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 DOXOLOGY TO GOD THE HEAVENLY FATHER AND CREATOR
(from the Apostolic Constitution)
O Lord Almighty, You are great indeed and Your power is Majestic and marvelous, there is no measure or boundary to Your wisdom and Omniscience. You are the Creator of the universe, the Savior of mankind, the abundant and Benevolent Provider of all good things. You are the forbearing Provider of mercy Who does not remove the opportunity of salvation from Your creatures. For You are by nature Good and compassionate toward those who sin and You do call them to repentance. Your admonition and Your call to repentance comes from Your Infinite love and compassion for mankind. How could we possibly continue to exist, if each time we transgressed, You immediately exacted a just retribution, when even now, when You demonstrate such great forbearance and tolerance, we very slowly and with great difficulty rise up from the illness of our sins?
Your Authority over the entire universe was proclaimed from the beginning by the countless stars of heaven, as well as by the earth, which moves securely within infinite space, without any material support. Even the wavy sea, which nourishes countless creatures in its depths, is bounded on all sides by the sand of the seashore in fearful obedience to Your Will and Commandment not to exceed the boundaries which You have set for it. Thus, You oblige us all to exclaim with wonder as did the Prophet David: "O Lord how wonderful are Your manifold works! You have created all things in wisdom. The earth is full of Your creations" (Psalm 104:24).
An Homily on Prayer
by Saint John Chrysostom
As Christians we are obliged to honor and appreciate the Saints of God for two reasons. The first reason is because all the Saints had placed the hope of their spiritual salvation upon the sacred prayers. The second reason is because the prayers which they offered to God with joy and fear have been preserved in their writings. Thus their spiritual treasures, having been transmitted to us, may draw all subsequent believers toward the zeal of these Saints. The way of life of the teachers must be transmitted to their pupils. Thus the pupils of the Saints, that is, us Christians, must prove ourselves to be imitators of their righteousness. This we may do by always being preoccupied with prayers and worship of God, considering thus as life and health and wealth and the end of all good things our prayer toward God with a pure heart and an incorruptible soul. For as the sun illumines the body so also does prayer illumine soul. If then the blind person is deprived because he cannot see the sun, how much more is the Christian diminished and harmed who does not pray constantly, and who, consequently, does not gather into his or her soul, through prayer, the Light of Christ."
THE DIVINE ASCENSION OF THE LORD
By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
The Lord gave His disciples a commandment: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised" (Acts 1:4). The Disciples obeyed Christ's command with great joy. And they were continually in the temple, praising God" (Acts 24:52-53). Indeed, as it says in the Acts of the Apostles, they went up into the upper room and "they all joined together persevering in prayer and supplication, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus (Theotokos), and with His brothers (St. Luke 24:52-53).
Interpreting these passages, in which we can see both Christ's command and the Disciples' obedience to it, we can observe some interesting points.
First, the Disciples left the Mount of Olives with great joy. Although they had been deprived of Christ, they were exceedingly glad, precisely because they had the assurance that they would receive the Holy Spirit, and then they would be members of His Body. Actually, being deprived of Christ in the flesh was a blessing, because they gained another communion and unity with Him. Moreover, Christ had assured them: "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself" (St. John 12:32). Thus the Disciples' joy had two reasons, first, the hope of partaking of the Holy Spirit and second, the fact that they were granted to be personal eye-and-ear-witnesses of such great mysteries.
Second. Between the Ascension and Pentecost there was a period of prayer, supplications and stillness, hesychia (silence) of both body and soul. No one can partake of the Holy Spirit unless he is in a state of prayer and inner nepsis. Moreover, the practical life, which is the keeping of Christ's commandments, prepares the ground for what is called pure prayer, and prayer is the basic precondition for acquiring and partaking of the gift of the All-Holy Spirit.
Third. The Disciples are constantly gathered together, persevering, with the Panagia (All-Holy Mother of God), in their midst. This shows the value of the worship of the Church, because at its center is the person most beloved to Christ and to the Christians, the Panagia. The Theotokos did not claim any authority or any function in the Church, but she was at the center of worship, the most precious treasure which the Church had and has. (My question therefore is, why, according to the Roman Catholic Church, the Mother of God would claim, "I am the immaculate conception" to the children at Fatima? When the Theotokos never made any such claim while she was living on earth.
Fourth. We should always obey Christ's Commandments, because they have a good and holy result. If the Disciples had not returned to Jerusalem, if in their distress they had departed each to his own home, they would not have been granted the great gift of receiving the Holy Spirit and of becoming members of the Body of Christ. Thus they did not simply keep the Commandment, but they were protected by it.
What took place in the life of Christ should also take place in the life of the Christians. Moreover, the imitation of Christ is not just outward conformity to some precepts and external commandments, but participation in Christ. We must live Christ's passion, Cross and Resurrection in our own life…
We must go up to where Christ is and enjoy His Ascension, using action and vision of God. The action is purification of the heart by keeping the Gospel Commandments, and the vision is illumination of the nous and its ascent to spiritual visions of God.
THIS SUNDAY IS THE SUNDAY OF THE 318 GOD-BEARING FATHERS OF THE FIRST ECUMENICAL COUNCIL
The heresiarch Arius was a Libyan by race and a protopresbyter of the Church of Alexandria. In 315 AD, he began to blaspheme against the Son and Logos (Word) of God, saying that He is not True God, consubstantial (of one essence) with the Father, but is rather a work and creation, alien to the essence and glory of the Father, and that there was a time when He was not. This frightful blasphemy shook the faithful of Alexandria. Alexander, his Archbishop, after trying in vain to correct him through admonitions, cut him off from communion (excommunicated him) and finally in a local council deposed him in the year 321 AD. Yet neither did the blasphemer wish to be corrected, nor did he cease sowing the deadly tares of his heretical teachings; but writing to the bishops of other cities, Arius and his followers requested that his doctrine be examined, and if it were unsound, that the correct teaching be declared to him. By this means, his heresy became universally known and won many supporters, so that the whole Church was soon in an uproar.
Therefore, moved by divine zeal, the first Christian Sovereign, Saint Constantine the Great, the equal to the Apostles, summoned the renowned First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea, a city of Bithynia. It was there that the shepherds and teachers of the Church of Christ gathered from all regions in the year 325 AD. All of them, with one mouth and one voice, declared that the Son and Logos (Word) of God is one in essence (substance) with the Father, true God of true God, and they composed the holy Symbol of Faith (The Creed) up to the seventh article (since the remainder, beginning with "And in the Holy Spirit," was completed by the Second Ecumenical Council). Thus they anathematized the impious Arius of evil belief and those of like mind with him, and cut them off as rotten members from the whole body of the Faithful.
Therefore, recognizing the divine Fathers as heralds of the Faith after the divine Apostles, the Church of Christ has appointed this present Sunday for their annual commemoration, in thanksgiving and unto the glory of God, unto their praise and honor, and unto the strengthening of the true faith.
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn of the Holy Fathers. Plagal of Fourth Tone
Most glorified art Thou, O Christ our God, Who hast established our Fathers as luminous stars upon the earth, and through them didst guide us all to the True Faith. O Most Merciful One, glory be to Thee.
Kontakion of the Holy Fathers. Plagal of Fourth Tone
The preaching of the Apostles and the doctrines of the Fathers confirmed the one Faith in the Church. And wearing the garment of truth woven from the theology on high, she rightly divideth and glorifieth the great mystery of piety.
WHO ARE THE FATHERS OF THE CHURCH?
According to George Bebis, Ph.D., "The Fathers were men of extraordinary holiness and trusted orthodoxy in doctrine, enjoyed the acceptance and respect of the Universal Church by witnessing the message of the Gospel, living and explaining it to posterity. Thus, Apostolic Preaching or Tradition is organically associated with the Patristic Tradition and vice versa. This point must be stressed since many theologians n the Western churches either distinguish between Apostolic Tradition and Patristic Tradition, or completely reject Patristic Tradition.
For the Orthodox Christian, there is one Tradition, the Tradition of the Church, incorporating the Holy Scripture and the teaching of the holy Fathers. This is "the preaching of the truth handed down by the Church in the whole world to Her children" (Saint Irenaeus, Proof of Apostolic Preaching, 98). Saint Athanasius the Great "Pillar of Orthodoxy." who was bishop of Alexandria during the 4th century, gives the most appropriate definition of the Church's Holy Tradition:
"Let us look at the very tradition, teaching, and faith of the catholic Church from the very beginning, which the Logos gave (edoken), the Apostles preached (ekeryxan), and the Fathers preserved (ephylaxan). Upon this the Church is founded (tethemeliotai)" (Saint Athanasius, First Letter to Serapion, 28).
In retrospect, Holy Tradition is founded upon the Holy Trinity, it constantly proclaims the Gospel of Christ, it is found within the boundaries of the Christian Church, and it is expounded by the Fathers.
"...the authority, the power, and impact of Holy Tradition are found in the Holy Scripture and the Patristic teachings as a total and unified expression of the revelation of the Holy Trinity in the world. Christ, as the ultimate and supreme Teacher, Shepherd and King, exercises His Authority in the Holy Spirit through the Apostles and their successors. The holy Apostles, their successors and the whole people of God are the Body of Christ extending throughout the ages. "There is no private teaching save the common doctrine of the catholic (universal not Roman Catholic) Church," wrote Saint Maximos the Confessor (7th century, Migne PG, 90, 12OC). In the reply to Pope Pius IX in 1848, the Eastern Patriarchs wrote that "the Defender of the faith is the very Body of the Church, that is the people, who want their faith kept constantly unvarying and in agreement with the Fathers." Thus the clergy and the laity are both responsible for the preservation of the Church, and more generally, the local councils of the Church are of great importance. The First Council Synod of the Church was the Apostolic Synod, which took place in Jerusalem in 51 AD. Later, bishops used to meet either locally, or on the "ecumenical" or universal, the all-encompassing level of the universal Christian empire, the oikoumene, in order to discuss and solve serious dogmatic and canonical issues which had arisen...
In sum, the Ecumenical Councils, together with the Holy Scripture and the Patristic writings, are the universal voice of the Church. The position of the Ecumenical Councils in the Church and their universal authority is enhanced by the fact that they issued not only dogmatic definitions of faith, but also formulated canons of the Church which concern Orthodox spiritual life and help the individual in the growth of his life in Christ. Not all these canons have the same value today as they had when first written, still, they are like compasses which direct our lives toward a Christian lifestyle and orient us towards a high spiritual level. Canons which concern our moral life, fasting, and Holy Communion are indeed important for our daily life as good Orthodox Christians…
Thus, the Holy Tradition of the Church is a living reality, which the Orthodox Christian must live daily in a mystical way. By adhering to the teaching of the Holy Scripture, the Ecumenical Councils, and the Patristic Writings, by observing the Holy Canons of the Church, by frequently participating in the Holy, where Holy Tradition becomes an empirical reality, we are members of the Body of Christ and are led to the "contemplation of God" to repeat a beautiful expression of Saint Neilos (5th century)...
Orthodox Tradition, therefore, is not a dead letter, a collection of dogmas and practices of the past. It is history of salvation. It is the life of the Holy Spirit, who constantly illumines us in order for all Orthodox Christians to become sons and daughters of God, living in the divine light of the all-blessed Trinity."
(Source: Greek Orthodox Archdioces website: www.goarch.org). Dr. Bebis is a Professor at Holy Cross School of Theology at Brookline, Mass.
Please note: We are, as the Orthodox Christian Church and as Orthodox Christians are very aware of how many thousands of heresies exist today among Christians of other confessions and it is extremely important to know enough of our Orthodox faith to practice it, to defend it and to protect it from these heresies that continue to multiply uncontrollably throughout the world. We may love all people and Christians of other traditions but we cannot either accept, emulate, or be influenced by their error. The holy Apostles, the holy Fathers of the Church loved everyone but they would never tolerate or condone heresy and this is why the seven Ecumenical Councils were convened and the Dogma of the Church was formulated. This is why, my friends and dear spiritual children, we have the symbol of faith, the Creed, which we recite in every Divine Liturgy.
With sincere agape in Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God