Forgiveness Sunday, also called Cheesefare Sunday, is the final day of preparation for the Great Fast. At the the Divine Liturgy we hear the Gospel from St. Matthew, 6: 14-21. It is a short reading but it sets the condition for the Fast. That condition is forgiveness. Genuine forgiveness and seeking forgiveness is the proof of our love and the proof of our desire to repent. There is no love and therefore no repentance without genuine forgiveness to those who have wronged us and our seeking forgiveness from those we have offended..
Lent begins on this Sunday with a special Vespers called Forgiveness Vespers, a service that directs us further on the path of repentance and helps us to acknowledge our need for forgiveness from God and to seek forgiveness from our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is the first time that the Lenten prayer of St. Ephraim accompanied by prostrations is read..
At the end of these Vespers we approach one another and seek forgiveness and give forgiveness. This is NOT social time or a time of silliness and making jokes. It is serious because it sets the tone for our lenten journey. But why seek forgiveness of the other whom we may not have offended? Because in Christ we are members of one another. We are one body, one family in Christ. In a family when one member sins the entire family is affected. This is true of the Church family, the Body of Christ. For this reason the entire church family gathers for these Vespers and seeks the forgiveness of one another in love. We ask in love for the prayers and the forgiveness for all our sins. There can be no journey to Pascha, our passover into the Kingdom of God, without this.
Through each experience of forgiveness, we expand our awareness of God’s love. We may find it easy enough to forgive someone for a simple slight, but when the actions of someone affect us in ways that seem hurtful, how do we find forgiveness in our heart and mind?
We allow ourselves to be inspired by God to remain loving and forgiving even during situations that seem to be going wrong because of someone’s actions When we forgive another’s words or actions, we are helping ourselves by allowing peace to flow through us. We experience a renewed sense of freedom as we let go of the burdens of anger and resentment. Every opportunity to forgive is an opportunity for growth.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me..” Psalm 51:10
Back to Top
Today's Gospel reading is Matthew 25:31-46, the parable of the Last Judgment. It reminds us that while trusting in Christ's love and mercy, we must not forget His righteous judgment when He comes again in glory. If our hearts remain hardened and unrepentant, we should not expect the Lord to overlook our transgressions simply because He is a good and loving God. Although He does not desire the death of a sinner, He also expects us to turn from our wickedness and live (Ezek. 33:11). This same idea is expressed in the prayer read by the priest after the penitent has confessed his or her sins (Slavic practice).
The time for repentance and forgiveness is now, in the present life. At the Second Coming, Christ will appear as the righteous Judge, Who will render to every man according to his deeds" (Rom. 2:6). Then the time for entreating God's mercy and forgiveness will have passed.
As Father Alexander Schmemann reminds us in his book GREAT LENT (Ch. 1:4), sin is the absence of love, it is separation and isolation. When Christ comes to judge the world, His criterion for judgment will be love. Christian love entails seeing Christ in other people, our family, our friends, and everyone else we may encounter in our lives. We shall be judged on whether we have loved, or not loved, our neighbor. We show Christian love when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit those who are sick or in prison. If we did such things for the least of Christ's brethren, then we also did them for Christ (Mt.25:40). If we did not do such things for the least of the brethren, neither did we do them for Christ (Mt.25:45).
Today is the last day for eating meat and meat products until Pascha, though eggs and dairy products are permitted every day during the coming week. This limited fasting prepares us gradually for the more intense fasting of Great Lent.
Back to Top
Fast from judging others. - Feast on Christ dwelling in them.
Fast from apparent darkness. - Feast on the reality of Light.
Fast from pessimism. - Feast on optimism.
Fast from thoughts of illness. - Feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from words that pollute. - Feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from anger. - Feast on patience.
Fast from worry. - Feast on Divine Providence.
Fast from unrelenting pressure .. - Feast on unceasing prayer.
Fast from negatives. – Feast on positives.
Fast from complaining. - Feast on appreciation.
Fast from hostility. - Feast on non-resistance.
Fast from bitterness. - Feast on forgiveness.
Fast from anxiety. - Feast on hope.
Fast from yourself. - Feast on a silent heart.
Back to Top
On November 21, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of the Mother of God into the Temple. It is fitting that as we soon begin to prepare for Christmas our thoughts should turn to the Mother of God, whose humble and silent expectation should be the model of our own expectations. The nearer we draw to Mary through our prayer, our obedience and our purity, the more will be formed in us He who is about to be born.
The Spiritual meaning of this feast is developed in the various texts for the services and Liturgy. The two principle themes that we find there are the following: first, the holiness of Mary. The small child who is separated from the world and brought to live in the Temple evokes the idea of a life set apart, consecrated, 'presented to the Temple', a life of intimacy with God: 'Today the All Pure and All Holy enters the Holy of Holies'. It is clear that here the Church makes a special allusion to virginity, but all human life, in its different measures, can be a life that is 'presented to the Temple', a life that is holy and pure with God. The second theme is the comparison of the Temple made of stone and the living Temple: 'The most pure Temple of the Saviour. .. today is led into the house of the Lord, bringing with her the grace of the divine Spirit'. Mary, who will bear the God-man in her womb, is a holier temple than the sanctuary at Jerusalem; it is fitting that these two Temples should meet, but here it is the living Temple which sanctifies the Temple which is built. The superiority of the living Temple over the Temple of stone is true in a special way of Mary. because she was the instrument of the incarnation. But, in a more general manner, this is true of every man who is united with God: 'Know ye not that ye are the temple of God ... Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. .. ?'
If our soul is a temple where God wishes to live, it is fitting that Mary should be 'presented' to it: our soul must be open to Mary so that she may dwell in this temple - our own personal temple .. Then again, because the whole assembly of the faithful is the body of Christ and the Temple of God, let us think of this feast as the Presentation of Mary into this Temple - the holy, universal Church. The Temple, which is the catholic church, pays homage to the Temple which is Mary.
- The Year of Grace of the Lord
by a Monk of the Eastern Church
Back to Top
The words above pose a question about the meaning of the next Beatitude. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.". In Mark 7:21-23, our Lord cautions us concerning the "evil things that come from within and defile a man. " He candidly illustrates that " ... out of the heart of men proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornication, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride and foolishness." Clearly then, the heart can harbor a multitude of sinful actions.
If we are ever to "see God" and live eternally in His Heavenly Kingdom, it is essential for us to have a "pure heart." A pure heart is developed rather than acquired. We do so by devoting ourselves to serving and worshipping God. We must also live in temperance, guarding against sins of excess that take our thoughts away from spiritual matters and direct them to worldly concerns. . When our soul is not dominated by sinful passions, its only desire is doing the work and the will of God. Purity of heart requires complete suppression and constant remembrance of God and His Commandments.
"Seeing God" is the goal of every Orthodox Christian, for being deprived of this blessed privilege places us in a place of torment throughout eternity. Let us strive to live in a manner that will enable us to enjoy the fullness of God's glory on the last day, and " ... see Him as He is. For everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure."
(1 John 3:2-3)
Back to Top
It is fitting that our Holy Orthodox Church chooses to honor her two greatest Apostles on the same day. Peter, whose missionary labors centered on winning converts from Judaism, is often referred to as the "rock" because of his strong, firm faith. It was Peter, who boldly proclaimed his belief that Jesus was "the Son of the living God" in response to Christ's direct question: "And who do you say I am?" Paul, who concentrated his ministry on taking the Gospel to the GeTWO TRUMPETS OF CHRIST'S DIVINE TEACHINGS
ntiles - those who were not Jews - is commonly called the "chosen vessel" of Christ's Church. Paul, in his own words, "labored more than any other Apostle." Through his tireless preaching among the Gentiles, the early Church grew and expanded at a rapid rate.
It must be said, however, that both of these Apostles once fell woefully short of living up to the accolades they now receive. We might even consider them to have been dismal failures in their early years! Despite his boasting, Peter's faith was weak. Remember how he tried to walk on the sea as Christ did, only to sink when his fears overcame his faith? Who could ever forget the shameful way he thrice denied that he even knew who Jesus was? In his own youth, Paul had no intention of winning souls for Christ. On the contrary, we know that he aggressively persecuted those who professed to be Christians, personally being responsible for the arrest and conviction of many believers.
SS. Peter and Paul were both touched by the Lord and became changed men. They became totally committed to their divine commission. Nothing short of martyrdom was able to prevent them from carrying the message of the Saviour to all parts of the known world.
Back to Top
Would you like to be a saint? "I would love to," we might say, "but it isn't possible." All of us tend to view saints as being men and women with god-like characteristics and super-human spiritual qualities. In reality, EVERY ONE of God's saints was EXACTLY like us! They were all "mere mortals" dealing with the same doubts, fears and temptations that we all must face as we travel down life's rugged road.
Throughout the centuries, countless individuals have distinguished themselves spiritually to such a degree that they will be forever remembered and eternally commemorated by the Church as "saints." The Church, however, wisely realizes that there are scores of others, whose names are known but to God, who are equally deserving of recognition and praise. For this reason, our Holy Orthodox Church annually sets aside the Sunday after Pentecost and designates it as the SUNDAY OF ALL SAINTS.
The liturgical readings prescribed for this Sunday are a written testimony of what some of the prerequisites for sainthood are. St. Paul speaks to the Hebrews about the inner strength and resolve that the saints possessed, which enabled them to endure "trials of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment." Truly the sufferings of Christians continue to be the foundation of the Church to this present day! In today's Gospel lesson, our Lord reminds us that" ... everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for My Name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life."
There, then, are our guidelines for achieving sainthood! All we have to do is to be willing to sacrifice ALL for the sake of Christ, and be willing to remain faithful and loyal to Him AT ALL COST! Certainly, this is no simple matter, but it is far from being impossible. The "cloud of witnesses" that we call "saints" are a testimony to that.
Back to Top
God had something special in mind when He made the first father. He assigned him a specific role in life. All of a father's activities are measured against that standard.
A little boy needs a father. He needs someone to teach him how to be a man, to take him by the hand and lead him through the maze of life, to teach him to be strong, gentle, loving, and to be a defender of the right.
A little girl needs a father, too. She needs a father to protect her, to counsel her on life's problems, to teach her how to be a woman.
The home needs a father to serve as provider, protector, spiritual leader, and counselor. While the world seldom hears what a father says to his children, the effects of his counsel will be felt by the next generation, and the next, and the next.
The Bible has these words of instruction for fathers: "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church" (Eph. 5:25). "Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord"
Back to Top
The Bible urges us to pray without ceasing. To pray, however, is not just to commune with God verbally. To pray is also to visit the sick and help the poor. Prayer is a stewardship of the total person dedicated to knowing, loving and serving God. The following story from the Desert Fathers illustrates the point:
Once some Euchites came to visit Abba Lucius in the Enaton, near Alexandria. When he asked them what type of work they did, they replied, ' , We never lift a finger to do manual labor; instead we pray without ceasing, in accordance with the Apostle's command." The Eldersaid to them, "Don't you eat, then?" "We do," they assured him. "When you are eating, who prays in your place?" No answer. He asked them another question: "When you are sleeping, who keeps up your prayers?" They could give him no answer. Then he went on: "I beg your pardon, but you do not do what you say you do.
Let me show you how I manage to pray always even when I busy myself at manual labor. I sit down with my supply of palm fronds soaking beside me and as I weave them together I say, with God's help, 'Have mercy on me, 0 God, according to your great goodness, and wipe out my transgressions according to your abundant mercy' (Ps. 51:1).
Tell me, is this not a prayer?" They assured him that it was. Then he said: "By working and praying like this all day long, I can complete around sixteen baskets. I give away two of these to any beggar who comes to my door. I make my living from the rest. And the man who has received the gift of two baskets prays for me while I am eating and sleeping. That is how, by God's grace, I manage to pray without ceasing."
Back to Top
A church noted for its clever messages on its outdoor sign recently carried this catchy phrase: "FEELING DOWN? START LOOKING UP!"
The message, of course, is quite clear: when we are troubled and depressed, we should turn to the Lord and seek His divine help. Ironically, when we read the account of Christ's Ascension into heaven in the Book of Acts, we find the Apostles doing just the opposite: they were LOOKING UP, but FEELING DOWN! Christ had literally been caught up in the clouds, disappearing from their sight. Now they were alone -- the Master they had served and followed for 3 years was gone. We can certainly appreciate the less - than - joyful demeanor that each of them must have exhibited immediately after the Ascension.
Quickly, however, the Apostles were brought back to reality by the appearance of two angels. Their message to them was this: "Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into the heavens? This same Jesus Who was taken up into heaven will, one day, return in like manner." (Acts 1:11)
If we look upon an icon of the Ascension, we see Christ represented in such a manner that it is difficult to determine whether He is ascending or descending. This is to remind us that we are already living under Christ's reign -- we are merely waiting for Him to return and establish His Kingdom in its fullness. We should not be standing by idly like the Apostles as we await His return, but rather we should be preparing for it by living righteous lives, bringing others to Christ by our example and through our labors.
Back to Top
The Feast Day of the DESCENT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (PENTECOST) is one of the most important days on our church calendar. The Book of Acts recounts how the Apostles, the Theotokos and other disciples of the Lord were gathered in Jerusalem for the Hebrew festival of Pentecost, which commemorated the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai. They were all together in the same room where the Mystical Supper had taken place. Why were they there? Because Christ had commanded them to do so, asking them to wait there for the fulfilling of the "Promise of the Father."
On the morning of the first Christian Pentecost, that promise was fulfilled.
With the mighty rushing of the wind and with tongues of fire, the Holy Spirit came down upon the Apostles, giving them the strength and courage to carry out Christ's great commission to " ... go and teach all nations." These frightened men were transformed into fearless preachers of the Good News, witnessing to Christ not only in Jerusalem, but " ... in all Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1 :8) Peter alone was responsible for the conversion and baptism of some 3,000 souls on the day the Holy Spirit descended upon Christ's faithful followers.
The work of the Church began on Pentecost, and it continues to this day. It is our sacred calling to gather others into the "net" of the Church, for we, too, are "fishers of men."
On this great Feast, it is customary to decorate our churches with greenery and flowers, thus expressing our joy and thanksgiving to God for renewing us through the Lifegiving Spirit.
Back to Top
In the Church. we speak frequently of three virtues: faith, hope and love. Of the three, the virtue of hope seems to receive the least amount of attention. Without it, however, faith and love would never be able to flourish.
What is hope? How can we define it? The dictionary definition -- "to desire with the expectation of fulfillment" -- is hardly adequate in a Christian context. Hope is knowing that even at the darkest of moments, God is there to lighten our path. Hope is the confident trust in the Lord that we have which keeps us from falling into the depths of despair. Hope is believing that we are never alone, causing us to call to remembrance Christ's own words: "LO, I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS." (Matthew 28:20)
In his letter to the Romans, Paul reminds us of the power of hope in our lives:
"Now hope never disappoints, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, Who was given to us." (Romans 5:5)
It has been said that hope provides us with the vision of light at the end of a tunnel. That vision, according to the teachings of our Holy Orthodox Church, is the Resurrected Christ. The Apostle Paul says as much when he points out to the Thessalonians that they should not grieve "without hope," for, as he instructs them, " ... if we believe that Jesus died and ROSE AGAIN, even so, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus." (1 Thessalonians 4:14)
May we never find ourselves without hope, for if we do, we will find ourselves without God!
CHRIST IS RISEN! INDEED HE IS RISEN!
Back to Top
A Christian is:
A mind through which Christ thinks.
A heart through which Christ loves.
A voice through which Christ speaks.
A hand through which Christ helps.
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A CHRISTIAN
A Christian is slow to lose patience and quick to be gracious.
A Christian looks for a way to be constructive, even when provoked.
A Christian refrains from trying to impress others with his own importance.
A Christian practices good manners.
A Christian is not “touchy”, even when insulted.
A Christian thinks the best, not the worst, of others. He is wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove in dealing with others.
A Christian does not gloat over the wickedness of other people.
Above all else, a Christian exhibits the love of Christ in his heart and life.
Back to Top
It takes a mother’s love to make a house a home
A place to be remembered, no matter where we roam.
It takes a mother’s patience to bring a child up right
-- And her courage and her cheerfulness to make a dark
It takes a mother’s kindness to forgive us when we err
-- To sympathize in trouble and bow her head in prayer.
It takes a mother’s wisdom to recognize our needs
And give us reassurance by her loving words and
It takes a mother’s endless faith, her confidence and trust
To guide us through the pitfalls of selfishness and lust.
And that is why in all this world there can never be another
– Who will fulfill God’s purposes as completely as a
mother. Author Unknown
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY
Back to Top
Matins is the morning prayer of the church and is one of several canonical hours the church prays during a 24 hour day. The word “Matins” is from the Latin matutinum meaning “morning hours”, but in Greek the word is “Orthros” mean “daybreak” or “early dawn.” Of the various canonical hours (vespers, matins, compline, lauds, nocturne, first, third, sixth, ninth), only matins, along with vespers, antedates Christianity finding its origins in the synagogue prayer of the Old Testament (Jewish) church. Unlike the western church, the eastern church to this day keeps alive the canonical hours of vespers and matins in parochial settings. Central to the entire service of matins are the themes of God’s revelation and light.
Probably the longest and most complex (and the least studied) of the daily cycle of services, matins at SS. Peter and Paul Church, is served only an hour before the divine liturgy on Lord’s Days (as done in the Greek parochial tradition) in a truncated form while retaining all the essential elements that distinguish the service from other canonical hours. Instead of a potential three hour service, the abridgment makes the service of 45 minutes duration (8:15-9:00).
Full matins, as received to this date, is so unwieldy and encrusted with layers upon layers of various accretions over the centuries including elements from other canonical hours. For this reason as well as the need to make matins practicable for parishioners, Fr. Timm has pared the service down considerably, with all essential elements except one:
Here are basic elements of matins as served at SS. Peter and Paul:
Ekphonesis by the priest, i.e. Blessed is our God… followed by the trisagion prayers (Holy God…; Glory be…; O Most Holy Trinity…; Our Father…)
Blessing by the priest: Glory be the holy, consubstantial… followed by Glory to God in the highest…. And O Lord, open my lips… by the reader
Hexapsalmos or Six Psalms 3, 38, 63, 88, 103 and 143 of which we only do three, usually the first three; Great Litany
Theos Kyrios… or God is the Lord… followed by the Resurrectional Troparion (according to the octoechos cycle), the Polyeleion (“Many times merciful” abbreviated from Psalms 134 and 135) and the Evlogetaria (Blessed are You, O Lord, teach me Your statutes)
Prokeimenon according to the octoechos cycle; Let every breath praise the Lord!
Gospel followed by Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ… in the 6th tone.
Prayer of intercession by the priest after which the faithful venerate the Gospel on the tetrapod in front of the iconostasis
Irmoi (1,3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) of the canon of the Resurrection interspersed with three small litanies and the Magnificat (My soul magnifies the Lord…)
Holy is the Lord our God; Exapostilarion (hymn related to the day’s Gospel)
Psalm of Praises (149); Theotokion (Troparion to the Theotokos)
Great Doxology; Troparion; Litanies of Fervent Supplication and Supplication
Even in its abbreviated form matins, as served in our parish, is akin to a course in Theology 101, i.e. it comprises all the basic teachings of the Church.
Missing from our form of Matins is the customary Psalm 50 (51) or Psalm of Confession after the veneration of the Gospel by the faithful. Its deletion, in addition to making an abridged version of matins more acceptable to parishioners, is also due to the fact that the faithful usually hear or recite Psalm 50 during our monthly Rite of General Confession and during the Third Hour read between Lord’s Day matins and the divine liturgy. Historically Psalm 50 marks the actual beginning of the ancient matins before which are inserted the prayers that are largely drawn from mesonyktikon or midnight office.
Of the Hexapsalmos (Six Psalms), Psalm 3, though from the night office, refers to the actual rising from sleep; the second Psalm 18 (19) has traditionally been used for morning and is appropriate for the beginning of the day; Psalm 62 (63) is the morning psalm par excellence.
The Gospel readings (only on Lord’s Days) are from the eleven-part cycle (Eothina) of Resurrectional Gospels followed by a long intercessory prayer and a set of hymns and readings called the Canon based on Old Testament canticles concluding with the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).
The Psalms of Praises (usually 148, 149 and 150) are reduced to Psalm 149. This part of the order of matins is known as lauds (in Greek, “ainoi” for praises) after which follow the Theotokion, Great Doxology, Troparion, two litanies and the dismissal.
Matins as we received it today actually contains elements of the midnight office, matins proper, and lauds, but its practice is ancient hearkening back to the synagogue and temple worship. In Deuteronomy prayer is prescribed in morning and in evening. In the Didache (c 95-115 A.D.), we are exhorted to prayer thrice daily, i.e. in the evening, morning and at mid-day, conforming to the natural cycles of time. Even in subapostolic times, Clement of Rome in his letter to the Corinthians (c.95 A.D.) writes that “We must do all things in order…but at definite times and hours.” The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus prescribes morning prayer later supported by early ante-nicene church fathers as Cyprian of Carthage, Tertullian, and Origen. Although there have been changes over time, morning prayer, i.e. matins, has maintained a continuity in the pattern of prayer as seen in the framework of prayer life of our Lord Jesus, his apostles, and the praying church (ecclesia orans) since then.
Our parish is then among the relatively few who serve matins, praying not just for ourselves but for all mankind and it is for us the first prayer of the new week, a wonderful and efficacious beginning of offering praise to God for His goodness and gratitude for His generosity. It is also an opportunity for each of us literally to join our voices to these common prayers. Please join us, even if for one Sunday of the month, and let us offer our morning prayer to the Lord acknowledging His blessings and His reign over us (Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father…).
Back to Top
A news article recently told of an 80 year old man who did an in-depth study of his life by calculating the amount of time he spent doing certain things. He determined that some 26 years of his life were spent sleeping, 21 years were spent working and some 10 years were given over to watching television and relaxing. His breakdown of life's activities was so extensive that he even determined that he had spent 2 years of his life "patiently" waiting for his wife to get ready before going out!
While this was somewhat of a frivolous article, it did pose a serious question: why was there no mention in this analysis of time spent in prayer, in church and in doing good deeds? Some may have thought that the man lived a full life, but Christ would undoubtedly say that he lived the life of a fool.
If we were to make a similar study of our own use of time, what would it show? How much of our day is taken up with prayer and the reading of the Bible? How many hours in any given week are devoted to public worship? What amount of time is truly given in service to the Lord? While we may rightly claim that it is impossible for us to accurately keep track of such things, we must remember this: GOD S "KEEPING SCORE!"
If we attempt to rationalize our lack of attentiveness to our Master and His work by saying we are "too busy," then, indeed, WE ARE too busy! God always has time for all of His children ... we must make time for Him as well.
Back to Top