Forty Martyrs of Sebaste

Today we celebrate the forty martyrs of Sebaste, witnesses to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

In the year 320, 40 young men (likely around 20 years old) were executed for refusing to sacrifice to idols and to obey the Emperor’s command. These young men had been conscripted to serve in the army in present day Armenia. When it came time for them to sacrifice to idols, they refused. According to one version, there were originally 39 Christians who refused to obey this order, and upon seeing their bravery, a fortieth man, who was a pagan, threw down his weapons and his military belt (a capital offense, for its disrespect to the profession) and declared that he was to die with the Christians. They were martyred by being thrown naked in a lake.

The Troparion for the feast day

Together let us honor the holy company united by faith,
Those noble warriors of the Master of all.
They were divinely enlisted for Christ,
And passed through fire and water.
Then they entered into refreshment praying for those who cry:
Glory to him who has strengthened you!
Glory to him who has crowned you!
Glory to him who has made you wonderful, O holy Forty Martyrs!

Blessed Vitaliy Bayrak

It was on this date in 1907, that Father Vitaliy Bayrak was born. He was a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Basilian priest.

Having entered the monastic life and making his profession of vows, Bayrak was ordained a priest in the Monastery of Zhovkva on August 13, 1933. His abbot assigned him to do parish work and gave him several jobs in the monastery. In July 1941 he was elected and blessed as Abbot of the Monastery in Drohobych, to replace Fr. Yakym Senkivskyy who had been martyred by the Bolsheviks.

Father Bayrak was arrested by the NKVD on November 13,1945 and was sentenced to 8 years hard labor. He was beaten to death by a Communist camp guard on April 21,1946.

Father Bayrak was Beatified by Pope Saint John Paul II on June 27,2001. It is 112 years ago today since his birth. Depending on the liturgical calendar Blessed Vitaliy’s feast day could be 21 April or 16 May.

Blessed Vitaliy Bayrak, pray for us.

St Maximus the Confessor

Father John Meyendorff called St. Maximus the Confessor the “Father of Byzantine Theology.” Though he lived long after the Council of Chalcedon, he perhaps drew out the full importance of its confession that Jesus, the Son of God was one in essence with the Father, and yet also united in essence with us in his human nature. Here we see what the gospel stories of Christ’s birth and baptism are truly revealing to us. We call the incarnation, the assumption of the Word of God of human nature, a mystery. This is because we cannot wrap our human minds around this theological reality. To form mental concepts, which we might call “ideologies” are dangerous because they skew the reality. Before Maximus, some theologians put so much emphasis on Christ’s humanity that his divinity was compromised (for example, Arianism or Nestorianism).

On the other hand, some put so much weight on his divinity that Jesus ended up as simply God “rattling around” in a human vessel. These tensions still exist today as theological thinkers try to grasp what cannot be grasped and end up with an “incredible” (in the true sense of the word) Christ. St. Maximus taught that the Son of God was a full human being, with a created human soul, human mind and human will. This has practical consequences. If indeed the Word of God is incarnate in a human body and soul, mind and will, with a human genealogy (Mary was of the House of David) and a human history. If indeed he has interacted with us in word and sight (as a human being, we can make an image, “icon” of his appearance), then all that we are and have as human beings enters into a relationship with God that transforms us into sharers of the divine nature.

And so St. Maximus teaches us: “God made us so that we might become ‘partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Peter 1:4) and sharers in His eternity, and so that we might come to be like Him (cf. 1 John 3:2) through deification by grace …. Christianity is an entirely new way of being human.”

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Saints Athanasius and Cyril

Our Holy Fathers Athanasius and Cyril, Archbishops of Alexandria are honored by the Church today.

Our Holy Father Athanasius (whose name means “Resurrection”) was the architect of the Council of Nicea. He was a pillar of the truth of Christ, showing that Jesus is the Word of God, that “all things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:3-5)” In this way, he teaches us what really happens in our baptism, we are deified, so that by sharing in the death of Christ through baptism, we share also in his glory and resurrection. St. Athanasius, therefore, explained clearly and simply what is found in Scripture: “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God” (De inc. 54, 3: PG 25, 192B.)

We should not make a fundamental mistake about deification, that, because of our faulty ideas about God’s omnipotence and omniscience, we should become proud and over-bearing, as if this were to imitate God. Instead, God revealed humility in becoming a human being, and he displayed infinite love in laying down his life for our sakes. The true God-like person, then, would be humble, patient, compassionate and loving. That is what it truly means to be a baptized Christian, an authentic follower of Christ.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Holy Prophet Micah

Micah is the final prophet whose memory we celebrate in the Feast of Light. However, in many of his prophecies, he speaks out of darkness. He was an ancient prophet, of whom Jeremiah says: ““Micah of Moresheth used to prophesy in the days of Hezekiah, king of Judah, and he said to all the people of Judah: Thus says the Lord of hosts: Zion shall be plowed as a field, Jerusalem, a heap of ruins, and the temple mount, a forest ridge” (Jeremiah 26:18). Micah laments, in words that could be repeated in our own times: “The faithful have vanished from the earth, no mortal is just! They all lie in wait to shed blood, each one ensnares the other” (7:2). Yet for all that, he most clearly foretells the coming of the Prince of Peace.

Jesus is to come from the most humble town in Judah, “But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathaha least among the clans of Judah, From you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; Whose origin is from of old, from ancient times” (5,1), and the Hymn of Light for the Vigil of Theophany informs us, “In Bethlehem you were born in the flesh from a virgin, now you hasten to the Jordan to purify all the sins of those born on the earth, leading those in darkness to the light.” Micah tells us the Lord will come as both judge and man of peace, “He shall judge between many peoples and set terms for strong and distant nations; They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again” (3,3). He will be our shepherd and the guarantor of peace, “He shall take his place as shepherd by the strength of the Lord, by the majestic name of the Lord, his God; And they shall dwell securely, for now his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth: he shall be peace” (5:3-4).

Holy Prophet Micah, pray that we, as Christians, can be followers of Jesus and a people of peace.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

St. Basil the Great

A blessed new year to all of you! Christ is born! Happy 2019!!!

On January 1, in addition to Circumcision of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, we remember one of the great Fathers of the Church, St. Basil the Great. He is known as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs; Basil’s life and writings inspire the work we do in the Church. Pray for the Parish through the intercession of St. Basil, that God may bless our work in 2019.

From a biography by St. Nikolai Velimirovic, The Prologue of Ohrid:

St Basil was born in the reign of the Emperor Constantine, in about 330. While still unbaptised, he spent fifteen years in Athens studying philosophy, rhetoric, astronomy and other contemporary secular disciplines. Among his fellow-students were Gregory the Theologian and Julian, later the apostate emperor. When already of mature years, he was in the Jordan together with his former tutor Ebulios. He was Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia for nearly ten years, and died at the age of fifty.

A great champion of Orthodoxy, a great torch of moral purity and zeal for the Faith, a great theological mind, a great builder and pillar of the Church of God, Basil fully deserved his title “the Great”. In the Office for his Feast, he is referred to as a bee of the Church of Christ, bringing honey to the faithful but stinging those in heresy. Many of the writings of this Father of the Church have survived – theological, apologetic, on asceticism and on the Canons. There is also the Liturgy that bears his name. This Liturgy is celebrated ten times in the year: on January lst, on the Eves of Christmas and the Theophany, on every Sunday in the Great Fast with the exception of Palm Sunday, and on the Thursday and Saturday in Great Week.

St Basil departed this life peacefully on January l, 379, and entered into the Kingdom of Christ.

St Ambrose

St. Ambrose was the greatest Archbishop of Milan, at a time when it was the center of the Empire. He was elected bishop when he was still a catechumen and proved to be most competent—in administration as well as theology, and was a holy and sincere Christian. He had been a governor before and knew how “to talk to power.” When the Emperor Theodosius had 7,000 Thessalonians slaughtered over the assassination of their governor, he excommunicated him for his horrendous crime – and made it stick, bringing Theodosius to repentance.

As a theologian, he wrote about the incarnation of the Son of God: “And the Word was with God . This that he said is to be understood thus: The Word was just as was the Father; since He was together with the Father, He was also in the Father, and He was always with the Father. […] It is of the Word to be with the Father; it is of the Father to be with the Word, for we read that the Word was with God. So if, according to your opinion, there was a time when He was not, then, according to your opinion, He too was not in the beginning with whom was the Word. For through the Word I hear, through the Word I understand that God was. For, if I shall believe that the Word was eternal, which I do believe, I cannot doubt about the eternity of the Father, whose Son is eternal” (The Sacrament of the Incarnation of our Lord (III, 15-18, from the Vatican web site).

And again, Ambrose says, “He lay in the crib, that you might stand at the altar. He came to earth, that you might come to the stars” (Exposition of Luke 2.41).

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

St Nicholas Day

Blessed feast day of St. Nicholas!

 

Thy just works have shown Thee to thy flock as an example of faith, an image of meekness and a teacher of abstinence. By humility Thou didst achieve exaltation, and by meekness, riches. O Father Bishop Nicholas, intercede with Christ our God to save our souls.

(Troparion for St. Nicholas)

The Holy Prophet Habakkuk

Today is the feast of the Holy Prophet Habakkuk. As you know, the Byzantine Church pays more attention, liturgically speaking, to the Old Testament prophets.

The fourth Ode of the Canon of Matins is the Hymn of Habakkuk. The Irmosi of the Canon often describe Habakkuk as standing at a guard post (watchtower): “I will stand at my guard post, and station myself upon the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what answer he will give to my complaint. (Habakkuk 2:1) Thus, at Paschal Matins, we sing, “Let Habakkuk, speaking in behalf of God, stand with us at the divine watch; let him show us the brilliant Angel who proclaims: “Today, salvation comes to the world; for Christ, being Almighty, is risen.” What Habakkuk saw at his guard post was a vision of the coming of Christ. “God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. His glory covered the heavens, and his praise filled the earth; his splendor spread like the light.” Teman is the East, the sunrise from on high in the Christmas Troparion, “those who worshiped the stars have learned from a star to worship you, the Sun of Justice, and to know you, the Dawn from on high.” In the Greek Septuagint, Mount Paran becomes the “dark, shady mountain,” and was seen as a prophecy of the virgin birth of Christ from Mary.

The Christmas Irmos explicitly recognizes this: “O Christ, the rod from Jesse’s root and its flower, you blossomed from the virgin; praiseworthy one, from the overshadowed shady mountain. You came in the flesh from her who knew not man.” What was the result of Christ’s coming, Habakkuk foretells, “He stood and shook the earth; he looked and made the nations tremble. Ancient mountains were shattered, the age-old hills bowed low, age-old orbits collapsed.” The “orbits” were the established journeys of the stars, and indeed, at Christ’s birth, a new star appeared, leading the Magi to Bethlehem.

Habakkuk tells us that our lives will be shaken by the coming of Christ. We must follow the star, for by taking human nature and by rising from the dead, Christ has brought us life.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

St John Chrysostom

Today is the feast of Our Holy Father, Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, whose Divine Liturgy we pray most often. He is one of the most famous saints of both the Greek and the Latin Churches and one of the four great Doctors of the East. He is called “Golden-Tongued” because of his eloquence.

Saint John Chrysostom, pray for us.

Image: Mosaic of Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Sophia, Istanbul.