Find issues of the newsletter here as well as news and information on events at the church.
Focus on the Faith
Introduction to Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky – The Man Behind the Philokalia
by Fr. Seraphim Rose of Platina
DECEMBER 21, 1972, marked the 250th anniversary of the birth of Schema-Archimandrite Paisius Velichkovsky. This remarkable anniversary went almost totally unnoticed in the Orthodox world, which is so occupied with its worldly problems and its very struggle for survival. And yet, for Orthodox Christians of the 20th century there is no more important Holy Father of recent times than Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky. This is so not merely because of his holy life; not merely because, like another Saint Gregory Palamas, he defended the hesychast practice of the mental Prayer of Jesus; not only because he, through his many disciples, inspired the great monastic revival of the 19th century which flowered most notably in the holy Elders of Optina Monastery; but most of all because he redirected the attention of Orthodox Christians to the sources of Holy Orthodoxy, which are the only foundation of true Orthodox life and thought whether of the past or of the present, whether of monks or of laymen.
Having come to love the Holy Fathers and true Orthodox piety in his childhood, Blessed Paisius at the age of 17 saw that even in the best Orthodox school of Russia he was not being given the pure teaching of Holy Orthodoxy from the patristic sources, but rather something second-hand and accompanied by useless pagan learning; and, further, that an over-emphasis on the formal side of the Church’s existence, greatly furthered by the Government in its attempt to make the Church a “department” of the State, promoted chiefly the idea that church-minded people, the clergy and even the monks, occupied a definite place in the apparatus of the Church organization.This overemphasis of a real but decidedly secondary aspect of church life tended to obscure the primary aspect: the love and zeal for true Orthodoxy and true piety, which are what inspire every genuine Orthodox Christian, whether clergy, monk, or layman. Seeing the difficulty of exercising his love and zeal in the Russia of his time, Paisius left his homeland in search of a place where his tender Orthodox conscience could mature in blessed freedom and in the opportunity to draw instruction and inspiration from the unadulterated sources of Orthodoxy.
Having come to spiritual maturity, Blessed Paisius then himself became a source and seedbed for the great monastic and patristic revival of Holy Russia in the 19th century. True patristic spirituality and its hesychast tradition, to be sure, never died out in Russia, not even in the 18th century, that age of pseudo-enlightenment when the Empress Catherine closed most of the Orthodox monasteries and strictly regulated the rest of them; no, it remained and provided the fertile ground on which the disciples and the example of Blessed Paisius were to bear such great spiritual fruits. But it required the patristic bees of the great Elder Paisius, bringing back the pollen of the true and free tradition of Orthodoxy under the much more favorable climate of the 19th century, to cause the native Russian trees to give forth such a marvelous abundance of spiritual fruit.
Taken from the Introduction to Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky, by Schema-monk Metrophanes, trans. by Fr. Seraphim Rose (St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1976.
From the Lives of the Saints
—Excerpts from Orthodoxwiki
St. Nectarios of Pentapolis 11/9
St. Nectarios (1846-1920), Metropolitan of Pentapolis and Wonderworker of Aegina, was officially recognized as a saint by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1961. His feast day is celebrated on November 9. He is often referred to as Nectarios of Pentapolis or Nectarios of Aegina, and his name is sometimes spelled Nektarios.
Saint John Chrysostom 11/13
Our father among the saints John Chrysostom (347-407), Archbishop of Constantinople, was a notable Christian bishop and preacher from the fourth and fifth centuries in Syria and Constantinople. He is famous for his eloquence in public speaking, his philanthropy, his denunciation of abuse of authority in the Church and in the Roman Empire of the time, and for a Divine Liturgy attributed to him. He had notable ascetic sensibilities. After his death he was named Chrysostom, which comes from the Greek Χρυσόστομος, “golden-mouthed.” The Orthodox Church honors him as a saint (feast day, November 13) and counts him among the Three Holy Hierarchs (feast day, January 30), together with Saints Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian. Another feast day associated with him is January 27, which commemorates the event in 437, thirty years after the saint’s repose, when his relics were brought back to Constantinople from the place of his death.
St. Gregory Palamas 11/14
Our father among the saints Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), Archbishop of Thessalonica, was a monk of Mount Athos in Greece (at Vatopedi Monastery and Esphigmenou Monastery), and later became Archbishop of Thessalonica. He was a preeminent theologian and a proponent of hesychastic theology. His feast days in the Church are November 14 and the second Sunday of Great Lent as the Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas.
St. Paisius Velichkovsky 11/15
Our venerable father Paisius Velichkovsky, also Paisius of Neamt, led the renaissance in Orthodox monasticism in the late eighteenth century, helping the Church recover from the decline in monastic life and spirituality caused by the troubles and conflicts of the previous centuries. His effort was centered on the spirituality of the hesychastic tradition, which was expressed in the popularity of counseling by starets (elders) in nineteenth-century Russia. His feast is celebrated on November 15.
The feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple 11/21
The Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, also called The Presentation, is one of the Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church, celebrated on November 21.
According to Tradition, the Theotokos was taken – presented – by her parents Joachim and Anna into the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem as a young girl, where she lived and served as a Temple virgin until her betrothal to St. Joseph. One of the earliest sources of this tradition is the non-canonical Protoevangelion of James, also called the Infancy Gospel of James.
Mary was solemnly received by the temple community which was headed by the priest Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. She was led to the holy place to become herself the “holy of holies” of God, the living sanctuary and temple of the Divine child who was to be born in her. The Church also sees this feast as a feast which marks the end of the physical temple in Jerusalem as the dwelling place of God.
St. Innocent of Irkutsk 11/26
Our father among the saints Innocent of Irkutsk was an educator and early missionary to Siberia where he was appointed the first bishop of Irkutsk in central Siberia. His dedication to the task of preaching the Gospel and teaching the people of the area in their languages would be continued by his namesake Innocent of Alaska. St Innocent’s repose is commemorated on November 26. He is also remembered on February 9, the day of his glorification and translation, and on September 2, the date of the second translation of his relics to Irkutsk in 1990.
Orthopraxis – Introduction to the Jesus Prayer
by H.R.H. Princess Ileana of Romania
We honor two saints this month that are instrumental in preserving the Philokalia – the essential manual of hesychasm. But the heights of hesychasm are beyond many monastics of our day, let alone those of us in the world. Many of us have even been advised against reading the Philokalia early in our journey. How can we proceed? Our modern holy fathers and mothers have taught us a way to begin that is not too advanced for us – baby steps in the path that lead to holy hesychia. One such instructor is H.R.H Princess Ileana of Romania, who began this journey as a layperson, later becoming a Nun. Some of us at St. Nicholas knew her. She is an example of traveling far by the simple means of the Jesus Prayer.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.
I have often read the Jesus Prayer in prayer books and heard it in church, but my attention was drawn to it first some years ago in Romania. There in a small Monastery of Sâmbata, tucked away at the foot of the Carpathians in the heart of the deep forest, its little white church reflected in a crystal-clear mountain pond, I met a monk who practiced the “prayer of the heart”. Profound peace and silence reigned at Sâmbata in those days; it was a place of rest and strength—I pray God it still is.
I have wandered far since I last saw Sâmbata, and all the while the Jesus Prayer lay as a precious gift buried in my heart. It remained inactive until a few years ago, when I read The Way of a Pilgrim. Since then I have been seeking to practice it continually. At times I lapse; nonetheless, the prayer has opened unbelievable vistas within my heart and soul.
The Jesus Prayer, or the Prayer of the Heart, centers on the Holy Name itself. It may be said in its entirety: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner;” it may be changed to “us sinners” or to other persons named, or it may be shortened. The power lies in the name of Jesus; thus “Jesus,” alone, may fulfill the whole need of the one who prays.
The Prayer goes back to the New Testament and has had a long, traditional use. The method of contemplation based upon the Holy Name is attributed to St. Simeon, called the “New Theologian” (949-1022). When he was 14 years old, St. Simeon had a vision of heavenly light in which he seemed to be separated from his body. Amazed, and overcome with an overpowering joy, he felt a consuming humility, and cried, borrowing the Publican’s prayer (Luke 18:13), “Lord Jesus, have mercy upon me.” Long after the vision had disappeared, the great joy returned to St. Simeon each time he repeated the prayer; and he taught his disciples to worship likewise. The prayer evolved into its expanded form: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” In this guise it has come down to us from generation to generation of pious monks and laymen.
The invocation of the Holy Name is not peculiar to the Orthodox Church but is used by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Protestants, though to a lesser degree. On Mount Sinai and Athos the monks worked out a whole system of contemplation based upon this simple prayer, practiced in complete silence. These monks came to be known as “Quietists” (in Greek: “Hesychasts”).
St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), the last of the great Church Fathers, became the exponent of the Hesychasts. He won, after a long drawn out battle, an irrefutable place for the Jesus Prayer and the Quietists within the Church. In the 18th century when tsardom hampered monasticism in Russia, and the Turks crushed Orthodoxy in Greece, the Neamtzu monastery in Moldavia (Romania) became one of the great centers for the Jesus Prayer.
The Prayer is held to be so outstandingly spiritual because it is focused wholly on Jesus: all thoughts, striving, hope, faith and love are outpoured in devotion to God the Son. It fulfills two basic injunctions of the New Testament. In one, Jesus said: “I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16: 23, 24). In the other precept we find St. Paul’s injunction to pray without ceasing, (1. Thess. 5:17). Further, it follows Jesus’ instructions upon how to pray (which He gave at the same time He taught His followers the Lord’s Prayer): “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matt. 6:6).
And Jesus taught that all impetus, good and bad, originates in men’s hearts. “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh” (Luke 6:45).
Upon these and many other precepts of the New Testament as well as the Old, the Holy Fathers, even before St. Simeon, based their fervent and simple prayer. They developed a method of contemplation in which unceasing prayer became as natural as breathing, following the rhythmic cadence of the heart beat.
All roads that lead to God are beset with pitfalls because the enemy (Satan) ever lies in wait to trip us up. He naturally attacks most assiduously when we are bent on finding our way to salvation, for that is what he most strives to hinder. In mystical prayer the temptations we encounter exceed all others in danger; because our thoughts are on a higher level, the allurements are proportionally subtler. Someone said that “mysticism started in mist and ended in schism”; this cynical remark, spoken by an unbeliever, has a certain truth in it. Mysticism is of real spiritual value only when it is practiced with absolute sobriety.
At one time a controversy arose concerning certain Quietists who fell into excessive acts of piety and fasting because they lost the sense of moderation upon which our Church lays so great a value. We need not dwell upon misuses of the Jesus Prayer, except to realize that all exaggerations are harmful and that we should at all times use self-restraint. “Practice of the Jesus Prayer is the traditional fulfillment of the injunction of the Apostle Paul to ‘pray always:’ it has nothing to do with the mysticism which is the heritage of pagan ancestry.”
The Orthodox Church is full of deep mystic life which she guards and encompasses with the strength of her traditional rules; thus her mystics seldom go astray. “The ‘ascetical life’ is a life in which ‘acquired’ virtues, i.e. virtues resulting from a personal effort, only accompanied by that general grace which God grants to every good will, prevail. The ‘mystical life’ is a life in which the gifts of the Holy Spirit are predominant over human efforts, and in which ‘infused’ virtues are predominant over the ‘acquired’ ones; the soul has become more passive than active. Let us use a classical comparison. Between the ascetic life, that is, the life in which human action predominates, and the mystical life, that is, the life in which God’s action predominates, there is the same difference as between rowing a boat and sailing it; the oar is the ascetic effort, the sail is the mystical passivity which is unfurled to catch the divine wind.” The Jesus Prayer is the core of mystical prayer, and it can be used by anyone, at any time. There is nothing mysterious about this (let us not confuse “mysterious” with “mystic”). We start by following the precepts and examples frequently given by our Lord. First, go aside into a quiet place: “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31); “Study to be quiet” (I. Thess. 4: 11); then pray in secret—alone and in silence.
The phrases “to pray in secret, alone and in silence” need, I feel, a little expanding. “Secret” should be understood as it is used in the Bible: for instance, Jesus tells us to do our charity secretly-not letting the left hand know what the right one does. We should not parade our devotions, nor boast about them. “Alone” means to separate ourselves from our immediate surroundings and disturbing influences. As a matter of fact, never are we in so much company as when we pray”… seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses…” (Hebrews 12:1). The witnesses are all those who pray: Angels, Archangels, saints and sinners, the living and the dead. It is in prayer, especially the Jesus Prayer, that we become keenly aware of belonging to the living body of Christ. In “silence” implies that we do not speak our prayer audibly. We do not even meditate on the words; we use them only to reach beyond them to the essence itself.
In our busy lives this is not easy, yet it can be done-we can each of us find a few minutes in which to use a prayer consisting of only a few words, or even only one. This prayer should be repeated quietly, unhurriedly, thoughtfully. Each thought should be concentrated on Jesus, forgetting all else, both joys and sorrows. Any stray thought, however good or pious, can become an obstacle.
When you embrace a dear one you do not stop to meditate how and why you love—you just love wholeheartedly. It is the same when spiritually we grasp Jesus the Christ to our heart. If we pay heed to the depth and quality of our love, it means that we are preoccupied with our own reactions, rather than giving ourselves unreservedly to Jesus —holding nothing back. Think the prayer as you breathe in and out; calm both mind and body, using as rhythm the heartbeat. Do not search for words, but go on repeating the Prayer, or Jesus’ name alone, in love and adoration. That is ALL! Strange—in this little there is more than all!
It is good to have regular hours for prayer and to retire whenever possible to the same room or place, possibly before an icon. The icon is loaded with the objective presence of the One depicted, and thus greatly assists our invocation. Orthodox monks and nuns find that to use a rosary helps to keep the attention fixed. Or you may find it best quietly to close your eyes—focusing them inward.
The Jesus Prayer can be used for worship and petition; as intercession, invocation, adoration, and as thanksgiving. It is a means by which we lay all that is in our hearts, both for God and man, at the feet of Jesus. It is a means of communion with God and with all those who pray. The fact that we can train our hearts to go on praying even when we sleep, keeps us uninterruptedly within the community of prayer. This is no fanciful statement; many have experienced this life-giving fact. We cannot, of course, attain this continuity of prayer all at once, but it is achievable; for all that is worthwhile we must “… run with patience the race that is set before us …” (Hebrews 12:1).
I had a most striking proof of uninterrupted communion with all those who pray when I lately underwent surgery. I lay long under anesthesia. “Jesus” had been my last conscious thought, and the first word on my lips as I awoke. It was marvelous beyond words to find that although I knew nothing of what was happening to my body I never lost cognizance of being prayed-for and of praying myself. After such an experience one no longer wonders that there are great souls who devote their lives exclusively to prayer.
Prayer has always been of very real importance to me, and the habit formed in early childhood of morning and evening prayer has never left me; but in the practice of the Jesus Prayer I am but a beginner. I would, nonetheless, like to awaken interest in this prayer because, even if I have only touched the hem of a heavenly garment, I have touched it—and the joy is so great I would share it with others. It is not every man’s way of prayer; you may not find in it the same joy that I find, for your way may be quite a different one—yet equally bountiful.
In fear and joy, in loneliness and companionship, it is ever with me. Not only in the silence of daily devotions, but at all times and in all places. It transforms, for me, frowns into smiles; it beautifies, as if a film had been washed off an old picture so that the colors appear clear and bright, like nature on a warm spring day after a shower. Even despair has become attenuated and repentance has achieved its purpose.
When I arise in the morning, it starts me joyfully upon a new day. When I travel by air, land, or sea, it sings within my breast. When I stand upon a platform and face my listeners, it beats encouragement. When I gather my children around me, it murmurs a blessing. And at the end of a weary day, when I lay me down to rest, I give my heart over to Jesus: “(Lord) into thy hands I commend my spirit”. I sleep—but my heart as it beats prays on: “JESUS”.
Upcoming events this month are in the online calendar, which you can subscribe to on your phone or tablet. Use the print button on the calendar to print a copy.
Click below to print a copy of this newsletter:
AUTUMN HARVEST LUNCHEON
Pies for Holiday Purchase
Unique Gifts for Sale
Join us on November 12th from 12:30 to 3:30
At: St. Nicholas Orthodox Church
14220 Elva Avenue in Saratoga
$25 per person donation requested
Reservations are accepted until November 2nd by calling
Valarie, 408-770-7443 or Nika, 408-245-1785
Focus on the Faith
Is Jesus your “Personal Savior?”
Coming from a Protestant background, I was always taught to think of Jesus as my “personal savior.” Is this view based on scripture and Christian tradition? What is the relationship of the individual believer to Jesus? How does it work?
I too come from a strong evangelical Protestant background and the idea of Jesus Christ as my personal Savior is strong in my upbringing. I think the Protestant emphasis comes from the recognition that just a simple acknowledgment of Jesus as Messiah or as Son of God or even as the Accomplisher of Salvation is not enough, but that there must also be some type of commitment involved.
In the Orthodox Church the understanding is much more organic than in the Protestant confessions. In Protestantism, the individual is saved by a personal (meaning relating to me alone) action of God and the Church is the collection of all of those saved individuals. Salvation is an individual state, according to this view. The Orthodox Faith teaches us that salvation is not individual but corporate – the whole Church is saved together and apart from the Church we cannot be saved. The conversion experience as a “saving act” is not a part of Orthodox faith – rather this conversion experience (accomplished by baptism, btw) is only the door into the saving ark of the Church. Jesus by His death and (more importantly) resurrection has defeated sin death and the devil and has unlocked the door to paradise (it had been closed against fallen man and guarded by an angel with a flaming sword) and leads us in. Will we follow? – that is what “salvation” is all about; following Christ into paradise.
The words individual and personal bring up another interesting and important aspect. Within Orthodox teaching, we can say that Jesus is our personal Savior in that He takes individuals (a being that is independent and separated from all others) and makes them persons (a separate being that is united to other beings in a larger whole, in this case, the Church) This contrast between individuals and persons is a little bit of an extrapolation from the doctrine of the Trinity. We worship One God (individual) in three persons. Similarly, there is only One Church (individual) which is made of many persons. The emphasis on individuality in western and especially American culture is in this sense anti-Christian and derives from an incorrect understanding of the Church which is the result of the reformation in Western Europe and the resulting theology which had to justify salvation apart from the Church. We must remember that salvation is corporate – the whole Church is saved together and will be presented as a single entity as the Bride of Christ (there is only one Bride – Jesus is not a polygamist) at the 2nd coming. Our individual judgment is not whether we are saved or not, but rather we are part of the Church and following Christ. If we are part of the Church following Christ then we are being saved along with the whole Church but if we cease to follow Christ and separate ourselves from the Church by placing our own judgment and will as higher and more important than that of the Church, then we are not being saved because we have “jumped out of the ark”.
Fr David Moser – St Seraphim Orthodox Church – Boise, Idaho
From the Fathers
The Mature Christian’s Rule of Life:
“The mature Christian does not only try to avoid evil. Nor does he do good for fear of punishment, still less in order to qualify for the hope of a promised reward. The mature Christian does good through love. His actions are not motivated by desire for personal benefit, so he does not have personal advantage as his aim. But as soon as he has realized the beauty of doing good, he does it with all his energy and in all that he does. He is not interested in fame, or a good reputation, or a human or divine reward. The rule of life for a mature Christian is to be in the image and likeness of God.”
—Clement of Alexandria
“My poor soul! Sigh, pray and strive to take upon you the blessed yoke of Christ, and you will live on earth in a heavenly manner. Lord, grant that I may carry the light and goodly yoke, and I shall be always at rest, peaceful, glad and joyous; and I shall taste on earth of crumbs which fall from the celestial feast, like a dog that feeds upon the crumbs which fall from the master’s table.”
—St. Tikhon of Voronezh
Where there is pride there cannot be grace, and if we lose grace we also lose both love of God and assurance in prayer. The soul is then tormented by evil thoughts and does not understand that she must humble herself and love her enemies, for there is no other way to please God.
— St. Silouan the Athonite
Lives of the Saints
St Andrew the Fool for Christ (911)
St Andrew was bought as a slave by Theognostos,a wealthy citizen of Constantinople, during the reign of Emperor Leo the Wise. Theognostos recognized Andrew’s unusual ability and taught him to read and write. Despite this, Andrew, obeying a divine revelation, took up the ascesis of folly for Christ, behaving as a madman all day and secretly praying most of the night. His master endeavored to have him cured of his apparent madness, having prayers read over him in church, but to no avail. Finally, he discharged Andrew, who thereafter lived in absolute poverty in Constantinople, clothing himself in rags and living on the bread given him by kindly Christians. Anything that he received, beyond that needed for bare survival, he gave to beggars, usually mocking and insulting them at the same time so as not to be thanked or praised for his deeds. Such was the wholeheartedness of his prayers that he was given grace to see angels and demons, to discern the secrets of others, thereby turning them from their sins. It was he who, with his disciple Epiphanius, saw the vision of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God (see October 1). After a life of profound ascetic struggle, he reposed in peace.
Hieromartyr Cyprian and Virgin-Martyr Justina (304).
“Saint Justina, who was from Damascus, lived in virginity for the sake of Christ. Saint Cyprian, who was from Antioch, began as an initiate of magic and worshipper of the demons. A certain foolish young man who had been smitten with Justina’s beauty hired Cyprian to draw her to love him; when Cyprian had used every demonic device he knew, and had failed, being repulsed by the power of Christ Whom Justina invoked, he understood the weakness of the demons and came to know the truth. Delivered from demonic delusion, he came to Christ and burned all his books of magic, was baptized, and later ascended the episcopal throne in his country. Later, he and Justina were arrested by the Count of Damascus, and having endured many torments at his hands, they were sent finally to Diocletian in Nicomedia, where they were beheaded in the year 304.” (Great Horologion)
Hieromartyr Dionysius the Areopagite (96)
He is mentioned in Acts 17:19-34. He was a learned Athenian, a member of the Athenian court on Mars Hill (Areos Pagos in Greek, from which the title ‘Areopagite’ comes). At the time of Christ’s crucifixion, he was studying in Egypt and saw the sky darkened there for three hours when Christ breathed His last. He later married and had several children. When St Paul preached in Athens, Dionysius was among the first to believe, and became either the first (according to some) Bishop of Athens, or the second, succeeding St Hierotheos (commemorated tomorrow, October 4). With St Hierotheos he was present at the Dormition of the Mother of God. He received a martyr’s end in his old age, possibly in Athens. Several famous works of mystical theology, including On the Divine Names, Celestial Hierarchy, Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, Mystical Theology, and 10 Letters are attributed to him.
Our Holy Mother Pelagia (461)
“This Saint was a prominent actress of the city of Antioch, and a pagan, who lived a life of unrestrained prodigality and led many to perdition. Instructed and baptized by a certain bishop named Nonnus (November 10), she departed to the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem, where she lived as a recluse, feigning to be a eunuch called Pelagius. She lived in such holiness and repentance that within three or four years she was deemed worthy to repose in an odour of sanctity, in the middle of the fifth century. Her tomb on the Mount of Olives has been a place of pilgrimage ever since.” (Great Horologion). The Prologue adds that Pelagia had accumulated a large fortune as a courtesan, all of which she gave away to the poor upon her conversion.
Saint Thaïs the Repentant Harlot (4th c.)
She lived in Alexandria, where, when she was seventeen, her own mother placed her in a brothel, where due to her great beauty she was able to amass some wealth. Saint Serapion (March 21), hearing about Thaïs and her way of life, was moved by God to try to convert her. He dressed himself as a soldier, found her, gave her a gold piece, and went with her to her room. When the door was shut, he put aside his tunic, revealing his monastic robe, and asked if he might speak with her. With tears he told her of the doom that awaits sinners, and of the infinite mercy of God, who desires that all should be saved and welcomes every repentant sinner. Thaïs, her heart melted by his words, ran to the public square, burned all the fine clothes and possessions that she had acquired through her trade, and went with Serapion to a women’s monastery. There he instructed her to stay secluded in her cell, beseeching God’s mercy constantly and only eating every other day; she was to do this until she was instructed otherwise. Thaïs lived in this way for three years, with such zeal that she amazed all her monastic sisters. Meanwhile St Serapion went to St Anthony the Great to ask him if God had accepted Thaïs’ repentance. Saint Anthony and his brethren spent a night in prayer and received a vision in which they were assured that Thaïs had been found worthy of God’s mercy. Returning to the monastery, Serapion made the repentant Saint leave her cell, though by now she only wished to spend her life in repentant prayer. After spending only fifteen days in the common life of the monastery, the holy Thaïs reposed in peace.
Righteous John, Wonderworker of Kronstadt (1908).
“Saint John of Kronstadt was a married priest, who lived with his wife in virginity. Through his untiring labours in his priestly duties and love for the poor and sinners, he was granted by our Lord great gifts of clairvoyance and miracle-working, to such a degree that in the last years of his life miracles of healings — both of body and of soul — were performed countless times each day through his prayers, often for people who had only written to him asking his help. During his lifetime he was known throughout Russia, as well as in the Western world. He has left us his diary My Life in Christ as a spiritual treasure for Christians of every age; simple in language, it expounds the deepest mysteries of our Faith with that wisdom which is given only to a heart purified by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Foreseeing as a true prophet the Revolution of 1917, he unsparingly rebuked the growing apostasy among the people; he foretold that the very name of Russia would be changed. As the darkness of unbelief grew thicker, he shone forth as a beacon of unquenchable piety, comforting the faithful through the many miracles that he worked and the fatherly love and simplicity with which he received all. Saint John reposed in peace in 1908.” (Great Horologion)
Orthopraxis – Clergy Etiquette
Why Orthodox Christians Stand for Prayer or Worship
To express the respect of God which is congruent with the worship of Him, Orthodox Christians stand while in worship as though they were in the presence of a king. Traditionally, women stood on in the north side of the church in front of the icon of the Mother of God while the men stood on in the south side of the church in front of the icon of Christ. Now, however, this is rarely done and worshipers simply stand in any open space in the nave facing the altar and praying silently or singing as they stand. In most Orthodox churches, the congregants stand through the entire service with the exception of the elderly, the ill, pregnant women or mothers with babies, who may choose to sit in chairs or on benches in the back or along the sides of the church.
The custom that Orthodox Christians stand during prayer arid church services is not only a representation of spiritual service in the Heavenly Church, but also in the Church of the Old Testament. In the description of the blessing of Solomon’s temple it is said: “The Levites and all the singers, being arrayed in white linen… stood at the east end of the altar” (II Chronicles 5:12); and “All the congregation of Israel stood” (II Chronicles 6:2).
The holy prophets Ezra and Nehemiah, speaking of the services of the Jews after the Babylonian captivity, say: “And they set priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the Lord, after the ordinance of David, King of Israel” (I Ezra 3:10); “And the Levites stood according to their rank and cried with a loud voice unto the Lord their God, and the Levites caused the people to understand the law; and the people stood in their place” (Nehemiah 9:4,5; 8:7; also Matthew 6:5).
To stand during prayer was thus the customary rule among the Jews, as is proven in their writings, in the manner of the Old Testament Church, Orthodox Christians have maintained the same custom, since apostolic times, of standing during divine services. The correctness of such a practice is evident from the Scriptures, the holy fathers, and from the texts of the services themselves, where it is often proclaimed “Let us stand well, let us stand with fear, let us stand upright, let us stand at attention!”
Upcoming events this month are in the online calendar, which you can subscribe to on your phone or tablet. Use the print button on the calendar to print a copy.
Click below to print a copy of this newsletter:
Focus on the Faith – The Glorious Fourth
THE FOURTH OF JULY – Matthew 12:38-45
The Fourth of July is always a time for celebration in our land. It is a chance for family and friends to gather together for barbeques, outdoor activities, and fireworks. On Independence Day, the cause of our celebration is freedom, freedom from a cruel, repressive government, and freedom from a tyrannical king. This freedom is not only about liberation “from,” but also liberation “to;” freedom to chart our own course, to work for our own goals, and to reap the fruits of our own labors.
It is common practice in our churches to offer a Prayer Service, a Molieben of Thanksgiving on the “Glorious Fourth,” and here, in the Pacific Central Deanery, it has been our custom for nearly 100 years to make a pilgrimage to Fort Ross and offer the Divine Liturgy there at the chapel in thanksgiving to God for this wonderful country of ours.
While today’s civil holiday may not be found on our ecclesiastical calendars, we can certainly derive some spiritual food from it, right along with our festive foods and ice-cold beverages! The Fourth of July can be an opportunity for us to recall that there is a spiritual struggle for independence that goes on in our lives, and in our hearts, every single day. The tyrannical king is the devil; his cruel government is this fallen world and death; the overwhelming tax burdens and the tax collectors are our sins along with the demons who wait in the aerial toll-houses to accuse us at our death. These are the same demons, who would love nothing more than to find seven buddies, kick the Heavenly King out of our hearts, and replace Him with themselves, as we heard about in the Gospel.
Nothing is better, nothing is more natural to human beings than spiritual freedom. The Lord Jesus Christ said: “If the Son (of God) therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36.) But in order to gain this freedom, this freedom which is only found in Christ, there needs to be a revolution, a revolution in us! Now the word “revolution” literally means to turn around. Isn’t that what repentance is? A turning around? A change of direction? A change of mind? Repentance is a spiritual struggle to turn, a spiritual revolutionary war against the tyranny of evil. Repentance is a noetic rebellion and an ascetic strategy of separation that employs spiritual armaments given to us by the grace of God. St Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: For the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but our weapons have Divine power to pull down strongholds; casting down vain imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and brings into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5.)
So, then, the Fourth of July can serve as a good reminder to us that we need to keep up the struggle and “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12.) It’s only when we let our guard down, relax our efforts and our resolve, that we find ourselves slipping back into the clutches of our Adversary, the King of wickedness, and falling into the tyranny of his cruel and oppressive government. “Stand fast therefore” (says St. Paul) “in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1.) Amen.
Archpriest Basil Rhodes
Lives of the Saints
St John (Maximovich), Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco (July 2, 1966)
This brightly-shining Saint of our own day was born in Russia in 1896. In 1921 his family fled the Russian Revolution to Serbia, where he became a monk and was ordained a priest. From the time of his entry into monastic life he adopted a severely ascetical way of life: for the rest of his life he never slept in a bed, sleeping only briefly in a chair or prostrated before the icons. He ate one meal a day, in the evening. Teaching seminarians in Serbia, he instructed them each day to devote six hours to divine services, six hours to prayer (not including the divine services!), six hours to good works, and six hours to rest (these six hours obviously included eating and bathing as well as sleeping). Whether his seminarians followed his counsels we do not know, but he himself not only followed but exceeded them.
In 1934 he was made Bishop of Shanghai (in the Russian Church Abroad), where he served not only the Russian emigre community but a number of native Chinese Orthodox; from time to time he served the Divine Liturgy in Chinese. When the Communists took power in China, he labored tirelessly to evacuate his flock to safety, first to the Philippines, then to various western countries including the United States. He served as Bishop in Paris and Brussels, then, in 1962 was made Archbishop of San Francisco. Throughout his life as monk and hierarch he was revered (and sometimes condemned) for his ascetical labors and unceasing intercessions. During his life and ever since, numerous miraculous healings of all manner of afflictions have been accomplished through his prayers. Once, in Shanghai, a caretaker, investigating strange noises in the cathedral after midnight, discovered Bishop John standing in the belltower, looking down on the city and praying for the people. Years later, when he visited Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York, the priest responsible for hosting him found the saint walking through the halls of the monastery, standing outside the door of each room and praying for the monk or seminarian sleeping within. When the Archbishop had prayed outside each room, he returned to the beginning of his circuit and began praying again; and so he spent the entire night.
Even as Archbishop, he lived in near-absolute poverty. His appearance was striking: His cassock was made of blue Chinese “peasant cloth,” crudely decorated with crosses stitched by orphans who had been in his care in Shanghai. His Bishop’s “miter” was often a cloth cap to which he had glued paper icons. Even in the United States, even while serving the Divine Liturgy (which he did every day), he went barefoot in all seasons. (Eventually, after he was hospitalized with an infected foot, his Metropolitan ordered him to wear shoes; thereafter, he wore sandals). Needless to say, he was an embarrassment to those who like their bishops to make a more worldly appearance, but among his various flocks throughout the world, there were always those who recognized him as a Saint in his own lifetime.
Following his repose in 1966, a steady stream of healings and other miracles was accomplished through his intercessions, and in 1996 he was glorified as a Saint of the Church. His incorrupt and wonder-working relics can be venerated at his cathedral in San Francisco. At St John’s funeral, the eulogist told his mourners (and all of us): because Archbishop John was able to live the spirituality of the Orthodox Church so fully, even in modern, western, urban society, we are without excuse.
Footnote: An acquaintance of Monk John once met him on a train in Serbia. When asked his destination, Monk John replied, “I’m going to straighten out a mistake. I’ve gotten a letter meant for some other John whom they intend to make a bishop.” The same person met him again on his return journey and asked if he had been able to resolve his problem. John answered, “The mistake is much worse than I thought: they did make me a bishop.”
Orthopraxis – Clergy Etiquette
Greeting Clergy in Person
When we address Deacons or Priests, we should use the title “Father.” Bishops we should address as “Your Grace.” Though all Bishops (including Patriarchs) are equal in the Orthodox Church, they do have different honors that accrue to their rank. Thus, “Your Eminence” is the proper title for most Archbishops (among the exceptions to this rule is the Archbishop of Athens, who is addressed as “Your Beatitude,” as he is the First Hierarch of an autocephalous Church). “Your Beatitude” is the proper and usual title for Patriarchs and Metropolitans who are also heads of autocephalous Churches. There are exceptions, however. For the Patriarch of Constantinople, the correct address is “Your All-Holiness.” We use “Your Holiness” for the Patriarchs of Russia Bulgaria, Georgia, and Serbia.
In the tradition of the Russian Orthodox Church, when we approach an Orthodox Bishop or Presbyter (but not a Deacon), or an Abbot or Abbess of a monastery, we make a bow by reaching down and touching the floor with our right hand, place our right hand over the left (palms upward), and say: “Bless, Master” or “Bless, Your Grace,” or “Bless, Your Eminence,” “Bless Father,” “Bless Mother,” etc. The Priest or Bishop then answers, “The blessing of the Lord (be upon you”), blesses us with the Sign of the Cross, and places his right hand in our hands. We then kiss his hand.
We should understand that when the Bishop or Priest blesses us, he forms his fingers to represent the Christogram “ICXC” a traditional abbreviation of the Greek words for “Jesus Christ” (i.e., the first and last letters of each of the words “IHCOYC XPICTOC”). Thus, the Hierarch’s or the Priest’s blessing is the mystical blessing of Christ. This is the reason that a lay person always kisses the hand of a Priest or Bishop. Additionally, it shows respect for his office. More importantly, since both hold the Holy Mysteries in their hands during the Divine Liturgy, we show respect to the Holy Eucharist when we kiss their hands. In fact, Saint John Chrysostom once said that if one were to meet a Priest walking along with an Angel, that he should first greet the Priest and kiss his hand, since that hand has offered the Holy Mysteries and touched the Body and Blood of our Lord. When we take leave of a Bishop or Priest, we should again ask for a blessing, just as we did when we first greeted him.
What about Bishops and Clergy from schismatic Orthodox churches? It depends, but usually no.
What if you encounter a bishop or priest and you are unsure of their jurisdiction? Don’t be afraid to ask them if they are Orthodox and to which jurisdiction they belong.
What about heretical or heterodox clergy or ministers? No, never.
It’s important to know also that an abbess in the Russian Tradition is greeted exactly as a Bishop or a Priest. Monks and nuns are greeted with the word “bless!” (Благослови! Evlogeite!) with a bow of the head and the right hand over the heart. Don’t kiss their hand unless they are a spiritual father or mother of renown. Also do not touch and especially never hug a monk or a nun.
In the case of married clergy, the wife of a Priest or Deacon is also informally addressed with a title. (Bishops are never married in the OC). Since the Mystery of Marriage binds a Priest and his wife together as “one flesh,” the wife shares, in a sense, in her husband’s Priesthood. This does not, of course, mean that she has the very Grace of the Priesthood, but some of the dignity of her husband’s office certainly accrues to her. The various titles used by some of the national Churches are:
- Russian: Matushka ( MA-toosh-ka. Emphasis on the MA!))
- Greek: Presvytera (Pres-vee-TE-ra)
- Serbian: Papadiya (Pa-PA-dya) or Protinitsa (Pro-TI-nit-sa)
- Albanian: Prifteresha
- Ukrainian: Panimatushka (Pa-nee-MA-toosh-ka)), or Panimatka (Pa-nee-MAT-ka)
- The wife of a Deacon is also called “Matushka” in the ROC, but in the Greek Church “Diakonissa”.
Upcoming events this month are in the online calendar, which you can subscribe to on your phone or tablet. Use the print button on the calendar to print a copy.
Click below to print a copy of this newsletter:
Focus on the Faith
Who are the Apostles?
On the 29th of June, we will celebrate the “Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul” In preparation for this feast I would like to share some thoughts concerning these preeminent apostles and the establishment of the early church. It is my prayer that all will draw closer to God, to an understanding of the apostles, and to those who received instruction from their immediate disciples and successors.
“And He appointed twelve, whom He also named APOSTLES (Greek: “sent out ones”), to be with Him and to be sent out…” (Mark 3:14).
The twelve apostles formed the inner core of the Lord Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry. They were personally chosen by the Lord Himself. They were given the power of working miracles and were inspired to teach, to preach, and do extraordinary miracles in order to bring precious souls to Christ. On the Feast of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came down on the apostles and they were “endued with power from on high”(Luke 24:49), so that they could bear witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as He declared that they should.
“When the Bridegroom shall be taken from them…..then they shall fast” (Matthew 9:15). The Apostles’ Fast is the oldest fast and the first one kept by the Christian Church. During the Apostles’ Fast, the Holy Spirit spoke to them, “As they ministered to the Lord and FASTED, the Holy Spirit said: ‘Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.’ And when they FASTED and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them out” (Acts 13:2-3).
The apostles served the Lord Jesus and later provided leadership to the first generation of Christian believers. They were of such importance that the word “apostle” occurs approximately seventy-nine times in the New Testament. The book The Acts of the Apostles portrays the apostles as leaders of the first church in Jerusalem during the Church’s first decade. The apostles truly established the church and by recognizing their fast, we contemplate their faith, the power and glory of God, and the hardships which they overcame.
The Holy Apostles, following the Lord’s commandment, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19), traveled throughout the world and established Churches within which all could receive the Grace and Illumination of the Holy Trinity. In every Church, they would ordain their successors, bishops, and elders (“Greek: presbyteroi “ or “priests”) who received the Grace and responsibility to follow in their footsteps, “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery” (I Timothy 4:14). This gift of Apostolic Succession, which we see in the Holy Fathers of the Church, has continued within the Church until today. In their attempts to bring as many sheep into the Lord’s Flock as possible, the writings of the Apostles’ successors have filled the world with countless volumes that conveyed the Faith of the Apostles to all succeeding generations.
A series of books entitled “Apostolic Fathers” is a collection of early Christian writings, written around AD 90 to the last third of the second century. They are works written by early church leaders, some of whom were the direct disciples of the Apostles. The “Apostolic Fathers” deal with practical problems that emerged with the development of individual church communities in the first and second centuries. Such problems concerned the meaning of Christianity, appropriate Christian lifestyle, authority for disputes, and the safeguarding of the authentic tradition.
The works written by the “Apostolic Fathers” include:
- Clement ( a companion of St Paul, and 3rd Bishop of Rome) – Letter
- Polycarp (Disciple of St. John the Theologian) – Letter
- Letter to Diognetus – In defense of the Christian faith
- “The Shepherd” of Hermas – a book (He is mentioned by St. Paul, by name, in Romans 16:14) –
- “Didache” or “teaching of the Twelve” – Manual written by disciples of the 12 Apostles, to instruct new converts to the faith and to direct community leaders in their work
- Letter of Barnabas (the companion and fellow worker with St Paul)
- Letters of Ignatius of Antioch, ( a disciple of Ss. Peter and John was the child who sat on the knee of Christ when He said “Whosoever, therefore, shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” Matt. 18: 2-4.)
The writings of the disciples of the Apostles are of a pastoral character seeking to guide their readers along the Apostolic path. For this reason, they are closely related in content and style to the Epistles of the Apostles. Although they were authored in different regions of the Roman Empire, such as Rome, Syria and Asia Minor, nevertheless they present a unity in belief. Common to all these writings is their eschatological character. The second coming of Christ was regarded as imminent, and the faithful had to live their lives in preparation for the Day of the Lord. It is a frame of mind we would all do well to adopt today.
From the Fathers
St Augustine on the Feast of Peter and Paul:
“This day has been consecrated for us by the martyrdom of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul. It is not some obscure martyrs we are talking about. Their sound has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world (Psalm 19:3-4 LXX). These martyrs had seen what they proclaimed; they pursued justice by confessing the truth, by dying for the truth.
The blessed Peter, the first of the Apostles, the ardent lover of Christ, who was found worthy to hear, “And I say to you, that you are Peter” (Mat 16:13-20). He himself, you see, had just said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Christ said to him, “And I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.” Upon this rock I will build the faith you have just confessed. Upon your words, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” I will build my Church; because you are Peter. Peter comes from petra, meaning a rock… Peter comes from the word for a rock in exactly the same way as the name Christian comes from Christ.
Before his passion the Lord Jesus, as you know, chose those disciples of his whom he called apostles. Among these it was only Peter who almost everywhere was given the privilege of representing the whole Church. It was in the person of the whole Church, which he alone represented, that he was privileged to hear, To you will I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven. After all, it is not just one man that received these keys, but the Church in its unity. So this is the reason for Peter’s acknowledged pre-eminence, that he stood for the Church’s universality and unity, when he was told, To you I am entrusting, what has in fact been entrusted to all. To show you that it is the Church which has received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, listen to what the Lord says in another place to all his apostles: “Receive the Holy Spirit; and immediately afterwards, Whose sins you forgive, they will be forgiven them; whose sins you retain, they will be retained (John 20:22-23).
Quite rightly, too, did the Lord after his resurrection entrust his sheep to Peter to be fed (John 21: 15-19). It is not, you see, that he alone among the disciples was fit to feed the Lord’s sheep; but when Christ speaks to one man, unity is being commended to us. And he first speaks to Peter, because Peter is the first among the apostles. Do not be sad, Apostle. Answer once, answer again, answer a third time. Let confession conquer three times with love, because self-assurance was conquered three times by fear. What you had bound three times must be loosed three times. Loose through love what you had bound through fear. And for all that, the Lord once, and again, and a third time, entrusted his sheep to Peter.
There is one day for the passion of two apostles. But these two also were as one; although they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, Paul followed. We are celebrating a feast day, consecrated for us by the blood of the apostles. Let us love their faith, their lives, their labors, their sufferings, their confession of faith, their preaching.” (Sermo 295, 1-2, 4, 7-8; PL 38, 1348-1352)
Orthopraxis – On Entering the Church
Just as the Divine Liturgy is about to begin, the Deacon exclaims: “It is time for the Lord to act.” This liturgical phrase signals our transition from the temporal into the eternal. Leaving the world outside, we abandon worldly time and enter into God’s time. Being creatures that live in this world, we are bound by chronology; the cycles of time and the clock serve as guides for daily life. As Orthodox Christians, we anticipate being lifted “out of time” to be ushered into the heavenly dimension.
The Lord’s Day (Sunday) worship begins on Saturday evening with Great Vespers and includes Sunday morning Divine Liturgy. Although timeless, practically speaking, worship services have a specific point in time when they are scheduled to begin. Therefore, the proper time to arrive at church is well before the service is scheduled to begin, in order to pray and complete our preparations for worship. It is our custom always enter prayerfully and, when the time is proper, light candles and venerate the holy icons. We come to the church on time as if to a “Great Banquet,” with reverence because we are partaking of the very Body and Blood of Christ, our Savior. Coming to pray the Hours before the Divine Liturgy begins, will ensure that you will be settled in with plenty of time to pray without distraction. Always venerate the holy icons and light your candles well before you need to go somewhere else. Choir members should never hurry into the kliros, or altar servers should never, ever, scurry into the holy altar without first greeting Christ, His Most pure and holy mother, the saint(s) of the temple, and those of the day. It is God’s House, we are His guests. It is a matter of churchly etiquette and good manners.
In the event that arriving late is completely unavoidable, try to enter quietly and unobtrusively, observing what is happening. Remain in the Narthex if the Epistle or Gospel is being read, the priest is praying an ektenia (litany prayer), during the Little and Great Entrances, or during the homily. Never enter during the Anaphora (the prayers of consecration of the holy Mysteries).
May God bless our worship as the eternal breaks in upon the temporal
Click below to print a copy of this newsletter:
TITLE: Spring Luncheon at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Saratoga
DATE/TIME: Saturday, May 21st, 2022 from 12:30pm to 3:30pm
- Sweet Treats
- Delicious Lunch
- Homemade Lemonade
- Lovely Music
- Purchase traditional gifts to benefit Ukrainian refugees
- A percentage of the cost of lunch will also be for Ukraine
St. Nicholas Orthodox Church 14220 Elva Ave. Saratoga, CA 95070
Please RSVP by May 11th
408-348-8648 or 650-533-3579