St. Elijah the Prophet

Today, July 20, we celebrate the first man on the moon, July 20, 1969. It was the Feast of St. Elijah the Prophet, who also ascended into the heavens in a fiery chariot. Who says there is not a cosmic connection!

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.

Mother Maria Skobtsova of Paris

Although the Orthodox Church honors Mother Maria Skobtsova of Paris as a saint, and not as of yet, the Catholic Church, she is a pivotal Christian who needs exposure among the Catholics. A true saint of the 20th century.

The historical note reads: “On January 18, 2004, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul recognized Mother Maria Skobtsova as a saint along with her son Yuri, the priest who worked closely with her, Fr. Dimitri Klépinin, and her close friend and collaborator Ilya Fondaminsky. All four died in German concentration camps.”

One important excerpt from her biography in prison that some day, I can hope to actually apply to us:

“She was on good terms with everyone. Anyone in the block, no matter who it was, knew her on equal terms. She was the kind of person who made no distinction between people [whether they] held extremely progressive political views [or had] religious beliefs radically different than her own. She allowed nothing of secondary importance to impede her contact with people.”

Recommended is Jim Forest’s appreciative essay, “Mother Maria of Parish: Saint of the Open Door.”


St. Macrina

The Byzantine Church liturgically recalls Macrina (the Younger)  (c. 330 — 19 July 379), a nun in the Early Christian Church. The churches, East and West, honor her witness.  Her younger brother, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, composed her biography focusing heavily on her virginity and asceticism. The Church considers Macrina as a significant personage  especially after Nyssa basically set the standards for what it means to be  a holy Christian woman. He believed that a life of virginity reflected the “radiant purity of God.”

Our venerable mother was one of 9 children; several of her siblings were notables, two of whom were the Cappadocian Fathers.

The New Skete monks write of Macrina in this way:

Macrina was the older sister of the saints Basil and Gregory. After the early death of her husband, Macrina devoted herself to the education of her younger brothers. It was at this time, also, that she took up the monastic life, and it was due to her influence that her brothers learned the value of the spiritual life, and dedication to the service of the Church.

The mother of this remarkable family, St. Emelia, guided a small community of nuns on the family estate in Pontus. Macrina succeeded her mother as the head of the monastery, and in time founded other communities for women.

She spent her last days with her brother, Gregory, the bishop of Nyssa. The funeral oration he said over his sister is a moving testament to the love and esteem not only of a brother, but also one of many who were spiritually enriched by her example.

In literature, Gregory of Nyssa composed a “Dialogue on the Soul and Resurrection” (peri psyches kai anastaseos), entitled ta Makrinia (P.G. XLVI, 12 sq.), to commemorate Macrina

The Holy Vladimir

The holy Vladimir the Great, grand prince of Kiev and equal of the apostles, in baptism named Basil.

Vladimir descended from the Slavic-Viking line of Rurik. He began his princely career in Novgorod, and eventually, by cunning as much as by prowess, he took over his older brother’s inheritance and became Grand Prince of Kiev and the whole land of Rus’. His motives for becoming Christian were complex, but must have included the example of his grandmother, Olga, the conversion of a Viking cousin who proved Christianity could be a manly religion, and the prospects of allying himself to the Byzantine Empire through marriage. Nonetheless his decision was a momentous one, for it affected his entire domain. The sincerity of his reception of the Gospel is borne out by the effect it had on his rule. At a time when Europe and even the Byzantines were barbaric in punishing criminals, and even slight offenders, Vladimir outlawed torture, mutilation, and capital punishment. He sent food from his own stores to the poor and the sick, and organized social services unknown to any other city in Europe.

Much of the prince’s life was embellished by the legends of the early chronicles and epics have colored the liturgical texts. Tradition relates that he sent envoys to observe the organized religions of his prominent neighbors. What they experienced in Constantinople has remained a by-word for Orthodox liturgy. After attending services in Hagia Sofia, they reported to Vladimir: “We did not know whether we were in heaven or on earth!” In 988 a mass baptism was held in the Dnieper river by command of the prince, and Greek and Bulgarian missionaries began to spread the Gospel throughout Kievan Rus’.

Russians and Ukrainians have celebrated the millennium of this event, and our own church in America can trace its roots to that first taste of “heaven on earth.”

Vladimir died on this date in 1015 with a prayer on his lips. By mid-thirteenth century he was honored as a saint. In 1313 the first church was dedicated to him, in Novgorod, where he was first prince.

Meditation by New Skete Monks

St Athanasius of Athos

On the liturgical calendar the Church gives us a venerable father, Athanasius of Athos.   His biography is interesting and useful (and a brief one follows) as it is hoped that it would assist all of us, clergy and laity alike, in following Christ more closely in the spiritual life. You may like to recall that among the many things about life in the monastery it is a more intense living of the Gospel and the tradition of the Church.

Athanasius was born near the Black Sea in 925. He was orphaned at a young age and taken to Constantinople, where he was exposed to education, imperial bureaucracy, and monasticism. He chose the life of the monk. After four years he was allowed to live in a hermitage. His hegumen appointed him spiritual father to his two nephews, Nicephoras, who was later to become emperor, and Leo. Athanasius knew that this would lead to unpleasant political entanglements, and he managed to escape to Mt Athos. At that time, the Holy Mountain was only sparsely populated by hermits. The emperor, however, discovered his whereabouts and became Athanasius’ patron. The hermit became hegumen with a cenobium chartered as a ruling monastery.

Since the task of leader was now unavoidable, Athanasius organized the lavra, adapting the Studite Typicon to his wilderness situation. In the years that followed, three other monasteries were built on Mt Athos, and Athanasius was made archimandrite over the entire peninsula. This enraged the old hermits who had settled there in hopes of preserving Athos as a desert in the primitive sense, and who wanted the territory free from the encroachments of the imperial establishment which the lavra represented. A few even attempted to murder Athanasius. Eventually, the hermits gave up the fight and took refuge on the ragged tip of Athos, where the stone mountain meets the sea. It is here that most of the Athonite anchorites live today. Athanasius died on July 5, 1003, when a stone cupola which was being built caved in upon him.

Athanasius began an era that made Athos a wellspring of monasticism, one which has lasted over a thousand years. Today there remain twenty monasteries, with numerous sketes and hermitages: an uninterrupted tradition witnessing to the strength, vitality, and variety of Eastern monasticism.

Saint Athanasius of Athos, pray for us.


New Martyrs of Ukraine feast

Today is the feast of the New Martyrs of Ukraine

Blessed Bishop and Martyr Vasyl Velychkovsky, and companions, pray for us.

Troparion, Tone 7:
O blessed martyrs of Ukraine! * You did not tear apart the integrity of the Body of Christ, * but handed over your bodies to torment: * you did not submit to the flattery of the enemy, nor did you renounce our unity with Peter. * From your earthly homeland of Ukraine, together with the Universal Church, * receive the gracious gift of this ancient hymn: * “O holy martyrs, * you suffered gloriously and have received your crowns; * on our behalf entreat the Lord, ** to have mercy on our souls.”

(4 of those saints are former pupils of the Pontifical Greek College, Rome)

READ this article by our parishioner, John Burger…

Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Pagan antiquity had festivals marking the winter and summer solstices. The Christian calendar absorbed these feasts, observing the birth of Christ in December on the shortest day, and that of John the Baptist in June on the longest day. From this day on, the sun slowly sinks from its zenith for six months, and begins its ascent again at Christmas. In the eyes of the Fathers, this solar rhythm is an expression of John’s words: “He must grow greater, while I grow smaller.”

The role of the prophet and forerunner began with John’s birth which Luke narrates with the same paradoxical circumstances of barrenness bearing fruit as Old Testament figures like Sarah, Hannah, and others. The name, John, with the dramatic details of its imposition, means The Lord has shown favor. Like other heavenly bestowed names in Scripture, it underlines his prophetic role in the history of salvation, which is to prepare for the immediate coming of the Messiah. Zachary’s canticle amplifies the meaning of his son’s name and parallels the canticle of the Theotokos.

Meditation by the New Skete Monastery

The Holy Apostle Jude

Today is the feast of The Holy Apostle Jude

“Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” Judas, not the Iscariot, said to him, “Master, then what happened that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (John 14:21-23).

Have we ever been mid-identified to our embarrassment? The Apostle Jude has one line in the Gospels, “Master, then what happened that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” but in asking this question he is identified by who he is not: “Judas, not the Iscariot.” Perhaps then it is fitting that Jesus answered Judas with words of God’s love, that to those who love him by keeping his commandments, “my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.

In every Liturgy, we pray that we not “give you a kiss as did Judas,” but that we not be like Judas Iscariot, but like Judas, the Lord’s faithful brother, that God may dwell in us. We must hear the words written by the disciple who did not betray Jesus, “But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in the love of God and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” (Jude 20-21).

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras


New Romanian martyrs

Icon of the seven newly beatified Romanian Greek-Catholic Hieromartyrs:

–Blessed Ioan Balan
–Blessed Ioan Suciu
–Blessed Vasile Aftenie
–Blessed Valeriu Traian Frentiu
–Blessed Tito Livio Chinezu
–Blessed Alexandru Rusu
–Blessed Iuliu Hoss

Holy New Martyrs of Romania, pray to God for us!

Pope Francis presided over Divine Liturgy Blaj, Romania –the heartland of the country’s Greek-Catholic Church– on Sunday, June 2, where he declared “blessed” seven of its bishops, including one cardinal. The Blesseds had died a martyr’s death in the decades following the suppression of the Eastern-rite Romanian Catholic Church in 1948.

Bishops Iuliu Hossu, who had been imprisoned in 1954 and died in hospital in 1970; Vasile Aftenie, who died in prison 1950; Ioan Balan, imprisoned 1950-54, he died in a monastery in 1959; Valeriu Traian Frentiu, who died in prison 1952; Ioan Suciu, died in prison 1953; Tito Livio Chinezu, died in prison 1955; and Alexandru Rusu, who died in prison 1963. Paul VI had made Bishop Hossu a cardinal but at his request only revealed this elevation after his death.

All Saints

Over the last fifty-some days, we have celebrated the Paschal mystery – the central mystery of our faith, from our Lord’s crucifixion, resurrection, ascension to his sending the Holy Spirit on his followers. This Sunday, after all that has been proclaimed, we add a great “Amen!” “So be it!” This “Amen” will be great only if we make it more than just words but also actions. The Holy Spirit came upon the disciples that they might be witnesses to the Paschal mystery – our Lord’s death and resurrection, and the Greek word for “witness” is “martyr.”

This Sunday was originally called the Sunday of All Martyrs – because those who witnessed to Christ had to be ready to give their lives for him. Many Christians did and still do. This is what it means to be a saint – the readiness to give our lives for the Lord. Therefore the Lord says in today’s Gospel, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. (Matthew 10:32)” We should not seek to be killed for the gospel, but our priorities should be: 1) God; 2) God’s people, the “others” in our lives and 3) ourselves. Being human, and living in an individualistic society, we often reverse these priorities: 1) ourselves, no. 1; 2) others and 3) God, and putting God third is a practical atheism. We often have the misconception that to be a “saint” means only a life of misery and self-denial, but people who put their own pleasure and comfort first usually end up all “messed up.”

A saint is really someone who has their life in the right order, and so is full of the joy of the Spirit: “a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:2).

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras