by Fr. John Abdalah
from The Word, June 1990
If we consult a Bible concordance for the words “belief” and “faith”, we find many pages of Biblical references. So very much has been said in the Scriptures and by the Fathers, yet these words are still misused and misunderstood. In the Western Churches, debates on “faith alone”, or “faith and works”, have caused division and strife. Today, in our consumer-oriented society, as we look at the Scriptures, we tend to want to know what is promised, what we deserve, and what we can get from our faith and belief. Certainly, “all things are possible to him who believes”; but only from searching the whole of the Scriptures and the mind of the Church, can we come to understand what is revealed to us by God. Our understanding of faith cannot be limited to a belief in the existence of God. Satan knows that God is God, the demons recognized and knew Jesus Christ, and many devil-worshippers recognize, yet wish to deny, what God reveals to us.
One aspect of faith is trust: to trust that God will take care of all that we can not; to trust that God in His Wisdom will bring us all to salvation. Nevertheless, knowing about God and trusting in His might is still not enough. We are called to believe and to trust, and this belief leads us to experience God in the Church that He established, guides, and lives within. Our God “rests in His Saints”, and abides in His Church.
Commentary of St. John Chrysostom on the Acts of the Apostles
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven." (Acts 2:1-2)
DOST thou perceive the type? What is this Pentecost? The time when the sickle was to be put to the harvest, and the ingathering was made. See now the reality, when the time was come to put in the sickle of the word: for here, as the sickle, keen-edged, came the Spirit down. For hear the words of Christ: "Lift up your eyes," He said, "and look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest." (John iv. 35.) And again, "The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few." (Matt. ix. 38.) But as the first-fruits of this harvest, He himself took [our nature], and bore it up on high. Himself first put in the sickle. Therefore also He calls the Word the Seed. "When," it says, "the day of Pentecost was fully come" (Luke viii. 5, 11): that is, when at the Pentecost, while about it, in short. For it was essential that the present events likewise should take place during the feast, that those who had witnessed the crucifixion of Christ, might also behold these.
"And suddenly there came a sound from heaven." (v. 2.) Why did this not come to pass without sensible tokens? For this reason. If even when the fact was such, men said, "They are full of new wine," what would they not have said, had it been otherwise? And it is not merely, "there came a sound," but, "from heaven." And the suddenness also startled them, and brought all together to the spot. "As of a rushing mighty wind:" this betokens the exceeding vehemence of the Spirit. "And it filled all the house:" insomuch that those present both believed, and in this manner were shown to be worthy.
by Rev. Vladimir Berzonsky
from The Word, May 1969
“And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll. . . And between the throne and the four living creatures I saw a Lamb, standing, as if it had been slain.” (Rev. 5:2)
The very fact of our Lord’s ascension into Heaven, and His “sitting at the right hand of the Father,” is the source of great joy and profound optimism to the faithful believers. What happened when our Lord returned to Heaven? Revelation gives us some insight.
St. John, the spiritual leader of the churches of Asia Minor had been taken from his churches and exiled to the tiny island of Patmos, in the Mediterranean Sea. Sunday morning comes a time when he is normally preparing himself to celebrate the Holy Eucharist with his faithful gathering. Closed around by his own gloom, he is startled by a voice as loud as a trumpet, behind him. It is the Lord Himself, radiant and transformed in appearance, who takes him to an open door in Heaven for a view of the Heavenly Court.
After he does his best to adequately describe the scene before him: the Throne of the Father, the twenty-four presbyters, the four living creatures and the host of angels, he hears a challenge by a mighty angel: “Who is worthy to open the seals of the scroll?” (Upon which is written the prophecy of the destiny of the universe.)
Nobody in Heaven or on earth was worthy to reveal the future, and John wept, for not even one person had been found worthy. Except, in the center of the Heavenly court, a Lamb was standing as though it had been slain.
by His Grace Bishop Thomas, Ed.D.
In "the founding of explicitly Orthodox Christian schools of higher education...we must seek out men and women who are willing to offer up their academic learning and other educational talents to God for His Eucharistic sanctification for the salvation of the world."
by the Right Reverend Bishop Thomas (Joseph), Ed.D.
If we were to survey the Orthodox Christian private grammar schools that currently exist in our country, we would discover that they exist for one of two reasons. The first, and probably the more common, is that parents want a place for their children that is safe from the evil influences found in the secular schools that will also give to them an adequate academic education. Such schools do not particularly exist as Orthodox schools for the sake of Orthodoxy, but rather as safe havens, sheltering students reassuringly under the preferred religious branding.
By contrast, the other kind of Orthodox Christian school that exists in our country is dedicated to immersion in the Kingdom of God. Their purpose is not to provide a shelter from the world that happens to give a decent education, but rather it is to use education sacramentally to unite students mystically with Jesus Christ. Indeed, far from providing a shelter, we may think of such places as a barracks or as a training camp, raising up soldiers for Christ’s mystical army. Such schools have one purpose: the salvation of students and of the world. For them, education can become a mystery of the Church.
The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel According to St. John
And as Jesus passed by, He saw a man which was blind from his birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. (John 9:1-3)
Lo, here again is another difficulty, if without this man's punishment, it was not possible that the glory of God should be shown. Certainly it is not said that it was impossible, for it was possible, but, "that it might be manifested even in this man." "What," saith some one, "did he suffer wrong for the glory of God?" What wrong, tell me? For what if God had never willed to produce him at all? But I assert that he even received benefit from his blindness: since he recovered the sight of the eyes within. What were the Jews profited by their eyes? They incurred the heavier punishment, being blinded even while they saw. And what injury had this man by his blindness? For by means of it he recovered sight. As then the evils of the present life are not evils, so neither are the good things good; sin alone is an evil, but blindness is not an evil. And He who had brought this man from not being into being, had also power to leave him as he was.
The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel According to St. John
The woman then left her water pot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, Come, see a Man which told me all things that ever I did; is not this the Christ?" (John 4: 28-29)
We require much fervor and uproused zeal, for without these it is impossible to obtain the blessings promised to us. And to show this, Christ at one time saith, "Except a man take up his cross and follow Me, he is not worthy of Me" (Matt. x. 38); at another, "I am come to send fire upon the earth, and what will I if it be already kindled?" (Luke xii. 49); by both these desiring to represent to us a disciple full of heat and fire, and prepared for every danger. Such an one was this woman. For so kindled was she by His words, that she left her water pot and the purpose for which she came, ran into the city, and drew all the people to Jesus. "Come," she saith, "see a Man which told me all things that ever I did."
Observe her zeal and wisdom. She came to draw water, and when she had lighted upon the true Well, she after that despised the material one; teaching us even by this trifling instance when we are listening to spiritual matters to overlook the things of this life, and make no account of them. For what the Apostles did, that, after her ability, did this woman also. They when they were called, left their nets; she of her own accord, without the command of any, leaves her water pot, and winged by joy performs the office of Evangelists. And she calls not one or two, as did Andrew and Philip, but having aroused a whole city and people, so brought them to Him.
If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
We come to the Holy Gospel at last and to the Christian way of life! The fullness of time has come and God has sent forth His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. How everything has changed! No aspect of life remains as it was before Christ came. Everything has died with Him, and everything has been raised and transfigured in Him. All for us has been redeemed, transformed, deified, elevated, and, in a word, made Christian.
When Jesus came to earth He found us with lame limbs, weak and failing, and He perfected our bodies and restored them to health, just as He corrected, molded, improved, and fulfilled the Old Law. St. Ephrem the Syrian describes some of the healing effects of the Incarnation on human nature in his Hymn 37, On Virginity:
His body was newly mixed with our bodies, and His pure blood has been poured out into our veins, and His voice into our ears, and His brightness into our eyes. All of Him has been mixed into all of us by His compassion, and since He loves his church very much, he did not give her the manna of her rival. He had living bread for her to eat. Wheat, the olive and grapes, created for our use – the three of them serve You symbolically in three ways. With three medicines You healed our disease. Humankind had become weak and sorrowful and was failing. You strengthened her with Your blessed bread, and You consoled her with Your sober wine, and You made her joyful with Your holy chrism (K. McVey, Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns, Classics of Western Spirituality, New York: Mahwah, 1989, p. 425).
For the Lord is a great God, and a great king over all the earth.
In His hand are the deep places of the earth;
The heights of the hills are His also.
The sea is His, for He made it;
And His hands formed the dry land.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. (Ps. 95: 3-7)
There is nothing that our great God has created in heaven and earth that does not have its purpose. He gave us the four seasons; one for planting; one for growing; a season to reap the harvest and a season for the earth to rest and be ready for renewal.
He gave us the sun to warm us and light for the labor of our day. He gave us the moon and the stars in the evening to soften the darkness we need to rest from our labors.
He gave us the animals to help us in our labors. He gave us the plants for food and to bring beauty to our lives.
We are the breath of God, created in His image.
The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel According to St. John
"Now there is at Jerusalem a sheep pool, called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of halt, blind, withered, waiting for the moving of the water." (John 5:2-3)
What manner of cure is this? What mystery doth it signify to us? For these things are not written carelessly, or without a purpose, but as by a figure and type they show in outline things to come, in order that what was exceedingly strange might not by coming unexpectedly harm among the many the power of faith. What then is it that they show in outline? A Baptism was about to be given, possessing much power, and the greatest of gifts, a Baptism purging all sins, and making men alive instead of dead. These things then are foreshown as in a picture by the pool, and by many other circumstances. And first is given a water which purges the stains of our bodies, and those defilements which are not, but seem to be, as those from touching the dead, those from leprosy, and other similar causes; under the old covenant one may see many things done by water on this account. However let us now proceed to the matter in hand.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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).
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:
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.
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).