by St. Andrew of Crete
This is the final goal of the covenants God has made with us; this is the revelation of the hidden depths of God's incomprehensibility. This is the realization intended before all the ages; this is the crown of God's oracles, the inexplicable, supremely unknowable will of him who had cared for humanity since before creation began. This is the first-fruit of God's communion with his creation, of His identification as Maker of all things, with what He has made. This is the concrete, personal pledge of God's reconciliation with humanity, the surpassing beauty of God's sculpture, the perfectly-drawn portrait of the divine model. This is the first step to all ascent, to all contemplation; the holy tabernacle of him who made the world; the vessel that received the inexhaustible wisdom of God; the inviolate treasury of life. This is the spring of divine radiance, which can never be drunk dry; the impregnable stronghold, raised so high over all of us in its purity that it can never be conquered by passion. Through this woman [the Theotokos], the pledge of our salvation has been made and kept, in that this marvelous creature has both reach the limits of our lot and has paid the common debt proper to our nature. And if not all the features of her life were the same as ours, that is due simply to her nearness to God.
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 Rev. Fr. Theodore E. Ziton
from The Word, June 1958
For the last time Jesus blessed the group of the faithful. Then they saw Him soar above the earth, rising by His own power, From the Mount of Olives, He saw, round about, the places which He sojourned while on earth, from birth to death, which had been sanctified by his presence; the pale brown desert of Judea the River Jordan; Mount Calvary; the plains of Bethlehem.
The Apostles had forgotten everything about them. Straining their eyes, they continued to seek out a gleam of His presence. They would have followed Him anywhere He went on earth; they would have cast themselves into the depths of the sea and perished with Him in the waters, but on this aerial path they could not follow Him. Speechless and surprised with admiration, they watched the Divine Master mount higher and higher to heaven till finally He disappeared in a cloud. While they were gazing up to heaven, two men stood by them in white garments, and said to them: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into Heaven? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into Heaven, shall come in the same way as you have seen Him going up to Heaven.”
By Frederica Mathewes-Green
Jesus is standing on the broken doors of hell. The massive portals lie crossed under his feet, a reminder of the Cross that won this triumph. He stands braced and striding, like a superhero, using his mighty outstretched arms to lift a great weight. That weight is Adam and Eve themselves, our father and mother in the fallen flesh. Jesus grasps Adam's wrist with his right hand and Eve's with his left, as he pulls them forcibly up, out of the carved marble boxes that are their graves.
Where does the Gospel begin? I like to think that it begins with the Annunciation. It is the beginning of the life of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, with His holy conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary. The visitation by the Archangel Gabriel to Mary, and his announcement that the Holy Spirit will come upon her, is the beginning of the Gospel story that concludes with the death and glorious Resurrection of Christ that we celebrate at Great and Holy Pascha. In the words of one of our hymns for Annunciation, “Today is the beginning of our salvation.”
I believe, though, that we often forget just how much reason we have to celebrate. With all the worldly blessings we in America often enjoy, it can be easy to forget how much we need salvation, how much our world needs a Savior. This was brought home to me recently by a difficult and painful story of another baby boy.
By Douglas Cramer
Summer is almost here. It’s a good time to just take a deep breath, and relax. You know, go to the beach if you live close to it, have a barbeque, invite some friends over. I remember doing this on a grand scale as a child growing up in New Jersey. But how often do most of us do this anymore? We’re so busy, we’ve forgotten that true rest and relaxation, the kind that really restores you, is vital to our survival.
By Douglas Cramer, Editor, Antiochian.org
I've recently been spending time with an old college roommate, a man dying of cancer in his 30’s. He’s not Christian, not married, has no children. We spend a lot of time talking about death. “What do you believe happens when we die?”, my friend asked unprompted one afternoon as we sat outside his home. “You know I’m a Christian,” I answered. “This is what I believe.” And I talked about the Resurrection, about how I believe the truth is that we are created for life, body and soul. That death is not the end. That we are called to live, to live the life of the New Man.
This is what I believe. This is what I know. Death is not our end. I know that this is true. In the Gospel of John, we read Jesus Christ’s words to Pontius Pilate before His crucifixion: “For this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” And Pilate answers: “What is truth?”
What is truth? What is falsehood? These are the questions we all need to ask. What do you believe to be true? If a dying man with no knowledge of God asked you what you believe about death, what would you say? God wants us to have an answer. He wants us to know that there is Truth. “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice,” Christ teaches.
We should strive to be “of the truth.” Truth comes to us not as a sterile solution, as an answer to the question “What is truth?” Truth comes to us as life – the life of Christ. Truth is not a “what.” Truth is a “Who”.