By Rev. Fr. Andrew G. George adapted from Rev. Nicon D. Patrinakos
The Bible contains 4 lists of the names of the 12 apostles: Matt 10:12, Mark 3:13, Luke 6:14 and Acts 1:13. They vary slightly as well as the sequence although they list Peter first, even though it was Andrew (his brother) who was called first by the Lord. It is believed that Christ selected only 12 which was the number of the twelve sons of Jacob who later became the leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel. After Pentecost, Christ’s 12 disciples became the leaders of the “new Israel.” The number 12 was considered so important that very shortly after the falling of Judas Iscariot, the remaining 11 voted in a new Apostle by the name Matthias, so that there would be 12 once again.
These apostles followed Christ as He traveled and were eye witnesses to His numerous wonders. After the Ascension of Jesus back to heaven they continued His work of redeeming mankind from sin. In fact at the Ascension Jesus commanded the apostles to go out and make disciples of all nations through baptism and to teach nations all that they had observed and all that He commanded of them. He enabled them to succeed in that he bestowed the Holy Spirit upon them (at Pentecost) as they traveled to far away lands.
The authority of the Apostles in the Church was unquestionable from the very beginning. Their powers were derived from Christ Himself. They preached boldly and acted as His representatives, teaching and speaking “in the Holy Spirit.” The place of honor accorded to them by the Church has no equal except for that of the Theotokos. They each have their own separate date of commemoration and they have a joint commemoration on June 30th, a feast whose importance is shown by the fact that it is preceded by a period of fasting.
The Apostles Fast
The Lenten season in honor of the 12 Apostles is a bit confusing at times for it is a “flexible season” in that it always ends on a fixed date (that being June 29) but begins on the Monday that follows All Saints Day, which is a moveable date each year based on the date of Easter. When Easter is normally in mid to late April, the Apostles Lent is only a few days in length. When Easter is in early April, as with this year, then the Apostles Lent is longer. This year it begins on Monday May 31 and runs till June 29, a full 29 days. (In 2011 it will be only 9 days in length). When Easter is late, there is no Apostles Lent at all.
The faithful are urged to observe the usual food abstinence, expanded prayer and alms giving guideline as with the other fasting seasons the year. The Apostles Lent takes the flavor of the first part of the Christmas Advent Lenten season (Nov 15-Dec 12) in that weddings are permitted. The guideline on restricted food is the “lighter” fasting in that only Weds and Fris are held as strict fast days and the observance of the Nativity of John the Baptist (June 24) is always a light fast (fish is permitted) no matter what day it falls on.
Let us rejoice in the ministry of these 12 great men that began the spread of Christianity to the far corners of the earth. Let us remember their sacrifice by our own sacrifice and discipline during the preparatory days ahead in which we are called upon to focus on their commitment and devotion to the Lord’s commandments.
Ascension of Christ
May 17 2018
The Lord Jesus passed forty days on earth after His Resurrection from the dead, appearing continually in various places to His disciples, with whom He also spoke, ate, and drank, thereby further demonstrating His Resurrection. On this Thursday, the fortieth day after Pascha, He appeared again in Jerusalem. After He had first spoken to the disciples about many things, He gave them His last commandment, that is, that they go forth and proclaim His Name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. But He also commanded them that for the present, they were not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait there together until they receive power from on high, when the Holy Spirit would come upon them.
Saying these things, He led them to the Mount of Olives, and raising His hands, He blessed them; and saying again the words of the Father's blessing, He was parted from them and taken up. Immediately a cloud of light, a proof of His majesty, received Him. Sitting thereon as though on a royal chariot, He was taken up into Heaven, and after a short time was concealed from the sight of the disciples, who remained where they were with their eyes fixed on Him. At this point, two Angels in the form of men in white raiment appeared to them and said, "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into Heaven? This same Jesus, Who is taken up from you into Heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into Heaven" (Acts 1:11). These words, in a complete and concise manner, declare what is taught in the Symbol of Faith concerning the Son and Word of God. Therefore, having so fulfilled all His dispensation for us, our Lord Jesus Christ ascended in glory into Heaven, and sat at the right hand of God the Father. As for His sacred disciples, they returned from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem, rejoicing because Christ had promised to send them the Holy Spirit.
It should be noted that the Mount of Olives is a Sabbath's day journey from Jerusalem, that is, the distance a Jew was permitted to walk on the day of the Sabbath. Ecumenius writes, "A Sabbath day's journey is one mile in length, as Clement says in his fifth Stromatis; it is two thousand cubits, as the Interpretation of the Acts states." They draw this conclusion from the fact that, while they were in the wilderness, the Israelites of old kept within this distance from the Holy Tabernacle, whither they walked on the Sabbath day to worship God.
Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary, the friends of the Lord Jesus, had given Him hospitality and served Him many times (Luke 10:38-4z; John 12:2-3). They were from Bethany, a village of Judea. This village is situated in the eastern parts by the foothills of the Mount of Olives, about two Roman miles from Jerusalem. When Lazarus - whose name is a Hellenized form of "Eleazar," which means "God has helped," became ill some days before the saving Passion, his sisters had this report taken to our Saviour, Who was then in Galilee. Nonetheless, He tarried yet two more days until Lazarus died; then He said to His disciples, "Let us go into Judea that I might awake My friend who sleepeth." By this, of course, He meant the deep sleep of death. On arriving at Bethany, He consoled the sisters of Lazarus, who was already four days dead. Jesus groaned in spirit and was troubled at the death of His beloved friend. He asked, "Where have ye laid his body?" and He wept over him. When He drew nigh to the tomb, He commanded that they remove the stone, and He lifted up His eyes, and giving thanks to God the Father, He cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth." And he that had been dead four days came forth immediately, bound hand and foot with the grave clothes, and Jesus said to those standing there, "Loose him, and let him go." This is the supernatural wonder wrought by the Saviour that we celebrate on this day.
According to an ancient tradition, it is said that Lazarus was thirty years old when the Lord raised him; then he lived another thirty years on Cyprus and there reposed in the Lord. It is furthermore related that after he was raised from the dead, he never laughed till the end of his life, but that once only, when he saw someone stealing a clay vessel, he smiled and said, "Clay stealing clay." His grave is situated in the city of Kition, having the inscription: "Lazarus the four days dead and friend of Christ." In 890 his sacred relics were transferred to Constantinople by Emperor Leo the Wise, at which time undoubtedly the Emperor composed his stichera for Vespers, "Wishing to behold the tomb of Lazarus . . ."
THE PRESENTATION OF OUR LORD
The Presentation of Our Lord and Savior in the Temple
When the most pure Mother and Ever-Virgin Mary's forty days of purification had been fulfilled, she took her first-born Son to Jerusalem on this, the fortieth day after His birth, that she might present Him in the temple according to the Law of Moses, which teaches that every first-born male child be dedicated to God, and also that she might offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons, as required by the Law (Luke 2:22-24; Exod. 13:2; Lev. 12:6-8). On this same day, a just and devout man, the greatly aged Symeon, was also present in the temple, being guided by the Holy Spirit. For a long time, this man had been awaiting the salvation of God, and he had been informed by divine revelation that he would not die until he beheld the Lord's Christ. Thus, when he beheld Him at that time and took Him up into his aged arms, he gave glory to God, singing: "Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, O Master. . ." And he confessed that he would close his eyes joyfully, since he had seen the Light of revelation for the nations and the Glory of Israel (Luke 2:25-32). From ancient times, the Holy Church has retained this tradition of the churching of the mother and new-born child on the fortieth day and of the reading of prayers of purification.
Feast of the Theophany of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
Theophany is the Feast which reveals the Most Holy Trinity to the world through the Baptism of the Lord (Mt.3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22). God the Father spoke from Heaven about the Son, the Son was baptized by the Saint John the Forerunner, and the Holy Spirit descended upon the Son in the form of a dove. From ancient times this Feast was called the Day of Illumination and the Feast of Lights, since God is Light and has appeared to illumine “those who sat in darkness,” and “in the region of the shadow of death” (Mt.4:16), and to save the fallen race of mankind by grace.
In the ancient Church it was the custom to baptize catechumens at the Vespers of Theophany, so that Baptism also is revealed as the spiritual illumination of mankind.
The origin of the Feast of Theophany goes back to Apostolic times, and it is mentioned in The Apostolic Constitutions (Book V:13). From the second century we have the testimony of Saint Clement of Alexandria concerning the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, and the night vigil before this Feast.
There is a third century dialogue about the services for Theophany between the holy martyr Hippolytus and Saint Gregory the Wonderworker. In the following centuries, from the fourth to ninth century, all the great Fathers of the Church: Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom, Ambrose of Milan, John of Damascus, commented on the Feast of Theophany.
The monks Joseph the Studite, Theophanes and Byzantios composed much liturgical music for this Feast, which is sung at Orthodox services even today. Saint John of Damascus said that the Lord was baptized, not because He Himself had need for cleansing, but “to bury human sin by water,” to fulfill the Law, to reveal the mystery of the Holy Trinity, and finally, to sanctify “the nature of water” and to offer us the form and example of Baptism.
On the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, the Holy Church proclaims our faith in the most sublime mystery, incomprehensible to human intellect, of one God in three Persons. It teaches us to confess and glorify the Holy Trinity, one in Essence and Indivisible. It exposes and overthrows the errors of ancient teachings which attempted to explain the Creator of the world by reason, and in human terms.
The Church shows the necessity of Baptism for believers in Christ, and it inspires us with a sense of deep gratitude for the illumination and purification of our sinful nature. The Church teaches that our salvation and cleansing from sin is possible only by the power of the grace of the Holy Spirit, therefore it is necessary to preserve worthily these gifts of the grace of holy Baptism, keeping clean this priceless garb, for “As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27).
On the day of Theophany, all foods are permitted, even if the Feast falls on a Wednesday or Friday.