Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Akathist to the Theotokos

To Thee, the Champion Leader, we Thy servants dedicate a feast of victory and of thanksgiving as ones rescued out of sufferings, O Theotokos: but as Thou art one with might which is invincible, from all dangers that can be do Thou deliver us, that we may cry to Thee: Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride!

Oikos 1

An archangel was sent from Heaven to say to the Theotokos: Rejoice! And beholding Thee, O Lord, taking bodily form, he was amazed and with his bodiless voice he stood crying to Her such things as these:

Rejoice, Thou through whom joy will shine forth: Rejoice, Thou through whom the curse will cease!
Rejoice, recall of fallen Adam: Rejoice, redemption of the tears of Eve!
Rejoice, height inaccessible to human thoughts: Rejoice, depth undiscernible even for the eyes of angels!
Rejoice, for Thou art the throne of the King: Rejoice, for Thou bearest Him Who beareth all!
Rejoice, star that causest the Sun to appear: Rejoice, womb of the Divine Incarnation!
Rejoice, Thou through whom creation is renewed: Rejoice, Thou through whom we worship the Creator!
Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded!

Kontakion 2

Seeing herself to be chaste, the holy one said boldly to Gabriel: The marvel of thy speech is difficult for my soul to accept. How canst thou speak of a birth from a seedless conception? And She cried: Alleluia!

Oikos 2

Seeking to know knowledge that cannot be known, the Virgin cried to the ministering one: Tell me, how can a son be born from a chaste womb? Then he spake to Her in fear, only crying aloud thus:

Rejoice, initiate of God's ineffable will: Rejoice, assurance of those who pray in silence!
Rejoice, beginning of Christ's miracles: Rejoice, crown of His dogmas!
Rejoice, heavenly ladder by which God came down: Rejoice, bridge that conveyest us from earth to Heaven!
Rejoice, wonder of angels sounded abroad: Rejoice, wound of demons bewailed afar!
Rejoice, Thou Who ineffably gavest birth to the Light: Rejoice, Thou Who didst reveal Thy secret to none!
Rejoice, Thou Who surpassest the knowledge of the wise: Rejoice, Thou Who givest light to the minds of the faithful!
Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded!

Kontakion 3

The power of the Most High then overshadowed the Virgin for conception, and showed Her fruitful womb as a sweet meadow to all who wish to reap salvation, as they sing: Alleluia!

Oikos 3

Having received God into Her womb, the Virgin hastened to Elizabeth whose unborn babe at once recognized Her embrace, rejoiced, and with leaps of joy as songs, cried to the Theotokos:

Rejoice, branch of an Unfading Sprout: Rejoice, acquisition of Immortal Fruit!
Rejoice, laborer that laborest for the Lover of mankind: Rejoice, Thou Who givest birth to the Planter of our life!
Rejoice, cornland yielding a rich crop of mercies: Rejoice, table bearing a wealth of forgiveness!
Rejoice, Thou Who makest to bloom the garden of delight: Rejoice, Thou Who preparest a haven for souls!
Rejoice, acceptable incense of intercession: Rejoice, propitiation of all the world!
Rejoice, good will of God to mortals: Rejoice, boldness of mortals before God!
Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded!

Kontakion 4

Having within a tempest of doubting thoughts, the chaste Joseph was troubled. For knowing Thee to have no husband, he suspected a secret union, O blameless one. But having learned that Thy conception was of the Holy Spirit, he said: Alleluia!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Bridegroom

By Alexia Ioannides

“Whatever kind of wife you marry, you will never take a bride like Christ did when He married the Church; you will never marry anyone estranged from you as the Church was from Christ. Despite all this, He did not abhor or hate her for her extraordinary corruption. Do you want her corruption described? Paul says, “For once you were in darkness”. Do you see how black she was? Nothing is blacker than darkness. Think of her shamelessness; she passed her day in malice and envy. Look at her impurity; she was foolish and disobedient. But what am I saying? He sacrificed Himself for her in her corrupted state, as if she were in the bloom of youth, as if she were dearly beloved, and a wonderful beauty.” – Saint John Chrysostom

What is the fundamental nature of the Church? Within various sects of contemporary Christianity, there are those who believe that Christ died for a perfect Bride. Therefore, their speech and actions display a form of self-righteousness, as if to declare their superiority to humanity. For Orthodox Christians, it is essential that we understand the truth of this matter, to identify the proper attitude, which initiates pious conduct. Particularly, humanity is watching us and seeks to imitate a spiritual identity that is worth believing in; not a divided, professed religion that is saturated with hypocrisy.

Saint John Chrysostom, in his 20th Homily on Marriage and Family Life, reiterates a central theme of salvation—Christ died to restore His sickly wife to health. Romans 5:7-8 supports this premise, “Scarcely for a righteous man will one die; perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Since, then, the Church is included with the spiritually ailing, what is the key element that distinguishes us from humanity? It is the Bridegroom’s therapy—the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. He alone is responsible for purging the flaws of His tainted Bride. We are not in charge of creating holiness, for then we would boast in our self-sufficiency. Our duty is to surrender to the purification process, as a wife submits to her husband because she trusts him. Of course, many people struggle with the submission process because they fear exposure of their shame; a by-product of their immoral lifestyle.

Why should we trust the Great Physician to purify and restore us to our original image, despite what our circumstances have defined us as? Simply put, we are His Body. Ephesians 5:28 states, “Husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.” Christ is the ideal husband; naturally He nourishes and esteems His Body. To know our identity in Him eliminates shame because we are His very flesh, partakers of the divine nature. Nevertheless, this knowledge should not inspire arrogance, but humility, realizing that we are washed to be presented to Him, “a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).

An illuminated and deified Bride—this is who the Bridegroom is returning for at His Second Coming. As a man leaves his father, cleaves to his wife, and the two become one flesh, so did Christ leave His Father, to unite with us because He desires a communion of intimacy. He is a jealous God, however, and will not share us with another. He suffered unspeakable horrors to heal a wounded Church, but more importantly, to gain the affection of a faithful Bride. In light of this fervent demonstration of love, we should eagerly await His return. Thus, let the meditations of our heart echo the words of Revelation 22:17, as the Spirit and the Bride say “Come!”

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

St Gregory Palamas:"Most Holy Theotokos Enlighten My Darkness"

The first two years in his monastic habit, St Gregory Palamas spent with fasting, vigil, concentration of the mind and unceasing prayer. In his prayers he always evoke as intercessor the Mother of God and in every occasion he would ask for Her help. Once, when he was still and wholly surrendered to the thought of God, he saw in front of him a very venerable elder (St. John the Theologian). Turning at him with a gentle look, the elder said: “I came my child, sent by the Most Holy and Queen of all to ask you, why every hour, day and night, you cry to God ‘…enlighten my darkness, enlighten my darkness …?” In reply, Gregory said: “And what else shall I ask, me who am full of passion and sin, but to be shown mercy and be enlighten to see and do the Will of God?” Then the Evangelist told him: “The Mistress of all - through me, her servant - commands that I should be your helper.” Then Gregory asked him: “When will the mother of my Lord help me, now or after death?” “Now and at the future life”, said the Theologian and disappeared, filling the heart of Gregory with unspeakable joy in regard to the promises of the mother of God.

The Prayer of Manasses, King of Judah

0 Lord, Almighty, the God of our Fathers, of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and of their righteous seed; who created the heaven and the earth with all their adornment; who bound the sea by the word of your command; who shut up the abyss and scaled it;with your awesome and glorious name; whom all things dread and before whose power they tremble, because the majesty of your glory is unbearable and the threat of your anger against the sinners unendurable; yet the mercy of your promise is both, immeasurable and unfathomable, for you are the Lord most high, compassionate, long-suffering and all;merciful, and relent on the wickedness of man.

You, Lord, in the multitude of your goodness promised repentance and forgiveness to those who have sinned against you, and in your infinite compassion appointed repentance for sinners that they may be saved. Therefore, Lord, the God of the powers, you have not appointed repentance for the righteous, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who have not sinned against you, but you appointed repentance for me the sinner, for I have committed more sins than the grains of the sand of the sea. My transgressions have multiplied, Lord; my transgressions have multiplied, and I am not worthy to look up and see the height of the sky from the multitude of my iniquities, being weighted down by many iron chains, so that I cannot raise my head; there is no respite left for me because I provoked your anger and committed evil before you not having done your will and not having kept your commandments. And now I bend the knee of my heart, beseeching your goodness. I have sinned, Lord, I have sinned and I acknowledge my transgressions; but I beg and ask of you: Forgive me, Lord, forgive me and do not destroy me with my transgressions; do not be angry with me forever and keep my evils in me, and do not condemn me to the depths of the earth; for you are God, the God of those who repent, and in me you shall show all your goodness; for even though I am unworthy, you shall save me according to the multitude of your mercy, and I shall praise you without ceasing all the days of my life. For every heavenly power sings your praises, and yours is the glory unto the ages of ages.

Synodikon of Orthodoxy

By Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos

Anyone who reads the “Synodikon of Orthodoxy” will discover at once that, on the one hand, the heretics are anathematised and on the other hand the holy Fathers and confessors are acclaimed. For the former those present proclaim “anathema” three times, for the latter the people proclaim “eternal memory” three times at each proposal.

Some people are scandalised when they see and hear such action, particularly when they hear “anathema”. They consider it very harsh and say that the spirit of hatred of other doctrines which the Orthodox Church has is being expressed in this way.

But the facts are not interpreted in this way. The anathemas cannot be regarded as philosophical ideas and as states of hatred for other doctrines, but as medical actions. First of all the heretics by the choice which they have made have ended in heresy and in their departing from the teaching of the Church. By using philosophy they have opposed themselves to theology and the Revelation. In this way they demonstrate that they are ill and in reality are cut off from the Church. Then excommunication has the meaning of showing the separation of the heretic from the Church. The holy Fathers by this action of theirs confirm the already existing condition, and besides this, they help the Christians to protect themselves from the heresy-illness.

There is a characteristic extract from the records of the Fourth congress of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. It says there that the holy Fathers fulfil the word of Christ, in order to set the lamp of divine knowledge “on the lampstand” to shine on all those in the house and not to hide it from them “under a bushel”. In this way those who confess the Lord are helped to travel unimpeded the path of salvation. The holy Fathers “push away every error of heretics, and if the rotten limb is incurable they cut it off; and possessing the shovel, they cleanse the threshing-floor; and the grain, or the nourishing word, that which supports the heart of man, they store up in the warehouse of the Catholic Church, but the chaff of the heretical wrong teaching they throw out and burn in unquenchable fire”.

Thus the heretics are incurably rotten limbs of the Church and are therefore cut off from the Body of the Church. The heretics must be examined in this light. In this way one can see the Church’s love for mankind. For, as we have emphasised elsewhere as well, when someone employs erroneous medical teaching, there are no therapeutic results, one can never achieve the cure. The same is true with the doctrines or the erroneous teaching. An erroneous teaching which is based on a wrong methodology can never lead man to deification.

It is in this light that we must examine the fact that the anathemas as well as the acclamations are referred to particular persons, because these particular persons are the ones who shape these teachings and as a result win adherents. And indeed it is characteristic that dreadful epithets are used for the heretics. We must add that the awful epithets which are used must not be examined in a moral sense, but in a theological sense, for many of the leaders of heresies were “moral” men. In what follows I would like to look at a few such epithets and some very indicative characterisations.

The iconoclasts who inveighed against the holy icons are called in the “Synodikon of Orthodoxy” “damaging” to the glory of God, “venturers against the icon and insolent, cowardly and fleeing”. Those who started the heresy of iconoclasm, in the time of the Isaurians were called “sacrilegious and leaders of perdition”. The Gerontios is anathematised for “the poison of its abominable heresy... with its perverse dogmas”. Heresy is an illness and the heretical dogmatic belief is perverse, because it twists the truth of the revelation of the Church. Anathema is given to “the raging gathering against the venerable Icons”.

As we said, all the heretics are mentioned in the “Synodikon of Orthodoxy”. By this it seems, on the one hand, that all the heretics used the same method and in essence coincide with one another, and on the other hand, that both the Seventh Ecumenical Council and what is taken to be the Ninth Ecumenical Council regard themselves as expressing the Church and as a continuation of the earlier Ecumenical Councils. Arios is called a fighter against God and ringleader of the heresies, Peter the Purifier is called mad. The same characterisation “mad” is used of many heretics. Of course they are called mad not in a biological sense, but first and foremost in the theological sense. Barlaam, Akindynos, leaders of the anti-hesychastic teachings and all their followers are called an evil gang. By contrast, for the defenders of the orthodox teachings such adjectives as devout, most holy, and unforgettable are used.

Heresy reverses the true way of man’s cure for reaching deification. If we think that purification of the heart, illumination of the nous is therapy in order for man to take the path to deification, then we understand that heresy reverses this way and leaves man permanently without a cure, without hope of cure and salvation.

[It is sorrowful that the Synodikon of Orthodoxy is frequently not read in many Orthodox Churches today. Often out fear of offending when pronouncing "Anathema" or in a suppossed--but false--"spirit of tolerance", many Orthodox parishes in North America consciously omit its reading. This is mainly because they are using secular criteria to judge spiritual matters. As medical science cannot condone unscientific methods, so too the Church cannot condone teachings that oppose the tradition of the apostles, prophets, and inspired fathers and must set deviating doctrines beyond the bounds of its flock (=anathema: to set something outside a boundary).]

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Great Compline

One of the characteristic services of the Great Lent is the Great Compline. The Great Compline is made up of ten of readings from the Psalms interspersed with chants, troparia, and prayers from saints of Church and the Old Testament followed by the lesser Doxology. The most characteristic chant is "God is with us" or Μεθ᾽ ἡμῶν ὁ Θεός which comes from Isaiah 9.

God is with us, know it you nations and be submissive,
For God is with us.

Hear it to the ends of the earth.
For God is with us.

You mighty shall be defeated.
For God is with us.

Even if you should prevail, again you will be defeated,
For God is with us.

Whatever plan you conceive, the Lord will destroy,
For God is with us.

Whatever word you shall speak shall not abide among you,
For God is with us.

Your terror we shall never fear, nor be disturbed by it,
For God is with us.

The Lord, our God, him shall we bless, and only him do we fear.
For God is with us.

And if I trust in him, it shall be a blessing to me,
For God is with us.

And I shall trust in him, and shall, be saved by him,
For God is with us.

Lo, I and the children which God has given to me,
For God is with us.

The people that walked in darkness saw a great light,
For God is with us.

Upon us, who dwell in the land of the shadow of death, a light shall shine,
For God is with us.

For a Child was born unto us, a Son, and was given to us,
For God is with us.

Whose government is upon his shoulder,
For God is with us.

And of his peace, there shall be no boundary,
For God is with us.

And his name shall be called: Messenger of the Divine Will,
For God is with us.

Wonderful Counselor,
For God is with us.

Mighty God, Master, Prince of Peace,
For God is with us.

Father of the age to come,
For God is with us.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
For God is with us.

Now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
For God is with us.

The two choruses together, slowly:

God is with us, know it you nations and be submissive,
For God is with us.