Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
Christ is in our midst! He was and is and ever shall be. Ο Χριστός έν τώ μέσω ημών. Και ήν και έστι και έσται.
PRAYER OF THE HOURS
O Christ our God, at every season and every hour, in heaven and on earth, You are worshipped and glorified. You are long-suffering, merciful and compassionate, loving the just and showing mercy to the sinner, calling all to salvation through the promise of blessings to come. O Lord, in this hour receive our supplications and direct our lives according to Your Commandments. Sanctify our souls, hallow our bodies, correct our thoughts, cleanse our minds. Deliver us from all tribulations, evil and distress. Surround us with Your holy Angels, that guided and guarded by them, we may come to the unity of the faith and to the knowledge of Your unapproachable glory, for You are Blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.
On March 23rd Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics and Teachers of Our Holy faith: Saint Nikon and 199 Companion holy Martyrs; Saint Vassian I, Archbishop of Rostov; Saint Cronides and Amphilochios the Captain in Illyria; Saint Dometios of Phyrgia; Saint Ephraim and Theodosios of Vologda; Saint Pachomios of Nerekhta; Saint Basil of Mangazea in Siberia; New holy Martyr Luke of Mitilyne (1802); Saint Nicon, Abbot of the Kiev Caves.
THE HIEROMARTYR NIKON. Born in Naples of a pagan father and a Christian mother, he was an officer in the Roman army in Naples. He was not baptized, although his mother, unbeknown to his father, had instructed him in the Christian faith. Once, when he was setting off with his company to war, his mother advised him, if he were in trouble, to make the sign of the Cross and call on Christ to help him. And so, when St. Nikon's company was surrounded during the battle and close to final extermination, St. Nikon made the sign of the Cross and began to call upon Christ. At that moment he was filled with exceptional strength and rushed upon his opponents, killing some and putting the other to flight. Returning home, St. Nikon could not stop exclaiming in wonder: 'Great is the God of the Christians!' By divine providence St. Nikon came to Neapolis, where he found his mother still alive. On her death, he went to Sicily with nine disciples, one-time comrades in battle, and there devoted himself to preaching the Gospel. There was a terrible persecution of Christians at that time, and Prince Quintianus seized St. Nikon and his companions and gave them over to great torture. One hundred and ninety of his disciples and friends were slain. The torturer tied St. Nikon to the tails of horses, threw him from a high cliff into a ravine, beat him and flayed him, yet St. Nikon survived all these tortures. He was finally slain with the sword and his body was abandoned in a field for the birds to eat, but a shepherd boy, possessed by a raging evil spirit, fell on the dead body of Christ's martyr, took hold of it, and was immediately healed. He spread the news about St. Nikon's body, and Christians came and buried it. Saint Nikon suffered and went to the Lord in the reign of the pagan Roman Emperor Decius.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints and Holy Martyrs, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Old Testament: Isaiah 29:13-23
Old Testament: Genesis 12:1-7
Old Testament: Proverbs 14:15-26
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND CONTEMPLATION
"At Thy right hand stood the queen, arrayed in a vesture of inwoven gold, adorned with various colors," as the Psalmist and Prophet says of [the Most Holy Theotokos] (Psalm 44:8). And you should take this garment interwoven with gold to mean her divinely radiant body--adorned with every type of virtue. For, at the present, she is the only one who has a place in heaven with her divinely glorified body in the company of her Son. Earth, the grave and death could not ultimately detain her life-giving body, which has held God and been a more beloved habitation for Him than heaven and the heaven of heavens." [St. Gregory Palamas]
THE LORD'S PRAYER
by Archimandrite George - Abbot [Geronda] of the Monastery of St. Gregorios of Mt. Athos
Our Holy Orthodox Faith is not one of the ideologies or the philosophies or even one of the religions of this world. The God of the Orthodox is not the god of the philosophers, that is to say, an idea or a highest, impersonal principle or a religious value, to which we are elevated beginning from the lowest values.
We, the Orthodox Christians, believe in a personal God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This Trinitarian God reveals Himself to us through His Second Person, that of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Son of God becomes man, Our Lord Jesus Christ, preaches the Gospel [Evaggelion], performs miracles, is Crucified, is Resurrected from the dead, ascends into heaven and sends the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, all this, in order to unite us with our God the Father, to restore our disturbed relationship with Him and to bring us to a personal meeting, communion and union with God.
Through prayer, the unapproachable God becomes approachable. The unknown God becomes known.
The strange God becomes familiar and a friend. This is the path that Theanthropos (Godman), our Lord, showed us. The Lord Jesus Christ often prayed, "leaving behind an example, that we should follow in his steps."
He taught that we must pray with humility, with forgiveness and with patience. He also left behind a model, an exemplary prayer familiar to all Christians, The Lord's Prayer, the "Our Father."
As we shall see further on, the rest of the petitions of the Lord's Prayer help us overcome our morbid individualism, our self-centeredness and our selfishness. They help us open our heart and offer ourselves to God the Father, and to our brethren. That is to say, they help us to obtain love towards God, which is inseparably linked to benevolence and brotherly love.
WHO ART IN HEAVEN
The All-Holy God is our Father, but also the only Father in heaven. Saint John Chrysostom explains, "When the 'in heaven' is said, we don't confine God to heavens, but instead, the worshipper is elevated from the earth and fixes his attention to the higher places and residences".
So, the phrase 'in heaven' signifies the Holiness of God the Father and not the residence of the everywhere present God. Saint Gregory of Nyssa theologizes, "Since the distinction between the Divine and the human is not local, therefore we need not some trick or some device to transport this heavy, fat and earthly body to the immaterial and intellectual conduct. But because virtue is intellectually separated from evil, it depends upon the human will to belong where he (man) wishes".
Saint Nicodemos the Hagiorite provides us with the practical and moral consequences of this phrase, "Because our Father is in heaven we too must intellectually be in heaven, there, where our homeland is, the Higher Jerusalem, and not have our mind, as the swine do, down here on the earth. Our mind must be in our sweetest Savior and Master and on the heavenly beauties of Paradise. Not only in time of prayer but always and at all times we must keep our mind on heaven, so that the mind is not dispersed down here on perishable and temporary things".
HALLOWED BE THY NAME
This is the first petition of the Lord's Prayer. 'Hallowed' means 'glorified' according to Saint John Chrysostom. Of course, the Uncreated God has no need to be glorified by His created creatures. Nevertheless, He wants us to glorify Him because this benefits us men.
He protects us from the danger of glorifying ourselves with a fake glory that does not belong to us. Selfishness gives birth to ambition.
We are set correctly in the world when we glorify God, recognizing God as worthy of glory, because He is the Creator, the Father, the All-Holy, the Savior, the Alpha and the Omega, and the Centre of the world, while we are His creatures who exist and live because He so wills.
You deceive yourself when you glorify yourself. When you glorify God you realize your nature, your destination. That is to say, you realize that you are not the centre of the world, that you are not the source of life and holiness, that you are not infinite and immortal on your own. In other words, you accept your limitation.
Men cannot glorify God when they Glorify themselves. This is what happened to our Forefathers. This is what happens to the teachers of Israel, whom the Lord speaks about in the Gospel according to Saint John, "How can you believe, when you receive honor from one another, and seek not the honor that comes from God only?" (St. John 5:44). This is what happens to our contemporary, humanistic philosophy which wants man to be the centre of this world. The beliefs of the humanist man are summarized by the French atheist, J.P. Sarte, when he says, "When You exist, I cannot exist. It is either You or me".
Nevertheless, according to Saint Gregory Palamas, man is truly glorified when he glorifies God. He is glorified when in God he can become not independent from God, not a Pseudo-god, but he can become a god by Grace, infinite and everlasting.
The value of this prayer is invaluable to us.
First of all, because it was given by God.
Secondly, because our most Holy Mother of God, the Apostles, the Holy Martyrs, the Holy Fathers and the pious Christians of all ages have prayed and been sanctified by it.
Thirdly, because it summarizes the whole Gospel and the doctrines of our Faith.
According to Saint Maximus the Confessor, "This prayer contains a petition for all things that the Word [Logos] of God caused with the emptying of Himself during the Incarnation and it instructs us to seek just those things that only God the Father, through the natural intercession of the Son, truly grants in the Holy Spirit. These gifts are seven: (1) Theology, (2) Adoption through the Grace of God, (3) Equality with the angels, (4) Partaking in the eternal life, (5) Restoration of the nature that impassively turns to itself, (6) Abolition of the law of sin and (7) Abolition of the tyranny of the devil who reigned over us with deception" [Interpretation of the "Lord's Prayer", Philokalia, published by "Perivoli tis Panagias", vol. 2, p. 253].
This prayer is the pre-eminent prayer of the Church. In the daily Church services it is recited sixteen times, during Great Lent twenty-two times. Furthermore, it is, in a way, a summary of the Divine Liturgy.
For this reason and with our Holy Fathers as my guides, have considered it useful in this sermon to invite you to examine thoroughly and to take pleasure in this prayer's divine and saving meanings, so we recite it with greater zeal and consciousness.
[to be continued tomorrow]
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God