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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Little by Little

Change Comes Little By Little

Abbot Tryphon

“We often become frustrated with ourselves, wanting to change bad behavior, but seemingly incapable of making the changes we desire. Each week we confess the same sins over and over. We know the priest has heard the same confession, week after week, and we’re aware that he could probably say our confession for us, having heard it that often. What we don’t seem to know is that there is a simple reason for our repetition. These bad behaviors only seem to be unchangeable because we don’t really struggle with the passions in a way that will bring about successful change.”

This is from Abbot Tryphon‘s daily blog, read the rest of the article here

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Are you Justified??

Romans 5:1-10

“Being justified by faith, we have peace with God…”  I recently had a conversation with some people who followed a protestant Christian tradition.  They wanted to know about this “justification” and how it fit into our Orthodox faith.  The difficulty with this conversation is that they had already decided what this meant and so tried to interpret the Orthodox faith in their own context and by doing so found that it did not fit their criteria of truth.  For them, “justification” was all about being pardoned of “original sin” and being excused of the guilt of Adam’s sin.  This, however, is a narrow definition of “justification” and therefore only applies if one accepts the whole legalistic notion of redemption. But there is so much more to our salvation than just being found “innocent”.

While this notion of being pardoned, and no longer carrying the guilt of sin, has a place within our salvation, it is only a small part of a much larger picture.  Justification has a wider meaning that opens many more spiritual doors for us.  Let us therefore look at this idea of justification from a much wider perspective. 

We’ve talked about this in the past, Justification does not simply mean having some reasonable excuse for our actions – it speaks more basically to being properly adjusted to a fixed point or to some anchor.  For example when we write, we are accustomed to justifying our words according to a fixed left margin.  Lined writing paper often has a vertical line printed down the left side that defines the margin and we always use that line as a starting point for our writing.  While the right side of the paper has some variation in length where the lines end, every line always begins in the same place on the left side.  We say that our writing is “justified” on the left margin. On a computer it is simple to change justification to the right side so that every line begins in a different place on the left side, but they always end in the same place on the right side – this is being justified on the right margin. 

 One can also justify on the center of the paper so that each line is the same length on either side of the middle of the paper – it is “centered” so to speak.  These examples of “justification” that are familiar to us all point out the common feature – there is always a single fixed point and the words are arranged in a specific relation to that fixed point. 

They are oriented to that fixed point and aligned with it in a particular way. We can apply this idea to our spiritual lives as well.

The Apostle says that we are “justified by faith” and that as a result of this we are “at peace with God”.  Faith then is the agent by which we are “justified” – just as the computer program moves our letters around to make them properly oriented to the edge or center of the paper, so faith is what moves us to be properly oriented.  To what then are we oriented? What is the “fixed point” to which we are “justified”?  That fixed point is God and so when we have the true faith, we are correctly oriented towards God – we are “justified”.  This justification brings us into a place of “peace with God” – that is, rather than being out of harmony with God or being at odds with the will of God, we are now properly aligned with God.

What then is the benefit of this alignment – this “justification”?  The Apostle goes on to say that since we are “justified by faith” we now have “access by faith into this grace wherein we stand”.  It is the application of grace to our being that saves us.  Grace is the energy of God which is poured out upon us and which, when properly applied, works to transform us into the likeness of Jesus Christ.  By grace, we are saved and it is our justification, our proper orientation to God, which gives us access to this grace. 

Where before we were surrounded by grace (for it is by the power of God that the existence of creation itself is maintained), because of our sins we were not properly oriented or justified, to make use of the grace for our salvation.  When we turn from, as in REPENTANCE, from our sinful ways and submit to God’s love then we are led by faith in God – that is by totally believing all that God has said. 

Since then it is our faith that “justifies” us – that is, orients us towards God – it is obviously necessary that our faith is correct and true.  Otherwise we will be improperly aligned and no longer “justified” in relation to God, thereby cutting off our access to grace.

How is it then that having access to grace is beneficial to us?  The Apostle continues saying that because of this grace, to which we are now properly oriented, we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God

This we see clearly, for now, as grace begins to work in us for our salvation, we can see that we are headed towards sharing in the glory of God. 

The Apostle further says that we also “glory in tribulations” which seems to be somewhat at odds with our justification.  If we are in the proper alignment with God, and if grace is now working in us, why do we have to face tribulation, suffering, and difficulty?  Everything should be just fine now that we are with God, so where does tribulation fit in? Our justification is only the beginning of our salvation.  Having set us so, that we have access to the grace in which we stand, now that grace begins to work in us in a number of ways, reforming and reshaping us into the likeness of Christ.  One of the tools by which grace reshapes us is that of tribulation, suffering, or difficult.  Tribulation is only to be expected when we turn away from the mainstream of the world, and realign ourselves with God.  However, as we are no longer contrary to God, we are now contrary to the world and it is this that produces “tribulation”. The fallen and sinful world flows one way and seeks to drag everything else along with it.  When we no longer “go with the flow”, so to speak, we are now subject to coming up against the forces of the world which surround us.  These conflicts with the world are the source of the tribulation, ssuffering, and difficult that we encounter.

But we rejoice in these tribulations,suffering, or difficulties for God, in His infinite wisdom and love, in order to use them to our benefit.  Tribulations produce patience, which in turn produces experience, which produces hope, and so we learn to see our tribulations as part of the process of our salvation.  When we, with faith, trust God and His wisdom, then we learn not to jump to fix things ourselves, but rather to wait patiently and see what He will do.  Once we see how He has overcome the world – and in particular, the tribulations, suffering, or difficulties that come to us from the world – and not only how He has overcome the world, but how He turns it to our benefit, then we gain experience upon which to base our hope that God will not abandon us, and that He is working in us constantly to transform us into His image and likeness.  This is how tribulation brings patience which brings experience which results in our increased hope.  This hope born of experience now reinforces and strengthens the hope brought by our faith and trust in God and we know that we will share in His glory.

By our faith – that is, by our correct belief and trust in God – we are “justified” – that is, we are properly reoriented and realigned in our relationship with God.  This justification gives us access now to the grace of God that has always surrounded us, since our Baptism, but which, while we were yet sinners, was unable to affect us.  Having access to that grace we place our hope in God and that hope is reinforced and fortified and amplified by our experience of the working of grace in us.  That working of grace takes even the tribulations and difficulties of this life, and transforms them into the tools by which we ourselves are transformed into the image and likeness of God.  In each and every moment, our hope in God increases, and we know with ever greater certainty, that we will share in the glory of God and participate in the life of His heavenly kingdom.  Amen!

Thank you Fr David

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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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