In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit Amen. Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!
I had the good fortune this last Friday to attend and sing at the funeral of our parish’s newest member: The servant of God, Lev, in the final moments of his earthly sojourn, consented to his family’s fervent desire that he be baptized and receive Holy Communion as an Orthodox Christian. At his funeral just a few days ago the church sang some of the boldest, most audacious words about our brother’s death and what most assuredly will someday be our fate as well:
Thou alone art immortal, [addressing Christ]/ Who didst create and fashion man; / but we mortals were formed of earth, and unto earth shall we return, / as Thou who madest me didst command and say unto me: / For earth thou art and unto earth shalt thou return, / whither all we mortals are going, / making as a funeral dirge the song: // Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
Today marks an important feast in the life of the Church, but it is an important feast for me personally, as it features someone who has helped me so much over the years. This feast of the falling asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mother Mary is the foundation of our family life. While the Russian Royal Family serves as our family feast day, this feast was our family feast day before I had a family, or rather when I was praying fervently to have one of my own.
For those of you in my faithful readership who have yet to experience an Orthodox Christian Holy Week, now is your chance. At an Orthodox parish near you,begins a week of services next week unlike any you have experienced anywhere else on the planet. If you are local to Boston, you are cordially invited to attend all of the services our parish offers. If you can only do one, come to either Saturday morning Liturgy or late Saturday night, early Sunday morning for the Feast of Feasts, GREAT AND HOLY PASCHA.
Am reading a fantastic book for Lent by a woman who serves in ministry in the Anglican Church in their home parish in Pittsburgh, PA. She is another C.S. Lewis in her ability to take complex spiritual experiences and capture them with poignant and contemporary images. Her personal honesty and vulnerability make the work eminently readable and relatable. Tish Harrison Warren is author of Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep. It is half spiritual memoir (my favorite genre of writing at this time of my life) and half prayer manual. The structure is based on the Compline service in the Book of Common Prayer, a service the author has grown particularly drawn to and even dependent upon.
Dear students, faculty, and staff of Boston Trinity Academy, it is a great honor for me to be with you today. I was asked to deliver a presentation entitled “Introduction to Orthodoxy” and I have dressed as fully as I could for the occasion. Inner cassock, outer wide-sleeved cassock, and the funny hat. There are two reasons I dressed like this. The first reason is for you to see what an Orthodox priest looks like and not be too scared next time you see one. The second reason is that people often mistake this look and the outward cultural elements of Orthodoxy for its essence. Several communities here in the United States, such as the Lebanese, the Russians, and the Greeks, use Orthodoxy as a banner under which they unite to project their cultural heritage and distinctiveness. Some think Orthodoxy is about the glory of Hagia Sophia, the iconic cathedral of Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul. Or they think it’s about long robes, beards, intimidating monks, and Byzantine Chant. Some believe Orthodoxy is an ethnic religion. “Are you a Greek priest?,” they often ask me. “When is Greek Easter this year?” “Can I come to your church if I am not Greek or Russian?” More tragically, Orthodox nations sometimes exploit their religious heritage to promote political agendas and even wage war on neighboring countries. OK, I’ll take off the funny hat now, so it doesn’t mess my hair!
For the prayers of parents make firm the foundations of houses.
Wedding Service of the Holy Orthodox Christian Church
This prayer best describes my feeling towards a man who gave me not only his daughter to wed but a firm foundation of prayer and life in the Church. This picture from our wedding contains my father, my father-in-law (that most antiseptic of English terms for relations), and me embracing in a “cord of three strands that cannot easily be broken.” And now that one of us lives on the other side of this vale of tears, I proclaim with the Divine Apostle that the cord remains unbroken.
Despair is a temptation when life loses its purpose and the threat of an untimely death threatens to shorten that purposeless existence. As the worldwide coronavirus continues to rage with the possible hope for medical relief still months away, it is difficult to find cause to give thanks. Yet the lives of the saints show us how to find joy under all circumstances and the saint we remember this year on the feast of American Thanksgiving especially teaches how to give glory to God for all things.
Saint John Chrysostom the Golden-mouthed Archbishop of Constantinople (347-407) not only lived a life of thanksgiving, he is the principle author of the Divine Liturgy, the means by which the Church communes the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the medicine of immortality and the mystical union of humanity with God. The Liturgy is also called the Eucharist from the Greek verb eucharisto which literally means “to give thanks” or to say thank you. When the church celebrates the Liturgy, She is thanking God, returning the gift received to the Giver of all good things in an eternal circle of reciprocal thanks.
Monasteries are the center of Orthodox Spirituality and are unfortunately mostly highly underrated. For a while I thought of them as a place to pray and plant seeds. But after visiting St. John the Baptist Monastery in Warwick, MA on many occasions my perception changed.
This small monastery in Western Massachusetts has a very relaxed atmosphere. Encompassed by forest, this place is surrounded by beautiful nature. Having this relaxed, calm setting sets a deep sense of inner peace. The quiet area helps calm the soul and leave all the worldly cares behind.
There are many monasteries around the world, and all of them have a unique setting. But the important key to the quiet beauty is the peace and calmness that is in the core of these Orthodox communities.
The famous saying that Christian Life is caught not simply taught relates to this injunction from the apostle to his disciple. I remember a time in my life when I had just graduated college that I eagerly desired to receive such a transmission. Oh, to be entrusted with the sacredkerygma of the living and saving Gospel of Jesus Christ from someone in that line of succession: a man who had heard it from a man who had heard it from another all the way back to the Lord himself. My own fathers In the flesh had all but denied this possibility. A writer of the book called The History of the Evangelical Association, a German pietistic confession that my ancestors followed in the mid-nineteenth century proclaimed about the historical apostolic succession “There remains an unbridgeable chasm between the Roman Catholic Church and our own Protestant one, and who can bridge this unbridgeable chasm?”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Christ is baptized! An old Gospel hymn says, What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me pure within? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. O precious is the flow that makes me white as snow. No other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Brothers and sisters in the Lord, on this Sunday after Theophany, the great Feast of our Lord’s baptism in our human flesh, what darkness covers our minds? What sickness is asking for the blood of Jesus to cure? The blind man in this morning’s Gospel dwelt in a literal darkness, yet his enlightened soul knew who to ask for help and mercy. We live in a supposedly enlightened age but are blind to God, so that while we see with our physical eyes, our spiritual sight is quite limited.