Ten Things for Holy Week

Sermon, Fifth Sunday of Lent 2015 (St Mary of Egypt)
Mark 10:32-45

This morning, James and John desire to be seated with Christ in His Glory. And our Lord, to test them, asks whether they are able to drink the cup that He drinks, and to be baptized with the baptism with which He is baptized. James and John answer, “We are able!” The response from Jesus, in a nutshell, is: be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

palm sunday vigil outsideToday is the last Sunday of Great Lent, and on Friday evening just five days from now, we will begin the celebration of Holy Week. Friday evening will open a ten day long procession to the cross, to the tomb, and to the resurrection.

And as we get ready, our Lord extends the same invitation to us as He extended to James and John. To all of us who wish to see His glory, who desire to be by His side at Pascha, Jesus first says to you and to me, “but are you able and willing to drink the cup that I drink from? Are you able to walk with me through Holy Week? Are you willing to be by my side, and to carry my cross with me?”

I hope your answer is yes. I hope that Pascha is not just a Sunday on which we show up, having given no thought to Christ on the days of Holy Week.

To help us prepare — to help us take up and drink from the Lord’s same cup — I wanted to share a list of 10 things to do during Holy Week. These are ten recommendations for how to be baptized with the same baptism with which our Lord is baptized.

(1) Go to as many services as you can. We offer a large number. Usually, at least two each day. And if you can’t go to every service, set aside time to read prayerfully through those you cannot attend. It is through worship that we return and unite ourselves to Christ. The services of Holy Week are not just memory exercises. Holy Week is a single unbroken Liturgy that over ten days invites us to participate in the saving love of Jesus Christ, not to just remember some events from long ago. The love which Jesus shows is real, it is now, and we are invited through worship to receive it.

Does it seem unreasonable to attend Church so much in a single week? Of course it does! But Christ’s love for us is extreme and intense. And so we return that love during Holy Week in a way that is beyond reason!

(2) Intensify your fasting. Each person is called to fast as he or she is able. Some are able to fast more, some less. During Holy week, each of us should increase the intensity of the fast. Think about how you have followed the fast up to this point. During Holy Week, continue what you do, and then do a little bit more. Do you fast just a few days a week? Increase the number of your fasting days. Are you fasting from meat only? Consider fasting from dairy as well. Consider eating smaller meals each time. For some, it may be possible to eat only two small meals a day rather than three. Holy Week is a time in which we should increase our hunger for Christ, and physical hunger is one way to do so. Physical hunger reminds us that we need what God offers, and fasting helps us to focus on the love of Christ. Fasting is hard, but remember the good gift which waits for us at the Paschal Liturgy of the Resurrection — the good gift of Christ Himself!

Bridegroom in Chapel(3) Create silence. Disconnect entirely from your cell phone, email, internet usage and especially social media. (If any of this is needed for work or school, designate a window of usage of no more than a few hours.) Do not watch TV, or listen to the radio. Cancel all lessons, sports, and social activities. It’s only for one week. The world will still be there after Pascha. When we create silence in this way, we give ourselves the space and opportunity to be drawn by Christ more deeply into His words and actions during Holy Week. We remove some of the man-made barriers that separate us from “drinking from his cup” (Mark 10:38). And if we do not create silence, then the noise of this world will easily overwhelm the “still small voice” through which the Holy Spirit speaks (1 Kings 19:12). To hear the voice of Christ, we have to silence the relentless cascade of screed and distraction we otherwise allow the world to pump full force into our hearts and minds.

(4) Create prayer. Turn on some church music. In particular, listen to the hymns of Holy Week. And learn something about each hymn you hear: On what day do we sing this hymn? During which service? What is the place and purpose of this hymn? The hymns of Passion Week create holy echoes that help to connect our worship with the rest of daily life. Singing “Behold the Bridegroom” at the services which begin Holy Week is good, but hearing and singing the same hymn while driving, walking, or cleaning the house is even better. Doing so, we allow the prayer of the Church to become the prayer of everyday life.

(5) Be still. Set aside time each day to sit quietly in front of an icon of Christ, about 20-30 minutes. Light a candle, say a short prayer, and then simply wait in silence for the Lord to speak a word, or to bestow a deeper sense of His presence. Being silent is a way of saying to God, “I am here. And I wait on no other than You. Visit me in my smallness.” Stillness during Holy Week is a good practice for the experience of Great and Holy Friday and Saturday. The most eloquent word ever spoken is the silence of our dead Savior while hanging on the cross, and while lying in the tomb. His silence says everything. The stillness of His death is the great action that redeems and sanctifies all the world. His silence on the cross shouts down hell. His stillness in the tomb explodes the realm of the dead and bestows life on all. When we practice stillness and silence during Holy Week, we are preparing to unite our silence to Christ’s. We are preparing to die with our Savior … so that we too might be raised to new life!

(6) Always be with Christ (as Fr +Tom Hopko reminds us). Occupy your mind as often as you can with a short prayer. If you do not already have the habit of praying the Jesus Prayer, Holy Week is a great time to begin: “O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” This prayer increases our awareness of the nearness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It reminds us that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God. Christ is always with us, and through continual prayer, we work to do the same — to always be with our Lord who loves and strengthens us.

(7) Read a Gospel. Set aside time each day to read several chapters from either Matthew, Mark, or Luke. (We save John for after Pascha!) And remember that in the Gospels, we do not find words about Christ, we find words from Christ. Each verse of Holy Scripture is a word spoken directly to you by the raised and glorified Lord. Each word is a word for now, each word is a new word that you have never received before. Enjoy the gift! Jesus wants to give it to you!

plaschanitsa closeup(8) Seek forgiveness and healing. Chances are, each of us has at least a small handful of relationships in need of healing. During Holy Week, work for that healing. Admit your mistakes, and forgive the mistakes made by others. Offer yourself in love to at least one other person from whom you are estranged. Make a phone call, send a letter or email — you have a blessing to use email in this one case! — or schedule a coffee date. Remember how much you love this person, and remember that we were created to live in peace and joy with one another. Christ’s love for us is ENORMOUS compare to pettiness we so often hold on to. And if you have been deeply harmed by another person, seek help! Reach out to someone — your spouse, another family member or friend, your priest — and ask for guidance. Search through prayer, fasting, and honest communication for a way forward. As they say, holding onto anger (or hatred, or resentment, or vengefulness) is like swallowing poison and expecting someone else to die. Seek release from what possesses. Enjoy the lightness of a relationship that has been healed and restored.

(9) Call someone who is sick or lonely. Visit them if you can. Share yourself with someone who needs you. Our parishes, and our neighborhoods, are filled with people who are dying of loneliness and isolation. Extend yourself and give them the gift of human presence. One of the great themes of Holy Week is abandonment — how our Lord was abandoned by just about everyone, including it seems by His own Father. As we seek to unite ourselves to Christ through prayer and worship during Holy Week, may we not at the same time abandon those who need us. To be united to Christ, we must at the same time strengthen our solidarity with all those around us. We are part of the mystical body of Christ, and we are called to a life of unity and communion with one another.

Chapel pascha fishbowl(10) Think about Bright Week and beyond! With Pascha comes the true light that enlightens the whole world and each person in it. As we unite ourselves to Christ, the radiance of the Resurrection changes everything. The week after Pascha is truly a Bright Week — the Resurrection colors all with brilliance and beauty. Nothing should ever be the same. Let this Holy Week be a launching pad into the rest of life. Having united ourselves to Christ in both death and resurrection — having lived out our baptism through the celebration of Holy Week — we should get ready to proclaim the good news in all that we do. May we remember that every Sunday is a “little Pascha” and that each time we gather to celebrate the Liturgy we proclaim Christ’s death and we confess His resurrection. And if every Sunday is a little Pascha, then every week is a little Holy Week. Each day of the year is a day on which we give thanks for the Holy Mysteries we last received, and look forward to being received by Christ once again at the life-giving chalice. Holy Week and Pascha occur once a year, but they are the rule, not the exception. Holy Week and Pascha are the models for every week of the year. Jesus Christ touches all of time through the Cross, and all of time collapses into the eternal now of His divine love. May we live all of life in the light of the Resurrection!

 

The Rev. Theophan Whitfield (SVOTS ’10) is the rector of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Salem, Massachusetts. Father Theophan had been a teacher for fifteen years at independent schools, first in New York City and later in Connecticut, prior to pursuing studies at St. Vladimir’s. He and his wife, Matushka Manna, have three daughters: Ayame, Miya, and Emi.

Photos: Leanne Parrott Photography

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Holy Saturday: Baptism and the Great Commission

Baptism is Christian initiation. The goal of this process and its culminating rite is not some individualized, purely personal experience. The goal of baptism is initiation into a community of faith, a church. It is entrance into a way of life together, not a rite to do something to or for an individual in private. It asserts from its beginning that to be a follower of Christ means to be grafted into the Body of Christ. There is no Christian without church, no faith outside the community of faith.

Christian initiation and its attendant rite of baptism is the proper and primary business of the church. The church has been told to make disciples by “baptizing and teaching” (Matt 28:19-20). Our major work is the evangelistic business of claiming people for the Kingdom and fitting them for life in that Kingdom. Baptism is that rich, multi-faceted, complex way of engaging the body, head, and heart in that strange and glorious work of claiming, instructing, washing, anointing, blessing, and receiving people for the Kingdom.[1]

These words, written over thirty years ago by a Duke Divinity School professor, did as much to inform my theology of baptism as any other words I have read, either while in or after leaving seminary. In truth these two paragraphs stand as the foundation for my own theology of mission. The Orthodox Church is in the business of making converts. The Great Commission, given by our Lord in the closing words of Matthew’s Gospel, is not an option. Archbishop Anastasios of Albania has stated two remarkable things concerning evangelization: “A Church without mission is a contradiction in terms,” and “Indifference to mission is a negation of Orthodoxy.”[2] I would expand this by saying: “A Christian not engaged in mission is simply not a Christian.”

I am one of those people who are Orthodox by conviction. Like thousands of others in recent years, I made a choice to enter the Holy Orthodox Church, not counting the cost and believing that I had found the “pearl of great price” (Matt 13:46). I have not changed my belief that I was uniting myself to the Church of the Apostles. What I have done is matured in my Orthodoxy, to the point where I can now clearly see the need to rediscover, in most of the Orthodox Christian world, a new zeal for making the Great Commission central, once again, in our common life.

For too many in Orthodoxy, words like “evangelism” and “outreach” are not claimed as our own and are given over to others. This sad fact keeps the “Pearl of Great Price” hidden in ghetto worlds where cultural preservation and so called “ethnic pride” is substituted for the “Gospel Truth.” All too easily our faith communities have created a surrogate gospel supported by surrogate ministries that betray our baptismal identities as Orthodox Christians.

If we accept the dominical charge that we are to “go forth” to all nations, we will do well once again to consider the scripture readings and homilies on the Sundays of Great Lent: they are directed to those who are “preparing for holy illumination.” This is true even in parishes where there are no candidates for baptism being prepared. The Church is catholic and throughout the world we find catechumens seeking to be united to Christ and His Church. Great Lent is the baptismal season of the ecclesiastical year, and preaching must stir this memory and fill the faithful with zeal to share the treasure of their faith. The faithful are also called to listen closely to the prayers offered in the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts and to “pray for these brethren who are preparing for holy illumination and for their salvation.”

The blessing of hearing and preaching directed to those preparing to enter the Church through baptism, chrismation, and Eucharist triggers the rediscovery of our own baptismal identity. We are called to once again recognize that having been united to Christ and to one another in Christ, we are His Body. We have been sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and we recall that this is not merely a past event, a static reality, but a “stream of living water” (John 7:38).

By privatizing the rite of holy baptism, we have separated the corporate nature of the mystery from the very people who are called to nurture the newly baptized. We have turned baptism into something precious for infants, and we have forgotten the radical nature of what it means to “put on Christ.” The gospel is not only a belief, but a way of life, and, in this life, our values—the values of the Kingdom—often find us at odds with the beliefs, values, and way of life accepted by the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age, which is passing and is not eternal.

If Orthodox Christians are once again to proclaim the glad tidings with boldness, we will need to restore the centrality of The Great Commission. We will need to bring ourselves to a fresh response to the New Testament teaching that we did not choose God but he chose us (John 15:16). We are his hands, feet, and voice in this present world. Life in the Kingdom involves our synergia in response to the love offering from God. We are invited to a conversion. We must become as little children to enter the Kingdom (Matt 18:3).

Many years ago I read a book written by Archbishop Joost de Blank of Cape Town titled This is Conversion.[3] I have never forgotten how convicted I was, to use an evangelical term, of just how radical true conversion is. Try turning the other cheek when struck and you will know exactly what I mean. To go down into the watery grave of holy baptism is to rise to a radical, new way of life. Is this not why Jesus says: “If you have ears to hear, then hear”? (Rev 13:9). To hear the Beatitudes is easy but to live the Beatitudes is radical to the extreme!

This radical conversion and way of life that Christians willingly embrace are exactly what preachers are called to proclaim and to make clear to those who seek to fully unite themselves to Christ. To be signed and sealed with the sign of the cross is to be marked as a Christian, and, come the dread day of judgment, an account must be given from one so marked. This is why a lukewarm faith—an anemic response to the great gift given in holy baptism—is so deadly. This is true for us as individual Christians and corporately as the Church. A Christian not engaged in evangelism is simply not a Christian!

We who are members of the Orthodox Church make the audacious claim to have “put on Christ” and to possess “right faith and right worship.” This is why we must be very conscious of our Lord’s words as we live our lives as baptized Christians: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin” (John 15:22).

I have been told, but I don’t know the source, that Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann was once asked what the Orthodox Church needed in order to experience a revival. He responded: “Nothing, as we have everything we needed. All we must do is begin to use what we already possess.” We have many positive signs that a recovery of the centrality of The Great Commission is underway. Many parishes have not only restored the prayers of the catechumenate, but they also have catechumens preparing for baptism and reception into the Church.

This year, as you celebrate the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great on the morning of Holy Saturday, be aware this is the traditional time to baptize those whom we have been praying for throughout the Great Fast. The Old Testament readings from Genesis, Jonah, and Daniel are intended to be read at the actual time of holy baptism for the catechumens. They prepare us to hear St. Paul addressing the Church at Rome with these words:

Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 6:3-11)

Matthew 28:1-20 soon follows this epistle reading. The Great Commission in the gospel reading is placed at the center of the initiation rites for the newly baptized to hear and for the faithful also to hear, helping them to remember their own baptism and to give thanks to God for the gift of eternal life.

 

Archpriest Chad Hatfield became the first Chancellor of St. Vladimir’s Seminary in 2007. He previously served as dean of St. Herman Seminary, Kodiak, Alaska, and was founding priest of All Saints Orthodox Church, Salina, Kansas and St. Mary Magdalene Mission, Manhattan, Kansas. Before converting to the Orthodox Christian faith, he and his family were missionaries in South Africa. Currently, he is developing a missiology component in St. Vladimir’s Curriculum. He earned M.Div. and S.T.M. degrees from Nashotah House Seminary, which also granted him a Doctor of Divinity honoris causa in 2008.


[1] William H. Willimon, Remember Who You Are: Baptism, a Model for Christian Life (Nashville, TN: The Upper Room, 1980), 22-23.

[2] Luke Veronis, Go Forth, from the Foreward (Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, 2009), 10.

[3] (New York: Morehouse-Gorhma Co.), 1958.

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“My only desire is to cling to God”

Monk and sunbeamStripped of all knowledge, lacking in every good thought or deed, without memory from the past or wish for the future, as useless as a worn-out rag, unfeeling as a stone in the path, corroded as a worm-eaten mushroom in the woods, mortal as a fish on the shore and grieved to tears over this wretched plight of yours, thus you will stand in prayer before the Almighty, your judge and Creator and Father, your Saviour and Master, the Spirit of Truth and Giver of Life; and like the Prodigal Son you will stammer out of the depths of your impotency: Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son (Luke 15:21). Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

You know your impotence and let yourself lie like a grain of dust before the Almighty, and out of your wretchedness grows love to your fellow men as those created by the Lord and aglow with Him. He in His unfathomable being takes notice of them; it is enough for you to offer everything for them.

The strange thing has now come to pass that the deeper you pressed into your own heart, the farther and higher you climbed out of yourself. The outward conditions of your life are the same: you wash dishes and care for the children, you go to work, draw your salary and pay your taxes. You do everything pertaining to your external life as a person in a society, since there is no chance of leaving it. But you have resigned yourself. You have given away one thing in order to receive another.

Icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent (St Catherine's Monastery, 12th c.). St John Climacus is shown at the top of the ladder.

Icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent (St Catherine’s Monastery, 12th c.). St John Climacus is shown at the top of the ladder.

… And if I have Thee, what more do I ask on earth? Nothing, answers St. John Climacus, but ceaselessly praying, silently to cling to Thee. Some are enslaved by riches, others by honour, still others by acquiring possessions; my only desire is to cling to God.

Prayer, with all it contains of self-renunciation, has become your real life, which you keep up as though only for the sake of prayer. Walking with God (Genesis 6:9) is from now on the only thing that has real value for you, and it includes all heavenly and earthly events. For him who bears Christ within himself there is neither death nor illness or any earthly clamour; he has already stepped into eternal life, and that embraces everything.

Night and day the heavenly seed sprouts in your heart and grows, you know not how. The earth produces of itself, your heart’s soil, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear (Mark 4:27-8).

The saints speak of something they call the inextinguishable light. It is a light not of the eye but of the heart that never ceases to walk in purity and clearness. It swiftly leaves the darkness behind, and constantly strives towards the day’s height. Its constant quality is to be continually purified. This is the light of eternity that can never go out, and that shines through the veil of time and matter. But the saints never say that this light is given to them, but that it is given only to those who have purified their hearts in love for the Lord, on the narrow way which they have freely chosen.

The narrow way has no end: its quality is eternity. There every moment is a moment of beginning—the present includes the future: the day of judgment; the present includes the past: creation; for Christ is timelessly present everywhere, both in hell and in heaven. With the coming of the One, plurality disappears, even in time and space. Everything happens simultaneously, now and here and everywhere, in the depths of your heart. There you meet what you sought: the depth and height and breadth of the Cross: the Saviour and salvation.

Therefore, if you wish to save your soul and win eternal life, arise moment by moment from your dullness, bless yourself with the sign of the Cross and say: Let me, Lord, make a good beginning, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Way of the Ascetics (SVS Press)

Way of the Ascetics (SVS Press)

This excerpt is from the final chapter of Way of the Ascetics by Tito Colliander (SVS Press).

“Drawing on collected sayings of the holy men of the East, he presents, for the Western reader, something of the atmosphere of Orthodox spirituality. For Orthodoxy is not primarily a system or a correctness of doctrinal formulations. Doxa means glory. Orthodoxy is therefore concerned with the ‘right glory,’ and it is therefore rooted in the sense of theology as inseparable from human transformation. The purpose of theology is nothing less than the transfiguring of human life ‘from glory to glory’ (2 Cor 3:18)” (from the introduction).

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55 Maxims of the Christian Life

svs 791.preview

  1. Be always with Christ and trust God in everything.
  2. Pray as you can, not as you think you must.
  3. Have a keepable rule of prayer done by discipline.
  4. Say the Lord’s Prayer several times each day.
  5. Repeat a short prayer when your mind is not occupied.
  6. Make some prostrations when you pray.
  7. Eat good foods in moderation and fast on fasting days.
  8. Practice silence, inner and outer.
  9. Sit in silence 20 to 30 minutes each day.
  10. Do acts of mercy in secret.
  11. Go to liturgical services regularly.
  12. Go to confession and holy communion regularly.
  13. Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings.
  14. Reveal all your thoughts and feelings to a trusted person regularly.
  15. Read the scriptures regularly.
  16. Read good books, a little at a time.
  17. Cultivate communion with the saints.
  18. Be an ordinary person, one of the human race.
  19. Be polite with everyone, first of all family members.
  20. Maintain cleanliness and order in your home.
  21. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
  22. Exercise regularly.
  23. Live a day, even a part of a day, at a time.
  24. Be totally honest, first of all with yourself.
  25. Be faithful in little things.
  26. Do your work, then forget it.
  27. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
  28. Face reality.
  29. Be grateful.
  30. Be cheerful.
  31. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
  32. Never bring attention to yourself.
  33. Listen when people talk to you.
  34. Be awake and attentive, fully present where you are.
  35. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
  36. Speak simply, clearly, firmly, directly.
  37. Flee imagination, fantasy, analysis, figuring things out.
  38. Flee carnal, sexual things at their first appearance.
  39. Don’t complain, grumble, murmur or whine.
  40. Don’t seek or expect pity or praise.
  41. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
  42. Don’t judge anyone for anything.
  43. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
  44. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
  45. Be defined and bound by God, not people.
  46. Accept criticism gracefully and test it carefully.
  47. Give advice only when asked or when it is your duty.
  48. Do nothing for people that they can and should do for themselves.
  49. Have a daily schedule of activities, avoiding whim and caprice.
  50. Be merciful with yourself and others.
  51. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
  52. Focus exclusively on God and light, and never on darkness, temptation and sin.
  53. Endure the trial of yourself and your faults serenely, under God’s mercy.
  54. When you fall, get up immediately and start over.
  55. Get help when you need it, without fear or shame.

DSC_0165-2.previewProtopresbyter Thomas Hopko [March 28, 1939–March 18, 2015], dean emeritus of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, Yonkers, New York, was a noted Orthodox Christian priest, theologian, preacher, and speaker. Memory eternal!

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Keeping Lent in our Families

Prodigal Son (Brotherhood of St Pachomius, Mt Athos)

Prodigal Son (Contemporary Icon: St Pachomius Brotherhood, Mt Athos)

Let’s be honest: how do we parents feel when we suddenly realize, while attending Liturgy, that the Gospel reading for the Sunday is the Prodigal Son, reminding us that Lent is around the corner? If you’re like me, you start doing a mental checklist of all the meat that needs to be used up in the next few weeks, and what upcoming events are going to conflict with the fast and services. When does Holy Week fall? And whose birthday is getting trumped by Lent? (Three of our children have birthdays in late February and early March!)

Perhaps some of these collected words of wisdom from other moms and dads will be encouraging.

  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. Most parents find it’s better to resist the temptation to read labels while shopping in the store, or to try to monitor what our older kids are choosing to eat when they aren’t at home. Let’s not set up standards of perfection that will end up succumbing to the practical realities of family life. The overall goal is that we and our children will cleanse our souls, simplify our lives, practice a greater degree of love and self sacrifice, and prepare for the Feast of Pascha. Our own father confessors can best guide us as to how to do this without ruining the atmosphere in our homes with Lenten grumpiness.

    When You Fast (SVS Press)

    When You Fast (SVS Press)

  • Do create a Lent-friendly kitchen. We can keep our pantries free of dairy-heavy snacks and Beef Jerky. Our food purchases can set an example and help us make good choices. But then, we also need to remember that our children are still children! I’ll never forget His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph’s exhortation when, at a women’s retreat, a mother asked him, “How do we handle the fast with our children?” “Your fasting should be more rigorous than your childrens’ fasting,” he said. He went on to explain that what we do while they are watching is more important than what we make them do. Also, as the cooks, we can help them along by finding tasty, albeit simple recipes that they enjoy. Try the book When You Fast: Recipes for Lenten Seasons by Catherine Mandell.
  • Do put thought into managing the family calendar. During Lent, life relentlessly marches on with baseball playoff games, school plays, family weddings and birthday celebrations, and western Easter gatherings. We have to decide at the beginning of each Lenten week what to do, and what to forgo. In this, there are two temptations: to try to attend each and every service and live as if nothing else is happening, or to resign ourselves to not participating at all. With the former, we get after our kids if they complain about fasting and church attendance. With the latter, we end up ignoring the holy season because of our kids’ resistance or our own laziness. As always, we need to strive for balance.
Children in the Church Today (SVS Press)

Children in the Church Today (SVS Press)

Sister Magdalen reminds us in Children in the Church Today, being a wise parent “sometimes involves letting go temporarily of secondary aspects in order to concentrate on central things (faith, love, freedom, truth). We know that ‘secondary’ things contribute to the essentials, and we try to live in a way that makes this manifest, and to explain it to our young people. However, we may have to wait patiently while our children go through the experience of sorting out the central meaning of life for themselves.” This good counsel extends to all of the Lenten disciplines. Let’s go forward into this journey with enthusiasm, knowing that in due season we will “reap, if we faint not.”

Practical suggestions for observing Lent: 

  • Attend an extra service each week, but be sensitive to the family schedule and the patience and endurance levels of each child.
  • Volunteer during Lent and Holy Week for special activities—prosphora baking, egg dyeing, decorating the temple.
  • Talk about it! After dinner, ask, why do we fast? Discuss the Sunday observance that’s upcoming.
  • Pick an alms project, the more hands-on the better–perhaps your parish offers Lenten outreach opportunities, or your family can collect money in a jar for the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC).
  • Put up this creative fridge poster: “My Lenten Journey;” it suggests one simple way to keep Lent during each of the 40 days.
  • Read good books and listen to sacred music with your kids–try listening to Ancient Faith Radio, or ordering resources from SVS Press.
  • Get off screens and go outdoors! Turn off the TV. Unhook cable. Hide the X-box. Instead, take family nature walks or plant a garden.

Virginia Nieuwsma grew up in the Philippines with her missionary parents, and later graduated from evangelical Wheaton College in Illinois. Since 1981, she has worked in Christian media, both as an editor and writer, as well as a spokesperson for pro life organizations. Twenty two years ago she discovered Orthodoxy, and subsequently she edited Conciliar Press’ book, Our Heart’s True Home, and served as journal editor to The Handmaiden as well as Conciliar’s acquisitions editor. Virginia has also been editing Orthodox websites in recent years, including the St. Vladimir’s Seminary website.

This reflection is used with the kind permission of Virginia Nieuwsma and the Antiochian Archdiocese.

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The Life of Fr. Matthew Baker Is a Triumph of Orthodoxy

Fr Matthew Baker holding the holy body of our Lord on the day of his ordination

Fr. Matthew Baker at his ordination

The life of Fr. Matthew Baker is a triumph of Orthodoxy.

It is easy to doubt God’s Providence in taking away a young priest, newly installed in his first parish, a husband, and a father of seven (his youngest, Alexis, so recently taken from his mother and father in stillbirth).

It is tempting to question God’s Providence in taking from the Church one of the most brilliant theological minds of the twenty-first century at a time when the Church is very much in need of sound and sober, yet penetrating, teaching, in both the academic and the pastoral spheres.

It is, for me personally, difficult to see the hand of God’s Providence in taking from me my best and most intimate friend, the man who taught me what true friendship means by pouring himself out year after year after year in boundless dedication to every aspect of my spiritual well-being and human flourishing.

Fr Matthew with his children

Fr. Matthew with his children

Yes, in all of this we are reminded – harshly – that God’s Providence is a mystery that cannot be grasped by the minds of men.

And yet: Fr. Matthew was taken from this life on the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. And because of this seemingly small detail, there can be no doubt, no question, no difficulty in perceiving that God is at work here, that His Church will triumph still, that His Truth will prevail over all falsehood, darkness, distortion and exaggeration – all those evils against which Fr. Matthew fought, exhaustively, ruthlessly, and bluntly. And when Truth is triumphant, love is victorious. For Fr. Matthew love and truth were inseparable, distinguishable only in thought. “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” When truth triumphs over falsehood, there love triumphs over coldness, mercy over suffering, and light over shadow. There life triumphs over death. Orthodoxy has triumphed! And this means, as Father Matthew would teach us, that Christ – the whole Christ, the totus Christus, Head and Body, the Savior and his Bride, holy Church – Christ has triumphed. He is triumphant over death, since He is the firstborn of the dead and the author of life. And in Him, the presbyter Matthew also is triumphant.

On each of the last two days of his earthly life, Christ’s faithful presbyter Matthew offered the Holy Liturgy, preached the Word of God and communed of the precious and and all-holy Body and Blood of Christ. He spent the last week of his life – the first week of Lent – in fasting and prayer, in the reading of Scripture, and in ministry and care to his new parishioners. Fr. Matthew grew an immense amount in the last year, but also in the last month, since becoming a parish priest, and even just in the last week, in which he entered into new depths of his priestly ministry. The Lord was truly preparing his servant for this moment of exodus on yesterday’s feast of triumph.

I am honored to say that Fr. Matthew spent the last evening of his life on the telephone with me, and while now I wish that some aspects of that conversation had been different, I am heartened to think that, among other things, we spoke of how the dead in Christ, while awaiting the resurrection and the final consummation of all things, are granted even now to partake of the light of Paradise.

And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me: “Write: Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.” (Rev. 14:13)

Now Fr. Matthew rests from his many intense labors, and we who have been his friends and colleagues, who have known his vision, must continue in his labor, trusting that his works have indeed followed him into Paradise, but that they remain here with us as well, here in this vale of sorrow, and so here, we must work as ardently as he did for the Triumph of Truth over its many modern day enemies, for the Triumph of Christ. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.

Fr. Matthew, in Christ, is now seeing the triumph of Orthodoxy much sooner than he expected, this triumph for which he labored single-mindedly. He beholds the triumph of Christ and the triumph of His holy and spotless Bride, the Catholic and Apostolic Church whom he loved and served so ardently. Christ is risen! Let us be of good cheer, for Christ has overcome the world!

Forgive me if these words are uncouth. Let us also mourn – for death is real, and Fr. Matthew’s death is a horrific tragedy – but let us not mourn “as those who have no hope.” In our friend and brother, the presbyter Matthew, our dear and merciful Savior has given us much cause for hope.

He lived most of his life near the city of Providence, Rhode Island, and throughout their thirteen years of marriage, Fr. Matthew and Presbytera Katherine trusted fully that God would provide as they opened their hearts to the abundant gift of life, raising six children without ever having a steady income during Fr. Matthew’s many years of study. Now we have no doubt that God will indeed continue to provide for Fr. Matthew’s widow and children, as indeed God has provided so much for all of us through friendship with Fr. Matthew and Presbytera Katherine.

Fr Matthew and his family at his parish

Fr. Matthew and his family at his parish

This reflection was written by Fr. Herman (Majkrzak), Lecturer in Liturgical Music at St. Vladimir’s Seminary.

You may donate to help Presbytera Katherine and her six children as part of your Lenten giving here.

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“Thou hast led us to these holy days”

Tonight we hear this prayer for the first time this year at the Presanctified Liturgy:

Prayer before the Ambo

Bishop on an ambo (Elevation of the Precious Cross, Menologion of Basil II c. 1000 A.D.)

Bishop on an ambo – Elevation of the Precious Cross (Menologion of Basil II, c. 1000 A.D.)

O Almighty Master, who in wisdom hast fashioned all creation; who, through thine ineffable providence and great goodness, hast led us to these all-revered days for purification of souls and bodies, for restraint of passions, and for hope of the Resurrection; who, during the forty days, didst put into the hands of thy servitor Moses the tables in letters divinely inscribed: grant unto us also, O Good One, to fight the good fight, to complete the course of the Fast, to preserve the Faith undivided, to crush the heads of invisible serpents, to be shown to be conquerors of sins and, without condemnation, also to attain to and to worship the holy Resurrection. For blessed and glorified is thine all-honorable and majestic name; of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Moses receiving and giving the Law (Illuminated Psalter, Vatopedi MS 761, 1087-88 A.D.)

Moses receiving and giving the Law (Illuminated Psalter, Vatopedi MS 761, 1087-88 A.D.)

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