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 THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT ON WHICH WE CELEBRATE THE ADORATION OF THE PRECIOUS AND LIFE-GIVING CROSS
GREAT VESPERS ON SATURDAY EVENING
Shine, Cross of the Lord, shine with the Light of Thy grace upon the hearts of those that honor Thee. With love inspired by God, we embrace Thee, O desire of all the world. Through Thee our tears of sorrow have been wiped away; we have been delivered from the snares of death and have passed over to unending joy. Show us the glory of the beauty and grant to us thy servants the reward of our abstinence, for we entreat with faith Thy rich protection and great mercy.
Hail! Life-Giving Cross, the fair Paradise of the Church, Tree of incorruption that brings us the enjoyment of Eternal glory: through thee the hosts of demons have been driven back; and the hierarchies of Angels rejoice with one accord, as the congregation of the faithful keep the feast. Thou art an invincible weapon. an unbroken stronghold; thou art the victory of kings and the glory of priests. Grant us now to draw near to the Passion of Christ and to his Resurrection.
Hail! Live-Giving Cross, unconquerable trophy of the True faith, door to Paradise, succor of the faithful, rampart set about the Church. Through thee the curse is utterly destroyed, the power of death is swallowed up, and we are raised from earth to heaven: invincible weapon, adversary of demons, glory of martyrs, true ornament of holy monks, haven of salvation bestowing on the world great mercy.
THE THIRD SUNDAY OF HOLY AND GREAT LENT (THE SUNDAY OF THE CROSS)
"On this day the service of Orthros (Matins) concludes with the solemn Veneration of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross; the ceremonies are closely parallel to those at the feasts of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (14th September) and the Procession of the Holy Cross (1st August). The veneration of the Holy Cross on this Third Sunday in Holy Lent prepares us for the commemoration of the Crucifixion which is soon to follow in Holy and Great Week, and at the same time it prepares us that the whole of Holy Lent is a period when we are crucified with Christ: as the Synaxarion at Orthros (Matins) says, 'Through the Forty-Day Fast, we too are in a way crucified, dying to the passions.' The dominant note on this Sunday, as on the two Sundays preceding, is one of joy and triumph. In the Canon at Orthros (Matins), the Irmoi are the same as at Pascha midnight, "This is the day of Resurrection...', and the Troparia are in part a paraphrase of the Paschal Canon by Saint John of Damascus. No separation is made between Christ's death and His Resurrection, but the Cross is regarded as an emblem of victory and Calvary is seen in the light of the empty tomb. (From the Lenten Triodion)
TODAY'S SYNAXARION: (THE COMMEMORATION OF TODAY'S SAINTS):
On March 20th 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: The Holy Hieromartyr Basil, Presbyter of the Church of Ancyra; Saint Drosis of Antioch and five virgins; Saints Callinica and Vasilissa of Rome; New Holy Martyrs Schema-Egoumenissa (Abbess) Sophia of Kiev and her priest, Demetrius Ivanov (+1934) New Holy Martyr Efthimius of Mt. Athos (+1814); Saint Paul, Bishop of Narbonne, Brittany; "The Izborsk" Holy Icon of the Theotokos (Mother of God).
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 10:32-38
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Mark 2:14-17
FROM THE HOLY ASCETICS, HOLY MOTHERS AND FATHERS OF THE CHURCH:
"When temptation comes upon you, do not seek to discover why, how, or from whom it came; but how you might endure it without feeling sorrow or resentment." (Saint Mark the Ascetic)
THE LADDER OF DIVINE ASCENT
by Saint John Climacus (of the Ladder)
From the Preface
"That many of the first monks had glimpsed a connection between the experience of hardship and an enhanced spirituality is evident in the writings of the early Church. And in the neighborhood of that perceived connection were other sources of the resolve to enter on a monastic life. There was, for instance, the belief that, given the right conditions and preparation, a man may even in this life work his passage upward into the actual presence of God; and there, if God so chooses, he can receive a direct and intimate knowledge of the Divine Being. Such knowledge is not automatic or the guaranteed conclusion of a process. It is not like the logical outcome of a faultlessly constructed argument. There is no assurance that a man will come to it at the end of a long journey. But to many it was a prize and a prospect so glittering that all else looked puny by comparison; and, besides, there were tales told of some who, so it seemed, had actually been granted that supreme gift of a rendezvous.
Something of what was meant is found in a section of the confessions of Augustine:
"Imagine a man in whom the tumult of the flesh goes silent, in whom the images of earth, of water, of air and of the skies cease to resound. His soul turns quiet and, self-reflecting no longer, it transcends itself. Dreams and visions end. So too does all speech and every gesture, everything in fact which comes to be only to pass away. All these things cry out: 'We did not make ourselves. It is the Eternal One Who made us.' And after they have said this, think of them falling silent, turning to listen to the One Who created them. And imagine Him speaking. Himself, and not through the medium of all those things. Speaking Himself. So that we could hear His word, not in the language of the flesh, not through the speech of an Angel, not by way of a rattling cloud or a mysterious parable. But Himself. The One Whom we love in everything. Imagine we could hear Him without them. Reaching out with speeding thought we come to Him, to the Eternal Wisdom which outlasts everything. And imagine if sight of Him were kept available, while all lesser sights were taken away. Think of this encounter, seizing, absorbing, drawing the witness into the depths of joy. Eternal life would be of a kind with this moment of understanding.' (Confessions ix, 10, 25)
Saint Augustine is talking of a one-to-one encounter with God. That anyone should dream of such an encounter in this life may seem bold and surprising to a believer from the 20th century, surrounded as he is by countless men of goodwill unable to accept that there is a God at all. But the dream was clearly there, and there was much to keep it alive.
)We now continue with Saint John's Ladder of thirty steps or rungs, one for each year in the hidden life of Christ before His Baptism):
"Despondency or tedium of the spirit, as I have often said, is frequently an aspect of talkativeness and indeed is its first child. For this reason I have given it an appropriate place in the chain of vices.
Tedium is a paralysis of the soul, a slackness of the mind, a neglect of religious exercises, a hostility to vows taken. It is an approval of worldly things. It is a voice claiming that God has no mercy and no love for men. It is a laziness in the singing of psalms, a weakness in prayer, a stubborn urge for service, a dedication to the work of the hands, an indifference to the requirement of obedience. An obedient person does not know such tedium, for he has used the things of the senses to reach the level of the spirit."
"Gluttony is hypocrisy of the stomach. Filled, it moans about scarcity; stuffed, and crammed, it wails about its hunger. Gluttony thinks up seasonings, creates sweet recipes. Stop up one urge and another bursts out; stop that one and you unleash yet another. Gluttony has a deceptive appearance: it eats moderately but wants to gobble everything at the same time. A stuffed belly produces fornication, while a mortified stomach leads to purity. The man who pets a lion may tame it but the man who coddles the body makes it ravenous."
"To be chaste is to put on the nature of an incorporeal being. Chastity is a supernatural denial of what one is by nature, so that a mortal and corruptible body is competing in a truly marvelous way with incorporeal spirits. A chaste man is someone who has driven out bodily love by means of divine love, who has used heavenly fire to quench the fires of the flesh. 'Purity is the longed-for house of Christ and the earthly shield of the heart".
"Avarice is a worship of idols and is the offspring of unbelief. It makes excuses for infirmity and is the mouthpiece of old age. It is the prophet of hunger, and the herald of drought. The miser sneers at the Gospel and is a deliberate transgressor. The man of charity spreads his money about him, but the man who claims to possess both charity and money is a self-deceived fool. The man who mourns for himself has renounced even his body and does not spare it in due season...The man who has conquered this vice has cut out care, but the man trapped by it can never pray freely to God."
"A man who has embraced poverty offers up prayer that is pure, while a man who loves possessions prays to material images...The man who has tasted the things of heaven easily thinks nothing of what is below, but he who has had no taste of heaven finds pleasure in possessions."
"Insensitivity is deadened feeling in body and spirit, and comes from long sickness and carelessness. Lack of awareness is negligence that has become habit. It is thought gone numb, an offspring of pre-disposition, a trap for zeal, a noose for courage, an ignorance of compunction, the gateway to despair, the mother of forgetfulness giving birth to loss of fear of God and, in turn, to a deadened spirit, like a daughter bearing her own mother.
The insensitive man is a foolish philosopher, an exegete condemned by his own words, a scholar who contradicts himself, a blind man teaching sight to others. He talks about healing a wound and does not stop making it worse. He complains about what has happened and does not stop eating what is harmful. He prays against it but carries on as before, doing it and being angry with himself...He talks profoundly about death and acts as if he will never die. He groans over the separation of soul and body, and yet lives in a state of somnolence as if he were eternal..."
ON Sleep, Prayer and the Singing in Church of Psalms
"Sleep is a natural state. It is also an image of death and a respite of the senses. Sleep is one, but like desire it has many sources. That is to say, it comes from nature, from food, from demons, or perhaps in some degree even from prolonged fasting by which the weakened flesh is moved to long for repose.
Just as too much drinking comes from habit, so too from habit comes overindulgence in sleep. For this reason one has to struggle against it especially at the start of one's religious life, because a long standing habit is very difficult to correct...The man who considers with sensitivity of heart that he is standing before God will be an immovable pillar in prayer, and none of the demons mentioned above will delude him.
When chanting hymns with others it may be impossible to pray with the wordless prayer of the spirit. But your mind should meditate on the words being chanted or read. Or else you should have a set prayer to say while you are waiting for the alternate verse of the chant."
"Alertness keeps the mind clean...Alertness is a quenching of lust, deliverance from fantasies in dreams, a tearful eye, a heart made soft and gentle, thoughts restrained, food digested, passions tamed, spirits subdued, tongue controlled, idle imaginings banished."
(To be continued)
Saint Symeon the New Theologian writes: "The roof of any house stands upon the foundations and the rest of the structure. The foundations themselves are laid in order to carry the roof. This is both useful and necessary, for the roof cannot stand without the foundations and the foundations are absolutely useless without the roof--no help to any living creature. In the same way the grace of God is preserved by the practice of the Commandments, and the observance of these Commandments is laid down like foundations through the gift of God. The grace of the Spirit cannot remain with us without the practice of the Commandments, but the practice of the Commandments is of no help or advantage to us without the grace of God."
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God