St Abercius, Equal to the Apostles

“In the time of the Emperor Antoninus (138-161), St Abercius was bishop in the city of Hierapolis in Phrygia. The great majority of the town’s inhabitants were pagans, and St Abercius governed his little flock with a heart greatly saddened by the great number of pagans and idolaters, and with fervent prayer to God that He would bring them to the true Light. At the time of a rowdy idolatrous festival, Abercius became inflamed with godly zeal and went into the temple, smashing all the idols. When the furious pagans tried to kill him, three young madmen fell down before the man of God, foaming at the mouth and bellowing. The man of God drove the demons out of them, and they were healed and became calm. Seeing this, the fury of the pagans turned to marveling at Christ’s wonderworker, and five hundred of them were immediately baptized. Little by little, everyone in the city of Hierapolis came to believe in Christ and was baptized. The proconsul of the region, Publius, had a blind mother whose sight Abercius restored by prayer, and both Publius and his mother came to faith in Christ, along with many other people. In old age, Abercius was summoned to Rome, where he healed the Emperor’s mad daughter. The Lord Christ appeared to His faithful follower several times. People from far and near came to him for help in chronic sickness, and the demons not only feared him but were obedient to his commands. At the order of the Lord Himself, he preached the Gospel throughout Syria and Mesopotamia, and went to his beloved Lord in great old age, in the city of Hierapolis at the end of the second century.”  (The Prologue from Ochrid, p. 96)

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Expressing the Holy Trinity in Ourselves

The aim of the Christian life, which Seraphim described as the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God, can equally well be defined in terms of deification. Basil described the human person as a creature who has received the order to become a god; and Athanasius, as we know, said that God became human that we humans might become god.

The saints, as Maximus the Confessor put it, are those who express the Holy Trinity in themselves. This idea of a personal and organic union between God and humans — God dwelling in us, and we in Him — is a constant theme in the Epistles of St Paul, who sees the Christian life above all else as a life ‘in Christ’. The same idea recurs in the famous text of 2 Peter: ‘Through these promises you may become partakers of the divine nature’ (i,4).

(Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, p. 225)

November 13: Commemorating St. John Chrysostom

On November 13 we Orthodox honor St John Chrysostom, the Archbishop of Constantinople.

“St. Chrysostom was not only continuously preaching the Word of God at every opportunity but also had Bible classes twice a week where he unceasingly encouraged lay Christians to become knowledgeable in the treasures of God’s wisdom and to live by them. To open the Bible and to read prayerfully and attentively its rich library of books was for St. John to open one’s sails to the Holy Spirit and to embark on a most exciting journey in the spiritual seas and shorelines of God’s kingdom. Christians according to him are not only to know the Scriptures but also to engrave them on their hearts. IGNORANCE OF THE BIBLE, SO CHRYSOSTOM TEACHES, IS THE SOURCE OF THE GREATEST EVILS OF THE WORLD, WHILE KNOWLEDGE OF THE BIBLE IS THE SOURCE OF THE GREATEST BLESSINGS.”   (Theodore Stylianopoulous, A Year of the Lord: #1 – Fall, pp 123-124)

St. Sergius of Radonezh

On September 25 in the Orthodox Church, we commemorate the death of St. Sergius of Radonezh, one of the most beloved saints of Russia.  In the recorded life of St. Sergius, it is said: “He diligently read the Holy Scriptures to obtain a knowledge of virtue; in his secret meditations training his mind in a longing for eternal bliss.  Most wonderful of all, none knew the measure of his ascetic  and godly life spent in solitude.  God, the Beholder of all hidden things, alone saw it.”   For us we learn that St. Sergius studied the Scriptures daily in order to learn how to please God and to do God’s will.  We also learn that even his fellow monks did not know his ascetic practices – he practiced them privately and quietly – he didn’t constantly talk about his fasting discipline or judge the discipline of others.  He understood the lessons of Matthew 6:1-16 quite well, and practiced them!    According to those who knew him, “To increase his own fear of the Lord he spent day and night in the study of God’s word.”   St. Sergius gives us witness to how we can live and learn to serve God and neighbor.

The Holy Prophet Moses the God-Seer

The Holy Prophet Moses is commemorated in the Orthodox calendar annually on September 4.  Moses is referred to in Orthodoxy as the “God-seer” based on the witness of Scripture:

“When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here am I.” (Exodus 3:4)

“Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel…”  (Exodus 24:9-10)

“Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” (Exodus 33:11).

“And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face…”  (Deuteronomy 33:10)

The 4th Century monk Evagrius noted that when Moses is praised in the Old Testament, it is not for his many mighty deeds or powerful miracles.  Rather, he is praised for his humility.  “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all men that were on the face of the earth”  (Numbers 12:3). Evagrius writes:

“’Tell me, then, why has Scripture, when it wanted to praise Moses, left aside all miracles and commemorated only his meekness? For it does not say that Moses punished Egypt with the twelve plagues and led the esteemed people out thence. And Scripture does not say that Moses was the first to receive the Law, and that he acquired insights into bygone worlds. And Scripture does not say that he separated the Red Sea with his staff, and brought forth water from the rock for the thirsting people. Rather, Scripture says that he stood all alone in the desert in the face of God, when he wanted to destroy Israel, and he besought to be blotted out with the sons of his people. Before God, he set down love for mankind and transgression by saying: ‘If you will forgive their sin – and if not, blot me, I pray you, out of your book which you have written.’ Thus spoke the meek one! But God preferred rather to forgive those who had sinned than to do an injustice to Moses.’

Thanks to his meekness, Moses was the only one who spoke with God, ‘face to face’ and learned from him the reasons of creation ‘in visible form, and not [only] in dark sayings.’ For meek love, the ‘mother of knowledge’, is the door to natural knowledge, to which the five books of Moses bear witness. Indeed, as ‘friendship with God’ and ‘perfect spiritual love’, love marked by meekness is even the place where ‘prayer in spirit and in truth is effected!”     (Gabriel Bunge, Dragon’s Wine and Angel’s Bread, pp 83-84)

See Also:  Moses, the Man of God

 

Sunday of All Saints (2016)

In the collection of the homilies of St. Gregory Palamas, there is a footnote explaining a little about the history of celebrating All Saints day on the first Sunday after Pentecost.

“With the Sunday of All Saints, the first Sunday after Pentecost, the cycle of moveable feasts in the liturgical calendar of the Orthodox Church draws to a close. This cycle began with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee . . . and had its epicenter the Sunday of Pascha (Easter), the Feast of Feasts. Originally dedicated to the Triumphant Martyrs . . . this feast was later expanded (probably during the reign of Leo VI the Wise, Emperor from 886-912) to include all the saints, both known and unknown, throughout the ages. As such, it is also the feast to which every Christian looks with earnest expectation, for it sets before us, in a concrete and graphic manner, the very purpose of our existence: to become ‘heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ’ (Rom. 8:17) . . .

Furthermore, the liturgical sequence of the feast of the Pentecostarion (a liturgical book containing the services from Easter Sunday to the Sunday of All Saints) is significant, as it points to the pattern of the manifestation of God the Holy Trinity in the divine economy, namely, that it is the Son and Word of God who in and through His saving work, culminating in the Sunday of Pascha, reveals God the Father to the world, that it is the Holy Spirit who bears witness to the full and perfect divinity of the Son (Sunday of Pentecost), and that it is the communion of the saints, that is the Church, who together affirms the consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son (Sunday of All Saints).” ( footnote in Saint Gregory Palamas, The Homilies, pp 580-581)

The fruit of Pascha and Pentecost are the Holy Ones of God, the Saints.  The Resurrection of Christ opens Paradise to all the chosen of God, while the coming of the Holy Spirit enables us to live the holy life on earth.  The existence of the saints is a witness to God’s plan of salvation for all humankind.

St. Patrick’s Breastplate

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,

The strong Name of the Trinity,

By invocation of the same,

The Three in One and One in Three.

By Whom all nature hath creation,

Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:

Praise to the Lord of my salvation,

Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

(St. Patrick of Ireland, d. 461AD)

Hymns in honor of St. Patrick, Bishop of Armagh, Enlightener of Ireland

Patrick of Ireland

KONTAKION TONE 4

FROM SLAVERY YOU ESCAPED TO FREEDOM IN CHRIST’S SERVICE:
HE SENT YOU TO DELIVER IRELAND FROM THE DEVIL’S BONDAGE.
YOU PLANTED THE WORD OF THE GOSPEL IN PAGAN HEARTS.
IN YOUR JOURNEYS AND HARDSHIPS YOU RIVALLED THE APOSTLE PAUL!
NOW THAT YOU HAVE RECEIVED THE REWARD FOR YOUR LABORS IN HEAVEN,
HOLY BISHOP PATRICK,
NEVER CEASE TO PRAY FOR THE FLOCK YOU HAVE GATHERED ON EARTH.

IKOS
patrickIt is hard to write words that will fittingly show the glory of the
servant of God. He did not come with earthly power and wisdom to
conquer a land, but with the humility and meekness of a slave. He won
all hearts by his great endurance and his love for the God who had
redeemed him. We, too, are struck by his forbearance and give glory to
the Lord whom he served, crying: NEVER CEASE TO PRAY FOR THE FLOCK YOU HAVE GATHERED ON EARTH.

St. Metrios the Farmer

My first parish assignment as a priest was at Holy Trinity Church in Clayton, Wisconsin. The good people there had to put up with an inexperienced priest, and they kindly taught me many good lessons.   Many of the parishioners at that time (early 1980’s) were involved in farming and almost everyone in the parish came from a farming family even if they themselves were not farming.

It happened while I was there that I saw in an Orthodox Hagiographic Calendar on June 1 was listed St. Metrios the Farmer.  I had never heard of St. Metrios but did some research (this was still pre-Internet days) and found a couple versions of his life, which were largely similar with some variations in details.  I immediately loved his story.

So often Orthodox hagiographies are full of miracles, super-human ascetic feats and other inimitable deeds, that they often don’t speak to me.  I’m looking for someone whom I can imitate.  St. Metrios life was simple and straight forward.  It has a miracle in it, but that is a gift from God.  Metrios’ hagiography consists mostly of one deed:  he did the next right thing.  He was honest and returned money he had found to its rightful owner without seeking a reward.  That is a Christian behavior I can imitate.  The life of St. Metrios tells me, do the next right thing.  Leave the ascetic feats to the monks (though Metrios’ good deed involved a lot of self denial) and leave miracles to miracle workers.  Christ did not command us to do miracles, but He did command us to love. Love is something within my power.  It involves doing the next right thing.  Sanctity and the Kingdom of God are not beyond our reach, but rather are possible for everyone who follows Christ and allows the Holy Spirit to work in their lives.  God equips us to do the next right thing – to imitate St. Metrios the holy farmer.

The edifying tale of St. Metrios the Farmer:

In the area of Galatia and Paphlagonia, there was a farmer named Metrios. He would see his neighbor preparing his sons for Constantinople, where they would become officers and servants of the Emperor. Then Metrios beseeched God, saying: “Lord, if I am Your worthy servant, grant me a male child to lean on in my old age, and that I may glorify Your Holy Name.” Having prayed, he went to the festival that took place every year in Paphlagonia, loading his carriage with whatever he needed.

On his return, Metrios stopped in a small forest that had water in order to water his animals. There, he found a pouch that had 1500 coins. As it was sealed, he did not open it, but took it and went home. He hid the pouch in a safe spot and did not tell anyone about it.

The next year Metrios returned again to the festival of Paphlagonia, and when he had sold and bartered all of his goods, he set out for home.  He again stoped in the woods where he found the coins, and there he observed those who passed by. There then appeared someone who was looking for something, heavily distressed. The farmer asked him why he was so distressed, and he replied that he was a skilled and successful merchant and he had borrowed in good faith 500 gold coins from another man last year.  He had come to the festival and had sold a lot of goods at the festival and had accumulated 1500 gold coins, but then lost them in this forest.  Thus he had been reduced from being a fortunate and wealthy man to poverty, unable to repay his debt.

Then the farmer went and took from his carriage the pouch which he had found and showed it to the merchant.  So stunned was the merchant that he fell  to the ground in a dead feint.  The poor farmer helped the dealer recover by getting water for him, then he opened the pouch, and they counted the coins which were in fact 1500. The dealer then wanted to give the farmer 500, but he would not accept anything. Less was offered, but the poor farmer would not take even one coin. So after both thanked God, they separated.

That night, when the farmer fell asleep, he saw in his dreams an angel of the Lord, who said that for what he had done God would grant him a male child which he was to name Constantine, and that the child would bring great blessing to his house.

It happened after a certain time that the farmer’s wife gave birth to a baby boy, which when he grew up was educated in Constantinople, and Emperor Leo the Wise elevated him to be a Patrician.  Thus God rewarded the farmer  for his act of honesty.

Honesty it turns out is the path to holiness.  It is something each Christian is capable of doing.

St. Metrios, pray to God for us.

St. John Chrysostom (November 13)

St. John Chrysostom

The Orthodox Church commemorates St. John Chrysostom (d. 407AD), the Archbishop of Constantinople, on November 13 each year.  He is considered to be one of the best preachers of the Patristic era, and Orthodoxy’s most noted commentator on the writings of the Apostle Paul.

Noted patristic translator Robert Hill describes the role of St. John Chrysostom’s sermons as “a sail for the Spirit’s breath to carry the believers forward on their journey.”     (Robert C. Hill, Reading the Old Testament in Antioch, pg. 186)

The Martyrdom of Boris and Gleb

Sts. Boris and Gleb

St. Vladimir Prince of the Rus is noted of course for his choosing to become a Christian in 988AD and thus bringing the Christian Faith to the people of Rus (both Ukrainians and Russians claim this is how Orthodox Christianity came to them).  His decision to embrace Christianity proved fateful to his own children as well.  When Vladimir died, there was a question as to which of his sons would succeed him to the throne.  One of his sons, Svyatopolk, was determined to use lethal force to attain the throne.  Two of St. Vladimir’s sons however, influenced by their new Christian faith decided that it would not be right to take up arms against their brothers to gain the throne.  They were not only filial brothers, they were now through baptism brothers in Christ.  Svyatopolk however lusted for power and sent his men to kill Boris first.  Fr. Sergei Hackel tells the story this way:

Martyr Boris

“The murderers arrived when it was still dark: but Boris, as they could hear, was already up and at prayer. “O Lord Jesus Christ, who in this form didst come down to us on earth” (he was praying before an icon) ‘and who of thine own free will didst deign to be nailed upon the cross and endure suffering for our sins: vouchsafe me also to end suffering.’”

Boris decides to imitate Christ and accept martyrdom rather than even defend himself from those sent to murder him.  Gleb the other brother also decides not to retaliate or defend himself, but accepting his role as a martyr for Christ, lays down his life rather than kill another.  Fr. Hackel concludes the account of these martyred saints of the Orthodox Church:

We see them facing death. Are not we, with them, awaiting death? How do they face it? At first, alone and — like us — afraid. There is no one at hand to help them. They are not immediately willing to submit. There is no cheap victory when it comes. The agony of Gethsemane precedes the submission of Gethsemane.

Martyr Gleb

Yet no sooner have they submitted than they find they are no longer alone in their agony, they are under Christ’s yoke, he is lifting the weight off their shoulders. He is their partner under the yoke; they walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and they fear no evil: His rod and His staff comfort them.  …   But Svyatopolk is evil, says the world. Oppose him; you have the force, use it, your cause is just. You will live and rule your people wisely. Even the justice of their cause does not provoke them: was not the most just of causes defended by Peter in Gethsemane, and was he not rebuked? Could not the Son of God have called down more than twelve legions of angels to His defense? Yet He submitted.

Boris and Gleb, in these last moments, link their lives with Christ’s, and, with Thomas the Apostle, they are able to say: “Let us also go with Him, that we may die with Him”