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.
Lord, I cry out to You; make haste to me! Give ear to my voice when I cry out to You. Let my prayer be set before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works with men who work iniquity; and do not let me eat of their delicacies. Let the righteous strike me; it shall be a kindness. And let him rebuke me; It shall be as excellent oil; let my head not refuse it. For still my prayer is against the deeds of the wicked. Their judges are overthrown by the sides of the cliff, and they hear my words, for they are sweet. Our bones are scattered at the mouth of the grave, as when one plows and breaks up the earth. But my eyes are upon You, O God the Lord; in You I take refuge; do not leave my soul destitute. Keep me from the snares they have laid for me, and from the traps of the workers of iniquity. Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I escape safely.
[Psalm 140 and 142. These are the psalms of the evening incense. These two psalms are both sung at the evening prayers, or Vespers [Esperinos], with 141:2 sung both in Israel and in the Church during the offering of the incense to God. As Rev. 5:8 teaches, incense is the visible sign of the prayers of all God's people. The Prophet Malachi foretold its continued use in "every place," including "among the Gentiles" (Mal. 1:11). Incense was brought to Christ as a gift at His Birth, and it has been used in the worship of the Christian Church from her very beginning. The Orthodox Church understands 141:3, 4 as a daily prayer for the purification of our words and thoughts. These verses appear early in the Vespers service."] (The Orthodox Study Bible).
Saint James the Just and Holy Apostle
"Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exists, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (Saint James 3:13-18).
KEEP GOD'S COMMANDMENTS OF LOVE
Saint John the Holy Apostle
"And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His Commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him." (I John 2:25)
TODAY'S SYNAXARION (THE COMMEMORATION OF TODAY'S SAINTS):
On February 26th 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, Teachers and every righteous spirit made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Our Righteous Father Porphyrios, Bishop of Gaza; Holy Martyr Photine the Samaritan Woman, with whom Christ spoke at the well. We also commemorate those with her: her sisters Photo, Photis, Paraskeve, Kyriake, and Anatole; her sons Joses and Photinus; Sebastian the Duke; and Theocletos the former sorcerer; all of whom were beheaded, except for St. Photis, who was bound to two trees and rent asunder; Holy Martyr Christodulos was perfected in martyrdom by the sword; Holy New Martyr John the Craftsman was beheaded in Constantinople in the year of our Lord 1575; Saint Sebastian of Poshekhonye.
+ By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Mothers, Holy Fathers, Holy Bishops, O Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
SAINT PORPHYRIUS, BISHOP OF GAZA. This great bishop and pastor was born in Thessaloniki of wealthy parents. He spent his youth to the age of 25 in his home town, then left his parent's home and worldly life and went off into the Egyptian desert. Under the guidance of an experienced spiritual father, the young Porphyrius became a monk and remained for five years. He then paid a visit to the Holy Land in company with his friend, the monk Mark. He lived another five years in asceticism in a cave near Jerusalem. But then his legs became weak and he was no longer able to walk. But he was always able, crawling on his knees, to be present at Divine Service. One night the Lord Himself appeared to him in a vision and healed him of the weakness in his legs, and he became completely well. When he was chosen as bishop of Gaza, St. Porphyrios accepted this obligation with a heavy heart. He found only 280 Christians in Gaza; the rest of the inhabitants being fanatical idol-worshipers. Only by his great faith and patience did Saint Porphyrios succeed in bringing the people of Gaza to the Christian faith. He had to travel in person to Constantinople, to the Emperor Arcadius and the Patriarch, Saint John Chrysostom, to beg for help in the unequal struggle against the idolators. Seeking support, he received it. The temples of the idol-worshipers were closed, the idols demolished and a fine church built with thirty marble pillars. There was especial help forthcoming from the empress Evdoxia. Saint Porphyrios lived long enough to see the whole city brought to the Christian faith, but only after great toil, suffering and tearful prayer on his part. He entered peacefully into rest in 421 A.D. He was a wonder(miracle)-worker during his lifetime and after death. His holy relics are preserved in Gaza to this day.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Vespers Old Testament 1: Joel 3:12-21
Vespers Old Testament 2: Joel 2:12-26
FROM THE HOLY ASCETICS AND HOLY MOTHERS AND FATHERS OF THE CHURCH:
Abba (Father) John the Dwarf said, "If a king wanted to take possession of his enemy's city, he would begin by cutting off the water and the food and so his enemies, dying of hunger, would submit to him. It is the same with the passions of the flesh: if a man goes about fasting and hungry, the enemies (demons) of his soul grow weak."
THE LENTEN JOURNEY
by Father Alexander Schmemann
The Beginning: The Great Canon
At the commencement of Lent, as its inauguration, as the "pitch" which is to begin the entire "melody," we find the great penitential Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete. Divided into four parts, it is read at Great Compline on the evenings of the first four days of Lent It can best be described as a penitential lamentation conveying to us the scope and depth of sin, shaking the soul with despair, repentance, and hope. With a unique art, Saint Andrew interwove the great biblical themes--Adam and Eve, Paradise and Fall, the Patriarchs Noah and the Flood, David, the Promised Land, and ultimately Christ and the Church--with confession of sin and repentance. The events of sacred history are revealed as events of my life, God's acts in the past as acts aimed at me and my salvation, the tragedy of sin and betrayal as my personal tragedy. My life is shown to me as part of the great and all-embracing fight between God and the powers of darkness which rebel against Him.
The Canon begins on this deeply personal note:
"Where shall I begin to weep over the cursed deeds of my life? What foundation shall I lay, Christ, for this lamentation? One after another, my sins are revealed in their deep connection with the continuous drama of man's salvation to God; the story of man's fall is my story: "I have made mine the crime of Adam; I know myself deprived of God, of the eternal Kingdom and of bliss because my sins..." I have lost all divine gifts: "I have defiled the vestment of my body, obscure the image and likeness of God…I have darkened the beauty of my soul; I have torn my first vestment woven for me by the Creator and I am naked..."
Thus, for four evenings the Nine Odes of the Canon tell me again and again the spiritual story of the world which is also my story. They challenge me with the decisive events and acts of the past whose meaning and power, however, are eternal because every human soul--unique and irreplaceable--moves, as it were, through the same drama, is faced with the same ultimate choices, discovers the same ultimate reality. Scriptural examples are more than mere "allegories" as many people think, and who therefore find this Canon too "overworked," too loaded with irrelevant names and episodes. Why speak, they ask, of Cain and Abel, of David and Solomon, when it would be so much simpler just to say: "I have sinned"? What they do not understand, however, is that the very word sin--in the biblical and Christian tradition--has a depth, a density which "modern" man is simply unable to comprehend and which makes his confession of sins something very different from true Christian repentance. The culture in which we live and which shapes our world view excludes, in fact, the concept of sin. For if sin is, first of all, man's fall from an incredibly high altitude, the rejection by man of his "high calling," what can all this mean within a culture which ignores and denies that "high altitude" and that "calling," and defines man not from "above" but from "below"--a culture which even when it does not openly deny God is in fact materialistic from the top to the bottom, which thinks of man's life only in terms of material goods and ignores his transcendental vocation? Sin here is thought of primarily as a natural "weakness" due usually to a "maladjustment" which is in turn social and, therefore, can be eliminated by a better social and economic organization...
It is precisely the function and the purpose of the Great Canon to reveal sin to us and to lead us thus to repentance, and it reveals sin not by definitions and enumerations but by a deep meditation on the great biblical story which is indeed the story of sin, repentance, and forgiveness. This meditation takes us into a different spiritual culture, challenges us with an entirely different view of man, of his life, his goals, and his motivation. It restores in us the fundamental spiritual framework within which repentance again becomes possible. When we hear for example: "I have not assumed the righteousness of Abel, O Jesus, not having offered to Thee either an acceptable gift, or divine deed, or pure sacrifice, or life immaculate...", we understand that the story of the first sacrifice so briefly mentioned in the Bible reveals something essential about our own life, about man himself. We understand that sin is, first of all, the rejection of life as offering or sacrifice to God, or in other terms, of the divine orientation of life; that sin therefore is, in its roots, the deviation of our love from its ultimate object. It is this revelation that makes it possible then to say something which is so deeply removed from our "modern" experience of life yet now becomes so "existentially" true:
"Filling dust with life, Thou hast given me flesh and bones, breathing in life; O Creator, Redeemer, and Judge: accept me repenting..."
To be properly heard, the Great Canon implies, of course, knowledge of the Bible and the ability to share in the meditations on its meaning for us. If today so many people find it dull and irrelevant, it is because their faith is no longer fed at the source of the Holy Scriptures which for the Church Fathers were the source of faith. We have to learn again how to enter into the world as revealed by the Bible and how to live in it; and there is no better way into that world than by the Church's Liturgy which is not only the communication of biblical teachings but precisely the revelation of the biblical way of life.
The Lenten journey begins thus with a return to the "starting point"--the world of Creation, Fall, and Redemption, the world in which all things speak of God and reflect His glory, in which all events are referred to God, in which man finds the true dimension of life, and having found it, repents.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God