Monday, February 23, 2015

Let the Little Children Come to Me, and Forbid Them Not, a TWD reprise…..

I had a very interesting discussion with my priest this evening as we prepared to pray the Canon of St. Andrew.  I'm still not sure what connected the two thoughts in my head, but we were discussing children in Church and I immediately likened it to the last episode of The Walking Dead (season 5, episode 11).

The discussion was along similar lines to a previous post I wrote about kids in the Divine Liturgy.  We were discussing specifically what a blessing it is to have young children in the service, enjoying the liturgy, even making noise!  Now, we do not obviously allow children to be unruly.  Our parents will take children out if they become too bothersome, sometimes to comfort them, and sometimes, particularly with older children, to apply a little involuntary repentance.  But on any given day in our parish, there will be children milling about, sometimes fidgeting, sometimes fussing, often times singing or saying the prayers in the liturgy.  They will venerate icons and make the sign of the cross.  Our Church looks most days like any other gathering of adults with children.  It just so happens we are having a Church service instead of, say, watching a movie or eating at a restaurant or whatever.

Now, this scene compared to The Walking Dead is surely an odd juxtaposition, sure to horrify Christians and delight atheists who love to compare Jesus to a zombie.  However, bear with me, because I think it is an apt comparison once I finally connect all the dots, but it will take some time to do so.

I assume most readers are familiar with The Walking Dead, the now-infamous show about the dystopian zombie apocalypse.  Several key themes work throughout the series and its five seasons, but one particular theme is this -- other people are more dangerous than the zombies themselves.  The zombies are easy to deal with.  I will spare the gory details, but they aren't very fast, and they can be easily dispatched.  They don't think, plot, scheme or do any of the things people do.  They lack any will for good or evil, or even self preservation.  Other people, by contrast, will kill you and take your stuff, and they will act in their own self-interest while plotting against you without regard to your well being.  This means that encounters with other groups of living humans is extremely dangerous.  Combine that with the fact that the sorts of humans who tend to survive such an event are those who are ruthless, cunning and willing to do whatever it takes to live, including killing you, stealing your food, or even for a brief period resorting to cannibalism.

This brings us to episode 11, where our group of protagonists meet their fifth group of living humans.  With the sole exception of the first group at Herschel's farm, and perhaps Father Gabriel (who (1) isn't a "group," and (2) has his own skeletons in the proverbial closet), each and every group they have run across has been hiding a horrible secret.  The first was run by a psychopath who was keeping his now-zombiefied daughter alive and killing every rival group he could find while ruling with an iron fist.  The second was comprised of the aforementioned cannibals.  The third was a group at Grady Hospital in Atlanta who were essentially enslaving people they "saved" and who were dysfunctional in the extreme, and were also ruled with an iron fist.  And now we have the as-yet unmet fifth group.

In this episode, the main character, Rick Grimes, mentioned something interesting.  He noted that every time the group comes across another group, fortified behind gates, bars and walls, when they initially approach, there is nothing but silence.  Rick's group hears nothing.  And then they go inside the walls only to find danger, horror, and unspeakable acts of inhumanity.  At the end of episode 11, the group rolls up to the gate of the newest community, and Rick hears children playing behind the walls.  He takes his infant daughter in his arms, and says "ready?"  The screen then fades to black.

We will find out what happens next week, but the interesting thing to me about this episode is that Rick associates silence with danger.  Something is wrong, he figures, if people aren't behind the walls living their lives.  And the sound he associates with this normalcy is children playing.  If there aren't children playing, something is wrong.  Such people are not to be trusted.

It got me thinking about how accurate that assessment is.  And if we would view such a group of people with utmost suspicion to protect our life and possessions, if they were living in a supposed community without the sense of normalcy that children playing might imply, how much more should we view a community of Christians with the same suspicion if children are nowhere to be found?  Or shuffled off to an alternate room so the adults can "enjoy" the service?  Where children are out of sight and out of mind, is this really a group of Christians?  Or something else?  Shouldn't we protect our souls and the souls of our children with at least as much caution?

I remember when His Grace, Bishop Thomas, bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, Oakland and the Mid-Atlantic, visited our parish.  The first night he was there, he addressed the parish, and something he said has stuck with me ever since.  He said that we should make our homes resemble the Church, because the Church is where we will spend eternity.  He said we should have a family altar, and incense, and candles, and the Scriptures, and icons, and crosses in our homes.  He said we should sing hymns, say the prayers of the Church, even pray the prayer offices.  He reminded us that if we do not enjoy our time in Church, we will likely not enjoy our time in eternity.  While he did not say so expressly, his words recalled the Book of Revelation, where if one pays close attention, one will read about many of the things we see in an average Orthodox Divine Liturgy, including the things I mention above -- candles, incense, the Word of God, the altar, the Saints, the Holy Angels and Archangels.  And, if one wishes to ponder further, there will be children in heaven.

If they aren't in our services because we cannot concentrate, or because they are a distraction, or because we "enjoy" the service better without them, how do we ever plan to put up with them in eternity?  Christians, please keep your kids in Church.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple

The Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple

The Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, also called The Presentation, is one of the Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church, celebrated on November 21.

According to Tradition, the Virgin Mary was taken —presented—by her parents Joachim and Anna into the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem as a young girl, where she lived and served as a Temple virgin until her betrothal to St. Joseph. One of the earliest sources of this tradition is the non-canonical Protoevangelion of James, also called the Infancy Gospel of James.

Mary was solemnly received by the temple community which was headed by the priest Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. She was led to the holy place to become herself the "holy of holies" of God, the living sanctuary and temple of the Divine child who was to be born in her. The Church also sees this feast as a feast which marks the end of the physical temple in Jerusalem as the dwelling place of God.

Celebration of the feast

On the eve of the feast, Vespers is served and contains Old Testament readings that are interpreted as symbols of the Mother of God, for she becomes the living temple of God. In each reading we hear, "for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of the Lord God Almighty." (Exodus 40:1-5, 9-10, 16, 34-35; I Kings 7:51, 8:1, 3-4, 6-7, 9-11; and Ezekiel 43:27-44)

Sometimes Matins is served on the morning of the feast. The Gospel reading is from Luke 1:39-49, 56. It is read on all feasts of the Theotokos and includes the Theotokos' saying: "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden, for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed."

Divine Liturgy is served on the day on the feast. The epistle reading is from Hebrews 9:1-7, and speaks of the tabernacle of the old covenant. The gospel reading is taken from Luke 10:38-42 and 11:27-28 together; this reading is also read on all feasts of the Theotokos. In it, the Lord says, "blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"


Troparion (Tone 4) Today is the preview of the good will of God, of the preaching of the salvation of mankind. The Virgin appears in the temple of God, in anticipation proclaiming Christ to all. Let us rejoice and sing to her: Rejoice, O Divine Fulfillment of the Creator's dispensation.

Kontakion (Tone 4) The most pure Temple of the Savior; the precious Chamber and Virgin; the sacred Treasure of the glory of God, is presented today to the house of the Lord. She brings with her the grace of the Spirit, therefore, the angels of God praise her: "Truly this woman is the abode of heaven."

Forefeast hymn:

Troparion (Tone 4) Today Anna bequeaths joy to all instead of sorrow by bringing forth her fruit, the only ever-Virgin. In fulfillment of her vow, today with joy she brings to the temple of the Lord the true temple and pure Mother of God the Word.

Kontakion (Tone 4) Today the universe is filled with joy at the glorious feast of the Mother of God, and cries out: "She is the heavenly tabernacle."

Thursday, November 13, 2014

St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople

Troparion (Tone 8)

Grace shining forth from your lips like fire hath enlightened the universe. It has shown to the world the riches of riches poverty; it has revealed to us the heights of humility. Teaching us by your words, O Father John Chrysostom, intercede before the Word, Christ our God, to save our souls!

Kontakion (Tone 6)

Having received divine grace from heaven, with your mouth you teach all men to worship the Triune God.  All-blest and venerable John Chrysostom, we worthily praise you, for you are our teacher,  revealing things divine!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Our Father Among the Saints: Raphael of Brooklyn

"Several themes emerge as the story of St. Raphael's life unfolds. The first is the mysterious way in which God led him from his native homeland to the shores of the American continent. The second is his submissive attitude to the providence of God. And the third is his love for the people of God. Though during his lifetime he was neither a wonder-worker nor a clairvoyant elder, St. Raphael embraced a life of total abandonment of self for the service of God and his fellow man: a life of true spiritual asceticism."

(from The Life of Our Father among the Saints Raphael Hawaweeny)

On the first Saturday in November we commemorate our father among the Saints, Raphael (Hawaweeny). In 2015, the 100th Anniversary of the Falling Asleep of St. Raphael, the Archdiocese's Creative Festivals will feature the theme, "Good Shepherd of the Lost Sheep in America."

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

Indiction is a term given to identify an era or epoch of years of the calendar that was first used in the late third century to date agricultural and land tax cycles in Roman Egypt. By the late fifth century the indiction became widely used throughout the Mediterranean. Its use is still reflected in the Christian church calendars. The indiction in the Orthodox Church is on September 1.

While the measure of a day and year have been labeled, and changed over the years, for time immemorial, the tagging of a period of years has varied throughout history. Eras or epochs of years have been measured from various starting points have been based on various events. These measures have included counts based upon the cycle of Olympiads, epochs starting from the founding of Rome, on the reigns of monarchs such as used today in Japan (the Meiji or Showa eras), from the formation of earth, and so on. In much of the world today the enumeration of years is based on the birth of Christ, although this practice, or epoch, did not become common for centuries after Dionysius Exiguus, a Scythian monk, established this starting point in 527.

In the third century in the Roman Empire an epoch measurement became popular called the Indiction. When indictions began to be used about 287, it originated as a cycle of five years. By 314 an indiction cycle of fifteen years appeared which became the common measure at the same time that the Emperor Constantine the Great recognized Christianity. The use of indictions for dating documents not related to taxes began in the mid-fourth century.

Each indiction itself was not distinctly identified, only the year within the indiction. Thus, an indiction may need reference to some other event to identify a specific indiction. Additionally, different systems of calculating the indictions came into use of which the following are most common:

In the eastern Roman Empire, in the Greek or Constantinopolitan Indictions the first day (of the new year) of the indiction year was established initially as September 23, which was the birthday of Augustus. This date also became the start of the Eastern Orthodox Church year. By late in the fifth century the start of the new year, however, shifted to September 1, which is the present day beginning of the Church year.

In the west, the Imperial or Western Indictions September 24 was adopted as the beginning of the year, apparently based upon calculations under the authority of the Venerable Bede. 

Later, in the ninth century Roman or Pontifical Indictions were introduced in the west that began the year on either December 25 or January 1.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Saint Moses the Black and Saint Augustine of Hippo

It was a joy this evening to commemorate these two Saints at our monthly healing Vespers.

Troparion — Tone 1

You abandoned the Egypt of the passions, O Father, Ascending the mount of the virtues with fervent faith, Taking the Cross of Christ upon your shoulders; And being glorified in godly works, You proved to be a model for monastics, O summit of the fathers. Pray unceasingly with them that our souls may find mercy!

Kontakion — Tone 3

Your mind was filled with a holy inspiration from God, Turning you from the lust and pleasures of the flesh, Bringing you to the height of the city of God! O Holy Father Moses, intercede with Christ God that He may grant us great mercy!

Troparion - Tone 4

Let us acclaim the sublime Augustine, the holy bishop of the Church of Christ; The wise writer of the City of God; You are good, blessed Augustine and you served the Savior in sanctity as a wise and divinely inspired priest; Father pray to Christ our God to grant our souls the grace of salvation.

Kontakion - Tone 3

We praise you with resounding voices O heavenly trumpet of wisdom; You are the harmonious organ of theology O most blessed father Augustine; You have given us rich knowledge of Christ's faith, and you have increased the flock of the Church; You now take rest with the angels and still pray unceasingly for all of us.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos

Troparion (Tone 1)

In giving birth you preserved your virginity,
In falling asleep you did not forsake the world, O Theotokos.
You were translated to life, O Mother of Life,
And by your prayers, you deliver our souls from death.

Kontakion (Tone 2)

Neither the tomb, nor death could hold the Theotokos,
Who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions.
For being the Mother of Life,
She was translated to life by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb.