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The Third Sunday Of Great Lent – Sunday of the Precious Cross

March 7, 2010 Leave a comment

The Lord said, ―”If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel‘s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” And Jesus said to them, ―”Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God come with power.”

( Mark 8:34—9:1)

Veneration of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross (Tropar, Tone 1)

O Lord, save your people, and bless your inheritance. Grant victories to the Orthodox Christians over their adversaries; and by virtue of Your Cross, preserve your habitation.


Veneration of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross (Tropar, Tone 1)

Now the flaming sword no longer guards the gates of Eden; it has been mysteriously quenched by the wood of the Cross! The sting of death and the victory of hell have been vanquished; for You, O my Savior, have come and cried to those in hell: “Enter again into paradise.”
Homily on the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross
Fr. Anthony Perkins

Do you see the irony?

This is the feast celebrating the Precious Cross. We wear crosses. We put them in our houses. We adorn our temples with them (inside and out; on our doors and the very top of our cupolas). We trace its image over our bodies throughout the day. Have you ever realized how that looks?

An instrument of torture and humiliation, perfected by pagans, has become the sign of our faith. A degrading and wicked instrument of death is, according to the Hymns of Church, the “unconquerable trophy of the true faith, door to paradise, succor of the faithful, and rampart set about the Church” (Vespers stichera).

This is something that should wake us from our slumber. This is something so jolting – but so fundamentally true – that it should force us to see things not through the eyes of the fallen world, but through the eyes of “true seeing”. Christ brought sight to the blind during his earthly ministry. Through contemplation of the Cross, He will bring spiritual sight, true sight, to all of us (and in seeing, we will follow Him through the Cross, to Paradise).

The Cross is anathema to the world – it does not understand the Passion. It does not understand sacrifice. It only understands and seeks the comfort and pleasure of today and the foreseeable (and finite) future. The world sees through the fallen eyes of Adam. Adam hoped to find pleasure in the beautiful fruit of the Tree, but found only bitterness (a beautiful tree brought Him only bitterness). The true-seeing man seeks true pleasure today and forever, and finds it in the Cross (a horrific Cross brings him everlasting joy). The promises of worldly pleasure are empty, but the promise of the Cross is already being fulfilled.

Yes, there is great irony in the Cross, but it is only because the Truth is so out of synch with the millennia of lies that we have told in our falleness. It is the one piece of Order and Truth in a world of chaos.

  • In the chaos of infantry battles, the king would plant his banner so that his scattered troops would rally around him. It was a single point of stability in the chaos of battle. Rallying to it and around it was the only hope of survival for the individual soldier and for the force at large. The Cross is planted in this world so that we might rally to it. We are not meant to struggle alone, but together (working 

    together, not individual bravery or skill, is the key to military success). And not just around any cause, but around the True King’s banner: the Cross.

  • The taste of Fruit of the Tree was sweet, brought illness; the taste of the Cross is bitter, but brings healing to all. While this is jarring, it accords with our experience. Medicine is bitter (or it used to be); shots hurt. Treatment can be long and excruciating. More so because it does not always work.

But know this: the medical treatment of the Cross can be difficult, but it’s success is sure. The Cross brings healing to all. Through the Cross, Christ took on the sins of the world – through His Cross, we are healed of all our diseases and infirmities and made worthy to grow in unity with Him and one another. He is the Great Physician, and the love of the Cross is the medicine of salvation.

“Come, Adam and Eve, our first father and mother, who fell from the choir on high… when of old with bitter pleasure ye tasted from the tree in Paradise. See, the Tree of the Cross, revered by all, draws near! 

Run with haste and embrace it joyfully, and cry to it with faith: O precious Cross, though art our succor; partaking of thy fruit, we have gained incorruption; we are restored once more to Eden, and we have received great mercy.” (Vespers stichera).

Do not be ashamed of Our Lord. Do not be ashamed of His Cross. Deny yourself. Pick up your cross and follow Him. Follow Him to eternal health and everlasting joy. This is the way of Christ. This is the way to victory.

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Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple

November 21, 2009 Leave a comment

Apolytikion (Fourth Tone)

Today is the prelude of God’s pleasure and the proclamation of man’s salvation. The Virgin is clearly made manifest in the temple of God and foretells Christ to all. Let us also cry out to her with mighty voice, “Hail, fulfillment of the Creator’s dispensation.”

Kontakion (Fourth Tone)

Today, the most pure temple of the Savior, the precious bridal chamber and Virgin, the sacred treasure of God, enters the house of the Lord, bringing the grace of the Divine Spirit. The Angels of God praise her. She is the heavenly tabernacle.

The Feast of the Entrance into the Temple of Our Most Holy Lady the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary is celebrated on November 21 each year. The Feast commemorates when as a young child, the Virgin Mary entered the Temple in Jerusalem.

The birth and early life of the Virgin Mary is not recorded in the Gospels or other books of the New Testament, however this information can be found in a work dating from the second century known as the Book of James or Protevangelion.

According to Holy Tradition, the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple took place in the following manner. Her parents, Sts. Joachim and Anna, praying for an end to their childlessness, vowed that if a child were born to them, they would dedicate it to the service of God. When the Most Holy Virgin reached the age of three, her parents decided to fulfill their vow. They invited their relatives and acquaintances, and dressed the All-Pure Virgin in Her finest clothes. Singing sacred songs and with lighted candles in their hands, virgins escorted Her to the Temple.

There the High Priest Zacharias who was to be the father of St. John the Forerunner, met the handmaiden of God. In the Temple, fifteen high steps led to the sanctuary, which only the High Priest could enter. (Because a Psalm was recited on each step, Psalms 119/120-133/134 are called “Psalms of Ascent.”) It seemed that the child could not make it up this stairway. But just as She was placed on the first step, strengthened by the power of God, She quickly went up the remaining steps and ascended to the highest one. The High Priest led the Most Holy Virgin into the Holy of Holies, where only the High Priest entered once a year to offer a purifying sacrifice of blood. All those in the Temple were astonished at this most unusual event. After entrusting their child to the Heavenly Father, Joachim and Anna returned home. The All-Holy Virgin remained in the rooms set aside for virgins located near the Temple.

The earthly life of the Most Holy Theotokos is shrouded in deep mystery. However, there are accounts in Church Tradition that during the All-Pure Virgin’s stay at the Temple, She grew up in a community of pious virgins, diligently read the Holy Scripture, occupied Herself with prayed constantly, handicrafts and grew in Her love for God.

While her parents were alive, they visited her often, especially Righteous Anna. When God called her parents from this world, the Most-holy Virgin was left an orphan and did not wish to leave the Temple until death or to enter into marriage. As that would have been against the Law and custom of Israel, she was given to St. Joseph, her kinsman in Nazareth, after reaching the age of twelve. Under the acceptable role of one betrothed, she could live in virginity and thus fulfill her desire and formally satisfy the Law, for it was then unknown in Israel for maidens to vow virginity to the end of their lives. The Most-holy Virgin Mary was the first of such life-vowed virgins, of the thousands and thousands of virgin men and women who would follow her in the Church of Christ.

The Feast of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple foretells God’s blessing for the human race, the preaching of salvation, and the promise of the coming of Christ.

Categories: Orthodox Feasts

St John the “Apostle of Love”

September 27, 2009 1 comment

The Holy, Glorious All-laudable Apostle and Evangelist, Virgin, and Beloved Friend of Christ, John the Theologian was the son of Zebedee and Salome, a daughter of St Joseph the Betrothed. He was called by our Lord Jesus Christ to be one of His Apostles at the same time as his elder brother James. This took place at Lake Gennesareth (i.e. the Sea of Galilee). Leaving behind their father, both brothers followed the Lord.

The Apostle John was especially loved by the Savior for his sacrificial love and his virginal purity. After his calling, the Apostle John did not part from the Lord, and he was one of the three apostles who were particularly close to Him. St John the Theologian was present when the Lord restored the daughter of Jairus to life, and he was a witness to the Transfiguration of the Lord on Mount Tabor.

During the Last Supper, he reclined next to the Lord, and laid his head upon His breast. He also asked the name of the Savior’s betrayer. The Apostle John followed after the Lord when they led Him bound from the Garden of Gethsemane to the court of the iniquitous High Priests Annas and Caiphas. He was there in the courtyard of the High Priest during the interrogations of his Teacher and he resolutely followed after him on the way to Golgotha, grieving with all his heart. At the foot of the Cross he stood with the Mother of God and heard the words of the Crucified Lord addressed to Her from the Cross: “Woman, behold Thy son.” Then the Lord said to him, “Behold thy Mother” (John 19:26-27). From that moment the Apostle John, like a loving son, concerned himself over the Most Holy Virgin Mary, and he served Her until Her Dormition.

Rastignirea

After the Dormition of the Mother of God the Apostle John went to Ephesus and other cities of Asia Minor to preach the Gospel, taking with him his own disciple Prochorus. They boarded a ship, which floundered during a terrible tempest. All the travellers were cast up upon dry ground, and only the Apostle John remained in the depths of the sea. Prochorus wept bitterly, bereft of his spiritual father and guide, and he went on towards Ephesus alone. On the fourteenth day of his journey he stood at the shore of the sea and saw that the waves had cast a man ashore. Going up to him, he recognized the Apostle John, whom the Lord had preserved alive for fourteen days in the sea.


Teacher and disciple went to Ephesus, where the Apostle John preached incessantly to the pagans about Christ. His preaching was accompanied by such numerous and great miracles, that the number of believers increased with each day. During this time there had begun a persecution of Christians under the emperor Nero (56-68). They took the Apostle John for trial at Rome. St John was sentenced to death for his confession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but the Lord preserved His chosen one. The apostle drank a cup of deadly poison, but he remained alive. Later, he emerged unharmed from a cauldron of boiling oil into which he had been thrown on orders from the torturer.

After this, they sent the Apostle John off to imprisonment to the island of Patmos, where he spent many years. Proceeding along on his way to the place of exile, St John worked many miracles. On the island of Patmos, his preaching and miracles attracted to him all the inhabitants of the island, and he enlightened them with the light of the Gospel. He cast out many devils from the pagan temples, and he healed a great multitude of the sick. Sorcerers with demonic powers showed great hostility to the preaching of the holy apostle. He especially frightened the chief sorcerer of them all, named Kinops, who boasted that they would destroy the apostle. But the great John, by the grace of God acting through him, destroyed all the demonic artifices to which Kinops resorted, and the haughty sorcerer perished in the depths of the sea. The Apostle John withdrew with his disciple Prochorus to a desolate height, where he imposed upon himself a three-day fast. As St John prayed the earth quaked and thunder rumbled. Prochorus fell to the ground in fright. The Apostle John lifted him up and told him to write down what he was about to say. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, saith the Lord, Who is and Who was and Who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev 1:8), proclaimed the Spirit of God through the Apostle John.

St John - St Prohoros (small) St. John with his disciple Prochorus

Thus in about the year 67 the Book of Revelation was written, known also as the “Apocalypse,” of the holy Apostle John the Theologian. In this Book were predictions of the tribulations of the Church and of the end of the world. After his prolonged exile, the Apostle John received his freedom and returned to Ephesus, where he continued with his activity, instructing Christians to guard against false teachers and their erroneous teachings. In the year 95, the Apostle John wrote his Gospel at Ephesus. He called for all Christians to love the Lord and one another, and by this to fulfill the commands of Christ. The Church calls St John the “Apostle of Love”, since he constantly taught that without love man cannot come near to God. In his three Epistles, St John speaks of the significance of love for God and for neighbor. Already in his old age, he learned of a youth who had strayed from the true path to follow the leader of a band of robbers, so St John went out into the wilderness to seek him. Seeing the holy Elder, the guilty one tried to hide himself, but the Apostle John ran after him and besought him to stop. He promised to take the sins of the youth upon himself, if only he would repent and not bring ruin upon his soul. Shaken by the intense love of the holy Elder, the youth actually did repent and turn his life around. St John when he was more than a hundred years old he far outlived the other eyewitnesses of the Lord, and for a long time he remained the only remaining eyewitness of the earthly life of the Savior.

When it was time for the departure of the Apostle John, he went out beyond the city limits of Ephesus with the families of his disciples. He bade them prepare for him a cross-shaped grave, in which he lay, telling his disciples that they should cover him over with the soil. The disciples tearfully kissed their beloved teacher, but not wanting to be disobedient, they fulfilled his bidding. They covered the face of the saint with a cloth and filled in the grave. Learning of this, other disciples of St John came to the place of his burial. When they opened the grave, they found it empty.

Each year from the grave of the holy Apostle John on May 8 came forth a fine dust, which believers gathered up and were healed of sicknesses by it. Therefore, the Church also celebrates the memory of the holy Apostle John the Theologian on May 8. The Lord bestowed on His beloved disciple John and John’s brother James the name “Sons of Thunder” as an awesome messenger in its cleansing power of the heavenly fire. And precisely by this the Savior pointed out the flaming, fiery, sacrificial character of Christian love, the preacher of which was the Apostle John the Theologian. The eagle, symbol of the lofty heights of his theological thought, is the iconographic symbol of the Evangelist John the Theologian. The appellation “Theologian” is bestown by Holy Church only to St John among the immediate disciples and Apostles of Christ, as being the seer of the mysterious Judgments of God.

The feast of the Metastasis of St John the Theologian in celebrated on September 26th

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Apolytikion (2nd Tone)


Beloved Apostle of Christ our God,
hasten to deliver a people without defense.
He who permitted you to recline upon His bosom,
accepts you on bended knee before Him.
Beseech Him, O Theologian, to dispel the persistent cloud of nations,
asking for us peace and great mercy.

Categories: Lives of Saints

EXALTATION OF THE HOLY CROSS

September 19, 2009 Leave a comment

EXALTATION OF THE HOLY CROSS


Troparion

O LORD, save thy people, and bless thine inheritance. Grant victories to the Orthodox Christians over their adversaries, and by the virtue of thy Cross preserve thy habitation.

Kontakion

O THOU Who wast lifted up willingly on the Cross, bestow Thy mercies upon the new community named after Thee, O Christ God; gladden with Thy power the Orthodox Christians, granting them victory over enemies; may they have as Thy help the weapon of peace, the invincible trophy.

The Sign of the Cross


The sign of the Cross has been the most powerful weapon against great temptations from  demons, from the early ascetics down to the present day.

The Sign of the Cross is a fundamental element of Orthodox life. It should be second nature to anyone who claims to be an Orthodox Christian. The Sign of the Cross is used in virtually every situation in life. Before we eat, before we sleep, or when we awaken in the morning, we should automatically make the Sign of the Cross. The great spiritual advantage of making a habit of this is that, when we are confronted with a dangerous or compromising situation, we will make the Sign of the Cross without hesitation. This might save our life or even our soul, depending on the circumstance. Saint Barsanuphios the Great has written:

“The Lord Jesus Christ, an angel or another person can be portrayed by demons, not only in sleep but when a person is awake— for satan can transform himself into an angel of light. But the Cross of the Lord, upon whose power, as the Church chants, the devil does not even dare to gaze—for he trembles and is convulsed being unable to behold its power—this he cannot represent.”

Because the Sign of the Cross has such a powerful effect on demonic powers, people often experience a sense of self–consciousness when attempting to make it. Our weak flesh also rebels against outward manifestations of faith. But this can be overcome quite easily, if we only strive to train ourselves and come to understand the tremendous power of the Cross, in which, Saint Paul tells us, we should glory.

To make the Sign of the Cross, we place the thumb and the first and second fingers of our right hand together, representing the Three Persons or Hypostases of the Holy Trinity. Next, we fold the fourth and fifth fingers against our palm, representing the two Natures of Christ, Who came down from Heaven to the earth, in order to save mankind. Holding our right hand in this way, we touch the tips of the three fingers to our forehead, our abdomen, the right shoulder, and the left shoulder. We then put our hand down to the side of our body. Properly executed—and one should be careful to make it slowly and with care—the Sign of the Cross has tremendous spiritual power. This is because we are not only affirming our faith in Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross at Golgotha, but confirming our belief in the Holy Trinity and the Human and Divine Natures of Christ, that is, the basic dogmas of the Orthodox Faith.

The Sign of the Cross was such an integral part of Christian life in the Early Church, that few direct references can be foundin the literature of the Early Church. It was an oral, living tradition which every Christian took for granted, much like Holy Baptism. Thus Saint Basil the Great says the following of this custom in his treatise “On The Holy Spirit”:

For were we to attempt to reject such customs as have no written authority, on the ground that the importance that they possess is small, we should unintentionally injure the Gospel at its very vitals; or, rather, should make our public definition a mere phrase and nothing more. For instance, to take the first and most general example, who is there who has taught us in writing to sign with the cross those who have trusted in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ?

Here, Saint Basil refers to the Sign of the Cross as “the first and most general example” of an oral tradition. There are many references in the Lives of the Saints from Apostolic times down to the present day which testify to the power and security an Orthodox Christian can experience through the pious act of making the Sign of the Cross over himself. Saints and Martyrs of all ages have been delivered from fire, wild beasts, demonic attack, carnal temptations, and poison by fidelity to this ancient tradition: The mysterious power of the Cross, however inexplicable, is true and indisputable. Saint John Chrysostomos saysIf we are striving to drive out demons, we use the Cross, and it is also of aid in healing sickness.”


St Benedict made the sign of the Cross over a glass containing poison and the glass shattered as if struck by a stone. St Julian made the sign of the Cross over a cup of poison brought to him, and drank the poison, suffering no bodily harm from it. The holy martyr Vasilissa of Nicomedia protected herself with the sign of the Cross and stood in the midst of the flames, remaining completely untouched. The holy martyrs Audon and Senis crossed themselves when ravening wild animals were let loose upon them, and the beasts became docile and meek as lambs.

The sign of the Cross has been the most powerful weapon against great temptations from demons, from the early ascetics down to the present day. The most ferocious of the devil’s devisings are dispersed into nothing, like smoke, when a man signs himself with the Cross. Thus it was the good will of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself that the erstwhile sign of wickedness and shame, the Cross, should, after His crucifixion on the wood of the Cross, be the vehicle of all–conquering power and might.

The Sign of the Cross should, as we have said, become an automatic response to every act we perform and every trial we experience. This is especially true when unclean or carnal thoughts suddenly come into our minds. Such thoughts are perhaps not sinful in and of themselves, but they can lead us to sin.Therefore, it is essential that we immediately dispel them by making the Sign of the Cross in faith. We should also hasten to add that a pious retreat to the power of the Cross assumes that one is making a sincere effort to lead a Christian life or that he is in the midst of sincere repentance.


The Sign of the Cross is not a talisman against those things that we do not want to put up with. It contains spiritual power, which always draws on the power of human intent. It is not something magical. If we neglect to say prayers or keep the fasts, or if we feel no true compunction for our carelessness, we should not be surprised if the Sign of the Cross does not magically heal, for example, a loved one in the hospital intensive care unit. By the Providence of God, such an unusual thing might happen. But within the domain of our own efforts, true spiritual results are always the result of a sincere devotion to God and submission to His Will, whatever the circumstances.

As the perfect symbol- the symbol most real and the reality most symbolic- the cross gathers into unity every element of God’s gracious dispensation in creation and redemption for our celebration, contemplation, and praise. It does so not only by its form, but also by its substance. It is the tree of the cross, the life-giving wood by which humanity is healed. By a tree the first Adam was cast out of paradise; and by a tree the last Adam brings him back. By his disobedience to God the first Adam was cut off from the tree of life and given over unto death. By His obedience to the Father” unto death, even death on cross”, the last Adam restores humanity to communion with the tree of life, which is itself the most precious tree of the cross. The liturgy of the Exaltation celebrates his central mystery of man’s being and life:

Katavasia of the Cross

Tone 8

Ode 1. Inscribing the invincible weapon of the Cross upon the waters, /

Moses marked a straight line before him with his staff and divided the Red Sea, /

opening a path for Israel who went over dry-shod.  /

Then he marked a second line across the waters and united them in one, /

overwhelming the chariots of Pharaoh.  /

Therefore let us sing to Christ our God, //

for He hath been glorified.

Ode 3. The rod of Aaron is an image of this mystery, /

for when it budded it showed who should be priest.  /

So in the Church, that once was barren, /

the wood of the Cross hath now put forth flower, //

filling her with strength and steadfastness.

Ode 4. O Lord, I have heard the mystery of Thy dispensation:  /

I have considered Thy works, //

and I have glorified Thy Godhead.

Ode 5. O thrice-blessed Tree, /

on which Christ the king and Lord was stretched!  /

Through thee the beguiler fell, who tempted mankind with the tree.  /

He was caught in the trap set by God, /

who was crucified upon thee in the flesh, //

granting peace unto our souls.

Ode 6. Jonah stretched out his hands in the form of a cross /

within the belly of the sea monster, /

plainly prefiguring the redeeming Passion.  /

Cast out from thence after three days, /

he foreshadowed the marvelous Resurrection of Christ our God, /

who was crucified in the flesh //

and enlightened the world by His Rising on the third day.


Ode 7. The senseless decree of the wicked tyrant, /

breathing forth threats and blasphemy hateful to God, /

confused the people.  /

Yet neither the fury of the wild beast nor the roaring of the fire /

could frighten the three Children: /

but standing together in the flame, /

fanned by the wind that brought refreshment as the dew, they sang: /

‘Blessed art Thou and praised above all, //

O our God and the God of our fathers.’

Ode 8. O ye Children, equal in number to the Trinity, /

bless ye God the Father and creator; /

sing ye the praises of the Word who descended and changed the fire to dew;/

and exalt ye above all for ever the most Holy Spirit, //

who giveth life unto all.


Ode 9.  O Theotokos, thou art a mystical Paradise, /

who untilled hast brought forth Christ.  /

He hath planted upon the earth the life-giving Tree of the Cross: /

therefore at its exaltation on this day, //

we worship Him and thee do we magnify.

Today the death that came to man through eating of the tree, /

is made of no effect through the Cross.  /

For the curse of our Mother Eve that fell on all mankind /

is destroyed by the fruit of the pure Mother of God, //

whom all the powers of heaven magnify.


Before Christ, the cross was an instrument of the cruellest punishment, and a symbol of horror. After His sufferings, it became the sign of the victory of good over evil and of life over death; it became the reminder of the limitless love of God and a source of happiness. The incarnate Son of God sanctified the cross with His blood and made it the carrier of His blessings and holiness. Because of these properties, the sign of the cross became an essential component of Christian life since apostolic times, used in all Church services and private prayers. For instance, water is blessed and becomes holy with the sign of the cross, and bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ; in summary, all Sacraments acquire their spiritual power through the sign of the cross. As flies cannot tolerate flame, so demons cannot stand the presence of the cross. The sign of the cross protects a Christian from accidents and misfortunes and attracts God’s help to him. That is why Orthodox Christians revere the cross so much, bless themselves with the sign of the cross, wear a cross on their chest and adorn their homes and churches with crosses.

The “sign of the Son of Man” (Matt. 24:30), that is, the Cross, will appear in the sky in order to proclaim the end of the present world and the coming of the eternal Kingdom of the Son of God. Then all the tribes of the earth shall weep, because they loved the present age and its lusts, but all who have endured persecution for righteousness and called on the name of the Lord shall rejoice and be glad. The Cross then will save all who conquered temptations, from eternal perdition by the Cross, who crucified their flesh with its passions and lusts, and took up their cross and followed afar Christ.


Do not do anything without signing yourself with the sign of the Cross!  When you depart on a journey, when you begin your work, when you go to study, when you are alone, and when you are with other people, seal yourself with the Holy Cross on your forehead, your body, your chest, your heart, your lips, your eyes, your ears.  All of you should be sealed with the sign of Christ’s victory over hell.  Then you will no longer be afraid of charms, evil spirits, or sorcery, because these are dissolved by the power of the Cross like wax before fire and like dust before the wind”
Elder Cleopa (+1998)


However, those who hated the Cross of the Lord and did not engrave the Cross in their soul will perish forever. For “the Cross is the preserver of the whole universe, the Cross is the beauty of the Church, the Cross is the might of kings, the Cross is the confirmation of the faithful, the Cross is the glory of angels and the scourge of demons” (Octoechos: Exapostilarion, Monday Matins).


Categories: Orthodox Feasts

The Beheading of St. John the Baptist

August 29, 2009 1 comment

The Beheading of the Holy Glorious Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist John


“Having suffered for the truth, thou hast gone rejoicing to declare to those in hell the good tidings of God having appeared in the flesh” (Troparion of the Feast, Aug. 29).

The whole life of St. John the Forerunner, from its first days, was entirely dedicated to the One Who came after him. In the days of infant massacres in Bethlehem, he was also sought by Herod, and his mother Elizabeth fled with him into the desert, where she died on the fortieth day. About the same time, his father Zacharias was killed by the servants of Herod, in the Temple. The desert raised John, and he remained there in silence, for thirty years, until the word of God came unto him, commanding him to preach repentance and call on men to prepare the way of the Lord (Luke 3:2).

About half a year after the beginning of his ministry, having prepared the Jews to expect the speedy coming of the Messiah, and surrounding himself with disciples, most of whom became the first disciples of Christ, John the Baptist, baptized Christ. The mystery of the Holy Trinity was then revealed to him. Having informed those with him, that the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world was present, John gradually faded into the shadows and everyone began follow the new Teacher.

However, John rather than grieving over this, rejoiced. When his especially devoted disciples asked him about his lack of concern over his decreasing fame, he replied with words that clearly expressed his personality. “I am not the Christ, but I am sent before Him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, who standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: therefore this my joy is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:28-50).

Soon after this, his word thundered forth, accusing Herod, so he was cast into a prison, where his earthly life ended. He was beheaded during Herod’s banquet.

“ At that time, King Herod heard that Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; that is why these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.

And others said, For Herod had sent and seized John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; because he had married her. For John said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. When he heard him, he was much perplexed; and yet he heard him gladly. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and the leading men of Galilee. For when Herodias’ daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will grant it.” And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” And she went out, and said to her mother, “What shall I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the baptizer.”

And she came in immediately with haste to the king, and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” And the king was exceedingly sorry; but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. And immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard and gave orders to bring his head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb. The apostles returned to Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.” ( Mark 6:14-30 )

The beheading of St. John the Baptist, which cut off his earthly life, at the same time, started his new and glorious ministry as Forerunner.

The soul of St. John the Baptist, departing his ascetic body, went to hell, the place where the souls of all who died before the Savior’s death on the Cross. The souls of everyone beginning from Adam were here.

However, the holy and righteous soul of St. John the Baptist did not go there in order to experience a dark condition of alienation and distance from God. The “friend of the Bridegroom,” who had baptized Him, suffered for his righteousness, bore the hope of the coming Kingdom of God, preached to all preparing the way for Him, was inseparably bound to Him through his devotion, testifying everywhere for Christ, as His messenger, sent before Him..

Having descended to hell, John continued the ministry that he had performed on earth—the preaching about the Kingdom of God drawing near. The souls of the righteous ones, from the Old Testament were languishing in hell, awaiting the fulfillment of the coming of the One Who would conquer the serpent, as had been told to Adam by God. The prophets, who had seen beforehand in spirit, the coming of the Messiah awaited the fulfillment of the revelations that had been made to them. These souls, deprived of the light of God’s glory, tormented with waiting for the fulfillment of their hope, John came, having descended to hell, bringing the Joyful tidings that soon the kingdom of hell would be destroyed. Those who awaited the Redeemer would soon behold Him and be liberated by Him. John testified that the Son of God had already come to earth and that after baptizing Him, he had witnessed the Holy Spirit descending and remaining on Him (John 1:33-34).

The preaching of John concerning the coming of the Messiah was addressed not only to the souls of the righteous, but to all who were in hell. He appeared in hell to prepare the way of the Lord, just as he had prepared it on earth. John the Baptist’s descent to hell and his preaching of the Gospel was the proclamation of joy to those who were languishing there.

The souls of all the dead, save for the most inveterate sinners, heeded the preaching of the Baptist. Therefore, when Christ descended to hell after His death on the Cross, He was greeted not only by the Old Testament righteous ones, but also by the souls of those who once were disobedient and opposed the long suffering of God in the days of Noah and during the rest of the time that sin reigned among men (1 Peter 3:20).

Hell was destroyed by the Christ’s soul descent into it; the dark confinement shone with light; the souls of the reposed were led into the Kingdom of Heaven. The entryway to this ruin of hell was the descent of the Baptist. Having fulfilled his ministry as Forerunner on earth, he appeared as the Forerunner of Christ, in hell. His beheading is not only the culmination of his earthly exploit, but also the beginning of a new and glorious ministry.

Among them, that are born of women, there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist (Matt. 11:11; Luke 7:28), Christ said of him. This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before Thy face, which shall prepare Thy way before Thee (Luke 7:27).

These words of the Lord Himself, testify of the spiritual greatness of John and his high purpose in the work of the salvation of the human race. He appeared as the servant and preacher of God as no other single man in the world, having begun to preach and praise Christ before his birth, and finishing it even after his death, ascending with Christ into the Kingdom of Heaven after the destruction of hell. As the greatest of the righteous, a worthy place was prepared for him in the Kingdom of his Friend, where he remains now, awaiting its revelation in all glory and the triumphant feast of the Lamb of God in the Second Coming, when He will gather His wheat into the garner, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire (Matt. 3.12; Luke 3.17).

His beheading was his final exploit on earth, and the last step for the receiving of the greatest reward in the Kingdom of Heaven; while for all those in hell it was the rising of the morning star, before the appearance of the Son of Righteousness.

Just as the nativity of St. John the Forerunner and Baptist is the beginning of the Gospel for the living, so is his beheading the beginning of the Gospel for the dead. “The glorious beheading of the Forerunner is part of a certain Divine dispensation, for he preached to those in hell the coming of the Savior” (Kontakion of the Feast).

“Be glad, Baptist, and let thy spirit dance: for thou dost accuse the godless Herod, and dost preach to those in hell, saying: Our salvation hath drawn near” (Canticle 4 of the Canon).


“He who came before Thy Birth and Thy Divine Passion is, through a sword, in the nethermost parts of the earth. John, the prophet and messenger of Thy descent there, cries as the voice of the Word: Do ye dead, as Giver of life, do ye blind, as Giver of light, do ye prisoners, as Deliverer, exalt Christ above all forever” (Canticle 8 of the Canon).

The Holy Napkin

August 16, 2009 Leave a comment

Troparion (Tone 2)

We worship Thine immaculate icon, O Good One, asking the forgiveness of our failings, O Christ our God; for of Thine own will wast Thou well-pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh, that Thou mightest deliver from slavery to the enemy those whom Thou hadst fashioned. Wherefore, we cry to Thee thankfully: Thou didst fill all things with joy, O our Saviour, when Thou camest to save the world.

The Transfer from Edessa to Constantinople of the Icon of our Lord Jesus Christ Not-Made-by-Hands occurred in the year 944. Eusebius, in his HISTORY OF THE CHURCH (I:13), relates that when the Savior was preaching, Abgar ruled in Edessa. He was stricken all over his body with leprosy. Reports of the great miracles worked by the Lord spread throughout Syria (Mt.4:24) and reached even Abgar. Without having seen the Savior, Abgar believed in Him as the Son of God. He wrote a letter requesting Him to come and heal him. He sent with this letter to Palestine his own portrait-painter Ananias, and commissioned him to paint a likeness of the Divine Teacher.

Ananias arrived in Jerusalem and saw the Lord surrounded by people. He was not able to get close to Him because of the large throng of people listening to the preaching of the Savior. Then he stood on a high rock and attempted to paint the portrait of the Lord Jesus Christ from afar, but this effort was not successful. The Savior saw him, called to him by name and gave him a short letter for Abgar in which He praised the faith of this ruler. He also promised to send His disciple to heal him of his leprosy and guide him to salvation.

Then the Lord asked that water and a cloth be brought to Him. He washed His Face, drying it with the cloth, and His Divine Countenance was imprinted upon it. Ananias took the cloth and the letter of the Savior to Edessa. Reverently, Abgar pressed the holy object to his face and he received partial healing. Only a small trace of the terrible affliction remained until the arrival of the disciple promised by the Lord. He was St Thaddeus, Apostle of the Seventy (August 21), who preached the Gospel and baptized Abgar and all the people of Edessa. Abgar put the Holy Napkin in a gold frame adorned with pearls, and placed it in a niche over the city gates. On the gateway above the icon he inscribed the words, “O Christ God, let no one who hopes on Thee be put to shame.”

For many years the inhabitants kept a pious custom to bow down before the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands, when they went forth from the gates. But one of the great-grandsons of Abgar, who later ruled Edessa, fell into idolatry. He decided to take down the icon from the city wall. In a vision the Lord ordered the Bishop of Edessa to hide His icon. The bishop, coming by night with his clergy, lit a lampada before it and walled it up with a board and with bricks.

Many years passed, and the people forgot about it. But in the year 545, when the Persian emperor Chozroes I besieged Edessa and the position of the city seemed hopeless, the Most Holy Theotokos appeared to Bishop Eulabius and ordered him to remove the icon from the sealed niche, and it would save the city from the enemy. Having opened the niche, the bishop found the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands: in front of it was burning the lampada, and upon the board closing in the niche, a copy of the icon was reproduced. After a church procession with the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands had made the circuit of the city walls, the Persian army withdrew.

In the year 630 Arabs seized Edessa, but they did not hinder the veneration of the Holy Napkin, the fame of which had spread throughout all the East. In the year 944, the emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitos (912-959) wanted to transfer the icon to the Constantinople, and he paid a ransom for it to the emir of the city. With great reverence the Icon of the Savior Not-Made-by-Hands and the letter which He had written to Abgar, were brought to Constantinople by clergy.

On August 16, the icon of the Savior was placed in the Tharossa church of the Most Holy Theotokos. There are several traditions concerning what happened later to the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands. According to one, crusaders ran off with it duringtheir rule at Constantinople (1204-1261), but the ship on which the sacred object was taken, perished in the waters of the Sea of Marmora.

According to another tradition, the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands was transported around 1362 to Genoa, where it is preserved in a monastery in honor of the Apostle Bartholomew. It is known that the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands repeatedly gave from itself exact imprints. One of these, named “On Ceramic,” was imprinted when Ananias hid the icon in a wall on his way to Edessa; another, imprinted on a cloak, wound up in Georgia. Possibly, the variance of traditions about the original Icon Not-Made-by-Hands derives from the existence of several exact imprints.

During the time of the Iconoclast heresy, those who defended the veneration of icons, having their blood spilt for holy icons, sang the Troparion to the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands. In proof of the validity of Icon-Veneration, Pope Gregory II (715-731) sent a letter to the Byzantine emperor, in which he pointed out the healing of King Abgar and the sojourn of the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands at Edessa as a commonly known fact. The Icon Not-Made-by-Hands was put on the standards of the Russian army, defending them from the enemy. In the Russian Orthodox Church it is a pious custom for a believer, before entering the temple, to read the Troparion of the Not-Made-by-Hand icon of the Savior, together with other prayers.

According to the Prologue, there are four known Icons of the Savior Not-Made-by-Hands:

  • in the time of Emperor Tiberius (578-582), St Mary Syncletike (August 11) received healing from this on ceramic tiles (16 August)
  • at Edessa, of King Abgar (August 16)
  • the Kamulian, — St Gregory of Nyssa (January 10) wrote of its discovery, while according to St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain (July 14), the Kamulian icon appeared in the year 392, but it had in appearance an icon of the Mother of God (August 9)

The Feast of the Transfer of the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands, made together with the Afterfeast of the Dormition, they call the third-above Savior Icon, the “Savior on Linen Cloth.”

Categories: Art and Architecture