The Life of St Mary of Egypt: http://www.comeandseeicons.com/groups/udn03.htm
Sermon on the Sunday of Great Lent: Fr. Hopko
TROPARION OF ST. MARY OF EGYPT
The image of God was truly preserved in you, O Mother Mary, for you took up the cross and followed Christ. By so doing, you taught us to disregard the flesh, for it passes away; but to care instead for the soul, since it is immortal. Therefore your spirit, O Holy Mother Mary, rejoices with the angels
Troparion, tone 8
In thee, O Mother, was exactly preserved what was according to the divine image. For thou didst take the cross and follow Christ, and by thy life, didst teach us to ignore the flesh, since it is transitory, but to care for the soul as an immortal thing. Therefore, thy spirit, St. Mary, rejoices with the Angels.
Kontakion, tone 4
Having escaped the fog of sin, and having illumined thy heart with the light of penitence, O glorious one, thou didst come to Christ and didst offer to Him His immaculate and holy Mother as a merciful intercessor. Hence thou hast found remission of transgressions, and with the Angels thou ever rejoicest.
Writings of the Holy Fathers:
Saint Theophan the Recluse
IS IT SUFFICIENT ONLY TO BELIEVE IN CHRIST
IN ORDER TO BE SAVED?
Compiled from the works of St. Theophan the Recluse
[Note: The following text written by an Orthodox saint follows the general impression received from Protestants who teach people “Once saved, always saved,” meaning that once one has received Christ as his personal Lord and Saviour that one cannot but go to heaven. (Webmaster)]
According to Protestant teaching, if one has believed in Christ, one is saved, that is, one’s sins are forgiven. According to this belief one does not have to fear falls, and virtues will proceed from the heart by themselves. Christ is within the believer and will not abandon him for any reason, paradise and the kingdom of heaven are his, etc.
All that is left to do is to rejoice: there will be no more labors, no fears, no struggles with the passions – the road will be smooth and full of gladness. And it is no wonder that many cling to this teaching. It is very attractive. However, there is no truth in it, but only deception. In order to refute this false teaching, Theophan the Recluse begins by directing our attention to the way into the kingdom of heaven as described in the word of God.
The Savior said: “Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in therein…” [Matt. 7:13]. And He further taught: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” [Matt. 16:24]. “The kingdom of heaven is taken by force (i.e., by forcing oneself and by the earnest labor in searching), and the forceful (i.e., those who force themselves to labor without feeling sorry for themselves), take it by force” [Matt. 11:12].
The holy Apostle Paul writes: “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” [Philippians 2:12]. “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” [2 Cor. 7:1]. By all means strive that “…your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” [1 Thess. 5:23]. If you want to be a true Christian, imitate those who are of Christ, for they have”…crucified the flesh with the affectations and lusts” [Gal. 5:24].
After that, St. Theophan with special force points out how strict the commandments of the Savior are concerning passionless and purity of heart, and how much attention and labor are needed to fulfill them. Do not dare to allow the slightest impulse of displeasure or anger against your brother: sin the slightest in this and you are already judged and in Gehenna [Matt. 5:22]. Meanwhile, we have another serious conflict. With regard to the opposite sex, how severe! One has only to glance in an improper way and already there is lust, and again Gehenna [Matt. 5:28-29]. And for judging others, how strict is the sentence! He who judges, in that very moment when he judges, and for that act alone, even if there are no others, is already judged, and not just some empty judgement like one’s own, but judged by God, immovable and eternal [Matt. 7:1]. Even for every idle word one must answer [Matt. 12:36], and concerning a loose tongue, who can tame it [James 3:8]? Therefore, what strict attention one must pay to oneself and how vigilantly one must labor over oneself!
If the trifles which we do not now consider to be sins are dealt such strict sentences and judgements, then what can be said about serious sins and passions? They are so abhorrent to the Holy Spirit and Christ that they should not even be brought to mind by Christians. If they are in the heart of one who desires to enter the kingdom of heaven, undoubtedly it is necessary to drive them out of there. What labors it requires and what battles with oneself.
Take the passion of lust, or take pride or vainglory, take stinginess, envy, lewdness, self-will and disobedience, or whatever passion you take, the eradication of it requires bloody sweat and tears. Therefore, see how those are forced to torment themselves who are entangled with some kind of passion and have undertaken to uproot it. One cannot reassure oneself that all of one’s sins are forgiven simply by the Cross of Christ and simply by approaching the Lord with faith. Whoever reassures himself with this hope and neglects the cleansing of his heart is deceiving himself. In the Mysteries of Baptism and Repentance indeed all former sins are completely blotted out and already forgotten. But then having once received from God such mercy, one must thereafter guard oneself from all sin, from all passionate impulses, attractions and thoughts. With the forgiveness of former sins one is given the grace of the Holy Spirit in order to help eradicate from the heart those harmful habits and passions which remain in it and give birth to further sin. If one begins to sin again, this deprives him of the gift and again he enters the ranks of the unforgiven and graceless. That is why those who are zealous for the salvation of their souls, following their conversion to the Lord, immediately begin, with the help of the grace of God, a battle with their passions and lusts, an unyielding battle.
So then, this – and not rejoicing – is what greets those who come to the Lord in faith. While being preoccupied with rejoicing one cannot fight with passions. Such a struggle does not even begin in these cases. Passions will remain in such a person, turning him into a whitened sepulchre, the outside beautiful, but the inside filled with dead men’s bones. Such people call themselves blessed, with such words as: “How fortunate I am! How glad I am! Christ has saved me, Christ has taken away my sins, Christ has granted me paradise!” Whereas Christ, looking at them, judges them righteously and condemns them to Gehenna.
The necessity of cleansing ourselves from all things sinful and passionate in order to inherit the kingdom of heaven, St. Theophan supports by example of God’s Saints. In the lives of the Saints, those who pleased and glorified God, we are told that they conducted their entire lives in struggles of self-modification and in labors by occupying themselves in virtues with unceasing recourse to God and to the source of grace – the Sacraments of the Church. This brought them at last into a state where evil inclinations and passions were completely removed from their souls and bodies; and instead of them there were installed good inclinations. When by this means all sins and passions are cast out, human nature again takes on its pure, original appearance; their spirit, soul, and body, permeated with grace, shine with divine light, which serves as an obvious sign that they finally became temples of the Triune God, as the Lord Jesus Christ promised.
Here are the most important of these points and the basis for the refutation of each of them:
ALL WHO BELIEVE IN CHRIST ARE ALREADY SAVED.
One cannot agree with this. All those who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ have only stepped onto the path which truly and undoubtedly will lead to salvation, but they are saved when they finish this path without fail and without falling away. Therefore, according to the Evangelist Mark the Lord says: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved…” [Mark 16:16], but is not saved yet.
HAVING BELIEVED IN CHRIST, THROUGH THIS ALONE
ONE APPROPRIATES TO HIMSELF THE GRACE OF REDEMPTION.
This is not enough. The Lord redeemed us by His Blood, or by His death upon the Cross. We acquire the redeeming power of the Lord’s death in the Mystery of Holy Baptism, as the Apostle Paul explains [Romans 6:4]. Here man is crucified with Christ, washed in His Blood, and cleansed from sin. This power is renewed in the Mystery of Repentance, which is a second baptism in the font of tears. Faith precedes and accompanies both of these Mysteries, but faith alone, without these Mysteries, does not attract and does not renew the redeeming power of the Lord’s death on the Cross. Even with these Mysteries, faith alone does not attract such power, but is accomplished together with contrition of heart for sins, firm resolve to live a holy life, and confession of sins to a spiritual father.
ALL WHO HAVE BELIEVED IN CHRIST ANDARE CONVINCED
OF FORGIVENESS OF THEIR SINS THROUGH THIS,
RECEIVE CHRIST INTO THEMSELVES.
From where have they taken this? asks St. Theophan, and then he points out how the Lord and the holy Apostles taught how one receives Christ in oneself. St. Paul writes: “As many as have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ” [Gal. 3:27]. Having put on Christ, one, of course, has received Him into oneself. Therefore, whoever has been baptized has become a receiver of Christ in himself. The Lord said: “He that eateth My Flesh and drinketh My Blood abideth in Me and I in him” [John 5:56]. If the Lord abides in one who has received Communion, then it is because, certainly, in Holy Communion he receives Him. Therefore, whoever has received the Holy Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ, has become through this a receiver of Him. Faith only opens the way to the Lord, for receiving Him in the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion.
In another place in the same Evangelist, John the Theologian, the Lord shows still another way to receive Him, namely, by fulfilling His commandments. “He that hath My commandments,” says the Lord, “and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me: and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him” [John 14:21]. And further: “If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him” [John 14:23]
Do not think that this fulfilling of the commandments will open the way for the dwelling of the Lord in us in a special or separate way apart from Holy Baptism or Holy Communion. The grace of Baptism and Holy Communion gives the power to faithfully fulfill the commandments. Having fulfilled all the commandments, one adorns his soul with all virtues and makes his heart a temple worthy to be a habitation of the Lord. Only then will He dwell in him. He abides in him from the moment of Holy Baptism and even more completely communes with him in Holy Communion. Though helping him in a holy life, still the Lord does not completely rest content in him, because there does not dwell in the soul all the virtues acquired through the fulfillment of the commandments. In him are left still traces of passions and he falls into sins offensive to the Lord. He will not dwell in him, not trusting him and as yet only preparing in him a dwelling for Himself. But when the soul is sanctified by virtues, then He enters in good faith, as into a house, and dwells peacefully, undisturbed by the movement of offensive sins and passions in him…Here are all the means for accepting the Lord which He Himself has established. Without the Mysteries, neither faith nor virtues will attract the Lord.
IF WE HAVE RECEIVED CHRIST, HE WILL NEVER ABANDON US,
NO MATTER WHAT.
St. Theophan asks: “Is it possible that Christ will abide where a person, by his sins committed after receiving Him, tramples on His Blood and crucifies Him again?” [See Heb. 6:6; 10:26-29]. It is known that sins make the soul and body foul. How can those who are deluded have the audacity to claim Him while in such foulness? God Himself testifies that our sins separate Him from us. Consequently, Christ the Lord forsakes him who sins, in whom He was formerly, and the good will of the Father withdraws from him, and the grace of the Holy Spirit is driven away. There other spirits begin to rule – the unclean.
THOSE WHO HAVE RECEIVED CHRIST ARE INCAPABLE OF MORTAL SIN
In this statement there is no truth. The first among angels fell; one formerly among the Apostles fell; how many examples there are of falls of holy men of high life and wonderworkers! Freedom always remains with man. And he can fall, no matter how high he stood or close to God he was.
ONE WHO HAS RECEIVED CHRIST AND THEN SINNED AGAIN
NEED ONLY TO REPENT, AND HE INSTANTLY RECEIVES
IMMEDIATE FORGIVENESS, SINCE CHRIST IS AN INEXHAUSTIBLE
SOURCE OF COMPASSION
This statement is made in order to suggest that when a Christian sins, confession of sins and absolution from a spiritual father in the Mystery of Repentance as prescribed by God is not necessary, but that it is enough to sigh in the heart over a sin and one is immediately forgiven, as a sigh flies from the breast. Even a firm intention to refrain from sinning in the future is not required.
Indeed this is too simplistic, notes St. Theophan. The sin of every man is a great offense to God Who has written His law in our hearts. The sin of a Christian offends God incomparably more, since the Christian has received a clearer and fuller knowledge of commandments, and has received grace to strengthen him in the fulfillment of those commandments. And a Christian, who has received in himself Christ the Lord – which is the highest degree of Christian perfection – in sinning offends God immeasurably. The Apostle thus concludes that he tramples on the Blood of Christ, even crucifies Christ Himself, Whom he has received in himself, and offended the Holy Spirit.
(Source: Orthodox Life, the Brotherhood of St. Job of Pochaev at Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, N.Y., vol. 37, No. 5. Sept.-Oct. 1987., pp. 10-14.