Monthly Archives: October 2015

The Commemoration of the Great Earthquake at Constantinople and St. Demetrius

Icon - St. DemetriosOne may well wonder why we are commemorating this particular earthquake. After all, there have been many earthquakes, as well as other natural disasters in human history – so why commemorate this one?
This earthquake in Constantinople took place in 740 AD. This was at the time Emperor Leo was destroying icons and the people of Constantinople felt that it was God’s anger that led to this disaster. The believers prayed to St. Demetrius of Thessalonica and the earthquakes ceased.
St. Demetrius of Thessalonica is a third to 4th century martyr. He was born in 270 AD in Thessalonica. He came from a noble Roman background and according to some traditions he was a soldier, and is depicted as a solder on his icons. He was martyred in approximately 306 AD during the persecution of the Roman Emperors Diocletian and Galerias. During the reign of the Emperor St. Constantine (306-337) his relics were exhumed and it was found that the relics streamed myrrh, a miraculous sign which pointed to St. Demetrius being a saint, and a church was built for these remains in Thessalonica and they remain there today. Emperors sometimes tried to bring the relics to Constantinople, but the saint always revealed that his relics should stay where they were. For centuries, the people of Thessalonica prayed to St. Demetrius to save them from natural disasters and enemy attack.Reliquary of St. Demetrios
Now if we take the cessation of the earthquake as simply one more miracle we might miss a deeper meaning. The Book of Genesis tells us that when God created the world he saw that it was good. But as humanity fell in the persons of Adam and Eve, in some sense the universe, the material world also fell. As St. Paul wrote in Romans 8:22 “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now…” In other words, Jesus Christ did not come simply to “save souls” but also to raise the dead and restore the created world back to its original condition. The restoration of the material world will only be complete at the end of time,. But we can see Jesus’ many nature miracles, such as stopping the storm on the sea, multiplying the bread and the fish, walking on water, as foretastes of this final restoration to come. In that sense St. Demetrius stopping the earthquake of Constantinople (and his relics streaming myrrh) shows that God’s saints, through their intercession and human beings through their prayer, cooperate in the restoration of the cosmos. We see this reflected in the Bible in the Book of Revelation which tells us about the end time. St. John writes in Revelation 21:1-5 “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”
So we can see that these nature miracles are not isolated ‘wonders” but signs of what God is doing even now.

Holy, Glorious Demetrius the Myrrh-gusher of Thessalonica

Troparion — Tone 3

The world has found you to be a great defense against tribulation and a vanquisher of
heathens, O Passion-bearer. As you bolstered the courage of Nestor, who then
humbled the arrogance of Lyaios in battle, Holy Demetrius, entreat Christ God to grant
us great mercy.

Kontakion — Tone 2

God, who has given you invincible might, has tinged the Church with streams of your
blood, Demetrius! He preserves your city from harm, for you are its foundation!

Commemoration of the Great Earthquake at Constantinople

Troparion — Tone 8

Christ our God, You look the earth and it trembles; deliver us from the terrible threat of
earthquakes; and through the prayers of the Theotokos, send down upon us Your
abundant mercy and save us.

Kontakion — Tone 6

Deliver us all from upheavals, and from terrible afflictions caused by our sins, O Lord, and
spare Your people whom You have purchased with Your blood, O Master. Do not deliver
Your city to destruction by terrible earthquakes, for we know no other God than You; and
to those who cry out You respond: “I am with you and no one will be against you.”

Fr. John

The Holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke

Icon - St. Luke the EvangelistSt. Luke is the author of one of the Gospels, the others being Matthew, Mark and John. When we hear the word “Gospel” we understand it to be one of these four books and this is true in a sense. But our English word “Gospel” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “God-spell”, meaning “Good News”. In Greek the word is “Evangelion” which also means good news. In this sense the Good News refers not so much to the four books, but rather the good news of what God has done for men and women through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So for example, St. Mark’s Gospel beings this way “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mk 1:1). In this passage the Gospel is the Good News about Jesus which follows in the rest of the Gospel.
St. Luke, unlike, the authors of the other three Gospels was a Greek by upbringing and education, Matthew, Mark and John all being Jews. Luke was an educated man and a doctor. In fact, some scholars have detected a professional medical use of language in St. Luke’s Greek, although this is only held by a minority of scholars. St. Luke was one of the Seventy Apostles, a larger group than the twelve we usually think of. During Our Lord’s lifetime, St. Luke was sent out on preaching trips like the other apostles. After the Resurrection, Jesus Christ appeared to St. Luke and Cleopas (also an apostle of the seventy) on the road to Emmaus, where he was “made know to them in the breaking of the bread.” This passage is found in the twenty fourth chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel which is read in turn with the other Resurrection Gospels in the Matins service, usually served on Saturday night. After Pentecost, St. Luke worked as a missionary and accompanied St. Paul during parts of St. Paul’s travels, going together with him to Rome. St. Luke’s travels with St. Paul are found in the Book of Acts, the second part of St. Luke’s writing. Actually, St. Luke’s description of St. Paul’s journeys by sea around the Mediterranean are considered by some to be rather accurate descriptions of sailing conditions in those places. After St. Paul’s martyrdom, St Luke continued preaching the Good News of Christ. He wrote his two volume work “The Gospel According to Saint Luke” and the “Book of Acts”. St. Luke, being an educated man, prefaced his Gospel with remarks about how he set about researching and writing his Gospel. Although the Gospels are not biographies in a modern sense, St. Luke is proceeding in the best tradition of Greco-Roman historiography. “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.” (Lk 1:1-4) St. Luke’s Gospel begins with the birth stories of St. John the Baptist, Jesus hrist and ends with Christ’s Ascension. The Book of Acts begins with the Ascension and tells the early history of the Church.
According to tradition, St. Luke was the first iconographer and painted an icon of the Mother of God and some of the Apostles. St. Luke died as a martyr in Greece. His relics were kept in Constantinople until 1204 when the Crusaders took them to Padua.

Troparion — Tone 5

Let us praise with sacred songs the holy Apostle Luke, the recorder of the joyous Gospel of Christ and the scribe of the Acts of the Apostles, for his writings are a testimony of the Church of Christ: He is the physician of human weaknesses and infirmities. He heals the wounds of our souls, and constantly intercedes for our salvation!

Kontakion — Tone 2

Let us praise the godly Luke: he is the true preacher of piety, the orator of ineffable mysteries and the star of the Church; for the Word, Who alone knows the hearts of men,  chose him, together with wise Paul, to be a teacher of the gentiles!

Fr. John

The Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787 AD)

Reading about this church council is interesting in itself, and can also teach us so much about the Orthodox understanding of the church and it’s attitude toward the material world.

During the reign of Emperor Leo the Third and his son Constantine of the Eastern Roman empire there was a campaign against icons on the part of these emperors. No one is quite sure why the emperors had started the campaign. After all, icons had been venerated in the church for many centuries. Indeed tradition tells us that St. Luke painted the first icon of the Mother of God. Some think the emperor’s order was based on the Old Testament commandment against the making of images of God.

Others think that influence of the anti-iconic Muslims who were threatening the empire  influenced his decision. In any case, the emperor ordered icons to be removed from churches, public places and homes. Many Orthodox believers, clergy, monastics and laypeoples suffered in this campaign. The emperor even called a false council of bishops which condemned icons.

However, when Emperor Leo the IV died unexpectedly at a young age, his widow Empress Irene became regent for her young son. Irene believed in the veneration of icons and called another council which met in the year 787 and approved the use of icons. This council is the Seventh Ecumenical Council. Despite this council, the campaign against icons was renewed by Emperor Leon the V in 815 and wasn’t’ finally ended until another Empress, Theodora, acting as regent for her young son ordered the return of icons in 843. This event is commemorated as the Sunday of Orthodoxy during As interesting is this story is, what does it tell us about the church? First of all, no one bishop or group of bishops are “infallible”. In the history of the church there have been many false councils, including the one that condemned icons. Rather, the whole church has to receive the decision of a council. This can be a lengthy,  cumbersome process, but it does work, because the Holy Spirit abides in and guides the church into the truth. Second, use of icons tells us something about the importance of the material  world. In some religions and philosophies, the material world is seen as evil, or even as an illusion. In such a religion the goal is to be liberated from the material world.

However, in Christianity we believe that God created the world which is inherently good, despite the effects of sin on the world. This means that the goal of Christianity is the resurrection of the body in a transfigured heaven and earth. Because of this God uses material things (i.e., the water of baptism, the bread and wine of Holy Communion) in the process of human salvation. The veneration of icons is part of this. So we see that the Seventh Ecumenical Council has much to teach us not only about icons, but about the nature of the church and the church’s attitude toward the material world.

Troparion — Tone 8

Most glorious are You, O Christ our God! You have established the Holy Fathers as lights on the earth! Through them you have guided us to the true faith! O greatly Compassionate One, glory to You!

Kontakion — Tone 6

The Son who shone forth from the Father was ineffably born, two-fold in nature, of a woman. Having beheld Him, we do not deny the image of His form, but depict it piously and revere it faithfully. Thus, keeping the True Faith, the Church venerates the icon of Christ Incarnate.

Fr. John

Saint Innocent of Alaska (1797-1817) and Saint Thomas the Apostle (72 AD): Two Great Missionaries

Icon - St_Thomas the Apostle - IndiaThe Orthodox Church has been a missionary church right from the beginning. Before Jesus Christ ascended into heaven He said to his apostles “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” In other words, the apostles were to bring the Christian message to the peoples of the world and to baptize them. The apostles were called to be missionaries.
We can see the beginning of this preaching in the Acts of the Apostles. The Acts of the Apostles is the fifth book of the New Testament and tells the history of the early church. It begins with St. Peter preaching to the Jews in Jerusalem on Pentecost. St. Peter himself reaches beyond Judaism with the baptism of the Roman Centurion Cornelius. Malankara Church BronxWe read about the conversion of St. Paul from being a persecutor of the church to becoming an apostle. St Paul spreads the Gospel throughout the Roman world, even to Rome itself where he was martyred.
Even though the church was persecuted by the Roman Empire through the early centuries, missionary activity continued and the church grew. After Emperor Constantine put an end to the persecution, both the Eastern Church and the Western Church spread the Gospel to many people in Eastern and Western Europe and the Middle East.
Malankara Church BostonIn what is known as the Age of Discovery (15th to 17th C) and afterward the nations of Europe brought the Gospel to many parts of Africa, Asia and South America and the church continues to grow in those places even today.

St. Thomas the Apostle is an example of a first century missionary. We remember from St. John’s Gospel that St. Thomas doubted the story of Christ’s resurrection but when he encountered the risen Christ, he believed and became a zealous missionary. According to early tradition he went to India in 52 AD and spread the Gospel there, founded churches and was martyred there. Even today many Indian Christians refer to themselves as Thomas Christians. There are Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Thomas Christians and many of them have come to the United States within recent years.Icon - St. Innocent of Alaska
St. Innocent of Alaska was born in Irkutsk. After graduating from seminary he got married and was sent to Russian America as a missionary. He mastered many native languages and even devised an alphabet for languages that hadn’t had one before. He was a tireless missionary traveling through his enormous parish, preaching the Gospel.
On a return visit to Russia he learned that his wife had died so he became a monk and then a bishop before being sent back to Alaska. He continued his ministry in Alaska as a bishop for nine years, being based in Sitka. He became an archbishop and moved to Yakutsk. Finally he became Metropolitan of Moscow.
Both St. Thomas and St. Innocent worked to spread the Gospel under the most difficult of conditions and have left behind churches which have survived to the present day and are examples for all of us, clergy and lay people alike. They show the importance of participating in and sharing the living Christian message in whatever way we are called.

Holy, Glorious Apostle Thomas

Troparion — Tone 2

You were a disciple of Christ, and a member of the divine college of Apostles. Having been weak in faith you doubted the Resurrection of Christ, but by feeling the wounds you believed in His all-pure Passion: pray now to Him, O all-praised Thomas, to grant us peace and great mercy.

Kontakion — Tone 4

Thomas, the faithful servant and disciple of Christ, filled with divine grace, cried out from the depth of his love: “You are my Lord and my God!” St Innocent the Metropolitan of Moscow, Enlightener of the Aleuts and Apostle to the Americas

Troparion — Tone 4

O Holy Father Innocent, in obedience to the will of God you accepted dangers and tribulations bringing many peoples to the knowledge of truth. you showed us the way, Now by your prayers help lead us into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Troparion — Tone 2

You evangelized the northern people of America and Asia, proclaiming the Gospel of Christ to the natives in their own tongues. O holy hierarch Father Innocent, Enlightener of Alaska and all America, whose ways were ordered by the Lord. Pray to Him for the salvation of our souls in His Heavenly Kingdom!

Kontakion — Tone 2

A true celebration of the providence and grace of God is your life, O holy father Innocent, Apostle to our land. In hardships and dangers you toiled for the Gospel’s sake and God delivered and preserved you unharmed. From obscurity He highly exalted you as an example that the Lord truly guides a man in the way he should go.

Kontakion — Tone 2

Your life, O holy father Innocent, Apostle to our Land, proclaims the dispensation and grace of God! For laboring in dangers and hardships for the Gospel of Christ you were kept unharmed and exalted in humility. Pray that He may guide our steps in the way we should go.

Fr. John