Twenty-eighth Sunday after Pentecost (or, the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers)

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At Vespers last night we heard not one but many different names mentioned. In one of the hymns, we sang: “…let us extol with hymns the assembly of the forefathers, Adam the first father, Enoch, Noah, and Melchizedek, Abraham, Joshua, and Samuel; and with them Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and the twelve Prophets, with Elijah and Elisha…” (Glory, Aposticha).

Although the weeks of the Christmas Fast are unlike those of Great Lent, where every Sunday has it’s own particular commemoration (e.g. Sunday of Orthodoxy, St. Gregory Palamas, the Holy Cross, etc.) these two Sundays before Christmas are different since they, too, have their own commemoration, one that is in direct connection with the coming celebration of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  And so this Sunday is called the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers, when we commemorate the earthly ancestors of our Lord beginning with “the first father” Adam and going down the line.

Among those many names mentioned at the evening service there was one reference made that seemed to outnumber the rest. This is the reference made to the Prophet Daniel and the three holy youths.  This is because their feast falls either on this day or, in most cases, near it, but besides this more practical explanation I think there is a spiritual connection as well.

We read about their story in the Old Testament book of Daniel. There we find out how the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem and took back with him to Babylon a group of skilled Isrealites.  Among them was Daniel; and it is here, in the very beginning of the book, that we are given a moving example of obedience towards God, an example for us to ponder especially during these days of fasting. Namely, Daniel was willing to work hard for king Nebuchadnezzar, however he also wanted to remain faithful to God and didn’t want to do anything which would jeopardize his obedience to God’s holy laws.  When he realized that he would have to eat the same food and drink the same wine as the king, which included foods forbidden by his faith, he asked the chief official if he could be given a plainer diet. The official was afraid that such a diet would only make him weaker and the king, seeing that he was not eating the same food, would execute the official. But Daniel was insistent and said, “Feed me and my three friends only vegetables and water for ten days and see if we start to weaken or not.”  The guard agreed and changed their diet. At the end of the ten days not only did they not weaken in strength but Daniel and his three friends, amazingly, looked fitter and healthier than the other Isrealites who had eaten the royal food.

This example from the pages of the Bible is coupled with so many more – even from modern science – that point to the health benefits of fasting. In fact, what’s interesting to note is that the only negative results I was able to find, from physicians about fasting are those that come from people who try to use the fast as a time to lose weight. Only under those circumstances, stripped of it’s spiritual context, does fasting prove to be unhealthy and even harmful.

But it is in the third chapter of this book of Daniel that we read about these three youths.  King Nebuchadnezzar built a large statue made of gold and all of his subjects were required to worship it. He found out that not everyone was following his command. More specifically, it is the names of these three youths (who were probably despised out of envy as they held influential post’s in the king’s government) that were given to the king: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Furious, the king gave them one more chance to worship the statue; when they refused he ordered that they be bound and thrown into the fiery furnace. So furious was that he, that he ordered the furnace to be made seven times hotter. It was so hot that the guards who threw the three youths in died immediately.

Then a miracle occurred. Not only did the youths not burn to death but the king had to ask one of the guards, just to make sure: “Didn’t we only cast three youths in the fire?” When the guards answered, “Indeed, it was only three,” the king responded: “Behold, I see four men untied and walking in the midst of the fire…” (Dan. 3:24-25). Not only does the king claim to see an extra person in the flames, but he himself says, “and the vision of the fourth is like the Son of God.”

The connection between this event and the Nativity of Christ we, again, find in the hymns we sang last night, where we sang: ‘Thy young men, O Christ, when they were in the furnace which was to them like dew, mysteriously figure thy birth from the Virgin, which has illumined us without burning us.’ (At Lord I cry).

This great and joyous feast we are slowly approaching, the Nativity of Christ, is certainly a major event.  What comes to mind during that cold Christmas Eve service is the young baby Jesus born in the cave, warmed by the shepherds and the animals, greeted by the wise men from the East,  that image we and the entire world is familiar with. But there is so much more in that event, so much more in that cave.  For, our Lord was born in Bethlehem, the name of that town meaning bread, for He it is who came in order to become the bread of life.  The holy youths have always been a Nativity image in the Church since the youths ability to withstand the fire foreshadowed the Holy Virgin’s ability to contain the fire of the Godhead in her pure womb. Not only this, but the three youths also manifest what takes place in us when we make our communion in faith. For in this fiery furnace in which is the “fourth person”, the Son of God, we recognize the Holy Chalice. As some were slain by the flames of the fire when they approached to throw the youths in, so too are are those who approach the Chalice without fear of God, faith and love.(1)

And just as Christ Himself was united to the youths in the flames and saved them, so is He present with us in the furnace of that holy Chalice, where He is not only truly uniting Himself with us – but it is there that He truly saves us.  Amen.

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1. Fr. Josiah Trenham, The Three Holy Youths

How Saints Make Amends for their Mistakes

H/T: Andrew Cusack

An interesting piece I found on Andrew Cusack’s blog, dated Nov. 12, 2008. An Orthodox man finds his way back to the Church, his own Orthodox Church, through the help of a Catholic Saint.

An interesting take on ecumenism, I suppose.

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Aquinas Visited Yugoslav Abortionist in Dream, Now Defender of the Unborn

The Spanish daily “La Razon” has published an article on the pro-life conversion of a former “champion of abortion.” Stojan Adasevic (pictured, above), who performed 48,000 abortions, sometimes up to 35 per day, is now the most important pro-life leader in Serbia, after 26 years as the most renowned abortion doctor in the country.

“The medical textbooks of the Communist regime said abortion was simply the removal of a blob of tissue,” the newspaper reported. “Ultrasounds allowing the fetus to be seen did not arrive until the 80s, but they did not change his opinion. Nevertheless, he began to have nightmares.”

In describing his conversion, Adasevic “dreamed about a beautiful field full of children and young people who were playing and laughing, from 4 to 24 years of age, but who ran away from him in fear. A man dressed in a black and white habit stared at him in silence. The dream was repeated each night and he would wake up in a cold sweat. One night he asked the man in black and white who he was. ‘My name is Thomas Aquinas,’ the man in his dream responded. Adasevic, educated in communist schools, had never heard of the Dominican genius saint. He didn’t recognize the name”

“Why don’t you ask me who these children are?” St. Thomas asked Adasevic in his dream.

“They are the ones you killed with your abortions,’ St. Thomas told him.

“Adasevic awoke in amazement and decided not to perform any more abortions,” the article stated.

“That same day a cousin came to the hospital with his four months-pregnant girlfriend, who wanted to get her ninth abortion—something quite frequent in the countries of the Soviet bloc. The doctor agreed. Instead of removing the fetus piece by piece, he decided to chop it up and remove it as a mass. However, the baby’s heart came out still beating. Adasevic realized then that he had killed a human being,”

After this experience, Adasevic “told the hospital he would no longer perform abortions. Never before had a doctor in Communist Yugoslavia refused to do so. They cut his salary in half, fired his daughter from her job, and did not allow his son to enter the university.”

After years of pressure and on the verge of giving up, he had another dream about St. Thomas.

“You are my good friend, keep going,’ the man in black and white told him. Adasevic became involved in the pro-life movement and was able to get Yugoslav television to air the film ‘The Silent Scream,’ by Doctor Bernard Nathanson, two times.”

Adasevic has told his story in magazines and newspapers throughout Eastern Europe. He has returned to the Orthodox faith of his childhood and has studied the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas.

“Influenced by Aristotle, Thomas wrote that human life begins forty days after fertilization,” Adasevic wrote in one article. La Razon commented that Adasevic “suggests that perhaps the saint wanted to make amends for that error.” Today the Serbian doctor continues to fight for the lives of the unborn.

“Issues which do not go away…”

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It just now occurred to me that when one sees the title of this post, coupled with an image of Metropolitan Herman, it would be easy to assume the following lines will be directed at the OCA as that issue that doesn’t go away. But no, it was something I posted a few days ago which led me to an issue of the Antiochian WORD, where one can find excerpts from Metropolitan Philip’s Address to the Clergy at the 2008 Symposium.

Let me let me say first off that I have much respect for the metropolitan. There was a time that I judged him by his appearance (see photo), thinking that he wasn’t Orthodox enough. However, since then I’ve had a change of heart.  I realized, firstly, that it certainly is not my place to judge and secondly I was told of all the many great things he’s done for his Archdiocese. I suppose in the end I really don’t care, it’s not my place, he is a hierarch and if he has done anything wrong there more qualified people to take care of it. I do, however, disagree with some of his comments below. Just my opinion.

These following excerpt from the metropolitan’s talk can be contrasted with Archbishop Christodoulos’ of blessed memory regarding clergy etiquette found here.

“My dear friends, it seems to me that there are certain issues which do not go away, such as priestly dress in the church and outside the church. In the church, you must wear your cassock or jibbee. Outside the church in the streets, in the shopping centers, in the theaters, and in the hospitals, just wear your black shirt, collar and black suit.

I have heard that in some parts of our vast Archdiocese some clergy dress like monks in black cassocks with very long beards and pony tails, wearing sandals and no socks. If you are not monks, dress normally. To my knowledge, the only monk that we have in our Archdiocese is His Grace Bishop Basil. A few years ago, His Grace asked me about becoming a monk. So he went to a monastery in England and officially became a monk. If you are married and have children, you cannot dress like monks. Otherwise, you have to live in a monastery.

By the same token, when you come to the Archdiocesan Convention or to a Parish Life Conference, you cannot walk around in shorts, blue jeans and sneakers. Just dress normally.

On April 30, 2003, our Archdiocesan Synod under Item 8 stated: “Item which require uniformity across the Archdiocese, Clergy dress code and physical appearance – policy of the Archdiocese is that Jibbee or Cassock should be worn in appropriate places and appropriate times, i.e. in church, at a funeral home for the Trisagion Services. In public places where the priest is not performing priestly duties, he must wear a black clergy suit with collar and black suit jacket and trousers.”

Again on May 11, 2005, our Archdiocesan Synod stated under Item 6…”Uniform practice of appropriate clergy attire.” An example that was cited as inappropriate is,  a subdeacon wearing an alloosee. Clergy should not go shopping wearing their cassocks. Photos of St. Tikhon from 1905 show him wearing a suit jacket and collar. Beards should be of reasonable length and excessively long. Outside the church, the clergy should wear the dress that is common in this Archdiocese. While on vacation, the clergy may wear casual dress that is appropriate to the circumstances. It is not necessary to wear cassocks while traveling.”

Antiochian WORD, Vol. 52, No. 7, September 2008

Would the Real Santa Step Forward?

SANTA PARADE

The last post, concerning the Italian priest’s rather courageous remarks about Father Christmas, Santa Claus or whatever we call him, brought some interesting comments. I suppose you can’t control what your children will say. In light of Athanasia’s comments about children going out and telling their friends that their parents had been lying to them all along – there really is no Santa Claus! – is very true, it could ultimately pose a problem. I’ve been out shopping with the kids and they usually make comments about the Santa pictures and how he’s not real. Even though it can be amusing at times, I don’t necessarily want to be the one to let the little guys down.

I think we’re all on the same page wondering why a parent would want to lie to their child? Is it harsh to say it like that? I apologize if it is. No one wants to lie to their children and I don’t want to come across as chastising parents for telling them the same story they were told as children.  Yet, I don’t think it’s just a story we’re telling them.  I read Alice in Wonderland and Winnie the Pooh to my girls, for instance, but they’ve never asked me if those were real people. I assume they know better. If not, at least they know it’s just a story, just like Nemo and Wall-E are just movies, like being frightened after watching a horror flick and having someone reassure you that it was only a movie.

Are there dangers in telling our kids about Santa Claus? Not usually. It’s a phase. I was told by my oldest son this evening that ‘fifth graders don’t believe in Santa Claus’, or at least no one in his class does. However, after reading Andrew’s comment one has to think twice:

“I remember reading on an Orthodox forum how one lady who is Orthodox but was raised Protestant, had a religious crisis as a kid because of believing in Santa. She basically questioned the existence of Christ whom her parents told her existed, as they also told her Santa did. So when she found out Santa didn’t exist and her parents had lied about him, for years she believed her parents had done the same about Christ.”

In the end, I suppose what puzzles me most of all are all the awesome stories we have in the lives of the Saints, stories that begin with “once upon a time…” and still continue to this day. It’s not our Christmas today, as you’ve noticed, we still have two weeks to go. Instead, we are commemorating St. Spyridon and St. Herman of Alaska. I share this post, taken from Ancient Church about St.Spyridon. Is it just me or is this a more amazing story than a man in a red suit supposedly flying through the sky?

“Here in North America, we were pretty preoccupied today with commemorating St. Herman of Alaska. There is no question that St. Herman is a wonderful saint, but I took a moment as well to remember another one of my favorites, St. Spyridon, Bishop of Tremithus.

St. Spyridon reposed in, more or less, the year 348. His relics, completely incorrupt, are kept in the cathedral on the island of Corfu. He has a reputation as being an unusually active saint — he is seen here, there and pretty much everywhere, interceding for the faithful. Oh pshaw, you say. How do you know that?

There is some unusual proof to the statement. Every year they take his relics and process through the streets of the town. The relics are so incorrupt, so soft and flexible, that they bounce slightly as he is carried, as you or I might bounce when being carried in a chair. After the procession, they do one other thing. Every year. For the who knows how many centuries. What do they do?

Every year, they change St. Spyridon’s shoes. The reason is that the old ones — which were just put on him the year before — are worn out, with holes in the soles. Just like they would be if worn by a man who had just spent the last year covering a lot of ground.

~deep sigh of satisfaction~

I love this Church.”

A Child’s Christmas Ruined

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Cartoon courtesy The New Yorker

This news piece comes from the BBC. I don’t quite understand how a parent could insist that her child’s Christmas has been ruined by a priest telling the truth!?! I want to comment on this but I’m afraid I’m left speechless.

A Catholic priest has been criticised by parents in a city in northern Italy for telling their children that Father Christmas does not really exist.

Father Dino Bottino, the parish priest of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Novara, let out the secret at a children’s mass earlier this month.

A local paper published complaints from dozens of parents. “You’ve ruined my children’s Christmas,” said one mother.

But an unrepentant Fr Bottino called it his duty to set the record straight.

“I told the children that Father Christmas was an invention that had nothing to do with the Christian Christmas story,” he said.

“And I would repeat it again, if I had the chance,” he added.

But Father Dino could not have imagined the scorn that would be heaped upon him after he told children at mass that neither Father Christmas – nor the kindly witch called the Befana who provides presents at New Year to Italian children – really exist.

The priest said he had never intended to hurt anyone, but it was his duty to distinguish the reality of Jesus from the story of Father Christmas which was a fable just like Cinderella or Snow White.

Clergy, Out and About

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I was reading recently how the Pope of Rome has issued a, well, I suppose you can call it a gay-detector test, which would help avoid any future tragic situations. Actually, it’s a test that measures one’s sexual urges, but I found it odd how they first mentioned “homosexual tendencies” then “uncertain sexual identity”, only to finally say, “this document also makes reference to heterosexual urges.” In a sort of “while-we’re-at-it” attitude.

I was reminded (and I don’t exactly know why), of something I read the beginning of this year (luckily I was able to find it). It is regarding a decree issued out to all Greek Orthodox clergy by Archbishop Christodoulos of blessed memory. I found it on a Serbian site and was unable to find anything about it in English, but, for the most part it states:

On the first days of the new year the Greek Orthodox Church has issued a special code of clergy behavior. The document is three pages long and signed by the head of the Greek Church, Archbishop of Athens and all Greece Christodoulos.

As is stated, “moral purity, cleanliness and orderliness in dress are a necessity for all clergy.” The new rules dictate that clergy be modest in their dress.  Clergy are not permitted to be sloppily dressed nor to wear wrinkled clothes.

Besides this, clergy must not wear clothes with an open collar, white socks or bright colored pants.  A special paragraph is dedicated to the rule which obliges clergy not to appear before laity unclad, without their cassock, even when they are in their own yard or balcony.

Henceforth Greek clergy are strictly forbidden to smoke in public. Beside the fact that smoking is hazardous to one’s health, “it is impermissible for the all pious laity to approach the priest in order to kiss his hand and smell tobacco.” Additionally, “clergy are not to cross their legs – perhaps this is relaxing but it is unbecoming for a priest.”

Besides the dress code the rule book states that clergy act with humility, but honorably, “that even when they might be in the right – they not chastise anyone,” that they be very careful behind the wheel.  “During conversation a priest should not raise his voice, to insult or exhibit any anger.”