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A Pan-Orthodox ministry that displays Christian love, mercy and compassion to the individuals, families and facilities it serves.

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A Pan-Orthodox ministry that displays Christian love, mercy and compassion to the individuals, families and facilities it serves.

Filtering by Category: Reflections

Nativity Sermon of St. John Chrysostom

Gerald Largent

I behold a new and wondrous mystery! My ears resound to the shepherd's song, piping no soft melody, but loudly chanting a heavenly hymn!

The angels sing!

The archangels blend their voices in harmony!

The cherubim resound their joyful praise!

The Seraphim exalt His glory!

All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead herein... on earth and man in heaven. He who is above now, for our salvation, dwells here below; and we, who were lowly, are exalted by divine mercy!

Today Bethlehem resembles heaven, hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices and, in place of the sun, witnessing the rising of the Sun of Justice!

Ask not how this is accomplished, for where God wills, the order of nature is overturned. For He willed He had the powers He descended. He saved. All things move in obedience to God.

Today He Who Is, is born ! And He Who Is becomes what He was not! For when He was God, He became man-while not relinquishing the Godhead that is His...

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him angels, nor archangels, nor thrones, nor dominions, nor powers, nor principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His incarnation has He ceased being God. And behold kings have come, that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven; Women, that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of childbirth into joy; Virgins, to the Son of the Virgin...

Infants, that they may adore Him who became a little child, so that out of the mouths of infants He might perfect praise; Children, to the Child who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod; Men, to Him who became man that He might heal the miseries of His servants;

Shepherds, to the Good Shepherd who was laid down His life for His sheep;

Priests, to Him who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek;

Servants, to Him who took upon Himself the form of a servant, that He might bless our stewardship with the reward of freedom (Philippians 2:7);

Fishermen, to the Fisher of mankind;

Publicans, to Him who from among them named a chosen evangelist;

Sinful women, to Him who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant woman;

And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! Since, therefore, all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice! I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival! But I take my part, not plucking the harp nor with the music of the pipes nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ!

For this is all my hope!

This is my life!

This is my salvation!

This is my pipe, my harp!

And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels and shepherds, sing:

"Glory to God in the Highest! and on earth peace to men of good will!"

The Meaning of "Pascha"

Gerald Largent

By Igumen Gregory (Valentine)

Recently I was asked this question: "Why do we use the word 'pascha' to describe this present  feast of the church? What does it mean and why is it so important to us Orthodox Christians?" Let me address the answer now so that all can hear and reflect upon the richness of this feast.

The  New Testament teaches us that the final three days, culminating in the  resurrection of Jesus, which Pascha celebrates, is the foundation of the Christian Faith. The resurrection established Jesus as the powerful Son of God and is cited as proof that God will judge the world in righteousness. But it was necessary that Christ should undergo the events of Great Friday and remain in the tomb on Holy Saturday in order for God to give Christians "a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead". Christians, through faith in the working of God are spiritually resurrected with Jesus so that they may walk in a new way of life. But like Christ we too must endure difficulties, illnesses and crosses in order to die with Christ that we might live with Christ.

Pascha, which is the Greek form of the Hebrew word Pesach or Passover, is linked to the Passover and Exodus from Egypt as recorded in the Old Testament and recounted in ritual read at the Seder Meal. In the New Testament the Mystical Supper, held on Thursday evening, and the Crucifixion of Christ that preceded the Resurrection are re-presented liturgically at the Divine Liturgy. Passover is for both the Jewish people and for the Christians, then a series of events stretching over a period of time, which find fulfillment in a remarkable conclusion. For the Jews it was the forty year wandering in the desert, finally arriving at the Promised Land of Canaan and ritually celebrated for 8 days. For Christians we begin our preparation during the 40 days of the Great Lent, which then flows into the mixture of joy and immense sorrow of the Holy and Great Week. The Paschal Feast itself reaches its high point in the Resurrection Services, and has an extended celebration for 50 days, culminating in the Ascension of Christ into heaven and His subsequent sending of the All Holy Spirit from His Father in the form of fiery tongues upon His Holy Apostles and the entire new creation, the Holy Orthodox Church. The final days of the Paschal season is celebrated on Pentecost, (Greek for 50) Sunday, also called Troitsa or Sunday of the Trinity.

Both Christians and Jews observe events which are celebrated in a ritualized meal that seeks to express in time that which is timeless, doing so in order to recall the care of God for His People. According to the New Testament, Jesus gave the pre-Passover meal a new meaning, as he prepared himself and his disciples for his death by a special meal in the upper room during the Mystical Supper. He gave the sanctified loaf of bread and cup of wine as His Body soon to be sacrificed and His Blood soon to be shed. St. Paul states, "Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast--as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed"; this quote refers to the Passover requirement to have no yeast in the house and to the allegory of Jesus as the paschal lamb. One interpretation in the Gospel of John is that Jesus, as the Passover lamb, was crucified at roughly the same time as the Passover lambs were being slain in the temple, on the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan, roughly equivalent to early to mid April in our calendar. The scriptural instructions specify that the lamb is to be slain "between the two evenings", that is, at twilight. Christ was taken down from the cross some time after 3 PM on that Great Friday.

Unlike the Old Testament Passover, which is celebrated annually, our Paschal Feast is to be done again and again in His Memory, which we do at every Divine Liturgy. Once a year we give the Feast a special emphasis during Holy Week and the Bright Resurrection. This is, par excellence, the Great Paschal Mystery. The high point occurs at the Holy Saturday Liturgy, the event in which often catechumens receive their final instruction and then are admitted into the Church through the Rites of Christian Initiation, which include Baptism, Chrismation, and Holy Communion. Carried out in the context of this service, in a most dramatic sense they do mystically die and then rise with Christ. I have experienced the joy of this Holy Saturday Initiation Rite a number of times during my years as a priest. What a blessing it has been!

Perhaps the most notable reason why few contemporary Orthodox Christians are really able to make the connection to the Passover of the Old Testament, is because they seldom, if ever, have attended the Holy Saturday Divine Liturgy. If one were to attend that Liturgy one would hear 15 lessons from the Old Testament that prefigure Christ in the lives of various persons and in the events of the first passover before the Jewish people were delivered from Egypt under the leadership of Moses, who is a prefigurement of Christ the Liberator. It is preeminently in this Liturgical Rite that the passover is so clearly and richly presented. It takes about one hour to read and listen to these lessons, which then lead into the epistle of St. Paul who declares Christ to be our new Passover, followed by the reading of the Gospel of St. Matthew which announces Christ’s Resurrection from the dead, coupled to the Eucharistic Sacrifice, our new Pascha in deed. The combination of all these lessons, while admittedly lengthy, nevertheless, is so worth while for our deeper understanding of the Paschal Mystery, as we recount its unfolding for the Jews in one way, and for us in another and more perfect Way. The Fathers tell us that the New Testament is hidden within the Old Testament, and the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New. Hence the Orthodox Church maintains a point of contact with the Old Testament community in terms of the Scriptures that we read along with the Gospels, Epistles, Acts of the Apostles, and the Book of Revelation, which together form the New Testament.

But as was stated earlier, we are not limited to just this time in our liturgical calendar. In a real sense, Pascha is observed by Orthodox Christians whenever we gather to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, and, in deed, in every major Sacrament of the Church. What a great blessing we have received as a Gift from our Risen Lord!

Today we remember the Holy Myrrh bearers, this being the 3rd Sunday of Pascha. Let us now unite ourselves today with these women and men who were with Christ during His final hours on the first Great Friday, and who were then rewarded by being among the first to greet the Risen Lord. They sought a dead body to anoint but encountered the Risen Lord Jesus. In the Paschal Canon we sing during Matins of Pascha: "Why do you seek the living among the dead, why do you seek the Incorrupt amid corruption? Go, tell His apostles that He is Risen as He foretold." May we too do the same today as we proclaim:

CHRIST IS RISEN! INDEED, HE IS RISEN!

Amen.

Alleluia!

The First Paschal Sermon of St. Gregory the Theologian

Gerald Largent

Yesterday the Lamb was slain And the door-posts were anointed,

And Egypt bewailed her Firstborn,

And the Destroyer passed over us,

And the Seal was dreadful and reverend,

And we were walled in with the Precious Blood.

Today, we have escaped from Egypt and from Pharoah; And there is none to hinder us

From keeping a Feast to the Lord our God —

The Feast of our Departure;

Or from celebrating that Feast,

Not in the old leaven of malice and wickedness,

But in the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, Carrying with us nothing of ungodly and Egyptian leaven.

Yesterday, I was crucified with Him;

Today, I am glorified with Him;

Yesterday, I died with Him;

Today I am quickened with Him;

Yesterday, I was buried with Him;

Today, I rise with Him.

But let us offer to Him Who suffered and rose again for us — you will think perhaps that I am going to say gold, or silver, or woven work, or transparent and costly stones, the mere passing material things of earth, that remains here below, and is for the most part always possessed by bad men, slaves of the world, and of the Prince of the World.

Let us offer ourselves,

The possession most precious to God, and most fitting; Let us give back the image that is made after the Image, Let us recognize our Dignity; let us honour our Archetype;

Let us know the power of the Mystery,

And for what Christ died.

Let us become like Christ,

Since Christ has become like us.

Let us become God's for His sake,

Since He for ours became Man.

He assumed the worse

So that He might give us the better;

He became poor,

So that we through his poverty

Might become rich;

He took upon Him the form of a servant

That we might receive back our liberty;

He came down,

That we might be exalted;

He was tempted,

That we might conquer;

He was dishonoured,

That He might glorify us;

He died,

That He might save us;

He ascended,

That He might draw Himself to us,

Who were lying low in the Fall of sin.

Let us give all, offer all,

To Him who gave Himself

As Ransom and a Reconciliation for us.

But one can given nothing like oneself,

Understanding the Mystery,

And becoming for His sake,

All that He became for ours.

Praying to "Dead" People?

Gerald Largent

Occasionally, some well-meaning yet uninformed Christians will attack others who honor and pray with the saints (holy men and women) who are in heaven. They inevitably argue that "It's not right to pray to 'dead' people." First of all, it has been the Christian practice for 2000 years not to pray to the saints, but to pray with them. We ask them to pray to God for us, since they are praying to Him already. We simply ask them to add us to their "prayer list", for lack of a better term. Secondly, true Christians do not believe in death. Physical death, the parting of the soul from the body, is not an end. Rather, it is a beginning. It is a passage from this temporary, fallen, sinful world, to the one that is eternal, joyful and perfect. In a word, without physical death we would not be able to be with God in Paradise. (And this passage would not be possible without the Death and Resurrection of the God-Man, our Lord Jesus Christ.) Although Christians from the past have died bodily, and they are invisible to us at the present time, their souls live on. The pages of the New Testament make this abundantly clear. Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ says to the Sadducees: "And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not God of the dead, but of the living." (Matthew 22:31-32). In telling the story of our Lord's Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, before His Crucifixion, St. Matthew tells us that Moses and Elijah were present.

"And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, 'Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah'" (Matthew 17:1-4).

Moses and Elijah had departed from this world several centuries before Christ took on human flesh. In the eyes of the world Moses and Elijah were "dead", yet they appeared with Jesus on Mount Tabor, and the disciples saw them talking with Him. Their souls were alive.

In St. Luke's Gospel, Christ tells a parable (story) of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man dies (in the earthly sense) and has a conversation with Abraham, who had departed this life centuries earlier.

"The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom [Heaven]. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.' And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment'..." (Luke 16:22-28).

How could souls converse with each other if they were not conscious, if they were "dead"?

Indeed with our Lord there is no death, only life. In the Book of Revelation, St. John the Theologian has a vision of heaven, in which souls of the martyrs are under the Altar. "When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne; they cried out with a loud voice, 'O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?' Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been" (Revelation 6:9-11).

God has one family, and it is united even though the heavenly portion is presently invisible to the earthly portion. St. Paul prays for the family of God in his Epistle to the Ephesians:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom the whole family [not "families"] in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:14-19).

Furthermore, St. Paul writes that "we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses...let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us..." (Hebrews 12:1). The saints surround us and "cheer us on", so to speak. Imagine that we are in a local high school football stadium, with a track around the edge of the field. We are running a race on the track. The saints in heaven--the cloud of witnesses--have already run the race and are now cheering us on to victory from the bleachers. And the bleachers are quite crowded, too! The saints have completed the race and have fought the good fight. By following their example of perseverance and faithfulness to Christ, we too can be victorious in the race that is our life.

Sacred Scripture is clear that souls are conscious--they are alive--after they depart this earthly life. Why not ask them to pray for us? Some may say, "But I'd rather go directly to God." If we really want to go "directly to God" with our petitions and prayer intentions, then why do we ask people on earth to pray for us, especially when they are bogged down with worldly cares? Why not ask the saints in heaven, who are praying without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) to intercede on our behalf? They are ready, willing and able to do so!

Through the prayers of all Your saints, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

Simple Things to do During Lent

Gerald Largent

(1) Before you read the morning paper or your favorite book, take time to read the daily Bible readings prescribed by the Church.

(2) When you have some time on your hands, praying the Jesus Prayer is a good alternative to being bored. This is a very simple, yet powerful, prayer. "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." You can also turn this into a prayer for others; especially if you don't know how to pray for them. Just say "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on (name of person you want to pray for)."

(3) Watch what you say. Do your best not to lose your temper, and try to avoid saying things that could be hurtful to those around you. Talk to others a little less; talk to God a little more.

(4) Pray for yourself, but also pray for other people. See what is on a friend or neighbor's heart--what they need or what might be troubling them--and pray for that intention. Also take time to thank God in prayer for the many blessings He has bestowed upon you. It might help to write down some of the things you wish to thank God for doing in your life, then include the list in your prayers.

(5) Watch one less tv program each day. Use the extra time to pray, read the Bible, or show compassion to a neighbor.