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Archive for the ‘Hymns and Prayers’ Category

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The “having fallen asleep” Mother of God was a wonderful gift a friend brought us from Jerusalem

Oikos for the Dormition:

Set a rampart about my mind, O my Saviour, for I make bold to sing the praises of Thy most-pure Mother, the rampart of the world. Establish me firmly within the fortress of my words and make me strong within the defenses of my thoughts: for Thou dost promise to fulfill the petitions of those that entreat Thee with faith. Endue me with a tongue and ready speech, and with thoughts that are without shame; for every gift of enlightenment is sent down from Thee, O guiding Light, Who dwelt within her every-virgin womb.

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Fr John summarizing St. Theodore Studite’s encomium on the Dormition of the Theotokos

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn contemporary social work practice we are taught not to be the kind of person who always points out the silver-lining in someone else’s dark cloud. We are taught to listen and offer support but refrain from saying, “At least (fill in the blank)” as this may cause individuals to feel that their problem or issue is being minimized.

I am a silver-lining person by nature. I always catch myself saying, “At least”:  “At least you’re feeling better these days,” “At least you have a support network,” etc. While I understand how pointing out the silver-lining to someone who only sees a dark cloud can be imprudent, in my own thoughts I always try to tell myself “at least…”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese days it can feel as though the whole world is living in a dark cloud. The trauma and difficulties in people’s lives, in society in general, has reached unprecedented portions. And yet, there still exists that silver-lining. While many churches (of all denominations) seem to be ever-emptying, at least there are people still finding Christ, still discovering the Holy Orthodox Church and still becoming members of the Body of Christ.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYesterday morning, driving home from work I was thinking over the unfortunate news I learned about a client. I was upset, truly saddened. But then I thought of the adult baptism we would be having in just a few hours and I said to myself, “At least there are still people entering the Ark of Salvation.” It’s the silver-lining of our dark times: People are still being saved, coming to know Christ, and embracing Him in the Church.

At least there are still faithful upon the earth (Lk. 18:8).

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Kontakion 13 from the Akathist Hymn to Our Holy Father Paisios the Athonite:

Thou, O Father, didst say with words enlightened by the Holy Spirit that many saints would have desired to live in our times, in order to strive for salvation. For Thou didst herald to us, who live in darkness, that the time is almost ready and that those that now struggle valiantly to win their salvation will receive a martyr’s reward. For this we thank God, Who with mercy looked on His people, sending His Saint for our enlightenment, and thus with voices of joy we gladly sing to our All-Gracious Master the song: Alleluia!

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(Soure) Dearly beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,

We greet you all in the joy of Christ’s glorious resurrection, in His victory over the tyranny of death. During the celebration of this Feast of feasts, we hear the words of consolation which consistently arouse in us the joyful spirit, a surge of spiritual strength and a bright hope in a better future which awaits us.

Despite the times in which we live, with its difficulties and fears, we find comfort in our holy Faith because, in it we find hope which brings peace to our hearts. Through Christ’s glorious resurrection the death to which He was condemned because of falsehood is vanquished. This is why our Paschal hymns are so joyous and festive and this brightness accompanies us during the whole paschal season.

Saint Justin Popovich tells us: “Man sentenced God to death; by His resurrection, He sentenced man to immortality. In return for a beating, He gave an embrace; for abuse, a blessing; for death, immortality. Man never showed so much hate for God as when they crucified Him; and God never showed more love for man than when He arose. Man even wanted to reduce God to a mortal, but God by His resurrection made man immortal. The crucified God is Risen and has killed death. Death is no more. Immortality has surrounded man and all the world.”

Let us now continue to live this Feast of the Resurrection all the days of our lives. Together with the Holy Apostles and the Myrrh-bearing Women who were blessed to witness the great mystery of the salvation of the world, we too, must also be witnesses and participants in it to share in the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and proclaim for all to hear CHRIST IS RISEN! INDEED HE IS RISEN!

Archbishop IRÉNÉE

Archdiocese of Canada (OCA)

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I listen to the Paschal stichera and can’t help but feel like I’m bursting with joy. The hymnology of our Church is so poetic, rich in spiritual wisdom it so deeply penetrates the human heart. There is nothing that can compare to it. Christ is risen and death is overcome! 

Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered!

A sacred Pascha today hath been shown unto us: a Pascha new and holy, a Pascha mystical, a Pascha all venerable, a Pascha that is Christ the Redeemer; a Pascha immaculate, a great Pascha; a Pascha of the faithful; a Pascha that hath opened the gates of Paradise unto us; a Pascha that doth sanctify all the faithful.

As smoke vanisheth so let them vanish!

Come from the vision, O ye women, bearers of good tidings, and say ye unto Sion: receive from us the good tidings of the Resurrection of Christ; adorn thyself, exult, and rejoice, O Jerusalem, for thou hast seen Christ the King come forth from the tomb like a bridegroom in procession.

So let sinners perish at the presence of God and let the righteous be glad!

The myrrh-bearing women in the deep dawn stood before the tomb of the Giver of life; they found an angel sitting upon the stone, and he, speaking to them, said thus: Why seek ye the living among the dead? Why mourn ye the incorruptible amid corruption? Go, proclaim unto His disciples.

This is the day which the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad therein!

Pascha the beautiful, Pascha, the Lord’s Pascha, the Pascha all-venerable hath dawned upon us. Pascha, with joy let us embrace one another. O Pascha! Ransom from sorrow, for from the tomb today, as from a bridal chamber hath Christ shone forth, and hath filled the women with joy, saying: proclaim unto the apostles.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Both now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

It is the day of Resurrection, let us be radiant for the feast, and let us embrace one another. Let us say: Brethren, even to them that hate us, let us forgive all things on the Resurrection, and thus let us cry out:

Christ is risen from the dead,  trampling down death by death,  And on those in the tombs bestowing life.

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5On Holy and Great Wednesday the divine Fathers ordained a commemoration to be kept of the woman who was a harlot and who anointed the Lord with myrrh before His Passion. In honour of this great and beautiful display of repentance I am posting a wonderful article my sister-in-law wrote for a Lenten e-mail group a few years ago.

May we be granted such bold repentance as that of the sinful woman!

Repentance. I must admit, when I hear this word there’s something in me that almost shudders – or even better – freezes.  There’s a ‘heaviness’ to it that is almost unbearable. I guess you could say, ‘repentance is heavy; it’s serious and there’s nothing light about it.’  That would be true, but I would have to explain myself a bit more for you to see where my error lies, since – as far as I can see – this ‘heaviness’ that I feel has nothing to do with real repentance at all; even worse, it’s just an imposter, a false repentance – mixing me up.  I’ll explain a bit, and hopefully you’ll see through my ridiculousness.For example, hearing that ten-letter-word my mind rushes to images of the harsh ascetic labours that such Repentant Ones did, and still do: the deprivations, the sighs, the exile and loneliness, the severe fasting, never ending prostrations, the flight from this world, and finally the terrible tortures, and horrific deaths – all due to their great repentance.  Unable to identify in the least bit with such actions, such feats, I feel a crushing weight set into my bones. That’s when I’d sigh. And that’s when my mind despairs of my weakness – of my lack of love. And then the distance sets in – the utter separation.  I am not good enough.  With Christ having such good friends, I have no chance.

My thinking this way, it seems to me, is utter poison. I am wrong to identify these deeds – these actions – with the state of repentance.  In themselves they are nothing, since even these can be done out of pride.  Didn’t I learn from the Publican and the Pharisee? Let us flee from the pride of the Pharisee! And learn humility from the Publican’s tears!  Certainly these great acts done by Christ’s Saints truly spring from repentant hearts, but even these God-pleasing, pure, deeds are not the repentance – an expression of it, yes, but not the repentance itself.  It’s not the knees pounding into the floor that pleases Christ, but the repentant heart inspiring such a bodily response. I don’t measure up – this is undeniable – but why should I let this bring hopeless despair or utter coldness of heart?  Why do I think I should earn Christ’s love? Don’t I realize that this is impossible? In this moment of realizing how very far away I am from Christ – right before the despair (in myself) and cool feelings of helplessness – lies the possibility for repentance, but only if I take it.

Through their recorded lives, we see that all these saints known especially for their repentance had these moments – and usually in extreme degrees.  Feeling the utter weight of the truth (that they were very far from God) they acknowledged this fact and fell down beneath the weight of it. But at the very same moment, God permeates them (and us if we want it) with Himself, and overcomes this impossible divide.  The harlot, so far away just moments before, accepts this reality and because of it leaps towards Christ: “ A harlot knowing you, the Son of the Virgin, to be God, imploring you with weeping, for she had done things worthy of tears, said, ‘Loose my debt, as I unloose my hair; love one who loves, though justly hated, and along with tax-collectors I shall proclaim you, O Benefactor, who loves mankind’”(Holy Wednesday). To feel the weight of our nothingness before God, but then to cry out to Him – with hope and belief – because that’s what He’s told us to do!  That’s what we see his Holy Ones do!  And from this the distance is overcome, and we are raised high, “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’” (Luke 14, 10).

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It seems to me that the true weight of this word ‘repentance’ comes not from anything crushing, or overwhelming.  St. Mary of Egypt tells us: “Having got as far as the doors which I could not reach before — as if the same force which had hindered me cleared the way for me — I now entered without difficulty and found myself within the holy place. And so it was I saw the life-giving Cross. I saw too the Mysteries of God and how the Lord accepts repentance.  Thus, repentance for her (and for us) was a key – an entrance into something otherwise closed.  The true weight of this word ‘repentance’ lies in its incomprehensible power – and from this the demons tremble.  By it, we are able to call down the divine; we empty ourselves but only to be filled.  And in this – we are told – lies incredible sweetness.  Have we surmounted our sins, fixed our problems, before this moment? Absolutely not!  It seems to me, there’s no more powerful, dynamic, way of approaching God than this.  It is not about being “good” or “bad” – of course we must strive to acquire the virtues – but it’s about the state of the heart.  Let us become good! But let us first have repentance! And let us keep this repentance! “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15, 7).

When we hear the cry of the Baptist and Forerunner: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” let us not be overwhelmed – let us not freeze!  Repentance is not heavy, but light! It is freedom – perhaps disguised to those of us lacking this sweet experience – but it is there for the taking.  There are no prerequisites. No divine ladder which must first be climbed.

Let us be like the thief on the cross and repent, so that Christ can also say to us: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23, 43).

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by THE VERY REV. ALEXANDER SCHMEMANN

(Source)

These [first] three days, which the Church calls Great and Holy have within the liturgical development of the Holy Week a very definite purpose. They place all its celebrations in the perspective of End ; they remind us of the eschatological meaning of Pascha. So often Holy Week is considered one of the “beautiful traditions” or “customs,” a self-evident “part” of our calendar. We take it for granted and enjoy it as a cherished annual event which we have “observed” since childhood, we admire the beauty of its services, the pageantry of its rites and, last but not least, we like the fuss about the paschal table. And then, when all this is done we resume our normal life. But do we understand that when the world rejected its Savior, when “Jesus began to be sorrowful and very heavy… and his soul was exceedingly sorrowful even unto death,” when He died on the Cross, “normal life” came to its end and is no longer possible. For there were “normal” men who shouted “Crucify Him” who spat at Him and nailed Him to the Cross. And they hated and killed Him precisely because He was troubling their normal life. It was indeed a perfectly “normal” world which preferred darkness and death to light and life…. By the death of Jesus the “normal” world, and “normal” life were irrevocably condemned. Or rather they revealed their true and abnormal inability to receive the Light, the terrible power of evil in them. “Now is the Judgment of this world” (John 12:31). The Pascha of Jesus signified its end to “this world” and it has been at its end since then. This end can last for hundreds of centuries this does not alter the nature of time in which we live as the “last time.” “The fashion of this world passeth away…” (I Cor. 7:31).

“When the Lord was going to His voluntary Passion,
He said to His Apostles on the way:
Behold, we go up to Jerusalem,
And the Son of Man shall be delivered up
As it is written of Him.
Come, therefore, and let us accompany Him,
With minds purified from the pleasures of this life,
And let us be crucified and die with Him,
That we may live with Him,
And that we may hear Him say to us:
I go now, not to the earthly Jerusalem to suffer,
But unto My Father and your Father
And My God and your God,
And I will gather you up into the heavenly Jerusalem,
Into the Kingdom of Heaven….”
(Monday Matins)

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The Thief Who Stole Paradise

Every year it seems Great Lent creeps up on me with such speed I find it’s Clean Monday before I’ve even realized it was Prodigal Son Sunday.

The Church, in her wisdom, gives us the Triodion season (three weeks before the beginning of Great Lent) in order to prepare us for the Fast which is itself a preparation for the Feast of Feasts, Pascha. And yet, too many Triodion seasons pass me by before I’ve had the time to look ahead to Great Lent. This year, I want it to be different; I want to be prepared to prepare.

I haven’t fully worked out just how I’m going to fully prepare myself to become prepared for Pascha, but I’m at least forcing myself to think about it. Perhaps that’s a step in the right direction: keeping before me the knowledge of the impending beginning of Great Lent. I guess it’s kind of like the Orthodox practice of memory of death. The idea being that so long as we keep before us the knowledge – the memory – that we will one day, any day, die and face the Just Judge, this memory enables us to live well today.

The Triodion season isn’t just an opportunity to stuff our faces with meat and cheese; it is an opportunity to start narrowing our focus, start quieting our mind. It is an opportunity to plan how we will spend the first week of Great Lent.

Will we abstain from all food and drink until the third day (keep the “Trimero” as we say in Greek)? Will we choose to eat only dry foods (non-cooked meals), and that only after the ninth hour (that is, 3pm)? Will we instead partake of normal fasting meals but make a consorted effort to take the television out of the living room? Will we, on account of poor health or pregnancy, and with a blessing from our spiritual father, eat non-fasting meals but prevent crude, cruel and unnecessary words from passing through our lips? These, I believe, are the thoughts that should be occupying our minds during this predatory period which precedes the Great Fast, the most rigorous preparation period of our liturgical year.

Perhaps it’s because I’m 33 years old this year: the stage of no longer being a “young person” but not yet feeling like a “grown up”. For the first time I’ve notice time is slipping away from me. I’m forgetting things I never did before, feeling like I’m juggling more than I should, and sighing far more often at the speed with which my life is passing me by. Perhaps it’s because of this that I just want one Triodion, one Great Lent, one Pascha in which I feel like I fully participated, fully anticipated and fully experienced the grace of struggle. How many more Paschas might I have? If, God forbid, this were to be my last I would want to have done all that I could to prepare, to arrive and say in earnest, “I have cleansed my senses and purified my heart to the minuscule extent I am able, allow me to behold You, O Christ, shining with the Unapproachable Light of the Resurrection!”

Why wait for Holy Week, the last week of the Fast, to contemplate repentance, to join the sinful woman in her petition, in her “selling all that she had”? Why not start now in the Triodion season? Why not start today?

May God give us a good beginning so that we might find a good end!

Lord, O Lord when the woman, who had fallen into many sins, perceived Your divinity she assumed the role of a myrrh-bearing woman, and lamenting brought ointment to anoint You before Your burial. “Woe is me,” she said “for night is forming a frenzy without restraint.” Very dark and moonless, a passionate love affair with sin. “Accept the fountain of my tears, You who draw out from the clouds the water of the sea, take pity on me and incline to the sighing of my heart, You who bowed the heavens by Your ineffable self-emptying. I shall cover your unstained feet with kisses and wipe them dry again with the locks of my hair. Those feet whose sound at twilight in Paradise of old echoed in Eve’s ears whereupon she hid herself in fear. The countless number of my sins and the depth of Your Judgment, who can fathom? O my life-saving Saviour. Do not despise me Your servant since without measure is your mercy!” -St. Cassiane

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