The Holy Apostle James, Son of Alphaeus

The Byzantine Church discerns three apostles named James: James the Greater, the son of Zebedee; James, the Brother of the Lord and first bishop of Jerusalem; and James, the son of Alphaeus. We celebrate the feast of the latter today. He is the James about which we know the least. The only mention of him was in the lists of the Twelve Apostles. Some speculate that he was the James mentioned by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:7, “After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,” but commentators even doubt that was this James, also called “James the Lesser.” However, it does point to the mission of the apostles, which was to proclaim the risen Lord, a message which has resounded throughout the ages to this very day.

For in today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks about his apostles, “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (Luke 10:16). The apostles, who ran when Jesus was led to crucifixion, nevertheless were courageous in preaching his gospel, and paid a great price, “God has exhibited us apostles as the last of all, like people sentenced to death, since we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and human beings alike. We are fools on Christ’s account, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are held in honor, but we in disrepute” (1 Corinthians 4:9-10).

St. Paul said we must imitate the apostles, for we, too, must be willing to become “fools” for the sake of the resurrection, but the promise is great, as Jesus said, ““I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will” (Luke 10:21).

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Falling Asleep of the Beloved Apostle, John the Evangelist and Theologian

Today, September 26 is the Feast of the Falling Asleep of the Beloved Apostle, John the Evangelist and Theologian

The gospel of John is considered the foundational gospel in the Eastern Church, and John is honored with the title of “Theologian,” for he explained well who Jesus, the Son of God, was. It is from his gospel that we know “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5). He also showed us that love is the basis of our theology.

It was said that in his old age, John would simply preach constantly, “Children, love one another.” In the epistle for this feast, 1 John 4:12-19, we read, “No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us …. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.”

Saint John preached the Gospel in Jerusalem and Samaria, and was banished to the isle of Patmos. In old age, he returned to Ephesus where he made a home for the Theotokos. An ancient church marked the place until its destruction in World War I.

Tradition holds that John died during the reign of Trajan, a full century after the birth of Jesus.

The Dismissal for today’s Liturgy:

May Christ our true God, have mercy on us and save us, through the prayers of his most holy Mother, of the holy, glorious and praiseworthy apostle and evangelist, the pure and beloved friend and disciple of Christ, John the Theologian, whose venerable falling-asleep we joyfully celebrate today, and through the prayers of all the saints, for Christ is good and loves us all.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras
slightly edited.

St. John Chrysostom fell asleep in the Lord

Today, the Church remembers that on September 14, 407, St. John Chrysostom fell asleep in the Lord.

We pray his Divine Liturgy for much of the liturgical year and read his sermons.

The image is of St. John Chrysostom from Haghia Sophia in Constantinople, a mosaic from the 11th century.

Martyrdom of St John the Baptist

Today is the feast of the beheading of St. John the Forerunner and Baptist.

Sacred Scripture reveals that John the Baptist was a cousin of Our Lord whose mission was to preach repentance to Israel in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. The famous rebuke of King Herod for his unlawful marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, landed John in prison and on the wrong end of Herodias’ admiration. Concluding Salome’s dance for the King’s birthday he promised to give her whatever she asked for, even up to half his kingdom. Salome asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Herod ordered the execution. We honor St. John the Baptist as the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets.

The Kondakion (in the Byzantine Liturgy) reads:

The beheading of the forerunner was indeed a dreadful crime, somehow fitting into the plan of God, for John thereby became the herald of the savior’s visit to those in hades. As for you, Herodias, cry your eyes out, bewail your deed, for you preferred murder to the law of God, rejecting eternal, everlasting life, for a false and passing one.

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!

St Mary Magdalen

Today is the feast of St. Mary Magdalen

St. Mary Magdalen, Equal to the Apostles, Apostle to the Apostles, pray unto God for us! Happy feast to all our friends who have the name Mary, Maria, Magdalen!

Troparion — Tone 1

By keeping His commandments and laws, holy Mary Magdalene, / you followed Christ, Who for our sake was born of the Virgin, / and in celebrating your most holy memory today, / we receive forgiveness of sins by your prayers.

Kontakion — Tone 4

Podoben: “Today the Virgin…” / Standing before the Cross of the Savior, / suffering with the Mother of the Lord, / the most glorious Mary Magdalene / offered praise with tears. / She cried out: “What is this strange wonder? / He Who holds the whole creation in His hand chooses to suffer. / Glory to Your power, O Lord.”

Kontakion — Tone 3

Standing before the Cross of the Savior, / Suffering with the Mother of the Lord, / The most glorious Mary Magdalene offered praise with tears. / She cried out: What is this strange wonder? / He who holds the whole creation in His hand chooses to suffer: / Glory, O Lord to Your power!

Icon by Fr. Zinon

The Holy and Great Prophet Elijah

Today the Byzantine Church honors the memory of The Holy Great Prophet Elijah.

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.

St John the Theologian

[Today] On May 8, we celebrate one of the two feasts of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John, the brother of James. The other is on September 26, the day of his falling asleep. The fourth Gospel is attributed to John, and we can truly call it a “theo-logical,” for it witnesses most clearly to the mystery of the Incarnation, of the Word of God taking flesh in the womb of the Holy Theotokos for our salvation. It is the most sublime Gospel, and it gave John the title “Theologian.” 

The Byzantine Church have this gospel a certain priority, and it is read in the most joyful and glorious time of the year, from Pascha to Pentecost. This Gospel is the very essence of the apostolic witness, through which we come to faith in Christ, as indeed John foretold, when the risen Jesus says to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed,” (John 20:29) because we have all heard of the divinity of the Lord through the witness of the apostles. Some try to discredit Christian faith by pointing out that John’s Gospel was the last to be written, that the first Gospel, Mark, does not mention the divinity of Jesus, and that faith in the Incarnation is then a later Christian development. They do this by trying to fit the Gospels into a linear line, from the earliest to the latest, and it is easy to fall for this. 

However, the development of the Gospels in not linear, but they arise from different communities, and each has a vision of Christ. Indeed, does not St. Mathew’s Gospel proclaim the truth of the Trinity, where the risen Jesus proclaims, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). And – yes – there are many other witnesses to Jesus’ divinity in the epistles and apostolic writings. The letter to the Hebrews says, “[Jesus] who is the refulgence of [the Father’s] glory, the very imprint of his being, and who sustains all things by his mighty word” (Hebrews 1:3). Rejoice, therefore, in this holy season in the glory of the risen Christ so beautifully proclaimed by John. It is John who tells us, “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7).

St Anthony the Great

St. Anthony the Great, also called St. Anthony the Abbot (though he was a hermit) and St. Anthony of Egypt is commemorated on January 17. He is identified as the founder of desert monasticism, though the story of his life, particularly how he met St. Paul of Thebes, who preceded him into the desert, is a study of the search for Christian perfection. This story tells how he heard the gospel about the rich young man, to whom Jesus said, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Matthew 19:21). When Anthony heard this gospel, he immediately divested himself of all his possessions and went into the desert to seek Christian perfection. This is really the calling of all Christians, as Jesus commanded, “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:47). For this we are baptized, that we might seek Godly perfection. St. Anthony imitated Christ when he heard this gospel, and just as Jesus went out into the desert after his baptism by John, in order to foil the wiles of Satan, so, too, does Anthony go to the desert to conquer the evil passions exploited by the temptation of the devil.

The monastic calling is an intensification of our baptismal calling, the renunciation of all worldly concerns to find perfection in the grace of Christ. Therefore, in Eastern theology, consecration as a monastic (monk or nun) has been deemed a sacramental mystery, not a separate mystery, but as part of the mystery of repentance.

In a similar way, Holy Orders and Marriage are also considered sacramental mysteries, because they confirm the baptismal calling in a particular vocation of life. St. Anthony, then, is a model for our life in Christ through baptism, which is called enlightenment, the perfection of the wisdom that leads us to life. We pray, then, to our Holy Father Anthony, “Having clearly received immortality and eternal life, pray for my darkened soul to be enlightened by the light of grace, so that I may worthily praise you; for you bear the Three-fold Light, O Father Anthony! (Matins, Ode 1)” “O Anthony, father of fathers, you have been shown to be a light for those who share your way of life, having taught the pious to tread the paths of light; and you emit the flame and fire of lightning, consuming hordes of the demons. (Matins, Hymn of Light)”

St Philip the Apostle

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls Phillip, who immediately follows him. He then brings his friend Nathaniel to Jesus, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth. (John 1:45)” This is the feast to begin our Christmas preparation. Phillip leads us to the one true Messiah, the child born of Mary in Bethlehem. The child “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. (Phillipians 2:6-8) It was not until he was to be arrested and executed, that Phillip understood the totality of the mystery he discovered. At the Last Supper, Phillip asked Jesus, “Master, show us the Father,” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Phillip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) Every Christmas journey, we should become a more faithful follower of Jesus, especially in these days.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras