Have a blessed Lent!
The truest sense of authentic Christian life is found in how we actually live our daily lives. The heart, and the things that are found in its deepest chambers, is the indicator of whether we possess genuine belief or darkened cynicism. A heart that is true and holds no secrets; a heart that is grateful, wishing malice upon no one; a heart that is constantly joyous and repenting of its sins; a heart that is charitable and self-emptying; a heart that is prayerful and pure; is certainly, a heart that has enthroned Christ upon the royal seat of the soul.
The Church wishes that Christ “dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height to know the love of Christ which passes all knowledge…”
– Ephesians 3:17
“Find Jesus at the door of your heart and you will discover paradise” – St John Chrysostom
Saturday of the First Week of Lent – February 24
Service – 3rd Saturday of the Souls (Ψυχοσαββατον)
Divine Liturgy with Memorial Service – 9:00 AM
The Church of Christ traditionally commemorates the departed on the third, ninth, and fortieth days after their repose. Being moved in her love for mankind, the Church has decreed that a common memorial be made on the Saturday of Souls for all pious Orthodox Christians who have reposed from all ages past. The faithful pray that the Lord may have mercy on the souls of sinners. Furthermore, since the commemoration is for all the reposed together, we are reminded of our own impending death which should give rise for us to repent.
Praying for those who have taken their repose in the Lord during the Saturday of Souls is an act of great faith and is an expression of deep and abiding love. Prayer must be the sincere manifestation of love. Love is the first and greatest command. This is why God will always accept prayer when it is accompanied with love. When we remember our departed loved ones in prayer, there is a great deal of love expressed. How much more powerful is our prayer for the dead when it is sealed through the Holy Eucharist? How much more formidable is a prayer when it is said together with those who are our brothers and sisters in faith? Can any prayer be more remarkable than the one uttered with love through the manifestation of the Church?
If we love the departed members of our family – our fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, grandparents, forebears, children, spouses, relatives and friends, – we will certainly unite this prayer with the prayer of the Church to make supplication to Christ our God for mercy and salvation.
First Sunday of Lent – February 25
Service – Orthros, 8:15 AM; Divine Liturgy 9:30 AM; Procession of Icons 11:00 AM
SUNDAY OF ORTHODOXY
Rejoicing today in the triumph of Orthodoxy on this first Sunday of Lent, we joyfully commemorate three events: one event belonging to the past; one event to the present; and one event which still belongs to the future. Whenever we have any feast or joy in the Church, we Orthodox first of all look back — for in our present life we depend on what happened in the past. We depend first of all, of course, on the first and the ultimate triumph—that of Christ Himself. Our faith is rooted in that strange defeat which became the most glorious victory — the defeat of a man nailed to the Cross, who rose again from the dead, who is the Lord and the Master of the world. This is the first triumph of Orthodoxy. This is the content of all our commemorations and of all our joy. This man selected and chose twelve men, gave them power to preach about that defeat and that victory, and sent them to the whole world saying preach and baptize, build up the Church, announce the Kingdom of God. The Church grew; the Church covered the universe with the true faith. After 300 years of the most unequal conflict between the powerful Roman Empire and the powerless Christian Church, the Empire accepted Christ as Lord and Master. That was the second triumph of Orthodoxy.
The following centuries saw many attempts to distort the faith, to adjust it to human needs, to fill it with human content. In each generation there were those who could not accept that message of the Cross and Resurrection and life eternal. They tried to change it, and those changes we call heresies. Again there were persecutions. Again, Orthodox bishops, monks and laymen defended their faith and were condemned and went into exile and were covered with blood. And after five centuries of those conflicts and persecutions and discussions, the day came which we commemorate today, the day of the final victory of Orthodoxy as the true faith over all the heresies. It happened on the first Sunday of Lent in the year 843 in Constantinople. After almost 100 years of persecution directed against the worship of the holy icons, the Church finally proclaimed that the truth had been defined, that the truth was fully in the possession of the Church. And since then all Orthodox people, wherever they live, have gathered on this Sunday to proclaim before the world their faith in that truth, their belief that their Church is truly apostolic, truly Orthodox, truly universal.
But let us ask ourselves one question: Do all the triumphs of Orthodoxy, all the victories, belong to the past? Looking at the present today, we sometimes feel that our only consolation is to remember the past. Then, Orthodoxy was glorious, then the Orthodox Church was powerful, then it dominated. But what about the present? If the triumph of Orthodoxy belongs to the past only, if there is nothing else for us to do but commemorate, to repeat to ourselves how glorious was the past, then Orthodoxy is dead. But our faith is not dead; it continues to live by sanctifying all believers. We continue to rely on God to be victorious. Our Orthodox faith forces us to believe that it is not by accident but by divine providence that the Orthodox faith today has reached all countries, all cities, and all continents of the universe. After that historic weakness of our religion, after the persecutions by the Roman Empire, by the Turks, by the godless atheists, after all the troubles that we had to go through, today a new day begins. Something new is going to happen. And it is this future of Orthodoxy that we have to rejoice about today. Our world today is so complex. It is changing all the time. And the more it changes, the more people fear, the more they are frightened by the future, the more they are preoccupied by what will happen to them. And this is where Orthodoxy must answer their problem; this is where Orthodoxy must accept the challenge of modern civilization and reveal to men of all nations that it has remained the force of God left in history for the transformation, for the deification, for the transfiguration of human life.
The past, the present, the future: At the beginning, one lonely man on the Cross — the complete defeat. And if at that time we had been there with all our human calculations, we probably would have said: “That’s the end. Nothing else will happen.” The twelve left Him. There was no one, no one to hope. The world was in darkness. Everything seemed finished. And you know what happened three days later. Three days later He appeared. He appeared to His disciples, and their hearts were burning within them because they knew that He was the risen Lord. And since then, in every generation, there have been people with burning hearts, people who have felt that this victory of Christ had to be carried again and again into this world, to be proclaimed in order to win new human souls and to be the transforming force in history. Today this responsibility belongs to us. We feel that we are weak. We feel that we are limited, we are divided, we are still separated into so many groups, and we have so many obstacles to overcome. But today, on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, we close our eyes for a second and we rejoice in that unity which is already here. We are already in a triumph, and may God help us keep that triumph in our hearts, so that we never give up hope in that future event in the history of orthodoxy when Orthodoxy will become the victory which eternally overcomes all the obstacles, because that victory is the victory of Christ Himself.
As we approach the most important moment of the Eucharist, the priest says, “Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess….” What is the condition of the real triumph of Orthodoxy? What is the way leading to the real, the final, the ultimate victory of our faith? The answer comes from the Gospel. The answer comes from Christ Himself and from the whole tradition of Orthodoxy. It is love. Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess . . . confess our faith, our Orthodoxy. Let us, from now on, feel responsible for each other. We belong together, to Christ, to His Body, to the Church. Let us feel responsible for each other, and let us love one another. Let us put above everything else the interests of Orthodoxy in our lives. Let us understand that each one of us today has to be the apostle of Orthodoxy in a society which is asking us: “What do you believe?” “What is your faith?” And let us, above everything else, keep the memory, keep the experience, keep the taste of that unity which we are anticipating today.
Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent – March 7
Service – Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts – 6:30 PM
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is perhaps one of the oldest liturgies conducted in the Church. Its creation was of practical origins in that it allowed the faithful to commune when the Eucharistic Liturgy could not be celebrated. Of all the Lenten rules, one is unique to Orthodoxy and gives us a key to its liturgical spirit: the Divine Liturgy is never celebrated on weekdays in Lent, as great joy is incompatible with fasting. The sole exception to this rule is the Feast of Annunciation. But as not to deprive the faithful of the “food of immortality”, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is prescribed, that is a Eucharistic synaxis without the Consecration. The festal nature of the Eucharist is thus reserved for Saturdays and Sundays in Lent.
The service is attributed to St. Gregory the Dialogist (540 to 604 AD) who was a papal legate to Constantinople. However, it is thought that he simply recorded what was otherwise taking place at Agia Sophia in Constantinople. We still attribute the service to him today.
Tonight’s service instructs us by saying: “Having undertaken the spiritual fast, brethren, speak no cunning with the tongue, nor put any obstacle before your brother to scandalize him. But brightening the torch of the soul with penitence, let us cry tearfully to Christ – ‘As loving Lord, forgive us our transgressions.'”
Friday of the Third Week of Lent – March 9
Service – Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos (Χαιρετισμοι) – 7:00 PM,
Potluck Lenten Dinner to follow.
Devotional Hymns to the Theotokos are as ancient as the Christian Church. The Byzantine Empire from its very inception at Constantinople during the fourth century, closely allied itself to the Virgin Mary and always sort Her protection or intercessions. This we see from the Prayer Services to the Theotokos between the fifth and eighth centuries, and the reference to Constantinople as the ‘Queen City’.
The Akathist Hymn, which in its present form was added to by many Ecclesiastical hymnographers, existed for most part even before it was formally accepted by the Church in 626 AD. The Kontakion “To the Invincible Champion… we ascribe the victory” was added then, and came to be recognized as the Akathist Hymn, because of the following described miracle attributed to the intercession of the Theotokos.
While the Emperor of Byzantium Heracleios was on an expedition to fight the aggression of the Persians on their own grounds, there appeared outside the walls of Constantinople barbaric hordes, mostly Avars. The siege lasted a few months, and it was apparent that the outnumbered troops of the Queen City were reaching desperation. However as history records, the faith of the people worked the impossible. The venerable Patriarch Sergius with the Clergy and the Official of Byzantium Vonos, endlessly marched along the great walls of Constantinople with an icon of the Theotokos in hand, and bolstered the faith of the defenders of freedom. The miracle came soon after. Unexpectedly, as the chronicler narrates, a great storm with huge tidal waves destroyed most of the fleet of the enemy, and full retreat ensued.
The faithful of Constantinople spontaneously filled the Church of the Theotokos at Vlachernae on the Golden Horn, and with the Patriarch Sergius officiating, they prayed all night singing praises to the Virgin Mary without sitting. Hence the title of the Hymn “Akathistos”, in Greek meaning ‘not seated’.
The Akathist Hymn is a very important and indeed an integral part of our religious and Ecclesiastical life. When we are present during the first Friday Service, we firmly realize that we commence to ascend the spiritual steps of the lengthy Lenten period, to finally reach the peak with our Lord’s Glorious Resurrection.
The Akathist Hymn was not strange to the Latin West even though apart from the Eastern Church. Pope Benedict XIV granted on May 4, 1746 an indulgence of 50 days to the Latin and Eastern Rite Roman Catholics, for each recitation of the Hymn.
Fr. Vincent McNabb, a Roman Catholic Priest in London, translated the Hymn into English in 1934. In his forward remarks he stated “No apology is needed for introducing the Akathistos to the Christian West. Indeed the West might well be apologetic about its neglect, or ignorance of such a liturgical and literary masterpiece”.
In any of our Service Books we can readily see that our glorious and Ever-Virgin Theotokos is the center of many of our Orthodox Services in which prayers abound for Her interceding to Her Son, and our God, for our Salvation. The Virgin Mary is the most exalted and most honoured person by God. She is the most revered and most loved by humans. She is a binding force for all Christians. She is the Unique Personality of the world, because of the unique fact of the Lord’s Incarnation. She is the daughter of Grace and the Crystal Vessel of the Grace of the Holy Spirit (see Luke 1:26-56).
Faith in the Almighty God is primary and all important to the Holy Orthodox Church. Our dependence on God is always beyond question, and from this faith we should strive not to stray. Therefore, Services, like the Akathist Hymn, should be a must and attended by all. Moveover, this particular Service links us so beautifully with a great and glorious period of our Christian history; it is also a very live tradition, which has never ceased in the Orthodox Church since its official acceptance in 626 AD.
Living in these trying times, when we are besieged by many forces of evil, it is hoped that the Akathist Hymn as well as our other Services may become the bulwark to withstand, and indeed to overcome these forces.