Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Eschatological Nature of Holy Week & Pascha

Holy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday:
The Bridegroom Matins


These three days, which the Church calls Great and Holy have within the liturgical development of the Holy Week a very definite purpose. They place all its celebrations in the perspective of End; they remind us of the eschatological meaning of Pascha.

So often Holy Week is considered one of the "beautiful traditions" or "customs," a self-evident "part" of our calendar. We take it for granted and enjoy it as a cherished annual event which we have "observed" since childhood, we admire the beauty of its services, the pageantry of its rites and, last but not least, we like the fuss about the paschal table. And then, when all this is done we resume our normal life.

But do we understand that when the world rejected its Savior, when "Jesus began to be sorrowful and very heavy... and his soul was exceedingly sorrowful even unto death," when He died on the Cross, "normal life" came to its end and is no longer possible?

For there were "normal" men who shouted "Crucify Him," who spat at Him and nailed Him to the Cross. And they hated and killed Him precisely because He was troubling their normal life. It was indeed a perfectly "normal" world which preferred darkness and death to light and life.... By the death of Jesus the "normal" world, and "normal" life were irrevocably condemned. Or rather they revealed their true and abnormal inability to receive the Light, the terrible power of evil in them. 

"Now is the Judgment of this world" (John 12:31). The Pascha of Jesus signified its end to "this world" and it has been at its end since then. This end can last for hundreds of centuries this does not alter the nature of time in which we live as the "last time." "The fashion of this world passeth away..." (I Cor. 7:31). 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fr. Seraphim Rose: At the End of Our Exile

This brief homily, dating from 1965 (from the small collection of Eugene Rose's early sermons, 'Heavenly Realm') was written for the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, the first Sunday of the Lenten Triodion. We have now completed our journey through the exile of Lent, so these words ought to stir in us a renewed desire to "prepare to meet the Rising Sun of the New Jerusalem, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ."

As Fr Seraphim says below, "There is still time... to remember our true home," and make ourselves "exiles from the world."

We have this sacred time of Holy Week to do just that.


“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.”

In these words of the Lenten Psalm, we Orthodox Christians, the New Israel, remember that we are in exile. For Orthodox Russians, banished from Holy Russia *, the Psalm has a special meaning; but all Orthodox Christians, too, live in exile in this world, longing to return to our true home, Heaven.

For us the Great Fast is a session of exile ordained for us by our Mother, the Church, to keep fresh in us the memory of Zion from which we have wandered so far. We have deserved our exile and we have great need of it because of our great sinfulness. Only through the chastisement of exile, which we remember in the fasting, prayer and repentance of this season.

Do we remain mindful of our Zion?

The Lord's Entry Into Jerusalem

"No one in this world is happy unless he has opened wide the gates of his spiritual Jerusalem—his soul—and received God into himself."

The Spiritual Meaning of Palm Sunday
by St Nikolai Velimirovich

One of the most miraculous details of our Savior’s life was foreseen by the Prophet Zacharias through the dark glass of time, and described thus:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion; proclaim it aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, the King is coming to thee, just, and a Saviour; he is meek and riding on an ass, and a young foal (Zach 9:9).

The Apostle Luke, an eyewitness, describes this event:

And when he had thus spoken, he went before, ascending up to Jerusalem. And it came to pass, when he was come nigh to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount called the mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying, Go ye into the village over against you; in the which at your entering ye shall find a colt tied, whereon yet never man sat: loose him, and bring him hither. And if any man ask you, Why do ye loose him? thus shall ye say unto him, Because the Lord hath need of him. 
And they that were sent went their way, and found even as he had said unto them. And as they were loosing the colt, the owners thereof said unto them, Why loose ye the colt? And they said, The Lord hath need of him. And they brought him to Jesus: and they cast their garments upon the colt, and they set Jesus thereon. And as he went, they spread their clothes in the way. And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen; saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest. 
And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples. And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out. saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation. And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it. 
And he went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves. And he taught daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the chief of the people sought to destroy him, and could not find what they might do: for all the people were very attentive to hear him (Lk. 19:28–48).

This is the description of an historical event that took place twenty centuries ago, as related by an eyewitness. But this event has more than historical significance; it also has a spiritual meaning, and therefore also a moral meaning for every modern-day Christian. According to the spiritual meaning, Jerusalem signifies the human soul, and the entry of the Lord into Jerusalem signifies the entrance of God into the soul.

"The leaders of the crowd of people, who hate Christ and want to kill Him, personify the lower desires and earthbound thoughts, which take the upper hand over man’s noble nature and oppress it. Now this lower human nature rebels against God’s entry into the soul, for when God is enthroned there, the lower nature will inevitably be destroyed."

The multitudes of people, crowded and pushing one against another, joyfully awaiting and greeting Christ, symbolize the noble sentiments and exalted thoughts of a person who joyfully greets God, his Savior and Deliverer. The leaders of the crowd of people, who hate Christ and want to kill Him, personify the lower desires and earthbound thoughts, which take the upper hand over man’s noble nature and oppress it. Now this lower human nature rebels against God’s entry into the soul, for when God is enthroned there, the lower nature will inevitably be destroyed.

The Temple in Jerusalem symbolizes the holy of holies of the human soul—that sacred place where the Holy Spirit has if only a miniscule haven even in the greatest sinner. But earthly passions penetrate there also, and lower human nature has used even it to achieve its base aims.

Christ heals the soul of those sick ones who fall down before Him with faith, and this means that certain impulses of the soul, although sick, thirst for unity with God and seek for Him, the only true Doctor in the world. Christ’s prophecy of Jerusalem’s destruction symbolizes the destruction of any soul that God rejects, lays low, and spews forth from Himself.

No one in this world is happy unless he has opened wide the gates of his spiritual Jerusalem—his soul—and received God into himself. A godless man feels lonely to despair. The society of others does not make his loneliness go away, but only increases it. However he who has taken God into his soul will never feel lonely even in a desert. No one dies an eternal death other than one in whom God has died.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Strange Case of Lazarus

By Fr Stephen Freeman, Glory to God for All Things — April 10, 2014

St. John’s Gospel records the story of Christ’s raising Lazarus from the dead as the last action of Christ before His entry into Jerusalem. That setting has given rise to the feast of Lazarus Saturday in the Orthodox Church – a small Pascha before Holy Week.

The three synoptic gospels make no mention of these events, to which I draw no historical conclusions. The gospels include and exclude events for many reasons, historical considerations seeming to be of the least importance. Which stories, and in what order, primarily serve deeper theological concerns.

For St. John, the story of Lazarus serves as the occasion for commentary and teaching on the resurrection of believers, much like the Feeding of the Five Thousand serves for commentary and teaching on the Eucharist.

“If you had been here, my brother would not have died,” (Martha’s words) echoes the universal voice of the Church in the face of Christ’s delayed Second Coming. It is the plaintive heart of believers who wonder why God allows suffering.

And some of them said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?” (Jn 11:37)

It is an obvious question, repeated in various forms by believers as well as scoffers through the centuries. The story of Lazarus, which occurs before Christ’s suffering and death, specifically addresses the heart of the Church after Christ’s suffering and death. For though we rejoice in Christ’s death and resurrection, it is our dead brother (mother, father, sister, friend) who lies heavy on our hearts.

Turning towards Holy Week

Icon of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)

These will be among my last posts before Orthodox Christian Holy Week begins, when we should turn aside from the maelstrom of the world and the cacophony of false religions of whatever stripe, and direct 100% of our attention — body, soul and spirit — to the Lord Jesus Christ and His voluntary and saving Passion, Crucifixion, Death, Burial and Resurrection.

For all our sakes, mine as well as yours, dear readers, I intend to post some favorite articles throughout the Lord's Passion Week, per the counsel of Fr. Steven Kostoff, who wrote this week on his blog:

+  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.  (This may already be solved for you in some school systems as we celebrate Pascha this year with Roman Catholics and Protestants and perhaps your school district allows for a taking Good Friday off). 
+  Reduce or eliminate TV and other viewings for the week.  Keep off the internet except for essential matters. [In other words, don't focus on Islam during the Lord's Passion Week!] 
+  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. 25-26; 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. 
+  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.  You may or may not choose to stay for the meal to follow, but what matters is the Liturgy.

Much more in the full meditation here.

So, with the Raising of Lazarus and Palm Sunday already at hand, let us together join with the Lord Jesus Christ as He goes up to Jerusalem!

Jihadists are embarking on ‘Final Solution’ in Middle East

"Unless we lay bare the ideology which lies behind radical Islamist thinking... and challenge the conspiracy of silence which surrounds the question of religious persecution at the hands of radical Islamists... we will sleep-walk into a tragedy which has implications well beyond the ancient biblical lands."

By David Alton, CatholicHerald — April 10, 2014

The West is caught up with trivial concerns while minorities abroad are driven to extinction.

This is the text of a speech given by Lord Alton of Liverpool at a Vigil for Syria held at Farm Street Jesuit Church on Tuesday, just a day after the murder of Fr van der Lugt in Homs. 

Fr van der Lugt speaking to a family in Homs in January.
He was murdered on Monday (CNS)
In a talk at the beginning of Lent at Brentwood Cathedral I cited the heroic and faithful work of a 75-ear-old Dutch Jesuit, Fr. Franz van der Lugt who, in the face of extraordinary danger and acute suffering, refused to desert the suffering people of Homs.

Father Frans van der Lugt was born on April 10, 1938 in the Netherlands and entered the Society of Jesus in 1959.

During 50 years he has been active in Syria, working in education and in a project for disabled people. Since the beginning of the civil war he wanted to stay with the local population (Christians and Muslims) in the Centre of Homs as a man of peace, even when some weeks ago part of the enclosed population had been allowed to be rescued.

Our British Jesuit provincial, Fr Dermot Preston SJ, is currently traveling back from Guyana and in a message to me last night he said: “In amongst the mayhem of Homs, it is perhaps characteristic of Fr Frans that the only personal thing that he had been feeling the lack of in the last couple of years were new batteries for his hearing-aid. May he rest in the Peace of Christ.”

Fr Franz had worked in Syria since 1967 and had been looking after 89 Christians trapped in the Old City who were sheltering in an old monastery. In February the number fell to about 20 or 25, after a three-day truce between warring sides allowed people to leave the Old City, but a fellow Jesuit, Fr Ziad Hillal reported that his confrere had remained to take care of those who could not leave.

Fr Hillal said: “For me, [Fr van der Lugt] represents Christ in the world who is willing to lay down his life for his friends, who always gives us hope. He always asks how I am and does not talk much about himself.”

He added: “He was a ray of joy and hope to all those trapped in the Old City of Homs, waiting for yet another UN permission to evacuate. “God have mercy on us, who could not save him from sniper fire.”

Fr van der Lugt personified all the best qualities and ideals, which the Society of Jesus stands for.

He joins a long list of Jesuit martyrs – some martyred a stones throw from where we are gathered – and who have sacrificed their lives truly believing that a man has no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.

Fr Franz’s death in Syria is a stark reminder of the systematic campaign by jihadists intent on the destruction of the region’s ancient churches and the contemporary Passion and suffering being inflicted on the Middle East’s Christians. It is also a moment to reflect on the outstanding work of Aid to The Church In need, who had provided more than £2 million of support to the humanitarian work in Homs.

Tonight we have a moment to honour a great man but also to raise our voices and prayers.

Tonight I want to highlight the systematic killing and outright persecution of Christians, which takes place without hardly a murmur of protest – and also challenge the mistaken belief that somehow this has little or nothing to do with us.

Religious illiteracy among policy makers in Western nations has led to serious mistakes... which will have consequences in our own back yard.

Unless we lay bare the ideology which lies behind radical Islamist thinking – and which too often reduces God to the status of a faction leader or tribal chief – and challenge the conspiracy of silence which surrounds the question of religious persecution, at the hands of radical Islamists and atheists alike, we will sleep-walk into a tragedy which has implications well beyond the ancient biblical lands.

Yet religious illiteracy amongst policy makers in Western nations means that the way we view these conflicts has led to serious mistakes being made and unless we are very careful those same mistakes will come to have consequences in our own back yard.

Policy makers, intelligence services and the media need to have a much more considered understanding of religious radicalisation and intolerance.

Metropolitan Hilarion administers the rite of reuniting those who temporarily fell away from the Orthodox Church

I saw this report as offering a wonderful image and affirmation of hope for those who, whether by marriage or because they fell into spiritual delusion, were tempted away from Jesus Christ and the Orthodox Church and into Islam. The Church, in her compassion and practice, has various pastoral means by which to restore those who have left her.

If you, dear reader, see yourself in this description at all, don't hesitate! Contact an Orthodox Christian priest immediately, especially at this holy time of the year, as we prepare to follow Christ through the week of His Passion and Crucifixion. A timely phone call might quickly open the way for you to join in a Glorious Resurrection!

Metropolitan Hilarion administers the rite of reuniting those who temporarily fell away from the Orthodox Church
Pravmir — April 10, 2014

The Church has all the necessary things to make a person happy in this life and to prepare him or her for moving to the future life.

On April 9, 2014, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s department for external church relations, administered the rite of reuniting those who temporarily fell away from the Orthodox Church by diverting into various false teachings and sects, at the church of Our Lady the Joy to All the Afflicted-in-Bolshaya Ordynka.

The rite of reunification is administered in this church twice a year. On April 9, fifty four people renounced heathenism, sectarian delusions and schismatic false belief by pledging on the Gospel allegiance to the Church. After the oath, Metropolitan Hilarion laid his homophor on the head of each of those who reunited with the Church.

In his word of instruction, Metropolitan Hilarion noted in particular.

“Today the Lord has brought you back to the Holy Church – the Church to which you were once brought by God through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, from which you fell away through delusions and to which you have returned today through repentance”.

Holy Hieromartyr Gregory V, Patriarch of Constantinople (†1821)

As we approach the Lord's Passion Week, it seems timely to consider one of the most prominent of the Neo-martyrs.

By Hieromonk Makarios of Simonos Petra
MYSTAGOGY - April 10, 2014 

Born in 1745 in the bosom of a poor family from Dimitsana in the Peloponnese, Saint Gregory received his earliest education from his uncle who was a hieromonk, and then went to live with him in Smyrna. Becoming a monk in the monastery on the island of Strophades, he completed his theological studies on Patmos. On his return to Smyrna, Metropolitan Procopios, who showed him a fatherly affection, made him archdeacon and then ordained him priest. When Procopios was elevated to the Patriarchate in 1788, he consecrated Gregory to succeed him.

For twelve years, the holy hierarch governed the great and wealthy city of Smyrna, the metropolis of Hellenism in Asia Minor, with wisdom and apostolic zeal. He had several churches rebuilt there, founded schools and organized a system of charity for the underprivileged. In 1797, he was elected Ecumenical Patriarch and immediately undertook to enhance the patriarchal dignity by having the Phanar palace rebuilt. He also founded a publishing house in which he edited books in the vernacular, which contributed greatly to the cultural and spiritual awakening of the Greek people. The holy hierarch was vigilant about the strict observance of the ecclesiastical canons and the moral rectitude of the clergy. In those troubled times, when the Greeks, who had been held under the Ottoman yoke for almost four centuries, were brewing up for a general uprising, the Patriarch, aware of his pastoral responsibilities, exerted himself to temper the warlike spirits while secretly nurturing national feeling.

After just a year and a half, he was denounced to the Sultan by some bishops whom he had reprimanded for their conduct, and was exiled to Chalcedon and then to the Monastery of Iveron on the Holy Mountain. During this forced stay on Athos, the Saint visited all the monasteries, preached the word of God and was a model of monastic life to all. He then gave the blessing to Saint Euthymios (March 22) to go and offer himself for martyrdom, and expressed his joy and pride at the news of the martyrdom of Saint Agathangelos (19 April), thus showing that he considered death for love of Christ to be the supreme goal and crown of the Christian life.


"The new inspector general’s report [on the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013]  does anything but exonerate the FBI; in fact, it reveals how terribly the bureau has gone astray from its true purpose during the administration of Barack Obama."

by Robert Spencer, Breitbart News — April 10, 2014

The New York Times revealed Wednesday that “the Russian government declined to provide the F.B.I. with information about one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects that would most likely have led to more extensive scrutiny of him at least two years before the attack, according to an inspector general’s report.” 

The Times considers this report to be an “exoneration of the F.B.I.,” after the bureau was harshly criticized for not adequately investigating Tamerlan Tsarnaev before his jihad attack. In reality, however, the report only shows up the Obama FBI’s inadequacies and myopia all the more vividly.

The report, at least as the Times explains it, is actually an attempt to displace blame for the FBI’s dropping the ball on Tsarnaev from the FBI to the Russians. The Times notes that “as part of its investigation of Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011, F.B.I. agents examined his criminal and educational records and his Internet search history. They also interviewed him, his parents and people at his school. It was after those investigative efforts uncovered little that F.B.I. agents stationed in Moscow went back to the Russian authorities and requested any additional information they had on Mr. Tsarnaev, who immigrated to the United States from Dagestan a little more than a decade ago.”

However, the report reveals, perhaps inadvertently, that the Russians told the FBI all that it really needed to know. It acknowledges that the Russians told the feds that Tamerlan Tsarnaev “was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer,” and he “had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country’s region to join unspecified underground groups.”

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Syria’s Al-Assad receives Syriac Orthodox Church’s new patriarch

Discussion emphasized Islamic terrorism and jihadist groups threatening Syria and the Middle East, and the right of the Syrian people to self-determination free from foreign (i.e., American) interference.

Pravmir — April 10, 2014

Embattled Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad recently received Moran Ignatius Aphrem II Karim, the elected patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, at the presidential palace in Damascus.

The new patriarch and his accompanying patriarchate delegation were given a warm welcome and cordial reception by the Syrian president.

Al-Assad congratulated the new patriarch, wishing him luck in his new post and affirming the patriarchate’s vital role in spreading the culture of love and fraternity amidst the jihadist threat affecting the region and the world.

Karim expressed his hope that security and peace would soon prevail in Syria, whose people he said were a shining example of national unity. He further asserted that the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate supports the Syrian people’s struggle against terrorism and their right to self-determination away from the interference of any foreign side.

The patriarch also stressed that the followers of the Syriac Church are determined to remain steadfast in their homeland and defend it with all their capacities and expressed his happiness to return to Damascus, the capital of Syria and the Syriac Church.

“As for us, Damascus is the Antioch which was the capital of Syria at the Roman days,” he said.