Monthly Archives: November 2015

Saint Frumentius of Axum and Orthodoxy in Africa

Icon - St. FrumentiusThere is sometimes an idea that Christianity is a European and North American religion. At one time these areas considered themselves to be “Christendom”. This now no longer is the case. We know, of course, that there are many Christians in Asia, Africa and Latin America. However, we often think the churches there are primarily the result of European and North American missionary activity over the last few centuries. This is true to some extent, but we should never forget that there are ancient, native Christian churches in these regions which were founded in the early days of Christianity. As a matter of fact, there are churches in Africa and Asia that were Christian long before some European countries.
When we think of Christianity in Africa our mind immediately goes to Alexandria, a city in Egypt. This church was founded by the Apostle and Evangelist Mark about 42 AD. Although this church is located in North Africa, in many respects it was an important part of the Hellenistic Greco-Roman culture. Alexandria had great theologians such as St. Athanasius and St. Cyril, Patriarchs of Alexandria. Both of these bishop-theologians defended the full divinity of Jesus Christ when this doctrine was under attack.
Alexandria also produced some of the founders of monasticism, such as St. Anthony and St. Pachomius. Although there were schisms in the church of Alexandria, later it remained a center of Orthodox learning and piety. Other than the church in Alexandria, we find another African convert in the Book of Acts (Acts 26:40). This man was an official from the court of the Queen of Ethiopia and he was in Jerusalem for the purpose of worship. He was in his chariot reading from the Book of Isaiah (Is 53:7-8).
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. [8] By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?
He did not understand what he was reading so an angel told the Apostle Philip, who was standing nearby, to go to him to explain the meaning of the passage. Philip told him that these lines refer to Jesus Christ and began preaching to the Ethiopian. The official disclosed his desire to become a Christian and Philip baptized him on the spot. The Bible does not tell us what happened to the Ethiopian official. But he no doubt would have shared his faith when he returned to Ethiopia.
However, the Apostle to Ethiopia is usually considered St. Frumentius of Axum. As a young boy from Palestine he was captured by pirates in the Red Sea in 316 AD and sold as a slave to the King of Axum in Ethiopia. The king liked the saint and when the king died St. Frumentius was set free and was asked by the king’s widow to remain in Ethiopia and be a tutor to the young prince. As he was tutoring the prince he began preaching Christianity. When the young prince came of age, St. Frumentius was freed from his obligation as tutor. He traveled to Alexandria and asked the Patriarch for clergy to be sent to Ethiopia. The Patriarch thought Frumentius would be the best candidate so he consecrated St. Frumentius as a bishop. St. Frumentius returned to Ethiopia, established his cathedral in Axum, and baptized the king (his former student) and many others. St. Frumentius built churches and preached the Gospel. He died in 383 AD and is known as the apostle to Ethiopia. Today the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has between 40-45 million people, mostly living in Ethiopia. (The singer, Bob Marley, was Ethiopian Orthodox.)
Finally, in other parts of Africa in the early years of the 20th century, some African protestants, unhappy with the racism in their church, got together to found the “African Orthodox Church”. These church leaders found their way to the authentic Orthodox Church and entered the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Alexandria and the church continues to grow today with tens of thousands of members in several African countries.
So as we have seen, we know that Christianity is not a “European” religion and has deep historical roots in Africa, as well as Asia.

Fr. John

The Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple

Icon - Entry of the TheotokosOn this day the church celebrates the entrance of the Theotokos (the Mother of God) into the temple in Jerusalem. Like the stories about the birth of the Mother of God, celebrated on September 8th, the feast is not found in the Bible but is part of the non-biblical tradition, primarily the Protoevangelium of James.
This feast tells us that Joachim and Anna, the parents of the Theotokos, were elderly and childless. They prayed for a child and promised that when a child was born they would dedicate it to God. So when Mary was born they brought her to the temple to live a life dedicated to God. Her family and friends accompanied her to the temple carrying candles and singing. As they led her to the temple they sang verses from psalm 45:
Hear, O daughter, consider, and incline your ear; forget your people and your father’s house; [11] and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him; [12] the people of Tyre will sue your favor with gifts, the richest of the people [13] with all kinds of wealth. The princess is decked in her chamber with gold-woven robes; [14] in many-colored robes she is led to the king, with her virgin companions, her escort, in her train. [15] With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king. [16] Instead of your fathers shall be your sons; you will make them princes in all the earth. [17] I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations; therefore the peoples will praise you for ever and ever.
The Orthodox Church considers this psalm as prophecy of Mary the Theotokos. The tradition tells us that when the Theotokos got to the temple, the high priest led her nto the Holy of Holies, where the High Priest himself could only enter once a year.
The historian Josephus, tells us that there were living quarters for women near the temple and tradition tells us that Mary lived in a community of virgins. She read and listened to Holy Scripture, occupied herself with handicrafts and prayed. She led a life dedicated to God from her earliest years.
Again, all of this comes from extra-biblical tradition. However, the theological point is quite clear, that Mary the Theotokos is now the living temple. The temple had always been considered the place of God’s presence on earth and now Mary has become the dwelling place of God. Now all the Old Testament prophecies which talk about the “dwelling of God is with man” are fulfilled and that the human person is the dwelling place of God.
At the vigil of the feast, three sections of the Old Testament are read. All of these readings end with the same verse, “for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord God almighty” (Exodus 40:35, I Kings 8:11, Ezekiel 44:4). And the feast tells us something about ourselves also, by virtue of our baptism and our receiving our Lord’s Body and Blood in Holy Communion. As Saint Paul writes “What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (II Cor 6:16). The Old Testament readings are considered to be symbols of the Mother of God. The “glory of the Lord” is present in the Theotokos, it fills her and all those who “hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk 11:27-28). The epistle reading for he Divine Liturgy (Heb 9:1-7) tells us the same thing.
Note – much of our information about the life of the Theotokos is found in a book called the Protoevangelion (or Protoevangelium) of James. This book tells us about the birth of the Mother of God, her childhood and the birth of Jesus. Some may be tempted to dismiss this book and its stories, but actually it is dated rather early, from about 150 AD, and scholars believe that it contains a much earlier Christian tradition which had been passed down orally for several generations. So we cannot ‘prove’ that this book is true, but its use in the theology and liturgy of the Church shows us its importance.

The Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple

Troparion — Tone 4

Today is the prelude of the good will of God, of the preaching of the salvation of mankind. The Virgin appears in the temple of God, in anticipation proclaiming Christ to all. Let us rejoice and sing to her: “Rejoice, O Fulfillment of the Creator’s dispensation.”

Kontakion — Tone 4

The most pure Temple of the Savior; the precious Chamber and Virgin; the sacred Treasure of the glory of God, is presented today to the house of the Lord. She brings with her the grace of the Spirit, therefore, the angels of God praise her: “Truly this woman is the abode of heaven.”

Fr. John

Saint Gregory Palamas (Nov 14th) and Saint Paisius Velichkovsky (Nov 15th)

Icon - Gregory PalamasBefore considering St. Gregory and St. Paisius we should look at the Jesus Prayer, a form of prayer which influenced them and which they influenced. In its longer form it is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” It can be shortened to “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” or “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” or finally “Lord have mercy”, which we is what we sing at the Divine Liturgy. For those of us living in the world, clergy and laity alike, can pray it by sitting or standing in one’s icon corner at home and repeating it five, ten or fifteen minutes. The time doesn’t matter, as long as one prays with attention and devotion, that is enough. It can also be repeated at such random moments as waiting for a train, being stuck in traffic, while walking and so on. It is also useful in fighting temptation, if we repeat it even as “Lord have mercy” before we speak or act. The whole culture of the Jesus prayer is theology and practice is referred to as hesychasm. This is from the Greek work for silence.
St. Gregory Palamas was born into a noble family in Constantinople in 1296 AD.  In 1318 he became a monk on Mount Athos when he learned the traditions of hesychasm. With the aggressive action of the Turks, St. Gregory was forced to flee Athos to Thessalonica where he was ordained to the priesthood. He then returned to Mt. Athos in 1331. Six years later, at the request of the Athonite monks, he entered into conflict with Barlaam, and Italo-Greek monk. Barlaam said that philosophers had a better knowledge of God than the monks. For Barlaam, education and scholarship were the best way to know God. However, he believed that God was unlimited, unknowable for human beings. St. Gregory taught that monks had a greater knowledge of God because they had seen or heard Him. He said that God was indeed unknowable in His essence, but is knowable though his energies, which refer to God’s activities in the created world and humanity. St. Gregory wrote several books defending the theory and practice of hesychasm (the Jesus Prayer) and his teaching was vindicated by church councils in Constantinople. In later life, St. Gregory became Archbishop of Thessalonica and spent a year as a captive of the Turks. He died in 1368.
Much of the teaching of the hesychasts are contained in a series of books known in Greek as the Philokalia, meaning “the love of the beautiful or good.” It contains teaching on prayer from fathers of the church from the fourth to fifteenth centuries. It was first published in Greek in 1782 by Saints Nikodemos and Makarius on Mount Athos. It was translated into Church Slavonic by St. Paisius Velichkovsky and published in 1793. This was the book carried by the pilgrim in “The Way of the Pilgrim” and influenced the elders at Optina Monastery and throughout the whole Russian Orthodox Church. It was translated and published in Russian in the second half of the 19th century and published in English in the 20th century. It is said that the Philokalia is the most important book in the Orthodox Church after the Bible. However, its style and context arose in radically different times than our own so simply picking it up and trying to read it straight through is difficult. It is very helpful to read it with the guidance of someone, often a monk or nun who are steeped in it spiritually. There are also abridged editions with commentary which can help us to understand it.Icon - st-paisus-velichkovsky
As mentioned above, St. Paisius was the one who translated the Philokalia into Slavonic. St. Paisius was born in Poltava in 1722 and as a teenager entered the Kiev Theological Academy. Leaving the academy to become a monk, he eventually made his way to Mt. Athos. He gathered many disciples around him. After 17 years on Mt. Athos he and his fellow monks moved to Moldavia. Finally, St. Paisius and his brotherhood moved to a monastery in Niametz. This became a large monastery with over 700 monks. They maintained a hospital and house of mercy.
At this monastery St Paisius and his monks translated many books including the Philokalia into Slavonic and other languages. As befitting a translator of the Philokalia, St. Paisius revived and taught hesychast spirituality and the Jesus Prayer. St. Paisius’s translation and his practice of the Jesus Prayer led to a revival of this spirituality and influenced many monks and monasteries in the years to come. St. Paisius died in 1794.

St Gregory Palamas the Archbishop of Thessalonica – Troparion & Kontakion

Troparion — Tone 8

O light of Orthodoxy, teacher of the Church, its confirmation, O ideal of monks and invincible champion of theologians, O wonder-working Gregory, glory of Thessalonica and preacher of grace, always intercede before the Lord that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion — Tone 8

Holy and divine instrument of wisdom, joyful trumpet of theology, together we sing our praises, O God-inspired Gregory. Since you now stand before the Original Mind, guide our minds to Him, O Father, so that we may sing to you: “Rejoice, preacher of grace.”

Venerable Paisius Velichkovsky – Troparion & Kontakion

Troparion — Tone 2

Having become a stranger on earth, you reached the heavenly homeland, venerable Father Paisius. You taught the faithful to lift up their minds to God, crying out to Him with all their hearts: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!”

Kontakion — Tone 8

Like a much-laboring bee, you were an elect zealot of the monastic life, supplying our souls with the writings of the Fathers through which you guide us on the path of salvation. Therefore we cry out to you: “Rejoice, truly-wise Paisius, for through you the tradition of spiritual elders has been restored to us!”

Fr. John

Synaxis of the Archangel Michael and the Other Bodiless Powers

Icon - St. Michael the ArchangelSome think that Christians pray to an “old man in the sky,” that for Christians God is rather a distant figure. Of course God is in heaven, but He is omnipresent, he is everywhere. As the prayer “O Heavenly King” says, God (the Holy Spirit) is “everywhere present and fills all things”. If we read the Bible, we see that God is present in the world and in the hearts of humanity. Of course, God is present in the world most fully in the person of Jesus Christ, but we see that before the coming of Christ, God was often present by sending His angels into the world. For example, in the Book of Genesis, Jacob had a vision of angels ascending and descending to heaven, in other words, heaven was open and God was present to His people through His angels (Gen 28:12). In the New Testament Jesus Christ, recalling the Old Testament passages, says to Nathaniel that He would see heaven open and angels ascending and descending on the “Son of Man”, i.e., Jesus Christ Himself. In other words, Jesus Christ Himself is the person through whom heaven is open to humanity (Jn 1:51).
In the Creed we say that we believe that God created “all things visible and invisible”. Invisible here refers to the creation of the angels. Of course, this invisible world with its angels is something human beings ordinarily cannot see, but the lives of the saints show us that the invisible world and its angels sometimes become visible.
The word angel literally means messenger, but in the Orthodox Church angels are only one part of this invisible world. According to St. Dionysius the Areopagite, a fifth century saint, there are nine choirs of angels in three groups. Actually angels strictly speaking are the lowest part of this hierarchy of bodiless powers.

First Hierarchy:
Seraphim
Cherubim
Thrones

Second Hierarchy:
Powers
Dominions
Principalities

Third Hierarchy:
Virtues
Archangels
Angels

We should not take this classification too literally. However, we can say that in the Orthodox Church there is some difference in rank and office of the angels. We see angels acting in the whole Bible, Old Testament and New Testament. In the New Testament we see an angel appearing to Zechariah to announce his wife would give birth to John the Baptist (Lk 1:11). In Luke 12:6, the Archangel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary that she would give birth to Jesus Christ. In Luke 2:10 we see the angels announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. In Mark 4:11 the angels come and minister to Jesus Christ after his forty-day fast in the desert. In Luke 22:43 an angel comforts Jesus during his agony in the garden before his arrest, crucifixion and death. In Matthew 28:5 an angel announces the resurrection of Jesus and also moves the stone away from the tomb.
So we see angels acting in the world at God’s bidding. According to tradition, each person has a Guardian Angel and most Orthodox prayer books have a prayer to one’s Guardian Angel among morning prayers. Here is one such prayer: O Angel of God, my Holy Guardian, given to me from heaven by God for my protection, enlighten me this day, and save me from all evil, instruct me in doing good deeds, and set me on the path of salvation. Amen.
There have been many times when a Guardian Angel has intervened to help someone, and they even have become visible. We should remember that angels are real, and an important part of the spiritual world.

Troparion — Tone 4

Commanders of the heavenly hosts, we who are unworthy beseech you/ by your prayers encompass us beneath the wings of your immaterial glory and faithfully preserve us who fall down and cry to you: “Deliver us from all harm, for you are the commanders of the powers on high!”

Kontakion — Tone 2

Commanders of God’s armies and ministers of the divine glory, princes of the bodiless angels and guides of mankind, ask for what is good for us, and for great mercy, supreme commanders of the Bodiless Hosts.

Fr. John

St. John Kochurov

Icon - St. John KochurovSt. John Kochurov is a 20th C. martyr, but before we consider him, let us look at martyrdom in general. First, Christianity has always been a church of martyrs. One often hears it said that St. Stephen is the first Christian martyr. St. Stephen was one of the seven men ordained as deacons by the apostles. He was preaching the Gospel, was arrested and put on trial before the Council in Jerusalem. At his trial, he bravely spoke about how Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of all the hopes of the Old Testament. For this he was stoned to death, forgiving his murderers as he died. So St. Stephen is often referred to as the first Christian Martyr or Protomartyr. His story is found in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles 6:8 to 7:60. However we can call the Holy Innocents the first martyrs. These were the babies who were killed by King Herod in Bethlehem when he sent his soldiers to find and kill the Christ child. Now obviously these babies were not martyrs in the way we usually think of them, but in a sense they did die because of the world’s hatred of Christ. Their story is found in the Gospel of St. Matthew 2:16-18. In the first three centuries after Christ, there were periodic campaigns against the Christians with many martyrs. The last and worst of the Roman persecutions came under Emperors Diocletian, Maximus, Galerius and Constantine in 303 AD. About 3000- 3500 Christians died as martyrs then. As we can see these numbers are rather small compared to the martyrs of the 20th century. We all know about the millions of believers who suffered under the Nazis, Communists and so on. Unfortunately, persecution against believers of all religions continues today. For example, the Chinese government targets Christians, as well as Tibetan Buddhists, Daoists and Moslems. In the last decade of the 21st century as many as 100,000 Christians have died as martyrs. This was a statistic used by the Vatican and others. Others say the number is much smaller but we are still talking about thousands of martyrs each year. We should pray for them and also work in any way we can to save such people. On October 31st, we commemorate St. John Kochurov. St. John was born in ussia in 1871, in the family of a priest. After studying in Ryazan and St. Petersburg he got married and ordained to the deaconate and priesthood. After ordination St. John came to the United States as a missionary and was assigned to what later became Holy Trinity Cathedral in Chicago. He was instrumental in the building of the church. He worked as a priest in various cities in Illinois, New York and even in Oklahoma. He helped to organize the first All-American Council, which met in Mayfield, Pennsylvania in 1908. A little later he returned to Russia and served as a priest in Narva, Estonia. In 1911 he was assigned to St. Catherine’s cathedral in Tsarskoe Selo, a town close to St. Petersburg and one of the residences for the Russian Imperial family. It is now part of the town of Pushkin. When the Bolsheviks came to power in October 1917, St. John was arrested and quickly shot. He then became the first hieromartyr of the Bolshevik yoke. In other words, he was the first member of the clergy to be killed by the communists after their takeover. In December of 1994 St. John was glorified (canonized) by the Russian Orthodox Church. Of course, we in the United States should remember and be grateful for St. John’s work in building up the Orthodox Church in America and pray to him now as a saint, believing that St. John continues to intercede for us and the church in America.

Troparion — Tone 1

Aflame with love for God, you gave your life as a martyr for Christ and neighbor, for this you received a crown of righteousness from Him. Hieromartyr John, entreat the most Merciful God to preserve the Holy Holy Church in peace and to save our souls.

Troparion — Tone 1

You were revealed to all as a true shepherd O Hieromartyr John of Chicago, for you nurtured your people in the Orthodox Faith, guiding them by word and deed on the path of salvation, and defended the Faith even unto the shedding of your blood. Therefore, we, your spiritual children, cry out in thanksgiving: Glory to Him who gave you strength! Glory to Him who granted you the Martyr’s crown! Glory to Him who through you grants mercy to all!

Kontakion — Tone 8

As you zealously fulfilled your pastoral service, you brought your soul to God as a well-pleasing sacrifice, O Father John. Entreat Christ God to grant peace to the world and great mercy to our souls.

Kontakion — Tone 3

Now the holy Hieromartyr is glorified, for he took up his cross and followed Christ. In so doing, he gave us a model of true discipleship. Therefore, let us cry aloud to him: Rejoice, O Father John, the glory of priests!

Fr. John