Protomartyr and Equal of the Apostles Thekla – Commemorated on September 24

Today we commemorate the Protomartyr and Equal-to-the-Apostles Thekla, who is the patroness of the Antiochian Village

The Holy Protomartyr and Equal of the Apostles Thekla was born in the city of Iconium. She was the daughter of rich and illustrious parents, and she was distinguished by extraordinary beauty. At eighteen years of age they betrothed her to an eminent youth. But after she heard the preaching of the holy Apostle Paul about the Savior, Saint Thekla with all her heart came to love the Lord Jesus Christ, and she steadfastly resolved not to enter into marriage, but rather to devote all her life to preaching the Gospel.Saint Thekla’s mother was opposed to her daughter’s plans and insisted that she marry her betrothed. Saint Thekla’s fiancé also complained to the prefect of the city about the Apostle Paul, accusing him of turning his bride against him. The prefect locked up Saint Paul in prison.During the night Saint Thekla secretly ran away from her house, and she bribed the prison guards, giving them all her gold ornaments, and so made her way into the prison to the prisoner. For three days she sat at the feet of the Apostle Paul, listening to his fatherly precepts. Thekla’s disappearance was discovered, and servants were sent out everywhere looking for her. Finally, they found her in the prison and brought her home by force.At his trial Saint Paul was sentenced to banishment from the city. Again they urged Saint Thekla to consent to the marriage, but she would not change her mind. Neither the tears of her mother, nor her wrath, nor the threats of the prefect could separate Saint Thekla from her love for the Heavenly Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ.Her mother in a insane rage demanded from the judges a death sentence against her unyielding daughter, and Saint Thekla was sentenced to be burned. Without flinching, the holy martyr went into the fire and made the Sign of the Cross over herself. At this moment the Savior appeared to her, blessing her present deed, and inexpressible joy filled her holy soul.The flames of the fire shot up high, but the martyr was surrounded by a light and the flames did not touch her. Thunder boomed, and a strong downpour of rain and hail extinguished the fire. The torturers scattered in fear. Saint Thekla, kept safe by the Lord, left the city and with the help of a certain Christian youth, searched for the Apostle Paul. The holy apostle and his companions, among whom was Saint Barnabas, were hidden in a cave not far from the city, praying fervently, that the Lord would strengthen Saint Thekla in her sufferings.After this, Saint Thekla went with them preaching the Gospel in Antioch. In this city she was pursued by a certain dignitary named Alexander, who was captivated by her beauty. Saint Thekla refused his offer of marriage, and so she was condemned to death for being a Christian. Twice they set loose hungry wild animals upon her, but they would not touch the holy virgin. Instead, they lay down meekly and licked her feet.The Providence of God preserved the holy martyr unharmed through all her torments. Finally, they tied her to two oxen and began to chase her with red-hot rods, but the strong cords broke asunder like cobwebs, and the oxen ran off, leaving Saint Thekla unharmed. The people began shouting, “Great is the God of the Christians!” The prefect himself became terrified, realizing that the holy martyr was being kept safe by the Almighty God, Whom she served. He then gave orders to set free the servant of God Thekla.With the blessing of the Apostle Paul, Saint Thekla then settled in a desolate region of Isaurian Seleucia and dwelt there for many years, constantly preaching the Word of God and healing the sick through her prayer. Saint Thekla converted many pagans to Christ, and the Church appropriately names her as “Equal-to-the-Apostles.” Even a pagan priest, trying to assault her purity and punished for his impudence, was brought by her to holy Baptism. More than once the Enemy of the race of man tried to destroy Saint Thekla through people blinded by sin, but the power of God always preserved this faithful servant of Christ.When Saint Thekla was already a ninety-year-old woman, pagan sorcerers became incensed at her for treating the sick for free. They were unable to comprehend that the saint was healing the sick by the power of the grace of Christ, and they presumed that the virgin-goddess Artemis was her special helper. Envious of Saint Thekla, they sent their followers to defile her. When they came near her, Saint Thekla cried out for help to Christ the Savior, and a rock split open and hid the holy virgin, the bride of Christ. Thus did Saint Thekla offer up her holy soul to the Lord.The holy Church glorifies the Protomartyr Thekla as “the glory of women and guide for the suffering, opening up the way through every torment.” From of old many churches were dedicated to her, one of which was built at Constantinople by the holy Equal of the Apostles Constantine (May 21). The Protomartyr Thekla, a prayerful intercessor for ascetics, is also invoked during the tonsure of women into monasticism.

Troparion — Tone 4

You were enlightened by the words of Paul, O Bride of God, Thekla, and your faith was confirmed by Peter, O Chosen One of God. You became the first sufferer and martyr among women, by entering into the flames as into a place of gladness. For when you accepted the Cross of Christ, the demonic powers were frightened away. O all-praised One, intercede before Christ God that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion — Tone 8

O glorious Thekla, virginity was your splendor, the crown of martyrdom your adornment and the faith you trust! You turned a burning fire into refreshing dew, and with your prayers appeased pagan fury, O First Woman Martyr!

St. John Chrysostom says of the wonderful Christian heroine and Saint Thekla: “It seems to me that as I see this blessed virgin, in one hand she offers Christ virginity, and in the other hand, martyrdom.”

The Cross, The Preserver of the Universe

In the prophet Ezekiel (9:6) it is said that when the Angel of the Lord was sent to punish and destroy the sinning people, it was told him not to strike those on whom the “mark” had been made. In the original text this mark is called “tau,” the Hebrew letter corresponding to the letter “T,” which is how in ancient times the cross was made, which then was an instrument of punishment.

And so, even then was foretold the power of the Cross, which preserves those who venerate it. Likewise by many other events in the Old Testament the power of the Cross was indicated. Moses, who held his arms raised in the form of a cross during the battle, gave victory to the Israelites over the Amalekites. He also, dividing the Red Sea by a blow of his rod and by a transverse blow uniting the waters again, saved Israel from Pharaoh, who drowned in the water, while Israel crossed over on the dry bottom (Exodus, Chs. 14, 17).

Through the laying on of his hands in the form of a cross on his grandsons, Jacob gave a blessing to his descendants, foretelling at the same time their future until the coming of the “expectation of the nations” (Genesis, Ch. 48).

By the Cross, the Son of God having become man, accomplished our salvation. He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross (Phil. 2:8). Having stretched out His hands upon the Cross, the Saviour with them, as it were, embraced the world, and by His blood shed on it, like a king with red ink, He signed the forgiveness of the human race.

The Cross of the Lord was the instrument by which He saved the world after the fall into sin. Through the Cross, He descended with His soul into hell so as to raise up from it the souls who were awaiting Him. By the Cross, Christ opened the doors of paradise which had been closed after our first ancestors had been banished from it. The Cross was sanctified by the Body of Christ which was nailed to it when He gave Himself over to torments and death for the salvation of the world, and it itself was then filled with life-giving power. By the Cross on Golgotha, the prince of this world was cast out (John 12:31) and an end was put to his authority. The weapon by which he was crushed became the sign of Christ’s victory.

The demonic hosts tremble when they see the Cross, for by the Cross the kingdom of hell was destroyed. They do not dare to draw near to anyone who is guarded by the Cross.

The whole human race, by the death of Christ on the Cross, received deliverance from the authority of the devil, and everyone who makes use of this saving weapon is inaccessible to the demons.

When legions of demons appeared to St. Anthony the Great and other desert-dwellers, they guarded themselves with the Sign of the Cross, and the demons vanished.

When they appeared to Saint Symeon the Stylite, who was standing on his pillar, what seemed to be a chariot to carry him to heaven, the Saint, before mounting it, crossed himself; it disappeared and the enemy, who had hoped to cast down the ascetic from the height of his pillar, was put to shame.

One cannot enumerate all the separate examples of the manifestation of the power of the Cross in various incidents. Invisibly and unceasingly there gushes from it the Divine grace that saves the world.

The Sign of the Cross is made at all the Mysteries and prayers of the Church. With the making of the Sign of the Cross over the bread and wine, they become the Body and Blood of Christ. With the immersion of the Cross, the waters are sanctified. The Sign of the Cross looses us from sins. “When we are guarded by the Cross, we oppose the enemy, not fearing his nets and barking.” Just as the flaming sword in the hands of the Cherubim barred the entrance into paradise of old, so the Cross now acts invisibly in the world, guarding it from perdition.

The Cross is the unconquerable weapon of pious kings in the battle with enemies. Through the apparition of the Cross in the sky, the dominion of Emperor Constantine was confirmed and an end was put to the persecution against the Church. The apparition of the Cross in the sky in Jerusalem in the days of Constantius the Arian proclaimed the victory of Orthodoxy. By the power of the Cross of the Lord, Christian kings reign and will reign until Antichrist, barring his path to power and restraining lawlessness (Saint John Chrysostom, Commentary on 11 Thes. 2:6-7).

The “sign of the Son of Man” (Matt. 24:30), that is, the Cross, will appear in the sky in order to proclaim the end of the present world and the coming of the eternal Kingdom of the Son of God. Then all the tribes of the earth shall weep, because they loved the present age and its lusts, but all who have endured persecution for righteousness and called on the name of the Lord shall rejoice and be glad. The Cross then will save from eternal perdition all who conquered temptations by the Cross, who crucified their flesh with its passions and lusts, and took up their cross and followed their Christ.

But those who hated the Cross of the Lord and did not engrave the Cross in their soul will perish forever. For “the Cross is the preserver of the whole universe, 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 scourge of demons” (Monday Matins). -Saint John Maximovitch

Nativity of Our Most Holy Lady Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary + September 8​

The Nativity of Our Most Holy Virgin Mary is celebrated by the Church as a day of universal joy. Within the context of the Old and the New Testaments, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary was born on this radiant day, having been chosen before the ages by Divine Providence to bring about the Mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God. She is revealed as the Mother of the Savior of the World, Our Lord Jesus Christ.She was born in the city of Galilee, Nazareth. Her parents were Joachim of the tribe of the Prophet-King David, and Anna from the tribe of the First Priest Aaron. The couple was without child, since Anna was barren. Having reached old age, Joachim and Anna had strong faith that everything was possible with God. Joachim and Anna vowed to dedicate the child which the Lord might give them to the service of God in the Temple. Childlessness was considered as a Divine punishment for sin, and Joachim and Anna had to endure abuse from their own countrymen. On one of the feast days at the Temple, the elderly Joachim brought his sacrifice to offer to God, but the High Priest would not accept it, considering him to be unworthy since he was childless.In deep grief, Joachim went into the wilderness, and there he prayed with tears to the Lord for a child. Anna wept bitterly when she learned what had happened at the Temple. Never once did she complain against the Lord, but rather she prayed to ask God’s mercy on her family. The Lord fulfilled her petitions when the pious couple had attained extreme old age and prepared themselves by virtuous life for a sublime calling to be the parents of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, the future Mother of the Lord Jesus Christ.The Archangel Gabriel brought Joachim and Anna the joyous message that their prayers were heard by God, and of them would be born a most blessed daughter, Mary, through Whom would come the Salvation of all the World. The Most Holy Virgin Mary surpassed in purity and virtue not only all mankind, but also the angels. She was manifest as the living Temple of God, so the Church sings in its festal hymns: “the East Gate… bringing Christ into the world for the salvation of our souls” (2nd Stikhera on “Lord, I Have Cried”, Tone 6).The Nativity of the Theotokos marks the change when the great promises of God for salvation from slavery to the devil were about to be fulfilled. This event brought to earth the grace of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of Truth, piety, virtue and everlasting life. The Theotokos is revealed to all of us by grace as a merciful Intercessor and Mother, to Whom we have recourse with filial devotion.

Troparion (Tone 4) Your Nativity, O Virgin,Has proclaimed joy to the whole universe!The Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God,Has shone from You, O Theotokos!By annulling the curse,He bestowed a blessing.By destroying death, He has granted us eternal Life.

Kontakion (Tone 4) By Your Nativity, O Most Pure Virgin,Joachim and Anna are freed from barrenness;Adam and Eve, from the corruption of death.And we, your people, freed from the guilt of sin, celebrate and sing to you:The barren woman gives birth to the Theotokos, the nourisher of our life!

Why Fast for Dormition?

Why Fast for Dormition?
Daniel Manzuk

It would be a gross understatement to say that much has been written about the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos. Yet very little has been written about the fast that precedes it.

Every Orthodox Christian is aware and generally knows the reason behind the fasts for Pascha and Christmas. But while they may know of the Dormition Fast, few follow it, and more than a few question why it is there, neither knowing its purpose. First, given the pervasive misunderstanding of the purpose of fasting itself, a refresher on its purpose is always a good idea. There is a perception that we should fast when we want something, as though the act of fasting somehow appeases God, and seeing us “suffer” gets Him to grant our request. Nothing can be further from the truth. It is not our fasting that pleases God, it is the fruits of our fast (provided we fast in the proper mind set, and do not merely diet) that please Him. We fast, not to get what we want, but to prepare ourselves to receive what God wants to give us. The purpose of fasting is to bring us more in line with another Mary, the sister of Lazarus, and away from their sister Martha, who in the famous passage was “anxious and troubled about many things.” Fasting is intended to bring us to the realization of “the one thing needful.” It is to help us put God first and our own desires second, if not last. As such it serves to prepare us to be instruments of God’s will, as with Moses in his flight from Egypt and on Mt. Sinai, as well as our Lord’s fast in the wilderness. Fasting turns us away from ourselves and toward God. In essence it helps us become like the Theotokos, an obedient servant of God, who heard His word and kept it better than anyone else has or could.

So why do we fast before Dormition? In a close-knit family, word that its matriarch is on her deathbed brings normal life to a halt. Otherwise important things (parties, TV, luxuries, personal desires) become unimportant; life comes to revolve around the dying matriarch. It is the same with the Orthodox family; word that our matriarch is on her deathbed, could not (or at least should not) have any different effect than the one just mentioned. The Church, through the Paraklesis Service, gives us the opportunity to come to that deathbed and eulogize and entreat the woman who bore God, the vessel of our salvation and our chief advocate at His divine throne. And as, in the earthly family, daily routines and the indulgence in personal wants should come to a halt. Fasting, in its full sense (abstaining from food and desires) accomplishes this. Less time in leisure or other pursuits leaves more time for prayer and reflection on she who gave us Christ, and became the first and greatest Christian.

In reflecting on her and her incomparable life, we see a model Christian life, embodying Christ’s retort to the woman who stated that Mary was blessed because she bore Him: blessed rather are those who hear His word and keep it. Mary did this better than anyone. As Fr. Thomas Hopko has stated, she heard the word of God and kept it so well, that she of all women in history was chosen not only to hear His Word but give birth to it (Him). So while we fast in contemplation of her life, we are simultaneously preparing ourselves to live a life in imitation of her. That is the purpose of the Dormition Fast.

When the assumption of thine undefiled body was being prepared, the Apostles gazed on thy bed, viewing thee with trembling. Some contemplated thy body and were dazzled, but Peter cried out to thee in tears, saying, I see thee clearly, O Virgin, stretched out, O life of all, and I am astonished. O thou undefiled one, in whom the bliss of future life dwelt, beseech thy Son and God to preserve thy people unimpaired.

 

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Saints Peter and Paul

St. Peter traditionally is regarded as the leader of the Twelve Disciples of Jesus. He was intimately connected with the earthly life and ministry of our Lord, and after His death tried to preserve the spiritual legacy left by Jesus to him followers. In the course of his missionary journeys, Peter founded the Church in Antioch, where the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. St. Peter is regarded by the Church as the first Bishop of Antioch, and the present-day Patriarch of Antioch is his successor in that Apostolic See.

St. Paul is the greatest of missionaries. The marvelous story of conversion on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:1-12) is hardly more striking than the rest of his life, one of the greatest adventure stories of history.

The account of Paul’s missionary journeys and the letters he wrote to the Churches he founded form an important part of the New Testament. He traveled over vast areas of the Roman world, preaching Christ, and fashioning the Christians Faith for all time. He called himself an Apostle, and he was the greatest of them, even though he was not of the Twelve Disciples. St. Paul was martyred in Rome during the reign of the Emperor Nero, about 87 A.D.

Taken from The Icon Book by Boojamra, Essey, McLuckie, and Matusiak.

Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome under Emperor Nero in the year 87. Peter was crucified, head down at his own request [so that he would not die in the same way as Christ], and because Paul was a Roman Citizen, he was beheaded. The Church unites them in a common celebration and gives them identical honor.

Peter, a brother of Andrew the First-Called, was from Bethsaida. They were the sons of Jonas, of the tribe of Simeon. They lived by the work of their hands. At the time when John the Baptist was in prison, Jesus came to the Lake of Genesarett, and finding Peter and Andrew mending their nets, He called them and they followed Him without hesitation. Peter preached the Gospel in Judea, founded the Church of Antioch and finally came to Rome.

Paul, a Pharisee, belonged to the tribe of Benjamin. He was born in Tarsus of Asia Minor. At first, he persecuted the Church with great zeal and violence, imprisoning and killing Christians. But Christ appeared to him on the way to Damascus and changed his heart. He was baptized in Damascus by Ananias. He was to become one of the greatest exponents of Christ’s teachings, which he explained in letters or epistles.

Taken from Byzantine Daily Worship.


 

About the Icon

Saint Peter, on the left, is portrayed as an elderly man with white hair and beard, his inner garment is traditionally green and his outer garment is yellow or gold. Saint Paul, on the right; is portrayed with brown hair and beard; his inner garment is blue and his outer garment is purple. The saints embrace each other to denote their concord of love and faith in Jesus Christ.

Taken from The Icon Book by Boojamra, Essey, McLuckie, and Matusiak.

Troparion (Tone 4)

0 foremost in the ranks of apostles, and teachers of the world, intercede with the Master of All to grant safety to the world and to our souls the great mercy.

Kontakion (Tone 2)

O Lord, You have taken up to their eternal rest, and to the enjoyment of Your good things the two infallible preachers of divine truths and leaders of the apostles, for You have accepted their struggles and their death as being better than any holocaust, 0 You who alone know the secrets of hearts.


 

The Summer Lent
Celebrating the Feast of SS. Peter & Paul
by Catherine K. Contopoulos

On June 29, we celebrate the feasts of Saints Peter and Paul, two men whose dedication to the formation and sustenance of Christianity in the first century AD made them true pillars of the Church. Both men were chosen by Christ to minister to the world and both were given new names to mark their new life in Christ. They both embraced their martyrdom in Rome circa 67 AD. On June 30 we also celebrate the Holy Apostles whose ministry to all ends of the known world spread the message of God’s Word further. (The Fast of the Holy Apostles Peter & Paul begins the Monday after All Saints to June 29/July 12. It requires the same preparation as any Lenten period.) Their resolve, commitment and enthusiasm gave our Church life and firm ground. We should look to them for inspiration as we work towards the support and growth of our Church.

St. Paul

Saul grew up in a devout Jewish family in Tarsus, Syria. He saw Christianity as a threat to Judaism and therefore was determined to eradicate it. He is first mentioned in Acts 7:58 as a zealous persecutor of Christians in Jerusalem. On his way to Damascus to arrest Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem, he was struck by a vision of heavenly light and fell to the ground (see Acts 9). “Saul, why are you persecuting Me!” asked the Lord. “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Trembling and astonished, Saul asked, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” Saul was blinded from this holy light and remained so and in prayer in Damascus. Three days later, Ananias, a devout Christian who followed the Lord’s command to find Saul, healed him and baptized him so that he would receive the Holy Spirit. He changed his name to Paul. Paul began to preach to the people about Jesus and had to flee Damascus when the Jews plotted to kill him. In Jerusalem he tried to join the Apostles, but they were afraid of him, having known him as the harsh persecutor of Christians. But Barnabas believed in him and brought him to the Apostles. Barnabas and Paul went on many missionary travels together throughout Syria, Asia Minor, Cyprus and Greece. With others and on his own, Paul continued his ministry to the people in these lands again and traveled to Ephesus, Corinth, Athens, Thessalonica, Thrace, Crete, Malta, Sicily and Italy to Rome. He was the greatest Apostolic missionary and is often referred to as the “Apostle to the Gentiles.” His great courage, stamina and fierce intelligence were the hallmarks of his ministry. As Fr. George Poulos notes in his Orthodox Saints series, “Paul was a brilliant orator and writer, and he was sensitive to the needs and moods of various tribes of both Greek and Near Eastern peoples. His extraordinary letters or epistles make up almost half of the New Testament.

“In Rome Paul was arrested and beheaded in 67 AD. [Editor’s Note: Roman citizens were beheaded rather than crucified.] In his last letter, 2 Timothy, he states, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

St. Peter

Simon first met Jesus through his brother Andrew, the “first-called” Apostle. Both brothers were fishermen at the Sea of Galilee who gave up their work when Jesus told them, “I will make you fishers of men” (Read Matthew 4:18-25 and John 1:40-42). In Matthew 16:16-19, Simon tells Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus, pleased with His Disciple’s faith, blessed him with a sacred trust, “You are Peter (Petros) and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” [Editor’s Note: Orthodox Christians understand that the “rock” that Jesus refers to here is Peter’s statement, not the person of Peter.] Peter was with Jesus throughout his ministry. And just as Christ had foretold, Peter denied knowing the Lord upon His arrest for fear of being persecuted, but later repented.

After Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension and the grace of Pentecost, Peter helped foster the Christian community in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem Peter was arrested by the Jewish authorities, and an angel of the Lord freed him from prison (Acts 12). He journeyed throughout Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine and Italy teaching people about Christ. He performed many miracles of healing and resurrections as well (see the Book of Acts). He established the first church in Antioch and became its first bishop. In Rome he converted many to the faith.

Legend has it that when the great persecutions against Christians began in Rome at that time, Peter was advised to leave the city. On the road he saw Jesus heading in the opposite direction towards Rome. “Lord where are you going?” Peter asked. Jesus responded, “I am going to be crucified a second time.” Peter realized his fate and returned to Rome where he was arrested and condemned to be crucified in 67 AD. He asked to be crucified upside down, as he felt unworthy of the same punishment as his Lord. Two of Peter’s letters, probably written during his imprisonment in Rome, are included in the New Testament.

© 1999 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).

 

 

 

Why is God allowing this pandemic?

Saint Paisios of the Mount Athos said, “So in every test, let us say, ‘Thank you, my God, because this was needed for my salvation.’” This is because a person has salvation not only by his good deeds, but also by his patient suffering of various griefs, illnesses, misfortunes, and failures (Luke 16:19-31, Mark 8:31-38, Romans 6:3-11, Hebrews 12:1-3, and Galatians 6:14).

Jesus Christ gives us the power which is needed for transformation, and prepares us to live with a strength under the most difficult conditions, preparing us for the peace that is eternal. History is filled with periods of trial and tribulation, but we’ve always come out stronger in the end, and we will come out of this pandemic as well.

Without suffering, we can not join ourselves to the cross, and when we do take up our cross in suffering, it is with our Co-Suffering Saviour. Sickness and suffering are not given to us by a wrathful and punitive God because we have sinned, but rather allowed by this loving God who co-suffers with us. It is Western juridical misconceptions concerning sin which has tended to distort a proper recognition of suffering and its connection to sin.

Our world has been in a bad place for a very long time, with priorities for most people, and their nations, centered on the acquisition of wealth and comfort. Western Europe has long  abandoned her Christian roots, as has America. In these latter times, is it any wonder a pandemic that has closed down the world’s economy, and forced millions to be sequestered in their homes, is being allowed by God as a wakeup call to all of us?

As hard as it is, we must use this difficult time to look inward, and take a very serious look at ourselves, and the direction we have been taking. Now is the time we need to refocus on that which is of eternal value. Our children need their parents to refocus the family on Christ, putting aside everything else. Even as individuals, we need to enter into that silent place, perhaps with the aid of the Jesus Prayer, and find the true peace “that passes understanding”.

The Church’s history is filled with times like these, where, even during terrible persecutions, Christians found solace in their walk with Jesus Christ. Our Co-Suffering Saviour is not abandoning us, but rather, joining Himself with our suffering. We will all get through this period of pandemic, together with the extreme economic hardship that has befallen the world, and return, collectively, to being of Christ. In eternity, it is not about being an American, a Russian, or a Brit, it is about being citizens of the Kingdom of God.

With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon

The Very. Rev. Abbot Tryphon is Igumen of All-Merciful Saviour Monastery on Vashon Island, Washington. Situated in the heart of a beautiful forest, surrounded by the Salish Sea, the monastery is reached by ferry from either Seattle, or Tacoma, Washington.

The Pascha No One Wants

By Father John Parsells

True leadership brings people where they need to be but don’t want to go.

No Christian worth their salt believes Christ went to His crucifixion subservient to the Jewish leaders and Roman state. Even though the Jewish high priest, Caiaphas, gave voice to the common plot to put Jesus to death when he said “it would be better that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perishes” (John 11:50), it was Christ, the true High Priest, who said, “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” In fact, it was Jesus’s filial obedience even unto death which most profoundly made manifest His divinity and union with His Father. Jesus said to them, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you shall know that I AM, and that I do nothing of Myself, but as My Father has taught Me.’” (Joh 8:28)

Today our Church hierarchs call us to take up this same Cross, not in capitulation to the State as conspiracy theorists “theologize” but as imitation and participation in the self-sacrificing life of Christ. We are called to experience in some small way what Christ went through “suffering outside the camp”, outside the Temple, outside the holy city of Jerusalem – in isolation. He entered an inconceivable quarantine. His “social distancing” was so complete that He even experienced divine “abandonment”, crying out from the Cross, “My God, my God, why has Thou forsaken Me?”. The sinless One became sin on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:20) and the One who said, “I and My Father are One” (John 10:30) experienced “separation” from His Father.

St. Paul tells us, “Therefore let us go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore” (Hebrews 13:13). Here the Apostle links suffering with disgrace, yoking union with Christ together with being an outsider. The early Christians knew this disgrace well, being persecuted as godless by their Jewish brothers, yet paradoxically at the same time experiencing deeper communion with God in Christ outside the Jewish Temple where they had formerly become accustomed to worship.

As centuries passed, things have certainly changed, the Church has become the new Camp, the new City, the new Temple, built upon Jesus Christ. “The stone which the builders rejected, has become the chief cornerstone; this is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:22). A whole Christian world has developed “outside the camp”, so much so that in our contemporary times, things are reversed, we experience disgrace and shame from “not going” to church, because it is “inside” that we commune with Christ.

Yet, in this time of pandemic, God who is always providing opportunities for us to more fully experience the life of Christ, who is always guiding His Church, allows us in this Great Lent, Passion Week, and Pascha to participate in a very deep way in the foolish wisdom and salvific power of the Cross. By instructing us through our hierarchs to temporarily and selflessly stay outside the church for the benefit of others, so that not one may perish, He gives us a unique opportunity, an otherwise impossible chance, to sacrifice our normal church life, and the best of it in Great Lent and Pascha. We are challenged to once again go “outside the camp”, to experience even for a short time “isolation” from God Himself, and to do so in obedience, even unto death, the death of our own will.

St. John of the Ladder tells us that “Obedience is the tomb of the will and the resurrection of humility.” Now we know well that obedience by definition is only possible when we have to do something that we don’t want to do or when we have to give up something we don’t want to give up; otherwise it is just meeting of the minds. This is why the measure of one’s obedience can be properly gauged only by the extent of one’s desire to resist what is commanded.

For Orthodox Christians our greatest desire is to worship God in His Church and we would rather be martyred than give that up. Yet, we know that there is a world of difference not only between martyrdom and suicide, but also between martyrdom and murder. Our bishops instruct us to stay home, not because we should be afraid of martyrdom, for they tell us to fearlessly minister to the sick and dying, even at our own personal risk. Rather they wisely counsel us in this way to protect us from false bravado and recklessness lest we needlessly, and perhaps pridefully, harm ourselves or others.

Some, perhaps unaware or unwilling to acknowledge what our bishops are actually teaching, will accuse us of faithlessness for temporarily and strategically practicing social distancing in order to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on the least of the brethren (elderly, immunocompromised, etc). We will be slandered as capitulating to the State when we are voluntarily obedient to the Church. Yet we mustn’t be discouraged by this because in this too we have a share in the life of Christ, bearing the reproach even of brothers so as to be faithful to the Father’s command to love and sacrifice, doing what is best for them and all, even if it means “bearing the disgrace” (Hebrews 13:13) and “despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2).

What we go through now can feel very isolating for faithful Christians, yet we are resolutely encouraged remembering that the Cross of Christ reveals isolation as the door to communion. In obedience even unto death, we find the life that can never be put to death. Admist our distress and anguish, we find the “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), Christ Himself who says to us what He promised His disciples in their own time of tribulation: “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy!” (John 16:22).

 

Fr. John Parsells is pastor of Christ the Savior Orthodox Church (OCA), Berlin, MD

 

17.03.20 Father Zacharias’s Word of Consolation f or the Pandemic

Part I

Many people are in confusion and others panic because of the threat of the Coronavirus epidemic that spread in the whole world. I think, however, that this should not happen, for whatever God does with us, He does it out of love. The God of Christians is a good God, a God of mercy and lovingkindness, ‘Who loveth mankind’. God created us out of His goodness in order to share His life and even His glory with us. When we fell into sin, He allowed death to enter our life again out of goodness, so that we may not become immortal in our wickedness, but to seek for a way of salvation. Although we have fallen, God has never stopped to provide for us, not only material goods in order to sustain our race, but He also sent prophets and righteous, preparing His way so that He might come and solve our tragedy, and bring eternal salvation through the Cross and Resurrection of His inconceivable love. He came and took upon Himself the curse of sin, and He showed His love to the end: ‘Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end’ (John 13:1). All the things that God did when He created us, when He provided goods in order to sustain the world, when He prepared His way for Him to come on earth, when He came Himself in person and wrought our salvation in such an awesome way, all these things He did out of goodness. His goodness is boundless. He saves us and is so longsuffering towards us, waiting until we ‘come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim. 2:4) and bring true repentance, so that we may be with Him for all eternity. Thus, at every stage of His relationship with man, our God shows only His goodness and mercy, ‘which is better than life’ (Ps. 63:3); goodness is His Nature and He does all things for the benefit and salvation of man.

 

Consequently, when He shall come again to judge the world, will a different God judge it? Will it not be the same good God, the God of mercy and lovingkindness, Who loves mankind? Let us be certain that we shall not appear before any other God than Him Who created us and saved us. And so, it is again with the same mercy and love that He will judge us. For this reason, we should neither panic nor waver, for it will be the same God that will receive us in the other life and will judge us with the same kindness and compassion. Some fear that the hour of their end has come. This plague of Coronavirus has also a positive aspect, because we have a few weeks from the moment it will assail us until our end. Therefore, we can dedicate this time to prepare ourselves for our meeting with God, so that our departure may not occur unexpectedly and without preparation, but after we have run through our whole life each time we stand in prayer before God, at times with thanksgiving unto the end for all the things God has done for us and at other times with repentance, seeking the forgiveness of our transgressions. Nothing can harm us with such a God, Who allows all things out of His goodness. We must simply keep thanksgiving unto the end and the humble prayer of repentance for the forgiveness of our sins.

 

As for myself, this plague is helping me. I longed to find again the prayer I had before, with which I can run through my whole life from my birth until now, thanking God for all His benefits ‘whereof I know and whereof I know not’; and also, with which I can run through my whole life repenting for all my sins and transgressions. It is wonderful to be able to run through your life praying, bringing all things before God with persistence in prayer. Then you feel that your life is redeemed. This is why this situation is truly helping me. I am not panicking but ‘I will be sorry for my sin’ (Ps. 38:18).

 

We must see the goodness of God in all the things that are happening now. The Holy Fathers did see His lovingkindness. A similar epidemic occurred in the 4th century in the Egyptian desert, which harvested more than a third of the monks, and the Fathers were saying with great inspiration that, ‘God is harvesting souls of saints for His Kingdom,’ and they did not waver. The Lord Himself speaks in the Gospel about the last days, about the trials and afflictions which the world will go through before His Second Coming. However, we discern neither morbid sadness nor despair in His words. The Lord Who prayed in the garden of Gethsemane with a sweat of blood for the salvation of the whole world, says that when we see the terrible things that precede His Second Coming, we should lift up our heads with inspiration, for our redemption draws nigh (cf. Luke 21:28). Some tell me, ‘May God extend His helping hand.’ But this is precisely the hand of God. He desires and works our salvation ‘at sundry times and in divers manners’ (Heb. 1:1): ‘My Father worketh hitherto, and I work’ (John 5:17). This virus may be a means that God uses in order to bring many to themselves and to repentance, and to harvest many ready souls for His eternal Kingdom. Therefore, for those who surrender and entrust themselves to the Providence of God all will contribute for their good: ‘All things work together for good to them that love God’ (Rom. 8:28).

 

Thus, there is no room for morbid dismay. Neither should we resist the measures that the government is taking in order to diminish the spreading of the afflictions we see in the lives of so many people. It is wrong to go against the authorities. We should do whatever the Government says, because they are not asking for us to deny our faith, they are only asking us to take a few measures for the common wellfare of all people, so that this trial may pass, and this is not at all unreasonable. Some people take it too confessionally, they raise flags and play the martyrs and the confessors. For us there is no doubt: we shall show pure submission to the orders of the Government. It is unfair to disobey the Government since, when we fall ill, it is to their hospitals that we run and they are the ones who undertake all the expenses and our care. Why not listen to

 

Part II

This is the ethos of Christ that God showed in His life on earth and this is the apostolic commandment that we have received: ‘…be subject to principalities and powers, obey magistrates, be ready to every good work, speak evil of no man, be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men’ (cf. Tit. 3: 1-2); and ‘Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme…’ (see 1 Pet. 2:13-17). If we do not obey our governors who are not asking much, how will we obey God, Who gives us a divine law, which is far more sublime than any human law? If we keep the law of God we are above human laws, as the apologists of the 2nd century said during the Roman Empire which was persecuting the Christians. It is surprising to see in the country where we live, in the United Kingdom, that the footballers show such understanding and discernment so as to be the first to withdraw from their activities with docility towards the indications of the Government to take prophylactic measures. It would be sad for us, people of faith, to fail reaching the measure of the footballers and showing the same docility towards the authorities for which our Church prays.

 

If they ask us to stop our Church services, let us simply surrender and bless the Providence of God. Besides, this reminds us of an old tradition that the Fathers had in Palestine: in Great Lent, on the Sunday of Cheese fare, after the mutual forgiveness, they would go out in the desert for forty days without Liturgy; they would only continue in fasting and prayer so as to prepare and return on Palm Sunday to celebrate in a godly way the Passion and the Resurrection of the Lord. And so, our present circumstances force us to live again that which existed of old in the bosom of the Church. That is to say, they force us to live a more hesychastic life, with more prayer, which will however make up for the lack of the Divine Liturgy and will prepare us to celebrate with greater desire and inspiration the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Thus, we will turn this plague into a triumph of hesychasm. In any case, whatever God allows in our life is out of His goodness for the well-being of man, for He never wants His creature to be harmed in any way.

 

Certainly, if we will be deprived of the Divine Liturgy for a longer period of time, we can endure it. What do we receive in the Liturgy? We partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, which are filled with His grace. This is a great honour and benefit for us, but we also receive the grace of God in many other ways. When we practice hesychastic prayer, we abide in the Presence of God with the mind in the heart calling upon the holy Name of Christ. The Divine Name brings us the grace of Christ because it is inseparable from His Person and leads us into His Presence. This Presence of Christ which is purifying, cleanses us from our transgressions and sins, it renews and illumines our heart so that the image of God our Saviour, Christ, may be formed therein.

 

If we shall not have Easter in the Church, let us remember that every contact with Christ is Easter. We receive grace in the Divine Liturgy because the Lord Jesus is present in it, He performs the sacrament and He is the One imparted to the faithful. However, when we invoke His Name, we enter the same Presence of Christ and receive the same grace. Therefore, if we are deprived of the Liturgy, we always have His Name, we are not deprived of the Lord. Moreover, we also have His word, especially His Gospel. If His word dwells continually in our heart, if we study it and pray it, if it becomes our language with which we speak to God as He spoke to us, then we shall have again the grace of the Lord. For His words are words of eternal life (John 6:68), and the same mystery is performed, we receive His grace and are sanctified.

 

Furthermore, each time we show kindness to our brethren the Lord is well-pleased, He considers that we did it in His Name and He rewards us. We show kindness to our brethren and the Lord rewards us with His grace. This is another way in which we can live in the Presence of the Lord. We can have the grace of the Lord through fasting, alms giving and every good deed. So, if we are forced to avoid gathering in Church, we can also be united in spirit in these holy virtues which are known within the Body of Christ, the holy Church, and which preserve the unity of the faithful with Christ and with the other members of His Body. All the things we do for God is a Liturgy, for they minister unto our salvation. The Liturgy is the great event of the life of the Church, wherein the faithful have the possibility to exchange their little life with the boundless life of God. However, the power of this event depends on the preparation we perform before, through all the things we have mentioned, through prayer, good deeds, fasting, love for neighbour, repentance.

 

Therefore, my dear brethren, it is not necessary to make heroic confessions against the Government for the prophylactic measures that it takes for the good of all people. Neither should we despair, but only wisely machinate ways so as not to lose our living communication with the Person of Christ. Nothing can harm us, we must simply be patient for a certain period of time and God will see our patience, take away every obstacle, every temptation and we shall again see the dawn of joyful days, and we shall celebrate our common hope and love that we have in Christ Jesus.

Preparing for the Greatest Journey


The Very Rev. Stephen Rogers

As the sharp edge of winter cuts across February and early March with its long shadows and long cold nights, Orthodox Christians know that this time of year is the herald of Great Lent, that solemn but beautiful 40-day journey to the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. With anticipation we look forward to that Lenten journey and what awaits us at the end of our spiritual travels — the “feast of feasts,” that great day of Pascha in which we proclaim, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death.” We celebrate that Christ has transformed death from a horrible finality to a wonderful passage into eternal life. Great Lent is that great gift given to us by the Church to help us prepare ourselves, to make ready, for the joy which is to come.

Great Lent is a time to prepare. So how does the Church aid us in our preparation? It gives us a time to prepare to prepare! The series of Sundays leading up to Great Lent instructs us on what we must take with us on our Lenten journey. The gospel teachings for the four Sundays leading to Great Lent tell us what we must carry in our “spiritual luggage” if we hope to experience all that the Lenten journey can show and teach us.

Our preparation begins with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. The gospel lesson (Luke 18:10-14) tells of two men who went up to pray. One, a Pharisee, is quite proud of his religiosity, making a great show of his piety. The second man, a tax collector, would not even look up as he prayed, but beat his breast asking God to forgive him, a sinner. Christ assures us it is the tax collector, not the religious man, who goes home justified. What is it the tax collector possesses that the Pharisee does not? What are we being taught is necessary for our Lenten journey? The answer is humility. Our Lenten fasting, alms-giving and church attendance will mean nothing if we engage in them in a spirit of pride. If we humble ourselves before God, we will be exalted during Great Lent; if we exalt ourselves before men, we will go home at the end of our Lenten journey worse than we began.

On the second Sunday of our Lenten preparation, we hear the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). The beautiful story of the ungrateful son who takes what he thinks is his, leaves the love and security of his father’s house, and finally squanders all he has through profligate living. All the while, his loving father waits and watches for the return of his son. Living like an animal, the son comes to his senses and returns to his father’s house. His father receives, forgives and restores him, a perfect example of unconditional love. In coming to his senses, the son repents of his sin and returns to his father.

And so the Church teaches us of the second piece of “spiritual luggage” necessary for our Lenten journey repentance. Each year Great Lent presents itself as a time for us to repent and return to our Father’s house. Like the son in the story, in our arrogance we try to lead our lives apart from our heavenly Father’s house and it ultimately leads to destruction. The unrepentant heart, the heart with no desire to return to its father’s house, cannot receive the blessings of the Lenten journey.

On the third Sunday of preparation, we come to the Sunday of the Last Judgment. In the gospel (Matthew 25:31-46) we hear of that great and terrible day when Christ will return in His Glory and the righteous and unrighteous shall be separated and given their just reward for better or worse. What divides those bound for eternal glory from those bound for eternal punishment? Christ tells us: “For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me.”

Those under judgment ask: “When did we see you and do these things?” Christ responds: “In as much as you did it to the one of the least of my brethren, you did it to me.” At the heart of the Christian message is love — incarnate love. Christ’s love for us is incarnate. In His love for us, He took on flesh and loved us by doing those things necessary for our salvation. So too, our love must be incarnational. We cannot love our brethren simply through words, but we must love through our actions towards them. Incarnational love — this is what we carry with us throughout our Lenten journey.

Finally, on the day preceding Great Lent, we come to the Sunday of Forgiveness. In the gospel reading (Matthew 6:14-21) we are warned by Christ that, if we withhold forgiveness from others, we ourselves will not be forgiven. The final act in our preparation for Great Lent is forgiveness. Hence, the actual entrance into Great Lent is Forgiveness Vespers on the eve of Great Lent. In this beautiful service we are called to forgive our brothers and sisters, so that we might embark on our Lenten journey unencumbered. For if we fail to forgive, our journey will take us nowhere.

Humility, repentance, incarnational love and forgiveness — these are what we must carry within us on our Lenten journey if we wish to receive all the joy and blessing of our Paschal destination.

From The Word magazine, February 2000

 

St. Valentine: The Most Famous Saint You Never Knew

No one is likely to forget: St. Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day. But how much do you really know about the saint behind the day? If you’re like most of us, the answer is Even in our very secularized culture, there’s one saint’s day no one is likely to forget: St. “not much.” And to make things worse, most of what we think we know is wrong.

For example, short quiz for you:
1. What day is St. Valentine’s Day?
2. True or false: There’s only one St. Valentine.
3. True or false: St. Valentine is the patron saint of lovers.
4. True or false: St. Valentine is held to be a saint in both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions.

Answers:
1. What day? In the Catholic Church, February 14. On the Orthodox calendar, the saint is commemorated on either April 24, July 6, or July 30 (see Answer #2).
2. Only one St. Valentine? False. There are two Orthodox saints named Valentine and one named Valentinus — they were all martyred in the third century. The Catholic Church has 11(!). There is uncertainty which of the saints the legends are correctly attributed to.
3. Patron saint of lovers? True, in the Catholic understanding at least. And by the way, besides being the go-to saint for lovers, affianced and married couples, St. Valentine has also been named by the Catholic Church as the patron saint of beekeepers, plague victims, epileptics, and greeters. Obviously, he’s a busy saint. Worth knowing: The Archangel Raphael is also a patron of lovers (if you’ve read the Book of Tobit, you probably can understand why). So if you’re getting a busy signal when you petition St. Valentine, you’ve got a back-up.
4. Orthodox and Catholic saint? Orthodox, true; Catholic, mostly, sort of. Because of all the ambiguous and conflicting information about the saint, the Catholics removed St. Valentine from their liturgical calendar of veneration in 1969. He can still be called a saint and locally venerated, but the removal is a testament to the confusion.

The love connection
So how did St. Valentine come to be associated with romantic love? Again, unfortunately, it’s not clear. There are two possibilities. The first has to do with the legends that cropped up about the saint, for instance that he had performed marriages in secret when the emperor forbade them. Also, the story is that St. Valentine restored the sight of his jailer’s blind daughter and that on the day of his martyrdom, he sent a card to the daughter that was signed “From your Valentine.” While opinion varies about whether there was anything romantic behind that, it might have given Christians the idea of sending similar cards on February 14, and maybe that’s where the romantic connection began.

It has also been noted that there was an ancient pagan festival of purification and fertility called Lupercalia that happened in mid-February. The assumption was that Christians used the occasion of St. Valentine’s Day to supplant the popular festival. But recently, scholars have dismissed that idea, since there’s no hard evidence to support it.

However the association happened, by the late 1300s, Valentine’s Day was so solidly planted in the cultural consciousness as a day for pledging troth and wooing sweethearts that Geoffrey Chaucer, writing on the other side of the European world, could say in his poem “Parlement of Foules” that “this was Saint Valentine’s day, when every bird of every kind that men can imagine comes to this place to choose his mate.”

The saintliness of Valentine’s Day
But all of this isn’t to say that the role of the saints is insignificant. As the High Middle Ages promoted a new standard of chivalry with its particular code of courtesy, restraint and honor shown to high-born ladies, a new standard of courtly love began to replace the more primitive cultural mores in the nobility and aristocracy, and that was decidedly and particularly Christian. To judge from what Valentine’s Day has become now, you might almost forget that at the time that it ascended from a local to an international phenomenon, the kind of romance that it betokened was not merely carnal or secular. Here’s a Wikipedia entry on the rise of romantic love notes:

Religious meditations upon the Virgin Mary were partially responsible for the development of chivalry as an ethic and lifestyle: the concept of the honor of a lady and knightly devotion to her, coupled with an obligatory respect for all women, factored prominently as central to the very identity of medieval knighthood.

Behaviorally, the manner in which a knight was to regard himself towards a lady was with a transcendence of premeditated thought; his virtue ingrained within his character. A chevalier [knight] was to conduct himself always graciously, bestowing upon her the utmost courtesy and attentiveness.

Would Valentine’s Day still be as famous after all these centuries if it had only been another bacchanal, another occasion for licentiousness or outpourings of pure emotion and sentimentality? We’ll never know. But I think not. I think that the element of respect, moderation, and even spirituality that separate romance from lust gave the day its longevity. And I think that the saint that lent the day his name, even if he is barely known to us now, gave us all the blessings that a saint could.

So happy St. Valentine’s Day!

About author:  Grace Brooks is a freelance graphic artist and cartoonist. She converted into the Orthodox Church in 1986, and the journey has never ended. Grace illustrated the children’s book “The Littlest Altar Boy” and designed the holiday workbook “Celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas.” Grace lives with her husband Greg and Siamese cat Senator in Las Vegas, Nevada.