Beloved brothers and sisters,
CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ! ΑΛΗΘΩΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ!
A PRAYER TO OUR MERCIFUL LORD
[Saint Clement of Rome]
Merciful and compassionate Lord, forgive our sins and transgressions, our faults and mistakes. Do not take into strict account every one of the sins of Your servants and Your children, but cleanse us with the purification of Your Truth, and direct our ways toward the sanctification of our souls and bodies and the purity of our hearts, so that we may think and do what is pleasing to You and to those who govern us. Yes, Lord, let the glory of Your Person shine upon us and do in peace what is good, to be overshadowed by the might of Your hand, to be protected from every sin by Your Heavenly grace, and to be delivered from those who hate us unjustly. Amen.
THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS
by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, Hierotheos
Following the prodigal son's return, and the embrace of his father, who ran to meet him, the compassionate father ordered that the son be dressed up. He told his servants to prepare a feast so that they could all be glad and celebrate the son's return. The parable says that the father gave an order to his servants, "the father said to his servants" (St. Luke 15:22). Who are these servants that fulfill the will of the Father? According to the Fathers of the Church, since the house is the Church, the servants are the clergy. They receive God's command to dress up the prodigal son.
Christ chose twelve Apostles. He made them holy. He educated them. He gave them the Holy Spirit and sent them into the world to baptize and instruct people. Indeed, He said to His Disciples, "He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and He who rejects Me rejects Him Who sent Me" (St. Luke 10:16). Therefore, the Apostles are not Christ's representatives or delegates. They are, in fact, the mystery of the tangible presence of Christ among us. This means that the clergy are not like the ambassadors of one state to another. They are not like our ruler's emissaries. Rather, Christ Himself acts through the Apostles. When the Apostles forgive, God Himself forgives and approves.
The clergy includes bishops, presbyters and deacons. The bishops are the visible head of the particular Church, in the place and type of the Head of the Church, that is, Christ. We receive Christ in the person of the bishop. There is apostolic succession. For example, using one candle we can go on to light a second, a third and so on, and we pass the light on to the whole world. The same is true of apostolic succession. Through ordination and living out the Orthodox Tradition the grace of the Apostles, and the blessing that they received from Christ, is passed on from generation to generation. A breach of the apostolic tradition creates heresy. This is why it is very important to ascertain which other bishop a bishop commemorates during the Liturgy. If this bishop has communion with the other Orthodox Churches, it means that he is canonical and Orthodox. If he does not have this communion, we should keep away.
The bishops ordain presbyters and deacons for people's salvation. They are the leaders of the people of God, who minister to the people so that they can reach Paradise, the Promised Land. The clergy do the same thing that Moses did when he led God's People to the Promised Land. They lead God's people to Paradise.
This is why respect for the clergy is necessary. We cannot say, "I love the Church, but I don't want to have anything to do with the clergy." This is spiritual schizophrenia. The clergy baptize, chrismate us, nourish us with the sacrament of Holy Communion, confess us, crown us in marriage, and generally, carry out all the sacraments. Of course, we should state that the clergy do all this work with the grace and blessing of God, and not through their own strengths. During the prayer of the Cherubic Hymn (during the Liturgy) the bishop or priest prays to Christ, "For Thou art He Who offers and is offered, He Who receives and He Who is received and distributed, Christ Our God..." The clergy pray to the Father sends the Holy Spirit Who changes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ and this is offered to the people through the priests.
However, the Church is also a communion of saints, an assembly of angels and men, of the Heaven and of the earth. Thus, the Church is divided into what is known as the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant. All those who are baptize and sure in their faith, i.e., all those who having been baptized keep the grace of Holy Baptism alight, belong to the Church Militant, the part of the Church that is on earth. Whereas, the Church Triumphant, the part that is in heaven, consists of the Saints.
Good people are not simply called Saints. Saints are those people who partake of the deifying and energy of God. God created the world with His creative energy of God. God created the world with His creative energy; He sanctifies it with His life-giving and governing energy. The life-giving and governing energy does not save. That is to say, the fact that God sanctifies the world does not mean that all those who have been created will be saved. All those who partake of the deifying energy of God are saved. In order to partake of this energy we must first purify the heart of passions. In other words, intense preparation is required.
The Theotokos, who gave her flesh to Christ, holds a central position within the Church. The name Theotokos means Birthgiver of God. She is called the Theotokos , or Mother of God, because by the Holy Spirit she gave birth to the Second Person of the Holy Trinity in the flesh. That is to say, she did not give birth to a good man, who later became a Prophet, who received God's grace and became the Son of God. The Word (Logos) of God was God both before His conception and after His birth from the Theotokos. Mary, the Theotokos, or Panagia is also called Ever-Virgin. She was a virgin before childbirth and remained a virgin after childbirth. There is one mediator between man and God, Christ. The Virgin Mary is a mediator between Christ and us. We love the Virgin Mary for two reasons: First, because we love Christ, and second, to attain Christ's love. So, our love for the Virgin Mary is either the fruit of our love for Christ or a sway towards love for Christ.
The Saints also belong to the Church Triumphant. These are the Prophets and the Righteous of the Old Testament, the Apostles and the Saints throughout the ages. The latter include martyrs, who gave witness and suffered martyrdom for Christ, the monastic Saints, who lived the ascetic life for Christ in monasteries and in the desert, and married Saints, who kept God's will while living the family life. There are Saints from every social level of the people, of all ages, from every nation and from every era. This shows that we cannot use the excuse that salvation and sanctification is impossible today. Man's most deep-seated aim is to become a saint.
At this point we can mention the life and conduct of certain Saints who bear some relation to the country they come from, their age, their job or profession and so on. We should give an extended account of the life of the Saint that the Catechumen especially loves, and whose name he shall bear after Baptism. This is very important, for it will show that salvation is possible in all ages.
With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God