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Archive for the ‘Great and Holy Lent’ Category

The Beauty of Forgiveness

The Orthodox Church begins Great and Holy Lent with a simple yet profound service, the Vespers of Forgiveness Sunday. One of the hymns of the services sets the tone for the time and the season which is to begin:

Let us set out with joy upon the season of the Fast, and prepare ourselves for spiritual combat. Let us purify our soul and cleanse our flesh; and as we fast from food, let us abstain also from every passion. Rejoicing in the virtues of the Spirit may we persevere with love, and so be counted worthy to see the solemn Passion of Christ our God, and with great spiritual gladness to behold His Holy Pascha.

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Sadly, at the end of tomorrow, we’ll begin to sing the blues. So here is my homage to Beef. It’s what was for dinner.

[You'll know the tune, with sincere apologies to the Everly Brothers]

Bye, bye, beef
Bye, bye, bacon strips
Hello, veggie dogs
I think I’m gonna cry

Bye, bye, beef
Bye, bye, barbeque
Hello, ol’ tofu
I feel like I could die
Bye, bye, sirloin, goodbye

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Troparion Tone 5
Enlightened by the grace of the Cross,/ thou wast seen to be a bright light of repentance,/ dispelling the darkness of passions, O all holy one./ thou didst appear as an angel in the flesh/ to holy Zosimas in the wilderness./ Intercede with Christ for us, O Mary our righteous Mother.

Kontakion Tone 3
Thou who wast once obsessed with fornication/ by repentance art now the Bride of Christ./ Thou didst lovingly imitate the life of the Angels/ and annihilate demonic hosts by the Cross;/ thou art now a Bride in the Kingdom of heaven, O most chaste Mary.

Another Kontakion Tone 4
Having escaped the fog of sin,/ and having illumined thy heart with the light of penitence,/ 0 glorious one,/ thou didst come to Christ and didst offer to Him/ His immaculate and holy Mother as a merciful intercessor./ Hence thou hast found remission for transgressions,/ and with the Angels thou ever rejoicest.

The Life of Our Holy Mother, St Mary of Egypt:

“It is good to hide the secret of a king, but it is glorious to reveal and preach the works of God” (Tobit 12:7) So said the Archangel Raphael to Tobit when he performed the wonderful healing of his blindness. Actually, not to keep the secret of a king is perilous and a terrible risk, but to be silent about the works of God is a great loss for the soul. And I (says St. Saphronius), in writing the life of St. Mary of Egypt, am afraid to hide the works of God by silence. Remembering the misfortune threatened to the servant who hid his God-given talent in the earth (Mat. 25:18-25), I am bound to pass on the holy account that has reached me. And let no one think (continues St. Saphronius) that I have had the audacity to write untruth or doubt this great marvel –may I never lie about holy things! If there do happen to be people who, after reading this record, do not believe it, may the Lord have mercy on them because, reflecting on the weakness of human nature, they consider impossible these wonderful things accomplished by holy people. But now we must begin to tell this most amazing story, which has taken place in our generation.
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Troparion of St John Tone 3
Thou hast set up a holy ladder by thy words/ and hast shone forth as a teacher of monks;/ thou dost lead us, O John, from the purification that comes from discipline/ to the light of the Divine Vision./ O righteous Father, pray to Christ our God to grant us His great mercy.

Kontakion of St John Tone 1
From thy book thou dost offer teachings as everlasting fruits, O wise one,/ and dost sweeten the hearts of those who watchfully attend to them, O blessed one./ For it is a ladder that from earth to heavenly glory/ leads souls who honour thee with faith.

Another Kontakion of St John Tone 8
We have found thy God-given virtues to be a divine ladder to heaven./ For thou, O holy Father John, wast a model of the virtues.

St John Klimakos – On Repentance that Leads to Joy

Fr. Demetrios Serfes’ Introduction to The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus

The Ladder of Divine Ascent

About the icon: The Ladder of Divine Ascent:

The icon of the ‘Ladder of Divine Ascent’, sometimes known as ‘The Ladder of Paradise’ or simply ‘The Ladder’, is an iconic symbol of the ascetic struggle, based on the imagery of the ladder drawn from scripture where it is seen in a dream by Jacob (see Genesis 28.10-22), and the classic ascetical text, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, by St John of the Ladder.

The icon depicts the struggle of the faithful to ‘work out their salvation in fear and trembling’ (see Philippians 2.12), ascending as if by a ladder the various stages of renunciation, humility and obedience to Christ. The icon often depicts (though in the above example this is unclear) the base of the ladder as the Church, the entry-point into the ascetical journey; and almost always depicts (as here) Christ at the summit, welcoming the ascetic strugglers into the Kingdom.

The icon also portrays the interrelation of the earthly and spiritual in the ascetic struggle: on the one hand are seen the angels and the communion of the saints offering encouragement and support to those ascending the ladder, while on the other hand are seen the demons, working actively to throw the ascetics off their course, leading to the ‘jaws of Hades’, often represented (as here) by the gaping mouth of a dragon or other beast. The reality of ascetic obedience as required throughout the whole of the journey is represented by the image of individuals being torn from the ladder not only at its lower steps, but also at the very highest rungs. In traditional icons, both the ascetics who are still on course, and those who have been dislodged by the demons, are a mixture of laity and clergy, monastics and married, relating the teaching that victory in the ascetic struggle is not granted by office or status, but obedience, humility and perseverence.

This icon is especially reverenced during the fast of Great Lent, during which the fourth Sunday of the fast is dedicated to the memory of St John of the Ladder.

Text by M.C. Steenberg, 2006

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Troparion Tone 1
O Lord, save Thy people/ and bless Thine inheritance./ Grant victory over their enemies to Orthodox Christians,/ and protect Thy people with Thy Cross.

Kontakion Tone 4
O Christ our God,/ Who wast voluntarily lifted up on the Cross,/ grant Thy mercies to Thy new people named after Thee./ Gladden with Thy power Orthodox Christians/ and give them victory over their enemies./ May they have as ally/ that invincible trophy, Thy weapon of peace.

From the Orthodox Church in America website:

The Third Sunday of Lent is that of the Veneration of the Cross. The cross stands in the midst of the church in the middle of the lenten season not merely to remind men of Christ’s redemption and to keep before them the goal of their efforts, but also to be venerated as that reality by which man must live to be saved. “He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Mt.10:38). For in the Cross of Christ Crucified lies both “the power of God and the wisdom of God” for those being saved (1 Cor.1:24).

From a sermon of St. John the Wonderworker:

Before the time of Christ, the cross was an instrument of punishment; it evoked fear and aversion. But after Christ’s death on the Cross it became the instrument of our salvation. Through the Cross, Christ destroyed the devil; from the Cross He descended into hades and, having liberated those languishing there, led them into the Kingdom of Heaven. The sign of the Cross is terrifying to demons and, as the sign of Christ, it is honored by Christians.

“O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance. Grant victory unto Orthodox Christians over their adversaries, and by the virtue of Thy Cross, preserve Thy community.”

The beginning of this prayer is taken from the twenty-seventh Psalm. In the Old Testament the word “people” designated only those who confessed the true faith, people faithful to God. “Inheritance” referred to everything which properly belonged to God, God’s property, which in the New Testament is the Church of Christ. In praying for the salvation of God’s people (the Christians), both from eternal torments and from earthly calamities, we beseech the Lord to bless, to send down grace, His good gifts upon the whole Church as well, and inwardly strengthen her.

The petition for granting “victory to kings” (Grant victory to Orthodox Christians over their adversaries) (ie: to the bearers of Supreme authority), has its basis in Psalm 143, verse 10, and recalls the victories of King David achieved by God’s power, and likewise the victories granted Emperor Constantine through the Cross of the Lord.

This appearance of the Cross made emperors who had formerly persecuted Christians into defenders of the Church from her external enemies, into “external bishops,” to use the expression of the holy Emperor Constantine. The Church, inwardly strong by God’s grace and protected outwardly, is, for Orthodox Christians, “the city of God.” Heavenly Jerusalem has its beginning. Various calamities have shaken the world, entire peoples have disappeared, cities and states have perished, but the Church, in spite of persecutions and even internal conflicts, stands invincible; for the gates of hell shall not prevail against her (Matt. 16:18).

Today, when world leaders try in vain to establish order on earth, the only dependable instrument of peace is that about which the Church sings:

“The Cross is the guardian of the whole world; the Cross is the beauty of the Church, the Cross is the might of kings; the Cross is the confirmation of the faithful, the Cross is the glory of angels and the wounding of demons.” (Exapostilarion of the Exaltation of the Cross)

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Troparion Tone 8
Light of Orthodoxy, pillar and doctor of the Church, adornment of monks, invincible champion of theologians, O Gregory the wonderworker, praise of Thessalonica, preacher of grace, ever pray that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion Tone 2
Organ of wisdom, holy and divine, bright clarion of theology, we praise thee in harmony, O divine speaker Gregory: But as a mind standing before the First Mind, direct our mind to Him, father, that we may cry: Rejoice, preacher of grace!

From the OCA website:

This Sunday was originally dedicated to St. Polycarp of Smyrna (February 23). After his glorification in 1368, the commemoration of St. Gregory Palamas (November 14) was appointed for the Second Sunday of Great Lent as a second “Triumph of Orthodoxy.”

Introduction to Saint Gregory Palamas (from Saint Gregory Palamas Monastery)
A Homily on the Dormition of Our Supremely Pure Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary
St Gregory Palamas: On the Holy Icons
Knowledge of God according to St. Gregory Palamas (from Orthodox Psychotherapy, Chapter Six)
St. Gregory Palamas and the Tradition of the Fathers by Fr. George Florovsky
The Teaching of Gregory Palamas on Man by Panayiotis Christou
Light to the World: The Life of Saint Gregory Palamas (1296–1359) (from AGAIN magazine)

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Troparian Tone 2
We venerate Your most pure image, O Good One,
and ask forgiveness of our transgressions, O Christ God.
Of Your own will You were pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh
to deliver Your creatures from bondage to the enemy.
Therefore with thanksgiving we cry aloud to You:
You have filled all with joy, O our Savior,
by coming to save the world.

Kontakion Tone 8
No one could describe the Word of the Father;
but when He took flesh from you, O Theotokos, He accepted to be described,
and restored the fallen image to its former beauty.
We confess and proclaim our salvation in word and image

About the icon of the triumph of Orthodoxy.

From Greek Orthodox Archdiocese website:

The dominant theme of this Sunday since 843 has been that of the victory of the icons. In that year the iconoclastic controversy, which had raged on and off since 726, was finally laid to rest, and icons and their veneration were restored on the first Sunday in Lent. Ever since, that Sunday been commemorated as the “triumph of Orthodoxy.”

Orthodox teaching about icons was defined at the Seventh Ecumenical Council of 787, which brought to an end the first phase of the attempt to suppress icons. That teaching was finally re-established in 843, and it is embodied in the texts sung on this Sunday.

In the liturgy, after the Nicene Creed, is said:

Deacon: This is the faith of the apostles! This is the faith of the fathers! This is the Orthodox faith! This faith has established the universe!

Furthermore, we accept and confirm the councils of the holy fathers, and their traditions and writings which are agreeable to divine revelation.

And though the enemies of Orthodoxy oppose this providence and the saving revelation of the Lord, yet the Lord has considered the reproaches of His servants, for He mocks those who blaspheme His Glory, and has challenged the enemies of Orthodoxy and put them to flight!

As we therefore bless and praise those who have obeyed the divine revelation and have fought for it; so we reject and anathematize those who oppose this truth, if while waiting for their return and repentance, they refuse to turn again to the Lord; and in this we follow the sacred tradition of the ancient Church, holding fast to her traditions.

To those who deny the existence of God, and assert that the world is self-existing, and that all things in it occur by chance, and not by the providence of God, Anathema!

All: Anathema! (…and after each exclamation.)

Deacon: To those who say that God is not spirit, but flesh; or that He is not just, merciful, wise and all-knowing, and utter similar blasphemies, Anathema!

To those who dare to say that the Son of God and also the Holy Spirit are not one in essence and of equal honor with the Father, and confess that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not one God, Anathema!

To those who foolishly say that the coming of the Son of God into the world in the flesh, and His voluntary passion, death, and resurrection were not necessary for our salvation and the cleansing of sins, Anathema!

To those who reject the grace of redemption preached by the Gospel as the only means of our justification before God, Anathema!

To those who dare to say that the all-pure Virgin Mary was not virgin before giving birth, during birthgiving, and after her child-birth, Anathema!

To those who do not believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the prophets and apostles, and by them taught us the true way to eternal salvation, and confirmed this by miracles, and now dwells in the hearts of all true and faithful Christians, and teaches them in all truth, Anathema!

To those who reject the immortality of the soul, the end of time, the future judgment, and eternal reward for virtue and condemnation for sin, Anathema!

To those who reject all the holy mysteries held by the Church of Christ, Anathema!

To those who reject the Councils of the holy fathers and their traditions, which are agreeable to divine revelation and kept piously by the Orthodox Catholic Church, Anathema!

To those who mock and profane the holy images and relics which the holy Church receives as revelations of God’s work and of those pleasing to Him, to inspire their beholders with piety, and to arouse them to follow these examples; and to those who say that they are idols, Anathema!

To those who dare to say and teach that our Lord Jesus Christ did not descend to earth, but only seemed to; or that He did not descend to the earth and become incarnate only once, but many times, and who likewise deny that the true Wisdom of the Father is His only-begotten Son, Anathema!

To the followers of the occult, spiritualists, wizards, and all who do not believe in the one God, but honor the demons; or who do not humbly give their lives over to God, but strive to learn the future through sorcery, Anathema!

(From the Service of the Triumph of Orthodoxy.)

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I want to take the time to highlight some podcasts from Holy Dormition Monastery on Ancient Faith Radio.

I especially want to highlight the talks from Mother Gabriella which I have found helpful during this Great and Holy Lent:

Acquiring the Virtues (I found this one particularly good–especially with my background in ancient philosophy and ethics)
Thirst for God
Women of the Cross (part 1)
Women of the Cross (part 2)

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Irish Lent!:

An Irishman moved into a tiny hamlet in County Kerry, walked into the pub and promptly ordered three beers. The bartender raised his eyebrows, but served the man three beers, which he drank quietly at a table, alone.

The next evening the man again ordered and drank three beers at a time. Soon the entire town was whispering about the Man Who Orders Three Beers. Finally, a week later, the bartender broached the subject on behalf of the town. “I don’t mean to be prying but folks around here are wonderin why your always order three beers and drink them alone?”.

“Tis a wee bit odd I would be supposin” the man replied. “You see, I have two brothers, and one went to America and the other went to Australia. We promised each other that we would always order two extra beers, whenever we would partake, as a way of keeping up the family bond.”

The bartender and the whole town were pleased with his answer and with the reverence for family and soon the Man Who Orders Three Beers became a local celebrity and source of pride to the hamlet.

Then one day the man came in and ordered only two beers. The bartender served them with a heavy heart. This continued for the rest of the evening … ordering only two beers. Word flew around the hamlet quickly. Prayers were offered for the soul of one of the brothers.

The next day, the bartender said to the man, “folks around here, me first of all, want to offer our condolences to you for the death of your brother, you know – only two beers.”

The man pondered for a moment then replied, ” You’ll be happy to hear that my two brothers are alive and well. It’s just that I, meself, have decided to give up drinking for Lent.”

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At the risk of engaging the passions–not a good thing to do at any time, let alone Great and Holy Lent–I want to take on this notion going around the Protestant-convert-to-Orthodoxy blogosphere in which Protestant converts to Orthodoxy are criticizing fellow Protestant converts to Orthodoxy about things such converts are doing that just aren’t Orthodox enough. Oh, and by the way, I’m a Protestant convert to Orthodoxy. The ironies abound.

My rant, er, post, is occasioned by, but not limited to, the recent criticisms of the Orthodox Study Bible. But we might as well bring in the criticisms of Ancient Faith Radio, Conciliar Press, and other Orthodox entities fueled by a lot of Protestant convert energies. I am, quite frankly, reeeeeaaaaallllyyy tired of the crap, er debate. I suppose I should expect such crap, er, debates, during Great and Holy Lent since this is the time of year when we Protestant converts to Orthodoxy lose our ever-lovin’ minds and succumb to our inner Protestant critical spirit.

You Protestant converts to Orthodoxy remember those days, right? When we tried to determine whether some other Protestant evangelifundamentaneoorthodox was “really” saved? You know: “when you asked Jesus into your heart, did you really, really mean it, or did you hold a little bit back?” Or when we judged people in terms of their music style. “Oh, that church isn’t very evangelistic or mission-minded. They’re still using outdated hymns.” Or when we judged fellow Christians’ maturity as to whether they were serious Bible readers (i.e., used a wooden English translation like the NASB), or were still “milk-drinkers” (i.e., used a free paraphrase like “The Message”). Or, worse–whether they used one of those heretical gender-equivalent translations.

Oh, the good ol’ days.

But I guesss the good ol’ days are still with us Protestant converts to Orthodoxy, because we’ve simply baptized our critical spirits with our newly acquired Orthodoxy and continue to criticize our fellow (former) Protestant brothers and sisters over form instead of substance. I wonder whether those critics of these “too Protestant” endeavors of the OSB, AFR and Conciliar Press have been Orthodox long enough to really ascertain if the alleged “Protestant forms” of these works are, in fact, prohibitive of substantial Orthodoxy. Forgive me for my impertinence, but I’ve been taught that the substance of Orthodoxy is prayer, fasting, almsgiving, worship at the Liturgy, confession and participation in the Sacraments. But I’ve been taught this by a priest and other clergy who are Protestant converts to Orthodoxy, so maybe I’m imbibing too much Protestant form and not enough Orthodox substance.

And by the way, can my fellow Protestant converts to Orthodoxy please point out to me just when and where this Golden Age of Orthodox Ethos actually existed? It can’t be nineteenth century Russia, because all the icons are too three-dimensional and “Roman.” It can’t be the Byzantine Empire because of all those heretical Emperors manipulating Church Councils and promulgating iconoclasm and monophysitism. It can’t be any of those smaller so-called “Orthodox countries” because surely they were filled with caesoropapism? And goodness knows it has never been North America!

So, maybe this Golden Age of Orthodox Ethos is one of those Protestant convert to Orthodoxy myths. Sort of like the Protestant myth that the founding fathers of America were all evangelical Christians and intended America to be a Christian nation (oops! erastianism!).

Puh-leeez!

Can I ask all my fellow Protestant converts to Orthodoxy who are spending inordinate amounts of online time criticizing other Protextant converts to Orthodoxy to stow it? None of us have been Orthodox long enough to be allowed to have an Orthodox opinion about anything. (I’m sure there’s an Ecumenical Council somewhere that has a canon for just this sort of thing.) Shut up and pray is probably good advice for us all.

Happy Lent, everyone.

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