Holy Prophet Zechariah

“Thus says the Lord: I have returned to Zion, and I will dwell within Jerusalem; Jerusalem will be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the Lord of hosts, the holy mountain. Thus says the Lord of hosts: Old men and old women will again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of old age (Zechariah 8:1-2).

Zechariah was the prophet of the restoration of Jerusalem. In faith, we see this restoration in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was born in Bethlehem, in the environs of Jerusalem. He fulfilled the prophecy, “I have returned to Zion, and I will dwell in Jerusalem.” He is the light of the city. In the Feast of the Encounter, we see our Lord in Jerusalem, in its spiritual center, the temple and we see Zechariah’s prophecy fulfilled again. “Old men and old women will again sit in the streets of Jerusalem,” and in the present feast we see the old man Simeon and the old woman Anna in Jerusalem welcoming the coming of the Lord. Zechariah sees the Lord coming to Jerusalem as its king, prophesying Palm Sunday, “Exult greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! Behold: your king is coming to you, a just savior is he, humble, and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).

Zechariah thus sets the seal on our pilgrimage in the feast of lights, as we come to the spiritual Jerusalem, welcoming Jesus as our Savior, our priest and our king. To find life in him is the continual renewal of our faith.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Sunday of the Last Judgment

Today, the Church begins her preparations for the Great Fast ( aka, Great Lent).

In the coming weeks we will delve into what the Great Fast means for us.

Archpriest David Petras writes,

In our preparation for the Great Fast, we must notice a theme emerging. In the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, the Pharisee was not justified because he failed to see the image of God in the tax collector. (“I thank you that I am not like this tax collector,” Luke 18:11). In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the older son was not justified because he failed to see the image of God in the prodigal returned home. (“But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him,” Luke 15:20).

Today, in the final judgment, the Lord says to the condemned goats, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it (show charitable works of mercy) to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Matthew 25:45). In the popular mind, Lent is a time for self-denial. Stop, that’s it. But why? Because if we do not deny ourselves, we cannot see the image of God in the other, in each and every other human being that he has created.

Possibly the Last Judgment was commemorated on this Sunday, because it is the conclusion of a “Church Year.” Next Sunday, Cheesefare Sunday, we begin again with the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall.

The Great Fast is our journey through the Old Testament, which is concluded with the New Covenant: the Mystical Supper, the Crucifixion and the Glorious and Life-giving Resurrection of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. We then see through the lens of the Resurrection how God’s plan is fulfilled in Christ in the Gospel of John the Theologian (until Pentecost), in the Gospel of Matthew (from Pentecost to the Exaltation of the Cross), and in the Gospel of Luke (from the Exaltation of the Cross until the Sunday of the Prodigal Son).

Then on this Sunday, we celebrate the last and final and eschatological mystery of the Final Judgment, in which God brings to completion and perfection the whole human story. That may be why, on the day before the Sunday of the Last Judgment, we remember the death of each human being, which is the completion and perfection of our own individual story and our inclusion in God’s ultimate divine plan. Interestingly, the Roman Church read the Gospel of the Final Judgment on the last Sunday before Advent, which began their liturgical year.

The Jesus Prayer

Today is a great day to learn more about The Jesus Prayer (“Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”), THE prayer for good Christians. Orthodox Metropolitan Kallistos Ware gives a fine presentation.

Listen to the presentation by clicking here.

What better way to spend some time on the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee than to learn about this prayer!!!

Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee: the Connection

The journey of the feast of lights was a journey to specific holy places. It is a journey which we now make in spirit, in order to find the light of Christ. Soon after this journey, we begin another journey, going with our Lord to Jerusalem, as he foretold in the Gospel of St. Luke: “When the days for his being taken up (which John calls his glorification) were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” During the Great Fast, then, we make another journey that ends in the holy city of Jerusalem, as Jesus said, “Yet I must continue on my way today, tomorrow, and the following day, for it is impossible that a prophet should die outside of Jerusalem” (Luke 13:33). But his death is his glorification, “by death he tramples death,” and it is the way to resurrection, to a resurrection promised to all. Our journey likewise ends in life (resurrection) and in light, as the Gospel of Paschal Sunday, the Day of Resurrection says, “ The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

The journey to light in the Christmas – Theophany – Encounter cycle ends in the temple, where the incarnate temple of God enters into the holy Temple, and there is proclaimed to the world by Simeon and Anna, who witness to his glory. The journey of the Great Fast then begins in the Temple, and two men go there to pray. One witnesses to pride and self-righteousness, the other to humility and repentance. The whole of the Great Fast is for us to make our choice on which to imitate. To be a Christian means to hear our Lord’s warning, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever exalts himself will be exalted.” This is the central meaning of the Great Fast, as our Lord invites us, “Come and see.”

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Sunday of Zacchaeus

1 Timothy 4:9-16; Luke 19:1-10

Though there is no special office for this Sunday, it is commonly seen as the beginning of our preparation for the Feast of our Lord’s Resurrection. Today we must be Zacchaeus. When Jesus came to Jericho, “Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way.” Today is where we start our search for God, who is coming to take away the sin of the world. Today we must be filled with the desire to see God, as was Zacchaeus. Today we must acknowledge our sins, for Jesus is coming to St. Stephens in Phoenix, today he is coming into our homes, more exactly, into the home of our heart. What a contrast between Zacchaeus and the Blind Man of last week’s gospel, who could not see and begged Jesus for sight. Zacchaeus could see and yet climbs the sycamore tree to get the best possible view. What a contrast between Zacchaeus and the rich young man of two Sundays ago.

The rich young man could not let even one penny of his riches escape his grasp, but Zacchaeus says, “Half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” Today, Jesus tells us, “Salvation has come to this home.” It is already Pascha, if we turn to our Lord in his mercy, if we seek him with the zeal of Zacchaeus.

Today St. Paul’s promise is fulfilled, “We have set our hope on the living God, who is the savior of all, especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10). Today we must be among those who believe.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Sunday after Christmas: Commemorating of David, Joseph and James

On this Sunday, we commemorate three men who had a relationship with Jesus: David, his forefather; Joseph, his foster father; and James, his brother through Joseph. Each of these man were shown mercy by God. David committed a great sin, to win the wife of Uriah, he had Uriah put into the front lines of battle, so that he was killed. The prophet Nathan brought this sin to light and David did repentance and lost his son.

Joseph found Mary pregnant and decided to divorce her, but an angel told him to take her as his wife. James was among Jesus’ relatives who did not accept him as a prophet, but after the resurrection, he repented and became the leader of the church at Jerusalem.

We might remember also three women who were among Jesus’ foremothers. Rachel was the wife of Jacob, who loved her more than Leah. However, when Jacob worked for seven years for Laban to win Rachel’s hand, Laban insisted he marry his eldest daughter Leah. Jacob then worked another seven years for Rachel. However, Rachel was barren until finally she gave birth to Joseph, Jacob’s favorite son. Jacob took his family and fled Laban, and Rachel stole Laban’s family icons. When Laban caught up with Jacob, Jacob cursed the thief of his icons, not knowing that it was his beloved wife Rachel. The curse was fulfilled when Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin. Rachel is mentioned in today’s Gospel as weeping when the children of Bethlehem are massacred by King Herod, but the gospel says, “no comfort for her, for they are no more.”

We might also mention Ruth, who was a foreigner – like the Magi. She married a Hebrew man from Bethlehem who died, and Ruth followed her mother-in-law back to Bethlehem, and there tricked Boaz into marriage, becoming the great-grandmother of David and ancestor of our Lord.

We might also mention Tamar, who lost her husband, whose brother refused to have children by her. She disguised herself as a prostitute and became pregnant with her father-in-law, Judah, who wanted to have her executed for prostitution until he was shown to be the father. So she, too, became an ancestor of Jesus through trickery.

Does not today’s feast remind us that we all have a relationship now with God through our Lord Jesus Christ and we are all in need of his mercy.

Holy Supper on Christmas Eve

A twelve-dish Christmas Eve supper is traditionally prepared in many Eastern European and Northern European cultures, especially those that were formerly part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, including Polish, Lithuanian and Ukrainian. The meal (Lithuanian: Kūčios, Polish: Wigilia or wieczerza wigilijna, Ukrainian: Свята вечеря, Sviata vecheria) consists of twelve meatless dishes representing the twelve months of the year. The tradition of the supper can be traced back to pre-Christian times and connected with remembrance of the souls of deceased ancestors.

In some parts of Poland a similar tradition of thirteen meatless dishes on Christmas Eve is practiced.

The specific dishes may differ from country to country, but many of them are universal. Due to the Nativity Fast, no meat, eggs or milk (including cheese) are allowed during the supper. Thus fish, mushrooms and various types of grain are the main offerings.

In Poland and Ukraine the supper begins with eating soup. Kutia, poppy milk (aguonų pienas) together with kūčiukai are served as a dessert and forms a significant part of the Lithuanian Christmas Eve menu. Poppy seeds are widely used for Christmas Eve dishes, because they symbolize abundance and prosperity.

Regarding the fish dishes, usually herring, carp or pike are eaten. In Lithuania herring (Lithuanian: silkė) dishes are rich and variable. Usually silkė su morkomis (herring with carrots), or silkė su grybais (herring with mushrooms) are served on Christmas Eve.

Mushrooms, especially dried or pickled, are also one of the main dishes eaten on Christmas Eve. Sauerkraut (Polish: Kiszona kapusta, Russian: Ква́шеная капу́ста, Kváshyenaya kapústa) with wild mushrooms or peas, red borsch, mushroom or fish soups are eaten in Poland and Ukraine.

Boiled or deep fried dumplings (Polish: pierogi, Ukrainian: вареники, varenyky, Lithuanian: auselės) with a wide variety of fillings (including sweet cabbage, mushrooms and crushed poppy seeds), are among the most popular dishes. Doughnuts filled with jam (Polish: pączki, Ukrainian: пампушки, pampushky) are served for a dessert in Ukraine, but in Lithuania sweet dishes are not common, as they are believed inappropriate for the atmosphere of the evening.

Traditional Ukrainian Sviata vecheria meal.

As for beverages, traditionally dried fruit compote or cranberry kisiel (Lithuanian: spanguolių kisielius) are common[citation needed]. In earlier times oaten kisiel was more common.

There is the whole ritual before the meal begins. Once the first star appears on the sky, each member of family washes his face, hands and legs in cold water saying: “Be as healthy as this water is.” The most brave people go to local rivers or lakes and have a short swim there. After the water procedure is finished, the family goes on with a prayer, often the Our Father. [1] After the prayer the head of the household will anoint each person present with honey, making the sign of the Cross on their forehead, saying: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: may you have sweetness and many good things in life and in the new year.”

Sunday of the Forefathers

Colossians 3:4: “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

This first phrase from today’s Epistle as the Church begins it’s celebration of the birth of our Lord really tells us what Christmas is all about. This is the announcement of the feast. The Word of God, appearing in our world, is the glory of the believer. He appears in humble surroundings, but invites all to the feast!

The gospel (Luke 14:16-24) tells us that those who are well off refuse the invitation, but it is “the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind,” who come, it is those in “the highways and hedges” who are “compelled to come.” Mary probably realized this when she prophesied, “He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly.” (Luke 1:52) The angels appear to the shepherds in the fields, and they are invited to the house of the Lord. The glory of the Lord is his humility, and our glory is our humility. For all that, everyone is invited to the banquet, and the wise and the rich from Persia come with expensive gifts, though they too are outsiders, and the epistle tells us “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

Those who welcome Christ will put aside “anger, wrath, malice….” (Colossians 3:8) The first sticheron at Christmas chants, “let us proclaim the present mystery by which the partition has been broken and the flaming sword withheld. Now the Cherubim shall let us all come to the Tree of Life.”

This is putting Christ back into Christmas!

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Twenty-Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Ephesians 6:10-17; Luke 17:12-19

In today’s Epistle, St. Paul tells us, “draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil ….take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” The true weapon of the Christian is not the metal sword, but the sword of the word.” Hebrews tells us, “the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12).”

Christians do not meet violence with violence, but when persecuted, follow the Lord’s teaching, “Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. (Luke 21:14-15)” Jesus is the Word of God, and his word is powerful indeed, and so the true power Christians comes when we speak in the truth of our Lord. Our human words may not seem that powerful, but words spoken in Christ can transform our lives. This power does not come from us, but from God, therefore, as St. Paul again says, “yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me, (Galatians 2:20)” and yesterday’s epistle says, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit. (Galatians 5:25)” All this has meaning in this Christmas season. We give gifts to one another, and parents instruct their children, say “Thank you,” to those who give you gifts. The words “thank you” are more powerful than the material gifts, for they form bonds of love. As Christians, we, too, say words of “thanks” that bind us in love to God, “the giver of every good and perfect gift. (James 1:17, Ambon Prayer).”

In this church, we utter words of thanksgiving, as we offer our Liturgy, a “sacrifice of praise.” That is why we call the Liturgy the Eucharist, the Greek word for “thanksgiving.” And on Christmas, we offer words to the new-born child, “Christ is born! Glorify him.” We must not only say words with our mouth, “for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)” But Jesus has to lament today that only one in ten cured return to give thanks. The gospel tells us that we must give thanks to God, who alone brought us into being and who alone can give us salvation. Jesus tells us today that this is difficult, because it requires humility and an open heart. Thus only one of the ten lepers gives thanks, and the least expected, the foreigner.