Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Apostle St. Stephen the Protomartyr

Today we celebrated our Patronal Feast day for St. Stephen the protomartyr.

The holy, glorious, all-laudable Apostle and Archdeacon Stephen the Protomartyr (Gk. Στέφανος, "crown") was an early Christian convert from among the Hellenistic Jews, one of the original seven deacons ordained by the Apostles, and the first martyr of the Orthodox Church. The Church remembers the martyrdom of St. Stephen on December 27, and the translations of his relics on August 2, as well as commemorating him on June 15 with Ss. Fortunatus and Achaicus.


St. Stephen was a Jew living in the Hellenic provinces, related to the Apostle Paul and one of the first seven deacons ordained by the Apostles to serve the Church in Jerusalem (thus making him an archdeacon).

In the words of Asterias:  St Stephen was "the starting point of the martyrs, the instructore of suffering for Christ, the foundation of righteous confession, since Stephen was the first to shed his blood for the Gospel."

The Holy Spirit worked powerfully through his faith, enabling him to perform many miracles and always defeat the Jews who would dispute with him.

The Jews in their hatred of St. Stephen lied about him to the people, but St. Stephen with his face illumined reminded the people of the miracles God had worked through him and even rebuked the Jews for killing the innocent Christ.

The people were enraged by what they thought was blasphemy and 'gnashed their teeth' at Stephen. It was then that he saw his Christ in the heavens and declared it so. Hearing this, the Jews took him outside the city and stoned him to death, with his kinsman Saul (later St. Paul) holding their coats while they did it. Afar off on a hill was the Virgin Mary and St. John the Theologian who witnessed this first martyrdom for the Son of God and prayed for him while he was being stoned. This occurred about a year after the first Pentecost.



The body of the holy Protomartyr Stephen, was left at the foothill of the city for two days to be eaten by dogs. But on the second night, Gamaliel— teacher of the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Barnabas— along with his son, secretly came and took the body to his own estate, in Capharganda, to be buried.

Nicodemus, who died while weeping at this grave, was also buried there along with Gamaliel's godson Abibus and Gamaliel himself upon his repose.

After many years the memory of St. Stephen's burial place had left the minds of men, until 415 when Gamaliel appeared three times to Father Lucian, priest at Capharganda. He revealed to Fr. Lucian the place of his burial and everything about it. Fr. Lucian received the blessing of the Patriarch to exhume the saints from their grave where a strong, sweet fragrance filled the cave.

St. Stephen's relics were translated to Zion and honorably buried, and many of the sick were healed by his relics. The other three relics were placed inside a church atop the cave on a hill. Eventually, his relics were translated to Constantinople.

Today, you wil find his whole right arm at The Holy Trinity of St. Sergius Lavra, established by St. Sergius of Radonezh in 1345, at Sergiyev Posad, Russia Video of The Holy Trinity monastery



Troparion (Tone 4)
O First Martyr and Apostle Of Christ,
Thou hadst fought the good fight.
And didst expose the perversion of the persecutors,
For when thou wast killed by stoning at the hands of wicked men,
Thou didst receive a crown from the right hand on high,
And didst cry out to God saying,
"O Lord do not charge this sin against them!"
Kontakion (Tone 3
Yesterday the Master came to us as a man,
And today his servant departs from life.
Yesterday the King was born as a man,
And today His servant is stoned to death.
For the sake of Christ Holy Stephen became the first martyr. 
Excerpted from

Monday, December 24, 2012

Holy Nativity of Our Lord

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!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Spyridon of Trimythous the Wonderworker

Our father among the saints Spyridon of Trimythous the Wonderworker (Greek: Σπυρίδων ca. 270-348) was a fourth century bishop who was present at the First Ecumenical Council. He is also commonly referred to in Corfu as Keeper of the City (Greek: ο πολιούχος), since he is also the patron saint of that island (this is where his relics are located and venerated). He is commemorated by the church on December 12.

Spyridon was born in the village of Ashia (askia - "without shade"), Cyprus (270 AD) and died in Trimythous, Cyprus (348 AD). He was a peasant farmer and shepherd and was not educated. Spyridon was married and had a daughter, Irene. After his wife died, he and his daughter both entered into monasticism. He later became the Bishop of Trimythous (during the reign of Constantine the Great) and continued in piety for which he was greatly known.

He is the patron saint of potters (from the miracle of the potsherd).

Persecutions and witness to Orthodox Faith


During the Maximilian persecutions (295 AD) he was arrested and exiled. In 325 AD, he was present at the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea where he astonished many with his simple explanations of the Orthodox Faith. Though not well-educated, he surprised everyone at the Council of Nicea by converting a famous philosopher to Orthodoxy from Arianism. He explained the unity and diversity of the Trinity by holding up a brick, then commonly thought to be a combination of the elements fire, earth and water; as he spoke, fire blazed from the top of the brick while water gushed out underneath. There too, at Nicea, he met St. Nicholas of Myra, with whom he formed a lasting friendship.



Through simplicity and deep devotion to God, he worked miracles throughout his life and became known as a great wonder-worker, calling forth rain in the midst of drought, casting out demons with a single word, healing the sick and even raising people from the dead, in addition to having the gift of prescience.

When he arrived back home from Nicea a woman told him that she had given his daughter, who had died while he was away, some jewelry for safekeeping. Now that his daughter was dead, no one could find where she had put them. Spyridon went to his daughter's grave, spoke to her, and was able to restore the jewelry to its owner.

Also during a famine Spyridon changed a snake into gold pieces so that a poor man could buy food from a greedy merchant who had cornered the supply.

One day there was only himself and the deacon and readers in church at vespers, and the responses could be heard beautifully chanted by an unseen choir. The music was so beautiful that others, passing by, heard it and saw through the windows what seemed like a large congregation. Entering the church, however, they found only St. Spyridon and his assistants.

Departure and relics


St. Spyridon lived most of his earthly life in Cyprus, where he also reposed in 348 AD and was buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Trimythous.

When the Saracens took the island, the Cypriots opened his grave in order to remove his sacred bones to Constantinople. They found that his body had remained intact, while from the grave emanated a scent of basil, true signs of the sainthood he had shown during his lifetime. When Constantinople fell in 1453, he was transferred to Serbia, then a Corfiot elder, Georgios Kalohairetis, brought him to the island of Corfu in Greece where he is currently buried.

To this day St. Spyridon's incorrupt relics at his shrine in Corfu continue to manifest the power of God, wondrous in His saints. He is called the "walking saint" because the silk slippers which clothe the feet of his relics wear out each year and are replaced on his feast day. His miracle in Corfu against the Turkish invasion of 1716 is commemorated on August 11.

Excerpted from

Troparion - Tone 1

You were revealed as a champion of the First Council
and a wonderworker, our God-bearing father Spyridon.
You spoke to one dead in the grave
and transformed a serpent into gold.
While chanting your holy prayers
you had angels serving with you!

Kontakion - Tone 2

Wounded by the love of Christ,
all-holy one, your mind was given wings through the light of the Spirit,
you found work in active contemplation, God-pleasing Spyridon,
becoming a divine sacrifice,
and imploring divine illumination for all.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

St. Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia

By tradition, Nicholas born in the province of Lycia in the southern part of Asia Minor in the city of Patara to well-to-do parents. The date of his birth is not known. Having inherited his parents' estate, he became known for his generous gifts to those in need. As a youth, he made pilgrimages to Palestine and Egypt. He was subsequently consecrated Archbishop of Myra as the fourth century began. He was imprisoned during the persecutions of Diocletian and released by Constantine after his ascension to emperor. Nicholas was noted for his defense of Orthodoxy against the Arians. He is reputed to have been present at the Council of Nicea, but his name does not appear among any documents from that era. He died in Myra on December 6 in a year uncertain, but between 342 and 352.

Many of the details of his life that we have appeared during medieval times. St. Methodius, Patriarch of Constantinople, in the middle of the ninth century produced a life of Nicholas in which he noted that the life of Nicholas was unknown to most of the Christians of the time, thus indicating his composition was probably based mainly on legend. Methodius noted that Nicholas was raised well by pious and well-to-do parents and related how Nicholas contributed from his inheritance the dowry for three daughters of a citizen of Patara who had lost all his money.

His feast was being celebrated by the time of St. Justinian two centuries after his death. After Methodius' life of Nicholas became available, Nicholas was acclaimed and honored throughout Europe and especially in Italy. When Myra was captured by the Saracens in 1034, many Italian cities planned to "rescue" his relics. In 1087, forces from Bari, Italy, attacked Myra and carried away his relics from the lawful Greek guardians in Myra to Bari where they were enshrined in a new church. His fame increased. The story of his rescue of sailors in the Aegean Sea during his lifetime established him as the patron of mariners. His popularity in Russia rose to the point that almost all churches had some sort of shrine honoring St. Nicholas.

In time his fame in northern Europe as a saintly bishop began changing to that of a giver of gifts to children, usually done on December 6. As immigrants from the Germanic and Nordic lands settled in the United States the image of St. Nicholas, or "Sinterklaas," as he is known among the Dutch, slowly changed to that of "Santa Claus" with little tie to the spirituality of Christianity.

Troparion (Tone 4)
In truth you were revealed to your flock as a rule of faith,
an image of humility and a teacher of abstinence;
your humility exalted you;
your poverty enriched you.
Hierarch Father Nicholas,
entreat Christ our God
that our souls may be saved.
Kontakion (Tone 3)
You revealed yourself, O saint, in Myra as a priest,
For you fulfilled the Gospel of Christ
By giving up your soul for your people,
And saving the innocent from death.
Therefore you are blessed as one become wise in the grace of God.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Please pray for Patriarch Ignatius IV

From our Archdiocese:

We were saddened to learn that His Beatitude Ignatius IV, Patriarch of Antioch and all The East was taken to St. George Hospital in Beirut yesterday after suffering a stroke. He is currently in critical condition at St. George Hospital. We ask all of the clergy and faithful of this Archdiocese to pray fervently for His Beatitude.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Holy Great Martyr Barbara and the Holy and God-bearing Father Saint John of Damascus

The Holy Great Martyr Barbara lived and suffered during the reign of the emperor Maximian (305-311). Her father, the pagan Dioscorus, was a rich and illustrious man in the Syrian city of Heliopolis. After the death of his wife, he devoted himself to his only daughter. 

Seeing Barbara's extraordinary beauty, Dioscorus decided to hide her from the eyes of strangers. Therefore, he built a tower for Barbara, where only her pagan teachers were allowed to see her. From the tower there was a view of hills stretching into the distance. By day she was able to gaze upon the wooded hills, the swiftly flowing rivers, and the meadows covered with a mottled blanket of flowers; by night the harmonious and majestic vault of the heavens twinkled and provided a spectacle of inexpressible beauty. Soon the virgin began to ask herself questions about the First Cause and Creator of so harmonious and splendid a world.

Gradually, she became convinced that the souless idols were merely the work of human hands. Although her father and teachers offered them worship, she realized that the idols could not have made the surrounding world. The desire to know the true God so consumed her soul that Barbara decided to devote all her life to this goal, and to spend her life in virginity. 

The fame of her beauty spread throughout the city, and many sought her hand in marriage. But despite the entreaties of her father, she refused all of them. Barbara warned her father that his persistence might end tragically and separate them forever. 

Dioscorus decided that the temperament of his daughter had been affected by her life of seclusion. He therefore permitted her to leave the tower and gave her full freedom in her choice of friends and acquaintances. Thus Barbara met young Christian maidens in the city, and they taught her about the Creator of the world, about the Trinity, and about the Divine Logos. Through the Providence of God, a priest arrived in Heliopolis from Alexandria disguised as a merchant. After instructing her in the mysteries of the Christian Faith, he baptized Barbara, then returned to his own country. 

During this time a luxurious bathhouse was being built at the house of Dioscorus. By his orders the workers prepared to put two windows on the south side. But Barbara, taking advantage of her father's absence, asked them to make a third window, thereby forming a Trinity of light. On one of the walls of the bath-house Barbara traced a cross with her finger. The cross was deeply etched into the marble, as if by an iron instrument. Later, her footprints were imprinted on the stone steps of the bathhouse. The water of the bathhouse had great healing power. St. Simeon Metaphrastes (November 9) compared the bathhouse to the stream of Jordan and the Pool of Siloam, because by God's power, many miracles took place there. 

When Dioscorus returned and expressed dissatisfaction about the change in his building plans, his daughter told him about how she had come to know the Triune God, about the saving power of the Son of God, and about the futility of worshipping idols. Dioscorus went into a rage, grabbed a sword and was on the point of striking her with it. The holy virgin fled from her father, and he rushed after her in pursuit. His way became blocked by a hill, which opened up and concealed the saint in a crevice. On the other side of the crevice was an entrance leading upwards. St Barbara managed then to conceal herself in a cave on the opposite slope of the hill. 

After a long and fruitless search for his daughter, Dioscorus saw two shepherds on the hill. One of them showed him the cave where the saint had hidden. Dioscorus beat his daughter terribly, and then placed her under guard and tried to wear her down with hunger. Finally he handed her over to the prefect of the city, named Martianus. They beat St. Barbara fiercely: they struck her with rawhide, and rubbed her wounds with a hair cloth to increase her pain. By night St Barbara prayed fervently to her Heavenly Bridegroom, and the Savior Himself appeared and healed her wounds. Then they subjected the saint to new, and even more frightful torments. 

In the crowd where the martyr was tortured was the virtuous Christian woman Juliana, an inhabitant of Heliopolis. Her heart was filled with sympathy for the voluntary martyrdom of the beautiful and illustrious maiden. Juliana also wanted to suffer for Christ. She began to denounce the torturers in a loud voice, and they seized her. 

Both martyrs were tortured for a long time. Their bodies were raked and wounded with hooks, and then they were led naked through the city amidst derision and jeers. Through the prayers of St. Barbara the Lord sent an angel who covered the nakedness of the holy martyrs with a splendid robe. Then the steadfast confessors of Christ, Ss. Barbara and Juliana, were beheaded. Dioscorus himself executed St Barbara. The wrath of God was not slow to punish both torturers, Martianus and Dioscorus. They were killed after being struck by lightning. 

In the sixth century the relics of the holy Great Martyr Barbara were transferred to Constantinople. Six hundred years later, they were transferred to Kiev (July 11) by Barbara, the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenos, who married the Russian prince Michael Izyaslavich. They rest even now at Kiev's St Vladimir cathedral, where an Akathist to the saint is served each Tuesday. 

Many pious Orthodox Christians are in the habit of chanting the troparion of St. Barbara each day, recalling the Savior's promise to her that those who remembered her and her sufferings would be preserved from a sudden, unexpected death, and would not depart this life without benefit of the Holy Mysteries of Christ. 


Our venerable and God-bearing Father John of Damascus (c. 676 - December 5, 749) was also known as John Damascene, Chrysorrhoas, "streaming with gold," (i.e., the golden speaker). He was born and raised in Damascus, in all probability at the Monastery of Saint Sabbas (Mar Saba), South East of Jerusalem. His feast day in the Orthodox Church is December 4. He is also recognized as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church.


Practically all the information concerning the life of John of Damascus available to us today has been through the records of John, Patriarch of Jerusalem. Though these notes have served as the single source of biographical information, dating back to the tenth century, these writings have been noted by scholars as having an exuberant lack of detail from a historical point of view and a bloated writing style.


Although he was brought up under the Muslim rule of Damascus, this was not to affect his or his family's Christian faith or cause any grievances with the Muslim countrymen who held him in high esteem. To the extent that his father held a high hereditary public office with duties of chief financial officer for the caliph, Abdul Malekunder, apparently as head of the tax department for Syria. 

When John reached the age of twenty-three, his father sought out to find a Christian tutor who could provide the best education for his children available at the time. Records show that while spending some time in the market place John's father came across several captives, imprisoned as a result of a raid for prisoners of war that had taken place in the coasts of Italy. This man, a Sicilian monk by the name of Cosmas, turned out to be an erudite of great knowledge and wisdom. John's father arranged for the release of this man and appointed him tutor to his son. Under the instruction of Cosmas, John made great advances in fields of study such as music, astronomy and theology. According to his biographer, he soon equaled Diophantus in algebra and Euclid in geometry.

Succession to "Chief Councilor"

In spite of his Christian background, his family held a high hereditary public office with the Moslem rulers of Damascus, led by caliph Abd al-Malik. He succeeded his father in his position upon his death; John de Damascene was made protosymbullus, or chief councilor of Damascus. 

It was around his term in office that burst of insurgence by the iconoclasts began to appear in the form of heresy, actions which disturbed the Church of the East. In 726, in disregard of the protests of Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople, Emperor Leo the Isaurian issued his first edict against the veneration of images and their exhibition in public places. A talented writer and in the secure surroundings of the caliph's court, John de Damascene initiated his literary defense against the monarch in three Apologetic Treatises against those Decrying the Holy Images. This was the earliest of his works and the one which earned him a reputation. Not only did he attack the monarch, but his use of a simpler writing style brought the controversy to the common people, inciting revolt among those of Christian faith. 

Unable to punish the writer openly, Leo the Isaurian managed to get possession of a manuscript written and signed by John de Damascene, which he used to forge a letter from John to the Isaurian monarch offering to betray into his hands the city of Damascus. Despite John's earnest advocation to his innocence, the caliph dismissed his plea and discharged him from his post, ordering his right hand, which he used for writing, to be severed at the wrist.

According to the tenth-century biography, his hand was miraculously restored after fervent prayer before an icon of the Virgin Mary. At this point the caliph is said to have been convinced of his innocence and inclined to reinstate him to his former office. However, John then retired to the Monastery of Saint Sabbas near Jerusalem, where he continued to produce a stream of commentaries, hymns and apologetic writings, including the Oktoechos (the Church's service book of eight tones) and An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, a summary of the dogmatic writings of the Early Church Fathers.

Last days

He died in 749 as a revered Father of the Church and is now universally recognized as a saint. 


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Holy Great Martyr St. Katherine of Alexandria

Today and tomorrow, we celebrate the feast day of my daughter's patron saint, Katherine of Alexandria.

Troparion (Tone 5)
Let us praise the all-lauded and noble bride of Christ,the godly Catherine, the guardian of Sinai and its defense, who is also our support and succour and our help; for with the Holy Spirit's sword she hath silenced brilliantly the clever among the godless; and being crowned as a martyr, she now doth ask great mercy for us all.
Saint Katherine, pray for us.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

More Photos from the Heirarchical Divine Liturgy

Bishop Antoun serving
Tonsuring and elevating Subdeacon Matthew
Vesting Subdeacon Matthew
My first reading
Bishop Antoun with the parish youth

Many thanks to Bridget Akins and Cindy Ralston for the photographs.

St. Matthew the Evangelist

Troparion (Tone 3) 
With zeal, you followed Christ the Master,
who in His goodness, appeared on earth to mankind.
Summoning you from the custom house,
He revealed you as a chosen apostle:
the proclaimer of the Gospel to the whole world!
Therefore, divinely eloquent Matthew,
we honor your precious memory!
Entreat merciful God that He may grant our souls remission of transgressions.

Kontakion (Tone 4) 
Casting aside the bonds of the custom house for the yoke of justice,
you were revealed as an excellent merchant, rich in wisdom from on high.
You proclaimed the word of truth
and roused the souls of the slothful
by writing of the hour of Judgment.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fr. Thomas Hopko Homily At Divine Liturgy - The 17th All American Council of the Orthodox Church in America - Ancient Faith Radio

This homily is outstanding.

Fr. Thomas Hopko Homily At Divine Liturgy - The 17th All American Council of the Orthodox Church in America - Ancient Faith Radio

Chivalry is dead and so are we....

There is an interesting discussion going on at a Lutheran message board I occasionally visit regarding the Koinonia Project in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  It has spilled over into a discussion of the ordination of women and the subordination of women to men in general.

This is a topic that has always been of some interest to me, because I think most Christians get it wrong in one direction or another.  Some assume that the Biblical statements of St. Paul about the roles of men and women, both in the Church and in the family, are archaic and should be set aside as relics of a bygone era.  Some even consider St. Paul's words to be misogynist.  Others assume that the same Biblical teachings describe a subordination that is one-sided.  The latter can most often be ascribed to men reading St. Paul's words to wives rather than reading what he has to say to husbands, and women reading St. Paul's words to wives without reading what he has to say to husbands.

I am not going to discuss the greater topic of ordination of women, since the Orthodox Church's position on the matter is very clear and I have no quarrel with it.  However, in the discussion of men having authority over women, my friend Pastor William Weedon made this comment:

[T]hink of how a properly brought up man treats a woman (who is not his wife) - well, at least in years gone by in our culture. Does he remain seated on the subway or rise to give her his seat? Why? Does he open the door for her? Why? Does he help her carry up her groceries? Why? What I'm trying to get at is that there was a time in our culture when men were taught to render a special honor to women simply as women that they did not similarly render to their fellow men (though they were taught to also honor the elderly, male or female). The little things were intended in a sense to be training for the harder moments. That the men remained on the Titanic and the women and the children were given the life-boats. That in times of violence, the men did not shelter behind the women, but were taught to rather shelter the women. It's bigger than a husband toward a wife, though that is always the grounding and the first. But it is precisely this non-reciprocal relationship which runs with "under the authority of" - maybe better stated as "under the protection of"? God intended women to have such a shelter, such a protection. Her father, her brother, her husband, even her neighbor. It's a gift built into the created order. I think our society is in so many ways the poorer for having lost it. It wasn't about putting women down; it was about honoring them. And not just those women who happen to be wives. We've all but lost that. 
I find this to be a very profound observation.  Most people I know, regardless of their position on women and men and traditional ordering in the family, still appreciate chivalry.  Why?  Because it is, as Pastor Weedon notes, honorific.  The idea of treating women as treasures is scoffed at by some. Ignored by others. Unfortunately, as Pastor Weedon also notes, we are in large measure losing this practice in our culture.  Not entirely, of course.  But in large measure.  I cannot do much about that since I have 3 girls.  But I intend to do what I can, starting with saving the quote from Pastor Weedon above and showing it to my daughters when they are older, so they will know what their father expects of their future husbands.

I may even be obnoxious enough to show it to whomever my dear girls agree to marry.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Apostle Philip

Troparion (Tone 3) 
Holy Apostle Philip,
entreat the merciful God
to grant our souls forgiveness of transgressions.
Kontakion (Tone 8)
Your disciple, friend and imitator of Your passion,
the God-preaching Philip, proclaimed You to the universe!
By his prayers deliver Your Church from her enemies;
through the Theotokos protect every city, most merciful Christ!

Saint John Chrysostom

Troparion (Tone 8)
Grace shining forth from your lips like a beacon has 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!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Heirarchical Divine Liturgy and Tonsure

My family and I were delighted this past weekend to witness our first Heirarchical Divine Liturgy.  Bishop Antoun visited our parish, and it was a joy to have him in our midst and to get to know him better.  As we pray in the Liturgy every week "for our Metropolitan Philip, our Bishop Antoun," this Sunday we had the special distinction of having the bishop in front of us as we sang "many years, Master." Standing in front of the iconostasis in the photo above, from left to right, are myself and Subdeacon Matthew (both awaiting tonsure), Deacon Tikhon, Bishop Antoun, Deacon Ray and Father Andrew. 

Bishop Antoun also met with various parishioners for breakfast and lunch Saturday, with the college students Saturday afternoon, with the children in Sunday School Sunday morning, and with the entire parish for dinner Saturday evening and lunch Sunday afternoon.  It was very kind of him to fill up his weekend with so many activities.  It was of particular interest to me to hear him tell the story at the men's breakfast of the Evangelical Orthodox Church being brought into the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese in the 1980s.  Our parish was formed in 1987 and was a part of this wave of former evangelicals who joined the Orthodox Church.  I was a junior in high school at the time, and a Baptist then, but I have since become aware of the history, having read "Becoming Orthodox" as well as a number of the various testimonials available online.  However, hearing these events from Bishop Antoun, from the perspective of the Church, gave a rather unique facet to the story.  Also of particular interest to me was Bishop Antoun's perspective on the current sociopolitical climate in his home country of Syria.  Bishop Antoun grew up in Damascus, and hearing his thoughts on the situation there, especially as contrasted against what we hear in the American media, was eye opening.  He is a very interesting man, with a very interesting perspective on both the Church and the world.  This is made more interesting still when one considers that this man, an Arabic immigrant to this country, was as he pointed out to us "a United States citizen before most of you were born." 

I was also blessed by His Grace to become a reader in the Church.  Readers hold a clerical, but not liturgical, office in the Church (we do not receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders), and while in the past, their function was more practical (in that many laymen in the early Church could not read, and so their only exposure to the Scriptures were when they were read in Church), in modern times the readers typically chant the prayer offices and read the appointed readings for the day during those offices.  It is the lowest of the minor orders, below subdeacon.  You may read more about Orthodox readers here:

Prayers (and, in the case of our members and clergy, patience) are much appreciated, as I still have much to learn.

Bishop Antoun also blessed our new subdeacon this weekend.  Axios, Subdeacon Matthew! 

All in all, a wonderful weekend.  I am blessed and humbled to be a part of this parish, this Archdiocese, and this Church.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Elevation of the Holy Cross

"Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy holy Resurrection we glorify."

Troparion (Tone 1)
O Lord, save Thy people,
And bless Thine inheritance.
Grant victory to thy people
Over all their enemies
And by the power of Thy Cross
Preserving Thy Kingdom

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Martyrdom of St. John the Forerunner

The Beheading of St. John the Forerunner is the commemoration of the martyrdom of John the Forerunner. It is a strict fast day because of the grief of Christians at the violent death of the saint. It is commemorated by the Church on August 29.

Although the Forerunner was beheaded in the Spring, around the time of the Passover, this feast was fixed for August, when a church was dedicated in its honor.
The accounts about the martyrdom of John the Baptist are provided by Ss. Matthew (Mt.14:1-12) and Mark (Mark 6:14-29). It was in the 32nd year after the Birth of Christ.


Troparion (Tone 2)
The memory of the righteous is celebrated with hymns of praise,
But the Lord¹s testimony is sufficient for you, O Forerunner.
You were shown in truth to be the most honorable of the prophets,
For you were deemed worthy to baptize in the streams of the Jordan Him whom they foretold.
Therefore, having suffered for the truth with joy,
You proclaimed to those in hell God who appeared in the flesh,
Who takes away the sin of the world, and grants us great mercy.
Kontakion (Tone 5)

The glorious beheading of the Forerunner,
Became an act of divine dispensation,
For he preached to those in hell the coming of the Savior.
Let Herodias lament, for she entreated lawless murder,
Loving not the law of God, nor eternal life,
But that which is false and temporal.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Apophatic vs. Cataphatic Theology

"Allow me to offer a little image to illustrate this. We find, in nature, two different kinds of skeletons that provide structure for creatures - the exoskeleton and the endoskeleton. The exoskeleton like the carapace of an ant or a beetle - it is on the outside (hence "exo-") and contains within itself the essence of the creature. The endoskeleton is like the skeleton of a dog or a man - it is on the inside (hence - "endo") and the structures that are the essence of the creature are hung upon it - everything in its place and a place for everything.

The Western confessions tend to have a dogmatic endoskeleton - certain a-priori assumptions (dogmas) upon which every doctrine, belief and practice is hung. There is a very particular place for everything in the overall organization and structure and if something is out of place then it either doesn't belong or it creates chaos.

The Orthodox Faith tends more towards a dogmatic exoskeleton - defining the outer limits of its essence, but not mandating the inner structure. Everything that is "inside" is part of the teaching of the Church and only those things that are "outside" are excluded. As a result there plenty of room for doctrines and practices that are conflicting to coexist "inside" the Church without causing chaos or cancelling each other out. Our inner unity is defined by the exoskeleton of dogmatic pronouncements without the rigid and defined structure mandated by an endoskeleton (and this allows the Orthodox Church to be both truly One and truly Catholic since it allows the flexibility to address all people in all places in all times without compromising or breaking the structure.)"
-- Archpriest David Moser, from the Orthodox-Convert e-mail discussion list

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Holy Transfiguration

The Transfiguration of our Lord is one of the 12 Great Feasts of the Orthodox calendar.  The story is fascinating, but familiar to most Christians, so I will refrain from repeating it here.  I would note, however, something that has always struck me about the Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration.

Much is made of the various distinctions and harmonies between the three Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration -- those of St. Matthew, St. Mark and St. Luke.  What is not often mentioned is St. John, who was the only Evangelist to witness the Transfiguration, did not write about the event at all in his Gospel.  Of course, as students of the Scriptures know, St. John dealt with the Transfiguration in his Revelation.

St. John writes:

Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, 'Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.'

St. John could easily have written about this in his Gospel account, but he chose to deal with it in Revelation.  In light of the fact that St. John was the only eyewitness to write a Gospel account, I find this fascinating.  Skeptics might assert that since the only eyewitness to write an account failed to mention the Transfiguration, it must be fraudulent.  But this ignores that St. John deals with the transfigured (but now resurrected) Christ in Revelation.  As if his purpose in writing was to show the Transfiguration in eschatological terms rather than mere historical terms.  To my mind, this magnifies rather than reduces the value of the Transfiguration account.  It reveals -- from the pen of one who was there -- its ultimate purpose and its real lesson for us.

Orthodox Christianity, lived out, ultimately comes down to the Sacramental life.  And the Sacramental life ultimately comes back to the Incarnation.  The beauty of the Transfiguration is not merely what happened on Mount Tabor, but rather what it means for us.  What it gives to us.  It is not merely that Christ is the Son of God, or that He was glorified once on a mountaintop.  It is that He is "He Who lives, and was dead, and behold [is] alive forevermore."  That He "holds the keys of Hades and of Death."  And this good news is summed up in Christ's words to St. John -- "do not be afraid."  The beauty of the Transfiguration is that Christ has defeated Death and Hades, that we may have hope of eternal life.  That we might become by Grace what He is by nature.  St. John did not write about this in His Gospel directly.  But he did write about it in a different setting.  And I would argue, to greater effect.

Troparion (Tone 7)
You were Transfigured on the Mount, O Christ God,
Revealing Your glory to Your disciples as far as they could bear it.
Let Your everlasting Light shine upon us sinners!
Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Giver of Light, glory to You!
Kontakion (Tone 7)
On the Mountain You were Transfigured, O Christ God,
And Your disciples beheld Your glory as far as they could see it;
So that when they would behold You crucified,
They would understand that Your suffering was voluntary,
And would proclaim to the world,
That You are truly the Radiance of the Father!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Saint Mary Magdalene, Equal to the Apostles

Mary Magdalene was one of the myrrh-bearing women and "equal to the apostles."

She was born in the town of Magdala along the shore of Lake Gennesaret and was from the tribe of Issachar. She was tormented by seven evil spirits from which the Lord Jesus freed her and made her whole. She was a faithful follower and servant of the Lord during His earthly life. Mary Magdalene stood beneath the Cross on Golgotha and grieved bitterly and mourned with the All-Holy Birth-giver of God. After the death of the Lord she visited His sepulchre three times. When the Lord resurrected she saw Him on two occasions: once alone and the other time with the other myrrh-bearing women. She traveled to Rome and appeared before Tiberias Caesar and presenting him with a red colored egg, greeted him with the words: "Christ is Risen!" At the same time, she accused Pilate before Caesar for his unjust condemnation of the Lord Jesus. Caesar accepted her accusation and transferred Pilate from Jerusalem to Gaul where, this unjust judge, in disfavor with the emperor, died of a dread disease. After that, Mary Magdalene returned from Rome to Ephesus to St. John the Theologian whom she assisted in the work of preaching the Gospel. With great love toward the resurrected Lord, and with great zeal, she proclaimed the Holy Gospel to the world as a true apostle of Christ. She died peacefully in Ephesus and, according to tradition, was buried in the same cave in which seven youths were miraculously put to sleep for hundreds of years and, after that, were brought to life and then died (August 4). The relics of St. Mary Magdalene were later transferred to Constantinople. There is a Russian Orthodox convent dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene near the Garden of Gethsemane.


Troparion (Tone 1)
In keeping His commandments and laws, O holy Mary Magdalene,
You followed Christ, who for our sake was born of a virgin,
And in celebrating your most holy memory today,
We receive forgiveness of sins by your prayers!
Kontakion (Tone 4)
When God, who is transcendent in essence,
Came with flesh into the world, O Myrrhbearer,
He received you as a true disciple, for you turned all your love toward Him;
Henceforth you would yourself work many healings.
Now that you have passed into heaven, never cease to intercede for the world!
Kontakion (Tone 3)
Standing before the Cross of the Savior,
Suffering with the Mother of the Lord,
The most glorious Mary Magdalene offered praise with tears.
She cried out: What is this strange wonder?
He who holds the whole creation in His hand chooses to suffer:
Glory, O Lord to Your power!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Locally grown, locally raised, natural food

I have, of late, taken a bit more of an interest in nutrition than in recent past.  I used to work out religiously, and I used to eat cleaner than I have the last couple of years.  In part, I started running, and so I ramped up the carb intake a bit.  That was fine as long as I was training hard doing martial arts and cardio kickboxing, but when I stopped doing that (and stopped burning in excess of 3,000 calories a week from doing that), the pounds started creeping back on.  I went from a "fighting weight" of around 170 to a high of over 200, with my usual weight hovering between 190 and 195.  My wife and I decided both of us wanted to do something about our new middle age padding, and so we began researching nutrition and exercise.

Like a lot of my friends, we are currently eating Primal, what some folks colloquially call "the caveman diet."  This is not, as some people assume, Atkins with a twist.  It is a lower carb diet, but unlike Atkins, you can eat potatoes in moderation, and particularly sweet potatoes.  You can eat fruits in moderation.  No one is saying "don't eat carrots or other sweet vegetables."  With Primal living, it is the type of carb that matters, not the fact that you are eating carbs.  So we have cut out grains, the sole exception being a VERY moderated portion of rice on occasion, and any type of refined sugars.  We allow ourselves up to 1 large potato a day, and we eat fruit in moderation, which we define as "not at every meal, but okay for breakfast or snacks."  Like Atkins, this is a high fat diet, but we strive to eat what everyone agrees are the "healthier" fats such as fish, avocado, olive oil, nuts, etc.  But we do not worry about eating saturated fat on occasion, and we cook with butter as well as olive oil in lieu of using vegetable oil.

I will say that although the immediate results are impressive -- I am down nearly 7 pounds in right at 2 weeks -- I am not entirely sold on the Primal living philosophy.  The exercise program is fine for most people, concentrating as it does on 4 core movements for strength training (pullup, pushup, squat, plank), low intensity cardio such as long walks, hiking, etc., and weekly sprints.  Obviously, something like Crossfit or HIT or cardio kickboxing is much better for elite fitness.  But while I do believe we eat way too many grains in this country as well, I'm not really sold on the idea that grains are poison and to be avoided at all costs.  We still take communion, and we still eat the blessed bread after communion, every Sunday.  And I'm sure as time goes on, once we're out of the "lets get in shape" phase and into the maintenance phase, we'll introduce very limited grains back into our diets on rare occasion.  However, one thing about Primal living that I am absolutely sold on is eating food.

That sounds ridiculous at first blush.  Most people say "well, I eat food."  But when I say "food," I don't mean box-packaged, processed, chemical laden garbage that lines our grocery store aisles.  I mean REAL food.  We have been sold a bill of goods in this country about how red meat and saturated fat, and even fat in general, are "bad" for you.  This ignores not only common sense, which indicates that our forefathers lived just fine on animal fat for millennia without issue, but also a growing body of scientific literature indicating that fat, per se, is not the problem.  If you look at when our obesity epidemic started, it was right about the time I turned age 10.  I remember eating vegetables and fruits out of my maternal grandfather's garden growing up, and real meats and sausages that my paternal grandfather raised and slaughtered himself, and fresh fish that we caught out of the lake ourselves.  Chickens were smaller, but still basically a chicken.  Beef was darker and uglier, but still basically beef.  With the exception of SPAM and bologna, even our cheap food was for the most part decent food like canned tuna or salmon.

Now, chickens and beef are both chemical and hormone laced cocktails.  Fish is farm raised rather than wild caught.  And "foods" that used to be pulled off the vine or stalk are now boxed with preservatives and chemicals galore.  Not only are the foods themselves not really "food" anymore, but eating produce grown across the world out of season means we lose the healthy variety of eating food grown locally in season.  I can now eat strawberries year round.  But what is done to the strawberries to make them keep so far out of season?  Add to that the fact that so much of our diet comes from a box or a bag, and is grain-laden, processed crap, and it is no wonder more than one-third of adults and nearly twenty percent of children in our country are obese.  Read labels sometime and look at how much corn and grain are in foods that aren't supposed to have corn and grain.  Even healthier alternatives like Moe's Southwest Grill, which offers grass fed beef and farm raised poultry, still use soy marinade and wheat or glutens in much of their offerings.  Not to mention the rice content of a simple burrito and the effect that has on insulin production.  While I am not at all on the no carb bandwagon -- my favorite breakfast and midnight snack is still berries in Greek yogurt with a teaspoon of honey -- the types of carbs we eat in this country are literally killing us.  Put simply, we don't eat food anymore.  We eat food plus chemicals, hormones and additives.

Today, we went to the Marietta farmer's market and purchased some fresh green beans, avocado, whole organic Greek yogurt, fresh peaches and 6 pounds of grass fed beef.  Interestingly, the beef looks a lot like processed venison.  Because it is a lot like processed venison.  The cow it came from ate natural plants and, after slaughter, was processed by a local processing facility that also caters to deer hunters.  There is no ammonia laden pink slime to "pretty it up," and there is no effort to make it look like other than what it is.  It is 100%, grass fed, organically raised beef.

What does this have to do with Orthodox Christian living?  Quite a lot, actually.  Something Orthodox Christian living stresses heavily is simplicity.  Living less complicated lives, so that we can concentrate more on living the Christian life in prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  Stephanie and I have discussed growing a garden one day.  We would love to be in a position to not only supplement our diets with whole, real foods, but to have our dietary needs completely met by such foods.  That is easier to do in our society that in recent past, but doing so often comes with a price -- instead of living simply, we go to the Whole Foods market and live out a 21st century, bourgeoisie version of so-called "simple" living.  That's not what I'm talking about.  We would actually like to grow some of our own food, and where we cannot, support local farmers who grow it for us.  In doing so, we recapture a sense of community that is lost in our current, supermarket and shopping mall, global economy driven society.  The food I bought today, I bought from my neighbors.  People who live near me.  This is not only healthy for the body, but it's healthy for the soul as well.  If I decide to go to Wal Mart or Kroger to buy the same food next week, then my neighbor may suffer as a result.  And if we manage to grow our future garden and have an overabundance of yield, we can do as our friend Daniel from Church did this past week and share with our friends and neighbors.

I have written before that we are saved in community.  I am firmly convinced that eating fresh, locally grown and raised food is much more healthy for my body than eating hyper-processed "food" that is shipped all over the world so we can buy it cheaply at the supermarket.  But having considered the theological impact of this lifestyle, I am also firmly convinced it is better for my soul, and the souls of those around me as well.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Holy Unmercenaries

This post was inspired by a conversation with our Khouria yesterday.  After Great Vespers, she mentioned that she had read the lives of Saints Cosmas and Damien of Rome, and how they were wonderworkers who healed the sick and wounded, by the power of Christ.  It occurred to her in reading their lives that the Church has always sought the intercession of such Saints, precisely because if they were able to heal and work wonders in this life, how much more so the next when they are being more fully united to Christ? 

The logic of this is inescapable.  Either we deny their wonderworking on earth, in which case we set ourselves against the very Church we claim to believe in, or we (in my experience, far more frequently) artificially divide that Church among the so-called living and the so-called dead.  So-called in both instances because this life is not, in the Christian understanding, the fullness of Life itself (or, rather, Himself), and the life to come is not, in any sense, "death." 

So it is that on July 1, the Church remembers the Holy Unmercenary Physicians, notably including Saints Cosmas and Damian at Rome.  May they ever intercede for us.

Holy Wonderworking Unmercenary Physicians Cosmas and Damian at Rome
The Holy Martyrs, Wonderworkers and Unmercenary Physicians Cosmas and Damian were born at Rome, brothers by birth, and physicians by profession. They suffered at Rome in the reign of the emperor Carinus (283-284). Brought up by their parents in the rules of piety, they led strict and chaste lives, and they were granted by God the gift of healing the sick. By their generosity and exceptional kindness to all, the brothers converted many to Christ. The brothers told the sick, "It is not by our own power that we treat you, but by the power of Christ, the true God. Believe in Him and be healed." Since they accepted no payment for their treatment of the infirm, the holy brothers were called "unmercenary physicians."

Their life of active service and their great spiritual influence on the people around them led many into the Church, attracting the attention of the Roman authorities. Soldiers were sent after the brothers. Hearing about this, local Christians convinced Sts Cosmas and Damian to hide for a while until they could help them escape. Unable to find the brothers, the soldiers arrested instead other Christians of the area where the saints lived. Sts Cosmas and Damian then came out of hiding and surrendered to the soldiers, asking them to release those who had been arrested because of them.

At Rome, the saints were imprisoned and put on trial. Before the Roman emperor and the judge they openly professed their faith in Christ God, Who had come into the world to save mankind and redeem the world from sin, and they resolutely refused to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. They said, "We have done evil to no one, we are not involved with the magic or sorcery of which you accuse us. We treat the infirm by the power of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and we take no payment for rendering aid to the sick, because our Lord commanded His disciples, "Freely have you received, freely give" (Mt. 10: 8).

The emperor, however, continued with his demands. Through the prayer of the holy brothers, imbued with the power of grace, God suddenly struck Carinus blind, so that he too might experience the almighty power of the Lord, Who does not forgive blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mt. 12:31). The people, beholding the miracle, cried out, "Great is the Christian God! There is no other God but Him!" Many of those who believed besought the holy brothers to heal the emperor, and he himself implored the saints, promising to convert to the true God, Christ the Savior, so the saints healed him. After this, Sts Cosmas and Damian were honorably set free, and once again they set about treating the sick.

But what the hatred of the pagans and the ferocity of the Roman authorities could not do, was accomplished by black envy, one of the strongest passions of sinful human nature. An older physician, an instructor, under whom the holy brothers had studied the art of medicine, became envious of their fame. Driven to madness by malice, and overcome by passionate envy, he summoned the two brothers, formerly his most beloved students, proposing that they should all go together in order to gather various medicinal herbs. Going far into the mountains, he murdered them and threw their bodies into a river.

Thus these holy brothers, the Unmercenary Physicians Cosmas and Damian, ended their earthly journey as martyrs. Although they had devoted their lives to the Christian service of their neighbors, and had escaped the Roman sword and prison, they were treacherously murdered by their teacher.

The Lord glorifies those who are pleasing to God. Now, through the prayers of the holy martyrs Cosmas and Damian, God grants healing to all who with faith have recourse to their heavenly intercession.

The Unmercenary Saints Cosmas and Damian of Rome should not be confused with the Unmercenary Saints Cosmas and Damian of Asia Minor (November 1), or the Unmercenary Saints Cosmas and Damian of Arabia (October 17).


Friday, June 29, 2012

Feast of Saints Peter and Paul

Verily, the all-solemn Feast of the two Apostles hath arrived, bringing us salvation. Wherefore, let us mystically exult, crying unto them: Rejoice, O ye who have become luminaries to those in darkness, two rays of the Sun! Rejoice, O Peter and Paul, adamant pillars of the divine doctrines, ye friends of Christ and two honored vessels! Be ye present among us in an invisible manner, and grant immaterial gifts to those who extol your feast with songs.

--Doxasticon of the Feast, Tone 6

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Nativity of St. John the Forerunner

O Prophet and Forerunner of the coming of Christ, we honour thee lovingly but cannot extol thee worthily; for by thy birth thy mother's barrenness and thy father 's dumbness were unloosed; and the Incarnation of the Son of God is proclaimed to the world.

--Troparion, Tone 4

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Having once been Baptist myself.....

.....I found this blog post from Father Andrew Stephen Damick to be well stated. 

And the fact that the SBC is debating whether to continue encouraging use of the "sinner's prayer" for conversion purposes refreshing.

Baptists Debate the Evangelical Initiation Rite

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sunday of All Saints

The Sunday following Pentecost is dedicated to All Saints, both those who are known to us, and those who are known only to God. There have been saints at all times, and they have come from every corner of the earth. They were Apostles, Martyrs, Prophets, Hierarchs, Monastics, and Righteous, yet all were perfected by the same Holy Spirit.

The descent of the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to rise above our fallen state and to attain sainthood, thereby fulfilling God's directive to "be holy, for I am holy" (Lev. 11:44, 1 Peter 1:16, etc.). Therefore, it is fitting to commemorate All Saints on the first Sunday after Pentecost.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Speaking the truth in love (the blog post, not the podcast)

I am reminded today how common it is to treat converts from one's own tradition poorly upon learning they are converting to another.  I was, I suppose, fortunate in that I was a relative nobody among Lutherans, and so I did not have to deal with the litany of people who tend to pile on more notorious converts.  Nonetheless, I saw today an announcement by one who is suspected to be converting to the Roman Catholic Church that was followed by some pretty acerbic commentary by those within his former tradition, in this case Reformed.

I only had two instances of such poor treatment in my own conversion, and both came a bit after the fact.  I've seen much worse, and I've seen the converse as well -- those who leave their former tradition only to look back and constantly remind everyone around them how wrong they are not to see the truth they now see so clearly (but did not only a few short years prior).  I was reminded of that yesterday by another friend.  Again, I've been fortunate.  My own experience has been, for the most part, very kind and loving treatment by my Lutheran friends who are aware of our conversion.  This is particularly true of those who struggled the hardest to try and keep us in the Lutheran fold.  I have good friends, and one reason we were Lutheran for so long was the kind influence of such noble, well intentioned and loving people.  For the same reason, I am loathe to criticize Lutherans or Lutheranism in any overt sense.  We left, we have disagreements, and we think those disagreements matter.  But I am not in any sense angry about our time as Lutherans, nor do I feel any animosity toward those we left behind.

Part of that is dogmatic -- despite some claims to the contrary based on faulty views of our ecclesiology, we in the Orthodox Church tend to not go around deciding who is saved and who is damned based on Church affiliation.  We are not universalists, but we consider the heresy of universalism to be a lesser evil than the heresy of falsely judging our neighbor.  A common refrain among the Orthodox is "in matters of salvation, our attitude ought to be 'everyone is saved but me.'"  This is not meant to call into question our own salvation, but rather to worry only about our own salvation, and not judge others.  As we are reminded every year during Great Lent by Saint Efraim, "grant me to see my own sin and not to judge my brother...."

But part of it is that I saw and perceived and lived in the presence of the Holy Trinity as a Lutheran.  Perhaps not in a canonical sense.  Perhaps not in the fullest sense.  But I am quite sure that my salvation as a Lutheran was no more nor less in question than it is now as Orthodox.  That doesn't mean I think doctrine doesn't matter, nor that I believe the differences to be insubstantial.  But it is to say that having lived in Christ's forgiveness as a Lutheran, I cannot look back with a jaded eye and call into question everyone else's forgiveness who remained behind.  Would I prefer that they all unite to Christ in His Church, according to the Scriptures and the Apostles and the canons?  Sure I would.  But that does not mean I consider them all unsaved.  And while I know that they all wish we'd remained Lutheran and remained in what they consider to be the pure Gospel, I'm fairly certain none of them think I am unsaved based on our disagreements in doctrine.  In error?  Certainly.  Damned?  By no means.

A common justification I hear for such nasty behavior is one I saw repeated today -- "I am speaking the truth."  "Forget about my tone, can you refute anything I said?"  Etc.  Another, more spurious, defense is that Christ often used sharp language to call out those in error, as when He referred to the Pharisees as a "brood of vipers" or took a whip and drove the money changers from the Temple.  And this is certainly true -- Jesus did say and do those things.  But this same Jesus is united with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  This same Jesus inspired His Apostle, Saint Paul, to write the very words that form the title of this post -- "speaking the truth in love" -- to the Ephesians.  This same Jesus was there when the Father said "do not bear false witness against your neighbor."  Martin Luther, in his Small Catechism, taught that this Commandment means we should "say everything in the kindest way."  This teaching is not among the differences I have with the Lutheran Church -- I believe Luther's interpretation of this Commandment to be the correct one.  A former Pastor of mine is fond of saying "the devil can quote Scripture."  This is most certainly true.  And I believe that Pastor would agree with me that the devil can even quote Scripture to justify being a complete jackass.  I believe this because this Pastor does not act that way, and he does endeavor to say everything in the kindest way.  It is the difference between working out one's salvation in fear and trembling and perverting one's own professed confession to justify slandering and doing evil to others.

Did I mention the vast majority of the Lutherans I know have been kind and supportive of us, even as they do not support our decision to convert?  There is a lesson here, for all of us.

This is not intended to imply that Protestants are to blame here.  We have our fair share of jackasses in the Orthodox Church, as I reference above.  I'm quite sure Rome does as well.  As another friend of mine, also a Lutheran Pastor, is fond of saying, "the Church would be a great place if it weren't for all those sinners."  Of course, his point was that we are all sinners, and none of us has the right to judge another, even in his most flagrant sin.  Judgment belongs to Christ, not to us.  There is a lesson here as well.  For all of us.

It is also not to point fingers outward, because I find myself frequently unable to speak in the kindest way, and more frequently responding in kind to what I perceive as unkind and unfounded attacks on the Orthodox Church.  I write this as much as a reminder to myself as an admonition to anyone else.  We are called to speak the truth in love.  There is a lesson here.  For all of us.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Agape Vespers - Holy Pascha 2012

For whatever reason, I did not blog about Agape Vespers last year, which is a shame.  This is a beautiful service that we have at noon on the day of Holy Pascha (since the Liturgy had already been celebrated for that day the evening/early morning prior -- ours ended at around 2:00 AM, for example).  It is a rather typical Vespers service, with the some obvious additional Paschal hymnody and a more Paschal emphasis.

Two things stand out about this service.  The first is the Gospel is read in different languages.  In our parish, including English, 10 languages were read.  The second, and most touching, is the procession.  The entire parish processes out behind the Acolytes, around the parish grounds and into the cemetery, where we stop to continue singing "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!"  This highlights a distinctive feature of Orthodox dogma -- the Church is one.  Father Stephen Freeman has written about the notion of the Orthodox Church existing in a one-storey universe as opposed to the typical notion of a two-storey universe where we are "down here" and heaven is "up there."  This is manifestly profound during the procession in the cemetery.  We are reminded that the grave cannot hold our loved ones, and death cannot disunite us.  The Church is one.

Great and Holy Pascha!

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Great and Holy Saturday -- Lamentations

Every generation
To Thy grave comes bringing
Dear Christ its dirge of praises

-- Holy Saturday Lamentations,
Stasis 3

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Great and Holy Friday

Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the Cross. He who is King of the angels is arrayed in a crown of thorns. He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery. He who in Jordan set Adam free receives blows upon His face. The Bridegroom of the Church is transfixed with nails. The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear. We venerate Thy Passion, O Christ. Show us also Thy glorious Resurrection.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Great and Holy Thursday

When the glorious disciples were enlightened at the washing of their feet before the supper, the impious Judas was darkened by the disease of avarice, and to the lawless judges he betrayed You, the Righteous Judge. Behold, this man because of avarice hanged himself. Flee from the insatiable desire which dared such things against the Master! O Lord Who deals righteously with all, glory to You!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Great and Holy Wednesday

"A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light"

-- Gospel for Great and Holy Wednesday, Bridegroom Matins (John 12:35-36).

Monday, April 9, 2012

Great and Holy Tuesday

I see Thy bridal chamber adorned
O my Savior, and I have no wedding garment
That I may enter therein
O Giver of light make radiant
The vesture of my soul and save me.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Great and Holy Monday

Behold! The bridegroom cometh at midnight, and blessed is he whom He shall find watching; but unworthy is he whom He shall find heedless.  Beware, therefore, O my soul.  Do not be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given up to death and shut out from the kingdom.  But rouse thyself, crying: "Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O God!" Through the intercessions of the Theotokos have mercy on us!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Palm Sunday

For our friends on the Gregorian calendar who are unaware of the difference between the Gregorian calendar in predominate use in the Christian West and the Julian calendar in predominate use in the Christian East, please do not be alarmed.  You have not opened a seam in the space-time continuum.  You have not entered the Matrix.  You are simply on a different calendar than we are.  So it is that as you all celebrate our Lord's resurrection for the festival of Easter, we are just now celebrating our Lord's entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

This is one of the greater festivals on the Orthodox calendar, and while it shares the sense of foreboding and anticipation and darkness of the same feast on the Gregorian calendar, in the Orthodox Church we already have another anticipation, in that we just celebrated Lazarus Saturday.  Lazaraus is a prefiguring of Christ's own resurrection -- it is a reminder to us that the dark and dread of Holy Week will end in triumph.

As we enter the most Holy Week of the Christian calendar, we shout with the children of Jerusalem, "Hosanna!  Hosanna in the highest!  Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord!"  We wave palm branches and venerate Christ our God, Who is about to enter His passion, death and ultimately His resurrection.  And we anticipate the imminent joy of Holy Pascha.

Troparion (Tone 1) 
By raising Lazarus from the dead before Your passion,
You did confirm the universal Resurrection, O Christ God!
Like the children with the palms of victory,
We cry out to You, O Vanquisher of death;
Hosanna in the Highest!
Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord!
Troparion (Tone 4)
When we were buried with You in Baptism, O Christ God,
We were made worthy of eternal life by Your Resurrection!
Now we praise You and sing:
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord!
Kontakion (Tone 6)
Sitting on Your throne in heaven,
Carried on a foal on earth, O Christ God!
Accept the praise of angels and the songs of children who sing:
Blessed is He that comes to recall Adam!

Saint Lazarus the Four Days Dead

Troparion (Tone 1)
By raising Lazarus from the dead before Your passion,
You did confirm the universal Resurrection, O Christ God!
Like the children with the palms of victory,
We cry out to You, O Vanquisher of death;
Hosanna in the Highest!
Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord!
Kontakion (Tone 2)
Christ the Joy, the Truth and the Light of all,
The Life of the World and the Resurrection
Has appeared in His goodness to those on earth.
He has become the Image of our Resurrection,
Granting divine forgiveness to all!