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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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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

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Below is a beautiful story our priest in Thessaloniki read us every year after we cut the Vasilopita. (To read about the tradition of St. Basil’s bread see here, particularly ‘Origins’).
Happy (Secular) New Year! May we take every opportunity we can to start our spiritual life anew!
Blessed John
by Photios Kontoglou

The Nativity Feast having passed, St. Basil took his staff and traversed all of the towns, in order to see who would celebrate his Feast Day with purity of heart. He passed through regions of every sort and through villages of prominence, yet regardless of where he knocked, no door opened to him, since they took him for a beggar. And he would depart embittered, for, though he needed nothing from men, he felt how much pain the heart of every impecunious person must have endured at the insensitivity that these people showed him. One day, as he was leaving such a merciless village, he went by the graveyard, where he saw that the tombs were in ruins, the headstones broken and turned topsy-turvy, and how the newly dug graves had been turned up by jackals. Saint that he was, he heard the dead speaking and saying: “During the time that we were on the earth, we labored, we were heavy-burdened, leaving behind us children and grandchildren to light just a candle, to burn a little incense on our behalf; but we behold nothing, neither a Priest to read over our heads a memorial service nor kóllyva, as though we had left behind no one.” Thus, St. Basil was once again disquieted, and he said to himself, “These villagers give aid neither to the living nor to the deceased,” departing from the cemetery and setting out alone in the midst of the freezing snow.On the eve of the New Year, he came upon a certain hamlet, which was the poorest of the poor villages in all of Greece. The freezing wind howled through the scrub bush and the rocky cliffs, and not a living soul was to be found in the pitch-dark night! Then, he beheld in front of him a small knoll, below which there was secreted away a sheepfold. St. Basil went into the pen and, knocking on the door of the hut with his staff, called out: “Have mercy on me, a poor man, for the sake of your deceased relatives, for even Christ lived as a beggar on this earth.” Awakening, the dogs lunged at him.

But as they drew near him and sniffed him, they became gentle, wagged their tails, and lay down at his feet, whimpering imploringly and with joy. Thereupon, a shepherd, a young man of twenty-five or so, with a curly black beard, opened the door and stepped out: John Barbákos—a demure and rugged man, a sheepman. Before taking a good look at who was knocking, he had already said, “Enter, come inside. Good day, Happy New Year!”

Inside the hut, a lamp was suspended overhead from a cradle that was attached to two beams. Next to the hearth was their bedding, and John’s wife was sleeping. As soon as St. Basil went inside, John, seeing that the old man was a clergyman, took his hand and kissed it, saying, “Your blessing, Elder,” as though he had known him previously and as though he were his father. And the Saint said to him: “May you and all of your household be blessed, together with your sheep, and may the peace of God be upon you.” The wife then arose, and she, too, reverenced the Elder and kissed his hand, and he blessed her. St. Basil looked like a mendicant monk, with an old skoúphia, his rása worn and patched, and his tsaroúchia [a traditional leather slipper, usually adorned with a pompom at the end of the shoe] full of holes; as well, he had an old empty-looking satchel. John the blessed put wood on the fire. Straightway the hut began to glisten, as though seemingly a palace. The rafters seemed to be gilded with gold, while the hanging cheesecloth bags [filled with curing cheese] looked like vigil lamps, and the wooden containers, cheese presses, and all of the accessories used by John in making cheese became like silver, as though decorated by diamonds, as did all of the other humble things that John the blessed had in his hut. The wood burning in the hearth crackled and sang like the birds that sing in Paradise, giving off a fragrance wholly delightful. The couple placed St. Basil near the fire, where he sat, and the wife put down pillows on which he could rest. Then the Elder took the satchel from around his neck, placing it next to him, and removed his old ráson (outside cassock), remaining in his zostikó [inner cassock].

Together with his farmhand, John the blessed went out to milk the sheep and to place the newborn lambs in the lambing pen, and afterwards he separated the ewes that were ready to birth and confined them within the enclosure, while his helper put the other sheep out to graze. His flock was sparse and John was poor; yet, he was blessed. And he was possessed of great joy at all times, day and night, for he was a good man and he had a good wife. Anyone who happened to pass by their hut they cared for as though he were a brother. And it is thus that St. Basil found lodging in their home and settled in, as if it were his own, blessing it from top to bottom. On that night, he was awaited, in all of the cities and villages of the known world, by rulers, Hierarchs, and officials; but he went to none of these. Instead, he went to lodge in the hut of John the blessed.

So, John, after pasturing the sheep, came back in and said to the Saint, “Elder, I am greatly joyful. I wish to have you read to us the writings about St. Basil [i.e., the appointed hymns to the Saint]. I am an illiterate man, but I like all of the writings of our religion [once again, the hymns and services of the Church]. In fact, I have a small book from an Hagiorite Abbot [i.e., from Mt. Athos], and whenever someone who can read and write happens to pass by, I get him to read out of the booklet, since we have no Church near us.”

In the East, it was dimly dawning. St Basil rose and stood, facing eastward, making his Cross. He then bent down, took a booklet from his satchel, and said, “Blessed is our God, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.” John the blessed went and stood behind him, and his wife, having nursed their baby, also went to stand near him, with her arms crossed [over her chest]. St. Basil then said the hymn, “God is the Lord…” and the Apolytikion of the Feast of the Circumcision, “Without change, Thou hast assumed human form,” omitting his own Apolytikion, which states, “Thy sound is gone forth unto all the earth.” His voice was sweet and humble, and John and his wife felt great contrition, even though they did not understand all of the words. St. Basil now said the whole of Matins and the Canon of the Feast, “Come, O ye peoples, and let us chant a song unto Christ God,” without reciting his own canon, which goes, “O Basil, we would that thy voice were present….” Thereafter, he said aloud the entire Liturgy, pronounced the dismissal, and blessed the household. As they sat at the table, having eaten and finished their food, the wife brought the Vasilopeta [a sweet bread or cake baked in honor of St. Basil on the New Year] and placed it on the serving table. Then St. Basil took a knife and with it traced the sign of the Cross on the Vasilopeta, saying, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He cut a first piece, saying, “for Christ,” a second, afterwards, saying, “for the Panagia,” and then “for the master of the house, John the blessed.” John exclaimed, “Elder, you forgot St. Basil!” The Saint replied, “Yes, indeed,” and thus said, “And for the servant of God, Basil.” After this, he resumed: “…and for the master of the house,” “for the mistress of the house,” “for the child,” “for the farmhand,” “for the animals,” and “for the poor.” Thereupon, John the blessed said, “Elder, why did you not cut a piece for your reverendship?” And the Saint said, “But I did, O blessed one!” But John, this blissful man, did not understand.

Afterwards, St. Basil stood up and said the prayer, “O Lord my God, I know that I am not worthy that Thou shouldest enter under the roof of the house of my soul.” John the Blessed then said: “I wonder if you can tell me, Elder, since you know many things, to what palaces St. Basil went this evening? And the rulers and monarchs—what sins do they have? We poor people are sinners, since our poverty leads us into sin.” St. Basil said the same prayer, again—with tears—though changing it: “O Lord my God, I have seen that Thy servant John the simple is worthy and that it is meet that Thou shouldest enter into his shelter. He is a babe, and it is to babes that Thy Mysteries are revealed.” And again John the blissful, John the blessed, understood nothing….

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Below is a link to a podcast by Fr. Seraphim Aldea of the Orthodox Monastery of All Celtic Saints.

In this particular episode, entitled “Imitating Monastics”, Fr. Seraphim shares some of the ways in which laypeople can imitate the life and prayer of monastics.

You can hear the episode here.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAncient Faith Radio has uploaded recordings from the Orthodox Young Professionals Retreat held in Santa Fe, NM in October.

While only three of the four talks were recorded, they have also shared the recording of the panel discussion that featured all four speakers.

To the left is a photo of Archimandrite Gerasim; he was the Keynote speaker and I was delighted to meet him and hear him speak. You can hear his talk, entitled “Now You Are the Body of Christ and Members in Particular” here.

You can find Ashley-Veronika’s talk entitled “How Our Ancient Tradition Speaks to Modern Ecology” here.

I’m sorry to say that Joshua’s talk was not recorded. It was fabulous, but you’ll just have to take my word it.

Below is a photo of all the speakers during the panel discussion. You can hear this discussion here.

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If you wish you can hear my talk “Work as Prayer: Uniting our Divided Selves” here. Hearing the recordings I am reminded of why people tell me to slow down when I speak. However, in defense of ‘speaking quickly’ I will share the following::)

“I have heard criticism against Fr. Daniel [Sysoev] that he hurries, talks too fast, and people can’t keep up. But he was in a hurry to pour the source of living waters out upon people, to make all of us partakers of Divine truth, to lead us from the darkness of ignorance to the light of knowledge. For me, Fr. Daniel’s trait of “speaking quickly” was a great plus, because I myself was in a hurry to know everything.” (Source)

OYP

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I saw this documentary posted on Byzantine Texas and watched it a few weeks ago. The monastic wisdom captured in the documentary’s dialogue with seasoned monastics is spiritually rich while being simple and applicable.

One of the sisters says, “If I were born again a thousand times I would do the same thing [choose the monastic life]”. When I heard this I thought, “How incredible it would be to live my life in such a way that I could honestly say that if I were born one thousand times, one thousand times I would choose this life.” May God enlighten and guide us all to walk on the straight and narrow path of pleasing Him and gaining Paradise in this life and the next! And may we look to our “big brothers and sisters” in Christ who shine before us as great examples of life in Christ.

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One of the monasteries in Meteora, Greece.

(Source) The monastery is the sacred home of God, but also home to the nuns and monks who have dedicated their lives to God. Romania’s monasteries are known worldwide for their magnificent beauty, but what do we know about the people that live there? How different is the life they lead? How different is the way they see the world?

Behind the Monastery Walls presents a selection of intimate and inspiring interviews in which nuns and monks in Romanian monasteries lay bare their thoughts and real beliefs.

Behind the Monastery Walls is one Orthodox Christian’s graduation film from the BA in Media Production program at Coventry University. Having received a scholarship from the Peter Kirk Memorial Fund supported by the European Parliament he produced 2 short documentaries which talks about monastic life in Romania (Behind the Monastery Walls) and in England (Sisters in Love).

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September 1 is the beginning of the Orthodox ecclesiastical year. According to Tradition, it was on September 1 that our Lord and Saviour entered the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth and was given to read a scroll from the prophet Isiah. It was customary at that time for the Jewish male to read in the synagogue once he had reached his thirtieth year. It was not a coincidence that Christ read prophetic words which referred to Him personally. It was the will of God for Him to be revealed in this manner. When He stood to read these were the words He uttered:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Isiah 61:1-2).

St. Luke’s gospel tells us Christ then “closed the book, and gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth” (Luke 4:20-22).

The Church, in her wisdom, decided the appropriate day to begin the Church year was the very day on which Christ began His ministry, the day He began to “preach the acceptable year of the Lord”.

Interestingly, the ecclesiastical year begins and ends with the Theotokos. On September 8 we celebrate her nativity, just one week into the new Church year. We celebrate her dormition, or falling asleep, on August 15, two weeks before the end of the Church year.

I don’t think we can view this as a coincidence. Our salvation begins with her as she was the long-awaited one; without her Christ would not have been born. So her own nativity is a kind of “beginning of our salvation” (Troparion of the Nativity of Christ). Her falling asleep and being escorted by her Son to Paradise is the appropriate ending. Taking our cue from the Lady Theotokos an appropriate “new year’s resolution” should be to die with Christ so that we can live with Him, to endure so that we too will reign.

“For if we have died with him, we will also live with him; and if we endure we shall also reign with him” (2 Tim. 2:11).

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