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

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.

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 

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 Whole Package

St. Katherine the Great Martyr

Today when we admire someone who is beautiful, witty and bright we might say, she’s the whole package. This is a perfect description of St. Katherine the Great Martyr. Katherine lived in the early 4th century in the city of Alexandria. Highly educated, beautiful, articulate  and of royal blood, Katherine confronted the Emperor Maxentius and professed her faith in Christ. The  emperor summoned fifty pagan philosophers to debate Katherine on matters of faith. Catherine(another spelling) refuted their arguments so convincingly that many of her learned opponents accepted Christ. Maxentius was infuriated and  ordered Katherine tortured and many of the new converts put to death.

Tortured and imprisoned her courage and deep faith influenced over 200 additional souls to embrace faith in Christ including the emperor’s wife Valeria Maximilla. They too were also martyred. Maxentius tried to  entice Katherine by an offer of marriage, but the princes would have none of it. She face even more  terrible tortures. The Emperor sentenced Katherine to be tortured on a spoked wheel, which broke in pieces when Katherine touched it. Many icons of the great saint depict her standing next to a wheel.  Katherine was finally beheaded at the young age of 18.  With her faith and dedication to Christ she  earned the grace of the Holy Spirit and the crown  of a Great Martyr of the Church. Throughout the centuries many  miracles have been accomplished through the intercessions of St. Katherine. She has appeared to many faithful to comfort them in times of distress. The Emperor Justinian named the Monastery on Mt.  Sinai in her honour and it is one of the primary pilgrim destinations in the Orthodox world. Holy Martyr of God, Katherine, pray for us.

 

Clergy at Risk

As you know I have only recently been ordained into the Holy Priesthood. As the son, nephew and cousin of priests, I can attest to the truth of this article. I know and respect George Stavros who  is the  Clinical Associate Professor of Pastoral Psychology and serves as the Executive Director of the Danielsen Institute at Boston University. He is a a world authority and expert in this field. He is also a devoted family man and pious Orthodox Christian.  As you interact with your parish priest please be aware of the demands on his time and the effect on his family. God Bless…..fr g

https://publicorthodoxy.org/2020/11/19/clergy-at-risk/

 

 

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