Saint Abercius, Bishop and Wonderworker of Hieropolis lived in the second century in Phrygia. The city of Hieropolis was inhabited by many pagans and very few Christians. The saint prayed to the Lord for the salvation of their souls and that they might be numbered among God’s chosen flock. An angel appeared and bade Saint Abercius to destroy the idols in the pagan temple. He fulfilled the command of God with zeal. Hearing that the idol-worshippers wanted to kill him, the saint went to the place where the people had gathered and openly denounced the failings of the pagans. The pagans tried to seize the saint.

At this moment three demon-possessed youths in the crowd cried out. The people were dumbfounded, as the saint expelled the devils from them by his prayers. Seeing the youths restored to normal, the people of Hieropolis asked Saint Abercius to instruct them in the Christian Faith, and then they accepted Holy Baptism.


After this the saint went to the surrounding cities and villages, healing the sick and preaching the Kingdom of God. With his preaching he made the rounds of Syria, Cilicia, Mesopotamia, he visited Rome and everywhere he converted multitudes of people to Christ. For many years he guarded the Church against heretics, he confirmed Christians in the Faith, he set the prodigal upon the righteous path, he healed the sick and proclaimed the glory of Christ. Because of his great works, Saint Abercius is termed “Equal of the Apostles.”


Saint Abercius returned home to Hieropolis, where he soon rested from his labors. After his death, many miracles took place at his tomb. He wrote his own epitaph, and it was carved on his tombstone, which is now in the Lateran Museum.