Presentation of the Theotokos into the Temple

“And so the child of God then enters [and] stands among the horns [of the altar], after both her begetters had given thanks and the priest was about to give a blessing. Again her parents cry to the priest, ‘Receive the one who will receive the immaterial and incomprehensible fire; receive the one who ill be designated as the receptacle of the Son and Word of the Father and only God; take the one who destroyed the reproach of our childlessness and sterility; usher into the sanctuary the one who will introduce us into our ancient inheritance of paradise; take charge of the one who, in her own birthgiving, will take charge of our own cowardice that is bringing in the power of death and the tyranny of Hades; … consecrate to God the one who has consecrated us, as a divinely perfected [being] for the expectation of [our] hopes.”

Wider than Heaven, SVS Press, 2008, pp. 153 154.

Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple

Tomorrow, November 21, is a holy day. The Divine Liturgy will be served at 9:00 a.m. in both English and Ukrainian.

Today is the prelude of the benevolence of God and the herald of the salvation of mankind. For the Virgin openly appears in the temple of God, and foretells Christ to all: Let us also with full voice exclaim to her: Rejoice, fulfillment of the Creator’s plan!

Dormition 2020

“When we hear someone speak about the Ark of the Covenant from the Old Testament, oftentimes we think of modern depictions, of movies, or books, and especially the biblical accounts that present us with a fearful, awesome, and even wrathful picture. We recall that about the wooden box, which was covered with pure gold, God spoke to Moses from the mercy seat in between two cherubim. … How then might we, who are grass and made of earthen clay, begin to discourse and contemplate the living Ark of God, the Most-holy Theotokos, who was the fulfillment and the awesome reality of which the Ark of the Old Testament was merely a shadow? … This present awesome and glorious mystery is something which is not a subject for speculation, for human logic, or for vain tampering. It is a tremendous mystery that is hidden and only revealed when it is humbly received from within the light of the depths of the Church’s tradition. This feast is immensely joyful and life-giving for those who with child-like faith and without argument seek to enter into its festivities. … Those who have prepared themselves with fasting and prayer and by being present at today’s festivities, the tomb of the Mother of God is joy; it is life and it is a light-covered mountain for our spiritual ascent today.

Today she, like the Ark of the Old Covenant, goes before us as a banner of victory, a wall of defense and forerunner of the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to all mankind. Having now crossed the frontier which separates us from the age to come, through her bodily ascent to heaven, she has become the highest of all creation, and the realization of the end for which humanity was created. She is the fulfillment of all beauty and virtue and is a universal advocate for all before the throne of God, now and at the second coming.” (Acquiring the Mind of Christ: Embracing the Vision of the Orthodox Church, Archimandrite Sergius (Bowyer), pp. 129-131)

The Dormition of the Mother of God

Our Summer Pascha

Since August 1, we have been preparing for the great feast of Mary, the Mother of God through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

“This period is so rich in opportunities for prayer and worship that it has traditionally been called our “Summer Pascha.” The Transfiguration celebrates Christ as the radiant Light of the Father’s glory while in the Dormition we see Christ, who trampled down Death by His death, take His Mother into the light of His resurrection. In many churches a service resembling the Matins of Holy Saturday is held in which the shroud of the Theotokos is carried in procession to recall her burial.”

The bilingual Divine Liturgy will be served on Saturday, August 15, at 9:00 a.m. with the Blessing of Herbs. and Flowers. The Liturgy will be livestreamed.

The Dormition Fast begins today

The Dormition Fast runs from August 1- August 14

Here is a repost of something we posted previously for this liturgical fast:

“Father,” someone once asked their priest, “I have a difficult time observing the Dormition Fast. What should I do?”

“Well,” the priest responded, “just keep the first week, and then keep the second week, that should be enough.”

Is this acting a bit smart?

But there is much truth here. As we know, the Dormition Fast is just a total of two weeks. It’s an intense and necessary two weeks as the Church gathers together at the death bed of Mary, the ever-Virgin Mother of God.

Our Holy Church teaches us, that the gesture of those whom we love is near death: we ought to stop in our tracks and gather at their bedside. Today, we find ourselves at a nursing home, hospice or even the hospital.

The Apostles (except Thomas) and those with them had been scattered across the world spreading the Gospel were miraculously gathered together at the bedside of the Church’s Mother to bid her farewell from this life.

This is good spiritual advice: “We ought to keep this fast as carefully and attentively as possible because we love God’s Mother. She helps us, she loves us, and with the boldness of a mother she intercedes on our behalf to her Son and our God. It is not that Christ does not know our needs, but, because that is what a loving mother does!”

Are you convinced to keep the Dormition Fast? Here are a few tips:

Go to Church. Run to Church. We will be open for business. The feast of our Lord’s Transfiguration always falls in the midst of the fast.

Pray. Yes, pray. That you come to Church you will surely be praying, but, consider intensifying your daily devotions. Look in your prayer books for special prayers that you can add to God’s Mother during this season. Maybe even keep it up after the 14 days!

Fast. We got the whole way to #3 without even mentioning food. Do your best to abstain from meat and dairy as you are able. The Church provides strict directives as they always do, but, work together as a family to come up with a plan. At the least, do more than you have done in the past.

Read. Pick up for meditation the Bible; read a few paragraphs of the Catechism, “Christ Our Pascha”, read a biography of a saint: Metropolitan Sheptytsky, St. Nectarios, St. Mary of Paris; read a spiritual book like, “How to Be a Sinner” by Peter Bouteneff; read an account of the Virgin Mary’s passing and bodily assumption to heaven: “The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God” by Saint John Maximovitch. It is short only 70 pages.

Re-Consecration of the USA to Our Lady

We would like to make you aware of the attached letter from Archbishop Jose Gomez, President of the USCCB, regarding the Re-Consecration of the United States to Our Lady, under the title of Mary, Mother of the Church, on 1 May, in union with the Bishops of Canada.

This act of consecration is an occasion to pray for Our Lady’s continued protection of all those who face the effects of the corona pandemic.

The bishops invite all to join in this act of re-consecration of our nation to Mary, Mother of the Church.

The prayers will be made available soon.

Annunciation to Mary

Blessed feast of the Annunciation
The oldest surviving icon of the Annunciation is found in the Catacomb of Priscilla on the Via Salaria in Rome, Italy, and dates from the second half of the second century. Priscilla is thought to have been a well-to-do Roman who converted to Christianity and was martyred. These Christian catacombs, along with many others found surrounding Rome, are a treasury of early Christian iconography.

The Maternity of the Holy Anna

December 8 (December 9) THE MATERNITY OF THE HOLY ANNA

The conception of the all-holy virgin Mary in the womb of Anna is celebrated on December 9 in the Byzantine tradition, for a natural reason, that the Eastern ancients thought a girl was in the womb one day less than a boy. The [Ukrainian Catholic Church in America celebrates the feast on December 8] Ruthenian Church in America, celebrates the feast together with the Roman Church because she is the patron of the United States.

It is clear that this is a preparation for the birth of Christ on Christmas, for the first sticheron of the feast begins: “The barren Anna leaped for joy when she gave birth to Mary the Virgin who in turn will give birth in the flesh to God the Word.” Mary, the daughter of Anna and Joachim by way of natural birth is to be the temple of the Word of God incarnate for our sake and for our salvation.

The Eastern and Western Churches put the accent on different aspects of the feast. In the East, we celebrate the miracle of God taking away the barrenness of Anna’s womb. The Protoevangelium of James portrays the sadness of Joachim and Anna. Joachim lamented, “I have searched whether I am the only one who has not begotten offspring in Israel, and I have found of all the righteous that they had raised up offspring in Israel.” Anna wept, “I will bewail my widowhood, and bewail my childlessness.” (1,3 and 2,1) Two angels came, one to Joachim and another to Anna with a divine message that they would bear a child, even in their old age. When God takes away an emptiness, he fills us more than our faith can grasp, and they gave birth not only a child, but to the new Ark of God’s covenant with us. 

The Western Church, on the other hand, puts the accent on Mary’s purity from all sin from her conception, defined by Pope Bl. Pius IX in 1848 as the Immaculate Conception. The theology behind this is that the incarnation of the sinless Word of God must come from a sinless temple, the womb of Mary which was never touched by sin, even from her conception.

It is unfortunate that this dogma has become a bone of contention between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Both believe in the ancestral sin, but in different ways, so that for the Orthodox the main curse of the sin of Adam and Eve is death, while for the Catholics, it is original sin. May we seek unity and not division. Most Orthodox theologians do believe that the “ancestral sin” has infected the human race, but might disagree about the way it does this. In our dialogue, we must seek a mutual understanding, perhaps in the words of Orthodox theologians who saw a “pre-purification” in Mary. “And in every way [the Lord] became a man, save sin, for he had been conceived from a virgin, after she had been pre-purified with respect to soul and body through the Holy Spirit.” (Gregory the Theologian, Homily 38 on the Theophany) or St. John Damascene, who wrote, “O all-blessed loins of Joachim, from which the all-pure seed was sown. O epic womb, in which the all-holy infant was born, after she was formed, and a little later increased by nutriments from Anne. Her (Anne’s) belly conceived in itself an ensouled heaven, wider than the wide space of heaven.” (Both quotes from Christian Kappes’ book, The Immaculate Conception 21 and 60)

Chrysostom on Mary

All the faithful come before you
Mary, look upon us
O Mary, mother of our God
Rejoice, O purest mother
Virgin, we beseech you Promise
We hasten to your patronage
When the angel came
Where our Mother reigns in.

The Nativity of the Theotokos and Us

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

The services of the great feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, celebrated this Sunday (NC), are full of difficult theological concepts, like “corruption of death” and “subjection to (liability for) sin,” referring to our human state before Christ. Even more perplexing, perhaps, is the mention of Christ annulling our “curse” in another well-known hymn of the feast: “By annulling the curse (καὶ λύσας τὴν κατάραν) He bestowed a blessing, by destroying death, He gave us eternal life,” it says in the Troparion-hymn. What does it all mean?

I am given to understand the meaning of these terms first and foremost through a story. It is the personal story of Saints Joachim and Anna, and their “disgrace of barrenness” or “childlessness.” And here’s what their story teaches me: Before God intervened and stepped into our picture, they, like me, were unable to “live” to their full potential. Without the Source of Life stepping into our nature, separated from Him through “sin” (a loss of focus), and a “curse” (a loss of “blessing” or “ev-logia,” a “good word”), we are cut off from His creative energies, which allow us to become truly productive and truly human. He becomes human, through His Most-Pure Mother, so that I can become my true self, freed from paralyzing “barrenness” and capable of giving birth to His word in my world.

So today “the barren woman gives birth,” as He bestows His same blessing on an ever God-Bearing Church. Let me embrace this blessing, by the intercessions of the Blessed Among Women, amen!

Meditation by Sr. Vassa