Protection of the Theotokos

There is only one God, one Creator, one Savior, one Redeemer. Yet this one God has chosen to be friends with his creation. As St. Paul told us, he humbled himself to become a man, like us in every way except sin. There are many ways he could have become a man, but he chose to be born of a woman who in her human nature, accepted completely the will of God, so that through her God could enter into our time and our story. Then, at Cana, it was his mother, a woman, who by her plea, guided God to make wine out of water, telling the stewards, and through them, saying to all of us, “Do whatever he tells you.” 

Today, we rejoice and celebrate in this human being, who through her will, God intervened in human life to bring us salvation. This is why we can celebrate her protection, why we can sing, “Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Savior, save us,” and why we can even pray, “Most Holy Theotokos, save us!” Glory to God, who has made us partakers in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Nativity of Mary

The Nativity of Mary
(Saturday, September 8)

“By Your Nativity, O Most Pure Virgin, / Joachim and Anna are freed from the reproach of childlessness (ὀνειδισμοῦ ἀτεκνίας); / Adam and Eve, from the corruption of death. / And we, your people, freed from the guilt of sin, celebrate and sing to you: / The barren woman gives birth to the Theotokos, the nourisher of our life!” (Kontakion-hymn of the Nativity of the Theotokos)

As those of us on the “New” Calendar celebrate the great feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos this Saturday, our attention is drawn to the whole topic of the “reproach of childlessness,” endured for decades by the Holy Virgin’s parents, Joachim and Anna. They were liberated from this “shame,” just as we were freed from the “guilt” of sin, by the birth of the Birth-Giver of God, the “only” child from a marriage that endured even as it was “reproached.”

Many of us can relate, on some level, both to the “guilt” and the “reproach” (often from the voices inside our own heads) of being unproductive, or not productive enough, in the ways we or others might expect us to be. We don’t “do” enough; we don’t “make” enough (money, for example); we procrastinate, and neglect, and find ourselves failing to check off all the items on our “To Do” list, at the end of the day. Or perhaps we are single or divorced, and feel that we’ve failed to “produce” the family we “should” have. What to do, with the human “guilt” and constant “reproach” we might carry around, as a result of this state of affairs?

Two things: 1. Faith, and 2. Gratitude. We embrace faith in a God Who does produce new life from otherwise-“barren” and unexpected places, in His own time, – for example, from a Virgin-womb, and from a stone Tomb just outside Jerusalem. In reliance on Him, we can move forward, and do move forward, even if our growth is not noticeable, or fast enough, to our minds at the moment. And we can embrace gratitude for things as they are, at the moment, in the here and now, in the gentle realism that is humility, rather than stare into the gaping hole of our “should have done’s” and “must do’s,” in constant dissatisfaction. Because, as they say, Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift, – that’s why it’s called a “present.” Give us “this day” our daily bread, I say to God today, and forgive us our debts, those “guilts” and “reproaches” we carry around, as we forgive our debtors. By the prayers of the Theotokos, Saviour, save us!

Blessing of Herbs and Flowers on the Dormition

Blessing of Herbs and Flowers on the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God –August 15

At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy tonight, Father Iura blessed herbs and flowers brought by the faithful for our feast. Why is this part of our Tradition?

Holy Tradition reveals to us that the Apostles, with the exception of St. Thomas, were transported mystically to Jerusalem in order to be with Mary, the Mother of God –the Theotokos– as she about to repose, and to be present at her burial. When the Apostle Thomas arrived the next day, the Apostles opened the tomb so that he could pay her reverence. The opened tomb revealed the body of the Virgin was missing, and filled with herbs and flowers interpreted as the sweet fragrance of Paradise. The faithful see this a certain sign of Mary’s purity and holiness.

Her passing is commemorated as the Dormition (the falling asleep) which is observed on August 15 preceded by a preparatory fast. The death of Mary’s body doesn’t last as she is believed to be body and soul, physically living the Most Holy Trinity in heaven.

As part of our celebration of Dormition, therefore, the priest blesses herbs and flowers which are used and kept in the homes. The blessing recalls for us the numerous cures and healings given to us by an extraordinary grace bestowed by the Mother of God. Holy Tradition and practice tells us that the herbs are used as natural medicine. During times of family strife or illness, it is a pious custom to place the flower petals in the house censer, together with the incense, and cense the whole house with it.

The Dormition of the Theotokos

“Come, all you ends of the earth, let us praise the blessed passing of the Mother of God. She delivers her sinless soul into the hands of her Son; through her holy Dormition, the world is given new life.” (Stichera at the Litija)

The feast of the birth of John the Baptist is sometimes called the summer Christmas, so also the Dormition (falling-asleep) of the Mother of God might be called the summer Pascha. In both these feasts the cosmic change accomplished by the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God is seen in the lives of human beings, for in Christ the order of mortality is overturned. In the mystery of Mary’s falling-asleep, we see our sinfulness is over-written by the sinless one, who in obedience turns over her “sinless soul” to the incarnate God. The Gospel today is a story not about Mary, the Theotokos, but about Mary of Bethany, but the words addressed by God to her sister Martha become iconic for all human beings: “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:42). What has she chosen? To sit at the feet of our Lord, to put Jesus at the center of her life, and to listen to him. This is Mary’s eternal mission, as she tells the stewards at the wedding in Cana: “Do whatever he (Jesus, her Son) tells you” (John 2:5). This is the mystery the ends of the earth celebrate today, for it has transformed the meaning of human life, and “through he holy Dormition, the world is given new life.”

Mediation by Archpriest David Petras

Celebrate the Dormition at St Michael’s

On Wednesday, August 15, Church celebrates feast of The Dormition of Our Holy Lady, The Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary (a Holy Day of obligation).

The Divine Liturgy will be served:

9:00 a.m. (in Ukrainian) with the Blessing of flowers with Myrovann

7:00 p.m. (in English) with the Blessing of flowers with Myrovann

Bring herbs and flowers for blessing at the Liturgy as is traditional.

Forefeast of the Dormition of Mary, the Mother of God

Dance with joy, O peoples! / Clap your hands with gladness! / Gather today with fervor and jubilation; / sing with exultation. / The Mother of God is about to rise in glory, / ascending from earth to heaven. / We ceaselessly praise her in song as truly Theotokos. (Troparion, Tone 4)

Today the universe dances with joy at your glorious memorial, / and cries out to you, O Mother of God: / “Rejoice, O Virgin, pride of Christians!” (Kontakion, Tone 4)

We ought to attend to the highlighted portions of the above verses!

The Dormition Fast begins today

We Byzantine Catholics prepare for the great feast of the Dormition of the Holy Theotokos (Assumption of the BVM) on August 15 by a special fast.

There is the venerable practice of preparing oneself for the Feast, hence some of us observe the Dormition Fast. This fast is one of the four fasting seasons of the Byzantine church year. The spiritual practices are those spoken of in the Sermon on the Mount: prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and forgiveness. Committed Christians do these things all year long; they are not limited to one or another time of the year. During fasting seasons we simply do them to a greater degree.

“Traditionally the Fast begins on August 1 with a special procession with the life-giving cross and a blessing of water. When Constantinople was the capitol of a Christian empire, it was the custom to carry the relic of the Holy Cross throughout the city every day of the Fast.”

In the Pastoral Guide of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the USA we read:

The Dormition Fast (Spasivka) begins on August I and lasts until the eve of the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary (August 14), inclusively.

Art. 474 – General rules governing abstinence:

Meat is to be understood as including not only the flesh but also those parts of warm-blooded animals that cannot be melted down, e.g., the liver, lungs, blood, graves, etc.

Although it is not the authentic practice of the Tradition. the meat of fish and crustaceans may be eaten, as well of those mammals, that live constantly in water, as, e.g., whales.

Dairy Products are to be understood as comprising products derived from mammals and birds, but not regarded as meat, e.g., cheese, lard, butter, milk, and its by-products, eggs, etc.

Fats of plant origin, e.g., those derived from olives, coconuts, seeds of the sunflower and of the pumpkin, may be used.

Voluntary penance, prayers for the intentions of the hierarchs of the Church, Bishop of Rome, the Major Archbishop, the Metropolitan, and the Eparchial Bishop; voluntary offerings to the Church, the seminaries, the Church in Ukraine, self-denial of alcohol, smoking, attendance at entertainment, etc., may be supplementary only with permission of a confessor. Bread and water alone is a good fast.

Priests who possess a pastoral assignment are empowered to grant dispensations or relaxation from the laws of abstinence to individual persons as well as to individual families. The following are exempt from abstinence:

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!

Patriarch approves feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help

The Head of the UGCC issued a decree on proclamation of the Feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help

The Head of the UGCC, His Beatitude Sviatoslav, approved the decision about introducing the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, which was concluded by the Patriarchal Liturgical Commission and handed over to the Primate for familiarization and proclamation.

The decree of the proclamation of the Feast is issued in Kyiv, at the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ on Wednesday, June 20.

“We, by our authority, with our decree – BA 17/454 of December 11, 2017 of God – made it known to the people of God, having also decided on its celebration on the first Sunday of July. The Patriarchal Liturgical Commission was instructed to work on the liturgical texts of this holiday,” says in the document.

“In accordance with the provisions of the section” Liturgical Texts,” of the Instructions for the submission of liturgical texts, their reprints and translations (e.g., the Messenger of the Supreme Archbishop of the Kyiv-Halych UGCC 2013, p. 114), we approve and declare ad experimentum the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help for the term of three years,” says in the Decree, which takes effect on June 21, 2018.

It is worth noting that the official proclamation of the holiday and celebrations on this occasion will be attended by the Metropolitans and Bishops of the UGCC, representatives of the fraternities of Our Mother of Perpetual Help of Ukraine and numerous faithful.

It should be added that on Sunday, July 1, the Head of the UGCC, His Beatitude Sviatoslav will visit Ternopil on the occasion of the pastoral visit, and solemnly proclaim the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, which the believers will celebrate each year on the first Sunday of July. The Head of the UGCC will lead the Hierarchical Holy Liturgy in the temple of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Danylо Halytsky boulevard, 1B). The Liturgy begins at 11:00.

Department of Information of the UGCC