Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Why do we Fast on a Feast Day?

Throughout the year the Church commemorates events in the life of Christ, the Mother of God, the Saints and Church History with a series of Feasts. Some Feasts are as short as one day, such as the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos on September 8th or as long as the Feast of Pascha which lasts for days. Throughout the year the Church also asks us to fast as a spiritual discipline on Wednesdays and Fridays and during fasting periods we refer to as Lenten periods. The practice of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays was a commandment of the Holy Apostles. On certain Major Feasts, such as the Feast of Saint Demetrios on October 26th, when fasting is less strict but not eliminated to remain faithful to the commands of the Holy Apostles who were guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

There are some Feasts of the Church however, when fasting in fact is increased rather than decreased. These days, such as the Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Holy and Precious Cross on September 14th, are days of STRICT FASTING and require those who are able to abstain from as much food as possible limiting the diet to fruits and vegetables if possible. This practice of strict fasting on a Feast Day is often, I may even say always, accompanied by confusion. So why does the Church fast on a Feast?

The answer rests first in the understanding of what fasting “is” in the first place. Fasting is NOT self-denial or punishment from the foods we enjoy. Rather it is an offering to God as Saint Paul encourages us, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12.1) Nothing is associated with living more than food. We cannot live without food; we cannot live without God. Fasting is a spiritual tool that joins these two realities in our personal actions.

The second part of understanding a strict fast during a Feast is to understand the Feast itself. On September 14th we commemorate the Cross by commemorating the Crucifixion of Our Lord. In fact the Scripture readings for September 14th are taken from Holy Friday when our Lord was hung on a cross. There is no better way to align ourselves with Christ on the day of His crucifixion than with strict fasting. In this way we can obey Christ’s words to us, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Matthew 16.24)

On September 14th we literally pick up the cross and carry it throughout the Church as we proclaim the source of Life, the Lord Himself. We sing, “Save, O Lord Your people and bless your inheritance. Grant victory to the faithful against the adversaries of the faith, and protect Your people by Your Holy Cross.” And when we strict fast we deny our own desires for our favorite foods in exchange for simple, basic foods. We begin to see food for what it is – nourishment – rather than what it has become in our society – gluttony.

The Lord teaches that prayer and fasting are required to combat the evils of life. When the Church fasts for a feast we move one step closer to eliminating evil from our life and joining ourselves to God.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Student's Prayer

This is a nice and breif prayer that EVERY student can offer as he/she sits down to begin homework...

Christ my Lord, the Giver of light and wisdom, Who opened the eyes of the blind man and made the fishermen into wise teachers of the Gospel through the coming of the Holy Spirit;

Shine also in my mind the light of the grace of the Holy Spirit. Grant me discernment so I can make good choices, understanding and wisdom in learning.

Make me able to complete my assignments and to by my best work, for to You I give honor and glory;

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Are you struggling to understand God's will in your life? Do you wonder when the suffering will end? Do you believe in God but wonder why He doesn't spare your suffering? Then read these words from St. John Chrysostom and make them your new goal...

"He that fasts is light, and winged, and prays with wakefulness, and quenches his wicked lusts, and propitiates God, and humbles the soul when lifted up." St John Chrysostom on Matthew 17.21

Friday, August 19, 2011

An Evening Prayer

O Lord, compassionate and merciful, long-suffering and plenteous in mercy: hear our prayer, and attend to the voice of our supplication. Work among us a sign for good; lead us in Your way, that we may walk in Your truth; gladden our hearts, that we may fear Your holy name: for You are great, and You work wonders; You alone are God, and there is no other like You among the gods, O Lord; You are powerful in mercy and You are gracious in strength, to assist, and to comfort, and to save all who place their hope in Your holy name. For to You belong all glory, honor, and worship: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

This prayer is taken from the "Lamp-lighting Prayers" recited by the Clergy in the Evening Prayer Service of the Orthodox Christian Church. I pray that the basic faith and dependency upon God that is revealed in this prayer will inspire you to make these words your own.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Questions of Faith

What does it mean to have faith in Jesus Christ? Most people would answer by saying they believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came into the world to save sinners. And they would be correct, but is it enough to offer these few words about belief? The difficult answer unfortunately is, “NO!” It is not enough to just believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He came into the world to save sinners. After all…..even the devil believes in Jesus Christ.

When faced with the hard realities of struggle and sickness the disciples of Jesus were unable to heal a boy sick with epilepsy. When they asked Jesus why they were unable to heal him Jesus said, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17.20) About the sick boy Jesus said, “This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17.21)

There will be times in our life when “mental faith” in Jesus is not sufficient. By this I mean that we must use that faith by offering ourselves to Jesus as a sacrifice of prayer and fasting and be willing to embrace whatever answer God offers for our prayer….and sometime the answer is going to be ‘NO.” It will take great faith to accept this answer from God, since as fallen human beings we have been trained to think we should receive everything we want when we want it. It takes a deep faith, the sort of faith expressed in the self-sacrifice of fasting and prayer, to accept that it’s not always about getting what we want. It’s about what God wants.

A Morning Prayer

O Lord our God, Who grants the remission of sins to mankind through repentance, and Who shows us an example of forgiveness through the acknowledgment and confession of sin by Your prophet David’s repentance: despite our falling into many great sins, have mercy on us according to Your great mercy, O Master, and wipe out our offenses in the abundance of Your compassion; for we have sinned against You, O Lord, Who know the hidden and secret things of man’s heart, and Who alone have the power to remit sins. Create in us a clean heart, and establish us with Your governing Spirit; and make us know the joy of Your salvation; do not cast us away from Your presence; but, in Your goodness and love for mankind, allow us, even until our final breath, to offer a righteous sacrifice to You at Your Holy Altars. Through the mercy, compassion, and love for mankind of Your only-begotten Son, with Whom You are blessed, together with Your all-holy, and good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
This prayer is taken from the Orthros Service (morning prayer service) of the Orthodox Christian Church. I think it speaks beautifully to the absolute love of God and the power of repentance.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Service of Blessing of the Children for the New School Year

Since our children will be going back to school this week, we will call upon our Lord this Sunday to bless them.

Priest: Blessed is our God always, now and forever and to the ages of ages.

People: Amen. Holy God. Holy Mighty. Holy Immortal, have mercy on us (3).

Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

All‑holy Trinity, have mercy on us. Lord, forgive our sins. Master, pardon our transgressions. Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities for your name’s sake.

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come,

thy will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our trespasses

as we forgive those who trespass against us,

and lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

Priest: For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages.

People: Psalm 34 (read)

I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the LORD; The humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh, magnify the LORD with me, And let us exalt His name together. I sought the LORD, and He heard me, And delivered me from all my fears. They looked to Him and were radiant, And their faces were not ashamed. This poor man cried out, and the LORD heard him, And saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps all around those who fear Him, And delivers them. Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him! Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him. The young lions lack and suffer hunger; But those who seek the LORD shall not lack any good thing. Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. Who is the man who desires life, And loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil, And your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their cry. The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all. He guards all his bones; Not one of them is broken. Evil shall slay the wicked, And those who hate the righteous shall be condemned. The LORD redeems the soul of His servants, And none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned.

Completion of Psalm…

Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, glory to You, O God (3), Our Hope O Lord, glory to you.

Great Litany

Priest: In peace let us pray to the Lord.

People: Lord, have mercy.

Priest: For the peace of God and the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord.

People: Lord, have mercy.

Priest: For peace in the whole world, for the stability of the holy churches of God, and for the unity of all, let us pray to the Lord.

People: Lord, have mercy.

Priest: For this holy house and for those who enter it with faith, reverence, and the fear of God, let us pray to the Lord.

People: Lord, have mercy.

Priest: For our Archbishop (Name), the honorable presbyters, the deacons in the service of Christ, and all the clergy and laity, let us pray to the Lord.

People: Lord, have mercy.

Priest: For our country, the president, and all those in public service, and for our armed forces everywhere, let us pray to the Lord.

People: Lord, have mercy.

Priest: For this parish and city, for every city and town, and for the faithful who live in them, let us pray to the Lord.

People: Lord, have mercy.

Priest: For favorable weather, an abundance of the fruits of earth, and peaceful times, let us pray to the Lord.

People: Lord, have mercy.

Priest: For travelers by land, sea, and air, for the sick, the suffering, the captives, and for their salvation, let us pray to the Lord.

People: Lord, have mercy.

Priest: That He will send down upon these children the spirit of wisdom and understanding, and will open their minds and their lips, and enlighten their hearts, for the receiving of precepts of good instruction, let us pray to the Lord.

People: Lord, have mercy.

Priest: That He will implant in their hearts His Godly fear, which is the beginning of wisdom, and will thereby expel from their hearts the turbulence of youth, and enlighten their minds, that they may turn aside from evil and do that which is good, let us pray to the Lord.

People: Lord, have mercy.

Priest: That He will open their minds to receive, and to understand, and to remember all instruction which is good and profitable for the soul, let us pray to the Lord.

People: Lord, have mercy.

Priest: That He will grant them the wisdom which abides with His Throne, and will implant it in their hearts, so that He may teach them that which is well-pleasing in His sight, let us pray to the Lord.

People: Lord, have mercy.

Priest: That He will prosper them in wisdom and in stature, to the glory of God, let us pray to the Lord.

People: Lord, have mercy.

Priest: That they may have a wise a virtuous life, and prosperity in the Orthodox Faith, and may be a joy and consolation to their parents, and pillars of the Orthodox Christian Church, let us pray to the Lord.

People: Lord, have mercy.

Priest: That they and we may be delivered from all affliction, wrath, danger, and distress, let us pray to the Lord.

People: Lord, have mercy.

Priest: Help us, save us, have mercy upon us, and protect us, O God, by your grace.

People: Lord, have mercy.

Priest: Remembering our most holy, pure, blessed, and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and ever‑virgin Mary, with all the saints, let us commit ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God.

People: To You, O Lord.

Priest: For to you belong all glory, honor, and worship to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages.

People: Amen (read the following)

As You did come in the midst of Your Disciples, O Savior, bestowing upon them peace, so also come upon us and save us.

Your Holy Spirit made teachers of Your uneducated Disciples, O Christ God; and by the commingling of tongues He annulled idolatry for He is almighty.

(sing) Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit

O blessed are You O Christ our God, who by sending down the Holy Spirit upon them, made the fishermen wise and through them illumined the world. And to You the universe is ever drawn, all glory to You O Lord.

Now and forever and to the ages of ages, Amen

A protection of Christians unshamable,
Intercessor to our Holy Maker, unwavering,
Please reject not
The prayerful cries of those who are in sin.
Instead, come to us, for you are good;
Your loving help bring unto us,
Who are crying in faith to you: Hasten to intercede
And speed now to supplicate,
As a protection for all time,
Theotokos, for those who honor you.


Priest: Let us be attentive.

(The Reader reads the verses from the Psalms.) Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings you have ordained praise; My heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

Priest: Wisdom.

Reader: The reading is from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians

Priest: Let us be attentive.

Brethren, I do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power. And that you know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Priest: Peace be with you.

People: Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.


Priest: Wisdom. Arise. Let us hear the holy Gospel. Peace be with all.

People: And with your spirit.

Priest: The reading is from the Holy Gospel according to Mark. Let us be attentive.

People: Glory to You, O Lord, glory to You.

At that time, they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. "Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it." And He took them up in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them.

People: Glory to You, O Lord, glory to You.

Priest: Let us all say with our whole soul, and with our whole mind, let us say.

People: Lord, have mercy (3).

Priest: Lord Almighty, God of our fathers, we pray you, hear us and have mercy.

People: Lord, have mercy (3).

Priest: Have mercy on us, O God, according to your great mercy; we pray you, hear us and have mercy.

People: Lord, have mercy (3).

Priest: Let us pray for pious and Orthodox Christians.

People: Lord, have mercy (3).

Priest: Let us pray for our Archbishop (Name).

People: Lord, have mercy (3).

Priest: Let us pray for our brethren, priests, hieromonks, deacons, and monastics, and all our brotherhood in Christ.

People: Lord, have mercy (3).

Priest: Furthermore we pray to the Lord our God, that He will look graciously upon these children, and will send down into their hearts, their minds, and their lips the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, and of piety, and of his fear; and that He will illumine them with the light of his knowledge, and will bestow upon them strength and steadfastness, that they may quickly apprehend and speedily become wonted to the instruction in His Divine Law, and to all good and profitable learning; furthermore, that He will prosper them in wisdom and understanding, and in all good works to the glory of His holy Name, and will give them health, and make them long-lived, unto the building up of the glory of His Church, hear us O Lord and have mercy on us.

People: Lord, have mercy (3).

Priest: Hear us, O God, our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth, and of those who are far off upon the sea; and show compassion on us, O Master, on our many sins, and have mercy upon us.

People: Lord, have mercy (3).

Priest: Let us pray to the Lord.

People: Lord, have mercy.

Priest: O Lord our God and Creator, who has honored us men and women with Your own image; who has taught Your elect, so that most wise are they who give heed to Your teaching; who reveals wisdom unto babes; who has imparted Your teaching unto Solomon and unto all who have sought Your wisdom: Open the hearts, the minds, and the lips of these Your servants, that they may receive the power of the law, and successfully apprehend the useful precepts which shall be taught them, to the glory of Your All-Holy Name, to the profit and building up of Your Holy Church, and that they may understand Your good and perfect will. Deliver them from every hostile oppression; preserve them in Orthodoxy and the Faith, and in all uprightness and purity all the days of their life, that they may advance in wisdom, and in the fulfilling of Your commandments: that, being thus prepared, they may glorify Your All-Holy Name, and become heirs of Your Kingdom. For You are God mighty in mercy, and gracious in strength; and unto You is due glory, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages.

People: Amen

Priest: Glory to You, Christ our God and our hope, glory to you. May Christ our true God, who rose from the dead as a good, loving and merciful God, have mercy upon us and save us, through the intercessions of his most pure and holy Mother; the power of the precious and life-giving Cross; the protection of the honorable, bodiless powers of heaven; the supplications of the honorable, glorious prophet and forerunner John the Baptist; the holy, glorious, and praise­worthy Apostles; the holy, glorious, and triumphant Martyrs; our holy God‑bearing Fathers; the holy, and righteous ancestors of God Joachim and Anna; of Saint (of the day) whose memory we com­memorate today, and all the saints.

Priest: Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us and save us.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Interesting.......Just Plain Interesting....

In today's reading from 1st Corinthians Saint Paul says,
Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. - 1 Corinthians 11.1-6
I occurred to me when I read this during Church this morning.  If so many Christians practice sola scriptura why don't I see veils on women in Church? In fact, I see many more veils on Orthodox Christians women. Interesting.......

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How Effective is YOUR Youth Ministry?

There is a documentary out right now called Divided and it details the struggles of youth ministry and the objective failure in retaining youth within the Church. The movie is available for free viewing online until September sometime, so if you work with youth as a youth minister, pastor, parent, teacher, clergy or just care about youth in the Church, sit back and take an hour and watch this movie. It is worth your time.

We have been discussing this reality in Orthodoxy as well and the root causes are quite similar. When parents are not living and teaching the Orthodox Way of Life in their families no amount of youth ministry can overcome that drag on our Churches' youth. I would agree with much of what this movie has to say and I could suggest that the problem of departing from the Scripture Tradition of ministry has been directly related to the departure of the Holy Tradition of Orthodoxy! In cases where the Orthodox Church has adopted Protestant models for ministry, the result has been the same......youth departure. It's time for us to WAKE UP!

What this movie doesn't recognize is that the Scriputre Tradition they mention also mentions a deep Orthodox way of life and worship that Protestants have left behind in their anti-tradition mentality. In every case where Orthodox Christians have departed from the same way of life - fasting, prayer, confession, almsgiving, Eucharist, and the rest of the sacramental life - the results have been exactly the same. How can we continue to teach children in Sunday School about fasting when parents don't even attempt to fast? How can we preach about Confession and the Eucharist when parents don't event attempt to make these necessary elements of Christian life central to their way of thinking and living? We can't......

Now sit back and watch the movie...