The times in which we live are frightening, difficult, and demand some preparation on our part. Many who live near the conflict zone ask us: what should we do? What we are experiencing is nothing other than a manifestation of the illness that reigns in our world. That illness is sin, especially the sins against nature, which Father Arsenie Papacioc said are hastening the Last Judgment.
These times demand of us to repent for our sins, but also for the sins of the world. They especially exhort us to pray together with the saints of the Church. A great father of our Church, Father Zacharias of Essex, urged his monastic community to avoid speaking about the war, that instead they should pray. For whenever we pray, we receive grace, but when we speak, we lose it.
In the Gospel of Meatfare Saturday, the Savior tells us about the signs surrounding His second coming and how we should navigate them: “But when you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately… And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven…And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken…Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near…But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly…Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21.9-36).
The core is the final exhortation to be vigilant, to pray, to avoid being weighed down by drink, food, and the cares of life. Put simply, our focus should be to attract grace. Only God’s grace will help us pass over everything. Yet if our heart quavers within us and we grow weak, then we ought to pray more. You know well what Father Arsenie Papacioc would say when asked how he endured in prison: “Well, the thorn was big, so we had to pray more.” And they thus saw the living Savior in prison. So, this is an exhortation for us to pray more, and then grace will enter our heart and will strengthen us.
The Savior does not want us terrified. And if we have His grace, we will not be terrified. The model is the Mother of God. In the Akathist Hymn of the Annunciation, she is named “sealed vessel of the Holy Spirit.” Father Zacharias Zacharou says that she never lost even the smallest drop of grace from what she received. She did not open her mouth in her suffering, and in joy only once: at the Annunciation.
When we open our mouth in joy, we give occasion to envy and we lose grace. When we open our mouth in suffering, we give occasion to dissention, revolt, endless questions, and likewise we lose much grace. The secret in all our difficulties is to remain silent and to pray. In this way, grace accumulates in our heart. And the person who has God’s grace in his heart can endure all things. As an aside, the Mother of God needed the fullness of grace in order to endure the cross of her Son. According to the Fathers, faced with such immense grief, she would not have been able to live if she had not been strengthened by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
She is our model for how to endure a tribulation. As it says in the Gospel, whatever she heard, she “kept in her heart.” The words that the blessed Symeon spoke to her, as well as all the other words she heard, she kept all these things in her heart. Likewise, we should keep in our heart the prayer of today, the divine consolation of tomorrow, Psalms, Liturgy, almsgiving. We keep them there. For we need them, all of them, to live well.
This is the model for us: “sealed vessel of the Holy Spirit.” We should close our mouth. We should not follow the news, because the news doesn’t help us. We already know that the times are bad. At the present moment, the news is a major factor that causes us to lose grace and to commune with a foreign spirit, which does not help us. We need grace, not the spirit of the world or of the evil one, who creates a spectacle out of suffering by sensationalizing it. We need prayer.
I rejoiced greatly to hear that the people in Moldova, in Romania, and probably in Poland too are receiving refugees with open hearts. This is a good sign, a fulfillment of the Gospel. We also should do what we can: to pray first of all, to do acts of mercy, to have grace, to avoid being terrified. May our hearts be neither frightened nor agitated. For God does not desire this of us. An agitated heart cannot preserve grace. We need to remain calm, as much as possible, with the help of God’s grace. The state of being terrified is not normal for a Christian. The Savior was not terrified, nor was the Mother of God. They experienced suffering, but they were not terrified.
We should also be sealed vessels of the Holy Spirit. We should read the Psalter more: not only one kathisma per day, but 3, 4, even 20… in Putna Monastery, some fathers read the entire Psalter every day and some even three times per day. And I would ask them if they had many temptations for this, but they said that temptations come when they don’t read. So, if I don’t read, thoughts come. There is an image from Saint Macarius of a pot on the fire. If the fire grows weak, then flies and mice come and spoil the food, but if we put wood on the fire, then nothing bad approaches. Likewise, we now should put more wood on the fire. More Psalms, more Akathists, more prostrations, each according to his strength. Let us attract grace. Let us light our fire. If we have grace, then thoughts will not approach us and we will not be terrified. But for this, we need more fire!