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”.
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; we all are commended to pray without ceasing.
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” 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.
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, Lenten Triodion and Pentecostarion, 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.
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”),
- Uriel ("Fire of God"),
- 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).
The fig tree referred to is the one the Lord cursed shortly before His passion. 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
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 James 1:6
 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Mat 5:48 KJV )
 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 )
 That is, in a realistic and honest way.
 “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.
 “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).
 Used on the four Sundays preceding Great Lent, all of Great Lent and Holy Week.
 Used from Pascha till the Sunday after Pentecost.
 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)
 Raphael figures prominently in the OT book “Tobit”.
 “And the angel that was sent unto me, whose name was Uriel, gave me an answer…”(2Esdr 4:1)
 “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)
 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.