My beloved spiritual 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.
FROM THE LITURGY OF THE PRESANCTIFIED GIFTS
At nightfall, dawn and noon, we sing to You, we bless You, we give thanks to You, and we beseech You, Master of all, Lord and lover of mankind: guide our prayers aright as an offering of incense before You. Let not our hearts be led to wicked thoughts or words, but deliver us all from those who pursue our souls. For it is on You, Lord, Lord, that our eyes are fixed, and in You that we have our hope; do not put us to shame, O our God. For all glory, honor and adoration are Your due, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
THE LENTEN PRAYER OF SAINT EPHRAIM THE SYRIAN
O Lord and Master of my life, do not permit the spirit of laziness and meddling, the lust of power and idle talk to come into me. (Prostration) Instead, grant me, Your servant, the Spirit of prudence, humility, patience and love. (Prostration) Yes, Lord and King, give me the power to see my own faults and not to judge my brother (or sister). (Prostration) For You are Blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.
THE WITNESS OF TRUE REPENTANCE
(Source: The Eros of Repentance by Archimandrite George Capsanis Egoumenos (Abbot) of the Monastery of Osiou Gregoriou, Mt. Athos)
"Our Lord, the Logos (Word) made flesh, began His preaching with an invitation to repentance: 'And after John had been imprisoned, Jesus came to Galilee preaching the word of God and saying: The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God at hand. Repent and believe the Gospel.' (St. Mark 1:14-15). On Mount Athos, repentance is experienced as the basis of the Christian life. Someone once asked an elder (geronda) of the Mountain: 'What is the Holy Mountain?' He replied, 'There is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, and here we have many who repent.'"
TODAYS' SYNAXARION (THE COMMEMORATION OF TODAY'S SAINTS):
On February 27the 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 every righteous soul made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: our Righteous Father Procopius of Decapolis, the Confessor; Holy Martyr Gelasius, who having been commanded by the ruler to mock Baptism, was baptized in very truth, and perfected in martyrdom by the sword; Saint Thalleleus of Syria, who dwelt in a hanging barrel; Saint Stefanos, who founded the home for the aged in Armatius, reposed in peace; Saint Nesius, having been beaten with ox-hide whips, was perfected in martyrdom; our Righteous Fathers Asclepius and James of Syria reposed in peace; St. Timotheos of Caesaria reposed in peace; our Father among the Saints Leander, Bishop of Seville; our righteous Father Titus the Presbyter of the Kiev Caves; Saint Titus the former soldier of the Kiev Caves.
+ By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Righteous, Holy Fathers, Holy Ascetics, Holy Mothers, Holy Confessors, Holy Bishops, Holy Presbyters, Holy Soldiers, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
OUR HOLY FATHER PROCOPIUS OF DECAPOLIS. Saint Procopius came from Decapolis by the Sea of Galilee; hence his name. In youth, he gave himself to the monastic life and passed through all those prescribed labors that purify the heart and uplift the soul to God. When a persecution on the part of the wicked Emperor Leo the Isaurian (717-741 AD) broke out over icons, St. Procopius stood up and defended holy icons, showing that their veneration is not idolatry, for Christians know that to prostrate themselves before icons is not to prostrate before dead matter but before the living Saints depicted on the icons. Saint Procopius was bestially tortured, imprisoned, beaten and flogged with iron flails. When the evil pagan emperor was murdered, being already a lost soul, the holy icons were returned to the churches and Saint Procopius returned to his monastery, where he spent his remaining days in peace. In old age, he entered into God's Kingdom, where he beheld with joy the living Angels and Saints whose images were on the honored icons on earth. He departed this life peacefully in the 9th century. (The Prologue from Ochrid)
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn. Plagal of Fourth Tone
With the streams of thy tears, thou didst cultivate the barrenness of the desert; and by thy sighings from the depths, thou didst bear with miracles upon the world, O Procopius our righteous Father. Intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.
Kontanion Hymn. Fourth Tone
O renowned Procopius, having obtained thee as a morning star this day, the Church dispelleth all the gloom of evil doctrine, while honoring thee, O thou initiate of Heaven and man of God.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Matins Old Testament: Isaiah 3:1-14
Vespers Old Testament 1: Genesis 2:20-3:20
Vespers Old Testament 2: Proverbs 3: 19-34
INSPIRING SAYINGS FROM THE HOLY ASCETICS, HOLY MOTHERS AND HOLY FATHERS OF THE CHURCH:
"Let us get a tongue speaking only good things, that we may be lovely and amiable. But indeed, everything is come to that pitch of wickedness, that may boast of the very things, for which they should hide their faces. For the threats of the many are of this kind: 'thou canst not bear my tongue." (Saint John Chrysostom)
THE SOUL SATURDAYS
[Saturday in the First Week of Lent)
"Brethren, let us keep the Sabbath today, resting from our labors of the past week: for at the beginning God blessed this day by resting on it from His labors, and now He has blessed it also with the solemn feast of the martyr."
Truly this is the first among Sabbaths, the Sabbath of Sabbaths; it is filled with the grace of the martyr and the power of God, for we celebrate the memorial of a great deliverance.
With the holy food of God the King, the pure martyr saved us from the lawless emperor's polluted food; so, by a strange and marvelous wonder, he sanctified the seventh day of the week.
APOSTICHA IN HONOR OF THE SAINT:
The pure and undefiled Fast has now begun, and brings us to the celebration of the martyr's miracles. Through the Fast our souls are cleansed from filth and defilement, and through the martyr's sufferings and miracles we are given strength to fight bravely against the passions. Illumined, therefore, by the grace of holy abstinence and by the wonders worked by Theodore the martyr, strengthened by our faith in Christ, we pray Him to bestow salvation on our souls.
"The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree: and shall spread abroad like a cedar in Lebanon" (Psalm 91:13). Possessing, O Theodore, a martyr's boldness before God, thou hast brought to nothing the plot devised by the apostate against the faith of Christ. Fighting as a champion in defense of God's people, through a fearful visitation thou hast delivered them from the food defiled by sacrifice to idols. So we honor thee as destroyer of idols, as savior and guardian of Christ's flock, as protector ever ready to hearken to our prayers; and in our hymns of praise we ask that, through thine intercessions, forgiveness and illumination may be granted to our souls. (Source: The Lenten Triodion)
THE FOUR SATURDAYS OF THE SOULS
These Saturdays are set aside by our Holy Church for all Orthodox Christians, three during the Holy and Great Lent, and the fourth Saturday before the great Feast of Pentecost. In general, the Holy Church has designated that the Saturday (Sabbath) be a day of commemoration of the holy Martyrs and of all immortal in the soul. A time will come when he will again be raised up as the Creator so chooses and when He will also raise the body (Apostolic Constitutions 8, 42).
When one speaks about memorials in the Orthodox Church it is inevitable that the issue of Makaria (blessing) and Kollyva will also be discussed. In the early Christian times, bread, wine, and olives or cheese or rice were offered. The offering of these gifts served the purpose of charity and those who partook of them would pray: "Blessed be his/her memory." This is why they were called Makaria and their origin can be found at the meals or the funeral meals of which the Apostolic Constitutions speak. As a continuation of that ancient custom are the lunches and the coffee (sometimes cognac) offered today by the relatives of the deceased to those who prayed with them at the Service of the Memorial.
Sometimes during the middle of the fourth century the Kollyva (boiled wheat) prevailed over the other gifts, as they project a profound didactic symbolism. They symbolize the resurrection from the dead of the bodies. Saint Symeon of Thessaloniki observes that in the Kollyva we add various others seeds (raisins, walnuts, almonds, sesame, and so on). However, the basic ingredient is always wheat because the Savior Himself likened His All-Holy Body and His Resurrection to wheat: "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain" (St. John 12:24). The image of the "grain of wheat" dying in order to bear fruit signifies that Christ will die in order to give life, a principle of self-sacrifice which applies to all those who follow the way of Jesus Christ.
BENEFITS OF MEMORIALS AND PRAYERS
We all know that when one dies that is the end for correcting mistakes, errors, and having a change of heart for the things that we did while alive. Why then do we as Orthodox Christians pray and have memorials for the souls of the departed? It is a critical question and indeed it has been addressed by many Holy Fathers of the Church. Here, however, we give a very cursory overview on the topic, and hopefully, if the reader is interested, may see some of the references.
All our prayers and memorials are petitions (requests) on behalf of the dead to God because we believe in His mercy loving kindness and philanthropy as well as compassion. Our courage for asking is based in 1 John 5: 14-15: "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him." Furthermore, our assumption of the petitions is based on the knowledge that God "desires all men to be saved" (1 Timothy 2:4), which according to Saint John Damascus is what especially pleases and gladdens the compassionate Lord. He continues to emphasize the fact that our God wants very much that all of us be assisted by everyone both when living and after we die (John of Damascus, On Those Who Have Fallen Asleep in Faith 15:19, PG 95). [Source: A Catechetical Handbook of the Eastern Orthodox Church by D.H., Stamatis, Ph.D.]
A BLESSING FROM THE FUNERAL SERVICE
O God of all spirits and flesh, Who has trodden down death, destroying the power of the devil, bestowing life on Your world: to the soul (s) of Your servant (s) departed this life, do You Yourself, O Lord, give rest in a place of light, in a place of green pasture, in a place of refreshment, from where pain and sorrow and mourning are fled away. Every sin by him (her) committed in thought, word, or deed, do You as our good and loving God forgive, seeing that there is no man that shall live and sin not, for You alone are without sin: Your Righteousness, and Your Law is Truth. For You are the Resurrection, the Life, and the Repose of Your servant (s), O Christ our God; and to You do we send up Glory, and Life-creating Spirit, both now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Everlasting be your memory, O our brother (sister), who are worthy of blessedness and eternal memory.
Personal note: Saint Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians offers the following advice: "Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle" (2 Thess. 2:15). It is unwise and unorthodox to neglect and ignore our holy Christian traditions. We need to pay attention to the Holy Scripture and admonition of the Holy Apostle Paul to "hold the traditions" of our Faith. Too many Orthodox Christians today treat the Church traditions as though they are unimportant and optional. The Orthodox Christian must be totally engaged in all aspects of the Faith and make every effort to learn as much as it is humanly possible about it. Please do not make or insist that the Faith of the Holy Martyrs who were tortured and died for Christ and the Faith, is "irrelevant" because you live in the 21st century. All of us, who live in this century, see clearly, what society is without God and the Christian Faith. All of us see what is happening to the family, to ethics, to morality, to dignity, to honesty, to peace, to all institutions and to humanity in general when the Faith is replaced by the evils of and in the world. "Stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle".
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
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. Amen.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God