Phone and email and text messages

From: Russian Orthodox Church Cardiff : Kazan Icon of the Mother of God

“I am always slightly dumb-founded when members of the community try to call on the telephone before Liturgy on Sunday mornings, and can only come to the conclusion that they have no idea what happens before the beginning of the Hours.

As parish priest, my day in church often begins three hours before the last of the community arrive – that is those who neglect the Hours and only arrive just in time for the beginning of Liturgy.

The lamps and candles need to be lit, which takes time in a building the size of the University Church and the laying of the Zhertvenik / preparation-table needs completing before the entrance prayers and vesting prayers, for the vestments are not simply put on like clothes.

The entrance prayers that you see our bishop and the clergy recite before Liturgy mirror those said by the clergy before every Liturgy.

After this, special prayers are said when the clergy vest, then during the washing of hands. It is only then that the clergy begin to celebrate the rite of preparation of the Holy Gifts: the proskomedia.

During this rite, the priest takes portions from five prosphora (loaves of offering).

The first portion, from the first loaf, is the Lamb, which will be consecrated, and by the operation of the Holy Spirit will become the Body of Christ.

The second portion, placed to the right of the Lamb (our left), commemorates the Theotokos. ‘The Queen didst stand at Thy right hand…’

From the third loaf, the priest removes particles to remember the ranks of saints: the Forerunner, the prophets, the apostles, holy hierarchs, martyrs, monastics, unmercenary healers, the ancestors of Christ, Joachim and Anna, together with the patrons of the temple and the saints particularly  significant to our local Church (Saints Cyril and Methodius, Saints Vladimir and Olga etc), and finally the saint whose Liturgy is being celebrated. These are placed to the left of the Lamb (our right).

From the fourth loaf, the priest takes two triangular potions to commemorate the hierarchy and clergy, and those in authority, and places them in front of the Lamb. He then commemorates the living whose names are offered in commemoration lists and books. Particles are removed and offered during these intercessions and placed on the diskos, next to the triangular portions.

From the fifth loaf the priest takes a triangular portion in remembrance departed hierarchs of the Church, departed Orthodox rulers and the founders of the temple. This is placed beneath the particles for the living. Turning to the commemoration lists and books, the departed are remembered by name, and particles in their memory are placed on the diskos

After communion, all of these particles representing both the living and departed are placed into the chalice with the prayer: ‘Wash away, by Thy precious Blood, O Lord, the sins of those here commemorated, through the prayers of all Thy saints.’

So, during this rite of preparation, an icon of the Church is created on the diskos, from five loaves of bread: Christ the Lamb, flanked by His Most-Holy Mother on one side and the choir of the saints on the other, with the living and departed before Him. You and I are part of this icon. Those whom you remember in your commemoration lists and pomianiky are part of this icon; those alive now, and generations of the departed reaching back through the centuries.

The next time you consider telephoning the priest before Liturgy, put the telephone away! The priest is already busy, preparing the Offering: praying for the Church and the world, and remembering the faithful – living and departed – name by name.

You have a part in this: to remember your Orthodox loved ones, and brothers and sisters in Faith, living and departed. By having them commemorated in the proskomedia, they become part of this icon of the Church as they are remembered in prayer in the preparation of the Holy Gifts.

The particles taken in memory of them surround Christ’s Holy Body, as He truly becomes present among us and calls us to Himself, to share in His Mystical Supper.”

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Eternal Life

Eternal Life:  John 17:1-13

A really interesting Gospel lesson Fr Nektary read earlier, however, it’s not like there is anything uninteresting in the Gospel.

The reading in the Gospel of John, is a prayer of Jesus to God, to God the Father to be exact.

This prayer, that Christ offers, is often called the High Priestly Prayer, because it contains the 4 basic elements of prayer, a priest in the Old Testament would offer to God when a sacrifice is about to be made:

  1. Glorification“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. 4 I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. 5 And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.”
  2. Remembrance of God’s works“…since You have given Him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him.” & “I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. 7 Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. 8 For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me…”
  3. Intercession of behalf of others – ” 9 I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. 10 And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them
  • And finally, a declaration of the offering itself – “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:” & “5 And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was…”

Notice that the Lord says, “5 And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was…” which tells us: Eternal life is knowledge of God, that He is only and true, and that God the Father sent His Son for our salvation. 

​Simple, right? To Know God. Archbishop Averky tells us:

“And the light shines in the darkness”—the Word Who gives mankind the light of true knowledge, does not cease to guide mankind even in the darkness of sin, but the darkness did not apprehend it, that is, people who stubbornly continue in sin prefer to remain in the darkness of spiritual blindness (“and the darkness did not comprehend it.)”

What is there not to know? God is God – supreme, almighty, everywhere-present, listens to our prayers and does exactly as we ask Him to do. I wish I was joking, but very often our fabrication of God is exactly that – a vending machine of our wishes, or at least we hope He would be. This is partly due to our consumeristic culture – we provide the demand, the market spits out supply, all are happy. 

Thankfully this is not the case with God. To really know God means to live in Him, according to His commands, to live with Him in His Church. It may sound a bit harsh, but it is impossible to know God outside of His Church. And I don’t mean just the church you go to, like your parish, like here at Holy Myrrhbearers, but the Universal Church, to which every Orthodox parish belongs, The Body of Christ!

Christians were meant to live together, as a community – one big Community made up of a bunch of small local communities. Our faith is personal, but it is lived communally, as family.

Jesus continues on, in the Gospel of John, this Sunday’s lesson with, ” 13 And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.

Jesus said this prayer and gave us a lot of His teachings, both recorded in the Gospels and unrecorded but preserved in the Church, Holy Tradition, aloud. Everything He said was meant for us to have His joy made complete. 

​How or what is the joy of God? We don’t know and we can’t know in this world, there is simply too much corruption and lust and decay. We do get some taste of this joy communally. We worship together, when we share things together (for example, sharing the Gospel of Christ) or a meal, when we learn to love each other, as family, in the Body of Christ.

Why? Because that’s exactly what we will be doing in the Kingdom of God, in Eternal life – worshipping the One True God, sharing in His grace, and remaining in His Love.

If we can’t do these things in this temporary life, how can we expect to do them for all eternity?

Of course we could remain ignorant and say that there is no such thing as the Kingdom of heaven or eternal life. In which case, this life, as temporary as it is, make no sense.

Us Orthodox Christians simply refuse to believe that this earthly life is all that there is to our existence.  God is the One True God, and we are members of His Family, of His Body!

Before we end, let me address Christ’s last statement in today’s Gospel: verse 12, “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.”

In light of the Scriptures, we must conclude that Judas was never a true believer in Christ, John 6:64, states 64but there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him.

And that Judas was possessed by Satan as per John 13:27After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly.” and though he regretted his betrayal of Jesus, the Lord said that it would have been better if he had never been born, in Matthew 26:24, we are told,24The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It had been good for that man if he had not been born” and in Mark 14:21, “21The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! Good were it for that man if he had never been born.” 

Therefore, we conclude that Judas ended up outside of salvation, in hell.  There is no other meaning or justification.  Let us not be like him!

Let us find the Joy of Christ Almighty, which He will give to each and every one of us, as members of His Family, in the Body of Christ.  If and only if, we believe and follow Him, who created us.

Glory to God!

Thank you Fr David

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Jurisdictions Come Together

His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral) reposed in the Lord on May 16 at the age of 74.

The services at the Synodal Cathedral of the Sign brought together hierarchs from various jurisdictions. His Eminence Metropolitan Mark of Berlin and Germany, the ROCOR Locum Tenens, presided over the service, joined by Archbishops Kyrill of San Francisco, Gabriel of Montreal, and Peter of Chicago, and Bishops Nicholas of Manhattan and Irenei of London of ROCOR, as well as Metropolitan Joseph of New York of the Antiochian Archdiocese, Archbishop Michael of New York of the Orthodox Church in America, Bishop Gideon of Makarovka of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and a multitude of clerics from ROCOR and other jurisdictions, reports the ROCOR Eastern American Diocese.

To read the entire article, click HERE!!

And here is another article from the Eastern American Diocese of ROCOR

And from Holy Trinity Monastery

For just as coal engenders a flame, or a flame lights a candle, so will God, who from our baptism dwells in our heart, kindle our mind to contemplation when He finds it free from the winds of evil and protected by the guarding of the intellect.

St. Hesychius the Theologian of Jerusalem, disciple of St. Gregory the Theologian

Philokalia, Vol. 1 p.180

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Christianity is Life!

On Tuesday, May 4/17, the 15th anniversary of the restoration of the fullness of ecclesiastical unity within the Russian Orthodox Church, and the eve of the anniversary of the enthronement of His Eminence Hilarion, Metropolitan of Eastern America & New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, a session of the Synod of Bishops of ROCOR was held, presided over by His Eminence Mark, Metropolitan of Berlin & Germany.

The members of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Church Abroad announced with great sorrow that on May 3/16, the feast day of Venerable Theodosius, Abbot of the Kiev Caves, His Eminence Hilarion, Metropolitan of Eastern America & New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, reposed in the Lord.

For more click here-

Christianity is a life rooted in Christ’s own. Its charge is not to live for self but to live for Christ; and its goal is not satisfaction but transformation. The Christian is called to become, to enter into a newness of life that is another’s— that is Christ’s. He is to discover the “self” of his current exis­tence, precisely so that he can work to change it into a life not de­fined by his will, but defined and made real by another—by God Himself.

Bishop Irenei Steenberg

The Beginnings of a Life of Prayer p.18

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The Sacrifice of Worship

May 16, 2022 · Fr. Stephen Freeman

“When God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac (Genesis 22), there was no questioning on Abraham’s part about what was intended. He understood precisely what was involved in such a thing. There was wood to be gathered, an altar of stones to be constructed, the victim to be bound, and then the slitting of its throat with the gushing forth of blood, all consummated in the burning fires of the now-completed offering. What Abraham did was repeated in a variety of forms throughout the ancient world. Homer writes about Poseidon being absent from the Hellenic scene in order to attend a massive sacrifice in Libya. Sacrifice itself was part of the universal language of ancient religion. What differed was what/whom was being sacrificed and to Whom/What the sacrifice was being made. This was worship.

Today, “sacrifice” has passed into more generalized cultural metaphors that have nothing to do with worship. “Worship” itself has become a vague concept, generally associated with prayer/praise and hymn-singing. As such it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish what many contemporary Christians describe as “worship” from the treatment of various Rock, Sport and Entertainment stars (or patriotism and ideological fetishes).”…

“Christ bids us to come to Him. He bids us to eat His flesh and drink His blood and to have no other gods but Him.”

Fr Stephen writings are excellent! To read the entire article click here!!

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Say YES!!

“And there is another step beyond. It is possible to say Yes repeatedly throughout the day. The simple phrase, “I say Yes to God,” carries a great deal of power. I have learned to make it a frequent confession in my day. I say Yes to God. I say Yes to my life. I say Yes to this problem. I say Yes to the mistakes I have made. It is a means of affirming that God is working all things together for my good – even my mistakes.

Say Yes.”

Fr. Stephen Freeman

https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2022/05/03/say-yes-2/
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The Struggle for Virtue

The opposing virtues must be immediately planted in place of eradicated passions. The Holy Fathers enumerate these virtues in the following order: (1) abstinence is opposed to gluttony, (2) chastity is opposed to fornication, (3) non-acquisitiveness is opposed to avarice, (4) meekness is opposed to anger, (5) blessed tears about one’s sins are opposed to despair, (6) sobriety is opposed to sorrow, (7) humility is opposed to vanity, and (8) love is opposed to pride.

Archbishop Averky (Taushev)

The Struggle for Virtue: Asceticism in a Modern Secular Society p.135


Archbishop Averky’s book, the Struggle for Virtue, is an excellent book to read and re-read often. He addresses head on the question, “What is asceticism?” The Archbishop counters the many false understandings that exist and shows that the practice of authentic asceticism is integral to the spiritual life and the path to blessed communion with God.

Archbishop Averky (Taushev) taught and served in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Germany before being assigned in to teach at the Holy Trinity Seminary in New York. In 1960 became the abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery and was heavily involved in the formation of the seminary curriculum and the daily life of the seminarians and monks.

“Archbishop Averky was one of the last giants of 20th-century Orthodoxy . . . . [He] was an Orthodox scholar in the unbroken tradition of patristic thought which has come down to us from the ancient Fathers to our own days.”  —Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose), author, The Orthodox Word

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CHRIST IS RISEN

Paschal Epistle of His Eminence Hilarion, Metropolitan of Eastern America & New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad

Eminent brother archpastors, reverend fathers, dear brothers and sisters:

CHRIST IS RISEN!

With a sense of jubilation in the Lord, the Victor over evil, hell, and death, I greet you all on this luminous night of the Lord’s Matins and Paschal Liturgy, this “feast of faith,” which the great Chrysostom exhorts us to relish! Greetings on the Glorious Resurrection of Christ!

The grace-filled power of Great Lent and Holy Pascha unites us all, elevates, illumines, softens, and broadens our souls, which during these holy days are revealed in their finest degrees. Still, no matter how much we have strived to seclude ourselves within the cells of our hearts, mindfully heeding the touching hymns sung during Great Lent and Passion Week, that which is unfolding in the land of Kievan Rus’ – a land so dear to us – forcefully encroaches into our lives. We, as Orthodox Christians, cannot remain indifferent when members of one and the same Local Church gaze at each other through the scopes of automatic weapons; we cannot remain indifferent when our brothers and sisters, deprived of shelter, become refugees, as once were the founders of our own Russian Church Abroad.

Our inability to remain indifferent is expressed first and foremost in our fervent prayers for the restoration of peace, lifted up during the divine services in the parishes of our Russian Church Abroad. And at this moment, as we worship Christ the Giver of Life, we fervently implore for His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry of Kiev & All Ukraine, the archpastors, pastors, and the multitude of the flock of the persecuted Ukrainian Orthodox Church, that they and all those who with wearied hearts are tormented by the present tragedy, may experience that which is hymned in the Paschal night, as we sing out: “O Pascha, ransom from sorrow!” May “this chosen and holy day” be a consolation and joy, an outpouring of mercy, aid, and Divine strength for all!

O God, our God, grant that the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3) may reign among our Orthodox peoples, that we, not falling into despair, may overcome all tribulations, discord, and conflicts “through Him that loved us” (Romans 8:37), so that “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance” (Galatians 5:22-23) may be restored among us anew.

Now, as hostility, anger, and hatred destroy the concord and brotherhood between nations and bring our sinful world to the threshold of hell, it is not the place of the Church to render political verdicts or take upon ourselves the task of seeking out those responsible for what is happening in the Ukrainian land. It is the work of the Church to join the suffering – not only in prayer, but in deed. Of this, our Lord the Chief Shepherd instructed us plainly in the Gospel reading of the Sunday of the Dread Judgement (cf. Matthew 25:31-46).

This is why, beginning already in 2014, we have been offering help to those suffering in southeastern Ukraine; and since February of this year, when the new hostilities began, the dioceses and parishes of the Russian Church Abroad, our Fund for Assistance, and our other ecclesiastical and social organizations have been responding with kind hearts, vigorously and generously, to this terrible catastrophe. May the Lord save you all for your sacrificial labors! Such concrete help prevents us from becoming “salt that hath lost his savour” (Matthew 5:13), and shows that we can and must become more involved in the conciliar work of building the Church. We, as God’s people, scattered throughout the entire world, have many gifts and talents with which we can serve not only Him, Who with His most-pure Blood perfected our salvation, but can also serve His Holy Church and our neighbor. So, let us not grow weak in spirit or fall into despair, but “let us commit ourselves and one another and all our life unto Christ our God!”

May Pascha, wondrous and sweetly fragrant, warm cold hearts and unite us all! May the exclamation “Christ is Risen!”, which forever evokes trepidation even among those who have departed from the Father’s house, remind us that we, as Orthodox Christians, are children of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Who rose on the third day and with Whom and in Whom we shall also be resurrected for the life of the age to come. Amen.

With love in the Risen Christ and asking your holy prayers,

+HILARION
Metropolitan of Eastern America & New York
First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia

Pascha of the Lord 2022

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The Priestly Preparation of the Divine Liturgy

https://inklesspen.blog/2022/04/05/the-priestly-preparation-of-the-divine-liturgy/

On By frlynch In Divine Services, Living the Faith, New Hieromartyr Seraphim (Zvezdinski), Sermons on the Divine Liturgy, On the Divine Services, Orthodoxy, Orthodoxy in America

Below is Fr. Zechariah Lynch’s translation from the Russian of the eighth sermon by New Hieromartyr Seraphim (Zvezdinski) on the Divine Liturgy. The preceding sermons may be found here. This is a continuing series.

Sermon 8

The Lord says, “I am the bread which came down from heaven” (Jn. 6:41). The bread is His Divine Body and His Pure Blood – Holy Communion, that ever strengthens, enlivens and purifies us. Holy Communion is the Sun of righteousness ever sanctifying our life. From this Sun shines forth three rays; It is the diamond set in the ark of three sections.1 The Divine Liturgy consists of three parts. From ancient times the Service has been subdivided in such a manner because even the first liturgy in the upper room of Zion consisted of three parts.

The Mystical Supper began first of all with the preparation. The Lord told His disciples, “Go and prepare the upper room” (cf. Lk. 22:8). After the preparation, the Lord sat at the table with His disciples (but Judas did not remain until the end of the supper, he “departed,” as the catechumens depart, not having baptism). Finally, [ …]2 the Lord began the sacred rite and under the forms of bread and wine, He gave the disciples to taste of His Body and Blood. And so, the Divine Liturgy consists of three parts. The first part is proskomedia, which is a Greek word because the whole Divine Liturgy came to us3 from the Greeks. Proskomedia means “offering.”

The bread for Communion must be made from wheat and it must be leavened. The shape of the loaf must be round and made of two parts. Round wheat bread is taken in memory of that bread which the Savior used when completing the first Liturgy. The round shape reminds us of a denarius coin and indicates that we have been bought by Christ the Savior who gave Himself for us; He Himself has purchased us. The bread is called Prosphora, that is – an offering. It is called by this name in remembrance of the faithful who would bring bread to the church for the service of the holy Liturgy, much as we today bring candles, oil, and other such things (in offering). The two parts of the prosphora speak of the two natures of Christ – Human and Divine. For it is by this “denarius” that we have been purchased, such is the sacrifice that the God-Man voluntarily offered on our behalf, Himself being the Son of God and the Son of the Virgin. At the Liturgy, five prosphora loaves are used.4 “Why is this?” you may ask me. Simply look at the Cross – five loaves are offered in memory of the five wounds of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now I will move on to an explanation of the Liturgy itself. I have already told you that it is composed of three parts. The first of which is called “Proskomedia.” It is dedicated to the commemoration of the Nativity of Christ. As Christ was born in obscurity and practically unknown until the age of thirty, when He was revealed to the world, so proskomedia is served in the altar (sanctuary) with the holy doors closed. The sufferings of Christ are also commemorated in the service of proskomedia, but as if in anticipation [ …]5 in a manner such as the Righteous Simeon the God-bearer foresaw them.

Before offering the Liturgy, the priest acknowledges his weakness and sinfulness, and feeling holy awe before the great service into which he is entering, he turns to the Lord in prayer seeking help. This is why before approaching the Holy Supper he stands before the (holy doors of) the iconostasis in fear; confessing his helplessness, he strengthens himself in prayer to the Lord. The priest has already been preparing himself for service since the past evening;6 now having entered the temple he must, above all else, be at peace with everyone in his mind and forgive everyone every offense. People often speak of unworthy priests, and some folks announce that because of such priests they do not come to church and do not respect clergy because some behave in an unworthy manner. O, what thoughtlessness and what religious ignorance! Are the accomplishing hands that hold forth the changed mysteries in the Chalice those of an angel or an unworthy priest?

The Lord said, “The scribes and Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses. Therefore, whatever they tell you to observe, observe and do, but do not imitate their works” (Matt. 23:2-3). The Lord spoke these words about priests who were sinful, depraved, and embittered to the core. St. John Chrysostom says a person should be thankful to God that Holy Communion is given to him by a weak priest because if the Liturgy were offered by an angel of God, he would not allow sinners to approach the holy things.

Acknowledging his weakness with fear, the priest calls upon the Lord for help. Before the holy doors, the priest prays, “O Heavenly King …” through to the “Our Father.” In recognition of his sinfulness he prays, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us …” Here he, as a priest, asks that his iniquities be forgiven according to the limitless mercy of the compassionate God, and he then proclaims, “We are His people.” Further, he beseeches the Most-Pure Virgin to “open the doors of compassion” because she is “the salvation of the Christian race.”7

Having said these prayers, the priest then bows to the image of the Savior that is next to the holy doors and kisses it as he prays, “Thy Most-Pure image …” And he then also bows to the image of the Mother of God and kisses it while praying, “Make us worthy of mercy, O Theotokos, fountain of tenderness …” He then proceeds to kiss all the other [primary] icons on the iconostasis while chanting their troparia. The veneration of the holy icons is offered to supplicate the aid of the Mother of God and the holy God-pleasers on behalf of the weak and sinful priest before the offering of the dread Liturgy. On the other hand, by this veneration the priest also witnesses that our Orthodox Church fulfills the decrees of the Seventh Ecumenical to honor holy icons.

Then the priest stands before the royal doors with his head bowed and prays, “O Lord, stretch forth Thy hand …” Again he begs for grace-filled help and still he refrains from entering into the service of the Liturgy. Yet again he asks for strength to complete the service of the Liturgy so that standing uncondemned before the awesome throne he may offer the bloodless sacrifice. This prayer as it were strengthens him and he finally resolves to enter the altar. Yet before entering the altar, he turns and asks for prayer and forgiveness from the gathered faithful, seeking support from them in his weakness.

With the words of the psalm in his mouth, “I will enter Thy house …”,8 he enters into the altar. He makes three bows before the holy Table and kisses the Gospel and cross which lay upon it, as if the Lord Himself is sitting on the His throne of glory. The priest then makes three bows towards the east and proceeds to vest. Vestments represent that the priest must lay aside everything earthly and be clothed in the grace of God. As the priest vests himself in the sticharion, he prays, “My soul shall rejoice in the Lord, for He hath clothed me with the robe of gladness; as a bridegroom He hath set a crown on me; and as a bride adorns herself with jewels, so hath He adorned me.” Then with the appropriate prayers, he vests himself in the remaining vestments. All of these prayers call upon and exalt the strengthening power of the grace of God. When fully vested, the priest then washes his hands while praying, “I will wash my hands in innocence ….”9 It should be said that in ancient times all the faithful washed their hands upon entering the church and for this purpose, a washstand stood at the entrance. St. John Chrysostom says the faithful washed their hands two times, once when entering the church and the other when exiting, as they gave alms. I myself remember, when I was a boy, before entering an old temple that our family attended, we washed our hands in a bowl according to this ancient custom.

Fully vested, the priest then approaches the table of oblation and a final time turns to God with prayer before starting proskomedia, bringing to remembrance the Redeeming Sacrifice of Christ. Offering three bows, he reads, “God cleanse me a sinner and have mercy on me,” and “By Thy precious blood Thou hast redeemed us from the curse of the law …” The priest then proclaims the blessing, “Blessed is our God, always now and ever and unto the ages of ages,” and thus he begins to offer proskomedia.

I will say more about this at another time but right now I want to remind you again, my friends, to love this diamond of God – the Divine Liturgy. Be present at the offering of the Liturgy with fear and reverence. Call to mind how I told you even the angels themselves envy10 that we have been given such an incalculable gift. The angels descend from the heavenly realms to be present at the offering of the Liturgy! The venerable Seraphim11 himself witnessed this presence of the angels. The disciples of our venerable father Sergius saw how an angel served with him;12 other saints have very similar testimonies. How then could we not lay aside everything earthly so to taste of this spring of Life?

1A reference to the ark of Noah. Cf. Genesis 6:16.

2Break in the original text

3i.e. the Russians

4This is standard Slavic practice. Greek practice uses one loaf.

5Break in the original text

6Through his prayer rule of preparation for Holy Communion

7All quoted texts are excerpts from prayers used during the priestly entrance prayers. The full prayers may be found in most Liturgy service books.

8Psalm 5

9Psalm 25:6-10

10cf. Homily 1

11St. Seraphim of Sarov

12The disciples were Isaacius the Silent and Macarius. See The Northern Thebaid, Monastic Saints of the Russian North, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood. Platina, 2004. pg. 35, for the full account in English.

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The Cross leads us to Jesus Christ

This week marks the midpoint of Great Lent and on this middle Sunday of the Fast, we look forward to the Holy Cross. Later on, during Holy Week, the Cross reappears as an element in the remembrance of our Lord’s Crucifixion, however, here it stands alone as the emblem of our Lord’s victory and our invincible weapon against the attacks of the demons.

St Athanasius tells us: “By the sign of the cross all magic is stayed, all sorcery  confounded, all the idols are abandoned and deserted, and all senseless pleasure ceases, as the eye of faith looks up to heaven from the earth.” And St Cyril of Jerusalem adds: “(The Cross) is a powerful safeguard, a grace from God, a badge of the faithful, and a terror to devils.”

The Cross is also the anchor point of our lives in the world – everything revolves around the cross and it anchors us to Christ.  St Ephraim the Syrian expresses this in his poetic writings saying: “The Cross is  – the resurrection of the dead; the hope of Christians; the staff of the lame; the consolation of the poor; the dethronement of the proud; the hope of the hopeless; the helm of those who sail; the harbor of the storm-tossed; the father of orphans; the comfort of the afflicted; the protector of youth; the glory of men; the crown of the aged; the purity of virgins; the bread of the hungry and the fountain of the thirsty.”

See how, in his words, the Cross touches each aspect of our lives from our bodily needs to our spiritual struggle.  It is our protection and safe refuge; it is our correction, encouragement and help; it is our joy and rejoicing.  It is no wonder that he goes on to say, “Let us not leave the Cross even for one hour, even for one moment, and let us not do anything without it.”  Let us wear it daily and hourly!

Is it any wonder then, that we adorn every aspect of our lives with the sign of the Cross?  We put crosses on nearly everything in the Church; we even put crosses on the Church itself, on its walls and towering above its highest point. Not only the Church but even in our homes, we find the cross prominently as the emblem of our faith. We all received a cross at baptism which we wear next to our skin every moment of our lives.  We make the sign of the cross over ourselves and all things that we love as a blessing and as a protection.  And each time we do this, it brings us back to Christ, it connects us to Him.

But the cross is not magic, it is not some mystical symbol that has power in its own right.  The cross is only a tool by which we invoke our Lord Jesus Christ who voluntarily ascended the Cross for us and Who used the Cross as the instrument of His sacrifice for our salvation.  Without this connection, the cross is nothing – or even worse, it is simply a means of torture and death born out of our sinfulness. Remember that on Golgotha, that day there were three crosses – the Cross of our Lord and two others upon which were crucified two thieves.  When the blessed Helen undertook to search for the Holy Cross, after digging into the hill of Golgotha, she discovered three crosses together.  While she was uncertain as to how to determine which was the cross of the Lord, a funeral procession passed by.  At the advice of the Patriarch, the crosses were placed upon the body of the deceased.  

The first two crosses had no effect, but the moment that the third cross touched the body, the deceased was restored to life.  In this way the Cross of Christ was recognized.  But the other two crosses, though they appeared identical in appearance, were of no effect.  See how it is the connection with Jesus Christ which makes the sign of the Cross powerful and effective. 

 Without Christ, the Cross is simply two sticks of wood laid across one another – but the moment that those sticks of wood are connected to Christ, the power of our Lord’s Victorious Resurrection fills them and they become the invincible weapon of our faith.

Consider now the two thieves who were crucified on those other two crosses.  They suffered the punishment for their own evil deeds – for their own sins.  Just because they had been nailed to a cross, this had no benefit for them for they deserved this fate and their crosses were nothing but the instrument of their deserved death.  The two thieves however had different reactions to the cross of Christ.  One thief by his anger and suffering was hardened in his sinfulness and joined in the cursing and mocking of Jesus Christ by the crowd.  Since he could not escape his own pain and suffering, he sought to push it onto his fellow Sufferer making Him to suffer even more.  Certainly we all have this urge, when we are suffering in some way, to project our suffering onto others and make them suffer just as much as we are.  We do this sometimes overtly simply by being mean and cruel to others, causing them undue pain.  Sometimes we do this covertly, by our anger and cold heartedness depriving our brother of the compassion and comfort that we could give to him. This is our old nature, our fallen nature and it is represented here by the unrepentant thief on the cross.  For him, the cross gave nothing but pain and suffering.  But the other thief, the “good thief”, seeing the suffering of Jesus Christ, was moved to see his own sins and to repent of them.  He left behind the evil which had brought him to his own cross and reached out to Christ asking, “remember me O Lord when you come into your Kingdom” and to him our Lord granted much more than simple remembrance, but replied, “This day you shall be with me in paradise.” 

This thief, who represents for us the “new man” who repents of his sin and follows Christ, remained on his own cross, but now his suffering led him not to despair and anger, but to hope and joy.  This is the effect that our repentance has for us as well, when we turn away from our sin and set out to follow Christ.  From that moment on, our struggles, our suffering, our sorrows are no longer pointless and without benefit, but rather they show the way and lead us to the light of Christ, to hope and the joy of anticipation of His presence with us.  In Christ, everything is transformed into an eternal perspective, no longer linked to the perspective of this world, but now anchored in the Cross and brought into the light of eternity.

We must not, therefore, make of the cross an empty symbol or a magic charm – for by itself it is nothing.  No, for us, the Cross must lead to Christ, to His voluntary sacrifice for us men and for our salvation.  Only when the Cross is connected to Christ does it have any benefit to us; only when the Cross is connected to Christ does it have any power to free us from our sins; only when the Cross is connected to Christ does it “change our mourning into dancing” as the Psalmist sings.  The Cross is the sign of our victory over sin, death and the devil, it is the symbol of our salvation, it is the invincible weapon against the demons, it is our safe harbor and refuge, it is our comfort and joy, and it is the anchor of our lives.  But we must have a care always to remember that the Cross is all these things only when it is connected to Jesus Christ and only by our own faith in Him does the Cross benefit us and lead us to our salvation.  Glory to the Holy and Precious Life-giving Cross of our Lord for by it we die to the world of sin so that we might be filled with the Life of Christ.

Thank you Father David

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