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Archive for December, 2009

I behold a new and wondrous mystery! My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn.

The Angels sing!
The Archangels blend their voices in harmony!
The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise!
The Seraphim exalt His glory!

All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side the Sun of Justice.

And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, he had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things move in obedience to God.

This day He Who Is, is Born; and He Who Is becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became he God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassibility, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His Incarnation has he departed from the Godhead.

And behold,
Kings have come, that they might adore the heavenly King of glory;
Soldiers, that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven;
Women, that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of child-birth into joy;
Virgins, to the Son of the Virgin, beholding with joy, that He Who is the Giver of milk, Who has decreed that the fountains of the breast pour forth in ready streams, receives from a Virgin Mother the food of infancy;
Infants, that they may adore Him Who became a little child, so that out of the mouth of infants and sucklings, He might perfect praise;
Children, to the Child Who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod;
Men, to Him Who became man, that He might heal the miseries of His servants;
Shepherds, to the Good Shepherd Who has laid down His life for His sheep;
Priests, to Him Who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchisedech;
Servants, to Him Who took upon Himself the form of a servant that He might bless our servitude with the reward of freedom;
Fishermen, to Him Who from amongst fishermen chose catchers of men;
Publicans, to Him Who from amongst them named a chosen Evangelist;
Sinful women, to Him Who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant;

And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God Who taketh away the sins of the world.

Since therefore all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice. I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival. But I take my part, not plucking the harp, not shaking the Thyrsian staff, not with the music of pipes, nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ. For this is all my hope, this my life, this my salvation, this my pipe, my harp. And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels, sing: Glory to God in the Highest; and with the shepherds: and on earth peace to men of good will.

St John Chrysostom, The Nativity Sermon

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“Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of his father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.’ . . . ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.'” (Luke 1:30-33, 35 NKJV)

“So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:6-7 NKJV)

“Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11 NKJV)

“So all this was done that it might be fulfulled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behodl, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel’ which is translated, ‘God with us.'” (Matthew 1:22-23 NJKV; cf. Isaiah 7:14)

“And Mary said:
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.”
(Luke 1:46-55 NKJV)

More honorable than the cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim, thou who without stain barest God the Word, and art truly Theotokos, we magnify thee.

Troparion:

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God,
has shone to the world as the light of wisdom.
For by it those who worshipped the stars
were taught by a star to adore Thee,
the Sun of Righteousness,
and to know Thee, the Orient from on high.
O Lord, glory to Thee.

Kontakion:

Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One,
and the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One.
Angels with Shepherds glorify Him,
the wise men journey with the star;
since for our sake the eternal God was born as a little child.

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John Maddex has done yeoman’s work to get the mp3 audio of the funeral vigil for Archbishop JOB up on the AFR site. I saw John literally only a handful of hours ago (as of this post) at the conclusion of the vigil, and when I got up this morning, the podcast was ready for download. Thank you, John. +JOB was John’s own father in God and influential in the lives of his family and their coming to the Orthodox faith.

I went to the vigil, which also happened to be my first Orthodox funeral, and I cannot tell you how moving and uplifting it was. Several bishops from all over were there, including Metropolitan JONAH, chief hierarch of the OCA, and our own father in God, Bishop MARK, not to mention priests and deacons, vested and in cassock, from everywhere as well. The white vestments of Pascha (Easter) made the place shine. Holy Trinity Cathedral, +JOB’s see, is a smallish place, so it was packed, literally standing room only–people even standing in the vestibule (though no one outside I do not think), some up in the balcony.

I have been to many Christian funerals, but hardly any for pastors or ministers. I have been to no funerals in which the love of the bereaved for their departed is not real and felt. But I have never had the sense of the love of all the other bishops, priests, deacons, and people of God for Archbishop JOB as I did last night. The tender regard shown for their archpastor could not but move the coldest heart. It is little wonder that already among the voices I heard there, some were talking of +JOB as though he would one day be recognized as a saint. And there is no doubt of his particular martyrdom in service to Christ for the truth.

The choir leading the singing was amazingly good, their voices clear and reverential. The service was one long perfectly balanced prayer of sorrow and hope in Christ. Even attending after a full day of work, and standing for about three or four hours all told, it was a prayer that energized one. I felt more refreshed at the end than I had felt at the beginning. And the faith in Christ for the hope of the resurrection was so palpable, I felt I could have carried it in my own hands.

Listening to the vigil will not be the same as having been there and prayed there with everyone else. But I do urge you to listen to the service. You will still likely find your faith refreshed as you join the prayers in your own heart.

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Troparion of St Ignatius the Godbearer Tone 3
Soaring with love for Him Who holds thee in His hands,/ thou wast shown to be a God- bearer, O Ignatius./ Thou didst finish thy course in the West/ and pitch thy dwelling in the unwaning day of the heavens./ O righteous Father, entreat Christ our God to grant us His great mercy.

Kontakion of St Ignatius the Godbearer Tone 3
The day of thy glorious struggles/ heralds the One to be born of a Virgin/ for, thirsting for His presence,/ thou didst hasten to be devoured by wild beasts./ Therefore thou wast named Godbearer, O glorious Ignatius.

The Epistles of St. Ignatios of Antioch
The Martyrdom of St. Ignatios of Antioch
Dr. John Romanides’ ‘The Ecclesiology of St. Ignatios of Antioch

From the Prolog:

This holy man is called “the God-bearer” because he constantly bore the name of the Living God in his heart and on his lips. According to tradition, he was thus named because he was held in the arms of God Incarnate, Jesus Christ. On a day when the Lord was teaching His disciples humility, He took a child and placed him among them, saying: Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:4). This child was Ignatius. Later, Ignatius was a disciple of St. John the Theologian, together with Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna. As Bishop of Antioch, Ignatius governed the Church of God as a good shepherd and was the first to introduce antiphonal chanting in the Church, in which two choirs alternate the chanting. This manner of chanting was revealed to St. Ignatius by the angels in heaven. When Emperor Trajan was passing through Antioch on his way to do battle with the Persians, he heard of Ignatius, summoned him and counseled him to offer sacrifice to the idols. If Ignatius would do so, Trajan would bestow upon him the rank of senator. As the counsels and threats of the emperor were in vain, St. Ignatius was shackled in irons and sent to Rome in the company of ten merciless soldiers, to be thrown to the wild beasts. Ignatius rejoiced in suffering for his Lord, only praying to God that the wild beasts would become the tomb for his body and that no one would prevent him from this death. After a long and difficult journey from Asia through Thrace, Macedonia and Epirus, Ignatius arrived in Rome, where he was thrown to the lions in the circus. The lions tore him to pieces and devoured him, leaving only several of the larger bones and his heart. This glorious lover of the Lord Christ suffered in the year 106 in Rome at the time of the Christ-hating Emperor Trajan. Ignatius has appeared many times from the other world and worked miracles, even to this day helping all who call upon him for help.

A life from the OCA website:

The Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-Bearer, was a disciple of the holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, as was also St Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna (February 23). St Ignatius was the second bishop of Antioch, and successor to Bishop Euodius, Apostle of the Seventy (September 7).

Tradition suggests that when St Ignatius was a little boy, the Savior hugged him and said: “Unless you turn and become as little children, you shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt. 18:3). The saint was called “God-Bearer” (Theophoros), because he bore God in his heart and prayed unceasingly to Him. He also had this name because he was held in the arms of Christ, the incarnate Son of God.

St Ignatius was a disciple of the Apostle John the Theologian, together with St Polycarp of Smyrna. As Bishop of Antioch, St Ignatius was zealous and spared no effort to build up the church of Christ. To him is attributed the practice of antiphonal singing (by two choirs) during church services. He had seen a vision of the angels in heaven alternately singing praises to God, and divided his church choir to follow this example. In the time of persecution he was a source of strength to the souls of his flock, and was eager to suffer for Christ.

In the year 106 the emperor Trajan (98-117), after his victory over the Scythians, ordered everyone to give thanks to the pagan gods, and to put to death any Christians who refused to worship the idols. In the year 107, Trajan happened to pass through Antioch. Here they told him that Bishop Ignatius openly confessed Christ, and taught people to scorn riches, to lead a virtuous life, and preserve their virginity. St Ignatius came voluntarily before the emperor, so as to avert persecution of the Christians in Antioch. St Ignatius rejected the persistent requests of the emperor Trajan to sacrifice to the idols. The emperor then decided to send him to Rome to be thrown to the wild beasts. St Ignatius joyfully accepted the sentence imposed upon him. His readiness for martyrdom was attested to by eyewitnesses, who accompanied St Ignatius from Antioch to Rome.

On the way to Rome, the ship sailed from Seleucia stopped at Smyrna, where St Ignatius met with his friend Bishop Polycarp. Clergy and believers from other cities and towns thronged to see St Ignatius. He exhorted everyone not to fear death and not to grieve for him. In his Epistle to the Roman Christians, he asked them to assist him with their prayers, and to pray that God would strengthen him in his impending martyrdom for Christ: “I seek Him Who died for us; I desire Him Who rose for our salvation… In me, desire has been nailed to the cross, and no flame of material longing is left. Only the living water speaks within me, saying, ‘Hasten to the Father.'”

From Smyrna, St Ignatius went to Troas. Here he heard the happy news of the end of the persecution against Christians in Antioch. From Troas, St Ignatius sailed to Neapolis (in Macedonia) and then to Philippi.

On the way to Rome St Ignatius visited several churches, teaching and guiding the Christians there. He also wrote seven epistles: to the churches of Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, and Smyrna. He also addressed a letter to St Polycarp, who mentions a collection of the letters of St Ignatius in his letter to the Philippians (Ch. 13). St Irenaeus of Lyons quotes from St Ignatius’s letter to the Romans (AGAINST HERESIES 5:28:4). All these letters have survived to the present day.

The Roman Christians met St Ignatius with great joy and profound sorrow. Some of them hoped to prevent his execution, but St Ignatius implored them not to do this. Kneeling down, he prayed together with the believers for the Church, for love between the brethren, and for an end to the persecution against Christians.

On December 20, the day of a pagan festival, they led St Ignatius into the arena, and he turned to the people: “Men of Rome, you know that I am sentenced to death, not because of any crime, but because of my love for God, by Whose love I am embraced. I long to be with Him, and offer myself to him as a pure loaf, made of fine wheat ground fine by the teeth of wild beasts.”

After this the lions were released and tore him to pieces, leaving only his heart and a few bones. Tradition says that on his way to execution, St Ignatius unceasingly repeated the name of Jesus Christ. When they asked him why he was doing this, St Ignatius answered that this Name was written in his heart, and that he confessed with his lips Him Whom he always carried within. When the saint was devoured by the lions, his heart was not touched. When they cut open the heart, the pagans saw an inscription in gold letters: “Jesus Christ.” After his execution St Ignatius appeared to many of the faithful in their sleep to comfort them, and some saw him at prayer for the city of Rome.

Hearing of the saint’s great courage, Trajan thought well of him and stopped the persecution against the Christians. The relics of St Ignatius were transferred to Antioch (January 29), and on February 1, 637 were returned to Rome and placed in the church of San Clemente.

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While I do not believe that Faith and Reason are opposites, it is the case that Faith is a mystery to Reason. The moment we attempt to analyze faith we lose it, as though attempting to hold still in our peripheral vision that glint of light which flashes and is gone. Despite this, I’m going to attempt the foolish and distinguish between two experiences of faith. So while it seems to me that faith is a unity, and that in distinguishing between different “kinds” of faith, we do so heuristically, nonetheless, in thinking about how we exercise our faith, it seems that there are broadly speaking two ways in which we can do so. Each one challenges us in particular ways.

(more…)

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Christmas Eve in the Gulag

This from a 1987 AGAIN magazine article (link opens a Word document file) on Pastor Richard Wurmbrand’s experience in a Soviet prison, regarding an Orthodox priest and the man who tortured him, in the pastor’s own words:

When I was in jail I fell very, very ill. I had tuberculosis of the whole surface of both lungs, and four vertebrae were attacked by tuberculosis. I also had intestinal tuberculosis, diabetes, heart failure, jaundice, and other sicknesses I can’t even remember. I was near to death.

At my right hand was a priest by the name of Iscu. He was abbot of a monastery. This man, perhaps in his forties, had been so tortured he was near to death. But his face was serene. He spoke about his hope of heaven, about his love of Christ, about his faith. He radiated joy.

On my left side was the Communist torturer who had tortured this priest almost to death. He had been arrested by his own comrades. Don’t believe the newspapers when they say that the Communists only hate Christians or Jews—it’s not true. They simply hate. They hate everybody. They hate Jews, they hate Christians, they hate anti-Semites, they hate anti-Christians, they hate everybody. One Communist hates the other Communist. They quarrel among themselves, and when they quarrel one Communist with the other, they put the other one in jail and torture him just like a Christian, and they beat him.

And so it happened that the Communist torturer who had tortured this priest nearly to death had been tortured nearly to death by his comrades. And he was dying near me. His soul was in agony.

During the night he would awaken me, saying, “Pastor, please pray for me. I can’t die, I have committed such terrible crimes.”

Then I saw a miracle. I saw the agonized priest calling two other prisoners. And leaning on their shoulders, slowly, slowly he walked past my bed, sat on the bedside of this murderer, and caressed his head—I will never forget this gesture. I watched a murdered man caressing his murderer! That is love—he found a caress for him.

The priest said to the man, “You are young; you did not know what you were doing. I love you with all my heart.” But he did not just say the words. You can say “love,” and it’s just a word of four letters. But he really loved. “I love you with all my heart.”

Then he went on, “If I who am a sinner can love you so much, imagine Christ, who is Love Incarnate, how much He loves you! And all the Christians whom you have tortured, know that they forgive you, they love you, and Christ loves you. He wishes you to be saved much more than you wish to be saved. You wonder if your sins can be forgiven. He wishes to forgive your sins more than you wish your sins to be forgiven. He desires for you to be with Him in heaven much more than you wish to be in heaven with Him. He is Love. You only need to turn to Him and repent.”

In this prison cell in which there was no possibility of privacy, I overheard the confession of the murderer to the murdered. Life is more thrilling than a novel—no novelist has ever written such a thing. The murdered—near to death—received the confession of the murderer. The murdered gave absolution to his murderer.

They prayed together, embraced each other, and the priest went back to his bed. Both men died that same night. It was a Christmas Eve. But it was not a Christmas Eve in which we simply remembered that two thousand years ago Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It was a Christmas Eve during which Jesus was born in the heart of a Communist murderer.

These are things which I have seen with my own eyes.

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Saint Lucy, Virgin Martyr

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Troparion of St Lucy of Sicily Tone 5
Adorned with the radiant robe of virginity,/ thou wast betrothed to Christ the Lifegiver,/ and didst disdain all mortal love./ Therefore thou didst bring to the Lord as a bridal gift/ the streams of thy martyr’s blood./ Intercede with Him for us all, O Virgin Martyr Lucy.

Kontakion of St Lucy of Sicily Tone 3
We honour thee, pure Virgin and trophy-bearer,/ and praise thine illustrious contest./ For thou didst desire only the beauty of Christ/ and didst disdain all things corruptible./ O Lucy, when thou wast beheaded thou didst receive incorruptible glory.

From the Prolog:

With her mother, Lucy visited the grave of St. Agatha in Catania, where St. Agatha appeared to her. Her mother, who had dropsy, was then miraculously healed in the church. Lucy distributed all her goods to the poor, and this embittered her betrothed, who accused her of being a Christian before Paschasius the judge. The wicked judge ordered that she be taken to a brothel in order to defile her. However, by the power of God she remained immovable, as if rooted to the earth, and not even a multitude of people was able to move her from that spot. Then an enraged pagan pierced her throat with a sword and she gave up her soul to God and took up her habitation in the Kingdom of Eternity. Lucy suffered in the year 304.

OCA’s life of St Lucy:

Saint Lucy was born in Syracuse, Sicily during the reign of Diocletian. She distributed her wealth to the poor, and made a vow of virginity. Since she refused to marry him, a rejected suitor denounced her to the prefect Paschasius as a Christian, and she was arrested. She was sentenced to be defiled in a brothel, but with God’s help she preserved her purity.

Then the pagans attempted to burn her alive, but she was not harmed by the fire. Finally, she was killed by a sword thrust to the throat.

The name Lucy (Lucia) is derived for the Latin word for light (lux), and so she is often invoked for afflictions of the eyes. There is a tradition that she was blinded by her torturers, and the church of San Giovanni Maggiore in Naples even claims to possess her eyes.

Today’s saint should not be confused with St Lucy of Campania (July 6).

Services to St Lucy (from Orthodox England)

From this Catholic website:

Saint Lucy’s Day, December 13, is celebrated by several European nations.

In Sweden, the oldest (or youngest) daughter in each household traditionally carries a tray of coffee and traditional pastries called lussekatter (Lucy cats) to her parents before they arise in the morning. She wears a white gown, scarlet sash, and a crown of greens and four, seven, or nine lighted candles . Her brothers, wearing white shirts and tall, cone-shaped hats decorated with stars, and her sisters, all in white and carrying lighted candles, follow her. In many towns, a Saint Lucy is chosen to carry coffee and buns to each house. She and her followers, each bearing a lighted candle, sing carols as they traverse the dark streets while St. Steven, represented by a man on horseback, leads the way. The procession is done in memory of Saint Lucy’s traversing darkened woods to bring bread and other food to the poor.

In Switzerland, St Lucy strolls around the village with Father Christmas, giving gifts to the girls while he gives gifts to the boys.

In Venice, folks celebrate the Feast of St. Lucy by enjoying fried cheese.

Italians eat small cakes or biscotti shaped like eyes, light huge bonfires, and conduct evening candlelight processions, all in honor of Saint Lucy.

Sicilians pay tribute to a miracle performed by St Lucy during a famine in 1582. At that time, she brought a flotilla of grain-bearing ships to starving Sicily, whose citizens cooked and ate the wheat without taking time to grind it into flour. Thus, on St. Lucy’s Day, Sicilians don’t eat anything made with wheat flour. Instead they eat cooked wheat called cuccia.

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