Category Archives: Feast Days

Holy Prophet Elias

“The glorious Elias, incarnate messenger of God, pillar of Prophets and forerunner of the second coming of Christ, sent grace from on high to Elisha that he might cure sickness and cleanse lepers. Overflowing with healing for all those who honor him.”
~Troparion to Prophet Elias~

Prophet Elias (Elijah) was a hero of faithfulness to God in Israel and a courageous prophet. Achab (Ahab), seventh King of Israel, (875-854 BC), influenced by his pagan wife Jezebel, had forgotten the true God and returned to pagan-ism. Elias reproached the king for his idolatry and killed the priests of Baal. He fled to the mountains because of Jezebel’s anger. God appeared to him there, and a crow brought him bread for food. At the time of Josaphat, King of Israel (874-85O BC), Elias was taken up in a chariot of fire in the presence of his disciple Eliseus (Elisha). The prophet Malachias had said: “Behold, I will send you Elias the Prophet, before the coming and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.” (Mal. 4:5) The prophet refers to the second coming of the Lord, at the end of the world.

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SYNAXIS OF THE TWELVE APOSTLES – Hearing and Responding to “Follow Me”

Two weeks ago we celebrated the great feast of Pentecost at which the Holy Spirit descended upon our Lord’s followers, making them members of His Body, the Church. A week ago we celebrated the Sunday of All Saints, remembering all those who have become living icons of our Lord’s salvation by the power of the Holy Spirit. Since then, we have begun the Apostles Fast, a period in which we embrace a fairly light discipline of self-restraint in our diets in order to gain the spiritual strength that we need to become more like the apostles who responded faithfully to Christ’s command “Follow Me.”

When the disciples first heard that command, they were involved in their daily work as fishermen. But the Saviour called them to the fulfillment of their fishing, for they were to learn how to catch people for the Kingdom, how to draw them into the blessing of God’s salvation. That required leaving their homes and occupations in order literally to follow Christ around in His ministry and to learn from His teaching and example as best they could. Of course, it was not until after His resurrection that they really understood who He was and were empowered by the Holy Spirit for their unique ministry.

Nonetheless, it was essential that the first disciples obeyed the command to leave home and follow the Messiah. Even though their understanding was quite limited, they were prepared by their close association with Christ for what was to come. Had they not obeyed that initial command, they would not have become His disciples. Literally leaving home and following Christ were necessary dimensions of their preparation to unite themselves with the risen Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit, as well as for their leadership of the Church. Their discipleship provided the context within which they would find the healing of their souls.

We live well after Christ called His first followers to leave their nets and become fishers of men. Many centuries have passed since the day of Pentecost when our ascended Lord sent the Holy Spirit to empower the Church. As members of the Body of Christ, however, we participate in the eternal truth and reality of these events. They are present to us in the life of the Church, especially as we enter into the heavenly banquet in the Divine Liturgy. That means that He calls us as He called them. That means that He enables us to share in His life as He did for those gathered at Pentecost. The Apostles Fast provides us all with a good opportunity to consider whether we are placing our lives in a context that enables us to follow their example of faithfulness to the Lord.

Even small acts of self-denial, such as abstaining from meat in the Apostles Fast, remind us that our strength comes from God, not from our own will being accomplished or our desires for pleasure being fulfilled. We humble ourselves when we put our own preferences for food or anything else aside in order to orient ourselves more fully to the Kingdom. Fasting periods are times of training, of learning to say “no” to our self-centeredness so that we will find it easier to say “yes” to Christ, especially when He calls us to follow Him in ways that challenge our inclinations to place our own comfort and desires before the demands of serving Him faithfully.

In some ways, we may think that the disciples had it easy when Christ walked up to them and told them straightforwardly what to do. They had to leave home and their livelihood, but at least the Lord made that crystal clear to them. Our challenge is a bit different because we encounter Him in our hearts and souls, which are not pure and so easily misinterpret what He wants us to do. We typically get so caught up in our thoughts and self-centered desires that we hear only what we want to hear. It is much more appealing to make God in our own image than to take up the cross of truly becoming more like Him in holiness. It is so tempting to fill our minds with whatever fuels our passions such that we have little interest in devoting ourselves to prayer, Bible reading, or the lives and teachings of the Saints. It is so easy to fill our eyes and ears with entertainment that denigrates the holiness of the intimate union of man and woman, that celebrates violence and hatred, and that worships at the altar of money and what it can buy.

In so many ways, we are caught up in nets that make it difficult for us to follow the example of the apostles who left everything behind in order to follow Christ. The good news, however, is that we have all we need in the life of the Church in order to hear and respond faithfully to the call of our Lord. The path that leads to the healing of our souls is open to all and quite obvious. We have died to sin in baptism and risen with Christ into a new life of holiness. We have received the Holy Spirit personally in chrismation and are nourished with “the medicine of immortality,” our Lord’s own Body and Blood, in the Eucharist. When we fall short of living faithfully as those who are in Christ, He Himself receives us through repentance and forgives us through Confession. Through our life together in the Church, we have innumerable opportunities to serve and love Him in one another. In a world so obviously corrupted by the worship of the false gods of power, pleasure, and possessions, we have tremendous resources in the Church for a radically different way of living in which self-righteous judgment and self-centered indulgence have no place at all.

It is tempting to think that all this is fine for the Saints, but not for people like you and me who have spent decades weakening ourselves spiritually in one way or another. We all bear the burdens of our brokenness, both personally and collectively. The Church is a hospital for us all, and the therapy is not always easy or pleasant. Old habits are hard to break, and pursuing a life of holiness can be as difficult as undergoing physical therapy for muscles that have grown weak through disuse or become mangled by disease or accident. So it is rarely going to be easy or appealing for us to embrace the healing of our souls. Work and sacrifice are required, but this is not simply a journey of self-help. It is, instead, always a matter of opening ourselves as fully as possible to the gracious healing energies of the Holy Spirit by embracing the humble path of discipleship as best we have the strength to do at this point in our journey.

It really is a simple path. If you want to discern faithfully what Christ is calling you to do in life, devote at least a few minutes regularly each day to prayer. As your physical health allows, fast as best you can according to the guidelines of the Church. Give as generously as you can to the needy and in support of the Church’s ministries. Read the Bible each day and turn your attention away from entertainment that inflames your passions. Learn more about the teaching and example of the Saints and give less attention to the rich and famous of this world. Confess your sins in humility and strive to reorient your life to Christ. Pray for those who have offended you every day and do your best to mend broken relationships. Ask forgiveness of those you have wronged. When someone asks for your forgiveness, give it readily. Pray for the departed and for everyone in need. Refuse to judge anyone else and focus on repenting of your own sins. Prepare to receive the Eucharist with prayer, fasting, and regular Confession.

Do these things persistently throughout your life as you call upon the mercy of the Lord with the humility of the Jesus Prayer. If you do so, you will be able to hear and respond to His command “Follow Me.” And, by His grace, you may even become a Saint.

Fr. Philip LeMasters

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Everyday Holiness: Homily for the Sunday of All Saints in the Orthodox Church

If you are like me, sometimes when you read the lives of the saints you shake your head and think, “I could never do anything like that.” Many endured horrible tortures to the point of death because they refused to deny Christ. Others denied themselves food, clothing, and shelter in ways that seem beyond the strength of human beings. Some accepted insult and abuse while forgiving their tormentors and turning the other cheek in a fashion that seems not of this world. As today’s epistle reading reminds us, the Old Testament saints endured such trials purely in anticipation of the coming of the Saviour. Most of us, who have received the fullness of the promise in Christ, cannot fathom how we could be nearly as faithful as was this cloud of witnesses who point us by their examples and prayers to commend our lives to Christ.

On this Sunday of All Saints, we commemorate all those who have united themselves to the Lord to the point that they have become radiant with His holiness by the power of the Holy Spirit, including those whose are not formally canonized as saints by the Church. The canonized saints are like the members of the hall of fame who stand as shining examples of obedience to the Lord. We celebrate them because their lives are such vivid icons of what it means for a human being to become a partaker of the divine nature by grace. We do not know the names of all the saints, of course. Not all who are illumined with the divine glory are known publically as such; of course, the point of holiness is never simply to draw attention to oneself. It is, instead, to be faithful in offering our lives to Christ. Only He knows the names and number of those Who have done that, for He alone knows our hearts.

If we want to join their number, then we must attend carefully to Christ’s teachings today in the gospel reading. “Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father Who is in heaven; but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father Who is in heaven.” No doubt, these words concern the importance of remaining faithful to the Lord even in the face of fierce persecution. Martyrs and confessors continue to refuse to deny Him, regardless of the physical abuse they suffer in many countries around the world. But we would let ourselves off the hook by thinking that this teaching refers only to those who lives are literally at risk for being faithful Christians. We must also ask whether we acknowledge Him before our neighbors every day of our lives in what we say and do. It is only our pride that makes us think that true faithfulness must be dramatic and spectacular. Most of us struggle to be faithful even in our routine trials and temptations. We will fail to unite ourselves to Christ in holiness if we fail to see that the most common challenges that we face are our opportunities to acknowledge that we belong to Him, and not simply to ourselves.

The Saviour said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.” There is nothing wrong, of course with loving our parents or our children, but if we are to become radiant with the holiness of God, we must keep even our strongest loves in proper order. We must remember that our parents, children, and spouses are gifts of God to us. His love is obviously the ground of all love worthy of the name. Our calling is not to worship people or make them ends in themselves, but to relate to them in a way that fulfills God’s gracious purposes for them and us. If we make false gods out of others, we will make them miserable and probably drive them away. And since God created us in His image and likeness, we will learn the hard way that we will never find fulfillment in anyone but Him.

“People pleasing” is quite dangerous because it is ultimately a self-centred form of idolatry in which we crave the approval of others to the point that we will sacrifice anything for it. Instead of offering even our most prized and intimate relationships to the Lord for His healing and blessing, we end up offering ourselves to others, willing to compromise our faithfulness for the sake of giving whomever we want to impress what we think they want. That is not taking up our crosses, but sacrificing our obedience to the Saviour in order to serve lesser gods. And since what drives this attitude is our self-centered desire for the approval of others, it is ultimately a way of worshiping ourselves.

The Lord said that, “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My Name’s sake, will receive a hundred fold, and inherit eternal life.” That is not only a promise for those who have physically given up their families and possessions, but also for those who have made the less dramatic sacrifice of putting Christ first in how they treat and speak to their spouse, children, family members, and friends. It is a promise for those who have denied themselves in order to have more time, energy, and resources to share with the poor, sick, and lonely. It is a promise for those who turn away from self-centeredness by offering themselves to the Lord in daily prayer, regular worship, and conscientious fasting.

Too often we think that holiness occurs only within the context of the four walls of the Church. If we are to take up our crosses and follow Christ, we must also learn to see the infinite opportunities of dying to self out of love for Him and our neighbors in our daily lives. That means we must take a painfully honest look at ourselves. For example, we may enjoy filling out minds with entertainment—such as news, social media, video games, film, etc.–that only inflames passions of worry, fear, hate, envy, and lust. If so, we need to turn away from it as we focus on the words of the Jesus Prayer or at least something else that does not inflame our passions. If we can-not learn to make such small sacrifices, we will never have the strength to make larger ones.

Regardless of our age, we likely are close to people whose values and way of life are apparently not consistent with obedience to Christ. Even as we must not condemn them personally, we must resist the subtle temptation to compromise our faithfulness to the Lord in what we say and do in order to gain their approval. It is one thing to show everyone Christ’s love as best we can, but another to fail to acknowledge Him by engaging in conduct and conversation that contradict our primarily loyalty to Him. That would be a form of putting other people, and ultimately ourselves, before God, which is a path only to greater weakness for them and us. We must all discern mindfully and prayerfully whether we are acknowledging Christ in situations where it is much easier to act and speak as though He were not our Lord. We must all be willing to take up the cross of obedience to Him even if it means that we will be met with disapproval.

“Many that are first will be last, and the last first.” The Saviour’s statement applies to all who have put Him first in their lives, for doing so requires sacrificing much that the world worships. It is obviously the case for martyrs and confessors to this very day, but also applies to everyone who sacrifices, even in small ways, in order to seek first the Kingdom of God. When we direct our time, energy, and attention to serve Christ, His Church, and our neighbors in whom He is present, we take a lower place in the estimation of the world. When we refuse to sacrifice ourselves on the altars of conventional accounts of success and happiness, we embrace the humility of Christ. Even when we do so in seemingly ordinary ways, we take step in running “with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfection of our faith.” That is how, we too, may join that great cloud of witnesses who have become radiant with the holiness of our Lord. Nothing dramatic or spectacular is required, but only true faithfulness.

Fr. Philip LeMasters

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The Ascension of Our Lord

The Lord Jesus passed forty days on earth after His Resurrection from the dead, appearing continually in various places to His disciples, with whom He also spoke, ate, and drank, thereby further demonstrating His Resurrection. On this Thursday, the fortieth day after Pascha, He appeared again in Jerusalem. After He had first spoken to the disciples about many things, He gave them His last commandment, that is, that they go forth and proclaim His Name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. But He also commanded them that for the present, they were not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait there together until they receive power from on high, when the Holy Spirit would come upon them.

Saying these things, He led them to the Mount of Olives, and raising His hands, He blessed them; and saying again the words of the Father’s blessing, He was parted from them and taken up. Immediately a cloud of light, a proof of His majesty, received Him. Sitting thereon as though on a royal chariot, He was taken up into Heaven, and after a short time was concealed from the sight of the disciples, who remained where they were with their eyes fixed on Him. At this point, two Angels in the form of men in white raiment appeared to them and said, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into Heaven? This same Jesus, Who is taken up from you into Heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into Heaven” (Acts 1:11). These words, in a complete and concise manner, declare what is taught in the Symbol of Faith concerning the Son and Word of God.

Therefore, having so fulfilled all His dispensation for us, our Lord Jesus Christ ascended in glory into Heaven, and sat at the right hand of God the Father. As for His sacred disciples, they returned from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem, rejoicing because Christ had promised to send them the Holy Spirit.

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ST JOHN THE RUSSIAN

Commemorated on 27 May

St John was born around 1690 in the south of Russia to pious Orthodox parents. Upon reaching maturity he was called to service in the army of Peter I, to serve as a simple soldier. During the Prutsk campaign of the Russo-Turkish war he was taken prisoner. As the case then, he ended up as a slave of the Turkish cavalry commander who took John to his home in the village of Prokopion, near Caesarea in Asia Minor.

Like all captured Christian soldiers, John was threatened, tortured, subjected to all means to convert him to the Moslem faith. John was resolute in his resistance to this inhumane treatment, bravely enduring humiliations and beatings. Noting John’s firm faith, his master’s heart softened and John was assigned to take care of his master’s stable, which also became his living quarters. Recalling the cave and manger where his Saviour came into the world, John rejoiced in his small dark corner of the stable as a little paradise where he could freely pray and offer praises to the true God. Occasionally, John would leave his bed to keep vigil at the nearby Church of the Great Martyr George, and on Saturdays and Feast days receive Holy Communion.

As the cavalry commander prospered, he understood his blessings and prosperity came through his servant John, and noted this to his fellow citizens.

Foreseeing his end, John called for a priest from the church he had attended and asked to partake of the immaculate mysteries. The priest was afraid to openly bring the Eucharist into the stable. Being divinely inspired, he dug the core out of an apple and lined the cavity with beeswax and placed the communion inside. He then visited the saint at the stables and gave him Communion.

After receiving communion, John fell asleep in the Lord on May 27, 1730.

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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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Modern Saints: Elder Iakovos Tsalikis

A Glimpse of His Holy Life:

From a young age little Iakovos (which was his name even at baptism) loved the Lord and His Bride, the Church. Continue reading

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