Wednesday of the Fifth Week 

Matins

O my soul, you have left the heights of virtue and have gone down into the abyss of sin. You have fallen under the blows of the evil robbers, you are covered with wounds; but now cry out to Christ our God, who let himself be wounded and crucified for you: Come to my help, O Savior, and save me.

Wounded by thieves of the soul, how miserable I am! O Lord, I am left half-dead. The rank of prophets passes me by, seeing me close to death, incurable through human knowledge, and in bitter suffering. In the humility of my heart, I cry out to you: O Christ our God most merciful, anoint me with the oil of your mercy.

Vespers

Beaten in spirit and robbed of my mind, I fell among corruptible thieves, who steal away my power to think. My soul has been scourged, and I lie on the path of life stripped of all virtue. A priest sees that I suffer from incurable sores, but passes by without a second glance. A Levite, not wanting to share my deadly pain, looks down on me and also passes by. But you, O Christ our God, though born of Mary and not as a Samaritan, grant me healing because of your love for humankind, and pour out the riches of your mercy upon us.

Reflection

In the fifth week of the Great Fast, we chant the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. This long poem recounts, though stories from Scripture, the many ways we “have gone down into the abyss of sin.” There is no way to rationalize our sinful ways, so the samohlasens remind that we are “incurable through human knowledge,” that we have been robbed of “our power to think.” We cannot pull ourselves up by our own cleverness and worldly wisdom, but only by the wisdom of God, who is our Lord Jesus Christ. The refrain of all the hymns this week repeat in various expressions: “Come to my help, O Savior, and save me.”

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Commemoration of our Holy Father John of the Ladder

Fourth Sunday of the Great Fast: Commemoration of our Holy Father John of the Ladder

We know little about the life of John, the Hegumen [abbot] of the Monastery of Mt. Sinai, but he has left us one of the greatest spiritual testimonies of the Christian faith, his work called the “Ladder of Virtues.” It was written, certainly, in a monastic environment, which has always been the home for the seeking of perfection as commanded by Christ: “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)” His book, then, was read in Eastern monasteries during the Great Fast. Though his work was for monks, each of us has a vocation common with monks to seek perfection in Christ, and so we can all profit from his work. He reminds us that sanctification is not instant, but it is a lifetime project, “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)” This is what our Father John teaches us: “The Christian is one who imitates Christ in thought, word and deed, as far as is possible for human beings, believing rightly and blamelessly in the Holy Trinity.” (Step 1, Section 4)

“Having heard the Gospel of the Lord, O venerable Father John, you left this world, counting as nothing the riches and glory that it offered. Then you cried out to everyone: Love the Lord and you shall find eternal favor, for nothing is preferable to his love. And when he shall come in glory, you will find repose with all the saints. Through their prayers, O Christ, grant mercy to our souls.” (Doxasticheron at Psalm 140, Vespers of the Fourth Sunday of the Great Fast)

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Third Sunday of the Great Fast

The first half of the Great Fast tells us the stories of Adam and Eve and their children, and the flood of Noah. It is a story of the creation of a perfect world and how that has been marred by human sin. It tells of the end of paradise, “The Lord God therefore banished him from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he had been taken. He expelled the man, stationing the cherubim and the fiery revolving sword east of the garden of Eden, to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:23-24).

Today, however, begins a new story, and we sing, “No longer does the flaming sword guard the gates of Eden, for the tree of the cross has come to quench it wondrously. The sting of death and the victory of Hades have been driven out. For you, O my Savior, stood and called out to those in Hades: Enter again into paradise.”

The tree of life, which Adam and Eve attempted to seize against the will of God, is the tree of the cross. And the fruit of this tree is the Body of Christ, which we receive in Holy Communion “for the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.” We receive it together with his Holy Blood, “shed of the life of the world,” for today’s Gospel tells us, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34). Today we understand the words of our Lord,  “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (John 6:53).

The Romans crucified thousands of people, many of whom were innocent. Yet of all these people, only our Lord Jesus Christ is remembered. This is because it is not the method of torture, or the gruesome of his death that matters, but the infinite love that shone forth from his sacrifice on the cross. This is what is important for us, we may not have to die in such a painful or unjust way, but we do have to be united in the love that God shows forth on the cross. This is what it means “to take up the cross.” I personally think that for each and every one of us, it means denying for ourselves something that we crave very earnestly, a painful self-denial, if you will, for the sake of true deifying love for God and for others. This is why the cross, originally an instrument of torture and shame, has become for us the trophy of salvation. The joy of the Fast is that through God’s love we come to the fullness of life.

The Flood and Baptism

One the key parts of the Great Fast is attending to Baptism. Do we realize the import of Baptism and its roots?

St. John Damascene lists eight baptisms:
1) the Flood, which was the eradication of sin;
2) the sea and the cloud, the baptism of Moses;
3) the baptism of the Law, in which every unclean person washed himself with water (Leviticus 14:8);
4) the baptism of John;
5) the baptism of our Lord;
6) the baptism of repentance and tears;
7) martyrdom, the baptism of blood;
8) the last baptism in hell, which is not saving, but which destroys the soul.

One common theme in all of this is that baptism is a fire, a death, a purification, as we say in the Creed, “I profess one baptism for the remission of sins.”

In this third week of the Great Fast, we remember the first of these, the flood. We are reminded that the Great Fast is a journey, but also a preparation for baptism. It is our weakness today that we do not evangelize people to come into the faith. We no longer see the connection between baptism and the passion and resurrection, as St. Paul did, and which is proclaimed in the Great Paschal Vigil, “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). Our goal in Pascha is to renew our baptisms, renouncing the evil of Satan and committing ourselves again to Christ, so that “We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin. (Romans 6:6)”

The flood is a foretelling of the true baptism of our Lord. In both the power of sin is destroyed. The ark represents the loving providence of God; it represents the strength of his grace, working in our human weakness; it represents our faith that life is found in God’s creative wisdom. We must hear last Sunday’s reading, “we must attend all the more to what we have heard, so that we may not be carried away. For if the word announced through angels proved firm, and every transgression and disobedience received its just recompense, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:1-3)

Third Week of the Great Fast

During this week, at Vespers, we read the story of the flood and the salvation of the righteous man Noah and his family. At first, this might seem to be the dark side of God, and on Friday, we heard: “When the Lord saw how great the wickedness of human beings was on earth, and how every desire that their heart conceived was always nothing but evil, the Lord regretted making human beings on the earth, and his heart was grieved. So the Lord said: I will wipe out from the earth the human beings I have created, and not only the human beings, but also the animals and the crawling things and the birds of the air, for I regret that I made them.” The story of the flood may have some historical basis, as a great flood in the Mediterranean basin in pre-history, but the story is iconic. (Noah could not have brought all the animal species on the ark.) The story tells us that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

Christian faith has seen a positive image in the flood: it is the waters of baptism, which wipes out all sin (pride and rebellion against the divine plan) from the earth. It is these waters which carry us to salvation. On the third Friday, then, we hear: “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and choosing from every clean animal and every clean bird, he offered burnt offerings on the altar. When the Lord smelled the sweet odor, the Lord said to himself: Never again will I curse the ground because of human beings, since the desires of the human heart are evil from youth; nor will I ever again strike down every living being, as I have done,” and on Tuesday of the fourth week, the day before Mid-lent, “This is the sign of the covenant that I am making between me and you and every living creature with you for all ages to come: I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” The Great Fast is the coming of the Redeemer.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Presanctified Liturgy TONIGHT

TONIGHT, February 23, the lenten Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts will be offered at 7:00 p.m. in English and Ukrainian. This is a great way to “get into” spirituality of Great Lent.

Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts

Communing from the Body and Blood of the Master during the period of spiritual combat.

The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is attributed to Saint Gregory the Dialogist (†604), Pope of Rome, but in actuality, it is not the work of one individual, but is a composite work coming down to us from Holy Tradition.

The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, which consists of the Service of Vespers and the Communion of the Faithful with the Holy Gifts. It is commonly celebrated daily in monastic communities, and on Wednesdays and Fridays in parishes, with Holy Bread—that is, the Body of Christ—which has been intincted in the Holy Blood and consecrated at the preceding complete Liturgies on Saturdays or Sundays. The Presanctified or “abridged” Divine Liturgy (since it is affixed to Vespers), is normally celebrated in the late afternoon, when Christians, having fasted until that time, commune, afterwards eating a meal of dry foodstuffs (dried fruits and nuts).

The celebration of the Divine Liturgy, because it is festive and Resurrectional in character, is not allowed during Great Lent and the somber period of the fast, according to ancient tradition and the forty-ninth Canon of the Synod of in Laodiceia [336]. However, from their side, the faithful children of the Church, engaged in the abstemious struggle of the Great Fast and having a clear and particular need for reinforcement by the Holy Mysteries during this period of intensive spiritual combat, desired to commune as often as they could, since Holy Communion was indeed their life and sustenance.

For this reason, so that the faithful not be deprived of the Holy Eucharist on the weekdays of the Great Fast, but that they might be able to commune from the Presanctified Holy Bread [the Body if Christ], the Church, by way of the fifty-first Canon of the Fifth-Sixth [Quinisext] Synod [692], appointed that the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts take place on the weekdays of the Great Fast.

Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite [†1809], in his Rudder, citing the Byzantine canonologist Matthew Blastaris [fl.14th century], reminds us that the faithful resemble wrestlers, and just as wrestlers cease their matches in the afternoon to take nourishment in order to strengthen themselves for the upcoming bout, so the faithful commune from the Body and Blood of the Master during the period of spiritual combat in the Great Fast, that they might be reinvigorated and reinforced by the Lord, thus to continue their match against the passions and the spiritual enmity of the devil with renewed powers and more valorously.

Thursday of the Second Week

To inspire our prayer today, here are 2 texts from the Liturgy and a reflection on them.

Matins:
This is the season for repentance, the struggle of the Fast. It gains eternal life for us if we stretch out our hands to do good. For nothing is better for the salvation of our souls than to share with the poor; and almsgiving together with fasting free us from death. Let us dearly love this rich treasure which can bring salvation to our souls.

Vespers:
Of old our first parents did not fast from the tree of knowledge according to the command of the Creator, and they received death as the fruit of their disobedience. They were deprived of the tree of life and the sweetness of paradise. Therefore, O faithful, let us fast from perishable food and our deadly passions, so that we might acquire life from the divine tree of the cross, and return with the good thief to our ancient homeland, through the mercy of Christ our God.

Reflection:
The Great Fast is Christ as the way of life. He came that we might have life in abundance, which means fasting “from perishable food and deadly passions.” Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Does that mean God does not want us to “know” about good and evil. No, what it means is that we do not define good and evil for ourselves, but only according to God’s commands. The fast often meditates of the tree of life – it is Christ who said, “I am the vine and you are the branches (see the icon). The third Sunday of the Cross gives us access to the tree of life, which is the cross, and the fruit of which is Holy Communion. A second reflection: can we “buy” eternal life? Apparently so, for the price is “to share with the poor, and almsgiving” that frees us from death.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Monday of the Second Week

Prayer and meditation
Matins:
Wondrous indeed is the weapon of prayer and fasting. To Moses it revealed the Law, and as a sacrifice it inflamed the zeal of Elijah. By keeping it we faithfully cry out to the Savior: Against you alone have we sinned, have mercy on us.
 
Vespers:
Let us keep a spiritual fast: let us break every hypocrisy; let us flee the traps of sin; let us forgive the offenses of other, so that our sins might also be forgiven. Thus we shall all be able to sing: May our prayer rise like incense before you, O Lord.
 
Reflection:
At every Vespers we sing, “Let my prayer rise like incense.” Why do we want our prayers to rise – so that God may accept them and grant us forgiveness. This is the vertical dimension, but it is not effective without the horizontal dimension, we must forgive one another. The true meaning of a spiritual fast is an insisting on this theme during the Great Fast.
 
Meditation by David Petras

First Sunday of Great Lent – Defense of Holy Icons

“Since the invisible One became visible by taking on flesh, you can fashion the image of Him whom you saw. Since He who has neither body, nor form, nor quantity, nor quality, who goes beyond all grandeur by the excellence of His nature, He, being of divine nature, took on the condition of a slave and reduced Himself to quantity and to quality by clothing Himself in human features. Therefore, paint on wood and present for contemplation Him who desired to become visible.”

St. John of Damascus
On the Divine Images

This Sunday is called the “Sunday of Orthodoxy” because it commemorates the restoration of the Church’s teaching on making images (icons) of our Lord and the saints in the year 843. Before that, it was the Sunday of the Commemoration of the Holy Prophets. This explains the Gospel, Phillip witnesses to Nathanael: “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets, wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” This is our goal in the Great Fast – to find our faith in Jesus. The Great Fast was the training period for those about to be baptized, and it was a time for the whole community to rediscover its faith.

Along the journey to Holy Week, we read especially from the book of Genesis and from Isaiah to guide us to Christ, who will perfect his covenant with us by his death and resurrection. This is why, in the Apostolic reading, we remember Moses, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David and Samuel and all the prophets. It was all for Jesus, “Yet all these, though approved because of their faith, did not receive what had been promised. God had foreseen something better for us, so that without us they should not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39)” How, then, should we keep the Fast? Hebrews tells us: “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

The Sunday of Orthodoxy helps us to fulfill this plan, for “keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus,” gazing upon his image, we are led to God, to faith, to life.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras