St Ambrose

St. Ambrose was the greatest Archbishop of Milan, at a time when it was the center of the Empire. He was elected bishop when he was still a catechumen and proved to be most competent—in administration as well as theology, and was a holy and sincere Christian. He had been a governor before and knew how “to talk to power.” When the Emperor Theodosius had 7,000 Thessalonians slaughtered over the assassination of their governor, he excommunicated him for his horrendous crime – and made it stick, bringing Theodosius to repentance.

As a theologian, he wrote about the incarnation of the Son of God: “And the Word was with God . This that he said is to be understood thus: The Word was just as was the Father; since He was together with the Father, He was also in the Father, and He was always with the Father. […] It is of the Word to be with the Father; it is of the Father to be with the Word, for we read that the Word was with God. So if, according to your opinion, there was a time when He was not, then, according to your opinion, He too was not in the beginning with whom was the Word. For through the Word I hear, through the Word I understand that God was. For, if I shall believe that the Word was eternal, which I do believe, I cannot doubt about the eternity of the Father, whose Son is eternal” (The Sacrament of the Incarnation of our Lord (III, 15-18, from the Vatican web site).

And again, Ambrose says, “He lay in the crib, that you might stand at the altar. He came to earth, that you might come to the stars” (Exposition of Luke 2.41).

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

St John Chrysostom

Today is the feast of Our Holy Father, Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, whose Divine Liturgy we pray most often. He is one of the most famous saints of both the Greek and the Latin Churches and one of the four great Doctors of the East. He is called “Golden-Tongued” because of his eloquence.

Saint John Chrysostom, pray for us.

Image: Mosaic of Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Sophia, Istanbul.

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).