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Focus on the Faith: On the Ascension of Christ
by the late Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko
Jesus did not live with His disciples after His resurrection as He had before His death. Filled with the glory of His divinity, He appeared at different times and places to His people, assuring them that it was He, truly alive in His risen and glorified body.
To them He presented Himself alive after His passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the Kingdom of God (Acts 1.3).
It should be noted that the time span of forty days is used many times in the Bible and signifies a temporal period of completeness and sufficiency (Gen 7.17; Ex 16.35, 24.18; Judg 3.11; 1 Sam 17.16; 1 Kg 19.8; Jon 3.4; Mt 4.2).
On the fortieth day after His passover, Jesus ascended into heaven to be glorified on the right hand of God (Acts 1.9–11; Mk 16.19; Lk 24.51). The ascension of Christ is His final physical departure from this world after the resurrection. It is the formal completion of His mission in this world as the Messianic Saviour. It is His glorious return to the Father Who had sent Him into the world to accomplish the work that He had given him to do (Jn 17.4–5).
. . . and lifting His hands He blessed them. While blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy (Lk 24.51–52).
The Church’s celebration of the ascension, as all such festal celebrations, is not merely the remembrance of an event in Christ’s life. Indeed, the ascension itself is not to be understood as though it were simply the supernatural event of a man floating up and away into the skies. The holy scripture stresses Christ’s physical departure and His glorification with God the Father, together with the great joy which His disciples had as they received the promise of the Holy Spirit Who was to come to assure the Lord’s presence with them, enabling them to be His witnesses to the ends of earth (Lk 24.48–53; Acts 1.8–11; Mt 28.20; Mk 16.16–14).
In the Church the believers in Christ celebrate these very same realities with the conviction that it is for them and for all men that Christ’s departure from this world has taken place. The Lord leaves in order to be glorified with God the Father and to glorify us with himself. He goes in order to “prepare a place” for and to take us also into the blessedness of God’s presence. He goes to open the way for all flesh into the “heavenly sanctuary . . . the Holy Place not made by hands” (see Hebrews 8–10). He goes in order send the Holy Spirit, Who proceeds from the Father to bear witness to Him and His gospel in the world, making Him powerfully present in the lives of disciples.
The liturgical hymns of the feast of the Ascension sing of all of these things. The antiphonal verses of the Divine Liturgy are taken from Psalms 47, 48, and 49. The troparion of the feast which is sung at the small entrance is also used as the post-communion hymn.
Thou hast ascended in glory O Christ our God, granting joy to Thy disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit. Through the blessing they were assured that Thou art the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world! (Troparion).
When Thou didst fulfill the dispensation for our sake, and didst unite earth to heaven, Thou didst ascend in glory, O Christ our God, not being parted from those who love Thee, but remaining with them and crying: I am with you and no one will be against you! (Kontakion).
Orthopraxis: What is PRAXIS?
“Praxis” means the traditional use of knowledge or skills, distinct from theoretical knowledge. Works as opposed to faith, or rather, the practical actions required by faith.
Union with God, to which Christians hold that Jesus Christ invited man, requires not just faith, but correct practice of faith. This is found in Holy Scripture in the following passages:(1 Cor 11:2, 2 Thes 2:15) and the Church Fathers, and is linked with the term praxis in Orthodox theology. In the context of Orthodoxy, praxis is mentioned opposite theology, in the sense of theory and practice, and is a word that means things, universally, all that Orthodox do. Praxis is living Orthodoxy.
Praxis is most strongly associated with worship. “Orthopraxis” is said to mean “right practice,” as “orthodoxy” means “right glory” or “right worship.” Only correct (or proper) practice, particularly right worship, will give the correct glory to God, which is one of the primary purposes of liturgy, the work of the people. Some Orthodox sources maintain that, in the West, Christianity has for the most part been reduced “to intellectual, ethical or social categories,” whereas right worship is fundamentally important in our relationship to God, forming the faithful into the Body of Christ and providing the path to “true religious education.” A “symbiosis of worship and work” is considered to be inherent in Orthodox praxis.
Fasting, another key part of the practice of the Christian faith, is mentioned as part of Orthodox praxis in connection with the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 6)and in comparison with the history and commemorations of Lenten fasts.
Praxis also refers to proper religious etiquette.
From the Fathers: Saint Nicholas the Merciful
by Blessed Philaret, Metropolitan of New York
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
When we commemorate whole groups of Saints, we usually mention the great hierarchs among them first, and we have become used to the three great universal hierarchs and teachers—Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom—always being at the head of the hierarchical assembly. They belong there, because each of them contributed precious gifts [e.g. their writings] to the Church’s theological and moral treasury. So the Church honors them in particular and has established a feast for the three of them together, in addition to the solemn services for their individual feast days. But the feast of the great hierarch whom we commemorate today, the hierarch and wonderworker Nicholas, has a special place of its own.
He did not leave us as rich a spiritual heritage as these three great men, but we all know how greatly the Church reveres him. The Feasts of Saint Nicholas are so splendid that they even remind us of the 12 Great Feasts. Why is that so? Because he lived a life of virtue incarnate: an accessible, comprehensible virtue, close to every man and every heart, even the heart that rejects every other holy thing. That virtue is love; love and compassion.
The Russians like to call Saint Nicholas “Nikola the Merciful” because his miracles are as numerous as the stars of heaven. I would like to remind you of one touching miracle that shows his mercy. This did not happen once upon a time, long ago; it happened in our time, in the city of Harbin [China], where I lived for over 40 years. At the train station in Harbin there was a large icon of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, and it was especially venerated by all the travelers. Hundreds of candles were always burning in front of it. People departing by train and the people who came to see them off would light candles, and prayers were constantly going up to the great hierarch for his protection during trips. There was always a crowd in the station because the rail traffic was very heavy.
One day the people who happened to be there (they related this themselves, this is their own story; it was early spring, when the ice breaks up on the Sungari, on which Harbin is located) they saw a Chinese man rush in, soaked from head to toe. He ran up to the icon, threw himself down in front of it, and stretched out his arms to it, saying something in Chinese. The people who knew Chinese said he was thanking the saint for saving him from death.
Here’s what happened: for some reason he was in a terrible hurry to cross the river. But the river is wide, and the ice was flowing along it. He decided to take a chance. As he ran across the ice, jumping from one floe to another, he slipped, lost his balance, and fell under the ice. He was drowning, dying, when he remembered the wonderworking icon. His pagan countrymen revered it too, just as the Russian Orthodox did. As he was drowning, he cried out in despair, “Old man from the train station, help me!” He lost consciousness and went under completely; and he was about to perish … when, all of a sudden, he was on the riverbank, soaked but alive and unharmed! So he took off and ran—the train station was far away—and he rushed in to the icon and thanked the great hierarch for this evident and amazing miracle of his mercy and love.
The entire Far East, the entire land of China, has a great veneration for Saint Nicholas, you know. Once a Russian hunter had wandered far, far, into the taiga or steppe, and there he came upon a Chinese farmstead where he asked shelter. The friendly master and mistress of the house invited him in, and over their door he saw an icon of Saint Nicholas. He thought to himself, “What can these heathen be doing with it? What do they need it for?” And he wanted to take it. His host was offended and said, “Why do you want to take the Old Man away from us? He’s so kind, he helps us so much. We won’t give him up for anything!”
So not only the Orthodox Church but practically the entire human race honors this great hierarch. Whenever anyone is in trouble or has some need, he turns to Saint Nicholas. This great hierarch hears and fulfills each of the hundreds of petitions that fly to him in Heaven, as long as we ask with firm, strong faith. That’s why the Russian people love Saint Nicholas so much and constantly entreat him: “O Father and Hierarch Nicholas pray to God for us!” Amen.
Saint Nicholas Save us!
By Saint Philaret, Metropolitan of New York (George Nicholaevich Voznesensky 1903-1985), from The Holy Orthodox Metropolis of Boston. Permission pending.
Choir Director’s Corner: Light a candle at church from home!
Did you know that you can now light a candle at St. Nicholas from home? You can! The link is now at the top of the menu of our website, or just go here:
You can also “light a candle” in your heart. Here are two of my favorite short articles on the Jesus prayer.
Notes on the Jesus Prayer by Fr. Artemy Vladimirov
The Jesus Prayer by St. Theophan the Recluse
Upcoming events this month (Events are subject to change! see the online calendar for updates or the attached PDF for more info)
St. Nicholas Orthodox Church
14220 Elva Avenue
Saratoga, California 95070
(408) 867 – 0628
April 19, 2020
Beloved Brothers and Sisters,
Christ is Risen!
What a strange and unusual season this has been! Every year I send out this Paschal letter, which is also an appeal to “give a little extra please, if you can.” But this year it’s impossible for us to procure the lovely Paschal letterhead paper, or the specially printed envelopes, etc. But thus is our life for the time being. (Sigh). So instead of focusing on what we don’t have let’s think about what we do have. The all-glorious and radiant day of Christ’s Resurrection is upon us, and we might ask ourselves, “how can we sing the Lord’s song” in quarantine? Well, we can! We may be limited in what we can do, yes. We have have constraints, yes, but we can still sing! We can sing in our homes, we can sing in the shower! We can sing in our back yards, we can sing in our cars! We can sing while socially distanced, and we can sing while we’re washing our hands. In our joy we can rejoice with the saints who “rejoice in glory and exalt on their beds” (Psalm 148/149 LXX). Our hearts can never be closed and our joy can never be restrained. This is the Day of Resurrection, let us be radiant O people! On this day mankind rejoices in the defeat of death and the overthrow of its power. On this day we see the darkness of night swallowed up by the Sun. On this day the Church bathes in the light of the empty tomb and the heart of each believer is filled to the brim with hope of eternal life. The worry and disappointment coming from this world are supplanted by the sure and manifest demonstration of God’s love for us. For “as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so, we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:5). Christian Family! No virus, no pandemic, no “house-arrest” can separate us from the great gladness that this Feast of Feasts brings! Please pay heed to the Parish Website for any services which we may be allowed to do, and how we can do them. “Let not your hearts be troubled!” (John 14:1). Christ is risen, and fear of death crumbles! Christ is risen, and despair is replaced by hope! Christ is risen, and the meaning of our lives is made clear! Christ is risen, and uncertainty is replaced by confidence! Christ is risen, and gloominess is replaced with a big, BIG smile!
As we celebrate these bright and saving days, let us give thanks to God for His great kindness and mercy toward us, and say the words so dear to us all, “Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!”
With love in our Risen Lord,
Archpriest Basil Rhodes and Family
The St. Nicholas Parish Council
The Church School
Focus on the Faith: Holy Week in the Orthodox Church
The eight days that compromise Holy Week in the Orthodox Church express the spiritual summit of the Church’s liturgical life. The focus on the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ proceeds in a physically, psychologically and spiritually moving series of services that defy the limitations of space and time to bring the Orthodox Christian into the moment of the events commemorated. The elegant beauty of the services so move the faithful that it is not uncommon to see tears flow as people feel themselves mystically participating in the events of the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
Lazarus Saturday (the day before Palm Sunday) recalls the last public miracle of Jesus in raising Lazarus from the dead. This act serves as a reassurance that the Passion Jesus Himself will face in the week ahead will not end in death and corruption. The hymnody emphasizes that Christ is fully human and Divine.
Palm Sunday is a celebration of the Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The Vigil Service includes a blessing of palm branches, which are held by the faithful for the remainder of the Vigil and throughout the Divine Liturgy. The hymnody reflects both the raising of Lazarus and the humility of the King who enters Jerusalem on the foal of an ass.
The evenings of Sunday, Monday and Tuesday feature the Bridegroom Matins. (Essentially, all the services for the following week are pushed forward twelve hours to allow more active participation of the faithful. Thus the morning service for Monday is celebrated Sunday evening, etc.) These services focus on the End Times. There is an urgency in the tone of the services as, successively, the innocent suffering of the Patriarch Joseph in the Old Testament, the parable of the Ten Virgins, and the anointing by the sinful woman is brought to mind in anticipation of the events to follow. Of particular beauty is the “Hymn of Kassiani” on Tuesday night, in which the faithful identify themselves with the sinful woman, both repentant and grieving at the suffering Jesus will endure for our salvation.
On Holy Thursday morning the Vesperal Liturgy of the Last Supper is celebrated (moved from the evening to the morning as noted above). The Gospel Reading is a masterful combination of readings that recount the Last Supper, institution of the Holy Eucharist, and betrayal, arrest, and condemnation of Jesus. The hymnody centers on betrayal of Judas with allusions to the three Old Testament readings which each focus on the innocence of Jesus as a lamb led to the slaughter.
Thursday evening the Matins of the 12 Passion Gospels is served. The complete Passion narratives of each of the Gospels are read to dramatically tell the story of the Passion and Death of Jesus. During the service, the faithful are spiritually transported into the events being described by the carrying of the Cross. A priest exits the Sanctuary with a large cross, which he carries in procession through the Church. The Cross is placed in the center of the temple. An icon of “The Crucified One” corpus is suspended upon the cross. The sense of terror and despair becomes palpable, and it is not uncommon for people to weep at this point. The service continues with a growing sense of dread and grief as the Gospels recount the Death of Jesus.
Holy Friday is truly a day of mourning. In the morning the Royal Hours provide a meditation on the theme of Christ’s sacrifice for us on the Cross. In the afternoon, the Vespers of the Burial of our Lord Jesus Christ occurs. Prophecies, Readings and Hymns again bring the faithful into the midst of events as the story of the Crucifixion is recounted and death of Jesus is affirmed. At the point of the Gospel narrative wherein Jesus is taken down from the Cross, the priest or acolytes exist the Sanctuary and remove the Icon corpus from the cross, wrap it in a white shroud and slowly take it into the Sanctuary. Again, the silence of the moment can prove overwhelming and often tears are seen on the faces of many. As the service proceeds, the priest emerges again, this time carrying the Plaschanitsa or Epitaphios (a large stiff cloth with the icon image of Jesus being laid in the tomb). The procession ends at a Tomb in the midst of the temple — where the Plaschanitsa is laid out to be reverenced by the faithful. In the Evening, the faithful gather for the Matins of the Lamentations, or “Praises.” The Church joins with the Angelic Hosts in mourning the death of the Deathless One. The Plaschanitsa is carried in procession as everyone prostrates.
Holy Saturday begins with the Vesperal Liturgy of the First Proclamation of the Resurrection. The Resurrection is proclaimed with a strong association drawn to Passover and Baptism. Before the Gospel the priest scatters bay (laurel) leaves and/or rose petals throughout the whole church as a sign of Christ’s triumph and victory over death. Traditionally, converts to Orthodoxy are baptized either before or immediately after this service.
Holy Week in the Orthodox Church is more than attending a series of services, it is a week long experience of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The hymnody, readings, and overall arrangement of the services combine to powerfully witness to the central Truth of our Salvation. Those who faithfully participate in the services truly walk the way
Orthopraxis: Fasting During Holy Week
The Thursday evening meal is ideally the last meal taken until Pascha. At this meal, wine and oil are permitted. The Fast of Great and Holy Friday is the strictest fast day of the year: even those who have not kept a strict Lenten fast are strongly urged not to eat at all on this day. After St. Basil’s Liturgy on Holy Saturday, wine, bread and fruit are blessed and may be taken for sustenance. The fast is broken after the Divine Liturgy on Pascha.
Exceptions: The Church has always exempted small children, the sick, the elderly, pregnant and nursing mothers, from strict fasting. Exceptions to the fast based on medical necessity (as with diabetes) are always allowed. In any case, always discuss your fasting with your spiritual father or father confessor for individual guidance.
From the Fathers: On the Death & Resurrection of Christ
by St. Gregory the Theologian
Yesterday I was crucified with Him; today I am glorified with Him.
Yesterday I died with Him; today I am made alive with Him.
Yesterday I was buried with Him; today I am raised up with Him.
Let us offer to Him Who suffered and rose again for us … ourselves, the possession most precious to God and most proper.
Let us become like Christ, since Christ became like us.
Let us become Divine for His sake, since for us He became Man.
He assumed the worse that He might give us the better. He became poor that by His poverty we might become rich. He accepted the form of a servant that we might win back our freedom.
He came down that we might be lifted up. He was tempted that through Him we might conquer. He was dishonored that He might glorify us. He died that He might save us. He ascended that He might draw to Himself us, who were thrown down through the fall of sin. Let us give all, offer all, to Him who gave Himself a Ransom and Reconciliation for us. We needed an incarnate God, a God put to death, that we might live. We were put to death together with Him that we might be cleansed. We rose again with Him because we were put to death with Him. We were glorified with Him because we rose again with Him. A few drops of Blood recreate the whole of creation!
Choir Director’s Corner: Real Prayer in a Virtual World
The Corona Virus has disrupted our lives more than almost any event in most of our lifetimes (Previous generations have, of course, experienced equal or greater disruptions, but its new to most of us!). The fact that this is happening during Lent, when services, prayers and spiritual reading is intensified, makes it even more disruptive. How are we as Orthodox Christians to respond to such events?
First of all, while the world is “freaking out” or panic shopping, we can keep the Lords peace. We can take encouragement from our teachers in the faith such as Elder Zacharias of the Essex monastery, who recently wrote these words.
Secondly We can intensify our spiritual reading and prayer at home. Our prayerbook and other books contain canons, akathists and other prayers we can start adding at home to our daily prayer rule. There are also many resources on the Internet. There is also the Jesus Prayer which doesn’t require any books at all. It is also possible to do many of the cycle of services at home as “Reader Services.” Here is a page that contains everything you need to do daily vespers at home. Anyone who would like to learn how to do the Lenten 6th hour at home is welcome to contact me, and I will happily give “virtual instructions”.
Thirdly, the necessity of sheltering in place has led many churches to start livestreaming services. St. Nicholas is doing some livestreaming of services through the parish Facebook Page. When you see a service listed on the calendar, you can follow the service video here:
There are other parishes in our diocese who are also doing livestreaming, and some are doing many services. You can check these sites during the rest of Lent and during Holy Week, find a service and pray with the church.
Holy Trinity Cathedral, San Francisco
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/holytrinitycathedral/
- YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRcj3JAzlyrlHP5BYcJWWnQ
Nativity of the Holy Virgin, Menlo Park
Joy of All Who Sorrow, Los Angeles
And when we feel isolated, we can call each other and pray with one another as well. Physical isolation does not create any barrier to prayer.
Upcoming events this month (see the online calendar for updates or the attached PDF for more info)
Dear Faithful Parishioners & Friends of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Saratoga,
Glory to Jesus Christ!
In spite of the current lockdown, we will be Live-Streaming two services for your edification and consolation on our parish Facebook Page:
Tonight (3/21/20) at 5:00 pm: Molieben in Time of Devastating Epidemic and Death-bearing Pestilence
Tomorrow (3/22/20) at 10:00 am: Akathist to the Spiritual Ladder, the Precious Cross
Focus on the Faith: The Holy Forty Day Fast
The most ancient Christian writers unanimously testify that the Holy Forty Day Fast was established by the apostles in imitation of the forty-day fast of Moses (Exodus 34), Elijah (3 Kings 19), and mainly by the example of Jesus Christ fasting for forty days (Mt. 4: 2). Ancient Christians have observed the time of the Holy Forty Days as the season of the commemoration of the Suffering of the Savior on the Cross, anticipating the days of this commemoration, so that, strongly imitating His self-renunciation and His self-denial, these ascetical feats would show the living participation and love on the part of the Savior, who suffers for the world, and that before all this to be morally cleansed for the time of the solemn commemoration of the passion of Christ and His glorious resurrection. The very name of the Holy Forty Days is met rather frequently in the most ancient written monuments with the indication of the purpose of its establishment. “Do not neglect the Forty Days,” wrote St. Ignatius the God-bearer in his epistle to Philippians: “for it establishes the imitation of the life in Christ”. St. Ambrose of Milan spoke even more clearly: “The Lord has blessed us with the Forty Day Fast. He created it for our salvation to teach us to fast not in words only, but also by example”. Ss. Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa assert that the Holy Forty Day Fast existed everywhere during their time. According to the Apostolic Canons (Canon 69) the Holy Forty Day Fast is considered obligatory and its observance is protected by strict punishment. St. Hippolytus (3 century) serves as the indisputable witness of the antiquity of this fast and the paschal cycle traced to his See, containing the instruction from antiquity of the custom to stop the Holy Forty Days Fast on Sundays. On the basis of all traditions of the Holy Apostles, our Holy Church, through her holy fathers and teachers, always considered the Holy Forty Day Fast an apostolic establishment. As the Blessed Jerome, on behalf of all Christians of his time said: “we fast for the Forty Days according to the apostolic tradition.” St. Cyril of Alexandria repeatedly reminds us in his writings, that it is necessary to piously observe the Holy Forty Day Fast, according to the apostolic and gospel traditions…
“The more days of the fast,” teaches the blessed Augustine, “the better the healing. The longer the abstention, the more bountiful is the salvation. God, the Physician of our souls, established the proper time for the pious to give praise, for the sinners to pray; for some to seek rest, for others to ask forgiveness. The time of the Holy Forty Days is proper, neither too short for giving praise, nor too long for seeking mercy. Holy and saving is the course of the Holy Forty Days by which the sinner is led through repentance to charity, and through piety to rest. During its days God is supremely propitious, needs are met, piety is rewarded”. “The holy fathers”, teaches St. John Chrysostom, “appointed forty days of fast in order that during these days the people, having been carefully cleansed through prayer, fasting and confession of sins, will approach Holy Communion with a pure conscience “.
According to the teaching of the Venerable Dorotheos of Gaza, “God has given these holy days (the Forty Holy Days) so that those who struggle, with attention and wise humility, who tend to themselves and repent, will be cleansed of the sins which were committed during the whole year. Then their souls will be released from that burden, and being cleansed, will attain the holy day of the Resurrection and without condemnation, receive the Holy Mysteries, having become a new person through repentance in this holy fast”.
Sergius V. Bulgakov: “ Handbook for Church Servers,” Kharkov, 1900
Orthopraxis: Traditions Concerning the First Week of the Fast
Clean Monday -Καθαρή Δευτέρα in Greek- refers to the leaving behind of sinful attitudes and non-fasting foods. The entire first week of Great Lent is often referred to as “Clean Week,” and it is customary to go to Church Services every day during this week, and also to clean one’s house thoroughly.
Strictly observant Orthodox hold this day (and also Clean Tuesday and Wednesday) as a strict fast day, on which no solid food at all is eaten. Others will eat only in the evening, and then only xerophagy (lit. “dry eating”; i.e. eating uncooked foodstuffs such as fruit, nuts, halva, fasting bread and honey, etc.).
The theme of Clean Monday is set by the Old Testament readings appointed to be read at the Sixth Hour on this day. Isaiah 1:1-20 says in part: “Wash yourselves and ye shall be clean; put away the wicked ways from your souls before Mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do good. Seek righteousness, relieve the oppressed, consider the fatherless, and plead for the widow. Come then, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow; and though they be red like crimson, I will make them white as wool. If then ye be willing, and obedient unto Me, ye shall eat the good of the land. But if ye desire not, nor will obey Me, the sword shall devour you, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (v. 16-20). Genesis 1:1-13 is also read to imply that this is a time of renewal and new beginnings. The reading from Proverbs 1:1-20 instructs us towards clean and sober living through the use of wisdom, the beginning of which is “the fear of the Lord.” The clearest piece of advice given says: “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.”
The Three Day Fast
For those who are able and willing, it is encouraged by the Church to keep a three day strict fast where neither food or water (if possible) is consumed until Clean Wednesday when one partakes of Holy Communion at the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy. This is an excellent way to mark the beginning of a holy struggle against one’s passions and weaknesses.
Abstaining from all food and drink for three days will help us approach the Lord on a deeper level than ever before. It will also help us to see and know ourselves on a deeper level. During these three days one will observe that they will be able to more clearly see their weaknesses, their passions, their spiritual poverty, and their nakedness of all the virtues, the dark abyss within, and the inner ugliness. Physically one will recognize how truly weak the flesh is even when the spirit is willing. This humbling attitude is a prerequisite to a successful fast. It is also a motivating factor for the rest of Great Lent as well as the entire spiritual life in general.
From the Fathers
ST. BASIL THE GREAT ON THE BENEFITS OF FASTING
We know that Moses fasted while he climbed the mountain; otherwise, without having been fortified by fasting, he would not have dared to draw near to the smoking summit and enter into the cloud. It is through fasting that he received the commandments written on tablets by the finger of God. Likewise, while on the mountain, fasting obtained the gift of the law; while below, gluttony led the people to idolatry and defilement. Scripture tells us that the people sat down to eat, and drink, and they rose up to play. The effort of the servant of God, persevering for 40 days in the continual practice of fasting and prayer, was made pointless and unnecessary by one single day of drunkenness by the people. Fasting received the tablets written by the finger of God; drunkenness broke them. The holy prophet judged that a people drunk with wine was not worthy to receive the law of God. Because of gluttony, in one moment, these people formed in the worship of God by the greatest miracles, plunged headlong into Egyptian idolatry.
In comparing these two events, we can see that fasting leads to God, but pleasure to the loss of salvation. What dishonored Esau and made him the servant of his brother? Was it not for one dish of lentils that he sold his birthright? But was it not through fasting that Samuel’s mother conceived him? What made the very strong Samson invincible, if not fasting, through which he was conceived in the womb of his mother? Fasting conceived him; fasting nourished him; fasting made him a man. The angel prescribed fasting to his mother, telling her to abstain from all that came from the vine, and to drink neither wine, nor any other fermented drink. Fasting thus engendered the prophets; it strengthened and fortified heroes.
Fasting makes wise legislators; it is the best guardian of the soul, a sure companion of the body, a weapon for brave men, exercise for athletes and wrestlers. Furthermore, fasting takes away temptations. It reinforces piety, a companion of sobriety, and the architect of temperance. It gives courage in times of war and teaches tranquility in times of peace. It sanctifies the Nazirite [a form of consecration to God in the Old Testament] and perfects the priest, since it is not permissible to approach the sacrifice without fasting, not only now for the true and sacramental adoration of God, but even for that other worship that was the figurative sacrifice offered according to the law. It was fasting that brought Elias his great vision; because it was after having purified his soul through a 40-day fast that, in a cave, he merited to see God as much as a man may be permitted. Moses, in order to receive the law a second time, observed a fast a second time. If the Ninevites, and their animals as well, had not fasted, they would never have escaped the threat of ruin. [As told in the book of Jonas.] While in the wilderness, who was it who fell, except those who greedily desired meat? (See Numbers 11.)”
Choir Director’s Corner: Do WHAT to the infants?
You may have noticed that we have added a hymn during clergy communion, and at the end of Vespers, based on psalm 136:
By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and we wept when we remembered Sion.
Upon the willows in the midst thereof did we hang our instruments.
For there, they that had taken us captive asked us for words of song.
And they that had led us away asked us for a hymn, saying: Sing us one
of the songs of Sion.
How shall we sing the Lord?s song in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten.
Let my tongue cleave to my throat, if I remember thee not,
If I set not Jerusalem above all other, as at the head of my joy.
Remember, O Lord, the sons of Edom, in the day of Jerusalem,
Who said: Lay waste, lay waste to her, even to the foundations thereof.
O daughter of Babylon, thou wretched one, blessed shall he be who shall
reward thee wherewith thou hast rewarded us.
Blessed shall he be who shall seize and dash thine infants against the rock.
The psalm is one written in captivity, and speaks to us about our captivity – to the passions. Some folks are jarred (especially if we don’t know the reason why the Church gives us these things) by the rather violent imagery of the last verse. This psalm can be read on an historical as well as an allegorical level.
On the historical level, the last verse is discussing a grim reality of pre-technological and tribal warfare. If your tribe went and attacked a town, presumably killing the men, and taking spoils, the infants were the ones that were going to grow up and take revenge on you if you left them alive. So killing them with the adults was a way to stop that. Lest you think that such imagery is unthinkable in our day, consider little Vito Corleone in “Godfather II.” The Sicillian gangster tried to kill him as a child for the same reason. He failed, and little Vito grew up and came back to revenge his family.
But the Church gives us these verses, not to train us in warfare that is physical, but warfare that is spiritual. According to commentary by various Holy Fathers, the infants in question, are our passionate thoughts and the rock is Christ. We dash our thoughts on the Rock, in order that they may not grow up to be passions that will come back and take us captive. These verses remind us of the real battle in our lives and remind us to refocus and redouble our efforts during the opportunity of the great fast. Many other psalms are read during lenten services, and similar allegories may be found throughout Lent. As we hear the psalms, we are invited to a strategy meeting where we are instructed how to guard the walled city of our hearts and preserve there the treasures we receive from the King.
Upcoming events in March (see the online calendar for updates or the attached PDF for more info)
Focus on the Faith: On The Meeting of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the Temple
Commemorated on February 2
Today the Church commemorates an important event in the earthly life of our Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 2:22-40). Forty days after His birth the God-Infant was taken to the Jerusalem Temple, the center of the nation’s religious life. According to the Law of Moses (Lev. 12:2-8), a woman who gave birth to a male child was forbidden to enter the Temple of God for forty days. At the end of this time the mother came to the Temple with the child, to offer a young lamb or pigeon to the Lord as a purification sacrifice. The Most Holy Virgin, the Mother of God, had no need of purification, since she had given birth to the Source of purity and sanctity without defilement. However, she humbly fulfilled the requirements of the Law.
At this time the righteous Elder Simeon (February 3) was living in Jerusalem. It had been revealed to him that he would not die until he should behold the promised Messiah. By inspiration from above, Saint Simeon went to the Temple at the very moment when the Most Holy Theotokos and Saint Joseph had brought the Infant Jesus to fulfill the Law.
The God-Receiver Simeon took the divine Child in his arms, and giving thanks to God, he spoke the words repeated by the Church each evening at Vespers: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32). Saint Simeon said to the Most Holy Virgin: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be spoken against. Yea, a sword shall pierce through your own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).
At the Temple was the 84-year-old widow Anna the Prophetess, daughter of Phanuel (February 3), “who did not leave the temple, but served God with fasting and prayers night and day. She arrived just when Saint Simeon met the divine Child. She also gave thanks to the Lord and spoke of Him to all those who were looking for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:37-38). In the icon of the Feast she holds a scroll which reads: “This Child has established Heaven and earth.”
Before Christ was born, righteous men and women lived by faith in the promised Messiah, and awaited His coming. The Righteous Simeon and the Prophetess Anna, the last righteous people of the Old Testament, were deemed worthy to meet the Savior in the Temple.
The Feast of the Meeting of the Lord is among the most ancient feasts of the Christian Church. We have sermons on the Feast by the holy bishops Methodius of Patara (+ 312), Cyril of Jerusalem (+ 360), Gregory the Theologian (+ 389), Amphilocius of Iconium (+ 394), Gregory of Nyssa (+ 400), and John Chrysostom (+ 407).
Orthopraxis: Blessing Candles on The Feast of the Presentation or “Candlemas”
The custom of blessing candles on the Feast of the Presentation has roots in venerable antiquity. As recorded in The Chronicle of St. Theophanes, Emperor Justinian I had issued an order in 541 A.D. that on the Feast of the Presentation, a candle-light procession be held throughout the city to implore Divine Protection against pestilence and the numerous earthquakes that plagued the city. And in answer to this holy gesture, God caused the pestilence and the earthquakes to subside. This gave rise to having similar processions on other occasions when the common welfare of the people was in danger.
These solemn processions later developed into the Litiya services held in the churches. The faithful, however, continued to light candles in their homes as a means of Divine protection. This prompted the blessing of candles on the Feast of the Presentation which then were distributed to the faithful.
In homes, the blessed candles are lighted and placed before a holy icon in time of serious sickness or the threat of a storm to implore Divine protection, as the family is gathered in prayer. In some places, a candle blessed on the Feast of the Presentation is used when the Last Rites of the Church are administered to a member of the family. It can also be placed into the hand of the dying as the priest recites “The Prayers for the Departure of the Soul,” sending him to God as a light-bearer and a ” champion of Faith” (St. John Chrysostom, Hom. on Hebr., IV, 7).
From the Fathers
When the righteous Simeon, who received Christ in his arms at the temple, saw the child, he knew immediately that this was the Redeemer promised by all of Israel’s prophecies, for the elder was inspired by the Holy Spirit (Luke 2:26-27). Being inspired, he himself uttered prophetic words which form the hymn sung or chanted at the end of every Vespers service: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared before the face of Thy people, a light to lighten the gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).
This particular feast is part of the great celebration that began forty days prior, with the Nativity of Christ (December 25). Eight days later (January 1) we remembered the Circumcision of Christ and then His Baptism (January 6). The commemoration of these events in our Lord’s earthly life basically form one feast, the feast of the Incarnation of God the Word.
(Archbishop Dmitry of Dallas)
Upcoming events in February (see the online calendar for updates or the attached PDF for more info)