March 31th – Saint Hypatius the Wonderworker, bishop of Gangra [†326]

Saint Hypatius the Wonderworker,
Hypatius of Gangra [Υπάτιος Γαγγρών]
was Hieromartyr; titular Bishop of Gangra, Asia Minor.
He was present at the First Ecumenical Council
where he supported Saint Athanasius the Great
against the Arian heresy.
There is not much information about his life.
On the road from Constantinople to Gangra in year 326,
followers of Novatus and Felicissimus attacked him
in a desolate place
and threw him into a muddy swamp.
A woman who was amongst the attackers,
struck him on the head with a rock,
delivering a killing blow.
Immediately after, she went mad and started hitting herself with the same stone.
She was healed only
after they brought her back to the Saint’s burial place.
The saint’s body was found by some Christians
who ran to the city of Gangra
and the inhabitants of the city came and buried the Saint,
their beloved Metropolite.
After his death, the relics of the Saint became famous for numerous miracles.
For that reason, he is called a Wonderworker.
The servant of the Almighty God, stands always
with the angels before the great High Priest,
Christ our Lord to pray for us all.

from a Georgian Site:
——————–
You’re asking me, brother, Almaskhan,
feeling the fire, fire, fire,
What are the drawbacks?        fires what!
The Black Sea is to the top of the damaskhan, you can not put it out,
I get to the heart of the fire I am:
( ______________________

Psalms created on Truth – Orthodoxy & her Psalterion

Introduction
The Psalms are among the most hauntingly beautiful songs and prayers that this world possesses; they are poems whose appeal is permanent and universal.
As an anthology of 150 gems the Psalter is
a work of consummate art,
a thing of beauty which is a joy for ever;
its loveliness increases.
The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express that same delight in God
which made David dance“,
said the late C. S. Lewis.

The Bible is a presentation of the Divine Drama in which we are all taking part.
The theme of the Drama is
the great acts and interventions of God,
past, present and future.
The Psalms are a distillation of the Old Testament and especially of the teaching
of the Hebrew Prophets.
They sum up
the whole Theology of the Old Testament.
They are the quintessence of the faith and devotion of Israel.
Yet they express the feelings and reactions
not only of one nation but of all mankind.
They reflect timelessly the universal hopes and fears, love and hate, joys and sorrows
of the human heart.
Individually they are the outcome of someone’s personal experience, though not perhaps all of them.
They reveal the varying moods of the human spirit from awestruck wonder at God’s mighty acts and the marvels of creation to groping perplexity at the apparent prosperity
of selfish scoundrels, from calm trust and deep certainty to cries of frustration
and desperation bordering on despair.
In these ancient poems we see the fundamental unity of mankind
and of the Old and New Testaments.
The unity is that of Promise and Fulfilment.

If the relic of a Saint or loved one is dear to us,
how much more precious is everything
connected with Jesus Christ, the Lord of Life.
The Psalter was both His Prayer Book and Song Book.
While dying on the Cross,
the only portion of Holy Scripture
that Christ quoted was the Psalter.
Of His seven last words, four of them are echoes from the Book of Psalms:
My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?
[Psalm 21: 2; Matth.27:46; Marc.15: 34];
I thirst” [John.19: 28; Psalm 41: 2; 62: 2; 142: 6];
It is done, accomplished, finished” [Psalm 21: 32; John.19: 30];
“Into Your hands I entrust My spirit” [Psalm 30: 6; Luc.23: 46].

Fullness and Fulfilment
We only realize the full significance of the Psalms
as we read them in Christ, the Truth,
through His eyes, and in His Spirit.
Faith is vision. Unbelief is blindness.
If the Good News is veiled,
it is veiled only to those
who have lost their way.
When the Old Testament is read,
a veil lies over their minds.
Only in Christ is the veil removed.
The minds of unbelievers are so blinded by the god of this world
that the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ
cannot dawn upon them.
God Who told light to shine out of darkness
has shone in our hearts with the light of the knowledge
of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ [2Cor.4-6].
So let all Israel know for certain
that God has made Jesus Whom you crucified
both Lord and Messiah [Acts 2: 36].

Israel failed to respond to the Divine call
and commission to give God’s light and love to the world.
The vine lifted out of Egypt (Psalm.79: 9; Matth.2: 15) is Jesus; the True Vine [John.15].
As the true Israel He fulfils Israel’s mission,
so that from the Cross and Resurrection
the New and True Israel is the community of those
whose hearts receive by faith the Divine Word spoken in Him [Hebr.1: 2].
His life is offered that it may flow in our veins as the Blood of the New Covenant,
the fruit of the vine [Marc.14: 24],
the love that conquers death [1 Cor.15: 54-57].
When the risen Lord walked and talked
with Lucas and Cleophas:
He began with Moses and all the Prophets
and explained to them the passages
which referred to Himself in every part of the Scriptures
“.
And at Emmaus He added,
This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the law of Moses
and in the Prophets and Psalms was bound to be fulfilled

Luc.24: 27, 44

The songs of Israel find their full meaning only in the New Adam.
The Psalmist’s voice is his Master’s voice.
It was the Spirit of Christ in the Prophets foretelling the sufferings in store for Christ and the Glories that would follow.
And it was revealed to them
that it was not for themselves
but for you that they were administering those very Mysteries,
Which have now been announced to you through those who preached the Gospel
to you in the Power of the Holy Spirit [1Petr.1: 11].
Christ’s Birth, Sufferings and Death,
His triumphant Resurrection and Ascension, and His coming in Judgment,
are all clearly portrayed in the Psalms,
not merely as historical events but as perpetual and saving realities.
The eternal Spirit transforms history into Theology.
Saint Athanasius the Great says that the line of the Psalmist,
Open your mouth wide
and I will fill it
[80: 11] refers
to receiving the Gift of the Holy Spirit
“.
The outpouring of the Spirit is the fulfilment of the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms.

Correspondence and Recapitulation
The Christian Church accepted the
Old Testament as sacred Scriptures.
The Apostles and Christian preachers and teachers cited passages of the Old Testament
as Prophecies of the events of the Gospel.
They also saw correspondences between things and events under the Old and New Covenants.
The Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Law and the Covenant have their counterpart in the redemption of mankind through the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the giving of the New Covenant in His blood [1Cor.11: 25]
and the new commandment which fulfils the Law [John.13: 34; Gal.5: 14; Rom.13: 10].
The temple at Jerusalem has its counterpart in the temple of the Church
composed of living stones [Eph.2: 20-22; 1Petr.2: 5].
The Heavenly Manna has its counterpart in
Jesus as the heavenly bread of life [John.6: 32-58].
The Creation of the earthly man has its counterpart
in the New Creation born in the death and Resurrection
of the Heavenly Man Who is the Lord from Heaven
[John.12: 24; 1Cor.15: 47-49; 2Cor.5: 17].
Adam, the head of a sinful race of mortals,
has his counterpart in Christ, the second Adam, the New Man,
the head of a race of immortals [1Cor.15: 45-49].
In all these ways the New Covenant recapitulates the Old Covenant.

Similarly Christ was seen to be both [High-]Priest and Victim [Hebr. 8: 1 – 9: 15].
He is the Sacrificial Lamb and also the Victorious King [John.1: 36; 18: 37].
He is the Good Shepherd and also the Lion of the tribe of Judah [Psalm. 22; John.10: 11; Rev.5: 5].
He is the Son of Man foreseen by the Prophet Daniel [7: 13,14] destined to receive an eternal Kingdom
and also the Son of God foreseen by the Prophet David [Psalm 2] destined to reign over all Creation.
Jesus fulfils the role of Israel by attaining
the Triumph of His kingdom and Exaltation through Humiliation and Obedience to the point of death [Marc.14: 21; Hebr.2: 5-9; Isaiah 53].

The Church also understood that Jesus was the Word
(John.1: 14; 1John.1: 1; Rev.19: 13].
He was Himself the utterance of God’s Love and Grace,
Light and Truth in the world.
The utterances of the Old Testament had been
partial, incomplete, fragmentary, preparatory, Prophetic.
In Jesus we have the fullness and finality of the Divine utterance.
Jesus embodies the Divine utterance both in His teaching and in Himself.
The Word and the Person are completely identical.
The Word Who became flesh [John.1: 14] was in origin and originally God [John.1: 1),
ever at work with the Father and the Spirit in the creation of the world [John.5: 17],
ever giving life and light to men and angels [John.1: 9].
And so we see that the Word is a Person.
Life is not something but Someone [Gal.2: 20; Phil.1: 21].
The whole pageant of the past is recapitulated
in the Gracious Personality of Jesus the Messiah.
He recapitulates in His Person the whole destiny of mankind [Eph.1: 10].
God has predestined men to become
conformed to the image of His Son [Rom.8: 29].

The Church and the Bible
Under both Old and New Covenants the Church preceded the Bible.
The essential role of the Church, as of the individual Christian,
is to bear witness to experience, to what has been seen and heard
[Acts 1: 8; 4: 20; 22: 15].
Man’s vocation and destiny are supernatural
[Hebr.3: 1; Rom.8: 29; 2Tim.1: 9; 1Cor.1: 2].
Scripture is a communication of Divine Light
to guide us in the way of perfection [Matth.5: 48].
To know Christ (Truth) is to love Him and be free [1John.4].
So a supernatural Revelation of God’s Nature, Will and Purpose is essential.
Such is the Word of God contained in the Bible.
It is a love-letter written by our Heavenly Father
and transmitted by the sacred writers to the human race
on our pilgrimage towards our Heavenly country [Saint John Chrysostomos].
Readers of the Bible have the Church to guide them.
No Prophecy of Scripture is a matter of private interpretation,
nor can it be understood by one’s own powers.
For no Prophecy ever originated in the human will,
but Holy men of God spoke as they were prompted by the Holy Spirit [2Petr.1: 20].
It is the Church’s mission to interpret the Bible.
People who live humbly and honestly in the fellowship of the Church
have their minds conditioned
and attuned to understand the Scriptures
as the Revelation of the mind of God
[1Cor.2: 16; Phil.2: 5; 2Petr.3: 1]

The Nature of the Psalms
It would be a mistake to think that the Psalms
are a beautiful expression of nature Mysticism,
inspired by the natural beauty of the countryside
and the soothing sounds of softly murmuring streams.
They are rather the war-songs of the Prince of Peace,
the vigorous shouts and cries of the whole man,
responding or reacting with his whole being to the One Who comes to him in all the circumstances of life.
Jesus Himself tells us that we shall never see Him
until we say in every situation:
Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord” [Luc.13: 35].
In this matter of the Sanctification of the total man
made to love God with His whole nature
” [Luc.10: 27],
Israel was unlike the religions of the world.
The New Israel, the Church of Christ, inherits and continues this Tradition and
should develop it in an even more thoroughgoing manner.

The Jews prayed and worshipped with spirit, soul and body.
They beat their breasts, clapped their hands, stretched out their arms,
fell prostrate on the ground; they sang, they shouted, they danced;
they used drums, tambourines, cymbals, castanets, bells, horns, trumpets, pipes,
and various stringed instruments.
We find these features in the Psalms.
Saint Isaac the Syrian says:
Every prayer in which the body does not participate
and by which the heart is not affected
should be reckoned as an abortion without a soul
“.

Varieties of prayer are found in the Psalms:
Worship and Bowing Down, Love and Adoration, Meditation and Contemplation,
Stillness and Watching, Waiting and Listening, Hope and Desire,
Acts of Faith and Trust, Praise and Blessing,
Exaltation and Magnification, Repentance and Confession,
Weeping and Groaning, Exultation and Thanksgiving, Joy and Gladness,
Vows and Affirmations, Exorcism and Adjuration, Surrender and Submission,
Petition and Intercession.
We need to learn afresh the Christian use of the Psalter.
One reason for the neglect of the Psalms
in our devotional life is the disproportionate attention given
to critical and historical research in modern biblical study,
to the almost total exclusion of the Vital meaning
and Purpose of the Word of God.
To be ignorant of Scripture is not to know Christ“, says St. Jerome.

Practical Use of the Psalter
The Church never merely studied the Psalms.
They were her chief book of devotion.
Her divine Founder had quoted them,
had used them in prayer,
had explained them to His disciples,
and had died with them on His lips.
The Apostles ordered the faithful to use the Psalms both in their personal lives
and in community worship [Jac.5: 13; Col.3: 16; Eph.5: 19].
Saint Jerome tells us that at Saint Paula’s funeral in 404,
the Psalms were sung now in Greek, now in Latin, now in Syriac;
and this not only during the three days that elapsed before she was buried,
but throughout the rest of the week.
He also says that the Psalms sung in churches were also sung in the fields:
The toiling reaper sings Psalms as he works,
and the vine-grower, as he prunes his vines,
sings one of David’s songs. [so what are we doing during our daily work???]

At first the Psalter was the only hymnbook available.
Many both of the clergy and laity knew it by heart.
Saint Germanus in Constantinople and Saint Gregory in Rome
refused to consecrate as bishops men
who were unable to recite the Psalter.
A disused canon so ruled.
Even when the Church Services began to be compiled,
the Psalter was the Church’s first Service Book,
and it retains that position to this day.
All the services draw heavily upon the Psalms.
The Psalter is a quarry and treasury of Christian prayer and devotion.

Poetic Characteristics
The Psalms are poetry and this version retains the original poetic form
by printing the lines as in the Septuagint.
Much is lost when the Psalms are printed as prose.
Hebrew verse does not rhyme except occasionally and accidentally.
It is based on what is called parallelism, and is mostly in the form of couplets.
The second line of the couplet may be a repetition of the theme in different words,
or a contrast, or a heightened emphasis.
There is rhythm, but little metre.
Often there is a play on words, or assonance, or alliteration, or some figure of speech.
These are not reproducible in translation.
But the parallelism is clearly retained.
If the line endings occasionally rhyme,
that is quite incidental as in the original Hebrew.

It must not be thought that the parallelism of Hebrew poetry
merely means that the second line of every couplet
simply repeats the thought of the first line in different words.
Far from it. It may enrich or amplify the thought of the first line,
or it may modify it in other ways.
For example, the Prophet Isaiah writes [55: 7]:
Let the wicked forsake his ways and the sinful man his thoughts.
Or take the opening words of that wonderful outburst of praise
which the Holy Spirit put on Mary’s lips [Luc.1: 46]:
My soul magnifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour
“.
This does not mean that soul and spirit are therefore identical [cp. 1Thess.5: 23].
Rather it indicates that the second half of the couplet is a result of the first.
With my soul I magnify the Lord
[soul including understanding, intellect, memory, imagination, desire, will].
As a result of my growing consciousness and realization of the greatness
and goodness and glory of God,
my spirit is filled with joy and I exult in God my Saviour.
So the inspired lines are found to contain a simple technique
for the praise of God.

Divergences
Every new translation of the Psalter
has been made primarily for use in the Services
of the Orthodox Church.
It will be found to follow closely and often word for word previous versions made from the Hebrew.
It will also be found to differ widely in many places.
This is because the Orthodox Church
is committed to the Septuagint version of the Bible,
which was the Bible of the whole Christian Church
during the first thousand years of its existence.
It is also the version of the Bible that was used
and quoted by our Lord Jesus Christ and the Apostles, though they also occasionally referred to the Hebrew.
That is why it will be found that this version of the Psalms tallies in almost every instance
with the Psalms quoted in the New Testament whereas the Hebrew Psalms are often widely divergent.
For example, Psalm 4:5,
Be angry, yet do not sin, is quoted word for word by the Apostle Paul [Eph.4: 26].
The Hebrew gives quite a different reading.

If it is asked why the Septuagint often differs
so totally from the Massoretic text,
the answer probably is that Hebrew was a kind of shorthand,
entirely without vowels when the Psalms were written.
It is easy to see that a word like brd could be rendered
bread, bird, bard, brayed, broad, beard, bored, breed,
broody braid, bride, bred, buried.
It is not surprising that there are variant readings.
What is surprising is that the Septuagint
reproduces a vast amount of the Hebrew text almost verbatim,
so that we can often check the Massoretic.
Another reason for differences in the Septuagint
may be that the Seventy translators used a Hebrew version
that differed in many respects from the Massoretic text.

We cannot give footnotes to explain
how we arrive at every puzzling rendering of the Greek,
as it is not within our scope.
If we take a single instance, it will be seen
how lengthy and complicated such explanations could be.
In Psalm 101: 27, change them like clothing could be rendered,
roll them like clothing.
Actually there is a variant reading at this point,
some texts reading roll, others change.
As the thought suggested is
that of a person rolling or stripping off a worn-out garment,
we believe that the word change
faithfully conveys the sense of either Greek word
and also the meaning of the Hebrew original.
In fact, the idea of change and renewal and the rebirth of the soul
as a New Creation is a basic concept throughout Holy Scripture
[cp. John.3: 3-5; 2Cor.5: 17; Gal.6: 15; Eph.2: 10; 4: 24].

Songs with a Difference
The Psalms provide food for the fed up
and Heavenly bread in the wilderness.
But what about the stone-age ethics?
How does King Og aid
our Sanctification or help our prayer?
In some of the Psalms we seem to be thirsting not for God
but for our enemies’ blood.
Sometimes we seem to be howling war-cries with a tribe of savages.
How can we speak the Truth in love with Hebrew tribal’s
who even sink to sacrificing their sons and daughters to demons? [Psalm 105: 37]

 

The purpose of God’s written word of which the Psalms are a part is
to make known to men the saving Truths
that God has revealed to us about Himself in His eternal Being
and about His action in time and place and His plan for the new world order.
Christian Theology is essentially the knowledge of God
and His will revealed to man through God’s action in history, which is truly His story.
Orthodox Theology as a unity of knowledge
is a means to an end that transcends all knowledge.
This end is Union with God.
The Psalms sum up the whole Salvation history and theology of the Old Covenant.
The Lights and shadows of the total panorama are all here.

So the Psalms are unlike the sacred books of the world religions.
The Bible is the record of the life of a community
offered by the Church as divine revelation.
We see the living God in the movement of events.
It is not merely the history of a progressive revelation,
but history as Revelation.
The meaning of the events lies in man’s meeting with God.
The Prophet, like the Priest, is a public person.
His encounter with God is not merely private experience,
like that of the mystics and sages of the world religions.
The pressure of public events
is the normal occasion of the Prophet’s meeting with God.
The Truth which the encounter reveals to his mind is public property.
God’s Choice of the Prophet is not an act of favouritism,
but an invitation or call to special responsibility [cp. Amos 3: 2].
The word of God which gives the vital meaning to history always has a twofold action:
– it is the word of crisis and judgment,
– and it is the creative word of renewal and regeneration.
If anyone is in the Truth, there is a New Creation [cp. 2Cor.5: 17].
Judgment is followed by the New Heavens and New Earth [2Petr.3: 13]
and the Universal Restoration of all things  {Acts 3:21].
The Light that judges us, Transfigures and Saves us” [John.12: 47].
In Your Light we see light” [Psalm 35: 10].
The supreme message of the Psalter is that the Vision of God,
to know and love Him, to trust and obey Him;
and to offer Him the Sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving
is eternal life and happiness [John 6: 40; 17: 3; Luc.10: 25- 28; 1Petr.1: 8f].

The Divine Initiative
The Psalms are the Bible in miniature.
By a kind of Divine tom-tom
they drum into our consciousness the Truth
that we meet God in the world of persons, things and events.
Here and now we are to pass through the visible
and transient to the Invisible and True.
Yet the initiative always rests with God.
The word of God comes out of the everywhere into the here
and breaks into our life from beyond us.
The Bible is a record of God’s search for man.
The people of God are not those
who have a special bent or natural genius for religion.
Far from it.
All the saints would agree
that they had a natural bent for unbelief and waywardness,
but for the Grace of God. “We love because He first loved us” [1John 4: 19].
When we were still sinners Christ died for us [Rom.5: 8].
It was when we were sick and powerless to help ourselves . . . . . when we were enemies
that we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son
” [Rom.5: 6, 10].
His was the first Birth out of death [Col.1: 18].
Last but not least, the Psalms remind us of our response
to God’s love which means life from the dead.
It is the response of obedient love and loving obedience.
“I love You, O Lord, my Strength [Psalm 17: 1].

In the Psalms David speaks as if he were not going to die,
as if God would not leave him in hell or allow him to see corruption [15: 10].
Yet David died and his Kingdom vanished.
Now hear the Apostle Peter at Pentecost:
Men and brethren, I can speak freely to you about the Patriarch David:
he died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.
But being a Prophet, he foresaw and spoke of the Resurrection of Christ,
when he said that his soul would not be left in hell,
nor would his flesh see corruption.
This Jesus God raised to life
and we are all His witnesses
” [Acts 2: 29f].

The Psalms were the utterances of both David and Christ.
God Who spoke in David and Who became incarnate as the Son of David
was speaking of His own coming into visibility
as the Divine Messiah and of His plan of Salvation.
This plan is only fully revealed in its fulfilment,
when men are filled with the Holy Spirit of God.
The incarnation of the Word
as the visible image of the invisible God [Col.1: 15]
is the supreme demonstration of the Divine Initiative and Intervention.
It is the Climax of God’s search for man
and the discovery and redemption of the lost image
and likeness in the Saviour’s death and Resurrection.

The Messiah
A striking and mysterious figure looms larger and larger
and gradually takes shape, as we read and re-read the Psalms.
He is the Son of God, appointed King on Zion to rule the nations [Psalm 2].
He is addressed as God, His kingdom is to last for ever,
His Reign is gentle and just, yet strong as iron.
He is lovely with a Beauty beyond the sons of men
and because of His love of justice and goodness
He has a joy surpassing His fellow men [Psalm 44].
He is a King and Judge Who shares the Throne of God.
He is a Priest, not in the Levitical line,
but an Eternal Priest-King like Melchizedek [Psalm 109].
His reign will bring lasting Peace and Justice,
all kings and nations will worship Him,
He will take special care of the poor and destitute
and in Him all the families of the earth will be blessed [Psalm 71].
Yet this Sovereign Ruler of nations
Whom all mankind will worship will undergo terrible sufferings,
will be treated as an outcast, a worm
and not a man, will endure outrageous handling by men
who have become more like wild beasts: bulls, lions and dogs.
And they will strip Him and pierce His hands and feet
and will then stand and gloat over Him [Psalm 21].
Yet when He comes in Judgment to claim His Kingdom,
it will be a world-wide assembly, including rich and poor alike,
who will all worship Him and partake of
a sacrificial meal in His honour [Psalm 21, 93, 95].
Such is the King Messiah, portrayed especially in
5 Messianic Psalms: 2, 21, 44, 71 and 109.
They foretell the advent, Kingdom, Priesthood, sufferings, death,
Resurrection and Ascension of the coming Redeemer.
But different facets of the same Face and Person
are sprinkled throughout the Psalter
and we need them all to get the full Portrait.

Figures and Symbols
The Psalms foreshadow in figure and symbol,
the way of life and freedom
• fully revealed only in the New Adam
[Rom.5: 12f., 1Cor.15: 21f.],
the New Noah, father of the new race
• who rise from the baptismal waters [1Petr.3: 20f; 2Petr.2: 5],
• the Prophet like Moses [Deut.18: 15, 18; John 1: 21, 46; 6: 14, 32; Acts 3: 22].
• So He explains the miracle of the bronze serpent
which Moses fixed to a sign-post or standard
and which brought a change of heart [Num.21: 9]:
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life [John 3: 14].

But the crucial and decisive event of
the old Covenant history was the Exodus from Egypt,
which the Psalms mention so frequently.
Just as the Christian remembers and relives the Sacrifice of Christ
by the celebration of the Liturgy, so the Jew recalls and re-enacts the Exodus
by the celebration of the Passover.
This act of Worship is not just an escape from the present into the past,
but a means of actual experience.
The Passover ritual says:
In every generation it is a man’s duty to imagine
that he himself has escaped from Egypt” [cp. Ex.13: 8].

As Moses led the Hebrew slaves out of Egyptian bondage
through the Red Sea towards the Promised Land
and celebrated their escape or deliverance by the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb,
so Christ the True Lamb of God by His Sacrifice on the Cross
leads men through the red sea of His life-giving blood
out of the real slavery of sin
into the Glorious freedom of the Children of God,
Which is Heaven on earth or the Promised Land.
The Great theme of history is the conflict between belief and unbelief.
Human societies like human beings live by Faith
and die when Faith dies [Rom.1: 17; Jac.2: 20].
Faith is the light in which we see God.
As we grow in faith and love,
the Mystery and Unity of the Exodus
and Christ’s Passover becomes more and more
a matter of personal experience.
Yet the experience is not the essential reality,
but only an effect of the reality
which is infinitely beyond experience, namely God in us:
Christ in you [Col.1].

By faith in Christ [John 5: 24]
and by the New Birth [John 3: 3-5]
we enter a new dimension of life and become amphibians, living at once in time and eternity.
We are at the same time in the wilderness and in the Promised Land.
Our life is in Heaven [Phil.3: 20].
God has enthroned us with Christ in Heaven [Eph.2: 6].
The Songs of Zion will tell us again and again that by faith
we are Christ’s Body in this world [1Cor.12: 27]
and that He lives in us [Col.1: 27; 2: 6; Gal.2: 20].
– Be what you are! they keep saying.
– Be forgiven, be reconciled, be friends with God,
– be clean, be free, be filled with the Spirit,
– be whole, be Holy, be Children of God,
– be citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven! [Phil.3: 20].

Some Difficulties
Some people object to parts of the Psalms
because they seem to contradict
the Divine Law of Love taught by Christ.
But the Mystery of the Divine wrath and vengeance
reveals the total incompatibility of evil with the Divine Nature.
You who love the Lord, hate evil” [Psalm 96: 10; Rom.12: 9].
Judgment and vengeance belong to God and must be left to Him [Deut.32: 35].
God’s Judgment is His Appearance, Manifestation, Epiphany [Psalms 49: 1-4; 79: 2; 93: 1].
In its Fullness this appearing or manifestation refers to the Incarnation,
when Christ becomes the visible criterion in Whose Light we see light [Psalm 35: 10].
All the evil and malice of the world culminates in the Crucifixion of Christ.
When vengeance is left to God,
it takes the form of the agony and death of the God-man.
God takes His own medicine.
With Christ we are to hate the reign of evil, the vile spirits and passions
that prevent the reign of Christ in our hearts and in the world.
As we hate and forsake sin, we become free
to love and pray and labour for God’s Reign and Rule on earth.

Spiritual things must be spiritually understood.
People contrast spirit and letter.
But what letter is there in the Word of God
Who says Himself, My words are spirit and life? [John 6: 63].
Truly the letter kills [2Cor.3: 6].
To a literalist the message and meaning of the Bible
is bound to elude his most meticulous search.
The resident aliens whom God’s people are to drive out of Canaan
are the enemies of the human soul.
The harsh Psalms are the strong weapons used by the Church to exorcize
and drive out evil spirits from the souls and bodies of men.
The weapons of our warfare are not material,
but are powerful with God for the overthrow of the enemy’s strongholds [2Cor.10: 4].
The Word of God which is the Sword of the Spirit [Eph.6: 17]
is given us to expel evil and idle thoughts and replace them
by the Divine Light of the Beauty of Holiness and Truth.
Let the word of God dwell in you richly [Col.3: 16].

Other people object that they cannot sincerely say with some of the Psalms
that they are blameless, innocent, faithful, holy; it seems hypocritical.
Still others say that they do not share the agony and suffering of the Psalmist,
that their knees are not weak from fasting,
and how can they give thanks for joys and victories
they have never experienced?
The trouble with all these people is
that they have lost the sense of solidarity and unity with all mankind in Christ,
still less do they have a sense of the unity of all being in God.

After Pentecost when the Spirit restored men to unity, we read,
The whole Body of believers had one heart and soul, and none of them called any of his possessions his own, but everything was shared as common property“. Acts 4: 32
We cannot repeat too often that the Psalms refer to Christ and can be applied fully only to Him.
“But it is Christ in you Who is the hope of Glory for you”. Col.1: 27
He ever lives to make intercession in you,
with you, for you“. Hebr.7: 25
The Psalms teach us to enlarge our hearts or consciousness to embrace all mankind.
Remember those who suffer as if you shared their pain“.
Hebr.13: 3

Today we hear much of the priesthood of the laity.
The Psalms, if used aright, compel us to exercise our priesthood
and act as the voice of all mankind in Christ,
the one Mediator Priest and Intercessor.
We even act as the mouth of all dumb creation
to thank and glorify God for His Goodness.
The Angels in Heaven and all God’s creatures are invited to join the Divine praises.
To Him Who loves us and has washed us from our sins in His own blood
and made us a Kingdom of priests to serve His God and Father,
to Him be Glory and Triumph throughout endless ages [Rev.1: 5].
As we pray with and for all mankind,
we get a vision of hidden realities visible only to the eyes of faith
and we actually begin to see God’s New Creation taking shape.
When He appears, we shall be like Him,
for we shall see Him as He is [1John 3: 2].
If we are faithful, God will keep us till the end.
So Saint Athanasius explains Psalm 93:14 thus:
The Lord will guard His people in their troubles and afflictions
and He will direct and guide them until His Justice returns in judgment,
that is, until Christ judges the world;
for God has made Him our wisdom, our righteousness
,
our holiness and our redemption [1Cor.1: 30].
But disobedience always incurs God’s Judgment” [Jer.44].

The Cross is the Key
Og, Sehon, Pharaoh are so many troubles and trials.
“There is plenty of suffering and misery on earth”. 2Tim.3: 12
We make use of it aright when we offer it in union with the sufferings of Christ.
In union with Christ our sufferings assume infinite redemptive value,
just as a drop of water thrown into a great river does all that the river does“.
cf. Col.1: 24
In this way our sufferings are transformed into Light and Power and Joy.
We find true happiness by dying
because we can only enter Heaven
by dying to earthly things

cf. Acts 14: 22
That is why the Cross is the key to the Psalms, as it is the key to the Kingdom.
“Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies,
it remains alone, merely a grain of wheat”.
John 12: 24
It is when Christ is lifted up that He draws all to Himself into the Unity of the Spirit.
It is by dying that Jesus has drawn all into the triumph of His Resurrection.
So Caiaphas prophesied “that Jesus would die for the nation
and not for the nation only, but to re-unite into one family
the scattered children of God
“.
John 11: 51, 52

Importance of the Psalterion
All the Psalms have as their aim the Glorification of God.
They were sung in the Temple, in the Synagogues, and in Jewish homes.
Today they are used by both Jews and Christians, uniting us in praise.
The Psalter is the hymnbook of the universal Church.
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the Book of Psalms.
The Hebrew poets took these timeless religious experiences
and made them the theme of their songs.
The Psalms are poems intended to be sung.
The Hebrew title means Songs of Praise.
But they can be read with a song in the heart,
they can be prayed in Spirit and Truth.
The inspired poets of Israel reflect the spiritual experience of the human soul.
So the Psalms belong to all mankind.
As there is no book in the New Testament corresponding to the Book of Psalms,
the Psalter belongs to both the New and Old Covenants
and forms a bridge linking the Old and New Testaments.
It is eloquent proof of the Unity of the Bible.
The Psalms constitute one of the most vital forms of prayer for men of all time.
Their Inspiration is expressly stated [2Sam.23: 1-5].

At the time when the Psalms were written they were not of such use
to those among whom they were written as they are to us,
for they were written to foretell the New Covenant among those
who lived under the Old Covenant [Saint Augustine].
The one great theme is Christ in regard to His inner life as the God-man
and in His past, present and future relations with the Church and the world.
The Psalter is the expression of the heart of the True man.
It is the Prophetic portrait [Icon] of the mind and heart of the coming Saviour.
God speaks to men in human words.
What wonderful Beauty there is in the words,
Let the lifting up of my hands be an evening Sacrifice [Psalm 140],
when applied to the one great Sacrifice of our Redemption
which was offered in the evening of the world
and on the eve of the Passover by the stretching out of the Saviour’s hands
to embrace all mankind on the Cross!
This we sing daily at Vespers.
What profound significance we can see in the words,
I will not die but live and proclaim the works of the Lord” [Psalm 117: 17],
when we refer them to the morning of the Resurrection and that first Easter Day
and the commission to the Apostles to make disciples of all nations!
This we sing daily at Matins. On Easter Day itself we sing.
This is the day which the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it!
” [Psalm 117: 24].
And every day is the New day fresh from the and
in addition of the living God, so let us keep festival [1Cor.5: 8].

Inspiration
The inspiration of the Psalms as an integral part of inspired Scripture
is vouched for and guaranteed by Christ the Truth, Who asked the Pharisees:
How is it that David, inspired by the Spirit, calls Christ Lord, saying Psalm 109: 1:
The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand till I put Thy enemies under Thy feet’“.
If David calls Him Lord, how can He be his son? [Matth.22: 43-45].
Christ classes the Psalms,
the chief book of the Chetubim or Hagiographa,
with the Law and the Prophets [Luc.24: 44].
Inspiration is explicitly defined in 2Tim.3: 16 and 2Petr.1: 20, 21.

Date and Authorship
The title of Psalm 89 attributes it to Moses.
The psalm itself recalls how the first generation of Israelites
were doomed to die in the wilderness
for their infidelity and disobedience.
So about 1280 B.C. some of the Psalms were probably being sung.
The titles ascribe 84 of the 150 to David, who lived about 1000 B.C.
So the earliest of the Psalms are well over 3000 years old
and the compilation covered perhaps 1000 years.
There are indications of editing at different dates.
For instance, after Psalm 71 an editor has added:
The songs of David the son of Jesse are ended.
But later we meet more Psalms attributed to David,
evidently inserted by other editors [90, 92, 93 etc.].
The Book of Psalms was perhaps completed
for the Jewish canon by about 300 B.C.
The Greek translation was made in Egypt
about 250 B.C. by Jews of the dispersion.

We cannot summarize the matter of authorship
better than by quoting the words of Saint Gregory the Dialogist:
Who was the author?
A very useless question as soon as we believe
that the book was the work of the Holy Spirit
Who dictated what was to be written.
If we received a letter from a Great Personage,
would we be curious to know what pen he used to write it?
“.

Historical Coverage
Besides studying the past, we can sing songs about it.
That is what the Psalmists did.
The whole History of the world as recorded in the Old Testament,
from the Creation of the universe till after the Babylonian Exile,
is put into poetry by the Psalmists.
Psalm 136 looks back to the Babylonian Exile
as a thing of the past [cp. also Psalm 125].

Unity and Divisions
The Psalms form a single book.
So our Lord refers to them [Luc.20: 42]
and so do His Apostles [Acts 1: 20].
The Orthodox Church has divided the Psalter
into 20 kathismas or sessions
[perhaps because it is customary to sit during the reading of a kathisma].
Each kathisma is further divided into 3 sections, marked by a Glory.
At each Glory it is customary to stand and sing as follows:

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and
to the Holy Spirit,
now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Glory to You,
O God.
Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Glory to You,
O God.
Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Glory to You,
O God.
Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
now and ever, and to the ages of ages.                                                                                            Amen
“.
Mp3:  Romanian Orthodox Chant – Psalm 1,2,3 at Putna Monastery

Effect of the Psalms
People talk of haunted houses.
The Psalter is a house of prayer haunted by the Spirit of Christ
Who inspired the Psalms.
Used aright, they cannot fail to lift us above and beyond ourselves.
They confront us with God and we find ourselves haunted
by His presence and gradually brought face to face with Him.
They bring our hearts and minds into the presence of the living God.
They fill our minds with His Truth in order to unite us with His Love.
The Saints and Holy Fathers of the Church,
like the Patriarchs and Prophets of Israel,
were haunted by the living reality of the Redeemer
revealed to the world in the Psalter.
He is the Word of God hidden in these words of God.
As you persevere in praying the Psalms,
you will be drenched with the Holy Spirit
as the trees are drenched with the rain [Psalm 103: 16],
you will be rapt in God and penetrated from time to time
with vivid intuitions of His action,
your mind and heart will be purified.
The pure in heart know God as the Father of mercies
Who has so loved the world as to give His only Son for their redemption [John 3: 16]
and they see Him making all things New [Rev.21: 5].
They see and know Him not merely by faith, still less by speculation,
but by Interior and incommunicable Experience.
As we sing His Glories, we are led by Faith to see His vast activity in every aspect of life.
By beholding the Glory of the Lord, we are transformed into His likeness
from Glory to glory by the Spirit of God [2Cor.3: 18].
But this will only happen if we see Christ
as the way, the truth and the life of the Psalms [John 14: 6],
the Great God in Whom we live and move and have our being [Acts 17: 28].
As we persevere in seeking His Face, we find that the Psalms stir and arouse in us
the will to Believe and the will to Love.
By Faith and Love we pass into the realm of Eternal Reality
and new vistas of experience open before us [John 5: 24].

The Voice and The Voices
The Church functions as a voice.
Its ministers are servants of the word [Luc.1: 2].
The Word of life was made visible. Life is a Person.
The eternal life that was with the Father was made visible to us.
What we have seen and heard we declare to you,
that you may share our fellowship,
the life we share with the Father and His Son in the unity of the Spirit,
that our joy may be complete [1John 1: 1-4].
In one who is obedient to His word,
the Divine love has indeed reached perfection [1John 2: 5].
In the Psalms many voices are audible:
• sometimes it is the Psalmist Who speaks,
• sometimes a fool, sometimes Israel,
• sometimes the soul, sometimes evil spirits,
• sometimes the Father, sometimes the Son, sometimes the Spirit;
• sometimes the Messiah seems to be identified with Israel,
as in the Suffering Servant of Isaiah.
With these swift transitions,
it is often difficult at first sight to tell who is the speaker.
As in the Psalms, so it is in our lives:
• “Be still and know I am” [Psalm 45: 11].
• “Speak Lord, for Your servant is listening” [1Sam.3: 9].
The good Shepherd says,
• “My sheep hear My voice” [John 10: 27].
• The voice of the Psalmist is the Voice of Christ.
• The Voice of the bride is the Voice of the Bridegroom.
“He who hears you, hears Me” [Luc.10: 16].

Come you also
– And the Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come’.
– And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come’.
– And let everyone who is thirsty come,
– and let everyone who has the will to do so take the water of life as a free gift [Rev.22: 17].
– Here the Spirit of God and the Church with one voice
invite every living soul to come to the only fountain of life and happiness.
– Then every listening soul is told to cry out of the depths of his hunger and need, Come!
Finally the thirsty and needy and willing are told to come
and receive the Water of Life freely.

Here we have two comings:
– the final coming of Christ to the world and
– the coming of each soul to Christ.
In fact, Christ comes to us continually in all the changes and chances of our lives,
supremely in the Mystery of Communion [1Cor.11: 23-30; John.6: 31-58],
and in many special Manifestations of His real Presence [John.14: 19-23].
The Psalms tell us that we cannot find
satisfaction in sin or work or riches or culture or honour and glory.
But in Jesus we find here and now Satisfaction and Happiness, Pardon, Purity and Peace:
Happy are those who hunger and thirst for Righteousness [Christ],
for they will be satisfied [Matth.5: 6).
Pardon: In Him we have the forgiveness of our sins [Eph.1: 7].
Purity: He has washed us from our sins in His own blood [Rev.1: 5].
Peace: My peace I give you (Jn. 14:27). He is our Peace [Eph.2: 14].

And so we watch in eager expectation
for the coming of the Son of God in power and glory,
praying and working for that golden age foreseen and foretold
by the holy Prophets where God’s Will of perfect Love is done on earth
as it is in Heaven.
Let us take as our motto the words of the Psalmist:
I will live to please the Lord in the land of the living [Psalm 114: 9],
the Promised Land, the honeycomb of the earth [Ez.20: 6 LXX],
peace beyond all understanding [Phil.4: 7],
the joy of the Lord [Matth.25: 23],
Heaven within you [Luc.17: 21],
Divine life in the soul of man [2Cor.5: 15],
sharing the Divine Nature [2Petr.1: 4].
He who has the Son has the Life [1John 5: 12].
Come, Lord Jesus, come [Rev.22: 20].

Panegyric on the Psalms [from Saint John Chrysostom – Extract]
If we keep vigil in Church, David comes first, last and central.
If early in the morning we want songs and hymns, first, last and central is David again.
If we are occupied with the funeral solemnities of those who have fallen asleep,
or if virgins sit at home and spin,
David is first, last and central.
O amazing wonder!

Many who have made little progress in literature know the Psalter by heart.
Nor is it only in cities and churches that David is famous;
in the village market, in the desert, and in uninhabitable land,
he excites the praise of God.
In monasteries, among those holy choirs of angelic armies,
David is first, last and central.
In the convents of virgins, where are the communities of those who imitate Mary;
in the deserts where there are men crucified to the world,
who live their life in Heaven with God,
David is first, last and central.
All other men at night are overcome by sleep.
David alone is active, and gathering the servants of God into Seraphic bands,
he turns earth into Heaven, and converts men into Angels”.
cf. Father Lazaros Moore – 1st printed 1966

March 28th – Saint Stephen, the wonderworker of Triglia

Saint Stephen, Confessor was Igumen of Triglia Monastery.
He suffered under the iconoclast emperor Leo the Armenian [813-820].
From a young age, the holy ascetic dedicated his life to God
and received monastic tonsure.
He later became head of the Triglia monastery near Constantinople.

When persecution again began against holy icons,
the Saintly Igumen was summoned for questioning
and they tried to force him
to sign a document rejecting the veneration of icons.
Saint Stephen steadfastly refused to betray Orthodoxy
and he boldly denounced the emperor for his impiety.
They subjected the Saint to cruel torments,
after which they sent him to prison in the year 815.
Weakened and sick,
the holy Confessor Stephen
soon died in prison from his sufferings and received the Crown of Martyrs.

– Tirilye is a town in Bursa Province, Mudanya, Turkey,
situated 12 km west of Mudanya.
It is a township along the Marmara Sea shoreline.
Trilye has been an important religious center for Orthodox Christians for a long time.
The area, which was inhabited since 5th Century BC,
was formerly known as Τρίγλεια [Trigleia] or Βρύλλειον [Brylleion].
The most important historical structure in Τρίγλεια (Triglea) is
that of the Byzantine Aya Todori Church, known today as the Fatih Mosque.
The Monastery of Saint Sergios of Medikion [Μονή Αγίου Σεργίου του Μηδικίου],
established in 780, commonly simply known as the Medikion monastery [Μονή Μηδικίου],
and later as the Monastery of the Holy Fathers [Μονή των Πατέρων]
is a ruined Byzantine-era monastery near modern Tirilye in Turkey.
It is best known for the role its founders played
in opposing Byzantine Iconoclasm.
The monastery was burned down in 1800, and was rebuilt in 1801,
but was in a derelict condition during Hasluck’s visit later in the century.
Hasluck described the katholikon as “magnificent” and wrote
that it was ornamented with originally arched and black and white mosaics in the courtyard. Pancenko, who came here in 1910, drew the attention to the old icons
and likened it to “a museum where Greek Church pictures are exhibited“.
Evangelides [1889] defined the church as a large rectangle and he added:
It has no roof and columns,
it is almost like a large inn
deserted by its owner…
“.

March 27th – Saint Matrona of Thessalonika [3rd-4th cnt.]

According to the early-Christian Martyrology,
Matrona was the Christian servant-maid of a Jewish mistress,
named Pantilla, the wife of the governor of Thessalonica.
Pantilla constantly mocked Matrona for her faith in Christ
and tried to convert her to Judaism.

Saint Matrona, who believed in Christ from her youth,
still prayed to the Saviour Christ
and secretly went to church
unbeknownst to her vengeful mistress.

Pantilla, learning that Saint Matrona had been to church, asked,
Why won’t you come to our synagogue,
instead of attending the Christian church?
“.
Saint Matrona boldly answered,
Because God is present in the Christian church,
but He has departed from the Jewish synagogue
“.
Pantilla went into a rage and beat Saint Matrona, tied her up
and shut her in a dark closet.
In the morning, Pantilla discovered
that Saint Matrona had been freed of her bonds
by an unknown Power.

In a rage, Pantilla beat the Martyr almost to death,
then bound her even more tightly and locked her in the closet.
The door was sealed so that no one could help her.
The holy martyr remained there for four days without food or water
and when Pantilla opened the door,
she again found Saint Matrona free of her bonds
and standing at prayer.

Pantilla flogged the Holy Martyr
and left the skin hanging in strips from her body.
She locked her in the closet again
where Saint Matrona gave up her spirit to God
and thus received the Crown of her confession.

Pantilla had the Holy Martyr’s body thrown from the roof of her house.
Christians took up the much-suffered body of Saint Matrona and buried it.
Later, Bishop Alexander of Thessalonica
built a church dedicated to the holy Martyr.
Her holy relics, glorified by many Miracles,
were placed in this church.

The judgment of God soon overtook the evil Pantilla.
Standing on the roof at the very place
where the body of Saint Matrona had been thrown,
she stumbled and fell to the pavement.
Her body was smashed
and so she received her just reward for her sin.

According to archaeological evidence and various written sources,
the monastery of Saint Matrona was
one of the first three monasteries of Thessaloniki.
The  historians have noted that until the beginning of iconoclasm [726],
there is reference to a “monastery of Saint Matrona,
located outside the walls of Thesssaloniki, with strong fortification.
It existed about the end of the sixth
and the beginning of the seventh century”.

The book of the Miracles of Saint Demetrius
mentions also a church dedicated to Saint Matrona.
This church, which was near the Via Egnatia in the old centre, is also mentioned by the Archbishop of Thessaloniki, Alexander.
In the account of the saint’s deeds we read:
Άθλησις της Αγίας Μάρτυρος Ματρώνης εκ πόλεως Θεσσαλονίκης. Αυτή θεράπαινα υπήρξε Παντίλλης τινός Ιουδαίας, γυναικός στρατοπεδάρχου εν τη Θεσσαλονικέων πόλει“; translated:
Miracle of the Holy Martyr Matrona of Thessaloniki.
She cured a Jewess named Pantilla,
the wife of a garrison commander
in the city of the Thessalonians
“.

Apolytikion       Tn 3
With undaunted spirit you preserved the Faith,
And your soul, Matrona, was not enslaved by the cruelty of your torturers.
You excelled in contest, slaying the crafty one
and were mystically wedded to the Lord of creation.
Fervently entreat him to deliver us from all harm!
“.

Kontakion          Tn 4
Filled with the light of the Spirit, O Matrona,
you regarded your prison cell as a bridal chamber;
and from it you hastened
to your radiant dwelling in the heavens, crying out:
‘In divine love for You, O Word,
I gladly endured scourging’s’“.

Orthodoxy & the departed Saints pray for us

This done, in like manner
there appeared a man with gray hairs
and exceeding glorious,
who was of a wonderful and excellent majesty.
Then Onias answered, saying,
‘This is a lover of  the brethren, who prays much for the people
and for the holy city, 
to wit, Jeremiah, the Prophet of God’“.
2Mac.15: 13-14

This was the vision which was seen by the courageous Judas Maccabee.
The first to appear to him from the other world was Onias the high priest and after that the holy Prophet Jeremiah.
Just as Moses and Elijah were seen in Glory by the apostles on Mount Tabor,
thus, at one time Judas Maccabee saw the Prophet Jeremiah in Glory.
Not even before the Resurrected Christ did God the Merciful
leave men without proof of life after death.
In Christian times, however, those proofs are without number and without end.
Whoever, even after all of this, doubts in life after death,
that one stands under the curse of his sin as under his grave stone.
As inanimate things cannot see the light of day,
so neither can he see who doubts life which is and to which there is no end.

But, behold with what kind of Glory is
the Prophet Jeremiah wedded in the other life! “Gray hairs and exceeding glorious“;
– around him a certain indescribable dignity,
– a certain bright aureole,
– a certain inexpressible pleasure
– and beauty.
He who was dragged and beaten by men
to whom he communicated and imparted
the will of God
– and who was a captive in prison
– and a martyr in a fetid hole
– and who was ridiculed as folly
– and was tried as a traitor
– and finally, as a transgressor,
was stoned to death.
However, one is the judgment of sinners,
another is the judgment of God.
The most humiliated among men became wedded with angelic Glory before God.

And yet behold how Heaven calls one,
whom the earth called false,
a traitor and a transgressor!
– “Lover of the brethren“;
this is how Heaven called him.
– “Lover of the brethren“;
who prays much for the people.
Finally, see how the Saints in Heaven pray to God for us!
Not sleeping, they are praying for us
– while we are asleep;
not eating, they are praying for us
– while we are eating and have over-eaten;
not sinning, they are praying for us
– while we are sinning.
O brethren, let us be ashamed before so many of our sincere friends.
Let us be ashamed,
let us be ashamed of so many prayers for us
by the Saints and let us join with their prayers.
O Lord All-wonderful,
forgive us our sinful slothfulness and dullness.
To You be glory and thanks always.
Amen“.
Saint Nicholai Velimirovich

When particularly dedicated Christians
consistently demonstrate throughout their lives
a great love for Christ and their fellow-man
and when they live and die in unusually vibrant Hope and Joy in Him,
they are remembered with special fervour
by their fellow Christians left behind on earth.
Accounts of their good deeds, their wise words, and very often,
miraculous events associated with their lives, are spread by word of mouth.
Miracles often occur at the graves of such individuals.
An excellent biblical account of such an occurrence
can be found in 2 Kings 13:20, 21.
Here, a man was raised to life merely
by coming into contact with the bones of Elisha.
In addition, miracles often occur in respect
to the earthly possessions of the Saints.
We are told in the New Testament that even Saint Paul’s handkerchiefs became instruments of God’s healing [Acts 19:11,12].
An example of such an event in recent times occurred at the death of Saint Nectarios.
Just after bishop Nectarios died, the nurses changing his clothing
threw his woolen undershirt onto the bed of a paralyzed man in the same room;
the invalid was healed, immediately standing up
and walking for the first time in many years [Chondropoulos, p. 265].
Knowledge of such events is further spread
when accounts of them are recorded and circulated.
This encourages more people
to ask the person for his or her Heavenly intercessions

[even though it’s not tolerated by a local archpriest,
who is behaving to be a staretz himself].

Thus the devotion to the person spreads in a very organic, spontaneous way.
Such developments usually lead the Church
to formally honour such particularly holy persons
through the process of canonization

[often called “Glorification” by the Orthodox]
.
Unlike the Roman Catholic Church,
which has a very detailed, step-by-step procedure for canonization, the Orthodox Church simply recognizes officially the popular devotion which has spontaneously surrounded the memory of the holy man, woman, or child.

[It is good to remember
that the canonized saints
are of all ages and from all walks of life,
from soldier to monk/nun,
from bishop to family father/housewife
]
.
Usually this is done at a regional or national level, where awareness of the saint’s life tends to be greatest, but the other Orthodox Churches may announce their recognition of the canonization as well.
All this is done so that the popular piety
surrounding the saint is channelled and safeguarded
under the protective mantle of the Church
and so that those living beyond the local area
where the saint lived can become aware of him or her.

We can say is that it is clear that the Jews of the diaspora;
1.]. believed the Saints were alive,
2.]. believed the Saints were able to hear their prayers, and
3.]. believed the Saints were able to respond.
Therefore, it is not much of a stretch to understand how the early Christian church, being comprised mainly of Jews,
did not have any problem with intercessory prayer to the Saints.

Historical Witness
A belief in prayer to the Theotokos appears to be a quite early development.
The John Rylands Papyrus 470 is a fragment dated to around 250 A.D.
and containing the following prayer to the Theotokos:
Under your Mercy we take refuge, Mother of God!
Our prayers, do not despise in necessities,
but from the danger deliver us, only pure, only blessed‘.
Tribe and Villiers 2011

Notice, if you will, the dating of this fragment
– well before the time of the edict of Milan in 313 A.D.;
this papyrus dates to the time of Emperor Decius,
under whose reign there was a persecution of Christian laity across the empire.
This prayer, dating from a time of great persecution,
is still contained in the Greek Orthodox “Book of Hours”,
where it is one of the concluding prayers of the evening services;
also, the Orthodox sing this Hymn as the last dismissal Hymn
of daily Vespers during Great Lent. [Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia 2011]
The prayer is also used in the Roman Catholic Church,
where it is known as the ‘Sub tuum praesidium‘.
Mathewes-Green 2007, 85-86

Shawn Tribe and Henri de Villiers provide us
with the following theological analysis of this prayer.
Three fundamental Theological Truths are admirably synthesized:
– The special election of the Theotokos by God [“only blessed”].
– The perpetual Virginity of the Theotokos [“only pure”].
– The Divine Motherhood [“Theotokos”; “Mother
may be considered as a poor translation of Genitrix.
Tribe and Villiers 2011

We should also add the idea that the Theotokos hears our prayers
and, in some sense, answers them.
Thus prayer to the Theotokos,
along with a belief in her remaining ‘ever-virgin’,
is an expression of ante-Nicene Christianity,
rather than [as some suggest] a syncretic grafting of paganism
onto Christianity by a post-Constantine, apostate church.

Witness of the fathers [& others]
Saint John of Kronstadt waxes lyrical on this topic.
Pray, my brethren, to the Mother of God
when the storm of enmity and malice bursts forth in your house.
She, Who is all-merciful and all-powerful,
can easily pacify the hearts of men.
Peace and love proceed from the one God, as from their Source, and Our Lady
– in God, as the Mother of Christ the Peace, is ardent,
and prays for the peace of the whole world,
and above all of all Christians.
She has the all-merciful power of driving away from us
at Her sign the sub-celestial spirits of evil
–  those ever-vigilant and ardent sowers of enmity and malice amongst men,
whilst to all who have recourse with faith
and love to Her powerful protection,
She soon speedily gives both peace and love.
Be zealous yourselves also in preserving faith and love in your hearts;
for if you do not care for this,
then you will be unworthy of the intercession for you
– of the Mother of God;
be also most fervent and most reverent worshippers
[excerpt from the diary of Saint John of Kronstadt].
of the Mother of the Almighty Lord;
for it is truly meet to bless Her–the ever-blessed;
the entirely spotless Mother of our God,
the highest of all creatures,
the Mediatrix for the whole race of mankind.
Strive to train yourself in the spirit of humility,
for She Herself was more humble than any mortal,
and only looks lovingly upon the humble”.
He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden” [said She to Elisabeth],
of “God, Her Saviour.”
Saint John of Kronstadt 2010, Kindle Locations 3050-3059

The Sub tuum praesidium [written between 250 and 280]
precedes by several centuries
the Ave Mariain Christian prayer.

On the papyrus, we can read:
.ΠΟ
ΕΥCΠΑ
ΚΑΤΑΦΕ
ΘΕΟΤΟΚΕΤ
ΙΚΕCΙΑCΜΗΠΑ
ΕΙΔΗCΕΜΠΕΡΙCTAC
AΛΛΕΚΚΙΝΔΥΝΟΥ
…ΡΥCΑΙΗΜΑC
MONH
…HEΥΛΟΓ
That is this greek text:
Ὑπὸ τὴν σὴν
εὐσπλαγχνίαν
καταφεύγομεν
Θεοτὸκε· τὰς ἡμῶν
ἱκεσίας μὴ παρ-
ίδῃς ἐν περιστάσει
ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ κινδύνου
λύτρωσαι ἡμᾶς
μόνη ἁγνὴ
μόνη εὐλογημένη.
A literal Latin version might be:
Sub tuam
misericordiam
confugimus,
Dei Genitrix ! nostras
deprecationes ne des-
picias in necessitatibus
sed a perditione
salva nos
sola pura,
sola benedicta.
And an English translation could be: 
Under your
mercy
we take refuge,
Mother of God! Our
prayers, do not despise
in necessities,
but from the danger
deliver us,
only pure,
only blessed.

the hymn is chanted in the context of a Vespers Service for Great Lent:
MP3: Χορός Ψαλτών Οι Κρήτες Μαΐστορες κατανυκτικός

The Saints are living,
– are aware of us
[as seen in the conversations between
Moses, Elijah, and the Transfigured Christ],
– fellowship with us,
– worship with us at the heavenly altar
[of which the earthly altar is but a shadow]
– and are able to speak with Jesus.
The author of Hebrews charges us
to keep in mind the Saints in Heaven,
the ‘Great Cloud of Witnesses’ [Hebr.12: 1]
– of whom constant mindfulness in some way helps us
avoid sin and keep us on the path towards Salvation.

4th Sunday of Lent – Saint John Climacos – God’s promises

For when God made promise to Abraham,
because He could swear by no greater,
He swore by Himself,
Saying, Surely blessing I will bless you
and multiplying I will multiply you.
And so, after he had patiently endured,
he obtained the promise.
For men verily swear by the greater:
and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife.
Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise
the immutability of his counsel,
confirmed it by an oath:
That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie,
we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge
to lay hold upon the hope set before us:
Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul,
both sure and steadfast, and which enters into that within the veil;
whither the forerunner is for us entered,
even Jesus, made an High Priest
for ever after the order of Melchisedec“.
Hebr.6: 13-20

It seems as though I have heard a lot of promises lately.
Oh, yes, it is an election year isn’t it?
I hope that all of us have figured out that almost all of the promises
we hear from political candidates [whatever their political party] are empty words.
In many instances the candidates promise different things to different people,
knowing that they cannot deliver.
In a few instances, the candidates may actually think that they can deliver,
but chances are they will not.

This message is about the kind of promises
you can count on, promises
you can “take to the bank,” so to speak.
The particular promises
we are dealing with here in this letter of Paul
are those which God has sworn to uphold as unchanging.

Saint Paul has presented the Hebrews a powerful demonstration of the sufficiency of God the Son
in chapters 1 and 2,
and then drew our attention to the deficiency of men in chapters 3 and 4.
He did so by means of the example of the first generation of Israelites to leave Egypt,
and by the lessons the author of Psalm 94 drew from their failures.
He then proceeds to show how the Son is the solution
to our dilemma by means of becoming our Great High Priest,
a priest after the order of Melchizedek.

Having issued a solemn warning to those outside the faith,
the author is quick to reassure his readers
that he is assured of better things concerning their Salvation.
In particular, their lives have demonstrated service to the Saints,
manifesting the love which should characterize those who are followers of Jesus:
“Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples
– if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

This manifestation of love has continued to the present
and the author hopes that it will continue.
Thus he urges them to persevere in the faith with all diligence,
so that they may realize the full assurance of their hope, up to the very end [Hebr.6: 11].
This will remedy the problem of sluggishness
and will be evident as they imitate others [such as Abraham]
in patiently enduring to the end,
and thus inheriting God’s promises [Hebr.6: 12].

Key of this Text
But we passionately want each of you to demonstrate
the same eagerness for the fulfilment of your hope until the end,
so that you may not be sluggish,
but imitators of those who through faith and perseverance
inherit the promises
“.
Hebr.6: 11-12

The apostle desires for his readers to continue to manifest
the same eagerness and diligence they have demonstrated
in the pursuit of their hope to the very end [Hebr.6: 10].
In doing so, they will be imitators of those, like Abraham and others.
The ones who have demonstrated faith and patient endurance
are those who inherit the promises.

[We know from Hebrews 11: 13-15 & 39-40 that these Old Testament Saints
died without receiving all that God had promised.
They believed, by faith, in what they could not see,
but in what God had promised.
Thus, they still await the full inheritance of the promised blessings
]
.
In this sense, hope is not only the basis for perseverance;
it is also the result of perseverance.
We can find this sequence elsewhere in Scripture.
For example, consider these words in Romans:
Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith,
we have Peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through Whom we have also obtained access by faith
into this Grace in which we stand,
and we rejoice in the hope of God’s Glory.
Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance, character, and character, hope.
And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God
has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit
Who was given to us.
For while we were still helpless,
at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
(For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person,
though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die).
But God demonstrates His own love for us,
in that while we were still sinners,
Christ died for us
“.
Rom.5: 1-8

Christians rejoice in the hope of seeing God’s Glory [Rom.8: 18-25]
and they do so in the midst of trials and tribulations.
How can this be?
Paul tells us that God uses suffering to enhance our hope and our endurance.
When we endure suffering by Faith, we experience God’s sustaining strength.
We discover that suffering actually strengthens our faith
because God is faithful to sustain us.
Successful suffering gives us greater confidence in God
and thus it produces hope by assuring us that,
with God’s enablement, we will endure to the end
and thus experience the full revelation of God’s Glory in the future.

What the author of Hebrews is going to do in the verses which follow [6: 13-20]
is to show how God’s Covenant promises undergird and strengthen our hope,
which then becomes the basis for perseverance and endurance in the midst of adversity.
He will show that as we persevere God provides further confidence in His promises,
which enhances our hope.
All of this is God’s way of showing us
that His promises are the basis for our perseverance.
Thus, it really is all about God, and not about our performance.

The Example of Abraham
“The Lord’s angel called to Abraham a second time from Heaven
and said, “‘I solemnly swear by my own name,’ decrees the Lord,
‘that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,
I will indeed bless you, and I will greatly multiply your descendants
so that they will be as countless as the stars in the sky
or the grains of sand on the seashore.
Your descendants will take possession of the strongholds of their enemies.
Because you have obeyed me, all the nations of the earth
will pronounce blessings on one another
using the name of your descendants’

Genesis 22: 15-18

We begin with the account in Genesis.
The promise which God affirmed by His oath is found in Genesis 22.
It comes immediately after Abraham’s greatest test of faith
– his willingness, if necessary, to sacrifice his son Isaac in obedience to God’s command.
This was now Abraham’s only heir,
the one through whom God’s Covenant blessings would be fulfilled.
And now God commands Abraham to offer this son up as a Sacrifice.
We know from Hebr.11: 19 that Abraham did so in Faith,
believing that if he did so
God would raise Isaac from the dead.

The promise that God made in Genesis 22 was not something new.
It had been made at various times and occasions
during those years before and after Isaac’s birth.
It was initially given in Genesis 12:1-3,
as the basis for leaving both home and family and seeking the Promised Land.
It was repeated in chapter 13 after Abram and Lot separated [Gen.13:14-17].
In chapter 15, God assured Abram that the promised seed
would not be the child of one of his servants, but his own offspring.
We are then told that Abram believed God,
and it was reckoned to him as righteousness [Gen.15: 6].
In response to Abram’s Faith, God sealed this promise
by making it a Covenant with him [Gen.15: 7-21].
In chapter 17, God affirmed his Covenant with Abram
and gave him the sign of circumcision.
He also clarified that the promised son
would not only come through Abram,
but that the mother of that descendant would be Sarai.
God even gave Abram the name of that child – Isaac.
In chapter 18, the Lord specified
that Isaac would be born at the same time the following year.

Over time and by repetition,
God became more and specific about His Covenant with Abraham
and further assurances were also given.
Moses makes it clear that the assurance
is based upon God’s character and His Covenant
and not upon Abraham’s perfect performance.
Several lapses in Abraham’s Faith are recorded in the period
between the initial promise and the offering of Isaac.
In Genesis 12, shortly after the first recording of the Abrahamic Covenant [12: 1-3],
Abram leaves the Promised Land and sojourns in Egypt because of a famine.
To protect himself, Abram passes off Sarai as his sister,
resulting in her being added, for a time, to the Pharaoh’s harem.
It was only God’s divine intervention
that spared Abram’s life and Sarai’s virtue [12: 10-20].

There were further failures as well.
One was when Abram, at his wife’s suggestion,
took Hagar [Sarai’s handmaid] as his concubine
and produced an offspring [Ishmael] through her [Gen.16].
And then in Genesis 20, we find Abraham
repeating his same deception of passing off Sarah as his sister
– resulting in her being temporarily added to Abimelech’s harem.
And lest we think that he only did this on these two occasions,
Abraham’s confession to Abimelech seems to indicate
that this kind of deception was their usual practice:
Abraham replied, “Because I thought, ‘Surely no one fears God in this place.
They will kill me because of my wife.’
What’s more, she is indeed my sister, my father’s daughter,
but not my mother’s daughter. She became my wife.
When God made me wander from my father’s house,
I told her, ‘This is what you can do to show your loyalty to me:
Every place we go, say about me, “He is my brother”’

Gen.20: 11-13

My point in emphasizing Abraham’s failures is
to show that God was faithful to fulfil His promises to Abraham,
even though this man’s faith was not without its failures.
The birth of Isaac was God’s doing, for which Abraham can receive little credit.
Abraham’s faith sometimes failed, but God’s promises to Abraham were certain.

Why Did God Swear to Abraham Later, Rather than Sooner?
So we return to the question I raised earlier:
“Why does God now affirm his Covenant with Abraham
by swearing an oath after the greatest test of his faith?”
Shouldn’t God have given an oath before this test, rather than after it?
Let’s consider some important factors in the answer to this question.

1.]. Hope is the basis for endurance.
Hope inspires and encourages endurance.
We’ve seen this already in verses 11 and 12,
as well as from Romans 5: 1-8.
We see this also in:
For in hope we were saved.
Now hope that is seen is not hope,
because who hopes for what he sees?
But if we hope for what we do not see,
we eagerly wait for it with endurance
“.
Rom.8: 24-25

2.]. Hope is also a reward for perseverance and trusting in God’s promises.
A more certain hope is the fruit of [or reward for] endurance.
God’s promises were the reason why Abraham left his homeland and family
and set out for a new country.
God’s promises assured Abraham in those years
that he and Sarah were growing older
and thus even less able to bear children.
God’s promises inspired Abraham’s faith and thus his endurance.
But the reward for having endured for more than 25 years
was an even greater promise, a promise confirmed by an oath,
a promise that assured Abraham of God’s commitment
to bring His previous promises to fulfilment.
This time the promise of God was confirmed with an oath,
an even greater guarantee than that which he had received earlier.
And thus, Abraham had an even greater hope set before him.

3.]. God’s oath was His confirmation of His promises.
In today’s reading, we are told that men swear in order to confirm their statements
and to remove any doubt about them.
In order to give confirmation of their words,
men must swear by something greater than themselves [Hebr.6: 16].
Thus, when men swear to tell the truth in a court of law,
they swear with their hand on the Bible.
Since God is greater than anyone or anything else,
He can only swear by Himself [Hebr.6: 13].
God swears to remove any doubt
as to the certainty of His promises being fulfilled.

4.]. God’s oath assured Abraham
because he had not yet seen the complete fulfilment of God’s Covenant promises,
nor would he before his death.
These all died in faith without receiving the things promised,
but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them
and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth.
For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.
In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left,
they would have had opportunity to return . . . . .
And these all were commended for their Faith,
yet they did not receive what was promised.
For God had provided something better for us,
so that they would be made perfect together with us
“.
Hebr.11: 13-15, 39-40

 

Abraham was promised the land of Canaan,
but he had to purchase a portion of that land for a burial place.
Abraham was promised descendants that were as numerous as the sand of the sea,
or as the stars in the Heavens, and yet at this point in time he had but one son, Isaac.
Abraham was promised that his seed would become a source of blessing for all nations,
but this promise was not fulfilled as yet either.
As the time of his death drew ever more near,
God knew that Abraham would benefit greatly
from a further confirmation of His covenant promises.
This further confirmation came after the offering of Isaac,
by means of God’s promise being confirmed by an oath.

5.]. The confirmation of God’s promises to Abraham
was not just for Abraham’s benefit, but for his descendants as well.
His oath gives strong encouragement to the heirs of promise:
In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly
to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable
and so he intervened with an oath,
so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement
to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things,
since it is impossible for God to lie
“.
Hebr.6: 17-18

His descendants would include Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David,
but they would also include those Gentiles like us
who share Abraham’s Faith in God:
For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants
that he would inherit the world was not fulfilled through the law,
but through the righteousness that comes by Faith.
For if they become heirs by the law, faith is empty and the promise is nullified.
For the law brings wrath,
because where there is no law there is no transgression either.
For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by Grace,
with the result that the Promise may be certain to all the descendants
– not only to those who are under the law,
but also to those who have the Faith of Abraham,
who is the father of us all
“.
cf. Rom.4: 13-16

6.]. The confirmation of God’s promise to Abraham
made it clear that this Covenant was unconditional,
and thus unchangeable.
In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly
to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable
and so he intervened with an oath,
so that we who have found refuge in him
may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope
set before us through two unchangeable things,
since it is impossible for God to lie
“.
cf. Hebr.6: 17-18

It is important to recognize
that not all of God’s promises are unconditional [or unchangeable].
Consider, for example this text in Jeremiah:
There are times, Jeremiah, when I threaten
to uproot, tear down, and destroy a nation or kingdom.
But if that nation I threatened stops doing wrong,
I will cancel the destruction I intended to do to it.
And there are times when I promise to build up and establish a nation or kingdom.
But if that nation does what displeases me and does not obey me,
then I will cancel the good I promised to do to it
“.
Jer.18: 7-10

Some prophecies, for example,
are warnings that can be avoided by repentance.
For example, there was the warning that Jonah proclaimed to the Ninevites:
“When Jonah began to enter the city one day’s walk, he announced,
At the end of forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown!”.
Jonah 3: 4

The king of Nineveh called for repentance in case God might be merciful:
He issued a proclamation and said,
In Nineveh, by the decree of the king and his nobles:
No human or animal, cattle or sheep, is to taste anything;
they must not eat and they must not drink water.
Every person and animal must put on sackcloth and must cry earnestly to God,
and everyone must turn from their evil way of living and from the violence that they do.
Who knows? Perhaps God might be willing
to change his mind and relent and turn from his fierce anger
so that we might not die
”.
cf. Jonah 3: 7-9

As the king of Nineveh hoped, and as Jonah assumed,
God was merciful and compassionate, and thus in response to Nineveh’s repentance,
He suspended the judgment
Jonah proclaimed was coming in forty days.
This greatly angered Jonah,
who did not share God’s compassion toward sinners:
This displeased Jonah terribly and he became very angry.
He prayed to the Lord and said,
“Oh, Lord, this is just what I thought would happen
when I was in my own country.
This is what I tried to prevent by attempting to escape to Tarshish!
– because I knew that you are gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in Mercy
and one who relents concerning threatened judgment.
So now, Lord, kill me instead,
because I would rather die than live!”.
cf. Jonah 4: 1-3

As Jeremiah indicated, the impending judgment that God threatened was stayed,
because He had indicated that repentance may forestall Divine Judgment.
Daniel understood this as well
and this is why he appealed to Nebuchadnezzar to repent,
in order to avoid [or at least forestall] God’s judgment:
This is the interpretation, O king!
It is the decision of the Most High
that this has happened to my lord the king.
You will be driven from human society and you will live with the wild animals.
You will be fed grass like oxen and you will become damp with the dew of the sky.
Seven periods of time will pass by for you,
before you understand that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms
and gives them to whomever he wishes.
They said to leave the taproot of the tree,
for your kingdom will be restored to you when you come to understand that heaven rules.
Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you.
Break away from your sins by doing what is right
and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor.
Perhaps your prosperity will be prolonged
”.
cf. Daniel 4: 24-27

When God confirmed His covenant with Abraham with an oath,
He was indicating to him that this was a Covenant that was unconditional.
This was done so that Abraham [and his descendants] would be assured
that His promises to him would most certainly be fulfilled.
Nothing would prevent His covenant promises from being fulfilled.

Let me illustrate how this works.
In Genesis 15, God entered into His Covenant with Abraham,
making some very specific commitments regarding the Exodus,
which He sealed by a formal covenant-making process:
The Lord said to him,
“Take for me a heifer, a goat, and a ram, each three years old,
along with a dove and a young pigeon”.
So Abram took all these for him and then cut them in two
and placed each half opposite the other,
but he did not cut the birds in half.
When birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
When the sun went down, Abram fell sound asleep,
and great terror overwhelmed him.
Then the Lord said to Abram,
Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign country.
They will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years.
But I will execute judgment on the nation that they will serve.
Afterward they will come out with many possessions.
But as for you, you will go to your ancestors in Peace and be buried at a good old age.
In the fourth generation your descendants will return here,
for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit”.
When the sun had gone down and it was dark,
a smoking fire pot with a flaming torch passed between the animal parts.
That day the Lord made a covenant with Abram:
“To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river,
the Euphrates River
– the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites,
Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites
”.
Gen.15: 9-21

When the Israelites sinned in worshipping the golden calf,
God threatened to wipe out the nation
and to start a new nation through Moses.
But look at the basis on which Moses intercedes for the Israelites:
So now, leave me alone so that my anger can burn against them
and I can destroy them, and I will make from you a great nation”.
But Moses sought the favour of the Lord his God and said,
“O Lord, why does your anger burn against your people,
whom you have brought out from the land of Egypt
with great power and with a mighty hand?
Why should the Egyptians say,
‘For evil he led them out to kill them in the mountains
and to destroy them from the face of the earth’?
Turn from your burning anger,
and relent of this evil against your people.
Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel your servants,
to whom you swore by yourself and told them,
‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven
and all this land that I have spoken about I will give to your descendants
and they will inherit it forever’”.
Then the Lord relented over the evil
that he had said he would do to his people
“.
cf. Exodus 32: 10-14

Moses did not promise God
that the Israelites would try harder and do better.
In truth, they persisted in their unbelief and rebellion,
so that this generation would die in the wilderness
and the second generation would possess the Promised Land under Joshua.
Moses interceded with God on the basis of His [Abrahamic] Covenant promises,
His character, and His glory.
The un-changeableness of this Covenant gave Moses
the courage to boldly intercede for the Israelites.

The author tells us, his readers,
that God gave us strong encouragement
by two specific matters in which He could not lie:
In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly
to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable
and so he intervened with an oath,
so that we who have found refuge in Him
may find strong encouragement to hold fast
to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things,
since it is impossible for God to lie
“.
cf. Hebr.6: 17-18

So just what are these “two unchangeable things”?
Scholars do not all agree on this matter,
so I will just tell you my opinion as to
what these “two unchangeable things” are.
I believe these two things are matters
in which God has confirmed His promise with an oath,
matters which are found nearby in Hebrews.
And these would be the two promises which were confirmed by an oath:
Now when God made his promise to Abraham,
since he could swear by no one greater,
he swore by Himself . . .

Hebr.6: 13

And since this was not done without a sworn affirmation
– for the others have become priests without a sworn affirmation,
but Jesus did so with a sworn affirmation by the one who said to him,
The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind,
‘You are a priest forever’”
accordingly Jesus has become
the guarantee of a better Covenant
“.
Hebr.7: 20-22

Thus, I believe that the two unchangeable things
which the author of Hebrews has in mind are the Abrahamic Covenant (chapter 6),
and His oath by which He appointed the Lord Jesus a priest forever,
after the order of Melchizedek (chapter 7).
These two covenant promises are the basis
for our Salvation, Sanctification, and eternal Security.
How much more secure could our Salvation be?

Jesus Christ, our Lord is the Anchor for our Soul
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast,
which reaches inside behind the curtain,
where Jesus our forerunner entered on our behalf,
since He became a Priest forever
in the order of Melchizedek
“.
Hebr.6: 19-20

The Apostle changes to different imagery
to describe the Safety and Security of the Christian.
Because our hope is Secure in Christ,
due to God’s oath and His Character,
we need only to cling to Him as our Great High Priest,
Whose substitutionary death on the Cross of Calvary
paid the penalty for our sins
and whose mediatory High-Priestly Ministry at the Father’s right hand
gives us access to draw near for help in our time of need.

The imagery of an anchor should come as no surprise
to the reader of this apostle-reading.
It no doubt is used
because of what we have already read:
Therefore we must pay closer attention
to what we have heard,
so that we do not drift away
“.
cf. Hebr.2: 1

It is not difficult to see how an anchor prevents drifting.
A certain hope in God’s Covenant promises made to Abraham and his descendants,
guaranteed by God’s oath, is the Anchor for our souls.
As it is unchangeable, so it is immovable.
We shall not drift if we cling to Christ.
And these unchangeable promises are found in the Scriptures,
Old Testament and New.
Thus, we dare not neglect God’s final Word,
revealed in the Person of His Son
“.
cf. Hebr.2: 1-4

4th Sunday of Lent – Sunday of our Righteous Father John Climacos of Sinaï

Let us honour John, that pride of Ascetics,
that angel on earth, that man of God in Heaven,
that adornment of the world,
and that bliss of virtues and good deeds;
for, planted in the house of God, he flourished with justice;
and, like a cedar tree in the wilderness, he caused the flock of Christ to grow,
those sheep endowed with speech, in righteousness and justice“.
Hymn of the Vespers
The Lord said to His Apostles
about the evil spirits,
This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting“.
Marc.9: 29

the new aspect of fasting
Fasting is acceptable to God when it is preceded by the great virtue of Mercy;
fasting prepares a reward in Heaven
when it is foreign to hypocrisy and vainglory
Fasting works when it is joined with another great virtue—prayer.

How does it work?
It not only tames the passions in the human body, but it enters into battle with the spirits of evil and conquers them.
How can fasting, which is actually a bodily podvig [Подвиг, russian for secret ascetical labour], work or coöperate with prayer in a war against spirits?
Why do the bodiless spirits submit to the power that fasting has over them?

The reason fasting works against the evil spirits lies in its powerful influence upon our own spirits.
When the body is tamed by fasting, it brings freedom, strength, sobriety, purity,
and refinement to the human soul.
Our spirit can withstand its unseen enemies only when it is in such a state.
But as for me“, said the God-inspired David,
When they [the demons] troubled me, I put on sackcloth.
And I humbled my soul with fasting, and
my prayer shall return to my bosom

Psalm 34: 13

►Fasting gives the mind sobriety,
while prayer is the weapon the mind uses
to drive away the invisible adversary.
►Fasting humbles the soul, and frees it from the callousness
and inflatedness brought on by satiety;
►while the prayer of one who fasts
becomes especially strong.
Such prayer is not just external, but comes from the very soul,
from the depths of the heart.
Fasting directs and carries prayer to God.

The dark and evil spirits committed two serious crimes:
[John Cassian, Discourses 8, 9, 10]
the first crime caused their expulsion from the hosts of holy angels;
the second crime was the cause of their irrevocable banishment.
They lifted their heels against God in Heaven.
Their chief, blinded by conceit,
wanted to become equal to God.
For their crime they were cast out of heaven to the earth below, and there they began to envy the blessedness of newly-created man.
Then they committed a new crime: seducing man, and luring him into his fall.
This latter crime of the fallen angels finally decided their lot
– they impressed themselves into evil by it;
God’s Grace entirely departed from them because of it;
they were given over to their own selves,
to their own evil, and to their own sin
that they had conceived and borne in themselves,
and which they allowed to penetrate their nature.
Now, a good thought or feeling will never come to an outcast angel.
He is entirely submerged in evil, desires evil, and invents evil.
Scorched with an unquenchable thirst for evil,
he seeks to be sated with evil, but cannot.
All the evil he does or can perform seems to him little
next to the evil that he imagines and which his insufferable thirst for evil seeks.
Created as ‘a light-bearing angel,
he was cast down lower than all the beasts of the earth for his crimes.
Because you has done this murder of a man“,
said God in His wrath to satan when He caught him
at the scene of the crime in paradise,
near the man and woman whom he had caused to fall,
you are cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field;
upon thy belly shall you go, and
dust shall you eat all the days of your life

Gen.3: 14

A bodiless spirit is condemned to thoughts and feelings
that are only earthly and passionate; his life and treasure is in them.
A spirit, he has lost the ability to do anything spiritual
– he is completely engrossed in fleshly works.
A spirit who lives a mental life is demoted from the hosts of spirits to a fleshly state,
and he takes a place lower in rank than all cattle and beasts of the earth.
Cattle and beasts act according to the laws of their nature,
while the fallen spirit, who is mingled into the nature of cattle and beasts,
is mingled into a nature that is foreign to his own, and humiliating.
He neither wants nor is able to act correctly in this nature
– he continually abuses this nature.

This sinful materiality of the fallen angel makes him subject to the effect of fasting,
which frees our spirit from the flesh’s reign.
When the fallen angel approaches a person who is fasting,
he does not see the material domination that he needs and desires;
he cannot stir up the blood that has been beneficently cooled by fasting;
he cannot arouse the flesh that is not inclined to play, for it has been restrained by fasting;
the mind and heart are not obedient to him,
for they have felt an especial spiritual vigour due to fasting.
Seeing this resistance, the proud, fallen spirit departs,
because he cannot endure being resisted or contradicted.
He loves unhesitating agreement and submission.
Despite the fact that he crawls upon his belly,
despite the fact that he eats only dust,
the thought of being like God has not left him,
and he looks for people to worship him.

He audaciously showed the Son of God all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time and  promised to give him all power over them and the glory of them,
demanding to be worshipped in return [Luc.4: 5-7].
Even now, he does not cease to present to those
who follow the Son of God all the beauty of the world,
painting it in their dreams with the most tempting features [big cathedrals]
and colours in order to extract worship of himself by whatever trick.
Resist the devil, and he will flee from you, said the Apostle James [Jac.4: 7];
and another Apostle said,
Above all, taking the shield of faith,
wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked [Eph.6: 16].
Let us raise our eyes to eternity through the Power of Faith,
to the unspeakable blessedness that awaits the righteous in eternity;
likewise let us observe the equally unspeakable torments
that await the serpent’s unrepentant and stubborn followers.
We can have such contemplation when the body is put in order
and maintained within the order of fasting;
when with the pure prayer that is only obtainable through fasting,
we cleave to the Lord, and become of one spirit [1Cor.6: 17] with Him.
The serpent crawls continually upon the ground
as he was sentenced to do from on High
” says Saint John Chrysostom.
“If you wish be to safe from his poisonous bite,
let your mind and heart be always above the earth”
John Chrysostomos‘Homily  of the letter to the Romans
Then you will be able to resist him,
and that proud serpent who cannot endure resistance will flee from you.

Where are the people who are possessed by evil spirits?
Where are those people whom he would tear and torment, like he tore and tormented the youth mentioned today in the Gospels?
Apparently there aren’t any, or they are very rare
– thus reasons the person who sees everything superficially, and brings his life as a sacrifice to distractions and sinful pleasures.
But the holy fathers saw things differently.
They say,
From the moment they caused man to be exiled from paradise
and separated from God through disobedience,
the devil and the demons received the freedom
to mentally stir any person’s rational nature, both day and night“.
Saint Symeon the New Theologian,
Homily of Nicephorus the Monk’ Philokalia

Very similar to those torments and tearing of the Gospel youth’s body by the evil spirit
are the sufferings of the soul that wilfully submits itself to the influence of the evil spirit,
and who accepts as truth that murderous lie which the devil ceaselessly shows to us
in order to make us perish, hiding it behind a façade of truth
to more easily deceive us, and to succeed in his wickedness.
Be sober, be vigilant, the Apostle Peter warns us,
Because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion,
walks about, seeking whom he may devour:
Whom resist steadfast in the faith
“.
1Petr.5: 8–9
What does the fallen angel use against us?
Mostly sinful thoughts and fantasies.
He runs from those who resist him,
but he sways, torments, and destroys those who do not recognize him,
who enter into conversation with him,
and entrust themselves to him.
He himself crawls on his belly and is incapable of spiritual thought.
He vividly depicts this transitory world with all its allurements and pleasures;
meanwhile he enters into conversation with the soul
about how it can make its pipe dreams come true.
He offers us earthly glory, he offers us riches,
he offers us satiety, and delight in fleshly impurities.
As Saint Basil the Great expresses it,
the devil not only received a feeling for fleshly impurities,
but since he was created as a bodiless spirit, he gave birth to them
“.
the Canon Book‘the first prayer against defilement.
He presents all this as a fantasy,
but he also provides illicit [criminal] ways [building churches from criminal money]
to realize these illicit [dishonest] dreams.
He casts us into sorrow, depression, and despair.
In a word
– he tirelessly works to obtain our destruction
in seemingly decent as well as indecent ways:
by obvious sin, by sin hidden behind a good façade,
and by waiving the bait of pleasure in front of us.

“This is the victory
that overcomes the world,
even our faith”
1John.5:4
Faith is our weapon of victory over the world;
it is also our weapon of victory over the fallen angels.
Who has looked with the eye of faith
to the eternity proclaimed by God’s Word
and not cooled to the world’s quickly-passing beauty?
What true disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ
will want to trample upon His all-holy commandments
for the sake of sinful pleasure,
which seems alluring before it is tasted,
but is vile and murderous after tasting?
What power over the disciple of Christ has
the enchanting picture of earthly benefits and pleasures,
or even the horrifying picture of earthly calamities,
which the evil spirits draw in order to bring the viewer to depression and despair,
when magnificent pictures of eternity are impressed
upon his soul through the power of God’s Word,
before which all earthly scenes are pale and insignificant?
When Saint John the Theologian proclaims that
the victory that overcomes the world is our faith,
he salutes the true children of Christ
who have overcome the world on their victory over the fallen angel and his minions:
I write unto you, young men,
because you have overcome the wicked one

1John. 2: 13
Here “young men” is what
he calls Christians who are renewed by Divine Grace.
When a servant of Christ shows courage and constancy in his struggle
against the evil spirits as he should, then
Divine Grace descends into his soul and grants him victory,
and his youth shall be renewed as the eagle’s

Psalm 102: 5
– youth which never ages,
with which he was adorned by the Creator when he was created,
and which he exchanged for incurable agedness at his voluntary fall.
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world [even when it is in church].
If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes,
and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
And the world passes away, and the lust thereof:
but he that does the will of God abides for ever
“.
1John.2: 15–17

Brethren!
Why shouldn’t we also be victors over the world and over its prince?
People like us have overcome them, people clothed in flesh and human weakness.
Not only valiant men have been victorious over them,
but also frail elders, weak women, and little children;
they won, and left us no excuse for losing
if we give ourselves up to them.
The same world with all its allurements was before them,
the same invisible serpents crawled around them,
applying every effort to taunt out their souls
and make them to live in the dust.
The hearts and thoughts of the conquerors were raised up!
Guarding their bodies with fasting,
they tamed them and stopped the impulse for earthly pleasures in them!
Through fasting, they gave their spirit the opportunity
to abide in ceaseless sobriety and vigilance,
and the opportunity to unsleepingly heed
and watch out for the multifarious snares of the devil!
By lightening their bodies – and even their very spirits – with fasting,
they gave the spirit the opportunity
to cleave to the Lord with pure and constant prayer,
to receive Divine aide, to enliven their faith from hearing [conf. Rom.10: 17],
from hearing to make their faith substance [conf.Hebr.11: 1 and spiritual strength
– and by this strength to obtain decisive victory over the world and the evil spirits.
Saint John the Theologian calls such faith
the confidence that we have in God,
and he teaches us from his own holy experience
that it is attained through prayer that is heard
[by God]”.
1John.5: 13–15
The righteous as if see the invisible God through such faith
Hebr.11: 27
Naturally, the world hides from view at the sight of God!
The transitory world becomes as if non-existent,
and the prince of the world has no support in his warfare.
Be sober, be vigilant; because
your adversary the devil,
as a roaring lion, walks about,
seeking whom he may devour:
Whom resist steadfast in the faith
“.
1Petr.5: 8–9,
Taking the shield of faith“.
Eph.6: 16
– faith that is active, living, Grace-filled.
Only the ascetical labourer of Christ is capable of such faith.
He has prepared himself for warfare with the evil spirits
by forgiving his neighbours’ sins
– that is, through mercy and humility –
and has entered the fight
bearing the weapon of fasting and prayer.

Orthodoxy & Memorial service

Memorial service Mp4
•  Greek μνημόσυνον “memorial“:
ΕΙΣ ΜΝΗΜΟΣΥΝΟΝ ΑΙΩΝΙΟΝ ΗΧΟΣ Α Δ ΠΑΙΚΟΠΟΥΛΟΣ
• Slavonic: панихида, panikhída, from Greek παννυχίς, pannychis, “vigil“:
Panakhida Memorial Saturday Services Вечная память Vechnaya Pamyat
• Romanian: parastas, from Greek παραστάς, parastas
[Traditional folk funeral ritual [Transylvania, Sibiu county 1937]:
Cocosdaiul _ Funeral ritual
is a liturgical solemn service for the repose of departed
in the Orthodox Church.

Burial is a time-honoured and ancient Christian custom.
The modern multi-billion death industry is a historical novelty.
Today the usual burial involves practices with the deceased that are not traditionally Christian.
The loving care of the departed is an act of real Love.
As the Body of the Lord Jesus was cared for
by Saints Joseph and Nicodemos and the Myrrhbearing women,
washed, anointed, clothed and placed with prayer into a tomb,
so Orthodox Christians have traditionally buried their loved ones.
After Burial the Orthodox Church has her own Tradition:

Saturday is generally
a day dedicated to prayer for the departed,
because Christ, our Lord,
lay dead in the Tomb on a Saturday.
In some monasteries and large churches,
it is customary to serve a Panikhida on every Saturday.

The various prayers for the departed
have as their purpose to pray for the repose of the departed,
to comfort the living and to remind those who remain of their own mortality.
For this reason, memorial services have an air of penitence about them.

The Church’s prayers for the dead begin at the moment of death,
when the priest leads the Prayers at the Departure of the Soul,
consisting of a special Canon and prayers for the release of the soul. Then the body is washed, clothed and laid in the coffin,
after which the priest begins the First Panikhida [prayer service for the departed].
After the First Panikhida, the family and friends
begin reading the Psalter aloud beside the casket.
This reading continues until the funeral begins
[usually on the third day after death],
being interrupted only by more Panikhidas
[at least one per day].

Orthodox Christians offer particularly
fervent prayers for the departed
on the first 40 days after death.
Traditionally, in addition to the service on the day of death,
the memorial service is performed at the request of the relatives
of an individual departed person on the following occasions:
– 3rd day after death
– 9th day
– 40th day
– 1rst anniversary of death
– 3rd anniversary (some will request a memorial every year on the anniversary of death)

In addition to Panikhidas for individuals,
there are also several days during the year
that are set aside as special general commemorations of the dead,
when all departed Orthodox Christians will be prayed for together
[this is especially to benefit those who have no one on earth to pray for them].
The majority of these general commemorations
fall on the various “Soul Saturdays” throughout the year [mostly during Great Lent].
On these days, in addition to the normal Panikhida,
there are special additions to Vespers and Matins,
and there will be proper’s for the departed added to the Divine Liturgy.
These days of general memorial are:

Meatfare Saturday [two Saturdays before Great Lent begins]
– in some traditions families and friends will offer Panikhidas
for their loved ones during the week,
culminating in the general commemoration on Saturday
– The second Saturday of Great Lent
– The third Saturday of Great Lent
– The fourth Saturday of Great Lent
– Radonitsa [the second Tuesday after Easter]
– The Saturday before Pentecost
– in some traditions families and friends will offer Panikhidas
for their loved ones during the week,
culminating in the general commemoration on Saturday

Demetrius Saturday
[the Saturday before the feast of Saint Demetrius, Oct. 26th].
In the Bulgarian Orthodox Church
there is a commemoration of the dead
on the Saturday before the feast of Saint Michael,
the Archangel, Nov. 8th,
instead of the Demetrius Soul Saturday.

The most important form of prayer for the dead
occurs in the Divine Liturgy.
Particles are cut from the prosphoron during the Proskomedie at the beginning of the Liturgy.
These particles are placed beneath the Lamb [Host] on the diskos, where they remain throughout Holy Liturgy.
After the Communion of the faithful,
the deacon brushes these particles into the chalice, saying,
“Wash away, O Lord,
the sins of all those here commemorated,
by Thy Precious Blood,
through the prayers of all thy saints”.
Of this action, Saint Mark of Ephesus says,
We can do nothing better or greater for the dead than to pray for them,
offering commemoration for them at Holy Liturgy.
Of this they are always in need . . . . .
The body feels nothing then:
it does not see its close ones who have assembled,
does not smell the fragrance of the flowers,
does not hear the funeral orations.
But the soul senses the prayers offered for it
and is grateful to those who make them
and is spiritually close to them
“.

Normally, candidates for sainthood,
prior to their Glorification [Canonization] as a Saint,
will be commemorated by serving Panikhidas.
Then, on the eve of their Glorification
will be served an especially solemn Requiem,
known as the “Last Panikhida“.

• Saint Basil the Great [† 379], a saint of undivided Christianity, writes in his Third Kneeling Prayer at Pentecost:
O Christ our God . . .
[Who] on this all-perfect and saving Feast,
art graciously pleased to accept propitiatory prayers
for those who are imprisoned in hades,
promising unto us who are held in bondage great hope of release
from the vileness that does hinder us and did hinder them . . . . .
send down Your consolation . . . . .
and establish their souls in the mansions of the Just;
and graciously vouchsafe unto them Peace and pardon;
for not the dead shall praise You, O Lord,
neither shall they who are in Hell make bold
to offer unto thee confession.
But we who are living will bless You,
and will pray, and offer unto You
propitiatory prayers and sacrifices for their souls
“.

• Saint Gregory Dialogos [† 604]
in his famous Dialogues [written in 593] teaches that,
“The Holy Sacrifice [Eucharist] of Christ, our saving Victim,
brings great benefits to souls even after death,
provided their sins [are such as] can be pardoned in the life to come”.
However, Saint. Gregory goes on to say,
the Church’s practice of prayer for the dead
must not be an excuse for not living a godly life on earth.
“The safer course, naturally,
is to do for ourselves during life
what we hope others will do for us after death”.

• Father Seraphim Rose [† 1982] says,
The Church’s prayer cannot save anyone
who does not wish salvation,
or who never offered any struggle [podvig]
for it himself during his lifetime
“.

Remember, O Lord, the God of Spirits and of all Flesh,
those whom we have remembered
and those whom we have not remembered,
men of the “True Faith, from Righteous Abel unto to-day;
do You Yourself give them rest there in the land of the living,
in Your Kingdom, in the delight of Paradise,
in the bosom of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, our Holy fathers,
from whence pain and sorrow and sighing have fled away,
where the Light of Your countenance visited them
and always shines upon them
“.
Prayer for the departed – Liturgy of Saint James

March 19th – Saint Hilaria, Martyr under Roman Emperor Numerian [†3rd Cnt.]

The Holy Martyrs Hilaria, her husband Claudius the Tribune,
and their sons, Jason and Maurus,
Diodorus the Presbyter and Marianus the Deacon,
suffered with Saints Chrysanthus and Daria in Rome
under Emperor Numerian in the third century.

Claudius came to believe in Christ and accepted holy Baptism
together with his wife, Hilaria, their sons, Jason and Maurus,
and all his household and soldiers.
When news of this reached Emperor Numerian,
he ordered that they be executed.
Claudius was drowned in the sea,
and his sons and soldiers were beheaded.

Christians buried the bodies of the holy martyrs in a nearby cave, and
Saint Hilaria constantly went there to pray.
The pagans followed her and led her off for torture.
The saint asked that they give her a few moments to pray, and as soon as she finished, she gave up her soul to God.
A servant buried Saint Hilaria in the cave beside her sons.

Troparion                           Tn 1
Let us honor the like-minded pair of Martyrs Hilaria, scion of purity,
and supremely her modes husband Claudius.
United in holiness of faith,
they shone forth as communicants of God the Word.
They fought lawfully for Him and now save those who sing:
“Glory to Him who has strengthened you!
Glory to Him who has crowned you!
Glory to Him who through you grants healing to all!”

Kontakion                          Tn 1
In the sweet fragrance of holiness, Claudius,
you drew Hilaria to saving knowledge.
Together in contest you routed the serpent,
the author of all evil,
and were worthily taken up to the heavenly realms.

Orthodoxy & to come to yourself

And when he came to himself, he said,
How many hired servants of my father’s
have bread enough and to spare,
and I perish with hunger!“.
Luc.15: 17

If the Orthodox Churches are able
to strengthen their unity,
to dialogue with each other
than this is obedient and beneficial to their basics;
the original Christian Church.

You are probably motivated by Orthodox churches, and perhaps noticed that they often bear titles like
“Greek Orthodox”, “Russian Orthodox”, “Serbian Orthodox” or even “Ukrainian Orthodox”.
Are they simply different denominations that cater to particular ethnicities?
You could be excused for thinking so,
though this is – less and less – true today,
there is indeed a great deal of overlap
between the ethnic composition of many parishes
and these ‘titles‘.
Some nominations have even the impression
that one possesses a greater degree of importance than the others,
even this is heresy, because it encourages
a further breakdown of the original Christian Church.
In Truth, the Orthodox Church is one unified Church [of 300 million people],
and belongs to no nation at all.
Instead, it is the ancient church, and is unique in that it traces its roots
— in unbroken succession! — all the way back to the 1stcentury
founding by Christ and His Apostles.
It zealously holds to and preserves all the Teachings and Traditions
– including Holy Scripture – that were held by all Christians for the first ten centuries.
The word orthodox
– “right Belief and right Glory” –
has traditionally been used to designate communities [or individuals]
which preserved the True Faith.
The Orthodox Church still
— after thousands of years —
believes and adheres
to these ancient Teachings and Traditions,
and it will continue to do so for thousands more, or in other words until our Lord’s return.

The Masters voice
By the time of Jesus,
Aramaic was the most common language in Judea, though Hebrew may have been dominant in certain areas, such as Jerusalem or the Qumran community by the Dead Sea.
It’s most likely that in Galilee,
where Jesus was raised and where He began His ministry, Aramaic was the most common language of the people, though many would have been able to understand Hebrew
and to get along in Greek as well.
Also Christ spoke the language of the people He met, ‘the language of the region‘.
The languages in which the disciples were speaking were known foreign languages
and dialects of the region they visited.
It was given by the Holy Spirit that they visited a lot of countries and regions
and preached the message of God,
the Gospel of Love.

Just because you call yourself Orthodox Christian it doesn’t mean that you are real Orthodox Christian.
It seems that the infection that has affected other streams of Christianity has also hit the Orthodox community,
that plague is what I call misuse of memberships.
Orthodoxy is much more about image than
anything else and if you want to roll in our performance you have to abide by certain rules.
If you break ‘original‘ norms and customs
which are visible within authentic Christianity
you may call yourself Orthodox all you want,
but within Orthodoxy
you will not be considered as such.

And all the publicans and sinners drew near unto Him to hear Him.
And the Pharisees and Scribes murmured saying,
This man receives sinners and eats with them
“[Luc.15: 1,2].
And this is what it make painfully to a lot of Young growing up people,
who took the decision that their child
wouldn’t be baptized and educated in those communities, because
– the children don’t understand the services;
they hear another language than in their schools
– it gives such squabbles in those Orthodox communities
– we are “Russian”, so we only use Slavonic in our services,
– we are “Greek” and so we only us Greek in our services
– and so on.
It’s indeed that the Lord eats with sinners,
but when he is eating with them He is eating out of Love and
not because they are Pharisees and Scribes.

As therefore the Pharisees and Scribes made this outcry at His gentleness
and Love to man,
and wickedly and impiously blamed Him for receiving and teaching men
whose lives were impure,
Christ very necessarily set before them
the parables,
to show them clearly this very thing,
– that the God of all requires even him
– who is thoroughly steadfast, and firm,
– and who knows how to live Holily,
– and has attained to the highest praise for sobriety of conduct,
– to be earnest in following His will,
so that when any are called unto repentance,
even if they be men highly blameable,
he must rejoice rather,
and not give way
to an unloving vexation on their account.

For we also sometimes experience something of this sort.
For some there are who live a perfectly honourable and consistent life, practising every kind of virtuous action,
and abstaining from everything disapproved by the Law of God, and crowning themselves with perfect praises in the sight of God and of men:
while another is perhaps weak and trodden down,
and humbled unto every kind of wickedness,
guilty of base deeds, loving impurity,
given to covetousness and stained with all evil.

And yet such a one often in old age turns unto God,
and asks the forgiveness of his former offences:
he prays for Mercy, and putting away from him his readiness to fall into sin,
sets his affection on virtuous deeds.
Or even perhaps when about to close his mortal life,
he is admitted to Original Divine Baptism,
and puts away his offences, God being merciful unto him.

And perhaps sometimes persons are indignant at this,
and even say,
“This man, who has been guilty of such and such actions,
and has spoken such and such words,
has not paid unto the Judge the retribution of his conduct, but has been counted worthy of a Grace thus noble and admirable:
he has been inscribed among the sons of God,
and honoured with the Glory of the Saints
“.

Such complaints men sometimes give utterance too
from an empty narrowness of mind, not conforming
to the purpose of the universal Father.
For He greatly rejoices when He sees those
who were lost obtaining Salvation, and raises them up again
to that which they were in the beginning,
giving them the dress of freedom,
and adorning them with the chief robe,
and putting a ring upon their hand,
even the orderly behaviour which is pleasing to God
and suitable to the free.

It is our duty, therefore, to conform ourselves to that which God wills: for
– He heals those who are sick;
– He raises those who are fallen;
– He gives a helping hand to those who have stumbled;
– He brings back him who has wandered;
– He forms anew unto a praiseworthy and blameless life
those who were wallowing in the mire of sin;
– He seeks those who were lost;
– He raises as from the dead those
who had suffered the spiritual death.

Let us therefore rejoice:
let us therefore in company with the Holy Angels by heart,
praise Him as being good, and loving unto men;
as gentle, and not remembering evil.
For if such is our state of mind,
Christ will receive us
“.
Cf . Cyril of Alexandria [ca.376-444] – sermon 107 on Saint Lucas’ Gospel.

If the devil has got that ability to knock you down
from your exalted virtue to such great limits of evil;
so how much more would be God’s ability to restore
you to your previous confidence?
He would not only get you back to what you used to be,
but to a far better status
“.
Saint John Chrysostom