Through the Cross of Christ

Eph 2:14-22

God created the universe, whole and complete.  Everything was linked in a perfect interdependence and harmony.  There were no conflicts, no divisions, no barriers – all was a perfect whole, a perfect unity.  But all this came to an end when our first parents rebelled and sinned against God.  Rather than work within the harmony that God had created, they sought to go their own way and in so doing, introduced the element of chaos, of conflict, and of strife.  Their sin brought about a rift, a separation, between God and man – a wound that resulted in hostility between God and man.  Let us understand that this hostility was one sided, for God continued to love man, but men began to set themselves apart from God, unwilling to submit themselves to Him, but in pride, fighting against Him.  This is one of the foreseeable effects of sin – it creates a separation, a barrier.  Initially it creates a barrier between God and man, but as sin develops, it also creates barriers between men, us.  The sin of our first parents not only divided us from God, but now also divides us from each other.  Mankind, who was, in his creation, united and whole, is now fractured and divided, such that everyone is alone and separated from his fellow man.  We are not only hostile towards God, but we are hostile towards one another, and so the wound continues to grow and fester.  Therefore, God, out of His great and boundless love for mankind, began to work to heal the wound of separation, and to do away with the wall of hostility that had been erected by men. 

Apostle Paul, in his Epistle to the Ephesians, that we heard today, proclaims that this has been accomplished.  The division that man had caused by his sin, God healed by His incarnation.  To begin with, He heals the rift between Himself and mankind by taking on our nature, uniting His divine nature with our human nature, and by taking on our flesh, thereby redeeming our bodies as well.

Not only does He heal the separation, but he also destroys the hostility that it caused, by His Cross.  Through the Cross, sin was defeated and mankind was freed from its power which had held us in bondage. 

By ascending to the Cross in His own Body, the God/man, our Lord Jesus Christ, put to death the hostility that existed between man and God. That old fallen human nature, the “old man” as the Apostle calls it, died on the Cross, and hostility that existed between the “old man” and God is done away with – it dies as well.  God has reached down, bridged the gap between Himself and us, created by our sin, and has united us to Himself. 

This is not all, for just as we have divided ourselves from God with a wall of sin, so also we have divided ourselves from one another by this same wall of sin.  We have become hostile towards one another, no longer living in unity, but pushing others away, building barriers to protect the self from others who we perceive as threatening to our pride and self-reliance.  This is not the way that we were created to live.  We were created to live in unity with one another, to live in harmony, just as the persons of the Holy Trinity share a single essence, united by perfect love for one another. We were created in the image of God, and by our own sin we have marred that image – we have separated ourselves from one another, trying to live independently, without love. 

By His mercy and compassion, God has also reopened the means by which we can restore the unity of His image that we bear.  The Apostle says that he has made “of twain, one new man” that is, that out of two or more, He has made them one new man.  He has taken us who are divided and reunited the many into one.  This He has accomplished by the Cross as well.  He has slain the “old man” who was isolated by sin, and raised us with Him as “new men” who are united by one Spirit. 

We were strangers to one another, but now in Christ, we have become fellow-citizens and members of the household of God, a family. 

Whereas before we were separated by our sin, now we have been reunited and joined together by the love of God.  This unity is apparent to all of us within the Orthodox Church.  We see our brothers and sisters, and although they were once strangers to us, now we recognize that we are united in Christ, His body, His family.  We begin to feel a small, however, a growing connection to each other, as the love of God begins to work in us. 

For us, however, the important task is much closer at hand.  The Apostle tells us, that we are being built together into a habitation of God through the Holy Spirit.  This little parish community, our family – that is you and I – is being framed together into a temple of God.  Each one of us has a place into which God has fitted us.  We are being joined together so that we might grow together and become a single body, that body being the habitation of God.  By the grace of the Holy Spirit, we are each being fashioned so that we might fit perfectly into the place prepared for us.  Once we have been set in place, we are cemented to one another by the Chrism and Grace of God’s love. 

What does that mean for us then?  First we must recognize that God has a place for us – a place that He has chosen.  Second, He is shaping us so that we might fit in where He needs us and wants us to be.  Remember that God has a place for you and He is working to fit you into that place, but He also respects you and will not force you. 

 Knowing this, it is then our task to work with God, conforming ourselves to His will, following His instructions, doing not what we want, but following the path that He sets before us, one step at a time.  This is how we conform ourselves to God. 

Now look to your neighbor, here next to you, because God is doing the same thing to him and her – shaping them and preparing them for their place in this wonderful temple, our Church, and that place is right next to you.  Reach out then and embrace your neighbor.  There may be some rough edges still, because God is still working on both of you, but as you reach out, the love of God will flow between you and them, and it will join you to one another.  Together, we are the temple of God.  Let us therefore work to love one another, to work together as God provides the opportunities, and to do all things together for the glory of God, as family. 

We were separated from God and from one another, by our sins, but God, in His great mercy and compassion has overcome our separation.  He has reached down to embrace us, and has destroyed the wall of sin and hostility which isolated us from Him and from one another.  He has brought us together to be a “habitation” for Himself through the Holy Spirit.

Each one of us, with our unique strengths and weaknesses — with our personalities, with our different perspectives, are placed by God in just the right place that He might use us, and has then joined us together with His love.  Let us therefore rejoice that He has restored His image in us, as we are healed by Him and have been reunited with Him and with one another.  Let us now work with Him, not alone, but with our neighbor, our family, and grow into the holy temple of the Lord.

So as St Paul tells us in his Epistle to the Ephesians, Chapter 4 verse 3, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”  Amen!!

Thank you Fr David

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Veterans Day 2022

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O Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ, and the Life creating Holy Spirit, in every age You call certain people to defend our families from oppression, tyranny, and evil. Since our founding as a nation “conceived in liberty,” countless men and women have stepped forward to defend our Families, our communities and our country, from aggressors; to liberate those held captive, and to promote freedom and justice.

Today we honor our veterans and first responders: those who rest in esteemed glory, those who still suffer from the wounds of war, those who enjoy the blessing of living in the land of the free, as well as our military and first responders who are presently serving and facing danger, in harm’s way this very day.

O Lord, thank You for the selfless sacrifice of these veterans, first responders, and of their families. Help us to remember them, to pray for them, and to care for them. May the souls of our departed veterans find eternal peace in Your Kingdom, and may we comfort their families with Your unfailing love.

 Please heal these wounded veterans and first responders, through the grace of Your Holy Spirit, and grant your “peace that passes all understanding” to comfort those who continue to experience emotional, physical and psychological trauma. We pray and ask Thee, to heal these heroes, who feel they have nowhere to turn. We also pray for healing and peace to all the people who live in the regions in which our veterans have fought.

 We ask for an end to wars and crime, and the dawn of a new era of peace. Give us the creative vision to see a world which, grown weary with fighting and evil, moves to affirm the life of every human being and thus moves beyond war and chaos. Help us not to exclude other nations and peoples of the world, but to include them in a loving and harmonious Christian family. Turn the hearts and minds of our leaders and those of our enemies to the work of justice and peace, of love and harmony for all people.

Lord, we respect them, we thank them, we honor them, we are proud of them, and we pray that you will watch over these exceptional men and women, our Veterans and first responders, and bless them with peace and happiness.

Hear our prayer, O Prince of Peace and may the peace you left us, the peace you gave us, be the peace that sustains us and the peace that saves us. For to You, belong all glory, honor and worship, to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

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Diversity

“Kazan” Icon of the Mother of God

Luke 16:19-31

When we look around any group of people, we see a great diversity.  There is a diversity in appearance, a diversity of skills, a diversity of personalities, a diversity of situation – everywhere we see diversity.  This diversity is a gift given to us by God to teach us that we need each other, as we are family – we depend on one another in order to have all the resources that we need to live.  We all need food – but not everybody can produce food.  We need shelter – but not everybody can build.  We need clothing – but not everyone can weave or sew.  Everyone has a part of what we all need, and so we need to trade with one another to get what is necessary.  In order to facilitate this trade, the concept of money was devised.  Whether or not money is good or bad is irrelevant here – money exists as a means by which we can all “trade” our skills and resources with one another and so obtain that which we all need in order to live. 

While money is a means by which our diversity is brought together into a harmonious community, money also emphasizes the differences between us.  When we begin to compare the value of our various contributions, we will soon notice that some people seem to have a greater share of natural resources. The parable that we heard today about the rich man and Lazarus is an example of this disparity.  On one hand, there was the rich man who seemed to have an abundance of wealth – plenty of good food and drink, a fine dwelling, beautiful and soft clothing, an abundance of family and friends; everything that money could buy in abundance.  On the other hand, there was the pauper Lazarus who had nothing – no food, no clothing, for only the sores covered his body, and for friends he only had the dogs who came and licked the sores.  Certainly here we have a picture of two great extremes. IF all that we have comes from God, then why did God not give everyone the same – why does this inequity exist, why are there such extremes as the rich man and Lazarus?

This parable doesn’t stop with simply painting the picture of the contrast between the rich man and Lazarus, but moves beyond the still life of the two men and introduces another element – that of the death of the two men, something some fear.  After their death, we find that the situation of the two is reversed.  Lazarus rests in the comfort and delight of paradise, while the rich man was found to be in torment. 

Does this mean that worldly wealth results in eternal torment while worldly poverty results in eternal comfort and joy?  Certainly not, for it was not the mere fact of worldly wealth and poverty that determined the place of the two men; rather, it was what each did with what he had in the world, what God gave him.  We are introduced to the fact that there are more necessities to life than that which we see and touch and acquire in this world.  There are indeed physical riches, but there are also spiritual riches and in the life beyond the grave, it is the spiritual wealth which is paramount. 

Let us pause for a moment to look at the how these different types of riches compare.  All that is of value in this world is comprised, in the end, of the same thing.  It is nothing but dust.  What are gems, but dust; what are silver and gold but dust; buildings, whether of stone or wood or anything else eventually deteriorate and become dust.  Clothing eventually wears and fades and becomes dust. Even the food that we eat, whether it is left out or consumed becomes nothing but dust.  Everything in the world, no matter how precious or valuable on the surface is composed of nothing but dust and in the end that is its final value – worthless dust.  Spiritual wealth, however, is composed of those elements which are eternal, and which do not rust or deteriorate or rot away.  This wealth is comprised of those things that we call “virtues” and “spiritual fruits” – things such as love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, and so on.  They are all rooted in one single element that is free of all corruption and that is the grace of God.  He pours out His grace, which is the true and enduring wealth, on us.  The greatest and most valuable use of worldly wealth is when it is used to acquire spiritual wealth.

Therefore, just as we need to trade with one another to assemble the necessities of physical life, so also it is necessary to “trade”, to assemble the necessities of spiritual life.  We need to take the worthless dust of what we have in this world and use it in order to acquire the grace of God.  Unlike physical wealth, spiritual wealth cannot be transferred from one person to another.  We cannot acquire the “excess” grace of the saints (it is actually not possible for anyone to acquire “sufficient” grace let alone to have a store of “excess” grace).  The parable itself teaches us this, when the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus that he might dip his finger in the water to give the rich man a drop of water, to provide some relief and Abraham tells him that this is not possible.

How then is it possible to “trade” to acquire these spiritual riches?  While one person may not directly “transfer” grace to another, he can open the door to facilitate that movement.  This is what we do when we pray for one another, or when we ask the saints to pray for us.  By their prayers, the avenues by which we can acquire the grace of God for ourselves are made clear and our access to that grace is eased.  Archbishop Andrei of Novo Diveevo (Archbishop Andrei was the spiritual child of the Elder St Nektary of Optina, who after being widowed was elevated to the episcopacy) relates an account of the repentance of a wealthy young man which demonstrates this principle.

There lived a wealthy family – a grandmother and her grandson who was an officer in the Imperial Guards.  This grandson, Vladimir, being quite wealthy, lived a life of gaiety and carousing.  He had a good heart and so had many friends.  When any of them would ask something from him, he would give it to them without a second thought – the word “no” did not exist for him.  His grandmother arranged a marriage for him with a princess of an impoverished family.  The young man met her two or three times at parties, danced with her and proposed to her.  The wedding was put off until after the Christmas season and Vladimir did not change his life at all but went about in a fog of merry-making and carousing.  He didn’t quite forget his fiancée, but he didn’t remember her either – if he had met her on the street, he probably wouldn’t have recognized her.

As the wedding day approached Vladimir began to see the seriousness of life a little more clearly and began to prepare for this change of life.  Just before the wedding day, he went to St Petersburg to receive his pay (this was a time when this pay was given in cash) and to arrange for leave for his wedding.  Having received these things from the regimental office, he went out to walk in the city by day (something he rarely did as he was usually either still inebriated from the night before or else sleeping off the after effects).  He passed the cathedral of the Kazan Mother of God and was drawn in by a vague need to pray.  Standing there in the cathedral his soul was touched by the presence of the miraculous Kazan icon and he began to pray.  But he could not find the words; he had not prayed in so long that he didn’t know how to even begin.  Finally the words stumbled out “O Mother of God! I am coming to a turning point in my life. If it has to be so, help me. But if all this is not necessary, stop it.” And there he stopped, unable to say anything else. 

As he was struggling in his soul, he felt a touch on his sleeve, and there was a poor woman with her child in arms asking for help.  Not knowing what else to do, he took the purse filled with his pay and handed it to her.  When she protested, he insisted and gratefully she asked “but how can I repay your kindness”.  Not knowing what else to say, out of his inner turmoil and confusion, Vladimir replied, “You can help me. I don’t know how to pray; but I am in need of prayer, right now, for my soul. Otherwise I will perish.”  She disappeared into the crowd and he caught sight of her again as she approached the miraculous icon and bowing down began to fervently pray with prostrations.  Vladimir knew that this prayer was for him.

When he left the Church, suddenly he felt a great pain and he lost consciousness.  He awoke, lying on a table in his full uniform.  He had fallen into a coma and appeared dead although he was just beginning to awaken.  He could see and hear those around him, but could not move or speak.  He heard his fiancée’s voice saying, “Papa you know how I hated and despised him. Only your debts made me agree to this marriage. I cannot pretend to mourn.”  And then he heard his friends approach saying to one another, “How fortunate that Vladimir died, now I don’t have to pay him back.”  All this and more revealed to him the hypocrisy of his life and he was brought to repentance.  When they lifted his body to go to the grave, he gasped and began to move.  Out of fear the mourners and those nearby ran from the room leaving him alone.  At this moment he was changed – he divided all his wealth, he first provided for his fiancée and gave the rest to the poor.  He forgave all debts.  Soon afterward he entered monastic life and finished his life as an Archimandrite of the Kostroma Monastery. 

This is the example of how the prayers of one person can bring grace to another and how we can exchange our worldly wealth for spiritual wealth.  When Vladimir gave his purse to the beggar and asked her to pray for him – she had nothing to give in return and so she approached the Treasury of all good gifts and Giver of Life, our one Lord and God, beseeching Him through His mother, on behalf of this tormented and confused soldier.  Our Lord, seeing the desire to repent in the depths of Vladimir’s heart, showed him the path of repentance through his illness and presumed death. 

Upon recovering Vladimir took advantage of that door that had been opened by his charity, and by the prayers of the beggar woman, and in exchange for his worldly wealth, he received spiritual wealth.

There is great wealth in the world, but it is of two kinds.  There is the wealth of corruption which is composed of worthless dust – but this wealth can be used to purchase the divine and everlasting spiritual wealth of the grace of God.  Take all that God has given you in the world – the worldly wealth of dust and corruption – and exchange it for the spiritual wealth which will bring you into the Kingdom of God.  Remember, St Paul tells us in his second Epistle to the Corinthians, Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” (Chapter 9 verse 7)

Thank you Father David

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The Spiritual World

19th Sunday after Pentecost

2 Cor 11:31-12:9

The Holy Apostle Paul spoke of “a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”  While the Apostle did not say who this man was, it is apparent that he was speaking of himself, but in such a way that he could set aside any worldly praise and esteem that might arise from such an experience, for he also said, “of myself I will not glory, except in mine infirmities.”  Such an experience is certainly remarkable for it shows a man who is changed, who is no longer tied to this world, but who, having directly experienced the Kingdom of God is now focused solely on that place.  He is no longer a man of this world, but he is a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.

For the Apostle, the spiritual world was real, it was not something of ideas or theory, but something he had experienced directly.  Recently, we celebrated the feast of the Protection of the Mother of God.  This feast is based on the experience of St Andrew the fool for Christ as he was praying in a church in Constantinople.  He looked up during the Vigil service and saw the Virgin Mary appearing in glory, as she spread out her robe over the whole church, indeed the whole city. 

This action demonstrated her role as the protectress of the Church.  She prays for us all constantly before the throne of God as though she were our own mother, we are her own children (and indeed this is true inasmuch as we are united to her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ).  In order that we might know that this was not just a product of the saint’s imagination or a hallucination, we are told that he turned to his companion, Epiphanus, and asked if he could see it as well (and indeed he could).  

Here again we see a person for whom the spiritual world is not simply something imagined or theorized, but something of which he had direct experience, something which he could not only see himself, but could show to others. 

There are several other examples like this throughout the Lives of the Saints.

Here though, we have two great examples of the reality of the spiritual world.  How is it that such things seem so far from us, so outside our own experience? How is it that we do not experience the spiritual world in such a real manner?  What are we lacking?  “

27 Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God.”  Philippians 1:27-28

In our western world and lives, we have grown accustomed to giving the first place to science – we believe what we can see and touch and perceive by our own senses.  In the last century and even before, science was dominant as the tool of discovering and understanding the universe.  Everything was subject to the scientific method.  If something could not be demonstrated, proven and explained by scientific means, then either we had not yet discovered the proper method to do so, or it just wasn’t real.  As a result of this scientific movement, the spiritual world, and consequently our religious faith, came increasingly to be regarded as unreal, for, if it could not be demonstrated, proven or reproduced by accepted scientific means, is wasn’t real.  The physical world was disconnected from the spiritual world.  The spiritual world was considered not “real”, but at best, only an idea, used to explain that which we had not yet conquered, and at worst, simply a tool for a quack to practice his deception.  This attitude led to the rise of scientific atheism and the militant atheism, of the last couple of centuries. 

The sociopolitical atheism of western universities and academia, as well as the militant atheism of (Marxist/Leninist/Mao) Communism, are the best observed results of this movement.  However, the effect of this worldliness permeated all levels of society both in the west and in the east. 

Even religious belief attempted to justify itself in the realm of science, trying to “prove” by scientific means such things as the existence of God and the truth of the Scripture.  But these efforts only gave credibility to the scientific tyranny.

Towards the close of the 20th century, spiritualism made a comeback.  It became obvious that there were unexplained marvels that science could not grasp.  This inspired a renewed interest in “spirituality” and religion.  Seeking some means by which these “spiritual” wonders could be harnessed and understood, society began to look towards religion.  While this might appear to be a good thing at first glance, unfortunately there was a deep flaw in the process. 

In discrediting “spirituality” in the first place, we lost any connection with a firm and reliable understanding of the spiritual world.  Now by blindly pursuing anything that seemed “spiritual”, the stage was set for overwhelming delusion.  Remember that the greatest weapon of the satan and his demons, is deception, the devil is a liar and the father of lies.  This mass rush to embrace the “spiritual world” was nothing less than an opportunity for mass deception.  Having lost the genuine experience of the spiritual world, there was no longer any way to discern what was genuine and what was deception. In fact the very idea of spiritual deception was lost.  It was lost, except for one place and that place was the Orthodox Church.  Within the Church, there were those who continued to pursue the spiritual life, who did not lose the ability to discern truth from error.  

Here in the Orthodox Church, if we will submit to her guidance, the true reality of the spiritual life, the living encounter with God, continues to be available.  But we must conform our lives to the life of the Church and not to the world.  One cannot remain the person he was in the world and be transformed by the Holy Spirit.  Even in the ancient times this was true. 

In the Old and New Testaments, we can see that when a person was touched by the Holy Spirit, he was a changed man, and that change was noticeable to those around him.  When the Holy Apostles were indwelt by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, there was such a noticeable effect that people thought they were drunk, it was the only way they could explain that these people were “different” from themselves.  In the Orthodox Church, when we really encounter Christ we are born again, and when we are filled with Holy Spirit, we are changed. 

But too often we look at the world around us and becoming embarrassed, we try to hide that change, we cover it up and try to appear as though nothing had happened.  We try to remain “like the world” on the outside and confine the new life in Christ, to the inside. 

As long as we do this, the real experience of the spiritual world will be out of our reach for we have not yet embraced it completely.  If we wish to share the reality of the spiritual life with the Apostle Paul and the other Apostles, and with the Saints such as John and Andrew, then we must give ourselves completely to Christ, being willing to be “different” in the eyes of the world, each and every day.  We need to commit wholly to the life in Christ and not hide the effect of the Holy Spirit on our lives.  You cannot be the “same person” that you were in the world, if you wish to follow Christ.  Our Lord said that we must take up our Cross when we follow Him; St Paul speaks again and again about the fact that we are “crucified with Christ”; even in baptism we are buried with Christ in the waters of baptism and rise with Him.  The sacrifice of our old life is necessary in order to fully experience the new life in Christ – the “real” life of the spiritual world

The saints experience the spiritual life as an ingrained reality.  For them, there is no separation between their life in the world, and their life in Christ.  There is no hiding, no cover-up, no compromise. Here we are family, we are the Body of Christ, we must give our lives, our wills, totally give ourselves to Him, who created us, and not just fake it!

If we would fully experience this life in Christ for ourselves, then we must leave behind our worldly life and become the new creatures that He wishes to make us – new creatures that no longer bear the image and imprint of the world, but who bear His image and likeness. 

Then for us the spiritual world will become the “real world” and we will be only pilgrims and wanderers in this world, not belonging here, but only “passing through”, as we seek out our true place in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Lord have mercy on us and guide us as we change to become yours!

Visit us soon: https://holymyrrh.org/

thank you Fr David

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Exaltation OF THE HOLY CROSS

The Feast of the Elevation of the Cross

Saint John of Kronstadt

My beloved in Christ brethren! We celebrate today the feast of Elevation of the Holy and Life-giving Cross of our Lord. When the Patriarch Macarius, one and a half thousand years ago elevated, in the presence of the empress Helene and a multitude of people, the Life-giving Cross of our Lord, the same Cross, which had been recovered by the empress, then the empress and all the people, looking at it with devotion and as though seeing the Savior, hanging from it covered with blood, and in inexpressible sufferings living the last hours of his life, full of suffering for our sake, would fall down with fear and love and cry out in one voice: Lord, have mercy!

Brothers and sisters in the Lord! Now, in front of us is the cross of our Lord, let us recall and imagine, as vividly as we can, the Lord of glory, who had been crucified for our sake, and let us shed tears for our sins, with which we crucify our Lord day after day; let us shed tears about our disobedience to our Lord, about our earthly and material reasoning and the neglect of the heavenly things, about our innumerable mundane passions, about our lack of love toward God and the neighbor, about our self-love and all other passions, proceeding from it, about our love of idleness, laziness, and from all our heart, with tears, let us say: Lord, have mercy on us! Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, who has shed your Blood for the sake of our salvation, have mercy on us, who lack faith, who are proud, evil, envious, money-loving, avaricious, world-loving, carnal, gormandizers, lazy and negligent – and especially, in our salvation, depressed, low-spirited, grumbling, and turn all our hearts to Thee, our Life-giver, so that we no longer love or seek anything in this world, but Thee, and the eternal blessings of Thy Kingdom, acquired for us by Thy blood. Lord! With your fear, like with nails, heal our flesh. Lord! Turn away our hearts from anything worldly. Amen.

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The Nativity of Our Most Holy Lady Mother of God and Ever- Virgin Mary

The Most Holy Virgin Mary was born at a time, when people had reached such limits of decay of moral values, that it seemed altogether impossible to restore them. The best minds of this era were aware and often said openly, that God must need to come down into the world, so as to restore faith and not tolerate the ruination of the race of mankind.

        The Son of God chose for the salvation of mankind to take on human nature, and the All-Pure Virgin Mary, alone is worthy to contain in Herself and to incarnate, the Source of purity and holiness, He chose as His Mother.

        The Birth of Our Most Holy Lady Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary is celebrated by the Church as a day of universal joy. Within the context of the Old and the New Testaments, on this radiant day was born the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, having been fore chosen through the ages by Divine Providence, to bring about the Mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God, and She is revealed as the Mother of the Saviour of the World, Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Most Holy Virgin Mary was born in the small city of Galilee, Nazareth. Her parents were Righteous Joachim, from the tribe of the King and Prophet David, and Anna, from the tribe of the First – Priest Aaron. The couple was without child, since Saint Anna was barren. Having reached old age, Joachim and Anna did not lose hope in the mercy of God. They had strong faith that for God everything is possible, and that He would be able to solve the barrenness of Anna, even in her old age, as He had once solved the barrenness of Sarah, spouse of the Patriarch Abraham. Saints Joachim and Anna made a vow to dedicate the child which the Lord might bestow on them, into the service of God in the Temple.

Childlessness was considered among the Hebrew nation as a Divine punishment for sin, and therefore the righteous Saints Joachim and Anna had to endure abuse from their own countrymen. On one of the feast days at the Temple in Jerusalem, the elderly Joachim brought his sacrifice in offering to God, but the High Priest would not accept it, considering him to be unworthy since he was childless.

Saint Joachim in deep grief went into the wilderness and there he prayed with tears to the Lord for the granting of a child. Saint Anna, having learned about what had happened at the Jerusalem Temple, wept bitterly; never once did she complain against the Lord, but rather she prayed, asking God’s mercy on her family. The Lord fulfilled her petitions when the pious spouses had attained to extreme old age and prepared themselves by a virtuous life, for an uplifting calling — to be the parents of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, the future Mother of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Archangel Gabriel brought Joachim and Anna the joyous message: their prayers were heard by God, and of them would be born a Most Blessed Daughter, Mary, through Whom would come the Salvation of all the World. The Most Holy Virgin Mary, of Herself in purity and virtue, surpassed not only all mankind but also the Angels.  She was manifest as the Living Temple of God, such that the Church sings in its festal verses of song: “the Heavenly Gate, bringing Christ into the world for the salvation of our souls” (2nd Stikhera on “Lord, I have cried”, Tone 6).

        The Birth of the Mother of God marks the changing of the times, wherein the great and comforting promises of God began to be fulfilled about the salvation of the human race, from slavery to the devil. This event has brought nigh to earth, the grace of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of Truth, piety, virtue and life immortal. Our Mother, First Born of All Creation, is revealed to all of us by grace as a merciful Intercessor and Mother, to Whom we steadfastly recourse with loving devotion.  Most Holy Theotokos, save us!!

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The Heavenly Marriage

Now He Who … has anointed us is God; Who has also sealed us and given (us) the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” 2nd Cor 1: 21 – 22)

It is beautiful to see a wedding. There, in the Church, are two people, who are being joined and made one by the grace of God.  This is a great mystery, a mystery that itself echoes the mystery of the unity of the Church and of the Holy Trinity.  The sacrament, beautiful in its own right, with a spiritual beauty that comes from within, is surrounded by external beauty – the clothes, the flowers, the music, the decoration of the Church and hall and so on.  Indeed it is a beautiful thing to behold.  The wedding, however, is but the culmination of a process that can last sometimes many years.  That is the process of getting to know one another and growing towards one another by the couple, that we call the engagement.  The engagement is a promise to marry, but not yet married.  We recognize this in the wedding service itself by celebrating first the betrothal (the promise to marry) which is sealed by the exchange of rings and then afterwards the crowning or the sacrament of marriage itself.  It used to be quite common, when it was supported by the culture, to celebrate the betrothal separately from the wedding, at the beginning of the engagement, rather than at the end.  Even today this is done occasionally when it is necessary or beneficial for the couple who will later be married.   The betrothal is in fact a formal promise to marry and once contracted cannot be broken (except through a Church divorce or annulment).

In modern practice, which mirrors many ancient practices, the engagement is marked by the giving of a ring to the bride.  That ring is the security of the groom to keep his promise and to consummate the engagement by a marriage at a future time.  Even the service of the betrothal, the promise to marry, is marked by the exchange of rings, each person giving a ring to the other as a security of the promise that they will, when the time is right, enter into the sacrament of matrimony.

Just as the earthly marriage is an image of the heavenly reality of unity of the Church, so also the engagement has a heavenly counterpart.  The Apostle today tells us that God Himself has “sealed us and given an earnest of the Spirit in our heart”.  All of us who are members of the Body of Christ have been engaged to the heavenly Bridegroom.  The Church, of which we are a part, is the Bride of Christ.  God, in His infinite love for mankind, gives each of us who are members of the Bride of Christ a “ring” which seals our engagement to Himself.  That “ring” is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in us.  Celebrated together with the sacrament of Baptism, there is also the sacrament of Chrismation in which the newly baptized is anointed with a specially blessed oil (chrism) by which he is “sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit”.  This sacrament, this “seal,” is the mark of God’s promise that one day we will be united with Him completely just as the bride is united with the bridegroom on the day of their marriage.

This engagement, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, is felt by some more acutely than others.  There are those who, having been given the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit, consider that they cannot even enter into an earthly marriage, so strong is their awareness of their engagement to the heavenly Bridegroom.  These are the monastic saints, those who preserved themselves holy and pure in this life, knowing that their true unity will come only with the heavenly Bridegroom when we enter into the heavenly kingdom.  Virgin saints such as Thekla, Katherine, Barbara and John, Basil and Seraphim, to name but a few of the men and women who refused to enter into any earthly marriage, choosing instead to perfect their union with Christ.  Others among the saints, however, used their married life as a means by which they perfected this unity with Christ.  Those of us who are married constantly work to break down the barriers of self-centeredness, self-will and selfishness which stand between and separate us from our spouse. 

In this way we too prepare ourselves for the unity with Christ and the heavenly marriage of which our earthly marriage is but an image.

This engagement to God of which the Apostle speaks is the close relationship that binds us to Christ.  We live with the Holy Spirit in us, constantly moving and directing our lives, so that we come closer and closer to God – just as an engaged couple will grow closer together throughout their engagement.  We are brought nearer to God through the life of the Church and the Holy Mysteries, the Sacraments.  In Baptism we are reborn and given the new life in Christ, in Chrismation we receive the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit, and when we receive Holy Communion, we take the most Holy Body and most Precious Blood of Christ into our own bodies, and are thus mystically joined to Him.  We live and breathe the atmosphere of faith, and as we do our kinship with Christ grows, and we feel ever more strongly, His love for us.  Even if we momentarily forget this love and stray from the path of our engagement through sin, our loving and merciful Lord is quick to restore us through our True repentance and the sacrament of Confession

Just as an earthly engagement is filled with moments of great joy, that foretell the joys of the unity of marriage, so also as we live out the period of our engagement to Christ in this earthly life, we experience moments of spiritual joy and bliss that are but a foretaste of heaven.  We are the members of the heavenly Bridegroom, and in this life we are being prepared for the moment when the culmination of our growing ever nearer to God, arrives, and we are united with Him and become one with and in Him.  That is our motivation in this life to live the Orthodox Christian life, for it is a life of preparation – preparation for the heavenly wedding, the joining of God to us that we might live in union with Him in His heavenly kingdom through eternity.

We are engaged to God – he has promised to unite us with Himself.  In earnest of that promise, He has given to us the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that we might adequately prepare ourselves in this life for the great wedding day in heaven when we will be united with Him. 

In this life, then let us grow constantly nearer to God, just as an engaged couple grows nearer to one another, looking forward to the fulfillment of God’s promise that we will be united with Him in eternity.

Amen!

Thank you Fr David

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His Grace Bishop Nicholas is elected First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia

On Tuesday, 13 September, 2022, the election of the new Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia by its Council of Bishops took place. In accordance with the Act of Canonical Communion, signed on 17 May, 2007, the Council will send the Act of the election, drafted by the counting committee to His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia with a request to bless the electee to assume the duties of the First Hierarch entrusted to him by his brethren archpastors, and for confirmation of the election by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The rite of enthronement of His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas of Eastern America and New York, newly-elected First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, will take place on Sunday, 18 September.

The schedule of divine services associated with the enthronement is as follows:

Saturday, 17 September all-night vigil at the Synodal Cathedral of Our Lady “of the Sign” at 6 pm.

At the end of the service, the newly-elected Primate will emerge through the Royal Doors in a black klobuk and common bishop’s mantle and face the congregation. Two senior hierarchs will then present a white klobuk and blue mantle, which the newly-elected First Hierarch will don, aided by sub-deacons. At this moment, the senior-most hierarch will announce “Axios” (“he is worthy”) which will be repeated first by the bishops then by the choir. After this, the Primate will bless the clergy and congregants. Before this, the blue mantle and white klobuk will be blessed with holy water by the most senior of the hierarchs of the Russian Church Abroad during the reading of the First Hour.

Sunday, 18 September Divine Liturgy at the Cathedral at 9:30 am.

After the reading of the entrance prayers and the customary vesting of the two senior hierarchs, the new Metropolitan will be escorted to the vesting area, when “Axios” will be repeated by the hierarchs and clergy, then by the choir. Divine Liturgy will commence in the customary manner. After the service, a moleben will be performed along with the entrusting of the archpastoral staff to the new Primate, which was blessed on the crypt of St Tikhon, All-Russian Patriarch and Confessor.

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Holy Feast Day of the Dormition

“Magnify O my soul, the honourable Translation of the Mother of God from earth to heaven.” (Refrain for the 9th Ode of the Canon)

From the moment that our first parents, Adam and Eve rebelled against God and fell into sinfulness, our Lord, out of His great love for mankind began to craft our redemption.  He began to prepare to take our flesh upon Himself, to enter into the world that He had created, and to redeem it from the curse and destruction that had been wrought by the sin of Adam and Eve.  Seeing that we were bound and held captive to sin and that we were under the power of corruption and death, God set about to free us from our captivity and to heal the wounds that had been wrought by the sin of our first parents.  From the very moment that Adam and Eve were clothed with the garments of skin and exiled from Paradise, our Lord began to prepare the means by which He Himself would take on our flesh, become incarnate, and so effect our cure, our freedom, our salvation.

For generations He selected the line of those who would continue to serve Him: Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah.  He carefully chose the best of humanity both in body and soul and shaped them until the time was right.  Finally He selected from among all of the tribe of Judah, the righteous Joachim and Anna to be the parents of the one who would be born the finest, most perfect person that humanity had to offer.  This pinnacle of mankind was none other than the Virgin Mary – and it was through her that God came into the world.

Throughout the generations and centuries, God guided those who would serve Him, His chosen people, and from them brought out the finest product of the human race, the perfect human being.  It was through the Virgin Mary then, that God directly encountered and entered His creation.  This was her purpose, to provide the door, the gateway, the portal by which God came down from Heaven into the world, the Ark.  Her coming was prophesied over and over again with many images.  Today let us look specifically at the image seen by the Patriarch Jacob in a dream, for he saw the gateway between heaven and the world as a ladder, a heavenly stairway upon which God Himself stood.  It is this ladder that is the image of the Virgin Mary. 

On this ladder, the patriarch saw angels descending and ascending and indeed this reminds us that there are not many ways to heaven, but only one – and that path lies through Christ, for He alone is our salvation

On the feast of the Nativity of Christ, this great purpose of the Virgin Mary is fulfilled – through her God has taken flesh and entered into the world.  It would seem that the great purpose of her life is fulfilled, that now her only duty is to nurture and protect this Child, Who is the God/man Jesus Christ. 

But on this ladder, by which our Lord Jesus Christ descended from heaven, we see that there are not only angels descending (showing us the coming of Christ) but also those who were ascending.  This shows us that through Christ those of us in this world can ascend into heaven and enter into the Kingdom of God. 

Today on the feast of the Dormition, the death of the Virgin Mary, we see the second part of her great purpose initiated.  While on earth, she was the portal by which God came down to us.  Now she has passed from this world and stands at the right hand of our Lord as the Queen of Heaven arrayed in a vesture of interwoven gold and adorned in varied colors. (Ps 45:9 LXX) In heaven she now fulfills a new purpose – she is the portal, the gateway, the ladder which leads from earth to heaven.  Through her all of mankind stands before the throne of God. St Gregory Palamas praises the Virgin saying, “Standing between God and the whole human race, she alone made God a son of man, and men sons of God, rendered the earth heaven and made mankind divine. 

She alone among women, was declared the Mother of God by nature, transcending every nature.  Through her unutterable childbearing she became the Queen of all creation in this world and beyond, and through herself she raised up those below her, and made her subjects heavenly instead of earthly.  She shared in the noblest honor, the most sublime power and the ordination bestowed from heaven through the divine Spirit and was set high above all, the supremely blessed Queen of a blessed race.”

It should be no surprise to us that the Virgin Mary occupies such an exalted place in the Kingdom of God.  Nor should we be surprised that she is the ladder by which we ascend into heaven.  In our so-called, democratic society, sometimes the concept of a hierarchy seems foreign to us and perhaps even suspect.  We tend to view the Kingdom of God as more of a democracy wherein all are equal.  But this is not the case. We see even from the disposition of the ranks of angels, from those standing near the throne of God, the Seraphim and Cherubim, to those who are further from the throne of God but nearer to us, the Archangels and Angels.  Their place is determined by their task and all rejoice fully in the presence of God Who is Himself “everywhere present”. 

Also let us consider the words of our Lord Who promised His apostles that in the Kingdom of Heaven, they would sit upon thrones and judge the twelve tribes.  The choir of the saints also indicates to us, that even among the members of the Body of Christ there are different stations and different kinds of glory. 

 However this hierarchy is not like the hierarchies of this world which are beset by our fallen nature, St Gregory instructs us that, “It is an eternal custom in heaven that those who are lesser should participate through those who are greater in what lies beyond.”  In other words, those who are nearer to God are always reaching back to bring along those who are behind or below them. And St Gregory tells us, “The Virgin Mother is incomparably greater than all.  So as many as will share in God, will do so through her, all those who know God will know her as the one who holds Him whom nothing can contain…”  Being exalted above the rest of creation, she then also reaches down to all those who come after her, that we might be raised up and draw near to God ourselves.  He continues, “Just as it was only through her that the Son came to us, was seen on earth, and lived among men … so from now on for endless eternity all progress towards the manifestation of divine light, every revelation of divine mysteries and all forms of spiritual gifts are beyond everyone’s grasp without her. … She brought Him, Who fills all things, within reach of all…”

Let us never forget then, that the Mother of God is there for each of us as a quick and ready helper.  She is so much closer to God than all others who draw near to him, and she is therefore able to intercede more powerfully than any other.  Therefore when we call out to her for help, she is quick to hear us and quick to petition her Son on our behalf.  She stands not just near to the throne of God, but she stands with her Son at the right hand of the Father and from this intimate place, pleads with God on behalf of those who call out to her.

Today, as we celebrate the remembrance of the death of the Virgin Mary, let us also remember that she was also raised bodily by her Son our Lord Jesus Christ and taken into heaven.  She is the Queen of heaven and of all creation, the Mother of the God/man Jesus Christ, the one chosen by God as the portal by which He descended from heaven into His creation, and the portal by which He brings us up into His presence.  As she stands nearer to God than any other creature, she also reaches down to us as our ready helper, to lift us up to stand with her in the presence of God. 

Do not neglect to call out to her, do not doubt that she will pray for you or that her Son, hearing the voice of His beloved Mother, will be quick to act on her requests for your benefit.  In her own nature, she is the perfect human being, and having been transformed by the grace of God and filled with the Holy Spirit, she is now also the perfect resurrected human being and she is our helper, our friend, indeed in Christ she is our own mother who cares for us. 

As we prepare to meet Him, this preparation for the meeting of the heavenly King before the dread judgment seat, after death, is essentially the person’s, you and me, our preparation throughout the whole of our life. This preparation means a change in all our thoughts, and the moral change of all our being, so that the whole man would be pure and white as snow, washing clean everything that defiles the body and spirit, so that they are adorned with every virtue: repentance, meekness, humility, gentleness, simplicity, chastity, mercifulness, abstention, spiritual contemplation, and burning love for God and neighbor.

And so, ye participants in the Christian feasts, and especially the present feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, ye who are brightly adorned with every virtue and translated to the heavenly kingdom, to Her Son and God, proclaim to each and every one about preparing their souls to be the dwelling place of the Lord, about continual repentance, and about the incorruptible adornment of Christian virtue. Let your death also be unashamed and peaceful, serving as the pledge of a good answer at the dread judgment seat of Christ.  Amen.

Thank you Fr David

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Time and Eternity in Orthodox Worship

Kairos / Chronos

Standing in Two Worlds

St. Paul instructs us in several of his Epistles to: “redeem the time.”

There are many different meanings of this phrase, but one meaning is that in Orthodox Divine Services we can experience what we might call “redeemed time.”

Two Kinds of Time

In English, we are somewhat restricted in talking and thinking about time, partly due to the general lack of adequate words to express transcendent experience, and partly because we have just one word for ‘time’ — which generally refers to chronological, calendar time as measured by a clock. However, in the Greek language, with its inherent thought-patterns, the language in which the New Testament was written and the Eastern Fathers thought and wrote, there are two words for time.

“Chronos” (as in ‘chronological’) is the Greek word for the earthly, temporal, measurable, clock time where we live our everyday lives. “Chronos” time and space are chief characteristics of God’s created world and therefore are not bad in themselves, but are to be redeemed, along with everything else in the fallen world.

However, Greek (and some other languages) has a second word, (and therefore a second category of thought) for time — “kairos.” This refers to what we might describe as “Eternal” or “Divine time,” or “Transfigured time,” or “Redeemed time”— a realm wherein we step outside of and transcend the “clock” time of our everyday lives in the world. “Kairos” time is the realm of artistic creativity, wherein one “stands outside oneself,” and is caught up into another realm or level of existence. “Kairos” time is the present now time:

“Today Christ is born! Today Christ is Risen! Today Christ is Baptized! This is the day of salvation!”

“Kairos” time is also the “fullness of time,” when the Eternal breaks into and penetrates our fallen earthly existence, transfiguring it and us, wherein we are granted the gift to temporarily catch a glimpse of standing in the Presence of God. This is the realm of what might be called “religious experience”—or having a “personal experience” of God; it is the present moment of repentance and conversion. We have stepped into “Kairos” time when we are “caught up” and don’t even notice the passage of “chronos” time.

“Kairos” is the transcendent time into which we are invited to enter and to experience in Orthodox Divine worship—the Divine time of this other world, this other realm. This is the “redeemed time” into which we are invited to enter when we step into an authentic Orthodox Church temple. This is the “redeemed time” that we can experience in authentic Orthodox icons. This is the “redeemed time” in which we can participate during authentically-rendered Orthodox Divine Services.

The degree to which the architecture, icons and liturgy can enable us to temporarily transcend this fallen temporal world and have a foretaste of heavenly worship in God’s Presence can vary enormously, but the extent to which the earthly worship reflects the heavenly worship is the most important. When the Divine Services are sung and chanted and prayed in a way that reflects heavenly worship, then even a mediocre physical church building, with mediocre icons, (or even when served in a hospital, nursing home, prison, home, or other setting outside a church building), can be transformed temporarily into the eternal Kingdom and where those present are invited to participate in the continuous worship of heaven. This is a totally awesome gift that we are offered!

Sometimes people can intuitively experience this sense of transcendence of time, space and place—the transcending of the temporal, everyday life of the ‘world’— without knowing just how to express in words the experience of standing with one foot in heaven and one foot on the earth. But on the other hand, sometimes the opposite might occur, for it is also very easy—and an enormous temptation that must be rigorously resisted—to bring the experiences of our daily, temporal life in the fallen world into the life of the Church and its Divine Services. We also can be tempted to bring with us the experience of both secular and heterodox music. Usually we do this without even being aware of what we are doing, because it is an unconscious expression of how we have been socialized in our lives in the culture around us. Let us reflect a bit about what this means in practice, to help us recognize it when it occurs.

Orthodox Worship Transports us into the Eternal Realm

—> To fully read this entire article by Fr John Peck, please click here

*** The picture of the Church above is the future Holy Myrrhbearers Orthodox Church outside of Harrisonburg, VA. If you, after prayer, wish to help us build His Church, please go to our Web Site: https://holymyrrh.org/ and click on the donate button. Thank you for your prayers.

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