The Disorienting Shock of an Empty Tomb: Homily for the Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women in the Orthodox Church

We all know what it is like to receive shocking news. Sometimes it is simply impossible to be prepared to hear an astounding message that we did not expect at all. Today we commemorate the people who received the most shocking news of all time from the angel: “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, Who was crucified. He is Risen. He is not here…Go tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”

These first witnesses to our salvation were all women who expected to find the dead body of Jesus Christ in the tomb. They saw Him die on the Cross and now went to anoint Him properly for burial. Like the disciples and everyone else, these women did not expect the resurrection. We can only imagine how sad, scared, and terribly disappointed they must have been as they rose very early on Sunday morning to take their sorrowful journey to His tomb. When they got there, these women–the Theotokos, Mary Magdalen, two other Mary’s, Johanna, Salome, Martha, Susanna and others whose names we do not know– were the first to receive the shocking news of the resurrection of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.

We also remember today Sts. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, prominent Jewish leaders who were also the Lord’s secret followers. Joseph “took courage” and risked his position and perhaps his life by asking Pilate for the Savior’s body. He took Him down from the Cross and, with Nicodemus’ help, wrapped Him in a linen shroud and put Him in a tomb.

Not only must the women and the men we remember today have been torn apart with grief at the death of Christ, they were surely afraid to be identified with One Who had been rejected, condemned, and publicly executed as a blasphemer by the Jews and a traitor by the Romans. Nonetheless, they found the courage to do what devotion to their Lord required, regardless of their pain and fear. They served Christ in the only way still available to them by providing Him a decent burial.

There is a powerful realism about this story, for it certainly does not read like something made up after the fact. The Lord’s disciples are not even present in it, for they had run away in fear at His arrest. St. Peter, the chief disciple, had denied Him three times before His crucifixion. The first witnesses of the resurrection are all women, whose testimony had no authority in that time and place. Moreover, they went to the grave in order to anoint His dead body, not to find an empty tomb. Like them, Sts Joseph and Nicodemus viewed Christ simply as one of the dead at that point. If someone were trying to make up a story to support the truth of the resurrection and to build up the credibility of the first Christians, this would not be the way to do it. It is, however, the perfect way to bear witness to the shocking truth of what no one expected, of what makes no sense according to our usual ways of thinking, and of what truly happened on that great and holy day when Life first dawned from the tomb.

As we continue to celebrate the glorious season of Christ’s Passover from death to life, we must not lose the sense of disorienting shock that the myrrh-bearing women received when they saw the stone that had been rolled away from the door of the tomb and heard the message from the angel of the Savior’s resurrection. What happened was so amazing that “they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Too often, we take the good news of Christ’s victory over death for granted as part of a story that we know quite well. Even as we are accustomed to the intensified prayer, fasting, and repentance of Lent, we get used to the joyful celebration of the season of Pascha each year. A way to reopen the eyes of our souls to the unique and extraordinary nature of the Lord’s resurrection is for us to put ourselves in the place of the myrrh-bearers and of Sts Joseph and Nicodemus by struggling to overcome anything that would hold us back from devoted service to Jesus Christ, even when it is not easy. Nothing that these holy women and men did in the aftermath of Christ’s death was fun, popular, or safe. We can be sure that they would have all strongly preferred to be doing something other than burying their friend and Lord. But they overcame those struggles and pressed on in serving Him in the only way available to them. If they were to love Him then, they had to give Him a proper burial.

Our situation is obviously different, for we live well after the Lord’s resurrection. Nonetheless, the spiritual challenge is the same. No generation gets to pick the circumstances that it faces. Human beings do not get to choose the illnesses, tragedies, or other problems that they encounter. It is not entirely up to us what temptations and weaknesses challenge us, our marriages, and our families spiritually, morally, or in any other way. Indeed, if we pretend that we get to pick how to serve our Lord in ways that suit us, we will likely ignore what He is actually calling us to do. Our challenge is to be faithful in responding to the situation that is before us, in discerning how to bear witness to Christ’s victory over death in the here and now, even if we would rather be doing something else.

The Church in Jerusalem faced a similar situation when there was strife over the daily distribution of bread to widows of different ethnic backgrounds. The apostles were too busy with their ministries to address that problem, so they ordained the first deacons to serve the practical needs of the community. And as a result, the Church flourished. We can be sure that the apostles would have preferred for such problems not to have arisen at all. But that is not what happened. When the problem arose, they had to find a way to address it. To have ignored it because they did not like it would have been to ignore God’s calling to them and to have refused to serve Christ in His Body, the Church.

We will grow in our participation in the Savior’s victory over sin and death by humbly accepting the opportunities for serving Him that our lives, and the lives of those around us, present. Most of us need look no further than our own families, our parish, and our friends and acquaintances in order to discern quite clearly what God is calling us to do. If we want a Lord Who fits our preconceived notions and calls us to serve Him only in ways that we find convenient, pleasing, or easy, then we will fall into the idolatry of worshiping our own self-centered delusions. Remember that our Lord’s empty tomb was an unexpected shock from which the women initially fled in fear. But what was at first so terrifying turned out to be a blessing beyond anyone’s expectations. Had the women not put themselves in the place of humble obedience and service, they would not have been the first witnesses of the resurrection. And our lives will not bear witness to the joy of Christ’s great victory unless we do the difficult work of serving Him in whatever circumstances we face, regardless of whether we especially like them or not.

Pascha was truly disorienting for all our Lord’s followers. It did not fit with any conventional expectations for religion in that time and place, and it still does not. In order to participate more fully in the life of our Risen Lord, we must follow the example of those blessed women and men who, in the midst of their fear and pain, did what needed to be done in order to love and serve Christ, even though they could not imagine what was to happen next. Theirs was not a self-centered, sentimental, or culturally accommodated spirituality, but a way of living that opened them to the new day of a Kingdom not of this world. The shock of the empty tomb was overwhelming, but that was necessary in order to open their eyes to news so good that nothing could have prepared them for it. This Paschal season, let us follow their holy example so that our eyes will also be opened to the brilliant light that continues to illumine even the darkest grave. As the angel said, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, Who was crucified. He is Risen. He is not here…Go tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”

Fr. Philip LeMasters

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Having God, fear nothing…

~ Words of the Church Fathers ~

As God illumines all people equally with the light of the sun, so do those who desire to imitate God let shine an equal ray of love on all people. For wherever love disappears, hatred immediately appears in its place. And if God is love, then hatred is the devil. Therefore as one who has love has God within himself, so he who has hatred within himself nurtures the devil within himself.
St. Basil the Great, Homily on Asceticism, 3

Having God, fear nothing, but cast all of your care upon Him, and He will take care of you. Believe undoubtingly, and God will help you according to His mercy.
St. Barsanuphius the Great, Instructions, 166

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His Bodily Wounds and Ours: Homily for Thomas Sunday in the Orthodox Church

Sunday of Thomas, John 4: 5-42

Christ is Risen!

I was surprised a few years ago in one of my college classes when even the best students were surprised to learn that Christian hope for eternal life includes the resurrection of the body. They were comfortable thinking of human souls experiencing eternal life, but doubted that our actual physical bodies would have any part in the Kingdom of Heaven. Especially on this Sunday of St. Thomas, we celebrate how Christ’s bodily resurrection is the basis of hope for our own. Today we proclaim that our Savior brings healing and transformation to whole, embodied persons, for that is how He conquered death on the third day.

As we continue to celebrate the glorious good news of this season of Pascha, we recall how Christ called doubting Thomas to faith in His great victory. “He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.’ Thomas answered Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” Still bearing His wounds even in His glorified body as the God-Man, the Risen Christ brought Thomas to faith through the witness of His own deified flesh.

We have probably heard the story so many times that we have become deaf to its importance. Nonetheless, it remains the case that the Savior’s resurrection is not an escape from the body or the physical world, but instead their healing and sanctification. Likewise, St. John referred in his epistle to that “which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest, and we saw it…” The Apostles saw the Lord after His resurrection with their eyes, touched Him with their hands, heard His voice with their ears, felt His breath on their skin, and even saw Him eat food. (Luke 24: 36-43).

The good news that “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” comes from a resurrection in glory of a complete Person with a human body marked by the wounds of torture and crucifixion. His resurrection is not an escape from the body, but its fulfillment. The Eternal Word Who created us by breathing into the dust of the earth now breathes physically on His Disciples as He empowers them to carry out His ministry of bringing salvation to the world, even to the point of forgiving sins in His name. Here are powerful signs of what it means for human beings to be in the likeness of God and partakers of the divine nature by grace.

These are not merely details of ancient history, but reminders that we participate in Christ’s Passover from death to life by how we live as whole, embodied persons. We were baptized physically with water into Christ’s death in order to put Him on like a garment, in order to rise with Him into a new life of holiness. To be blunt, the Christian life is not simply about our emotions, ideas, or opinions; it is not reduced to what we say we believe. For those who are truly in Christ will live in ways that manifest the brilliant life of the resurrection, that radiate the holy light of the Savior’s great victory over sin and death. As St. John put it, “If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

We participate in the new life of our Risen Lord by walking into His light, by embracing as fully as we can the blessed healing of the human being that He has brought to the world. Christ’s Passion was not a matter simply of His feelings, words, or ideas, but of His complete Self-offering through crucifixion, burial, descent to Hades, and resurrection from the dead. He rises in glory with His wounds, and we cannot begin to make sense of His salvation without speaking of the most bodily of realities, such as torture, execution, death, and burial in a tomb that was later found to be empty.

We are probably all tempted at times to think how much easier it would be to serve God if we did not have our particular set of bodily limitations and problems. Some are challenged by physical or mental illness, while others wrestle with passions for the pleasures of food, sex, alcohol, or other substances. Eating disorders and unrealistic expectations of what their bodies should look like ruin the health and well-being of some, while others struggle to accept that their male or female bodies are signs of who they are in God’s image and likeness.

Many today ignore the sacredness of the intimate bodily union of man and woman, which makes two into one flesh. The epidemic of pornography in our culture reflects a repudiation of the sacredness of the flesh and blood through which we encounter the living icons of Christ. Some refuse to honor the bodies of their neighbors by becoming blind to the humanity of children in the womb, of people with skin of a different color, or of terminally ill patients in chronic pain. And whether it is greed, sloth, anger, or refusal to help the needy with our time, attention, and resources, there is no sin that does not show itself physically in some way in the lives of those who struggle with it.

No matter what someone’s particular struggles, weaknesses, or failings are, we must respond with compassion, for we too are among the sick who need the Physician. Nonetheless, no physical condition can ever make us sin or do evil. The problem is not that we have bodies, but that we choose to remain in the tomb, that we would rather walk in the darkness than in the light. For it is no sin to be ill or to be tempted in any way. The Lord Himself suffered terribly on the cross and was tempted. It is a sin, however, to let any of our wounds become excuses for not walking in the light as best we can. It is a sin to let anything fill our lives with such darkness that we refuse to open our eyes—and our lives—to the good news of the resurrection. It is a sin when we think that God must remove this or that problem in order to earn our faithfulness, in order to be worthy of our devotion. As we celebrate Christ’s great victory over sin and death, we must not be afraid to expose our wounded selves to Him with humility as we say with St. Thomas “My Lord and my God!”

Remember that the Savior has taken upon Himself even the worst bodily wounds. It is through them that He has brought life out of death and brilliant light out of the darkest tomb. Darkness is simply the absence of light and it disappears when it is illumined. The same Lord Who conquered Hades and the tomb for our salvation, and Who invited Thomas to touch His wounds, will bring us as whole, embodied persons into the new day of His Kingdom if we will only keep turning as best we can from the darkness as we struggle to live faithfully each day in the midst of the problems, pains, and weaknesses that beset us. We must all take that journey one day at a time.

The good news is that Christ does not ask us to conquer sin and death by our own power, for He has already done that. But He does ask us truly to have faith, which requires a faithful life, even as we constantly ask for His mercy and strength to participate as fully as possible in the joy of His resurrection. We will not do that with a fake spirituality that relies purely on emotions or ideas, but as whole persons of flesh and blood enlivened by the One Who made us in His image and likeness and even died and rose again for our salvation. So let us celebrate Pascha by walking in the light as best we can with all our wounds, for that is how we will open ourselves to the light that has made even the tomb radiant with the divine glory. If He can do that to a grave, just imagine what He can do with us.

Fr. Philip LeMasters

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The importance of the Resurrection

Fr. Dumitru Staniloae explains in his book, Orthodoxy, Life in the Resurrection, the importance of the Resurrection for the Orthodox Church, stating that:

“The deepest foundation of the hope and joy which characterise Orthodoxy and which penetrate all its worship is the Resurrection. Easter, the centre of Orthodox worship, is an explosion of joy, the same joy which the disciples felt when they saw the risen Saviour. It is the explosion of cosmic joy at the triumph of life, after the overwhelming sorrow over death – death which even the Lord of life had to suffer when he became man. ‘Let the heavens rejoice and the earth exult, and let all the world invisible and visible keep holiday, for Christ our eternal joy is risen’ All things are now filled with the certainty of life, whereas before all had been moving steadily towards death. Orthodoxy emphasises with special insistence the faith of Christianity in the triumph of life”.

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Selfless Service Over Self-Centered Desire

5th Sunday of Lent, St Mary of Egypt, Mark 10: 32-45

Human beings have an amazing capacity to miss the point, to become blind to truths that should be obvious. We often do that because we become so preoccupied and distracted with our own agendas and desires that we ignore everything else. That is especially the case when the truth goes strongly against our inclinations by telling us what we do not want to hear.

That is what James and John did when they asked for choice positions of honour right after Jesus Christ had told them that He was to suffer, die, and rise from the dead. They were apparently so consumed by their desires for prominence and power that they refused to hear the Lord saying that He was nothing like an earthly king. They boasted of being prepared to follow the Saviour without having any idea of what that would mean. He responded by making clear that the path to true greatness was to follow His way of selfless service. “For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

As we begin the last week of Lent, it should be clear to us all that we have not earned a place of honour in God’s reign. If we have practiced the spiritual disciplines of Lent with any integrity and honesty, we will know primarily our own weakness and brokenness. By revealing how easily we are distracted and how enslaved we are to our self-centered desires and habits, they show us that we cannot heal our own souls. And if we have not devoted ourselves to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving at all in the previous weeks of Lent, we should confess that in humility and thus gain a greater awareness that we stand in constant need of the Lord’s gracious mercy. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Regardless of how we have approached Lent so far, we must not become paralyzed with a sense of obsessive guilt for not living up to a standard of perfection, for not making ourselves worthy of the mercy of Christ. To do so is simply a form of self-centered pride, for it is impossible to earn grace as a reward for good behavior. Becoming great among the Lord’s servants means laying down our lives for others, lowering ourselves by placing the needs and interests of others before our own. That is the opposite of a self-centered obsession to prove that we are worthy of anything.

Today we remember St. Mary of Egypt, who had lived a grossly immoral life, but then gave herself up in repentance for decades in the desert, where she became a remarkably holy saint. Instead of continuing to gratify her addiction to sexual pleasure, she died to self by rejecting everything that was a hindrance to the healing of her soul through incredibly rigorous repentance for the rest of her long life. She knew that such disciplines did not somehow put God in her debt, but were ways of opening herself to receive the gracious healing of the Lord, which we never deserve.

St. Mary of Egypt was not like James and John in trying to use the Saviour to get what she wanted. Instead, she freely obeyed a divine command to turn away from fulfilling her obsessive desires by uniting herself to the One Who offered His life as a ransom to free us all from slavery to sin and death. Our Lord’s disciples ultimately found victory over their passions in different ways, for they had to learn that greatness in the Kingdom comes through selfless service to the point of suffering and death, not by yearning after what the world calls power and success.

In the remaining days of Lent, we all have the opportunity to embrace our Lord’s way of selfless service in relation to those we encounter on a regular basis in our families, in our parish, at work, at school, and in our larger communities. We all have the opportunity to confess how we have enslaved ourselves to self-centered desires and then to take the steps we can to turn away from them. We all have the opportunity to fill our minds with holy things and give less attention to whatever fuels our unholy passions. We all have the opportunity to follow the example of St. Mary of Egypt in doing what it takes to find the healing of our souls. If our Lord could make a great saint out of her, then how can anyone remain paralyzed in guilt? Our great High Priest offered Himself on the Cross and rose in glory on the third day in order to save sinners, to restore all who bear His image and likeness. Thanks be to God, that includes even people as broken as you and me. In the coming week, let us open the eyes of our souls to this glorious truth through selfless service, humble prayer, and genuine repentance.
Fr. Philip LeMasters


The acquisition of holiness is not the exclusive business of monks, as certain people think. People with families are also called to holiness, as are those in all kinds of professions, who live in the world, since the commandment about perfection and holiness is given not only to monks, but to all people.
Hieromartyr Onuphry Gagaluk


Saturday of the Holy and Righteous Friend of Christ, Lazarus

On the Saturday before Holy Week, the Orthodox Church commemorates a major feast of the year, the miracle of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ when he raised Lazarus from the dead after he had lain in the grave four days. Here, at the end of Great Lent and the forty days of fasting and penitence, the Church combines this celebration with that of Palm Sunday. In triumph and joy the Church bears witness to the power of Christ over death and exalts Him as King before entering the most solemn week of the year, one that leads the faithful in remembrance of His suffering and death and concludes with the great and glorious Feast of Pascha.

According to an ancient tradition, it is said that Lazarus was thirty years old when the Lord raised him; then he lived another thirty years on Cyprus and there reposed in the Lord. It is furthermore related that after he was raised from the dead, he never laughed till the end of his life, but that once only, when he saw someone stealing a clay vessel, he smiled and said, “Clay stealing clay.” His grave is situated in the city of Kition, having the inscription: “Lazarus the four days dead and friend of Christ.” In 890 his sacred relics were transferred to Constantinople by Emperor Leo the Wise, at which time undoubtedly the Emperor composed his stichera for Vespers, “Wishing to behold the tomb of Lazarus . . .”


St Mary of Egypt

Her feast is set on the Fifth Sunday of Lent. She is the symbol of contrition, conversion and austerity.

The memory of this Saint is celebrated on April 1, where her life is recorded. Since the end of the holy Forty Days is drawing nigh, it has been appointed for this day also, so that if we think it hard to practice a little abstinence forty days, we might be roused by the heroism of her who fasted in the wilderness forty-seven years; and also that the great loving-kindness of God, and His readiness to receive the repentant, might be demonstrated in very deed.

“While the end of lent is near so idlers and sinners may be aroused by repentance, having as an example this saint” (Festal Commemoration)

The recorder of the life of this wonderful saint was St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem. A hieromonk, the elder Zossima, had gone off at one time during the Great Fast a twenty-days’ walk into the wilderness across the Jordan, He suddenly caught sight of a human being with a withered and naked body and with hair as white as snow, who fled in its nakedness from Zossima’s sight. The elder ran a long way, until this figure stopped at a stream and called: “Father Zossima, forgive me for the Lord’s sake. I cannot turn round to you, for I am a naked woman.” Then Zossima threw her his outer cloak, and she wrapped herself in it and turned round to him. The elder was amazed at hearing his name from the lips of this unknown woman. After considerable pressure on his part, she told him her life-story. She had been born in Egypt, and had lived as a prostitute in Alexandria from the age of twelve, spending seventeen years in this way of life. Urged by the lustful fire of the flesh, she one day got into a ship that was sailing for Jerusalem. Arriving at the Holy City, she made to go into one of the churches to venerate the Precious Cross, but some unseen power prevented her from entering. In great fear, she turned to an icon of the Mother of God that was in the entrance, and begged her to let her go in and venerate the Cross, confessing her sin and impurity and promising that she would then go wherever the Most Pure led her. She was then allowed to enter the church. After venerating the Cross, she went out again to the entrance and, standing in front of the icon, thanked the Mother of God. Then she heard a voice; ‘If you cross the Jordan, you will find true peace.’ She immediately bought three loaves of bread and set off for the Jordan, arriving there the same evening. She received Communion the following morning in the monastery of St John, and then crossed the river. She spent forty-eight whole years in the wilderness in the greatest torments, in terror, in struggles with passionate thoughts like gigantic beasts. She fed only on plants. After that, when she was standing in prayer, Zossima saw her lifted up in the air. She begged him to bring her Communion the next year on the bank of the Jordan, and she would come to receive it.

The following year, Zossima came with the Holy Gifts to the bank of the Jordan in the evening, and stood in amazement as he saw her cross the river. He saw her coming in the moonlight and. arriving on the further bank. make the sign of the Cross over the river. She then walked across it as though it were dry land. When she had received Communion, she begged him to come again the following year to the same stream by which they had first met. Zossima went, and found her dead body there on that spot.

Above her head in the sand was written: ‘Abba Zossima. bury in this place the body of the humble Mary. Give dust to dust. I passed away on April 1st, on the very night of Christ’s Passion, after communion of the divine Mysteries.’ Zossima learned her name for the first time. and also the awe-inspiring marvel that she had arrived at that stream the previous year on the night of the same day on which she had received Communion — a place that he had taken twenty days to reach.

And thus Zossima buried the body of the wonderful saint, Mary of Egypt. When he returned to the monastery, he recounted the whole story of her life and the wonders to which he had been an eyewitness. Thus the Lord glorifies repentant sinners. St Mary is also commemorated in the Fifth Week of the Great Fast. The Church holds her up before the faithful in these days of the Fast as a model of repentance. She entered into rest in about 530.

“Came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” The world still looks down upon humble selfless service that puts others first, but that is the way of Christ’s salvation and of all true discipleship.

On this fifth Sunday of Great Lent, we remember St. Mary of Egypt, someone who also had to abandon the ways of the world in order to follow Christ. She had been a prostitute and a slave to her own perverse sexual passions. Her life was an obscene scandal, but that changed when an invisible force prevented her from entering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. She then asked for the help of the Theotokos, entered the church to venerate the Holy Cross, and obeyed a divine command to spend the rest of her life in repentance and strict asceticism as a hermit in the desert. When the monk Zosima stumbled upon her almost 50 years later, he was amazed at her holiness. But like all the saints, she was aware only of her sins and her ongoing need for God’s mercy.

Like hateful violence, sexual immorality stands as another symptom of fallen humanity’s spiritual disease. Regardless of what is popular or easy today, the faithful and lifelong union of man and woman in marriage remains the only context for the sexual joining of two human beings that the Body of Christ has ever blessed or affirmed. Marriage is a sign of the relationship between Christ and the Church and is ultimately for our growth in holiness, for our salvation. Passions and desires may tempt us to other kinds of behaviours and relationships, whether we are married or single. Regardless of the particulars, no kind of physical union outside of true marriage provides a way to participate more fully in Christ’s victory over sin and death. We will only make our spiritual state worse by engaging in other activities.

St. Mary of Egypt presents a powerful counter-cultural example that, yes, it is possible to resist even deeply rooted temptations and to turn away from corrupt ways of living that have become all too familiar. Do not accept the lie that life was so much easier for people long ago. Human nature has not changed and our struggles today are surely no harder than hers. When St. Mary of Egypt prayed before the icon of the Theotokos, she acknowledged for the first time the sad truth about her life. She had heard in the past that Jesus Christ came to save sinners, and now she knew that she was one. And that humble confession was the beginning of a life of such holiness that we devote a Sunday in Lent each year to her memory.

Have you ever noticed that we do not hide repentant sinners in our Church? Instead, we put them on icons and sing about them because they are wonderful examples of the kind of people we hope to become by God’s mercy. So take heart and keep hope alive. The same Lord who patiently corrected power-hungry disciples and who made a great saint out of an enthusiastic prostitute wants to make each of us shine with the light of holiness also. But for that to happen, we have to follow their example of repentance by humbly setting right what has gone wrong in our lives, serving others in humility, and fighting even our deeply rooted and most appealing passions.

Yes, in Christ Jesus there is hope for us all, no matter what we have done or who we have become. Now, so near the end of Lent, it is time to get over our pride and embarrassment, to take the medicine of confession and repentance, and to follow our Saviour to His cross and empty tomb. For He is still the One who brings light into our darkened world and heals all our wounds.

Posted by Fr. Philip LeMasters

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Saturday of the Holy and Righteous Friend of Christ, Lazarus

On the Saturday before Holy Week, the Orthodox Church commemorates a major feast of the year, the miracle of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ when he raised Lazarus from the dead after he had lain in the grave four days. Here, at the end of Great Lent and the forty days of fasting and penitence, the Church combines this celebration with that of Palm Sunday. In triumph and joy the Church bears witness to the power of Christ over death and exalts Him as King before entering the most solemn week of the year, one that leads the faithful in remembrance of His suffering and death and concludes with the great and glorious Feast of Pascha.

According to an ancient tradition, it is said that Lazarus was thirty years old when the Lord raised him; then he lived another thirty years on Cyprus and there reposed in the Lord. It is furthermore related that after he was raised from the dead, he never laughed till the end of his life, but that once only, when he saw someone stealing a clay vessel, he smiled and said, “Clay stealing clay.” His grave is situated in the city of Kition, having the inscription: “Lazarus the four days dead and friend of Christ.” In 890 his sacred relics were transferred to Constantinople by Emperor Leo the Wise, at which time undoubtedly the Emperor composed his stichera for Vespers, “Wishing to behold the tomb of Lazarus . . .”

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A Love story

One day, I woke early in the morning to watch the sunrise. Ah the beauty of God’s creation is beyond description. As I watched, I praised God for His beautiful work. As I sat there, I felt the Lord’s presence with me. He asked me, “Do you love me?”

I answered, “Of course, God! You are my Lord and Saviour!”

Then He asked, if you were physically handicapped, would you still love me?” I was perplexed. I looked down upon my arms, legs and the rest of my body and wondered how many things I wouldn’t be able to do, the things that I took for granted.

And I answered, “It would be tough Lord, but I would still love You”. Then the Lord said, if you were blind, would you still love my creation?” How could I love something without being able to see it? Then I thought of all the blind people in the world and how many of them still loved God and His creation. So I answered, “Its hard to think of it, but I would still love You”. The Lord then asked me, if you were deaf would you still listen to my word?” How could I listen to anything being deaf? Then I understood.

Listening to God’s Word is not merely using our ears, but our hearts. I answered, “It would be tough, but I would still listen to Your word”. The Lord then asked, “If you were mute, would you still praise My Name?” How could I praise without a voice? Then it occurred to me: God wants us to sing from our very heart and soul. It never matters what we sound like. And praising God is not always with a song, but when we are persecuted, we give God praise with our words of thanks. So, I answered, “Though I could not physically sing, I would still praise Your Name”.

And the Lord asked, “Do you really love Me?” With courage and a strong conviction, I answered boldly, “Yes Lord! I love You because You are the One and True God!” I thought I had answered well, but God asked, “THEN WHY DO YOU SIN?” I answered, “Because I am only human. I am not perfect”. “THEN WHY IN TIMES OF PEACE DO YOU STRAY THE FURTHEST? WHY ONLY IN TIMES OF TROUBLE DO YOU PRAY IN EARNEST?”

No answers. Only tears.

The Lord continued: “Why only sing at fellowships and retreats? Why seek me only in times of worship? Why ask things so selfishly? Why ask things so unfaithfully?” The tears continued to roll down my cheeks. “Why are you ashamed of me? Why are you not spreading the good news? Why in times of persecution, you cry to others when I offer my shoulder to cry on? Why make excuses when I give you opportunities to serve in my name?” I tried to answer, but there was no answer to give.

“You are blessed with life. I made you not to throw this gift away. I have blessed you with talents to serve me, but you continue to turn away. I have revealed my word to you, but you do not gain in knowledge. I have spoken to you but your ears were closed. I have shown my blessings to you, but your eyes were turned away. I have sent you servants, but you sat idly by as they were pushed away. I have heard your prayers and I have answered them all”.

“DO YOU TRULY LOVE ME?”

I could not answer. How could I? I was embarrassed beyond belief. I had no excuse. What could I say to this? When my heart had cried out and the tears had flowed, I said, ‘Please forgive me Lord. I am unworthy to be Your child.’

The Lord answered, ” That is my grace, my child”. I asked, ” Then why do you continue to forgive me? Why do You love me so?”

The Lord answered: ‘Because you are My creation. You are my child. I will never abandon you. When you cry, I will have compassion and cry with you. When you shout with joy, I will laugh with you. When you are down, I will encourage you. When you fall, I will raise you up. When you are tired, I will carry you. I will be with you till the end of days, and I will love you forever’.

Never had I cried so hard before. How could I have been so cold? How could I have hurt God as I had done? I asked God, ‘How much do You love me?’

The Lord stretched out His arms, and I saw His nail-pierced hands. I bowed down at the feet of Christ, my Saviour. And for the first time, I truly prayed.

Author Unknown

from The Orthodox Messenger, v. 9(5-6) published bi-monthly by the SA Central Youth, PO Box 269, GLENELG SA 5045 AUSTRALIA

http://www.orthodoxchristian.info/pages/main.htm

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