From the Fathers

ST ANDREW OF CRETE ON THE BIRTH OF THE VIRGIN

Who indeed was This Virgin and from what sort of parents did She come? Mary, the glory of all, was born of the tribe of David, and from the seed of Joachim. She was descended from Eve, and was the child of Anna. Joachim was a gentle man, pious, raised in God’s law. Living prudently and walking before God he grew old without child: the years of his prime provided no continuation of his lineage. Anna was likewise God-loving, prudent, but barren; she lived in harmony with her husband, but was childless. As much concerned about this, as about the observance of the law of the Lord, she indeed was daily stung by the grief of childlessness and suffered that which is the usual lot of the childless — she grieved, she sorrowed, she was distressed, and impatient at being childless.

Thus, Joachim and Anna lamented that they had no successor to continue their line; yet the spark of hope was not extinguished in them completely: both intensified their prayer about the granting to them of a child to continue their line. In imitation of the prayer heard of Hannah (1 Kings 1: 10), both without leaving the temple fervently beseeched God that He would undo her sterility and make fruitful her childlessness. And they did not give up on their efforts, until their wish be fulfilled. The Bestower of gifts did not contemn the gift of their hope. The unceasing power came quickly in help to those praying and beseeching God, and it made capable both the one and the other to produce and bear a child. In such manner, from sterile and barren parents, as it were from irrigated trees, was borne for us a most glorious fruition — the all-pure Virgin.

The constraints of infertility were destroyed — prayer, upright manner of life, these rendered them fruitful; the childless begat a Child, and the childless woman was made an happy mother.

(+ St. Andrew of Crete, Excerpt from the Sermon on the Nativity of the Virgin Mary)

ST JOHN MAXIMOVITCH ON THE FEAST OF THE EXALTATION OF THE CROSS

Before the time of Christ, the cross was an instrument of punishment; it evoked fear and aversion. But after Christ’s death on the Cross it became the instrument of our salvation. Through the Cross, Christ destroyed the devil; from the Cross He descended into hades and, having liberated those languishing there, led them into the Kingdom of Heaven. The sign of the Cross is terrifying to demons and, as the sign of Christ, it is honored by Christians.

“O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance. Grant victory unto Orthodox Christians over their adversaries, and by the virtue of Thy Cross, preserve Thy community.”

The beginning of this prayer is taken from the twenty-seventh Psalm. In the Old Testament the word “people” designated only those who confessed the true faith, people faithful to God. “Inheritance” referred to everything which properly belonged to God, God’s property, which in the New Testament is the Church of Christ. In praying for the salvation of God’s people (the Christians), both from eternal torments and from earthly calamities, we beseech the Lord to bless, to send down grace, His good gifts upon the whole Church as well, and inwardly strengthen her.

The petition for granting “victory to kings” (Grant victory to Orthodox Christians over their adversaries) (ie: to the bearers of Supreme authority), has its basis in Psalm 143, verse 10, and recalls the victories of King David achieved by God’s power, and likewise the victories granted Emperor Constantine through the Cross of the Lord.

This appearance of the Cross made emperors who had formerly persecuted Christians into defenders of the Church from her external enemies, into “external bishops,” to use the expression of the holy Emperor Constantine. The Church, inwardly strong by God’s grace and protected outwardly, is, for Orthodox Christians, “the city of God.” Heavenly Jerusalem has its beginning. Various calamities have shaken the world, entire peoples have disappeared, cities and states have perished, but the Church, in spite of persecutions and even internal conflicts, stands invincible; for the gates of hell shall not prevail against her (Matt. 16:18).

Today, when world leaders try in vain to establish order on earth, the only dependable instrument of peace is that about which the Church sings:

“The Cross is the guardian of the whole world; the Cross is the beauty of the Church, the Cross is the might of kings; the Cross is the confirmation of the faithful, the Cross is the glory of angels and the wounding of demons.” (Exapostilarion of the Exaltation of the Cross)

 

The Dormition Fast and It’s Services

The Dormition fast is brief, but as strict as Great Lent.  This “Mini-Lent” also comes with wonderful opportunities to intensify our spiritual life and to partake of some unique services that happen during the two weeks.  Tonight, Saturday, August 5th, is the Vigil for the Feast of Transfiguration, followed by tomorrow’s Divine Liturgy.  The texts of the services are full of meditations on the uncreated divine energies of God that can be experienced as light. This is not some sort of symbolism, as saints up to the present time have experienced this light for themselves, and in the case of St. Seraphim of Sarov, was able to bring the experience to others.  Archbishop Andrei (an American elder and bishop) of blessed memory observed the uncreated light emanating from St. Nectarius of Optina, who was his spiritual father.  Fr. George Calciu experienced the uncreated light in the dark prisons and concentration camps of Romania.

The texts of the services are full of meditations on the uncreated divine energies of God that can be experienced as light. This is not some sort of symbolism, as saints up to the present time have experienced this light for themselves, and in the case of St. Seraphim of Sarov, was able to bring the experience to others.  Archbishop Andrei (an American elder and bishop) of blessed memory observed the uncreated light emanating from St. Nectarius of Optina, who was his spiritual father.  Fr. George Calciu experienced the uncreated light in the dark prisons and concentration camps of Romania.

On this feast, we also bless the new harvest of fruit, bringing baskets to church.

On Tuesday the 8th, we have the vigil and on Wednesday the 9th the liturgy for St. Herman of Alaska, the first (known) saint in America.  We get to sing some of my favorite Stichera for this saint:

What is above all,
if not the Lord our Creator,
Adorner of beauty, giver of life,
Maintaner and Nourisher of all things:
is it no Him, that is befitting to love,
as most worthy of love,
and to place one’s happiness in Him,
thus, O Saint, didst thou teach;
likewise, teach us also
with all our heart to love God.

This is followed by the beautiful services of the Feast of Dormition on the 14th (vigil) and 5th (liturgy) when flowers are herbs are blessed.

Traditionally during this fast, when there are no other services, the Paraklesis (canon) to the Mother of God is done.  We will be doing this on Thursday the 1oth, but as was mentioned last year, there is no reason that this cannot be done as part of prayer in the home on other evenings.  This post on the importance of prayer in the home also includes the text of the service that you can download and use.

 

From the Fathers – Pentecost

“Jesus tells us that His holy Disciples will be more courageous and more understanding when they would be, as the Scripture says, Endowed with power from on high (Luke 24:49) He tells us also that when their minds would be illuminated by the torch of the Spirit they would be able to see into all things, even though no longer able to question Him bodily as when He was present among them. The Saviour does not say that they would no longer as before need the light of His guidance, but that when they received His Spirit, when He was dwelling in their hearts, they would not be wanting in any good thing, and their minds would be filled with most perfect knowledge.”

+ St. Cyril of Alexandria, On Luke

“‘And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2:3-4). They partook of fire, not of burning but of saving fire; of fire which consumes the thorns of sins, but gives luster to the soul. This is now coming upon you also, and that to strip away and consume your sins which are like thorns, and to brighten yet more that precious possession of your souls, and to give you grace; for He gave it then to the Apostles. And He sat upon them in the form of fiery tongues, that they might crown themselves with new and spiritual diadems by fiery tongues upon their heads. A fiery sword barred of old the gates of Paradise; a fiery tongue which brought salvation restored the gift.”

+ St. Cyril of Jerusalem, 17.15, Catechetical Lectures

Orthopraxis – Pentecost – Trinity Sunday

The custom of adorning the church with trees, branches, flowers, and grass on Pentecost (Trinity Sunday) goes back to ancient times. The Old Testament Pentecost was the feast of the first harvest (Ex. 23:16). People brought the first fruits of their harvest and flowers into the court of the Temple. In New Testament times, the trees and other plants in the church symbolize the renewal of people through the power of the Holy Spirit which descended in the form of fiery tongues upon all of them.

Additionally, it is the custom of the Orthodox Church for the faithful to bring bouquets of flowers which they hold in their hands, especially in the Divine Liturgy.

The Feast of Pentecost

by Fr. Alexander Schmemann

In the Church’s annual liturgical cycle, Pentecost is “the last and great day.” It is the celebration by the Church of the coming of the Holy Spirit as the end – the achievement and fulfillment – of the entire history of salvation. For the same reason, however, it is also the celebration of the beginning: it is the “birthday” of the Church as the presence among us of the Holy Spirit, of the new life in Christ, of grace, knowledge, adoption to God and holiness.

This double meaning and double joy is revealed to us, first of all, in the very name of the feast. Pentecost in Greek means fifty, and in the sacred biblical symbolism of numbers, the number fifty symbolizes both the fulness of time and that which is beyond time: the Kingdom of God itself. It symbolizes the fulness of time by its first component: 49, which is the fulness of seven (7 x 7): the number of time. And, it symbolizes that which is beyond time by its second component: 49 + 1, this one being the new day, the “day without evening” of God’s eternal Kingdom. With the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Christ’s disciples, the time of salvation, the Divine work of redemption has been completed, the fulness revealed, all gifts bestowed: it belongs to us now to “appropriate” these gifts, to be that which we have become in Christ: participants and citizens of His Kingdom.

The all-night Vigil service begins with a solemn invitation:” Let us celebrate Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, The appointed day of promise, and the fulfillment of hope, The mystery which is as great as it is precious.”

In the coming of the Spirit, the very essence of the Church is revealed:

“The Holy Spirit provides all, Overflows with prophecy, Fulfills the priesthood, Has taught wisdom to illiterates, Has revealed fishermen as theologians, He brings together the whole council of the Church.”

In the three readings of the Old Testament (Numbers 11:16-17, 24-29; Joel 2:23-32; Ezekiel 36:24-28) we hear the prophecies concerning the Holy Spirit. We are taught that the entire history of mankind was directed towards the day on which God “would pour out His Spirit upon all flesh.” This day has come! All hope, all promises, all expectations have been fulfilled. At the end of the Aposticha hymns, for the first time since Easter, we sing the hymn: “O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth…,” the one with which we inaugurate all our services, all prayers, which is, as it were, the life-breath of the Church, and whose coming to us, whose “descent” upon us in this festal Vigil, is indeed the very experience of the Holy Spirit “coming and abiding in us.”

Having reached its climax, the Vigil continues as an explosion of joy and light for “verily the light of the Comforter has come and illumined the world.” In the Gospel reading (John 20:19-23) the feast is interpreted to us as the feast of the Church, of her divine nature, power and authority. The Lord sends His disciples into the world, as He Himself was sent by His Father. Later, in the antiphons of the Liturgy, we proclaim the universality of the apostles’ preaching, the cosmical significance of the feast, the sanctification of the whole world, the true manifestation of God’s Kingdom.

The liturgical peculiarity of Pentecost is a very special Vespers of the day itself. Usually, this service follows immediately the Divine Liturgy, is “added” to it as its own fulfillment. The service begins as a solemn “summing up” of the entire celebration, as its liturgical synthesis. We hold flowers in our hands symbolizing the joy of the eternal spring, inaugurated by the coming of the Holy Spirit. After the festal Entrance, this joy reaches its climax in the singing of the Great Prokeimenon:

“Who is so great a God as our God?”

Then, having reached this climax, we are invited to kneel. This is our first kneeling since Easter. It signifies that after these fifty days of Paschal joy and fulness, of experiencing the Kingdom of God, the Church now is about to begin her pilgrimage through time and history. It is evening again, and the night approaches, during which temptations and failures await us, when, more than anything else, we need Divine help, that presence, and power of the Holy Spirit, who has already revealed to us the joyful End, who now will help us in our effort towards fulfillment and salvation.

All this is revealed in the three prayers which the celebrant reads now as we all kneel and listen to him. In the first prayer, we bring to God our repentance, our increased appeal for forgiveness of sins, the first condition for entering into the Kingdom of God.

In the second prayer, we ask the Holy Spirit to help us, to teach us to pray and to follow the true path in the dark and difficult night of our earthly existence. Finally, in the third prayer, we remember all those who have achieved their earthly journey, but who are united with us in the eternal God of Love.

The joy of Easter has been completed and we again have to wait for the dawn of the Eternal Day. Yet, knowing our weakness, humbling ourselves by kneeling, we also know the joy and the power of the Holy Spirit who has come. We know that God is with us, that in Him is our victory.

Thus is completed the feast of Pentecost and we enter “the ordinary time” of the year. Yet, every Sunday now will be called “after Pentecost” – and this means that it is from the power and light of these fifty days that we shall receive our own power, the Divine help in our daily struggle. At Pentecost we decorate our churches with flowers and green branches – for the Church “never grows old, but is always young.” It is an evergreen, everliving Tree of grace and life, of joy and comfort. For the Holy Spirit – “the Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life – comes and abides in us, and cleanses us from all impurity,” and fills our life with meaning, love, faith and hope.

Services in the Orthodox Home

In addition to the temple where we meet and worship on Saturday, Sunday, feast days and various other occasions, it is a part of normal Orthodox Christian life to have regular services in the home, usually in the “beautiful corner” set aside for such purposes. We all know about morning and evening prayers and house blessings, but there are other services that can be done in the home as “reader services”. Most of the services of the daily cycle can be done this way (except for the Divine Liturgy and other sacraments). In places without a priest, this has been a necessary means of keeping the life of the church going.

Many years ago, Alexey and Susan Young were new converts and pilgrims to the St. Herman of Alaska Monastery.  They were instructed to do reader services at home as they could, since they were not near a local parish.  They set up a storage shed in their backyard as a little chapel, and began to do the Ninth Hour, eventually adding Vespers. A curious neighbor happened to see them and commented:

“Every afternoon, I see you go into your shed for a while, and when you come out you look so peaceful.  What do you do in there?” to which Alexey replied, “Come and see!”.

Out of that little effort to do services in the home, and share it with others, a new Orthodox parish was born, and Alexey was eventually ordained a priest to serve there!

August is filled with important feast days such as Holy Transfiguration, Holy Dormition and St Herman of Alaska. There will be Vigil and Liturgy services for these feasts at St. Nicholas.   We will not be able to do the daily Paraklesis service, which is traditionally done during the evenings of the Dormition fast.  This is a good opportunity for you do this service at home as you can!

In order to make this easier, You will find the full service on this page that you can download and place on your tablet or phone. It is in PDF format.  Instructions in italics show you how to do this service as a “reader at home”.   If you know the tones, or have sung this with us at St. Nicholas in the past, you can sing it at home.  If you don’t know the melodies, you can simply chant it, singing only in your heart!

 

Attachments