Tue May 21, 2013
First Prayer of the Orthros said by the Priest during the reading of the Six Psalms
“We give thanks unto you, O Lord our God, who has raised us up from our beds, and has put into our mouths the word of praise that we may worship and call upon your holy name. We pray, by your compassion which you have always exercised in our life, send forth now also your aid upon those who stand before the presence of your holy glory, and await the rich mercy which is from you. And grant that they always with fear and love may adore, praise, and hymn you, and worship your indescribable goodness. For to you belong all glory, honor, and worship, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”
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Wed May 15, 2013
Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women
[ From the website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America http://www.goarch.org/chapel/saints_view?contentid=1067&PCode=2PS&D=S&date=5/19/2013 ]
About the beginning of His thirty-second year, when the Lord Jesus was going throughout Galilee, preaching and working miracles, many women who had received of His beneficence left their own homeland and from then on followed after Him. They ministered unto Him out of their own possessions, even until His crucifixion and entombment; and afterwards, neither losing faith in Him after His death, nor fearing the wrath of the Jewish rulers, they came to the sepulchre, bearing the myrrh-oils they had prepared to annoint His body. It is because of the myrrh-oils, that these God-loving women brought to the tomb of Jesus that they are called the Myrrh-bearers. Of those whose names are known are the following: first of all, the most holy Virgin Mary, who in Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40 is called "the mother of James and Joses" (these are the sons of Joseph by a previous marriage, and she was therefore their step-mother); Mary Magdalene (celebrated July 22); Mary, the wife of Clopas; Joanna, wife of Chouza, a steward of Herod Antipas; Salome, the mother of the sons of Zebedee, Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus; and Susanna. As for the names of the rest of them, the evangelists have kept silence (Matt 27:55-56; 28:1-10. Mark 15:40-41. Luke 8:1-3; 23:55-24:11, 22-24. John 19:25; 20:11-18. Acts 1:14).
Together with them we celebrate also the secret disciples of the Saviour, Joseph and Nicodemus. Of these, Nicodemus was probably a Jerusalemite, a prominent leader among the Jews and of the order of the Pharisees, learned in the Law and instructed in the Holy Scriptures. He had believed in Christ when, at the beginning of our Saviour's preaching of salvation, he came to Him by night. Furthermore, he brought some one hundred pounds of myrrh-oils and an aromatic mixture of aloes and spices out of reverence and love for the divine Teacher (John 19:39). Joseph, who was from the city of Arimathea, was a wealthy and noble man, and one of the counsellors who were in Jerusalem. He went boldly unto Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus, and together with Nicodemus he gave Him burial. Since time did not permit the preparation of another tomb, he placed the Lord's body in his own tomb which was hewn out of rock, as the Evangelist says (Matt. 27:60).
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Mon May 06, 2013
Saint John Chrysostom on the Truth of the Resurrection
Seest thou how they labour for the truth against their will? For they themselves came to Pilate, themselves asked, themselves sealed, setting the watch, so as to be accusers, and refuters one of another. And indeed when should they have stolen Him? on the Sabbath? And how? for it was not lawful so much as to go out. And even if they transgressed the law, how should they have dared, who were so timid, to come forth? And how could they also have been able to persuade the multitude? By saying what? By doing what? And from what sort of zeal could they have stood in behalf of the dead? expecting what recompense? what requital? Seeing Him yet alive and merely seized, they had fled; and after His death were they likely to speak boldly in His behalf, unless He had risen again? And how should these things be reasonable? For that they were neither willing nor able to feign a resurrection that did not take place, is plain from hence. He discoursed to them of a resurrection, and continually said, as indeed these very men have stated, "After three days I rise again." If therefore He rose not again, it is quite clear that these men (having been deceived and made enemies to an entire nation for His sake, and come to be without home and without city) would have abhorred Him, and would not have been willing to invest Him with such glory; as having been deceived, and having fallen into the utmost dangers on His account. For that they would not even have been able, unless the resurrection had been true, to feign it, this does not so much as need reasoning. For in what were they confident? In the shrewdness of their reasonings? Nay of all men they were the most unlearned. But in the abundance of their possessions? Nay, they neither had staff nor shoes. But in the distinction of their race? Nay, they were mean, and of mean ancestors. But in the greatness of their country? Nay, they were of obscure places. But in their own numbers? Nay, they were not more than eleven, and they were scattered abroad. But in their Master's promises? What kind of promises? For if He were not risen again, neither would those be likely to be trusted by them. And how should they endure a frantic people. For if the chief of them endured not the speech of a woman, keeping the door, and if all the rest too, on seeing Him bound, were scattered abroad, how should they have thought to run to the ends of the earth, and plant a feigned tale of a resurrection? For if he stood not a woman's threat, and they not so much the sight of bonds, how were they able to stand against kings, and rulers, and nations, where were swords, and gridirons, and furnaces, and ten thousand deaths by day, unless they had the benefit of the power and grace of Him who rose again? Such miracles and so many were done, and none of these things did the Jews regard, but crucified Him Who had done them, and were they likely to believe these men at their mere word about a resurrection? These things are not, they are not so, but the might of Him Who rose again brought them to pass.
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Mon Apr 22, 2013
Palm Sunday: The Feast of the Entrance of our Lord Jesus Christ into Jerusalem
On the Sunday before the Feast of Great and Holy Pascha and at the beginning of Holy Week, the Orthodox Church celebrates one of its most joyous feasts of the year. Palm Sunday is the commemoration of the Entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem following His glorious miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. Having anticipated His arrival and having heard of the miracle, the people when out to meet the Lord and welcomed Him with displays of honor and shouts of praise. On this day, we receive and worship Christ in this same manner, acknowledging Him as our King and Lord.
The biblical story of Palm Sunday is recorded in all four of the Gospels (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:28-38; and John 12:12-18). Five days before the Passover, Jesus came from Bethany to Jerusalem. Having sent two of His disciples to bring Him a colt of a donkey, Jesus sat upon it and entered the city.
People had gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover and were looking for Jesus, both because of His great works and teaching and because they had heard of the miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus. When they heard that Christ was entering the city, they went out to meet Him with palm branches, laying their garments on the ground before Him, and shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he that comes in the Name of the Lord, the King of Israel!”
At the outset of His public ministry Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God and announced that the powers of the age to come were already active in the present age (Luke 7:18-22). His words and mighty works were performed "to produce repentance as the response to His call, a call to an inward change of mind and heart which would result in concrete changes in one's life, a call to follow Him and accept His messianic destiny. The triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is a messianic event, through which His divine authority was declared.
Palm Sunday summons us to behold our king: the Word of God made flesh. We are called to behold Him not simply as the One who came to us once riding on a colt, but as the One who is always present in His Church, coming ceaselessly to us in power and glory at every Eucharist, in every prayer and sacrament, and in every act of love, kindness and mercy. He comes to free us from all our fears and insecurities, "to take solemn possession of our soul, and to be enthroned in our heart," as someone has said. He comes not only to deliver us from our deaths by His death and Resurrection, but also to make us capable of attaining the most perfect fellowship or union with Him. He is the King, who liberates us from the darkness of sin and the bondage of death. Palm Sunday summons us to behold our King: the vanquisher of death and the giver of life.
Palm Sunday summons us to accept both the rule and the kingdom of God as the goal and content of our Christian life. We draw our identity from Christ and His kingdom. The kingdom is Christ - His indescribable power, boundless mercy and incomprehensible abundance given freely to man. The kingdom does not lie at some point or place in the distant future. In the words of the Scripture, the kingdom of God is not only at hand (Matthew 3:2; 4:17), it is within us (Luke 17:21). The kingdom is a present reality as well as a future realization (Matthew 6:10). Theophan the Recluse wrote the following words about the inward rule of Christ the King:
“The Kingdom of God is within us when God reigns in us, when the soul in its depths confesses God as its Master, and is obedient to Him in all its powers. Then God acts within it as master ‘both to will and to do of his good pleasure’ (Philippians 2:13). This reign begins as soon as we resolve to serve God in our Lord Jesus Christ, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Then the Christian hands over to God his consciousness and freedom, which comprises the essential substance of our human life, and God accepts the sacrifice; and in this way the alliance of man with God and God with man is achieved, and the covenant with God, which was severed by the Fall and continues to be severed by our willful sins, is re-established.”
The kingdom of God is the life of the Holy Trinity in the world. It is the kingdom of holiness, goodness, truth, beauty, love, peace and joy. These qualities are not works of the human spirit. They proceed from the life of God and reveal God. Christ Himself is the kingdom. He is the God-Man, Who brought God down to earth (John 1:1,14). “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world knew Him not. He came to His own home, and His own people received Him not” (John 1:10-11). He was reviled and hated.
Palm Sunday summons us to behold our king - the Suffering Servant. We cannot understand Jesus' kingship apart from the Passion. Filled with infinite love for the Father and the Holy Spirit, and for creation, in His inexpressible humility Jesus accepted the infinite abasement of the Cross. He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows; He was wounded for our transgressions and made Himself an offering for sin (Isaiah 53). His glorification, which was accomplished by the resurrection and the ascension, was achieved through the Cross.
In the fleeting moments of exuberance that marked Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the world received its King, the king who was on His way to death. His Passion, however, was no morbid desire for martyrdom. Jesus' purpose was to accomplish the mission for which the Father sent Him.
“The Son and Word of the Father, like Him without beginning and eternal, has come today to the city of Jerusalem, seated on a dumb beast, on a foal. From fear the cherubim dare not gaze upon Him; yet the children honor Him with palms and branches, and mystically they sing a hymn of praise: ‘Hosanna in the highest, Hosanna to the Son of David, who has come to save from error all mankind.’” (A hymn of the Light.)
“With our souls cleansed and in spirit carrying branches, with faith let us sing Christ's praises like the children, crying with a loud voice to the Master: Blessed art Thou, O Savior, who hast come into the world to save Adam from the ancient curse; and in Thy love for mankind Thou hast been pleased to become spiritually the new Adam. O Word, who hast ordered all things for our good, glory to Thee.” (A Sessional hymn of the Orthros)
Orthodox Christian Celebration of Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday is celebrated with the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, which is preceded by the Matins service. A Great Vespers is conducted on Saturday evening according to the order prescribed in the Triodion. Scripture readings for Palm Sunday are: At the Vespers: Genesis 49:1,8-12; Zephaniah 3:14-19; Zechariah 9:9-15. At the Orthros (Matins): Matthew 21:1-17. At the Divine Liturgy: Philippians 4:4-9; John 12:1-18.
On this Sunday, in addition to the Divine Liturgy, the Church observes the Blessing and Distribution of the Palms. A basket containing the woven palm crosses is placed on a table in front of the icon of the Lord, which is on the Iconostasion. The prayer for the blessing of the Palms is found in the Ieratikon or the Euxologion. According to the rubrics of the Typikon, this prayer is read at the Orthros just before the Psalms of Praise (Ainoi). The palms are then distributed to the faithful. In many places today, the prayer is said at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, before the apolysis. The text of the prayer, however, indicates clearly that it is less a prayer for the blessing of the palms, even though that is its title, and more a blessing upon those, who in imitation of the New Testament event hold palms in their hands as symbols of Christ's victory and as signs of a virtuous Christian life. It appears then, that it would be more correct to have the faithful hold the palms in their hands during the course of the Divine Liturgy when the Church celebrates both the presence and the coming of the Lord in the mystery of the Eucharist.
Hymns and Prayers of Palm Sunday
Apolytikion: First Tone
By raising Lazarus from the dead before Your passion, You did confirm the universal
resurrection, O Christ God! Like the children with the palms of victory, we cry out to You, O Vanquisher of death: Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!
Apolytikion: Fourth Tone
As by baptism we were burried with Thee, O Christ our God, so by Thy Resurrection we were deemed worthy of immortal life; and praising Thee, we cry: Hosanna in the highest; blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.
Kontakion: Plagal of the Second Tone
Sitting on Your throne in heaven, carried on a foal on earth, O Christ God. Accept the praise of angels and songs of children who sing: Blessed is He that comes to recall Adam.
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Tue Apr 16, 2013
Panagia Ierosolymitissa (The Icon of the Virgin Mary of Jerusalem)
Panagia Ierosolymitissa (Gr. Éåñïóïëõìßôéóóá - Most Holy Lady of Jerusalem) is a very popular icon of the Theotokos because it overlooks the empty tomb of the Most Holy Theotokos at the Sepulcher of the Mother of God in Gethsemane—blessing the numerous pilgrims visiting the Holy Land of Jerusalem. The underground tomb of the Virgin Mary is situated in the Kidron Valley, on the foothills of the Mount of Olives, where the Savior often prayed with His disciples. It is attributed to the Theotokos since it is believed that the Apostles gathered at this location and buried the most-pure body of the Mother of God. Her icon remains there as an endless spring of blessings for all the Christians, celebrated (or venerated) by the name "Panagia Ierosolimitissa."
Since 1757 AD, the entire site belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem. It is shared with the Armenian Apostolic Church and various other Churches have minor rights attributed to this site, such as the Coptic Church, the Syriac Church and others.
History of the Icon
According to Holy Tradition this miraculous icon was painted through the revelation of the Holy Theotokos to a nun named Tatiana from the Holy Monastery of St. Mary Magdalene, around 1870 AD. The story narrated is as follows:
In 1870, there lived a monastic iconographer called Tatiana. One night, a lady appeared to her in a vision saying, "Sister Tatiana, I have come so that you can paint me." Tatiana replied, "Let it be, Blessed Sister; however, I am an iconographer and not a painter." The lady replied, "... well then, you should paint me using your iconographic style." Sister Tatiana was furious with the boldness of this lady's response and said, "I do not have any plank of wood to use." The lady then gave her the plank of wood the sister would need and told her to "paint." In obedience to her guest, the sister started her iconography. Sister Tatiana glanced at her guest, and she noticed the guest's appearance transfigure in front of her. The lady's mantle started to turn into gold and her face was glowing intensely. This change in the appearance of the lady worried Tatiana but the lady spoke to her, saying: "O Blessed Tatiana, you are the only person, after the Apostles and the Evangelist Luke, to have this opportunity to write an icon of me again." Sister Tatiana then realized that she was in the presence of our Holy Mother the Theotokos. In shock she awoke from her vision. She immediately went and informed her Mother Superior of the vision in detail. The abbess did not believe in the story but told her to go to sleep and the following day she could paint an icon of the Panagia with her blessing. Tatiana returned to her cell and before entering she noticed a bright light shining through the door. She hastened to the abbess, once again, to bring her to her cell to witness this light and understand that she was not lying about the visions. Together they returned to Tatiana's cell. Inside, they could smell a beautiful and heavenly fragrance and the light was so bright that only then did they realize that the aroma and the light were coming from an icon of the Virgin Mary. The mysterious and miraculous appearance of the icon had the sisters in shock but our Holy Mother the Theotokos appeared once more to Tatiana and said, "Now take me from here down to my home in Gethsemane of Jerusalem." This is what the abbess and the sister did.
In iconography, this is termed "acheiropoieto" (Gr. an image not painted by hands) and is now located exactly where the Panagia wanted it to be, in her "home," her final resting place at her holy tomb in Gethsemane. The name "Ierosolymitissa" has since been adopted since it means the Most Holy Lady from Jerusalem and is extremely miraculous.
In January of 2000, the icon was flown from Gethsemane to the Metropolitan area of Kitiou to celebrate 2000 years since the birth of Christ. This formal procession occurred in the afternoon at the Metropolitan church of the Sotiros.
Pascha of the Theotokos
In honor of the "Pascha of the Theotokos" (another name for the Dormition), an ancient tradition has taken hold in Jerusalem, repeating the procession of the cross with the shroud of the Theotokos, which bears a two-sided icon with a silver oklad (covering frame). This shroud is kept throughout the year in Gethsemane directly across from the Church of the Resurrection of Christ. And only during the Dormition period does this miracle-working shroud pass into a special canopy at the Sepulcher of the Mother of God. Believers venerate it as they pass through the canopy on their knees.
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Tue Apr 09, 2013
Vesting of the Orthodox Christian Clergy for the Divine and Sacred Liturgy
Before the "Orthros" or Matins (morning prayer), the Priest prepares himself for the Divine Liturgy by special prayers recited outside the Iconostasion (Altar Screen) before the Royal Doors. After paying his respects by kissing the Holy Icons of the Iconostasion, he enters the Sanctuary through the North Door saying:
"I will enter Thy House, and in Thy fear, I will worship toward Thy Holy Temple."
Having entered the Sanctuary, the Priest wears his Vestments. The Liturgical vestments come from the days of the first priests in the old testament. The purpose of vestments were "for glory and for beauty (Ex 28:2 & 40), to enable the leaders for "ministering in the holy place (Ex 35:19, 39:1, 41), "that they may serve Me as priests" (Ex 28:4, 41). Decorating our vestments comes from Old Testament time as well where the garments were bejeweled and made of beautifully colored "fine linen" skillfully worked" and embroidered with needlework (Ex 28:6, 36, 39). with bells of gold (Ex 28:33), and with a plate of gold engraved "Holy is the Lord" (Ex 28:36). They also prefigure our deification(2 Peter 1:4) where we "put off this lowly body and shine brighter than the sun as revealed in Christ's divine light at the Transfiguration" (Philippians 2:20-21).
For each of the five (5) pieces he recites a special prayer as follows:
The Sticharion is the inner garment, reaching to the floor. It signifies the purity of heart, that should be inseparable from the Priestly Office. It states Christ's purity and illumination as well as the purity and brightness of the Holy Angels. Worn as the undermost vestment by bishops and priests, it is usually made from a simple white or gold fabric. It is worn as an outer vestment by deacons and subdeacons when it is usually more decorated. It is open down the sides but held shut with baubles or buttons. Some jurisdictions still call the sticharion which the deacon wears a dalmatikon in accordance with the terminology the universal Church used at the time of its introduction in the fourth century. It is also worn as the outer garment by acolytes. It usually has a cross embroidered or appliquéd to the center of the back, between the shoulder blades.
"My soul shall exalt in the Lord, for He has endued me with the robe of salvation, and with the garment of joy has He clothed me. He has set a crown on my head like a bridegroom, and like a bride He has adorned me with comeliness." (Isaiah Chapter 61, Verse 10)
The Epitrachelion (stole: meaning "on the neck") signifies the outpouring of Grace from Above on the Priest. It also symbolizes the Cross carried by our Lord upon His shoulders. A church service cannot be celebrated without it. It denotes the balance, weight and responsibility that priests have for all our souls. The tassels that hang at the lower part of the Stole represent our souls that hang on the Spiritual Fathers neck.
"Blessed is God, Who pours His grace on His Priests, like the balm on the head, that ran down the beard, even Aaron's beard, down to the skirts of his garment." (Psalm 133, Verse 2)
3. ZONE (Belt):
The Zoni is worn over the Sticharion and Epitrachelion.This girding shows a Priest's readiness for service and the strength he receives from the Holy Spirit to succeed in his mission.
"Blessed is God Who girds me with strength, and makes my way perfect." (Psalm 133, Verse 2)
4. EPIMANIKA (2 Pieces - Cuffs):
The Epimanika symbolize God's creative hands and His omnipotence. The cords which tie them represent the rope with which the Lord was tied.
(Wearing first Epimanika - right cuff)
"Thy right hand, O Lord, is glorified in strength. Thy right hand, O Lord, hast shattered the enemy, and through the multitude of Thy glory Thou hast crushed Thine adversaries." (Exodus Chapter 15, Verses 6-7)
(Wearing second Epimanika - left cuff)
"Thy hands have made me and molded me; given me understanding, and I will learn Thy Commandments." (Psalm 119, Verse 73)
5. PHELONION (Chasuble - The outer vestment in form of cape):
The Phelonion signifies the crimson Robe, with which the soldier clothed our Lord Jesus to mock Him while he was in the Praetorium..
"Let Thy Priest be clothed with righteousness; and let Thy Saints shout for joy, always, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen." (Psalm 132, Verse 9)
Preparing to wear each of these parts of his Vestments, the Priest blesses them with the sign of the cross and kisses them. He then washes his hands to signify his cleanliness, reciting:
"I will wash my hands among the innocent, and so will I go round Thine Altar, O Lord." (Psalm 26, Verse 6)
Vested and completing the Proskomide, the Priest is prepared to begin the Divine Liturgy.
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Tue Apr 02, 2013
The Third Sunday of Great Lent: Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross
On the Third Sunday of Great and Holy Lent, the Orthodox Church commemorates the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Services include a special veneration of the Cross, which prepares the faithful for the commemoration of the Crucifixion during Holy Week.
The Cross reminds us of the Passion of our Lord, and by presenting to us His example, it encourages us to follow Him in struggle and sacrifice, being refreshed, assured, and comforted. In other words, we must experience what the Lord experienced during His Passion - being humiliated in a shameful manner. The Cross teaches us that through pain and suffering we shall see the fulfillment of our hopes: the heavenly inheritance and eternal glory.
As they who walk on a long and hard way and are bowed down by fatigue find great relief and strengthening under the cool shade of a leafy tree, so do we find comfort, refreshment, and rejuvenation under the Life-giving Cross, which our Fathers “planted” on this Sunday. Thus, we are fortified and enabled to continue our Lenten journey with a light step, rested and encouraged.
Or, as before the arrival of the king, his royal standards, trophies, and emblems of victory come in procession and then the king himself appears in a triumphant parade, jubilant and rejoicing in his victory and filling those under him with joy, so does the Feast of the Cross precede the coming of our King, Jesus Christ. It warns us that He is about to proclaim His victory over death and appear to us in the glory of the Resurrection. His Life-Giving Cross is His royal scepter, and by venerating it we are filled with joy, rendering Him glory. Therefore, we become ready to welcome our King, who shall manifestly triumph over the powers of darkness.
The present feast has been placed in the middle of Great Lent for another reason. The Fast can be likened to the spring of Marah whose waters the children of Israel encountered in the wilderness. This water was undrinkable due to its bitterness but became sweet when the Holy Prophet Moses dipped the wood into its depth. Likewise, the wood of the Cross sweetens the days of the Fast, which are bitter and often grievous because of our tears. Yet Christ comforts us during our course through the desert of the Fast, guiding and leading us by His hand to the spiritual Jerusalem on high by the power of His Resurrection.
Moreover, as the Holy Cross is called the Tree of Life, it is placed in the middle of the Fast, as the ancient tree of life was placed in the middle of the garden of Eden. By this, our Holy Fathers wished to remind us of Adam’s gluttony as well as the fact that through this Tree has condemnation been abolished. Therefore, if we bind ourselves to the Holy Cross, we shall never encounter death but shall inherit life eternal.
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Tue Mar 26, 2013
More from St. John Chrysostom on the Importance of Holy and Great Lent
"When He had fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards was hungry, He gave an opportunity to the devil to draw near, so that He might teach us through this encounter how we are to overcome and defeat him. This a wrestler also does. For in order to teach his pupils how to win he himself engages in contests with others, demonstrating on the actual bodies of others that they may learn how to gain the mastery. This is what took place here. For, desiring to draw the devil into contest, He made His hunger known to him. He met him as he approached, and meeting him, with the skill which He alone possessed, He once, twice, and a third time, threw His enemy to the ground."
"And though every day a man lives may rightly be a day of repentance, yet is it in these days more becoming, more appropriate, to confess our sins, to fast, and to give alms to the poor; since in these days you may wash clean the sins of the whole year."
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Advice for Great and Holy Lent by St. John Chrysostom
"Sharpen your sword and your sickle which has been blunted by gluttony - sharpen it by fasting. Lay hold of the pathway which leads towards heaven, rugged and narrow as it is. Lay hold of it, and journey on it.
Fasting is a medicine. But like all medicines, though it be very profitable to the person who knows how to use it, it frequently becomes useless (and even harmful) in the hands of him who is unskilled in its use.
Do you fast? Give proof of it by your works. By what kind of works? If you see a poor man, take pity on him. If you see an enemy, be reconciled with him. If you see a friend gaining honor, do not be jealous of him. If you see a beautiful countenance, pass it by. And let not only the mouth fast, but also the eye and the ear and the feel and the hands and all members of your bodies.
Let the hands fast by being pure from plundering and avarice. Let the feet fast by ceasing from running to unlawful spectacles. Let the eyes fast, being taught never to fix themselves with strange beauties ... Do you not eat meat? Feed not upon lasciviousness by means of your eyes! Let the ear fast also. The fasting of the ear consists in refusing to receive evil speakings and calumnies. Let the mouth fast also from disgraceful speeches and railings. For what does it profit if we abstain from fish and fowl and yet bite and devour the brothers and sisters? The evil speaker eats the flesh of his brothers and bites the body of his neighbor. Because of this Paul utters the fearful saying, ’If you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another’ (Gal. 5:15).
You have not fixed your teeth in his flesh, but you have fixed your slander in his soul and inflicted the wound of evil suspicion, and you have harmed in a thousand ways yourself and him and many others, for in slandering your neighbor you have made him who listens to the slander worse, for should he be a wicked person, he becomes more careless when he finds a partner in his wickedness. And should he be a just person, he is tempted to arrogance and gets puffed up, being led on by the sin of others to imagining great things concerning himself. Besides this, you have struck at the common welfare of the Church herself, for all those who hear you will not only accuse the supposed sinner, but the entire Christian community....
And so I desire to fix three precepts in your mind so that you may accompany them during the fast: to speak ill of no one, to hold no one an enemy, and to expel from your mouth altogether the evil habit of swearing."
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Tue Mar 19, 2013
The First Sunday of Lent: The Sunday of Orthodoxy
Courtesy of the website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America http://lent.goarch.org/sunday_of_orthodoxy/learn/
The Sunday of Orthodoxy is the first Sunday of Great Lent. The dominant theme of this Sunday since 843 has been that of the victory of the icons. In that year the iconoclastic controversy, which had raged on and off since 726, was finally laid to rest, and icons and their veneration were restored on the first Sunday in Lent. Ever since, this Sunday has been commemorated as the "Triumph of Orthodoxy."
The Seventh Ecumenical Council dealt predominantly with the controversy regarding icons and their place in Orthodox worship. It was convened in Nicaea in 787 by Empress Irene at the request of Tarasios, Patriarch of Constantinople. The Council was attended by 367 bishops.
Almost a century before this, the iconoclastic controversy had once more shaken the foundations of both Church and State in the Byzantine empire. Excessive religious respect and the ascribed miracles to icons by some members of society, approached the point of worship (due only to God) and idolatry. This instigated excesses at the other extreme by which icons were completely taken out of the liturgical life of the Church by the Iconoclasts. The Iconophiles, on the other-hand, believed that icons served to preserve the doctrinal teachings of the Church; they considered icons to be man's dynamic way of expressing the divine through art and beauty.
The Council decided on a doctrine by which icons should be venerated but not worshipped. In answering the Empress' invitation to the Council, Pope Hadrian replied with a letter in which he also held the position of extending veneration to icons but not worship, the last befitting only God.
The decree of the Council for restoring icons to churches added an important clause which still stands at the foundation of the rationale for using and venerating icons in the Orthodox Church to this very day: "We define that the holy icons, whether in colour, mosaic, or some other material, should be exhibited in the holy churches of God, on the sacred vessels and liturgical vestments, on the walls, furnishings, and in houses and along the roads, namely the icons of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, that of our Lady the Theotokos, those of the venerable angels and those of all saintly people. Whenever these representations are contemplated, they will cause those who look at them to commemorate and love their prototype. We define also that they should be kissed and that they are an object of veneration and honour (timitiki proskynisis), but not of real worship (latreia), which is reserved for Him Who is the subject of our faith and is proper for the divine nature. The veneration accorded to an icon is in effect transmitted to the prototype; he who venerates the icon, venerated in it the reality for which it stands".
An Endemousa (Regional) Synod was called in Constantinople in 843. Under Empress Theodora. The veneration of icons was solemnly proclaimed at the Hagia Sophia Cathedral. The Empress, her son Michael III, Patriarch Methodios, and monks and clergy came in procession and restored the icons in their rightful place. The day was called "Triumph of Orthodoxy." Since that time, this event is commemorated yearly with a special service on the first Sunday of Lent, the "Sunday of Orthodoxy".
Orthodox teaching about icons, as defined at the Seventh Ecumenical Council of 787, is embodied in the texts sung on this Sunday.
From Vespers: “Inspired by your Spirit, Lord, the prophets foretold your birth as a child incarnate of the Virgin. Nothing can contain or hold you; before the morning star you shone forth eternally from the spiritual womb of the Father. Yet you were to become like us and be seen by those on earth. At the prayers of those your prophets in your mercy reckon us fit to see your light, "for we praise your resurrection, holy and beyond speech. Infinite, Lord, as divine, in the last times you willed to become incarnate and so finite; for when you took on flesh you made all its properties your own. So we depict the form of your outward appearance and pay it relative respect, and so are moved to love you; and through it we receive the grace of healing, following the divine traditions of the apostles.”
“The grace of truth has shone out, the things once foreshadowed now are revealed in perfection. See, the Church is decked with the embodied image of Christ, as with beauty not of this world, fulfilling the tent of witness, holding fast the Orthodox faith. For if we cling to the icon of him whom we worship, we shall not go astray. May those who do not so believe be covered with shame. For the image of him who became human is our glory: we venerate it, but do not worship it as God. Kissing it, we who believe cry out: O God, save your people, and bless your heritage.”
“We have moved forward from unbelief to true faith, and have been enlightened by the light of knowledge. Let us then clap our hands like the psalmist, and offer praise and thanksgiving to God. And let us honor and venerate the holy icons of Christ, of his most pure Mother, and of all the saints, depicted on walls, panels and sacred vessels, setting aside the unbelievers' ungodly teaching. For the veneration given to the icon passes over, as Basil says, to its prototype. At the intercession of your spotless Mother, O Christ, and of all the saints, we pray you to grant us your great mercy. We venerate your icon, good Lord, asking forgiveness of our sins, O Christ our God. For you freely willed in the flesh to ascend the cross, to rescue from slavery to the enemy those whom you had formed. So we cry to you with thanksgiving: You have filled all things with joy, our Savior, by coming to save the world.”
The name of this Sunday reflects the great significance which icons possess for the Orthodox Church. They are not optional devotional extras, but an integral part of Orthodox faith and devotion. They are held to be a necessary consequence of Christian faith in the incarnation of the Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, in Jesus Christ. They have a sacramental character, making present to the believer the person or event depicted on them. So the interior of Orthodox churches is often covered with icons painted on walls and domed roofs, and there is always an icon screen, or iconostasis, separating the sanctuary from the nave, often with several rows of icons. No Orthodox home is complete without an icon corner (iconostasion), where the family prays.
Icons are venerated by burning lamps and candles in front of them, by the use of incense and by kissing. But there is a clear doctrinal distinction between the veneration paid to icons and the worship due to God. The former is not only relative, it is in fact paid to the person represented by the icon. This distinction safeguards the veneration of icons from any charge of idolatry.
The theme of the victory of the icons, by its emphasis on the incarnation, points us to the basic Christian truth that the one whose death and resurrection we celebrate at Easter was none other than the Word of God who became human in Jesus Christ.
Before the Triumph of Orthodoxy came to be celebrated on the first Sunday of Lent, there was on this day a commemoration of Moses, Aaron, Samuel and the prophets. Traces of this more ancient observance can still be seen in the choice of the Epistle reading at the Liturgy and in the Alleluia verse appointed before the Gospel: “Moses and Aaron among His priests, and Samuel among them that call upon His Name.”
Icon of the Feast
The icon of the Sunday of Orthodoxy commemorates the “restoration” of icons in the churches and to their use in Orthodox worship. The focal point of the icon is an icon itself, the Virgin Hodegetria, a popular depiction of the Theotokos as “Directress,” or literally “She who shows the way to God.” The icon is carried by two angels.
The icon of the Virgin Hodegetria, depicting the Theotokos as the "Directress", is processed amongst the people and held on high by two angels.
To the left of the icon is the Empress Theodora and her son Michael III. To the right of the icon are the Patriarchs Methodios and Tarasios. The icon is surrounded by numerous saints who struggled against the Iconoclastic heresy.
Emperess Theodora, who proclaimed the veneration of icons, is depicted to the right of the icon. Theodora's son Michael III.
To the left of the icon are Patriarch Methodios, Bishop Michael of Synnadon (center), and Patriarch Tarasios.
The icon also represents the triumphant procession that was made on Sunday, March 11, 843, from the Church of the Theotokos in Blachernai to Hagia Sophia, where a Liturgy was celebrated to mark the restoration of icons.
Orthodox Christian Commemoration of the Sunday of Orthodoxy
The Sunday of Orthodoxy is commemorated with the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, which is preceded by the Matins service. A Great Vespers is conducted on Saturday evening. The hymns of the Triodion for this day are added to the usual prayers and hymns of the weekly commemoration of the Resurrection of Christ.
Scripture readings for the Sunday of Orthodoxy are: At the Orthros (Matins): The prescribed weekly Gospel reading. At the Divine Liturgy: Hebrews 11:24-26,32-40; John 1:43-51.
At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, a service is conducted in commemoration of the affirmations of the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787 and the restoration of the use of icons in 843. Orthodox faithful carry icons in a procession, while the clergy offer petitions for the people, civil authorities, and those who have reposed in the faith. Following is a reading of excerpts from the Affirmation of Faith of the Seventh Ecumenical Council and the singing of the Great Prokeimenon.
It is becoming a common practice that the Procession of the Icons is conducted as part of a Pan-Orthodox Vespers service on the evening of the Sunday of Orthodoxy. This is a service when Orthodox Christians of the various jurisdictions in America come together for worship and in a united affirmation of the Truth of the Orthodox Faith.
On the Saturday before this Sunday, the third of three Saturdays of the Souls are held. This is a special commemoration when the Church offers a Divine Liturgy and Memorial Service for the departed faithful. This is considered a universal commemoration of the dead. Through the memorial services, the Church is commending to God all who have departed and who are now awaiting the Last Judgment.
This specific Saturday is a special commemoration of the Great Martyr Theodore of Tyre and the miracle of the kolyva. In 361, Julian the Apostate was doing his utmost to restore pagan customs. Knowing that the Christians were accustomed to sanctify the first week of Lent by fasting and prayer, the wily tyrant told the Prefect of Constantinople to have all of the food set out for sale in the markets sprinkled with the blood of animals sacrificed to the gods, so that no one in the city would escape the contagion of idolatry. However, the Lord did not abandon His chosen people, but sent His servant Theodore to outwit the tyrant. Appearing in a vision to Patriarch Eudoxius (360-364), the holy Martyr informed him of what was happening and told him to instruct the Christians not to buy food from the markets but instead to eat kolyva made from grains of boiled wheat. Thus, thanks to the intervention of the holy Martyr Theodore, the Christian people were preserved from the stain of idolatry. The Church has commemorated this miracle ever since on the first Saturday of Great Lent, in order to remind the faithful that fasting and temperance have the power to cleanse all the stains of sin.
Hymns of the Feast
Apolytikion (Tone 2) O Christ our God, begging forgiveness of our sins, we venerate your pure image O Good One. Of Your own will You condescended to ascend upon the Cross in the flesh and delivered those you created from the bondage of the enemy. Wherefore, thankfully we cry out: When You came to save the world You filled all things with joy, O our Savior. Listen »
Kontakion (Plagal Tone 4) The undepictable Word of the Father became depictable when He took flesh of you, O Theotokos; and when He had restored the defiled image to its ancient state, He suffused it with divine beauty. As for us, confessing our salvation, we record it in deed and word.
The Lenten Triodion. Translated by Mother Mary and Kallistos Ware (South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 1994), pp. 51-52, 299-313.
Schmemann, Alexander. Great Lent: Journey to Pascha (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1969), pp. 73-75.
Barrois, Georges. Scripture Readings in Orthodox Worship (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1977), pp. 61-62.
Farley, Donna. Seasons of Grace: Reflections on the Orthodox Church Year (Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, 2002), pp. 100-102.
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Tue Mar 12, 2013
LIVING THE ORTHODOX FAITH by + Protopresbyter Gus G. Christo, Ph.D.
Living the Orthodox Faith and making it alive in our lives is our tremendous challenge in contemporary America. It takes men and women who are spiritually stout to successfully overcome the diabolical, subtle temptations and desires that bombard them from all quarters with the ultimate purpose of wrecking eternally their lives and destroying their immortal souls. The Orthodox Church, the full, complete and everlasting depository of God’s truth and redemption in Jesus Christ the Lord, is the Ark of the New Covenant, the only guaranteed safe haven for voyagers on their upward journey toward heaven. The Orthodox Church’s faith with its apostolic and patristic roots is very timely in that it alone rightly, canonically, doctrinally, theologically, and liturgically manifests Christ’s concrete presence amongst His people by the eternal and Life-giving Spirit of God. The historical foundations of its truth and heavenly way of life stem from its identity with Jesus Christ the Only-Begotten Son of God, “Begotten of the Father before all the ages, Light of Light, True God from True God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father before all the ages.”
To be faithful and genuine Orthodox communicants means frequenting the Church of God especially during its foremost aspect, the Eucharistic Assembly. In the Eucharistic context, human beings that have been stamped with the Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit via Chrismation have the highest privilege and honor bestowed upon them by the heavenly Father to communicate in the Flesh of His Son through the Sacred Mysteries. The faith is embodied and quickened in the Mysteries of the Church. Therefore, worthy participation in the Church preached by St. Paul in his gospel comes by willful union with Christ in the context of faith, in the context of the Church, in the context of the Eucharist, which is the embodiment of God and His Kingdom.
2. The Church
Making Orthodoxy and the Orthodox Faith alive in our lives entails rediscovering our apostolic roots that are entrenched in the Church, Jesus Christ Himself, the Son of God Incarnate. The Church is the Sacrament of Sacraments, or the Mystery of Mysteries. She is the Sacred Body of Christ in which the reconciliation between God and Man, the transfiguration, redemption and salvation of the cosmos and humankind occurs. The Body of Christ is the essential starting point of our road towards making Orthodoxy, God’s Universal Church, the very Lord of Lords and the King of Kings, the very core of our very being.
The apostolic, patristic, or orthodox, understanding of the Church depends on a very realistic sense of the Eucharist and of the Eucharistic Presence. The Church is the Body of Christ and this very Body is concretely revealed in the Eucharistic Mystery. Christ’s Mystery is a created and an uncreated reality because Christ is truly present both spiritually and bodily in the Eucharist. Therefore, every participant in the Eucharist becomes corporally and spiritually integrated with Jesus Christ.
Let us go one step further and say that the Church is the Humanity of the Son of God; and, inasmuch as human beings (the Christians) are made brothers in disposition and in Spirit by the Incarnate Son of God when they participate in His Humanity concretely present in the Mysteries, they are called the Church. The sacred Body of Christ is not only the Son’s single Humanity, but it includes all the Christians who receive His very Flesh concretely present in the Eucharist. As such the Church constitutes a new race united to God and humanity, a new Adam, who sits glorified in heaven on the exalted throne together with the Son of God. Her sole source of existence and foundation is in the perfect union, without confusion, of Christ’s Human and Divine Natures.
3. Maintaining Membership in the Church
Our full sacramental participation as members of the Church entails for our soul’s anatomical components – the will, disposition, thoughts, conscience, reason, faculties, spirit and, especially, the mind (the soul’s eye) – to be virtuous, Christ-centered, focused on heavenly things and impregnated with the Logos and His Sacraments. Only in this manner can we live Orthodoxy and its Faith. The natural integrity of the soul’s parts is preserved through the Sacrament of Repentance. It is through this Sacrament that our image and likeness to God is restored and maintained, and we receive God’s forgiveness to communicate worthily in the Eucharist. For the exact saving grace working through the regenerative waters of Baptism also works in the Sacrament of Repentance.
There exist many ways of repenting and securing remission for our sins and transgressions. According to Christ’s Gospel, the chief of these are fasting and almsgiving, or being merciful. These will be the topic of our following discussion since they put us directly and dynamically into the proper context of Orthodoxy.
The example of Adam and Eve shows that fasting is the key to the preservation of the human race from its very beginning. St. John Chrysostom, the late fourth, early fifth century Father of the Church, states:
When God created man in the beginning, He brought him immediately and handed him over to the hands of fasting, and entrusted his salvation to her…The [command]: “You may freely eat of every tree which is in the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – of it you shall not eat” [Genesis 2:16, Lxx], was one kind of fasting…If fasting was imperative in Paradise, it is even much more so indispensable outside of Paradise…If Adam heard and obeyed this voice [i.e., God speaking in Genesis 2:16], he would not have heard the second one that said, “You are earth and to earth you shall return” [Genesis 3:19, Lxx]. Since he disobeyed that first voice, death came [upon the human race] and the toils…and the life that is more burdensome than death.
Fasting means obedience to God’s laws and way of life. It is held in high esteem by God. When a Christian honors fasting, he is truly honored by God. Just as, when fasting is blasphemed by the first human beings in Paradise, God brings the penalty of spiritual death to these transgressors; when fasting is honored by man, God recalls the death and exchanges the latter for life.
Christ states in Matthew 6:16-18: “And when you fast, do not look dismal like the hypocrites…Truly I say to you, they have their reward…When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Christ does not require us to literally anoint and wash ourselves, according to an ancient Jewish custom, which demanded these in times of rejoicing (2 Samuel 12:20; Daniel 10:30); rather, He wants us to cease from vainglory when we fast. Christ Himself fasted forty days and nights in secret, without seeking man’s glory and approval, but God’s. For the real Christian, true fasting is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
St. John Chrysostom puts the spiritual exercise of fasting into its proper perspective when He challenges us, the Orthodox of America, by saying:
Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him. If you see a friend being honored, do not envy him. Do not let only your mouth fast, but also the eye, and the ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all the members of our bodies. Let the hands fast by being free of avarice. Let the feet fast by ceasing to run after sin. Let the eyes fast by disciplining them not to glare at that which is sinful…Let the ear fast…by not listening to evil talk and gossip…Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism. For what good is it if we abstain form birds and fish, yet we bite and devour our brothers [and sisters]?
The art of fasting is not limited either to the soul or to the body. Proper performance of this art comes from a perfect participation and cooperation between the two. A contemporary hierarch in America once said:
1) Our Church strongly believes that our individuality comes from both spirit and flesh, or “soma” and “psychi.” It tries to find ways for us not only to achieve an inner balance, but to maintain a balance for the way we live in today’s society.”
2) When we fast, we give our spiritual selves more attention than our physical selves, so we may achieve an inner growth by controlling our physical desires, which we sometimes feel obliged to sate in our earthly lives, even if they are often harmful to our spirituality.
3) Fasting helps us to properly enjoy the events in the life of Christ, the Virgin Mary, the Saints, and the Martyrs by tuning us closer to God.
Remember, fasting is the link between the physical and the spiritual. It achieves a perfect balance, peace, and tranquility between the two and with nature herself. Fasting is the vehicle of achieving everlasting life and incorruptibility of soul and body. It assists our will to be one with God’s. It is the foundation of our eternal relationship with the Holy Trinity by restoring our image and likeness to God. “Our Lord Jesus Christ, Himself underwent fasting for forty days (Matthew 4:2; Luke 4:2) and, thus prepared, He entered His contest with the devil, giving us an example that through fasting we should arm ourselves and by acquiring strength from that exercise we should come to grips with that formidable enemy” and defeat him decisively.
Again remember, when you are uncertain how to fast, seek the advice of your spiritual father. “At all times it is essential to bear in mind that ‘you are not under the law but under grace’ (Romans 6:14), and that ‘the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life’ (2 Corinthians 3:6).” “The rules of fasting, while they need to be taken seriously, are not to be interpreted with dour and pedantic legalism; ‘for the Kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 14:17).”
To conclude our discussion on fasting, we turn to St. John Chrysostom who says:
Fasting is a medicine. But like all medicines, though it is very profitable to the person who knows how to use it, it frequently becomes useless (and even harmful) in the hands of him who is unskillful in its use. I have said these things not to discredit fasting but to honor fasting. The honor of fasting consists not in the abstinence from food, but in the withdrawing from sinful practices, since he who limits his fasting only to abstinence from meats is one who especially dishonors fasting.
The physical and the spiritual fast go hand-in-hand for man’s salvation and redemption in Jesus Christ the Lord.
Closely associated with fasting as a means of repentance is the virtue of almsgiving, or being merciful. Christ commanded, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). To be merciful is to seek the common good. Nothing can make a human being an imitator of Jesus Christ as caring for his neighbors. Indeed, even though we should fast, or undergo some other form of asceticism, or even suffer death, without caring for our neighbor, we have done nothing great. Despite our actions, we would still stand far from the model of a perfect Christian. “Nothing is more frigid than a Christian who does not care for the salvation of others,” remarks Chrysostom. Almsgiving is part of the very nature of the Christian. Anything less, God is insulted.
Almsgiving is a very special characteristic of the Church of God. Indeed, a Christian home may become God’s Church by having a treasury that contains sacred money set aside especially for the poor. This fund is the most powerful weapon in making the Church unapproachable to the hostile, demonic powers.
The human soul that is merciful is the very image of Christ’s
Church. It is a new paradise, a new creation, the place where heaven and earth are united and corruption and eternal death are non-existent. God is present giving it grace, peace, and blessings. His fountain of almsgiving waters the soul and makes it yield eternal and incorruptible plants that feed the Christian after his death. In the Church there is no tree of Good and Evil as in the old paradise. Rather, there is the Tree of Life, or the Tree of Almsgiving, that God gives to the Christian to freely eat of and receive nourishment from unto eternity. A Christian does not suffer death – the same plight as Adam. He is not estranged from God; instead, he offers glory to Him and is His friend forever.
Christ states, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7), and, “I want mercy and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6). In the light of God’s decrees, St. John Chrysostom instructs us here today by saying:
If you wish to honor the Eucharistic Victim, offer your own soul for which the Victim was immolated. Make your own soul all of gold. If your soul remains viler than clay or lead, what good does it do to have a golden chalice? Do you wish to honor the Body of Christ? Then do not disdain Him when you see Him in rags. After having honored Him in Church with silken vestments, do not leave Him to die of cold outside for lack of clothing. For it is the same Jesus who says, “This is my Body,” and who says, “I was hungry but you would not feed me. Whenever you refused to help one of the least important ones, you refused to help me.” The Body of Christ in the Eucharist demands pure souls, not costly garments…Let us act wisely. Let us honor Christ as He Himself wishes to be honored; the most acceptable honor to one whom we would honor is the honor which He desired, not that which we ourselves imagine. Peter thought he was honoring his Master by not letting the Lord wash his feet; and yet it was just the opposite. Give the honor which He Himself has asked for, by giving your money to the poor. Once again what God wants is not so much golden chalices but golden souls.
“We should always practice almsgiving because we have great need of the Lord’s mercy who created us.”
Whoever does not practice almsgiving for any reason whatsoever, steals from God. If our very soul is not ours, but God’s, much less are our possessions truly ours. If we use our resources wickedly, then we will soon stand trial before Christ. This is in accordance with the Apostle Paul who said, “You are not your own. You were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). All things, in fact, are God’s. If He chooses to take from us what is His and help the poor, then we must obediently and willingly serve as the vessels through which He accomplishes His divine purpose. The Lord teaches us thusly, ‘When you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so they may be praised by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. However, when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who is in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:2-4).
The disposition of the giver determines his reward from God. For example, the widow in the Gospel of Luke (21:1-4) earnestly and readily gave all her life’s savings, a mere two copper coins, to help the needy, whereas the rich contributed out of their abundance and with ulterior motives. And Christ said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them” (Luke 21:3).
According to the Byzantine theologian St. Maximus the Confessor (c. 580-662 A.D.), the poor woman in the Gospel characterizes the psychological make-up of a true Christian and member of Christ. The true Christian’s soul is like Christ’s human soul. The will wills naturally, or for the common good, the soul is animated by meekness and humility and the Logos, the Son of God, is the governing force. This soul is logical. Otherwise, the mode of willing is gnomic or devilish. The soul is animated by anger and desire and is ego-centered; it is ruled by the devil. Through the practice of almsgiving, the soul is balanced and is in Christ’s image and likeness.
4. Brief Conclusion
The context of God’s Ecumenical Church is where the Apostolic Faith and Orthodoxy are truly experienced and lived via the awesome and sacred Mysteries of the heavenly Kingdom of God. The Body of Christ is the Church and we, too, constitute that Body and have the risen Lord dwelling in our souls, thus transforming each one of us into living Churches, when we remain in communion with the glorified Master in the Eucharist. The chief paths to communion and union with God in Christ Jesus are outlined in the Gospel of Repentance, namely, fasting and almsgiving. Every aspect of our lives and existence is significantly influenced by the Church’s Orthodoxy and correct Faith, since these divine gifts are exactly what Christ taught, the Apostles preached, and the Fathers of the Church kept inviolate for our redemption, justification, and salvation.
In the final analysis, we must entrust ourselves and our whole lives unto Christ our God by uttering the ever-memorable words of St. John Chrysostom: “It is meet and proper to give glory to God for all things. Amen.”
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