An Impression of God

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An Impression of God

“If a person wants to get an idea about the pyramids of Egypt, he must either trust those who have been in immediate proximity to the pyramids, or he must get next to them himself. There is no third option. In the same way a person can get an impression of God: He must either trust those who have stood and stand in immediate proximity to God, or he must take pains to come into such proximity himself.” (St. Nicholas of Serbia, from Thoughts on Good and Evil)



You might not have a saint living in your neighborhood to consult but a pilgrimage to a monastery will bring you in contact with those who are close to God, and will also help you come closer to God. Here’s why and how:

  • “…It is an indisputably great and ancient practice of those living in the world to make pilgrimages to monasteries. Below are five of the many reasons one should….

  1. Spiritual Direction – …the goal should be to find a spiritual guide who not only preaches Christ, but lives like Christ…. to not only be “atoned before God” through a life of repentance, but through the counsels and prayers of one’s spiritual guide – who himself has attained grace – to have the Holy Spirit “come down upon us.”

  2. Spiritual Conversation and Action – One of the greatest benefits of visiting a monastery is the spiritual conversation and activity pilgrims are able to take part in. At a monastery, spiritual stories and uplifting anecdotes abound…. given the appropriate circumstance a conversation with a monastic can rear a multitude of benefits – not to mention conversations with fellow pilgrims. Whether they share a story they have heard, wisdom from the Mothers and Fathers of the Church, or even a tale from that monastery, their words inform and enlighten the pilgrim and help refocus his busy mind. Even time relaxing in the world does not refresh the soul the way a spiritual conversation does. This type of conversation, though found more rarely in the world, is often a common occurrence at a monastery…

  3. Humility -The layman… finds a helpful means to stay grounded in his spiritual life….to draw the soul away from the distracting world and into an environment of stillness and prayer, where the atmosphere is conducive to taking stock of one’s life alongside that of a dedicated monastic, and to allow the grace of the monastery to help him see his own sinfulness….the pilgrim returns to the world with greater humility of soul.

  4. Imitation – There is much to be learned and gained from spiritual books, practical guides, and the wisdom of the desert Fathers and Mothers. However, nothing compares to the spiritual benefit brought about by actually being around someone who shares in the grace of God in a deep and intimate way.

  5. Encountering Sacred Place – ….it is an agios topos, a holy place…. Coupled with the prayers of the monastics, the saints that dwell within the monastery, and the angels that protect it, there are also at least one or more chapels. The presence of a temple of God alone is enough to sanctify a place. And it is in this sanctified place that even without hearing God-inspired words or witnessing miraculous events, the pilgrim is refreshed….


Read the entire blog article about the reasons to visit a monastery.

If you are bringing children, or it is your first visit, read Visiting a Monastery: A Guide.

Directory of GOARCH Monasteries

Directory of OCA Monasteries


If I told you I had seen something or been somewhere and described it to you, would you believe me? Of course you would because I am telling you what I saw with my own eyes, experienced with my own senses! In the same way, we can read the lives of the saints and listen to the stories of what they experienced about God and learn about Him from them. While they may have lived many years before us and we never even met them, yet they are our friends and know us. They want to share with us their experience of their relationship with God so that we can learn how to have a relationship with Him also.Here are a few books and stories to get you started:

Great is the Lord, from Elder Cleopa Stories for Children, Vol1So the next time you are wondering about God, find a book to read from the lives of the saints or a church father and see what they have to say about finding Him. The more you read, the more you will learn and the closer you will come to God through His saints!

Middle School:

You may have heard the term ‘standing on the shoulders of giants.’ What does this mean? The dictionary definition is: “To make discoveries, insights, or progress due to the discoveries or previous work of great minds that have come before.” The term is often used in the realm of scientific discoveries and it was a quote from Isaac Newton “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”If we can use this in the scientific world, can we use this in the spiritual world? Of course, we must! If our most important task is to know God and we can get an impression of Him through someone who has been in close contact with Him, then who are these ‘giants of the church’? They are the saints and holy church fathers and elders. We ‘stand on their shoulders’ when we read the works they have written in order to gain spiritual insight into coming to know God and have our own relationship with Him.Here is a link to 300 Sayings of the Ascetics of the Orthodox Church. Try to read a new one every day to understand what they discovered about God and perhaps you will discover something about Him too!

High School:

Why is it that we read in the lives of the saints that they go to Mount Athos to live or are in search of a spiritual father? The path to salvation is hard and we need spiritual guides! We constantly see people being raised to holiness with the help and example of other holy people. For example, the blessed Elder Ephraim of Arizona was a spiritual child of Saint Joseph the Hesychast.

  • By reading the lives of the saints and elders, we can discern the ideal characteristics of the monastic life, which can easily become arrows in the spiritual quiver of the faithful, showing the path to sanctification, deification by Grace…. 
  • In the figures of the saints, theory encounters experience, Orthodoxy [right thinking] meets Orthopraxy [right doing] and through our contact with them, we Christians take on and apply what’s necessary to our everyday lives, so that our corrupt will can then be directed by the proper will of God.
  • It seems that people today have abandoned themselves to their weaknesses, which has meant that they’re lost in their daily routine and have forgotten the aim and meaning of real life. The teaching of the desert fathers provides us with the opportunity to return to the proper path and to discover our purpose. In the world, with the life offered them by the Church, Christians can be cured of their passions, can accept faithfulness to God, can look forward to their salvation and their union with God, and, in the end, can acquire glorification, as a gift.
  • The spiritual life therefore means that people who live in Christ manifest Him every day through the way in which they behave in the world. Christians experience Christ in a natural manner, not by imitation (like Pharisees). This isn’t always easy, but it’s not unattainable. They live only for God and with Him and this is reflected in their relationships with others, with their neighbor. They experience that which the saints have lived and which constitutes the beginning, end and substance of the spiritual life. (Excerpt from The Unceasing Endeavor for Real Life)

Read the Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Read quotes from Church fathers, saints and elders


Great is the Lord
Elder Cleopa Stories for Children, Volume 1, Sebastian Press

There was once in Constantinople a silversmith who made watches, rings, bracelets, and items for the Holy Church: cups, Gospels, disks, vessels for the Holy Table, and everything else. And he was very pious. He always used to say one thing: “Great is the Lord!” But his wife insulted him because he said this so often. If someone said something to him, he replied: “Yes, dear Christian, for great is the Lord!” If someone else told him that something would happen to him, he said: “It doesn’t matter, for great is the Lord!” One man praised him, and he said “Great is the Lord!” Another man insulted him, but he said: “It doesn’t matter, for great is the Lord!” He said these words so often that everyone was saying: “Let’s go to that silversmith who says that the Lord is great.” And very many people came to him.

“Brother, make me a ring.” “Of course, I’ll make you one brother, for great is the Lord!” “Will you polish a cup for me?” “I’ll polish it, for great is the Lord!” “Will you make a cover for my Gospel?” “I’ll make you one for great is the Lord!” “Will you make me a bracelet?” “I will, brother, for great is the Lord!”

Even Emperor Leo the Wise – for this was happening during his reign – heard that there was a silversmith who always replied: “Great is the Lord.” And he said: “I will tempt him, for I want to see if he says these words out of faith or out of habit!” The emperor disguised himself, put on some civilian clothes, and went to the silversmith with an extremely expensive ring. The ring had a stone called the ‘ostrel’ stone, the most precious of stones, which as very hard to find.

There is a very small fish that lives on the bottom of the ocean and has a single eye on its back. How difficult it is to find this little fish! But inside of it, there is this stone called ‘ostrel.’ Divers and sailors spend a lot of time looking for it! “If we find an ostrel stone, we’ll buy so many thousands of palaces!” This is how expensive the stone is. Well, an emperor deserved to have an ‘ostrel’ stone! Who knows where he inherited it from! The stone was fairly large, and it was attached to the ring.

So the emperor, in disguise, went to this silversmith:

-Good afternoon, master! -Good afternoon, brother, for great is the Lord!
-Could you fix a ring for me?
-I can, sir, for great is the Lord! Where is the ring?
-Here, it’s wrapped up here.
-Put it there, sir, on the shelf, for I have some other rings there.
-Be careful, my ring has a precious stone. But the emperor had taken the stone off the ring.
-Leave it there, sir, for great is the Lord! Put it in that box. He didn’t even look at it because he was very busy.
-But take care that my stone won’t be lost! I have an expensive stone. But he didn’t say what kind of stone he had.
-Brother, it won’t be lost, for great is the Lord!
-When should I come? When will the ring be finished?
-Come eight days from now! I have to work on some holy cups and I also have to polish other rings. I have several of them gathered there.
-But will it be finished by then?
-It will be, sir, for great is the Lord!
-Have a good day!
-Have a good day, for great is the Lord!

But the emperor had taken the stone off the ring and, since Constantinople was next to the sea, he threw the stone into the water. He was thinking “I’ll lose it! But let’s see; will God take this stone out of the sea for the man who says that the Lord is great?” And he threw it into the sea.

After eight days, the emperor returned to him, in disguise again.

-Do you know me, brother?
-I know you sir, for great is the Lord! You gave me a ring to fix.
-And did you fix it? -I did.
-And does it still have the stone?
-Sir, said the silversmith, I fixed the ring, but didn’t find any stones attached to it!
-Oho! Do you know you you’re talking to? I am the Emperor Leo! And he took off his civilian clothes and showed him his royal badges.
-And so what if you’re the emperor?
-If you don’t give me the stone, off with your head!
-It doesn’t matter, your highness, for great is the Lord!
-Don’t say that the Lord is great! I’ll shout how great He is! If you don’t give me the ring stone in three days, I’ll execute you.
-Your highness, if you give me three days great is the Lord, I believe that I’ll put it back on the ring for you.
-But how will you manage to put back a stone like that one? I’ll keep an eye on you! Look, you have three days to put the stone back on the ring. And the emperor left. When the silversmith’s wife heard about this, she started to cry and to lament:
-Oh my goodness, you lost the stone from the emperor’s ring!
-Woman, be silent, for great is the Lord!
-Husband, she said, but the emperor will cut off your head in three days! And he’ll also cut off my head and everyone else’s! Didn’t you hear that he had an expensive ‘ostrel’ stone? -Woman, be silent, for great is the Lord!
-Well, listen to what this man is saying! And she started to insult him, but he had faith in God. The woman, being very sad that day, went to the farmer’s market to buy some fish and was thinking: “Oh my goodness, now he’ll cut off his head. It was the emperor! And what an expensive stone he had.” The children said the same thing:
-Oh my goodness, father! -Children, great is the Lord! Go mind your own business. When the woman returned home
– she brought some big fish that she had bought from the market
– and when she cut open the first fish, she found a small stone in its stomach, but she didn’t know what it was. It was beautiful and every shiny.
-Look at this, husband, what is it? When I cut open the fish, I found it here. And he looked at it.
-Well, woman, this is the stone from the emperor’s ring. I told you that the Lord is great!
-What are you talking about?
-Let me clean it for you now. And when he attached it to the ring, it was a perfect fit.
-Well, I’ll clean it really well and attach it to the ring. Be silent! So you see that the Lord is great? He took the ring, cleaned it really well, cleaned the stone, and put it back on the ring. The emperor came after three days, this time dressed in uniform.
-Do you know me?
-I know you, your highness, for great is the Lord!
-Is the ring finished?
-It is your highness, for great is the Lord!
-Did you put back the stone?
-I did, your highness, for great is the Lord!
-I’ll see how great He is! Bring the ring here!

When the emperor came and looked at the ring he examined it really well, looked at it from all possible angles, and said:
-My dear man, given that I took this stone and threw it into the sea and now I see it back on the ring, I’ll honestly say that the Lord is indeed great! How did you find it? Who brought it to you? Where could you have found a stone like this, as expensive as an entire kingdom?

-Your highness, great is the Lord! Look, my wife bought some fish from the market and she found it in the stomach of a fish.

Then the emperor said:

-From now on you will be my advisor and I will keep you by my side my entire life, for I have found that you don’t say “great is the Lord” only with your mouth. When you say these words, you say them from the bottom of your heart, and you have true faith in God, a faith that is steady and firm in God’s power. You have such a strong faith that you succeed in everything, for the Lord is with you because you don’t only speak with your mouth, but you believe from your heart. You are a true believer.

From that day on, the emperor took him as advisor in the palace. And thus, that silversmith with his belief that ‘great is the Lord,’ was made great by God on earth and certainly also in heaven after his death.


A Message from Maria Spanos

I am passionate about our Orthodox Christian faith and seek to help others learn as much as they can about it. My purpose here is to share online resources that help strengthen our relationship with Christ and bind us closer to His Church. I believe they are invaluable in learning about our precious Orthodox Tradition, and are a great aid for teaching family members, friends and others about Orthodoxy. ~Maria

Two of my favorite quotes:

“A true Christian behaves in this life so that it may be a preparation for the future one and not only a life here below. In his actions, he does not think what will be said of him here but of what will be said there in heaven; he represents to himself that he is always in the presence of God, of the angels and all the saints, and remembers that someday they will bear witness of his thoughts, words, and deeds.”  — Saint John of Kronstadt


Of all the holy works, the education of children is the most holy.”
— St. Theophan the Recluse