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.

 

St. Simeon of the Prayer: A Story from Holy Tradition Fr. Michael J. Buben

According to the witness of Holy Scripture, the old Simeon was a man “just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Ghost was upon him.” (Luke 2:25) From God, Simeon had been foretold about the coming of the true Messiah. Ancient historians teach us the following about St. Simeon.

The great and divinely inspired work of translating the Old Testament books from the Hebrew to the Greek language was begun by Ptolemy Philadelphus, King of Egypt. Seventy-two (sometimes referred to as 70) Hebrew elders from the twelve tribes of Israel were selected for the work of translation. Each Hebrew elder was a teacher of Mosaic Law, a scriptural scholar, and proficient in both the Greek and Hebrew languages. These divinely inspired men brought forth the Septuagint version of the Old Testament. Among these scholars who translated the books of the Old Testament into Greek on the island of Pharos, near the city of Alexandria, was the elder Simeon.

While translating the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Simeon came to the words; “Behold a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son” (Isaiah 7:14). Reading them, he became confused, thinking that it was impossible for a Virgin without husband to give birth. Simeon took a knife and was ready to erase the word — Virgin  — and substitute the word — wife. At this time an angel of God appeared, held Simeon’s hand and said:

“Have faith in the written word, and you yourself will see its fulfillment. You will not die until you yourself see the one who is to be born of a pure Virgin — the Lord Christ.”

With a strong belief in the prophetical words of the angel, Simeon impatiently waited the coming to earth of the Anointed One. For many, many years he led a righteous and immaculate life, avoiding all temptation and evil. Daily he prayed at the Temple that God would grant peace and mercy on His earth and save mankind from the all-vain Devil. His eyes gazed upon many infants who were brought to the Temple forty days after birth according to the Law of Moses (Exodus 13, 2). With all the infirmities of old age, and perhaps even a wish for release, Simeon continued to believe, and hope, and pray.

Forty days after Christmas, SS. Mary and Joseph carried the Infant Jesus from Bethlehem to Jerusalem to present Him in thanksgiving at the Temple. When Simeon saw the Eternal Infant, he immediately recognized the predicted Messiah; and here at last stood she through whom the prophecy of Isaiah was accomplished. Seeing the Holy Family surrounded by a heavenly glow and crowned by a Godly light, Simeon with fear and joy came forth, received the God-Infant, and while carrying Him exclaimed: “Lord now lettest thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for mine eves have seen Thy Salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people: a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32).

After this Simeon foretold the passion of Christ, the crucifixion, and the sorrow of the Theotokos seeing her Son on the cross. (Luke 2:34-35). He soon fell asleep in the Lord at an age likened to the patriarchs of the first biblical era. God had willed that he should live to the moment awaited for many ages — the birth of the Ageless Son from a Virgin to Whom be glory forever. Amen.

First published in The Word magazine, March 1960

Homily on the Nativity of Christ by St. John Chrysostem

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Homily on the Nativity of Christ

 

If any man be devout and love God,

Let him enjoy this fair and radiant natal feast!

If any man be a wise servant,

Let him rejoicing behold the birth of his Lord!

If any has labored long in preparing,

Let him draw near, “for all is now ready”!

If any “has bought a field”,

Let him today approach the Sower.

If any has “bought five yoke of oxen”,

Let him with thankfulness flee to his Master’s crib.

If any has “married a spouse”,

Let him have no misgivings

And make haste to the Bridegroom.

Come “poor and maimed”!

Come “blind and lame”!

For the Lord, who prepares the banquet

Compels you to draw near!

 

He displays his glory to him who comes at the last hour

Even as unto him who has drawn near since the first hour.

And he welcomes the last, and serves the first.

And from the one he accepts honor, and from the other he accepts gifts.

 

And he both commands the deeds,

And welcomes the worship, And honors the adoration,

And praises the offering.

 

Wherefore, enter you all into the Nativity of your Lord;

And receive your King,

Both the Gentile and likewise the Jew.

You rich and you poor together, hold high festival.

You sober and you heedless, honor the day!

Rejoice today, both you who have prepared,

And you who have ignored.

The Cave is made paradise; adore you all with joy!

The fatted calf is born; let all draw near and behold!

 

Enjoy you all the feast of faith;

Receive you all the riches of loving-kindness.

 

Let no one bewail his low estate,

For the Universal King has been revealed.

Let no one weep for his iniquities,

For pardon is born in the manger!

Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s birth begets our liberty.

The Uncircumscribed Word is bound in swaddling clothes to set us free!

By condescending to be born, Divine Radiance illumines the earth.

Light comes to shine in the darkness, which shall not overcome it!

 

And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry:

A virgin, said he, would bear a Son,

And call His name Immanuel.

The universe rejoices for the Lord has sent Word!

It rejoices for to us a Child is born!

It rejoices for to us a Son is given!

It rejoices for the government shall be upon His shoulders!

It rejoices for of His peace there shall be no end!

 

The earth received a baby, and met God face to face.

The Virgin’s womb became more spacious than the heavens.

It received He who is, who came to be that which he was not.

 

O Herod, behold your King! O World, behold your Lord!

 

Christ is Born; darkness retreat!

Christ is Born; ox and ass keep watch!  Magi come to worship!

Christ is Born, choirs of angels rejoice!

Christ is Born, all of creation is renewed!

Christ is Born, and not one creature remains untouched!

 

For Christ, being born in the flesh,

Is become the first-born of all creation!

To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.

 

 

St. Herman of Alaska


St. Herman of Alaska + December 13
by Virginia Nieuwsma

In an obscure corner of what is now Alaska, on an Aleutian island called Spruce, a monk labored from the late​ 1700’s until his repose in 1837. Braving subzero temperatures, plagues and storms, and ill treatment from people who resented and misunderstood him, St. Herman lived a life marked by astonishing ascetic labor that gave birth to a deep love and concern for all with whom he came in contact. Strangely, despite the miracles associated with him not only throughout his life but also, after his death, he was all but forgotten after he reposed.

“Thirty years will pass after my death, all those who live now on Spruce Island will be dead, you alone will remain alive, and you will be old and poor; then they will remember me,” Father Herman said to his Aleut follower, Ignatius Aliaga. As with other prophecies of the saint, this one too was fulfilled, as in 1867, Bishop Peter of Alaska began a formal investigation into his life. It wasn’t until 1894 that his story became known to the outside world, and then his glorification waited another 76 years, until August 9, 1970.

Born into a merchant family in the diocese of Moscow, St. Herman became a monk when he was still a teenager, first entering the Holy Trinity Sergius Hermitage near Petersburg, then later moving on to venerable Valaam Monastery. The saint grew to love Valaam with his entire being; monks there remembered him singing at the cliros in a pleasant tenor voice, while tears streamed from his eyes. For the rest of his life, St. Herman considered Valaam his spiritual home; indeed, he called his hermitage on Spruce Island “New Valaam.” In a letter to Abbot Nazarius, he once wrote, “Your paternal kindness to my lowliness will not be erased from my heart, neither the terrible impenetrable Siberian wilds, nor its dark forests, nor will the great rivers wash away the memory; neither will rough seas extinguish these feelings. For in my mind I imagine my beloved Valaam and look always at it across the great ocean.”

In the second half of the 1700s, explorers were expanding the boundaries of Russia, and Metropolitan Gabriel asked Valaam’s Elder Nazarius to choose ten men to evangelize the Aleutians. Sadly, after five successful years of founding schools and churches, the head of the mission Archimandrite Ioasaph and his entire entourage drowned. One after another, others working on the mission left, until St. Herman remained alone.

One time, St. Herman was asked, “How do you, Fr. Herman, manage to live alone in the forest, don’t you get bored?” He answered “No, I’m not alone there! There is God, and God is everywhere! There are holy angels! How can one be bored with them? With whom is it more pleasant and better to converse, angels or people? Angels, of course!”

In addition to conversing with the angels throughout his hours of prayer and worship, St. Herman worked tirelessly. He ate and slept very little and when he slept, he used a bed that was a board, resting his head on a pillow of bricks. All his life, he wore the same simple clothing—a sleeveless deerskin shirt, his cassock and monk’s hat, a faded, patched mantle, and his shoes. In rain and storms, in the midst of winter snow or severe frost, he never changed his garments or added layers for warmth. His physical feats astonished those who knew him; one disciple saw him walking barefoot on a winter’s night, hauling a log that would have been difficult for four men to carry. With his own hands he built his cell and chapel, hauled baskets of kelp from the ocean to fertilize his garden, and in the midst of the labor meticulously kept the monk’s rule of services and prayers.

Tending his own garden and diligently observing his monastic rule didn’t keep St. Herman from reaching out with great love and concern to his Aleutian neighbors. On feast days and Sundays, he would gather them in the chapel next to his cell, and lead them in holy services; the people loved to listen to his spiritual teaching, and would visit him at all hours of the day and night, staying until early morning to absorb his instruction. The local Russian governor Yanovsky recalled, “To my amazement he spoke so powerfully, so sensibly, and argued so convincingly that it now seems to me that no education or earthly wisdom could withstand his words. We conversed every day until midnight, and even later, about the love of God, about eternity, about the salvation of the soul, and about Christian life. His sweet speech poured forth from his lips in an unceasing stream.”

Saint Herman especially loved the Aleutian children, for whom he would bake cookies, and he watched over those who were weak and powerless. He started a school for orphans, tended the sick during a plague that decimated the population, and defended the native Aleuts before the Russian fur traders who were exploiting them. The people began to tell each other of miracles they’d seen. Father Herman would tell someone of a future event and it would come to pass; animals, even bears, would eat from his hands; he placed an icon of the Mother of God in the sand and a tidal wave receded back into the ocean.

People flocked to the elder for counsel and help. Affectionately, the Aleuts began to call him their “North Star,” referring to how his teaching guided and grounded them, or the even more intimate “Apa,” which meant grandfather. Couples with troubled marriages would seek his advice. With meekness, he would reproach people for their lack of sobriety or their cruelty. He himself for years refused any titles of elevation within the church, preferring the simplest designation, “monk.” His letters reflect his simplicity and tender disposition. “Our sins,” he wrote, “do not in the least hinder our Christianity… Sin, to one who loves God, is nothing other than an arrow from the enemy in battle. The vain desires of this world separate us from our homeland; love of them and habit clothe our soul as if in a hideous garment. We who travel on the journey of this life and call on God to help us, ought to divest ourselves of this garment and clothe ourselves in new desires, in a new love of the age to come, and thereby receive knowledge of how near or how far we are from our heavenly homeland.”

As the time of St. Herman’s repose drew closer, he began to tell his disciples to prepare, giving them specific instructions about his burial and services. Everything he prophesied related to his death came to pass, exactly as he had foretold, and so it was that on December 13, 1837, he leaned his head on the chest of his disciple Gerasim and reposed. “Glory to Thee, O Lord,” he pronounced with shining face, just before taking his last breath. In various Aleutian towns, people reported seeing a pillar of light, reaching from Spruce Island to the heavens. “St. Herman has left us,” one villager reportedly said.

Fortunately for the Aleuts and all Alaskans, St. Herman hasn’t ever left them. Miracles attributed to his intercessions have happened since his repose and are still happening today. Most Native Alaskans today are still Orthodox, and they honor his memory with prayers and pilgrimages. His relics rest in the Resurrection Church on Kodiak, and Orthodox faithful from all over the world come to venerate them and ask for his prayers.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

O blessed Father Herman of Alaska,
North star of Christ’s holy Church,
The light of your holy life and great deeds,
Guides those who follow the Orthodox Way.
Together we lift high the Holy Cross
You planted firmly in America.
Let all behold and glorify Jesus Christ,
Singing His Holy Resurrection.

Blessed ascetic of the northern wilds
And gracious intercessor for the whole world,
Teacher of the Orthodox Faith
And good instructor of piety,
Adornment of Alaska and joy of all America,
Holy Father Herman
Pray to Christ God that He save our souls.​

Entry of the Most-Holy Theotokos into the Temple

ENTRY INTO THE TEMPLE OF OUR

MOST HOLY LADY MOTHER OF GOD AND EVER VIRGIN MARY

Celebrated on the 21st Day of the Month November

 

The Entry into the Temple of the Most Holy Mother of God happened, according to the preserved accounts of Holy Tradition, in the following manner. The parents of the Virgin Mary, Righteous Joakim and Anna, in praying for a solution to their childlessness, gave a vow that if a child were born to them, they would dedicate it to the service of God.

When the Most Holy Virgin reached three years of age, the holy parents decided to fulfill their vow. Having gathered together their kinsfolk and acquaintances, and having dressed the All-Pure Mary in Her finest clothes, and with the singing of sacred songs and with lighted candles in their hands they carried Her to the Jerusalem Temple. There the high-priest with a throng of priests met the maiden of God. In the Temple, the stairway led up fifteen high steps. The Child Mary, so it seemed, could not Herself make it up this stairway. But just as they placed Her on the first step, strengthened by the power of God, She quickly made it up over the remaining steps and ascended to the highest. Then the high-priest through an inspiration from above, led the Most Holy Virgin into the Holy of Holies, and herein of all people it was only the high-priest that entered one time a year with a purifying sacrifice of blood. Therefore all those present in the Temple were astonished at this most unusual occurrence.

Righteous Joakim and Anna, having entrusted their Child to the will of the Heavenly Father, returned home. The Most Blessed Mary remained in the domicile for girls, situated near the Temple. Round about the Temple, through the testimony of Holy Scripture (Exodus 38; 1 Kings 1: 28; Lk. 2: 37), and also the historian Josephus Flavius, there were many living quarters, in which dwelt those dedicated to the service of God. The earthly life of the Most Holy Mother of God from the time of Her infancy to the time of Her ascent to Heaven is shrouded in deep mystery. Her life at the Jerusalem Temple was also a secret. “If anyone were to ask me, — said Blessed Jerome, — how the Most Holy Virgin spent the time of Her youth, — I would answer: that is known to God Himself and the Archangel Gabriel, Her constant guardian”.

But in the Church tradition there were preserved accounts, that during the time of the stay of the All-Pure Virgin at the Jerusalem Temple, She grew up in a community of pious virgins, read diligently the Holy Scripture, occupied Herself with handcrafts, prayed constantly and grew in love for God. In remembrance of the Entry of the Most Holy Mother of God into the Jerusalem Temple, Holy Church from ancient times established a solemn feastday. The decretals for the making of the feast in the first centuries of Christianity are found in the traditions of the Palestinian Christians, where mention is made that the holy Empress Helen built a church in honor of the Entry into the Temple of the Most Holy Mother of God.  In the IV Century there is mention of this feast by Sainted Gregory of Nyssa. In the VIII Century Saints Germanos and Tarasios, Constantinople Patriarchs, delivered sermons on the feastday of the Entry.

The feast of the Entry into the Temple of the Most Holy Mother of God — foretells the blessing of God for the human race, the preaching of salvation, the promise of the coming of Christ.

Translation by Fr. Stephen Janos from the Moscow Patriarchate texts, “Reference Book for Clergy-Servers”