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Sunday of the Paralytic by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

How tragic today's story of the life of Christ is. A man had been paralysed for years. He had lain at a short distance from healing, but he himself had no strength to merge into the waters of ablution. And no one - no one in the course of all these years - had had compassion on him.

The ones rushed to be the first in order to be healed. Others who were attached to them by love, by friendship, helped them to be healed. But no one cast a glance at this man, who for years had longed for healing and was not in himself able to find strength to become whole.

If only one person had been there, if only one heart had responded with compassion, this man might have been whole years and years earlier. As no one, not one person, had compassion on him, all that was left to him - and I say all that was left to him with a sense of horror - was the direct intervention of God.

We are surrounded by people who are in need. It is not only people who are physically paralysed who need help. There are so many people who are paralysed in themselves, and need to meet someone who would help them. Paralysed in themselves are those who are terrified of life, because life has been an object of terror for them since they were born: insensitive parents, heartless, brutal surroundings. How many are those who hoped, when they were still small, that there would be something for them in life. But no. There wasn't. There was no compassion. There was no friendliness. There was nothing. And when they tried to receive comfort and support, they did not receive it. Whenever they thought they could do something they were told, 'Don't try. Don't you understand that you are incapable of this?' And they felt lower and lower.

How many were unable to fulfil their lives because they were physically ill, and not sufficiently strong… But did they find someone to give them a supporting hand? Did they find anyone who felt so deeply for them and about them that they went out of their way to help? And how many those who are terrified of life, lived in circumstances of fear, of violence, of brutality… But all this could not have taken them if there had been someone who have stood by them and not abandoned them.

So we are surrounded, all of us, by people who are in the situation of this paralytic man. If we think of ourselves we will see that many of us are paralysed, incapable of fulfilling all their aspirations; incapable of being what they longed for, incapable of serving others the way their heart speaks; incapable of doing anything they longed for because fear, brokenness has come into them.

And all of us, all of us were responsible for each of them. We are responsible, mutually, for one another; because when we look right and left at the people who stand by us, what do we know about them? Do we know how broken they are? How much pain there is in their hearts? How much agony there has been in their lives? How many broken hopes, how much fear and rejection and contempt that has made them contemptuous of themselves and unable even to respect themselves - not to speak of having the courage of making a move towards wholeness, that wholeness of which the Gospel speaks in this passage and in so many other places?

Let us reflect on this. Let us look at each other and ask ourselves, 'How much frailty is there in him or her? How much pain has accumulated in his or her heart? How much fear of life - but life expressed by my neighbour, the people whom I should be able to count for life - has come in to my existence?

Let us look at one another with understanding, with attention. Christ is there. He can heal; yes. But we will be answerable for each other, because there are so many ways in which we should be the eyes of Christ who sees the needs, the ears of Christ who hears the cry, the hands of Christ who supports and heals or makes it possible for the person to be healed.

Let us look at this parable of the paralytic with new eyes; not thinking of this poor man two thousand years ago who was so lucky that Christ happened to be near him and in the end did what every neighbour should have done. Let us look at each other and have compassion, active compassion; insight; love if we can. And then this parable will not have been spoken or this event will not have been related to us in vain. Amen.

CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED!

It is Finished! by Fr John Behr

Having been reduced to silence, perhaps now, in the silence of God, we can finally hear the Word

of God – as it comes to us in the most stark form possible.

As we enter the blessed Sabbath, the Lord now rests from all his works- in the tomb before us.

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The Lord’s Entry Into Jerusalem by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom

Today Christ enters the path not only of His sufferings but of that dreadful loneliness which enshrouds Him during all the days of Passion week. The loneliness begins with a misunderstanding; the people expect that the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem will be the triumphant procession of a political leader, of a leader who will free his people from oppression, from slavery, from what they consider godlessness – because all paganism or idol-worship is a denial of the living God. The loneliness will develop further into the dreadful loneliness of not being understood even by His disciples. At the Last Supper when the Saviour talks to them for the last time, they will be in constant doubt as to the meaning of His words. And later when He goes into the Garden of Gethsemane before the fearful death that is facing Him, His closest disciples, Peter, John and James – whom He chose to go with Him fall asleep, depressed, tired, hopeless. The culmination of this loneliness will be Christ’s cry on the cross, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” Abandoned men, rejected by the people of Israel He encounters the extreme of forsakenness and dies without God, without men, alone, with only His love for God and His love for mankind, dying for its sake and for God’s glory.

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Come As You Are

It’s a remarkable story, especially in this day and age where an ascetical dedication to selflessness is looked upon as strange and disempowering. St. Mary gets under my skin with her all or nothing commitment to cutting out of her life that which was sinful and damaging to her soul. Her devotion is mind blowing – so very, very difficult to comprehend.

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St Mary of Egypt

St Zosimas (April 4) was a monk at a certain Palestinian monastery on the outskirts of Caesarea. Having dwelt at the monastery since his childhood, he lived there in asceticism until he reached the age of fifty-three. Then he was disturbed by the thought that he had attained perfection, and needed no one to instruct him. “Is there a monk anywhere who can show me some form of asceticism that I have not attained? Is there anyone who has surpassed me in spiritual sobriety and deeds?”

Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Zosimas, you have struggled valiantly, as far as this is in the power of man. However, there is no one who is righteous (Rom 3:10). So that you may know how many other ways lead to salvation, leave your native land, like Abraham from the house of his father (Gen 12:1), and go to the monastery by the Jordan.”

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Fr Andrew Damick on the Annunciation

"The Lord God Almighty, the Creator of the universe Himself, has stepped into our world, our time, onto our planet, into our humanity, by being conceived of the Holy Spirit all those many centuries ago. He entered into human experience in that most intimate, secret and sacred of human places—the womb of a virgin. That is the kind of closeness and intimacy that He desires with us." -Fr Andrew Damick

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Fr Thomas Hopko on the 4th Sunday of Lent

It is at this point in our Lenten journey that the Church contemplates the instruction of St. John Climacus and his Ladder of Divine Ascent. Fr. Tom [of blessed memory!] takes us step by step through this treasure and makes it practical for us non-monastics!

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St Gregory of Nazianzus

From the SVS blog "Synanxis"

 

…Let us sacrifice ourselves to God, or rather offer sacrifice every day and in every movement. Let us accept all things for the Word. By sufferings let us imitate his suffering, by blood let us exalt his blood, let us willingly climb up on the cross. Sweet are the nails, even if very painful. For to suffer with Christ and for Christ is preferable to feasting with others.

If you are Simon of Cyrene, take up the cross and follow. If you are crucified with him as a thief, come to know God as kindhearted; if he was counted among the lawless because of you and your sin, become law abiding because of him. Worship the one hanged for you even if you are hanging; gain something even from the evil, purchase salvation by death. Come into paradise with Jesus so as to learn from what you have fallen. Contemplate the beauties there; leave the murmurer to die outside with his blasphemies. And if you are Joseph from Arimathea, ask for the body from the crucifier; let that which cleanses the world become yours. And if you are Nicodemus, the nocturnal worshipper of God, bury him with scented ointments. And if you are a certain Mary or another Mary or Salome or Joanna, weep at daybreak. Be first to see the stone removed, and perhaps the angels and Jesus himself. Say something, hear his voice. If you hear “Do not touch me,” stand far off, have reverence for the Word,  but do not be sorrowful. For he knows those by whom he was seen first. Keep the feast of the resurrection; help Eve, the first who fell, and her who first greeted Christ and made him known to the disciples. Become Peter or John; hasten to the tomb, running against each other, running together, competing in the good competition. And if you are beaten in speed, win in zeal,not just peeping into the tomb but going inside. And if like Thomas you are left behind when the disciples have assembled to whom Christ manifests himself, when you see do not disbelieve; and if you disbelieve, believe those who tell you. If you cannot believe then either, believe the prints of the nails. And if he descends into Hades, go down with him.

 

Excerpt from Oration 45: “On Holy Pascha” [23-24], Festal Orations by St. Gregory of Nazianzus. Emphases added.

 

Source: https://svotssynaxis.wordpress.com/2014/05...

Sermon on St Gregory Palamas Sunday

by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

In one of the Psalms we can read the following words: Those who have sown with tears will reap with joy… If in the course of weeks of preparation we have seen all that is ugly and unworthy in us mirrored in the parables, if we have stood before the judgement of our conscience and of our God, then we have truly sown in tears our own salvation.

And yet, there is still time because even when we enter into the time of the harvest, God gives us a respite; as we progress towards the Kingdom of God, towards the Day of the Resurrection, we still can, at every moment, against the background of salvation, in the face of the victory of God, turn to Him with gratitude and yet, brokenheartedness, and say, ‘No, Lord! I am perhaps the worker of the eleventh hour, but receive me as Thou promised to do!’

Last week we have kept the day of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, the day when the Church proclaimed that it was legitimate and right to paint icons of Christ; it was not a declaration about art, it was a deeply theological proclamation of the Incarnation.

The Old Testament said to us that God cannot be represented by any image because He was unbottomed mystery; He had even no Name except the mysterious name which only the High Priest know.

But in the New Testament we have learned, and we know from experience that God has become Man, that the fullness of the Godhead has abided and is still abiding forever in the flesh; and therefore God has a human name: Jesus, and He has got a human face that can be represented in icons. An icon is therefore a proclamation of our certainty that God has become man; and He has become man to achieve ultimate, tragic and glorious solidarity with us, to be one of us that we may be one of the children of God. He has become man that we may become gods, as the Scripture tells us.

And so, we could last week already rejoice; and this is why, a week before, when we were already preparing to meet this miracle, this wonder of the Incarnation, softly, in an almost inaudible way, the Church was singing the canon of Easter: Christ is risen from the dead! – because it is not a promise for the future, it is a certainty of the present, open to us like a door for us to enter through Christ, the Door as He calls Himself, into eternity.

And today we remember the name of Saint Gregory Palamas, one of the great Saints of Orthodoxy, who against heresy and doubt, proclaimed, from within the experience of the ascetics and of all believers, proclaimed that the grace of God is not a created Gift – it is God Himself, communicating Himself to us so that we are pervaded by His presence, that we gradually, if we only receive Him, open ourselves to Him, become transparent or at least translucent to His light, that we become incipiently and ever increasingly partakers of the Divine nature.

This is not simply a promise; this is a certainty which we have because this has happened to thousands and thousands of those men and women whom we venerate as the Saints of God: they have become partakers of the Divine nature, they are to us a revelation and certainty of what we are called to be and become.

And today one step more brings us into the joy, the glory of Easter. In a week’s time we will sing the Cross – the Cross which was a terror for the criminals, and has become now a sign of victory and salvation, because it is to us the sign that God’s love has no measure, no limits, is as deep as God is deep, all-embracing as God is all-embracing, and indeed, as tragically victorious as God is both tragic and victorious, awe-inspiring, and shining the quiet, joyful light which we sing in Vespers.

Let us then make ourselves ready to meet this event, the vision of the Cross, look at it, and see in it the sign of the Divine love, a new certainty of our possible salvation; and when the choir sings this time more loudly the canon of the Resurrection, let us realise that step by step God leads us into a victory which He has won, and which He wants to share with us.

And then we will move on; we will listen to the Saint who teaches us how to receive the grace which God is offering, how to become worthy of Him; and a step more – and we will see the victory of God in Saint Mary of Egypt and come to the threshold of Holy Week. But let us remember that we are now in the time of newness, a time when God’s victory is been revealed to us, that we are called to be enfolded by it, to respond to it by gratitude, a gratitude that will make us into new people – and also with joy!

And joy full of tears in response to the love of God, and a joy which is a responsible answer to the Divine love. Amen!

2015 Lenten Retreat

Dear Brothers and Sisters

Glory be to Christ Jesus ! The Lenten Retreat at St John's this year will feature Deacon Mark and Mat Elizabeth Barna ,Authors of" A Christian Ending" ; A handbook for burial in the ancient Christian tradition. 

With so many Christians today opting for cremation because of the expense of funerals and the loss of a Christian understanding of why it's not OK, it is critical that we maintain our Orthodox tradition of respect for the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit. The Barns have become a great resource for parishes who want to know more about our options when someone dies. They are also a fountain of information about caring for elderly loved ones, having cared for 3 of their elderly parents in their home.

We will have a brief introductory talk during the meal following Pre-sanctified Liturgy on Friday 3/20 at around 7 PM.The next session will begin at 9: 30. Divine Liturgy will be at 7:45 AM on Saturday followed by continental breakfast. We will break for Lunch ( provided by St John's ) at 12 Noon. The afternoon will feature workshops on specific topics and a Q&A session from 3-4 PM followed by Vespers. Please see the attached flyer. Feel free to distribute it to all who may be interested. Also click on the Barns's Website for more info on the subject.

If you would like to help with any aspect of this workshop, please contact Ryan Harbry, Fr Tom or Mat Rebecca.

Love in Christ,

Fr Tom    

Assembly of Bishops issues message for Orthodoxy Sunday

On Sunday evening, March 1, 2015 — the first Sunday of Great Lent — Orthodox Christians will gather in churches around the world to commemorate the restoration of icons to their proper use in the Church on March 11, 843 AD, thereby ending the 100-plus year iconoclast controversy.

The spiritual theme of the day is first of all the victory of the True Faith.  “This is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith” [1 John 5:4].  Secondly, the icons of the saints bear witness that man, “created in the image and likeness of God” [Genesis 1:26], becomes holy and godlike through the purification of himself as God’s living image.

His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, together with His Eminence, Metropolitan Joseph of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America and His Grace, Bishop Michael of New York and New Jersey, will be present for the Pan-Orthodox celebration of the Vespers of Orthodoxy Sunday at Saint John the Baptist Church, 170 Lexington Ave., Passaic, NJ at 5:00 p.m.

To mark the occasion, a message has been issued by the members of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America, the complete text of which follows.

Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America

Sunday of Orthodoxy 2015

Longsuffering Lord, how wonderful are your works! Who will number your love for humankind? Who, when they see your Priests and Ascetics slain for the sake of your Icon, would not reject deceivers? But you, when insulted, endured [Synodikon of the Sunday of Orthodoxy, 9th Ode].

To the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of Parish Councils, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Members of Philanthropic Organizations, the Youth and Youth Workers, and the entire Orthodox Christian Family in the United States of America:

Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

At the onset of our journey to Holy Pascha, the Church designates the first Sunday of Holy and Great Lent as the Sunday of Orthodoxy. On this day we celebrate the splendor of the Orthodox Church and her salvific mission in the world, and we call to mind the holy men and women who made great sacrifices in defense of holy icons and the authentic worship of God; we venerate the great champions of Orthodoxy who kept the faith alive.

Their enduring love and commitment to Christ has made it possible for future generations to come to know God. And as we are embraced by Christ and become one with Him, our lives are transformed into living icons of our Lord and of His sacrificial love for the world. The dogmas, teachings and traditions that were defended, therefore, are not antiquated theories, philosophies, or broken rubrics. They are tangible guides and spiritual directives for how we ought to live our lives according to the Holy Gospel.

Beloved brothers and sisters, perhaps now more than ever before, it is important to declare our Orthodox Christian Faith, for the world is suffering and desperately searching for peace and reconciliation. As the world produces distorted images of the truth, we must share the beauty of the Gospel. As the world resorts to violence and hatred, we must respond with love and forgiveness. And as the world falls deeper into despair, let us ask God to grant us courage to endure and to allow us to serve as icons of hope for our neighbor.

Wishing all of you, on behalf of the Hierarchs of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America, the abundant blessings of the Lord, I fervently pray that He grant to all of us the courage, the power and the wisdom to proclaim His eternal and saving Orthodox Faith to all people, both those who are far off and those who are near (Eph. 2:17).

+Archbishop Demetrios of America
Chairman

Forgiving What We Do Not Know

by Fr Stephen Freeman

The first service of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church is “Forgiveness Vespers,” served on the eve of Monday of the First Week. There is nothing unusual about the service itself – other than the “rite of forgiveness” appended to it. In this, the priest and the faithful ask forgiveness of one another. Often this is done with mutual prostrations. Each asks the forgiveness of the other. The rite can take time, depending on the number in attendance. When it is complete, the long labors of Lent can begin. Fasting without forgiveness would be a hollow activity. This is a meditation I shared with my parish this week as the Sunday of Forgiveness approaches:

Perhaps the most generous words spoken by Christ are those we hear from the Cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Taken at face value, the words make little sense. Surely, those who crucified Christ knew that they were killing a man. Surely they were even aware that his execution was largely political and unjust. The centurion in charge of the crucifixion is said to have stated, “Surely this man was the Son of God.” So how could Christ say, “They do not know what they are doing?”

I believe this goes to the very heart of our lives and actions. We almost never know what we are doing. The greater context, the meaning of anything, is  hidden from us. We have children, work at a job, and live our lives, hoping that these have been worthwhile actions. We know that much, even most of what we have done has been tainted with bad intentions and other less-than-worthy motivations. But we never actually grasp the full scope of our actions. Even those good things that we do have a hidden aspect. Did that kind word spoken earlier make a difference? Did that act of charity actually change anything?

Read the Rest of this article HERE

The Sunday of the Last Judgement

lent_2011-02-27.jpg

by Fr. Alexander Schmemann

It is love that again constitutes the theme of “Meatfare Sunday”. The Gospel lesson of the day is Christ’s parable of the Last Judgment (Matt 25:31-46). When Christ comes to judge us, what will be the criterion of His judgment? The parable answers: love-not a mere humanitarian concern for abstract justice and the anonymous “poor”, but concrete and personal love for the human person, any human person, that God makes me encounter in my life. This distinction is important because today more and more Christians tend to identify Christian love with political, economic, and social concerns; in other words, they shift from the unique person and its unique personal destiny, to anonymous entities such as “class”, “race”, etc. Not that these concerns are wrong. It is obvious that in their respective walks of life, in their responsibilities as citizens, professional men, etc, Christians are called to care, to the best of their possibilities and understanding, for a just, equal, and in general more humane society. All this, to be sure, stems from Christianity and may be inspired by Christian love. But Christian love as such is something different, and this is difference is to be understood and maintained if the Church is to preserve her unique mission and not become a mere “social agency,” which definitely she is not.

Christian love is the “possible impossibility” to see Christ in another man, whoever he is, and whom God, in His eternal and mysterious plan, has decided to introduce into my life, be it only for a few moments, not as an occasion for a “good deed” or an exercise in philanthropy, but as the beginning of an eternal companionship in God Himself. For, indeed, what is love if not that mysterious power that transcends the accidental and the external in the “other” -his physical appearance, social rank, ethnic origin, intellectual capacity- and reaches the soul, the unique and uniquely personal “root” of a human being, truly the part of God in him? If God loves every man it is because He alone knows the priceless and absolutely unique treasure, the “soul” or “person” He gave every man. Christian love then is the participation in that divine knowledge and the gift of that divine love. There is no “impersonal” love because love is the wonderful discovery of the “person” in “man” , of the personal and unique in the common and general. It is the discovery in each man of that which is “loveable” in him, of that which is from God.

In this respect, Christian love is sometimes the opposite of “social activism” with which one so often identifies Christianity today. To a “social activist” the object of love is not “person” but man, an abstract unit of a not less abstract “humanity”, But for Christianity, man is “loveable” because he is person. There person is reduced to man; here man is seen only as a person. The “social activist” has no interest for the personal, and easily sacrifices it to the “common interest”. Christianity may seem to be, and in some ways actually is, rather skeptical about the abstract “humanity,” but it commits a mortal sin against itself each time it gives up its concern and love for the person. Social activism is always “futuristic” in its approach; it always acts in the name of justice, order, happiness to come, to be achieved. Christianity cares little about that problematic future but puts the whole emphasis on the now-the only decisive time for love. The two attitudes are not mutually exclusive, but they must not be confused. Christians, to be sure, have responsibilities toward “this world” and they must fulfill them. This is the area of “social activism” which belongs entirely to “this world”. Christian love, however, aims beyond “this world”. It is itself a ray. A manifestation of the Kingdom of God; it transcends and overcomes all limitations, all “conditions” of this world because its motivation as well as its goals and consummation is in God. And we know that even in this world which “lies in evil”, the only lasting and transforming victories are those of love. To remind man of this personal love and vocation, to fill the sinful world with this love- this is the true mission of the Church.

-Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent, pg 24-26.

Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee

by Fr Thomas Hopko

The pre-Lenten season in the Orthodox Church begins with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. On this particular Sunday the liturgical book called the Lenten Triodion begins, and this liturgical book would be used in the Orthodox Church all the way through to the celebration of the Lord’s resurrection—the holy Pascha—and then from the holy Pascha—from Easter, the resurrection of Christ—to Pentecost another liturgical book is used.

Now the Lenten Triodion begins with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee; on this Sunday the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee is read at the Divine Liturgy and on this Sunday also, at the services of vespers and matins, hymns are sung during the services that relate to this Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. And this hymnology and these Scripture readings are intended to focus the believers’ minds on the approaching Lenten season that will prepare them for the celebration of the resurrection of Christ, so that the whole journey begins after the reading about the Canaanite woman and Zacchaeus that precedes this Sunday; it begins with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. Also on this particular Sunday a penitential hymn is introduced at the Sunday matins service after the reading of the resurrection Gospel—because at every Sunday matins service in the Orthodox Church an account of the Lord’s resurrection from the dead is read, because Sunday is always a celebration of the Lord’s resurrection.

Read the rest or listen to the audio at Ancient Faith Radio: The Publican and the Pharisee

ZACCHAEUS SUNDAY

Metropolitan Anthony Sourozh
20 JANUARY 1991

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. 

In these weeks of preparation for Lent, we were faced last Sunday with the story of Barthimaeus to attract our attention on our own blindness; our spiritual blindness of which we are not aware while physical blindness is so clearly perceived; but also on the fact that if we want to recover our sight, our spiritual vision, our understanding of self, of God, of our neighbour, of life, there is only one person to whom we can turn - it is God, our Lord Jesus Christ. Bartimaeus have tried all means to recover his sight, but it is only when he turned to Christ that he did recover it.

Whether we have taken advantage of the past week to reflect deeply on our own blindness, and in the darkness to begin to see some light, I do not know; each of us will have to answer for his eagerness or his laziness.

But today we are confronted with a new parable, or rather, a new story of the life of Christ: the story of Zacchaeus. This story speaks to us again directly and the question which is been asked from us is this: What matters to me more? The good opinion of people around me, that people should not jeer at you, laugh at you because you are seeking to see God, to meet Him, or the necessity, the inner call to discover everything provided you can see Christ face to face? Is vanity stronger in us or the hunger for God? And Saint John of the Ladder says clearly that vanity is contempt of God and cowardice before men. What is our attitude: are we prepared to discard everything, provided we can meet God - or not? And in our circumstances it is not so much people who will prevent us, people will not jeer at us, they will not laugh at us: they will be totally indifferent; but this does not mean that we like beggars not turn to them, hoping for their approval, and in order to receive this approval, turn away from our search, from the only thing that can heal us and give us new life.

Also, we will find within ourselves conflicting voices, saying, Don't! Don't make yourself ridiculous! Don't single yourself out by a search which is not necessary; you have got everything... Zacchaeus was rich, Zacchaeus was known as an honorable citizen - so are we! We possess so much, we are respected - are we going to start on a road that will make us into what Paul calls 'the scum of the earth’, debase us? This is the question which today's story of Zacchaeus says to us: is vanity, that is the search of things which are vain, empty, and the fear of other people's opinion that will prevail, or the hunger each of us has, at times, acute for a meeting with the living God? Amen.