Comforting Words about Pestilence & Liturgy from a Monastic Father of Our Time

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Archbishop Benjamin forwarded to his clergy the text of a homily by Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex, England, a well-known Orthodox monk. Drawing on his spiritual formation under the direction of Elder Sophrony and other Athonite elders, he has many beautiful and powerful things to say about our identity and lives as Christians.

[NOTE: What follows came in two parts, over two days. I have both talks posted together for your ease of reading]

March 19, 2020

Many people are in confusion and others panic because of the threat of the Coronavirus epidemic that spread in the whole world. I think, however, that this should not happen, for whatever God does with us, He does it out of love. The God of Christians is a good God, a God of mercy and lovingkindness, ‘Who loveth mankind’. God created us out of His goodness in order to share His life and even His glory with us. When we fell into sin, He allowed death to enter our life again out of goodness, so that we may not become immortal in our wickedness, but to seek for a way of salvation. Although we have fallen, God has never stopped to provide for us, not only material goods in order to sustain our race, but He also sent prophets and righteous, preparing His way so that He might come and solve our tragedy, and bring eternal salvation through the Cross and Resurrection of His inconceivable love. He came and took upon Himself the curse of sin, and He showed His love to the end: ‘Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end’ (John 13:1). All the things that God did when He created us, when He provided goods in order to sustain the world, when He prepared His way for Him to come on earth, when He came Himself in person and wrought our salvation in such an awesome way, all these things He did out of goodness. His goodness is boundless. He saves us and is so longsuffering towards us, waiting until we ‘come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim. 2:4) and bring true repentance, so that we may be with Him for all eternity. Thus, at every stage of His relationship with man, our God shows only His goodness and mercy, ‘which is better than life’ (Ps. 63:3); goodness is His Nature and He does all things for the benefit and salvation of man.

Consequently, when He shall come again to judge the world, will a different God judge it? Will it not be the same good God, the God of mercy and lovingkindness, Who loves mankind? Let us be certain that we shall not appear before any other God than Him Who created us and saved us. And so, it is again with the same mercy and love that He will judge us. For this reason, we should neither panic nor waver, for it will be the same God that will receive us in the other life and will judge us with the same kindness and compassion. Some fear that the hour of their end has come. This plague of Coronavirus has also a positive aspect, because we have a few weeks from the moment it will assail us until our end. Therefore, we can dedicate this time to prepare ourselves for our meeting with God, so that our departure may not occur unexpectedly and without preparation, but after we have run through our whole life each time we stand in prayer before God, at times with thanksgiving unto the end for all the things God has done for us and at other times with repentance, seeking the forgiveness of our transgressions. Nothing can harm us with such a God, Who allows all things out of His goodness. We must simply keep thanksgiving unto the end and the humble prayer of repentance for the forgiveness of our sins.

As for myself, this plague is helping me. I longed to find again the prayer I had before, with which I can run through my whole life from my birth until now, thanking God for all His benefits ‘whereof I know and whereof I know not’; and also, with which I can run through my whole life repenting for all my sins and transgressions. It is wonderful to be able to run through your life praying, bringing all things before God with persistence in prayer. Then you feel that your life is redeemed. This is why this situation is truly helping me. I am not panicking but ‘I will be sorry for my sin’ (Ps. 38:18).

We must see the goodness of God in all the things that are happening now. The Holy Fathers did see His lovingkindness. A similar epidemic occurred in the 4th century in the Egyptian desert, which harvested more than a third of the monks, and the Fathers were saying with great inspiration that, ‘God is harvesting souls of saints for His Kingdom,’ and they did not waver. The Lord Himself speaks in the Gospel about the last days, about the trials and afflictions which the world will go through before His Second Coming. However, we discern neither morbid sadness nor despair in His words. The Lord Who prayed in the garden of Gethsemane with a sweat of blood for the salvation of the whole world, says that when we see the terrible things that precede His Second Coming, we should lift up our heads with inspiration, for our redemption draws nigh (cf. Luke 21:28). Some tell me, ‘May God extend His helping hand.’ But this is precisely the hand of God. He desires and works our salvation ‘at sundry times and in divers manners’ (Heb. 1:1): ‘My Father worketh hitherto, and I work’ (John 5:17). This virus may be a means that God uses in order to bring many to themselves and to repentance, and to harvest many ready souls for His eternal Kingdom. Therefore, for those who surrender and entrust themselves to the Providence of God all will contribute for their good: ‘All things work together for good to them that love God’ (Rom. 8:28).

Thus, there is no room for morbid dismay. Neither should we resist the measures that the government is taking in order to diminish the spreading of the afflictions we see in the lives of so many people. It is wrong to go against the authorities. We should do whatever the Government says, because they are not asking for us to deny our faith, they are only asking us to take a few measures for the common welfare of all people, so that this trial may pass, and this is not at all unreasonable. Some people take it too confessionally, they raise flags and play the martyrs and the confessors. For us there is no doubt: we shall show pure submission to the orders of the Government. It is unfair to disobey the Government since, when we fall ill, it is to their hospitals that we run and they are the ones who undertake all the expenses and our care.

[Above is the first part of an address by Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex, England, and the following day its concluding part was given and appears below.]

March 20, 2020

This is the ethos of Christ that God showed in His life on earth and this is the apostolic commandment that we have received: ‘…be subject to principalities and powers, obey magistrates, be ready to every good work, speak evil of no man, be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men’ (cf. Tit. 3: 1-2); and ‘Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme…’ (see 1 Pet. 2:13-17). If we do not obey our governors who are not asking much, how will we obey God, Who gives us a divine law, which is far more sublime than any human law? If we keep the law of God we are above human laws, as the apologists of the 2nd century said during the Roman Empire which was persecuting the Christians. It is surprising to see in the country where we live, in the United Kingdom, that the footballers show such understanding and discernment so as to be the first to withdraw from their activities with docility towards the indications of the Government to take prophylactic measures. It would be sad for us, people of faith, to fail reaching the measure of the footballers and showing the same docility towards the authorities for which our Church prays.

If they ask us to stop our Church services, let us simply surrender and bless the Providence of God. Besides, this reminds us of an old tradition that the Fathers had in Palestine: in Great Lent, on the Sunday of Cheese fare, after the mutual forgiveness, they would go out in the desert for forty days without Liturgy; they would only continue in fasting and prayer so as to prepare and return on Palm Sunday to celebrate in a godly way the Passion and the Resurrection of the Lord. And so, our present circumstances force us to live again that which existed of old in the bosom of the Church. That is to say, they force us to live a more hesychastic life, with more prayer, which will however make up for the lack of the Divine Liturgy and will prepare us to celebrate with greater desire and inspiration the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Thus, we will turn this plague into a triumph of hesychasm. In any case, whatever God allows in our life is out of His goodness for the well-being of man, for He never wants His creature to be harmed in any way.

Certainly, if we will be deprived of the Divine Liturgy for a longer period of time, we can endure it. What do we receive in the Liturgy? We partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, which are filled with His grace. This is a great honour and benefit for us, but we also receive the grace of God in many other ways. When we practice hesychastic prayer, we abide in the Presence of God with the mind in the heart calling upon the holy Name of Christ. The Divine Name brings us the grace of Christ because it is inseparable from His Person and leads us into His Presence. This Presence of Christ which is purifying, cleanses us from our transgressions and sins, it renews and illumines our heart so that the image of God our Saviour, Christ, may be formed therein.

If we shall not have Easter in the Church, let us remember that every contact with Christ is Easter. We receive grace in the Divine Liturgy because the Lord Jesus is present in it, He performs the sacrament and He is the One imparted to the faithful. However, when we invoke His Name, we enter the same Presence of Christ and receive the same grace. Therefore, if we are deprived of the Liturgy, we always have His Name, we are not deprived of the Lord. Moreover, we also have His word, especially His Gospel. If His word dwells continually in our heart, if we study it and pray it, if it becomes our language with which we speak to God as He spoke to us, then we shall have again the grace of the Lord. For His words are words of eternal life (John 6:68), and the same mystery is performed, we receive His grace and are sanctified.

Furthermore, each time we show kindness to our brethren the Lord is well-pleased, He considers that we did it in His Name and He rewards us. We show kindness to our brethren and the Lord rewards us with His grace. This is another way in which we can live in the Presence of the Lord. We can have the grace of the Lord through fasting, alms giving and every good deed. So, if we are forced to avoid gathering in Church, we can also be united in spirit in these holy virtues which are known within the Body of Christ, the holy Church, and which preserve the unity of the faithful with Christ and with the other members of His Body. All the things we do for God is a Liturgy, for they minister unto our salvation. The Liturgy is the great event of the life of the Church, wherein the faithful have the possibility to exchange their little life with the boundless life of God. However, the power of this event depends on the preparation we perform before, through all the things we have mentioned, through prayer, good deeds, fasting, love for neighbour, repentance.

Therefore, my dear brethren, it is not necessary to make heroic confessions against the Government for the prophylactic measures that it takes for the good of all people. Neither should we despair, but only wisely machinate ways so as not to lose our living communication with the Person of Christ. Nothing can harm us, we must simply be patient for a certain period of time and God will see our patience, take away every obstacle, every temptation and we shall again see the dawn of joyful days, and we shall celebrate our common hope and love that we have in Christ Jesus.

Great Lent Schedule

We are now in the period of Great Lent leading up to the great celebration of Christ’s Resurrection at Great and Holy Pascha (Easter).

Lent started March 2nd and will continue through Palm Sunday on April 12th (The Eastern Orthodox Church Easter dates are a week later than Western Christianity this year). Holy Week is then April 13th through the 18th.

Please join us for this repentant and joyful journey. The schedule is:

  • Every Sunday: Matins 8:30AM and Divine Liturgy 10:00AM
  • Throughout Great Lent, Wednesdays 6PM: Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts
  • March 25th, Holy Annunciation
  • April 11th, Lazarus Saturday
  • April 12th, Palm Sunday
  • April 13th-18th, Holy Week
  • April 19th, Great and Holy Pascha
  • April 20th, Bright Monday
  • June 7th, Holy Pentecost

The Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim

O Lord and Master of my life! Give me not the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility patience and love to Thy servant.

Yea, O Lord and King! Grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages.

Holy Week & Pascha (Easter)

The Eastern Orthodox Church around the world celebrates Pascha on April 28 this year. Called Easter in Western Christianity, we journey to Pascha, observing the Divine Services that take us from the raising of Lazarus from the dead, His Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, through each day of Holy Week as our Lord approaches His Last Supper, betrayal, anguish in the garden, capture, trial, mocking scourging & torture, Crucifixion, Burial and finally His Resurrection.

Visitors are welcome to join us for any and all services – here is the schedule of the approaching Feast of Feasts:

Theophany – God Reveals Himself!

The Manifestation of God in Trinity

Great Blessing of the Waters of Central Oregon. The living waters of the Deschutes River at Drake Park, under the cover of a gentle snowfall – water above and below being consecrated by the Baptism of Christ and Theophany of God!!

Theophany is the Feast which reveals the Most Holy Trinity to the world through the Baptism of the Lord (Mt.3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22). God the Father spoke from Heaven about the Son, the Son was baptized by Saint John the Forerunner, and the Holy Spirit descended upon the Son in the form of a dove. From ancient times this Feast was called the Day of Illumination and the Feast of Lights, since God is Light and has appeared to illumine “those who sat in darkness,” and “in the region of the shadow of death” (Mt.4:16), and to save the fallen race of mankind by grace.

     The origin of the Feast of Theophany goes back to Apostolic times, and it is mentioned in The Apostolic Constitutions (Book V:13). From the second century we have the testimony of Saint Clement of Alexandria concerning the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, and the night vigil before this Feast.

     There is a third century dialogue about the services for Theophany between the holy martyr Hippolytus and Saint Gregory the Wonderworker. In the following centuries, from the fourth to ninth century, all the great Fathers of the Church: Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom, Ambrose of Milan, John of Damascus, commented on the Feast of Theophany.

     The monks Joseph the Studite, Theophanes and Byzantios composed much liturgical music for this Feast, which is sung at Orthodox services even today. Saint John of Damascus said that the Lord was baptized, not because He Himself had need for cleansing, but “to bury human sin by water,” to fulfill the Law, to reveal the mystery of the Holy Trinity, and finally, to sanctify “the nature of water” and to offer us the form and example of Baptism.

     On the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, the Holy Church proclaims our faith in the most sublime mystery, incomprehensible to human intellect, of one God in three Persons. It teaches us to confess and glorify the Holy Trinity, one in Essence and Undivided.

What is Orthodox Christianity?

A good place to start is to understand ‘what Orthodox Christians do and believe’.

  • Worship God, the Holy Trinity, every Sunday and throughout our daily lives? 
    Of course, . . . the world got its concept of ‘Sunday Services’ from us. 
  • Bible-based? 
    Absolutely,  . . . we gave the world the Bible it uses, and it is the backbone of our 2000 year history.
  • Preach Jesus Christ? 
    Like no one else, we know the Lord, God who became man, that all men may be saved. 
  • Saved from what?
    Death.  We, who were created in His Image, should not know death.  He did not come to make bad men good, He came to make dead men live; to be restored to the fullness of His Glory.

Look at the following quotations of Sacred Scripture:

  • In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us ….” (John 1:1&14)
  • “But as many as received him, to them He gave power to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name” (John 1:12); 
  • ” . . . in order that all may be one; even as you, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us . . . the glory that You have given Me, I have given them, so that they may be one, even as We are one: I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected into one. . . .”  (John 17:21-22)
  • “. . . you may become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). 
  • Christ willtransform the body of our humiliation [i.e., our fallen, animal-like body]  that it may be conformed to the body of His Glory . . . ” (Philippians 3:21)
  • “We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2)
  • And, in John 10:34, Jesus defends himself against a charge of blasphemy by stating: “Is it not written in your  law, ‘I said, You are gods.’ ?” It is widely believed that Jesus is referring to Psalms 82:6 in saying “Ye are gods and children of the most high.”

Saint Athanasius summed them up thus: “The Son of God became man so that we might become God” 

How then was it given to His disciples, and to us now, to live in the fulfillment of this Gospel? And what does this mean in light of St. Paul’s admonition to “continue to work out your salvation “, as well as the commission that Jesus’ teaching and Sonship be preached “even unto the ends of the earth”?

Continue reading “What is Orthodox Christianity?”

From Pascha to Pentecost

Antipascha
The Sunday after Easter, called the Second Sunday, is thus the eighth day of the paschal celebration, the last day of Bright Week. It is therefore called the Antipascha, and it was only on this day in the early church that the newly-baptized Christians removed their robes and entered once again into the life of this world.

In the Church services the stress is on the Apostle Thomas’ vision of Christ and the significance of the day comes to us in the words of the gospel:  Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it in My side; do not be faithless, but believing.” Thomas answered Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (Jn 20.27–29).

The Myrrhbearing Women
The third Sunday after Pascha is dedicated to the myrrhbearing women who cared for the body of the Saviour at his death and who were the first witnesses of His Resurrection.

The Paralytic
The fourth Sunday is dedicated to Christ’s healing of the paralytic (Jn 5). The man is healed by Christ while waiting to be put down into the pool of water. Through baptism in the church we, too, are healed and saved by Christ for eternal life. Thus, in the church, we are told, together with the paralytic, “to sin no more that nothing worse befall you” (Jn 5.14).

The Samaritan Woman
The fifth Sunday after Easter deals with the woman of Samaria with whom Christ spoke at Jacob’s Well (Jn 4). Again the theme is the “living water” and the recognition of Jesus as God’s Messiah (Jn 4.10–11; 25–26). We are reminded of our new life in Him, of our own drinking of the “living water,” of our own true worship of God in the Christian messianic age “in Spirit and in Truth” (Jn 4.23–24). We see as well that salvation is offered to all: Jews and Gentiles, men and women, saints and sinners.

The Blind Man
The sixth Sunday commemorates the healing of the man blind from birth (Jn 9). We are identified with that man who came to see and to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. The Lord has anointed our eyes with his own divine hands and washed them with the waters of our baptism (Jn 9.6–11).

Ascension
Jesus did not live with His disciples after His resurrection as He had before His death. Filled with the glory of His divinity, He appeared at different times and places to His people, assuring them that it was He, truly alive in His risen and glorified body.

To them He presented Himself alive after His passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the Kingdom of God (Acts 1.3).  On the fortieth day after His passover, Jesus ascended into heaven to be glorified on the right hand of God (Acts 1.9–11; Mk 16.19; Lk 24.51). The ascension of Christ is His final physical departure from this world after the resurrection. It is the formal completion of His mission in this world as the Messianic Saviour. It is His glorious return to the Father Who had sent Him into the world to accomplish the work that He had given him to do (Jn 17.4–5).

. . . and lifting His hands He blessed them. While blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy (Lk 24.51–52).

Pentecost: The Descent of the Holy Spirit

In the Old Testament Pentecost was the feast which occurred fifty days after Passover. As the passover feast celebrated the exodus of the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt, so Pentecost celebrated God’s gift of the ten commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai.

In the new covenant of the Messiah, the passover event takes on its new meaning as the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection, the “exodus” of men from this sinful world to the Kingdom of God. And in the New Testament as well, the pentecostal feast is fulfilled and made new by the coming of the “new law,” the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Christ.

When the day of Pentecost had come they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed as resting upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit . . . (Acts 2.1–4).

The Holy Spirit that Christ had promised to his disciples came on the day of Pentecost (Jn 14.26, 15.26; Lk 24.49; Acts 1.5). The apostles received “the power from on high,” and they began to preach and bear witness to Jesus as the risen Christ, the King and the Lord. This moment has traditionally been called the birthday of the Church.

Join Us for Holy Week & PASCHA (Easter)

The Resurrected Christ, raising up Adam and Eve

This week Lent comes to an end and we turn to the work  of Salvation our Lord performed in the Raising Lazarus from the Dead.  Then is His Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem, on what has been named “Palm Sunday”.  Thus the Orthodox Church begins the celebration of the last week of Christ’s life;  officially called Passion  Week. In popular terminology, it is called Holy Week. Each day is designated in the service books as “Great and Holy”, with special services every day of the week for the faithful as they “go up with the Lord to Jerusalem” (Matins of Great and Holy Monday).  His institution of the Last Supper, His Passion in the Garden, the Betrayal, Scourging, the end of His Earthly Life on the Cross, His Burial and the Lamentations become the focus of our worship, prayer and contemplation during the Divine Services offered in anticipation of the Rising of Christ.  All turns to joy, as we begin the Midnight Office in the dark, then candlight procession follows as we visit His Empty Tomb and a world illuminated by the Uncreated Light of His Life-giving Resurrection – the Holy and Glorious PASCHA of our Lord!! Follow this link to read a short summary of the meaning of each of the services, with a schedule so you can plan your week and hopefully attend as many as possible.