Say YES!!

“And there is another step beyond. It is possible to say Yes repeatedly throughout the day. The simple phrase, “I say Yes to God,” carries a great deal of power. I have learned to make it a frequent confession in my day. I say Yes to God. I say Yes to my life. I say Yes to this problem. I say Yes to the mistakes I have made. It is a means of affirming that God is working all things together for my good – even my mistakes.

Say Yes.”

Fr. Stephen Freeman

https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2022/05/03/say-yes-2/
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The Struggle for Virtue

The opposing virtues must be immediately planted in place of eradicated passions. The Holy Fathers enumerate these virtues in the following order: (1) abstinence is opposed to gluttony, (2) chastity is opposed to fornication, (3) non-acquisitiveness is opposed to avarice, (4) meekness is opposed to anger, (5) blessed tears about one’s sins are opposed to despair, (6) sobriety is opposed to sorrow, (7) humility is opposed to vanity, and (8) love is opposed to pride.

Archbishop Averky (Taushev)

The Struggle for Virtue: Asceticism in a Modern Secular Society p.135


Archbishop Averky’s book, the Struggle for Virtue, is an excellent book to read and re-read often. He addresses head on the question, “What is asceticism?” The Archbishop counters the many false understandings that exist and shows that the practice of authentic asceticism is integral to the spiritual life and the path to blessed communion with God.

Archbishop Averky (Taushev) taught and served in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Germany before being assigned in to teach at the Holy Trinity Seminary in New York. In 1960 became the abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery and was heavily involved in the formation of the seminary curriculum and the daily life of the seminarians and monks.

“Archbishop Averky was one of the last giants of 20th-century Orthodoxy . . . . [He] was an Orthodox scholar in the unbroken tradition of patristic thought which has come down to us from the ancient Fathers to our own days.”  —Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose), author, The Orthodox Word

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CHRIST IS RISEN

Paschal Epistle of His Eminence Hilarion, Metropolitan of Eastern America & New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad

Eminent brother archpastors, reverend fathers, dear brothers and sisters:

CHRIST IS RISEN!

With a sense of jubilation in the Lord, the Victor over evil, hell, and death, I greet you all on this luminous night of the Lord’s Matins and Paschal Liturgy, this “feast of faith,” which the great Chrysostom exhorts us to relish! Greetings on the Glorious Resurrection of Christ!

The grace-filled power of Great Lent and Holy Pascha unites us all, elevates, illumines, softens, and broadens our souls, which during these holy days are revealed in their finest degrees. Still, no matter how much we have strived to seclude ourselves within the cells of our hearts, mindfully heeding the touching hymns sung during Great Lent and Passion Week, that which is unfolding in the land of Kievan Rus’ – a land so dear to us – forcefully encroaches into our lives. We, as Orthodox Christians, cannot remain indifferent when members of one and the same Local Church gaze at each other through the scopes of automatic weapons; we cannot remain indifferent when our brothers and sisters, deprived of shelter, become refugees, as once were the founders of our own Russian Church Abroad.

Our inability to remain indifferent is expressed first and foremost in our fervent prayers for the restoration of peace, lifted up during the divine services in the parishes of our Russian Church Abroad. And at this moment, as we worship Christ the Giver of Life, we fervently implore for His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry of Kiev & All Ukraine, the archpastors, pastors, and the multitude of the flock of the persecuted Ukrainian Orthodox Church, that they and all those who with wearied hearts are tormented by the present tragedy, may experience that which is hymned in the Paschal night, as we sing out: “O Pascha, ransom from sorrow!” May “this chosen and holy day” be a consolation and joy, an outpouring of mercy, aid, and Divine strength for all!

O God, our God, grant that the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3) may reign among our Orthodox peoples, that we, not falling into despair, may overcome all tribulations, discord, and conflicts “through Him that loved us” (Romans 8:37), so that “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance” (Galatians 5:22-23) may be restored among us anew.

Now, as hostility, anger, and hatred destroy the concord and brotherhood between nations and bring our sinful world to the threshold of hell, it is not the place of the Church to render political verdicts or take upon ourselves the task of seeking out those responsible for what is happening in the Ukrainian land. It is the work of the Church to join the suffering – not only in prayer, but in deed. Of this, our Lord the Chief Shepherd instructed us plainly in the Gospel reading of the Sunday of the Dread Judgement (cf. Matthew 25:31-46).

This is why, beginning already in 2014, we have been offering help to those suffering in southeastern Ukraine; and since February of this year, when the new hostilities began, the dioceses and parishes of the Russian Church Abroad, our Fund for Assistance, and our other ecclesiastical and social organizations have been responding with kind hearts, vigorously and generously, to this terrible catastrophe. May the Lord save you all for your sacrificial labors! Such concrete help prevents us from becoming “salt that hath lost his savour” (Matthew 5:13), and shows that we can and must become more involved in the conciliar work of building the Church. We, as God’s people, scattered throughout the entire world, have many gifts and talents with which we can serve not only Him, Who with His most-pure Blood perfected our salvation, but can also serve His Holy Church and our neighbor. So, let us not grow weak in spirit or fall into despair, but “let us commit ourselves and one another and all our life unto Christ our God!”

May Pascha, wondrous and sweetly fragrant, warm cold hearts and unite us all! May the exclamation “Christ is Risen!”, which forever evokes trepidation even among those who have departed from the Father’s house, remind us that we, as Orthodox Christians, are children of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Who rose on the third day and with Whom and in Whom we shall also be resurrected for the life of the age to come. Amen.

With love in the Risen Christ and asking your holy prayers,

+HILARION
Metropolitan of Eastern America & New York
First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia

Pascha of the Lord 2022

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The Priestly Preparation of the Divine Liturgy

https://inklesspen.blog/2022/04/05/the-priestly-preparation-of-the-divine-liturgy/

On By frlynch In Divine Services, Living the Faith, New Hieromartyr Seraphim (Zvezdinski), Sermons on the Divine Liturgy, On the Divine Services, Orthodoxy, Orthodoxy in America

Below is Fr. Zechariah Lynch’s translation from the Russian of the eighth sermon by New Hieromartyr Seraphim (Zvezdinski) on the Divine Liturgy. The preceding sermons may be found here. This is a continuing series.

Sermon 8

The Lord says, “I am the bread which came down from heaven” (Jn. 6:41). The bread is His Divine Body and His Pure Blood – Holy Communion, that ever strengthens, enlivens and purifies us. Holy Communion is the Sun of righteousness ever sanctifying our life. From this Sun shines forth three rays; It is the diamond set in the ark of three sections.1 The Divine Liturgy consists of three parts. From ancient times the Service has been subdivided in such a manner because even the first liturgy in the upper room of Zion consisted of three parts.

The Mystical Supper began first of all with the preparation. The Lord told His disciples, “Go and prepare the upper room” (cf. Lk. 22:8). After the preparation, the Lord sat at the table with His disciples (but Judas did not remain until the end of the supper, he “departed,” as the catechumens depart, not having baptism). Finally, [ …]2 the Lord began the sacred rite and under the forms of bread and wine, He gave the disciples to taste of His Body and Blood. And so, the Divine Liturgy consists of three parts. The first part is proskomedia, which is a Greek word because the whole Divine Liturgy came to us3 from the Greeks. Proskomedia means “offering.”

The bread for Communion must be made from wheat and it must be leavened. The shape of the loaf must be round and made of two parts. Round wheat bread is taken in memory of that bread which the Savior used when completing the first Liturgy. The round shape reminds us of a denarius coin and indicates that we have been bought by Christ the Savior who gave Himself for us; He Himself has purchased us. The bread is called Prosphora, that is – an offering. It is called by this name in remembrance of the faithful who would bring bread to the church for the service of the holy Liturgy, much as we today bring candles, oil, and other such things (in offering). The two parts of the prosphora speak of the two natures of Christ – Human and Divine. For it is by this “denarius” that we have been purchased, such is the sacrifice that the God-Man voluntarily offered on our behalf, Himself being the Son of God and the Son of the Virgin. At the Liturgy, five prosphora loaves are used.4 “Why is this?” you may ask me. Simply look at the Cross – five loaves are offered in memory of the five wounds of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now I will move on to an explanation of the Liturgy itself. I have already told you that it is composed of three parts. The first of which is called “Proskomedia.” It is dedicated to the commemoration of the Nativity of Christ. As Christ was born in obscurity and practically unknown until the age of thirty, when He was revealed to the world, so proskomedia is served in the altar (sanctuary) with the holy doors closed. The sufferings of Christ are also commemorated in the service of proskomedia, but as if in anticipation [ …]5 in a manner such as the Righteous Simeon the God-bearer foresaw them.

Before offering the Liturgy, the priest acknowledges his weakness and sinfulness, and feeling holy awe before the great service into which he is entering, he turns to the Lord in prayer seeking help. This is why before approaching the Holy Supper he stands before the (holy doors of) the iconostasis in fear; confessing his helplessness, he strengthens himself in prayer to the Lord. The priest has already been preparing himself for service since the past evening;6 now having entered the temple he must, above all else, be at peace with everyone in his mind and forgive everyone every offense. People often speak of unworthy priests, and some folks announce that because of such priests they do not come to church and do not respect clergy because some behave in an unworthy manner. O, what thoughtlessness and what religious ignorance! Are the accomplishing hands that hold forth the changed mysteries in the Chalice those of an angel or an unworthy priest?

The Lord said, “The scribes and Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses. Therefore, whatever they tell you to observe, observe and do, but do not imitate their works” (Matt. 23:2-3). The Lord spoke these words about priests who were sinful, depraved, and embittered to the core. St. John Chrysostom says a person should be thankful to God that Holy Communion is given to him by a weak priest because if the Liturgy were offered by an angel of God, he would not allow sinners to approach the holy things.

Acknowledging his weakness with fear, the priest calls upon the Lord for help. Before the holy doors, the priest prays, “O Heavenly King …” through to the “Our Father.” In recognition of his sinfulness he prays, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us …” Here he, as a priest, asks that his iniquities be forgiven according to the limitless mercy of the compassionate God, and he then proclaims, “We are His people.” Further, he beseeches the Most-Pure Virgin to “open the doors of compassion” because she is “the salvation of the Christian race.”7

Having said these prayers, the priest then bows to the image of the Savior that is next to the holy doors and kisses it as he prays, “Thy Most-Pure image …” And he then also bows to the image of the Mother of God and kisses it while praying, “Make us worthy of mercy, O Theotokos, fountain of tenderness …” He then proceeds to kiss all the other [primary] icons on the iconostasis while chanting their troparia. The veneration of the holy icons is offered to supplicate the aid of the Mother of God and the holy God-pleasers on behalf of the weak and sinful priest before the offering of the dread Liturgy. On the other hand, by this veneration the priest also witnesses that our Orthodox Church fulfills the decrees of the Seventh Ecumenical to honor holy icons.

Then the priest stands before the royal doors with his head bowed and prays, “O Lord, stretch forth Thy hand …” Again he begs for grace-filled help and still he refrains from entering into the service of the Liturgy. Yet again he asks for strength to complete the service of the Liturgy so that standing uncondemned before the awesome throne he may offer the bloodless sacrifice. This prayer as it were strengthens him and he finally resolves to enter the altar. Yet before entering the altar, he turns and asks for prayer and forgiveness from the gathered faithful, seeking support from them in his weakness.

With the words of the psalm in his mouth, “I will enter Thy house …”,8 he enters into the altar. He makes three bows before the holy Table and kisses the Gospel and cross which lay upon it, as if the Lord Himself is sitting on the His throne of glory. The priest then makes three bows towards the east and proceeds to vest. Vestments represent that the priest must lay aside everything earthly and be clothed in the grace of God. As the priest vests himself in the sticharion, he prays, “My soul shall rejoice in the Lord, for He hath clothed me with the robe of gladness; as a bridegroom He hath set a crown on me; and as a bride adorns herself with jewels, so hath He adorned me.” Then with the appropriate prayers, he vests himself in the remaining vestments. All of these prayers call upon and exalt the strengthening power of the grace of God. When fully vested, the priest then washes his hands while praying, “I will wash my hands in innocence ….”9 It should be said that in ancient times all the faithful washed their hands upon entering the church and for this purpose, a washstand stood at the entrance. St. John Chrysostom says the faithful washed their hands two times, once when entering the church and the other when exiting, as they gave alms. I myself remember, when I was a boy, before entering an old temple that our family attended, we washed our hands in a bowl according to this ancient custom.

Fully vested, the priest then approaches the table of oblation and a final time turns to God with prayer before starting proskomedia, bringing to remembrance the Redeeming Sacrifice of Christ. Offering three bows, he reads, “God cleanse me a sinner and have mercy on me,” and “By Thy precious blood Thou hast redeemed us from the curse of the law …” The priest then proclaims the blessing, “Blessed is our God, always now and ever and unto the ages of ages,” and thus he begins to offer proskomedia.

I will say more about this at another time but right now I want to remind you again, my friends, to love this diamond of God – the Divine Liturgy. Be present at the offering of the Liturgy with fear and reverence. Call to mind how I told you even the angels themselves envy10 that we have been given such an incalculable gift. The angels descend from the heavenly realms to be present at the offering of the Liturgy! The venerable Seraphim11 himself witnessed this presence of the angels. The disciples of our venerable father Sergius saw how an angel served with him;12 other saints have very similar testimonies. How then could we not lay aside everything earthly so to taste of this spring of Life?

1A reference to the ark of Noah. Cf. Genesis 6:16.

2Break in the original text

3i.e. the Russians

4This is standard Slavic practice. Greek practice uses one loaf.

5Break in the original text

6Through his prayer rule of preparation for Holy Communion

7All quoted texts are excerpts from prayers used during the priestly entrance prayers. The full prayers may be found in most Liturgy service books.

8Psalm 5

9Psalm 25:6-10

10cf. Homily 1

11St. Seraphim of Sarov

12The disciples were Isaacius the Silent and Macarius. See The Northern Thebaid, Monastic Saints of the Russian North, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood. Platina, 2004. pg. 35, for the full account in English.

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The Cross leads us to Jesus Christ

This week marks the midpoint of Great Lent and on this middle Sunday of the Fast, we look forward to the Holy Cross. Later on, during Holy Week, the Cross reappears as an element in the remembrance of our Lord’s Crucifixion, however, here it stands alone as the emblem of our Lord’s victory and our invincible weapon against the attacks of the demons.

St Athanasius tells us: “By the sign of the cross all magic is stayed, all sorcery  confounded, all the idols are abandoned and deserted, and all senseless pleasure ceases, as the eye of faith looks up to heaven from the earth.” And St Cyril of Jerusalem adds: “(The Cross) is a powerful safeguard, a grace from God, a badge of the faithful, and a terror to devils.”

The Cross is also the anchor point of our lives in the world – everything revolves around the cross and it anchors us to Christ.  St Ephraim the Syrian expresses this in his poetic writings saying: “The Cross is  – the resurrection of the dead; the hope of Christians; the staff of the lame; the consolation of the poor; the dethronement of the proud; the hope of the hopeless; the helm of those who sail; the harbor of the storm-tossed; the father of orphans; the comfort of the afflicted; the protector of youth; the glory of men; the crown of the aged; the purity of virgins; the bread of the hungry and the fountain of the thirsty.”

See how, in his words, the Cross touches each aspect of our lives from our bodily needs to our spiritual struggle.  It is our protection and safe refuge; it is our correction, encouragement and help; it is our joy and rejoicing.  It is no wonder that he goes on to say, “Let us not leave the Cross even for one hour, even for one moment, and let us not do anything without it.”  Let us wear it daily and hourly!

Is it any wonder then, that we adorn every aspect of our lives with the sign of the Cross?  We put crosses on nearly everything in the Church; we even put crosses on the Church itself, on its walls and towering above its highest point. Not only the Church but even in our homes, we find the cross prominently as the emblem of our faith. We all received a cross at baptism which we wear next to our skin every moment of our lives.  We make the sign of the cross over ourselves and all things that we love as a blessing and as a protection.  And each time we do this, it brings us back to Christ, it connects us to Him.

But the cross is not magic, it is not some mystical symbol that has power in its own right.  The cross is only a tool by which we invoke our Lord Jesus Christ who voluntarily ascended the Cross for us and Who used the Cross as the instrument of His sacrifice for our salvation.  Without this connection, the cross is nothing – or even worse, it is simply a means of torture and death born out of our sinfulness. Remember that on Golgotha, that day there were three crosses – the Cross of our Lord and two others upon which were crucified two thieves.  When the blessed Helen undertook to search for the Holy Cross, after digging into the hill of Golgotha, she discovered three crosses together.  While she was uncertain as to how to determine which was the cross of the Lord, a funeral procession passed by.  At the advice of the Patriarch, the crosses were placed upon the body of the deceased.  

The first two crosses had no effect, but the moment that the third cross touched the body, the deceased was restored to life.  In this way the Cross of Christ was recognized.  But the other two crosses, though they appeared identical in appearance, were of no effect.  See how it is the connection with Jesus Christ which makes the sign of the Cross powerful and effective. 

 Without Christ, the Cross is simply two sticks of wood laid across one another – but the moment that those sticks of wood are connected to Christ, the power of our Lord’s Victorious Resurrection fills them and they become the invincible weapon of our faith.

Consider now the two thieves who were crucified on those other two crosses.  They suffered the punishment for their own evil deeds – for their own sins.  Just because they had been nailed to a cross, this had no benefit for them for they deserved this fate and their crosses were nothing but the instrument of their deserved death.  The two thieves however had different reactions to the cross of Christ.  One thief by his anger and suffering was hardened in his sinfulness and joined in the cursing and mocking of Jesus Christ by the crowd.  Since he could not escape his own pain and suffering, he sought to push it onto his fellow Sufferer making Him to suffer even more.  Certainly we all have this urge, when we are suffering in some way, to project our suffering onto others and make them suffer just as much as we are.  We do this sometimes overtly simply by being mean and cruel to others, causing them undue pain.  Sometimes we do this covertly, by our anger and cold heartedness depriving our brother of the compassion and comfort that we could give to him. This is our old nature, our fallen nature and it is represented here by the unrepentant thief on the cross.  For him, the cross gave nothing but pain and suffering.  But the other thief, the “good thief”, seeing the suffering of Jesus Christ, was moved to see his own sins and to repent of them.  He left behind the evil which had brought him to his own cross and reached out to Christ asking, “remember me O Lord when you come into your Kingdom” and to him our Lord granted much more than simple remembrance, but replied, “This day you shall be with me in paradise.” 

This thief, who represents for us the “new man” who repents of his sin and follows Christ, remained on his own cross, but now his suffering led him not to despair and anger, but to hope and joy.  This is the effect that our repentance has for us as well, when we turn away from our sin and set out to follow Christ.  From that moment on, our struggles, our suffering, our sorrows are no longer pointless and without benefit, but rather they show the way and lead us to the light of Christ, to hope and the joy of anticipation of His presence with us.  In Christ, everything is transformed into an eternal perspective, no longer linked to the perspective of this world, but now anchored in the Cross and brought into the light of eternity.

We must not, therefore, make of the cross an empty symbol or a magic charm – for by itself it is nothing.  No, for us, the Cross must lead to Christ, to His voluntary sacrifice for us men and for our salvation.  Only when the Cross is connected to Christ does it have any benefit to us; only when the Cross is connected to Christ does it have any power to free us from our sins; only when the Cross is connected to Christ does it “change our mourning into dancing” as the Psalmist sings.  The Cross is the sign of our victory over sin, death and the devil, it is the symbol of our salvation, it is the invincible weapon against the demons, it is our safe harbor and refuge, it is our comfort and joy, and it is the anchor of our lives.  But we must have a care always to remember that the Cross is all these things only when it is connected to Jesus Christ and only by our own faith in Him does the Cross benefit us and lead us to our salvation.  Glory to the Holy and Precious Life-giving Cross of our Lord for by it we die to the world of sin so that we might be filled with the Life of Christ.

Thank you Father David

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The Great Penitential Canon of St Andrew of Crete

by Archpriest Victor Potapov

The first week of Great Lent has been known since times of old as the “dawn of abstinence,” or “clean week.” During that week, the Church persuades her children to come out of that sinful state into which all of mankind fell because our forefathers did not abstain, because they lost the blessings of heaven, the state of sin which each of us increases by his personal sins. It coaxes them into coming forth by way of faith, prayer, humility and fasting, things, which are pleasing to God. This is the time for repentance, says the Church “Behold the day of salvation, the entrance to the Fast. O my soul, be watchful, close all the doors through which the passions enter, and look up towards the Lord.” (From the first canticle of the Triodion canon at Matins on Monday of the first week of Great Lent).

To continue reading this excellent article, click here!!

https://orthochristian.com/144742.html

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Archpastoral Epistle to the Clergy

https://eadiocese.org/news_220224_1

Archpastoral Epistle to the Clergy, Flock of the Eastern American & Australian-New Zealand Dioceses on Great Lent, Events in the Holy Ukrainian Land

Dear in the Lord Brothers & Sisters!

On the threshold of Great Lent, this salvific time of augmented prayer and self-correction, and in connection with events unfolding in the Ukrainian land, I turn to all with a heartfelt plea: refraining from excesses in watching television, following newspapers and the internet, and closing the doors of our hearts to the passions ignited by mass media, to augment our fervent prayers for peace throughout the world, for overcoming enmity and discord, for help for the suffering, for the repose of those who have departed into life eternal and the consolation of their friends and relatives, so that we all first and foremost remain humane and Orthodox Christians in these difficult times.

The approaching Great Lent is the journey to Christ’s Pascha. This path leads us from a state of idleness, impatience, vanity, and constant anxiety to spiritual peace, integrity, humility, and love. These holy traits do not arise within us without effort, but through adhering to the other world in our churches – the world of light, joy, hope, and kindness. Without participating in the divine services of Great Lent, which create a special atmosphere in our homes and in our lives, attaining such a spiritual state is very difficult, it may even be impossible. Striving toward God, establishing peace within our hearts and participating in the sacramental life of the Church of Christ, wherein lies our personal relationship with God, we reduce the level of evil in this world, we inspire others toward labors and spiritual feats of the Gospel, we enhance peace and brotherly relationships, and do not succumb to the temptations of various discords and divisions.

Therefore, I urge everyone to take advantage of every opportunity offered by the Church to preserve peace and goodness in our hearts, to spend this grace-filled time unto our salvation, so that we can all together meet and spend the radiant Paschal night in unity of spirit and brotherly love, in the renewal of all of our strengths and the spiritual joy in the Resurrected Christ and the victory of good over evil! Amen.

+HILARION
Metropolitan of Eastern America & New York
First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad

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All Things are Lawful unto me…..

1Cor 6:12-20

“I have wasted the wealth which the Father gave to me, and in my wretchedness I have fed with the dumb beasts.  Yearning after their food I remained hungry and could not eat my fill.  But now I return to the compassionate Father and cry out with tears: I fall down before Thy loving-kindness, receive me as a hired servant and save me.”  (Vespers Aposticha for the Prodigal Son)

All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”  1Cor 6:12

God has given to us great gifts, everything possible which can be used for our salvation is put at our disposal.  We have the various powers and abilities of the body and soul, we have a wide variety of opportunities, we have unlimited resources in the world around us.  All these things are given to us so that we might use them in the process of working out our own salvation, in Repentance – that is, so that we might actualize the image and likeness of God with which we were created and enter into eternal union and communion with our Lord Jesus Christ.  We are prepared for anything and everything that we might need to acquire this goal.  However, in our fallen and sinful state, we take what we have been given and misuse it for the wrong purposes.  We use it to satisfy our own sinful desires and passions, we waste our wealth and resources which were given to us for heavenly and eternal purposes on temporal and worldly pleasures.  As another hymn from the same vesper service says: “I wasted my whole life in a foreign land.  I scattered the wealth which Thou gavest me, O Father.”  As a result of this waste, we come up short and we have barely enough strength or opportunity for our spiritual needs. 

In the way we live our lives, we have become blind to the true purpose of life and to our destiny given us by God.  We no longer see the spiritual essence of the things around us and have become blind even to the working and purposes of God in everything that we do at every moment of our lives.  There are those who, in their blindness, do not see God working in their lives and so have become content with the idea that God does not matter, God does not care for them personally and as long as their worldly wants and needs are met, there is nothing else beyond that. 

This indifference to the spiritual world brings about negligence in any kind of spiritual activity and eventually brings one to a state of functional atheism where God does not seem to exist – or if He does, He is far away and doesn’t intervene in our lives.  For this reason it is necessary that we do not allow ourselves to become negligent in our spiritual lives.  In order to have the motivation and desire for that which is from God, we must first nurture within ourselves the awareness of God’s presence with us and His love and care for us. 

Every day it is necessary to remind ourselves that God is with us.  In order to do this, we pray in the morning when we arise, speaking with God and renewing our acquaintance with Him.  Throughout the day it is good to remind ourselves to pray, asking for God’s help and blessing in even the simplest of our daily activities so that we become aware that He is beside us and helping us in everything that we do.  At the end of the day, we set aside a few moments again for prayer to give thanks to God for all that He has done with us and for us in the past day and ask for His protection through the coming night.  In this way we maintain our relationship with Him and strengthen it little by little.

Every desire and passion of the body – which are usually experienced as temptations of various sorts – was originally given to us to be used for our salvation.  Do you desire to eat and drink?  Then ask God for the food which is immortal and the drink which is never exhausted. 

Do you become angry at people or circumstances that are not in line with your own desires and hopes?  Turn that anger towards the sins which pull you away from God and which thwart your salvation.  Do you desire to acquire good things, beautiful things, and valuable things?  Work instead to acquire spiritual wealth, the adornment and beauty of the virtues and the grace of the Holy Spirit which is beyond price.  See how even those desires which when turned toward the world are temptations with which we struggle, can instead be turned and directed towards heavenly things, and they become helps rather than hindrances, empowering us to pursue our salvation. 

There is a proper use for everything in our lives that we come across whether it is an internal aspect of our personality or whether it is a circumstance of our external environment.  As the Apostle says – “all things are lawful, but not all things are profitable.”  In order to turn away from our wasteful use of God’s resources, we must begin now to break away from our old destructive and wasteful habits and begin to establish new ones which are beneficial to the spiritual life and in harmony with God’s purpose for us.  The key element is our free will.  God has given us the freedom to choose how we use that which we have been given.  Because of our sinful nature, our will is inclined to make the wrong choices.  Initially, we make these choices (directing our desires and energies towards worldly goals) because we are blind to the spiritual life and don’t see (or don’t understand) the alternative choice.  After a time the choice becomes habitual so that even as we see the alternative choice of heaven, our habit is to choose the worldly goal. 

We use – or rather misuse – what God has provided for us simply out of habit and so it is necessary to break that old habit and replace it with a new habit. 

For this, God gives us more help. He sees that we have wasted that which we have been given, but out of His love for us, He does not abandon us to “get what we deserve” and “reap that which we have sown.”  Instead, He sees our need and pours out even more gifts upon us from His inexhaustible grace. When we reach out to him from the bottom of the pit that we have dug for ourselves, He reaches down to us to pull us out.  Then He gives us the help that we need to begin to live our lives anew, according to His original plan and desire for us.  This help is given to us through the communal life of the Church.  In the Church we help and support one another for we are all in need and we have all fallen short of the Kingdom of God.  In the Church we are also given new tools and new supplies which are particularly useful for the restoration and repair of the damage that we have already experienced in our lives.  These tools are the prayers and services and sacraments and traditions and customs and practices of the Church.  The supplies are the infinite grace of God and His love which He pours out upon us through the sacraments and through the many blessings of the Church.  By fasting and self-denial, we break away from our dependence upon worldly things and by works of righteousness we retrain ourselves to walk in the path of Christ.  By participating in the life of the Church, by following the prescriptions for how to order our lives and by constantly dipping into the inexhaustible well of grace given to us by God, we are renewed and regenerated and healed.

The Apostle says that all things are lawful, but not all things are profitable.  Let us then choose the profitable things; let us order our lives according to the destiny which God has given to us.  Let us reorient ourselves away from the things of the world and turn instead toward the things of Christ. May He become the center and focus of our lives, replacing our selfish and worldly ego.  Let us then choose that which is profitable; let us then choose Christ.

Thank you Fr David!

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Today we celebrate the Feast Day of St Richard:

St. Richard, King of Wessex (Kingdom of the West Saxons) and also known as, Richard the Pilgrim, is the brother of St. Boniface.

St. Richard was the father of Saints Willibald, Winnebald, and Walburga.

This noble and devout family came from Wessex, an English region and according to an account of the Nun Hugebure of Heidenheim, in 720, he entrusted his eleven-year-old daughter Walburga to the Abbess of Wimborne in Dorset, renounced his estates, and left with his two sons on a pilgrimage to Rome. Willibald was just twenty and Wunibald was nineteen.  He and his two sons left England to undertake a pilgrimage of penance and devotion. They made their way through France. Then Richard fell ill and reposed in Lucca, Italy, in 722. He was buried in the Church of St. Frediano. Miracles were reported at his tomb and he became greatly venerated by the citizens of Lucca, who embellished accounts of his life by calling him “king of the English”.

His sons, joined by their sister, were recruited by their uncle, the newly elevated Bishop Boniface of Germany, to evangelize Germany. St. Walburga was the first abbess in Heidenheim. St. Willibald settled in Eichstatt. Some of St. Richard’s remains were then translated to Eichstatt, and many there were healed through his intercessions.

Troparion: Tone 3

Accepting Christ our God as King, O Father Richard, thou didst leave thy native Wessex to be a pilgrim. Pray that in our pilgrimage we may find salvation for our souls.

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Orthodox iconology

Orthodox theology is iconographical theology, since the icons are perceived
to be windows to heaven, to open the view for the light that springs from the divine
existence of the three ὺπόττασις: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The icon
originates in the incarnation of the Son of God, the perfect sign of the descent of His
love into creation for the purpose of salvation.

Orthodox iconology is the confession of our faith in Jesus Christ, God made man,
and by extension, in the power of those with whom He is well pleased: the angels, the
Virgin Mary, and the saints. The icon expresses in an ineffable way the significance of
the Incarnation of the Son of God, the fulfillment of the divine plan concerning the
human beings, and thus, the whole universe, a significance summed up in the well-
known patristic expression: “God made himself human, that we might become God1

Iconography (from Greek: εικoνογραφία) refers to the making and liturgical use of icons, pictorial representations of Biblical scenes from the life of Jesus Christ, historical events in the life of the Church, and portraits of the saints. Icons are usually two-dimensional images and may be made of paint, mosaic, embroidery, weaving, carving, engraving, or other methods. A person who practices the art of iconography is called an iconographer.

Images have always been a vital part of the Church, but their place was the subject of the Iconoclast Controversy in the 8th and 9th centuries, especially in the East. The Sunday of Orthodoxy, the first Sunday of the Great Fast (Lent) every year celebrates the reestablishment of the Orthodox veneration of icons. The use of iconography is considered one of the most distinctive elements of the Byzantine Rite.2

1 Saint Athanasius, On the Incarnation

2 Iconography. (2015, March 31). OrthodoxWiki, . Retrieved 17:02, January 17, 2022 from https://orthodoxwiki.org/index.php?title=Iconography&oldid=121392.

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Repentance!!

Mark 1:1-8

There are three great beginnings in the life of Christ.  The first two of those three, we celebrate in this single festal season – His birth and His baptism.  With His birth we see the beginning of His earthly life, the fulfillment of the words of the Gospel of St John, “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  In His baptism, we see the beginning of his earthly ministry and work, crowning in His death and Resurrection, which complete our redemption.  His Glorious Resurrection is the third great beginning for it is the founding of His immortal kingdom.  Each of these beginnings was proclaimed by a herald: His birth by the heavens and the angelic host; His baptism by the Great Prophet Forerunner and Baptist John; His Resurrection by the Myrrh-bearing women.  Today, in the Gospel of Mark, we stand on the threshold of His baptism, we see the coming of the herald of this event – John the Forerunner.

St John was the one foretold by the prophets as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight”.  This John prepared all, by preaching repentance and baptizing for the remission of sins.  The heart of the message of the Baptist is, repentance — for it is by means of repentance that we “make straight the way of the Lord” in our hearts and lives. It is by means of our repentance that we are granted forgiveness of sins. 

What then, is repentance, and how does it accomplish these things in us?  Repentance is more than just feeling sorry for our sins.  Sorrow for ours sins is a good thing – in fact from the Beatitudes we just sang, “Blessed are those who weep and mourn for they shall be comforted” –but sorrow by itself isn’t enough; it doesn’t establish repentance.  Notice that the Beatitude itself, tells us that the one who sorrows (i.e. “is sorry”), and ‘weep and mourn’, will be comforted, but does not mention forgiveness. 

However, sorrow for our sins, does open the door or path to repentance, because it is born out of a desire to draw near to God, and the realization that we are so far from Him, and that we are increasing that distance every moment by our own sins, ours, not someone else’s.

When we see that we are far from God, and that we ourselves do nothing more than intensify the situation, then our response is sorrow.  Depending on the strength of our love for God, we weep and mourn for our sin. 

 In fact the ascetic fathers tell us that without tears, we cannot truly repent.  Sorrow for our sins, leads us to repentance, but in order to truly repent, there must be something more than just feeling sorry for yourself. 

Repentance begins with sorrow, but then it also encompasses the idea of “turning away”.  To repent, means to turn away from the things that we no longer desire to have in our lives.  If I repent of my sins, that means that, in as much as it is in my power, I will turn my back on those sins and all the things that they entail.  To fully repent means to purge my life not only of those things that are sins, but those things which lead up to sin and which result from it as well.  Repentance is a total turning away from my old way of life that leads away from God, and creates distance from Him, and taking on instead a new way of life that is in harmony with Him.  Our own senses: hearing, smelling, seeing, touching, and tasting, let sin into our heart and lives. This is work!  Are you, we, willing to work!

This aspect of repentance clarifies the call of the Forerunner to “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straightin my own life.  By repenting, I reject the twists and turns away from the “straight and narrow” path of salvation.  I make my own life “straight” so that I may more easily walk with the Lord on the path that He provides for each of us.  By repenting I “deny myself” and my own ideas and thoughts about the spiritual life as well as my own judgments about what is good and evil and instead commit myself by faith, to follow the path of salvation given by our Lord Jesus Christ, to each and every one of us. 

This path is laid out for us in the Gospels, in the life of the Church, and demonstrated in the lives of the Saints.  This “straightening” is not our salvation, but it is the preparation to receive our salvation from He Who provides it. This is work!  Are you, we, willing to work!

St John not only called for the people to make an interior decision to change their way of life, but he also called for outward actions to verify that way of life.  It is not enough just to want to follow Christ in our lives; it is necessary to actually follow Him and that means action.  The Baptist John made use of a Hebrew ritual tradition by which a person who was unclean was made ritually clean by bathing.  This ritual bathing was the baptism which John conferred “for the remission of sins.” 

He himself could not forgive sins, as the Gospel reminds us, only God can forgive sins, and so this baptism was not the same as the Baptism of our Lord, which does in fact cleanse us from our sins, and is the means by which we are reborn.  The baptism of John was a symbolic act indicating the decision and intent to repent from that moment forward.  The link between repentance and this Mystery of Baptism, demonstrates for us the power of repentance – for it is by repenting and turning away from our sin that we are forgiven our sins by God.  He sees the intent and desire of the heart to repent, and He sees by our actions, that we have indeed repented and He forgives us simply by reaching out His hand to us and bestowing upon us His grace, which acts upon us to cleanse us from our former sins and strengthens us to follow through on our true repentance. 

This is the same thing that happens to us in the Sacrament of Confession.  When we confess our sins, God Himself hears us and in His infinite compassion, forgives our sins, breaking the power that the sin has on us.  He then bestows upon us His grace, which acts to heal the wounds that sin has inflicted upon the soul, and to strengthen us to resist the temptation that will surely come, to return to that sin. 

In fact the tears of repentance that one sheds in the sacrament of confession are often likened by the ascetic fathers to a second baptism which washes the soul clean again.  True Repentance, This is work!  Are you, we, willing to work!

Today we heard the cry of the Forerunner to “prepare the way of the Lord”.  The means by which we do this in our lives is by repentance.  When we repent, we turn our back on those things we see and do in our lives, which lead us away from God – that we turn from our sins. 

It’s not merely regret or being sorry for what we have done, but a rejection of the way of life that brought about our sin, as well as a rejection of the sin itself.  Repentance means taking on a new way of life, a life that is in harmony with the life of Christ.  Repentance also must be translated into action – it cannot just remain an inner intent or desire, but is something upon which we act.  Not things we just repeat week after week during Confession. 

A genuine change, in how we act, and what we do, and in our way of life, is a necessary and vital component of true repentance.  When God sees this true repentance in us, He Himself reaches out to us and pours out upon us His grace of forgiveness, which also enables and empowers us to follow Him. 

Having been baptized into Christ and having put on Christ, we are now cleansed and born anew.  This is the start of our new life, our life in Christ brought about and maintained by repentance – it is the life to which we are called by the cry of the Forerunner to “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

Today, at the beginning of that path, leading us from Nativity to Pascha, the Church reminds us of that beginning, that we must live every day through repentance and of that determination with which, we must seek the Kingdom of God. The Church also reminds us that Christ is always with us, that the Kingdom of God is always near us, and that it depends only upon us whether we shall attain that goal and whether we will follow this path to its end, and receive that crown that the Lord Jesus Christ has prepared for each one of us.

So again, I say and ask — This is work!  Are you, we, willing to work!

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