Tuesday, April 30, 2013

St. Ephraim the Syrian - On the Power of the Cross

The Cross abolished idolatrous adulation, enlightened the whole universe, gathered all the nations into one Church and united them with love. The Cross is the resurrection of the dead. The Cross is the hope of Christians. The Cross is the staff for the lame. The Cross is comfort for the poor. The Cross is the deposing of the proud. The Cross is the hope of those who despair. The Cross is food for the sailors. The Cross is haven for the bestormed. The Cross is the father for orphans. The Cross is comfort for those who mourn. The Cross is the protector of children. The Cross is the glory of men. The Cross is the crown of elders. The Cross is light for those sitting in darkness. The Cross is freedom for slaves, wisdom for the ignorant. The Cross is the preaching of prophets, the fellow-traveler of apostles. The Cross is the chastity of maidens, the joy of priests. The Cross is the foundation of the Church, the establishment of the universe. The Cross is the destruction of idolatrous temples, temptation for Jews. The Cross is the cleansing of the lepers, the rehabilitation of the enfeebled. The Cross is bread for the hungry, a fountain for the thirsty. The Cross is the good hope of monks, clothing for the naked.

By this holy armor of the Cross Christ the Lord has terminated the omniconsuming bowels of Hades and blocked the many snares in the mouth of the devil. Having seen the Cross, death trembled and released everyone whom she possessed with the first creature. Armed with the Cross, the God-bearing apostles subdued all the power of the enemy and caught all peoples in their dragnets, and gathered them for the worship of the One Crucified. Clothed in the Cross as in armor, the martyrs of Christ trampled all the plans of torturers and preached with plainness the Divine Cross-bearer. Having taken up the Cross for the sake of Christ, those who renounced everything in the world settled in deserts and on mountains, in caves and became the fasters of the earth.

But what language is worthy to praise the Cross, this invincible wall of the Orthodox, this victorious armor of the Heavenly King?! By the cross the Almighty One bestowed unspeakable blessings on humanity!

Therefore on the forehead, and on the eyes, and on the mouth, and on the breasts let us place the life-giving Cross. Let us arm them with the invincible armor of Christians, with this hope of the faithful, with this gentle light. Let us open paradise with this armor, with this support of the Orthodox faith, with this saving praise of the Church. Neither in one hour, nor in one instant, let us not forget the Cross, nor let us begin to do anything without it. But let us sleep, let us arise, let us work, let us eat, let us drink, let us go on our way, let us sail on the seas, let us go across the river, let us adorn all our members with the life-giving Cross. And let us not be frightened 'by the terror of the night, nor by the arrow that flies by day, nor by anything roaming in darkness, nor by any calamity, nor any noonday demon' (Ps. 90:5, 6). If, O Christian, you will always take up the Cross of Christ on yourself as a help, then 'evil shall not come towards you, nor any scourge come near your habitation': for the opposition power seeing it trembles and leaves.

- St. Ephraim the Syrian

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Liturgy for the life of the World

Icon from St. Silouan Orthodox Church in Toronto-Feeding of the 5000
 The Institution Narrative of the liturgy proclaims that Christ gave up his life for the world. The liturgy is the expression of the Christian for the life of the world. By seeing Christ present and partaking of Christ within Liturgy, this allows the entire the community to see Christ in the world becoming witnesses of Christ through our very actions. By allowing liturgy to become the means to our life, liturgy will become a means of mission for the entire world. The liturgy is not an archaic form of worship; the liturgy is instead the offering of the Bread of Life on behalf of all believers for the life of the world. The priest recites, during the Anaphora of St. John Chrysostom's liturgy, "Your own of your own we offer unto you on behalf of all and for all". This bread, the bread of life, is offered on behalf of all and for all. This Bread of Life is the same bread that became the sacrifice for the life of the world. Within the Byzantine tradition of Lent the third week is dedicated to the veneration of the cross. The cross is brought out and venerated as we are reminded during the half way point of Lent that the cross will become a stumbling block to those who do not believe, but to those who accept the cross, it will become the source of life. Through Christ’s own mystical death we have been received into the everlasting life. The cross has become the source of all power for the Christian who embraces it but shamefulness to those who have not accepted the calling of the cross. The weakness of the cross has become the strength to those who believe. 

St. Paul reminds us of this when he said that “my strength is made perfect in weakness”. The Cross, having become the source of power, became the power that enabled the liturgy to grow through the offering of the Bread of Life. Christ having become the sacrifice on the cross became our mediator between us and God. We are then constantly reminded of Christ because the climax of the liturgy is the unity of the one body in Christ. As we receive the Eucharist we are reminded that the liturgy is not a show that has a beginning and an end, but rather, the liturgy is constantly in motion for the life of the world through the living Eucharist. As Christ gave his life up for the world we to must learn to give up our life for the world. We have been made dead in Christ through our baptismal renewal and made alive in Christ through our Chrism and participation of the Eucharist. As the priest tosses the water at the end of the liturgy (Coptic Rite) it reminds the gathered community of our baptismal renewal that we are made alive through our own death in Christ. The living liturgy becomes that which, is lived out in His image and likeness. 

The joy of the resurrection is the expression that all Christians need to express in order for others to see Christ in us and for us to see Christ in others. If we make Christ our starting point then the living liturgy will become the expression for all Christians for the life of the world. This life made perfect in Christ is not categorized by egotistic, individualistic and capitalistic ambitions. Christ, being our starting point, lies within the community of love living in the joy of the resurrection serving as a constant reminder that liturgy is not just a mere three hour service on a Sunday morning but the liturgy is the expression of what it means to be united in Christ's body. Liturgy is the life for the world as Christ gave up his life for the world we to be called to give up the world for the life in Christ in order that all might see Christ.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Presenting the Liturgy to our Children

I came across a blog entry that I thought had to be blogged again because it presents how we can present the liturgy to our children. The following is the link to the original blog: 
"Making the Liturgy more "relatable" is the opposite direction one should take in presenting the Church to your child. Holiness speaks to a separation from the things of this world that distract us from God. Using cultural distractions to encourage participation in the services of the Church muddles this reality. If what we should be seeking after is packaged in a secular pop-culture medium a false equality and connection is made in the minds of our children that life in the Church is just another way to pass the time. Making the Way into a video game, a music video, or any other trivial entertainment serves to undermine and not reinforce your child's faith. The hard lesson that evangelical efforts to grow the Church through making it more "relevant" have been learned over and over at the expense of tradition and with little to show for it beyond empty coffers, infrequent attendance, and a "spiritual but not religious" ethos.

The Liturgy is best presented as a constant walking towards the transcendant where His people gather in reverence and anticipation of His imminent return. A child that sees himself as someone in service to a thing not only much greater than he, but also something that can transform him into the man God would have him be through service to His Church, is a child that will grow in faith and love of the Lord. "
"You may, being teachers, be interested to know how we teach our faith. Well, I could put it in a nut-shell by saying, badly, because if what I have said in the beginning makes any sense to you, it is not by making children to learn doctrinal formularies or formal prayers or any such thing that you make a person into a Christian or an Orthodox. He must be introduced into an experience. And an experience can be caught as one catches the flu, it is an infection, it’s not something which can be conveyed in a sterile manner. So that what we expect is that in the family people should have a sense of worship. I do not mean, do special things. It’s not by praying before a meal or not praying before a meal that one conveys a sense of a sacredness of the event, but I remember one of our young theologians saying, “Everything in life is an act of love divine even the food, which we eat, is divine love that has become edible.” And if the food is prepared with love, if it is served with beauty, if it is shared with reverence, if it is treated as a gift of God, a miracle, and for people of my generation and that of my parents this attitude is easy because we have gone so often without any food and in hunger, that really a peace of bread or any form of food is an act of God or an act of human love. So that is an example. The same could be applied to everything which is the life of the home — the way parents treat children and children treat parents."
+ Metropolitan Anthony Bloom,  http://masarchive.org/Sites/texts/1900-00-00-0-E-E-T-EN05-023Othodoxy.html

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Living Liturgy

How then can we be reminded of the constant theme of living out our Liturgy. Father Phillip LeMasters said it best:

The complete way of self offering to the father that is Jesus becomes our way. All of our life is to become Eucharistic, a Christ like offering of thanksgiving and praise to the father in the power of the Holy Spirit. As arch-priest Patrick Reardon has written “the goal of the holy Eucharist is not the consecration of bread and wine but the consecration of human beings”. Let us to attend to this sublime vision of the consecrated, Eucharistic life. First, think of bread and wine, the fruit of someone’s vineyard and the product of someone’s kitchen. Apart from the self-offering of Jesus Christ, bread and wine remain bread and wine. They are the product of God’s good creation, requiring both the fruits of the earth and the work of human beings. Yet they are limited to this world, this life of decay and corruption. When joined with the self-offering of the Lord, however, they become His Body and Blood, our Holy Communion in Jesus Christ, our participation in the Kingdom of Heaven and life eternal. 

The same is true of our lives. We bear the image of God but are corrupt and mortal because of the sinful path we have chosen, both collectively and personally. We have offered ourselves and our world to ourselves, being slaves of our own passions. But when by the power of the Holy Spirit we are united with our Lord’s self-offering to the Father, we are transfused and transformed by the Divine Energies. Christ is the Vine, and we are the branches. His eternal life becomes ours; we are deified, shining with the Light of a Kingdom beyond this world. Our vocation to become like God is fulfilled not by our own power but by that of the God-Man, Who has conquered sin and death on our behalf. Truly to commune with the Lord is to offer our lives to Him, to be united with Him in every facet of our existence, to participate in the life of the Kingdom of Heaven even now. Our lives become Eucharistic when, as those nourished by the Body and Blood of the Lord, we offer ourselves to God fully and without reservation. 

Father Phillip LeMasters

Liturgy, as the address of the created to the Creator; is the domain in which our Holy Fathers expressed the special relationship of the children with their heavenly Father; and the uprightness of their faith. They have lived this experience and expressed it in words cast in poems imbued with ascetic terms, resulting in prayers. These prayers reflect the life of the Church historically and theologically, the more we repeat them, the more we understand their depth and appreciate their sweetness. 
However liturgy is not a rigid thing to be repeated unconsciously. It is an expression of the human need to talk to the Lord, and to thank Him for His grace. Liturgy is spirit and life running through the veins of the body of the Church, and nurturing all its members. It revives the Church, the community and the individuals with the grace that is bestowed upon it. Hence, we are here before a precious gem. We should polish it and reveal its glorious face, stressing the essence of the liturgical practice which leads the believer to grow in Christ. It is therefore important to resort to all tools that enable the people to reach the depth of this inspiring liturgy, that they may take from it that which will help them attain salvation and understanding of the mystery of God. 
We are aware of the fact that ritual services and sacramental life are important in our parishes. Performing these services, unifying the forms and developing chanting play a special and basic role in harmonizing between the liturgical practice and the pastoral reality. Activating the pastoral aspect of Liturgy can increase the religious awareness and deepen the relationship between the created beings and the Creator. This is realized by making the language understandable to the people, and by restoring the pastoral liturgical order which takes into consideration the particular needs of parishes and the necessity of sanctifying time in a world of drastic changes. We should also restore the pastoral dimension of all sacramental practices in order that these practices may become the center of the life of the believing community, not merely as passing practices of individuals."
+ Patriarch John X, Vision for the Orthodox Church, On Liturgy.

The following was a meditation given by the Very Rev. Fr. Chad, Chancellor of St. Vladimir's ORthodox Theological seminary on Liturgy:

Friday, April 12, 2013

Mary, Mysteries and Mission- Part 4

At the annual Lenten Retreat (2013) for SVOTS Seminarians, Fr. Chad Hatfield, the Chancellor of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, discusses three assured paths to spiritual renewal as we participate in the Great Fast: Mary and the Incarnation, the Mysteries of Baptism and the Eucharist, and our vocation to Mission. This is part four of four forthcoming presentations.

Taken from Ancient Faith Radio. Here is the link to part four:


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Mary, Mysteries and Mission-Part 3

At the annual Lenten Retreat (2013) for SVOTS Seminarians, Fr. Chad Hatfield, the Chancellor of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, discusses three assured paths to spiritual renewal as we participate in the Great Fast: Mary and the Incarnation, the Mysteries of Baptism and the Eucharist, and our vocation to Mission. This is part three of four forthcoming presentations.

Taken from Ancient Faith Radio. Here is the link to part three:


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Reflections on Fasting- Part 3

The following are reflections on fasting written by Father Matthew the Poor. In the book, Communion of Love, it has a chapter entitled "The Deep Meaning of Fasting" which these reflections are taken from. A recommended read for all during the Lenten period. The book is a complication of Father Matthew's smaller booklets put into one book:

-For whoever fails to offer his life totally, or is dismayed at the prospect of self-sacrifice, and so of death, finds that his intention retreats and that he rejects death. He becomes evasive and offers an outward sacrifice, such as an act of service or an offering of money, or uses some other stratagem to avoid sacrificing his own self. So he loses his portion in Christ the Redeemer, for Christ redeems from death those who have accepted death.

-Once more we repeat that Christ, blessed be His name, cannot become a ransom for the human soul unless man offers his soul on the altar of love, in death to the world, making a total offering with all his will, relinquishing himself forever, raising the knife with his own hand in determination and earnest resolve, proving that he has accepted death.

-The Lord crucified Himself for the world before the world crucified Him. He carried out the offering of His body, His self, as a sacrifice on behalf of the world immediately after He was baptized when He was led by the Spirit. He gladly obeyed and went to face the test of fasting. This is the volitional aspect of the cross. Thus it was that the Lord was careful to institute and celebrate the rite of the Eucharist prior to the cross, not after the resurrection, to show that the sacrifice and offering were a free act.

-That is the meaning of “Take, eat . . . Take, drink . . . this is my body . . . this is my blood.” This was said a whole day before the crucifixion, but He saw that the coming events were completely in accordance with His will. He saw the cross standing and on it the body being slain and the blood being shed; He saw Himself content with it all. And so He took bread and filled it with the mystery of the broken body, and wine and filled it with the mystery of the shed blood, and He fed His disciples. They ate from His hands the mystery of His will and drank the mystery of His love, the mystery of His sufferings, the mystery of salvation. Therefore, when we share in the mystery of the body and the blood in the Eucharist, we share not only in the cross, but also in a mystical life poured out and a body that has struggled with severe fasting, deprivation, want, and pain.

-When asked what, then, is our fasting? Father Matthew replies: We fast and offer our bodies as a sacrifice; the outward form of this is bearing fatigue, but its essence is the intentional acceptance of death, that we may be counted fit to be mystically united in the flesh and blood of Christ. It is then that we become, in Christ’s sacrifice, a pure sacrifice, capable of interceding and redeeming.

-Fasting, since it is an incomplete sacrifice because of sin, has to be consummated in Communion, partaking in the pure body and blood, to become a perfect sacrifice, efficacious in prayer and intercession. Every Holy Communion Has to be preceded by fasting, and every fast has to end with Holy Communion. When we receive Communion in this way it is right for us to intercede, for our offering and sacrifice are made perfect. "Pray to receive Communion worthily. Pray for us and for all Christians” (Coptic Liturgy).

In Lent we prepare ourselves for the Last Supper. We prepare for two like things coming together. How could those who do not sacrifice themselves be worthy of Him who sacrificed His life? If we eat of a sacrificed body and do not sacrifice our own selves, how can we claim that a union takes place? The Mystical Supper on Thursday, which is the intentional acceptance of a life of sacrifice, is but a preparation for accepting sufferings openly, even unto death.

Whenever we eat of the body and drink of the blood, we are mystically prepared for preaching the death of the Lord and confessing His resurrection. Every testimony to the death and resurrection of the Lord carries with it a readiness for martyrdom. And every martyrdom carries with it a resurrection.