By Deacon Kevin Bezner
On Sunday, June 2, George Weigel presented his lecture “Twentieth Century and Twenty-First Century Mission: Eastern Catholics and the Universal Church” at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia.
The lecture was part of the opening day ceremonies for the installation of Bishop Borys Gudziak as the Archbishop for the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia and the Metropolitan for the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the United States.
In his lecture, Weigel makes a number of important points for our particular church and the universal Church. First Things has published the lecture online. I encourage you to read the entire lecture.
Our saints and martyrs
"When we think of the witness of Eastern Catholics in the twentieth century, and particularly of the witness of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, our minds naturally turn first to the great men and women who held firm to the Catholic and apostolic faith during the starvations and slaughters of the mid-twentieth century, and during the communist persecution that followed. We think of the New Ukrainian Martyrs beatified by John Paul II during his pastoral pilgrimage to Ukraine in 2001; we think of the many martyrs whose names are not in the Church’s liturgical calendar, but who nonetheless “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14) and now reign with him forever. We think of the Venerable Andrey Sheptytsky, and pray that his beatification is not long delayed. We remember the Servant of God Josyf Slipyj, whose witness in the Gulag inspired novelist Morris West to create a fictional—and perhaps even prophetic—Ukrainian pope in The Shoes of the Fisherman."
Our faithfulness to our martyrs
"In my commencement address at the Ukrainian Catholic University in 2013, I challenged the graduates to be faithful to the martyrs whose sacrifice laid the foundation on which UCU was built. That challenge applies equally to all Ukrainian Greek Catholics wherever they live, in Ukraine or in the diaspora, just as it applies to every Catholic, whatever rite they practice."
"In thinking of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s witness in the twentieth century, though, we should remember more than blood and martyrs; we should think of a Church that became a safe deposit box of national identity, memory, and culture when malign forces sought to erase the very idea of “Ukraine” from the world’s vocabulary. We remember how Metropolitan Borys and an intrepid band of brothers and sisters realized the dreams of Andrey Sheptytsky and Josyf Slipyj and built a great Catholic center of higher learning un Ukraine—a university that would deepen and broaden the culture that Sheptytsky in particular did so much to both preserve and nourish."
"…the adoration-centered liturgy … is so important for the world Church, and indeed for the world."
Our attention to the Church Fathers
"Eastern Catholicism’s immersion in the Fathers also teaches the world Church to practice the ecumenism of time, giving a voice in the current deliberations of the Church to those who have gone before, and whose theology and preaching have passed the test of time in proving their spiritual fecundity."
Our mission, and the Church's
"…this Archeparchy and its suffragans, like the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the entire Latin-rite Church throughout the United States, must become once again a missionary enterprise: a Church in which everyone understands himself or herself to be a missionary disciple who was given the Great Commission at baptism; a Church in which every one of those missionary disciples understands that he or she is entering “mission territory” every day—at home, at work, in the neighborhood, in our lives as citizens, and in our lives as consumers."
By Deacon Kevin Bezner
For the past few months at Byzantine Catholic Seminary, I have been studying and reflecting on the Holy Mystery of Repentance, or confession, as part of my preparation for ordination to the priesthood. A course on evil and exorcism at the Seminary also has led me to reflect on sin and its consequences, the importance of living a sacramental life, and the need for deliverance from sin and the devil.
Overall, my studies have led me to a greater understanding of the necessity of confession, a sacrament of healing and deliverance that some have called the “forgotten medicine.”
During the Great Fast, I was given a valuable experience in pastoral formation. As part of an annual Lenten retreat for youth and young adults sponsored by the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of St. Josaphat in Parma, Ohio, I was invited to chaperone and present an examination of conscience in preparation for confession.
Preparing the examination, and witnessing the desire of the youth and young adults at the retreat for the Lord’s healing grace, helped me see the necessity of this holy mystery and the priests who administer it as instruments of the Lord.
Without priests, the young cannot develop the habit of confessing their sins frequently.
Without priests to hear their confessions, they cannot receive the particular grace of this sacrament.
Without this grace, they are left without an essential defense against sin and the devil.
I left the retreat with a deeper understanding of confession and how a priest helps bring the healing medicine of Jesus Christ to the wounded and the suffering.
(Originally published by Byzantine Catholic Seminary at bcs.edu. Deacon Kevin completed his studies as part of the ongoing formation program at the Seminary on May 10. He is to be ordained a priest for the Saint Josaphat Ukrainian Eparchy of Parma on All Saints Sunday – June 16, 2019)
By Fr. Mark Shuey
According to the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of St. Josaphat in Parma Eparchial Handbook, the minimum fast for Lent is as follows:
Abstinence forbids the use of meat and meat products. Abstinence does not forbid the use of eggs or dairy products. Abstinence is observed on:
Strict Fast forbids the use of meat, eggs and dairy products. Strict Fast is observed on Pure Monday (3/4) and Great Friday (4/19).
If you have never fasted before, please do the minimum fast and take each fasting period to grow in your spiritual life -- this means to eventually grow in fasting, building up over time to the Ascetic Fast during which no animal products are consumed but fish and oil are allowed on the weekends. This takes time, effort, and especially prayer to develop. Remember, fasting without prayer is diabolical -- you just hurt the body. If you never build up over time to the Ascetic Fast at least continue to do the Minimum Fast.
Abstinence binds all of the faithful of the St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy in Parma who receive the Eucharist. Strict Fast binds all the adult faithful of the Eparchy who receive the Eucharist. Exempt from the fast are those under 14 and over 60 years of age.
Expectant and nursing mothers, infants, and those who are in poor health are exempt from the laws of Strict Fast. Pastors and religious superiors, for just cause, may grant to individuals and families a dispensation or commutation of the prescribed Strict or Abstinence Fasts to another equivalent penance.
The periods during which fasting is not permitted:
The modernist Irish poet William Butler Yeats opens his poem “The Second Coming” with this stanza:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Yeats closes his poem with these two lines, which ask a crucial question, one that I believe is worth thinking about as we celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord and look forward to the New Year:
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Yeats wrote his apocalyptic poem in 1919, the horrors of World War I and the bloodshed of Ireland’s Easter Rising still fresh in his mind.
Although the Europe he knew was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with its Christian heritage, Yeats continued to use Christian symbols in writing his highly symbolic, and at times mythic, poetry.
Yeats grew up in Ireland as part of the Protestant elite in Ireland, which heavily oppressed the predominantly Catholic Irish. As an adult, he supported Irish nationalism, but uncomfortable with violence he wrote in his poem "Easter 1916" of the “terrible beauty” that was born in the aftermath of the Easter Rising.
His rejection of the middle class values of his times led him to dig deep into the occult.
Defining himself as an agnostic, he was attracted to the ideas of the Russian occultist Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, the principal founder of a false religion called Theosophy whose ideas influenced today's New Age beliefs.
Through his digging, Yeats became one of the architects of the anti-Christian, anti-Middle Class, and New Age ideas that many in our society today have embraced.
In A History of Modern Poetry: From the 1890s to the High Modernist Mode, David Perkins writes that Yeats described a number of the writers he had known as tragic but noble and courageous, despite their having been self-destructive in their use of drink, drugs, and sex.
Yeats saw these poets as limited but sympathetic because of “the intensity of the rejection of middle class existence.”
Yeats, Perkins writes, came to believe that their “self-destructiveness … whatever brought about their personal tragedies had limited their art.”
One of his criticisms of his fellow writers was that even though they had rejected middle class values they had not found anything else to replace them.
In his strange spirituality Yeats, however, thought he had. Perkins writes: “Only the mystic and the saint, Yeats later believed, could reject nature and the world and still be full.”
The failure of his fellow writers, it seems, only taught Yeats to pay closer attention to his poetic craft. He could not see that their rejection of Christian morality, and his own, was at the heart of their difficulties.
There was nothing to replace. Instead, what was needed was full commitment to Christianity. At this, Yeats and the elite of his time failed miserably.
The mystic and saint Yeats admired was a creation of his own mind, his own will, not the will of God.
“The Second Coming,” a poem about the world by a worldly man who longed to be mystic and saint, says much about the world, but not in the way Yeats intended.
The falcon, human beings, including Yeats, cannot hear the falconer, God. The things of the world do fall apart and do not hold together – when God, the true God, is not at the center.
Anarchy has been loosed by elites such as Yeats, and the world they have created, drowning in blood, murders innocence even today.
Can we really call those who lack conviction the best among us?
The best lacking conviction for Yeats includes intellectuals, artists, poets, politicians, businessmen, and the wealthy. Together, they have birthed and nurtured, with the complicity of so many, the wasteland observed by Yeats’s more astute contemporary T.S. Eliot.
There is much to admire about Yeats: His use of conversational speech to write his poems, his attention to the craft of writing a poem.
But his content, while reflective of the ideas held by many among the elite in his time, and in our own, is often the thought of a deeply confused man.
As we celebrate the Nativity, let us also reflect on Our Lord’s passion, how he carried on the cross the weight of our sins, the weight of the sinful world Yeats cannot see that he has helped birth, a world we too have helped birth through our sins.
Let us reflect on how the rough, slouching beast is defeated, that our sins have been forgiven, and that with prayer and fasting, the weapons the Lord has given us, we will defeat the legions of slouching demons who torment, tempt, and distract us.
Let us not get caught up in the widening gyre. Let us not stumble. Waiting and watching, let instead endure in our prayer and fasting to the end. In enduring, let us give birth to a Christian life well-lived with passionate intensity.
Originally Published in The Christian Review, December 24, 2018
How did you get the idea for the East Meets West retreat?
Very Rev. Father Mark Shuey, dean of the Mid-Atlantic deanery for the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of St. Josaphat, and pastor of two North Carolina missions, wanted to provide clergy with ongoing formation and at the same time explore the possibility of developing a mission in the Western North Carolina mountains following the request of a local group.
We developed the retreat for both of these purposes. The retreat, we believed, would be a good way to gather together all interested in a Ukrainian Catholic mission in the mountains and, once developed, to provide ongoing formation for all who attend. With the retreat, clergy gather for prayer, talks, liturgy, and fellowship. At the same time, anyone interested in the mission can attend our prayer services and talks; experience Byzantine Rite liturgy; and meet with clergy during fellowship.
How did you choose Canton as a location?
In June of 2014, we were invited to celebrate Divine Liturgy in Leicester by a group interested in our developing a mission in the area. We were then offered the use of St. Mary Roman Catholic Church in Sylva for our first retreat in August.
Following our retreat, we were offered the opportunity to use Immaculate Conception Mission in Canton for regular services. From October of 2014 to January of 2015, we offered liturgical services at Immaculate Conception. We were unable to continue with these services at the time, because we had no clergy to send. For the next two years, we continued to hold our retreat in Sylva to gather all interested in our developing a mission.
In the spring of 2017, a deacon became available to offer monthly services in Canton and he began to do so in June, with a commitment for a priest to celebrate Divine Liturgy at least twice a year. With services now being held regularly in Canton, it was the ideal time to move the retreat to Immaculate Conception.
Why is the retreat called East Meets West?
We had three reasons for naming the retreat “East Meets West.”
First, the name honors the heritage of our Church. The Ukrainian Catholic Church is a daughter Church of the Church of Constantinople, and Constantinople historically has been known as the city where east meets west. In addition, St. John Chrysostom, whose liturgy we celebrate, was Patriarch of Constantinople from 398 to 404. The name also honors him.
Second, the retreat was planned as a way to gather our clergy, priests and deacons, who reside across the state of North Carolina, east and west, for fellowship, liturgy, and prayer.
Third, the retreat’s services and talks are held at a Roman Catholic church and open to the public, many of whom are Roman Catholic, or western. In addition, we encourage clergy seeking ongoing formation, whether eastern or western, to attend. We see the retreat, therefore, as a meeting or gathering of members of the one Church east and west.
Why did you choose the Beatitudes as a theme?
The Beatitudes are a summary of all Our Lord teaches. With the Beatitudes of the Sermon of the Mount, Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us how to live in the world as Christians. In the Byzantine Rite, the Beatitudes are prayed as part of Divine Liturgy and as part of Typica, a service prayed on days Divine Liturgy is not offered. We hope our talks will give those who attend the retreat greater insight into why the Beatitudes are included in our liturgy and why they are an essential guide to the Christian life.
Why did you choose the book on the Beatitudes by St. Gregory of Nyssa?
St. Gregory of Nyssa (ca. 330-394) is considered one of the great early theologians of Christian mysticism. He teaches us that with the Beatitudes Jesus Christ leads us up a ladder to perfection by keeping his commandments and living an ascetical life.
We return to our discussion of passages from Spiritual Gems from the Gospel of Matthew (Holy Cross Orthodox Press), a collection of selections from the homilies of St. John Chyrsostom translated and edited by Robert Charles Hill.
Today we will look at six passages.
The lesson of Sodom, Mt 11:24
“I mean, when Paul is read out and you take no notice, when John is proclaimed and you do not listen, at what point will you receive a needy person when you do not receive an apostle? In order, therefore, for our houses to be continually open to the former and our ears to the latter, let us clear out the filth and mud in the ears and the body, so lascivious songs, worldly gossip, talk of debts and loans and mortgages block the hearing of the mind to a worse degree than any dirt—or, rather, they not only block it but also make it impure.”
On one level, this is a passage that concerns action and contemplation. If you are a person of action and you believe you can serve the Lord without also being a person of contemplation your action is worthless, your motivation for serving others suspect.
All true service for the Lord emerges from contemplation, from prayer. You cannot know the will of God without prayer, fasting, and spiritual reading. You cannot serve others for the Lord if you do not have a life that balances action and contemplation.
To think that you can serve others, as some do, without being a person of prayer leads to the sins of greed, vainglory, and pride.
You may in fact, as some do, act out of a belief that you are doing good, when you are actually doing evil.
At the core of this passage is the message that we gain nothing from Scripture if we do not read it and meditate on it and listen attentively when we hear it during liturgy.
Even if we do read and meditate on Scripture and listen attentively, if we are filled with the filth and mud of the world it will be difficult and in some cases impossible to receive Our Lord’s teachings.
We are influenced by the mud and filth of the world in a variety of ways, among them popular music, gossip, and the distraction of money, bills, and other worldly concerns that can fill us with anxiety.
St. John’s message reminds us that Christians must renounce the world. At times this means a complete rejection of worldly things, at others it means a limiting of our exposure to them.
To hear the Lord, and to follow his teachings, we must become purified of the mud and filth of this world.
Renunciation of worldly ways makes this possible.
To stop the flow of mud and filth of the world that damages our souls, we might avoid certain persons, places, things, and events.
We might stop watching television and movies, or at least be highly selective in what we watch.
We might stop listening to popular music that promotes values counter to our faith, particularly the music of performers who take positions and support values that undermine Christianity or are anti-Christian.
We might stop watching and supporting college and professional sports teams and events such as the Super Bowl, March Madness, and the Olympics.
We might limit our use of the internet and be more discerning when it comes to the books we choose to read.
Try abstaining from watching television shows and movies and spending time on the internet during a fasting period and you most likely will find that you have missed nothing. Your ascetical practice for a fasting period may lead to a permanent practice, one that will help you grow closer to Our Lord.
Be more attentive to how much time you spend worrying about your finances. Think of the birds.
Be a good steward of your finances but be sure you place your trust in God.
I know this is demanding and difficult, but the more you renounce the world the more you will open your soul to Christ. Only if you truly open your soul to Christ will you be able to serve others.
The Ninevites, Mt 12
“I say this to myself, I give this advice firstly to myself; let no one take offense as though condemned. Let us set out on the straight and narrow. How long laziness? Are we not fed up with being slothful, fun-loving, dilatory? Will it not be more of the same—feasting to excess, lavish expenditure, money, possessions, buildings? And what comes at the end? Death. And what kind of end? Ashes and dust, coffins and worms. So let us give evidence of a new kind of life; let us turn earth into heaven.”
St. John recognizes that he, like everyone else, finds it difficult to renounce the ways of the world.
When it comes to faith, most of us tend to be lazy.
We want to follow Christ, but we do not want to limit what we eat and drink, how much we spend, how much time we give to television and popular music, how much we own, how much we worry about what we own.
We do not want to give up things we believe pleasurable, even if they damage our souls (and our bodies). We do not want to live by the commandments.
Death awaits each of us. When we die, we do not take the things of world we have accumulated into the next. You could be buried like a pharaoh with your favorite things, but they will be of no use to you. They will be corrupted by moth and rust or perhaps looted by thieves. We do, however, take with us the darkness we have gathered, which corrupts our souls and makes us impure. For this, we will be judged.
If we have been made new by Christ in this life, we will reveal this through how we live. The evidence that we are moving toward heaven in this life is revealed by how we live.
Hidden treasure and the pearl, Mt 13-44-45
“We can learn not only this, that we ought to strip ourselves of everything else and cling to the message, but also that we should do it with joy; the person giving up possessions should be aware that the process means gain, not loss. Do you see how the message lies hidden in the world, and good things hidden in the message? … So two things are required: refraining from earthly things and staying on the alert.”
We may receive temporary satisfaction from worldly things, but our temporary joy is sure to turn into sorrow.
The more we have, the less dissatisfied we become, because what we have is never enough; we always want more. This endless seeking of more keeps us in a state of anxiety. This is a particular problem in our society today, but it was a problem as well in St. John’s times. It’s interesting how often the Fathers speak in their times directly about problems that are with us today.
Joy in this world comes from following Christ. The grief and sorrow in this life cannot take away the joy of the Christian whose primary focus is on Christ.
Cleanse your soul, Mt 15:16-20
“Weep and groan, give alms, make it up to the person you’ve insulted, be reconciled in this way, wipe your tongue clean so as not to provoke God further.”
Have you ever wept and groaned in agony thinking about the suffering you have caused Our Lord, the suffering you have caused others in this life?
Have you ever wept when thinking of the sins you have committed?
Have you ever prayed with David:
“I am worn out with my groaning.
Each night I bathe my bed
and sprinkle my couch with my tears.”
(Psalm 6, The Holy Psalter: The Psalms from the Septuagint, trans. Fr. Lazarus Moore)
A number of the Fathers teach us that without weeping and groaning there is no repentance.
Even if you have confessed your sins and know that you are forgiven through the mercy of God, to be repentant means that you will have wept and groaned over the sins you have committed, even after you have confessed them, the way Peter wept and perhaps groaned as well after he realized that he had fulfilled the prophecy and betrayed Our Lord, the way Paul contended with the thorn that troubled him throughout his life as a Christian.
Filled with sorrow for our sins, we weep and groan. Yet our sorrow becomes joy because we are are reconciled to Our Lord and follow him.
Filled with joy, we freely give alms. We give not for the approval of others or because we falsely believe we can save ourselves but because we love Christ, who has opened the gates of Heaven to us.
We sin with our tongues more often than we realize.
Reconciling with those we have insulted with our tongues will fill us with joy. We are filled with joy when we reconcile with those we have insulted because we have been restored to Christ.
Peter and the Cross, Mt 16-23
“When you make that sign, fill your forehead with complete confidence, make your soul free. You should, in fact, make its mark not idly with your fingers, but first deliberately in deep faith.”
Never be too fearful or too proud to mark yourself with the sign of the cross, a sign of belief and a prayer.
Each time we make the sign of the cross we express our faith and say a short prayer.
In making the sign of the cross we dedicate the activity we are about to do to the Holy Trinity.
Every time you make the sign of the cross know why you are making it and make it deliberately.
Know, too, that the sign of the cross is a sign of freedom.
Your soul, Mt 16-26
“Do not neglect the welfare of yourself while attending to others, as everyone does, thus resembling miners: they gain no benefit for themselves from their work or from the rich produce; rather, it means a great loss to them because they go to risk to no purpose, incurring the risk for other people while reaping no benefits from their own labors and death.”
If you serve others without spending time in prayer, fasting, and spiritual reading you neglect God and yourself, and you gain nothing from your service. The work that gives you joy is infertile, your joy false, your service a loss.
Prayer, fasting, and spiritual reading train us to know when our almsgiving and serving others is the result of our love of God and not of ourselves without God.
Those who neglect themselves while attending to others fall to pride, the devil’s sin. They believe that they live, but they are dead spiritually.
If you neglect your welfare in this way, you will lose your soul. So make sure you do not neglect your own welfare in attending to others. Attend first to Christ and your love of Christ will give meaning to your serving others.
[Notes from our July 21, 2018, talk]
Spiritual Gems from the Gospel of Matthew (Holy Cross Orthodox Press) is a collection of passages from the homilies of St. John Chyrsostom.
Translated and edited by Robert Charles Hill, a prolific and highly regarded translator of the saint’s works, the book includes 80 excerpts from St. John’s homilies on Matthew’s gospel.
Hill’s aim is to provide the reader with those passages in which the saint “gets straight to the heart of Jesus’ message…and applies it to the people of his time and ours.”
Although the book can be read in one sitting, reading each of the homilies one day at a time, and spending some time in reflection on each as part of your spiritual reading, would produce better results.
I am going to take us through nine of these excerpts. I will excerpt these excerpts to pull from each one what I consider to be the heart of the message in each.
We are born with Jesus
“…he was born of the flesh so that you might be born in the spirit, he was born of a woman so that you might cease to be the son of a woman.”
To think of how we are born with Jesus at his birth is a different way of thinking about the Nativity.
St. John suggests that we consider how with the birth of Jesus we are given a life.
This life opens to us the possibility of union with God. Because he was born as a man, we can become through him sons of God.
Like us Jesus, God incarnate, was born of a woman. Like him, and through him, we become adopted sons of God when we are baptized.
To reap the benefits of this sonship, however, we must live a Christian life.
St. John’s approach to the Nativity also is a different way of stating what St. Athanasius states when he says: “… the Son of God became man, so that we might become God.”
The Magi, Mt 2:1-10
“Let us also, then, follow the Magi….Let us keep ourselves from earthly things: though it was in Persia that the Magi saw the star, it was when they left Persia that they spied the Sun of Justice.”
To bring their gifts to Jesus at his birth the Magi had to leave their own land.
Seeing the Son of God in the manger was without a doubt a life-changing experience for the Magi. If they had stayed in Persia, they would not have seen the new-born Son of God.
Like the Magi who followed the star to see and pay homage to the Christ child, we must leave the land we know, the world of earthly things, to follow Christ.
This is difficult for many to do and even accept.
Yet turning away from the ways of the world, the pleasures of the world, is not only for saints, monks, and clergy.
Each Christian must turn away from the world and set his sight on Christ.
There is an important distinction about the world that we must consider. In Scripture, the world has two meanings, one positive and one negative.
The first is the creation of the world by God or God’s creation, which is positive or good.
The second is the world of man, or earthly things, which leads us away from God and so is negative or bad.
St. John teaches us with this passage that the call to self-renunciation for the Christian has been a core element of Christianity from the very birth of Jesus Christ.
I am sure that he would tell us that the models of the Blessed Virgin and St. John the Baptist teach us the same.
He also would reach back into the Old Testament for other models.
But here, he wants us to consider carefully the birth of Jesus Christ.
Satan and temptation, Mt 4:1-11
“We ourselves are not so anxious for our salvation as he is for our ruin….Let us do nothing that pleases him, this being the way to everything pleasing to God.”
It is often said that while we sleep, Satan and demons never sleep. They are always looking for ways to steal our souls.
We have spoken about this before. The Lord was led out into the desert by the Holy Spirit after his baptism where he would be tempted by Satan.
In the desert, Our Lord defeats Satan. In defeating Satan, he shows us how Satan will tempt us and how we are to respond. He shows us how to reject the false promises of Satan.
“Place no faith in him [Satan] at all, block your ears hate his attempts at flattery, and at the time he makes greater promises, then shun him more resolutely.”
The world tempts us with false promises. These include wealth, possessions, pleasures.
Many in the world fall to these temptations. Many in the world today believe that they are in control, not God.
Many reject God’s order to live by their own disorder.
Satan is ruining them because they do everything to please themselves, and so they please Satan instead of living to please God.
A Christian must do everything he can in this life to please God.
To do this, we must be watchful, ever vigilant. We must be more anxious for our salvation than Satan is for our damnation.
Poor in spirit, Mt 5:3
“Why did he not say the humble but the poor? Because the latter is more significant than the former: he is speaking here of those in fear and trembling at God’s command.”
Pride defeated Satan:
“…expecting to become God, he lost even what he had. Since then, this was the capital vice, and the root and source of wickedness.”
Being poor in spirit is the remedy to being prideful:
“Christ prepared a remedy to match the ailment.”
To be poor in spirit does not mean to be financially poor, even though a Christian will have a different attitude toward earthly riches than others.
To be poor in spirit means to turn your life over completely to God.
To be poor in spirit means that we understand that we have nothing without God.
To be poor in spirit means that we put God first, before all else.
To be poor in spirit means that when we put God first, we are rich, although the world may not understand this.
To be poor in spirit means you live by commandments and not the world’s or your own.
To be poor in spirit ensures that you are anxious for your salvation.
Beatitudes, Mt 5:11
“So do not think that the prize is for the poor in spirit only: it is also for those who hunger for righteousness, for the meek and for all the others without exception.”
We cannot live only one beatitude, we must live by all of the beatitudes, which are a summary of Our Lord’s teachings.
If we live each, we will be rewarded with the Lord’s peace in this life and salvation in the next.
Salt of the earth, Mt 5:13
Our Lord tells the apostles, and each of us:
“Your responsibility will be not for your own life but for the whole world: far from sending you to two cities, or ten, or twenty, or even a single nation like the prophets, I am sending you to land and sea and to the whole world, ill-disposed as it is.”
“…those who are gentle and open, merciful and righteous do not confine their good deeds to their own benefit, but ensure that these excellent springs flow over to the benefit of others as well.”
St. John reminds us that commandments of Our Lord are more demanding than those of the Old Testament.
He reminds us that while we have responsibility for our own salvation, we have responsibility for the salvation of others.
Our Lord sent the apostles out into the world to bring the light of Christ to all corners of the earth.
A Christian’s good deeds in these corners of the earth is for the benefit of those in that part of the world.
The Christian, like Christ, will be rejected by others, but he will still live for Christ. And in living for Christ, he will do good for others.
Light of the world, Mt 5:14
A Christian is salt for the earth, but he also is a light for the world. He is a light in the darkness of the world that cannot be hidden:
“Do not have in mind he is saying, in fact, that we are seated here, in tiny corner: you will be as conspicuous as a city on a mountain top, as a lamp in a house shining on a lamp-stand.”
One who lives a Christian life stands out in the world. He is not like others. His life becomes a beacon of light for others.
His light helps illuminate the way of Christ.
Angry words, Mt 5:22
“…why is it, tell me, the commandment seems demanding? Are you not aware that the majority of punishments and sins have their beginning in words?”
The Lord tells us that if we call another a fool we are liable.
He tells us, then that what we say and think about others matters for our salvation.
The monk lives many hours in silence. We too must know when to be silent.
We must know when to speak and when not to speak.
We also must watch what we think and say. We must watch our words, spoken aloud or as thoughts.
When we understand that we can sin with words, we no longer will think the Lord is demanding when he tells us that if we call another a fool we are liable for hell.
One who calls another a fool without repenting is not watchful. One who is not watchful pleases Satan, not God.
Enemies, Mt 5:44
“…he did not bid you simply to love but even to pray….”
Loving your enemies, hard as it is, is not enough.
Our Lord holds us to a higher standard. This is why we pray each night for those who love us and those who hate us.
We cannot respond to hate with hate. We must respond to hate with love.
[Notes from our June 16, 2018, talk]
We are going to take a look today at some of the writings of the Church Fathers on the Mother of God and on the thoughts today of Fr. Luigi Gambero.
Fr. Gambero, a Marianist priest and expert on Mary and early Christianity, collects these writings and discusses them in his book, Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Patristic Thought (published by Ignatius Press).
In his book, he includes and examines the work of more than thirty Church Fathers and so gives us a comprehensive look at the thought of the Church Fathers on Mary.
For our talk today, we can only look at a few of the Church Fathers included in Fr. Gambero’s book, so I have chosen six to consider:
We will look at Ignatius and Irenaeus, because they are the earliest here and so help create a foundation on which the others build.
We will look at Athanasius, because of the important role he played in developing the understanding of Mary.
We will look at Gregory of Nyssa, because he is often overlooked and because he is the focus of our August retreat on the Beatitudes.
We will look at Andrew, because his Great Canon is prayed each Great Lent and because he has some important things to say about Mary’s purity.
And we will end with John Damascene, because he is the last of the Church Fathers and because Fr. Gambero tells us that his work synthesizes the thinking of the Church Fathers on Mary. In addition, each Pascha we pray his Canon of Pascha.
Because we will look at only six means that we cannot look at the excellent work of other Church Fathers such as Origen, Ephrem the Syrian, Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzen, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine, and Romanos the Melodist.
Perhaps we can do so at another time.
The Church Fathers Defined Our Faith
Before we look at Ignatius, let’s consider why the teachings of the Church Fathers are important.
Gambero notes that Paul writes in 1 Corinthians: 11:23 that “I hand on to you what I received from the Lord.”
He says that this is the mandate — a “divine mandate” — that the Fathers “put into practice.”
The Church Fathers lived from the first through seventh centuries. During that time, they defined the faith.
They are “faithful and authoritative witnesses to the faith.”
They are essential to the foundation of tradition.
They are considered Fathers by the Church because of their authority and their holiness.
Little attention was given to Mary until the second through fourth centuries and then particularly in the fifth century after the Council of Ephesus in 431 and Council of Chalcedon in 451.
After these councils, Gambero notes:
“Mary’s extraordinary role as Virgin Mother of the Savior had more and more influence on the faith of the Church. Christians began using the texts of Scripture to reflect on the mystery of this woman, in whom the Lord’s extraordinary intervention was interwoven with her own faith and openness.”
The Fathers wrote homilies about the Blessed Virgin, the devotion of the faithful grew, and Christians began to consider Mary as “a model for Christian life.”
Ignatius of Antioch
Ignatius, the earliest of the Church Fathers we will look at, spoke sparingly about Mary. But with his spare comments he begins to lay the foundation for our understanding today.
He speaks of Jesus as being “born and unborn,” born from Mary, unborn from the Father; of Jesus being born of the “seed of David” and the Holy Spirit through Mary; he emphasizes that Jesus was truly born and that he is “David’s descendent” and “Mary’s Son.”
He writes, too, that Jesus is the Son of God and “was truly born of a virgin and baptized by John in order to fulfill every command.”
Irenaeus of Lyons
Irenaeus heard the teaching of Polycarp, a disciple of St. John the Theologian.
He follows St. Paul’s teaching that through Jesus there is a second creation, one that repeats the first creation but restores it to the Father’s original intent.
Irenaeus, therefore, teaches that sin and death have been destroyed by Jesus Christ, the new Adam, and that mankind has been restored to the image of God.
The Paschal Troparion includes something of this early understanding of Our Lord when we sing that that Our Lord has trampled upon death by His death.
Irenaeus develops the understanding of Mary as the New Eve, which Justin the Martyr (100-165) had first noted.
Fr. Gambero states: “Irenaeus clearly establishes a perfect parallel between the two women … just as the apostle Paul had done with Adam and Christ. Eve and Mary, though both married, were still virgins. But while Eve disobeyed, causing ruin and death for herself and the human race, Mary by obeying became the cause of salvation.”
Adam and Eve upset God’s plan; Jesus Christ and Mary restore it and perfect it.
Irenaeus states that Adam is the first of the dying, Jesus the first of the living and that “What Eve bound through her unbelief, Mary loosed by her faith.”
Athanasius of Alexandria
Athanasius is one of the most important defenders of Our Lord’s divinity.
He was involved in the Council of Nicea in 325 and was an outspoken opponent of the Arians.
Arianism, named after the priest Arius (250 or 256 - 336), is the belief that Jesus was created and the Son of God, but that he was not fully God. Arians did not believe in the Holy Trinity.
The First Ecumenical Council of Nicea declared Arius a heretic and Arianism a heresy.
As a result of his opposition to the Arian heresy, Athanasius was elevated to Bishop of Alexandria in 328.
His opponents were able to exile him five times, but he regained his office in 336 and remained in office through 373, the year of his death.
Athanasius declares that Jesus in the Son of God and that Mary, therefore, is the Theotokos, the Mother of God.
The Council of Ephesus in 431 would later state that Mary is the Theotokos.
Jesus, Athanasius says, truly was born of a woman, a virgin, and while Son of God was truly man with a human body.
He emphasizes the perpetual virginity of Mary and that Mary could not have had other children because at his death Jesus did not place any other but Mary into the care of John.
Mary, as virgin, he believes, would inspire many women in the Church to remain as virgins.
In one of his homilies Athanasius writes of Mary:
“O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness, for who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word. To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all….You are the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which divinity resides.”
Mary, therefore, is the Ark of the New Covenant.
He called Eve, “the mother of the dead.” Of Mary, he said:
“In you, instead, O Wise Virgin, dwells the Son of God: he, that is, who is the tree of life.”
Through Mary, he says, “life came to all” through “the mercy of God, your beloved Son.”
Gregory of Nyssa
The younger brother of St. Basil the Great, Gregory was ordained Bishop of Nyssa in 371, was deposed by Arians in 376, and like Athanasius eventually regained his office, in his case in 378.
He was involved in the Council of Constantinople in 381 and the Synod of Constantinople in 394.
Gregory writes that Mary is the Mother of God because she bore the incarnated Son of God and that Jesus assumed his human nature in her womb.
“When the Holy Spirit came upon the Virgin and the power of the Most High overshadowed her, the new man was formed in her.
Mary’s virginity, he says, was foretold in the Old Testament and notes in particular Isaiah 9:6 and Isaiah 7:14.
“O marvelous event! The Virgin becomes a mother and remains a virgin! Observe this new ordering of nature.”
The burning bush witnessed by Moses, he writes, also foretold of Mary:
“What was prefigured at the time in the flame of the bush was openly manifested in the mystery of the Virgin….As on the mountain the bush burned but was not consumed, so the Virgin gave birth to the light and was not corrupted.”
Gregory also writes that in saying “Yes” to the angel Gabriel she intends a vow of perpetual virginity.
He writes, too, that Mary fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah (66:7) that she as virgin bore the Son of God without the pain of childbirth.
Andrew of Crete
Each Great Lent we pray Andrew’s Great Canon.
Each of the odes of this magnificent prayer ends with a verse in honor of Mary that encapsulates Church teaching. (The Great Canon is Included in the Publican’s Prayer Book with instructions for praying it.)
For example, the First Ode ends with:
“O Theotokos, hope and protection of those who praise You, take from me the heavy yoke of sin, and accept me in repentance, O Pure Lady!”
The Third Ode ends:
“Hail, O Womb that held God! Hail, Throne of the Lord. Hail, Mother of our Life.”
Besides the Great Canon, Andrew wrote three other canons in honor of Mary, along with a number of homilies.
Andrew shares the view of earlier Church Fathers that Mary was pure at the Annunciation.
Andrew emphasizes that in addition to being a perpetual virgin, Fr. Gambero writes, “the Blessed Virgin lived her whole life without being contaminated by any moral stain.”
Some believe his writings support the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and he is mentioned in the papal bull that declared the dogma.
In one of his writings he states:
“This is Mary, the Theotokos, the common refuge of all Christians, the first to be liberated from the original fall of our first parents.”
But Fr. Gambero cautions that since “he does not define the nature of the intervention God wrought in her….we would not be justified to attribute to him the concept of preservation from original sin as we understand the concept today, precisely as the solemn Magisterium of the Church has defined it.”
Fr. Gambero emphasizes that Andrew did not have the understanding of original sin that was set forth in the West; however, Andrew writes that God prepared Mary in advance so that she would be worthy to be the Mother of God.
Since Mary was holy, Andrew questions whether she would be subjected to death, a punishment for sin.
Fr. Gambero notes that Andrew writes in his homilies on the Dormition that Mary’s death was different from ours:
“Death, natural to men, also reached her; not, however, to impress her, as happens to us, or to vanquish her. God forbid! It was only to secure for her the experience of that sleep which comes from on high, leading us up to the object of our hope….”
Andrew writes that Mary is a mediator because she is the Mother of God, but her mediation is not superior to that of Our Lord.
Like Athanasius, John is a Doctor of the Church. Gambero calls his thought on Mary “a complete and substantial synthesis of patristic faith and teaching about the mystery of the Mother of God.”
He states as well that John’s work “sums up the whole tradition of the Eastern Fathers.”
He wrote a number of hymns in honor of the Mother of God. He also wrote homilies.
Fr. Gambero notes that “His four Marian homilies (one on the Nativity and three on the Dormition) are of particular importance.”
He writes about:
The meaning of the name Mary (from Hebrew mara, meaning the beautiful or the perfect one)
Fr. Gambero notes that “He was the first author to speak of consecration to Mary.”
He is cited, along with Andrew of Crete, in the papal document on the Assumption, as well as Lumen Gentium and Redemptoris Mater.
John praises Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anna:
“O blessed loins of Joachim, whence the all-pure seed was poured out! O glorious womb of Anna, in which the most holy fetus grew and was formed, silently increasing!”
He calls Mary “a new heaven”:
“This heaven is clearly much more divine and awesome than the first. Indeed he who created the sun in the first heaven would himself be born in the second heaven, as the Sun of Justice.”
He speaks of Mary’s beauty:
“She is all beautiful, all near to God. For she, surpassing the cherubim, exalted beyond the seraphim, is placed near to God.”
He writes of the Dormition:
“Even though your most holy and blessed soul was separated from your most happy and immaculate body, according to the usual course of nature, and even though it was carried to a proper burial place, nevertheless it did not remain under the dominion of death, nor was it destroyed by corruption.
He writes of Mary’s role as mediatrix and compares her in this role to Jacob’s ladder:
“So you have assumed the role of a mediatrix, having become the ladder by which God comes down to us….”
He also speaks of her role in our salvation:
“From her we have harvested the grape of life; from her we have cultivated the seed of immortality. For our sake she became Mediatrix of all blessings; in her God became man, and man became God.”
He writes that she deserves our veneration, which includes venerating icons of her, because when we venerate Mary we glorify God:
“If the memory of all the saints is celebrated with panegyrics, who will refuse to praise the font of justice and the treasury of holiness? This is not done to glorify her but so that God might be glorified with an eternal glory.”
He speaks of his own devotion to Mary:
“What is sweeter than the Mother of my God? She has taken my mind captive; she has taken possession of my tongue; she is on my mind, day and night.”
With his book, Fr. Gambero give us an excellent overview of the development of Marian doctrine in the Church.
Let us close then with a statement from Fr. Gambero, which pertains to the importance of understanding the Patristic view of Mary, the Mother of God:
“...the teaching of the Fathers contains something indispensable, whose value the Church constantly recalls to us, so that we may build our Christian faith and Christian mentality upon the foundation left us by the Fathers.”
[Notes from our May 19, 2018, talk.]
Today we are going to look at one of the writings of St. Symeon the New Theologian (949–1022).
St. Symeon was a monk, abbot, mystic, and great proponent of spiritual fatherhood.
He was born in Galatia in Asia Minor and educated in Constantinople. We celebrate his feast day, the day of his death, during Great Lent on March 12. Some Orthodox transfer his feast to October 12.
St. Symeon is known as the “New Theologian,” which recognizes that he is the successor of the only other two saints in the Eastern tradition who have received this title: St. John the Evangelist and St. Gregory Nazianzus.
St. Symeon is known for his mystical writings and writings on Hesychasm, or Eastern Christian contemplative prayer.
If you read the Gospel and Apocalypse of St. John, the orations and poetry of St. Gregory, and St. Symeon’s hymns in particular, you find that all three have a mystical understanding of the Holy Trinity that transforms our hearts.
Pope Benedict XVI writes of St. Symeon in his Church Fathers and Teachers (Ignatius Press) that:
“The holy Eastern monk calls us all to pay attention to our spiritual life, to the hidden presence of God within us, to the sincerity of the conscience and to purification, to conversion of heart, so that the Holy Spirit may really become present in us and guide us.”
Self-renunciation is part of the practice of the hesychast. The Jesus Prayer also is part of his practice, because the praying of Our Lord’s name can lead to prayer of the heart or unceasing prayer.
Through prayer of the heart one can attain inner stillness, or interior peace, which then can lead to the experience of the uncreated light of God.
The material we will look at today is included in The Philokalia: The Complete Text (volume four), a four-book collection of the writings of Eastern saints on the spiritual life compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth, and translated and edited from the Greek by G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware.
If you have read The Way of the Pilgrim, you have heard of The Philokalia and have been exposed to one of the works included in this collection.
I am going to quote specifically from St. Symeon’s work included in a one-volume collection of writings from The Philokalia that was translated earlier from the Russian by E. Kadloubovsky and G.E.H. Palmer: Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart.
The works included in The Philokalia are essential to understanding Eastern Christian spirituality and the contemplative life.
If you can, make the four-volume set central to your spiritual reading. If you cannot read the four volumes, read at least this one volume. Let me add that it is worth owning and reading both to give you a different view of the same material.
I am going to focus in particular on some of St. Symeon’s thoughts in the work “Practical and Theological Precepts,” which consists of 184 paragraphs, about 45 pages, directed to monks.
We too can benefit, however, from his advice, since all Christians, not just monks, should seek to pray always.
Faith (Paragraphs 1-3)
“To have faith is to die for Christ and for His commandments....”
“To have faith in Christ means not only to stand aloof from the delights of this life, but also to endure patiently every temptation and test that brings upon us distress, affliction and misfortune, for as long as God wishes and until He comes to us.”
“Those who in any way esteem their parents above the commandments of God do not possess faith in Christ....”
Are we willing to die for our faith in Jesus Christ?
When we read or hear this question we usually think of physical death, martyrdom. And we should.
But most of us will not be martyrs.
How many of us realize that having faith means dying for Christ through self-renunciation and for His commandments, which show us how to renounce our desires and conform our wills to God’s will for us?
Life tempts us with delights that lead us astray. The commandments teach us how “to endure patiently every temptation.”
Living the commandments will give us great freedom and happiness. But this does not mean that we will never experience temptations or distress.
Dying to Christ, willingly climbing up on the cross with him, and living the commandments, however, will help us to endure.
Renunciation of the world (Paragraphs 5-6, 9)
“Renunciation of the world and complete withdrawl from it—if it includes withdrawl from all worldly things, habits, opinion and people, and the disowning of the body and will—in a very short time bring great profit to a man who is fired with such zeal.”
Those of us who live in the world, who make our living in the world, who must work, who must raise families cannot completely withdraw from the world.
We have responsibilities to others and to ourselves that demand our attention.
Yet we can withdraw much more than we often think from things, habits, opinions, and people. We also can disown the body more than we think. And, even in our state of life, we must disown the will.
Things—How much do we really need? Have we convinced ourselves that we need the things we have? How often have you heard questions like this and ignored them?
Families once made do with much smaller and less expensive cars and houses. The more we focus on the cars we own, the houses we live in, the less we focus on Christ.
Jesus Christ usually is not even a flicker of a thought when we buy a car or a house. We think instead of how much pleasure the new car or house will bring us, or how much we need the new car or house.
We often define ourselves by the cars we drive, the houses we live in, the clothes we wear.
We often buy things to gain in some way the attention of others, even things that are good, and even when we convince ourselves that we have a good reason to buy something.
Habits—It is difficult to break bad habits. Eating poorly is a bad habit. Using crude language is a bad habit. Sexual sins often are bad habits. Our bad habits can lead to illness and death in this life and hell in the next.
Opinions—We often are very proud of our opinions. Our opinions often lead us to disagreements, arguments, false understandings and impressions, lies, gossip, and malice.
Will—As Christians, we must deny the will. We must become Christ in the world. This only can happen if we decrease so that he increases.
There is much we can withdraw from in our lives.
Renunciation of the pleasures of the body (Paragraphs 26-27)
“It is impossible to fill the body to satiety with food and at the same time have spiritual enjoyment of mental and Divine blessings. For inasmuch as a man panders to his belly, in the same measure he deprives himself of spiritual blessings....it is through the body that lusts are excited and brought into action....”
Most of us are deprived of spiritual blessings because we eat and drink too much and enjoy what we eat and drink far too much.
Most in our society today think primarily of pleasure, especially pleasures of the body.
We pay a high price for this physically and emotionally. Consider how many of the ills of the world today are related to pleasures of the body.
We pay an even higher price for this spiritually.
Those who lust for pleasures of the body have placed, to use an image from the poet William Blake, manacles on their own minds. They live in a prison of pleasure, which they believe is freedom.
Arguing (Paragraphs 29-30)
“A man given to arguing...destroys his soul, without knowing it....”
Our society tends to argument, often out of anger. We argue with our spouses, our friends, and those we think of as enemies. Arguments often lead to lies, malice, gossip, and grudges.
We must be careful. Even when we argue with someone because of an injustice, we can destroy the soul.
Cares of this life (Paragraph 54)
“A man whose thoughts are occupied with cares of this life is not free...whether he worries for himself or others.”
We are often tripped up by the cares of this life. We worry about those we love. We worry about money. We worry about clothes. We worry about what others think of us. We worry about the Church. These are some of the cares of life that enslave us.
If your thoughts are occupied with the cares of this life, you have let yourself be controlled by the passions.
Hesychasm teaches us to be dispassionate. If we are dispassionate, we have learned how to control our passions. We learn to handle the thoughts that can lead us away from Jesus Christ.
Keeping the commandments (Paragraph 95)
“A house is roof is held up by the foundations and the rest of the building....So it is with the soul: the grace of the Holy Spirit is preserved by keeping the commandments.”
We return to and end with the commandments. We have ten, which Our Lord summarized as two. He then gave us the Beatitudes as a way of showing us how to live the commandments in our daily lives.
Our Lord is our cornerstone. All we do as Christians must be built on his teachings, just as the Church is built on his teachings.
If you spend any time reflecting on the Psalms, you will notice that they often speak of the necessity of learning, knowing, and living the commandments. This is the core teaching of Psalm 118 (Septuagint numbering), but you will find it in many others.
Reflect on the commandments and the Beatitudes. But also reflect on Psalm 118 and the rest of the Psalms. This will help you preserve the grace of the Holy Spirit you have received and will receive.
[Notes from our April 21, 2018, talk.]
We live in time.
God is immortal and not bound by time. He is the creator of time.
When the Son of God became man, however, he entered time and as a man of flesh and blood he died on the Cross for our salvation.
To paraphrase Tolkien, for the Christian life is only a question of how we use God’s gift of life and time.
Time and Eternity Joined Together
Christ Our Pascha tells us that the Church's Divine Services are a "memorial of the saving mysteries of Jesus Christ."
It is in the liturgy that we "reach the unreachable God" and become "divinized."
When we celebrate the Eucharist and partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, we experience "the union of the seen and unseen, the earthly and the heavenly, the human and the divine--of time and eternity."
Linear and Cyclical Time
Time for us is chronological and historical, or linear, as well as cyclical or circular.
Each of us has a beginning, we are born, and an end, we die.
In the time between these two points, we pass through the days, weeks, months, and seasons of a year and then repeat them year after year as we move forward toward our end.
As Christians we believe that if we use our time wisely and follow Jesus Christ, if we truly live by his commandments, when we die we will spend eternity with him in heaven.
The liturgical time of the Church, with Christ’s Pascha at the center, is daily, weekly, and yearly, and so follows this same linear and cyclical pattern.
The Horologion, or Chasoslov in Church Slavonic, is a compilation of the daily liturgical prayer services.
With liturgical prayer, we mark the hours of each day as we move through each week, month, and season throughout the year.
Liturgical time is organized to help us attain our goal of spending eternity with Our Lord.
Memorial to Light and Darkness
In Genesis we read:
“And God said: Be light made. And light was made.
And God saw the light that it was good; and he divided the light from the darkness.
And he called the light Day, and the darkness Night; and there was evening and morning one day.” (Genesis 1:3-4, Douay Rheims Bible)
We read further:
“And God said: Let there be lights made in the firmament of heaven, to divide the day and the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years:
To shine in the firmament of heaven, and to give light upon the earth. And it was done.” (Genesis 1:14-15, DRB)
Liturgical prayer is a memorial to light and darkness, day and night, the years, and the seasons created by God. It is a memorial to salvation history.
Our daily cycle of prayer, found in the Horologion, consists of nine services prayed in this order to mark the liturgical day:
During this daily cycle of prayer, which Christ Our Pascha calls “an icon of the history of salvation,” we:
Each of the days of the week has a special significance.
Our weekly cycle of prayer begins with Sunday, the Eighth Day, the day of Our Lord’s resurrection.
Each Sunday, therefore, is a little Pascha. Christ Our Pascha states:
“Every Sunday is a commemoration of Pascha, when at the Divine Liturgy the Risen Christ manifests his presence. Sunday is an icon of the glorious second coming. In this way the Resurrection, as the Feast of Feasts, enters a person’s entire life; it sanctifies it and transfigures all of it into a feast.”
The prayers and hymns of our liturgical services are chanted in the tone of the week. There are eight tones that cycle one through eight from Thomas Sunday, the first Sunday after Pascha, to Palm Sunday, or the Sunday immediately preceding Pascha.
Christ Our Pascha notes the Paschal connection of the tones and states that they:
“... resemble the rungs of a spiritual ladder which joins the present time to the Day of the Lord’s coming. Each year the building of this ladder begins on Thomas Sunday and concludes on Palm Sunday. Thus, the Paschal time of the weekly cycles encompasses, as it were, historical time and allows us to accept all of life in light of Paschal joy.”
The tones are found in the liturgical service book called the Octoechos—from the Greek octo for eight and echos for sound.
In addition to the Octoechos, we also use the following books for our daily cycle of liturgical prayer (and so our weekly, monthly, and weekly cycle):
During the year, we have services that our immoveable, or fall on the same date each year, and services that are moveable, or fall on different dates.
The liturgical year begins each year on September 1 for those using the Gregorian calendar and September 14 for those using the older Julian calendar.
The calendar was reformed in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII to bring it in line with astronomical cycles.
The Julian calendar continues to be used the Orthodox and Orthodox Catholics. There is a thirteen day difference between the two calendars now.
The difference is most noticeable in the celebration of Pascha, a moveable date not always celebrated on the same date by those who use the Julian and those who use the Gregorian calendar.
The same is true of the immoveable date for Christmas. Those using the Gregorian calendar celebrate Christmas on December 25, while those using the Julian calendar celebrate Christmas on January 7.
During Great Lent, we use the Triodion for the four weeks leading up to Lent and the weeks of Lent.
During Lent, we “set out with joy upon the season of the Fast, and prepare ourselves for spiritual combat,” as we sing at Vespers on Cheesefare Sunday, the Sunday before Lent. Lent then begins on Monday.
Each of the four Sundays of preparation for Lent has a theme:
St. John Chrysostom writes that through fasting “we shall come by little and little to the very summit of virtue.”
Each Sunday of Lent also has a theme:
Major dates our our immovable cycle include (dates are Gregorian/Julian):
[Notes from our catechetical talk based on Christ Our Pascha, pages 179-193.]