Parish news – building progress.
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.
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
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