St. John Chrysostom fell asleep in the Lord

Today, the Church remembers that on September 14, 407, St. John Chrysostom fell asleep in the Lord.

We pray his Divine Liturgy for much of the liturgical year and read his sermons.

The image is of St. John Chrysostom from Haghia Sophia in Constantinople, a mosaic from the 11th century.

Martyrdom of St John the Baptist

Today is the feast of the beheading of St. John the Forerunner and Baptist.

Sacred Scripture reveals that John the Baptist was a cousin of Our Lord whose mission was to preach repentance to Israel in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. The famous rebuke of King Herod for his unlawful marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, landed John in prison and on the wrong end of Herodias’ admiration. Concluding Salome’s dance for the King’s birthday he promised to give her whatever she asked for, even up to half his kingdom. Salome asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Herod ordered the execution. We honor St. John the Baptist as the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets.

The Kondakion (in the Byzantine Liturgy) reads:

The beheading of the forerunner was indeed a dreadful crime, somehow fitting into the plan of God, for John thereby became the herald of the savior’s visit to those in hades. As for you, Herodias, cry your eyes out, bewail your deed, for you preferred murder to the law of God, rejecting eternal, everlasting life, for a false and passing one.

The Holy Anna, Mother of the Theotokos

Today we liturgically recall the Dormition of Saint Anna, Mother of the Most Holy God-bearer Theotokos –the grandmother of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

“And gazing towards the heaven, she saw a sparrow’s nest in the laurel, and made a lamentation in herself, saying: Alas! Who begot me? And what womb produced me? Because I have become a curse in the presence of the sons of Israel, and I have been reproached, and they have driven me in derision out of the temple of the Lord. Alas! To what have I been likened? I am not like the fowls of the heaven, because even the fowls of the heaven are productive before You, O Lord. …. And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood by, saying: Anna, Anna, the Lord has heard your prayer, and you shall conceive, and shall bring forth; and your seed shall be spoken of in all the world” (Protoevangelium of James, 3,4).

The story of Anna giving birth is found only in the apocryphal work, the Protoevangelium of St. James. The story, though, is the great tradition of Abraham and Sarah, where their childlessness was taken away in old age. This is true also of Zachary and Elizabeth – for those who were barren, Hod bestows an abundance of blessings, the giving of birth to people who are most important for our salvation.

St. Paul comments on this in today’s epistle, “For it is written: ‘Rejoice, you barren one who bore no children; break forth and shout, you who were not in labor; for more numerous are the children of the deserted one than of her who has a husband’” (Galatians 4:27). This is truly the hallmark of God’s saving action. Those who seem abandoned are those whom God blesses the most. Therefore, the greatest sin we can commit is despair, thinking that God cannot save us. Peter denied Christ, Judas betrayed Christ, but Peter wept in hope and Judas wallowed in despair. Today’s feast tells us that God never abandons those who put their faith in him.

Blessed is Anna, who became the grandmother of God!

Blessed Basil Hopko, martyr

Basil or Vasiľ Hopko (April 24, 1904—July 23, 1976) was a priest and bishop of the Slovak Greek Catholic Church. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II for his martyrdom under Communist occupation.

Hopko was born in the Rusyn village of Hrabské, Austria-Hungary in county Šariš, presently in eastern Slovakia. His parents, Basil and Anna née Petrenko, were landless peasants. While Hopko was still an infant, his father was struck by lightning and died. His mother left him in care of her father, while she emigrated to the United States in search of work. When Hopko was 7 he was sent to live with his uncle Demeter Petrenko, a Greek Catholic priest.

He attended the Evangelical gymnasium in Prešov, then Czechoslovakia, graduating with honors in 1923. Hopko studied at the Eparchial Seminary in Prešov. He had dreams of joining his mother in America, and of pursuing his priestly vocation there, but the cost of recurring health problems left him unable to afford to travel. He later wrote that when he finally decided to stay and to serve in his homeland, he was suddenly cured, and realized he had been given a sign about his calling. He was ordained a Greek Catholic priest on 3 February 1929.

He served as a parish priest (1929–1936) at the Greek Catholic parish in Prague, the Czechoslovak capital, where he was known for his focus on the poor, the unemployed, and students. His mother returned from the US after 22 years and rejoined her son in Prague, becoming his housekeeper at the parish rectory.

In 1936 he returned to teach in Prešov’s Eparchial Seminary, and was awarded the title of monsignor. He had already begun graduate studies at Charles University while in Prague, and he completed his Doctor of Theology in 1940 at Comenius University in Bratislava. In Prešov he headed the Eparchy’s publishing division, where he edited a monthly periodical.

After World War II, a growing Soviet Bolshevik influence caused Bishop Pavol Peter Gojdič of Prešov to ask the Vatican for an Auxiliary Bishop to help defend the Greek Catholic Church. Hopko was appointed to the post on 11 May 1947. The Communist take-over of Czechoslovakia wreaked havoc on the Greek Catholic Church. In 1950 it was officially abolished, and its assets were turned over to the Russian Orthodox Church. Gojdič was arrested and was imprisoned for life. Hopko was arrested on 28 April 1950 and kept on starvation rations and tortured for weeks. Eventually he was tried and sentenced to 15 years for the “subversive activity” of staying loyal to Rome. He was repeatedly transferred from prison to prison. His health, physical and emotional, failed, and in 1964 he was transferred to an old age home. He never recovered his health.

St Mary Magdalen

Today is the feast of St. Mary Magdalen

St. Mary Magdalen, Equal to the Apostles, Apostle to the Apostles, pray unto God for us! Happy feast to all our friends who have the name Mary, Maria, Magdalen!

Troparion — Tone 1

By keeping His commandments and laws, holy Mary Magdalene, / you followed Christ, Who for our sake was born of the Virgin, / and in celebrating your most holy memory today, / we receive forgiveness of sins by your prayers.

Kontakion — Tone 4

Podoben: “Today the Virgin…” / Standing before the Cross of the Savior, / suffering with the Mother of the Lord, / the most glorious Mary Magdalene / offered praise with tears. / She cried out: “What is this strange wonder? / He Who holds the whole creation in His hand chooses to suffer. / Glory to Your power, O Lord.”

Kontakion — Tone 3

Standing before the Cross of the Savior, / Suffering with the Mother of the Lord, / The most glorious Mary Magdalene offered praise with tears. / She cried out: What is this strange wonder? / He who holds the whole creation in His hand chooses to suffer: / Glory, O Lord to Your power!

Icon by Fr. Zinon

The Holy and Great Prophet Elijah

Today the Byzantine Church honors the memory of The Holy Great Prophet Elijah.

The Holy Great Prophet Elijah was one of the most important saintly figures for the Slav Peoples. In many cases, the peasant people lived in poverty and need from day to day. Elijah gave them hope, for he supplied for the needs of the widow of Zarephath in the time of drought:

“For the Lord, the God of Israel, says: The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth.” (1 Kings 17:14) The farmers depended on the weather for the health of their crops, and very often for their very lives, and it was the Great-Prophet Elijah who was able to call down rain from heaven. Moreover, he was the hope of the future, having ascended into heaven in a fiery chariot, he was awaited as the forerunner of Christ in his second coming. He is for us, a model and rule of faith in God and in Jesus, his Messiah.

ELIJAH THE MAN OF ZEAL – he called down fire from heaven to consume our lawful sacrifice and to destroy the false priests of Baal. Elijah cried out to the Lord: ““I have been most zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts, but the Israelites have forsaken your covenant. They have destroyed your altars and murdered your prophets by the sword. I alone remain, and they seek to take my life.” 1 Kings 19:10 and 14) Therefore, the unfaithful king called Elijah “the disturber of Israel”(1 Kings 18:17) We pray that Elijah will disturb us, arouse us to faith, and strengthen our zeal for the Lord.

ELIJAH THE GIVER OF LIFE – When the widow of Zarephath lost her son, Elijah restored him to life. “Then he stretched himself out upon the child three times and he called out to the Lord: “Lord, my God, let the life breath return to the body of this child.” The Lord heard the prayer of Elijah; the life breath returned to the child’s body and he lived.” (1 Kings 17:21-22)

ELIJAH THE MAN OF GOD – On Mount Horeb, Elijah stood in the presence of God. He experienced the glory of God, not in the storm or the fire or the earthquake, but in the soft, gentle breeze. (1 Kings 19:11-12) We pray that there might be enough peace in our lives that we can hear God’s voice and not drown it out with the noise of our pride and unrest.

The Holy Pre-Eminent Apostles Peter and Paul

Gods’ love, mercy and compassion shine forth most clearly in the feast of these two apostles. Peter was enthusiastic in his faith in Christ, “Peter said to him, ‘Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.’ And all the disciples spoke likewise. (Matthew 26:35)” When the trial came, however, Peter did deny Christ three times, and all the apostles, except one, ran out of fear. Yet Peter wept for his weakness, and his weakness turned to strength, though not of his own human power, but by the grace of God. For when he confessed Jesus to be the Messiah, the Lord told him: “Simon Peter said … ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father,’ (Matthew 16:16-17) and it was on this rock of faith that the Church was established.

Likewise, Saul closed his eyes to the truth, and persecuted Christians. But even as he was seeking Christians to persecute, the grace of God transformed his life, “On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He said, “Who are you, sir?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:3-6). It is the great Apostle Paul who later tells us: “[The Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). This is Christian faith: in weakness there is strength, in foolishness there is wisdom, in death, there is life.

This the world does not understand. Today, as we honor these pre-eminent apostles, we, too, pray, “O God of mercy, love and compassion, give me the gift of your Spirit for strength in faith and hope and love, and that I may also show love, forgiveness and compassion to my neighbor.”

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

St John the Theologian

[Today] On May 8, we celebrate one of the two feasts of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John, the brother of James. The other is on September 26, the day of his falling asleep. The fourth Gospel is attributed to John, and we can truly call it a “theo-logical,” for it witnesses most clearly to the mystery of the Incarnation, of the Word of God taking flesh in the womb of the Holy Theotokos for our salvation. It is the most sublime Gospel, and it gave John the title “Theologian.” 

The Byzantine Church have this gospel a certain priority, and it is read in the most joyful and glorious time of the year, from Pascha to Pentecost. This Gospel is the very essence of the apostolic witness, through which we come to faith in Christ, as indeed John foretold, when the risen Jesus says to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed,” (John 20:29) because we have all heard of the divinity of the Lord through the witness of the apostles. Some try to discredit Christian faith by pointing out that John’s Gospel was the last to be written, that the first Gospel, Mark, does not mention the divinity of Jesus, and that faith in the Incarnation is then a later Christian development. They do this by trying to fit the Gospels into a linear line, from the earliest to the latest, and it is easy to fall for this. 

However, the development of the Gospels in not linear, but they arise from different communities, and each has a vision of Christ. Indeed, does not St. Mathew’s Gospel proclaim the truth of the Trinity, where the risen Jesus proclaims, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). And – yes – there are many other witnesses to Jesus’ divinity in the epistles and apostolic writings. The letter to the Hebrews says, “[Jesus] who is the refulgence of [the Father’s] glory, the very imprint of his being, and who sustains all things by his mighty word” (Hebrews 1:3). Rejoice, therefore, in this holy season in the glory of the risen Christ so beautifully proclaimed by John. It is John who tells us, “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7).

St Anthony the Great

St. Anthony the Great, also called St. Anthony the Abbot (though he was a hermit) and St. Anthony of Egypt is commemorated on January 17. He is identified as the founder of desert monasticism, though the story of his life, particularly how he met St. Paul of Thebes, who preceded him into the desert, is a study of the search for Christian perfection. This story tells how he heard the gospel about the rich young man, to whom Jesus said, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Matthew 19:21). When Anthony heard this gospel, he immediately divested himself of all his possessions and went into the desert to seek Christian perfection. This is really the calling of all Christians, as Jesus commanded, “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:47). For this we are baptized, that we might seek Godly perfection. St. Anthony imitated Christ when he heard this gospel, and just as Jesus went out into the desert after his baptism by John, in order to foil the wiles of Satan, so, too, does Anthony go to the desert to conquer the evil passions exploited by the temptation of the devil.

The monastic calling is an intensification of our baptismal calling, the renunciation of all worldly concerns to find perfection in the grace of Christ. Therefore, in Eastern theology, consecration as a monastic (monk or nun) has been deemed a sacramental mystery, not a separate mystery, but as part of the mystery of repentance.

In a similar way, Holy Orders and Marriage are also considered sacramental mysteries, because they confirm the baptismal calling in a particular vocation of life. St. Anthony, then, is a model for our life in Christ through baptism, which is called enlightenment, the perfection of the wisdom that leads us to life. We pray, then, to our Holy Father Anthony, “Having clearly received immortality and eternal life, pray for my darkened soul to be enlightened by the light of grace, so that I may worthily praise you; for you bear the Three-fold Light, O Father Anthony! (Matins, Ode 1)” “O Anthony, father of fathers, you have been shown to be a light for those who share your way of life, having taught the pious to tread the paths of light; and you emit the flame and fire of lightning, consuming hordes of the demons. (Matins, Hymn of Light)”

St Theodosius

On the weekly liturgical calendar for this week you may have noticed that today’s saints is Theodosius, the Venerable Father and founder of monastic life lived in community.

He was known to heal the sick and being “extremely compassionate.”

Today, we need his witness and guidance in the manner in which we live our Christian life with others (family, friends, fellow parishioners, coworkers, and our enemies).

He died on this date in AD 529.

Here is a 2 minute video on St Theodosius introducing his life.