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.