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Focus on the Faith: August
JULY was a month in which there were no Great Feasts and no special fasting periods. August is very different. The first two weeks are kept as a fast in preparation for the Dormition of the Mother of God. And there are five major feast days in the month, two of them ranked among the Twelve Great Feasts of the Church Year, and one of them itself specially kept as an extra fast day.
Three of the feasts are those of our Lord and, in the Russian practice, are popularly know as the First, Second and Third (feasts) of the Saviour. These are: The Procession of the Honourable Wood of the Cross (1st); the Great Feast of the Transfiguration (6th) and the Translation of the Holy Image of the Saviour made-without-hands (16th). The Dormition (Falling Asleep) of the Mother of God itself (15th) is kept as a Great Feast, and near the end of the month we have the Beheading of St John the Baptist (29th August), which is the feast also kept as a fast day, even though this year it falls on a Sunday.
The “First Saviour” is a feast that was inaugurated in Byzantine times, because in the heat of summer, the Imperial City was often plagued with diseases and epidemics. The portion of the Cross, kept in the Imperial Palace, was, during the first two weeks of August, solemnly taken around the City so that the people could resort to it in this time of particular trial. The feast reminds us of something that we so often forget: that in time of need we should turn to the Saviour and the power of His Cross for help, just as the Israelites of old turned to the up-raised brazen serpent in the wilderness for deliverance from the plague of snake-bites they were suffering (Numbers 21:4-9). The bringing out of the Cross in our churches on this day also strengthens us to keep the holy fast, as does the witness of the Maccabee Martyrs, who, even in the Old Testament dispensation, before Grace was poured out, preferred to die rather than break the fasting prescriptions which holy Tradition had given them.
The “Second Saviour” is the festival of the Lord’s Divine glory, when on Mount Tabor that glory was revealed to the Apostles Peter, James and John (Matthew 17:1-9, Luke 9:28-36). It is also a festival of the Holy Trinity. God the Son is seen in the person of Jesus Christ, the Father is heard to speak from Heaven, and the Holy Spirit is manifest in the dazzling light. We are also called to partake in the glory which is manifested in this festival. Christ had that glory naturally being God as well as being a man; we are called to share in that glory, not as possessing it naturally or as of right, but through His grace and mercy. We bless grapes and other fruit on this day (see separate article).
Next in the calendar comes the Great Feast of the Dormition, in which we see one of our kind, the Mother of God, entering into that same glory, and being clothed upon with it, so that in the psalmic prophecy concerning her, it says not only does she stand at the right hand of her Son as Queen, but that she is “arrayed in a vesture of inwoven gold, adorned in varied colours” (Ps. 44:8) Our calling to partake of the glory of the Divinity is not mission impossible, the All-holy Virgin, one of our kind, has already and is already achieving it.
The “Third Saviour” commemorates an event which took place in the year 944, when the Holy Mandilioni.e. the Holy Napkin, was received at the Imperial City of Constantinople. The history of this icon stretches back to the earthly life of our Saviour. At that time the prince of Edessa, Abgar, fell ill and petitioned the Saviour to visit him and cure him. Failing that, he asked that an artist might be permitted to paint the Saviour and take the portrait back to the prince, so that looking upon His likeness he might receive a blessing. Instead, the Lord pressed a cloth towel to His face and gave it to the artist, who found the Divine countenance imprinted upon the cloth miraculously. He took this icon, not made by hands, back to the prince who was thereby healed of his disease. Later the Apostle Thaddæus preached the Gospel in Edessa, and the prince, Abgar, and many of his people were converted to the True Faith. The prince had the wonder-working icon set in a niche above the city gates as a protection for their city. However, a couple of generations later, pagan rulers took over the city, and fearing that the icon might be desecrated, the Christians placed a burning oil lamp before it, and then sealed over the niche with a tile. Centuries later it was re-discovered, and it was found that two further miracles had happened. The oil lamp was still burning before the icon, and a copy of the icon had been imprinted on the tile which had sealed the niche. As those parts had been overrun by Moslems, the icon was taken to Constantinople in the tenth century for safe-keeping and as a protection for the Christian Empire. It is believed that the icon was stolen by the Crusaders after the sack of the City in A.D 1204, and that the ship which was carrying it away to Venice was wrecked in the sea of Marmara, and thus the icon was lost. Copies of the icon are, however, revered in nearly every Orthodox church throughout the world. The depiction shows only the face of the Lord, on the towel, surrounded by a halo, which in turn is divided by three arms of a cross in which we have the Greek letters, omicron, omega and nu, which signify He Who is, and so proclaim the Divinity of the Saviour.
The fifth important feast in the month is the Beheading of the Baptist, which is usually celebrated with a Vigil service. This festival celebrates the martyric death of St John the Forerunner, which is recorded in the Gospels (Matt. 14:1-13; Mark 6:14-30). The Baptist spent his whole life, from infancy, in the wilderness (Luke 1:80), and so lived a life of the severest asceticism, as our Saviour Himself testifies (Matt. 11:18), and so we honour him with prayer and fasting. Also Herod and those will him spent this day partying and so, as so often happens at such events, fell into sin, and our fasting is a statement of dissociation from his manner of life. Many Orthodox people have a custom of never eating anything round or red on this day in memory of the Baptist’s sacrifice.
From the Holy Fathers and Mothers
“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14). And just exactly as all who were bitten by the serpents looked upon the bronze serpent which was suspended and were healed, thus also every Christian who believes in our Christ and has recourse to His life-bearing wounds… is cured of the bites of the spiritual serpent of sin and by this most holy nourishment is made to live unto the renewal of a new creation, that is, new life in harmony with His life-giving commandments. (Elder Ephraim of Arizona)
“Upon Mount Tabor, Jesus revealed to his disciples a heavenly mystery. While living among them he had spoken of the kingdom and of his second coming in glory, but to banish from their hearts any possible doubt concerning the kingdom, and to confirm their faith in what lay in the future by its prefiguration in the present, he gave them on Mount Tabor a wonderful vision of his glory, a foreshadowing of the kingdom of heaven.” (St. Anastasios of Sinai)
“I cannot describe to you how much our Panagia likes chastity and purity. Since she is the only pure Virgin, she wants and loves everyone to be like that. As soon as we cry out to her, she rushes to our help. You don’t even finish saying, ‘All-holy Theotokos, help me’ and at once, like lightning, she shines through the nous and fills the heart with illumination. She draws the nous to prayer and the heart to Love.” (Elder Joseph the Hesychast)
AUGUST 1, The Feast of the Procession of the Cross. Blessing of Water & Honey. Bring a Holy Water bottle or jar to fill, and new honey to be blessed after the Liturgy. Honey is blessed on this day because it is the season of gathering of new honey, reminding us of the sweetness of our Saviour (1st Feast of the Saviour). On this day we offer Christ sweetness, as opposed to those who offered Him vinegar and gall when He was suffering on the Cross.
AUGUST 6, Holy Transfiguration. Bring grapes and seasonal fruits to be blessed in church after the Liturgy. On the Holy Feast-Day of Transfiguration our tradition calls for Orthodox Christians to bring fruits (and even vegetables) to be blessed on this day. The most common fruit to be blessed are grapes, because of their association with the Eucharist. The blessing of fruits i.e., grapes, apples, etc., as well as vegetables on this day, signifies the final transfiguration of all things in Christ our Savior, the transfiguration of the whole world. It signifies the ultimate flowering and fruitfulness of all creation in the Paradise of God’s Kingdom of Life where all will be transformed by the Glory of the Lord.
This is an early Christian tradition. The first week of August, on the sixth of August, the farmers used to gather the first fruits of their summer harvest (grapes, figs, etc.) and to offer thanks to God bringing them to the Church to be blessed and then to give them to the faithful present at the Divine Liturgy as a blessing to them. These fruits are called the “firstfruits.” In a text from the 7th century (“The Laws of the Kingdom”) by Emperor Constantine “Porphyrogenitos” this tradition is described clearly: “The Emperor of Constantinople gathers the “firstfruits” in Chalcedon, where there are many vines, and then he waits for the Patriarch of Constantinople to come on the Holy Day of the Transfiguration of Christ, to bless the fruits and to personally hand out the grapes to the faithful.” This tradition of blessing and distributing grapes is adhered to in various parts of the world where they grow grapes. In other areas, such as Russia, apples or other seasonal fruits are used.
AUGUST 15, Feast of the Dormition (Falling Asleep) of the Most-Holy Virgin Mary. On this day we bring fragrant flowers and herbs to be blessed after the Divine Liturgy.
Holy Tradition tells us that all the Apostles, with the exception of St. Thomas, were transported mystically to Jerusalem in order to be with the Mother of God – the Theotokos – as she reposed, and to be present at her burial. When the Apostle Thomas arrived the next day, the Apostles opened the tomb so that he could kiss her farewell. As the tomb was opened, the body of the Most Pure Virgin was missing, and the cave was filled with flowers and the sweet fragrance of Paradise. This was a sure sign of her great purity and holiness to the faithful. Therefore as part of our celebration of Dormition we bless flowers and fragrant herbs – and the faithful traditionally keep them in their homes. The herbs, used as natural medicine, are blessed in commemoration of the numerous healings and the extraordinary grace bestowed on the pilgrims at the blessed tomb of the Mother of God. During times of family strife or illness, it is a pious custom to place the flower petals in the house censer, together with the incense, and cense the whole house with it.
Focus on the Faith: The 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 barbecues, outdoor activities, and fireworks. On Independence Day, the cause of our celebration is freedom, freedom from a cruel, repressive government, and freedom from a tyrannical king. This freedom is not only about liberation “from,” but also liberation “to.” It means freedom to chart our own course, to work for our own goals, and to reap the fruits of our own labors.
It is common practice in our churches to offer a Prayer Service, a Molieben of Thanksgiving on the “Glorious Fourth,” but here, in the Pacific Central Deanery, it has been our custom for nearly 100 years to make a pilgrimage to Fort Ross and offer the Divine Liturgy there at the chapel in thanksgiving to God for this wonderful country of ours. This year we will celebrate it on July 5, Monday, the official day set aside by the US government. Also it is a holy pilgrimage site because St. Innocent visited here, and perhaps even the youth-martyr Peter the Aleut. Please make an effort to participate!
While this civil holiday may not be found on our ecclesiastical calendars, we can certainly derive some spiritual food from it, right along with our festive foods and ice-cold beverages! The Fourth of July can be an opportunity for us to recall that there is a spiritual struggle for independence that goes on in our lives, and in our hearts, every single day. The tyrannical king is the devil; his cruel government is this fallen world and death; the overwhelming tax burdens and the tax collectors are our sins along with the demons who wait in the aerial toll-houses to accuse us at our death. These are the same demons, who would love nothing more than to find seven buddies, kick the Heavenly King out of our hearts, and replace Him with themselves, as we heard about in the Gospel.
Nothing is better, nothing is more natural to human beings than spiritual freedom. The Lord Jesus Christ said: “If the Son (of God) therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36.) But in order to gain this freedom, this freedom which is only found in Christ, there needs to be a revolution, a revolution in us! Now the word “revolution” literally means to turn around. Isn’t that what repentance is? A turning around? A change of direction? A change of mind? Repentance is a spiritual struggle to turn, a spiritual revolutionary war against the tyranny of evil. Repentance is a noetic rebellion and an ascetic strategy of separation that employs spiritual armaments given to us by the grace of God. St Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: For the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but our weapons have Divine power to pull down strongholds; casting down vain imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and brings into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5.)
So, then, the Fourth of July can serve as a good reminder to us that we need to keep up the struggle and “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12.) It’s only when we let our guard down, relax our efforts and our resolve, that we find ourselves slipping back into the clutches of our Adversary, the King of wickedness, and falling into the tyranny of his cruel and oppressive government.
Stand fast therefore” (says St. Paul) “in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1.)
Lives of Saints
John (Maximovitch) the Wonderworker
Our father among the saints John (Maximovitch), Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco (1896-1966), was a diocesan bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) who served widely from China to France to the United States. He departed this life on June 19 (O.S.) / July 2 (N.S.), 1966, and was officially glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad on July 2, 1994. His glorification was later recognized for universal veneration by the Patriarchate of Moscow on July 2, 2008.
The future St. John was born on June 4, 1896, in the southern Russian village (current day Ukraine) of Adamovka in Kharkov province to pious aristocrats, Boris and Glafira Maximovitch. He was given the baptismal name of Michael, after the Holy Archangel Michael. In his youth, Michael was sickly and had a poor appetite, but he displayed an intense religious interest. He was educated at the Poltava Military School (1907-14), Kharkiv Imperial University, from which he received a law degree (in 1918), and the University of Belgrade (where he completed his theological education in 1925). He and his family fled their country as the Bolshevik revolutionaries descended on the country, emigrating to Yugoslavia. There, he enrolled in the Department of Theology of the University of Belgrade. He was tonsured a monk in 1926 by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kharkov (later the first primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia). Metropolitan Anthony later in 1926 ordained him hierodeacon. Bishop Gabriel of Chelyabinsk ordained him hieromonk on November 21, 1926. Subsequent to his ordination he began an active life of teaching in a Serbian high school and serving, at the request of local Greeks and Macedonians, in the Greek language. With the growth of his popularity, the bishops of the Russian Church Aboard resolved to elevate him to the episcopate.
Hieromonk John was consecrated bishop on May 28, 1934, with Metropolitan Anthony serving as principal consecrator, after which he was assigned to the Diocese of Shanghai. Twelve years later he was named Archbishop of China. Upon his arrival in Shanghai, Bp. John began working to restore unity among the various Orthodox nationalities. In time, he worked to build a large cathedral church that was dedicated to the Surety of Sinners Icon to the Mother of God, with a bell tower and large parish house. Additionally, he inspired many activities: the building churches, hospitals, and orphanages in Shanghai. He was intensely active, constantly praying and serving the daily cycle of services, while also visiting the sick with the Holy Gifts. He often would walk barefooted even in the coldest days. Yet to avoid the appearance of secular glory, he would pretend to act the fool. He gave generously to the needy and served the poor without a thought for his own needs.
With the end of World War II and the coming to power of the Communists in China, Bishop John led the exodus of his community from Shanghai in 1949. Initially, he helped some 5,000 refugees to a camp on the island of Tubabao in the Philippines, while he travelled successfully to Washington, D.C., to lobby for amending the law to allow these refugees to enter the United States. It was while on this trip that Bishop John took time to establish a parish in Washington dedicated to St. John the Forerunner.
In 1951, Archbishop John was assigned to the Archdiocese of Western Europe with his cathedra in Paris. During his time there, he also served as archpastor of the Orthodox Church of France, whose restored Gallican liturgy he studied and then celebrated. He was the principal consecrator of the Orthodox Church of France’s first modern bishop, Jean-Nectaire (Kovalevsky) of Saint-Denis, and ordained to the priesthood the man who would become its second bishop, Germain (Bertrand-Hardy) of Saint-Denis.
In 1962, Archbishop John was assigned to the Diocese of San Francisco, succeeding his longtime friend Archbishop Tikhon. Archbishop John’s days in San Francisco were to prove sorrowful as he attempted to heal the great disunity in his community. He was able to bring peace such that the new cathedral, dedicated to the Joy of all Who Sorrow Icon of the Mother of God, was completed.
Deeply revering St. John of Kronstadt, Archbishop John played an active role in the preparation for his canonization.
He reposed during a visit to Seattle on July 2, 1966, while accompanying a tour of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God. He was laid to rest in a crypt chapel under the main altar of the new cathedral until his canonization, when his relics were placed in the nave.
Quotes from the Fathers: On Freedom
“Some people, by the word freedom, understand it to mean the ability to do whatever one wants … People who have allowed themselves to become slaves of sins, passions, and defilements more often than others appear as zealots of external freedom, wanting to broaden the laws as much as possible. But such a man uses external freedom only to more severely burden himself with inner slavery. True freedom is the active ability of a man, who is not enslaved to sin, who is not pricked by a condemning conscience, to choose the better in the light of God’s truth, and to bring it into actuality with the help of the gracious power of God. This is the freedom from which neither heaven nor earth are restricted.” (St. Philaret of Moscow, Sermon on the Birthday of Emperor Nicholas I, 1851)
“In truth there is only one freedom – the holy freedom of Christ, whereby He freed us from sin, from evil, from the devil. It binds us to God. All other freedoms are illusory, false, that is to say, they are all, in fact, slavery.” (St. Justin Popovich, Ascetical and Theological Chapters, II.36)
SPIRITUAL HEALTH WARNING. . .
Taking a vacation from God over the summer (or anytime, really) is hazardous to your spiritual health!
“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy,” sings Clare in George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.” As the weather warms up, our brains begin to melt and our thoughts fixate on vacation, relaxation, and the “laying aside of all earthly cares.” The problem with this fixation is that we sometimes listen to that “moneychanger of the mind” who encourages us to “lay aside” all spiritual cares as well! It’s an established fact that church attendance plummets in the summer months – not just here at St. Nicholas, but universally. Folks forget to “plan” about “church” in the midst of all their other summertime plans, (about which they are very careful indeed!) But our church attendance, our church giving, our prayer life, our Scripture reading, all of these should also be taken into account as we prepare for our hiatus from work, school, from town, etc.
Like all of life, our spiritual life is lived in a certain rhythm. Over the Church year, with all of its fasts and feasts, a certain momentum is developed in our souls. This momentum is a result of the active presence of the Holy Spirit in us — guiding our decisions, nourishing our souls, and leading us to a personal communion with our Lord Jesus Christ. However, if this momentum is not kept up, all that we have gained begins to get lost. The Christian life is often compared to a spiritual ladder which all of us must climb if we desire to see Christ. I would like to suggest that the Christian life is more like a “descending” escalator which we must “ascend.” Making progress is difficult, but not impossible, because we are aided by the power of God. But as soon as we stop climbing, we immediately begin a rapid descent backwards, down to the very bottom. As a parish priest, I have sadly seen more people than I would like to count who had grown greatly over the winter and spring seasons of the Church year, only to fall right back to square one because they took “time off” from church over the summer. The result of their “breather” was a loss of this Spirit-driven momentum. Like a muscle, when our souls are left inactive they atrophy.
So, if you are going away this summer, go online and find where there may be Orthodox churches near where you will be. If you need help with this, feel free to ask me for assistance. Are you going to Antarctica? No worries! Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church is there for you! If you are going out to the wilderness, or a remote cabin or on a camping trip, take along a Bible and a prayer book; read the prayers and services and celebrate the glory of nature with its Creator. Every day is a “day that the Lord has made”. Every season, every moment of our lives is a gift from God. Any time is a good time to spend with the Lord.
Focus on the Faith: The Feast of Pentecost
By Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann
In the Church’s annual liturgical cycle, Pentecost is “the last and great day.” It is the celebration by the Church of the coming of the Holy Spirit as the end – the achievement and fulfillment – of the entire history of salvation. For the same reason, however, it is also the celebration of the beginning: it is the “birthday” of the Church as the presence among us of the Holy Spirit, of the new life in Christ, of grace, knowledge, adoption to God and holiness.
This double meaning and double joy is revealed to us, first of all, in the very name of the feast. Pentecost in Greek means fifty, and in the sacred biblical symbolism of numbers, the number fifty symbolizes both the fulness of time and that which is beyond time: the Kingdom of God itself. It symbolizes the fulness of time by its first component: 49, which is the fulness of seven (7 x 7): the number of time. And, it symbolizes that which is beyond time by its second component: 49 + 1, this one being the new day, the “day without evening” of God’s eternal Kingdom. With the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Christ’s disciples, the time of salvation, the Divine work of redemption has been completed, the fulness revealed, all gifts bestowed: it belongs to us now to “appropriate” these gifts, to be that which we have become in Christ: participants and citizens of His Kingdom.
The all-night Vigil service begins with a solemn invitation:” Let us celebrate Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, The appointed day of promise, and the fulfillment of hope, The mystery which is as great as it is precious.”
In the coming of the Spirit, the very essence of the Church is revealed:
“The Holy Spirit provides all, Overflows with prophecy, fulfills the priesthood, Has taught wisdom to illiterates, has revealed fishermen as theologians, He brings together the whole council of the Church.”
In the three readings of the Old Testament (Numbers 11:16-17, 24-29; Joel 2:23-32; Ezekiel 36:24-28) we hear the prophecies concerning the Holy Spirit. We are taught that the entire history of mankind was directed towards the day on which God “would pour out His Spirit upon all flesh.” This day has come! All hope, all promises, all expectations have been fulfilled. At the end of the Aposticha hymns, for the first time since Easter, we sing the hymn: “O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth…,” the one with which we inaugurate all our services, all prayers, which is, as it were, the life-breath of the Church, and whose coming to us, whose “descent” upon us in this festal Vigil, is indeed the very experience of the Holy Spirit “coming and abiding in us.”
Having reached its climax, the Vigil continues as an explosion of joy and light for “verily the light of the Comforter has come and illumined the world.” In the Gospel reading (John 20:19-23) the feast is interpreted to us as the feast of the Church, of her divine nature, power and authority. The Lord sends His disciples into the world, as He Himself was sent by His Father. Later, in the antiphons of the Liturgy, we proclaim the universality of the apostles’ preaching, the cosmical significance of the feast, the sanctification of the whole world, the true manifestation of God’s Kingdom.
The liturgical peculiarity of Pentecost is a very special Vespers of the day itself. Usually this service follows immediately the Divine Liturgy, is “added” to it as its own fulfillment. The service begins as a solemn “summing up” of the entire celebration, as its liturgical synthesis. We hold flowers in our hands symbolizing the joy of the eternal spring, inaugurated by the coming of the Holy Spirit. After the festal Entrance, this joy reaches its climax in the singing of the Great Prokeimenon:
“Who is so great a God as our God?”
Then, having reached this climax, we are invited to kneel. This is our first kneeling since Easter. It signifies that after these fifty days of Paschal joy and fulness, of experiencing the Kingdom of God, the Church now is about to begin her pilgrimage through time and history. It is evening again, and the night approaches, during which temptations and failures await us, when, more than anything else, we need Divine help, that presence and power of the Holy Spirit, who has already revealed to us the joyful End, who now will help us in our effort towards fulfillment and salvation.
All this is revealed in the three prayers which the celebrant reads now as we all kneel and listen to him. In the first prayer, we bring to God our repentance, our increased appeal for forgiveness of sins, the first condition for entering into the Kingdom of God.
In the second prayer, we ask the Holy Spirit to help us, to teach us to pray and to follow the true path in the dark and difficult night of our earthly existence. Finally, in the third prayer, we remember all those who have achieved their earthly journey, but who are united with us in the eternal God of Love.
The joy of Easter has been completed and we again have to wait for the dawn of the Eternal Day. Yet, knowing our weakness, humbling ourselves by kneeling, we also know the joy and the power of the Holy Spirit who has come. We know that God is with us, that in Him is our victory.
Thus is completed the feast of Pentecost and we enter “the ordinary time” of the year. Yet, every Sunday now will be called “after Pentecost” – and this means that it is from the power and light of these fifty days that we shall receive our own power, the Divine help in our daily struggle. At Pentecost we decorate our churches with flowers and green branches – for the Church “never grows old, but is always young.” It is an evergreen, everliving Tree of grace and life, of joy and comfort. For the Holy Spirit – “the Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life – comes and abides in us, and cleanses us from all impurity,” and fills our life with meaning, love, faith and hope.
From the Fathers
“The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit share one nature, one essence, one substance. That is why the Three Faces are the Trinity, one-in-substance. Humans also have one nature, one substance.
But while God is the Indivisible Trinity, divisions occur in mankind constantly… The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have common thoughts, common will, common actions. What the Father desires, the Son also desires, and the Holy Spirit also desires. Whatever the Son loves, so do the Father and the Holy Spirit also love. Whatever is pleasing to the Holy Spirit, is pleasing to the Father and Son. Their actions are also common among them, all act in conjunction and in accord.
This is not so with man. We are in constant disagreement, we have differing desires. Even a small child expresses his own wishes, willfulness, disobedience to his loving parents. As he grows older, he separates from them more, and so often in our day becomes completely alienated from them. People simply don’t share identical opinions, on the contrary, there are perpetual divisions in all things, quarrels, and conflicts between individuals, wars between nations.
Adam and Eve, before their Fall, were in full accord and of common spirit with one another at all times. Having sinned, alienation was immediately sensed. Justifying himself before God, Adam blamed Eve. Their sin divided them and continues to divide all of mankind. Emancipated from sin, we approach God, and, filled with His grace, we sense our unity with the rest of mankind. Such unity is very imperfect and lacking since in each person some portion of sin remains. The closer we approach God, the closer we approach each other, just as the closer rays of light are to each other, the closer they are to the Sun. In the coming Kingdom of God, there will be unity, mutual love, and concord. The Holy Trinity remains eternally unchanging, all-perfect, united in essence, and indivisible.
The One, Indivisible Trinity ever remains the Trinity. The Father always remains the Father, the Son remains the Son, the Holy Spirit remains the Holy Spirit. Besides Their personal Properties, They all share all in common and in unity. That is why the Holy Trinity is One God.”
+ St. John Maximovich of Shanghai and San Francisco
“Jesus tells us that His holy Disciples will be more courageous and more understanding when they would be, as the Scripture says, Endowed with power from on high (Luke 24:49), and that when their minds would be illuminated by the torch of the Spirit they would be able to see into all things, even though no longer able to question Him bodily present among them. The Saviour does not say that they would no longer as before need the light of His guidance, but that when they received His Spirit, when He was dwelling in their hearts, they would not be wanting in any good thing, and their minds would be filled with most perfect knowledge.”
+ St. Cyril of Alexandria
“But as the old Confusion of tongues was laudable, when men who were of one language in wickedness and impiety, even as some now venture to be, were building the Tower; for by the confusion of their language the unity of their intention was broken up, and their undertaking destroyed; so much more worthy of praise is the present miraculous one. For being poured from One Spirit upon many men, it brings them again into harmony. And there is a diversity of Gifts, which stands in need of yet another Gift to discern which is the best, where all are praiseworthy.”
+ St. Gregory Nazianzen, Oration on Pentecost
Orthopraxis: How to Celebratre Pentecost at Home
by Fr. Anthony Coniaris
Since Pentecost is the birthday of the Church it can be celebrated in the home by baking a special birthday cake for the Church and serving it as dessert. One candle may be used to represent each 100 years of the Church’s existence. Nineteen or twenty candles may be used. The whole family can sing “Happy Birthday” to the Church and blow the candles out together.
The opportunity may be used to read and discuss the Scripture lessons that are read in Church on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11 and John 7:37-52, 8:12).
A discussion can follow on what the Church is. It is the Body of Christ through which He continues to be present in the world today: to teach us, forgive us, guide us, bless us, strengthen us. After Christ ascended into heaven, He established the Church to carry on His work. When we go to Church on Sunday, we are going to Christ. When we support the Church with our offerings, we are supporting Christ. When we listen to the Church, we are listening to Christ.
The Body of Christ
The Church is called the Body of Christ because just as Christ once used His physical Body to do the work of God in the world, so now He uses His mystical Body, the Church.
On the long high front wall of a church that was just being completed, an artist started painting a picture of Christ as the Good Shepherd. Only the firm brush strokes outlining the head could be seen. A stranger stopped in and asked curiously, “When will the picture be finished?”
A workman replied. ”That picture? It is finished.”
“Finished?” repeated the startled visitor. “Why all it is, is the outline of a head. Most of it is still missing – the eyes, mouth, arms, legs and feet – the whole body is missing!”
“You won’t see that on a wall,” the workman replied. “The body of Christ is the congregation of people who will be worshipping in this church. The Body of Christ is the Church.”
St. Paul writes, “He (Christ) is the head of the body, the Church” (Col. 1:18). St. [John] Chrysostom said, “Christ is the head of the body, but what can the head do without hands, without feet, without eyes, without ears, without a mouth?”
As the Head of the Body, Christ issues orders to the various members. He is the brain; the One in Whom all the fullness of God dwells bodily. What a privilege God bestows on us when He ties us so intimately with Christ and with each other as to make us constitute one Body with Him as the Head. When we meditate on this analogy, we come to look at prayer as the members of the Body (the Church) reporting for duty to the Head (Christ). He continues to be present in the world today.
The Holy Spirit
Finally, parents may explain that Pentecost is the day on which the Holy Spirit came to us in His fullness. On this day we kneel three times during the church service as we pray together with the priest that the same Holy Spirit Who filled the first apostles with God’s presence and power may fill us today with the same power that we may experience the reality of God in our lives.
The Holy Spirit must be constantly attained. He should be received daily. To achieve this, it is necessary to wait prayerfully and expectantly for Him as the apostles did before Pentecost. “All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer…” (Acts 1:14). This kind of prayerful waiting is essential if we are to receive the Holy Spirit.
St. Seraphim of Sarov describes the whole purpose of the Christian life as nothing more than the receiving of the Holy Spirit: “Prayer, fasting, vigils and all other Christian acts, however good they may be in themselves, certainly do not constitute the aim of our Christian life; they are but the indispensable means of attaining that aim. For the true aim of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for fasts, vigils, prayer and almsgiving, and other good works done in the name of Christ, they are only the means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God… [Ed. Note: emphasis mine]. Prayer is always possible for everyone, rich and poor, noble and simple, strong and weak, healthy and suffering, righteous and sinful. Great is the power of prayer; most of all does it bring the Spirit of God and easiest of all is it to exercise.”
It has been said that St. Seraphim in the above words sums up the whole spiritual tradition of the Orthodox Church. For, what is greater than to possess the Holy Spirit? And what is easier than the means by which He comes to us: prayer?
No prayer is complete unless it includes a petition to the Holy Spirit that He come to dwell in us. Thus, through prayer every day becomes Pentecost.
This would be a good time to teach your children one of the best known and most used prayers of the Orthodox Church. Almost every one of our church services begins with it. It is a prayer to the Holy Spirit and should be used often in your family devotions:
O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who are everywhere present and fills all things, Treasury of good gifts and Giver of Life, come and abide in us, and cleanse us of all impurity, and save our souls, 0 Good One.
[Ed. Note: In the Scriptures, Jesus tells His Disciples that He must leave so that the Spirit, the Comforter, can come. This is lived out in the Orthodox Church in the following way: this prayer is not recited between the Feasts of Pascha and Pentecost as we await the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.]
Copies of Making God Real in the Orthodox Christian Home can be purchased from Light & Life Publishing for $10.95 SH. 4818 Park Glen Rd., Minneapolis, MN 55416 / 612-925-3888 / FAX 888-925-3918 / Web site: http://www.light-n-life.com. Excerpt reprinted with permission.
© 1998 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).
URL: http://www.theologic.com/oflweb. This web site is donated and maintained by TheoLogic Systems, which provides software and information tools for Orthodox Christians and parishes world wide.
New Sts Theophan the Recluse and Ignatius Brianchaninov Study Group Forming!
We are reforming our St. Theophan the Recluse Study Group and adding some materials from other modern holy fathers such as St. Ignaty Brianchaninov. These “Modern Fathers” are very good at bridging ancient patristic wisdom to our own time and making the spiritual life easy to understand.. We will meet on Sundays after Liturgy.
Rather than printing the handouts for the group, we will be linking them on a resource page for the group. We will advising what books to get, and will try to get them in our bookstore in advance. The first few weeks we will just be using handouts.
Get all of the information about registering or volunteering for camp at https://www.steugenecamp.org/
Order your Kulich and Pascha Online Now!
The Pascha Bake Sale is now open! You can order your Kulich and Pascha online, and pay now or when you pick-up your order between 11:30AM and 1:00PM on Palm Sunday (4/25/2021).
Deadline to Order: 04/18/21
This is one of the significant fundraisers for the parish, so don’t deprive the parish or yourself of goodies for Pascha!
Click here to send in your order (Or you can go to the website and click “Pascha Bake Sale” on the menu)
Focus on the Faith: Holy and Great Friday, Sermon at the Plaschanitsa (winding sheet)
Everything is different now. Today we forget about ourselves, our jobs, our worries. In the Church’s hymns starting yesterday on Holy Thursday through to tomorrow, Holy Saturday, you won’t find any mention of us miserable wretches, or our corrupted souls, of our defiled anything. The contemplation of Christ envelopes everything. Our attention to this, our attention to Christ, is essential if we want to participate, or derive any grace from this holy day. If we can pay attention, if we can force our minds, wrestle our thoughts, away from this world, away from this time, and this place, we will find ourselves mystically in Jerusalem, 1,987 years ago. Suddenly, the experience of these days becomes a school of life in Christ and a school of life with Christ. We call ourselves Christians, and so we are. But to call ourselves “Christians” is to also declare ourselves “disciples.” After all, the Scriptures confirm this in Acts 11:26 where St Luke reports that “The disciples were called ‘Christians’ first in Antioch.”
On this Great and Holy Friday, we contemporary and unworthy disciples join those sanctified original disciples in two sorrowful and horrific journeys — the path to Golgotha and the procession to the burial cave. These are the objects of our contemplation and our experience today. It is characteristic of the Divine services that they make us participants in those distant and frightful events. In the garden of Gethsemane, our eyes were blinded by torches, a youth wrapped in a cloth hid among trees, and Peter was warming himself by the fire when he was surprised by a cock crow. We peered into Pilate’s window, were surprised by the many-voiced roar of the crowd, the women of Jerusalem were wailing over the beaten and bloodied Sufferer, the thief was forgiven because of the final love entrusted to the Holy One. And two old men and two grief-stricken women found what they feared might be the final shelter for the Homeless One.
How vividly one sees the faces of Christ’s contemporaries, but He Himself is somehow mystically hidden.But did not St. Isaiah foretell this when he said: “many shall be amazed at thee, so shall thy face be without glory from men, and thy glory by the sons of men. Thus shall many nations wonder at him; and kings shall keep their mouths shut: for they to whom no report was brought concerning him, shall see; and they who have not heard, shall consider.” (Is. 52:14-15). Did you notice that in the description of the suffering of the Innocent One, the Prophet doesn’t express a single word of sympathy for Him? Why is this so? Because he doesn’t need to. This is not a moment for artificial emotionalism or sentimentality, but it is a moment for the Holy Spirit Himself to reveal the depths of these divine realities in our hearts. In this moment, all our thoughts and feelings must be engrossed in the awesome wonder of God’s works, which are beyond our comprehension, revealing “the love of Christ, which passeth understanding” (Ephesians 3:19). But we also see human love, don’t we, and it too is worthy of wonder.
We Orthodox Christians always view the Cross and the Grave from from the vantage point of Pascha, don’t we? We know too well the joy of the Resurrection, we live by it. And the solemn order of the Divine services of Passion Week, grand and mournful as they are, are still permeated with the expectation of Pascha. Its hidden joy colors even the Burial Shroud [Epitaphios, Plaschanitsa], the last covering of the Sufferer. For us the Burial Shroud is the banner of the Resurrection and the triumph of life over death and slavery, the banner of freedom and unity with God. But Nicodemus and the Elder Joseph of Arimathaea, the sorrowful women, and the Mother of God were weeping rivers of tears over the bloody cloth, the modest covering of the Dead One. They saw in the Burial Shroud the clothing of the ancient patriarch Joseph which had been wept over by his father Jacob who said: “I will go down into Hades, unto my son, mourning”(Gen. 37:3).
Can we imagine the grief and despair born of love in such a circumstance? Christ was the most beautiful and sacred being in the lives of these people, but they wonder if this death, too, is irreversible; they worry that not even Jesus can overcome it, in spite of His words to the contrary. They see a dead body, mutilated and bloody, and for a moment they forget the words that Jesus spoke at the Last Supper: “This is my body which is broken for you!” (1 Corinthians 11:24). In spite of these doubts, and despite this overwhelming sadness, what is the response of these myrrh-bearers? Nicodemus no longer conceals his faith in Christ. Joseph risks losing everything he has, and gives his tomb to the Righteous One. They have nothing to hope for and nothing to expect, yet their love is stronger than their fear. Even if Christ, the purest and most sacred being they have ever seen in their lives, is dead, they still assume that they must go down into the grave…mourning.
But this is not the meaning or the purpose of this day. Today, God’s overwhelming love toward His children is revealed. Today we join with those noble and courageous disciples, taking down the body of the incarnate God from the Cross, wrapping it in fine linen, anointing it with spices, and placing it in a new tomb. Amen.
From the Fathers
“If he was not flesh, whom did the Jews arrest? And if he was not God, who gave an order to the earth and threw them onto their faces.
If he was not flesh, who was struck with a blow? And if he was not God, who cured the ear that had been cut off by Peter and restored it to its place?
If he was not flesh, who received spitting on his face? And if he was not God, who breathed the Holy Spirit into the faces of his Apostles?
If he was not flesh, who stood before Pilate at the judgement seat? And if he was not God, who made Pilate’s wife afraid by a dream?
If he was not flesh, whose garments did the soldiers strip off and divide? And if he was not God, how was the sun darkened at the cross?
If he was not flesh, who was hung on the cross? And if he was not God, who shook the earth from its foundations?
If he was not flesh, whose hands and feet were transfixed by nails? And if he was not God, how was the veil of the temple rent, the rocks broken and the graves opened?
If he was not flesh, who cried out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me”? And if he was not God, who said “Father, forgive them”?
If he was not flesh, who was hung on a cross with the thieves? And if he was not God, how did he say to the thief, “Today you will be with me in Paradise”?
If he was not flesh, to whom did they offer vinegar and gall? And if he was not God, on hearing whose voice did Hades tremble?
If he was not flesh, whose side did the lance pierce, and blood and water came out? And if he was not God, who smashed to gates of Hades and tear apart it bonds? And at whose command did the imprisoned dead come out?
If he was not flesh, whom did the Apostles see in the upper room? And if he was not God, how did he enter when the doors were shut?
If he was not flesh, the marks of the nails and the lance in whose hands and side did Thomas handle? And if he was not God, to whom did he cry out, “My Lord and my God”?
(St. Efrem the Syrian, Sermon on the Transfiguration)
Orthopraxis: Services of Holy Week & Pascha in the Russian Orthodox Church
“O hills and valleys, the
multitude of men, and all
creation, weep and lament
with me, the Mother of your God.”
Today the grace of the Holy Spirit has gathered us together.
“Today the grace of the Holy Spirit has gathered us together, and we all take up Thy Cross and say: Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.” These words, sung by the Orthodox Church on Palm Sunday, hearken back to the ancient monasteries in Palestine, where the monks would go into the desert to pray and fast alone through the forty days of Lent, and gather again in the monastery on the eve of Palm Sunday in order to celebrate the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord. Today also the Orthodox, after the fast of the Great Lent, put aside their normal daily occupations, some travelling over great distances to be near a church, for these exceptionally holy days, when they become united more closely with the suffering and risen Lord, and thereby draw closer to their fellow members of their parish or community.
The triumph of Palm Sunday was short lived, and we “make haste… from palms and branches… to the solemn and saving celebration of Christ’s Passion.”
During the first three days of Holy Week we remember the teaching given by Christ after His entry into Jerusalem: the discourse about His Second Coming and the parable of the ten virgins (Matt. Ch. 24 and 25), which are reflected in the hymns for these days.
“Behold the bridegroom comes in the middle of the night; and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching…”
“I see Thy bridal chamber adorned O my Saviour, and I have no wedding garment that I may enter therein. Make the robe of my soul to shine, O Giver of Light, and save me.”
We pray for spiritual renewal in the days ahead: “O Bridegroom surpassing all in beauty, Thou hast called us to the spiritual feast of Thy bridal chamber. Strip from me the disfigurement of sin, through participation in Thy sufferings; clothe me in the glorious robe of Thy beauty, and in Thy compassion make me feast with joy at Thy Kingdom.”
On Great Thursday we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, the washing of the disciples’ feet, and the betrayal of Christ by Judas.
Thursday Evening. The Twelve Gospel Readings of the Passion.
This is the matins of Good Friday. A large Cross is placed in the middle of the church. The clergy, in dark vestments, come into the middle and incense the church as the following troparion is sung: “When the glorious disciples were illumined at the Supper by the washing of the feet, then ungodly Judas was darkened by the disease of avarice, and he delivered Thee, the righteous Judge, to lawless judges. See, O lover of money, how for money’s sake he hanged himself. Flee from the greed which made him dare to do such things against his Master. O Lord who art good towards all men, glory to Thee.”
The first Gospel reading is much the longest, being four chapters from S. John’s Gospel in which, after the Last Supper, Our Saviour consoled and strengthened His disciples in the face of the coming trials; “Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.”
Before each Gospel we sing “Glory to Thy Passion, O Lord, Glory to Thee,” and after each, “Glory to Thy longsuffering, O Lord, glory to Thee.”
In the next four readings we hear of the betrayal, trial and mockery endured by the Saviour. Then in the sixth reading we hear how he was nailed to the Cross. “Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the Cross. He who wraps the heaven in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery. The Bridegroom of the Church is transfixed with nails. The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear.”
The Beatitudes are read and we place ourselves in the position of the robber on the cross: “Grant us also the repentance of the thief, O Christ our God, who alone lovest mankind, for we worship Thee with faith and cry to Thee: Remember us also, Saviour, in Thy kingdom.”
The prophetic verse “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” is chanted, then, in the concluding Gospels we hear how the Saviour “gave up the ghost” upon the Cross.
“The whole creation was changed by fear, when it saw Thee, O Christ hanging on the Cross. The sun was darkened and the foundations of the earth were shaken.”
“Thou hast suffered for us and by Thy Passion set us free from passions; in Thy loving self-abasement Thou hast stooped down and raised us up: O almighty Saviour, have mercy on us.”
Friday Afternoon. The Bringing out of the Winding Sheet.
After the usual beginning of vespers, prophesies of Our Lord’s sufferings are read, in particular from the 53rd chapter of Isaiah: “He bears our sins, and is pained for us; yet we accounted him to be in trouble, and in suffering, and in affliction.”
Then, in a long Gospel reading made up of passages from all four evangelists, we hear the account of the Crucifixion for the last time. After this we reach a turning point in the sacred commemorations, as we remember the un-nailing and burial of the Saviour, and turn from the fury of the powers of evil to the quiet grief of the Disciples and all creation.
“Joseph with Nicodemus took Thee down from the Tree, who coverest Thyself with light as with a garment; and looking upon Thee dead, stripped and without burial, in his grief and tender compassion he lamented saying: Woe is me, my sweetest Jesus. . . How shall I bury Thee, my God, How shall I wrap Thee in a winding sheet… O Compassionate Saviour.”
The clergy come out of one of the side doors of the iconostas, bearing above their heads the winding sheet (plaschanitsa or epitaphion), a stiffened piece of fabric on which is depicted an icon of the Saviour’s body as it lay in the tomb. The winding sheet is brought into the middle of the church and laid on the prepared “tomb” as we sing to a slow melody: “Noble Joseph, taking down Thy most pure body from the Tree, wrapped it in clean linen with sweet spices, as he laid it in a new tomb.”
After the dismissal the people come up to venerate the winding sheet, making prostrations to the ground before kissing the wounds on the Saviour’s feet and hands. At the same time the following is sung: ”Come and let us bless Joseph of everlasting memory, who came to Pilate by night and begged for the Life of all: Give me this stranger, who has no place to lay His head. Give me this stranger, whom the evil disciple delivered to death. Give me this stranger, whom His Mother saw hanging on the Cross, and with a mother’s sorrow she cried weeping: Woe is me my Child! Woe is me Light of mine eyes and beloved fruit of my womb! For what Simeon foretold in the temple is come to pass today: a sword pierces my heart; but do Thou change my grief to gladness by Thy Resurrection. We venerate Thy passion, O Christ. We venerate Thy Passion, O Christ. We venerate Thy Passion, O Christ, and Thy Holy Resurrection.”
Friday Evening. The Burial Lamentations.
We now begin the services of Holy Saturday, the “Great and Blessed Sabbath, on which the Only Begotten Son of God rested from His works, keeping Sabbath in the flesh.”
The services of this day combine the opposite feelings of grief and quiet joy at the victory over death and hope in the coming Resurrection. They have been the inspiration of icons such as the one shown on the front of this leaflet. Again “Noble Joseph…” is sung as the clergy come into the centre of the church to begin the burial lamentations before the winding sheet. This is Psalm 118 (which is also read at Orthodox funerals) with special “lamentations” inserted between the verses. “Who will give me water and springs of tears, cried the Virgin Bride of God, that I may weep for my sweet Jesus.”
“O Life, how canst Thou die? How canst Thou dwell in a tomb? Yet Thou dost destroy death’s kingdom and raise the dead from hell.”
“To earth hast Thou come down, O Master, to save Adam: and not finding him on earth, Thou hast descended into hell, seeking him there.”
“All devouring hell received within himself the Rock of Life, and cast forth all the dead that he had swallowed since the beginning of the world.”
The canon, which follows, is one of the most profound hymns of Orthodoxy. “To fill all things with Thy glory, Thou hast gone down into the nethermost parts of the earth: for my person that is in Adam has not been hidden from Thee, but in Thy love for man Thou art buried in the tomb and dost restore me from corruption.”
After the Great Doxology the winding sheet is carried in procession round the church, to the slow singing of “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us.”
This is exactly like an Orthodox funeral procession, but it also signifies that Christ is now proceding through the darkness of hell, announcing to Adam and to all the dead His coming Resurrection, in which they are also called to share. The winding sheet is carried up to the Royal Doors with the exclamation “Wisdom, stand aright” to show that Christ is at the same time God on His Heavenly Throne with the Father and the Spirit.
The winding sheet is returned to the “tomb” in the centre of the church. A prophesy is read from Ezekiel (Ch. 37) pointing to the future general resurrection, in which the Lord showed the prophet a vision of a valley full of dry bones: ”I beheld, lo, the sinews and flesh came up upon them… and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.”
Finally, we are brought back to the present moment by a Gospel reading about the soldiers who “made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.
“Again the faithful come up to venerate the winding sheet, as at the end of vespers, to the singing of “Come and let us bless Joseph of everlasting memory…”
Saturday Morning. Vespers and Liturgy of Saint Basil.
This service is a reverent contemplation of the entire mystery of our salvation, and it is here that we begin the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. The service begins with the clergy still in dark vestments. After the entrance at vespers, 15 Old Testament prophecies are read. We hear the wonderful prophecies of Isaiah: “That there should be given to them that mourn in Zion glory instead of ashes, the oil of joy to the mourners, the garment of glory for the spirit of heaviness: and they shall be called generations of righteousness, the planting of the Lord for glory.”(Ch. 61)
“Shine, shine O Jerusalem, for Thy light is come and the glory of the Lord is risen upon Thee. “ (Ch. 6O) We hear of the three children unharmed in the fiery furnace and, with the Royal Doors opened, we join in their song: “Praise the Lord and exult Him above all for ever.”
After the epistle reading, to the singing of “Arise, O God, judge the earth, for Thou shalt have an inheritance among all nations,” the clergy change from dark to bright vestments, and all the coverings in the church are also changed. The deacon comes out in white vestments and reads the Gospel account of the Resurrection from Saint Matthew, ending with the words “Behold I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
At the great entrance of the liturgy we sing: “Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and stand with fear and trembling; and let it take no thought for any earthly thing. For the King of Kings and Lord of Lords draws near to be sacrificed and given as food the faithful.”
The priest and deacon bring the holy gifts out and carry them round the winding sheet into the altar. The hymn continues, “Before Him go the choirs of angels and all the principalities and powers, the many-eyed cherubim and the six-winged seraphim, which cover their faces as they sing this hymn: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”
After receiving Holy Communion, the faithful are given blessed bread and a cup of wine in memory of the days when this service was held late in the afternoon and the faithful stayed in church until the midnight service, and so needed a little food as sustenance.
Saturday Night. Pascha – the Passover of the Lord.
As the faithful gather again in the evening, the church is in darkness. They venerate the winding sheet for the last time and take turns reading from the Acts of the Apostles. At 11:30pm the midnight office begins. This is a repetition of the canon of Holy Saturday. At the end of the canon the priest comes out and brings the winding sheet into the altar to the singing of the final irmos: “Weep not for Me, O Mother, beholding in the tomb the Son whom thou hast conceived without seed in thy womb. For I shall arise, and shall be glorified, and as God I shall exalt in everlasting glory those who magnify Thee with faith and love.”
Shortly before midnight the clergy in the altar quietly begin the processional hymn: “Thy Resurrection, O Christ our Saviour, the angels hymn in the heavens, grant also to us who are on earth, to glorify Thee with a pure heart.” This is sung softly at first, then more loudly, then it is taken up by the choir and the whole congregation as the clergy come forth from the altar and, preceded by the cross and banners, all go out for the Easter procession carrying lighted candles. This procession symbolises the women who went before the dawn, “bringing sweet spices and ointments” to seek the body of the Saviour. It also symbolises the five wise virgins of the Gospel parable, whose lamps were ready, so that they could enter into the marriage feast.
The procession stops outside the closed doors of the church. The priest intones “Glory to the Holy, Consubstantial, Life-Creating and Undivided Trinity, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.” Then he begins the triumphant Paschal hymn, which is taken up by the choir and people: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”
The priest intones the Paschal verses: “Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered, and let them that hate Him flee from before His face!” Then, singing repeatedly “Christ is risen from the dead…” all enter the church, now brilliantly lit. This symbolises our entrance into the Heavenly Kingdom, made possible by the power of Christ’s Resurrection.
Indeed, the entire Paschal service is a celebration, not only of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead, of which we have already heard at the Liturgy of Holy Saturday, but also of the future Kingdom, of which we are now granted a foretaste, dependent, however, on the extent of our spiritual preparation.
The joyful Paschal canon is sung while the clergy repeatedly cense the church and greet the people “Christ is Risen!”, to which they reply “He is Risen Indeed!” (Khristos Voskrese! Vo-istinu Voskrese!) “It is the day of Resurrection, let us be radiant O ye people. Pascha, the Lord’s Pascha. From death unto life and from earth unto Heaven has Christ our God led us, singing the song of victory.”
“This is the chosen and holy Day, the one King and Lord of Sabbaths, the Feast of Feasts, and the Triumph of Triumphs: wherein let us bless Christ for evermore.” The Paschal sermon of S. John Chrysostom is read and the people greet one another, kissing each other three times, saying, “Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!”
Matins is immediately followed by the Liturgy, at which the Gospel from Saint John, chapter 1 -”In the beginning was the Word…” is read in many languages as a sign of Christ’s truth being proclaimed to all men. In a sense the Liturgy is the most truly Paschal of all the Paschal services, and is understood most profoundly on this day, since in it we are truly united with Christ in Holy Communion, which is the culmination of the Paschal celebration.
“O Christ, the Pascha great and most holy! O wisdom, Word and Power of God! Grant that we may more perfectly partake of Thee, in the day of Thy Kingdom which knoweth no eventide.”
“The “cheese-pascha”, eggs and other special foods are blessed, and the people share a festal meal, breaking the seven week long fast. They depart for their homes bearing in their hearts the joy of the Risen Christ, as the sun rises over the still sleeping city, which has received, unawares, a blessing from the sacred rites which have been celebrated within its precincts. For the entire week after Easter the services repeat the joyous hymns of the Paschal night. The Prayer Book contains the complete text, which may be read or sung by the faithful at home if they are unable to attend these services in church. As we return to our normal life of prayer and work, we are strengthened in our resolve to live as Christ commanded, to pray and struggle to be worthy of Christ’s future Kingdom, of which we have reached a pledge, an annual foretaste of paradise, in the Paschal celebrations.
Upcoming events this month (Events are subject to change! see the online calendar for updates or the attached PDF for more info)
You can now order your Kulich and Pascha online! Order what you want, pay online, or pay when you pick it up!
Items will be available for pickup at the church on Palm Sunday (4/25/21) between 11:30AM and 1:00PM. Other arrangements can be made if necessary, such as before services.
Ordering Deadline is before 04/19/21