All Souls Saturday

Everlasting life, promised in Holy Communion, is a central teaching of our faith. In the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, which we recite in every Divine Liturgy and also frequently in the Divine Praises, says, “I expect the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” It is interesting that here we say, “I expect” rather than “I believe.” This is because this life beyond death is not only a matter of faith but also a matter of hope. And both faith and hope are virtues beyond human power alone, but need also the grace of God. In a way, we do not understand this life beyond death, probably we can that just as a child in the womb does not understand what it is to live in the world.

Death is the breakdown of our secular time and space to eternity and boundlessness. We are as yet unable to comprehend or understand this. Jesus taught it would be different, “At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven. (Matthew 22:30), and St. Paul cautions us, “So also is the resurrection of the dead …. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42.44). We do have analogous ways of thinking about death, when we pray in the Liturgy, “Grant rest, O Lord, to the souls of your departed servants in a place of light, joy and peace where there is no pain, sorrow, nor mourning.” We must be humble in our concepts of death, but still live in hope, for Jesus also said, “‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (Matthew 22:32). We also know that we will continue to be human, that is, have a body, as St. Paul says, a “spiritual body,” which we foresee already in our Lord’s resurrection. What is also undeniable is that we can pray for the dead, for no one of us dies already perfect, but we need to be purified of sin to be in the presence of the thrice-holy God.

The communion of saints tells us that we are one in Christ, and that we can pray for one another, and in this way not only help release our brothers and sisters in Christ but also ourselves from the bonds of sin. The souls of the faithful departed were always remembered on Saturday in our liturgical worship, because Saturday was the day that our Lord rested from all his works, after his death on the cross and before his glorious resurrection, for which we also hope.

Byzantine monastic life in the USA

There is a new springtime for Byzantine monastic life in the USA happening now. Recently there was the tonsure of a new monk for the Holy Resurrection Monastery in Wisconsin.

Here is a story on a recent monastic ceremony for Father Deacon Paiisi, (Patrick Firman).

There is great need for the witness of men and women taking up the sacrifice of living the monastic vows in community saying to all of us that living the tenets of the Holy Gospel is possible and reasonable.

Our prayer this Lent ought to be for the grace to see another monastery established, particularly here in the Northeast, perhaps in Connecticut.

Sunday of the Prodigal Son

Patristic approach [the Church Fathers]  to the imagery in the story of the return of the Prodigal Son, St. Cyril of Alexandria reminds us that Christ delivered this parable ‘immediately after the Pharisees and scribes murmured against Him, saying, “This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them.”’ Seeking to enlighten His detractors, the Lord spoke of a younger, prodigal son, who represented the sinners and publicans, and of an elder, faithful son, who represented the scribes and Pharisees. This, says St. Cyril, is the key to understanding the Prodigal son. …[T]he younger son, like the publican, through humility and repentance washed away his vices, while the elder son, like the Pharisee, through pride and judgmentalism sullied his virtues. (See Hierodeacon [now Hieromonk] Gregory, Orthodox Tradition, XII, 2, p. 74.)

Let us, as the Great Lent and the Sunday of the Prodigal Son approach this year, look anew at this parable and draw hope from the wayward son. At the same time, let us examine ourselves carefully in the light of the weaknesses of the elder son, lest we succumb to the wily temptations of self-righteousness, which can lead to passions and to spiritual waywardness produced by pride, if not by envy and undiscovered hidden darkness.

Archbishop Chrysostomos
Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XXIII, Number 1 (2006), pp. 33-35

Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee

For Byzantine Catholics, Sunday Feb. 10 is the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, which is the first of then “pre-Lenten Sundays.”

The journey of the feast of lights was a journey to specific holy places. It is a journey which we now make in spirit, in order to find the light of Christ. Soon after this journey, we begin another journey, going with our Lord to Jerusalem, as he foretold in the Gospel of St. Luke: “When the days for his being taken up (which John calls his glorification) were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” During the Great Fast, then, we make another journey that ends in the holy city of Jerusalem, as Jesus said, “Yet I must continue on my way today, tomorrow, and the following day, for it is impossible that a prophet should die outside of Jerusalem” (Luke 13:33). But his death is his glorification, “by death he tramples death,” and it is the way to resurrection, to a resurrection promised to all. Our journey likewise ends in life (resurrection) and in light, as the Gospel of Paschal Sunday, the Day of Resurrection says, “ The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

The journey to light in the Christmas – Theophany – Encounter cycle ends in the temple, where the incarnate temple of God enters into the holy Temple, and there is proclaimed to the world by Simeon and Anna, who witness to his glory. The journey of the Great Fast then begins in the Temple, and two men go there to pray. One witnesses to pride and self-righteousness, the other to humility and repentance. The whole of the Great Fast is for us to make our choice on which to imitate. To be a Christian means to hear our Lord’s warning, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever exalts himself will be exalted.” This is the central meaning of the Great Fast, as our Lord invites us, “Come and see.”

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Beginning the Celebration of the Feast of the Encounter

“The Lord said to Moses on that day he brought the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt. He said: Consecrate to me every firstborn; whatever opens the womb among the Israelites” (Exodus 12:51). In this feast, the last of the Christmas cycle, the Feast of Light, Mary and Joseph bring the child Jesus to the temple to fulfill this commandment. 

The Irmos of Ode 9 of this feast expresses this in song, “O faithful, let us recognize the figure of Christ foreshadowed in the letter of the Law which says: Every male child who opens the womb is sanctified to God. Therefore, the first born Word and Son of the Father without beginning, the first-born of a mother who had not known man: him, let us extol.” This is a beautiful perfection of God’s law for our salvation. “For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the first-fruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:22-23). 

The Anaphora of St. Basil, that we will say all during the Great Fast, proclaims: “Since Corruption could not keep the Author of Life in its clutches, he became the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep, the first-born of the dead, that in all things he might have pre-eminence over all” (Quoting Acts 3:15; 1 Corinthians 15:20 and Colossians 1:18). This is a wondrous conclusion to our Feast of Light, for on Christmas we sang, “O Christ, what shall we offer you for your coming on earth in our humanity for our sake? Every creature that has its being from you gives thanks to you: the angels offer hymns of praise, the heavens give a star; the Magi present their gifts and the shepherds, their wonder; the earth provides a cave and the desert, a manger. As for us, we offer a virgin mother.” 

Today, however, we offer to God his and the human race’s first-born Son. This feast tells us that we should always offer to God the first-fruits, our very best, for Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, and God gives us all that we are or that we have.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Thirty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Read: 1 Timothy 1:15-17; Luke 18:35-43 (Readings of the 31st Sunday after Pentecost)

We must learn how to read Scripture. It is not lessons of the past, but the reality of God’s presence among us today, in the here and now. One of the most frequent ways that Jesus steps into our lives is by his works of healing.

In Matthew 11:5 Jesus tells us, “the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” Today we hear this good news, today the blind see. Jesus often gave sight to the blind, telling them, “Your faith has saved you.” This is what he says to the blind man of Jericho. He cannot see who Jesus is, but when those around him say, “Jesus is passing by,” he immediately shouts as loud as he can, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” For Jesus, though he is the Word of God, has become one of us, of the family of David.

We might think that the gospel is about physical sight, but it is more than that, it is why faith is necessary. All of us, whether physically blind or spiritually blind, need Jesus who said, “I am the light of the world.” This is why we call baptism “enlightenment.” This is why we must confess that Jesus came to save sinners, “of whom we are the first.” We can say this sincerely, because we know the power of sin in our own hearts, and not in the hearts of others.

We will say this today here in this church as we approach Holy Communion, as we approach the light and life of the world today: you are Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first.” We say this not to crush ourselves down, but as St. Paul tells us to today’s Epistle, but that we might be “mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life.” Only in faith, then, do we see the true “light and life.”

Image: Jesus Healing the Blind Man of Jericho (Codex of Egberti)

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Feast of the Chains of the Holy Apostle Peter

Our Lord says of Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, (Simon has confessed Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God) but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter [the rock], and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:17-18).

The faith of Peter is the very foundation of Christ’s Body, the Church. And it is established on this impetuous, sometimes weak and imperfect human being, a man who denied Jesus, but wept in repentance, a man who walked on water but began to sink because his faith weakened, a man who was indeed to lead the Church, but only in the grace of the Spirit. Today we celebrate his chains, the imprisonment he suffered because of his faith. Therefore, he is a model for all of us – faith is our “rock,” but we are weak, we sin, we need the forgiveness and grace of God to live a Christian life. And, like Peter, we will have to suffer because of our faith. Peter likewise is the model for the whole Church, for its bishops and leaders, who often, like Peter, stumble and fall, yet on these weak human beings faith is secured by the operation of the Holy Spirit. The Roman Church celebrates the chains of Peter on the 18th, and a week later, the 25th, the conversion of Saul, who from a persecutor of the faithful, was transformed by a vision of our Lord, into Paul, a great Apostle. To mark these two feasts, the Chair of Unity Octave was established, from January 18 to the 25, now called the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

The Byzantine Church celebrates great Church teachers on these two days, Saints Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria on the 18th and Saint Gregory the Theologian on the 25th. It is a perfect time to pray for the necessary unity of the one faith, which can be established only on the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, founded, as it is, on our weak human powers which have divided the garment of faith and which can find union only in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Icon: Peter led out of prison

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

The Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit

The feast of Theophany is not only about baptism in water, but about the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Kontakion declares, “You have revealed yourself to the world today; and your light, O Lord, has set its seal on us.” When we enter into the life of the Trinity, we receive the gift of the Spirit as the priest anoints us with the words, “the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.” We find this phrase in the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians, “In [Christ] you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of his glory” (1:13-14). Today in the Church, there is a movement called the “charismatic movement.” It wants to re-emphasize that all who have been baptized into Christ have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. This manifests itself in different ways according to our individual talents. On the Sunday after Theophany, St. Paul says, “And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).

The Spirit is given so that Christ may live in us according to fullness. When Communion is distributed, the Body and Blood of Christ are united in the cup with the words, “The fullness of the Holy Spirit.” Why are these charisms, these spiritual gifts, not more evident today? Perhaps it is because we are not as open to hearing the Spirit within us, there is too much individualism and pride. The Spirit is given that we might support one another in community, the Spirit does not support our own ideologies, but the truth of God. The words of the gospel and the teaching of the Church cannot contradict the Spirit, but we sometimes give them our own interpretations. The Spirit truly guides us to truth, as Jesus promised, “when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth” (John 16:13). However, we must not hear what we “want to hear,” nor the echo of our own thoughts, but only the working of the Holy Spirit, leading us to the Father through Christ.