Great and Holy Saturday: The Forgotten Feast

by Daniel Manzuk

It is a tragic fact that today Holy Saturday is viewed by many as an unimportant “day off” between the sorrow of Good Friday and the joy of Pascha. This is absolutely false. That view negates the essential link between the despondency of Good Friday and the ecstasy of Pascha. Holy Saturday is that indispensable link between Christ’s death and Resurrection. It is on Holy Saturday that we commemorate Christ’s conquest of death, which is sealed through the Resurrection. It is a day centered on a mystery beyond our comprehension. Christ is dead, His body lies in a tomb. Yet, at this moment of Death’s apparent victory over Life, Death is being put to death. Christ’s soul, as with every soul to that time, descends to Hades. Yet His soul is unlike any other. He is both God and Man. Hades has no power over Him. It tries to hold Him, as it has held every other soul since Adam and Eve, and fails. The Life that is in Christ the Life-giver, bursts upon the darkness of Hades like a searchlight in a small dark closet. The power of Hades is destroyed, not only over Christ, but also over His faithful subjects, us. The combination of the sight of Christ lying bodily in the tomb, yet knowing that He is simultaneously destroying death, creates an atmosphere of joyful sorrow, (unique to Orthodoxy) which compels us to “keep silent and in fear and trembling stand pondering nothing earthly minded. …” (Cherubic Hymn of Great and Holy Saturday).

The Truth of Pascha

By Douglas Cramer, Editor,

I've recently been spending time with an old college roommate, a man dying of cancer in his 30’s. He’s not Christian, not married, has no children. We spend a lot of time talking about death. “What do you believe happens when we die?”, my friend asked unprompted one afternoon as we sat outside his home. “You know I’m a Christian,” I answered. “This is what I believe.” And I talked about the Resurrection, about how I believe the truth is that we are created for life, body and soul. That death is not the end. That we are called to live, to live the life of the New Man.

This is what I believe. This is what I know. Death is not our end. I know that this is true. In the Gospel of John, we read Jesus Christ’s words to Pontius Pilate before His crucifixion: “For this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” And Pilate answers: “What is truth?”

What is truth? What is falsehood? These are the questions we all need to ask. What do you believe to be true? If a dying man with no knowledge of God asked you what you believe about death, what would you say? God wants us to have an answer. He wants us to know that there is Truth. “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice,” Christ teaches.

We should strive to be “of the truth.” Truth comes to us not as a sterile solution, as an answer to the question “What is truth?” Truth comes to us as life – the life of Christ. Truth is not a “what.” Truth is a “Who”.

Mary, Our Cause of Rejoicing

Icon courtesy of Janet JaimeIcon courtesy of Janet Jaimeby His Grace Bishop Basil

Mary the Theotokos is very close to my heart, and, I am certain, close to the hearts of all who love her Son, Jesus. I can hardly think of her name without tears. When God, in the fullness of time, because of His great love for His creation, sent His Only-Begotten Son to save us sinners, He chose to do so in a way that is at once simple and tender, and profound, beyond our comprehension. He came to find a bride.

And God the Father, who is above all and in all and over all, chose to unite Himself, through the Person of the Most Holy Spirit, with one of us: the only daughter of Joachim and Anna, the young woman of Nazareth who had been prepared from all ages to become the bride of God. She is our boast. She is like us in her earthly beginning, and she is like us in her earthly end. She is at once our sister—a daughter of Adam, just like us—and also our mother.

To begin the betrothal of Mary with God, an archangel was sent, one of those who stand perpetually around the throne of God and sing His praises. An angel, beneath whom mankind was created, was sent to the house of Joseph, the betrothed of the Virgin, and began the relationship of betrothal and marriage, an unwedded marriage, between God the Father and the young virgin of Nazareth, with the word, “Rejoice.”

To Bring Orthodoxy to America We Need More Than Rhetoric

by Fr. John Abdalah

To fulfill Metropolitan PHILIP's prophetic call to bring Orthodoxy to America, the Orthodox laity and clergy in America must be genuine Christians, well educated in the ways of God, and fervant in our witness of Jesus Christ.  We must be Christians who love God and all those that God Himself loves.  We must be servants; obedient to God and willing to do all that God calls us to do, even if He calls us to change or to grow.  Anything short of this would make us disingenious, and if America discerns us to be less than genuine, He will justifiably reject us.  To be authentic, we must be obedient to God and to each other, modeling relationships that reveal the living God in our midst.  We must not live our hierarchical relationships in a secular or business way, but in the way God revealed them.  Obedience in the Church is based on respect, service and love.

To bring Orthodoxy to America, we need to be American in our embrace of freedom, and Orthodox in our correct apostolic faith and worship.  Our worship must be expressive of that which God has revealed though the ages, while palatable to the now indigenous American population.  We must be able to distinguish between that which is of the faith and that which belongs to cultures of other countries where Orthodoxy has taken root.  America has her own culture, deserving of our study and embrace.

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry or a Gentle God?

by Fr. George Morelli

In 1965 Roger Brown made perhaps the most important discovery of modern linguistic theory. He reported that whenever we speak, the tone of voice and the manner in which words are spoken (technically called the pragmatics of communication or onomatopoeic analysis) do more to determine meaning of words than the definitions of the words themselves.

Brown concluded that if something is said in an angry or mean tone, the tone is communicated rather than the words. For example, if someone came into the room and the host said softly, "sit down," the words would be heard as an invitation. The guest would feel welcomed and perhaps appreciated and certainly open to listening to his host.

On the other hand, if the host barked out, "sit down!" in a harsh and inconsiderate manner, the guest would most likely respond emotionally, perhaps experience some hurt or confusion, and would likely infer the host was mean-spirited. The guest will close himself off to any forthcoming messages. Psychological research confirms this conclusion (Morelli, 2006).

How we preach the Gospel influences how it is heard

Brown's discovery has important implications including how we hear the Gospel. Take the title of the fiery sermon preached by the early American preacher Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God for example. Consider too the tone of Edward's message illustrated in this brief quotation:

The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow.

The Orthodox Understanding of Sin

by Fr. George Morelli

In the first chapter of Genesis we read that man is made in God's image and called to be like Him. The image, the Church Fathers say, is mainly our intelligence and free will. God so loved us, He sent His only begotten Son for our salvation (John 3:16).

If we put on Christ at baptism and continue to wash ourselves through repentance, then we are able to reflect the light of Christ. Our constant prayer is "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner." We are creatures. We have no independent existence. We depend on God for all and by his mercy we can have the light of Christ indwell in us. This is a spiritual reality revealed by Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The value of this is unfathomable.

Bishop Hierotheos Vlachos (1994, 1998) refers to the worth human beings can have:

It is said that God has essence and energy and that this distinction does not destroy the divine simplicity. We confess and believe that 'uncreated and natural grace and illumination and energy always proceed inseparably from this divine energy' And since, according to the saints, created energy means created essence as well . . . God's energy is uncreated. Indeed the name of divinity is placed not only upon the divine essence, but 'also on thee divine energy no less'. This means that in the teachings of the holy Fathers, 'this (the essence) is completely incapable of being shared, but by divine grace the energy can be shared.

This is a reality and truth. Based on the illuminative teaching of St. Gregory Palamas, Bishop Hierotheos tells us this is available to us "through God's benevolence towards those who have purified their nous." Bishop Hierotheos (1994) calls the Church a hospital that can cure our infirmities so our nous can be purified and this life in Christ can take place in us.

The Prodigal’s Mother

by Natalie Ashanin

A wise son makes a glad father But a foolish son is the grief of his mother. (Proverbs 10:1)

I love to dip into the book of Proverbs now and then because it confirms the fact that human nature in Biblical times was not so different from what it is today. We can see this in the first verse of chapter ten, which says: “A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is the grief of his mother”. Does this sound familiar to any of you, especially parents of teenagers? When my eldest daughter reached the rebellious teen-age stage of life, her father would say to me, “YOUR daughter came in late last night” or “tell YOUR daughter not to wear such short skirts!” but he would tell other people that “MY daughter won a creative writing award, or MY daughter was selected for the IU honors Program!” I took him to task for this, but he just chuckled and kept on doing it! 

Mary, One of Us

by Natalie Ashanin

From a talk originally given March 25, 2001

When I learned that I was to talk to you on the great feast of the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would bear God’s son, I wondered what in the world I could say that countless theologians had not already said. Perhaps there is nothing new I can say, but as I studied the Platytera Icon behind our altar, it occurred to me that perhaps, because of all the honor and devotion given to her, we may have lost sight of the fact that Jesus’ mother, Mary, the one we call Theotokos, birth-giver of God, is actually one of us.

The Roman Church subscribes to the doctrine of original sin—that is, when Adam and Eve sinned, they passed this stain of sin to all their descendents. Because of this doctrine, the Roman Church had to develop the dogma of the immaculate conception of Mary, which means that when she was born of Joachim and Anna, she was not tainted by the original sin that stained all other humans from birth. This made her a special case, not quite like the rest of us. Hence, she was a fit vessel to bear the Messiah.

The Orthodox Church, on the other hand, teaches that although we are not born tainted with the sin of Adam and Eve, we do suffer the consequences of that sin since we too are shut out of paradise by their action. So we struggle to regain that paradise. Mary was born to this struggle, just like every other human being. This makes it even more wonderful that she became the mother of our Lord. Because she was found worthy to bear Christ, it means that we too can aspire to be worthy to bear Him, if not in body as she did, then in our heart and soul.

Eastern Orthodox Christians and Iconography

By Cindy Egly

There are approximately five million Eastern Orthodox Christians in America (Nabil, 2000). A minority in a nation dominated by Protestants and Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox culture has maintained strong familial and cultural identities. Understanding something about them, being able to lay aside preconceptions and ethnocentricity to view life from the Orthodox Christian’s perspective will allow the onlooker an opportunity to increase in understanding not only of the Eastern Orthodox Christian but of human nature. It is this author’s intent to introduce the reader to an insider’s perspective of iconography in the life of an Orthodox Christian, in the hope that understanding will increase.

A legend passed down for nearly 2000 years describes the first icon. At the time when Christ was traveling to Jerusalem where He would experience the trial and crucifixion, King Abgar of Edessa sent for Jesus. Christ could not go to the King, so instead He sent a linen cloth on which He had dried His face. The story continues that the cloth carried to the King had an impression of Christ’s face on it. The King’s illness was healed when the cloth was taken to him. This first icon, “not made by human hands”, began a tradition of portraying Christ and the saints in pictorial fashion. (Benz, 1963). The entire town of Edessa treasured this first icon, that is the linen cloth with Christ’s face imprinted on it. It was widely acknowledged throughout out the East and still written about in the eighth century (Ouspensky, 1978).

Justice as Asceticism

by Maria Gwyn McDowell

Originally delivered as a part of St. Mary's Lenten Lecture Series 2004
St. Mary Orthodox Church, Cambridge, MA
Friday, March 12, 2004

Download/View the Full PDF Version

Justice as Asceticism: Part 1

I recently spent a week at Project Mexico, where fasting came up a number of times. It started with the effort to find food in the airport which did not contain meat, inspiring a few conversations about the idea of ‘travel mercies,’ the leniency granted to travelers who may not be able to find options which fulfill the fast. The conversation continued at the Orphanage. Due to government regulations imposed by the Mexican government, a certain amount of meat must be served each week at Orphanages. Our host made it clear to us that the primarily Catholic staff of the orphanage would do their best to make Lenten meals for us, but may at times forget, and for us to be gracious. He further pointed out that our presence in building a house was itself a fast, a ‘work of mercy.’

Constantine The Great: Roman Emperor, Christian Saint, History's Turning Point

by Robert Arakaki

"Tell me the history of Christianity and I can tell you your theology." This is especially true with a controversial figure like Constantine. Where Roman Catholics present him as laying the foundation for the Papacy, Protestants see him as the one responsible for leading the early Church away from the simplicity of the pure gospel and turning it into an institutional Church. However, blaming Constantine for the fall of the Church is a double-edged sword that cuts in both directions. If Protestants accuse Constantine of tampering with the Church, how do they know that Constantine did not tamper with the Bible? The problem with the "fall of the Church" argument is that it opens the possibility of a radical discontinuity between present-day Christianity and the early Church.

This danger can be seen in one of today's most popular bestsellers, The DaVinci Code. In the middle of the book (Chapter 55) Sir Leigh Teabing gives Sophie Neveu a brief synopsis of the "history" of Christianity. In it he makes the following points about Constantine:

Keeping the Faith in the Holy Days

By Father Joseph Allen

The key to “keeping the Faith in the Holidays (holy days)” is in the understanding of “time.” In the Orthodox East, where we call such days “Feasts” or “Feastdays,” this especially means both the place of time in our lives and our use of time.

First, regarding the place of time, the religious anthropologists have shown us in many ways that the human being, from the beginning, understood that the feastdays and celebrations were an organic and essential component in his whole world-view, in his way of life. They discovered that the homo religiosus, the religious man, lived in the “rhythm of time” — where beginnings and endings, youth and aging, birth and death, were truly acknowledged as real. Thus the feastday was not something extraneous or accidental to his life; his observation of what was happening in the cosmic occurrences all around him kept this rhythm of time central. Neither was the feast a simple “break” from his usual life of hard work. Far more important to his very being, the feast was — as it should be for us today — a “marker” of such times of change and transformation. Indeed, each celebration was its own “rite of passage,” from this point to that point, from this time to that time. And the religious man lived within that cycle, quite naturally.

The Orthodox Priest: An Icon of Christ

by Fr. Alister Anderson

In this holy season you could have a child ask you, “why was Jesus born as a boy? Why couldn’t St. Mary have had a baby girl to be our saviour?” How would you answer these questions? I would say this because the Bible says it: God wanted to be born of St. Mary as a baby boy because it was His intention to be a perfect man. God made that choice. God can do and will do what He wants to do.

Now suppose a little later an adult person asked you, “Why don’t the Orthodox Christian Churches allow women to be ordained as deacons, priests or bishops?” The Church of England just voted to permit women to be ordained to the sacred ministry. Many other Christian denominations have been ordaining women to the ministry for many years. The question is answered in the Christmas story recorded in the Bible. God took the form of a man when by the power of His Holy Spirit He was born of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos. That provides our Orthodox Christian Churches’ answer. Only a man can be ordained as a deacon, priest or bishop because Jesus the perfect Man chose only men to be His disciples and apostles. God made that choice. God can do and will do what He wants to do.

Destructive Embryonic Stem Cell Research

In this article, we will look at why the Orthodox Church has taken such a stand, how the Church has always stood uncompromisingly for the personhood of the human embryo, and what moral alternatives exist for stem cell research.

Destructive Embryonic Stem Cell Research

By Father Mark Hodges

THE STEM CELL DEBATE IS about the value of human life at its beginning. Stem cells are “blank” cells which can become all 210 different kinds of human tissue. Researchers hope that someday these cells could provide cures for all kinds of serious diseases, even repairing vital organs. We have stem cells throughout our bodies, but they are most abundant in human embryos. Retrieving embryonic stem cells, however, requires killing those human beings. A raging debate is going on in our nation now, over whether or not taxes should support killing human embryos in order to harvest their stem cells for experimentation.

The Cross: Central Theme of Our Christian Religion

by Very Rev. Fr. Michael Baroudy

Vicksburg, Mississippi

From the very dawn of history, when man was created thousands of years ago, we note man’s restlessness in trying to solve the mystery of life and the supreme purpose of living. Accordingly, the search went on throughout all the stages of history, and that probably accounts for the great progress and the scientific dis­coveries man has achieved. But with all the great and stupendous achieve­ments of men, the search for more knowledge goes on day and night. There is no satisfaction insofar as man’s restless spirit is concerned. We feel that there are still great regions to be explored, fields unclaimed, re­sources untapped. We are surround­ed by mysteries and question marks. We are ever asking questions because the desire to know more is unquench­able. There isn’t any harm in asking questions, in trying to explore life’s great possibilities, for each of us wish­es to better himself, to fulfill his des­tiny and the purpose of which he is created. Not only is there no harm in searching out for more knowledge, but to do so is commendable and praiseworthy.

To Tithe is To Love

By Carole Buleza

In late summer and early autumn we see the land resting after having yielded the grain and fruit of the season, if we live close enough to farmland. In our developed societies we are not as tied to the land as those in agrarian societies. We do not suffer for lack of food at the grocery store, and perhaps are not as apt to pray in thanksgiving to God for the bounty just harvested.

Our ancestors in the Bible knew that all they had came from God. What they had they held not as owners, but as stewards. Just as Adam was made steward, or caretaker, of creation, so they were merely stewards of their holdings. They also knew that God had decreed that a “tithe,” or 1/10, of all they harvested was to be returned to Him in thanksgiving and as appropriate worship.

“All tithes of the land, whether in grain from the fields or in fruit from the trees, belong to the Lord, as sacred to him. . . The tithes of the herd and the flock shall be determined by ceding to the Lord as sacred every tenth animal . . . (Leviticus: 27: 30, 32)

What were God’s people thankful for? Not only for the harvest, but primarily for the fact that God had rescued them from slavery in Egypt and was leading them to the Promised Land. They owed God their life.

Here we are a few thousand years later. Has anything changed? We are now God’s people. Jesus, our Lord, has rescued us from slavery, to sin and eternal death. He has opened to us the Gates of Heaven. We owe Him our life. Do we tithe? Did Jesus tell us to? If you answered “yes,” you have a very good memory. There is a passage in which Jesus uses the word “tithe.” In the passage He is calling the Pharisees to task. They have focused on keeping the law to the smallest detail, while missing the spirit they should be cultivating within.

Feastdays and Services to The Theotokos

Ever since the Archangel Gabriel first said, "you are blessed among women," to the Virgin Mary, these words of praise have inspired the faithful of the Christian Church. Their love for Christ, and desire to honor all that He honored has led them to also praise His glorious Mother. Thus they continue to fulfill the words of the Holy Spirit spoken through her, "behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed" (Lk. 1:45). The Church has honored the Most Holy Lady in many ways. Theologians have defended her doctrinally and theologically. Authors have composed hymns dedicated to her. The faithful have sought her intercession in their prayers. Finally, the entire Church has celebrated feast days commemorating certain events in her life or miracles performed through her mediation. After the Council of Ephesus (431 AD), however, the number of hymns and services to the Theotokos increased and flourished. All feast days seem to have their historical foundations during or after this great Council, which defended the doctrine of the Person of Christ and the dignity of the Mother of God.

During and after the establishment of the feast days of the Theotokos clergy and laity emphasized her praise through hymns written in her honor. The most famous work of this kind is the Akathist Hymn, a Kontakion written by the 6th century deacon, St. Romanos the Melodist. The Paraclesis is another poetic work dealing with another aspect of veneration of the Virgin, her role as Protectress of Christians. Orthodox use this service, instituted almost 1000 years after Romanos wrote his Kontakion in times of trouble and temptation. Both services are in general use in Orthodox churches today. It is then the purpose of this presentation to deal with these forms of piety which have taken deep root in the Orthodox Catholic conscience, to trace their beginnings where possible, and to demonstrate their relevance for us today.

Orthodoxy in Dixie

By Father Joseph Huneycutt

I’m a Southerner. I was born and reared a Southern Baptist; educated as an Episcopalian, and converted to Orthodox Christianity a decade ago. Since then, I’ve been struggling to be Orthodox. As a missionary priest, I’ve also struggled to bring others to Orthodoxy in the South. More than anything, I’ve learned that I have a lot to learn. I’ve also concluded that Orthodoxy, in its plethora of jurisdictions, will have to learn some things, appreciate some things, about Southern Culture before ever being truly successful in bringing Southerners to the Faith.

I was reared in a small town near Charlotte, North Carolina. Growing up, I never met a Jew, much less a Muslim. Lutherans were rare enough in my hometown, much less Roman Catholics. Basically, we were Baptists and Methodists, blacks and whites. I’d never even heard of Orthodox Christianity until I was on my way to the Episcopal seminary in the 1980’s. Come to think of it, I’ll bet most folks in my hometown still have never heard of Orthodoxy.

House Blend

by Fr. Jon E. Braun

When it comes to good coffee, caffeine lovers may be familiar with the “House Blend”—each restaurant’s or coffee roaster’s recipe for brewing the “perfect cup” that appeals to the greatest number of people. Not some exotic specialty roast like Mocha Java, Sumatra, or Jamaican, the house blend is designed to be a happy meeting ground, something that will accommodate the widest variety of tastes and appetites.

Mind you, not everyone who loves coffee likes the house blend. That’s all right; it is not necessary, or even desirable, that they should. But on the other hand, there is surely nothing wrong with the way it tastes, and for those who understand why and how the house blend is best used, it makes very good sense.

In terms of the Orthodox Church and its establishment here in North America, I believe there is a growing need for what might be called the “Orthodox House Blend.” I am talking about a “house blend” in churches, if you will—a mixture that accommodates the many and varied backgrounds of people coming into Orthodox parishes.