2nd Sunday Of Lent – Sunday Saint Gregory Palamas

On the Second Sunday of Lent
the Orthodox Church commemorates
our Holy Father Gregory Palamas,
Archbishop of Thessalonica, the Wonderworker.
The feast day of Saint Gregory Palamas
is November 14th,
however, he is commemorated on this Sunday
as the condemnation of his enemies
and the vindication of his teachings by the Church [14th cnt] was acclaimed
as a second triumph of Orthodoxy.

The Life of this Saint
Our holy Father Gregory was born in Constantinople in 1296 of aristocratic parents who had emigrated from Asia Minor in the face of the Turkish invasion, and were attached to the court of the pious Emperor Andronicus II Palaeologus [1282-1328].
Despite his official duties, Gregory’s father led a life of fervent prayer.
Sometimes as he sat in the Senate, he would be so deep in prayer as
to be unaware of the Emperor addressing him.
While Gregory was still young, his father died after
being clothed in the monastic habit; and his mother for her part
wanted to take the veil, but delayed doing so in order to
take care of the education of her seven children.

Gregory, the eldest, was instructed by
the most highly reputed masters of secular learning and
after some years, was so proficient in philosophical reasoning that
on listening to him, his master could believe he was hearing Aristotle himself.
Notwithstanding these intellectual successes,
the young man’s real interest lay only with the things of God.
He associated with monks of renown in the city and
found a spiritual father in Theoleptus of Philadelphia, who
instructed him in the way of holy sobriety and of prayer of the heart.

About the year 1316, Gregory decided to abandon the vanities of the world.
His mother, two sisters, two brothers and a great many of his servants
entered upon the monastic life with him.
He and his two brothers went on foot to the holy Mountain of Athos,
where they settled near the Monastery of Vatopedi under the direction of the Elder Nicodemus,
who came from Mount Auxentius.
Gregory made rapid progress in the holy activity of prayer,
for he had put into practice since childhood the fundamental virtues of
obedience, humility, meekness, fasting, vigil and the different kinds of renunciation
that make the body subject to the spirit.
Night and day he besought God ceaselessly with tears saying,
Lighten my darkness!
After some time, the Mother of God, in Whom he had put his trust since his youth,
sent Saint John the Theologian to him with the promise of her protection
in this life and in the next.

After only three years, the early death of his brother Theodosius, followed by that of the Elder Nicodemus,
led Gregory and his second brother, Macarius,
to attach themselves to the Monastery of the Great Lavra [Athos].
Gregory was appointed chanter.
His conduct in the cenobitic life was beyond reproach,
and the brethren admired his zeal for putting into practice all the Holy Evangelic virtues.
He lived with such abstinence as to appear unburdened
by the flesh to the extent of being able
to go three months without sleep.
At the end of three years of common life,
his soul thirsting for the sweet waters of the wilderness,
he retired to the hermitage of Glossia, under the direction
of an eminent monk called Gregory of Byzantium.
With the passions purified, he was now able to rise up in prayer
to the contemplation of the mysteries of the Creation.
Solitude and inner stillness enabled him to keep his intellect
fixed at all times in the depths of his heart,
where he called on the Lord Jesus with compunction,
so that he became all prayer,
and sweet tears flowed continually from his eyes as from two fountains.

The incessant raids of Turkish pirates soon obliged
Gregory and his companions to leave their hermitage.
Together with twelve monks, he wanted to make the pilgrimage to the Holy Places
and to seek refuge at Mount Sinai; but this did not prove feasible.
Instead, he spent some time in Thessalonica,
where he joined the group around the future Patriarch Isidore,
who was endeavoring to spread the practice of the Jesus prayer among the faithful
so that they might profit from the experience of the monks.
In 1326, Gregory was ordained a priest,
having understood in a vision that this was indeed the will of God.
He then departed to found a hermitage in the area of Beroea,
where he practiced an even stricter Ascesis than before.
For five days of the week he remained alone,
fasting, keeping vigil and praying with abundant tears.
He only appeared on Saturdays and Sundays
to serve the Divine Liturgy, share a fraternal meal and converse on some spiritual subject with his companions in the ascetic life.
He continued thus to rise up in contemplation
and to enter into closer union
with God in his heart.

When his mother died,
he went to Constantinople to fetch his sisters,
whom he settled in a hermitage near his own.
But as Serbian raids in the region became more and more frequent, he decided to go back to Mount Athos.
He settled a little above the Lavra in the hermitage of Saint Savas,
where he lived in greater seclusion than before, and could converse alone with God.
He went to the monastery only infrequently and
would receive his rare visitors on Sundays and feast days.
Going on from that contemplation which is still outward,
Gregory then attained to the vision of God in the Light of the Holy Spirit
and to the Deification promised by Christ to His perfect disciples.

One day in a dream, he saw that he was full of a milk from heaven which, as it overflowed,
changed into wine and filled the surrounding air with a wonderful scent.
This was a sign to him that the moment had come to teach
his brethren the mysteries that God revealed to him.
He wrote several ascetic treatises at this time, and,
in 1335, was appointed Abbot of the Monastery of Esphigmenou.
But the two hundred monks who lived there understood
neither his zeal nor his spiritual expectations
so, after a year, he returned to his hermitage.

At that time, Barlaam, a monk from Calabria, won a great name for himself
as a speculative thinker in Constantinople.
He was particularly fond of expounding the mystical writings of Saint Dionysius the Areopagite,
which he interpreted in an entirely philosophical way,
making knowledge of God the object of cold reason and not of experience.
When this refined humanist learned of the methods of prayer of some simple monks of his acquaintance, who allowed a place to the sensory element in spiritual life,
he was scandalized.
He took occasion to calumniate then and to accuse them of heresy.
The hesychast monks appealed to Gregory
who then wrote several polemical treatises in which
he answered the accusations of Barlaam
by locating monastic Spirituality in a dogmatic synthesis.

He showed that Ascesis and prayer are the outcome of the whole mystery of Redemption,
and are the way for each person to make the Grace given at Baptism blossom within himself.
He also defended the authenticity of the methods which the Hesychasts used
to fix the intellect in the heart;
for since the Incarnation we have to seek the Grace of the Holy Spirit in our bodies,
which are sanctified by the Sacraments and grafted by the Eucharist into the Body of Christ.
This uncreated Grace is the very Glory of God which,
as it sprang forth from the body of Christ on the day of the Transfiguration,
overwhelmed the disciples [Matth.17].
Shining now in the heart purified from the passions, it truly unites us to God,
illumines us, deifies us and gives us a pledge of that same Glory
which will shine on the bodies of the Saints after the general Resurrection.
In thus affirming the full reality of deification,
Gregory was far from denying the absolute transcendence and
un-know-able-ness of God in His essence.
Following the ancient Fathers, but in a more precise manner,
he made a distinction between God’s imparticipable essence and
the eternal, creative and providential energies
by which the Lord enables created beings to participate in
His being, His life and His light without, however,
introducing any division into the unity of the Divine Nature.
God is not a philosophical concept for Saint Gregory:
He is Love, He is Living Person and consuming fire,
as Scripture teaches [Deut.4: 24],
Who does everything to make us godlike.

Saint Gregory’s brilliant answer to Barlaam was first accepted
by the authorities of Mount Athos in the Hagiorite Tome and
then adopted by the Church, which condemned Barlaam
[and with him the philosophical humanism
that would soon inspire the European Renaissance
during the course of two Councils at the Church of Saint Sophia in 1341.

Barlaam’s condemnation and his departure for Italy
did not bring the controversy to an end.
No sooner had Gregory returned to his Athonite hermitage from Thessalonica
where he had been writing his treatises in seclusion than Akindynos,
an old friend of his, restated the substance of Barlaam’s arguments
and condemned Gregory’s distinction between essence and energies as an innovation.
Akindynos, who at first aspired to be an umpire between Barlaam and Gregory,
was the kind of rigid conservative who does no more than repeat set phrases
without seeking to enter into the spirit of the Tradition.
At the same time, a dreadful civil war broke out
as a result of the rivalry between the Duke Alexis Apokaukos and
Saint Gregory’s friend, John Cantacuzenus (1341-47).
The Patriarch, John Calecas, sided with Apokaukos and
encouraged Akindynos to bring a charge of heresy against Gregory,
which led to the excommunication and imprisonment of the Saint.

During the four years of Gregory’s confinement, there was no slackening of his activity.
He carried on a huge correspondence, and
wrote an important work against Akindynos.
When John Cantacuzenus gained the upper hand in 1346,
the Regent, Ann of Savoy, came to the defense of the Saint
and deposed the Patriarch on the eve of Cantacuzenus’ triumphal entry into the City.
He nominated Isidore as Patriarch (1347-50), and
summoned a new Council to vindicate the Hesychasts.
The controversy was not finally resolved until 1351,
at a third Council which condemned the humanist Nicephorus Gregoras.
In the Synodal Tome the doctrine of Saint Gregory on the uncreated energies
and on the nature of Grace
was recognized as the rule of faith of the Orthodox Church.

Among Isidore’s new episcopal appointments,
Gregory was named Archbishop of Thessalonica in 1347; but
he was unable to take possession of his see as the city was in the hands of the Zealots,
the party opposed to Cantacuzenus.
After finding shelter for a while in Lemnos, where
he showed heroic devotion during an epidemic,
Gregory was eventually able to enter the city acclaimed
as if Christ Himself were coming in triumph,
with the chanting of Paschal hymns.

During a voyage to Constantinople, he fell into the hands of some Turks,
who held him for a year in Asia Minor (1354-55), but allowed him a measure of freedom.
This, and his openness of spirit, enabled him to engage in amicable theological discussions
with the Muslim doctors of religion and with the son of the Emir Orkhan.
When he was set free, thanks to a ransom from Serbia,
he returned to Thessalonica to take up his activity again
as pastor and wonderworker.
He suffered a long illness and some time before his death,
Saint John Chrysostom appeared to him with the invitation
to join the choir of Holy Hierarchs immediately after his own feast.
And, indeed, on November 14, 1359 the Saint gave up his soul to God.
When he died, his countenance was radiant with a light like
to that which shone on Saint Stephanos [Acts 6: 15].
In this way God showed, through the person of His Servant,
the Truth of his doctrine on the reality of deification
by the uncreated Light of the Holy Spirit.
The veneration of Saint Gregory was approved by the Church in 1368.
The Saint works many miracles even to the present day and,
after Saint Demitrios, he is regarded as the Protector of Thessalonica.

Orthodox Commemoration – on The Sunday Of Saint Gregory Palamas
The feast day of Saint Gregory Palamas is November 14, the day of his repose,
however the Orthodox Church commemorates the Saint on the Second Sunday of Lent.
As a Sunday of Great Lent, the commemoration is celebrated
with the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great,
which is preceded by a Matins [Orthros] Service.
A Great Vespers is conducted on Saturday evening.

Hymns Of The Feast:
MP3:  Απολυτίκιο Β΄ Κυριακής Νηστειών – Γρηγορίου του Παλαμά
Apolytikion       plagal 4th Tn
Gregory the Miracle Worker,
light of Orthodoxy,
support and teacher of the Church,
comeliness of Monastics,
invincible defender of theologians,
the pride of Thessalonica,
and preacher of Grace,
intercede forever
that our souls may be saved

Kontakion          plagal 4rth Tn
With one accord, we praise you
as the sacred and divine vessel of wisdom
and clear trumpet of theology,
our righteous Father Gregory of Divine speech.
As a mind that stands now before the Primal Mind,
do you ever guide aright and lead our mind to Him,
that we all may cry:
Hail, herald of Grace Divine

Orthodoxy & put your faith in the Lord

The period of Lent is a period of self-denial:
It is an effort to control
what usually controls us“.

Lent will end on Pascha-eve
– as it does for hundreds of millions
of Christians around the world.
Orthodox Christians prefer to refer
to that which for people in the West is known as “Pascha”
as “The Victory of Christ”, the Victory over death.
Thousands and thousands of followers of Christ
– join Him in this period of reflection,
– join Him in this retreat from the world, the jungle, the desert
– endow the spiritual re-birth
– to become more holy,
– preparing for a re-baptism with Pascha.

Pascha, like every Sunday
marks the spiritual
lack of confusion of the universe“,
a coming home
in the Kingdom.

For You, my Lord, are my hope;
You made the Most High your refuge.
Evils shall not come to you
and a scourge shall not draw near your dwelling;
for He shall command His Angels concerning you,
to keep you in all your ways;
in their hands they shall bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone
Psalm 90: 9-12

And you shall be secure,
because there is hope;
yea, you shall dig about you,
and you shall take
your rest in safety
Job 11: 18

And who is He
Who will harm you
if you become followers
of what is good?
1Petr.3: 13

That He would show you
the secrets of Wisdom!
For they would double your prudence.
Know therefore
that God exacts from you Less
than your iniquity deserves
Job 11: 6

If any man be in Christ,
he is a new creature:
old things are passed away;
and all things are become new
2Cor.5: 17
A person may not be able to tell the exact time or place, or trace all the chain of circumstances in the process of conversion;
but this does not prove him to be unconverted.
Christ said to Nicodemus:
The wind blows where it listed,
and you hears the sound thereof,
but can’t tell  from where it comes

and where it goes:
so is everyone
that is born of the Spirit

When we are in trouble or despair of have lost hope,
we should do what David did:
pour out our hearts to God
and tell Him of our needs and troubles,
just as they are. It is because
He can deal with us wisely that we confess to God:
He can make our troubles easy to bear.
If this is our benefit,
and can save us from dejection
which destroys and corrupts
Saint Hesychius the Priest

Study, my child, to acquire in your life
dignity, simplicity, understanding,
continuous prayer, manliness,
unfeigned love, wisdom, seemliness.
Be sympathetic, love the poor.
Attain silence and patient endurance.
Do not slander, do not laugh at anyone.
Acquire angerlessness, modestly, and humility, so that the Lord will glorify you
before the Angels and the Saints
Elder Athanasius,
monastery Grigoriou, Athos

We are called to take up the Cross,
to die with Christ,
to become the Church,
the one body of Christ.
Our divisions are truly scandal of our own making.
Whether they are between persons,
within an ecclesial body, or between ecclesial bodies,
each and every one of us is responsible
for our failure to make Christ present through our witness,
our martyria, to a world that is increasingly alienated from God
and increasingly thirsting for Christ.
Clinging on to that which we value,
whether our own dignity confronting that of others,
a strife-creating indignation within our ecclesial bodies,
or our pride in the distinctiveness of our own ecclesial body
and the hierarchies of a long-gone era,
we are like the seed that remains alone,
rather than dying to bear fruit.
If we are to be Christ’s one true Body,
we must follow Him by dying to everything
that separated us from Him,
all that belongs to this world rather than to the Kingdom,
and hold ourselves open to whatever He may lead us.
Dying, then,
we might begin make Christ manifest
by how we live as His one Body
Father John Behr

For Your omnipotence
is not far from us
even when
we are far from You
Saint Augustine

As we take this journey together during Lent,
we want to share once again
how beautiful and freeing forgiveness can be.
And that we truly make no progress with
the fasting, the praying, the attendance at prayers,
if we have rancour, hatred, anger . . . . .
any of those ugly, festering, emotions . . . . .
deep in our soul.
Lent becomes meaningless, really,
if we do not approach it with a clean heart;
a heart ready and willing
to be open to God working in our lives.

Wash yourselves and you shall be clean;
put away the wicked ways
from your souls before My eyes;
cease to do evil; learn to do well.
Seek judgment, relieve the oppressed,
consider the fatherless,
and plead for the widow.
Come then,
and let us reason together, said the Lord:
Though your sins be as scarlet,
I will make them white as snow;
and though they be red like crimson,
I will make them white as wool
Isaiah 1: 16-18



Thanks be to the Lord!!!

March 8th – Saint Felix, Apostle of East Anglia, first bishop of East Anglia

Come up to Me, 
on the mountain
Ex.24: 12

Saint Felix, the Apostle of East Anglia,
was the first bishop of East Anglia.
He died March 8, 647, at Dunwich, [translated to Soham, Cambridgeshire];
He is also known as Saint Felix of Dunwich and as Saint Felix of Burgundy

Saint Felix is commemorated in both the Anglican and Orthodox traditions,
with an Orthodox Church dedicated jointly
to Saint Felix and Saint Edmund in Felixstowe.

Saint Felix [meaning happy or joyful] came to East Anglia from Burgundian territory
[probably from one of the monastic houses
founded by the Irish missionary, Saint Columnbanus]
in the company of Sigbert [Sigeberht] the Learned,
whom he had converted to Christianity (while Felix was still in seminary).
Sigbert would later become an East Anglian King.
[In the eighth century a number of the English, most famously Boniface and Willibrord, would return to the continent to convert the heathen on the mainland].
Felix is renowned as a great missionary and
became the first Bishop of the East Angles.
He is said to have founded a monastery at Soham about A.D. 630.

Felix, having been consecrated about 631 A.D. by Saint Honorius,
held the first bishopric of the East Angles at Dommoc [Dunwich] for seventeen years.

Saint Honorius [c.630-653], was the fourth archbishop of Canterbury
in line from Saint Augustine who had brought Christianity from Rome
to King Aethelberht of Kent in 597.
Honorius sent Felix on to East Anglia, which had switched between Christianity and paganism several times since the East Anglian king Raedwald became a Christian at the Kentish court in the first decade or so of the seventh century.
[Bede tells the story that when Rædwald got home, his wife convinced him not to abandon his old gods so easily, so Raedwald had shrines to his heathen gods and the Christian god in the same temple].
Raedwald’s son Eorpwald succeeded sometime after 616, initially as a pagan but he was converted by the Northumbrian king Edwin sometime around 630.
Shortly after Eorpwald became Christian, he was killed, and the country turned pagan again.

It was after Eorpwald’s reign that Eorpwald’s brother Sigeberht came to the throne.
Sigeberht had grown up in exile in Gaul, and become a Christian there,
and returned determined to turn East Anglia into a thoroughly Christian kingdom.
According to legend, Felix landed at what is now Felixstowe
before going on to establish a Cathedral and school at Dommoc, or Dummoc-ceastre,
generally accepted as Dunwich, a seaport on the coast of Suffolk.
Dummoc had been a Roman station and, besides the advantage of its port, its walls may still have been strong enough to afford some protection for the new Bishop.
It was, moreover, connected with the interior by ancient roads, which led in one direction toward Bury St. Edmunds and in another toward Norwich.

At Dummoc, King Sigebert built a palace for himself and a church for Felix.
Elsewhere, says Bede, “desiring to imitate those things which he had seen well arranged in Gaul, he founded a school in which boys might be taught letters, with the aid of Felix, the bishop….who furnished them with pedagogues and masters, after the Kentish fashion“.
Bede gives no locality for this school; yet the passage, without the slightest reason,
has been looked upon as recording the foundation of the University of Cambridge,
a place which, at that period, was not even within the borders of East Anglia.

Four years after the establishment of the see,
the King resigned his crown in favour of his cousin, Egric,
and retired to a monastery which he had founded with the Irish monk, Fursey, at Burgh Castle.
Felix founded a third monastery at Soham
and it was here that he died, on 8th March AD 647, and was buried.
His relics were later translated to Ramsey Abbey (Hunts).

From Dommoc (Dunwich) Felix set about missionary throughout East Anglia, establishing churches and founding the monastery at Bury St Edmunds.
In 630 he founded another monastery, this time at Soham.
Bede records the success of Felix’s work in East Anglia,
known for his great piety and hard work, as both a missionary and educator,
Felix, in Bede’s words “delivered” East Anglia
from long-standing unrighteousness and unhappiness.
As a pious cultivator of the spirited field,
he found abundant faith in a believing people.
In no part of England was Christianity more favourably introduced

According to the chronicler of the times the episcopate of Felix
was full of happiness for the cause of Christianity
and the admirable historian, Bede, described his work
with an allusion to the good omen of his name.
Bede wrote that St. Felix:
delivered all the province of East Anglia from long-standing unrighteousness and unhappiness.
As a pious cultivator of the spirited field, he found abundant faith in a believing people.
In no part of England was Christianity more favourably introduced

Bede continues: “He [Saint Felix] did not fail in his purpose and like a good farmer reaped a rich harvest of believers.
He delivered the entire province from its age-old wickedness and infelicity and brought it to the Christian faith and works of righteousness, and in full accord with the significance of his own name, guided it towards eternal felicity

By his presence at Soham all those decades ago
the town can take pride in its former importance
as a renowned Christian centre.
The great evangelist and educator
died on March 8th, 647 A.D.
and he was buried in his own city of Dunwich.
He is commemorated in the seaside town of Felixstowe
and also of a Yorkshire village, Feliskirk
[the church of Felix].
The mortal remains of St. Felix were later
exhumed from Dunwich and brought to Soham monastery which he had founded.
This was a precautionary measure for fear
that heathen flames would take possession of them.
In King Canute’s time, about 1031 A.D. the relic was removed a second time
for the same reason by a monk named Etheric to Ramsey in Huntingdonshire,
and there solemnly enshrined by Abbot Ethelstan.
While the relic was being carried across the water a miracle is said to have happened.

A chronicler at Soham or Ramsey wrote:
In those days [circa 1020] Saint Felix, formerly Bishop of East Anglia
lay buried in the royal manor of Soham for at this place the saint
while still alive had built and dedicated a beautiful church
and gathered together a goodly company of monks.
These monks subsequently, after their good father was dead . . .
carried away his precious remains from Dunwich
and laid them with great honour in their own church at Soham.
Afterwards, however, when this same church [or monastery] had been utterly destroyed
and the monks killed by the Danes, this saintly man had met with less reverence and honour.
This continued up to the time of King Canute, when Etheric, hearing of it,
pointed out to Abbot Athelstan and the monks of Ramsey how,
by the expenditure of a little labour, they might win for themselves inexhaustible riches
and so urged them by the spur of self-interest to carry out his purpose

Athelstan therefore taking with him Agerinus,
his prior, set out by water for Soham which possessed the relic of such value,
and overawing by the combined authority of the King and bishop the resistance of those
who were for opposing him, he placed the sacred remains and bones of the saint on board
and began his voyage homeward to Ramsey amid the strains of joyous psalmody.
The men of Ely, however, on hearing of this, grudging us so valuable a relic,
manned their boats with a strong band, hoping by their large numbers to carry off
from the smaller party the remains which they had removed from Soham

In order that it might be clearly seen
that the removal was taking place
by Divine than by human wishes,
it came to pass that just as the ships
of either party were approaching one another
under a bright and cloudless sky, suddenly,
to the discomfiture of the large force and the benefit of the smaller,
a dense fog arose which separated the two parties.
And so, while their adversaries were vainly wandering in different directions,
our boat was carried onward in a straight course
and safely deposited by the aiding waters on the bosom of our native shore

You may find it hard to believe this miracle …
yet, reader, you are compelled to suspect it by no necessity
as long as you are at all events convinced of the undoubted fact
that the remains of Saint Felix were, on King Canute’s yielding to the prayers of Bishop Etheric, transferred from the aforesaid town of Soham to the church at Ramsey
and reburied with great reverence;  and there, even to this day,
does that holy man bestow on worshippers many benefits.

If you desire further to learn anything of his origin, his life or his good deeds,
you must consult Bede who has composed a history of the English in admirable style,
and among other men of the highest sanctity whom he there commends,
has deemed the praise of our Saint worthy of praise

Holy Services at the Orthodox church:
March 8th
– Commemoration of
the Holy Bisshop FELIX,
Apostle of East Anglia

0n the 8th of March 2014
we celebrated the nameday
of our grandson Felix,
born at february 17th 2014,
the heir of our family.
– Bearer of God, Felix
intercede to Christ, our Lord,
for the Salvation of his soul?


Psalms created on Truth – sitting at the rivers of Babylon [Psalm 136]

And the Lord humbled you
and suffered you to hunger
and fed you with manna,
which you didn’t know, neither did your fathers know;
that the Lord might make you know
that man doth not live by bread alone,
but by every Word that proceeds
out of the mouth of the Lord
man does live“.
Deut.8: 3

The Lord tests His children
in the wilderness for forty days [years]
– Eating manna taught them
that man lives by the Word of God.
– Their clothing did not wear out.
– The Lord humiliated them.
– If they serve other gods,
they will perish.

Other nations are driven out of the promised Land
because of their wickedness.
– Moses evaluate the rebellions of Israel
and tells how he mediated
between the people and the Lord.
On two occasions Moses went
without food and water for forty days.

The tables of stone
containing the Ten Commandments
are placed in the altar [ark].
All that God requires is
that we Love and serve Him
– How great and mighty is the Lord!

You shall Love and obey the Lord your God
– If the children of Israel obey,
they will be blessed with rain and harvests
and will drive out mighty nations
– We have to learn God’s laws and teach them
– Blessings flow from obedience;
offensive terms are present in dis-obedience.

We have to destroy the worldly gods and places of worship
– The Lord will elect where His people will worship.
– The frustrating of blood is forbidden.
– Church’s worship have to be conform
to the Divine standard.

I told you before “How soon we forget!
That is more than just a clever saying, it is the truth.
Sports fans forget that their team won last year,
when they begin to lose this year.
Children forget the sacrifices their parents make for them.
Students forget what teachers taught them.
We forget faces, dates, places,
and even the names of old friends.
But fortunately, most of what we forget
is not all that serious.
For many of us forgetfulness
is just one of many signs of aging.

Remember Your God
Problems of memory though come not only through advancing age,
but are endemic in us all.
Scripture calls us to remember for an important reason.
The world does not need so much
to be informed as to be reminded
” [Thomas More]
The Bible says again and again
Forget not!” and “Remember!“;
and so we do during these days of Lent.
We are sitting at the rivers of Babylon
and we remember how we have to be:
– an Image of our Creator;
– rooted in the character of God.
And God does save us through
the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.
It is Christ Who knows and experiences
the laments for and with us,
and it is Christ Who we find our confidence in
to praise Him in the storms of our life.

Moses at the Burning Bush
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”;
and He said,
Therefore you shall say to your sons,
‘I AM has sent me to you’
God, furthermore, said to Moses,
Therefore you shall say to your sons,
‘The LORD, the God of your fathers,
the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac,
and the God of Jacob,
has sent me to you’
This is My name forever
and this is My memorial-Name to all generations
Go and gather your elders together and say to them,
‘The LORD, the God of your fathers,
the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
has appeared to me, saying,
“I am indeed concerned about you
and what has been done to you in Egypt . . . . .

[in the desert/the wilderness].
cf. Ex.3: 14-16

The call to remember is a command to meditate on who God is.
To remember is not so much a warning to master a wealth of facts about God
as it is a reminder of the awful possibility
that we can forget our dependence upon Him.
The command to remember here is given
as Church is poised to possess their inheritance,
the promised land.
There existed the very real possibility
that we would cease to remember all God did for us
as we found we no longer had to depend on Him for everything we have.
When we enjoy the wealth of the land He provides for us,
we will forget it came from Him.
It is ironic that we may find ourselves forgetting Him
because of the many blessings that He has given us.
When our hands are full
we forget the lessons we learned
when our hands were empty.

Time of Investigation
Your Investment in family-live
during these days of Lent, pays benefits later!
Meekness has always been a characteristic of
the Godly [Ps.37: 11]. It’s the only quality
that Jesus ever ascribed to Himself:
– “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me;
for I am meek and lowly in heart:
and you shall find rest
unto your souls

Matth.11: 29

So what is meekness?
The Greeks used the word ”πραότητα” to refer to ‘the taming of a wild horse.
The animal hadn’t lost its strength,
but all of the power of that animal
had been brought under control.
To be meek is to be under
the controlling Power of the Holy Spirit.
It involves our submission to God’s authority
and it involves the yielding of our rights.
It is linked with what the Bible refers to
as by Grace being filled with the Holy Spirit [Pentecost].
If you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Saviour
then you have all of the Holy Spirit that you’re ever going to get.
The Holy Spirit is one of the manifestations of God. You can’t just have a bit of Him.
Either you have the Spirit of God or you don’t.
Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ,
he is none of His
Romans 8: 9
The filling of the Holy Spirit
has nothing to do with getting more
of the Holy Spirit
but it has everything to do with
the Holy Spirit getting more of you.
The Holy Spirit wants to fill and control every area in our lives; but He does not force Himself upon us.
He wants us to yield to Him
the right to every single area of our lives
until they are under His control and Lordship.
This is the way of blessing and success.
The meeker we become
the less upset and angry we will be
when we don’t get our own way.
Meekness is the antidote to anger.

► ►► The contemporary spiritual, theological problem concerns the person [πρόσωπο] …
Revelation reveals that “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14).
If He says, “I AM” it means that He is a person.
The word “I” has great significance.
For it expresses the person. God says:
Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness”.
Gen.1: 26
Science cannot say this. Only revelation can say this.
And we need to base ourselves on revelation,
which the Lord never refuted …

Theology is the content of our prayers.
And an example of this theology is the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great
[every Sunday served during Lent].
The whole anaphora is Theology and is expressed through prayer.
But then Theology comes as a state of being.
John the Theologian, from an academic point of view,
was not a theologian, but he says things simply.
His theology, however, is a state of being.
Whatever he says becomes dogma for everyone.
But the only study that enables us
to sense what God is like,
is the ascetic life according to
the commandments of the Gospel.
When our life is lived according to the will of God,
then we understand that there cannot be a difference
between the commandments and the mind of God Himself.
When we think according to the commandments,
then our mind gets used to thinking as God Himself thinks.
And regarding Theosis, they say: but what is theosis?
With obedience to the abbot from the beginning,
one’s will is cut off,
then in obedience to the Gospel commandments
one reaches this state.
We do small things but the results must become Great.
Through obedience we enter into the life of divine Being.
We have good descriptions of this in
the writings of Saint Nicodemus, the Athonite.
I have told others, as well, that
when they learn things from the world,
they are living in sin.
They need to free themselves through Asceticism.
This is how I tried to make them understand the need for patience.
[Just as the Incarnation was a great kenotic act,
where Christ God became man as one person
and bore our sins patiently with humility and love.
In following Him, we become true persons in Him
and realize our life and fully live our freedom.
It is here where personhood finds its greatest achievement:
in putting on Christ and His indwelling in us
by the Holy Spirit sent from God the Father.
The very essence of our life must become
constant personal encounter with Christ,
and in this we become truly persons, truly free, truly loving.
This is how personhood is understood in Theosis.
We fulfil our personhood in living in Christ
and His dwelling within us,
and inasmuch as He has perfected humanity,
He raises us in freedom, in love,
to the fulfilment of our humanity,
as true persons in Him].
father Sophrony [Sakharov 1896-1993]

Psalm 136 chanted during the Sunday liturgies
during Great Lent instead of the regular Communion hymn,
just before Holy Communion:
1.] Mp3  by George Papanikolaos from Samos, Greece.
Ἐπι των ποταμών Βαβυλωνος -By The Waters of Babylon [Psalm 136] – 3rd Tn
2.] Mp3 by Sirin (Сирин) Ensemble, Russia.
Sirin (Сирин) Ensemble – ‘By the rivers of Babylon’ [Psalm 136}

Tekst Psalm 136:
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.
Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down”, they cried, “tear it down to its foundations!”.
Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is the one who repays you
according to what you have done to us“.

Wherever you go,
have God ever before your eyes“.
Saint Antony the Great

Sunday of Orthodoxy – why are we concerned to be ‘Orthodox’?

By faith Moses, when he was come to years,
refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;
Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God,
than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;
Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches
than the treasures in Egypt:
for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.
And what shall I more say?
for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson,
and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the Prophets:
Who through faith subdued Kingdoms,
wrought righteousness,
obtained promises,
stopped the mouths of lions.
Quenched the violence of fire,
escaped the edge of the sword,
out of weakness were made strong,
waxed valiant in fight,
turned to flight the armies of the aliens.
Women received their dead raised to life again:
and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance;
that they might obtain a better Resurrection:
And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings,
yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:
They were stoned,
they were sawn asunder,
were tempted,
were slain with the sword:
they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins;
being destitute,
(Of whom the world was not worthy:)
they wandered in deserts,
and in mountains,
and in dens and caves of the earth.
And these all, having obtained a good report through faith,
received not the promise:
God having provided some better thing for us,
that they without us should not be made perfect“.

If we are saved by Grace, and not by works,
why does the Orthodox Church
put so much stress on ”ascetic practice”?
Why should it be necessary, or even useful,
to fast as we do,
to make countless prostrations during Great Lent,
to stand for hours through long Services,
and even to give so much attention to the Church?

Why do you submit to regulations,
‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’

[referring to things that all perish as they are used],
according to human precepts and doctrines?
These have indeed an appearance of wisdom
in promoting rigor of devotion and self-abasement
and severity to the body,
but they are of no value
in checking the indulgences of the flesh
Col.2: 20-23

Why, then, do the Orthodox submit to such regulations:
Don’t eat [this or that]’, or ‘Do this, that, and the other thing’,
in order to be a ‘Good Christian?’.
Isn’t it enough to ‘Love God and my neighbour as myself?’.

It’s a good question.
While there’s a perfectly reasonable
and satisfactory answer to his objection,
it seems worthwhile for all of us to think about these things,
in an effort to understand just
why “ascetic Practice and spiritual Discipline” in general
are so important in Christian life.

Our rebellion against God and His Will touches every aspect of our existence.
Sin” or “sinfulness” is not just an accumulation of specific acts of disobedience
or wilfulness that in some way violate
the commandments.
It is more than the sum total
of our individual sins.
Those sins are symptomatic of something broader and deeper that virtually defines us,
that characterizes our every act and attitude.
Sin is a state of being that permeates all aspects of our life,
conscious and unconscious, physical as well as spiritual.
In fact, the distinction we usually make between
what is physical and what is spiritual is artificial and misleading.
The human person can only be understood holistically.
Our bodily gestures affect our psycho-spiritual disposition,
just as our spiritual state can affect our body.
Nothing attests to this fact more eloquently
than the Orthodox Service of Holy Unction,
with its emphasis on the forgiveness of sins
as integral to the quest for healing.

This point brings us back to the question of “ascetic Discipline
and the place of “works” in our Salvation.
First of all, it is important to recognize
that the apostle Paul is speaking to the Colossians
about performing religious rituals prescribed either by the Torah, Hebrew Law,
or by pagan forms of worship.
The admonition, “Don’t handle, taste or touch”,
has to do with various religious practices
that were considered by many as necessary
to enter into the Sacred realm of Divinity.
Repeatedly [especially in his letters to the Romans and Galatians],
Paul insists that our Salvation is accomplished wholly and uniquely by Christ:
– by His voluntary Death on the Cross,
– by which he descended into the realm of death [Sheol],
– in order to defeat the powers of death and corruption.
This is a Work of pure Grace that only God can accomplish.
And this is why it is
so essential to recognize and accept the fact
that Jesus of Nazareth is Truly the Incarnate, eternal Son of God.
Our Salvation is made possible precisely by the “work” of the Holy Trinity,
a work no created being can accomplish.

So we, as Orthodox Christians,
affirm as clearly and unambiguously
as any Lutheran, for example,
that “Salvation is by Grace
and not by our works.
Unlike medieval Catholicism, Orthodoxy does not hold that a person can build up a “treasury of merits” [redemption payments]
that will count in our favour at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
What will matter then is our having surrendered our sin
to God through confession, and our gestures of Love [Matth. 25],
together with the unshakable conviction that “Jesus Christ is the Lord
and the unique Way to eternal life.

Orthodoxy does recognize, however,
the importance of our “cooperation” with God,
what we term “Synergy”.
“Salvation”, as we usually understand the word,
is only the beginning of a pilgrimage that leads us through this life,
through our physical death, and into life beyond.
Salvation, accomplished by the death and Resurrection of Christ,
means freedom from the consequences of our sinfulness:
separation from the Holiness and Love of the God
Who desires only that we be saved
and enter into Eternal and Joyful Communion with Himself.
If we were not continually tempted to fall back into sin,
there would be no need for such a “Synergy”.
Then we could declare, with absolute confidence,
once saved, always saved!”.
Temptation and spiritual struggle, however,
mark every day of our life.
And the way we face and, by the Grace of God,
overcome those forces [demonic powers],
is precisely through the “Spiritual Warfare”,
the ascetic struggle that enables us to confront
those forces day by day
and overcome their destructive influence.

This is why, in the same letter to the Colossians, the apostle can declare:
I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,
and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions
for the sake of his body, the Church” [Col.1: 24].
We may not suffer as Paul did, risking our very life for the Gospel,
enduring torture, hardship, hunger and rejection by one’s own people.
Nevertheless, our small efforts, of fasting, prostrations,
intense participation in long Liturgical Services
– like almsgiving and other acts of Love offered to those in need –
enable us also to share in Christ’s own sufferings,
which he will endure in us and for us
until He comes again in Glory.
That Participation is essential;
yet it is not the means by which we are saved.

The final word, as so often, comes from our Lord himself.
Condemning the Pharisees for their hypocritical observance of empty ritual,
He accuses them of performing small religious acts
while “neglecting the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith”.
And he concludes,
These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” [Matth.23: 23].
Those “others” include precisely the sorts of ascetic practices Orthodox Tradition
calls us and invites us to assume — not to achieve Salvation,
but to bring heart, soul, mind and body into harmony
with the ineffable Gift [Grace] of Salvation
that Christ has already offered to us.
Cf. father John Breck – ‘Life in Christ lectures

Sunday of Orthodoxy – Recognizing Jesus

Jesus already knows us,
even if we have no calling to mind
of many of our prior encounters with him,
even if we do not Name or recognize
His presence and efforts at the depths of our lives.

The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee,
and found Philip, and said to him,
‘Follow me‘.
Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
Philip found Nathanael, and said unto him,
‘We have found him, of whom Moses in the law,
and the Prophets, did write,
Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph
And Nathanael said unto him,
‘Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?‘.
Philip said to him,
‘Come and see‘.
Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him,
‘Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!‘.
Nathanael said to Him,
‘Whence knows You me?‘.
Jesus answered and said unto him,
‘Before that Philip called you,
when you was under the fig tree, I saw you
Nathanael answered and said to him,
‘abbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel‘.
Jesus answered and said to him,
‘Because I said unto you, I saw you under the fig tree,
beliefs you?
you shall see greater things than these.
And he said to him,
‘Verily, verily,
I say to you, Hereafter you shall see Heaven open,
and the angels of God ascending
and descending upon the Son of man
John.1: 43-51

What is wrong with me
that I sometimes don’t recognize people
I’ve met before?
Am I arrogant? I hope not. Am I losing my short and long term memory?
Have I a kind of Alzheimer? I didn’t think so.
Sometimes I have the sinking feeling
that maybe I’m just not aware enough
of my surroundings in general.
And it’s probably not because
I’m walking around lost in profound thoughts
deaf and blind for everything.
For most ‘human failings’,
there is a biblical Character
to provide company for our misery.

In my case, it’s Nathanael. Jesus already knows him.
As Nathanael walks toward Jesus, Jesus describes him:
Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!“.
It doesn’t appear to be tongue in cheek.
It seems like a straightforward description
based on his knowledge of Nathanael.

Nathanael says, in effect, “I don’t believe we’ve met“.
Where did you get to know me?
He is so moved by Jesus’ prior knowledge of him
that he makes a confession of Faith.
Rabbi, you are the Son of God.
You are the King of Israel
To which Jesus responds, in effect,
You aren’t seen nothing yet!
Do you believe because I told you
that I saw you under the fig tree?
You will see greater things than these. . . .
You will see Heaven opened
and the angels of God
ascending and descending
upon the Son of Man

In our lives, every time we approach Jesus,
it is in the context of his prior approaches to us.
Every time we recognize his presence in ourselves and others,
in events and moments,
it is because He continually recognizes God in us.
Jesus already knows us,
even if we have no recollection of many of our prior encounters with him,
even if we do not Name or recognize His presence
and efforts at the depths of our lives.

John’s Good Message affirms that The Good Shepherd
knows his sheep and his sheep hear his voice [psalm 22].
I am the good shepherd.
I know my own and my own know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.
The sheep listen to the shepherd’s voice
(John.10: 14-16).
The Prologue tells us that Jesus
came to what was His own,
and His own people
did not accept Him
John.1: 11
The Gospel of John has recognition
and failure of recognition as a key theme.
In a number of encounters with Jesus,
people focus on their problems at a literal level
while He stands, unrecognized, before them.
For example, Nicodemus [chapter 3],
the woman at the well [chapter 4]
and the man by the pool of Bethzatha [chapter 5].
Others do recognize Him.
Jesus was killed precisely because His enemies did recognize Him.
As His Healings escalated in drama and power,
so did His threat factor to those who opposed Him.
They recognized Him as the bringer of sight to the blind
[healing of the man blind from birth in chapter 10]
and the raiser of the dead [Lazaros in chapter 11].

In the Good Message of John, Jesus always recognizes us,
but we do not always recognize Him.
The Good Shepherd knows his sheep
– He recognizes who we were meant to be,
namely Children of God [John.1: 12],
in the tangle of our current lives.
The goal of the Gospel is to equip us
to recognize His life within ourselves and the world.
These things are written
so that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God,
and that through believing
you may have life in His Name
” [John.20: 31].
[‘Lord, Jesus Christ have mercy upon me, sinner . . . . .]
Our task is clear
—with God’s help, we are to enhance our facial recognition skills.
Knowing Jesus is present in every moment, every person, every situation,
we are to be on the lookout for Him,
recognizing His presence and influence
throughout each day.

On my toilet there is a booklet with sayings from Mother Theresa:
She answered when someone asked her,
What do you do all day walking the streets of Calcutta?“.
She said, “I behold Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God, in every face I see“.

It’s well-known that the monks on the Holy Mountain [Athos]
serve the pilgrims, who are visiting the Holy Monasteries,
with only one object in mind:
the coming visitor is Jesus Christ Himself in Person,
what I do as a servant,
I do for Christ Himself“.
That’s life ► meeting everybody as an Icon,
as an Image of God.
In that moment
– you will not quarrel,
– you will not be agitated, touched or heated,
– you will accept everything,
– because He is your Creator.
Indeed, in that moment you pray:
Lord, Jesus Christ have mercy upon me, sinner . . . . .

After Jesus’ Resurrection, Mary of Magdala didn’t recognize Him in the garden,
mistaking Him for the gardener,
until He calls her by name [John.20: 16].
He already knows her. They have met
each other many times before.
So an appropriate response from Mary would not be to put out her hand
to shake His and to say,
Good morning. My name is Mary.
I don’t believe we’ve met you before“.
An appropriate response for her and for us is,
I recognize You.
I believe we have met each other many times before“,
because we are God’s Children, His children.

Grace and truth have shone forth.
The predictions of old have been clearly fulfilled.
Behold, the Church adorns herself with the form of Christ incarnate!
The icons of the new creation transcend the adornments of the old.
As the Ark of the Covenant held the presence of God,
so now the icons reveal the presence of the One we adore.
By honouring them we will never go astray.

It is our glory to fall down and worship Christ in the flesh.
Come, O faithful, venerate His image and cry out:
‘O Lord, save Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance!
Verses on Lord I call for the Sunday of Orthodoxy

1st Sunday of Lent – Sunday Triumph of Orthodoxy

Lent was in origin the time of final preparation
for candidates for baptism at the Easter Vigil
and this is reflected in the readings at the Liturgy
today and on all the Sundays of Lent.
But that basic theme came to be subordinated
to later themes which dominated the hymnography
of each Sunday.

The dominant theme of this Sunday since 843 has been that of the Victory of the Icons.
In that year the iconoclastic controversy,
which had raged on and off since 726,
was finally laid to rest, and icons and their veneration were restored on the first Sunday in Lent.
Ever since, that Sunday been commemorated
as the “Triumph of Orthodoxy”.

Orthodox teaching about Icons was defined at
the Seventh Ecumenical Council of 787,
which brought to an end the first phase
of the attempt to suppress Icons.
That teaching was finally re-established in 843
and it is embodied in the texts sung on this Sunday.

From Vespers:
►”Inspired by your Spirit, Lord,
the Prophets foretold your Birth as a child incarnate of the Virgin.
Nothing can contain or hold you;
before the morning star you shone forth eternally
from the spiritual womb of the Father.
Yet you were to become like us and
be seen by those on earth.
At the prayers of those your Prophets in
your mercy reckon us fit to see your light,
for we praise your Resurrection,
Holy and beyond speech.
Infinite, Lord, as Divine,
in the last times you willed to become incarnate
and so finite;
for when you took on flesh
you made all its properties your own.
So we depict the form of your outward appearance
and pay it relative respect,
and so are moved to love you;
and through it we receive the Grace of healing,
following the Divine traditions of the apostles

►”The Grace of Truth has shone out, the things once foreshadowed now are revealed in perfection. See, the Church is decked with the embodied image of Christ, as with Beauty not of this world, fulfilling the tent of witness, holding fast the Orthodox faith.
For if we cling to the Icon of Him Whom we worship, we shall not go astray.
May those who do not so believe be covered with shame.
For the image of Him who became human is our Glory:
we venerate it, but do not worship it as God.
Kissing it, we who believe cry out:
O God, save your people, and bless your heritage

►”We have moved forward from unbelief to True Faith,
and have been enlightened by the Light of knowledge.
Let us then clap our hands like the Psalmist,
and offer praise and thanksgiving to God.
And let us honour and venerate the holy Icons of Christ,
of His most pure Mother, and of all the Saints,
depicted on walls, panels and sacred vessels,
setting aside the unbelievers’ ungodly teaching.
For the veneration given to the Icon passes over, as Basil says, to its prototype.
At the intercession of Your spotless Mother, O Christ, and of all the Saints,
we pray you to grant us Your great Mercy.
We venerate your Icon, good Lord, asking forgiveness of our sins, O Christ our God.
For You freely willed in the flesh to ascend the Cross,
to rescue from slavery to the enemy those whom you had formed.
So we cry to you with thanksgiving:
You have filled all things with joy, our Saviour,
by coming to save the world

The name of this Sunday reflects the great significance which Icons possess for the Orthodox Church. They are not optional devotional extras, but an integral part of Orthodox faith and devotion.
They are held to be a necessary consequence of Christian faith in the incarnation of the Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, in Jesus Christ.
They have a sacramental character, making present to the believer the person or event depicted on them.
So the interior of Orthodox churches is often covered with Icons painted on walls and domed roofs, and there is always an Icon screen, or Iconostasis, separating the Sanctuary from the nave, often with several rows of Icons. No Orthodox home is complete without an Icon corner, where the family prays.

Icons are venerated by burning lamps and candles in front of them,
by the use of incense and by kissing.
But there is a clear doctrinal distinction between
the veneration paid to icons and the worship due to God.
The former is not only relative,
it is in fact paid to the person represented by the Icon.
This distinction safeguards the veneration of Icons from any charge of idolatry.

Although the theme of the Victory of the Icons is a secondary one on this Sunday,
by its emphasis on the Incarnation it points us to the basic Christian Truth
that the one whose Death and Resurrection we celebrate at Easter
was none other than the Word of God
Who became human in Jesus Christ, our Lord.

At the centre of the Christian faith is Jesus Christ
and His Resurrection from the dead.
As such, the Icon of the Resurrection is the most celebrated,
the most common, the most cherished, the most instructive.
It is all of these things because the Orthodox Icon of the Resurrection
is not content with simply showing us the Risen Christ, or the empty tomb;
the Victory shown in the Icon of the Resurrection is complete.

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life!
                                                       Paschal [Easter] Hymn

Jesus Christ was not content with laying in the tomb
for three days after His Crucifixion.
Instead, while His body was entombed,
Christ’s soul descended into Hades, or Hell.
Christ descended there not to suffer,
but to fight, and free the souls trapped there.
Just as bringing a light into darkness
causes the darkness to disappear,
the Source of all Life descending into the abode of the dead
resulted in Jesus’ victory over death,
and not death’s victory over Jesus.
This is the full reality of what Christ’s death
and Resurrection accomplished.

Orthodoxy, Lent & The Akathist Hymn to Theotokos


The Akathist Hymn is a profound, devotional poem or chant,which sings the praises of
the Holy Mother and Ever-Virgin Mary [Theotokos].
It is chanted in all Orthodox Churches
throughout the world during the five Fridays
in the Great Lent,
and constitutes a very concrete spiritual preparation
for the Holy Week and Easter Services.

Devotional Hymns to the Theotokos
are as ancient as the original Christian Church.
The Byzantine Empire from its very inception
at Constantinople during the fourth century,
closely allied itself to the Virgin Mary
and always sort Her protection or intercessions.
This we see from the Prayer Services to the Theotokos
between the fifth and eighth centuries,
and the reference to Constantinople as the ‘Queen City’.

The Akathist Hymn, which in its present form was added to
by many Ecclesiastical Hymnographers,
existed for most part even before it was formally accepted
by the Church in 626 AD.
The Kontakion
To the Invincible Champion… we ascribe the Victory
was added then, and came to be recognized as the Akathist Hymn,
because of the following described miracle attributed
to the intercession of the Theotokos.

While the Emperor of Byzantium Heracleios was on an expedition to fight the aggression of the Persians on their own grounds,
there appeared outside the walls of Constantinople barbaric hordes, mostly Avars.
The siege lasted a few months,
and it was apparent that the outnumbered troops of the Queen City were reaching desperation.
However as history records,
the Faith of the people worked
the impossible.
The Venerable Patriarch Sergius with the Clergy and
the Official of Byzantium Vonos, endlessly marched along
the great walls of Constantinople with an Icon of the Theotokos in hand,
and bolstered the faith of the defenders of freedom.
The miracle came soon after.
Unexpectedly, as the chronicler narrates,
a great storm with huge tidal waves destroyed most of the fleet of the enemy,
and full retreat ensued.

The faithful of Constantinople
spontaneously filled the Church of the Theotokos
at Vlachernae on the Golden Horn,
and with the Patriarch Sergius officiating,
they prayed all night singing praises to the Virgin Mary without sitting.
Hence the title of the Hymn “Akathistos“,
in Greek meaning not seated.

The Akathist Hymn is a very important
and indeed an integral part of our religious and ecclesiastical life.
When we are present during the first Friday Service,
we firmly realize that we commence to ascend
the spiritual steps of the lengthy Lenten period,
to finally reach the peak with our Lord’s Glorious Resurrection.

The Akathist Hymn was not strange to the Latin West
even though apart from the Eastern Church.
Pope Benedict XIV granted on May 4, 1746
an indulgence of 50 days to the Latin and Eastern Rite Roman Catholics,
for each recitation of the Hymn.

Father Vincent McNabb, a Roman Catholic Priest in London,
translated the Hymn into English in 1934.
In his forward remarks he stated
“No apology is needed for introducing the Akathistos to the Christian West. Indeed the West might well be apologetic
about its neglect, or ignorance of such a liturgical
and literary masterpiece”.

In any of our Service Books we can readily see
that our glorious and Ever-Virgin Theotokos
is the center of many of our Orthodox Services
in which prayers abound for Her interceding
to Her Son, and our God, for our Salvation.
The Virgin Mary is the most exalted
and most honoured person by God.
She is the most revered and most loved by humans.
She is a binding force for all Christians.
She is the Unique Personality of the world,
because of the unique fact of the Lord’s Incarnation.
She is the daughter of Grace and the Crystal Vessel
of the Grace of the Holy Spirit [see Luc.1: 26-56].

Faith in the Almighty God is primary and all important
to the Holy Orthodox Church.
Our dependence on God is always beyond question,
and from this faith we should strive not to stray.
Therefore, Services, like the Akathist Hymn,
should be a must and attended by all.
Moreover, this particular Service links us
so beautifully with a great and glorious period of our Christian history;
it is also a very live tradition,
which has never ceased in the Orthodox Church
since its official acceptance in 626 AD.

Living in these trying times,
when we are besieged by many forces of evil,
it is hoped that the Akathist Hymn
as well as our other Services may become
the bulwark to withstand,
and indeed to overcome these forces.

The Akathist Hymn is divided into 4 main parts, and briefly the content is as follows:

1 Stanzas 1 – 6
a. The Annunciation to the Virgin Mary.
b. The Virgin Mary’s purity.
c. The Virgin Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.
d. The doubts of Joseph the protector, and his joy upon learning of the supernatural Conception.
2 Stanzas 7 – 12
tell us of:
a. The shepherds hearing the Angels praising the birth of the Lord and their visit to the manger.
b. The adoration of the Magi.
c. The flight of the Holy Family to Egypt and the falling of the idols.
3 Stanzas 13 – 18
a. The new Creation which was wrought by the Incarnate Lord through the Theotokos.
b. The call for the uplifting of our minds to Heaven from where God descended.
c. The Lord’s Omnipresence, that while He came to earth, He was no less in Heaven.
d. The confounding of the philosophers and orators, who were at a loss to explain God’s condescension.
4 Stanzas 19 – 24
speak of:
a. The Theotokos as a protector of all the devout, and those who choose to flee unto Her.
b. God coming as one of us, amongst us, to draw us near to Him.
c. Our inability to adequately sing the praises of God, whose mercies are countless.
d. The Lord cancelling all the ancient spiritual debts, and the granting of His Grace to all. Our prayers and petitions to the Holy Mother to protect us from misfortunes and save us from the future condemnation.

pdf: Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos
[English tekst]

Orthodoxy & Lent the period of return

This is what the Lord Almighty,
the God of Israel, says:
Reform your ways and your actions,
and I will let you live in this place.
Do not trust in deceptive words and say,
‘that you are the temple of the Lord!‘”
cf. Jer.7: 3,4

You should also not say that Faith
alone in our Lord Jesus Christ can save you,
for this is impossible unless you
also acquire Love for Him through your works.
As for Faith by itself,
“the devils also believe, and tremble”.
Jac.2: 19

1.]. Change Your Purpose in Life
Before people are willing to act, they must be motivated.
A sound sleeper is more likely to get up in the middle of the night
if the house is on fire than if he remembers he did not brush his teeth!
Christians have some of the strongest possible motives for changing.
Consider some:
1a. Love and Dedication to God
Christians are transformed by renewing their minds.
To live differently, we have to think differently.
We must not seek to be like the world
but to use our bodies in God’s service.

Unceasing prayer is born of love,
but fault-finding, idle talk
and self-indulgence
are the death of prayer
Saint Silouan the Athonite

I beseech you, brethren,
by the mercies of God,
that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice,
holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
And be not conformed to this world:
but you be transformed by the renewing of your mind,
that you may prove what is good, acceptable
and perfect to the will of God
Rom.12: 1,2

The Macedonians practiced generous giving
because they first gave themselves to the Lord [2Cor.8: 5].
Changing our conduct becomes much easier
when we are totally dedicated to God’s service.
What motivates us to obey God? Our love for Him.
What motivates us to love Him?
The fact that He loved us.
How do we know He loved us?
Because He gave His Son to die to save us.
Love is one of the strongest forces in existence.
It can move a woman to rescue her children from a burning building
or a man to lift an automobile that has crushed a loved one. If you are having difficulty changing yourself, you need to learn to appreciate God’s blessings and mercy.

Imitation of Christ
The desire to be like someone we admire
is another powerful motivation.
Sports heroes inspire young people
in athletics.
So godly people like Abraham, Noah, Ruth
and the Theotokos motivate us to serve God.
But the greatest example of all
is that of Jesus, our Lord.

A disciple seeks to be like His Master [Matth.10: 24,25].
Christians are disciples of Jesus [Acts 11: 26].
We should follow His steps
because He left us a sinless example [1Petr.2: 21,22].

As we face each decision in life,
we should ask,
What would Jesus, our Lord do?
This will give us strong motivation to change our lives.

Desire for Eternal Life [escape Eternal Punishment]
And every man that strives for the mastery
is temperate in all things.
Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown;
but we an incorruptible.
We should set our minds
on our eternal reward,
not on earthly things [2Thess.1: 8,9].

Lack of motivation is a major reason people do not change to please God.
They do not have sufficient desire to change.
Instead they want to please themselves or their friends and family.
Often they are too concerned with the things of this life.
Until our motives are right, little else in this study will help us.
But when we are determined
that serving God is our
most important purpose in life,
then we will find the means
to make the necessary changes.
When we lack the motivation to change,
let us think about why we should love God,
think about the importance of being like Christ
and think about our eternal destiny.

2.]. Believe You Can Change with God’s Help
Keep thy heart with all diligence;
for out of it
are the issues of life.
Prov.4: 23
The way you act is determined
by your attitudes and intentions.
People and circumstances may influence you,
but you do not have to give in.
You do what you decide to do.
God will not allow temptations
that are beyond your ability to bear.
He will always make a way of escape.
“God is faithful”.
He will always keep this promise.
It follows that you can break any bad habit
and develop any good habit
according to God’s will.
The Apostle said:
I can do all things through Christ
which strengtheneth me.
Phil.4: 13
We also can do this.
This includes changing to please Him.
If we trust our own strength, we will fail.
Lucifer can defeat us.
If we use Christ’s strength we will succeed,
because satan can never defeat Him.
Perhaps we have failed in the past
because we have trusted our own power
instead of using Christ’s.
People sometimes convince themselves,
I just can’t change.
It’s too late.
Besides, I’m only human“.
They are not just belittling themselves;
they are denying God’s word.
They will fail simply
because they will give up
instead of persisting to use
God’s Power.
Commit your way unto the Lord;
trust also in Him;
and He shall bring it
to pass“.
Psalm 36: 5
No matter how strong a temptation you face,
no matter how long you have practiced a sin,
if God says to change,
you are able to change.

3.]. Study the Bible about Your Habit.
The Book of the Law
shall not depart out of your mouth;
but you shall meditate therein day and night,
that you may observe to do according
to all that is written therein:
for then you shall make your way prosperous
and then you shall have good success“.
Joshua 1: 8

To succeed in God’s work, meditate on God’s word.
List the pertinent Bible passages
about each habit you need to change.
List reasons why you should change.
Meditate on these verses daily,
filling your mind with them.
But his delight is in the Law of the Lord;
and in His Law does he meditate day and night
Psalm 1: 2
Your word have I hid in my heart,
that I might not sin against You“.
Psalm 118: 11
And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart:
And you shall teach them diligently unto your children,
and shall talk of them when you sit in your house,
and when you walk by the way,
and when you lies down,
and when you rises up.
And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand,
and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
And thou shall write them
upon the posts of your house
and on your gates“.
Deuteronomy 6: 6-9
Frequently remind yourself of these verses.
Write them and place them
where they will remind you:
on your bathroom mirror,
on the refrigerator door,
on your table at mealtime,
on the Television-knob.
Jesus, our Lord, overcame temptation by quoting Scripture.
But this worked only because He knew the Scripture, by heart.
Memorize verses about your habit so that,
when you are tempted,
they will come to mind and strengthen you.
Quote them to yourself and
to those who tempt you.

4.]. Repent of Sin
Repent therefore of this your wickedness,
and pray God, if perhaps the thought of your heart
may be forgiven you.
Acts 8: 22
Repentance is a change of mind
– a determined commitment
to cease sin and obey God.
Before one can change his conduct,
man has to change his mind.
Do not cover up your sin,
deny it, excuse it, or blame someone else.
Admit the error and be truly sorry [2Cor.7: 10].
But sorrow is not enough.
We have truly repented only
when we are so sorry
that we determine to change our conduct.
Most other achievements in life require about 10% ability
and just 90% determination and hard work.
In spiritual matters, every accountable person
has the ability to please God;
so changing to please God is
100% determined by our choice.
God has provided everything we need.
The decision is ours.
We will never change
until we make up our minds
to pursue the means God provides
until we succeed.
The decision to do this is repentance
and no one will change to please God without it.

5.]. Develop a Plan of Action
Do they not err that devise evil?
but mercy and truth
shall be to them
that devise good“.
Proverbs 14: 22
God’s example demonstrates the importance of planning.
He purposed man’s redemption [Rom.8: 28],
the Church [Eph.3: 10,11],
the Temple [Hebr.8: 5].
See how He did it from the beginning:

Now the Lord had said to Abram,
Get out of your country,
and from your associated,
and from your father’s house,
to a land that I will show you:
And I will make of you a great nation,
and I will bless you,
and make your name great;
and you shall be a blessing:
And I will bless them that bless you,
and curse him that curses you:
and in you shall all families of the earth be blessed.
So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken to him;
and Lot went with him:
and Abram was seventy and five years old
when he departed out of Haran.
And Abram took Sarah his wife, and Lot his brother’s son,
and all their substance that they had gathered,
and the souls that they had gotten in Haran;
and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan;
and into the land of Canaan they came.
And Abram passed through the land
unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh.
And the Canaanite was then in the land.
And the Lord appeared to Abram, and said,
Unto you seed will I give this land:
and there he built an altar to the Lord,
Who appeared to him
Gen.12: 1-7
As Saint Silouan did we likewise have to do,
as God’s servants we need to have a plan
to succeed in His Service.

In what other important actions will we succeed without a plan?
Consider the forethought needed to build a house,
run a business or a household, program a computer, etc.
Worthwhile activities, to be successful, need planning.

Likewise, to change your life, you need
a specific, practical checklist of steps
you will take to change.
Analyse [with the help of your confessor]
the circumstances or causes that lead you
to fail to do right,
then plan how to avoid
those causes.
It may help to write your plan down
and modify it as needed.
This plan will include some specific points
you and your confessor are studying plus other points
that fit your specific problem.

Many people fail to change
to please God because they never planned to succeed.
They did not plan to fail, but they failed to plan!

6.]. Pray Regularly

Prayer is essential in two ways.
A child of God should pray for forgiveness.
If you are not yet a child of God, you need to believe in Jesus,
repent of sins, confess Christ, and be baptized to be forgiven of sins.
When you have done those things, you become a child of God.
If you sin afterwards,
you need to pray for forgiveness and confess.
He that covers his sins shall not prosper:
but who confesses and forsakes them
shall have mercy

Prov. 28: 13
If we say that we have no sin,
we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
If we confess our sins,
God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins
and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
If we say that we have not sinned,
we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us
1 John 1:8-10
Then pray for God’s help.
Ask God to “deliver us from evil”.
Tell God exactly what’s your problem.
Pray often and regularly.
Pray especially at the moment
when you face temptation.
God has promised that,
if you ask His help,
He will hear
and answer.

7.]. Seek Help from the Church [your confessor]
Christians should confess their faults to one another
so they can pray for one another.
We should bear one another’s burdens [Gal.6: 2].
Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar
and there remember that your brother
has something against you;
Leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way;
first be reconciled to your brother,
and then come and offer your gift“.
Matth.5: 23,24
When we are troubling and fighting each other
an especially difficult habit,
it may help to choose one or two
special [priest-] counsellors to talk with [regularly].
They can give us good advice about how to change.
They can encourage us.
It may motivate us
just to know that others
are aware of our problem.
And they can surely pray for us.
Public church meetings [coffee-drinking, weekends]
are especially designed to give encouragement.
We need to attend regularly for many reasons,
but especially we need encouragement
as we try to become what God wants us to be.

8.]. Diligently Practice What is Right

Therefore, my beloved brethren,
be steadfast, unmoveable,
always abounding in the work of the Lord,
forasmuch as you know
that your labour is not in vain in the Lord
1Cor.15: 58

We have discussed here several steps to prepare us to change,
but none of them can substitute for hard work and dedicated effort.
All the good attitudes in the world will not get the job done
until we follow through with action.
God does not promise change will be easy,
but He promises it is possible
if we work diligently according to His word.

March 4th – Saint Gerasimos, the recluse of the Jordan

Saint Gerasimos was born in the province
of Lycia in the southern part of Asia Minor.
His parents were wealthy, prosperous people, and he became a merchant,
frequently visiting the Egyptian hermits
in his travels
[particularly the region known as the Thebaid].

From a very early age Saint Gerasimos developed a great love of God
and, as he grew older, he found he had little in common with other young people of his own age, who were only interested in having fun.
He realized that the world and an attachment to it
only brought many needless cares and sufferings,
so he yearned to serve God and to be pleasing to Him.

In Egypt he grew in spiritual strength and wisdom
and then he again returned to his native province of Lycia.
Later, towards the end of the reign of the holy Emperor Theodosius the Younger
[who ruled from 408-450], he went to Palestine,
where he settled in the wilderness near the Jordan river.
So many men followed him there because of his reputation for virtue
that he built a monastery where novices lived in a common house
and the proven monks lived in a cluster of little cells.
They numbered about seventy.

The monastery was approximately 25 miles from Jerusalem
and about 100 yards from the Jordan River.
Five days a week each monk was to keep silent
in a solitary cell,
doing simple handiwork such as weaving mats
or baskets out of palm leaves.
During these five days no cooked food was eaten;
the only food was a small amount of dried bread,
roots and water brought from the monastery.
On Saturdays and Sundays
all the monks went to the monastery
to attend the Divine Liturgy
and to receive Holy Communion.
Afterwards they were served cooked food and a little wine at the refectory.
The work that had been completed during the week was given to the abbot.
On Sunday afternoon each monk departed once again for his solitary cell in the wilderness,
taking only a little bread, roots, a vessel of water and palm branches to weave baskets.

Each monk had only a single old robe,
a mat on which to sleep and a small vessel for water and of course a bible.
Whenever the monks left their cells,
the doors were left open so that anyone could enter
and take whatever he wished of the monks’ few possessions.
In this way they prevented any attachment
to material possessions.
During Great Lent Saint Gerasimos ate nothing at all
until the radiant day of Pascha.
His bodily and spiritual strength was sustained solely by receiving the Holy Mysteries.

The monks of his monastery were fond of recalling
how a lion came to greatly love this Saint
and served him obediently and with great humility.
One day, as Saint Gerasimos was walking
through the Jordan desert, he met a lion.
The lion stretched out his paw and Saint Gerasimos saw that it was infected
and very swollen.
The lion gazed pleadingly and meekly at the elder who sat down immediately to inspect the paw.
He discovered that a thorn had lodged in the lion’s paw
and this was the cause of his suffering.
The Saint carefully removed the thorn,
cleansed the wound of all the pus
and then wrapped it with a cloth.

From then on
the lion faithfully followed the Saint like a disciple.
Saint Gerasimos marveled at the lion’s intelligence, meekness
and willingness to eat bread and whatever else could be found for him.
The lion was given an obedience in the monastery.
The monks had a donkey which carried water from the Jordan River for the brethren.
The lion was entrusted with the task of accompanying the donkey to the river
and guarding it while it grazed on the riverbank.

One day the lion fell asleep in the sun,
leaving the donkey to graze peacefully.
An Arabian merchant happened to pass by
with his caravan of camels and saw the donkey.
Thinking the animal was a stray,
he tied it to his line of camels and took it with him.
The lion awoke and began to search for the donkey, but it was nowhere to be found.
The beast returned to the monastery
and went immediately to Saint Gerasimos
who, seeing his dejected expression,
thought he had eaten the donkey and asked,
“Where is the donkey?”
The lion stood in silence, hanging his head in shame.
The elder praised the lion for not running away after his evil deed
and instructed him to do the work of the donkey from then on.
The monks loaded a large barrel on the lion’s back,
as they had done before with the donkey
and sent him to the river to fetch water.
One day a soldier came to the monastery to pray
and seeing the lion carrying the water, took pity on him
and gave the monks three gold pieces to buy another donkey.
The lion once again resumed his former obedience of guarding the donkey.


Some time later, the Arabian merchant once again passed by the Jordan
on his way to sell wheat in Jerusalem.
The donkey was still with him.
That day, the lion happened to be near the river
and as the caravan approached he recognized the donkey.
Roaring loudly, he rushed towards him,
frightening the merchant and his companions
who fled in great terror.
The lion grasped the donkey’s reins in his teeth, as he had done previously
and led it together with the string of camels to the Saint.
When he saw the Saint he roared joyously at having found the lost donkey.
Saint Gerasimos smiled gently and told his monks
that the lion had been blamed most unfairly.
The lion was given the name ‘Jordan’
and he continued to be a most faithful ‘disciple’.
He was never absent from the monastery
for more than five days at a time.

Saint Gerasimus fell asleep in the Lord in the year 475
and was buried by his sorrowing brethren there in his monastery.
The lion was not in the monastery at that time.
When later he arrived, he began to search for the Saint.
Father Sabbatios tried to explain why it was
that the elder could not be found.
“Jordan, our elder has left us orphans; he has departed to the Lord”.
The lion was not to be comforted;
he refused the food that was offered
and continued searching for his Saint Gerasimos,
roaring in great confusion.
Father Sabbatios and the other monks stroked Jordan gently on the back
and pleaded, “The elder has gone to the Lord; he has left us!”. No words or explanations could stop the sorrowful roaring of the lion.
He kept searching, now in great distress.

Finally Father Sabbatios said,
“If you do not believe us, then come with us:
we will show you the place where the elder rests”.
Jordan was led to the tomb near the church
where Saint Gerasimos was buried.
Father Sabbatios explained to the lion,
“We have buried our elder here”.
Father Sabbatios then fell to his knees
and with a heavy heart began to weep.
The lion now realized what had happened.
He gave one last mighty roar, struck his head on the ground
and died on the elder’s grave.

The lion’s love and devotion for Saint Gerasimos is an example of the love
and obedience the animals had for Adam before his fall into sin
and his expulsion from Paradise.

Apolytikion                       1rst Tn
You did prove to be a citizen of the desert, an angel in the flesh
and a wonderworker, O Gerasimos, our God-bearing Father.
By fasting, vigil, and prayer you did obtain Heavenly Gifts
and you heals the sick and the souls of them
that have recourse to thee with faith.
Glory to Him that has given you strength.
Glory to Him that has crowned you.
Glory to Him that works healings for all through you.

Kontakion                          4th Tn
As a star resplendent with the light of virtues,
you did make the wilderness of Jordan radiantly shine
with beams of sacred celestial Light,
O righteous Father, God-bearing Gerasimos.