First Sunday of Great Lent – Defense of Holy Icons

“Since the invisible One became visible by taking on flesh, you can fashion the image of Him whom you saw. Since He who has neither body, nor form, nor quantity, nor quality, who goes beyond all grandeur by the excellence of His nature, He, being of divine nature, took on the condition of a slave and reduced Himself to quantity and to quality by clothing Himself in human features. Therefore, paint on wood and present for contemplation Him who desired to become visible.”

St. John of Damascus
On the Divine Images

This Sunday is called the “Sunday of Orthodoxy” because it commemorates the restoration of the Church’s teaching on making images (icons) of our Lord and the saints in the year 843. Before that, it was the Sunday of the Commemoration of the Holy Prophets. This explains the Gospel, Phillip witnesses to Nathanael: “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets, wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” This is our goal in the Great Fast – to find our faith in Jesus. The Great Fast was the training period for those about to be baptized, and it was a time for the whole community to rediscover its faith.

Along the journey to Holy Week, we read especially from the book of Genesis and from Isaiah to guide us to Christ, who will perfect his covenant with us by his death and resurrection. This is why, in the Apostolic reading, we remember Moses, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David and Samuel and all the prophets. It was all for Jesus, “Yet all these, though approved because of their faith, did not receive what had been promised. God had foreseen something better for us, so that without us they should not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39)” How, then, should we keep the Fast? Hebrews tells us: “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

The Sunday of Orthodoxy helps us to fulfill this plan, for “keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus,” gazing upon his image, we are led to God, to faith, to life.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Friday of the First Week of the Great Fast

The readings from Genesis on the Fridays of the Great Fast point like an arrow to the covenant made on Good Friday, when our Lord gave his body and blood as a new covenant for the life of the world.

The first and second Fridays tell of the breaking of covenants, of the covenant with Adam and Eve when they ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and of the decision of God to destroy the human race because of its wickedness. The third Friday is the renewal of the covenant with Noah, and the fourth Friday is the covenant with Abraham. On the fifth Friday, Abraham replaces the disobedience of Adam and Eve with obedience to God in the sacrifice of his beloved son. However, God does not want this sacrifice, though he allows his only-begotten Son to die on the cross for the salvation of the human race. The sixth Friday, the funeral of Joseph, looks forward to the burial of Christ, who through his death will trample upon death.
This is our Fast, it is the making of a new covenant with God. When Adam and Eve sinned, they were expelled from paradise, and stationed a cherub with a fiery sword to guard the way to the tree of life. Four curses were imposed on Adam and Eve, on Eve, pain in childbirth, and servitude to her husband, on Adam, hard labor and death.

In the new covenant of our Lord Jesus Christ, the curse is abrogated, as the Kontakion of the Third Sunday of the great Fast proclaims, “No longer does the flaming sword guard the gates of Eden, for the tree of the cross has come to quench it wondrously. The sting of death and the victory of Hades have been driven out.”

The curse is truly abrogated, but in God’s mystical and wondrous way. In childbirth, the woman still suffers pain, but her anguish gives way to joy because of new life (John 16:21), the marital relations between man and woman are now marked by mutual love and respect, in the subtle reading of Ephesians 5:9-19, the harshness of labor is eased by the sabbath rest (Hebrews 4:9). Death remains, and even the Son of God must suffer death (“Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us, for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hands on a tree,” (Galatians 3:10, quoting Deuteronomy 21:23).

Wednesday of the First Week

For our prayer today…

Matins:

By fasting let us subdue the passions of our mind, and let us put on the wings of the spirit, so that overcoming the tempest raised by the enemy, we may be worthy to adore the Cross of the Son of God. He willed to be sacrificed for the world and we now spiritually keep the feast of his Resurrection from the dead. Let us ascend the mountain with the apostles to glorify the Son of the Father who loves all of us, and to whom all power is now given.

Vespers:

O faithful, while fasting bodily, let us also fast in spirit. Let us loosen every bond of injustice; let us tear apart the strong chains of violence; let us rip up all unjust assertions; let us give bread to the hungry and welcome the poor and homeless to our houses, that we may receive from Christ our God his great mercy.

Reflection:

I listened to this sticheron and was moved deeply in soul. It is a condemnation of me, for the fast really is about justice and charity toward one another. Who, indeed, rises to these challenges? Do we just sing this in our churches without effect? Does it really change our lives. God created a paradise for us and invites us back if only we are not deaf to his words.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Spiritual Reading for Lent 2018

We are at the beginning the season of Great Lent. May I commend to you these titles for your spiritual reading and meditation (listed in no particular order):

Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent

Richard John Neuhaus, Death on a Friday Afternoon:  Meditations on the Last Words of  Jesus from the Cross 

Flannery O’Connor, A Prayer Journal 

John Behr, Becoming Human

Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

Jean-Pierre de Caussade,  The Sacrament of the Present Moment

Frederica Mathewes-Green, The Illumined Heart

Frank Sheed, Theology for Beginners

Peter Kreeft, Your Questions, God’s Answers

C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Pope Benedict XVI, Holy Days: Meditations on the Feasts, Fasts, and Other Solemnities of the Church 

Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection 

Which books would you recommend for Lent?

Beginning Lent, again…

Archpriest David Petras reviews some hallmarks of the liturgical observance and prayer.
 
In the Great Fast, the days follow the more ancient system of the Roman Empire, running from midnight to midnight. In the oldest stratum of the Proper texts for the Great Fast, there is a “samohlasen,” (Slavonic term) or “idiomelon” (Greek term) for the morning service (Orthros/Matins) and for the evening service (Vespers) that gives the keynote for each day of the Fast. These hymns are sung twice, usually at the apostichera, to accent their importance.
 
Cheesefare Sunday:
Matins:
Behold, this is the time of spiritual struggle and the victory over demons. The armor of temperance is the splendor of the angels and the assurance of closeness to God. By it Moses became a confidant of the Creator, and was able to hear his voice in invisible revelations. By it, grant us also in your goodness, O Lord to adore your Passion and your holy Resurrection.
 
Vespers:
The light of your grace has shone upon our souls, O Lord. Behold, this is the favorable time, the season of conversion. Let us turn away from the works of darkness, and let us clothe ourselves with the armor of light, so that, crossing the ocean of the Fast, we may come to the harbor of the Resurrection on the third day with our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of our souls.
 
Monday of the First Week:
Matins:
The holy Fast has arrived; it denounces sin and defends repentance. It is the time of temperance. It brings salvation close to us, and makes us share the life of angels. O faithful, let us cry out with full voice: Lord have mercy on us.
 
Vespers:
Let us offer a fast acceptable to the Lord, for the true fast is the estrangement from sin: no more idle chatter, no more wrath; no more evil desires, no insults; no more lying, no false oaths. If we abstain from all this, we shall keep a fast that is indeed acceptable to the Lord.

Friday of Cheesefare Week

Breaking of bread at Emmaus

One of the images for the Great Fast is that of a journey. Since the Fast lasts 40 days, the 40 year journey of the Israelites through the desert to the Promised Land is a particularly powerful image. The Israelites were fed on manna in the desert, but in our journey we are fed by the Body of Christ in the Presanctified Liturgy. Jesus said: “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:48-51).

The readings from Zechariah tell us of another journey: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: I am going to rescue my people from the land of the rising sun, and from the land of the setting sun. I will bring them back to dwell within Jerusalem … Many peoples and strong nations will come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to implore the favor of the Lord” (Zechariah 8:7-8.22). Jerusalem is our goal. There our Lord died and there he gave us life. Our Lord 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).

We are invited to follow him in our hearts to the heavenly Jerusalem where all glory will be fulfilled.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Thursday of Cheesefare Week

In Cheesefare Week, we read the passion of our Lord according to St. Luke. What strikes me today is how the passion affects the people around Jesus. The women of Jerusalem receive a warning. The corrupt rulers Pilate and Herod make up and become friends. The venerable Joseph of Arimathea, member of the council, who “had not consented to their decision and deed,” courageously asks for the body of Jesus and gives it burial.

Simon of Cyrene is made to bear Jesus’ cross, becoming an icon for all of us who believe, for Jesus said, “Unless you take up your cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.” But what is the cross – it is love for the other to the point of laying down our own lives. The soldiers receive forgiveness, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Then the soldiers repent, “Certainly, this was a righteous man.” (Verse 23:47) Maybe we have this mercy thing upside down. We say, repent and we will show you mercy, maybe it goes the opposite way, we show mercy and the person repents.

Jesus shows mercy to the woman caught in adultery, then tells her, “Go, and sin no more.”

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Third Week of the Great Fast

The first half of the Great Fast tells us the stories of Adam and Eve and their children, and the flood of Noah. It is a story of the creation of a perfect world and how that has been marred by human sin. It tells of the end of paradise, “The Lord God therefore banished him from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he had been taken. He expelled the man, stationing the cherubim and the fiery revolving sword east of the garden of Eden, to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:23-24)” Today, however, begins a new story, and we sing, “No longer does the flaming sword guard the gates of Eden, for the tree of the cross has come to quench it wondrously. The sting of death and the victory of Hades have been driven out. For you, O my Savior, stood and called out to those in Hades: Enter again into paradise.”

The tree of life, which Adam and Eve attempted to seize against the will of God, is the tree of the cross. And the fruit of this tree is the Body of Christ, which we receive in Holy Communion :for the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.” We receive it together with his Holy Blood, “shed of the life of the world,” for today’s Gospel tells us, ““Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) Today we understand the words of our Lord, “ “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. (John 6:53)”

The Romans crucified thousands of people, many of whom were innocent. Yet of all these people, only our Lord Jesus Christ is remembered. This is because it is not the method of torture, nor the gruesome of his death that matters, but the infinite love that shone forth from his sacrifice on the cross. This is what is important for us, we may not have to die in such a painful or unjust way, but we do have to be united in the love that God shows forth on the cross. This is what it means “to take up the cross.” I personally think that for each and every one of us, it means denying for ourselves something that we crave very earnestly, a painful self-denial, if you will, for the sake of true deifying love for God and for others. This is why the cross, originally an instrument of torture and shame, has become for us the trophy of salvation. The joy of the Fast is that through God’s love we come to the fullness of life.

First Sunday of the Great Fast –Sunday of Orthodoxy

Christ and 2 ApostlesThis Sunday is called the “Sunday of Orthodoxy” because it commemorates the restoration of the Church’s teaching on making images (icons) of our Lord and the saints in the year 843. Before that, it was the Sunday of the Commemoration of the Holy Prophets. This explains the Gospel, Phillip witnesses to Nathanael: “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets, wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” This is our goal in the Great Fast – to find our faith in Jesus. The Great Fast was the training period for those about to be baptized, and it was a time for the whole community to rediscover its faith. Along the journey to Holy Week, we read especially from the book of Genesis and from Isaiah to guide us to Christ, who will perfect his covenant with us by his death and resurrection. This is why, in the Apostolic reading, we remember Moses, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David and Samuel and all the prophets. It was all for Jesus, “Yet all these, though approved because of their faith, did not receive what had been promised. God had foreseen something better for us, so that without us they should not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39)”

How, then, should we keep the Fast? Hebrews tells us: “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)” The Sunday of Orthodoxy helps us to fulfill this plan, for “keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus,” gazing upon his image, we are led to God, to faith, to life.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras