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Image from Gladsome Light Dialogues

I hope you are all having a peaceful, grace-filled Holy Week thus far.  May God make us worthy to worship His Cross and see His glorious Resurrection!

I haven’t posted a ‘Tips from the Monastery’ in quite some time.  The other day I remembered the practice of reading the Acts of the Apostles on Holy Saturday and I was happy to share it in a ‘Tips’ post.

Spending time at Orthodox monasteries I learned of a revered custom that still takes place in some monasteries today.  On Holy and Great Saturday, after the Vesperal Liturgy is celebrated in the morning, the Acts of the Apostles is read in its entirety.  In the Catholicon of the monastery the Evangelist Luke’s account of the early years of the Church is read until the Paschal Vigil begins.  For obvious reasons the whole brotherhood or sisterhood would not necessarily be able to be present for the whole reading, but the 28-Chapter book is easily read by one or a few chanters.

I find this practice so beautiful.  For the first few years I was Orthodox I would read it in my home.  I don’t have as much time now, but truth be told with technology the way it is I could certainly listen to a recording of the Acts of the Apostles while getting ready for Pascha.

During Holy Week we hear the whole account of Christ’s last days.  We hear Him declare He is going up to Jerusalem to suffer.  We listen as He nudges the Apostles awake, admonishing them to ‘keep watch’.  Our hearts break at the words ‘Judas, do you betray me with a kiss?’.   With Peter we ‘weep bitterly’ at the realization of our own denial of Christ the Master.  And finally, our hearts are pierced by Christ’s words ‘It is finished’ as He hangs on the Cross.  Joseph of Arimathea takes Him from the Cross.  We sing His lamentations and kiss His most pure body in the Epithaphios icon.  And as we wait for His Resurrection, as we go with the women to see His empty tomb, we read of what became of His Apostles in the Book of Acts-the same Apostles who hide themselves in fear following Christ’s Passion.  It’s the perfect compliment to all we’ve heard this week.  It describes Christ’s ascent into Heaven.  It tells us what became of Judas the betrayer.  It reminds us of the power of God through Jesus Christ, and it inspires us to go out and preach Christ crucified, ‘foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews’.

Having gone with Christ up to Jerusalem, having been ‘crucified with Him’ that we might live with Him in His Kingdom, we arrive at Holy and Great Saturday.  Reading the Acts of the Apostles we have the great blessing of hearing all about the Apostles “Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence”.  May we, through the prayers of the Holy Apostles, be found worthy to Resurrect with Him and to follow in their footsteps!

To listen to the Acts of the Apostles go here.

Thank God for such beautiful, inspiring customs that our Church and Tradition are replete with!

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The Athonite Monasteries of Koutloumousiou, Xeropotamou, Zographou, Kapakallou, Philtheou, and Gregoriou have all written letters to the Holy Community of Mt. Athos in reaction to the Pan-Orthodox draft documents prepared for the upcoming Council in Crete. In these letters the Holy Athonite Monasteries have responded to the draft documents and methodology of the Pan-Orthodox Council with sharp and pointed reactions. These letters have now been released to the public.

On account of the seriousness of the matter, it was unanimously decided that the texts prepared for approval by the Council be examined in a specially called Meeting of the Representatives and Abbots of the Holy Monasteries, scheduled to take place after the Bright Week of Pascha.

The Athonite Fathers call attention to the danger presented by the Pan-Orthodox Council, as it is being carried out. Namely, among other things, they see:

* The concilarity of the Church being undermined and a theology supportive of primacy being promoted (due to the limited participation of bishops and an excessive authority given to the primates of each Local Church);

*An unacceptable ambiguity in the pre-synodical texts, allowing for interpretations which divert from Orthodox dogma;

*A placing, as the basis of the dialogues, of “the faith and tradition of the ancient Church and the Seven Ecumenical Councils,” such that the subsequent history of the Orthodox Church appears to be somehow lacking or impaired;

*An attempt by some to gain pan-Orthodox confirmation of the scandalous and totally unacceptable texts approved within the World Council of Churches;

*And the unacceptable application of the term “church” to schisms and heresies.

To read the texts in the original Greek see here.

Excerpts and full translations of the letters into English will be forthcoming.

(Source)

In a carefully detailed narrative the Gospel relates how Christ, six days before His own death, and with particular mindfulness of the people “standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me” (John I I :42), went to His dead friend Lazarus at Bethany outside of Jerusalem. He was aware of the approaching death of Lazarus but deliberately delayed His coming, saying to His disciples at the news of His friend’s death: “For your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe” (John 11:14).

When Jesus arrived at Bethany, Lazarus was already dead four days. This fact is repeatedly emphasized by the Gospel narrative and the liturgical hymns of the feast. The four-day burial underscores the horrible reality of death. Man, created by God in His own image and likeness, is a spiritual-material being, a unity of soul and body. Death is destruction; it is the separation of soul and body. The soul without the body is a ghost, as one Orthodox theologian puts it, and the body without the soul is a decaying corpse. “I weep and I wail, when I think upon death, and behold our beauty, fashioned after the image of God, lying in the tomb dishonored, disfigured, bereft of form.” This is a hymn of St John of Damascus sung at the Church’s burial services. This “mystery” of death is the inevitable fate of man fallen from God and blinded by his own prideful pursuits.

With epic simplicity the Gospel records that, on coming to the scene of the horrible end of His friend, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). At this moment Lazarus, the friend of Christ, stands for all men, and Bethany is the mystical center of the world. Jesus wept as He saw the “very good” creation and its king, man, “made through Him” (John 1:3) to be filled with joy, life and light, now a burial ground in which man is sealed up in a tomb outside the city, removed from the fullness of life for which he was created, and decomposing in darkness, despair and death. Again as the Gospel says, the people were hesitant to open the tomb, for “by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days” (John 11:39).

When the stone was removed from the tomb, Jesus prayed to His Father and then cried with a loud voice: “Lazarus, come out.” The icon of the feast shows the particular moment when Lazarus appears at the entrance to the tomb. He is still wrapped in his grave clothes and his friends, who are holding their noses because of the stench of his decaying body, must unwrap him. In everything stress is laid on the audible, the visible and the tangible. Christ presents the world with this observable fact: on the eve of His own suffering and death He raises a man dead four days! The people were astonished. Many immediately believed on Jesus and a great crowd began to assemble around Him as the news of the raising of Lazarus spread. The regal entry into Jerusalem followed.

Lazarus Saturday is a unique day: on a Saturday a Matins and Divine Liturgy bearing the basic marks of festal, resurrectional services, normally proper to Sundays, are celebrated. Even the baptismal hymn is sung at the Liturgy instead of Holy God: “As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.”

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“Lazarakia” for the Feast of St. Lazarus

Orthodox Women’s Talk: Hymns of Holy Week. This is a recording of a talk I hosted over Skype with a group of Canadian Orthodox Christian women spread out across several Canadian provinces during Great Lent of 2015.

*CORRECTION: You will notice that I continually refer to St. Joseph the All-Comely (the son of Patriarch Jacob) as St. Joseph the Betrothed (who was espoused to the Theotokos). Please forgive my mistake; I didn’t realize this until I heard the recording.

 

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Out of the African Lands: The Story of Saint Perpetua and Her Companions

by Constantina R. Palmer

Description:

In the African provinces of the Roman Empire conversion to the Christian faith is punishable by death. This does not stop Perpetua and her companions, however, from seeking entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven even if living for Christ means having to die for Him.

Out of the African Lands is a historical fiction novelette and chronicles the arrest, imprisonment and death of Perpetua and her five companions Felicity, Saturus, Saturnius, Revocatus and Secundulus. Receiving freedom from their sins through baptism while imprisoned, the martyrs shine with the light of Christ, instructing us in word and deed how a person not only lives as a Christian by dies as one.

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About the  Cover:

The cover features a portion of a painting by artist Xenia Kathryn and beautifully captures the grace and bravery of St. Perpetua, author of one of the earliest and most notable Christian texts known today by the title The Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas.

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The Light Guardian - Beginnings coverThe Light Guardian: Beginnings

By Fr. Matthew Penney

Description:

Moisi, a troubled man with a troubled past, seeks desolate places for self-imposed punishment … and revenge. What he discovers in his rocky exile is not only the enemy he is pursuing , but a deeper darkness that seeks to consume him. The only question is … will he choose to fight?

In this mature Young Adult fantasy novelette, the world of the spiritual warfare–normally invisible to us–is brought vividly to life. In Moisi’s world the struggle against the passions and the presence of the dark forces of evil can be all too real. But there is the opportunity to discover, along with Moisi, where the path to victory truly lies.

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Out of the African Lands: The Story of Saint Perpetua and Her Companions & The Light Guardian: Beginnings are published by Lumination Press and set to be released on Pascha, 2016!

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Lumination Press: Infusing light into the fiction genre

Lumination Press publishes works of fiction which reflect the mystery and miracle of a world filled with the light of Orthodoxy: a world in which passions rage, miracles abound, blood is shed and kingdoms are won. Such a world comes alive in Lumination Press stories not to distract us from the cruel reality of this world but rather to reveal the spiritual reality that is all around us, if only we have the eyes to see it.

Acknowledging the notable scarcity of Orthodox fiction, Lumination Press hopes to fill that need with quality works. With a focus on youth and the youthful at heart, Lumination Press will offer a variety of stories of spiritual struggle and victory for the whole family.

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