Selected from the letters and homilies of Elder Ephraim
1. Now in the springtime, when nature is wearing its most beautiful apparel, one feels inexpressible joy when this natural beauty is accompanied by a sublime spiritual state. Truly, our holy God has made all things in wisdom! [(cf. Ps. 103:26 (All quotes from the Old Testament are from the Septuagint )]. The soul cannot get enough of beholding the beauty of nature. Oh, if man would only lift his mind above this earthly realm to the heavenly Jerusalem, to the inconceivable beauty of paradise where the finite, earthly mind ceases to operate! If here in exile, in this accursed land of weeping, our holy God has given us so much beauty to enjoy, I wonder how much there will be in the place where God Himself dwells! Truly, “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the coming glory and bliss.” (cf. Rom. 8:18 ). Theosis in the heavens, my child! There the Lord our God will remove every tear from our eyes, and do away with all sorrow and pain and sighing, for there the angelic way of life reins, and the only work is to chant hymns and spiritual odes! An eternal Sabbath is prepared for us where we shall live in joy with our Father, God, Who is waiting for us to be ready so that He may call us to Him forever! There every saved soul will live in an ocean of love, sweetness, joy, amazement, and wonder!
2. A time will come, the hour will strike, the moment will arrive for these eyes to close and for the soul’s eyes to open. Then we shall see a new world, new beings, a new creation, a new life without end. Its title is: “Infinite Immortality,” the great homeland, incorruptible and everlasting—the heavenly Jerusalem, the mother of the firstborn, where redeemed souls, which have been washed of their impurity by the blood of the innocent Lamb, will dwell!
Who is able to express in words or with a pen the joy, the exaltation, the bliss of those blessed saved souls? Blessed are they who have died in the Lord, for the riches of God’s goodness awaits them. Blessed is he who wins the “lottery” for the heavenly festival, for riches that cannot be taken away, for the glory that God Himself has described: “sons of the Most High, children of God, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.” Before the Passion, the Lord entreated His heavenly Father on behalf of His disciples and those who would believe through them: “Father, I desire that they also whom Thou hast given Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which Thou hast given Me; for Thou didst love Me before the foundation of the world.” (Jn. 17:24 ).
How great is Jesus’ love for us! He took on human nature and was hanged upon the Cross, giving us freedom and paying off our debt to His heavenly Father. And as a dear brother, He makes us worthy of jointly inheriting the infinite wealth of His heavenly Father! Oh, what love for us! Oh, how cold we are to Him! Oh, how ungrateful I am towards my Benefactor! My God, my God, have pity on me, and do not condemn me as I deserve because of my deeds!
3. Just as God has spiritually united us with an unbreakable bond, likewise may He count us worthy to be together in His heavenly kingdom, so that we may dine at the spiritual table and delight in His divine fare, united with the heavenly Father, in Whom the everlasting rivers of His divine waters flow. Oh, what a great calling! Oh, how rich are the fruits of transitory afflictions! The children of God will be adorned with heavenly garments; the divine features in their faces will appear radiant; they will enter into the paternal legacy—the eternal repose! They will go about those heavenly dwellings, and beholding those boundless riches, they will remain in ecstasy* without realizing that eons are passing! Oh, what a great calling for man! But two distressing thoughts blemish this good meditation***. The first one is that I shall not participate in all of this glorious blessedness—this is just a meditation now, but later it will take on flesh and bones, in other words, it will materialize. The second one is that people live their lives in ignorance of this great calling, and consequently this ignorance gives rise to separation from God, and spiritual death.
O my God, Lord of Sabaoth, enlighten the darkness of our hearts that we may see Thee, the true light, the blessed light that enlightens and gladdens the hearts of Thy friends. Enlighten us that we may follow Thee until the eternal rest.
One experiences ecstasy when, with the synergy of grace, detaches his nous from reason and the surrounding environment and brings it back to the heart. Then, "through the heart the nous ascends to God", according to St. Gregory Palamas. During ecstasy, the nous** is found in a different, spiritual realm. It is not a respite of the actions of the soul and nous, but a respite of physical actions, such as eating, sleeping, etc.
The English word that best conveys the meaning of the Greek word "νους" is the word "mind". The Fathers use this term with several other meanings, too.
The term "meditation", as used by the Holy Fathers, indicates a thoughtful reflection or pondering upon a certain aspect of the faith, e.g., the Incarnation. God's mercy, the Crucifixion, the Transfiguration, one's sinfulness, etc. This is quite different from what is known as "Eastern meditation", which is the use of various psychosomatic techniques intended to bring about self-identification with a "supreme being" (or so-called "deity"), an "impersonal reality", or even nothingness. On the other hand, for an Orthodox Christian, meditation brings about humility, gratitude, and love, and is a preparation for prayer, which is a personal experience of the one, true, living God.
4. Everything will pass and will end as if had never existed, whereas works done in God will remain with the soul that worked them so that the worker may reap eternal life from them. Blessed are the spiritual philosophers of God, who give away transient things and store up eternal things, so that when they depart, they will find their treasures in God’s treasury with accrued interest. Blessed are they who clean their hearts from the weeds of sin and cultivate the good seed, for the time will come for them to reap sheaves of eternal life! Blessed are they who sow tears with spiritual fasting, that is, always hungering and thirsting for good works, for they will reap eternal joy!
5. All the labor, toil, and temptations in this life, my blessed child, cannot be compared with that blessed life. Even if we had thousands of lives and sacrificed them all, we would not have done anything significant in comparison with the future glory in which Christ the Master longs to establish us through His precious and life-giving Blood! This is why the Apostle Paul says, “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Rom. 8:18 ). Furthermore, reflect that man “withers like a flower and passes like a dream,” (cf. Is. 40:6-8 ), and that “when the trumpet sounds, all the dead will rise as if in an earthquake” (cf. 2 Thes. 4:16 ) to meet Christ. When the door of the age to come opens, and when the present world is destroyed, then our nature will be restored to its original state. The Lord “will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body.” (Phil. 3:21 ). Our nature, which groans and travails together with all of creation, (cf. Rom. 8:22 ), awaits the glorious revealing of the children of God with an intence yearning. “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.” (Rom. 8:19 ). The grandeur of man, whom God raises to such heights and glory, is unrivaled! Yet we passionate sinners are unaware of and indifferent to these great riches, and our way of thinking is completely earthly. Just think: this body which is fetid dirt is counted worthy to be conformed to God’s glory, to become angelic! (cf. Phil. 3:21 ). Now, men are material in comparison to the angels, which are purely spiritual beings. Angels in comparison to God are somewhat “material”. They are not purely spiritual as God is, Who is unapproachable light. In this manner men will also become angelic then. Then, a single unity of the fullness of the Church, of the faithful with Christ will occur. How tenderly and paternally our Lord puts it: “Father,” He said to His Father, “I desire that they also whom Thou hast given Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which Thou hast given Me” (Jn. 17:24 ). Can worldly riches compare with these words of God? If only we were there where our Lord is—where angels shudder and tremble to approach! O hidden wisdom and infinite wealth of God!
6. Do not forget your goal, my child. Look into heaven and see the beauty that awaits us. What are the present, earthly things? Aren’t they but ashes and dust and a dream? Don’t we see that everything here is subject to decay? Whereas things above are everlasting, the kingdom of God is endless, and blessed is he who will dwell in it, for he will behold the glory of His divine face! My child, do not forget that we are in this world only temporarily and that our life dangles by a thread and that all the desirable things in the world are vain. So, whoever despises the vain things of the world—in other words, does not passionately desire them—will participate in the eternal good things. So, when we have this knowledge of the truth, naturally we shall turn the eyes of our soul at every moment towards the eternal life, towards the heavenly Jerusalem, where the choirs of angels chant godly canticles of ineffable sweetness and wisdom. Oh, my children, how much glory your souls will have when after death they ascend to the heavens and are numbered with the angels in heaven!
7. Let us glorify the risen Lord, Who counted us worthy to celebrate His holy Resurrection. Let us pray that He will also count us worthy to celebrate the eternal Sabbath in the heavens, in the new Jerusalem, in the eternal joy. “And no one will take this joy away from you (cf. Jn. 16:22 ). Indeed, my child, for earthly joy is followed by sorrows which can annihilate it, whereas heavenly joy is not, because it flows continuously as if from an inexhaustible and life-giving spring.
Let us compel ourselves in our Christian duties in order to be able to celebrate the eternal Pascha, close to our Christ and see Him face to face for our blessed enjoyment, without it being interrupted anymore by trials and despair.
8. I sent you a letter in which I wrote a few things about the paradise; I hope this pleased you. Ah, if you could only see a little bit of paradise, if you could only hear for a few seconds the chanting of the sweet angels who shine with heavenly light and emit paradisiacal fragrance! Oh, what beauty! Unfortunately, we are in the dark about all these things. There everything shines with limitless bliss. And what does the throne of Christ tell you? Christ the Master sits upon a throne, and due to His light no one can discern His sacred and most sweet face. Oh, what sweetness and beauty! What is more beautiful than this? This is truly paradise: to behold the face of our Jesus! Glory to Thy Cross, O Lord, and to Thy Resurrection! O depth of the wisdom of God! O mysteries of the threesun Deity! Blessed is he who humbles himself like a child, obeying all commands with a guileless soul for the love of God! And woe to him who will hold on to his egotism, like me; how many divine gifts does he deprive himself of! My children, run with humility to reach the Lord Who humbled Himself for our sake—our sweetest, beloved Christ, the light of our poor souls. See what beauty awaits us! If you could only see how beautiful it is! You would disregard everything; you would even become like trash to be stepped on, just as long as you would not be deprived of everything that the sweet love of Jesus has prepared! These are the kinds of things my Elder used to tell me, and I am conveying them to you so that you may be sweetened. I am done—forgive me!
9. I, however, am not fit for paradise, because my works notify me in advance that I am only fit for hell.
The Apostle Paul speaks to us about paradise very beautifully. He was caught up to the third heaven (vid. 1 Cor. 12:2 ) and to the beauty of the kingdom of heaven and cried out in ecstasy, “How lovely and exquisitely beautiful the kingdom of God is, which cannot be compared with any earthly beauty!” Paradise is so beautiful that the eye of man has never been able to see such beauty. Likewise, a human ear has never heard sweeter chanting, since in heaven angelic choirs chant incomparably sweeter than the most sweet-voiced nightingales!
The Apostle Paul goes on to say that man has never conceived what God has prepared in heaven, in paradise, for His children. Indeed, it is the truth that if we knew the spiritual pleasures of paradise, we would be patient in every situation in order to gain it. Whereas now, because of our ignorance, we do the opposite and thus go far away from it!
Oh, if we only knew what paradise is! The human mind is unable to conceive the magnitude of its beauty! There the choirs of angels and holy souls chant incessantly-an eternal Pascha! There, souls converse with exultation. They talk about how they passed this vain life and how much God helped them to escape hell and to repose in this blissfull place of God! They offer endless thanks to God for this tremendous mercy of His, that He gave them paradise!
What is paradise? It is a place full of unfading flowers, replete with divine aromas, the delight of angels, Paschal life, divine eros, ceaseless doxology of God, and an eternal life! So then, it is worth struggling for- but how insignificant our struggle is in light of this “fantastic,” so to speak, paradise!
Oh, paradise, how beautiful you are! Your beauty allures me and changes me into a different person. Why shouldn’t I endeavor and struggle properly to obtain you?
My God, our Lord, deliver us from accursed pride, so that guided by holy humility we may become inhabitants of sweetest paradise. Amen; so be it.