Saturday, December 31, 2011

Circumcision of our Lord

In submitting to the Law of Circumcision, Our Lord signifies that He is the fullness and the completion of the Old Covenant. St. Paul says, in the Epistle Lesson read on the Feast: For in [Jesus] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness of life in Him, Who is the head of all rule and authority. In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ (Col. 2:9-11).
The Church Fathers explain that the Lord, the Creator of the Law, underwent circumcision in order to give people an example of how faithfully the divine ordinances ought to be fulfilled. The Lord was circumcised so that later no one would doubt that he had truly assumed human flesh, and that his Incarnation was not merely an illusion, as certain heretics (Docetists) taught.

Additionally, he received the name Jesus (Savior) on this day. These two events, the Lord's Circumcision and Naming, remind Christians that they have entered into a New Covenant with God.

Troparion (Tone 1)
Enthroned on high with the Eternal Father and Your divine Spirit,
O Jesus, You willed to be born on earth of the unwedded handmaid, your Mother.
Therefore You were circumcised as an eight-day old Child.
Glory to Your most gracious counsel;
Glory to Your dispensation;
Glory to Your condescension, O only Lover of mankind.
Kontakion (Tone 3)
The Lord of all accepts to be circumcised,
Thus, as He is good, excises the sins of mortal men.
Today He grants the world salvation,
While light-bearing Basil, high priest of our Creator,
Rejoices in heaven as a divine initiate of Christ.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Holy Innocents

With apologies for posting this a day late -- I got in after midnight tonight.  On December 29, the Church commemorates the Holy Innocents.

December 29: Commemoration of the 14,000 Holy Innocents

Today we commemorate the 14,000 infants killed by Herod as St. Matthew recounts, "Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men." (Matthew 2:16 NKJV)

"When the King was born in Bethlehem, the Magi arrived from the East with gifts guided by a Star on high, but Herod was troubled and mowed down the children like wheat; for he lamented that his power would soon be destroyed." Kontakion

Read the account from The Protoevangelium of James (see verses 22-23).


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia

20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia

Commemorated on December 28
At the beginning of the fourth century, Emperor Maximian (284-305) gave orders to destroy Christian churches, to burn service books, and to deprive all Christians of rights and privileges of citizenship. At this time, the bishop of the city of Nicomedia was St. Cyril, who by his preaching and life contributed to the spread of Christianity, so that many members of the emperor’s court secretly became Christians.

The pagan priestess, Domna, was living in the palace at that time, but was able to obtain a copy of the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of St. Paul. Her heart burned with the desire to learn more about Christianity. With the help of a young Christian girl, Domna secretly went to Bishop Anthimus with her faithful servant, the eunuch Indes. St. Anthimus catechized them, and both received holy Baptism.

Domna began to help the poor – she gave away her valuables with the assistance of Indes, and she also distributed food from the imperial kitchen. The chief eunuch, who was in charge of provisions for the imperial household, discovered that Domna and Indes were not eating the food sent them from the emperor’s table. He had them beaten in order to find out why they did not partake of the food, but they remained silent. Another eunuch informed him that the saints were distributing all the emperor’s gifts to the poor. He locked them up in prison to exhaust them with hunger, but an angel supported them and they did not suffer. St. Domna feigned insanity so she wouldn’t have to live among the pagans. Then she and Indes managed to leave the court, and she went to a women’s monastery. The abbess of the monastery, Agatha, quickly dressed Domna in men’s clothing, cut her hair and sent her off from the monastery.

During this time, the emperor returned from battle and ordered that a search be made for the former pagan priestess Domna. The soldiers found the monastery where Domna had stayed and destroyed it. The sisters were thrown into prison and subjected to torture and abuse, but none o them suffered defilement. Sent to a house of iniquity, St. Theophila was able to preserve her virginity with the help of an angel of the Lord. The angel led her from the brothel and brought her to the cathedral.

Shortly thereafter, the emperor cleared the city square to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. When they began sprinkling the crowd with the blood of the sacrificial animals, the Christians started to leave the square. Seeing this, the emperor became enraged, but in the middle of his ranting, a great thunderstorm sprang up. People fled in panic, and the emperor had to hide in his palace for his own safety.

Later, the emperor went to the cathedral with his soldiers and told the faithful that they could escape punishment if they renounced Christ. Otherwise, he promised to burn the church and those in it. The presbyter Glycerius told the emperor that the Christians would never renounce their faith, even under the threat of torture. Hiding his anger, the emperor left the church, but commanded that Glycerius be arrested. The executioners tortured the martyr, who did not cease to pray and to call on the Name of the Lord. Unable to force St. Glycerius to renounce Christ, Maximian ordered that he be burned to death.

In 302, on the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, about 20,000 Christians assembled at the cathedral in Nicomedia. The emperor sent a herald into the church, told the faithful that soldiers were surrounding the building, and that those who wished to leave had to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. Anyone who defied the emperor would perish when the soldiers set fire to the church. All those present refused to renounce Christ.

As the pagans prepared to set fire to the church, Bishop Anthimus baptized all the catechumens and communed everyone with the Holy Mysteries. All 20,000 died in the fire. Among them were the abbess Agatha and St. Theophila. Bishop Anthimus, however, managed to escape.

Emperor Maximian thought that he had exterminated the Christians of Nicomedia. However, he soon learned that there were many more, and that they were willing to confess their faith and die for Christ. The emperor commanded that the regimental commander, Zeno, be arrested, as he was openly criticizing the emperor for his impiety and cruelty. Zeno was fiercely beaten and finally beheaded.
They also jailed the eunuch Indes for refusing to participate in a pagan festival.

The persecution against the Christians continued. Dorotheus, Mardonius, Deacon Migdonius, and others were thrown into prison. Bishop Anthimus sent them encouraging letters, but one of the messengers, the Deacon Theophilus, was captured. They tortured him, trying to learn where the bishop was hiding, but the holy martyr endured everything, while revealing nothing. They executed him and also those whom the bishop had addressed in his letters. Though they were executed in different ways, they all showed the same courage and received their martyr’s crowns from God.

For weeks, St. Domna concealed herself within a cave and sustained herself by eating plants. When she returned to the city, she wept before the ruins of the cathedral, regretting that she was not found worthy to die with the others. That night she went to the seashore, and, at that moment, fishermen pulled the bodies of the martyrs Indes, Gorgonius and Peter from the water in their nets.
St. Domna was still dressed in men’s clothing, and she helped the fishermen to draw in their nets. They left the bodies of the martyrs with her, and, with reverence, she looked after the holy relics and wept over them, especially over the body of her spiritual friend, the Martyr Indes.

After giving them an honorable burial, she refused to leave the graves so dear to her heart. Each day she burned incense before them, sprinkling them with fragrant oils. When the emperor was told of an unknown youth who offered incense at the graves of executed Christians, he gave orders to behead him. The Martyr Euthymius was also executed along with Domna.

Troparion (Tone 2) –
Blessed is the earth that received your blood, Agape, passion-bearer of the Lord,
and holy is the dwelling place which received your spirits.
You triumphed over the enemy in the stadium
and you preached Christ with boldness.
Since He is good, we pray that you beseech Him to save our souls.

Kontakion (Tone 1) –
Their souls strengthened by faith, the twenty thousand martyrs accepted their suffering by fire,
and cried out to You, the One born of the Virgin:
“Like gold, myrrh, and frankincense, the gifts of the Persian kings,
receive our whole burnt offering, O Eternal God.”

By permission of the Orthodox Church in America (


Monday, December 26, 2011

St. Stephen the Protomartyr

St. Stephen is the Patron Saint of our parish.  The first Christian martyr, he was stoned to death as described in the Book of Acts for confessing Christ.  He is commemorated on December 27, 2011, and we will celebrate his Feast day this evening.

Troparion of St. Stephen, Tone 4
Thou art crowned with a royal diadem for contests endured in Christ's name, O First and holy Martyr; thou didst put to shame thy persecutors and see thy Saviour at the right hand of the Father. Ever pray to Him for our souls.

Kontakion of St. Stephen, Tone 3
Yesterday the Master came to us in the flesh, today His servant departs in the flesh; yesterday the King was born in the flesh; today His servant is stoned to death for His sake. Hence the divine and first Martyr Stephen is made perfect.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Mount Athos special on 60 Minutes

This was awesome when I watched it earlier this year at Pascha.  How awesome to have it repeated at the Nativity. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Troparion (Tone 4)
Your Nativity, O Christ our God,
Has shone to the world the Light of wisdom!
For by it, those who worshipped the stars,
Were taught by a Star to adore You,
The Sun of Righteousness,
And to know You, the Orient from on High.
O Lord, glory to You!

Kontakion (Tone 3)

Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One,
And the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One!
Angels with shepherds glorify Him!
The wise men journey with a star!
Since for our sake the Eternal God was born as a Little Child!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A reminder this Christmas

Father Nathan Monk is the pastor of St. Benedict Orthodox mission in Pensacola, Florida.  My family and I have visited one of the sister parishes in Pensacola, St. Andrew the Apostle Antiochian Orthodox Church, but have never had the honor of visiting Father Nathan's parish.  We may have to rectify that the next time we are down that way.  Father Nathan is fighting against local ordinances in Pensacola dealing with the homeless, which would, if implemented, prevent homeless people from camping in public areas and some private areas within the city limits.  He is also quite notorious for an incident where he offered to purchase a homeless man some food, and the man sent his family to eat but told Father Nathan he would have to stay behind and hold the sign because the family would be evicted if he did not get another $50 before the day was over.  Father Nathan told him to go eat while he held the sign for the man.  The treatment he described by people passing by -- yelling, cursing, throwing things -- was so deplorable that it moved him to do something about it.

I chose this video instead of the numerous others on Youtube, because Father Nathan's message to the City Council is so powerful.  In my opinion, the money quotes are:

"This council would have arrested Mary and Joseph around this time of year for being vagrants. And maybe would have called the DCF and had the Christ child taken off."


"I think it's funny that so many people worship a homeless man on Sunday, and then you want to arrest him on Monday. We actually did. We crucified him, and I would consider it the exact same thing if this council goes forward with this."

Thanks be to God for the work this man is doing.  As we feast at the Nativity this year, please be sure to remember the poor.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What the media is doing to Ron Paul is criminal.

I apologize in advance for discussing politics on this blog -- it was not and is not my intention to speak on political matters except as they pertain to the Orthodox Christian Church.  I make an exception today because I just witnessed one of the most ridiculous and biased "news" stories I have ever seen.  This morning, George Stephanopoulos was doing a segment on the Presidential race, and the topic of discussion was Newt Gingrich's slide in the polls.  That's all well and good, but then they began talking specifically about Iowa and how Gingrich was sliding and Romney was gaining.

What they failed to mention was that in the last 2 polls out of Iowa, Dr. Ron Paul is leading.  He has a very good shot at winning.  They talked quite a bit about Sarah Palin, who isn't even running.  But they did not so much as mention Dr. Paul's name.  So why would that be?

I've heard people talk for quite a while about "liberal media bias."  I am going to posit that no such thing exists.  Rather, we have a corporatist plutocracy in this country that wishes to control our economy, our government and our media.  The notion that we have a free press is a cute story from a bygone era.  We now have a bought and paid for press pimping a bought and paid for government staffed by bought and paid for politicians.  Call this what you will, it is neither a Constitutional Republic nor a Democracy.

Dr. Paul believes in limited government.  Depending on your particular worldview, you may like that or dislike it.  But the one thing he believes in over all else is that in questions of whether the federal government ought to do something, the Constitution should control.  That separates him from every other candidate in the race and makes him a very, very dangerous man to the interests that currently wield the most influence in our country.  He will not prop up corporations with tax dollars.  He will not support the current military-industrial and prison-industrial complexes.  He will not support laws -- even if he agrees with them -- that exceed the role of the federal government outlined in our Constitution as he understands it.  And even if you disagree with where he draws those lines (as I do in more than a few instances), it is my opinion that this is a national discussion worth having.

I make no bones about my support for Dr. Paul.  I voted for him last time and I will vote for him again.  But I do not write to endorse Dr. Paul nor to encourage others to do the same.  I write to ask whether a system of government, economics and information that would ignore a candidate who is leading in the polls is a truly free society.  I write to suggest that unless and until we as Americans are willing to vote for someone other than whomever the media trots out and the two major parties endorse, we will continue to devolve into a banana republic with no real freedom and no real choice.  Please consider that when you make your vote in the upcoming primaries.

I close with this now dated statement from Jon Stewart about the media ignoring Dr. Paul.  Please note the language is colorful, so watch it at your own discretion.  But the message Stewart gives is worth hearing.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A week shy of a full year.....a reflection.

What a blessing to have been received into the Church at the Nativity.  A week from today (last night, to be specific) will be our one-year anniversary as Orthodox Christians.  It has been a year of learning, wonder, and joy.  Given that it is a season of joy that brought us into the Church, it's fitting.

A year has brought time for reflection, and I have to say that the decision to enter the Eastern Church has not been questioned.  Not once.  That is remarkable, because we were pretty much dyed-in-the-wool Lutherans, and while we were certain at the time we were making the right decision, I expected to have some lingering doubts.  I haven't, and I doubt at this point I ever will.  I firmly believe the reason for that is that the similarity between our very first Lutheran parish and this one is so striking in most particulars.  It is absolutely remarkable, to be honest.  A secondary reason is the things that are not similar are things that we really did not have great stumbling blocks with in the first place.  Orthodox understandings of the intercession of the departed Saints and the ever-virginity of the Theotokos were either close enough or functionally identical (respectively) to what we believed as Lutherans.  Regarding the former, I have always believed the Saints pray for us.  The only real difference is now I am bold to ask them to.

It is stunning to us how quickly this parish became "home."  The first Great Vespers service we attended was beautiful, but quite a bit of a culture shock.  I now cannot imagine having a service an other way.  The Eastern Liturgy is truly a thing of beauty.  Another wonderful byproduct of this consistent liturgical practice is the familiar rhythm of the Church year.  After going nearly 5 years without celebrating a Saint's feast, without celebrating a major festival with a communion service, without having the rhythm of life broken by mid-week services that were not your typical "Wednesday night" fare we get in the South, but rather an announced-the-Sunday-before "the Church will gather tomorrow night to celebrate the Feast of St. Ignatius," without being the only people in the entire parish to make the sign of the cross or bow during Christ's humiliation in the Creed -- after all of that we are finally at a place of peace again.  A place where the piety of the parish squares with the piety of the Church throughout time.  That is no small blessing.

The issues that divide Orthodox and Lutherans (as well as Orthodox and most Western Christians, to be fair) are still very real.  Nothing has deluded us into thinking those have gone away or that this is just some sort of "real Lutheranism," the sort of thing Dr. Luther might have come up with if he hadn't been hampered by circumstance and historical accident.  No, this is not Lutheranism and never will be.  But often, the differences are not what the Lutherans think they are, and I'm sure that's true vice versa in a lot of respects.  I do have to say, after spending 10 years as Lutherans, and now a year as communing members of an Orthodox parish, we are far closer than either side realizes.  I doubt the gap will be bridged, because the Orthodox will never let go of our ecclesiology without ceasing to be the Church and the Lutherans will never truly buy into it without ceasing to be Lutheran (the Lutheran Confessions speak directly against our understanding of ecclesiology).  Further, we tend to talk past each other a lot.  The Orthodox view of salvation is quite different from the Lutheran understanding, and different use of the same words compounds that problem.  Behind most accusations that the Orthodox are semi-Pelagian or the Lutherans are Manichean lies a simple word-concept fallacy.  That doesn't mean we believe the same things.  It just means we typically think the other party believes something they really don't, based on the other side using words differently than we do.  As I have told a good friend a few times, the road to salvation for Lutherans diverges widely from the road to salvation for Orthodox at many points.  But the gap at the end of that road is very narrow indeed.  The major differences I see now, a year down the road, are in the Orthodox understanding of the essence/energies and person/nature distinctions and in the Lutheran understanding of anthropology and the mechanism of the human will.  And these are related -- we would say Lutherans get anthropology and the human will wrong because they do not maintain these distinctions (Lutherans would say we get justification wrong because we adhere to free will -- I would say that's another word-concept fallacy in large part, and so it goes).

Our children continue to grow in the Faith, and that is perhaps the greatest blessing of all.  All three children understand the Faith better than they did a year ago.  All three have a piety they never had before.  And we are constantly reminded of the influence of the Church's piety on children as, for example, when our niece this morning began to make the sign of the cross every time our eldest did it.  We neither asked nor encouraged her to do it -- she is not Orthodox so it is expected that she participate in the service only in the most basic and polite terms -- standing and sitting where appropriate, not talking over the readings, etc.  And yet she picked up the piety on her own.  The Church sets a good example that children naturally follow.  Our children also have a better appreciation for poverty and human suffering, since the Church's fasting and prayer disciplines constantly remind them that we are to care for the poor and suffering, and their Patron Saints (two of whom are martyrs) remind them they could quite easily find themselves among them if they are given the grace to suffer for Christ.

There is a grounding in the life of an Orthodox Christian that keeps a certain balance.  Selfishness and greed are still passions we all struggle with, and yet it is in the struggling that we are reminded of how grievous these sins really are.  In Orthodoxy, we take sin seriously and strive to eradicate it from our lives.  That does not mean that we believe we actually accomplish that.  In fact, the greatest Saints in the Church are often quoted on their deathbeds as praying for more time to repent.  It seems the closer one gets to God, the more one realizes they aren't really close to God.  Not in any sense that one might feel safe or secure.  Sinners in the presence of God are always terrified.  The preaching of the Law in Orthodoxy is usually geared more to this eradication of sin than toward the "you're a sinner, you're forgiven" Law/Gospel model.  It would sound semi-Pelagian to a good Lutheran or Calvinist.  This is likely not the only place we Orthodox come across as Pelagian (or superficially Arminian).  But we are not.  We do not believe our lawkeeping is the cause of our salvation.  We believe, rather, that this is how salvation is played out.  Put another way, God does not save us because we keep the Law, but rather He saves us in order that we might keep the Law.  As Ephesians 2:8-10 states so expressly, "by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."  Or, as an Orthodox Christian once told me "you are not saved by your good works, but you will not be saved without them either."

I could go on and on.  The purpose of this post is to mark the approach of one year in the Church and to express our absolute delight at having found her.  What absolute joy to be in the Church, surrounded by our Holy Fathers, the martyrs and all the Saints and heavenly host.  What wonder to find ourselves looking back 2000 years and seeing our own Church's founding referenced specifically in Acts.  We are blessed.  As I write this in the evening, I will close with our evening prayer, which contains a slight variation of the wonderful and comforting phrase that I chose as this blog's title.

O Lord our God, if during this day I have sinned, whether in word or deed or thought, forgive me all, for thou art good and lovest mankind. Grant me peaceful and undisturbed sleep, and deliver me from all influence and temptation of the evil one. Raise me up again in proper time that I may glorify thee; for thou art blessed: with thine Only-begotten Son and thine All-holy Spirit: now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Good night, and a blessed Nativity to all.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Penal Substitution quote from

On a thread over at, it was asked whether Collossians 2  teaches penal substitutionary atonement (that Jesus was "punished" on the cross for our sins), which then led to a wider discussion of the nature of atonement period. It was asserted that not only Collossians 2, but also Isaiah 52 - 53 and others, teach this concept.

Someone asserted:
He is the good shepherd, who lays down His life for His sheep.

He redeems us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.

The righteous suffered for the unrighteous.

Which prompted this absolutely awesome reply by Alveus Lacuna:

You're missing the subtlety.

Yes, there is substitution. He takes the place for us. He is the sacrificial lamb. His perfection and righteousness goes in place of our sinfulness.

What is in dispute is whether or not there is a penal satisfaction, meaning that somehow God had to be healed of His anger. We can speak of God's anger against us in a sense, but not absolutely, as God requires no healing. He is complete and perfect. Rather we are the ones that require healing, and as we are healed, then our position towards God is rectified. Instead of moving against God's presence in a way that destroys us, like something coming into the earth's atmosphere can burn it up if the resistance is too great, we move seamlessly into His infinite presence. Also think of diving into the water versus doing a belly-flop. I hope you get my meaning.

Anyway, God is unchanging. So properly speaking, there is a change in us, not in God. That's the whole difference in the way we talk about it versus many Reformed thinkers. The Son didn't die to help the Father stop being pissed off at us. Then it's the Son saving us from the Father instead of from sin, death, and the Accuser.

There's too much of a confusion of terms here: penal, satisfaction, substitution, atonement, blah blah blah. Here is something very specific that Orthodoxy teaches against, and that is the teaching that the Son somehow affects a change in the Father; that we must be saved from the Father.

Indeed.  You may view the thread HERE.