Oh, How Blest Are Ye: All Souls Day

Let us consider this possible conversation between ourselves and the Faithful Departed, whom we commemorate this day.

 

 

 

 

 

We might say:

Oh, how blest are ye
whose toils are ended,
Who through death have unto God ascended!
Ye have arisen
From the cares which keep us still in prison.

And the Faithful Departed would respond:

Truly, we to glory have arisen
From all cares that held us in a prison,
Earthly toil ended,
We unto our God are now ascended.

We are still as in a dungeon living,
Still oppressed with sorrow and misgiving;
Our undertakings
Are but toils and troubles and heart-breakings.

We no more as in a dungeon wander;
God has taken us to Heaven yonder.
Tears and frustrations
Are the sum of earthly expectation.

Ye meanwhile are in your chambers sleeping,
Quiet, and set free from all our weeping;
No cross or sadness
There can hinder your untroubled gladness.

Oh, our destiny, how blest! How wond’rous
To be free from earthly pain so pond’rous!
Naught but rejoicing
Fills us now, our thanks and praises voicing.

Christ has wiped away your tears forever;
Ye have that for which we still endeavor;
To you are chanted
Songs that ne’er to mortal ears were granted.

Ah, what words, what language might we borrow
To describe our freedom from all sorrow!
Naught else but singing
Of the Angels in our ears is ringing!

Ah, who would, then, not depart with gladness
To inherit heaven for earthly sadness?
Who here would languish
Longer in bewailing and in anguish?

In the world man’s heart is torn with anguish,
Constantly his soul in pain must languish;
But Jesus’ merit,
Death a door has made, Life to inherit.

Come, O Christ, and loose the chains that bind us:
Lead us forth and cast this world behind us.
With Thee, th’ Anointed,
Finds the soul its joy and rest appointed.

Dearest friends, we say farewell with gladness;
May our death not cause you grief and sadness.
By Christ invited,
Someday we again shall be united!

 

Author: Simon Dach, 1635
Translated by: Henry W. Longfellow & Kenneth E. Runge

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Great is Your Reward: All Saints Day

Today we commemorate the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ lived in and through the nameless and numberless throng that laid down their life for Christ’s sake. Many were violently executed; some were tortured and died in prison. Many died in the great persecutions in Rome or Russia; some were killed secretly. Some saw the faces of their tormenters; some never knew they were headed for death until the sword or the bullet or the bomb struck. However, in every case these Christian martyrs did not die needlessly. For the Lord mingled their blood with His own in the cup of salvation so that He might fertilize and strengthen the faithful in all times and places.

And now we celebrate, as we do each year, the reward that the Lord has given them. I call it a reward not because they sought it, but because they had to struggle and endure privation before it was given to them. And I call it a reward not because it they were competing to get it, but because it is the prize that is given to all those who endure to the end. For surely you have heard that “He who endures to the end shall be saved” (Mt 10.22; 24.13; Mk 13.13). And so they endured—not by their own strength but by the mercy of God. And so they are saved—not because they exceeded us in natural ability and courage, but because the Spirit of our God gave them the words to speak, and the strength to persevere, and the faith to look beyond their affliction and pain, to the life in the Lord God who lives for them and with them and in them.

So now the souls of these unnamed righteous heroes are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace. For though in the sight of men they were punished, their hope is full of immortality. Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself; like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them. (Wisdom of Solomon 3.1-6)

But our duty today is not simply to remember, or to celebrate, or to congratulate anonymous martyrs with the hope that we might live up to their example. For who wishes their death to be our death? And surely heaven is not gained only by those who suffer bodily violence.

Rather, our duty is to understand two things. First, that the death of the martyrs clearly shows that Our Lord will see us through anything—even the worst—that we will ever endure. And second, that like them we will certainly endure afflictions of soul, if not also body; and torments of the mind, if not of the flesh; and the onslaught of the invisible devil and demons, if not visible torturers and executioners. For it is most certainly true that all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Tim 3.12).

Yet this happens not because Our Lord afflicts us in this life so that we might better appreciate the life of the world to come; and not because we are being punished now to see if we are worthy of the prize of heaven. Rather, we suffer and are persecuted and endure hardship because we have been baptized in the blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and His blood by His Supper still nourishes us, body and soul. That blood is our salvation. But that blood also reminds us that our life and communion in Him participates not only in His victory, but also in His death; not only in His joy, but also in His suffering. For we know that since we partake of His sufferings, we will also share in His consolation. (2 Cor 1.17)

The Lord Jesus Himself testifies of this when He says,

“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.” (Jn 15.18-21)

The One who sent the Lord is the Father. And He sent Him to bless us. That blessing comes through the death of Our Lord, and then also the drowning and death of our sinful self. And that blessing raises us to newness of life, just as Our Lord Jesus was raised from the dead by the glory of His Father. (Rom 6.4)

Yet in this life, we are constantly being put to death. And in this life, we are continually hounded by the devil who throws our past against us; and by the world which urges us to live as if God doesn’t matter; and by our flesh which so easily succumbs, and then also attacks us with all manner of sickness and pain.

Yet what does Our Lord say to all this? “Blessed are you.” Blessed are you not because you have the innate strength and nerve to get through, but because you’re wrapped in the Lord Jesus who knows the way and is your escape. And blessed are you not because you can do it, but because the Lord Jesus has both done it for you and now lives it in you. And blessed are you not because you’ve chosen the right path and are on your way, but because the Lord Himself is your Way, your Truth, your Life, and—in the end—your Resurrection. And so blessed are you not because you’ll make it if you just hang in there, but because the Lord has already made it, so you—enveloped in Him by the Spirit—have nothing to fear.

So rejoice and be exceedingly glad. For your heavenly reward is great, and far exceeds both your present cross and your imagined expectations.

So arm yourselves also with the same mind as Christ, who suffered for us in the flesh. For he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. (1 Peter 4.1-2)

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Return to Being Little Children

Where I grew up, it was customary to place in children’s bedrooms near the bed a precious picture of an angel watching two little ones cross a precarious bridge over a seething water fall during a nighttime storm. I had one of those pictures hanging in my bedroom. The point of this picture was as clear as it is comforting: Guardian Angels protect each of us when we are in danger. And that is the truth. Angels are bodiless spirits who serve God by serving us. And that truth is made plain in today’s Gospel, when Jesus indicates that we should not despise little children because their Angels will protect them.

The problem with the picture that hung in my own bedroom is not the truth it proclaims, but how we adults might now read that picture. We’re tempted to see angels as good and comforting, but also as childish. They’re for children. To protect them and watch over them. But as we grow older, wiser, more mature, more self-sufficient, we believe we don’t need God’s security force as much. We think angels are only for those hard spots we can’t anticipate, or can’t get out of.

And perhaps that’s how we hear today’s Gospel, and how we see today’s feast, and how we look at St Michael. He’s good—especially for children. He’s helpful—especially back then, when he took on the devil. And he’s handy—when things get out of hand. But he doesn’t really have a day-to-day connection with us, except as a symbol of God’s protection.

If we think of it that way, we miss the impact of Our Lord’s words. And that point is very direct: It’s not that children need angels. It’s that we must return to being little children. Children of God, who look to God with the same unquestioned trust, the same intense reliance, the same undaunted conviction, the same unhesitating confidence, the same loving dependence that every little child has when it looks at its mother or father.

We must return to being little children. For little “children follow their father, love their mother, don’t know how to wish evil to their neighbors, do not care about earthly riches; they insult not, they hate not, they lie not, they believe what they are told, and take for truth what they hear” (St Hilary). And “unless we return to the innocency of childhood with the simple directness of little children, we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” (St Hilary)

What faith really looks like. That is what we see in little children. What trust really is. That’s the gift given by those simple-hearted, who lead with the heart more than with the mind. What we see in them is what we are called to be. For “when we are well rooted in childlike simplicity of heart, we shall bear in ourselves an image of the sublime simpleness of the Lord Jesus.” (St Hilary)

Yet it is not just children or the child-like who show us the faith we ought really to have. We see this also in angels. They show us what true faith looks like. And, in fact, that is their greatest strength, and why they are given by God to minister to us.

For angels are sent by God, not to protect us with a mighty hand, not to impress us with their ability to keep us safe and ward off Satan. Angels serve us by demonstrating that true faith releases our inner strength. That complete reliance frees us to be better. That unquestioned dependence on God revives in us the image of God we are designed to illustrate.

Think back to how we lost—and how we still lose so often—our image and likeness. It is by choosing to go our own way. To act as if we know better. And to prefer to gratify our own desires, to identify ourselves by our weaknesses, to indulge our passions, to claim and assert our independence. That desire to be like God, to exchange His likeness for what we like—that ran us aground, and into the ground.

How do we arise from our dust and ashes? How do we get back to what we were, to who we are supposed to be? Look at the angels. And look especially at our patron, the holy Archangel Michael.

When there was silence in heaven,
When the demonic devil waged war against God and against us,
Michael fought against Satan and his demons
Not by looking into himself for strength,
But by not loving his life,
By freely giving up his freedom,
By choosing to sacrifice his will, his desires, his ambitions.

And then was heard this loud voice in heaven: “Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ.”

Because Michael and his angels became as little children, who are single-hearted, single-minded, in who they trust, and what they will do for those they love. And what little children will do is readily and quickly give over their most precious items in order to please mother or father, or whoever they trust and love.

And that’s why angels have such an affinity for children. Not because they are vulnerable. Not because they are innocent or simple-minded. But because, in children, angels always behold the face of their heavenly Father.

The goal, then, is to be transformed back into children; to become as little children who set our hearts on nothing more than being near and seeing face to face the holy angels in our Father’s kingdom.

By the prayers of our patron, holy Michael the Archangel, may we not lose our way but return to being children in faith, so that he might, one day, safely escort us into paradise.

Homily for the Patronal Feast of St Michael’s Church
1 October 2017

 

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Easter Homily: Something Strange is Happening

Cristo ha resucitado!
Hristos a înviat!
Kristus är uppstånden!
Hristos Voskrese!
Χριστὸς ἀνέστη!
al-Masīḥ qām!
Christus resurrexit!
Christ is risen!

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, one God.

Something strange is happening. But do we have ears to hear this news? Do we have eyes to see this event?

Most unfortunately, most regrettably, most sadly, our eyes and ears focus on what we think really matters—the sights that please us, the music that recalls pleasant memories.

But these sights and sounds fade. And we know that, because we try to freeze them in recordings. But most of all, these sights and sounds don’t deeply satisfy. They only provide momentary distractions. They only make us think we are happier. The sights and sounds we think are so good, so helpful, so pleasing—they are like an over-strong perfume that doesn’t really hide the stench of our dismal and decaying world.

But something strange is happening. Something that is so much better than what we say is good. Something that soaks deeply into marrow of our hearts. Something that doesn’t distract, or cover-over, or give fleeting pleasure. Something whose aroma fills our souls, whose taste truly satisfies and fulfills.

Something strange is happening. And that something requires us to believe that what we say is so important, is really nothing. That what we firmly believe is necessary, actually is not. That what we will give all we can to have, truly is worthless.

What is this strange happening? It is the transformation of our life. A transformation that makes all the difference, but that we too often refuse. Because we haven’t sought it out. We haven’t chosen it. And so we think this transformation is useless.

In fact, this transformation intensely frightens us. For it begins with quaking. A shifting of the ground beneath our feet. The toppling of all the facades we have built. A destruction of the waste-filled life that we have constructed.

This transformation is so deep that it begins, not on earth, but in Hades. In the grave. The first grave; and the last grave. Every grave we’ve stood over; and every grave that we’ve ever visited. And, most importantly, in the grave that we’ll be planted in.

This strange thing is so hard for teary eyes to see, so hard for crying mouths to hear, so hard for grieving hearts to imagine, that we are convinced it cannot be. We are certain it did not happen. Or if it happened, that was then and this is now. And so it’s like a fairy tale, or the good fortune that rains down on everyone else.

Yet what happened then truly happens now. Even if we don’t see it. Even if we won’t believe it.

And what happens now, happens not in the cemetery. Not in those graves. But first and foremost, in the watery grave we were plunged into. For then, our dying self was put to death. And in that baptismal grave, we were given the ability to live—to truly live—beyond death and the grave. And the Spirit of life was again breathed into us. And living bread was placed in our mouths, to give us the strength through this life and the grave and into the life to come.

This mystical, sacramental, grace-filled grave planted in our souls the hope, the desire, the longing, that there is more. That there is a world without end.

In that watery, baptismal grave, our life is transformed. Because in that grave, death decays. In that grave, the Grim Reaper loses his grip. Because, in that grave, death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them; and the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.

This transformation of our life—this strange happening—this is what terrifies us. Partly because we do not understand it. But mostly because it requires us to see clearly that our life is not what we think it is.

We think our life is about living. About getting all we can out of life. About experiencing all life offers. About not missing out on the places, the sights, the events, the chances. About getting it all in before we die.

But this strange happening proclaims, clearly and forthrightly, that life is not truly lived until we have died. Not later, after we’ve done our thing. But now.

Dying now means living for later. Living not for this life, but for the life of the world to come. Living as if now doesn’t matter, and as if later matters most. And living now as a prelude to living later.

When that mind is in you, then something strange is happening. In you. In the depth of your being. In how you see and hear. In what you think it important. And in what you value. For then you live not as if each day is your last, but as if each day is a rehearsal for how you will live everlastingly.

So, truly, something strange is happening. With the resurrection of Christ, we are being raised—our hearts are being uplifted, our eyes are looking heavenward, and our minds are set on everlasting gifts. With the resurrection of Christ, we can now see life as it truly is—a life headed for the grave, but with the confidence that the grave is not the end. And with the resurrection of Christ, we no longer need to fear that we’ll miss out. Rather, we have the courage to prepare, with all our being, for being awakened to an abundance that exceeds our desires with Our Lord in His heavenly kingdom; to whom, by the prayers of the saints, belongs all glory, honor, and worship; now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Cristo ha resucitado!
Hristos a înviat!
Kristus är uppstånden!
Hristos Voskrese!
Χριστὸς ἀνέστη!
al-Masīḥ qām!
Christus resurrexit!
Christ is risen!

 

16 April 2017
V. Rev. John W. Fenton
St Michael Orthodox Christian Church, Whittier

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Receiving Jesus as He Gives Himself

The goal is to live forever, not live for now.

The goal is that we restrain our passions and our appetites, that we hold in check but we think matters most, instead of feeding our passions—our anger and lusts—and letting them get the best of us.

The goal is that we find solace in the body of Christ—not simply in the Eucharist as an individual act, but in the church itself—rather than thinking that we will find rest and refreshment by working things out on our own.

The goal is that the love of Christ constrains us, that it restrains who we are, rather than us trying to restrain who others are.

The goal is that we fear nothing except losing our way, and that we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, rather than dictating how others should live.

The goal is that we love of Christ and all those whom we come in contact with, no matter how disagreeable they are, rather than loving our own loves and loving our own selves.

The goal is that we prefer the Lord’s Supper to any of our suppers.

These are the goals Jesus is inviting us to embrace when He feeds the 5000. He invites to embrace His gospel way of life, and the food that He gives, and the love that He supplies. Jesus invites us to embrace His reckless outreach to all persons, without forcing Himself upon them. Jesus invites us to align our will with His will, knowing that His love will transform us, taking us from where we are now into His heavenly kingdom.

Yet this is the goal that is missed by many in the crowd. They chased Jesus up the mountain, because they were looking for a Jesus who would give them what their hearts desired, rather than embracing what God wanted to give them. They were looking for a Jesus they could use, rather than a Jesus they could receive from. They were looking for a Jesus who would feed their bodies, rather than the Jesus who would satisfy, refresh, and satiate their souls.

And so, like the peasants in Germany in 16th century led by Florian Geyer, the mob chases Jesus up the mountain. And this is not a good thing. Because they are led by their passions, fueled by their bellies, controlled by their desire to control. This is not a good thing, because they want to force Jesus to be the Jesus they think He ought to be, rather than letting Jesus give the Life and Love that He truly is.

The Life and the Love that Jesus is, is summed up in these words from our holy father Cyril of Alexandria:

“Christ is truly long-suffering and full of mercy… For he does not reproach the small-mindedness of the unbelievers in any way….” Neither does He belittle believers when doubts and fears drive them to despair. Instead, time and again Our Lord patiently and lovingly comes to us in our sin so that He might free us from our self-made bondage. And time and again He both shows us the way of true life, and then generously gives from Himself—that is, from His flesh—all that we need to attain His life.

That is what we see at work in today’s Gospel. It is more than a story of generosity, or a demonstration of compassion. What we hear is that Our Lord feeds five thousand. But what we see is His desire to embrace them all—no matter who they claim to be—so that all might feed at His mystical supper and always prefer His bounty. Yet He must begin first with five barley loaves, and two fishes.

The point of this miracle—the reason He feeds them—is to teach us that during our fast, Our Lord feeds us with the bread of heaven. The multitude had not been left alone; they had not been starved. And neither are we. “Christ is truly long-suffering and full of mercy.” And so He gently, yet persistently; lovingly, yet pointedly; firmly, yet patiently turns our appetites away from the foods which mold, away from the hatred and anger that seethes, away from the need to make others fit our pattern—and instead, toward the fruit which comes from His all-availing sacrifice. He kindly directs our flesh and our mind so that it prefers and desires not the things that are upon the earth, but the things that are above.

For Our Lord knows that while the bellies growl, the spirit grows; while the stomach moans, life in God increases; and while we are deprived of what the flesh desires, the soul is abundantly nourished and sated by the Spirit.

One may say that Our Lord performs this miracle so that we might regain our focus. One may say that Our Lord feeds the five thousand so that we remember that our life consists not in the things we accumulate nor in the toys we have, but in the life He is and gives. One may say that Our Lord takes five barley loaves and two fishes so that we might prefer His Supper to our suppers; so that we might see that the bread we eat exists only because He is the bread of life; and so that we might truly believe that we are not truly satisfied or well fed until we have feasted at His holy table.

Here’s what Our Lord Jesus says—His own explanation for this miracle:

My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

I am that bread of life … which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.

Living forever rather than just living now—that is the goal. That we may attain this goal, and grow stronger in the bread Our Lord is, and desire nothing more than desiring Him, let us approach His holy altar with a true heart and so partake of the Lord in His sacrifice of mercy; to whom with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, belongs all glory, honor and worship.

 

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Lent at St Michael’s Church

Lent 2017

Lent begins on Wednesday, March 1. It is a season of instruction in the Christian Faith which centers primarily in the great mystery of Our Lord’s Suffering, Death and Resurrection and climaxes in the triduum sacrum (“holy three days”) of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter.

Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of Holy Lent, should be observed with worship in church. Mass will begin at 7 p.m., and will be preceded by “The Imposition Of Ashes.” As the ashes are applied, these words will be said: “Remember, O man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.” This ceremony reminds us both of the penalty of sin, and that we daily ought to put to death our sinful desires so that we might more fully embrace the newness of life given in Holy Baptism.

The Three Disciplines of Lent

Lent involves the practice of three disciplines as a preparation for the newness of life. This newness of life we celebrate with much joy at Easter, not only in the faithful remembrance of the Resurrection of Our Lord, but also in the spiritual resurrection of our lives from dead works to serve the living God. These three disciplines revolve around

  • Increased prayer (public and private),
  • unostentatious fasting or self-denial, and
  • the sacrificial giving of alms (charitable donations).

All three Lenten disciplines form a unit in order to aid the Christian in his observance of Our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection. For Christ’s advice in these matters, consult the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew 6:1-21.

Increased Prayer

Extra public worship is a vital part of Lenten life, and our parishioners are given ample opportunity to cultivate this virtue. Mass will be celebrated every day in Lent. Each day has its own unique theme, which lead us to seem the several aspects of Our Lord’s passionate grace. The daily schedule is as follows:

    Sunday………………… 10 a.m.
    Monday……………….. 10 a.m.
    Tuesday…………………. 8 a.m.
    Wednesday…………….. 7 p.m.
    Thursday………………… 8 a.m.
    Friday………………….. 10 a.m.
    Saturday………………. 10 a.m.

In addition, the Stations of the Cross with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament will be celebrated every Friday at 7 p.m.

Increased private prayers and devotions at home should also be cultivated during this Season. These prayers and devotions should begin and be formed by reading from the Holy Scriptures. This year parishioners are especially encouraged to spend each day in Lent reading one or two chapters each day from the prophet Jeremiah.

Fasting & Abstention

In the Orthodox Church fasting is not an individual practice, but a communal habit. The purpose of this fast is to bring to our mind, each day, Our Lord’s Passion. Fasting also allows the entire body to participate in the penitence characteristic of this Holy Season.

As a community, on Mondays through Saturdays we abstain from all meat and meat products (except fish); and we fast by limiting the amount of food we eat by eating only one full meal, eating one smaller meal, and refraining from all snacks.

The Lenten Fast does not offer suggestions on what to “give up.” Rather, it prescribes the common rule the faithful are to follow as they fast together. Individuals may choose to “give up” additional items during Lent, but such choices should not replace the Lenten fast, and should be made in consolation with individ

ual’s spiritual father. Likewise, those who, for medical or other legitimate reasons, find it difficult to observe the Lenten Fast, should speak with their spiritual father concerning legitimate modifications in order to keep the spirit of the Fast.

Almsgiving

Extra Alms and charitable donations should be made during Lent, even for those of us who tithe. These alms can come from the money saved by eating less during Lent. By giving to those in need, we remind ourselves that Our Lord’s love knows no economic boundaries.

To assist your Lenten almsgiving, look especially for the Lenten coin boxes which are available in the Narthex. Money received from these folders will help the Archdiocese “Food for Hungry People” program.

You may also wish to designate a particular local charity for additional funds. Such charities may include the local FOCUS North America chapter, the IOCC, the OCMC, the Crisis Pregnancy Center, or any number of homeless shelters.

Laudable Lenten Customs

Lent is especially the time when Christians put the remembrance of Our Lord’s Passion above all other pursuits. In our modern and permissive age it is unpopular to point out suc

h things, but this very fact indicates how much such pointing-out is needed.

For this reason, Lent is a closed season of the Church Year. This means that the solemnities of this season should not be disturbed by wedding celebrations and activities that would encourage one away from the three Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and charitable giving.

In addition, the Liturgy itself during Holy Lent expresses the seasons’ penitential character. The Gloria in excelsis, the Alleluia, bells, and extra organ music are omitted. Somber violet covers both Altar and Celebrant, lightened on only two occasions: Laetare Sunday, with rose as the proper color; and Holy Thursday, when white is used for the Mass of the Institution of Our Lord’s Supper.

Passion Sunday falls on April 2 this year. At this time, the Lenten observance is heightened in anticipation of the greater nearness of the celebration of Our Lord’s Death. Passion Sunday is when violet veils are placed over crucifixes, icons and statutes in church and home.

Holy Week

Lent concludes with the Holy Week observances. Mass will be celebrated each day of Holy Week at 7 p.m., climaxing with the triduum sacrum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Pascha.

On Maundy Thursday evening (April 13) in a most splendid and dignified Sung Mass, the Institution of the Most Blessed Sacrament will be celebrated at 7:00 p.m. This Mass concludes with the solemn Procession and the Stripping of the Altar. Every communicant should make every effort to receive Holy Communion on this sacred evening.

The Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ will be celebrated with the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy on Good Friday (April 14) beginning at 7 p.m. This Solemn Liturgy includes the Sacrament of Holy Communion and a sermon based on the Passion Narrative according to St. John. Every member should make an effort to attend the Good Friday Solemn Liturgy.

The Queen of Feasts will be celebrated with great joy at St Michael’s Church. The feast will commence with the Great Vigil of Easter, which will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Holy Saturday (April 15). Then, on Easter Sunday (April 16), we shall hear again the Gospel of Our Lord’s Resurrection at the Easter Sunday Mass at 10 a.m. How greatly our joy would be increased if every communicant member of our Parish would come to the Altar on the Queen of Feasts!

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2017 Lenten Retreat

The Society of St Benedict will host their annual Lenten Retreat on Saturday, March 4, at St Michael Orthodox Christian Church in Whittier.

“The Character of the Godly Heart” is the theme of the retreat. Rev. Dr. Calinic Berger, Assistant Pastor at St Nicholas Cathedral in Los Angeles, will offer three meditations during the retreat. In addition to the meditations, this retreat follows the Benedictine model of a “silent retreat.” Therefore, there will be ample quiet time for personal prayer, reflection, and meditation.

This event is intended to provide a break from the busyness of this world, to offer time to learn how to live the season of Lent, and to refresh and prepare the soul for the Lenten journey.

The retreat begins at 9 a.m. with prayer according to the rule of St Benedict, and concludes at 3 p.m. Lunch will be provided, and a free will donation is appreciated. Child care, unfortunately, will not be available.

Fr. Calinic earned a PhD in Systematic theology from Catholic University of America in Washington DC. He has been a Visiting Professor of Dogmatic Theology at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in Yonkers NY, and has taught and published on Orthodox theology and spiritual life in a variety of venues.

For more information or to RSVP, please call or email the St Michael parish office.

St Michael Orthodox Church is located at 3333 Workman Mill Road, across the street from Rio Hondo College.

 

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The Answer To Your Question

Epiphany III
Matthew 8.1-13

The answer to the question is this: Because our Father knows what is both necessary and best for your salvation.

What is the question? It is the question you ask yourself whenever life is hard. The question that comes into your mind when you see tragedy or the suffering of others. The question that causes you to doubt God’s goodness. The question that leads you to think God doesn’t hear, or God doesn’t care, or God isn’t there. It’s the question of Job. And it’s the implicit question in today’s Gospel.

For notice what the leper says. Jesus has just come down from the mountain—the mountain where He spoke to His disciples and the crowd about God’s blessings, and how God’s mercy should urge us on to do what is right, and how we should treasure God’s kindness, and how we should live God’s compassion toward others.

Jesus has just come down from the mountain, and a leper, an outcast who is clearly out of place, a man whose suffering no one wants to see or deal with—this man asks Jesus is He wants to help him.

That’s not exactly how the leper puts it. He says, “If thou wilt, if you desire…” But hidden in that statement is our fear: Maybe, Lord, you don’t want to; maybe, Lord, you like seeing me miserable.

So what’s the question? Why, Lord, must I go through this? Why, Lord, do you permit suffering? Why help some, but not others? Why not help me? Now!

The answer to the question is this: Because our Father knows what is both necessary and best for your salvation.

That answer is not designed to terrify. It’s not a matter of how much chastisement you need, or how much torture you are able to bear. Rather, the answer is the answer of a loving Father; a father who knows best what we need, and how best to draw us into Himself.

You see, Our Lord deals with us on an individual basis. He doesn’t use a cookie-cutter approach. There is no “one-size-fits-all” salvation. Our Lord respects us—who we are, our individuality—too much.

And so He works with each of us, one-on-one, in the way that He thinks best. All so that we might be led closer and more intimately into His embrace.

Our sense of fairness, however, too often gets in the way. And our impatience gets in the way. And most of all, what gets in the way is our desire to be our own doctor, our own god, to self-medicate and plot our own way of escape.

Our Lord also takes that into account. But His goal is not to break us; nor to toughen us. And His goal is not to make our life easy so that we think better of Him. Our Lord’s goal is always the same: to help us attain His kingdom.

In this goal, Our Lord will not forsake us, or leave us to fend for ourselves. And to attain the kingdom of heaven, we need to wholly yield our wills to Him.

That doesn’t mean we sit back and take it. It doesn’t mean that we avoid the various helps Our Lord sends us through doctors, therapists or priests. And it doesn’t mean that we refuse to do justice and love mercy.

However, to yield to Our Lord’s will, most certainly means that we walk humbly with our God. And we do that when we seek the Lord in the same way that the leper sought Him: not by demanding, but humbly, saying, “Lord, if you are willing…”

For as soon as we say, “Lord, if you are willing,” we are also saying, “Not what I want, but what you desire; not what I demand, but whatever you think will aid my soul’s salvation.”

That’s how the centurion approached Jesus. A humility that did not even ask for any help, but simply prayed his prayer with the confidence that Jesus knew what was best. And that His healing Word was sufficient. And that Our Lord was willing.

And what did He say to the humble centurion, to the leper? “I am willing.”

With these words, Our Blessed Lord announces that He truly wants to give to us and do for us, to help and assist us, to rescue and deliver us. These words mean that Our Lord does not merely pity us, but that He focuses all His attention on helping us; that He wills and desires and wants to stretch out the right hand of His majesty to help and defend us.

That is what the leper gets to hear. That is what the centurion gets to hear. And that is always what we get to hear, whenever we cry out to Our Lord.

For the prayer, the crying out—that, right there, means that we are closer to the kingdom of heaven. The prayer, the crying out—that, right there, means that we desire not our will, but the Lord’s will.

And the Lord’s will goes the Lord’s way. The way that He determines is best for us. The way that He knows will draw us into His kingdom. The way that He sees as the right way.

Not my way, but the Lord’s way. That is what the leper wanted. That is what the centurion asked for. And, at the end of each day, that should always be our prayer.

May our heavenly Father, through His Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit, have mercy upon us and save us.

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Bless This Home

The blessiHouseBlessing3ng of a home is an ancient Christian practice that helps us remember that our Christian life of faith and love is lived not only in Church on Sundays but also in the home daily.

The Orthodox tradition (Western and Eastern) is to bless homes in the days and weeks after Epiphany. The connection to Epiphany is important.

At the first Epiphany, the Magi entered the home of the Holy Family to present their gifts. Blessing the home opens our eyes to see that Christ already lives in our home; and it acknowledges that our entire life—even the most mundane, routine, and intimate aspects—is a gift that we offer and ask Our Lord to bless.

Additionally, the Gospel reading for the first two Sundays after Epiphany center around the home. On the first Sunday, we hear of the Child Jesus in His Father’s home, doing His Father’s business. On the second Sunday, we hear of Christ blessing a wedding (and thereby, the establishment of a new home and family) with His presence. Blessing the home teaches us that we must also focus more on our heavenly Father’s business of prayer, fasting, faith and love; and less on seeking pleasure in this world. It also teaches us that the Lord’s marriage blessing extends beyond the wedding day, and is intended to enrich, strengthen, and encourage all aspects of family life.

The words of blessing ask the Lord defend and protect the home from discord and strife; to fortify and grant healing when we suffer any affliction at home; and to inspire the family to teach, model, and live Christian values. With these words, the blessing of the home hopes to bring calmness and serenity in the place where you live.

When the prayers are said, holy water is used together with incense. The incense indicates that the prayers and the Lord’s blessing pervade the entire house, and remind us that we are the fragrance of Christ (2 Cor. 2.15), called to live a holy life in every part of our home, with every member of our family.

The holy water is used to chase away all devilish thoughts and desires, to protect from harm, and to bring tranquility to the home. The prayer used in blessing the water says it this way: “Let this water serve thee, O God, in expelling demons and curing diseases. When it is sprinkled in the homes of the faithful, may they be cleansed and delivered from harm. Let these homes enjoy a spirit of goodness and an air of tranquility, freed from baneful and hidden snares.”

In addition to the prayers, the door is marked with chalk as a daily and annual witness (mostly to the inhabitants) that the home is also the Lord’s residence. Applied are both the numbers which indicate the year of blessing, and the letters C, M, B. These letters have two meanings. They are the initials of the traditional names of the three magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. They also abbreviate the Latin words Christus mansionem benedicat, “May Christ bless the house.”

The blessing of the home is not limited to the days after Epiphany. The blessing should also be used whenever Christians move into a new residence, or whenever there is external or internal strife in the home or family. Toward this end, there are also other rites for blessing the home which the priest may use as suggested by the particular situation.

Whether it is done annually or when there is a distressing time, the blessing of the home is another why of asking God’s grace to overcome the fallout of sin, even in our homes. It’s all part of living as God’s people and being sustained by His mercy.

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Joining the Magi

Let us take to heart that the Light of the World, the Light to lighten the Gentiles, the Light and glory of the Lord, the One who is the Light of all men—let us marvel in godly wonder that He was found by Magi who followed a bright shining star through darkness.414_epiphany_3rd_version

For darkness covered the earth—and not just the earth; for the souls of the Lord’s own people were shrouded in darkness; Herod was governed by dark desires; and thick darkness covered hearts and minds of the chief priests and scribes of the people so that they could not comprehend the very words that they declared to Herod and the Magi.

And so darkness did not comprehend the appearance of the Light of men. Darkness did not comprehend Him; but neither did it envelop Him or snuff Him out. For how can the darkest night extinguish even the dimmest star?

Our Lord’s Spirit is by no means a dim star, but a gleaming light which shines in the east. And Our Blessed Lord is the light which shineth in darkness. Therefore, as the prophet says, the brightness of the Lord’s glory arose and was seen so that even Gentiles walked by His light, and kings in the brightness of His rising.

This, then, is the mystery that we celebrate today: that our mortality, our propensity toward death, desire for things that eventually kill the soul—these always develop in darkness; yet Our Lord mercifully insists on shining through with His mercy so that we “may not lose through ignorance what [He] has wondrously made [us] worthy of holding and possessing through [His] great grace.” (St Peter Chrysologus)

For he who willed to be born for us did not want to remain unknown by us; and so he discloses himself in a way, that the great mystery of his merciful kindness may not become a great occasion of error. (ibid)

Therefore, today we rejoice that Our Lord graciously overcame the dark desires of King Herod, and the darkened hearts of the chief priests and scribes, and the uncomprehending shadows of the Magi.

But most of all, we rejoice this day that our own darkness—our dark desires and benighted plans; and our faith and promises and resolutions that are so easily extinguished—these have not caused Our Lord to withdraw the brightness of His glory. Rather, by His gracious appearing and His determined desire to enlighten our hearts and illumine our minds, and thereby burn away our sinful dross and purify our filthy wills—by His grace, we find ourselves standing with the Magi.

And with them, we “find crying in a cradle the One whom [we were] seeking as he shown among the stars. Today [with] the Magi [we] admire evident in his swaddling clothes the One whom they experienced as hidden for a long time within the constellations. Today [with] the Magi [we] ponder with deep amazement what they see…: heaven on earth, earth in heaven; man in God, God in man; and the One who is not able to be contained in the whole world, [we] see confined in a tiny body.” (ibid)

Let us not let this sight, this vision, this marvel quickly pass us by. Let us not dismiss it as fanciful images, or motivational speech. Let us instead take to heart the Truth that is set before us—the Truth who deigns to love us with such great love, with the love that He truly is, which then enables us to rise above our base desires and escape the grip of death, since He warmly draws us into Himself.

  • As we contemplate this mystery of God’s love and mercy for us miserable and unworthy men;
  • as we take to heart the appearance and manifestation of the goodness and kindness of God our Savior;
  • as we marvel at the mystery of the Light of all men shining into our hearts so that we are no longer enveloped in pitch-darkness;
  • as we weep with joy over the mystery of the grace of God our Savior [which] hath appeared to all men, and which instructs us to live no longer for ourselves but in His newness and life—

As we meditate on these things, let us also not forget, but rather imitate, the Magi. For when they had seen the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And entering into the house, they found the child with Mary his mother, and falling down they adored him; and opening their treasures, they offered him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Let us also rejoice with exceeding great joy. Let us enter into the Lord’s house often to give thanks.

And let us find here not a mundane routine or a common occurrence. Instead, let us see, by faith, Christ the Lord with Mary His mother.

And then let us fall down and worship Him. And let us, by the mercy of God, offer Him gifts by presenting [our] bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, [which is our] reasonable [liturgy].

For Our Lord arrives and appears and manifests Himself to us, not for His sake, but so that we might always stand with the Magi before Him.

Toward this end, He has instructed us that, denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly, and justly, and godly in this world, looking for the blessed hope and coming of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.

Therefore, let us not be conformed to this world; but be reformed in the newness of [our] mind[s], that [we] may prove what is the good, and the acceptable, and the perfect will of God.

That we might do so with earnest and true hearts, and never depart from the holy light which beams brightly upon us today, let us pray to our patron St Michael; and to the holy Mother of God; to the Holy Apostles; to the martyrs and confessors; and to all the saints. For, by God’s grace, they have attained that for which we still endeavor.

Let us pray that they may strengthen us by their prayers, so that we are not dissuaded by dark desires; and so that, with the aid of their merits, we may persevere in worshiping the Light of all men, Jesus Christ Our Lord, who with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns God, throughout all ages of ages.

 

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