Focus on the Faith: The Glorious Fourth of July
The Fourth of July is always a time for celebration in our land. It is a chance for family and friends to gather together for barbeques, outdoor activities, and fireworks. It is common practice in our churches to offer a Prayer Service, a Molieben of Thanksgiving at this time, and here, in the Pacific Central Deanery, it has been the custom for nearly 100 years to make a pilgrimage to Fort Ross and offer the Divine Liturgy there at the chapel in thanksgiving to God for this wonderful country of ours. But this year will be an exception. There will be NO Liturgy on the 4th of July at the Fort! COVID19 has seen to it that our get-togethers, fully open divine services, and pilgrimages are out! What a disappointment. But we can still take time out from our holiday to focus more carefully on the deeper meaning of the “Glorious Fourth.”
On Independence Day, the cause of our celebration is freedom, freedom from a cruel, repressive government, and freedom from a tyrannical king. This freedom is not only about liberation “from,” but also liberation “to!” Freedom means the ability to chart our own course, to work for our own goals, and to reap the fruits of our own labors. While this important civil holiday may not be found on our ecclesiastical calendars, we can certainly derive some spiritual food from it! The Fourth of July can be an opportunity for us to recall that there is a spiritual struggle for independence that goes on in our lives, and in our hearts, every single day. The tyrannical king is the devil; his cruel government is this fallen world and death; the overwhelming tax burdens and the tax collectors are our sins along with the demons who wait in the aerial toll-houses to accuse us at our death. These are the same demons, who would love nothing more than to kick the Heavenly King out of our hearts, and replace Him with seven of themselves (Matthew 12:45)!
Nothing is better, nothing is more natural to human beings than spiritual freedom. The Lord Jesus Christ said: “If the Son (of God) therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36.) But in order to gain this freedom, this freedom which is only found in Christ, there needs to be a revolution, a revolution in us! Now the word “revolution” literally means to turn around. Isn’t that what repentance is? A turning around? A change of direction? A change of mind? Repentance is a spiritual struggle to turn, a spiritual revolutionary war against the tyranny of evil. Repentance is a noetic rebellion and an ascetic strategy of separation that employs spiritual armaments given to us by the grace of God. St Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: For the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but our weapons have Divine power to pull down strongholds; casting down vain imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and brings into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5.)
So, then, the Fourth of July can serve as a good reminder to us that we need to keep up the struggle and “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12.) It’s only when we let our guard down, relax our efforts and our resolve, that we find ourselves slipping back into the clutches of our Adversary, the King of wickedness, and falling into the tyranny of his cruel and oppressive government. “Stand fast therefore” (says St. Paul) “in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1.)
From the Fathers: St. John of Shanghai & San Francisco on the Martyrdom of Tsar Nicholas II and his family (selection)
“What did Russia render to her pure-hearted Sovereign, who loved her more than life? She returned love with slander. He was of great morality, but people began to talk about his viciousness. He loved Russia, but people began to talk about his treason. Even the people close to the Sovereign repeated the slander, passing on to each other rumors and gossip. Because of the ill intention of some and the lack of discipline of others, rumors spread and love for the Tsar began to grow cool. They started to talk of the danger to Russia and discuss means of avoiding that non-existent danger, they started to say that to save Russia it would be necessary to dismiss the Sovereign. Calculated evil did its work: it separated Russia from her Tsar and in the dread moment at Pskov3 he was alone; no one near to him. Those faithful to him were not admitted to his presence. The dreadful loneliness of the Tsar… But he did not abandon Russia, Russia abandoned him, the one who loved Russia more than life. Thus, in the hope that his self-belittling would still the raging passions of the people, the Sovereign abdicated. But passion never stills. Having achieved what it desires it only inflames more. There was an exultation among those who desired the fall of the Sovereign. The others were silent. They succeeded in arresting the Sovereign; succeeded, and further events were almost inevitable. If someone is left in a beast’s cage he will be torn to pieces sooner or later. The Sovereign was killed, and Russia remained silent. There was no indignation, no protest when that dread, evil deed happened, and this silence is the great sin of the Russian people, and it happened on the day of Saint Andrew, the writer of the Great Canon of Repentance, which is read in churches during Great Lent. In the vaults of a basement in Ekaterinburg the Ruler of Russia was killed, deprived, by the peoples’ insidiousness, of the tsar’s crown, but not deprived of God’s Sacred Anointment.
A Letter to All Parishoners and Friends of St. Nicholas
|St. Nicholas Orthodox Church
14220 Elva Avenue
Saratoga, CA 95070
June 12, 2020
We hope this letter finds you healthy and doing well during this time of shelter-in-place. At our most recent Parish Council meeting, we designated two members as an emergency team to provide help to any of our parishioners who may need it at this time. Igor Feoktistov and Rachael Muratore will be available to help if any of you need assistance. You can contact Father Basil and he’ll let us know what you may need.
The Parish Council held a meeting on Friday June 5. At the meeting, our Treasurer, Aaron Labreque, informed us that our church is $5,000 short, compared to this time last year.
This year Saint Nicholas Church is faced with a very difficult financial situation for several reasons:
- The Parish Council was forced to cancel our Russian Festival, our main fundraiser, which netted us $19,331 last year. The cancellation is due to the constrictions of sheltering-in-place, as well as, the fact that Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church, in San Jose, changed the date of their festival to the same two days, that we hold ours.
- The church has spent $10,680 remodeling the two bathrooms in the hall. Only $1,661.00 was collected from the parish, to defray this cost, which compels us to divert $8,500 from our general funds.
- We did not have our Bake Sale before Pascha, which generally nets us $1,200.
We would like to thank those parishioners, who have been supporting our church, during this difficult time. We would also like to encourage all of our parishioners to contribute periodically, whatever amount of money that you can afford; this will enable our church to conduct its important work. Even a small donation every month would be helpful. You can give your tithe and donate any extra amount you can either by PayPal or by credit card at this address on our home page: https://stnicholassaratoga.org/donate-now/
Candle sales have dropped a lot! But you can still have a candle lit for people you wish to remember by using Paypal on our website at this address: https://stnicholassaratoga.org/light-a-candle/
The Parish Council voted to send a gift $800 to Project Mexico from our Charity account and to give $500 to Our Lady of Kazan Skete in Santa Rosa. This leaves only $75 in our Charity Fund. So, please endeavor to fully support this very important cause.
We wish you and your family good health, financial stability and peace.
Saint Nicholas Parish Council
Orthopraxis: Am I Saved? An Orthodox Answer
In the Bible there are certain verses that talk about a person being “saved.”
Being “saved” means being delivered or rescued, usually from something deadly. When a ship is going down it sends out a distress signal, SOS, which means Save Our Souls! This is a similar meaning to our Orthodox understanding of salvation. So, what are we being rescued or delivered from? At the end of the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father, what do we pray for deliverance from? The Evil One! So we pray to be delivered or saved from Satan. But that’s not all. There are also: sin, death, sickness, suffering, sorrow, sighing, etc. (cf the Funeral Service). Some also refer to the World, the Flesh, the Devil.
Some Protestant Evangelicals believe that salvation is a one time event. They believe that they can point to a date on the calendar when they were “saved.” They believe that there was a moment when they made a decision for Christ, and prayed the Sinner’s Prayer sometimes called the Salvation Prayer – and they were saved. They also believe that once they were saved, it was forever – “once saved, always saved.” What is the “Salvation Prayer?” I took this random example from a pamphlet. Here’s how it reads:
“Dear God in heaven, I come to you in the name of Jesus. I acknowledge to You that I am a sinner, and I am sorry for my sins and the life that I have lived; I need your forgiveness. I believe that your only begotten Son Jesus Christ shed His precious blood on the cross at Calvary and died for my sins, and I am now willing to turn from my sin.You said in Your Holy Word, Romans 10:9, that if we confess the Lord our God and believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead, we shall be saved.
Right now I confess Jesus as the Lord of my soul. With my heart, I believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. This very moment I accept Jesus Christ as my own personal Lord and Savior and according to His Word, right now I am saved. Thank you Jesus for your unlimited grace which has saved me from my sins. I thank you Jesus that your grace never leads to license, but rather it always leads to repentance. Therefore Lord Jesus transform my life so that I may bring glory and honor to you alone and not to myself. Thank you Jesus for dying for me and giving me eternal life. Amen.”
Then the little pamphlet goes on to say this: “If you just said this prayer and you meant it with all your heart and you have repented for your sins, we believe that you just got saved and are born again.”
But is this how we Orthodox understand salvation? Let’s look at some examples from Scripture:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
“If you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart man believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and all your household.”
Here we see three types of “salvation” – past, present and future. So the question: “Are you saved?” Or “When were you saved?” makes no sense to us Orthodox. It isn’t an Orthodox question. Why? Because salvation is a process. Let’s look at how we understand it. First of all, we say that we were saved and born again upon our confession of faith (the Creed, if adults) and Holy Baptism. The Bible is very clear that being “born again” has to do with something we must DO (faith, belief, an action, a “work”) faith AND water. (See John 3:5; Rom. 6:3–4; Col. 2:12–13; Titus 3:5). In fact, no early church father refers to John 3:5 as anything other than water baptism! (cf. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyon, Hippolytus of Rome, Clement of Alexandria, and others!)
Next we say that as we live our lives, we hope that we ARE being saved. This is actually what the Greek language in the Bible means when it says “you shall be saved. It literally says “you shall be-being saved.” It doesn’t mean right now, once for all. Salvation is a process, as I said. Actually, it’s what the Lord said in the Bible, not me.
And finally, at the Great Judgment, at the Second Coming of Christ, our final disposition will be determined, we pray we WILL be saved for eternity in God’s Heavenly Kingdom.
So, I was saved, I believe I am being saved, and I pray that I will be saved, is the simple, trinitarian, Orthodox answer. Molly Sabourin, a freelance writer and contributor to Ancient Faith Radio, mused on what she might have written as an Orthodox, instead of what she did write in her Protestant days, for a paper on the topic of what it means to be saved. She shared this as her fantasy re-write:
“I was originally saved over two thousand years ago when God the Son took on human flesh and offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice for all of mankind, defeating the power of sin by suffering on the Cross and destroying death through His miraculous Resurrection.
I am being saved daily through my intentional decisions to follow Jesus’ example within each situation that I find myself, viewing paradise not as just a someday destination but as the everyday experience of self-denial, of being filled, through the Eucharist, obedience, and love for others, with Christ.
I will, (Lord have mercy), be saved at the Great and final Judgement when I give an account for a lifetime of actions, when it becomes clear whether or not I cooperated with the grace so generously bestowed upon me. Who of us, having been blessed beyond all comprehension, should feel the need to “insure” that, regardless of our choices, a reward will be ours free and clear? Who of us dare to sit idle with our assurances, interpreting the conditions of the Bridegroom’s invitation while our lamps for illumining the darkness run out of oil?
My individual salvation is being worked out with fear and trembling through the unique responsibilities God deemed best to set before me. Based upon the model of the publican who beat his breast and begged for leniency, I am careful to not assume I have a handle on the spiritual state of others. I would do best, rather, to stay focused on my own flagrant shortcomings, reverencing both friends and enemies, all of whom were created in God’s image, as living icons of Christ Jesus. I share my faith, yes, but not out of obligation; a soul that’s found its meaning cannot help but be a witness to such joy. My ongoing testimony is presented through acts of service, in accordance with Christ’s commandment to love God by loving your neighbor. I pray ceaselessly for the courage to fight the good fight, staying faithful until my very last breath upon this earth.”
Lives of Saints
July 2 St. John (Maximovich), Archbishop of Shanghai & San Francisco
St John is a contemporary saint, having reposed in 1966, and is a great wonderworker and healer, whose relics are enshrined in San Francisco at the Cathedral of the Mother of God “Joy of All Who Sorrow.” He was an ascetic like those of old, who cared tirelessly for the poor, orphans and the ill and afflicted. Canonized first by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, St John’s sanctity has been recognized throughout the whole Orthodox world.
July 17 Holy Royal New Martyrs of Russia: Tsar Nicholas II, Tsaritsa Alexandra, Crown Prince Alexei, and Grand duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia, and those martyred with them (1918).
“Tsar Nicholas II was the son of Alexander III, who had reposed in the arms of St John of Kronstadt. Having been raised in piety, Tsar Nicholas ever sought to rule in a spirit consonant with the precepts of Orthodoxy and the best traditions of his nation. Tsaritsa Alexandra, a grand-daughter of Queen Victoria of England, and a convert from Lutheranism, was noted for her piety and compassion for the poor and suffering. Their five children were beloved of all for their kindness, modesty, and guilelessness.
“Amidst the political turmoil of 1917, Tsar Nicholas selflessly abdicated the throne for what he believed was the good of his country. Although he had abdicated willingly, the revolutionaries put him and his family under house arrest, then sent them under guard to Tobolsk and finally Ekaterinburg. A letter written from Tobolsk by Grand Duchess Olga, the eldest of the children, shows their nobility of soul. She writes, ‘My father asks that I convey to all those who have remained devoted to him… that they should not take vengeance on his account, because he has forgiven everyone and prays for them all. Nor should they avenge themselves. Rather, they should bear in mind that this evil which is now present in the world will become yet stronger, but that evil will not conquer evil, but only love shall do so.’
“After enduring sixteen months of imprisonment, deprivation, and humiliation with a Christian patience which moved even their captors, they and those who were with them gained their crowns of martyrdom when they were shot and stabbed to death in the cellar of the Ipatiev house in Ekaterinburg in 1918.
“Together with them are also commemorated those who faithfully served them, and were either slain with them, or on their account…” (Great Horologion)
July 12 Saint Païsios of the Holy Mountain (+1994)
‘The future Elder Paisius was born in 1924 and baptized by St. Arsenius of Cappadocia. He spent his youth as a carpenter until WW II, during which he repeatedly distinguished himself in the army by his bravery and self-sacrifice. In 1950 he went to Mt. Athos for eight years, where he was tonsured. Then he was asked to spend some time in his home village of Epirus, in order to defend the faithful against Protestant proselytism. He returned to Mt. Athos in 1964 and stayed in several monasteries, eventually settling in the Panagouda hermitage of Koutloumousiou Monastery, where he remained for fifteen years. Here his reputation as a holy elder and guide grew, and he tirelessly received those thirsting for spiritual direction, allowing himself only two or three hours of sleep each day. He reposed in 1994, one of the most well-known and beloved contemporary elders. Many of his counsels and other writings have been published.’ (St Herman Calendar, 1994) Elder Païsios was glorified by the Church in 2015; he is commemorated on the anniversary of his repose.
OUR VENERABLE AND GOD-BEARING FATHER COLUMBA OF IONA, ENLIGHTENER OF SCOTLAND (521-597)
Saint Columba (the Latinized name for Colum, meaning “dove”) was born at Garten in Donegall to a noble family. He entered the monastic school of Moville under Saint Finnian, who had studied at Saint Ninnian’s great monastery. Here Columba received the diaconate and entered monastic life. Tradition tells us that it is there that his sanctity is first attested to by the performance of miracles. Having completed his training he travelled to Leinster and then later to the monastery of Clonard. Here he was probably ordained priest before leaving for Glansnevin and the monastery there. When a pestilence devastated the country in 543, the monks dispersed and Columba spent 15 years traversing in Ireland founding several important monasteries, including Derry in 546.
In 563 Columba, with twelve companions, left for Scotland. On the Island of Iona he founded the famous Abbey, a centre for Celtic Christianity. Iona became a base for missionary work amongst the Northern Picts. Columba visited King Bridei, near Inverness, and won his respect. The royal residence had been bolted closed but, at the sign of the cross, the doors flew open and thus struck by such a miracle, the King listened and was baptised. Many of the people soon followed. This respect he found subsequently led him into a political role and he helped greatly in shaping the political landscape of that time, with some opposition remaining from the Druids.
Columba spent the rest of his life preaching and travelling in Scotland. The ‘Book of Deer’ (a tenth century illuminated manuscript, providing a unique insight into cultural, social and ecclesiastical life of the East of Scotland.) attests to Columba’s work and miracles in the East of the country. On another journey to the West he met with Saint Mungo, the apostle of Strathclyde. He returned to Iona, when not engaged in missionary work, and there many came to seek his counsel. From here, Columba governed the many communities he had founded. In the Celtic tradition the Abbot, although perhaps only in priest’s orders, was at times considered to govern above that of the position of a bishop, the bishop thus being subject to the Abbot’s jurisdiction.
On the afternoon of 8th June, 597, Columba climbed the hill behind his monastery and gave his final blessing to the place he loved so much. At vespers, that night, he collapsed before the altar and found home with his heavenly Father, surrounded by his monks. He was seventy six years of age. He was buried in the monastery but, one hundred years later, his bones were disinterred and revered. They were taken to Ireland when the threat of Vikings became apparent but they vanished in time. Books and garments remained at Iona Abbey and were the focus for miraculous works.
Saint Adamnan, a future Abbot of Iona, said of Columba: “He was angelic in appearance, graceful in speech, holy in work.”
It is without doubt that Columba stands as one of the greatest of the Celtic Saints. A man of incredible industry, of missionary work, of creating communities and not least a man of humility and deep charity.
Choir Director’s Corner: My Patron Saint
Many years ago, before I was Orthodox, I was studying and attracted to the faith, but becoming Orthodox seemed like a stretch. Wasn’t this very traditional faith old and irrelevant? Weren’t all those stories of saints demythologized now in our enlightened modern age? It was easy enough to dismiss older saints as stories from another age, but St. John broke that idea in pieces. I was meeting people who knew him personally and could verify that the many miracles attributed to him were facts and not merely fancy. I was talking to people who experienced his miracles personally! (There were at least 2 people at our parish who knew him when I first arrived!). I went to the miraculously incorrupt relics of St. John at the cathedral in San Francisco, and prayed: “St. John, help me to become Orthodox!” Things moved very quickly after that and the rest is history! My namesday gift to you is to share one of my favorite sermons of St. John, which is challenging in its depth, yet practical for making a good beginning.
by St. John of San Francisco
Stand fast on spiritual watch, because you don’t know when the Lord will call you to Himself. In your earthly life be ready at any moment to give Him an account. Beware that the enemy does not catch you in his nets, that he not deceive you causing you to fall into temptation. Daily examine your conscience; try the purity of your thoughts, your intentions.
There was a king who had a wicked son. Having no hope that he would change for the better, the father condemned the son to death. He gave him a month to prepare.
The month went by, and the father summoned the son. To his surprise he saw that the young man was noticeably changed: his face was thin and drawn, and his whole body looked as if it had suffered.
“How is it that such a transformation has come over you, my son?” the father asked.
“My father and my lord,” replied the son, “how could I not change when each passing day brought me closer to death?”
“Good, my son,” remarked the king. “Since you have evidently come to your senses, I shall pardon you. However, you must maintain this vigilant disposition of soul for the rest of your life.”
“Father,” replied the son, “that’s impossible. How can I withstand the countless seductions and temptations?”
Then the king ordered that a vessel be brought, full of oil, and he told his son: “Take this vessel and carry it along all the streets of the city. Following you will be two soldiers with sharp swords. If you spill so much as a single drop they will cut off your head.”
The son obeyed. With light, careful steps, he walked along all the streets, the soldiers accompanying him, and he did not spill a drop.
When he returned to the castle, the father asked, “My son, what did you see as you were walking through the city?”
“I saw nothing.”
“What do you mean, ‘nothing’?” said the king.
“Today is a holiday; you must have seen the booths with all kinds of trinkets, many carriages, people animals…”
“I didn’t notice any of that,” said the son. “All my attention was focussed on the oil in the vessel. I was afraid to spill a drop and thereby lose my life.”
“Quite right, my son,” said the king. “Keep this lesson in mind for the rest of your life. Be as vigilant over your soul as you were today over the oil in the vessel. Turn your thoughts away from what will soon pass away, and keep them focused on what is eternal. You will be followed not by armed soldiers but by death to which we are brought closer by every day. Be very careful to guard your soul from all ruinous temptations.”
The son obeyed his father, and lived happily.
Watch, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. (I Corinthians 16:13).
The Apostle gives Christians this important counsel to bring their attention to the danger of this world, to summon them to frequent examination of their hearts, because without this one can easily bring to ruin the purity and ardor of one’s faith and unnoticeably cross over to the side of evil and faithlessness.
Just as a basic concern is to be careful of anything that might be harmful to our physical health, so our spiritual concern should watch out for anything that might harm our spiritual life and the work of faith and salvation.
Therefore, carefully and attentively assess your inner impulses: are they from God or from the spirit of evil? Beware of temptations from this world and from worldly people; beware of hidden inner temptations which come from the spirit of indifference and carelessness in prayer, from the waning of Christian love.
If we turn our attention to our mind, we notice a torrent of successive thoughts and ideas. This torrent is uninterrupted; it is racing everywhere and at all times: at home, in church, at work, when we read, when we converse. It is usually called thinking, writes Bishop Theophan the Recluse, but in fact it is a disturbance of the mind, a scattering, a lack of concentration and attention. The same happens with the heart. Have you ever observed the life of the heart? Try it even for a short time and see what you find. Something unpleasant happens, and you get irritated; some misfortune occurs, and you pity yourself; you see someone whom you dislike, and animosity wells up within you; you meet one of your equals who has now outdistanced you on the social scale, and you begin to envy him; you think of your talents and capabilities, and you begin to grow proud… All this is rottenness: vainglory, carnal desire, gluttony, laziness, malice-one on top of the other, they destroy the heart. And all of this can pass through the heart in a matter of minutes. For this reason one ascetic, who was extremely attentive to himself, was quite right in saying that “man’s heart is filled with poisonous serpents. Only the hearts of saints are free from these serpents, the passions.”
But such freedom is attained only through a long and difficult process of self-knowledge, working on oneself and being vigilant towards one’s inner life, i.e., the soul.
Be careful. Watch out for your soul! Turn your thoughts away from what will soon pass away and turn them towards what is eternal. Here you will find the happiness that your soul seeks, that your heart thirsts for.
(Translated from Pravoslavnaya Rus) and taken from ORTHODOX AMERICA, Vol. XIV, No. 2-3, September-October, 1993
Upcoming events this month (Events are subject to change! see the online calendar for updates or the attached PDF for more info)