Great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh (I Tim. 3:16)
The New Adam comes forth from virgin earth. Woman, the source of the curse, bears the dew of blessing. The true Noah has appeared, Who shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed (Gen. 5:29). Melchizedek, without father, without mother, without descent (Heb. 7:3), comes to inherit the eternal Kingdom and Priesthood. The long night of fear and universal expectation finally passes, and the morning light penetrates the darkness of the Old Testament Sanctuary, opened not daily, but eternally to the East. The Heavenly Manna is poured forth from the vessel which contained it. The rod of Jesse blossoms forth in place of the fading rod of Aaron. Christ is born.
Come, meek shepherds, and kiss the Lamb and Shepherd—the Lamb, tended by the shepherd, and the Shepherd, Who is able to gather into one peaceful fold the lambs with the wolves, and the calves with the lions. Come, wise men, and bow down before the mystery of the ancient Child; learn from the unspeaking Word, taste of the angelic bread at the table of the speechless animals and see that the Lord is good. Choirs of heavenly hosts who have praised the Lord since the creation of the stars, double and triple your doxology before your Sun, Who has risen for us. Christ is born.
Christ is born in Bethlehem: is this the reason for all the present joy and all the glory to God in the highest? Glory to God: He is also born for us, unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given (Is. 9:6). Amid the celebration of His birth, the Church suffers pains of birth, until Christ be formed in us (cf. Gal. 4:19). Let us not disdain the joyful sorrow of our Mother: let us take at least a few traits from the image of the birth of Jesus and let us place them in our hearts.
Bethlehem was the ancestral home of the forefathers of Jesus: however, Joseph and Mary did not have even a poor hut, a piece of inherited land or a permanent residence. Providence, by the hand of Caesar, led them to this place from which, it was determined, would come a ruler of Israel (cf., Matt. 2:6). The foreigners in the land of the forefathers, the newcomers to their own homeland gave a homeland to the Son, of Whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named (Eph. 3:15)—Christians! As long as we live in the world as satiated citizens and enjoy it as its masters, Christ cannot be formed in us. The world continually tries to stamp on our souls its passing images; satiated desires give birth to other desires which imperceptibly grow into giants and build Babylon. Blessed shall he be who shall seize and dash the infants of this Babylon against the rock of faith and alienate himself from the city which exists here in order to see the one that is coming! If Abraham, at the command of God, had not departed from his land and his people, he would not have received the glorious testament, the promise, and the inheritance. If suffering Israel had not decided to endure the difficulties of a dangerous and unknown journey, Jehovah would not have strengthened it and prepared in it a dwelling-place for Himself. If the intuitive mother had not sent the innocent Jacob away from the vengeful Esau, he would not have come to the fearful place, the heavenly gates. Only the homeless strangers find Bethel and Bethlehem—the house of God and the house of the living Bread. Only the voluntary exiles of earth will be received as citizens of heaven. Whoever desires to be a dwelling place of the Son of God, must have his homeland only in God, and with all his ties to his earthly homeland, however natural and proper they may be, he must not compare it to the heavenly.
By taking nothing from this world for his birth, Jesus evidently wished to show that He had no personal possessions. The Carpenter received His name from His father; His mother, having carried Him in Her womb, could offer no other virtue for this service other than, by Her own admission, the sense of Her own unworthiness: For He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden (Luke 1:48). He concealed His immeasurable eternity until the day of His birth. A manger became the throne for the King of kings, His robes—swaddling clothes, the first servants of the Kingdom—the shepherds of the flock. The power and wisdom of God were concealed in the infirmities of an infant. But who can measure the distance from the height of His Divine Essence to the depth of His belittlement? The finite mind is not able to comprehend His operations, neither His ascent higher than the heavens, nor His descent to the lowliness of fallen nature. Seeing such humility, what must a heart feel which desires to be formed after the image of Christ? Strength of mind, greatness of spirit, celebrity of deeds, privilege of rank! I am not deceived by you and do not envy those who are proud of you. There is no greater wisdom than to reject wisdom for the sake of Christ; there is no greater glory than to share dishonor with Jesus; there is no greater wealth than the poverty of Jesus. There is no other entrance to perfection and blessedness than through the infancy of Christ; there is no better adornment for the soul, in which He must dwell, than to see itself deprived of all adornment, like His manger. The current of Grace, like the flow of a river, steams into the vales; the cedars on the mountains observe the thunder and lightning. God creates out of nothing: as long as we want and think about being something, God does not begin His work in us. Humility and self-denial are the foundation of His dwelling in us: whoever delves into this more deeply is established higher and more secure.
One of the essential features of the birth of Jesus was the purity of His Mother, not violated either by sight or by thought. She had to have a betrothed, but merely in order to have someone who would be a protector and witness of Her virtue, and so that Her holy virginity would not seem to be disgraced by marriage. At the same time She was, as the Church confesses with one mind, a Virgin before birth, during birth, and after birth. Look at Her example, a soul striving for union with God, and see in the mirror of Her perfection your duty. The Lord is a jealous God. When He says to man with a voice of fatherly kindness: Son, give Me thy heart, His righteous jealousy is commanding, in a spiritual as well as a moral sense: Do not commit adultery. He Who gave us a heart is not satisfied with a larger or smaller portion of it: it must all belong to the Master of everything. He does not consider any kind of love to be worthy of Himself which is not based on love of Him. Every enjoyment which we passionately seek for ourselves, every thought directed toward creation, every distraction, is a departure from Him. Only strict vigilance over oneself can lead to blessed union with Him and maintain it: Keep your heart with all vigilance; for from it flow the springs of life (Prov. 4:23). The heavenly Bridegroom is betrothed only to wise and chaste virgins, not those sleeping near His bridal chamber. The virgin soul directed only towards God conceives the spiritual life and gives birth to the blessedness of pure contemplation. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God; and where?—in their very heart. A pure soul, just like pure water, receives the living images of the sun and sky.
We will not keep our gaze fixed on those characteristics of the image of the birth of Jesus which might frighten those who wish to imprint them on their own souls, due to their difficulty in imitating. But let us take one more glance at those characteristics in which His Divine glory shone through His humiliation and through which Grace is revealed in our spiritual birth.
At the birth of Christ the Angels proclaim glory to God and peace on earth: at our birth they proclaim the glory of Grace and the peace of man with God. Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth (Luke 15:7). Shepherds and wise men come to Christ with piety, in spite of the poverty and obscurity which seemingly separate Him from the whole world. So also he who is united with Christ is united, in Him, with all those who believe in Him, by an indissoluble as well as incomprehensible union. That Spirit which forms from them one community, or rather one body, sometimes unexpectedly, but always in a timely manner, brings them closer to each other, in order for them to mutually edify and learn, comfort and receive comfort, and confess the mercy and glory of God. They offer gifts to Christ: gold, as to a King; incense, as to God; myrrh, as to a deceased of mortals. But did He not promise us that for those who seek the Kingdom of God, all things shall be added (Matt. 6:33)? Does He not want to make us kings and priests unto God and His Father (Rev. 1:6)? Is not our spiritual birth linked with that life-giving death, after which our life will be hidden with Him in God (cf. Col 3:3)?
O God, Who has given us Thy Son! What does Thou not give us thereby? Grant us only that we may give birth to the Spirit of Christ within ourselves and that we may live His life. Then let Herod and all Jerusalem be troubled with us as they were with Him. Let the prince of this age rage and let all the world take up arms: Thou shalt nourish us and with an Angel of Thy counsel Thou shalt lead us to Thy holy mountain. Amen.
Translated from "The Writings of Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow and Kolomensk" (in Russian), Vol. 1, pp. 16-20. In Orthodox Life vol. 50, no. 6, Nov-Dec 2000, pp. 2-5
Synaxis of the Archangel Michael and the Other Bodiless Powers
The Synaxis of the Chief of the Heavenly Hosts, Archangel Michael and the Other Heavenly Bodiless Powers: Archangels Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Selaphiel, Jehudiel, Barachiel, and Jeremiel was established at the beginning of the fourth century at the Council of Laodicea, which met several years before the First Ecumenical Council. The 35th Canon of the Council of Laodicea condemned and denounced as heretical the worship of angels as gods and rulers of the world, but affirmed their proper veneration.
A Feastday was established in November, the ninth month after March (with which the year began in ancient times) since there are Nine Ranks of Angels. The eighth day of the month was chosen for the Synaxis of all the Bodiless Powers of Heaven since the Day of the Dread Last Judgment is called the Eighth Day by the holy Fathers. After the end of this age (characterized by its seven days of Creation) will come the Eighth Day, and then “the Son of Man shall come in His Glory and all the holy Angels with Him” (Mt. 25:31).
The Angelic Ranks are divided into three Hierarchies: highest, middle, and lowest.
The Highest Hierarchy includes: the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones.
The six-winged SERAPHIM (Flaming, Fiery) (Is 6:12) stand closest of all to the Most Holy Trinity. They blaze with love for God and kindle such love in others.
The many-eyed CHERUBIM (outpouring of wisdom, enlightenment) (Gen 3:24) stand before the Lord after the Seraphim. They are radiant with the light of knowledge of God, and knowledge of the mysteries of God. Through them wisdom is poured forth, and people’s minds are enlightened so they may know God and behold His glory.
The THRONES (Col 1:16) stand after the Cherubim, mysteriously and incomprehensibly bearing God through the grace given them for their service. They are ministers of God’s justice, giving to tribunals, kings, etc. the capacity for righteous judgment.
The Middle Angelic Hierarchy consists of three Ranks: Dominions, Powers, and Authorities:
DOMINIONS (Col 1:16) hold dominion over the angels subject to them. They instruct the earthly authorities, established by God, to rule wisely, and to govern their lands well. The Dominions teach us to subdue sinful impulses, to subject the flesh to the spirit, to master our will, and to conquer temptation.
POWERS (1 Pet 3:22) fulfill the will of God without hesitation. They work great miracles and give the grace of wonderworking and clairvoyance to saints pleasing to God. The Powers assist people in fulfilling obediences. They also encourage them to be patient, and give them spiritual strength and fortitude.
AUTHORITIES (1 Pet 3:22, Col 1:16) have authority over the devil. They protect people from demonic temptations, and prevent demons from harming people as they would wish. They also uphold ascetics and guard them, helping people in the struggle with evil thoughts.
The Lowest Hierarchy includes the three Ranks: Principalities, Archangels, and Angels:
PRINIPALITIES (Col 1:16) have command over the lower angels, instructing them in the fulfilling of God’s commands. They watch over the world and protect lands, nations and peoples. Principalities instruct people to render proper honor to those in authority, as befits their station. They teach those in authority to use their position, not for personal glory and gain, but to honor God, and to spread word of Him, for the benefit of those under them.
ARCHANGELS (1 Thess 4:16) are messengers of great and wondrous tidings. They reveal prophecies and the mysteries of the faith. They enlighten people to know and understand the will of God, they spread faith in God among the people, illuminating their minds with the light of the Holy Gospel.
ANGELS (1 Pet 3:22) are in the lowest rank of the heavenly hierarchy, and closest to people. They reveal the lesser mysteries of God and His intentions, guiding people to virtuous and holy life. They support those who remain steadfast, and they raise up the fallen. They never abandon us and they are always prepared to help us, if we desire it.
All the Ranks of the Heavenly Powers are called angels, although each has its own name and position by virtue of their service. The Lord reveals His will to the highest ranks of the angels, and they in turn inform the others.
Over all the Nine Ranks, the Lord appointed the Holy Archangel Michael (his name in Hebrew means “who is like unto God”), the faithful servitor of God, as Chief Commander. He cast down from Heaven the arrogantly proud Lucifer and the other fallen spirits when they rebelled against God. Michael summoned the ranks of angels and cried out, “Let us attend! Let us stand aright before our Creator and do not consider doing what is displeasing unto God!”
According to Church Tradition, and in the church services to the Archangel Michael, he participated in many other Old Testament events.
During the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt he went before them in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Through him the power of the Lord was made manifest, annihilating the Egyptians and Pharaoh who were in pursuit of the Israelites. The Archangel Michael defended Israel in all its misfortunes.
He appeared to Joshua Son of Navi and revealed the will of the Lord at the taking of Jericho (Josh 5:13-16). The power of the great Chief Commander of God was manifest in the annihilation of the 185 thousand soldiers of the Assyrian emperor Sennacherib (4/2 Kings 19:35); also in the smiting of the impious leader Heliodorus (2 Macc. 3: 24-26); and in the protection of the Three Holy Youths: Ananias, Azarias and Misail, thrown into the fiery furnace for their refusal to worship an idol (Dan 3:22-25).
Through the will of God, the Chief Commander Michael transported the Prophet Habbakuk (December 2) from Judea to Babylon, to give food to Daniel in the lions’ den (Dan. 14:33-37).
The Archangel Michael disputed with the devil over the body of the holy Prophet Moses (Jude 1:9).
The holy Archangel Michael showed his power when he miraculously saved a young man, cast into the sea by robbers with a stone about his neck on the shores of Mt Athos. This story is found in the Athonite Paterikon, and in the Life of St Neophytus of Docheiariou (November 9).
From ancient times the Archangel Michael was famed for his miracles in Rus. In the Volokolamsk Paterikon is a narrative of St Paphnutius of Borov with an account of Tatar tax-gatherers concerning the miraculous saving of Novgorod the Great: “Therefore Great Novgorod was never taken by the Hagarenes... when... for our sins the godless Hagarene emperor Batu devoured and set the Russian land aflame and came to Novgorod, and God and the Most Holy Theotokos shielded it with an appearance of Michael the Archangel, who forbade him to enter into it. He [Batu] was come to the Lithuanian city and came toward Kiev and saw the stone church, over the doors of which the great Archangel Michael had written and spoken to the prince his allotted fate, ‘By this we have forbidden you entry into Great Novgorod’.”
Intercession for Russian cities by the Most Holy Queen of Heaven always involved Her appearances with the Heavenly Hosts, under the leadership of the Archangel Michael. Grateful Rus acclaimed the Most Pure Mother of God and the Archangel Michael in church hymns. Many monasteries, cathedrals, court and merchant churches are dedicated to the Chief Commander Michael.
In old Kiev at the time of the accepting of Christianity, a cathedral of the Archangel was built, and a monastery also was named for him. Archangel cathedrals are found at Smolensk, Nizhni Novgorod, Staritsa, at Great Ustiug (beginning of the thirteenth century), and a cathedral at Sviyazhsk. In Rus there was not a city, where there was not a church or chapel dedicated to the Archangel Michael.
One of the chief temples of the city of Moscow, the burial church in the Kremlin, is dedicated to him. Numerous and beautiful icons of the Chief Commander of the Heavenly Hosts are also in his Cathedral. One of these, the Icon “Blessed Soldiery,” was painted in the Dormition Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin. The saintly soldiers, Russian princes, are depicted under the leadership of the Archangel Michael.
We invoke St Michael for protection from invasion by enemies and from civil war, and for the defeat of adversaries on the field of battle. He conquers all spiritual enemies.
Holy Scripture and Tradition give us the names of the Archangels:
Gabriel: strength (power) of God, herald and servitor of Divine omnipotence (Dan 8:16, Luke 1:26). He announces the mysteries of God.
Raphael: the healing of God, the curer of human infirmities (Tobit 3:16, 12:15)
Uriel: the fire or light of God, enlightener (3 Ezdras 5:20). We pray for him to enlighten those with darkened minds.
Selaphiel: the prayer of God, impelling to prayer (3 Ezdras 5:16). He prays to God for mankind.
Jehudiel: the glorifying of God, encouraging exertion for the glory of the Lord and interceding for the reward of efforts.
Barachiel: distributor of the blessings of God for good deeds, entreats the mercy of God for people.
Jeremiel: the raising up to God (3 Ezdras 4:36)
On icons the Archangels are depicted in according to the character of their service:
Michael tramples the devil underfoot, and in his left hand holds a green date-tree branch, and in his right hand a spear with a white banner (or sometimes a fiery sword), on which is outlined a scarlet cross.
Gabriel with a branch from Paradise, presented by him to the Most Holy Virgin, or with a shining lantern in his right hand and with a mirror made of jasper in his left.
Raphael holds a vessel with healing medications in his left hand, and with his right hand leads Tobias, carrying a fish for healing (Tobit 5-8).
Uriel in his raised right hand holds a naked sword at the level of his chest, and in his lowered left hand “a fiery flame.”
Selaphiel in a prayerful posture, gazing downwards, hands folded on the chest.
Jehudiel holds a golden crown in his right hand, in his left, a whip of three red (or black) thongs.
Barachiel is shown with a white rose on his breast.
Jeremiel holds balance-scales in his hand.
Each person has a guardian angel, and every nation also receives its own guardian angel from God (Dan. 10:13). When a church is consecrated, it also receives a guardian angel (Palladius, Dial. Ch. 10).
NATIVITY OF THE THEOTOKOS
Sept. 8 2016
Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann
Sermon on the Nativity of the Theotokos
The Church’s veneration of Mary has always been rooted in her obedience to God, her willing choice to accept a humanly impossible calling. The Orthodox Church has always emphasized Mary’s connection to humanity and delighted in her as the best, purest, most sublime fruition of human history and of man’s quest for God, for ultimate meaning, for ultimate content of human life.
If in Western Christianity veneration of Mary was centered upon her perpetual virginity, the heart of Orthodox Christian East’s devotion, contemplation, and joyful delight has always been her Motherhood, her flesh and blood connection to Jesus Christ. The East rejoices that the human role in the divine plan is pivotal. The Son of God comes to earth, appears in order to redeem the world, He becomes human to incorporate man into His divine vocation, but humanity takes part in this. If it is understood that Christ’s “co-nature” with us is as a human being and not some phantom or bodiless apparition, that He is one of us and forever united to us through His and forever united to us through His humanity, then devotion to Mary also becomes understandable, for she is the one who gave Him His human nature, His flesh and blood. She is the one through whom Christ can always call Himself “The Son of Man.”
Son of God, Son of Man…God descending and becoming man so that man could become divine, could become partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), or as the teachers of Church expressed it, “deified.” Precisely here, in this extraordinary revelation of man’s authentic nature and calling, is the source that gratitude and tenderness which cherishes Mary as our link to Christ and, in Him, to God. And nowhere is this reflected more clearly that in the Nativity of the Mother of God.
Nothing about this event is mentioned anywhere in the Holy Scriptures. But why should there be? Is there anything remarkable, anything especially unique about the normal birth of a child, a birth like any other? The Church began to commemorate the event with a special feast…because, on the contrary, the very fact that it is routine discloses something fresh and radiant about everything we call routine and ordinary, it gives new depth to the unremarkable details of human life…And with each birth the world is itself in some sense created anew and given as a gift to this new human being to be his life, his path, his creation.
This feast therefore is first a general celebration of Man’s birth, and we no longer remember the anguish, as the Gospel says, “for joy that a human being is born into the world” (Jn. 16:21). Secondly, we now know whose particular birth, whose coming we celebrate: Mary’s. We know the uniqueness, the beauty, the grace of precisely this child, her destiny, her meaning for us and for the whole world. And thirdly, we celebrate all who prepared the way for Mary, who contributed to her inheritance of grace and beauty…And therefore the Feast of her Nativity is also a celebration of human history, a celebration of faith in man, a celebration of man.
Sadly, the inheritance of evil is far more visible and better known. There is so much evil around us that this faith in man, in his freedom, in the possibility of handing down a radiant inheritance of goodness has almost evaporated and been replaced by cynicism and suspicion. This hostile cynicism and discouraging suspicion are precisely what seduce us to distance ourselves from the Church when it celebrates with such joy and faith this birth of a little girl in whom are concentrated all the goodness, spiritual beauty, harmony and perfection that are elements of genuine human nature. Thus, in celebrating Mary’s birth we find ourselves already on the road to Bethlehem, moving toward the joyful mystery of Mary as the Mother of God.
CHURCH'S NEW YEAR
Sept. 1 2016
Description of Beginning Of The Indiction
For the maintenance of their armed forces, the Roman emperors decreed that their subjects in every district should be taxed every year. This same decree was reissued every fifteen years, since the Roman soldiers were obliged to serve for fifteen years. At the end of each fifteen-year period, an assessment was made of what economic changes had taken place, and a new tax was decreed, which was to be paid over the span of the fifteen years. This imperial decree, which was issued before the season of winter, was named Indictio, that is, Definiton, or Order. This name was adopted by the emperors in Constantinople also. At other times, the latter also used the term Epinemisis, that is, Distribution (Dianome). It is commonly held that Saint Constantine the Great introduced the Indiction decrees in A.D. 312, after he beheld the sign of the Cross in heaven and vanquished Maxentius and was proclaimed Emperor in the West. Some, however (and this seems more likely), ascribe the institution of the Indiction to Augustus Caesar, three years before the birth of Christ. Those who hold this view offer as proof the papal bull issued in A.D. 781 which is dated thus: Anno IV, Indictionis LIII -that is, the fourth year of the fifty-third Indiction. From this, we can deduce the aforementioned year (3 B.C.) by multiplying the fifty-two complete Indictions by the number of years in each (15), and adding the three years of the fifty-third Indiction. There are three types of Indictions: 1) That which was introduced in the West, and which is called Imperial, or Caesarean, or Constantinian, and which begins on the 24th of September; 2) The so-called Papal Indiction, which begins on the 1st of January; and 3) The Constantinopolitan, which was adopted by the Patriarchs of that city after the fall of the Eastern Empire in 1453. This Indiction is indicated in their own hand on the decrees they issue, without the numeration of the fifteen years. This Indiction begins on the 1st of September and is observed with special ceremony in the Church. Since the completion of each year takes place, as it were, with the harvest and gathering of the crops into storehouses, and we begin anew from henceforth the sowing of seed in the earth for the production of future crops, September is considered the beginning of the New Year. The Church also keeps festival this day, beseeching God for fair weather, seasonable rains, and an abundance of the fruits of the earth. The Holy Scriptures (Lev. 23:24-5 and Num. 29:1-2) also testify that the people of Israel celebrated the feast of the Blowing of the Trumpets on this day, offering hymns of thanksgiving. In addition to all the aforesaid, on this feast we also commemorate our Saviour's entry into the synagogue in Nazareth, where He was given the book of the Prophet Esaias to read, and He opened it and found the place where it is written, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, for which cause He hath anointed Me..." (Luke 4:16-30).
It should be noted that to the present day, the Church has always celebrated the beginning of the New Year on September 1. This was the custom in Constantinople until its fall in 1453 and in Russia until the reign of Peter I. September 1 is still festively celebrated as the New Year at the Patriarchate of Constantinople; among the Jews also the New Year, although reckoned according to a moveable calendar, usually falls in September. The service of the Menaion for January 1 is for our Lord's Circumcision and for the memorial of Saint Basil the Great, without any mention of its being the beginning of a new year.
June 26 2016
Feast of Holy Pentecost
The Feast of Holy Pentecost is celebrated each year on the fiftieth day after the Great and Holy Feast of Pascha (Easter) and ten days after the Feast of the Ascension of Christ. The Feast is always celebrated on a Sunday.
The Feast commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, a feast of the Jewish tradition. It also celebrates the establishment of the Church through the preaching of the Apostles and the baptism of the thousands who on that day believed in the Gospel message of salvation through Jesus Christ. The Feast is also seen as the culmination of the revelation of the Holy Trinity.
The story of Pentecost is found in the book of The Acts of the Apostles. In Chapter two we are told that the Apostles of our Lord were gathered together in one place. Suddenly, a sound came from heaven like a rushing wind, filling the entire house where they were sitting. Then, tongues of fire appeared, and one sat upon each one of Apostles. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as directed by the Spirit (Acts 2:1-4).
This miraculous event occurred on the Jewish Feast of Pentecost, celebrated by the Jews on the fiftieth day after the Passover as the culmination of the Feast of Weeks (Exodus 34:22; Deuteronomy 16:10). The Feast of Weeks began on the third day after the Passover with the presentation of the first harvest sheaves to God, and it concluded on Pentecost with the offering of two loaves of unleavened bread, representing the first products of the harvest (Leviticus 23:17-20; Deuteronomy 16:9-10).
Since the Jewish Feast of Pentecost was a great pilgrimage feast, many people from throughout the Roman Empire were gathered in Jerusalem on this day. When the people in Jerusalem heard the sound, they came together and heard their own languages being spoken by the Apostles (Acts 2:5-6). The people were amazed, knowing that some of those speaking were Galileans, and not men who would normally speak many different languages. They wondered what this meant, and some even thought the Apostles were drunk (Acts 2:7-13).
Peter, hearing these remarks, stood up and addressed the crowd. He preached to the people regarding the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Holy Spirit. He spoke about Jesus Christ and His death and glorious Resurrection. Great conviction fell upon the people, and they asked the Apostles, "What shall we do?" Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38-39).
The Bible records that on that day about three thousand were baptized. Following, the book of Acts states that the newly baptized continued daily to hear the teaching of the Apostles, as the early Christians met together for fellowship, the breaking of bread, and for prayer. Many wonderful signs and miracles were done through the Apostles, and the Lord added to the Church daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47).
Ascension of Christ
June 9 2016
The Ascension: Our Destiny in Christ
In the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed we profess, “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man…. And the third day He arose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father.”
What a wonderful expression of the great mystery of the “descent” and “ascent” of the Son of God. The eternal Son of God becomes the Son of Man, descending into our world to live among us and to teach us about, and prepare us for the Kingdom of God. This is what we call the Incarnation. This movement of descent is only completed when Christ is crucified and enters the very realm of death on our behalf. There is “nowhere” further to descend (in)to. Thus, there are no limits to the love of God for His creatures, for the descent of Christ into death itself is “for our salvation.” The Son of God will search for Adam and Eve in the very realm of Sheol/Hades. He will rescue them and liberate them as representative of all humankind, languishing in “the valley of death.” Since death cannot hold the sinless—and therefore deathless—Son of God, He begins His ascent to the heavenly realm with His resurrection from the dead. And He fulfills this Paschal mystery with His glorious ascension.
As Saint Paul writes, “He Who descended is He Who also ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things” (Ephesians 4:10). The One Who ascended, however, is now both God and man, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the incarnate, crucified, risen, and glorified Jesus Christ Who is now seated at “the right hand of the Father,” far above the heavens. It is the glorified flesh of the Incarnate Word of God which has entered into the very bosom of the Trinity in the Person of Christ. As Saint Leo the Great, the pope of Rome (+461) taught, “With all due solemnity we are commemorating that day on which our poor human nature was carried up, in Christ, above all the hosts of Heaven, above all the ranks of angels, beyond the highest Heavenly powers to the very throne of God the Father.”
This is simultaneously our ascension and our glorification, since we are united to Christ through holy Baptism as members of His Body. Therefore, Saint Paul can further write, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). Out of our physical sight, we now “see” the glorified Christ through the eyes of faith. Saint Leo further explains how important this spiritual insight is: “For such is the power of great minds, such the light of truly believing souls, that they put unhesitating faith in what is not seen with the bodily eyes; they fix their desires on what is beyond sight. Such fidelity could never be born in our hearts, nor could anyone be justified by faith, if our salvation lay only in what is visible.”
The Great Feast of the Ascension, which this year we celebrate on Thursday, June 9, is not a decline from the glory of Pascha. It is, rather, the fulfillment of Pascha, and a movement upward toward the Kingdom of Heaven. It is the joyful revelation of our destiny in Christ. To return to the opening theme of the marvelous acts of God moving from the incarnation to the ascension, I would like to turn to Saint Leo one more time for his understanding of that entire movement: “It is upon this ordered structure of divine acts that we have been firmly established, so that the grace of God may show itself still more marvelous when, in spite of the withdrawal from men’s sight of everything that is rightly felt to command their reverence, faith does not fail, hope is not shaken, charity does not grow cold.”
Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom
The Paschal Sermon of Saint John Chrysostom
If any man be devout and loveth God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast! If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have laboured long in fasting, let him how receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived therefore. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. And if any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness.
For the Lord, who is jealous of his honour, will accept the last even as the first. He giveth rest unto him who cometh at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who hath wrought from the first hour. And He showeth mercy upon the last, and careth for the first; and to the one He giveth, and upon the other He bestoweth gifts. And He both accepteth the deeds, and welcometh the intention, and honoureth the acts and praises the offering.
Wherefore, enter ye all into the joy of your Lord; receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival! You sober and you heedless, honour the day! Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away. Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.
Let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal Kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour's death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it.
By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered when it encountered Thee in the lower regions.
It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.
O Death, where is thy sting? O Hell, where is thy victory?
Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown! Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen! Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is risen, and life reigns! Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages.
ADVENT -- Preparation for the NATIVITY
The wayfaring virgin, Word in her womb, comes walking your way - haven't you room? St. John of the Cross
Through the discipline of fasting, practiced with humility and repentance, it is believed that by learning to temper the body's primary desire for food, that other worldly desires can be more easily tempered as well. Through this practice one is better enabled to draw closer to God in the hope of becoming more Christ-like. While the fast influences the body, it is important to note that emphasis is placed on the spiritual facet of the fast rather than mere physical deprivation. Orthodox theology sees a synthesis between the body and the soul, so what happens to one affects the other. The church teaches that it is not enough to fast from food; one must also fast from anger, greed and covetousness. In addition to fasting, almsgiving is also emphasized.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the fast traditionally entails fasting from red meat, poultry, meat products, eggs, dairy products, fish, oil, and wine. Fish, wine and oil are allowed on Saturdays and Sundays, and oil and wine are allowed on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
As is always the case with Orthodox fasting rules, persons who are ill, the very young or elderly, and nursing mothers are exempt from fasting. Each individual is expected to confer with their confessor regarding any exemptions from the fasting rules, but should never place themselves in physical danger.
There has been some ambiguity about the restriction of fish, whether it means the allowance of invertebratefish or all fish. Often, even on days when fish is not allowed, shellfish may be consumed. More detailed guidelines vary by jurisdiction, but the rules strictly state that from the December 20 to December 24 (inclusively), no fish may be eaten.
The Eve of Nativity (December 24) is a strict fast day, called Paramony (lit. "preparation"), on which no solid food should be eaten until the first star is seen in the evening sky (or at the very least, until after the VesperalDivine Liturgy that day). If Paramony falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the day is not observed as a strict fast, but a meal with wine and oil is allowed after the Divine Liturgy, which would be celebrated in the morning.