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.
A message from the President of SSJC-Western Region
(Light of the East Newsletter, 2012, Springi)
by Fr. George Morelli
It is not often that we are blessed to live in the same lifetime with one who is certainly saintly due to his ever-zealous witness to Christ during a time of unceasing and escalating attacks by Islamists, a time during which he provided loving Christ-like service to his people. Thus, it is with profound human sadness but great spiritual joy that we call to our hearts and minds His Holiness Thrice-Blessed Pope Shenouda III, the Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church that traces back to the holy Apostle and Evangelist Mark, who passed into Eternal Life in Our Lord on March17, 2012.
To “fall asleep in the Lord” in the hope of the Resurrection is a great grace, prayed for by all committed Christians. A witness to the Godly passing of His Holiness recounts that on his last day “…he could not sleep and was seeing holy visions of multitudes waiting for him (the “cloud of witnesses” mentioned in the Epistle to the Hebrews (12: 1).”ii May God now seat him at the front of His banquet table in His Eternal Feast of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Ardent followers of Christ know the soul of His Holiness remains alive in the Eternal Mind of God. His spirit can also remain alive in us, who can emulate his desire for the unity of the Apostolic Churches. The unity of the Apostolic Churches is the primary hope, goal, prayer and service of us who are members of the Society of St. John Chrysostom; furthermore, we pray all Christians be devoted to this unity. Christ Himself prayed for the unity of us all when He cried out to His Heavenly Father: "Holy Father, keep in Thy name those whom Thou hast given Me, in order that they may be one, even as We." (Jn. 17:11)
When our family came to Orthodoxy nearly seven years ago, we were often asked by worried Protestants whether or not we still believed in “the Trinity.” This always dumbfounded us, until we remembered that few, if any, of these questioners had ever attended an Orthodox liturgy. How could they know? How could they know that beginning with “Blessed is the Kingdom, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” the Trinity is mentioned – and worshipped – more often in a single service than occurs in a month of Sundays elsewhere. We appreciated their concern, but assured them that our beliefs about God were most definitely still Trinitarian.
This past Super Bowl Sunday, however, caused me to reflect on the phrase “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” in a new way. On that day, February 5, 2012, my son, John, was ordained a priest at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. During the Divine Liturgy, shortly after the Great Entrance, Father Steven Mathewes and Father Gregory Hogg led John in front of the altar and down into a kneeling position, presenting him as a candidate for ordination to the priesthood of the Holy Orthodox Church. Father Gregory Hogg: that would be my husband, and John’s biological father.
by St. Leo the Great
I. The Ascension completes our faith in Him, Who was God as well as man.
The mystery of our salvation, dearly-beloved, which the Creator of the universe valued at the price of His blood, has now been carried out under conditions of humiliation from the day of His bodily birth to the end of His Passion. And although even in "the form of a slave" many signs of Divinity have beamed out, yet the events of all that period served particularly to show the reality of His assumed Manhood. But after the Passion, when the chains of death were broken, which had exposed its own strength by attacking Him, Who was ignorant of sin, weakness was turned into power, mortality into eternity, contumely into glory, which the Lord Jesus Christ showed by many clear proofs in the sight of many, until He carried even into heaven the triumphant victory which He had won over the dead. As therefore at the Easter commemoration, the Lord's Resurrection was the cause of our rejoicing; so the subject of our present gladness is His Ascension, as we commemorate and duly venerate that day on which the Nature of our humility in Christ was raised above all the host of heaven, over all the ranks of angels, beyond the height of all powers, to sit with God the Father. On which Providential order of events we are founded and built up, that God's Grace might become more wondrous, when, notwithstanding the removal from men's sight of what was rightly felt to command their awe, faith did not fail, hope did not waver, love did not grow cold. For it is the strength of great minds and the light of firmly-faithful souls, unhesitatingly to believe what is not seen with the bodily sight, and there to fix one's affections whither you cannot direct your gaze. And whence should this Godliness spring up in our hearts, or how should a man be justified by faith, if our salvation rested on those things only which lie beneath our eyes? Hence our Lord said to him who seemed to doubt of Christ's Resurrection, until he had tested by sight and touch the traces of His Passion in His very Flesh, "because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed: blessed are, they who have not seen and yet have believed."
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Mt. 5:5)
Meekness is not a personality characteristic or, in fact, a virtue valued in modern society. If anything, it would be an attribute to be avoided. Surely, in the common secular understanding of this term, parents would mostly likely want to avoid raising children to be "meek." A glance at a typical dictionaryi definition of this word indicates that meekness is associated with being cowed, submissive, spiritless and tame. Worldly success, on the other hand, would be enhanced by traits just the opposite of meekness: being aggressive, spirited and/or exciting.
What Spiritual Meekness is not
The Holy Spirit-inspired spiritual perception of St. Gregory of Nyssa, however, gives an entirely different meaning to the teaching on meekness that Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ gave to His Disciples in the Sermon on the Mount. .
St. Gregory certainly does not mean meekness in the modern societal sense I mentioned above. In fact, he specifically dismisses the spiritual meaning of meekness as that which "is done quietly and slowly." (St. Gregory of Nyssa, 1954) Just the opposite, St. Gregory in his homily on meekness goes on to reference St. Paul's first Epistle to the Corinthians (1Cor 9: 24), saying "he advises us to increase our speed; So run, he says, that you may obtain."
Honing in on the meaning of Spiritual Meekness
The 19th Century British statesman Benjamin Disraeli was quoted as saying: "Moderation is the center wherein all philosophies, both human and divine, meet."i Certainly, in the Hebrew and Christian tradition we see moderation lauded. In the Proverbs of Solomon (25:27) we read: "As it is not good for a man to eat much honey, so he that is a searcher of majesty, shall be overwhelmed by glory." Other religious traditions also praise moderation. Buddha, for example, describes the middle way as a path of moderation between the poles of extreme indulgence and deprivation.ii To accomplish this one would also have to follow the path of wisdom.iii
Cognitive psychotherapist Albert Ellis (1962) notes that "there is something about the nature of human beings more than others . . .which makes it horribly difficult for them to take the middle ground . . .instead of having moderating behavior." The beneficent effects of moderation in the areas of health, such as eating, drinking, exercise and various psychological domains are well known. In dieting, for example, "the goal is to obtain balance, variety, and moderation. People sometimes do not realize that they can eat the foods they enjoy, but the intent is to do it in moderation."iv
by Fr. John Abdalah
from The Word, April 1999
There is an anecdote of a priest who begins a new assignment at Pascha. He delivers a brilliant sermon, and receives many compliments. On Thomas Sunday, the priest offers the same homily, and again receives several compliments. On Myrrh-bearing Women Sunday, he repeats the same Pascha homily, but receives fewer compliments. The third week after Pascha, when the priest delivers his Paschal message for the fourth consecutive week, he is met by a delegation of Parish Council members at the coffee hour. “Why have you offered the same message four times?” they demand. The priest replies, “Because you have not changed yet.” Well, if any message would change a person or a congregation, it is indeed the Paschal message, Christ is Risen! But what kind of change can we reasonably expect, and what would that change look like?
The change that we seek is a change of attitude, an attitude that reflects an understanding of the world from God’s perspective. God’s perspective is that He loves us, He is faithful to us, He has taken on flesh and opens to us His life. Through His incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection, He loves us and saves us. With this clearly understood, we can look into His empty tomb as well as into our own graves with new understanding. Our purpose is not to come to the end of our lives with a massive count of possessions and accumulated wealth that we leave behind. We are created to love God and to be loved by Him, to enjoy the treasures that He has prepared for us.
The voicemail came as our family had just arrived at a campground outside Bryce Canyon, Utah, on a dry and dusty June afternoon. After we parked, the rest of the family was in our trailer setting up, while I went outside to return the call to the Archdiocesan office. I sat on the concrete picnic table, grateful for the rusty tin roof providing shade from the scorching sun. Our family had been eagerly awaiting news of my next assignment, having completed three blessed years in residence at St. Innocent Orphanage near Tijuana, Mexico. After leaving Mexico, we traveled around the Western United States both to enjoy some family time after the move from Mexico, and to fill the time as we waited with great anticipation to hear which community in this vast Archdiocese we would next call home.
“There’s something special going on in Bowling Green, Kentucky,” Fr. George Kevorkian, Assistant to the Metropolitan, said with excitement over the phone. As I racked my brain trying to figure out if I had ever heard of Bowling Green, Kentucky, he added, “I think you may want to check it out.” He explained that there was a fairly new mission that had really impressed him, and they were hopeful that they were financially ready to support a priest. Having been given the phone number of the coordinator of the mission, in one phone call I knew Fr. George was right.
by Fr. Joel Gillam and Peter Schweitzer
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Mt. 28:18-20)
St. Matthew’s Gospel concludes with Our Lord’s 'Great Commission', that we should “Go forth” and teach the entire world what He has revealed. This command is directed to every Orthodox Christian, to each and every one of us, through Holy Baptism. This is the mission that every generation is chosen for; the ministry that each of us as part of the royal priesthood offers (1Pet. 2:9). In order to fulfill this command we must know several things: 1) the message, 2) the people to whom we are delivering the message; and 3) knowing these things we must determine the means to deliver the message.
In the secular world, this is known as a communications plan. In the Church it is evangelism, bringing the people the Good News of Christ. In principle, what we are discussing is no different from any other communications plan devised by businesses, organizations, or political campaigns. Yet at the same time it is so that the world might know “God the Father, and Jesus Christ whom [He] has sent” (Jn. 17:3); the gift of eternal life. This is true mission work and evangelism.
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 , 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.
by Fr. James C. Meena
from The Word, May 1981
I would like to share with you some reminiscences of the past. When I was a child, my parents would always admonish me when I would leave home for some social occasion, “Remember who you are and always make us proud of you.” Whenever I would forget that admonition one or the other of them would say to me, usually in anger, “We are not raising bums in this family. We are raising decent people.” I remember some of the movies and radio stories of those days where parents who were raising children who were lazy and did not want to go out and get a job or who felt that the world owed them a living saying to them, “I didn’t raise you to be a bum, I raised you to be a good person, get out and get a job, take care of yourself.”
For some reason or the other during the course of this past month, that word “bum” kept going through my mind in recollection. Maybe God was trying to inspire me to say something about it in relationship to the sad reality that on the Sunday after a major Feast, whether it’s one day or three or four days following, the Church is almost always half empty. Yet after the climax of the Holy season, when the Church was filled with people and the communion lines extended to the doors of the Church and beyond and when the liturgy was extended in time because there were so many people coming to the chalice and when we were concerned about hearing all the confessions before Liturgy and having enough time to do this and then to come to Church the following Sunday and witness all of those good people who came to the chalice absenting themselves from the same Eucharist and the same celebration, I wonder if God does not want me to say; “We are not raising spiritual bums in this Godly household.” God does not punish us immediately for our indolence but I think somehow he keeps a record of those items when we put “me” first and Him second.
The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the Acts of the Apostles
"Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and alms-deeds which she did. And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber. And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that be would not delay to come to them." (Acts 9:36-38)
Why did they wait till she was dead? Why was not Peter solicited before this? So right-minded were they, they did not think it proper to trouble the Disciples about such matters, and to take them away from the preaching: as indeed this is why it mentions that the place was near, seeing they asked this as a thing beside his mark, and not now in the regular course. "Not to delay to come unto them:" for she was a disciple. And Peter arose, and went with them.
And when he was come, they led him into the upper chamber." (v. 39.) They do not beseech, but leave it to him to give her life. See what a cheering inducement to alms is here! "And all the widows," it says, "stood round him weeping, and showing the coats and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them."
The Feast of the Life-giving Spring which is kept on the Friday of Bright Week has its origins in the 5th century. It is the feast that commemorates the consecration of the Church of the Life-giving Spring outside of Constantinople.
The very large and beautiful church named in honor of the Theotokos of the Life-giving Spring was built about the middle of the fifth century by the Emperor Leo the Great (457-474 AD), outside of Constantinople. Emperor Leo was a pious man (he is commemorated on January 20th) and before he became Emperor, he had encountered a blind man, who being tormented with thirst asked him to help him find water. Leo felt compassion for him and went in search of a source of water, but found none. As he was about to cease his search, he heard a voice telling him there was water nearby. He looked again, and found none. Then he heard the voice again, this time calling him "Emperor" and telling him that he would find muddy water in the densely wooded place nearby; he was to take some water and anoint the blind man's eyes with it. When he had done this, the blind man received his sight.
After Leo became Emperor, as the Most Holy Theotokos had prophesied, he raised up a church temple over the spring, whose waters worked many healings, as well as resurrections from the dead, through the intercessions of the Theotokos. From this, it came to be called the "Life-giving Spring."
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.
Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl (1975) puts forth the idea that religion can be defined "as man's search for ultimate meaning." This implies a spiritual vision of the universe. A science without God would posit that the cosmos is nothing but something that exists in space or space-time. However, as Eastern Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov (2001) notes, such a position "offers no constructive explanation to deal with existence." To put it another way, it begins and ends with the question: Is this all there is?
Spiritual perception, however, would begin the search for meaning by looking at the universe and seeing that the meaning of life permeates, from within, the cosmos that we inhabit. In the words of the Psalmist: "The heavens shew forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of his hands." (Ps 18: 2). But there is another way of knowing God that is beyond any glory possible to be conceived by man, because God is so much greater than the limits of man's perception. The other path for intuiting God is the path of negation. Unknowingly, this is the path many who deny God have stumbled upon. For those with spiritual perception, such knowledge could be described as a mystical path, an antinomy that is knowledge-beyond-knowledge. The Hebrews had a sense that no word can capture God. They referred to Him as Adonai (Lord) rather than a word they would not speak, YHWH (Yahweh). St. Gregory of Nyssa (1978), describing Moses, said that when "he grew in knowledge, he declared that he had seen God in the darkness, that is, . . . he had come to know that what is Divine is beyond all knowledge and comprehension." The Book of Exodus (20: 21) tells us, "But Moses went to the dark cloud wherein God was." And David the King and Prophet writes of God: "He made darkness His hiding place; as His canopy around Him." (Ps 17: 12).
by Fr. Theodore E. Ziton
from The Word, April 1959
Winter is now past! The snow is gone, and the gardener prunes his trees and vines for another harvest. Nature joyfully cries out: “Stop, look and listen for spring is here!” Yes, there is a glorious resurrection in nature. STOP! or you will tread upon the tender flowers that have just risen from the dead. LOOK! and you will see that old tree whose branches in winter resembled the long arms of a ghost, but now the tree begins to bloom with fragrant apple blossoms. LISTEN! and you will hear the singing bird so full of song that it seems he will burst his little throat. The earth sounds a note of joy and gladness. Everyone picks up the melody and intones the words: “Stop, look and listen, for there is a resurrection in nature.”
In the Songs of Songs we read: “Arise, my dove and come: Winter is now past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth.” (2: 10-12). Yes, the winter of Calvary is past; the storm of sorrow is gone, and Jesus the Nazarene, whose very title in Hebrew means the Flower, has appeared in glory today. Beautiful was that Flower when it took its roots in the dark cave of Bethlehem. Fragrant was that Flower when it was bruised and pinned to the Cross which became its vase: but glorious is that Flower today, for It now fully blooms never to wither away again.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Mt. 5:4)
In the first article I wrote (Morelli, 2012) on applying the Beatitudes to Orthodox Christian parenting I pointed out that it is also no accident that after Christ's time in the wilderness confronting and overcoming the temptations of Satan, the evil one, He was prepared for His public life of teaching. The first of Jesus’ teachings is the Sermon on the Mount, in which He gave us the well known Beatitudes (Mt 5: 1-12).i
Such a period of spiritual preparation for being aware of the enticements of the world, its adversities and how to confront them is not the usual practice of Eastern Christians awaiting Holy Matrimony. Rather, is not uncommon that in preparing for a holy and blessed marriage, the male and female shortly to become one flesh focus their attention on the worldly joy of marriage and relegate the spiritual factors to second place. An emphasis on the worldly aspects of marriage is certainly the main focus of secular society, in which a wedding is, for many, part of an elaborate booming and costly industry.ii Unfortunately, the focus is on merely worldly joy rather than spiritual joy In fact, however, there is an important aspect of spiritual joy that can and should be stressed in a true Orthodox Wedding. A passage in our Orthodox Marriage Service emphasizes such happiness. This is no better expressed than in the prayer sung by the choir after the sharing of The Common Cup:
by V. Rev. Fr. John Abdalah
from The Word, April 2000
A Christian is one who is defined by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, even in a day and age when some who call themselves by God’s own name deny the reality of the very act that defines them. You see, our God is one who acts in history and, in history, rose from the dead as was foretold. Risen from the dead, He is alive, and working in each of us. We are in Him and He is in us. His life in us could not end on Calvary; Life could not die. He can only be with us if He is risen from the dead, and He is.
We can speak of this with such confidence because He has revealed this to us. First, to those of us who heard His voice through prophecy even centuries before the incarnation, then to those among us who witnessed His earthly life and His empty tomb, then by those who stood with us as martyrs and confessors, suffering greatly to witness to the truth, and finally to those of us who, through prayer and love, have had these truths revealed to us in this modern age. All of this can only be so if He became man, died and rose from the dead. Only in rising from the dead can He lift us up into His resurrection, and save us.
Over the next few months, young people will be registering for one of the eight summer camps in our Archdiocese. If you know any of these young people who have been to camp before, you know that they have started their countdowns to the first day of camp. They spend hours on Skype and Facebook talking to their camp friends throughout the Archdiocese, and they go into a post-camp depression when they return home from camp.
So what is it about the camp experience that makes our young people love it so much? Certainly, there are many things that contribute to it: the friends, the activities, the counselors and staff, and being in the outdoors, to name a few. The thing that makes camp so special, however, is the camp environment, which presents a living experience of the Orthodox faith. In 1978, the Archdiocese purchased the Antiochian Village, and His Eminence Metropolitan Philip appointed the Archmandrite Fr. John Namie (+ 2001) of blessed memory as the first Camp Director. Thanks to the vision and leadership of these two great men, this mission of presenting a living experience of the Orthodox faith in the camp setting has become the standard at all of our camp programs in the Antiochian Archdiocese.
When asked by Constantine Nasr in 1998 why campers come to camp, Fr. John Namie responded,
[Christian living–] that’s why people come here: to learn Christian living by doing it. It’s the best way to learn. The best way to learn is by doing things. When you come to the Village, you get to do everything in a Christian fashion. You get to love each other, and that means that you get to share with each other your life.… We get to pray, both privately and in church. We learn church hymns, we have a good time at our meals, and we play a lot and play hard. It’s great to be at camp. It’s one of the greatest experiences that a young person can have.
In 2007 the leaders of two separate Christian groups in the Philippines contacted His Eminence Paul in Sydney, asking to join the Orthodox Church.
Many long and fruitful discussions were held between His Eminence and the two leaders, which culminated with His Eminence inviting them to Sydney for further face-to-face discussions. They arrived in May 2007, where they stayed as guests of His Eminence for three weeks. The teachings of the groups were considered and they also learned about Orthodoxy. At the end of the three weeks, both leaders stood and declared: “We accept what the Orthodox Church accepts and refuse what She refuses.” His Eminence answered them, “Welcome home,” the phrase with which Archbishop Philip welcomed the converts.
In December 2011, one of our Orthodox priests in Manila called His Eminence to report that he had been in contact with three different groups and some individual leaders who had all come to the conclusion that they would like to join the Orthodox Church. The Archdiocese began communications with these groups. We learnt that the larger group, consisting of some seven thousand families, knew much about Orthodoxy and that their leaders were very proud to call themselves “orthodox” with a small o.
On Saturday, January 28, His Eminence travelled to the Philippines to visit his parishes and to meet with the new groups. On Tuesday, January 31, His Eminence and seven clergymen of the two larger groups met and discussed their teachings over three full days. At the conclusion of this meeting His Eminence welcomed them to the Antiochian Orthodox Church and promised to bring some of their clergy to Sydney for training and ordination, to be followed by a trip to the Philippines by His Eminence to train and ordain the other leaders.
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.”
by Fr. Ayman Kfouf
Great Lent 2012
I- Historical Background
Fasting is not new in the Church. Fasting had its origin in the life of our first parents Adam and Eve. Fasting was the first, and only, law given to Adam and Eve1.
The Old Testament provides an extensive record of fasts kept by the Jews as commanded by God2 and fasts, without specific commandment, in times of distress, grief or when asking for forgiveness3.
In the New Testament, the Lord Himself fasted for forty days4. He commanded His disciples to fast after His ascension5 and prescribed fasting as a spiritual weapon against evil6. After Christ’s ascension, the disciples continued to practice fasting, beside prayer, in every aspect of their apostolic lives7 and they handed down this tradition to their disciples to preserve and practice it after them.
The aforementioned scriptural examples of fasting inspired Christians to imitate them, thus fasting quickly became part of the regular Christian experience. Evidently, the earliest Christian documents show that fasting in the first five centuries took different shapes and passed through various phases of transformation until it evolved into its current form today.
The practice of fasting in the first and second centuries took the shape of complete abstention from food for a day or two8. During the third century, fasting was extended to a full week in preparation for Pascha (Easter). By the fourth century, fasting had transformed in form and length and had evolved from a one week preparation for Pascha into a forty day fast9.
by Fr. James C. Meena
from The Word, January 1983
One of the things that housewives experience, to their utter frustration, is to make preparations for the biggest meal of the day, take the food out of the freezer and refrigerator, clean the vegetables, get everything ready and put it into the necessary pots and pans, place it on the stove and then remember an errand that needed to be run. Leaving the food to prepare itself on the stove top or in the oven, they run their errand and return to discover that, after taking all the pains of preparation, they forgot to turn on the stove. The food did not cook, so the family had to wait for supper. This has happened at my house and it has probably happened at yours. So I would like to discuss with you the need to turn on our stoves.
I recently had a very pleasant experience in demonstrating to the younger classes of our Church School the meaning of the preparation for the Divine Liturgy. One of the things I said to these children is that these gifts which are brought to the Church, bread and wine, which are prepared on the Altar of Oblation, are still very common gifts, things of the earth. They are changed into spiritual things by the energy of our prayers, yours and mine, and by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. But, unless we exert the energy to turn on the flame of the Holy Spirit, then that which we are cooking up just stays uncooked.
And whenever thou art praying, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites; for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, in order that they might be made manifest to men. Verily I say to you, they have received their reward. But thou whenever thou art praying, enter into thy chamber, and after thou shuttest thy door, pray to thy Father Who is in secret; and thy Father Who seeth in secret, shall render what is due to thee openly. (Mt 6: 5-6)
From the times of my earliest memory these words of Christ were implanted on my mind. A simple practical example of putting this into practice was the proper way of saying the Prayers at the Table, popularly known as 'grace' before and after meals, while in public. It meant making a silent and mental Sign of the Cross and saying the appropriate prayer mentally as well. Any public display of one's commitment to Christ, would, at that time and locale, have been considered hypocrisy.
However, the world of my early years was spiritually and culturally very different from the world that has ushered us into the second decade of the 21st Century. Practically everyone in my hometown was a practicing Christian. There was one devout Jewish family that had a small grocery store and a travel truck to service remote areas. On any given Sunday morning most people went to the church of their choice. It might be said that there was a shared culture of the value of religion in daily life. If someone ostentatiously displayed some overt religiosity, in all likelihood such a display would have been considered hypocritical.
In the mid 1960’s there was a popular folk song that played the airwaves: The Sounds of Silence. It was originally written in the wave of national grief that followed the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. However, this song actually reaches far beyond the historical event and touches a fountain of great spiritual depth. Consider a couple lines from the song: "Hello darkness, my old friend I've come to talk with you again . . .The words of the prophets are written. . .And whispered in the sounds of silence." A very appropriate reflection for the start of Spring comes from the saintly Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. . . .We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
The value of silence cuts across so many religious traditions. The prophet Habakkuk (2: 20) instructed the Jews: "But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him." Buddhists find in silence the meaning of the universe: "When a man knows the solitude of silence, and feels the joy of quietness, he is then free from fear and he feels the joy of the dharma [basic principles of the cosmos].i In the Islamic tradition Rumi notes: "I implored the sage in earnest last night to unveil the mysteries of the universe. He whispered softly in my ear, "Silence! It is something to perceive but never to say."ii