Monday, September 23, 2013

St. Thekla, the Protomartyr, Equal to the Apostles

According to ancient Syrian and Greek manuscripts, Saint Thekla was born into a prosperous pagan family in the Lycaonian city of Iconium (present-day Konya in south-central Turkey) in A.D. 16. When she was 18 years old and betrothed to a young man named Thamyris, Saint Paul the Apostle and Saint Barnabas arrived in Iconium from Antioch (Acts 14). Thekla’s mother Theokleia prohibited her from joining the crowds which gathered to hear Paul preach. But Thekla found that if she sat near her bedroom window she could hear his every word. Thekla sat there for three days and three nights listening to Paul preach the word of God. She was parti­cularly touched by his call to chastity. As it became apparent that Thekla was becoming interested in the new Faith, Theokleia and Thamyris went to the governor of the city and complained about Paul and his preaching. To pacify them and the other outraged citizens of Iconium, the governor had Paul imprisoned to await trial.

When Thekla learned of Paul’s arrest she secretly went to the prison, and using her golden bracelets to bribe the guard, gained admittance to his cell. When she saw the Apostle she knelt before him and kissed the chains which bound his hands and feet. She remained there a long time listening to his message of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Being concerned at Thekla’s prolonged absence, Theokleia and Thamy­ris asked her servant if she knew where she was. The servant said that Thekla had gone to visit an imprisoned stranger. Theokleia and Thamyris knew at once that she was with Paul. They decided to go again to the governor, this time demanding immediate judgement for the Apostle. After the governor chastened Paul for the disturbances he had caused in the city, he had him stoned and expelled from Iconium. The governor then admon­ished Thekla for her foolishness and commanded her to return home with her mother and fiancé. When Thekla announced that she had vowed to remain a virgin for the sake of Christ, her mother became enraged and asked the governor to threaten Thekla with severe punishment. The gov­ernor complied with this wish and ruled that Thekla was to be burned at the stake unless she renounced her faith in Christ.

When Thekla refused to renounce her Heavenly Bridegroom, she was taken to the arena for punishment. As she was tied to the stake she saw a vision of Jesus Christ which gave her strength to face the flames. The fire was lit, but as the flames came near Thekla a thunderstorm suddenly arose and a great torrent of rain and hail came down from heaven and extinguished the flames. Embarrassed because his plan had failed, the angry governor released Thekla but commanded that she must leave Iconium at once.

Upon her release, Thekla went to the outskirts of the city where she rejoined Paul. She told him of her trial and miraculous escape from punish­ment and asked for baptism. Paul refused to baptize Thekla, saying that this would be accomplished in God’s own way and time. Paul and Thekla then departed from the region of Iconium and traveled to Antioch in Syria. As they were entering the city a young nobleman named Alexander saw Thekla. Being entranced by her beauty he rushed forward and tried to seduce her, but Thekla fought him off, thus disgracing him in front of his crowd of friends.

Alexander went to the governor of Antioch and complained that this wandering girl had disgraced him, a nobleman, in public. He demanded that she be punished with death. The governor complied and ruled that Thekla would face the wild beasts in the arena. Thekla’s only reply was that she be allowed to preserve her virginity unto death. Her wish was granted and she was given into the care of the noblewoman Tryphaena, a relative of Caesar, until the time of punishment.

When Thekla was taken to the arena, a lioness was set free to attack her. But to the astonishment of the crowd, the lioness approached the Saint and sat tamely at her feet. A bear was then released, but as it came close to Thekla the lioness rose up to defend her and killed the bear. A large lion was then released. The lioness again came to Thekla’s defense killing the lion, but losing her own life also. Then all the cages were opened and a large number of wild animals charged at the defenseless Thekla. After crossing herself and praying for courage, the Saint noticed a large tank of water which was nearby, containing the aquatic animals. She climbed into the water, asking that she might be baptized by Christ as she did so. Seeing that the beasts were unable to harm Thekla, Alexander asked that the Saint be given over to him for punishment. He tied her to two large bulls in the hopes that they would pull her asunder. But when the bulls charged off in opposite directions, the ropes which held Thekla to them were miracu­lously loosened and she was spared. Seeing that no harm could be done to Thekla, the authorities released her. She went to the home of Tryphaena where she remained for eight days preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ and converting Tryphaena and her entire household. When she departed from Antioch, Tryphaena gave her a treasure in gold and precious jewels.

After she left Antioch, Thekla journeyed to Myra where she rejoined Paul. She informed him of all that had occurred, including her baptism and asked that she might be permitted to spend the remainder of her life as an ascetic. Paul gave her his blessing and she departed, leaving with Paul all the gold and jewels that Tryphaena had given her so that he might distribute them among the poor and needy.

Thekla then traveled again to Syria where she went up into the moun­tains for a life of prayer and solitude. Many years later a young pagan found her praying in an isolated canyon and resolved to harass her and spoil her virginity. As he approached her and blocked her only exit to safety, she prayed that her Bridegroom would protect her as He had so many times in the past. At that moment the canyon wall was miraculously split allowing her to escape through a narrow crack in the rock.
Saint Thekla continued her life of asceticism and then peacefully fell asleep in Christ at the age of 90. Shortly after her death a community of virgins went to live in her mountain cell, building a small chapel to en­shrine her body. This Convent of Saint Thekla still exists today near the village of Ma‘loula, Syria.

Because of her many sufferings for the Faith the Church counts her as a “Protomartyr”. And because she converted so many people to Christ­ianity she is also know as an “Equal-to-the-Apostles”.

Holy Saint Thekla, pray unto God for us!

O Glorious Thekla, companion of Paul the divine, thou wast inflamed with the love of thy Creator. By the teaching of the divine Preacher thou didst despise the passing earthly pleasures and offered thyself to God as an acceptable and pleasing sacrifice, disregarding all suffering. Intercede with Christ, thy Bridegroom, to grant us his great mercy.

Commemorated on September 24

Troparion (Tone 4) –
You were enlightened by the words of Paul, O Bride of God, Thekla,
And your faith was confirmed by Peter, O Chosen One of God.
You became the first sufferer and martyr among women,
By entering into the flames as into a place of gladness.
For when you accepted the Cross of Christ,
The demonic powers were frightened away.
O all-praised One, intercede before Christ God that our souls may be saved.
Kontakion (Tone 8) -
O glorious Thekla, virginity was your splendor,
The crown of martyrdom your adornment and the faith you trust!
You turned a burning fire into refreshing dew,
And with your prayers appeased pagan fury, O First Woman Martyr!


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Beheading of Saint 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.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Dormition of the Theotokos

Troparion (Tone 1)
In giving birth you preserved your virginity,
In falling asleep you did not forsake the world, O Theotokos.
You were translated to life, O Mother of Life,
And by your prayers, you deliver our souls from death.
Kontakion (Tone 2)
Neither the tomb, nor death could hold the Theotokos,
Who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions.
For being the Mother of Life,
She was translated to life by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony

My wife and I were blessed to receive the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony this past Sunday.  Because we were already married, we did not do the betrothal, but simply went through the crowning service.

This is not, as is sometimes thought, simply a matter of renewing our vows.  We decided to do this because in the Orthodox Church, marriage is considered to be a Sacrament, and we wanted the benefit of a Sacramental marriage in the Church.  There are some notable differences between an Orthodox wedding and most other Christian weddings.  For example, there are no vows in an Orthodox marriage service.  At the beginning of the betrothal service, the bride and groom each voice their assent to marry the other, and after that, they do not have anything to say.  The entire betrothal and marriage service consists of litanies, hymnody and prayers.  This may seem odd to those used to seeing couples say vows before each other, but theologically, it is a very beautiful thing.  It signifies that the couple are joined not by their own assent or promise, but by God's assent and His promise.  Also, the crowning is not insignificant or merely ceremonial.  The crowns represent martyrdom, and indicate that the bride and groom each agree to lay down their lives for each other.  Father Andrew made a special point to note to us that in marriage, we each die to the other, as we die to Christ in baptism, and we begin a new life together, just as we begin a new life in baptism.  This sense of martyrdom is perhaps most vividly noted in the singing of the Dance of Isaiah:

O Isaiah, dance your joy, for the Virgin was indeed with child; and brought to birth a Son, that Emmanuel, Who came as both God and man; Day‑at‑the‑Dawn is the Name He bears, and by extolling Him, We hail the Virgin as blessed.

Hear us, you martyred Saints, who fought the good fight, gaining crowns: entreat the Lord to shed His tender mercy on our souls.

Glory to You, O Christ our God, Your Apostles' proudest boast and treasure of Your Martyrs' joy, Who to all proclaimed the Consubstantial Trinity.
To remind us of this martyrdom, Father Andrew and Khouria gave us an icon of the 40 Holy Martyrs of Sebaste.  It was most fitting.
We were blessed to have some family present to commemorate our crowning, along with a good number of our Church family, and in particular our Chrismation sponsors, who stood with us at the altar and read the Epistle.  It was a unique blessing that our three daughters were present to see what we hope is a foreshadowing of their own marriages in the future.

Your prayers are requested as we now begin the next chapter of our lives together.  We have been blessed with 18 years of marriage, and pray for many more.  We particularly pray to be a good example of Christian marriage to our children.  

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Prayers requested

Prayers of thanksgiving for our sister in Christ Danna Lewis, my daughter Emily's Godmother, as she recovers from surgery.  May God continue to grant her health and healing.

Prayers of tears and repentance for the Convent at the Hermitage of the Holy Cross in Wayne, WV, which recently burned down in a fire that destroyed the Convent and the candle factory which the nuns use to earn their living.  In your charity, please consider donating to the rebuilding fund HERE.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

St. John the Theologian

The holy, glorious and all-laudable Apostle and Evangelist John (also John the Theologian or John the Divine) was one of the original twelve Apostles, and wrote the Gospel bearing his name; three canonical letters: I John, II John, and III John; and the Book of Revelation. His primary feast day is celebrated on May 8, that of the twelve apostles on June 30, and his repose on September 26. His symbol is the eagle.

St. John was the son of Salome the myrrh-bearer and Zebedee, a fisherman. His brother was St. James, another apostle.

In his own Gospel account, he refers to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" rather than use his name. He was the youngest of the twelve apostles, and especially close to the Lord. This closeness is often portrayed in icons of the mystical supper, where St. John leans on Jesus.

He was present for the Transfiguration of Christ with Peter and his brother James.

St. John was exiled to the island of Patmos by Emperor Domitian around 90-95 A.D., and it was there that he received and wrote the Book of Revelation.

"Account of the miracle that occurred at his grave: When over 100 years old, St. John took seven disciples outside of Ephesus and had them dig a grave in the shape of a cross. St. John then went into the grave, and the disciples buried him there, alive. Later on, when his grave was opened, St. John's body was not there. 'On May 8 of each year, dust rises up from his grave, by which the sick are healed of various diseases.' "


There is an akathist hymn dedicated to him.

Troparion (Tone 2) 
Beloved apostle of Christ our God,
hasten to deliver a defenseless people.
He who allowed you to recline on His breast,
receives you as you bow before Him.
Implore Him, John the Theologian,
to disperse the persistent threat from the heathens,
entreating for us peace and great mercy.
Kontakion (Tone 2)
Who shall declare declare your greatness,
O virgin disciple,
for you pour forth wonders and are a source of healings,
and pray for our souls as Theologian and friend of Christ. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Great and Holy Pascha

Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered; and let them who hate him flee from before his face.

Today a sacred Pascha is revealed to us. A new and Holy Pascha. A mystical Pascha, a Pascha worthy of veneration. A Pascha which is Christ, the redeemer. A blameless  Pascha of the faithful.  A Pascha which has opened for us the gates of paradise. A Pascha which sanctifies all the faithful.

As smoke vanisheth so let them vanish away

Come from that scene O women bearers of glad tidings and say to Zion: receive from us the glad tiding of joy of Christ’s resurrection: exult and be glad, and rejoice O Jerusalem, seeing Christ the king who comes forth from the tomb, like a bridegroom in procession.

So the sinners will perish before the face of God, but let the righteous be glad.  The myrrh bearing women at breaking of dawn drew near to the tomb of the life giver. There they found an angel sitting up on the stone, he greeted them with these words: Why do you seek the living among the dead? Why do you morn the incorrupt amid corruption? Go proclaim the glad tidings to his disciples.

This is the day which the Lord hath made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Pascha of beauty! The Pascha of the Lord! A Pascha worthy of all honor has dawned for us!  Pascha! Let us embrace each other joyously. Pascha, ransom from affliction! For today as from a bridal chamber Christ has shone forth from the tomb. And filled the women with joy saying: Proclaim the glad tiding to the Apostles!

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit:
Both now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen.

This is the day of Resurrection! Let us be illumined by the feast! Let us embrace each other! Let us call brothers even those that hate us and forgive all by the resurrection, and so let us cry: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs, bestowing life.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Great and Holy Saturday - Lamentations

In a grave they laid Thee,
O my life and my Christ,
And the armies of the Angels were sore amazed
As they sang the praise of Thy submissive love.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

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.

Monday, April 29, 2013

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.

Holy Week in the Orthodox Church is one of the most beautiful times of the year, and for the Bridegroom Services for Holy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (served by anticipation on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evening), the hymnody is absolutely marvelous.  The hymn above is easily my favorite hymn in the Church.  It is the Gospel in three sentences.  It is also balanced by the beauty of "Behold the Bridegroom Cometh," which I posted yesterday evening.  Both hymns are sung during these services, such that we get the warning to be watchful of our soul in the former, balanced against the hymn above, which reminds us that our watchfulness is not what saves us, but Christ, the giver of light, Who makes radiant the vesture of our souls.  May we ever be mindful that we are to vigilantly guard our souls, and yet despite our slumber, Christ comes to us to illumine us, unite us to Him, and bring us into His Kingdom.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

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
Be not 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.

Palm Sunday

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!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Two stories that combine to remind me that our foreign policy stinks....

Lord have mercy.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

St. Mary of Egypt

Our venerable mother Mary of Egypt was a desert ascetic who repented of a life of prostitution. She lived during the sixth century, and passed away in a remarkable manner in 522. The Church celebrates her feast day on the day of her repose, April 1; additionally, she is commemorated on the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt, the fifth Sunday in Great Lent.



She began her life as a young woman who followed the passions of the body, running away from her parents at age twelve for Alexandria. There she lived as a harlot for seventeen years, refusing money from the men that she copulated with, instead living by begging and spinning flax.

One day, however, she met a group of young men heading toward the sea to sail to Jerusalem for the veneration of the Holy Cross. Mary went along for the ride, seducing the men as they traveled for the fun of it. But when the group reached Jerusalem and actually went towards the church, Mary was prohibited from entering by an unseen force. After three such attempts, she remained outside on the church patio, where she looked up and saw an icon of the Theotokos. She began to weep and prayed with all her might that the Theotokos might allow her to see the True Cross; afterwards, she promised, she would renounce her worldly desires and go wherever the Theotokos may lead her.

After this heart-felt conversion at the doors of the church, she fled into the desert to live as an ascetic. She survived for years on only three loaves of bread and thereafter on scarce herbs of the land. For another seventeen years, Mary was tormented by "wild beasts—mad desires and passions." After these years of temptation, however, she overcame the passions and was led by the Theotokos in all things.

Following 47 years in solitude, she met the priest St. Zosima in the desert, who pleaded with her to tell him of her life. She recounted her story with great humility while also demonstrating her gift of clairvoyance; she knew who Zosima was and his life story despite never having met him before. Finally, she asked Zosima to meet her again the following year at sunset on Holy Thursday by the banks of the Jordan.

Zosima did exactly this, though he began to doubt his experience as the sun began to go that night. Then Mary appeared on the opposite side of the Jordan; crossing herself, she miraculously walked across the water and met Zosima. When he attempted to bow, she rebuked him, saying that as a priest he was far superior, and furthermore, he was holding the Holy Mysteries. Mary then received communion and walked back across the Jordan after giving Zosima instructions about his monastery and that he should return to where they first met exactly a year later. When he did so, he found Mary's body with a message written on the sand asking him for burial and revealing that she had died immediately after receiving the Holy Mysteries the year before (and thus had been miraculously transported to the spot where she now lay). So Zosima, amazed, began to dig, but soon tired; then a lion approached and began to help him, that is, after Zosima had recovered from his fear of the creature. Thus St. Mary of Egypt was buried. Zosima returned to the monastery, told all he had seen, and improved the faults of the monks and abbot there. He died at almost a hundred years old in the same monastery.

Later, the story of Mary's life was written down by St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem (cf. "External links").

The Life of St. Mary of Egypt is read during Great Lent along with the Great Canon of St. Andrew.



Troparion (Tone 8) 
The image of God was truly preserved in you, O mother,
For you took up the Cross and followed Christ.
By so doing, you taught us to disregard the flesh, for it passes away;
But to care instead for the soul, since it is immortal.
Therefore your spirit, O holy Mother Mary, rejoices with the Angels.
Kontakion (Tone 3)
Having been a sinful woman,
You became through repentance a Bride of Christ.
Having attained angelic life,
You defeated demons with the weapon of the Cross;
Therefore, O most glorious Mary you are a Bride of the Kingdom!


Sunday, April 14, 2013

St. John Climacus

Today the Church celebrates St. John Climacus, or St. John of the Ladder.  St. John is best known as the author of "The Ladder of Divine Ascent," a monastic ascetical treatise that is both widely celebrated and oft-misunderstood.

The most notable point about the Ladder to me, depicted in the icon at left, is the demons dragging the faithful off of the ladder.  And the most notable part of that is that it doesn't appear to matter where one is on the ladder -- the demons constantly attack, and there is no rung where one is "safe."  It is interesting to me because it refutes the common misconception that asceticism somehow merits or earns salvation (or, more common, that those of us who practice it think it does).  Rather, asceticism is what salvation is meant to be in practice, but the only thing it earns or merits is a struggle with the demonic.  Anyone who has suffered significant spiritual setbacks after a period of asceticism such as Great Lent can attest to this. 

Therefore, as we struggle with the fast, St. John pray for us.

Troparion (Tone 8)

By a flood of tears you made the desert fertile
And by your longing for God you brought forth fruits in abundance.
By the radiance of miracles you illuminated the whole universe.
O our holy Father John Climacus, pray to Christ our God to save our souls.
Kontakion (Tone 1)
You offered us your teachings as fruits of everlasting freshness,
To sweeten the hearts of those who receive them with attention.
O blessed and wise John, they are the rungs of a ladder,
Leading the souls of those who honor you from earth to Eternal glory in Heaven!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Prayer of St. Ephraim

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust of power and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Thy servant.

Yea O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother, for thou art blessed unto ages of ages.  Amen.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Blessed Easter to our Roman Catholic and Protestant friends!

This is the first year since we became Orthodox that Pascha falls on a different date than Easter (technically it fell on a different date the year we joined, but we joined after Pascha, so.....).  There are blessings and challenges that come with having a different date, but it does give me the opportunity to wish our brethren in the Western traditions a blessed Easter.

May the joy of His resurrection be bountiful among you.  We will catch up on May 5.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Holy Theophany and Blessing of the Waters

Troparion (Tone 1)
When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan, worship of the Trinity wast made manifest; for the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee, calling Thee His beloved Son. And the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truth of His word. O Christ our God, Who hath appeared and enlightened the world, glory to Thee.
Kontakion (Tone 4)
On this day Thou hast appeared unto the whole world, and Thy light, O Sovereign Lord, is signed on us who sing Thy praise and chant with knowledge: Thou hast now come, Thou hast appeared, O Thou Light unappproachable.