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).

 

April, 2021


Order your Kulich and Pascha Online Now!

The Pascha Bake Sale is now open!  You can order your Kulich and Pascha online, and pay now or when you pick-up your order between 11:30AM and 1:00PM on Palm Sunday (4/25/2021).

Deadline to Order: 04/18/21

This is one of the significant fundraisers for the parish, so don’t deprive the parish or yourself of goodies for Pascha!

Click here to send in your order  (Or you can go to the website and click “Pascha Bake Sale” on the menu)

Focus on the Faith: Holy and Great Friday, Sermon at the Plaschanitsa (winding sheet)

Everything is different now. Today we forget about ourselves, our jobs, our worries. In the Church’s hymns starting yesterday on Holy Thursday through to tomorrow, Holy Saturday, you won’t find any mention of us miserable wretches, or our corrupted souls, of our defiled anything. The contemplation of Christ envelopes everything. Our attention to this, our attention to Christ, is essential if we want to participate, or derive any grace from this holy day. If we can pay attention, if we can force our minds, wrestle our thoughts, away from this world, away from this time, and this place, we will find ourselves mystically in Jerusalem, 1,987 years ago. Suddenly, the experience of these days becomes a school of life in Christ and a school of life with Christ. We call ourselves Christians, and so we are. But to call ourselves “Christians” is to also declare ourselves “disciples.” After all, the Scriptures confirm this in Acts 11:26 where St Luke reports that “The disciples were called ‘Christians’ first in Antioch.”

On this Great and Holy Friday, we contemporary and unworthy disciples join those sanctified original disciples in two sorrowful and horrific journeys — the path to Golgotha and the procession to the burial cave. These are the objects of our contemplation and our experience today. It is characteristic of the Divine services that they make us participants in those distant and frightful events. In the garden of Gethsemane, our eyes were blinded by torches, a youth wrapped in a cloth hid among trees, and Peter was warming himself by the fire when he was surprised by a cock crow. We peered into Pilate’s window, were surprised by the many-voiced roar of the crowd, the women of Jerusalem were wailing over the beaten and bloodied Sufferer, the thief was forgiven because of the final love entrusted to the Holy One. And two old men and two grief-stricken women found what they feared might be the final shelter for the Homeless One.

How vividly one sees the faces of Christ’s contemporaries, but He Himself is somehow mystically hidden.But did not St. Isaiah foretell this when he said: “many shall be amazed at thee, so shall thy face be without glory from men, and thy glory by the sons of men. Thus shall many nations wonder at him; and kings shall keep their mouths shut: for they to whom no report was brought concerning him, shall see; and they who have not heard, shall consider.” (Is. 52:14-15). Did you notice that in the description of the suffering of the Innocent One, the Prophet doesn’t express a single word of sympathy for Him? Why is this so? Because he doesn’t need to. This is not a moment for artificial emotionalism or sentimentality, but it is a moment for the Holy Spirit Himself to reveal the depths of these divine realities in our hearts. In this moment, all our thoughts and feelings must be engrossed in the awesome wonder of God’s works, which are beyond our comprehension, revealing “the love of Christ, which passeth understanding” (Ephesians 3:19). But we also see human love, don’t we, and it too is worthy of wonder.

We Orthodox Christians always view the Cross and the Grave from from the vantage point of Pascha, don’t we? We know too well the joy of the Resurrection, we live by it. And the solemn order of the Divine services of Passion Week, grand and mournful as they are, are still permeated with the expectation of Pascha. Its hidden joy colors even the Burial Shroud [Epitaphios, Plaschanitsa], the last covering of the Sufferer. For us the Burial Shroud is the banner of the Resurrection and the triumph of life over death and slavery, the banner of freedom and unity with God. But Nicodemus and the Elder Joseph of Arimathaea, the sorrowful women, and the Mother of God were weeping rivers of tears over the bloody cloth, the modest covering of the Dead One. They saw in the Burial Shroud the clothing of the ancient patriarch Joseph which had been wept over by his father Jacob who said: “I will go down into Hades, unto my son, mourning”(Gen. 37:3).

Can we imagine the grief and despair born of love in such a circumstance? Christ was the most beautiful and sacred being in the lives of these people, but they wonder if this death, too, is irreversible; they worry that not even Jesus can overcome it, in spite of His words to the contrary. They see a dead body, mutilated and bloody, and for a moment they forget the words that Jesus spoke at the Last Supper: “This is my body which is broken for you!” (1 Corinthians 11:24). In spite of these doubts, and despite this overwhelming sadness, what is the response of these myrrh-bearers? Nicodemus no longer conceals his faith in Christ. Joseph risks losing everything he has, and gives his tomb to the Righteous One. They have nothing to hope for and nothing to expect, yet their love is stronger than their fear. Even if Christ, the purest and most sacred being they have ever seen in their lives, is dead, they still assume that they must go down into the grave…mourning.

But this is not the meaning or the purpose of this day. Today, God’s overwhelming love toward His children is revealed. Today we join with those noble and courageous disciples, taking down the body of the incarnate God from the Cross, wrapping it in fine linen, anointing it with spices, and placing it in a new tomb. Amen.

 

From the Fathers

“If he was not flesh, whom did the Jews arrest? And if he was not God, who gave an order to the earth and threw them onto their faces.

If he was not flesh, who was struck with a blow? And if he was not God, who cured the ear that had been cut off by Peter and restored it to its place?

If he was not flesh, who received spitting on his face? And if he was not God, who breathed the Holy Spirit into the faces of his Apostles?

If he was not flesh, who stood before Pilate at the judgement seat? And if he was not God, who made Pilate’s wife afraid by a dream?

If he was not flesh, whose garments did the soldiers strip off and divide? And if he was not God, how was the sun darkened at the cross?

If he was not flesh, who was hung on the cross? And if he was not God, who shook the earth from its foundations?

If he was not flesh, whose hands and feet were transfixed by nails? And if he was not God, how was the veil of the temple rent, the rocks broken and the graves opened?

If he was not flesh, who cried out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me”? And if he was not God, who said “Father, forgive them”?

If he was not flesh, who was hung on a cross with the thieves? And if he was not God, how did he say to the thief, “Today you will be with me in Paradise”?

If he was not flesh, to whom did they offer vinegar and gall? And if he was not God, on hearing whose voice did Hades tremble?

If he was not flesh, whose side did the lance pierce, and blood and water came out? And if he was not God, who smashed to gates of Hades and tear apart it bonds? And at whose command did the imprisoned dead come out?

If he was not flesh, whom did the Apostles see in the upper room? And if he was not God, how did he enter when the doors were shut?

If he was not flesh, the marks of the nails and the lance in whose hands and side did Thomas handle? And if he was not God, to whom did he cry out, “My Lord and my God”?

(St. Efrem the Syrian, Sermon on the Transfiguration)

 

Orthopraxis: Services of Holy Week & Pascha in the Russian Orthodox Church

“O hills and valleys, the
multitude of men, and all
creation, weep and lament
with me, the Mother of your God.”

Today the grace of the Holy Spirit has gathered us together.

“Today the grace of the Holy Spirit has gathered us together, and we all take up Thy Cross and say: Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.” These words, sung by the Orthodox Church on Palm Sunday, hearken back to the ancient monasteries in Palestine, where the monks would go into the desert to pray and fast alone through the forty days of Lent, and gather again in the monastery on the eve of Palm Sunday in order to celebrate the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord. Today also the Orthodox, after the fast of the Great Lent, put aside their normal daily occupations, some travelling over great distances to be near a church, for these exceptionally holy days, when they become united more closely with the suffering and risen Lord, and thereby draw closer to their fellow members of their parish or community.

The triumph of Palm Sunday was short lived, and we “make haste… from palms and branches… to the solemn and saving celebration of Christ’s Passion.”

During the first three days of Holy Week we remember the teaching given by Christ after His entry into Jerusalem: the discourse about His Second Coming and the parable of the ten virgins (Matt. Ch. 24 and 25), which are reflected in the hymns for these days.

“Behold the bridegroom comes in the middle of the night; and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching…”

“I see Thy bridal chamber adorned O my Saviour, and I have no wedding garment that I may enter therein. Make the robe of my soul to shine, O Giver of Light, and save me.”

We pray for spiritual renewal in the days ahead: “O Bridegroom surpassing all in beauty, Thou hast called us to the spiritual feast of Thy bridal chamber. Strip from me the disfigurement of sin, through participation in Thy sufferings; clothe me in the glorious robe of Thy beauty, and in Thy compassion make me feast with joy at Thy Kingdom.”

On Great Thursday we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, the washing of the disciples’ feet, and the betrayal of Christ by Judas.

Thursday Evening. The Twelve Gospel Readings of the Passion.

This is the matins of Good Friday. A large Cross is placed in the middle of the church. The clergy, in dark vestments, come into the middle and incense the church as the following troparion is sung: “When the glorious disciples were illumined at the Supper by the washing of the feet, then ungodly Judas was darkened by the disease of avarice, and he delivered Thee, the righteous Judge, to lawless judges. See, O lover of money, how for money’s sake he hanged himself. Flee from the greed which made him dare to do such things against his Master. O Lord who art good towards all men, glory to Thee.”

The first Gospel reading is much the longest, being four chapters from S. John’s Gospel in which, after the Last Supper, Our Saviour consoled and strengthened His disciples in the face of the coming trials; “Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.”

Before each Gospel we sing “Glory to Thy Passion, O Lord, Glory to Thee,” and after each, “Glory to Thy longsuffering, O Lord, glory to Thee.”

In the next four readings we hear of the betrayal, trial and mockery endured by the Saviour. Then in the sixth reading we hear how he was nailed to the Cross. “Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the Cross. He who wraps the heaven in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery. The Bridegroom of the Church is transfixed with nails. The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear.”

The Beatitudes are read and we place ourselves in the position of the robber on the cross: “Grant us also the repentance of the thief, O Christ our God, who alone lovest mankind, for we worship Thee with faith and cry to Thee: Remember us also, Saviour, in Thy kingdom.”

The prophetic verse “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” is chanted, then, in the concluding Gospels we hear how the Saviour “gave up the ghost” upon the Cross.

“The whole creation was changed by fear, when it saw Thee, O Christ hanging on the Cross. The sun was darkened and the foundations of the earth were shaken.”

“Thou hast suffered for us and by Thy Passion set us free from passions; in Thy loving self-abasement Thou hast stooped down and raised us up: O almighty Saviour, have mercy on us.”

Friday Afternoon. The Bringing out of the Winding Sheet.

After the usual beginning of vespers, prophesies of Our Lord’s sufferings are read, in particular from the 53rd chapter of Isaiah: “He bears our sins, and is pained for us; yet we accounted him to be in trouble, and in suffering, and in affliction.”

Then, in a long Gospel reading made up of passages from all four evangelists, we hear the account of the Crucifixion for the last time. After this we reach a turning point in the sacred commemorations, as we remember the un-nailing and burial of the Saviour, and turn from the fury of the powers of evil to the quiet grief of the Disciples and all creation.

“Joseph with Nicodemus took Thee down from the Tree, who coverest Thyself with light as with a garment; and looking upon Thee dead, stripped and without burial, in his grief and tender compassion he lamented saying: Woe is me, my sweetest Jesus. . . How shall I bury Thee, my God, How shall I wrap Thee in a winding sheet… O Compassionate Saviour.”

The clergy come out of one of the side doors of the iconostas, bearing above their heads the winding sheet (plaschanitsa or epitaphion), a stiffened piece of fabric on which is depicted an icon of the Saviour’s body as it lay in the tomb. The winding sheet is brought into the middle of the church and laid on the prepared “tomb” as we sing to a slow melody: “Noble Joseph, taking down Thy most pure body from the Tree, wrapped it in clean linen with sweet spices, as he laid it in a new tomb.”

After the dismissal the people come up to venerate the winding sheet, making prostrations to the ground before kissing the wounds on the Saviour’s feet and hands. At the same time the following is sung: ”Come and let us bless Joseph of everlasting memory, who came to Pilate by night and begged for the Life of all: Give me this stranger, who has no place to lay His head. Give me this stranger, whom the evil disciple delivered to death. Give me this stranger, whom His Mother saw hanging on the Cross, and with a mother’s sorrow she cried weeping: Woe is me my Child! Woe is me Light of mine eyes and beloved fruit of my womb! For what Simeon foretold in the temple is come to pass today: a sword pierces my heart; but do Thou change my grief to gladness by Thy Resurrection. We venerate Thy passion, O Christ. We venerate Thy Passion, O Christ. We venerate Thy Passion, O Christ, and Thy Holy Resurrection.”

Friday Evening. The Burial Lamentations.

We now begin the services of Holy Saturday, the “Great and Blessed Sabbath, on which the Only Begotten Son of God rested from His works, keeping Sabbath in the flesh.”

The services of this day combine the opposite feelings of grief and quiet joy at the victory over death and hope in the coming Resurrection. They have been the inspiration of icons such as the one shown on the front of this leaflet. Again “Noble Joseph…” is sung as the clergy come into the centre of the church to begin the burial lamentations before the winding sheet. This is Psalm 118 (which is also read at Orthodox funerals) with special “lamentations” inserted between the verses. “Who will give me water and springs of tears, cried the Virgin Bride of God, that I may weep for my sweet Jesus.”

“O Life, how canst Thou die? How canst Thou dwell in a tomb? Yet Thou dost destroy death’s kingdom and raise the dead from hell.”

“To earth hast Thou come down, O Master, to save Adam: and not finding him on earth, Thou hast descended into hell, seeking him there.”

“All devouring hell received within himself the Rock of Life, and cast forth all the dead that he had swallowed since the beginning of the world.”

The canon, which follows, is one of the most profound hymns of Orthodoxy. “To fill all things with Thy glory, Thou hast gone down into the nethermost parts of the earth: for my person that is in Adam has not been hidden from Thee, but in Thy love for man Thou art buried in the tomb and dost restore me from corruption.”

After the Great Doxology the winding sheet is carried in procession round the church, to the slow singing of “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us.”

This is exactly like an Orthodox funeral procession, but it also signifies that Christ is now proceding through the darkness of hell, announcing to Adam and to all the dead His coming Resurrection, in which they are also called to share. The winding sheet is carried up to the Royal Doors with the exclamation “Wisdom, stand aright” to show that Christ is at the same time God on His Heavenly Throne with the Father and the Spirit.

The winding sheet is returned to the “tomb” in the centre of the church. A prophesy is read from Ezekiel (Ch. 37) pointing to the future general resurrection, in which the Lord showed the prophet a vision of a valley full of dry bones: ”I beheld, lo, the sinews and flesh came up upon them… and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.”

Finally, we are brought back to the present moment by a Gospel reading about the soldiers who “made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.

“Again the faithful come up to venerate the winding sheet, as at the end of vespers, to the singing of “Come and let us bless Joseph of everlasting memory…”

Saturday Morning. Vespers and Liturgy of Saint Basil.

This service is a reverent contemplation of the entire mystery of our salvation, and it is here that we begin the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. The service begins with the clergy still in dark vestments. After the entrance at vespers, 15 Old Testament prophecies are read. We hear the wonderful prophecies of Isaiah: “That there should be given to them that mourn in Zion glory instead of ashes, the oil of joy to the mourners, the garment of glory for the spirit of heaviness: and they shall be called generations of righteousness, the planting of the Lord for glory.”(Ch. 61)

“Shine, shine O Jerusalem, for Thy light is come and the glory of the Lord is risen upon Thee. “ (Ch. 6O) We hear of the three children unharmed in the fiery furnace and, with the Royal Doors opened, we join in their song: “Praise the Lord and exult Him above all for ever.”

After the epistle reading, to the singing of “Arise, O God, judge the earth, for Thou shalt have an inheritance among all nations,” the clergy change from dark to bright vestments, and all the coverings in the church are also changed. The deacon comes out in white vestments and reads the Gospel account of the Resurrection from Saint Matthew, ending with the words “Behold I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

At the great entrance of the liturgy we sing: “Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and stand with fear and trembling; and let it take no thought for any earthly thing. For the King of Kings and Lord of Lords draws near to be sacrificed and given as food the faithful.”

The priest and deacon bring the holy gifts out and carry them round the winding sheet into the altar. The hymn continues, “Before Him go the choirs of angels and all the principalities and powers, the many-eyed cherubim and the six-winged seraphim, which cover their faces as they sing this hymn: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

After receiving Holy Communion, the faithful are given blessed bread and a cup of wine in memory of the days when this service was held late in the afternoon and the faithful stayed in church until the midnight service, and so needed a little food as sustenance.

Saturday Night. Pascha – the Passover of the Lord.

As the faithful gather again in the evening, the church is in darkness. They venerate the winding sheet for the last time and take turns reading from the Acts of the Apostles. At 11:30pm the midnight office begins. This is a repetition of the canon of Holy Saturday. At the end of the canon the priest comes out and brings the winding sheet into the altar to the singing of the final irmos: “Weep not for Me, O Mother, beholding in the tomb the Son whom thou hast conceived without seed in thy womb. For I shall arise, and shall be glorified, and as God I shall exalt in everlasting glory those who magnify Thee with faith and love.”

Shortly before midnight the clergy in the altar quietly begin the processional hymn: “Thy Resurrection, O Christ our Saviour, the angels hymn in the heavens, grant also to us who are on earth, to glorify Thee with a pure heart.” This is sung softly at first, then more loudly, then it is taken up by the choir and the whole congregation as the clergy come forth from the altar and, preceded by the cross and banners, all go out for the Easter procession carrying lighted candles. This procession symbolises the women who went before the dawn, “bringing sweet spices and ointments” to seek the body of the Saviour. It also symbolises the five wise virgins of the Gospel parable, whose lamps were ready, so that they could enter into the marriage feast.

The procession stops outside the closed doors of the church. The priest intones “Glory to the Holy, Consubstantial, Life-Creating and Undivided Trinity, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.” Then he begins the triumphant Paschal hymn, which is taken up by the choir and people: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”

The priest intones the Paschal verses: “Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered, and let them that hate Him flee from before His face!” Then, singing repeatedly “Christ is risen from the dead…” all enter the church, now brilliantly lit. This symbolises our entrance into the Heavenly Kingdom, made possible by the power of Christ’s Resurrection.

Indeed, the entire Paschal service is a celebration, not only of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead, of which we have already heard at the Liturgy of Holy Saturday, but also of the future Kingdom, of which we are now granted a foretaste, dependent, however, on the extent of our spiritual preparation.

The joyful Paschal canon is sung while the clergy repeatedly cense the church and greet the people “Christ is Risen!”, to which they reply “He is Risen Indeed!” (Khristos Voskrese! Vo-istinu Voskrese!) “It is the day of Resurrection, let us be radiant O ye people. Pascha, the Lord’s Pascha. From death unto life and from earth unto Heaven has Christ our God led us, singing the song of victory.”

“This is the chosen and holy Day, the one King and Lord of Sabbaths, the Feast of Feasts, and the Triumph of Triumphs: wherein let us bless Christ for evermore.” The Paschal sermon of S. John Chrysostom is read and the people greet one another, kissing each other three times, saying, “Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!”

Matins is immediately followed by the Liturgy, at which the Gospel from Saint John, chapter 1 -”In the beginning was the Word…” is read in many languages as a sign of Christ’s truth being proclaimed to all men. In a sense the Liturgy is the most truly Paschal of all the Paschal services, and is understood most profoundly on this day, since in it we are truly united with Christ in Holy Communion, which is the culmination of the Paschal celebration.

“O Christ, the Pascha great and most holy! O wisdom, Word and Power of God! Grant that we may more perfectly partake of Thee, in the day of Thy Kingdom which knoweth no eventide.”

“The “cheese-pascha”, eggs and other special foods are blessed, and the people share a festal meal, breaking the seven week long fast. They depart for their homes bearing in their hearts the joy of the Risen Christ, as the sun rises over the still sleeping city, which has received, unawares, a blessing from the sacred rites which have been celebrated within its precincts. For the entire week after Easter the services repeat the joyous hymns of the Paschal night. The Prayer Book contains the complete text, which may be read or sung by the faithful at home if they are unable to attend these services in church. As we return to our normal life of prayer and work, we are strengthened in our resolve to live as Christ commanded, to pray and struggle to be worthy of Christ’s future Kingdom, of which we have reached a pledge, an annual foretaste of paradise, in the Paschal celebrations.

 

 

Upcoming Events

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

March, 2021


Focus on the Faith: Great Lent

by Fr Thomas Hopko

The season of Great Lent is the time of preparation for the feast of the Resurrection of Christ. It is the living symbol of man’s entire life which is to be fulfilled in his own resurrection from the dead with Christ. It is a time of renewed devotion: of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. It is a time of repentance, a real renewal of our minds, hearts and deeds in conformity with Christ and his teachings. It is the time, most of all, of our return to the great commandments of loving God and our neighbors.

In the Orthodox Church, Great Lent is not a season of morbidity and gloominess. On the contrary, it is a time of joyfulness and purification. We are called to “anoint our faces” and to “cleanse our bodies as we cleanse our souls.” The very first hymns of the very first service of Great Lent set the proper tone of the season:

“Let us begin the Fast with joy . . . let us fast from the passions as we fast from food! Let us rejoice in the virtues of the Spirit and fulfill them in love, that we may be granted to see the holy Passion of Christ our God and his holy Pascha, rejoicing in spirit.”

“Thy grace has risen upon us, O Lord, the illumination of our souls has shown forth; behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the time of repentance” (Vespers Hymns).

It is our repentance that God desires, not our remorse. We sorrow for our sins, but we do so in the joy of Great Lent
Fr Thomas Hopko

The season of Great Lent is the time of preparation for the feast of the Resurrection of Christ. It is the living symbol of man’s entire life which is to be fulfilled in his own resurrection from the dead with Christ. It is a time of renewed devotion: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. It is a time of repentance, a real renewal of our minds, hearts, and deeds in conformity with Christ and his teachings. It is the time, most of all, of our return to the great commandments of loving God and our neighbors.

In the Orthodox Church, Great Lent is not a season of morbidity and gloominess. On the contrary, it is a time of joyfulness and purification. We are called to “anoint our faces” and to “cleanse our bodies as we cleanse our souls.” The very first hymns of the very first service of Great Lent set the proper tone of the season:

“Let us begin the Fast with joy . . . let us fast from the passions as we fast from food! Let us rejoice in the virtues of the Spirit and fulfill them in love, that we may be granted to see the holy Passion of Christ our God and his holy Pascha, rejoicing in spirit.”

“Thy grace has risen upon us, O Lord, the illumination of our souls has shown forth; behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the time of repentance” (Vespers Hymns).

It is our repentance that God desires, not our remorse. We sorrow for our sins, but we do so in the joy of God’s mercy. We mortify our flesh, but we do so in the joy of our resurrection into life everlasting. We make ready for the resurrection during Great Lent, both Christ’s Resurrection and our own. God’s mercy. We mortify our flesh, but we do so in the joy of our resurrection into life everlasting. We make ready for the resurrection during Great Lent, both Christ’s Resurrection and our own.

From the Fathers

The Ancient Christian book, The Shepherd of Hermas, written around 100 AD, made these pronouncements regarding fasting. The principles still apply today in the Orthodox Church:

“Fasting … is very good, provided the commandments of the Lord be observed … First of all, be on your guard against every evil word, and every evil desire, and purify your heart from all the vanities of this world. If you guard against these things, your fasting will be perfect. And you will do also as follows. Having fulfilled what is written, in the day on which you fast you will taste nothing but bread and water; and having reckoned up the price of the dishes of that day which you intended to have eaten, you will give it to a widow, or an orphan, or to some person in want, and thus you will exhibit humility of mind, so that he who has received benefit from your humility may fill his own soul, and pray for you to the Lord. If you observe fasting, as I have commanded you, your sacrifice will be acceptable to God, and this fasting will be written down; and the service thus performed is noble, and sacred, and acceptable to the Lord.”

(Shepherd of Hermas, Book 3, Similitude 5, Chapter 3)

Orthopraxis: “Clean Week,” The First Week of the Fast

The first week of Great Lent starts on Clean Monday, the first day of Great Lent. The name “Clean Week” refers to the spiritual cleansing each of the faithful is encouraged to undergo through fasting, prayer, repentance, reception of the Holy Mysteries and begging forgiveness of his neighbor. It is also traditionally a time for spring cleaning so that one’s outward surroundings matches his inward disposition.

Throughout this week fasting is most strict. Those who have the strength are encouraged to fast completely, eating only on Wednesday and Friday evenings, after the Presanctified Liturgy. Those who are unable to keep such a strict fast are encouraged to eat only a little, and then only xerophagy* once a day. On Monday, no food should be eaten at all and only uncooked food on Tuesday and Thursday. Meals are served on Saturday and Sunday, but these are fasting meals at which meat, dairy products and fish are forbidden.

At Great Compline during the first four days of the Fast (Monday through Thursday) the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete is divided into four parts and one part is chanted each night (for further information about the Great Canon, see Fifth Week, below).

The First Saturday is called “St. Theodore Saturday” in honor of St. Theodore the Recruit, a 4th-century martyr. At the end of the Presanctified Liturgy on Friday (since, liturgically, the day begins at sunset) a special canon to St. Theodore, composed by St. John of Damascus, is chanted. Then the priest blesses kolyva (boiled wheat with honey and raisins) which is distributed to the faithful in commemoration of the following miracle worked by St. Theodore on the First Saturday of Great Lent.

Fifty years after the death of St Theodore, the emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363), as a part of his general policy of persecution of Christians, commanded the governor of Constantinople during the first week of Great Lent to sprinkle all the food provisions in the marketplaces with the blood offered to pagan idols, knowing that the people would be hungry after the strict fasting of the first week. St Theodore appeared in a dream to Archbishop Eudoxius, ordering him to inform all the Christians that no one should buy anything at the marketplaces, but rather to eat cooked wheat with honey (kolyva).

The First Sunday of Great Lent is the Feast of Orthodoxy, which commemorates the restoration of the veneration of icons after the Iconoclast controversy, which is considered to be the triumph of the Church over the last of the great heresies which troubled her (all later heresies being simply a rehashing of earlier ones). Before the Divine Liturgy on this day, a special service, known as the “Triumph of Orthodoxy” is held in cathedrals and major monasteries, at which the synodicon (containing anathemas against various heresies, and encomia of those who have held fast to the Christian faith) is proclaimed. The theme of the day is the victory of the True Faith over heresy. “This is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith” (1 John 5:4). Also, the icons of the saints bear witness that man, “created in the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:26), may become holy and godlike through the purification of himself as God’s living image.

The First Sunday of Great Lent originally commemorated the Prophets such as Moses, Aaron, and Samuel. The Liturgy’s Prokeimenon and alleluia verses as well as the Epistle (Hebrews 11:24-26,32-40) and Gospel (John 1:43–51) readings appointed for the day continue to reflect this older usage.

*”Xerophagy – Literally ‘dry eating,’ means partaking of unprocessed foods such as vegetables, fruits, grains and nuts or perhaps even dried bread and water.

Upcoming Events

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

January, 2021


Focus on the Faith: New Year Looks to Theophany

The New Year is upon us. Let us rejoice and be glad that 2020 is behind us!

On 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!

It’s a New Year, and that means a new start, a new beginning in spiritual efforts! Everything about the New Year points to Theophany. It’s about Christ’s Baptism, but it’s also about ours. It’s about the renewal of Creation as Christ steps into the water, and it’s about our renewal as we step into the water either of our own baptism (catechumens, rejoice!) or as we wash ourselves with the sacramental cleansing of our own tears in Holy Confession.

Not long ago someone asked me about the blessing of homes at Theophany. They wanted to know why we do it? Does it have to be done? I explained it to them like this. I asked them about their recent trip to Constantinople. What were their impressions? They said that it made them very happy, but at the same time very sad. Here She was, the Queen of Cities, the City of the Virgin Mary, beautiful, exotic and dazzling. Yet there was something very wrong, very “off.” She was a Queen but in chains, royal yet wearing rags, noble but crushed in her humiliation, high-born, but now brought low. I said, that this was exactly my impression. I said, “you know, this world, this creation, is in captivity, not just Constantinople; it is enemy-held territory. The evil one, having enslaved all of creation at the fall, has laid claim to every nook and cranny of this earth. And for a while it looked as though he might be able to hold onto it. But then he reached too far and attempted to enslave the Master of All and to bind Life with the chains of death, and his power was broken. But creation is still fallen, still contested land.

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 Fathers

Sermon on Theophany by St John, Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco the Wonder-Worker

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

As we celebrate Theophany, we remember how God revealed himself as the Trinity, that Jesus appeared to the people as Christ. Where did Christ appear Hos did He begin His mission? Did He enter a great city and reveal Himself in His glory? Did He ascend a great mountain as many thousands of people beheld Him from below, wondering at the miracle? No! Christ went into the wilderness, to the Jordan River, where John was baptizing the people. John preached repentance, and called upon sinners, in a sign of repentance, to be baptized in the Jordan. And it was as a sinner that Christ came and asked for baptism. Yet He had no sin. John was afraid: “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Adam sinned through pride, he wished to elevate himself, to become like God. But Christ cam to fulfill the truth of God, to correct Adam’s pride through humility. Christ entered the water and received baptism from His servant. Trembling, John placed his hand upon his God and Master, and Christ humbly bowed His head. Christ’s humility opened up the heavens, and the voice of God the Father boomed forth: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This is My Son, Who humbled Himself in order to fulfill My will, My true Son, Who humbles Himself in order to elevate mankind. Christ’s meekness opened the heavens and revealed to mankind the Trinitarian nature of God.

But why did He do this in water, and not someplace else? Let us remember how God created the universe. When God created the heavens and the earth, “the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep” (Genesis 1:2). God then divided the firmament and the waters, but water remained everywhere, for it is required for all life. Man cannot live without water, nor can any creature; there is water (moisture) in the air; every handful of earth contains water; there is water in rock, even though we cannot see it, and when God wishes, water emerges from it, as it did with Moses. “The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods” (Psalms 24:1-2). “For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished (2 Peter 3:5-6).

When man sinned, he provoked God’s wrath not only upon himself but upon all of nature. Man is the crown of God’s Creation; he was given dominion over nature. When the king—mankind—became the enemy of the King Himself, his kingdom became the kingdom of the enemy. Punishment was brought down not only upon mankind, but upon nature as well. We know that “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Romans 8:22). But creation submitted to chaos not willingly, “but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope” (Romans 8:20). For this reason, the forgiveness of the guilty will emancipate all of creation from servitude to death. This mortal nature will end and it will be transformed to a new heaven and a new earth, “wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Peter 3:12-13). In order to facilitate this transformation, to prepare nature for immortality, which will take place after the Terrible Day of Judgment, Christ came into the waters of the Jordan.

Immersing Himself in the Jordan River, Christ not only sanctified the waters of the Jordan, but the very nature of water, as the Church exclaims in song: “Christ appeared in the Jordan to sanctify its waters” (troparion on Theophany Eve). And since water is found everywhere, then by sanctifying the water, Christ sanctified all of Creation, the entire universe. Christ prepared all of nature to experience the blessed consequence of sacrifice which He came to offer. But this is not all. He gave water the power to wash away the sin of mankind. Christian baptism is rebirth, forgiveness of all sins. With water, God punished the sins of early man and destroyed mankind in the Flood. Now, with water, God saves mankind in the Mystery of Baptism.

And so Christ crushed the head of the serpent in the waters of the Jordan, as we sing in church, the serpent which had deceived Adam and Eve, but was vanquished with the humility of Jesus; He revealed to mankind that God is Trinity, He sanctified the water, and through water He sanctified all of creation, preparing it to receive the words of forgiveness and immortality. And holding another victory over the devil in the wilderness, Christ went to prepare mankind for His future Kingdom, and began His ministry with the words: “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17), or, as the Gospel also says: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

Until then, John the Baptist preached repentance, preparing the path for the Lord. Now the Lord Himself exclaims “Repent!” This word is addressed not only to those who lived in the time of Christ, but to all people in all places and ages. We hear this word in the Gospel. Even before the days of celebrating Theophany are over, the word reminds us that the time for repentance is near.

Let us be attentive! These are not the words of a prophet or an angel, but of the Lord Himself. Let us repent, and as Lent approaches, let us try to defeat our passions and receive forgiveness for our sins, so that we may spend eternity in the immortal Kingdom which the Lord has prepared for us. Amen!

Bitola, Serbia, 1928.

Lives of the Saints

January 1 – The Circumcision of Our Lord Jesus Christ

In keeping with the Law of Moses, the Savior’s parents had Him circumcised eight days after His birth (see Luke ch. 2). On this day, following Jewish custom, he received the name Jesus (Yeshua, a form of Joshua), meaning “God saves.” Thus, on this day, the Covenant of Moses was fulfilled and brought to an end, and the Salvation of God’s people was proclaimed to the world.

Our Father among the Saints Basil the Great (379).

In its services, the Church calls St Basil a “bee of the Church of Christ”: bringing the honey of divinely-inspired wisdom to the faithful, stinging the uprisings of heresy. He was born in Cappadocia to a wealthy and prominent family. Their worldly wealth, however, is as nothing compared to the wealth of Saints that they have given to the Church: his parents St Basil the Elder and St Emmelia; his sister St Macrina (July 19), the spiritual head of the family; and his brothers St Gregory of Nyssa (January 10), and St Peter, future bishop of Sebaste (January 9).

Inspired and tutored by his father, a renowned professor of rhetoric, the brilliant Basil set out to master the secular learning and arts of his day, traveling to Athens, where he studied alongside his life-long friend St Gregory of Nazianzus. When he returned from his studies in 356, he found that his mother and his sister Macrina had turned the family home into a convent, and that his brothers had also taken up the monastic life nearby. Puffed up by his secular accomplishments, he at first resisted his sister’s pleas to take up a life devoted to God, but at last, through her prayers and admonition, entered upon the ascetical life.

After traveling among the monks of Egypt, Palestine and Syria, he settled in Cappadocia as a hermit, living in utter poverty and writing his ascetical homilies. A monastic community steadily gathered around him, and for its good order St Basil wrote his Rule, which is regarded as the charter of monasticism. (St Benedict in the West was familiar with this Rule, and his own is modeled on it.)

In about 370 he was consecrated Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. Even as bishop, he continued to live without any possessions save a worn garment to cover himself. At this time the Arian heresy was rending the Church, and it became St Basil’s lot to defend Orthodoxy in Sermons and writings, a task which he fulfilled with such erudition and wisdom that he is called “Basil the Great.” He reposed in peace in 379, at the age of forty-nine.

St Gregory, Bishop of Nazianzus (374), father of St Gregory the Theologian

He converted to Christianity from paganism as an adult through the influence of his pious wife St Nonna (Aug. 5). He was made Bishop of Nazianzus in Cappadocia in 329, and served faithfully for forty-five years, defending his flock against the inroads of Arianism and the persecutions of Julian the Apostate. Late in life, he ordained his son Gregory, later known as St Gregory the Theologian (Jan. 25) to assist him. He reposed in peace, aged almost 100.

In about 370 he was consecrated Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. Even as bishop, he continued to live without any possessions save a worn garment to cover himself. At this time the Arian heresy was rending the Church, and it became St Basil’s lot to defend Orthodoxy in Sermons and writings, a task which he fulfilled with such erudition and wisdom that he is called “Basil the Great.” He reposed in peace in 379, at the age of forty-nine.

January 2 – St Seraphim of Sarov (1833)

“Saint Seraphim was born in the town of Kursk in 1759. From tender childhood he was under the protection of the most holy Mother of God, who, when he was nine years old, appeared to him in a vision, and through her icon of Kursk, healed him from a grave sickness from which he had not been expected to recover. At the age of nineteen he entered the monastery of Sarov, where he amazed all with his obedience, his lofty asceticism, and his great humility. In 1780 the Saint was stricken with a sickness which he manfully endured for three years, until our Lady the Theotokos healed him, appearing to him with the Apostles Peter and John. He was tonsured a monk in 1786, being named for the holy Hieromartyr Seraphim, Bishop of Phanarion (Dec. 4), and was ordained deacon a year later. In his unquenchable love for God, he continually added labours to labours, increasing in virtue and prayer with titan strides. Once, during the Divine Liturgy of Holy and Great Thursday he was counted worthy of a vision of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who appeared encompassed by the heavenly hosts. After this dread vision, he gave himself over to greater labours.

“In 1794, Saint Seraphim took up the solitary life in a cell in the forest. This period of extreme asceticism lasted some fifteen years, until 1810. It was at this time that he took upon himself one of the greatest feats of his life. Assailed with despondency and a storm of contrary thoughts raised by the enemy of our salvation, the Saint passed a thousand nights on a rock, continuing in prayer until God gave him complete victory over the enemy. On another occasion, he was assaulted by robbers, who broke his chest and his head with their blows, leaving him almost dead. Here again, he began to recover after an appearance of the most Holy Theotokos, who came to him with the Apostles Peter and John, and pointing to Saint Seraphim, uttered these awesome words, ‘This is one of my kind.’

“In 1810, at the age of fifty, weakened by his more than human struggles, Saint Seraphim returned to the monastery for the third part of his ascetical labours, in which he lived as a recluse, until 1825. For the first five years of his reclusion, he spoke to no one at all, and little is known of this period. After five years, he began receiving visitors little by little, giving counsel and consolation to ailing souls. In 1825, the most holy Theotokos appeared to the Saint and revealed to him that it was pleasing to God that he fully end his reclusion; from this time the number of people who came to see him grew daily. It was also at the command of the holy Virgin that he undertook the spiritual direction of the Diveyevo Convent. He healed bodily ailments, foretold things to come, brought hardened sinners to repentance, and saw clearly the secrets of the heart of those who came to him. Through his utter humility and childlike simplicity, his unrivalled ascetical travails, and his angel-like love for God, he ascended to the holiness and greatness of the ancient God-bearing Fathers and became, like Anthony for Egypt, the physician for the whole Russian land. In all, the most holy Theotokos appeared to him twelve times in his life. The last was on Annunciation, 1831, to announce to him that he would soon enter into his rest. She appeared to him accompanied by twelve virgins martyrs and monastic saints with Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Theologian. With a body ailing and broken from innumerable hardships, and an unspotted soul shining with the light of Heaven, the Saint lived less than two years after this, falling asleep in peace on January 2, 1833, chanting Paschal hymns. On the night of his repose, the righteous Philaret of the Glinsk Hermitage beheld his soul ascending to Heaven in light. Because of the universal testimony to the singular holiness of his life, and the seas of miracles that he performed both in life and after death, his veneration quickly spread beyond the boundaries of the Russian Empire to every corner of the earth.

Upcoming Events

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