Sunday of Pascha Agape vespers
Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!
Christos aneste! Alithos aneste!
Christos Voskrese! Voistinu voskrese!
I want to tell you a few things about this week. This week is as one day, according to the Typicon. So it is as if Pascha is an entire week. So for that reason we don’t fast today, nor do we fast tomorrow or Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday or Friday or Saturday or Sunday. No fasting for the entire week. All foods are allowed. Tofu is forbidden. Even bean, you know the bean hamburger things, they’re forbidden. Okay? They are like anathema. All foods are allowed for this week.
Also, now, during this week we say Paschal hours for our prayers instead of morning and evening prayers. We don’t read the Psalter at all. If you saw in the service, the only verses of the Psalter that were used were when we were singing the Stichera. The penitential verses of the Psalter are not read. We don’t read Psalm 50 the entire week. We don’t read Psalm 118 which is normally read every day. We don’t read any of the Psalter except the portions that are for the Prokeimena or for the “Lord I have cried.”
So the Paschal hours are in your prayer book whether it is an English one or in Slavonic. Use these Paschal hours; it takes about six minutes to sing them, maybe five and a half minutes to read them; I don’t know, not as long and if you cannot sing, read; that’s fine. There is beautiful theology in these prayers, and they are short and very sweet. So read the Paschal hours in the morning and in the evening for the entire week.
All the serving that’s done for Vespers, for matins, for liturgy in every Orthodox Church in the world for this week is always in full vestments as if I’m serving at liturgy because of the festivity of the season.
The doors are open. The Royal doors and the deaconal doors are open in every Orthodox Church in the world for the entire week. They are only closed after the ninth hour on Saturday according to some, but Bishop Peter has told me about another rubric which we follow – to close them after the Small Entrance in Vespers.
I make a note about this, because this is always a very sad day for me because the doors have to be closed, not because God’s mercy ends for us, but because we being fallen, being people that are easily distracted, we cannot take so much grace. We are not ready for the grace that God wishes to give to us, so when the doors are closed it is a profound theological statement. It is not that God’s mercy is shut off from us – No, not at all, but we, because we are immature, are not able to hold onto all of God’s mercy. So for a time God’s mercy shines especially bright in all of the services and in this week. But if it were like that every week then we would fall away from Him because we do need rigor. We do need fasting. We do need repentance and penitence because of our nature, not because God requires it of us but because without that kind of rigor that we just went through in the fasting of Great Lent we would not be able to become good and know God Who is good.
We have started reading the Gospel of John and the Acts of the Apostles, and they will be read all throughout the Paschal period. And I explained why we read the Gospel of John for Pascha because of course, to know the Resurrection, we have to know Jesus Christ and Saint John more than anyone else ever has explained who Jesus Christ is. There are symbols for the evangelists, and his is the eagle because he soars high above on the wings of theology. Truly, his language, from a grammatical standpoint, is the simplest and, yes, from a theological standpoint it is the deepest.
So we read the Gospel of John during the Paschal period because, as I explained, it is the church’s strategy or the church’s tradition that when we have a feast we explain more about it later. And so this entire Paschal period, Paschal is really being explained to you in all of the services, in all the hymnology and in the Gospel of John.
And then of course we read the Acts of the Apostles. And why would that be? With Pascha, the Church was strengthened. Some people would say that the Church began on Pentecost. I personally don’t think that that’s true because I believe that Joseph and Abraham and Isaac, all those holy fathers are part of the Church. But the strengthening of the Church, to be able to spread to the entire universe was accomplished on Pentecost, but there would be no Pentecost without the Resurrection. So the beginnings of the Church as a universal entity are really with Pascha when the disciples were gathering together in the upper room praying.
Now for this first 50 days after Pascha they were afraid because they didn’t know what was going to happen and as I explained yesterday, the Resurrection comes to us a little bit by little bit, not all in a flash like the Lord resurrected, but a little bit by little bit so the Apostles only with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost really understood all things and had the power to proclaim the Gospel to all of mankind.
It would be a very good exercise for all of you to read from the Gospel of John and the Book of Acts. If you pick one, do the Gospel of John and read it every day. If you can read a paragraph, if you can read a chapter, if you can read the daily readings, that’s fine too. Read the Gospel of John so that you complete it throughout the Paschal period. It is truly a remarkable book, and it’s the kind of book that you must read literally a hundred thousand times to fully understand. So every time you read it, something new will come out to you that is important for your salvation. So read the Gospel of John and read the Acts. But if you have to pick one, you only have so much time or so much energy or so much zeal, read the Gospel of John.
The theme during this period of time is about enlightenment, gradual enlightenment. We see it already with the Gospel here about Thomas. Right now we only hear the first half of the story. The second half will be this coming Sunday, and the first half, as Thomas said, “Unless I see the prints of the nails, the holes in his hand and in his side and unless I put my finger in them, I won’t believe.” And so for eight days he anguished because his fellow friends, the Apostles, the women that had been around Jesus, they believed, but Thomas didn’t. But he was faithful, and his faithfulness would be rewarded. So that on Sunday we will proclaim him as the first to declare unequivocally the two natures of Jesus Christ when he said, “My Lord and my God.”
During this entire Paschal period up until Pentecost we do not say “0 Heavenly King. . .“ Why would that be? Why would it be that we do not say “0, Heavenly King. . .“? Anybody know? Well, sometimes the Church speaks about something and teaches us and sometimes they do not speak about something and teach us. “0 Heavenly King, Comforter. . .“, is about the Holy Spirit, and we are asking Him to come and abide in us. Well, what is going to happen in fifty days? The Holy Spirit will come and abide in us, liturgically, at Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit. So the lack of this prayer is reminding us of the greatness of the coming of the Holy Spirit. That’s why we omit this prayer and we substitute instead of it “Christ is risen” three times, and then when we get to Ascension, then we substitute the Ascension Troparion for those days until Pentecost. So don’t say “0 Heavenly King. . .“
Oh, by the way, no prostrations either. There are no prostrations until Pentecost also and that is to recall the joy of the season.
See, there’s a rhyme and a reason to the things the church does. There is a deep theological significance to some of these deeply held traditions. Why we prostrate at certain times and why we don’t at others. Why we eat all foods on some occasions and do not eat most foods on others. So we are not prostrating, nor are we saying “0 Heavenly King”.
There’s a few other liturgical things if you really understand the services for instance, I will just say one. In matins we’ll always sing, “Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ. . .“ three times on the Sunday vigil, whereas normally it’s sung once. And there is a bunch of other little differences, but the important ones for you are you don’t fast this week, you don’t prostrate until Pentecost. You don’t say “0 Heavenly King. . .“ until Pentecost, and you sing “Christ is risen” every day, and you say the Paschal hours and rejoice.
As is usual, I have to tell you as a pastor, to warn you, that this is a period of time when the devil who is that roaring lion, is looking about for whom he can devour, and you know he devours a lot of people with summer sausage and with
bacon and with butter and all of the delicacies that we have not had before. Don’t eat too much of that. Eat them and enjoy them but don’t gorge yourself so that you still can pray.
You don’t pray as much but you should pray consistently the Paschal hours in the morning and in the evening. And rejoice in the Resurrection in that way.
We have services this week. Tuesday vigil for the Annunciation so it will be like a Paschal vigil and sort of mixed in with Annunciation there is a complex service and very joyous so that vespers and matins and the first hour on Tuesday night at seven and then Wednesday morning at nine o’clock. At nine o’clock will be the Annunciation Paschal liturgy. So if you can at all come to the service, you should because it is well worth it to take a few hours off of work to be able to do this.
Also, Thursday evening in the new temple which will be close to done by then. I don’t know if we’ll make it for Thomas
Sunday or not, most likely not. So we are aiming for the Myrrh Bearers, the third Sunday of Pascha. We will have on
Thursday evening as is our custom, at seven o’clock, Moleben.
This time it’s a Paschal Moleben. Everything is different this week; all the services include “Christ is risen.”
So the services this week are Tuesday seven o’clock, the vigil for the Annunciation. If you can come to part of it you should come. If you can come to all of it you should come but come to some of it. And Wednesday at nine o’clock, the liturgy and the Paschal and Annunciation kind of mixed up and then Thursday, the Moleben at seven o’clock.
Do I need to tell you anything else? Oh, yes I need to tell you one other thing. We have a letter here that I’d like each one of you to take and was written with my blessing sort of as a collaborative effort. Mostly Father Nicholas wrote it and as I usually do, I added a couple of things. The gist of it is this. We’re happy to report we have raised as part of our fundraising efforts since June of 2009, 42 thousand dollars, and we were aiming for 40. And we actually at the time naively thought that 40 was enough. Turns out that more like 60 is enough, or something like that. So we need about another 20 thousand dollars.
I want to tell you, we have offered to our benefactors that we would pray for them eternally as long as this parish exists, we will pray. After my death and the next rector, we will pray because they are permanent dyptichs. And we have 391 names that we pray for regularly now and 98 benefactors. And that number changes, continually increases.
So there is good news that although we need about 20 thousand dollars that we don’t have, we have an anonymous donor that has come forward and wishes to sort of get some activity and interest and zeal among our parish family, to raise eight thousand dollars. This donor has pledged eight thousand dollars in matching funds. Okay, the way this works is this. The clergy are not part of the matching funds. So Father Nicholas and I cannot give to this fund in order to have it matched but if you give, you give one hundred dollars, it is matched with one hundred dollars. If you give a thousand it is matched with a thousand dollars, up to eight thousand dollars which means if we are zealous, we would have 16 thousand dollars which is very close to what we need. With some other things coming in, we would probably be able to do it.
So what I would ask you to do is take this letter and give yourself and ask others to give and to designate that it is for the matching funds and we can raise this money then. It’s a lot easier to raise eight thousand dollars than it is to raise 16.
So may God bless you, take this letter and now let’s feast, what do you say? I don’t think there was any tofu in there at all. Okay. Let’s go bless it.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2010.
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