Monthly Archives: April 2015

Thomas Christians

Malankara Church BronxAlthough we know that Christianity is growing by leaps and bounds in Asia and Africa, we tend to think of the churches there are results of several centuries of Western missionary efforts. There is truth in this, but it is not the whole story. There are Asian and African churches whose history goes back to the very beginning of the church.
For example, in the Book of Acts in Chapter eight we see an official of the Ethiopian court reading the prophesies of the Messiah in the Old Testament. He doesn’t quite understand them. But God tells St. Phillip, one of the first deacons, to approach this Ethiopian official and tell them that these prophesies have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. After some discussion St. Phillip baptizes the man Ethiopian Orthodox Atlanta GAon the spot. This newly converted Christian goes back to Ethiopia and spreads the faith there. We don’t know much about the early history of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church but it clearly has traditions going back to the apostolic age.
On the first Sunday after Pascha we read the story of the encounter of St. Thomas the Apostle with the risen Christ, after Saint Thomas had expressed some doubts in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. According to early and wide spread Christian tradition, St. Thomas went to spread the Gospel in India, especially in the area of Kerala and many people in that region converted to Christianity as a result of St. Thomas’ preaching. These Christians refer to themselves as Thomas Christians. In recent years mMalankara Church Bronxany Indian Christians have moved to the United States and we can see many Indian Christian Churches in many parts of the United States, including Long Island. There are Indian Orthodox seminarians attending Orthodox seminaries in this country. The example of the Ethiopian Christians and the Thomas Christians reminds us that Orthodox Christianity is not simply a Western religion, but rather has a message for all peoples, whether they and their ancestors converted to Christianity in the first or twenty-first centuries.

Troparion — Tone 7

From the sealed tomb, Thou didst shine forth O Life! / Through closed doors Thou didst
come to Thy disciples, O Christ God! / Renew in us, through them, an upright spirit, / By
the greatness of Thy mercy, O Resurrection of all!

Kontakion — Tone 8

Thomas touched Thy life-giving side with an eager hand, O Christ God, / When Thou didst come to Thine apostles through closed doors. / He cried out with all: Thou art my Lord and my God!

Fr. John

Love Overcomes Fear

Peter Icon small shadowDuring the week of Thomas Sunday, April 19th, we read Acts 4: 13 to 5: 33 in sections. These verses are filled with wonderful evidence of the power of love in the young Church.
The first verses describe the “boldness” of the apostles Peter and John, who preach to growing crowds that there is “salvation in no one else” except Jesus Christ. When the chief priests and elders warn them to stop, their response shows that they are not the same fearful men who hid away when Christ was crucified. They are compelled, they answer, to share the truth they have seen and heard.
The two apostles return to their friends, and everyone prays together that God will look upon the threats made against them, and “grant to Thy servants to speak Thy word with all boldness.” The place where they are gathered is “shaken” and they are filled with the Holy Spirit. There will be hostile enemies trying to instil fear in them, but the Spirit will strengthen them to overcome it with love.
The next verses describe the practical results of the love God has enabled them to share. “Great grace” is upon them all, and there “is not a needy person among them.” Everyone gives their property or money, laying it at the apostles’ feet to be used for the common good.

But the Book of Acts is not a naive description of idealized human behavior. So the very next verses tell us of a married couple, Ananias and Sapphira, who succumb to temptation and betray this communal trust and love. They sell their property and bring what they claim is the total of the proceeds, while actually keeping back some.
Peter says solemn words to Ananias: “You have not lied to men but to God.” He is not pronouncing judgment, but seems to be saying that in the atmosphere of love, deceit cannot survive. Ananias falls dead on the spot. When his wife Sapphira continues to lie to Peter about the price of their property, she too dies immediately.
Following both deaths, we read that “great fear” fell upon those who heard about them, and indeed upon the whole church. But even this fear is overcome by God’s love, the love uniting His people. The next verses tell us that “more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women…”
On April 22nd the Church commemorates the Holy Martyr Leonidas, the father of the prominent theologian Origen. Leonidas, a brilliant Christian philosopher, was imprisoned during one of the third-century persecutions of Christians. His wife and seven children, of whom Origen was the oldest, were terrified, especially when all their possessions were confiscated by imperial decree, leaving them in abject poverty.
Yet Leonidas had nurtured in his eldest son a deep love for God. Origen wrote to his father in prison: “Do not worry about us, and do not flee from martyrdom on our account.” He was one more person who knew that love centered in God can always overcome fear.

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Christ is Risen!

icons-churchyearThe Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ gives us salvation and eternal joy. But it is always beyond our human ability to “understand.”
The first two days of Bright Week, April 13th and 14th, commemorate events that offer other examples of the limits of human understanding. In all these events God is working for us, but people fail, at least at first, to see what He is doing.
On the 14th we read the story of Christ’s encounter with two apostles on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 12-35). These two apostles, who knew Him and are actually in His presence, not only don’t recognize Him, but are sure that His death meant the end of all their hopes.
So Jesus must ask them, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” He even calls them “foolish” and “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” God’s plan was laid out in the Old Testament prophecies, yet even the apostles do not immediately see its fulfilment in Jesus Christ. Once these two who meet Him on the road see Him break bread, they come to understand.
On the 13th we read, in Acts 1: 12-17, the testimony of John the Baptist concerning Jesus Christ. The next day we read verses 21-26, and we see once again the failure of human understanding. John is peppered with questions: “Who are you?” “Are you Elijah?” “Why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?”
John tells them of the One whose sandal he is not worthy to untie, whose way he was sent to prepare. That role of preparation, of being the forerunner, is what God has planned for him. Soon after, some of John’s followers will meet Christ, and they will understand.
Also on the 13th we remember Saint Thomais, a young Christian woman of Alexandria. Her husband was a fisherman, and often was away from home on his fishing boat. One night when her husband was absent, her father-in-law was overcome by passion and tried to force her to have sexual relations with him. She resisted, reminding him of God’s Law. He became so enraged that he grabbed a knife and killed her.
Saint Daniel of Scetis, who was in Alexandria at the time, heard about this and told the monks to bring the young woman’s body to the cemetery of a nearby monastery, to be buried with the departed monks. Again, a question revealing limited understanding was asked by some of the monks: How can a woman be buried among our departed fathers? Daniel replied: “She is my mother and your mother, because she died for her chastity.”
In time, the monks came to understand. Those among them who were tormented by lustful 0413thomaispassions were directed to pray at her grave, and received healing and relief.
What events will come into our lives as part of God’s plan? Will we question them? Or perhaps we will be ready to accept the answer to all questions: Christ is Risen!

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The Paschal Sermon of St. John Chrysostom

At the Paschal Divine Liturgy it is the custom that the priest not give his own sermon, but rather read the Paschal sermon of St. John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople (347-407 AD). St. John is the author of our Liturgy and probably the greatest preacher in the history of the Orthodox Church. The name “Chrysostom” is actually a nicknamemeaning “golden-mouth” in Greek. He has this nickname because of his skill as a preacher. Let us all read St. John’s sermon and take it to hear, or rather Christ’s invitation to partake of the Body and Blood of the Risen Christ, at the Paschal Divine Liturgy.

The Paschal Sermon of St. John Chrysostom

If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.
And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day.
Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is fully-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.
O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are
overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.

Огласительное слово на Пасху святителя Иоанна Златоуста

Кто благочестив и Боголюбив — насладись ныне сим прекрасным и радостным торжеством! Кто слуга благоразумный — войди, радуясь, в радость Господа своего! Кто потрудился, постясь, — прими ныне динарий! Кто работал с первого часа — получи ныне заслуженную плату! Кто пришел после третьего часа — с благодарностью празднуй! Кто достиг только после шестого часа — нисколько не сомневайся, ибо и ничего не теряешь! Кто замедлил и до девятого часа — приступи без всякого сомнения и боязни! Кто же подоспел прийти лишь к одиннадцатому часу — и тот не страшися своего промедления! Ибо щедр Домовладыка: принимает последнего, как и первого; ублажает пришедшего в одиннадцатый час так же, как и трудившегося с первого часа; и последнего одаряет, и первому воздает достойное; и тому дает, и этому дарует; и деяние принимает, и намерение приветствует; и труд ценит, и расположение хвалит.
Итак, все — все войдите в радость Господа своего! И первые, и последние, примите награду; богатые и бедные, друг с другом ликуйте; воздержные и беспечные, равно почтите этот день; постившиеся и непостившиеся, возвеселитесь ныне! Трапеза обильна, насладитесь все! Телец упитанный, никто не уходи голодным! Все насладитесь пиром веры, все воспримите богатство благости!
Никто не рыдай о своем убожестве, ибо для всех настало Царство! Никто не плачь о своих грехах, потому что из гроба воссияло прощение! Никто не бойся смерти, ибо освободила нас Спасова смерть! Объятый смертью, Он угасил смерть. Сошед во ад, Он пленил ад и огорчил того, кто коснулся Его плоти.
Предвосхищая сие, Исаия воскликнул: «Ад огорчился, встретив Тебя в преисподних своих». Огорчился ад, ибо упразднен! Огорчился, ибо осмеян! Огорчился, ибо умерщвлен! Огорчился, ибо низложен! Огорчился, ибо связан!
Взял тело, а прикоснулся Бога; принял землю, а нашел в нем небо; взял то, что видел, а подвергся тому, чего не ожидал! Смерть! где твое жало?! Ад! где твоя победа?!
Воскрес Христос, и ты низвержен! Воскрес Христос, и пали демоны! Воскрес Христос, и радуются ангелы! Воскрес Христос, и торжествует жизнь! Воскрес Христос, и никто не мертв во гробе! Ибо Христос, восстав из гроба, — первенец из умерших. Ему слава и держава во веки веков! Аминь.

The Prayers of Saint Basil

St. BasilOn Holy Saturday, April 11th this year, we celebrate the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil, as we have on all the Sundays of Great Lent. We return to the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom on Holy Pascha.
The prayers of Saint Basil’s Liturgy are rich in meaning. For example, they are filled with reminders of the incredible things God has done for us. The First Prayer of the Faithful begins, “Thou, Lord, hast revealed to us this great mystery of salvation.” The Offertory Prayer addresses God, “O Lord, our God, who hast created us and brought us into this life, who has shown us the ways to salvation, and bestowed on us the revelation of heavenly mysteries…”
In the Prayer of Commemoration, Saint Basil names some ways God did these things: by speaking to us through the prophets, enabling saints to do mighty works, giving us the Law as a help, and appointing angels as our guardians. Then, in the fullness of time, He gave the greatest gift of all, sending His Son who was God before the ages but was “likened to the body of our lowliness, that He might liken us to the image of His glory.”
Saint Basil asks God to show His mercy to human beings in all kinds of situations, with complete trust that He will do so. For catechumens Basil asks, “Grant them a light yoke.” With human frailty in mind he calls on God to remember the people who might not be remembered in prayer by those serving at the altar “through ignorance, forgetfulness, or the multitude of names…” As part of the long First Prayer of Intercession he asks God to “defend the widows, protect the orphans, free the captives, heal the sick” and remember those in courts, mines, exile, harsh labor, affliction, necessity or distress.
In a series of questions, Basil expresses his own wonder at God’s magnificence: “Who can utter Thy mighty acts? Or make all Thy praises known? Or tell of all Thy miracles at all times?”
In the Prayer of Preparation, Saint Basil acknowledges the responsibility we assume by receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. He asks that God “let none of us be guilty of these, Thy heavenly Mysteries, nor be infirm in soul and body by partaking of them unworthily.” Instead, may our receiving them worthily be “a support on the road to eternal life and an acceptable defense at the dread judgment seat of Thy Christ.”

Troparion – Tone 1

Your proclamation has gone out into all the earth Which was divinely taught by hearing your voice
Expounding the nature of creatures, Ennobling the manners of men. O holy father of a royal priesthood,
Entreat Christ God that our souls may be saved.

These prayers reflect many things we know of Saint Basil as a person. He gave comfort and care to those in all kinds of need, and lovingly interacted with lepers centuries before the famous Father Damian of Molokai did so. He enjoyed and was humbly amazed by the beauty of God’s creation and miracles. He saw it as every Christian’s duty to realize the great privilege of Eucharistic participation.
Saint Basil’s many writings also express these things. But by worshipping at the Liturgy bearing his name, we share them with him, as part of the Church he described as stretching “from end to end of the universe.”

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