October, 2023

Focus on the Faith


The feast day celebrates the appearance of the Mother of God in Constantinople at Blachernae (Vlaherna) in the tenth century. At the end of St. Andrew of Constantinople) Yurodivyi's life, he, with his disciple St. Epiphanius, and a group of people, saw the Mother of God, St. John the Baptist, and several other saints and angels during a vigil in the Church of Blachernae, nearby the city gates. The Blachernae Palace church was where several of her relics were kept. The relics were her robe, veil, and part of her belt that had been transferred from Palestine during the fifth century.

The Theotokos approached the center of the church, knelt down and remained in prayer for a long time. Her face was drowned in tears. Then she took her veil off and spread it over the people as a sign of protection. During the time, the people in the city were threatened by a barbarian invasion. After the appearance of the Mother of God, the danger was averted and the city was spared from bloodshed and suffering.

The icon of the feast, shows the Theotokos standing above the faithful with her arms outstretched in prayer and draped with a veil. On both sides of her are angels. On the lower right of most icons of this feast, are saints Andrew and his disciple Epiphanius who saw this vision of the Mother of God, with the twelve apostles, bishops, holy women, monks and martyrs, spreading her veil in protection over the congregation. St. Epiphanius is wearing a tunic under his cloak and gestures in astonishment at the miraculous appearance, while St. Andrew, Fool-for-Christ, is dressed only in a cloak.

Below the Theotokos, in the center of the icon, stands a young man with a halo, he is clothed in a deacon's sticharion. In his left hand, he is holding an open scroll with the text of the Kontakion for Nativity in honor of the Mother of God. This is St. Romanus the Melodist, the famous hymnographer whose feast is also celebrated on the same day, October 1. He is with his choir attended by the Emperor Leo the Wise together with the Empress and the Patriarch of Constantinople.

From the Holy Fathers and Mothers

"How mistaken are those people who seek happiness outside of themselves, in foreign lands and journeys, in riches and glory, in great possessions and pleasures, in diversions and vain things, which have a bitter end! In the same thing to construct the tower of happiness outside of ourselves as it is to build a house in a place that is consistently shaken by earthquakes. Happiness is found within ourselves, and blessed is the man who has understood this. Happiness is a pure heart, for such a heart becomes the throne of God. Thus says Christ of those who have pure hearts: "I will visit them, and will walk in them, and I will be a God to them, and they will be my people." (II Cor. 6:16) What can be lacking to them? Nothing, nothing at all! For they have the greatest good in their hearts: God Himself!

(St. Nektarios of Aegina, Path to Happiness, 1)

"The Lord loves all people, but He loves those who seek Him even more. To his chosen ones the Lord gives such great grace that for love they forsake the whole earth, the whole world, and their souls burn with desire that all people might be saved and see the glory of the Lord.”

(St. Silouan the Athonite, Writings, IX.8)

"As it is impossible to verbally describe the sweetness of honey to one who has never tasted honey, so the goodness of God cannot be clearly communicated by way of teaching if we ourselves are not able to penetrate into the goodness of the Lord by our own experience."
(St. Basil the Great, Conversations on the Psalms, 29)

"Having God, fear nothing, but cast all of your care upon Him, and He will take care of you. Believe undoubtingly, and God will help you in accordance with His mercy.”

(St. Barsanuphius the Great, Instructions, 166)


A Prayer Rule

A prayer rule is a set of prayers taken from the Prayer Book that is said every single day without fail. One should always discuss one’s Prayer Rule with their spiritual father/father confessor before deciding on their own what it should be. Most of the time, the Rule is said in the morning and the evening, with shorter prayers, such as the Jesus Prayer, used throughout the day. In addition, prayers before and after meals should be incorporated into one’s daily routine. The goal of the Prayer Rule is union with God. When using a rule of prayer we must be flexible and do what works for us; our goal is to maintain the connection with God and cultivate a real relationship, not just fulfill our ‘rule’ of prayer.

Though we should pray unceasingly, our prayer rule must not and cannot be said, for example, when the TV is blaring or the kids are running about and screaming, but rather alone, in front of the icons, Gospel, and Cross in the quiet. Preferably we should say our rule with a lit oil lamp or candle and, if possible, the room lights should be dimmed. It is important to remember that we will never have time for God but rather we must make time for God, for the “Kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matt. 11:12).

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August, 2023

Happy Feast of the Transfiguration!

Here are some "Transfiguration" Fun Facts!

  • The “Taboric” light (the light seen on Mt. Tabor) is also called “uncreated light".
    • Adam and Eve were covered by it until the fall. Some holy fathers indicated that the loss of the uncreated light which clothed them is why they became aware of their nakedness.
    • This was also what was seen in the burning bush by Moses, and later, on the face of Moses after coming down from Mt. Sinai.
    • It has also been seen many times since.
  • Why do Orthodox Icons look so different? The main two reasons is :
    • A perspective painting creates a realistic portrayal of 3D space, but one in which the observer is outside the picture, and the infinite is hidden past the vanishing point. An Icon uses inverse perspective which places infinity inside of the viewer, who is included in the picture.
    • Icons use gold and other highly reflective colors that symbolize uncreated light.
  • Uncreated light has been experienced throughout Church History. Some recent examples:

The uncreated light is experienced by many saints after profound repentance and purification. So we can be encouraged to do the work and run the race of repentance, knowing that enlightenment is ready.

Troparion (main hymn) of Transfiguration:

“Thou was transfigured upon the mount O Christ God, revealing Thy glory to Thy disciples as far as they could bear it. Make Thine everlasting light shine also upon us sinners. Through the prayers of the Theotokos, of giver of light, glory to Thee!”

---Reader John

The Paraklesis to the Theotokos

One of the great blessings of the Dormition fast is coming together to sing the Paraklesis service to the Mother of God. The canon is the same one you may be familiar with from the rule of preparation for Holy Communion but includes other special hymns related to the upcoming feast, including the Exapostilarion (O Apostles from the ends of the Earth).

We will have the last two services tonight and Friday night. If you can’t make it, you can pray with us through the livestream, or even pray/sing/read it with your family. A copy of the service is here:


You can learn to sing the text, by singing along with one of the livestreams:


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June, 2023

The miracle of Pentecost continues today!

The Holy Spirit has descended! From Heaven to Earth!

We hear, in the reading for Pentecost from Acts chapter 2, about how the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, and they began to preach in languages they did not already know. There is a great deal of confusion about what speaking in tongues is in our time, especially among heterodox churches. Some contemporary saints warn us to avoid counterfeits of spiritual gifts that can cause spiritual harm. Discernment is necessary!

Here is a modern account of "speaking in tongues" that happened in our time, which is the real thing.

I heard about this from other sources. I don’t know who the author of this particular account is:

The former atheist Frenchwoman and Saint Porphyrios.

A French historian, atheist and nihilist visited Elder Porphyrios at his Hermitage in Milesi, Attica. She did not expect, being a University Professor to learn anything great from a 2nd Grade graduate, but for the sake of her friends she agreed to go.

The Elder asked the two of them to talk without the presence of others or an interpreter, which caused the question of her friends who knew that the Frenchwoman did not speak Greek at all, nor did the Elder speak French.

The theological and existential discussion finally took place with the two of them alone, for quite some time.

The door opened and the atheist woman came out in tears, tears of repentance. When her friends asked her how she got along with the Elder, she replied:

"But he speaks fluent French."

The same happened with a German Doctor, with a Serb, with a Romanian, with an Irishman.

When his spiritual children asked him how he knew foreign languages ​​while he was never taught them, he replied:

"I speak to them in Greek and the Holy Spirit interprets them in their minds and hearts"

This is the New Language of the Holy Spirit that Christ promised to His Disciples, the language of Paradise which was confused by pride in the Tower of Babel and from Pentecost returned by the Holy Spirit through the Church to All Saints of times.

With Saint Paisios too we have many such examples and with Russian Saints too.

The Holy Spirit, the Heavenly Fire with which the Fire of the Altar once lit on the Day of Pentecost is always in the Church and has been burning for twenty centuries now. It was never erased by human weaknesses and mistakes.

"And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever ".

Every other "new fire of spirit" which is advertised nowadays with characteristic conceit and arrogance as being authentic, genuine and unique on earth by heretics is foreign "Alien Fire and not Divine".

In the photo is the atheist French historian, Nun Magdalene in the Sinai desert, where she practiced asceticism afterwards, alone for 18 years in very difficult conditions, having renounced wealth, career, fame and useless philosophies of life.


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May 2023

An Urgent Appeal

This attachement was supposed to go out with the newsletter.  Please read this:

Urgent Appeal Poster

Focus on the Faith

What is a Parish Feast Day?

All Orthodox churches are dedicated to the worship of God, of course, and when Christians first became able to build churches they built them on holy sites associated with events in scripture, the life of Christ, or over the tombs of the martyrs. And if there was no holy site at hand, nonetheless a church would be dedicated in the name of Christ, the Mother of God, a Saint, or an event marked on the church calendar. We continue this tradition to this day. It is interesting to reflect how our church calendar is a sort of memory system, keeping the rich and growing history of God's self-revelation before our eyes.
In short, our churches always have their own special feast day. This is sometimes called the altar feast, or the parish feast day, or the patronal feast. Churches specifically dedicated to the Holy Trinity, for example, have their feast day at Pentecost. A church dedicated to St. Nicholas (like ours!) might celebrate its feast on December 6 - or, since this date falls in the Nativity Fast, on the 'Spring Feast' of St. Nicholas on May 9th. Churches dedicated to the Resurrection do not celebrate their parish feast at Pascha, but on September 13th, the commemoration of the dedication of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. Some churches have double dedications. For example, the famous Russian Cathedral in London, the long-time home of the late Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom), is dedicated to the Mother of God and has its altar feast on the Dormition, but it also has a further dedication to All Saints, and so, the Sunday of All Saints is also a special day for them. It is known as the Cathedral of the Dormition and All Saints.

The celebration of a parish feast ought to be something special, full of prayer and good fellowship. It is kind of like a birthday party. It is something that every parishioner should participate in, giving thanks to God for our place of worship, for His innumerable mercies to us, for the intercession and protection of our Patron and Father Among Saints, Nicholas the Wonder-worker, on our walk through life, for our parish family, and for our family and friends.

Orthodox Quotes

With Christ, Man’s Nature Ascends Also

Archpriest Georges Florovsky

“We who seemed unworthy of the earth, are now raised to heaven,” says Saint John Chrysostom. “We who were unworthy of earthly dominion have been raised to the Kingdom on high, have ascended higher than heaven, have came to occupy the King’s throne, and the same nature from which the angels guarded Paradise, stopped not until it ascended to the throne of the Lord.” By His Ascension the Lord not only opened to man the entrance to heaven, not only appeared before the face of God on our behalf and for our sake, but likewise “transferred man” to the high places. “He honored them He loved by putting them close to the Father.” God quickened and raised us together with Christ, as Saint Paul says, “and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephes. 2:6). Heaven received the inhabitants of the earth. “The First fruits of them that slept” sits now on high, and in Him all creation is summed up and bound together. “The earth rejoices in mystery, and the heavens are filled with joy.”

“The terrible ascent....” Terror-stricken and trembling stand the angelic hosts, contemplating the Ascension of Christ. And trembling they ask each other, “What is this vision? One who is man in appearance ascends in His body higher than the heavens, as God.”

Thus the Service for the Feast of the Ascension depicts the mystery in a poetical language. As on the day of Christ’s Nativity the earth was astonished on beholding God in the flesh, so now the Heavens do tremble and cry out. “The Lord of Hosts, Who reigns over all, Who is Himself the head of all, Who is preeminent in all things, Who has reinstated creation in its former order—He is the King of Glory.” And the heavenly doors are opened: “Open, Oh heavenly gates, and receive God in the flesh.” It is an open allusion to Psalms 24:7-10, now prophetically interpreted. “Lift up your heads, Oh ye gates, and be lifted up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty....” Saint Chrysostom says, “Now the angels have received that for which they have long waited, the archangels see that for which they have long thirsted. They have seen our nature shining on the King’s throne, glistening with glory and eternal beauty.... Therefore they descend in order to see the unusual and marvelous vision: Man appearing in heaven.”


Reading the Psalter over the Departed

In the Orthodox Church of Christ, there is a pious custom of reading the Psalter over the dead body of a monk or a layman (see Novaia Skrizhalj) continuously (except during the time when the funeral or a Panikhida [Memorial Service] is served at the coffin,). Even after the burial, the Psalter may be read for the dead according to a prescribed formula.

Reading the Psalms over the dead is one of those pious institutions of the Church of Christ, which derives from her maternal care for her children, carefully providing for their salvation, from birth to death, and not leaving them even after death. As a fundamental expression of her spirit and to address an essential need of the faithful, this reading of the Psalter over the dead has its beginning in the earliest days of the Church, serving as a prayer to the Lord for the deceased and at the same time giving consolation and edification for the living.

It is itself clear that the Psalms have to be read "with affection and warm compunction, reasonably, with attention, but not struggling like trying to understand the word with the mind". Therefore it is necessary to be circumspect in the choice of persons with whom to charge the sacred reading. Of course, everyone who is capable of this and understands the sacredness of this ministry can participate in this reading. Especially welcome would be those of the major and minor clergy or monastics who are thoroughly accustomed to chanting the Holy Psalter.

The position of reading the Psalter over the departed is the position of prayer and therefore one needs to stand during this reading, if some special need or disability necessitates, it is possible to replace this position with sitting.

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April 2023

Focus on the Faith

PASCHA by Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

Christ is risen!

My belief in Christ does not come from the opportunity given to me to participate since earliest childhood in the paschal celebration. Rather, Pascha is made possible, that unique night fills with light and joy and such victorious power in the greeting "Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!" because my faith itself was born from experience of the living Christ. How and when was it born? I don’t know, I don’t remember. I only know that every time I open the gospel and read about Christ, read his words, read his teaching, I consciously repeat, with all my heart and being, what was said by those who were sent to arrest Christ but who returned to the Pharisees without him: "No man ever spoke like this man" (Jn. 7:46). Therefore what I know first of all is that Christ’s teaching is alive, and that nothing on earth can be compared with it. And this teaching is about him, about eternal life, about victory over death, about a love that conquers and overcomes death. I know as well that in a life where everything seems so difficult and tiresome, the one constant that never changes and never leaves is this inner awareness that Christ is with me. "I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to You" (Jn. 14:18). And he does come and give the feeling of his presence through prayer, through a thrill of soul, through a joy so incomprehensible, yet so very alive, through his mysterious, but again so certain, presence in church during services and in sacraments. This living experience is always growing, this knowledge, this awareness which becomes so obvious that Christ is here and that his word has been fulfilled: whoever loves Me, "I will love him and manifest myself to him Jn. 14:21). And whether I am in a crowd or alone, this certitude of his presence, this power of his word, this joy of faith in him remains with me. This is the only answer and the only proof.

"Why do you seek the living among the dead? Why do you mourn the incorrupt amid corruption?" All Christianity, therefore, is the experience of faith repeated again and again as if for the first time, through its incarnation in rites, words, music, and colors. To the unbeliever, it may indeed seem like a mirage; he hears only words, he sees only incomprehensible ceremonies, and he understands them only outwardly. But for believers, all of this radiates from within, and not as proof of his faith, but as its result, as its life in the world, in the soul, in history. Therefore the darkness and sadness of Holy Friday is for us something real, alive, contemporary; we can cry at the cross and experience everything that took place in that triumph of evil, treachery, cowardice, and betrayal; we can contemplate the life-bearing tomb on Holy Saturday with excitement and hope. And therefore, every year we can celebrate Easter, Pascha, the Resurrection. For Easter is not the remembrance of an event in the past. It is the real encounter in happiness and joy, with him whom our hearts long ago knew and encountered as the life and light of all light. Easter night testifies that Christ is alive and with us, and that we are alive with him. The entire celebration is an invitation to look at the world and life, and to behold the dawning of the mystical day of the Kingdom of light. "Today the scent of Spring begins," sings the church, "and the new creation exults..." It exults in faith, in love and in hope.

This is the day of resurrection,
Let us be illumined by the feast,
Let us embrace each other,
Let us call "brothers" even those that hate us,
And forgive all by the resurrection,
And so let us cry: Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

Christ is risen!

From the Fathers

“Pascha, the Pascha of the Lord!” By His Resurrection, the Lord has brought us from death to life, and that Resurrection the “Angels in Heaven sing,” [for they have] seen the light of deified human nature in fore-ordained glory in the person of our Lord and Redeemer, in Whose Image and through the power of Whose Resurrection, all true believers in Him, all who have united with Him with all their souls, are transformed. Glory, O Lord, to Thy Most-glorious Resurrection! The Angels sing, rejoicing together with us and foreseeing the swelling of their ranks. O Lord, make us worthy, to hymn Thee, the Resurrected One, with pure hearts, seeing in Thy Resurrection the cessation of our corruption, the seeds of a new resplendent life and the dawn of coming eternal glory whose forerunner Thou becamest, being resurrected for our sake. The tongues of neither men nor angels are capable of expressing Thy ineffable mercy toward us, O most-gloriously Resurrected Lord!

—-St.Theophan the Recluse

Today the Angels leap with joy and all of the Heavenly Powers rejoice, elated because of the salvation of mankind. If because of the repentance of a single person there is joy in Heaven and earth, moreso is this true because of the salivation of the world. Today did Christ liberate the nature of man from the tyranny of the devil and restored it to its previous nobility. (St. John Chrysostom)

“He says: I was dead, and behold, I am alive for, evermore, amen; and you also will be alive forever. This is the meaning of the words of Him Who arose: I am the first and the last; I am He that liveth and was dead for you,”(Revelation 1:18) for your redemption from death, and I; that is: I conquered your death by My innocent death for your sake, and behold, I am also forever and will sit with My Father on His throne; I was not separated from Him, even though I was on earth accomplishing My great work for you who are subject to sin and death. Therefore, do you also, My followers, work and struggle against sin and do righteous deeds, and where I am, there shall My servant be also–that is, in the eternal Kingdom.”

—St. John of Kronstadt

Now since you are celebrating the holy Pascha, you should know, brethren, what the Pascha is. Pascha means the crossing-over, and so the Festival is called by this name. For it was on this day that the Children of Israel crossed over out of Egypt, and the Son of God crossed over from this world to His Father. What gain is it to celebrate unless you imitate Him Whom you worship; that is, unless you cross over from Egypt, that is, from the darkness of evildoing to the light of virtue, from the love of this world to the love of your heavenly home?” (St. Ambrose of Milan)

It is He, the Suffering One, that delivered us from slavery to liberty, from darkness to light, from death to life, from tyranny to eternal royalty; and made us a new priesthood and an eternal people personal to Him. He is the Pascha of our salvation.”

—St. Melito of Sardis


Services of Holy Week and Pascha in the Orthodox Church

The eight days that compromise Holy Week in the Orthodox Church express the spiritual summit of the Church's liturgical life. The focus on the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ proceeds in a physically, psychologically and spiritually moving series of services that defy the limitations of space and time to bring the Orthodox Christian into the moment of the events commemorated. The elegant beauty of the services so move the faithful that it is not uncommon to see tears flow as people feel themselves mystically participating in the events of the last week of Jesus' earthly ministry.

Lazarus Saturday (the day before Palm Sunday) recalls the last public miracle of Jesus in raising Lazarus from the dead. This act serves as a reassurance that the Passion Jesus Himself will face in the week ahead will not end in death and corruption. The hymnody emphasizes that Christ is fully human and Divine.

Palm Sunday is a celebration of the Lord's triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The Vigil Service includes a blessing of palm branches, which are held by the faithful for the remainder of the Vigil and throughout the Divine Liturgy. The hymnody reflects both the raising of Lazarus and the humility of the King who enters Jerusalem on the foal of an ass.

The evenings of Sunday, Monday and Tuesday feature the Bridegroom Matins. (Essentially, all the services for the following week are pushed forward twelve hours to allow more active participation of the faithful. Thus the morning service for Monday is celebrated Sunday evening, etc.) These services focus on the End Times. There is an urgency in the tone of the services as, successively, the innocent suffering of the Patriarch Joseph in the Old Testament, the parable of the Ten Virgins, and the anointing by the sinful woman is brought to mind in anticipation of the events to follow. Of particular beauty is the "Hymn of Kassiani" on Tuesday night, in which the faithful identify themselves with the sinful woman, both repentant and grieving at the suffering Jesus will endure for our salvation.

Wednesday Evening is the often occasion for the Sacrament of Holy Unction. More than a blessing of Holy Oil for the sick, the service functions as a transition from the expectation of the Passion to a spiritual participation in the last days of Christ. The focus is on repentance and the assurance of healing (spiritual as well as physical) through the Person of Jesus Christ. All those who are anointed must be Orthodox Christians, must be sick (soul or body), and MUST have been to Confession, in accordance with Bishop's Ukaz (decree.)

NOTE: The Unction Service at St. Nicholas will be served the Thursday before Holy Week this year.

On Holy Thursday morning the Vesperal Liturgy of the Last Supper is celebrated (moved from the evening to the morning as noted above). The Gospel Reading is a masterful combination of readings that recount the Last Supper, institution of the Holy Eucharist, and betrayal, arrest, and condemnation of Jesus. The hymnody centers on betrayal of Judas with allusions to the three Old Testament readings which each focus on the innocence of Jesus as a lamb led to the slaughter.

Thursday evening the Matins of the 12 Passion Gospels is served. The complete Passion narratives of each of the Gospels are read to dramatically tell the story of the Passion and Death of Jesus. During the service, the faithful are spiritually transported into the events being described by the carrying of the Cross. A priest exits the Sanctuary with a large cross, which he carries in procession through the Church. The Cross is placed in the center of the temple. An icon of “The Crucified One” corpus is suspended upon the cross. The sense of terror and despair becomes palpable, and it is not uncommon for people to weep at this point. The service continues with a growing sense of dread and grief as the Gospels recount the Death of Jesus. It is during this service that we hear the moving Hymn of Light “The Wise Thief”  as everyone prostrates.

Holy Friday is truly a day of mourning. In the morning the Royal Hoursprovide a meditation on the theme of Christ's sacrifice for us on the Cross. In the afternoon, the Vespers of the Burial of our Lord Jesus Christ occurs. Prophecies, Readings and Hymns again bring the faithful into the midst of events as the story of the Crucifixion is recounted and death of Jesus is affirmed. At the point of the Gospel narrative wherein Jesus is taken down from the Cross, the priest or acolytes exist the Sanctuary and remove the Icon corpus from the cross, wrap it in a white shroud and slowly take it into the Sanctuary. Again, the silence of the moment can prove overwhelming and often tears are seen on the faces of many. As the service proceeds, the priest emerges again, this time carrying the Plaschanitsa or Epitaphios (a large stiff cloth with the icon image of Jesus being laid in the tomb). The procession ends at a Tomb in the midst of the temple -- where the Plaschanitsa  is laid out to be reverenced by the faithful.

On Friday Evening, the faithful gather for the Matins of the Lamentations, or "Praises." The Church joins with the Angelic Hosts in mourning the death of the Deathless One. The Plaschanitsa is carried in procession in a funeral cortège around the outside of the Church. The sense of desolation reaches a breaking point, as the faithful reverence the Plaschanitsa, and take a flower to remember Jesus.

Holy Saturday begins with the Vesperal Liturgy of the First Proclamation of the Resurrection. The Resurrection is proclaimed with a strong association drawn to Passover and Baptism. Before the Gospel the priest scatters bay (laurel) leaves and/or rose petals throughout the whole church as a sign of Christ's triumph and victory over death. Traditionally, converts to Orthodoxy are baptized either before or immediately after this service.

The Night of Holy Saturday features the most moving and joyous celebration in the Orthodox Church. The Procession begins with hymns that mount in tension, urging the faithful to watch and wait. The Church grows ever darker until all lights and candles are extinguished. Suddenly, the priest exits the Sanctuary with lighted candles, singing, "Thy resurrection O Christ our Saviour…"" The tension that has been building throughout the week breaks as one by one, candles are lit from the paschal candles, the church suddenly breaking forth into light. Singing the Hymn "Thy Resurrection O Christ our Saviour," all process outside the Church, the doors are closed. The Matins of the Resurrection begins outside the church with jubilant singing of "Christ is Risen" and incensing of the faithful. When the doors are finally opened the Church is resplendent with all lights on and candles burning. The Royal Doors are open (and remain open throughout Bright Week – the period between Pascha and the Sunday of St. Thomas). Matins concludes in an air of joy and celebration. The clergy and faithful continuously shout "Christ is Risen!" "Indeed, He is Risen!" throughout the remainder of the Service. The usual ending of the service is replaced with the singing of Christ is Risen and the celebration of the Resurrectional Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

Holy Week in the Orthodox Church is more than attending a series of services, it is a week long experience of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The hymnody, readings, and overall arrangement of the services combine to powerfully witness to the central Truth of our Salvation. Those who faithfully participate in the services truly walk the way of the Cross and experience the joy of the Resurrection.

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March, 2023

Orthopraxis - Lenten Govenie

Govenie: The Path of a Virtuous Life

In the St. Theophan Study Group, we are reading “The Spiritual Life and how to be attuned to it” by St. Theophan the Recluse. St. Theophan is one of those 19th century Saints who are especially valuable for us, because he is closer to us in time, understood the modern mindset, and can “translate” the wisdom of the more ancient Holy Fathers for us who are further removed from their time and place.

“The Spiritual Life” is a collection of letters to a young woman who has asked for guidance from St. Theophan. She has been raised in the church, but she is not yet a fully conscious spiritual struggler who has taken responsibility for the actions of her own faith. The saint counsels her in various actions by which she can form a resolve that becomes a center that directs the actions of her life.

One of the activities that St. Theophan instructs her in is Govenie. This is defined as reverential activity during a fast (particularly Lent), by which one focuses a bit more on their spiritual life and preparation to receive the holy mysteries. One traditional time for this is clean week or the first week of Lent. Govenie is made up of time in church, with the penitenital nature of the services (especially the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete), as well as time in prayer and reading at home. Many of us confess and commune regularly, so what is so special about this preparation? It is a time to go a bit deeper, looking more closely at the patterns of thoughts and behaviors, and deepening our resolve to live for Christ. Govenie implies that we are setting aside our normal activities and schedule as much as is possible, and instead, dedicate time to our preparation and repentance. Some of the activities that can be enaged in at this time:

  • A more attentive participation in the church services
  • Extra prayers at home
  • Spiritual Reading that inspires and instructs us
  • A deeper examination of ourselves with the aim to do a complete confession and to form a better resolve to live for Christ - considering how we should conduct ourselves as Chistians.
  • Fasting from both foods, distractions and other passions. Having a measure of stillness so that we can more easily examine our selves and hear the still small voice in our conscience
  • A small non-distracting handcraft to keep us busy in-between.

The above is the ideal. Most of us will struggle to balance such activities with jobs, family responsibilities, energy levels, etc., but we should try to do what we can. You might notice that when you make an effort to do extra spiritual labors, that it seems like resistance and temptations multiply! That is to be expected - we should not be discouraged by the problems that come up, but rather see them as challenges to help us. We might find ourselves becoming more anxious, irritable, discouraged and the like. At those times, we should stop and recognize that these things are valuable to help us know ourselves, and repent more deeply. The temptations and problems are created by the friction that is created when we resist our normal patterns for more spiritual work. When looked at prayerfully, these problems can become fuel for the fire of greater zeal, repentance, self-knowledge, war against the passions and prayer. When these temptations arise, we can stop, look inside ourselves to identify what is happening, and then use the Jesus Prayer to transform our trouble into growth.

Lent is a valuable time to work on our spiritual growth, and Govenie is a toolbox with a good set of tools for spiritual growth. Having washed ourselves with repentance during the fast, we may find our sense of freedom and joy increased when we celebrate the bright resurrection of Christ!

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