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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
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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
Focus on the Faith
An Explanation of the Holy Week Services.
As we approach the great solemn days of Holy Week, we bring to mind how our Lord Jesus Christ was betrayed and seized, tortured and crucified, died and was buried, and arose from the dead. The services of Holy Week, beginning with Lazarus Saturday, show us in symbols, readings and chants the account of our Saviour’s love and sacrifice ‘unto death, even the death of the cross’ for our sake (Phil. 2:8).
On Palm Sunday we shall stand with branches in our hands and listen to the ‘Hosannas,’ like the multitudes in Jerusalem, welcoming ‘Him Who cometh in the Name of the Lord,’ and, like the children, waving palms and shouting for joy. In the Gospels of the first three days of Passion Week we shall hear Christ’s final teachings to his disciples and the people; His stern rebukes to the proud, self-righteous Pharisees and scribes; His prophecy of His resurrection and second coming. In the house of Simon the Leper, where Jesus was having a meal, we shall see the sinful woman enter to anoint His head and feet in love and repentance, and we shall contrast her to Judas, the disciple whose greed incited him to betray his Master for a paltry sum of money. Then we shall follow Jesus to the ‘upper chamber’ where He and his disciples partook of his Mystical Supper, that is, the first celebration of the Eucharist of his Most Holy Body and Blood, and then to the Garden of Gethsemane. There our Lord and God Jesus Christ prayed in agony.
Concerning our Saviour’s prayer before his Passion, Saint John Chrysostom says:
“By saying, ‘If it be possible, let it pass from me,’ He showed His humanity; but by saying, ‘Nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt,’ He showed His virtue and self-command, teaching us even when nature pulls us back to follow God” (Homily 83 on the Gospel of Matthew).
Together with Christ’s grieving Mother and John, the disciple “whom He loved” and with the other women, we shall stand watch by His Cross. We shall follow as His body is carried to the grave in the garden, and there leave his Body to rest until the glorious morning of the Resurrection. This is why through all Passion Week’s mournful services there runs the strain of bright hope, of forgiveness, of triumph over sin and death, and of our Saviour’s victory over Satan, Hades, and death’s corruption.
On this Saturday we remember how our Lord Jesus Christ raised His friend Lazarus from the dead. He knew Lazarus was grievously ill, but He waited till he died before He answered Martha and Mary’s call for Him. Jesus knew that His own death on the Cross was near. He knew how terrified and bewildered His disciples would be, how they might doubt that He was indeed the Christ. Only after four days did He bring Lazarus back to life, so that His disciples would see that He had power over life and death and was indeed ‘the Resurrection and
the Life.’ It was this miracle that prepared Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem and gave us the certain assurance of the physical resurrection of all the dead.
ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM – PALM SUNDAY
This day celebrates Christ’s triumphal entry into the holy city of Jerusalem. When the people heard of His coming, great crowds rushed to the city gates to meet Him. They spread their cloaks on the road and strewed palm leaves in His path. Children waved green boughs and all sang, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’ At Palm Sunday Matins, after the Gospel reading, the priest blesses palm leaves or other appropriate branches, which the people hold during the canon. Palm Sunday is one of the twelve great feasts of the Church.
GREAT AND HOLY MONDAY
The week of our Saviour’s Passion begins with Holy and Great Monday. The first three days of Holy Week recall Christ’s last teachings with His disciples. These teachings inspire the readings and hymns. The services consist of Great Compline, Matins, Hours, and the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts with Vespers. Gospels are read at Matins and Liturgy. In addition, the whole Psalter is read in the services of the first three days of Holy Week; also, the four Gospels are read. The Psalms remind us how the coming and sufferings of Christ were awaited and foretold in the Old Testament. The Gospels tell of His life in the world; His teaching and miracles prove that He was indeed the Son of God, who of His own free will suffered for our sake though He was without guilt.
At Matins after the great litany we do not hear the usual joyous verses, ‘God is the Lord, and hath appeared unto us.’ Instead, a compunctionate ‘Alleluia’ is chanted. And to inspire us to watch and pray in these solemn days, this troparion is chanted:
“Behold, the Bridegroom cometh in the middle of the night, and blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching; and again unworthy is he whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, lest thou be overcome with sleep, lest thou be given up to death, and be shut out from the Kingdom. But rouse thyself and cry: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God, through the Mother of God, have mercy on us.”
After the canon, which speaks of Christ’s coming Passion, another special hymn an Exapostilarion — is chanted. It is like a cry of our soul as if it saw from afar Christ’s radiant mansions and felt how unworthy it was to enter them:
Thy bridal chamber, O my Saviour, do I behold all adorned, and a garment I have not that I may enter therein. Illumine the garment of my soul, O Giver of Light, and save me.
According to the usage of the Optina Monastery, this hymn is sung three times. At the first singing, as we prostrate, the Royal Doors of the iconostas slowly open. At the second singing, the Doors remain open. At the third singing, the Royal Doors slowly close again, as we contemplate our lives and wonder if we shall be shut out of the Bridal Chamber of Christ’s Kingdom. On Holy and Great Monday the Church tells us the parable of the barren fig tree. It is the symbol of those who think only of outward goodness which does not come from the heart. The Gospel also tells about Christ’s prophecies about the fall of Jerusalem, wars and tribulations, and the end of the world.
GREAT AND HOLY TUESDAY
On Holy and Great Tuesday we listen to our Saviour’s replies to the wily questions of the Pharisees and scribes, who tried to trap Him; we hear His stern rebukes of their envy and deceit. The parables of the Ten Virgins and of the Talents remind us how we should always keep watch over our conscience and use in God’s service any gift or talent we have received from Him. The Gospel then tells Christ’s prophecy of His second coming and the Last Judgment. It ends with the awful warning: ‘Ye know that after two days is the feast of the Passover, and the Son of Man is betrayed to be crucified.’
GREAT AND HOLY WEDNESDAY
On Great Wednesday the Church commemorates the act of contrition and love of the sinful woman who poured precious myrrh-oil on our Saviour’s head, and, though she did not know it, ‘prepared Him for burial.’ And in contrast we hear of the dark act of Judas, whose greed led him to betray his Master. All the readings and hymns of the day warn us to beware of greed and love of money, which even tempted a disciple of Christ. We too can betray Him, if we let greed and selfishness get hold of us. On this night, in some places, the Church administers the sacrament of Holy Unction for the bodily and spiritual health of the Orthodox faithful. At this sacrament, the oil is consecrated by prayer and the clergy anoint the people.
GREAT AND HOLY THURSDAY
The Gospels of Holy and Great Thursday tell how our Saviour and His disciples came to Jerusalem to celebrate His last feast of the Passover, how He washed their feet. They tell the account of that Mystical Supper when our Lord ordained the Mystery of His Most Holy Body and Blood ‘for the remission of sins and life everlasting.’ They speak of Christ’s instruction to the Apostles, and how He told them that they would all forsake Him that night; they speak of Peter’s rash promise that he would always remain faithful; of Christ’s vigil in the garden; of how He was seized and led away to the high priest’s court; of the scene in the courtyard; of Peter’s three-fold denial and his grief; of the high priest’s mocking questions; and of how our Saviour Christ God, wearing the crown of thorns, beaten and insulted by the soldiers, was led before Pilate.
The readings and hymns of Matins dwell on Judas’ betrayal, on ‘the dark night’ which settled in his soul. We pray that we may keep ourselves from greed and deceit, and be made pure by partaking of the holy Mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood. The Troparion after the ‘Alleluia’ at Matins speaks of this:
“When the glorious disciples were enlightened at the washing of the feet, then Judas the ungodly one was stricken and darkened with the love of silver. And unto the lawless judges did he deliver Thee, the righteous Judge. O thou lover of money, behold thou him that for the sake thereof did hang himself, flee from that insatiable soul that dared such things against the Master. O Thou Who art good unto all, Lord, glory be to Thee.”
On this day the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great is celebrated together with Vespers.
The whole narration of our Lord’s Passion is given at the Matins of Holy and Great Thursday. It is commonly called ‘the Service of the Twelve Gospels.’ A tall Crucifix usually stands in the middle of the church with many candles lighted round it. After the Six Psalms and the Great Litany, the choir chants, ‘Alleluia’ and the Troparion of Holy and Great Thursday. The priest and deacon come out of the sanctuary carrying the Book of Gospels. It is placed on a podium and the priest begins the reading. The whole story of the Passion is read from the four evangelists and is divided into twelve parts. It begins with the ‘Gospel of the Testament’ and the prayer at the Mystical Supper, in Saint John’s Gospel, and continues through the four Gospels to the burial of Christ by Joseph of Arimathea. After each reading the choir chants, ‘Glory to Thy longsuffering, 0 Lord, glory to Thee.’ Between the readings special antiphons and hymns are chanted. They speak of Judas’ betrayal; of the cruelty of the Jews; of our Saviour’s infinite patience and meekness; of the awe of all creation when the Lord of all was nailed to the Cross between two thieves. The canon has only three odes. All recount the Passion and foretell the glory of the Resurrection. Matins ends shortly after the twelfth Gospel.
HOLY AND GREAT FRIDAY
Great Friday is the most solemn day of Holy Week. In awe and trembling, we stand before the Cross on which our Saviour died and we see the image of Him dead, lying in our midst, on the Plaschanitsa or Epitaphios (the Winding Sheet).
During the Service of Matins, which by anticipation is chanted on Thursday evening, we will hear some of the most awe-inspiring hymns of the ecclesiastical year. The following is but a one example:
“Today is hung upon the Tree, He that suspended the earth upon the waters. A crown of thorns is placed upon Him Who is the King of the Angels. He that wrappeth the Heavens with clouds, is wrapped in the purple of mockery. Buffetings did He receive, Who freed Adam in the Jordan. With nails was He affixed, He that is the Bridegroom of the Church. With a lance was He pierced, He that is the Son of the Virgin. We venerate Thy Passion, O Christ. Show also unto us Thy glorious Resurrection!”
The solemn Vespers of Great Friday is celebrated in the afternoon at the time of our Lord Jesus’ death. Again all the readings remind us of the suffering Christ and His glory. After the entrance, lessons are read in which the Prophet Isaiah speaks of ‘the Lamb led to the slaughter,’ and an Epistle of Saint Paul on the power and wisdom of the Cross; again a Gospel is read describing our Lord’s trial before Pilate, His Crucifixion and burial. At its conclusion, the icon of the crucified Christ is taken down from the Cross.
After the usual petitions, ‘Let us all say …,’ ‘Vouchsafe …,’ ‘Let us complete …,’ etc., the choir slowly chants the Aposticha, during which the procession exits from the Sanctuary, with the priest and deacon bearing the Shroud of Christ, their heads uncovered, proceeded by candles and censer. All kneel with head bowed low before the image of our dead Saviour. A bier stands in the middle of the church, with candles lit round it. On it the Shroud is laid reverently and censed all around by the priest. Then, after the Lord’s Prayer, the dismissal hymns are chanted: ‘The noble Joseph …’ and ‘Unto the myrrh-bearing women …’ followed by the prayers of dismissal.
HOLY AND GREAT SATURDAY
Holy and Great Saturday is a reverent vigil at the tomb of the Son of God, slain for our sins. By anticipation, the Saturday Matins is held on Friday evening.
After the Six Psalms and the Great Litany, the Royal Doors are opened clergy come out with candles and censer. The choir sings ‘The Lord is God and hath appeared unto us,’ and then the appointed troparia. In the meantime, the priest and deacon cense the Shroud, then stand in front of it. The priest and the choir then chant the ‘Lamentations’ with the verses of the 118th Psalm: ‘Blessed are the blameless in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.’ Each verse of the Psalm is followed by a verse of the Lamentations. It is like a long poem depicting the Angels in Heaven and all creatures on earth overwhelmed by the death of
their Creator, and their gratitude at being freed from death’s power by Christ.
After the Lamentations, the Resurrection hymns are sung. Then, following the customary litanies, the choir chants the canon, where the note of joy and triumph is heard more and more clearly. At the end of the Great Doxology of Matins, the priest raises the Shroud, which is then taken by four pall-bearers, the deacon walks in front, the people follow, all carrying candles, accompanied by the choir chanting, ‘Holy God, Holy and Strong, Holy and Immortal, have mercy on us.’ This represents the burial of Christ. Then, the prokeimenon is chanted, and the glorious prophecy of Ezekiel is read about the dry bones of Israel, out of which arose ‘an exceeding great host’ quickened to life by the breath of God. Then follows Saint Paul’s Epistle about Christ our Passover, and the Gospel about the sealing of Jesus’ tomb. Matins then ends as usual.
The Liturgy of Holy and Great Saturday is that of Saint Basil the Great. It begins with Vespers. After the entrance, the evening hymn ‘O Gladsome Light’ is chanted as usual. Then the 15 Old Testament readings are recited. They tell of the most striking events and prophecies of the salvation of mankind by the death of the Son of God. The account of creation in Genesis is the first reading. The sixth reading is the story of Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea and Moses’ song of victory – over Pharaoh, with its refrain: ‘For gloriously is He glorified’. The last reading is about the Three Children in the fiery furnace of Babylon, and their song of praise with its repeated refrain: ‘O praise ye the Lord and supremely exalt Him unto the ages.’ In the ancient church the catechumens were baptized during the time of these readings. The Epistle which follows speaks of how, through the death of Christ, we too shall rise to a new life. After the Epistle, the choir chants, like a call to the sleeping Christ: ‘Arise, O Lord, Judge the earth, for Thou shalt have an inheritance among all the nations… The deacon carries out the Book of the Gospels, and reads the first message of the resurrection from Saint Matthew. Because the Vespers portion of the service belongs to the next day (Pascha) the burial hymns of Saturday are mingled with those of the resurrection, so that this service is already full of the coming Paschal joy.
After the Gospel the Liturgy proceeds as usual. Instead of the Cherubic Hymn, a special and very ancient hymn is chanted:
“Let all mortal flesh keep silence and stand with fear and trembling, and take no thought for any earthly thing, for the King of kings and Lord of lords cometh to be slain and given as food for the faithful. Before Him go the choirs of the angels with all sovereignty and power: the manv-eyed Cherubim and six-winged Seraphim, covering their faces and crying out the hymn: Alleluia, Alleluia, .Alleluia.”
After the Liturgy the faithful partake of the
bread, wine and fruit which was blessed during the service, to strengthen them to keep watch the rest of the day and evening. This is the only Saturday of the year on which oil may not be taken. In the monasteries and convents, the refectory meal is taken in complete silence, out of reverence for the burial of Christ. The world awaits the proclamation of His Resurrection.
SYNAXARION OF THE GREAT FEAST OF THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST
On the Great and Holy Sunday of Pascha, we celebrate the Life-giving Resurrection of our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ: Pascha, which, translated from the Hebrew, means Passover. For this is the day on which God created the world from nothingness. On this day, He delivered the Israelites from Pharaoh’s hands and led them through the Red Sea. On this day, he descended from heaven and took His dwelling in the Virgin’s womb; now drawing forth mankind held in Hades, He raised them to heaven and brought them to the first-created honour of incorruption. …While the soldiers guarded the tomb, at midnight the earth quaked, for the angel of the Lord had descended and rolled the stone from the entrance of the tomb, and the soldiers [set to guard the tomb] were so frightened that they fled. The women came to the tomb very early in the morning on the day following the Sabbath — that is to say at midnight on Saturday. Later on the first day of the Resurrection, the Mother of God was there together with St Mary Magdalene, who was sitting near the tomb according to St Matthew. The Evangelists say that He first appeared to St Mary Magdalene [rather than His Mother]…so that there would be no doubts or suspicions concerning the truth of the Resurrection.
It was St Mary Magdalene who saw the angel upon the stone; then bowing down, she saw the other angels inside. The angels announced the Lord’s Resurrection to her and said, ‘He is risen! He is not here! Behold the place where they laid Him’ (Mark 16:6). Hearing this, the women turned to run and announce the Resurrection to the most fervent of the Apostles, that is, to St Peter and St John. But when they returned, they met Christ Himself, Who said to them, ‘Rejoice’ (Matthew 28:9).
St. Ambrose of Optina’s 1871 Paschal Epistle
O ones wise in the Lord! For the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, in place of the usual greetings I wrote to you about the great Mystery of this glorious Feast. And now I would like to say something to you about the mystical meaning of the Triumph of Christian triumphs, that is, the Resurrection of Christ. But because of my weakness and sickness I have neither the strength nor the opportunity. I can only tell you briefly that the yearly triumphant and bright Feast of the Resurrection of Christ, besides having its own meaning, serves also for us as a reminder of the general resurrection of the whole world, which is particularly apparent in the remarkable Paschal Matins.
First: During the radiant night, after the reading of the Midnight Office, there is the triumphal procession around the church by the clergy and all the faithful with lighted candles, together with the cross, the icons, and the ringing of the bells. This is clearly reminiscent of the Gospel parable of the ten virgins woken at midnight with the cry: Behold, the bridegroom cometh! Go ye out to meet Him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps (cf. Matt. 25: 6-7). These virgins are the souls of the faithful, and the Bridegroom is Christ. The night is our temporary life. The lamps are our faith and good works. Do not the Gospel parable as well as the triumphant procession around the church by the faithful accompanied by the ringing of bells represent the general resurrection at the end of the world, when the voice of the archangels’ trumpets will awaken all the dead, and the faithful in the Lord, like the Gospel virgins, will go forth to meet Him with their lamps, each according to her own worthiness?
Second: While this triumphant procession around the church is being performed, the church doors are closed. The faithful that walk see the light in the church, but on the path before them they see only impenetrable darkness, and thus they came to stand before the closed doors of the church. Does this not mean that all who are resurrected at the universal resurrection will see the heavenly bridal chamber of glory, but not all will enter therein — only those who are worthy — whose lamps, like those of the wise virgins, do not go out at the meeting of the Bridegroom Christ? All the rest, who like the foolish virgins have their lamps go out, will pitifully repeat the beginning of the hymn: I see Thy bridal chamber, adorned O my Savior, but I have no wedding garment, that I may enter there(Exapostilarion, Matins of Holy Week).
Third: Before the closed doors of the church, the presiding clergyman gives the usual initial Paschal glorification of the Holy Trinity and the singing of “Christ is Risen.” Then, with the cross in hand, he opens the doors and enters the church first, and after him enter all the other Christians, singing the joyous hymn: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life. Repeating this many times, to it is added yet more joyful singing: It is the day of Resurrection! Let us be radiant, O people! It is the Pascha, the Pascha of the Lord! From death to life and from earth to Heaven, Christ our God has passed us, who sing the hymn of victory! (Irmos, Canon of Paschal Matins). No longer is heard the usual singing that arouses us to compunction, only the ceaseless sweet singing awakening joy in all. The clergy continually come forth from the altar in brilliant vestments; ceaselessly we look upon the Cross of Christ and venerate the symbol of our salvation; ceaselessly we are surrounded by clouds of holy incense. All hold lighted candles in their hands; on the lips of all — those who serve and those present who stand and sing — is heard only the joyful: Christ is Risen!
Thus is celebrated the temporal Pascha of Christ on earth, and all Christians are allowed to celebrate — the worthy and the unworthy, because the present life is subject to change. Often the worthy become unworthy and the unworthy become worthy, which is clearly portrayed by Judas and the thief. At first Judas was among the chosen twelve Apostles of Christ, following Christ for three years, listening continually to His teaching, having the power to cast out demons and heal many different diseases. But at the end he went mad from carelessness and love of money, betrayed Christ, then perished eternally. The thief had been part of a band of hard-core robbers for three years, but, being enlightened upon the cross, he confessed willingly the Crucified Son of God, Lord and Kind, and was the first to enter Paradise. May we always hold these examples in our remembrance, so that we might always refrain from the sin of judging, even though we might see someone sinning at the very end of his life, as St. John of the Ladder assures us.
But it will be different at the heavenly Feast of the eternal Pascha, after the general resurrection and judgment. To that Feast will be allowed only the elect, the worthy. And whoever will once be allowed into the heavenly bridal chamber, to the Feast of the eternal Pascha, will remain eternally among the ranks of celebrants, giving voice to their joy. Whoever is shown to be unworthy to participate in the celebration will be deprived and estranged eternally.
However, now is not the time to speak particularly of the bitter fate of these last, for it is the all-joyous Feast. We will only say that all of us Christians, while we are still alive, should be careful and attentive to our salvation. And those who think they stand, in the words of the Apostle, should take care lest they fall, remembering always the terrible example of Judas who perished. In those of us who are infirm and falling, may the hope of correction be awakened, seeing the comforting example of the wise thief who inherited Paradise.
O, great and holiest Pascha, Christ! O, Wisdom, Word and power of God! Grant that we may more perfectly partake of Thee in the unending day of Thy Kingdom (Canon of Paschal Matins).
Taken from Fr. Sergius Chetverikov, Elder Ambrose of Optina
(Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1997), 190-193.
Features of the services of Bridegroom Matins during Holy Week
Each year we are invited once again to traverse the sacred days of the fast and come to that Week of all weeks – Holy Week. We are invited by the Church to take pause and reorient our crazy hectic schedule around “church time.” Every year we are guided through this rich, profound and beautiful cycle of services where we participate in Christ’s final days. If we pause enough we enter into the deep silence of the fear, isolation, sadness of the coming crucifixion of our Lord. Though the one Subject is Christ Himself, we come to find that it is us as well who become a vital component to these services. As we are remembering these events – Judas, the crowds, the Virgins awaiting the bridegroom, the harlot who anointed Christ’s feet – we begin to see that we are just like these persons. We are the Virgins who are not ready for the bridegroom. We are Judas who so often are willing to sell Christ for the sake of our worldly gain, we are the disciples who deny our Lord, and we are the crowds who boldly proclaim “crucify him!” As a new mission we continue to take steps to fill out our liturgical cycle and this year we are adding the services for Monday through Thursday known as Bridegroom Matins.
The first three days of Holy Week are referred to as “the end”. We have just laid our palm branches down into the silence of Christ’s final days. Darkness and judgment are the theme for the first three days. This is centered around the the Gospel reading from Great and Holy Tuesday found in Matt. 24:36 – 26:2. This is the parable of the ten virgins. Here we are urged not to be like the five foolish virgins who were not prepared for the coming of the bridegroom. The troparion hymn sung on these three days:
*Behold the bridegroom comes at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom he shall find watching; and again, unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless.*
*Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given over to death, and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom.*
*But rouse yourself, crying: “Holy! Holy! Holy! art Thou, O our God. Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!”
—From St. Elizabeth Convent
“Young Fr. Gabriel acquired the spirit of Optina right away. His creative, sensitive soul was receptive to Elder Macarius’ emotional tenor. He would always remember the image of Elder Macarius during Passion Week, singing alone in the Skete Church the Matins exapostilarion, “I see Thy bridal chamber adorned, O my Savior …” The Elder’s voice would be trembling as if in truth he saw before him the doors of heaven slowly opening up. There in the altar the multicolored lights would mysteriously glitter and shine….
(Lovers of Optina since Elder Macarius’ time have kept the tradition during that service of having the holy doors slowly open up, to reveal a multitude of lampadas of all colors on top of, in front of, and all around the altar table, flickering before the cross and mysteriously illuminating the otherwise darkened church. After the exapostilarion verse is sung three times, the doors slowly close, leaving the temple in darkness again.)”
—-From the Biography of Elder Macarius of Optina
The woman had fallen into many sins, O Lord,
yet when she perceived Thy divinity,
she joined the ranks of the myrrh-bearing women.
In tears she brought Thee myrrh before Thy burial.
She cried, “Woe is me!
For I live in the night of licentiousness,
shrouded in the dark and moonless love of sin.
But accept the fountain of my tears,
O Thou who didst gather the waters of the sea into clouds.
Bow down Thine ear to the sighing of my heart,
O Thou who didst bow the heavens in Thine ineffable condescension.
Once Eve heard Thy footsteps in paradise in the cool of the day,
and in fear she ran and hid herself.
But now I will tenderly embrace those pure feet
and wipe them with the hair of my head.
Who can measure the multitutde of my sins,
or the depth of Thy judgements, O Savior of my soul,
Do not despise Thy servant in Thine immeasurable mercy.
—-Hymn of Cassiani (Tone 8) of Bridegroom Matins of Holy Wednesday
The Rector’s Paschal Appeal Letter
“Those who have received liberty (from Christ), set apart everything they have for the Lord’s use, cheerfully and freely giving them like that poor widow, who put her whole livelihood into the treasury of God” (St. Irenaeus of Lyon, 2nd Century).
“Make Christ a partner with you in earthly possessions, that He also may make you a fellow-heir with Him in His heavenly kingdom” ( St.Cyprian of Carthage, 3rd Century).
“Let every man give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loves a cheerful giver!” (2 Corinthians 9:7)
Dear Parishioners and Friends of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church,
CHRIST IS RISEN! INDEED, HE IS RISEN!
In this world there are no more important words than these. In them are contained the totality of our Orthodox faith, and the fullness of our Church’s theology. Being so much more than mere words, this greeting is the reflection of that profound and amazing joy which was experienced by those who came to the empty tomb. They came expecting to encounter death, but instead, they were surprised by Life. Death had been swallowed up, the grave lost its power, and the greatest fear of mankind was turned on its head. With the resurrection of Christ, we were all assured of our own resurrection from the dead, because He raised us up as well. With the resurrection of Christ, death is vanquished, and Satan is crushed. Paradise is open again, and all those who wish to enter may do so.
“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again, I say, rejoice!” says the holy apostle Paul (Phil. 4:4). As we leave behind the soul-profiting school of the Great Fast, let’s not forget the lessons that we learned there. Let us continue, with the help of God, to amend our lives. Let us grow in love for God and for our neighbors. Let us embrace with forgiveness and discover how we are forgiven. Let us flee from self-centeredness and strive for God-centeredness. Let us not leave off from doing good deeds, but instead, seek daily to discover new opportunities for practicing virtue. Let us not forget sacrificial giving, but instead, continue to give generously to the poor, and to our parish, for in so doing, we reap many, many blessings from God.
May our Risen Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ bless each and every one of you, your homes, and your families. May the light that shines forth from the empty tomb shine on you now and always.
CHRIST IS RISEN! INDEED, HE IS RISEN!
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Focus on the Faith
The Lenten Services – Fr. Thomas Hopko
The weekday services of Great Lent are characterized by special lenten melodies of a penitential character. The royal gates to the altar area remain closed to signify man’s separation through sin from the Kingdom of God. The church vesting is of a somber color, usually purple. The daily troparia are also of an intercessory character, entreating God through his saints to have mercy on us sinners.
At the Matins the long Alleluia replaces the psalm: “The Lord is God” . . . the Psalmody is increased. The hymnology refers to the lenten effort. Scripture readings from Genesis and Proverbs are added to Vespers, and the Prophecy of Isaiah to the Sixth Hour. Each of these books is read nearly in its entirety during the lenten period. Epistle and gospel readings are absent because there are no Divine Liturgies.
At all of the lenten services the Prayer of Saint Ephraim of Syria is read. It supplicates God for those virtues especially necessary to the Christian life.
“O Lord and Master of my life: take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power and idle talk. But grant rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. Amen.”
The Vespers service which begins the lenten season is called the Vespers of Forgiveness. It is customary at this service for the faithful to ask forgiveness and to forgive each other. At the Compline services of the first week of lent the Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete is read. This is a long series of penitential verses based on Biblical themes, to each of which the people respond: Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me. This canon is repeated at Matins on Thursday of the fifth week.
On Friday evening of this same fifth week, the Akathistos Hymn to the Mother of God is sung; and the Saturday Divine Liturgy also honors the Theotokos.
The first Saturday of Great Lent is dedicated to the memory of Saint Theodore the Recruit. The second, third, and fourth Saturdays are called Memorial Saturdays since they are dedicated to the remembrance of the dead.
On Memorial Saturdays the liturgical hymns pray universally for all of the departed, and the Matins for the dead, popularly called the parastasis or panikhida, is served with specific mention of the deceased by name. Litanies and prayers are also added to the Divine Liturgy at which the scripture readings refer to the dead and their salvation by Christ.
Saturday, even during the non-lenten season, is the Church’s day for remembering the dead. This is so because Saturday, the Sabbath Day, stands as the day which God blessed for life in this world. Because of sin, however, this day now symbolizes all of earthly life as naturally fulfilled in death. Even Christ the Lord lay dead on the Sabbath Day, “resting from all of his works” and “trampling down death by death.” Thus, in the New Testament Church of Christ, Saturday becomes the proper day for remembering the dead and for offering prayers for their eternal salvation.
The Feast of Annunciation
On the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25)
The Feast of the Annunciation is a very important feast of the Faith. Did you ever stop and think about why that is true? Why is the Annunciation one of the twelve great feasts of the Church? Let us take a moment to think about what happened at the Annunciation, so that we can be better prepared to lead our family in celebrating this great feast.
When we stop and think about it, we can see that each part of this event is notable of its own accord, and together, all are essential for our salvation. It began when the Angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she had been chosen by God to bear His Son. The fact that this angel appeared shows that the event was significant, for he is sent whenever God has an important message to convey. God’s selection of Mary to become the Mother of God is a critical part of the event, since she was a holy young lady who had consecrated her life to God’s service. Her agreement, “Let it be to me as you say,” is a vitally important piece as well, because it simultaneously demonstrates Mary’s humility before God and her willingness to obey. Also noteworthy is the fact that this event marks the moment in history when a person became the first Christian, for after the Annunciation, the Theotokos truly had Christ living within her. But the most significant aspect of the Annunciation is in what it announces; what came about as a result of both the announcement and the ensuing humble submission to God’s will. And that is this; at the Annunciation, God Himself became human. This mystery is both mind-boggling and crucial. Christ’s taking on flesh and dwelling among us was necessary so that He could die, break well. What humility! What love!
After giving it a little thought, we can see that the Feast of the Annunciation is truly a big deal for so many reasons! Even the other feasts of the church year would not exist without it! In addition, March 25 falls exactly nine months before Christmas, and is therefore the date of the Annunciation. How wonderfully not-so-coincidental it is that the date of this Feast falls right in the midst of Great Lent each year, for it reminds us of Christ’s humility and the Virgins’ obedience. Both humility and obedience are things that we are working on in our own lives, especially during Great Lent! The Annunciation reminds us of what God can do when both are exercised perfectly. Let us accordingly prepare our family to celebrate this great feast!
“Today is the beginning of our salvation, and the manifestation of the mystery from the ages; for the Son of God becometh the Son of the Virgin, and Gabriel proclaimeth grace. Wherefore, do we shout with him to the Theotokos: Rejoice, O full of grace! The Lord is with thee.” ~ Apolytikion of the Annunciation
Blessed Feast of the Annunciation!
From the Fathers
Excerpt from the Homily on the Annunciation, by St. John Chrysostom
Again, tidings of joy, again messages of freedom, again calling back, again return, again voice of rejoicing, again driving back of slavery. An angel speaks with a virgin because a woman spoke to a serpent. “In the sixth month”, as it is written, “The Angel Gabriel was sent by God to a virgin betrothed to a man.” Gabriel was sent with the message of universal salvation. Gabriel was sent, bringing the writ of the recall of Adam. Gabriel was sent to the Virgin, that the dishonor of womanhood might be transformed into honor. Gabriel was sent, as is worthy, to rejoice at the pure chamber of the Bridegroom. Gabriel was sent, and the Creator is betrothed to His creation. Gabriel was sent to the spiritual palace of the King of the Angels. Gabriel was sent to a virgin, who though betrothed to Joseph, will bear the Son. The bodiless servant was sent to the spotless Virgin. Sin was sent free towards corruption by the inviolate one. The lamp was sent to tell of the Sun of Righteousness. The morning star precedes the light of day. Gabriel was sent to relate of Him Who is in the bosom of the Father, and in the arms of His Mother. Gabriel was sent to show Him Who is on the throne and in the cave. The solider was sent to cry out the mystery of the King. We know this is a mystery through faith, not one that can be studied in various ways. We venerate the mystery, not a joining together. We theologize a mystery, not a study. We confess a mystery, we do no count it. “In the sixth month, Gabriel was sent to a virgin…”
And he [the Archangel] received all the commandments like these [from the Lord]: “Come, O Angel, become a servant of this awesome mystery. Serve this hidden wonder, as an answer to fallen Adam, who will come under my compassion. Sin has made he that is fashioned in my image to grow old, and has soiled my creation, and has darkened where I created beauty. The wolf has scattered my flock. The dwelling place of Paradise has become a desert. The Tree of Life is guarded by the flaming sword, and the place of nourishment is closed. I have mercy on him who was attacked, and I wish to make war with him who fought against him [i.e., the devil]. I wish for all of the heavenly powers to know, but to you alone I impart the mystery. Go to the Virgin Mary, go to the Spiritual Gate, of which the Prophet said: “Glorious things have been said of you, O City of God.” Go to my Rational Paradise. Go to the Eastern City. Go to her who is the worthy dwelling-place of the Word. Go to the second Heaven on earth. Go to the Light Cloud. Tell her of my coming, the Thunderstorm. Go to her who is my prepared holy place. Go to the Bridal Chamber of my incarnation. Go to the pure Bridal Chamber of my nativity in the flesh. Speak to the ears of this rational Ark, to prepare the entrance of my hearing. But do not be fearsome, do not trouble the soul of the Virgin…First cry out to her with a voice of joy, and tell Mariam: “Hail, O Full-of-grace,” that I might have mercy on Eve, who is full-of-shame.”
The Angel [Gabriel], having heard what was spoken to him, said: “Strange is this thing, surpassing every thought to speak. He Who is awesome to the Cherubim, and invisible to the Seraphim, He Who is incomprehensible to all the Angelic Powers, is proclaimed to become nature!”
…But having truly all of this, the Physician has come to the sick, and the Sun of Righteousness has dawned for those who sat in darkness, the Anchor and Calm Harbor to those storm-tossed, the Intercessor has been born for the despised slaves, and peace has been united, and the Redeemer of captives has come, the strong unspeakable Joy and Love and Protection has come for those who are embattled. He is our peace, as the divine Apostle says, through Whom we have all received grace, Christ our God, to Whom belong glory to the ages of ages. Amen.
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Focus on the Faith
THEOSIS: The Purpose of the Christian Life
“For the Son of God became man so that we might become god” – St Athanasius the Great
How do we Orthodox Christians understand the above quote by Athanasius, the fourth-century bishop of Alexandria? It sounds a bit preposterous to the average western Christian. Becoming a god? Isn’t that what the Mormons promise themselves after a lifetime of taking part in temple ordinances and by putting on their special “sacred underwear”? But strange as it may sound to some ears, this doctrine has been at the heart of Orthodox Christian theology and spiritual practice for its entire 2,000-year history.
Let’s clarify straightaway some things that theosis is not. Theosis is not the same as pantheism. The essence of our human nature is not replaced by divine nature. As Bishop Kallistos Ware puts it, “we are able to affirm a direct or mystical union between man and God… but at the same time we exclude any pantheistic identification between the two: for man participates in the energies of God, not the essence. There is union, but not fusion or confusion. Although “united” with the divine, man still remains man; he is not swallowed up or annihilated, but between him and God there continues always to exist an “I-Thou” relationship of person to person.” (The Orthodox Way, p. 23) Theosis means that human beings can “become by grace what God is by nature.” (Athanasius, De Incarnatione I) How can this be? Well, we become “God-like” through perfection in holiness, the continuous process of acquiring the Holy Spirit by grace through ascetical efforts. This is what the holy fathers call “podvig” or spiritual and physical struggle against the sinful inclinations of the flesh and the promptings of the devil. It means a cleansing of the heart by vigilance, prayers, and fasting. As Psalm 4:18 says: “The path of the righteous is as the shining light, that shines more and more to the perfect day.”
The doctrine of theosis–also known as deification, divinization, or partaking of the divine nature–is scripturally rooted first in the Old Testament, in Psalm 82:6, “Now I say to you, you are gods, and all of you, children of the Most High;’” and then in the New Testament in 2 Peter 1:4, “He has given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world.” St. Gregory Palamas, the great 14th century pillar of the church and defender of the doctrine of theosis, affirmed the possibility of humanity’s union with God in His energies, while also affirming that because of God’s transcendence and utter otherness, it is impossible for any person to know or to be united with God’s essence. However, through faith and activity (praxis) we can attain an Orthodox “phronema,” which is a Greek word meaning an Orthodox mindset or outlook; it is ultimately what St. Paul refers to as “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:6; Philip. 2:5).
The journey towards theosis includes many forms of praxis. Living in the community of the church and partaking regularly of the sacraments, and especially Confession and Communion, is taken for granted. Also important is cultivating the “prayer of the heart,” or “unceasing prayer” that St. Paul recommends in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. This unceasing prayer of the heart is a dominant theme in the writings of many of the Church Fathers, especially in those collected in the Philokalia (Добротолюбие). For us Orthodox Christians “Theosis” IS salvation.
Lives of the Saints Commemorated in February
Holy Martyrs Perpetua and Felicity, and those with them at Carthage (203) – February 1
Perpetua, Felicity, Saturus, Saturninus, Secundus and Revocatus were all young catechumens living near Carthage. Perpetua was of noble birth; Felicity (Felicitas) was her slave. All were arrested under Emperor Valerian’s persecution and sent to Carthage. Perpetua had a young child still at the breast, which she asked to take with her.
The holy martyrs appeared before the tribunal and joyfully received their sentence of condemnation to be thrown to the wild beasts in the arena. Felicity, who was eight months pregnant, was concerned that her martyrdom might be postponed because of her pregnancy, but at the prayers of her friends, she went into labor three days before the games. As she groaned in labor, a jailer mocked her, telling her that the pain she felt was nothing to the pain that she would feel in the arena. The Saint replied, ‘Here I suffer for myself; then there will be Another with me, who will suffer with me; and my sufferings will be for Him!’ When she gave birth, she entrusted her newborn child to the care of a Christian couple and prepared for her end. On the day of the games, the brothers and sisters in Christ entered the arena together. The men were soon killed by the beasts, but Perpetua and Felicity, though mauled, remained alive. The impatient persecutors ordered that they be beheaded. Walking to the center of the arena, the two spiritual sisters exchanged the kiss of peace and gave up their souls to God.
Our Holy Mother Brigid of Kildare (524) – February 1
Her name is also spelled Brigit or Bridget; she is considered, equally with St Patrick (March 17), patron of Ireland. She was born in Ulster of a noble Irish family which had been converted by St Patrick. She was uncommonly beautiful, and her father planned to marry her to the King of Ulster. But at the age of sixteen she asked her Lord Jesus Christ to make her unattractive, so that no one would marry her and she could devote herself to Him alone. Soon she lost an eye and was allowed to enter a monastery. On the day that she took monastic vows, she was miraculously healed and her original beauty restored. Near Dublin she built herself a cell under an oak tree, which was called Kill-dara, or Cell of the Oak. Soon seven other young women joined her and established the monastery of Kill-dara, which in time became the cathedral city of Kildare. The monastery grew rapidly and became a double monastery with both men’s and women’s settlements, with the Abbess ranking above the Abbot; from it several other monasteries were planted throughout Ireland. (Combined men’s and women’s monastic communities are virtually unknown in the east, but were common in the golden age of the Irish Church). The Saint predicted the day of her death and fell asleep in peace in 524, leaving a monastic Rule to govern all the monasteries under her care. During the Middle Ages her veneration spread throughout Europe.
Holy Martyr Agatha of Palermo in Sicily (251) – February 5
She is one of the best loved and most venerated Martyrs of the West. She was born to a noble family in Catania or Palermo in Sicily. At an early age she consecrated herself to the Lord and, though very beautiful, sought only to adorn herself with the virtues. During the persecution under Decius (251), she was arrested as a Christian; at this time she was about fifteen years old. Quintinian, the Governor of Sicily, was taken by her beauty and offered to marry her, thinking in that way not only to possess her body but her riches as well. When she spurned his advances, and continued to mock the idols, he grew angry and decided to have her tortured. She was gruesomely tormented and cast bleeding into a dungeon to die; but in the night her Guardian Angel brought the Apostle Peter to her, and he healed her wounds. The following day, the Governor ordered that she be subjected to further torments, but at his words the city was shaken by an earthquake and part of the palace collapsed. The terrified people stormed the palace and demanded that Agatha be released, lest they be subject to the wrath of her God. The Saint was returned to her prison cell, where in response to her prayers she was allowed to give up her soul to God. At Agatha’s burial, attended by many, her Guardian Angel appeared and placed a marble slab on her tomb, inscribed with the words ‘A righteous mind, self- determining, honor from God, the deliverance of her fatherland.’ Quintinian died soon thereafter, thrown from his chariot. On the first anniversary of Agatha’s death, Mt Etna erupted and Catania was about to be engulfed in lava. Christians and pagans together, remembering the inscription on her tomb, took the slab from the tomb and bore it like a shield to the river of lava, which was immediately stopped. The same miracle has happened many times in the following centuries, and Saint Agatha is venerated as the Protectress of Catania and Sicily, loved and honored by Christians of the East and the West.
What is the Triodion?
The Triodion is the service book of the Orthodox Church that provides the texts for the divine services for the pre-Lenten weeks of preparation, the Great and Holy Fast, and Holy Week. The “Lenten Triodion” is the title of a classic and popular English language translation of the same with an extensive and helpful introduction by Metropolitan Kallistos and Mother Mary. It provides many (but not all) of the texts necessary to celebrate the services of the Great Fast. In Greek the book is simply called the Triodion. In Slavonic it is called “Триодь постная,” or “Triod Postnaya,” meaning the Triodion of the Fast. It is called the triodion because of the three-ode canons appointed for Matins during this period.
The weeks of preparation, and especially the Sunday gospel readings, serve to exercise the mind, whereas the fasting of Great Lent focuses on the body, and Holy Week’s services exercise the spirit.
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Focus on the Faith
New Year Looks to Theophany
The New Year is upon us. Let us rejoice and be glad that 2021 is behind us!
In the first week of January we have three celebrations: The Circumcision of Christ, St. Basil the Great, and the Sunday before Theophany. In the ancient church, Theophany was regarded as more important than Christ’s Nativity. How can that be? Because at Christ’s birth the announcement is made of God’s coming into the world for it’s restoration. At Theophany, that work of restoration, actually begins!
St. Paul has written: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8: 19-23.)
We, as Christians, are engaged in this struggle as co-workers with God, to reclaim the fallen world and fallen nature for the Kingdom. We often talk about this in terms of our own salvation, but the Church, addressing all of creation in a holistic manner, also reaches out and reclaims a bit here and a bit there of creation in general. We do this in order that we might restore the usefulness of creation for working out our own salvation. Hence, we bless anything that might help us in our salvation – and by blessing it we reclaim it for the Kingdom of God. We bless water, we bless grapes and fruit, we bless cheese, eggs, meat, we bless wheat wine and oil, we bless all kinds of things, reclaiming them for sacred use, reclaiming them for God’s Kingdom.
There are few things more vital to our lives than our homes. In our homes we pray, we work, we rest, we sleep, we converse with loved ones, we order our lives, we work out our marriages, raise our children, etc. Is there a more important place for us to reclaim for the Kingdom of God ?- or is it better to continue living in a place which is occupied and influenced by the enemy? For the most effective working out of our salvation, we should drive the enemy out of our homes, and keep him at bay by our prayers, our righteous life, and the annual sprinkling by Holy Water at Theophany. Hence this annual and salutary rite of the blessing of homes at Theophany.”
From the Holy Fathers and Mothers
St. John Chrysostom on the New Year (Excerpt)
“Whether you eat, whether you drink, whether you do some other thing, do all for the glory of God” [1 Cor. 10:31]. If we pray, if we fast, if we accuse, if we pardon, if we praise, if we censure, if we enter, if we exit, if we sell, if we buy, if we are silent, if we converse, if we do any thing else whatsoever, let us do all for the glory of God, and if something be not for the glory of God, neither let it be done, nor be spoken by us; but in place of a great staff, in place of arms and safeguard, in place of unspeakable treasures, wherever we might be, let us carry around this word with us, having inscribed it upon our understanding, so that doing and speaking and trafficking all things for the glory of God, we shall obtain the glory that is from him both in this world and after the journey here [i.e. after this life]. “For those that glorified me”, he says, “I will glorify” (1 Kingdoms 2:30 LXX). Not therefore with words, but also through deeds let us glorify him continually with Christ our God, because all glory befits him, honor and worship, now and always unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Theophany House Blessings
Houses are traditionally blessed with “Theophany water” each year. A house can be blessed at any time, but the usual season for yearly blessings is from Theophany until the beginning of the Lenten Triodion, which begins four Sundays before Great Lent begins. This is not a hard and fast rule, but a good rule of thumb.
Normally, we would ask you to sign up for Fr. Basil’s House Blessing List, but due to COVID and other factors, here instead, are intructions for a DIY house blessing!
What you will need
- Holy Water (preferably that which was blessed on Theophany)
- A “krupilla” (brush for dispersing the holy water) – you can use a clipping of rosemary or basil. You can also use the “brush” end of a prayer rope.
- A bowl or other vessel for the water
- Candles lit in your icon corner, with the family Theophany icon if you have one
Bless the House
The bowl and icon should be placed on a clean table with a cloth on it, preferably near the family icon corner. It is good for candles to be lit. The house should be clean, with all radios and televisions off.
Lights should be “on” and doors opened. The procession for the house blessing should be led by the eldest member of the house. In homes with children, it is always good for the little ones to carry an icon or a small cross and participate in the procession.
The basic order for a simple home blessing is as follows:
- The bowl of water, icon and lit candles are placed on a clean table. IF there is a censer, it may be lit.
- Begin with the Trisagion prayers as in the prayer book (O Heavenly King through the “Our Father”)
- Process through the entire house, sprinkling holy water on all of the walls and suitable objects while singing the Theophany Troparion repeatedly:
Tone 1: When Thou, O Lord wast baptized in the Jordan, / the worship of the Trinity was made manifest; / for the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee, / and called Thee His beloved Son. / And the Spirit in the form of a dove / confirmed the truthfulness of His word. / O Christ our God, Who hast appeared unto us // and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee.(It is a very good idea for the family to sing this troparion, and know it by heart.)
- Upon finishing blessing the house, the family gathers again at the table, and the senior family member should pray for all members of the family, e.g.”O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, for the sake of the prayers of Thy most pure Mother, our holy and God-bearing fathers, and all the saints, have mercy on us and save us (names), for Thou art good and the Lover of mankind.””
- After this a short prayer:
“Through the prayers of our holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us.” and the service is ended:
Upcoming events this month are in the attached PDF calendar (Events are subject to change! see the online calendar for updates or the attached PDF for more info).