Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Pentecost Icon

Icon Pentecost (347x450)When we look at an icon, especially a traditional one, we realize that it is not a naturalistic photographic image. Shapes and sizes, including human figures, often seem unnatural. The perspective is not what we are used to. Finally, time also appears distorted, with events and people of different times put together. So an icon is not like a photograph. It is more like a portrait done by a skilled artist who can often bring out depths and nuances that a camera could not catch.
This is all true of the Pentecost Icon. Pentecost was an actual historical event. We can read about it in chapter two in the Acts of the Apostles. But the icon gives us new levels of meaning than the text alone does. So for example, Saint Paul is seated among the apostles even though he was not even a Christian on the day of Pentecost.
Often the icon will show rays of light descending upon the Apostles from on high. This shows the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostle in tongues of fire. Sometimes the Holy Spirit will be depicted in the form of a dove. At the bottom of the icon an old king on a dark background is shown. This is Kosmos. He represents all of fallen humanity because we remember the world until the coming of Christ lay in darkness. In the center of the Apostles there is usually an empty seat. This is the seat of Jesus Christ, who has ascended into heaven but is invisibly present. Finally, sometimes Mary the Mother of Christ is present.
In conclusion we can see that this icon depicts the reality of the world, which still lay in darkness to a certain extent, but is being transfigured by God through the church as depicted here.

Troparion — Tone 8

Blessed art Thou O Christ Our God / Thou 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 — 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!

Fr. John

The Holy Spirit At Work

justinmartyrPentecost falls on May 31 this year.
On that day the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit. They were given the power to preach and teach without fear and with joy in the Lord.
June 1 is the feast day of another saint who was empowered by the Holy Spirit. Using his considerable intellectual skills, he sought the true God for many years. He finally found Jesus Christ, and became one of the most famous Christian teachers of the early Church. He is Saint Justin the Martyr.
Justin was born to pagan parents in about the year 100, in Judea. He had a good early education, but didn’t find it sufficient to answer his questions about the meaning of life. He decided to pursue the study of philosophy, and in his writings he describes his experiences with various teachers.
First was a Stoic, who in Justin’s words “knew nothing of God and did not even think knowledge of Him to be necessary.” Next Justin studied with a traveling, or itinerant, philosopher. But this man, he thought, was more interested in collecting his fee than imparting knowledge. Then there was a teacher of Pythagorean philosophy. But he required that a student take his courses in music, astronomy and geometry before concentrating on philosophy. Justin had little interest in or time for such requirements.
Justin’s study of Platonic philosophy brought him closer to answers. As he described it: “And the perception of immaterial things quite overpowered me, and the contemplation of ideas furnished my mind with wings, so that in a little while I supposed I had become wise; and such was my stupidity I expected forthwith to look upon God, for this is the end of Plato’s philosophy.”
Then Justin had a life-changing experience, which he later saw as a direct gift from the Holy Spirit. He met an old man who, unlike all the wise teachers he’d encountered, convinced him that there was true wisdom—not in the works of philosophers, but in the teaching of the Old Testament prophets about Jesus Christ. Justin responded with joy:
“A fire was suddenly kindled in my soul. I fell in love with the prophets and these men who had loved Christ; I reflected on all their words and found that this philosophy alone was true and profitable. That is how and why I became a philosopher. And I wish that everyone felt the same way that I do.” Observing the unshakable faith of martyrs strengthened his conviction that Christianity was true.

Kontakion – Tone 2

The whole Church of God is adorned with the wisdom of your divine words, O Justin; the world is enlightened by the radiance of your life.By the shedding of your blood, you have received a crown.As you stand before Christ with the angels, pray unceasingly for us all!

Saint Justin would later write defences of Christianity (called “Apologies”) powerful enough to convince an emperor to halt the persecutions of believers. He also formed basic Christian thought, being among the first to say that the Old Testament foretells the coming of Jesus Christ as Messiah.
Saint Justin accepted martyrdom, inspired by the example of other martyred believers. The Holy Spirit was at work in all of them, just as on the day of Pentecost when wind and fire changed the apostles’ lives forever.

This and many other Christian Education resources are available at

St. Vincent of Lerins (died 445 AD) – Commemorated May 24th

St. Vincent was a monk of the Lerins monastery on the Ile Saint Honorat, in what is now France. He is known for several things. He wrote to proclaim the Orthodox teaching that Mary, Mother of Jesus, should be called Theotokos, or God-bearer, as she was officially called at the Council of Ephesus in 431. He also defended the Orthodox doctrine of grace and free will, which was being distorted in the Western church.
However he is most famous for his Commonitory which explained how we know to distinguish the Orthodox faith from doctrinal errors. He wrote that the Orthodox, catholic faith was what was believed “everywhere, always and by all.” In other words, in the Orthodox Church individuals do not ‘discover’ and teach their own individualistic teaching that they find when reading the bible on their own. On the other hand, in the Orthodox Church there is no infallible bishop or groups of bishops.
But we have to realize that this is not an exercise in archaeology. We don’t go back, let’s say to May 1st of 900 AD and take a survey of what every person in the church believed then. We do do this, but this is not the whole story. The Orthodox faith is not static. The fundamentals of Orthodox doctrine do not change over time. However, new questions and new challenges arise in the course of history and they have to be answered and resolved anew based on the unchangeable foundation of doctrines. What St. Vincent is telling us is rather that the Holy Spirit abides in the church and allows the church to always be faithful to the basics of the faith, while at the same time dealing with new issues. No individual, no matter how holy, comes up with doctrine on his own. On the other hand, no bishop or group of bishops can infallibly come up with new doctrines. It is always the living presence of the Holy Spirit in the church which keeps that faith whole and unimpaired. We can say that this was the meaning of St. Vincent’s Commonitory for us today.

Fr. John

A Wise Man Writes About Despondency

BungeDuring the week of May 24, the Church commemorates two women who had reason to know about despondency.
Saint Theodosia (May 29) is known for courageously approaching and standing with a large group of bound Christian prisoners. She encouraged them and kept them from falling into despondency as their martyrdom became imminent. Her own martyrdom followed, and she faced it with courage and good cheer.
Saint Macrina the Elder (May 30) was the grandmother of Saint Basil the Great. She lived during the persecutions of the emperor Diocletian. To avoid imprisonment and to protect their family from suffering on their behalf because they were prominent Christians, she and her husband Basil “disappeared.” They spent years hiding in a forest, while everything they had owned was confiscated and despoiled. A life so different from the norm, and in isolation from her children and relatives, could easily have led to despondency. Yet Macrina and Basil died peacefully and grateful to God for the blessing of life.
“Despondency: The Spiritual Teaching of Evagrius Ponticus on Acedia” by Gabriel Bunge (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2013) acknowledges that Christians, like everyone else, and whether lay or monastic, can be tempted by acedia, which the author translates as “despondency.” The book is a collection of, and reflections on the subject in the writings of Evagrius Ponticus, who lived in the fourth century.
One of the ways we become despondent, Evagrius writes, is by letting Satan stir up in us dissatisfaction with the place we’re in and the thing we’re doing. He gives an example that sounds painfully contemporary:
“If the despondent one reads, then he yawns a great deal…he rubs his eyes, and stretches out his hands, and while his eyes wander from the book, he stares at the wall, then he turns away again, and reads a little, and when he leafs through the book…he counts the pages, and determines the number of sheets, finds fault with the writing and design, and in the end he snaps the book shut.”
Everyone, Evagrius notes, is assaulted by harmful thoughts, and their source is always love of self, which may take the forms of gluttony, avarice or vainglory. But even though these thoughts disturb the soul, we can refuse to consent to them.
The remedy to self-love is real love, Evagrius writes. That love can be expressed in work, because the devil loves idleness. Prayerful tears, as an expression of one’s hard-heartedness and the need for God’s salvation, are another remedy. So is a brief prayer, said consistently, as a kind of counter-statement to the devil’s promptings.Unknown12
Gabriel Bunge writes, “…the specific remedies which Evagrius prescribes are reduced basically to one: sheer persevering!” This is a conscious waiting for God, in inner silence and without distractions. It is not easy to reach that level of patient waiting, but it leads to our becoming like the Prodigal Son “on the way to his father, who then meets him, not in the father’s house, but beyond expectation, while he is still on the way.”

This and many other Christian Education resources are available at

The Hour Has Come

crucifx4On May 19 we read the Gospel of John 12: 19-36. In these verses Jesus announces, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” He goes on to tell the listening crowd what those words mean.

Jesus has, the passage tells us, gathered a large following despite the efforts of His enemies. The Pharisees admit that they “can do nothing” because “the whole world has gone after Him.”
Up to now, Jesus has said that His time has not yet come (7:6). But the moment to reveal His purpose has come. He speaks about it in a way that the crowd doesn’t expect—there’s nothing about resistance to Roman oppression or creating an earthly kingdom. He describes a grain of wheat as being able to bear fruit only if it falls into the earth and dies. Then He says something so significant that it is quoted in all four Gospels: “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
This paradoxical statement is a warning to those who intend to be Jesus’ followers. They must be ready for suffering in this world, and not be so attached to earthly life that they forget or reject the Kingdom they have been given. He calls us to “hate” our life in this world, meaning that we don’t cling to it and concentrate on it as if were the whole of life. If we always remember where wholeness really is, we will have eternal life with Him. We will be honored by the Father Himself.
Jesus expresses, as He will again in the Garden of Gethsemane, the troubling of His soul as He faces the end of His life on earth. He knows that humiliation and suffering are coming. But He goes on, “And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Thy name.” At this, the crowd hears a voice like thunder coming from heaven and saying, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” That glorification will come in only one way, as Jesus then says:
“…I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” This lifting up from the earth refers to His death on the cross as well as His reunion with the Father in ” the glory which I had with Thee before the world was made” (17: 5).
Though the heavenly voice has come, Jesus tells the people, “for your sake and not for Mine,” they still don’t understand. They ask, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains for ever. How can you say that the Son of man must be lifted up?”
Jesus does not remind them that the Old Testament (“the Law”) prophesies the death of the Christ, the Messiah. He simply urges them to “walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you.” Simple, stark, and urgent words for every one of us to take to heart.

This and many other Christian Education resources are available at