My beloved children 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 PRAYER OF THE SIXTH HOUR OF THE DAY
[By Saint Sarrah. End of the 4th century]
(This Libyan Saint is one of the few women who followed the strict ascetic life. There are many legends concerning her ascetical achievements, but not much historical information. It is said that she spent more than sixty years floating on a river, but never once looked at the water. Another story says that for thirteen years she was tormented with thoughts of impurity which inexpressibly distressed her soul. Through all this, she never asked God to remove the loathsome temptation from her, but meekly prayed: "Lord, strengthen me." Her feast day is celebrated on July the 13th.)
O Lord, You Who have measured the heights and the earth in the hollow of Your hands, and created the six-wing Seraphim to cry out to You with an unceasing voice Holy. Holy, Holy, glory to Your Name. Deliver me from the mouth of the evil one, O Master. Forget my many evil deeds and through the multitude of Your compassion grant me daily forgiveness for Your are Blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.
TODAY'S SYNAXARION (THE COMMEMORATION OF TODAY'S SAINTS):
On June 23rd 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 of ever righteous soul made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Saint Agrippina of Rome; Holy Hieromartyr Aristocles the Presbyter, Demetrios the Deacon, and Athanasius the Reader, of Cyprus; Holy Martyrs Efstochius the Presbyter of Pisidia, Gaius his nephew, and his children Lollia, Prova, and Urban, who were beheaded in Ancyra; our righteous Mother Etheldreda (Audrey), Egoumenissa (Abbes) of Ely; the righteous youth Aremius of Verkola; our Righteous Fathers, Joseph, Anthony, and Joannicius of Vologda; Holy New Hieromartyrs Metrophanes, Archbishop of Astrakhan, and Leontius, Bishop of Yenotaevsk, who were slain by the atheists (communists) in the year 1919; holy Hieromartyr Maximus, Bishop of Serpukhov, First Bishop of the Catacomb Church in Russia, who was slain by the atheists (communists) in the year 1931; the celebration of the Synaxis of the Vladimir holy Icon of our Most Holy Lady the Theotokos and Ever-virgin Mary.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Mothers, Holy Martyrs, Holy Readers, Holy Presbyters, Holy Deacons, Holy Bishops, Holy Archbishops, Holy Fathers, Holy Ascetics, Holy Confessors, Holy Youth, O Christ, Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
OUR HOLY MOTHER AND MARTYR AGRIPPINA OF ROME. This holy Martyr was from Rome and lived in virginity, having Christ alone as her Bridegroom. Of her own accord she courageously presented herself to the pagans as a Christian, and was tortured to death, according to some, in the reign of pagan emperor Valerian (253-260 A.D.). Her holy relics were then taken to Sicily, where they immediately became a source of great miracles.
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn of the Martyr. Fourth Tone
O Lord Jesus, unto Thee Thy lamb doth cry with a great voice: O my Bridegroom, Thee I love; and seeking Thee, I now contest, and with Thy baptism an crucified and buried. I suffer for Thy sake, that I may reign with Thee; for Thy sake I die, that I may live in Thee: accept me offered out of longing to Thee as a spotless sacrifice. Lord, save our souls through her intercessions, since Thou art great in mercy.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: Romans 7:1-14
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Matthew 9:36-38; 10:1-8
INSPIRING SAYINGS FROM THE WORKS OF THE HOLY ASCETICS, HOLY MOTHERS, HOLY FATHERS OF THE CHURCH:
"The passion of greed is very fearful and destructive, since it is completely impossible for one who loves pleasures and money to live according to the Commandments of God. Now, this passion, when it finds a soul without the warm zeal of virtue and without faith, begins to beset it with various "good" and plausible pretexts, in order to justify in it a proclivity towards money; among such pretexts, for example, are old age, bodily illness, and the like. And just as the sea is never filled, despite the many rivers that feed it, in the same way the desires of a greedy person are never satisfied by the money which he endlessly seeks...From this passion of greed, as we have shown, suffer all those who lack faith and hope...Thus it is, then, as the Holy Scriptures also say, that there is no greater outlaw than a greedy man; for the greedy man even puts his soul up for sale on account of money. Many such men, in fact, die spiritually for the sake of money. A timeless example is Judas, who for reason of greed, not only fell from the ranks of the Apostles, but became a betrayer of the Master and, in the end, lost his soul and his life, committing suicide by hanging himself out of grief and desperation." (Saint Antiochos) [The Evergetinos]
THE MYSTERY (SACRAMENT) OF REPENTANCE AND CONFESSIONS IN THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
By Father Peter A. Chamberas
The mind of the Church is best expressed in her Sacred Scripture and Tradition, as well as in the venerable texts of her holy Mysteries, that is, the Sacraments, which constitute her liturgical life. The way we pray and worship reveals much about the content and the nature of our faith. If we want to know something about the Orthodox Christian understanding of Baptism, we must first of all read the text of the Sacrament of Baptism and Chrismation. In this text, we will find not only the biblical basis for Baptism, but also the Orthodox theology, which illumines it, as well as the Orthodox way of life, which this initial Sacrament presupposes and expects from those who receive it. If we want to understand the Christian meaning of Marriage, we must read the prayers of this great mystery as it is celebrated in the Orthodox Church. By the same token, if we wish to understand and practice Repentance and Confession in the Orthodox Church, we must, again, turn first of all to the prayers of this important but often neglected Mystery (Sacrament).
At the present time, unfortunately, the Mystery of Repentance and Confession is generally still neglected and misunderstood and avoided by many. This regrettable reality requires that every effort be made to inform all the faithful and to help them understand how very essential this healing Mystery is to our authentic Orthodox Christian way of life.
Before actually getting into the text itself, however, it would be helpful perhaps to say a few things about the order of the sacrament and to gain some idea of the structure and the Order of the Service as it has evolved from ancient practice to the present form found in the Prayer Books of the Orthodox Church.
Let us keep in mind from the outset that the Mystery (Sacrament) of Repentance and Confession was established by Jesus Christ on the day of His Resurrection, when He appeared to His Disciples and gave them the authority to do what He did: forgive sins. From the holy Apostles this authority was transmitted to the Bishops, and from the Bishops to the Presbyters of the Church. Thus, the Mystery of Repentance and Confession is practiced in the Church, from Apostolic times to the present day, without interruption. During the first Christian centuries, Repentance and Confession was practiced publicly in the context of regular public worship. By the 4th century, however, this public practice was gradually limited, and the norm became somewhat private but always in the presence of a spiritual father. A Presbyter (Priest) was assigned to be responsible for hearing confessions and guiding the penitents, who needed to be reconciled and restored to the communal life of the Church.
As with all the Sacraments, the Mystery of Repentance and Confession has its own liturgical Prayer Service, which developed gradually and normally over the centuries. Unfortunately today, together with our neglect of other aspects of this healing Sacrament, we also neglect to properly follow its liturgical Order. The text and the order certainly have evolved through the many centuries of Church history and life to attain its present form, which is, no doubt, a compilation of earlier forms and practices. The earliest extant Prayer Service for Repentance and Confession is that of Saint John the Faster, Patriarch of Constantinople (582-595 AD). While the original text of this ancient service is still available, only the general outline of this service and a few aspects of its prayers are incorporated in the Prayer Service of today. The present Service in use today, as printed in the various Prayer Books of the Orthodox Church, may have several minor variations.
An important element in the Service of Saint John the Faster, which is missing from the present order and which can readily be incorporated in the proper place, is the inclusion of two appropriate and meaningful biblical readings for Repentance and Confession: Ezekiel 18:19-32 and St. Luke 15:1-32. In addition to these two, there are of course many other biblical readings that can be appropriately included in the order of Repentance and Confession. These could include additional penitential Psalms, an Apostolic reading, such as 1 John 1:5-2:6 and the Gospel reading, which is included in the last section of the Gospel Book for this purpose.
The Text and Order followed and translated into English in this study is the one of the Greek Orthodox Church, published in its 16th edition in 2004 by the Apostolike Diaconia in Athens, Greece.
The Prayer Service for Repentance and Confession may be outlined and annotated using the following Order:
1. The opening invocation: "Blessed is our God..." and the Petitions for common prayer.
The Priest and the Penitent are both standing before the holy Icon of Jesus Christ in the Church. The Sacrament begins by invoking the Name of God, followed by the petitions and the repeated prayer for the mercy of God. By its very nature, sin creates confusion and disturbance in the life of the faithful. Aware of this, the Church invokes the Name of God and His peace to come upon us and specifically upon the penitent (or penitents), for whom we pray. We pray that time be given to them to repent, to be forgiven and to be renewed and restored into the life of the Church. From the beginning of the Sacrament, the emphasis is on God and His love and mercy, as well as on our sense of perpetual repentance and confession that keeps our Christian way of life alive and constantly vigilant.
2. The first prayer read by the Priest for the penitent.
This prayer is addressed to Jesus Christ as the Shepherd and the Lamb Who bears the sin of the world. Prophet Ezekiel refers to the Lord as the Shepherd of the sheep, Who will provide food and rest for them, and Who will seek the lost and heal the sick. What God revealed through His Prophet in the Old Testament, Jesus Christ fulfilled through the Mystery of His Incarnate economy for the salvation of mankind. Christ called Himself the Good Shepherd, Who gives His life for the life of the sheep and the salvation of the world (St. John 10:14-15). This is precisely what Christ did: He left Heaven and came to earth, seeking to find the lost sheep, man, and to save him. As sinful and weak human beings, we call upon Christ as the Good Shepherd to help us return to Him through repentance and to be forgiven according to His Great Loving kindness. This initial prayer may be said in the singular for one person alone, or in the plural when read for a group of people.
3. The Trisagion Prayers, the Lord's Prayer for us, Psalm 50, the psalm of repentance, and the three contrite hymns: Have mercy on us; Lord have mercy on us; Open to us the gate of compassion.
This somewhat longer section contains the common familiar prayers, which are normally recited by the penitent. However, the Priest may choose to say some of them alternately with the penitent as a sign of solidarity and identity. At the end of this section the penitent will make three prostrations and say: "I have sinned, O Lord, forgive me. O God, be merciful to me, a sinner." At this point, the Priest recites a second prayer; it is a contrite supplication to the Lord to accept the repentance of the present penitent as He did with David and Manasseh. The penitence of King David is well known from Psalm 50, while the example of King Manasseh is related in 2 Chronicles 33:1 (cf. 4Kingdoms 21:1-18). The prayer of repentance of Manasseh has passed on to the Apostolic Constitutions (B 2:30-31) and is presently used in the Great Compline. This Prayer places great emphasis on the compassion and loving kindness of God, Who does not want the death of a sinner but rather his repentance and restoration to life and fellowship with God.
After the second prayer in the Order of the Sacrament, it would not be contrary to the spirit and the practice of the Orthodox Church to add here the selected biblical readings, mentioned above, especially when the Sacrament of Repentance and Confession is being offered to a group of faithful together.
(To be continued)
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
May the Lord God strengthen the Holy and Pure faith of devout Orthodox Christians, and of His Holy Church, this city and Parish, to the endless ages. Amen.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God