Monthly Archives: January 2016

The Meeting of the Lord

Icon - Meeting of the LordOn February 2nd the Church celebrates the Meeting of the Lord, one of the twelve great feasts of the church. Among Western Christians, this feast is known as the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, the feast of the Purification of the Virgin, or Candlemas.
The occasion of this feast is described in St. Luke’s Gospel (Luke 2:22-40). According to the Gospel, the forty-day old infant Jesus is taken to the temple in Jerusalem for two reasons. First, there was the custom of “the churching” of women when they are welcomed back into the temple (or church) as a sign of thanksgiving that they had recovered from the labor of giving birth and are now ready to participate again in the life of the temple or church. We still have this custom in the Orthodox Church. The second reason was to “redeem” the first born son, Jesus. Again, according to the Old Testament, the child had to be redeemed by making an offering at the temple. Joseph and Mary offered two turtledoves or two young pigeons. This was the offering poor people would make the wealthier would offer a lamb.
It should be noted that calling Jesus the first-born son of Joseph and Mary does not imply that Mary had any more children. Because of the religious significance of having a first son, he was always called first-born, whether or not any more followed. When Jesus was brought to the temple his family were met by the righteous Simeon. He was a very old, very holy man, whom God had promised that he would die only after he had seen the Messiah. Simeon took the infant Jesus in his arms and spoke what is now known as the Canticle of Simeon, or the Nunc Dimitis.
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.”
This hymn is part of evening prayer or the Vespers services of the church. This service is celebrated on Saturday night and the eves of great feasts. Even if one cannot come to Church for this service, this hymn is very appropriate to recite on one’s own in the evening or night, to mark the ending of the day.
Simeon also prophesied “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed” foreshadowing the later suffering of Jesus and his mother. Finally, in the temple was an elderly, holy prophetess called Anna, who recognized the child as the Messiah and spoke about his significance to the people she encountered.
In the iconography of this feast one usually sees Simeon meeting our Lord at the entrance to the temple with the Theotokos holding the infant. One of the interesting aspects of this feast is that it is a feast of both our Lord and of the Theotokos, because they both play important roles in it.
As mentioned earlier, this feast is often known as Candlemas. The “mas” part of this word refers to the Mass, or Divine Liturgy. (Many feast days in the Western Church end in the word “mas”. For example, Christmas or Christ’s Mass). The word Candle is here because on this feast, both in the West and in the East, candles are blessed on this day.
This feast is one of the most ancient in the church. We have many sermons of the Fathers dedicated to this feast, as early as the 4th century. Also in the 4th century, a Spanish nun named Egeria traveled to the Holy Land and observed the celebration of the feast.
So this is truly a joyful feast, which shows that giving birth is not a purely private matter of the mother and family, but of the church and community who pray for her during her pregnancy and labor and now give thanks that she is back in church.

Troparion — Tone 1

Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos, full of grace! / From you shone the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God. / Enlightening those who sat in darkness! / Rejoice, and be glad, O righteous elder; / You accepted in your arms the Redeemer of our souls, / Who grants us the Resurrection.

Kontakion — Tone 1

By Your nativity, You did sanctify the Virgin’s womb, / And did bless Simeon’s hands, O Christ God. / Now You have come and saved us through love. / Grant peace to all Orthodox Christians, O only Lover of man!

Fr. John

St. Anthony the Great (251-356AD) commemorated January 17th and St. Athanasius the Great (296-373AD) commemorated January 18th

St. Anthony the Great

Icon - St. Anthony the GreatIn the Orthodox Church we have a one year lectionary (many other Christians have a three year lectionary). This means we hear the same Epistles, Gospels and Old Testament readings on the same days every year. It is probably true to say that most people (including priests) who hear these readings do not pay as much attention as we should. But sometimes a particular word or phrase may really stick out and this can lead to a life-changing experience.
This is the case with one of the saints we are considering today – St. Anthony the Great. St. Anthony lived approximately 251AD to 356 AD in Egypt. His parents, who were quite wealthy, died when St. Anthony as a young man. He had to care for his unmarried sister. One day in church he heard the following Gospel verse, “Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matt 19:21-22). Hearing this, St. Anthony was so struck that he sold all his family’s property and donated the proceeds to the poor and placed his sister with a group of Christian virgins. For the next 15 years he remained in the area of his former home as a disciple of a hermit. Later he moved into the desert and lived as a hermit himself for many years. During this time St. Anthony was frequently tormented ty the devil.
Although St. Anthony lived alone he heard about the persecution of Christians under Diocletian in 311AD, and he went to the city of Alexandria hoping to become a martyr. Although St. Anthony was openly practicing Christianity, the governor did not dare to make him a martyr. In 338 AD St. Anthony visited Alexandria again to speak about the false teaching of the priest Arius who denied that Jesus was God. When St. Anthony knew his life was drawing to a close he willed his sheepskin coat to St. Athanasius the Great, Patriarch of Alexandria, who also wrote St. Anthony’s life.
Through his own personal example and through the medium of the Life St. Anthony has had a great influence on Christian monks and also on all Christians who struggle to live a truly Christian life.

St. Athanasius the Great

Icon - St. Athanaius the GreatSt. Athanasius was born in Alexandria, Egypt to a Christian family. He received a good secular education. St. Athanasius was ordained a deacon in 319 AD. He accompanied Patriarch Alexander of Alexandria to the first ecumenical council of Nicea.
This council was called because a priest named Arius and his followers were teaching that Jesus Christ was not God. They said that Jesus was the most perfect creature that god had created but not God Himself. This teaching caused such an uproar that the Roman Emperor called for the council to settle this issue. The council condemned Arius and wrote the first part of the Creed we sing at every Divine Liturgy. Five months after the council ended Patriarch Alexander died and St. Athanasius was chosen to succeed him. Although the Arian heresy had been condemned by the council it still had many followers. St. Athanasius spent many years writing defenses of the council of Nicea showing that Jesus Christ is truly God. His most famous book is “On the Incarnation”.
St. Athanasius also wrote the life of St. Anthony the Great whom he knew. Also St. Athanasius was the first patriarch to write in the Coptic language, as well as in Greek. St. Athanasius was Patriarch for 45 years but he was exiled five times, for a total of 17 years. He became an exile because successive Roman Emperors influenced by some bishops, actually went on the side of Arius. However, he finally returned to Alexandria in 366 AD and spent the last years of his life rebuilding church life in Alexandria.
St. Athanasius is known as a Father of Orthodoxy who in the face of fierce opposition from church and state, defended the fundamental truth of Orthodox Christianity. That is, that Jesus Christ is “true God of true God” without which Christianity would collapse.

Venerable and God-bearing Father Anthony the Great
Commemorated – January 17th

Troparion — Tone 4

You imitated the ways of zealous Elijah, and followed the straight path of John the Baptist. You became a desert dweller and strengthened the world by your prayers. Father Anthony, intercede with Christ God that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion — Tone 2

You rejected the tumult of this life and lived your life to the end in solitude, imitating the Baptist in every way. With him we honor you, most venerable Anthony, foundation of the Fathers.

St Athanasius the Great the Archbishop of Alexandria
Commemorated on January 18

Troparion — Tone 3

You shone forth with works of Orthodoxy and quenched all heresy, and became victorious trophy-bearers, hierarchs Athanasius and Cyril. You enriched all things with piety and greatly adorned the Church, and worthily found Christ God, who grants His great mercy to all.

Kontakion — Tone 4

Athanasius and Cyril, great hierarchs of true piety, and noble champions of the Church of Christ, preserve all who sing: “O Compassionate Lord, save those who honor You.”

Fr. John

St. Gregory of Nyssa and His Family

As Orthodox Christians, we should and probably do, read the lives of the saints and pray to them. However, the saints sometimes seem “strange” to us. We read about their strict fasting, sleeping on boards and wearing chains. These things see distant from our lives. However, all human beings are called to be saints. In fact, a French writer wrote that the only sadness is not being a saint. Today we consider a family in which being a saint seems to be the norm, a family in which being a saint is quite natural.
Today we commemorate St. Gregory of Nyssa. St. Gregory was a 4th century bishop in Cappadocia, a part of present-day Turkey. However, before we turn to St. Gregory himself, let us look at his family. St. Gregory’s grandmother Macrina the Elder is a saint, and his grandfather died as a martyr. His sister St. Macrina is a saint and theologian in her own right. His most famous brother was St. Basil the Great, an important church father and author of the Liturgy we use on Sundays in Lent. His brother Naucratis and Peter of Sebaste are also saints. His sister, Theosebia is also a saint, however we know almost nothing about her. So we have indeed a family of saints St. Gregory was born around 335 AD and was educated at home. He may have
studied in Athens. At first St. Gregory did not pursue a career in the church but was a rhetorician. However, due to confusion in church life in Cappadocia, he became a bishop with his brother’s (St. Basil) support. He was active in the struggle against the Arians who taught that Jesus was not truly God. He was also present at the second ecumenical council in Constantinople in 381 AD. St. Gregory defended the traditional teaching about the Trinity, that God is one in essence (substance) and three in person.
St. Greogry, together with many saints of the church, taught that God is essentially incomprehensible to human minds. Now this may sound negative, implying that we never know God. But it’s quite positive because it shows us that human life begins here on earth and continuing in heaven, is a ceaseless growth in knowledge and love of God.
St. Gregory died in 395. His relics were at the Vatican until 2000 when they were transferred to St. Gregory of Nyssa Greek Orthodox Church in San Diego. St. Gregory, together with his brother St. Basil, and later their friends St. Gregory Nazianzus, are called the Cappadocian Fathers and have played an important role in the development of Orthodox theology.
St. Basil the Great was St. Gregory of Nyssa’s older brother. He was born in 329 or 330. St. Basil was educated at home, then in Caesarea, Constantinople and Athens. At first St. Basil followed a secular career; then Basil met a holy bishop who inspired him to be baptized. After baptism he visited various monasteries and tried living as a hermit. However, he did not like the life of a hermit and began gathering disciples around him to begin a monastery. Eventually, St. Basil became a bishop. As bishop he founded an institution known as the Basiliad. It contained a hospital, poor house and hospice. St. Basil strongly believed that the church should help the poor and needy.
As mentioned above, St Basil founded a religious community. He is remembered as one of the fathers of eastern monasticism. He wrote monastic rules, which also inspired St. Benedict the great founded or monks in the West. In addition, St. Basil wrote the Liturgy we use on the Sundays of Great Lent, as well as some other times and was the author of many important theological works. St. Basil died on January 1, 379 and his feast day is January 1st.
St. Macrina was the elder sister of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory. In her youth, she was planning to get married but her finance died before the wedding. Since she had been betrothed to the man, she did not think it was appropriate to marry another man, but she saw Christ as her eternal bridegroom. Hence she became a nun. Her ascetic lifestyle greatly influenced her brothers. St. Gregory wrote a book, The Life of St. Macrina, which describes her lifelong holiness. Before her death St. Gregory wrote a book which was a dialogue between Macrina and himself concerning the soul and resurrection showing that Macrina was a saint in her own right. She died in 379 at her family estate which she had turned into a monastery.
As mentioned in the introduction almost the whole family of St. Gregory, St. Basil and St. Macrina were saints. Time and space preclude us from writing about the other lesser known of this family but this shows that sainthood is possible for human beings living in the world and is really the fulfillment of human nature which as St. Gregory has written is always striving to God, in a process which begin in this life and continues for all eternity.

Troparion — Tone 4

You were revealed to your flock as a rule of faith, an image of humility and a teacher of abstinence; your humility exalted you; your poverty enriched you. Hierarch Father Gregory, entreat Christ our God that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion — Tone 1

You kept watch with the eyes of your soul, holy bishop, revealing yourself as a watchful pastor for the world. With the staff of your wisdom and your fervent intercession, you drove away all heretics like wolves. You preserved your flock free from harm, most wise Gregory!

Fr. John

The Feast of Theophany (Epiphany)

Icon - TheophanyThe Greek word Theophany means an appearance of God. The word Epiphany means a ‘shining forth’. In this case both of these words refer to today’s feast. It commemorates the Baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan by St. John the Baptist. This begins the public ministry of Jesus Christ. It is a manifestation of God because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begins his ministry by coming for baptism, God the Father reveals Himself through his voice from heaven and the Holy Spirit appears in the form of a dove.

(Mark 1:9-11) In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. [10] And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; [11] and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”

Incidentally, the emphasis on the ‘shining forth’ of God shows that Epiphany is the fulfillment of the Jewish feast of Light (Hanukkah) just as Pascha is the fulfillment of Passover and Pentecost is the fulfillment of the Jewish feast of Weeks (Shavuot). Also, in the ancient church there was the custom to baptize people at the Vespers of heophany. This indicated that baptism is the illumination of the human race. This feast goes back to the early church. In the 2nd century, St. Clement of Alexandria writes about the vigil celebrated on the eve of the feast. From the 3rd century we have a dialogue about the feast from St. Gregory the Wonderworker and the Martyr St. Hippolytus. From the 4th to the 9th century many of the great Fathers of the church wrote about the feast of Theophany.
On the eve of the feast texts from the prophet Isaiah about the coming of the Messiah and his Forerunner John the Baptist are read: (Luke 3:4-6) As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. [5]
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth;[6] and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
On the day of the feast at the Divine Liturgy the usual “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal..” is replaced by a passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, “… as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27). This reminds us that in the early church people were baptized on the feast after a period of instruction and it reminds us that our baptism is not simply an event of the past, but rather our “putting on Christ” has changed us and the grace of baptism always remains in us. The Gospel tells us of Christ’s baptism.
Perhaps the most memorable of the aspects of the feast of Theophany is the Great Blessing of Water. In our parish we bless the font filled with water in the church, then on the next available Sunday we process to the harbor to bless water there. The water stands for the world, good as God created it, but now blighted by sin, the world which will be glorified when Jesus comes at the end of time to “make all things new”.

Here are passages from the service of the blessing of water:

The voice of the Lord upon the waters cried saying: “Come, receive the Spirit of wisdom, the Spirit of understanding, the Spirit of the fear of God, from Christ Who is made manifest.
Today the nature of the waters is sanctified. The Jordan is parted in two; it holds back the streams of its own waters seeing the Master wash Himself.

Before the blessing of water the reader reads three passages from the book of Isaiah which refer to the water. For example Isaiah 55:1: “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
The Epistle tells about baptism and the Gospel tells us about Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. A Great Litany is then chanted asking God to send the Holy Spirit to bless the water and through it the entire material creation. After the dipping of the cross and its raising up the priest blesses the church and the people. After this service the priest then visits the homes of the parishioners to bless them with water which was blessed in church.
Finally, as mentioned above, this is no mere symbolic ritual. Through the descent of the Holy Spirit into the water we participate in the renewal of the cosmos beginning with the countless blessings of water throughout the Orthodox world, which begins here and now and which links us to that renewal of all things at the end of time.

Troparion — Tone 1

When Thou, O Lord wast baptized in the Jordan the worship of the Trinity was made manifest for the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee and called Thee His beloved Son. And the Spirit, in the form of a dove, confirmed the truthfulness of His word. O Christ, our God, who hast revealed Thyself and have enlightened the world, glory to Thee!

Kontakion — Tone 4

Today Thou haste shown forth to the world, O Lord, and the light of Thy countenance has been marked on us. Knowing Thee, we sing Thy praises. Thou hast come and revealed Thyself, O unapproachable Light.

Fr. John