Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Vesperal Liturgy of St. Basil the Great

Today, we began our preparation for our Lord's coming with the chanting of the Royal Hours, each with their three psalms and Scripture readings from the Old Testament, an Epistle of St. Paul to either the Galatians or Hebrews and the Gospel accounts of Christ's birth.. Anyone who dares think that we Orthodox don't reverently treat or read Scripture within our own services doesn't know what he is talking about. Then we proceeded into the Vesperal Liturgy, which I never had the privilege to chant before. It was glorious. The history of our creatin, decline and the prophecy of our salvation rang through the eight selections from the Old Testament. Then we moved to the Liturgy.

The feast of the Nativity is odd, at least liturgically. Only on Nativity and on Theophany can a Liturgy be celebrated twice (once as part of Vespers and then following the Orthros) for the same Liturgical day. It is magnificent. What is even more magnificent is that the Liturgy following Vespers is not of St. John Chrysostom, but that of St. Basil the Great. St. Basil's Liturgy is only served about ten times a year (Vesperal Liturgy on Nativity Eve, Vesperal Liturgy on Theophany Eve, on St. Basil's Day, the five Sundays of Great Lent, Holy Thursday and Great and Holy Saturday). It is rather unfortunate that we as Orthodox, especially who are not clergy do not to get to hear and pray the wonderful anaphora of this liturgy because it is served so seldom.

Here is the prayer of the Anaphora following the Sanctus:

With these blessed powers, O Master and Lover of Mankind, we sinners also cry out and say: "Holy are You, truly all-holy!" There is no limit to the majesty of your holiness. You are revered in all your works, for in righteousness and true judgment You have ordered all things for us. When You created man and had fashioned him from the dust of the earth and had honored him as your own image, O God, You set him in the midst of a bountiful paradise, promising him life eternal and the enjoyment of everlasting good things by keeping your commandments.

But when he disobeyed You, the true God Who had created him, and was led astray by the deceit of the serpent, he was made subject to death through his own transgressions. In your righteous judgment, O God, You exiled him from paradise into this world and returned him to the earth from which he had been taken. But You provided for him the salvation of rebirth which is in your Christ Himself.

For You did not turn Yourself away forever from your creation whom You had made, O Good One, nor did You forget the work of your hands, but You visited him in different ways. Through the tender compassion of your mercy, You sent forth prophets. You performed great works by the Saints who in every generation were well-pleasing to You. You spoke to us through the mouths of your servants the Prophets who foretold to us the salvation which was to come. You gave us the Law to aid us. You appointed angels to guard us. And when the fullness of time had come, You spoke to us through your Son Himself, through whom You had created time.

Being the Brightness of your Glory and the Stamp of your Person, and upholding all things by the power of his Word, your Son did not think of equality with You, Who alone are God and Father, as something to be grasped. And so, although He was God before time began, He appeared on earth and dwelt among us. He was incarnate of a holy virgin and emptied Himself, taking on the form of a servant and being conformed to the body of our lowliness so that He might conform us to the image of his glory. Since sin entered the world through a man and death through sin, so your Only-begotten Son, Who is in your bosom, our God and Father, was well- pleased to be born of a woman, the holy Birth-giver of God and ever- virgin Mary. He was born under the Law, so that He might condemn sin in his own flesh, so that those who died in Adam might be made alive in Him, your Christ.

He lived in this world and gave us commandments for salvation. He released us from the delusions of idolatry and brought us to the knowledge of You, true God and Father. He procured us for Himself as a chosen people, a royal priesthood and a holy nation. Having purified us with water, He sanctified us with the Holy Spirit. He gave Himself as a ransom to death by which we were held captive, having been sold into slavery by sin. He descended into the realm of death through the Cross, that He might fill all things with Himself. He loosed the sorrow of death and rose again from the dead on the third day, for it was not possible that the Author of Life should be conquered by corruption. In this way He made a way to the resurrection of the dead for all flesh. Thus, He became the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep, the first-born of the dead, that He might be first in all ways among all things. Ascending into heaven, He sat at the right hand of your Majesty on High, and He shall come again to reward each person according to his deeds.

Where else is the Gospel so well expressed in our liturgies or prayers? Where else is the history of our salvation so laid out with such optimism and trust in an ever compassionate and loving God? Where else do we hear such profound depth as shown by the emptying of our God to become as we are? The answer is: no where, or at least I can't find it.

I love this prayer of the Anaphora of St. Basil. The opportunity to offer this prayer to God in behalf of all the people is almost enough to make me want to be priest save for the fact that I am unworthy to even consider such a calling in life.

Glory to God for all things! Christ is Born!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Does it really matter if Mary is "ever virgin"?

As we now draw closer and closer to celebrate our Lord's Nativity in the flesh for us and for our salvation, as many Christians go to church services tomorrow and on the feast itself, most of them will invariably hear from the Gospels that the Man-God Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary. There can be no disputing that this is what happened. However, there always seem to arise questions regarding Mary's virginity or possible lack thereof following the birth of her son. Catholics and Orthodox as well as some Lutherans (since Mary is called ever-virgin in the Book of Concord to which Lutherans must make quia subscription as the faithful and correct exposition of their dogma) and even some High Church Anglicans do not doubt that Mary was ever virgin (semper virgo) but such a thought today is considered absolutely ludicrous because what sane person would pass up on the opportunity for sex? So, does Mary's ever-virgin title as given to her by the Orthodox and Catholics really matter? Why do we make such a big deal about it?

I think that even in the time of St. Basil the Great, some of the faithful were making a big deal about it as well. He spoke:

For "he did not know her" - it says - "until she gave birth to a Son, her firstborn." But this could make one suppose that Mary, after having offered in all her purity her own service in giving birth to the Lord, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, did not subsequently refrain from normal conjugal relations. That would not have affected the teaching of our religion at all, because Mary's virginity was necessary until the service of the Incarnation, and what happened afterward need not be investigated in order to affect the doctrine of the mystery. But since the lovers of Christ [that is, the faithful] do not allow themselves to hear that the Mother of God ceased at a given moment to be a virgin, we consider their testimony sufficient
. St. Basil the Great, homily [PG 31, 1468]

St. Basil appears to say that Mary's ever-virgin status and our subscription to it is not necessary for our the faithful to believe. But he does say that the testimony of the faithful in itself is sufficient. Scripture has no words on this exactly (though I do find the explanation given by St. Jerome regarding the garmmar, in particular the Greek word "eos" is convincing enough), but notice that Scripture is NOT what St. Basil appeals to. He appeals to the testimony of the faithful, the lovers of Christ, as St. Basil specifically calls them, as being sufficient in of itself.

St. Vincent of Lerins describes the tenets of the Catholic [Orthodox] faith as that which has been believed, always and everywhere. St. Basil is making the same appeal here, that Mary's ever-virginity is not something to be clawed out with linguistic devices and textual proofs, which most western Christians claim as infallible hermeneutics to defend their often liberal and, frankly, heretical positions. St. Basil is more or less saying, "Sit down and shut up. This is what we believe. Get over yourself."

But does it really matter? I suppose not. I can only imagine that when I am called to make answer before the dread judgement seat of Christ, I am going to be asked to defend my sinfulness and why I should be allowed to partake of the glory of God. I really don't believe that Christ will say that He will let me partake of His glory in eternity only if I believed that His mother was an ever virgin. At least, I hope not.

Many of those who will insist that Mary was intimate with Joseph after Christ's birth, do so to emphasize that Mary was nothing special. Even if you don't believe in the ever-virginity, how can one honestly say that Mary was nothing special? She carried the Logos in her womb, the uncontainable God. How many times do we see, particularly in the Older Testament, that whenever God touches something he created, it burns or it is destroyed? Too many to count. But Mary was unharmed from carrying God, yes, the very God, in herself. "For He made thy womb a throne and more spacious than the heavens" we sing in the Megalynarion of St. Basil the Great. Mary is preserved from all harm that comes when one expects the Creator and created to be in such union together. Hence, that is why Nestorius could not believe that Mary gave birth to God and denied the incarnation. It made no sense to him.

After one has been touched by God, so intimately and so physically, though how can one believe that after such an encounter that Mary would still insist on carnal relations with Joseph? We partake of God mystically, in the Sacraments and, in particular, in the Eucharist. Mary partook of Christ, the Logos constantly for nine months. God was in her. Creation and creator were unified physically, way beyond a mystical or spiritual manner.

In our society today and perhaps for all time, people have viewed sex as a way of completing oneself with someone else. I see nothing wrong with this view provided that it is understood that you should only complete yourself with your spouse. But how can that completion in any way compare to God dwelling within us? I don't know, but I can only imagine.

Thus, Mary was something special. And since she unified in herself both the creator and the created, I don't see why one would partake of earthly pleasures when such an intimacy can only pale as a shadow to the creator's intimacy. But is it necessary for salvation? St. Basil seems to say no, but also dismisses those who would innovate as not being lovers of Christ. He says that those who love Christ would naturally love His mother as ever-virgin. I just think that the arguments of those who deny the ever-virgin have a very specious argument, lack an understanding and humility of just how incomprehensible it is to have creator and created joined together, and, I think have a very negative view of virginity in general especially in this "sexually charged" society of ours.

Arguing about it is pointless, but I foresee no change in the hymnography of the Orthodox Church, especially when we chant the O Monogenes which says:

O only begotten Son and Word of God,
Immortal as you are,
You condescended for our salvation to be incarnate
of the holy Theotokos and ever Virgin Mary,
and without undergoing change You became man,
You were crucified, O Christ God,
and You trampled Death by Your death,
You who are One of the Holy Trinity,
equal in glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
Save us.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Don't know if this would solve the Christmas "problem"

As we draw closer to our Lord's Nativity, born in the flesh for us and for our salvation, the more articles on people's home pages and news reports talk about last minute shopping for gifts and the economic effects of said purchases. Along with that, we see a counterpunch, mainly lead by American evangelicals and others, to that materialism reminding Christians to put the Christ back into Christmas or put the Mass back into Christmas or to remind us that Jesus is the reason for the season or that December 25 is Jesus' birthday (I really HATE that one), etc.. Catch phrases are just that, catchy. They really have no substantive value and what is even more ironic is that while these statements decry the rampant commercialism which they (rightly) say debases Christmas, they are making a mint from selling these on bumper stickers, billboards, T-shirts, etc.

For the Orthodox Christian, it is very difficult to observe this time of preparation with fasting, (increased) prayer and alms-giving. It is very easy to give money. All we do is sign a check or give a credit number or drop a few dollars into the salvation army bucket, but when it comes to prayer and restricting our diet from the more salivating courses we see our friends and family offer at get-togethers this year, it is very difficult. And for many of us, who are alone in our Orthodoxy (i.e. we are not married and have no family or close friends who are Orthodox), the struggle is even greater, especially as we are asked to simply "give-in" and just "go with the flow" with regards to the days before the Nativity. Many of us will break the fast and many more of us will not pray except when we go to church on Nativity Eve. So, is there a solution? I think I have one.

If we are pulled so much by the secularization of Christmas, even by other Christians, in order to separate ourselves from it, we should celebrate our Lord's nativity when the vast majority of the Orthodox world does--on January 7. Of course, I am referring to the Old (Julian) Calendar.

Oh, no, not another calendar debate. I don't want to get into a shooting match as to which calendar is better, though I do sympathize with the Old Calendarists. 70% of the world's Orthodox Christians are Old Calendar and those jurisdictions who have "opted" for the New Calendar have only done so since 1923, though the Church of Bulgaria only adopted it in the 1960s. But regardless of whether or not individual jurisdictions have the "right" to change the calendar or whether or not a decision should only be decided by ecumenical council, let me posit two very good pastoral reasons for doing this while debunking a specious reason for keeping things as is.

1) On the Old Calendar, Nativity would be 13 days later than the Western Christmas so there would be less and less temptation out there to divert us from the path of preparation by fasting, prayer and alms-giving. If the rest of the world is getting back to their "normal" practices, that gives us ample opportunity to be ignored and to let us practice our faith from outside intereference. Of course, regardless of what season it is, there will ALWAYS be temptation to steer away from our praxis. Such temptation does not soley come from our non-Orthodox friends and family, but the evil one, I'm sure will redouble his efforts. Still, what a wonderful opportunity this would be for witnessing as well.

2) As I said earlier, about 70% of the world's Orthodox Christians will celebrate our Lord's Nativity on January 7. Why don't we celebrate this feast with them? The only feasts we celebrate together are Pascha, Ascension and Pentecost, no others since they are fixed dates and differ by 13 days. We are told, mainly by (liberal) Western Christians that we should celebrate Christmas with them so as not to give a divided witness to the world! News flash: we are giving a divided witness to the world. Many (by no means all), a great many of Western Christians deny, absolutely deny, the coming of our Lord in the flesh. Or they deny that Christ is God. Modern day Nestorianism, condemned at the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D., is running rampant as is Apollinarianism, also condemned. For many Western Christians, Nativity is not about Christ as it is about themselves, about how they can better themselves and do good, while forgetting and/or denying that it was Christ's coming and God's work which allows us to be good in the first place! That is not the Orthodox way of celebrating Christmas.

And many of our hierarchs still give into this. The council called in 1923 with its canons needs to be rescinded. Why is it more important to celebrate our Lord's death and Resurrection together, when we hold to the same theological importance and not our Lord's incarnation? Why are we worried more about giving a divided witness to the world with western Christians when we are actually giving a divided witness among the Orthodox?

I believe that the adoption or, more accurately, the readoption of the Old (Julian) Calendar can solve more issues than leaving things as they are among the different jurisdictions. I am not calling New Calendarists heretics but we really need to honestly take a look and see if this calendar is what we should be using when there is nothing wrong with the old calendar. So what if it doesn't correspond to the civil calendar? It might be harder to get Orthodox Christmas off than Western Christmas but if we're worried more about days off than worshipping our one God in purity in truth, then nothing is going to be solved.

It's an idea, one that is unpopular, I grant especially with our hierarchs, many of whom don't want to offend the Western Christians by doing things differently. But the fact is this: We Orthodox Christians are different from western Christians.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Mother of God vs. Mother of Jesus

Today is my parent's 40th wedding anniversary (God grant them many more years together) and so when I got home from my church, my parents informed me of what went on with their service. I think my parents paid extra special attention since I'm sure that they were mindful of all the blessings and headaches (i.e. me) that have come with 40 years of marriage. Anyway, they mentioned to me that the theme of this the fourth Sunday in Advent was about Mary and Elizabeth. (On a side note, Fr. Peters over at Pastoral Meanderings has a blog on his flock's response to Mary in today's service) I responded that in our church, the Sunday before Christmas is referred to as the Sunday of Genealogy where we read the forefathers and foremothers of Christ our God, born in the flesh and that we stress that God did not simply appear but became as we are to make us what He is. I then asked a question, because I was genuinely curious: Did the pastor refer to Mary as "Mother of God" or "Mother of Jesus?" Nearly instantly, my parents responded "Mother of Jesus." I had to shake my head in disbelief and responded with a typical shockingly "What?" My parents thought I was making a big difference over nothing. But then again, I wonder how many Orthodox (cradle and convert alike) would also assume that there is no fundamental difference in the terminology.

I would never, ever accuse Lutherans of holding a heretical Christology, never. Then again, I think, as with the case of my parents, they see (and probably many Lutheran clergy) that there is no difference in "Mother of God" versus "Mother of Jesus" even though there is quite a difference in those two descriptions. I then responded that to call Mary the Mother of Jesus is to make a Nestorian distinction between the Logos and the man, Jesus. My parents, in all honesty, did not know what Nestorian means.

As far as I understand the term (and I have been reading +Fr. John Meyendorff's book, The Person of Christ in Eastern Thought lately so that sort of helps), a Nestorian understanding of the person of Jesus Christ arises when one believes that there can be no union of the divine and the created together in one substance since that would presuppose that as the mortal part grows old and dies that hence God would die as well, which, of course is impossible. Also, Nestorius said that in His very nature, God could not assume that which He is by nature not (i.e. creator assuming the created). Hence, Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ only and gave her the epithet "Christotokos" which is Greek for "Mother of Christ." Now, to be fair to Nestorius (though he was condemned as a heretic by the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D.), and like most other heretics who were without doubt pious men, he probably just felt that the idea of Mary giving birth to the Divine God with human attributes would somehow rob the Godhead of the glory that is due to Him. So Nestorius' solution to his own problem was that there were in fact two persons, the Divine Logos and the human Christ and Mary was the mother of the latter.

Of course orthodox Christian doctrine (notice I use the small "o" deliberately to refer to Christian confessions such as Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans and some other Protestant sects as well as the Orthodox) is that Jesus Christ was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary (Nicene Creed) and thus he is both God and man in one union. There is only one person, Jesus Christ, but there is present two substances, which, clarified by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 which were neither commingled nor confused but contained in one hypostatsis, i.e. the God-man, Jesus Christ.

But let's get back to Mary. Lutherans, it seems, will object to the term Theotokos for Mary because it assumes that Mary is supplying the Divine chromosome, so to speak. Of course, this is not Orthodox theology or belief. But to say that she only gave birth to a human is to deny the reality of the incarnation. Again, Lutheran theology, especially as it is contained in the Book of Concord which are the Lutheran confessions, is very orthodox (again, notice the small "o") on this point since it explicitly says that Mary gave birth to ONE person, the God-man Jesus Christ. Thus, Lutherans do accept the tenets of the Council of Ephesus, but, according to them, the only reason they do is because they say it agrees with Scripture (that's an argument for another time).

It's easy for me to shake my head in disbelief when I hear Lutherans call Mary only the Mother of Jesus since I know that they are not heretical in this regard. But when you insist that there is a vital difference in calling her Mother of God versus Mother of Jesus, it will often result in a "it makes no difference" or "well, that's your way of looking at it." I think, though, that if people (and I mean all Christians who accept the incarnation as an article of faith handed down by the Church) really understood that one description does damage to the understanding of why God became incarnate, without which we could not have possibly been saved, then I think the terminology will take care of itself. The only remedy, for Lutherans and Orthodox alike, is continued catechesis and insistence that the two titles do NOT mean the same thing.

Make ready, O Bethlehem

Today, December 20 is the Forefeast of the Nativity of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ. At the cycle of services, we are privileged to chant this hymn:

Make ready, O Bethlehem for Eden hath been opened for all. Prepare, O Ephratha, for the Tree of Life hath blossomed forth in the cave from the Virgin. For her womb didst appear as a supersensual paradise in which is planted that Holy Vine. If we should eat thereof, we shal live and not die as Adam of old. Verily, Christ shall be born, raising the image that fell at the beginning.

I love this hymn especially since it is chanted on the hard chromatic (hijaz-kar) scale of the fourth mode. In other words, it sounds more like a plagal second, but musically speaking, it is fourth tone. But another reason why I love this hymn so much is because this short little hymn synthesizes so much of our faith: our ancestral curse, the incarnation, the eucharist, the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from mortal corruption and sin.

Here is a recording of this hymn with a litte video that I made. And it's in English, though I myself prefer Greek.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Appeal for comments

I wonder if really anyone reads what I write. I grant it's not the most profound or enlightened string of thoughts ever put together, but I would really appreciate if more of you would like to leave comments here. Perhaps this is pure ego speaking, but I would really like feedback. Many thanks.

What people should not be doing in church

In the service books of the Orthodox Church, there is a firm line between what the priest does and what the people/choir do. Of course in modern Catholicism and Protestantism which still use some form of the historic Western Liturgy, many people erroneously claim that the prayers that the priest and/or deacon prays should also be reserved for them. Oftentimes, while the people/choir are singing a hymn or antiphons, the priest is praying and we only hear him at a Doxology. Many people suggest that the choir/people sing the hymn and then the priest and the people pray together. Such is dangerous for it eliminates the sacral nature of the ministry and makes the priest into a mere leader rather than as the leader and intercessor of his flock before the dread judgment seat of Christ as represented in the altar. Such is why it is always appropriate that the priest always face the altar and pray not the people. In a courtroom, you don't plead your case to the judge with your back turned to him and plead it to those in the seats who have no bearing whatsoever on the actual decision, do you?

One of the things that really bothers me is the "democratic" mentality that has infused many Orthodox, both cradle and convert alike. The prayers of the priest are everyone's they claim. They forget that the ordination to the priesthood is a sacrament. St. John Chrysostom says that after the Incarnation of our Lord and God and Saviour, the most important gift God gave to mankind is the priesthood. The priest has been called away and is signed with the countenance of our God to adminster the mysteries for the flock faithfully. Such is what he will be judged for at the last judgment. I can only imagine the dread and terror that would strike me if I were given the lamb in my hands at my consecration and told that I will have to make answer to the Judge that I did this with reverence and fear and did it with the spritual well being of my flock in mind (for receiving and not receiving alike). The priest, in the sacred scheme of things is thus not like you or me. We celebrate together but not in the same fashion. We complement each other.

Thus, the priest's and deacon's prayers are not meant for us. This is especially true at the epiclesis, where the priest (not us) calls the Holy Spirit to descend and "Make this body the True Body of Thy Christ" and "This to be the True Blood of Thy Christ", "changing them by the Holy Spirit." Now, the service books will indicate, wrongly, that the first two of these petitions are responded to by the people with "Amen" and at the third petition, the people will respond, "Amen, amen, amen!" All of this is absolutely and unequivocally WRONG! The "Amens" are to be spoken by the deacon and the deacon only! The modern service books do not say this, but such a practice of the people usurping the deacon's role is again to suggest that there is no difference between the clergy and the people, when there is. Even the epiclesis itself is to be chanted silently by the priest as we should be in terror and awe and even on our knees (if not a Sunday) for the transformation that is about to take place. Here is another source which confirms what I say.

It is not for us to usurp the roles which are granted to the clergy exclusively. The people are not priests. If they are called to be, that is different, but make no mistake that to blur the distinction between clergy and people is to blur the distinction between the creator and created, between substance and likeness, between Christ and His Church.

Commemoration of our Father among the saints, the Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-bearer of Antioch

Though the calendar prescribes that St. Ignatius Theophorus (God-bearer) is to be commemorated on December 20, becuase the 20th falls on a Sunday and thus is the Sunday of the Forefathers, his feast day is moved to today, the 19th.

According to Church tradition, Ignatius was a disciple of St. John the Theologian and was even the young boy whom Christ held in his arms (Mark 9. 35). He was consecrated a bishop and several epistles to various congregations bear his name which provide earliest testimonies to the ecclesiological structure of the church being rooted in the bishop. "Where the bishop is, there is the church" is one of his most famous dicta. He died a martyr on the orders of the Emperor Trajan in 107.

From the prologue of Ohrid: This holy man is called ``the God-bearer'' because he constantly bore the name of the Living God in his heart and on his lips. According to tradition, he was thus named because he was held in the arms of God Incarnate, Jesus Christ. On a day when the Lord was teaching His disciples humility, He took a child and placed him among them, saying: Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:4). This child was Ignatius. Later, Ignatius was a disciple of St. John the Theologian, together with Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna. As Bishop of Antioch, Ignatius governed the Church of God as a good shepherd and was the first to introduce antiphonal chanting in the Church, in which two choirs alternate the chanting. This manner of chanting was revealed to St. Ignatius by the angels in heaven. When Emperor Trajan was passing through Antioch on his way to do battle with the Persians, he heard of Ignatius, summoned him and counseled him to offer sacrifice to the idols. If Ignatius would do so, Trajan would bestow upon him the rank of senator. As the counsels and threats of the emperor were in vain, St. Ignatius was shackled in irons and sent to Rome in the company of ten merciless soldiers, to be thrown to the wild beasts. Ignatius rejoiced in suffering for his Lord, only praying to God that the wild beasts would become the tomb for his body and that no one would prevent him from this death. After a long and difficult journey from Asia through Thrace, Macedonia and Epirus, Ignatius arrived in Rome, where he was thrown to the lions in the circus. The lions tore him to pieces and devoured him, leaving only several of the larger bones and his heart. This glorious lover of the Lord Christ suffered in the year 106 in Rome at the time of the Christ-hating Emperor Trajan. Ignatius has appeared many times from the other world and worked miracles, even to this day helping all who call upon him for help.

Through his intercessions, may Christ our true God, have mercy upon us and save us.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Memory eternal, Archbishop JOB of the OCA

Today, Archbishop JOB of the OCA (Orthodox Church in America) who oversaw his flock in the Diocese of the Midwest, unexpectedly reposed in the Lord.


Press release here.

Biography of His Grace here.

I never thought of it this way...

We are told that the reason Mary and Joseph were forced into a manger (or a cave, as we say in the Eastern Tradition) to give birth to the Incarnate Logos, Jesus Christ was because there was no room at the inn. And why was there no room at the inn? According to Luke, a census of the Roman world had been ordered by Caesar Augustus which required every man to return to his city of origin to be registered with his family. So who was at the inn? Joseph's family, his relatives, some more removed than others, but still they were family. And who was it that visited the Incarnate Logos? Christ's extended family in the flesh? No. It was the Shepherds, because the Messiah came not for his own family members or even the Jews, but all people.

I thank Fr. Peters (he's Lutheran and we don't hold that against him) for this excellent observation especially as it concerns our reluctance to share the faith with our family members, preferring the anonymity of strangers. As Christ came for all people, so the faith that we have received from Him is for all people and should be shared with them.

Archbishop Lazar on the Secularization of Christmas

Those of you who view this little sit down chat with Archbishop LAZAR of ROCOR might find this to be patronizing, insulting and downright mean. However, I think he is right. As Orthodox Christians, we have become too complacent in mixing the spirit of the secular Christmas with the preparation we should be doing for our Lord's Nativity. Rather than talk about the Logos incarnate, we speak of a babe tender and mild. We speak of Christmas rather than Nativity, Advent fast instead of Nativity Fast.

At the end, His Grace is correct that the extra charity that we see displayed at this time of year has almost no connection to the worship of the Incarnate Logos since even in pagan times when they celbrated the Winter Solstice and the Birth of Mithras (the Sun God), they also were charitable. Good words.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Getting a return from an investment requires making an investment

Forgive the market terminology, but that's essentially another way to read Luther's famous dictum of "A faith that costs nothing and demands nothing is worth nothing."

Unlike our fellow Christians who use the advent season to celebrate rather than to prepare, we Orthodox prepare for the major feasts through fasting, almsgiving and increased prayer. At least, that's what we are supposed to be doing. That doesn't mean we should be dour or down or depressed; we should do these things with joy. However, even with many of our Orthodox priests, we are being increasingly taught that the fasts and prayers are not really necessary for today's Christian, let alone Orthodox Christian. If our faith has been reduced to a mere intellectual assent, and I remind you that even the demons intellectually assent that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, then our faith is nothing and as such, we should rightfully expect nothing. Of course, as modern people, we demand entitlements for simply saying "I believe" but do nothing to help the poor, the meek, the otherwise cast out people of our society. Our Lord said, in his parable, that on the last day that those who have such a faith will be turned away while he says that He never knew us. Truly, we exist and are saved only by the mercy and grace of God, but to remain unchanged (and that is why God came, to change us from our sinful state to become truly human; true humanity is NOT to be sinful) is to cheapen the Gospel and God's grace to us. We would rightfully laugh at St. Matthew if he said to our Lord when our Lord told him to come and follow Him, "No thanks. I'm waiting to be saved by grace alone." As much as we associate with Luther the doctrine of sola gratia, his little saying indicates that even he believed that to do nothing was to cheapen God.

Props and shout-out to my fellow blogger Christopher Orr who pointed this out on his blog, Orrologion. I suggest you read it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

If you can't chant/sing...don't

OK, I know that's a really unpopular and even mean-spirited thing to say especially to people in church. Well, hopefully, you don't actually come up to people and say something along the lines that they need to shut their mouths during the chanted/sung portions of the Divine Offices and Liturgy. But let's face it--not all people are gifted to sing and when you don't know how or you just lack the ability, the singing sounds, well, bad. There's no other way to put it.

I'm blessed to have a decent voice and I have put it to use for the glory of God. However, it has also made me quite snobbish when it comes to those who have not quite the abilities I have when it comes to the execution of hymns at the Divine Services. I seem to conveniently forget that not too long ago, I was a beginner at learning the byzantine modal system. I would frequently move from mode to mode without thinking about it, I would flatten or sharpen a note at inappropriate times, I would give the wrong drone note, etc., etc.. But I've developed and I've devoted a great amount of my time to honing my art for the glory of God and I tend to get irritated when others who want to chant feel that they can skirt preparation or practice simply because "it's enough" that they want to chant and that they don't have the extra time. To them, I say make time.

Executing Byzantine Music well involves far more than reading notes on a page. You have to know the "ethos" of the music as well. Let me put it to you this way. I play bass guitar as well. I've played a number of songs on bass across a lot of different genres. However, one song just completely eluded me. It was "La Grange" by ZZ Top. It's a good fun song. The notes are easy enough, not fast and can be learned through one sitting. But for the life of me, despite knowing the notes, the rhythms, the changes, etc. I could never get the FEELING for that song. I'd be playing the right notes, but it never felt right. I didn't understand the ethos of that particular song. Such with country music. I don't like it. I can play the notes easily enough but I can't get into it so it falls falt every time. Such is with chanting in the byzantine style. If you are able to read the notes on the page that's one step in the right direction, but if you don't know mode 1 differs from the plagal of the fourth mode, then you're not going to be anchored well in the music resulting in you switiching from mode to mode.

Being a chanter takes a lot of work and I do mean a lot of work. So if you can't do it, don't feel bad. It's just not your gifting.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Women in the Church

I really don't want to get into a long discussion or discourse on the exclusion of women from the priesthood. Many of my Christian, non-Orthodox friends and family will insist that women not being allowed to serve as priest is contrary to the Gospel of Christ and only proves that the Church wants to subject women as second-class citizens. I could argue this until the Second Coming but unsuccessfully since I find that arguing with the other side only entrenches each side in their own arguments from which they cannot and/or do not want to extricate themselves.

However, I will say this: To say that anyone can be a priest is to demean the priesthood. The priesthood is Christ's, not ours, not then, not now. There are plenty of divorced men who are holy, yet they cannot be ordained. There are many who have come to the faith late in life who have lived lives of outstanding holiness but cannot be ordained. They may become saints, no doubt, but not priests. I do not, nor will I ever support a change.

Reading the synaxrion for the day about St. Eleutherios, I found that, like many saints to serve the church in times of adversity, he had a mother who guided him in the faith. Her name was Anthia and she shared in the martyrdom of her son, beheaded while lamenting her just slain son. How many great saints would the Great Church of Christ be deprived of without these great mothers? I can think of several off of the top of head.

The Blessed Augustine (commemorated June 15) was a Manichaean for much of his teenage and early adult life. His mother, Monica, though somewhat dotal towards his worldy pursuits as a teacher of rhetoric as well as his devotion to his mistress who gave birth to his only son, Adeodatus (Given from God), nevertheless relentlessly kept urging, gently and forcibly, her son to adopt the Christian faith, which he eventually did in 387 A.D. when he was baptized by St. Ambrose, the bishop of Milan. Monica's faith in Christ and her desire that her son be saved reaped dividends. Augustine is regarded rightly as the greatest doctor of the Latin church (though many of his doctrines and statements are clearly not held by the consensus patruum) and his influence is still felt to this day. Monica's efforts should not be overlooked.

The mother of St. Basil the Great, one of the Cappadocian fathers, St. Emmelia, was responsible for teaching all her children the faith. Five of them are venerated as saints on the church calendar. It was because of her zeal for the Lord that her children became as great defenders of the church.

The list goes on and on. Even in our churches today, it is the women in the parish, the ya-yas and matushkas who not only teach the children in church school, but who also keep them in line during the services, teaching them to be reverent in the house of God. It was the women who kept the faith alive in the Orthodox countries, overrun by the communists who did all that they possibly could to suppress the Church. Priests and monks were often infiltrated by the KGB and many of them turned against the church and the faithful for perks from the communists. But the mothers were able to operate under the ever watchful eye of the atheist government and instill the faith in children. And so it goes on today.

I would say that the faith is celebrated by the priests, but that the faith is preserved and protected by the women. These women do not get the thanks that they truly deserve. Though St. John Chrysostom tells us that, after the incarnation of Christ, the priesthood is the greatest gift of God to man, these women are a daily gift which we often take for granted.

Commemoration of our Father among the saints, the Hieromartyr Eleutherios

I was privileged to chant the Orthros (Matins) service to St. Eleutherios this morning who is also the patron saint of the Antiochian Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America (DOWAMA). As we prepare for our Lord's coming in the flesh for us and for our salvation, all these great saints whom we commemorate day by day remind us that if it were not for Christ's incarnation (which, as St. John Chrysostom says is the greatest gift God could give), then the miracles these saints wrought, the conversions they engineered, the generosity of their giving would all be for nothing. We commemorate these saints, the witnesses, our friends not because of what they did but for what they did because of and for the sake of Christ.

My non-Orthodox friends and family, God love them, don't understand the need for saints because, to them, we have Christ and we need no one else. This isn't an issue of need, for the saints who stand with the heavenly hosts aren't receiving glory. They only give glory to God and our honouring of them gives honour to Christ. Well, why not then just give honour to God? Because it goes back to our Lord's incarnation. If God had not been incarnate, no saints could have existed. God assumed everything that we are so that we may be entirely healed as St. Gregory the Theologian would remind us. Our Lord's coming in the flesh, His Baptism at the hands of St. John the Forerunner, His crucifixion, death, resurrection, ascension into heaven, sitting at the right hand and His second and glorious coming are all done for us and for our salvation so that our flesh, our sinful flesh which Adam and Eve had corrupted at the beginning, need no longer bar us from true communion with God. Thus, let us rejoice in the fellowship of the saints, who became god-like because of Christ's great dispensation and economy by becoming what we are.

From the Prologue of Ohrid for St. Eleutherios:

From a good tree comes good fruit. This wonderful saint had noble and greatly eminent parents. Eleutherius was born in Rome, where his father was an imperial proconsul. His mother Anthia heard the Gospel from the great Apostle Paul and was baptized by him. Having been left a widow early, she entrusted her only son for study and service to Anicetus the Bishop of Rome. Seeing how Eleutherius was gifted by God and illumined by the grace of God, the bishop ordained him a deacon at the age of fifteen, a priest at the age of eighteen, and a bishop at the age of twenty. Eleutherius's God-given wisdom made up for what he lacked in years, and this chosen one of God was appointed Bishop of Illyria with his seat in Valona (Avlona), Albania. The good shepherd guarded his flock well and increased their number day by day. Emperor Hadrian, a persecutor of Christians, sent the commander Felix with soldiers to seize Eleutherius and bring him to Rome. When the raging Felix arrived in Valona and entered the church, he saw and heard the holy hierarch of God; suddenly his heart changed, and he became a Christian. Eleutherius baptized Felix and departed for Rome with him, returning joyfully as if he were going to a feast and not to trial and torture. The emperor subjected the noble Eleutherius to harsh torture: flogging, roasting on an iron bed, boiling in pitch, and burning in a fiery furnace. But Eleutherius was delivered from all these deadly tortures by God's power. Seeing all this, Caribus the Roman eparch declared that he also was a Christian. Caribus was tortured and then beheaded, and so was Blessed Felix. Finally, the imperial executioners cut off the honorable head of St. Eleutherius. When his mother, the holy Anthia, came and stood over the dead body of her son, she also was beheaded. Their bodies were translated to Valona, where even today St. Eleutherius glorifies the name of Christ by his many miracles. He suffered during the reign of Hadrian in the year 120.

Troparion to St. Eleutherios (Plagal Tone 1 to the melody "Let us worship the Word"):

Adorned with the robe of priest
Stained with the streams of your blood,
O wise and blessed Eleutherius, over-thrower of Satan
You hastened to Christ your Master. Pray unceasingly for those who faithfully honor your contest!

Through the intercessions of our father among the saints, Eleutherios, may Christ our true God have mercy upon us and save us.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Winter Pascha

I'm in Omaha right now for a few days taking care of some business that will hopefully allow me to come back next month to finish out a class at Creighton and start to really get my life in order. Right now, I'm snowed in. My friends, Josh and Walker, with whom I am staying have both gone to work though the local schools are all canceled due to the inclement weather. It is expected to snow throughout the day even into the hours of tomorrow morning. Snow accumulations should be about 6 inches or more.

We instinctively tie our Lord's Nativity with winter. And that is because of the fact that in Europe and America, snow sometimes accompanies our Lord's arrival as the Christmas songs which deal with "White Christmases." But, when Christ was born, there was no snow, there was no cold weather. Shepherds did not tend their flocks in frigid snowy weather. Most likely, Christ was actually born in September or October. The reason that December 25 was chosen as the day to celebrate Christ's incarnation was because the pagans celebrated the birth of Mithras, the Sun God (a Persian import to Rome) on that day. That is why, in the Eastern Rite Troparion for Nativity, we call Christ the Sun of Righteousness, which, in English translation (the Greek word is helios), has double meaning implications.

In Great Lent, we are coming out of the winter tumult, the winter death to the spring of Christ's Resurrection, which is usually sometime in April (though on the Western Calendar can be as early as March). We prepare for that glorious time with fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Why should we do no different in this time of our Lord's incarnation. If he had not been incarnate, our Lord could not have died and risen again to triumph over death and heal us from our infirmities.

Thus, we should be mindful that though winter conjures up thoughts (good ones, mind you) of frolicking in the snow, going out to the mall to buy gifts for friends, loved ones and those in need, we should not make this season a party. Don't get me wrong, it's hard to do when hardly anyone else believes that this is a season of repentance, but if we wait for everyone else to get on board, all we have done is squandered precious time for our own self-repentance.

Christ's coming in the midst of winter is another Pascha, a resurrection of Creation, of the Sun which is never overtaken by the night.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Vesperal Liturgies

I have to admit that one of the things I did not like about modern Lutheranism is how feast days were always transferred to Sundays or almost ignored because they occurred on days of the week. After all, church should only be on Sunday mornings, right? That attitude, among many other reasons, forced me to look outside of Lutheranism to find my spiritual home and thus became Orthodox.

However, one of the things that really just rubbed me the wrong way was the practice of many parishes, particularly of Antiochian ones, where rather than celebrate the full cycle of services for the feast or major saint, it is truncated into a Vesperal Liturgy celebrated the night before. Vesperal Liturgies, traditional ones, that is, are found only on the Eves of Christmas and Theophany as well as during Wednesdays and Fridays in Great Lent, though these Lenten Liturgies are often called Presanctified Liturgies. A Vesperal Liturgy will begin like Vespers through Psalm 140 and then the chanting of O Gladsome Light but the Priest will enter with the Gospel Book (similar to the Little Entrance in Liturgy) and then the troparia of the feast are then chanted and the Liturgy proceeds as normal.

These new Vesperal Liturgies essentially cheat the Orthodox Christian of the great hymnography of the feast and the saints. The Aposticha of Vespers is not chanted at all, Matins is not celebrated at all. It essentially combines two services into one. The reasons priests celebrate these evening divine Liturgies are mainly pastoral rather than theological and I understand that a priest must be sensitive to both pastoral and theological demands. The pastoral demands center around the fact that most Americans work an 8-5 day and thus cannot attend Orthros and Liturgy in the morning of the Day of the feast so everything is done the night before. And then there's also the fact that chanters may also not be readily available either, let alone a choir for Russian-typicon churches.

Again, priests justify these Vesperal Liturgies because of the time constraints of the average American. But what is forgotten, and this is pivotal, is that time is sacred. When we usurp the Divine Liturgy like this we have corrupted the sacred time of the calendar. We, as Orthodox Christians, are called to live a liturgical life which is governed by the calendar because that is a microcosm of the Life in Christ and the saints. It is liturgical hubris to simply do that in the name of pastoral concerns without taking into account the theological questions. Granted, most Orthodox Christians would not even look into this from such a theological standpoint, but it cannot be ignored: time is sacred.

And I think that the sacred time angle is most pertinent when examining the need for these Vesperal Liturgies. His Grace, Bishop TIKHON of the OCA had this in particular to say:

One may say, "Well, that's all right for Theophany and Nativity and Great and Holy Sabbath, but what about authorizing the Evening Vesperal Liturgy for the other Feasts?" But to serve the Divine Liturgy of one of the Twelve Great Feasts at an even later hour of the day than the Divine Liturgy of a strict fast day (actually, at the time of the Pre-Sanctified Liturgies of the Great Fast) would be to completely discard any kind of sense or rationality, such as breathes from every page of the Typikon, from our Church's sanctification of TIME.

I think Bishop TIKHON's analysis is spot on and you can read the whole thing on Vesperal Liturgies here.

Last night I went to church expecting to chant Vespers for St. Barbara and St. John the Damascene. To my surprise, Fr. Elias told me we were doing the Vesperal Liturgy. I replied that I was not prepared to do an entire Liturgy (as the music I chant for the Liturgies on weekdays is different than what I am used to doing) and that I couldn't partake of the Liturgy anyway as I was not prepared because I just had dinner and hadn't prayed the service of preparation. To be honest, I was infuriated. The Vespers service, the complete Vespers service, to these two great saints of the Holy Orthodox Church should not be merely excised for the sake of serving the Liturgy.

I wonder why is it that many Orthodox will only come to church to receive the Eucharist? Granted, the Eucharist is important, necessary for our lives in Christ. It is the great medicine to heal us from our infirmities. But I think that a lot of people view the sacrament as a type of "reward" for coming to Liturgy. "Well, I sat through an hour and a half of prayers and hymns and now I get my reward" as if going to church was to somehow merit this. Such a view is not only embarassing, but it is also a cheapening of the mercy and grace Christ has bestowed simply because he is merciful and abundant in grace. Is it a wonder that no one comes to Vespers or Orthros? There's no reward or there's too much work involved. As much as I know that I have come to the fullness of the faith, I know that many of the same attitudes I left behind in Lutheranism are just as prevalent among the Orthodox faithful. Perhaps it's not a problem of Lutheranism at all; perhaps it's just a problem of many Christians being spiritually lazy regardless of their particular confession.

So, what is the remedy? Laypersons are not monastics nor should they be unless they are called to that. It is difficult if not impossible to live the life of a monk while working in the world and thus it is more difficult to celebrate the offices and Liturgies when you are concerned with providing for your family. But providing for your family does not preclude praying and celebrating the feasts. It may not be as often, not even a 50-50 split. But, above all, priests, especially Antiochian priests, need to shelve the pastoral reason and catechize the faithful. Just because one works in the world does not mean that the Tradition of the Church has to change to accommodate him. Such is a very egocentric view, that the church should adapt to the individual. If you can't make it to church, you can't make it. But people should not come with the expectation that they should receive communion at a non-prescribed Liturgy because they can't do it otherwise.

Bishop TIKHON says that serving the Vesperal Liturgy actually does way more harm than good and I think it is eloquently put:

There are a few other liturgical factors that may mean something only to me and a few others, but I feel I should express them as your father and friend. Bear with me. The Twelve Great Feasts of our Lord have Festal Antiphons (unlike the Eves of Theophany, Nativity, and Pascha) that proclaim in Psalm and Troparia the triumphant and festal nature of the day. In a "Vesperal" Liturgy, these are suppressed, and the Divine Liturgy begins with Vespers, as on a Strict Fast day. Further, the Twelve Great Feasts are distinguished from other Feasts by having an All-Night Vigil, that includes Matins with all its rich, beautiful hymnody, full of doctrine and sacred history. Even in parishes that serve the Matins in the morning, the Faithful are not deprived of this beauty and "on-going education" provided by the provisions of our Holy Typikon. To serve a "Vesperal" Liturgy is to suppress that all, or to kill the possibility of the parish ever growing up into its full stature. I believe that nothing worthwhile was ever attained or will be attained by lowering our sights, our expectations. After all, we have not ever adjusted our life in Church to conform to our own sinfulness. Our fallen sister Church has never ceased to condescend to the weakest of her members, especially regarding Fasting, while the Orthodox Church has never done so. The Romans lost their Wednesday fasting in the Middle Ages, retaining only their Ash Wednesday. In our times, they did away with their Friday fasting as well, retaining, in fact, only Good Friday. The Orthodox Church has never stopped hearing these words "Be ye perfect therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect." We have always considered that perfection IS possible with God's help, we have never considered that we have lost both image and likeness. We have never accepted the idea that "perfectionism" is a pathology in our life in Christ, as others may have.

Commemoration of our Righteous Father among the Saints, John Damascene

Troparion to St. John Damascene (Tone 8): O Guide of Orthodoxy, teacher of piety and holiness, God inspired adornment of monastics, by thy teachings thou has illumined all, O harp of the Spirit. Intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved. You can hear it here in Arabic.

Today, December 4, the Holy Orthodox Church commemorates St. Barbara, the Great Martyr and St. John Damascene. St. John is my patron saint so I will dedicate this to him, no offense St. Barbara.

From the Prologue of Ohrid: John was first the chief minister to Caliph Abdul-Malik and later a monk in the Monastery of St. Sava the Sanctified. Because of his ardent defense of the veneration of icons during the reign of the iconoclastic Emperor Leo the Isaurian, John was maligned by the emperor to the Caliph, who cut off his right hand. John fell down in prayer before the icon of the Most-holy Theotokos, and his hand was rejoined and miraculously healed. Seeing this miracle the Caliph repented, but John no longer desired to remain with him as a nobleman. Instead, he withdrew to a monastery, where, from the beginning, he was a model to the monks in humility, obedience and all the prescribed rules of monastic asceticism. John composed the Funeral Hymns and compiled the Octoechos (The Book of Eight Tones), the Irmologion, the Menologion and the Paschal Canon, and he wrote many theological works of inspiration and profundity. A great monk, hymnographer, theologian and soldier for the truth of Christ, Damascene is numbered among the great Fathers of the Church. He entered peacefully into rest in about the year 776 at the age of 104.

Reflection on St. John by St. Nicolai Velimirovich: Obedience, coupled with humility, is the foundation of the spiritual life, the foundation of salvation and the foundation of the overall structure of the Church of God. The great John Damascene-great in every good thing-as a monk left a deep impression on the history of the Church by his exceptional example of obedience and humility. Testing him one day, his elder and spiritual father handed him woven baskets and ordered him to take them to Damascus and sell them there. The elder established a very high price for the baskets, thinking that John would not be able to sell them at that price but would have to return with them. John, therefore, firstly had to go on a long journey; secondly, he had to go as a poor monk to the city where he, at one time, had been the most powerful man after the Caliph; thirdly, he had to seek a ridiculously high price for the baskets; and fourthly, should he not sell the baskets, he would have made this enormous journey, there and back, for nothing. In this way, the elder wished to test the obedience, humility and patience of his famous disciple. John silently prostrated before the elder and, without a word, took the baskets and started on his journey. Arriving in Damascus, he stood in the market place and awaited a buyer. When he told the interested passers-by the price of his goods, they laughed at and mocked him as a lunatic. He stood there the whole day, and the whole day he was exposed to derision and ridicule. But God, Who sees all things, did not abandon His patient servant. A certain citizen passed by and looked at John. Even though John was clad in a poor monk's habit and his face was withered and pale from fasting, this citizen recognized in him the one-time lord and first minister of the Caliph, in whose service he had also been. John also recognized him, but they both began to deal as strangers. Even though John named the all-too-high price of the baskets, the citizen purchased and paid for them without a word, recalling the good that John Damascene had once done for him. As a victor, holy John returned to the monastery rejoicing, and brought joy to his elder.

When choosing a saint to whose protection and intercessions before the great judgment seat of Christ I would entrust myself, I inititally had chosen Augustine. Now, though Augustine is considered by many Orthodox (wrongly) to be the bogeyman, I reconsidered after realizing that the majority of the hymns I was singing in church week-in, week-out were his creation. The music of Byzantine Chant is mainly his creation. The richness and depth of the hymns with food of large portions of theology were enough to make me reconsider. Also, some of those hymns I remember singing as a Lutheran like "Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain" (TLH 204) and "The Day of Resurrection" (TLH 205), both for Easter. Even Luther's own "Christ Lag in Todesbanden" seems to derive significantly from St. John's Paschal (Easter) Canon. St. John is even considered by the Western Christians to be a doctor of the Church along with Sts. Augustine, Jerome and Basil, pretty elite company. So, St. John, for me, was not some obscure Eastern saint who had no impact on the West but served as a bridge.

His hymns and theological writings are taken for granted, I think. But if St. John were a vain man, and I don't think he was, he might care, but as he now raises the strain along with the holy noetic powers of heaven, that is enough for him.

Here are some of my favorite hymns of St. John Damascene.

From the Funeral Service (Tone 1)--I chanted this at my grandfather's funeral:

What earthly joy cannot be untouched by grief?
What glory stands forever on the earth?
Frail shadows and elusive dreams are we,
which death will one day sweep away.
But in the light of Thy countenance, O Christ,
and in the enjoyment of Thy beauty,
give rest to those Thou hast chosen and taken,
since Thou art the Lover of Mankind.

Troparion of Holy Week at Orthros (Tone 8):

Behold, the Bridegroom cometh in the middle of the night, and blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching; and again unworthy is he whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, lest thou be overcome with sleep, lest thou be given up to death, and be shut out from the Kingdom. But rather rouse thyself and cry: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, our God, through the Theotokos have mercy on us.

You can hear an audio of it here. (It is in Greek)

From Ode 1 of the Paschal Canon (Tone 1), the Queen of all canons:

It is the Day of Resurrection! Let us be radiant, O people! Pascha! The Lord's Pascha! For Christ our God has brought us from death to life, and from earth unto heaven, as we sing triumphant hymns!

Christ is risen from the dead.

Let us purify our senses and we shall behold Christ, radiant with inaccessible light of the Resurrection, and shall hear Him saying clearly, "Rejoice!" As we sing the triumphant hymns!

Let heavens rejoice in a worthy manner, the earth be glad, and the whole world, visible and the invisible, keep the Feast. For Christ our eternal joy has risen!

You can hear a recording here, sung in Greek but in Russian Valaam Chant. The priest and the congregation say "Christ is Risen. Truly He is Risen)

Hymn of Praise to St. John Damascne:

O wondrous trumpet of the Orthodox Faith,
O glorious monk of a glorious cenobium,
John the poet, champion of the Faith,
Holy sufferer for the holy icons,
Having glorified God you are now glorified;
Immortal trumpeter of eternal life,
You left the world for the sake of the Living Christ.
Having humbled yourself, you are glorified the more.
You took upon yourself the path of asceticism;
Through tears you beheld the heavenly mysteries;
By prayer and faith you performed miracles;
You conversed with the Mother of God.
The Faith-who could better expound it?
Who could glorify God with a sweeter hymn?
O harp of eternal truth, there is none like you,
No one like you, glorious Father Damascene.
Oh, raise even now your pure mouth,
And implore the Life-giving Christ for us,
That His mercy accompany us until death,
That we with you may glorify Him.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Why fear Mary?

Last night, I went to the mid week Advent service at Hope Lutheran Church with my parents. My reasons for going were many. After being there on Monday night to help my mom decorate the church (she needed my long legs and strong frame) for the season, I was reminded that a good portion of my life growing up in this area was shaped by being a member of this church. I was confirmed in this church. In fact, in the narthex, I saw the picture of my confirmation class back in 1990. A lot of my friends whom I still connect with I met through this church and I got to see and catch up with a few of them last night at the dinner given prior to the Advent Service. Unfortunately, most of my memories of the worship of this church were clouded with my complaints (not undeserved) that it was ahistorical, novel and more about outreach than worshipping the One God in purity and in truth.

The order of service used was from the Lutheran Service Book (LSB) which was recently published. It has 5 settings of the Divine Liturgy, a Matins, Vespers, Compline and several other services as well. The one used last night was Evening Prayer. Prior to the service starting, Pr. Harries (whom I don't know well since he came after I became Orthodox) explained the order of the service for the congregants. It never fails to amaze me how often Lutheran pastors have to explain the liturgies in place to the congregation; it just shows how impoverished liturgically much of modern Lutheranism has become. Fewer and fewer Lutheran churches prefer the traditional Liturgy and prefer an "whatever the pastor feels like doing" mentality...but, I digress. Anyway, the Evening Prayer service in the LSB is, in its framework, the Order of Great Vespers from the Eastern Rite Churches of which the Orthodox are included. The hymn "O Gladsome Light" is sung as well as Psalm 140 (though they begin with verse 2 and don't use incense), but the thing that floored me was the use of the Eastern Rite Great Ektenia (Litany). Word for word, it was exactly like the Litany that Orthodox use at Vespers, Orthros and Divine Liturgy. What floored me was the very end where the pastor says "Rejoicing in the fellowship of all the saints, let us commend ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ, our Lord." We say "Christ our God." But in the Orthodox version of this ending, we say "Calling to mind our most pure, most blessed, Lady Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary with all the saints, let us commend...etc."

The ending of this prayer is not a prayer to Mary or the saints. But why is Mary excised from this ending? I think that Romaphobia (at least in this respect) infiltrated the committee on worship and excised it. "We can't call Mary by name so we'll just cover her up by just mentioning all the saints. If we mention Mary people will think that we are worshipping her like those Catholics." Even if I'm not spot on with the words, I'm next to certain that such was the sentiment to justify their rewording of this petition.

Why are Lutherans so afraid to mention Mary's name? The reason we Orthodox call to mind Mary at the end of these litanies is because of Christology. Lutherans confess, rightly, that Christ is both God and man, has two natures, not commingled but united in His person. We Orthodox confess that as well. Our remembrance of Mary is to remember Christ's emptying of himself to become a servant, i.e. His incarnation. I'm sure people would object to this saying that we can remember Christ's incarnation without mentioning Mary. Really? How? If Mary is removed then there is no incarnation. Christ assumed everything we have (excepting sin) so that we may be entirely healed and that was done through Mary. Removing Mary from the incarnation is to deny one of the basic tenets of the faith. Even in the Nicene Creed which Lutherans and Orthodox alike confess (minus the filioque), we say that Christ was incarnate of the Holy Spirit AND the Virgin Mary. If we confess Mary in the Nicene Creed then what is the possible harm in remembering he incarnation of Christ, because of which our prayers are set before God the Father, through mentioning His mother at the end of the litany? I'm sure the response would be that mentioning her could possibly lead to worshipping Mary rather than God and that's what Catholics and Orthodox do. Of course, nothing can be further from the truth, since we commemorate and honor and commemorate her. Because Lutherans and other Protestants can't recognize the difference is their problem, not ours.

But still, why fear her? I've even noticed that in a lot of Lutheran circles, Mary is called not Mother of God (Thetokos in Greek as codified by the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 AD) but, instead, Mother of Jesus, which is to make a near Nestorian distinction. If Mary is not Mother of God, then the Logos did not become man. IF you don't want to pray to her, fine (it's your loss, in my opinion), but we're not praying to her in that petition; we are honoring her because it was through her that Christ became incarnate and thus saved us from sin and death.

The point I am trying to make: Mentioning Mary is not the first step to idolatry.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Let us give thanks

O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, Alleluia: for His mercy endureth forever, Alleluia! (Psalm 135:1)

For all the good things that the Lord has bestowed upon us simply because He is the Good and nothing else can come from Him, let us worthily, reverently, humbly and prayerfully give thanks!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

This has got to be a joke...

but I've been wrong before.

Apparently you can recreate all the wonders of the Holy Mass (Divine Liturgy) in your own home with a Wii like video-game. You can do the Asperges, swing the censer, carry the cross, genuflect, conduct the choir and more. If this is a hoax, it's pretty good; if it's real, man, are we in trouble?

Theosis: The True Purpose of Human Life

The short pamphlet, Theosis: The True Purpose of Human life, which you can read here is a wonderful, short, easily read, understandable guide to the Orthodox doctrine of Theosis. For many Orthodox, they hear the word Theosis but do not have much of an idea of what it is, let alone how to achieve it. Those Orthodox who are willing to answer the question about Theosis will often say that it is "becoming like Christ." That's a good start. How does one do that? That's when they start to stutter and vainly search for an answer. Now they struggle not because they are uneducated or illiterate Orthodox, which many Protestants accuse Orthodox of being because we don't categorize everything under the sun as they do, but because it is a very hard question to answer. I'm sure all of us, once or twice, has asked: What is the meaning of life? And we struggle to find an answer, find ourselves to be incoherent, contradictory and otherwise adrift, bombarded by a number of different thoughts that don't make sense. If Theosis is to become like God, who, in essence is ineffable and incomprehensible, then we should naturally struggle to answer since we cannot fully known the essence of God as He is uncreate and we are creation.

But you don't need a long scholastic book on this like Norman Russell's book, Fellow Workers with God: Orthodox Thinking on Theosis which is available from SVS press. You can read reviews of that book at Unmercenary Readers, a blog by my fellow Orthodox Blogger, Chris Orr (Orrologion). Suffice it to say, I think that if any Orthodox or non-Orthodox wants to gain added perspective to what Theosis is AND how to incorporate it into your spiritual life, you should read Archimandrite George's pamphlet, Theosis: The True Purpose of Human Life. In case you are hesitant, I'd encourage you to read this review of Archimandrite George's work.

Scholarly investigation of various aspects of the faith such as salvation, creation, mercy, prayer are all well and good, but without examining them within the context of the spiritual life (i.e. prayer), then it is just a book and you become more knowledgeable without any transformation of the self. Thus, I wholheartedly recommend Archimandrite George's book for that very reason. I'd be happy to hear your reviews of it as well.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How to worship...if you're an evangelical

Ever feel out of place in an Evangelical Church? Not sure what to do without causing undo attention to yourself? Want to feel the spirit when listening to up tempo, up-beat praise pop songs in a considerate manner towards all? Well, these questions and more can be answered on this video of how to worship at an Evangelical church. Enjoy.

Greek Church will stand up to the secularism of Europe

The Holy Orthodox Church of Greece will convene its Holy Synod next week to address the fallout and consequences of the recent EU Court of Human Rights' decision to remove any crucifixes from all Italian schoolrooms for fear that the display of such a prominent symbol of Christianity violates the freedom of religion of students who do not subscribe to Catholic Christainity or Christainity in any form.

Already, in Greece, a group calling itself the Helsinki Monitor is already using the Strasbourg decision as precedent and pushing the Greek government to remove icons of Christ the judge which hang in courtrooms and prevent witnesses from swearing on the Gospels to tell the truth as well as remove other religious symbols from Greek schools.

I'm hopeful that Greece will not bend to pressure from the European Union and that the Church there will stand up for what is true freedom of religion. But, then again, I don't expect the Europeans to have anything close to what we have here in the states (at least now) regarding freedom of religion. I really like this quote from Archbishop IERONYMOUS:

It is not only minorities that have rights but majorities as well.

May the Church be successful in her efforts to defend the Truth.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

When to give and when not to give

At this time of the Nativity Fast, we are invited to await the bridegroom's coming with prayer, fasting and almsgiving so that like John the Forerunner to proclaim the way of hte Lord. Fasting and prayer are talked about so much that I wanted to talk about giving to the poor. I was motivated to do this when I read something last week and I'll get to that in a momen.t

When it comes to charitable giving, it is easy to write a check or give a credit card number over the phone without really thinking about it. It's easy to do and it does help those in need. However, if ever on the streets we were to see some vagrant or person down on their luck, we will do our best to avoid them or be reluctant to give, justifying to ourselves that he'll use the money for drugs or for alcohol. We don't even look them in the eye. We're told stories about people who offer to buy homeless people a decent lunch or dinner, but then refuse, we think, because they want the money for those illicit substances. That said, I've always been told that when we give, regardless of how little or how much, to those "the least of these, my brethren" as our Lord says, we are giving to Christ. So, regardless of how the person may use a dollar you give him, you are still giving to our Lord. The dollar or so shoulnd't come with strings attached just as our Lord came to us out of his abundant mercy not because of anything we had done for Him except disobey.

Last week was the commemoration of our Father among the Saints, St. John Chrysostom, whose Divine Liturgy, homilies, prayers and thelogical treatises are still very much present in the life of the Orthodox Christian. I read his biography as compiled in the Lives of the Saints, Volume 3 originally compiled by the Great Russian Saint, Dimitri of Rostov which was taken from sources such as George, Bishop of Alexandria, the Emperor Leo the Wise, Symeon the Translator (Metaphrastes), Nicephorus and Socrates Scholasticus among others. In this life, we read the following passage:

Theodoricus understood that the Empress [Eudoxia, wife of Arcadius, Eastern Roman emperor] did not intend to use his [Theodoricus'] money for the needs of the realm but to gratify the insatiable avarice of her own heart. He went to the blessed John, told him of the designs of the Empress, and tearfully besought the saint to defend him from her. John immediately sent a letter to the Empress, meekly and kinly exhorting her to cause no offense to Theodoricus. The Patriarch's wise words put the Empress to shame, and although she was furious with him, she did as he wished. From that moment, Theodoricus resolved to obey the exhortations of the saint concerning the giving of alms, for John counselled everyone not to lay up treasures on earth where the hands of the vnous can take them away, but rather to store them in heaven where they are coveted and stolen by no one.

To me, it sounds like St. John Chrysostom counselled Theodoricus to be careful of whom he gives alms to. It was to be given to the protection of the Empire though it is not indicated in what fashion exactly, but the Empress would have surely appropriated it for herself. And so Chrysostom appears to rebuke him for that, advising him to know the motives of the person to whom you are giving. Theodoricus had his money returned and he gave all his wealth to the Church instead except that which was needed to care for himself and his family. But Chrysostom wrote yet another letter to Eudoxia, saying:

But if it is your intention to take from Christ what Theodoricus has given Him, be certain that you will not offend us, but rather Christ Himself.

Give to the poor for Christ's sake or be discerning and skeptical and cynical? St. John seems to want it both ways. But upon further reading of this passage, I realize that as I said above, and St. John seems to agree with me that when we give, we give to Christ. How that gift is used, whether for good or for ill, is up to the person for whom the gift is attended. And he will likewise reap benefits or judgments depending on it. Thus, it's not up to us and we should still give because it is exactly as what Christ did for our sake. Make ready, O Bethlehem!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Blessed Nativity Fast to all Orthodox Christians

Today, November 15 (Revised Julian Calendar), the Orthodox Church begins to prepare for the arrival of the Incarnate Lord in Bethlehem taking on flesh so that all He, the Logos, assumes will be healed (St. Gregory the Theologian).

Unlike other confessions of Christianity which are caught up in the secularization of their Advent season to feast and clebrate, although this was not always the case, the Orthodox have rightly taught that for all great Feasts of the Master which commemorate events done for us and for our salvation, we should approach that time with prayer, fasting and almsgiving. So, while the rest of the Christian world awaits the incarnation of the Lord, the Orthodox should use this time for increasing their prayer, lessening their intake of food and also certain types of food and giving charitably to others and the Church.

It is difficult for Orthodox Christians, however, to enter into the season penitentially. Everything around us is geared towards the secular. Even now, peoples' homes and businesses are being decorated for Christmas though we are a good full two weeks from the first Sunday in Advent on the Western Calendar. Even now, we hear Christmas music in stores, read about sales specials for Black Friday. All around us the works of the evil one and misguided people herald the coming of the King with presents and appetites only for themselves. It is difficult. If invited to someone's home, should we partake of the meat and dairy products there out of courtesy or should we politely refuse? It is a matter best left up to counsel with your priest.

Fasting is not a legalistic observance and it should never become that. We don't fast merely because the Orthodox Church has set up a time for us to do that. We fast to purify ourselves, to make ourselves ready to behold the awesome wonder of God Himself taking on human flesh because of our weakness. We struggle with our own weaknesses and shortcomings to begin to realize that the Logos emptied His Very Self to become like one of us. If He should do that as a sacrifice for us, is not giving up certain types of food with humility, reverence and gratitude a simple affair? We can fast the whole year, but that would also make the wrong statement. Christ said that it was inappropriate for his disciples to fast while the bridegroom was still present with them. At Christ's incarnation and Resurrection, those are no times to fast, but times to celebrate since Christ is in our midst, both in reality and mystically.

There are many obstacles present in this world that keep us from worshipping the One God in Trinity in purity and truth. Many times though, we make excuses because we don't want to be the "odd one out" or we just fear being different. I know my parents don't understand the benefits of fasting. I don't expect them to keep my discipline but they are kind enough to respect my discipline and I thank them for that.

Be reminded that the Nativity Fast is not as strict a fast as the Great Lent fast or Dormition fast. Fish, wine and oil may be consumed on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Wine and oil are also permitted on weekends, except for the final five days before Nativity. However, fasting from meat and dairy is not an excuse for you to load up on fishing. That's not fasting--that is dieting. And if you don't decrease your intake of food, how can you be expected to make up for your hunger in additional prayer. Prayer and fasting go together, our Lord says, to establish such a faith that can move mountains.

In this modern secular world, where fulfillment is the norm, we, as Orthodox Christians should make all the more effort to repent so that we can feast when the Master is among us. But in the midst of our preparation, let us sing out with hymns of praise, particularly this one which is the Apolytikion of the Forefeast of Nativity:

Make Ready, O Bethelehem, for Eden hath opened unto all. Ephratha, prepare thyself, for now, behold the Tree of Life hath blossomed forth in the cave from the Holy Virgin. Her womb hat proved a true spiritual paradise, wherein the divine and saving Tree is found, and as we eat thereof we shall all live and shall not die as did Adam. For Christ is born now to raise the image that had fallen aforetime.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Commemoration of the Apostle Philip, St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonika and St. Justinian, Roman Emperor

Today, November 14, the Holy Orthodox Church commemorates the Apostle Philip, who told Nathaniel (aka Bartholomew) that He had found Christ whom Moses and the Propets proclaimed (John 1:45) as well as St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonika who combatted the Latin heretics successfully by teaching correctly that God can only be experienced through His energies and through contemplative prayer known as "hesychasm" and finally the Roman Emperor, Justinian I "The Great" who built the great cathedral of Hagia Sophia, convened the fifth oecumenical council and composed the Hymn "Only-Begotten Son and Word of God" which is chanted after the second antiphon at the Divine Liturgy.

Through their intercessions, O Lord Jesus Christ, our True God, have mercy upon us and save us.

St. Philip, from the Prologue of Ohrid:

Philip was born in Bethsaida beside the Sea of Galilee, as were Peter and Andrew. Instructed in Holy Scripture from his youth, Philip immediately responded to the call of the Lord Jesus and followed Him (John 1:43). After the descent of the Holy Spirit, Philip zealously preached the Gospel throughout many regions in Asia and Greece. In Greece, the Jews wanted to kill him, but the Lord saved him by His mighty miracles. Thus, a Jewish high priest that rushed at Philip to beat him was suddenly blinded and turned completely black. Then there was a great earthquake, and the earth opened up and swallowed Philip's wicked persecutor. Many other miracles were manifested, especially the healing of the sick, by which many pagans believed in Christ. In the Phrygian town of Hierapolis, St. Philip found himself in common evangelical work with his sister Mariamna, St. John the Theologian, and the Apostle Bartholomew. In this town there was a dangerous snake that the pagans diligently fed and worshiped as a god. God's apostle killed the snake through prayer as though with a spear, but he also incurred the wrath of the unenlightened people. The wicked pagans seized Philip and crucified him upside-down on a tree, and then crucified Bartholomew as well. At that, the earth opened up and swallowed the judge and many other pagans with him. In great fear, the people rushed to rescue the crucified apostles, but only Bartholomew was still alive; Philip had already breathed his last. Bartholomew ordained Stachys as bishop for those whom he and Philip had baptized. Stachys had been blind for forty years, and Bartholomew and Philip had healed and baptized him. The relics of St. Philip were later translated to Rome. This wonderful apostle suffered in the year 86 in the time of Emperor Domitian.

Troparion to St. Philip (tone 3):

O Holy Apostle Philip, interecede with the merciful God that He grant unto our souls forgiveness of offences.

St. Gregory Palamas, from the Prologue of Ohrid

Gregory's father was an eminent official at the court of Emperor Andronicus II Palaeologus. The gifted Gregory, completing his secular studies, did not want to enter the service of the imperial court, but withdrew to the Holy Mountain and was tonsured a monk. He lived a life of asceticism in the Monastery of Vatopedi and the Great Lavra. He led the struggle against the heretic Barlaam and finally defeated him. He was consecrated as Metropolitan of Thessalonica in the year 1347. He is glorified as an ascetic, a theologian, a hierarch and a miracle-worker. The Most-holy Theotokos, St. John the Theologian, St. Demetrius, St. Anthony the Great, St. John Chrysostom and angels of God appeared to him at different times. He governed the Church in Thessalonica for thirteen years, of which he spent one year in slavery under the Saracens in Asia. He entered peacefully into rest in the year 1360, and took up his habitation in the Kingdom of Christ. His relics repose in Thessalonica, where a beautiful church is dedicated to him.

Troparion to St. Gregory (tone 8):

Light of Orthodoxy, pillar and teacher of the Church, adornment of monastics, invicible champion of thelogians, O Gregory, thou Wonderworker, boast of Thessalonica, herald of grace; ever pray that our souls be saved.

St. Justinian the Great, from the Prologue of Ohrid

Justinian was a Slav by birth, probably a Serb from the region of Skoplje. His Slavic name was Upravda, meaning ``truth, justice.'' He succeeded to the throne of his uncle Justin in 527. The greatness of this emperor is inseparably bound to his profound faith in Orthodoxy; he believed, and lived according to his faith. During Great Lent, he neither ate bread nor drank wine but ate only vegetables and drank water, and that, just every other day. He waged war against the barbarians of the Danube because they castrated their captives. This reveals his elevated feeling of love for his fellow man. Justinian was fortunate and successful both in wars and in his works. He built many great and beautiful churches, the most beautiful of which was Hagia Sophia [the Church of the Divine Wisdom] in Constantinople. He collected [and revised] and published the Laws of Rome and also personally issued many strict laws against immorality and licentiousness. He composed the Church hymn ``Only-begotten Son and Word of God,'' which has been sung during the Divine Liturgy since the year 536. He convened the Fifth Ecumenical Council (553). He died peacefully at the age of eighty, and took up his abode in the Kingdom of the Heavenly King.

Commemoration of our Righteous Father among the Saints, St. John Chrysostom

Today, November 13 (new calendar), the Holy Orthodox Church commemorates our Righteous Father, St. John Chrysostom. Chrysostom, in Greek, means Golden Mouth, since, in his lifetime, St. John was a magnificent orator schooled in the pagan schools of rhetoric yet used these gifts for the glory of Christ's Church. No one can not be moved by the zeal, the pathos, the energy of his sermons and of his theological writings. However, that earned him exile from Constantinople where he served our Lord as Patriarch because he dared to preach out against the extravagances of the Empress Eudoxia.

His liturgy is served almost every Sunday, weekday and feast day. His Paschal Sermon is always read after the Orthros Rush prior to the Divine Liturgy. His prayers prepare us for receiving the Immaculate Body and Precious Blood of our Lord. Along with St. Gregory the Theologian and St. Basil the Great, whose funeral he served at as deacon, he is remembered as one of the three great hierarchs. No saint is more synonymous with Orthodoxy then he. Through thy prayers, O St. John Chrysostom, may Christ our God have mercy upon us and save us.

Troparion of St. John Chrysostom (tone 4)

Grace like a flame shining forth from thy mouth has illumined the universe, and disclosed to the world treasures of poverty and shown us the height of humility. And as by thine own words thou teachest us, Father John Chrysostom, so intercede with the Word, Christ our God, to save our souls.

From the Prologue of Ohrid:

John was born in Antioch in the year 354. His father, Secundus, was an imperial commander and his mother's name was Anthusa. Studying Greek philosophy, John became disgusted with Hellenic paganism and adopted the Christian Faith as the one and all-embracing truth. Meletius, Patriarch of Antioch, baptized John, and his parents also subsequently received baptism. Following his parents' repose, John was tonsured a monk and lived a strict life of asceticism. He then wrote a book, On the Priesthood, after which the Holy Apostles John and Peter appeared to him, and prophesied that he would have a life of great service, great grace and great suffering. When he was to be ordained a priest, an angel of God appeared simultaneously to John and to Patriarch Flavian (Meletius's successor). While the patriarch was ordaining John, a shining white dove was seen hovering over John's head. Glorified for his wisdom, asceticism and power of words, John was chosen as Patriarch of Constantinople at the behest of Emperor Arcadius. As patriarch, he governed the Church for six years with unequalled zeal and wisdom. He sent missionaries to the pagan Celts and Scythians and eradicated simony in the Church, deposing many bishops guilty of this vice. He extended the charitable works of the Church and wrote a special order of the Divine Liturgy. He shamed the heretics, denounced Empress Eudoxia, interpreted Holy Scripture with his golden mind and tongue, and bequeathed the Church many precious books of his homilies. The people glorified him, the envious loathed him, and the Empress, on two occasions, sent him into exile. John spent three years in exile, and reposed as an exile on the Feast of the Elevation of the Precious and Life-giving Cross, September 14, 407, in the town of Comana in Georgia. Before his repose, the Holy Apostles John and Peter appeared to him again, as did the Holy Martyr Basiliscus (May 22) in whose church he received Communion for the last time. His last words were, ``Glory be to God for all things,'' and with that, the soul of the golden-mouthed patriarch was taken into Paradise. Chrysostom's head reposes in the Church of the Dormition in Moscow, and his body reposes in the Vatican in Rome.

St. John's Paschal Sermon:

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary from fasting?
Let them now receive their due!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their reward.

If any have come after the third hour,
let them with gratitude join in the feast!

Those who arrived after the sixth hour,
let them not doubt; for they shall not be short-changed.

Those who have tarried until the ninth hour,
let them not hesitate; but let them come too.

And those who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let them not be afraid by reason of their delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
The Lord gives rest to those who come at the eleventh hour,
even as to those who toiled from the beginning.

To one and all the Lord gives generously.
The Lord accepts the offering of every work.
The Lord honours every deed and commends their intention.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike, receive your reward.
Rich and poor, rejoice together!

Conscientious and lazy, celebrate the day!
You who have kept the fast, and you who have not,
rejoice, this day, for the table is bountifully spread!

Feast royally, for the calf is fatted.
Let no one go away hungry.
Partake, all, of the banquet of faith.
Enjoy the bounty of the Lord's goodness!

Let no one grieve being poor,
for the universal reign has been revealed.

Let no one lament persistent failings,
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death,
for the death of our Saviour has set us free.

The Lord has destroyed death by enduring it.
The Lord vanquished hell when he descended into it.
The Lord put hell in turmoil even as it tasted of his flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, were placed in turmoil when he encountering you below."

Hell was in turmoil having been eclipsed.
Hell was in turmoil having been mocked.
Hell was in turmoil having been destroyed.
Hell was in turmoil having been abolished.
Hell was in turmoil having been made captive.

Hell grasped a corpse, and met God.
Hell seized earth, and encountered heaven.
Hell took what it saw, and was overcome by what it could not see.

O death, where is your sting?
O hell, where is your victory?

Christ is risen, and you are cast down!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life is set free!
Christ is risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead.

For Christ, having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Christ be glory and power forever and ever. Amen!