Archive for the ‘Feast Days’ Category

Paschal Message of Metropolitan Jonah

April 6, 2010

Christ is Risen!  Indeed He is Risen!

I’m a little slow on this, but I’m passing along the Paschal message of his Beatitude  Metropolitan Jonah.  The excesses of the Feast of Feasts got to me yesterday on Bright Monday.  Too much rich food, too little sleep, too much busyness and activity.  It’s been my usual practice to take this day off work and recuperate, but I couldn’t do it this year, and was really feeling lousy.  In a way, I’m relieved the day of Pascha has come and gone.  It’s a hard Feast to really connect with because of the busyness that accompanies it.    The extras that attach to Pascha – the Pascha basket, the parish picnic, the baking, the cooking, the clothes to buy for the kids, the rushing and fussing – they seem to overwhelm the Feast and my simple enjoyment of it.  It’s the same problem we have with the Nativity.  How do you just stop the frenzy?  Going to the services and not participating in any activities seems a bit extreme.   There must  be a balance somewhere, but after 19 years I still haven’t found it.  Nor have I found a way to indulge my food cravings in moderation.  Before the holy water has dried off the blessed Pascha baskets, I’m diving two-fisted into a pyramid-shaped Pascha and a side dish of sausage and eggs, washed down with wine.

Enjoy and meditate on the Paschal message of Metropolitan Jonah.  He seems to have been writing it specifically for me and my festal gluttony.  (Is it really possible to fall into sin so soon after the end of the Paschal Liturgy?)

Having passed the course of the Fast, let us feast soberly, giving thanks to God. Let our feasting never obscure the Feast of Grace, the experience of the Presence of Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord, in our midst, the Host of our Feast.

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Paschal Message of Patriarch Kirill

April 1, 2010

Christ’s Resurrection indeed does allow us to transcend the vanity of everyday life so that we may see the true majesty of God’s love, which for the good of the human person condescended even unto the Cross and death. It is therefore important for us to realize that by his Resurrection the Lord renews human nature by granting fortification of the inner strength of every Christian in his ministry to the Church, country, society, family, and neighbour.

His Holiness Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus, issued his Paschal sermon yesterday, and its message, addressed to the Orthodox faithful in a country thousands of mile away, could have easily been given to Americans living under the same pressures and stresses of modern life.  You only have to read the newspaper or watch the news today and you’ll get an endless display of the vanity of life. 

My Seventeen Year Journey with Saint Herman of Alaska

December 12, 2009

 

The last week and a half  has been particularly difficult – illness, financial strain, job problems, holiday overload – and there have been days when I just didn’t give a crap about anything.   It’s not too hard to understand why the sin of anger is a big part of my confessions.  But it was this evening when the fog of sickness had started to lift that I realized I had something to be happy and joyful about. 

December 13th is the feastday of possibly the most beloved of American Orthodox Saints – Venerable Herman of Alaska.  A monk whose simple life has had the most profound impact on American Orthodoxy.  I count myself blessed that seventeen years ago on his feastday I was  received into the Holy Orthodox Church through chrismation.  It was and remains still, the most important day of my life.  I was reborn into a new life in the Orthodox faith and Saint Herman has been one of those saints I have felt closest to. 

Some people might say that one day of  total spiritual devotion and happiness would be enough to satisfy them a lifetime.  That’s how many Orthodox converts remember the date of their baptism or chrismation.  It is that one special day that seems to be a fulfillment of long, difficult journeys and sacrifices to achieve truth and salvation.  In His mercy, God has blessed me with 6205 days since my chrismation, but I never fail to remember how miserably I have squandered all that time.  I have so often let the problems and stress of this world interfere with my spiritual life and left so many areas of sin untouched and unchanged.  I can only hope that through the prayers of Saint Herman I can complete my life in the same spirit of peace that he had.  

If you would like to learn more about the life and miracles of Saint Herman click here.

O 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.

Saint Nicholas

December 7, 2009

I know it’s a day late but I just had to post about the strange legend I learned about Saint Nicholas, whose feast day was celebrated on December 6th.   A church friend told me that Saint Nicholas is famous for raising three children from the dead who’d been pickled in brine by a murderous butcher, with the intent of later selling them as ham.   I mean really, I’ve heard of brining turkeys for Thanksgiving, but children!   Aren’t they tender enough already?

Sorry, couldn’t help that one.   Besides, everyone knows children are better as a  dessert course, all that sugar and spice…

Brined children raised from the dead.  This fantastic medieval legend, like so many others, tests our faith and the credibility of all miracles.  The hagiographic accounts of miraculous healings, appearances, and prophecies could fill a library.  By the rationalistic, scientific standards of our modern mind we tend to dismiss or outright scorn these accounts, thinking of those who fervently believed in this evidence of the Divine, as superstitious hicks.  But do we give the originators and believers of these miracles enough credit?  They had such a superabundance of simple faith and belief that it was natural and entirely plausible for them to embellish, invent, or translate into their own time the  stories of the wonder-working and the fantastic, while so-called Christians of the 21st century will bend themselves into knots asserting a belief  in Bigfoot, 9/11 conspiracy theories, and Mayan calendar end-of-the-world scenarios.   It’s funny that some of these same people find it hard to believe in the Creation, the Trinity, and Christ’s bodily Resurrection.   So let me ask again, who’s stories are more implausible? 

Proud Mary

July 22, 2009

st_mary_magdalene_500

Today, July 22nd, marks the Feast day of probably the most misrepresented and misunderstood of biblical figures, Mary Magdalene.  Orthodox Christians know her as Saint Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles, Equal to the Apostles and Holy Myrrhbearer of our Lord.  The world ‘knows’  her as the sinful woman, a prostitute, and God forgive us, the wife of Jesus and the mother of his children, a feminist heroine, even a New Age semi-divine goddess. 

It makes me cringe to have to type such blasphemous words – which did not have the same effect on Dan Brown when he put The Da Vinci Code to paper.  Awful writer that he was, he can’t take credit for originality.  It took a heretical Greek at the turn of the 20th century, Nikos Kazantzakis, to begin the modern literary ‘tradition’ of Mary Madgalene as girlfriend; others elaborated this into wife and grieving widow, in such classics of poor scholarship and outlandish fiction as  The Jesus Scroll, Holy Blood, Holy GrailThe Woman with the Alabaster Jar, and Mary Magdalene: Christianity’s Hidden Goddess.

Renaissance, possibly Leonardo Da Vinci's, interpretation of Mary Magdalene

Renaissance, possibly Leonardo Da Vinci's, interpretation of Mary Magdalene

It is likely that sixth century Pope Gregory the Dialogist began the confusion of Mary Magdalene with the sinful woman described in the Gospel of Luke (Chapter 7); however, this has never been the interpretation of the Orthodox Church.  Below is the life of Saint Mary Magdalene in a manner that is more fitting for the honor and veneration she is due.

Biography of Saint Mary Magdalene

Little is known of the early life of Mary other than the place of her birth which was in the area of Lake Genesareth (Galilee), between the cities of Capharnum and Tiberius, in a small city called Magdala (from which her name “Magdalene” comes from).   The small village of Mejhdel stands on the site today.    In the Bible we read that she was afflicted with an incurable possession by seven devils (Luke 8:2).  This was allowed by God’s Providence so that in curing her the Lord Jesus Christ could show the power and glory of God the Father.  In gratitude she dedicated her whole life to her Saviour Jesus Christ and became one of his most devoted disciples.

Particularly remarkable was the determination and unusual courage which Mary Magdalene showed toward her Saviour. At the time of His greatest suffering, while He hung on the Cross and when even His apostles had abandoned Him, Mary Magdalene stood at the foot of the Cross together with the Mother of God and the Lord’s beloved disciple, John.  They mourned andwept, but even in their weeping they comforted the Saviour with their undying love and the knowledge that He had not been utterly forsaken.  That night, Mary Magdalene came with Joseph of Arimathea and Nikodemos and took the Body of the Lord down from the Cross and laid it in a new tomb.  Together with the other women disciples, she returned home to prepare myrrh and other ointments with which to anoint the precious Body of Christ, according to the Jewish custom. Very early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the sepulchre carrying the myrrh.  It is for this reason the Church calls her “Myrrh-bearer”.   Coming close she saw that the large stone placed at the entrance of the tomb had been rolled away.  She thought perhaps someone had already come and taken the Body to another place.  Hurrying back to Jerusalem she told the apostles Peter and John: “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, ‘andwe know not where they have laid Him.” Together with them she went again to the tomb and stood there weeping.  When they had left she stooped down and looked into the sepulchre.  There she saw two angels who asked why she was crying. She told them and then,turning around, she saw Jesus, but in her grief she did not recognize Him, thinking He was the gardener. It was only then He said her name: “Mary!” that she recognized Him as her beloved Lord. Not believing her own ears, she cried out with joy, “Master!  Then following His instructions, she ran quickly to announce the good news to the disciples: “Christ is risen!” (Because she was the first, sent by the Lord Himself, to proclaim the Resurrection, the Church also calls her “Equal-to-the–Apostles”.

Even after Christ’s Ascension into heaven, Mary Magdalen continued to preach the good news of Christ’s glorious Resurrection, not only in Jerusalem, but in other countries.    Tradition relates that in Italy Mary Magdalene visited Emperor Tiberias (14-37 A.D.) and proclaimed to him Christ’s Resurrection. 

During a dinner with the emperor Tiberius, Mary Magdalene was speaking about Christ’s Resurrection.  Tiberius scoffed at her, saying that a man could rise from the dead no more than the egg in her hand could turn red.  Immediately, the egg turned red.  Because of this, icons of Mary Magdalene sometimes depict her holding a red egg, and have given rise to the tradition of exchanging red paschal eggs.

Mary Magdalene continued her preaching in Italy and in the city of Rome itself.   It is likely the Apostle Paul has her in mindin his Epistle to the Romans (16: 6), where together with other ascetics of evangelic preaching he mentions Mary (Mariam), who as he expresses “has bestowed much labor on us.”   She served the Church in its means of subsistence and its difficulties, being exposed to dangers, andsharing with the Apostles the labors of preaching.   According to Church Tradition she remained in Rome until the arrival of the Apostle Paul, and for two more years following his departure from Rome after the first court judgment upon him.  From Rome, the elderly St Mary Magdalene moved to Ephesus where the holy Apostle John unceasingly labored.  There the saint finished her earthly life andwas buried.   Her holy relics were transferred in the ninth century to Constantinople, and placed in the monastery Church of St Lazarus. In the era of the Crusader campaigns they were transferred to Italy and placed at Rome under the altar of the Lateran Cathedral. Part of the relics of Mary Magdalene are said to be in Provage, France near Marseilles, where over them at the foot of a steep mountain a splendid church is built in her honor.

(source OrthodoxWiki, and websites of the Orthodox Church in America website and ROCA)

 

Bright Week and Pascha Address of Metropolitan Jonah

April 20, 2009

pascha-6

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

I’m spending Bright Monday under the influence of sleep deprivation and a meat-induced food hangover, due to my gluttonous consumption of meat, cheese, sausage, paska, ham, chocolate…did I say meat already?  

It’s hard to write when you’re just emotionally and physically burned-out with the anticipation, joy, stress and type-A busyness of this over-achieving Orthodox Christian who’s just celebrated Pascha.  I shouldn’t complain nearly so much, considering how tired all the priests and deacons must be today.  I always imagined there’d be a market for a Bright Week Clergy Carnival cruise.    An aircraft carrier-sized cruise ship  leaving port in Florida with a boatload of tired clergy wearing Hawaiian print riassas, ordering umbrella drinks and skipping the salads and veggies on the buffet line.

freedom_seas_ship

Well, now for something more edifying, here’s the Paschal address of Metropolitan Jonah.  You’ll notice that I didn’t read his homily before I pigged out the past two days.   After reading this, I am wondering ‘what was the purpose of my lenten journey’?  Did I get so wrapped up at the end with the preparations for a big parish Pascha picnic, or with putting together a Pascha basket of goodies that I had craved and drooled over for 5 weeks?   Busyness, even church busyness, is not Christ’s business.  While he was busy dying on the Cross for my sins and lying in a tomb, I was busy cooking, rushing around to the grocery stores and doing errands in between Holy Friday and Holy Saturday services, and on Pascha morning itself.   Makes you think before you stuff another piece of ham in your mouth, doesn’t it?

To the Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy, Monastics, and Faithful
of The Orthodox Church in America

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

Beloved, let us greet one another with Paschal Joy, and exchange the kiss of peace.

Let us feast soberly, that our joy may be full. Let us not stuff ourselves to satiety with feasting, nor indulge our passions to insensibility. Most of all, let us not give ourselves over to the darkness of the fallen world from which we have sought to purify ourselves, lack of forgiveness, anger and judgment, bitterness and hatred.

Rather, let us allow our old selves to remain crucified and buried, that the New Man may live, resurrected in and with Christ. Let us live according to the Kingdom, in communion with the Holy Spirit, so that we may be renewed by the Resurrection.

Our Pascha is not simply the beautiful services and the good food. It is not just family and Easter bunnies. It is not just the fellowship and familiar old customs.

Pascha is the dawn of the Age to Come, the Kingdom of God radiating into our souls and minds and hearts. Pascha is the experience of salvation itself, the foretaste of the Messianic Banquet, and the transformation of our lives. In Pascha we behold Christ, Risen from the dead, the revelation of the Second Coming.

We have gone with Christ to His Passion, but have we been crucified with Him?

We have held vigil at His Tomb, but were we asleep, and missed Him? Did our minds betray us and we doubt His Resurrection?

Let the fruit of our Lenten efforts be the enlightenment of our minds and the renewal of our hearts that our repentance not be in vain.

Let us sing with joy together with the Angels and Archangels, and all creation which has groaned awaiting the revelation of the Son of Man. With all creation, the living and dead, the spiritual and material, and with all the saints, let us cry:

Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!

Христос Воскресе из мертвых, смертию смерть поправ, и сущим во гробех живот даровав!

Χριστος ανεστη εκ νεκρων, θανατο θανατον πατησας και της εν τοις μνημασι ζωην χαρισαμενος.

With love and joy in the Risen Christ,

+JONAH
Archbishop of Washington and New York
Metropolitan of All America and Canada
Locum Tenens of the Diocese of the South

Feast of the Annunciation

March 24, 2009

Below is the evolution of the depiction of the Feast of the Annunciation.  Be thankful you don’t have to see the stuff that popped up on a Google images search I did. Cartoons and “artwork” that was too blasphemous and vulgar for me to re-post here.     Some supposed artist is going to have to do some fancy tap dancing at the Last Judgment to try and explain some of their creations.   By the way, the fourth one down (the pink abstract) was painted by actor Vincent Price in about 1964.  He converted to Roman Catholicism when he married his third wife.  Of all the modernist interpretations, his actually captures a true sense of spirituality.  It’s nothing I’d want to see in a church, but as religious art it is beautiful. 

annunciation

 

embroidered_bookbinding_13th_century_annunciation

 

annunciation-2

 

annunciation-vincent-price_1964

joy_mystery1wb

A Little Water Never Hurt Nuthin’

February 3, 2009

car-blessing

I’m a little late with this, but here’s a link to a local news story that ran in the San Antonio Express News this past Saturday.    Thank you Elaine Ayo and John Davenport at the Express News for a really nice article that concisely presented the spirituality and deep significance of Theophany and blessings to the non-Orthodox world.   San Antonio is really fortunate to have a local newspaper that covers religion news so well. 

A couple of parishioners quietly mentioned to me they thought an article on the blessing of cars might look a little weird to anyone outside the Orthodox faith who hasn’t experienced this before.  Well, it certainly isn’t as majestic, awe-inspiring and mystical as Pascha or the Nativity, but it really grows on you.  This is a good example of Orthodoxy entering into even the most mundane areas of life.   As Americans we tend to like our religiosity confined to Sunday morning between 10 am and noon.   And we certainly aren’t comfortable with religious expression and “rites” that aren’t confined to the four walls of a church (just bow your head and make the sign of the Cross in a crowded restaurant and see how many people give you “that look” – not an entirely hostile look, just the one reserved for religious zealots).

But as our priest, Fr. Leo Poore, pointed out in the article (he’s in the photo above)

There’s nothing that we know of that cannot be renewed, cannot be blessed. It affirms the fact that things are renewed through Christ and we are all called on to be as Adam and Eve before the fall.

I personally love the season of  Theophany, house blessings and car blessings.  It’s such a personal experience to have your priest bring the services of the Church right into your own home.  It reminds me that Orthodoxy is a total life experience in a way that I just can’t get from my own personal piety and practices (not the Church’s fault, just my own lack of faith and poor prayer life).

So why not bless our cars?  We spend hours a week driving around in them – so much of our life is spent in cars these days.   For all intents and purposes you can complete an entire life cycle in a car.  Babies are conceived in them, born in them.  We eat, sleep and work in our cars.  You can propose in one and get married in a drive-thru line.  And God knows enough of us die in them.   How weird can blessing the darned things be?

January 17 Saint Anthony the Great and Saint Anthony de Padua

January 17, 2009

anthony_the_great

The City of San Antonio is a very Roman Catholic city – starting with the first naming of our city in honor of Saint Anthony de Padua  on June 13, 1691. On the Saint’s feastday,  Spanish explorers and missionaries had stumbled across a native American settlement on the banks of a beautiful river, deciding to name the spot after this great 13th century saint of Padua, Italy.   Since then Saint Anthony has become the namesake and benefactor of the seventh largest city in the US, a great basketball team and at least 3 pages of yellow pages businesses.   I’m sure this humble and pious saint would be so proud (insert eye roll here).

When my Orthodox parish was founded 30 years ago this September, we kept up the patronage of Saint Anthony, but had to look to a pre-schism Orthodox saint and naturally Saint Anthony the Great was an easy choice.  

Saint Anthony the Great and Saint Anthony of Padua, while separated by centuries, culture and continent, both left all they had to unreservedly and totally commit themselves to following the Gospel. 

In their words they were even of the same love for God and his Kingdom and knew what struggles and fruits could come from the ascetic life:

Attribute to God every good that you have received. If you take credit for something that does not belong to you, you will be guilty of theft.    Saint Anthony de Padua

I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, “What can get through from such snares?” Then I heard a voice saying to me, “Humility”.    Saint Anthony the Great

 Last night we gathered at 7 p.m. for a pan-Orthodox celebration of Great Vespers and had a little socializing in the Fellowship Hall.  (A very disappointing turnout I have to say – maybe all our missing parishioners were honoring Saint Anthony de Padua by staying home to watch his basketball team play.)  Divine Liturgy will start at 9 a.m. this morning, and we’ll top off the weekend with a luncheon after Liturgy tomorrow.   

For 30 years Saint Anthony has been our protector and benefactor in the spiritual life and God willing, he will continue for 30 more.  

Troparion of Saint Anthony

Imitating the zealous Elijah in behavior 
and following the Baptist on the straight path.
You became an inhabitant of the desert,
O Father Anthony and by your prayers you made secure the whole world!    Therefore, intercede with Christ our
God that our souls may be saved.

 

Saint Anthony de Padua by Il Guercino

Saint Anthony de Padua by Il Guercino

Remember The Holy Innocents

December 29, 2008

holyinnocents

Today the Orthodox Church honors the Holy Innocents.  Please remember the 14,000 baby and toddler boys killed by order of King Herod 2000 years ago, and the thousands of children that will die this very day from the hands of abortionists.   And if you must argue the difference between living babies and ‘fetuses’, than you won’t believe the unborn have no less humanity and value than the children that died by the sword in their mothers’ arms.