“There was a worthless drunkard, a thief and a bum with impudent eyes. His mother prayed for him day and night with tears. Her son often hurt her, but she trusted in God. He drank her last kopeck, but his mother forgave and bore it all. One day her patience ran out and she cried, “All in vain, no salvation, I can’t pray for him.” And, oblivious to a heavy sleep, she sees Satan sitting on his throne. He shouts, he rages in his anger, he asks the demons angrily: “Why is this alcoholic, hooligan and thief wandering in the world? Why have you not yet brought me this crooked soul?” “The torments of hell have long been ready,” they said, “but the mother’s prayer saves. The powers of darkness are powerless against her.” Suddenly the little demon flies in hastily: “At last the battle is won! Gather for the sinful soul.The mother’s prayer has fallen silent!” The pack of demons with laughter fled away. The mother, awakened, knelt down. “Lord, forgive me this weakness!” And since then the prayer has not been silent.” – Vladimir Artemyev
THURSDAY, APRIL 22, 2021
Invincible: The Raising of Lazarus
”So, what’s so special about Lazarus Saturday?” asked my kids, meaning: “So why do we have to go Liturgy twice this weekend?” It’s a legitimate question. One should know these things as an Orthodox Christian.
I will live and survive
by Irina Ratushinskaya
I will live and survive and be asked:
How they slammed my head against a trestle,
How I had to freeze at nights,
How my hair started to turn grey…
But I’ll smile. And will crack some joke
And brush away the encroaching shadow.
And I will render homage to the dry September
That became my second birth.
And I’ll be asked: ‘Doesn’t it hurt you to remember?’
Not being deceived by my outward flippancy.
But the former names will detonate my memory –
Magnificent as an old cannon.
And I will tell of the best people in all the earth,
The most tender, but also the most invincible,
How they said farewell, how they went to be tortured,
How they waited for letters from their loved ones.
And I’ll be asked: what helped us to live
When there were neither letters nor any news – only walls,
And the cold of the cell, and the blather of official lies,
And the sickening promises made in exchange for betrayal.
And I will tell of the first beauty
I saw in captivity.
A frost-covered window! No spy-holes, nor walls,
Nor cell-bars, nor the long endured pain –
Only a blue radiance on a tiny pane of glass,
A cast pattern- none more beautiful could be dreamt!
The more clearly you looked the more powerfully blossomed
Those brigand forests, campfires and birds!
And how many times there was bitter cold weather
And how many windows sparkled after that one –
But never was it repeated,
That upheaval of rainbow ice!
And anyway, what good would it be to me now,
And what would be the pretext for the festival?
Such a gift can only be received once,
And perhaps is only needed once.
(Irina Ratushinskaya, the Ukrainian poet and dissident, was sentenced to 7 years jail in Mordovia in 1983 for “anti Soviet agitation and propaganda.” In prison, she wrote poetry in miniscule script on cigarette papers or bars of soap which she later dissolved in water after memorizing the verses.)
“So, what’s so special about Lazarus Saturday?” asked my kids, meaning: “So why do we have to go Liturgy twice this weekend?” It’s a legitimate question. One should know these things as an Orthodox Christian. And I’m pretty sure I was all over it ten years ago, when learning to adjust to this ancient faith was like a full-time occupation. Somewhere along the line, however, I fell wholly into the rhythm of the life of the Church and those hyper-vigilant inquiries naturally quieted. I just got down to the business of showing up whenever services were scheduled, because that’s what I do now: Show up “as is,” both when I feel like it and when I don’t.
As a feelings-obsessed over-analyzer, it’s probably healthy that my affinity for answers and explanations has been dulled some. Still though, the fact I equated Lazarus Saturday mainly with the parish beautification event taking place afterwards, was a wake up call. Had my children not asked specifically why the raising of Lazarus from the dead is so significant to us as Christians, particularly two weeks from Pascha, I most likely wouldn’t have taken the time to reflect a whole lot on the matter.
It all comes down to either claiming the spiritual treasures the Church for two millennia has mercifully offered our impoverished souls, or passing them by. Heaven knows I could use a little encouragement; I’m awfully tired. Thus my choice this afternoon to journey back to that tomb containing the four days dead brother of Mary. What does it mean for me presently that Jesus wept there before defying the natural order of things by breathing life into a corpse? “Come and see!” says the Church. God, help me see more clearly.
It’s probably best to start with this official explanation, a profound one I lifted from the Orthodox Church in America website:
Lazarus Saturday is a paschal celebration. It is the only time in the entire Church Year that the resurrectional service of Sunday is celebrated on another day. At the liturgy of Lazarus Saturday, the Church glorifies Christ as “the Resurrection and the Life” who, by raising Lazarus, has confirmed the universal resurrection of mankind even before his own suffering and death.
By raising Lazarus from the dead before Thy passion, we will sing during the Liturgy of Lazarus Saturday, Thou didst confirm the universal resurrection, 0 Christ God! Like the children with the branches of victory, we cry out to Thee, O Vanquisher of Death: Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord! (Troparion).
So first and foremost, it would seem, the message is this:
Death has been crushed.
Death, and all its finality, has been trampled, vanquished by Christ who is all love, all mercy, omnipotent. This is phenomenal news, obviously. But there is more to the story of Lazarus than just that grand, life affirming, finale. What I’m particularly drawn to currently is the events preceding Lazarus’ resurrection. I am captivated by Jesus’ own emotional reaction to the anguish of Mary and Martha, so convinced by that point all was lost – so heart wrenchingly unsalvageable. Jesus knew that in the end, life would reign, joy would outweigh the sorrow, and yet he grieved before performing that great miracle of miracles. He grieved for his beloved friend decaying in the tomb. And He grieved for us, I’d like to think, all of humanity who must endure great trials, loss, abuse, injustice, as a result of our free will and fallenness – for us who, while on this earth, must fight hard and ceaselessly to believe in what cannot be seen, in a divine compassion we cannot fathom.
I’ll be the first to admit it sometimes seems irresistibly easier to just surrender to the despair, or the instantly gratifying pleasures of materialism and the approval accompanying the embracing of worldly priorities and ideals. When you’re exhausted from the day after day effort of battling doubts, struggling against the current, resisting the urge to lie down and allow the fear, resentment, selfishness, hatred (all the vices we as Christians are called to resist) to bury you alive, then seizing rest and welcoming help becomes critical. If I can with humility accept my need to be carried along for awhile by the sacraments of the Church and the prayers of others, there is hope for me yet. Lazarus becomes then for me a shining example of how to not assume I am ever too far gone for a resurrection, a rebirth – of how to come forth when called, even still wrapped in the ties that bind me, and acquiesce with gratitude to His undeserved grace.
And I will tell first of the beauty I saw in captivity, wrote the poet Irina. That is a war cry against death, despair and hopelessness if I’ve ever heard one! Blessed are they who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.
By Saint Ephraim the Syrian – 4th Century
We confess one and the same individual as perfect God and perfect man. He is God the Word Which was flesh.
For if He was not man, why was Mary chosen? And if He is not God, whom does Gabriel call Lord?
If He was not man, who was laid in a manger? And if He is not God, whom did the angels who came down from heaven glorify?
If He was not man, who was wrapped in swaddling clothes? And if He is not God, in whose honor did the star appear?
If He was not man, whom did Simeon hold in his arms? And if He is not God, to whom did Simeon say, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace?
If He was not man, whom did Joseph take when he fled into Egypt? And if he is not God, who fulfilled the prophecy: Out of Egypt have I called my Son?
If He was not man, whom did John baptize? And if He is not God, to whom did the Father say: This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased?
If He was not man, who hungered in the desert? And if He is not God, unto whom did the angels come and minister?
If He was not man, who was invited to the marriage in Cana of Galilee? And if He is not God, who turned the water into wine?
If He was not man, who took the loaves in the desert? And if He is not God, who fed the five thousand men and their women and children with five loaves and two fish?
If he was not man, who slept in the ship? And if He is not God, who rebuked the waves and the sea?
If He was not man, with whom did Simon the Pharisee sit at meat? And if He is not God, who forgave the sins of the harlot?
If He was not man, who wore a man’s garment? And if He is not God, who healed the woman with the issue of blood when she touched His garment?
If He was not man, who spat on the ground and made clay? And if He is not God, who gave sight to the eyes of the blind man with the clay?
If He was not man, who wept at Lazarus’ grave? And if He is not God, who commanded him to come forth out of the grave four days after his death?
If He was not man, whom did the Jews arrest in the garden? And if He is not God, who cast them to the ground with the words: I am He?
If He was not man, who was judged before Pilate? And if He is not God, who frightened Pilate’s wife in a dream?
If He was not man, whose garments were stripped from Him and parted by the soldiers? And if He is not God, why was the sun darkened upon His crucifixion?
If He was not man, who was crucified on the cross? And if He is not God, who shook the foundation of the earth?
If He is not man, whose hands and feet were nailed to the cross? And if He is not God, how did it happen that the veil of the temple was rent in twain, the rocks were rent, and the graves were opened?
If He was not man, who hung on the cross between the two thieves? And if He is not God, how could He say to the thief: Today thou shalt be with me in paradise?
If He was not man, who cried out, and gave up the ghost? And if He is not God, whose cry caused many bodies of the saints which slept to arise?
If He was not man, whom did the women see laid in the grave? And if He is not God, about whom did the angel say to them: He is arisen, He is not here?
If He was not man, whom did Thomas touch when he put his hands into the prints of the nails? And if He is not God, who entered through the doors that were shut?
If He was not man, who ate at the sea of Tiberias? And if He is not God, on whose orders were the nets filled with fish?
If He was not man, whom did the apostles see carried up into heaven? And if He is not God, who ascended to the joyful cries of the angels, and to whom did the Father proclaim: sit at My right hand?
If He is not God and man then, indeed, our salvation is false, and false are the pronouncements of the prophets.
The Holy Great Martyr Barbara lived during the reign of Emperor Maximian (305-311). Her father,
the pagan Dioscorus, was a rich and illustrious man in the Syriancity of Heliopolis. After the death of
his wife, he devoted himself to his only daughter. Realizing Barbara’s extraordinary beauty, Dioscorus hid her from the eyes of strangers. He built a tower where only her pagan teachers were allowed to see her. From the tower, there was a view of hills stretching into the distance. By day she was able to gaze upon the wooded hills, the swiftly flowing rivers, and the meadows covered with a blanket of flowers; by night the harmonious and majestic heavens twinkled and provided a spectacle of inexpressible beauty. Soon she began to ask herself questions about the Creator of so splendid a
world. Gradually, she became convinced that the soulless idols were merely the work of human hands. Although her father and teachers offered them worship, she realized that the idols could not have made the surrounding world. The desire to know the True God so consumed her soul that Barbara decided to devote all her life to this goal, and to spend her life in virginity.
The fame of Barbara’s beauty spread throughout the city, and many sought her hand in
marriage. Despite the entreaties of her father, she refused all of them. Barbara warned
her father that his persistence might separate them forever. Dioscorus decided that his
daughter’s temperament had been affected by her life of seclusion. He therefore
permitted her to leave the tower and gave her full freedom in her choice of friends and
acquaintances. Barbara met young Christian maidens in the city, and they taught her
about the Creator of the world, the Trinity, and the Divine Logos. Through the
Providence of God, a priest arrived from Alexandria disguised as a merchant. After
instructing her in the mysteries of the Christian Faith, he baptized Barbara, then returned
to his own country.
At this same time, a luxurious bathhouse was being built at Dioscorus’s home. By his
orders, the workers prepared two windows on the south side, but Barbara, taking
advantage of her father’s absence, asked them to make a third window, thereby forming
a Trinity of light. On one of the walls of the bathhouse, Barbara traced a cross into the
marble with her finger. Later, her footprints came to be imprinted on the stone steps. The
water of the bathhouse had great healing power, with St. Simeon Metaphrastes
comparing it to the stream of Jordan and the Pool of Siloam.
When Dioscorus returned and saw the changes to the bathhouse, Barbara told him
about how she had come to know about the saving power of the Son of God and the
futility of worshipping idols. Dioscorus became enraged, grabbing a sword and almost
striking her with it. Barbara fled, but her father rushed after her. His path became
blocked by a hill, which opened up and concealed St. Barbara in a crevice.
After a long and fruitless search for his daughter, Dioscorus encountered two shepherds
on the same hill. One of them showed him the cave where St. Barbara had hidden.
Dioscorus found his daughter, beat her, and placed her under guard, attempting to wear
her down with hunger. Finally, he handed her over to the prefect of the city, Martianus.
St. Barbara was beaten incessantly. By night, she prayed fervently to her Heavenly
Bridegroom, and the Savior Himself appeared and healed her wounds. Upon seeing that
her wounds were healed, she was subjected to new tortures. In the crowd where
Barbara was being tortured was a virtuous Christian woman, Juliana. Her heart was
filled with sympathy for the voluntary martyrdom of the beautiful young woman, and she
also wanted to suffer for Christ. Juliana began to denounce the torturers in a loud voice,
and they seized her.
Both women were repeatedly tortured. Their bodies were raked and wounded with
hooks, and they were led naked through the city amidst derision and jeers. Through the
prayers of St. Barbara, the Lord sent an angel who covered the nakedness of the holy
martyrs with a splendid robe. Shortly thereafter, Sts. Barbara and Juliana were
beheaded, with Dioscorus himself delivering the fatal blow to his own daughter. The
wrath of God was not slow to punish both Martianus and Dioscorus – they were killed
after being struck by lightning.
In the sixth century, the relics of the holy Greatmartyr Barbara were transferred to
Constantinople. Six hundred years later, they were transferred to Kiev by Barbara, the
daughter of Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenos, who married Russian Prince Michael
Izyaslavich. They rest at Kiev’s St. Vladimir Cathedral, where an Akathist to the saint is
served each Tuesday. Many pious Orthodox Christians are in the habit of chanting the
Troparion of St. Barbara each day, recalling the Savior’s promise that those who
remembered her and her sufferings would be preserved from a sudden, unexpected
death, and would not depart this life without the benefit of the Holy Mysteries of Christ.
Troparion (Tone 8)
Let us honor the holy martyr Barbara,
for as a bird she escaped the snares of the enemy,
and destroyed them through the help and defense
of the Cross.
Kontakion (Tone 4)
Singing the praises of the Trinity,
you followed God by enduring suffering;
you renounced the multitude of idols,
O holy martyr Barbara.
In your struggles, you were not frightened by the threats of your torturers, but cried out in
a loud voice:
“I worship the Trinity in one God-head.”
By permission of the Orthodox Church in America (www.oca.org)
Today is the prelude of God’s goodwill and the prophecy of the salvation of men. The Virgin appears openly in the temple of God and foretells Christ to all. So let us cry to her with loud voices: Rejoice, thou who art the fulfillment of the Creator’s providence.
+Troparion of the Feast, Tone 4
On November 21 in the Holy Orthodox Church we celebrate the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. Leading the procession into the Temple were virgins with lighted tapers in their hands, then the three-year-old most-holy virgin, led by her father and mother. The virgin was clad in vesture of royal magnificence and adornments as was befitting the “King’s daughter, the Bride of God” (Psalm 44:13-15).
Following them were many kinsmen and friends, all with lighted tapers. Fifteen steps led up to the Temple. Joachim and Anna lifted the virgin onto the first step, then she ran quickly to the top herself, where she was met by the High Priest Zachariah, who was to be the father of St. John the Forerunner. Taking her by the hand, he led her not only into the Temple, but into the “Holy of Holies,” the holiest of holy places, into which no one but the high priest ever entered, and only once each year, at that. Zachariah “was outside himself and possessed by God” when he led the virgin into the holiest place in the Temple, beyond the second curtain—otherwise, his action could not be explained.
The most-holy virgin remained in the Temple and dwelt there for nine full years. While her parents were alive, they visited her often. When God called her parents from this world, the most-holy virgin was left an orphan and did not wish to leave the Temple until death or to enter into marriage. The most-holy virgin Mary was the first of such life-vowed virgins, of the thousands and thousands of virgin men and women who would follow her in the Church of Christ.
Through her intercessions, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy upon us, and save us. Amen.
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.”
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
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?
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.
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.
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.”
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).