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WEEKLY SERMONS & ORTHODOX ARTICLES
March 19 -
- Divine Liturgy, 10 a.m.
March 24 -
Acatist - Vesper Service, 7 p.m.
March 26 -
- Divine Liturgy, 10 a.m.
April 2 -
- Divine Liturgy, 10 a.m.
April 7 -
- Annunciation - Divine Liturgy, 10 a.m.
April 8 -
- Lazarus Saturday - Divine Liturgy, 10 a.m.
April 9 -
- Divine Liturgy, 10 a.m.
THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF GREAT LENT
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
How much it must grieve a father or a mother to see his or her child suffering without reason. To undergo pain and confusion — for what? Where is God in our plight — we may often ask ourselves. Where is God in all this pain and confusion?
Today we arrive at the fourth week of Lent. In today’s Gospel reading we heard of a father who was on his last hope. His son was possessed by a certain spirit from childhood, which was causing his son pain and confusion. Not even Jesus’ disciples could cure the boy. He brought his son to Jesus, who upon hearing of the father’s plight became exceedingly upset at the whole crowd and expressed these strong and direct words
"Oh you faithless generation, how much longer must I be with you?
How much longer must I put up with you." The Child was immediately brought close to Jesus and the spirit convulsed him instantly. As we know the child was eventually healed. But at what price one may ask? The father accepted and confessed his unbelief and beseeched God with tears to make his faith complete? This is the price, the fulfilment of our faith — payed by Christ himself yet we must pray and beseech Him as well.
It is perhaps important to stress here that this miracle account nowhere refers to the spirit by any title such as demon, or devil. It is perhaps because this spirit is in reference to the spirit of this world, the enemy of Christ. It is the spirit of this generation well rooted in society, it is passed on to our children like a
. Brethren remember these words well — it is the spirit of this generation which throws our youth about like the child with the spirit we heard earlier today. It smashes them to the ground, it throws them into the fire to be burnt, it throws them into the water to be drowned — today its drugs, alcohol, gambling, anything to distort the image and likeness of God, within them.
This spirit has a very old history going
back to primordial Man, Adam and Eve. It is firmly established and can not come out by anything — except, as our Lord instructed Moses, as our Lord instructed his disciples, as our Lord instructs us today, by beseeching God through prayer and fasting.
"Why could we not cast it out", his disciples asked their master in shame. We also must ask why can’t
cast this spirit out from our lives and our childrens lives?
Brethren, because as our Lord tells us "This kind can come out by nothing except prayer and fasting". This is the key to
. this twofold formula which treads on the head of this serpent of old and yields our first step towards heaven —
It is no coincidence then that the first and second steps of Saint John’s 30 chapter book
"THE LADDER (OF DIVINE ASCENT)"
are concerned with the renunciation of this life, this world we live in and detachment from all it’s pleasures. We honour Saint John of the Ladder today as a great Saint of our church who reminds us that going to heaven is not as easy as getting into an elevator and pressing a button. On the contrary, it is a long and hazardous climb which is impossible to scale fully unless we beseech God for assistance. May God grant us all fullness of faith, peace and joy on our climb to heaven — Amen.
FIFTH SUNDAY OF GREAT LENT. VENERABLE MARY OF EGYPT.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!
When the Lord says, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18, 36), it’s clear that, first of all, He warns us against crazy mistake of Jerusalemn inhabitants who met their King as a man who came to solve their earthly problems, as a statesman who would improve their everyday life, as a new chief called to replace corrupt and demoralized former authorities.
When the Lord says, “My kingdom is not of this world”, he warned His disciples, as it appeared later, against constant attempts to use the stones intended for building the cathedral, for quite other purposes. He forewarns the Church against fighting for earthly blessing to the detriment of Heaven care.
When the Lord says, “My kingdom is not of this world”, He also points us to the fact that the truth of this world and God’s truth are not only incompatible, but are too often in opposition to each other, and “Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds” (Mt. 11,19), that is the wicked and idle world is ready to acknowledge not what is really kind and good but what is convenient and useful here and now.
It’s especially realized clearly now on the fifth Sunday of Great Lent when the Church celebrates the memory of Venerable Mary of Egypt.
Human wisdom, formulated in the eastern proverb, prescribes every person to do three important things for fulfilling life vocation: to plant a tree, to built a house and to grow up a baby. Human wisdom in the form of aphorism shows a man that his life must be given to other people, because a tree, a house and a baby are only symbols of different types of service. Of course, this is a call to self-sacrifice, egoism refusal.
However, today as a reproach to all our philosophizing, all our notions about greatness of a man, the Holy Church offers an image of Venerable Mary of Egypt whose life doesn’t look like the life of heroes of innumerable human wars or brilliant life of film stars.
During her long seventy-seventh year old life venerable Mary of Egypt didn’t do anything for others. And of course, she didn’t plant any tree, didn’t build a house, didn’t give birth to a child and didn’t grow him up. In fact, she always lived only for herself, she devoted attention only to herself, she thought only about herself.
It was so when being a twelve year old teenager she left her parent’s house to indulger herself in crazy and shameless whoredom. In the course of long seventeen years this young girl thought that whoredom was the only sense of human life. Did she think about others at that time: about her unhappy parents forsaken by her or about those who were involved by her crazy lust in everlasting destruction? Hardly. But merciful God who “doesn’t take pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezek. 33, 11) performed a miracle, because “when sin increased, grace was always greater” (Rome 5, 20). And so like in Cana of Galilee ordinary water instantly became wine not by natural physic-chemical transformations, but as a result of miracle, so here a whore burnt by a sin, became a saint at once.
And so a year after year, in fast, prayer, hot weather, desperate loneliness in a desert she fought with all evil accumulated in her soul. Because it’s not enough to realize it, it’s not enough to reject it by the effort of will: it is here, in our memory, our lust, our fragility, in that wasting disease which is the result of the evil. She had to fight all her life, but after all she won. She really led a life of asceticism, cleansed of wickedness, she was able to come into God’s region, not the cathedral, not “somewhere” but the eternity.
She can teach us a lot. She can teach us what we must realize some day: that kingdom region where we enter so easily, the Church, and simply the world itself created by God, has remained clean from evil, though it has submitted, enslaved itself to evil because of us. If we realized it some day and felt there was no place for us there, and in answer confessed, that is turned our back upon ourselves in horror, averted ourselves in unbending resolution, we could also follow her example.
This example of her image is offered to us as a completing moment of Lent this spring and life. A week ago we heard the teaching, the call of Saint John of the Ladder who made up the Ladder of Perfection, with the help of which we can overcome evil and come to the truth. And today we see the example of the one, who, from the very depth of evil, has reached the height of holiness and says to us the words of the Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete, “Oh, Soul, God can whiten and cleanse the lepers, don’t despair, though you are a leper…”
Let her image be for us not only new inspiration, new hope, even new joy but a call, an appeal, because in vain do we give praise to the saints if we don’t learn anything from them, don’t try to imitate them.
Venerable Mary of Egypt devoted attention only to herself all her life. The Saint hermit heard only herself, but the words of the Apostle Paul which he said about Christ Saviour, could be quite applied to her: “for by His wounds you were healed”(1Peter 2, 24).
She prayed only for herself but helps us to be saved. She thought only about herself but the memory of her supports us, weak and sinful, in our struggle with sin. She never called anybody to abstinence and chastity but her example of desperate struggle with immoral thoughts gives us, faint-hearted and skeptical, hope for victory. Amen.
The feast of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary comes nine months before Christmas on the twenty-fifth of March. It is the celebration of the announcing of the birth of Christ to the Virgin Mary as recorded in the Gospel of Saint Luke.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no husband?” And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the Child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her
The services of the feast of the Annunciation, the Matins and the Divine Liturgy, stress again and again the joyous news of the salvation of men in the birth of the Saviour.
Today is the beginning of our salvation, the revelation of the eternal mystery. The Son of God becomes the Son of the virgin, as Gabriel announces the coming of Grace. Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos: Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you
A special feature of this feast is the Matinal Canon which has the character of a dialogue between the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary. Also among the more popular elements of the feast is the Magnification which has the form of our own salutation to the virgin mother with the words of the archangel:
With the voice of the archangel we cry to Thee, O Pure One: Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee! (Magnification).
The celebration of the Annunciation, therefore, is the feast of our own reception of the glad tidings of salvation, and our own glorification of the maiden Mary who becomes the Mother of God in the flesh.
Because the feast of the Annunciation normally comes during the season of Great Lent, the manner of celebration varies from year to year depending upon the particular day on which it falls. If the feast comes on a weekday of Lent, which is the most common case, the Divine Liturgy of the feast is served in the evening with Vespers and thus is celebrated after a full day of total abstinence. When this ¬happens, the fasting rules for the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts are followed. The Divine Liturgy of the Annunciation is the only celebration of the eucharistic liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom allowed on a weekday of Great Lent.
LAZARUS SATURDAY AND PALM SUNDAY
The week following the Sunday of Saint Mary of Egypt is called Palm or Branch Week. At the Tuesday services of this week the Church recalls that Jesus’ friend Lazarus has died and that the Lord is going to raise him from the dead (Jn 11). As the days continue toward Saturday, the Church, in its hymns and verses, continues to follow Christ towards Bethany to the tomb of Lazarus. On Friday evening, the eve of the celebration of the Resurrection of Lazarus, the “great and saving forty days” of Great Lent are formally brought to an end:
Having accomplished the forty days for the benefit of our souls, we pray to Thee, O Lover of Man, that we may see the holy week of Thy passion, that in it we may glorify Thy greatness and Thine unspeakable plan of salvation for our sake...
Lazarus Saturday is a paschal celebration. It is the only time in the entire Church Year that the resurrectional service of Sunday is celebrated on another day. At the liturgy of Lazarus Saturday, the Church glorifies Christ as “the Resurrection and the Life” who, by raising Lazarus, has confirmed the universal resurrection of mankind even before His own suffering and death.
By raising Lazarus from the dead before Thy passion, Thou didst confirm the universal resurrection, O Christ God! Like the children with the branches of victory, we cry out to Thee, O Vanquisher of Death: Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord!
Christ — the Joy, the Truth and the Light of All, the Life of the world and its Resurrection—has appeared in his goodness to those on earth. He has become the Image of our Resurrection, granting divine forgiveness to all
At the Divine Liturgy of Lazarus Saturday the baptismal verse from Galatians: As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Gal 3.27) replaces the Thrice-holy Hymn thus indicating the resurrectional character of the celebration, and the fact that Lazarus Saturday was once among the few great baptismal days in the Orthodox Church Year.
Because of the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, Christ was hailed by the masses as the long-expected Messiah-King of Israel. Thus, in fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament, He entered Jerusalem, the City of the King, riding on the colt of an ass (Zech 9.9; Jn 12.12). The crowds greeted Him with branches in their hands and called out to Him with shouts of praise: Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The Son of David! The King of Israel! Because of this glorification by the people, the priests and scribes were finally driven “to destroy Him, to put Him to death” (Lk 19.47; Jn 11.53, 12.10).
The feast of Christ’s triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, Palm Sunday, is one of the twelve major feasts of the Church. The services of this Sunday follow directly from those of Lazarus Saturday. The church building continues to be vested in resurrectional splendor, filled with hymns which continually repeat the Hosanna offered to Christ as the Messiah-King who comes in the name of God the Father for the salvation of the world.
The main troparion of Palm Sunday is the same one sung on Lazarus Saturday. It is sung at all of the services, and is used at the Divine Liturgy as the third antiphon which follows the other special psalm verses which are sung as the liturgical antiphons in the place of those normally used. The second troparion of the feast, as well as the kontakion and the other verses and hymns, all continue to glorify Christ’s triumphal manifestation “six days before the Passover” when he will give himself at the Supper and on the Cross for the life of the world.
Today the grace of the Holy Spirit has gathered us together. Let us all take up Thy cross and say: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!
(First Verse of Vespers).
When we were buried with Thee in baptism, O Christ God, we were made worthy of eternal life by Thy resurrection. Now we praise Thee and sing: Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord!
Sitting on Thy throne in heaven, and carried on a foal on earth, O Christ God, accept the praise of angels and the songs of children who sing: BIessed is he who comes to recall Adam!
At the vigil of the feast of Palm Sunday the prophecies of the Old Testament about the Messiah-King are read together with the Gospel accounts of the entry of Christ into Jerusalem. At Matins branches are blessed which the people carry throughout the celebration as the sign of their own glorification of Jesus as Saviour and King. These branches are usually palms, or, in the Slavic churches, pussy willows which came to be customary because of their availability and their early blossoming in the springtime.
As the people carry their branches and sing their songs to the Lord on Palm Sunday, they are judged together with the Jerusalem crowd. For it was the very same voices which cried Hosanna to Christ, which, a few days later, cried Crucify Him! Thus in the liturgy of the Church the lives of men continue to be judged as they hail Christ with the “branches of victory” and enter together with Him into the days of His “voluntary passion.
JESUS' ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM - PALM SUNDAY
On the Sunday before Pascha, the Holy Church celebrates the Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem. Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead (John 12:1). While tarrying there, in the house of Lazarus, many of those who had accompanied Him on the way from Jericho managed to reach Jerusalem and spread the tidings that Christ the Savior was coming there for the Feast of the Passover, and had stopped for a while in Bethany. Hearing this news, Christ's enemies, the scribes and Pharisees came to Bethany, not only on account of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, Whom He had raised from the dead (John 12:9).
The number of people believing in Christ the Savior was growing from day to day, and even some of the Jews who had up until then been hostile towards Him, seeing the miracle He had wrought, believed in Him. This made the scribes and Pharisees even more angry, and they resolved to kill not only Our Lord Jesus Christ, but the righteous Lazarus as well.
Jesus Christ did not want to increase the spite of His foes, the scribes and Pharisees, and for this reason He often avoided direct and open confrontation with them. But the time had come to take all the wrath and spite of these people upon Himself. So that His enemies would have no justification for their unbelief and would not be able to say afterwards that He had hidden His glory and His predestined Messianic mission from them. Our Lord made a ceremonial entry into Jerusalem, fulfilling all that the Prophets had foretold of Him. After spending a day in Bethany, Jesus Christ set out for the Holy City.
Calling to Himself two of His disciples - in all likelihood Peter and John - Our Lord asked them to bring from a nearby village a she-ass and her colt. The disciples went and fulfilled everything: finding at the gates of the town a she-ass and her colt, they brought them to the Savior. The young colt had not been ridden or borne a yoke before (1 Sam. 6:7). The disciples then spread their clothes upon it.
Thus Jesus entered Jerusalem, not in a royal chariot drawn by horses, but on a young ass, covered, not with rich cloths, but with the well-worn robes of the disciples. In this way, as the Evangelists John and Matthew tell us, the sayings of the Prophets were fulfilled: Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass (Matt. 21:5).Not only the disciples, but all who believed in Him rejoiced with a great joy, for they believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, Who, according to the erroneous beliefs and expectations of the Jews, would sit on the throne of David, the king of glory, and be their ruler and rescue them from the Roman yoke.
At the gates of Jerusalem Jesus was met by a great multitude of people, rejoicing and waving palm branches, who, as St. Matthew tells us, bestrewed the way with them and their garments (Matt. 21:7-8). All this was an expression of particular reverence for the Messiah Whom they had come out to welcome. [We note here that in the Russian Orthodox Church, branches from the pussy willow are used instead of palm branches, obviously on account of the harsh climate.]
During the Lord's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the whole people, who had come in their multitudes to celebrate the Passover and those who had witnessed Lazarus' resurrection and had been astounded by this great miracle, cried in joyous rapture: Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! (Matt. 21:9). The humble and meek procession of the Savior through the streets of Jerusalem surpassed and eclipsed all the triumphant processions that humanity had ever known.
Seeing the joy of the multitudes around Him, however, the Savior grew sad, and since He loved His people and His city. His heart was filled with sorrow. He knew that the same people, who rejoiced now and cried Hosanna! and saw in Him their salvation, would in a few days cry out in rage: Crucify Him! Crucify Him! (John 19:6). The Savior also knew that the fair and holy city of Jerusalem which He was entering, would soon be desolated and not a stone be left one upon another. As He drew night to the city, Jesus wept over it, saying, "Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes (Luke 19:41-42).
But it was not for Himself that our Lord wept. He wept and grieved because He knew that God's chosen Jewish people were perishing in ignorance and error. The Lord grieved not only for Jerusalem and the Chosen People, but for the whole universe; His gaze reached across the centuries, and saw the sins of future generations, and it was for them that He grieved in His soul; for them He wept and prayed.
Thus, the triumphant entrance of the Savior into Jerusalem which we celebrate on Palm Sunday was accomplished. In the Lord's Entrance, we see His way to voluntary suffering and death for our salvation. And we also see the image of Christ's spiritual Kingdom - the Kingdom of Truth, Peace and Humility.
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