Nativity Fast

Today we begin our “Winter Lent”, the Nativity Fast of the Orthodox Church. For the next forty days we will begin to prepare ourselves again for the coming of Christ into the world. There is something unique about today, however, that maybe you missed, and that is, that there is nothing particularly unique or remarkable about today. Nothing happens. We have not liturgically set apart the day as a beginning of something. It simply arrives, quietly and without fanfare. There are no “Forgiveness Vespers” or themes for each Sunday leading up to the fast as there are in Great Lent. We simply begin the fast.

In much the same way, Christ simply and quietly was born into the world. It was a “mystery hidden from all eternity, unknown even by angels.” God came and was with us. He hid himself from our expectations. He chose the foolish ways, the obscurity, the humble places to reveal himself. And so today, without any great to-do, we simply and quietly begin awakening our hearts and our minds once again through the practices of prayer, fasting, charity, and the reading of Scripture.

May our Lord bless you this season and count you worthy to arrive at the cave and proclaim with all the Church, “Christ is born!”

“Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:2-3

If There Really Were A God

Here is a link to Fr. Stephen Freeman’s blog “Glory to God for All Things”. This particular blog resonates deeply with me and I hope it does for you as well.

“At the Cross, evil appeared to triumph. Christ’s refusal to defend Himself must have completely bewildered His disciples. But only in that seeming defeat is the final truth of who God is revealed. You cannot know the crucified Christ if you refuse to be crucified with Him. If you are afraid to lose, then you will never win – at least not the only victory that matters.

I remember that during a terrible storm, Jesus was asleep in the back of the boat. “My Lord! Don’t you care if we perish?”

Jesus has been asleep in the back of the boat for a very long time. But the winds and the seas obey Him. If you believe in Him, you can occasionally get a good night’s sleep as well.

Believe in God. Turn the world over to him and get some peace. Everything else is idolatry.”

Graceful Speech

From our patron:

“A Christian must be courteous to all. His words and deeds should breath with the grace of the Holy Spirit, which abides in his soul, so that in this way he might glorify the name of God. He who regulates all of his speech also regulates all of his actions. He who keeps watch over the words he is about say also keeps watch over the deeds he intends to do, and he never goes out of the bounds good and benevolent conduct. The graceful speech of a Christian is characterized by delicateness and politeness. This fact, born of love, produces peace and joy. On the other hand, boorishness gives birth to hatred, enmity, affliction, competitiveness, disorder and wars.”

(St. Nektarios of Aegina, The Path to Happiness, 7)

Information on the Re-Interment of +Archbishop Dmitri

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Faithful of the Diocese of the South,

Christ is in our midst!
On March 4 and 5, 2016, with the blessing of His Beatitude, Metropolitan TIKHON, we will re-inter the late Archbishop Dmitri in the new Memorial Chapel at St Seraphim Cathedral in Dallas. The services will coincide with the Saturday for the Commemoration of the Reposed that precedes the Sunday of the Last Judgment.

On Friday afternoon the body of Archbishop Dmitri will be brought from Restland Cemetery to be greeted at St Seraphim Cathedral by clergy and faithful. His Beatitude, Metropolitan TIKHON will preside. The new coffin in which the Archbishop will be placed will be brought into the Memorial Chapel above the prepared crypt. He will lie in state in a sealed coffin during the Vespers of Friday. Vespers will begin at 6:30 PM on Friday evening, March 4, 2016. Friday evening both clergy and faithful will have the opportunity to pray in the Memorial Chapel and read the Holy Scriptures.

In the morning His Beatitude, Metropolitan TIKHON will preside at the Divine Liturgy in the Cathedral. The Divine Liturgy will begin at 9:30 AM on Saturday morning, March 5, 2016. Following the Divine Liturgy a Panikhida will be served, after which we will solemnly lower the coffin containing the body of Archbishop Dmitri into his final earthly resting place. This re-interment will conclude with the placing of prepared marble tiles over the crypt.

Texas-style hospitality will follow the festivities on Saturday.

In Christ,
Archimandrite Gerasim

Hotel reservations: http://hiltongardeninn.hilton.com/en/gi/groups/personalized/D/DALMAGI-SERA-20160303/index.jhtml?WT.mc_id=POG

Group Name: St. Seraphim Cathedral
Group Code: SERA
Check-in: 03-MAR-2016
Check-out: 07-MAR-2016
Hotel Name: Hilton Garden Inn Dallas/Market Center
Hotel Address: 2325 North Stemmons Freeway
Dallas, Texas
75207
Phone Number: 2146348200

Shock and Dismay

Here is a brief reflection by Sister Vassa Larin. May it help guide our thoughts during this Nativity Season.

SHOCK & DISMAY

(Saturday, November 28)

“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and not wanting to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.” (Mt 1: 18-19)

As I prepare for the upcoming feast of the Lord’s Nativity, let me reflect a bit on Joseph’s surprisingly “quiet” reaction to Mary’s as yet unexplained pregnancy. We see no shock or dismay in this righteous man, who was confronted with a situation that, – let’s say it like it is, – looked very, very bad. And yet all Joseph wanted to do in this situation was: 1. protect Her from public disgrace, and 2. dismiss Her “quietly.”

So this is a “righteous” reaction to the perceived sin of another human being. Today let me gratefully contemplate Joseph’s humble and quiet discretion, lest I be tempted to display shock and dismay at any perceived amorality or sinful behaviour in my surroundings. My shock and my dismay is neither righteous nor helpful. In fact, when I am judgmental I become utterly incapable of being helpful; when I try to play God’s role of Judge, I close myself off from His grace-filled mercy. I also display an infantile lack of self-knowledge, but I’ll elaborate on that point some other time.

During this Nativity Fast let me abstain from shock and dismay, that I can make my journey toward Bethlehem with a proper focus. Let me “make straight the paths of the Lord” in my own heart, that I may greet Him in the same way He is born, in quietness and humility.

Liturgy in the New Testament Church

Liturgy in the New Testament Church from The Orthodox Study Bible

“Virtually all students of the Bible realize there was liturgical worship in Israel. Immediately after the giving of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1-17), instructions for building the altar were set forth (Ex. 20:24-26). Then comes instruction concerning keeping the Sabbath (Ex. 23:10-13), the annual feasts (Ex. 23:14-19) and the various offerings and furnishings in the sanctuary (Ex. 25:1-40). Following this, chapters 26-30 deal with such matters as the design of the tabernacle, the altar, and the outer court, the priests’ vestments and their consecration, and instructions for daily offerings.

Liturgical worship is also found in heaven, which is to be expected, since God instructed Moses to make the earthly place of worship as a “copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Heb. 8:5; see Ex. 25:40). Heavenly worship is revealed in such passages as Isaiah 6:1-8, where we see the prophet caught up to heaven for the liturgy, and Revelation 4, which records the apostle John’s vision of heaven’s liturgy.

The key to comprehending liturgy in the New Testament is to understand the work of the High Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ, who inaugurates the new covenant. Christ is a “priest forever” (Heb. 7:17, 21). It is unthinkable that He would be a priest but not serve liturgically: “forever” suggests He serves continually, without ceasing, in the heavenly tabernacle. Further, He is called not only a priest but a liturgist: “ a Minister [Gr. leitourgos, lit. “liturgist”) of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected” (Heb 8:2). Christian worship on earth, to be fully Christian, must mirror the worship of Christ in heaven.

Moreover, Christ is “Mediator of a better covenant” (Heb 8:6). What is that covenant? In the words of the Lord, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood” (1 Cor 11:25). Just as the blood of bulls and goats in the Old covenant prefigured Christ’s sacrifice to come, so the eucharistic feast brings to us the fullness of His new covenant offering, completed at the Cross and fulfilled in His Resurrection. This once for all offering of Himself (Heb.7:27) which He as High Priest presents at the heavenly altar is an offering in which we participate through the Divine Liturgy in the Church. This is the worship of the New Testament Church!

Given this biblical background, a number of New Testament passages take on new meaning.

1. Acts 13:2 “As they ministered to the Lord [lit., “as they were in the liturgy of the Lord”] and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul.’” We learn that (a) these two apostles were called by God during worship, and (b) the Holy Spirit speaks in a liturgical setting.
2. Acts 20:7 “Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them.” Communion was held each Sunday.
3. Romans 16:16 “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” A kiss of greeting was common in this ancient culture. The “holy kiss,” however, was an element of the Christian liturgy that signified the people of God were reconciled to one another, so that they might receive the Body and Blood of Christ in peace.
4. Ephesians 5:14 “Awake, you who sleep, /Arise from the dead,/ And Christ will give you light.” This is an ancient baptismal hymn, already in use by the time Ephesians was written. Other examples of creeds and hymns of New Testament times are seen in 1 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Timothy 2:11-13.
5. Hebrews 13:10 “We have an altar” reveals the continuation of the altar in New Testament worship.
6. Revelation 1:10: “I was in the Spirit of the Lord’s Day.” Many scholars believe John saw his vision of Christ during the Sunday liturgy, as the Lord appeared to him “in the midst of the seven lampstands” (Rev. 1:13). Lampstands would be found in the Christian sanctuary just as they were in the Hebrew temple.”

On the Sunday of the Blind Man

“If only we could realize how blind we are! If only we could realize that our knowledge of life, not only eternal, divine life, but earthly life, depends almost entirely on hearsay, that the life around us is dim and ghostly because we are blind, or see things in a mist. If only we could remember what the Savior tells us about the beauty and the glory of both eternal and earthly life and not be satisfied with our blindness, how earnestly would we try to detain Christ, so that He might pierce us with His gaze and speak His sovereign, healing, life-giving word to us. Then indeed we might see the astonishing beauty of Christ’s face, the fathomless beauty of the divine gaze resting upon us with mercy and compassion and tenderness. We use our eyes so easily, but we see little, and that superficially. Let us seek the vision that can be ours only, when our hearts become bright and pure. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” -Metropolitan Anthony Bloom on the healing of the blind man