November, 2023

Focus on the Faith


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 to help us keep track of the days before Christmas. We can also start an Advent Chain of good deeds that can be used to adorn our Christmas Tree.

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.


Candles in the Orthodox Tradition

“The candles lit before icons of saints reflect their ardent love for God for Whose sake they gave up everything that man prizes in life, including their very lives, as did the holy apostles, martyrs and others. These candles also mean that these saints are lamps burning for us and providing light for us by their own saintly living, their virtues and their ardent intercession for us before God through their constant prayers by day and night. The burning candles also stand for our ardent zeal and the sincere sacrifice we make out of reverence and gratitude to them for their solicitude on our behalf before God. (St. John of Kronstadt)

What does an Orthodox person, entering the temple, do first of all? Nine times out of ten — he or she buys a candle. Our initial participation in authentic Christian liturgical prayer begins with a small wax candle. It is impossible to imagine an Orthodox church without burning candles, unless, of course, we have a pandemic ravaging the world.

The Holy Fool-for-Christ Simeon of Thessalonica (XV century), said that pure wax symbolizes the purity and innocence of people offering it. The wax is offered as a sign of our repentance for our obstinacy and willfulness. The softness and malleability of the wax speaks to our readiness to obey God. The flame of the candle shows the warmth of our love to God, and hence the domes on top of most Russian Orthodox churches are in the shape of a candle flame (not an onion!). That flame also represents our Christ as the Light of the World Who will draw all people to Himself. We should not put up a candle just for the sake of ritual, with our hearts remaining cold. The outward action must be supported by an inward prayer, be it even a simple one expressed in your own words.

Candles are integral to our Orthodox worship. The newly baptized and those receiving the Mystery of Holy Matrimony hold candles. The burial service is read in the presence of many burning candles. Believers who participate in a Cross Procession around the temple hold candles and shield the flame from the wind with their hands. There are no strict rules about the number of candles to be offered or any definite place to put them, with this exception: that candles placed at the memorial table are for the dead. To buy a candle is a small sacrifice to God, anoffering which is voluntary and not burdensome. A big and expensive candle does not possess any more grace than a small one.

Those who come to church regularly usually place candles near the icon of the feast or saint celebrated on that day. It is also customary to place them at the icons of the Savior and the Holy Theotokos — offering a prayer for your living friends and relations. If you wish, you can offer a candle at any icon, of any saint where a candle stand is provided.

Sometimes there are so many burning candles on the candle stand in front of an icon, that there is no room to put yours. You should not put out somebody else’s candle so that you can light yours, unless theirs is down to the very end. Just light yours elsewhere. God knows your heart and knows your good intention. Also, if there is plenty of room on the candlestand, dont place your lit candle directly next to another lit candle, but put space between them. Why? The will last longer, burn straighter, and wont melt, creating a fire hazard. Do not be embarrassed or upset by somebody putting out “your” candle when the service is over — your offering has already been accepted by God. The candle is no longer “yours” but His. You should pay no heed to foolish tales about the necessity to place a candle “only with your right hand,” or about the misfortunes that will happen if the flame of your candle goes out, or that it is a deadly sin to melt the candle at the bottom in order to fix it better in the candleholder, etc. There are many traditions (one might say “superstitions”) associated with church life, and many of them are meaningless.

Your beeswax candle is pleasing to God. But He appreciates the burning zeal of your heart much more. Our spiritual life and participation in services cannot be limited to putting up a candle. The candle itself will not deliver us from sins, will not bring us closer to God, neither will it give us strength for resistance in the “unseen warfare.” A candle is full of symbolic meaning, but we are not saved by symbols, but by the grace to which the symbol draws us, God’s grace.

Proper Times to Light Candles As I said before, Orthodox people typically light candles when coming into the churchprior to the beginning of a service, and that is usually the best time to light them. But there are times when candles should not be lit. It is not proper to light candles during the Epistle or Gospel readings, during the sermon, the Little or Great Entrances, the Creed, the Lords Prayer, the Anafora and consecration of the Holy Gifts, or basically anytime when the faithful are called upon to stand upright: and “attend.

Also, its good to remember that candles are not playthings, lit or unlit. They are holy things, consecrated to God. Only those children who are old enough and have shown a certain degree of spiritual maturity should be allowed to light their own candles before the icons, but only under the watchful supervision of their parents. If, however, the child makes a game of this, the privilege should be revoked until such time as he/she understands what they are doing. Always stand next to your child as he/she handles the candle because a moment of inattention on the part of the child (or the parent) can have serious consequences. Let us also refrain from sending bored children to "tend" the candlestands. The distraction often created by adults noisily blowing out candles and tossing them into a box is bad enough, but the effect is magnified when the job is undertaken by a child who craves diversion or attention.  


Feasts and Saints

Entrance of the Mother of God Into the Temple
21 November 2020

Like the feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God, the feast of her Entrance into the Temple was derived from the Oral Tradition, which is the church's historical memory. In order to emphasize the person of the Virgin, and her consecration of herself to the service of God, the Church celebrates her as “the fulfillment of the economy of the Creator.” The mystery of this feast, like the Dormition, leads us into the very treasure-trove of the Holy Tradition. The Orthodox Church, due to her 2,000-year link with the people and the events of the New Testament period, breaks the silence of the Scriptures and shows us the amazing and inconceivable ways of God. She shows us how God Himself prepared the world, and prepared this extraordinary young girl, to become the receptacle of God the Word, "the Mother predetermined before the ages.” It is the Church that explains to us, how she who was “preached by the prophets,” is now escorted into the Holy of Holies, like a “Hidden Treasure of the Glory of God.”

The "temple" is the dominant focus of the services and in the icon of the feast itself. The Holy Spirit abandoned the old Temple in the end, yet He conferred upon it a glory unimagined under the covenant of the Law. And what glory was that? The entrance of the Virgin into the Holy of Holies - she who would give birth to “Jesus, made a Hight Priest forever after the order of Melchisedec” (Heb. 6: 20). He who received and welcomed the Holy Virgin, the priest Zacharias, (the future father of John the Baptist,) recognized in Her the new Ark of the Covenant, "the living Ark” which would replace the one that was lost. In the 9th Ode of the Canon for the feast we hear these words: “Beholding the Entry of the All Pure One, the angels were struck with amazement, seeing how the Virgin entered into the Holy of Holies.” The Divine plan of the Incarnation remains incomprehensible to the angels. They themselves will come to understanding only through the Church. Only in and through the Church is revealed “the mystery, which, from the beginning of the world, hath been hidden in God” (Eph. 3: 9-10). Which mystery? It is the mystery of the preparation of the humanity of Christ, the very flesh of God. In the temple in Jerusalem, God's chosen Maiden prepared herself to later become “the Temple of His Body.” The feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos, allows us a glimpse of the revelation of the Mother of God as the new Ark of the Covenant, and gives us the clear understanding of the verse of Psalm 130 sung at the Vespers of the Dormition: “Arise, O Lord, into thy rest; thou and the ark of thy holiness.”
In the icon of the Feast, the scene first unfolds in the narthex or porch of the temple, near the entrance to “the Holy Place," the "nave.” The priest Zachariah, arrayed in his priestly vestments, stands before the doors on the first step of the staircase (the fifteen steps or degrees of the temple which correspond to the fifteen “psalms of the degrees.”) Below, the Holy Virgin, outstretching her arms towards Zachariah, starts to climb the steps which lead towards “the Holy of Holies.” At the top, she is seen again, already there, sitting on the highest step, near the door of the “Holy of Holies,” where an angel comes to assist her. It is here, in this earthly heaven, where the holy maiden ascends the spiritual ladder of contemplation, her beginning on the way of union during which she will be “nourished on heavenly bread.” The Theotokos is represented twice on the festal icon. Her features are not at all child-like, but her small size indicates that she is very young. She is already a perfected person and is seen clothed in her traditional maphorion, her outer cloak of reddish royal purple, decorated with the three stars representing her virginity before, during, and after the birth of Christ.

Behind the Virgin, in the center of the courtyard, Ss. Joachim and Anna move towards the priest Zachariah, presenting their Daughter to him. They are followed by young girls, who with lit tapers in their hands accompany the Virgin on her path to ultimate dedication to God. These young girls, in essence, represent all of us. Like the wise virgins of the parable, we want to be with the Virgin today, holding our lit tapers, contemplating the Mystery of this wonderful feast. There is great grace for us in this holy image, and in this holy contemplation. Glory be to God, Who bestows upon us such a great and soul-profiting Feast!

From the Holy Fathers

"Now, when Righteous Joachim and Anna saw that they had been granted their wish, and that the divine promise to them was realized in fact, then they on their part, as true lovers of God, hastened to fulfill their vow given to God as soon as the child had been weaned from milk. They have now led this truly sanctified child of God, now the Mother of God, this Virgin into the Temple of God. And She, being filled with Divine gifts even at such a tender age, ... She, rather than others, determined what was being done over Her. In Her manner She showed that She was not so much presented into the Temple, but that She Herself entered into the service of God of her own accord, as if she had wings, striving towards this sacred and divine love. She considered it desirable and fitting that she should enter into the Temple and dwell in the Holy of Holies.” (St. Gregory Palamas)

Upcoming Events

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Save the Date – Fundraiser Saturday, Nov. 11th, 9AM – 2PM

Get Ready. Here It Comes!

St Nicholas Orthodox Church in Saratoga, is going to have a "Fill That Goodwill Truck!!" event on Saturday, Nov. 11th from 9:00am - 2:00pm. We are going to try to fill a Goodwill Semi-trailer with donated items. You may have seen Goodwill's trailers around town accepting donations. Well, we are going to have one at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church! If we can "Fill That Truck" we will receive up to $900. So please look around your house and see if you have any items you can donate. A list of acceptable items and ones NOT acceptable is listed on the Goodwill webpage (link below), along with other information. Try to put your items in boxes, so we can Stack 'em High and "Fill That Truck"!

Please pass the word to your friends and neighbors. Every little bit helps.

Click here to download a flyer


  1. Space: If possible, keep your items at your home until Saturday, Nov. 11th. There is limited space at St. Nicholas in the hall. Please pack your items in boxes, so we can Stack 'em High and Fill That Truck!
  2. Taxes: If you can itemize charitable donations on your income tax return form 1040 (it's harder these days), just ask the Goodwill attendant to give you a receipt (St. Nicholas will not have any).
  3. What to donate: Since the amount of funds we receive is determined by weight, please concentrate on heavy things: books, shoes and boots, clothes, belts, dishes (Mark the box Fragile), etc. No furniture will be accepted, but small appliances are ok. E-Waste is also accepted. See below. (Please label the box(es) well as 'E-Waste'.)
  4. Condition: Only donate things you would consider buying. No dirty, stained, cracked, or non-functional things (E-Waste is ok). Goodwill no longer fixes anything, so no broken appliances. Shoes & boots should be in good condition, no worn down heels. Please clean them before donating.
  5. E-Waste: They also accept E-Waste: computer printers, monitors, hard drives, keyboards, VCRs, audio equipment, etc. Please mark the outside of the box, clearly on three or four sides, so there's no confusion. (We don't want anyone to accidentally buy a broken VCR.)
  6. Parking: As you know we have limited parking at St. Nicholas. Please be patient and extra careful when parking and leaving. We don't want any of our friends and neighbors to get a ding in their fender.

Above is a flyer to pass around. Goodwill has a FAQ webpage with more information, and farther down on the page, is a list of which items can be donated:

If you'd like to help the day of the event,
please contact: Elizabeth Pilipenko:

Thank you ahead of time for your donations!
Elizabeth Pilipenko (408) 972-7999 for
St. Nicholas Orthodox Church
14220 Elva Ave.
Saratoga, CA 95070

Don't Forget November 11th.
Let's - Fill That Truck!!!

October, 2023

Focus on the Faith


The feast day celebrates the appearance of the Mother of God in Constantinople at Blachernae (Vlaherna) in the tenth century. At the end of St. Andrew of Constantinople) Yurodivyi's life, he, with his disciple St. Epiphanius, and a group of people, saw the Mother of God, St. John the Baptist, and several other saints and angels during a vigil in the Church of Blachernae, nearby the city gates. The Blachernae Palace church was where several of her relics were kept. The relics were her robe, veil, and part of her belt that had been transferred from Palestine during the fifth century.

The Theotokos approached the center of the church, knelt down and remained in prayer for a long time. Her face was drowned in tears. Then she took her veil off and spread it over the people as a sign of protection. During the time, the people in the city were threatened by a barbarian invasion. After the appearance of the Mother of God, the danger was averted and the city was spared from bloodshed and suffering.

The icon of the feast, shows the Theotokos standing above the faithful with her arms outstretched in prayer and draped with a veil. On both sides of her are angels. On the lower right of most icons of this feast, are saints Andrew and his disciple Epiphanius who saw this vision of the Mother of God, with the twelve apostles, bishops, holy women, monks and martyrs, spreading her veil in protection over the congregation. St. Epiphanius is wearing a tunic under his cloak and gestures in astonishment at the miraculous appearance, while St. Andrew, Fool-for-Christ, is dressed only in a cloak.

Below the Theotokos, in the center of the icon, stands a young man with a halo, he is clothed in a deacon's sticharion. In his left hand, he is holding an open scroll with the text of the Kontakion for Nativity in honor of the Mother of God. This is St. Romanus the Melodist, the famous hymnographer whose feast is also celebrated on the same day, October 1. He is with his choir attended by the Emperor Leo the Wise together with the Empress and the Patriarch of Constantinople.

From the Holy Fathers and Mothers

"How mistaken are those people who seek happiness outside of themselves, in foreign lands and journeys, in riches and glory, in great possessions and pleasures, in diversions and vain things, which have a bitter end! In the same thing to construct the tower of happiness outside of ourselves as it is to build a house in a place that is consistently shaken by earthquakes. Happiness is found within ourselves, and blessed is the man who has understood this. Happiness is a pure heart, for such a heart becomes the throne of God. Thus says Christ of those who have pure hearts: "I will visit them, and will walk in them, and I will be a God to them, and they will be my people." (II Cor. 6:16) What can be lacking to them? Nothing, nothing at all! For they have the greatest good in their hearts: God Himself!

(St. Nektarios of Aegina, Path to Happiness, 1)

"The Lord loves all people, but He loves those who seek Him even more. To his chosen ones the Lord gives such great grace that for love they forsake the whole earth, the whole world, and their souls burn with desire that all people might be saved and see the glory of the Lord.”

(St. Silouan the Athonite, Writings, IX.8)

"As it is impossible to verbally describe the sweetness of honey to one who has never tasted honey, so the goodness of God cannot be clearly communicated by way of teaching if we ourselves are not able to penetrate into the goodness of the Lord by our own experience."
(St. Basil the Great, Conversations on the Psalms, 29)

"Having God, fear nothing, but cast all of your care upon Him, and He will take care of you. Believe undoubtingly, and God will help you in accordance with His mercy.”

(St. Barsanuphius the Great, Instructions, 166)


A Prayer Rule

A prayer rule is a set of prayers taken from the Prayer Book that is said every single day without fail. One should always discuss one’s Prayer Rule with their spiritual father/father confessor before deciding on their own what it should be. Most of the time, the Rule is said in the morning and the evening, with shorter prayers, such as the Jesus Prayer, used throughout the day. In addition, prayers before and after meals should be incorporated into one’s daily routine. The goal of the Prayer Rule is union with God. When using a rule of prayer we must be flexible and do what works for us; our goal is to maintain the connection with God and cultivate a real relationship, not just fulfill our ‘rule’ of prayer.

Though we should pray unceasingly, our prayer rule must not and cannot be said, for example, when the TV is blaring or the kids are running about and screaming, but rather alone, in front of the icons, Gospel, and Cross in the quiet. Preferably we should say our rule with a lit oil lamp or candle and, if possible, the room lights should be dimmed. It is important to remember that we will never have time for God but rather we must make time for God, for the “Kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matt. 11:12).

Upcoming Events

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August, 2023

Happy Feast of the Transfiguration!

Here are some "Transfiguration" Fun Facts!

  • The “Taboric” light (the light seen on Mt. Tabor) is also called “uncreated light".
    • Adam and Eve were covered by it until the fall. Some holy fathers indicated that the loss of the uncreated light which clothed them is why they became aware of their nakedness.
    • This was also what was seen in the burning bush by Moses, and later, on the face of Moses after coming down from Mt. Sinai.
    • It has also been seen many times since.
  • Why do Orthodox Icons look so different? The main two reasons is :
    • A perspective painting creates a realistic portrayal of 3D space, but one in which the observer is outside the picture, and the infinite is hidden past the vanishing point. An Icon uses inverse perspective which places infinity inside of the viewer, who is included in the picture.
    • Icons use gold and other highly reflective colors that symbolize uncreated light.
  • Uncreated light has been experienced throughout Church History. Some recent examples:

The uncreated light is experienced by many saints after profound repentance and purification. So we can be encouraged to do the work and run the race of repentance, knowing that enlightenment is ready.

Troparion (main hymn) of Transfiguration:

“Thou was transfigured upon the mount O Christ God, revealing Thy glory to Thy disciples as far as they could bear it. Make Thine everlasting light shine also upon us sinners. Through the prayers of the Theotokos, of giver of light, glory to Thee!”

---Reader John

The Paraklesis to the Theotokos

One of the great blessings of the Dormition fast is coming together to sing the Paraklesis service to the Mother of God. The canon is the same one you may be familiar with from the rule of preparation for Holy Communion but includes other special hymns related to the upcoming feast, including the Exapostilarion (O Apostles from the ends of the Earth).

We will have the last two services tonight and Friday night. If you can’t make it, you can pray with us through the livestream, or even pray/sing/read it with your family. A copy of the service is here:


You can learn to sing the text, by singing along with one of the livestreams:

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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June, 2023

The miracle of Pentecost continues today!

The Holy Spirit has descended! From Heaven to Earth!

We hear, in the reading for Pentecost from Acts chapter 2, about how the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, and they began to preach in languages they did not already know. There is a great deal of confusion about what speaking in tongues is in our time, especially among heterodox churches. Some contemporary saints warn us to avoid counterfeits of spiritual gifts that can cause spiritual harm. Discernment is necessary!

Here is a modern account of "speaking in tongues" that happened in our time, which is the real thing.

I heard about this from other sources. I don’t know who the author of this particular account is:

The former atheist Frenchwoman and Saint Porphyrios.

A French historian, atheist and nihilist visited Elder Porphyrios at his Hermitage in Milesi, Attica. She did not expect, being a University Professor to learn anything great from a 2nd Grade graduate, but for the sake of her friends she agreed to go.

The Elder asked the two of them to talk without the presence of others or an interpreter, which caused the question of her friends who knew that the Frenchwoman did not speak Greek at all, nor did the Elder speak French.

The theological and existential discussion finally took place with the two of them alone, for quite some time.

The door opened and the atheist woman came out in tears, tears of repentance. When her friends asked her how she got along with the Elder, she replied:

"But he speaks fluent French."

The same happened with a German Doctor, with a Serb, with a Romanian, with an Irishman.

When his spiritual children asked him how he knew foreign languages ​​while he was never taught them, he replied:

"I speak to them in Greek and the Holy Spirit interprets them in their minds and hearts"

This is the New Language of the Holy Spirit that Christ promised to His Disciples, the language of Paradise which was confused by pride in the Tower of Babel and from Pentecost returned by the Holy Spirit through the Church to All Saints of times.

With Saint Paisios too we have many such examples and with Russian Saints too.

The Holy Spirit, the Heavenly Fire with which the Fire of the Altar once lit on the Day of Pentecost is always in the Church and has been burning for twenty centuries now. It was never erased by human weaknesses and mistakes.

"And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever ".

Every other "new fire of spirit" which is advertised nowadays with characteristic conceit and arrogance as being authentic, genuine and unique on earth by heretics is foreign "Alien Fire and not Divine".

In the photo is the atheist French historian, Nun Magdalene in the Sinai desert, where she practiced asceticism afterwards, alone for 18 years in very difficult conditions, having renounced wealth, career, fame and useless philosophies of life.


Upcoming Events

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