Welcome to Saint Herman's, Hudson, Ohio

This blog is a partial compilation of the messages, texts, readings, and prayers from our small 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! We are open, and we welcome inside the Church all visitors. See our Parish web page:

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

A Nativity Sermon of Saint John Chrysostom

"I behold a new and wondrous mystery!
My ears resound to the shepherd's song,
piping no soft melody, but loudly chanting a heavenly hymn!
The angels sing!
The archangels blend their voices in harmony!
The cherubim resound their joyful praise!
The Seraphim exalt His glory!

All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead herein on earth and man in heaven. He who is above now, for our salvation, dwells here below; and we, who were lowly, are exalted by divine mercy!

Today Bethlehem resembles heaven, hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices and, in place of the sun, witnessing the rising of the Sun of Justice!

Ask not how this is accomplished, for where God wills, the order of nature is overturned. For He willed. He had the powers. He descended. He saved. All things move in obedience to God.

Today He Who Is, is born! And He Who Is becomes what He was not! For when He was God, He became man-while not relinquishing the Godhead that is His...

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him angels, nor archangels, nor thrones, nor dominions, nor powers, nor principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His incarnation has He ceased being God.

And behold kings have come, that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven; Women, that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of childbirth into joy; Virgins, to the Son of the Virgin;  Infants, that they may adore Him who became a little child, so that out of the mouths of infants He might perfect praise;  Children, to the Child who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod; Men, to Him who became man that He might heal the miseries of His servants;  Shepherds, to the Good Shepherd who has laid down His life for His sheep;  Priests, to Him who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek;  Servants, to Him who took upon Himself the form of a servant, that He might bless our stewardship with the reward of freedom (Philippians 2:7);  Fishermen, to the Fisher of humanity;  Publicans, to Him who from among them named a chosen evangelist;  Sinful women, to Him who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant woman;

And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!

Since, therefore, all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice! I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival! But I take my part, not plucking the harp nor with the music of the pipes nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ!

For this is all my hope!
This is my life!
This is my salvation!
This is my pipe, my harp!

And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels and shepherds, sing:

"Glory to God in the Highest! and on earth peace to men of good will!"

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Forefeast of the Nativity of Our Lord

Today is the first day of the "Forefeast", a term which describes our own preparation for that which is to come within the Feast of our Lord's Nativity.

The Gospel of Saint Luke records, "Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!"   And so, Joseph and Mary would have made the journey to Bethlehem from Nazareth.  The distance traveled would have been about 80 miles, a journey that a normal person could make in about 4 days.  But the Virgin was ready to deliver her Child.  We do not know how long the journey took - perhaps a week.  What we do know is, on THIS day (5 days before the birth of our Lord), they were in the process of making a very rugged journey.

As were the Magi.

And even the heavens shared in the preparation, for the Star assumed its designated place to be a guide.  And the angels of heaven lay in wait to proclaim the glad tidings to those who were simple enough and vigilant enough to hear their message.

It seems as if the world was preparing for the coming of its Creator.  And within the hymnology of the Feast, and especially of the day, we hear exactly that concept:

"Bethlehem, be prepared, Eden is open to all.  Ephratha, be made ready, for in the cave the Tree of Life has blossomed forth from the Virgin.  For her womb has been shown to be a spiritual Paradise, in which is the Divine Plant, from which having eaten, we will live, and not die as did Adam.  Christ is born to raise the image that had fallen."

And from this preparation, what response did the world give?

The Magi offered that which was most precious to them.  The shepherds offered all that they could, which was worship of the One whose birth they heard the angels proclaim.  Again, within the hymns of the Church we find the wonder of creation and its own offerings to God in response to His coming in the flesh:

"What shall we present to You, O Christ, for Your coming to earth for us men?  Each of Your creatures brings You an offering of thanks.  The angels offer their singing.  The heavens offer a star.  The wise men offer their treasures.  The shepherds offer their worship.  The earth offers a cave, and the desert offers a manger.  But we offer You the Virgin mother.  O Eternal God, have mercy on us!"

Within these next four days, we have much to prepare.  Our homes will fill with loved ones.  Our kitchens will fill with the aromas of food we've not shared over a 40 day fast.  Our minds will fill with things too earthly, being concerned over assuring that all will "go according to plan."  These are not 'bad' things.

But let our hearts most especially fill with the best of things - the joy of knowing that we will be among those who offer praise and thanks to God for His gift of salvation to us.  And to make that preparation of our hearts, we need only a very few things.  We need true repentance, recognizing our need for God's forgiveness.  And we need the firm knowledge, from the depths of our being, that Christ the Lord is come, in His love for us.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Saint Herman

The life of Saint Herman of Alaska, our Patron, carries with it spiritual food for us all!  If we take to heart the example of Saint Herman, our lives, and the lives of many who surround us, can be changed, and we can be moved to repentance and love for the Lord.

We know him as Saint Herman.  But this is an Anglicized form of the Slavonic 'German' (hard G, as in 'go').  In his youth, Saint Herman accepted monastic tonsure at the Trinity-Sergius monastery, which is located near to the coast of Finland.  While still a novice there, he developed a severe illness, a swelling which could not be healed.  And at this young age, Herman resigned himself to the fact that he was dying.  In a dream, the Mother of God appeared to him, and after this, his condition simply vanished.  This event so moved the young man that it served as an inspiration for that which God would accomplish through him for the rest of his life.

From this monastery, Saint Herman moved to the monastery at Valaam.  He had a wonderful tenor voice that would fill the chapel during divine services.  Saint Herman and Saint Seraphim of Sarov were both disciples of the Igumen Nazarius at Valaam.  At this time, Patriarch Gabriel chose ten monks to make the journey to Alaska to be missionaries to the native people there, and Saint Herman was among that group.  

The islands of Alaska were even more bleak and conditions more severe than even in Siberia.  Here, Saint Herman and the group labored among the natives, teaching them the faith, building schools, churches, an orphanage.  Over the course of the forty years that Saint Herman lived here, the ten original missionaries dwindled through attrition, some returning to Russia, most dying in their labors, until only Saint Herman remained.

Who can number his spiritual gifts?  By his faith and prayers, a tidal wave was stopped before it could harm his beloved people.  A forest fire that threatened the same people was stopped by his labors and prayers.  When an epidemic struck, it was Saint Herman who labored to heal those who could be healed, and to comfort those whom the Lord would take to be with Him.  People would come to his cell for spiritual instruction, and Saint Herman would speak with such people until all hours of the night.  When invited to go to speak with people, he would not eat of their food.  If he had to remain overnight for some reason, the bed prepared for him by loving followers would not be slept in.  He took from no one, but gave all he had to all who had need.  Animals of the forest and even bears would eat from his hand.

Saint Herman never returned to his homeland, but died and was buried as he foretold and as he desired at his new home, which he named "New Valaam" in honor of the warm memories that he retained of his beginnings.

Blessed Father Herman of Alaska,
North-star of Christ's Holy Church,
The light of your holy life and great deeds
Guides those who follow the Orthodox way.
Together we lift high the holy Cross
You planted firmly in America.
Let all behold and glorify Jesus Christ,
Singing His holy Resurrection!

The prayer that we use to close the Akathist is a good place to honor our patron.

Most wondrous, favorite of God, our venerable Father Herman, as a good laborer you did your great spiritual work in a harsh climate in this land. In your service to God, you were faithful in the little things. And, as the Lord said: “You have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much.” (Matt XXV, 24) Now, when this word has been fulfilled in you, the Lord has set you over our Holy Community as her heavenly protector. We call to you in fervent prayer: Entreat the Lord to keep our Holy Church steadfast in Orthodoxy, to reveal her to be an adornment of our community. May He protect her from all the dark powers of the enemy and drive out all adversaries. May He grant us purity of faith and beauty of soul.  Pray that He will grant us all the spirit of peace and love, the spirit of humility and meekness and drive out the sin of pride. Save us from self praise. Be our guard against false teachings. Give healing to the sick; to the sorrowful be a comfort.  To those who hunger for spiritual truth, give the heavenly food; that we may attain our true desire, and receive the reward of faithful servants at the final Judgment. With all the saints we will praise with song: the Life creating Trinity, the Ineffable Father, the True and Only-Begotten Son, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, for ever.  Amen!

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Conception of the Theotokos

The Orthodox Church has always held that the conception of the Mother of God, the Theotokos, was not "immaculate" in the way taught by the church in the west, but rather that the child Mary was an answer to prayer in exactly the same way as was Isaac to Abraham and Sarah.  The aged Joachim and Anna prayed fervently to God that He would release them from their bonds of barrenness, and that fervent prayer was answered in the way that all human births occur.  

Saint Joachim was the son of Barpathir, who was of the tribe of Judah, and was a descendant of David the King.  God had revealed to David that the Savior would be born from his progeny.  Anna was of the tribe of Aaron, a Levite.  And so the Theotokos was descended from royal blood through her father, and priestly blood through her mother.  Living in Nazareth, Joachim and Anna were childless well into their old age.  Joachim went one day to make an offering in the temple in Jerusalem.  There, the high priest Issachar refused Joachim's offering, saying, "It is not right to accept gifts from you as from a true Israelite, for you are barren, and not blessed by God."

Joachim accepted the message as a judgment against himself for sin, and so he withdrew to the wilderness, near to his cattle, where he spent 40 days begging God to forgive him, and to bless him and Anna with a child.

For her part, Anna heard of what had happened to Joachim.  She knew that others judged her for the guilt that resulted in the couple's barrenness.  And so she confined herself to her room, in fasting, tears and repentance, asking God to bless her and Joachim.

After this, Anna heard the voice of the Angel, who proclaimed to her that God had heard her prayer.  He foretold that she would give birth to a daughter before whom all knees will bend and bless her, and that through her the salvation of the world would be seen.  The Angel proclaimed the child's name - Mary.  Joachim also received a heavenly visit, giving the same message.  The two met at the Golden Gate in Jerusalem, and they later conceived, on this blessed day, the child who would come to be known as "more honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim."

In the Vespers for today's Feast, we sing the following in Tone 4:

The barren Anna leaped for joy when she conceived Mary the Virgin,
Who in turn will conceive in the flesh God the Word.
From the fullness of her joy, she cried out:
'Rejoice with me, all you tribes of Israel,
For I have conceived according to the will of God my Savior!
He has answered my prayer and ended my shame,
In fulfillment of His promise, He will heal the pains of my heart
Through the pains of child bearing.'

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Saint Nicholas

Sometimes we must marvel at how far we allow the world to usurp our hold over that which is our own, and our treasure, and further, how we allow the world to drag the glorious and honorable into the depths of ... of...  well, perhaps depravity is the best word.

The mind is drawn to such thoughts as we ponder the beloved of Christ and the treasure of the Church, Saint Nicholas.  Let's compare and contrast the Church's view of this great Saint with the image of him painted by the world.

THE CHURCH:  Saint Nicholas was a model of abstinence, with legend holding that he refused to nurse at his mother's breast on Wednesdays and Fridays until after the time that his parents completed their evening prayers.                  
THE WORLD:  An obese man, prone to eat whatever things you might leave on a plate for him.  Especially fond of milk and cookies, regardless of what it means for health, let alone that he would be in a total fast on the one night they choose to engage him (Christmas Eve), because the Eucharist will be celebrated in the morning....

THE CHURCH:  A staunch defender of the faith against heresy, to the extent of "punching" the heretic Arius for his blasphemous portrayal of Christ as not both man and God, for which Saint Nicholas was temporarily defrocked by the council, until in a dream it was revealed that his actions were pleasing to God.  (Yes, there are times that it's OK to 'fight' for the faith, and Saint Nicholas showed this)
THE WORLD:  A man who is ever jubilant, jolly, always laughing at some one or some thing.  Never inclined to say a discouraging word or to give a disapproving glance (reference recent Mercedes Benz commercials showing this caricature's glance at a car spinning its wheels).

THE CHURCH:  A man first of faith, dedicating his life to Christ, first as a reader, then as priest, then as bishop and archbishop.  Never judging, he was always to be found in prayer, which was the means by which the Lord revealed Nicholas to be His choice for bishop by virtue of Nicholas' habit of being first to church every morning.
THE WORLD:  Faith has no place in the caricature.  There are no blessings, no words of hope or encouragement, only judgmentalism (were you 'naughty' or 'nice', and we must presume that these would have been assessed by Nicholas' own standards).

THE CHURCH:  Serving the church as a first priority, the bishop would be clothed in the black robes of a priest, long and flowing, with vestments being worn only for the purpose of accomplishing prayer in the church and performing the sacraments.
THE WORLD:  Clothed in an ostentatious red felt with white fur only, never to be seen in a church, but rather only in a 'workshop' - with elves whom he holds as slaves, albeit in some kind of nondescript benign patriarchy.

THE CHURCH:  He lived among the people of Asia Minor, in what is contemporary Turkey.  There he labored to give to those in need that which God made him able to provide, distributing first his own inheritance and wealth to the poor, and then laboring to provide as he could until his own death.                  
THE WORLD:  Lives at the North Pole, for some completely unknown reason, with the possible explanation to remain out of contact with people except for when and how he himself chooses.  He must have cash reserves to buy the raw materials he creates with his slave labor.  But it's used not to help any who are in true need, but every one equally.  Just ask - He'll give it to you!!!

The name "Nicholas" means "the people's victory."  To us, Saint Nicholas is our victorious haven to whom we run with all earthly needs.  In the Vespers for his Feast day (this coming Friday, 06Dec), we sing the following:

Nicholas, the servant of Christ,
You were shown as truly victorious to the faithful people,
Strong in temptation, and worthy of your name!
Called from all places, you are swift to come to those who turn with love to your protection.
Appearing by day and night to the faithful,
You save them from danger and temptation!

There is nothing in these words that remotely brings to mind any of the characteristics that the world paints of our holy Saint!  Not in the picture offered above, nor in any other picture or caricature they paint of him.

And so it remains to us, the faithful, to draw the beloved image of our saint from the mired image offered by the world.  In Hudson for many years, we offered a presentation at this time of year, revealing to the people "The REAL Saint Nicholas".  It was received with smiling faces who, after viewing an impassioned defense of the saint from the image the world has attempted to create of him, they left, and returned to "life as usual", many I'm sure thinking, "All that stuff is just made up legend," preferring to believe the "truth" of a fat man in red as compared to the 'legend' of a known bishop and wonderworker in the church!

For us, let us take to heart the words we sing in the hymn we offer to Saint Nicholas himself...

O who love Nicholas the saintly,
O who serve Nicholas the saintly,
Him will Nicholas receive,
And give help in time of need, 
Holy Father Nicholas!

And, as we honor his name within the Church, let us sing his praises to God.  His Troparion:

You appeared to your flock as a rule of faith,
An image of humility and a teacher of abstinence.
Because of your lowliness, heaven was opened to you.
Because of your poverty, riches were granted to you.
Holy Bishop Nicholas, pray to Christ our God to save our souls!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

What Shall I Do to Inherit Eternal Life?

As promised, and because of lack of speaking voice, the following is the content of today's intended sermon, which is a "nearly verbatim" transcription of a sermon by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh on today's Gospel lesson from Luke 18:18-27.

It is not only awesome, but at times it is frightening to preach the Word of God, because the Lord said "By your words you shall be judged." Judged, because if you proclaim God's truth and remain idle and not the doer of what the Lord has commanded, and what you know well enough to proclaim to others — then, how shall you stand before the judgment of God? This does not apply only to the priest, but to every Christian who is called to be a witness, an apostle, one that brings God's word to the people who are in darkness or twilight, who need divine light, and truth and life.

To-day's Gospel challenges us all so sharply. It begins with words that may be interpreted in more than one way: "Good Master — what shall I do to have eternal life?" And the Lord answers, "Why do you call Me 'good'? Only God is Good". Jesus doesn’t say, "You are wrong". He does not deny His right to be called good as God is good; and thereby, to those who have ears to hear, those who have a heart capable of perceiving the surpassing goodness of the Lord, surpassing all human goodness, all human beauty and truth — it is a testimony: Yes, you are speaking to your God, and it is your God that will answer your question.
And then Christ gives us two indications. The one is: if you wish to have eternal life, keep the Commandments. The Commandments of God are not only rules of behavior (although, of course they are such), but as one of the Psalms puts it, should be in our innermost hearts. It should be from the depths of our heart that we accomplish the Commandments, not because we are commanded from outside, but because they have reached us with the ring of truth; not because God has spoken, but because with all our being we have answered "Amen!" This is truth, this is life, this is the way into eternal life.

When we hear Christ mentioning these Commandments — where are we? Who of us can say that he was faithful to every word of this short list that indicates that without which we cannot live? Where do we stand? I, who am preaching, you who are hearing, because it is as responsible to hear as it is to speak. How often do we think — as this young man, and with how little reason — that we want perfection. We want perfection without having first trod the road of the Commandments.

But Christ says to us quite clearly: "If you want perfection — give all you possess." It is not only material things which we can give: every one of us has treasures hoarded in his mind and heart, in his soul, things which are more important to him than anything material, that is his wealth. Each of us should turn inward and ask himself, "What is there which is my peculiar treasure? What are those things which I will not give away even for life eternal, for God?"

We do not put things in such a crude manner, but we hug those things which are precious to us, and still we hope that we will enter the Kingdom of God, we will reach perfection, we will become in all fullness what we are called to be, the kind of persons of whom God dreamed when He created us — and it is not true.
In the Book of Revelation there is a passage that says, "I have only one thing against you — you have forgotten your first love". This first love,  for each of us, is the Living God, Whom we call in so many ways: we call Him 'Life', we call Him 'Fulfilment’, we call Him 'Happiness', we call Him by all the names that mean that we should reach the fullness of our being. At times we know that only in God it is possible, at times we imagine that we can outgrow ourselves — all the same, this is our first love: to become as great as God has dreamed us, willed us.

And we do not follow the Commandments because we think that we can achieve it in a simpler manner; and we do not give away all we have, that is: the only thing we are not prepared to give away, in a hope that God will accept us, and our burden.

Let us reflect on this story. This is not even a parable, it is something that has happened to a young man. It happens to all of us when God says, "Have you been faithful to the way of life which I have described to you in terms of commandments, outlined in these terms as one can outline a road by milestones? Do you want to attain fullness — start at that point." And if you are aware of having been faithful in these things, then ask yourself the further question: what is the treasure which I will not give away, even for eternal life?

The young man heard the words of Christ, and went away sad. He had earthly possessions, but we have so many possessions which are not material and which are our burden, our fetters.

And yet, there is in this story one thing that can give us so much hope. Christ did not condemn this young man; Christ let him go without a word of reproach, because what He had said was like seed sown into the mind and heart of this young man. He let him go wounded at the heart, puzzled in his mind, called to be himself by an act of heroic will and surrender, let go of himself, as Christ said, give everything away and follow Him. Where to? Along the road of human life on one hand, on the other hand — into the fullness of life eternal.
When Christ says to us "Follow Me", He does not call us to walk a frightening, dark road; He says, "I have trodden this entire road, I know every turn and pitfall in it — you can safely follow! I am the Good Shepherd that walks in front of His sheep, meeting all dangers Himself, so that the sheep may be safe."

We all will go home like the young man, perhaps saddened, that neither are we keeping the Commandments, nor are we able to give away our most precious treasure: but remember — we will not go condemned, we will have been faced with an ultimate choice, and as long as we can struggle on earth — there is time.

But let us not be beguiled by the length of time: time flies, time goes — let it not be too late, let us turn to life, let us become all we are capable of being.

The answer to today's Gospel is evidently clear — "Who then can be saved?" — To man it is not possible by our own strength; but to God, all things are possible." That is our hope: God is with us, and nothing is too much for us, because nothing is impossible to Him. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

'Tis the Season - A Retrospective Look

Each year, as we come to the time of 'Black Friday', we find the marketers of our society ever pushing us to go further and further into our pockets (or more appropriately, into our own red ink) to "give that special something that the one you love most really, really, REALLY wants."

Some of us are now beyond that age that we used to consider 'old', and so we need to consider our perspectives as being sourced from those who are viewed by the rest of society (meaning those under 40 or so) as being fossils, not connected with "the way the world is today".

But let us offer a perspective that perhaps shows that things really haven't changed very much in the years that intervene from when we were "young people" (in our 30's or so) until now.

Some of us will remember the craze over a particular toy called "the Cabbage Patch doll".  It was all the rage at the time of Christmas in 1983.  We had two beautiful little daughters who were 4 and 3 at the time, and of course, this is the toy that they wanted.  And, as all good marketers know, to generate a craze over a new toy, the best way to do it is to release the toy just before Christmas, and then to assure that there is a 'shortage' of the toys.  The dolls, in 1983, sold retail for just under $30 (a lot in 1983), but because the dolls were 'scarce', people were buying and reselling at up to $200.

At the time, we weren't able to enter that 'race' for the original toy.  We rationalized that our little girls wouldn't know the difference, and so we bought a knock-off "look-alike".  It was a happy Christmas, I guess.

But now, 30 years later, I often sit back and wonder.  Those little girls were 4 and 3 at the time.  How many times in their young lives, and in the lives of their brother and sisters who followed, did we do similar kinds of things, specifically meaning "going with the world", following the trends, and giving them what we thought would "make them happy", as opposed to teaching them the value of what might be done with time, money, but most especially, love, that could bring even more happiness?

How might the lives of 5 people who are now raising families of their own be different, and how might the lives of those families being raised today be changed, had we instead of caving to the "toy of the year" given them the gift of going and feeding those in need, or working on a clothing drive, or packing food baskets for the hungry?  And beyond this question, how would the world be different if many of us, or even most of us, gave that same attention to the needs of those whom our Lord showed us to be our neighbors, those whom He places in our paths as ones in need and for whom He has given us resources to help?

If we go to the calendar and go way back, somewhere about this time of year in 1969, I was blessed to be a member of a high school Key Club, and 'service' was what the organization was all about.  We went door to door in a little community of less than 5000 people, and we asked for canned goods, boxed goods, anything that might make for meals for the needy.  After all was collected, we filled a gymnasium with the food, arranged it into bundles, went out and bought turkeys, got information from the local Bureau of Human Services about needy families, and went to deliver the goods to those in need.  This is now 44 years ago, I know - but the memory of that day of delivery is as vivid as any memory I still have, because of two very different encounters.

In the first, we went to a home that was run down, but brightly decorated with Christmas lights.  A fire was burning and smoke poured from the chimney, giving a wonderful odor to the place as we arrived.  Four young boys trekked to the door and knocked, joyous to deliver what some of us (and in that town, it was most of us) knew to be a God-blessed package of goods for someone who was in need.  As the door opened, it did so by just a crack.  A woman's face appeared, and she immediately closed the door, as we could hear her calling loudly to her husband.  A few moments later, he came to the door, asking us why we were so late?  They were expecting us an hour earlier, and what an inconvenience it was to have to wait for their food.....  We received a rather gruff, "Leave your basket there, and get out of here!"

We left crushed.  We thought that God had given us a joyous task, and we went to perform it with that joy.  And now, we just wanted to get the other three baskets out of our car and get home.

We delivered two more baskets, rather uneventfully.  Perhaps they're not remembered because of our own loss of faith in people.  For now, I can't say.

But when we came to the final house, we again found a very run down building.  A chimney, but no smoke.  There were gaps around the door, evidencing a draft in the house.  As we knocked, it took some time before a very old woman came and opened the door.  As she did, she broke into tears, weeping.  "You came!  You really came!  O God!  Come in, my dears, come in!!!!"  She brushed a tear from her eye.  "You can't imagine what this means to me...."  And, several of us brushed a similar tear.  She didn't have to tell us.  We could see that there was nothing in her home to compare to things that we had, and as she offered us a drink, hospitality from one who had nothing herself, we declined, because it was clear that we would be taking from that which she herself so desperately needed.  At the time, I didn't know exactly how to pray for such things, but I do recall exiting her door, making the sign of the Cross, and saying, "Thank you, Lord!" - both for the woman, and for those of us who had the honor of meeting her.

Lives can be changed by simple encounters.  But very few lives are changed by receiving the "current toy" at 4, or at 12, or at any age.  "Things" don't matter nearly as much as people do.  I can't remember what I might have received as a gift for Christmas in 1969.  I was 17 at the time.  You might think it would be important.  But I can't remember a thing about the 'things' of that year.  And while I don't know the names of the first family mentioned, or of the old woman, they will forever be a part of who I have become as a person.

That was the gift from God that was most important.  For too many years, I allowed the world to help me 'forget' the lessons that God offered when I was younger.  Now, I wonder - How can I repent for my omissions?  And more still, how can this lesson be used to help those young people who are raising families of their own?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Lord, Give us Strength!

Very often, when we find ourselves feeling unequal to a particular task, we'll offer a short prayer, "Lord, give me strength."

In these times, I wonder if that prayer is enough.....

I just read an article from a "like" link on Facebook from a guy who is a minister (i.e. NOT Orthodox), but who is nonetheless immersed in his vocation, and wanting to live according to what he's preached for a long time.  But in his own life, there was strife, turmoil, disease and sickness, failure, troubles of all kinds, to the point of his being himself broken.  And it brought him to the realization that in fact the oft used platitude, "God won't give you more than you can handle," is in fact a lie.  He goes to prove the non-scriptural nature of this platitude.  Indeed, there is in Scripture the following from the pen of Saint Paul:  "God is faithful.  He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear." (1Cor 10:13)  But this is not about spiritual burdens, it's about temptation!  What happens when literally everything in our lives get turned upside down, and we don't know where to turn?  It is a times like this that we as priests don't necessarily have the right words to offer.  And yet, we must offer what we can.  What is that?

Saint Paul answers the question of "burdens beyond our ability" later, in Second Corinthians, when he says, "We do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life." (2Cor 8)

Saint Paul sounds pretty conquered there, I think.  But his teaching doesn't stop here.  He continues.  "Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God, who raises the dead." (2Cor 9)

God allows burdens to come our way.  Some are light.  Some are heavy.  Never forget that our Lord could not bear the physical burden of His cross as He went to Golgotha.  "But when they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name.  Him they compelled to bear His cross." (Mat 27:32)  And so a servant, one whom He had created, helped Jesus bear that physical burden to the place where He would give up His life.

If Jesus as God is able to accept the help of His creation to overcome a burden in the flesh, we then too must be ready to accept the help of God to bear our burdens in the spirit!  There will be times when we aren't able to carry them alone.

If God the Son vouchsafed to lean on us, His creation, to help Him carry a physical burden too hard for Him to bear, will He not be standing by to help us carry our spiritual burdens when they become too hard for us?  Yes, there will be times when we have been burdened beyond our ability.  There is no sin, but rather only virtue, in seeking help!  God's help can come in many ways, and most of them (after the burden is removed) will appear to us to have been miraculous!  But let us never reject God's help, in whatever form it may be offered.

He will be faithful to give us the strength we need to go as far as we can and then to rely on His help.

Give us the strength to do both, Lord!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Same Sex .... I Can't Use the Next Word

Yesterday (Monday, September 23rd, on the Feast of the Conception of the Baptist and Forerunner John), the Assembly of Bishops sent an e-mail to its subscribing parishes listing actions of the most recent meeting held in Schaumburg, IL from 17-19Sept, just last week.  One of the elements of that work was the following document on the issue of Same Sex Marriage.

From the Assembly of Bishops
To our Orthodox Faithful
1. We, the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America, representing millions of Orthodox Christians in the United States of America, Canada and Central America, express our deep concern over recent actions on the part of our respective governments and certain societal trends concerning the status of marriage in our countries, in particular the legalization of same-sex unions.
2. The Orthodox Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality, firmly grounded in Holy Scripture, two millennia of Church Tradition, and Canon Law, holds that the sacrament of marriage consists in the union of a man and a woman, and that authentic marriage reflects the sacred unity that exists between Christ and His Bride, the Church.
3. Persons with homosexual orientation are to be cared for with the same mercy and love that is bestowed on all of humanity by our Lord Jesus Christ.  Moreover, the Church is a spiritual hospital, where we all are called to find the healing of our fallen humanity through Jesus Christ, who assumed human nature in order to restore it.  All of us struggle with various passions, and it is only within the Church that we find the means of overcoming these passions with the assistance of God’s grace.  Acting upon any sexual attraction outside of sacramental marriage, whether the attraction is heterosexual or homosexual, alienates us from God.
4. We exhort the clergy and faithful of the Orthodox Church to bear witness to the timeless teachings of Christ by striving for purity and holiness in their own lives, by instructing their families and communities in the precepts of the Holy Gospel, and by placing their trust in our Lord, who “has overcome the world.” (John 16.33)

5. Finally, we encourage our faithful to approach their parish priest or spiritual father with any questions or concerns about this statement and its practical repercussions in their daily lives.

Having our Hierarchs gift to us such an impressive, rational, and dispassionate position on the issue, we need to be mindful of the fact that others in our society will not be dispassionate, and in far too many instances may not even be rational.  Indeed, both sides of the issue continue to make arguments to support their positions, and both continue to ignore the dialogue coming from the opposing side.  I pray that many read what our beloved bishops have given to us, and take it to heart, for the Church indeed loves all of her children, for we are all sinners and in need of forgiveness and restoration by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

To the point of irrationality, we can offer the following.  We recently read a blog (on the side for same sex marriage) that said the following:

"There was a time I had tolerance for the intolerant. I didn’t understand the logic of the opponents, but I assumed there had to be some legitimate rationale for their position. No one, I figured, would spend so much time advancing a bunch of ridiculous hooey with no basis in reality.  But ridiculous hooey it is. The argument by the anti-gay-marriage crowd is so absurd, so internally contradictory, and so awash in unproven assertions that it is difficult to take it as anything more than a construct cobbled together by people who just don’t like those people. These are not arguments about law or marriage or children; if they were, anti-gay-marriage folks could marshal real facts."  (http://www.vanityfair.com/online/eichenwald/2013/03/it-s-time-to-drop-the-fallacy-of-the-anti-gay-marriage)

We live on the side of saying "same sex" and "marriage" in a single subject of a sentence is a logical absurdity.  And like the above author, we might "assume" that the other side has a legitimate rationale for their position.  Here are a few of the more prominent ones that they offer:
1) "You can't stop love - this is about love!"
2) "It's no one else's business what two people do!"
3) "Denying the right (sic) stigmatizes gay couples."
4) "There will be financial gain."
5) "It will become easier for gay couples to adopt children."

Let's look at these one by one in as dispassionate a manner as we can.

1) Love:  Love is without doubt the single greatest gift of God.  But every one of His gifts carries with it a responsibility.  Our world has come to confuse (and perhaps there are those who would contend it's not confusion as much as it is just substitution) the word "love" with the word "lust". In today's world, the physical desire for another person is termed "love".  This has never been the true meaning of the word.  Marriage is not based on lust.  Marriage certainly carries with it a physical aspect, and there is certainly a condition in which the love felt by a man for a woman (love as defined below) causes each to have a physical desire for the other.  And there is beauty in that physical desire when it is pure.  In the Orthodox Church, marriage carries with it a significant emphasis on this kind of 'pure' love, and it does this by giving the example that our Lord gave to us.  We read from the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Ephesians.  "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her." (Eph 5:25)  Within this passage (I know - it means nothing to those who reject the love of God...) we hear a number of words that are foreign to the "same sex union" proponents.  Husband and wife - Where are these in a same sex union?  There is no statement of "Wives love your wives."  It was, is, and ever shall be impossible for this to be truth.  Christ loved the Church (HE did) and gave Himself for whom?  For another Him, who is the Church?  No!  The Church is the Bride of Christ!  SHE is resplendent in His (Christ's) glory!  And what aspect of this love is elevated to our attention?  Is it a sexual union? God forbid!  Not because the sexual union is sinful, but because the mystical union is so much greater!  The aspect of this love shown is the sacrificial nature of love, and in its purity.  Christ gave Himself for the Church.  The purpose of the union of marriage is to sacrifice for the good of the other.  Where is this argument in a "same sex union"?  There is talk of love, but that love is physical, not mystical, not spiritual.  If this were not so, the people engaged in the debate on the side purporting same sex unions would not be first associated with the gay agenda.  But they are gay first, desiring "marriage" second, and sacrificing - who knows when. Please note that there is no emphasis in Saint Paul's (or in the Church's) view of marriage that offspring - children - perform some kind of "pivotal role" in the institution of marriage.  Marriage is established for the sole purpose of one person so loving another that he and (not or) she would sacrifice themselves to bring the other to salvation in Christ.  In short, "Let's love each other so much that we get each other to heaven!"

2) Privacy:  It is true that it is not the business any person what another person "does".  But those on the side of same sex unions can "do" whatever they choose to "do" without "requiring" the legal change of status to "joined", and more specifically "married".  Ergo, the legal (not spiritual) bond must have some other agenda.  What might that other agenda be?

3) Stigmatization:  Now we get to a more focused heart of the matter.  Because there can be no legal union, those choosing to "do" what they choose to do are stigmatized.  Why?  Because they don't get the same "blessing" (sic again) from the state.  They feel bad.  Does that mean a pricked conscience?  If yes, we call this a healthy recognition of a state of being separated from the will of God.  But if we use the "s--" word (OK, if it needs to be spelled out, "sin"), you'll judge us, won't you?  The stigmatization that exists (if it exists) is a healthy gift from God.  What did Saint Paul say about this?  "For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) " (Rom 2:14-15)  

4) Money:  Yet a second focused reason to want to be de-stigmatized.  If the status is legalized, those who engage in it won't lose as much financially.  If you want to understand a position on a contemporary issue, find the money!  While it's true that the word "marriage" is linked in governmental documents with those who are granted tax benefits and health care benefits and Social Security benefits, it is not present because it is an ecclesiastical word - it is part of human law.  Marriage - that has a sacred meaning to just about every person on the planet who claims to believe in God in whatever fashion they choose (this does NOT single out Orthodoxy...).  So why doesn't the gay agenda movement attack the government to change the words in the rules?  They could have written into secular law an expression for "Legally united people" (LUPPIE's?)  This is not sufficient for those in this group.  Indeed, it's more important to tear down an institution that has existed since the beginning of time!  Why might that be?

5) Children:  This is perhaps one of the hardest issues to deal with.  Priests counsel people all the time, teaching that children need a solid and well grounded home.  Historically this includes a father who can (by his sacrificial love) raise the child to be loving as well.  It includes a mother who (by her sacrificial love) can instill in the child the sense of belonging to something that itself is loving - a family.  Divorce has compounded this problem to the extent that many children today (without any same-sex union issues) have more than one "father" or "mother", and don't think twice about that situation.  What was "normal" 50 years ago is today abnormal - a two parent home in which mom was there when I went to school, there when I got home from school, and dad disciplined me when mom told him that I needed it. The abortion condition (the s-- word again) in our country makes many of us desirous of finding any people who truly choose to love (sacrificially) a child who would otherwise be martyred (yes - it's a pejorative word, but - there it is).  So, adoption for singles?  Why not, if it saves a life. Adoption for gays?  That's a bit more difficult, not because they're "different" as people.  Not because we "hate" them (as the above author suggests).  As the position paper from the Assembly of Bishops so eloquently states, we ALL sin and fall short of the perfection to which God calls us.  But those supporting same-sex unions choose to rationalize their 'sin' to be 'normal', teaching a child that a sinful state that you choose, if you are adamant enough about supporting it, can be unilaterally and artificially declared by you to be  "OK".  If you're uncomfortable with "sin", then let's use "unnatural", for there is no way for a child to be conceived from two like sexes.  To argue otherwise puts the arguer into the position of offering "ridiculous hooey".  Ergo, the "marriage bed" that Saint Paul urges us to "keep undefiled" (Heb 13:4) immediately becomes defiled, for there by definition must be adultery (a third person) involved to create a child.  It's not a refutable argument.  And while the agenda has shifted to permitting marriage, adultery remains a legal criminal activity in at least 23 of our 50 states. Why is there no similar push to remove this "stigmatization"?  Because it has been relegated to the state of unenforceable, it is so rampant.  That and the wonderful rationalization of , "Everybody's doing it..."  

Many who have argued against same-sex unions have done so with hand-waving statements such as, "It will degrade the state of marriage."  While we may feel that way, the truth is that its danger for marriage lies in the institution which grants marriage from the spiritual (and sacrificial, as opposed to legal) perspective.  And herein lies the single greatest reason for the rhetorical "Why" questions above.  The agenda is (and will remain) to first marginalize, and then to destroy the church.  Indeed, such marginalization has already occurred.  There are not enough churches (or religious entities of any kind) standing up and saying, "NO!  ENOUGH ALREADY!" We tend to equate doing so with being unrighteously judgmental against those who are pushing the agenda we find intolerable.  

The word "hate" or variations thereof are often hurled at people like us for offering thoughts like those espoused herein.  Let us state for the record.  There ARE things that we hate!  Does that surprise you?  It shouldn't.  Let's go back to Saint Paul and Romans:  "Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor." (Rom 12:9-10)

So, yes - WE HATE!  We HATE cancer.  Judge us for it.  Go ahead, if you will!  Did we suggest that we hated the person with cancer?  How could we?  We are called by our Lord to lovingly care for the needs of such people.  We HATE fanaticism.  Surprised?  Did we suggest that we hate suicide bombers?  We are called by our Lord to love even them, and to do what can be done to lead them to salvation!  We HATE abortion.  Now we've gone and done it!  There we are, judging all those who felt 'pressured' into removing 'tissue' from a body that belongs to them!  We didn't say that we hate the girl/woman or child who has fallen into choosing abortion as her only alternative.  But we are called by our Lord to attempt at all costs to save the life of the unborn no less than to save the life of a suicide bomber or a cancer victim.

What the world refuses to see is that all of these examples are the same.  All are rooted in a world fallen through sin.  And yes, we freely admit to being sinful and in need of God's mercy ourselves.  As a priest, I am more in need of repentance and forgiveness form our Lord than those whom I am called to serve.  So don't attempt to judge me based on the statement.  Trust me, this article has been written, reviewed, revised, and edited 20 times before publishing in large part because of the recognition that my conscience tells me of my unworthiness to serve, but especially to judge.  Nevertheless, there is also a God-given charter to preach the truth.  And by your prayers, perhaps this and other articles like it contain some truth.

Legalization of same-sex unions, and the legal declarations which could result in this status, would never mention the church - not at this state in the process.  But what comes next?  "Hey Father, we're gay and we'd like to get married.  When can you schedule the service for us?"  "Um, I'm sorry, but I can't do that?"  "Why not?  It's perfectly legal now!  And you hold a license from the state to solemnize marriages.  If you won't do it, you're violating your duties to the state!  We'll sue!  We'll have you arrested for denying us our constitutional rights!"  "But my children, you have no such right in the Church?"  "Who cares, Father?  The church is an antiquated institution anyhow.  The sooner we can bring it to the ground, the better off we'll all be.  Look at you!   You're still trying to convince us that what we're doing is wrong!"

Think it can't happen?  Do you disagree that the "s--" words above are not viewed by the general populace as "sin"?  Look at the world around us today, compared with only 50 years ago.....  What lies ahead 50 year from now......         if we don't stand and speak the truth today.

God bless our Bishops!  Na mnogaja leta, Vladiko!  Many years, Masters!  To those of us in the churches, continue to pray fervently for them, for now more than ever, we need them to "rightly define the Word of Your truth!"

Who Were, Who Are "The Chosen People"?

We, as Orthodox Christians, view ourselves quite highly.  I avoid the use of the word 'pride', for it is pejorative in this context.  But we believe that we have the faith handed down from our Lord to His Apostles, the faith established by the Holy Fathers, a faith that has not been contaminated by divisions. Some would argue, "That's not true - you Orthodox have your divisions.  Look at how many times church has broken communion with church!"  And while that comment is true, those breaks in communion have come specifically over issues of defending the faith, and they are healed when one or the other parties repents and returns to the fullness of what the church continues to teach.  I dare say we may expect such issues to continue until the time our Lord returns.

And so it would appear that there is this 'contemporary' sense that we are now 'the Chosen People', having supplanted God's intention for the descendants of Abraham.  We take scripture as it is presented to us and conclude that when our Lord said, "God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones," (Mat 3:9)  He was speaking of His Church.

But is our view of our position of chosenness consistent with our behavior?  The Jews, and without doubt the Pharisees whom our Lord so often derided in His ministry, believed similarly about themselves.  And yet Jesus called them hypocrites, brood of vipers, "whitewashed tombs which appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness."  (Mat 23:27)

What would Jesus say about us today?

In order for humor to have its intended effect, there needs to be an element of truth within the joke.  There's a long standing joke that has appeared online for quite some time.  It details a discussion between two men, one of whom is telling the other that he is leaving the Orthodox Church for another.  The second man states categorically, "I was born into this faith, and I shall never deny it."  The first man asks him, "How often do you attend Liturgy?"  The reply - "Never...."

Perhaps this is an extreme indictment of the many, but if we're honest with one another, we as a people are not exactly committed to the fullness of the faith.  Within our little mission, Sunday attendance can vary from as few as 11 (on some summer Sundays) to as many as 38 to 40 (on a "good" Sunday) to over 60 for Pascha.  Why are there such stark differences?

We have Vespers every Saturday evening, which the Church teaches is an essential preparation for the Eucharist.  We've taught this in sermons from time to time.  And still, Saturday attendance is 4 to 6 people. If we have a week night Liturgy for a Feast, maybe we'll find 8 or 10 people.  When we schedule Adult Studies, we'll have the same 5-6 people each week.  Do these ministries (services, teaching) have no place in the church?  Are we as a people simply "too busy"?  Or does Christ not take that central, core position in our lives?

If we're "chosen" by God, what did He "choose" us to do?  Where did He choose us to be?  What has He chosen us to do?

Jesus, as He looked upon the city of Jerusalem, bemoaned their loss of their own "chosenness", as He said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." (Mat 23:37)  That same heart of God no doubt wishes to gather us together.

Are we willing?

I think it's fair to say that "the Chosen People" are not the people whom God has chosen from among the masses, but rather the people who from among the masses have chosen God.  Remember the account of the Canaanite woman who came to Jesus seeking help for her possessed daughter, and to whom our Lord tested her faith (for the Canaanites were not "chosen" people) by responding to her plea, "It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs." (Mat 15:26)  Saint Matthew records that this woman "worshiped Him", and that even through the testing of giving her a negative reply, her faith did not waiver.  Ultimately, she received the blessing of hearing from our Lord's lips, "O woman, great is your faith.  Be it done to you as you desire." (Mat 15:28).  She was not chosen by being grouped with a people.  She first chose Christ, and then received blessings.

So it must be with us.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

After 12 Years, Where Are We As a People?

The 'anniversary' of the attacks on our country on 9/11 is always a time for me to take a kind of spiritual inventory.  Certainly we honor those who courageously gave their lives seeking to help others in need - the police and fire personnel who saw a greater good, who may have remembered the words of Saint Paul, "For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die." (Rom 5:7)

But we are not first responders, those chartered to go into dangerous situations for the sake of helping others.

Or are we?

What have we learned about our own need to seek the good and to reject the evil in this world since 9/11?

I did a quick search on "church attendance since 9/11", and the results are appalling.  Attendance was up after the attack.  For a paltry month.  Then, we enlightened Americans simply returned to our cesspool.  We began shopping, and watching reality TV, and hit the golf courses on Sunday mornings.  Where was God?  Oh, we put Him away, right back into that closet where we know we can find Him again - IF we need Him.

I don't believe that Jesus was speaking only about the Pharisees when He said,  "For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing. And their eyes they have closed. Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears. Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them." (Mat 13:15)  I think our Lord was focused on all of humanity for all time until such time as He would come again - to judge the living and the dead.

We don't need to be trained fire and police personnel to be "first responders" in a world gone mad.  We can pray today that our Lord will intercede for the people of Syria who are being slaughtered by mad men whose political agendas clearly dominate their care for a suffering people.  We can pray for the same intervention in Egypt, and in Rwanda, and in Afghanistan, and in literally hundreds of other places around the world.  We are called to be "first responders" in prayer.  And yes, maybe in fasting for that peace that can only come from God.

In a world filled with turmoil, we've forgotten the essential.  The attack on our country 12 years ago was not a 'judgment' meted out by God upon us.  But it did provide us with a wake-up call to return to Him, to repent, to "seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness." (Mat 6:33)

Jesus warned us in the Parable of the Wise Virgins that we must remain watchful, ever vigilant for His return.  He told us that we won't know the hour in which He will come, but that we must be ready for that hour when it arrives.  To be ready, we, like those wise virgins, must have our "lamps trimmed".  We need to be bearers of light to the world around us.  We need to carry with us that "extra oil" that will permit us to shine that light in a world that seeks only darkness.  How do we do this?  By repentance, by cleansing the lamps of our souls so that they might shine more brightly, and by arming ourselves with the weapon of the Cross, the weapon of peace.  

Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." (John 14:27)

Take comfort, 'be not troubled' in knowing that this peace cannot be taken from us.  The world can take every possession, every physical support, but Christ gives us a spiritual peace that supersedes all of these. 

On this anniversary, 12 years after a spiritual wake up call, let us not fall prey to the accusations in Proverbs: "As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly." (Prov 26:11)  For a month after 9/11, the churches were filled with those looking for God.  I think we can say now that if they didn't already have Him, they were not going to find Him in a 2 or 4 week "search".  So many who seemed committed to change their lives and seek God waned so very quickly, and returned to 'the folly' that was life in America, as it was on 9/10.

For those who believe, or those who have come to believe because God has our hearts, even if our faith feels as though it's 'in the margins', let us turn with renewed effort to following Christ - in the churches, in our offices and schools, in our governmental offices, in the streets, in our cars, and most especially in our homes.

"For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time."  (Rev 12:12)  Indeed, the devil's time, as well as our time, grows short.

"Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: "For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him." But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul." (Heb 10:35-39)

It is time for us to live as if we are slaves to a Master who loves us enough to forgive us our sins, and to save our souls.  It all begins with faith, and with a heart to not draw back to that same old lifestyle we led before we were awakened from our sleep.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

On the Feast of the Dormition

Concerning the Dormition of the Theotokos, this is what the Church has received from ancient times from the tradition of the Fathers. When the time drew nigh that our Savior was well-pleased to take His Mother to Himself, He declared unto her through an Angel that three days hence, He would translate her from this temporal life to eternity and bliss. On hearing this, she went up with haste to the Mount of Olives, where she prayed continuously. Giving thanks to God, she returned to her house and prepared whatever was necessary for her burial. While these things were taking place, clouds caught up the Apostles from the ends of the earth, where each one happened to be preaching, and brought them at once to the house of the Mother of God, who informed them of the cause of their sudden gathering. As a mother, she consoled them in their affliction as was meet, and then raised her hands to Heaven and prayed for the peace of the world. She blessed the Apostles, and, reclining upon her bed with seemliness, gave up her all-holy spirit into the hands of her Son and God.

The prayer offered by the Theotokos for "the peace of the world" was not a prayer for only those gathered at her side, but for the Church for all time, until her beloved Son would return.

May that peace of this glorious Feast be with and remain with you, filling your hearts with the joy of knowing that the path taken by the Mother of God today is prepared for those who also worship her Son in Spirit and truth and love.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Dormition of the Theotokos in the Holy Land

On August 12, at Little Gethsemane, at the second hour of the night, the head of the Gethsemane church celebrates Divine Liturgy. With the end of Liturgy, at the fourth hour of the morning, he serves a short Molieben before the resplendent burial shroud, lifts it in his hands and solemnly carries it beyond the church to Gethsemane proper where the holy sepulcher of the Mother of God is situated. All the members of the Russian Spiritual Mission in Jerusalem, with the head of the Mission presiding, participate each year in the procession (called the "Litania") with the holy burial shroud of the Mother of God..

The rite of the Burial of the Mother of God at Gethsemane begins customarily on the morning of August 14. A multitude of people with Hierarchs and clergy at the head set off from the Jerusalem Patriarchate (nearby the Church of the Resurrection of Christ) in sorrowful procession. Along the narrow alley-ways of the Holy City the funeral procession makes its way to Gethsemane. Toward the front of the procession an icon of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos is carried. Along the way, pilgrims meet the icon, kissing the image of the All-Pure Virgin Mary and lift children of various ages to the icon. After the clergy, in two rows walk the black-robed monks and nuns of the Holy City: Greeks, Romanians, Arabs, Russians. The procession, going along for about two hours, concludes with Lamentations at the Gethsemane church. In front the altar, beyond the burial chamber of the Mother of God, is a raised-up spot, upon which rests the burial shroud of the Most Holy Mother of God among fragrant flowers and myrtle, with precious coverings.

"O marvelous wonder! The Fount of Life is placed in the grave, and the grave doth become the ladder to Heaven..." Here at the grave of the All-Pure Virgin, these words strike deep with their original sense and grief is dispelled by joy: "Hail, Full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee, granting the world, through Thee, great mercy!"

Numerous pilgrims, having kissed the icon of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, following an ancient custom, then stoop down and go beneath it.

On the day of the Leave-taking of the feast (August 23), another solemn procession is made. On the return path, the holy burial shroud is carried by clergy led by the Archimandrite of Gethsemane.

There is an article in the "Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate", 1979, No. 3 regarding the rite of the litany and Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God in the Holy Land.

Today flowers are blessed in church, and people keep them in their homes. During times of family strife or illness, the flower petals are placed in the censer with the incense, and the whole house is censed. See the Prayer at the Sanctification of any Fragrant Herbage.
(The usual beginning)
Let us pray to the Lord.
Lord have mercy.
O Lord God Almighty, Who fill all things according to Your word, and Who commanded the earth to bring forth every fruit in its season and to give it to mankind for gladness and for life: All-good Master, bless and sanctify by Your Holy Spirit, this seed and various herbage brought into this holy temple; and cleanse from every defilement these, Your servants taking this herbage and seed, and fill their homes with every good fragrance, that these may become, for all that preserve them with faith, and cense with it, preservation and deliverance from every increase of enemies, and for the banishment of every illusion which comes from the action of the devil, whether by day or by night, as well as for the blessing of souls and bodies for Your faithful people, and for the blessing of their work, houses and other places. For all that take this herbage, let them receive for themselves protection of souls and bodies, and may the healing mystery of Your Grace be for our salvation. And in whatever place it may be put, or wherever it may be used, let it be received for a blessing; and may Your right hand shelter it, driving away every adverse power from here, to the glory of Your most-holy, majestic and worshiped Name: to Whom is due all glory, honor and worship, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
The Priest shall sprinkle the herbage thrice with Holy Water pronouncing the usual formula of sprinkling and Sanctification.
Then shall he pronounce the Dismissal of the day.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

On the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord

Saint Ephraim teaches that Moses and Elijah were speaking words to our Lord such as these:  They thanked Him that their words and those of their fellow Prophets had been fulfilled by His coming.  They offered Him worship for the salvation He had wrought for the world and all of mankind, that He had fulfilled the mystery they had only sketched with their divinely inspired words.

There was joy in all creation by this ascent of Tabor.  The Prophets rejoiced when they saw our Lord’s humanity, which they had not known.  The Apostles rejoiced when they saw the glory of our Lord’s divinity, which THEY had not known.  These joys were sealed by the Father’s voice, by Moses’ and Elijah’s appearance, and by the witness borne by the Apostles.  The authors of the Old Covenant meet the authors of the New.  Moses meets Simon Peter.  He who struck the rock which poured forth water meets the one whom our Lord calls the Rock, who walks on the water.  John the Theologian meets Elijah, joining the vision of the virgin in the Old with the documentation of virgin in the New.  The tent that Peter begs to raise is raised indeed by the building of the Church of our Lord.  The one who rode the chariot of fire rejoices with the one who will lean his head upon the breast of the Flame itself.  Tabor becomes a Church, and on it Jesus unites the two Covenants, which His Holy Church receives, and makes known to us that He is the giver of both.

May we be filled with His light, the uncreated Light, the Light which overcomes all darkness!

It’s a glorious Feast!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Prayer, Praise, Song

"I will be glad and rejoice in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High!" (Ps 9:2)

The Orthodox Tradition is that our worship is corporate, not the act of an individual.  It's one of the reasons that I still struggle with memories of "cantors" who were present (yes) to "lead" the worship, but who all too often were used to "effect" the worship.  Most of us have sat in churches where (similarly) there is a glorious choir filled with the finest voices, singing hymns well rehearsed with a choir master.  And in that worship, all too often (admittedly not always) the faithful sit or stand to 'listen', some even to be 'entertained' by the wonderful music, well pleasing to the human ear.

I remember as a child, then as a young man, sitting first with my mother and my baba in church, and hearing the din which emitted from a particular man's lips as he desperately tried to lend his voice to the singing.  He had no voice.  Well, more to the point, he had no musical inclination at all.  "In tune" had no meaning to him, nor did "in tempo".  But he sang his heart out.  And it puzzled me (as a child, then later as a young man), "Why does no one tell him?"

Now, 50 or so years later, I know the answer to that question.  His voice may not have been pleasing to my ears, but there was no doubt that it was eminently pleasing to God!

Which brings us to the issue of "congregational singing" - a practice that we at Saint Herman's have followed from our inception.  There may be those who enter our walls and think, "Why are they doing this?  Where's the choir?"  But the fact is, when we pray, the participation level in that prayer is at a very high percentage. When people without musical training feel that there is no judgment of their offering of prayer, the results can be astoundingly wonderful.

Come and see!

Why this article today?  Because I just now came across a writing on the topic from Archbishop Averky, who wrote the following.  Enjoy, and - oh yes, "Come and see!  Come and sing!!!"

Congregational [public] singing in church is a strictly Orthodox tradition, for it is of ancient Christian origin. The restoration of congregational singing in our time must be hailed, for it has the most profound roots in the very concept of our Divine Services, in which all the faithful must accept participation "with one mouth and one heart."

The very structure of our Orthodox Divine Services, which requires a constant interchange, like a roll-call, of the exclamations of the priest and deacon with the reading of the tonsured reader, and the singing of the people, already presupposes the most active and conscious participation of all "those standing" in the Divine Service being celebrated, and not just a passive presence in the church, even if it is accompanied by private prayer.

Such an active participation of the laity in the Divine Services is indicated by those numerous notations in the Typicon and Divine Service books where the word "lik" [lit. face]...is very often replaced by the pronoun "we", as for example, "we sing in the most attractive voice, ‘Lord I have cried,’ or, "and we sing 'Joyous Light'."

Very often, instead of the "lik" the expression "people" is used: "and the people sing" (e. g. rubrics for Great Saturday at vespers).

From this, the exclamation of the priest in the Divine Liturgy, in which he calls upon the worshipers to glorify and sing praises to God not only with "one heart," but also with "one mouth," becomes comprehensible.

Thus, according to the concept of our Divine Services, ail the faithful must take part in the singing, if not in all, then at least in the majority of our Church hymns, rather than standing in church like idle spectators and listeners. The church is not a theater, where one goes only to see and hear beautiful singing, but a place of common prayer, in which all must participate in a fully conscious manner. All the more proper is such participation in the singing of the Symbol of Faith, which is our common confession of faith, and in the singing of the Lord's Prayer, "Our Father," which is sent up from the person of all of us to God, our common Father.

The intrusion into our Divine Services of Western concert-singing, accessible only to specially experienced singers with careful and lengthy preparation, forced out the choir of believers from a living participation in common liturgical singing and made those who come into church only listeners, but not living participants in common Church prayer. In this Western theatrical singing; all the attention is concentrated not on the words, but on the melody, which is more or less artificial-with bravura or sentimentality--but not at all churchly. Under the influence of this singing, in which it is often impossible to even make out the words, and which is deeply alien to the Orthodox ascetical spirit, many begin to come to church not for prayerful participation in the Divine Services, as in a common action of all the faithful, but only "to listen to beautiful singing, in order to experience aesthetic pleasure, which is, unfortunately, accepted by many in our time as a prayerful feeling. This, in union with irreligious upbringing and irreligious, often godless, school education, penetrated by an atheistic and materialistic spirit, leads to a greater and greater departure from genuine church mindedness and the understanding of the Divine Services by the broad majority of the believers. As a result, there has been a very great weakening of the immense significance of our Divine Services as a "school of religious training." Believers often come to church only "to cross the forehead," as the expression gees, but everything that takes place in Church is alien and incomprehensible to them. It is, therefore, not amazing that we now find people who request to receive Holy Communion at the all-night vigil, and are sincerely perplexed and even offended when they are told this is not possible.

The disappearance from our churches of congregational church singing and its replacement by a theatrical form of church singing by special "choirs" has undoubtedly aided the alienation of our society from church mindedness. Thus, the surest path for a return of our irreligious society to the Church is the return to the ancient practice which is in accord with the Church rubric: the restoration of congregational singing in our churches.