by Janet Jaime
We are each uniquely blessed with gifts from God. Some of us have many gifts and others, only one. My gift is iconography. When we offer our gifts to God, we are really only returning what was given to us, that which we do not own nor can take credit for. God provides us, out of His creation, the materials needed to create.
When making Holy Bread, for example, we use the gifts from the earth – wheat, yeast and water, with a pinch of salt – and return it back to God as an offering which we made with our hands. In iconography, our materials are also taken from the earth – pigments, precious minerals, animal hide glue, whiting, wood, gold and eggs – to create, with our hands, an image to be venerated, an icon created as an act of devotion and prayer to God.
Sometime after I became Orthodox, my priest, Fr. Constantine Nasr, suggested that I should learn how to write icons. He said this in a very matterof- fact way, and through his encouragement gave me an open door into a wonderful world.
I began to observe icons closely and soon realized that they appealed to my particular temperament, which is naturally drawn to doing tight, detailed work. At that time I was an illustrator who worked in a photo-realistic style.
I rather naively didn’t see such a great leap between being slavishly accurate in representing detail recorded by a camera, on the one hand, and being slavishly obedient to the rules of iconography, and following prototypes, on the other hand. Icons, I observed, were classically rendered subjects that obviously required a detailed, exacting, time-consuming process. What a perfect fit for me, a lover of anything tedious, I thought.
by Fr. James C. Meena
from The Word, April 1983
On the Fifth Sunday of the Great Fast, the Orthodox Church honors the memory of Our Righteous Mother, St. Mary of Egypt, the prototype of St. Mary Magdalena who repented of her sins and became a deeply dedicated ascetic, going into the Egyptian desert and living there the rest of her life in piety and in prayer, offering prayers of repentance to Christ and of intercession for the people of the world. She is commemorated by the Church as an example for all of us. The life that is exemplified by people like St. Mary of Egypt, while carried to the ultimate of asceticism and almost a super monasticism, should be kind of a pace setter for those of us of the Orthodox Faith who usually make exceptions of things.
For example, this morning I was admonishing a young man who was talking in Church, and he asked, “What’s the difference! It isn’t important!” This seems to permeate our attitude until finally nothing seems to make a difference. It doesn’t make a difference if we fast, if we pray, if we go to Church regularly; and what’s the difference if we go to the hospital to visit the sick or simply send a fifty cent get well card or ask the relatives of the sick person, how that person is getting along. What’s the difference? The life of St. Mary of Egypt as the lives of all the great ascetics say there is a difference because these people have been glorified by God. Their memories live. Mary of Egypt lived centuries ago. The events of her life have long since been absorbed into history and yet here we are hundreds of years later talking about her because the virtue of her asceticism, the beauty of her understanding that it does make a difference in our commitment and devotion to Christ that her memory has indeed become eternal.
"... learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Mt 11: 29)
There is so much in the teachings of Christ and His Church, that if one is committed to be a follower of Christ that one of the major virtues that would be nurtured would be a firm commitment to truth. Consider the approbative words Jesus told the Samaritan woman: "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him." (Jn 4: 23) St. John (8: 22) records Jesus very strong assertion: "...you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." During the Divine Liturgy, after reception of the very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord God and Savior, Jesus Christ, the choir (congregation) chants: "We have seen the true light ...found the true faith..." It would appear, Christians should not get away from what is the truth. (Morelli, 2010a) Of course this focus on truth would certainly extend to how the husband-wife--father-mother relate to each other in a blessed marriage when they create a domestic church, a little church in their home, and this extends to their children as well.
There is no doubt that most readers have heard the aphorism: 'money is the root of all evils.’ This apothegm is actually a popularization of St. Paul's instruction to St. Timothy (1Tim 6: 10): “For the love of money is a root of all of evils. . . .” Of course, there is much wisdom in this teaching. However, we must consider that there is a vice that precedes and nourishes this 'root' of money, and all the other vices as well. St. Hesychios the Priest writes: ". . . the crown of all these, pride." (Philokalia I). St. John Cassian (Philokalia I) suggests the reason. He says “. . . it acts like some harsh tyrant who has gained control of a great city . . . . as a result regard[s] himself as equal to God." Such people, says the prophet Isaiah (14: 14), say to themselves "I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High."
There is agreement among world religions on the deleterious nature of pride. The Hindu scripture states: "Those who know truly are free from pride and deceit (Bhagavad-Gita 13:7)." In the Koran it is written (Surah 96: 6-8): "Nay, but man doth transgress all bounds, In that he looketh upon himself as self-sufficient. Verily, to thy Lord is the return (of all)." In the Buddhist tradition we read: "Free from . . . overbearing pride, principled, trained, a 'last-body': he's what I call a Brahmin [the elite]. (Dhammapada, 26).”
by Very Rev. Stephen Rogers
from The Word, March 2000
In the Prologue from Ochrid, that wonderful collection of the lives of the saints compiled by St. Nicholai Velimirovich, we hear a marvelous account on the thirtieth day of this month. On this day, an unnamed monk is commemorated who is described as “lazy, careless, disinclined to prayer . . .” Hardly the description we would expect of a monk commemorated by the Church!
We are told that, when this monk lay dying, he was full of joy. His fellow monks, who knew well the lackluster efforts of their brother, were confused how one so seemingly negligent could be facing death so joyfully. They asked him how this could be and he responded: “I have seen the angels, and they showed me a page with all my many sins. I said to them: The Lord said, ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged.’ I have never judged anyone and I hope in the mercy of God, that He will not judge me.”
The dying monk ended the account by telling his brothers that the angels, upon hearing that the monk had never judged anyone, immediately tore up the long list of his sins.
The story ends by telling us that all the monks marveled at this and learned from it.
There is probably nothing to which our Lord attached a greater warning than judging our brother.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged and with the same measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matthew 7:1-2).
Great Feasts of the Fixed Cycle
The Nativity of the Most-Holy Theotokos (September 8)
The first Great Feast to fall in the Church Year is the Nativity of the Most-Holy Theotokos. It is entirely fitting that at the beginning of the new religious year all Orthodox Christians should come before the highest example of human holiness that the Orthodox Church holds precious and venerates that of Mary, the Theotokos and Mother of God. This day is seen as one of universal joy; for on this day the boundary of the Old and New Covenants was born the Most-Blessed Virgin, pre-arranged from the ages by Divine Providence to serve the mystical Incarnation of God the Word.
The first Old Testament Reading of Vespers (Gen. 28:10-17) speaks of the dream of Jacob, one of the Old Testament Patriarchs, when he fled the wrath of his brother Esau. He saw a ladder extending from earth to heaven, with angels ascending and descending. When he awoke, Jacob blessed with oil the stone on which he had slept and called it Bethel, meaning house of God. The Most-Pure Mother of God is seen here as that ladder between heaven and earth, uniting earth with heaven in her womb. She who carried God in her womb is truly Bethel, none other than the house of God...and the gate of heaven (Gen. 28:17).
by Isabel C. Elac
from The Word, March 1988
The doorbell rings — you answer it — it is a stranger. Politely you listen. He tells you that you are going to conceive! In nine months! "Oh, how ridiculous" you say — and completely disturbed by this impossible announcement — completely outraged — you slam the door in his face!
Which one of us would act any differently? Today, we probably wouldn't even answer the door, right?
On March 25, the Church celebrates one of the most important events in world history — THE ANNUNCIATION — when the Angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph… and the virgin's name was Mary (Luke 1:26-27). The Angel Gabriel "came in unto her and said, Hail, thou that are highly favoured, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women" (Luke 1:28).
How did Mary react? Did she throw him out — outraged — as most of us would have! Oh, with that beautiful, humble and complete submission, Mary responds to the Angel: "How shall this be, seeing I know not a man (Luke 1:34)… For with God nothing shall be impossible (Luke 1:37). And Mary said, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word" (Luke 1:38).
by the Rev. Fr. John Namie
from The Word, March 1968
There is a tendency today in our society to diminish the importance of various aspects of Christian life which is taught by the Orthodox Church. One of these things is fasting. We are surrounded in our society by different types of religions, by atheistic influences, and especially by the great trend towards materialistic living which affects all the preceding.
Materialism has become the battleground in the church whether we wish to accept this or nor. All religions and all groups are directly or indirectly taking shape according to materialistic principles. Even the Roman Catholic Church which had been so traditional in its spirituality has been influenced to the extent that no longer does it deem fasting as a necessary element in the life of her people. This diminishment is definitely a product of materialistic thinking and compromising to the materialistic way.
The Orthodox Church has not reached yet the point that it feels that fasting is not necessary, although many people in the Orthodox Church feel this way. While fasting is not a means that leads us directly to salvation, nevertheless it is necessary in that it helps us to salvation. This may seem like a strong statement. but if we understand fasting and Orthodox spirituality in its real sense, we will find the front line of the battleground against materialism here.
by the Rev. Fr. Joseph J. Allen
from The Word, April 1969
It is difficult and almost impossible for us to imagine in today’s world that silence is beautiful. What was possible at one time is quickly becoming extinct in all areas, but greatest amongst those disappearing elements is silence. When we shop in the stores we hear bells of all sorts, e.g. cash registers. Driving for only the shortest time can bring every kind of noisy sound, from the toll booth to the old car next to yours with a bad muffler. Then, of course, — there is the neighbor who runs the lawn mower at every hour or, for the apartment dweller it is the young couple upstairs (and young couples so very often begin their married life in apartments) who have all those first year “battles.”
But I cannot help feeling that somewhere in the depth of man’s soul he longs for silence, for a time when the phone won’t ring and he won’t “have” to listen to the newest FM radio. But we seem trapped by it all! How can man escape all this without becoming isolated, or greater, from becoming neurotic? Where can he turn to find the “silent sound,” sound that can in a way scream about a kind of joy just because it is silent. This is the joy that needs no sound to be joy, the joy that a mother understands when she places her ear to the face of her newly born infant and hears the soft sound of life as it breathes.
Tootie Fields once said, “I’ve been on a diet for two weeks and all I’ve lost is two weeks!”
There is a common pattern of “yo-yo” dieting – you’re on a diet . . . off a diet . . . on a diet . . . . Oh, wait, you’re off again; it’s hard to keep track. Our culture is obsessed with food. We can walk into a gas station or an office supply store and purchase food. It is everywhere! We eat in our cars, on the bus, on our bikes, and in front of our computers. Sometimes we’re eating and forget that we’re doing so.
The idea of eating in a balanced way and living a life in balance seems like a chore. We don’t even know where to begin. And it does not help that we have a multi-billion dollar diet industry working hard to “help us”: “Eat this.” “No don’t eat that – it contains carbohydrates.” “Should I use the pink, the yellow, or the white sweetener packet?” “Is this a low-fat food?” “What should I eat?” Something as basic as choosing what and when to eat can become an overwhelming task. This is not a new problem, but a new twist on an old one. For centuries using food in the wrong way has been a temptation. So what do we do?
Our faith can guide us by teaching us to eat in a spiritually minded manner. In living the Christian life, everything we do should be done for the glory of God. A spiritual father once said to me that our senses were given to us to commune with the Divine. This statement – full of wisdom – really got me thinking. We use our senses literally all the time. So, what are we taking in with our eyes? When we watch a movie or read a book, are we utilizing our sense of vision to commune with the Divine? Or are the choices we make causing us to draw away from Him? What about our eating? Is our time spent eating glorifying God?
Godly life is joyful. Secular life is sorrowful. For forty years, as though the presence of God were a toxin in our culture, schools and public square, many of America’s leaders have been zealously working to detoxify our land. Not surprisingly, the more secularized we have become, the more sorrowful we have become. Now here is an amazing disconnect. Why is it that America has never been so Christian1 and yet so joyless? A greater percentage of our population self-identifies as Christian than at any time in our nation’s history, yet we are by all observable phenomena radically depressed. How are we to explain such an anomaly?
The normal state of internal affairs for Christians is expressed by St. Peter: “ ...Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). Prozac is no substitute for joy inexpressible. While there are many contributing factors to this epidemic of joylessness, I would like to suggest the primary cause: isolation.
Joy and the Presence of God
by Fr. John Abdalah
The importance of giving pastoral care to college-age people is certainly no secret to those who are doing it – and even more so in our time, when we have moved into what is called the “postmodern era.” Developmentally, the college years are a crucial and eventful time of moral, spiritual, physical and intellectual growth. I would suggest that the changes that occur in the four college years are so dramatic that, frequently, the college freshman is hardly recognizable as the same person when he or she graduates. College is also, in my opinion, the first time that individuals have the developmental skills and life experience really to understand the Christian message and dedicate themselves to Christ. Regardless of the effectiveness of our catechetical programs during childhood, those who are even younger are simply not prepared to understand abstract concepts like Trinity or Incarnation, and the implied relationships. Providing college-age Orthodox Christians an opportunity to discover, strengthen and (or) commit to Orthodox Christianity should certainly be a priority of the Church. Many Orthodox don’t return to the church after these years away at school. While the various statistics may be conflicting and controversial, all will agree that the loss to the Church of many young people, and the loss to the students of the Church, are of significant concern for the Church.
by Venise Kousaie
Imagine being appointed to a leadership role in your parish without knowing whether you are truly prepared or equipped to handle it.
Imagine that it is a position requiring specialized knowledge in liturgics, music theory, conducting, enunciation, pronunciation, vocal technique, byzantine tones and hymnology, teaching, and so forth. Imagine there is no one with all of these skills that you can talk to, because you really wouldn’t know where to begin to find the sources of all the information you need to be successful in your leadership role.
Early in my ministry as an Antiochian Orthodox Church Choir Director I found myself in precisely this situation. Although as a musician I had majored in voice and piano, there was a lot about directing a choir I needed to learn. As the result of a directive from His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP, the opportunity came to attend the first-ever Sacred Music Institute (SMI) at the Antiochian Village in 1984. I didn’t know what to expect. I attended, believing that my faith would guide me to solutions. What I found in the hills of Pennsylvania shaped my sacred music ministry and my contribution to my parish, my diocese and the Archdiocese for the next 28 years. The courses I took at the SMI were given by a group of musicians and clergy who were experts in their respective professional fields, and the courses served to fill gaps in the knowledge I needed to be successful. There were music-school teachers, theologians, conductors and key-note speakers.
Each and every year upon returning to the SMI I would tap into this wealth of resources in sacred music and take away something new, whether it was new music to teach my choir at home, or conducting techniques, or a better understanding of the Byzantine tones and the order of the liturgical services.
by Fr. Elias Bitar
from The Word, March 1987
Many things, throughout the history of the Church, have been said about this most holy period of the Orthodox Christian year.
We live in an age of great and continuous achievements in all aspects of our wonderful world. We are, everyday, trying to discover new dimensions to things in life.
Lent — the forty-day journey toward the Resurrection of our Lord, has suffered much because of lack of attention. There is no doubt that we know a great deal about Lent, we have enough information to satisfy our inquisitive mind, but our spirit cries out for meaningful application of our faith. How can we do this?
First, by being full of God and empty of ourselves. In doing this, we learn to trust God more than we do our own reasoning. As our Lord said to His Disciples that this kind (meaning the evil Spirit) comes out only by prayer and fasting, He meant PRAYER AND FASTING, and NOT what we want Him to mean. Lent is a period of prayer and fasting. It is a time especially set aside for us to draw closer to God.
Before we enter the Lenten period, we are reminded of the desire to come closer to Christ (Zacchaeus), because unless we want to move toward God we will always stay away from Him. Then we are asked to be humble like the Publican (“God have mercy on me a sinner”) and not “Thank God I am better than everyone else.” God abides only in the humble heart. The Prodigal Son urges us to acknowledge our sinfulness and return to God the Father. All these preparation guidelines help give us the proper attitude towards Lent. These are tools with which to enter the Lenten period.
I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will. (Phlm 1: 14)
In today's secular society there are two extreme views of those serious followers of Christ who apply Christ's teachings on tolerance and forgiveness in their lives. One view is that such Christians are wanting in courage by failing to call for retribution and vengeance for crimes society may rightly find abhorrent. On the other hand, committed Christians are viewed as intolerant if they choose to reject values and practices that are un-Christ like. The Christian response can only be understood by deepening our understanding of the Holy Trinity and the relationship of the Persons of the Holy Trinity among themselves.
What we know of the essence of the Godhead, the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One God, is magnificently summarized by St. John Chrysostom in his Divine Liturgy: "for Thou art God ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever existing and eternally the same." The Holy Spirit-inspired Church and its early Councils undertook the task of trying to understand and express the relationship between the veiled prototype of the Holy Trinity contained in the Old Testament Scriptures and God as One-in-Three as revealed by Christ Himself. McGuckin summarizes that it consisted of a "theology of three perfectly coequal divine persons (hypostases), all sharing the selfsame divine nature (ousia). . . more succinctly . . .a vision of God where the Son and Holy Spirit were homoousion with the Father though hypostatically distinct."
A common human experience is that when one is absorbed in work or activity that one deems worthwhile, time seems to fly; one is often so deep in concentrated focus as to 'forget about self;' the opposite of this is the experience of listlessness. On a purely human level we could consider the words of Hindu teacher Gandhi regarding such absorbing work: ".. . finding satisfaction in work is our best hope for happiness in life."i However, there is a higher matter to be considered, a Divine element to 'worthy work.' King David links the work we do to our purpose in life: "The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; thy steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of thy hands." (Ps 137: 8). So, what is ultimately meaningful will be that which we do that carries out our purpose in life; and at the same time it will be a Godly act. In his Epistle to the Corinthians (1Cor 3: 9,13-14) St. Paul tells us: "For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building … each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward."
by Rev. V. Berzonsky
from The Word, February 1969
Little by little since the Sunday of Zaccheus we have been preparing ourselves for Great Lent, which in turn is the movement towards the Feast of Feasts, the Pascha, Easter. The first Sunday of this preparatory period, the Sunday of the Pharisee and the Publican, has as its theme: Christianity as humility. The second Sunday, the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, has the theme: Christianity as return or conversion. The third Sunday has the theme: Christianity as judgment. The fourth Sunday has the theme: Christianity as forgiveness. These four themes are essential in our preparation for Great Lent.
Let us approach Lent with a proper understanding of this period. Let us not reduce this Lent to giving up something for Lent: for this idea fills man with such pride that he loses all the benefit he was supposed to achieve and even more. Let us not reduce Lent to our personal problem.
Lent is a time for slowing-down, for taking ourselves to account, in order that we may be spiritually prepared for the feast to come. Lent is the time when the Church withdraws from the New Testament into the Old Testament. Lent is the time when we become nostalgic for communion.
In a larger sense, Lent is a permanent dimension of Christianity. It is not a spiritual bath. Lent expresses the church as pilgrimage, as movement, as exodus. Lent opens our eyes to the things that we do not see. Let us remember the idea of Church as fast and feast, as expectation and fulfillment, as humility and glory.
by Rev. V. Berzonsky
from The Word, February 1971
Before the Great Lent begins the Orthodox Church reserves three weeks in order to encourage in its members a proper mental preparedness towards the season of intense prayer, meditation and fasting. We must learn not merely to accept lent as a spiritual obligation, an intrusion into a life of fun and diversion, but rather we must learn to welcome its discipline if we are to benefit by it spiritually.
Let us first mention certain misconceptions regarding this period: the great danger of keeping a strict lent is that one tends to become self-righteous. Wisely the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee is put at the very start of the Triodion Cycle to impress upon our minds the distastefulness of self-righteousness. It would be far better not to observe the lent than to have it result in an arrogance, a ‘holier-than-you’ attitude.
Neither is Lent intended for scoring points in heaven. The hairs on our head may be numbered, as the Lord tells us; but it is highly unlikely the angels keep track of whether we had a cheese sandwich or boloney for lunch. We sometimes tend to keep the letter of the lent and fail to develop an over-view, a general framework for understanding why we deprive ourselves of certain foods and pleasures.
by Fr. Daniel Daly, Spiritual Advisor for Midwest Antiochian Women
(Editor’s note: Fr. Daniel took excerpts from the following sermon in a talk he gave to Midwest women in fall 2010. Published in DIAKONIA Winter 2010-2011)
"Going therefore teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you...”
The Church is in the world to carry out the mission given to it by the Lord Himself. The church must carry out the ministries of : 1. evangelization and witness, 2. the sacramental mission of worship and sacrament, 3. the ministry of fellowship, 4. the ministry of charity.
Our ministry of evangelization is carried out in various ways in the church. In addition to the Sunday sermon we have our church school programs and our adult education series. We have bookstores, which can be very popular with our visitors. We are very blessed in Orthodoxy that our building and our icons proclaim the message of the Gospel. In addition to all these things we have the individual witness of each of you. We have a duty to witness both to the people within this faith community and to those outside. In all that we do here in our church we do so with the realization that our church does not only exist for those within this parish, but it also has a mission to those outside it as well.
The title of this Chaplain's Corner is a verse from one of the last prayers said during the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (the Mass) in the Eastern Church. Many will recognize it is an almost verbatim quote from St. James’ Epistle (1:17). Among these “good and perfect” gifts is heroism. This brings up the issue of who is a true hero. Few in the United States, as well as the wider world, are not aware of the shooting which took place at the School Board Meeting in Panama City, Florida on 14 December, 2010. While not as dramatic as the crash water landing of a disabled A320 Airbus in the Hudson River,i nevertheless the actions by some that day were heroic in their own way. A reportedly mentally ill individual, whose wife had been fired from her position as a teacher, entered the school board meeting room with a loaded gun, and painted a large letter V on the wall (for Vengeance). He then let the female school board members go and started shooting at the male members.
The board Superintendent, Bill Husfelt, called out to the shooter and said “Take me.” [The firing] had been his decision, and he had had to sign the termination papers. He even started to rise from behind the Board desk to make himself a target, hoping the others would be let go. At one point, one of the female board members re-entered the room and tried to hit the shooter from behind with her over-size pocketbook. In the meantime, a retired police officer and Chief of Security for the School District, Mike Jones, entered the meeting room, crouched below the rear spectator seats, but still in the line of fire, and, in order to try to save the life of the school board members still in the room, opened fire on the perpetrator, hitting him several times.
A Story from Holy Orthodox Tradition
by Fr. Michael J. Buben
from The Word, March 1960
According to the witness of Holy Scripture, the old Simeon was a man “just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Ghost was upon him.” (Luke 2, 25). From God, Simeon had been foretold about the coming of the True Messiah. Ancient historians teach us the following about Saint Simeon.
The great and divinely inspired work of translating the Old Testament Books from the Hebrew to the Greek language was begun by Ptolemy Philadelphus, King of Egypt (Seventy-two (sometimes referred to as 70) Hebrew elders from the twelve tribes of Israel were selected for the work of translation. Each Hebrew elder was a teacher of Mosaic Law, a Scriptural Scholar, and proficient in both the Greek and Hebrew languages. These divinely inspired men brought forth the Septuagint version of the Old Testament. Among these scholars who translated the Books of the Old Testament into Greek on the island of Pharos, near the city of Alexandria was the elder Simeon.
While translating the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Simeon came to the words; “Behold a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son” (Isaiah 7, 14). Reading them, he became confused, thinking that it was impossible for a Virgin without husband to give birth. Simeon took a knife and was ready to erase the word — Virgin — and substitute the word — wife. At this time an angel of God appeared, held Simeon’s hand and said:
by Very Rev. Stephen Rogers
from The Word, January 2001
As the month of January draws to a close, the Church calls us on the 30th to celebrate the Feast of the Three Holy Hierarchs: St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom.
In celebrating these three great teachers of the Church, the Church in its hymnody refers to them as “harps of the Spirit,” “rays of light,” “scented flowers of Paradise,” “instruments of grace.” The Gospel read at Divine Liturgy is that of the Good Shepherd (John 10:9-16). This gospel, always appointed to be read on feast days of canonized bishops, speaks to us of the God-given role of the episcopacy to watch over our souls.
In these three great shepherds of the Church, we see both a commonality and differences that can enlighten us in how we lead our lives as Christians. Honored as supreme representatives of both the Church’s doctrinal and pastoral ministries, these men give us true examples of what it means to be Orthodox.
St. Basil the Great (330-379), though known throughout Orthodoxy because of the Divine Liturgy that bears his name, was perhaps first and foremost a man of charity and compassion. Known as a protector of the weak and defender of the poor, St. Basil built hospitals, organized charities, cared for orphans and widows and emphasized acts of mercy on the part of all Christians.
A great defender of the faith in powerful writings and homilies, and known as an organizer and reformer of monasteries, St. Basil more than anything else burned with a heart of compassion, living out the words of Christ, “Inasmuch as you do it unto one of these little ones, you do it unto me.”
"...for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." (2 Cor 3:6)
Up front I want to make clear that in no manner, shape or form is anything that I am writing meant to abrogate or ameliorate the commandments of God. In fact, just the opposite, my intent is to suggest a pastoral practice which would enhance keeping Christ's commandments. After all, we have it from Christ Himself: ". . . If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (Jn 14: 15).
What I am suggesting is that the best way to keep the commandments is to first focus on understanding their spirit, their meaning, and then make connections to the letter, that is to say, the written code. This approach is both psychologically and spiritually sound (Morelli, 2005). I am making the suggestion that this is an effective way to approach the commandments in workshops, catechesis and especially in pastoral aid given to penitents in the Holy Mystery of Confession.
Recently, I returned from a pilgrimage to Syria and Lebanon. When embarking on such a journey, we often have expectations. My expectations were simple: I wanted to visit the holy Shrine of St. Thekla and monasteries, gleaning information and experience to provide consistency and to ensure the transmission of the Antiochian ethos within the life of the Convent of St. Thekla in Pennsylvania.
The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians
"And above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness." (Colossians 3:14)
Dost thou see that he saith this? For since it is possible for one who forgives, not to love; yea, he saith, thou must love him too, and he points out a way whereby it becomes possible to forgive. For it is possible for one to be kind, and meek, and humble-minded, and longsuffering, and yet not affectionate. And therefore, he said at the first, "A heart of compassion," both love and pity. "And above all these things, love, which is the bond of perfectness."
Now what he wishes to say is this; that there is no profit in those things, for all those things fall asunder, except they be done with love; this it is which clenches them all together; whatsoever good thing it be thou mentionest, if love be away, it is nothing, it melts away. And it is as in a ship, even though her rigging be large, yet if there be no girding ropes, it is of no service; and in a house, if there be no tie beams, it is the same; and in a body, though the bones be large, if there be no ligaments, they are of no service.
For whatsoever good deeds any may have, all do vanish away, if love be not there. He said not that it is the summit, but what is greater, "the bond"; this is more necessary than the other. For "summit" indeed is an intensity of perfectness, but "bond" is the holding fast together of those things which produce the perfectness; it is, as it were, the root.