Monthly Archives: February 2015

Do Not Rely on Your Own Insight

LordThe title words are from Proverbs 3: 5b, which is read on February 26.

That verse begins: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart,” and the following verses continue: “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”

On this same day, the readings from Genesis that began on the first day of Great Lent continue, as they will until Palm Sunday. This day’s verses include some of the most beautiful and fundamental in Genesis, telling us how Adam and Eve were created to be together.

Genesis 2: 17 gives the story of God forming Adam from the dust of the ground and “breathing into his nostrils the breath of life” and then planting the Garden of Eden with every tree that is “pleasant to the sight and good for food.” The garden is watered by four rivers.

God puts Adam in the garden to till and keep it, and gives him the commandment to enjoy everything except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Almost as soon as He has done this, God declares that “it is not good that the man should be alone.”

God presents all the beasts of the field and birds of the air to Adam, who has the privilege of naming them. But among all of these there isn’t found “a helper fit for him.” So finally God takes Adam’s own ribs while he sleeps, and fashions Eve. Adam pronounces her to be that fit helper, “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”

All this beauty and true companionship, so perfectly planned by God, still depends on the free will that God has also given to His creatures. In the very next day’s reading, Adam and Eve will, as we know, undo all the good things God planned for them. How we wish they could have heeded those words from Proverbs: “Do not rely on your own insight; be not wise in your own eyes,” and “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”

In the Greek Orthodox Church’s calendar on this day, another woman who needed to trust the Lord is commemorated. She is Photini, the Samaritan Woman who meets Christ at Jacob’s Well. She has many questions, but she also has patience and she doesn’t rush ahead to act on her “own insight.” Once she understands that Christ is the promised Messiah, she humbly becomes one of His servants as an evangelist, and does great work in spreading the Gospel.

What about Adam and Eve? We know that the icon of the Resurrection will greet us at the Lenten journey’s end. There on the icon they will be, the first two people, no longer outcasts from Paradise. Christ is stretching out His hand to take them to the Kingdom.

This and many other Christian Education resources are available at http://dce.oca.org

Cheesefare (Forgiveness Sunday)

In last week’s Gospel we were told that we would be judged by Christ at the end of time on the basis of how we helped people in need. This is quite challenging, but probably most of us try to do this. However, there is a lurking danger here. That is, we may begin to feel superior to those we help. This is the sin of pride. How do we know if we are proud? Perhaps the person we help is not sufficiently grateful or is rude to us. If our anger flares up, then we know we are proud, which is a sin. But if we do sin in this way we know that God will forgive us. However God will only forgive us if we forgive others. As our Lord says in today’s Gospel (Mt 6:14-15) “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Christ warns us of another area where pride may be lurking. He says in regard to fasting (Mt 6:16-18) “And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” These words do not apply to us literally; we do not “disfigure our face” or fail to “wash our face” when we are fasting. But we can make a show of our fasting. For example, if we visit a non-Orthodox person’s house during Lent and that person innocently prepares some non-Lenten food, we should not assert ourselves by announcing that we are fasting and can’t eat it. This could be a tremendous source of pride. But of course, the real danger is within us. If, when we fast, if we feel superior to another Orthodox person whom we see eating meat during Lent, Web Article February 22, 2015 these can easily turn into another source of pride. This is something we must struggle against.
But important as giving up meat and airy products is, this is not the whole of fasting. For example it is easier to not eat meat rather than to fast from gossip or spiteful words. Our daily life is so filled with words of judgment, anger, spite and so on, the thought of fasting from them can almost seem impossible. However, fasting from animal products during Lent can strengthen our ability to fast from hurtful words, so we see that both kinds of fasting are necessary during Lent.

Fr. John

The Day of the Lord

Prophet_JoelOn February 18 we read a good portion of the relatively short book (three chapters in all) of the Prophet Joel.
Joel prophesies in the first chapter that the Day of the Lord, which is soon to come, will be “a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness!” But in the opening verses of today’s reading, he urges repentance and reassures the people: “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing” (2: 12-13a).
Joel writes that for those who show by repentance that they want to be with the Lord, there are incredible gifts in store. The Day of the Lord which he has described so darkly will also be, for those who love God, a day when “the mountains shall drip sweet wine, the hills shall flow with milk, and all the stream beds of Judah shall flow with water” (3: 18).
On this day the Church commemorates Saint Leo, Pope of Rome, who was born in the fourth century in Tuscany, Italy. He became Pope in a time when the faith was challenged internally by false teachings about the two natures of Christ, and from the outside by invaders from other lands. Saint Leo knew the Church would be tested from within and without.
He had a wonderful gift of being able to negotiate between two opposing parties. When Northern Italy was overrun by the Huns, he was called on by the emperor himself to meet with Attila, the Huns’ famous warrior leader. With no weapons, and certainly no army, he managed to convince Attila not to devastate Rome. Attila’s servants later said that their master had agreed because he had seen the figure of a priest mysteriously appear above Leo’s head as the two men met.
Two years later, in 455, the Vandals and their leader Gunderic did loot Rome, pillaging homes and taking many of its citizens as slaves. Leo wasn’t able to stop the destruction that time, but he urged the people not to lose hope or faith.
Despite the outward turbulence of his years as Pope, Saint Leo was not distracted from the task of articulating the faith correctly. He insisted that the two natures of Christ must always
be clearly expressed as truth. His words are still used by the Church: “One and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, known in two natures, without confusion, without change,
without division, without separation…”

Troparian – Tone 3You were the Church’s instrument
in strengthening the teaching of true doctrine;
you shone forth from the West like a sun dispelling the errors
of the heretics.
Righteous Leo, entreat Christ God to grant us His great mercy.

Saint Leo knew that the repentance Joel wrote about meant maintaining faith in God even when devastated by foreign invaders. But he knew that it also meant continuing to proclaim
the truth of Jesus Christ’s two unbreakably united natures. Only by believing in God even when facing physical suffering, while also honoring Him as “one and the same Christ…known in two natures…” can we be worthy of the Day of the Lord.

This and many other Christian Education resources are available at http://dce.oca.org

Saint Nicholas of Japan

Nicholas_Portr

St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas of Japan as born in 1836 in Smolensk Province, the son of a deacon.  After graduating from the St. Petersburg Theological Academy in 1860, he became a priest-monk and volunteered to be a chaplain in Hakodate, Japan. At first the rector of the Academy tried to dissuade St. Nicholas from becoming a chaplain saying that he would be wasting his abilities as a consular chaplain. St. Nicholas said he planned to be not only a chaplain, but a missionary to Japan.
St. Nicholas arrived in Japan in 1861. At that time Japan had only recently been opened to foreigners. For over two hundred years Japan was closed to foreigners. Foreigners, with few exceptions, were forbidden to enter Japan and Japanese were forbidden to leave. It was only Western military pressure that forced Japan to open itself.  During this period Christianity was illegal. Any Japanese who was found to be a Christian was tortured and executed unless he renounced Christianity. When St. Nicholas arrived in Japan, Christianity was still forbidden. Foreigners could practice Christianity but they were forbidden from teaching it to the Japanese.sn 10 publishing office
Because he could not preach to the Japanese, he spent the following seven years mastering the Japanese language and studying Japanese history and culture.
During this period he made some contacts with Japanese and four men were secretly baptized in the consulate chapel.
In 1868 there was a change of government in Japan, which brought about many other changes. Although it was still technically illegal, there was a tremendous interest in Christianity. In 1871 St. Nicholas moved to Tokyo. Over the years in Tokyo, St. Nicholas established a theological seminary and a girl’s school. He also organized a library, a publication department and an iconography school. A great cathedral was also built. St. Nicholas and various Russian and Japanese priests went throughout Japan converting thousands of Japanese to Christianity.
St. Nicholas most difficult time was the Russo-Japanese War from 1904 and 1905. He was the only Russian to remain in Japan during the war. He did a great deal to help Russian prisoners of war in Japan and was later given sn5 north gateawards for this from the Japanese and Russian emperors for his work during the war. St. Nicholas died on February 16, 1912.
During his over fifty years in Japan, St. Nicholas translated most of the Orthodox services and bible into Japanese. He ordained many Japanese men as priests. In general, one can say that St. Nicholas successfully founded a genuinely Japanese Orthodox Church which survived the Russo-Japanese War, the Russian Revolution (when all support from Russia was cut off) and World War II. It still exists today and is a living church. It is an autonomous church within the Moscow Patriarchate. When St. Nicholas was canonized in 1970, he was given the title “Enlightener of Japan”, which he truly was.

Fr. John

Compassion and Salvation

martiniancaesareaOn February 13th the Church honors Saint Martinian, a fourth-century native of Caesarea in Palestine.

His life is closely intertwined with the lives of two women, Zoe and Photina, who are commemorated on the same day. Yet he was a hermit saint, and already by the age of eighteen he had decided to live his life in a mountain retreat fairly near the city but having no contact with it. He would be there for twenty-five years, becoming known in the area for his gift of healing and his silence.

A woman of Caesarea, named Zoe, had heard a great deal about the holiness of this man who never came to the city but who seemed to be known to everyone in it. Perhaps it was because she wanted to test the power of her feminine wiles that she decided she would make him betray his vow of celibacy.

Zoe put on rags and made herself look disheveled. Then she approached his dwelling at night, pretending she was disoriented after wandering too far in the dark. Appealing to his compassion, she prevailed on him to let her spend the night in his cell. He went to sleep in a large crevice near the cell.

Just before morning, Zoe tidied herself and changed into alluring clothes she’d brought in what had seemed like a beggar’s bundle. When Martinian came to tell her she must leave, she offered herself to him in a low, sultry voice. He was almost overcome with desire, and walked outside for a moment to recover.

Perhaps it was because he’d been compassionate that God strengthened Martinian, keeping him from doing something that would have destroyed the life he’d worked for a quarter-century to build. He returned to the cell, built a small fire, and put his feet into it. The pain made this man, known for silence, cry out. He pulled his feet from the fire and lay gasping and sobbing on the ground.

Then he said to Zoe: “If I cannot bear this little fire, how shall I cope with the fires of hell?” She was so overcome that she begged him to help her change her life. He sent her to the monastery in Bethlehem overseen by Saint Paula, and there she lived in prayer and repentance for the rest of her life.

Once his legs healed, Martinian moved to a remote island, where a kind boatman brought him provisions every few months. But a few years later his compassion was called on again when he heard a young woman crying for help. She had survived a shipwreck and was floating toward his island on a plank.

Troparion – Tone 8You quenched the flames of passion,
blessed Martinian, with abundant tears;
you calmed the waves of the sea
and checked the assaults of wild beasts, saying:
“Almighty God, You are most glorious,
for You have saved me from the fire and storm!”

He went and pulled young Photina to safety. To avoid temptation, he invited her to stay on the island and live on his provisions till the boatman came again. Saying farewell, he dove into the water and swam to the mainland.

Martinian lived out his life peacefully in Athens. He is called a hermit saint, but perhaps his salvation also depended on his compassionate unwillingness to leave a woman in distress.

This and many other Christian Education resources are available at http://dce.oca.org