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 LITURGY OF THE PRESANCTIFIED GIFTS: THE LITANY FOR THE CATECHUMENS
You who are Catechumens, pray to the Lord. You faithful, let us pray for the Catechumens. That the Lord will show them mercy. That He will instruct them in the word of His Truth. That He will reveal to them the Gospel of righteousness. That He will unite them to His Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Save them, have mercy on them, help them and keep them, O God, in Your grace. You who are Catechumens, bow your heads to the Lord.
PRAYER FOR THE CATECHUMENS
O God, our God, Author and Creator of all things, it is Your Will that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth. Look upon Your servants the Catechumens, and free them of ancient error and from the wiles of the enemy. Call them to eternal life, illuminating their souls and bodies, and numbering them among Your reasoning flock, on which Your Holy Name is invoked.
That with us they too may glorify Your Most Noble and Majestic Name, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Master, let the Light of Your Countenance shine on those who are being made ready for Holy Illumination (Baptism), and who yearn to thrust aside the defilement of sin. Illumine their minds; confirm them in the faith; sustain them in their hope; perfect them in love; make them precious members of Your Christ, Who gave Himself as a ransom for our souls.
For You are our illumination, and to You we offer up glory: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
TODAY'S SYNAXARION (THE COMMEMORATION OF TODAY'S SAINTS):
On April 5th 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: Saint Mark the Anchorite of Athens; Saint Theodora and Didymos of Alexandria; Saint Theodora of Thessaloniki; Holy Martyrs Claudius, Diodoros, Victor, Victorinus, Pappia, Serapion, and Nickephoros; Constantine of Russia and those with him (+1918); Derfel of Lianderfel; Ethelburga, Queen and Egoumenissa of Lyminge, Kent.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Mothers, Holy Fathers, Holy Ascetics, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
VENERABLE THEODORA OF THESSALONIKI. From the time of her youth, St. Theodora loved Christ so much that she left the world and became a nun. She struggled, acquired every virtue, and was an example to the other nuns. She kept her life pure and unblemished. She was obedient and showed honor in all the nuns there, but especially to her Egoumenissa (Gerondissa). When St. Theodora died, she still looked as though she were alive. After many years, the Egoumenissa (Abbess) also died, and a crowd of monks and dignitaries gathered for her funeral, whereupon they witnessed a miracle. They saw St. Theodora's tomb in an elevated position so that all could see into it. When they put the Abbess' body into the tomb, St. Theodora moved over, leaving more room in the tomb for her Gerondissa (Abbess). Everyone prayed, "Lord have mercy." From that time and to this day, many miracles occur there. The sick are cured, the blind see, and the possessed are liberated.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE TAKEN FROM THE NEW TESTAMENT:
Holy Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 9:1-7
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Luke 1:39-49, 56
SAYINGS FROM THE HOLY ASCETICS, HOLY MOTHERS AND HOLY FATHERS OF THE CHURCH:
"You have...the power and the weapons to conquer the thoughts that attack your heart and mind. Here is what the Holy Scripture says on the subject: 'For the weapons of our spiritual warfare against evil are not carnal, but have the power from God to pull down strongholds and thoughts' (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5). But if--while having at your disposal such an effectively powerful arsenal against them--you do not destroy evil thoughts as soon as they assail your mind, then you how that it is from lack of faith that you love the pleasure of these thoughts and keep company with them. In this case, you, nor some remnant of Ancestral sin, are responsible for this sinful activity." (Saint Mark the Ascetic).
On 2 Corinthians 4-6: "The battlefield of spiritual warfare includes (1) entrenched spiritual fortresses ("strongholds"), (2) human reason ("arguments", v. 5), (3) human and Angelic powers ("every high thing that exalts itself"), (4) ideas ("thoughts") and (5) the will ("obedience"). Our "weapons" include the Cross, Prayer, and the Word of God. Both our thoughts (v.5) and our actions (v. 6) together are to be submissive to Christ. The Church is God's fortress, marching against the "strongholds of disobedience (vv. 4, 6). [The Orthodox Study Bible).
THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF HOLY AND GREAT LENT. This Sunday corresponds closely to the preceding Sunday; just as the Fourth Sunday is dedicated to Saint John Climacus, the model of ascetics, so the Fifth Sunday celebrates Saint Mary of Egypt, the model of penitents.
Like that of Saint John Climacus, her feast has been transferred from the fixed calendar, where she is commemorated on April 1st. Her life, recounted by Saint Sophronios, Patriarch of Jerusalem-it is read, as we have mentioned, on Thursday in the Fifth week (following the holy service of the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete)-sets before us a true verbal icon of the essence of penitance. In her youth St. Mary lived in a dissolute and sinful way at Alexandria. Drawn by curiosity, she journeyed with some pilgrims to Jerusalem, arriving in time for the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross. But when she tried to enter the church of the Holy Sepulchre (or Resurrection) with the others, and invisible force thrust her back at the threshold. This happened three or four times. Brought to sudden contrition by this strange experience, she prayed all night with tears to the Mother of God, and next morning she found to her joy that she could enter the church without difficulty. After venerating the Holy Cross, she left Jerusalem on that same day, made her way over to the Jordan, and settled as a solitary in a remote region of the desert. Here for 47 years she remained, hidden from the world, until she was eventually found by the ascetic St. Zosimas, who was able to give her Holy Communion shortly before her death.
HOLY AND GREAT LENT: PREPARATION FOR THE BAPTISM OF THE CATECHUMENS
A Catechumen (Greek: κατηχούμενος) is also who is preparing for baptism in the Church. In contemporary usage, catechumen can also refer tone who is preparing for chrismation (or another form of reception) to be received from a heterodox (another Christian tradition or communion).
In the ancient or early Church, the catechumenate, or time during which one is a catechumen (under religious instruction), often lasted as much as three years and included not only participation in the divine services but also catechesis, formal instruction from a teacher, often the bishop or appointed catechist. Exorcist often performed the catechetical role, as well, following their initial prayers of exorcism over the one being made a catechumen, which is the traditional manner of receiving a catechumen into the community of the Church. Please note: The Orthodox priest today conducts the catechesis and exorcism just before the person (child or adult) is to be baptized into the Church by the Narthex of the church.
Catechetical instruction in Orthodoxy in America does not typically last the three years which was common in the time of Saint John Chrysostom (4th century), but typically can last from six months to a year, depending on the practice of the Metropolitan or bishop, his jurisdiction, and the level of spiritual maturity of the catechumen. Local parish priests typically oversee the catechesis of those preparing to be received in the Orthodox Church.
According to the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome (215 A.D.) those who desired to be catechumens had to meet certain moral criteria before being enrolled. They had to have a sponsor who validated their lifestyle and purity of intentions. People of certain trades and professions could not be enrolled. There was quality control in the Early Church, and there still is today. The Church is not about quantity.
A fruitful catechumenate culminates in Baptism/Chrismation. In our modern times many hop from denomination to denomination. However, when one is Baptized or Chrismated into the Holy Orthodox Church it is understood to be the last and final stop.
PRAYER FOR THE RECEPTION INTO THE CATECHUMENATE
Priest: Let us pray to the Lord.
People (Cantor or Choir): Kyrie eleison.
Priest: In Thy Name, O Lord of truth, and in the Name of Thine Only-begotten Son, and of Thy Holy Spirit, I lay my hand upon thy servant (Name) who has been found worthy to flee unto Thy Holy Name, and to take refuge under the shelter of Thy wings. Remove far from him/her former delusion, and fill him/her with the faith, hope and love which are in Thee, that he/she may know that Thou art the Only True God, with Thine Only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and Thy Holy Spirit. Enable him/her to walk in all Thy Commandments, and to fulfill those things which are well-pleasing unto Thee; for if a man do all those things, he shall find life in them. Inscribe him/her in Thy Book of Life, and unite him/her to the flock of Thine inheritance. And may Thy Holy Name be glorified in him/her, together with Thy Beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ and of Thy Life-creating Spirit. Let Thine eyes ever regard him/her with mercy, and let Thine ears attend unto the voice of his/her supplication; that he/she may render praises unto Thee, may sing, worship and glorify Thy Great and Exulted Name always, all the days of his/her life. For all the powers of Heaven sing praises unto Thee, and Thine is the Glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Father Alexander Schmemann writes: "As for the first and essential theme of Lenten Sundays, it also is primarily revealed in the Scriptural Lessons. To understand their sequence, we must once more remember the original connection between Lent and Baptism--Lent's meaning as preparation for Baptism. These lessons are therefore an integral part of the Early Christian Catechesis (Instruction); they explain and summarize the preparation of the Catechumens for the paschal mystery (sacrament) of Baptism. Baptism is the entrance into the new life inaugurated by Christ. To the catechumens, this "new life" is as yet only announced and promised, and he accepts it by faith. He is like one of the men of the Old Testament who lived by their faith in a promise whose fulfillment they did not see.
This is the theme of the first Sunday. After having mentioned the righteous men of the Old Testament, the Epistle (Hebrews 11:24-26; 32-40; 12=2) concludes:
"...and these all, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised since God has foreseen something better for us."
What is it? The answer is given in the Gospel Lesson of the first Sunday (St. John 1:43-51):
"...you shall see greater things than these...truly, truly I say unto you, you will see heaven open and the Angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man."
This means: you catechumens, you who believe in Christ, you who want to be baptized, who are preparing yourselves for Pascha--you shall see the inauguration of the new age, the fulfillment of all promises, the manifestation of the Kingdom. But you shall see it only if you believe and repent, if you change your mind, if you have the desire, if you accept the effort.
Of this we are reminded in the Lesson of the Second Sunday (Hebrews 1:10-2:3):
"...therefore, we must pay close attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it... How shall we escape if we neglect such salvation?
In the Gospel Lesson of the Second Sunday (St. Mark 2:1-12) the image of this effort and desire is the paralytic who was brought to Christ through the roof:
"...and when Jesus saw their faith He said to the paralytic: 'My son, your sins are forgiven..."
On the Third Sunday--"Sunday of the Cross"--the theme of the Cross makes its appearance, and we are told (St. Mark 8:34-9:1):
"...For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"
From this Sunday on, the Lessons from the Epistle to the Hebrews begin to reveal to us the meaning of Christ's sacrifice by which we are given access "into the inner shrine behind the curtain," i.e., into the Holy of Holies of God's Kingdom (cf. Third Sunday, Heb. 4:14-5:6; Fourth Sunday, Heb. 6:13-20; and Fifth Sunday, Heb. 9:11-14), while the lessons from the Gospel of St. Mark announce the voluntary Passion of Christ:
"...the Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men and they kill Him..."
and His Resurrection:
"...and the third day He shall Rise again." (St. Mark 10:32-45)--Fifth Sunday
The Catechesis (instruction), the preparation of the Catechumens for Baptism, but although baptized and chrismated, are not in a sense still "Catechumens"? Or rather, are we not to return to this state every year? Do we not fall away again and again from the great Mystery (Sacrament of Baptism) of which we have made participants? Do we not need in our life--which is one permanent alienation from Christ and His Kingdom--this annual journey back to the very roots of our Christian Faith?
Remain, O Christ, in the hearts You have redeemed. You Who are perfect love, pour into our words sincere repentance. We raise our prayer to You, O Jesus, with faith, Pardon the sins we have committed. By the holy sign of the Cross, By Your tortured Body, defend us constantly as Your sons and daughters.
Joy is at the heart of everything in the Christian life, and Holy Lent is no exception. So let us fast with joy, O faithful Let us not be sad. Let us cleanse our faces with waters of dispassion, Blessing and exalting Christ forever. (Orthodox First Friday Orthros).
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God