Focus on the Faith
Is Jesus your “Personal Savior?”
Coming from a Protestant background, I was always taught to think of Jesus as my “personal savior.” Is this view based on scripture and Christian tradition? What is the relationship of the individual believer to Jesus? How does it work?
I too come from a strong evangelical Protestant background and the idea of Jesus Christ as my personal Savior is strong in my upbringing. I think the Protestant emphasis comes from the recognition that just a simple acknowledgment of Jesus as Messiah or as Son of God or even as the Accomplisher of Salvation is not enough, but that there must also be some type of commitment involved.
In the Orthodox Church the understanding is much more organic than in the Protestant confessions. In Protestantism, the individual is saved by a personal (meaning relating to me alone) action of God and the Church is the collection of all of those saved individuals. Salvation is an individual state, according to this view. The Orthodox Faith teaches us that salvation is not individual but corporate – the whole Church is saved together and apart from the Church we cannot be saved. The conversion experience as a “saving act” is not a part of Orthodox faith – rather this conversion experience (accomplished by baptism, btw) is only the door into the saving ark of the Church. Jesus by His death and (more importantly) resurrection has defeated sin death and the devil and has unlocked the door to paradise (it had been closed against fallen man and guarded by an angel with a flaming sword) and leads us in. Will we follow? – that is what “salvation” is all about; following Christ into paradise.
The words individual and personal bring up another interesting and important aspect. Within Orthodox teaching, we can say that Jesus is our personal Savior in that He takes individuals (a being that is independent and separated from all others) and makes them persons (a separate being that is united to other beings in a larger whole, in this case, the Church) This contrast between individuals and persons is a little bit of an extrapolation from the doctrine of the Trinity. We worship One God (individual) in three persons. Similarly, there is only One Church (individual) which is made of many persons. The emphasis on individuality in western and especially American culture is in this sense anti-Christian and derives from an incorrect understanding of the Church which is the result of the reformation in Western Europe and the resulting theology which had to justify salvation apart from the Church. We must remember that salvation is corporate – the whole Church is saved together and will be presented as a single entity as the Bride of Christ (there is only one Bride – Jesus is not a polygamist) at the 2nd coming. Our individual judgment is not whether we are saved or not, but rather we are part of the Church and following Christ. If we are part of the Church following Christ then we are being saved along with the whole Church but if we cease to follow Christ and separate ourselves from the Church by placing our own judgment and will as higher and more important than that of the Church, then we are not being saved because we have “jumped out of the ark”.
Fr David Moser – St Seraphim Orthodox Church – Boise, Idaho
From the Fathers
The Mature Christian’s Rule of Life:
“The mature Christian does not only try to avoid evil. Nor does he do good for fear of punishment, still less in order to qualify for the hope of a promised reward. The mature Christian does good through love. His actions are not motivated by desire for personal benefit, so he does not have personal advantage as his aim. But as soon as he has realized the beauty of doing good, he does it with all his energy and in all that he does. He is not interested in fame, or a good reputation, or a human or divine reward. The rule of life for a mature Christian is to be in the image and likeness of God.”
—Clement of Alexandria
“My poor soul! Sigh, pray and strive to take upon you the blessed yoke of Christ, and you will live on earth in a heavenly manner. Lord, grant that I may carry the light and goodly yoke, and I shall be always at rest, peaceful, glad and joyous; and I shall taste on earth of crumbs which fall from the celestial feast, like a dog that feeds upon the crumbs which fall from the master’s table.”
—St. Tikhon of Voronezh
Where there is pride there cannot be grace, and if we lose grace we also lose both love of God and assurance in prayer. The soul is then tormented by evil thoughts and does not understand that she must humble herself and love her enemies, for there is no other way to please God.
— St. Silouan the Athonite
Lives of the Saints
St Andrew the Fool for Christ (911)
St Andrew was bought as a slave by Theognostos,a wealthy citizen of Constantinople, during the reign of Emperor Leo the Wise. Theognostos recognized Andrew’s unusual ability and taught him to read and write. Despite this, Andrew, obeying a divine revelation, took up the ascesis of folly for Christ, behaving as a madman all day and secretly praying most of the night. His master endeavored to have him cured of his apparent madness, having prayers read over him in church, but to no avail. Finally, he discharged Andrew, who thereafter lived in absolute poverty in Constantinople, clothing himself in rags and living on the bread given him by kindly Christians. Anything that he received, beyond that needed for bare survival, he gave to beggars, usually mocking and insulting them at the same time so as not to be thanked or praised for his deeds. Such was the wholeheartedness of his prayers that he was given grace to see angels and demons, to discern the secrets of others, thereby turning them from their sins. It was he who, with his disciple Epiphanius, saw the vision of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God (see October 1). After a life of profound ascetic struggle, he reposed in peace.
Hieromartyr Cyprian and Virgin-Martyr Justina (304).
“Saint Justina, who was from Damascus, lived in virginity for the sake of Christ. Saint Cyprian, who was from Antioch, began as an initiate of magic and worshipper of the demons. A certain foolish young man who had been smitten with Justina’s beauty hired Cyprian to draw her to love him; when Cyprian had used every demonic device he knew, and had failed, being repulsed by the power of Christ Whom Justina invoked, he understood the weakness of the demons and came to know the truth. Delivered from demonic delusion, he came to Christ and burned all his books of magic, was baptized, and later ascended the episcopal throne in his country. Later, he and Justina were arrested by the Count of Damascus, and having endured many torments at his hands, they were sent finally to Diocletian in Nicomedia, where they were beheaded in the year 304.” (Great Horologion)
Hieromartyr Dionysius the Areopagite (96)
He is mentioned in Acts 17:19-34. He was a learned Athenian, a member of the Athenian court on Mars Hill (Areos Pagos in Greek, from which the title ‘Areopagite’ comes). At the time of Christ’s crucifixion, he was studying in Egypt and saw the sky darkened there for three hours when Christ breathed His last. He later married and had several children. When St Paul preached in Athens, Dionysius was among the first to believe, and became either the first (according to some) Bishop of Athens, or the second, succeeding St Hierotheos (commemorated tomorrow, October 4). With St Hierotheos he was present at the Dormition of the Mother of God. He received a martyr’s end in his old age, possibly in Athens. Several famous works of mystical theology, including On the Divine Names, Celestial Hierarchy, Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, Mystical Theology, and 10 Letters are attributed to him.
Our Holy Mother Pelagia (461)
“This Saint was a prominent actress of the city of Antioch, and a pagan, who lived a life of unrestrained prodigality and led many to perdition. Instructed and baptized by a certain bishop named Nonnus (November 10), she departed to the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem, where she lived as a recluse, feigning to be a eunuch called Pelagius. She lived in such holiness and repentance that within three or four years she was deemed worthy to repose in an odour of sanctity, in the middle of the fifth century. Her tomb on the Mount of Olives has been a place of pilgrimage ever since.” (Great Horologion). The Prologue adds that Pelagia had accumulated a large fortune as a courtesan, all of which she gave away to the poor upon her conversion.
Saint Thaïs the Repentant Harlot (4th c.)
She lived in Alexandria, where, when she was seventeen, her own mother placed her in a brothel, where due to her great beauty she was able to amass some wealth. Saint Serapion (March 21), hearing about Thaïs and her way of life, was moved by God to try to convert her. He dressed himself as a soldier, found her, gave her a gold piece, and went with her to her room. When the door was shut, he put aside his tunic, revealing his monastic robe, and asked if he might speak with her. With tears he told her of the doom that awaits sinners, and of the infinite mercy of God, who desires that all should be saved and welcomes every repentant sinner. Thaïs, her heart melted by his words, ran to the public square, burned all the fine clothes and possessions that she had acquired through her trade, and went with Serapion to a women’s monastery. There he instructed her to stay secluded in her cell, beseeching God’s mercy constantly and only eating every other day; she was to do this until she was instructed otherwise. Thaïs lived in this way for three years, with such zeal that she amazed all her monastic sisters. Meanwhile St Serapion went to St Anthony the Great to ask him if God had accepted Thaïs’ repentance. Saint Anthony and his brethren spent a night in prayer and received a vision in which they were assured that Thaïs had been found worthy of God’s mercy. Returning to the monastery, Serapion made the repentant Saint leave her cell, though by now she only wished to spend her life in repentant prayer. After spending only fifteen days in the common life of the monastery, the holy Thaïs reposed in peace.
Righteous John, Wonderworker of Kronstadt (1908).
“Saint John of Kronstadt was a married priest, who lived with his wife in virginity. Through his untiring labours in his priestly duties and love for the poor and sinners, he was granted by our Lord great gifts of clairvoyance and miracle-working, to such a degree that in the last years of his life miracles of healings — both of body and of soul — were performed countless times each day through his prayers, often for people who had only written to him asking his help. During his lifetime he was known throughout Russia, as well as in the Western world. He has left us his diary My Life in Christ as a spiritual treasure for Christians of every age; simple in language, it expounds the deepest mysteries of our Faith with that wisdom which is given only to a heart purified by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Foreseeing as a true prophet the Revolution of 1917, he unsparingly rebuked the growing apostasy among the people; he foretold that the very name of Russia would be changed. As the darkness of unbelief grew thicker, he shone forth as a beacon of unquenchable piety, comforting the faithful through the many miracles that he worked and the fatherly love and simplicity with which he received all. Saint John reposed in peace in 1908.” (Great Horologion)
Orthopraxis – Clergy Etiquette
Why Orthodox Christians Stand for Prayer or Worship
To express the respect of God which is congruent with the worship of Him, Orthodox Christians stand while in worship as though they were in the presence of a king. Traditionally, women stood on in the north side of the church in front of the icon of the Mother of God while the men stood on in the south side of the church in front of the icon of Christ. Now, however, this is rarely done and worshipers simply stand in any open space in the nave facing the altar and praying silently or singing as they stand. In most Orthodox churches, the congregants stand through the entire service with the exception of the elderly, the ill, pregnant women or mothers with babies, who may choose to sit in chairs or on benches in the back or along the sides of the church.
The custom that Orthodox Christians stand during prayer arid church services is not only a representation of spiritual service in the Heavenly Church, but also in the Church of the Old Testament. In the description of the blessing of Solomon’s temple it is said: “The Levites and all the singers, being arrayed in white linen… stood at the east end of the altar” (II Chronicles 5:12); and “All the congregation of Israel stood” (II Chronicles 6:2).
The holy prophets Ezra and Nehemiah, speaking of the services of the Jews after the Babylonian captivity, say: “And they set priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the Lord, after the ordinance of David, King of Israel” (I Ezra 3:10); “And the Levites stood according to their rank and cried with a loud voice unto the Lord their God, and the Levites caused the people to understand the law; and the people stood in their place” (Nehemiah 9:4,5; 8:7; also Matthew 6:5).
To stand during prayer was thus the customary rule among the Jews, as is proven in their writings, in the manner of the Old Testament Church, Orthodox Christians have maintained the same custom, since apostolic times, of standing during divine services. The correctness of such a practice is evident from the Scriptures, the holy fathers, and from the texts of the services themselves, where it is often proclaimed “Let us stand well, let us stand with fear, let us stand upright, let us stand at attention!”
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Focus on the Faith – The Glorious Fourth
THE FOURTH OF JULY – Matthew 12:38-45
The Fourth of July is always a time for celebration in our land. It is a chance for family and friends to gather together for barbeques, outdoor activities, and fireworks. On Independence Day, the cause of our celebration is freedom, freedom from a cruel, repressive government, and freedom from a tyrannical king. This freedom is not only about liberation “from,” but also liberation “to;” freedom to chart our own course, to work for our own goals, and to reap the fruits of our own labors.
It is common practice in our churches to offer a Prayer Service, a Molieben of Thanksgiving on the “Glorious Fourth,” and here, in the Pacific Central Deanery, it has been our custom for nearly 100 years to make a pilgrimage to Fort Ross and offer the Divine Liturgy there at the chapel in thanksgiving to God for this wonderful country of ours.
While today’s civil holiday may not be found on our ecclesiastical calendars, we can certainly derive some spiritual food from it, right along with our festive foods and ice-cold beverages! The Fourth of July can be an opportunity for us to recall that there is a spiritual struggle for independence that goes on in our lives, and in our hearts, every single day. The tyrannical king is the devil; his cruel government is this fallen world and death; the overwhelming tax burdens and the tax collectors are our sins along with the demons who wait in the aerial toll-houses to accuse us at our death. These are the same demons, who would love nothing more than to find seven buddies, kick the Heavenly King out of our hearts, and replace Him with themselves, as we heard about in the Gospel.
Nothing is better, nothing is more natural to human beings than spiritual freedom. The Lord Jesus Christ said: “If the Son (of God) therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36.) But in order to gain this freedom, this freedom which is only found in Christ, there needs to be a revolution, a revolution in us! Now the word “revolution” literally means to turn around. Isn’t that what repentance is? A turning around? A change of direction? A change of mind? Repentance is a spiritual struggle to turn, a spiritual revolutionary war against the tyranny of evil. Repentance is a noetic rebellion and an ascetic strategy of separation that employs spiritual armaments given to us by the grace of God. St Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: For the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but our weapons have Divine power to pull down strongholds; casting down vain imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and brings into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5.)
So, then, the Fourth of July can serve as a good reminder to us that we need to keep up the struggle and “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12.) It’s only when we let our guard down, relax our efforts and our resolve, that we find ourselves slipping back into the clutches of our Adversary, the King of wickedness, and falling into the tyranny of his cruel and oppressive government. “Stand fast therefore” (says St. Paul) “in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1.) Amen.
Archpriest Basil Rhodes
Lives of the Saints
St John (Maximovich), Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco (July 2, 1966)
This brightly-shining Saint of our own day was born in Russia in 1896. In 1921 his family fled the Russian Revolution to Serbia, where he became a monk and was ordained a priest. From the time of his entry into monastic life he adopted a severely ascetical way of life: for the rest of his life he never slept in a bed, sleeping only briefly in a chair or prostrated before the icons. He ate one meal a day, in the evening. Teaching seminarians in Serbia, he instructed them each day to devote six hours to divine services, six hours to prayer (not including the divine services!), six hours to good works, and six hours to rest (these six hours obviously included eating and bathing as well as sleeping). Whether his seminarians followed his counsels we do not know, but he himself not only followed but exceeded them.
In 1934 he was made Bishop of Shanghai (in the Russian Church Abroad), where he served not only the Russian emigre community but a number of native Chinese Orthodox; from time to time he served the Divine Liturgy in Chinese. When the Communists took power in China, he labored tirelessly to evacuate his flock to safety, first to the Philippines, then to various western countries including the United States. He served as Bishop in Paris and Brussels, then, in 1962 was made Archbishop of San Francisco. Throughout his life as monk and hierarch he was revered (and sometimes condemned) for his ascetical labors and unceasing intercessions. During his life and ever since, numerous miraculous healings of all manner of afflictions have been accomplished through his prayers. Once, in Shanghai, a caretaker, investigating strange noises in the cathedral after midnight, discovered Bishop John standing in the belltower, looking down on the city and praying for the people. Years later, when he visited Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York, the priest responsible for hosting him found the saint walking through the halls of the monastery, standing outside the door of each room and praying for the monk or seminarian sleeping within. When the Archbishop had prayed outside each room, he returned to the beginning of his circuit and began praying again; and so he spent the entire night.
Even as Archbishop, he lived in near-absolute poverty. His appearance was striking: His cassock was made of blue Chinese “peasant cloth,” crudely decorated with crosses stitched by orphans who had been in his care in Shanghai. His Bishop’s “miter” was often a cloth cap to which he had glued paper icons. Even in the United States, even while serving the Divine Liturgy (which he did every day), he went barefoot in all seasons. (Eventually, after he was hospitalized with an infected foot, his Metropolitan ordered him to wear shoes; thereafter, he wore sandals). Needless to say, he was an embarrassment to those who like their bishops to make a more worldly appearance, but among his various flocks throughout the world, there were always those who recognized him as a Saint in his own lifetime.
Following his repose in 1966, a steady stream of healings and other miracles was accomplished through his intercessions, and in 1996 he was glorified as a Saint of the Church. His incorrupt and wonder-working relics can be venerated at his cathedral in San Francisco. At St John’s funeral, the eulogist told his mourners (and all of us): because Archbishop John was able to live the spirituality of the Orthodox Church so fully, even in modern, western, urban society, we are without excuse.
Footnote: An acquaintance of Monk John once met him on a train in Serbia. When asked his destination, Monk John replied, “I’m going to straighten out a mistake. I’ve gotten a letter meant for some other John whom they intend to make a bishop.” The same person met him again on his return journey and asked if he had been able to resolve his problem. John answered, “The mistake is much worse than I thought: they did make me a bishop.”
Orthopraxis – Clergy Etiquette
Greeting Clergy in Person
When we address Deacons or Priests, we should use the title “Father.” Bishops we should address as “Your Grace.” Though all Bishops (including Patriarchs) are equal in the Orthodox Church, they do have different honors that accrue to their rank. Thus, “Your Eminence” is the proper title for most Archbishops (among the exceptions to this rule is the Archbishop of Athens, who is addressed as “Your Beatitude,” as he is the First Hierarch of an autocephalous Church). “Your Beatitude” is the proper and usual title for Patriarchs and Metropolitans who are also heads of autocephalous Churches. There are exceptions, however. For the Patriarch of Constantinople, the correct address is “Your All-Holiness.” We use “Your Holiness” for the Patriarchs of Russia Bulgaria, Georgia, and Serbia.
In the tradition of the Russian Orthodox Church, when we approach an Orthodox Bishop or Presbyter (but not a Deacon), or an Abbot or Abbess of a monastery, we make a bow by reaching down and touching the floor with our right hand, place our right hand over the left (palms upward), and say: “Bless, Master” or “Bless, Your Grace,” or “Bless, Your Eminence,” “Bless Father,” “Bless Mother,” etc. The Priest or Bishop then answers, “The blessing of the Lord (be upon you”), blesses us with the Sign of the Cross, and places his right hand in our hands. We then kiss his hand.
We should understand that when the Bishop or Priest blesses us, he forms his fingers to represent the Christogram “ICXC” a traditional abbreviation of the Greek words for “Jesus Christ” (i.e., the first and last letters of each of the words “IHCOYC XPICTOC”). Thus, the Hierarch’s or the Priest’s blessing is the mystical blessing of Christ. This is the reason that a lay person always kisses the hand of a Priest or Bishop. Additionally, it shows respect for his office. More importantly, since both hold the Holy Mysteries in their hands during the Divine Liturgy, we show respect to the Holy Eucharist when we kiss their hands. In fact, Saint John Chrysostom once said that if one were to meet a Priest walking along with an Angel, that he should first greet the Priest and kiss his hand, since that hand has offered the Holy Mysteries and touched the Body and Blood of our Lord. When we take leave of a Bishop or Priest, we should again ask for a blessing, just as we did when we first greeted him.
What about Bishops and Clergy from schismatic Orthodox churches? It depends, but usually no.
What if you encounter a bishop or priest and you are unsure of their jurisdiction? Don’t be afraid to ask them if they are Orthodox and to which jurisdiction they belong.
What about heretical or heterodox clergy or ministers? No, never.
It’s important to know also that an abbess in the Russian Tradition is greeted exactly as a Bishop or a Priest. Monks and nuns are greeted with the word “bless!” (Благослови! Evlogeite!) with a bow of the head and the right hand over the heart. Don’t kiss their hand unless they are a spiritual father or mother of renown. Also do not touch and especially never hug a monk or a nun.
In the case of married clergy, the wife of a Priest or Deacon is also informally addressed with a title. (Bishops are never married in the OC). Since the Mystery of Marriage binds a Priest and his wife together as “one flesh,” the wife shares, in a sense, in her husband’s Priesthood. This does not, of course, mean that she has the very Grace of the Priesthood, but some of the dignity of her husband’s office certainly accrues to her. The various titles used by some of the national Churches are:
- Russian: Matushka ( MA-toosh-ka. Emphasis on the MA!))
- Greek: Presvytera (Pres-vee-TE-ra)
- Serbian: Papadiya (Pa-PA-dya) or Protinitsa (Pro-TI-nit-sa)
- Albanian: Prifteresha
- Ukrainian: Panimatushka (Pa-nee-MA-toosh-ka)), or Panimatka (Pa-nee-MAT-ka)
- The wife of a Deacon is also called “Matushka” in the ROC, but in the Greek Church “Diakonissa”.
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Focus on the Faith
Who are the Apostles?
On the 29th of June, we will celebrate the “Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul” In preparation for this feast I would like to share some thoughts concerning these preeminent apostles and the establishment of the early church. It is my prayer that all will draw closer to God, to an understanding of the apostles, and to those who received instruction from their immediate disciples and successors.
“And He appointed twelve, whom He also named APOSTLES (Greek: “sent out ones”), to be with Him and to be sent out…” (Mark 3:14).
The twelve apostles formed the inner core of the Lord Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry. They were personally chosen by the Lord Himself. They were given the power of working miracles and were inspired to teach, to preach, and do extraordinary miracles in order to bring precious souls to Christ. On the Feast of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came down on the apostles and they were “endued with power from on high”(Luke 24:49), so that they could bear witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as He declared that they should.
“When the Bridegroom shall be taken from them…..then they shall fast” (Matthew 9:15). The Apostles’ Fast is the oldest fast and the first one kept by the Christian Church. During the Apostles’ Fast, the Holy Spirit spoke to them, “As they ministered to the Lord and FASTED, the Holy Spirit said: ‘Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.’ And when they FASTED and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them out” (Acts 13:2-3).
The apostles served the Lord Jesus and later provided leadership to the first generation of Christian believers. They were of such importance that the word “apostle” occurs approximately seventy-nine times in the New Testament. The book The Acts of the Apostles portrays the apostles as leaders of the first church in Jerusalem during the Church’s first decade. The apostles truly established the church and by recognizing their fast, we contemplate their faith, the power and glory of God, and the hardships which they overcame.
The Holy Apostles, following the Lord’s commandment, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19), traveled throughout the world and established Churches within which all could receive the Grace and Illumination of the Holy Trinity. In every Church, they would ordain their successors, bishops, and elders (“Greek: presbyteroi “ or “priests”) who received the Grace and responsibility to follow in their footsteps, “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery” (I Timothy 4:14). This gift of Apostolic Succession, which we see in the Holy Fathers of the Church, has continued within the Church until today. In their attempts to bring as many sheep into the Lord’s Flock as possible, the writings of the Apostles’ successors have filled the world with countless volumes that conveyed the Faith of the Apostles to all succeeding generations.
A series of books entitled “Apostolic Fathers” is a collection of early Christian writings, written around AD 90 to the last third of the second century. They are works written by early church leaders, some of whom were the direct disciples of the Apostles. The “Apostolic Fathers” deal with practical problems that emerged with the development of individual church communities in the first and second centuries. Such problems concerned the meaning of Christianity, appropriate Christian lifestyle, authority for disputes, and the safeguarding of the authentic tradition.
The works written by the “Apostolic Fathers” include:
- Clement ( a companion of St Paul, and 3rd Bishop of Rome) – Letter
- Polycarp (Disciple of St. John the Theologian) – Letter
- Letter to Diognetus – In defense of the Christian faith
- “The Shepherd” of Hermas – a book (He is mentioned by St. Paul, by name, in Romans 16:14) –
- “Didache” or “teaching of the Twelve” – Manual written by disciples of the 12 Apostles, to instruct new converts to the faith and to direct community leaders in their work
- Letter of Barnabas (the companion and fellow worker with St Paul)
- Letters of Ignatius of Antioch, ( a disciple of Ss. Peter and John was the child who sat on the knee of Christ when He said “Whosoever, therefore, shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” Matt. 18: 2-4.)
The writings of the disciples of the Apostles are of a pastoral character seeking to guide their readers along the Apostolic path. For this reason, they are closely related in content and style to the Epistles of the Apostles. Although they were authored in different regions of the Roman Empire, such as Rome, Syria and Asia Minor, nevertheless they present a unity in belief. Common to all these writings is their eschatological character. The second coming of Christ was regarded as imminent, and the faithful had to live their lives in preparation for the Day of the Lord. It is a frame of mind we would all do well to adopt today.
From the Fathers
St Augustine on the Feast of Peter and Paul:
“This day has been consecrated for us by the martyrdom of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul. It is not some obscure martyrs we are talking about. Their sound has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world (Psalm 19:3-4 LXX). These martyrs had seen what they proclaimed; they pursued justice by confessing the truth, by dying for the truth.
The blessed Peter, the first of the Apostles, the ardent lover of Christ, who was found worthy to hear, “And I say to you, that you are Peter” (Mat 16:13-20). He himself, you see, had just said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Christ said to him, “And I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.” Upon this rock I will build the faith you have just confessed. Upon your words, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” I will build my Church; because you are Peter. Peter comes from petra, meaning a rock… Peter comes from the word for a rock in exactly the same way as the name Christian comes from Christ.
Before his passion the Lord Jesus, as you know, chose those disciples of his whom he called apostles. Among these it was only Peter who almost everywhere was given the privilege of representing the whole Church. It was in the person of the whole Church, which he alone represented, that he was privileged to hear, To you will I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven. After all, it is not just one man that received these keys, but the Church in its unity. So this is the reason for Peter’s acknowledged pre-eminence, that he stood for the Church’s universality and unity, when he was told, To you I am entrusting, what has in fact been entrusted to all. To show you that it is the Church which has received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, listen to what the Lord says in another place to all his apostles: “Receive the Holy Spirit; and immediately afterwards, Whose sins you forgive, they will be forgiven them; whose sins you retain, they will be retained (John 20:22-23).
Quite rightly, too, did the Lord after his resurrection entrust his sheep to Peter to be fed (John 21: 15-19). It is not, you see, that he alone among the disciples was fit to feed the Lord’s sheep; but when Christ speaks to one man, unity is being commended to us. And he first speaks to Peter, because Peter is the first among the apostles. Do not be sad, Apostle. Answer once, answer again, answer a third time. Let confession conquer three times with love, because self-assurance was conquered three times by fear. What you had bound three times must be loosed three times. Loose through love what you had bound through fear. And for all that, the Lord once, and again, and a third time, entrusted his sheep to Peter.
There is one day for the passion of two apostles. But these two also were as one; although they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, Paul followed. We are celebrating a feast day, consecrated for us by the blood of the apostles. Let us love their faith, their lives, their labors, their sufferings, their confession of faith, their preaching.” (Sermo 295, 1-2, 4, 7-8; PL 38, 1348-1352)
Orthopraxis – On Entering the Church
Just as the Divine Liturgy is about to begin, the Deacon exclaims: “It is time for the Lord to act.” This liturgical phrase signals our transition from the temporal into the eternal. Leaving the world outside, we abandon worldly time and enter into God’s time. Being creatures that live in this world, we are bound by chronology; the cycles of time and the clock serve as guides for daily life. As Orthodox Christians, we anticipate being lifted “out of time” to be ushered into the heavenly dimension.
The Lord’s Day (Sunday) worship begins on Saturday evening with Great Vespers and includes Sunday morning Divine Liturgy. Although timeless, practically speaking, worship services have a specific point in time when they are scheduled to begin. Therefore, the proper time to arrive at church is well before the service is scheduled to begin, in order to pray and complete our preparations for worship. It is our custom always enter prayerfully and, when the time is proper, light candles and venerate the holy icons. We come to the church on time as if to a “Great Banquet,” with reverence because we are partaking of the very Body and Blood of Christ, our Savior. Coming to pray the Hours before the Divine Liturgy begins, will ensure that you will be settled in with plenty of time to pray without distraction. Always venerate the holy icons and light your candles well before you need to go somewhere else. Choir members should never hurry into the kliros, or altar servers should never, ever, scurry into the holy altar without first greeting Christ, His Most pure and holy mother, the saint(s) of the temple, and those of the day. It is God’s House, we are His guests. It is a matter of churchly etiquette and good manners.
In the event that arriving late is completely unavoidable, try to enter quietly and unobtrusively, observing what is happening. Remain in the Narthex if the Epistle or Gospel is being read, the priest is praying an ektenia (litany prayer), during the Little and Great Entrances, or during the homily. Never enter during the Anaphora (the prayers of consecration of the holy Mysteries).
May God bless our worship as the eternal breaks in upon the temporal
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TITLE: Spring Luncheon at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Saratoga
DATE/TIME: Saturday, May 21st, 2022 from 12:30pm to 3:30pm
- Sweet Treats
- Delicious Lunch
- Homemade Lemonade
- Lovely Music
- Purchase traditional gifts to benefit Ukrainian refugees
- A percentage of the cost of lunch will also be for Ukraine
St. Nicholas Orthodox Church 14220 Elva Ave. Saratoga, CA 95070
Please RSVP by May 11th
408-348-8648 or 650-533-3579
Focus on the Faith
An Explanation of the Holy Week Services.
As we approach the great solemn days of Holy Week, we bring to mind how our Lord Jesus Christ was betrayed and seized, tortured and crucified, died and was buried, and arose from the dead. The services of Holy Week, beginning with Lazarus Saturday, show us in symbols, readings and chants the account of our Saviour’s love and sacrifice ‘unto death, even the death of the cross’ for our sake (Phil. 2:8).
On Palm Sunday we shall stand with branches in our hands and listen to the ‘Hosannas,’ like the multitudes in Jerusalem, welcoming ‘Him Who cometh in the Name of the Lord,’ and, like the children, waving palms and shouting for joy. In the Gospels of the first three days of Passion Week we shall hear Christ’s final teachings to his disciples and the people; His stern rebukes to the proud, self-righteous Pharisees and scribes; His prophecy of His resurrection and second coming. In the house of Simon the Leper, where Jesus was having a meal, we shall see the sinful woman enter to anoint His head and feet in love and repentance, and we shall contrast her to Judas, the disciple whose greed incited him to betray his Master for a paltry sum of money. Then we shall follow Jesus to the ‘upper chamber’ where He and his disciples partook of his Mystical Supper, that is, the first celebration of the Eucharist of his Most Holy Body and Blood, and then to the Garden of Gethsemane. There our Lord and God Jesus Christ prayed in agony.
Concerning our Saviour’s prayer before his Passion, Saint John Chrysostom says:
“By saying, ‘If it be possible, let it pass from me,’ He showed His humanity; but by saying, ‘Nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt,’ He showed His virtue and self-command, teaching us even when nature pulls us back to follow God” (Homily 83 on the Gospel of Matthew).
Together with Christ’s grieving Mother and John, the disciple “whom He loved” and with the other women, we shall stand watch by His Cross. We shall follow as His body is carried to the grave in the garden, and there leave his Body to rest until the glorious morning of the Resurrection. This is why through all Passion Week’s mournful services there runs the strain of bright hope, of forgiveness, of triumph over sin and death, and of our Saviour’s victory over Satan, Hades, and death’s corruption.
On this Saturday we remember how our Lord Jesus Christ raised His friend Lazarus from the dead. He knew Lazarus was grievously ill, but He waited till he died before He answered Martha and Mary’s call for Him. Jesus knew that His own death on the Cross was near. He knew how terrified and bewildered His disciples would be, how they might doubt that He was indeed the Christ. Only after four days did He bring Lazarus back to life, so that His disciples would see that He had power over life and death and was indeed ‘the Resurrection and
the Life.’ It was this miracle that prepared Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem and gave us the certain assurance of the physical resurrection of all the dead.
ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM – PALM SUNDAY
This day celebrates Christ’s triumphal entry into the holy city of Jerusalem. When the people heard of His coming, great crowds rushed to the city gates to meet Him. They spread their cloaks on the road and strewed palm leaves in His path. Children waved green boughs and all sang, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’ At Palm Sunday Matins, after the Gospel reading, the priest blesses palm leaves or other appropriate branches, which the people hold during the canon. Palm Sunday is one of the twelve great feasts of the Church.
GREAT AND HOLY MONDAY
The week of our Saviour’s Passion begins with Holy and Great Monday. The first three days of Holy Week recall Christ’s last teachings with His disciples. These teachings inspire the readings and hymns. The services consist of Great Compline, Matins, Hours, and the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts with Vespers. Gospels are read at Matins and Liturgy. In addition, the whole Psalter is read in the services of the first three days of Holy Week; also, the four Gospels are read. The Psalms remind us how the coming and sufferings of Christ were awaited and foretold in the Old Testament. The Gospels tell of His life in the world; His teaching and miracles prove that He was indeed the Son of God, who of His own free will suffered for our sake though He was without guilt.
At Matins after the great litany we do not hear the usual joyous verses, ‘God is the Lord, and hath appeared unto us.’ Instead, a compunctionate ‘Alleluia’ is chanted. And to inspire us to watch and pray in these solemn days, this troparion is chanted:
“Behold, the Bridegroom cometh in the middle of the night, and blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching; and again unworthy is he whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, lest thou be overcome with sleep, lest thou be given up to death, and be shut out from the Kingdom. But rouse thyself and cry: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God, through the Mother of God, have mercy on us.”
After the canon, which speaks of Christ’s coming Passion, another special hymn an Exapostilarion — is chanted. It is like a cry of our soul as if it saw from afar Christ’s radiant mansions and felt how unworthy it was to enter them:
Thy bridal chamber, O my Saviour, do I behold all adorned, and a garment I have not that I may enter therein. Illumine the garment of my soul, O Giver of Light, and save me.
According to the usage of the Optina Monastery, this hymn is sung three times. At the first singing, as we prostrate, the Royal Doors of the iconostas slowly open. At the second singing, the Doors remain open. At the third singing, the Royal Doors slowly close again, as we contemplate our lives and wonder if we shall be shut out of the Bridal Chamber of Christ’s Kingdom. On Holy and Great Monday the Church tells us the parable of the barren fig tree. It is the symbol of those who think only of outward goodness which does not come from the heart. The Gospel also tells about Christ’s prophecies about the fall of Jerusalem, wars and tribulations, and the end of the world.
GREAT AND HOLY TUESDAY
On Holy and Great Tuesday we listen to our Saviour’s replies to the wily questions of the Pharisees and scribes, who tried to trap Him; we hear His stern rebukes of their envy and deceit. The parables of the Ten Virgins and of the Talents remind us how we should always keep watch over our conscience and use in God’s service any gift or talent we have received from Him. The Gospel then tells Christ’s prophecy of His second coming and the Last Judgment. It ends with the awful warning: ‘Ye know that after two days is the feast of the Passover, and the Son of Man is betrayed to be crucified.’
GREAT AND HOLY WEDNESDAY
On Great Wednesday the Church commemorates the act of contrition and love of the sinful woman who poured precious myrrh-oil on our Saviour’s head, and, though she did not know it, ‘prepared Him for burial.’ And in contrast we hear of the dark act of Judas, whose greed led him to betray his Master. All the readings and hymns of the day warn us to beware of greed and love of money, which even tempted a disciple of Christ. We too can betray Him, if we let greed and selfishness get hold of us. On this night, in some places, the Church administers the sacrament of Holy Unction for the bodily and spiritual health of the Orthodox faithful. At this sacrament, the oil is consecrated by prayer and the clergy anoint the people.
GREAT AND HOLY THURSDAY
The Gospels of Holy and Great Thursday tell how our Saviour and His disciples came to Jerusalem to celebrate His last feast of the Passover, how He washed their feet. They tell the account of that Mystical Supper when our Lord ordained the Mystery of His Most Holy Body and Blood ‘for the remission of sins and life everlasting.’ They speak of Christ’s instruction to the Apostles, and how He told them that they would all forsake Him that night; they speak of Peter’s rash promise that he would always remain faithful; of Christ’s vigil in the garden; of how He was seized and led away to the high priest’s court; of the scene in the courtyard; of Peter’s three-fold denial and his grief; of the high priest’s mocking questions; and of how our Saviour Christ God, wearing the crown of thorns, beaten and insulted by the soldiers, was led before Pilate.
The readings and hymns of Matins dwell on Judas’ betrayal, on ‘the dark night’ which settled in his soul. We pray that we may keep ourselves from greed and deceit, and be made pure by partaking of the holy Mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood. The Troparion after the ‘Alleluia’ at Matins speaks of this:
“When the glorious disciples were enlightened at the washing of the feet, then Judas the ungodly one was stricken and darkened with the love of silver. And unto the lawless judges did he deliver Thee, the righteous Judge. O thou lover of money, behold thou him that for the sake thereof did hang himself, flee from that insatiable soul that dared such things against the Master. O Thou Who art good unto all, Lord, glory be to Thee.”
On this day the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great is celebrated together with Vespers.
The whole narration of our Lord’s Passion is given at the Matins of Holy and Great Thursday. It is commonly called ‘the Service of the Twelve Gospels.’ A tall Crucifix usually stands in the middle of the church with many candles lighted round it. After the Six Psalms and the Great Litany, the choir chants, ‘Alleluia’ and the Troparion of Holy and Great Thursday. The priest and deacon come out of the sanctuary carrying the Book of Gospels. It is placed on a podium and the priest begins the reading. The whole story of the Passion is read from the four evangelists and is divided into twelve parts. It begins with the ‘Gospel of the Testament’ and the prayer at the Mystical Supper, in Saint John’s Gospel, and continues through the four Gospels to the burial of Christ by Joseph of Arimathea. After each reading the choir chants, ‘Glory to Thy longsuffering, 0 Lord, glory to Thee.’ Between the readings special antiphons and hymns are chanted. They speak of Judas’ betrayal; of the cruelty of the Jews; of our Saviour’s infinite patience and meekness; of the awe of all creation when the Lord of all was nailed to the Cross between two thieves. The canon has only three odes. All recount the Passion and foretell the glory of the Resurrection. Matins ends shortly after the twelfth Gospel.
HOLY AND GREAT FRIDAY
Great Friday is the most solemn day of Holy Week. In awe and trembling, we stand before the Cross on which our Saviour died and we see the image of Him dead, lying in our midst, on the Plaschanitsa or Epitaphios (the Winding Sheet).
During the Service of Matins, which by anticipation is chanted on Thursday evening, we will hear some of the most awe-inspiring hymns of the ecclesiastical year. The following is but a one example:
“Today is hung upon the Tree, He that suspended the earth upon the waters. A crown of thorns is placed upon Him Who is the King of the Angels. He that wrappeth the Heavens with clouds, is wrapped in the purple of mockery. Buffetings did He receive, Who freed Adam in the Jordan. With nails was He affixed, He that is the Bridegroom of the Church. With a lance was He pierced, He that is the Son of the Virgin. We venerate Thy Passion, O Christ. Show also unto us Thy glorious Resurrection!”
The solemn Vespers of Great Friday is celebrated in the afternoon at the time of our Lord Jesus’ death. Again all the readings remind us of the suffering Christ and His glory. After the entrance, lessons are read in which the Prophet Isaiah speaks of ‘the Lamb led to the slaughter,’ and an Epistle of Saint Paul on the power and wisdom of the Cross; again a Gospel is read describing our Lord’s trial before Pilate, His Crucifixion and burial. At its conclusion, the icon of the crucified Christ is taken down from the Cross.
After the usual petitions, ‘Let us all say …,’ ‘Vouchsafe …,’ ‘Let us complete …,’ etc., the choir slowly chants the Aposticha, during which the procession exits from the Sanctuary, with the priest and deacon bearing the Shroud of Christ, their heads uncovered, proceeded by candles and censer. All kneel with head bowed low before the image of our dead Saviour. A bier stands in the middle of the church, with candles lit round it. On it the Shroud is laid reverently and censed all around by the priest. Then, after the Lord’s Prayer, the dismissal hymns are chanted: ‘The noble Joseph …’ and ‘Unto the myrrh-bearing women …’ followed by the prayers of dismissal.
HOLY AND GREAT SATURDAY
Holy and Great Saturday is a reverent vigil at the tomb of the Son of God, slain for our sins. By anticipation, the Saturday Matins is held on Friday evening.
After the Six Psalms and the Great Litany, the Royal Doors are opened clergy come out with candles and censer. The choir sings ‘The Lord is God and hath appeared unto us,’ and then the appointed troparia. In the meantime, the priest and deacon cense the Shroud, then stand in front of it. The priest and the choir then chant the ‘Lamentations’ with the verses of the 118th Psalm: ‘Blessed are the blameless in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.’ Each verse of the Psalm is followed by a verse of the Lamentations. It is like a long poem depicting the Angels in Heaven and all creatures on earth overwhelmed by the death of
their Creator, and their gratitude at being freed from death’s power by Christ.
After the Lamentations, the Resurrection hymns are sung. Then, following the customary litanies, the choir chants the canon, where the note of joy and triumph is heard more and more clearly. At the end of the Great Doxology of Matins, the priest raises the Shroud, which is then taken by four pall-bearers, the deacon walks in front, the people follow, all carrying candles, accompanied by the choir chanting, ‘Holy God, Holy and Strong, Holy and Immortal, have mercy on us.’ This represents the burial of Christ. Then, the prokeimenon is chanted, and the glorious prophecy of Ezekiel is read about the dry bones of Israel, out of which arose ‘an exceeding great host’ quickened to life by the breath of God. Then follows Saint Paul’s Epistle about Christ our Passover, and the Gospel about the sealing of Jesus’ tomb. Matins then ends as usual.
The Liturgy of Holy and Great Saturday is that of Saint Basil the Great. It begins with Vespers. After the entrance, the evening hymn ‘O Gladsome Light’ is chanted as usual. Then the 15 Old Testament readings are recited. They tell of the most striking events and prophecies of the salvation of mankind by the death of the Son of God. The account of creation in Genesis is the first reading. The sixth reading is the story of Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea and Moses’ song of victory – over Pharaoh, with its refrain: ‘For gloriously is He glorified’. The last reading is about the Three Children in the fiery furnace of Babylon, and their song of praise with its repeated refrain: ‘O praise ye the Lord and supremely exalt Him unto the ages.’ In the ancient church the catechumens were baptized during the time of these readings. The Epistle which follows speaks of how, through the death of Christ, we too shall rise to a new life. After the Epistle, the choir chants, like a call to the sleeping Christ: ‘Arise, O Lord, Judge the earth, for Thou shalt have an inheritance among all the nations… The deacon carries out the Book of the Gospels, and reads the first message of the resurrection from Saint Matthew. Because the Vespers portion of the service belongs to the next day (Pascha) the burial hymns of Saturday are mingled with those of the resurrection, so that this service is already full of the coming Paschal joy.
After the Gospel the Liturgy proceeds as usual. Instead of the Cherubic Hymn, a special and very ancient hymn is chanted:
“Let all mortal flesh keep silence and stand with fear and trembling, and take no thought for any earthly thing, for the King of kings and Lord of lords cometh to be slain and given as food for the faithful. Before Him go the choirs of the angels with all sovereignty and power: the manv-eyed Cherubim and six-winged Seraphim, covering their faces and crying out the hymn: Alleluia, Alleluia, .Alleluia.”
After the Liturgy the faithful partake of the
bread, wine and fruit which was blessed during the service, to strengthen them to keep watch the rest of the day and evening. This is the only Saturday of the year on which oil may not be taken. In the monasteries and convents, the refectory meal is taken in complete silence, out of reverence for the burial of Christ. The world awaits the proclamation of His Resurrection.
SYNAXARION OF THE GREAT FEAST OF THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST
On the Great and Holy Sunday of Pascha, we celebrate the Life-giving Resurrection of our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ: Pascha, which, translated from the Hebrew, means Passover. For this is the day on which God created the world from nothingness. On this day, He delivered the Israelites from Pharaoh’s hands and led them through the Red Sea. On this day, he descended from heaven and took His dwelling in the Virgin’s womb; now drawing forth mankind held in Hades, He raised them to heaven and brought them to the first-created honour of incorruption. …While the soldiers guarded the tomb, at midnight the earth quaked, for the angel of the Lord had descended and rolled the stone from the entrance of the tomb, and the soldiers [set to guard the tomb] were so frightened that they fled. The women came to the tomb very early in the morning on the day following the Sabbath — that is to say at midnight on Saturday. Later on the first day of the Resurrection, the Mother of God was there together with St Mary Magdalene, who was sitting near the tomb according to St Matthew. The Evangelists say that He first appeared to St Mary Magdalene [rather than His Mother]…so that there would be no doubts or suspicions concerning the truth of the Resurrection.
It was St Mary Magdalene who saw the angel upon the stone; then bowing down, she saw the other angels inside. The angels announced the Lord’s Resurrection to her and said, ‘He is risen! He is not here! Behold the place where they laid Him’ (Mark 16:6). Hearing this, the women turned to run and announce the Resurrection to the most fervent of the Apostles, that is, to St Peter and St John. But when they returned, they met Christ Himself, Who said to them, ‘Rejoice’ (Matthew 28:9).
St. Ambrose of Optina’s 1871 Paschal Epistle
O ones wise in the Lord! For the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, in place of the usual greetings I wrote to you about the great Mystery of this glorious Feast. And now I would like to say something to you about the mystical meaning of the Triumph of Christian triumphs, that is, the Resurrection of Christ. But because of my weakness and sickness I have neither the strength nor the opportunity. I can only tell you briefly that the yearly triumphant and bright Feast of the Resurrection of Christ, besides having its own meaning, serves also for us as a reminder of the general resurrection of the whole world, which is particularly apparent in the remarkable Paschal Matins.
First: During the radiant night, after the reading of the Midnight Office, there is the triumphal procession around the church by the clergy and all the faithful with lighted candles, together with the cross, the icons, and the ringing of the bells. This is clearly reminiscent of the Gospel parable of the ten virgins woken at midnight with the cry: Behold, the bridegroom cometh! Go ye out to meet Him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps (cf. Matt. 25: 6-7). These virgins are the souls of the faithful, and the Bridegroom is Christ. The night is our temporary life. The lamps are our faith and good works. Do not the Gospel parable as well as the triumphant procession around the church by the faithful accompanied by the ringing of bells represent the general resurrection at the end of the world, when the voice of the archangels’ trumpets will awaken all the dead, and the faithful in the Lord, like the Gospel virgins, will go forth to meet Him with their lamps, each according to her own worthiness?
Second: While this triumphant procession around the church is being performed, the church doors are closed. The faithful that walk see the light in the church, but on the path before them they see only impenetrable darkness, and thus they came to stand before the closed doors of the church. Does this not mean that all who are resurrected at the universal resurrection will see the heavenly bridal chamber of glory, but not all will enter therein — only those who are worthy — whose lamps, like those of the wise virgins, do not go out at the meeting of the Bridegroom Christ? All the rest, who like the foolish virgins have their lamps go out, will pitifully repeat the beginning of the hymn: I see Thy bridal chamber, adorned O my Savior, but I have no wedding garment, that I may enter there(Exapostilarion, Matins of Holy Week).
Third: Before the closed doors of the church, the presiding clergyman gives the usual initial Paschal glorification of the Holy Trinity and the singing of “Christ is Risen.” Then, with the cross in hand, he opens the doors and enters the church first, and after him enter all the other Christians, singing the joyous hymn: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life. Repeating this many times, to it is added yet more joyful singing: It is the day of Resurrection! Let us be radiant, O people! It is the Pascha, the Pascha of the Lord! From death to life and from earth to Heaven, Christ our God has passed us, who sing the hymn of victory! (Irmos, Canon of Paschal Matins). No longer is heard the usual singing that arouses us to compunction, only the ceaseless sweet singing awakening joy in all. The clergy continually come forth from the altar in brilliant vestments; ceaselessly we look upon the Cross of Christ and venerate the symbol of our salvation; ceaselessly we are surrounded by clouds of holy incense. All hold lighted candles in their hands; on the lips of all — those who serve and those present who stand and sing — is heard only the joyful: Christ is Risen!
Thus is celebrated the temporal Pascha of Christ on earth, and all Christians are allowed to celebrate — the worthy and the unworthy, because the present life is subject to change. Often the worthy become unworthy and the unworthy become worthy, which is clearly portrayed by Judas and the thief. At first Judas was among the chosen twelve Apostles of Christ, following Christ for three years, listening continually to His teaching, having the power to cast out demons and heal many different diseases. But at the end he went mad from carelessness and love of money, betrayed Christ, then perished eternally. The thief had been part of a band of hard-core robbers for three years, but, being enlightened upon the cross, he confessed willingly the Crucified Son of God, Lord and Kind, and was the first to enter Paradise. May we always hold these examples in our remembrance, so that we might always refrain from the sin of judging, even though we might see someone sinning at the very end of his life, as St. John of the Ladder assures us.
But it will be different at the heavenly Feast of the eternal Pascha, after the general resurrection and judgment. To that Feast will be allowed only the elect, the worthy. And whoever will once be allowed into the heavenly bridal chamber, to the Feast of the eternal Pascha, will remain eternally among the ranks of celebrants, giving voice to their joy. Whoever is shown to be unworthy to participate in the celebration will be deprived and estranged eternally.
However, now is not the time to speak particularly of the bitter fate of these last, for it is the all-joyous Feast. We will only say that all of us Christians, while we are still alive, should be careful and attentive to our salvation. And those who think they stand, in the words of the Apostle, should take care lest they fall, remembering always the terrible example of Judas who perished. In those of us who are infirm and falling, may the hope of correction be awakened, seeing the comforting example of the wise thief who inherited Paradise.
O, great and holiest Pascha, Christ! O, Wisdom, Word and power of God! Grant that we may more perfectly partake of Thee in the unending day of Thy Kingdom (Canon of Paschal Matins).
Taken from Fr. Sergius Chetverikov, Elder Ambrose of Optina
(Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1997), 190-193.
Features of the services of Bridegroom Matins during Holy Week
Each year we are invited once again to traverse the sacred days of the fast and come to that Week of all weeks – Holy Week. We are invited by the Church to take pause and reorient our crazy hectic schedule around “church time.” Every year we are guided through this rich, profound and beautiful cycle of services where we participate in Christ’s final days. If we pause enough we enter into the deep silence of the fear, isolation, sadness of the coming crucifixion of our Lord. Though the one Subject is Christ Himself, we come to find that it is us as well who become a vital component to these services. As we are remembering these events – Judas, the crowds, the Virgins awaiting the bridegroom, the harlot who anointed Christ’s feet – we begin to see that we are just like these persons. We are the Virgins who are not ready for the bridegroom. We are Judas who so often are willing to sell Christ for the sake of our worldly gain, we are the disciples who deny our Lord, and we are the crowds who boldly proclaim “crucify him!” As a new mission we continue to take steps to fill out our liturgical cycle and this year we are adding the services for Monday through Thursday known as Bridegroom Matins.
The first three days of Holy Week are referred to as “the end”. We have just laid our palm branches down into the silence of Christ’s final days. Darkness and judgment are the theme for the first three days. This is centered around the the Gospel reading from Great and Holy Tuesday found in Matt. 24:36 – 26:2. This is the parable of the ten virgins. Here we are urged not to be like the five foolish virgins who were not prepared for the coming of the bridegroom. The troparion hymn sung on these three days:
*Behold the bridegroom comes at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom he shall find watching; and again, unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless.*
*Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given over to death, and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom.*
*But rouse yourself, crying: “Holy! Holy! Holy! art Thou, O our God. Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!”
—From St. Elizabeth Convent
“Young Fr. Gabriel acquired the spirit of Optina right away. His creative, sensitive soul was receptive to Elder Macarius’ emotional tenor. He would always remember the image of Elder Macarius during Passion Week, singing alone in the Skete Church the Matins exapostilarion, “I see Thy bridal chamber adorned, O my Savior …” The Elder’s voice would be trembling as if in truth he saw before him the doors of heaven slowly opening up. There in the altar the multicolored lights would mysteriously glitter and shine….
(Lovers of Optina since Elder Macarius’ time have kept the tradition during that service of having the holy doors slowly open up, to reveal a multitude of lampadas of all colors on top of, in front of, and all around the altar table, flickering before the cross and mysteriously illuminating the otherwise darkened church. After the exapostilarion verse is sung three times, the doors slowly close, leaving the temple in darkness again.)”
—-From the Biography of Elder Macarius of Optina
The woman had fallen into many sins, O Lord,
yet when she perceived Thy divinity,
she joined the ranks of the myrrh-bearing women.
In tears she brought Thee myrrh before Thy burial.
She cried, “Woe is me!
For I live in the night of licentiousness,
shrouded in the dark and moonless love of sin.
But accept the fountain of my tears,
O Thou who didst gather the waters of the sea into clouds.
Bow down Thine ear to the sighing of my heart,
O Thou who didst bow the heavens in Thine ineffable condescension.
Once Eve heard Thy footsteps in paradise in the cool of the day,
and in fear she ran and hid herself.
But now I will tenderly embrace those pure feet
and wipe them with the hair of my head.
Who can measure the multitutde of my sins,
or the depth of Thy judgements, O Savior of my soul,
Do not despise Thy servant in Thine immeasurable mercy.
—-Hymn of Cassiani (Tone 8) of Bridegroom Matins of Holy Wednesday
The Rector’s Paschal Appeal Letter
“Those who have received liberty (from Christ), set apart everything they have for the Lord’s use, cheerfully and freely giving them like that poor widow, who put her whole livelihood into the treasury of God” (St. Irenaeus of Lyon, 2nd Century).
“Make Christ a partner with you in earthly possessions, that He also may make you a fellow-heir with Him in His heavenly kingdom” ( St.Cyprian of Carthage, 3rd Century).
“Let every man give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loves a cheerful giver!” (2 Corinthians 9:7)
Dear Parishioners and Friends of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church,
CHRIST IS RISEN! INDEED, HE IS RISEN!
In this world there are no more important words than these. In them are contained the totality of our Orthodox faith, and the fullness of our Church’s theology. Being so much more than mere words, this greeting is the reflection of that profound and amazing joy which was experienced by those who came to the empty tomb. They came expecting to encounter death, but instead, they were surprised by Life. Death had been swallowed up, the grave lost its power, and the greatest fear of mankind was turned on its head. With the resurrection of Christ, we were all assured of our own resurrection from the dead, because He raised us up as well. With the resurrection of Christ, death is vanquished, and Satan is crushed. Paradise is open again, and all those who wish to enter may do so.
“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again, I say, rejoice!” says the holy apostle Paul (Phil. 4:4). As we leave behind the soul-profiting school of the Great Fast, let’s not forget the lessons that we learned there. Let us continue, with the help of God, to amend our lives. Let us grow in love for God and for our neighbors. Let us embrace with forgiveness and discover how we are forgiven. Let us flee from self-centeredness and strive for God-centeredness. Let us not leave off from doing good deeds, but instead, seek daily to discover new opportunities for practicing virtue. Let us not forget sacrificial giving, but instead, continue to give generously to the poor, and to our parish, for in so doing, we reap many, many blessings from God.
May our Risen Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ bless each and every one of you, your homes, and your families. May the light that shines forth from the empty tomb shine on you now and always.
CHRIST IS RISEN! INDEED, HE IS RISEN!
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