Welcome to Saint Herman's, Hudson, Ohio

This blog is a partial compilation of the messages, texts, readings, and prayers from our small mission community. We pray that it will be used by our own people, to their edification. And if you happen by and are inclined to read, give the glory to God!

The blog title, "Will He Find Faith on the Earth?" is from Luke 18:8, the "Parable of the Persistent Widow." It overlays the icon of the Last Judgment, an historical event detailed in Matthew Chapter 25, for which we wait as we pray in the Nicean Creed.

We serve the Holy Orthodox cycle of services in contemporary English. Under the omophorion of His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph of the Bulgarian Patriarchal Diocese of the USA, Canada and Australia, we worship at 5107 Darrow Road in Hudson, Ohio (44236). If you are in the area, please join us for worship!

Regular services include:
Sunday Divine Liturgy 10AM (Sept 1 - May 31)
930AM (June 1 - Aug 31)
Vespers each Saturday 6PM

We pray that you might join us for as many of these services as possible!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Presanctified Liturgy

Canon XLIX of the Sixty Canons of the Regional Council of Laodicea (AD 364) states, "During the Great Fast, bread must not be offered, except on Saturday and Sunday only."  Canon LII of the Sixth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (AD 680) states, "On the days of the Holy Lent devoted to fasting, with the exception of Saturday and Sunday and the days of the Holy Annunciation, let the sacred Liturgy of the Presanctified be celebrated."


In short, the Eucharist is incredibly important to us, and yet the sanctity and sobriety of the Great Fast requires that the 'celebration' that is the Divine Liturgy not be observed during the days of the week.  It is for this reason that on the calendar we find readings from Genesis, from Isaiah, from Proverbs instead of the typical Epistle and Gospel readings.  And so the Church gifts to us the "necessary food," our "daily bread" as the Eucharist of the Presanctified Gifts.

This Liturgy itself is filled with the indications of that which is "different".  From the very beginning, when the clergy arrive for entrance prayers and vesting, the vesting prayers are 'removed', and substituted with simple, "Let us pray to the Lord/Lord have mercy" offerings at the addition of each vestment item.  We begin with Vesperal hymns, the "Sunset Psalm" (Ps 104).  The hymns and responses are sung in the Lenten tones, as opposed to those used during the more joyous Divine Liturgy of Sunday.

The First Antiphon is founded upon the "Song of Ascents" (Ps 120 - 124), the Second from Ps 125-129, the third Ps 130-134.  During the singing of these hymns, the Host which is already sanctified is transferred from its receptacle (where it was placed on Sunday) to the diskos, then the diskos to the Table of Oblation, all with extreme reverence, for it is the Lord Who is fully before us!

As at Vespers, Lord I Call is sung in the Tone of the Week, followed by hymns which carry the message of the particular week of the Fast within which the service is being served.  Today, we are taught of the Fast itself, ("While fasting in body, let us also fast in spirit, let us loose the bonds of iniquity...."), and of the saints and the Apostles who defended the Holy Orthodox Faith against heresy.

We continue with "Gladsome Light", the hymn which reminds us of the Light of Christ, one of the Holy Trinity, Who entered the world for our salvation.  There are Prokeimena and Old Testament readings, beginning with the account of Creation (today), and carrying us to the Passion of our Lord (during Holy Week).  In between the readings, we bow as the priest brings forth the censer and a single lighted candle, with the proclamation, "Let us attend!  The Light of Christ illumines all!"  This reminds us that our Lord is our source of illumination, of understanding and wisdom, in all that we do.  It is His light that shines on the Old Testament readings before us today, He Who is present at creation, Who is the Creator.  It is He Who gave the wisdom to Solomon to record that which we read today from Proverbs ("My son, if you receive My words, and treasure My commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; ....then you will find the fear of the Lord, and the knowledge of God.") Prov 2:1-22

The clergy and faithful antiphonally sing "Let My Prayer Arise" as the Holy Eucharist is censed at the four corners of the altar and the Table of Oblation.  All pray the prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian, bowing before the Holy Eucharist in repentance, and asking the Lord for His gifts of chastity, humility, patience and love.

After litanies, the Great Entrance follows.  The hymn, "Now invisibly, heavenly powers minister with us.  For behold, the King of Glory now enters.  Behold the mystical sacrifice, all fulfilled, is ushered in."  As the chalice and diskos are carried with extreme reverence by the clergy to the altar, the faithful bow to the floor, for the diskos does not bear our human offerings of bread, but of the Body and Blood of our Lord, fully completed (not as the 'offering' of a regular Divine Liturgy).  Communion is received by the faithful with the beautiful hymn, "O taste and see how good the Lord is!" (Ps 34)

We pray that you may participate in tonight's Presanctified Liturgy, wherever you may be.  If you are near to Hudson, please join us in offering your prayers and voice to our Lord in worship!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

More on Saint Andrew's Canon

In tonight's Canon, Saint Andrew returns to the expulsion from Paradise (Gen 3), and offers us this Troparion (after Ode 2 of the Canon):  "Sin, which has stripped me of my former God-woven clothing, has also sewn on me coats of skin."  This is followed by the following Troparion: "I am wrapped in a garment of shame as with fig leaves, in reproof of my selfish passions."


Saint Irenaeus writes of this event in his writings "Against Heresies".  He begins by looking at Cain and Able first, concluding that "God subjected the just to the unjust, that the former might be proved as just by the things he suffered, and the later as unjust by the things he perpetrated."  Cain compounds his sin of murder by then lying to God, when God comes to him and asks, "Where is your brother?", from which we get the now famous, "Am I my brother's keeper?"  God, Who is all-knowing, needs no answer.  Cain, who is filled with rage, cannot even see God's supreme authority, offering sin upon sin.

Returning to Adam, Saint Irenaeus says that there is no analogy in this return to sin after the first.  Adam, when he was found out by God, was seized with terror over his sin, hiding himself, as if it were possible to escape God's vision.  He shows himself indeed having acquired knowledge of good and evil, because in so hiding himself he shows an understanding of being unworthy to appear before God.  This understanding of sin leads to repentance.  How does Adam show this repentant state?  By forming for himself a covering of fig leaves, not to cover his sin, but to show his understanding of the evil done, and to show honor, love, and respect to God who should not be forced to see what has been uncovered - that sinfulness which was chosen over the love of God!

God then interrogates, asking Adam what happened.  And we know, Adam blames Eve.  Then God interrogates Eve,  who in turn blames the serpent.  But there is no equivalent interrogation of the serpent.  God knew "the prime mover" in the sin, and He immediately pronounces judgment on the serpent, then upon Eve, and finally upon Adam.

Like Adam, we have lost that original covering, the one in which Adam and Eve walked naked and yet were not ashamed (Gen 2:25), for there is no reason to be ashamed when there is nothing to cover!

God drives Adam and Eve from Paradise as He says, "'Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the Tree of Life, and eat, and live forever,' therefore God sent them from the garden." (Gen 3:22-23)


On this, Irenaeus teaches that the expulsion was not to withhold the Tree of Life forever, but rather because He showed compassion and pity upon Adam, for if he were to partake of the Tree of Life in this sinful state, he would live forever in sin.  In His mercy and love for us, He drove Adam out, setting a boundary to his sin by interposing death, which causes sin to cease, dying so that we might begin to live again to God.


This returns us to Saint Andrew.  "Sin, which has stripped me of my former God-woven clothing..."  Our sins have removed the purity of nakedness, they have exposed us to the separation between us and God - a separation instituted by our free-will, our choice to not follow His commandments.  Saint Andrew continues, saying that this "has also sewn on me coats of skin."  Not only do a few sins, which might be covered by fig leaves, plague me.  But I need to cover myself with "coats of skin" - heavy garments, due to the magnitude, the 'weight' of my sin.  And so, "I am wrapped in a garment of shame," unlike Adam and Eve in the pre-Fall time, my sins are so obtrusive that even the heaviest of coats cannot cover them.


As we ponder the words and the depths of our souls that Saint Andrew plumbs, let us offer prayers for his intercession - "Holy Father Andrew, pray to God for us!"

Monday, February 27, 2012

Kontakion of the Canon of Saint Andrew

My soul, my soul - arise!
Why are you sleeping?
The end is drawing near,
And you will be confounded.
Awake then, and be watchful,
That Christ our God may spare you,
Who is everywhere present and fills all things.

Making a Good Start - Part 2

I awoke yesterday morning and, as is customary, I checked my e-mail.  My inbox was flooded with messages, starting with one from His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph, who always sends a Forgiveness Sunday message to his clergy asking forgiveness, and then the flood of return e-mails from all of us, begging electronically each other's forgiveness.

It strikes me as strange.  It is perfectly reasonable for us to have this exchange, and yet we've not learned technologically to share that "kiss of peace" which for most of us "seals" the process of asking mutual forgiveness.  The good news for us is that we have a short five weeks until most of us will be together to share that face-to-face kiss at our Annual Diocesan Clergy Retreat.

But the day was sweet for another reason, which is centered about the flock that God has given this sinful priest to shepherd.  Today, the chapel was, if not full, at least filled.  Those who came in faith came with the expectation of encountering one another at the deepest level of humility.  And it was the greatest of blessings to share that "holy kiss" with them, each and every one of them, asking their forgiveness, and in turn receiving their own repentant pleas.

It is with such a start that we enter the season of the Fast.  It is with that incredible joy of attaining to a fully repentant place, to being granted tears of repentance, and to feeling the sense that today, we go forward not harboring any animosity toward anyone.  We go forward with a greater purity of spirit, which is the only way to seek that which the Lord is about to grant us.

Today, we begin to pray the wonderful penitential prayers of Saint Andrew of Crete.  We begin to contemplate that which has passed in the year since we stood at this same place.

There is no subtlety in the words of Saint Andrew.  He begins by showing me those places in my life where I have fallen to an even greater extent than our forefathers.  He leads me to accuse myself of sinning more than Adam, more than Eve, more than those of Sodom and Gomorrah.  He shows me in prayer that "there is no sin or act or vice in life that I have not committed.  I have sinned in mind, in word and choice, in purpose, will and action, as no one else has ever done."  And yet, through all of these heart-wrenching and soul-searching declarations, Saint Andrew never enters the realm of despair, but rather again focuses us on the loving mercy of our God and Savior.  The prayerful examples he gives lead us back to life in Christ:  "I have confessed to You, my Judge, the secrets of my heart.  See my humility.  See also my distress, and attend to my judgment now, and in Your compassion have mercy on me, O God of our Fathers."  In the process of both the self-judgments and the pleas to our Lord for mercy, we repeatedly (unceasingly?) sing to Him, "Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me!" in the sweetest of penitential melodies.

Having entered the Fast through the Vespers of Forgiveness, let us continue this "good start" by immersing ourselves in the prayers of Saint Andrew, taking ownership of his words, seeing in his examples from the Old and the New Testaments those who have fallen before us, comparing ourselves to them, and then seeking the mercy of our God and Savior.  It is in this way, in this "full immersion" start to the Fast, that we gain that foothold, that place from which we may, by our prayers, and by the prayers we offer for one another, ascend that Divine Ladder rung by rung, moving with joy through the Great Fast inexorably toward the Passion of our Lord.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Turn Not Away Your Face From Your Child, For I Am Afflicted

We sing these words at Sunday Penitential Vespers throughout the Great Fast each year, the words of the Prokeimenon. 
Like Adam, we are afflicted by virtue of the sins we have committed.  It is our sins which alienate us from our homeland—heaven, the place within which we are called to live, within which the Saints have indeed lived, even while traversing this, God’s earth.
This Lenten season is not even referred to by us in that manner—’lent’ - for the word is too insignificant to describe the meaning of this season to us.  The word "lent" comes from the Olde English “lencten,” which literally meant the ‘lengthening’ of the daylight hours, the coming of spring.
For us, we speak of “the Great Fast.”  It is “great” in terms of its length, because the “forty days” often referred to by other Christians is typically seen as the forty days between “Ash Wednesday” and Palm Sunday.  For us, the “forty days” begin on Monday, tomorrow, and extend through the Friday which precedes Lazarus Saturday.  But for the Orthodox, we do not speak of “Palm Sunday.” Rather, we speak of the Triumphal Entry of our Lord into Jerusalem.  There is a wonderful difference in the connotation of the two expressions!
But the “fast” began last week, with Meatfare Sunday.  So we can add seven more days.  And the “fasting” continues through Holy Week, so we can add eight more days.
Thus, the “Great Fast” is great, indeed, in terms of its breadth.  But it is greater in terms of its engagement of the faithful.  In any given week during the “normal” parts of the year, we have Divine Services about three times each week (Sunday Liturgy, Saturday Vespers, Monday Akathist).  During the Great Fast, this increases to seven times each week—more than double (adding Sunday evening Vespers, Wednesday and Friday Presanctified Liturgies, and typically Saturday morning Soul Liturgies).
The Lord has not turned His face from us.  But now, it is a time for the afflicted child, for you and me, to turn our face back toward Him, to return to Him as the Prodigal, to search out that which has removed us from His presence, from living “in the Kingdom of Heaven” even while we remain here in the world, and to carefully prepare our prayers and words to offer as a spiritual sacrifice to Him in repentance for where we have gone astray.
We begin today.  There are nine services in the coming seven days.  They will set the tone for our entry into this season.  They will prepare our hearts to come to this turning toward our Lord.  Let me urge all to avail yourselves of as many of these opportunities as possible!!

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Prodigal in All of Us

Of all of our Lord’s parables, there is none that is more easily grasped, nor one that is more beautiful in its imagery of the Father than today’s!
The story of the Prodigal can be grasped by each and every one of us, for in our own ways he is us, we are him.  How often have we decided to take things our own way, instead of seeking the will of the Father?  How often have we found ourselves a great distance from His love.  How often, after suffering the consequences of taking off in our own direction and not seeking His will first, have we come to conclude that things were so much better when we found ourselves beneath His love?  How often have we repented, returned, and asked His forgiveness?
But in addition to these “How often’s”, we must add, “How often have we gone and done it all over again?”
That’s a painful thing to have to admit, isn’t it?  You’d think that I would have learned the first time of how loved I was.  You’d think that I would have, in my repentance, gained a vision of all the ways that the Father loves me, cares for me, provides for my needs, answers my prayers.
But I fall in some given way.  I go off to that far country and spend all the riches He has given me, and only once I have attained true poverty do I sense the need to turn from my sins, to return to the Father’s love.  And upon returning, in my sinful humanity, at the very next opportunity I run off again in a different direction, once again leaving His love and care for me.
And so in a great many ways, I am not “like” the Prodigal—I am worse than he is.  For in his return, he sought not full reinstatement as the Father’s son, but only to become like one of His hired servants.  When the Father placed a ring on his finger, shoes upon his feet, a garment upon his back, the Father showed the Prodigal that full repentance brings full restoration  There is total forgetfulness on the part of the Father for that which has transpired when we return in true repentance.
Our Lord says that the Prodigal, while in that far-off country, “came to himself.” (Luke 15:17)  The expression from the Greek is eis eauton, which translates to “coming into oneself”.  It implies a deep introspection, a fervent review asking “What is it exactly that is wrong with me?”  It is the correct attitude to assume in repenting.  It is the proper thing to do in preparation for coming before the Lord with a confession.  The process is not a superficial one.  The Prodigal did not say to himself, “All I need do is return to the Father.  Perhaps He still loves me.  Perhaps He will have me back as His son.  And if not, perhaps He will keep me as a worker.”
The Prodigal did and said no such things.  His process was an agonizing one.  It involved not only great preparation, but even great effort (the effort to return that great distance to the Father) and rehearsal.  Rehearsal?  Yes!  For our Lord tells us that he had concluded exactly those words he would offer to the Father before he made the journey.  It is a wonderful image to picture that return!  What was in the Prodigal’s heart?  It had already found great repentance.  Now it needed only one thing—confirmation that his repentance would be received well.
We term that “absolution.”  The prayer that we offer at Saint Herman's in granting this absolution even references this wonderful parable.  "God it was Who forgave David through Nathan the prophet when he confessed his sin, and Peter weeping bitterly for his denial, and the harlot in tears at His feet, and the publican and the Prodigal, may that same God forgive you all things through me, a humble sinner, both in this world and that to come, and set you uncondemned before His dread Judgment Seat. Now, having no further cares for the sins which you have confessed, depart in peace.  Go and sin no more."  
The prayer thus offered is replete with references to great sins documented in Holy Scripture, not to make us feel "good" about our own sins confessed, but to give us that firm understanding that God truly can and does and will forgive all that is confessed in purity of heart and of spirit!
The Father’s rushing to meet His wayward son is the image we need to see as we enter the confessional on each and every occasion. The Father rushes to meet us in just the same way as He goes to the Prodigal.  Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’  For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Mat 9:13)
The Father calls us.  The Lord calls us.  Our sins cry out to us, all in concert calling us to repentance.  
As this Great Fast comes upon us, may we all find the heart of the Prodigal!