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.
The Lord's Goodness to the Faithful
I will praise You with my whole heart; before the gods I will sing praises to You. I will worship toward Your Holy Temple, and praise Your Name for Your loving-kindness and Your Truth; for You have magnified Your word above all Your Name. In the day when I cried out, You answered me, and made me bold with strength in my soul. All the kings of the earth shall praise You, O Lord, when they hear the words of Your mouth. Yes, they shall sing of the ways of the ways of the Lord. Thou the Lord is on High, yet He regards the lowly; but the proud He knows from afar. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch out Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your Right-Hand will save me. The Lord will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever; do not forsake the works of Your hands.
[Psalm 137  clarifies v. 1: "I will praise You with my whole heart; in the presence of the Angels I will sing Your praise." This psalm is thus used by the Orthodox Church on the feast days of the Angels. The psalmist thanks God for the Gentiles who are going to see God and receive His grace, especially the kings of the Gentiles. This takes place after the Incarnation.]
Saint James the Just and Holy Apostle
"Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, Who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another" (St. James 4:11-12).
Being Overly Confident
Saint James the Just and Holy Apostle
"Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit'; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, 'If the lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.' But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin" (Saint James 4:13-17).
TODAY'S SYNAXARION (THE COMMEMORATION OF TODAY'S SAINTS):
On February 24th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Ascetics, Teachers and every righteous spirit made perfect in faith: the First and Second Findings of the Venerable Head of the holy Prophet Forerunner and Baptist John; Holy Martyrs Montanus, Lucius, Flavian, Julian, Victoricus, and Renus, clergy under Saint Cyprian of Carthage; Saints Donatianus and Primolus; Saint Quartillosa with her husband and son; and Saint Victor the Presbyter, who were martyred in Carthage in the year 259 A.D.; Holy King Ethelbert of Kent; our Righteous Father Erasmus of the Kiev Caves; Holy Relics of the blessed Romanus, Prince of Uglich.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Prophets, Holy Mothers, Holy Fathers, Holy Presbyters, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
THE FINDING OF THE HEAD (Κάρα) OF SAINT JOHN THE FORERUNNER AND BAPTIST. The great and glorious Forerunner was beheaded at the wish and request of the wicked Herodias, wife of Herod. When Saint John had been beheaded, Herodias ordered that his head should not be buried with his body, for she feared that the terrible Prophet would somehow rise from the dead. So she took his head and buried it in some hidden and unworthy place, deep in the earth. Her lady-in-waiting was Joanna the wife of Chuza, a courtier of Herod's. This good and God-fearing Joanna could not bear that the head of the godly man should remain in an unworthy place, so she disinterred it secretly, took it to Jerusalem and buried it on the Mount of Olives. Not knowing about all this, King Herod, when he heard about Christ and His great miracles, was afraid and said: "It is John, whom I beheaded; he is risen from the dead!" (St. Mark 6:16). After a considerable time, an eminent government official came to believe in Christ, left his position in the world and became a monk. Under the name Innocent, he settled on the Mount of Olives, in precisely the place where the Baptist's head had been buried. Deciding to build himself a cell, he dug deep and found an earthen pot containing a head which, it was revealed to him secretly, was that of Saint John. He venerated it and re-buried it in the same place. By God's Providence, that wonder-working head went from hand to hand, disappearing into the darkness of forgetfulness and then being once more revealed, until it was finally taken to Constantinople in the middle of the 9th century, in the time of Patriarch Ignatius and the God-fearing Empress Theodora, mother of Michael and wife of Theophilos. Many miracles were performed by the holy relic (head) of the Saint John the Baptist. It is important and interesting to note that, while he was alive, Saint John did not work a single miracle (St. John 10:41), but to his holy relics was given the blessed power of working wonders (miracles).
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn. Fourth Tone
The Forerunner's sacred head, having dawned forth from the earth, doth send incorruption's rays unto the faithful, whereby they find healings of their ills. From on high he gathereth the choirs of the Angels and on earth he summoneth the whole race of mankind, that they with one voice might send up glory to Christ our God.
Kontakion. Second Tone
Since we have obtained thy head as a most sacred rose from out of the earth, O Forerunner of grace divine, we receive sure healings in every hour, O Prophet of God the Lord; for again, now as formerly, thou preachest repentance unto all the world.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: II Corinthians 4:6-15
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Matthew 11:2-15
FROM THE HOLY ASCETICS AND HOLY MOTHERS AND FATHERS OF THE CHURCH:
Saint Syncletiki (Syncletica) said, "Imitate the publican, and you will not be condemned with the Pharisee. Choose the meekness of Moses and you will find your heart which is a rock changed into a spring of water."
THE LITURGY OF THE PRESANCTIFIED GIFTS
by Father Alexander Schmemann (Source: Great Lent)
The Two Meanings of Communion
Of all liturgical rules pertaining to Lent, one is of crucial importance for its understanding, and being peculiar to Orthodoxy, is in many ways a key to its liturgical tradition. It is the rule which forbids the celebration of the Divine Liturgy on weekdays of Lent. The rubrics are clear: under no circumstances can the Divine Liturgy be celebrated in Lent Monday through Friday, with one exception--the Feast of the Annunciation, if it falls on one of these days. On Wednesdays and Fridays, however, a special evening service of Communion is prescribed; it is called the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.
So radically has the meaning of this rule been forgotten that in many parishes, especially those which for a long time were exposed to Western and Latins influences, it is simply not obeyed and the purely Latin practice of the daily--"private" or "memorial"--liturgies is continued throughout the whole Lent. But even where it is obeyed, no effort is made to go beyond a formal compliance with "rubrics" and to understand their spiritual significance, the deep "logic" of Lent. It is important, therefore, that we explain in a more detailed way the meaning of this rule which transcends the framework of Lent and enlightens the entire liturgical tradition of Orthodoxy.
In very general terms, we have here the expression and the application of one fundamental liturgical principle: the incompatibility of the Eucharist with fasting. To understand, however, the meaning of that principle, one must begin not with fasting but with the Eucharist. In the Orthodox tradition, deeply different in this from the Eucharistic theology and practice of Western Catholicism, the Eucharist has always preserved its festal and joyful character. It is first of all the sacrament of Christ's coming and presence among His disciples, and therefore the celebration--in a very real sense--of His Resurrection. Indeed it is the coming and presence of Christ at the Eucharist that is for the Church the "proof" of His Resurrection. It is the joy and the burning of hearts experienced by the disciples when on the way to Emmaus Christ revealed Himself to them "in the breaking of bread" (St. Luke 24:13-35) that is the eternal source of the Church's "experiential" and "existential" knowledge of the Resurrection. No one saw the actual Resurrection and yet the disciples believed in it, not because someone taught them so, but because they saw the Risen Lord when "the doors being shut" He appeared among them and partook of their meal.
The Eucharist is still the same coming and presence, the same joy and "burning of heart," the same transrational yet absolute knowledge that the Risen Lord makes Himself known "in the breaking of bread." And so great is this joy that for the early Church the Day of the Eucharist was not one of the days but the Lord's Day--a day already beyond time, for in the Eucharist the Kingdom of God was already "breaking through." At the Mystical Supper, Christ Himself told His disciples that He bestowed upon them the Kingdom so that they might "eat and drink at His table in His Kingdom." Being the presence of the Risen Lord Who ascended into heaven and sits on the Right hand of the Father, the Eucharist is, therefore, the partaking of the Kingdom which is "joy and peace in the Holy Spirit." Communion is the "food of immortality," the "heavenly bread," and approaching the Holy Table is truly ascending to heaven. Eucharist is thus the feast of the Church or better still, the Church as the feast, as rejoicing in Christ's presence, as anticipating the eternal joy of the Kingdom of God. Every time the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she is "at home"--in heaven; she is ascending where Christ has ascended in order to make us "eat and drink at His table in His Kingdom..." One understands then why the Eucharist, is incompatible with fasting, for fasting (we shall see) is the main expression of the Church as still in a state of pilgrimage, as being only on her way to the Heavenly Kingdom. And "the sons of the Kingdom," Christ said, "cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them" (St. Matthew 9:15).
But why then, one may ask, is Communion still distributed during fasting days at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts? Does it not contradict the principle enunciated above? To answer this question, we must now consider the second aspect of the Orthodox understanding of Communion, its meaning as the source and the sustaining power of our spiritual effort. If, as we have just seen, Holy Communion is the fulfillment of all our efforts, the goal towards which we strive, the ultimate joy of our Christian life, it is also and of necessity the source and beginning of our spiritual effort itself. The Divine Gift which makes it possible for us to know, to desire and to strive for a "more perfect communion in the day without evening" of God's Kingdom. For the Kingdom, although it has come, although it comes in the Church, is yet to be fulfilled and consummated at the end of time when God will fill all things with Himself. We foresee and foretaste its glory and blessedness but we are still on earth, and our entire earthly existence is thus a long and often painful journey toward the ultimate Lord's Day. On this journey we need help and support, strength and comfort, for the "Prince of this world" has not yet surrendered; on the contrary, knowing his defeat by Christ, he stages a last, violent battle against God to tear away from Him as many as possible. So difficult is this fight, so powerful the "gates of Hades," that Christ Himself tells us about the "narrow way" and the few that are capable of following it. And in this fight, our main help is precisely the Body and Blood of Christ, that "essential food" which keeps us spiritually alive and, in spite of all temptation and dangers, makes us Christ's followers. Thus, having partaken of Holy Communion, we pray:
"...let these Gifts be for me the healing of soul and body, the repelling of every adversary, the illumining of the eyes of my heart, the peace of my spiritual powers, a faith unashamed, a love unfeigned, the fulfilling of wisdom, the observing of Thy Commandments, the receiving of Thy Divine grace, and the attaining of Thy Kingdom..." "... consume me not, O my Creator, but instead enter into my members, my veins, my heart...may every evil thing, every carnal passion flee from me as from a fire as I become Thy tabernacle through communion..."
And if Lent and fasting mean the intensification of that fight, it is because--according to the Gospel--we then are face to face with evil and all its power. It is then, therefore, that we especially need the help and the power of that Divine Fire; hence, the special Lenten Communion with the Presanctified Gifts, i.e., the Gifts consecrated at the Eucharist on the preceding Sunday and kept on the Altar for distribution on Wednesday and Friday evenings.
There is no celebration of the Eucharist on fasting days because the celebration is one continuous movement of joy; but there is the continuous presence of the fruits of the Eucharist in the Church. Just as the "visible" Christ has ascended into heaven yet is invisibly present in the world, just as the Pascha is celebrated once a year yet its rays illumine the whole life of the Church, just as the Kingdom of God is yet to come but is already in the midst of us, so too with Eucharist. As the sacrament and the celebration of the Kingdom, as the feast of the Church, it is incompatible with fast and is not celebrated during Lent; as the grace and the power of the Kingdom which are at work in the world, as our supplier of the "essential food" and the weapon of our spiritual fight, it is at the very center of the fast, it is indeed the Heavenly Manna that keeps us alive in our journey through the desert of Lent.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God