Archive for March, 2010

The Healing of the Boy with a dumb and deaf spirit

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

The Fourth Sunday Of Great Lent

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

Today is the fourth Sunday of Great Lent and on this day we read about the healing, at the request of his father, of the boy who is possessed of a demon. There are many things to understand about this scripture, but we can only touch on a few of them now. For now I want you to consider what it was that this demon did to the boy. The father comes to Christ and describes his plight, a pitiable plight. This boy is cast into the fire and into the water by this demon, this deaf and dumb demon. According to the fathers, deaf because he would not allow the boy to hear the word of God, and dumb because the boy could not speak out in praise of God.

And what is the fire? It's not just material fire as it was for this boy, but also the fire of anger, lust, those hot sins in which we seem to have so much pleasure partaking, and that seem to have such a hold on us. That is fire. Jealousy, hatred, rage. Those kind of things are fire.

And what is the water? Well, the water is equally pernicious to the soul. It is to be thrust into worldly cares – as blessed Theophylact says, "the crushing waves and billows of worldly care." That's what the water is. There's not a sin that you can think of that is neither fire nor water. Nothing.

Now this boy was completely possessed. He was incapable of free thought. He was incapable of free action because this demon controlled him. It took him where it wanted, it made him fall down where it wanted, it threw him towards the water or towards the fire, and the boy's father could only with great difficulty save him from being burned or being drowned. It's not too much different, really, for us. We unfortunately addict ourselves to sins — fire and water. Our plight is also a terrible one. We're addicted, we must admit this. We must admit that we need help. We must see ourselves for who we truly are and then we can come to Christ for healing.

Christ says to the man who wants his son to be healed, "All things are possible to him that believeth." This is true. We understand this. We accept this. We're Christians. We say, " Absolutely, God can do everything. God can heal any man, God can raise a corpse from the dead, make the lame to walk and the blind to see." Ah, but then we lose our faith when it comes to fire and water, as this man did as well. Because when we look at ourselves , we doubt. We doubt that God can heal us . He can heal somebody else, and He can certainly do physical things. We believe that. We read the lives of the saints, we read the scripture, we believe that when Tabitha was raised from the dead she really was. We believe that when Lazarus came out of the tomb, God had brought the breath of life back into him. We believe.

But do we believe that God can deliver us from our sins, from our passions, from things that we have been doing "of a child"? Most of our sins are from childhood. They're built from childhood. We're built into little sinning-machines when we're little, and it's very, very hard to extricate ourselves from our passions and our difficulties later. This boy was of a child being thrown into the fire and into the water, and it's the same with us. Now do we believe that God can deliver us from our passions? Do we really believe? The evidence that I have as a pastor is to the contrary. Most of us struggle mightily with this disbelief. And because of that, we don't make the progress we should. We must believe.

We have the examples of the lives of the saints to show that God has taken people who have sinned sometimes much worse even than we, and made them great, made them perfect and holy. We have the example of St. Mary, which, unfortunately, so many of you will not hear this coming week. (Note: The Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete, with the life of St Mary of Egypt, is chanted on Wednesday evening, the fifth week of Great Lent, which follows the Sunday of St John Climacus, the Sunday on which this sermon was preached. At St Nicholas, this service is at 6:30 PM , year after year, and too many miss this service, and have despondency over their sins, and continue to have weak faith, year, after year) Because … I don't know why you won't. But many of you will not be present on Wednesday night to listen to an example of how God can completely heal a person. Mary didn't doubt. This was a woman who'd been a prostitute, and worse than a prostitute. She'd had thousands of lovers. Every impurity possible that can be imagined and many that, I'm sure, we could not even imagine, she had partaken of and defiled herself over and over. And what did she do when she came to repentance? She believed that God could change her. She believed that God could deliver her from fire. She didn't have too much trouble with water; for her it was the hot passions that were going to destroy her and burn her up. But she believed.

Now we must believe. These words are difficult words because it's difficult for us to believe, to really think we can change. Over and over we doubt ourselves. Over and over we doubt that God can remove from us a certain sin. Or sometimes, to be perfectly frank about the matter, sometimes there is a sin that we like and that we don't really want to let go of. And when we do that, there's this guilt in us that pushes us away from holy things and then causes disbelief.

Now these are hard words, and our Lord knows this. So because of that, the words of this man are recorded. Mark these words well, because they give hope. "Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief." What is that – a riddle? No, this is what God does to the soul. He takes our unbelief, and if there's the merest, slightest seed of belief in us, he makes it grow. In St. Matthew's Gospel, He explains after the healing that if your faith is as a mustard seed, God will do anything. A mustard seed is tiny; you can barely see it. It's like a celery seed – very, very small. But it's very pungent and it seasons the whole dish, and it grows into a great, great tree, from a very small beginning. So if you have unbelief, beg God to help you believe. Now you must also do the other things as well. There's an important example of the Christian life, really in microcosm the entire importance of the incarnation, at the end of the healing of this boy. Be careful now with Scripture! It often teaches an incredible depth of knowledge in two or three words. Very laconic. Not like me; it takes very little space to say great things!

What happened to the boy after he was healed? The father had a small amount of belief, and God said, "I will heal him. I charge thee, deaf and dumb spirit, come out of him, and don't ever come back." Very important. We'll talk about that another time. But the boy falls to the ground. It's like he's dead. The people think he's dead. But Christ takes him by the hand and raises him up. God becoming man raises us up. God takes on our infirmities and makes us able to live. This you must understand. This is the implication of the incarnation. This is why we can be saved. God has made our flesh able to live – He lifts us up. The whole meaning of the incarnation – it makes us able to live!

Then what happened when the boy was lifted? It says, "he arose." The boy stood up, he was helped and then he stood up. And this is our work in the Christian life. This is our labor in response to God's help. Now if you do not labor you will have troubles with disbelief , because belief, or purity and belief, are tied perfectly together with labor. This is why when the man came to him with the boy, our Lord said, "Oh faithless and perverse generation." He says that in St. Matthew's Gospel. Faithless and perverse. From perversity, acting unnaturally – sin is perversity by the way – comes disbelief and faithlessness. From purity comes faithfulness . They're in a circle, either in the vicious circle, the spiral ever downwards because of lack of purity and faithfulness, or in this blessed circle, where God, when He sees our desire to stand up, helps us and fills us more with knowledge. And our faith is increased, and our knowledge is increased. And we are so thankful when we have God revealed to us that we become better. And we become more pure. And as we become more pure, God, who reveals Himself to the pure, further reveals Himself to us.

You must understand this mechanism of salvation if you are to be saved. You must believe, and you must act upon your belief. God will raise you up, but then you must stand. Now I can only exhort you to stand – I cannot make you stand. God will help you to stand, but He will not make you. It is an act of your will that you must stand, and you must work, and you must walk in the Christian life. Now if you have trouble with belief, you can look into yourself and see the core of this disbelief. You will see, if you look carefully, it is because you are not living the Christian life. Not effectively, not as much as you should. It's a lot of laziness, a lot of inactivity as far as fulfilling the commandments. This is why you're having trouble with belief.

Now, maybe you have trouble with some passions and you desire to change. All right, God has an answer for you. The man said, "Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief." We all doubt. It is unfortunately part of our human nature. We see so much that's wrong with us, and it's hard for us to believe we can be changed. To me, this is the sweetest thing about Christianity. God will change us. We won't be like this in the other life. We'll change. There will not be suffering. There won't be problems with anger, with lust. There won't be sadness. There won't be dysfunction. God will change us. We must believe this.

If we do not believe, we're not really Christians, and God won't change us if we don't believe. Or at least, if we don't have that small mustard seed of belief. Cultivate it well, brothers and sisters. Cultivate this seed. Feed it with activity, with fasting, with prayer, with desire, with forcing yourself to pray when you don't want to, to come to church when you don't want to, to make time for confession when it's too easy to be, shall we say, drowned in the water, in worldly cares. Cultivate this seed of belief. Then God will hear your prayer. When you say, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief," He will hear it. And He will strengthen your belief. And then when you feel His hand in yours, stand. Amen.

Mark 9:17-31 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.

Old Testament references to the Cross.

Friday, March 12th, 2010

The Scriptures are interpreted by the Services.

Who is a theologian?

4th Week of Great Lent – Friday


During the entire fourth week of Great Lent, the precious cross is a constant subject of the services.


This is typical of the way we celebrate our feasts. It is not “one and done”, like so many people, in (lamentably) and out of the church tend to mark Christian holidays: there is always a period after a commemoration where we continue to ruminate on its implications in our services.


For instance, we consider the time of Pascha to not only include the Sunday of Pascha, but the entire week following (“Bright Week”), through Saturday, is considered to be as one day – for us “Pascha” is a week long feast. Since Pascha is the greatest of feasts, we continue to refer to it and use Paschal hymns all the way until the Ascension – a full forty days. In like manner, although not for as long a period, there are “after feast’ periods for all the great feasts the church celebrates, with the interesting exception of Palm Sunday, of course, since we enter into Holy Week the next day..


This week is the period after the celebration of the precious cross on the 3rd Sunday of Great Lent. Our hymnology this week is particularly filled with OT references to the cross, some of which may seem obscure to those who are not well versed in the Orthodox understanding of the scriptures and our services.


In the following examples, a hymn for the services of today is quoted, followed by the scriptures it references. You could really pick any day of the week and find similar references. Surely, the most important theology books our church has are the service texts; nobody can truly be considered to be well versed in the scriptures and theology unless they love the services and are knowledgeable about them.  Consider this the next time someone is proclaimed to be an expert in the scriptures and an eminent theologian – look at the services (and the length of them – not all matins are created equal!) he or she celebrates or attends regularly.



Today the words of the prophet are fulfilled; for see, we worship at the place where Thy feet have stood, O Lord; and, tasting from the tree of salvation, we have been delivered from our sinful passions at the intercessions of the Theotokos, O Thou Who lovest mankind (Sessional Hymn, Friday matins in the 4th week, Tone 6)


Let us enter into his tabernacles: let us worship at the place where his feet stood. Psalm 132:7  (131:7)


Exalt ye the Lord our God, and worship at his footstool; for he is holy. Psalm 99:5  (98:5)


I always think of this prophesy when I prostrate before the cross. There are two kinds of prostrations: penitential, and adoration. Most of the time we are making a prostration in a penitential manner. We are remembering that we are sinners, and the physical act of getting on the ground and then back up is a non verbal prayer, whose basic content can be summed up as “Lord have mercy”.


A prostration before the cross is different. We are “worshipping at His footstool”, with profound gratefulness and awareness of the resurrection. In this context, going down reminds us of death, and getting back up is a physical proclamation of the resurrection. Things will not always be as they are; we will someday get up and stay up, and all this is possible because of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Many Protestant commentators totally miss the Messianic context of these Psalms. They are smart people, and very learned, and no doubt many are sincere believers, but they have learned things outside of the eternal wisdom of the church. We in the church have understood these Psalm verses to be a reference to the cross over two millennia!



In the middle of the fast we see exalted in our midst the precious cross, on which Thou wast lifted up by Thine own choice in the middle of the earth, O Lord supreme in goodness and love. Through its veneration the world is sanctified and the hosts of demons put to flight. (Matins Canon, Ode 4, 4th Friday of Great Lent)


But God is our King of old; he has wrought salvation in the midst of the earth. Psalm 74:12  (73:12)


When our Lord was put upon the cross, it was thrust into the “midst of the earth” in order to stand upright. The Psalms are full of obscure references to Christ and the cross like this one. This reference is not “intuitively obvious” to the casual observer, but it is a theme that is repeated many times in our services throughout the year.


We must read the scriptures; this book should not gather any dust in your house! We also must also read the scriptures with understanding. One a few are scholars and have the time, temperament, education and resources to search out the Holy Fathers for scripture commentary. We all have the time to stand in prayer in the holy services, and listen and learn. It’s all there, in our services, for those who will stand still, like Elias, and have ears to hear the wonderful story of our salvation, recounted in many different ways.



Thou was crucified, O Son of God, on the pine, the cedar and the cypress; Sanctify us all, and count us worthy to look upon Thy life-giving passion (Matins canon, Ode 4, 4th Friday of Great Lent)


And the glory of Lebanon shall come to thee, with the cypress, and pine, and cedar together, to glorify my holy place. Isaiah 60:13 


Here is one of the most obscure references to the cross in all of scripture, and here also is another “name” we have for our Lord Jesus Christ: “the glory of Lebanon”.


The Hebrew version of the scriptures makes this prophesy even more exact, by adding the words “I will make the place of my feet glorious”. I am not sure why there is this textual difference between the Septuagint (which is quoted above and used in our services) and the Masoretic text (the Hebrew text translated into “typical”  English bibles, such as the King James, Revised Standard, etc). This does not really matter; I have the holy services to guide me and teach me about the holy scriptures. Maybe after I get a doctorate in Hebrew and Greek I will look into this textual question!




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


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Once when He descended and confounded the tongues. 4th Week of Great Lent – Thursday Vespers. Gen 10:32 – 11:9

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

The Tower of Babel.

4th Week of Great Lent – Thursday Vespers. Gen 10:32 – 11:9


Today we read in Genesis the story of the tower of Babel. In this story, we learn how the human race was scattered over the face of the earth because, in our pride, we wished to build a tall tower reaching unto heaven. Thus, the confusion of our language was a great mercy of God, as it kept us from banding together for evil, so that, scattered abroad, we could learn humility and return to God.

A Christian cannot (should not) think of the expulsion from paradise without thinking of the remedy – the holy Cross.


Likewise, we should not think of the confusion of tongues without thinking of the remedy – the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.


While the division caused by the confusion of tongues was for our benefit, it was not in line with God's plan for us. Made in His image, we are made to be united to Him and to one another, as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one within the Godhead.

And thus, the Holy Spirit comes down on the day of Pentecost to unite us to Christ and to one another in the Church. Moreover, we each received this very same gift on the day of our baptism, being united to Christ's Body in the Church, and we renew this union each time we partake of the Holy Mysteries.

Father Tom Soroka, speaking of this in his daily scriptural commentary (, quotes in particular the following hymn from the Pentecost service:


"Of old the tongues were confounded / because of the audacity in the building of the tower, / but now the tongues are made wise / because of the glory of Divine knowledge. / There God condemned the impious because of their offense, / and here Christ hath enlightened the fishermen by the Spirit. / At that time the confusion of tongues was wrought for punishment, / but now the concord of tongues hath been inaugurated // for the salvation of our souls" (Aposticha for Pentecost).


Let us give thanks to God for His great mercies! And let us strive to come together, through prayer and repentance uniting ourselves to the Holy Church, and thereby to each other, that we may see fulfilled Christ's last with for us: "that they may be one, as we [the Holy Trinity] are" (John 17).



Gen 10:32 – 11:9


These are the tribes of the sons of Noe, according to their generations, according to their nations: of them were the islands of the Gentiles scattered over the earth after the flood. 1. And all the earth was one lip, and there was one language to all. 2. And it came to pass as they moved from the east, they found a plain in the land of Senaar, and they dwelt there. 3. And a man said to his neighbor, Come, let us make bricks and bake them with fire. And the brick was to them for stone, and their mortar was bitumen. 4. And they said, Come, let us build to ourselves a city and tower, whose top shall be to heaven, and let us make to ourselves a name, before we are scattered abroad upon the face of all the earth. 5. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men built. 6. And the Lord said, Behold, There is one race, and one lip of all, and they have begun to do this and now nothing shall fail from them of all that they may have undertaken to do. 7. Come, and having gone down let us there confound their tongue, that they may not understand each the voice of his neighbor. 8. And the Lord scattered them thence over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city and the tower. 9. On this account its name was called Confusion, because there the Lord confounded the languages of all the earth, and thence the Lord scattered them upon the face of all the earth.



Reader Nivholas Park 2008.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas



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4th Week of Great Lent – Thursday Proverbs are good to read every day.

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Your time is gonna come!


Evil shall pursue sinners; but good shall overtake the righteous.

(Proverbs  13:21, from the selection Proverbs 13:19 – 14:6, Vespers, 4th Thursday of Great Lent)


The Proverbs are good to read every day. They are good reminders; they help keep us on track. I suppose that they are read during all weekdays in Great Lent precisely because inculcating their wisdom into our daily life enables us to realize the power of the resurrection, which we are pointing to the entire fast.  The resurrection is powerful, life changing, but it does not affect everyone. Only those who attempt to change will be affected by it. Many of the changes we must make are elucidated in the Proverbs.


This proverb is an excellent word picture of the entire life of the righteous, and by this is meant the sinner who, with God’s grace helping, aspires to love the law of God and follow it, and become righteous. 


There are four pursuits described here. (1) Sinners pursue evil; (2) those who wish to be righteous pursue the following of all the commandments. (3) Evil pursues sinners, and will surely overtake them (read the Psalms and Proverbs especially, you will find dozens of examples), and (4) God pursues the righteous, and surely His good and mercy will ultimately prevail.


The Proverb does not tell us when these things shall happen, but we know – the absolute end of these pursuits is at the end of all things, when the Lord will come to judge the living and the dead.


We are not without consolation until this time; in various ways, we slowly change, and good “overtakes” us. We are commanded to pursue God, but we do this poorly. What a great consolation it is that He is always pursuing us!


Many times in confession I remind someone of the progress they have made – this is very important! We cannot go on very long in any pursuit without consolation.


Perhaps you formerly cursed a great deal, now you do not curse, or do so rarely when overtaken with anger.


Perhaps you formerly had many unclean thoughts and actions and now control yourself much more than in the past.


Perhaps you have finally excised the worm of bitterness that formerly overtook you with the memory of someone who hurt you deeply.


All these things are consolations; they are examples of good overtaking us.


God is with us, even when we do not feel Him. Evil is with sinners, even if they do not feel it.


It is a great consolation to know that are we run the race, and often stumble, and even go in the wrong direction for a time, God is with us, running with us, pursing us. What we see in the world now will not always be. The evil will be punished, the good will be rewarded. Which will we be?



Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas great-lent-week-04-thursday_2009-03-26+vespers+evil-shall-pursue-sinners-but-good-shall-overtake-the-righteous.html great-lent-week-04-thursday_2009-03-26+vespers+evil-shall-pursue-sinners-but-good-shall-overtake-the-righteous.doc



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A sword shall pierce through thy own soul

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

4th Week of Great Lent – Wednesday Matins



Standing by the cross of the child whom she bore without seed, the Virgin Mother cried aloud: “O my son, a sword has pierced my heart, and I cannot bear to see Thee hanging upon the wood. Before Thee all tings tremble, for Thou art their Creator and their God. Glory be to Thee, O longsuffering Lord. (Matins Stavrotheotokion, Tone 6, after the second reading from the Psalter, Lenten Triodion, Tuesday in the 4th week of Great Lent)


The “Stavrotheotokion” is a hymn about the cross and the Theotokos (“Stavros” = Greek for Cross). Many of them are found in the services for Wednesday and Friday. They generally focus on the experiences and suffering of the Theotokos when her son was on the cross, and are a rich source of theology about the cross and the incarnation. Basically all the hymns about the Theotokos are about the incarnation. The Stavrotheotokion in particular is particularly poetic, and often presented as a dialogue between the Mother of God and her son.


Much that we know was not expressed in the Scripture, but is a closely guarded treasure held by the church, and well known to her. The Mother of God lived in the home of St John the Theologian for many years in obedience to the command of her son [1], and was well known to the Apostles, and she transmitted much of her considerable wisdom to them over the years.


Those who do not venerate the Theotokos, considering her to be merely a good Jewish married woman, cannot understand the reverence the Orthodox hold for her. I personally believe that she is not well understood in our time because ours is an age of carnality and noise. The purpose of the Christian life is not well understood, nor its ascetical life, nor its wholehearted pursuit of holiness. The quintessential example of holiness among mortal human beings is the Theotokos, and her holiness, obedience and sacrifice can only be understood by those who have lived a full life of sacrifice, obedience to the commandments, and have in so doing, become holy.


The Stavrotheokion usually describes the condition of holiness by the way it poetically expresses theology. We should emulate its “spirit” as much as we should believe and live according to the theology it expresses. We cannot understand this particular hymn or most other hymns about the Theotokos unless we enter into their spirit – they are describing the ruminations of someone who, of her own free will and out of submission to God, has become holy. We are seeing a “picture” of holiness.


This particular hymn discusses the fulfillment of a prophesy. We all know of many Old Testament prophesies concerning Jesus Christ, such as: He would be born of a virgin and in Bethlehem, His coming would be heralded by a star, He would hang on the cross between two malefactors and many others [2], but there are also many New Testament prophesies concerning Him, some of which were fulfilled in His earthly lifetime, and others which were fulfilled after His resurrection or will be in due time.


And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;  (35)   (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. (Luke 2:34-35)


The Christian life consists of emulation. The Lord commanded us to “follow me!” [3], and the Apostle Paul was well aware that a large part of his ministry was to be an example for the people to follow [4], and even explicitly told them to follow his example.  We learn to be holy by observing holiness in the Lord and His “good and faithful” [5] servants and attempting to emulate it.


Our hymns focus a great deal on the disposition of the Theotokos, often as a poetic dialogue with her son, precisely because this demonstrates an aspect of holiness that we must emulate.




Priest Seraphim Holland 2010.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas,stavrotheotokion+a-sword-shall-pierce-through-thy-own-soul.doc

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[1] Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.  (26)  When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!  (27)  Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. (John 19:25-27 KJV  )



[2] Isaiah 7:14, Septuagint  Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Emmanuel


Micah 5:2 KJV  But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.


Numbers 24:15-17 Brenton  Septuagint  And he took up his parable and said, Balaam the son of Beor says, the man who sees truly says,  (16)  hearing the oracles of God, receiving knowledge from the Most High, and having seen a vision of God in sleep; his eyes were opened.  (17)  I will point to him, but not now; I bless him, but he draws not near: a star shall rise out of Jacob, a man shall spring out of Israel; and shall crush the princes of Moab, and shall spoil all the sons of Seth.


Isaiah 53:12 KJV  Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.


[3] Mathew 16:24  Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.


Matthew 19:21  Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.


And other examples.

[4] 2Thessalonian 3:7-9 For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you;  (8)  Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you:  (9)  Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.


[5] From the parable of the talents: “His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”  (Matthew 25:21)

Questions about the Sunday of the Cross

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010


How was the cross foreshadowed in the Old Testament? Give 3 examples



IN THE prophet Ezekiel (9:6) it is said that when the Angel of the Lord was sent to punish and destroy the sinning people, it was told him not to strike those on whom the "mark" had been made. In the original text this mark is called "tau," the Hebrew letter corresponding to the letter "T.", which is how in ancient times the cross was made, which then was an instrument of punishment.

Moses, who held his arms raised in the form of a cross during the battle, gave victory to the Israelites over the Amalekites. He also, dividing the Red Sea by a blow of his rod and by a transverse blow uniting the waters again, saved Israel from Pharaoh, who drowned in the water, while Israel crossed over on the dry bottom (Exodus, chs. 14, 17).

Elisha brought a child back to life again by stretching upon him in the form of a cross:

And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed. {33} He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the LORD. {34} And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands: and he stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child waxed warm. {35} Then he returned, and walked in the house to and fro; and went up, and stretched himself upon him: and the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. (2 Ki 4:32-35)



How did Jesus prophesy His death on a cross. Who did He tell he would die on a cross?


 And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. {24} Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. {25} He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. {26} If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honor. {27} Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. {28} Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. {29} The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him. {30} Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes. {31} Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. {32} And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. {33} This he said, signifying what death he should die. (John 12:23-33)

Jesus said to Peter, after his three-fold restoration:

P Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. {19} This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me. (John 21:18-19)



When was crucifixion used as a punishment?


The Romans used crucifixion as a punishment for slaves and the worst criminals. It was a punishment designed to invoke terror, because of it's extreme pain, and the way it displayed the dying man for all to see in his death agonies. No Roman citizen was ever crucified.



Who remained near the cross from among His followers?


Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. {26} When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! {27} Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. (John 19:25-27)





Normally Christians do not prostrate themselves on Sunday. Why? What is a prostration? On the Sunday of the Holy Cross we do prostrate. Why and when?

Christians do not prostrate on Sunday because this is the day we always celebrate the Resurrection, and we recall how God is able to make us stand. Our standing reminds us of the resurrection. There are one or two Sundays a year when we do prostrate (the Third Sunday of Great Lent, and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, if it falls on a Sunday. On this day, the hymn "Before Thy cross", which we sing while prostration, teaches us what our prostrations mean:

Before Thy Cross, / we fall down in worship, O Master, / and Thy holy Resurrection / we glorify.

When we prostrate, it is in worship of the Risen Lord, and when we raise ourselves up, we recall the resurrection.

A Christian prostrates when he makes the sign of the cross, and falls to his hands and knees (it is usually easier to have the hands touch the floor a moment before the knees), and bows his head to the ground, then gets back up.


Why do Christians make the sign of the cross? How is it made?

The cross is the sign of victory. The mind of the church also knows this symbol as an effective prayer for all circumstances, if it is made with faith. There are innumerable examples of the deliverance from Christians from every kind of danger, merely when they made the sign of the cross with faith.

The sign of the cross is made by placing the thumb and first 2 fingers of the right hand together in a point, which symbolizes the Holy Trinity, with the other two fingers against the palm, which symbolizes the two natures of Christ, and touching the forehead, then the breast, then the right and left shoulders. The is another Orthodox rite, called "Old Believer", or "Old Rite", where the fingers are held differently, but the meaning is the same.



Where, when, how and by whom was the true cross discovered?

St Helen, mother of St Constantine, discovered the Holy and Precious cross during excavations in Jerusalem, in the 4th century. The cross was found lying with the other crosses, form the thieves that had been crucified on each side of Christ. The true cross was identified when a dead man was raised back to life again after the cross was touched to him.



How and when is the cross commemorated in the average week?

We sing the troparion of the cross every Wednesday and Friday. On Wednesday, Christ was betrayed (sold), and on Friday He was crucified.

Most Sunday matins services, among the canons we sing is the "Canon to the Cross and Resurrection".

On Friday's, instead of a Theotokion in some places of the services, we sing a "StavroTheotokion", which is a hymn about the Theotokos and the Holy Cross.

We make the sign of the cross innumerable times, during our daily life, for every circumstance.



What major commemorations of the cross occur throughout the year?

3rd Sunday of Great Lent

Exaltation of the Precious and Life-giving cross (Sep 14)
Procession of the Holy cross (Aug 1)



How does one venerate the cross at the matins service? How would one person venerate the cross. How should two people venerate the cross (this is done to save a little time, when there is a large amount of the faithful).

In general, whenever one venerates an icon, or the Holy Gospel, or the Holy Cross in the center of the church, he makes two bows or prostrations, while making the sign of the cross. He then kisses the holy object on the icon stand, turns to the priest and receives a blessing, and returns back in front of the icon stand and does another bow or prostration.

2 bows, get a blessing, another bow

When two people venerate, they do everything together. The eldest gets a blessing first, and returns to the front of the icon stand, and waits for his partner. When they both are back in from of the icon stand, they do their final bow or prostration together.

On the Sunday of the Holy cross, prostrations are done in front of the Cross.

The Connection between abstinence and understanding.

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

4th Week of Great Lent – TUESDAY Matins


Illumined in our souls through abstinence, let us venerate the saving cross upon which Christ was nailed, and let us cry aloud to it: Hail the delight and sure help of those that fast; Hail, destroyer of the passions, adversary of the devils; Hail blessed wood! (Matins Sessional Hymn, Tone 8, from the Triodion, Tuesday in the 4th week of Great Lent)


Why do we fast? If a person fasts because it is a rule, he does not understand- he is not “illumined”. We fast precisely because of the human condition, which needs fasting in order to be “illumined”. This is a biological/spiritual “law”, as binding upon the human body and soul as, for instance, the law that if one drinks a liter of alcohol they will not be able to reason well, or if more calories are ingested than are used in activity, a person will become fat.


There is a connection between the body and soul; each affects the other. We do not understand how this interaction occurs, but we know from experience various ways that each affects the other.


Our Lord told us that “This kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting” (Mat 17:21). He was using the occasion of the exorcism He had just performed to compare our passions to demons and teach us a principle weapon we must use to expel them. This understanding has been present in the church from the beginning but one will not find it understood well outside of Orthodoxy, or even by most in the church.


Since fasting for too many is a “rule”, and they do not understand its purpose, like most rules that are not understood, it is not well followed and loses its power to effect change. People foolishly argue whether strict fasting is for monks or not, and all kinds of minutia, when they should be pursuing abstinence in order to gain understanding.


Adam and Eve fell from understanding because they were not abstinent. All kinds of gluttony – for food, drink, pleasure, power, prestige, money, entertainments and everything else – darkens our understanding. The things we desire are not (usually) forbidden in principle, but our desiring them in excess measure is a type of impurity, and only the pure can know God, because they have become like him.


“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Beatitudes)


Why do you fast? If it is for any other reason than to illumine the dark parts of your soul, you fast weakly, without power and proper purpose.


If you do not understand this connection between fasting and understanding, you must explore it first with faith, and you will learn. “Come and see” said Philip to Nathaniel, and this advice applies equally well to all spiritual and ascetic endeavors.


Half hearted measures are unlikely to help you. Neither is sometimes fasting and sometimes not, or making up your own rules about fasting. Do not do this alone. Your confessor should know about your fasting. If your confessor does not fast [1], or belittles fasting, then find a new confessor! A confessor will help a person to fast according to their abilities. A person who does not follow the letter of the fasting “rules” but tries to follow them in spirit will spiritually ascend.


Abstinence is hard. It is directly opposed to our self-centeredness, our wayward desires. This is precisely why it is so powerful and so necessary.


Some time ago I read an article that made me very sad. A person who was new to Orthodox had trouble with fasting. particularly irritability and an obsession with and confusion about the rules. Not receiving sound counsel, this person, in the darkness of his understanding reasoned that “over emphasizing” fasting was the cause of his problems, and finding a church that was more “relaxed” (his words) about fasting. he thought he found a better way. The only thing that we ALWAYS “over-emphasize” is our own desires, and this ALWAYS darkens our understanding.


The only solution for indulgence is abstinence, with proper measure and resolute purpose. In so doing, with God’s great help, we will be


Illumined in our souls through abstinence.”



Post Script.


This simple hymn, sung only ONE day in the entire church year, is illustrative of the vast wealth that is on our services. If one listens carefully, all of our theology, and with it, our practices and the reason for them, are fully explained. Theology is beautiful, precise and pristine. When it is sung, it penetrates the soul. It is good to read service texts, but even better to stand in long services and listen to them. Even if in a three hour service there is only enough attention and lucidity to understand, even for a brief moment, one of our hymns, the time is well spent. Attempting to stand in the services and pray is a kind of abstinence too, and it bestows rich rewards upon the expectant hearer. As in all things, spiritual, this must be experienced to be understood.






The most important reference on fasting for an Orthodox Christian is a confessor who fasts.



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


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[1] Of course, there are proper reasons to eat “non-fasting” food during a fast season, but they only involve the needs of the body, and should not involve the gluttony of the soul. A person may eat non-fasting food for medical reasons, but in every case, the “spirit of the fast” can be followed, and the person is then “fasting”. A confessor who does not understand and practice fasting is incompetent and spiritually dangerous.

A golden ring in a swine’s snout, a woman fair and foolish.

Monday, March 8th, 2010

A golden ring in a swine's snout, a woman fair and foolish.

Great Lent, the Fourth Week, Vespers, Proverbs 11:22 from the selection: Prov 11:19-12:6


The Proverbs has many pithy and sometimes humorous phrases.


What a sight it would be to see a woman, beautiful in all ways, except that she has the nose of a pig, with a ring in it! I daresay it would be much easier to avoid the lust of the eyes as soon as our gaze lights upon that nose with that ring!


Perhaps you have the same humorous image I had when I read this verse. Sometimes humor can help us, and although this verse can be thought of as humorous, it speaks of a multitude of sins which we must avoid.


The “Fair (beautiful) and foolish woman (or any person)” is foolish because of their vanity. Their beauty was given by God, or perhaps they altered their image by surgery, but in any case, it was not earned. It is foolish to be proud, but even more so, to be vain about things which are trifles, or which we have no control.

It is also foolish to value external beauty, or money, or anything that is temporary.

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: (20) But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: (21) For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

The foolish vain person sees himself in a flattering light, but to God, and those with God's wisdom, he appears foolish. In a like way,


A golden ring in a swine's snout:

a man rich and foolish

a famous man and foolish

a man who is proud of his family, or ethnicity, or education, and foolish.


A pig is an unclean animal. We are unclean when we are proud of our few accomplishments, our looks, or wealth, or position, or anything we have, and do not cultivate the virtues.

Veneration Of The Holy Cross We cannot see the Kingdom of God come with power unless we follow the way of the cross. Mark 8:34-9:1

Monday, March 8th, 2010


Mark 8:34-9:1 34 And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. 36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? 37 Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. 1 And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.

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Pictures of primed church, main doors, parking lot

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Pictures from yesterday. Priming is done. They are painting today. If the weather holds, the parking lot will be poured next week, and the outside stone will be on in 1 1/2 weeks. We are getting very close. The church sounds really good!