Archive for March, 2010

NB: Joseph the All-Comely, a type of Christ

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Holy Week Services: Holy Monday Matins






Monday of Holy Week commemorates the blessed and Noble Joseph the All-Comely and the fig tree which was cursed and withered by the Lord.


Joseph is a type of Christ.  Cliff Notes Version about Joseph: [1]



Kontakion and Ikos Holy Monday Matins.


Tone 8:  Jacob lamented the loss of Joseph, /

but his righteous son was seated in a chariot and honored as a king.  /

For he was not enslaved to the pleasures of Egypt, /

but he was glorified by God who sees the hearts of men //

and bestows on them a crown incorruptible.


Ikos:   Let us now add our lamentation to the lamentation of Jacob, and let us weep with him for Joseph, his wise and glorious son who was enslaved in body but kept his soul free from bondage, and became lord over all Egypt.  For God grants unto his servants a crown incorruptible.



There are many parallels between Joseph and our Lord Jesus Christ.


Joseph was a slave “in body”, and our Lord took on the form of a slave – humanity.


Joseph was sold into slavery because of the envy of his brothers for 20 pieces of silver –

Jesus the Savior was sold for thirty pieces of silver by his close confederate, the unworthy Apostle Judas, because of the envy of the Jewish rulers.


Joseph was cast in to a pit and later thrown into prison – our Lord Jesus Christ went into the gloomy pit of Hell to save imprisoned humanity.


Joseph did not complain about his lot, our Lord was silent in the face of His accusers.


Joseph was chaste when tempted by Potiphar’s wife, unlike the First Adam, who gave into temptation, and the Second Adam was perfectly sinless and showed us the way to perfect chastity.


Joseph became Lord over Egypt (which represents sin), and Jesus Christ is Lord over all of His human nature, making us capable of becoming Lords over our Egypt – our human nature.


Joseph was immersed in a land with many temptations (especially since he became the second greatest man in Egypt), an yet he remained chaste and good, and eventually saved all his people, and our Lord was immersed in many temptations, and did not sin once, and eventually made us capable of perfection.


He saved his people by feeding them bread in a time of famine. Jesus the Savior saves mankind, and feeds them with the bread of heaven – His body and blood.




“NB” is shorthand for “nota bene” ,which is Latin for “Note well”. These shorter posts are meant to be “noted well” more often because they are briefer than the usual blog posts. I have “noted well”  that many of my flock does do not read the longer posts. I have a lot of stuff to tell you, so there will still be longer posts, but I also plan to post shorter “snippets” which will have “NB:” in the title.

Priest Seraphim Holland 2010.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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[1] The ”Cliff Notes” version of the story of Joseph. His story is told in Genesis. He was the penultimate of  Patriarch Jacob’s 12 sons, and his favorite. His father fashioned a “coat of many colors” for Joseph. This, in addition to Joseph telling his brothers about dreams that were not flattering to the brothers made them very envious.


One day, when out in the field, all the brothers  save Rueben (the eldest) and Benjamin, who was yet to be born, conspired to kill Joseph. Rueben suggested that instead they throw him into a pit, and wait to see what happened. He intended to come back later and rescue Joseph, in the meantime, Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt by some traders. The brothers killed a sheep, and put its blood on Joseph’s coat, which they had taken from him previously, and told their father that Joseph had been torn to pieces by a wild animal


He was in the employ of Potiphar, an important man in Egypt. Potiphar’s wife made many passes at Joseph, but he was chaste. One day, when Joseph was alone in the house, his wife grabbed him, and he fled away naked. She made up a story about his advances, and Joseph was thrown in prison. In prison, he interpreted the dream Pharaoh’s butler and baker, and his interpretation came true to the letter. The butler was restored to Pharaoh’s service, and the baker was executed. The butler had promised to bring Joseph’s case before Pharaoh, but forgot until Pharaoh  had a dream that none of his wise men could interpret. The butler then remembered Joseph, and he correctly interpreted the dream as prophesying seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine.


Pharaoh put Joseph over all of Egypt, in order to prepare for the famine. When the famine struck, Jacob sent his sons to get food in Egypt. Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not know him. After Benjamin also came to Egypt, much to the consternation of Jacob, Joseph made himself known to his brothers in an incredibly emotional scene. Soon thereafter, all of Jacob’s family moved to Egypt.


Palm Sunday Homilies – video, audio

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Palm Sunday

These Things They Did Not Understand At First
John 12:1-18
The inner meaning of Palm Sunday.
Philippians 4:4-9 John 12:1-18
You can watch this sermon on the following video platforms: YouTube, Yahoo, MySpace, Metacafe, DailyMotion, and VeohSYNOPSIS: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.
Palm Sunday

It has finally happened! Pictures of parking lot pour, and artisric designs for ouside stucco and stonework

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

We have had many delays in getting the parking lot done, including weather, expense, the city requirements and availability of contractors. Finally, today, we are pouring the parking lot and sidewalks (which belong to the city of McKinney, but we are privileged to pay for).

After Lazarus Saturday Liturgy I went over to see progress on the pour with Michael Daum, and was thrilled to also see some real artistry in the stone and stucco work. The pictures, which are pretty bad because I could not even see the screen because of the bright sun, and shot "blind" show some progress on the parking lot and stucco and stone work.

We will not come even close to getting in by Pascha, but I can say with confidence that our first liturgy will include the singing of "Christ is risen"!


Lazarus Saturday The Resurrection applies to us NOW.

Friday, March 26th, 2010

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


Today we look toward the resurrection, and we look also set our eyes on the  resurrection we will celebrate with great fervor and zeal and festivity in only another week.  But today we look at our resurrection, very explicitly because Lazarus was a man like us and was dead and already decomposing, and our Lord raised him from the dead. 


Imagine what he felt.  He was in Hades, and he heard the voice of God, all the way in Hades, and He brought him back in an instant, in a flash.  He knew the power of God, and those around saw that power, as Jesus, with a loud voice said, "Lazarus, come forth."  And the same voice calls us — the same voice calls us to come forth.  The same voice says, "I am the resurrection.  If you believe in Me you will have eternal life."  We must believe.  We must understand.  We must also live according to the way Christ is, and then you will understand what it means to be a Christian. 


Did you see the two ways that the sisters dealt with the death of their brother?  One stayed still in the house, and one ran out to Jesus.  They both believed,  but their faith was weak, and they'd never heard of a man who was four days dead being raised from the dead. 


They'd heard of a person who had died that day being raised from the dead.  Christ had done it twice. [1]  They knew of Saint Elias who had raised someone from the dead [2], and of the prophet Elisha [3], but in both of those cases the man was dead one day. 


Now a man had been dead four days, and it was beyond their understanding how he could be raised from the dead.  They thought of a far-off time when there would be the resurrection of all things.  They didn't think really of how it applied to then and now. 


The resurrection applies to us now brothers and sisters.  Not later — now.  It changes us now, makes us able to live now.  It comforts us now.  It burns away our passions and our sins now.  "The kingdom of God is within you," [4] Christ said.  The Resurrection and the Life lives within us now


We must understand this.  We must live this. 


And we must approach Christ in these two ways that his beloved friends approached him.  Mary sat still in the house: we must pray, we must develop within ourselves great love, great fervor, and unshakable belief.  We must also be active in our faith.  We must go to Christ.  We must beg Him for the things we need. And we must live according to the way He has told us to live.  He has told us, live within the ark of the church, to fast, to pray, to partake of all the things that the church has given us. This is the activity that Martha points to. 


Both are necessary.  Neither one is enough to save a soul.  We must have fervent belief, and we must live within that belief. 


Slightly more than seven days from now — no, actually it will be Friday evening — I will read a sermon of Saint Epiphanius [5] in which he speaks of when Jesus Christ, the resurrection and the life, when down into Hades.  We have a taste of that today.  We should meditate very carefully, and think what it would be like to be in the depths of Hades, to be in the depths of hopelessness, to see our flesh and see how weak it is, and for God to say, "Come forth", and break everything that is holding us fast.  A Christian must really understand this.  This is what the resurrection means for us.  It is how we reach our perfection. 


It is very painful.  It is painful for me, and I tell you, it might sound strange, but I hope and I pray that it is painful for you.  I hope that you see the uselessness of so much in what we call this life, that you see the depravity, both in yourself and outside of yourself, and that you long to be made whole, to be made complete.  A Christian must be like that.  He must be like a stranger in a strange land, like Moses.  He must consider himself to only be passing through on the way to the heavenly city, to Zion, to Jerusalem, to perfection. 


This is what we are going after, you know.  And we see that God can perfect.  He didn’t just raise Himself from the dead; He raised us from the dead.  This must be understood.  And it's not just something you read in a book and understand.  It's not just a point of doctrine or a question to be answered.  It's in the heart.  If you know that God raised you from the dead, you won't want to do anything but to become like Him, and you will know that you can become like Him.  You have been promised that you can become like Him.  This is the meaning of the resurrection. 


This is why God raised Lazarus from the dead.  To show us the power of the resurrection in us, because we're weak.  He knows.  We might say, "He did it, but he is God. So how does that apply to me?"  Just like Mary and Martha, I know that some day we'll be raised from the dead in the resurrection, but they didn't apply it to their life now. 


This is why Lazarus was raised from the dead.  And it's also why Jesus waited.  Not only so Lazarus would die. He certainly, as God, could have arranged that He was near the town, but He was far away from the town and after He was told about Lazarus, He went slowly to Bethany and took four days. He waited so that He could teach us something that is very important: that we must wait, we must be patient, we must have faith even when it appears that things are not as we would wish them to be, and when they don’t change. Jesus Christ can take a man, stinking, from the grave, after four days, and raise him from the dead, He can raise us. 


But don't believe in the resurrection later; believe in the resurrection nowLive in that belief.  Try to change because of that belief.  Believe that you can be changed. 


I don't care what it is that assails you.  God can heal you.  Not later, but now.  Don't believe in the resurrection — later.  Believe in the resurrection and the life, Who is with us, now. 


We're about to partake of His holy body and blood for our sustenance, that medicine of immortality.  Our immortality, you know, begins with our baptism.  And we are just increasingly fulfilling it every day that we live. 


Live in the light of the resurrection. Believe it.  Believe that you will change.  And when you hear God's voice saying, "Come forth" at the resurrection, you will be filled with joy.  May God help you.



The Gospel for the Raising of Lazarus

John 11:1-45

Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. {2} (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) {3} Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. {4} When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. {5} Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. {6} When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was. {7} Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again. {8} His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again? {9} Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. {10} But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him. {11} These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. {12} Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. {13} Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. {14} Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. {15} And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him. {16} Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellowdisciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him. {17} Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already. {18} Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off: {19} And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. {20} Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house. {21} Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. {22} But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. {23} Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. {24} Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. {25} Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: {26} And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? {27} She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world. {28} And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee. {29} As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him. {30} Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him. {31} The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there. {32} Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. {33} When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, {34} And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. {35} Jesus wept. {36} Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! {37} And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died? {38} Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. {39} Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days. {40} Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God? {41} Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. {42} And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. {43} And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. {44} And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go. {45} Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him.



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


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[1] See Luke 7:11-15 (the raising of the son of the widow of Nain), and the raising of the daughter of the ruler of the Synagogue, Jairus (Mark 5:22-43 and Luke 8:41-56)

[2] Elias raised the son of the widow of Sarephta,  (3 Kings 17:17-24 Septuagint., 1 Kings 17:17-24 Hebrew version)

[3] Elisha raised the son of the Shunammite women (who he had prophesied the barren woman would bear, and who is held to be Jonah the prophet) (4 Kings 4:17-37 Sept, AKA 2 Kings 4:18-37 Heb.)

[4] Luke 17:21

[5] A sermon is often given before the tomb after the Lamentations of Good Friday. It is our custom to speak extemporaneously, and then for a smaller group to gather before the tomb to hear the half hour sermon of St Epiphanius read.

Holy Week, the end of Great Lent, Lazarus Saturday & Palm Sunday.

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

                                     Questions & Answers [1]


QUESTION 1. Is Holy Week part of Great Lent?





Technically, Holy Week is outside of (after) Great Lent.



QUESTION 2. When does Great Lent end?





In general, the  weekends are considered to be somewhat outside Great Lent, as the Horologion has rubrics for the Hours which refer  to "Great Lent", and these are ignored on Saturday and Sunday. Fasting is relaxed – Orthodox may eat olive oil and drink wine on Saturday and Sunday during the Great Lent "period". The Friday evening before Palm Sunday, when the Vigil for the Raising of St. Lazarus is celebrated actually ends Great Lent, as the first sticheron at Lord I have cried says:


"Having completed the forty days that bring profit to our soul, / we beseech Thee in Thy love for man: /

Grant us also to behold the Holy Week of Thy Passion, / that in it we may glorify Thy mighty acts / and

Thine ineffable dispensation for our sakes, / singing with one mind: // 'O Lord, glory to Thee." (Tone 1)



Holy week is a special time liturgically, and is wholly outside of Great Lent, but of course, fasting and even more rigorous and edifying services continue.


QUESTION 3. Usually, Feasts of the Lord are several days long. The feast is celebrated in some way after the main  commemoration. There is one great feast of the Lord that only lasts one day. Which is it? Speculate why.




The Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem, one of the "Great Feasts of the Lord", also called "Palm Sunday"  only lasts one day, because Holy week, with it's many services in preparation for Pascha, begins the next day.



QUESTION 4. Which TWO separate feasts use the same troparion? Why?






The Saturday of Lazarus and Palm Sunday both have the same troparion. These two historical events occurred within less than a week of each other. The troparion shows the link between the two events:



Tone 1


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 Thee, the Vanquisher of death: /


Hosanna in the highest, /


blessed is He that cometh //


in the Name of the Lord.



QUESTION 5. What Gospel(s) is the Raising of Lazarus recounted in?  What day is the Feast celebrated? Why? Who were Lazarus' siblings? What happened to St. Lazarus after his resurrection?




The story of the Raising of Lazarus is only given by St. John the Theologian. The Feast is celebrated the Saturday before the Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem, because it actually did occur just before Palm Sunday in actual fact, and because the resurrection of Lazarus is a 'type" of the resurrection of Christ (the troparion and many hymns from the feast emphasize this point). Lazarus had two sisters, Mary, and Martha. After the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, St. Lazarus eventually became bishop of Crete.



QUESTION 6. Why did Christ ride into Jerusalem on the foal of an ass?





This was prophesied by the Prophet Zechariah:


"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass." (Zechariah 9:9)


St. Matthew’s gospel mentions this prophesy.



The Fathers teach that mystically, the Ass, being an unclean animal according to Jewish law, represents the Gentiles. Jesus led the Gentiles into "Jerusalem" as well as the Jews, and this was made apparent after Pentecost.



QUESTION 7. It is traditional  for the faithful to hold Palms during the Palm Sunday liturgy. when are these palms given out? What other plant is popularly used, especially by Russians? In the historical Palm Sunday,  how were the palms used?





The palms, and possibly  pussy willow branches, which Russians especially favor, are blessed in the matins service at the vigil for Palm Sunday on Saturday night. They are given out to each person after the Gospel is venerated, which is read in about the middle of matins. The scriptures tell us that when Christ entered Jerusalem, the people saluted Him:


"On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem,  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." (John 12:12-13)



QUESTION 8. Why did so many people greet Jesus when He entered Jerusalem?






The Gospel reading for the matins states:


"And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee." (Matthew 21:10-11)


Some of the same people who would later yell "Crucify Him!", and "His blood be on us, and on our children" wanted to see Him, because of His notoriety. It is clear from St. John's retelling that the entire area knew about the raising of Lazarus:


" 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. But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus. On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem …" (John 12:9-12)



QUESTION 9. What, in general, is the Typicon for the celebration of Palm Sunday? Which service books are used for the vespers, matins and Divine liturgy. Try to be comprehensive.




The Typicon calls for a vigil service with the blessing of the five loaves (Litya) on the Eve of the Feast, Saturday night. All Great Feasts of the Lord and the Theotokos, with the exception of the Annunciation, and Pascha, are celebrated this way.


The “Vigil” service is vespers and matins, celebrated in the "vigil format", and the first hour. The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is celebrated on Sunday morning, after the third and sixth hours.


As  in all Great Feasts of the Lord, none of the hymns that would be normally sung from the Octoechos to commemorate the resurrection are sung, and the Magnificat is omitted, with the entire 9th Ode of the Canon being sung instead.


The Lenten Triodion is used for all the variable parts of the service, such as the stichera at "Lord I have cried", the aposticha, the troparion and kontakion, etc. It also contains the prayer for the blessing of the palms.


As in all the services of the church that are part of the "daily cycle" (in this case, vespers, matins and divine liturgy), the "Horologion" provides the "common" parts and the main service framework.


The Psalter is read at Vespers and Matins.


The Old  Testament is read at Vespers, the Gospel at matins and

divine Liturgy, and the Apostolos (book of the epistles) at divine Liturgy.


After the Divine Liturgy, a procession is made outside.



QUESTION 10. What rules about food does everyone remember for Palm Sunday?




ANSWER. On Palm Sunday, fish may be eaten, which otherwise is not eaten during Great Lent, except on the Annunciation. Nobody ever forgets this!






From St Nicholas Orthodox Church, McKinney


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St Mary of Egypt. Two ways to learn to love. Audio Homily 2010.

Monday, March 22nd, 2010


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Fifth Sunday of Great Lent – St Mary of Egypt

Friday, March 19th, 2010

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

Without labor you can't be saved.

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 human being.  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.    This anointing, this coming to the house — is labor


Without 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, when 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 is …  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 or an uncle or aunt, 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.





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


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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:


We need some help to finish our temple in McKinney Texas

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

March 3/16 2010. Fifth Tuesday of Great Lent.

Dear Friends of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church,


          Reaching the final stages of our building project, St. Nicholas has encountered unexpectedly high costs for the completion of the landscaping required by the city of McKinney.


          We have received a quote of $35,000: $7,600 for the installation of the required sprinkler system, $11,000 for the required trees and plants (the city has specified exactly what we must plant), and $15,000 for soil, fertilizer, grass and tree/plant installation.


          This quote is about $20,000 higher than we expected, and these costs will prevent us from moving into our new facility – if we spend every dime we have available, we still will be far short. This is a critical time, and we need help.


          If there are any potential benefactors with landscaping experience who can help us out through reduced-fee or pro bono service, we would be very grateful! We may be able to supply some unskilled labor. Please contact us as soon as possible if you are able to help, or know someone whom you can get us in contact with.


Of course, we are in severe need at this time, and cash donations are also much appreciated. We are also open to loans with very favorable terms that we can afford.


You would be a founding benefactor of our parish if you help us in any way, and all that we are able to give to you we will give – all founding benefactors are in perpetual dyptichs that are passed from rector to rector – you will be remembered by name in the Divine Liturgy.


Yours in Christ,




Priest Seraphim Holland


Reflections on the Life of St Mary of Egypt.

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

Saint Mary of Egypt

It is always personal.

Things are never as they seem.



St Mary of Egypt and St Zosimas. 
             Orginally from On this Wednesday, we read the life of St Mary of Egypt, along with the entire Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete. We always do this service (matins with the Great Canon) the Fifth Wednesday of Great Lent ( puff, rtf) the week preceding the Sunday of St Mary of Egypt.


The reading of the life of St Mary of Egypt has always been intensely personal for me. I have actually been the one reading it for fifteen years now, but it was personal when I heard it read. It is the story of OUR redemption – what is wrong with us, what we must do, and especially how the grace of God will help us.


This story MUST be personal for every Christian. Different parts of it will touch us in different ways, but the key to understanding this story and getting any benefit with it is to make it personal.


This is the way it must be with all our prayers and the reading of Scripture. Certain things of course, lend themselves more readily to an intensely personal interpretation. Every one of the Psalms (even the historical ones) must be a personal reflection, and not just a recitation. All of the services and the scriptures must be felt deeply in the soul if they are to have any benefit to us. There were many who saw, touches and heard Christ and were not saved. Merely hearing or seeing something does not save – we must actualize its truth in our lives.


What follows is a non-comprehensive look at what the story of St Mary means to me. You may have a different view – but you MUST have a view! You cannot form such a view from your couch!


This brings me to something that always makes me sad. As a pastor, I strive to teach my flock, and inspire them. It does not always work. The Great Canon service is never full. I grieve terribly because those that I love are not benefiting in their souls from this great outpouring of grace that is present when this service is prayed. They have darkness in them, just as I do, and as the Lord said in another context, “how great is that darkness!” [1]  I identify with the words of our Lord, who of course is my model for how a pastor should be, when He, speaking of his beloved people, laminated that:


How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathered her chickens under her wings, and ye would not?” (Matthew 23:37)


I have made it my mission to attempt to get my flock to read the scriptures personally, and to deeply feel (all the things I share with them) their weakness, inadequacy and sin, and to gain the zeal to fight for holiness. A huge part of this battle is fasting, personal prayer, prayer in the temple, and almsgiving. I worry about any in my flock who is deficient in any of these categories.


St Mary was an intensely profligate person. She was part of the “hatch me, match me and dispatch me crowd” [2]. From her own story, we learn that she never went to church, and probably did not “darken the door” of any temple from the time of her baptism until that day when her redemption drew near:


“Know, holy father that I am only a sinful woman, though I am guarded by Holy baptism…”


“I have not seen a beast or a living being ever since I came into the desert. I never learned from books. I have never even heard anyone who sang and read from them.”


Since I have become a pastor, and really, for years before, I have always been struck by this truth – we cannot know how a person’s life will turn out. We do not know what is inside. We only see the outside, and our judgments may be wrong.

St Mary of Egypt and Saint Zosimas. Coptic icon. 
                 Originally from 
        This truth is a “double edged sword” for me. On the one hand, it is a stinging rebuke – Who am I to judge another man’s servant? How much time do I waste by judging, negativity, depression! All I should do is pray, and act when it is proper to act, and hope in God. On the other hand, I am filled with encouragement. I am in the seed planting business, and am happy to see some of these seed grow, but I am sure that some will grow that I never see. This is a very comforting thought.


This thought applies every day to my personal life. A constant theme of my pastoral life has been to convince others, with myself being the first that we can obtain what we were called to do – perfection. Our life has so much “cognitive dissonance” that makes this goal seems so far away, and even impossible, but truly, we are “not far from the Kingdom of God”. God knows all things. All I need do is “bear all things, believe all things, hope (in) all things and endure all things.”[3]


When I hear this life, I find the confidence to believe that I can really do this – the great sinner Mary did it, so it is possible! God will help me; He will help you; He will help all those I love. There will continue to me moments of doubt, and even despair, but the life of St Mary is never far from me, and reminds me of this comforting truth.


Priest Seraphim Holland 2010.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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[1] Mat 6:23 but if Thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!



[2] A bit of “gallows humor”. Sometimes a person needs to “laugh to keep from crying”. Some people are baptized, married and buried in the church, and little else.


[3] 1 Corinthians 13:7

The Healing of the Demoniac boy. The reason for fasting. Audio Homily 2010

Monday, March 15th, 2010

The healing of the demoniac boy, whom the disciples could not heal, explains in microcosm many pillars of the spiritual life. We hear the purpose of life, the reason why we have weak faith and indeed, the reason for any sinfulness in our lives, and what we must do.


Mark 9:17-31 17 And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; 18 And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not. 19 He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me. 20 And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. 21 And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child. 22 And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. 23 Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. 24 And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. 25 When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. 26 And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead. 27 But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose. 28 And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out? 29 And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting. 30 And they departed thence, and passed through Galilee; and he would not that any man should know it. 31 For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day.

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