Bright and Magical Week

“You’ve just completed the forty day fast, what are you going to do now?”

“I’m going to Disney World!”

Not the typical answer but that’s what we decided to do with our Bright Week this year. We arrived yesterday afternoon in Orlando. This morning I served with Fr. Ljubisa Brnjos at the St. Petka Serbian Church in Orlando and tomorrow, God willing, we’ll visit the enchanted kingdom.

“We worship Thy Passion…”

Our faith is a mystery.

For us Christians, there is a logical explanation to all of our Lord’s miracles since we believe that He is truly the Son of God. We confess Him as our Lord and our God, Creator of the heavens and the earth to whom “all things are possible”. Yet, we cannot explain His crucifixion. We cannot explain how He endured the slapping  and spitting upon; it baffles us to imagine Him being ridiculed, scourged and crucified.

If it doesn’t baffle us, then it should certainly amaze us that He did this out of His unceasing love for mankind. This love is a personal love directed at each of us individually. Great and Holy Friday is a day we commemorate not the shameful death of Christ, for to the Romans and the Jews, which is to say – to those of this world, seeing Christ crucified is shameful but to us it is a revealing of God’s glory, of His love for mankind made manifest, an unmatched love that no words can describe.

How glorious is our Orthodox Church and radiantly does She shine on these days!

Repitition in the Orthodox Church

Perhaps you already read this somewhere online. Someone emailed it to me:

The incident related below was forwarded to me by a local priest and I thought the reading of this account would bring a blessing to others–God’s grace is magnificent (you’ll see what I mean in just a moment).

I thought the following story might be enjoyed by many on this list* in light of recent conversations on this list about repeating things in church services. It was told to me by an OCA priest, who had heard it from a hierarch.

In Warsaw, in the 1950s, when Communism was strong, three young Communist men were walking past the cathedral on Holy Friday at about noon. The young men realized the significance of the day to Christians and came to the agreement that they ought to go into the cathedral and make a statement, on behalf of “enlightened” communists. They drew straws to decide who would make the statement, and one of the young men went in. So they went in, and, like many young men who don’t go to church, felt a little awkward and weren’t quite sure what to do.

There happened to be a hierodeacon working in the church between services who spotted the young men coming in and recognized that something was going on. He went up to the young man that was to make the statement, as he was kind of standing towards the front of the group, and asked if he could help him. The young man looked back at his friends, who motioned for him to go ahead and talk to the hierodeacon. The young man, walking with an air of purpose, said, “yes, we would like to make a statement. We don’t believe in all this nonsense, and we would like to make a statement.”

“Sure. Sure,” the monk responded. He put his arms around the young man and brought him to the front of the temple, where the Corpus was still on the Cross, while the other young men watched from a distance at the back of the temple. “I tell you what I think you should do: Look up here at Jesus crucified, and say, “You died for me, and I don’t give a damn.”

The young man thought about it, decided that that wasn’t too hard, and said, in a loud voice, “You died for me, and I don’t give a damn!”

“Very good, very good,” replied the hierodeacon. “But, of course, in the Orthodox Church we like to repeat things, so go ahead and say it again.”

The young man was a bit taken aback by that, because he thought he had finished with his statement, but he looked up at Christ on the Cross again and said, in not so loud a voice, “You died for me, and I don’t give a damn.”

“Very good, very good,” replied the hierodeacon again. “But I was thinking, and if you REALLY want to make a statement that the Orthodox will respect you should say it one last time, because we are a Trinitarian faith, and the Orthodox are always saying things in threes. Yes, I think you should definitely say it one more time.”

This time you could see that the young man was totally beaten down by this last suggestion of the monk, but he pulled himself up for one last “statement.” “You died for me,” he began, but then collapsed on his knees, sitting on the floor in front of the Cross. “And I care,” he whispered and began crying.

The priest who related this incident said that the young man in the story was the same hierarch who told him the account.

The Doors of Humility

Last week’s New Yorker published a story in the fiction section by Sana Krasikov whose Americanized Russian character was discovering a church. She writes:

“Olya walked up the steps of the church and tested the brass handle. The door was so low that to go through it one had to bend to a posture of humility.”

I instantly thought of my own church and thought to myself, If I only changed the height of the doors maybe I can change….

The Oil of Gladness

Just as Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday serve as a kind of celebratory oasis during the lenten days, Great and Holy Wednesday, in the midst of Passion Week, has the same affect on me. Especially the evening Unction service. In our small Orthodox community in northwest Pennsylvania we always have a pan-Orthodox service at the small Greek Church in Farrell.

We were serving this evening and as one of the priests was reading the prayers I gazed upon the oil. There was nothing special about it, nothing holy, nothing other-worldly or powerful or mighty or any of that. It was just oil. And yet at the end of the service as the clergy put a drop of the sanctified oil in medicine bottles which we distribute to the people the Greek priest, Fr. Ignatios, will remind the people to be careful with it, to keep it in a safe place away from children, to use it only in time of need, etc. Regardless of how “normal” it looks, it’s holy oil.

What makes it holy? Surely it’s the prayers of the clergy, the prayers of the Church that has sanctified it; it’s the prayers we’ve read and the priest blessing it with each different prayer. It is certainly the very Word of God that we hear with each gospel reading that pours itself into the oil, making it the “oil of gladness”. But together with the sanctity of the oil goes, hand in hand, our faith and our piety and our fear of God. As Christ tells those that came to Him seeking healing, “your faith has made your well.”

Similarly this fast we are about to complete is powered not by how strictly we fasted, how many prostrations we did or any of that. It’s sanctified by our faith, our “contrite and humble heart”. Now we are fasting and abstaining but soon, at the Resurrection Matins, we will hear the homily of St. John Chrysostom when the one who has fasted from day one and the one who just started yesterday will receive the same prize. That’s the faith that moves mountains and turns everything holy.

May God shine His blessings upon us the remainder of these days of the fast and all of our days. Amen.