Contemplating the blessings of the Advent season, at times we ponder whether we have lost our blessings to the material world in which we live. Surrounded by ostentatious displays of wealth and unhealthy indulgences, we realize that they are slowly taking the place of more appropriate preparations for the celebration of Christmas. The very foundation of the Christmas Feast is the birth of an unassuming Child born quietly, humbly. The King of Glory was born of a mother who was turned away from every house, in a cave among the animals who could not speak.
Advent is the time of our preparation to meet the Lord of Lords. Certainly, we desire to offer our best gifts to the Christ Child, but they must be gifts of substance - the gifts of prayer, repentance, forgiveness and love.
“But whosoever shall cause one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be to his advantage that a millstone turned by an ass were hung upon his neck, and he were drowned in the deep of the sea." (Mt. 18:6)
In the United States and many European countries as well, we are coming up to the annual festival of the celebration of "All Hallows' Evening." Its roots go back to ancient pagan Celtic tradition Samhain (pronounced: Sah-ween) when villagers would light large outdoor fires and put on costumes to hide from and ward off roaming ghosts of spirits and the dead. The Research Center of the Library of Congress reports: "It was the biggest and most significant holiday of the Celtic year. The Celts believed that at the time of Samhain, more so than any other time of the year, the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living."[i]
The Celtic region included the area that is now modern Great Britain, France and Ireland. Also part of the pagan banquet was that animals andcrops were placed in the bonfires as a sacrifice to the pagan gods. The conquest of the majority of Celtic lands by the Romans in 43 AD added additional pagan elements to the feast. One was Feralia, a late October festival wherein the Romans memorialized their dead. Second, was a day to sacrifice to the Roman goddess Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees.
Pomona's symbol is the apple. To this day, apples are common in modern celebrations of this festival. The name of this festival has also been changed. It is no longer referred to as "All Hallows’ Evening." All know it by the name "Halloween."
By Bishop John Abdalah
Metropolitan Philip has designated October Youth Month in the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. Each October we highlight the contributions, activities, and needs of our youth. This year I would like to highlight their needs.
Our youth need Jesus Christ. The need: a real relationship with Christ that will sustain them when their faith is challenged by peers, academics, change, loss and fear. Our youth need pious and holy adults willing to share honestly. Our youth need mentors who will share boldly and unashamedly the Orthodox faith delivered to us from the Apostles and preserved in the Church without alteration or adulteration. Orthodox adults, our youth need you.
Our youth need liturgy. Liturgy is the cooperative work of God and His people. It is here that we join the angelic world at God’s throne to praise Him and interact with His Word, and to be fed in the Eucharist. Liturgy by its very nature can only happen as we gather as the Church. This Church prayer does not happen at the hockey rink or golf course. It doesn’t happen watching sit-coms on television or mowing the lawn. It only happens when we gather as the Church to be the Church. It only happens around the Eucharist and around the bishop or his designee. It is essential to knowing God in the biblical sense of sharing God’s Oneness and living in Him. We who are made one with God in baptism are nurtured by God through His Church in Sunday and festal worship.
By Father John Abdalah
As Orthodox Christians, we greet one another with this confident exclamation during the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord. With this seasonal greeting we affirm that Jesus, who took on flesh and was born into our world, is indeed the Christ, and worthy of glorification.
Monday mornings have a bad reputation. Many priests find it that way, too. On a typical Monday morning, we preachers go to our studies and look up in the lectionary book which epistle reading and gospel reading are assigned for the liturgy on the next Sunday. Then we preachers take our Bibles and look up those passages. All very easy so far! Now comes the hardest part of preaching: figuring out what to say in the sermon about one of those passages for next Sunday! Some Monday mornings, that is easy. Some Monday mornings, it is tough.
I had a tough Monday morning one week back in May. I knew that I wanted to preach on the gospel reading from John 17 for that Sunday. I’ll have to admit, however, that when I read it over again that Monday, my reaction was a bit of “ho-hum.” It comes up each year on the Sunday between Ascension Day and Pentecost. And it gets read in Holy Week, too – it’s part of that longest of all gospel readings, the first one on Holy Thursday evening. And so I’ve preached on it quite a few times before. So “hohum” was my reaction – what to say about this passage when I preach on it one more time? And then something in the passage jumped out at me, something I knew was in John 17 all along, but it hit me differently somehow that Monday morning, so let me tell you about it.
John 17 is part of Jesus’ long talk with the apostles, and long prayer to the Father, on Holy Thursday evening, the night before He was crucified. In this part of John there is quite a bit about the Holy Trinity.
by Donna Farley
When was the last time you began something new? As long ago as college, perhaps, or a new job? When you got married or had a child or moved to a new town?
Excerpted from “Out Of The Depths Have I Cried: Thoughts on Incarnational Theology in the Eastern Christian Experience,” by Metropolitan Philip Saliba and Fr. Joseph Allen, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1979
We are never totally aware of how God is moving in our lives, how He is active in our existence. We do know that He is there, that “in Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). We are in Him and He is in us. But we are never totally conscious of just how He is there, and what are His motivations for our lives.
The Fathers of the East have known this truth of His “incomprehensibility” and have variously expressed it, remembering that we see, as Saint Paul said, “darkly, as through a glass.” Not understanding completely, we wonder in fact if we can lure Him into doing what we want. We make a “deal”: if this happens, I will do this or that. We sometimes make our faith conditional, even though our faith must be there in spite of what happens – not because of what happens.
We try to comprehend it all rationally, with our heads, but it does not work like that. We know such things not with our heads; we them with our hearts – we intuit, we perceive, we sense, we experience. This is dangerous, as we will see, and yet it is truly the deepest kind of knowing.
But even with this kind of knowing, God’s existence in our lives remains only partially in our awareness; the rest is out of our awareness.
By Fr. Stephen Freeman
On July 1, the Very Rev. Peter Gillquist fell asleep in the Lord. His story, along with that of many others, is part of a modern transformation of the Orthodox Church, an awakening to the work of evangelism for the Church that carried the gospel to the Roman Empire and beyond, and witnessed the conversion of ancient kingdoms across the face of the globe.
By Fr. Stephen Freeman
We have learned from no others the plan of our salvation than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public,
by Fr. Vladimir Berzonsky
from The Word, May 1971
Pentecost means graduation, in a way. It is the time when the earthly life of Jesus Christ is fulfilled, and our life in Christ begins. We have honored his life of devoted service to fulfilling the will of the Father in heaven: now we should know and see clearly what God wants from our lives. It is our turn.
What do we respond; that we are too weak or too few, that we need to learn more, or that the forces of evil are too great to overcome? Remember Jesus’ words: “Be brave, for I have conquered the world.”(John 16:33). The victory is already won; we have only to complete it. Do we say we cannot do anything ourselves? Do we now claim humility and weakness? “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you every thing and remind you of all I have said to you.” (John 14:25). It means that you are never alone; not only is that said for your comfort, but for the means by which you personally can do the will of God in a way that nobody else but you is able.