Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ. ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
A PRAYER TO THE ALL-HOLY (PANAGIA) THEOTOKOS
[Saint Gregory of Neocaesaria]
All-holy Virgin Mother of God, we humans cannot offer to you the hymn and the praise that is appropriate to you, for your proper praise is superior to any human melody. From you God Himself received flesh and was born as a human being. The totality of nature in heaven and on earth offers to you its boundless respect. For you have become an Angelic Throne of Cherubim. As a reflection of light, you shine brightly in the imperceptible world and in all the ends of heaven and earth and in the whole universe, where the Unoriginate Father is praised, Whose power always overshadowed you; where the Son is worshiped, the Son to Whom you gave birth; where the Holy Spirit is glorified, the Spirit which enacted in your womb the birth of the Great King. Through you, who are full of grace, the Holy and Consubstantial Trinity is revealed in the world to become known by human beings. We pray to you and beseech you, Most Blessed Theotokos, to make us also worthy of your perfect grace that we too may partake of it with you in Christ Jesus, our Lord, in Whom the Glory and the Power abides unto ages of ages. Amen.
On July 30th 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 every righteous spirit made perfect in our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Holy Apostles of the Seventy Silas, Silvan, Crescens, Epenetus, and Andronikos; Holy Martyr Julita of Caesarea in Cappadocia; Holy Hieromartyr Valentinus of Intermna in Italy, and his martyred disciples Proculus, Ephebus, and Apollonius; Holy Virgin Martyrs Maxima, Donatilla, and Secunda of Tuburbo Lucernaria in Africa; Saint Angelina, Sovereign Lady of Serbia; Holy New Martyrs Nicholas the Archpriest and Alexander the Chanter of Beloglazovskoe, who were slain by the atheists in the year 1919; righteous Father Anatolius the Younger of the Optina Hermitage.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints and Holy Martyrs, O Christ Our God have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
THE HOLY APOSTLES SILAS, SILVANUS, CRESCENS, EPAENETUS AND ANDRONICUS. These holy Apostles are all among the Seventy secret Apostles. Saint Silas was sent from Jerusalem to Antioch with Saint Paul and Barnabas, to settle a quarrel among the faithful concerning circumcision: namely, whether or not it was necessary to circumcise pagans who had embraced Christianity (Acts 15:22). After that, St. Silas traveled with Saint Paul around Asia and Macedonia, and was installed as bishop of Corinth, where he died peacefully. Saint Silvanus helped the two greatest Apostles (I Peter 5:12; II Cor. 1:19). As bishop in Thessaloniki, he labored much and suffered much, until he exchanged the earthly life for the Heavenly. St. Crescens was a fellow-worker with the holy Apostle Paul (II Timothy 4:10), and then bishop in Galatia and a missionary in Gaul, where he died a Martyr for Christ under the pagan emperor Trajan. St. Epaenetus is mentioned by the holy Apostle Paul (Romans 16:5), bishop of Pannonia, is also commemorated separately on May 17th.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: Acts 15:35-41
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Matthew 13:24-30
FROM THE HOLY VOICE OF THE FATHERS:
"When you do almsgiving, do not let your eye be envious. Do not turn your face away from any poor man, so the face of God will not be turned away from you...almsgiving delivers us from death and prevents from death and prevents us from entering into the darkness." (Tobit 4:7,10)
FASTING IN THE HOLY ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN CHURCH
"Consider well, my soul: do you fast? Despise not your neighbor. Do you abstain from food? Condemn not your brother...May Christ lead you without stumbling into His Kingdom".
Notes on Fasting:
Fasting from foods is intended as spiritual preparation for an experience of deeper communion with God. Each person is a unity of body and soul. A right spiritual diet and a discipline of fasting go together and strengthen each other. Just as prayer benefits not only the soul but also the body so also fasting from foods benefits not only the body but also the soul. Fasting and prayer make us more sensitive to God's personal presence. At important times of their lives the holy Prophets fasted and prayed. So did Jesus, the holy Apostles, Saints and Church holy Fathers.
Fasting must be undertaken willingly and not be compulsion. God doesn't need our fasting. We don't fast as a kind of personal punishment for our sins. We cannot pay God back for sins but we can only confess them to Him to receive forgiveness. Fasting with a willing spirit and not just with fulfilling a religious obligation means that we keep the purposes of fasting always before us which is to develop self-control and to remember God and His Kingdom. That way we fast not only in what we eat but also in how much we eat. Fasting is simplicity of eating. We leave the table not with loaded stomachs. Being a little hungry during the day becomes a constant reminder of God, or of our dependence on Him, and of the fact that the Lord alone can give us "food that lasts for eternal life" (St. John 6:27). In fasting and prayer, he reveals Himself to us as our True Food and Drink.
Our Holy Church adopted fasting from the Old Testament. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ fasted and preached its significance (Matt. 6:16; Mark 2:20 and 9:29). The Early Church too, observed fasting (Acts 13:2, 14:23 and II Cor. 2:27). As early as the beginning of the 3rd century, we have documents (of Didache) substantiating the early establishment of regular fast days, such as Wednesday and Friday: these two days are symbolical and commemorative of Christ's betrayal and Crucifixion. And by the end of the 4th century, the Forty Day (Great) Lenten fast was wide-spread. Later other fasting periods were also adopted by our Church.
Fasting, accompanied by prayer and charity, is a way of disciplining our entire person, not just the body. Contrary to what most people think, it underlines-rather than undermining-the significance of the body towards whose glory it also contributes. Furthermore fasting is a small way of sharing in contemporary suffering throughout the world. Fasting was always connected with charity. By depriving ourselves of the various kinds of food one would be better able to help the hungry and thirsty.
Our Lord reminds us: "Then He will also say to those on the left hand, Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 'for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.' Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or in prison, and did not minister to You?' Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life". (St. Matthew 25:41-46). The standard of judgment is uncalculated mercy toward the needy. Our Lord identifies Himself with the poor and the outcast and invites to brotherhood all who are kindled with love for other (1 John 4:20). These are crowned with grace.
Fasting in the Holy Orthodox Church is often misunderstood. Fasting is part of our life in Christ and our struggle to becoming God-like. Fasting, accompanied by prayer, repentance, confession, and good works, is a spiritual aid which disciplines the body and soul and enables them to strive together to bring the whole person (believer) closer to God. Fasting is something regulated by the Church, but is not something that we judge in our neighbor. We do not fast so others can see that we're "Good Christians", or so we'll be "worthy" to take Holy Communion, Holy Communion is a gift. In Christ's own words-"What goes into a man's mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean" (St. Matthew 15:11).
Fasting is something that we each struggle with to the best of our abilities. This does not mean that we can write our own prescription for fasting. However, our Spiritual Father or Father Confessor can guide us to the best method of fasting to match our own spiritual development and circumstances. The fasts prescribed by the Church include fasting from various foods-in some cases meats and fish, in others dairy products are included, and in others even foods with olive oil are included in the fast. No fasting on Saturdays and Sundays is still regulated by the Liturgical Calendar and the Seasonal Fasts, (i.e., Great Lent, the Fast of the Theotokos in August, etc.). Again, an Orthodox Christian should consult with his/her Spiritual Father when formulating a personal pattern of fasting or one for a family.
Categories of Foods
Category I: Meat and Meat Products (included beef, pork, chicken, etc., as well as items which have beef gelatin [such as some commercial brands of gelatin], lard [some commercial breads and crackers], etc.
Category II: Dairy Products (includes butter, eggs, milk, cheese, etc., as well as items containing dairy whey, milk extracts, etc.)
Category III: Fish (includes sardines, tuna, bass, trout, shark, pike, etc., but not shell fish such as lobster, shrimp, crab, oysters, scallops, clams, mussels, etc.)
Category IV: Olive oil (according to some, this would extend to all oil) and Wine (which includes all alcoholic beverages such as whiskey, beer, etc.)
Foods Permitted throughout Lent
Shellfish (such as lobster, crab, oysters, scallops, clams, mussels, etc.)
Vegetables and Vegetable products (including grains, [rise, wheat, flour, pasta [non-egg pasta], etc, vegetable gelatins, Peanut butter, etc.
Thus fasting from foods is a spiritual discipline that must necessarily be accompanied by fasting from evil and evil acts.
How to fast according to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:
"Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint you head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly" (St. Matthew 6:1618).
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God