Featured Reflections


The Ascension: An Excerpt from The Year of the Grace of the Lord

By A Monk of the Eastern Church

Published by SVS Press

The Wednesday which follows the fifth Sunday after Easter is the day when, in liturgical terminology, we ‘take leave’ of the Easter feast. We commemorate the last day of the physical presence of the risen Christ amongst his disciples; and to honour this presence, to honour the Resurrection once more, the church on this Wednesday repeats the service for Easter Sunday in its entirety. And now we have come to the fortieth day after Easter, the Thursday on which the Church celebrates the feast of the Ascension.

Three lessons from the Old Testament are read at vespers for the Ascension, on the Wednesday evening. The first lesson (Isa. 2:2-3) speaks of a mountain: ‘It shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains…and all nations shall flow until it…. Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord’. This alludes to the Mount of Olives, from which Jesus ascended to his Father. The second lesson (Isa. 62:10-63; 3, 7-9) was chosen because of the following words: ‘Go through, go through the gates; prepare ye the way of the people…. In his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them…’. Jesus, ascending to heaven, opens the gates to his people, he prepares a way for them, he carries them and raises them up with him. The third lesson (Zech. 14:1, 4, 8-11) also speaks of the mountain which was the scene of Jesus’s final triumph: ‘Behold the day of the Lord cometh…. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east…. And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem.’

The chants at matins for the Ascension are already filled with allusions to the Spirit, the Comforter, whom Jesus will send. Ascension is the prelude to Pentecost.

The Living Waters of Mid-Pentecost

by Fr. Stephen Rogers

Nothing is more elemental to life than water. Water sustains life; all the processes of our bodies are dependent on it. In fact, more than anything else, our bodies are composed of water. To thirst is to desire that which sustains us on the most basic level.

On May 9 of this year [2012], the Church celebrates the Feast of Mid-Pentecost, that Wednesday marking the mid-point between Pascha and Pentecost. On that day the Church continues to celebrate what has already come – the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the second person of the Holy Trinity – while looking forward to what is to come – the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity.

On this day we celebrate both the establishment and the experience of our salvation, our union with God. For it is the Cross and Resurrection that establishes the means of that salvation and it is in the Church, established on the Day of Pentecost, where we experience that salvation.

At Mid-Pentecost we celebrate the enormity of God’s love for us, the full revelation of the means established for our salvation. On the Cross, Christ conquers sin and death, the empty tomb proclaims the fruit of that victory and the Church is the kingdom established by the Holy Spirit and headed by Jesus Christ – the One who conquers.

April 25, 2012 + Womanly Courage

by Fr. Vladimir Berzonsky
from The Word, April 1968

“Now on the first day of the week at early dawn, they came to the sepulcher bringing the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold two men stood by them in dazzling garments; and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them: ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?’. . . And they remembered His words, and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles; but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”  (ST. LUKE 24:1)

SOMETIMES we are too hasty and pass lightly from our Lord’s crucifixion to the resurrection. Before the joy and the victory of the good news that “He is risen,” Jesus’ followers felt total despair that accompanied the tragedy of failure.

For two reasons we cannot afford to forget the disciples’ sense of abandonment on that unique Sabbath: if ye dare assume that by baptism we have been adopted into the family of His followers, we must make their emotions our own; secondly, by empathy with those in the Upper Room, by knowing their fear and confusion after the One person who gave their lives meaning, direction and beauty had been murdered, we can begin to deal with tragedy when it enters our personal lives. 

Holy Week: An Explanation

Great Lent and Holy Week are two separate fasts, and two separate celebrations.  Great Lent ends on Friday of the fifth week (the day before Lazarus Saturday).  Holy Week begins immediately thereafter. Let's explore the meaning of each of the solemn days of Passion Week.

Lazarus Saturday:  Lazarus Saturday is the day which begins Holy Week.  It commemorates the raising of our Lord's friend Lazarus, who had been in the tomb four days.  This act confirmed the universal resurrection from the dead that all of us will experience at our Lord's Second Coming.  This miracle led many to faith, but it also led to the chief priest's and Pharisees' decision to kill Jesus (John 11:47-57).

Palm Sunday (The Entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem):  Our Lord enters Jerusalem and is proclaimed king - but in an earthly sense, as many people of His time were seeking a political Messiah.  Our Lord is King, of course, but of a different type - the eternal King prophesied by Zechariah the Prophet.  We use palms on this day to show that we too accept Jesus as the true King and Messiah of the Jews, Who we are willing to follow - even to the cross.

Holy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday:  The first thing that must be said about these services, and most of the other services of Holy Week, is that they are "sung" in anticipation.  Each service is rotated ahead twelve hours.  The evening service, therefore, is actually the service of the next morning, while the morning services of Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday are actually the services of the coming evening.

Understanding that, let's turn to the Services of Holy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (celebrated Palm Sunday , Monday and Tuesday evening).  The services of these days are known as the Bridegroom or Nymphios Orthros Services.  At the first service of Palm Sunday evening, the priest carries the icon of Christ the Bridegroom in procession, and we sing the "Hymn of the Bridegroom."  We behold Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church, bearing the marks of His suffering, yet preparing a marriage Feast for us in God's Kingdom.

A Man Fully Alive

by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, originally posted on Roads From Emmaus

Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

Every single person, whether a man, a woman, or a child, has been given by God a deep, primal longing for Him.

We generally go through our days thinking of our desires for other things: I want breakfast. I want to sleep. I want to feel loved. I want some coffee. I want to get through this day. I want to finish this project. I want to buy a house. I want a car that won’t break down. I want to find someone who loves me. I want to be somebody. I want to make a difference. I want to get out of this traffic. I don’t want to die.

But if we really start to think about any one of our desires—pick one, any one—then we will find that they are fundamentally a desire for life. The desire for food is an obvious one, just like the desire not to die. But even our desires for possessions are about desiring life—we think they will help us feel alive, or at least that they won’t get in the way. A car that breaks down restricts my life, but a good car will get me there. Even the desire for accomplishment or love are about our desire for life.

But what is life, anyway? Is it simply to be animated, to be breathing and having our hearts beat rather than to be stilled and lying in a grave? Is it getting everything we want? Is it to “be all you can be”? Is it having a big list of accomplishments? Is it feeling safe, comfortable and secure? Is it even feeling content?

Those things are not life, but they do all point to what life really is.

Lent Is a Time For Parish Renewal and Growth

Photo by Christopher Humphrey PhotographyPhoto by Christopher Humphrey PhotographyLent is not only a time for personal renewal; it is a time for parish renewal as well. The Church is reborn every time someone enters the community. This is true even when the new member comes from another Orthodox parish, or a Christian communion outside the Orthodox Church, or is baptized as an infant or adult. The community is changed to make room for the new member who will build relationships, assume responsibilities, and even need to find a place to stand and sit in the worship.

To be deliberate about our parish renewal through this transition, the Church has appointed this Lenten time of fasting and intense prayers. We rediscover our roots with our new members as we read during the weeks of Lent from the Old Testament. We rediscover our innocence as the catechumens ask questions and express delight at the Orthodox perspectives. We regain our fervor as see the community grow and see how God is active in the lives of the catechumens and in our own.

We can not take this process for granted. Not every Lent sees catechumens in every parish. Not every parishioner is even aware that the Church is growing and that God is calling people to Himself. Perhaps at some places and at some times, communities don’t grow simply because the community is on “vacation” or asleep when people come knocking on our doors, or even when they sit in our pews. This is a great tragedy and we will be held accountable for this on Judgment Day. We really need to be deliberate about being ready to witness and care for those whom God is calling. Some prospective members are walking into our Churches unnoticed; others are working and playing with us all day long, waiting for our invitation to share in the life God has prepared for all. If this is too abstract, let me be more concrete:

April 4, 2012 + Clothes Make the Man

by V. Rev. Fr. Stephen Rogers
from The Word, April 2000

“Clothes make the man.” 

That old adage aptly states that what we wear goes a long way towards determining how we perceive ourselves and are perceived by others. Billions and billions of dollars are spent each year in this country on the garments we wear. From formal wear to beach wear, shopping for clothes has become the national religion, with the shopping mall serving as the cathedral.  We use our clothing to cover up our imperfections and to draw attention to our finer points. We wear clothing to identify with a sports team, a culture, a lifestyle or an economic class. What we wear says who we are, or more honestly, who we would like to be. 

On the Sunday preceding Holy Week, the Glorious and Brilliant Entrance of our Lord Jesus Christ into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), we read in the Gospel of Matthew of a different use of clothing. “At that time, when Jesus drew nigh unto Jerusalem and was come to Bethpage unto the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples saying unto them, ‘Go into the village and you shall find an ass tied and a colt with her; loose them and bring them to me’.” And further in the Gospel, as Jesus entered Jerusalem we read, “And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way and others cut down branches from the trees and strewed them along the way.”

God's Free Gift

By Fr. Steven Rogers

In midst of our Lenten journey, in this time of contrition and repentance, a proclamation of great hope and expectation is heard throughout the Church.

On Living Lent

By Janice Bidwell

This is the time of year when I take a journey within a journey. It's an annual trip I've taken since I was a small child, and the trip varies year to year.

We Wrestle Not Against Flesh and Blood

By Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick

The moment when human history irrevocably turned, when nothing truly will ever be the same again, was that moment that we...celebrate this week in the Church. It is the moment of the death of God.