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Reading the Gospel. Address of Mother Superior Domnika to the Sisters of the Convent.

Why should we read the Gospel? Some of us might consider it superfluous to cover this question in detail. We all read the Gospel every day and know that this is a duty of any Christian. But the point is that sometimes we underestimate this duty and forget, what the Gospel is. It is a living Word of God. The Lord Himself speaks with us through the Gospel.

When we take the Gospel in our hands, we should be indifferent to everything, avoid any reflection and simply immerse our mind in the miracles of God [1], as the Reverend Isaak Sirin mentions.

Each time when we open this book, we should meet our God. As one of the contemporary spiritual advisers says, when we read the Gospel, we can tell ourselves: The event described by the evangelical is my personal event as well. And I also witness a revelation now. This revelation is Jesus Christ Himself, Who reveals Himself to me when I read His words. He is the living God, Who looks at me, listens to me and replies to me. Today He will tell me something new, that is meant specifically for me and for this particular day. His words will fill my mind and my heart and will be the intrinsic cause for my further decisions and actions. Therefore it is very important that when we read the Gospel our minds remain free of any contemplations and concerns. The mind should be unoccupied, and only then it will be filled with the presence of God.

When we turn our attention to grand ascetics, we see that they shared the aforementioned view on how the Gospel should be read. The hermit who lived not so long ago, Mother Superior Arseniya (Sebryakova) advised:

Some prefer to read canticles or canons, but I prefer the Gospel. When one reads the Gospel a concealed knowledge is revealed to the soul. The Gospel is Jesus Christ Himself. And if my soul is troubled, if external affairs and worries are a burden for me, whenever I have a spare minute I hurry to open the Gospel and read at least a few words At once I feel relieved, my soul is soothed, as if the Gospel washes all the burden off my soul! [2].

The history of the Church knows many miraculous examples, when the God through the Gospel showed His divine power, instructed people, supported them on their path to salvation. I would like to refer to some of them. I will start with a very vivid example that is mentioned in the book Frank Stories that the Pilgrim Told His Confessor. One of the interlocutors of the pilgrim, who is the main character, tells him how in his youth he met a fascinating young Frenchman, who became his friend, and they led quite a flippant high life. So, one day this friend came to him to invite him to yet another celebration, and sitting in his study suddenly asked him to leave the study and move to the living room:

This seemed strange to me, so I told him I had already noticed a couple of times that he didnt like to be in my study and asked him to explain the reason Dodging the question he tried to insist on leaving the study and finally frankly told me the following: I see the Gospel among other books on this shelf, I respect this book so much that it is hard for me to speak about our flippant matters in the presence of this book. Please, take it away from here and then we will speak freely. Being frivolous then I smiled at his words, took the Gospel from the shelf and commented: You should have told me long ago!. And handing him the book I said: Here, you take it to another room! As soon as I touched him with the Gospel, he trembled and disappeared. This impressed me so much that I fainted because of fright. My family heard the noise, they ran to my room and wasted half an hour trying to bring me round [3].

After this incident the unfortunate young man needed a whole year to recover. During those sad times he found comfort only in one thing, in reading the Gospel.

Thus, even the sight of the Gospel frightens and drives demons out, the book itself, the very book that we hold in our hands so often.

But of course the primary power is in the words of the Gospel the words that were written by the Holy Ghost. Sometimes the influence of these words is so strong that a person becomes absolutely different in no time at all. I would like to draw an example, so that you can realize the power of the Word of God. St. Nicholas of Serbia describes an incident that happened not so long ago, in the early twentieth century. A single phrase from the Gospel completely changed the notorious Japanese bandit Tokiso Isi, who robbed and killed people. This happened to him when he was in jail waiting for the verdict for his crimes:

Once being just bored Tokiso reached for a book standing on the shelf. He read the title: The New Testament of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He leafed through the book and selected at random several phrases to read, the phrases didnt impress him much, so he put the book back on the shelf. A few days went by. He took the book once again and opened it on the page, where the passions of Christ were described. Reading the book he was indignant with the Pilate and the Jews for the unjust trial and because they sentenced a righteous person to death. Then he also remembered that he had murdered a geisha and that the innocent Komori would be sentenced to death, just like Jesus. Reading with increasing attention, Tokiso virtually dug into the outline of events, willing to learn what would finally happen with Jesus. But coming across the words: Jesus said: Father! Forgive them, for they know not what they are doing, he closed the book. He felt as if someone struck him in his heart with a needle. Can this be true? It is absolutely unprecedented that someone, who is tortured like Jesus, right before his death forgives His enemies! Tokiso couldnt even imagine this! Thats how he verbalizes his thoughts: I think that the primary enemy of any man is a person, who threatens the life of this man. Indeed, no other enemy can be more dangerous. And exactly when the butchers take Jesus life, He prays for them to God: Father! Forgive them, for they know not what they are doing. Can I make any conclusions other than that Jesus was the Son of God? I also thought that each ordinary man felt wrath and other loathsome passions even when a little harm was done to him. However Jesus prayed for his enemies the very moment when they were taking His life, and the most precious life, too, which absolutely nothing in the world can replace. Such behaviour is absolutely impossible for an ordinary man. And thus we have to admit and say: HE WAS GOD.

As St. Nicholas tells us, later this person repented of his criminal life and admitted his murder to the authorities.

We also need to purify our souls. And God allows us to do this through reading the Gospel. I would like to point out once again that we should read the Gospel with simplicity and with no reflection at all. When we start reading the Gospel rationally, trying to interpret the words to our understanding, the light of the Gospel fades away and we see nothing but letters. And on the contrary, when we manage to be humble and read with simplicity and faith, leaving aside rationality, we can see the Living God in the Gospel again. Then the very perception of the Gospel changes, each word of the book becomes a source of deep feelings. And if we read the Gospel this way, i.e. with childlike simplicity and faith, we will gradually rid ourselves of passions and obtain virtues. Maybe we will not even notice this happening, but this will surely happen, and as time passes we will see these miraculous changes in ourselves.

I would like to draw another example from the book Frank Stories of the Pilgrim, which clearly shows that reading the Gospel unnoticeably rids the soul of severe diseases. The pilgrim heard this story from a captain. Years ago the captain was a hard drinker and he didnt know how to struggle with this passion, until one day God sent him unexpected help. Once a monk visited his quarters with a jug for donations, and they started a conversation Having learnt the calamity of the captain, the man of God advised him that he should read the Gospel, whenever he felt like drinking. The captain followed his advice, although without much hope. He read the Gospel, whenever he felt an urge to drink and in a few months he noticed that this passion stopped torturing him.

This incident is a very proper example for all of us. One can get dizzy not only when one drinks wine, but also when one feels a certain passion. Wrath, fornication, dejection and vanity cloud our minds no less than wine. But each of us has an opportunity, just like this captain, to read the Gospel whenever she feels one of these passions. And each of us, if following this advice, will surely witness the wholesome influence of the words of the Gospel.

One can compare reading the Gospel with praying. During our prayer we stand before God and ask Him to show mercy on us, and reading the Gospel we also see Christ in our mind and expect mercy, advice and encouragement from Him. Father Superior Andrey (Mashkov) used to say that one should read the Gospel similarly to saying the prayers. Attention and diligence are most important for praying, and when reading the Gospel we should also try to be inwardly concentrated, to devote our mind to the Word of God, leaving aside all thoughts whatsoever.

Reverend fathers also compare reading the Gospel with continuous inward prayer, i.e. with Jesus Prayer. They say that the Divine name of Jesus Christ embodies all Gospel truth and that Jesus Prayer is an abridged Gospel itself. And telling us how to read the Gospel, reverend fathers give us a piece of advice that is absolutely suitable for exercising Jesus Prayer.

E.g. the Reverend Efrem Sirin mentions that one should read with diligence and great attention, as if we were supposed to retell what we have just read. It is interesting that Father Andrey (Mashkov) practiced this advice of the reverend father. Sometimes he would come to one of the sisters and ask her to retell the Gospel that was read that day during the divine service. And if she couldnt remember, he would say: You were not at the service. I suppose you were on the market. And we must read and listen to the Gospel, as if one could later on ask us to retell it.

Saint John Chrysostom mentions that demons hate when one reads the Gospel, and they try to do everything possible to prevent one from reading. Just like during the prayer, we should pay no attention to their distractions:

When you read, make sure that the enemy doesnt disturb you saying: finish this business fist and then you will read light-heartedly. When he gives you this advice, he tries to keep you with this business from reading and receiving great benefits. When the devil sees a person reading with effort and effect, he attacks this person with the aforementioned methods as well as numerous others, trying to prevent the person from reading.

Reverend fathers mentioned that reading the Gospel and praying are coherent, one follows the other. But how? It happens quite often that when we pray we wish not only to address God, but also to hear a reply from Him. And we receive this reply through the Gospel. This happens when certain words of the Gospel not only become clear to ones mind, but reach the depths of ones being and echo in ones heart. Not only do we logically understand that we should obey a certain commandment, but we feel it in our heart. It is then that we stop being just hearers of the Word of God and turn to creators.

But of course this doesnt happen at once. To reach the state when the Gospel changes our minds and hearts, we have to exercise reading the Gospel for a long time and very often. And in this connection I would like to emphasize yet another very important similarity between praying and reading the Gospel, namely the necessity to be consistent. Sometimes we do lack this quality. It happens that we are inspired by the advice of reverend fathers and start reading or praying but seeing no results over a long period of time we are disappointed and leave this deed. While constancy is a prerequisite for success of any spiritual deed.

Finally, I would like to remind you the advice of the Reverend Ignaty (Bryanchaninov) that one should read the Gospel not only with ones eyes and mind, but with ones whole life. Only if and when we obey the commandments of the Gospel we can witness the secret meaning and great power of the Word of God.

1. Ascetic Advice of the Reverend Isaak Sirin, .: Sretensky Monastery, Article of Faith, 2002, p.437.

2. Along the Path of Dream-Free Praying. Mother Superior Arseniya and nun Ardaliona, who has taken vows of schema. .: Sretensky Monastery, 1999, p. 91.

3. Frank Stories that the Pilgrim Told His Confessor. .: The Orthodox Theological Institute of Saint Tikhon, 2002, p. 235237.

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