Monthly Archives: March 2019

Orthros – Sunday of the Holy Cross

On the Third Sunday of Great and Holy Lent, the Orthodox Church commemorates the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Services include a special veneration of the Cross, which prepares the faithful for the commemoration of the Crucifixion during Holy Week.

What shall we offer you O Christ?
For You have given us Your precious Cross to venerate,
on which Your holy Blood was shed,
to which Your flesh was fixed by nails.
With love we kiss it and give thanks to You.

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True Crosses

3rd Sunday of Lent, The Veneration of the Holy Cross, Mark 8: 34-38, 9:1

How many of us would say that today, or yesterday or this past week, we have suffered in some form or another, that we’ve had a bad day or a difficult moment in which we felt pain and despair? And when we felt this way did we ask: why me, why now or just why? And where was this question directed: towards another person, towards myself or towards God? Where did we try and find relief from suffering: in some form of escape, by talking with a friend or a priest, in prayer, in the scriptures?

A lot of help and answers to these questions can be found in today’s gospel reading (Mark 8:34-9:1). In this passage, Jesus states ‘‘Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me’ (v.34). When He says ‘take up his cross’, what does Jesus mean by ‘cross’?. Well, some people think that ‘cross’ here means ‘any particular suffering’ or ‘when things don’t go our way.’ For example, one might say ‘I lost money in the stock market but that’s my cross to bear.’ However, this is not what Jesus is talking about because not all suffering in this life is suffering for God’s sake. Often the suffer-ing we experience is because of our own actions. Earlier in the Gospel of Mark Jesus said, ‘For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man.’ (7:21). In Galatians 5, St. Paul takes up the same theme saying, 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery,[c] fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God’ (Gal.5:19-21). Have we ever considered that our suffering could be coming from one or more of the behaviors just mentioned?

However, if our suffering is not a result of our own sin, but a suffering given or allowed by God, what might that look like? Well, there are three types of suffering. The first type results from persecution of body and soul by other people. Secondly, there is suffering as a result of sickness and disease. And third, people suffer in spirit because of the sins of the world. We could include in the third type the suffering that occurs when a loved one dies, what we commonly call ‘grief’. With all these types of suffering, there are only two responses: The first response is humble acceptance and transformation towards salvation for one’s self and for others. This is what Jesus means when He says ‘take up our cross.’ In other words, Jesus is telling us to humbly accept our suffering and let it transform us so that it may become the way or the means of our salvation in Him and perhaps even the way of salvation for other people.

The second possible response is trying to defeat our cross by rebelling against it and rejecting it. This seems to be the pre-dominant message within our society today when dealing with suffering. This message says expend as much energy as possible towards creating comfort and luxury in order to prevent and avoid suffering. If you see suffering coming your way, turn around and run away as fast as you can.

For those who suffer, whether from persecution, from illness or from grieving, if we do this by the virtue of God, we will receive sufficient grace from God to be strong in the Lord. God’s grace will enable us to take up our cross – to be crucified – for God’s glory and not for our spiritual death. In other words, when we suffer, we should suffer with the hope that Christ will help us get through it (not around it or away from it), with the hope that we will learn from it, with the hope that we will become better persons because of it, and with the ultimate hope that we will grow closer to Him in the midst of it.

If we see that our suffering is separating us from God, then it is because we brought it on by our own sins or we are not taking up our cross and following Christ. Christ suffered on the cross for our sake. He took on all the sin of the world so that we would not be enslaved by sin and death anymore. Yet, even if our suffering has been self-imposed through our own sinful actions, when we repent of them and take responsibility for the consequences, resolving to make restitution as best we can when appropriate, then this suffering can become a true cross.

The most difficult suffering of all is not in the flesh but rather in the spirit. It happens in the soul of the spiritual person when he/she sees the utter futility, ugliness and pettiness of sin that damages and destroys persons made in the image of God. It is the pain we feel when we see people persecuting each other by gossip, slander, selfishness and abuse. It is the hurt we feel when we see each other suffering in sickness, illness and disease. It is the grief we feel when we see someone die and how it affects their surviving friends and family. When we witness and experience all these things, we suffer because we realize this is not the world, nor the life that God created. It is a world, a life, that has become infected by sin and fallen from grace. Yet, even in the midst of this ugliness and disfigurement, Christ is with us. He never abandons us.

When Christ says, ‘if you want to come after me, you must first deny yourself,’ He means that we must deny sin and temptation in our life. We cannot grow closer to Christ while continuing to give in to unhealthy and self-serving behaviours. We can grow closer to Him through self-control which is strengthened by practicing asceticism in prayer, fasting, almsgiving and worship, the pillars of Orthodox spirituality.

And finally, when Christ says, ‘take up your cross and follow Me,’ He means to take whatever suffering comes our way and bear it with meaning and hope, following Him wherever He leads us. Denying ourselves and taking up our cross in this manner, this is what Jesus means when He says, ‘Whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it’ (v.35). Denying, running away from or rejecting our suffering will not save our life, but rather cause us to lose it (v.35). Let us lose our life for Christ and the Good News understanding what the true crosses are in our life, and how they can help us grow closer to God. Amen!

Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

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Second Sunday of Lent ~ Gregory Palamas

Mark 2: 1-12

Your Friends May Never Read the Scriptures, But They are Always Reading You

Our Gospel lesson for the Second Sunday of Lent might be summarized in this way: One day, four men carried their paralyzed friend to Jesus. They laboured hard to get their friend into the Lord’s presence. As any of you who have ever carried another human being know – the man is literally dead weight. He is paralyzed and can’t help the others who are carrying him. When Jesus saw the faith of the four men, he pronounced that the paralyzed man’s sins had been forgiven.

Note in the Gospel lesson that neither the paralyzed man nor his friends protest when Jesus forgives the paralyzed man – none of them say, “No, Lord, he’s a good guy, he never did anything wrong that’s why we’re bringing him to you. He deserves to be healed because of all his good deeds.” Instead they all seem to accept that the man is a sinner and needs God’s forgiveness.

The four men bear the burden of their friend’s sinfulness. They are not bringing to Christ some upright and holy man who they think deserves God’s intervention, rather they are bringing to Christ a man whose sin apparently led to his paralysis. His sin had a visible effect and all could see it. His paralysis perhaps the result of the man’s own choices. I visited such a man once – he was in his mid-30s and paralyzed from the waist down. He told me he had been in that condition for 15 years – the end result of being a young fool who was drinking and driving. He regretted his condition and his past choices, and he blamed no one but himself for the fact that he was in a wheelchair and in a great deal of pain. So we can even imagine that instead of bearing the burden of their friend’s sinfulness, that the men in the Gospel lesson could have been more like Job’s friends and telling him: “you made your own bed, now sleep in it” or “you caused your own problems, so solve them yourself.” Or even worse, “you were such an idiot, now you got what you deserved.” Or maybe even reminding the paralyzed man, “We are doing all the work and you don’t even carry your own weight around here because you are the burden.”

But the four men aren’t complaining, they are fulfilling the Gospel commandment that we bear one another’s burdens. (Galatians 6:2) – “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” We should have the same attitude when we do the work of God – not complaining about the burden we have to bear nor to criticize those who don’t carry their own weight around the church. We have a task to accomplish – to bring others to Christ, not just holy, deserving and good people, but even those who have made a mess of their lives.

We bear other people’s burdens not only in bringing them to church, but also when we decide to pray for them and when our hearts are moved by their problems and we fell the weight of their suffering. We are called by Christ to help carry the burdens of others.

We are to lead by example. It is Great Lent and some have rightfully set out to read Scripture during Lent, or to read more Scripture daily: God bless you for that. Persevere! We all know how our good intentions don’t always get fulfilled. We start out with zeal, but then life intervenes and pretty soon we have forgotten what we promised to do.

Just remember that reading the bible is noble, but that is not the goal of the Christian life. The real goal is to live the scriptures in your daily life. St. Paul once said to his flock: You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men; and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:1-3)

The goal is to live in such a way that others can read the scriptures written on our hearts. We are to be the living word, a living temple of God. If Christians keep the Gospel commandments, others will be able to see the Word of God active and alive in us…

You are to be the living word of God – with the Word written on your hearts and visible for all to see in your life and life style. Of course you first have to know the Scriptures before they can be written on your hearts, but then you have to live that Word. Your friends, family, neighbours, co-workers may never read the Bible, but they do read you – what you say, how you live, what you do.

Be an example to others, let them see in you Jesus Christ – may they experience from you the power of living the Gospel. The only word from God they may ever experience is the one they see in you. Great Lent is sometimes called a school for us Orthodox. It is a time for us to practice our faith, to be an example of what it is to be a Christian.

And what is the word that we should be an example of? St. Paul says: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

May God bless your Lenten efforts and give growth to the seeds which are planted in your hearts so that you might bring forth spiritual fruit.

Fr. Ted Bobosh

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The Theotokos

What does `Theotokos’ mean?

Although this term refers to the Virgin Mary, it is in fact a statement of conviction about who we believe Christ to be.

The Greek term ‘Theotokos’ literally means ‘the one who gave birth to God’. We thereby confess our faith that Christ is not simply an enlightened teacher or prophet. Nor is He a human being who somehow ‘achieved’ divinity through His life and work. Rather, He is God in the flesh. He became a full human being, like us, without for a moment ceasing to be fully divine.

The Holy Mother of God is therefore always seen in relation to Christ Whom she brought into the world, through the will of the Father, in the Holy Spirit. It was through her that the Incarnation took place. The eternal Son of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, became human and entered time, born as a human Child.

Thus, He who is born beyond time from the Father without a mother, was born in time from a Mother without a father. It is an incomprehensible mystery. And it is a cause for the faithful to glorify God. In every Church Service, we hear this term of honour repeated time and again whenever the Mother of God is referred to.

It is worth recalling that Elizabeth pre-empted the title Theotokos when she greeted Mary as “the mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:43) soon after the Annunciation. The Holy Virgin then prophesied that “all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). This scriptural passage magnifying God’s divine plan is joyfully chanted at every Orthros Service to this day. In short, to describe the Holy Mother of God as ‘Theotokos’ is not a ‘diversion’ from Christ, but a re-affirmation of our devotion to Him.

St Spyridon G.O. Church, Sydney NSW

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10 Rules and Suggestions for Great Lent

Source: St. Elisabeth Convent

To avoid turning Lent into hard and senseless weeks of diet, one should keep several simple rules. The aim of a fast is to bend our body to our soul (to restore the right hierarchy of soul and body), to sharpen attention to our spiritual life, to train our will and gain our powers for spiritual fight.

1.“Always be happy, pray all the time, be thankful for everything.”
The temptation to fall into despair is strong. “How can I live without tasty food? No more entertainments! How long the services are!” In fact, there is no reason for despair. Long services are at the same time the examples of middle-aged spiritual poetry, philosophical reflections on the human’s place in eternity, feeling of unity with other people praying in the church as well as communion with God. Often we can face the other side of the Lenten despair: “I cannot fast according to the statute. I miss services. I get distracted by secular vanity.” Remember that God needs our heart, not our legs or stomach. He sees in a soul the desire to serve Him, and He sees the weaknesses, too. This constant recollection about God will become our constant joy about Him.

2. Keep praying!
Of course, there is no need for us to get on the way of hesychism. Still, we can try to get half a foot closer to perfection. We need to devote more time to prayer than we do usually. We should be more attentive during services – sometimes it might be useful to take a book with the texts of services. We should perform the prayer rule more thoroughly – leave your computer half an hour earlier and read the evening prayers. Add the prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian. Read or listen to Psalter. It is rather useful to fight against numerous temptations during Great Lent with prayer: when you feel angry or get despaired you can cope with this condition with the help of the Jesus prayer.

3. Church prayer
If we did not manage to organize our life in a way that we can only eat permitted foods, read the entire prayer rule or just pray during the day because of the everyday routine, the church comes to our rescue. During Great Lent, Divine services are performed every day in monasteries and many parish churches in big cities. We can go to church before or after work and stay at least for a part of the service. This will help to tune on a completely different from the secular environment mood. If we speak of Great lent, we should point out that there are certain services for which we could even take a day off. These are the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete during the first four days of Great Lent, the reading of the entire Canon of St. Andrew of Crete on the Wednesday evening during the fifth week, Akathist to the Mother of God on Friday, and the services of the Holy Week. It is advisable to attend the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts at least once during Great Lent.

4. “Open to me the doors of repentance, O Life-giver!”
It is known that it is not God who needs the fast, but we. For example, Great Lent consists of two parts: the Lent itself and the Holy Week. The Church offers us to read the Great Canon twice during Lent for good reason. Every Saturday after the all-night vigil, we can hear the chant “Open to me the doors of repentance, O Life-giver!” for good reason. Three weeks before Great Lent the Church appeals for repentance with the parable about the Publican and Pharisee, and the recalling of the Last judgement and Adam’s expulsion. We need these 40 days of Lent exactly for repentance. If you are not going to repent, then there is no point in fasting.

5. Watch your health
If you feel that your health is getting worse during Lent, you should discuss the degree of your abstinence with your spiritual father. If you have any medical condition, you cannot fast in full or partial accordance with the Church statue just because you want to. Today even some monasteries do not fast with only dry food; so, the Lord will not judge a working person who has health problems, too. A gastric ulcer will not bring you closer to the Lord. In fact, it can even distance you from God. The border between pure desire to follow the Church canons and the pride for your personal efforts is rather thin.

6. Eyes on your own plate
“I boast when I fast, and I still boast when I do not fast” writes St. John Climacus in his Ladder. “Boasting while fasting” is dangerous and goes hand in hand with judging others. Your brother eats fish while you are on bread and water? Not your business. He drinks milk while you do not even put sugar in tea? You have no idea about the condition of his health. He has eaten a sausage and is going to partake of Holy Communion next morning while you have begun the Eucharistic fast even before the all-night vigil? This concerns only him and the priest who lets him to take part in the sacrament. “Boasting while not fasting” is more delicate passion. In the present-day world, there is such a character as a publican who is boasting because he is not a Pharisee. In this case, we can observe another tendency: he does not have oil – but I make hundred prostrations at home before going to bed! He does not take any alcohol – but I repent every weekend! Here we can say only what children in kindergarten are told: “Eyes on your own plate”.

7. Man does not live by bread alone
Think less about food. Fast is not about changing your food regime. Vegetarians do not eat animal food at all but it neither brings them closer to God nor keeps them from Him, just like the Apostle said. The continuation of this well-known phrase is, “but with every word of God” – it suits perfectly to the period of Great Lent, when we pay special attention to reading Bible, which is the word of God. There is a tradition to read the full Gospel as well as it will be useful to read the teachings of Holy Fathers: “Ladder”, Philokalia, explanations of Gospel and so on.

8. Hurry to do good
Concentration on our personal spiritual condition must not turn into negligence towards other people. Fast is supposed to develop in us both love towards God and love towards our neighbour. St. John Chrysostom offered to donate the money saved during Lent to people in need. What is more, during Great Lent there is no need to stop communication with those people who can need it – a pregnant friend, a sick neighbour, a lonely relative. A short talk with these people over a cup of tea is not just a diversion but helping others.

9 Loving people without pleasing people
Good attitude towards our neighbours can sometimes lead to such an unpleasant thing as people-pleasing. In fact, there is no good attitude in it at all, while there is personal ‘flabbiness’ and dependence on the opinion of other people. During Great Lent, this passion becomes especially sharp. “Let’s meet on Friday after work and go to a café!” your friend says, and here you are ordering a cake with her: I don’t want to offend her! “Come to us on Saturday evening!” your neighbours say, and you are going to miss the evening service… “Have one more piece of chicken if you don’t want to hurt my feelings!” your relative says capriciously, and here one can even hide behind respectful attitude towards older people. However, it will be a wickedness. Unwillingness to come into conflict is not always connected with love towards others. To get rid of the sin of people-pleasing we can recall the advice by St. Paisios the Hagiorite: we should conceal our personal fasts in order not to fast for show, while the fast for the whole Church is being strong in our faith. We should not only strive to respect other people, but make others respect our faith, too. Quite often, a polite explanation is enough for people to understand your position. What is more, most often it comes out that all our explanations are fanciful: a friend in a café will not be confused by your empty espresso cup, your neighbours will be glad to meet with you after the service, and your relative will be pleased to treat you to potatoes with mushrooms!

10. Follow Christ
Finally, the most important rule of Great Lent is to remember about the aim of this period. Fast is a period of concentrated anticipation of the feast to which it leads, such as Resurrection of Christ, Dormition of the Mother of God and so on. If we speak of Great Lent, it should be as the anticipation of a hardworking person. We try to go through Lent together with the Lord; together we will reach the grave of Lazarus; together we will enter Jerusalem; we will listen to Him in the Temple and partake of Holy Communion with His Apostles at His Last Supper; we will follow Him on His way of the Cross; we will mourn on Golgotha with the Mother of God and His favorite disciple John… Finally, together with the myrrh-bearing women we will come to the opened Grave and will feel joy for He is not here. Together with them, we will exclaim, “Christ is risen!”

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St John of Damascus – On Worshiping Images

~ Words of the Church Fathers ~

Possibly a contentious unbeliever will maintain that we worshiping images in our churches are convicted of praying to lifeless idols. Far be it from us to do this. Faith makes Christians, and God, who cannot deceive, works miracles. We do not rest contented with mere colouring.

With the material picture before our eyes we see the invisible God through the visible representation, and glorify Him as if present, not as a God without reality, but as a God who is the essence of being. Nor are the saints whom we glorify fictitious. They are in being, and are living with God; and their spirits being holy, the help, by the power of God, those who deserve and need their assistance.

St. John of Damascus, Treatise on Images

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Venerate Icons by Becoming One: On the Sunday of Orthodoxy

First Sunday of Lent, Sunday of Orthodoxy, John 1: 43-51

One of the great dangers of our age is the tendency to set our sights too low, to expect too little of ourselves and others. It is so appealing to think that being true to ourselves means indulging every desire and finding fulfillment by getting whatever want at the moment. It is so easy to envision our neighbors and even God in our own image, as though the meaning and purpose of all reality boils down to whatever makes us comfortable here and now. The blessed season of Lent, however, calls us to an entirely different way of life that reveals the holy beauty for which God created us in His image and likeness.

Today we celebrate the restoration of icons to the Orthodox Church at the end of the iconoclastic controversy, during which emperors ordered the destruction of images of our Lord, the Theotokos, and the Saints in the name of opposing idolatry. Of course, icons are not false gods to be worshiped, but visual symbols of the salvation that the incarnate Son of God has brought to the world. They reflect the true humanity of Jesus Christ, as well as how people like you and me may participate in His holiness in every dimension of our lives. They remind us not only that we are surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1) who have gone before us, but that our Savior calls and enables us to join them in shining radiantly with the divine glory, even as we live and breathe as flesh and blood.

When we make a procession after Liturgy today with our icons, we will proclaim that our identity is not determined by whatever is popular, easy, or appealing. As those created in God’s image and likeness, we will never be fulfilled by the false gods of this world, such as indulgence in money, power, and pleasure in its various forms. We are called to something much higher, for Christ told Nathanael that he would “see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” (John 1:51) He comes to make us all participants in the divine glory by grace.

At the end of the day, the only way to answer that calling is by becoming better icons of Christ, better visible and tangible witnesses of His salvation. That is why we must fast from whatever keeps us from radiating the holy light of God. It is why we must refuse to feed our tendencies to dwell on the failings of others. It is why we must starve our inclination to speak words of self-righteous judgment and condemnation. It is why we must abstain from indulging in actions that harm, weaken, or take advantage of anyone. It is why we must refuse to nourish our passions by allowing into our eyes, ears, and stomachs anything that enslaves us to self-centered desire.

Even as we turn away from what diminishes us in the divine likeness, we must also feast on what helps us embrace more fully our true identity in Christ. That means putting our souls on a steady diet of prayer; of reading the Bible, the lives of the Saints, and other spiritually edifying works; and of mindfulness in all things such that we remain alert to the spiritual significance of what we think, say, and do. The more that we fill ourselves with holy things, the less appetite we will have for unholy things.

The journey of Lent is not about punishment or legalism, but instead about helping us grow personally into our exalted identity as those called to share in the eternal life of our Lord. It is about turning away from the idolatry of self-centeredness in order to become a more beautiful icon of the divine glory. It is about refusing to set our sights low concerning what it means to be a human being in God’s image and likeness. It is about crucifying our self-centered desires so that we may enter into the holy mystery of Lord’s cross and resurrection.

For it is through His Passion that we will “see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”

Fr. Philip LeMasters

According to St. Basil, God is the “only truly Existing.”
Our own existence is a gift from God who is our Creator. None of us has “self-existing” life.
We exist because God sustains us in existence – in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).
Sin is the rejection of this gift of God – a movement away from true existence.

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