Archive for April, 2009

The inner meaning of Palm Sunday. 2009. Audio Homily.

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

The events of Palm Sunday are momentous, but they cannot be understood without understanding the words of the Apostle Paul and contrasting them to the actions of the people who received Jesus joyfully and with shouts of praise as he rode into Jerusalem on a colt, the foal of an ass.

Philippians 4:4-9 4 Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. 5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. 6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. 7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. 9 Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.

John 12:1-18 1 Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. 2 There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. 3 Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. 4 Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, 5 Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? 6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. 7 Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. 8 For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always. 9 Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; 11 Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus. 12 On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13 Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord. 14 And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, 15 Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt. 16 These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him. 17 The people therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record. 18 For this cause the people also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle.

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Receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved…

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

Today’s reading from St. Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews[1] is a beautiful exposition of how we, as disciples of Christ, should live our lives. Why is the reading read on this particular day, the day on which we celebrate our Lord’s Resurrection of Lazarus? I think that the key is in the first words of the appointed selection: "we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved…." Truly, our kingdom cannot be moved, since our King is the "Vanquisher of death," as we sing in the troparion for the day:

In confirming the common resurrection, O Christ God,

Thou didst raise up Lazarus from the dead before Thy Passion,

Wherefore, we also, like the children,

bearing the symbols of victory,

cry to The, the Vanquisher of death,

Hosanna in the highest!

Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord!

Our Lord rose the dead on three occasions during his earthly ministry [2]. On one ocassion, he rose the daughter of Jairus, who had only recently died and who still lay on her sickbed in her parents’ home [3]. On another ocassion, he rose the son of the widow of Nain, who was already being carried to burial [4]. Finally, he raises his friend Lazarus, who has already lain in the tomb for four days – long enough for his body to begin to decay [5]. This latter incident is the subject of today’s celebration. We remember it now because it took place shortly before the Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. But it is significant to remember this event now for another reason as well; it shows us clearly that Christ is the victor over death, and thereby foreshadows Christ’s own resurrection, which we will celebrate in just over a week.

Christ, having conquered death, "the last enemy to be destroyed" [6], is truly the master of all. We, then, being his followers and disciples, can have nothing to fear from anybody, so long as we remain true to Him. It is in this way that His words, "Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?,"[7] acquire their power, for He is truly able to provide all things. Even if we should be given over to death for following Him, He has the power to raise us from the dead.

We, then, can confidently and without being worried by "what-ifs", give ourselves entirely to living in the manner that God has directed, having as our only goal the perfection of His image in our souls. Setting aside our worries, we can "have grace, that we may serve God acceptably." We can zealously pursue brotherly love, hospitality, charity toward those in bonds, purity of body and soul, contentment and submission.

[1] Hebrews 12:28-13:8: 28 Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: 29 For our God is a consuming fire. 1 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body. 4 Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge. 5 Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. 6 So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me. 7 Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. 8 Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.

[2] Archbishop Andrie of Rockland NY, of blessed memory, points this out in a sermon for the day, which is available here:

[3] Luke 8:40-56

[4] Luke 7:11-16

[5] John 11:1-45

[6] 1 Cor 15:26

[7] Matthew 6:31


5th Sun GL, St Mary of Egypt 1999. “This kind cannot come forth by anything but by prayer and fasting”

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

(Original link: )


In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


This kind cannot come forth by anything but by prayer and fasting.[1] 


So we read last week.  What is this kind that cannot come forth?  The demoniac boy was made by the demons to fall into fire and water, the fire being impurity – the lusts of the flesh, all manner of anger, meanness, murder and strife, envy, and all other such things.  And the water means a distraction with worldly things – avarice, desire for things, distraction.  Fire and water: this kind comes out not but by prayer and fasting.


But today we see indeed, that this kind will come out – if prayer and fasting and labor are applied.  We see this because we have the example, the spectacle, before us of holy mother Mary of Egypt – a woman that knew whom Zosimas was from afar, who knew God’s will for Zosimas to fulfill one last wish of hers that she would have the Mysteries the following year; a woman who, when she prayed, stood in the air. We can’t even lift up ours eyes to heaven, and she was standing in the heavens when she prayed.  She walked upon water as if on dry land.  And she called herself a miserable sinner. 


She struggled for many, many, many years.  If you read her life, you will learn she spent 17 years in great, terrible struggles after she had repented.  She was about 30.  She had lived a life of total, complete debauchery and depravity.  Her modesty precluded her from completely fulfilling the command of Zosimas and she couldn’t tell him everything that she did, but suffice it to say that she was a most wretched and sinful one.  Everything that is possible to do to defile one’s self she did.  But when she repented, she understood something that we would do well to understand.  Labor.


Labor!  This is the key to the Christian life: Laboring in Christ.  And the church understands this.  The church makes the connection between St. Mary and the sinful woman who was also a prostitute, a repentant prostitute of whom our Savior would later say, "The harlots and the tax-collectors are coming into heaven before you"[2], when speaking to the Pharisee.


He is in the home of the Pharisee and a prostitute comes in, and she begins to anoint his feet with her tears, and with ointment.  Why?  Because of love.  Because previously she had been forgiven.  She knew this in her soul.  It changed her.  She lived with this reality.  And she was thankful in the depths of her being.  That’s what made her anoint His feet.  Love.    But this anointing, this coming to the house — is laborWithout labor you can’t be saved.  Without demeaning yourself and remembering what God has done for you, you won’t be saved. 


St Mary of Egypt realized what God had done, and what the Mother of God had done, by praying to her Son, and helping her.  She spent 48 some years in the desert alone, coldness, nakedness, hunger, longing, desire, that could not be fulfilled. She said she would even go and bite the ground and lay on the ground until these feelings would go away from her.  Oh, yes, she still had impure feelings, for many, many years.  But she had great love, and labored because of this love.  Like this woman who anointed our Lord’s feet. 


This is the key to the Christian life.  This is why the Church presents this woman, great among women, and St. Mary of Egypt, great among the saints, as examples for us.  And we’ve been given everything they’ve been given.  Read what our Savior says about "he who has little forgiven, loveth little, but he who has much forgiven loveth much"[3].  Then He refers to the sinful woman. 


We can take this two ways. If you have very little forgiven, then you don’t have much to be thankful for.  We have little forgiven if we do not repent and strive to learn the commandments, and live the Christian life. But when you realize what’s been done for you, then you realize that you have had much forgiven.  For really everyone, everyone — has had much forgiven them.  And so he should love much.  He should turn to His Savior.  But a man who doesn’t turn to our Savior is not a Christian whether he calls himself a Christian or not. I don’t care about all the "trappings" – I don’t care how many songs you know – I don’t care about any of that. It’s all part and parcel of the life of the church.  It’s critical for our salvation – but the knowledge of things doesn’t save.  Action based on knowledge – that’s what saves.  


So when a man knows what Christ has done for him, he loves much.  When a man doesn’t care, when he’s all filled up with pride, or filled up with the life that he’s living, or filled up with lust or avarice or whatever else, then how can he love?  He has no room in his heart to love.  He’s already chosen the object of his love.  And he will have his reward, right here, such as it is[4].  And even the richest man is a pauper, compared to the lowest in the kingdom of heaven. 


This woman and St. Mary sealed their repentance by action, by activity.  We just read a couple nights ago the great canon[5], and St. Andrew compares Leah and Rachel to activity and contemplation.[6]  He said without these two you cannot be saved.  This woman who anointed our Lord’s feet, she contemplated what our lord had done for her; He had forgiven her.  Perhaps she was the one who had been caught in adultery and was about to be stoned[7].  Perhaps she was just another nameless, faceless prostitute that saw Divinity and cleaved to it and changed.  And when she contemplated what He had done her heart was filled, and this is what caused the activity, action, desire, longing to be with her Savior, to caress him, to kiss his feet, to be close to Him, to be in His presence. 


Do we have this longing?  If we don’t then we should fear greatly for our souls.  The church presents us extravagance here, extravagant repentance, and without it we can’t be saved.  Without it we cannot be saved.  Not partial repentance.  If you have something that ails you, then you must lament it, you must pound your breast about it.  You must prostrate with tears over it.  You must do whatever you have to do, labor in order to eradicate it, and in the process of doing that, at the same time, you must renew yourself with Who God is. 


St. Mary of Egypt knew.  This was a woman who could neither read nor write.  This was a woman who, the only time she had darkened the door of the church was at her baptism, save two other times, the day she saw the holy cross, and received the holy mysteries at the monastery of the Forerunner before she went into the desert.  And in the end of her days, she knew the entire scripture by heart, and she lived the entire scripture by heart.  The church speaks of her as an angel.  She had so transcended the flesh that she previously had lived with in such a base way.  None of us probably can claim to have been as sinful as she was.  That’s the truth.  But none of us can claim to have one tiny grain or repentance compared to her. 


The Christian life is simple.  If you know that which you’ve been forgiven of, you should love much, but the only way to know is to open your eyes and to pray with your heart.  God will fill you.  He will show you.  You will be overwhelmed by it.  You won’t want anything but … Christ.  The key to the Christian life.  Contemplating what God has done for you, and acting upon it. 


These women are the examples we have before us today.  But what does the world tell us?  It tells us all manner of garbage. Probably all of us have had this secular saying said to us, when one or the other of our parents said, "I don’t care what the other kids do.  You don’t do it that way."  The world tells you so many things, and the church says, "I don’t care what the world tells you.  God your Savior tells you to do something else."  In fact, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ said this to His apostles, didn’t he, when they had been jousting about who would be greatest?[8]  They had forgotten Who He was.  He tells them a very important saying:  "He who will be greatest must be the servant."  But before then what did He say?  He described the way the world is, how the greatest, the chiefest among people are the ones who grind people in the mud, and lord things over people, and the boastful pride of life in the extravagance of power and authority.  And then He said that it "shall not be so among you."[9]  Instead, the church gives us the example of the sinful woman, formerly sinful woman – two formally sinful women, the unnamed woman who is great among the saints, and Mary, who is great among the saints.  Don’t listen to the world.  Listen to what the church says.  Be renewed.




The Gospel for St Mary of Egypt

Luke 7:36-50


 And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat. {37} And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, {38} And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. {39} Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. {40} And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. {41} There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. {42} And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? {43} Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. {44} And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. {45} Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. {46} My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. {47} Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. {48} And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. {49} And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? {50} And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.


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[1] Mark 9:29

[2] Mat 21:31 – "Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you."

[3] Cf. Luke 7:77

[4] See Matthew 5:46 and onwards.

[5] The complete Great Canon, and the Life of St Mary of Egypt, is always read in the matins service for 5th Thursday of Great Lent. This service is usually served Wednesday evening.

[6] St Andrew makes a reference to Gen 29:16-30,31-40: "Because of his crying need the Patriarch endured the scorching heat of the day, and he bore the frost of the night, daily making gains, shepherding, struggling, slaving, in order to win two wives  By the two wives understand action and direct knowledge in contemplation: Leah as action, for she had many children, and Rachel as knowledge, which is obtained by much labor. For without labors, my soul, neither action nor contemplation will achieve success. Clean Monday or the 5th Thursday of Great Lent: The Great Canon, Ode 4 Troparia 7,8



[7] John 8:4-11

[8] Mark 9:33 and onwards

[9] (Mat 20:25-27)  But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. {26} But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; {27} And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:


Sunday of St Mary of Egypt, 2009. Audio Homily: A perfect description of any true Christian

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

Sunday of St Mary of Egypt, 2009. A perfect description of any true Christian: LISTEN NOW

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2009-04-02 ns (3/20) 5th Thursday of Great Lent.

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Prison Ministry

Hackberry trees


Just showing up


Yesterday I went to the Hughes unit jail. I did not want to go, but so what? It always works out that I am glad I went.


For some of these guys, I am the ONLY person they see from the outside. They write me too, but I seem to find it easier to drive about 3-4 hours each way to Gatesville twice a month rather than write letters. Go figure.


Two of my guys from Hughes have transferred. One is out of prison, and “off paper” (he served his entire sentence), and another is getting probation soon. The latter I baptized some years ago.


I got into prison ministry by “accident” or “serendipity” (there is serendipity in ministry as often as there is “army intelligence”!). A young man came to our church about 11 or 12 years ago, with two parishioners, with whom he was friends. I talked with him for 5 hours Sunday afternoon under the Hackberry tree in the front yard of All Saints about all kinds of spiritual things. A few days later, he turned himself in regarding a legal matter. I started visiting him in the Fort Worth jail. For about two years (so much for a constitutionally guaranteed right to a speedy trial!)  From there, I followed him to the Hughes unit, and baptized him.


The day he was baptized, two other men showed up, because the prison grapevine (unlike the Internet, it never goes down) told them about the service. One was already Orthodox, having been baptized by Fr Duane Pederson, who was involved in significant the “Orthodox Prison Ministry” with the Antiochians. His friend and he had been praying for TWO years for a priest to come, so that he could be baptized. So I came, and eventually baptized him.


It turns out my first prison convert is quite the Apostle, and two of his close friends are now in catechesis.


And all I did was talk to a guy under a Hackberry tree!


So much happens in God’s plan without us knowing, understanding or even needing to know. All we need to do is be like Samuel:


… the LORD called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I.“ (1Sa 3:4 )


Ministry does not take talent; God gives that. It does not require intelligence: God gives that. It does require us to SHOW UP; God won’t do that for us, but He will help.


I cannot tell you how many times I have felt totally out of my depth in ministry. I have learned to “just show up”; my ministry slogan is “90% of life is just showing up.”


When I was working full time, then attending nursing school, even “showing up”  at prison was really hard. I would always be exhausted, and drive down to Hughes with my hair on fire, often reading a nursing text book or drilling on anatomy or drug flash cards (let this be our secret: I drive with my knee, and read stuff when I drive, if there is no traffic).


Things are easier now, and harder, since I am busier. I only work as a nurse two days a week, and go to three different prisons 3-4 times a month, usually on Wednesdays. TDCJ helps me out by having periodic lockdowns and other stuff, so I often get cancelled. I do not mind so much when they call me, but I have been refused admittance because of some security issue THREE times after I arrived after driving 3 hours.


There are plans to create a bank account to fund the prison ministry, then we will solicit donations on the Internet (I said I would do this over 2 months ago). Gas is expensive, and I want to be able to mail bulletins and stuff like blog posts to them regularly, but we cannot afford it. At the present time, our little parish pays for the gasoline, and without this help, I could not do this.


We started studying the Gospel of Matthew using Blessed Theophylact(from St John Chrysostom Press), and I was going to talk about that, but this post is getting a little long. We only got through the first verse, and talked about a lot of interesting stuff.  Later.


The philosophy “Just show up” works. It can be applied to anything, if it is stretched a little. So you have had a bad day? You can “just show up” by fasting like you should. So you can barely pay attention in church? You can still “just show up.” Do you really think your time is better spent being attentive to something worldly, or occasionally attentive to something spiritual when you stand in pray in church? How are you going to get better at prayer and become more peaceful without spending times at it? There is great grace in the services. One of the biggest regrets of my ministry is how seldom so many take advantage of this great grace.


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

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After the Great Canon service. 5th Wednesday of Great Lent 2009.

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

A happy heart.

Fasting creates simple pleasures.

Lentil Curry, & cooking oil and onions.

“Yummy” Black Cherry soda.

The Theme of the Great Canon.

St Mary of Egypt.



It made my heart “enlarged”[1]  to see so many of you at the Great Canon service Wednesday night, and also surprising to me, so many at the meal we had in between Presantified and Matins. I also received by email from some that you were not able to come for various reasons, but the very fact that you wanted to come made it feel to me as if you were standing with us in prayer all the time.


It was also a pleasure to provide the main course for our meal, and to cook it with oil which was allowed Wednesday because of the rigor of the services. It is also allowed Thursday & Friday. It was even an added benefit to see that Raissa appreciated it. I assure you, I can do much better. I was disappointed in the lentils. I think the lentils were a little old and dried out. Although I cooked them for a long time, they did not get soft. When they soften, they take up the flavor of the curry so much better. When I get a chance, I will post the recipe.


It is such a simple but very satisfying pleasure to have a little oil in the middle of the week. It can be as edifying to not fast (or fast less) as to fast, but only if we fast in the first place! Self-indulgence is a great enemy to the soul. We are not against pleasure, or legalistic about fasting, as some non-Orthodox and even Orthodox slander our rules, but the temperate man actually has MORE pleasure than the indulgent one! When I was a kid, we did not routinely have soda at home, but occasionally, my mother would buy a six-pack of “Yummy” store brand Black Cherry soda from the local Jewell. What a great pleasure that was, as I LOVED Black Cherry soda. I am sure it would not have been so pleasurable if she bought me a “big gulp” of it every day. The novelty would wear off, and there would have been toxic side effects – I would not have learned about simple pleasures, and the high fructose corn syrup might have made me get fat, and predisposed me to diabetes. We have an epidemic of these afflictions in the Western world, because of the cheap, easy availability of toxic, tasty foods, such as high fructose corn syrup, and our addiction to them.


I made the curry with oil, but I actually rarely do. It is just as easy to sauté the onions in plain water or vegetable broth. This is actually healthier, and I do not really taste any difference. If the oil is allowed to get too hot (and this is really EASY to do), it breaks down, and forms many carcinogenic compounds, plus some of the really beneficial micro-nutrients in the oil get broken down by the heat and we lose their benefits. Anytime oil is heated a lot (such as frying) it forms toxic compounds (some oils are especially susceptible to this, such as most margarine). Over the long term, these compounds cause disease, especially cardiovascular disease. For this reason, I never fry, and only occasionally use only oil to sauté. Sometimes I use oil AND water, and keep adding water, so that the temperature of the oil does not exceed the boiling point of water (the chemistry course you may not  remember teaches us that when water reaches boiling, the temperature does not increase past the boiling point, unless the steam is trapped and increases the pressure of the “system”. Since my pan has a relatively loose fitting lid, the steam can at least partially escape, and therefore the gas pressure inside the pan does not increase much, and the temperature stays constant. See Boyles Law and the properties of water. Class dismissed!)


By the way, when you cut onions or garlic, wait 20 minutes before cooking them. This allows time for the enzymes to cause very beneficial compounds to form. In onions especially, these healthy usually sulphur containing compounds make you cry. As soon as the onions or garlic are heated, the enzymes denature, and the manufacture of the healthy compounds ceases, although, as long as the heat is not way too high or prolonged, the ones produced will still retain their healthy properties.


I think the main theme of the Great Canon is that we are broken because of sin. Our understanding of sin is so different from the West that I wish we did not use the same word. For the Orthodox, sin arises out of our brokenness and confusion. The greatest penalty of sin is the confusion and pain it causes us. This pain DOES NOT go away when we are forgiven! Our brokenness and pain will go away only when we stop being sinners – when we are freed of sin. Our Lord Jesus Christ became man in order to conquer sin, not just forgive it. We long for being free of sin – and if you listen closely, this theme is present in every line of the Great Canon.


I don’t like to be broken. I want to be whole. This is the entire reason that I am a Christian; there is no other way to become whole. I became a priest because seeing pain, the vast majority of which is self-inflicted, in others, makes me mad. My prayer for my flock is that they each feel acutely their brokenness and cling to Christ in every way to become healed. If you do not feel broken, you will not ask to be fixed; you will not be fixed!


I can think of no other prayers in our vast lexicon which express the feeling of brokenness better than the Great Canon.


When combined with the Life of St Mary of Egypt, which we read last night, we see the “before” and “after” picture. It can be our picture too.


St Mary was terribly broken and full of sin in her early life. Like most sinful people, such as the ones we see in the mirror, she was not acutely aware of her sins. I think we can surmise from her own description of her early sinfulness that she was actually completely unaware of her brokenness; however, by God’s grace, through the intercession of the Mother of God, beyond all expectation, she came to her senses and repented.


I always take great comfort in her words to St Zosimas:


“Know, holy father, that I am only a sinful woman, though I am guarded by Holy baptism. And I am no spirit but earth and ashes, and flesh alone."


St Mary was part of the “hatch em, match em and dispatch em” crowd (seen in church on the day of their baptism, their marriage, and for their funeral). I have had some of these types of baptisms. I call them “bungee baptisms”, after the Dilbert cartoon where the “bungee boss” comes into the office as the new boss (attached to a bungee cord), only to be reassigned so quickly that is was as if he was never there. I suppose that is not the most pious way to refer to the problem of people that baptize their children and then never come to church, but sometimes I gotta laugh to keep from crying.


I have all these people in my dyptichs[2], although I never see them. I often think of St Mary’s words about baptism when I commemorate them . May the grace of baptism guard these dear children even though their parents cannot or will not show them a good example in the Christian life, and attend services and partake of the mysteries regularly.


I think our presence in all the services, and especially such ultra compunctionate ones such as the Great Canon, is always touched by irony.


Speaking for myself (but also knowing human nature and realizing that my weaknesses are by no means unique):


I stood in prayer reading a story about a woman who prayed with such fervor and detachment from worldly things that she stood suspended a “forearm’s length” in the air[3], while not only my feet but also my mind remained firmly rooted to the ground as I flitted from one useless, trivial thought to another.


I read verses in the canon that clearly elucidated St Andrew felt keenly his brokenness, while my inattention, shuffling feet and “counting of verses” showed clearly how broken I am.


I read poetic words of wisdom, and with some of them I simultaneously thought: “I have no idea what this really means, and I should!”


I read about St Mary laying on the ground for a full day and a night, watering the ground with her tears, trying to stave off lustful thoughts, and illicit songs and images[4], and the Internet brings these things to me as I sit on my couch, from the ads in my email or Facebook page. 


Truly, when we pray, in our thoughts and actions the words of the Psalmist are fulfilled:


“I believed wherefore I spake; I was humbled exceedingly. As for me, I said in mine ecstasy: Every man is a liar.” (Psalm 115:1[5])


So what are we to do, as we pray weakly, live haphazardly, and lie by calling ourselves Christians while not living in every way as one? There is only one solution, and we know it will work, because God has promised it will. Immediately after the Psalmist proclaims radically his sinfulness, he confidently replies to himself:


“What shall I render unto the Lord for all that He hath rendered unto me? I will take the cup of salvation, and I will call upon the name of the Lord.” (Psalm 115:2)



[1] When I called upon Thee, O God of my righteousness, Thou didst hearken unto me; in mine affliction Thou hast enlarged me. (Psalm 4:1 Sept)

[2] The word means “list”. Every priest has dyptichs, which are lists of the living and dead for commemoration in the Divine Liturgy. It is important that we also have a smaller list for daily prayer for those we love.

[3] “And with these words she turned to the East, and raising her eyes to heaven and stretching out her hands, she began to pray in a whisper. One could not hear separate words, so that Zosimas could not understand anything that she said in her prayers. Meanwhile he stood, according to his own word, all in a flutter, looking at the ground without saying a word. And he swore, calling God to witness, that when at length he thought that her prayer was very long, he took his eyes off the ground and saw that she was raised bout a forearm’s distance from the ground and stood praying in the air. When he saw this, even greater terror seized him and he fell on the ground weeping and repeating may times, ‘Lord have mercy.’” (Life of St Mary of Egypt)

[4] “And how can I tell you about the thoughts which urged me on to fornication, how can I express them to you, Abba? A fire was kindled in my miserable heart which seemed to burn me up completely and to awake in me a thirst for embraces. As soon as this craving came to me, I flung myself on the earth and watered it with my tears, as if I saw before me my witness, who had appeared to me in my disobedience, and who seemed to threaten punishment for the crime. And I did not rise from the ground (sometimes I lay thus prostrate for a day and a night) until a calm and sweet light descended and enlightened me and chased away the thoughts that possessed me.” (Life of St Mary of Egypt)

[5] Psalm 115 (Septuagint numbering) is one of the Psalms we say in the “Preparation for Communion” prayers