Archive for the ‘Orthodox Customs and Tradition’ Category


Written by Fr. John Palmer

According to the renowned Patrologist Fr Theodoros Zisis, Orthodox theology teaches that, “…[t]wo phases, two economies are readily distinguished within the mystery of man’s salvation and renewal: the economy of the Son, and the economy of the Holy Spirit.”[1]  Vladimir Lossky fills out this assertion for us, stating that, “The redeeming work of the Son is related to our nature.  The deifying work of the Holy Spirit concerns our persons.  But the two are inseparable.  One is unthinkable without the other.”[2]  In other words, Christ renews human nature through his Incarnation and the Holy Spirit then applies this renewed nature to individual persons by various appointed means in order that they might be united to God, becoming partakers of the divine nature, and saved.  From an Orthodox perspective, then, both economies – that of the Son and that of the Holy Spirit – are equally important and integral to the mystery of salvation, with Pentecost serving as the ‘Metropolis of Feasts’ wherein the salvific mystery is perfected.

In contrast, Frankish theology (the foundation of Roman Catholicism and Western theology in general) develops a one-sided understanding of the mystery of salvation as a result of its emphatic focus on redemption.  Here salvation is largely reduced to a legal drama, Lossky writes, “…played between God, who is infinitely offended, and man, who is unable to satisfy the impossible demands of vindictive justice.  This drama finds its resolution in the death of Christ, the Son of God who has become man in order to substitute himself for us and pay our debt to divine justice.”   Within the context of this drama, the Holy Spirit largely vanishes and consequently the feast of Pentecost fades into the background, at least soteriologically speaking.[3]

The groundwork for this aberration was laid by the adoption of the filioque heresy and the novel Trinitarian theology that arose from it.  The Holy Fathers derided the filioque not only because of its addition to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed when every addition to said Creed was prohibited by the Ecumenical Councils, but because it introduced an inequality among the Divine Persons wherein the Holy Spirit ranked last.  For example, in his Mystagogy, St Photios the Great writes that,

“…if, according to their babble, the Spirit proceeds also from the Son, then the Spirit is differentiated from the Father by more properties than the Son.  Both issue forth from the Father, and even if one issues forth by begetting and the other by procession, nonetheless, one of two modes equally separates them from the hypostasis of the Father; but here the Spirit is differentiated by a second distinction arising from the dual procession.  If more distinctions differentiate the Spirit from the Father than differentiate the Son from the Father, then the Son would be nearer to the Father’s essence, and the Spirit, equal in honour, will be blasphemed as being inferior to the Son…”.[4]

This leads Lossky to conclude rightly that if Frankish theology, “… could stop at the redeeming work of Christ…it was precisely because [by this] time the West had already lost the true idea of the Person of the Holy Spirit, relegating him to a secondary position by making him into a kind of lieutenant to the Son.”[5]  Similarly, Zisis writes, “First the filioque was introduced into the Symbol of Faith and made into a dogma, initially with serious protest coming from certain of the Popes, resulting in a diminution of the Holy Spirit…”[6]

As we have asserted in previous posts, Ælfric of Enysham (+1051) finds himself caught in the middle of the West’s transition from one point to the other, and his Sermones Catholici help us plot the particular path taken by England as it left behind the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church and Orthodox Faith.

Though his life and activities pre-date the Norman Conquest of 1066 – the date typically assigned to England’s apostasy – England was already experiencing a cultural captivity during Ælfric’s time.  The heavy Norman influence characteristic of the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) caused England to gradually forfeit its Orthodox theological heritage in favour of those Frankish theological ideals embraced by the Normans.  Perhaps not surprisingly, then, the Sermones Catholici show Ælfric to be a firm devotee of the filioque (though he never expounds it in a polemic manner, suggesting that he simply received it from his teachers and was unaware of its controversial nature).  For example, in his homily On the Beginning of Creation he writes:

Ðeos þrynnys is án God; þæt is se Fæder and his wisdom of him sylfum æfre acenned; and heora begra willa, þæt is se Halga Gast: he nis na acenned, ac he gæð of þam Fæder and of þam Suna gelice. This Trinity is one God, that is, the Father, and his Wisdom, of himself ever produced; and the Will of them both, that is, the Holy Ghost: he is not born, but he goeth alike from the Father and from the Son.

Moreover, in his sermon Of the Catholic Faith, he offers the following exposition of the dogma of the Holy Trinity which concludes asserting the filioque:

Soðlice se Fæder, and se Sunu, and se Halga Gast, habbað áne Godcundnysse, and án gecynd, and án weorc. Ne worhte se Fæder nán ðing ne ne wyrcð, butan ðam Suna, oððe butan þam Halgan Gaste. Ne heora nán ne wyrcð nán ðing butan oðrum; ac him eallum is án weorc, and án rǽd, and án willa. Æfre wæs se Fæder, and æfre wæs se Sunu, and æfre wæs se Halga Gast án Ælmihtig God. Se is Fæder, seðe nis naðer ne geboren ne gesceapen fram nanum oðrum. Se is Fæder geháten, forðan ðe he hæfð Sunu, ðone ðe he of him sylfum gestrynde, butan ælcre meder. Se Fæder is God of nanum Gode. Se Sunu is God of ðam Fæder Gode. Se Halga Gast is God forðstæppende of ðam Fæder and of ðam Suna. Verily the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, have one Godhead, and one nature, and one work. The Father created nothing nor creates, without the Son, or without the Holy Ghost. Nor does one of them anything without the others; but they have all one work, and one counsel, and one will. The Father was ever, and the Son was ever, and the Holy Ghost was ever One Almighty God. He is the Father, who was neither born of nor created by any other. He is called Father, because he has a Son, whom he begot of himself, without any mother. The Father is God of no God. The Son is God of God the Father. The Holy Ghost is God proceeding from the Father and from the Son.

However, while the Abbot of Enysham receives and indeed clearly teaches the filioque, he yet manages to remain aloof from its implications.  In an impressively Orthodox manner he expresses the economy of the Holy Spirit as this pertains to salvation, and clearly presents salvation as deification, and what is more he does this in his sermon, On the Holy Day of Pentecost.  In a passage where he describes the importance of the feast (and ironically again affirms the filioque) he writes:

Þyses dæges wurðmynt is to mærsigenne, forðan ðe se Ælmihtiga God, þæt is se Halga Gast, gemedemode hine sylfne þæt he wolde manna bearn on ðisre tide geneosian. On Cristes acennednysse wearð se Ælmihtiga Godes Sunu to menniscum men gedon, and on ðisum dæge wurdon geleaffulle men godas, swa swa Crist cwæð, “Ic cwæð, Ge sind godas, and ge ealle sind bearn þæs Hehstan.” Þa gecorenan sind Godes bearn, and eac godas, na gecyndelice, ac ðurh gife þæs Halgan Gastes. An God is gecyndelice on ðrim hadum, Fæder, and his Sunu, þæt is his Wisdom, and se Halga Gast, seðe is heora begra Lufu and Willa. Heora gecynd is untodæledlic, æfre wunigende on anre Godcundnysse. Se ylca cwæð þeah-hwæðere be his gecorenum, “Ge sint godas.” Þurh Cristes menniscnysse wurdon menn alysede fram deofles ðeowte, and ðurh to-cyme þæs Halgan Gastes, mennisce men wurdon gedone to godum. Crist underfeng menniscnysse on his to-cyme, and men underfengon God þurh neosunge þæs Halgan Gastes. The dignity of this day is to be celebrated, because Almighty God, that is the Holy Ghost, himself vouchsafed to visit the children of men at this time. At the birth of Christ the Almighty Son of God became human man, and on this day believing men became gods, as Christ said; “I said, Ye are gods, and ye are all children of the Highest.” The chosen are children of God, and also gods, not naturally, but through grace of the Holy Ghost. One God is naturally in three persons, the Father, and his Son, that is, his Wisdom, and the Holy Ghost, who is the Love and Will of them both. Their nature is indivisible, ever existing in one Godhead. The same has, nevertheless, said of his chosen, “Ye are gods.” Through Christ’s humanity men were redeemed from the thraldom of the devil, and through the coming of the Holy Ghost human men were made gods. Christ received human nature at his advent, and men received God through visitation of the Holy Ghost.

[1] Επόμενοι τος Θείοις Πατράσι· ρχές καί κρίτήρια τς Πατερικς Θεολογίας (Thessaloniki: 1997), 173.

[2] ‘Redemption and Deification’ in In the Image and Likeness of God (Oxford: 1974), 109.

[3] ‘Redemption and Deification’ in In the Image and Likeness of God (Oxford: 1974), 99.

[4] On the Mystagogy of  the Holy Spirit (New York: 1983), 84.

[5] ‘Redemption and Deification’ in In the Image and Likeness of God (Oxford: 1974), 103.

[6] Επόμενοι τος Θείοις Πατράσι· ρχές καί κρίτήρια τς Πατερικς Θεολογίας (Thessaloniki: 1997), 180.


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sweetnessIn honour of the Sunday of St. Gregory of Palamas, here is an excerpt from my second book, The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory published by Ancient Faith Publishing. It is from Chapter 7, “Blessed are the Peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God”, pp. 214-216. 

To read more stories, you can purchase an e-book or paperback copy from the publisher here or on amazon here.

st-gregory-palamas-st-cyril-and-methodius-church In Praise of Thessaloniki

I would do a great disservice to the great saint and co-protector (together with St. Demetrios) of Thessaloniki if I were to write this whole book and not mention our father among the saints, Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki.

You can hardly go two paces in that Byzantine city without being reminded of the various local saints and historical faith of the Thessalonians. But two places in particular always occupied a special place in my heart: the church of Hagia Sophia, where St. Gregory preached against the Barlaamite heresy, and the Cathedral of St. Gregory Palamas, in which his relics reside in a side chapel covered in icons depicting his life. Any time I was downtown, I made a point to venerate his holy, fragrant relics.

In a city like Thessaloniki, the cloud of witnesses feel more like companions, such is the intimacy of their presence. In many respects, life there is a living continuation of the Scriptures, and the many churches, sites of martyrdom or imprisonment of saints, and holy relics are enough to make you forget the modern world and enter into the spiritual world.

Practically every night you can attend a vigil in the city. The vigil service according to the Greek Typicon begins with Small Vespers, followed by Compline, Great Vespers, Matins, Hours, Liturgy and finally the Ninth Hour. These vigils can last up to five, six, or more hours. They usually end well after midnight.

I remember one we went to in the heart of town for the feast of St. Gregory Palamas (November 14). During the Matins service, when the life of the saint is read from the Great Horologion, one of the chanters proceeded to the middle of the church to read a long version of St. Gregory’s life. Looking at this young man in his long, black chanter’s robe, standing before the royal doors with only vigil lamps and a lone candle stand illuminating the passage he read aloud, it was easy to be confused as to whether it was the first or twenty-first century, whether we were on earth or in heaven. Coming out of a vigil like that, you felt as though the whole city was more sanctified, as if the stones and stars themselves had participated in our celebration of the Bloodless Sacrifice.

O Thessaloniki, the city Apostle Paul wrote to, preached in, wept over; the city St. Demetrios fought for and continues to protect even after his martyric death; the city St. Gregory Palamas guided, instructed, reprimanded, and loved! Through the prayers of the great hesychast and of all saints of Thessaloniki, may you always remain blessed.


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Holy Friday, Thessaloniki (2012) A perfect image: the cross and the resurrection side-by-side

As Triodion comes to an end and Great Lent approaches I am filled with a nostalgic love for Christ. I think this is because I became a catechumen on Forgiveness Sunday (12 years ago now). I had found what my heart was longing for and there was no turning back. I would embrace Him in Orthodoxy and start out on a new path, the one that leads to Life. I was hungry for Orthodoxy and all the beauty, grace, and peace it offered. And this time of year my hunger pains return, a faint reminder of that insatiable longing for Christ first ignited in those days leading into Great Lent.

Of course, with each passing year the hunger pains seem to grow a little less intense. Time, while given to us for spiritual progress, often results in ever-increasing spiritual negligence instead.

I used to have unbridled hope and zeal, a hungering to share Christ with people. I need to reclaim this unbridled hope. For, I’d rather live with unrealistic hope in Christ (unrealistic, by the world’s definition) than in the grey reality that no one, nowhere, wants Him or Orthodox truth.

I’m going to make a commitment to allow my heart to hope. To hope for the Gospel to be preached throughout the world. To hope that egotism can still be conquered by humility. To hope that Christ’s sacrifice will satiate those who are currently being fed by the malnourishing food of the world. I’m going to hope, to trust, that although “In the world [we] shall have tribulation” we should be of good cheer for Christ has “overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Kali Sarakosti [Good 40-days], everyone!

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(This post is written by Fr. John Palmer)

My studies in homilietics have taken me to some unexpected, yet rather interesting places.  Of late I have found myself reading mostly about pre-Norman Britain, and particularly about a significant Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical writer named Ælfric of Eynsham (955-1010).  Ælfric is perhaps best known for having produced two Latin series of sermons – the Sermones Catholici – which he later translated into Old English, intending them to be used by priests as an aid in homily preparation, or in some cases even read aloud by unlearned priests at liturgy over the course of a two-ecclesiastical-year cycle.  He writes:

“[I]t occurred to my mind, I trust through God’s grace, that I would turn this book from the Latin language into the English tongue, not from confidence of great learning, but because I have seen and heard of much error in many English books, which unlearned men, through their simplicity, have esteemed as great wisdom…” (Ælfric, Sermones Catholici I, [Preface], 3).

There are some beautiful expositions of the Scriptures and explanations of Feast of the Church contained in these sermons.  There is a particularly nice section wherein he comments on the quality of the Protomartyr Stephen’s prayer and its role in the conversion of the Holy Apostle Paul, and I thought this section to be worthy of sharing today, St Stephen’s feast.  Below I will post the original Old English text (I find it impossible to penetrate if read silently in my head, but somewhat more intelligible if read out loud) next to the Modern English translation:

Understandað nu, mine gebroðra, þa micclan lufe þæs eadigan weres. On deaðe hé wæs gesett, and ðeah he bæd mid soðre lufe for his cwelleras; and betwux ðæra stana hryre, ðaða gehwá mihte his leofostan frynd forgytan, ða betæhte hé his fynd Gode, þus cweðende, “Drihten, ne sete þu ðas dæda him to synne.” Swiðor he besorgade þa heora synna þonne his agene wunda; swiðor heora arleasnysse þonne his sylfes deað; and rihtlice swiðor, forðan ðe heora arleasnysse fyligde se eca deað, and þæt ece líf fyligde his deaðe. Saulus heold ðæra leasra gewitena reaf, and heora mod to þære stæninge geornlice tihte. Stephanus soðlice gebigedum cneowum Drihten bæd þæt hé Saulum alysde. Wearð ða Stephanes bén fram Gode gehyred, and Saulus wearð alysed. Se árfæsta wæs gehyred, and se arleasa wearð gerihtwisod.

On ðyssere dæde is geswutelod hu micclum fremige þære soðan lufe gebed. Witodlice næfde Godes gelaðung Paulum to lareowe, gif se halga martyr Stephanus swa ne bæde. Efne nú Paulus blissað mid Stephane on heofenan rice; mid Stephane hé bricð Cristes beorhtnysse, and mid him hé rixað. Þider ðe Stephanus forestóp, mid Saules stanum oftorfod, ðider folgode Paulus gefultumod þurh Stephanes gebedu. Þær nis Paulus gescynd þurh Stephanes slege, ac Stephanus gladað on Paules gefærrædene; forðan þe seo soðe lufu on heora ægðrum blissað. Seo soðe lufu oferwann ðæra Iudeiscra reðnysse on Stephane, and seo ylce lufu oferwreah synna micelnysse on Paule, and heo on heora ægðrum samod geearnode heofenan rice. Eornostlice seo soðe lufu is wylspring and ordfruma ealra godnyssa and æðele trumnys, and se weg þe lǽt to heofonum. Se ðe færð on soðre lufe ne mæg hé dwelian, ne forhtian: heo gewissað, and gescylt, and gelæt. Þurh þa soðan lufe wæs þes halga martyr swa gebyld þæt he bealdlice ðæra Iudeiscra ungeleaffulnysse ðreade, and he órsorh betwux ðam greatum hagolstanum þurhwunode; and he for ðam stænendum welwillende gebæd, and þær to-eacan ða heofenlican healle cucu and gewuldorbeagod inn-ferde.


Mine gebroðra, uton geefenlæcan be sumum dæle swa miccles lareowes geleafan, and swa mæres cyðeres lufe. Uton lufian ure gebroðra on Godes gelaðunge mid swilcum mode swa swa ðes cyðere þa lufode his fynd.

Understand now, my brethren, the great love of this blessed man [namely, of St. Stephen]. He was placed in death, and yet he prayed with true love for his slayers; and amid the falling of the stones, when any one might forget his dearest friends, he commended his foes to God, thus saying, “Lord, place thou not these deeds to them as sin.” He was more afflicted on account of their sins than of his own wounds, more for their wickedness than his own death; and rightly more, seeing that eternal death followed their wickedness, and eternal life followed his death. Saul held the garments of the false witnesses, and zealously instigated their minds to the stoning. But Stephen with bended knees besought the Lord that he would redeem Saul. Stephen’s prayer was heard, and Saul was redeemed. The pious one was heard, and the impious justified.

By this deed is shown how greatly avails the prayer of true love. Verily the church of God would not have had Paul as a teacher, if the holy martyr Stephen had not thus prayed. Behold, Paul now rejoices with Stephen in the kingdom of heaven; with Stephen he enjoys the brightness of Christ, and with him he rules. Whither Stephen preceded, stoned with the stones of Saul, thither Paul followed, aided by the prayers of Stephen. Paul is not there defiled through Stephen’s murder, but Stephen rejoices in the fellowship of Paul, because true love rejoices in them both. True love overcame the cruelty of the Jews to Stephen, and the same love covered over the greatness of his sins in Paul, and it in both of them together earned the kingdom of heaven. Verily true love is the fountain and origin of all goodness, and noble fortitude, and the way that leads to heaven. He who journeys in true love cannot err nor fear: it directs, and shields, and leads. Through true love was the holy martyr rendered so courageous that he boldly reproved the disbelief of the Jews, and he continued tranquil amid the great stones, and benevolently prayed for the stoners, and, in addition thereto, entered the heavenly hall living, and crowned with glory.




My brethren, let us in some degree imitate so great a teacher’s faith, and so great a martyr’s love. Let us love our brothers in God’s church with such affection as that with which this martyr loved his foes.  (Ælfric, Sermones Catholici I, ‘The Passion of Blessed Stephen, Protomartyr, 51-53).


Beyond this specific passage, Ælfric proves an interesting figure to Orthodox Christians for at least a couple of more general reasons.  First, his works (along with that handful of other vernacular collections of homilies belonging to late Anglo-Saxon England), show us one local Orthodox church’s approach to linguistic adaptation and vernacularization.  Today, many are inclined to consider linguistic adaptation a sort of ‘all or nothing’: vernacularization ought to occur instantaneously and unilaterally or it means that there is something dramatically wrong in the Church.  In Anglo-Saxon England, however, where Orthodox Christianity dated back to Apostolic times, we encounter an alternative model, a sort of middle road, which endured for a significant period of time.  All services were conducted in Latin rather than the vernacular English, but by Ælfric’s homilies we are shown that preaching could often be in English.  Perhaps the realization of the existence of the British example can help us in North America to be patient with our current situation, seeing that it is not unprecedented.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, Ælfric represents a living example of Fr John Romanides’ point concerning cultural captivity and the West’s fall into heresy.  The Abbot of Eynsham’s death well predates the Schism (1054), as well as the Norman invasion (1066) which marks the official imposition of Franko-Latin doctrine (what we today call, ‘Roman Catholicism’) on the English people; he reposes some forty years before the former, and some fifty years before the latter.  In this sense, then, he is an Orthodox Christian.  But while his sermons contain many beautiful, Orthodox thoughts (like that quoted above), having lived under the philo-Norman regime of Edward the Confessor, one begins to see Norman influence rear its head in his writings – for example, he clearly assents to the filioque.  In the person of Ælfric, then, we see the gradual dimming of the light of Orthodox Britain even before the official date of the Schism or the Norman Conquest.  This is particularly important to recognize when it comes to developing an understanding of the Schism, but also when it comes to discerning issues associated with the Orthodox Western Rite.  It is not enough to use the dates of the Schism and the Conquest as so-called ‘cut-offs’ when determining Orthodox liturgical practices; rather we need to develop a subtle sensitivity to the issue of cultural captivity.

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Monasticism is an institution wherein man is viewed as a whole, as a psychosomatic being, with special emphasis being laid on the care of the soul and things spiritual, with the ultimate aim of leading him to perfection and theosis. It is precisely this reality which the hymnographer expresses in the apolytikion for the commemoration of an ascetic. Borrowing from the writings of St. Basil, he lauds the ascetic because by his actions he teaches us to, “Despise the flesh, for it passes away, [but] be solicitous for your soul which will never die.” Authentic Christianity, Christianity in its fullness, is cultivated in the monasteries, and the preservation of this is the greatest contribution to the world and to society imaginable. St. John Chrysostom repeatedly admonishes the faithful to visit monasteries so that they might see for themselves that the application of Christianity’s ascetic principles is not some utopian dream, but rather something entirely possible. The monastics succeed in creating a community wherein the worship and praise of God occupy as much time as do work and rest, wherein we find love amongst the brothers, and wherein the life of asceticism is lived in its highest form.

From Protopresbyter Theodoros Zisis, Following the Holy Fathers: Timeless Guides of Authentic Christianity  (Columbia: Newrome Press, 2017), 41.


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I bought a new pillow the other day, three days ago to be exact. I was excited because I often wake up with headaches and so I was anticipating a great night’s sleep. Three days in row I woke up disappointed and then I remembered: I forgot to put St. John under my new pillow!

See, years ago I had a conversation with a friend about nightmares and bad dreams. She said monastics would often advise placing an icon under one’s pillow in such circumstances. This is done not as a talisman but as a blessing. And so, I began putting paper icons under my pillow.

Not long after that conversation I visited the holy relics of St. John Maximovitch in San Francisco where I met a preistmonk whose great kindness I have never forgotten. This priestmonk invited me to visit St. John’s personal cell, to sit in his armchair that he used as a bed and to venerate his personal icon corner. At the end of this incredible experience he handed me a medallion with an icon of St. John embossed into it along with both the cathedrals he was responsible for in San Francisco and Shanghai. Since that time I kept this icon medallion under my pillow. It was under my pillow when I lived in South Korea, it was under my pillow when I lived in Greece, and now it’s under my pillow in Newfoundland. Even when I travel I try to remember to bring a little paper icon to put under my pillow.


Last night when I had trouble sleeping it dawned on me I had left the medallion in the other pillow since I actually place it into a zipped pillowcase so it doesn’t fall out during the night. (As you may be able to tell from the photograph, it’s fallen a few times). That’s when it occurred to me it may be a good idea to share this tip with others.

I personally have found it gives me more peace, even if it’s just peace of mind knowing there is a little grace-emitting blessing under my pillow. You may find it a helpful practice for yourself as well, and especially for small children who are afraid of the dark or of sleeping alone. This may give them a little extra courage knowing the saint is protecting them.

I have always found holy monasteries to be banks of spiritual knowledge and really believe their customs and practices are so helpful for us out in the world as well. I think it’s good to share the tips we’ve collected along the way so that together we can arrive safely and successfully at the harbour of the Heavenly Kingdom.



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midfeastb(Source) Today’s celebration is the midpoint of the fifty days between the Feasts of Pascha and Pentecost. Saint John tells us (John 7:14) that “in the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the Temple, and taught.” The Feast in question is the Feast of Tabernacles (celebrated in September), not Pentecost.

The Church has appointed John 7:14-30 to be read for the Midfeast, thereby linking Pascha and Pentecost. In Chapter 8 of Saint John’s Gospel, the Lord came to the Temple again and taught the people who came to Him. After leaving the Temple, he encounters the man born blind. We will hear about him on the Sunday of the Blind Man.

The Troparion of the Midfeast hints at the encounter of Christ and the Samaritan Woman in just a few days.

“In the middle of the Feast, O Savior, fill my thirsting soul with the waters of godliness, as Thou didst cry to all: If anyone thirst, let him come to Me and drink [John 7:37]. O Christ God, Fountain of our life, glory to Thee!”

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