Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Holy Week - The Ultimate Perspective

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

At the beginning of Holy Week we contemplate "The End" — of the earthly ministry of Christ, of our own lives and the judgment that will lead to, and of the "end of the world." In other words, there is something of an "apocalyptic edge" to the texts of the services, beginning with the Scriptures and extending into the hymnography.

Another term would be "eschatological," meaning the "last things" in relation to the fulfillment of God's design for the world. That may initially sound like a strange combination of themes. After all, our major concern and focus is upon our Lord voluntarily going up to Jerusalem in order to ascend the Cross in the flesh. But right before the Son of Man ascends the Cross, He solemnly declares, "Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out" [John 12:31].  

In judging Christ, "the world" judges itself. Sin and darkness seem to prevail when the Innocent Christ is led away to be crucified. The triumph of such darkness can freeze the heart and lead many to despair, the very fate of the disciples at this time. As the prophet Amos said, "The one who is stout of heart among the mighty shall flee away naked on that day" [Amos 2:16; cf. Mark 14:51-52].    Where do we stand?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Our Commitment to Holy Week

Dear Parish Faithful,

I am trying to fit in one more book before Pascha, and that is The Final Days of Jesus by two PhDs and professors at a Baptist Theological Seminary(!).  It is a day-by-day account, based on the Gospels, of Christ's last week before His Death and Resurrection. It is very well done and provides a good chronology and excellent background material that allows the reader to better understand the religious, cultural, political and social realities of 1st c. Jerusalem. All of this is based upon a close reading of the four canonical Gospels.

The authors actually refer to "Holy Week" in the process, and write about it very reverently, but as if this is something their fellow Baptist or Evangelical believers are not overly familiar with. 

In fact, a kind of sub-text to the book is precisely to awaken a sense of Holy Week in their fellow (Protestant) Christians.  That is not our problem!  As Orthodox, we "live" for Holy Week and realize that it is the key week of our liturgical year, as it will culminate in the Lord's Death and Resurrection - the great paschal mystery.  As Fr. Sergius Bulgakov once wrote:  Holy Week sweeps the Orthodox believer along as if on a mystic torrent. 

Our problem may just be observing Holy Week with focused attention and prayerful participation, as other demands of life impinge upon us in a never-ending flow of responsibilities - and distractions.

Therefore, I would simply like to provide a few pastoral suggestions that everyone can think about and perhaps incorporate into your daily lives as Holy Week unfolds:

Friday, April 4, 2014

An Icon of Repentance

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

Yesterday evening, we had a wonderful reading of the entire Life of St. Mary of Egypt, in the context of the Canon of Repentance.  All that was missing were people to hear it!  This Life is one of the premier hagiographical works of the Church that has come down to us through the centuries (it was written by St. Sophronius of Jerusalem in the 7th c.). 

With his usual meticulous care, our webservant has prepared an excellent resource page on our parish website, that will give everyone access to an abbreviated form of her Life, together with many insightful reflections about this marvelous saint - a true "icon of repentance."

If you know nothing about St. Mary of Egypt, here is a great opportunity to fill in that gap.