January -- March 2017
We are greatly thankful to our Savior for granting us the breath of life unto this hour. May he grant us this year the wisdom to be successful in integrating our physical and spiritual lives. May He help us to run each day's race with all our might, so that at the end we will receive the heavenly reward from God. Amen.
Monasticism and Western-rite Missions
Dom James M. Deschene
For a half-century now the western-rite presence within the Russian Orthodox Church has been almost exclusively a monastic one, first under Mount Royal and then under Christminster. In the last eight years, it has grown and blossomed into dozens of missions. This blend or marriage of monasticism and mission gives our western rite a particular advantage, as the article below by Father Gregory Jensen will demonstrate.
As the church enters a new age of persecution, what is required now is not huge churches but strong Christians. The temptation is often to build according to the pattern of the last centuries. But the actual churches built in those centuries are slowly but steadily closing and falling into disuse. Indeed the times call for new Christian missions. But these new missions must be solidly grounded in spiritual realities and holiness, not in bricks and mortar, committees and organizations, and the like.
It is precisely here that Father Gregory's article presents us with a vital vision of what the western rite mission today must be, if it is to bring Christ into a world that does not know or seek him.
Centuries ago, in what we now call the dark ages, monasticism helped preserve Christianity so that we could enjoy its freedom and presence in our lives today. As its freedom and presence today are under attack, it may well be that we need a return to the vision and values of Western monasticism, translated into the lives of ordinary Christians, and transforming them into the likeness and love of Christ.
Fr. Gregory Jensen
Alasdair MacIntyre in his book After Virtue calls for a new St Benedict, or if you prefer, a restoration of monasticism, as key to the renewal of the spiritual life of the Christian community. My own experience as a mission priest leads me to believe that there is a great deal of merit in MacIntyre's proposal. Monasticism with its focus on community life, shared work, liturgical prayer, asceticism, material simplicity of life, mutual obedience to God and each other, and above all conversion of manners, is a powerful tool for not only evangelism, but also the ongoing formation and reformation of both the person and the community.
Most powerful in this model is the way in which it lends itself to seeing a mission parish not as an end in itself, but as a school of charity. As a school of charity, the mission parish is concerned not with its own numerical growth, but with preparing men and women to undertake their own ministry within the Body of Christ. Practically speaking, there are things a small community is better able to do than a large one.
Borrowing from St Benedict and modeling itself on the Holy Rule, one can think of a mission parish not as a community that will grow into a full parish (though it might), but as a formation community concerned with forming missionaries. In this model the community intentionally remains small, and poor, in order to offer a "novitiate" for lay Christians. These men and women would eventually leave the mission for other, more established parishes, for seminary or the monastic life.
What I am purposing is this: Taking seriously the concerns outlined by Nichols, Neuhaus, MacIntrye and others could we not as Orthodox Christians (and, Catholics, Protestants and Evangelical Christians could do this as well), establishes mission communities whose mission is not to grow, but to form missionaries, lay catechists, seminarians, monastics vocations and above all active lay Christians committed to the work of the Church in all areas of life?
[Some corrections made for obvious typographical errors.]
The Apostle Thomas (whose name signifieth a twin, for which reason in Greek he is called Didymus) was a Galilean. The historian Eusebius saith that after the descent of the Holy Ghost Thomas preached the Gospel to many different peoples, such as the Parthians, Medes, Persians, Hyrcanians, and Bactrians. It is believed that he went last of all to India (for his ministry there is mentioned by holy Ephraem the Syrian, blessed Jerome, and others) where, because of his holiness and wondrous works, he drew many after him, and brought them to Christ Jesus. For which reason he is said to have provoked the anger of the idolatrous king, who condemned him to be pierced with lances, whereby he crowned the dignity of his apostleship with the glory of martyrdom. Eight miles from Madras, on Big Hill in the Coromandel Coast (called in the Martyrology Calamina), is a spot still pointed out as the place of his holy death. His relicks were reputed to have been translated to Edessa, thence to Chios in the Aegean, and later to Ortona in the Abruzzi, where they are to this day venerated with much devotion by the faithful.
The surest evidence of our love to Christ is obedience to the laws of Christ. Where a sincere love to Christ is in the heart, there will be obedience. Where love is, following His commandments is easy and natural and flows from a principle of gratitude.
He who has My Commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.
"Do you desire to have communion with God in your mind receiving the perception of that delight which is not subject to the senses? Cleave to mercy. For if mercy is found within you, it is formed by that holy beauty which it resembles." (St. Isaac the Syrian)
Due to Abbot James' minor surgery there will be no public services for Christmas at Christminster this year.
A Homily by St. Jerome the Priest
Why was the Lord conceived of a virgin espoused rather than of one who was not? First, that Mary's genealogy might be reckoned from that of Joseph. Secondly, lest she be stoned by the Jews as an adulteress. Thirdly, that she might have a guardian on their flight into Egypt. To these, the Martyr Ignatius hath added a fourth reason ; namely, that the birth might take place unknown to the devil, who would thus suppose that Mary had conceived by Joseph.
Before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Ghost. That is, she was found by Joseph, not by anyone else, for already he had almost an husband's privilege to know all that concerned her. But from the words, Before they came together, it doth not follow that they ever did come together. The Scripture is concerned only to shew that up to this time they had not so done.
Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. If any man be joined to an harlot, he becometh one body with her ; and according to the law, they that be privy to a crime are held to be guilty. How then can it be that Joseph is described as a just man, at the very time he was compounding the criminality of his espoused? These words be none other than a testimony to the virginity of Mary ; for Joseph knew her to be chaste ; wherefore he marvelled at all that had come to pass, and hid in silence that of which he knew not the mystery. [Vigil of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, December 24/January 6]
On the Lord's Nativity
OUR Saviour, dearly beloved, is born today: let us rejoice. No trace of sadness may be permitted on this birthday of Life. This day abolishes the fear of death and fills us with joy by reason of the promise of eternal life. No-one is excluded from a share in this eagerness. The joy is for one and all: our Lord is the Destroyer of sin and death; he finds no-one free from guilt, so he comes to set every-one free.
Let the Saint rejoice, for he shall soon receive his palm; let the sinner be glad, for he is offered his pardon; let the Gentile awake, for he is summoned to life. When the fulness of time was come, that time ordained by the high and inscrutable counsel of God, the Son of God took flesh from our human nature, that he might reconcile that nature to its Creator, and that the devil, the inventor of death, might be overcome by that same flesh which had been the means of his victory.
God joins battle on our behalf, and there is a great and wonderful equity in the battle-array; for Almighty God comes forth to meet our raging foe, armed, not in his majesty but in our weakness. He meet him with the same body, the same nature, even with a share of our mortality, yet with no spot of sin. How different is this Child's birth from all others; it is written: No-one is free from tainting sin, not even an infant that has lived but one day on the earth. Now no spot of the concupiscence of the flesh had penetrated into this unique Birth, no trace of the law of sin remained. A royal virgin of the stem of David was chosen; she who was to be pregnant with holy Fruit, conceived mentally before bodily that Offspring of hers who was both human and divine. While the counsels of heaven were yet unknown to her she was troubled at the strange annunciation, and so she learned from her conversation with the Angel that it was by the cooperation of the Holy Ghost that this thing was to happen to her: so she believed that without loss of her virginity she was soon to be the Mother of God.
Let us give thanks, dearly beloved, to God the Father, through his Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit; for God who is rich in mercy towards us, even when we were dead in our sins hath quickened us together with Christ, and made us to be a new creature in him, and a new workmanship. Let us put off the old man with his deeds: and let us obtain a share in Christ's sonship, laying aside the works of the flesh. O Christian, learn how great you have become, you who have been made a partaker of the divine nature. Do not return to the former vileness of your old and corrupt conversation. Remember the Head and Body of which you are a member. Never forget that you have been delivered out of the power of darkness and translated into the light and kingdom of God. [Nativity of Our Lord, December 25/January 7]
Sermon by St. Fulgentius, Bishop
Sermon III on St. Stephen
YESTERDAY we celebrated the birth in time of our eternal King: to-day we celebrate the triumphant passion of his soldier. For yesterday our King, clothed in the robe of flesh, proceeding forth from his palace in the Virgin's womb, condescended to visit the world. To-day his soldier, coming forth from his tent of the body, migrates as a conqueror to heaven. The former, while conserving the majesty of his everlasting Divinity, assumes and girds himself in the Servile garment of the flesh, and enters the battle-ground of this world, to come and fight; the latter, laying aside the corruptible garments of the body, ascends to the palace of heaven, to reign there for ever. The former descended, veiled in flesh: the latter ascends, crowned as a martyr.
The latter ascends from out the stoning of the Jews, while the former descends from out the gladness of the Angels. Glory to God in the highest, sang the holy Angels yesterday, rejoicing; to-day they welcome Stephen into their glad company. Yesterday the Lord came forth from the Virgin's womb. To-day his soldier leaves the prisonhouse of the flesh.
Yesterday Christ for our sakes was wrapped in swaddling clothes: to-day- Stephen is clothed in a robe of glory. Yesterday the confines of the crib supported Christ as an infant: to-day the immensity of heaven receives Stephen as a victor. Christ descended alone. that he might raise many: our King humbled himself, that he might exalt his soldiers. We must needs learn, my brethren. with what weapons Stephen was armed, when he overcame the raging of the Jews and won this happy victory.
Stephen was rewarded with his crown (the name Stephen means crown), because he was armed with the weapons of love. and by this means he conquered all things. For love of God he quailed not before the raging of the Jews. For love of his neighbour he prayed for his enemies who stoned him. Out of love he rebuked the erring, that they might mend their ways; for love's sake he entreated for those who stoned him, to avert their punishment. Mounted on the strength of love, he overthrew Saul in his savage raging: and he whom he had for his persecutor on earth he won for his friend in heaven.
Two lives, therefore, preached and commended unto her of God, the Church knoweth: of which, one is in faith, the other in sight: one in time of sojourning, the other in eternity of abiding; one in labour, the other in rest; one in the way, the other in its home; one in the work of action, the other in the wages of contemplation; one declines from evil and does good, the other hath no evil to decline from, and hath great good to enjoy; one fights with the enemy, the other reigns without an enemy; one is courageous in things adverse, the other hath no sense of ought adverse.
One curbs carnal lusts, the other is wholly given up to spiritual delights; one is anxious with care of getting the victory, the other in the peace of the victory is without a care; one in temptations is helped, the other without any temptation rejoices in the Helper himself: one succours the needy, the other is there where it finds none needy: one forgives others' sins that its own may be forgiven, the other neither hath ought done to it that it need. forgive, nor does ought that it need ask to be forgiven.
One is scourged by evils that it be not lifted up in its good things, the other with such fulness of grace is free from all evil that without any temptation to pride it cleaves to the Supreme Good; one discerns between good and evil, the other beholds the things that alone are good: therefore the one is good but as yet wretched; the other better, and blessed. The first is signified by the Apostle Peter; the last by John.
The first is wholly spent here even unto the end of this world, and there finds an end; the last is deferred, to be completed after the end of this world, but in the world to come hath no end. Therefore concerning this it is said. Follow me; but of that other, Thus will I that he tarry till I come; what is that to thee? Follow thou me. For what is this? So far as I take it in, what is this but, Follow thou me, by copying the pattern of enduring temporal evils; let the other tarry till I come, to render the good things that are for ever and ever. [Homily by St. Augustine, Bishop]
Homily by St. Jerome, Priest
WHEN Joseph took the Child and his Mother and fled into Egypt, he took them by night, in darkness: because he left the night of ignorance to those unbelievers from whom he fled. But on his return to Judea, neither night nor darkness are mentioned in the Gospel, because at the end of the world the Jews will receive the light of faith, as though receiving Christ returning from Egypt.
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. Let those who deny the truth of the Hebrew Scriptures ask where this is to be found in the Septuagint version. Though they do not find it there, yet we declare that it was written in the Book of Hosea, as the copies which we have recently published prove.
Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children. Rachel gave birth to Benjamin, and his tribe is not of Bethlehem. The question is, then, why should Rachel weep for the children of Juda. that is, of Bethlehem, as though they were her own?
This is soon answered: because she is buried in Ephrata. near Bethlehem, and the name of Mother has become associated with the resting place of her maternal body: or else because the two tribes of Juda and Benjamin had been joined together. and Herod had commanded that all the children, not only of Bethlehem, but in all the adjoining territory, should be slain.
"The doctrines of the Gospel were well known to holy and blessed David in his capacity of Prophet," declares St. Hilary of Poitiers in his commentary on Psalm 53, "and although it was under the Law that he lived his bodily life, he yet fulfilled, as far as lay in him, the requirements of the Apostolic behest and justified the witness borne to him by God in the words: 'I have found a man after My own heart, David, the son of Jesse' (Acts 13:22, cf. 1 Kings 13:14 LXX). He did not avenge himself upon his foes by war; he did not oppose force of arms to those that lay in wait for him, but after the pattern of the Lord, whose name and whose meekness alike he foreshadowed, when he was betrayed he entreated, when he was in danger he sang psalms, when he incurred hatred he rejoiced; and for this cause he was found a man after God's own heart. For although twelve legions of angels might have come to the help of the Lord in His hour of passion, yet that He might perfectly fulfil His service of humble obedience, He surrendered Himself to suffering and weakness, only praying with the words: 'Father into Thy hands I commend My spirit' (Lk. 23:46). After the same pattern, David, whose actual sufferings prophetically foretold the future sufferings of the Lord, did not oppose his enemies either by word or act; in obedience to the command of the Gospel, he would not render evil for evil; in imitation of His Master's meekness, in his affliction, in his betrayal, in his flight, he called upon the Lord and was content to use His weapons only in his contest with the ungodly." [From the Foreword by Archimandrite Todor Mika in Grace for Grace: the Psalter and the Holy Fathers, pages iii-iv]
The Lord Jesus has fulfilled the prophecies by His coming into Egypt. The prophecy of Isaiah (9:1) and also the prophecy of Hosea (1:1) were fulfilled.
Out of Egypt I called My Son. [Mt 2:15]
SYLVESTER, priest of the Church in the City of Rome, discharged his office with such praiseworthiness that in January, 314, he was chosen to succeed Saint Melchiades as Pope. Less than a year before this the Emperor Constantine had granted toleration to Christianity by the Edict of Milan. And hence it is probable that it was to Sylvester (rather than to Melchiades, as popular tradition hath it) that Constantine gave the Lateran Palace, and that therein Sylvester established the Lateran Church of Saint Saviour as the Cathedral Church of Rome. Several other great churches were founded during his pontificate, notably Saint Peter's on Vatican Hill. It was also during his time that the Council of Aries was gathered out of divers provinces of Gaul, Italy, Africa, Spain, and Britain, to deal with the Donatist heresy. And, among other things, this Council ordered that Easter should be celebrated everywhere on one and the same day. In his time also was held the first Ecumenical Council, to wit, of Nicaea in 325, to which he himself went not, but sent legates. Some three hundred and eighteen bishops were present, over whom Hosius of Cordova presided. And by these bishops, in the presence of Constantine, the Holy and Catholic Faith was declared, and Arius and his followers were condemned.
This Pope is reputed to have issued many useful ordinances for the Church of God : such as the reservation to bishops of the right of consecrating the holy Chrism and the custom of anointing the newly baptized therewith; the wearing of a dalmatic and maniple by deacons ; the consecration of the Sacrament of the Altar on a linen corporal ; that all persons taking Holy Orders should remain a while in each grade before being promoted to a higher ; that laymen should not go to law against the clergy; and that the clergy themselves were not to plead before civil tribunals.
To Sylvester is also ascribed the decrees that the first and seventh days of the week should be called respectively the Lord's Day and the Sabbath ; and the others, Second Feria, Third Feria, and so on, in accordance with the use of the word Feria for the week days which had already begun in the Church. This word signifieth an holy-day, and pointeth to the duty of the clergy ever to lay aside all worldly labour, and leave themselves free to do continually the work of the Lord. In 335 Sylvester went to God, and date of his feast day is probably the Anniversary of his burial, in the church which he built over the Catacomb of Saint Priscilla, on the Salerian Way. In 761 his relicks were translated to the Church of Saint Sylvester. His feast hath been general in the Latin Church since the thirteenth century, and is kept also in the East, because his pastoral concern for all Christians, everywhere, made him generally beloved. For he was Pope immediately after the Church came up out of the Catacombs into freedom. According to the Pontifical Book, he reigned twenty-one years, ten months, and one day ; and is reputed to have held seven Advent ordinations, and therein to have made forty-two priests, twenty-five deacons, and sixty-five bishops of various Sees. [St. Sylvester, December 31/January 13]
He who was begotten before the daystar and before all worlds, the Lord the Redeemer, is on this day pleased to be born unto us.
When you trust the Good Shepherd, He leads you out of the wrong fold and into the right flock. He goes before you and leads you by His word, and He leads you in and out to find spiritual nourishment.
I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.
The Lord Jesus called a few men to follow Him, and He transformed their lives and used them to transform the lives of others. He calls each one individually and uses different approaches, but the same Master calls.
Titus was a gentile who became the disciple of the Apostle Paul, and was twice sent on missions to the Church in Corinth. Concerning this holy man, the Apostle wrote to the Corinthians : When I came to Troas to preach Christ's Gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord, I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother ; but taking my leave of them, I went from thence into Macedonia. Again, he wrote : When we were come into Macedonia, we were troubled on every side ; nevertheless God, that comforteth those a that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus. * Paul, because of his regard for Titus, sent him to Corinth on a mission mainly concerned with the collection of alms from the charity of the faithful for the relief of the poor Hebrew Christians at Jerusalem. This mission Titus discharged with such wisdom and gentleness, that he not only strengthened the Corinthians in the Faith, but also stirred up in them an earnest desire, a mourning, a fervent mind toward Paul their earliest teacher. Many were the other journeys by land and sea which Titus undertook. Filled with boldness and zeal, he went with Paul to the island of Crete. Of this Church of Crete the Apostle himself made him the first Bishop ; and we may not doubt that, as such, he was what Paul bade him be : In all things a pattern of good works, in doctrine, in uncorruptness, in gravity. * He is said to have sweated mightily to unfurl the banner of the Cross among the Dalmatians. And it is believed that, full of days and good works, upon a 4th of January, in the ninety-fourth year of his age, he died one of those deaths which are precious in the sight of the Lord ; and that he was buried by the Church of which the Apostle had made him the minister. His praises have been mostly written by Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Jerome.
A Homily by St. Jerome
But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither. There are some persons so grossly ignorant of history that they confuse themselves over the two Herods, as if the one mentioned here were the same who afterwards set our Lord at nought during his passion, and they cannot understand how he should now be said to be dead. The Herod who was made friends with Pilate over Christ's death was the son of the Herod who massacred the infants of Bethlehem, and the brother of Archelaus.
He shall be called a Nazarene. The Evangelist, in quoting these words, saith that they were spoken by the Prophets. If he had been citing any one precise passage he would have said : By the Prophet: using the word in the singular number. Hence we may infer that he is citing the sense of the Prophets, and not any individual passage in any of their writings. The word Nazarene signifieth Holy, and the common declaration of all the Scriptures is that Christ ls the Holy One of God.
From a Sermon by St. Leo the Pope
The very cruelty of Herod, when he strove to put an end to the new-born King whom he feared, was made an unwitting means to further this new dispensation of mercy. For the tyrant was so intent on his horrid crime of slaying the little Child, that he did not perceive how his indiscriminate slaughter of the Innocents would serve to spread wider abroad the story of a new-born Babe whose birth as a great ruler had been announced from heaven. Thus were these glad tidings loudly proclaimed, both by the novelty of their story, and the iniquity of their enemies. Moreover, the Saviour was carried into Egypt. And thereby that nation, so long hardened in idolatry, was (by the mysterious virtue which went forth from Christ, even when his presence was unknown,) prepared for the saving light so soon to dawn on them ; if so be, they might receive the Truth as a wanderer even before they had banished falsehood.
Dearly beloved, we recognize in these Wise Men, who came to worship Christ, the first-fruits of that dispensation to the Gentiles wherein we also are called and enlightened. Let us then keep this Feast with grateful hearts, in thanksgiving for our blessed hope, the dawn of which we do commemorate on this day. From the worship paid to the new-born Christ is to be dated the entry of us Gentiles upon our heirship of God and joint-heirship with Christ. Since that joyful day the Scriptures which testify of Christ have lain open for us as well as for the Jews. Whose blindness rejected that Truth which, since that day, hath shed his bright beams upon all nations. Let us then honour this most sacred day, whereon the Author of our salvation was made manifest. As the Wise Men fell down and worshipped him in the manger, so let us fall down and worship him, enthroned omnipotent in heaven. As they opened their treasures and presented unto him mystic and symbolic gifts, so let us strive to open our hearts to him, and offer him from thence some worthy offering.
Homily by St. Gregory the Great
WHEN Herod heard of the birth of our King, he resorted to craftiness; he was afraid of losing his earthly kingdom and so he commanded word to be brought him as to where the child was to be found. He pretended that he wished to worship him, so that, if he were able to find him, he could destroy him. But what avail is the wiliness of man against the counsels of God? For it is written, There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord. The star that appeared led the wise men: and they found the child that was born, and presented unto him gifts: they were warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod. Thus it came about that Herod searched for Jesus and could not find him. Is he not typical of all those whom we term hypocrites, those who, since they make only a show of searching, never deserve to find the Lord?
Here we must note that the Priscillianist heretics hold that every man is born under the influence of the stars: and they take as confirmation of this error of theirs the fact that a new star issued forth when the Lord appeared clothed in flesh; they think that the star that appeared ruled his destiny. But if we examine the words of the Gospel where it is said of this star that it went before them till it came and stood over where the young child was, we find that it was the star than hastened to the child, not the child to the star. The star was not the child's destiny, but the child who appeared was the destiny of the star.
But be it far from the hearts of the faithful to say that anything rules their destiny. For that one Author of Life, who created it, administrates it. Nor was man made for the sake of the stars, but the stars for man: and if a star is said to rule man's destiny, then this would mean that man is subservient to that which is assigned to his service. For when Jacob was coming out of his mother's womb, his hand took hold of the heel of his brother who was before him, and so the first child could not have emerged entirely before the second one had already begun to come: yet although their mother brought them both forth at the same moment, their future destinies were not identical.
Homily by St. Gregory the Great
THE wise men brought gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold befits the King, frankincense is offered in sacrifice to God, while with myrrh the bodies of the dead are embalmed. Thus it was that by offering these mystic gifts the wise men confessed him whom they worshipped: gold for the King, frankincense for God, myrrh for death. Yet there are some heretics who, while believing him to be God, will in no wise believe in his universal kingdom. These men offer him frankincense but will not give him gold. And there are some who esteem him as King but deny that he is God. These do offer him gold, but will not give him frankincense.
And some there are who confess him as God and King but deny that he took mortal flesh. These truly offer him gold and frankincense, but will not give him myrrh for the flesh he took. But as for us, at the birth of the Lord let us offer gold, as confessing his universal kingdom: let us offer frankincense, as believing that he who appeared in time existed as God before time was: let us offer myrrh, as believing that he who in his divinity is impassible suffered death in our flesh.
Yet we may read another meaning in gold, frankincense and myrrh. That gold is symbolic of wisdom is testified by Solomon, where he says, There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise. By frankincense, which is burnt before God, the power of prayer is expressed, as the Psalmist testifies, saying, Let my prayer be set forth in thy sight as the incense. By myrrh the mortality of our flesh is signified. Thus Holy Church tells of her warriors striving for God even unto death, My hands dropped with myrrh.
Homily by St. Gregory the Great
THE wise men have much to teach us, in that they departed into their own country another way. As the result of a warning they did something that shows us how we, in our turn, should act. Our own country is paradise: once we have known Jesus we are forbidden to return to it by the same way that we came. For we left it by way of our pride, of our disobedience, by following after the concupiscence of the eyes, by tasting of forbidden fruit: but we must return thither by tears of repentance, by obedience, by contempt of all things earthly, by restraining fleshly appetites.
Then let us depart into our own country another way. We left the joys of paradise for the paths of pleasure: we are recalled by the way of weeping. In fear and trembling we must ever hold before the eyes of our heart, on the one side our guilty deeds, on the other the dread of the last judgment. Let us consider that the dread Judge will surely come, and that though he threatens judgment he is yet waiting: though he inspires us with fear on account of our sins yet does he stay his hand: and he refrains from hastening his advent for this reason: that when he does come he may find less to condemn.
Let us make amends for our sins with weeping, and in the words of the Psalmist, let us come before his presence with thanksgiving. Let no false pleasures deceive us, no vain delights seduce us. For the Judge is nigh at hand, even he who said, Woe unto you that laugh now! For ye shall mourn and weep. And Solomon too declared, Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness; and again, I said of laughter, it is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it? and again, It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools.
Homily by St. Jerome, Priest
FOR we have seen his star in the east. The star rose in the east, so that the birth of Christ could be revealed to the Gentiles, to the confusion of the Jews; they knew that he would come because they had the prophecy of Balaam, whose successors they were: see the Book of Numbers. The wise men were led to Judaea by the sign of the star for this reason: that the priests, being asked by the wise men where Christ was born, might be inexcusable in their ignorance of his coming.
And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea. This is a mistake of the copyists. In my opinion the Hebrew version accords with what the Evangelist originally said, namely, Judah, and not Judaea. Is there a Bethlehem in any other nation, that would account for this description? for Judaea being specially mentioned here? But Judah is named, because there is another Bethlehem in Galilee: see the Book of Joshua. Finally, the Passage quoted from Micah the Prophet does itself prove this, as it says, Thou Bethlehem, of Judah.
And when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. Juvencus the Priest has aptly expressed the mystic meaning of these gifts, in one verse: Frankincense, gold, and myrrh they bring, As gifts to God, and Man, and King. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. Because they had presented gifts to God, the warning received came, not from an Angel, but from God himself, an even greater privilege than that of Joseph. They returned into their own country another way, and were thus kept free from contact with the unbelieving Jews.
Homily by St. Ambrose, Bishop
WHAT are these gifts of true faith? Gold for the King, frankincense for God, myrrh for his dying for us. One is the token of a king, another is used in holy worship of divine power, and the third betokens veneration in burial of the dead, as it preserves the body from corruption. As we read and hear of these gifts, brethren, let us present similar gifts from our treasures. For we have treasure in earthen vessels. You confess that what you are in yourselves is not of your own creation, but is Christ's: how much more should you confess that all you possess is his!
The wise men present gifts out of their treasures. Would you know how they are rewarded ? The star appears to them, but it is not seen where Herod is. Then it is seen again where Christ is, and shows them the way. Therefore this star is the way, and the way is Christ: for in the mystery of the Incarnation, Christ is a star, There shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel. Finally, where Christ is, there is the star. He himself is the bright and morning star. Therefore by his own light he reveals himself.
There is further evidence. The wise men came by one way and returned by another. They had seen Christ, they had known him, and therefore they returned better men than they had come. There are indeed two ways: one leads to destruction and the other to the kingdom. One that leads to Herod, is the way of sinners: the other that returns to our fatherland, is Christ. Here in this life we dwell in exile, as it is written, My soul hath long dwelt as an exile.
Homily by St. Leo the Great
It is meet and right, dearly beloved, and our godly service, that we should rejoice with all our hearts on those days that proclaim the working of divine mercy, and that we should celebrate with due solemnity those things that have been done for our salvation. The seasons of the year, in their continual recurrence, summon us to this devotion, and now, after only a short interval since the co-eternal Son of God the Father was born of the Virgin, there comes this festival of the Epiphany, consecrated by the manifestation of the Lord.
Divine providence has established a great bulwark for our faith in this festival: for while we recall in solemn veneration how the infant Saviour was worshipped from his very birth, it is proved from the Scriptures that Christ was born with the very nature of Man.
This it is that justifies the wicked, this it is that makes sinners into saints: if it is believed that in the same our Lord Jesus Christ there is both very God and very Man: God, in that he is equal to God the Father before all ages; Man, in that in the last days he is united to man in the form of a servant.
For the strengthening of this faith which was made firm against all errors, the great love of the divine counsel brought it to pass that the people dwelling in the far regions of the East, who excelled in observation of the stars, should receive the sign of the birth of the child who was to reign over Israel. For a new star of surpassing brightness appeared to the Magi: and by its brilliancy it filled the minds of those beholding it with such wonder, that they believed that they must in no wise disregard what was proclaimed with such evidence.
Sermon by St. Gregory Nazianzen
I cannot contain myself for joy: I am elated and buoyed up. Heedless of my own weakness I strive to take up the office, or rather the service, of the great John, and though I am not a forerunner, I do come from the desert. Christ is enlightened, or rather, by his brightness he enlightens us: Christ is baptized; let us go down into the waters with him, that we may also come up with him.
John is baptizing, and Jesus comes to him, to sanctify the Baptist, and to do more than that, to drown the old Adam in the waters, and above all, to hallow the waters of Jordan: he who is Spirit and Flesh gives to all who are ever to be baptized the sanctification of water and of the Spirit. The Baptist will not receive him, but Jesus strives with him. I, says John, have need to be baptized of thee. The candle speaks to the Sun, the voice talks to the Word.
Jesus came up out of the water, bringing up with him the sunken world, and he saw the heavens, not divided, but opened; after he himself had closed them long ago against Adam and ourselves, when paradise was shut and guarded by a fiery sword.
And the Holy Spirit testifies of him who is of one Substance with himself. From heaven the witness comes; it comes from him unto whom it bears witness.
IN childhood Placidus was by his father given;
O Lord, we beseech thee favourably to hear the prayers of thy people : that, as we do rejoice in the passion of thy blessed Bishop and Martyr Saint Marcellus, so his intercessions may be our succour and defence. Through Jesus Christ thy Son, our Lord, who with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen. [Collect, St. Marcellus, January 16/29]
This Marcellus was a Roman, and is believed to have held his brief pontificate in the reign of Constantius and Galerius, and in that of Maxentius. According to the Pontifical Book, it was through his persuasion that the Roman Lady Lucina left the whole of her property to the Church of God, which same was made into a church bearing his name. An epitaph by Pope Saint Damasus saith that because of his enforcement of the penitential canons, he excited the wrath of Maxentius, who threatened him with punishment. * The servant of God treated with contempt the mad cries of this man, who (so it is said) sent him to a menagerie, to take care of the beasts which were fed at the public cost, where Marcellus remained in continual fasting and prayer. And, as he could not visit the parishes of Rome in person, he wrote letters to them, until some of his clergy rescued him. * Maxentius, it is said, thereupon had the wild beasts brought from the menagerie and located in a church, where Marcellus was made to feed them. And the noisomeness of the place and the filthiness of his occupation soon broke down a constitution already enfeebled by many ailments, and he fell asleep in the Lord in 309, on January 16th, and for his sufferings is accounted a Martyr. According to the Pontifical Book, he was Pope for five years, one month, and twenty-five days, and ordained at Rome in the month of December twenty-five priests, two deacons, and twenty-one bishops for divers Sees.
ANTONY was an Egyptian. One day he entered a church and heard the words of the Gospel, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor; and these words seemed to be addressed so directly to himself that he felt compelled to obey, as though to Christ himself. He therefore sold his family possessions, gave the money to the poor, and retired to the vast Egyptian desert. He was inflamed with such zeal for the cultivation of the virtues that, whenever he saw anyone performing a praiseworthy action, he immediately strove to imitate him. There was no one more continent than he, no one more instant in prayer. Many people throughout the land of Egypt were possessed by devils, and they were restored by the mere invoking of Antony's name, so greatly did demons fear him. He won innumerable disciples who followed the Rule that he instituted, and at last, illustrious with sanctity and the glory of miracles, he ended his life at the age of one hundred and five, on the seventeenth of January.
Of this Prisca (also called Priscilia), nothing is known with certainty save that from earliest times she hath been venerated at Rome as a Virgin and Martyr. The story which hath come down concerning her is that she was a noble Roman maiden, who, at the age of thirteen, was accused before the Emperor Claudius, but remained faithful to Christ in spite of the most barbarous tortures inflicted upon her pure body. And that finally she was beheaded, namely, about the year 250, and buried by the Christians on January 18th, at the Tenth Milestone from the City. The basilica erected in her honour came later to bear the title : Saints Aquila and Priscilla : which Saints are commemorated in the Martyrology on July 8th, and are mentioned several times in the New Testament, and were friends of the Apostle Paul. But it was the practice of early days to draw together, for commemoration on the same date, the memories of those blessed ones who had the same name; for which reason in some places the holy Priscilla, who was the friend of Saint Paul, is honoured on this day, and holy Aquila as well.
To be a disciple our comfort and satisfaction in our family members must be lost and swallowed up in our love to Christ.
If anyone one comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.
Fabian was a Roman, and sat as Pope from the year 236, in the reign of the Emperor Maximin, till 250, in that of Decius. He is said to have appointed a deacon to each of the seven districts of Rome to look after the poor, and the same number of subdeacons to collect the Acts of the Martyrs from the records kept by the seven district notaries ; and to have ordained that every Maundy Thursday the old chrism should be burnt and the new consecrated. He was crowned with martyrdom on the 20th of January, in the year 250, during the persecution of Decius, and buried in the cemetery of Saint Callistus on the Appian Way, having sat in the throne of Peter fifteen years and four days. By the Pontifical Book he is said to have held five Advent ordinations, in which he ordained twenty-two priests, seven deacons and eleven bishops for divers Sees. * Of Sebastian nothing is certainly known save that he was a Roman Martyr and that he had some connection with the City of Milan. But his story hath for many generations been told on this wise. He was a great favourite of the Emperor Diocletian, both on account of his noble birth and his personal bravery, and was Captain of the First Company of the Praetorian Guards, albeit he was in secret a Christian, and often assisted other Christians by his good offices and by alms. When these things became known, Diocletian sent for Sebastian and, after violently rebuking him, used every means to turn him from his faith in Christ. But as neither promises nor threats availed, he ordered him to be tied to a post and shot to death with arrows. * Sebastian was treated accordingly and left for dead. But when in the night a holy widow Irene went to bury him, he was found still alive. And Irene nursed him in her own house till his health was restored. Then went he, and rebuked Diocletian for his wickedness. Which same ordered him to be beaten to death with rods, under which torments the Martyr decided his blessed soul to God, on January 20th, 288. His body was thrown into a sewer, but was later found and buried in those Catacombs over which a famous church hath since been built, called Saint Sebastian's-without-the-Walls. [Sts. Fabian and Sebastian, January 20/February 2]
Sermon by St. Augustine, Bishop
We are told to-day in the Lesson from the Acts of the Apostles, how Paul the Apostle, from being the persecutor of Christians, became the messenger of Christ. For Christ smote down his persecutor to make him his Doctor of the Church. He strikes him and heals him; he is dying, and behold, he lives. The Lamb was slain by the wolves, and behold, he make the wolves into lambs. For what happened to Paul is clearly foretold by the Prophet, when Jacob the Patriarch blessed his sons: as he touched the son who was actually before him, he foresaw the son who was to come.
Now Paul, as he himself declares, was of the tribe of Benjamin. So when Jacob, blessing each of his sons in turn, came to Benjamin, he said, Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf. What follows? Shall it always be thus ? Far from it. Jacob added, In the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil. This was fulfilled in Paul the Apostle, just as it was prophesied of him.
Now, by your leave, let us see how in the morning he is ravenous, and how in the evening he divides the spoil. Morning and evening, applied to him, mean before and after his conversion. So we could put it thus: Before his conversion he was ravenous; afterwards, he divided the spoil. This is the fierce wolf: Saul went unto the high priest and desired of him letters, that if he found any of this way, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.
He went. Breathing out threatenings and slaughter: this is his morning devouring the prey. Now when Stephen was stoned, he became the first martyr to lay down his life in Christ's Name; and most clearly Saul was present at the time. In fact, he was so confederate with those who were stoning that it was not enough for him to stone Stephen with his own hands. For it was as though his will moved the hands of all those who were casting the stones, while he held their clothes. He raged more fiercely by helping all of them, than by stoning with his own hands. Thus we see how in the morning he was ravenous. Now let us see how to the same degree in the evening he divided the spoil. The voice of Christ from heaven felled him to the earth, and at that decree from on high the ravenous wolf fell on his face, and he who was first smitten down was afterwards lifted up; he was first, stricken, and then healed.
POLYCARP was born in Asia Minor about the year 70. He was greatly venerated by the Church because he was appointed Bishop by St. John, and had known others who had followed our Lord in person. Polycarp was the teacher of St. Irenaeus of Antioch, the first of the Fathers, and blessed and encouraged St. Ignatius as he passed through Smyrna on his way to martyrdom at Rome. A fierce persecution of Christians broke out in Smyrna in 167, and the venerable Bishop Polycarp was taken on that Holy Saturday before the proconsul, confessed Christ with a countenance shining with heavenly grace, and was burnt to death. His tomb may still be seen, and though Mohammedans abound, the long line of bishops and of Christian worship has never ceased in Smyrna since Polycarp won his crown.
JOHN of Antioch was known as Chrysostom, or Golden-mouthed, because of his flowing eloquence. He became a priest of the Church at Antioch, and later, on the death of Nectarius, the emperor Arcadius entrusted him with the care of the Church at Constantinople, against his will. On taking up his duties he attacked the immoral behaviour and licentious customs of the nobility with great vehemence, and consequently drew upon himself the ill-will and malignity of many of them. He incurred the particular hatred of the empress Eudoxia, because he reproved her for exacting money from one widow, Callitropa, and lands from another. So John was driven into exile, and as he went, all the poor and needy and widows in the land mourned his banishment as though they had lost their own father. The degree of his sufferings is hard to believe, and so is the great number of souls that he converted to belief in Jesus Christ. He is famous for the number, spirituality, and grandeur of his homilies and other writings; He surrendered his soul to God on the fourteenth of September, and his body was later transferred to the Vatican Basilica. Pius X declared this distinguished Doctor of the Church to be the Patron Saint of all preachers.
CYRIL of Alexandria was the nephew of Theophilus, Bishop of Alexandria. Even in his boyhood he showed signs of a rare genius, and on the death of Theophilus he was enthroned in his place. As Bishop he nurtured his flock by the example of his own spirituality, and was a personification of the Good Shepherd. He strove with all his might to preserve the purity of the catholic Faith against Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople. Nestorius held that our Lord Jesus Christ was born of the blessed Virgin Mary just as a man, and not as God, and that his Divinity was conferred on him only because of his merits. When Cyril found that his efforts to convert Nestorius were in vain, he denounced him to Pope Celestin. He presided over certain sessions of the Council of Ephesus, holding authority from the Pope; there, in the very stronghold of the Nestorian heresy, Nestorius was condemned and dethroned from his bishopric, and the catholic dogma of the One and the Same Divine Person in Christ, and of the Divine Motherhood of the blessed and glorious Virgin Mary, was proclaimed. Cyril spent his life in faithful devotion to the One True Faith, constantly helping all who called upon him. He worked unceasingly for the glory of the Church of God, and published many writings. He ended his saintly life in the year 444, in the thirty-second year of his episcopate.
The joy of faith is the best remedy against the grief of sense. Those that rightly believe in God will believe in Jesus Christ. Believing in God through Jesus Christ is an excellent means of keeping grief and sorrow from the heart.
Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe in Me.
The Lord Jesus explain to His disciples that He (the sower) sows the word and it depends on man's heart (the ground) that the word can bring forth fruits. God lets His word reach all kinds of hearts because He values man's freedom.
To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God.
O GOD whose dwelling-place is the pure in heart : grant that we who venerate the memory of Saint Bridget, thy faithful spouse, may have grace to follow the example of her unspotted life. Through Jesus Christ thy Son, our Lord, who with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen. [Collect, St. Bridget, February 1/14]
BRIDGET the holy Virgin and Abbess of Kildare, otherwise known as Bride, who is venerated as the Patroness of Ireland, is one of those Saints whose virtue lent glory to the whole Celtic Church, and whose apostolate to souls furthered so greatly the conversion of Europe to Christ. The recollection of her fair life produced in later times many stories of miracles which illustrate the marvellous charity and innocence for which she was venerated ; and hence she came to be reverenced as the true ensample of Christian womanhood for her race. But of historic fact concerning her life and deeds, little is now known. It is believed, however, that she was born about the middle of the fifth century in the Irish County of Louth, and that at an early age she consecrated herself to God in dedicated virginity, and thereby shewed the way for a large number of women of aftertimes to enter upon this good estate. * It is said that she was veiled by Saint Mahew at Croghan, and afterwards consecrated as a nun by Saint Mel at Ardagh ; and also that she was a friend and comforter of Saint Patrick, whose apostolic labours she shared, whose death she foretold, and against whose burial she had prepared linen for the swathing of his venerable body. It is further said that she was a maiden of great beauty, who was therefore much troubled with suitors for her hand in marriage ; for which reason she implored God to turn her so ugly, that no one would desire her except the Lord Jesus ; whereupon her face became horrible with disfigurements of swellings, which same were not healed until she had been consecrated as a nun to the Bridegroom of her soul. * Again it is related that once, at the going down of the sun, when she was giving counsel to Sister Dara, a nun who was blind, she prayed God to open the blind eyes unto the glory of the sunset, which prayer was granted ; and that after Dara had gazed for a while on this earthly beauty she said : Close mine eyes again, dear Mother, for when the glory of the world is so clear to the eyes of the body, the glory of God is less clear to the eyes of the soul : whereupon Bridget prayed once more, and Dara's eyes grew dark again. Those who wrote of her were wont to say : She was the throne of the fire of the Holy Ghost ; she helpeth every one who is in straits and in danger ; she abateth pestilence, and quelleth the rage and storm of the sea ; she is the prophetess of Christ, the Mary of the Gael; everything that she would ask of God was granted at once, for her only desire was to satisfy the poor, drive out every hardship, and obtain mercy for all who were miserable. She went to God about the year 535, venerated then and since as one of the great ones in the kingdom of heaven.
From a Sermon by St. Augustine the Bishop...
CONCERNING that time it was written : And of Sion it shall be reported that he was born in her, and the Most High shall stablish her. O how blessed is the omnipotence of him that was born! Yea, how blessed is the glory of him that came from heaven to earth! Whilst he was yet in his Mother's womb, he was saluted by John the Baptist. And when he was presented in the temple, he was recognized by the old man Simeon, a worthy who was full of years, proved and crowned. This ancient one, as soon as he knew him, worshipped and said : Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.
He had lingered in the world to see the birth of him who made the world. The old man knew the Child, and in that Child became a child himself, for in the love wherewith he regarded the Father of ail, he felt his own years to be but as yesterday. The ancient Simeon bare in his arms the new-born Christ, and all the while, Christ ruled and upheld the old man. Simeon had been told by the Lord that he should not taste of death before he had seen the birth of the Lord's Christ. Now that Christ was born, all the old man's wishes on earth were fulfilled. He that was come into a decrepit world now also came to an old man.
Simeon wished not to remain long in the world, but with great desire he had desired to see Christ in the world, for he had sung with the Prophet : Shew us thy mercy, O Lord, and grant us thy salvation. And now at last, that ye might know how that, to his joy, his prayer was granted, he said : Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation. The Prophets have sung that the Maker of heaven and earth would converse on earth with men. An Angel hath declared that the Creator of flesh and spirit would come in the flesh. The unborn John, yet in the womb, hath saluted the unborn Saviour yet in the womb. The old man Simeon hath seen God as a little Child.
BLASE is venerated as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers ; which same are certain Saints reputed to have a special power of intercession in heaven on behalf of those in peril or suffering on earth. According to the common tradition, they were ail Martyrs except Saint Giles. And their names are in the Western Kalendar except for the first on the list, namely, Acatius, whose feast is usually observed in the East on March 31st, which same was a Bishop of Lower Armenia, who at his trial gave such convincing testimony for Christ that his persecutors were silenced, and for a long time left him undisturbed in the practice of his religion, during the bloody reign of Decius ; for which reason he is invoked against false accusations. The other Holy Helpers are commonly named thus : 2nd, Barbara, invoked against fire and lightning ; 3rd, Blase, invoked against all diseases of the throat ; 4th, Catherine of Alexandria, invoked by learned people in their peculiar difficulties ; 5th, Christopher, who aideth travellers ; 6th, Cyriacus the Deacon, who prayeth that the clergy may not neglect their duties ; 7th, Denys, invoked against mental troubles and pains in the head ; 8th, Erasmus who was a sea-faring man that suffered disembowelling for Christ, and aideth sailors, and those who suffer illness of the stomach ; 9th, Eustace, the man of adventurous life, who is patron of huntsmen, and of those who live dangerously ; 10th, George, on whom soldiers call in the hour of battle ; 11th, Giles, the heavenly advocate of good workmen, beggars, and cripples ; 12th, Margaret, the maiden who overcame the dragon, and is invoked by the fearful ; 13th, Pantaleon the physician, patron of those who care for the sick ; and 14th, Vitus, who helpeth those infirm in limb. Devotion to the Holy Helpers is an evidence of belief in the spiritual commonwealth of those on earth with the Saints in heaven. And the cultus of holy Blase is more widespread than that of the others, by reason of the Blessing of Throats which is wont to be given on his feast. Concerning whom, it is related that he was Bishop of Sebaste, in Armenia ; and that he was martyred with much torture about the year 316, after a long time spent in prison, during which he healed many sick folk, specially a boy who was dying from a thorn in his throat.
Pride leads to loneliness and loneliness leads to inner darkness. Pride leads to ambition, to partiality -- the inability to judge oneself aright, and so to stupidity. Every proud person is stupid in his judgments, even if nature has endowed him with the mind of a genius. Conversely, the humble person is wise even though he may not be clever, for the essence of wisdom -- a feeling for Truth and humility in its presence -- is accessible to him. [Fr. Alexander Elchaninov] [From: Holy Dormition Orthodox Church newsletter, Cumberland, Rhode Island, 1999-2000]
AGATHA was early recognized by the Church as one of the most illustrious of virgin Martyrs. Therefore, along with Lucy, Agnes, and Cecilia, her name is mentioned in the Gregorian Canon. But nothing can now be surely established concerning her life save that she bare such witness to Christ, about 251, in Sicily, as soon to fill Christendom with her praises. The written Acts of Saint Agatha (on which this Legend and the Propers of her Office are based) were compiled long after her death, like the Acts of the other three aforementioned virgin Martyrs, and doubtless contain such memories of her as had then survived, along with the wonders that naturally came into belief to explain how Christ's strength was made perfect in the weakness of his handmaiden. According to these Acts, the Praetor of Sicily, Quintianus, conceived a passion for Agatha, who was of noble birth and of great beauty. And when he could not make her consent to his wicked desires, he had her arrested as a Christian, and turned her over to an evil woman, named Aphrodisia, to be corrupted. Of such methods for breaking down Christian hardihood, Tertullian wrote to the pagans : Ye, by condemning the Christian maid to the lewd youth, rather than to the brute lion, do acknowledge that we more dread a stain to purity than any torment or death ; but your cruel cunning availeth only to gain men over to our holy religion.
But the companionship of Aphrodisia in the brothel made Agatha only the more determined to live faithful to Christ. Whereat the Praetor ordered her brought before him, that he might try to turn her from Christian living, which he declared to be fit only for slaves. Then the Praetor gave her the choice of sacrificing to the gods or undergoing torture. And when beatings, the rack, and branding with white-hot metal failed to shake her constancy to Christ, he ordered her breasts cut off. Whereat Agatha cried out, and said that he who had suckled at a mother's breasts should feel shame to order such cruel indignity done to a woman. But that night, after she had been returned in irons and pain to prison, the Apostle Peter appeared to her, and healed her wounds.
The following day she was subjected to new tortures. But an earthquake, from Mount Aetna, shook the town and terrified the people. Whereupon the Praetor, fearing a riot, ordered Agatha to be returned quietly to prison. And there, in the town of Catania, she died at peace, in prayer, on February 5th, and her body was taken and buried by the Christians. She is invoked against earthquake and fire and molten lava, and is accounted the patroness of bell-founders.
by St. John of Kronstadt
By means of its Divine Services, the Orthodox Church educates and prepares us for heavenly citizenship, by teaching us every virtue, by purifying and sanctifying us, and making us godly, through the sacraments, and by giving unto us all things that belong to life and godliness. Therefore, it is urgently necessary for us to participate intelligently, reverently, and willingly in the Divine Services of the Church, particularly on feast days, and to make use of the sacraments of Penitence and Holy Communion. Those who withdraw themselves from the Church's Divine Services become the victims of their own vices, and are lost.
If during Divine Services your brother does anything irregularly, or negligently, do not become irritated with him, whether inwardly or outwardly, but be generously indulgent to his fault, remembering that you yourself commit many, many faults, that you yourself are a person of weakness, that God is long-suffering and all-merciful, and that he forgives you and all of us our offences time without number.
GRANT, we beseech thee, O Lord, that the prayers of thy holy Abbot, blessed Romuald may commend us unto thee : that we, who have no power of ourselves to help ourselves, may by his advocacy find favour in thy sight. Through Jesus Christ thy Son, our Lord, who with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen. [Collect, St. Romuald, February 7/20]
ROMUALD was born of the family of Onesti, Dukes of Ravenna, and though he grew up a worldly youth and the slave of his passions, he occasionally experienced aspirations toward a holy life. Now it happened that his father killed a kinsman in a duel fought because of a dispute about property rights. And Romuald, who had been ordered by his father to be present at the duel under pain of disinheritance, was thereupon so horrified that he felt obliged to do penance for his father and himself, to which end he withdrew for forty days of retreat to a neighboring Benedictine Monastery. During this time he became more and more penetrated with the love of God, partly because of the lay-brother who waited on him, which same proved to be such a humble man of God as to give Romuald to think. He therefore asked permission to be clothed in the habit of blessed Benedict, which was granted, and in due time he was professed. * He was ever inclined to harshness in dealing with the sins of himself and others, but it is said that the joy which beamed from his face drew all men to him. With the Abbot's consent, he betook himself to a holy hermit, Marinus by name ; and thither also came Peter Orseoli, a famous admiral and former Doge of Venice, who also became a monk ; and they with some others founded a new religious family of hermit-monks. Romuald's dedication of himself made a lasting impression on many nobles ; and even on his own father, who likewise became a monk. And it was an edifying sight to see noblemen and princes, who had been remarkable for their luxurious way of life, now living a life of penance, and earning their bread in the sweat of their brow at the monasteries which Romuald reformed or founded. * The best known of his foundations was that of the Camaldolese, which began the revival of the eremitical life at Camaldoli, near Arezzo, in 1009. A near kinsman of the Emperor Otto (which prince had himself been turned from a course of sin by Romuald) became a monk here under the direction of holy Romuald, and afterwards was sent as a missionary to Prussia, and was martyred there after he became bishop, namely, the holy Boniface of whom mention is made in the Martyrology on June 19th. After having served God in a life of great penance, whereby he turned many other men to God, not so much by what he preached as what he himself did, he passed to heaven on June 19th, in 1027. But his feast is kept on the day his holy body was translated to its present shrine at Fabiano.
ON THE INCARNATION
What was God to do with such a dehumanization of men, this universal hiding of the knowledge of Himself by the action of evil spirits? Was He to keep silent before such a great wrong and let men go on being deceived and kept in ignorance of Himself? If so, what was the use of having made them in His own Image originally? It would have been better for them always to have been brutes, rather than to revert to that condition when they once had shared the nature of God. What was the use of their ever having had the knowledge of God? Surely it would have been better for God never to have bestowed it, than that men should subsequently be found unworthy to receive it. What possible profit would it be to God Himself, Who made men, if when made they did not worship Him, but regarded others as their makers? This would be equal to His having made them for others and not for Himself. Even an earthly king, though he is only a man, does not allow lands that he has colonized to pass into other hands or to desert to other rulers, but he sends letters and friends and even visits them himself to recall them to their allegiance, rather than allow his work to be undone. How much more, then, will God be patient and painstaking with His creatures, that they be not led astray from Him to the service of usurpers, especially since such an error results in their sheer ruin. It is not right that those who had once shared His Image should be destroyed.
What, then, was God to do? What else could He possibly do, being God, but renew His Image in men, so that through it men might once more corne to know Him? How else could this be done but by the coming of the very Image Himself, our Savior Jesus Christ? Men could not have done it, for they are only made after the Image; nor could angels have done it, for they are not the images of God. The Word of God came in His own Person, because it was He alone, the Image of the Father, Who could recreate man made after the Image.
In order to effect this re-creation, however, He had first to do away with death and corruption. Therefore He assumed a human body, in order that in it death might be destroyed once for ail, and that men might be renewed according to the Image. The Image of the Father only was sufficient for this need. Here is an illustration.
When a portrait that has been painted on a panel is obliterated through external stains, the artist does not discard the portrait. He calls the subject of the portrait to sit again, so the likeness can be re-drawn on the same material. So it is with the All-Holy Son of God. He, the Image of the Father, came and dwelt in our midst, in order that He might renew men made after Himself, and seek out His lost sheep, even as He says in the Gospel: "I came to seek and to save that which was lost". This also explains His saying to the Jews: "Except a man be born anew...", He was not referring to natural birth from a mother, as they thought, but to the re-birth and recreation of the soul in the Image of God.
In all naturalness and fitness, desiring to do good to men, as Man He comes, taking to Himself a body like the rest: and through His actions done in that body, as it were on their own level, He teaches those who would not learn by their own means to know Himself, the Word of God, and through Him the Father. [From: Holy Dormition Orthodox Church newsletter, Cumberland, Rhode Island]
The Gospel According to Matthew 21:13
The Temple of God is holy. It is Heaven on earth. It is a haven of peace, prayer and well-being. But, as the Gospel teaches and as we know from experience, it is surrounded and challenged by the chaos, corruption, darkness and sinfulness of the fallen world. As we enter God's House, we do so with faith and reverence (The Great Litany). While there, we lay aside all earthly cares, that we may receive the King of all, Who comes invisibly up-born by the angelic hosts (The Cherubic Hymn).
The Eucharistic Canon tells us to stand aright and with fear in God's Temple. Literally, this means to be beautiful in body and in soul, with the beauty of God's Kingdom, and not of the fallen world, and to be filled with awe for God.
As believers, we cannot behave or dress in the temple in ways that challenge the heavenly beauty and awe for God, which liturgy works to perfect in us. Our individual demeanor and personal appearance should demonstrate holiness and not the casual and fleeting fashions of unstable society. I will enter Thy house and will worship Thy holy temple in fear of Thee (Priest's Entrance Prayer). [From: Holy Dormition Orthodox Church newsletter, Cumberland, Rhode Island]
O GOD, who for a testimony to the path of innocency didst cause the soul of blessed Scholastica, thy Virgin, to enter heaven in the appearance of a dove : grant unto us, that by her intercession we may walk in such innocency of life ; that we may be worthy to attain to everlasting felicity. Through Jesus Christ thy Son, our Lord, who with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen. [Collect, St. Scholastica, February 10/23]
From the Dialogues of St. Gregory the Pope
It was the custom of that worshipful woman, Scholastica, sister to our Father Benedict, to come to see her brother once every year. And there was a day when she came, as her custom was, and they passed the whole day together, praising God, and speaking one to the other of spiritual things. Then the holy woman his sister besought him saying : Leave me not, I pray thee, this night, but let us speak even until morning of the gladness of the eternal life. But he answered her : I can by no means remain outside of my cell. Now the firmament was so clear that there were no clouds in the sky. And the holy nun, when she had heard the words of her brother, that he would not abide with her, clasped her hands on the table, and laid her face on her hands, and besought the Lord Almighty. And it came to pass that when she lifted up her head from the table, there were great thunderings and lightnings, and a flood of rain, insomuch that neither the worshipful Benedict, nor the brethren that were with him, could move so much as a foot over the threshold of the place where they sat. * Now the man of God, when he saw that he could not return to his monastery, because of the lightnings and thunderings and great rain, was sorrowful and grieved, saying : Almighty God forgive thee, my sister ; what is this that thou hast done? To whom she gave answer : Behold, I besought thee, and thou wouldest not hear ; I besought my God, and he hath heard me. And so it came to pass that they slept not all that night, but fed one another with discourse on spiritual things. * And when the morning was come, the worshipful woman arose, and went unto her own cell, and the man of God went back to his monastery. And, behold, after three days he was sitting in his cell, and he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and saw the soul of his sister, as though set free from the body, and flying to heaven in a bodily shape like unto a dove. Wherefore he rejoiced because of the glory that was revealed in her, and gave thanks to Almighty God in hymns and praises. And he commanded his brethren to go and take up her body and bring it to his monastery, and lay it in the grave which he had made ready for himself. Whereby it came to pass that they twain who had ever been of one mind in the Lord, even in death were not divided.
Brethren and fathers, it is a universal law on this day for those who live in the world to stop eating meat and one may see among them great competition in meat-eating and wine-bibbing, and even spectacles of outrageous pastimes which it is shameful to speak about.
It is necessary to participate with moderation and to give thanks to the Lord for what we have and to make worthy preparation for the banquet before us; while they possessed by the wiles of the devil do the opposite, demonstrating that they have accepted one rather than the other.
Why have I mentioned these things? So that we humble monks may not direct our thoughts in that direction, nor desire their desire, which is not worthy of desire, but rather of misery; let us rather turn to consider the Gospel we are going to listen to, thinking, while the canon is being chanted, about the great and manifest day of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, when the judge will stand the sheep on his right but the goats on his left.
And to those on the right he will utter that blessed and most longed for invitation, Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; while to those on the left he will utter that most unwelcome and piteous sentence, Depart from me, accursed, into the everlasting fire that was prepared for the devil and his angels.
These words are full of dread, fear and alarm; they should make us, and them, as we reflect fall down and weep and make God merciful to us, before he has come to test those who listen. But although they are thus, let us, I beg, hear and heed the message of the Gospel, striving keenly to serve the Lord with fear and trembling, removing all wickedness from the soul, introducing instead all knowledge of good works, compassionate pity, goodness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, and whatever else is good and estimable, that when we have led lives worthy of the Gospel of Christ we may become heirs of the kingdom of heaven, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom belong glory and might with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen. [Catechesis on the great and manifest day of our Lord Jesus Christ, spoken by St Theodore the Studite on Meatfare Sunday]
The following is an excerpt from Great Lent
by Alexander Schmemann
From: Chapter 2: Preparation for Lent
It is love again that constitutes the theme of "Meat-Fare Sunday." The Gospel lesson for the day is Christ's parable of the Last Judgment (Matt. 25:31-46). When Christ comes to judge us, what will be the criterion of His judgment? The parable answers: love -- not a mere humanitarian concern for abstract justice and the anonymous "poor," but concrete and personal love for the human person, any human person, that God makes me encounter in my life....
Christian love is the "possible impossibility" to see Christ in another man, whoever he is, and whom God, in His eternal and mysterious plan, has decided to introduce into my life, be it only for a few moments, not as an occasion for a "good deed" or an exercise in philanthropy, but as the beginning of an eternal companionship in God Himself. For, indeed, what is love if not that mysterious power which transcends the accidental and the external in the "other" -- his physical appearance, social rank, ethnic origin, intellectual capacity -- and reaches the soul, the unique and uniquely personal "root" of a human being, truly the part of God in him?
If God loves every man it is because He alone knows the priceless and absolutely unique treasure, the "soul" or "person" He gave every man. Christian love then is the participation in that divine knowledge and the gift of that divine love. There is no "impersonal" love because love is the wonderful discovery of the "person" in "man," of the personal and unique in the common and general. It is the discovery in each man of that which is "lovable" in him, of that which is from God.
The parable of the Last Judgement is about Christian love. Not all of us are called to work for "humanity," yet each one of us has received the gift and the grace of Christ's love. We know that all men ultimately need this personal love -- the recognition in them of their unique soul in which the beauty of the whole creation is reflected in a unique way.
We also know that men are in prison and are sick and thirsty and hungry because that personal love has been denied them. And, finally, we know that however narrow and limited the framework of our personal existence, each one of us has been made responsible for a tiny part of the Kingdom of God, made responsible by that very gift of Christ's love. Thus, on whether or not we have accepted this responsibility, on whether we have loved or refused to love, shall we be judged. For "inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, you have done it unto Me..."
Call on the Lord in the time of trouble. God's eyes see your needs, God's ears hear your prayers, and God is near when your heart is broken.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the Lord delivers him out of them all. He guards all his bones; Not one of them is broken. [Ps 34: 19-20]
On this day is commemorated blessed Valentine, a priest of Rome who was martyred for Christ, probably in the persecution of Claudius the Goth, about the year 269. He was buried on the Flaminian Way; and about 350 a church was built over his tomb, and later a catacomb was constructed thereunder, wherein were buried the remains of many Martyrs. This church, with its cemetery, was the first to greet the eyes of pilgrims coming to Rome to visit the sepulchres of the ancient heroes of the Faith, and therefore his cultus grew, and spread through the world. But in the early years of the ninth century, his body was transferred to the basilica of St. Praxedes lest, being outside the walls of the City, it should be desecrated by the Saracens. The popular story is that holy Valentine was cajoled with promises in order to wean him from Christ ; and that when these failed, he was beaten with clubs, and finally beheaded. In England, from the time of Chaucer onwards, there was a belief that on his feast-day the birds began to choose their mates. From which arose the custom of arranging betrothals in Saint Valentine's Tide ; and in honour of the fidelity of this servant of God, those who were betrothed called each other Valentine, as a pledge of their mutual fidelity, in token that those who wed are united together in Christ, of whose unbreakable union with humanity in his Church, the Sacrament of Marriage is ever an outward and visible sign. [St. Valentine, February 14/27]
The work of God within us needs spiritual ears that are able to hear His voice and respond. The one who has two ears is the person who hears with joy whatever glorifies God and builds people for he loves God and men.
He who have ears to hear, let him hear!
When ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance. [Benedictus antiphon, Ash Wednesday]
When thou doest thine alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.
Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. Verily I say unto thee, I will come and heal him.
Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways.
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil and when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.
Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought: and overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of them that sold doves.
This crooked and perverse generation seeketh after a sign: and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas.
Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon: and behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried, saying, have mercy on me, thou Son of David.
An Angel of the Lord went down from heaven, and troubled the water, and one was healed.
And Jesus taketh his disciples, and goeth up into a mountain, and was transfigured before them.
As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but rather that he turn from his way and live.
The days of penitence are come to us, for the redemption of our sins, and the saving of our souls.
I am the Beginning, even I that speak unto you.
Let us approve ourselves in much patience, in many fastings, by the armour of righteousness.
One is your Master, which is in heaven, even Christ the Lord.
By the armour of the righteousness of the power of God, let us approve ourselves in much patience.
Behold, we go up to Jerusalem: and the Son of man shall be betrayed to be crucified.
Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near. [Isa. 55:6]
Turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your heart, and not your garments, saith the Lord Almighty. [Joel 2:12-13]
Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things.
He will miserably destroy those wicked men: and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon-him: and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. [Isa 55:7]
I will go to my father, and will say unto him: Father, make me as one of thy hired servants.
Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the poor that are cast out to thine house: when thou seest the naked, cover thou him; and hide not thyself from thine own flesh. [Isa 58:7]
And when Jesus had cast out the devil, the dumb spake, and the people wondered.
Cry aloud, spare not; lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. [Isa.58:1]
Verily I say unto you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.
Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them. [Joel 2:17]
If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father, saith the Lord.
Hearken, and understand ye the traditions which the Lord hath given you.
And devils also came out of many, crying out and saying: Thou art Christ the Son of God. And he, rebuking them, suffered them not to speak: for they knew that he was Christ.