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March 22, 2017 + Part 3: Letter for Lenten Encouragement

From St. Athanasius the Great, written 333AD

4. Now our life, my brethren, truly consists in our denying all bodily things, and continuing steadfast in those only of our Saviour. Therefore the present season requires of us, that we should not only utter such words, but should also imitate the deeds of the saints. But we imitate them, when we acknowledge Him who died, and no longer live unto ourselves, but Christ henceforth lives in us; when we render a recompense to the Lord to the utmost of our power, though when we make a return we give nothing of our own, but those things which we have before received from Him, this being especially of His grace, that He should require, as from us, His own gifts. He bears witness to this when He says, 'My offerings are My own gifts. ' That is, those things which you give Me are yours, as having received them from Me, but they are the gifts of God.

March 15, 2017 + Part 2: Letter for Lenten Encouragement

From St. Athanasius the Great, written 333 AD

3. Wherefore then, my beloved, do we not acknowledge the grace as becomes the feast? Wherefore do we not make a return to our Benefactor? It is indeed impossible to make an adequate return to God; still, it is a wicked thing for us who receive the gracious gift, not to acknowledge it. Nature itself manifests our inability; but our own will reproves our unthankfulness. Therefore the blessed Paul, when admiring the greatness of the gift of God, said, 'And who is sufficient for these things 2 Corinthians 2:17?' For He made the world free by the blood of the Saviour; then, again, He has caused the grave to be trodden down by the Saviour's death, and furnished a way to the heavenly gates free from obstacles to those who are going up. Wherefore, one of the saints, while he acknowledged the grace, but was insufficient to repay it, said, 'What shall I render unto the Lord for all He has done unto me ?' For instead of death he had received life, instead of bondage , freedom, and instead of the grave, the kingdom of heaven. For of old time, 'death reigned from Adam to Moses;' but now the divine voice has said, 'Today shall you be with Me in Paradise.' And the saints, being sensible of this, said, 'Except the Lord had helped me, my soul had almost dwelt in hell.. ' Besides all this, being powerless to make a return, he yet acknowledged the gift, and wrote finally, saying, 'I will take the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord; precious in His sight is the death of His saints. '

March 8, 2017 + Part I: Letter for Lenten Encouragement

From St. Athanasius the Great, written 333 AD

1. We duly proceed, my brethren, from feasts to feasts, duly from prayers to prayers, we advance from fasts to fasts, and join holy-days to holy-days. Again the time has arrived which brings to us a new beginning , even the announcement of the blessed Passover, in which the Lord was sacrificed. We eat, as it were, the food of life, and constantly thirsting we delight our souls at all times, as from a fountain, in His precious blood. For we continually and ardently desire; He stands ready for those who thirst; and for those who thirst there is the word of our Saviour, which, in His loving-kindness, He uttered on the day of the feast; 'If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink. ' Nor was it then alone when any one drew near to Him, that He cured his thirst; but whenever any one seeks, there is free access for him to the Saviour. For the grace of the feast is not limited to one time, nor does its splendid brilliancy decline; but it is always near, enlightening the minds of those who earnestly desire it. For therein is constant virtue, for those who are illuminated in their minds, and meditate on the divine Scriptures day and night, like the man to whom a blessing is given, as it is written in the sacred Psalms; 'Blessed is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of corrupters. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law does he meditate day and night. ' For it is not the sun, or the moon, or the host of those other stars which illumines him, but he glitters with the high effulgence of God over all.

On the Wings of Divine Love: Antiochian Seminarians Visit the Holy Mountain

Mount Athos — a place where heaven bows down and touches the earth. It is where the veil between this world and the next is thin and translucent. Its soil bears the footprints of countless ascetics and has been watered by the tears of our most beloved saints. Since biblical times, it has been a land that flourishes under the mantle of the Mother of God. It is her garden, where she waters the souls of all those who flock to her, raising them past the Mountain's peak and into heavenly abodes. For well over fifteen hundred years, Mount Athos has been a place of pilgrimage and spiritual retreat.

Last year, His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph blessed the Antiochian seminarians to make a pilgrimage to Mount Athos as part of our seminarian education. Under the pastoral care and supervision of His Grace Bishop Nicholas, we boarded flights to Greece and before we knew it we were sailing along the Athonite coastline, gazing at the small hermitages and castle-like monasteries that dot the rugged terrain. As the boat's gate opened and we stepped foot on the Mother of God's garden, we could hardly believe where we were.

March 1, 2017 + That Faults Can Be Overcome in Three Ways

by St. John Cassian

Abbot Chæremon's statement that faults can be overcome in three ways. Then the blessed CHÆREMON: There are, said he, three things which enable men to control their faults; viz., either the fear of hell or of laws even now imposed; or the hope and desire of the kingdom of heaven; or a liking for goodness itself and the love of virtue. For then we read that the fear of evil loathes contamination: "The fear of the Lord hateth evil." Hope also shuts out the assaults of all faults: for "all who hope in Him shall not fail." Love also fears no destruction from sins, for "love never faileth;" and again: "love covers a multitude of sins." And therefore the blessed Apostle confines the whole sum of salvation in the attainment of those three virtues, saying "Now abideth faith, hope, love, these three." For faith is what makes us shun the stains of sin from fear of future judgment and punishment; hope is what withdraws our mind from present things, and despises all bodily pleasures from its expectation of heavenly rewards; love is what inflames us with keenness of heart for the love of Christ and the fruit of spiritual goodness, and makes us hate with a perfect hatred whatever is opposed to these.

February 22, 2017 + What Constitutes Our End and Perfect Bliss

by St. John Cassian

For then will be perfectly fulfilled in our case that prayer of our Saviour in which He prayed for His disciples to the Father saying "that the love wherewith Thou lovedst Me may be in them and they in us;" and again: "that they all may be one as Thou, Father, in Me and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us," when that perfect love of God, wherewith "He first loved us" has passed into the feelings of our heart as well, by the fulfilment of this prayer of the Lord which we believe cannot possibly be ineffectual. And this will come to pass when God shall be all our love, and every desire and wish and effort, every thought of ours, and all our life and words and breath, and that unity which already exists between the Father and the Son, and the Son and the Father, has been shed abroad in our hearts and minds, so that as He loves us with a pure and unfeigned and indissoluble love, so we also may be joined to Him by a lasting and inseparable affection, since we are so united to Him that whatever we breathe or think, or speak is God, since, as I say, we attain to that end of which we spoke before, which the same Lord in His prayer hopes may be fulfilled in us: "that they all may be one as we are one, I in them and Thou in Me, that they also may be made perfect in one;" and again: "Father, those whom Thou hast given Me, I will that where I am, they may also be with Me."

February 8, 2017 + On Avoiding Church Services

St. Barsanuphius of Optina (1845-1913)

St. John Climacus was asked if there are reliable signs by which it's possible to know whether a soul is drawing near to God or moving away from Him. After all, regarding ordinary things there are clear signs as to whether they're good or not. When, for instance, cabbage, meat or fish begins to rot, it's easy to notice it, since the rotting object begins to give off a foul odor, the color and taste change, and its external appearance witnesses to its deterioration. Well, and what about the soul? After all, it's bodiless and can't give off a bad smell or change its appearance. To this question the Holy Father replies, "A sure sign of the deadening of the soul is the avoidance of church services."

On Overcoming the Winter Blues

The beginning of February marks the middle of winter for the northern hemisphere. For many people, winter can a dreary and depressing time. Why is this the case? Are children also thus affected by winter, or is the sense of gloom limited to adults? Can anything be done to help those of us who feel discouraged during the winter months?

We did a little research into the above questions, and learned a few things which we will share with you. We learned that there are multiple reasons why winter can drag down our emotions, especially because of the reduced light and/or sunshine that people living in wintery climates experience. The combination of less daylight and colder outdoor temperatures also discourages people from getting fresh air and exercise (two other possible remedies for combating gloom). We learned that children are affected by these struggles in a similar way as adults are affected. We found many suggestions of things to do to combat the so-called "winter blues" including the idea of getting out of the house within 2 hours of waking up, and exercising (outside, if possible).

Gleanings from a Book: Parenting Toward the Kingdom by Dr. Philip Mamalakis

I was so excited when I learned that this book was in the works! Before reading it, I had great expectations: I anticipated that it would be filled with gentle nudges towards godliness based both on years of education and personal experience. I knew that the wisdom in this book would be presented in a practical way backed by the in-the- trenches research that life with 7 children offers to their parents. And once I received and read the book, I was not at all disappointed! My expectations for this book were the result of personal experience. Our family had the privilege of meeting the Mamalakis family at Family Camp at the Antiochian Village years ago when they were the featured presenters for the parent sessions. We learned so much from Dr. Mamalakis (and from his lovely wife, Georgia) while we were together. My husband and I could step out of the parent sessions and immediately apply the concepts we had just discussed. Our family is the better for having learned these principles, however imperfectly we have applied them. (An aside: We also benefitted from watching the Mamalakis parents apply the principles they had shared, as they interacted with their children over the course of the family camp sessions. It is a joy to watch these parents lovingly guide their children using the principles! There is an abundance of love in Mamalakis family, and these principles allow them to parent their children in the context of that great love. It is a joy to experience.)

But I digress. Let's get back to the book. "Parenting Toward the Kingdom" outlines the principles that the Mamalakis family has followed:

February 1, 2017 + Beholding the Light before Eternity

from Vespers for the Great Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple

He that rideth on the cherubim, Who is praised by the seraphim, today is offered according to the law in the divine Temple, lying in the arms of an old man, and receives from Joseph offerings becoming God, two pairs of turtle doves, the undefiled Church and the people chosen anew from the Gentiles, and two pairs of pigeons, since He is the head of the Old and New Covenants. But Simeon, having received the meaning of revelation which was made unto him, blessed the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, foretelling and pointing to the sufferings of Him Who was born of her, seeking deliverance from Him and crying, Now lettest thou me depart, O Master, as Thou didst go before and promise me; for I have beheld Thee, O Light before eternity, the Lord and Savior of the Christian people.

From Darkness to Light in the Church

by Fr. Joseph Huneycutt, from the January-February 2017 Issue of The Word:

Iconographers progress from dark to light, superimposing lighter colors over darker ones, and finishing with increasingly light-toned touches. I'm no iconographer, yet I hope the letter below will be viewed as a starting point towards the light. It was sent in reply to a frustrated orthodox christian woman who had written me with thoughts of leaving the church. I publish it here for the sake of others who may find themselves in a spiritual funk. Forgive me.

Dear ––––,

First off, please forgive the delay in my reply. I have no excuse, save fear of failing you in my answer.

I was once in a similar state as you now find yourself. Though I found comfort in praying the services and serving as pastor, I got to the point at which I hated everything "Orthodox." A magazine would arrive with a picture of a priest in his vestments – a service, baptism, or some such – and I would look at the picture with loathing and cast it aside in anger.

I hated all things that looked and smacked of "Orthodoxy" – all the while trying to lead a small community. It was awful. I won't go into the details of how I got to that point, but (forgive me here, please) I remember walking into the church early one morning and cursing myself before all the saints portrayed on the icons. It was a horrible two years.

That said, it was years ago, and here I am ... still.

Responding to God with Those Who Are Joining Us

by His Grace Bishop John, from The Word Magazine, January-February 2017

Social scientists have been telling us that people are more and more interested in being spiritual, and less and less interested in following organized religion. Many want to have a relationship with god, but on their own terms. They want lots of nice feelings, assurance of some kind of salvation and a comfort in an enlightenment that they can control. In such a system, every one chooses how to be spiritual and makes up the rules.

Christian societies seem to have begun with a faith tradition based on Christ's Incarnation, which joined God and man, and developed into fractured and multiple churches with choices, and then to an individualized religion, in which everyone picks and chooses what to believe. At this stage, human beings attempt to dictate to God the "rules of engagement." How ironic it is that this development brought people back to what Christians call the original sin of Adam: that is, Adam choosing to be equal to God and needing no one greater than himself! From my vantage point, this is no development, but a great regression.

January 11, 2017 + A Change in Our Ways Following Baptism

by St. Gregory of Nyssa

But do ye all, as many as are made glad, by the gift of regeneration, and make your boast of that saving renewal, show me, after the sacramental grace, the change in your ways that should follow it, and make known by the purity of your conversation the difference effected by your transformation for the better. For of those things which are before our eyes nothing is altered: the characteristics of the body remain unchanged, and the mould of the visible nature is nowise different. But there is certainly need of some manifest proof, by which we may recognize the new-born man, discerning by clear tokens the new from the old. And these I think are to be found in the intentional motions of the soul, whereby it separates itself from its old customary life, and enters on a newer way of conversation, and will clearly teach those acquainted with it that it has become something different from its former self, bearing in it no token by which the old self was recognized.

January 4, 2017 + On Grace Before and After Baptism

by St. Diadochos of Photiki

76. Some have imagined that both grace and sin - that is, the spirit of truth and the spirit of error - are hidden at the same time in the intellect [nous] of the baptized. As a result, they say, one of these two spirits urges the intellect to good, the other to evil. But from Holy Scripture and through the intellect's [nous'] own insight I have come to understand things differently. Before holy baptism, grace encourages the soul towards good from the outside, while Satan lurks in its depths, trying to block all the intellect's ways of approach to the divine. But from the moment that we are reborn through baptism, the demon is outside, grace is within. Thus, whereas before baptism error ruled the soul, after baptism truth rules it. Nevertheless, even after baptism Satan still acts on the soul, often, indeed, to a greater degree than before. This is not because he is present in the soul together with grace; on the contrary, it is because he uses the body's humors to befog the intellect [nous] with the delight of mindless pleasures. God allows him to do this, so that a man, after passing through a trial of storm and fire, may come in the end to the full enjoyment of divine blessings. For it is written: 'We went through fire and water, and Thou hast brought us out into a place where the soul is refreshed' (Ps. 66.12. LXX).

Re-Gifting Christmas Gifts?

by His Grace Bishop John, from The Word Magazine, December 2016

My wife and I never seemed to be able to settle the question, Is it right to re-gift? My love would shop for days, seeking the perfect gift to express her love and care for the person for whom she was shopping. I was never much of a shopper, and re-gifting allowed me to recycle really nice items that I didn't need, or had no room to store. Surely one could make the case that, when it comes to money, and perhaps wine, everyone re-gifts. If we receive gifts of money, and we give gifts of money, we are sort of re-gifting. I could even make the case that things, like money, convey the transfer of value.

Christmas gifts are somehow related to remembering the gift from God of His Son, or rather, the gift of Christ of Himself. This gift is offered in full knowledge that, with it, come suffering, humiliation and death. This gift is offered so that we can be given real life, that is, the love and life of God within the life and love of the Holy Trinity.

December 14, 2016 + On the Patriarch Jacob

by St. Nikolai Velimirovich

For I have seen God face to face and my life is preserved (Genesis 32:30).

The God of Abraham and Isaac is also the God of Jacob the faithful, the obedient, the merciful and the meek. The meek beholder of God, Jacob, can be called the ''one who saw God.'' For in truth he was meek, and he saw God and spoke with God, and he saw the angels of God and the ladder from earth to heaven. By his meekness he defeated Laban his father-in-law, and Esau his brother; by his meekness he made peace between his wives, Leah and Rachel; for his meekness he was even dear to pharaoh. Jacob's meekness is a prefiguration of the meekness of Christ. Blessed are the meek, said the Lord, for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).

Liturgy of Bedtime

by Albert Rossi, Ph.D., St. Vladimir's Seminary

One of the more regular times of "Letting the children come" to God is bedtime. Often stories and prayers at bedtime can be relaxed, non-competitive time with children. When everything is right, bedtime can be a time when the unconditional love of parent for child is almost tangible. Children are usually tired and sometimes less frenetic. It also goes without saying that some nights seem more like thinly veiled chaos. But, hopefully, most nights are more peaceful.

Going to sleep for children happens gracefully only within an elaborate ritual. This is the liturgy of going to sleep and is not totally unlike other liturgies. Father Alexander Schmemann spoke of the Eucharist beginning with the long ritual of getting dressed for Church and continuing through the trip to Church and all the beautiful liturgy preceding Communion. In a similar way, children go to sleep after intricate ceremony. This usually includes taking a bath, putting on pajamas, brushing their teeth, kissing everyone in the household goodnight, hearing a story, saying prayers, getting tucked in, and for little ones, a Linus blanket and Teddy for special security. This is the liturgy of bedtime. It's a tender time, a loving time. It's a rare and precious time. It's a time to be close to each other and to God.

Resources for Parents + December 2016

While there is an abundance of resources for Orthodox Christian Parents on the internet, here are a few that have been featured on our facebook page recently. These resources will help you explore the lives of saints with your children.

To follow our facebook page, visit www.facebook.com/orthodoxchristianparenting.

The Orthodox Church in America Department of Christian Education offers these (free!) printable activity books that will help your family learn about saints (and the animals that served them; those commemorated in the Litiya prayers; those that can help in times of trouble; and those from North America) through stories and related activities.

November 30, 2016 + The Knowability of God

by St. John Damascene

"Now, one who would speak or hear about God should know beyond any doubt that in what concerns theology and the Dispensation [the term commonly used for the Incarnation by the Greek Fathers] not all things are inexpressible and not all are capable of expression, and neither are all things unknowable nor are they all knowable. That which can be known is one thing, whereas that which can be said is another, just as it is one thing to speak and another to know. Furthermore, many of those things about God which are not clearly perceived cannot be fittingly described, so that we are obliged to express in human terms things which transcend the human order. Thus, for example, in speaking about God we attribute to Him sleep, anger, indifference, hands and feet, and the alike.

November 23, 2016 + The Spotless and Holy Virgin

by St. Gregory Palamas

Today we celebrate the memory of those things that contributed, if only once, to the Incarnation. He Who is God by nature, the Co-unoriginate and Coeternal Word and Son of the Transcendent Father, becomes the Son of Man, the Son of the Ever-Virgin. "Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today, and forever" (Heb. 13:8), immutable in His divinity and blameless in His humanity, He alone, as the Prophet Isaiah prophesied, "practiced no iniquity, nor deceit with His lips" (Is. 53: 9). He alone was not brought forth in iniquity, nor was He conceived in sin, in contrast to what the Prophet David says concerning himself and every other man (Ps. 50/51: 5). Even in what He assumes, He is perfectly pure and has no need to be cleansed Himself. But for our sake, He accepted purification, suffering, death and resurrection, that He might transmit them to us.

God is born of the spotless and Holy Virgin, or better to say, of the Most Pure and All-Holy Virgin. She is above every fleshly defilement, and even above every impure thought. Her conceiving resulted not from fleshly lust, but by the overshadowing of the Most Holy Spirit. Such desire being utterly alien to Her, it is through prayer and spiritual readiness that She declared to the angel: "Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto Me according to thy word" (Lk. 1:38), and that She conceived and gave birth. So, in order to render the Virgin worthy of this sublime purpose, God marked this ever-virgin Daughter now praised by us, from before the ages, and from eternity, choosing Her from out of His elect.

On The Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos

On Nov. 21 (or Dec. 4) we celebrate the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. This feast celebrates the day when the Theotokos, still a child, went to the Temple. The background story to this event is pretty important:

Joachim and Anna were devout Jews who loved God very much. They lived on only a third of their income, tithing and giving away the rest. Yet they had no child. They promised God that they would give their child back to Him, if He would grant them one, and He blessed them with the gift of their daughter Mary.

Saints of Recent Decades: St. Maria of Paris

Commemorated July 20 or August 2

In 1891, in Riga, Latvia, a baby girl named Elizabeta (“Liza,” to her family) was born to the Pilenko family. The Pilenkos were Orthodox Christians, and raised Liza in the faith. When she was 14, Liza’s father died, and Liza was so upset that she gave up her Faith. When the family moved to St. Petersburg, instead of going to church, Liza began to hang out with radical people who, like her, liked to read and wanted to make the world better. They would spend hours talking about revolution and about theology, but (in Liza’s words) they “seemed to do nothing but talk.” She wanted to actually DO something to make a change. Years passed, and Liza slowly came back to her faith.

Saints of Recent Decades: St. Maria of Paris (July 20 or August 2)

In 1891, in Riga, Latvia, a baby girl named Elizabeta ("Liza," to her family) was born to the Pilenko family. The Pilenkos were Orthodox Christians, and raised Liza in the faith. When she was 14, Liza's father died, and Liza was so upset that she gave up her Faith. When the family moved to St. Petersburg, instead of going to church, Liza began to hang out with radical people who, like her, liked to read and wanted to make the world better. They would spend hours talking about revolution and about theology, but (in Liza's words) they "seemed to do nothing but talk." She wanted to actually DO something to make a change. Years passed, and Liza slowly came back to her faith. 

When she was only 18, Liza got married. Three years later, she left her husband and moved back to the house where she grew up. While she was there, she gave birth to her daughter Gaiana. Three years after Gaiana's birth, Liza was accepted as a student at the Theological Academy of The Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St. Petersburg. She was the very first woman to study there! For a while in 1918, Liza was the mayor of her town. This was during the time that the Bolsheviks were taking over Russia, and she was accused of being part of their Red Army. She was arrested and taken to trial. Her judge, Daniel Skobstova, said she was innocent, and he had her released instead of executed. After she was free, she went to find him to thank him. They quickly became friends and were married only a few days later!

November 16, 2016 + On Understanding the Divine Services

by St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, 1749-1809

[B]eware, brethren, the thought which the devil implants in some and which says: "you are unlettered and unlearned and do not understand what is said in church and so why do you submit to the Church in all things?" You are answered, brethren, by an abba in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, who tells you: "It may be that you do not understand what is said in church, but the devil does and quakes and fears and flees. I mean that you, too, even if you do not understand all the words spoken in church, you will understand a lot of them and benefit from them". And I would add this: if you go often to church and hear divine words, the continuation of this is that, in time, you will understand what you – earlier – did not, as Chrysostom says, because God, seeing your willingness, will open your mind and illumine you to understand.

November 9, 2016 + On How Grace Operates in the Mysteries

by St. Nicholas Cabasilas

The Holy Spirit grants to those who partake of the sacred offerings the remission of sins of their sins. "Let not this grace be removed from these offerings because of my sins." There are two ways in which grace operates in the precious offerings; first, by grace they are sanctified, and secondly, by grace we are sanctified through them.

The working of grace upon the offerings — the first of which we spoke — cannot be invalidated by any human evil. Since the consecration of the offerings is not the work of human virtue, it cannot be hindered in any way by the wickedness of men.

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