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.
FROM THE COMPLINE (ΑΠΟΔΕΙΠΝΟΝ) HOLY SERVICE
[PRAYER OF MANASSEH, KING OF JUDAH]
O Lord, Almighty, the God of our fathers, of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and of their righteous seed; Who created the heaven and the earth with all their adornment; Who bound the sea by the word of Your command; Who shut up the abyss and sealed it with Your awesome and glorious name; Whom all things dread and before Whose power they tremble, because the Majesty of Your Glory is unbearable and the threat of Your anger against the sinners unendurable; yet the mercy of Your promise is both, immeasurable and unfathomable, for You are the Lord Most High, compassionate, long-suffering and All-merciful, and relent on the wickedness of man.
You, Lord, in the multitude of Your goodness promised repentance and forgiveness to those who have sinned against You, and in Your Infinite compassion appointed repentance for sinners that they may be saved. Therefore, Lord, the God of the powers, You have not appointed repentance for the righteous, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who have not sinned against You, but You appointed repentance for me the sinner, for I have committed more sins than the grains of the sand of the sea. My transgressions have multiplied, Lord; my transgressions have multiplied, and I am not worthy to look up and see the height of the sky from the multitude of my iniquities, being weighted down by many iron chains, so that I cannot raise my head; there is no respite left for me because I provoked Your anger and committed evil before You not having done Your will and not having kept Your Commandments. And now I bend the knee of my heart, beseeching Your goodness. I have sinned, Lord, I have sinned and I acknowledge my transgressions; but I beg and ask of You: Forgive me, Lord, forgive me and do not destroy me with my transgressions; do not be angry with me forever and keep my evils in me, and do not condemn me to the depths of the earth; for You are God, the God of those who repent, and in me You shall show all Your goodness; for even though I am unworthy, You shall save me according to the multitude of Your mercy, and I shall praise You without ceasing all the days of my life. For every heavenly power sings Your praises, and Yours is the Glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.
On March 24th [Forefeast of the Annunciation of the Theotokos] 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 Orthodox Christian faith: Saint Artemon, Bishop of Seleucia in Pisidia; Saint Parthenios the Younger, Patriarch of Constantinople; Saint Zacharias of Sketis; Saint Zachariah, faster of the Kiev Caves; Saint Martin of Thebes; Eight holy Martyrs of Caesarea; Saint Stephen of Kazan; Saint Savvas the New of Kalymnos (1948); Holy Martyr Artemios, Presbyter of Laodicea; Miracle at the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev; Saint Peter of Kazan.
COMMEMORATION OF THE MIRACLE AT THE MONASTERY OF THE CAVES IN KIEV. Two friends, John and Sergius, swore brotherhood before the holy icon of the holy Mother of God in this monastery. John was a rich man, with a five-year old son, Zachariah. John fell ill, and at his death commended his son to the care of Sergius, and left in Sergius's keeping a large sum of silver and gold for him to hand over to Zachariah when he had grown up. When Zachariah came of age, however, Sergius denied receiving from the deceased John. The Zachariah said: 'Let him swear before the same holy icon of the Most Holy Mother of God, in front of which he accepted brotherhood with my late father, that he received nothing from John, and then I will seek nothing more from him. 'Sergius agreed, but when he had sworn this and went up to kiss the holy icon, some force held him back and would not allow him to come near. Then, tormented all at once by a demon, he began to cry out: 'Holy fathers Antony and Theodosius, do not let this merciless angel destroy me!' The demon had attacked him by God's permission. He then told them of all the money which John had left. But when they opened the box, they found double the amount. Taking it, Zachariah gave it to the monastery and was himself tonsured as a monk. He lived a long time and was worthy of God's great gifts, entering peacefully into eternity.
+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:
Holy Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 6:9-12
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Mark 7:31-37
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND CONTEMPLATION
"Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word" (St. Luke 1:38)...Thus was the knot of Eve's disobedience loosed by the obedience of Mary... As the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so it is rescued by a Virgin. [St. Irenaeus of Lyons]
EXPLANATION OF THE LORD'S PRAYER - AN EXCERPT FROM CONCERNING FREQUENT COMMUNION
By Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite
Chapter 5: "Give us this day our superessential bread".
...Third, the superessential bread is the Holy Body and Precious Blood of the Lord, which differs as much from the word of God as does the sun from a ray. In divine Communion, the Sun that is the whole God-man enters into, mixes with, and leavens the whole man, being He Who illumines, enlightens, and sanctifies all of the powers and senses of the soul and body of man, and refashions him from corruption to incrorruption.
Thus the words superessential bread primarily and for an especial reason refer to the divine Communion of the All-Immaculate Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for it preserves and sustains the essence of the soul, and gives it the strength to do the Masters commandments and everything else, as our Lord says: "For My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed" (St. John 6:55), which is to say, My Flesh is true food, and My Blood is true drink.
If someone is in doubt as to how the Body of Our Lord is called superessential bread, let him listen to what the sacred teachers of our Church say concerning this. First, the divine Gregory, the illuminator of Nyssa, says: "If he ever comes to himself (like the Prodigal Son), if he longs for the food of his father's house. If he returns to the rich Table, upon which is an abundance of the superessential bread which feeds the hirelings of the Lord. The hirelings are those who labor in the vineyard of God in hope of the promise, that is, as many as work and till the vineyard of the Lord (which is to say, His commandments) in the hopes of receiving as payment the Kingdom of the Heavens." Saint Isidore Pelousiotes says: "The prayer which the Lord taught does not contain anything earthly, but everything is heavenly and looks to the profit of the soul, even that which appears to be unimportant and sensible. And it is the opinion of many wise men that the Lord said this prayer (Lord's Prayer) for the following reasons: in order to teach in a special way about the divine word and bread which nourishes the bodiless soul and which, in some way, is mixed and infused into the essence of the soul. For this reason it is also called superessential bread, inasmuch as the word essence is more becoming of the soul than the body.
The divine Cyril of Jerusalem writes: "Common bread is not superessential. But this Holy Bread, appointed for the essence of the soul, is superessential. Thisbread is diffused throughout your system for the benefit of body and soul.
The divine Maximos says: "For if we live in the way we have prayed, to nourish our souls and to maintain the good state which we have been granted we will receive the superessential and life-giving bread, that is, the Word, Who said: "I am the bread which came down from Heaven and gives life to the world" (St. John 6:41, 33). He becomes everything for us in proportion to the virtue and wisdom with which we have been nourished." In other words, living according to the words of the Lord's Prayer, let us receive the Son and Word of God as the superessential bread, as vital food for our souls, and as a safeguard for the goods which have been granted to us. Moreover, the Lord aid that He is the bread which came down from the Heavens and gives life to the world. However, this occurs within each person who reveices according to the virtue and knowledge he has.
And Saint John of Damascos writes: "This bread, which is called superessential, is the first-fruits of the future bread. For superessential means either of the future, which is to say, of the future age, or that which we receive for the constitution of our essence (that is, our body). Whether it be the former or the latter meaning, it is obviously to be called the Body of the Lord." Furthermore, the sacred Theophylact also says: "And the Body of Christ is superessential Bread, which we pray to partake of without condemnation. Because the Fathers say that the Body of the Lord is called superessential Bread does not mean that they dismiss the common bread which is given for the sustenance of our body, for this also is a gift of God, and no food is scorned or rejected, according to the Apostle, when it is partaken of and eaten with thanksgiving to God: Nothing is to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving."
We must not eat this spiritual bread, however, without preparation, for our God is called a consuming fire that burns. Holy Communion purifies, illumines, and sanctifies those who eat the Masters Body and drink the Immaculate Blood with a pure conscience and true confession. But it scorches and injures severely the souls and bodies of those who commune unworthily and unconfessed, just as in the case of those who, as the sacred Gospel says, "entered the wedding feast not having a garment worthy of the wedding"--- that is, not having works and fruits worthy of repentance. And those who listen to wicked songs, gossip, chatter, and other like absurdities are not worthy to listen to the word of God. Likewise, those who lead sinful lives cannot receive Holy Communion and enjoy the immortal life which is brought about by divine Communion, because the powers of their souls have been put to death by the sting of sin.
"AND FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS, AS WE FORGIVE OUR DEBTORS".
It was mentioned that no one should presumptuously and haphazardly partake of the Holy Bread and Sacred Communion, without any preparation. For this reason the Lord now tells us through the Prayer that we must be reconciled with God and with our brothers and sisters before approaching the divine Mysteries, just as He says in another place: "If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift" (St. Matthew 5:23-24).
Our Lord demonstrates three more things by these words. First, He urges the virtuous to be humble, as He also says in another place: "So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do" (St. Luke 17:10). Second, He counsels those who have sinned after Baptism not to fall into despair. And this, He shows with these words that He wants us to have compassion and mercy towards one another, for man does not resemble and become like God in any greater way than by showing compassion. For this reason, just as we would have God behave towards us, in the same way must we behave towards our brothers. And let no one say: 'So and so wronged me greatly, and I cannot forgive him.' For if we considered how many times a day, how many times an hour, how many times each moment we commit faults are than those of our brothers. And if we would see how incomparably greater our faults are than those of our brothers. And if the absolute righteousness of God were to make a comparison, it would show that our faults are like the ten thousand talents, while those of our brothers are like the one hundred denarii, that is, as nothing compared to our own. So if we forgive our brothers their few and small faults committed against us, not just with our lips (as many do), but with our whole heart, God will certainly also forgive us our great and innumerable faults committed against Him. But if we do not forgive the faults of our brothers, we profit nothing from our other virtues--whatever virtues we might think we have.
"AND LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION".
Our Lord directs us to ask our God and Father not to lead us into temptation. The Prophet Isaiah, as representing God, says, "I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil" (Isaiah 45:7). And the Prophet Amos says similarly, "Shall there be evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it?" (Amos 3:6).
Based on these words, many unlearned and insecure people fall into various thoughts concerning God: that God supposedly throws us into temptations. For this reason, the Apostle James solved the problem for us, saying: "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man. But everyman is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed." (St. James 1:13-14).
Temptations come to man in two kinds. One is the pleasurable kind, and therefore occurs with both our own will and the collaboration of the demons. The other is the sorrowful and painful kind, which appears bitter to us, for it occurs without our will. The devil works on his own to bring about this kind.
The devil first attacks us with pleasurable temptation, for he knows that we fall into it easily. And if he finds our will obedient to his, he draws us away from the Grace of God which protects us. On account of his great hatred for us, he then requests permission from God to bring upon us bitter temptation, that is, sorrows and hardships, in order to destroy us completely and cause us to fall into despair on account of our many sufferings. If he does not find our will compliant, that is, if we do not fall to the pleasurable temptation, he still brings the second kind of temptation, hoping that through many sorrows he will be able to force us to carry out his evil intent. For this reason, the Apostle Peter directs us: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8). God sometimes permits him to do this in order to test his servants, as in the case of Job and the other Saints, in accordance with the Lord's word to His disciples: "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat" (St. Luke 22:31). That is, Behold, Peter, Satan asked permission to sift all of you, to shake you up with temptations as wheat is shaken up. Or God allows temptations by means of His withdrawing, as happened to David because of the sin he committed and to the Apostle Peter because of his arrogance. Other times temptations come on account of Gods abandonment, as it happened to Judas and the Jews.
Therefore, not only must we flee, as from venom of the evil serpent, the pleasurable and sinful kind of temptation, but, also, we must not by any means accept temptation of this kind that comes to us without our will. Concerning painful bodily temptations and trials, let us not conduct ourselves haphazardly, with pride and audacity. But let us ask God that they might not come to us, if that is His will, and that we may be pleasing to Him without undergoing these trials. And if they do come, we should accept them with complete thanksgiving and joy, as great blessings. This only should we ask: that He might give us the strength to conquer the tempter until the very end. For this is what "lead us not into temptation" means, that God might not let us fall defeated into the throat of the Noetic Dragon. In the same way, in another place the Lord tells us: "Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation," namely, be alert and constantly praying, so as not to fall into temptation, that is, so as not to be conquered by temptation, for the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (St.Matthew 26:41).
Let no one, however, upon hearing that he must flee temptation, make excuse with excuse in sins (Psalm 140:4), and claim that he is too weak and other like things when temptations come. For if, during a critical time, he is scared of trial and temptation and does not resist it, he will deny the truth.
Please note: Saint Maximos the Confessor writes: "The one who prays to receive this superessential bread does not receive it altogether as it is in itself, but according to his own capacity to receive it. For the Bread of Life, out of His love for men, gives Himself to all who ask Him, but not in the same manner to everyone. To those who have done great works of righteousness, He gives Himself more fully, to those who have done smaller ones, less. To each, then, He gives Himself in accordance with the capacity of his intellect." (Philokalia).
All Orthodox Christians are commanded to receive Holy Communion frequently. First, by the orders of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ. Second, by the Acts and Canons of the Holy Apostles and the Sacred Councils and the testimonies of the holy Fathers. Third, by the very words, the order, and the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. Fourth, by Holy Communion in and of itself.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, before he handed down the Mystery of Holy Communion, said: "And the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world" (St. John 6:51). This means that, for the faithful, divine Communion (Holy Eucharist) is a necessary constituent of the spiritual life in Christ..." In another place the Lord says imperatively: "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you." (St. John 6:53).
The Holy Apostles...at the beginning of their preaching gathered together as soon as they could with all of the faithful in a hidden place...The sacred Luke bears witness in the Acts of the Apostles... "And they continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine, and in Communion, and in breaking of bread, and in prayer" (Acts 2:42).
For later Christians to keep this mandatory tradition..., they also wrote in their Eight Canon... "If anyone...does not receive Communion when the offering is made, let him declare the reason; and, if it is legitimate, let him be excused. But if he does not declare it, let him be excommunicated."
If we look carefully at the sacred Divine Liturgy, we will see that, from the beginning to the end, it has as its goal and reference the Communion of the gathered faithful Christians... The priest holding the sacred chalice containing the Life-Giving Body and Blood, exits from the sanctuary and holds it up for all the people to see. He then calls them to divine Communion, shouting aloud: "With fear of God, with faith and with love draw near."
After Holy Communion...the faithful offer thanksgiving: "Let our mouths be filled with Thy praise, O Lord…For Thou hast redeemed us worthy to partake of Thy holy, immortal and immaculate mysteries..."
Even Holy Communion in and of itself makes it imperative to partake of it frequently and after the appropriate preparation i.e., fasting, repentance, the Sacrament of Holy Confession, reconciliation with our enemies, etc. etc. because frequent Communion is necessary for the life of the soul... Saint Basil the Great says: "The receiving of the Body and Blood of Christ is necessary for eternal life."
Note: From the day that the Mystical Supper was instituted by Our Lord, His Church became a Eucharist community. The divine Eucharist is the center and purpose of the Divine Liturgy. It is the very core of our worship as Orthodox Christians. No Orthodox Christian is at the Divine Liturgy simply to observe it, or to hear the sermon or the chanting by the choir or cantors. Remember as one receives the very Body and Blood of Christ he hears the celebrant priest say as he offers him/her Holy Communion: "...For the forgiveness of sins and eternal life." This is the real reason or purpose of attending and participating in the Divine Liturgy as an Orthodox Christian of true worship.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God