Archive for May, 2009

Prayer for the Prosperity of the Russian Church. Pastoral Zeal. Liturgical Renovationism. A three sided coin.

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Friday after Ascension, May 16/29 2009

I am always full of things I want to say to my flock, and there is so little time. There is so much to say about Ascension, which, together with Pascha and Pentecost, I consider to be different sides of a “three sided” coin. I hope to discuss the readings for this feast, and survey the incredible service texts. There is no doubt that the Pentecostarion is on my “desert island[1]” list of books. It should be on yours too!


Our church reads a beautiful prayer during the Divine Liturgy on the feast of the Ascension. It commemorates a historical moment for our church, but also is one the finest expressions of pastoral zeal I have seen in a long time. It is included below.


Of course, I forgot the prayer at its appointed time, so I engaged in a little liturgical renovationism and included it during after the prayer behind the Ambo, which is said just before the end of liturgy. Maybe I will remember next year!



Prayer for the Prosperity of the Russian Orthodox Church

Also at:

O Lord Jesus Christ our God, accept from us, Thine unworthy servants, these words of thanksgiving:

For Thou hast given unity to the Church of Russia and transformed into joy the greatly painful cry of Thy servants. 

Hearken now to our supplication:


Bring Thine own laborers unto the harvest, that the Church may not lack good pastors to enlighten so great a multitude of those who have not been taught the Faith or have fallen away therefrom.


Instill obedience to Thee in those who govern, and justice and mercy in their judgments; compassion in the rich, and long-suffering in the weak:


That in our land the kingdom of Christ may thus grow and increase, and that Thou, O God Who art wondrous in Thy saints, may be glorified therein.


Unto those who are led astray by heresies and schisms, who have fallen away from  Thee or seek Thee not, show Thyself forth as almighty, that not one of them may perish, but that all of  us may be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth:


That all, in harmonious oneness of mind and constant love, may glorify Thy most honored name, O kind and patient-hearted Lord, unto the ages of ages.


On May 13, 2008, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia adopted the Prayer for the Prosperity of the Church of Russia, to be read during Divine Liturgy on the Ascension of the Lord; and, as desired, on the feast day of All Russian Saints; the feast days of St Vladimir, St Olga and especially-venerated Russian saints. This prayer replaces the Prayer for the Salvation of Russia.



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


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[1] The “Desert Island” list: Which items would you bring if you were allowed a limited number of items, and were going to be marooned on a desert island? It is boring to think about a knife, and rope, and other survival stuff, so I have most often heard this question given in the form of: “Which 10 books would you bring to a desert island”.  Of course, the Bible, and then the service books, are my first choices: the Horologion, Pentecostarion, Oktoechos, Lenten Triodion. If I could count St John Chrysostom’s commentaries as “one” book”, they would be included. The rest of the books in the list I would spend some time deciding on.

Ascension of Christ.

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Questions & Answers[1]


QUESTION 1. What significance does the event of the Ascension of Jesus Christ have for the Christian? We should understand why we celebrate any feast, and its inner meaning.



Christ ascended to Heaven as man and as God. Once he became a man, being at the same time, as always, perfect God, he never put off His manhood, but deified it, and made it and us capable of apprehending heavenly things.

The Ascension is a prophecy of things to come for those who love God and believe in Him in an Orthodox manner. Those who believe and live according to this belief will be in the heavens, in the flesh, with Him, just as He now abides in the Heavens in the flesh. Our flesh and souls will be saved, because Christ made human flesh capable of deification.

We also call to mind the promise of the Holy Spirit, since Christ mentions this promise He had made before to them, and its advent is tied to His ascension thusly:

"Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. {8} And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: {9} Of sin, because they believe not on me; {10} Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; {11} Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged." (John 16:7-11)

What Christ has done for human flesh and our souls is impossible to understand, but the church, with sweet melody, meditates with fervor and thanksgiving and precise theology in her services.

"O Christ, having taken upon thy shoulders our nature, which had gone astray, thou didst ascend and bring it unto God the Father" (Matins canon for the Ascension, Ode 7)

"Having raised our nature, which was deadened by sin, Thou didst bring it unto Thine own Father, O Savior" (ibid.)

"Unto Him Who by His descent destroyed the adversary, and Who by His ascent raised up man, give praise O ye priests, and supremely exalt Him, O ye people, unto all the ages." (Matins canon for the Ascension, Ode 8)

Since the disciples were "filled with great joy", we who are Orthodox in belief and way of life should naturally be this way also, and should hasten to the temple. There we can meditate upon the magnificent truths and promises in the ascension by listening carefully to the divinely inspired theology, sung in sweet melody. If we pray with care, and expectation, having valued divine worship above our worldly cares, surely God will enlighten us and noetically teach us the true meaning of Christ’s Ascension.


QUESTION 2. There is an important account of the Ascension in the scriptures that is not in the Gospels. Where is it? The story involves angels. How? Describe how a cloud was involved.



St. Luke, who wrote an account of the Ascension in his Gospel, also wrote a slightly different account in his Acts of the Apostles. In this account, he describes two angels who speak to the Apostles as they are gazing at Christ going up into the sky:

"And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." (Acts 1:10-11)

St Luke also mentions a cloud in his account in the Acts:

"And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight." (Acts 1:9)

"Thou Who art immortal by nature didst arise on the third day, and didst appear unto the eleven and all the disciples, and riding upon a cloud, didst hasten back unto the Father, O Thou creator of all." (Matins canon for the Ascension, 1st Ode, Irmos)


QUESTION 3. In the gospel reading for liturgy on the Ascension, two gifts are mentioned by Christ. One is given and one is promised. What are they? Comment on their importance and meaning for a Christian.




When Christ saw his disciples in the upper room, he told them:

"Peace be unto you." (Luke 24:36).

This peace is not a worldly peace, but is the gift of God, and the attainment of it is the purpose of our life. The only way to understand this peace is to live the Christian life and be changed. It is freely given, but not freely received – not until a man is purified by intense effort, war against his passions, and desire to fulfill the will of God.

Shortly after this, Christ promised:

"And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high." (Luke 24:49).

This, of course, is the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit, to be given only ten days later, on Pentecost.

The ministry of the Holy Spirit is so profound, it cannot be described adequately.

He convicts concerning sin and righteousness, He gives strength, He gives wisdom, and the words to say when being persecuted. Ignorant and weak fisherman and all those who make an abode for Him wax bold in their witness of the gospel. He guides the church, and enlightens every man concerning the truth. Without Him, the Christian life cannot be lived.


QUESTION 4. What mountain did Christ ascend from? How will this mountain be involved in another, cataclysmic event?




Christ ascended by the Mount of Olives. "Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a Sabbath day’s journey." (Luke 1:12). Holy tradition understands that Christ will come to judge the world at the culmination of all things "from the East" over this very same mountain.

"And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; {11} Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." (Acts 1:10-11)


QUESTION 5. There is a significant occurrence in the Ascension story that can only be understood in the context of the church, and the absolute need for apostolic succession of bishops and priests. This occurrence, properly understood, should cause everyone who trusts his own interpretation of the bible outside of the context of a visible, authoritative and dogmatic church to flee from his false, individual understanding and seek out the church.

What is this occurrence? Comment on it, and try to specify other scriptures which point out or support this critical Christian teaching.




It is clear that the scriptures are a dark book, unless God gives illumination. The Jews did not understand the book they gave appearances to love, and Jesus corrected their misunderstandings numerous times. The Holy apostles themselves had to be taught in numerous private sessions with their Lord, an important one which is described in the Ascension story:

"Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, {46} And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: {47} And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. {48} And ye are witnesses of these things. {49} And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high." (Luke 24:45-49)

There much that the apostles were taught that was not written in the scriptures, and which has become part of the mind of the church, through the teaching of the apostles, and all their successors, who remained true to their teachers as the apostles had to one great teacher. St. John alludes to this hidden wisdom, held so closely to the bosom of the church, when he says:

"And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen." (John 21:25)

St. Peter admonishes us and reminds us of our own frailty and the sure reliability of the church when he tells us:

"Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation." (2 Peter 1:20)


QUESTION 6. When is Ascension celebrated?




Ascension is always on a Thursday, exactly forty days after Pascha, just like it occurred in the Scriptures. The Jewish (and Orthodox) way of reckoning days is to count the first and last days. So, Pascha is the first day, and Ascension Thursday, in the 6th week after Pascha, is the Fortieth day.


In the same way, Christ was in the tomb three days, although not even one and a half days in terms of hours.  Good Friday, the first day, He was buried in the late afternoon. The second day, Saturday, His body lay in the tomb the entire day, then at some point in the very early hours of the third day, He rose from the dead.




QUESTION 7. What commemoration is the day before Ascension? Explain.




The Apodosis of Pascha is celebrated on the Wednesday before Ascension Thursday (according to the Russian Typicon).

All Great Orthodox feasts, according to the Jewish model, have three phases.

There is a preparation phase, which may be very long. The preparation for Pascha is the whole of Great Lent, and especially Holy Week. Great Feasts such as Theophany and Nativity have pre-festal Vesperal divine liturgies served the day before. Many feasts are preceded with certain hymns, such as the katavasia of the matins canon, sung for a period before a feast.

The feast itself is the ultimate celebration, and then there is a post-festal period, where the truths of the celebration are meditated upon at length in the services.

For Pascha, this period is forty days, and ends on the "Apodosis", or "leave-taking" of the feast, on the Wednesday before Ascension.


QUESTION 8. How long is the feast of the Ascension?



The feast of the Ascension lasts until the Friday before Pentecost, when its Apodosis occurs. This makes perfect sense, as we are waiting for Pentecost, just as the disciples were waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit, Whom Jesus promised would come to them.


QUESTION 9. What, in general terms, is the Typicon for the services of the Ascension? List all the books needed to serve the services completely. Where may one obtain the main texts for the Ascension in English?




One the eve of the Ascension, Wednesday evening, an All Night vigil is served. This is a service which combines Great Vespers, Litya, Matins and the First Hour, with slight changes to the beginning and end of Great Vespers and Matins from their form when they are served alone.

The "rank" of commemoration is "Vigil" The rank indicates somewhat the importance of the feast, and how much the regular formats for vespers and matins will be modified. Two other "ranks" are "single commemoration" and "double commemoration".

On Thursday morning, the Third and Sixth hours and Divine Liturgy are served.

To serve the Great vespers, Litya, matins, the hours, and Divine liturgy the following service books are needed.

  • The Horologion – the fixed parts of vespers, matins, the hours and the Divine liturgy
  • The Psalter – needed for the kathisma readings at vespers and matins. Usually any other psalms that are read are in the Horologion
  • The Apostolos – for the epistle reading at liturgy.

The Old Testament – Great vespers has 3 OT readings. They are usually contained in the service texts in the

  • Gospel – read in matins and the liturgy.
  • The Pentecostarion – texts for the feast, such as the stichera at Lord I have cried, the Aposticha, the matins canon, etc.
  • The priest’s liturgikon – used by the priest for services like vespers, matins, Compline, the midnight office, the hours and divine liturgy.


QUESTION 10. Detail the differences between the services of the Ascension and those of a "regular" Sunday.




On a "regular" Sunday, vigil is appointed, just as for Ascension. The services are very similar, with these differences (and some, similarities, listed for comparison purposes):


Both have ten stichera at Lord I have cried. All of the stichera for the Ascension are about the feast, as is the case for all "great feasts of the Lord". For "regular" Saturday night vespers, there are at most 7 stichera about the Resurrection (sometimes 6, sometimes 4), with the rest being concerned with a Saint(s) or another event At the end of the Lord I have cried stichera, for the Ascension, "Glory … Both Now …" is sung all at once, and one sticheron, about the feast, is sung. In a regular Sunday vigil, there are usually two stichera here, the first one preceded by "Glory to the Father and the son and the Holy Spirit", the second being preceded by "Both now and ever, and to the ages of ages, amen". The second Sticheron is a "Theotokion", which is about the Theotokos and the incarnation.

Three OT readings are read for the Ascension. OT readings are not read in most Sunday vigil services.

Litya is appointed in the Ascension services. This service is usually omitted in a regular Sunday service (but the Old Believers always do a litya on every Sunday)

At the end of vespers for the Ascension, the troparion of the feast is sung three times (this is just before the blessing of the loaves, wheat, wine and oil). In regular vespers, "O Theotokos and virgin rejoice" is sung three times.


The Ascension matins has the "Polyeleos", followed by the "magnification" (the latter is in Russian usage only), whereas a regular Sunday matins usually has in stead of the Polyeleos, the 118th kathisma (known as "the blameless"), and there is no magnification.

Just before the praises, on Sunday, an expostilarion, "Holy is the Lord our God", is sung. This hymn is omitted on the Ascension.


The Ascension liturgy replaces the regular antiphons with festal ones.

QUESTION 11. Detail the differences between the services of the Ascension and those of a "regular" weekday.




On a "regular" weekday", vespers is served on the eve, and matins in the morning, and no vigil service is sung, as there is for Ascension, Sundays, and most great feasts of the Lord (Pascha being a special exception).

Daily vespers, which is usually served on a weekday is a far simpler service than Great Vespers, with no small entrance, "O Gladsome light" being chanted instead of being sung, and less "Lord I have cried" stichera (there are usually 6). In addition, the last two litanies of both vespers and matins are reverses (read in a different order), and the first two petitions of the second litany in regular (daily) vespers and matins are omitted.

There are numerous other differences, because daily services are much simpler and shorter. Here are a few, off the top of my head.


The kathisma for Great Vespers on a feast is "Blessed is the man". A different kathisma is read at a daily vespers for every day of the week

No Small entrance, OT readings, at a daily vespers

No litya at the end of a daily vespers.

Less "Lord I have cried stichera" at a daily vespers


No gospel, "Save O God" intercession at a daily matins.

That is enough for now. The best place to understand these services and their differences is to study the service books and chant or sing in the chanters stand.



From St Nicholas Orthodox Church, McKinney


This document is at  &



NewQuestions & answers” & “10 things” entries, sermons, journal entries , scripture commentary & more are posted on our BLOG: http://www/


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[1] This document is a list of ten (more or less) questions & answers about a particular topic. More “Questions and Answers” topics may be found at They are also posted to the blog of St Nicholas Orthodox Church, McKinney Texas, called “Redeeming the Time” Use anything you wish, but please indicate authorship, with the URL.

Sts. Cyril and Methodius

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Yesterday we celebrated Sts. Cyril and Methodius, the enlighteners of the Slavic people. I have cross-posted here from logismoi a excerpt from a Prologue to St. Cyril’s translation of the Gospel from Greek into Slavonic.

This is a Prologue to the Holy Gospels.
Just as the Prophets had foretold before,
Christ is coming to gather the nations,
For He is a Light to the whole world.
Now they said: the blind will see,
And the deaf will hear the written word;
They will know God as they should.
Therefore, listen all Slavs:
For this gift is given by God,
A divine gift for the right side,
A divine gift for souls, never decaying,
For those souls that accept it.
And this is the gift: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
They teach all the people, saying:
Those of you who see the beauty of your souls
Love one another and rejoice.
And those of you who wish to cast off the darkness of sin
And to put aside the corruption of this world,
And who wish to attain life in paradise
And to escape the burning fire,
Pay attention now with all your minds!
Hear, all you Slavic people,
Hear the Word, for it comes from God,
The Word which nourishes men’s souls,
The Word which strengthens hearts and minds,
The Word which prepares all to know God.
Naked are all nations without Scriptures,
Weaponless, unable to fight
With the adversary of our souls,
Ready for the prison of eternal torment.
But you nations that don’t love the enemy,
And truly intend to fight against him,
Open diligently the doors to your minds,
Having received now the sturdy weapons
Forged by the Scriptures of the Lord,

(read the rest here)



Prophet Isaiah, today. The Coal from the altar, what he did, and what we should do, and other things.

Friday, May 22nd, 2009


This is from our "10things" section. I wanted to write more, but the day is way too busy, and I covered the most important thing, I think The Holy Prophet Isaiah is commemoreated today. May 9/22.



Prophet Isaiah 10 Things[1]

Commemorated May 9/22


1. Holy Prophet Isaiah lived 700 years before the Birth of Christ, and was descended of royal lineage.[2]


He is considered to be one of the four “major” prophets, so called because their books are much longer than the Minor Prophets (they are not “more important” than the minor prophets). The Major Prophets are: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and Ezekiel.


2. The life of Isaiah is quite interesting and instructive, and historical information about Isaiah can be found in the latter “points”. The important information to know is what Isaiah said, and what we should do about what he said.


The prophet was called into the prophetic ministry in the following event:


Isa 6:1-8 Brenton  And it came to pass in the year in which king Ozias died, that I saw the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne, and the house was full of his glory.  (2)  And seraphs stood round about him: each one had six wings: and with two they covered their face, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.  (3)  And one cried to the other, and they said, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory(4)  And the lintel shook at the voice they uttered, and the house was filled with smoke.  (5)  And I said, Woe is me, for I am pricked to the heart; for being a man, and having unclean lips, I dwell in the midst of a people having unclean lips; and I have seen with mine eyes the King, the Lord of hosts.  (6)  And there was sent to me one of the seraphs, and he had in his hand a coal, which he had taken off the altar with the tongs:  (7)  and he touched my mouth, and said, Behold, this has touched thy lips, and will take away thine iniquities, and will purge off thy sins.  (8)  And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go to this people? And I said, behold, I am here, send me.


There are many extraordinary things about this passage.


The “Lord” sitting on His throne is non other than the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ. The Messiah’s ministry did not begin with the birth of the God-man from the womb of the virgin; Jesus Christ was active with his people in many occurrences in the OT.


Other examples of pre-incarnate visitations of Jesus Christ are:  Moses seeing the “back parts” of God on Mount Sinai[3], the “Son of God” in the furnace with the three holy children[4], the visitation of the three angels  with Abraham[5], and many others.


The coal is a “type” or foreshadowing of Holy Communion.  We say the words of Isaiah after we commune:


Behold, this has touched thy lips, and will take away thine iniquities, and will purge off thy sins


The priest always says this after he gives communion to each communicant, or when he himself communes.


It is a pious tradition for everyone to say this after they have communed. 


How many of you Orthodox Christians know of this tradition, and have memorized this important verse, and say it with awe and expectation after communing? If you have not until this point, it would be good to start now. If we can remember the theme to “Green Acres[6]”, we should certainly be able to remember important words of Holy Scripture which directly pertain to our salvation!


We should take special note of Isaiah’s reaction to the visitation of the angel and reception of “communion”. He was filled with compunction and awareness of his own sins. We MUST notice also how he reacted to this awareness.


Awareness of our impurity and sin is a hallmark of true, soul saving Christian piety. In our day, it is especially hard to cultivate this feeling, as our society values above all ease and the pursuit of pleasure. Contemporary supposedly “Christian” culture is far removed from the feelings of unworthiness that all the saints have; this feeling has been slandered to be “problems with self-esteem”.


Do not be fooled, dear Christian! You, like Isaiah , are a man of unclean lips. This is a manifest fact in your life; to recognize it is to have “eyes to see, and ears to hear”.  Almost ALL of society including supposed Christians is deaf to this feeling; but you must not be, if you are to save your soul.


Note what Isaiah did immediately after being stricken by this feeling. He did not wallow in feelings of poor self worth, but like all the great men and women of faith, his awareness of his personal unworthiness made him bold, and he said what all people should say when God speaks to them:


Behold, I am here, send me.


If you feel unworthy and sinful and remain rooted in inactivity and “stony insensibility”[7], then you can be sure that your feelings are not from God, but from temptations of the Devil and your own passions and weaknesses.


The strong feel unworthy, and therefore give themselves over  completely to God’s will , and end up doing great things! The weak feel unworthy, and do nothing, or very little.


The important question for us poor, egotistical and passionate Christians is how do we transition our soul to the PROPER feelings of unworthiness?


There are no shortcuts. Pray, fast, struggle. Consider the holy services to be your lifeline, and not just only a Sunday or feast day obligation. Commune frequently, with frequent confession. Humble yourself.


Do not believe what the world tells you about self-worth, and pleasure and meaning. The world lies to you.  Look to the church, and the scriptures and the Saints for your role models and instructions for living. Remember that the vast majority of so-called Christians are actually the tares in the wheat field, and will be burned as useless on Judgment day[8].


3. Like many of the prophets, whose words of truth angered those in power, Isaiah was martyred. St Paul mentions him when telling of the exploits of the Jewish Saints before the incarnation who performed amazing exploits because of their faith:


“They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;  (38)  (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Heb 11:37-38)


Jewish tradition, which continued into the Christian era, holds that Isaiah was sawed in half with a wood saw.


In Yevamoth, fol. 49, 2, it is thus written: “Manasseh slew Isaiah; for he commanded that he should be slain with a wooden saw. They then brought the saw, and cut him in two; and when the saw reached his mouth, his soul fled forth.” St. Jerome and others mention the same thing; and among the Jews the tradition is indubitable.[9]


4. The holy Prophet Isaiah had also a gift of wonderworking. And thus so, when during the time of a siege of Jerusalem by enemies the besieged had become exhausted with thirst, he by his prayer drew out from beneath Mount Sion a spring of water, which was called Siloam, i.e. "sent from God". It was to this spring afterwards that the Savior sent the man blind from birth to wash, and for whom was restored sight by Him. By the prayer of the Prophet Isaiah, the Lord prolonged the life of Hezekiah for 15 years.[10]


5. About the times and the events which occurred during the life of the Prophet Isaiah, the 4th Book of Kings [alt. 2 Kings] speaks (Ch. 16, 17, 19, 20, 23, etc.), and likewise 2 Chronicles (Ch. 26-32).[11]


6. More points will be added when I have time. The story of the coal is so important I wanted to at least get something written about it on this busy day, May 9/22 2009.



From St Nicholas Orthodox Church, McKinney


This document is at &


New10 things” entries, sermons, journal entries , scripture commentary & more are posted on our BLOG: http://www/

Archive of “10 things”:

Use this for any edifying reason, but please give credit, and include the URL were the text was found. We would love to hear from you with comments!

[1] This document is a list of ten (more or less) things about a particular topic. More “Ten Things” topics may be found at They are also posted to the blog of St Nicholas Orthodox Church, McKinney Texas, called  “Redeeming the Time” – Look under the category “10things”. Use anything you wish, but please indicate authorship, with the URL.

[2]Menologion”, Synaxarion entry for Isaiah, May 19/22. ©  1999  by translator Fr. S Janos

[3] Exodus 33:18-23

[4] Daniel Chapter 3, especially: “And Nabuchodonosor heard them singing praises; and he wondered, and rose up in haste, and said to his nobles, Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? and they said to the king, Yes, O king.  (25)  And the king said, But I see four men loose, and walking in the midst of the fire, and there has no harm happened to them; and the appearance of the fourth is like the Son of God.” (Daniel 3:24-25 Brenton  )

[5] Genesis Chapter 18

[6] “Green Acres” was an inane television comedy I saw as a child. To the best of my knowledge, I escaped rain damage from it, but just barely. Sometimes I amazed  at all the useless things I know, and yet I have not memorized the Psalms!

[7] This comes from the Prayer of the 24 hours of the day, by St John Chrysostom, which is in the evening prayers. The “4th” prayer says “O Lord, deliver me from all ignorance, forgetfulness, faintheartedness, and stony insensibility.”

[8] Matthew 13:24-30. The parable of the wheat and the tares.

[9] This is a Jewish commentary, referenced in the “Menologion”, Synaxarion entry for Isaiah, May 19/22. ©  1999  by translator Fr. S Janos

[10]Menologion”, ibid.

[11]Menologion”, ibid.

An Eclectic Commentary on the Book of Job. Praying for our children with the Jesus prayer.

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

5th Tuesday of Pascha – May 6/19 2009

Today we remember Righteous Job. His story is a difficult one to understand in all its specifics, but we can glean useful and soul-saving nuggets from it. This is a good approach with Wisdom literature and much of the Psalter, and indeed the Old Testament especially. Remembering that the OT points to the New, we read in order to glean truths about our Christian faith. Much of the historical context and fanciful poetical expressions are belong our meager ability to understand, but there are some things in Job that “jump out” at the attentive Christian reader. The story of Job, from the (recommended) Menologion program, is at the end.


What follows is an eclectic mix of verses that “jumped out” at me, with short commentary.


A perfect example of how much effort a parent should take to pray for his children


“And when the days of the banquet were completed, Job sent and purified them, having risen up in the morning, and offered sacrifices for them, according to their number, and one calf for a sin-offering for their souls: for Job said, Lest peradventure my sons have thought evil in their minds against God. Thus, then Job did continually.” (Job 1:5 Brenton)


What parent can measure up to the care of the good father Job? I certainly feel the pangs of conscience, knowing that I have not prayed as often and with as much fervor for my children as Job did for his.


I offer a piece of practical advice. An excellent way to pray for your children is to use a prayer rope, and pray a set number of “Jesus prayers” for them each day. I think it is much more powerful to pray for them by name, and not group them together. I myself do this for my family and parish. Much of the time, I pray in the car. What else would I have to do? The radio is a waste of time, or even damaging to our souls. Sometimes, I think, the most productive time I have all day long is when I drive, because of this prayer.


Decide on a manageable number of prayers to say for each child or other loved one. Let’s say you decide twelve is a nice, round, biblical and apostolic number. Use your prayer rope to count off twelve knots, and with each pray “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on (name)”.


In those not infrequent times when a parent is especially concerned about one of his children, this ”usual” number can be doubled or increased in some way.


It may be that counting 12 knots is a distraction to you, since prayer ropes do not come in 12 knot sections. In this case, pick a number that is easy to use. I have a prayer rope with a large bead after every 10 knots. It is really easy to use this rope to pray ten times. I have another with a bead every 25 knots. One can pray 25 times quite easily or perhaps 50 times, by finding the middle bead, and working towards the cross, which is easy to tell by feel. Other prayer ropes have 33 or 50 knots, and of course, one can always pray an entire rope for each child. I wish I could do this, but it takes too long.


Just remember: “less is more.” That is, if you have a small number of prayers you will do them, but if the number is too big, you will end up doing NOTHING. It is better to do a little thing than fail to do a big thing!


We cannot be like Job, but we can be inspired by his example and resolve to pray regularly for our children and loved ones.



A Model for how to react to adversity.


So Job arose, and rent his garments, and shaved the hair of his head, and fell on the earth, and worshipped, (21) and said, I myself came forth naked from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither; the Lord gave, the Lord has taken away: as it seemed good to the Lord, so has it come to pass; blessed be the name of the Lord.  (22)  In all these events that befell him Job sinned not at all before the Lord, and did not impute folly to God. (Job 1:20-22 Brenton)


But he looked on her, and said to her, Thou hast spoken like one of the foolish women. If we have received good things of the hand of the Lord, shall we not endure evil things? In all these things that happened to him, Job sinned not at all with his lips before God. (Job 2:10 Brenton)



The answer would come much later: by the God-man, Jesus Christ redeeming us.


I know of a truth that it is so: for how shall a mortal man be just before the Lord? (Job 9:2 Brenton)


How many of us truly want to know all our sins? To seek out one’s hidden sins takes great courage.


How many are my sins and my transgressions?  Teach me what they are. (Job 13:23 Brenton)



A massive understatement!


I have heard many such things: poor comforters are ye all. (Job 16:2)


Job spoke this to his three friends who had come to visit him and console him, after each had spoken to him a long time.


The same things happened to Jesus Christ during His passion.


But thou has made me a byword amount the nations, and I am become a scorn to them. (Job 17:6 Brenton)

My brethren have stood aloof from me; they have recognized strangers rather than me: and my friends have become pitiless.  (14)  My nearest of kin have not acknowledged me, and they that knew my name, have forgotten me. (Job 19:13-14 Brenton )

All the disciples, save John, fled when He was crucified.


The Invisible World (the angels) was created before the Visible.


“When the stars were made, all my angels praised me with a loud voice.” (Job 38:7 Brenton)


The effective prayer of a righteous man availeth much[1]


And it came to pass after the Lord had spoken all these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Thaemanite, Thou hast sinned, and thy two friends: for ye have not said anything true before me, as my servant Job has.  (8)  Now then take seven bullocks, and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and he shall offer a burnt-offering for you. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will only accept him: for but his sake, I would have destroyed you, for ye have not spoken the truth against my servant Job.  (Job 42:7-8 Brenton) 


Here we see that God hears the prayers of the righteous more than those of sinners. This coupled with the fact that God is the God of the living, and not of the dead[2] (that is, the righteous who have reposed in the flesh are alive) is the basis upon which we ask the departed saints to pray for us.




Saint Job the Righteous lived about 2000-1500 years before the Birth of Christ, in Northern Arabia, in the country of Austidia in the land of Uz. His life and sufferings are recorded in the Bible (Book of Job). There exists an opinion, that Job was by descent a nephew of Abraham, and that he was the son of a brother of Abraham — Nakhor. Job was a man God-fearing and pious. With all his soul he was devoted to the Lord God and in everything conducted himself in accord with God’s will, refraining from everything evil not only in deeds, but also in thoughts. The Lord blessed his earthly existence and rewarded Righteous Job with great wealth: he had many cattle and all kinds of possessions. Righteous Job’s seven sons and three daughters were amiable amongst themselves and gathered for common repast all together in turns at each of their homes. Every seven days Righteous Job made for his children offerings to God, saying: "If perchance any of them hath sinned or offended God in their heart". For his justness and honesty Saint Job was held in high esteem by his fellow citizens and he had great influence in public matters.


One time however, when the Holy Angels did stand before the Throne of God, Satan appeared amongst them. The Lord God asked Satan, whether he had seen His servant Job, a man righteous and without blemish. Satan answered audaciously, that it was not for nothing that Job was God-fearing — since God was watching over him and multiplying his riches, but if misfortune were sent him, he would then cease to bless God. Then the Lord, wishing to prove Job’s patience and faith, said to Satan: "Everything, that Job hath, I give into thine hand, but only he himself touch not". After this Job suddenly lost all his wealth, and then also all his children. Righteous Job turned to God and said: "Naked did I emerge from the womb of my mother, and naked shalt I be returned to my mother the earth. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blest be the Name of the Lord!" And thus did Job not sin before the Lord God, nor utter even an unthinking word.


When the Angels of God again did stand before the Lord and amongst them Satan also, then said the devil, that Job was righteous, since that he himself was without harm. Thereupon declared the Lord: "I permit thee to do with him, what thou wishest, sparing only his soul". After this Satan inflicted upon Righteous Job an horrid illness, leprous boils, which covered him head to foot. The sufferer was compelled to remove himself from the company of people, he sat outside the city on an heap of ashes and had to scrape at his pussing wounds with an shard of clay. All his friends and acquaintances abandoned him. His wife had to see after her own welfare, toiling and roaming from house to house. She not only did not support her husband with patience, but rather she thought, that God was punishing Job for some kind of secret sins, and she wept, and wailed against God, she reproached also her husband and finally advised Righteous Job to curse God and die. Righteous Job sorrowed grievously, but even in these sufferings he remained faithful to God. He answered his wife: "Thou speakest, like someone hysterical. Shalt we have from God only the good, and have nothing bad?" And Righteous Job did sin in nothing before God.


Hearing about the misfortunes of Job, three of his friends came afar off to comfort his sorrow. They reckoned, that Job was being punished by God for his sins, and they urged this righteous man though innocent to repent. The righteous one answered, that he was suffering not for sins, but that these tribulations were sent him from the Lord in accord with the Divine Will, which is inscrutable for man. His friends however did not believe him and they continued to think that the Lord was dealing with Job in accord with the laws obtaining under human standards, thus punishing Job for the committing of sins. In begrieved sorrow of soul Righteous Job turned with a prayer to God, beseeching Him Himself to bear witness before them of his innocence. God thereupon manifested Himself in a tempestuous whirlwind and reproached Job, in that he had tried to penetrate by his reason into the mystery of the world-order and the judgemental-purposes of God. The Righteous Job with all his heart repented himself in these thoughts and said: "I am as nothing, and I foreswear and repent myself in dust and ashes".


The Lord thereupon commanded the friends of Job to have recourse to him in asking him to offer sacrifice for them. "Since, — said the Lord, — only the person Job do I accept it of, lest I spurn ye for this, that ye did speak concerning Me not thus rightly, as hath instead My servant Job". Job offered sacrifice to God for his friends, and the Lord accepted his intercession, and the Lord likewise returned to Righteous Job his health and gave him twice over more than he had previously. In place of his deceased children was born to him seven sons and three daughters, more beautiful than any other in that land. After bearing his sufferings, Job lived yet another 140 years (altogether he lived 248 years) and he lived to see his descendants down to the fourth generation.


Saint Job prefigures the Lord Jesus Christ, having come down to earth and suffering for the salvation of mankind, and then glorified in His glorious Resurrection.


"I know, — said Righteous Job, afflicted with the leprous boils, — I know, that my Redeemer liveth and He wilt raise up from the dust on the last day my decayed skin, and I in my flesh shalt see God. I shalt see Him myself with mine own eyes, and not through the eyes of some other see Him. In expectation of this, my heart doth jump within my bosom!" (Job 19: 25-27).


"Know ye, the judgment, in which be justified only those having true wisdom — the fear of the Lord, and true understanding — the departing from evil" (Job 28: 28).


Saint John Chrysostom says: "There was no human misfortune, which this man did not undergo. He was the firmest and most adamant, beset by sudden tribulation by hunger, and by woe, and sickness, and bereft of children, and loss of riches, and then suffering abuse from his wife, insult from his friends, reproach from his servants, and in everything he showed himself more solid than a stone, and a source before the Law also of Grace".

©  2001  by translator Fr. S. Janos.


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


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[1] “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”( James 5:16  )

[2] “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.” (Mat 22:32  )

The Stones raised up as children to Abraham. Christian worship is Jewish!

Monday, May 18th, 2009

5th Monday of Pascha, May 5/18 2009


Back when we were having classes after Wednesday Vespers, I was covering various prayers of the church (the sessions were recorded.) I hope we can get back to those sessions again, but to be completely honest, we will need to have a little bit better regular attendance to make it work.


Anyway, for one of the sessions, (an overview of Vespers), I discussed at length how our worship is inherently Jewish. Here is a “fleshing out” of part of the outline I had prepared for that talk. I hope to make the catechism outlines neater in the future, so they can be included in the catechism page, which has mostly audio. I know so people like audio, but, oddly, even though I am someone who creates a lot of it, I would rather read something than listen to it.


Christianity is the fulfillment of Judaism. The whole of the law and the prophets, and entire Jewish way of life as specified in the scriptures had one purpose: to lead mankind to the truth, which Jesus revealed. One could say that Judaism became Christianity.


“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” (Mat 5:17)


Conversely, one may also say that those that become Christians are descended from the Jewish chosen people, since the Lord spoke of the Gentiles when He said:


“Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” (Luke 3:8)


Since Christianity is descended from Judaism, it stands to reason that many practices of Judaism have continued and found their true meaning in Christianity.


Christian worship is incredibly "Jewish".  All of our liturgical services have a "formal" aspect to them; we do things in a certain way, just as the Jewish priests of old ministered according to a certain tradition. The priest wears elaborate vestments, uses incense extensively, and serves behind a screen much of the time, just as the Jews of old. Our liturgical actions are replete with symbolic meanings, just as the Jewish liturgy was full of types and figures of the New Covenant.


Our services use the Psalter extensively; it has been called the “prayer book of the church.” In most weeks it is read once in its entirety, bit by bit, in daily Vespers and Matins, and every service and has psalms or psalm verses in it. The Old Testament is read in Vespers in just about all "special" services (such as feasts of the Lord and Theotokos, and highly venerated Saints, such as St Nicholas). The Vespers and Matins services especially contain numerous allusions to OT events and types, showing their true Christian meaning.


There are more parallels between true Christian worship and that of the ancient Jews, but we will need to leave that for another far away day. Perhaps you can think of some; if you send them to me, I may use them to update this short essay.


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


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Why do we pray facing East? Why does the priest not face the people when he prays?

Monday, May 18th, 2009

 Why do we pray facing East?

Why does the priest not face the people when he prays?

Orthodox Christian worship is prayer, not entertainment.

Some people smile too much.

The Domino Theory.

St. John of Damascus, Book IV, chapter 12.


4th Saturday of Pascha.  May 3/16 2009



I have a pet saying that I like to tell to my parishioners:


“The priest prays for the people, and with the people, but not instead of the people”.


I usually admonish them with this saying when I am announcing one of the very rare occasions when I will be gone on a weekend, to teach them that they are responsible for prayer in the church; this is not something that is the sole responsibility of the clergy. I am trying to minimize any of the mice “playing” when the cat is away!


My little aphorism is not just an admonishment; it is also shows the equality of the clergy and the people when we are addressing our prayers to God.


With rare exceptions, the priest (and deacon and bishop), with the people face toward the East[1] when they pray. “East” is, liturgically, in the direction of the altar, whether it faces true East or not. In a traditional church, “built from scratch” the altar always is to the East; in our modern world, where there are many buildings that are modified to use in worship, sometimes it is not possible for the altar to face true East.  If there is no altar present (such as when we have molebens in front of the cross on our land in McKinney, where God willing, we will have a new temple built by late summer 2009), everybody still faces in the same direction.


Facing East is an ancient tradition, grounded in sure knowledge about the Second Coming, first told us by the Lord, and then repeated by an angel after the disciples had just seen the Lord ascend into heaven:


“For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:27)


“…Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner[2] as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)


We believe that our Lord ascended on the Mount of Olives, and when He comes back, He will come on a cloud[3] from the East. Therefore, we face East when we pray.


There are other important biblical references to the East. The following is a NON-comprehensive list.


The wise men saw signs of the imminent birth of Christ from the East:


“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,  (2)  Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” (Mat 2:1-2)


Ezekiel saw the “glory of the Lord” when facing East:


“And the glory of the Lord came into the house, by the way of the gate looking eastward:” (Eze 43:4 Brenton)


The Jews faced Eastward during their worship:


“And if the prince should prepare as a thanksgiving a whole-burnt-peace-offering to the Lord, and should open for himself the gate looking eastward, and offer his whole-burnt-offering, and his peace-offerings, as he does on the sabbath-day; then shall he go out, and shall shut the doors after he has gone out.” (Eze 46:12 Brenton )


There are lots of references in the Fathers to prayer facing East (see the end of this essay for an excerpt from St John of Damascus concerning this.) It has been a uniform part of our tradition since BEFORE Apostolic times.


When the people pray, they all pray together. We are all God’s children.


Does it make any sense for the people to face God, and the celebrant to turn his back to God during prayer? He cannot lead prayer when facing the people; he becomes a focal point for prayer; the people are facing him!


One can see how dangerous this practice of having the celebrant face the people by observing the excesses that have occurred in the sectarian churches (Full disclosure, please see the note[4] at the end of this essay). Just driving down the road and looking at billboards shows that the “mega churches” do not share our “mind”. Their billboards feature prominently the picture of the pastor, usually with his pretty wife and 2 pretty children, a boy and a girl, all smiling beatifically at the masses, or perhaps some other “beautiful person” gushing about how they have finally found a church they can believe in. So much of, (what shall we call it? “mainstream” or “sectarian” or “Protestant”) worship has become about personality. At look at the “mega” and even small country churches shows a wholly different way of worship than the ancient Jewish/Orthodox way. The “altar’ area is a stage, flanked with large TV screens, which show flattering close-ups of the pastor as he preaches, or the music minister as he performs.


This way of “worship” is really a form of entertainment. What can it teach the people? And what are all these ministers doing smiling so much at their audience, as if they are entertainers or salesmen? This type of worship is without significant substance, and often is directed to a passive audience, rooted in their theater chairs. Ironically, some of these churches which consider themselves to be “Apostolic” do not realize that their way of worship is far removed from that of the Apostles! And don’t even get me started about the theological content of the songs being sung today! As the music minister smiles and performs, a stream of pablum, to catchy melodies,  with drum rolls and guitar riffs, is being fed to the seated masses (to be fair, not all “Protestant” worship is like this, (some is quite sober and dignified) but the TV stuff is very common in many local churches.)


Contrast this with true, traditional Orthodox worship. The celebrant stands, usually in front of the altar, with a serious and sober demeanor, and the people stand with him, all symbolically facing God, to the East. The people much about piety from the way the celebrant and deacons serve. All is done carefully, soberly, with thought and good order.


Even the Roman Catholics have begun to realize the excesses that can happen when the priest faces the people when he liturgizes. The current Pope (Benedict) is a strong advocate of ending this innovation and he celebrates the liturgy facing, with the people, in the direction of the altar.


When the pastor teaches, he faces the people. This was the Jewish way as well; Christian worship is inherently Jewish. For everything, there is a time and a season, and when the pastor teaches, he faces the people, so they can hear his exhortations. It makes no sense (and is rude) to speak to people with our back to them; in the same way, it makes no sense, and is rude, for us to pray to God while turning our back to Him.





by St. John of Damascus, Book IV, chapter 12


It is not without reason or by chance that we worship towards the East. But seeing that we are composed of a visible and an invisible nature, that is to say, of a nature partly of spirit and partly of sense, we render also a twofold worship to the Creator; just as we sing both with our spirit and our bodily lips, and are baptized with both water and Spirit, and are united with the Lord in a twofold manner, being sharers in the Mysteries and in the grace of the Spirit.


Since, therefore, God1 is spiritual light 2, and Christ is called in the Scriptures Sun of Righteousness3 and Dayspring,4 the East is the direction that must be assigned to His worship. For everything good must be assigned to Him from Whom every good thing arises. Indeed the divine David also says, Sing unto God, ye kingdoms of the earth: 0 sing praises unto the Lord: to Him that rideth upon the Heavens of heavens towards the East.5 Moreover the Scripture also says, And God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there He put the man whom He had formed6: and when he had transgressed His command He expelled him and made him to dwell over against the delights of Paradise, which clearly is the West.


So, then, we worship God seeking and striving after our old fatherland.


Moreover the tent of Moses7 had its veil and mercy seat8 towards the East.


Also the tribe of Judah as the most precious pitched their camp on the East.9


Also in the celebrated temple of Solomon, the Gate of the Lord was placed eastward.


Moreover Christ, when He hung on the Cross, had His face turned towards the West, and so we worship, striving after Him.


And when He was received again into Heaven He was borne towards the East, and thus His apostles worship Him, and thus He will come again in the way in which they beheld Him going towards Heaven; 10 as the Lord Himself said, As the lightning cometh out of the East and shineth even unto the West, so also shall the coming of the Son of Man be.11


So, then, in expectation of His coming we worship towards the East. But this tradition of the apostles is unwritten. For much that has been handed down to us by tradition is unwritten. 12


1 St. Basil, On the Holy Spirit, ch. 27.
2 I John 1:5.
3 Mal. 4:2.
4 Zach. 3:8, 6:12, Luke 1:78
5 Ps. 68:32, 33.
6 Gen. 2:8.
7 Levit. 16:14.
8 Ibid. 2.
9 Num. 2:3.
10 Acts. 1:11.
11 Matt. 24:27
12 St. Basil, On the Holy Spirit, ch. 27.





Article from a Roman Catholic perspective about returning to prayer facing East: “[Re]Turn to the East?

A young priest asks if it is time to consider a change in practice” –


Another article from a Roman Catholic Perspective: “Full of Himself” – http:/


There is a Facebook Group that advocates (Western) clergy returning to facing East during prayer:


An Anglican apology:


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


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[1] A good article on this practice, more detailed than this little essay, can be found at:

[2] Our Lord was taken up on a cloud as the disciples watched Him, facing East: “And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:9)

[3] “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” (Luke 21:27)

[4] I am unashamed to be a believer in the “Domino theory” regarding liturgical and church order changes. This theory, which I first heard of as a boy when the war in Vietnam was being justified, is that small changes inevitably lead to bigger ones (if Vietnam falls, then other countries will also fall to communism). I have seen this theory in full operation on our modern times, and will say whenever given an opportunity that bad worship or bad church order leads to bad theology and vice-versa.  The departure from the ancient Christian worship  had had disastrous and unanticipated results.  This is evident outside of the Orthodox church, and unfortunately, significant examples can be found in it as well.

The Samaritan Woman 2009. A textbook lesson in how to acquire the Holy Spirit

Sunday, May 17th, 2009


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The conversation of Christ with the soul. Sunday of the Samaritan Woman

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

Fifth Sunday Of Pascha

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


Christ is risen!  Truly he is risen!


Today we are privileged to witness a holy conversation.  This conversation is not just between Christ and a woman.   It is between Christ and the soul.  This is what we are privileged to see: God opening a window for us to look through, to see how the soul reacts, how it grows, how it learns, and how He enlightens it.  The fathers understand this to be the conversation of Christ with the soul.  Now he continues the theme of enlightenment that permeates all the services between Pascha and Pentecost, because the resurrection enlightens us, the resurrection vivifies; the resurrection gives us all that we need to know God. 


Now we’re waiting upon the Holy Spirit, and as good and faithful disciples, we should be more zealous at this time of year than at any other time.  Unfortunately, it is quite the opposite, as the years go by.  This is the least zealous time for Christians, but it is the most important time.  I guess that’s why people are so haphazard at this time of year: because it’s so important.  In many ways, this time is even more important than Great Lent.  This is the time for your blessing. God wants to enlighten you.  God wants to show you so many things.  This period of time is very holy.  Unfortunately it is also one of the most ignored times of the year, an ignored holy time of the year. 


Christ is showing us, the church is enlightening us about how we are to live, what the resurrection means.  We already know so much about what we should do and why we should do it, and the dos and the don’ts.  What we need as human beings is the sure certainty that we can do things, that we can change and the enlightenment of the revelation of God in the human soul.  This comes about because of the resurrection, these two things: certainty that we can change, and the revelation of God in the human heart.  This is what Christianity is, and this is what we are being shown today.  This is a holy thing, to be able to observe, to eavesdrop upon this conversation of Christ with the soul. 


Now, as it is in many, many passages of scripture, most of them, we should put ourselves in this situation.  We should consider ourselves as the Samaritan Woman at this point, and wonder how we would react.  Where would we need to improve?  This woman is great, but she was a sinner, there is no doubt about it: she had had five husbands, she was living in an illicit relationship with another man, and she believed in false religion.  Samaritans were sort of semi-pagans; some of them worshipped other gods.  They sort of worshipped God as the Jews understood, but then they mixed in some of the pagan things that happened that God had warned them against, and some of the Jews didn’t take heed and so there was sort of a mixture, an amalgam of the true religion mixed together with the false.  We can see that in other areas of the world, too, where animism mixes with Christianity, because people want to hedge their bets, I guess, and believe in all.  So this woman was not a true believer, and she was not living a moral life. 


But there was a greatness in her soul, because as God revealed Himself to her, slowly, there was awakened in her a great thirst, and a great and a brutal honesty.  She was honest.  Not just that she told the truth to Jesus, but that when she heard the truth, she accepted it.   Not the truth that He was Messiah.  That truth, as important as it is, is less important than the fact that she had to accept what Christ said about her.  She had to accept that Christ had the right to tell her things and to and to look into her soul.  


Many people proclaim Jesus as the Christ, and that truth doesn’t save them.  When we accept Jesus as the Christ in our hearts, when we accept that He has rights to tell us how to live, then we are on the road to salvation.  Our life is full of many, many moments, when God tries to reach out and touch us.  Many of these moments we have missed, sometimes because we have other things to do, other priorities.  Sometimes because we are just bouncing around with that narcotic kind of wave of life, we don’t listen and don’t hear. God is only heard in that still, small voice, as Elias heard.  He had to be still and quiet before he could hear.  And so must we. 


So this woman is in the whole bustle of life.   She is going in the heat of the day, about noontime to get water, and Christ is by himself at the well.  And he engages her in conversation, which was amazing to her.  Not only is she a woman – it was not usual for a man to engage a strange woman in conversation – but she was a Samaritan.  He was clearly a Jew, the Jews clearly hated Samaritans, and the feeling was mutual.  Why in the world would this man be talking to her?  But He awakened in her a thirst, and this thirst is what saved her soul.    And He cleansed the unclean life that she was leading, and the unclean belief she had had all her life, and the arguments, and the hatred that she had toward the Jews, and everything else, because He touched her. 


This conversation is long.  It gets recounted in a few words, but it probably took quite some time, because there is certainly more that went on.  This conversation is sort of our life in microcosm.  And if you break off a conversation, you do not receive the full benefit of it.  This is what I really want to tell you today. 


This woman pursued the conversation.  This woman pursued the conversation.  Jesus said, "Give me to drink."  She said, "Sir, why would you want to talk to me?"  And then He brings in the idea of water, living water, and the woman begins to pursue after this idea, first carnally.  She only understood it in terms of water that "I don’t have to thirst for, I don’t have to carry my water pot anymore, water that doesn’t go bad.  This is a wonderful thing.  How can this man help me?  Maybe he is a magician, maybe he is a sorcerer."  She pursued, and he pursued, and she became a flame.  She started to understand things – only in a figure, only a little bit – but that’s because the conversation continued.  She desired this water greatly.  And what is this water?  The living water that Christ talks about.  Not from a spring, nor from a river, it is the Holy Spirit that God wells up in a man.  This is what Christ is promising to the woman, but she doesn’t understand yet. 


But this woman had another difficulty besides an incorrect understanding of God.  She was living in sins, and they were dulling her intellect.  Indeed she had quite a bright intellect, because eventually she became St. Photini, equal to the apostles, and a martyr.  And you can see even in the end of this reading she became an apostle, for she evangelized the entire town.  Now this is a woman that was probably of some notoriety in this town.  Because even among the Samaritans, what she was doing was not acceptable.  And yet she evangelized the whole town.  She must have been aflame with the knowledge of Christ at this point, and she communicated it because she believed it.  But she had to stop thinking carnally, and start thinking spiritually, and in order for that to happen Christ had to show her what was wrong with her life. 


So he skillfully turns the conversation to her by asking an innocuous question, an innocent question.  "Go, call thy husband."  "I don’t have a husband."  "Thou hast spoken truly.  Thou hadst had five husbands, and the one that thou hast now is not your husband." Now with the vast majority of people in the world, the conversation would have ended there.  She would have come irate: how dares He?  She would have stomped off, or become belligerent in the conversation, and what God wanted to give her wouldn’t have been given.  She would have cut if off right there.  And I daresay all of us in this room should consider how we would react to the revelation of our sins in this manner.


Indeed I daresay, that we do react in this manner.  We cut off our conversation with God.  The conversation that is sweet, the conversation of Christ with the soul, but because we do not continue to ask questions, we do not continue to listen to the Master.  We have our own priorities, our things we do.  We don’t say our prayers very often, we don’t come to church, except haphazardly.  We don’t commune or confess very often.  These are all parts of the conversation. 


And you don’t even know what you’ve missed.  If this woman had become angry because of what Christ said, or maybe become disinterested in the very beginning, saying, "Oh, I don’t really want to talk to a Jew today.  I’ve had a hard time.  I’m tired.  I just want to get home, and I want to begin the rest of my household duties."  Or at any other point in the conversation, if she had cut it off, she would not have found out about the living water, and she wouldn’t have known.  It wouldn’t have been a tragedy in her life right then.  She would not have known.  It would not have occurred to her that she had God before her, and she had sinned.  She wouldn’t have noticed it.  She would have gone on with her life, and lived and died.  And never known what she’d miss.  What a tragedy! 


This is what happens to us, too.  God wants to shed grace upon us abundantly, yet we cut off the conversation.  We don’t even know what it is that He wants to give us.  We are dull-witted because we do not sharpen our senses with the sword of the Holy Spirit that cuts to the marrow, tells us who we really are, and what we ‘re really like – not the vision that we give to other people, or even that we give to ourselves – but what we’re really like.  And then God reveals Who He really is.  It has to be deep within the soul that He reveals this, and it is only in a protracted and intimate and intense conversation that this can occur.  That’s where the Holy Spirit reveals himself to a man, when we are intense, when we are fixed.   One can easily imagine in this conversation that the woman was intense.  She must have been gazing upon Christ with both eyes, listening to His every word, interpreting, asking questions, making many mistakes and many false assumptions, but every single thing He said drew her on.  You can bet that she did not pay attention to the weather or that she was hot.  She forgot her waterpot when she went away – what need did she have for the waterpot when He was promising living water? 


This intense conversation is what we must have, and what we so seldom do, because we have our own priorities. Sometimes not even our own priorities.  We just seem to be so unpracticed at the ways of piety.  We say our prayers so infrequently, and such a small amount.  We watch ten times more television than we pray. We read things that are either unholy or useless, rather than the Holy Scriptures.  We say we don’t have time for this, or the drive is too long, or da-da-da-da-da-da.  And we don’t even know what we missed. 


I’ve learned something.  I’ll tell you a secret about myself that I’m continually finding out.  Sometimes I get demoralized.  It’s a weakness of my character.  And a day seems like just another day to me, and I’ve got duties to perform, and I’m going to perform them to the best of my ability.  I’m going to try to pray.  I’m going to try to do what I can, but the spark of zeal, of the expectation of visitation by God, is missing.  And this often happens to me on Sunday, struggling with this demon of despondency.  And then something happens during the course of that day – someone I meet, something someone says, a place where I am where God uses my poor self in my ministry as a priest to affect a human soul.  It often happens at the end of the day.  But I could have missed it, and indeed I don’t know the days that I have missed, because I can’t tell you about those days, when I wasn’t open to what God wanted me to do.  I can’t tell you about the missed opportunities, except to believe that they happened.  Many times this has happened to me, countless times, hundreds of times it has happened.  It must have happened also hundreds of times – God forgive us – God forgive me and God forgive you because I’m positive it’s happening to you today, where you’ve missed the opportunities for God’s grace. 


You must continue the intensity of the conversation.  You must continue gazing at Christ and asking Him.  He told you to ask Him for everything.  But implicit in that command is that you must accept His answers, and ask Him for more answers.  This woman is great among the saints because she was intense and was willing to accept what God would tell her.  We don’t do that.  We don’t like to be told much about ourselves.  I’ve encountered this countless times myself also.  People do not like to know what’s really wrong with them.  They get very, very prickly when things are too exposed.  And unfortunately I am sometimes the agent of the exposing, so I can see it first hand.  I see myself as in a mirror when I see this occur, because I don’t like to be exposed either. But this conversation that Christ had with the Samaritan woman took time.  Gradually her sins were exposed to her.  When it was time for Christ to show her that He absolutely knew all about her, she was ready to accept it.  But that was only because of the effort that she had put into the conversation up to that point.  We must put effort into this conversation. 


This is the only thing that is important in our lives – the dialogue of Christ with our soul.  Nothing else matters.  It is why we were born.  It is why God has given us life, so that we could have intimate knowledge of Him.  Intimate knowledge happens in a quiet, intense conversation of God with the soul, through everything we do in our life.  When you make bad decisions, when you are lazy, when you don’t come to church, when you don’t say your prayers, when you decide to eat some nibble of food that is not fasting, all these things are breaking the conversation.  And you know how it is when you are distracted in a conversation.  Let’s say you are having a conversation with someone and the radio or the television is on in the background, you get distracted.  "Oh, yes, what did you say?"  You don’t make much headway in it.  There’s not much revelation in it.  This is the way we are.  It is lamentable, and sad, but it is the way we are. 


What a glorious thing it is for Christ to speak with the soul.  What a glorious thing it is to be promised living water, never to be thirsty again.  Never to be sad.  Never to be hungry.  Not to have anything wrong with us. No wounds.  No incompleteness.  No imperfections.  No longer pain and longing.  This is what He promises us.  It is only realizable, though, if we are participating with Him, as He reveals Himself and reveals to us ourselves as we live our life.  It is only possible if we continually participate.  I harp again and again about consistency.  Saying your prayers consistently, keeping the fast consistently, coming to the services consistently.  Not haphazardly.  Not just most Sundays, not just some Saturdays.  All of them.  The reason I say this is because deeply imbedded in the mind of the church is the reality of this conversation between Jesus Christ and St. Photini.  It is the conversation of God with the soul and it happens every day and every single word, every nuance is critical.  None can be missed. 


I cannot tell you how many of these words or nuances you can miss and still be saved.  It is unknown, but not many.  This is why I speak about all these things in terms of the externals of our life.  The externals are critical so that God can speak.  Otherwise we are too distracted.  So I tell you boldly, when you don’t want to say your prayers, or when you don’t feel like coming to church, or when you’re bored in church and leave early or when you have some other thing to do, it’s not only boredom.  It’s not that your feet hurt or your back hurts.  It’s not that you have some other duty that overrides what you should be doing in church, or prayer at home, or keeping the fast.  It’s not those reasons that you might think it is.  It’s purely and simply because if this conversation is broken you will make no progress.  So Satan does what he can to break the conversation.  And we are too willing to allow the distractions to occur in our life. 


God wants to give us so much.  I think this conversation between this Samaritan woman and Christ is a great promise.  He accepted her where she was, with all of her sins, and all of her false opinions, and she was willing to continue to listen, and He brought her to where she needed to be. It is the same with all of us. 


Now she said she had five husbands.  Five dead husbands.  But she had another who was not her husband.  We indeed also have husbands.  Unfortunately they are not dead.  We have distractions, and we have false priorities and other things that cause us to commit adultery against our true spouse, our lord Jesus Christ.  Let those husbands die.  And let us be faithful, true to the bridegroom.  May God help you to continue the conversation.  To the end of your life, not omitting one detail.  God will enlighten you if you continue this conversation.  Absolutely certain, there is great news today.  Continue with the conversation.  God will enlighten you.  Glorious news this is.  Amen.


John 4:5-42


Then cometh he to a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. {6} Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well: and it was about the sixth hour. {7} There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink. {8} (For his disciples were gone away unto the city to buy meat.) {9} Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans. {10} Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. {11} The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? {12} Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle? {13} Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: {14} But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. {15} The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw. {16} Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither. {17} The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: {18} For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly. {19} The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. {20} Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. {21} Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. {22} Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. {23} But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. {24} God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. {25} The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. {26} Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he. {27} And upon this came his disciples, and marvelled that he talked with the woman: yet no man said, What seekest thou? or, Why talkest thou with her? {28} The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, {29} Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ? {30} Then they went out of the city, and came unto him. {31} In the mean while his disciples prayed him, saying, Master, eat. {32} But he said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of. {33} Therefore said the disciples one to another, Hath any man brought him ought to eat? {34} Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. {35} Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. {36} And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. {37} And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth. {38} I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours. {39} And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him for the saying of the woman, which testified, He told me all that ever I did. {40} So when the Samaritans were come unto him, they besought him that he would tarry with them: and he abode there two days. {41} And many more believed because of his own word; {42} And said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.



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


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The Samaritan Woman, Equal to the Apostles, St Photina.

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009


Feast is this Sunday,

the fifth Sunday of Pascha.


Questions & Answers.