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Archive for the ‘Hymns and Prayers’ Category

epiphany

The Oikos for the Feast of the Theophany:

Upon Galilee of the Gentiles, upon the land of Zebulon and the land of Nepthali, as the prophet said, a great light hath shone, even Christ. To Those that sat in darkness a bright dawn hath appeared as lighting from Bethlehem. The Lord born from Mary, Sun of Righteousness, sheds His rays upon the whole inhabited earth. Come then, unclothed children of Abraham, and let us clothe ourselves our Him, that we may warm ourselves. Thou Who art a protection and veil to the unclothed, a light to those in darkness, Thou has come, Thou art made manifest, O Thou Light unapproachable.

 

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Turning on the radio this time of year all manner of Christmas songs can be heard. There is one song that gets a lot of air time around this season and it always evokes a deep sadness within me whenever I hear it. It’s called “I Believe in Father Christmas” by Greg Lake.

It evokes such sadness because I think the singer conveys the feeling of unfulfilled hope that I believe is an unfortunate, but common, experience. The song begins thus:

They said there’ll be snow at Christmas
They said there’ll be peace on earth
But instead it just kept on raining

These lyrics could be said by any individual in the modern era who has ever anticipated peace and joy during the Christmas season but was left with an even greater feeling of emptiness instead.

The song continues:

They sold me a dream of Christmas
They sold me a silent night
And they told me a fairy story
’till I believed in the Israelite
And I believed in Father Christmas
And I looked at the sky with excited eyes
’till I woke with a yawn in the first light of dawn
And I saw him and through his disguise

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And who sold him this false “dream of Christmas”? Was it the Creator of heaven and earth Who became Man so that mankind could become god by grace? Was it the poor shepherds who received the good news of the Incarnation from an angel? Maybe it was the three wise men who traveled from distant lands to satisfy their longing to see and know God? No. It was the world, the spirit of the world, that sold him this dream. A spirit that is contrary to the Gospel.

You’ll notice he points to two characters of a “fairy tale” he was duped into believing in: the Israelite (a rather derogatory title for Christ) and Father Christmas. And what happens when the dream of Truth is mingled with falsehood? Both the Truth and the falsehood are perceived as a fairy tale. This is why we need to be careful not to blur the lines between Christ’s Nativity and Santa Clause, between celebrating the feast with exaltation and celebrating it as an opportunity to acquire more stuff, eat more food.

Peace and joy at Christmastime are themes continually perpetuated but often people’s experience of Christmas is devoid of authentic peace or joy.  Many are left feeling cheated as the lyricist of this song so aptly conveys. Simply turning on pretty lights and giving gifts, while nice, is not enough to fill the human soul with the kind of joy it is actually longing for.

Worldly joy provides something temporary, something ephemeral for the moment. It cannot provide what spiritual joy provides.  Spiritual joy is life in Paradise, those who have first gone through the Crucifixion, and have been resurrected spiritually, live in the joy of Pascha.

-St. Paisios the Athonite

And so, I wish you all a good end to the fast, our minor “crucifixion” (of the passions) before our spiritual resurrection on the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

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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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