O Lord Thou shalt open my lips and my mouth shall declare Thy praise.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

"The Greatest of These is Love"

The virtues of faith and hope pertain to knowledge, but love pertains to an act. Hence, love is the greatest:

By the virtue of faith we know what the Love of God is and that we and our loved ones are to live in It.

By the virtue of hope, we know that we will live in It and have our temporal needs provided for by the means that God will indicate and have our spiritual needs provided for by God directly through His Holy Catholic Church, which we know by faith was established by Him as the sole means of salvation.

By the virtue of love, we sacrifice ourselves to God for the salvation of ourselves and our loved ones, all ultimately for His glory.

To take this further, faith and hope are described as inferior since they will not exist in Heaven. In Heaven we will need not faith, as we will see God face to face and by faith we know that which we do not see. In Heaven there will be no hope, for we will already have attained salvation and by hope we know that which we have not yet attained. However, love remains, as the act performed in Heaven, a complete giving of self to God and receiving Him in turn, for all eternity, as an icon of the union between God the Father and God the Son, giving Themselves to Each Other, in an eternal union. The love that binds Them together as a single being is the Divine Holy Ghost and this is what is meant by the "Love of God". He, the Love of God, binds Father and Son; and likewise Christ and His Bride the Church in an icon of the Trinity; and likewise bridegroom and bride in an icon of both Christ and the Church and the Trinity.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Three-Edged Sword

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Three Holy Hierarchs: our father among the saints John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, our father among the saints Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, and our father among the saints Gregory the Theologian, Archbishop of Constantinople, surnamed Nazianzen.

From the Canon at Matins:
"It is not a two-edged sword, but a three-edged sword that was brandished against the enemies of grace. It is a single blade forged in heaven and finely honed on all three edges. Unceasingly it fights for the one Divinity with triple brightness."

Sunday, January 27, 2013

We Wait for the Prodigal, Alleluia

Today is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, the second pre-Lenten Sunday. In the Latin Rite, it's Septuagesima, the first of only three pre-Lenten Sundays. It's also the first Sunday on which the Byzantine Rite adds this chant to Matins in the Divine Office:

Virtually all of today's young people follow in the footsteps of the Prodigal Son by squandering the gifts God gave them on worldly pursuits. Pray that they come home.

On the subject of "By the Waters of Babylon", while chanting it at Matins a thought occurred. Even though Psalm 136 is about great suffering, The "Alleluia" is still repeated often by the narrator in the text. "Alleluia" is a general term of praise (without any paschal connotations in the Eastern Churches, thus it is not ommited during Great Lent), yet it is repeated in a chant of such suffering. That gives us hope that even though we, like the psalmist, are suffering because of the sins of others (say some prodigal sons and daughters), our patient endurance of the suffering they inflict on us is a worthy penance for their conversion and return to the Love of God, not to mention the fact that enduring such suffering patiently for the sake of Divine Love is itself a great praise of Divine Love and a declaration of what it truly deserves.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Finding Lost Loved Ones


While their feast is covered up by the First All-Souls Saturday this year, January 26 is the feast of St. Xenophon and his wife Maria. They had two sons, Arcadius and John. Wanting them to have a better education, they sent them to the Phoenician city of Beirut. Their ship sank and they washed ashore in two different places and joined separate monasteries. For many years, Sts. Zenophon and Maria had no word from their sons and St. Maria presumed them dead. St. Zenophon maintained hope that God protected his children and consoled his wife. At an advanced age, they went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and by Divine Providence found their sons at two different monasteries in Jerusalem. They gave thanks for the family being re-united. Sts. Xenophon and Maria lived out their retirements in separate monasteries, each being known for strict fasting and working miracles.

Pray for the Dead

Today is the First All-Souls Saturday in the Byzantine Rite, transferred from next Saturday due to the Feast of the Encounter of the Lord in the Temple with St. Simeon the God-Receiver and St. Anna the Prophetess. The First All-Souls Saturday is celebrated during Pre-Lent, the second, third, and fourth during Great Lent, and the fifth on the day before Pentecost. Just as the month of November is a time to pray for the dead in the Latin Rite, Great Lent is a time to pray for the dead in the Byzantine Rite, on top of everything else you do during Lent.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Wisdom from On High and Ornament of Bishops

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Gregory the Theologian, surnamed Nazianzen, one of the great eastern fathers, together with St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil the Great (the three of which are known as the Three Holy Hierarchs), and St. Athanasius of Alexandria. St. Gregory is arguably the most eloquent theologian the Church has had, hence the surname "Theologian", which he shares with only the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian.

St. Gregory convened the First Council of Constantinople, which condemned Macedonianism and Apollinarianism, both off-shoots of the Arian heresy, and added the sections on the Holy Ghost and the Church to the Symbol of Nicea, giving us the modern day (well "modern" as in since 381AD) Symbol of Nicea-Constantinople, said at every Byzantine Divine Liturgy and in the Latin Rite on Sundays and Feasts of Our Lord, the Mother of God, and the Apostles.

Troparion - Tone 1
The sweet-sounding shepherd's pipe of your theology overpowered the trumpeting of the orators; for having searched the depths of the Spirit eloquence was also bestowed upon you. Pray to Christ God, Father Gregory, that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion - Tone 3
By words of theology you unraveled the complex webs of the orators, glorious Gregory, and adorned the Church with the robe of Orthodoxy woven from on high. Wearing it, she cries out with us, her children: "Rejoice, O Father, supreme mind of theology."

Glass Bead Icons by Angelika Artemenko

From Orthodox Arts Journal via Byzantine, TX, comes these icons made of glass beads by a 26 year old artist from Ukraine named Angelika Artemenko. I suppose they're technically icon reproductions since icons are made of specific paints on a specific wooden board according to a specific process (called "writing" an icon) consisting mostly of prayer and penance, but they're still very beautiful none the less. They are definitely in the proper iconographic style, which is a very specific artistic style, even though they are made of glass-beads, which is probably a tougher medium to work with than paint that needs to be in a very specific design. The beads give you a beautiful shine on the whole icon that you normally only get on the parts made of metallic components.

Click the thumbnails to expand.

Theotokos of Vladimir
Theotokos of Vladimir, detail
Theotokos of Smolensk
Theotokos of Smolensk, detail
The Theotokos of Kazan is wearing pink, which is interesting. It's a good look on her.
She has a lot more icons so head over to the gallery (here) to see the rest. There's a fair number of saints in there too.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Black becomes Beautiful

Nigra sum, sed formosa, filiae Ierusalem, ideo dilexit me rex et introduxit me in cubiculum suum et dixit mihi: "surge, amica mea, et veni. Iam hiems transiit, imber abiit et recessit; flores apparuerunt in terra nostra; tempus putationis advenit".

I am black but beautiful, daughters of Jerusalem, So the King loved me, and led me into his inner chamber and said to me: Arise, my friend, and come. Now winter has passed, the rain has gone, and flowers have appreared in our land; The time of pruning has come.

"Μέλαινά εἰμι καὶ καλή, θυγατέρες Ιερουσαλημ"
“ЧернA є4смь а4зъ и3 добрA, дщє1ри їерcли6мскіz”
"Nigra sum sed formosa, filiae Hierusalem"
"I am black but beautiful, O ye daughters of Jerusalem"
-Cant. 1:4

The bride is black because of her sins. She is beautiful because the bridegroom loves her. His love for her means that he will always sacrifice himself to God for the sake of her salvation. The existence of her sins means that he is upset with her. The blackness results from her actions and the beauty from his actions. Each does not prevent the existence of the other. He is offended by her sins specifically because he loves her. If he didn't love her, he wouldn't care what she did.

She is beautiful because in his love for her, he sees the beauty she was created to have in God. He sacrifices himself to God to get her to that beauty. He sacrifices himself in spite of her sins, specifically to absolve them, no matter how immense they become or who supports them. They are blackness and very grievous to her bridegroom for they, her empty pleasures, impede her progress to that beauty. He bears them patiently as a penance for her so that she who is “ЧернA” (cherna-black) might be “добрA” (dobra-beautiful).

“ЧернA є4смь а4зъ и3 добрA,”
"I am black but beautiful"

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Full Die and the Empty Live

Today is the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, the first Sunday of Pre-Lent. The Latin Rite only has three pre-Lenten Sundays as opposed to the Byzantine Rite's four, so Septuagesima Sunday isn't until next week. This is a time for light penance as a "warm-up" for the strict fast of Lent. It is a time to separate ourselves from the world and remove all worldly things from us that we might belong only to God and be filled only with His blessings. If we fill our lives with our own strengths and accomplishments, then our lives are fake, man-made, and artificial. More importantly the things in our lives cannot survive death. God alone survives death. That is why the Resurrection is so important. It shows us that God survives death so we must join ourselves to Him in order to survive our own deaths. To join ourselves to Him, we must first empty ourselves of everything worldly, everything that is not God, that we might belong entirely to Him.

The pharisee built up his own life and reputation. He lived a man-made, artificial life where he took pride in his own abilities and achievements. The publican on the other hand, and publicans (tax collectors) were just as sinful and evil then as they are now, repented of his life of sin, rejecting his many innumerable sins. The pharisee went home condemned and unjust. He wasn't able to be filled with God's grace and blessings for he refused to empty himself of his own achievements and abilities. The publican on the other hand, was justified, forgiven and filled with every grace and blessing because he rejected his sins so God was able to fill him, for God forces Himself on no one. "Then Jesus said to his disciples: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." (Lk 16:24) That's all it is folks. That sums up this Gospel and all of Lent. Reject your sins and empty yourself of all your abilities and desires to allow God to fill you with His life, for He forces Himself on no one. God alone is immortal and survives death, so if you are full of your own abilities and desires, you will not live and surely die an eternal death. Only by being filled with God's life can any of us survive death and we can only be filled with God's life if we empty ourselves of everything to the contrary.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

When a saint sends you to yell at corpses...

Today on the Byzantine calendar we celebrate the feast of St. Macarius the Great, a disciple of St. Anthony the Great. Angels and demons alike appeared to St. Macarius, the angels praising his virtue and the demons complaining about it. Many sought out his guidance. This is the story of one of them:

"St Macarius sent him to a cemetery to rebuke and then to praise the dead. Then he asked him what they said to him. The young man replied, 'They were silent to both praise and reproach.' 'If you wish to be saved, be as one dead. Do not become angry when insulted, nor puffed up when praised.' And further: 'If slander is like praise for you, poverty like riches, insufficiency like abundance, then you shall not perish.'"

Read his whole story here.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Sins of Modern America Explained in the Old Testament

Icon of the Holy Prophet Osee

Continuing with the prophecy of Osee, it's amazing how accurate Osee is about sin, especially as it exists today-in a day where sin is as dominant in the Church and society as it was when the Israelites had largely abandoned the worship of God in favor of pagan idols in a selfish quest to be like the cultures around them. See how sin dominates and as a result nature mourns, for the sin is against nature:

"Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel, for the Lord shall enter into judgment with the inhabitants of the land: for there is no truth, and there is no mercy, and there is no knowledge of God in the land. Cursing, and lying, and killing, and theft, and adultery have overflowed, and blood hath touched blood. Therefore shall the land mourn, and every one that dwelleth in it shall languish with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of the air: yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be gathered together." (Osee 4:1-3)

The same has come to pass today, with sin not only being dominant in the land, but even being against nature. Now sure, all sin is against nature for it is contrary to the purpose for which God created us: to be joined to Him. Sin is simply any separation from God, thus all sin is contrary to our natures as human beings. However, the sins spoken of here are even worse. They are the worst of the worst, for they are not only against out natures as human beings, but even against the ways of the entire natural world and all creation mourns the existence of these sins. The holy prophet Osee continues by commenting on sins nature as an insatiable addiction:

"And they shall eat and shall not be filled: they have committed fornication, and have not ceased: because they have forsaken the Lord in not observing his law. Fornication, and wine, and drunkenness take away the understanding." (Osee 4:10-11)

Sin is specifically described as separation from God ("they have forsaken of the Lord") and sin is also described as an addiction that is never satisfied. There is always more desired. The sin pleases the person greatly and more is demanded. As the person commits more of the sin, the pleasure dies down over time (Sts. Boniface and Aglaida excellent examples; the "magic" goes out of the relationship as they say, sex is the main sin here remember), but the cravings for the sin only increase. The person is addicted. They do not "live their own lives" as they demand to do (St. Margaret of Cortona is an excellent example of such behavior) but their sins control them. They think they are in charge of their lives, living on their own and "independent", but that feeling is fake; they are slaves to their passions. Their cravings are greater than the pleasures being had; they are never filled and slaved to their own passions.

"They offered sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains, and burnt incense upon the hills: under the oak, and the poplar, and the turpentine tree, because the shadow thereof was good: therefore shall your daughters commit fornication, and your spouses shall be adulteresses. I will not visit upon your daughters when they shall commit fornication, and upon your spouses when they shall commit adultery: because themselves conversed with harlots, and offered sacrifice with the effeminate, and the people that doth not understand shall be beaten." (Osee 4:13-14)

Amidst great prosperity and success they lived in their sins, living a happy life of their own building, however, "Unless the Lord build the house, in vain do the builders labor." (Ps 126:1) Their living this life is a separation from God. Daughter and mother alike are adulteresses. They raise each other to live like this and God refuses to have anything to do with them. Any claim on their part to having a relationship with God or union with Him or His support or approval of any kind is a fraud. Their sin prevents them from being united with God. Anything that is sinful exists only of its own power and is doomed to fail for it is separated from God, who alone is Immortal.

Now we have two particular behaviors of sexual sinners: they befriend other people who sin likewise (they "conversed with harlots") and they support other forms of the same sin (they "offered sacrifice with the effeminate"). Look at that. The sins of today, men who lust after women and women who lust after men nowadays support sodomy as if it were good as an "equal" to them. The very same we find in Sacred Scripture. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Is sodomy equal to them? Why yes! Lust between a heterosexual couple and lust between a homosexual couple is still lust. The marital status, gender, number and even species of the participants is irrelevant. If it's not the total giving of self to take care of the other in a procreative union, it's a sin. Since the gift is total, it requires monogamous, permanent marriage. Since it is procreative, it requires a man and a woman. Any deviation from that divinely established system is a sin for it is separation from God. Lust is a sin even in marriage for it degrades that self-giving to an act of self-pleasure. Simply being married isn't "enough". All types of relations not in that definition are indeed "equal" for they are all lustful and are all sin. Thus, our adulteresses here befriend other people who lust and support all it's forms, for if sex for pleasure is good for one couple, then it's good for all couples who feel pleasure regardless of gender. Indeed they are right, but lust is a sin, so they are all equally sinful, not equally good.

"If thou play the harlot, O Israel, at least let not Juda offend: and go ye not into Galgal, and come not up into Bethaven, and do not swear: The Lord liveth." (Osee 4:15)

Osee then continues with the same point as before, that any claim to a relationship with God is a fraud, admonishing listeners to at the very least not claim to have a relationship God or be supported by God in any way, for to sin and claim to have God's approval is hypocrisy. Sin offends God for it separates Him from the sinner, the person whom He loves. God is offended by our sins specifically because He loves us. If He didn't love us, He wouldn't care if we sinned or not.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Worry Not When Ye See the Prosperity of Sinners

We read:
"How long shall sinners, O Lord: how long shall sinners glory?" (Psalm 93:3)

And again the Royal Prophet, upon describing in detail the prosperity and success of sinners:
"They have called the people happy, that hath these things: but happy is that people whose God is the Lord." (Psalm 143:15)

In the Prophecy of Osee we read why we should not be troubled by the prosperity and success of sinners:
"And now I will lay open her folly in the eyes of her lovers: and no man shall deliver her out of my hand: And I will cause all her mirth to cease, her solemnities, her new moons, her sabbaths, and all her festival times. And I will destroy her vines, and her fig trees, of which she said: These are my rewards, which my lovers have given me: and I will make her as a forest, and the beasts of the field shall devour her. And I will visit upon her the days of Baalim, to whom she burnt incense, and decked herself out with her earrings, and with her jewels, and went after her lovers, and forgot me, saith the Lord." Osee 2:10-13

Accurately does Sacred Scripture speak of the deeds of sinners. By the mouth of the Holy Prophet Osee it describes the sinfulness of the people, even as far as using the language of the adulteress and calling her lover her "friend". (Osee 3:1) By the mouth of King Solomon the Wise, well does it tell of the deeds of the adulteress in detail. (Proverbs 7:6-27)

God beholds all and when the bee He created to give honey instead stings, He suffers as a penance that she might live again, for according to the ways of bees, a bee dies when it stings. The Lord allows the cockle to grow alongside the wheat. (Mt. 13:24-30,36-43) It is not our job to destroy the cockle (the wicked), but to suffer them as a penance unto their own conversion. How truly great is the Lord, if the evil deeds of sinners are the very penance endured for the forgiveness of those same deeds! If they convert, they are given mercy as the adulterous Magdalene who washed our Lord's feet with her tears and dryed them with her hair. Their purity is restored so that the Lord might receive them as He deserves. Their sinful prosperity is brought to complete ruin as they begin their life anew in Christ. If they do not repent, then it is eternal Hellfire and their lives are brought to ruin just the same. Such prosperity is vanity and it is our job to convert them by prayer and penance.

So when ye hear it said that this sinner or that is propserous, that virtue is persecuted in the land and sin exalted and praised as good, fear not. That life will be met with utter destruction. Either in Hell, or by the sinner abandoning it to follow Christ. Ultimately, those are the only possibilities. Your job then is to convert the sinner. We know that if we remain close to Christ and His Passion on the Cross for the sake of His Bride, the Church, we will be victorious, for Christ is victorious. No matter how much sinners glory, we will be victorious if we remain close to Christ and His patient and silent suffering on the cross (Is 53:7), enduring the attacks of sinners unto their own conversion. He is victorious and immortal, the One whom death cannot contain. He is the One the Church lauds by singing the Thrice-Holy Hymn:

+Svyati Bozhe, Svyati Krepki, Svyati Bezsmertniy, pomiluy nas.
+Agios o Theos, Agios ischyros, Agios athanatos, eleison imas.
+Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Relentlessness of the Bridegroom

Icon of the Nymphios, the Bridegroom

On this Friday, let us remember Our Lord's Passion and how our sins cause Him great suffering, for they are the attacks of the Beloved on the Bridegroom, and how He endures every suffering our sins cause Him as a penance on the cross for our sake that those same sins might be forgiven and the Beloved made pure again.

"Even though I have abandoned You, good Father, do not forsake me! Do not cast me out of the kingdom! The most evil enemy has stolen my fortune and left me naked; I have loved riotous living more than spiritual gifts, but now I return to You with tears and sighs: take me back as one of Your hired servants, Lord. For my sake You stretched Your pure hands upon the cross; You delivered me from the wicked enemy's grasp, restoring to me the wedding garment of purity, since You alone are the merciful Lover of mankind!"-from Lauds at Byzantine Rite Matins on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, one of the Sundays of Pre-Lent.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

St. Polyeuctus and Family Arguments about the Faith

Today in the Byzantine Rite, in addition to continuing the Post-feast of the Theophany, we celebrate St. Ployeuctus of Meletine. He was a roman soldier under the emporer Decius (249-251) and was martyred under the emperor Valerian (253-259). He was friends with another soldier named Nearchos, who was a firm Christian. When the persecution of Valerian began, Nearchos said to him, "Friend, we shall soon be separated, for they will take me to torture, and you alas, will renounce your friendship with me." St. Polyeuctus told him of a dream he had where Christ stripped him of his soiled military cloak and dressed him in a radiant garment. He followed Nearchos saying, "Now, I am prepared to serve the Lord Jesus Christ."

In his zeal for the faith he went to the city square and tore up the idol worship mandate. As soon as he did so, a procession of 12 idols happened by and he attacked the procession, smashing the idols underfoot. His father in law, the magistrate responsible for enforcing the mandate and completely unaware that his son in law decided to become a Christian, was shocked at his son in law's behavior. He said that his son in law must die for this and begged St. Polyeuctus with tears in his eyes to abandon Christ and apologize for destroying the idols. Firm in his faith, St. Polyeuctus completely refused. His father in law brought forth his daughter and grandchildren, St. Polyeuctus' wife and children, to reason with him. With tears in their eyes they too begged him to apologize and abandon Christ. Firm in his faith, he resisted the temptations of his wife and his children and remained faithful to Christ. With great joy, he bowed his head to the swordsman and was baptized in his own blood.

After the anti-Christian bigotry subsided under Emperor Constantine the Great, a church was built in his honor at Meletine (in Armenia), which became known for many miracles. One couple fervently prayed for a son, the resulting child granted by St. Polyeuctus was St. Euthymius the Great (January 20). Another great theologian and defender of orthodoxy, St. Acacius, Bishop of Meletine (March 31), had a great devotion to him and was a participant in the Third Ecumenical Council. St. Polyeuctus is venerated as the patron of vows and treaties and many pieces of classical music are named after him. He shows us just how important it is to remain faithful to Christ and His Love for us, regardless of temptations to the contrary, even when those temptations come from our own families. Being a family member doesn't make you infallible. God, however, is always perfect and our loyalties must always be with God above everything else, even above family. Martyrs are the prime example of this love for God. "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Master, Wash the Leprosy of Our Sins in the Jordan!

Reveal Thy love to us, O Thou that didst cure the flesh of
Naamon in the waters of the Jordan, restoring it to the purity
of the flesh of a child. By thy Baptism in the Jordan, wash our
flesh and our souls pure of our sins, O Lover of Mankind!

Feast of the Theophany of Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ
Tropar, Tone 1
When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan, worship of the Trinity wast made manifest; for the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee, calling Thee His beloved Son. And the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truth of His word. O Christ our God, Who hath appeared and enlightened the world, glory to Thee.

Kondak, Tone 4
On this day Thou hast appeared unto the whole world, and Thy light, O Sovereign Lord, is signed on us who sing Thy praise and chant with knowledge: Thou hast now come, Thou hast appeared, O Thou Light unappproachable.