Elizaveta Yurievna Pilenko (1891-1945), murdered in the concentration camp at Ravensbrück who became known as Mother Mary Skobtsova of Paris, was, as is every saint in their own way, a conquering voice. The word of God proceeds from them, conquering sin and death both inside and outside the Church, and returns to God having accomplished the work for which it was sent.
“It would be a great lie to tell searching souls ‘go to church because there you will find peace.’ The opposite is true. Go to church because there you will feel real alarm about your sins, about your perdition, about the world’s sins and perdition. There you will feel an unappeasable hunger for Christ’s truth. There, instead of lukewarm, you will become ardent, instead of pacified you will become alarmed. Instead of learning the wisdom of this world you will become foolish in Christ…
Freedom calls us to act the Fool for Christ’s sake, at variance with enemies and even friends, to develop the life of the Church in just that way in which it is most difficult. And we shall live as Fools, since we know not only the difficulty of this way of life, but also the exaltation of sensing God’s hand on our work.” — Mother Mary of Paris
25 And in the fourth watch of the night (fourth watch = 3-6am) he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out for fear. 27 But immediately he spoke to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” 28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; 30 but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14.25-31)
The hours between 3am and 6am.
The passages of Scripture associated with this time are numerous.
Keeping watch is synonymous with vigilance. It involves the edge where the temptation to turn away and to give in to slumber is great. Here the struggle is real not theoretical. Here the challenge is to avow or deny. Peter denied Jesus at “cockcrow” – the dawn – during the fourth watch. Here is where the saying is true, “It is darkest before the dawn.”
Here is where, “a little before dawn” Jesus made His first resurrection appearance (Luke 24.1).
The struggle to trust and not fear.
It is here that we ask, “Was that real or did I dream it?!”
It is here that the shadow of death becomes the morning (Amos 5.8). This is the place where what God creates. The new day dawns for us (Psalm 118.24).
It is the “time between times.” The liminal place where the change from one thing to another takes place. It is the place of transformation.
The threshold. The doorway.
The baptismal font.
It is here that Jesus “stands at the door and knocks.”
How can we watch if our eyes are closed? How can we watch if we are blind? How can we watch unless we can see and choose to see?
So, it is here where the heart is purified and the eyes are healed. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” It is essential to keep watch in this place. To stand and having stood, to stand.
Let us open to Him. Let us be attentive ! !
“So be ready in the morning to come up on Mount Sinai and to present yourself to Me there on top of the mountain.” (Exodus 34.1)
The morning watch is essential. You must not face the day until you have faced God, nor look into the face of others until you have looked into His. You cannot expect to be victorious, if the day begins only in your own strength.
Face the work of every day with the influence of a few thoughtful, quiet moments with your heart and God. Do not meet other people, even those of your own home, until you have first met the great Guest and honored Companion of your life–Jesus Christ.
Meet Him alone. Meet Him regularly. Meet Him with His open Book of counsel before you; and face the regular and the irregular duties of each day with the influence of His personality definitely controlling your every act.
Begin the day with God!
He is thy Sun and Day!
His is the radiance of thy dawn;
To Him address thy lay.
Sing a new song at morn!
Join the glad woods and hills;
Join the fresh winds and seas and plains,
Join the bright flowers and rills.
Sing thy first song to God!
Not to thy fellow men;
Not to the creatures of His hand,
But to the glorious One.
Take thy first walk with God!
Let Him go forth with thee;
By stream, or sea, or mountain path,
Seek still His company.
Thy first transaction be
With God Himself above;
So shall thy business prosper well,
And all the day be love.
The men who have done the most for God in this world have been early upon their knees. Matthew Henry used to be in his study at four, and remain there till eight; then, after breakfast and family prayer, he used to be there again till noon; after dinner, he resumed his book or pen till four, and spent the rest of the day in visiting his friends.
Doddridge himself alludes to his “Family Expositor” as an example of the difference of rising between five and seven, which, in forty years, is nearly equivalent to ten years more of life.
Dr. Adam Clark’s “Commentary” was chiefly prepared very early in the morning. Barnes’ popular and useful “Commentary” has been also the fruit of “early morning hours.”
Simeon’s “Sketches” were chiefly worked out between four and eight.
Source: Streams in the Desert, March 3, by Cowman
As I rise from sleep, I thank Thee, O Holy Trinity, for through Thy great goodness and patience Thou wast not angry with me, an idler and sinner, nor hast Thou destroyed me with mine iniquities, but hast shown Thy usual love for mankind; and when I was prostrate in despair, Thou hast raised me up to keep the morning watch and glorify Thy power. And now enlighten my mind’s eye, and open my mouth that I many meditate on Thy words, and understand Thy commandments, and do Thy will, and hymn Thee, in heartfelt confession, and sing praises to Thine all-holy name: of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Source: Orthodox Morning Prayers
My brothers and sisters. The new day dawns. This prayer, along with all the prayers of the Morning Office, are to enter into, by repentance, the victorious life – the light of life – which is Christ Jesus. It is, for us, not the day of picnicking. It is the day of battle. The day to work out our salvation with fear and trembling in the arena.
11 And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. (Romans 13.11-14 — NKJV)
You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives. All condemnation is from the devil. Never condemn each other. We condemn others only because we shun knowing ourselves. When we gaze at our own failings, we see such a swamp that nothing in another can equal it. That is why we turn away, and make much of the faults of others. Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace. Keep silent, refrain from judgment. This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult and outrage and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil.
–St. Seraphim of Sarov
Source: Enlarging the Heart (BTW, I am very grateful for this wonderful blogsite. It is a true blessing.)
The gospel readings remind me that, in view of the fact that that this gospel could be “best understood” and “most effectively lived” by “uneducated men” (Acts 4.13), the commonest of people who populated ancient Palestine (the fools !!), it must be a matter of the heart not the head. It points to the presence of a deep intuition that is not acquired but already present though inaccessible to us. Not achieved via the doctorate or the tickling of the emotions, but via the heart and the pouring out of life via “two copper coins.”
There is one thing needful and one thing only – the simplicity and mysterious quietness of an unrelenting hunger and thirst for righteousness (right relationship of synergistic union). The spirit of Mary. My Martha self and its attachment to education and emotional comfort can be the biggest roadblocks (distractions) to “understanding” and “living (working) out” of salvation in course of everyday life.
Ironic that these two – education and emotional comfort – are among the major goals of our post-Enlightenment social matrix.
Perhaps this is what I need to fast from – educated-ness and the false comfort it offers.
I have too many books and not enough silence. I need to spend more time engaged in what Elder Sophrony taught rather than reading about what Elder Sophrony taught…
The permutations of my familiar demon – the educated Thomas – are seemingly endless.
Twists and turns abound… Perhaps my road to hell is lined with bookshelves and comfortable leather library chairs…
Someone has said to me about all of this, “God is simple and still. We can only be with Him if we are simple and still.”
God grant me the mercy of this fast — simplicity and stillness. Not to fix but to heal.