St Ephrem the Syrian: Hymn 14 of the Epiphany, concerning our Lord and John.

1. My thought bore me to Jordan,
and I saw a marvel when there was revealed
the glorious Bridegroom who to the Bride
shall bring freedom and holiness.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

2. I saw John filled with wonder
and the multitudes standing about him
and the glorious Bridegroom bowed down
to the Son of the barren that he might baptise Him.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

3. At the Word and the Voice my thought marvelled:
for lo! John was the Voice;
our Lord was manifested as the Word,
that what was hidden should become revealed.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

4. The Bride was espoused but knew not
who was the Bridegroom on whom she gazed:
the guests were assembled, the desert was filled
and our Lord was hidden among them.
                                                              

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy

5. Then the Bridegroom revealed Himself
and to John at the voice He drew near:
and the Forerunner was moved and said of Him
This is the Bridegroom Whom I proclaimed.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

6. He came to baptism Who baptises all
and He showed Himself at Jordan.
John saw Him and drew back
deprecating, and thus he spoke:

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

7. How, my Lord, dost Thou will to be baptised
Thou Who in Thy baptism atonest all?
Baptism looks unto Thee
do Thou shed on it holiness and perfection?

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

8. Our Lord said I will it so
draw near, baptise Me that My Will may be done.
Resist My Will thou cannot:
I shall be baptised of thee, for thus I will it.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

9. I entreat, my Lord, that I be not compelled
for this is hard that Thou hast said to me
‘I need thee to baptise Me;’
for it is Thou that with Thy hyssop purifiest all.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

10. I have asked it, and it pleases Me that thus it should be
and thou, John, why dost thou gainsay?
Allow righteousness to be fulfilled
and come, baptise Me; why art thou standing there?

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

11. How can one openly grasp
in his hands the fire that burns?
O Thou that art fire have mercy on me
and bid me not come near Thee, for it is hard for me!

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

12. I have revealed to thee My Will;
what dost thou question?
Draw near, baptise Me, and thou shalt not be burned.
The bridechamber is ready; keep Me not back
from the wedding-feast that has been made ready.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

13. The Watchers fear and dare not
gaze on Thee lest they be blinded
and I, how, O my Lord, shall I baptise Thee?
I am too weak to draw near; blame me not!

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

14. Thou fearest; therefore gainsay not
against My Will in what I desire:
and Baptism hath respect unto Me.
Accomplish the work to which thou hast been called!

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

15. Lo! I proclaimed Thee at Jordan
in the ears of the people that believed not
and if they shall see Thee baptised of me
they will doubt that Thou art the Lord.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

16. Lo! I am to be baptised in their sight
and the Father Who sent Me bears witness of Me
that I am His Son and in Me He is well pleased
to reconcile Adam who was under His wrath.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

17. It becomest, me, O my Lord, to know my nature
that I am moulded out of the ground
and Thee the moulder Who formest all things:
I, then, why should I baptise Thee in water?

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

18. It becomes thee to know why I have come
and for what cause I have desired that thou shouldst baptise Me.
It is the middle of the way wherein I have walked
withhold not Baptism.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

19. Small is the river whereto Thou hast come
that Thou shouldst lodge therein and it should cleanse Thee.
The heavens suffice not for Thy mightiness;
how much less shall Baptism contain Thee!

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

20. The womb is smaller than Jordan;
yet was I willing to lodge in the Virgin:
and as I was born from woman
so too am I to be baptised in Jordan.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

21. Lo! The hosts are standing!
the ranks of Watchers, lo! They worship!
And if I draw near, my Lord, to baptise Thee
I tremble for myself with quaking.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

22. The hosts and multitudes call thee happy
all of them, for that thou baptisest Me.
For this I have chosen thee from the womb:
fear not, for I have willed it.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

23. I have prepared the way as I was sent:
I have betrothed the Bride as I was commanded.
May Thine Epiphany be spread over the world
now that Thou hast come, and let me not baptise Thee!

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

24. This is My preparation, for so have I willed;
I will go down and be baptised in Jordan,
and make bright the armour for them that are baptised
that they may be white in Me and I not be conquered.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

25. Son of the Father, why should I baptise Thee?
for lo! Thou art in Thy Father and Thy Father in Thee.
Holiness unto the priests Thou givest –
why dost Thou ask for water that is common?

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

  1. The children of Adam look unto Me
    that I should work for them the new birth.
    A way in the waters I will search out for them
    and if I be not baptised this cannot be.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

27. High-priests of Thee are consecrated
priests by Thy hyssop are purified –
the anointed and the kings Thou makest.
Baptism, how shall it profit Thee?

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

28. The Bride thou didst betroth to Me awaits Me
that I should go down, be baptised, and sanctify her.
Friend of the Bridegroom withhold Me not
from the washing that awaits Me.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

29. I am not able, for I am weak
Thou blazest in my hands to grasp.
Lo! Thy legions are as flame
bid one of the Watchers baptise Thee!

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

30. Not from the Watchers was My Body assumed,
that I should summon a Watcher to baptise Me.
The body of Adam, lo! I have put on
and thou, son of Adam, art to baptise Me.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

31. The waters saw Thee, and greatly feared;
the waters saw Thee, and lo! They tremble!
The river foams in its terror
and I that am weak, how shall I baptise Thee?

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

32. The waters in My Baptism are sanctified,
and fire and the Spirit from Me shall they receive
and if I be not baptised they are not made perfect
to be fruitful of children that shall not die.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

33. Fire, if to Thy fire it draw near
shall be burnt up of it as stubble.
The mountains of Sinai endured Thee not
and I that am weak, wherein shall I baptise Thee?

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

34. I am the flaming fire
yet for man’s sake I became a babe
in the virgin womb of the maiden.
And now I am to be baptised in Jordan.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

35. It is very meet that Thou shouldst baptise me
for Thou hast holiness to purify all.
In Thee it is that the defiled are made holy;
but Thou that art holy, why art Thou to be baptised?

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

36. It is very right that thou shouldst baptise Me
as I bid, and should not gainsay.
Lo! I baptised thee within the womb –
baptise me in Jordan!

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

37. I am a bondman and I am weak.
Thou that freest all have mercy on me!
Thy latchets to unloose I am not able
Thine exalted head who will make me worthy to touch?

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

38. Bondmen in My Baptism are set free
handwritings in My washing are blotted out
manumissions in the water are sealed;
and if I be not baptised all these come to nought.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

39. A mantle of fire the air wears
and waits for Thee, above Jordan;
and if Thou consent to it and will to be baptised
Thou shall baptise Thyself and fulfil all.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

40. This is meet, that thou should baptise Me
that none may err and say concerning Me –
‘Had He not been alien from the Father’s house –
why feared the Levite to baptise Him?’

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

41. The prayer, then, when Thou art baptised-
how shall I complete over Jordan?
When the Father and the Spirit are seen over Thee –
Whom shall I call on, as priest?

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

42. The prayer in silence is to be completed:
come, thy hand alone lay on Me,
and the Father shall utter in the priest’s stead –
that which is meet concerning His Son.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

43. They that are bidden, lo! All of them stand –
the Bridegroom’s guests, lo! They bear witness
that day by day I said among them,
‘I am the Voice and not the Word.’

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

44. Voice of him that criest in the wilderness
fulfil the work for which thou didst come –
that the desert whereunto thou didst go out may resound
with the mighty peace thou didst preach therein.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

45. The shout of the Watchers has come to my ears –
lo! I hear from the Father’s house –
the hosts that sound forth the cry,
‘In Thine Epiphany, O Bridegroom, the worlds have life.’

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

46. The time hastes on, and the marriage guests
look to Me to see what is doing.
Come, baptise Me, that they may give praise
to the Voice of the Father when it is heard!

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

47. I hearken, my Lord, according to Thy Word:
come to Baptism as Thy love constrainest Thee!
The dust worships that whereunto he has attained
that on Him Who fashioned him he should lay his hand.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

48. The heavenly ranks were silent as they stood
and the Bridegroom went down into Jordan;
the Holy One was baptised and straightway went up
and His Light shone forth on the world.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

49. The doors of the highest were opened above
and the voice of the Father was heard –
This is my Beloved in Whom I am well pleased.
All ye peoples, come and worship Him.

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

50. They that saw were amazed as they stood,
at the Spirit Who came down and bore witness to Him.
Praise to Thine Epiphany that gladdens all –
Thou in Whose revelation the worlds are lightened!

Response:  Glory to Thee, my Lord, for Heaven and earth worship Thee with joy!

Greetings on the feast of Theophany

Dear brothers and sisters, greetings for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord!

It is only a matter of days since we celebrated the Circumcision of the Saviour, according to the Law, even though He is the Giver of the Law, and today we celebrate His Baptism in the Jordan, despite His sinlessness, and the reality that He is the very Creator of the waters into which He descended.

The old seal of circumcision, limited to the chosen people of the Old Israel, is replaced by the universal cleansing of baptism, to which all people are called by the Lord leading by image and example, consecrating the waters of creation as He – the Creator – enters the Jordan, not simply as man, but as God.

St Proclus, Patriarch of Constantinople, wrote:

“Today’s feast of the Epiphany manifests even more wonders than the feast of Christmas… On the feast of the Saviour’s birth, the earth rejoiced because it bore the Lord in a manger; but on today’s feast of the Epiphany, it is the sea that is glad and leaps for joy; the sea is glad because it receives the blessing of holiness in the river Jordan.”

What was lacking in the ritual bathing of the Jews and the baptism of repentance of the Forerunner is made complete, as the Trinity is manifested at the River Jordan, so that the waters of baptism are not only a source of holiness for us, but through the operation of the Holy Spirit, they are the effectual means of our cleansing from sin and clothing in Christ, as we are baptised in the Name of the Father, and of Son, and of the Holy Spirit, who acted in Divine Unity in this glorious feast.

Creation rejoiced as it was sanctified by Christ our God in His immeasurable holiness, descending into the river, as ‘the worship of the Trinity was made manifest’ – the Father speaking as Heaven opened, the Saviour’s Sonship confirmed by His words, and the Holy Spirit’s descent and visible anointing of the Messiah.

In his 6th Hymn for the feast, St Ephrem connects our baptism with that of the Lord, and with his characteristic uses of paradox, he explores the blessings of both our descent and ascent in imitating the Saviour’s journey into the very heart of the Jordan, to which we are called and in which we are immersed in our own baptism:

“The baptised when they come up are sanctified;
the sealed when they go down are pardoned.
They who come up have put on glory
they who go down have cast off sin.
Adam put off his glory in a moment
you have been clothed with glory in a moment.”

Having descended into the cleansing waters of baptism – year by year – this feast calls us to a continuing spiritual ascent into the Light of Christ, in purity and holiness, and St Ephrem reminds us to struggle to maintain the whiteness of our baptismal robe, calling those who have stained it to cleanse it by tears of repentance.

“Today, lo! Your offenses are blotted out
and your names are written down.
The priest blots out in the water
and Christ writes down in Heaven.
By the blotting out and the writing down
lo! Doubled is your rejoicing…

The gift that you have received freely
cease not from watching over it:
this pearl if it shall be lost
cannot again be sought out
for it is like to virginity
which if it be lost is not to be found.

May you from all defilement
be kept by the power of your white robes!
and he whose freedom has defiled itself
may it be able to wash itself clean by his weeping!”

May this feast call us to watchfulness and attention to the great gift we have received in baptism, and where we have stained our baptismal robe, may it call us to the restorative laver of repentance, confession and communion of the Holy Mysteries – which like Baptism, are a foretaste of Christ’s resurrection into which we are baptised and the Kingdom of Heaven – Heaven which opened ‘today’,

The Father declared His pleasure in the Incarnate Word, whose obedience brought Him in the flesh: to the Cave of Bethlehem, to His Circumcision on the eight day, to the arms of the righteous Symeon, to  the baptismal waters of the Jordan, and subsequently to the cross and tomb, before His Ascension – and this Ascension in glory, clothed in the flesh of Adam, robed in our humanity, is the wonder to which this feast of the Lord’s Baptism calls us.

Let us be attentive, in humility, obedience, striving in holiness and the life of the Gospel, so that our ascent from the baptismal waters lead us into the Heavens that opened on this glorious feast, so that the Father may say of each of us – “This is my son. This is my daughter – in whom I am well pleased.”

Rising from the Jordan, let each of strive to clamber toward the Kingdom of Heaven.

May God bless you on this glorious feast!

With love in Christ – Fr Mark

 

 

ST EPHREM THE SYRIAN: HYMN 6 ON THE EPIPHANY

1. The Spirit came down from on high
and hallowed the waters by His brooding.
In the baptism of John,
He passed by the rest and abode on One:
but now He has descended and abode
on all that are born of the water.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

2. Out of all that John baptised
on One it was that the Spirit dwelt:
but now He has flown and come down
that He may dwell on the many
and as each after each comes up, He loves him and abides on him.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

3. A marvel it is that surpasses all!
To the water He went down and was baptised.
The seas declared it blessed,
that river wherein Thou wast baptised:
even the waters that were in heaven envied
because they were not worthy to be Thy bath.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

4. A marvel it is, O my Lord, now also
that while the fountains are full of water
it is the water of baptism
that alone is able to atone.
Mighty is the water in the seas
yet is it too weak for atonement.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

5. Thy might, O my Lord, if it abides
within the humble it exalts him
like as royalty if it abide
within the desert gives it peace.
Water by Thy might has triumphed
over sin, for Life has encompassed it.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

6. The sheep exulted when they saw
the hand draw near to baptise them.
Receive, O you sheep, your sealing; enter and be mingled in the flock!
for more than over all the flock
over you rejoice the Watchers today.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

7. The Angels and the Watchers rejoice
over that which is born of the Spirit and of water:
they rejoice that by fire and by the Spirit
the corporeal have become spiritual.
The Seraphim who sing Holy rejoice
that they who are made holy have been increased.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

8. For lo! The Angels rejoice
over one sinner if he repent:
how much more do they now rejoice
that in all churches and congregations
lo! Baptism is bringing forth
the heavenly from the earthly!

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

9. The baptised when they come up are sanctified;
the sealed when they go down are pardoned.
They who come up have put on glory
they who go down have cast off sin.
Adam put off his glory in a moment
you have been clothed with glory in a moment.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

10. A house that is of dust when it has fallen
by means of water can be renewed:
the body of Adam that was of dust
which had fallen by water has been renewed.
Lo! The priests as builders
afresh renew your bodies.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

11. A great marvel is this of the wool
that it can take every dye
as the mind takes every discourse.
By the name of its dye it is called
as you who were
baptised when Hearers,
have gained the name of Recipients.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

12. The common waters he sanctified
even Elisha through the Name that is secret.
In them washed the leper openly
and was cleansed by the Power that is secret:
the leprosy was done away in the water, as transgressions in Baptism.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

13. Today, lo! Your offenses are blotted out
and your names are written down.
The priest blots out in the water
and Christ writes down in Heaven.
By the blotting out and the writing down
lo! Doubled is your rejoicing.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

14. Lo! Mercy has dawned today
and from bound to bound it stretches:
the sun has sunk and mercy has dawned.
Justice has drawn in her wrath; Grace has spread forth her love
lo! she pardons and quickens freely.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

15. The sheep that beforetime were in the fold
lo! They hasten forth to greet
the new lambs that have been added to it.
They are white and are clad in white
within and without white are your bodies as your vestments.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

16. From every mouth Blessed are you,
on every side Blessed are you.
Sin from you is driven out
and the Holy Spirit on you is dwelling.
The Evil One has become sad of countenance;
the Good God makes glad your countenance.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

17. The gift that you have received freely
cease not from watching over it:
this pearl if it shall be lost
cannot again be sought out
for it is like to virginity
which if it be lost is not to be found.

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

18. May you from all defilement
be kept by the power of your white robes!
and he whose freedom has defiled itself
may it be able to wash itself clean by his weeping!
For me who am servant of the community
may the supplication of the community win pardon!

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

19. To the author who has toiled in words
be reconciliation in rest!
to the teacher who has toiled with voice
be forgiveness through grace!
to the priest who has toiled in baptizing
let there come the crown of righteousness!

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

20. From every mouth with one consent,
of those beneath and those above
Watchers, Cherubim, and Seraphim
the baptised, the sealed, and the hearers
let each of us cry aloud and say
Glory to the Lord of our feasts!

Response: Blessed be He Who was baptised that He might baptise you, that you should be absolved from your offenses.

Nativity Greetings

Dear brothers and sisters, 

I greet you all with the joy of the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord, and God, and Saviour, Jesus Christ, in which we celebrate the enfleshment of God’s love in the Incarnation of God-Man who shared His humanity, earthly life and Good News with us – born in a cave and laid in the manger of dumb beasts. 

We approach this feast with the shepherds and the magi, and like them we are surrounded by great darkness. But, for us it is not the darkness of the night sky, in which the magi watched the stars or the physical darkness of the Judaean night in which the shepherds watched for wild animals or thieves, but spiritual-darkness, uncertainty and fear that surrounds us.  

Not wolves and lions, but a myriad of spiritual dangers and forces wait to attack us on every side, but though we may not be able to change the exterior darkness, it is for each us to choose whether to be watchful and vigilant, to seek the inner-light, or to abandon ourselves to the danger-filled blackness of the spiritual night. 

Through this darkness, the Lord calls out to us, “Fear not!” and it is the Incarnate Saviour, Himself, who has become the messenger/angelos that brings the tidings of joy and true peace, possible in the hearts of the faithful, even in the most terrifying, violent and threatening of times.  

It is the Saviour Himself who has become the day-star from on high, the Light of the world, guiding us through the perils and dangers, dispelling the shadows for those who seek Him and rejoice in His birth. 

Knowing that He remains Emmanuel – God-with-us – we are called to rise up and hasten to Him, to bow down and worship Him, and like the shepherds and magi, to put aside everything that previously seemed important and pressing.  

The magi left behind all that was familiar, secure and comfortable, in order to seek Truth, willing to face risks and dangers to arrive at the place where they would find that Truth and offer Him their gifts as they bowed down and worshipped Him. 

The shepherds willingly left the light and security of the fireside and the protection of the sheep-fold to stumble through the darkness to search for the Light of the World.  

Like them both, we must struggle through the night to bring whatever gifts we have, however great and noble, or more likely poor and humble – for poverty and humility are at the heart of this feast.  

The Only-Begotten Son and Word of God, hid the glory of his divinity within the vulnerable body of a baby, whose extreme-humility and obedience saw Him silent and suffering on the journey to the Cross and Life-Giving Tomb, in which He was be placed in the swaddling-bands of His grave-clothes, and through which humanity received its own new nativity in the Saviour’s rising on the third day. 

For, what was the meaning of this earthward ‘journey’ of the Saviour, revealed in the manger in the cave of Bethlehem? It was to storm the gates of death and hell, and to raise up fallen-Adam and the generations of his children, past, present and yet to come. It was to be born so that mankind may live, and to become man, that man might become god. 

And so, through this feast Christ-God ‘leaps’ down to the Virgin’s womb, so that humanity might may leap into the heights of heaven, and as the Paschal icon shows Christ take Adam and Eve by the hand in the dark shades of hades, in His Nativity He reaches out to each of us, to take us by the hand. 

Let us place our hands in His and – letting go of all that chains us down and holds us back – allow Him to lead us from darkness into the Light, and like the shepherds and magi, let us go away from this feast changed by our encounter with the Incarnate Word, illumined  by Christ the true Light come into the world.

Wishing you a joyful Nativity. 

In Christ – Hieromonk Mark 

A Homily on the Holy Forefathers of Christ

“O ye faithful, let us praise today all the fathers of the old Law: Abraham, the beloved of God, and Isaac, who was born according to the promise, and Jacob and the twelve patriarchs, the most meek David, and Daniel, the prophet of desires,  glorifying with them the three youths that transformed the furnace into dew, and who ask remission of Christ God, Who is glorified in His saints.”

(Doxasticon on ‘Lord, I have cried’)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Dear brothers and sisters,

On this Sunday of the Holy Forefathers of Christ, we celebrate the righteous forebears of the Saviour, who in their succeeding generations formed the ladder by which Christ descended into the world at His Incarnation and Nativity.

Even though He was the Eternal Logos “by whom all things were made”, He ‘came down’ from heaven, through the genealogical ladder of human generations; in the successive steps of father to son in the patriarchs, through the tribe of Judah and the holy king and prophet, David, through the many generations which we will recount in the Gospel of the Genealogy on the coming Sunday before Christmas.

Today, the faithful come together to remember the generations of the righteous, and we are called to celebrate their memory by the hymns of the Church.

In the invitatory words of the hymns we are called to remember the lives of the holy forefathers with joy:

“Come, ye lovers of the feasts of the Church, and with psalms let us praise the assembly of the forefathers: Adam, the forefather of us all, Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and, after the Law, Moses and Aaron, Joshua, Samuel and David, and, with them, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and the twelve prophets, together with Elijah, Elisha and all the rest, Zachariah and the Forerunner; who all preached Christ, the Life and Resurrection of our race.”

(Doxasticon of the vespers aposticha)

As we celebrate their memory, the liturgical texts recognise that the forefathers were not simply agents of Christ’s human descent and incarnation, but were righteous and holy men and women who knew Christ, before His Incarnation, as He spoke to them and led them forward through the generations of the Advent of His coming in the flesh.

In the Prologue of the Gospel of St John, the Beloved Disciple reminds us that

“No man hath seen God (that is the Father) at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”

And so, from the beginning, the Church understood the appearance of Christ, the Eternal Logos, in the encounters between God and the patriarchs, prophets, judges, kings and His people Israel.

It is Christ the Logos ( the Word) who was in the beginning, who was with God, and who was God – who was the divine-voice heard, or not heard, by the sons and daughters of God.

In the Christophanies before the Incarnation, the Saviour, as Yahweh; as the Word of God; as the Holy Wisdom; as the Angel of Great Council; communicated, visited, inspired, blessed, corrected, and walked with His people.

Thus, the Church understands that it Christ who Himself was the Creative Word who formed the first-forefather and first-mother, as the apex and completion of creation.

It is Christ-Yahweh, who talked with Adam and Eve in the garden and who walked in Paradise in the cool of the day.

It is Christ, the Word of God, who commanded Noah to build the ark, which was to be a type and fore-shadowing of the Church; who commanded Noah, his family and the animals to leave the ark after the flood and established His covenant.

It was Christ as the Divine Messenger – the angelos – who came to Abraham and Sarah with the promise of a son, and who – as the same Divine Voice – tested Abraham with the command to sacrifice Isaac, saving the child as He commanded Abraham to stop, saying, “…now I know that you fear God seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from me.”

It was Christ the Logos, who appeared to the Patriarch Jacob in a dream, and said “I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me” and with whom Jacob wrestled all night, so that he could say: “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered”.

It was Christ, the Angel of God, who spoke to Moses from the midst of the burning bush and said, “I am the God of your Father, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac” and Who continued to speak and guide Israel in the Christophanies of the Book of Exodus.

It was Christ whom the prophet Ezekiel saw seated upon the great chariot-throne in the midst of the storm-cloud, flashing with lightning and fire, amidst the winged living-beings with the faces of a bull, a lion, an eagle, and a man.

It was Christ as the Ancient of Days, whom the prophet Daniel beheld, seated on His fiery throne: “And the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, And the hair of His “head was like pure wool.”

It was Christ, who appeared with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery-furnace, causing the astounded King Nebuchadnezzar to exclaim: “Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”

It was Christ whom Isaiah beheld when we read that he “saw the Lord high and exalted and seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. And the angels surrounded him. And day and night they worship him, crying out: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD God Almighty; heaven and earth are full of his glory!’”

Thus, the men and women whom we celebrate each year on this Sunday were not strangers to Christ. They were Christ-Lovers who knew Him as He appeared to them, spoke to them, and in the case of Abraham and Sarah, sat and ate with them. Though He was yet to be born and ‘clothed in Adam’, He was the face and voice of God through which the righteous of the Old Testament encountered the Divine.

To return to the first step on the ladder of Christ’s descent – “Adam, the forefather of us all” – the first-father and first mother are so often only thought of as the agents of the earthly rebellion against God, remembered as rebels and outcasts. Yet we fail to remember that though they were guilty, it does not mean that they were rejected by God, becoming apostates and untouchables.

Despite their rebellion they remained the children of God, created in His image and likeness, knowing him in a relationship that we will never understand. Though they knew the consequences of their disobedience, and lived with those consequences in exile, they nevertheless existed as an expression of God’s creative-power and creative-love, and continued to know that love at the same time that they experienced divine justice. They remained creations in His image and likeness, with Him as their sole cause and origin.

Can we even begin to appreciate the depth of their repentance, given what they had lost, and what they had known and experienced in their relationship with the Creator? Equally, can we even begin to appreciate their mourning and tears of sorrow – penthos – for their single-disobedience. How much more are the multitudes of our disobediences and rebellions against God?

After the fall, God immediately sought to reclaim and redeem Adam and Eve and their descendants, with the first expression of the economy of salvation, looking forward to the Mother of God – the second Eve – and her Son, who would be the Second Adam: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

With this proclamation (Protoevangelion/Protogospel) the place of Adam and Eve in their own restoration, and that of the generations of their descendants until the end of time is declared.

Though driven from Paradise and burdened with the labours of life, pain, illness and death, Adam and Eve, Seth, Enos, Enoch, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Judah, David and the righteous ancestors of the Lord are blessed, as they become instrumental in the preparation for the coming of the Christ of whom the Holy Prophet Isaiah spoke: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel.”

In speaking of the Incarnate Word in the Prologue of St John, St Polycarp of Smyrna wrote,

“This is He who was from the beginning, who appeared as if new, and was found old, and yet who is ever born afresh in the hearts of the saints.”

Though He appeared as if new when He was laid in the manger, Christ the Word who was of old, was not only born afresh in the hearts of the saints of each coming generation, but had already been known in the hearts of those who had come before Him and long-awaited His coming.

In His Incarnation, they saw fulfilment and completion, as He who in His humanity is their child, flesh of their flesh and bone of their bone, entered the world in the darkness of the Cave of Bethlehem and was laid in the manger.

The forefathers’ experience and knowledge of Christ, the Only-Begotten Son and Word of God, may only be considered a foretaste of the knowledge that which was made manifest when “The word was made flesh and dwelt among us…”, but their knowledge and experience of Christ the Word was real, and their relationship was personal and blessed by their being steps on which the Creator would descend to earth, clothed in their flesh, even though He Himself had created it.

In his first homily on the feast of the Nativity, St Ephrem the Syrian frames this fulfilment in the Incarnation within the expectation and longing of the forefathers, who – as the descendants of the first-father and first mother – knew that the original life of humanity and its communion with God was unique to Paradise: a restored communion for which they longed, as they waited in expectation of the Second Adam who would put aside the Fiery Angel from the Gates of Paradise, so that they could approach once more.

From thy treasure-house put forth, Lord, from the coffers of Thy Scriptures, names of righteous men of old, who looked to see Thy coming!

Seth who was in Abel’s stead shadowed out the Son as slain, by Whose death was dulled the envy Cain had brought into the world!

Noah saw the sons of God, saints that sudden waxed wanton, and the Holy Son he looked for, by whom lewd men were turned to holiness.

Shem and Japhet, being gracious, looked for the gracious Son, Who should come and set free Canaan from the servitude of sin.

Melchizedek expected Him; as His vicegerent, looked that he might see the Priesthood’s Lord whose hyssop purifies the world.

Lot beheld the Sodomites how they perverted nature: for nature’s Lord he looked who gave a holiness not natural.

Him Aaron looked for, for he saw that if his rod ate serpents up, His cross would eat the Serpent up that had eaten Adam and Eve.

Moses saw the uplifted serpent that had cured the bites of asps, and he looked to see Him who would heal the ancient Serpent’s wound.

Caleb the spy bore the cluster on the staff, and came and longed to see the Cluster, Whose wine should comfort the world.

Him did Jesus (Yeheshua/Joshua) the son of Nun long for, that he might conceive the force of his own surname: for if by His name he waxed so mighty, how much more would He by His Birth?

This Jesus that gathered and carried, and brought with him of the fruit, was longing for the Tree of Life to taste the Fruit that quickens all.

For Him Rahab too was looking; for when the scarlet thread in type redeemed her from wrath, in type she tasted of the Truth.

For Him Elijah longed, and when Him on earth he saw not, he, through faith most thoroughly cleansed, mounted up in heaven to see Him.

Moses saw Him and Elijah; the meek man from the depth ascended, the zealous from on high descended, and in the midst beheld the Son.

Adam looked for Him, for He is the Cherub’s Lord, and could minister an entrance and a residence hard by the branches of the Tree of life.

Abel longed after Him, that in his days He might come; that instead of that lamb that he offered, the Lamb of God he might behold.

For Him Eve also looked; for woman’s nakedness was sore, and He capable to clothe them; not with leaves, but with that same glory that they had exchanged away.

Seth and Enos, Cainan too, were surnamed sons of God; for the Son of God they looked, that they by grace might be His brethren.

But little short of a thousand years did Methuselah live: He looked for the Son Who makes heirs of life that never ends!

Grace itself in hidden mystery was beseeching on their behalf that their Lord might come in their age and fill up their shortcomings.

For the Holy Spirit in them, in their stead, besought with meditation: He stirred them up, and in Him did they look on that Redeemer, after whom they longed.”

We celebrate the fulfilment of their looking, expectation and longing in the Nativity itself, and the opening of St Ephrem’s homily celebrates this fulfilment:

“This is the day that gladdened them, the Prophets, Kings, and Priests, for in it were their words fulfilled, and thus were the whole of them indeed performed! For the Virgin this day brought forth Immanuel in Bethlehem.”

This, echoes the Saviour’s words in John’s Gospel, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.” (John 8:56)

St Irenaeus wrote:

“the rejoicing of Abraham descending upon those who sprang from him … while, on the other hand, there was a reciprocal rejoicing which passed backwards from the children to Abraham, who did also desire to see the day of Christ’s coming.”

(In Against Heresies (Book IV, Chapter 7)

This rejoicing finds its ultimate meaning and its realisation in the victory of the Saviour (their child according to the flesh) over death and His conquest of hell – represented in the icon of Holy Pascha.

Christ descends into Hades in the Harrowing of Hell and raises those whom we celebrate in these two Sundays before the Nativity, so that His ancestral-descent from them became their spiritual ascent into the Kingdom of Heaven; His condescension the means of their ascension; His coming down the means of their rising up.

In the icon, we see Him taking Adam and Eve by the hands or wrists, together the righteous of the Old Testament – with the Forerunner, the Righteous Abel, Daniel the Prophet, King Solomon, King David so readily identifiable – ushering them out of the realm and darkness of death into the light of the resurrection.

In Christ, through their own humanity, united to His divinity, they found the bridge leading from earth to heaven; they experienced their restoration with the First-Adam, through the Second-Adam, who had put on the flesh of His forefather.

Let us joyfully greet the holy forefathers and mothers, together with the heralds of His coming, asking them to pray for us, in their knowledge and experience of the Paschal victory of the Messiah, as we approach the celebration of His Nativity in  the remaining days of the Fast.

Let us never, forget their place in our salvation, and let us be thankful for the righteous men and women of the Old Covenant, who were the God-loving children of the Lord, forming the path by which the Saviour become Emmanuel: God-With-Us.

“All creation is sanctified by your memory and, keeping festival, doth call out, crying aloud as befitteth a servant: Ever offer entreaty unto the Lord, O blessed ones, that those who praise you may receive eternal blessings!”

(Doxasticon Ode 9. Canon)

Amen.

 

The Advent Journey With the Saints: The Entrance of the Theotokos

Saturday November 21/ December 4: The Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple.

Dear fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters,

Greetings, as we celebrate the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple – an important marker in the long Advent of the coming-in-the-flesh of the Saviour.

As we have reflected many times in the parish, the Advent of the coming of Christ, was not one of a mere forty days, but of thousands of years, announced after the fall of the first-father and first-mother by the protoevangelium / proto-gospel of Genesis, Chapter 15, verse 3, where God addresses Satan:

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

In this feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple, we see the Lord’s ongoing preparation of salvation as ‘the woman’, who has been chosen as the Second Eve enters the Holy of Holies, to grow in grace and holiness, ready for the Annunciation and the conception of Christ – the Second Adam – who will crush the head of the serpent, and destroy the hold of hell and death on all of the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, from Cain and Abel to those in the future, who have yet to come into the world.

This feast reminds us that the Incarnation is not a random or chance event, but one planned by the Lord from the fall of his children, Adam and Eve – whom he still loved, despite their wilfulness and disobedience. This love runs forward to those who will be born unto the end of the world, and in the feast, we celebrate the Lord’s preparation of the Holy Virgin, as an instrument of His love for man.

Now we see the Mother of God as the spiritual fulfilment of all of these symbols, in an empty Debir (Holy of Holies), in a Temple from which Ezekiel, in prophecy, had seen the glory of the Lord gradually depart.

In the first vespers reading we heard God’s insturction regarding the Tabernacle, which preceded the Temple: “And thou shalt take the anointing oil, and shalt anoint the tabernacle, and all things therein; and shalt sanctify it, and all its furniture, and it shall be holy. And thou shalt hallow the altar, and the altar shall be most holy. And Moses did all things soever the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, commanded him. And a cloud covered the tabernacle of witness, and the tabernacle was filled with the glory of the Lord. And Moses was not able to enter into the tabernacle of testimony, because the cloud overshadowed it, and the tabernacle was filled with the glory of the Lord.”

… but in this feast, we see the Infant Mary who will become the God-Bearer as the new Holy of Holies, in whom the God-Man, the Glory of the Lord, will dwell; the new lampstand which will bear Christ, the Light of the World; the new table of shewbread, which will hold Christ the Bread of Life; the new laver and vessel of Christ, who is the Water of Life; the new altar of offering, baring the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world; the new altar of incense, whose own prayers will rise like clouds of incense smoke for the children of Christ’s Church, the New Israel of God; the new Ark of the Covenant, which will contain Christ who is both Lawgiver and the new Law, and the new Manna, who will tell the people: “Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever”; and the new mercy-seat, on whom Christ will be enthroned.

No holy-oil is needed for the consecration of the Infant-Theotokos, as the fulfilment of the signs and symbols these sacred Temple-objects, for in the Holy of Holies, she would be anointed with the Grace of the Holy Spirit, and in the fullness of time, the Holy Spirit would overshadow her. As the new Tabernacle, the Glory of the Lord dwelt in her: Emmanuel – God-with-us.

I wish you all, a happy and holy feast!

In Christ – Hieromonk Mark

Canon I of the Theotokos: The acrostic whereof is: “O Lady, grant me the grace of discourse”, the composition of George, in Tone IV.

Ode I, Irmos: I shall open my mouth, * and be filled with the Spirit, * and utter discourse to the Queen and Mother; * and be seen radiantly keeping festival, * joyfully praising her entry.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

O most pure one, we know thee to be a treasury of wisdom and an ever-flowing
fountain of grace; and we pray thee rain down upon us knowledge, that we may praise thee forever.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

Being a temple and palace more exalted than the heavens, O most pure one, thou wast set apart in the Temple of God to be prepared as a divine dwelling-place for His advent.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

Shining with the Light of grace, the Theotokos hath illumined all and assembled us to adorn her most splendid festival. Come ye, let us draw nigh to her!

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

The glorious portal which surpasseth human thought, having opened the doors of the Temple of God, doth now command us who have assembled to delight in her divine wonders.

Canon II of the Theotokos, the composition of Basil, in Tone I:

Irmos: Let us all chant a triumphant hymn unto God * Who wrought
wondrous miracles * with His upraised arm, * and saved Israel, * for He hath
been glorified.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

Let us hasten today, honoring the Theotokos with hymns, and let us celebrate a
spiritual feast; for she is offered as a gift to God in the temple.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

With songs let us hymn the glorious arrival of the Theotokos; for today, as the
prophets foretold, she is borne as a gift of great price into the temple, though she is herself the temple of God.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

The blameless Anna rejoiced, maternally bringing a gift of great price to
God in the temple; and with her Joachim keepeth splendid festival.

Now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Of old, David, thine ancestor, hymned thee, O Virgin Bride of
God, calling thee the daughter of Christ the King; and, having given birth to Him, as a Mother thou didst feed Him with milk as a babe.

Katavasia: Christ is born, render ye glory. * Christ cometh from heaven, meet
ye Him. * Christ is on earth, be ye exalted. * O all the earth, sing unto the
Lord, * and sing praises in gladness, O ye people, * for He hath been glorified.

Ode III, Canon I, Irmos: O Theotokos, thou living and plentiful fount, * establish in spiritual fellowship those who sing hymns of praise * of thine honored entry: * grant them crowns of glory.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

Receiving the pure and undefiled one, who is more splendid than all creation, the animate bridal chamber of God, the beautiful Temple and chamber doth appear today like a bride adorned for her wedding.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

David, preceding the chorus, doth leap and dance with us, declaring thee, O allpure one, to be the queen all-adorned, standing in the Temple before our King and God, O most pure one.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

From her, whom transgressions issued forth among the race of mankind, hath her correction and incorruption blossomed forth, the Theotokos, who is led today into the house of God.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

The angelic armies and the multitudes of all mankind leap for joy, and they
advance as lamp-bearers before thy countenance, proclaiming thy majesty in the house of God.

Canon II, Irmos: Let my heart be established in Thy will O Christ God, * Who hath established a second heaven over the waters, * and founded the earth upon the waters, * O all-powerful One.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

O ye who love the feasts of the Church, let us keep festival and rejoice today
together in spirit, and in gladness, on the holy feast of the daughter of the King, the Mother of our God.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

Rejoice today, O Joachim! Be thou glad in spirit, O Anna, leading to the Lord the three year old child born from thee, as though she were a pure and most immaculate heifer.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Mary, the Theotokos, the habitation of God, is led into the holy temple,being three years of age in the flesh; and, going before her, virgins bear lighted lamps.

Now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

The pure ewe-lamb of God, the undefiled turtle-dove, the
tabernacle containing God, the sanctuary of glory, hath chosen to dwell within the holy tabernacle.

Katavasia: To the Son who was begotten of the Father * without change before all ages, * and in the last times, without seed, was made flesh of the Virgin, * to Christ our God let us cry aloud: * Thou hast raised up our horn, holy art Thou, O Lord.

Sessional Hymn, in Tone IV- Spec. Mel. “Joseph marveled …”: Tell us, O David: what is this present festival? Who is she whom of old thou didst
hymn in the Book of Psalms as the daughter, divine Maiden and Virgin? “The virgins that follow after her, together with those near her,” said he, “shall be mystically brought unto the King.” Make this a wondrous and universal feast for those who cry aloud: the Theotokos is come unto us, the mediatress of salvation!

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. 

Glory …, Now & ever …, in Tone IV & same melody: With gladness Mary, the Theotokos, is most gloriously brought into the house of God: the unblemished ewe-lamb, the undefiled bridal-chamber, whom the angels of
God, escort with faith and all the faithful ever call blessed and hymn her unceasingly with a loud voice in thanksgiving: Thou art our glory and salvation, O most immaculate one!

Ode IV, Canon I, Irmos: Perceiving the profound counsel of God, * that the incarnation of Thee the Most High, * will be from a Virgin, * the Prophet Habbakuk cried aloud: * Glory to Thy power, O Lord!

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

The Temple of God, receiving today the portal through whom none may pass,
hath ceased to perform any service of the Law, crying: Truly truth hath appeared to those who are on earth!

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

The mountain overshadowed, which Habbakuk beheld of old, prefigured her who hath made her abode in the inaccessible chambers of the Temple, flourishing with virtues, for she doth cover the ends of the earth therewith.
All the earth hath seen most glorious things, things strange and marvelous, for the Virgin, receiving food from an angel, doth receive tokens of God’s dispensation.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

Revealed as the temple and palace and animate heaven, O divine bride of the
King, thou art brought today to the Temple of the Law to be kept for Him, O most pure one.

Canon II, Irmos: Foreseeing in the Spirit O Prophet Habbakuk, * the incarnation of the Word, * thou didst proclaim, crying aloud: * When the years draw nigh, Thou shalt be known; * when the season cometh, Thou shalt be shown forth! * Glory to Thy power, O Lord!

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

O Prophet Isaiah, prophesy unto us: Who is the Virgin Who will conceive in her womb, who springing forth from the root of Judah, and who shall give birth to the right glorious Fruit of the holy seed of King David?

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

O virgins, commence ye to chant hymns, holding candles in your hands, and
praising the arrival of the pure Theotokos who now cometh to the temple of God, celebrating with us!

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Rejoice now, O Joachim and Anna, leading into the temple of the Lord,
like a heifer three years of age, the pure one born from you, who will become the Mother of God.

Now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

As the holy of holies, O pure one, thou didst love to dwell in the
holy temple, remaining there and conversing most gloriously with the angels,
receiving bread from heaven, O Virgin, thou nourisher of Life.

Katavasia: Rod of the root of Jesse, * and flower that blossomed from his stem, * O Christ, Thou hast sprung from the Virgin. * From the Mountain overshadowed by the forest * Thou hast come, made flesh from her that knew
not wedlock, * O God who art not formed from matter. * Glory to Thy power,
O Lord.

Ode V, Canon I, Irmos: All creation stands in awe of thy divine glory; * for thou, O Virgin who hast not known wedlock, * didst enter into the temple of the Lord; * thyself being a most pure temple, * bestowing peace, upon all who hymn thee.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

The most pure Virgin, the glorious sanctity and sacred offering which is brought today to the Temple of God, is preserved as a habitation for our one God, the King of all, as He Himself knoweth.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

Zachariah, having of old beheld the beauty of thy soul, cried out in faith: Thou art the deliverance, thou art the joy of all, thou art our restoration, through whom the Uncontainable One shall appear unto me contained.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

O, thy wonders which pass understanding, O all-pure one! Strange is thy
birthgiving; strange is the manner of thy maturation; strange also, most glorious and unutterable by mortals, are all thy wonders, O Bride of God.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

As a most radiant lamp, O Bride of God, hast thou shone forth today in the house of the Lord, illumining us with the precious gifts of thy wonders, O pure and allhymned Theotokos.

Canon II, Irmos: Shine forth thy radiant and everlasting light * upon us who rise early at dawn, * unto the judgments of Thy commandments, * O Master, Lover of mankind, * Christ our God.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

O all ye Orthodox, let us take up lamps, hastening to glorify the Mother of God,
for she is led to the Lord today as a right acceptable sacrifice.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

Let thine ancestors be glad today, O Lady; and let her who gave birth to thee
rejoice with thy father, for their fruit is offered to the Lord.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Celebrating with faith, let us all hymn the unblemished heifer, most
glorious and of great renown, for she gave birth to the divine Bullock in the flesh.

Now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

The divine tokens of thy betrothal, of thy birthgiving which passeth understanding, O pure Virgin; are recorded today by the Holy Spirit in the house of God.

Katavasia: As Thou art the God of peace and Father of compassions, * Thou
hast sent unto us Thine Angel of great counsel, * granting us peace. * Wherefore guided towards the light of the knowledge of God, * and watching
by night we glorify Thee, * O Lover of mankind.

Ode VI, Canon I, Irmos: Celebrating the divine and solemn feast * of the Mother of God * O ye divinely wise, * let us come, clapping our hands, * and glorify God who was born of her.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

Thou Who hast upheld all things by Thy word hast hearkened to the prayer of the righteous ones. Wherefore, Thou hast loosed the infirmity of the barren woman, in that Thou art compassionate, and given them her who is the cause of joy.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

Wishing to make His salvation known to the Gentiles, the Lord hath now taken
from among mankind her who hath not known wedlock, as a sign of reconciliation and renewal.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

As a house of grace, wherein treasures of the ineffable dispensation of God are laid up, O all-pure one, thou didst share in unfading delight in the Temple.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

Receiving thee as a royal diadem, O Bride of God, the Temple hath been rendered splendid and been elevated to better things, beholding in thee the fulfillment of the prophecies.

Canon II, Irmos: Emulating the Prophet Jonah, I cry aloud: * Free Thou my life from corruption, O Good One; * and save me who crieth out: * O Savior of the world, Glory be to Thee!

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

O ye faithful, let us celebrate the spiritual feast of the Mother of God, chanting
piously; for she is more holy than the heavenly intelligences.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

With spiritual hymns let us praise the Mother of the Light, O ye faithful, for she hath appeared to us today, going forth into the temple of God.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

The unblemished ewe-lamb, the pure turtle-dove, is brought to dwell in
the house of God, for, as one all-immaculate, she was chosen beforehand to be the Mother of God.

Now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

The temple of God, the heavenly tabernacle, maketh entry into the temple of the law, and from her hath the Light shone forth upon us who are in darkness.

Katavasia: The sea monster spat forth Jonah as it had received him, * like a
babe from the womb: * while the Word, having dwelt in the Virgin and taken
flesh, * came forth from her yet kept her incorrupt. * For being Himself not
subject to decay. * He preserved His Mother free from all harm.

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. 

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Kontakion of the feast, in Tone IV – Spec. Mel. “Having been lifted up …”: The most pure temple of the Savior, * the precious bridal chamber and Virgin, * the sacred treasury of the glory of God, * hath been brought into the house of the Lord this day, * bringing with her the grace that is in the divine Spirit. * To her do the angels of God chant the hymn: ** She is the heavenly tabernacle!

Ikos: Beholding the grace of the ineffable and divine mysteries of God made
plainly manifest in and filling the Virgin, I rejoice; yet I know not how to understand this strange and ineffable image. How hath the pure one alone been shown to be above all creation, visible and immaterial? Wherefore, wishing to praise her, I am greatly in awe in mind and word; yet, bold, I proclaim and magnify her, saying: She is the heavenly tabernacle!

Ode VII, Canon I, Irmos: Refusing to worship created things * in place of the Creator, * the divinely wise youths bravely trampled down the threatening fire * and rejoicing they sang aloud: * O supremely hymned Lord and God of our Fathers, Blessed art Thou.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

Lo, today a joyous spring hath dawned upon the ends of the earth, enlightening
our souls, thoughts and minds with grace: the festival of the Theotokos. Let us
mystically make festival this day!

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

Let all things – heaven and earth, the ranks of angels and the multitudes of
mankind – bear gifts today unto the Queen and Mother of God; and let them cry aloud: Our joy and deliverance is brought into the Temple!

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

The Scriptures have come to pass, the Law hath faded like a shadow, and rays of grace have shone forth upon thee who hast entered into the Temple of God, O pure Virgin Mother wherein thou art blessed.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

Heaven and earth and the netherworld are subject to thine Offspring as Creator and God, O all-pure one, and every nation of mortals doth confess that the Lord and Savior of our souls hath appeared.

Canon II, Irmos: The furnace became bedewed, O Savior, * and the children dancing, chanted: * O God of our fathers, blessed art Thou!

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

O ye who love the feasts of the Church let us join chorus and hymn the pure Lady honoring Joachim and Anna as is meet.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

Prophesy, O David, speaking in the Spirit: The virgins who follow after thee shall be brought to thee into the temple of the Queen and Mother.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

The ranks of the angels rejoiced and the souls of the righteous were gladdened, for the Mother of God is led into the Holy of holies,

Now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Receiving heavenly food, she who was to become the Mother of
Christ God in the flesh, excelled in wisdom and grace.

Katavasia: Scorning the impious decree of the godless one, * the Children
brought up together in godliness * feared not the threat of fire, * but standing
in the midst of the flames, they sang: * O God of our fathers, blessed art Thou.

Ode VIII, Canon I, Irmos: Hearken, O pure Virgin Maiden, * that Gabriel may tell thee the true counsel of the Most High of old. * Make ready to receive the Godhead; * for through thee the Infinite One hath come to dwell among mankind. *

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

Wherefore, rejoicing, I cry aloud: * Bless the Lord, all ye works of the Lord!
Anna, once, leading the most pure temple to the house of God, faithfully said unto the priest, crying aloud: Now accept thou this child, given me by God; lead her into the Temple of the Creator; and, rejoicing, chant unto Him: Bless the Lord, all ye works of the Lord!

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

And Zachariah then, beholding them in the Spirit, said unto Anna: Thou dost
bring hither the true Mother of Life, whom the prophets of God have clearly foretold as the Theotokos! How, therefore, can the Temple hold her?

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

Wherefore, marveling, I cry out: Bless the Lord, all ye works of the Lord!
The handmaid of God have I been, answered Anna unto him, and I call upon Him with faith and prayer to accept the fruit of my birth-pangs, that, having received this child, I might bring her that was born unto Him that bestowed her. Wherefore, I cry aloud: Bless the Lord, all ye works of the Lord!

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

Truly this is a matter of the Law, the priest said to her, and strange doth this thing seem unto me, beholding her that doth most gloriously surpass the holy ones in grace led into the house of God. Wherefore, rejoicing, I cry out: Bless the Lord, all ye works of the Lord!

Canon II, Irmos: Him of whom the angels and all the hosts of heaven are in awe * as their Lord and Creator, * ye priests hymn, ye children praise, * ye peoples bless and supremely exalt * throughout all ages.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

Joachim rejoiceth today in splendor, and the blameless Anna offereth to the Lord God a sacrifice: the holy daughter given her according to God’s promise.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us.

The holy David and Jesse render praise, and Judah offereth homage; for the pure Virgin, of whom the pre-eternal God was born, grew forth as fruit from their root.

We bless the Father, the son and the Holy Spirit, the Lord:

The most pure Mary, the animate tabernacle, is brought today into the house of God; and Zachariah taketh her in his arms as the sanctified treasure of the Lord.

Now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

O ye faithful, let us truly honor the Virgin Mother of God, who is blessed by the hands of the priests, as the portal of salvation, the noetic mountain and the animate ladder.

Katavasia: The furnace moist with dew showed forth an image * of a wonder
past nature, * for it burned not the youths whom it had received; * neither did
the fire of the Godhead consume the Virgin * when it descended into her womb. * Wherefore, chanting, we sing: * Let all creation bless the Lord and
supremely exalt Him throughout all ages!

Ode IX,  Canon I, Irmos: In nowise may the hand of the defiled * touch the animate ark of God; * and let the lips of the faithful * never-silently cry out with joy to the Theotokos, * chanting the words of the angel: * Rejoice, O thou who art full of grace! * The Lord is with thee!

Refrain: The angels, beholding the entry of the all-pure one, were amazed to see the Virgin enter into the Holy of holies.

O pure Theotokos, as thou hast the most radiant beauty of purity of soul and art full of the grace of God from heaven, with the ever-existent light thou dost ever enlighten those who cry out with joy: Truly thou art more highly exalted than all, O pure Virgin!

Refrain: The angels, beholding the entry of the all-pure one, were amazed to see the Virgin enter into the Holy of holies.

Thy wonder doth surpass the power of words, O pure Theotokos, for in thee I perceive a body impervious to the movement of sin. Wherefore, thankfully I cry out to thee: Truly thou art more highly exalted than all, O pure Virgin!

Refrain: The angels, beholding the entry of the all-pure one, were amazed to see the Virgin enter into the Holy of holies.

Most gloriously did the Law prefigure thee, O pure one, as the tabernacle, the
divine jar, the awe-some ark, the veil, the staff, the inviolable temp1e and portal of God. Wherefore, all these things teach us to cry to thee: Truly thou art more highly exalted than all, O pure Virgin!

Refrain: The angels, beholding the entry of the all-pure one, were amazed to see the Virgin enter into the Holy of holies.

In hymnody David cried out to thee prophetically, calling thee the daughter of the King in the comeliness of thy virtues, beholding thee standing, elaborately adorned, at the right hand of God. Wherefore, in prophecy he cried out: Truly thou art more highly exalted than all, O pure Virgin!

Refrain: The angels, beholding the entry of the all-pure one, were amazed to see the Virgin enter into the Holy of holies.

Foreseeing thee who art pleasing to God, Solomon proclaimed thee to be the
bower of the King, the living and sealed fountain, from whence untroubled waters have issued forth for us who cry out with faith: Truly thou art more highly exalted than all, O pure Virgin!

Refrain: The angels, beholding the entry of the all-pure one, were amazed to see the Virgin enter into the Holy of holies.

O Theotokos, thou givest to my soul the tranquility of thy gifts, pouring forth life upon those who honor thee as is meet, defending, protecting and preserving them thyself, that they might cry to thee: Truly thou art more highly exalted than all, O pure Virgin!

Canon II, Refrain: Magnify, O my soul, her who hath been led into the temple of the Lord and been blessed by the hands of the priest.

Irmos: The light-bearing cloud upon whom * the beginningless Master of all descended from heaven, * like the dew upon the fleece, * and of whom He was incarnate, * becoming a man for our sake, * let us all magnify as the pure Mother of God. 

Refrain: Magnify, O my soul, her who hath been led into the temple of the
Lord and been blessed by the hands of the priest.

The divine maiden Mary, the fruit of the promise, issued forth from the righteous Joachim and Anna, and, a babe in the flesh, she is brought into the holy sanctuary like pleasing incense, to dwell in the Holy of holies.

Refrain: Magnify, O my soul, her who hath been led into the temple of the
Lord and been blessed by the hands of the priest.

With hymns let us praise her who was a babe by nature and was supernaturally revealed as the Mother of God; for she is led unto the Lord in the temple of the law, as the fragrance of sweet savor for the righteous, as the spiritual fruit of her righteous parents.

Refrain: Magnify, O my soul, her who hath been led into the temple of the
Lord and been blessed by the hands of the priest.

O ye faithful, with the angel let us fittingly cry out to the Theotokos “Rejoice!”
Rejoice, O most comely Bride! Rejoice, O radiant cloud, from whom the Lord hath shone forth upon us who sit in the darkness of ignorance! Rejoice, thou hope of all!

Refrain: Magnify, O my soul, her who hath been led into the temple of the
Lord and been blessed by the hands of the priest.

O pure Mary Mother of God, thou Holy of holies, from the snares of the enemy
and from all heresy and tribulation do thou free us by thy supplications, who bow down with faith before the image of thy holy countenance.

Refrain: Magnify, O my soul, her who hath been led into the temple of the
Lord and been blessed by the hands of the priest.

With the Angel Gabriel all creation uttereth a fitting hymn to the Theotokos,
crying: Rejoice, O most immaculate Mother of God, by whom we have been
delivered from the primal curse, coming to share in incorruption!

Refrain: Magnify, O my soul, her who hath been led into the temple of the
Lord and been blessed by the hands of the priest.

O Virgin, thou hast been shown to be greater than the cherubim, more exalted
than the seraphim and more spacious than the heavens, for thou didst contain within thy womb our God Whom naught can contain, and hast given birth to Him ineffably. Him do thou earnestly beseech on our behalf.

Refrain: Magnify, O my soul, her who hath been led into the temple of the
Lord and been blessed by the hands of the priest.

Triadicon: Let us glorify the indivisible Trinity, the Essence in three Hypostases, the undivided glory, Who in a single Godhead, is unceasingly hymned in heaven and on earth, piously worshiping the Father, the Son and the Spirit.

Refrain: Magnify, O my soul, her who hath been led into the temple of the
Lord and been blessed by the hands of the priest.

O Virgin Birthgiver of God, pray thou, that we who flee with faith beneath thy
compassion and piously worship thy Son as God and Lord of the world be delivered from corruption, misfortunes and all manner of temptations.

Refrain: The angels, beholding the entry of the most pure one, were amazed to see the Virgin enter into the Holy of holies.

Katavasia: A strange and most wondrous mystery do I see: * the cave is
heaven; * the Virgin the throne of the cherubim; * the manger a room, in
which Christ God, * whom nothing can contain, is laid. * Whom we praise and
magnify.

Greetings for the Feast of the Kazan Icon

Dear brothers and sisters, festal greetings to you all, as we celebrate the autumn feast of the Kazan Icon of the Most Holy Mother of God.

The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates some three-hundred ‘revealed’ icons of the Mother of God, among which we find the Kazan Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos, in whose name our parish is dedicated.

Throughout the centuries of Muscovite and Imperial Russia, just as so many icons of the Theotokos have been revealed in miraculous circumstances, so the Mother of God has revealed and manifested her maternal care and protection for the Orthodox faithful and the lands of Rus – through her icons, through her miraculous intercession, and through her countless miracles worked in the lives of ordinary people.

On the very day of the Tsar’s abdication, the Mother of God renewed her “Reigning/Derzhavnaya” icon, showing that for the faithful, she would now take upon her shoulders the role of Tsaritsa of the Russian realm, leading the faithful through the torment and torture of the Soviet period, and throughout those dark years her maternal-care continued to be felt. And, during those torturous years, the faithful were never left without the consolation of the Mother of God.

Together with the Icon of the Sign, and the Vladimirskaya, the Wonderworking Kazan Icon is one of the ‘Palladium’ icons, carried by the faithful into battle and defence of the realm, and today’s feast commemorates the defeat of the Poles, in the Time of Troubles (after the death of Ivan the Terrible) and the first significant defeat of the Napoleonic army, after snow and ice lashed the invading French forces. Such was the faith of believing people even in Soviet times, that we have the well-known description of a copy of our beloved Kazan Icon being carried around besieged Leningrad during the Second World War.

Yet, despite the miraculous victories and the martial hymns to the Mother of God as “Triumphal leader in battle”, for Russian Orthodox believers the Theotokos is not so much impressed upon our spiritual consciousness as Heavenly Empress, but as the merciful Mother of Christians, who cares for the faithful, nurturing them, providing for them in their hour of need, bringing joy in sorrow, becoming a hope for the hopeless and help for the helpless.

This always strikes me whenever we sing the beautiful hymn, Царице моя преблагая (Tsaristsa moya preblagaya), to the beautiful yet very simple melody from the Krasnogorsk Monastery,

O my most blessed Queen, O Theotokos my hope, guardian of orphans and intercessor for strangers, Joy of the sorrowful, Protectress of the oppressed; Thou beholdest my misfortune, Thou seest my sorrow. Help me, for I am infirm; feed me, for I am a stranger. Thou knowest mine offense: do Thou loose it, as Thou dost will, for I have none other help but Thee, nor any other intercessor save Thee, O Mother of God. Do Thou preserve and protect me unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Behind this present feast’s triumphal language, and images of victory in which we speak of the Mother of God as Lady, Queen and Mistress and her ‘mighty protection’, this celebration leads us to the tenderness and warmth of the motherhood of the Theotokos – summed up by that wonderful word umilinie – which is tenderness, compassion, mercy, loving-kindness, warmth, with so many other subtle shades of meaning when applied to the motherhood of the Mother of God.

As we look at the Kazan Icon, there is nothing complicated, and its scheme is in many ways minimal, simple and straightforward, and it has traditionally been this icon that has been carried before newly-weds, to become the heart of the icon-corner in each new home, at the centre of Orthodox family-life.

In the classic Hodegetria icon, the Mother of God directs us to her Son with her outstretched hand, but in the Kazan Icon she rather does so in the inclination of her head, as she bows contemplatively towards the Christ-Child, avoiding the eyes of the viewer, so that it is the Saviour who engages with the one who stands before the icon, and it is His eyes they meet, not the self-effacing and humble Mother.

As she ever leads us to her Son, ever interceding for us, before the Holy Trinity, let us never be strangers to her maternal care, however broken or dysfunctional our lives may have become. Rather, let us turn to her with all of our problems and sorrows, as well as our joys, bringing our lives, ourselves, our loved ones, our friends, even enemies to her merciful-care. It is beneath that merciful-care, that reconciliation, forgiveness, and healing may happen, through her prayers, through her grace, and with her help.

It is often in the most grievous of sorrows, and the most desperate situations that we learn the value, the wholesomeness and necessity of a Mother’s love, and in the Mother of God we find maternal care that never ceases, that never dies, but always seeks out those in need, to lead us to the Saviour in His Kingdom, into which she has been assumed in glory.

On this feast, let us do as the deacon calls us to do during the litanies:

“Commemorating our most holy, most pure, most blessed and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary with all the saints, let us commit ourselves and one other, and all our life unto Christ our God.”

Most Holy Theotokos, save us!

Asking your prayers, with love in Christ.

Hieromonk Mark

The Miraculous Catch of Fish

Gospel: Luke 5:1-11

1 While the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret. 2 And he saw two boats by the lake; but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, 7 they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zeb’edee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

When I was a young monastic in the Podvorie of St Seraphim in Birmingham, Igumen Seraphim and I very much liked the simple homilies of Archbishop Andrei of Rockland (1893-1973), of blessed memory – a vicar-bishop of the Eastern-American Diocese of our Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

Returning home tired from work and confession last night, I turned to his homily for today’s Gospel and was glad that I did so.

I will let Vladyka Andrei set the scene:

“Christ was preaching on the lake of Gennesaret. Now the sermon has finished. There were two boats at the shore, and Christ had been preaching from one of them. Here He addressed the Apostle Peter and said: “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets.” Peter answered: “Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing” (Lk. 5:4-5). And the Apostles were experienced fishermen; they knew the laws of the sea. If at night-time no fish were caught, then during the day a catch was out of the question. And Peter said this to Christ. But he added: “Nevertheless at Thy word I will let down the nets” (Lk. 5:5). And they let them down. And a miracle happened. The boats were so filled with fish that they started to sink. Then the Apostle Peter fell at the feet of the Saviour and said: “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Lk. 5:8).”

Someone else may have said to Jesus – do I teach you about carpentry? Do I instruct you or show you what to do? No. Well, it might be better if your stick to carpentry and I stick to fishing. You do what you know about, and I’ll do what I know about.

Archbishop Andrei observes, “In spite of all his experience as a fisherman, he listened to Christ and let down the nets.”

We should remember that Peter was no novice fisherman. He knew about fish, he knew how to fish, and he knew that after a night’s fruitless fishing, there was no chance of remedy… yet despite all of his knowledge and expertise, he was humble enough, and obedient enough to do exactly as Christ requested.

In the words of Blessed Theophylact of Ochrid,

“When the Lord tells him to launch out into the deep, Peter does not become exasperated and leave Him, nor does he reply, “I have toiled the whole night and gained nothing, and now I should obey you and do it all again?” Peter said nothing like this, but instead, At Thy word I will let down the net. Such was the warmth of his trust even before he had faith.”

The Gospel tells us of the miraculous reward for Peter’s obedience to the unlikely request.

To return to the words of Vladyka Andrei:

“This is the process of faith. The Apostle knew that fish could not be caught. But he accepted the word of Christ within himself, within his will; and this will, which by now was Christ’s, he fulfilled.”

This is the alignment and marriage of our will and that of Christ of which I spoke in last week’s homily on the mystery of the Cross.

“And what happened? A miracle? Yes, a miracle. But the main miracle was not in the abundance of fish, although this catch was a miracle. The main miracle was the change of soul which occurred in Peter. He saw himself, he saw his essence. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Here is the process of faith: to accept in your heart the word of Christ, to fulfil it. And then to us will be revealed the thing which is most important for our salvation, for our inner life.”

We see this miracle throughout the Gospels.

When Zacchaeus reorientated himself to Christ, a miracle happened within him, and he was transformed and became new.

The Samaritan women – St Photina – likewise received the transformation with her leap of faith at Jacob’s Well in Nablus, running to bring others to experience the change so quickly wrought in her.

At the Cross this miracle was seen in the remaining minutes of the life of the Good Thief, who reached out to the Saviour in humble confession with those ever-memorable words –“Lord, Remember me in your Kingdom” – receiving the wonderful promise: “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”

Conversely, not all who were requested by Christ to cast out into the uncertainty and unknown of the deep were able to do so.

The disciples left behind trades, livelihoods, families, incomes and homes, as we hear at the end of the Gospel reading – “And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.”

In so doing – like Peter – they were spiritually transformed and were miraculously changed to be the preachers of Grace filled with the Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues at Pentecost. However, the ‘rich young man’ who had so assiduously and faithfully kept the Law of Moses, was unable to face the uncertainty of the deep, by selling all that he had to follow Christ, and the inner miracle of new birth and newness of life was denied him.

His attachment to security and the world kept him at the shore, like the multitudes who seemed so eager to listen to Christ and pressed so close, hearing his words, but not committing themselves to living the Gospel and being willing to take the plunge of Faith by following Christ into the unknown and seemingly impossible deep that is Faith.

Archbishop Andrei continues,

“Listen to the word of Christ. But where do we find this word? In the Gospel – that is where. If we know the Gospel and apply it to our life, then our life in Christ will be revealed to us.”

Here we might pause and reflect that it is not enough to simply know the Gospel, no matter how detailed this knowledge. We hear that it is by labouring for Christ that His Gospel becomes real and transformational in our lives. We are not interested in theory, but in putting the Gospel into action – to repeat the words of Vladyka Andrei – “If we know the Gospel and apply it to our life, then our life in Christ will be revealed to us.”

In matins we sing, “God is the Lord, and hath revealed Himself to us…” Christ the God-Man was revealed in the incarnation and His earthly life, and He continues to reveal Himself in the Gospel, but this revelation is not to be something that is exterior to us, but a revelation within us, as the Gospel is made the living reality of our lives. We become part of this revelation, by living with Christ within our hearts. This is the mystery of our life in Christ and Christ in our lives.

The internal miracle within the Apostle Peter, and his understanding of his own unworthiness and sinfulness in the light of Christ is something which Archbishop Andrei perceives even when a Christian only tried to fulfil a single commandment of the Lord –

“…if you would only attempt to fulfil the word of Christ, at least one commandment of Christ, then the essence of your life would be revealed to you, too.”

Even in the conscientious fulfilment of one commandment, a miracle has happened, and a human being has been changed by uniting his/her heart with Christ and uniting his/her will to that of the Saviour, who has been revealed within that action, no matter how small.

Progressing from this small beginning, the more we embrace the Gospel and live it, the clearer Christ will be revealed to us, the clearer Christ will be reflected in us, and we will reveal Him to the world with ever-growing clarity. Like Peter, as this happens, we shall simply not begin to see Him as He is, but to see ourselves as we really are – both in terms of what needs to change in us, and how the grace of God is changing and transforming us, as we are reformed and remoulded by His love, according to our constant prayer: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

The fulfilment of the Gospel of Christ, and its realisation in our lives is the essence of this recreation and renewal, as it was for Peter, realising his unworthiness in the light of Christ’s miracle. The more we appreciate our unworthiness, the more we are able to appreciate the magnitude of God’s love, and our life in Chris is where He will be revealed to us –

“And (in the words of Archbishop Andrei) His Resurrection will become for us more real than the physical world surrounding us. And He will fill our heart with an unspeakable joy, with the joy of Eternal Life; and this joy will have no end.

Only take the Gospel in your hands, only try to apply it in your life. Take everything which the Holy Church gives us. Then a miracle will happen to you, too – a greater miracle than the wonderful catch. Christ Himself will be revealed to you as He was revealed to Peter. Then you too will say deep in your heart: “I am a sinful man, O Lord!” And if you are a sinner, it means that you are sick and need a physician. And if a physician, then who is the Physician of the heart? Christ alone!”

Amen!

The Exaltation of the Honourable and Life-Giving Cross

Dear brothers and sisters,

Greetings to you all, as we celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Honourable and Life-Giving Cross of the Lord.

Yesterday, we celebrated the forefeast in Cardiff, hence the red vestments of the clergy, and Sunday also marked the Dedication of the Church of the Resurrection (the Holy Sepulchre) in Jerusalem, within whose sacred complex the topography of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection have been enshrined – though much altered by excavation and the clearance of rock and earth.

As on other feasts of the Cross, we combine celebration and fasting, as we contemplate the Saviour’s transformation of the wood of execution and shame into the Tree of Life, shattering the gates of death and hell and opening the doors of Paradise to all believers through His obedience to the way of the Cross, embracing it in love.

The Church Fathers contemplated and hymned this wonder with awe, as Christ’s humility, obedience, selflessness and love overturned the curse of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and the disobedience of the first-parents, and the Cross became not only the Tree of Life, but the key to the Gates of Paradise.

St John of Damascus wrote that, “For by nothing else except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, has death been brought low, the sin of our first parents destroyed, hell plundered, resurrection bestowed, the power given us to despise the things of this world and even death itself, the road back to the former blessedness made smooth, the gates of paradise opened, our nature seated at the right hand of God, and we made children and heirs of God.”

Let us all celebrate this wonder, and though I have to work throughout the coming nights and am unable to celebrate the feast with parishioners, I look forward to us celebrating the afterfeast before the Precious Cross this coming Sunday, and remind you that in our homes we should all be celebrating the Exaltation.

In every Christian home, the Cross may be honoured and adorned with flowers, as we offer our prayers and celebrate the feast.

May God bless you on this feast, and may the Cross, as the Invincible Trophy and the Tree of Life be at the centre of your homes and families, and the axis of your spiritual life.

With love in Christ – Hieromonk Mark

Synaxarion for the Exaltation

Of the Honorable and Life-Creating Cross1

Constantine the Great and Equal to the Apostles, first among the emperors of ancient Rome, accepted Christianity. While in the midst of battle, according to some against Magnentius in Rome, or according to others against the Scythians at the Danube River,2 he saw that the armies of the enemy were greater in number than his own, and this caused distress and fear. Finding himself in this situation, there appeared in the afternoon the form of the Cross in the sky, marked by stars. And encircling the Cross were letters, also inscribed by stars in Roman, namely Latin letters,3 which said the following: “Conquer by this.”

Straightway there was fashioned a Cross,4 like the one that appeared in the sky, and he ordered for it to go before the army. Engaging the enemy, they mightily conquered, to the point that most of them were killed. The others left in fear. The power of the Crucified One was therefore understood by this miracle, and he believed that He was the true God, and he was baptized with his mother.5

He then sent his mother Helen to Jerusalem, first of all, to venerate and honour with more brilliance the life-giving Tomb of the Lord, and the rest of the Holy Land. Also, to hastily seek and find the honourable Cross of the God-man Savior. For this she investigated with fervent longing, and she found it hidden. Likewise, she found the two crosses on which the thieves were crucified. She also found the nails.6 The empress was confused, however, as to which of three was the Cross of the Lord. She discovered which it was by a miracle, when it raised a dead widow woman after the Cross of the Lord touched her. The other two crosses of the thieves did not perform the miracle.7

Then she kissed and venerated the honourable Cross with great reverence and faith, not only the empress Helen, but also all the officials with her. Because all the Christians sought to kiss and venerate it, it was not possible to fulfil their desire due to the large crowd, so they sought alternatively to merely see the sweet vision of the honourable Cross, and so by this vision their longing would be satisfied. Wherefore the then blessed Patriarch of Jerusalem Makarios went up onto the ambon, and lifted high with his two hands the honourable Cross, showing it to all the Christians found below. Straightway when they saw it, together they cried out from their heart: “Lord have mercy.” From then on it was established by the most divine and God-inspired Fathers of the Church, for all Christians to celebrate on this day, this honourable and universal Exaltation of the divine Cross, to the glory of Christ our true God for Whom they gather.

Notes:

1. This synaxarion is from the 10th century Synaxarion of Constantinople. Translation and notes by John Sanidopoulos.

2. The most reliable research indicates that this battle was neither against Magnentius or the Scythians, but against Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge. Also, sources indicate that Constantine became a Christian before this battle through his son Crispus, who was a Christian, after presenting him with certain books of his father who was a Christian.

3. Some sources say the letters were in Latin, while others, like Emperor Leo the Wise and Paisios of Gaza, say they were in Greek.

4. After the vision of the Cross in the sky, that night Constantine saw Christ in a vision, Who told him to place the form of the Cross he saw on his spear.

5. There used to be a false opinion that Pope Sylvester of Rome catechized and baptized Constantine, but these documents were proved to be papal forgeries. Rather, it is believed Helen was already a Christian, while Constantine put off his baptism in order to be baptized in the Jordan River, which he was never able to accomplish, therefore he was baptized by Eusebius of Nicomedia before his repose in Constantinople.

6. These nails were brought by Helen to Constantinople, as a gift to her son. One was placed in the bridle of his horse, to fulfil the prophecy of Zachariah 14:20, “On that day Holy to the Lord Almighty will be inscribed on the bridle of the horses.” The second was placed in his battle helmet. The third, according to Ambrose, was thrown by Helen into the Adriatic Sea in order to calm a storm, though Dositheos of Jerusalem does not believe this story. Socrates says that the Cross and Nails were placed in the pillar of the statue of Constantine in Constantinople, to protect the City. Some say there were only three nails, while others say they were four, with two nails used for each foot rather than one nail for both feet.

7. Euthymios Zygabenos says that the true Cross of the Lord was distinguished by the inscription of Pilate over one of the crosses that said Christ was King of the Jews. Also, some say that the woman was near death and immediately healed, while others say fragrant basil grew over the location of the actual Cross of Christ. The finding of the Cross is celebrated on March 6th. The two crosses of the thieves were brought to Constantinople and placed in a porphyry pillar in the forum, with other relics.