Jun 08

The Mother of God

The Most-Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary.

In the theology and piety of the Orthodox Church, a special place of honor is given to the Mother of God the Most-Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, who is reverenced by the Orthodox as being more honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious, beyond compare, than the Seraphim. As Orthodox we style her as the most exalted among God’s creatures; but we do not regard her as some sort of goddess, the 4th Person of the Trinity, as some accuse us; nor do we render her the worship due God alone. Just as with the Holy Icons, the veneration due Mary is expressed in quite different words in the Greek writings of the Fathers than that due God.

At many of the Divine Services, the Deacon exclaims: Commemorating our Most-Holy, Most-Pure, Most-Blessed and Glorious Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary with all the Saints…. And here we can see three basic truths expressed concerning her.

The Virgin Mary is honored because she is Theotokos the Mother of God not of His divinity, but of His humanity, yet of God in that Jesus Christ was, in the theology of the Church, both God and Man, at one and the same time, in the Incarnation. Therefore, the honor given Mary is due to her relationship to Christ. And this honor, rather than taking away from that due God, makes us more aware of God’s majesty; for it is precisely on account of the Son (Himself God) that she is venerated. Of times, when men refuse to honor Mary, it is because they do not believe in the cause of her veneration the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity.

We also speak of the Theotokos as being Ever-Virgin, which was officially proclaimed at the 5th Ecumenical Council (Constantinople 553; the dogma concerning Mary as being Theotokos was proclaimed in 431 at the 3rd Ecumenical Council in Ephesus). This notion does not actually contradict Holy Scripture, as some would think. And His mother and His brothers came; and standing outside they sent to Him and called Him (Mark 3:31). Here the use of the word brothers in the original Greek can mean half-brother, cousin, or near relative, in addition to brothers in the strict sense. The Orthodox Church has always seen brothers here as referring to His half-brothers.

If Mary is honored as Theotokos, so too, she is honored because she is Panagia All-Holy. She is the supreme example of the cooperation between God and Man; for God, Who always respects human freedom, did not become incarnate without her free consent which, as Holy Scripture tells us, was freely given: Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word (Luke 1:38). Thus Mary is seen by the Church as the New Eve (as Christ is the New Adam) whose perfect obedience contrasted the disobedience of the First Mother, Eve, in Paradise. As St. Irenaeus says, the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed through the obedience of Mary; for what Eve, a virgin, bound by her unbelief, that Mary, a virgin, unloosed by her faith [Against the Heresies, III, xxii, 4],

As All-Holy and Most-Pure, Mary was free from actual sin, but, in the opinion of most Orthodox theologians, although not dogmatized by the Church, she did fall under the curse of Original Sin as does all mankind. For this reason by virtue of her solidarity with all humanity the Theotokos died a bodily death. Yet, in her case, the resurrection of the body had been anticipated; and she was assumed body and soul into Heaven; and her tomb was found empty an event celebrated in the Feast of the Falling-Asleep (or Dormition) of the Most-Holy Theotokos (Aug. 15). Thus, as the hymns of that Feast proclaim, she has passed from earth to heaven, beyond death and judgment, living already in the age to come. She enjoys now the same bodily glory all of us hope to share one day.

Whereas the Church has officially proclaimed as dogmas the doctrines concerning the Trinity and the Incarnation, the glorification of the Mother of God belongs to the Inner Tradition of the Church. As the noted Orthodox theologian, Vladimir Lossky writes: It is hard to speak and not less hard to think about the mysteries which the Church keeps in the hidden depths of her inner consciousness…. The Mother of God was never a theme of the public preaching of the Apostles; while Christ was preached on the housetops, and proclaimed for all to know in an initiatory teaching addressed to the whole world, the mystery of His Mother was revealed only to those who were within the Church…. It is not so much an object of faith as a foundation of our hope, a fruit of faith, ripened in Tradition. Let us therefore keep silence, and let us not try to dogmatize about the supreme glory of the Mother of God [Panagia, in The Mother of God, ed. E.L. Mascall, p.35].

Appellations of the Theotokos.
Ark.
The Theotokos is often called an Ark, for the Glory of God settled on her, just as the Glory of God descended on the Mercy Seat of the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant (Ex. 25:10-22).

Aaron’s Rod.
Just as Aaron’s Rod sprouted miraculously in the Old Testament, so too, the Theotokos has budded forth the Flower of Immortality, Christ our God (Num. 17:1-11).

Burning Bush.
On Mt. Sinai, Moses saw the Bush that was burning, but was not consumed. So too, the Theotokos bore the fire of Divinity, but was not consumed (Ex. 3:1-6).

(Golden) Candlestick.
In the Old Testament Tabernacle, there were found in the Sanctuary golden candlesticks. The Theotokos is the Candlestick which held that Light that illumines the world (Ex. 25:31-40).

(Golden) Censer.
Just as the censer holds a burning coal, so too, the Theotokos held the Living Coal. In the Apocalypse, there stands an Angel before the Throne of God, swinging a censer, representing the prayers of the Saints rising up to God. This is also seen as a symbol of the Theotokos, for it is her prayers that find special favor before her Son.

Cloud.
In the Exodus, the Israelites were led out of Egypt by a Cloud of Light, symbolizing the presence of God in their midst. So too, the Theotokos is a Cloud, bearing God within.

Fleece.
In the book of Judges we read the account of the dew which appeared miraculously on Gideon’s fleece (Judges 6:36-40). So too, the Dew Christ, appeared miraculously on the Living Fleece the Theotokos.

Holy of Holies.
Into the Holy of Holies only the High Priest could enter. So too, the Theotokos is the Holy of Holies into which only the Eternal High Priest Christ entered (Heb. 9:1-7).

Ladder.
In a dream Jacob saw a ladder ascending to Heaven, with Angels ascending and descending on it. The Theotokos is a Ladder, stretching from earth to Heaven, for on It God descended to man, having become incarnate.

Mountain (from which a Stone was cut not by hand of man).
The Prophet Daniel saw a mountain, from which was cut a stone, not by the hand of man (Dan. 2:34, 45). This is a reference to the miraculous Virgin Birth which was accomplished without the hand of man.

Palace.
The Theotokos was the Palace within which the King Christ our God dwelt.

Pot.
[See Urn]

Stem of Jesse.
In the Nativity Service, the Lord is referred to as the Rod from the Stem of Jesse (Is. 11:1), indicating His lineage from David, which was fulfilled through the Theotokos, who was a scion (or stem) of the line of David, the son of Jesse.

Tabernacle.
The Tabernacle was the place where the Glory of God dwelt. So too, the Glory of God dwelt in the Theotokos the Living Tabernacle (Ex. 40:34).

(Holy) Table.
This refers to the Holy Table (Altar Table) on which, at the Divine Liturgy, the Divine Food is offered. So too, the Theotokos is the Holy Table which bore the Bread of Life.

Temple.
The Prophet Ezekiel speaks of the Temple whose East gate remains sealed, through which only the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered. This clearly prophesies the Virgin Birth of the Theotokos (Ez. 44:1-2).

Throne.
The Theotokos is the Throne upon which Christ, the King of All, rested.

(Golden) Urn.
In the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant contained within itself a golden urn filled with the heavenly manna. The Theotokos is the Urn which contained Christ, the Divine Manna (Heb. 9:1-7).

Vine.
The Theotokos is the Vine which bore the Ripe Cluster (of Grapes), Christ our Lord.

Excerpt taken from “These Truths We Hold – The Holy Orthodox Church: Her Life and Teachings”. Compiled and Edited by A Monk of St. Tikhon’s Monastery. Copyright 1986 by the St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, South Canaan, Pennsylvania 18459.

To order a copy of “These Truths We Hold” visit the St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary Bookstore.

Jun 08

The Christian Ethic

The Sermon delivered by our Savior on the Mount was preceded by two significant meetings, one with His secret disciple, Nicodemus (John 3:1-21), and the other with the Samaritan Woman (John 4:4-42). In His conversation with Nicodemus, Christ spoke of being born again, born of the Spirit of God, and in Samaria He taught of God as Spirit and of the worship of the Father in spirit and truth.

Nicodemus had not known of spiritual birth before his meeting with the Lord. What interested him was the same question that troubled many other men: was this Teacher and Miracle-Worker an ordinary prophet, or was He the Christ, the promised Messiah? His desire to find the answer to this question is evident in the words with which he addressed Christ: Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him (John 3:2).

Aware of Nicodemus’ inner state and aware of his spiritual blindness and fundamental unreadiness to receive the Truth, our Lord spoke to him of the necessity of spiritual birth: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3). Nicodemus misunderstood these words and took them to mean a second birth from the womb. Christ, in His mercy, was patient with Nicodemus and explained to him: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit (John 3:5-6).

According to St. John Chrysostom, what is meant here is not birth in fact, but birth in dignity and grace. Birth in dignity is the spiritual rebirth of the man who strives constantly for the spiritual, heavenly and eternal; for man, as the Image of God, is called to live continuously with God and in God. Birth through grace is the part played by the Holy Spirit’s grace in man’s birth, in his regeneration justification and sanctification.

All of this was difficult for Nicodemus to understand, for in the last words spoken by the Savior, he saw a fresh mystery, and that is why he asked: How can this be (John 3:9)? Jesus explained that He was teaching not of worldly, but of heavenly things, that He was the Christ, the Son of God come down from Heaven, and that as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life (John 3:14-15).

Our salvation contains many hidden mysteries and ineffable spiritual blessings linked with them. The greatest and most fundamental mystery, along with the greatest blessing, lies in the fact that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Man should respond to this saving love of God first and foremost with faith in it and in Christ, as the Son of God and the Savior of mankind, Who came, not to judge, but to save those who believed in Him, Who came as the Light to illumine those who were in darkness and sought God’s Truth, so that they should live and find salvation through it.

St. John the Evangelist, speaking of the Logos the Word of God and of those who did not accept Him, wrote: To all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13). In these words the Evangelist points out two unfathomable mysteries, that of birth from God and that of the power to become the sons of God.

Children inherit from their parents their nature and their attributes. And what do God’s spiritual sons inherit from Him? First and foremost they inherit such attributes of God’s grace as love, holiness, goodness, light, kindness, peace, truth, righteousness and purity. The gifts of God are received through the Sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation and they develop and grow throughout the Christian’s life.

In our Lord’s conversation with the Samaritan Woman by Jacob’s Well, He revealed to her the truth of the living water, welling up to eternal life (John 4:14). Then, speaking of the worship of God, He said that the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, [because] God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24). Here, when He states that God is Spirit, Jesus is saying, according to St. John Chrysostom, that God is incorporeal and that for this reason those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.

And what does worshiping in Truth mean? According to St. John Chrysostom: Earlier rites, like circumcision, burnt offerings, sacrifices and the burning of incense, were merely symbols, whereas new Truth has come. Now it is not flesh that we must circumcise, but evil thoughts; now we must crucify ourselves, and exterminate and mortify our unreasonable desires. It is this that is meant by worshiping in truth. But only one who is born in the spirit can worship in this way.

The Savior’s conversations with Nicodemus and with the Samaritan Woman revealed His teaching about God as Spirit and about the spiritual worship of God by those who believe. In this way He established the concepts of spirituality, of spiritual feeling, the spiritual man as compared with the non-spiritual, the natural man, the man of this world, and the man of the flesh. Thus our Lord’s summons to beatitude (or blessedness) is addressed to the man who has passed through or who is passing through the process of spiritual birth, and who already partakes in the effects of the summoning and illumining grace of God, leading to faith in Christ, the Son of God and the Savior of the World. Therefore, in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-12), which are sung at the Divine Liturgy, are to be found the basis for Christian Morals.

Excerpt taken from “These Truths We Hold – The Holy Orthodox Church: Her Life and Teachings”. Compiled and Edited by A Monk of St. Tikhon’s Monastery. Copyright 1986 by the St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, South Canaan, Pennsylvania 18459.

To order a copy of “These Truths We Hold” visit the St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary Bookstore.

Jun 08

The Beatitudes

1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Beatitudes can be viewed as a single system a ladder ascending in virtues. Christ calls us first of all to acquire spiritual poverty, and meekness, and only then to rise step by step to the summit of spiritual perfection. Man becomes aware of his poverty of spirit from the moment when the summoning and illumining grace takes effect within him. The first thing revealed to the spiritual infant is his helplessness the incompatibility of his present spiritual state with that to which he is being summoned. The human spirit is the chief motivating force of our salvation, for we are bound to God, not by the soul, but by the spirit, and it is not through the soul, but through the spirit that God’s good will descends upon us.

It is in the spirit of man that the Image of God is most truly reflected. Our spirit trembles before God when it establishes contact with Him in prayer, meditation, reading the Word of God, in the Sacraments, Divine Services, good deeds, and so on. Only when it is humbled will our spirit become aware of the gulf which separates man from God and will know that God is all that within ourselves is nothing worthy of the Lord or pleasing to Him, nothing that is our own except our sins and that the fullness of spiritual life consists in renunciation of self in giving oneself entirely to God and to others.

Only by sacrificing ourselves will we find ourselves in the fullness of life lived for God and for others. And to find ourselves in God and in others, we must lose our own selves. Our spirit, renewed in God, knows that human life belongs to Him and always and in all things is dependent upon Him, and that we must be in steadfast contact with Him, begging His help and living in the hope that the gracious Lord in His mercy will not abandon us in our helplessness.

The righteous men of the Old Testament were aware of their insignificance before God. As Abraham said of himself, I… am but dust and ashes (Gen. 18:27). David, both king and prophet, cried out, I am a worm, and no man (Ps. 22:6); I am poor and needy (Ps. 86:1). Moses said to the Lord, I am slow of speech and of tongue (Ex. 4:10); and the Prophet Isaiah said to himself, I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips (Is. 6:5).

The saints of the New Testament Church, the nearer they drew to God, the stronger they were aware of their smallness and unworthiness before God, and were filled with truly profound humility. Some of them declared as they died that they had not even begun their salvation, while others declared that there was no place for them even in Hell, while yet others declared that even the earth would not accept their sinful bodies.

According to St. John Chrysostom, humility is the foundation of all virtue, for even if one distinguishes himself by fasting, prayer, alms, chastity, of any other virtue, without humility all of these would be destroyed and would perish. Thus there is no salvation without humility. This virtue was regarded highly in the Old Testament, for as the Psalmist says, A broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise (Ps. 51:17). Seeing the results which humility brings, he was moved to say, When I was brought low, He saved me (Ps. 116:6).

In the New Testament, the Lord Himself gave us the greatest example of humility (Matt. 11:39; John 13:14-16), for His entire life teaches us humility. The Mother of God says of herself, For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden (Luke 1:48). The Apostle Paul said of himself, I am the foremost among sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). The Publican of the Gospel saw nothing within himself except sinfulness, and simply hoped in God’s mercy.

The ways in which one attains humility are different. Sometimes it is through sickness, sorrow and misfortunes. Sometimes it is through being persecuted by others or oppressed by disease. As St. John Chrysostom says, True humility comes when we turn from our sins to God.

In the human soul, humility is countered by pride which struggles ceaselessly with it trying to destroy it. We know that all the evils which bring man to damnation are the results of pride: the Fall of Satan, of Adam, of Cain, and so on. And to this day pride is the chief enemy of humility, and overcoming it with God’s help is the first task to be undertaken for our salvation, for God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).

The attainment of humility is linked with overcoming our own self and pride, and with the victory over our passions and the temptations which face us. True humility prevents us from passing judgment, from envying, being angry, arousing anger in others, hurting or rebuking them, and it enables us to help others, to pray for all, and to bear everything that happens to us calmly as coming from God. He who has attained deep humility considers himself the unworthiest among men and attributes all his accomplishments to God.

Christian humility is free and highly fruitful, and there is not the least servitude, ingratiation or flattery in it. The humble Christian cannot be the servant of other men, because then he would not be the servant of Christ, for the servant of Christ is free in Christ as the Highest Truth. Love for Christ and devotion to Him allow the believer to call himself the servant of Christ, and as a result of his regeneration, he is a freeborn son, a child of God and not a slave.

Therefore, the poor in spirit, those who are humble of heart, will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. This kingdom, as the Lord Himself says, is within you (Luke 17:21), in the spirit and in the humble heart.

2. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Sorrow and grief enter the soul of one who has attained poverty of spirit and who has become aware of the power of sin over his soul, and they wring an involuntary cry of grief from its very depths. Therefore the Savior is anxious to comfort those who weep with His second Beatitude.

When it lived in Paradise, the human soul knew neither weeping, nor tears, for then man was with God and God was with man. The sin of our first parents separated man from God, giving rise to godly tears and sorrow which lead to contrition and salvation. This godly sorrow, as St. John of the Ladder tells us, liberates the soul from all earthly loves and affections. This sadness, however, should not be confused with worldly grief [which] produces death (2 Cor. 7:10). If we do not overcome it, this earthly sorrow may grow into the mortal sin of depression and despair.

Godly sorrow is permeated with love for God and for others and sorrow for their sins and for our own. Such was the sorrow of Moses when, at the foot of Mount Sinai, the Israelites forgot their God and made themselves a golden calf to worship. Such were the tears shed by the Prophet Jeremiah over the ruins of Jerusalem. And such were the tears of the Savior Himself when He foresaw the destruction of Jerusalem. Peter wept bitterly after his denial of our Lord, but the Lord comforted him when He appeared to him on the first day after His Resurrection, for God’s mercy is infinite and He not only comforts those who repent in this earthly life, but will wipe away every tear from their eyes (Rev. 7:17).

Mourning, as the expression of the spirit’s repentance for its sins, is of spiritual value, and must be treasured so as not to be wasted on earthly vanities. The mourning of the spirit, however, is not always accompanied by physical tears, for deep sorrow can be expressed in sighs, constriction of the heart, profound silence, inner concentration and withdrawal. Yet, as St. Ephraim the Syrian notes, these tears are like precious pearls, for by God’s gift the soul is enlightened by tears, reflecting the heavenly like a mirror.

Great is the strength of pure and heartfelt tears that rise from the depths of the heart, for these tears wash away all internal and external filth and quench the flame of all irritability and anger. These tears are especially saving when they are constant and, as St. John of the Ladder teaches us, he who is truly concerned for his salvation will count each day when he has not wept for his sins as wasted, in spite of any good deeds that may have been accomplished.

We are constantly sinning, both when we are active and when we give ourselves over to idle dreams, and these sins must be washed away with tears of repentance. These tears are a means of washing and purifying our soul, and a sacrifice offered up to God by our contrite and broken spirit. If our tears arise from fear of God for our sinfulness, they will intercede for us with God, as St. Ephraim tells us.

The blessed receive a special gift from God tenderness and the tears of tenderness, which show that godly tears and sorrow contain both joy and gaity, just as the comb contains the honey. In addition, there are the tears of the heart, which are better than the tears of the eyes, as Bishop Theophan the Recluse wrote. The tears of the eyes fatten the worm of vanity, while the tears of the heart are to be seen by God alone. Tears during prayer at Church and at home are beneficial, but in Church it is better to hide one’s tears, leaving merely the tearful mood in one’s heart, that is to say, a contrite spirit and a contrite heart. Night is the best time for prayer, especially at midnight. That is the place for your tears. Therefore, secret tears for our sins cleanse the soul and bring it closer to God, bringing us both comfort in this life and true consolation in the next.

3. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Meekness is directly linked with heartfelt repentance and mourning for our sins and he who considers himself worthy of all sorrows and troubles will be filled with the spirit of meekness and humility. He who is meek offends no one, is angered by no one, is modest and virtuous. He is a stranger to idle curiosity and never refuses his help to those who are suffering, doing good quietly and without notice. This virtue is as difficult to attain as it is great, for it demands much effort and struggle within the one who wishes to attain it. First he must overcome his irritability, impatience, touchiness and irascibility, for by overcoming his passions, he attains modesty and meekness. This, however, is only the beginning of his growth in this virtue.

The Psalmist especially praises meekness, placing it on a level with truth and righteousness (Ps. 45:4), and the Prophet Isaiah speaks of God’s particularly merciful attitude to man who is meek: This is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at My word, says the Lord (Is. 66:2). St. Peter sees a meek and quiet spirit as one of the greatest treasures of the human heart, which in God’s sight is very precious (1 Pet. 3:4). Therefore he urges the followers of Christ to be ready to answer with meekness and fear (1 Pet. 3:15) those who ask the reason for their hope. St. James asks us to receive with meekness the Word of God (James 1:21), so that it will find the most direct way to the hearts of his listeners.

St. Paul pays special attention to meekness, pointing out that meekness in the preacher is the best way of convincing those who oppose him (2 Tim. 2:24-25) or for correcting the sinner (Gal. 6:1). He begs the Ephesians to treat each other with all lowliness and meekness, because these are the qualities that make a man worthy of the calling to which [he has] been called (Eph. 4:2, 1). To the rebellious Corinthians, he would come not with a rod, but with love, in a spirit of gentleness, (1 Cor. 4:21), for this Apostle to the Gentiles counts meekness among the fruits of the spirit, for against such there is no law (Gal. 5:22-23).

In the Old Testament King David (the Psalmist), the Prophet Moses, who is called very meek (Num. 12:3), and also the righteous Job, who blessed the Name of God when subjected to severe trials, were all distinguished by their meekness. In the New Testament the Savior demonstrated the greatest meekness and called us to learn from Him first and foremost this virtue: Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matt. 11:29), for it is out of this virtue that all the other virtues grow, including love itself. Through meekness and humility man overcomes his natural self and pride, and spiritually develops towards self-denial in the Name of God and out of love of Him and one’s neighbor.

The saints offer us marvelous examples of meekness. Once during Divine Liturgy, St. John the Almsgiver, when he was Patriarch, reading in the Gospel lesson about making peace with your brother before coming to pray (Matt. 5:23-24), recalled that there was a cleric whom he had punished for some misdeed and who was angry with him. He called him immediately and, falling at his feet, begged him to forgive him and to make peace. St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, while in a conversation with a local landowner, was in the course of an argument struck in the face by him, at which the saint fell down on his knees and humbly asked forgiveness of the landowner, saying, For God’s sake, forgive me for bringing you to such a state. Only a man of meek spirit could have answered thus.

We can help pave the way to meekness in ourselves by deciding to strive for spiritual health in all things, and for abstention in our designs, in thought, in word and in deed. As St. John Chrysostom says, If we are opposed, we will be humble. If anyone is arrogant with us, we will be helpful. If anyone torments or oppresses us by making fun of us or swearing at us, we will not answer in kind, so as not to destroy ourselves through vengeance.

The Lord promises those who attain meekness that they will inherit the earth. One would have expected the meek, the most defenseless and oppressed of all, to perish in the first centuries of the Christian era at the hands of the infuriated pagans, but they have indeed inherited the earth that was formerly ruled by those who persecuted them. The meek will receive their spiritual inheritance in the mansions of the righteous, and will receive the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Ps. 27:13), where eternal blessedness awaits them.

4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.
The more profoundly we become aware of our sinfulness and spiritual imperfection, the less bearable to our reason and our conscience becomes the idea of being spiritually extinguished the threat of losing our salvation and within our soul are born hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness. Just as in life the body periodically hungers for food and thirsts for drink, so in the spiritual life come moments when man yearns for spiritual food.

The good news of the gospel is the Truth that the Savior has come to earth, and His teaching the righteousness of our salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. This good news of the Truth of Christ enlightens the soul. The Truth of Christ leads to faith in the true righteousness of our salvation. And the stronger the faith in this righteousness, the more fully its depths are revealed to the soul possessing it wholly, acting from faith to faith, urging it to lead a life compatible with this righteousness.-

If the meaning of the Truth of Christ lies in the fact that it brings spiritual enlightenment to those who believe, then the significance of this righteousness lies in the fact that it leads them to faith and justifies them. God’s righteousness in all its fullness is centered in God alone and from Him it is poured forth on all who seek it. To live in righteousness means to live according to the will of God, and to live according to the will of God means to live in God’s righteousness.

It is not those who thirst for worldly happiness that are blessed, but those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, obeying Christ’s commandments, living in God and with God. He who fulfils the will of God will be like the Savior, Who said: My food is to do the will of Him Who sent Me, and to accomplish His work (John 4:34).

The will of God is revealed to us in Holy Scripture. However, it is not enough to know the truth of our salvation, for we also need the strength to carry it out, which we receive through the Sacraments and the prayers of the Church. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for the food and drink of which Christ said: I am the bread of life…. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed (John 6:35, 55).

Hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness, which find their highest satisfaction in the prayers and Sacraments of the Church (especially in Holy Communion), act together with love and the other virtues in man’s heart. However, we will be completely and entirely satisfied with God’s righteousness only in the life to come, when the righteous will neither hunger nor thirst and He Who sits upon the throne will shelter them with His presence (Rev. 7:15).

5. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Everyone who lives in society needs a kind word, sympathy, and compassion, and the man of warmth and sympathy has the traits of mercy. The merciful, whom the Gospel calls charitable, are first and foremost spiritual people hearers of the spirit. Mercy is a gift or the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). The merciful follow Christ’s commandments: they give meat to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, they clothe the naked, they take in the stranger and comfort the sorrowing (Matt. 25:31-46).

The charitable look after orphans, do not forget the aged, return to the path of truth those who have lost their way, strengthen those whose faith is wavering, teach others kindness, give advice, do not answer evil with evil, and forgive offenses. They pray for their fellow men, and especially they pray for the dead who need nothing from the living except prayers and deeds of kindness in their memory.

The Lord warned Cain: …if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it (Gen. 4:7). Doing good constantly is the guarantee of a successful struggle with sin. Those who are constantly charitable and merciful will receive mercy in their turn both from God and from good fellow men. But let the hardhearted bear in mind that judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy (James 2:13). The Savior points to His Heavenly Father as the highest example of mercy and calls us to emulate Him (Luke 6:36), for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matt. 5:45).

In the Sermon on the Mount, the Savior also teaches us how to perform deeds of mercy: Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father Who is in heaven. Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do…. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing… (Matt. 6:1-3). To do deeds of kindness with the aim of being praised by others, will be the means of depriving oneself of the rewards of our Heavenly Father, for God Who sees in secret will reward you (Matt. 6:4).

Around us are people who need our sympathy. They are the Lazaruses of our lives (Luke 16:14-31 the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus), who will open or close for us the gates of God’s Kingdom, depending upon how we have treated them. And all those who are charitable and merciful on earth in the Name of God will find mercy in the Kingdom of Heaven.

6. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
It would seem that there is nothing harder to attain than purity of heart and nothing more impossible than to see God. For, is it possible for our heart to be pure and spotless when out of it come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander (Matt. 15:19), or for us to see God Whom no man has ever seen or can see (1 Tim. 6:16; John 1:18; 1 John 4:12)? Nevertheless, the Savior speaks of purity of heart and of seeing God with the heart, because the previous Beatitudes teach the Christian humility, mourning, meekness, righteousness and mercy; for only the spirit which has acquired these virtues will give a new fruit grace-endowed purity of heart and radiant holiness that sees God from within.

The pure in heart are not tempted by the seductions of this world. As St. John of the Ladder says, truly blessed is he who has attained complete dispassion for all carnal things, for appearance and beauty; great is he who is dispassionate; he who has triumphed over the body, has triumphed over nature, and there is no doubt that he who has triumphed over nature stands higher than nature, and such a man differs little from the-Angels; purity of heart brings us closer to God and, as far as possible, makes us like unto Him.

St. Ephraim the Syrian teaches that purity of heart hates luxury, laziness, bodily beauty, fine garments, rich food and drunkenness. It overcomes the flesh and penetrates the heavenly with its eye. It is the fountainhead of love and the dwelling place of Angels. It is a gift of God, filled with goodness, edification and knowledge. It is a peaceful and fitting haven which fends off evil and cleaves to goodness. This purity of heart is characterized by cleanliness of body and soul, a peaceful nature, meekness, humility, love and closeness to God, and attainment in all the virtues, including strict abstinence.

The heart attains purity, says St. Ephraim the Syrian, through numerous tribulations, privations, renunciation of all worldly things and mortification. And if it attains purity, it is not defiled by minor offenses, fears neither tribulations in any part of the soul, because the soul is strengthened by God.

The struggle with impure thoughts that defile our heart and conscience helps us to attain purity of heart. Remaining in constant prayerfulness before God creates a living link with God, giving rise to what is called the awareness of God in the soul, the awareness of Christ our Savior, and His cross, and it conquers our bad thoughts, evil designs and desires of the heart. And this awareness of God, on the highest levels of spiritual attainment, becomes the grace-giving vision of God.

The performance of charitable deeds fills with love the heart of the ascetic. Contemplating God, reading the Holy Scriptures, the works of the Holy Fathers and the Lives of the saints, attending Divine Services as often as possible, and partaking of the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion, are all spiritual and saving fare for the heart.

The ascetic whose heart has been purified and sanctified by the Holy Spirit is filled with love for Christ and enters into such a close spiritual union with the Lord that it is as though he sees Him in himself. Freed from the influence of their passions, the saints also see God in Divine Revelation. Just as a mirror reflects an image when it is clean, so can a pure and holy soul see God and understand the Scriptures, says the Blessed Theophilact. Like the other Beatitudes which begin on earth and are completed in Heaven, seeing God when it begins on earth is but seeing through a glass, darkly what in the next life we shall see face to face (1 Cor. 13:12).

7. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.
The fall of our first parents, which led to the severing of the grace-endowing link with God and changed their souls radically, could not but affect the relations between them as well. Disorder and conflict within men brought about their mutual alienation. But because our God is Peace and Love, salvation was impossible without reconciliation with God. As St. Paul says, in Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross (Col. 1:19-20). And Christ fulfilled the will of His Father. He came, accomplished the Sacrifice of Redemption and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near (Eph. 2:17). And to this day He bestows peace upon us, for He said: Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you (John 14:27). And not only does He bestow peace, but He Himself has become our peace (Eph. 2:14).

Christ founded upon earth the Kingdom of God, one of the most essential features of which is its peace. For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17). Peace in the Kingdom of God is the peace of God, which passes all understanding, [which] will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

St. Paul summons all believers to seek peace in God (Rom. 15:33; 1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 13:20-21). When, with God’s help, inner peace is established in the human heart, the link between this heart and others is also established. It is expressed in unity of word, spirit and thought. / appeal to you, brethren, by the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment (1 Cor. 1:10). Agreement and unanimity make for lasting peace in human relations, for where they are found, the individual is like the whole and the whole is like the individual. Such peace must be sought and striven for (1 Pet. 3:11), and cherished with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart (2 Tim. 2:22).

The Savior Himself was particularly insistent upon the need for peace among mer. If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; and first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Make friends quickly with your accuser…lest your accuser hand you over to the judge…and you be put in prison (Matt. 5:23-25). The Savior said further: If any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles (Matt. 5:40-41). The main thing here is that there should be no quarrel on the way and that the inner link not be broken.

The Holy Fathers teach that humility is the foundation of all virtues, and helps us to attain spiritual peace. According to St. Isaac the Syrian, it. is when peace reigns in your life and when your soul is obedient to you, and the rest of you along with it, that the peace of God is born in your heart. According to St. Ephraim the Syrian, if your brother disagrees with what you say, do not be angry, but renounce your own will for the sake of love and peace.

The Son of God came down to earth in order to reconcile to Himself all things (Col. 1:20). He Himself, the Only-Begotten Son of God, is the great Peacemaker The Prince of Peace, as the Prophet Isaiah calls Him. Blessed are the peacemakers who keep their conscience at peace with God and with their fellow men, following the example of our Savior the Peacemaker. According to the words of the Lord, they shall be called the sons of God.

8. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
In His Sermon on the Mount, the Savior pointed out the two paths through life the wide and broad one, and the strait and narrow one. The wide one leads to perdition, and there are many who choose this path, while the narrow way leads to life, that is, it brings salvation (Matt. 7:13-14).

The narrow way demands an effort a constant spiritual struggle with sin and with all the obstacles which are to be met with on the way. The flesh, our bodily nature, revolts against this way, for it finds our efforts towards purity of body and of heart hard to endure, and the enemy of mankind, who cannot bear man’s movements towards salvation, revolts along with ill-intentioned men, who take the good life of the believer as a rebuke to themselves.

History remembers many who have persecuted God’s righteous ones. The first was Cain, who killed his brother Abel because of the latter’s piety. The wild Esau cast forth his meek brother Jacob, and the sons of Jacob cast out their brother Joseph and sold him into slavery in Egypt to get him out of their way. The unfortunate King Saul oppressed the meek David. The Jews drove away the prophets who condemned their lawless life, and persecuted and crucified our Lord Jesus Christ. This persecution of the faithful came about, as the Savior shows us, for righteousness’ sake (Matt. 5:10).

The true believer answers enmity and opposition with goodwill. He answers lies and slanders with patience and silence, following the rule that we should turn away from evil and do good (Ps. 34:14; Rom. 12:9). St. Paul teaches us: Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all (Rom. 12:17), including the ill-intentioned, in order to overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21).

The Savior speaks even more concretely and decisively: If any one strikes you on the right cheek., turn to him the other also (Matt. 5:39), by which means you will morally disarm him. It is better to suffer pain and humiliation than to subject him who has hurt you to evil in return, for evil breeds only evil. Only good can breed good. The best defense from persecution, therefore, is patience and prayer for those who persecute you. That is how the Savior Himself prayed for those who crucified Him (Luke 23:34) and how St. Stephen the First Martyr and Archdeacon prayed for those who stoned him (Acts 7:60).

We know that all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12). The words of the Savior, though, are heartening and comforting: If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you (John 15:20). The destiny of the Christian, then, is to live in sorrow and take the narrow way. However, love of truth, constancy and determination in virtue, courage and patience help us to bear suffering. It is not enough to know righteousness; we must also love it. And it is this love which gives rise to our determination, courage and patience.

All the previous Beatitudes, by producing corresponding virtues in the heart of the Christian, prepare him for active love of Christ’s righteousness, and for spiritual life in Christ which gives us strength to bear the sorrows, tribulations and persecutions that come our way. And the reward for longsuffering is the Kingdom of God, which every man who loves God’s righteousness starts to bear within himself here on earth, and in full measure in the Kingdom of Heaven.

9. Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake.
10. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in Heaven.
These words are the continuation and conclusion and at the same time the crown of all the Beatitudes that have preceded. In the eighth Beatitude, oppression and persecution were linked with Christ’s righteousness, and in the ninth, with Christ Himself as the bearer and expression of this righteousness. The Savior declares in no uncertain terms that men shall persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake. In this lies the greatest reward for His followers, who are called to joy and happiness, when the hour of suffering is upon them.

It is hard for the non-Christian to understand how one can rejoice and be happy when oppressed, cursed and persecuted. It seems to him that all suffering leads naturally only to sorrow. But let us recall the path we have trodden, up every step of the ladder of the Beatitudes. As St. John Chrysostom says: Note after how many Beatitudes Christ offers us this last one. In this last He wished to show that he who has not been prepared by all the other Beatitudes cannot undertake the feat of bearing suffering, revilement and persecution for Christ’s sake. For this reason, in laying the way from the first Beatitude to the last, Christ was forging a golden chain for us. It starts with the fact that the poor in spirit, the man of humility, will mourn for his sins and in this way will become meek, righteous and merciful. And the merciful is bound to become pure in heart. The pure in heart will be a peacemaker. And he who has attained all this will be ready for danger, and will not be afraid of calumny and countless tribulations. Readiness and fearlessness will be the crowning virtues that bring, according to Jesus Christ, joy and happiness.

It is, of course, natural for man to avoid suffering, for through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). Tribulations are unavoidable as an accompaniment to this life. The Savior said: In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (John 16:33). The Lord overcame the world by treading the path of persecution by His enemies, the path of torture and suffering in Gethsemane, at Pilate’s judgment and on Golgotha. Sinless and innocent, He accomplished His feat for our sake and for us, to free man from the stain of sin, to bring him closer to Himself and make his path through life more like the way of the cross which He Himself had followed. He calls him to take up his cross and follow Me (Matt. 16:24), for he who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me (Matt. 10:38), and cannot be My disciple (Luke 14:27).

It is important to understand that tribulations are necessary because there is no other way for us to be cleansed of our sins except that pointed out by the Savior and followed by Him. In suffering we become aware of our own weakness and helplessness, and, humbled in prayer and contrition before God, we receive divine help and joy in the Lord.

Tenderness of heart and spiritual joy are characteristic of the spiritual life. If life itself is a thing of goodness and joy, then life in God is doubly good and doubly joyous. The very fact that Christ is preached brings joy (Phil. 1:18). When we behold God’s world with a pure eye or pray sincerely, or do good willingly, or perform the current act of obedience in the awareness that we are fulfilling our duty, then a quiet joy in the Lord descends in our heart. As St. James instructs us: Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness (James 1:2-3).

Joy is no less a fruit of the spirit than love, peace, meekness and the other virtues (Gal. 5:22). Joy carries within it hope in God’s continuing mercy. This joy and hope helped those who performed spiritual deeds for Christ to bear their sufferings, and gave them confidence that the Lord would not send them more suffering than they could bear, but would grant them consolation in its turn. And the lives of the holy martyrs confirm this.

Amidst a severe test of affliction joy abounds, granted by God’s grace (2 Cor. 8:2). It is not surprising that the Apostle calls us to rejoice always (1 Thess. 5:16). The Lord promises that no one will take your joy from you (John 16:22). If even here in our earthly life the Lord gives us joy, how great must be the joy that awaits us in Heaven!

The Christian who accepts the Gospel call to his neighbor is like the wise man who built his house on the rock (Matt. 7:25), and he will fear no misfortunes. For all believers this rock is our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 10:4), urging us to follow Him, practice the Christian virtues and fulfill His commandment.

Excerpt taken from “These Truths We Hold – The Holy Orthodox Church: Her Life and Teachings”. Compiled and Edited by A Monk of St. Tikhon’s Monastery. Copyright 1986 by the St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, South Canaan, Pennsylvania 18459.

To order a copy of “These Truths We Hold” visit the St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary Bookstore.

Jun 08

Holy Tradition

One of the distinctive characteristics of the Holy Orthodox Church is its changelessness, its loyalty to the past, its sense of living continuity with the ancient Church. This idea of living continuity may be summed up in one word: Tradition. As St. John of Damascus says, We do not change the everlasting boundaries which our fathers have set, but we keep the Tradition, just as we received it [On the Holy Icons, II, 12]. To an Orthodox Christian, Tradition means the Holy Bible; it means the Creed; it means the decrees of the Ecumenical Councils and the writings of the Fathers; it means the Canons, the Service Books, the Holy Icons, etc. In essence, it means the whole system of doctrine, ecclesiastical government, worship and art which Orthodoxy has articulated over the ages [Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, p.204].

We take special note that for the Orthodox, the Holy Bible forms apart of Holy Tradition, but does not lie outside of it. One would be in error to suppose that Scripture and Tradition are two separate and distinct sources of Christian Faith, as some do, since there is, in reality, only one source; and the Holy Bible exists and found its formulation within Tradition.

As Orthodox, however, while giving it due respect, we realize that not everything received from the past is of equal value. The Holy Scriptures, the Creed and the dogmatic and doctrinal definitions of the Ecumenical Councils hold the primary place in Holy Tradition and cannot be discarded or revised. The other parts of Holy Tradition are not placed on an equal level, nor do they possess the same authority as the above. The decrees of the Councils since the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787) obviously do not stand on the same level as the Nicene Creed, nor do the writings of, for example, the Byzantine theologians, hold equal rank with St. John’s Gospel.

Here we must also distinguish between Tradition and traditions. At the Council of Carthage in 257, one of the Bishops remarked, The Lord said, I am Truth. He did not say, I am custom [The Opinions of the Bishops on the Baptizing of Heretics, 30]. Many traditions that have been handed down are merely cultural variations, theological or pious opinions, or simply plain mistakes. [One need only recall the whole problem of the reform of the Russian liturgical books under Patriarch Nikon and the ensuing Old Believer schism to see the truth of this.]

Orthodox loyalty to Tradition [the things of the past] is not something mechanical or lifeless, however. Tradition is a personal encounter with Christ in the Holy Spirit, as Bishop Kallistos affirms. Tradition is not only kept by the Church it lives in the Church, it is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church [The Orthodox Church, p.206]. Thus Tradition must be seen and experienced from within. Tradition is a living experience of the Holy Spirit in the present. While inwardly unchanging (since God does not change), Tradition constantly assumes new forms, supplementing the old, but not superceding it.

Our Lord tells us that when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth (John 16:13) and this promise forms the basis of Orthodox respect for Holy Tradition. Thus, as Fr. Georges Florovsky expresses this idea: Tradition is the witness of the Spirit; the Spirit’s unceasing revelation and preaching of good things…. To accept and understand Tradition we must live within the Church, we must be conscious of the grace-giving presence of the Lord in it; we must feel the breath of the Holy [Spirit] in it…. Tradition is not only a protective, conservative principle; it is, primarily, the principle of growth and regeneration…. Tradition is the constant abiding of the Spirit and not only the memory of words [Sobornost: the Catholicity of the Church, in The Church of God, pp. 64-5].

Excerpt taken from “These Truths We Hold – The Holy Orthodox Church: Her Life and Teachings”. Compiled and Edited by A Monk of St. Tikhon’s Monastery. Copyright 1986 by the St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, South Canaan, Pennsylvania 18459.

To order a copy of “These Truths We Hold” visit the St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary Bookstore.

Jun 08

Various Other Feasts

In addition to the Holy Pascha of the Lord, and the Twelve Great Feasts, there are several other Feasts ranking in importance just after them. These are: The Circumcision of the Lord, The Nativity of St. John the Baptist, The Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, The Beheading of St. John the Baptist, The Protection of the Most-Holy Theotokos (Russian Church only), and The Synaxis of the Archangel Michael and the Other Bodiless Powers.

The Protection of the Most-Holy Theotokos (Oct. 1).
This Feast commemorates an event that happened at Constantinople in the 10th Century. In the year 911, during the reign of Emperor Leo the Wise, a large army of Saracens was preparing to attack the city and conquer it. The pious people of Constantinople reacted to the threat by turning to prayer. They thronged to the Church of Blachernae (where was preserved the Robe and Veil of the Mother of God) and there raised their voices to Christ the Lord, and to His Mother, the All-Holy Theotokos, pleading for mercy and help against the foe.

As the soldiers raised their arms in battle, the church was filled with hymns and prayers. Among the believers was St. Andrew, a Fool-for-Christ, and his disciple, St. Epiphanius. Suddenly they saw a vision of the Virgin Mary surrounded by a choir of angels, prophets and apostles. Do you see, brother, the Queen of all praying for the peace of the world asked Andrew? Indeed I see, father, answered the disciple. I see and I fear.

The inhabitants of the city heard of this vision of the two men, and were filled with joy and hope that this was a sign of deliverance. They thanked God and sang hymns to the One who interceded for them. All night they prayed in the church, while outside, the Christian army fought against the invaders. The tide of battle turned against the enemy and the defenders of Constantinople emerged with a decisive victory. Saints Andrew and Epiphanius told everyone of their vision in the church, seeing the Holy Virgin with outstretched arms, holding a veil over the city as a sign of protection, and imploring God’s mercy upon the people.

Since that time the Feast of the Protection has come to be celebrated by the Church. In the Feast of the Protection of the Most-Holy Theotokos, we entreat of the Queen of Heaven to protect and help: Remember us in your prayers, O Lady, Virgin Theotokos, that we not perish for the increase of our sins; protect us from all evil and cruel misfortune. For we put our hope on you, and honoring the Feast of your Protection, we magnify you!

Synaxis of the Holy Angels (Nov. 8).
The Feast of the Synaxis of the Archangel Michael and the Other Bodiless Hosts was established at the beginning of the 4th Century at the Local Council of Laodicea, a few years before the First Ecumenical Council. This Council, among other things, condemned and rejected the heretical worship of angels as creators and rulers of the world and confirmed the Orthodox in their particular veneration.

The Feast is celebrated in November the 9th Month (counting March, which, in antiquity, vas the beginning of the year) conforming to the traditional Nine Ranks of Angels Seraphim and Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Powers, Authorities, Principalities, Archangels and Angels. [All of these titles are mentioned in Holy Scripture, and a detailed exposition of them, their characteristics and function may be found in The Celestial Hierarchies by Pseudo-Dionysius, who wrote in the 6th Century.] The fact that the Feast is celebrated on the 8th Day of the month indicated the future assembly of the Heavenly Powers on the day of the awesome judgment of God which the Holy Fathers called the 8th Day, since after this present age, characterized by 7-day weeks, will come the 8th Day, when the Son of man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him (Matt. 25:31).

In the theology of the Church, the angels are seen as pure spirits, but nonetheless created spirits, destined to worship and reflect the infinite divine beauty as well as being sent forth to do the divine bidding. As St. Paul tells us, Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation (Heb. 1:14)? Angels appear at times in the Old Testament to the Patriarchs and Prophets and often were seen to be the bearers of God’s image and power by the ancient Jews. Especially noted is the manifestation of the Holy Trinity to Abraham (Gen. 18) in the form of three angels (the subject of Andrei Rublev’s famous icon of the Holy Trinity).

In the New Testament the Archangel Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus; angels ministered to Him in the wilderness and also during His agony in Gethsemane before His crucifixion; and the Resurrection is announced to the Myrrhbearers by angels. They are closely involved in the life of the apostles and also in the beginnings of the Church.

In addition, the Church teaches that everyone is given a Guardian Angel at birth to act as a guide and protector to every individual. The Lord Himself bears witness to this, when speaking of little children, He cautioned His disciples: See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of My Father Who is in heaven (Matt. 18:10).

The leader of the Heavenly hosts is Michael the Archangel, whose name means Like unto God. He is mentioned by name in the Old Testament book of Daniel, as well as in the New Testament Epistle of St. Jude, and especially figures in the Revelation of St. John. In ancient Jewish tradition, he was seen as the heavenly protector of Israel.

According to the Revelation of St. John, seven angels serve before the throne of God (Rev. 8-10) and take part in the final woes of the world. In the tradition of the Church, the names of these angels, commemorated by name in the Church Calendar on November 8 are: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Selaphiel, Jegudiel and Barachiel.

The Circumcision of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Jan. 1).
January 1 is dedicated to the memory of the Circumcision of Christ. According to the covenant which God made with Abraham, God said to Abraham, As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations…. Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. He that is eight days old among you shall be circumcised (Gen. 17:9-12).

In submitting to the Law of Circumcision, Our Lord signifies that He is the fullness and the completion of the Old Covenant: And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb (Luke 2:21). At the same time He showed the way to humility by submitting to humiliation of the flesh, prefiguring the bloody consecration His All-Pure Body was to receive on the Cross.

So, too, in the spiritual sense, every Christian must submit his body and desires to the will of God. As St. Paul says, in the Epistle Lesson read on the Feast: For in [Jesus] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness of life in Him, Who is the head of all rule and authority. In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ (Col. 2:9-11).

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist (June 24).
The birth of St. John the Baptist, the last and greatest of the Old Testament Prophets, was the result of a miracle. As Holy Scripture tells us: In the days of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years

(Luke 1:5-7).

Childlessness was a terrible thing to an Old Testament Jew; not having a firm belief in life after death, barrenness meant that one’s name would not be carried on in life. In addition, Zechariah and Elizabeth were both getting on in years, and the likelihood of bearing children diminished with each passing day.

But then the miraculous hand of God intervened. One day, while Zechariah was serving in the Temple, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to him and told him that his barren wife Elizabeth would bear a son, whose name would be John. Zechariah was incredulous. He doubted the angel since both he and his wife were old. As a result, by divine command, he was struck dumb until the time when the child would be born (Luke 1:8-23). After this, Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she hid herself, saying, Thus the Lord has done to me in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among men (Luke 1:24-25).

We find parallels to this account in the Old Testament stories of the births of the Prophet Samuel and of Samson, both of whom were born of barren mothers at the intervention of God. But we find an even greater parallel in the birth of the Most-Holy Theotokos, who was born of barren parents, Joachim and Anna, also by means of Divine Intervention.

Finally the time came for the consummation of the miracle. For the time came for Elizabeth to be delivered, and she gave birth to a son. And her neighbors and kinfolk heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they would have named him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said, Not so; he shall be called John (Luke 1:57-60). This was confirmed by Zechariah in writing; and when he wrote the name John, his mouth was opened, and he spoke openly.

And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying, you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go be fore the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins (Luke 1:67, 76-77). We know that John later became a great Prophet and was privileged to baptize the Lord Himself in the waters of the Jordan. As the Evangelist tells us, he acknowledged Christ’s divinity when, after he had baptized Him and witnessed the events of that glorious day, he said, / have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God (John 1:34).

The Holy Apostles Peter and Paul (June 29).
From the 4th Century on, the Church of Rome has celebrated the Feast of the Holy Apostles on June 29. This became the usage of the Universal Church. Spiritually the Feast is linked with Holy Pentecost, as the witness of the Apostles is the immediate fruit of the descent of the Holy Spirit which came upon them. The �Feast is preceded by the Fast of the Holy Apostles which begins on the Monday following All-Saints’ Sunday (1st after Pentecost). The two most important Apostles of the early Church were Peter and Paul and, according to Church Tradition, they were both martyred in Rome, Paul by beheading and Peter by crucifixion. Thus this Feast became especially prominent in Rome.

Although St. Peter had a special zeal concerning Christ and is considered the chief of the Apostles, he did not have any special authority over the other Apostles, but was only first in honor. When there were important questions in the Church, it was a Church council that decided them, and St. Peter himself was sent by a council to preach the Word of God.

According to St. John Chrysostom, St. Paul sought dishonor more than we seek honor, death more than we seek life, poverty more than we seek wealth, sorrows more than we seek joy, and that he prayed for his enemies more than others pray against their enemies. For him there was only one thing to be feared: that he might offend God! He desired nothing more in life than to please God and the whole meaning of his life was his love for Christ.

The Beheading of St. John the Baptist (Aug. 29).
During His earthly ministry, the Lord bore witness to the stature of His Baptizer. Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? Why then did you go out? To see a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in kings’ houses. Why then did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Thy face, who shall prepare Thy way before Thee.’ Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he (Matt. 11:7-11).

John was the greatest of the prophets; however, as the Resurrection had not yet occurred, no man had ascended to the glory of the Kingdom of God. Even so great a prophet as John had not been redeemed. Like all men, John had to die a bodily death and it is entirely appropriate that this occurred as the result of his high moral integrity and courageous words such as would come from a great prophet.

The Holy Evangelist Mark tells the story: Herod had sent and seized John, and bound hint in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; because he had married her. For John said to Herod, It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife. And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. When he heard him he was much perplexed; and yet he heard him gladly.

But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and the leading men of Galilee. For when Herodias’ daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will grant it. And he vowed to her, Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom. And she went out, and said to her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the baptizer. And she came in immediately with haste to the king, and asked, saying, I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.

And the king was exceedingly sorry; but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. And immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard and gave orders to bring his head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb (Mark 6:17-29). Thus the Baptizer of Christ met a tragic end. In commemoration of this event, on the Day of his Beheading, the Holy Church has decreed a day of strict fasting.

In addition to the above Feasts, other days are dedicated to the Saints and Holy Events. Among these are:

St. Anthony the Great, Father of Monasticism (Jan. 17)

The Three Holy Hierarchs: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom (Jan. 30)

The Repose of St. Innocent, Metropolitan of Moscow, Enlightener of the Aleuts and Apostle to the Americas (Mar. 31)

The Holy Greatmartyr and Victorybearer George (Apr. 23).

The Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian (May 8)

The Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Cyril and Methodius, Evangelizers of the Slavs (May 11)

The Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Emperor Constantine and his mother, St. Helena (May 21)

Our Venerable Father Sergius, Wonderworker of Radonezh (July 5).

The Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Great Prince Vladimir (July 15).

Our Venerable Father Seraphim, Wonderworker of Sarov (July 19).

The Holy Glorious Prophet Elijah (July 20)

The Procession of the Honorable Wood of the Life-Giving Cross of the Lord (Aug. 1)

The Glorification of Our Venerable Father Herman, Wonderworker of Alaska and All America (Aug. 9)

The Repose of St. Tikhon, Bishop of Voronezh, Wonderworker of Zadonsk and All Russia (Aug. 13)

The Holy New-Martyrs of Alaska: Peter the Aleut and Priest-monk Juvenaly (Sept. 24)

The Glorification of St. Innocent, Metropolitan of Moscow, Enlightener of the Aleuts and Apostle to the Americas (Oct. 6)

St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia (Dec. 6)

The Repose of Our Venerable Father Herman, Wonderworker of Alaska and All America (Dec. 13).

Excerpt taken from “These Truths We Hold – The Holy Orthodox Church: Her Life and Teachings”. Compiled and Edited by A Monk of St. Tikhon’s Monastery. Copyright 1986 by the St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, South Canaan, Pennsylvania 18459.

To order a copy of “These Truths We Hold” visit the St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary Bookstore.

Jun 08

The Twelve Great Feasts

Great Feasts of the Fixed Cycle.
The Nativity of the Most-Holy Theotokos (Sept. 8)
The first Great Feast to fall in the Church Year is the Nativity of the Most-Holy Theotokos. It is entirely fitting that at the beginning of the new religious year all Orthodox Christians should come before the highest example of human holiness that the Orthodox Church holds precious and venerates that of Mary, the Theotokos and Mother of God. This day is seen as one of universal joy; for on this day the boundary of the Old and New Covenants was born the Most-Blessed Virgin, pre-arranged from the ages by Divine Providence to serve the mystical Incarnation of God the Word.

The first Old Testament Reading of Vespers (Gen. 28:10-17) speaks of the dream of Jacob, one of the Old Testament Patriarchs, when he fled the wrath of his brother Esau. He saw a ladder extending from earth to heaven, with angels ascending and descending. When he awoke, Jacob blessed with oil the stone on which he had slept and called it Bethel, meaning house of God. The Most-Pure Mother of God is seen here as that ladder between heaven and earth, uniting earth with heaven in her womb. She who carried God in her womb is truly Bethel, none other than the house of God…and the gate of heaven (Gen. 28:17).

The birth of the Most-Holy Theotokos took place in the following manner: Her father, the Righteous Joachim, was a descendant of King David, to whom God had promised that from the seed of his descendants would be born the Savior of the world. Her mother, the Righteous Anna, was the daughter of Matthan, and through her father was of the tribe of Aaron and through her mother was of the tribe of Judah. The spouses lived in Nazareth of Galilee.

Joachim and Anna had no children, and all their life they grieved about this, especially since they were now in old age. Scorn and mockery was their lot, for at that time childlessness was reckoned as a shame. But they never murmured and only the more fervently beseeched God, humbly trusting in His Will.

Once, during the time of a great Feast, the offering which Joachim took to Jerusalem to offer to God in the Temple, was not received by the priest, who reckoned that a childless man was not worthy to bring a sacrifice to God. This greatly grieved the old man and he, counting himself only a sinner among men, decided not to return home, but to flee to a place of solitude in a deserted place.

Anna, having heard how her husband had been humiliated by the priest, began to fast, and in prayer sadly beseeched God to grant her a child. In the wilderness, secluded and fasting, Joachim also prayed to God about this.

The prayers of the Holy Spouses were heard. The angel Gabriel came to them and announced that a daughter would be born to them, whom the whole human race would call blessed. At the command of the Heavenly Messenger, Joachim and Anna returned to Jerusalem where, according to the promise of God, a daughter was born to them, whom they named Mary.

This child, the Most-Holy Virgin Mary, pure and virtuous, surpassed not only all men, but even the angels, being manifested as the Living Temple, the Heavenly Gate, ushering in Christ to the Universe as the Salvation of our souls. The Nativity of the Mother of God pre-announced the approaching time when the great and comforting promise of God concerning the salvation of the human race from the slavery of the devil was to be accomplished. The Mother of the First-Born of all Creation was revealed to all of us as a merciful Intercessor to whom we perpetually run for help in all things.

Troparion of the Feast (Tone 4).

Your Nativity, O Virgin, has proclaimed joy to the whole universe! The Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God, has shone from you, O Theotokos! By annulling the curse, He bestowed a blessing. By destroying death, He has granted us eternal life.

Kontakion of the Feast (Tone 4)

By your Nativity, O Most-Pure Virgin, Joachim and Anna are freed from barrenness; Adam and Eve, from the corruption of death. And we, your people, freed from the guilt of sin, celebrate and sing to you: The barren woman gives birth to the Theotokos, the Nourisher of our Life.

The Universal Exaltation of the Life-Creating Cross (Sept. 14)
Not long after the Nativity of the Most-Holy Theotokos, the Church celebrates the Exaltation of the Most-Precious Cross of the Lord. The Savior Himself had spoken of His death on the Cross, saying: As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:14-16). This was accomplished on Holy Friday when the Lord was crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried, as the Creed proclaims. And just before He died He proclaimed It is finished (John 19:30)!

Truly, the Nativity of the Theotokos was seen as the beginning of our salvation, and the Cross is seen as the culmination of our salvation. By Christ’s death on It, our salvation was accomplished. Mary is also closely associated with the Cross, for she was the mystical paradise in whom the Tree of Life sprouted; this Tree of Life, Christ our Savior, then planted on earth the life-creating Tree of the Cross (from the Feast). And as He suffered and died on the Life-giving Tree of the Cross, so too we are called upon to take up our own crosses on our shoulders and to die daily for the sake of Him Who died for us.

The Feast itself came about because of certain historical events. After the voluntary suffering and death on the Cross of the Lord, the sacred place of His suffering was scorned by the pagans. When the Roman Emperor Titus, in 70 A.D. conquered Jerusalem, he destroyed the city and leveled the Temple on Mt. Moriah, not leaving even a stone upon a stone, as had been foretold by the Savior in a dialogue with His disciples (Mark 13:1-2).

The Emperor Hadrian (117-138), a backward, zealous pagan, constructed in place of the Jerusalem destroyed by Titus a new city, which he named Helio-Hadrianopolis. Further, it was forbidden for this city to be called by its previous name of Jerusalem. He commanded that the Holy Grave of the Lord be covered with earth and stones, raising on it an idol. On Golgotha, where the Savior was crucified, in 119 he erected a temple dedicated to the goddess Venus. Sacrifices were offered before the statue and pagan rites were celebrated, accompanied by prostitution. In Bethlehem, in the place where the Savior had been born of the Most-Pure Virgin, the impious monarch erected an idol to Adonis. All of this he did intending that the people completely forget about Christ the Savior and nevermore recollect the place where He lived, taught, suffered and arose with glory.

When Constantine the Great, Equal-to-the-Apostles (306-337) ascended the throne (being the first of the Roman Emperors to recognize Christianity) , he, together with his pious mother, Queen Helena, decided to restore the city of Jerusalem, and in the place of the suffering and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ to erect a new church, to cleanse all of the places connected with the memory of Jesus from the pagan cult, and again to consecrate all of them. The Orthodox Queen Helena left for Jerusalem with a great quantity of gold, and the Emperor sent a letter to Patriarch Macarius I (313-323) in which he asked every kind of aid in the holy task of restoring the Christian holy places.

Having arrived in Jerusalem, the pious Queen destroyed all the idols and cleansed the city of pagan cult objects, consecrating the defiled places. She burned with the desire to raise up the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ; and so she commanded that digging proceed at the place where the Temple of Venus had stood. There the covered Grave of the Lord was discovered, as well as the place of execution, not far from which were found three crosses and four nails, as well as the sign board which had been nailed over His head.

In order to determine which of the three crosses belonged to the Savior, Patriarch Macarius ordered that the crosses, in turn, be placed on a dead person who was being brought to a place of burial. When the Cross of Christ touched the dead one, he immediately came to life. With great joy, the Orthodox Queen and the Patriarch together lifted up the Life-Creating Cross and showed it to all the people standing by. Later the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was constructed on the site, enclosing within its walls the place of the crucifixion of the Savior, as well as His tomb, and a Feast was instituted for September 14, commemorating the glorious Exaltation of the Cross.

Troparion of the Feast (Tone 1).

O Lord, save Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance. Grant victories to the Orthodox Christians over their adversaries; and by virtue of Thy Cross, preserve Thy habitation.

Kontakion of the Feast (Tone 4).

As Thou wast voluntarily crucified for our sake, grant mercy to those who are called by Thy Name; make all Orthodox Christians glad by Thy power, granting them victories over their adversaries, by bestowing on them the invincible trophy, Thy weapon of peace.

The Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple (Nov. 21).
Soon after the beginning of the Nativity Fast (Advent), the Holy Church celebrates the Feast of the Entrance of the Most-Holy Theotokos into the Temple. Here we encounter the holiness of Mary a small child separated from the world, brought to live in the Temple a life set apart, consecrated, and in a state of intimacy with God something that all of us are called to be. We also see in this Feast a comparison between the Temple of stone and Mary, the Living Temple the Temple of the Savior for she will bear God the Word the God-Man in her womb, thus showing herself to be a holier Temple than that at Jerusalem. It is the Living Temple the instrument of the Incarnation which sanctifies the Temple built of stone.

According to the Inner Tradition of the Church, the Entrance into the Temple took place in the following manner: The parents of the Virgin, Joachim and Anna, when praying for the resolution of their barrenness, gave a vow that if a child was born, it would be dedicated to the service of God. Thus, when the Most-Holy Virgin was three years old, her holy parents resolved to fulfill their vow.

Having gathered relatives and acquaintances, clothing the Most-Pure Mary in bright garments, singing sacred hymns and carrying lit candles in their hands, they led her to the Jerusalem Temple. There the young Maiden was met by the High Priest with a multitude of priests. Leading up into the Temple were fifteen high steps, and the child Mary, it seems, was not able on her own to ascend these steps. But, as soon as she was put on the first step, being strengthened by the power of God, she quickly climbed the remaining steps to the top. Later, at an inspiration from Above, the High Priest led the Most-Holy Virgin into the Holy of Holies into which the High Priest entered only once a year on behalf of the people, after first making sacrifices for them and for himself. All who were present were astonished at this extraordinary event.

The righteous Joachim and Anna, having delivered the child voluntarily to the Heavenly Father, returned home; the Most-Blessed Mary remained in the rooms for virgins which were found at the Temple. Around the Temple, according to the witness of Holy Scripture (e.g., Luke 2:37), as well as that of the historian Josephus Flavius, there were many rooms in which remained those dedicated to the service of God.

A deep mystery covers the earthly life of the Most-Holy Theotokos from her childhood to her repose. Her life in the Jerusalem Temple was concealed. If you were to ask me, said the Blessed Jerome, how the Most-Holy Virgin passed the time of her youth, I would answer that this is known only to God Himself and the Archangel Gabriel detailed to protect her.

In Church Tradition, however, is preserved information that during her sojourn in the Jerusalem Temple, the Most-Pure Virgin was educated in the community of pious virgins, diligently reading Holy Scriptures, occupied with handiworks, perpetually in prayer and growing up with love towards God.

In remembrance of the Entry into the Temple of the Most-Holy Theotokos, the Church, from ancient times, instituted a solemn Feast. Information concerning the celebration of the Feast in the first centuries of Christianity is found in the tradition of Palestinian Christians, which says that when the Holy Queen Helena came to Palestine, she erected a church in honor of the Entrance into the Temple of the Most-Holy Theotokos. Thus the Feast of the Entrance into the Temple of the Most-Holy Theotokos, pre-announcing the Incarnation of God on earth, proclaims salvation to all Christians.

Troparion of the Feast (Tone 4).

Today is the prelude of the good will of God, of the preaching of the salvation of mankind. The Virgin appears in the Temple of Cod, in anticipation proclaiming Christ to all. Let us rejoice and sing to her: Rejoice, O divine Fulfillment of the Creator’s dispensation!

Kontakion of the Feast (Tone 4).

The most pure Temple of the Savior; the precious Chamber and Virgin; the sacred Treasure of the glory of God, is presented today to the house of the Lord. She brings with her the grace of the Spirit, which the angels of God do praise. Truly this woman is the Abode of Heaven!

The Nativity of Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ (Dec. 25).
In the earliest days of Christianity, the Feast of the Nativity of Christ was not generally celebrated in the Church. First mention of the Feast is made by Clement of Alexandria, who mentions that certain Egyptians commemorated the birth of Christ on May 20. The Apostolic Constitutions of the first half of the 4th Century set forth that January 6 should be celebrated as both the Feast of the Nativity and Epiphany. St. Gregory of Nyssa in 380 wrote that the faithful of Cappadocia celebrated the Nativity on Dec. 25. The Feast was not celebrated in Jerusalem until the 6th Century, while St. John Chrysostom introduced it at Antioch in 386 and at Constantinople between 398-402. In Rome the Feast of the Nativity of Christ had been celebrated on Dec. 25 since 354.

December 25 was ultimately chosen by the Church as the date of the Nativity in order to Christianize the pagan Feast of Natalis Invicti or Invincible Sun, which was celebrated on that day. St. Cyprian of Carthage noted that this anniversary of the invincible was made actual only in the birth of Jesus the only invincible One.

As the hymns of Christmas proclaim, Our Savior, the Dayspring from the East, has visited us from on high: And we who were in darkness and shadow have found the Truth. For the Lord is born of the Virgin (Exapostilarion). And as the Prophet Isaiah foretold many centuries before, and as the Church proclaims at the Great Compline during the All-Night Vigil for the Nativity of Christ, Understand all ye nations, and submit yourselves, for God is with us!

The Christmas story is well-known from the witness of Holy Scripture:

In those days a decree went out front Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born Son and wrapped Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn [Luke 2:1-7].

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He Who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East, and have come to worship Him. When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern My people Israel/ Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared; and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, Go and search diligently for the Child, and when you have found Him bring me word, that I too may come and worship Him. When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshipped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way [Matt. 2:1-12].

And in that region there were shepherds out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men [Luke 2:8-14].

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us. And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this Child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them [Luke 2:15-20],

Now when [the wise men and shepherds] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, Rise, take the Child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy Him. And he rose and took the Child and His mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, Out of Egypt have I called My son. Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more [Matt. 2:13-18].

Troparion of the Feast (Tone 4).

Thy 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 Thee, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know Thee, the Orient from on high. O Lord, Glory to Thee!

Kontakion of the Feast (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 the star! Since for our sake the eternal God was born as a little child!

The Holy Supper.
Christmas customs among the Orthodox people are simple, yet beautiful and rich with meaning. Among these customs is the Holy Supper which is served on Christmas Eve. We must emphasize, however, that the traditions which follow are not necessarily followed in every detail by every family that serves the Holy Supper, for Orthodoxy is rich in its diversity.

Traditionally, the meal is served on Christmas Eve at the time of the appearance of the first evening star. This, of course, serves to remind us of the Star of Bethlehem which shone in the East to the Magi coming to worship the Savior. The table itself is covered with straw and linen, which reminds us of the manger in which Christ lay and the linen cloths with which He was wrapped. A lit candle is placed on the table, symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem and the Light of Christ shining out in the darkness and despair of the world.

In some farming households, a meal was prepared for all of the animals and they were fed first. At the start of the Holy Supper the question would be asked, Have the animals been fed? and with an affirmative reply, the meal began. This served as a reminder that animals were also present at the Birth of Christ.

Traditionally, twelve courses are served separately at the meal, starting with bitter foods and ending with sweet. All are Lenten foods, since the Nativity Fast does not end until the Liturgy of Christmas Day. The first food is bitter garlic or onion greens, which each person must taste before touching any other food. This serves to remind us that until the coming of Christ the Savior, man’s life was one of despair and bitterness, for he had fallen away from God by disobeying His commandments.

Each of the twelve dishes has a special meaning, then. Honey, for example, represents the sweet and pleasant moments in life; garlic the bitter days; grain dishes are reminders of the simple and ordinary moments, as well as our Daily Bread and the Bread from Heaven the Lord Jesus Christ.

The number of courses twelve represents the Twelve Tribes of Israel who lived in the promise of the Messiah and it also symbolizes the Twelve Disciples who followed Christ. The whole sequence of the meal from bitter to sweet courses reminds us that in following Christ we must be ready to bear the bitter moments with the same patience and understanding with which we accept life’s ordinary and happy experiences.

The evening meal is completed by a Prayer of Thanksgiving and the singing of Christmas Hymns (Carols). These Hymns are sung to announce to the world the Birth of the Christ Child even as the angels announced it to the shepherds in the fields, singing Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good will to men. The day ends with the attendance of the whole family in Church at the Nativity Vigil and the Divine Liturgy on the following day.

The Theophany of Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. (Jan. 6)
The Feast of the Theophany (or Epiphany) of Our Lord Jesus Christ, is celebrated on January 6. After Pascha and Pentecost, this is the greatest Feast of the Orthodox Church, predating even the Nativity of Christ in importance. Here Our Lord Jesus Christ is baptized by John in the waters of the Jordan, this being the first public manifestation of God the Word Incarnate to the world.

As Holy Scripture tells us: In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins…. [And John said,] I baptize you with water for repentance, but He Who is coming after me is mightier than I, Whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire [Matt. 3:1-6, 11).

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, Behold, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of Whom I said, ‘After me comes a man Who ranks before me, for He was before me’ [John 1:28-30]. Then Jesus came…to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented Him, saying, I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me? But Jesus answered him, Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and He was the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on Him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased [Matt. 3:13-17].

And John bore witness, I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on Him. I myself did not know Him; but He Who sent me to baptize with water said to me, He on Whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is He Who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God [John 1:32-34].

In commemoration of this event, the Church, on January 5, the Eve of Theophany, performs the Blessing of Waters in the church itself, and on January 6, the day of the Feast itself, the Blessing of Waters is performed at a site prepared outside the church (preferably a river or lake).

The Feast of the Epiphany reminds us of our own Baptism in the hymn sung just before the reading of the Epistle at the Divine Liturgy: As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia! For in the waters of Baptism, we put off the Old Man and put on the New, that is Jesus Christ, and strive to acquire the humility shown by the Lord Himself when He, the Creator, bowed His head under the hand of John, the creature, in the waters of the Jordan River.

Troparion of the Feast (Tone 1).

When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest! For the voice of the Father bare witness to Thee, and called Thee His beloved Son! And the Spirit, in the form of a dove, confirmed the truthfulness of His word. O Christ our God, Who hast revealed Thyself and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee!

Kontakion of the Feast (Tone 4).

Today Thou hast appeared to the universe, and Thy light, O Lord, has shone on us, who with understanding praise Thee: Thou hast come and revealed Thyself, O Light Unapproachable!

The Meeting of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple (Feb. 2).
The Creator of the Law, in fulfillment of the Law, was brought to the Temple and presented to the Lord, for the external aspect of this great event in the Gospel narrative was in conformity with the rules laid down in the Old Testament. The Lord said to Moses, Consecrate to Me all the first born; whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast is Mine…. And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘By strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of bondage. For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord slew all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both the first-born of man and the first-born of cattle. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all the males that first open the womb; but all the first-born of my sons I redeem’ (Ex. 13:1-2, 14-15).

And so Mary and Joseph came after forty days of purification to the Temple to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons (Luke 2:24). The original Old Testament prescription that the firstborn must be consecrated to the service of the Lord was now done by substitution: …the firstborn of man you shall redeem, and the firstling of unclean beasts you shall redeem. And their redemption price (at a month old you shall redeem them) you shall fix at five shekels in silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary… (Num. 18:15-16). These five shekels evidently symbolized the coming redemption of us by the Savior His five wounds on the Cross.

The harsh way of the Cross, portent with profound significance, brought Son and Mother, the God-Man and she who is more honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious, beyond compare, than the Seraphim, meekly to the Temple at Jerusalem, and the Liberator and Redeemer of the world was Himself redeemed for so trifling a sum.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the Law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said, Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word (Luke 2:25-29).

This was the crossroads between the Old Testament and the New. St. Simeon symbolizes the departing Old Testament, exemplified by men of righteousness and prophets who in spite of all their doubts and searchings entertained the firmest faith in what had been foretold of the promised salvation. The righteous Simeon took Him up in his arms, and the Old and New Testaments stood together: the Old, departing, held in its arms and blessed the New. This was unity and continuity, a direct link and a development; the Law and the promised manifestation of the Grace of God as His Only-Begotten Son, the Redeemer.

To Simeon the God-Receiver was granted more than had been granted to any other man before him: he held the Almighty in his arms, and to him were revealed both the Glory and the Way of the Cross of his God: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to enlighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of Thy people Israel. And His father and His mother marveled at what was said about Him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, Behold, this Child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed (Luke 2:30-35). Thus, for the first time, the Most-Holy Mary was forewarned that there would be no end to the thorns and trials of her life, that her Son, while bringing light and spiritual renewal to all peoples, would Himself be so persecuted that a sword will pierce through your own soul also.

The Lord wished for moral harmony in spreading abroad this holy news, and so He wished a woman, too, to repeat what had been said by Simeon: And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the Temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of Him to all who were looking for redemption in Jerusalem (Luke 2:36-38).

Just as in Palestine in ancient times, we bring our children on the fortieth day to be presented to the Lord; but in contrast to the Israelites, we bring children of either sex. In the Presentation, Christ, the Firstborn of all the human race, Creator of the New Church and of the New Testament, filled the old rites with a new content. By bringing our children to church like the Most-Pure Virgin Mary, we bind them over to God. Baptized and sanctified by grace, our children, by being made members of the Church, take their first steps upon the way of grace and the way of the Cross that lies before those who would follow Christ.

So we must go out to meet Christ and receive Him, taking Him into the arms of our souls, begging leave for sin to depart from us that we may live our lives in peace and tranquility, free of the agitations of evil. St. Simeon gave us an example of how firmly to follow the path of a righteous life, filled with the expectation of a meeting with the Lord.

Troparion of the Feast (Tone 1)

Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos, Full of Grace! From you shone the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God, enlightening those who sat in darkness! Rejoice and be glad, O righteous Elder; you accepted in your arms the Redeemer of our souls, Who grants us the Resurrection.

Kontakion of the Feast (Tone 1)

By Thy Nativity, Thou didst sanctify the Virgin’s womb and didst bless Simeon’s hands, O Christ God. Now Thou hast come and saved us through love. Grant peace to all Orthodox Christians, O only Lover of Man!

The Annunciation to the Most-Holy Theotokos (Mar. 25).
The role that the Most-Holy Theotokos plays in the redemption of the human race cannot be emphasized strongly enough. As the Feast of her Nativity shows, she was the ladder bridging earth and heaven. The Troparion of the Feast of the Annunciation proclaims in part, Today is the beginning of our salvation, the revelation of the eternal mystery! The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin as Gabriel announces the coming of Grace. This was effected through the perfect obedience of the Theotokos whose humble yes to the will of God overthrew the disobedience of the First Mother, Eve, in the Garden of Eden.

As Holy Scripture tells us: In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent front God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you! Blessed are you among women! But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there will be no end. And Mary said to the angel, How shall this be, since I have no husband? [Luke 1:26-34].

Mary’s question, How shall this be…? is not an expression of doubt. In this differs quite radically from the attitude of Zechariah, the father of St. John the Baptist, when the angel announced to him news of the birth of his own son. She simply poses a respectful question. And the angel said to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born of you will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth [the mother of St. John the Baptist] in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible [Luke 1:35-37].

With perfect obedience and humility, Mary gives her reply to the angel and with it overturns the curse of the First Parents: And Mary said, Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word. And the angel departed from her [Luke 1:38]. Thus, with the Archangel Gabriel we can all cry out to her from the depths of our hearts:

Rejoice, you through whom joy will shine forth: Rejoice, you through whom the curse will cease! Rejoice, restoration of fallen Adam: Rejoice, redemption of the tears of Eve! Rejoice, Height hard to climb for the thoughts of man: Rejoice, Depth hard to perceive even for the eyes of angels! Rejoice, you who are the throne of the King: Rejoice, you who hold Him Who holdeth all! Rejoice, Star who makes the Sun appear: Rejoice, Womb of the Divine Incarnation! Rejoice, you through whom the Creation is made new: Rejoice, you through whom the Creator becomes a newborn child! Rejoice, Unwedded Bride! [From the Ikos of the Matins of the Feast].

Troparion of the Feast (Tone 4).

Today is the beginning of our salvation, the revelation of the eternal mystery! The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin as Gabriel announces the coming of Grace. Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos: Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you!

Kontakion of the Feast (Tone 8).

O victorious Leader of triumphant hosts! We, your servants, delivered from evil, sing our grateful thanks to you, O Theotokos! As you possess invincible might set us free from every calamity so that we may sing: Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride!

The Transfiguration of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Aug. 6).
At one point in His earthly ministry, Our Lord asked His disciples, Who do men say that the Son of man is (Matt. 16:13)? The disciples gave various answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. Then He said to them, But who do you say that I am (Matt. 16:15)? Simon Peter replied, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16). Shortly after this confession of faith, Jesus went up a high mountain (according to Church Tradition, Mt. Tabor) to pray, taking with Him Peter, James and John. And as He was praying, the appearance of His countenance was altered, and His raiment became dazzling white. And behold, two men talked with Him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His departure, which He was to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with Him were heavy with sleep, and when they wakened they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him. And as the men were parting from Him, Peter said to Jesus, Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah not knowing what he said. As he said this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is My Son, My Beloved; listen to Him! And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silence and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen (Luke 9:29-36).

In the Old Testament, the presence of light and cloud often signified the Divine Presence: Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days; and on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel (Ex. 24:15-17). Likewise, on Mt. Tabor the cloud signified the Divine Presence the God-Man Jesus Christ and the Theophany here was accompanied by a bright radiance.

Both Moses and Elijah had beheld the presence of God, as the Readings at the Vespers of the Feast point out, and thus were appropriate witnesses on Mt. Tabor to Christ’s divinity. In addition, as Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, how appropriate it was for those who par excellence represented the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah) to be present.

The Lord took His three closest disciples (Peter, James and John) with Him on the mountain for, although God sometimes reveals Himself to sinners in quite unexpected ways, it is usually those who have followed Him long and faithfully who are privileged to enter into the joy of the Transfiguration of the Master.

The bright radiance and shining of the face is also a characteristic of those closest to God. Such was the case of Moses, who spoke to God face to face: When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tables of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. And when Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them…. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he took the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone; and Moses would put the veil upon his face again, until he went in to speak with Him (Ex. 34:29-35). In more recent times this phenomenon was especially noted in the case of St. Seraphim of Sarov whose face shone like the brightest sun according to contemporary reports [Conversation with Motovilov].

In like manner, we all have the opportunity to be transfigured in our lives and to acquire a close relationship with God. So, too, we all have the opportunity to manifest the visible signs of those closest to God. In any case, as St. Paul tells us, when we die our bodies will be transformed (transfigured, as it were) and we will take on spiritual, radiant bodies. This aspect is clearly seen in the Transfiguration of Our Lord.

Troparion (Tone 7).

Thou wast transfigured on the Mount, O Christ God, revealing Thy glory to Thy disciples as far as they could bear it. Let Thine everlasting light shine upon us sinner! Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Giver of Light, glory to Thee!

Kontakion (Tone 7).

On the mountain wast Thou transfigured, O Christ God, and Thy disciples beheld Thy glory as far as they could see it; so that when they would behold Thee crucified, they would understand that Thy suffering was voluntary, and would proclaim to the world that Thou art truly the Radiance of the Father!

The Dormition of the Most-Holy Theotokos (Aug. 15).
Liturgically, the most important Feast of the Theotokos is that of her Dormition or Falling-Asleep. Prior to this Feast there is a strict two-week fast, beginning on August 1, which is broken only by the Feast of the Transfiguration on August 6. This Feast possesses two distinct aspects inseparably linked in the mind of the believer. On the one hand, there is death and burial and, on the other, resurrection and the assumption of the Mother of God. As part of the Inner Tradition of the Church, this event was mystery that was not designed for the ears of the outside world, but which was revealed to the faithful within the Church.

True believers know that insofar as the son of God assumed human nature in the womb of the Virgin, She who was the means of His Incarnation was resurrected and taken up into Heaven in the Divine Glory of Her Son. Arise, O Lord, and go to Thy resting place, Thou and the ark of Thy might (Ps. 132:8). The Son transported His Mother to the eternity of the life to come, for being the Mother of Life, she was translated to life by the One Who dwelt in her virginal womb (from the Kontakion of the Feast).

Thus, if every year we commemorate the anniversaries of the deaths of the Saints the Martyrs, Apostles, Venerable Mothers and Fathers, Sainted Hierarchs, etc. so much the more we commemorate the death of the Most-Holy Theotokos who did not see the corruption of the grave common to all humanity. And not only did her soul ascend to heaven, but her body also. As she was a perfect example of that obedience which all Christians are called upon to exercise, and as she alone was the Mother of God, her body did not see the natural corruption which follows death, but was raised from the dead and carried to the glory of the King of All in the heavenly mansions.

According to the Inner Tradition of the Church, the Dormition of the Most-Holy Theotokos took place in the following manner: Having reached an advanced age, the Most-Pure One wished to leave the body and go to God as soon as possible, since the one unceasing desire of her soul had always been to see the sweet face of her son sitting at the right hand of the Father in Heaven. Many tears she shed as she prayed to the Lord to take her from this present vale of sorrows.

The All-Chaste One lived in the house of St. John the Divine on Zion and often she went to the Mount of Olives, which was nearby, offering there in solitude her fervent prayer to her Son. Once, as she was praying alone on the Mount, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to her and announced that soon (after three days) she would depart and be with Christ. The Archangel told her that she should not be troubled, but should receive his words with joy as she was being called to immortal life and to the eternal King of Glory.

As a sign of the triumph of the Mother of God over death that bodily death would not have power over her, just as spiritual death had not had dominion over her, and that she would merely fall asleep for a short time and then, as if waking from sleep, she would rise and shake off death like sleep from the eyes and would see in the light of the Lord’s face the immortal life and glory to which she would go with shouts of joy and spiritual happiness the Archangel handed the Most-Holy Virgin a branch from Paradise. The Most-Blessed Mother of God was filled with unspeakable joy and, falling down on her knees, she fervently thanked her Creator.

Before her departure from this life, the Most-Pure Lady wanted to see the Holy Apostles who were already scattered all over the world for the preaching of the Gospel. On her knees she prayed that this might be possible and that at the hour of her death she might not see the Prince of Darkness and his terrible servants, but that her son and God Himself would fulfill His promise and come and receive her soul into His holy hands. As she knelt, the olive trees growing on the Mountain bent, as if they were animate, and when the Pure Theotokos rose, they straightened themselves out again, honoring her as the Mother of God.

Returning home, the Most-Blessed Lady showed the branch from Paradise to St. John and told him to carry it before her bed. Then she began to make preparations for her burial. St. John sent word to St. James, first Bishop of Jerusalem and the brother of the Lord, and also to all other relatives and neighbors, informing them of the imminent decease of the Mother of God. In turn St. James informed all the Christians living in Jerusalem and the surrounding towns. With weeping they came to the home of the Pure Virgin to await her death.

As the multitude was gathered at the home of the Theotokos, suddenly there was heard a loud noise, like thunder, and a cloud encircled the house of St. John the Divine. At the command of God, angels seized the Apostles who were scattered to the ends of the earth and, bringing them on clouds to Jerusalem, placed them on Zion before the door of the house. St. John greeted them and told them of the speedy departure of the Most-Holy Mother of God. Later the Apostle Paul, accompanied by his close disciples, Dionysius the Areopagite, Hierotheus and Timothy, as well as the Seventy Apostles arrived at the home.

On the fifteenth day of the month of August, as all were awaiting the final hour, there suddenly shone in the room an ineffable light of Divine Glory which dimmed the lamps that had been lit in the house. The inhabitants saw the roof of the room opened and the glory of the Lord descending from Heaven Christ the King of Glory Himself with the hosts of angels and archangels, with all the heavenly powers, with the holy Fathers and Prophets who of old had prophesied about the Holy Virgin, and all the righteous souls, approached His Immaculate Mother.

After greeting Her Son, the Virgin surrendered her pure soul into His hands. She felt no pain whatever, for the end was as if she had fallen into a sweet sleep. At once there began angelic singing and with triumphant songs the heavenly hosts accompanied the soul of the Mother of God as she went in the arms of the Lord to the dwellings on High.

After her demise, the Holy Apostles bore the Most-Pure Body of the Mother of God to the Garden of Gethsemane, where she was placed in a tomb. The Holy Apostles stayed by the tomb of the Most-Pure One without leaving the Garden for three full days, singing psalms day and night. In addition, for all this time there was heard in the air the wonderful singing of the heavenly hosts praising God and blessing His Immaculate Mother.

By God’s special arrangement, one of the Apostles, St. Thomas, was not present at the glorious burial of the body of the Immaculate Mother and he only arrived at Gethsemane on the third day. Grieving that he had not been granted the last greeting and blessing of the Most-Pure One, Thomas wept bitterly. Taking pity on him, the Apostles decided to open the tomb so that he might at least see the dead body of the Blessed Mother. But when the tomb was opened, the body of the Mother of God was not there, but only the burial clothes, giving off a wonderful fragrance!

With weeping and reverence the Holy Apostles kissed the burial clothes, praying that the Lord would reveal to them where the body of the All-Pure One had disappeared to. Later, after having eaten a meal in the Garden, the Apostles suddenly heard angelic singing. Looking up, they saw standing in the air the Immaculate Mother of God surrounded by a multitude of angels. She was enveloped in an ineffable light and she said to them: Rejoice, for I am with you always! Filled with joy, instead of the usual Lord Jesus Christ, help us! the Apostles cried: Most Holy Mother of God, help us! From that time they taught the Holy Church to believe that the Immaculate Mother of God on the third day after her burial was raised by her Son and taken with her body to Heaven.

Thus, the Lord, by His special Providence, delayed the arrival of St. Thomas until the day of the Falling-asleep of the Mother of God so that the tomb might be opened for him, so that the Church, in this way, might believe in the resurrection of the Mother of God, just as previously through the same Apostle’s unbelief the Church had come to believe in the resurrection of Christ. Thus were accomplished the Falling-asleep of our Most-Blessed Lady the Mother of God, the burial of her undefiled body, her glorious resurrection and the triumphant assurance regarding her ascension to heaven in the flesh.

Troparion of the Feast (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 of the Feast (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!

Great Feasts of the Paschal Cycle.
The Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem (Sunday Before Pascha).
On the Sunday before Pascha, the Holy Church celebrates the Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem. Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead (John 12:1). While tarrying there, in the house of Lazarus, many of those who had accompanied Him on the way from Jericho managed to reach Jerusalem and spread the tidings that Christ the Savior was coming there for the Feast of the Passover, and had stopped for a while in Bethany. Hearing this news, Christ’s enemies, the scribes and Pharisees came to Bethany, not only on account of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, Whom He had raised from the dead (John 12:9).

The number of people believing in Christ the Savior was growing from day to day, and even some of the Jews who had up until then been hostile towards Him, seeing the miracle He had wrought, believed in Him. This made the scribes and Pharisees even more angry, and they resolved to kill not only Our Lord Jesus Christ, but the righteous Lazarus as well.

Jesus Christ did not want to increase the spite of His foes, the scribes and Pharisees, and for this reason He often avoided direct and open confrontation with them. But the time had come to take all the wrath and spite of these people upon Himself. So that His enemies would have no justification for their unbelief and would not be able to say afterwards that He had hidden His glory and His predestined Messianic mission from them, Our Lord made a ceremonial entry into Jerusalem, fulfilling all that the Prophets had foretold of Him. After spending a day in Bethany, Jesus Christ set out for the Holy City.

Calling to Himself two of His disciples in all likelihood Peter and John Our Lord asked them to bring from a nearby village a she-ass and her colt. The disciples went and fulfilled everything: finding at the gates of the town a she-ass and her colt, they brought them to the Savior. The young colt had not been ridden or borne a yoke before (1 Sam. 6:7). The disciples then spread their clothes upon it.

Thus Jesus entered Jerusalem, not in a royal chariot drawn by horses, but on a young ass, covered, not with rich cloths, but with the well-worn robes of the disciples. In this way, as the Evangelists John and Matthew tell us, the sayings of the Prophets were fulfilled: Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass (Matt. 21:5).

The meek and humble entry of Our Lord Jesus Christ in to Jerusalem was a symbol of peace and humility, for it represented a complete contrast to the triumphal processions of kings at that time. The way in which Christ entered Jerusalem showed that His Kingdom was not of this world, but that He was sent by His Father in Heaven. Jesus was accompanied by throngs of people who had followed Him from Bethany or had met Him on the way.

Having ascended the Mount of Olives, He stopped. From this hill a beautiful view opened out over Jerusalem. The tumultuous joy of the people following the Great Miracle-Worker who had raised Lazarus from the dead, grew even greater at the sight of this beautiful and sacred city.

Not only the disciples, but all who believed in Him rejoiced with a great joy, for they believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, Who, according to the erroneous beliefs and expectations of the Jews, would sit on the throne of David, the king of glory, and be their ruler and rescue them from the Roman yoke.

At the gates of Jerusalem Jesus was met by a great multitude of people, rejoicing and waving palm branches, who, as St. Matthew tells us, bestrewed the way with them and their garments (Matt. 21:7-8). All this was an expression of particular reverence for the Messiah Whom they had come out to welcome. [We note here that in the Russian Orthodox Church, branches from the pussy willow are used instead of palm branches, obviously on account of the harsh climate.]

During the Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the whole people, who had come in their multitudes to celebrate the Passover and those who had witnessed Lazarus’ resurrection and had been astounded by this great miracle, cried in joyous rapture: Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest! (Matt. 21:9). The humble and meek procession of the Savior through the streets of Jerusalem surpassed and eclipsed all the triumphant processions that humanity had ever known.

Seeing the joy of the multitudes around Him, however, the Savior grew sad, and since He loved His people and His city, His heart was filled with sorrow. He knew that the same people, who rejoiced now and cried Hosanna! and saw in Him their salvation, would in a few days cry out in rage: Crucify Hint! Crucify Him! (John 19:6). The Savior also knew that the fair and holy city of Jerusalem which He was entering, would soon be desolated and not a stone be left one upon another. As He drew night to the city, Jesus wept over it, saying, Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes (Luke 19:41-42).

But it was not for Himself that our Lord wept. He wept and grieved because He knew that God’s chosen Jewish people were perishing in ignorance and error. The Lord grieved not only for Jerusalem and the Chosen People, but for the whole universe; His gaze reached across the centuries, and saw the sins of future generations, and it was for them that He grieved in His soul; for them He wept and prayed.

Thus, the triumphant entrance of the Savior into Jerusalem which we celebrate on Palm Sunday was accomplished. In the Lord’s Entrance, we see His way to voluntary suffering and death for our salvation. And we also see the image of Christ’s spiritual Kingdom the Kingdom of Truth, Peace and Humility.

Troparion of the Feast (Tone 1).

By raising Lazarus from the dead before Thy Passion, Thou didst confirm the universal resurrection, O Christ God! Like the children with the palms of victory, we cry out to Thee: O Vanquisher of Death: Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!

Another Troparion (Tone 4).

When we were buried with Thee in Baptism, O Christ God, we were made worthy of eternal life by Thy Resurrection! Now we praise Thee and sing: Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!

Kontakion of the Feast (Tone 6).

Sitting on Thy 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 conies to recall Adam!

The Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ (40th Day after Pascha).
On the 39th day after Pascha we celebrate the Leave-taking of the Feast of Feasts, commemorating the last day of the Risen Christ’s earthly sojourn. The day following is celebrated as His Leave-taking His Glorious Ascension into Heaven. As Holy Scripture tells us, after Jesus had spoken with His disciples on the Mount of Olives, concerning the coming of the Holy Spirit, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, Who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven. Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away (Acts 1:9-12).

The Lord ascended to Heaven not to sadden us with His departure, but in order to do what was best for us. It is to your advantage that I go away, He had told His disciples. For if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you (John 16:7). I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Comforter, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth…. The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things (John 14:16, 26). The Savior saw that His mission on earth was accomplished. The goal of His Incarnation was to proclaim the Divine Truth to the world, to direct men onto the path of repentance and salvation, and deliver us from Eternal Death. The Lord accomplished our salvation and man acquires it through the action of the Holy Spirit.

The Lord knew the trials and tribulations that would be endured by His disciples mockings, scourgings, imprisonment and even death. And thus the Lord ascended to His Heavenly Father that the Spirit might descend from the Father as the Comforter, and fortify His Friends.

The Lord ascended to Heaven in order to prepare for us, too, the path to the Heavenly Mansions, to open the Gates of Paradise, and Himself to be our Guide. Heaven that had been closed to men before the Resurrection now at the Ascension was opened by Christ the Savior.

None of the righteous men of the Old Testament the Patriarchs, the Prophets, and men pleasing to God could enter Heaven. No one has ascended into heaven but He Who descended from heaven, the Son of man (John 3:13), the Lord had said. Our first parent, Adam, closed the Gates of Paradise, and an angel with a flaming sword was placed at the gates. But the New Adam, Our Lord Jesus Christ, through His Ascension, opened the way to Life and Heaven itself. He was followed by the souls of the holy Forefathers, Prophets and hosts of righteous people of the New Testament. All worthy Christians who follow in the footsteps of their Savior, enter Heaven in this way today and so they will in the future.

The Lord ascended to intercede for us with His Heavenly Father. Towards the end of His earthly mission He had said: I go to prepare a place for you. And when I go and prepare a place for you., I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:2-3). This same thought was also expressed by the great Preacher of Christ’s teaching, St. Paul, in the Epistle to the Hebrews: Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf (Heb. 9:24). These words fill us with hope, for we now have in Heaven a great Mediator and Advocate for the world with God Christ Our Lord.

Our Lord ascended in a cloud on high, symbolizing the rising smoke of an acceptable sacrifice. Thus the sacrifice was accepted by God and Christ the Lamb that was slain is ushered into the preserve of God where He will be eternally offered in the Holy Eucharist. Therefore we must be worthy of the great mercies of God, capable and ready to receive them. All the power, all the fruit of His divine Ascension, therefore, belong to us, for when He ascended on High, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men (Eph. 4:8). This is why the Church repeatedly proclaims: Clap your hands, all you nations, for Christ is ascended up to the place where He was before [from the Vespers of the Feast].

Troparion of the Feast (Tone 4).

O Christ God, Thou hast ascended in Glory, granting joy to Thy disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit. Through the blessing they were assured that Thou art the son of God, the Redeemer of the world!

Kontakion of the Feast (Tone 6).

When Thou didst fulfill the dispensation for our sake, and unite earth to heaven: Thou didst ascend in glory, O Christ our God, not being parted from those who love Thee, but remaining with them and crying: I am with you and no one will be against you!

The Descent of the Holy Spirit (50th day after Pascha).
On the 50th Day after Pascha, the Holy Church celebrates the Feast of the Descent of the Holy Spirit (Holy Pentecost). When the Day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:1-4).

In His farewell discourses to His disciples, the Lord told them, I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Comforter, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of Truth, Whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; you know Him, for He dwells with You, and will be in you…. The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things… (John 14:16-17, 26). These words of the Lord were accomplished on the 50th Day after the Passover (Pascha), for the Seal of the Holy Spirit was seen on the Apostles in the form of fiery tongues, just as, in Holy Chrismation, we receive the Seal of the Holy Spirit in the form of the Holy Chrism.

The people who were present were greatly amazed at the sight, and especially that each one of them, no matter what nationality, heard the Apostles speaking to them in their own language. But others mocking said, They are filled with new wine (Acts 2:13).

Then Peter got up and spoke to them: Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; yea, and on My menservants and My maidservants in those days I will pour out My Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth beneath, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and manifest day. And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved (Acts 2:14-21).

Peter went on to speak of the Risen Christ and His redemptive acts, reminding them that this Jesus God raised up, and of that… all [of the Apostles were] witnesses (Acts 2:32). He continued: Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy spirit, He has poured out this which you see and hear (Acts 2:33).

Many of those hearing were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brethren, what shall we do? And Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…’ So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls (Acts 2:37-38, 41).

A special characteristic of this day is the singing of the Troparion to the Holy Spirit: O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life: Come and abide in us and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One! In addition, seven Kneeling Prayers are read by the Priest during the Vespers which immediately follows the Divine Liturgy of that day, while everyone are on bended knees, this being the first time kneeling is permitted since Holy Pascha.

Troparion of the Feast (Tone 8).

Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God, Who hast revealed the fishermen as most wise by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit; through them thou didst draw the world into Thy net. O Lover of Man, Glory to Thee!

Kontakion of the Feast (Tone 8).

When the Most High came down and confused the tongues, He divided the nations; but when He distributed the tongues of fire, He called all to unity. Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the All-Holy Spirit!

Excerpt taken from “These Truths We Hold – The Holy Orthodox Church: Her Life and Teachings”. Compiled and Edited by A Monk of St. Tikhon’s Monastery. Copyright 1986 by the St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, South Canaan, Pennsylvania 18459.

To order a copy of “These Truths We Hold” visit the St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary Bookstore.

Jun 08

The Feast of Feasts – Pascha

On Saturday, the day after the crucifixion of the Lord, His disciples and followers were filled with gloom, for they had seen their Lord and Master die, crucified on a cross. As Holy Scripture tells us, there was a man named Joseph from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their purpose and deed, and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus (Luke 23:50-52). Pilate gave him leave. So he came and took away His body. [He and] Nicodemus also, who had at first come to Him by night…took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen clothes…as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb where no one had ever been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, as the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there (John 19:38-42). The women who had come with Him from Galilee followed, and saw the tomb, and how His body was laid; then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment (Luke 23:55-56).

Next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while He was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore order the sepulcher to be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples go and steal Him away, and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead, and the last fraud will be worse than the first. Pilate said to them, You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can. So they went and made the sepulcher secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard (Matt. 27:62-66).

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had prepared (Luke 24:1). And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus Who was crucified. He is not here; for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead (Matt. 28:2-7).

Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him. Peter then came out with the other disciples, and they went toward the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciples outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on His head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed…. Then the disciples went back to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, Woman, why are you weeping? She said to them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him. Saying this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek? Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away. Jesus said to her, Mary. She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, Rabboni! (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, Do not hold Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God. Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples, I have seen the Lord; and she told them that He had said these things to her (John 20:1-8, 10-18).

Later the Risen Christ revealed Himself to the apostles in the Divine Glory of the Resurrection. And when they witnessed that glory, a new awareness of life was born within them along with the power of faith which moved them to new deeds in their apostolic service. It led them into a hostile world in which they were to endure suffering and which met their preaching of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ with enmity and scorn. But we know that Christ’s apostles carried His holy message throughout the Greek and Roman world and into other lands, preaching Christ, how He had come into the world to save men and how, though Himself God, He had taken human flesh and lived as a man among men, and how, as a man, He had achieved incomprehensible perfection.

So too, all true believers rejoice on this day of redemption by the great revelation of God’s truth and life eternal in Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. His glorious Resurrection is the foundation of our Christian Faith and Hope. It is the indestructible foundation on which the miraculous structure of Christ’s Church is built.

The Resurrection of Christ the Redeemer is the completion of the Great Work for the redemption of mankind from enslavement to Satan and corruption; the power of sin is destroyed and Death itself is abolished. The Resurrection of Christ grants every one the right to call himself a child of God; it is the return of Paradise lost, the threshold of the Holy of Holies of immortal life and communion with God. St. Paul tells us that if there had been no Resurrection then our Christian faith would have been deprived of any foundation or value: If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.,.. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins (1 Cor. 15:14, 17).

But Christ is risen; He rose the First among the sons of earth, and thus manifested His Might and His Divine Power. Through our forefather’s disobedience to God, sin took possession of human nature, and brought decay and death in its wake. But Christ abolished original sin and cleansed the fallen Adam (Eph. 1:7). With His divine blood He raises man into a new creation (1 Cor. 15:13-26).

The Holy Orthodox Church triumphs, exults and rejoices, magnifying and extolling Christ’s glorious Resurrection, the great and wonderful manifestation of Divine Love and Forgiveness and the beginning of everlasting life. On this Feast of Feasts, this Triumph of Triumphs, the Holy Church exults in her love for her beloved Bridegroom, Who rose from the tomb for our salvation, and summons us, Her faithful children, to this eternal Feast of angels and men. This greatest feast, illuminated by the light from on high, is a divine prefiguration of the general resurrection of all those who have died from the beginning of time. And this is so because, as the Paschal Hymn so triumphantly proclaims: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!

Troparion of the Feast (Special Melody).

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!

Kontakion of the Feast (Tone 8).

Thou didst descend into the tomb, O Immortal, Thou didst destroy the power of death. In victory didst Thou arise, O Christ God, proclaiming Rejoice to the myrrh bearing women, granting peace to Thy apostles, and bestowing resurrection on the fallen.

Hymn of the Resurrection.

Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ, let us worship the Holy Lord Jesus, the only sinless One. We venerate Thy Cross, O Christ, and we praise and glorify Thy holy Resurrection; for Thou art our God, and we know no other than Thee; we call on Thy name.

Come, all you faithful, let us venerate Christ’s holy Resurrection, For behold, through the Cross joy has come into all the world. Let us ever bless the Lord, praising His Resurrection. for by enduring the Cross for us, He has destroyed death by death.

Except taken from “These Truths We Hold – The Holy Orthodox Church: Her Life and Teachings”. Compiled and Edited by A Monk of St. Tikhon’s Monastery. Copyright 1986 by the St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, South Canaan, Pennsylvania 18459.

To order a copy of “These Truths We Hold” visit the St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary Bookstore.

Jun 08

Orthodoxy in the World

Constantinople.
The Patriarchate of Constantinople again, at least nominally, became independent after World War I and the rise of modern, secular Turkey, although greatly reduced in size. At present the Patriarch’s jurisdiction includes Turkey, the island of Crete and other islands in the Aegean, the Greeks and certain other national groups in the Dispersion (the Diaspora) in Europe, America, Australia, etc. as well as the monastic republic of Mt. Athos and the autonomous Church of Finland. The present position of the Patriarchate in Turkey is precarious, persecution still exists there, and only a few thousand Greek Orthodox still remain in Turkey.

(a) Mt. Athos.
Located on a small peninsula jutting out into the Aegean Sea from the Greek mainland near Thessalonica, Mt. Athos is a monastic republic consisting of twenty ruling monasteries, the oldest (Great Lavra) dating to the beginning of the 11th Century, as well as numerous other settlements sketes, kellia, hermitages, etc. Of the twenty ruling monasteries, seventeen are Greek, one Russian, one Serbian, and one Bulgarian. (One, Iveron, was originally founded as a Georgian monastery, but now is Greek.) Perhaps 1,500 Monks are presently on the Mountain, a dramatic decline from the turn of the Century when, in 1903, for example, there were over 7,000 Monks there. This is due, in great part, to the halt of vocations from the Communist countries, as well as to a general decline in monastic vocations worldwide. However, there appears to be a revival of monastic life there, particularly at the monasteries of Simonopetra, Dionysiou, Grigoriou, Stavronikita, and Philotheou, and two Monks have shone as spiritual lights there in this Century – the Elder Silouan ( 1938) of St. Panteleimon’s Russian Monastery and the Elder Joseph ( 1959) of the New Skete.

(b) Finland.
The Orthodox Church of Finland, an autonomous Church (self-governing, except that the primate is confirmed by the Patriarch of the Mother Church, in this case Constantinople) was originally the fruit of the Monks of Valaam Monastery on Lake Ladoga, who spread Orthodoxy among the Finnish Karelian tribes in the 14th Century. Until 1917, the Finnish Church was part of the Russian Orthodox Church, but with the independence of Finland in 1917 and the unsettled situation in Russia after the Revolution, since 1923 it has been under the spiritual care of Constantinople. There are, today, approximately 66,000 Orthodox faithful in the Finnish Orthodox Church.

Alexandria.
One of the original ancient Patriarchates, since the Monophysite Schism after the Council of Chalcedon (451), the numbers of the faithful of the Patriarchate of Alexandria have remained small approximately 300,000 faithful in Africa, most of whom are non-Greek Christians in Central Africa (primarily Kenya and Uganda). The rapid expansion of Orthodoxy in Central Africa in this Century has been most remarkable since it sprang up without benefit of Orthodox missionaries, and the Orthodox Church of this region promises to become an important force in the life of the Alexandrian Patriarchate.

Antioch.
Like Alexandria, the ancient Patriarchate of Antioch was severely decimated by the Monophysite Schism and Turkish depredations, and now numbers some 500,000 faithful in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, as well as an emigrant population in America. Its Patriarch, who lives in Damascus, is an Arab, as are most of the clergy, and the bulk of its faithful are Arabic and Arabic-speaking, its liturgical services being celebrated in that language.

Jerusalem.
This ancient Church, whose jurisdiction includes Palestine and Jordan, never was large in numbers, but always held a special place in Orthodoxy due to her custody of the Holy Places of Palestine. The Patriarch of Jerusalem is a Greek, but the majority of the clergy and faithful are Arabic, numbering about 60,000 souls.

Russia.
Since the Russian Revolution, the Church of Russia has been severely persecuted by the atheist state and the numbers of her faithful, clergy and institutions have been drastically reduced. In 1914, there were officially 54,457 churches, 57,105 Priests, 1,498 monasteries and convents, 4 theological academies, 57 theological seminaries, and 40,150 religious schools, with perhaps 100,000,000 faithful. By 1947, the figures read: 22-25,000 churches, 33,000 Priests, 80 monasteries and convents, 2 theological academies, 8 theological seminaries, and no other religious schools. (This was after a certain liberalization following World War II!) At the present time there are perhaps 30,000,000 active Orthodox Christians. By 1966, after renewed persecution, only 3 seminaries were still functioning and by the 1970’s, only 12 monasteries and convents were open, as well as about 7,000 churches. Nonetheless, Orthodoxy is still alive in Russia, and, despite reduced membership figures, this Church remains the largest in the Orthodox world.

Georgia.
Founded in the 4th Century by St. Nina, Equal-to-the-Apostles ( 355 commemorated January 14), this Church had become autocephalous (self headed) in the 8th Century, but was incorporated into the Russian Orthodox Church, with the subjugation of the Caucasus, in 1811, receiving her independence again in 1917. The ranks of her faithful and clergy have been severely diminished since the Communist takeover, and now there are about forty functioning churches (2,455 in 1917), served by less than 100 Priests, out of a population of over 2,000,000. The head of this Church is styled the Catholicos Patriarch of All Georgia.

Serbia.
With the gradual crumbling of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th Century, the Serbian Church received her independence again in 1879. This Church has fared better than some in the Communist bloc, but many of the problems common to the Churches there (diminished ranks of clergy, closing of churches, etc.) are found here also. There are large numbers of Orthodox Serbians in the Dispersion, many of whom are to be found in America, Australia and Canada. The primate of the Serbian Church is the Patriarch, who lives in Belgrade.

Romania.
As in the other Balkan countries, with the independence movement of the 19th Century, the Church of Romania received her independence. The nation became a Principality in 1856, and its Church was organized in 1864. Romania became an independent Kingdom in 1881, and the autocephaly of her Church was finally recognized in 1885 by Patriarch Joachim IV of Constantinople. In 1925, the Church of Romania became a Patriarchate, whose Patriarch lives in Bucharest. In numbers of Orthodox faithful, this Church is the second largest in world Orthodoxy, and the persecution by the atheists has not been as severe as in other Communist countries.

Bulgaria.
With the conquest of the Balkans by the Turks, the ancient Bulgarian Patriarchal See of Trnovo was suppressed and the Bulgarian Church was placed under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople. On April 3, 1860, however, Bishop Hilarion openly declared independence from Constantinople by omitting the Patriarch’s name at the Divine Liturgy, and on March 11, 1870, the Turkish Government recognized a Bulgarian Exarchate in Constantinople. In 1872, the Patriarch of Constantinople excommunicated the Bulgarian Church, but the de-facto autocephaly of this Church was finally recognized in 1945. As in Romania, the persecution of the Church has not been as severe as, for example, in Russia, but monasticism is in decline and there are few young Monks. Generally, Church life is more active, however, than in Yugoslavia with its more liberal policies.

Cyprus.
This ancient Church has been independent since the Council of Ephesus (431) and, although suffering under the Turkish yoke, is still strong with over 700 Priests and over 400,000 faithful. For a time, the Turkish system, whereby the primate of the Church was also the political leader of the Greek population, was continued after the liberation of the country in 1878, which explains the role played by the late Archbishop Makarios, who ruled Cyprus as President, as well as being the primate of her Church.

Greece.
The first national Church to emerge from the independence struggles of the 19th Century was the Church of Greece. On the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 1821, Germanos, the Archbishop of Patras, raised the banner of revolt against the Turks (which cost the Patriarch of Constantinople, Gregory, his life). This war of independence was successful and, as the Hierarchs of the Greek Church did not wish to remain subject to a captive Patriarch in Constantinople, in 1833 a synod of Greek Bishops declared their Church autocephalous, although this was not officially recognized by Constantinople until 1850. In 1864, the Diocese of the Ionian Islands was added to the Church of Greece, and in 1881 the Dioceses of Thessaly and a part of Epirus were likewise joined to her. This Church is the third largest in the Orthodox world and is ruled by a Holy Synod, presided over by the Archbishop of Athens.

Albania.
Christianized by both Greek and Latin missionaries, Albania, part of ancient Illyricum, had both Latin and Greek rite Christians, with close ties both to Rome and Constantinople, until the Turkish conquest of 1478-9, when half the population became Moslem and a small minority remained Christian Latin in the North and Orthodox in the South. On November 28, 1912, Albania declared its independence from Turkey, and on October 26, 1922, a Church Council at Berat declared the Church of Albania independent of Constantinople, which was finally recognized by that Hierarch on April 12,1937. After World War II, with the seizure of power by the Communists, the Church has suffered terribly, her clergy forbidden to conduct services, as the regime has officially declared religion to be dead in Albania. Since the death of the last Primate, Damian, the primal See of Tirane remains vacant.

Poland.
The Church of Poland has been autocephalous since 1924, although this independence has not been recognized by Constantinople. Consisting primarily of Orthodox Christians from Western Byelorussia, which was added to Poland’s territory after World War II, this Church is headed by a Metropolitan who lives in Warsaw.

Czechoslovakia.
The Church of Czechoslovakia has been autocephalous since 1951, although, A as in the case of Poland, this has not been recognized by the Patriarch of Constantinople. The Czechoslovak Church is composed, primarily, of former Uniates, who were forcibly joined to the Orthodox Church by the Communists in 1950 (many returned to Roman Catholicism in 1968). The Church is headed by a Metropolitan who lives in Prague.

Sinai.
The ancient Church of Sinai, which is actually an autonomous Church consisting of a single monastery, St. Catherine’s, at the foot of Mt. Sinai the Mountain of Moses. The Abbot of this Monastery is always an Archbishop, elected by the Monks of the Monastery , although he is consecrated by the Patriarch of Alexandria and lives in Cairo. The Monastery, at the present, consists of only a few Monks, most of whom are very old.

Japan.
The Church of Japan was founded by St. Nicholas (Kassatkin), later Archbishop of Japan ( 1912 commemorated on February 16), a Russian missionary, who knew St. Innocent of Alaska. At the present there are about 40 parishes and about 36,000 faithful. The autonomy of this Church was proclaimed by the Patriarch of Moscow in 1970, and it is headed by a Metropolitan, who lives in Tokyo, and one other Bishop, who, although chosen by the Church of Japan, must be confirmed by the Church of Russia.

Excerpt taken from “These Truths We Hold – The Holy Orthodox Church: Her Life and Teachings”. Compiled and Edited by A Monk of St. Tikhon’s Monastery. Copyright 1986 by the St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, South Canaan, Pennsylvania 18459.

To order a copy of “These Truths We Hold” visit the St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary Bookstore.

Jun 08

Orthodoxy in America

In the 18th Century, the great Orthodox Christian missionary work which began with Pentecost in Jerusalem, so many centuries before, finally crossed from the continent of Euro-Asia into North America. The first missionaries traveled with the explorers Vitus Bering and Alexei Chirikov, who formally claimed Alaska and the Aleutian Islands in 1741. For the next fifty years, together with the exploration and economic development of this new outpost of the Russian Empire, the first attempts were made to bring the Orthodox Faith to the natives of that region (the Aleuts, the Athabascan Indians, the Tlingits, and the Eskimos).

The first formal Orthodox Christian Mission to America arrived on September 24,1794, in Kodiak. This Mission consisted of eight Monks and two Novices, together with ten Alaskan natives who had been taken to Russia by Gregory Shelikov in 1786. This Mission discovered on Kodiak Island hundreds of natives who had been taught the rudiments of the Orthodox Faith, and had been baptized by laymen. Gregory Shelikov, one of the founders of what was to become later the Russian-American Company, had himself baptized about two hundred Aleuts on Kodiak Island.

The American Mission, headed by Archimandrite Joasaph, immediately began the work of establishing the Church in Kodiak and the Islands and later on the mainland of Alaska. Despite great difficulties, this Mission was very successful, for virtually all the remaining natives of Kodiak Island were baptized in just three years. During this period, one of the missionaries, Hieromonk Juvenaly, was martyred at Lake Iliamna by natives.

The Martyrdom of Hieromonk Juvenaly.
In 1795 Hieromonk Juvenaly left Kodiak for Nuchek, where he baptized more than seven hundred Chugach, and then crossed to Kenai Bay and baptized there all the local inhabitants. In the following year (1796), he crossed to Alaska in the direction of Lake Iliamna, where his apostolic duties came to an end, together with his life. He was killed by the natives, and the reason for his death, was partly because the first thing he did after baptizing the natives was to order them to give up polygamy. He had also persuaded the chiefs and other leading men in the tribes there to give him their children so that the latter might be educated on Kodiak. When he set out with the children, the men regretted what they had done, gave chase, caught up with him, and fell upon him.

When Father Juvenaly was attacked by the savages he did not try to defend himself, or run away, which he could easily have done, especially since he had a firearm with him. He let himself be taken without offering any resistance, asking only that those with him should be spared, which was done.

Much later those who had been spared related that when Father Juvenaly was already dead he had risen up and followed his murderers, saying something to them. The savages, supposing him to be still alive, attacked him again and beat him. But as soon as they left him he again stood up and followed them, and this happened several times. Finally, in order to be rid of him, the savages hacked his body to pieces. Only then did this fervent preacher fall silent, a Martyr for the word of God. On the spot where the missionary’s remains lay, there at once appeared a column of flame, reaching up to the sky.

The Martyrdom of the Aleut Peter.
In a letter to Abbot Damascene of Valaam, dated November 22, 1865, Simeon I. Yanovsky, Chief Manager of the Russian Colonies from 1818 to 1820, wrote:

Once I related to [Fr. (later St.) Herman] how the Spaniards in California had taken fourteen of our Aleuts prisoner, and how the Jesuits had tortured one of them, to try and force them all to take the Catholic faith. But the Aleuts would not submit, saying: We are Christians, we have been baptized, and they showed them the crosses they wore. But the Jesuits objected, saying No, you are heretics and schismatics; if you do not agree to take the Catholic faith we will torture you. And they left them shut up two to a cell until the evening to think it over.

In the evening they came back with a lantern and lighted candles, and began again to try and persuade them to become Catholics. But the Aleuts were filled with God’s grace, and firmly and decisively answered, We are Christians and we would not betray our faith. Then the fanatics set about torturing them. First they tortured one singly while the other one was made to watch. First they cut off one of the toe joints from one foot, and then from the other, but the Aleut bore it all and continued to say: I am a Christian and I will not betray my faith. Then they cut a joint off each finger first from one hand, then the other; then they hacked off one foot at the instep, then one hand at the wrist. The blood poured out, but the martyr bore it all to the end, maintaining his stand, and with this faith he died, from loss of blood!

On the following day it was planned to torture the others, but that same night an order was received from Monterey that all the captured Russian Aleuts were to be sent under guard to Monterey. And so in the morning those remaining alive were sent away. This was related to me by an Aleut who was an eyewitness a colleague of the man put to death and who later escaped from the Spaniards….

When I had finished telling him this, Father [Herman] asked me, What was the name of this tortured Aleut? Peter, I replied, but I cannot remember the other name.

Then the elder stood before the Icon, devoutly crossed himself and said, Holy newly-martyred [Peter], pray to God for us!

[The above accounts were taken from The Russian Orthodox Religious Mission in America, 1794-1837, with Materials Concerning the Life and Works of the Monk German, and Ethnographic Notes by the Hieromonk Gedeon, St. Petersburg, 1894.]

In 1798, Archimandrite Joasaph returned to Irkutsk in Siberia and was consecrated on April 10, 1899, Bishop of Kodiak, the first Bishop for America, but he and his entourage, including Hieromonk Makary and Hierodeacon Stephen of the original Mission, drowned somewhere between Unalaska and Kodiak Island. Though the American Mission was now reduced to half of its original number, it continued its work. Notable was the great spiritual and missionary work of the Monks Herman and Joasaph. Not only did they instruct the natives in spiritual and religious matters, but they also taught them practical, secular subjects, such as mathematics, carpentry, agriculture, as well as animal husbandry.

In 1824, with the arrival of the Missionary Priest John Veniaminov in Unalaska, a new impetus was added to the missionary work already done. The original missionaries had been replaced by others, so that by the time of the arrival of Father John, only the Monk Herman, now retired to Spruce Island, was left of the original American Mission. He died on December 13, 1837, and on August 9, 1970, he was canonized as the first Saint of the Orthodox Church in America.

Our Venerable Father Herman of Alaska.
Little is known of the early life of the Monk Herman. He was born in Serpukhov in the Moscow Diocese about 1756 and at the age of 16, he began his monastic life at the Trinity-St. Sergius Hermitage near St. Petersburg. While at the Hermitage, Herman developed a severe infection on the right side of his throat which brought him to the point of death. After fervent prayer before an Icon of the Most-Holy Theotokos he fell into a deep sleep, and during this sleep, Herman dreamed that he was healed by the Virgin. Upon waking, he found that he had completely recovered. Remaining at the Trinity-Sergius Hermitage for five more years, he then moved to the Valaam Monastery on Lake Ladoga.

During his stay at the Valaam Monastery, Father Herman developed a strong spiritual attachment to the Elder Nazarius, Abbot and Renewer of the spiritual life of Valaam. He found in Nazarius a gentle, yet effective spiritual guide, whom he would remember for the rest of his life. During his stay in Valaam, the monastery was visited by Gregory Shelikov, head of the Golikov-Shelikov Trading Company, who requested Monks to work in the new mission field in Alaska. Thus, in 1793, Father Herman, with several other Monks was sent by the Holy Synod of Russia to the Alaskan missionary field.

After a journey of nearly a year, the little band of eight Monks arrived on Kodiak Island on September 24, 1794. From Kodiak, the Monks began their effort to convert and educate the natives. Several thousand Alaskans were converted to Orthodoxy, but the Mission did not have the success that had been expected. Archimandrite Joasaph, the head of the Mission, was consecrated a Bishop, but died with two others when the ship on which he was returning to Alaska sank, and Fr. Herman, who, from the beginning had distinguished himself with his humility, compassion for the natives and his administrative skills, became the acting head of the Mission. Eventually only he remained from the original Mission.

After difficult relations with and persecution by the Russian-American Trading Company, which controlled the Alaska Colony, between 1808 and 1818 Fr. Herman left Kodiak and went to Spruce Island, which he called New Valaam. He spent the rest of his life on this island, where he cared for orphans, ran a school and continued his missionary work. He built a small chapel, school and guest house, while food for himself and the orphans was produced from his own experimental garden.

Caring little for himself, Fr. Herman wore the oldest and simplest clothes under his cassock and ate very little. His free time was devoted to prayer and singing the services he could do as a simple Monk, since, in humility, he had refused to be ordained. Thus, his life on the island was that of an ascetic and was in many ways similar to the lives of the early Monks of the Egyptian desert. When asked if he was ever lonesome, Fr. Herman answered, No, I am not alone there! God is there, as God is everywhere. The Most-Holy Angels are there. With whom is it better to talk, with people or with Angels? Most certainly with Angels.

Father Herman continued to grow in his love for the natives while he lived on Spruce Island, for he saw them as newly-born children in the faith, who had to be guided and taught. He had a special love for the children and they were very fond of him. One of his greatest pleasures was being with children, teaching them and giving them the delicacies he made. During this time a ship from the United States brought an epidemic to the Alaskans and hundreds of them died. But they were not alone, for Herman remained with them constantly, going from person to person, Comforting the dying, and praying with and for them. After the epidemic ended, Fr. Herman brought the orphans back to New Valaam with him and cared for them. On Sundays and Holy Days, Fr. Herman would gather the people for prayer and singing, and he would give sermons that captivated the hearts of all those present. As a clairvoyant Elder, he could see into the hearts of his spiritual children and help them.

The natives recognized the holiness of the Venerable One and turned to him for help, seeing in him an intercessor before God. Once there was a great tidal wave threatening the island and the people came to Fr. Herman for help. He took an Icon of the Theotokos, placed it on the beach and said, Have no fear. The water will not go any higher than the place where this holy icon stands; and it did not. On another occasion there was a fire on the island and the people again turned to the righteous Elder, who interceded successfully on their behalf.

Prior to his death, Fr. Herman revealed what would happen to him. He told the people that when he died there would be no Priest in the area and the people would have to bury him by themselves. He also said that he would be forgotten for thirty years and then would be remembered. Father Herman died on December 13, 1837, in the manner in which he had described to his flock. They continued to revere his memory, but the outside world seemed to forget him until the first investigation of his life in 1867, by Bishop Peter of Alaska. Finally, on August 9, 1970, the Holy Monk was glorified by the Orthodox Church in America, in impressive ceremonies at Kodiak, Alaska, and the Blessed Father Herman of Alaska entered the ranks of Saints who are interceding on behalf of American Orthodoxy.

The Church, however, worked hard to further the work of the Mission, even in these difficult times, so that, despite the harsh climate, the difficulty of supplying the Mission because of the great distances involved, Father John found a solid foundation upon which to do his work. He had the help of Father Jacob Netsvetov (a Creole, one of mixed race), who had been sent to Irkutsk, Siberia, for Seminary training, and had been ordained in 1828. (The first American-born Priest, Prokopy Lavrov, was ordained in 1810, but he returned to Russia after a brief period of less than a year, since he found the life in Kodiak too harsh.)

Together, Fathers John and Jacob were a remarkable missionary pair. They succeeded in revitalizing the Mission to such a degree that at the end of the 1830’s, there were five active Priests and five religious centers, with more than 10,000 Orthodox Christians. There were four schools for boys (about 100 students) and four orphanages for girls (about 60). All these schools, as well as the churches, gave religious instruction to the natives in their native tongues. This missionary work was financially supported primarily by the Russian-American Company, with substantial assistance also provided by the Holy Synod and the Church of Russia.

On December 15, 1840, the American Mission was blessed with the consecration of the now-widowed Priest, Fr. John Veniaminov, as Innocent, Bishop of Kamchatka, the Kuriles, and the Aleutian Islands. With the consecration of Bishop Innocent, the history of the American Mission entered an even more glorious phase. Bishop Innocent’s sixteen years of experience in the Alaskan missionary field, coupled with his in depth knowledge of the natives now entrusted to his pastoral care, as well as his judicious choice of fellow missionaries, accounted for the unparalleled success of the Mission.

As soon as he arrived in Sitka (the capital of Russian America), he began the work of enlarging the missionary work of the Diocese. The Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel was beautified and enlarged, and plans were laid for the construction of a Seminary, which opened in 1845. At the same time, he continued his extensive missionary journeys throughout his far-flung Diocese which covered parts of two continents.

When his responsibility was again increased with the enlargement of his Diocese into an Archdiocese, with increased territories, Bishop Innocent transferred his center of activity to Siberia, leaving an Auxiliary Bishop to supervise the American part of his enlarged domain. In 1869, Archbishop Innocent was elevated to the See of Moscow as its Metropolitan, but he still kept a careful watch over his beloved American Church. Important here was the organization, at his urging, of the Russian Missionary Society, which was organized to further the missionary work of the Russian Church, especially in Siberia, Alaska and Japan, which guaranteed that the work begun in America would not be abandoned or forgotten with the sale of Alaska to America which had occurred in 1867. With true prophetic insight, the aged Metropolitan called for the missionary work to be directed to the whole of America and foresaw the need for American-born clergy totally conversant with the American cultural ethos, as well as the English language.

Our Father among the Saints Innocent, Metropolitan of Moscow, Enlightener of the Aleuts and Apostle to the Americas.
John Popov (later St. Innocent) was born on August 27, 1797, in Aginsk, a small village near Irkutsk, Siberia. He came from a pious family and at age six, young John was already reading at his parish. At age nine he entered the Irkutsk Theological Seminary, where he remained for eleven years, proving to be its most brilliant pupil during this time. Besides his Seminary classes, he read all of the books in the library dealing with history and the sciences, and while still a student he began to construct different types of clocks, acquiring the skills of carpentry, furniture making, blacksmithing, and the construction of musical instruments.

At the age of seventeen, in recognition of his outstanding achievements at the Seminary, his last name was changed to Veniaminov, in honor of the late Bishop Benjamin (or Veniamin) of Irkutsk. Not long after graduation from the Seminary, John married the daughter of a Priest and was ordained to the Deaconate. In 1821, he was ordained to the Priesthood.

While a young man, Fr. John had heard stories about the native settlements at Unalaska in the Aleutian Island chain, part of the Russian colony in America, and how they labored in the darkness of paganism. Thus, in 1823, having heard that the Bishop of Irkutsk had been requested to send a Priest to Alaska and that everyone else had refused, against the wishes of his family and friends, he volunteered to go. After fourteen months of difficult travel across the wilds of Siberia and the Bering Sea, he arrived in Unalaska with his family.

Upon arriving at Unalaska, Fr. John found that there was no house or chapel there, but he welcomed this as an opportunity to teach the natives. He first built a home for his family, using the opportunity to teach the natives carpentry. Constructing furniture for the new home, he taught the natives this skill as well, so that, with these newly-acquired skills, they were able to assist Fr. John in the construction of the Cathedral of the Ascension, which was completed in 1826.

At the same time, Fr. John’s primary work was converting the natives to Orthodoxy and educating them. He learned the Aleut language, as well as the life style of the people. He and his wife organized a school for them (as well as for their own six children), and one of the required subjects was the Aleut language, for which Fr. John had devised an alphabet based on the Cyrillic. He translated services, as well as the Gospel of St. Matthew, and even wrote a small book, A Guide to the Way to the Heavenly Kingdom in the Aleut language.

Fr. John traveled throughout the Aleutian chain to teach and baptize the people, and while preaching he was always able to communicate effectively with his flock. One of these wrote, many years later: When he preached the Word of God, all the people listened, and they listened without moving until he stopped. Nobody thought of fishing or hunting while he spoke; nobody felt hungry or thirsty as long as he was speaking, not even little children.

In 1834, Fr. John and his family were transferred to Sitka, where the local Tlingit population was intensely antagonistic to their Russian overlords. He learned their language and culture, but they showed now real interest in his message until a smallpox epidemic hit the area. Father John convinced many of the Tlingits to be vaccinated, saving many of them from death. This served to be the means whereby he was to reach these natives and gradually he gained their love and respect.

In 1836, Fr. John decided to return to Russia to report to the Holy Synod on the needs of the Alaskan Mission. Leaving his family in Irkutsk, he went on to Moscow, where he met with the Synod, which approved his request for more Priests and funds for the Mission, as well as desiring to publish his translations. While in Moscow, he learned of the death of his wife. Hearing of this, Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow encouraged Fr. John to become a Monk, which he accepted, being tonsured with the name Innocent. Soon after, the Alaskan Mission was constituted part of a Diocese and Fr. Innocent was consecrated Bishop of Kamchatka and Alaska on December 15, 1840.

Returning to his new Diocese, Bishop Innocent traveled to the far reaches of his new domain, teaching the population and organizing churches. Everywhere he preached and served in the native languages. In Sitka, he organized a Seminary to train native Priests and built a new cathedral there dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel. Although preoccupied with the affairs of his large Diocese, the Bishop did find time to construct, with his own hands, the large clock on the front of the Cathedral.

In 1850, Bishop Innocent was elevated to the dignity of Archbishop and his new Archdiocese was enlarged to include more territory in Asiatic Russia, with its center at Yakutsk. Once more Innocent and his Priests set out to learn languages and cultures, teaching the new flock with gentleness and by personal example. In 1860, Archbishop Innocent met the future Bishop Nicholas of Japan (canonized in 1970), who was just beginning his lifetime missionary labors, and he gave Nicholas advice on missionary work.

Despite declining health and his request to retire, in 1868, Innocent was elevated to the rank of Metropolitan. He was especially loved by his new flock for his many works of charity, and he remembered his former missions by organizing the Imperial Mission Society, which he served as its first President. Almost blind and in constant pain, Metropolitan Innocent died on Holy Saturday, 1879, at the age of eighty-two, having served Christ and His Church throughout his entire life, distinguishing himself as a true missionary and apostle. In recognition of his great apostolic and missionary labors, the Russian Orthodox Church, on October 6, 1977, solemnly glorified this Man of God and entered him into the Church Calendar, styling him St. Innocent, Metropolitan of Moscow, Enlightener of the Aleuts and Apostle to the America’s.

In 1867, Bishop Peter (Lyaskov) of Sitka was succeeded by Bishop Paul (Popov) and in this year the first study of the life of the Elder Herman of Spruce Island was initiated. In 1870, Bishop John (Metropolsky) was appointed and he transferred the center of the American Church from Sitka to San Francisco, California, in 1872. In 1879, the American Church came under the supervision of the Metropolitan of St. Petersburg, and the long tie with the Diocese of Eastern Siberia was ended, with Bishop Nestor (Zakkis) being appointed Bishop of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska in that year. In 1882, however, he drowned at sea and was buried on the Island of Unalaska.

After six years without a resident Hierarch, Bishop Vladimir (Sokolovsky) was appointed in 1881, and on March 25, 1891, he accepted the Holy Virgin Protection Uniate Church in Minneapolis, as well as its Pastor, Fr. Alexis Toth, into the Orthodox Church. With this event, the American Mission entered into a new phase of its life. A Church almost exclusively concerned with missionary work among the natives of America, mostly in Alaska, now was to change its focus of attention to the return of the Uniates to Orthodoxy. This work, until now centered in the Western provinces of Russia, was directed to those Uniates who had emigrated to America, together with those from the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Galicians and Carpatho-Russians). The first attempts at a development of an English liturgical text to be used in the Church also began at this time.

In 1891, Bishop Nicholas (Ziorov) arrived in America and became deeply involved in the many-sided work of the American Mission to the native Alaskans, to the newly-returned Uniates, as well as to the Orthodox immigrants from virtually all of the traditional Orthodox nations in Europe and Asia. It was in this period (from the time of the American Civil War) that Serbians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Greeks, Russians, Syrians and Albanians began to come to America in increasingly greater numbers. The Mission was now extended to Canada, where great numbers of Orthodox and Uniate immigrants had been arriving, a Missionary School was established in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and a bilingual (English-Russian) publication for the Diocese was initiated.

In 1898, Bishop Tikhon (Bellavin) arrived to rule over the Church in America, and in his nine years of service in America, the Mission was brought to a new stage of maturity. For the first time the American Mission became a full Diocese, with its presiding Bishop wholly responsible for a Church within the continental limits of North America. In 1905, the center of the Church was transferred to New York (St. Nicholas Cathedral, the new Episcopal Cathedra, had been dedicated in 1902), and the newly-elevated Archbishop Tikhon was now given two Auxiliary Bishops to administer a greatly-expanded Church in America. Bishop Raphael (Hawaweeny) of Brooklyn (the first Orthodox Bishop consecrated in America March 12, 1904) was primarily responsible for the Syro-Arab communities and the other Auxiliary, Bishop Innocent (Pustynsky) was appointed Bishop of Alaska.

Excerpt taken from “These Truths We Hold – The Holy Orthodox Church: Her Life and Teachings”. Compiled and Edited by A Monk of St. Tikhon’s Monastery. Copyright 1986 by the St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, South Canaan, Pennsylvania 18459.

To order a copy of “These Truths We Hold” visit the St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary Bookstore.

Jun 08

A History of the Orthodox Church

The history of the Orthodox Church actually begins in the Acts of the Holy Apostles, with the Descent of the Holy Spirit: When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:1-4). As the text further tells us, on that same day, after St. Peter had preached to the gathered people, those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls (Acts 2:41), thus constituting the first Christian community at Jerusalem.

This first community of Christians, headed by St. James, the Brother of the Lord the first Bishop of the city was later scattered by the persecutions which followed the stoning of the first martyr of the Christian Church, St. Stephen: And on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria, except the Apostles (Acts 8:1).

At the same time, faithful to the Lord’s command to go…and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19), the Apostles went out and preached wherever they went, first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles, so that in a surprisingly short time, Christian communities had sprung up in all the main centers of the Roman world and beyond. Their exploits are recorded in the Acts, as well in the inner tradition of the Orthodox Church.

The Holy Apostles.
St. Andrew the First-Called.
St. Andrew was a Galilean fisherman of Bethsaida and was the first called of the Apostles of Christ (John 1:37-40), to whom he brought his brother Simon, called Peter. According to Church tradition, he suffered martyrdom at Patras in Achaia on an X-shaped Cross (St. Andrew’s Cross). Another tradition says that he visited Russia as far as the city of Kiev (while yet another Novgorod). His Feast Day is November 30.

St. Bartholemew.
In Holy Scripture, St. Bartholemew is to be identified with the Nathanael of John 1:45-51, of whom the Lord Himself witnessed, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile (John 1:47). According to Church tradition, he preached the Gospel in Lycaonia, India and Armenia, where he was martyred by being flayed alive. His Feast Day is June 11.

St. James the Elder.

St. James the Elder (so-called to distinguish him from the other Apostle, St. James the Younger) and his brother, John (the Evangelist), were fishermen the sons of Zebedee. This James, along with his brother and St. Peter, were especially beloved of the Lord. According to the Acts, he was beheaded by King Agrippa in Jerusalem (Acts 12:2), after first having preached in Spain. His Feast Day is April 30.

St. James the Younger.
St. James the Younger (so-called to distinguish him from the other Apostle of the same name; sometimes called the Son of Alphaeus), was the brother of St. Matthew. In St. Mark’s Gospel he is said to be the son of Mary, one of the Holy Myrrhbearing Women (Mark 16:1). According to Church tradition, he labored in Judea and then accompanied St. Andrew to Edessa, preaching the Gospel. Later he traveled to Gaza (on the southern seacoast of Palestine), and from thereto Egypt, where he was martyred by crucifixion. His Feast Day is October 9.

St. John.
St. John the Evangelist (also the Theologian or the Divine), was a son of Zebedee and brother of St. James the Elder. In Holy Scripture he is referred to as the disciple, whom Jesus loved (John 13:23), and who leaned on his Master’s breast at the Last Supper. To him was entrusted the Most-Holy Theotokos by Our Lord as He was dying on the Cross (John 19:26), and it was at St. John’s house that her Holy Dormition occurred. St. John occupied an important place in the Apostolic ministry and, according to St. Paul, he, together with Peter and James were seen to be pillars of the Church in Jerusalem (Gal. 2:9). According to Church tradition, he was the last of the Apostles to die, ca. 100 A.D., and while exiled on the Isle of Patmos, he wrote the Apocalypse (or Revelation). To him is also attributed the Gospel and the three Epistles that bear his name. His Feast Days are May 8 and September 26.

St. Jude.
This Apostle, the brother of James the Just (both being half-brothers or perhaps, cousins, of the Lord), is also called Thaddaeus or Lebbaeus (John 14:22; Matt. 10:3). To him is attributed the Epistle of St. Jude. According to Church tradition, he preached in Syria and Edessa, eventually being martyred in Persia with his fellow Apostle, Simeon Zealotes. His Feast Day is June 19.

St. Lebbaeus.
[See St. Jude].

St. Matthew.
St. Matthew (also called Levi the son of Alphaeus (Mark 2:14)) was a brother of St. James the Younger and was a tax collector. The First Gospel is attributed to him, and, according to many scholars, was first written for the Hebrews. According to Church tradition, St. Matthew preached to the Jews first, and then traveled to Ethiopia, Macedonia, Syria and Persia, dying a natural death, according to one tradition, or by martyrdom, according to another. His Feast Day is November 16.

St. Matthias.
According to the Acts, St. Matthias was chosen by lot to fill the place among the Twelve Apostles left vacant by the Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:15-26). According to Church Tradition he is said to have preached in Ethiopia and Armenia, eventually suffering death by crucifixion. His Feast Day is August 9.

St. Nathanael.
[See St. Bartholomew].

St. Peter.
St. Peter was a brother of St. Andrew, and, together with him, was a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee. Called by the Lord to become a fisher of men (Matt. 4:19), he was originally named Simon, but later his name was changed to Peter (in Aramaic Cephas, meaning rock) by the Lord. This was in response to Peter’s declaration: You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matt. 16:16), for the Lord then said to him, You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18). Holy Scripture amply witnesses to the fact that Peter occupied a primary place among the Apostles, although not to the extreme claimed by the Roman Catholic Church. His activities after the Resurrection are witnessed to in the Acts and, according to Church tradition, he was later martyred in Rome, being crucified upside down at his own request, since he felt himself not worthy to die in the same manner as the Lord Himself. The two Epistles of St. Peter are ascribed to him and he is celebrated, together with the other chief Apostle, St. Paul, on June 29.

St. Philip.
St. Philip, like Peter and Andrew, came from Bethsaida in Galilee (Matt. 10:3) and was called early in the Lord’s earthly ministry, bringing Nathanael with him (John 1:43ff.). According to Church tradition, he was a missionary in Phrygia and died there (by martyrdom, according to some) at Hierapolis. His Feast Day is November 14, the next day being the beginning of the Nativity Fast (for which reason it is often called St. Philip’s Fast).

St. Simeon Zealotes.
St. Simeon Zealotes (or the Zealot; sometimes the Canaanite), according to Church tradition, traveled through Egypt and Africa, then through Mauretania and Libya, preaching the Gospel of Christ. Later he is said to have traveled to Britain, where he was martyred by the Romans on a Cross. Another tradition says that he was martyred with St. Jude in Persia. His Feast Day is May 10.

St. Thaddaeus.
[See St. Jude].

St. Thomas.
St. Thomas, called Didymus (or the Twin, John 11:16), appears several times in St. John’s Gospel, which gives a good impression of the sort of man he was: ready to die with the Master (John 11:16); skeptical about the Resurrection, yet, when the Risen Christ manifested Himself to him, is whole-hearted in his belief (John 20:24-28). According to Church tradition, St. Thomas preached in Parthia (Persia), Edessa and India, where he is held in great veneration as a founder of the Church there, eventually suffering martyrdom. According to Church tradition, his remains were buried in Edessa. His Feast Day is October 6 and also the Sunday following Holy Pascha (St. Thomas Sunday).

Judas Iscariot.
This disciple, forever a symbol of treachery, the son of Simon, was from the town of Kerioth (from Kerioth Iscariot). According to the Gospel, he stole from the common treasury of which he had charge (John 12:5-6) and ultimately betrayed his Lord for thirty pieces of silver (Matt. 26:14-15). After the Crucifixion of Jesus, in deep remorse, Judas cast the pieces of silver into the Temple before the Chief Priests and Elders, later going out and hanging himself. With the money, now considered blood money, a potter’s field was bought to bury strangers in (Matt. 27:3-10).

St. Paul.
St. Paul was a strict Pharisee, having studied under the respected Rabbi Gamaliel at Jerusalem (Acts 22:3). At a young age he had learned the trade of a tent-maker (Acts 18:1-3) and had inherited Roman citizenship from his father (Acts 22:28). The young Saul (as he was known before his conversion to Christianity) was zealous for Judaism and consented to the stoning of St. Stephen, later actively joining in the persecution of the Christians (Acts 8:3). While on the way to Damascus, to persecute the Christians there, he had a sudden vision of the Lord, Who rebuked him for his persecution, and later he converted to the Christian Faith (Acts 9:1-22). After this conversion experience, St. Paul went on to become one of the greatest of the Apostles, zealously bringing the Light of Christ to the Gentiles, eventually going to Rome where he received martyrdom by beheading. During his missionary journeys, amply attested to in the Acts, he wrote letters of encouragement to various congregations and individuals along the way, and thirteen of them (fourteen, if the Epistle to the Hebrews is accepted as of Pauline origin) have been accepted as part of the New Testament. Together with St. Peter, he is commemorated on June 29.

Other Apostles.
St. Barnabas.
St. Barnabas, a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith (Acts 11:24), was a Jew from Cyprus, closely associated with the work of St. Paul. It was Barnabas who was sent to the Christians at Antioch, fetching Paul from Tarsus to help him. Later, he and Paul were sent on the first missionary journey, which began on the island of Cyprus, of which Church St. Barnabas is said to have founded. According to Church tradition, he was martyred on Cyprus at Salamis. He commemorated together with St. Bartholomew on June 11.

St. James the Brother of the Lord.
St. James was a half-brother (or perhaps a cousin) of the Lord, and was the first Bishop of the Church at Jerusalem, being called by St. Paul a pillar of that Church, together with Peter and John (Gal. 2:9). At the first general Church council, the Council of Jerusalem, James is depicted as having a leading role (Acts 15:12-21). Having ruled the Church in Jerusalem wisely (for which reason he is often called the Just), St. James was martyred there. Being taken to the top of the Temple wall, he was commanded to convince the people to turn away from Christ, which he refused to do, speaking to them in quite the opposite manner. Thereupon he was thrown down from that high point to the ground, where he was stoned and beaten to death. The Epistle of St. James is attributed to him and his Feast Day is celebrated on October 23.

St. Luke.
St. Luke, the Beloved Physician (Col. 4:14), is the author of the Gospel bearing his name, as well as the Acts of the Apostles. He was a Gentile convert, probably a Greek, and was a companion of St. Paul in his later missionary journeys, concerning which he related in the Acts. According to Church tradition, St. Luke was an iconographer and wrote the first Icon of the Most-Holy Theotokos. St. Luke died, unmarried, in Greece, at the age of eighty-four, and is commemorated on October 18.

St. Mark.
The Second Gospel is attributed to this Apostle, who some say was the young man who fled away naked at the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:51-52). In the Acts, he is called John Mark (Acts 12:12; 15:37), the son of Mary, at whose house in Jerusalem the early Christians stayed (Acts 12:12), and he was a cousin of the Apostle Barnabas (Col. 4:10). He figures several times in the Acts, at one point being the source of a temporary rift between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-40), but later he was with Paul during his first imprisonment at Rome (Col. 4:10). In his 1st Epistle, St. Peter mentions Mark as being with him, styling him my son (1 Pet. 5:13). According to Church tradition, St. Mark wrote his Gospel at the request of the brethren in Rome, who asked him to relate what he had learned from St. Peter. He is said to have preached the Gospel at Alexandria, Egypt, and was its first Bishop, being martyred there during the reign of the Emperor Trajan. His Feast Day is April 25.

The Persecutions.
After these humble beginnings, Christianity spread far and wide throughout the known world, but the Good News of Christ aroused intense opposition, and the first three centuries of the Church were characterized by sporadic, but bloody, persecutions. Church tradition is full of the lives of these early martyrs for the faith, and one cannot but admire the courage and perseverance of these heroes who willingly gave up their lives rather than denounce Christ. Among these were Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, burned at the stake when over eighty years old, Justin the Martyr, and Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, as well as many other men and women martyrs, who are commemorated in the Church Calendar.

These persecutions were often local in character and of limited duration, and although there were long periods of de-facto toleration, the threat of persecution was always there. Christians knew that at any time the threat of persecution could become a very present reality and the idea of martyrdom held a central place in the spiritual outlook of these warriors for Christ. Later, when persecution and martyrdom ceased to be a major concern of the Christians, the idea, nonetheless, did not disappear, but took other forms. Chief among these was the monastic life, regarded by many as a form of martyrdom equal to bodily death.

In 312, however, a momentous event occurred, for in that year, seeing, in a vision, a Cross in the sky with the inscription, In this sign conquer, and placing the Cross on the shields of his army, the Emperor Constantine defeated a rival army and ultimately became the first Roman Emperor to embrace Christianity. In 313, Constantine and his fellow Emperor Licinius issued the Edict of Milan, which proclaimed the official toleration of the Christian faith. Fifty years later, the Emperor Theodosius carried this policy even further when he legislated Christianity as the only accepted religion of the Empire, while outlawing paganism.

In 324, Constantine moved his imperial capital from Rome to Byzantium, on the shores of the Bosporus, where he built a new capital, Constantinople (dedicated in 330). From here, in 325, he summoned to Nicea what was to be the first of the Seven Ecumenical Councils.

The Seven Councils.
The conciliar principle of deciding matters of doctrinal and disciplinary importance began with the Council of Jerusalem, described in Acts 15, where the Apostles met to decide whether Gentile converts should be subject to the Mosaic Law. (They were not!). With this Council in mind, and the various local councils which met at diverse parts of the Empire in the period prior to Nicea, the Church established an important principle: In council, the members of the Church, so to speak, can together claim an authority which individually none of them possess. The Seven Ecumenical Councils which met in the period from 325 to 787 performed two basic tasks: 1) They formulated the visible, ecclesiastical organization of the Church, setting the ranking of the Five Patriarchates; and 2) they defined, once and for all, the teachings of the Church on faith, formulating the basic dogmas concerning the Trinity and the Incarnation.

Nicea I (325).
This Council condemned the heresy of Arianism, which had contended that the Son was inferior to the Father and was, in fact, created. The Fathers here declared that the Son is one in essence (homoousios) with the Father, and formulated the first part of what eventually became the Creed the Symbol of Faith. In addition, three great Sees were singled out Rome, Alexandria and Antioch (Canon 6), and the See of Jerusalem, although still subject to the Metropolitan of Caesarea, was given the next place in honor after Antioch (Canon 7).

Constantinople I (381).
This Council expanded the Nicene Creed, developing the teachings concerning the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father; Who, with the Father and Son, is worshipped and glorified…, against the heresy of the Pneumatomachi (Spiritsmashers) and the Macedonians (followers of Macedonius), who could not accept the Third Person of the Trinity as equal to the other Two. It was in this period that we see the activities of the great Cappadocian Fathers, St. Gregory Nazianzus (the Theologian), St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory of Nyssa, as well as the great Alexandrian Father, St. Athanasius the Great. The First Council of Constantinople also decreed that Constantinople, the new capital, should hold the next place of honor after Rome, since it was now the New Rome (Canon 111).

Ephesus (431).
This Council met to discuss the heresy of the Nestorians, who could not accept that God and Man had been united in one Person, Christ, refusing to call the Virgin Mary, Theotokos (or Birthgiver of God). Supported primarily by St. Cyril of Alexandria, this Council affirmed that Mary was truly Theotokos, since, as the Evangelist had proclaimed, the Word was made flesh (John 1:14), and the Virgin had borne a single and undivided Person Who is, at the same time, God and Man.

Chalcedon (451).
This Council met to discuss the heresy of the Monophysites who held that in Christ the human nature had been merged into the divine, so that there was, after the divine union, only one nature. The Bishops of this Council accepted the so-called Tome of Pope St. Leo the Great of Rome, which affirmed the belief that the one and the same son, perfect in Godhead and perfect in manhood, [is] truly God and truly man…acknowledged in two natures unconfused, unchanged, undivided and inseparable. In addition, the place of Constantinople after that of Rome was confirmed, as was that of Jerusalem in the fifth place of honor.

A tragic result of this Council (and that of Ephesus prior) was the splitting apart from the main body of a large group of Christians adhering to either the Nestorian or Monophysite view. The Nestorians were found basically in Persia and Mesopotamia, and were especially decimated by the Islamic and Turkish onslaughts, whereas the Monophysites were strong in Africa (Egypt and Ethiopia the present Coptic Church), Armenia, and India (the Jacobite Church).

Constantinople II (553).
This Council met to further reinterpret the decrees of Chalcedon, seeking to explain how the two natures of Christ unite to form a single person. It affirmed that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is one of the Holy Trinity, one and the same divine Person (hypostasis), Who has united personally (hypostatically) in Himself the two natures of God and Man, without fusing them together and without allowing their separation. Certain teachings of Origen, including his teaching concerning the pre-existence of the soul, among other things, were also expressly condemned.

Constantinople III (681).
This Council met to condemn the Monothelite heresy which held that in the union of the two natures in Christ, the human will was merged into the divine as one will, since the two natures were united into one person. The Council, however, held that if Christ has two natures, he also has two wills human and divine.

Nicea II (787).
This Council met to affirm the belief of the Orthodox that veneration of the Holy Icons was proper and necessary for a correct understanding of the Incarnation of Christ, against those who held that Icon-veneration was idolatry and that all Icons should be destroyed (Iconoclasts). This Seventh Council was also the last of the Ecumenical Councils accepted as such by the Orthodox Church, although the possibility does exist that, in principle, more could be convened. The Iconoclast controversy did not end until after another rising of the heretics beginning in 815, which was finally suppressed by the Empress Theodora in 843. This final victory of the Holy .Icons in 843 is known as the Triumph of Orthodoxy, and is commemorated on the First Sunday of Great Lent. Thus, with the resolution of the Iconoclast controversy, the Age of the Seven Councils came to an end.

During this same period, there were two other major currents that were to have a profound effect on the Byzantine Empire and Orthodoxy. The first of these was the rise of monasticism. It began as a definite institution in Egypt in the 4th Century and rapidly spread across the Christian world. It literally began at a time when the persecutions had ended, and the Monks, with their austere life, were, in a real sense, martyrs when martyrdom of blood had virtually ceased. At a time when people were in danger of forgetting that life in the world the earthly kingdom was not the Kingdom of God, the Monks and their withdrawal from society, reminded Christians that God’s Kingdom, in fact, is not of this world.

The second major current in this period was the rise and rapid spread of Islam, the most striking characteristic of which was the speed of its expansion. Within fifteen years after the death of Mohammed in 632, his followers had captured Syria, Palestine and Egypt, and in fifty years, they were already at the gates of Constantinople. Within 100 years, they had swept across North Africa and through Spain. The Byzantine Empire lost the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, and until the actual fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Empire was never free from attack.

The Great Schism.
In 1054 occurred one of the greatest tragedies of the Christian world the Great Schism between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches. Officially proclaimed at Constantinople in that year by the Papal Legate, Cardinal Humbert, it was, in a sense, the culmination of a process that had been taking place for several centuries, ultimately centering on two major controversies: Papal authority and the Filioque.

Originally the two branches of Christendom had begun to drift apart because of cultural and language differences. Then, in 800, we see a political split with the proclamation of Charlemagne as the Holy Roman Emperor there were now two! The hegemony of the Arabs over the Mediterranean and their expansion into the Balkans made direct contact difficult, if not impossible, between East and West. And even in theology the two branches of Christendom began to differ in their basic approaches, with the Latins being more practical, the Greeks more speculative; the Latins more influenced by legal ideas nurtured by the basic concepts of Roman law, while the Greeks were influenced by worship and the Holy Liturgy; the Latins were more concerned with redemption, the Greeks with deification. These different approaches, practiced in greater isolation from each other, eventually led to the two main theological problems outlined earlier.

The first problem was that of Papal authority. The Greeks were willing to ascribe to the Pope of Rome a primacy of honor, considering him to be the first among equals, whereas the Pope believed his power of jurisdiction to extend to the East as well as the West, the Greeks jealously guarding the autonomy of the other Patriarchates. The Pope saw infallibility as his sole prerogative, whereas the Greeks insisted that in matters of faith, the ultimate decisions belonged to an Ecumenical Council consisting of all the Bishops of the Universal Church.

The second great problem was the Filioque (Latin and the Son), first inserted into the Creed at the Council of Toledo in Spain in 589 and later adopted by the whole Western Church. Whereas the original wording of the Creed ran, and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father…, the Latin insertion changed it to read, and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son__ The Orthodox objected to this insertion on two grounds: 1) the Ecumenical Councils had expressly forbidden any changes to be introduced into the Creed, and 2) this insertion disturbed the balance between the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity, leading to a false understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in the world.

Prior to the Schism of 1054, there had been another breach, the so-called Photian Schism, in the 9th Century, but it had been officially terminated in the latter years of the reign of Patriarch Photius. The breach of 1054, however, although not universally applied at first, was never healed, even after several attempts to do so, most noticeably at the Council of Lyons in 1274 and the Council of Florence in 1438-9, when the Turks were already threatening Constantinople, but these reunion attempts were doomed to failure. Probably the deciding factor in the permanence of the Schism had been the capture and sack of Constantinople by the Latin Crusaders in 1204, which forever after remained indelibly imprinted on the consciousness of the Orthodox.

In 1453, a crucial event occurred in world Orthodoxy, with the Fall of Constantinople to the Turkish Sultan, Mohammed II. The Greek-speaking Churches fell under the heavy yoke of Islam, and for nearly 500 years labored in servitude, only emerging again with the Balkan Revolutions of the 19th Century and World War I. In the meantime, the focus of Orthodoxy shifted to the North, to the domains of the Most Pious Tsars of Russia.

Notable Fathers of the Early Period.
St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage ( 258).
St. Cyprian, commemorated on August 31, was Bishop of Carthage during the persecutions of the Emperor Decius (250). He died as a martyr in 258, and among his many writings concerning Church life, the most important is On the Unity of the Catholic Church, which sets forth the role of the Bishop in the ecclesiastical structure.

St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch ( 107).
St. Ignatius was the second Bishop of Antioch and is commemorated on December 20 and January 29. Martyred in the Arena at Rome, while on his way to martyrdom, he wrote seven letters to Christian communities, as well as to St. Polycarp, which contain valuable information on the dogmas, organization and liturgy of the early Church.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons ( 202).
St. Irenaeus, who is commemorated on August 23, was a disciple of St. Polycarp, and, as a Westerner, he succeeded St. Photinus as Bishop of Lyons. His major doctrinal work is Against Heresies, which defends Orthodoxy against the Gnostics, borrowing heavily on both human reason and Holy Scripture and Tradition, serving as an important witness to Church traditions of his time.

St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna ( 167).
St. Polycarp was a disciple of St. John the Theologian and is commemorated as a martyr on February 23. The account of his martyrdom, the earliest detailed account of a martyr, gives an excellent picture of his character and the steadfastness of his Christian faith.

Notable Fathers of the Early Byzantine Period.
St. Anthony the Great ( 356).
St. Anthony, commemorated January 17, is considered to be the Father of monasticism, and The Life of St. Anthony, by St. Athanasius, presents him as a truly inspiring example of monastic ascetical perfection. During the Arian controversies, he risked his life defending the Orthodox teachings of St. Athanasius in Alexandria.

St. Athanasius the Great, Patriarch of Alexandria ( 373).
St. Athanasius, commemorated January 18 and May 2, was a great defender of the Orthodox faith during the Arian controversies and was exiled five times for his labors. Among his major writings are The Incarnation of Christ and The Life of St. Anthony, which serve as major inspirations for Orthodox theology and monastic spirituality.

St. Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia ( 379).
St. Basil, commemorated January 1 and January 30, was a notable theologian and spiritual writer of the 4th Century and is noted for his many writings on numerous theological and spiritual subjects, as well as commentaries on Holy Scripture. During the Sundays of Great Lent, as well as on his Feast Day (Jan. 1), the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is served, although probably only the prayers are actually of this Saint.

St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria ( 444).
St. Cyril, commemorated on January 18 and June 9, was the leader in the defense of Orthodoxy against the Nestorians, and was a firm defender of the veneration of the Virgin Mary as Theotokos. He was especially prominent in the deliberations of the Third Ecumenical Council.

St. Ephraim the Syrian ( 373-9).
St. Ephraim, commemorated January 28, was a major spiritual writer and hymnographer of the 4th Century, and is especially noted in Orthodox liturgical life for, among other things, his inspiring work, The Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, which is said at all of the weekday services of Great Lent.

St. Gregory the Theologian, Archbishop of Constantinople ( 389).
St. Gregory, commemorated January 25 and 30, was a fellow student and friend of St. Basil the Great and was a leading opponent of the Arians. He has been honored by the Church with the title Theologian, being one of only three, so honored (the others being St. John the Evangelist, and St. Simeon the New Theologian), primarily because of his Five Theological Orations.

St. Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa (4th Cent.).
St. Gregory was the younger brother of St. Basil the Great and is commemorated on January 10. He is especially known for his spiritual writings, as well as various dogmatic works, including his Great Catechism.

St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople ( 407).
St. John Chrysostom (the Golden-mouth), commemorated January 27 and 30 and November 13, was one of the greatest preachers of his time (late 4th Century) and was known for his zeal for Orthodoxy and his passionate defense of the poor, boldly exposing the vices of his age, for which reason he was eventually deposed and exiled. The bulk of his works are sermons on Holy Scripture, especially the Epistles of St. Paul, as well as other ascetical and pastoral works, including his On the Priesthood. To St. John is attributed the usual Divine Liturgy, although, as in the case of that of St. Basil the Great, probably only certain prayers are properly his.

Notable Fathers of the Later Byzantine Period.
St. Gregory the Dialogist, Pope of Rome ( 604).
St. Gregory the Dialogist, commemorated March 12, was Pope of Rome in the 7th Century and was noted for his many literary works, including his Dialogues on the monastic Saints of Italy. To him is ascribed the writing-down of the beautiful Gregorian Chants as well as the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, during which he is specially commemorated.

St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica ( ca. 1360).
St. Gregory, commemorated on November 14 and the Second Sunday of Great Lent, was a pious Monk of Mt. Athos, and later was elected to the See of Thessalonica as its Bishop. He is noted for his defense of the contemplative life of hesychasm (inner silence), teaching concerning the uncreated Light of Tabor and the Divine Energies of God, through which man can have true communion with God.

St. John of Damascus (Damascene ( 776)).
St. John, commemorated December 4, was noted for his Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, a major dogmatic work, as well as his zealous defense of the Holy Icons, for which he suffered the severing of his hand (miraculously restored by the prayers of the Mother of God). He is also noted for his many sermons on Feast Days, as well as numerous hymns, extensively used in Orthodox liturgical services.

St. Mark, Archbishop of Ephesus (15th Cent.).
St. Mark, commemorated January 19, accompanied the Byzantine Emperor to the Council of Florence, and single-handedly defended the Orthodox faith against the Latins. His brilliant defense of Orthodoxy and his letters after the Council were largely responsible for the Orthodox rejection of this false Council.

St. Photius the Great, Patriarch of Constantinople ( 891).
St. Photius, commemorated February 6, was a zealous defender of Orthodoxy against the Latin error of the Filioque, for which he suffered much. He wrote on the Procession of the Holy Spirit and was responsible for the commissioning of Sts. Cyril and Methodius for the conversion of the Slavs.

St. Simeon the New Theologian ( 1021).
St. Simeon, commemorated March 12 and October 12, was noted as a brilliant spiritual writer, whose works hold a place of honor in the Phllokalia, a major monastic spiritual work. For this reason he endured persecution and also received the veneration of the Orthodox Church which honors him as the New Theologian.

The Conversion of the Slavs.
Of major importance in the history and development of Orthodoxy was the conversion of the Slavs and the shifting of the focus of the Church to the northern regions of Bulgaria, Serbia, Moravia, Romania, and then Russia. In the middle of the 9th Century, Patriarch Photius initiated large scale missionary labors in these regions by sending out the two brothers Constantine (in monasticism Cyril 1869) and Methodius (885 both are commemorated May 11), first to the Khazar State north of the Caucasus (this was largely unsuccessful) and then to Moravia (Czechoslovakia) in 863.

The Prince of Moravia, Rostislav, desired that his people hear the Word of God in their own language and the two brothers were apt missionaries in this respect as they had developed an alphabet, adapted from the Greek, which later was called Cyrillic (after St. Cyril). Using a local Macedonian dialect which they had heard near their birthplace of Thessalonica, the brothers began translating the liturgical books, Holy Scripture, etc., into this dialect, using the new alphabet which they had developed. This new liturgical language Church Slavonic became of crucial importance in the extension of the Orthodox faith into the Balkans and ultimately to Russia. This was so, since, unlike the Roman Catholic Church, which continued to insist on the use of Latin, the use of Church Slavonic allowed the new converts to hear the Gospel and the services in a language they could understand.

The Mission to Moravia was ultimately doomed to failure because of the jealousy and persecution of German missionaries working in the same area. The brothers traveled to Rome (where St. Cyril died)and placed themselves under the protection of the Pope, but this was not honored by the Germans in Moravia and after the death of St. Methodius in 885, his followers were expelled from the country.

The missionary labors of Cyril and Methodius were not in vain, however, for their disciples were successful in Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria. Led by St. Clement of Ochrid (commemorated November 25), the missionaries were successful and in 869, Tsar Boris of Bulgaria himself was baptized. The Bulgarian Church grew rapidly and about 926, under Tsar Simeon, an independent Patriarchate was established there, recognized by Constantinople in 927 (although later suppressed), and the Bulgarian Church became the first national Slavic Church.

The missionaries were likewise successful in Serbia and with the baptism of Prince Mutimir ( 891), Serbia became officially Christian. After a period of vacillation between East and West, Serbia came under the sway of Constantinople. Under St. Sava ( 1237 commemorated January 12), the Serbian Church became partially independent with his consecration in 1219 as Archbishop of Serbia, and in 1346 a Serbian Patriarchate was established with the consecration of Bishop Ioannikios, recognized by Constantinople in 1375.

Missionaries from Bulgaria traveled to the Romanian lands and by the end of the 9th Century portions of the Romanian people had been Christianized, adopting the Slavonic Liturgy, but it was not really until the rise of the Wallachian Moldavian principalities in the 14th Century that the Church actually began to thrive. In 1359 a Wallachian Metropolitan was appointed by Constantinople to the new See of Argesin the foothills of the Transylvanian Alps and in 1401, the Romanian Metropolitan of Suceava in Moldavia was recognized by Constantinople.

The missionaries had also penetrated into Croatia, Dalmatia, Illyria, Bosnia and Montenegro, but these areas were, for the most part, under the influence and control of the Latin West during this period.

The Conversion of Russia The Russian Orthodox Church.
Missionaries penetrated into Russia during this period and the Russian Princess Olga was converted to Christianity in 955, although the effective Christianization of Russia actually received its greatest impetus with the conversion of Olga’s grandson, Vladimir, in 988. According to Russian tradition, Grand Prince Vladimir of Kiev decided that an official religion was necessary for his country and he was unsure which to choose: the Islam of the Volga Bulgars, the Judaism of the Khazars (on the lower Volga), the Latin Christianity of the Germans, or the Orthodox faith of the Greeks. Accordingly he sent envoys to the various regions to enquire of their faiths and to make a report to him.

The envoys fulfilled their appointed mission and then reported to Vladimir:

When we journeyed among the Bulgarians [of the Volga region], we beheld how they worship in their temple, called a mosque, while they stand ungirt. The Bulgarian bows, sits down, looks hither and thither like one possessed, and their is no happiness among them, but instead only sorrow and a dreadful stench. Their religion is not good. Then we went among the Germans, and saw them performing many ceremonies in their temples; but we beheld no glory there. Then we went on to Greece, and the Greeks led us to the edifices where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations…. [From the Russian Primary Chronicle].

After receiving the report of the envoys, Vladimir went to war with the Byzantine Empire and laid siege to the Greek city of Kherson. He promised to accept Christianity if he was successful in this campaign and after the capture of the city, he did, in fact, embrace Orthodoxy and was given in marriage Anna, the sister of the Byzantine Emperors Basil and Constantine. Returning to his capital of Kiev, Vladimir ordered that all pagan idols be destroyed. The people were exhorted to renounce paganism whereupon they embraced the Orthodox faith and received Baptism in 988. From this date Russia became officially Christian.

With the conversion of Vladimir (later canonized by the Russian Church commemorated July 15), Orthodoxy spread rapidly and already, within fifty years, the Russian Church had her first canonized Saints, the martyred brothers Boris and Gleb ( 1015 commemorated together on July 24). In 1051 the first Russian Monastery (The Monastery of the Caves) was founded in Kiev by St. Anthony ( 1073 commemorated July 10), later reorganized by St. Theodosius ( 1074 commemorated May 3 and August 14; he and St. Anthony are commemorated together on September 2). In 1037, Theopemptos was consecrated Metropolitan of Kiev and all but two of the Metropolitans of this period were Greeks, appointed by Constantinople. (The first Russian Metropolitan was Hilarion in 1051, and the other Clement in 1147). To this day, the Russian Church still sings in Greek the greeting to a Bishop, Eis polla eti, Despota, in recognition of the debt owed by the Russian Church to Greek Byzantium.

Disaster befell the Kievan State in 1237 with the onslaught of the Mongols, who ruled until 1480, and during this period only the Church kept alive national consciousness, much as was later done by the Greek Church under the Turkish yoke. The primary See of the Russian Church was moved from Kiev to Moscow by St. Peter, Metropolitan of Kiev ( 1326 commemorated December 21), and henceforth ceased to be the city of the chief Hierarch.

Three important Saints shone in this period: St. Alexander Nevsky, Prince of Novgorod ( 1263 commemorated August 30 and November 23), who preserved the political structure of his Principality (alone unharmed by the Mongols in their invasion) against the Swedes, Germans and Lithuanians; St. Sergius of Radonezh ( 1392 commemorated September 25 and July 5), founder of the famous Trinity St. Sergius Monastery at Sergiev Posad (Zagorsk) near Moscow, (from which Monks spread out through all of Northern Russia), probably one of Russia’s greatest national figures (as was St. Sava in Serbia); and St. Stephen, Bishop of Perm ( 1396 commemorated April 26) who, in a sense, was the first of the long line of missionaries who were eventually to come to Russian America.

After the Council of Florence in 1440, Constantinople had accepted union with the Roman Catholic Church and Russia could not accept a Metropolitan from there. Finally, in 1448, a council of Russian Bishops elected their own Metropolitan and from this date the Russian Church has reckoned her independence. In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Turks and from this date the Russian Church remained the sole free branch of Orthodoxy. Men began to see Moscow as the Third Rome, and the Grand Duke of Moscow assumed the titles of the Byzantine Emperors Autocrat and Tsar the earthly protector of Orthodoxy. Accordingly, with the rising power of Russia, in 1589, the head of the Russian Church was raised to the rank of Patriarch (the first being Patriarch Job), ranking fifth after Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem.

The Russian Church was not without its own turmoils however. In 1503 came the beginnings of a split in the monastic ranks between the Non-Possessors (followers of St. Nilus of Sora ( 1508 commemorated May 7)), who argued for monastic poverty, and the Possessors (followers of St. Joseph of Volokolamsk, 1515, commemorated September 9), who defended monastic landholding. The Non-Possessors were more lenient and gentle concerning the treatment of heretics, considering it to be solely a Church matter, while the Possessors, great supporters of the idea of the Third Rome, believed in a close association between Church and State in such matters (and many others as well). In this struggle the Possessors were victorious, but recognizing the sanctity of both leaders, the Church has enrolled both Joseph and Nilus in the Calendar of Saints.

In the mid-17th Century there occurred in the Russian Church a major split due to the liturgical reforms of Patriarch Nikon (1605-1681) who attempted to correct certain corruptions in the liturgical books and liturgical practice. The result was the splitting off of the Old Believers, who resisted the changes (many of which were ill-founded), as well as their persecution, and this schism has endured to the present day. The leaders of the Old Believers, including the Archpriest Avakkum, were burned at the stake and Nikon himself suffered persecution, since the Council of

Moscow, which met in 1666-7, endorsed his reforms, but deposed him from his Patriarchal Office because of his intemperance and arrogance.

A third major event which was to have a profound effect on the Russian Church, was the abolition of the Patriarchate by Tsar Peter I (the Great) in 1721. The Patriarch had died in 1700 and Peter, wishing no more Nikons, refused to allow the appointment of a successor. Accordingly, in 1721 he issued his celebrated Spiritual Regulations, and the Russian Church was placed under an uncanonical Synodal System, whereby a Synod of twelve members, drawn from the Bishops, Abbots and secular Clergy appointed by the Government ruled the Church. However, all meetings were attended by a government functionary, the Chief Procurator, representing the Tsar, and all decisions had to be approved by the Sovereign. At the same time monasticism was severely restricted and later in the Century more than half the monasteries were closed by Empress Catherine II (the Great 1762-96) and their lands confiscated.

This Synodal Period, which lasted until 1917, was a period of spiritual low for the Church, although there were a few bright spots. Missionary activity, always a strong feature of the Russian Church, expanded throughout Siberia and Central Asia, eventually reaching Alaska. Certain monasteries were revitalized, including the famous center of Valaam, and the spiritual traditions of Mt. Athos, especially popularized by Paisius Velichkovsky and his Philokalia, reached Russia, through the efforts of Metropolitan Gabriel of Moscow and his disciple, Nazarius, Abbot of Valaam. A special system of spiritual direction, eldership (or starchestvo) developed, especially popularized at the Optino Hermitage under the Elders Leonid, Macarius, Amvrosy and Joseph, and a few Saints shone during this time, especially St. Tikhon of Zadonsk ( 1783 commemorated August 13), a revitalizer of pastoral life, and St. Seraphim of Sarov ( 1833 commemorated January 2 and July 19).

Finally, in 1917, with the Fall of the Monarchy, the Patriarchate was re-established and Tikhon, Metropolitan of Moscow, was elected Patriarch by the All-Russian Council of that year. Sadly, however, the Church was soon engulfed in the fires of the Bolshevik Revolution of that year and the unprecedented persecutions which followed. The Russian Orthodox Church since 1917 has endured sufferings without parallel, contributing a new rank of Martyrs to the Church Triumphant, yet despite the severe decimation of her faithful, clergy, and institutions, she still remains a powerful spiritual and moral force in the Orthodox world, confirming that the Church of Christ is built upon a rock, for in the words of the Savior, the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18).

Excerpt taken from “These Truths We Hold – The Holy Orthodox Church: Her Life and Teachings”. Compiled and Edited by A Monk of St. Tikhon’s Monastery. Copyright 1986 by the St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, South Canaan, Pennsylvania 18459.

To order a copy of “These Truths We Hold” visit the St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary Bookstore.