Archive for July, 2009

Repentance, it’s not just for Lent anymore. A church that forgets its monastic heritage is not a church. Nine Angelic ranks Seven Archangels. The Fig Tree

Monday, July 27th, 2009

07-14, 07/27 2009 8th Monday after Pentecost

 

The rhythm of the church services is soothing to the soul. We are by nature scattered and easily distractible beings. We have great trouble maintaining good habits and in our daily lives are often “like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed”[1].

 

The daily services act as an antidote to our malaise. It is important to note that the daily services were formed in the crucible of monasticism, with its extraordinary emphasis on remembrance of death and repentance. Monastics pray regularly in the way that we ALL should pray, if not in quantity, then certainly in quality.

 

A church that forgets its monastic heritage is not a church. In our day, we have many Orthodox churches which are forgetting monastic ideals, and living in a secular way. Some churches oppose monasticism to “regular” life, when in the mind of the church there is no such dichotomy. We are all called to obey the same commandments; we are all commanded to become perfect[2]; we all are commended to pray without ceasing[3].

 

In the minds of too many of the faithful, Great Lent is the one period of the year when we try to maintain an attitude of repentance. This is far from true! We have repentant hymns all throughout the year. Monday is always set aside to concentrate on repentance, along with the commemoration of the holy angels, who assist us noetically in repenting.

 

I believe that many of the hymns of Great Lent sound strange to the Christian who is not well versed in the prayers of the church and its Scripture (and especially the Psalms). They acknowledge terrible things about ourselves, and this is uncomfortable and seems like hyperbole to the soul who has not yet acquired the beginnings of self-knowledge. To those who have come from another Christian like faith to Orthodoxy, these hymns are especially jarring, because they have never been taught to think about themselves in such a “negative”[4] way.

 

We need a lot of help to see what is wrong with us, and to understand how to implement the solution to our problems. Just “believing:’ in God is not enough. We must feel the weight of our infirmities, and the incredible implications of the incarnation, and God’s love for us. At one and the same time, we must feel deeply God’s love and our own depravity[5].

 

Our hymns understand human nature  as it really is AND ALSO how Jesus Christ has accomplished the enabling of human nature to change; and we need to hear this, over and over. Our hymns also juxtapose our lament over our infirmities and sins with God’s love, and show us the path to perfection. We cannot hear them, or read them enough. Our “desert island” list of books should certainly include the Octoechos[6], Lenten Triodion[7] and Pentecostarion[8], which are the main source of the church’s hymnology throughout the year.

 



From Sunday Vespers, 6th Tone.

 

Come, O my soul, and repent of the many sins thou hast committed in this life, and entreat the multitude of the heavenly armies with sighs and tears, that time be given thee for repentance, lest thou be sent into the most accursed fire of Gehenna like a barren fig tree. Lord I have cried, Sunday Evening, 6th tone.

 

 

This hymn is particularly rich in common liturgical themes, and biblical and extra-biblical references.

It would fit just as easily into a Lenten service as one in the end of July. The theme of asking for time for repentance pervades our hymnology everywhere. It occurs often; it must be important!

 

The Scripture refers to the angels in many places, and through piecing together various scriptures, especially from St Paul, as well as holy tradition, we know that there are at least nine ranks of the angelic hosts.

 

Cherubim, Seraphim, and Thrones form the highest rank,

the next rank includes Principalities, Dominions, Authorities,

and the latter rank includes Powers, Archangels and Angels[9].

 

We know of seven Archangels:

  • Michael (“Who is like God”), the leader of the entire angelic host,
  • Gabriel (“Man of God”),
  • Raphael (“Healing of God”)[10],
  • Uriel ("Fire of God")[11],
  • Salathiel ("Prayer to God"),
  • Jegudiel ("Praise of God")  and
  • Barachiel ("Blessing of God").

 

Of course, we are acutely aware that all of the angelic host intercede for us, particularly our guardian angel (whom the Lord referred to[12]).

 

The fig tree referred to is the one the Lord cursed shortly before His passion[13]. On the day following, the disciples noted that it had withered and died. The Lord cursed it because it was without fruit, and we have always taken this occurrence as a warning that we must bear spiritual fruit. There is rich imagery regarding the fig tree in the scriptures and our hymnology.

 

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

This article is at: http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2009-07-27_repentance+monastic-heritage+nine-angelic-ranks+seven-archangels.html

 

http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2009-07-27_repentance+monastic-heritage+nine-angelic-ranks+seven-archangels.doc

 

New Journal entries, homilies, etc. are on our BLOG: http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime

 

Journal Archive: http://www.orthodox.net/journal

 

Blog posts & local parish news are posted to our email list. Go to here: http://groups.google.com/group/saint-nicholas-orthodox-church to join.

 

Redeeming the Time BLOG: http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime

Use this for any edifying reason, but please give credit, and include the URL of the article. This content belongs to the author. We would love to hear from you with comments! (seraphim@orthodox.net)

 

 


[1] James 1:6

[2] Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Mat 5:48 KJV  )

[3] Rejoice evermore.  (17)  Pray without ceasing.  (18)  In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1Th 5:16-18 KJV  )

[4] That is, in a realistic and honest way.

[5] “Depravity” – not to be understood in the way the Calvinist heresy does! We are weak people, inclined to evil, but have a free will which is able to respond to God’s love FREELY, if we so choose.

[6] “Octoechos” – book of the Eight Tones. Aka “Paraklitiki”. This contains eight sets of hymns, in tones 1-8, which are used in serial fashion throughout the year. Each tone contains hymns for Vespers, Compline, Matins, and Divine Liturgy for each day of the week. The Octoechos hymns are the “default” hymns for the day; they may be supplanted by hymns for the Triodion, Pentecostarion or Menaion (hymns for the Saints, and feasts of the Lord and Theotokos, according to the church calendar).

[7] Used on the four Sundays preceding Great Lent, all of Great Lent and Holy Week.

[8] Used from Pascha till the Sunday after Pentecost.

[9] Angels, Archangels, Cherubim and Seraphim are referred to many times in the Scriptures. Here are references to the other 5 ranks not as commonly mentioned:

 

“For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:” (Col 1:16)

 

“Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.” (1 Pet 3:22)

 

[10] Raphael figures prominently in the OT book “Tobit”.

[11] “And the angel that was sent unto me, whose name was Uriel, gave me an answer…”(2Esdr 4:1)

[12] “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.” (Mat 18:10)

[13] Mat 21:18-19 KJV  Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered.  (19)  And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.

 

Mat 21:18-19 KJV  Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered.  (19)  And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.

 

Mar 11:12-14 KJV  And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry:  (13)  And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.  (14)  And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.

 

Mar 11:19-21 KJV  And when even was come, he went out of the city.  (20)  And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.  (21)  And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.

 

 

Share

7th Sun after Pascha. Likeminded with unbelievers? Audio Homily.

Monday, July 27th, 2009

LISTEN NOW




If the "LISTEN NOW" link does not work, copy this URL into your browser: http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/pentecost-sunday-07_2009-07-26.m3u

If this file does not work for you, try the direct link to the actual mp3 file:http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/pentecost-sunday-07_2009-07-26.mp3



RSS feed of Sunday and some weekday homiliesRSS feed of Sunday and some weekday homilies:http://feeds.feedburner.com/OrthodoxChristianSermonsOnTheGospelsEpistlesAndOtherTopics

Archive of Audio and text homilies:http://www.orthodox.net/sermons

Share

REALLY believing in the resurrection. Good manners. Dogma is not just facts. Thursday Matins Tone V, First Sessional Hymn.07/10-23 2009 6th Thursday after Pentecost

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

With spiritual songs and hymns let all of us on earth praise the all wise apostles as eyewitnesses and servants of the Word; for they earnestly entreat Christ in behalf of us who hymn their sacred memory and bow down before their relics. Thursday Matins Tone V, First Sessional Hymn

 

 

On Thursday in most weeks, we commemorate the Holy Apostles and St Nicholas. Much of the hymnology of Vespers and Matins is about them. The Sessional Hymns are sung after each Kathisma reading.

 

Why do we praise the Apostles and entreat their prayers? Because of the resurrection. That the resurrection applies to ALL human beings (living or dead) is a pillar of our faith. The church is very aware that the Apostles and all of the saints “earnestly entreat Christ in behalf of us”

 

The Apostles are not dead! What an idea! God is the God of the living and not the dead[1]. Since the Apostles were entrusted with the pearl of great price, it makes absolutely no sense at all that after their service in this life, after the death of their bodies they would be useless, incorporeal sleeping souls, unable to continue in their ministry. If this were the case, than what victory would there be over death?

 

We sing hundreds of hymns similar in structure and content to the one above. The concept must be important. I am absolutely convinced that as we sing these hundreds and thousands of hymns through the course of our life, we become more convinced of the resurrection, and learn how to live in it.

 

Our faith is “polite” Well raised people show their appreciation to their benefactors with “please” and “thank you” and notes of appreciation. This is a lost art in our modern age, and I must admit, not something that I excel at, but by participating in the church’s hymnology, I am becoming more civilized.

 

This hymn, simple as it is, have many levels of dogmatic meaning. Dogma is not only facts which are true; it is the application of these facts to our way of living. So, in a short, simple hymn, we are taught the reality of the resurrection, the intercession of the Saints, meditate on the incredible ministry of the Apostles (simple men who became extraordinary because of grace, and their desire and integrity – we can too!), and see the good example of thanking those who help us. 

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

This article is at: http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2009-07-23_the-resurrection+good-manners+dogma+matins-sessional-hymn-tone-5.doc

 

http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2009-07-23_the-resurrection+good-manners+dogma+matins-sessional-hymn-tone-5.html

 

New Journal entries, homilies, etc. are on our BLOG: http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime

 

Journal Archive: http://www.orthodox.net/journal

 

Blog posts & local parish news are posted to our email list. Go to here: http://groups.google.com/group/saint-nicholas-orthodox-church to join.

 

Redeeming the Time BLOG: http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime

Use this for any edifying reason, but please give credit, and include the URL of the article. This content belongs to the author. We would love to hear from you with comments! (seraphim@orthodox.net)

 



[1] Mat 22:31-32 KJV  But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying,  (32)  I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

Share

The Importance of Monasticism Poverty, obedience, chastity, stability. We obey those whom we know love us. Chastity is Integrity. Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ Women’s Monastery

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

T

7/7 – 7-20 2009 2009

7th Monday after Pentecost

 

 

The importance of Monasticism Dinner

 

Marina and I attended a fund-raising dinner for the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ Women’s Monastery (http://monasteryfriends.org/) Sunday night, due to the gracious invitation of Sister Barbara. This convent is in the process of being formed. They are in the final stages of negotiation for a beautiful property in East Texas, about 2 hours from Dallas. I learned at the dinner that they were only $9000 short of the down payment of the property at the start of the dinner.

 

The dinner was at Bent Tree Country club, and featured excellent musical entertainment and a keynote speech by Metropolitan Jonah.

 

Two choirs performed Liturgical music in Slavonic and English as we were served the first course of salad. I am not a fan of choral music outside of church, but these performances were excellent. They did not sing too loud, or too shrill, or too operatic (all pet peeves of mine when it comes to church music[1]). In fact, the music was very compunctionate and melodic. I especially appreciated the excellent blending of male and female voices. Although there where some quite beautiful voices that I could discern individually when I concentrated (the table I was at was directly in front of the singers), all the voices blended really well and no one voice stood out.

 

I remember thinking that excellent choral music such as this, is a profound “icon” of the virtues of humility and meekness. Everything in life is so much more pleasant when there is no pride!  It is hard for me to eat when I hear choral music; it seems rude to eat when someone is praying! I especially remained stock still when the Our Father was sung, and noticed that the room was noticeably quieter, with almost no clinking of silverware during it.

 

After the choral performances, a string quartet (2 violins and a cello) performed “background music” during the dinner. I loved hearing the melodic and sonorous cello, which blended well with the violins.

 

I appreciated that dinner had options for non meat eaters, such of an oddball such as myself, and of course, monastics.

 

After dinner, Metropolitan Jonah gave a speech about the importance of monasticism, speaking from a single half sheet of notes. I do not think he will mind my characterization: he speaks like a “regular guy”, with humor and often a bit of a twinkle in his eye. He is very engaging and easy to listen to; He spoke simply and profoundly, and now I wish I had taken notes (but every time I take notes, I seem to lose them anyway).

 

The "take home" from his talk is this: the church is not healthy without healthy monasticism, and healthy monasticism is just like a healthy marriage in every important measurement.

 

He compared monasticism and marriage, using the monastic ideals of poverty, obedience, chastity and stability. It was a very interesting perspective, and I found myself nodding my head in agreement (internally I hope) many times.  His approach reminded me somewhat of the book “The Arena” by St Bishop Ignati Briachaninov, who took great pains to explain that there is not an essential difference between monasticism and married life or any life in the world for that matter, because the goals are the same: live according to the commandments, and be purified.

 

Of course, the application of the monastic ideals in monasticism and life in the world differ in external details, but their essence is exactly the same. This is a powerful message, which needs to be inculcated in the minds of the faithful. The Metropolitan told us at the beginning that where monastic life is strong and lived according to the gospel, parish life is strong and lived according to the gospel. Where it is weak, or corrupt, parish life is weak and corrupt. Big head shake yes here!

 

When he said this, I though of places in our church in the whole of North America where Monasticism is weak, or even denigrated and censored from church life. There are great upheavals occurring in church life in many places in North America because some churches have no significant monastic witness, and even have a culture of distrust of monasticism, considering it to be anachronistic and not fit for the modern Orthodox Christian.

 

The balance of his talk explained the terms he introduced and gave examples in monastic life and life in the world, particularly married life.

 

Poverty. He clarified this term by stating that at its root is non-acquisitiveness. Whereas a monk may literally own nothing, and a Christian in the world has various possessions, nothing we own or use should possess use (he used the catchy phrase “our possessions should not possess us”) . This virtue is closely tied with detachment, which he spoke about at some length. This was more or less defined as caring about nothing else except God.

 

Obedience. It was pointed out that we all must be obedient to someone. There were several great examples that I unfortunately cannot call to mind at the moment. By the way, except when trying to summarize a lecture, it really does not matter if a person can recall exactly what the speaker said. Any good sermon or lecture imparts a feeling upon the listener that remains long after the exact details have faded. The “take home” about obedience: people obey those they love.

 

He paused to remark with evident affection about Archbishop Dmitri’s relationship with his entire flock, and especially his priests, that they were obedient because they loved him and sensed his love for them. This comment and the body language of both Archpastors was for me a word picture worth a thousand words and worth the price of admission all by itself, as they say.

 

Chastity. He dispelled the notion that chastity means sexual abstinence. It includes is of course, but sexual abstinence, or in married life, sexual self-control is a natural extension of chastity, which he defined as “integrity”. This makes chastity a much deeper virtue than many people think of it as, (and (he emphasized), as binding and necessary for an unmarried monk and a married person in the world.

 

Stability. He also discussed detachment here. If we are never satisfied with what we have, we will make no progress in the spiritual life.

 

This is a short summary of the talk. I believe it was recorded, so you can see how well I did when I get the URL for you. AS I said above, exact details are not important; but the feelings I experienced are.

Of course, he was preaching to the choir; I believe with all my heart that the Orthodox Church must be monastic. This is why I thank God that I not only become Orthodox, but through no intelligence of my own, have been a part of ROCOR for all my Christian life. In my opinion, in all the churches in ROCOR I have ever been in, monasticism is integrated into the culture.

 

 



 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

This article is at: http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2009-07-20.doc

http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2009-07-20.html

 

 

 

New Journal entries, homilies, etc. are on our BLOG: http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime

 

Journal Archive: http://www.orthodox.net/journal

 

Blog posts & local parish news are posted to our email list. Go to here: http://groups.google.com/group/saint-nicholas-orthodox-church to join.

 

Redeeming the Time BLOG: http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime

Use this for any edifying reason, but please give credit, and include the URL of the article. This content belongs to the author. We would love to hear from you with comments! (seraphim@orthodox.net)

 



[1] Our choir has none of these bad habits. I have been around the block a few times, as they say, and I prefer our little choir to anything I have ever heard. We are peaceful and melodic, and thank God, there is no “drama”. Way to go, guys (and girls)!

Share

Building Progress 2009-07-18 Sat

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Building Pad, after top soil removal on Friday and Saturday

building pad prepared

Share

Healing of the paralytic. The inner life. 6th Sunday after Pentecost 2009. Audio Homily.

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

LISTEN NOW

Matthew 9:1-8 1 And he entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city. 2 And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. 3 And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth. 4 And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? 5 For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? 6 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. 7 And he arose, and departed to his house. 8 But when the multitudes saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men.



If the "LISTEN NOW" link does not work, copy this URL into your browser: http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/pentecost-sunday-06_2009-07-19.m3u

If this file does not work for you, try the direct link to the actual mp3 file:http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/pentecost-sunday-06_2009-07-19.mp3



RSS feed of Sunday and some weekday homiliesRSS feed of Sunday and some weekday homilies:http://feeds.feedburner.com/OrthodoxChristianSermonsOnTheGospelsEpistlesAndOtherTopics

Archive of Audio and text homilies:http://www.orthodox.net/sermons

Share

6th Sun after Pentecost. Healing of the Paralytic. How can a paralytic show faith?

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

LISTEN NOW

Matthew 9:1-8 1 And he entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city. 2 And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. 3 And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth. 4 And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? 5 For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? 6 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. 7 And he arose, and departed to his house. 8 But when the multitudes saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men.



If the "LISTEN NOW" link does not work, copy this URL into your browser: http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/pentecost-sunday-06_2004.m3u

If this file does not work for you, try the direct link to the actual mp3 file:http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/pentecost-sunday-06_2004.mp3



RSS feed of Sunday and some weekday homiliesRSS feed of Sunday and some weekday homilies:http://feeds.feedburner.com/OrthodoxChristianSermonsOnTheGospelsEpistlesAndOtherTopics

Archive of Audio and text homilies:http://www.orthodox.net/sermons

Share

Parish news – building progress. The Services are the Scriptures Explained.

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

Parish news – building progress.

Pledge letter.

Two things I ask my flock to do.

The Octoechos (Paraklitiki)

The Services are the Scriptures Explained.

Can’t get enough of that true about myself stuff.

07/01 – 07/14 2009 6th Tuesday after Pentecost

 

First some parish news, then a little bit about the service texts for today.

 

We plan to begin actual construction on the land this week. It took us over 10 months to get our building permit. We were ready to go in September, but there was one delay after the other. Now, with the building permit in hand, we will finally begin. A schedule should be forthcoming at the end of this week. We will take pictures of this odyssey and post them regularly to the website. Professional photography is being provided, pro-bono, due to the generosity of Nick Mallouf (malloufphotography.com)

 

We will continue to pray on the land on Thursdays (but not this Thursday, since we will have vigil for the New Royal Martyrs Thursday at 7 PM, with liturgy Friday at 9 AM.). The cross, which is almost exactly where the altar will be, will be moved, probably near to the big oak tree.

 

We have accomplished what we have thus far by prayer and patience (whether we wanted to be patient or not!). Our delays have cost us money and we will have no buffer of cash at the end of the building process because of additional costs. I suppose this is the better path for us, because it is not easy or secure. We cannot be complacent, knowing that we have smooth sailing financially.

 

We will be sending out a pledge letter soon. We are experiencing a severe shortfall in monthly pledges, and things will get very difficult for us if we do not make it up. I know “times is tough”, but we are in a critical juncture in our history. It would be a shame to build a temple, and then not have the money to meet our commitments and default. The Gospel warns us about that.

 

I am asking my flock two things in regard to our finances: 1. please do your best to pay your voluntary pledge, and increase it if you can. 2. Send me postal addresses or email addresses if you do not know the postal address, so I can send a letter to those who might have good will towards our parish. We are in the midst of trying to raise $40,000, which will cover our increased expenses, and allow us to build an iconostasis (assuming of course, that our monthly income from pledges increases to the pledged amounts. If we continue to have a shortfall, all the $40,000 will get sucked up by the shortfall, and we will delay our crisis till next year).

 

We have many readers from all over the world. We appeal to you to consider a donation to our building fund (send to Box 37, McKinney TX 75070). You can also help us by letting us know of people you think might respond favorably to a letter from us.

 

The Octoechos.

 

Abbot Gregorios of Docheiariou would sometimes gather the newer monks in his cell after Compline to sing through parts of the next morning’s canons from the Paraklitiki [Oktoechos]. This also gave him the opportunity to comment on the texts themselves, because, as he used to say, "If you want to learn Orthodox theology, you find it in the Paraklitiki, Triodion and Pentecostarion."

 

A little crusade of mine since I have become a priest is to teach about and kindle in the hearts of my flock a love for the Divine Services. Our faith is well proclaimed in our service texts. All our theology is there. All of our moral teaching is there. The entire mind” of the church is there.

 

A great holocaust of this age is the ignorance so many have about the services. Daily services in parishes are rare, and the majority of Christians rarely worship at complete vigil services on Saturday, even if they are offered.

 

We Christians need to know, study and participate in two things much more than we usually do: The Holy Services, and the Holy Scriptures. This is why I put so much emphasis on commentary on the scriptures. I have done somewhat less commentary on the services, but intend to try to add more, because the services are “the scriptures explained”.

 

It is good to be literate in the Services. This is a deep well, and takes years to master; I am often lacking perfect liturgical details because of my poor memory and lack of attention, but nonetheless, lets us continue to attempt to glean salvific things from the services.

 

The usual weekday services (from the Octoechos or Parklitiki) follow recognizable patterns. For instance, today is Tuesday, and on this day we remember St John the Baptist, and also focus more on repentance. Therefore, the service texts emphasize this.

 

The liturgical day begins with sunset, and the first service, Vespers, will reflect the theme of the following (calendar) day. Therefore, on Monday evening, Vespers has a distinctly compunctionate theme, with many “stichera of repentance”. Matins on Tuesday continues the theme, with many more comunctionate stichera (hymns), and much about the Baptist.

 

The central part of matins is the canons. A “canon” is a long set of hymns, usually in 8 parts, with a sung part at the beginning (the Irmos) and several stichera, which are chanted, with short “refrains” inserted before each. There may be several canons said at the same time. On Tuesdays there is a canon of repentance and one about St John the Baptist. There may also be a canon or canons from the “Menaion” which is about the Saints remembered that day.

 

There is something quite marvelous about reading canons. Since they all have the same basic structure, one feels a warm familiarity and “rhythm” that assists prayer greatly. At first, they are difficult to learn, and one feels very distracted, but this passes with effort. Knowing anything worthwhile takes effort and a certain amount of memorization.

 

Here and there, I will give short excerpts from the services. Hopefully this will whet your appetite. I assure you, when the services are sung, the understanding and benefit to the soul is immeasurably greater. We have a saying, “he who sings prays twice”. Therefore, it is good to read the service texts (I do this often), but better to be at church and pray them. As we get established and I am able to stop working for at least part of my daily bread, we will have many more daily services.

 

 

 

O Lord, visit Thou my lowly soul, which hath squandered all its whole life in sins; accept me as Thou didst the Harlot, and save me. (Octoechos, Tone 4, Tuesday Matins, 1st Sectional hymn)

 

Sometimes people mention their sense of awe when they are in a historical place, such as the Holy Land, or even the nation’s capital. Some of the very people we have read about in history books were in the very place we now stand!

 

How much more should we be awed by the holy services, which have been prayed by countless saints. In Monasteries, to this very day, these services are chanted for hours daily, and at this very moment are helping untold numbers attain to great sanctity.

 

The services contain all our theology, but we must understand that theology is about how we should live, of which what we should believe is only a part.

 

Only the Orthodox have this wonderful compunctionate and yet hopeful and confident realism about the human condition. You would not hear one hymn like this is a  Protestant mega church (and besides, how can one be compunctionate sitting in a theatre chair)! Our Tuesday matins service has several dozen like this one.

 

It takes a lot of time to put off the brain washing our proud soul has subjected itself to. I daresay that many people who profess to be Christians would find the hymn above to be morbid, negative and depressing, and indicating “low self-esteem”. They do not understand. To me, such hymns are liberating! I can admit out loud what I already know about myself. How can we get better unless we recognize what is wrong? Our compunctionate. hymns throughout the year “call a spade a spade” and a “sinner a sinner”. They are usually in the first person – we are saying this prayer about ourselves, and no one else.

 

It is very hard to truly and fully know that we are sinful. The repetition of the church hymns helps towards that end. How many times did the humble monastic saints hear this type of prayer – a  million times in a lifetime? Of course, the other side of the story is also frequently told – of God’s mercy and long suffering towards sinners, but unless we acknowledge deeply within ourselves that we have deep wounds of sin, we will not seek out the physician.

 

When I hear prayers such as this, I can feel my soul only partially agreeing. I know I am a sinner, but I cannot honestly say that I feel the depth of this tragedy, nor understand how frequently I squander God’s grace. None of us can manufacture this feeling – it comes about from years of toil in keeping the commandments, and as the monastic story goes, “falling down and getting up”  Our problem is we often do not know when we have fallen, because we do not have a fine, refined sense of what is right and wrong; we sometimes do not know when we are squandering (wasting) the grace God offers us.

 

Do not let this depress you! You cannot get better without effort and time, but you will definitely get better if you try. Part of this process is fully, deeply feeling our sinfulness. When we totally learn our own unreliability, we will cease to rely on ourselves, but only on God.

 

May God help us to “Redeem the time”.

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

This article is at: http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2009-07-14.html and http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2009-07-14.doc

 

New Journal entries, homilies, etc. are on our BLOG: http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime

 

Journal Archive: http://www.orthodox.net/journal

 

Blog posts & local parish news are posted to our email list. Go to here: http://groups.google.com/group/saint-nicholas-orthodox-church to join.

 

Redeeming the Time BLOG: http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime

Use this for any edifying reason, but please give credit, and include the URL of the article. This content belongs to the author. We would love to hear from you with comments! (seraphim@orthodox.net)

 

Share

The Gergesenes Demoniacs 2009. We all must answer the question: ‘What have we to do with Thee, Jesus, thou Son of God?’

Monday, July 13th, 2009

LISTEN NOW

Matthew 8:28-9:1 28 And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way. 29 And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time? 30 And there was a good way off from them an herd of many swine feeding. 31 So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine. 32 And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters. 33 And they that kept them fled, and went their ways into the city, and told every thing, and what was befallen to the possessed of the devils. 34 And, behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus: and when they saw him, they besought him that he would depart out of their coasts. 1 And he entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city.



If the "LISTEN NOW" link does not work, copy this URL into your browser: http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/pentecost-sunday-05_2009-07-12.m3u

If this file does not work for you, try the direct link to the actual mp3 file:http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/pentecost-sunday-05_2009-07-12.mp3



RSS feed of Sunday and some weekday homiliesRSS feed of Sunday and some weekday homilies:http://feeds.feedburner.com/OrthodoxChristianSermonsOnTheGospelsEpistlesAndOtherTopics

Archive of Audio and text homilies:http://www.orthodox.net/sermons

Share

Cut to the chase. The Angel of the Lord. What is a Vespers ”Parable”? Laughing.

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

Comments on First Vesper reading.

Genesis 17:15-17, 19; 18:11-14; 21:1-8

06/24 – 07/07 2009. Nativity of John the Baptist.

 

 

Whenever I read the scriptures, I try to “cut to the chase”. You should too. We do not read the scriptures like we read Time Magazine[1], just for the sake of gaining information. Information is useless unless it is used, indeed, unless it is used to increase understanding. The Scriptures and service texts and prayers are always telling YOU something. Many messages are the same every time, since historical events and dogmatic truths are being mentioned, but these truths may touch us in new and different edifying ways every time we read them.

 

Just remember, the Scripture ain’t the newspaper! Read it with expectation, as you are the one who has chosen the good part[2], and is sitting at the feet of Jesus. There is something you need to know today – what is it?

 

I sometimes share some of my personal feelings when I read the scriptures, in order to encourage you to learn to think about the scriptures personally. They will not tell you what school to go to, or whether to look for a new job, but they will tell you intimate, personal things about yourself, things you need to know.  As they say in the car ads, “your mileage may vary”.  The Holy Spirit speaks to us all individually.

 

When I had my short sojourn in the wilderness of Protestantism, all I had was personal interpretations. Without the guidance of the church, it is inevitable that we will fall into false doctrines, ideas and priorities. We must have a proper dogmatic understanding of the scriptures, and then these truths will touch us all in a personal way.

 

The Chase.

 

The OT readings for the Nativity of St. John the Baptist are full of prophesy, Christological meanings, and miracles. Whenever I read about Sarah (and Abraham!) laughing cynically when they were told by the Engel of the Lord that they would have a son, I feel transported into that tent with Sarah. She was barren and past the age of child-bearing. The news she heard seemed too fantastic to believe. There is a lot of news that is hard for me to believe too.

 

For the Christian, belief is action. With action comes hope, which is a certainty of “things not seen”. I know the promises, and that they apply to me, and to my flock, but at this moment, I am living fully according to that promise. There are many more mountains to cross.

 

The following is a short, non-comprehensive! survey of the Vespers readings (parables[3]) for the Nativity of John the Baptist.

 

Reading 1: Genesis 17:15-17, 19; 18:11-14; 21:1-8

 

The reading is actually part of a much longer story; it omits the beginning and skips around a bit. The entire story is summarized here.

 

To get the whole context, one must start at the beginning of the 15th chapter, and read through chapter 18.  The “word of the Lord” came to Abram (his name had not been changed yet) and promised him that:

 

And after these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram, I shield thee, thy reward shall be very great. (Gen 15:1, Brenton) 

 

Abraham, true to the Jewish tradition, considered greatness an impossibility, because he had no heir:

 

And Abram said, I am grieved since thou hast given me no seed, but my home-born servant shall succeed me. (Gen 15:3)

 

The Lord makes a first promise that he would have a son:

 

And immediately there was a voice of the Lord to him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come out of thee shall be thine heir. (Gen 15:4 Brenton) 

 

And then makes a mystical reference to the all encompassing salvation of man, which will be wrought through Christ, Who will be of course, a descendant of Abraham:

 

15:5 And he brought him out and said to him, Look up now to heaven, and count the stars, if thou shalt be able to number them fully, and he said, Thus shall thy seed be. 15:6  And Abram believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness. (Genesis 15:5-6, Sept)

 

Note that although Abram  “believed God”, he still had his difficulties along the way. We will see that he also joined Sara in “laughing” when promised a son, as well as assented to Sara’s plan for an heir (see below).

 

Faith for us is not perfect, but it leads to perfection. I think sometimes we make the Saints superhuman. That Abram was righteous is a fact stated by Scripture (and this before the law – St Paul would go to great lengths to point this out in Romans), but he was also a human being, who struggled. I do not know who said it (I believe I read it in “The Orthodox way”), but faith is a “dialogue with doubt”. We should not be afraid of minor doubts and depressions which rush into us, like the wind whistling through the trees. The trees will still stand; as long as we strive for righteousness in spirit and truth, we will not be deterred by the doubts and difficulties inherent in the human condition

 

Lets us skip ahead a little bit and see Sara’s request of Abram:

 

And Sara the wife of Abram bore him no children; and she had an Egyptian maid, whose name was Agar.  (2)  And Sara said to Abram, Behold, the Lord has restrained me from bearing, go therefore in to my maid, that I may get children for myself through her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sara. (Gen 16:1-2 Brenton)

 

Interesting! Abram had been promised to have an heir who would inherit all the land of Palestine, but he did not quite understand. The heir would not come though Sara’s maid, but through their union. So many times, we think we know the right way, but we cannot understand it until Gods reveals it.

 

Here is where your “mileage may vary” – I see a bit of desperation here, in both Sara and Abram. Sara is clearly beside herself because she does not have a child, but nowhere in the Scripture up till now does it indicate that Abraam told her of the promise he had been given. He might have been a little nervous too.  This reminds me of decisions I have been tempted to make in my personal life, or ministry. I am aware of a few that I have not made, and seen as temptations, but as for the ones where I succumbed, time will tell.

 

It is hard to always do things the right way. It gets lonely; there is anxiety.

 

Waiting is usually hard. We have just gone through a long waiting period to get started building our new temple, and I freely admit that I have had moments of negativism, depression and perhaps even a moment or two of stark terror! I know God will prevail; we as a community will do His will if we only pray and work. Because I am human, and still in the process of becoming holy, my passions and sins contribute to an inadequate understanding of many things, but in general, I know myself, and my flock to be on the right path.  

 

We will skip the part about Agar, Sara’s maid, and Ishmael for our purposes today. It is very instructive to read, especially in light of the fact that God’s plan for an heir was different that Sara’s actions. Notice how Sara became jealous and hated Agar. One may chalk this up to simple human weakness, but I think that when we do not trust God, out weaknesses are magnified. The man MOST at risk is the one who doe not trust God and follow His will (even when this will is not understood).

 

This brings us to chapter 17, just before the Vespers reading begins. The “Angel of the Lord” tells Abram that:

 

And thy name shall no more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraam, for I have made thee a father of many nations. (Gen 17:5, Sept Brenton)

 

“Abraam can also be rendered “Abraham”, which means “Father of many” The Septuagint rendering is interesting, because “Abram” differs from Abraam” by one letter only in the Hebrew, which indicates plurality.  “Abram” – “great father” becomes Abraam – “Great father of many”.

 

The first verse of the Vespers reading begins with the Angel of the Lord changing Sara’s name:

 

And God said to Abraam, Sara thy wife – her name shall not be called Sara, Sarrha shall be her name. 16  And I will bless her, and of her I will give thee a son, whom I will bless, and he shall become nations, and kings of people shall spring from him. (Gen 17:15-16, Sept, Brenton)

 

In the Hebrew this change is also accomplished by the insertion of the same Hebrew letter used above letter, and also indicates plurality. The old name means “princess”, but the new one means “princess of many”.

 

There is a general principle concerning names in the OT – they usually mean something! Here we have the name changes of Abraham and Sarah indicting the mystery, ultimately, of the coming of Jesus Christ, Who came to save all men. 

 

 

 

Abraham, “whose faith was accounted to him as righteousness”, even though he had already heard the promise before, has trouble believing it fully this time:

 

Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, saying in his heart: Shall a son, thinkest thou, be born to him that is a hundred years old? and shall Sara that is ninety years old bring forth? (Gen 17:17)

 

Later, Sarah would laugh too – these were cynical laughs, of disbelief, or better, partial belief. It is hard to believe tremendous things, such as an old woman bearing a child, or a sinner, such as us, finally putting off our anger and laziness and other passions, and becoming holy. “Lord I believe; help Thou mine unbelief”.[4]

That Abraham is really having trouble here is exemplified by his next words (omitted in the Vespers reading):

 

And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee! (Gen 17:18)

 

It is taking Abraham time to understand God’s will. He is still seeing things from a more mundane, human perspective. So it is with us. He eventually got it right. I have great hope for all of us (and “hope” in the bible is not “wishful thinking”, it is “believing in things not seen” (or understood)).

Remember that names mean something? “Isaac” means “laughing”.

 

And God said to Abraham: Sara thy wife shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name Isaac, and I will establish my covenant with him for a perpetual covenant, and with his seed after him. (Gen 17:19)

 

The reading skips the imposition of the circumcision as a sign, and some things about Ishmael (Genesis 17:20-27), since they do not have a direct a bearing on the feast of the Nativity of St John, where another barren woman bore a child.

 

 

It also skips the incident at the oak of Mambre (a plant that still lives to this day!), where the three angels visited Abraham, just prior to the destruction of Sodom. We have an icon of this even, which some call “the holy Trinity”, but more properly is called the “Hospitality of Abraham”. One of those angels is clearly the “angel of the Lord”, which one of the names for the pre-incarnate Christ. That one of the angels IS God is clear from the context:

 

And God appeared to him by the oak of Mambre, as he sat by the door of his tent at noon.  (2)  And he lifted up his eyes and beheld, and lo! three men stood before him; and having seen them he ran to meet them from the door of his tent, and did obeisance to the ground. (Gen 18:1-2 Brenton)

 

Abraham feed the angels and the angel of the Lord again promises Abraham and Sara a son, and Sara again “laughs”. It is difficult to believe that nothing is impossible for God, even when we believe!

 

“And he said, I will return and come to thee according to this period seasonably, and Sarrha thy wife shall have a son; and Sarrha heard at the door of the tent, being behind him.  (11)  And Abraam and Sarrha were old, advanced in days, and the custom of women ceased with Sarrha.  (12)  And Sarrha laughed in herself, saying, The thing has not as yet happened to me, even until now, and my lord is old.  (13)  And the Lord said to Abraam, Why is it that Sarrha has laughed in herself, saying, Shall I then indeed bear? but I am grown old.  (14)  Shall anything be impossible with the Lord? At this time I will return to thee seasonably, and Sarrha shall have a son.” (Gen 18:10-14 Brenton)

 

And Sara denied laughing:

But Sarrha denied, saying, I did not laugh, for she was afraid. And he said to her, Nay, but thou didst laugh. (Gen 18:15 Brenton)

 

We need to be able to admit to ourselves who we are. We “laugh” too, because we are weak. I feel better about possibilities for me and all my loved ones every time I read this account. Perfection is achieved in a million imperfect steps. It will all come together for those who “love God and all called according to His purpose”[5]

 

The reading skips Abrahams fascinating bargaining with the angels and the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 18:16-20:18), and then restarts at the beginning of chapter 21.

 

And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken.  (2)  For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.  (3)  And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac. (Gen 21:1-3 KJV)

 

How many “Isaacs” do we have in our lives? I preach about “Isaacs” all the time. We believe but we do not believe enough. How to believe more? We live, and struggle, and the murky way becomes light. With gradual moral change comes greater understanding. The Lord will do to us “as he (has) spoken”.

 

So it will be for us too, as it was for Sara, that we will laugh too:

 

And Sarrha said, The Lord has made laughter for me, for whoever shall hear shall rejoice with me. (Gen 21:6 Brenton)

 

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

This article is at: http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2009-07-07.html

 

New Journal entries, homilies, etc. are on our BLOG: http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime

 

Journal Archive: http://www.orthodox.net/journal

 

Blog posts & local parish news are posted to our email list. Go to here: http://groups.google.com/group/saint-nicholas-orthodox-church to join.

 

Redeeming the Time BLOG: http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime

Use this for any edifying reason, but please give credit, and include the URL of the article. This content belongs to the author. We would love to hear from you with comments! (seraphim@orthodox.net)

 



[1] There is useful information, and then there is journalism. The only think I know is true in Time magazine is the page numbers!

[2] “And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.  (40)  But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.  (41)  And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:  (42)  But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” ()Luke 10:39-42 KJV 

[3] Of course, we know many “Parables” that the Lord taught, and this word means some kind of instructive, metaphorical, allegory story. The Greek, “parabola” means to throw forward or against, or to compare to or against (which exactly what allegory and metaphors do) Actually, As all the Vespers readings illuminate the feast being celebrated, usually in an allegorical way (the readings are often not directly about the feast being celebrated) the church refers to them as “Parables”. The OT parables are a treasure trove of allegory and typology.

[4] “And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” (Mar 9:24)

[5] “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” (Phillipians 1:6)

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28)

Share