May 2023

An Urgent Appeal

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Focus on the Faith

What is a Parish Feast Day?

All Orthodox churches are dedicated to the worship of God, of course, and when Christians first became able to build churches they built them on holy sites associated with events in scripture, the life of Christ, or over the tombs of the martyrs. And if there was no holy site at hand, nonetheless a church would be dedicated in the name of Christ, the Mother of God, a Saint, or an event marked on the church calendar. We continue this tradition to this day. It is interesting to reflect how our church calendar is a sort of memory system, keeping the rich and growing history of God’s self-revelation before our eyes.
In short, our churches always have their own special feast day. This is sometimes called the altar feast, or the parish feast day, or the patronal feast. Churches specifically dedicated to the Holy Trinity, for example, have their feast day at Pentecost. A church dedicated to St. Nicholas (like ours!) might celebrate its feast on December 6 – or, since this date falls in the Nativity Fast, on the ‘Spring Feast’ of St. Nicholas on May 9th. Churches dedicated to the Resurrection do not celebrate their parish feast at Pascha, but on September 13th, the commemoration of the dedication of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. Some churches have double dedications. For example, the famous Russian Cathedral in London, the long-time home of the late Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom), is dedicated to the Mother of God and has its altar feast on the Dormition, but it also has a further dedication to All Saints, and so, the Sunday of All Saints is also a special day for them. It is known as the Cathedral of the Dormition and All Saints.

The celebration of a parish feast ought to be something special, full of prayer and good fellowship. It is kind of like a birthday party. It is something that every parishioner should participate in, giving thanks to God for our place of worship, for His innumerable mercies to us, for the intercession and protection of our Patron and Father Among Saints, Nicholas the Wonder-worker, on our walk through life, for our parish family, and for our family and friends.

Orthodox Quotes

With Christ, Man’s Nature Ascends Also

Archpriest Georges Florovsky

“We who seemed unworthy of the earth, are now raised to heaven,” says Saint John Chrysostom. “We who were unworthy of earthly dominion have been raised to the Kingdom on high, have ascended higher than heaven, have came to occupy the King’s throne, and the same nature from which the angels guarded Paradise, stopped not until it ascended to the throne of the Lord.” By His Ascension the Lord not only opened to man the entrance to heaven, not only appeared before the face of God on our behalf and for our sake, but likewise “transferred man” to the high places. “He honored them He loved by putting them close to the Father.” God quickened and raised us together with Christ, as Saint Paul says, “and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephes. 2:6). Heaven received the inhabitants of the earth. “The First fruits of them that slept” sits now on high, and in Him all creation is summed up and bound together. “The earth rejoices in mystery, and the heavens are filled with joy.”

“The terrible ascent….” Terror-stricken and trembling stand the angelic hosts, contemplating the Ascension of Christ. And trembling they ask each other, “What is this vision? One who is man in appearance ascends in His body higher than the heavens, as God.”

Thus the Service for the Feast of the Ascension depicts the mystery in a poetical language. As on the day of Christ’s Nativity the earth was astonished on beholding God in the flesh, so now the Heavens do tremble and cry out. “The Lord of Hosts, Who reigns over all, Who is Himself the head of all, Who is preeminent in all things, Who has reinstated creation in its former order—He is the King of Glory.” And the heavenly doors are opened: “Open, Oh heavenly gates, and receive God in the flesh.” It is an open allusion to Psalms 24:7-10, now prophetically interpreted. “Lift up your heads, Oh ye gates, and be lifted up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty….” Saint Chrysostom says, “Now the angels have received that for which they have long waited, the archangels see that for which they have long thirsted. They have seen our nature shining on the King’s throne, glistening with glory and eternal beauty…. Therefore they descend in order to see the unusual and marvelous vision: Man appearing in heaven.”


Reading the Psalter over the Departed

In the Orthodox Church of Christ, there is a pious custom of reading the Psalter over the dead body of a monk or a layman (see Novaia Skrizhalj) continuously (except during the time when the funeral or a Panikhida [Memorial Service] is served at the coffin,). Even after the burial, the Psalter may be read for the dead according to a prescribed formula.

Reading the Psalms over the dead is one of those pious institutions of the Church of Christ, which derives from her maternal care for her children, carefully providing for their salvation, from birth to death, and not leaving them even after death. As a fundamental expression of her spirit and to address an essential need of the faithful, this reading of the Psalter over the dead has its beginning in the earliest days of the Church, serving as a prayer to the Lord for the deceased and at the same time giving consolation and edification for the living.

It is itself clear that the Psalms have to be read “with affection and warm compunction, reasonably, with attention, but not struggling like trying to understand the word with the mind”. Therefore it is necessary to be circumspect in the choice of persons with whom to charge the sacred reading. Of course, everyone who is capable of this and understands the sacredness of this ministry can participate in this reading. Especially welcome would be those of the major and minor clergy or monastics who are thoroughly accustomed to chanting the Holy Psalter.

The position of reading the Psalter over the departed is the position of prayer and therefore one needs to stand during this reading, if some special need or disability necessitates, it is possible to replace this position with sitting.

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April 2023

Focus on the Faith

PASCHA by Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

Christ is risen!

My belief in Christ does not come from the opportunity given to me to participate since earliest childhood in the paschal celebration. Rather, Pascha is made possible, that unique night fills with light and joy and such victorious power in the greeting “Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!” because my faith itself was born from experience of the living Christ. How and when was it born? I don’t know, I don’t remember. I only know that every time I open the gospel and read about Christ, read his words, read his teaching, I consciously repeat, with all my heart and being, what was said by those who were sent to arrest Christ but who returned to the Pharisees without him: “No man ever spoke like this man” (Jn. 7:46). Therefore what I know first of all is that Christ’s teaching is alive, and that nothing on earth can be compared with it. And this teaching is about him, about eternal life, about victory over death, about a love that conquers and overcomes death. I know as well that in a life where everything seems so difficult and tiresome, the one constant that never changes and never leaves is this inner awareness that Christ is with me. “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to You” (Jn. 14:18). And he does come and give the feeling of his presence through prayer, through a thrill of soul, through a joy so incomprehensible, yet so very alive, through his mysterious, but again so certain, presence in church during services and in sacraments. This living experience is always growing, this knowledge, this awareness which becomes so obvious that Christ is here and that his word has been fulfilled: whoever loves Me, “I will love him and manifest myself to him Jn. 14:21). And whether I am in a crowd or alone, this certitude of his presence, this power of his word, this joy of faith in him remains with me. This is the only answer and the only proof.

“Why do you seek the living among the dead? Why do you mourn the incorrupt amid corruption?” All Christianity, therefore, is the experience of faith repeated again and again as if for the first time, through its incarnation in rites, words, music, and colors. To the unbeliever, it may indeed seem like a mirage; he hears only words, he sees only incomprehensible ceremonies, and he understands them only outwardly. But for believers, all of this radiates from within, and not as proof of his faith, but as its result, as its life in the world, in the soul, in history. Therefore the darkness and sadness of Holy Friday is for us something real, alive, contemporary; we can cry at the cross and experience everything that took place in that triumph of evil, treachery, cowardice, and betrayal; we can contemplate the life-bearing tomb on Holy Saturday with excitement and hope. And therefore, every year we can celebrate Easter, Pascha, the Resurrection. For Easter is not the remembrance of an event in the past. It is the real encounter in happiness and joy, with him whom our hearts long ago knew and encountered as the life and light of all light. Easter night testifies that Christ is alive and with us, and that we are alive with him. The entire celebration is an invitation to look at the world and life, and to behold the dawning of the mystical day of the Kingdom of light. “Today the scent of Spring begins,” sings the church, “and the new creation exults…” It exults in faith, in love and in hope.

This is the day of resurrection,
Let us be illumined by the feast,
Let us embrace each other,
Let us call “brothers” even those that hate us,
And forgive all by the resurrection,
And so let us cry: Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

Christ is risen!

From the Fathers

“Pascha, the Pascha of the Lord!” By His Resurrection, the Lord has brought us from death to life, and that Resurrection the “Angels in Heaven sing,” [for they have] seen the light of deified human nature in fore-ordained glory in the person of our Lord and Redeemer, in Whose Image and through the power of Whose Resurrection, all true believers in Him, all who have united with Him with all their souls, are transformed. Glory, O Lord, to Thy Most-glorious Resurrection! The Angels sing, rejoicing together with us and foreseeing the swelling of their ranks. O Lord, make us worthy, to hymn Thee, the Resurrected One, with pure hearts, seeing in Thy Resurrection the cessation of our corruption, the seeds of a new resplendent life and the dawn of coming eternal glory whose forerunner Thou becamest, being resurrected for our sake. The tongues of neither men nor angels are capable of expressing Thy ineffable mercy toward us, O most-gloriously Resurrected Lord!

—-St.Theophan the Recluse

Today the Angels leap with joy and all of the Heavenly Powers rejoice, elated because of the salvation of mankind. If because of the repentance of a single person there is joy in Heaven and earth, moreso is this true because of the salivation of the world. Today did Christ liberate the nature of man from the tyranny of the devil and restored it to its previous nobility. (St. John Chrysostom)

“He says: I was dead, and behold, I am alive for, evermore, amen; and you also will be alive forever. This is the meaning of the words of Him Who arose: I am the first and the last; I am He that liveth and was dead for you,”(Revelation 1:18) for your redemption from death, and I; that is: I conquered your death by My innocent death for your sake, and behold, I am also forever and will sit with My Father on His throne; I was not separated from Him, even though I was on earth accomplishing My great work for you who are subject to sin and death. Therefore, do you also, My followers, work and struggle against sin and do righteous deeds, and where I am, there shall My servant be also–that is, in the eternal Kingdom.”

—St. John of Kronstadt

Now since you are celebrating the holy Pascha, you should know, brethren, what the Pascha is. Pascha means the crossing-over, and so the Festival is called by this name. For it was on this day that the Children of Israel crossed over out of Egypt, and the Son of God crossed over from this world to His Father. What gain is it to celebrate unless you imitate Him Whom you worship; that is, unless you cross over from Egypt, that is, from the darkness of evildoing to the light of virtue, from the love of this world to the love of your heavenly home?” (St. Ambrose of Milan)

It is He, the Suffering One, that delivered us from slavery to liberty, from darkness to light, from death to life, from tyranny to eternal royalty; and made us a new priesthood and an eternal people personal to Him. He is the Pascha of our salvation.”

—St. Melito of Sardis


Services of Holy Week and Pascha in the Orthodox Church

The eight days that compromise Holy Week in the Orthodox Church express the spiritual summit of the Church’s liturgical life. The focus on the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ proceeds in a physically, psychologically and spiritually moving series of services that defy the limitations of space and time to bring the Orthodox Christian into the moment of the events commemorated. The elegant beauty of the services so move the faithful that it is not uncommon to see tears flow as people feel themselves mystically participating in the events of the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Lazarus Saturday (the day before Palm Sunday) recalls the last public miracle of Jesus in raising Lazarus from the dead. This act serves as a reassurance that the Passion Jesus Himself will face in the week ahead will not end in death and corruption. The hymnody emphasizes that Christ is fully human and Divine.

Palm Sunday is a celebration of the Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The Vigil Service includes a blessing of palm branches, which are held by the faithful for the remainder of the Vigil and throughout the Divine Liturgy. The hymnody reflects both the raising of Lazarus and the humility of the King who enters Jerusalem on the foal of an ass.

The evenings of Sunday, Monday and Tuesday feature the Bridegroom Matins. (Essentially, all the services for the following week are pushed forward twelve hours to allow more active participation of the faithful. Thus the morning service for Monday is celebrated Sunday evening, etc.) These services focus on the End Times. There is an urgency in the tone of the services as, successively, the innocent suffering of the Patriarch Joseph in the Old Testament, the parable of the Ten Virgins, and the anointing by the sinful woman is brought to mind in anticipation of the events to follow. Of particular beauty is the “Hymn of Kassiani” on Tuesday night, in which the faithful identify themselves with the sinful woman, both repentant and grieving at the suffering Jesus will endure for our salvation.

Wednesday Evening is the often occasion for the Sacrament of Holy Unction. More than a blessing of Holy Oil for the sick, the service functions as a transition from the expectation of the Passion to a spiritual participation in the last days of Christ. The focus is on repentance and the assurance of healing (spiritual as well as physical) through the Person of Jesus Christ. All those who are anointed must be Orthodox Christians, must be sick (soul or body), and MUST have been to Confession, in accordance with Bishop’s Ukaz (decree.)

NOTE: The Unction Service at St. Nicholas will be served the Thursday before Holy Week this year.

On Holy Thursday morning the Vesperal Liturgy of the Last Supper is celebrated (moved from the evening to the morning as noted above). The Gospel Reading is a masterful combination of readings that recount the Last Supper, institution of the Holy Eucharist, and betrayal, arrest, and condemnation of Jesus. The hymnody centers on betrayal of Judas with allusions to the three Old Testament readings which each focus on the innocence of Jesus as a lamb led to the slaughter.

Thursday evening the Matins of the 12 Passion Gospels is served. The complete Passion narratives of each of the Gospels are read to dramatically tell the story of the Passion and Death of Jesus. During the service, the faithful are spiritually transported into the events being described by the carrying of the Cross. A priest exits the Sanctuary with a large cross, which he carries in procession through the Church. The Cross is placed in the center of the temple. An icon of “The Crucified One” corpus is suspended upon the cross. The sense of terror and despair becomes palpable, and it is not uncommon for people to weep at this point. The service continues with a growing sense of dread and grief as the Gospels recount the Death of Jesus. It is during this service that we hear the moving Hymn of Light “The Wise Thief”  as everyone prostrates.

Holy Friday is truly a day of mourning. In the morning the Royal Hoursprovide a meditation on the theme of Christ’s sacrifice for us on the Cross. In the afternoon, the Vespers of the Burial of our Lord Jesus Christ occurs. Prophecies, Readings and Hymns again bring the faithful into the midst of events as the story of the Crucifixion is recounted and death of Jesus is affirmed. At the point of the Gospel narrative wherein Jesus is taken down from the Cross, the priest or acolytes exist the Sanctuary and remove the Icon corpus from the cross, wrap it in a white shroud and slowly take it into the Sanctuary. Again, the silence of the moment can prove overwhelming and often tears are seen on the faces of many. As the service proceeds, the priest emerges again, this time carrying the Plaschanitsa or Epitaphios (a large stiff cloth with the icon image of Jesus being laid in the tomb). The procession ends at a Tomb in the midst of the temple — where the Plaschanitsa  is laid out to be reverenced by the faithful.

On Friday Evening, the faithful gather for the Matins of the Lamentations, or “Praises.” The Church joins with the Angelic Hosts in mourning the death of the Deathless One. The Plaschanitsa is carried in procession in a funeral cortège around the outside of the Church. The sense of desolation reaches a breaking point, as the faithful reverence the Plaschanitsa, and take a flower to remember Jesus.

Holy Saturday begins with the Vesperal Liturgy of the First Proclamation of the Resurrection. The Resurrection is proclaimed with a strong association drawn to Passover and Baptism. Before the Gospel the priest scatters bay (laurel) leaves and/or rose petals throughout the whole church as a sign of Christ’s triumph and victory over death. Traditionally, converts to Orthodoxy are baptized either before or immediately after this service.

The Night of Holy Saturday features the most moving and joyous celebration in the Orthodox Church. The Procession begins with hymns that mount in tension, urging the faithful to watch and wait. The Church grows ever darker until all lights and candles are extinguished. Suddenly, the priest exits the Sanctuary with lighted candles, singing, “Thy resurrection O Christ our Saviour…”” The tension that has been building throughout the week breaks as one by one, candles are lit from the paschal candles, the church suddenly breaking forth into light. Singing the Hymn “Thy Resurrection O Christ our Saviour,” all process outside the Church, the doors are closed. The Matins of the Resurrection begins outside the church with jubilant singing of “Christ is Risen” and incensing of the faithful. When the doors are finally opened the Church is resplendent with all lights on and candles burning. The Royal Doors are open (and remain open throughout Bright Week – the period between Pascha and the Sunday of St. Thomas). Matins concludes in an air of joy and celebration. The clergy and faithful continuously shout “Christ is Risen!” “Indeed, He is Risen!” throughout the remainder of the Service. The usual ending of the service is replaced with the singing of Christ is Risen and the celebration of the Resurrectional Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

Holy Week in the Orthodox Church is more than attending a series of services, it is a week long experience of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The hymnody, readings, and overall arrangement of the services combine to powerfully witness to the central Truth of our Salvation. Those who faithfully participate in the services truly walk the way of the Cross and experience the joy of the Resurrection.

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March, 2023

Orthopraxis – Lenten Govenie

Govenie: The Path of a Virtuous Life

In the St. Theophan Study Group, we are reading “The Spiritual Life and how to be attuned to it” by St. Theophan the Recluse. St. Theophan is one of those 19th century Saints who are especially valuable for us, because he is closer to us in time, understood the modern mindset, and can “translate” the wisdom of the more ancient Holy Fathers for us who are further removed from their time and place.

“The Spiritual Life” is a collection of letters to a young woman who has asked for guidance from St. Theophan. She has been raised in the church, but she is not yet a fully conscious spiritual struggler who has taken responsibility for the actions of her own faith. The saint counsels her in various actions by which she can form a resolve that becomes a center that directs the actions of her life.

One of the activities that St. Theophan instructs her in is Govenie. This is defined as reverential activity during a fast (particularly Lent), by which one focuses a bit more on their spiritual life and preparation to receive the holy mysteries. One traditional time for this is clean week or the first week of Lent. Govenie is made up of time in church, with the penitenital nature of the services (especially the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete), as well as time in prayer and reading at home. Many of us confess and commune regularly, so what is so special about this preparation? It is a time to go a bit deeper, looking more closely at the patterns of thoughts and behaviors, and deepening our resolve to live for Christ. Govenie implies that we are setting aside our normal activities and schedule as much as is possible, and instead, dedicate time to our preparation and repentance. Some of the activities that can be enaged in at this time:

  • A more attentive participation in the church services
  • Extra prayers at home
  • Spiritual Reading that inspires and instructs us
  • A deeper examination of ourselves with the aim to do a complete confession and to form a better resolve to live for Christ – considering how we should conduct ourselves as Chistians.
  • Fasting from both foods, distractions and other passions. Having a measure of stillness so that we can more easily examine our selves and hear the still small voice in our conscience
  • A small non-distracting handcraft to keep us busy in-between.

The above is the ideal. Most of us will struggle to balance such activities with jobs, family responsibilities, energy levels, etc., but we should try to do what we can. You might notice that when you make an effort to do extra spiritual labors, that it seems like resistance and temptations multiply! That is to be expected – we should not be discouraged by the problems that come up, but rather see them as challenges to help us. We might find ourselves becoming more anxious, irritable, discouraged and the like. At those times, we should stop and recognize that these things are valuable to help us know ourselves, and repent more deeply. The temptations and problems are created by the friction that is created when we resist our normal patterns for more spiritual work. When looked at prayerfully, these problems can become fuel for the fire of greater zeal, repentance, self-knowledge, war against the passions and prayer. When these temptations arise, we can stop, look inside ourselves to identify what is happening, and then use the Jesus Prayer to transform our trouble into growth.

Lent is a valuable time to work on our spiritual growth, and Govenie is a toolbox with a good set of tools for spiritual growth. Having washed ourselves with repentance during the fast, we may find our sense of freedom and joy increased when we celebrate the bright resurrection of Christ!

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January, 2023

Focus on the Faith – The Meaning of the word “Orthodox”

The term Orthodox combines the adjective orthos, which means right, correct or true, and the noun doxa, which comes from the verb doxazo, “I hold an opinion,” or “I believe.” Hence “right belief,” or “true doctrine.” But in a deeper sense it also means “right worship,” since doxazo can also mean “I glorify.” It could be said that the term Orthodox was forged as a defense against heretical, or heterodox, teaching which persisted during the formative centuries of the Church. As then, so now, it signifies a framework of theological propositions worked into precise doctrinal formulations, a body of faith and a tradition, that has retained its absolute integrity in the face of the changes and innovations that have occurred within the heterodox “churches.”

The Tradition of Orthodoxy

In short, the Church’s claim to Orthodoxy derives from the conviction that it has received the faith of the Apostles, as contained in both the written and the oral Tradition, as interpreted by the Fathers in council, that is, in consensus, and as lived by the whole Church throughout the ages, fundamentally without change or interpolation.

This conviction is nowhere better expressed than on the first Sunday in Lent, which is known as the “Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy.” The first occasion for this observance was the final restoration of the icons in 843; but it is much more than a triumphant celebration commemorating that or any other particular “victory.” It is rather in the nature of what for a Protestant would be “Reformation Sunday” – except that it celebrates the exact opposite of reform, in that it reaffirms the whole ethos of the Church. Nor is it any longer, happily, merely an occasion when we repeat the ancient and terrible anathemas against the various heresiarchs of the past. Rather it is a reaffirmation of the faith, kept free of heresy and heterodox teachings throughout the great doctrinal controversies. Coming as it does at the start of Great Lent, we might well think of it as the observance of the Church’s self-awareness.

Orthopraxis – Stewardship

The Orthopraxia of Stewardship

“Orthopraxia” means “the practice of living the Orthodox life.” One essential aspect of Orthopraxia is stewardship. Orthodox Christian stewardship is important because Jesus says that the giving of our time, talents and treasure is the path of blessedness (Acts 20: 35). Effectively living and practicing our faith in Jesus Christ through faithful stewardship demonstrates that we truly love God and offer all that we can to the glory of God. Stewardship means that we make an honest effort to focus on the call of Christ to commit ourselves to prayer, to work, and to give, so that the body of Christ, the Church, may live and meet Her mission. St. Paul writes, “It is required in stewards, that a person be found faithful.”(1 Cor.4-2). We must be willing to meet the challenge to strengthen the sacred work of our parish and of the Orthodox Church in America generally.

We support the Church, not because it is a responsibility, but a privilege. True commitment to your Church begins when we give sacrificially. It is “meet and right” that our Orthodox Christian offering be equitable and fair to the Church. A member of the Orthodox Church is one who is baptized and chrismated into the Faith. Membership, however, does not end following our participation in the holy Mysteries of the Church. To be a faithful parishioner, a steward, means that we fulfill the vow made at our baptism to pledge ourselves to Christ, as our King and God!

From the Lives of the Saints

Saints of January

JANUARY 10 – Our Holy Father Theophan the Recluse (1894)

This modern-day Church Father was born in Chernavsk in central Russia. The son of a priest, he entered seminary at a young age, then completed the four-year course in theology at the Academy of Kiev. Though he distinguished himself as a student, his heart turned increasingly toward the monastic life, and he was tonsured a monk and ordained a priest upon completion of his studies. During his time at the Academy he often visited the Lavra of the Caves, and there became a spiritual child of Father Parthenius (March 25).

His desire for monastic life was not fulfilled immediately, for the Church felt need of his intellectual gifts. He served as a professor at the Theological Academy in St Petersburg, then worked for seven years in the Russian Mission to the Near East, mostly in Palestine. During this time he gained a perfect mastery of Greek and studied the works of the Church Fathers in the original languages. Returning to Russia, he was soon consecrated a bishop; but after seven years of episcopal service, he at last achieved his heart’s desire, resigning as bishop and retiring to a small monastery at Yvschen, where he spent the rest of his days.
After taking full part in the liturgical and communal life of the monastery for several years, he took up the life of a recluse in 1872. He lived in two small rooms, subsisting almost entirely on bread and tea, visited only by his confessor and the abbot of the monastery. He celebrated the Divine Liturgy every day in his cell. All of his time not taken up by inner prayer was devoted to translating the works of the Fathers into Russian and, increasingly, to writings of his own. Most importantly, he prepared a Russian-language edition of the Philokalia which had a deep impact upon Russian spiritual life. Though he received no visitors, St Theophan entered into correspondence with many earnest Christians who sought his counsel, and so in time became the spiritual father of many believers throughout Russia. He reposed in peace in 1894.

In addition to the Philokalia, St Theophan produced (among other works): a Spiritual Psalter of selections from St Ephraim the Syrian; The Path to Salvation, an exposition of Orthodox Spirituality written in clear, plain language for those living in the world; collections of his letters to spiritual children; and Unseen Warfare, a treatise on prayer and the ascetical life. This last has an unusual history. In its original form it was written by Lorenzo Scupoli, an Italian Roman Catholic priest. St Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain, recognizing the book’s merit, produced a Greek edition in which he corrected various deviations from Orthodoxy in the original. St Theophan in turn revised the Greek edition extensively, removing some material and adding passages of his own; so that the Italian, Greek and Russian versions are in fact three substantially different books. Many of St Theophan’s works (including Unseen Warfare) are available in good English translations. They are almost unique in presenting the undiluted hesychastic spirituality of the Orthodox Church in plain, straightforward language accessible to most people.

January 12 – Holy Martyr Tatiana (+230)

She was the daughter of a wealthy Roman consul. She became a deaconess in Rome, and was seized as a Christian during the reign of Alexander Severus. Before the tribunal she fearlessly confessed Christ and, when she was taken to the temple in an effort to force her to make sacrifice, she cast down the idols by the power of her prayer. At this, the soldiers seized her and subjected her to many indignities and tortures, finally throwing her into a raging furnace. When this did not harm her, she was thrown to the wild beasts, but they refused to harm her. At last she was beheaded and thus gained her crown.

JANUARY 20 – Holy Martyrs Inna, Pinna and Rimma (1st – 2nd c.)

They were disciples of Saint Andrew the Apostle, the first missionary to the lands north of the Black Sea. They witnessed to Christ around the Danube River and converted many to the Faith. They were arrested and condemned, and died immersed to their necks in icy water.

In the Prologue, St Nikolai Velimirovich describes them as the “first Slavic martyrs mentioned in history.” In ancient martyrologies they are referred to as Scythians, a term applied to the peoples living around the Black Sea in the early Christian era. It is doubtful that they were members of the Slavic people as we understand them today, though it seems that they were the first martyrs in the lands that are now inhabited by the Slavic people.


The St. Theophan the Recluse and St. Ignaty Brianchaninov Study Group resumes on January 10th. This is an online web meeting on Tuesday evening at 7:30PM, with a chat room for extra discussion. Contact Reader John using the contact form on the website (webmaster) if you would like to join in.

Reserve your spot for the Burns Supper Now!

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December, 2022

Focus on the Faith – The Nativity Icon

An Orthodox Christian Church Nativity icon not only depicts the birth of Jesus Christ, but it also tells a story involving doubt, temptation, death and resurrection, the different paths to faith, and mankind’s journey through this world into the afterlife.

At the center, of course, is the child of God, whose birth Christ the Saviour Cathedral in the West End of Johnstown will celebrate on Thursday in accordance with the Julian calendar. But, unlike in Western religious Nativity scenes, he is not shown merely as an adorable baby. Rather, the newborn savior – with adult features – is covered in white cloth that resembles both a swaddling wrap and a burial shroud, while resting in a box that could be a manger or coffin. His birth takes places in a cave, foreshadowing the time he will later spend buried in a tomb during the days between his crucifixion and resurrection.

The Most Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, His mother – is depicted with three stars on her garments. These represent her virginity before, during and after the birth – rests on a traveling bed, symbolizing the journey through this life to heaven. The largest figure in the scene, Mary is looking away from the child, thus inviting others to come to him. Joseph, an elderly man with a gray beard, is off to the side, being tempted by the devil to not believe the miracle that has occurred.

Orthopraxis – Nativity Fast Fasting


Below are the Rules for fasting During the Nativity Fast/Advent. The young, the elderly, pregnant or nursing women, people with medical problems, and those who perform heavy labor jobs are allowed concessions to the strict rules, best to consult with your Father Confessor, parish priest for personal specifics. May the Lord helping, we advance spiritually during this fasting period and joyfully greet the grace filled Holy Days.

The rules prescribed by the Church for the Christmas fast are the same as for the Apostles’ fast. It is clear that meat, butter, milk, eggs, cheese are to be avoided during this fast. The Holy Canons of the Church prescribe that on Monday, Wednesday and Friday during the Christmas fast, fish, wine and oil are not to be consumed and only food without oil is allowed.  On the other days – Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, food with vegetable oil is permitted. Fish during the Christmas fast is allowed on Saturdays and Sundays, as well as on major, and also on temple holidays and the days of the major saints, but only if those holidays fall on Tuesday or Thursday. If the holiday falls on a Wednesday or Friday, it is celebrated with wine and oil. From December 20-24, the fast is intensified and on those days, even on Saturday and Sunday, fish are not blessed to be eaten. I wish pleasant and soul-profitting fasting period to us all!

From the Fathers – On Christmas

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ‘in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

– St. John Chrysostom

Wake up, O human being! For it was for you that God was made man. Rise up and realize it was all for you. Eternal death would have awaited you had He not been born in time. Never would you be freed from your sinful flesh had He not taken to Himself the likeness of sinful flesh. Everlasting would be your misery had He not performed this act of mercy. You would not have come to life again had He not come to die your death. You would have perished had He not come.

– St. Augustine

This is our present Festival; it is this which we are celebrating today, the Coming of God to Man, that we might go forth, or rather (for this is the more proper expression) that we might go back to God – that putting off of the old man, we might put on the new; and that as we died in Adam, so we might live in Christ, being born with Christ and crucified with Him and buried with Him and rising with Him. For I must undergo the beautiful conversion, and as the painful succeeded the more blissful, so must the more blissful come out of the painful. For where sin abounded grace did much more abound; and if a taste condemned us, how much more does the passion of Christ justify us? Therefore let us keep the Feast, not after the manner of a heathen festival, but after a godly sort; not after the way of the world, but in a fashion above the world; not as our own, but as belonging to Him who is ours, or rather as our master’s; not as of weakness, but as of healing; not as of creation, but of re-creation.

– St. Gregory Nazianzus

From the Lives of the Saints

December 4 – Holy Great Martyr Barbara (290)

‘Saint Barbara was from Heliopolis of Phoenicia and lived during the reign of Maximian. She was the daughter of a certain idolater named Dioscorus. When Barbara came of age, she was enlightened in her pure heart and secretly believed in the Holy Trinity. About this time Dioscorus began building a bath-house; before it was finished he was required to go away to attend to certain matters, and in his absence Barbara directed the workmen to build a third window in addition to the two her father had commanded. She also inscribed the sign of the Cross with her finger upon the marble of the bath-house, leaving the saving sign cut as deeply into the marble as if it had been done with an iron tool. When the Synaxarion of Saint Barbara was written, the marble of the bath-house and the cross inscribed by Saint Barbara were still preserved, and many healings were worked there. When Dioscorus returned, he asked why the third window had been added; Barbara began to declare to him the mystery of the Trinity. Because she refused to renounce her faith, Dioscorus tortured Barbara inhumanly, and after subjecting her to many sufferings he beheaded her with his own hands, in the year 290.’ (Great Horologion)

December 6 – Our Father among the Saints Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra (345)

Our beloved holy Father Nicholas is, along with St George (and second to the All-holy Theotokos), probably the best-loved Saint of the Church. His numberless miracles through the ages, on behalf of the countless Christians who have called on him, cannot be told.

He was born in Lycia (in Asia Minor) around the end of the third century, to pious Christian parents. His love of virtue, and his zeal for observing the canons of the Church, were evident from his infancy, when he would abstain from his mother’s breast every Wednesday and Friday until the evening. From early youth he was inclined to solitude and silence; in fact, not a single written or spoken word of the Saint has come down to us. Though ordained a priest by his uncle, Archbishop Nicholas, he attempted to withdraw to a hermit’s life in the Holy Land; but he was told by revelation that he was to return home to serve the Church publicly and be the salvation of many souls. When his parents died, he gave away all of his inheritance to the needy, and thereafter almsgiving was his greatest glory. He always took particular care that his charity be done in secret. Perhaps the most famous story of his open-handedness concerns a debt-ridden man who had no money to provide dowries for his daughters, or even to support them, and in despair had resolved to give them into prostitution. On three successive nights the Saint threw a bag of gold into the window of the man’s house, saving him and his daughters from sin and hopelessness. The man searched relentlessly to find and thank his benefactor; when at last he discovered that it was Nicholas, the Saint made him promise not to reveal the good deed until after he had died. (This story may be the thin thread that connects the Saint with the modern-day Santa Claus). God honored his faithfulness by granting him unparalleled gifts of healing and wonderworking. Several times he calmed storms by his prayers and saved the ship that he was sailing in. Through the centuries he has often done the same for sailors who call out to him, and is considered the patron of sailors and all who go to sea. He was elected Bishop of Myra not long before the great persecutions under Diocletian and Maximian (c. 305), and was put in prison, from which he continued to encourage his flock in the Faith. When the Arian heresy wracked the Church not long after Constantine came to the throne, St Nicholas was one of the 318 Bishops who gathered in Nicea in 325. There he was so incensed at the blasphemies of Arius that he struck him on the face. This put the other bishops in a quandary, since the canons require that any hierarch who strikes anyone must be deposed. Sadly, they prepared to depose the holy Nicholas; but in the night the Lord Jesus and the most Holy Theotokos appeared to them, telling them that the Saint had acted solely out of love for Truth, not from hatred or passion, and that they should not act against him. While still in the flesh, he sometimes miraculously appeared in distant places to save the lives of the faithful. He once saved the city of Myra from famine by appearing to the captain of a ship full of grain, telling him to take his cargo to the city. He appeared in a dream to Constantine to intercede for the lives of three Roman officers who had been falsely condemned; the three grateful soldiers later became monks. The holy bishop reposed in peace around 345. His holy relics were placed in a church built in his honor in Myra, where they were venerated by throngs of pilgrims every year. In 1087, after Myra was conquered by the Saracens, the Saint’s relics were translated to Bari in southern Italy, where they are venerated today. Every year, quantities of fragrant myrrh are gathered from the casket containing his holy relics.

December 12 –  Our Holy God-bearing Father Spyridon the Wonderworker (348).

He was a humble shepherd who lived on the island of Cyprus with his wife and his one child, a daughter named Irene. Though he was poor himself, his house and table were always open to travelers and those in need. He kept his money in a box which he left open and available to all, not concerning himself with who took from it or whether they were deserving or not. In time, his wife died and, with less worldly cares, he redoubled his prayers and his almsgiving. He became so well-loved on the island that, when the bishop of the town of Tremithos died, the faithful unanimously chose Spyridon to succeed him, and he thus became a shepherd of rational sheep as well as the beasts he had tended. Despite his sudden elevation in rank, he kept to his former manner of life, traveling everywhere on foot, tending his animals as before, while fulfilling all the duties of a bishop as well. (To portray this godly humility, his icon shows him wearing bishop’s vestments and a peasant’s woven straw hat.) His compassion for others was boundless. Though he was very strict with himself, he would always break a fast to give comfort to a traveler. Once a band of robbers broke into his sheepfold by night, but found themselves confined there by an invisible force. When Spyridon found them in the morning, he freed them, admonished them to live honestly, and gave them two sheep in compensation, he said, for their keeping an all-night vigil. Pages could be filled with stories of the miracles wrought by the holy bishop for the good of his flock: by his prayers he ended a drought, turned a snake to gold to help a poor man, and even raised the dead son of a poor widow. His radiant virtue touched the consciences of those he met so that many would spontaneously fall at his feet and confess their sins. When the Emperor Constantine summoned the First Ecumenical Council in 325, Spyridon attended, dressed in his simple peasant’s garb. At one of the sessions, a proud Arian philosopher challenged the Orthodox to a debate about the Holy Trinity, and was amazed when the simple Spyridon stepped forward to accept the challenge. He and all the other bishops were far more amazed when the uneducated peasant bishop confounded all the Arian’s arguments with his eloquent, Spirit-inspired words. The humbled philosopher admitted that he was convinced, embraced the Orthodox faith, and called upon the other Arians to abandon their human wisdom and embrace the true and life-giving Faith. The holy bishop always celebrated the Divine Liturgy with joy. Once, serving in a remote, almost empty church, he turned to the invisible congregation and said “Peace be unto all!”, and his disciple heard a choir of angels respond “And with thy spirit!” Saint Spyridon reposed in peace in 348 at the age of seventy-eight. His incorrupt and wonder-working relics poured forth miracles for the people of Cyprus until the seventh century, when they were moved to Constantinople to escape the Arab invasion; when the City fell to the Turks, the relics were again moved to Corfu, where they are venerated to this day. Even after 1,500 years, the holy relics remain incorrupt and work many life-giving wonders. Saint Spyridon is venerated as the Patron of Corfu.

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