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!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Woman At The Well

Being a "child of the 60's" (my teen years), it was natural to become a fan of Peter, Paul and Mary.  The "protest song genre" notwithstanding, there was just a lot of good music that was produced, much of it spiritual in nature, taking cues from old time spirituals, etc.

One such 'tune' that always comes to mind is "Jesus Met the Woman at the Well."  It is a painfully repetitive but accurate account of the Lord's encounter with the woman we now know as Saint Photina at Jacob's well at Sychar in Samaria, as documented in Chapter 4 of the Gospel of Saint John.

Why this message on this day?  Because this is the day we celebrate the memory of Saint Photina!

In many Christian backgrounds, her name remains unknown.  But to us in Holy Orthodoxy, we have the rich tradition of what happened to this wonderful saint after her first encounter with the Lord.  The account is one that carries much hope for us even to this very day, for in a truly brief encounter, the shortest of improbable conversations, the heart of Saint Photina was changed, and she left her sinful life and followed Christ!  May it be so with us!!

From the years 54 through 68 (the reign of the emperor Nero), Saint Photina lived in Carthage with her younger son Joses.  Her evangelistic mission, which started when she left her water bottle at the well and went into the town to call others to 'come and see' Jesus continued in this new city.  The blessed saint's older son, Victor, was a soldier, a military commander in Asia Minor, distinguished in battle, whom Nero called to Italy to arrest and punish Christians. A friend of his, Sebastian by name, urged Victor to convince his family to submit to the will of the emperor, for he knew that they were all Christians.  Instead of shrinking at the threat from the emperor, Victor boldly proclaimed, "I wish to preach Christ like my mother and brother."

Saddened, Sebastian continued to try to change Victor's mind, and in response, he became blinded for three days, laying, without uttering even a word.  On the fourth day, Sebastian arose and declared, "The God of the Christians is the only true God."  When Victor asked why he had changed his own perspective, Sebastian replied, "Because Christ is calling me!"  He received baptism, and regained his sight.  At this, all of his own servants were also baptized.

Nero learned of all of these happenings, and summoned the group to Rome.  Christ appeared to Victor, giving him the name Photinus, because "through you many will be enlightened and believe in Me."

Saint Photina heard of the plight of her son, and left Carthage to join the confessors of Christ in Rome.  There, persecutions awaited, and they submitted willingly to all.  Saint Photina and her five sisters were given over to supervision by Nero's daughter, Domnina, whom Saint Photina evangelized and brought to Christ!  Casting the whole group into prison for three years, Nero again sent to receive a report on their being broken to renounce Christ.  Instead, he was informed that the whole prison had been evangelized, converted, and that it had become "a bright and fragrant place where God is glorified."

At this, Nero gave orders to crucify the saints.  After four days, an angel freed the martyrs from their crosses and healed them.  The tortures became even more savage.  Ultimately, the "woman at the well" was cast into a well by Nero, where she remained for twenty days.  After this, she was again brought before Nero and ordered to offer sacrifice to idols.  At this, Saint Photina spit in the face of the emperor, saying, "You impious and stupid man!  Do you think I am so deluded that I would renounce my Lord to offer sacrifice to idols as blind as you are?"

Saint Photina was returned to the well, and there she surrendered her soul to her Lord and Savior.

Friday, March 16, 2012

When I Think of the Many Evil Things I Have Done...

Here within the Great Fast, the hymnology of the Church changes.  And during the celebration of Matins, we add penitential hymns not used at other times in the year.  Among these is the hymn, "Open to Me the Doors of Repentance."

It's a wonderful hymn, directed toward the Mother of God, and filled with prayerful images of a heart being turned toward God.  The hymn reads:

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
Open to me the doors of repentance, O Life Giver, for my spirit rises early to pray towards Your holy temple, bearing the temple of my body, all defiled.  But in Your compassion, purify me by the loving kindness of Your mercy.
Now and ever, and unto ages of ages.  Amen.
Lead me on the paths of salvation, O Mother of God, for I have profaned my soul with shameful sin, and have wasted my life in laziness.  But by your intercession, deliver me from all impurity.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your great mercy, and according to the multitude of Your compassion, blot out my transgression.
When I think of the many evil things I have done, wretch that I am, I tremble at the fearful Day of Judgment.  But trusting in Your lovingkindness, like David I cry to You:
Have mercy on me, O God.
Have mercy on me, O God.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your great mercy.


The hymn is filled with imagery of that which is wrong in my life, the things that I must not only confess, but seek the Lord's help to overcome in fighting the temptation which regularly causes me to fail and fall.  It also points me in the direction of not thinking that I can overcome this alone, and it causes me to seek the intercession of the Theotokos.  As the Mother of God, she is the Protectress of Christians.  It is she who can offer intercessory prayers before her Son, our God, as she did at the wedding in Cana of Galilee.

The hymn is a paraphrase of the soul searching of the Prodigal.  I have profaned my soul with shameful sin.  Many may say, "What have I done that is so horrible, father?"  The response is that anything which separates us from the holiness and purity of God separates us from Him, and is sinful, is something that indeed is shameful, deserving of either separation from the Love of God, or conversely, deserving of being confessed and forgiven.

Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom), in his book "Beginning to Pray," encouraged the reader to take a prayer offered in this day, and to focus on only one aspect of the prayer.  Make just one thing that which you attempt at all times in this present day to complete with all integrity and diligence.  For example, within Morning Prayers, there is a phrase, "Grant that I may be diligent and faithful, avoiding evil company and influence, resisting temptation, that I may lead a godly and righteous life, blameless and peaceful, ever serving You, and that I may be accounted worthy to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Amen."


Within this one line of one prayer, we could attempt to go this day being fully diligent, engaged in only good works. Or we could instead seek to turn ourselves away from temptation when it comes to us.  Or we could try to bring peace to all situations we encounter, within self or others.  Can you see the myriad of ways to try to focus on only one thing from only one line of a prayer?

Suppose we take the first path, that of being diligent, engaging only in good works.  We start the day.  We pray.  So far, so good.  We have coffee and breakfast.  No problem so far.  We get into the car, and begin the drive to work.  And at the traffic light, as it turns yellow, we speed up....  The test has been failed, and the day is not yet an hour old.

"Yes, but father, the hymn says 'shameful sins'.  What is shameful in this description?"

When we choose to follow the easy path, the one that is expedient for us personally, without giving prayerful thought to the effects we have on others, this is shameful in and of itself.  There is no sin that I could commit which might not cause a brother or sister in response to sin him- or her-self.  When I went through that yellow light, did the person in the waiting cross traffic get angry with me for not caring about their safety?  In their anger, did my lack of foresight and integrity cause them to sin?

We don't often give thought to such "small" things.  And yet a dish cloth is typically not dirtied by one massive lump of foulness, but by many small specks of filth.  So it is with us in all too many cases.

This is the season to wash the stains from the cloth of our souls.  This is the time to seek the loving kindness of the Lord in repentance, and to enlist the aid of His mother, of our patron saint, of our guardian angel, and of all whom we know care for us spiritually.

And to all who read, forgive me, a sinful servant.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Sebaste...

Today is the Feast of the Forty Holy Martyrs of Sebaste.  It is important that we not forget accounts like this one, especially in a world that is ever moving away from Christian-centered and toward Christian-hostile.

For those unfamiliar with the Feast, in the year 320, these forty were martyred for refusing to deny their faith in Christ.  Constantine the Great ruled and had edicted that the Christian faith was to be recognized by the Roman Empire.  But his co-ruler, Licinius, was a pagan.  He was preparing to battle Constantine for control of the Empire, and he feared that Christians in his army could not be trusted against Constantine.  And so he set out to purge Christians from his army's ranks.  Within that army were forty members from Cappadocia, who had distinguished themselves in battle.  These were offered the ability to sacrifice to idols to prove their allegiance to Licinius.  When they refused, they were locked away in prison, where during the night they heard a voice saying, "Persevere to the end, and you shall be saved."  A week later they were tried for their refusal to follow orders, to which these brave souls answered, "Take not just our positions, but also our lives, for nothing is more precious to us than our Lord Jesus Christ!"

After several attempts to bring them to an end which by the grace of God failed, the forty were cast into a freezing lake, and a guard was set to prevent their exit.  Meanwhile, a warm bath house was placed as an enticement on the bank of the lake.  During the night, one of the forty could take no more and rand to the bath house, where he fell dead.  But later that night, a light appeared, and some of the ice in the lake melted, and it is said that the waters became warm.  And then one of the guards along the shore saw crowns appearing over the heads of those still in the waters.  At this, the guard, Aglaius by name, realized that the faith of those he was guarding was indeed the truth.  He took off his own uniform and said to his fellow guards, "I too am a Christian," and he joined the others in the lake, replacing the one who had left and perished.

In the morning, the remaining guards were surprised to find that the martyrs were still alive, and Aglaius was with them, glorifying Christ.  The remaining guards led the group from the waters, broke their legs, and carted them away to an awaiting fire, where their broken bodies were cast into the flames.  Later, their charred bones were thrown into the water so that other Christians would not gather them up in honor.  But three days later, Bishop Peter of Sebaste had this revealed to him in a dream, and with several clergy they went by night and gathered the remains and buried them with great honor.

Those who suffered were Cyrion, Candidus, Domnus, Hesychius, Heraclius, Smaragdus, Eunoicus, Valens, Vivianus, Claudius, Priscus, Theodulus, Eutychius, John, Xanthias, Helianus, Sisinius, Angius, Aetius, Flavius, Acacius, Ecdicius, Lysimachus, Alexander, Elias, Gorgonius, Theophilus, Dometian, Gaius, Leontius, Athanasius, Cyril, Sacerdon, Nicholas, Valerius, Philoctimon, Severian, Chudion, Aglaius, and Meliton.

It is right and proper for us to remember them - by name - on this day, for that which they did in following Christ has been repeated in the world since then, and will be so until our Lord returns.  We dare not forget those who suffer for the sake of the Gospel, and of never denying our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  If any doubt that such sacrifice continues even to this very day, simply take a look at the other saints we commemorate on this day, March 9th.  The list includes the New Hieromatryr Archpriest Mitrophan Buchnoff of Voronezh (1931); the New Hieromartyrs Michael, Alexis, Demetrius, Sergius and Sergius - priests, Nicholas - deacon, Hieromartyr Iosaph, and virgin martyrs Natalia and Alexandra (1938).  Let there be no doubt that Christians still suffer for the sake of the Gospel and of our Lord - even to this very day.  There are Sebaste's throughout the world, and it is unfortunate that we need not look far to find them.  A quick trip to www.persecution.org, or to YouTube with searches to find such things as temples being destroyed and icons burned and trampled only reinforces that we are in a time when it is not inconceivable that we may be called upon to follow in the footsteps and the examples of people such as these.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Woe to Them Who Are Wise in Their Own Eyes

Today's reading from Isaiah carries with it a number of things of which we should take careful note in the world in which we live.


Isa 5:16-25 - "16  But the Lord of hosts shall be exalted in judgment, and God who is holy shall be hallowed in righteousness. 17 Then the lambs shall feed in their pasture, and in the waste places of the fat ones strangers shall eat. 18 Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as if with a cart rope; 19 That say, "Let Him make speed and hasten His work, that we may see it; and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw near and come, that we may know it." 20 Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! 21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! 22 Woe to men mighty at drinking wine, woe to men valiant for mixing intoxicating drink, 23 who justify the wicked for a bribe, and take away justice from the righteous man! 24 Therefore, as the fire devours the stubble, and the flame consumes the chaff, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom will ascend like dust; because they have rejected the law of the Lord of Hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. 25 Therefore the anger of the Lord is aroused against His people; He has stretched out His hand against them and stricken them, and the hills trembled. Their carcasses were as refuse in the midst of the streets. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still."


18  Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as if with a cart rope - The vision painted by the prophet is that of taking sins with us wherever we go, assuring that they follow us, not leaving them behind even for an instant.  And we carry them why?  Because we are attached to them more than we are attached to our destination.  And in taking our sins with us, we use them wherever we go.  In so many instances as we confess our sins, we come to the understanding that a sin that we commit almost never affects only us, but it also affects others around us.  If I am angered, my anger alienates the one with whom I'm angry.  If I am covetous, my desire to outdo the other causes them to enter the race with me.  If I am adulterous, envious, filled with gossip, . .  Name the sin, it carries the effect of impacting the one or ones who surround me, who are taking from the cart I draw carrying my own iniquity.


20  Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! - Look at the world around us.  Without taking sides in political issues, how can two sides project as truth words that are diametrically opposed to one another?  How can both be true?  How can "universal health care" be simultaneously that which will bring down a nation and that which will elevate a nation out of the depths?  How can "man-made global warming" be simultaneously the thing that most threatens the planet and a huge hoax to control the populace?  Some side is putting darkness for light.  Some side is putting bitter for sweet.  And the scary thing is that while we, the people in the trenches try to figure out for ourselves which side is telling the truth, it's totally possible that both are putting darkness for light, and bitter for sweet.


21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight - This is especially cutting to those of us who see ourselves as self-sufficient, who have been put in places of authority, and who exercise that authority by our own "wisdom", as opposed to seeking first the will of God!  It happens in business, in education, in the home, and yes - even in the church.  


23  (Woe to those) who justify the wicked for a bribe, and take away justice from the righteous man! - Our world is filled with intrigue and subterfuge.  We see it in our political officials.  Money is allocated, and it just seems to "disappear".  Taking justice from the righteous can mean that which happens to deprive one who is accused from a good defense.  But it can also mean our own reticence to offer alms to those in need.  How so?  We hold the resources to provide for a need, and the one who is in need righteously requires what God has given to us in His bounty, not for us to hoard it for ourselves, but to use it as His will would dictate - to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned (Mat 25).  Our holding on to what God has given us in selfishness indeed then withholds justice from the righteous.  


For any of us who fall into any of these categories (and if we're honest with ourselves, we all fit here somewhere), the words of the Prophet Isaiah that follow should bring us to repentance.


24  As the fire devours the stubble, and the flame consumes the chaff, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom will ascend like dust; because they have rejected the law of the Lord of Hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel - Isaiah tells us that if we follow these paths unrepentantly, God will be against us.  This does not mean we will lose that which we have in this world, but in the Kingdom, we gain no root, for that which we've planted, that which we've sown is rotten to the Lord.  The "blossom" is that which flowers from what is planted, and if there is no root, there will be no blossom, and our entry to the Kingdom is despoiled by our sewing seeds that are unrighteous.


The alternatives are easily seen.  Our Lord does not command us to do things which He Himself does not or will not do.  And He commands us, "If your brother sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying , 'I repent!', you shall forgive him." (Luke 17:4)  This is the God Whom we serve.  This is the heart of the Lord Who came and suffered for us.  This is our Lord Who, in a few short weeks, we will walk with toward Jerusalem, and to Gethsemane, and to Golgotha, and to a new tomb.  Before He makes that journey, let us complete our journey towards Him, by confessing that which separates us from Him, making it a sincere offering, for He assures us that He will accept this.  "The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit.  A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise." (Ps 51:17)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Prayer is Always Answered

Those of us who wear collars and vestments are blessed to receive in so many instances requests from people to call us to prayer.  "Father, please pray for my son, who broke his leg," or "Pray for my mother, who fell," or "Pray for our safe travel on vacation."  We're even bombarded with the rather improper, "Pray that our sports team will win today," which in every case I use as an opportunity to teach about the real purpose of prayer (which is NOT for such frivolous issues).

Unfortunately, many develop the sense that their prayers are unanswered, that God doesn't care about them because He has not answered their prayers in the way they wanted them answered or in the time frame in which they demanded His answer.

These are dangerous sensations, for they are not from God, but rather from the enemy, Satan.  It is he who plants the seed within us to cause us to think that if God has not granted that for which we've prayed, He doesn't care about us, or there is a problem with the form of our prayer, and so we may as well just quit trying to speak with God in prayer, for it has no effect.


Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain reminds us of Isaiah 58:9, where the Prophet reminds us, "Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; You shall cry, and He will say, 'Here I am.'"  God is always present and watchful.  The parable of the Prodigal Son shows us a picture of the Father, Who remains so vigilant over awaiting the return of His sinful and wandering son that He sees him well before he arrives, and in fact runs to meet him as he returns to the Father's house.


Saint Nicodemus continues - "Therefore, when you beg God to grant you something, and He is slow in hearing you, continue to pray, keeping firm trust in His help alive in your heart.  For diligent prayer is never left by Him unrewarded and He is always ready to pour out rich blessings in return."  God is never "slow in hearing," but in our perception He is often slow or missing in our expectations of an answer to our prayer.  This is especially true when we encounter people and loved ones who are ill and truly need our prayerful support.  When we pray for them, and they remain ill, or worse, if their condition degrades, we think that God has not heard our prayer, that He has abandoned us, that we are not important enough to Him to have Him care to answer our prayer.  This leads to a shaken faith, shattered belief in God, and a falling away from God and the truth.


Saint Nicodemus does not end his teaching at the above.  He then tells us, "The blessings God pours out upon those who pray much exceed their expectations if they have no inner obstacles and are not in a state when it is better for them that their petition should remain unfulfilled."  We seem to think that we have all the answers, that we know in advance what is best for our salvation OR for the salvation of those towards whom our prayers are directed.  And yet in our finite view, we cannot know what is best for the ones for whom we pray (especially if we pray for ourselves!), nor what is best to lead the soul toward salvation.


God knows these things implicitly.  We think we know them, but a short stint of prayerful thought will reveal to us that our understanding of "best" is greatly flawed, imperfect at best, and limited to hindsight.


Continuing his teaching, Saint Nicodemus says, "Instead of what they ask (in prayer), God sends them some other good, more profitable to them, whether they are aware of it or not.  In this sense the conviction that prayer never remains unheard is quite justified....  So always be patient in prayer, and convinced that prayer never remains without fruit.  If you do not receive what you ask, believe that you are receiving or will receive another good in its place."


The fact that we pray carries the greatest importance.  Our openness to receiving that which the Lord will provide in response to our prayer is next in importance, receiving joyfully anything and everything He grants to us, for we know that He will never give us that which is harmful to our salvation.


Saint John Chrysostom teaches, "Prayer is a great blessing if practiced in a right inner state and if we teach ourselves to give thanks to God, both when we receive what we ask and when we do not receive it.  For when He gives, and when He does not give, He does it for your good.  Thus when you receive what you ask, it is quite clear that you have received it; but when you do not receive it, you also receive, because you thus do not receive what is undoubtedly harmful to you; and not to receive what is harmful means to be granted what is useful. So, whether you receive what you ask or not, give thanks to God in the belief that God would have always given us what we ask were it not often better for us not to receive it."


Pray without ceasing.  Pray for that which benefits your salvation, the salvation of those you love, and the salvation of those who hate you.  Then, wait - for God will answer your prayer, and know that when He does, it will without doubt be that which is best for the salvation of all involved!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Wisdom! Let us attend!

We pray these words often in the Divine Services of the Church.  They are located in places where something quite important is about to happen - in the Divine Liturgy, before the Epistle and Gospel readings; in the Presanctified Liturgy, before the bringing forth of the lighted candle and the proclamation, "The Light of Christ Illumines all!"; in Vespers, at the evening Prokeimenon.

They are words that say to us, in essence, "Wake up!"

These are words that our Lord Himself offers to us throughout Holy Scripture.  Jesus says, "Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming." (Mat 25:13) As the Lord is preparing for His saving Passion, He says to the Apostles who indeed are falling asleep, "What? Could you not watch with Me one hour?  Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation." (Mat 26:40-41)  During the Presanctified Liturgy, we pray, "Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth, keep watch over the door of my lips." (Ps 141:3)

We need to be ever-mindful of this need for attentiveness.  In today's reading from Genesis, it's clear that neither Adam nor Eve were paying attention.  As the serpent comes to entice Eve to partake of the fruit banned by God, he asks her, "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?'"  Do we see the twisting of the truth that is offered as the original temptation?  Do we perceive the cunningness of Satan?  Are we attentive?  His message is a perversion of what he knows God to have given as the ONE, SINGLE instruction to His creation, mankind, so that they might have life with Him eternally.  Satan, being parted from God, cannot bear to see another creature supplant his former position with God, and so does all he can to tear down, to destroy the bond that God intended for humanity from our creation.  He knows that God did not forbid every fruit.  And yet the posing of the question is intended to plant the seed of thought into the woman, "If all other fruit is acceptable, why not just the one?"

Eve, for her part, was not attentive either.  For in her answer to the question, she offers her own modification to the commandment that God had given.  She replies, "God has said, 'You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'"  (Gen 3:3)  God never commanded anything associated with touch, and yet the woman adds this to God's command.  Why?  Was it simply because she had not "been attentive"?  Or was it because in her humanity, she felt the need to add to the commandment to make it "more sure" in her own mind?  We'll not know until we can ask her.  But for now, it's clear that there was certainly a lack of "attention".

The balance of the account we know.  Adam blames Eve.  Eve blames the serpent.  Are we not all children, seeking to point at others for our own failures?

God's commandment to Adam was, "'Of every tree of the garden, you may freely eat; but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die.'" (Gen 2:16-17)  On the day that the two partook of the tree, death entered them.  And God pronounces His judgment, expelling them from His presence.  Jesus teaches us (if we're 'attentive'), "Of Myself I can do nothing. As I hear, I judge, and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of the Father Who sent Me." (John 5:30)  The expulsion is not a condemnation from God, but a righteous judgment, the predetermined penalty for exercising the free-will that could but did not need to lead to this point.

Are we paying attention to that which is necessary for our salvation?  The words we need are before us, in Holy Scripture, in the prayers of the Divine Services, and in the writings of the Holy Fathers and Mothers.  It is all there, ready for us to seek, ready for us to understand.

Wisdom - Let us attend!