by Janice Bidwell
Great Lent came and went, and I’m still traveling toward Pascha at a steady lumbering pace. My life is a series of peaks and valleys between the seasons, but my route never varies. This rhythm is unchanging, and yet different each year.
by Frederica Mathewes-Green
Jesus is standing on the broken doors of hell. The massive portals lie crossed under his feet, a reminder of the Cross that won this triumph. He stands braced and striding, like a superhero, using his mighty outstretched arms to lift a great weight. That weight is Adam and Eve themselves, our father and mother in the fallen flesh. Jesus grasps Adam's wrist with his right hand and Eve's with his left, as he pulls them forcibly up, out of the carved marble boxes that are their graves.
Serving with the Antiochian Women of the Archdiocese for many years, I have witnessed many acts of charity done in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We are "a sisterhood serving Christ through serving others." As Antiochian Women, we are called to many acts of mercy in our homes, in our parishes, in our dioceses, and together in our Archdiocese. So much is required: money and time and, from the Prophet Micah, "to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).
Sometimes, we may wonder if we are affecting the lives of those we so desire to help. Having six beautiful children to take care of, from birth to college age, made our home life very interesting. After our fifth child was born, my mother came to stay with us for a couple of weeks, as she did after the birth of each one of our babies. We moved through the day meeting the needs of those in our care. One day, she gently said, "A mother is a loaf of bread, and each child wants the whole loaf and can only have a slice." Through the years, that observation has been a reminder of how to serve others.
by Fr. Steven Ritter
Meatfare Sunday marks the last time we as Orthodox Christians eat meat products, and the week following we dismiss dairy as well. Why is this? There are many and learned treatises on this topic far superior to what I will say here, but perhaps we can put some things into perspective.
Fasting is, according to St. John Chrysostom, the third most important element in our spiritual practices outside the worship of God in community. What are the other two? They are almsgiving, which indicates a mature spiritual Christian's willingness to help others, even at the expense of his or her own well-being, and prayer, which should be self-evident as the primary means by which we commune with God and He forms His will in us. However, what we normally hear about most at this time of the year is fasting, and in fact our Lenten season also bears the name of the Holy and Great Fast.
If St. John puts fasting in third place, why this emphasis? There are three reasons that come to mind, though there are of course many more. First of all, fasting is a primal marker of our return to God. As the services remind us, it was by food that our ancestors Adam and Eve were led to their ancient fall from the grace and glory of God to which they were called to participate, and the results of that choice have affected all of us ever since. Our stomachs are, as St. John Climacus calls them, "a clamorous mistress" that demand everything of us, leading us down wrong paths, and continually deceiving us into thinking that our bodily needs are far more than they really are. This translates into other desires as well—we pamper ourselves and continually seek to satisfy that most fickle of masters, the human will. Fasting helps to remind us that we are putting off the things that separate us from God in order to slowly climb back to the Paradise that we lost.
A truck driver had been driving quite a few hours straight, and was tired and hungry, so he pulled into a truck stop and went into the restaurant to eat. While he was eating, a group of local Hell's Angels motorcyclists came into the restaurant to eat. While waiting for their food to be prepared, the Hell's Angels got bored. They began to harass the truck driver just for entertainment. They called him names, yelled at him, and so on. Then they started throwing rolled-up napkins at him. He just sat and ate quietly and totally ignored them. This upset them – they just couldn't get a rise out of him. So, finally, one of them walked over and dumped a plate of food over the truck driver's head. He still didn't react, other than to take some napkins and clean himself up as well as possible – while the Hell's Angels laughed at him. He paid his bill and quietly left to go back to his truck. The thugs joked around with the waitress after he left, saying, "You know, that fella sure was a wimp. He wasn't much of a man!" The waitress, looking out the window at the parking lot, said, "You know, he's not much of a truck driver, either. He just ran over a bunch of motorcycles on his way out of the parking lot!"
(from Our Daily Bread, February 28, 1990)
We chuckle at how the trucker handled the situation and probably can't help but admire him some, but.... that is not Jesus' way to handle enemies! How did our Lord say to respond to situations where enemies confront us? In His Sermon on the Mount, Christ told us, "Love your enemies." It's natural for us to seek revenge, like the truck driver did – but "natural" isn't always good! As Christians we are called to a higher way of life. The Lord Himself told us about this. As He said in Luke 6: 32–35:
by St. Romanos the Melodist, Kontakia I, On the Epiphany, Strophe 3-4.
Adam, sing praise, sing praise to Him; fall down before Him who comes to you;
For He has appeared for you as you come forward to see Him, to grope after Him, and to greet Him.
He who you feared when you were deceived, for your sake has been made like you.
He descended to earth in order that He might take you up on high.
He became mortal that you might be divine, and that you might put on the first beauty.
Wishing to reopen Eden, He dwelt in Nazareth. For this, then, sing, O man, and singing, charm the One
Who has appeared and illumined all things.
When God was seen by Abraham as he sat beneath the oak tree in Mamre
He was seen as a man, but Abraham did not recognize Him for what He was,
for he could not have endured it.
Today He has not appeared in this way to us, but in His own person, for the Word was made flesh.
For this, the enigma is clear: To our ancestors, darkness; to patriarchs, images;
But to the children, Truth itself.
For God appeared to Abraham, but he did not know Him as God.
But we behold Him because He wills it, and we hold fast to Him Who has appeared and illumined all things.
God put flesh on His Word. With this action, He revealed Himself to His world, claimed space and time as His own, and challenged His people to be who and what they were created to be. He modeled life as it is to be lived, taught in parables, touched us with healings and even showed us how to be complete in death. Christ is born, the prophecies are fulfilled, God has entered our lives and we are now challenged to respond. In glorifying Christ, we recognize Him as God, we accept His Lordship, we enter into His Priesthood, and we complete our humanity.
The Word of God praises the Father and takes care of us. This typifies the priesthood of Christ. In the Liturgy the deacon commends us to stand alert and in awe of God so that we can offer our priestly oblation in Christ (peace). With the choir, we respond in words that express Christ’s priestly mission: “a mercy of Peace, a sacrifice of praise.” We respond to God by praising God and taking care of each other. We do this as Christians sharing in Christ’s action, which is His Priesthood.
The month of December every year is designated as St. Ignatius month. We celebrate the feast day of St. Ignatius on December 20, and the members of the Order recall their patron St. Ignatius during St. Ignatius Sunday. This annual celebration brings to mind the ministry of the Order that has become an integral aspect of the life of the Antiochian Archdiocese in the Western Hemisphere.
The Order invites the faithful of our Archdiocese to a special ministry and a special way of life. Christianity calls all faithful to a life of genuine personhood in Christ. This gift of life is modeled not after human or social forums and gatherings; it is founded on the life of the Triune Godhead. It is characterized by joy and a perpetual movement of love. Saint Ignatius in his letter to the Ephesians writes “Pray, then, come and join this choir, every one of you; let there be a while symphony of minds in concert; take the tone all together from God, and sing aloud to the Father with one voice through Jesus Christ, so that He may hear you and know by your good works that you are indeed members of His Son’s Body. A completely united front will help to keep you in constant communion with God.”
By Fr. Alexander Schmemann
Everyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation and eternal joy.
Thank You, O Lord, for having accepted this Eucharist, which we offered to the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and which filled our hearts with the joy, peace and righteousness of the Holy Spirit.
Thank You, O Lord, for having revealed Yourself unto us and given us the foretaste of Your Kingdom.
Thank You, O Lord, for having united us to one another in serving You and Your Holy Church.
Thank You, O Lord, for having helped us to overcome all difficulties, tensions, passions, temptations and restored peace, mutual love and joy in sharing the communion of the Holy Spirit.
Thank You, O Lord, for the sufferings You bestowed upon us, for they are purifying us from selfishness and reminding us of the "one thing needed;" Your eternal Kingdom.
Thank You, O Lord, for having given us this country where we are free to Worship You.
Thank You, O Lord, for this school, where the name of God is proclaimed.
Thank You, O Lord, for our families: husbands, wives and, especially, children who teach us how to celebrate Your holy Name in joy, movement and holy noise.
Thank You, O Lord, for everyone and everything.
Great are You, O Lord, and marvelous are Your deeds, and no word is sufficient to celebrate Your miracles.
Lord, it is good to be here! Amen.
This story was originally published in July 2013 on the Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry (OCPM) Website. The Rev. Stephen Powley, a priest in the Antiochian Archdiocese, is the Assistant Director of OCPM. Many other Antiochian Orthodox Christians are involved in OCPM, including Board of Trustees Chairman Kory Warr.
Antiochian priest Fr. Stephen Powley can laugh about it now. At the time, his early encounters with Clark Porter weren't funny. Father Stephen was a prison chaplain; Clark was serving a sentence for robbing a federal post office. "I used to dread walking down Clark's range," Fr. Stephen says, referring to his weekly visits. "I knew he would be livid with me and would cuss me out, I just didn't know why."
Clark admits he was an angry man when Fr. Stephen met him. Though it wasn't yet obvious, he was trying to change, to turn around a young life that had gotten a troubled start. The sixth of seven children, he was raised first by his mother, then his grandmother, and then put into foster care at age eight.