Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Only in the Light of the Resurrection...

 

Dear Parish Faithful,

CHRIST IS RISEN!

INDEED HE IS RISEN!



 

The short passage below being offered as a paschal meditation, captures the resurrectional nature of the Orthodox Church in a very personal manner, as it is based on Bp. Nikolai's paschal experience in Jerusalem. Notice how what he experienced in the paschal service "colors" his perception of the world around him once that resurrectional joy has entered his mind and heart. Everyday reality - mundane as it may usually seem - is now seen to be "different," meaning brighter or perhaps even more real.
 

"We waited, and at last our expectations were fulfilled," writes the Serbian Bishop Nikolai of Ochrid, describing the Easter service  at Jerusalem. "When the Patriarch sang 'Christ is Risen', a heavy burden fell from our souls. We felt as if we also had been raised from the dead. All at once, from all around, the same cry resounded like the noise of many waters. 'Christ is Risen' sang the Greeks, the Russians, the Arabs, the Serbs, the Copts, the Armenians, the Ethiopians - one after another, each in his own tongue, in his own melody ... Coming out  from the service at dawn, we began to regard everything in the light of the glory of Christ's Resurrection, and all appeared different from what it had yesterday; everything seemed better, more expressive, more glorious. Only in the light of the Resurrection does life receive meaning."

 

And then Archbishop Kallistos further remarks: 

 

This sense of resurrection joy, so vividly described by Bishop Nikolai, forms the foundation of all worship of the Orthodox Church; it is the one and only basis for our Christian life and hope.


 

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Fr. Georges Florovsky, 'On The Tree Of The Cross', Part 2



HOLY TUESDAY

Dear Parish Faithful,

Again turning to Fr. George Florovsky for today's Holy Week meditation. Notice how closely related the Cross and Resurrection are organically related. The very death of Christ is a "resurrecting death," it is not a tragedy or miscarriage of justice reversed by the Resurrection.

Redemption is, above all, the salvation from death and destruction, a restoration of the original unity and stability of human nature. But it is only possible to restore the unity in human nature by restoring the communion between humanity and God. The resurrection is only possible in God. Christ is the resurrection and the life. The way to and hope of resurrection was revealed in the incarnation. Humanity sinned but also fell into corruptibility; therefore, the Word of God became a human person and received our body... Death had been implanted in the body; therefore, life had to be implanted again in order to save it from corruptibility and clothe it with life. Else it would not be able to be resurrected.

The decisive reason for the death of Christ is the mortality of humanity. Christ suffered death, but He conquered death and corruptibility and destroyed the power of death. In the death of Christ, death itself receives a new meaning.

- On the Tree of the Cross, p. 146


Monday, April 26, 2021

Fr. Georges Florovsky, 'On The Tree Of The Cross', Part 1


Dear Parish Faithful,

Holy and Great Monday

"For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified."
(I Cor. 2:2)


As I wrote last week, I intend to share a few short, but remarkable passages, from the writings of Fr. George Florovsky (+1979), perhaps the preeminent Orthodox theologian of the twentieth century, as we enter into the mystery of Holy Week. 
 
Fr. George wrote extensively on the Orthodox understanding of redemption, or how Christ accomplished our salvation through the Cross and Resurrection. He was always engaged in discovering the "mind of the Church" by carefully reading and studying the great Church Fathers. In fact, he attempted to synthesize their thought in a cohesive and convincing manner. A great deal of what her wrote on redemption is helpful for a better appreciation of the culmination of Holy Week in the Cross and Resurrection.


The incarnation of the Word was a revelation of life; Christ is the Word of Life. But the highpoint of the Gospel is the Cross; the death of the incarnated. Life was completely revealed in death. This is the paradoxical mystery of the Christian faith; life through death; life from the grave. We are born to a true eternal life only by our baptism into death and burial in Christ; we are reborn with Christ at the baptismal font. This is the unchanging law of true life: "what you sow is not made alive unless it dies" (I Cor. 15:36).


Redemption is an historic event, as much as it is also an eternal design. It is a sovereign deed of God, but it is also an offer to humanity, and humanity's response in faith belongs to the very structure of the actual redemption. The world has been redeemed, once and forever, but it is still being redeemed, and is to be redeemed. Christ's coming is itself both an accomplishment, a consummation of the promise, and an inauguration of the New Covenant, of the New Humanity, of the "New Creation: " Christ and His Body cannot be separated.


From On the Tree of the Cross - George Florovsky and the Patristic Doctrine of Atonement, p. 144 & 154

Friday, April 23, 2021

Our Commitment to Holy Week



Dear Parish Faithful,

UPDATED APRIL 27, 2021:

Here is a link to Fr. Alexander Schmemann's remarkable Commentary on Holy Week as it unfolds within the liturgical life of the Church leading us to the Paschal Mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Christ.

Fr. Steven




We have reached the saving passion of Christ our God.
Let us, the faithful, glorify His ineffable forbearance,
that in His compassion He may raise us up who were dead in sin,
for He is good and loves mankind. 
(Matins of Holy Monday)


I am trying to fit in one more book before Pascha, and that is On the Tree of the Cross - George Florovsky and the Patristic Doctrine of the Atonement. This book is a collection of excellent essays on the Orthodox understanding of the atoning death of Christ, all very rich and filled with insights primarily drawn from the Fathers. The culminating essays belong to Fr. George Florovsky, arguably the preeminent Orthodox theologian of the twentieth century. Fr. George completely expands our notion of atonement - he prefers the word "redemption" - when referring to the "saving work" of Christ. I will share some key passages from this book during Holy Week. My goal now is to simply share a few comments about the upcoming Holy Week and our approach to it.

 

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:

 

  • One must first make a commitment to Holy Week and make it the priority for your respective households, regardless of how often you actually make it to the services. This is a week of strict fasting, and no other activities should impinge upon that. Your commitment to making Holy Week the center of your lives is synonymous with your commitment to Christ.
  • Try and arrange your schedules so that you are able to attend the services as well as possible. However, if you are not able to attend the services, it must not be because of something of "entertainment value;" or some other distraction that can wait for a more appropriate time. Be especially aware of Great and Holy Friday and Saturday. These are the days of the Lord's Death and Sabbath rest in the tomb. These are days of fasting, silence and sobriety. Respect that fact that you are participating in a great mystery - the mystery of redemption and salvation.
  • Parents, you may think of taking your children out of school on Holy Friday and attending the Vespers service in the afternoon. Other children have their "holy days" on which they may miss school; and we, as Orthodox Christians, have our own.
  • Reduce or eliminate TV and other viewings for the week. Keep off the internet except for essential matters. Struggle against smart phone distraction/app obsessions.
  • Be regular in your prayers.
  • Try not to gossip or speak poorly of other persons.
  • Choose at least one of the Passion Narratives from the four Gospels - MK. 14-15; MATT. 26-27; LK. 22-23; JN. 18-19 - and read it carefully through the week. There is also other good literature about Holy Week and Pascha that could be read. Actually, this is an incredibly rich resource page from our own parish website that offers extensive and intensive insights into the meaning of Holy Week.
  • If you have access to any of the Holy Week service booklets, read and study the services carefully before coming to church. This will deepen your understanding of that particular service's emphasis as Holy Week unfolds.
  • If you come to the midnight Paschal Liturgy, do your best to stay for the entire service, prepared to receive the Eucharist. It does not make a great deal of sense to leave the Liturgy before Holy Communion. 
 

Our goal, I believe, is to make of Holy Week and Pascha something a great deal more than a colorful/cultural event that is fleeting in nature and quickly forgotten. To encounter this "more" requires our own human effort working together with the grace of God so that the heart is enlarged with the presence of the crucified and risen Christ.

__________


At the last of our Presanctified Liturgies for this year, we heard the following hymn:

 

I am rich in passions, I am wrapped in the false robe of hypocrisy. Lacking self-restraint I delight in self-indulgence. I show a boundless lack of love. I see my mind cast down before the gates of repentance, starved of true goodness and sick with inattention. But make me like Lazarus, who was poor in sin, lest I receive no answer when I pray, no finger dipped in water to relieve my burning tongue; and make me dwell in Abraham's bosom in Your love for mankind.
 

Does this possibly sound familiar to anyone? Do you know of anyone that this hymn may be describing? Is this person well-known to you? If so, you may want to keep this person in your prayers so that he or she may one day - by the grace of God - be freed of these spiritually-harmful traits.

But our primary aim is to focus on the beauty and depth of Holy Week; a beauty and depth that flows naturally from Jesus Christ our Savior.

 

 

Thursday, April 15, 2021

'A Spiritual Question'

 

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

 

GREAT LENT: The Thirty-Second Day

 

"Bread for myself is a material question; bread for my neighbor is a spiritual question."
- Nicholas Berdyaev

 

Those of us who are not poor or who do not interact with poor people with any kind of daily regularity, most likely fail to understand the generational "net of poverty" that is do difficult to extricate oneself from. 

I raise the issue this morning, because we received the latest issue of the St. Nicholas Uganda Children's Fund Newsletter. Our parish has been supporting this excellent ministry for some years now; a ministry organized and administered by Peter and Sharon Georges. I know that some of you are also individual supporters of this Uganda ministry. 

 

Peter and Sharon with a group of Ugandan students

I would like to share a simple paragraph from this latest newsletter that captures the plight of the poor and the barriers that poverty makes so hard to overcome. The paragraph has the situation in Uganda primarily in mind, but this is clearly a universal problem that is just as real in America:

 

The cycle of poverty, or poverty's trap, is a spiraling mechanism that is so binding in itself that it doesn't allow poor people to escape it. It is not merely the absence of economic means. It is created due to a variety of factors, including lack of quality education, insufficient healthcare, and poor infrastructure.
Impoverished individuals and families do not have access to the economic, educational, and social resources that would enable them to get out of poverty. The result is that the poor remain poor throughout their lives. In Uganda, where no schooling is free, parents are unable to provide what their children need to succeed academically - tuition, books, school uniforms, shoes - nor can they afford adequate healthcare.
The poverty trap leads to generational poverty.

 

We have an entire page dedicated to the St. Nicolas Children's Fund on our parish website:

https://www.christthesavioroca.org/stnicholasugandachildrensfund

As a footnote to add from the newsletter: In a country of 47,000,000 the current number of infected people stands at 175. Rather remarkable!