January, 2022

Focus on the Faith

New Year Looks to Theophany

The New Year is upon us. Let us rejoice and be glad that 2021 is behind us!
In the first week of January we have three celebrations: The Circumcision of Christ, St. Basil the Great, and the Sunday before Theophany. In the ancient church, Theophany was regarded as more important than Christ’s Nativity. How can that be? Because at Christ’s birth the announcement is made of God’s coming into the world for it’s restoration. At Theophany, that work of restoration, actually begins!

St. Paul has written: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8: 19-23.)

We, as Christians, are engaged in this struggle as co-workers with God, to reclaim the fallen world and fallen nature for the Kingdom. We often talk about this in terms of our own salvation, but the Church, addressing all of creation in a holistic manner, also reaches out and reclaims a bit here and a bit there of creation in general. We do this in order that we might restore the usefulness of creation for working out our own salvation. Hence, we bless anything that might help us in our salvation – and by blessing it we reclaim it for the Kingdom of God. We bless water, we bless grapes and fruit, we bless cheese, eggs, meat, we bless wheat wine and oil, we bless all kinds of things, reclaiming them for sacred use, reclaiming them for God’s Kingdom.

There are few things more vital to our lives than our homes. In our homes we pray, we work, we rest, we sleep, we converse with loved ones, we order our lives, we work out our marriages, raise our children, etc. Is there a more important place for us to reclaim for the Kingdom of God ?- or is it better to continue living in a place which is occupied and influenced by the enemy? For the most effective working out of our salvation, we should drive the enemy out of our homes, and keep him at bay by our prayers, our righteous life, and the annual sprinkling by Holy Water at Theophany. Hence this annual and salutary rite of the blessing of homes at Theophany.”

From the Holy Fathers and Mothers

St. John Chrysostom on the New Year (Excerpt)

“Whether you eat, whether you drink, whether you do some other thing, do all for the glory of God” [1 Cor. 10:31]. If we pray, if we fast, if we accuse, if we pardon, if we praise, if we censure, if we enter, if we exit, if we sell, if we buy, if we are silent, if we converse, if we do any thing else whatsoever, let us do all for the glory of God, and if something be not for the glory of God, neither let it be done, nor be spoken by us; but in place of a great staff, in place of arms and safeguard, in place of unspeakable treasures, wherever we might be, let us carry around this word with us, having inscribed it upon our understanding, so that doing and speaking and trafficking all things for the glory of God, we shall obtain the glory that is from him both in this world and after the journey here [i.e. after this life]. “For those that glorified me”, he says, “I will glorify” (1 Kingdoms 2:30 LXX). Not therefore with words, but also through deeds let us glorify him continually with Christ our God, because all glory befits him, honor and worship, now and always unto the ages of ages. Amen.


Theophany House Blessings

Houses are traditionally blessed with “Theophany water” each year. A house can be blessed at any time, but the usual season for yearly blessings is from Theophany until the beginning of the Lenten Triodion, which begins four Sundays before Great Lent begins. This is not a hard and fast rule, but a good rule of thumb.

Normally, we would ask you to sign up for Fr. Basil’s House Blessing List, but due to COVID and other factors, here instead, are intructions for a DIY house blessing!

What you will need

  • Holy Water (preferably that which was blessed on Theophany)
  • A “krupilla” (brush for dispersing the holy water) – you can use a clipping of rosemary or basil. You can also use the “brush” end of a prayer rope.
  • A bowl or other vessel for the water
  • Candles lit in your icon corner, with the family Theophany icon if you have one


Bless the House

The bowl and icon should be placed on a clean table with a cloth on it, preferably near the family icon corner. It is good for candles to be lit. The house should be clean, with all radios and televisions off.

Lights should be “on” and doors opened. The procession for the house blessing should be led by the eldest member of the house. In homes with children, it is always good for the little ones to carry an icon or a small cross and participate in the procession.

The basic order for a simple home blessing is as follows:

  1. The bowl of water, icon and lit candles are placed on a clean table. IF there is a censer, it may be lit.
  2. Begin with the Trisagion prayers as in the prayer book (O Heavenly King through the “Our Father”)
  3. Process through the entire house, sprinkling holy water on all of the walls and suitable objects while singing the Theophany Troparion repeatedly:

Tone 1: When Thou, O Lord wast baptized in the Jordan, / the worship of the Trinity was made manifest; / for the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee, / and called Thee His beloved Son. / And the Spirit in the form of a dove / confirmed the truthfulness of His word. / O Christ our God, Who hast appeared unto us // and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee.(It is a very good idea for the family to sing this troparion, and know it by heart.)

  1. Upon finishing blessing the house, the family gathers again at the table, and the senior family member should pray for all members of the family, e.g.”O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, for the sake of the prayers of Thy most pure Mother, our holy and God-bearing fathers, and all the saints, have mercy on us and save us (names), for Thou art good and the Lover of mankind.””
  2. After this a short prayer:
    “Through the prayers of our holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us.” and the service is ended:

Upcoming Events

Upcoming events this month are in the attached PDF calendar (Events are subject to change! see the online calendar for updates or the attached PDF for more info).


December, 2021

Focus on the Faith


There is an amusing story, written by Matthew Kelly, which goes something like this: “ A parish priest had the custom of visiting his parishioners on Saturday afternoons. He came to one home and knocked on the door. No one answered, but he could hear the radio playing and even some footsteps so he knew someone had to be inside. He knocked louder. No one came. Finally, he pounded on the door, but got no response. So he took out a business card, wrote a Bible verse on it and stuck it in the door.

Ten minutes later a lady – who had been in the house all the time – opened the door. When she did, the card fell out. She saw the priest’s name and the Bible verse: Revelation 3:20. Curious, she got out her Bible and read the verse. It said: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”

Well, on Sunday morning the priest noticed his business card was in the collection basket. When he picked it up, he saw that his verse was crossed out and replaced by Genesis 3:10. The priest was curious so he went to the sacristy and got out his Bible. The verse said, “I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

I know that this story is really a joke, but it  does, nonetheless, make an important point about the meaning of Christmas. Someone IS knocking at our door – and whether or not we open that door determines our life in eternity. It isn’t the parish priest who is knocking, it is the Great High Priest Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Over the millennia, God has gone through great efforts to enter the hearts and lives of the people He created. Even before the world was created, God had each and every one of us in His mind, and a plan as to how He would try to reach us. In every age He has revealed Himself to people, either individually or in a group, as in the case of His original Chosen People, our spiritual forebears, the Jews. But when the time was right, “while all things were in quiet silence, and that night was in the midst of her swift course, Thine Almighty word leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne,…into the midst of a land of destruction” (Wisdom of Solomon 18: 14-15), and took flesh of the Most Holy Virgin, and dwelt among us (cf John 1:14). He became one of us precisely so He could approach us, and be close to us.

David, in the Psalms, says: “My heart said unto Thee: I will seek the Lord” (Psalm 26:8 LXX). An arrogant and haughty heart is naked in its pride. It will always find a way to hide from the Lord. But the humble and open heart, God will not despise, because it rejoices in His presence (cf Psalm 50: 17).


From the Holy Fathers and Mothers

THE RENEWAL OF HUMANITY…the perfection of our humanity, according to the teaching of St. Irenaeus, must be brought to pass by the dispensation of the Incarnation of the Son of God, not by any kind of doctrine, not by the writing of any book. By taking flesh and becoming man, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, made men partakers of the Divine nature. Assuming human nature in the unity of His Hypostasis, the Son of God by taking flesh became the New Adam, the Progenitor of the new humanity. “Beholding him that was in God’s image and likeness fallen through the transgression, Jesus bowed the heavens and came down, and without changing He took up His dwelling in a Virgin womb: that thereby He might fashion corrupt Adam anew.” St. Irenaeus says that the Son of the Most High became the Son of man in order to make man a son of God. In the new humanity, built upon the foundation of the Incarnation of the Son of God, the unity of our human nature, broken by sin, is restored. Christ Himself named this new humanity the Church. (From Holy Scripture and the Church, St. Hilarion Troitsky, in Orthodox Word, 2009)

“Why is it hard to believe that Mary gave birth in a way contrary to the law of natural birth and remained a virgin, when contrary to the law of nature the sea looked at Him and fled, and the waters of the Jordan returned to their source (Ps. 113:3). Is it past belief that a virgin gave birth when we read that a rock issued water (Ex. 17:6), and the waves of the sea were made solid as a wall (Ex. 14:22)? Is it past belief that a Man came from a virgin when a rock bubbled forth a flowing stream (Ex. 20:11), iron floated on water (4 Kings 6:6), a Man walked upon the waters (Mt. 14:26)? If the waters bore a Man, could not a virgin give birth to a man? What Man? Him of Whom we read: ‘…the Lord shall be known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day; and they shall offer sacrifices, and shall vow vows to the Lord, and pay them’ (Is. 19:20).

In the Old Testament a Hebrew virgin (Miriam) led an army through the sea (Ex. 15:21); in the New testament a king’s daughter (the Virgin Mary) was chosen to be the heavenly entrance to salvation.” (St. Ambrose of Milan, Synodal Letter 44)

Orthopraxis – The Real 12 Days of Christmas

Sometime in the early days of November, as things now stand, the “Christmas Season” (or increasingly the “Holiday Season”) begins. The streets are hung with lights, the stores are decorated with red and green, and you can’t turn on the radio without hearing songs about the “spirit of the season” and the glories of Santa Claus who will hopefully put my love life in order. The excitement builds and builds until the morning of December 25, and then it stops, abruptly. Christmas is over, and people go back to their “normal” lives.

The traditional Christian celebration of Christmas, East and West, is exactly the opposite. The preparatory season of Advent for Orthodox Christians begins on the fifteenth of November, and for nearly 6 weeks Christians await the coming of Christ in a spirit of expectation, singing hymns of longing. Then, on December 25, Christmas Day itself ushers in twelve days of celebration, ending only on January 6 with the feast of Theophany, sometimes called “Epiphany.”

A wonderful part of the Orthodox celebration of Christmas is exactly this period of Christmastide or the 12 Days of Christmas. It is one of those rare times in the life of the Church where all fasting is suspended, and the fulness of Christ’s incarnation is on full display.

The Twelve Days of Christmas are a festive period linking together two Great Feasts of the Lord: Nativity and Theophany. During this this 12 Day period one celebration leads into another. The Nativity of Christ is a three day celebration: the formal title of the first day is “The Nativity According to the Flesh of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ”, and celebrates not only the Nativity of Jesus, but also the Adoration of the Shepherds of Bethlehem and the arrival of the Magi; the second day is referred to as the “Synaxis of the Theotokos”, and commemorates the role of the Virgin Mary in the Incarnation; the third day is known as the “Third Day of the Nativity”, and is also the feast day of the Protodeacon and Protomartyr Saint Stephen. The 29th of December is the Orthodox Feast of the Holy Innocents. The Afterfeast of the Nativity (similar to the Western octave) continues until 31 December (that day is known as the Apodosis or “Leave-taking” of the Nativity).

The Saturday following the Nativity is commemorated by special readings from the Epistle (1 Tim 6:11-16) and Gospel (Matt 12:15-21) during the Divine Liturgy. The Sunday after Nativity has its own liturgical commemoration in honor of “The Righteous Ones: Joseph the Betrothed, David the King and James the Brother of the Lord”.

The 1st of January, the “hinge” at the center of the festal period, is another feast of the Lord (though not ranked as a Great Feast): the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord. On this same day is also the feast day of Saint Basil the Great, and so the service celebrated on that day is the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil. The 2nd of January begins the Forefeast of the Theophany.

The Eve of the Theophany (5th of January) is a day of strict fasting, on which the devout will not eat anything until the first star is seen at night. This day is known as Paramoni (“Preparation”), and follows the same general outline as Christmas Eve. That morning is the celebration of the Royal Hours and then the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil combined with Vespers, at the conclusion of which is celebrated the Great Blessing of Waters, in commemoration of the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. There are certain parallels between the hymns chanted on Paramoni and those of Good Friday, to show that, according to Orthodox theology, the steps that Jesus took into the Jordan River were the first steps on the way to the Cross. That night the All-Night Vigil is served for the Feast of the Theophany.


Upcoming Events

Upcoming events this month are in the attached PDF calendar (Events are subject to change! see the online calendar for updates or the attached PDF for more info).


November, 2021

Focus on the Faith: Advent & the Nativity Fast

On November 15, forty days before Christmas, the Church begins to prepare for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord. This time of preparation is sometimes called ‘Advent,’ because advent means the coming or arrival of someone or something. During these forty days, we prepare to celebrate the coming of God’s Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, into this world. Jesus came into this world as a little child born as an infant from Mary, His Most-holy mother.

Many faithful people had waited a long time for the coming of Jesus. God had promised to send a Savior to His people, hundreds, and even thousands, of years before Jesus was born on earth. During that long period of time when people were waiting, God spoke to prophets — holy men and leaders among His people — and told them how He wanted His people to prepare for the coming of His Son. He told them that they must repent, change their way of life, make peace with one another, care for each other, and be obedient and faithful to God.

Every year, during these forty days, we also wait and prepare for the coming of Jesus. We repent of our bad habits and try to change our way of life. We think about how we have behaved toward other people, and we try harder to be helpful to our friends, our neighbors and members of our family. We also try to be faithful and obedient to God in all that we do. Through fasting and extra effort in prayer, we try to prepare both our bodies and minds to receive Christ into our lives and homes.

Forty days can seem like a very long time to wait for something; it is more than one month, almost six weeks. We know how anxious we are when a birthday or name day approaches; we want to start planning a party and inviting our friends. If we are preparing for someone else’s special day, we begin thinking about the kind of gift we wish to give them. As the day draws near, we can hardly wait to begin the celebration. When we stop to think about it, we realize that part of the enjoyment of each celebration is the time we spend getting ready for it and waiting for it. The Church helps us to get ready for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. First, the Church issues an announcement, like an invitation, telling us that the Feast of the Nativity is approaching. Then, during the last weeks of November and the beginning of December, there are more announcements made which tell us what to look for as the feast approaches and how to get ready. These are the days on which some of the announcements are made:

November 15 – This is the first day of the Nativity Fast, which begins forty days before Christmas. It is a good day for deciding how we should spend these days of Lent, what we should do to try to improve our way of living, and how we should spend our time in order to allow more time for prayer and preparation for the coming feast. On this day, we might mark the special days on the calendar that lead us to Christmas, or we might begin to make an Advent Calendar or make an Advent Wreath

November 21 – This day is a major feast which commemorates the Entrance of the Virgin into the Temple. It is a feast that honors Jesus’ mother, the Theotokos and Ever-virgin Mary, and it marks the first announcement that is given in the Church of the coming of Jesus. During the Matins service, the words, ‘Christ is born! Glorify Him!” are sung for the first time. They will be sung at every Sunday Matins until Christmas.

November 30 – The last day of November is the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle. During the services commemorating the life of St. Andrew, the Church adds two more hymns which tell us what will happen on the day of Jesus’ birth.

December 6 – This day is dedicated to the memory of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. The life of St. Nicholas is a good example for us to follow if we want to learn how to care for and help one another. In the services on this day, we hear another hymn which tells us how the whole earth prepares to glorify the birth of Jesus.

The Two Sundays Before the Nativity of Christ (Christmas)

The first of these days is called the Sunday of the Forefathers. The verses from the services on this day tell us how the people of the Old Testament prepared for the coming of the Savior. The Sunday before Christmas is the Sunday of the Fathers. The services repeat some of the same hymns that were sung on the Sunday of the Forefathers. The Gospel lesson read on this day lists all the generations of the ancestors of Jesus who lived on earth.

From the Holy Fathers and Mothers

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14). And just exactly as all who were bitten by the serpents looked upon the bronze serpent which was suspended and were healed, thus also every Christian who believes in our Christ and has recourse to His life-bearing wounds… is cured of the bites of the spiritual serpent of sin and by this most holy nourishment is made to live unto the renewal of a new creation, that is, new life in harmony with His life-giving commandments. (Elder Ephraim of Arizona)

Upon Mount Tabor, Jesus revealed to his disciples a heavenly mystery. While living among them he had spoken of the kingdom and of his second coming in glory, but to banish from their hearts any possible doubt concerning the kingdom, and to confirm their faith in what lay in the future by its prefiguration in the present, he gave them on Mount Tabor a wonderful vision of his glory, a foreshadowing of the kingdom of heaven.” (St. Anastasios of Sinai)

“I cannot describe to you how much our Panagia likes chastity and purity. Since she is the only pure Virgin, she wants and loves everyone to be like that. As soon as we cry out to her, she rushes to our help. You don’t even finish saying, ‘All-holy Theotokos, help me’ and at once, like lightning, she shines through the nous and fills the heart with illumination. She draws the nous to prayer and the heart to Love.” (Elder Joseph the Hesychast)

November Saints & Feasts

November 1 – Holy and Wonderworking Unmercenaries Cosmas and Damian of Asia (3rd c.)

Three pairs of Unmercenary Physicians (Anargyri) named Cosmas and Damian are commemorated (November 1, on October 17, and on July 1); The two commemorated today lived near Ephesus in Asia. They were of noble birth and well-educated in all the branches of higher learning; but they turned away from worldly knowledge to practice medicine without charge for anyone who sought their help, caring for the rich as well as poor, and even for animals. They used none of the secular tools of medicine, but relied only on the Name of Christ, by which they were enabled to perform countless healings. Both reposed in peace.

November 9 – St. Nektarios

† Our Father among the Saints Nektarios, bishop of Pentapolis, Wonderworker, and founder of the Monastery of the Holy Trinity on Aegina (1920). Saint Nektarios was born in Selyvria of Thrace on October 11, 1846. After putting himself through school in Constantinople with much hard labour, he became a monk on Chios in 1876, receiving the monastic name of Lazarus; because of his virtue, a year later he was ordained deacon, receiving the new name of Nektarios. Under the patronage of Patriarch Sophronius of Alexandria, Nektarios went to Athens to study in 1882; completing his theological studies in 1885, he went to Alexandria, where Patriarch Sophronius ordained him priest on March 23, 1886 in the Cathedral of Saint Sabbas, and in August of the same year, in the Church of Saint Nicholas in Cairo, made him Archimandrite. Archimandrite Nektarios showed much zeal both for preaching the word of God, and for the beauty of God’s house. He greatly beautified the Church of Saint Nicholas in Cairo, and years later, when Nektarios was in Athens, Saint Nicholas appeared to him in a dream, embracing him and telling him he was going to exalt him very high.

“On January 15, 1889, in the same Church of Saint Nicholas, Nektarios was consecrated Metropolitan of Pentapolis in eastern Libya, which was under the jurisdiction of Alexandria. Although Nektarios’ swift ascent through the degrees of ecclesiastical office did not affect his modesty and childlike innocence, it aroused the envy of lesser men, who convinced the elderly Sophronius that Nektarios had it in his heart to become Patriarch. Since the people loved Nektarios, the Patriarch was troubled by the slanders. On May 3, 1890, Sophronius relieved Metropolitan Nektarios of his duties; in July of the same year, he commanded Nektarios to leave Egypt.

“Without seeking to avenge or even to defend himself, the innocent Metropolitan left for Athens, where he found that accusations of immorality had arrived before him. Because his good name had been soiled, he was unable to find a position worthy of a bishop, and in February of 1891 accepted the position of provincial preacher in Euboia; then, in 1894, he was appointed dean of the Rizarios Ecclesiastical School in Athens. Through his eloquent sermons, his tireless labours to educate men for the priesthood, his generous almsgiving despite his own poverty, and the holiness, meekness, and fatherly love that were manifest in him, he became a shining light and a spiritual guide to many. At the request of certain pious women, in 1904 he began the building of his convent of the Holy Trinity on the island of Aegina while yet dean of the Rizarios School; finding later that his presence there was needed, he took up his residence on Aegina in 1908, where he spent the last years of his life, devoting himself to the direction of his convent and to very intense prayer; he was sometimes seen lifted above the ground while rapt in prayer. He became the protector of all Aegina, through his prayers delivering the island from drought, healing the sick, and casting out demons. Here also he endured wicked slanders with singular patience, forgiving his false accusers and not seeking to avenge himself. Although he had already worked wonders in life, an innumerable multitude of miracles have been wrought after his repose in 1920 through his holy relics, which for many years remained incorrupt. There is hardly a malady that has not been cured through his prayers; but Saint Nektarios is especially renowned for his healings of cancer for sufferers in all parts of the world.” (Great Horologion)

Upcoming Events

Upcoming events this month are in the attached PDF calendar (Events are subject to change! see the online calendar for updates or the attached PDF for more info).


August, 2021

Focus on the Faith: August

JULY was a month in which there were no Great Feasts and no special fasting periods. August is very different. The first two weeks are kept as a fast in preparation for the Dormition of the Mother of God. And there are five major feast days in the month, two of them ranked among the Twelve Great Feasts of the Church Year, and one of them itself specially kept as an extra fast day.

Three of the feasts are those of our Lord and, in the Russian practice, are popularly know as the First, Second and Third (feasts) of the Saviour. These are: The Procession of the Honourable Wood of the Cross (1st); the Great Feast of the Transfiguration (6th) and the Translation of the Holy Image of the Saviour made-without-hands (16th). The Dormition (Falling Asleep) of the Mother of God itself (15th) is kept as a Great Feast, and near the end of the month we have the Beheading of St John the Baptist (29th August), which is the feast also kept as a fast day, even though this year it falls on a Sunday.

The “First Saviour” is a feast that was inaugurated in Byzantine times, because in the heat of summer, the Imperial City was often plagued with diseases and epidemics. The portion of the Cross, kept in the Imperial Palace, was, during the first two weeks of August, solemnly taken around the City so that the people could resort to it in this time of particular trial. The feast reminds us of something that we so often forget: that in time of need we should turn to the Saviour and the power of His Cross for help, just as the Israelites of old turned to the up-raised brazen serpent in the wilderness for deliverance from the plague of snake-bites they were suffering (Numbers 21:4-9). The bringing out of the Cross in our churches on this day also strengthens us to keep the holy fast, as does the witness of the Maccabee Martyrs, who, even in the Old Testament dispensation, before Grace was poured out, preferred to die rather than break the fasting prescriptions which holy Tradition had given them.

The “Second Saviour” is the festival of the Lord’s Divine glory, when on Mount Tabor that glory was revealed to the Apostles Peter, James and John (Matthew 17:1-9, Luke 9:28-36). It is also a festival of the Holy Trinity. God the Son is seen in the person of Jesus Christ, the Father is heard to speak from Heaven, and the Holy Spirit is manifest in the dazzling light. We are also called to partake in the glory which is manifested in this festival. Christ had that glory naturally being God as well as being a man; we are called to share in that glory, not as possessing it naturally or as of right, but through His grace and mercy. We bless grapes and other fruit on this day (see separate article).

Next in the calendar comes the Great Feast of the Dormition, in which we see one of our kind, the Mother of God, entering into that same glory, and being clothed upon with it, so that in the psalmic prophecy concerning her, it says not only does she stand at the right hand of her Son as Queen, but that she is “arrayed in a vesture of inwoven gold, adorned in varied colours” (Ps. 44:8) Our calling to partake of the glory of the Divinity is not mission impossible, the All-holy Virgin, one of our kind, has already and is already achieving it.

The “Third Saviour” commemorates an event which took place in the year 944, when the Holy Mandilioni.e. the Holy Napkin, was received at the Imperial City of Constantinople. The history of this icon stretches back to the earthly life of our Saviour. At that time the prince of Edessa, Abgar, fell ill and petitioned the Saviour to visit him and cure him. Failing that, he asked that an artist might be permitted to paint the Saviour and take the portrait back to the prince, so that looking upon His likeness he might receive a blessing. Instead, the Lord pressed a cloth towel to His face and gave it to the artist, who found the Divine countenance imprinted upon the cloth miraculously. He took this icon, not made by hands, back to the prince who was thereby healed of his disease. Later the Apostle Thaddæus preached the Gospel in Edessa, and the prince, Abgar, and many of his people were converted to the True Faith. The prince had the wonder-working icon set in a niche above the city gates as a protection for their city. However, a couple of generations later, pagan rulers took over the city, and fearing that the icon might be desecrated, the Christians placed a burning oil lamp before it, and then sealed over the niche with a tile. Centuries later it was re-discovered, and it was found that two further miracles had happened. The oil lamp was still burning before the icon, and a copy of the icon had been imprinted on the tile which had sealed the niche. As those parts had been overrun by Moslems, the icon was taken to Constantinople in the tenth century for safe-keeping and as a protection for the Christian Empire. It is believed that the icon was stolen by the Crusaders after the sack of the City in A.D 1204, and that the ship which was carrying it away to Venice was wrecked in the sea of Marmara, and thus the icon was lost. Copies of the icon are, however, revered in nearly every Orthodox church throughout the world. The depiction shows only the face of the Lord, on the towel, surrounded by a halo, which in turn is divided by three arms of a cross in which we have the Greek letters, omicron, omega and nu, which signify He Who is, and so proclaim the Divinity of the Saviour.

The fifth important feast in the month is the Beheading of the Baptist, which is usually celebrated with a Vigil service. This festival celebrates the martyric death of St John the Forerunner, which is recorded in the Gospels (Matt. 14:1-13; Mark 6:14-30). The Baptist spent his whole life, from infancy, in the wilderness (Luke 1:80), and so lived a life of the severest asceticism, as our Saviour Himself testifies (Matt. 11:18), and so we honour him with prayer and fasting. Also Herod and those will him spent this day partying and so, as so often happens at such events, fell into sin, and our fasting is a statement of dissociation from his manner of life. Many Orthodox people have a custom of never eating anything round or red on this day in memory of the Baptist’s sacrifice.

From the Holy Fathers and Mothers

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14). And just exactly as all who were bitten by the serpents looked upon the bronze serpent which was suspended and were healed, thus also every Christian who believes in our Christ and has recourse to His life-bearing wounds… is cured of the bites of the spiritual serpent of sin and by this most holy nourishment is made to live unto the renewal of a new creation, that is, new life in harmony with His life-giving commandments. (Elder Ephraim of Arizona)

Upon Mount Tabor, Jesus revealed to his disciples a heavenly mystery. While living among them he had spoken of the kingdom and of his second coming in glory, but to banish from their hearts any possible doubt concerning the kingdom, and to confirm their faith in what lay in the future by its prefiguration in the present, he gave them on Mount Tabor a wonderful vision of his glory, a foreshadowing of the kingdom of heaven.” (St. Anastasios of Sinai)

“I cannot describe to you how much our Panagia likes chastity and purity. Since she is the only pure Virgin, she wants and loves everyone to be like that. As soon as we cry out to her, she rushes to our help. You don’t even finish saying, ‘All-holy Theotokos, help me’ and at once, like lightning, she shines through the nous and fills the heart with illumination. She draws the nous to prayer and the heart to Love.” (Elder Joseph the Hesychast)

Orthopraxis: August

AUGUST 1, The Feast of the Procession of the Cross. Blessing of Water & Honey. Bring a Holy Water bottle or jar to fill, and new honey to be blessed after the Liturgy. Honey is blessed on this day because it is the season of gathering of new honey, reminding us of the sweetness of our Saviour (1st Feast of the Saviour). On this day we offer Christ sweetness, as opposed to those who offered Him vinegar and gall when He was suffering on the Cross.

AUGUST 6, Holy Transfiguration. Bring grapes and seasonal fruits to be blessed in church after the Liturgy. On the Holy Feast-Day of Transfiguration our tradition calls for Orthodox Christians to bring fruits (and even vegetables) to be blessed on this day. The most common fruit to be blessed are grapes, because of their association with the Eucharist. The blessing of fruits i.e., grapes, apples, etc., as well as vegetables on this day, signifies the final transfiguration of all things in Christ our Savior, the transfiguration of the whole world. It signifies the ultimate flowering and fruitfulness of all creation in the Paradise of God’s Kingdom of Life where all will be transformed by the Glory of the Lord.

This is an early Christian tradition. The first week of August, on the sixth of August, the farmers used to gather the first fruits of their summer harvest (grapes, figs, etc.) and to offer thanks to God bringing them to the Church to be blessed and then to give them to the faithful present at the Divine Liturgy as a blessing to them. These fruits are called the “firstfruits.” In a text from the 7th century (“The Laws of the Kingdom”) by Emperor Constantine “Porphyrogenitos” this tradition is described clearly: “The Emperor of Constantinople gathers the “firstfruits” in Chalcedon, where there are many vines, and then he waits for the Patriarch of Constantinople to come on the Holy Day of the Transfiguration of Christ, to bless the fruits and to personally hand out the grapes to the faithful.” This tradition of blessing and distributing grapes is adhered to in various parts of the world where they grow grapes. In other areas, such as Russia, apples or other seasonal fruits are used.

AUGUST 15, Feast of the Dormition (Falling Asleep) of the Most-Holy Virgin Mary. On this day we bring fragrant flowers and herbs to be blessed after the Divine Liturgy.

Holy Tradition tells us that all the Apostles, with the exception of St. Thomas, were transported mystically to Jerusalem in order to be with the Mother of God – the Theotokos – as she reposed, and to be present at her burial. When the Apostle Thomas arrived the next day, the Apostles opened the tomb so that he could kiss her farewell. As the tomb was opened, the body of the Most Pure Virgin was missing, and the cave was filled with flowers and the sweet fragrance of Paradise. This was a sure sign of her great purity and holiness to the faithful. Therefore as part of our celebration of Dormition we bless flowers and fragrant herbs – and the faithful traditionally keep them in their homes. The herbs, used as natural medicine, are blessed in commemoration of the numerous healings and the extraordinary grace bestowed on the pilgrims at the blessed tomb of the Mother of God. During times of family strife or illness, it is a pious custom to place the flower petals in the house censer, together with the incense, and cense the whole house with it.

Upcoming Events

Upcoming events this month are in the attached PDF calendar (Events are subject to change! see the online calendar for updates or the attached PDF for more info).


July, 2021

Focus on the Faith: The Fourth of July

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 barbecues, 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.” It means 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,” but 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. This year we will celebrate it on July 5, Monday, the official day set aside by the US government. Also it is a holy pilgrimage site because St. Innocent visited here, and perhaps even the youth-martyr Peter the Aleut. Please make an effort to participate!

While this 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.)

Lives of Saints

John (Maximovitch) the Wonderworker

Our father among the saints John (Maximovitch), Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco (1896-1966), was a diocesan bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) who served widely from China to France to the United States. He departed this life on June 19 (O.S.) / July 2 (N.S.), 1966, and was officially glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad on July 2, 1994. His glorification was later recognized for universal veneration by the Patriarchate of Moscow on July 2, 2008.

The future St. John was born on June 4, 1896, in the southern Russian village (current day Ukraine) of Adamovka in Kharkov province to pious aristocrats, Boris and Glafira Maximovitch. He was given the baptismal name of Michael, after the Holy Archangel Michael. In his youth, Michael was sickly and had a poor appetite, but he displayed an intense religious interest. He was educated at the Poltava Military School (1907-14), Kharkiv Imperial University, from which he received a law degree (in 1918), and the University of Belgrade (where he completed his theological education in 1925). He and his family fled their country as the Bolshevik revolutionaries descended on the country, emigrating to Yugoslavia. There, he enrolled in the Department of Theology of the University of Belgrade. He was tonsured a monk in 1926 by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kharkov (later the first primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia). Metropolitan Anthony later in 1926 ordained him hierodeacon. Bishop Gabriel of Chelyabinsk ordained him hieromonk on November 21, 1926. Subsequent to his ordination he began an active life of teaching in a Serbian high school and serving, at the request of local Greeks and Macedonians, in the Greek language. With the growth of his popularity, the bishops of the Russian Church Aboard resolved to elevate him to the episcopate.

Hieromonk John was consecrated bishop on May 28, 1934, with Metropolitan Anthony serving as principal consecrator, after which he was assigned to the Diocese of Shanghai. Twelve years later he was named Archbishop of China. Upon his arrival in Shanghai, Bp. John began working to restore unity among the various Orthodox nationalities. In time, he worked to build a large cathedral church that was dedicated to the Surety of Sinners Icon to the Mother of God, with a bell tower and large parish house. Additionally, he inspired many activities: the building churches, hospitals, and orphanages in Shanghai. He was intensely active, constantly praying and serving the daily cycle of services, while also visiting the sick with the Holy Gifts. He often would walk barefooted even in the coldest days. Yet to avoid the appearance of secular glory, he would pretend to act the fool. He gave generously to the needy and served the poor without a thought for his own needs.

With the end of World War II and the coming to power of the Communists in China, Bishop John led the exodus of his community from Shanghai in 1949. Initially, he helped some 5,000 refugees to a camp on the island of Tubabao in the Philippines, while he travelled successfully to Washington, D.C., to lobby for amending the law to allow these refugees to enter the United States. It was while on this trip that Bishop John took time to establish a parish in Washington dedicated to St. John the Forerunner.

In 1951, Archbishop John was assigned to the Archdiocese of Western Europe with his cathedra in Paris. During his time there, he also served as archpastor of the Orthodox Church of France, whose restored Gallican liturgy he studied and then celebrated. He was the principal consecrator of the Orthodox Church of France’s first modern bishop, Jean-Nectaire (Kovalevsky) of Saint-Denis, and ordained to the priesthood the man who would become its second bishop, Germain (Bertrand-Hardy) of Saint-Denis.

In 1962, Archbishop John was assigned to the Diocese of San Francisco, succeeding his longtime friend Archbishop Tikhon. Archbishop John’s days in San Francisco were to prove sorrowful as he attempted to heal the great disunity in his community. He was able to bring peace such that the new cathedral, dedicated to the Joy of all Who Sorrow Icon of the Mother of God, was completed.

Deeply revering St. John of Kronstadt, Archbishop John played an active role in the preparation for his canonization.

He reposed during a visit to Seattle on July 2, 1966, while accompanying a tour of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God. He was laid to rest in a crypt chapel under the main altar of the new cathedral until his canonization, when his relics were placed in the nave.

Quotes from the Fathers: On Freedom

“Some people, by the word freedom, understand it to mean the ability to do whatever one wants … People who have allowed themselves to become slaves of sins, passions, and defilements more often than others appear as zealots of external freedom, wanting to broaden the laws as much as possible. But such a man uses external freedom only to more severely burden himself with inner slavery. True freedom is the active ability of a man, who is not enslaved to sin, who is not pricked by a condemning conscience, to choose the better in the light of God’s truth, and to bring it into actuality with the help of the gracious power of God. This is the freedom from which neither heaven nor earth are restricted.” (St. Philaret of Moscow, Sermon on the Birthday of Emperor Nicholas I, 1851)

“In truth there is only one freedom – the holy freedom of Christ, whereby He freed us from sin, from evil, from the devil. It binds us to God. All other freedoms are illusory, false, that is to say, they are all, in fact, slavery.” (St. Justin Popovich, Ascetical and Theological Chapters, II.36)

“To yield and give way to our passions is the lowest slavery, even as to rule over them is the only liberty.” (St. Justin Martyr, Fragments, Fragment 18)

Orthopraxis: Vacation


Taking a vacation from God over the summer (or anytime, really) is hazardous to your spiritual health!

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy,” sings Clare in George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.” As the weather warms up, our brains begin to melt and our thoughts fixate on vacation, relaxation, and the “laying aside of all earthly cares.” The problem with this fixation is that we sometimes listen to that “moneychanger of the mind” who encourages us to “lay aside” all spiritual cares as well! It’s an established fact that church attendance plummets in the summer months – not just here at St. Nicholas, but universally. Folks forget to “plan” about “church” in the midst of all their other summertime plans, (about which they are very careful indeed!) But our church attendance, our church giving, our prayer life, our Scripture reading, all of these should also be taken into account as we prepare for our hiatus from work, school, from town, etc.

Like all of life, our spiritual life is lived in a certain rhythm. Over the Church year, with all of its fasts and feasts, a certain momentum is developed in our souls. This momentum is a result of the active presence of the Holy Spirit in us — guiding our decisions, nourishing our souls, and leading us to a personal communion with our Lord Jesus Christ. However, if this momentum is not kept up, all that we have gained begins to get lost. The Christian life is often compared to a spiritual ladder which all of us must climb if we desire to see Christ. I would like to suggest that the Christian life is more like a “descending” escalator which we must “ascend.” Making progress is difficult, but not impossible, because we are aided by the power of God.  But as soon as we stop climbing, we immediately begin a rapid descent backwards, down to the very bottom. As a parish priest, I have sadly seen more people than I would like to count who had grown greatly over the winter and spring seasons of the Church year, only to fall right back to square one because they took “time off” from church over the summer. The result of their “breather” was a loss of this Spirit-driven momentum. Like a muscle, when our souls are left inactive they atrophy.

So, if you are going away this summer, go online and find where there may be Orthodox churches near where you will be. If you need help with this, feel free to ask me for assistance.  Are you going to Antarctica? No worries! Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church is there for you! If you are going out to the wilderness, or a remote cabin or on a camping trip, take along a Bible and a prayer book; read the prayers and services and celebrate the glory of nature with its Creator. Every day is a “day that the Lord has made”. Every season, every moment of our lives is a gift from God. Any time is a good time to spend with the Lord.


Upcoming Events

Upcoming events this month are in the attached PDF calendar (Events are subject to change! see the online calendar for updates or the attached PDF for more info).


June, 2021

Focus on the Faith: The Feast of Pentecost

By Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

In the Church’s annual liturgical cycle, Pentecost is “the last and great day.” It is the celebration by the Church of the coming of the Holy Spirit as the end – the achievement and fulfillment – of the entire history of salvation. For the same reason, however, it is also the celebration of the beginning: it is the “birthday” of the Church as the presence among us of the Holy Spirit, of the new life in Christ, of grace, knowledge, adoption to God and holiness.

This double meaning and double joy is revealed to us, first of all, in the very name of the feast. Pentecost in Greek means fifty, and in the sacred biblical symbolism of numbers, the number fifty symbolizes both the fulness of time and that which is beyond time: the Kingdom of God itself. It symbolizes the fulness of time by its first component: 49, which is the fulness of seven (7 x 7): the number of time. And, it symbolizes that which is beyond time by its second component: 49 + 1, this one being the new day, the “day without evening” of God’s eternal Kingdom. With the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Christ’s disciples, the time of salvation, the Divine work of redemption has been completed, the fulness revealed, all gifts bestowed: it belongs to us now to “appropriate” these gifts, to be that which we have become in Christ: participants and citizens of His Kingdom.

The all-night Vigil service begins with a solemn invitation:” Let us celebrate Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, The appointed day of promise, and the fulfillment of hope, The mystery which is as great as it is precious.”

In the coming of the Spirit, the very essence of the Church is revealed:

“The Holy Spirit provides all, Overflows with prophecy, fulfills the priesthood, Has taught wisdom to illiterates, has revealed fishermen as theologians, He brings together the whole council of the Church.”

In the three readings of the Old Testament (Numbers 11:16-17, 24-29; Joel 2:23-32; Ezekiel 36:24-28) we hear the prophecies concerning the Holy Spirit. We are taught that the entire history of mankind was directed towards the day on which God “would pour out His Spirit upon all flesh.” This day has come! All hope, all promises, all expectations have been fulfilled. At the end of the Aposticha hymns, for the first time since Easter, we sing the hymn: “O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth…,” the one with which we inaugurate all our services, all prayers, which is, as it were, the life-breath of the Church, and whose coming to us, whose “descent” upon us in this festal Vigil, is indeed the very experience of the Holy Spirit “coming and abiding in us.”

Having reached its climax, the Vigil continues as an explosion of joy and light for “verily the light of the Comforter has come and illumined the world.” In the Gospel reading (John 20:19-23) the feast is interpreted to us as the feast of the Church, of her divine nature, power and authority. The Lord sends His disciples into the world, as He Himself was sent by His Father. Later, in the antiphons of the Liturgy, we proclaim the universality of the apostles’ preaching, the cosmical significance of the feast, the sanctification of the whole world, the true manifestation of God’s Kingdom.

The liturgical peculiarity of Pentecost is a very special Vespers of the day itself. Usually this service follows immediately the Divine Liturgy, is “added” to it as its own fulfillment. The service begins as a solemn “summing up” of the entire celebration, as its liturgical synthesis. We hold flowers in our hands symbolizing the joy of the eternal spring, inaugurated by the coming of the Holy Spirit. After the festal Entrance, this joy reaches its climax in the singing of the Great Prokeimenon:

“Who is so great a God as our God?”

Then, having reached this climax, we are invited to kneel. This is our first kneeling since Easter. It signifies that after these fifty days of Paschal joy and fulness, of experiencing the Kingdom of God, the Church now is about to begin her pilgrimage through time and history. It is evening again, and the night approaches, during which temptations and failures await us, when, more than anything else, we need Divine help, that presence and power of the Holy Spirit, who has already revealed to us the joyful End, who now will help us in our effort towards fulfillment and salvation.

All this is revealed in the three prayers which the celebrant reads now as we all kneel and listen to him. In the first prayer, we bring to God our repentance, our increased appeal for forgiveness of sins, the first condition for entering into the Kingdom of God.

In the second prayer, we ask the Holy Spirit to help us, to teach us to pray and to follow the true path in the dark and difficult night of our earthly existence. Finally, in the third prayer, we remember all those who have achieved their earthly journey, but who are united with us in the eternal God of Love.

The joy of Easter has been completed and we again have to wait for the dawn of the Eternal Day. Yet, knowing our weakness, humbling ourselves by kneeling, we also know the joy and the power of the Holy Spirit who has come. We know that God is with us, that in Him is our victory.

Thus is completed the feast of Pentecost and we enter “the ordinary time” of the year. Yet, every Sunday now will be called “after Pentecost” – and this means that it is from the power and light of these fifty days that we shall receive our own power, the Divine help in our daily struggle. At Pentecost we decorate our churches with flowers and green branches – for the Church “never grows old, but is always young.” It is an evergreen, everliving Tree of grace and life, of joy and comfort. For the Holy Spirit – “the Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life – comes and abides in us, and cleanses us from all impurity,” and fills our life with meaning, love, faith and hope.

From the Fathers

“The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit share one nature, one essence, one substance. That is why the Three Faces are the Trinity, one-in-substance. Humans also have one nature, one substance.

But while God is the Indivisible Trinity, divisions occur in mankind constantly… The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have common thoughts, common will, common actions. What the Father desires, the Son also desires, and the Holy Spirit also desires. Whatever the Son loves, so do the Father and the Holy Spirit also love. Whatever is pleasing to the Holy Spirit, is pleasing to the Father and Son. Their actions are also common among them, all act in conjunction and in accord.

This is not so with man. We are in constant disagreement, we have differing desires. Even a small child expresses his own wishes, willfulness, disobedience to his loving parents. As he grows older, he separates from them more, and so often in our day becomes completely alienated from them. People simply don’t share identical opinions, on the contrary, there are perpetual divisions in all things, quarrels, and conflicts between individuals, wars between nations.

Adam and Eve, before their Fall, were in full accord and of common spirit with one another at all times. Having sinned, alienation was immediately sensed. Justifying himself before God, Adam blamed Eve. Their sin divided them and continues to divide all of mankind. Emancipated from sin, we approach God, and, filled with His grace, we sense our unity with the rest of mankind. Such unity is very imperfect and lacking since in each person some portion of sin remains. The closer we approach God, the closer we approach each other, just as the closer rays of light are to each other, the closer they are to the Sun. In the coming Kingdom of God, there will be unity, mutual love, and concord. The Holy Trinity remains eternally unchanging, all-perfect, united in essence, and indivisible.

The One, Indivisible Trinity ever remains the Trinity. The Father always remains the Father, the Son remains the Son, the Holy Spirit remains the Holy Spirit. Besides Their personal Properties, They all share all in common and in unity. That is why the Holy Trinity is One God.”

+ St. John Maximovich of Shanghai and San Francisco

“Jesus tells us that His holy Disciples will be more courageous and more understanding when they would be, as the Scripture says, Endowed with power from on high (Luke 24:49), and that when their minds would be illuminated by the torch of the Spirit they would be able to see into all things, even though no longer able to question Him bodily present among them. The Saviour does not say that they would no longer as before need the light of His guidance, but that when they received His Spirit, when He was dwelling in their hearts, they would not be wanting in any good thing, and their minds would be filled with most perfect knowledge.”

+ St. Cyril of Alexandria

“But as the old Confusion of tongues was laudable, when men who were of one language in wickedness and impiety, even as some now venture to be, were building the Tower; for by the confusion of their language the unity of their intention was broken up, and their undertaking destroyed; so much more worthy of praise is the present miraculous one. For being poured from One Spirit upon many men, it brings them again into harmony. And there is a diversity of Gifts, which stands in need of yet another Gift to discern which is the best, where all are praiseworthy.”

+ St. Gregory Nazianzen, Oration on Pentecost

Orthopraxis: How to Celebratre Pentecost at Home

by Fr. Anthony Coniaris

Since Pentecost is the birthday of the Church it can be celebrated in the home by baking a special birthday cake for the Church and serving it as dessert. One candle may be used to represent each 100 years of the Church’s existence. Nineteen or twenty candles may be used. The whole family can sing “Happy Birthday” to the Church and blow the candles out together.

The opportunity may be used to read and discuss the Scripture lessons that are read in Church on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11 and John 7:37-52, 8:12).

A discussion can follow on what the Church is. It is the Body of Christ through which He continues to be present in the world today: to teach us, forgive us, guide us, bless us, strengthen us. After Christ ascended into heaven, He established the Church to carry on His work. When we go to Church on Sunday, we are going to Christ. When we support the Church with our offerings, we are supporting Christ. When we listen to the Church, we are listening to Christ.

The Body of Christ

The Church is called the Body of Christ because just as Christ once used His physical Body to do the work of God in the world, so now He uses His mystical Body, the Church.

On the long high front wall of a church that was just being completed, an artist started painting a picture of Christ as the Good Shepherd. Only the firm brush strokes outlining the head could be seen. A stranger stopped in and asked curiously, “When will the picture be finished?”

A workman replied. ”That picture? It is finished.”

“Finished?” repeated the startled visitor. “Why all it is, is the outline of a head. Most of it is still missing – the eyes, mouth, arms, legs and feet – the whole body is missing!”

“You won’t see that on a wall,” the workman replied. “The body of Christ is the congregation of people who will be worshipping in this church. The Body of Christ is the Church.”

St. Paul writes, “He (Christ) is the head of the body, the Church” (Col. 1:18). St. [John] Chrysostom said, “Christ is the head of the body, but what can the head do without hands, without feet, without eyes, without ears, without a mouth?”

As the Head of the Body, Christ issues orders to the various members. He is the brain; the One in Whom all the fullness of God dwells bodily. What a privilege God bestows on us when He ties us so intimately with Christ and with each other as to make us constitute one Body with Him as the Head. When we meditate on this analogy, we come to look at prayer as the members of the Body (the Church) reporting for duty to the Head (Christ). He continues to be present in the world today.

The Holy Spirit

Finally, parents may explain that Pentecost is the day on which the Holy Spirit came to us in His fullness. On this day we kneel three times during the church service as we pray together with the priest that the same Holy Spirit Who filled the first apostles with God’s presence and power may fill us today with the same power that we may experience the reality of God in our lives.

The Holy Spirit must be constantly attained. He should be received daily. To achieve this, it is necessary to wait prayerfully and expectantly for Him as the apostles did before Pentecost. “All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer…” (Acts 1:14). This kind of prayerful waiting is essential if we are to receive the Holy Spirit.

St. Seraphim of Sarov describes the whole purpose of the Christian life as nothing more than the receiving of the Holy Spirit: “Prayer, fasting, vigils and all other Christian acts, however good they may be in themselves, certainly do not constitute the aim of our Christian life; they are but the indispensable means of attaining that aim. For the true aim of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for fasts, vigils, prayer and almsgiving, and other good works done in the name of Christ, they are only the means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God… [Ed. Note: emphasis mine]. Prayer is always possible for everyone, rich and poor, noble and simple, strong and weak, healthy and suffering, righteous and sinful. Great is the power of prayer; most of all does it bring the Spirit of God and easiest of all is it to exercise.”

It has been said that St. Seraphim in the above words sums up the whole spiritual tradition of the Orthodox Church. For, what is greater than to possess the Holy Spirit? And what is easier than the means by which He comes to us: prayer?

No prayer is complete unless it includes a petition to the Holy Spirit that He come to dwell in us. Thus, through prayer every day becomes Pentecost.

This would be a good time to teach your children one of the best known and most used prayers of the Orthodox Church. Almost every one of our church services begins with it. It is a prayer to the Holy Spirit and should be used often in your family devotions:

O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who are everywhere present and fills all things, Treasury of good gifts and Giver of Life, come and abide in us, and cleanse us of all impurity, and save our souls, 0 Good One.

[Ed. Note: In the Scriptures, Jesus tells His Disciples that He must leave so that the Spirit, the Comforter, can come. This is lived out in the Orthodox Church in the following way: this prayer is not recited between the Feasts of Pascha and Pentecost as we await the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.]

Copies of Making God Real in the Orthodox Christian Home can be purchased from Light & Life Publishing for $10.95 SH. 4818 Park Glen Rd., Minneapolis, MN 55416 / 612-925-3888 / FAX 888-925-3918 / Web site: http://www.light-n-life.com. Excerpt reprinted with permission.

© 1998 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).
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New Sts Theophan the Recluse and Ignatius Brianchaninov Study Group Forming!

We are reforming our St. Theophan the Recluse Study Group and adding some materials from other modern holy fathers such as St. Ignaty Brianchaninov.  These “Modern Fathers” are very good at bridging ancient patristic wisdom to our own time and making the spiritual life easy to understand.. We will meet on Sundays after Liturgy.

Rather than printing the handouts for the group, we will be linking them on a resource page for the group. We will advising what books to get, and will try to get them in our bookstore in advance.  The first few weeks we will just be using handouts.

Click here to go to the Sts. Theophan and Ignatius Study Group Page.

Upcoming Events

Upcoming events this month are in the attached PDF calendar (Events are subject to change! see the online calendar for updates or the attached PDF for more info).