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Sundays of Lent

The Following is an excerpt from Great Lent, by Alexander Schmemann
From Chapter 4: The Lenten Journey

Each Sunday in Lent has two themes, two meanings. On the one hand, each belongs to a sequencein which the rhythm and spiritual "dialectics" of Lent are revealed. On the other hand, in the course of the Church's historical development almost each lenten Sunday has acquired a second theme. Thus on the first Sunday the Church celebrates the "Triumph of Orthodoxy"-- commemorating the victory over Iconoclasm and the restoration of the veneration of icons in Constantinople in 843. The connection of this celebration with Lent is purely historical: the first "triumph of Orthodoxy" took place on this particular Sunday. The same is true of the commemoration on the second Sunday of Lent of St. Gregory Palamas. The condemnation of his enemies and the vindication of his teachings by the Church in the 14th Century was acclaimed as a second triumph of Orthodoxy and for this reason its annual celebration was prescribed for the second Sunday of Lent. Meaningful and important as they are in themselves, these commemorations are independent from Lent as such and we can leave them outside the scope of this essay....

Forgiveness (Cheese-Fare Sunday)

The Following is an excerpt from Great Lent, by Alexander Schmemann
From Chapter 2: Preparation for Lent

....

Finally comes the last day [of preparation for Lent], usually called "Forgiveness Sunday," but whose other liturgical name must also be remembered: the "Expulsion of Adam from the Paradise of Bliss." This name summarizes indeed the entire preparation for Lent. By now we know that man was created for paradise, for knowledge of God and communion with Him. Man's sin has deprived him of that blessed life and his existence on earth is exile. Christ, the Savior of the world, opens the door of paradise to everyone who follows Him, and the Church, by revealing to us the beauty of the Kingdom, makes our life a pilgrimage toward our heavenly fatherland. Thus, at the beginning of Lent, we are like Adam:

Adam was expelled form paradise through food;
Sitting, therefore, in front of it he cried:
"Woe to me....
One commandment of God have I transgressed,
depriving myself of all that is good;
Paradise holy! Planted for me,
And now because of Eve closed to me;
Pray to thy Creator and mine that I may be filled again by thy blossom."
Then answered the Savior to him:
"I wish not my creation to perish;
I desire it to be saved and to know the truth;
For I will not turn away him who comes to Me....

The Last Judgement (Meat-Fare Sunday)

The Following is an excerpt from Great Lent, by Alexander Schmemann
From Chapter 2: Preparation for Lent

....

It is love again that constitutes the theme of "Meat-Fare Sunday." The Gospel lesson for the day is Christ's parable of the Last Judgement (Matt. 25:31-46). When Christ comes to judge us, what will be the criterion of His judgement? The parable answers: love-- not a mere humanitarian concern for abstract justice and the anonymous "poor," but concrete and personal love for the human person, any human person, that God makes me encounter in my life....

Christian love is the "possible impossibility" to see Christ in another man, whoever he is, and whom God, in His eternal and mysterious plan, has decided to introduce into my life, be it only for a few moments, not as an occasion for a "good deed" or an exercise in philanthropy, but as the beginning of an eternal companionship in God Himself. For, indeed, what is love if not that mysterious power which transcends the accidental and the external in the "other"-- his physical appearance, social rank, ethnic origin, intellectual capacity-- and reaches the soul, the unique and uniquely personal "root" of a human being, truly the part of God in him? If God loves every man it is because He alone knows the priceless and absolutely unique treasure, the "soul" or "person" He gave every man. Christian love then is the participation in that divine knowledge and the gift of that divine love. There is no "impersonal" love because love is the wonderful discovery of the "person" in "man," of the personal and unique in the common and general. It is the discovery in each man of that which is "lovable" in him, of that which is from God.

Return from Exile (The Sunday of the Prodigal Son)

The Following is an excerpt from Great Lent, by Alexander Schmemann
From Chapter 2: Preparation for Lent

Sunday of the Prodigal SonOn the third Sunday of preparation for Lent, we hear the parable of the Prodigal Son (LK. 15:11-32). Together with the hymns on this day, the parable reveals to us the time of repentance as man's return from exile. The prodigal son, we are told, went to a far country and there spent all that he had. A far country! It is this unique definition of our human condition that we must assume and make ours as we begin our approach to God. A man who has never had that experience, be it only very briefly, who has never felt that he is exiled from God and from real life, will never understand what Christianity is about. And the one who is perfectly "at home" in this world and its life, who has never been wounded by the nostalgic desire for another Reality, will not understand what is repentance.

Humility (Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee)

The Following is an excerpt from Great Lent, by Alexander Schmemann
From Chapter 2: Preparation for Lent

The next Sunday [after Zaccheus Sunday] is called the "Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee." On the eve of this day, on Saturday at Vespers, the liturgical book of the Lenten season-- the Triodion-- makes its first appearance and texts from it are added to the usual hymns and prayers of the weekly resurrection service. The develop the next major aspect of repentance: humility.

The Gospel lesson (Lk. 18:10-4) pictures a man who is always pleased with himself and who thinks that he complies with all the requirements of religion. He is self-assured and proud of himself. In reality, however, he has falsified the meaning of religion. He has reduced it to external observations and he measures his piety by the amount of money he contributes to the temple. As for the Publican, he humbles himself and his humility justifies him before God. If there is a moral quality almost completely disregarded and even denied today, it is indeed humility. The culture in which we live constantly instills in us the sense of pride, of self-glorification, and of self-righteousness. It is built on the assumption that man can achieve anything by himself and it even pictures God as the one who all the time "gives credit" for man's achievements and good deeds. Humility-- be it individual or corporate, ethnic or national-- is viewed as a sign of weakness, as something unbecoming a real man. Even our churches-- are they not imbued with that same spirit as the Pharisee? Do we not want our every contribution, every "good deed," all that we do "for the Church" to be acknowledged, praised, publicized?

November 19, 2008 + Advent

by Rev. Vladimir Berzonsky

 

from The Word, December 1970

 

“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone. You have made their gladness greater, you have made their joy increase” (Isaiah 9:1)

"I understand the significance of the pre-Easter lent, but why do we keep a Lenten season for Christmas, since it’s such a joyous occasion?” The woman who made the comment spoke sincerely and her reasoning was correct. What she misunderstood was the purpose of Lenten fasting and spiritual preparation.

To so many of our people, fasting and prayers are expressions of sorrow for a rupture in Divine-human relationships, such as was the murder of Jesus Christ.

Primarily, Lent is a time for our concentrated preparing for the Kingdom of God’s manifestation within us. By freeing ourselves from the things of this world we can better live and experience the Spirit of God dwelling in our souls. It is a time of pilgrimage—a spiritual journey to our true native land which the Lord has prepared for us.

Now it is advent, the time of His coming. Christ is on the way to my world, my city, my house and to me. How will He find it: what will He think of us; will He be pleased?

A Culture Obsessed With Food

By Douglas Cramer

I enjoy good food. And our Orthodox Christian faith is a sacramental faith, a faith which teaches us that the earthly joys of this world—including good food—are gifts from God. And certainly, our ancestors—whatever one’s heritage—have known deprivation, and have prayed that their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren would know peace and prosperity, and not go hungry.

Give and Be Glad

By Douglas Cramer

There is a fundamental mistake most of us make—the belief that our possessions are our own. But this is simply not true. Yes, most of us work for everything we have. But we wouldn’t have any of it if it were not given to us by God. If we believe in God, there is no denying the fact that without God we would have nothing, not even our own lives. He is the source of all, and everything returns to Him in the end.

From the Heart: Resting in the Ascension

By Douglas Cramer

Summer is almost here. It’s a good time to just take a deep breath, and relax. You know, go to the beach if you live close to it, have a barbeque, invite some friends over. I remember doing this on a grand scale as a child growing up in New Jersey. But how often do most of us do this anymore? We’re so busy, we’ve forgotten that true rest and relaxation, the kind that really restores you, is vital to our survival.

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, Antiochian.org

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.

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.

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 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.