Why build an Orthodox Church Temple

St Savas Cathedral – Belgrade

This quote explains why we build churches to God’s glory. It is a quote from St. Philaret of Moscow on the occasion of a church consecration.

“God is everywhere and doesn’t need churches, which are small for him and cannot contain Him. But man is limited, and thus needs limited revelation of God’s presence. God condescended to the need of man and granted that this  church exist, granting it the grace of His particular presence. We know of only one state of man in which he has no need of churches: the eternal life in the New  Jerusalem, under a “new heaven and a new earth…” the seer of heaven (St. John the Evangelist) notes a special  distinguishing feature of the New Jerusalem, namely that there is no church there: “and I saw no church there: (Rev. 21, 22). But we are not yet in the New Jerusalem, which will descend from the heavens, therefore we need a church temple.  Belonging to the creation, after the fall, our own flesh, rough and unpurified, blocks our entrance into the grace-filled presence of God. This is why it is necessary for His charismatic presence to reveal itself to us in holy churches. The heavens –  where Christ, our light, ascended – have not yet opened up and revealed to us the radiance of His glory. because of this we need for the time being at least a small heaven on earth, as well as light – even though it may be hidden in mystery. We can find all this in the church, through prayer, the word of God and the sacraments

God Bless…….Fr G.  

 

Who is God?

Have you ever considered the possibility that your idea of God is too small?  What do you think about when you hear the word “GOD”?  Maybe, it would help if we consider some of the Church’s teachings about God.  First, let’s ask the basic question  Who is God?”  There are certain fundamental Orthodox teachings on this question.  When we try to define God, we come to Mystery.  Beginning with that question: What is God?  The Church says “GOD IS” – He is beyond all human understanding, language, and abilities to grasp or describe.

God is Love; whoever sought to define Him would be like a blind person trying to count the grains of sand of the sea shore.  – St. John Climakos

God is a God, who out of Love, reveals Himself to his creatures and creation.  Our God is a Personal God, that is why the question is WHO is GOD and not WHAT is God.  Our God is a TRINITARIAN GOD.  What does this mean?  The nature of God as Trinity is explained St. Basil in this way:

The Father is the origin of all, the Son realizes, and the Spirit fulfills. Every thing subsists by the will of the Father, comes into being though the action of the Son, and reaches its perfection through the action of the Holy Spirit…The number three therefore comes to your mind: the Lord who commands, The Word who creates, the Breath who confirms and what can it mean to confirm, if not to make perfect in holiness.

                                              Treatise on the Holy Spirit – ST BASIL OF CAESARIA.

Think about the description of the nature of God, as we can understand him.  Keep in mind; we can never understand the essence of God.  Yet, all Three Persons of the Holy Trinity share the same essence (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed).  They are unique persons; they are distinct but never separate.  They have but one will, the will of the Father.  NONE of three ever acts separately and apart from the other two. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware states, “They are not three Gods but one God.”  What is it about God that we experience and know?  We Orthodox view what and how we experience the Trinity in this way.

      • GOD’S ESSENCE – WHAT “IS”, THE INNER BEING OF GOD, IS TOTALLY TRANSCENDENT.  MAN CAN NEVER KNOW THE NATURE OF GOD AND GOD’S OTHERNESS.  THIS IS BEYOND OUR ABILITY OR CAPACITY TO COMPREHEND.
      • GOD’S ENERGY – GOD’S OPERATIONS OR ACTS OF POWER.  THESE REVEAL GOD IN THE WORLD TO HIS CREATION.  THIS IS CALLED GRACE, LIFE AND POWER AND IT FILLS ALL THINGS.

 God is love (1 John, 8). The Persons of the Holy Trinity relate to one and another in a bond of LOVE, a perfect outpouring of selfless communion that is continuous, constant and mysterious.  This is the nature of the relationship of the life of God as Trinity.  Our destiny is to share this love and to express it in our lives.  When we talk about God, we mean the Holy Trinity; and when we will speak of Christ, the second person of the Trinity, we speak of the Son of God revealed and encountered in the created world.  In Christ, empowered by God’s Holy Spirit and through our Baptism and Chrismation, we have the potential to partake in the nature of God as Trinity (2 Peter 1, 3). 

For Orthodox, the true image of God and the true nature of man are revealed in history by one event.  God has revealed Himself to us in Christ.  Through the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos,. Christ accomplishes this by His Incarnation in the Flesh.  The Incarnation of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, reveals the image of the Father to the world and only through Him, in the Holy Spirit, can we KNOW God the Father (St. John 17, 25-26).  The hymn of Christmas, by St. Romanos the Melodist, summarizes the theology of incarnation with this phrase, “A new born child; God before the Ages”. 

The Incarnation is an act of GOD out of love.  It is an act of God identifying with our nature and of sharing His Nature with us.  The nature of God as Trinity was the topic of the first two Ecumenical Councils; the next five great Councils dealt with who is Jesus and what is His relationship to us, His creation.

      • JESUS CHRIST IS FULLY AND COMPLETELY PERFECT GOD.
      • JESUS CHRIST IS FULLY AND COMPLETELY PERFECT HUMAN.
      • JESUS CHRIST IS NOT TWO PERSONS BUT ONE.
      • JESUS CHRIST IN HIS HUMANITY IS LIKE US IN EVERY WAY,  SAVE HE IS WITHOUT SIN.

Earlier we said, the Godhead is a perfect community of love shared between the THREE Persons of the Trinity.  The Incarnation is also about sharing and participation.  Christ shares our humanity, even to death on the cross.  This act of perfect Love enables us, in Christ, through His Spirit to participate in the life of God.  We are called to intimate communion, even friendship with our Lord.  The entire history of Christ in the world can be summed up in one word ENCOUNTER.  Through Him, in Him and with Him, we encounter the Living God.  Christ assumed our human nature and our human body.  He transformed them with the Glory of God and showed us the true original beauty of our created potential.  He presents it to His Father, wholly transfigured, so that we might share in the Nature of God.

This is the reason why the Word of God was made flesh, and the Son of God became the Son of Man: so that we could enter into communion with the Word of God and by receiving adoption might become the Sons of God.  Indeed, we should not be able to share in immortality without a close union with the Immortal.

                                                                                                St. Ireneaus of Lyons

In Christ, we are called to KNOW the Father.  This knowledge is the prayer of Christ before his crucifixion.  His Resurrection abolished the hold which death had on us since our fall.  His Accession granted us an intercessor at the Throne of God.  At Pentecost, He asks the Father to send His Spirit to continue His Presence among us.  His Second Coming will give the righteous immortality and perfect communion with God.  These words of prayer explain our relationship to God the Holy Trinity. 

My hope is the Father, 

My refuge is the Son.

 My Protection is the Holy Spirit,

O Holy Trinity – Glory to You.

                                            St. Ioannikios the Great

Christ is Risen!
Fr. George

 

Standing by the Cross

There is a word that appears in the hymnography of the Church which is prominent in Great Lent and in Holy Week. That word is stavrotheotokion.  If we look at this compound word and break it down to its component parts we can recognize a couple of fairly familiar Greek words, Stavro – Greek for cross and Theotokos, the Mother of God. Now, we can connect the concepts The Theotokos and the Cross.  The Stavrotheotokion is a troparion (short hymn with a theme usually sung after a verse of psalm), which is a manifestation of true human emotions.  It is a poetic expression of the pain, sorrow and astonishment of a mother beholding her Son and her God on the Cross. These verses of theology and tenderness are heard in many of the services of the Great Lent, but reach their zenith in the services of the Holy Passion. The Theotokos expresses the wonder of us all.  The awe, which could only be articulated by a mother who has kept a secret for many years (“and his mother kept all these things in her heart” Luke 2, 51).  The identity of her Son as the incarnate God was known the Theotokos since the Annunciation. Now at the Cross she suffers a new mystery, the inscrutability of her Son and Creator taking on death by His own free choice.  Each of these verses proclaims the truth of Christ’s condescension.

…”Woe is me beloved Child, light of my eyes!  Thou has hung the earth above the waters, how can you endure to be nailed upon the Tree between two evildoers.”  – Vespers of Tuesday in the Third Week.

Nonetheless, the Virgin stands by the cross, hour by hour true to her mission to intercede for the entire world.  Her pain is palpable.  Her lament is moving and yet there is true nobility in her devotion.  When all the disciples, except John the Beloved, had fled because of their fear, she and the other women stood there unafraid. St. Romanos the Melodist has captured her grief and her consolation in a kontakion (a combination of troparia of the same structure, connect alphabetically or acrostically) used on Great and Holy Friday.  As we, the Church prepare for Holy Week and the revelation of the pain and suffering of Christ, Our Lord and God we will also be reminded of the deep sorrow of His mother as she stands by the Cross with pain in her heart and tears in her eyes. The dialogue between the Theotokos and her Son becomes the revelation of God’s plan of salvation in poetry. This kontakion is lyrical theology, the stavrotheotokion with the voice of response by our Crucified Lord. Christ assures the Theotokos just as she witnesses his hanging on the Cross, she would receive the grace of being the first to see His glorious resurrection.

“Courage, Mother because you will see me first on my coming from the tomb.  I am coming to show you by how many toils I ransomed  Adam and how much I sweated for his sake. I shall show it to my friends by showing the marks in my hands and then you will see Eve, Mother, living as before, and you will cry out with joy:  ‘He has saved my forebears, my Son and my God.’*

*(St. Romanos the Melodist. On the Life of Christ: Kontakia. Translated by Archimandrite Ephrem Lash. Edited by Kerry Brown, The Sacred Literature Series. New York et al.: HarperCollins Publishers, 1995, p. 148).

“With the Fear of God, with Faith and Love, Draw near”

 

“With Fear of God with Faith and Love… ”

During Great Lent we are given the medicine of eternity, Holy Communion, not only on Sunday or Saturday, but during the week at each Pre-Sanctified Liturgy.  At every Divine Liturgy, we are called to partake of Christ with the  words: “With the Fear of God, with Faith and Love draw near” The fear of God is not the type of fear that means we are petrified and so terrified of God that we quake and live in horror; instead this “fear” is awe, reverence and veneration.  We know the holiness of God as Trinity and our separation from Him caused by our own sinfulness. This awe requires us to look at ourselves honestly and to understand the great gulf between us and Our Lord.  But, there is more to the invitation to the Chalice than fear. There are two more phrases that we need to consider. 

With faith!  How can we approach God without faith?  We understand the great gulf between us, but faith can overcome this separation.  This faith is faith in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, Our Lord becoming one of us; truly God and truly Man.  This faith is a faith in His great mercy. His love and mercy for His creation is so great that  He put on our humanity through the Theotokos and by the Holy Spirit. His love for us allows us to relate personally to Him. He assumed our nature to decrease the separation between us.  This mystery is beyond our understanding. The result of His love for us is to lessen the “fear” we have of Him, but to increase the awe we have in our hearts for His great love for us. How can we fear a God who loves us so much as to become man for our salvation?  Can we live in dread of someone who is there waiting for us to reach out to Him. He waits so that His strength supports us in every moment of our weakness no matter what that is.  With faith, we are certain that He is our gentle shepherd who searches us out when we’re lost and carries us on His shoulders when we’re too weak to walk to Him. This faith is a faith in God’s love for us. This faith is an assurance of Christ’s continued presence among us, His people. 

When we realize Christ is there in the chalice waiting for us, there is only one response – Love.  Love for God, a burning desire for Him to be the centre of our life.  With the invitation of the Church, we are called to partake and become one with Him. Not only are we invited to become one with Him,  but also to become one with all who share in His Cup. This is true love, to become part of each other. Love is only love when it is shared with another. Christ became one of us and shared our nature because of His love. By sharing Him, we share in each other. It is a miracle of His love that we enter into an intimate relationship with each other as a community of faith.  As we partake of Holy Communion, “With the fear of God,  with Faith and Love,” not only do we draw near to Christ; but equally near to each other. The closeness of this bond is the unity that makes us the Church, Body of Christ with one head – Our Lord God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Answer the invitation!  Let us meet Christ and each other at His Cup of Love each time we are prepared to be one with Him.  Have a blessed Great Lent!

Yours in His Love…… Fr. George

Lenten Journey, 2021

 

In our Lenten Journey we are called upon to look to three foundational guideposts. These are Prayer, Fasting and Alms Giving. As we approach the mid-point in Great Lent, I offer this small prayer to assist you.

A  prayer from St. John Chrysostom according to the Hours of the Day or Night

1:00 AM:  Lord, deprive me not of Your heavenly and eternal blessings.

2:00 AM:  Lord, deliver me from everlasting torments.

3:00 AM:  Lord, if I have sinned in word or deed, in mind, or spirit, forgive me.

4:00 AM:  Lord, deliver me from all distress, ignorance, forgetfulness, laziness, and stony hardness of heart.

5:00 AM:  Lord, deliver me from all temptations and spiritual abandonment.

6:00 AM:  Lord, enlighten my heart which has been darkened by evil desire.

7:00 AM:  Lord, being human, I sin; but You, being God, have mercy on me.

8:00 AM:  Lord, take heed of the weakness of my soul, and help me with Your grace that Your holy name may be glorified in me.

9:00 AM:  Lord Jesus Christ, inscribe the name of Your servant in the book of life, granting me a blessed end.

10:00 AM:  Lord my God, I have done nothing good; yet by Your compassion help me to make a new beginning.

11:00 AM:  Lord, refresh my heart with the dew of Your grace.

12:00 PM:  Lord, God of heaven and earth, remember me, who am sinful, wretched, evil and impure, in Your kingdom, according to Your steadfast love.

1 :00 PM:  Lord, receive me in repentance and do not forsake me.

2:00 PM:  Lord, put me not to the test.

3:00 PMLord, grant me good thoughts.

4:00 PM:  Lord, grant me tears of repentance, remembrance of death and contrition.

5:00 PM:  Lord, grant me sincere confession of my thought.

6:00 PM:  Lord, grant me humility, deliverance from my own will and obedience.

7:00 PM:  Lord, grant me patience, forbearance and meekness.

8:00 PM:  Lord, implant in me Your holy fear, the source of all blessings.

9:00 PM:  Lord, enable me to love You with all my soul, my mind and my heart; and my neighbor as myself.

10:00 PM:  Lord, protect me from evil people and demons, from impure passions and all unseemly things.

11:00 PM:  Lord, as you commanded; Lord, as You know all things; Lord, as You desire I desire Your goodness; let Your will be done in me.

12:00 AM:  Lord, let Your will, not mine, be done through the intercessions of the all-holy Theotokos and of all the Saints, for You are blessed forever. Amen.

St Cuthbert the Wonderworker, Bishop of Lindisfarne

As many of you know, I read for my Ph.D. in England at the University of Durham. During this time I gained a great appreciation for the early Orthodox saints of Great Britain. One of these saints is St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, whose holy relics are buried in the Great Cathedral of Durham on the university campus. Last Saturday, our Holy Church commemorated St. Cuthbert.. This short film from Trisagion Films tells his story.  I pray you find it inspirational and begin to appreciate the rich heritage of the Celtic saints of the Church. God Bless….Fr. G.

It’s Just a Face

This Sunday our Holy Church turns our attention to the restoration of the holy icons into the Church. We celebrate this event with the commemoration of the Sunday of Orthodoxy. I could say much in discussing this feast and as a matter of fact my entire dissertation studies the details of this event. Nonetheless, I would ask you to think a moment on this questions. What do the faces in this icon or any icon really say to us?

The icon above is the icon of St Methodios l, Patriarch of Constantinople, the Confessor. He can also be seen in the icon of the Sunday of Orthodoxy standing next to the icon within the scene.  When I talk to people about icons many times I hear:  “but they don’t look like real people.” In making this observation people touch on the very truth of the icon. Even though the image depicts “real people” they are shown in their deified reality. What does this mean? As Orthodox Christians we are all called to struggle ascetically towards our deification in Christ. The saints depicted in the icons are the truth of this endeavor. In their lives, they have ascended the ladder of deification and are shown in their glorified reality. They are no longer of this world, but belong to the reality of God. Their image in the icon reflects this truth. Byzantine icons reflect the world of God and not the world of fallen man. As the viewer of the icon, we should not be drawn to the beauty and form of the world but the radiance of God’s kingdom. The images are stylized to reflect this glory. 

In viewing the icon we are given subtle clues to the reality of the saints life.  The icon of St. Methodios above was taken from a drawing of his icon from the Vatican Library. The icon was once present in the loge of Hagia Sophia but was destroyed by an earthquake many years ago.  The icon shows a white scarf encircling the patriarch’s face. This detail testifies to the suffering of Methodios as a confessor to the faith, in that he was tortured in prison by having his teeth removed and his jaws broken; because of his support of the holy icons. He required this white scarf around his chin for the rest of his life even when he became patriarch. So the icon testifies to his suffering for Christ and his faithfulness to the truth of the Church.

In icons we have the reflection of Christ alive in the life of the person depicted for us in the holy image. Each saint in an icon is truly the reflection of Christ in their life. This is why we place a vigil lamp in front of the icon because the saints depicted there, in the icon, always reflected Christ and His light to their community, in their time and in time in memoriam. So as we see there is more than just a face in the reality of the icons. How very apt is our prayer when we ask the holy saint’s of God to intercede  for us!

God Bless and have a Blessed Great Lent……..Fr. G.  

Lest We Forget Halki 1971 – 2021

The Patriarchal Theological School of Halki

This new year is one of promise and expectation, yet it marks a sad but significant anniversary of which we faithful should always be cognizant.  This year is the 50th anniversary of the tragic closure of the historic and renown Patriarchal Theological School of Halki . As an Archon of the Great Church,  I deeply feel that we Orthodox Christians should be aware of the impact of this tragic attack on Religious Liberty.  Most especially at this time. after the unlawful conversion into a mosque of the Great Cathedral of Hagia Sophia and the historic Church of Our Saviour in Chora by the Turkish government, we need to educate ourselves. Our school of Halki has been educating Orthodox  clergy since 1844, yet it remains closed by order of the Turkish authorities. Below please find an excellent paper by Archon Elias Damianakis, the celebrated iconographer. Please take a few minutes to educate yourselves. Tell the story and support the reopening of our school as a matter of Religious Freedom with letters to your elected officials. God Bless and  Happy New Year…..Fr. George

HALKI 1971 2021

The Nativity in the Flesh of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ

For Orthodox, the true image of God and the true nature of man are revealed in history by one event.  God has revealed Himself to us in Christ.  Through the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, Christ accomplishes this by His Incarnation in the Flesh.  The Incarnation of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, reveals the image of the Father to the world and only through Him, in the Holy Spirit, can we KNOW God the Father (St. John 17, 25-26).  The hymn of Christmas, by St. Romanos the Melodist, summarizes the theology of incarnation with this phrase, “A new born child; God before the Ages”. 

The Incarnation is an act of GOD out of love.  It is an act of God identifying with our nature and of sharing His Nature with us.  The nature of God as Trinity was the topic of the first two Ecumenical Councils; the next five great Councils dealt with who is Jesus and what is His relationship to us, His creation.

  • JESUS CHRIST IS FULLY AND COMPLETELY PERFECT GOD.
  • JESUS CHRIST IS FULLY AND COMPLETELY PERFECT MAN.
  • JESUS CHRIST IS NOT TWO PERSONS BUT ONE.
  • JESUS CHRIST IN HIS HUMANITY IS LIKE US IN EVERY WAY, SAVE HE IS WITHOUT SIN.

Our God as Trinity  is a perfect community of love shared between the Three Persons of one essence.  The Incarnation is also about sharing and participation.  Christ shares our humanity, even to death on the cross.  This act of perfect love enables us, in Christ, through His Spirit to participate in the life of God.  We are called to intimate communion, even friendship with our Lord.  The entire history of Christ in the world can be summed up in one word ENCOUNTER.  Through Him,  in Him and with Him, we encounter the Living God.  Christ assumed our human nature and our human body.  He transformed them with the Glory of God and showed us the true original beauty of our created potential.  In His Ascension He present our humanity  to His Father, wholly transfigured, so that we might share in the Nature of God. As we celebrate the great miracle of Christ’s incarnation let us allow Christ to be born in our hearts as He was born in that humble manger in a cave. By allowing Christ to be born within us we can become His presence in the  world to love our fellow human beings as He loves us. 

Ria and I wish you and your families a blessed Nativity and a joyous 2021. God Bless Fr. G