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Focus on the Faith: The Adoration of the Magi
Joseph and the Most Holy Mother of God with the Infant Jesus were still in Bethlehem when Magi came to Jerusalem from a distant land to the east (Persia or Babylon). Learned men, engaged in observing and studying the stars, were called Magi or wise men. At that time, men believed that, at the birth of a great man, a new star appears in the sky. Many pagans within the confines of Persia, had learned from the dispersed Jews of the coming of the Messiah, the Great King of Israel. From the Jews, they could even have learned the following prophecy of Balaam relating to the Messiah: I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab (Num. 24:17). (“Moab” is understood here as a personification of the enemies of the Messiah.) The Persian Magi thus expected that, when the promised King would be born, a new star would appear in the sky. The prophecy of Balaam spoke of a star in the spiritual sense; nevertheless, the Lord, in His mercy, to bring the pagans to faith, gave a sign in the sky in the form of the appearance of an extraordinary star. Having seen it, the Magi understood that the expected King had been born.
After a protracted and long journey, they finally reached Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish kingdom, and began to ask: Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. These words from such conspicuous strangers, stirred up many of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, including King Herod, to whom the arrival of the exotic eastern scholars was immediately reported.
From the first days of his accession, Herod’s throne had been shaky. The people hated him as a usurper of the Davidic throne and a tyrant. The last years of Herod’s life were complicated still more by personal adversities and bloody reprisals. He became extremely suspicious, and for the least cause executed enemies both real and imagined. Thus perished several of Herod’s children and even his wife, whom earlier he had loved ardently. Sick and decrepit, Herod now resided in his new palace in Sion. Having heard of a King Who had been born, he became particularly agitated. Vulnerable in his old age, he feared that his rule would be overthrown and handed over to the new-born King.
In order to clear up just who this new pretender to the throne was, Herod gathered all the priests and scribes – men that knew the books of Sacred Scripture well – and he inquired of them where Christ should be born. They answered: In Bethlehem of Judæa: for thus it is written by the prophet Micah. Then Herod privately summoned the Magi, found out from them the time of the appearance of the star, and sent them on to Bethlehem. Feigning piety, the cunning Herod said to them: “Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.” In fact, Herod was going to use their report to put the Infant to death.
The Magi listened to King Herod without suspecting anything, and went to Bethlehem. There again that star appeared, which they had seen before in the east. Moving across the sky, it went before them, indicating the way. In Bethlehem, the star stopped over that spot where the Infant Jesus was, Who had been born.
The Magi went into the house and saw the Infant Jesus with His mother. They bowed down to the ground before Him and presented to Him their gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh (a precious aromatic oil). In the gifts of the Magi, one may see the following symbolic significance. They brought gold to Him, as to a King (as tribute or taxes); frankincense, as to God (incense is used at divine services); and myrrh, as to a Man Who must die (the dead were anointed with oils mixed with aromatic myrrh).
Having worshipped the King awaited by all, the Magi would have returned to Jerusalem and to King Herod. However, an angel appeared to them in a dream, revealing Herod’s perfidious designs, and commanded them to return to their own country by another way, without passing through Jerusalem. Tradition has preserved the names of the Magi, who afterwards became Christians: Melchior, Gaspar and Balthasar.
Thus, the first to worship the Saviour Who had been born were shepherds, nature’s true children, who could open up before Him only the treasure of their hearts, full of simplicity, faith and humility. Significantly later came the Magi from the East, imbued with erudite wisdom, who laid down gold, frankincense and myrrh, together with reverent joy, before the Divine Infant. They had had to make a long journey to reach Judæa, and even from Jerusalem they were not immediately able to find the birthplace of the King of the Jews. Does this not indicate that both simplicity of heart and profound, conscientious erudition lead equally to Christ? But the first way is more direct, short and sure than the second. The shepherds were guided directly by angels, while the Magi were “taught” by an unreasoning star, and, through Herod, by the scribes and the Jewish elders. Not without difficulties and dangers did they attain their desired goal, and they did not hear the heavenly harmony that sounded over the earth – Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men.
Orthopraxis: The Holy Supper of Christmas Eve
AMONG THE ORTHODOX PEOPLE of Carpatho-Russia there is a wonderful tradition of having a “Holy Supper” on Christmas Eve, just before going to Church for the Vigil. While the menu and details of the meal may be different from family to family and region to region, the general idea is as follows:
On Christmas Eve, the morning Vesperal Liturgy is celebrated. We keep a strict fast (no food or liquids) before this service and until Holy Communion. After the Liturgy we go home to prepare the meal. Back in the “old country,” twelve dishes are prepared, in honor of the Holy Apostles. The foods, prepared with oil, but without dairy products due to the fast, usually include fish, soup, stuffed cabbage, stewed prunes, mashed potatoes, honey, garlic, etc. The dining table is covered with a white linen cloth in memory of the swaddling clothes of Christ Child, and an extra place is set to receive a stranger, remembering that the Holy Family found no lodging in Bethlehem’s Inn.
In the center of the table is a large round loaf of bread, which symbolized Jesus as the Bread of Life. A tall candle is placed in the bread, as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem. Straw is laid down on the floor and some of it also placed on the table or under the white tablecloth, symbolizing the fact that Jesus lay in a manger. The father greets everyone with the exclamation: “Christ is born!” And just as in Church, all answer “Glorify Him!” Wine is poured by the father, or the eldest, for a toast, recalling the act of our Lord Jesus at the Last Supper, and offered these words: “Grant, O God, that we may live to an even better Holy Night next year. May the Lord give good health to you, my dear wife, and to our children, to my good and bad neighbors, to my friends and enemies. May God bless all Christians here and abroad, and may He grant eternal memory and heaven to the departed. And above all, my Sweetest Jesus, born this day, bring peace, health and happiness!” All reply with the prayer: “Grant this, O Lord!” The mother sprinkles all the family members with Holy Water so that their minds and hearts would open to the meaning of the Birth of Christ. The father also takes Holy Water, sprinkling his livestock and household animals, and treating them to sugar or salt and plenty of feed. Many people wistfully feel that perhaps the animals speak at midnight on Christmas Eve. One would be fearful that they might complain to God if mistreated! Beware, those with livestock and pets.
After dipping her forefinger into honey in a bowl, the mother makes a sign of the cross on the foreheads of all present, including herself. The use of honey symbolizes her prayer that the lives of all present would be sweet without bitterness. After the Holy Supper, all then go to the Church for the evening Nativity Vigil, to hear the Psalms, the Troparion “Thy Nativity, O Christ our God…” the Kontakion “On this day the Virgin beareth…” the prophecy from Isaiah “God is with us” many other hymns, and of course, the Gospel of the birth of the Lord. Afterwards Carols are sung as all return home to prepare themselves for the Divine Liturgy on Christmas morning. Menu options: The traditional Holy Supper consists of twelve dishes in honor of the number of apostles. This is a fast day, so all dishes should be selected and prepared without meat, cheese, eggs or dairy products. In addition, small portions should be served in keeping with the character of fasting, this is not a feast. Feel free to build your own menu with additional appropriate dishes from your own family recipes.
From the Fathers
“THE RENEWAL OF HUMANITY…the perfection of our humanity, according to the teaching of St. Irenaeus, must be brought to pass by the dispensation of the Incarnation of the Son of God, not by any kind of doctrine, not by the writing of any book. By taking flesh and becoming man, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, made men partakers of the Divine nature. Assuming human nature in the unity of His Hypostasis, the Son of God by taking flesh became the New Adam, the Progenitor of the new humanity. “Beholding him that was in God’s image and likeness fallen through the transgression, Jesus bowed the heavens and came down, and without changing He took up His dwelling in a Virgin womb: that thereby He might fashion corrupt Adam anew.” St. Irenaeus says that the Son of the Most High became the Son of man in order to make man a son of God. In the new humanity, built upon the foundation of the Incarnation of the Son of God, the unity of our human nature, broken by sin, is restored. Christ Himself named this new humanity the Church.”
(From “Holy Scripture and the Church,” by St. Hilarion Troitsky, in Orthodox Word, 2009.)
Choir Director’s Corner
Right before the major services of Nativity, Theophany, and Good Friday, a service is done called the Royal Hours. The title originally referred to the fact that the emperor of Constantinople would always attend these services in preparation of the feast to come. They differ from normal hours in that there are added hymns and readings, and two of the prescribed psalms are replaced by psalms that are particular prophecies of the feast to follow.
In the ninth Royal Hour of both Nativity and Good Friday, there are particularly dramatic hymns that are repeated in other services of the feast. It is interesting to see how these hymns mirror each other, giving us something to contemplate and consider.
Focus on the Faith: Advent and the Nativity Fast
The Beginning of Advent
On November 15, forty days before Christmas, the Church begins to prepare for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord. This time of preparation is sometimes called ‘Advent,’ for advent means the coming or arrival of someone or something. During these forty days, we prepare to celebrate the coming of God’s Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, into this world. Jesus came into this world as a little child born as an infant from Mary, His holy mother.
Many faithful people had waited a long time for the coming of Jesus. God had promised to send a Savior to His people, hundreds, and even thousands, of years before Jesus was born on earth. During that long period of time when people were waiting, God spoke to prophets — holy men and leaders among His people — and told them how He wanted His people to prepare for the coming of His Son. He told them that they must repent, change their way of life, make peace with one another, care for each other, and be obedient and faithful to God.
Every year, during these forty days, we also wait and prepare for the coming of Jesus. We repent of our bad habits and try to change our way of life. We think about how we have behaved toward other people, and we try harder to be helpful to our friends, our neighbors and members of our family. We also try to be faithful and obedient to God in all that we do. Through fasting and extra effort in prayer, we try to prepare both our bodies and minds to receive Christ into our lives and homes.
Forty days can seem like a very long time to wait for something; it is more that one month, almost six weeks. We know how anxious we are when a birthday or name day is approaching; we want to start planning a party and inviting our friends. If we are preparing for someone else’s special day, we begin thinking about the kind of gift we wish to give them. As the day draws near, we can hardly wait to begin the celebration. When we stop to think about it, we realize that part of the enjoyment of each celebration is the time we spend getting ready for it and waiting for it. The Church helps us to get ready for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. First, the Church issues an announcement, like an invitation, telling us that the Feast of the Nativity is approaching. Then, during the last weeks of November and the beginning of December, there are more announcements made which tell us what to look for as the feast approaches and how to get ready. These are the days on which some of the announcement are made:
This is the first day of the Nativity Fast, which begins forty days before Christmas. It is a good day for deciding how we should spend these days of Lent, what we should do to try to improve our way of living, and how we should spend our time in order to allow more time for prayer and preparation for the coming feast. On this day, we might mark the special days on the calendar that lead us to Christmas, or, we might begin to make an Advent Calendar or make an Advent Wreath to help us keep track of the days before Christmas. We can also start an Advent Chain of good deeds that can be used to adorn our Christmas Tree.
This day is a major feast which commemorates the Entrance of the Virgin into the Temple. It is a feast in honor of Jesus’ mother, the Theotokos and Ever-virgin Mary, and it marks the first announcement that is given in the Church of the coming of Jesus. During the Matins service, the words, ‘Christ is born! Glorify Him!” are sung for the first time. They will be sung at every Sunday Matins service until Christmas.
The last day of November is the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle. During the services commemorating the life of St. Andrew, the Church adds two more hymns which tell us what will happen on the day of Jesus’ birth.
This day is dedicated to the memory of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. The life of St. Nicholas is a good example for us to follow if we want to learn how to care for and help one another. In the services on this day, we hear another hymn which tells us how the whole earth prepares to glorify the birth of Jesus.
The Two Sundays Before the Nativity of Christ (Christmas)
The first of these days is called the Sunday of the Forefathers. The verses from the services on this day tell us how the people of the Old Testament prepared for the coming of the Savior. The Sunday before Christmas is the Sunday of the Fathers. The services repeat some of the same hymns that were sung on the Sunday of the Forefathers. The Gospel lesson read on this day lists all the generations of the ancestors of Jesus who lived on earth.
From the Fathers
“The Twofold Coming of Jesus Christ”
from the Catechesis of Cyril of Jerusalem, 315-386 A.D.
We preach not one coming only of Jesus Christ, but a second also, far more glorious than the first. The first revealed the meaning of his patient endurance; the second brings with it the crown of the divine kingdom.
Generally speaking, everything that concerns our Lord Jesus Christ is twofold. His birth is twofold: one, of God before time began; the other, of the Virgin in the fulness of time. His descent is twofold: one, unperceived like the dew falling on the fleece; the other, before the eyes of all, is yet to happen.
In his first coming he was wrapped in swaddling clothes in the manger. In his second coming he is clothed with light as with a garment. In his first coming he bore the cross, despising its shame; he will come a second time in glory accompanied by the hosts of angels.
It is not enough for us, then, to be content with his first coming; we must wait in hope of his second coming. What we said at his first coming, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”, we shall repeat at his last coming. Running out with the angels to meet the Master we shall cry out in adoration, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’.
The Savior will come not to be judged again but to call to judgment those who called him to judgment. He who was silent when he was first judged, will indict the malefactors who dared to perpetrate the outrage of the cross, and say, ‘These things you did and I was silent’.
He first came in the order of divine providence to teach men by gentle persuasion; but when he comes again they will, whether they wish it or not, be subjected to his kingship.
The prophet Malachi has something to say about each of these comings. ‘The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple’. That is the first coming.
Again, of the second coming he says, ‘And the angel of the covenant whom you seek. Behold, the Lord almighty will come: but who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap; he will sit like a refiners and a purifier’. Paul pointed to the two comings when he wrote to Titus, ‘The grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ’. You see how he has spoken of the first coming, for which he gives thanks, and of the second to which we look forward.
Hence it is that by the faith we profess, which has just been handed on to you, we believe in him ‘who ascended into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead; and his kingdom will have no end’.
Our Lord Jesus Christ will, then, come from heaven. He will come in glory at the end of this world on the last day. Then there will be an end to this world, and this created world will be made new.
Great-martyr Catherine the Great of Alexandria November 24/25*
Life of the Saint
“The Holy Great Martyr Catherine was the daughter of Constus, the governor of Alexandria in Egypt, during the reign of the emperor Maximian (305-313). Living in the capital, Catherine received a most splendid education, having studied the works of the finest philosophers and teachers. Young men from the most worthy families of the empire sought the hand of the beautiful Catherine, but none of them was chosen. She declared to her parents that she would only enter into marriage with someone who surpassed her in reputation, wealth, beauty and wisdom.
Catherine’s mother, a secret Christian, sent her for advice to her own spiritual father — a saintly elder pursuing prayerful deeds in solitude in a cave not far from the city. Having listened to Catherine, the elder said that he knew of a youth, who surpassed her in everything, such that “His beauty was more radiant than the shining of the sun, His wisdom governed all creation, His riches were spread throughout all the world “. The image of the Christ produced in the soul of the holy maiden an ardent desire to see Him. In parting, the elder handed Catherine an icon of the Mother of God with the God-Child Jesus on Her arm and bid her to pray with faith to Mary to show her a vision of Her Son.
Catherine prayed all night and was able to see the Most Holy Virgin who told Her Divine Son to look upon the kneeling Catherine before Them. But the Child turned His face away from her saying that He was not able to look at her because she was not yet washed with the waters of holy Baptism and not sealed with the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Catherine returned again to the elder deeply saddened. He lovingly received her, instructed her in the faith of Christ, admonished her to preserve her purity and integrity and to pray unceasingly; he then performed over her the sacrament of holy Baptism. And again Saint Catherine had a vision of the Most Holy Mother of God with Her Child. Now the Lord looked tenderly at her and gave her a ring — a wondrous gift of the Heavenly Bridegroom.
At this time the emperor Maximian was himself in Alexandria for a pagan feast day. Because of this, the feast was especially splendid and crowded. The cries of the sacrificial animals, the smoke and the smell of the sacrifices, the endless blazing of fires, and the bustling crowds at the arenas filled Alexandria. Human victims also were brought — because they chose to die in the fire rather than deny Christ under torture. The Saint’s love for the Christian martyrs and her fervent desire to lighten their fate impelled Catherine to go to the emperor-persecutor Maximian. Introducing herself, the saint confessed her Christian faith and with wisdom denounced the errors of the pagans. The beauty of the maiden captivated the emperor. In order to convince her and show the superiority of pagan wisdom, the emperor gave orders to gather 50 of the most learned men of the empire, but the Saint got the better of the wise men, such that they themselves came to believe in Christ. Saint Catherine sealed them with the sign of the cross, and they bravely accepted death for Christ and were burnt by order of the emperor.
Maximian, no longer hoping to convince the saint, tried to entice her with the promise of riches and fame. Having received a stern refusal, the emperor gave orders to subject the saint to terrible tortures and then throw her in prison. The Empress Augusta, who had heard much about Catherine, wanted to see her. Having succeeded in convincing the military-commander Porphyry to accompany her with a detachment of soldiers, Augusta went to the prison. The strong spirit of Saint Catherine, whose face glowed with Divine grace, impressed the empress. The holy martyr explained the teachings of the Christians to the people and they believed and were converted to Christ.
On the following day they again brought the her to the judgment hall where, under the threat of being tortured on a wheel of spikes and nails, they urged that she recant the Christian faith and offer sacrifice to the pagan idols. The saint steadfastly confessed Christ and she herself approached the wheel; but an Angel smashed the sharp implement, which broke up into pieces that hit the pagans who were near by. Having beheld this wonder, the empress Faustina Augusta and the imperial courtier Porphyry with 200 soldiers confessed their faith in Christ in front of everyone, and they were beheaded. Maximian again tried to entice Saint Catherine, proposing marriage to her, and again he received a refusal. She confessed her fidelity to the Heavenly Bridegroom Christ, and with a prayer to Him, she herself put her head on the block under the sword of the executioner and was beheaded. At her execution, milk flowed from her wounds instead of blood by the Grace of God.”
“Following her martyrdom, angels bore her body to the top of Mount Saint Catherine, The highest peak in Egypt, where they rested until they were translated to the katholicon of the Holy Monastery of Sinai. Here they continue to emit a sweet fragrance, and many miracles are wrought to this day. The veneration of Saint Catherine spread from the East to the West, especially after the translation of a portion of the relics of Saint Catherine to Rouen, France in the early eleventh century. Due to the numerous pilgrims to the monastery in Egypt, gradually there was a change of name: from the Holy Monastery of Sinai to that of Saint Catherine.
In the Monastery there is a marble sarcophagus containing the relics of Saint Catherine. It is located at the south side of the sanctuary in the katholicon. It is the work of a certain stone cutter named Procopius, who took nine years to complete the shrine in honor of Saint Catherine. This shrine replaced the earlier marble chest, which is preserved today in the monastery’s treasury. Inside the marble chest there are two precious reliquaries donated by the Russian Tsar. One enshrines the precious head of the martyr, and the other her left hand. The relics of Saint Catherine are brought out for the veneration of the faithful on special occasions, during which each pilgrim is given a silver ring bearing the monogram of the saint, in honor of the ring that Saint Catherine received from Christ. These are preserved by pilgrims as a blessing from the saint.”
Holy Great-martyr Catherine pray to God for us!
*Note: According to the ancient usage, Saints Catherine and Mercurius were celebrated on the 24th of November, whereas the holy Hieromartyrs Clement of Rome and Peter of Alexandria were celebrated on the 25th. The dates of the feasts of these Saints were switched by the Greek sphere of Orthodox Churches at the request of the Church and Monastery of Mount Sinai, so that the festival of Saint Catherine, their patron, might be celebrated more festively together with the Leave-taking of the Feast of the Entry of the Theotokos. The Slavic Churches continue to commemorate these Saints on their original dates.
Choir Director’s Corner: Veni Veni Emmanuel
During Advent at St. Nicholas, we sing “Veni Veni” or “O come O come Emmanuel” during the clergy communion for Sunday Liturgies. Not all, but several OCA churches do this in the Diocese of the West. It is a nod to the fact that the Orthodox Church existed in the West before the great schism, albeit with a different liturgical order, referred to now as the Western Rite (We are Eastern Rite by comparison).
“Veni Veni” is very ancient, with some references to it in the sixth century, and existing publications in the eighth. In its original form, it existed as a series of antiphons (with each verse forming a different antiphon) that were used after the Magnificat at Vespers (The Western Rite uses the Magnificat at Vespers, instead of at Matins which is our practice). The Verses were sung in order from December 17th to December 23rd.
The antiphons are referred to as the “O Antiphons” because each verse begins with an “O” (like “O Come O Come Emmanuel). Thus the antiphons were sung as follows:
17 December: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
18 December: O Adonai (O Lord)
19 December: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
20 December: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
21 December: O Oriens (O Dayspring)
22 December: O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)
23 December: O Emmanuel (O With Us is God)
The verses are sometimes arranged: Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia, form an acrostic which spells out ero cras which means “Tomorrow I will Come”, referring to the expectation of the coming of Christ to us.
At some point later, the antiphons were put together into a separate hymn with the refrain that we know today. Some later versions added some verses, which do not reflect the advent character of the hymn. We have removed those in our version, seeking to restore it to the pre-schism version as closely as possible.
Those of us who grew up in Western churches recognize this hymn, like an old familiar friend, just like the Western saints in our commemorations. In singing it, we signal the catholicity of the church: that Orthodoxy is universal, and not just Russian or Greek, just as the need for Emmanuel: God with us, is universal.
Focus on the Faith: Major Feasts of September
The Nativity of the Mother of God – September 8th
The first of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Church, the Nativity of Our Most Holy Lady the Theotokos, celebrates the birth of her from Whom God took flesh and became incarnate – our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Mother of God has been described by saints and prophets in various ways. She is the Golden Censer and the Ark all covered with gold (Hebrews 9:7.) She is the Fleece upon which the Dew (which is Christ) was pleased to descend (Judges 6:37.) She is the Staff of Aaron from which Christ the Flower blossomed (Numbers 17:8.) She is the thickly wooded Mountain of Thaemon from which Christ came (Micah 3:12 – 4:1.) She is the Jar in which the eternal Manna was contained (Exodus 16:33.) Her praises and descriptions are truly very numerous and point to Her exalted role as the human being with a central role in the Incarnation of our Lord, God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
As it is the joy of Orthodox Christians to celebrate with splendor, the memory of the saints in church, we hymn the birth of the All-Holy Theotokos and also honor her parents, Ss. Joachim and Anna, who have their own feast day the day following. They are a great example and type of the Christian family.
We begin our participation in the new liturgical year, our participation in the Deifying Body of Jesus Christ through the Church and Her Mysteries by sharing the joy of Joachim and Anna, indeed the joy of humankind, in the birth of Her Who is the Mother of Joy, the Beacon of our Redemption and the Source of constant intercession before the Throne of Her Eternal Son. Through Her heavenly intercession, the Mother of God is with us and helps us still. As if to underline this, the Church honors a number of Her Miraculous Icons on this day as well, that is, Icons through which the Holy Spirit was pleased to bestow Divine Blessings on those who honour the Mother of God through them.
The Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of the Lord – September 14
The Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross is celebrated each year on September 14. The Feast commemorates the finding of the True Cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by Saint Helen, the mother of the Emperor Constantine.
In the twentieth year of his reign (326), the Emperor Constantine sent his mother Saint Helen to Jerusalem to venerate the holy places and to find the site of the Holy Sepulchre and of the Cross. Relying upon the oral tradition of the faithful, Saint Helen found the precious Cross together with the crosses of the two thieves crucified with our Lord. However, Helen had no way of determining which was the Cross of Christ.
With the healing of a dying woman who touched one of the crosses, Patriarch Macarius of Jerusalem identified the True Cross of Christ. Saint Helen and her court venerated the Precious and Life-Giving Cross along with many others who came to see this great instrument of Redemption. The Patriarch mounted the ambo (pulpit) and lifted the Cross with both hands so that all of the people gathered could see it. The crowd responded with “Lord have mercy”. This became the occasion of the institution in all of the Churches of the Exaltation of the Precious Cross, not only in memory of the event of the finding of the Cross, but also to celebrate how an instrument of shame was used to overcome death and bring salvation and eternal life.
The Feast is an opportunity outside of the observances of Holy Week to celebrate the full significance of the victory of the Cross over the powers of the world, and the triumph of the wisdom of God through the Cross over the wisdom of this world. This Feast also gives the Church an opportunity to relish the full glory of the Cross as a source of light, hope and victory for Christ’s people. It is also a time to celebrate the universality of the work of redemption accomplished through the Cross: the entire universe is seen through the light of the Cross, the new Tree of Life which provides nourishment for those who have been redeemed in Christ.
From the Fathers
ON THE NATIVITY OF THE VIRGIN
“The present feastday is for us the beginning of feastdays. Serving as boundary limit to the law and to foretypes, it at the same time serves as a doorway to grace and truth. “For Christ is the end of the law” (Rom 10:4), Who, having freed us from the writing, doth raise us to spirit. Here is the end (to the law): in that the Lawgiver, having made everything, hath changed the writing in spirit and doth head everything within Himself (Eph 1:10), hath taken the law under its dominion, and the law is become subjected to grace, such that the properties of the law not suffer reciprocal commingling, but only suchlike, that the servile and subservient (in the law) by Divine power be transmuted into the light and free (in grace), “so that we—sayeth the Apostle—be not enslaved to the elements of the world” (Gal 4:3) and be not in a condition under the slavish yoke of the writing of the law. Here is the summit of Christ’s beneficence towards us! Here are the mysteries of revelation! Here is the theosis [divinisation] assumed upon humankind—the fruition worked out by the God-man.
The radiant and bright coming-down of God for people ought to possess a joyous basis, opening to us the great gift of salvation. Suchlike also is the present feastday, having as its basis the Nativity of the Mother of God, and as its purposeful end—the uniting of the Word with flesh, this most glorious of all miracles, unceasingly proclaimed, immeasurable and incomprehensible.” (Excerpt from St. Andrew of Crete, “Discourse on the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God”)
ON THE EXALTATION OF THE HOLY CROSS
Let us venerate the Cross of the Lord, offering our tender affection as the cypress, the sweet fragrance of our faith as the cedar, and our sincere love as the pine; and let us glorify our Deliverer who was nailed upon it.* (Wednesday Matins of the Fourth Week of Lent, Ode 7, Lenten Triodion)
* A reference to the three kinds of wood from which the Cross was made; cf. Isa. 60:13 (LXX). “And the glory of Mount Lebanon shall come to thee, with the cypress, and pine, and cedar together, to glorify my holy place.”
Orthopraxis: Preparing Ourselves for Holy Communion
Every Sunday, the Lord’s Day, and special feast days, we gather to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. Christ offers Himself to us in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, His very Body and Blood, for the remission of sins and life eternal. How does one prepare for Holy Communion? Such a great and sacred mystery, of course, requires certain attitudes and conditions for those who approach to partake of the Body and Blood of the Savior.
The following should be observed:
- A strict examination of conscience, St. Paul writes: “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that Bread and drink of that Cup.” (1 Cor. 11:28)
- Participate in the Holy Mystery of Confession regularly, at least once a month. If our examination of conscience reveals sins to us, then run to the priest and confess your sins and receive the forgiveness of God. Before receiving Holy Communion, we need to be first reconciled to God and our fellow man. (Matt. 5:23-26) Only then may we take courage to eat the Mystical Food. NONE of us is without sin. Private confession to ourselves is only lip-service to God, and the Church has known this from the beginning. But God is merciful and bestows peace and forgiveness on all who receive absolution from the Church. “Be not afraid” say the prayers.
- Practice the fast of the tongue–refraining from foul language, avoiding gossip, abstaining from rude or angry speech, etc.
- Do charitable works as stewards for those in need and for His Church. Offer your pledge!
- Study the Holy Scriptures and the writings of the Holy Fathers for inspiration and spiritual profit.
- Prayer, repentance, confession, and fasting go hand in hand. a) Fast on Wednesday (in commemoration of the betrayal of Christ) and on Fridays (in commemoration of the Crucifixion of Christ).
- As part of our total spiritual preparation, we also fast during the prescribed fasting periods ordained by the Church leading up to the great feasts of the Church Year. For those who largely ignore the fasting days and seasons, a special period of strict fasting may be require before they are admitted to Holy Communion.
- The evening before should be set aside more specifically for one’s preparation, spiritually, mentally, and physically. Attend Vigil or Vespers the evening before, read the Pre-Communion prayers prescribed in the Prayer Book,* and retire early. Fast completely from food and drink**, and abstain from all things, entertainments, smoking, married couples abstain from conjugal relations, etc.), from midnight the evening before, until receiving Holy Communion.
- Before going to church, ask for mutual forgiveness from members of your family. Following the reception of Holy Communion, stand quietly and recite the prayers of Thanksgiving from your Prayer Book or Divine Liturgy book.
- Approach Holy Communion with the deepest sense of humility. Approach the chalice reverently, walking forward quietly and slowly.
Proper reception of Holy Communion presupposes full participation in the Liturgy. We should come to the Divine Liturgy on time, especially when preparing to receive Holy Communion. One should not approach for Holy Communion if he/she has come late. What’s late? Any time after the Liturgy has begun, but at least no later than the singing of “Holy God,” which is very late indeed.***
*Rule of Prayer According to the Practice of the Russian Orthodox Church, including the Canon and the Ten Prayers.
**If a medical reason precludes this discipline, consult with your priest.
Focus on the Faith: A Sermon on the Transfiguration
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Today our Lord’s human nature was transfigured by the Holy Spirit, proceeding from the Father, Whose voice witnessed to the Son’s divine nature. We are perhaps reminded of another Feast of the Church taken from the Holy Scriptures, where the divinity of Christ was also witnessed to by the Father and the Spirit proceeding from the Father – Theophany, the Baptism of Christ. Both these feasts have a great prominence in our Church, which has been lost outside Her, where people do not believe in the words of the Holy Scripture, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Father alone. This Feast shows us firstly that the human and divine natures of Christ are united in One Person, secondly that therefore there is no unity without the Holy Spirit, and thirdly that our Saviour is Lord over Life and Death, for Moses, who died, worships Him, and Elijah, who did not die, also worships Him.
Today, however, I would like to point out an aspect of this Feast which is often overlooked: Mt Tabor, the ‘mountain’ where the Transfiguration occurred. This Mt Tabor is for us a figure of repentance. We note that, like the disciples, in order for us to see the transfiguration or to hope to be transfigured ourselves, we will first have to climb up, to mount, from our present condition. Otherwise any transfiguration or change for the better in our lives is impossible.
Now it is interesting that pilgrims who have been blessed to go to Mt Tabor and their photographs show us that Mt Tabor is not a mountain at all. It is rather a long, sloping hill with many obstacles, rocks and boulders, in the path of those who ascend it. And our transfiguration or salvation is like Mt Tabor. However hard we try, we will not be guaranteed salvation through a swift if arduous climb today. Salvation takes a lifetime, it is a long climb up a long slope, which is why the Lord gives most of us so long to live. Salvation is a long struggle which requires determination and perseverance, patient long-suffering. Our spiritual progress, then, is not sudden and dramatic. And there are many obstacles in our path in our daily struggle. To pick up our prayerbooks in the morning and again in the evening is a struggle and there are always obstacles in our path to even this: meals to prepare, trains to catch, phones that ring. Church life is indeed made up of little sacrifices, obstacles to overcome. There are prayers to say, fasts to be kept, a donation to be made, the clean-up to be done, flowers bought, the church cleaned, a choir rehearsal to go to, a vigil service to attend, a confession prepared.
As we come now towards the end of the Church’s Year, we may well ask ourselves what sacrifices have we made since this Feast last year? How far have we ascended up our own Mt Tabor? How have we changed, improved, over this last year? What have we done to lead a better life since then? How have we treated the poor, the homeless? What have we given God that we did not give Him before? It is this that we call progress: in what way am I a better Orthodox Christian than I was a year ago?
In our faith we are called to struggle daily, whatever the rocks or boulders in our way, whether they are pride or selfishness, lust or discouragement, envy or judging of others, we have to struggle to ascend our personal Mt Tabor, we have to fight for our personal transfiguration. That is why it is so important to come to confession and communion. If we do not do this, then the Church will move away from us. For we can both go up and go down a slope. We can spiritually progress, but we can also spiritually regress. We can be transfigured by the love of God or we can be disfigured by the love of sin. And like progress, regress is not sudden and dramatic, regress too is a slope, as we say, a slippery slope. Let us therefore take heed and give God what He really wants from us – our hearts and minds spiritually progressing. Amen. (Orthodox England)
From the Fathers
“No one is more blessed than the apostles, and especially these three, who even in the cloud were counted worthy to be under the same roof with the Lord. But if we desire it, we also shall behold Christ, not as they did back then on the mountain, but in far greater brightness. For He shall not appear like this hereafter. Back then, in order to spare His disciples, He revealed only so much of His brightness as they were able to bear; hereafter He shall come in the very glory of the Father, not with Moses and Elias only, but with the infinite host of the angels, with the archangels, with the cherubim, with those infinite tribes, not having a cloud over His head, but even heaven itself…”
St John Chrysostom (On the Transfiguration)
“Finally when blessed Mary having completed the course of this life, and was to be called from the world, all the Apostles gathered to her house from their different regions. And when they had heard that she was to be taken from the world, together they kept watch with her; a lo, the Lord Jesus came with His angels. Taking her soul, He gave it the the Archangel Michael and withdrew. At dawn the Apostles raised her body with a pallet and they placed it in a vault and they guarded it awaiting the coming of the Lord. And lo, a second time the Lord stood by them and he ordered the holy body to be taken and borne to Paradise; there having rejoined the soul exultant with His elect, it enjoys the good things of eternity which shall know no end.”
St Gregory of Tours (On the Dormition)
Orthopraxis: Why a Fast for Dormition?
by Reader Daniel Manzuk
It would be a gross understatement to say that much has been written about the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos. Yet very little has been written about the fast that precedes it.
Every Orthodox Christian is aware and generally knows the reason behind the fasts for Pascha and Christmas. But while they may know of the Dormition Fast, few follow it, and more than a few question why it is there, neither knowing its purpose. First, given the pervasive misunderstanding of the purpose of fasting itself, a refresher on its purpose is always a good idea. There is a perception that we should fast when we want something, as though the act of fasting somehow appeases God, and seeing us “suffer” gets Him to grant our request. Nothing can be further from the truth. It is not our fasting that pleases God, it is the fruits of our fast (provided we fast in the proper mind set, and do not merely diet) that please Him. We fast, not to get what we want, but to prepare ourselves to receive what God wants to give us. The purpose of fasting is to bring us more in line with another Mary, the sister of Lazarus, and away from their sister Martha, who in the famous passage was “anxious and troubled about many things.” Fasting is intended to bring us to the realization of “the one thing needful.” It is to help us put God first and our own desires second, if not last. As such it serves to prepare us to be instruments of God’s will, as with Moses in his flight from Egypt and on Mt. Sinai, as well as our Lord’s fast in the wilderness. Fasting turns us away from ourselves and toward God. In essence it helps us become like the Theotokos, an obedient servant of God, who heard His word and kept it better than anyone else has or could.
So why do we fast before Dormition? In a close-knit family, word that its matriarch is on her deathbed brings normal life to a halt. Otherwise important things (parties, TV, luxuries, personal desires) become unimportant; life comes to revolve around the dying matriarch. It is the same with the Orthodox family; word that our matriarch is on her deathbed, could not (or at least should not) have any different effect than the one just mentioned. The Church, through the Paraklesis Service, gives us the opportunity to come to that deathbed and eulogize and entreat the woman who bore God, the vessel of our salvation and our chief advocate at His divine throne. And as, in the earthly family, daily routines and the indulgence in personal wants should come to a halt. Fasting, in its full sense (abstaining from food and desires) accomplishes this. Less time in leisure or other pursuits leaves more time for prayer and reflection on she who gave us Christ, and became the first and greatest Christian. In reflecting on her and her incomparable life, we see a model Christian life, embodying Christ’s retort to the woman who stated that Mary was blessed because she bore Him: blessed rather are those who hear His word and keep it. Mary did this better than anyone. As Fr. Thomas Hopko has stated, she heard the word of God and kept it so well, that she of all women in history was chosen not only to hear His Word but give birth to it (Him). So while we fast in contemplation of her life, we are simultaneously preparing ourselves to live a life in imitation of her. That is the purpose of the Dormition Fast.
“When the assumption of thine undefiled body was being prepared, the Apostles gazed on thy bed, viewing thee with trembling. Some contemplated thy body and were dazzled, but Peter cried out to thee in tears, saying, I see thee clearly, O Virgin, stretched out, O life of all, and I am astonished. O thou undefiled one, in whom the bliss of future life dwelt, beseech thy Son and God to preserve thy people unimpaired.”
(Sticheron after the Gospel, Matins)
Daniel Manzuk is a reader at the Church of the Virgin Mary in Alsip, IL.
Lives of Saints
Choir Director’s Corner: The Paraklesis during the Dormition Fast
Many of you remember that in previous years, we frequently (if not daily) met in the temple in the evening during the fast and prayed the Paraklesis to the Most Holy Theotokos. The center of this service is the same canon that we read as part of the rule of preparation for Holy Communion from the prayer book, but with extra prayers, a gospel, and other beautiful verses.
You can do this service in your prayer corner at home! This is an excellent way, in addition to the fast, to prepare for the feast of Dormition.
If you don’t know the melodies, you can just “plainchant” it on a single note, or read it silently.
Here is a YouTube video by Eikona that you can pray along with, and learn some of the Greek melodies:
Upcoming events this month (Events are subject to change! see the online calendar for updates or the attached PDF for more info)
Focus on the Faith: The Glorious Fourth of July
The Fourth of July is always a time for celebration in our land. It is a chance for family and friends to gather together for barbeques, outdoor activities, and fireworks. It is common practice in our churches to offer a Prayer Service, a Molieben of Thanksgiving at this time, and here, in the Pacific Central Deanery, it has been the custom for nearly 100 years to make a pilgrimage to Fort Ross and offer the Divine Liturgy there at the chapel in thanksgiving to God for this wonderful country of ours. But this year will be an exception. There will be NO Liturgy on the 4th of July at the Fort! COVID19 has seen to it that our get-togethers, fully open divine services, and pilgrimages are out! What a disappointment. But we can still take time out from our holiday to focus more carefully on the deeper meaning of the “Glorious Fourth.”
On Independence Day, the cause of our celebration is freedom, freedom from a cruel, repressive government, and freedom from a tyrannical king. This freedom is not only about liberation “from,” but also liberation “to!” Freedom means the ability to chart our own course, to work for our own goals, and to reap the fruits of our own labors. While this important civil holiday may not be found on our ecclesiastical calendars, we can certainly derive some spiritual food from it! The Fourth of July can be an opportunity for us to recall that there is a spiritual struggle for independence that goes on in our lives, and in our hearts, every single day. The tyrannical king is the devil; his cruel government is this fallen world and death; the overwhelming tax burdens and the tax collectors are our sins along with the demons who wait in the aerial toll-houses to accuse us at our death. These are the same demons, who would love nothing more than to kick the Heavenly King out of our hearts, and replace Him with seven of themselves (Matthew 12:45)!
Nothing is better, nothing is more natural to human beings than spiritual freedom. The Lord Jesus Christ said: “If the Son (of God) therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36.) But in order to gain this freedom, this freedom which is only found in Christ, there needs to be a revolution, a revolution in us! Now the word “revolution” literally means to turn around. Isn’t that what repentance is? A turning around? A change of direction? A change of mind? Repentance is a spiritual struggle to turn, a spiritual revolutionary war against the tyranny of evil. Repentance is a noetic rebellion and an ascetic strategy of separation that employs spiritual armaments given to us by the grace of God. St Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: For the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but our weapons have Divine power to pull down strongholds; casting down vain imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and brings into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5.)
So, then, the Fourth of July can serve as a good reminder to us that we need to keep up the struggle and “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12.) It’s only when we let our guard down, relax our efforts and our resolve, that we find ourselves slipping back into the clutches of our Adversary, the King of wickedness, and falling into the tyranny of his cruel and oppressive government. “Stand fast therefore” (says St. Paul) “in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1.)
From the Fathers: St. John of Shanghai & San Francisco on the Martyrdom of Tsar Nicholas II and his family (selection)
“What did Russia render to her pure-hearted Sovereign, who loved her more than life? She returned love with slander. He was of great morality, but people began to talk about his viciousness. He loved Russia, but people began to talk about his treason. Even the people close to the Sovereign repeated the slander, passing on to each other rumors and gossip. Because of the ill intention of some and the lack of discipline of others, rumors spread and love for the Tsar began to grow cool. They started to talk of the danger to Russia and discuss means of avoiding that non-existent danger, they started to say that to save Russia it would be necessary to dismiss the Sovereign. Calculated evil did its work: it separated Russia from her Tsar and in the dread moment at Pskov3 he was alone; no one near to him. Those faithful to him were not admitted to his presence. The dreadful loneliness of the Tsar… But he did not abandon Russia, Russia abandoned him, the one who loved Russia more than life. Thus, in the hope that his self-belittling would still the raging passions of the people, the Sovereign abdicated. But passion never stills. Having achieved what it desires it only inflames more. There was an exultation among those who desired the fall of the Sovereign. The others were silent. They succeeded in arresting the Sovereign; succeeded, and further events were almost inevitable. If someone is left in a beast’s cage he will be torn to pieces sooner or later. The Sovereign was killed, and Russia remained silent. There was no indignation, no protest when that dread, evil deed happened, and this silence is the great sin of the Russian people, and it happened on the day of Saint Andrew, the writer of the Great Canon of Repentance, which is read in churches during Great Lent. In the vaults of a basement in Ekaterinburg the Ruler of Russia was killed, deprived, by the peoples’ insidiousness, of the tsar’s crown, but not deprived of God’s Sacred Anointment.
A Letter to All Parishoners and Friends of St. Nicholas
|St. Nicholas Orthodox Church
14220 Elva Avenue
Saratoga, CA 95070
June 12, 2020
We hope this letter finds you healthy and doing well during this time of shelter-in-place. At our most recent Parish Council meeting, we designated two members as an emergency team to provide help to any of our parishioners who may need it at this time. Igor Feoktistov and Rachael Muratore will be available to help if any of you need assistance. You can contact Father Basil and he’ll let us know what you may need.
The Parish Council held a meeting on Friday June 5. At the meeting, our Treasurer, Aaron Labreque, informed us that our church is $5,000 short, compared to this time last year.
This year Saint Nicholas Church is faced with a very difficult financial situation for several reasons:
- The Parish Council was forced to cancel our Russian Festival, our main fundraiser, which netted us $19,331 last year. The cancellation is due to the constrictions of sheltering-in-place, as well as, the fact that Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church, in San Jose, changed the date of their festival to the same two days, that we hold ours.
- The church has spent $10,680 remodeling the two bathrooms in the hall. Only $1,661.00 was collected from the parish, to defray this cost, which compels us to divert $8,500 from our general funds.
- We did not have our Bake Sale before Pascha, which generally nets us $1,200.
We would like to thank those parishioners, who have been supporting our church, during this difficult time. We would also like to encourage all of our parishioners to contribute periodically, whatever amount of money that you can afford; this will enable our church to conduct its important work. Even a small donation every month would be helpful. You can give your tithe and donate any extra amount you can either by PayPal or by credit card at this address on our home page: https://stnicholassaratoga.org/donate-now/
Candle sales have dropped a lot! But you can still have a candle lit for people you wish to remember by using Paypal on our website at this address: https://stnicholassaratoga.org/light-a-candle/
The Parish Council voted to send a gift $800 to Project Mexico from our Charity account and to give $500 to Our Lady of Kazan Skete in Santa Rosa. This leaves only $75 in our Charity Fund. So, please endeavor to fully support this very important cause.
We wish you and your family good health, financial stability and peace.
Saint Nicholas Parish Council
Orthopraxis: Am I Saved? An Orthodox Answer
In the Bible there are certain verses that talk about a person being “saved.”
Being “saved” means being delivered or rescued, usually from something deadly. When a ship is going down it sends out a distress signal, SOS, which means Save Our Souls! This is a similar meaning to our Orthodox understanding of salvation. So, what are we being rescued or delivered from? At the end of the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father, what do we pray for deliverance from? The Evil One! So we pray to be delivered or saved from Satan. But that’s not all. There are also: sin, death, sickness, suffering, sorrow, sighing, etc. (cf the Funeral Service). Some also refer to the World, the Flesh, the Devil.
Some Protestant Evangelicals believe that salvation is a one time event. They believe that they can point to a date on the calendar when they were “saved.” They believe that there was a moment when they made a decision for Christ, and prayed the Sinner’s Prayer sometimes called the Salvation Prayer – and they were saved. They also believe that once they were saved, it was forever – “once saved, always saved.” What is the “Salvation Prayer?” I took this random example from a pamphlet. Here’s how it reads:
“Dear God in heaven, I come to you in the name of Jesus. I acknowledge to You that I am a sinner, and I am sorry for my sins and the life that I have lived; I need your forgiveness. I believe that your only begotten Son Jesus Christ shed His precious blood on the cross at Calvary and died for my sins, and I am now willing to turn from my sin.You said in Your Holy Word, Romans 10:9, that if we confess the Lord our God and believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead, we shall be saved.
Right now I confess Jesus as the Lord of my soul. With my heart, I believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. This very moment I accept Jesus Christ as my own personal Lord and Savior and according to His Word, right now I am saved. Thank you Jesus for your unlimited grace which has saved me from my sins. I thank you Jesus that your grace never leads to license, but rather it always leads to repentance. Therefore Lord Jesus transform my life so that I may bring glory and honor to you alone and not to myself. Thank you Jesus for dying for me and giving me eternal life. Amen.”
Then the little pamphlet goes on to say this: “If you just said this prayer and you meant it with all your heart and you have repented for your sins, we believe that you just got saved and are born again.”
But is this how we Orthodox understand salvation? Let’s look at some examples from Scripture:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
“If you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart man believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and all your household.”
Here we see three types of “salvation” – past, present and future. So the question: “Are you saved?” Or “When were you saved?” makes no sense to us Orthodox. It isn’t an Orthodox question. Why? Because salvation is a process. Let’s look at how we understand it. First of all, we say that we were saved and born again upon our confession of faith (the Creed, if adults) and Holy Baptism. The Bible is very clear that being “born again” has to do with something we must DO (faith, belief, an action, a “work”) faith AND water. (See John 3:5; Rom. 6:3–4; Col. 2:12–13; Titus 3:5). In fact, no early church father refers to John 3:5 as anything other than water baptism! (cf. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyon, Hippolytus of Rome, Clement of Alexandria, and others!)
Next we say that as we live our lives, we hope that we ARE being saved. This is actually what the Greek language in the Bible means when it says “you shall be saved. It literally says “you shall be-being saved.” It doesn’t mean right now, once for all. Salvation is a process, as I said. Actually, it’s what the Lord said in the Bible, not me.
And finally, at the Great Judgment, at the Second Coming of Christ, our final disposition will be determined, we pray we WILL be saved for eternity in God’s Heavenly Kingdom.
So, I was saved, I believe I am being saved, and I pray that I will be saved, is the simple, trinitarian, Orthodox answer. Molly Sabourin, a freelance writer and contributor to Ancient Faith Radio, mused on what she might have written as an Orthodox, instead of what she did write in her Protestant days, for a paper on the topic of what it means to be saved. She shared this as her fantasy re-write:
“I was originally saved over two thousand years ago when God the Son took on human flesh and offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice for all of mankind, defeating the power of sin by suffering on the Cross and destroying death through His miraculous Resurrection.
I am being saved daily through my intentional decisions to follow Jesus’ example within each situation that I find myself, viewing paradise not as just a someday destination but as the everyday experience of self-denial, of being filled, through the Eucharist, obedience, and love for others, with Christ.
I will, (Lord have mercy), be saved at the Great and final Judgement when I give an account for a lifetime of actions, when it becomes clear whether or not I cooperated with the grace so generously bestowed upon me. Who of us, having been blessed beyond all comprehension, should feel the need to “insure” that, regardless of our choices, a reward will be ours free and clear? Who of us dare to sit idle with our assurances, interpreting the conditions of the Bridegroom’s invitation while our lamps for illumining the darkness run out of oil?
My individual salvation is being worked out with fear and trembling through the unique responsibilities God deemed best to set before me. Based upon the model of the publican who beat his breast and begged for leniency, I am careful to not assume I have a handle on the spiritual state of others. I would do best, rather, to stay focused on my own flagrant shortcomings, reverencing both friends and enemies, all of whom were created in God’s image, as living icons of Christ Jesus. I share my faith, yes, but not out of obligation; a soul that’s found its meaning cannot help but be a witness to such joy. My ongoing testimony is presented through acts of service, in accordance with Christ’s commandment to love God by loving your neighbor. I pray ceaselessly for the courage to fight the good fight, staying faithful until my very last breath upon this earth.”
Lives of Saints
July 2 St. John (Maximovich), Archbishop of Shanghai & San Francisco
St John is a contemporary saint, having reposed in 1966, and is a great wonderworker and healer, whose relics are enshrined in San Francisco at the Cathedral of the Mother of God “Joy of All Who Sorrow.” He was an ascetic like those of old, who cared tirelessly for the poor, orphans and the ill and afflicted. Canonized first by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, St John’s sanctity has been recognized throughout the whole Orthodox world.
July 17 Holy Royal New Martyrs of Russia: Tsar Nicholas II, Tsaritsa Alexandra, Crown Prince Alexei, and Grand duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia, and those martyred with them (1918).
“Tsar Nicholas II was the son of Alexander III, who had reposed in the arms of St John of Kronstadt. Having been raised in piety, Tsar Nicholas ever sought to rule in a spirit consonant with the precepts of Orthodoxy and the best traditions of his nation. Tsaritsa Alexandra, a grand-daughter of Queen Victoria of England, and a convert from Lutheranism, was noted for her piety and compassion for the poor and suffering. Their five children were beloved of all for their kindness, modesty, and guilelessness.
“Amidst the political turmoil of 1917, Tsar Nicholas selflessly abdicated the throne for what he believed was the good of his country. Although he had abdicated willingly, the revolutionaries put him and his family under house arrest, then sent them under guard to Tobolsk and finally Ekaterinburg. A letter written from Tobolsk by Grand Duchess Olga, the eldest of the children, shows their nobility of soul. She writes, ‘My father asks that I convey to all those who have remained devoted to him… that they should not take vengeance on his account, because he has forgiven everyone and prays for them all. Nor should they avenge themselves. Rather, they should bear in mind that this evil which is now present in the world will become yet stronger, but that evil will not conquer evil, but only love shall do so.’
“After enduring sixteen months of imprisonment, deprivation, and humiliation with a Christian patience which moved even their captors, they and those who were with them gained their crowns of martyrdom when they were shot and stabbed to death in the cellar of the Ipatiev house in Ekaterinburg in 1918.
“Together with them are also commemorated those who faithfully served them, and were either slain with them, or on their account…” (Great Horologion)
July 12 Saint Païsios of the Holy Mountain (+1994)
‘The future Elder Paisius was born in 1924 and baptized by St. Arsenius of Cappadocia. He spent his youth as a carpenter until WW II, during which he repeatedly distinguished himself in the army by his bravery and self-sacrifice. In 1950 he went to Mt. Athos for eight years, where he was tonsured. Then he was asked to spend some time in his home village of Epirus, in order to defend the faithful against Protestant proselytism. He returned to Mt. Athos in 1964 and stayed in several monasteries, eventually settling in the Panagouda hermitage of Koutloumousiou Monastery, where he remained for fifteen years. Here his reputation as a holy elder and guide grew, and he tirelessly received those thirsting for spiritual direction, allowing himself only two or three hours of sleep each day. He reposed in 1994, one of the most well-known and beloved contemporary elders. Many of his counsels and other writings have been published.’ (St Herman Calendar, 1994) Elder Païsios was glorified by the Church in 2015; he is commemorated on the anniversary of his repose.
OUR VENERABLE AND GOD-BEARING FATHER COLUMBA OF IONA, ENLIGHTENER OF SCOTLAND (521-597)
Saint Columba (the Latinized name for Colum, meaning “dove”) was born at Garten in Donegall to a noble family. He entered the monastic school of Moville under Saint Finnian, who had studied at Saint Ninnian’s great monastery. Here Columba received the diaconate and entered monastic life. Tradition tells us that it is there that his sanctity is first attested to by the performance of miracles. Having completed his training he travelled to Leinster and then later to the monastery of Clonard. Here he was probably ordained priest before leaving for Glansnevin and the monastery there. When a pestilence devastated the country in 543, the monks dispersed and Columba spent 15 years traversing in Ireland founding several important monasteries, including Derry in 546.
In 563 Columba, with twelve companions, left for Scotland. On the Island of Iona he founded the famous Abbey, a centre for Celtic Christianity. Iona became a base for missionary work amongst the Northern Picts. Columba visited King Bridei, near Inverness, and won his respect. The royal residence had been bolted closed but, at the sign of the cross, the doors flew open and thus struck by such a miracle, the King listened and was baptised. Many of the people soon followed. This respect he found subsequently led him into a political role and he helped greatly in shaping the political landscape of that time, with some opposition remaining from the Druids.
Columba spent the rest of his life preaching and travelling in Scotland. The ‘Book of Deer’ (a tenth century illuminated manuscript, providing a unique insight into cultural, social and ecclesiastical life of the East of Scotland.) attests to Columba’s work and miracles in the East of the country. On another journey to the West he met with Saint Mungo, the apostle of Strathclyde. He returned to Iona, when not engaged in missionary work, and there many came to seek his counsel. From here, Columba governed the many communities he had founded. In the Celtic tradition the Abbot, although perhaps only in priest’s orders, was at times considered to govern above that of the position of a bishop, the bishop thus being subject to the Abbot’s jurisdiction.
On the afternoon of 8th June, 597, Columba climbed the hill behind his monastery and gave his final blessing to the place he loved so much. At vespers, that night, he collapsed before the altar and found home with his heavenly Father, surrounded by his monks. He was seventy six years of age. He was buried in the monastery but, one hundred years later, his bones were disinterred and revered. They were taken to Ireland when the threat of Vikings became apparent but they vanished in time. Books and garments remained at Iona Abbey and were the focus for miraculous works.
Saint Adamnan, a future Abbot of Iona, said of Columba: “He was angelic in appearance, graceful in speech, holy in work.”
It is without doubt that Columba stands as one of the greatest of the Celtic Saints. A man of incredible industry, of missionary work, of creating communities and not least a man of humility and deep charity.
Choir Director’s Corner: My Patron Saint
Many years ago, before I was Orthodox, I was studying and attracted to the faith, but becoming Orthodox seemed like a stretch. Wasn’t this very traditional faith old and irrelevant? Weren’t all those stories of saints demythologized now in our enlightened modern age? It was easy enough to dismiss older saints as stories from another age, but St. John broke that idea in pieces. I was meeting people who knew him personally and could verify that the many miracles attributed to him were facts and not merely fancy. I was talking to people who experienced his miracles personally! (There were at least 2 people at our parish who knew him when I first arrived!). I went to the miraculously incorrupt relics of St. John at the cathedral in San Francisco, and prayed: “St. John, help me to become Orthodox!” Things moved very quickly after that and the rest is history! My namesday gift to you is to share one of my favorite sermons of St. John, which is challenging in its depth, yet practical for making a good beginning.
by St. John of San Francisco
Stand fast on spiritual watch, because you don’t know when the Lord will call you to Himself. In your earthly life be ready at any moment to give Him an account. Beware that the enemy does not catch you in his nets, that he not deceive you causing you to fall into temptation. Daily examine your conscience; try the purity of your thoughts, your intentions.
There was a king who had a wicked son. Having no hope that he would change for the better, the father condemned the son to death. He gave him a month to prepare.
The month went by, and the father summoned the son. To his surprise he saw that the young man was noticeably changed: his face was thin and drawn, and his whole body looked as if it had suffered.
“How is it that such a transformation has come over you, my son?” the father asked.
“My father and my lord,” replied the son, “how could I not change when each passing day brought me closer to death?”
“Good, my son,” remarked the king. “Since you have evidently come to your senses, I shall pardon you. However, you must maintain this vigilant disposition of soul for the rest of your life.”
“Father,” replied the son, “that’s impossible. How can I withstand the countless seductions and temptations?”
Then the king ordered that a vessel be brought, full of oil, and he told his son: “Take this vessel and carry it along all the streets of the city. Following you will be two soldiers with sharp swords. If you spill so much as a single drop they will cut off your head.”
The son obeyed. With light, careful steps, he walked along all the streets, the soldiers accompanying him, and he did not spill a drop.
When he returned to the castle, the father asked, “My son, what did you see as you were walking through the city?”
“I saw nothing.”
“What do you mean, ‘nothing’?” said the king.
“Today is a holiday; you must have seen the booths with all kinds of trinkets, many carriages, people animals…”
“I didn’t notice any of that,” said the son. “All my attention was focussed on the oil in the vessel. I was afraid to spill a drop and thereby lose my life.”
“Quite right, my son,” said the king. “Keep this lesson in mind for the rest of your life. Be as vigilant over your soul as you were today over the oil in the vessel. Turn your thoughts away from what will soon pass away, and keep them focused on what is eternal. You will be followed not by armed soldiers but by death to which we are brought closer by every day. Be very careful to guard your soul from all ruinous temptations.”
The son obeyed his father, and lived happily.
Watch, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. (I Corinthians 16:13).
The Apostle gives Christians this important counsel to bring their attention to the danger of this world, to summon them to frequent examination of their hearts, because without this one can easily bring to ruin the purity and ardor of one’s faith and unnoticeably cross over to the side of evil and faithlessness.
Just as a basic concern is to be careful of anything that might be harmful to our physical health, so our spiritual concern should watch out for anything that might harm our spiritual life and the work of faith and salvation.
Therefore, carefully and attentively assess your inner impulses: are they from God or from the spirit of evil? Beware of temptations from this world and from worldly people; beware of hidden inner temptations which come from the spirit of indifference and carelessness in prayer, from the waning of Christian love.
If we turn our attention to our mind, we notice a torrent of successive thoughts and ideas. This torrent is uninterrupted; it is racing everywhere and at all times: at home, in church, at work, when we read, when we converse. It is usually called thinking, writes Bishop Theophan the Recluse, but in fact it is a disturbance of the mind, a scattering, a lack of concentration and attention. The same happens with the heart. Have you ever observed the life of the heart? Try it even for a short time and see what you find. Something unpleasant happens, and you get irritated; some misfortune occurs, and you pity yourself; you see someone whom you dislike, and animosity wells up within you; you meet one of your equals who has now outdistanced you on the social scale, and you begin to envy him; you think of your talents and capabilities, and you begin to grow proud… All this is rottenness: vainglory, carnal desire, gluttony, laziness, malice-one on top of the other, they destroy the heart. And all of this can pass through the heart in a matter of minutes. For this reason one ascetic, who was extremely attentive to himself, was quite right in saying that “man’s heart is filled with poisonous serpents. Only the hearts of saints are free from these serpents, the passions.”
But such freedom is attained only through a long and difficult process of self-knowledge, working on oneself and being vigilant towards one’s inner life, i.e., the soul.
Be careful. Watch out for your soul! Turn your thoughts away from what will soon pass away and turn them towards what is eternal. Here you will find the happiness that your soul seeks, that your heart thirsts for.
(Translated from Pravoslavnaya Rus) and taken from ORTHODOX AMERICA, Vol. XIV, No. 2-3, September-October, 1993
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