The Sundays of Lent

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H/T: Antiochian Archdiocese of Europe (here)

When the Holy Fathers took upon themselves the task of arranging Great Lent they decided that this walk towards Pascha should teach us the full meaning of fasting. For this reason they dedicated the first two Sundays of the fast to Dogmatic subjects, that is:

1.  the adoration and honouring the Holy Icons and
2. Saint Gregory Palamas,

and the last two for ascetic personalities and saints, that is:

1.  Saint  John of the Ladder and
2.  Saint Mary of Egypt the great penitent and desert dweller.

This was so that they might reveal the essential relationship between True Faith (Orthodoxy) and a true and virtuous life (Orthopraxy).

In the middle of the Fast they placed the Holy Cross as a sign and a pointer to srtengthen us and lead us forward during this difficult and challenging time of spiritual struggle.

From a homily on the Second Sunday of Lent delivered by Metropolitan John (Yazigi), current Patriarch of Antioch.

A second opinion

The LA Times (here) reports that predicting the weather wrong in Ohio might be more dangerous than one thinks.  You might laugh, but one might just end up being faced with a death sentence. Continuing with the the joke, they report:

Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser was apparently so enraged by this year’s lengthy winter that he issued an indictment against Punxsutawney Phil, the famous groundhog who just a few months ago dared to predict an early spring.

Don’t blame poor Phil, maybe next time we wait thirteen days and get a second opinion. After all, February 2nd is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord according to the New Style. According to the church’s calendar, however, it’s on February 15th and in Serbia, more specifically in the southern Backa village of Banostor, in a wild animal shelter the bears would not even come out of their den on that day. A clear indication of only one thing: 40 more days of winter.

“Everything Needs Direction”

1309943598_43ec860ba059There is an excellent anecdote in the very popular book Everyday Saints, about how during communism the Party bosses from the Pskov district would send their big shots to the monastery. One such figure was actually impressed by the monks he met there but just couldn’t get it through his head why anyone would believe in God, much less give everything up and spend their days in a monastery.

Here is the excerpt:

“… after spending two hours with Father Nathaniel, this bureaucrat, being impressed by this new acquaintance, could not help himself:

‘Listen! I’m amazed talking to you! I don’t think I’ve ever met such an interesting and unusual man in my entire life! But forgive me – how can you with your intelligence possibly believe in…! I mean, after all, science keeps on opening newer and newer horizons for humanity! And all without God! The fact is there is no need for Him. This year’s Halley’s Comet will be approaching us. And the scientists have been totally capable of calculating its orbit and its speed and its trajectory. And for this, forgive me, absolutely no concept of God is needed.’

‘Halley’s Comet, you say’ Father Nathaniel rubbed his beard. ‘You mean to say that if it’s possible to calculate the orbit of a comet that makes God unnecessary? Hmm. Just imagine this then: put me by a railroad and give me a piece of paper and a pencil.  Within a week of observation I will be able to tell you exactly when and in what direction the trains will be running. But does that mean that there are no conductors, no dispatchers, no station workers, and no minister of transportation even? Of course not! Everything needs direction.'”

Virgin, Tree and Death

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Today,  the first Friday of the Fast, we hear about the tree in the Garden during the Old Testament readings. We will be celebrating another tree on the last Friday of the Fast. St. John Chrysostom tells us that the same symbols of defeat became later the symbols of our victory: virgin, tree and death.

In the Garden of Eden Eve had not yet known Adam at the time of the Fall. The tree is the tree of knowledge of good and evil and death was the result of their disobedience to God’s command.

In the New Testament, the virgin is the Most Holy Theotokos, the Virgin Mary; the Cross is the tree and Death was defeated using these same means by which it entered creation.

Mercy and not a sacrifice

altarGreat Lent is upon us. A time of fasting and prayer. I read a story recently of a woman who went to church and was going to have her son take communion but she had to re-schedule since something her son ate, accidentally, was not lenten.  It was actually her mistake, even though it truly was a small thing and completely unintentional. The priest said he understood but it was alright, her son can still receive communion. After all, he explained, the fast isn’t solely about food. Yes, the mother said she understood all that but she was just so overwhelmed and beside herself, how could something like this happen. The priest soon realized she had a much bigger problem than a mere menu slip-up. It was an issue of pride. How could something like this happen to her? She was just so beside herself that she didn’t stop to wonder, if she couldn’t forgive herself for an innocent mistake how could she ever expect God to?

Then there is the famous story of Abba Macarius who, “in order to deny his own will, did not refuse to drink a little wine when others asked him; but then he would punish himself for this indulgence by abstaining two or three days from all types of drink; and it was for this reason that his disciple asked strangers never to offer Saint Macarius a drop of wine.”

That beautiful story reminds us of the command our Lord gave us that our “fasting be done in secret” (Matt 6:18). That’s hard at times to do, especially when the whole community is fasting and then there are oil days and fish days and wine days and then strict fasting days.  Let there be no mistake, God will be pleased if we fast with humility and sincerity. The Pharisees once asked the Disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus overheard them and replied simply, “Go and learn what it means ‘I desire mercy and not a sacrifice’.” (Matt. 9:13).

A blessed Lent.

Psalms and Curses on the Demons

“….there is nothing which troubles, incites,irritates, wounds, destroys, distresses and excites the demons and the supremely evil Satan himself against us, as the constant study of the psalms. The entire holy Scripture is beneficial to us and not a little offensive to the demons, but none of it distresses them more than the psalter. In public affairs, when one party sings the praises of the emperor, the other party is not distressed, nor does it move to attack the first party. But if that party begin reviling the emperor, then others will turn on it. Thus it is that the demons are not so much troubled and distressed by the rest of holy Scripture as the are by the psalms. For when we meditate upon the psalms, on the one hand, we are praying on our own account, while, on the other hand, we are bringing down curses on the demons. Thus, when we say Have mercy upon me O God after your great goodness; and according to the multitude of your tender mercies, do away with my transgressions and Cast me not away from your presence: and take not your holy spirit from me and Cast me not away in the time of age: forsake me not when my strength fails me, we are praying for ourselves. But then we bring down curses on the demons when, for instance, we say: Let God arise and let his enemies be scattered: let them also that hate him flee before him, and again: Let him scatter the people that delight in war, and I myself have seen the ungodly in great power and flourishing like a green bay-tree: I went by and lo, he was gone; I sought him, but his place could nowhere be found and Their sword shall go through their own heart….”

Taken from The Spiritual Meadow, by John Maschos

The careless disciple

“When we came to the Thebaid one of the elders told us that there was an elder of great repute living outside the city of Antinoe, one who had kept his cell for about seventy years. He had ten disciples but one of them was very careless so far as his own soul was concerned. The elder often besought and entreated him, saying: ‘Brother, pay attention to your own soul, for death waits you and the road to punishment.’ The brother always disregarded the elder, refusing to accept what was said by him. Well, after a time, death carried the brother off and the elder was deeply troubled on his account, knowing that he had left this world sadly lacking in faith and devotion. The elder fell to his prayers and said: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, our true God, reveal to me the state of the brother’s soul.’ He went into a trance and saw a river of fire with a multitude of people in he fire itself. Right in the middle was the brother, submerged to his neck. The elder said to him: ‘Was it not because of this retribution that I called on you to look after your own soul my child?’ The brother answered and said to the elder, ‘I thank God, father, that there is relief for my head. Thanks to your prayers I am standing on the head of a bishop.'”

Taken from The Spiritual Meadow, by John Maschos