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April 27, 2011 + The Eternity of Easter

by C. G. Pallas
from The Word, May 1962

If the celebration of Easter were a mere poetical remembrance of Our Lord’s Passion and triumph over death, we would find Holy Week in the Church a somewhat theatrical procedure, a sentimental pageant of song and ritual that could well be replaced by a simple reading from the Scriptures appropriate to the occasion. That it is not, however, encourages us to consider the Church’s deep understanding of the miracle of the Resurrection and her ability, nourished by nearly 2,000 years of experience, to coordinate and combine her doctrine and her liturgical function into that supreme form of prayer which we know as worship.

Anyone who has witnessed the Holy Week services of the Orthodox Church cannot come away without at least a minimal insight into the Church’s genius in expressing, through her worship, her innermost feelings and her deep love for Jesus Christ. A simple reading of the services themselves is a veritable lesson in theology, but it is a theology stripped of the complex eloquence that invariably surrounds doctrinal thought, a theology which the layman learns unconsciously, either by listening to a hymn or by singing it.

On the Passion of the Savior

by St. Ephraim the Syrian

I am afraid to speak

and touch with my tongue
this fearful narrative
concerning the Saviour.
For truly it is fearful
to narrate all this.

Our Lord
was given up today
into the hands of sinners!

For what reason then
was one who is holy
and without sin given up?

For having done no sin
he was given up today.

On the Saving Passion of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ

CATECHESIS 73, St. Theodore the Studite

On the saving passion of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ.
Given on Great and Holy Friday.

Brethren and Fathers, while the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ when they are recalled are always able to pierce the soul, they do so especially in these present days, on which each of them reached its end. What then are they? The murderous council against him, the Jewish arrest, his being led away to death, his arraignment before Pilate's tribunal, the interrogation, the scourging, the blows, the spittings, the insults, the mockeries, the ascent of the Cross, the nailing of his hands and feet, the tasting of gall, the piercing of his side and all the other things which blazed forth with them, which the world cannot contain, nor can anyone worthily proclaim, not human tongue, nor even all the tongues of angels together.

For let us consider, brethren, this great and ineffable mystery. The Lord who reveals the counsels of hearts [1 Cor. 4:5] and knows every human desire is the one who is taken before a council of death; the Lord who bears all things by the word of his power [Hebrews 1:3] is the one who is handed over to sinners; the Lord who binds the water in the clouds [Job 26:8] and sows in the earth in due season and uniformly is the one who is led away prisoner; the Lord who measures the heavens with the span of his hand and the earth in a handful and weighed all the mountains in the balance [Isaias 40:12.] is the one who is struck by the hand of a servant; the Lord who adorned the boundaries of the earth with flowers is the one who is dishonourably crowned with thorns; the Lord who planted the tree of life in Paradise is the one who is hanged upon an accursed tree.

April 20, 2011 + Christ is Risen, Indeed He is Risen

by Fr. Don Hock
from The Word, April 1996

This powerful Paschal greeting contains the entire essence, depth and meaning of our Christian faith. "Christ is risen, and our sins are forgiven! Christ is risen, and death is destroyed! Christ is risen, and life is transfigured!" We exult and rejoice in these great truths, but do they make a difference in our lives? Is there a way to live personally as families, and as a parish in the light of Christ’s Holy Resurrection?

The Orthodox Church answers these questions with a thunderous and resounding "YES"! For we believe and cling to the fact that this unheard of victory over death actually changed every thing in the world - it transforms all of creation and makes it new. The early Christians called their faith not a religion, but the Good News, because they knew and believed that this resurrection of Christ was the source of powerful and transfigured lives. Likewise, we who rejoice and celebrate today in this Paschal season experience the reality of the living Christ Who has and is making us to be alive in Him. All the work that we are accomplishing, sharing the faith, celebrating the Mysteries of Salvation, baptizing and chrismating new Orthodox Christians, working together in various projects, sharing life with each other as one family in Christ .......this is the proof of the Resurrection in every healthy and active Orthodox Christian community throughout the world. The living resurrected Christ in our midst continues to transform us as individuals, as families, and as a network of families (our parish community) to become in even greater fullness what we already are — His Body here on earth, the extension of His Incarnation in the flesh.

Greece Prepares Me for the Western Rite

by Peter Kavanaugh

After a year and a half on Mt. Olympus I prepared for my return back to America. I did not know what would await me there, and was a little anxious about leaving behind the awesome Grace of God I had experienced in Greece.

It was in the spring of 2008 that I began my life at the Holy Monastery of St. Dionysius of Mt. Olympus. I had gone there because I wished to live in an environment where Orthodoxy was deeply embedded into everyday life. There I found a community of lay people and clergy with a Christianity that was not, in the popular sense of the word, just a “religion” (in the popular sense of the word), or merely a set of dogmas and rituals, nor was it just “what we do on Sundays.” Instead, their faith was to be found even in the way they drink their coffee, in their daily expressions and habits, in their hospitality and lack of anxiety, and especially in their love for one another.

I was especially impressed by how natural and uncontrived their religion was. For them Orthodoxy was not exotic or foreign. It was simply life. One day followed another as these monks engaged in ancient, beautiful traditions. But as time passed by, it was no longer the elaborate robes and rituals that impressed me. Behind everything they did there was a spirit. Their faith, expressed through their Byzantine traditions, consisted of something much deeper and transcendental. There was a quiet power in their hearts and behind their eyes. This gradually became much more apparent and alluring. I went to Greece seeking to find the height of Orthodox expression. When I left, I simply wanted to find God.

Thoughts on Living with Cancer

“Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” Psalm 34:106

We sing the verse above at the service of the Artoklasia – five loaves. It is a source of great comfort and strength. Then St. John of Damascus writes in the funeral service of the Holy Orthodox Church, “What earthly sweetness remains unmixed with grief?” Sometimes the grief is so overwhelming that we can hardly taste the sweetness. Our life on earth can be a constant struggle between faith and fear: faith that God conquers all evil, and fear of buckling under the tyranny of illness, with all the misery it brings. From the depth of our hearts we cry to the Lord to help us through this dark valley, to bring us to a safe port.

Our Lord prayed to the Father on His way to crucifixion that the cup of death might pass from Him, but He added, “Let it be your will.” We find ourselves on the same path when it comes to facing the pain either of enduring cancer or of watching someone we love go through it. The results of the medical exam, the blood work, the CAT scan, the MRI and the biopsy all came back positive: “You have cancer,” the doctor said. After this heavy news comes the rocky road of chemo and radiation.

I don’t know much about chemo, but I know that it’s supposed to kill the cancer cells and some good ones. We could deal with the hair loss, but we pray that we never experience loss of faith, patience or hope, because that is much worse than having cancer. “Hear my cry, O Lord, listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to You, I call as my heart grows faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. You have been my refuge, a strong tower against my foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge under the shadow of your wings” (Psalms 61).

Why the Church Needs Monasteries

At times when things become frightening, when we are anxious and afraid, we are comforted to know that prayers are always being said in the Orthodox monasteries, the Rt. Rev. John Abdalah, spiritual advisor to the North American Board of Antiochian Women, told the group at their last meeting.

“It is a blessing to know that we have men and women in the Church who have dedicated themselves to a life of prayer and worship.” As a result, the Church around the world at every hour of the day is praying without ceasing (1Thessalonians 5:17), even when you and I cannot, wrote Fr. Steven Salaris, presbyter of All Saints of North America Antiochian Orthodox Mission in Maryland Heights, Missouri (“Monasticism: The Angelic Evangelic Life,” The WORD, March 2010).

The most important work of the monastery is to pray. “Our entire life and our day-to-day activities are all scheduled around the daily cycle of services,” said Mother Abbess Gabriella of the Dormition of the Mother of God Orthodox Monastery, founded in 1987 in Rives Junction, Michigan. Joy Corey of Antiochian Women of St. John the Baptist Antiochian Orthodox Church in Post Falls, Idaho, and speaker at the first Midwest Antiochian Women’s retreat held in 2006 at the Monastery, discussed prayer in her book, The Tools of Spiritual Warfare:

April 13, 2011 + from Homily LXVI

The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel According to St. Matthew

And when He drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and was come to Bethphage, unto the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples, saying, Go into the village over against you, and ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any man say aught unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he sendeth them. And this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Zechariah the prophet, Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh to thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. (Matthew 21:1-5)

And yet He had often entered Jerusalem before, but never with so much circumstance. What then is the cause? It was the beginning then of the dispensation; and neither was He very well known, nor the time of His passion near; wherefore He mixed with them with less distinction, and more disguising Himself. For He would not have been held in admiration, had He so appeared, and He would have excited them to greater anger. But when He had both given them sufficient proof of His power, and the cross was at the doors, He makes Himself then more conspicuous, and doeth with greater circumstance all the things that were likely to inflame them. For it was indeed possible for this to have been done at the beginning also; but it was not profitable nor expedient it should be so.

But do thou observe, I pray thee, how many miracles are done, and how many prophecies are fulfilled. He said, "Ye shall find an ass;" He foretold that no man should hinder them, but that all, when they heard, should hold their peace.

Letting the Light of Christ Shine Through: Icons and Iconographers

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.

April 6, 2011 + It Makes a Difference

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.

Good Marriage XXII + A Marriage Breaker: Obnoxiously Insisting on Your Point of View

by Fr. George Morelli

"... 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. 

Chaplain's Corner + Pride: The Source of All Evil

by Fr. George Morelli

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).”

March 30, 2011 + Judge Not Lest You Be Judged

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).

The Twelve Great Feasts

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).

March 23, 2011 + The Second Eve

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).

March 16, 2011 + A Lenten Message

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.

March 9, 2011 + Silence that Screams

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.

Eating in an Anciently Refreshing Way

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?

Cultivating Inexpressible Joy

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

Reflections on Ministering to College-Age Orthodox Christians in a Postmodern World

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.

How the Sacred Music Institute Changed My Life

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.

March 2, 2011 + Great Lent - A Matter of Life and Death

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.

Out of the Fountain that is Christ: Free Will, Tolerance and Forgiveness

By Fr. George Morelli

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."

God's Essence

Chaplain's Corner: Worthy Work

by Fr. George Morelli

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."

February 23, 2011 + Great Lent Meditation

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.