The Journey

 

Before I answer the question below, I want to point out the great loss of our heritage. The above icon is from the Exo-narthex of the Great Church of Chora in Constantinople now turned into a mosque by the Turkish government. May Our Lord, the Saviour, protect His Church in Chora and keep it safe.

When Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem to pay their taxes, how long would the trip have taken?

A. The distance “as the crow flies” from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 70 miles. Under normal circumstances, without too many winding roads or rough spots to traverse, people might well have been able to travel (on foot or by donkey) about 20 miles a day, for a total one-way trip of perhaps four days. However, we must keep in mind several factors that might have made this particular journey last longer.

First, the land of Samaria lay along the most direct route between Nazareth and Bethlehem, and in Jesus’ day, there was considerable hostility between Jews and Samaritans. Even if, as I think we can assume, Our Lady and St. Joseph bore no animosity toward Samaritans, it would have been difficult and even dangerous for them to travel through that country. They might have been harassed and would almost certainly have been refused lodging, just as Jesus and His disciples were treated some years later (see Luke 9:51-56).

Surely St. Joseph would have sought to protect his wife, and the Child she carried, from such a threat. So, as was common among the Jews of the day, the holy couple would probably have journeyed far off the “direct” route to avoid Samaria, taking a detour from Galilee across the Jordan River and then back again into Judea farther south. That would have added many miles, and several days, to the journey.

Second, remember that Mary was close to the end of her pregnancy. No doubt they had to travel much more slowly than normal to avoid excessive discomfort for her and risks to the health of both mother and Child.

Given these factors, the one-way trip may have taken a week or ten days, and perhaps much longer.

Second, remember that Mary was close to the end of her pregnancy. No doubt they had to travel much more slowly than normal to avoid excessive discomfort for her and risks to the health of both mother and Child.

Given these factors, my guess is that the one-way trip took at least a week or ten days, and perhaps much longer.

Basic Question

Do I know what the Church is? 

This might at first appear to be a foolish questions to ask and I do not ask it lightly. This fundamental question is most appropriate as we prepare to welcome Christ being born in the world. Most adults in the Church are too embarrassed to admit what we don’t understand or what we don’t know. For many of us asking ourselves this question we really must answer, “I don’t truly know what the Church is!” We might answer it is a place I go to pray or a place I go to be with other Orthodox Christians. The basic truth of our faith is that our God is a personal God who humbly came to earth, being born in a manger, so that each of us could enjoy a personal relationship with Him. This is the miracle of Bethlehem. Knowing this, the most basic question we should ask to help answer the question: “What is the Church?” is another question: “Do I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” 

Through God’s Holy Spirit, we are no longer lonely individuals. We become personally united with Christ and through Him with each other. The Church transcends time and space. It has cosmic dimensions that connects us with Christ and all our fellow Orthodox Christians. This bond is not limited even by physical death. The Church is Christ and all who are joined with him.  This miracle is the mystery of faith.  As St. Paul explains in his letter to the Hebrews: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen” (Hebrews 11, 1). We cannot see the Church, yet it is! It is for us the ultimate reality, the Kingdom of God on earth and a foretaste of heaven. This is as personal a relationship as we can experience. This is the answer to the ultimate question that makes the Church a reality in our lives. Once again, St. Paul says it best, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”    

 After His Crucifixion and Resurrection and Ascension, Our Lord sent His Holy Spirit to empower us; so that we could truly live our life with Him. With our Baptism, we become new creatures in Christ. At our Chrismation, we are given, as a free gift, His Spirit to allow us to grow in Him.  By partaking in Holy Communion, we become united to Christ. The added dimension is that we are also united to everyone who participates in His Body and His Blood. The Church is actualized when we, as the faithful, come together and become the Body of Christ. This is the mystery that began in that manger in the cave of Bethlehem.  As His Nativity approaches, let us look to Christ to enlighten us to truly be the Church, to have Christ born in our hearts as He was born of the Virgin. Only in this way can we know Him and know within our being that we are the Church. 

I pray you all have a blessed Nativity.  May Our Lord continue to bless you, your family and all of us. ….Fr G

The Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple (21 November 2020)

This Saturday we celebrated the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple. What we know about this event in the life of the Theotokos can be found in two ancient sources. The Protoevagelium of James and The Gospel of the Birth of Mary.  These are materials that were not placed in the canonical sources. Some non-Orthodox “experts” have called these writings the “lost books” or “new sources” They were never lost nor are they new. Orthodox monastics and theologians have always used these sources to expand our understanding of the lives of the saints and events in salvation history. The hymnographers, iconographers and poets of the Church have drawn on these writings to enrich our liturgical and faith experience. These writings give the early events of the life of the Theotokos. The Protoevagelium Jacobi (aka The Infancy Gospel of James) presents the more detailed story of the events of her parental heritage, conception, birth and early life. As we know in the canonical Gospel of Luke, St. Luke begins his narrative with the story of St. John the Baptist and then relates the events of the Annunciation to the Theotokos. So these other sources are valuable as they present some of the rest of the Theotokos’ story. 

The Protoevagelium relates that Joachim and Anna, the Theotokos’ parents, were so grateful to God for His gift of the conception of Mary; they promised to dedicate Mary to God by presenting her to the Temple. The miracle of their having this blessed child erased the reproval of their community because of their inability to bear children. The thinking of that culture was that a childless couple could not participate in the possibility of being heirs to the promise of the future messiah. When  Mary reached the age of three, they fulfilled their pledge and escorted  her accompanied by 10 virgins with lit lamps to the Temple.  This was prophesied in Psalm 44 LXXII [45]. They were met by the High Priest Zacharias, who guided the child Mary into the Holy of Holies. We hear in the Protoevagelium, “Now Mary was in the Temple of the Lord like a dove being fed and she received food from the hand of an angel.” This was the Archangel Gabriel (notice the top left corner of the icon). What happened from age three until the mid-teenage years when we know that the Annunciation took place is not completely detailed. But we know the Virgin piously stayed in the Temple and found favour with God until her betrothal to Joseph.

The material concerning these years can be found in these ancient writings, As we commemorate these events perhaps reading some of these books could expand your understanding. We must know that the Church has not endorsed these writings as canonical, but looks on them as resources to expand and enhance our faith journey. God Bless and Have a Blessed Thanksgiving

St. Theodore the Studite

Today our Holy Church commemorates the feast of St. Theodore the Studite. I feel a special closeness to St. Theodore. He was a leading voice that loudly called for the use of icons in the Church. He lived in the latter part of the 8th century and the early part of the 9th. century. This was the time that the Church was torn apart by the controversy concerning the use of Holy Icons. This controversy was divided into two distinct period. The first period was that time prior to the 7th Ecumenical Council (Nicaea II). The great writer in defense of Icons of this time was St. John of Damascus. After the Council, there was a resurgence of iconoclasm lead by the Emperors Constantine V and Leo V.  During this time Theodore, the abbott of the Studium Monastery of Constantinople rose up and wrote a wonderful treatise “On the Holy Icons,” which is available in translation for all to appreciate. Additionally, Theodore wrote many hymns used during Great Lent and other feast of the church year. His many  letters are  also available for us to really get to know this great monastic father.  Theodore suffered torture and pain for icons and stood his ground in spite of all the forces against him. He renewed monastic rules and these rules are used by Orthodox monasteries all over the world today.  May the strength and faith of St. Theodore guide us and may he always intercede to our Lord on our behalf.    

Apolytikion of Theodore the Studite

Plagal of the Fourth Tone

You are a guide of Orthodoxy, a teacher of piety and modesty, a luminary of the world, the God inspired pride of monastics. O wise Theodore, you have enlightened everyone by your teachings. You are the harp of the Spirit. Intercede to Christ our God for the salvation of our souls.

Kontakion of Theodore the Studite

Second Tone

Ascetic in truth and equal to the Angel’s life, thy life was made bright with contests and martyric trials; and the holy Angels’ companion was thou, Theodore, blest of God; now together with them, O Saint, thou ceaselessly prayest Christ in our behalf.

St. Raphael of Brooklyn

Our Father among the Saints

St. Raphael, Bishop of Brooklyn

“Good Shepherd of the Lost Sheep in America”

(November 8, 1860 – February 27, 1915)

On the Saturday prior to the commemoration of the Feast of the Holy Archangels (November 8) our Church commemorates the Feast of Our Father Among the Saints, St. Raphael (Hawaweeny), Bishop of Brooklyn. St. Raphael   was born to a Syrian Orthodox family in Beirut (now Lebanon). Educated in Syria, at Halki, the Ecumenical Patriarchal School near Constantinople, and at the Theological Academy of Kiev. Fluent in several languages, he came to America attached to the Church of Russia and was assigned to lead the Syrian Orthodox Spiritual Mission in North America. He was elected bishop and was the first Orthodox hierarch consecrated in North America (1904). He served as bishop guiding the  Orthodox, at a time that all ethnic groups were ministered under the Russian mission on this continent. He traveled extensively visiting the scattered Orthodox immigrants  all over North America. He founded many churches across the country, including Archangel Michael’s Orthodox Church in Beaumont, TX. He also helped established St. Tikhon’s Monastery in Pennsylvania. He reposed in the Lord, February 27, 1915. He is buried at the Antiochian Village in Ligonier, PA. St. Raphael was glorified by the OCA in 2000   

For an excellent article on his life by Bishop Basil (Essey) please see:

http://www.angelfire.com/pa3/straphaelcanonized/lives/TheWordMay2000.pdf

Hymns of Bishop Raphael of Brooklyn: 

Troparion (Tone 3)

Rejoice, O Father Raphael, Adornment of the Holy Church!

Thou art Champion of the true Faith,

Seeker of the lost, Consolation of the oppressed,

Father to orphans, and Friend of the poor,

Peacemaker and Good Shepherd, Joy of all the Orthodox,

Son of Antioch, Boast of America:

Intercede with Christ God for us and for all who honor thee.

Kontakion (Tone 3)

Today the memory of blessed Raphael hath shone on us;

For having received Christ’s call, he faithfully took up his cross

and followed Him becoming a fisher of men.

Let us cry aloud to him saying: Rejoice O Father Raphael!

St. Ioannikios the Great

Today our Holy Church celebrates the great monastic father of the 8th-9th century. St Ioannikios the Great , a fervent iconodule (supporter of icons). He lived in seclusion as a hermit on Mt. Olympus of Asia Minor. In his Canon in tribute to Saint Ioannikios, Patriarch Methodios I related that as a young military office serving in the war against the Bulgars, Ioannikios was so appalled by the slaughter; he left the battlefield to become a “soldier for Christ” as a monastic. He lived the remained of his life as a hermit on Mt. Olympus. He wrote the following prayer which the Church declares today.

 The Prayer of St Ioannikios the Great

This prayer is attributed to St. Ioannikios the Great. It is said that he would repeat a version of this prayer between verses of the Psalms, the entirety of which he had memorized:

My hope is the Father, my refuge is the Son, my shelter is the Holy Spirit. O Holy Trinity, glory to You.

This prayer is read at the end of the each of services of the Akathistos Hymn during Great Lent 

The hymns in honour of St. Ioannikios

Apolytikion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone

By a flood of tears you made the desert fertile, and your longing for God brought forth fruits in abundance. By the radiance of miracles you illumined the whole universe. O our holy father Ioannikios, pray to Christ our God to save our souls.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone

Today we celebrate together your honored memory, and we faithfully beseech you, O holy Ioannikios that we may find mercy with the Lord.

Apolytikion in Plagal of the First Tone

Thou didst abandon earthly glory and wast illumined by the light of God’s inspiration. Wherefore thou didst shine on earth like a fadeless star. For thou wast found worthy to hear the divine voice like Moses and wast also like the Angels and a treasury of grace, O holy Father Ioannikios.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone

We have come together today to honour thy memory, and implore thee to obtain mercy for us from the Lord, O holy Father Ioannikios.

The Human Transformation through Repentance – St Mary of Egypt

 

Even though we are months away from the commemoration of St. Mary of Egypt, her story can resonate in our hearts as we try to learn the true meaning of repentance. I pray you enjoy this remembrance prepared by Trisagion Films. May St. Mary’s prayers join with the intercessions of the Mother of God to bring us true metanoia, a change of our heart and  our lives. God Bless….fr.g

 

 

 

The Divine Trust

 

“Receive this Divine Trust and guard it until the Second Coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ, at which time it will be demanded of you by Him.” 

This direct instruction was given to me by Metropolitan Isaiah at my ordination last week as he placed the Lamb of God in my hands. The Lamb had been prepared by him at the Service of Preparation prior to the Divine Liturgy. I do not know if I have ever been so moved and so awed. The thought of being accountable to Our Lord for His Body, the Church, is not only awe inspiring, it is sobering. It is something beyond understanding. You are the Body of Christ. His Eminence’s admonition goes to the heart of priesthood. Christ’s priesthood is a priesthood for His people. He alone is Holy and yet we are called to be holy by living in Him and for Him. St. Peter in his first epistle tells us “but as He who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’.” (1Peter 1, 15 -16). In the Divine Liturgy, we hear “Holy things for the holy people of God.” And the response from you, the people, is “One is Holy, One is Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father, Amen.”   

As I served my first Divine Liturgy this last Sunday, I am even more moved and more impacted by the thought of this “Divine Trust.” The Church teaches that the fringe on the epitrachilion, the stole, which the priest wears around his neck, represents the souls of the faithful which are in-trusted to his care. This is a reminder to the priest of the instruction of the bishop at his ordination. At the ordination these words were spoken and yet it is something that must be absorbed in one’s consciousness and in  one’s spirit and never be allowed to be forgotten. I pray that as I serve in His Holy Altar, He will always guide me and will keep this charge vivid in my heart. Thank you for your prayers and support. God Bless…fr g  

Christ the Only Priest

 

 

 

On Sunday, I was ordained into the Holy Priesthood in Our Holy Orthodox Church. In the Prayer of the Cherubic Hymn prior to the Great Entrance, the priest prays the words of St John Chrysostomos. The saint has  succinctly captured what every priest must feel especially when he thinks of his unworthiness: “…for to serve You is great and awesome even for the heavenly powers.” These feelings are something that I will carry with me each time I am privileged to serve the Liturgy.  Even though, I cannot speak with you all personally, I do want to thank you all for your prayers and your support. His Eminence Metropolitan Isaiah, Dn Paul and Fr. Vasileios were there at the altar with me and their prayers very much strengthened me. Even more than that day, when I reflect on their wisdom and example, I will find them models to emulate and inspire.

For so many years, His Eminence has been the icon of Christ for those of us in our Metropolis. His humble spiritual leadership has been a blessing to us all. He will always be in my prayers. As I said in my remarks prior to the ordination, I have been blessed to work with many bishops, priest and deacons all my life. I cannot name them all individually here, but each, those in God’s Kingdom, and those serving His people now are shining examples of dedicated servants of Our Lord.  My biggest sadness on that day is that because of our present crisis my children and grandchildren were not personally with me. They were missed more than I can say, I thank all my family for their support and encouragement.

The icon above is called Christ the High Priest. It is always found on the throne of the bishop in every Orthodox church. This is to remind us that Christ’s priesthood is THE priesthood of the Church. As St Paul reminds us in his epistle to the Hebrews, Christ is the priest, “Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” All bishops are icons of His priesthood. As the continuing presence of the apostles in the Church, it is they that connect us to His ministry and safeguard the treasury of tradition in the Church and as the words of the liturgy remind us their role is to “rightly teaching the word of your truth.”

That same prayer we spoke of above is the only prayer in the Divine Liturgy designated for the priest to read for himself. This  beautiful prayer emphatically teaches us a great lesson:

 

“….make me worthy, your sinful and unworthy servant,

to offer these gifts to You. For You are the Offerer and

the Offered; the Accepted and the Distributed, O Christ

Our God…..

Fr Alexander Schmemann in his wonderful book Eucharist reminds us that we enter the church as individuals to be formed by His Holy Spirit into one body, the Body of Christ, with Our Lord at our head. Together, we ascend to God’s throne to worship the Lord. As we approach the Holy Chalice for communion, we must know that we are being given communion by Christ, we receive Christ, His body and blood to become one with Christ and with each other. As the above prayer teaches us that it is Christ the Priest that is offered and is the offerer. As a new priest in His Holy Church this is the greatest lesson that I must always keep in my heart. I ask  that your prayers strengthen me and that our Lord grant me His peace each and every time I stand before His Holy  Altar. God Bless…..fr.g

 

 

Hagia Sophia.

May the Christ and the Theotokos always protect our Holy Church

On September 1st. Dumbarton Oaks presented a beautiful and interesting webinar on Hagia Sophia. This is a link to watch it. I hope you enjoy it. Always pray that Our Lord, the Holy Wisdom of God, and the Theotokos, the Protectress of the Queen City, keep this our Church under the shelter of their blessings.

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