Category Archives: Commemorations

St. Gregory Dialogos, Pope of Rome, 540-604 AD (commemorated March 12th, The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts)

Icon - Gregory-DialogosAs mentioned in a previous article in this series, many of the bishops of Rome, the popes of the first millennium of Christianity, are saints in the Orthodox Church.
Indeed, many Western saints of the first millennium are Orthodox saints. However, we still think of them as being primarily one or the other, Eastern or Western. But there are saints which transcend the East-West divide and show most clearly that the church, at least of the first millennium, was simply the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church,” as we recite in the Creed. St. Gregory is one of those saints.
Saint Gregory was born into a noble family which was close to the church. Several of his relatives are saints. He was well-educated. After his father’s death he converted his family home into a monastery. He had a deep respect for the monastic life, calling it “an ardent quest for the vision of our creator.”
However, in 579, Pope Pelagius the Second sent him to Constantinople, the city of the Roman Emperor, as his ambassador. He tried to get the emperor to send troops to defend Rome against various warring tribes. In this he was unsuccessful. He also engaged in theological debate while there.
In 585 he returned to his monastery in Rome. However, in 590 he was chosen as Pope. One of the most important acts of St. Gregory as Pope was sending St. Augustine of Canterbury to Britain to evangelize the people there. Although there was an earlier Celtic church in Britain, it was rather isolated and cut off from the main body of the Church in Europe.
St. Gregory was also active in the field of liturgy. He influenced the development of the Latin Mass and the typical form of plainchant became known as “Gregorian  Chant”, although it was only attributed to him several centuries after his death. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, celebrated during Great Lent, is attributed to him.
St. Gregory is famous for many of his writings. His commentary on the Book of Job and his rules for pastors have their relevance today. He also wrote his “Dialogues” (that is why he is called Dialogos in the Orthodox Church). This is a book about saints and miracles in sixth century Italy. A large part of this book is dedicated to St. Benedict and is one of the main sources of information about him. St. Gregory also left behind collections of sermons and letters.
As mentioned above, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is attributed to St. Gregory. This Liturgy is first mentioned in church canons from the 7th century, which means it existed earlier, close to the time of St. Gregory. However, in its present form the Presanctified Liturgy shows a later Byzantine influence rather than a 6th century Roman one. The Presanctifed is an evening service. It combines Vespers (the evening prayer of the church) with the reception of Holy Communion. However, there is no consecration at this Liturgy. Communion is given from the Holy Communion consecrated the previous Sunday. It can be celebrated on Wednesday and Friday, but it is sometimes just celebrated on one of those days. In the beginning of the Liturgy we have the reading or chanting of psalms which the choir is doing as the priest is preparing the Holy Gifts. After the Little Entrance, there are scripture readings from the Old Testament. At the Great Entrance (made in silence) the Holy Gifts are placed on the altar. After a litany and the Our Father the clergy and the people receive Communion.
As we have seen, it is difficult to trace a direct connection between the service and St. Gregory Dialogos, but it is attribution to him reflects St. Gregory’s importance as a saint linking East and West, a saint who reflects the ancient unity of the Church.

Troparion — Tone 4

Receiving divine grace from God on high, glorious Gregory, and strengthened with its power, you willed to walk in the path of the Gospel, most blessed one. Therefore you have received from Christ the reward of your labors. Entreat Him that He may save our souls.

Kontakion — Tone 3

Father Gregory, you showed yourself to be an imitator of Christ, the chief Shepherd, guiding the orders of monks to the fold of heaven. You taught the flock of Christ His commandments. Now you rejoice and dance with them in the mansions of heaven.

Pater Noster Our Father Lord’s Prayer in Latin Gregorian Chant

Fr. John

Saint Nicholas of Japan

Nicholas_PortrBefore Christ ascended into heaven he told his disciples “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.” (Mt 28:19-20) In other words, Christ is calling his disciples (and us) to be missionaries, so the church was a missionary church right from the start. In the Book of Acts we see St. Peter and St. Paul and others beginning to spread the Gospel. Missionary activity continued after the death of the twelve apostles, despite the persecution of the Roman emperor. After the emperor accepted Christianity the church sent missionaries beyond the bounds of the Empire, such as St. Augustine to the British and Ss. Cyril and Methodius to the Slavs. After the fall of Constantinople the Ottoman Turks, the Greek Orthodox Church was in no position to send out missionaries – it had to struggle to even survive. However, the Russian Orthodox Church took on the task of mission, sending missionaries throughout the vast Russian Empire and beyond to China, Japan and Korea. One of these missionaries was St. Nicholas, Equal to the Apostles and Enlightener of Japan.
St. Nicholas (Ivan Dimitrievich Kasatkin) was born in 1836 in the family of a deacon. As a senior at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy in 1860 he saw a notice that a chaplain was needed at the Russian Consulate in Hakodate Japan. He applied and was accepted. After becoming a monk and being ordained a priest he began his year-long journey to Japan. During this time he met St. Innocent, a great missionary. St. Nicholas received valuable advice about how to be a good missionary. He arrived in Hakodate, Japan’s northernmost island in 1861.
Japan had just been opened to foreigners. Prior to this for 300 years, with few exceptions foreigners had been forbidden to enter Japan and Japanese had been forbidden to leave. Christianity was illegal and being a Christian was punishable by death. St. Nicholas began by studying Japanese and continued for seven years, becoming one of the few westerners to have mastered Japanese at that time.
While living at the consulate, a Japanese samurai (warrior), Sawabe Takuma, who was teaching Japanese swordsmanship to the consul general’s son, burst into St. Nicholas’ room threatening to kill him because this samurai hated Christianity. St. Nicholas, showing no fear, said that it was dishonorable to kill a man before one knew what he actually taught. The samurai agreed and St. Nicholas began to tell him about Christianity. This samurai became a regular visitor to St. Nicholas. Finally, Sawabe requested baptism. St. Nicholas baptized him with a few others, giving him the name Paul. This was all done in great secrecy because Christianity was still illegal in Japan.
In 1871 St. Nicholas moved to Tokyo. There he eventually opened several schools, including a seminary after Christianity became legal (Paul Sawabe became the first Japanese to become an Orthodox priest). St. Nicholas also built a great Cathedral, named after the Holy sunday morning There, this cathedral, which still stands, is called by everyone as Nikorai-do, or Nicholas’ Cathedral, because it was so associated with St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas was a tireless traveler, visiting many areas in Japan, opening churches, which he filled with Japanese priests. He was a tireless translator, spending many hours each day translating the services and Bible into Japanese. In 1904 when war began between Russian and Japan, St. Nicholas was the only Russian who remained in Japan. As a good shepherd he did not want to leave his flock. St. Nicholas did a great deal to help Russian prisoners of war in Japan, and received awards from the Russian and Japanese emperors. St. Nicholas died in 1912 and left behind a church of 33,000 believers, 32 priests, 96 churches and 265 chapels, overcoming difficulties associated with the Russian Revolution and WWII, the Japanese church continues as an autonomous church within the Moscow Patriarchate. The Metropolitan and the great majority of clergy are Japanese.
St. Nicholas was obviously a great missionary in the tradition of Ss. Cyril and Methodius, St. Innocent of Alaska and St. Macarius of the Altai. It is clear that St. Nicholas intended to found a native Japanese church. He began preparing a native clergy and translating the service books into Japanese from the earliest days of his ministry. His success is shown in the way the Japanese Orthodox Church survived the Russian Revolution, when all support from Russian was cut off and the difficulties of the Second World War. We can learn from St. Nicholas that even in the most difficult of circumstances it is still possible to proclaim the Gospel.

Fr. John

The Martyrdom of Vladimir, Metropolitan and Hieromartyr of Kiev

Icon - Met Vladimir of KievThe English word martyr comes from a Greek word which means witness. In the secular world the word martyr was used to mean witness but soon the word martyr  came to mean someone who loses his or her life for the Christian faith. (Of course, there are martyrs in the non-Christian world also, but we are not concerned with that here.) The first Christian martyr is St. Stephen, one of the original deacons. The account of his martyrdom is found in Acts 6:8-7:60. St. Stephen was a zealous preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We find him put on trial for this and most of Acts 7 consists of his defense in which he showed that Jesus Christ was the Messiah prophesied by the Old Testament and awaited by the Jewish people. For this testimony St. Stephen was stoned to death. It is noteworthy that St. Stephen, as he was dying, asked God to forgive the people who were stoning him, much as Jesus had done on the cross.
Of course, there were many martyrs in the first Christian centuries as Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire. After the empire was Christianized, martyrs were often found among the missionaries who preached the Gospel in foreign lands, as well as their converts. The 20th century saw many martyrs being killed by totalitarian governments. Christian martyrdom continues today as thousands or tens of thousands die for Christ each year.
On January 31st this year the church remembers the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia who died under the communists. On February 7th we commemorate Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev, who was the first bishop killed by the communists.
Hieromartyr Vladimir (in the world Basil Nikephorovich Bogoyavlensky) was born into a clerical family in Tambov province in 1848. He completed his education at the Kiev Theological Academy and taught in the Tambov seminary before getting married and being ordained a priest. After his wife died, he became a monk and shortly thereafter he was consecrated a bishop. He served as a bishop in various dioceses until becoming Metropolitan of Moscow in 1892, and Metropolitan of Petrograd in 1915.
Because he disapproved of Rasputin he was transferred to Kiev. In January 1918 the Civil War came to Kiev. On January 23rd the Bolsheviks seized the Kiev Caves Lavra and assaulted many monks. On January 25th the Bolsheviks seized St. Vladimir and beat him and killed him in a most brutal manner. His body had several bullet wounds, as well as cuts and gashes. Before he was killed St. Vladimir spent a few moments in prayer. Then he blessed his executioners and said “May God forgive you.”
As mentioned above, St. Vladimir was the first bishop to be murdered by the Bolsheviks. He was followed by countless others under the communist yoke. But St. Vladimir shows us that it is possible, even in the most terrible circumstances, to draw near to God in prayer and to follow Christ’s command to forgive those who hurt and kill us.


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