The Time of Lent (Part II)

Icon of the Mother of God "Kozelshchansk"

Icon of the Mother of God "Kozelshchansk"

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.

THE TIME OF LENT (Part II)

Lenten Divine Services

On Friday afternoon during Holy and Great Lent the hymn called the 'Akathis' is recited or chanted. It is a long poem of praise to the Most Holy Virgin and Mother of God. It comprises twenty-four stanzas set out in alphabetical order and broken up into four portions. These portions are read one after another--one each Friday--during the first four Fridays of Holy Lent. On the fifth Friday, the Akathist is chanted entirely.

"While it is a composite work by more than one of our Ecclesiastical Hymnographers as we know it today, it was formally recited, or rather prayed in the year 626 A.D., in the Church of the Theotokos of Vlachernae in Constantinople, on the occasion of the deliverance of the 'Queen City' from the siege of the Barbarians. It is chanted in all the Orthodox Churches throughout the world, during the first 5 Fridays of Holy and Great Lent, and constitutes a very concrete spiritual preparation for the Holy and Great Week and Paschal divine Services.

The 'great canon' of Saint Andrew of Crete is chanted in its entirety during the evenings of the first week of Holy Lent. It is an enormous composition of two hundred and fifty stanzas. These are divide up into nine series of odes that express the longing of a guilty and penitent soul; they contrast human frailty with the goodness and mercy of God.

Finally--and perhaps above all--the admirable prayer attributed to Saint Ephraim the Syrian must be mentioned. In this, neither poetry nor rhetoric (which are not lacking in the compositions we have just spoken of) play any part. We are here faced with a pure upsurge of the soul--short, sober and full of ardour. This prayer, accompanied by prostrations, is said for the first time on the evening of the Sunday which immediately precedes Lent (the evening service being counted as already belonging to Monday, the first day of Holy Lent). It is repeated during most of the Lenten divine services, especially in the Liturgy of the Presanctified. The prayer of Saint Ephraim is widely known by Orthodox Christian believers; this is its text:

"O Lord and Master of my life, give me not a spirit of sloth, vain curiosity, lust for power, and idle talk. But give to me, Thy servant, a spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love. O Lord and King, grant me to see my own faults and not to judge my brother; for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen."

This prayer sums up all that is essential in spiritual life. A Christian who used it constantly, who nourished himself from it during Holy and Great Lent, would be at the simplest and best school. Even someone who restricted himself to repeating and meditating on these words. 'Lord and Master of my life', would enter deeply into the reality of the relationship between God and the soul, the soul and its God.

The First Sunday of Holy and Great Lent: Sunday of Orthodoxy

The word 'Orthodoxy' was first used in connection with this Sunday in a fairly restricted sense. When it was first instituted, in legitimacy of the veneration of holy icons. Later, the scope of the word was extended. By 'Orthodoxy' was understood the whole body of dogma upheld by the Churches in communion with Constantinople. An official document, the Synodikon, which anathematizes by name all the leaders of heresy, was read in the churches on this Sunday. It seems that Byzantine Christianity thought it a necessary duty to confess its faith at the beginning of Holy and Great Lent. Nowadays, we would probably be more concerned than was then the case to express ourselves with charity towards those who erred, and to separate the true from the erroneous in their thinking. But it was right and useful that the Orthodox Church should affirm its own attitude unambiguously.

The texts which are chanted at Vespers (Esperinos) service and Matins (Orthros) for the Sunday insist on the reality of the Incarnation. In fact, the coming of Christ in the flesh is the foundation of the veneration of holy Icons. Christ Incarnate is the essential Icon, the Prototype of all the holy Icons. Some phrases from the Triodion express very well the deep meaning of the veneration given to holy icons.

"In truth, the Church of Christ is adorned with the finest ornament by the holy icons of Christ our Savior, of the Holy Mother of God (Theotokos) and of all the glorified Saints...In keeping the icon of Christ which we praise and venerate, we do not risk being led astray. May those who do not believe this be put to confusion. For it is our kneeling before the Incarnate Son and not the adoration (worship) of His icon that is a glory for us."

The glorified Saints were living, even though imperfect, images of God. They were weaker reproductions of the true Divine Image, which is Christ. During the Divine Liturgy this Sunday, in the reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews (11:24-26, 32-40), we will hear their inspired author describe the sufferings of Moses and of David, of the Patriarchs and Martyrs of Israel, of those "of whom the world was not worthy," who were scourged, slain with the sword, and beheaded, and whose faith yet overcame the world. These were images drawn not on wood, but in the flesh. They already prefigured and announced the coming of the definitive Icon, the Person of Christ.

The Gospel for the day has no direct bearing on either images or Orthodoxy. In the Gospel reading (St. John 1:43-51) we see the Apostle Philip bringing Nathanael: "Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee". Nathanael, overwhelmed by this revelation, declares: "Rabbi, thou art the Son of God". Jesus replies that Nathanael will see "great things" than these powers of long-distance sight. "Ye shall see heaven open, and the Angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man."

These words open a vast field for meditation. We do not know what Nathanael was doing or thinking under the fig tree. Was it a moment of temptation, or of perplexity or grace--or simply one of rest. But it seems as if the Lord would not have mentioned this if it had not been a decisive moment, a turning point in Nathanael's life. In the life of each one of us, there has been a moment, or perhaps moments, when we were "under the fig tree", critical moments, in which Jesus, Himself invisible, saw us and intervened. Did we accept or repel the intervention? Let us remember these moments...Let us adore these divine interventions. But let us not rest in them, or try to live in a vision that is gone. "Thou shalt see greater things than these." Let us always be prepared for new grace, new vision. For the life of a disciple, if it is authentic, rises from light to greater light. We may see "the heaven open and the Angels ascending" towards the Savior or descending to us. This is indeed a precious indication that familiarity with the Angels should be habitual with us. The world of the Angels is neither less close to us nor less loving than the world of men. (Source: The Year of Grace of the Lord)

(To be continued)

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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.

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George