Confessions This Week

Dear brothers and sisters, 

As announced at Liturgy on Sunday, confessions will be heard on Thursday and Saturday this week. 

Those who confessed last weekend are blessed to commune at the Theophany Liturgy, and those preparing for communion on Sunday may confess after the Great Blessing of the Waters. 

There will be limited time before our 11:00 Liturgy, so I would appreciate an idea of how many confessions are expected. I have already received several requests, and will confess those respective parishioners first. If needed, parishioners may be confessed and communed after the service. Please let us know if you would like to confess on Thursday. 

On Saturday, we will celebrate Great Vespers with Vladika at 17:00, and I and Father Luke will be available to confess people before and after the service. 

There will be confessions before the Sunday service, but these must end by 10:55, as Vladika will be greeted at 11:00. Those confessing should be mindful of the time, and long confessions will NOT be possible. 

Whatever day works best for you, please drop us a line. 

May God bless you all! 

In Christ – Hieromonk Mark

Confessions This Week

Dear brothers and sisters,

As we prepare for the coming Nativity of the Lord, we face quite a challenge with confessions as I will now be serving with only Deacon Mark, and will subsequently have to hear all of the confessions of those communing on Saturday and Sunday.

There have already been a significant number of requests for confessions on Friday, and in an effort to ease what may be a very challenging evening, I have already emailed those living locally (who have made requests) to ask if they are able to confess on Thursday.

This would ease the pressure, especially as we have people who live some distance from Cardiff requiring confession.

Given the maximum number of those who may require the Holy Mystery, it may not be possible to additionally confess all who confessed last Sunday, and who largely confess on a weekly basis.

Should this be the case, those who confessed last week are blessed to additionally receive Holy Communion on the coming weekend of the Lord’s Nativity, unless there is a pressing need for confession.

Once I know how many of this week’s requests can confess on Thursday, there may be some free time, then.

Friday could be extremely pressurised and stressful, so I would like to mitigate this, as far possible.

Those confessing, whether on Friday, Saturday or Sunday should be prepared and ready, knowing what they have  to say/confess, and be aware of others waiting their turn for confession.

Whilst the situation is far from ideal, this is unavoidable and we all need to work together to make things work.

In Christ – Fr Mark

Happy St Nicholas Day!

Dear brothers and sisters, greetings to you all for the feast of the Holy Hierarch and Wonderworker Nicholas.His life is a model of Christian living for us all – not just for our bishops, despite the fact that he is the very ideal of hierarchical life – and in his life we all see all that is holy, true and righteous. 

Despite the relative obscurity of this life, spanning the third and fourth centuries, St Nicholas quickly became the most universally loved and venerated saint of Christendom. We might ask why, as his power and influence seem so disproportionate to what we know of him in historical terms. 

Surely, this is because his life shines so brightly with the Light of Christ, and he so clearly encapsulates everything that it is to be a Christian. The central meaning of this is love, for God is absolute and perfect love, Christ is Incarnate Love and we are all called to reflect God and His love in our lives.

We are all called to be icons of Christ, struggling for the image of God to be restored and renewed in us, not simply by our baptism, but by continual prayer and repentance in which we seek perfection by struggling to reflect the Saviour, making His Gospel real in our lives.

In the Gospel for the hierarch we heard the Beatitudes and, as Father Luke pointed out in the homily of today’s Liturgy, these Beatitudes were made real and appreciable in the life of St Nicholas.

I constantly tell my spiritual children that the Beatitudes are the whole manifesto of Christian living, telling us how to make the Gospel real in our lives and how to live the lives Christ wants us to have. When this happens, we touch the world with God’s love, mercy and compassion, bringing light and life to those around us. These Beatitudes are not for our gain, for our sake and our benefit, but for the benefit of our neighbour and the world that surrounds us. They are not rules for us to gain, but rather for us to give, for us to love, for us to care, for us to respond to the needs of others – loving and serving Christ by doing so!

St Nicholas not only did this in his earthly life, but having been glorified by God among the saints on His right hand, the great saint has worked great miracles for a millennium and a half, continuing to reveal God’s glory, love and power; continuing to touch the faithful with his fatherly and archpastoral care, as a shepherd of souls and wonderworker doing God’s inscrutable works in the world.  

As Orthodox Christians, we continue to turn to him, not simply on his feasts, but day by day, week by week, and virtually every Orthodox home and church possesses an icon of St Nicholas. Apart from Holy Week and Bright Week, every Thursday of the year honours him. We celebrate his nativity, his death, the translation of his relics, and various feasts of his wonderworking icons. 

All of these acts of piety and devotion make him a great presence in our lives, as one whom we love, to whom we turn as a trusted and respected father, guide, helper and source of strength.

May we ever do so, and we pray that he may ever help us, teach us how to follow Christ and show us the way to the Kingdom of Heaven.  

But, without seeking to follow his example our devotion will be hollow, paper-thin and meaningless. St Nicholas calls us to reflect Christ and to live the Gospel. Let us honour him by doing so!
May God bless you all.
In Christ – Fr Mark

Advent: the Nativity Fast

Dear brothers and sisters,

Sunday will be the last day before the Nativity Fast, and the last day on which we eat non-fasting food.

We should be ready for the Fast from the very beginning, and spend the next few days getting ready for the season of repentance and preparation for the great feast of the Lord’s Nativity.

We offer some advice published in the past by the Diocese of Mukachevo:

  1. Find time for attentive prayer: Make it a rule not to skip or shorten morning and evening prayers. Read a portion of the Gospel and Psalter every day, and most importantly, remember the presence of God as often as possible. 
  2. Prepare for Confession and Communion: Think about and assess your actions, looking for what has harmed your soul. Prepare to receive more often, with the blessing of your spiritual father. 
  3. Forgive your enemies: It is impossible to grow spiritually as long as there is a stone in the middle of our hearts. Even if you feel the other person is to blame, find an opportunity to speak with them and to forgive them, letting go of any and all anger. 
  4. Give up the internet for a few days: “Hanging out” online takes away time that could be devoted to our families. After just a few days of abstention from the internet, you will feel an unusual surge of strength and energy. Don’t believe it? Try it! 
  5. Finishing those things you’ve been working on for half a year already: Such things speak to your responsibility as a Christian. Many believers testify that once the Fast starts, everything goes like clockwork – prayer and fasting clear your mind and enhance your thinking. 
  6. Visit social institutions, such as an old folks’ home, children’s homes, or hospitals: You can bring people in hard situations a gift, especially the warmth of your heart and good conversation. 
  7. Feed the homeless:Don’t be afraid. Separate out a portion of your groceries as food for the poor – there are plenty of them in churches and throughout cities as a whole. Do it with an awareness of what need the destitute are in. 
  8. Take stock of your clothing and shoes. Give to someone else that which you don’t wear.
  9. Do good deeds in secret:December is a time when everyone is talking about charity and mercy, although in modern times it is often bound up with publicity. Remember that our benefit for such deeds, when done in secret, comes from God Himself. 
  10. Let go of everything that bothers and worries you:Get rid of all excesses during the Fast, including the thoughts and feelings that oppress you. Do not dwell on the negative. 
  11. Prepare foods for the feast of the Nativity beforehand, so you can attend the Vigil and Liturgy in peace: The Divine services are the main preparation for the birth of the God-Man. Prepare food ahead of time so you don’t deprive yourself of the spiritual atmosphere which will allow you to truly experience Christmas. 
  12. Give thanks to God: Thank God from a sincere heart for another year that has passed, and for His unconditional love that permeates every second of our lives. 

Be prepared, be ready, and may God give you good strength in the spiritual arena of the Holy Season!

In Christ – Fr Mark

Thine Own of Thine Own: Blessing God’s Gifts

After the Liturgy on Sunday, several people asked me why we blessed honey, and this reminded me of a question from a member of Nazareth House staff: ‘Why did you bless the beehives?’

Why did we bless these things?

Why did we bless Margarita’s house a little over a week ago?

Indeed, why do we bless vestments, holy vessels, parishioner’s cars, our daily meals and so many other things? Why do we bless water at Theophany, and at other times with the Lesser Blessing?  Why do we ask blessings for journeys, for new ventures, for new jobs?

When we bless the harvest, be it honey, grains or fruits, we acknowledge the Lord’s goodness as we ‘return’ them to Him in the knowledge that He is the source of every gift, and our Sustainer, Who constantly satisfies us with His earthly blessings.

In the broadest sense of evharistia / thanksgiving, the liturgical blessing acknowledges the very fact that God’s gifts are His, not ours. We also set these things aside, and dedicate them to the Lord, particularly when we bless homes, vehicles, and objects – especially those used in sacred worship.

Just as the priest chants, ‘Thine own of Thine own do we give Thee’ when the Deacon raises the eucharistic-offerings after the words of institution in the Liturgy, so we offered Him ‘His own of His own’ in the honey-blessing, as we shall likewise do with grapes and other fruits at the end of the Transfiguration Liturgy when the words of the prayer will state this with perfect clarity:

‘O Master, Lord our God, Who commandest everyone to bring as an offering Thine own of Thine own, and grantest unto them in return Thine eternal good things…’

Beyond this recognition in various blessings, we receive the Grace of God who truly sanctifies that which is offered, and we partake of this Grace when we eat or drink that which has been blessed and sanctified, or when we are anointed with blessed oil.

At the Jordan blessing of water at Theophany, we pray,

‘Make it a fountain of immortality, a gift of sanctification, the remission of sins, the healing of infirmities, the destruction of the demons, unapproachable by hostile powers, filled with angelic might. And may it be unto all those who shall draw it, and shall partake of it unto the purification of their souls and bodies, unto the healing of their passions, unto the sanctification of their homes, and unto every expedient service.’

When we bless the artos at Pascha, we pray,

‘And count worthy we who offer this, and they that shall kiss it and taste of it, to become partakers of Thy heavenly blessing; and by Thy might drive away from us every sickness and infirmity, grant health unto all.’

When we bless cheese, butter, milk and eggs, on the same festal night, we pray

‘that, while enjoying these, Thy generously presented gifts, we may also be satisfied with Thine unspeakable grace, for the sake of the bright three-days resurrection from the dead of our Lord Jesus Christ…’

At the blessing of wheat, wine and oil at the vigil service we pray that the Lord will

‘sanctify the faithful that partake of them.’

During Sunday’s blessing of honey, we asked that

‘all tasting of it, receiving it and eating it, may find good health, and by this nourishment be satisfied and filled with all good things.’

And… when we bless the fruit offered at Friday’s Transfiguration Liturgy, we shall pray,

“… do Thou now bless this fruit of the vine lying here, and make us thy servants who eat of it, partakers of the True Vine. Keep our lives from harm and ever give us peace that none can take away…”

Through these blessings, tasting and seeing is both physical and spiritual, as the Lord communicates the spiritual gifts of His Grace through His sanctified creation: Grace that strengthens us; Grace that heals us: Grace that purifies us both physically and spiritually.

God communicates spiritual gifts through the offering of His creation to Him as ‘Thine own of Thine own…’, as through their sanctification and dedication, physical things become the communicative medium of God’s Grace.

Through the liturgical blessings in our Christian life, we live it eucharistically and doxologically, endless rendering God glory and thanksgiving and, as we enjoy His gifts, we participate in His goodness and also become spiritual participators in His manifold blessings.

In blessing His gifts and in enjoying that which is blessed we physically and spiritually commune with His love and goodness, as we experience to the invitation of the Psalmist, “O taste and see, the Lord is good.”

In Christ – Hieromonk Mark

 

Last Sunday and the Week Ahead

Dear brothers and sisters,

It was wonderful to have such a well-attended Liturgy for the feast of “All the Saints who have shone forth in the lands of Rus’ ”, and good to have so many new faces. 

As I said in my homily, this feast is no doubt one which could be misrepresented by some, as some sort of representation of a ‘Russkiy Mir’ approach to the Church, holiness and the saints – but we are clear that this feast has nothing to do with ethnicity, politics or nationhood, but rather a celebration of the holiness of those whom GOD has glorified in all of the Rus’ lands: in the territory of the modern states of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, and the Carpatho-Russian region which overlaps several modern European states – and the lands of the Empire

Among the saints of Rus’, in addition to East Slavs (among whom we must not forget the Rusyn peoples of Carpatho-Russia), we celebrate the saints of the early Varangian (Norse) ruling class, Greeks, Mongol-Tartars, Germans, Finns, Latvians, Lithuanian’s, Estonians, Hungarians, Romans, native Siberian peoples and countless other nationalities – all linked by their holiness and their glorification by God in the Rus’ lands and the territory of the Empire (however we may view it). 

As we celebrate this feast, we make no differentiation between Slav, Greek of Mongol, but celebrate the memory of all of the saints who have been God-pleasing and glorified by Him.

Beyond the Rus lands, saints such as St John (Maximovich) the Wonder Worker and St Maria of Paris laboured in the spiritual-care of the exiles of the Revolution, and they together with the likes of St Seraphim of Sarov and St Silouan of Mount Athos have gained a place in the loving-hearts of people of all nations and languages, not just Orthodox faithful, but Christians from many backgrounds.

The saints we have celebrated are not just OUR saints, but EVERYBODY’S saints; the Greek saints celebrated in Greek parishes the last Sunday, Romanian saints in Romanian parishes, Serbian saints in Serbian parishes are equally OUR saints. There are no passports, borders and ethno-linguistic divisions in Heaven – and we are meant to reflect that reality here and now!

At a time of division and fragmentation, this feast must be one of unity, and a sign of hope for the Orthodox faithful across borders and battle zones, and we look to the saints as our example in these difficult and painful times.

This coming Sunday will see the celebration of All the Saints who have shone forth in the Isles of Britain, again with no differentiation according to nation, tribe and language, but a celebration of holiness and God’s grace.

In preparation for Sunday, confessions will be heard on Friday, and you are asked – as usual – to email me at otetzmark@hotmail.com, message me via Facebook or send a text. Requests by Wednesday night please.

Following confessions, we will have a catechism discussion on the Eucharist this Friday at 19:00 in the parish room at the Church of St Mary the Virgin, in Butetown. Thanks, as always, to Father Dean, and Georgina for making this possible.

To echo Deacon Mark’s comments at the end of Sunday Liturgy, any children who need to eat due to the very late time of Holy Communion should eat something simple before coming to Church on Sundays. We understand that from bedtime on Saturday to communion time on Sunday is a very long time, and we recognise pastoral necessity for some of our very young parishioners. Food can easily be postny/fasting and should be plain and functional – no animal products and no chocolate cereals are needed.

Our children need to realise that days for Holy Communion are different and should understand that mum and dad, older children and adults are fasting, and they must be helped to grow into this discipline.

Also, children over seven should be confessing before communion, and children’s clothing (like their parents) should be appropriate for Church, with head-coverings for our little girls during Liturgy. This is how children learn that we do things differently in Church to honour God.

They cannot learn Orthopraxis without the input of their parents and elders, and sacred Tradition is in adult hands of to pass on. Without transmission there is no Tradition, and we see the sad results of this in other Orthodox communities where confession before communion, fasting, modest dress, and even reverent silence and behaviour in Church seem optional.

We continue the Apostles’ Fast throughout this week…

Monday June 27 N.S. – Strict Fast (Bread, Vegetables, Fruits)

Tuesday June 28 N.S. – Fast. Fish, wine and oil. St. Jonah, Metropolitan of Moscow (1461).

Wednesday June 29 N.S. – Strict Fast (Bread, Vegetables, Fruits)

Thursday June 30 N.S. – Fast. Wine and oil.

Friday July 1 N.S. – Strict Fast (Bread, Vegetables, Fruits)

Saturday July 2 N.S. – Fast. Fish, wine and oil.

Sunday July 3 N.S. – Fast. Fish, wine and oil.

… and we look forward to the Feast of St Peter and St Paul.

Finally, your prayers are asked for Archpriest Luke, Ruth-Silouana, and Isaiah of our Swansea-Llanelli parish as they self-isolate with covid.

Wishing you a blessed week.

May God bless you.

In Christ – Fr Mark

The Week Ahead

Dear brothers and sisters, 

Christ is Risen! Христос воскресе! Hristos a înviat! Χριστός νέστη 

Sunday brought us the double joy of celebrating the Samaritan woman – St Photini/Svetlana – and the translation of the relics of St Nicholas from Myra to Bari. I was very happy to be able to preach on the Samaritan woman, in addition to celebrating the great Wonderworker in a festal moleben, with the faithful being anointed with manna from the relics of St Nicholas in the basilica in Bari. 

During the moleben, we prayed for Daniel and Katherine, who were crowned in holy matrimony by Daniel’s priestly father on Sunday afternoon in the Old Rite Russian Orthodox Church of St Nicholas the Wonderworker (Moscow Patriarchate) in Edinboro, Pennsylvania. We pray for a blessed marriage and ‘many years’, to the newlyweds and their families – especially to Father Seraphim and matushka Solomonia. What a blessing for the newlyweds to be crowned in a temple dedicated to St Nicholas on his Spring Feast. 

Later, on Sunday, I had the opportunity to speak to those recently confirmed in the Anglican ministry area, and tell them a little about the Orthodox Church, also taking the opportunity to talk with the Anglican clergy about parish life in the wake of the arrival of refugees from Ukraine. 

This coming Sunday is the Sunday of the Blind Man, and we will celebrate the Hours and Liturgy at the usual time of 11:00, with our customary bring-and-share-lunch after the service. 

The variable parts of the Liturgy may be found at Orthodox Austin, as usual:  

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1uGVehx4OtFHXJsUQyBVwyD9Y5p4KBSVI/view 

As there will be no catechesis group this Friday, I will hear confessions in Deacon Mark’s office on Saturday, and ask all of those requiring confessions to email me by Thursday: otetzmark@hotmail.com 

May God bless you, and may you continue to rejoice in the Resurrection of Christ as we come towards the end of the Paschal season. 

Christ is Risen! 

In Christ – Hieromonk Mark 

 

  

New Year Greetings: Поздравления с Новым годом!

Dear brothers and sisters, 

Поздравления с Новым годом! Καλή χρονιά!

Greetings as we mark the civil new year – mindful of the spiritual opportunities that each new day, each month and each year afford us, as a gift from God. 

Those who have had a year of spiritual successes and victories should thankfully accept the year ahead as a gift from God to further build upon the foundations and progress of the year – not resting on past achievements, but seeking greater labours and spiritual achievements for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. 

For those of us for whom the old year was marred by spiritual failures and defeats, the new year is the Merciful Lord’s gift to us, as a time for repentance and amendment. Though life may seem dark, we hold on to hope, and struggle towards Christ, seeking Him as Life and Light. That which we have built may be shoddy and dangerous, and we may need to pull it down and start again, spiritually-rebuilding with care and attention, with Christ and His Gospel as our level and measure. 

Those who have gained spiritual victories in the last year, should fight on, continuing to arm themselves with prayer, fasting, and works of mercy and compassion – not resting on the laurels of past victories, lest the enemy ambush them in the year ahead, taking them by surprise and attacking in the dark night of complacency. The soldier for Christ must remain fit, active and vigilant. 

Those who have faced spiritual defeat should not allow themselves to flounder in the dark gloom of loss and failure, mourning and dwelling on injuries and mistakes, but rise to action knowing that though battles may have been lost, spiritual warfare continues and future victories beckon.

Cleaning, dressing and binding our wounds, strengthening ourselves with prayer, fasting, and the medice of the Holy Mysteries, we must arm ourselves and resume the battle with hope in the Grace of God, knowing that the Saviour is the Vanquisher of death. We may have fallen, but Christ is risen, and reaches down to raise us up, if only we will take His hand. Led forward by Christ the Victor, with the help of the Mother of God, the ‘champion-leader’, battle-scarred and limping, the vanquished may yet become the vanquishers and the defeated the victors. 

For most of us. the old year will have been a mixture of the positive and negative, success and failure, but whether victorious or defeated, successful or at a loss, jubilant or sad, we must all look forward with hope and joy, reflecting on the last year with sobriety and a spiritually-critical eye: knowing what is to be continued and built upon; resolute on what must be changed; thankful for what we have received; practicing what we have learned; repenting for the mistakes we have made; trusting in the Lord, and appreciating every blessing He gives – with this new year as a great gift, with opportunities to seize, to the glory of God.

I received a message today in which the sender said that they hoped the new year will bring “all you want and hope for.” I must say that I do not wish this, but rather pray that we may all be granted what each of us needs for the spiritual life – and that which the Lord knows to be good and salvific for each of us – whether what He sends us is easy or difficult; bitter or sweet; what we want or what we would not choose of our own volition. May His will be done in each of us, and let each of us say to Him, “O Lord, let it be as Thou willest and as Thou knowest. O Lord, as Thou dost wish. may Thy will be done in me – Thine O Lord, not mine.” 

May God grant us that which is needful for the salvation of our souls and the eternal joy of the Kingdom, and let us all invest in the year ahead, heeding the words of St Seraphim by making it spiritually profitable and beneficial, gaining imperishable riches for ourselves in the age to come. 

“Acquire the grace of the Holy Spirit also by practicing all the other virtues for Christ’s sake. Trade spiritually with them; trade with those which give you the greatest profit. Accumulate capital from the superabundance of God’s grace, deposit it in God’s eternal bank which will bring you immaterial interest, not four or six per cent, but one hundred per cent for one spiritual rouble, and even infinitely more than that. For example, if prayer and watching gives you more of God’s grace, watch and pray; if fasting gives you much of the spirit of God, fast; if almsgiving gives you more, give alms. Weigh every virtue done for Christ’s sake in this manner.” 

May God bless you, your families and loved ones.  

In Christ – Hieromonk Mark 

Greetings on the Feast of the Protecting Veil

Dear all,

I know that it is rather late in the day, but nightshifts make my days back to front and upside down. However, despite the hour, I greet you all and wish you a blessed and holy feast of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God.

We have so many feasts celebrating the events of her life and her wonder-working icons, but this feast is a concrete celebration of that wonderful reality that is her ‘protection’; a mother’s instinct to protect her children; and the wonder is that there is no limit to the children who can find shelter under her omophorion.

We remember the vision of St Andrew the Fool in the Church of Blachernae, and the Mother of God’s protection of the Imperial City from the siege of the Avars and Persians in 626, but more than that – we celebrate the Mother of God as our constant protection, and as the mother who cares for us, as her children.

The earliest Christian hymn to the Mother of God is one that is very precious for us, and one which we – as a parish dedicated to the Theotokos – hear each week during clergy communion – “Beneath thy mercy… Pod tvoyu milost…”

Beneath thy mercy we take refuge, O Virgin Theotokos: disdain not our supplications in our distress, but deliver us from perils, O only pure and blessed one.

The history of this glorious hymn, celebrating the Protection of the Mother of God, shows how the Christians across the breadth of the ancient world came together to place themselves beneath the Protecting Veil of her love and mercy, with the Mother of God being a source of unity for Christians of every race and nation.

The earliest manuscript comes from the Coptic Christmas Liturgy and is written on a third-century papyrus. The hymn is part of the Armenian, Byzantine, Ambrosian, and Roman Rites (with a few variant words), and was so ingrained in the hearts and souls of the children of the Russian Orthodox Church, that when the service-texts were reformed in the mid 17th century, the faithful still clung to the original Slavonic text of their forebears.

Подъ твою милость, прибѣгаемъ богородице дѣво, молитвъ нашихъ не презри в скорбѣхъ. но ѿ бѣдъ избави насъ,едина чистаѧ и благословеннаѧ.
 
As we celebrate this feast, let us not only think of ourselves, but with fervent prayers of intercession take our loved-ones, friends, neighbours… and even enemies to the Protection of the Mother of God – asking her to mercifully be their refuge; to come to them in their distress; to hear our supplications for them; to deliver them from perils. And – let us commend those who do not even know the motherhood of the Theotokos to her Protection and intercession. This is the glory of the fifteen decades of prayers, we call the Rule of the Mother of God – offered to her for the intention of others, knowing the power of a mother’s intercession before the Lord of Glory.

Our Lady has become a mirror of God’s boundless and immeasurable love, desiring the salvation and restoration of all of God’s people – not just Christians, but all people, created in the image of likeness of God.

At the foot of the Cross, when the Saviour commended her to St John, with the words “Behold thy mother”, He spoke to the whole of humanity – humanity which was the gift of the Mother of God to our Saviour, who then commended her to us, and who – in the course of time – received His Mother into the glory of heaven, from where she watches over us, protects us, visits us, and works countless miracles.

Most Holy Mother of God, save us!

May God bless you on this wonderful feast.

In Christ –  Hieromonk Mark

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.