March, 2022


Focus on the Faith

The Lenten Services – Fr. Thomas Hopko

The weekday services of Great Lent are characterized by special lenten melodies of a penitential character. The royal gates to the altar area remain closed to signify man’s separation through sin from the Kingdom of God. The church vesting is of a somber color, usually purple. The daily troparia are also of an intercessory character, entreating God through his saints to have mercy on us sinners.

At the Matins the long Alleluia replaces the psalm: “The Lord is God” . . . the Psalmody is increased. The hymnology refers to the lenten effort. Scripture readings from Genesis and Proverbs are added to Vespers, and the Prophecy of Isaiah to the Sixth Hour. Each of these books is read nearly in its entirety during the lenten period. Epistle and gospel readings are absent because there are no Divine Liturgies.

At all of the lenten services the Prayer of Saint Ephraim of Syria is read. It supplicates God for those virtues especially necessary to the Christian life.

“O Lord and Master of my life: take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power and idle talk. But grant rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. Amen.”

The Vespers service which begins the lenten season is called the Vespers of Forgiveness. It is customary at this service for the faithful to ask forgiveness and to forgive each other. At the Compline services of the first week of lent the Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete is read. This is a long series of penitential verses based on Biblical themes, to each of which the people respond: Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me. This canon is repeated at Matins on Thursday of the fifth week.

On Friday evening of this same fifth week, the Akathistos Hymn to the Mother of God is sung; and the Saturday Divine Liturgy also honors the Theotokos.

The first Saturday of Great Lent is dedicated to the memory of Saint Theodore the Recruit. The second, third, and fourth Saturdays are called Memorial Saturdays since they are dedicated to the remembrance of the dead.

On Memorial Saturdays the liturgical hymns pray universally for all of the departed, and the Matins for the dead, popularly called the parastasis or panikhida, is served with specific mention of the deceased by name. Litanies and prayers are also added to the Divine Liturgy at which the scripture readings refer to the dead and their salvation by Christ.

Saturday, even during the non-lenten season, is the Church’s day for remembering the dead. This is so because Saturday, the Sabbath Day, stands as the day which God blessed for life in this world. Because of sin, however, this day now symbolizes all of earthly life as naturally fulfilled in death. Even Christ the Lord lay dead on the Sabbath Day, “resting from all of his works” and “trampling down death by death.” Thus, in the New Testament Church of Christ, Saturday becomes the proper day for remembering the dead and for offering prayers for their eternal salvation.

The Feast of Annunciation

On the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25)

The Feast of the Annunciation is a very important feast of the Faith. Did you ever stop and think about why that is true? Why is the Annunciation one of the twelve great feasts of the Church? Let us take a moment to think about what happened at the Annunciation, so that we can be better prepared to lead our family in celebrating this great feast.

When we stop and think about it, we can see that each part of this event is notable of its own accord, and together, all are essential for our salvation. It began when the Angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she had been chosen by God to bear His Son. The fact that this angel appeared shows that the event was significant, for he is sent whenever God has an important message to convey. God’s selection of Mary to become the Mother of God is a critical part of the event, since she was a holy young lady who had consecrated her life to God’s service. Her agreement, “Let it be to me as you say,” is a vitally important piece as well, because it simultaneously demonstrates Mary’s humility before God and her willingness to obey. Also noteworthy is the fact that this event marks the moment in history when a person became the first Christian, for after the Annunciation, the Theotokos truly had Christ living within her. But the most significant aspect of the Annunciation is in what it announces; what came about as a result of both the announcement and the ensuing humble submission to God’s will. And that is this; at the Annunciation, God Himself became human. This mystery is both mind-boggling and crucial. Christ’s taking on flesh and dwelling among us was necessary so that He could die, break well. What humility! What love!

After giving it a little thought, we can see that the Feast of the Annunciation is truly a big deal for so many reasons! Even the other feasts of the church year would not exist without it! In addition, March 25 falls exactly nine months before Christmas, and is therefore the date of the Annunciation. How wonderfully not-so-coincidental it is that the date of this Feast falls right in the midst of Great Lent each year, for it reminds us of Christ’s humility and the Virgins’ obedience. Both humility and obedience are things that we are working on in our own lives, especially during Great Lent! The Annunciation reminds us of what God can do when both are exercised perfectly. Let us accordingly prepare our family to celebrate this great feast!

“Today is the beginning of our salvation, and the manifestation of the mystery from the ages; for the Son of God becometh the Son of the Virgin, and Gabriel proclaimeth grace. Wherefore, do we shout with him to the Theotokos: Rejoice, O full of grace! The Lord is with thee.” ~ Apolytikion of the Annunciation

Blessed Feast of the Annunciation!

From the Fathers

Excerpt from the Homily on the Annunciation, by St. John Chrysostom

Again, tidings of joy, again messages of freedom, again calling back, again return, again voice of rejoicing, again driving back of slavery. An angel speaks with a virgin because a woman spoke to a serpent. “In the sixth month”, as it is written, “The Angel Gabriel was sent by God to a virgin betrothed to a man.” Gabriel was sent with the message of universal salvation. Gabriel was sent, bringing the writ of the recall of Adam. Gabriel was sent to the Virgin, that the dishonor of womanhood might be transformed into honor. Gabriel was sent, as is worthy, to rejoice at the pure chamber of the Bridegroom. Gabriel was sent, and the Creator is betrothed to His creation. Gabriel was sent to the spiritual palace of the King of the Angels. Gabriel was sent to a virgin, who though betrothed to Joseph, will bear the Son. The bodiless servant was sent to the spotless Virgin. Sin was sent free towards corruption by the inviolate one. The lamp was sent to tell of the Sun of Righteousness. The morning star precedes the light of day. Gabriel was sent to relate of Him Who is in the bosom of the Father, and in the arms of His Mother. Gabriel was sent to show Him Who is on the throne and in the cave. The solider was sent to cry out the mystery of the King. We know this is a mystery through faith, not one that can be studied in various ways. We venerate the mystery, not a joining together. We theologize a mystery, not a study. We confess a mystery, we do no count it. “In the sixth month, Gabriel was sent to a virgin…”

And he [the Archangel] received all the commandments like these [from the Lord]: “Come, O Angel, become a servant of this awesome mystery. Serve this hidden wonder, as an answer to fallen Adam, who will come under my compassion. Sin has made he that is fashioned in my image to grow old, and has soiled my creation, and has darkened where I created beauty. The wolf has scattered my flock. The dwelling place of Paradise has become a desert. The Tree of Life is guarded by the flaming sword, and the place of nourishment is closed. I have mercy on him who was attacked, and I wish to make war with him who fought against him [i.e., the devil]. I wish for all of the heavenly powers to know, but to you alone I impart the mystery. Go to the Virgin Mary, go to the Spiritual Gate, of which the Prophet said: “Glorious things have been said of you, O City of God.” Go to my Rational Paradise. Go to the Eastern City. Go to her who is the worthy dwelling-place of the Word. Go to the second Heaven on earth. Go to the Light Cloud. Tell her of my coming, the Thunderstorm. Go to her who is my prepared holy place. Go to the Bridal Chamber of my incarnation. Go to the pure Bridal Chamber of my nativity in the flesh. Speak to the ears of this rational Ark, to prepare the entrance of my hearing. But do not be fearsome, do not trouble the soul of the Virgin…First cry out to her with a voice of joy, and tell Mariam: “Hail, O Full-of-grace,” that I might have mercy on Eve, who is full-of-shame.”

The Angel [Gabriel], having heard what was spoken to him, said: “Strange is this thing, surpassing every thought to speak. He Who is awesome to the Cherubim, and invisible to the Seraphim, He Who is incomprehensible to all the Angelic Powers, is proclaimed to become nature!”

…But having truly all of this, the Physician has come to the sick, and the Sun of Righteousness has dawned for those who sat in darkness, the Anchor and Calm Harbor to those storm-tossed, the Intercessor has been born for the despised slaves, and peace has been united, and the Redeemer of captives has come, the strong unspeakable Joy and Love and Protection has come for those who are embattled. He is our peace, as the divine Apostle says, through Whom we have all received grace, Christ our God, to Whom belong glory to the ages of ages. Amen.

Upcoming Events

Upcoming events this month are in the online calendar, which you can subscribe to on your phone or tablet. Use the print button on the calendar to print a copy.

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February, 2022


Focus on the Faith

THEOSIS: The Purpose of the Christian Life

“For the Son of God became man so that we might become god” – St Athanasius the Great

How do we Orthodox Christians understand the above quote by Athanasius, the fourth-century bishop of Alexandria? It sounds a bit preposterous to the average western Christian. Becoming a god? Isn’t that what the Mormons promise themselves after a lifetime of taking part in temple ordinances and by putting on their special “sacred underwear”? But strange as it may sound to some ears, this doctrine has been at the heart of Orthodox Christian theology and spiritual practice for its entire 2,000-year history.

Let’s clarify straightaway some things that theosis is not. Theosis is not the same as pantheism. The essence of our human nature is not replaced by divine nature. As Bishop Kallistos Ware puts it, “we are able to affirm a direct or mystical union between man and God… but at the same time we exclude any pantheistic identification between the two: for man participates in the energies of God, not the essence. There is union, but not fusion or confusion. Although “united” with the divine, man still remains man; he is not swallowed up or annihilated, but between him and God there continues always to exist an “I-Thou” relationship of person to person.” (The Orthodox Way, p. 23) Theosis means that human beings can “become by grace what God is by nature.” (Athanasius, De Incarnatione I) How can this be? Well, we become “God-like” through perfection in holiness, the continuous process of acquiring the Holy Spirit by grace through ascetical efforts. This is what the holy fathers call “podvig” or spiritual and physical struggle against the sinful inclinations of the flesh and the promptings of the devil. It means a cleansing of the heart by vigilance, prayers, and fasting. As Psalm 4:18 says: “The path of the righteous is as the shining light, that shines more and more to the perfect day.”

The doctrine of theosis–also known as deification, divinization, or partaking of the divine nature–is scripturally rooted first in the Old Testament, in Psalm 82:6, “Now I say to you, you are gods, and all of you, children of the Most High;’” and then in the New Testament in 2 Peter 1:4, “He has given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world.” St. Gregory Palamas, the great 14th century pillar of the church and defender of the doctrine of theosis, affirmed the possibility of humanity’s union with God in His energies, while also affirming that because of God’s transcendence and utter otherness, it is impossible for any person to know or to be united with God’s essence. However, through faith and activity (praxis) we can attain an Orthodox “phronema,” which is a Greek word meaning an Orthodox mindset or outlook; it is ultimately what St. Paul refers to as “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:6; Philip. 2:5).

The journey towards theosis includes many forms of praxis. Living in the community of the church and partaking regularly of the sacraments, and especially Confession and Communion, is taken for granted. Also important is cultivating the “prayer of the heart,” or “unceasing prayer” that St. Paul recommends in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. This unceasing prayer of the heart is a dominant theme in the writings of many of the Church Fathers, especially in those collected in the Philokalia (Добротолюбие). For us Orthodox Christians “Theosis” IS salvation.

Lives of the Saints Commemorated in February

Holy Martyrs Perpetua and Felicity, and those with them at Carthage (203) – February 1

Perpetua, Felicity, Saturus, Saturninus, Secundus and Revocatus were all young catechumens living near Carthage. Perpetua was of noble birth; Felicity (Felicitas) was her slave. All were arrested under Emperor Valerian’s persecution and sent to Carthage. Perpetua had a young child still at the breast, which she asked to take with her.

The holy martyrs appeared before the tribunal and joyfully received their sentence of condemnation to be thrown to the wild beasts in the arena. Felicity, who was eight months pregnant, was concerned that her martyrdom might be postponed because of her pregnancy, but at the prayers of her friends, she went into labor three days before the games. As she groaned in labor, a jailer mocked her, telling her that the pain she felt was nothing to the pain that she would feel in the arena. The Saint replied, ‘Here I suffer for myself; then there will be Another with me, who will suffer with me; and my sufferings will be for Him!’ When she gave birth, she entrusted her newborn child to the care of a Christian couple and prepared for her end. On the day of the games, the brothers and sisters in Christ entered the arena together. The men were soon killed by the beasts, but Perpetua and Felicity, though mauled, remained alive. The impatient persecutors ordered that they be beheaded. Walking to the center of the arena, the two spiritual sisters exchanged the kiss of peace and gave up their souls to God.

Our Holy Mother Brigid of Kildare (524) – February 1

Her name is also spelled Brigit or Bridget; she is considered, equally with St Patrick (March 17), patron of Ireland. She was born in Ulster of a noble Irish family which had been converted by St Patrick. She was uncommonly beautiful, and her father planned to marry her to the King of Ulster. But at the age of sixteen she asked her Lord Jesus Christ to make her unattractive, so that no one would marry her and she could devote herself to Him alone. Soon she lost an eye and was allowed to enter a monastery. On the day that she took monastic vows, she was miraculously healed and her original beauty restored. Near Dublin she built herself a cell under an oak tree, which was called Kill-dara, or Cell of the Oak. Soon seven other young women joined her and established the monastery of Kill-dara, which in time became the cathedral city of Kildare. The monastery grew rapidly and became a double monastery with both men’s and women’s settlements, with the Abbess ranking above the Abbot; from it several other monasteries were planted throughout Ireland. (Combined men’s and women’s monastic communities are virtually unknown in the east, but were common in the golden age of the Irish Church). The Saint predicted the day of her death and fell asleep in peace in 524, leaving a monastic Rule to govern all the monasteries under her care. During the Middle Ages her veneration spread throughout Europe.

Holy Martyr Agatha of Palermo in Sicily (251) – February 5

She is one of the best loved and most venerated Martyrs of the West. She was born to a noble family in Catania or Palermo in Sicily. At an early age she consecrated herself to the Lord and, though very beautiful, sought only to adorn herself with the virtues. During the persecution under Decius (251), she was arrested as a Christian; at this time she was about fifteen years old. Quintinian, the Governor of Sicily, was taken by her beauty and offered to marry her, thinking in that way not only to possess her body but her riches as well. When she spurned his advances, and continued to mock the idols, he grew angry and decided to have her tortured. She was gruesomely tormented and cast bleeding into a dungeon to die; but in the night her Guardian Angel brought the Apostle Peter to her, and he healed her wounds. The following day, the Governor ordered that she be subjected to further torments, but at his words the city was shaken by an earthquake and part of the palace collapsed. The terrified people stormed the palace and demanded that Agatha be released, lest they be subject to the wrath of her God. The Saint was returned to her prison cell, where in response to her prayers she was allowed to give up her soul to God. At Agatha’s burial, attended by many, her Guardian Angel appeared and placed a marble slab on her tomb, inscribed with the words ‘A righteous mind, self- determining, honor from God, the deliverance of her fatherland.’ Quintinian died soon thereafter, thrown from his chariot. On the first anniversary of Agatha’s death, Mt Etna erupted and Catania was about to be engulfed in lava. Christians and pagans together, remembering the inscription on her tomb, took the slab from the tomb and bore it like a shield to the river of lava, which was immediately stopped. The same miracle has happened many times in the following centuries, and Saint Agatha is venerated as the Protectress of Catania and Sicily, loved and honored by Christians of the East and the West.

Orthopraxis

What is the Triodion?

The Triodion is the service book of the Orthodox Church that provides the texts for the divine services for the pre-Lenten weeks of preparation, the Great and Holy Fast, and Holy Week. The “Lenten Triodion” is the title of a classic and popular English language translation of the same with an extensive and helpful introduction by Metropolitan Kallistos and Mother Mary. It provides many (but not all) of the texts necessary to celebrate the services of the Great Fast. In Greek the book is simply called the Triodion. In Slavonic it is called “Триодь постная,” or “Triod Postnaya,” meaning the Triodion of the Fast. It is called the triodion because of the three-ode canons appointed for Matins during this period.

The weeks of preparation, and especially the Sunday gospel readings, serve to exercise the mind, whereas the fasting of Great Lent focuses on the body, and Holy Week’s services exercise the spirit.

Upcoming Events

Upcoming events this month are in the online calendar, which you can subscribe to on your phone or tablet. Use the print button on the calendar to print a copy.

Click below to print a copy of this newsletter:

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January, 2022


Focus on the Faith

New Year Looks to Theophany

The New Year is upon us. Let us rejoice and be glad that 2021 is behind us!
In the first week of January we have three celebrations: The Circumcision of Christ, St. Basil the Great, and the Sunday before Theophany. In the ancient church, Theophany was regarded as more important than Christ’s Nativity. How can that be? Because at Christ’s birth the announcement is made of God’s coming into the world for it’s restoration. At Theophany, that work of restoration, actually begins!

St. Paul has written: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8: 19-23.)

We, as Christians, are engaged in this struggle as co-workers with God, to reclaim the fallen world and fallen nature for the Kingdom. We often talk about this in terms of our own salvation, but the Church, addressing all of creation in a holistic manner, also reaches out and reclaims a bit here and a bit there of creation in general. We do this in order that we might restore the usefulness of creation for working out our own salvation. Hence, we bless anything that might help us in our salvation – and by blessing it we reclaim it for the Kingdom of God. We bless water, we bless grapes and fruit, we bless cheese, eggs, meat, we bless wheat wine and oil, we bless all kinds of things, reclaiming them for sacred use, reclaiming them for God’s Kingdom.

There are few things more vital to our lives than our homes. In our homes we pray, we work, we rest, we sleep, we converse with loved ones, we order our lives, we work out our marriages, raise our children, etc. Is there a more important place for us to reclaim for the Kingdom of God ?- or is it better to continue living in a place which is occupied and influenced by the enemy? For the most effective working out of our salvation, we should drive the enemy out of our homes, and keep him at bay by our prayers, our righteous life, and the annual sprinkling by Holy Water at Theophany. Hence this annual and salutary rite of the blessing of homes at Theophany.”

From the Holy Fathers and Mothers

St. John Chrysostom on the New Year (Excerpt)

“Whether you eat, whether you drink, whether you do some other thing, do all for the glory of God” [1 Cor. 10:31]. If we pray, if we fast, if we accuse, if we pardon, if we praise, if we censure, if we enter, if we exit, if we sell, if we buy, if we are silent, if we converse, if we do any thing else whatsoever, let us do all for the glory of God, and if something be not for the glory of God, neither let it be done, nor be spoken by us; but in place of a great staff, in place of arms and safeguard, in place of unspeakable treasures, wherever we might be, let us carry around this word with us, having inscribed it upon our understanding, so that doing and speaking and trafficking all things for the glory of God, we shall obtain the glory that is from him both in this world and after the journey here [i.e. after this life]. “For those that glorified me”, he says, “I will glorify” (1 Kingdoms 2:30 LXX). Not therefore with words, but also through deeds let us glorify him continually with Christ our God, because all glory befits him, honor and worship, now and always unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Orthopraxis

Theophany House Blessings

Houses are traditionally blessed with “Theophany water” each year. A house can be blessed at any time, but the usual season for yearly blessings is from Theophany until the beginning of the Lenten Triodion, which begins four Sundays before Great Lent begins. This is not a hard and fast rule, but a good rule of thumb.

Normally, we would ask you to sign up for Fr. Basil’s House Blessing List, but due to COVID and other factors, here instead, are intructions for a DIY house blessing!

What you will need

  • Holy Water (preferably that which was blessed on Theophany)
  • A “krupilla” (brush for dispersing the holy water) – you can use a clipping of rosemary or basil. You can also use the “brush” end of a prayer rope.
  • A bowl or other vessel for the water
  • Candles lit in your icon corner, with the family Theophany icon if you have one

 

Bless the House

The bowl and icon should be placed on a clean table with a cloth on it, preferably near the family icon corner. It is good for candles to be lit. The house should be clean, with all radios and televisions off.

Lights should be “on” and doors opened. The procession for the house blessing should be led by the eldest member of the house. In homes with children, it is always good for the little ones to carry an icon or a small cross and participate in the procession.

The basic order for a simple home blessing is as follows:

  1. The bowl of water, icon and lit candles are placed on a clean table. IF there is a censer, it may be lit.
  2. Begin with the Trisagion prayers as in the prayer book (O Heavenly King through the “Our Father”)
  3. Process through the entire house, sprinkling holy water on all of the walls and suitable objects while singing the Theophany Troparion repeatedly:

Tone 1: When Thou, O Lord wast baptized in the Jordan, / the worship of the Trinity was made manifest; / for the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee, / and called Thee His beloved Son. / And the Spirit in the form of a dove / confirmed the truthfulness of His word. / O Christ our God, Who hast appeared unto us // and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee.(It is a very good idea for the family to sing this troparion, and know it by heart.)

  1. Upon finishing blessing the house, the family gathers again at the table, and the senior family member should pray for all members of the family, e.g.”O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, for the sake of the prayers of Thy most pure Mother, our holy and God-bearing fathers, and all the saints, have mercy on us and save us (names), for Thou art good and the Lover of mankind.””
  2. After this a short prayer:
    “Through the prayers of our holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us.” and the service is ended:

Upcoming Events

Upcoming events this month are in the attached PDF calendar (Events are subject to change! see the online calendar for updates or the attached PDF for more info).

 

December, 2021


Focus on the Faith

BEHOLD, I STAND AT THE DOOR

There is an amusing story, written by Matthew Kelly, which goes something like this: “ A parish priest had the custom of visiting his parishioners on Saturday afternoons. He came to one home and knocked on the door. No one answered, but he could hear the radio playing and even some footsteps so he knew someone had to be inside. He knocked louder. No one came. Finally, he pounded on the door, but got no response. So he took out a business card, wrote a Bible verse on it and stuck it in the door.

Ten minutes later a lady – who had been in the house all the time – opened the door. When she did, the card fell out. She saw the priest’s name and the Bible verse: Revelation 3:20. Curious, she got out her Bible and read the verse. It said: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”

Well, on Sunday morning the priest noticed his business card was in the collection basket. When he picked it up, he saw that his verse was crossed out and replaced by Genesis 3:10. The priest was curious so he went to the sacristy and got out his Bible. The verse said, “I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

I know that this story is really a joke, but it  does, nonetheless, make an important point about the meaning of Christmas. Someone IS knocking at our door – and whether or not we open that door determines our life in eternity. It isn’t the parish priest who is knocking, it is the Great High Priest Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Over the millennia, God has gone through great efforts to enter the hearts and lives of the people He created. Even before the world was created, God had each and every one of us in His mind, and a plan as to how He would try to reach us. In every age He has revealed Himself to people, either individually or in a group, as in the case of His original Chosen People, our spiritual forebears, the Jews. But when the time was right, “while all things were in quiet silence, and that night was in the midst of her swift course, Thine Almighty word leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne,…into the midst of a land of destruction” (Wisdom of Solomon 18: 14-15), and took flesh of the Most Holy Virgin, and dwelt among us (cf John 1:14). He became one of us precisely so He could approach us, and be close to us.

David, in the Psalms, says: “My heart said unto Thee: I will seek the Lord” (Psalm 26:8 LXX). An arrogant and haughty heart is naked in its pride. It will always find a way to hide from the Lord. But the humble and open heart, God will not despise, because it rejoices in His presence (cf Psalm 50: 17).

 

From the Holy Fathers and Mothers

THE RENEWAL OF HUMANITY…the perfection of our humanity, according to the teaching of St. Irenaeus, must be brought to pass by the dispensation of the Incarnation of the Son of God, not by any kind of doctrine, not by the writing of any book. By taking flesh and becoming man, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, made men partakers of the Divine nature. Assuming human nature in the unity of His Hypostasis, the Son of God by taking flesh became the New Adam, the Progenitor of the new humanity. “Beholding him that was in God’s image and likeness fallen through the transgression, Jesus bowed the heavens and came down, and without changing He took up His dwelling in a Virgin womb: that thereby He might fashion corrupt Adam anew.” St. Irenaeus says that the Son of the Most High became the Son of man in order to make man a son of God. In the new humanity, built upon the foundation of the Incarnation of the Son of God, the unity of our human nature, broken by sin, is restored. Christ Himself named this new humanity the Church. (From Holy Scripture and the Church, St. Hilarion Troitsky, in Orthodox Word, 2009)

“Why is it hard to believe that Mary gave birth in a way contrary to the law of natural birth and remained a virgin, when contrary to the law of nature the sea looked at Him and fled, and the waters of the Jordan returned to their source (Ps. 113:3). Is it past belief that a virgin gave birth when we read that a rock issued water (Ex. 17:6), and the waves of the sea were made solid as a wall (Ex. 14:22)? Is it past belief that a Man came from a virgin when a rock bubbled forth a flowing stream (Ex. 20:11), iron floated on water (4 Kings 6:6), a Man walked upon the waters (Mt. 14:26)? If the waters bore a Man, could not a virgin give birth to a man? What Man? Him of Whom we read: ‘…the Lord shall be known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day; and they shall offer sacrifices, and shall vow vows to the Lord, and pay them’ (Is. 19:20).

In the Old Testament a Hebrew virgin (Miriam) led an army through the sea (Ex. 15:21); in the New testament a king’s daughter (the Virgin Mary) was chosen to be the heavenly entrance to salvation.” (St. Ambrose of Milan, Synodal Letter 44)

Orthopraxis – The Real 12 Days of Christmas

Sometime in the early days of November, as things now stand, the “Christmas Season” (or increasingly the “Holiday Season”) begins. The streets are hung with lights, the stores are decorated with red and green, and you can’t turn on the radio without hearing songs about the “spirit of the season” and the glories of Santa Claus who will hopefully put my love life in order. The excitement builds and builds until the morning of December 25, and then it stops, abruptly. Christmas is over, and people go back to their “normal” lives.

The traditional Christian celebration of Christmas, East and West, is exactly the opposite. The preparatory season of Advent for Orthodox Christians begins on the fifteenth of November, and for nearly 6 weeks Christians await the coming of Christ in a spirit of expectation, singing hymns of longing. Then, on December 25, Christmas Day itself ushers in twelve days of celebration, ending only on January 6 with the feast of Theophany, sometimes called “Epiphany.”

A wonderful part of the Orthodox celebration of Christmas is exactly this period of Christmastide or the 12 Days of Christmas. It is one of those rare times in the life of the Church where all fasting is suspended, and the fulness of Christ’s incarnation is on full display.

The Twelve Days of Christmas are a festive period linking together two Great Feasts of the Lord: Nativity and Theophany. During this this 12 Day period one celebration leads into another. The Nativity of Christ is a three day celebration: the formal title of the first day is “The Nativity According to the Flesh of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ”, and celebrates not only the Nativity of Jesus, but also the Adoration of the Shepherds of Bethlehem and the arrival of the Magi; the second day is referred to as the “Synaxis of the Theotokos”, and commemorates the role of the Virgin Mary in the Incarnation; the third day is known as the “Third Day of the Nativity”, and is also the feast day of the Protodeacon and Protomartyr Saint Stephen. The 29th of December is the Orthodox Feast of the Holy Innocents. The Afterfeast of the Nativity (similar to the Western octave) continues until 31 December (that day is known as the Apodosis or “Leave-taking” of the Nativity).

The Saturday following the Nativity is commemorated by special readings from the Epistle (1 Tim 6:11-16) and Gospel (Matt 12:15-21) during the Divine Liturgy. The Sunday after Nativity has its own liturgical commemoration in honor of “The Righteous Ones: Joseph the Betrothed, David the King and James the Brother of the Lord”.

The 1st of January, the “hinge” at the center of the festal period, is another feast of the Lord (though not ranked as a Great Feast): the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord. On this same day is also the feast day of Saint Basil the Great, and so the service celebrated on that day is the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil. The 2nd of January begins the Forefeast of the Theophany.

The Eve of the Theophany (5th of January) is a day of strict fasting, on which the devout will not eat anything until the first star is seen at night. This day is known as Paramoni (“Preparation”), and follows the same general outline as Christmas Eve. That morning is the celebration of the Royal Hours and then the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil combined with Vespers, at the conclusion of which is celebrated the Great Blessing of Waters, in commemoration of the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. There are certain parallels between the hymns chanted on Paramoni and those of Good Friday, to show that, according to Orthodox theology, the steps that Jesus took into the Jordan River were the first steps on the way to the Cross. That night the All-Night Vigil is served for the Feast of the Theophany.

 

Upcoming Events

Upcoming events this month are in the attached PDF calendar (Events are subject to change! see the online calendar for updates or the attached PDF for more info).

 

November, 2021


Focus on the Faith: Advent & the Nativity Fast

On November 15, forty days before Christmas, the Church begins to prepare for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord. This time of preparation is sometimes called ‘Advent,’ because advent means the coming or arrival of someone or something. During these forty days, we prepare to celebrate the coming of God’s Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, into this world. Jesus came into this world as a little child born as an infant from Mary, His Most-holy mother.

Many faithful people had waited a long time for the coming of Jesus. God had promised to send a Savior to His people, hundreds, and even thousands, of years before Jesus was born on earth. During that long period of time when people were waiting, God spoke to prophets — holy men and leaders among His people — and told them how He wanted His people to prepare for the coming of His Son. He told them that they must repent, change their way of life, make peace with one another, care for each other, and be obedient and faithful to God.

Every year, during these forty days, we also wait and prepare for the coming of Jesus. We repent of our bad habits and try to change our way of life. We think about how we have behaved toward other people, and we try harder to be helpful to our friends, our neighbors and members of our family. We also try to be faithful and obedient to God in all that we do. Through fasting and extra effort in prayer, we try to prepare both our bodies and minds to receive Christ into our lives and homes.

Forty days can seem like a very long time to wait for something; it is more than one month, almost six weeks. We know how anxious we are when a birthday or name day approaches; we want to start planning a party and inviting our friends. If we are preparing for someone else’s special day, we begin thinking about the kind of gift we wish to give them. As the day draws near, we can hardly wait to begin the celebration. When we stop to think about it, we realize that part of the enjoyment of each celebration is the time we spend getting ready for it and waiting for it. The Church helps us to get ready for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. First, the Church issues an announcement, like an invitation, telling us that the Feast of the Nativity is approaching. Then, during the last weeks of November and the beginning of December, there are more announcements made which tell us what to look for as the feast approaches and how to get ready. These are the days on which some of the announcements are made:

November 15 – This is the first day of the Nativity Fast, which begins forty days before Christmas. It is a good day for deciding how we should spend these days of Lent, what we should do to try to improve our way of living, and how we should spend our time in order to allow more time for prayer and preparation for the coming feast. On this day, we might mark the special days on the calendar that lead us to Christmas, or we might begin to make an Advent Calendar or make an Advent Wreath

November 21 – This day is a major feast which commemorates the Entrance of the Virgin into the Temple. It is a feast that honors Jesus’ mother, the Theotokos and Ever-virgin Mary, and it marks the first announcement that is given in the Church of the coming of Jesus. During the Matins service, the words, ‘Christ is born! Glorify Him!” are sung for the first time. They will be sung at every Sunday Matins until Christmas.

November 30 – The last day of November is the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle. During the services commemorating the life of St. Andrew, the Church adds two more hymns which tell us what will happen on the day of Jesus’ birth.

December 6 – This day is dedicated to the memory of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. The life of St. Nicholas is a good example for us to follow if we want to learn how to care for and help one another. In the services on this day, we hear another hymn which tells us how the whole earth prepares to glorify the birth of Jesus.

The Two Sundays Before the Nativity of Christ (Christmas)

The first of these days is called the Sunday of the Forefathers. The verses from the services on this day tell us how the people of the Old Testament prepared for the coming of the Savior. The Sunday before Christmas is the Sunday of the Fathers. The services repeat some of the same hymns that were sung on the Sunday of the Forefathers. The Gospel lesson read on this day lists all the generations of the ancestors of Jesus who lived on earth.

From the 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)

November Saints & Feasts

November 1 – Holy and Wonderworking Unmercenaries Cosmas and Damian of Asia (3rd c.)

Three pairs of Unmercenary Physicians (Anargyri) named Cosmas and Damian are commemorated (November 1, on October 17, and on July 1); The two commemorated today lived near Ephesus in Asia. They were of noble birth and well-educated in all the branches of higher learning; but they turned away from worldly knowledge to practice medicine without charge for anyone who sought their help, caring for the rich as well as poor, and even for animals. They used none of the secular tools of medicine, but relied only on the Name of Christ, by which they were enabled to perform countless healings. Both reposed in peace.

November 9 – St. Nektarios

† Our Father among the Saints Nektarios, bishop of Pentapolis, Wonderworker, and founder of the Monastery of the Holy Trinity on Aegina (1920). Saint Nektarios was born in Selyvria of Thrace on October 11, 1846. After putting himself through school in Constantinople with much hard labour, he became a monk on Chios in 1876, receiving the monastic name of Lazarus; because of his virtue, a year later he was ordained deacon, receiving the new name of Nektarios. Under the patronage of Patriarch Sophronius of Alexandria, Nektarios went to Athens to study in 1882; completing his theological studies in 1885, he went to Alexandria, where Patriarch Sophronius ordained him priest on March 23, 1886 in the Cathedral of Saint Sabbas, and in August of the same year, in the Church of Saint Nicholas in Cairo, made him Archimandrite. Archimandrite Nektarios showed much zeal both for preaching the word of God, and for the beauty of God’s house. He greatly beautified the Church of Saint Nicholas in Cairo, and years later, when Nektarios was in Athens, Saint Nicholas appeared to him in a dream, embracing him and telling him he was going to exalt him very high.

“On January 15, 1889, in the same Church of Saint Nicholas, Nektarios was consecrated Metropolitan of Pentapolis in eastern Libya, which was under the jurisdiction of Alexandria. Although Nektarios’ swift ascent through the degrees of ecclesiastical office did not affect his modesty and childlike innocence, it aroused the envy of lesser men, who convinced the elderly Sophronius that Nektarios had it in his heart to become Patriarch. Since the people loved Nektarios, the Patriarch was troubled by the slanders. On May 3, 1890, Sophronius relieved Metropolitan Nektarios of his duties; in July of the same year, he commanded Nektarios to leave Egypt.

“Without seeking to avenge or even to defend himself, the innocent Metropolitan left for Athens, where he found that accusations of immorality had arrived before him. Because his good name had been soiled, he was unable to find a position worthy of a bishop, and in February of 1891 accepted the position of provincial preacher in Euboia; then, in 1894, he was appointed dean of the Rizarios Ecclesiastical School in Athens. Through his eloquent sermons, his tireless labours to educate men for the priesthood, his generous almsgiving despite his own poverty, and the holiness, meekness, and fatherly love that were manifest in him, he became a shining light and a spiritual guide to many. At the request of certain pious women, in 1904 he began the building of his convent of the Holy Trinity on the island of Aegina while yet dean of the Rizarios School; finding later that his presence there was needed, he took up his residence on Aegina in 1908, where he spent the last years of his life, devoting himself to the direction of his convent and to very intense prayer; he was sometimes seen lifted above the ground while rapt in prayer. He became the protector of all Aegina, through his prayers delivering the island from drought, healing the sick, and casting out demons. Here also he endured wicked slanders with singular patience, forgiving his false accusers and not seeking to avenge himself. Although he had already worked wonders in life, an innumerable multitude of miracles have been wrought after his repose in 1920 through his holy relics, which for many years remained incorrupt. There is hardly a malady that has not been cured through his prayers; but Saint Nektarios is especially renowned for his healings of cancer for sufferers in all parts of the world.” (Great Horologion)

Upcoming Events

Upcoming events this month are in the attached PDF calendar (Events are subject to change! see the online calendar for updates or the attached PDF for more info).

 

August, 2021


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)

Orthopraxis: August

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.

Upcoming Events

Upcoming events this month are in the attached PDF calendar (Events are subject to change! see the online calendar for updates or the attached PDF for more info).