Friday, December 25, 2009

The Nativity of Our Lord

We just returned from the Nativity Liturgy at St. John Chrysostom in Fort Wayne. Thankfully the weather forecasters were a bit off in their predictions. We were supposed to have freezing rain about the time of the Liturgy, but instead God granted us clear and safe roads going and returning.

The Liturgy was beautiful. This is our first Christmas at St. John Chrysostom. Last year we were rather displaced with me being a catastrophic mess and bad weather. We had not found St. John Chrysostom yet. It was sad to be unable to celebrate Christmas at church last year. This year all things are new, though. We are newly Sealed and were able to celebrate Christ's nativity as one should: by worshiping the Son of God who lowered Himself beneath all other people in order to raise all people up to His level (as Fr. Anthony preached today), which takes place ever so wonderfully in the communion of Christ's Holy Body and Precious Blood in the unity of the Holy Spirit. For us it has truly been a celebration of Christ's Mass this year.

However, this Christmas is a little stranger than past Christmases, too. We are the only ones in our family - maybe in all of Defiance - who are Orthodox. Our families are great toward us, but there is sometimes an air of uncomfortableness. It's because we don't fit in the same way we used to fit. I imagine that it seems as if we've chosen something that seems strange and a bit extreme to our Protestant relatives. There are certain passages in the Gospel that stick out for me anew now that I am Orthodox, and if you're Orthodox you might guess which ones they are.

However, I offer myself (and anyone else in my shoes) this encouragement: Orthodoxy alone in the world knows both the joy of God's gift of redemption in Christ AND the warfare of the Christian life AND the ecclesial reality of Christ's kingdom on earth (I'm sure I could throw in a few more ANDs in there, too). My introduction into a more serious Christianity was maybe twelve years ago, and it was like basic training conducted in a battle zone. Now that I'm in Orthodoxy it is apparent that the true nature of the warfare is not only known, but it has been engaged with a consistent vision, a single multifaceted gaze piercing eschatologically through the sands of history, arming the saints in the Holy Spirit, healing the wounded with the Blood of Christ, and carrying on the victory of the Cross by the grace of our God who is glorious in His saints and calls us to share in His own glory.

I am a lazy man and tempted kick back in the face of God's goodness and condescension. May He forgive me and teach me to engage the activity of the life He has given me in Christ.

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace, good will among men.
We praise Thee, we bless Thee,
we worship Thee, we glorify Thee,
we give thanks to Thee for Thy great glory.

O Lord, heavenly King, God the Father Almighty;
O Lord, the Only-Begotten Son, Jesus Christ; and O Holy Spirit.
O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy on us;
Thou that takest away the sins of the world, receive our prayer;
Thou that sittest at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.
For Thou only art holy,
Thou only art the Lord, O Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Every day will I bless Thee and I will praise Thy name forever, yea forever and ever.

Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin.

Blessed art Thou, O Lord, the God of our fathers,
and praised and glorified is Thy name unto the ages. Amen.

Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us according as we have hoped in Thee.

Blessed art Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy statutes.
Blessed art Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy statutes.
Blessed art Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy statutes.

Lord, Thou hast been our refuge in generation and generation.

I said: O Lord, have mercy on me, heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee.

O Lord, unto Thee have I fled for refuge, teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God;

For in Thee is the fountain of life, in Thy light shall we see light.

O continue Thy mercy unto them that know Thee.

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Q 3:16 - the Devil's in the Details

I just got done watching a PBS pledge drive show entitled, "From Jesus to Christ." Oh brother. One of the highlights of this massacre of human intelligence was the illusive Q document. No sooner does one of the guests on the series finish explaining how the document Quelle (a.k.a. "Q" - translated: Source - not the guy from Star Trek either) is a theory and no one has ever found it or seen it, then they go on to quote Scripture but cite it as coming from Q. We were also told that St. Luke embellished Acts into a classically-styled romance, that the Gospels were written non-literally but taken by Christians wrongly as literal, and that none of the Gospel writers knew really what happened with Christ's passion.

Every once in a while I have to waste half an hour of my time watching this ridiculous sort of intellectual excrement just to remind myself that the war on souls by the Enemy is a constant world-wide blitzkrieg. Whenever PBS opens the cell door on this sort of rabid monstrosity, more and more people risk infection.

Of course I remember this sort of scholarship from my time at seminary. The chaps in Ft. Wayne didn't foist this kind of nonsense on us. No, rather they admirably taught us how it works so that we could see the mass unbelief that turns its gears and the shockingly wretched scholastic method employed and yet somehow passed off as worthy of human consumption.

I am aware that there are some very wise and learned people who have bought into higher critical methods, yet somehow have made it work out so that it doesn't interfere with the faith once delivered to the saints. While I may disagree with higher criticism and those Orthodox that choose to accept it even in part, I am glad that in Orthodoxy the faith comes first, and human opinions are left in that realm. For in Orthodoxy the Truth isn't drummed up from the speculative research of men; Truth exists both in historical continuity and mystically in the eschatological wholeness of the Eucharist - and the Way of Life that is with it, in it, and through it. The idea that unbelief makes one unbiased is untenable. There is no neutral ground between belief and unbelief, for there is no neutral ground between bondage to sin, death, and the devil and redemption in Christ.

This kind of faithless speculation dressed up in cap and gown and paraded about by PBS doesn't make me want to give them any money for their pledge drive. I wish they'd stick to educational kids programming and cooking shows. Kyrie eleison!

Monday, December 21, 2009


"On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.' But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified." - St. John 7:37-39

“If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you." - St. John 14:15-17

My family and I were received into the one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church by Chrismation on Saturday, 19 December 2009 at St. John Chrysostom Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana. We received the Holy Eucharist for the first time at the Divine Liturgy celebrated the same day.

Glory to Thee, O God.
Glory to Thee, O God.
Glory to Thee, O God.

God has been very gracious to us. A year ago our world was falling apart all around us. Yet, as blessed King Hezekiah prayed famously in the canticle Ego dixi, "it was for my own peace that I had great bitterness; but You have lovingly delivered my soul from the pit of corruption, for You have cast all my sins behind Your back" [Isaiah 38:17]. No one chooses his own cross, but God lays it upon a man that He may redeem him from futility and beating the air [1 Cor. 9:26] and bring him into the blessedness of His Kingdom, where dust and ashes are healed and raised to become partakers of the Divine Nature [2 Pet. 2:4], through Him who humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross [Phil. 2:8]. We are exceedingly thankful for being grafted into the Fullness of Him who fills all in all [Eph. 2:23].

In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. — Ephesians 2:13-14

Friends and Sponsors

We were also blessed to have many friends in attendance. Rev. Fr. Anthony Michaels is the priest of St. John Chrysostom. We are thankful for his priestly care and friendship toward us. He arranged and directed the Chrismation and Divine Liturgy. Rev. Fr. John Fenton of Holy Incarnation Antiochian Orthodox Church of Lincoln Park, Michigan anointed us with Holy Chrism, and Rev. Fr. Gregory Hogg of Holy Cross Antiochian Orthodox Church of Dorr, Michigan assisted with the sponge of warm water.

Fr. Gregory has honored our family by serving as my daughter's sponsor,

and Fr. Fenton likewise as our son's sponsor.

He was an unwilling participant in the pictures. We were lucky to pull him out from under the chairs. My son, not Fr. Fenton. :-)

I cannot say how grateful and thankful I am for Anastasia Theodoridis. She has been a pure gift from God throughout my entire journey to Holy Orthodoxy. I am humbled to have such a sweet lady as my Godmother.

I think the same should be said for Rosemarie Lieffering, whose benevolence toward my wife and our family has been amazing. Emily is unbelievably blessed to have Rosemarie as her Godmother.

James Childs and I have known each other since college and seminary. He and Sarah made us really happy by standing with us as we were sealed.

Lutherans No More — In the Church Restored

Nearly everyone who traveled to celebrate this day with us is a former-Lutheran. Fr. Gregory, Fr. Fenton, James, and I are all formerly Lutheran pastors. Having now come into Holy Orthodoxy, this seems like a lifetime ago or like having woken long ago from a strange dream. Be that as it may, I think we all still carry this past with us in one way or another. Like any dream its presence is evermore fleeting; the incorporation it has in your fibers is washed out more and more in the fullness of the Today we wish not to waste nor its rest fail to obtain (Heb. 4). Yet it is still there and always shall be.

This is not so bad. We've taken some lumps. We tried and failed in various ways. We've played out our idealism for Christianity (which seems silly now compared to the real thing). And we have been taught to desire our Lord Jesus Christ above all things. For this I am grateful to have once been a Lutheran. But the road of Lutheranism ends at the Church - or perhaps just before it. Lutheranism does not retain the faith once delivered to the Apostles, but merely some of it. The same is true of its practice and its dogma. The Church God instituted through Christ in the Spirit - the Church of Peter and Paul, of Ignatius, of Irenaeus, of Athanasius, of John Chrysostom, of Augustine, of John Cassian, of John of Damascus, and of saints innumerable down to this very day - is found in its fullness in what the world calls the Eastern Orthodox Church. Our longing was kindled among the Lutherans, and it is fulfilled in Holy Orthodoxy. And by God's grace it will be consummated at the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The separation of the two in my mind and heart - i.e. Lutheranism from the desire for the fullness of our Lord Jesus Christ - was hard to go through. I think I'm safe in saying it was for all four of us in our own ways. Speaking for myself, there were lots of temptations along the way to devalue Christ's call into participation in His fullness. Putting off Christ in His fullness always seemed necessary and excusable because I had some other work that I was doing for Him. Sometimes I was plain willful and refused to allow Christ's pleading to have an effect on me. Sometimes I was lazy and fearful and gave in to paralyzation.

But then at some point I realized something dreadful: that I could undo all of this – by searing my conscience with a hot iron I could close off my soul to Christ in just this one way. Then I wouldn't have to deal with all this stuff anymore. It was a temptation to fool myself into thinking that I could or should control and contain Christ by force of will, limiting Him to those chambers of my being that I had decorated for Lutheranism. This is the reverse of the blessed Virgin. While God had made her to contain in her womb the uncontainable God through her acquiescence, I was tempted for a moment to try to contain Christ as a prisoner through my desperation for dominance and subservience to fear. These are not of God, of course, but of the Evil One. And as such, of course, giving into this would mean a kind of spiritual death, a willing movement backward from redemption into the company of fire-bound spirits.

This kind of temptation is like trying to blow out only part of a match. Usually you blow, only to snuff the fire out completely, leaving you without light. But sometimes you can blow out part of the fire on a match-stick. Then the part that remains quickly burns towards your fingers and you are quickly burned before the fire departs. And lost in this futile struggle is the point of it all: the fire struck on the match-stick was supposed to be kindled, so as to provide illumination and warmth.

God forbid that we should try to extinguish the work of Christ in our hearts! Some people have suggested that there is something brave or courageous about what we have done in leaving ministry, synod, and all the rest. Nothing could be further from the truth. Speaking for myself, I simply refused to sear myself with that hot iron. I was faced, then, with the experience of the Living God who holds me in His hands, rather than me holding Him compact in my mind and security. The Living God seems unpredictable to the man who prefers a religion mediated by his own will, and it is this feeling of unpredictability that was so different and maybe scary. I believe, though, it is not that the Lord is unpredictable, but that He loves like a flaming fire, jealous to save man and bring him into union and fullness, into goodness and Life, into conversion and wholeness. I know I was not courageous. I was simply blessed to be destroyed by God's mercy, that I might be saved and healed and redeemed and hallowed by His love for mankind. And today God has granted my family and I to become participants in the fullness of Jesus Christ our Lord, that Body with such a diversity of members, that one pure Bride of Christ that shall remain with her Lord unto the ages of ages.

We are not the last to take up the spiritual exodus from the Lutherans. There will be more and more, and this story will play out again and again and again. Each story will be as unique as the persons involved, but the exodus is the same exodus for us all. And as each of us who have entered through those blessed and hallowed and joyous gates will tell you, though the exodus comes to an end, the journeying continues every day until our Master appears and says to His faithful, "Come you blessed of My Father; receive the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." May the Lord grant us to be found on His right side through His great mercy, and not on the left.

Psalm 23/24
Of David. A psalm.

1 The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;

2 for he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the waters.

3 Who may ascend the hill of the LORD ?
Who may stand in his holy place?

4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to an idol
or swear by what is false.

5 He will receive blessing from the LORD
and vindication from God his Savior.

6 Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, O God of Jacob.

7 Lift up your heads, O you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.

8 Who is this King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty,
the LORD mighty in battle.

9 Lift up your heads, O you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.

10 Who is he, this King of glory?
The LORD Almighty—
he is the King of glory.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Feast of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia

Troparion, Tone 4

The truth of things revealed thee to thy flock as a rule of faith, a model of meekness, and a teacher of temperance. Therefore thou hast won the heights by humility, riches by poverty. Holy Father Nicholas, intercede with Christ our God that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion, Tone 3

Thou wast a faithful minister of God in Myra, O Saint Nicholas. For having fulfilled the Gospel of Christ, thou didst die for the people and save the innocent. Therefore thou wast sanctified as a great initiator of the grace of God.

As a convert from a Protestant religious system to Holy Orthodoxy, the issue of sanctification has stuck out to me as one of the primary differences between where I was and where I am in the Orthodox Church (even as a catechumen). Some may dismiss the life of St. Nicholas (below) as just a bunch of myth. I, for one, cannot know either way. I cannot go back in time to find epistemological certainty or uncertainty. I can only hear what the Church has seen and touched and known from her hundreds of years of experience. And I can see that what is told in the life of St. Nicholas is consistent with the saving work of Christ in the Holy Spirit.

There's the rub: that a man - St. Nicholas or anyone else - could be said to appear in dreams, to calm storms, to fail to decay and to stream miraculously-healing myrrh from his relics is to claim something about the nature of salvation. Those Lutherans that will still speak to me in peace like to suggest that the Orthodox fail to distinguish between justification and sanctification - i.e. that there is a difference between what God does in order to accept you (punishes Christ instead of you in order to sate His wrath against sin - what Lutherans call justice) and what God does in you (abides in you, cleanses you, raises up the new man in you, and all sorts of good things that the Orthodox are familiar with). If God is primarily concerned with getting you to believe a message of forgiveness, then personal responsibility and active participation in a personal relationship with God which itself sanctifies you through obedient faith is an after-effect and not salvation itself.

But in the Church justification and sanctification are not so separated, as they are so artificially and mistakenly by our well-meaning Protestant friends. Both being made righteous (justification) and being made holy (sanctification) are a spiritual healing that Christ has effected upon our nature by Incarnation and Passion. And the Holy Spirit unites us to this work of Christ and applies it on the level of our unique persons: healing and release from death and it's sting (sin) and vivification and glorification. Their application is not merely a status issue, but comes through the personal energies of God communicated in Baptism/Christmation and the Eucharist and all the sacraments of the Church - and from this context faithful/obedient living out of the Church's life personally in ascetic struggle.

Wonderworking in the saints is nothing out of the ordinary, because they live by the life of Christ directly, communicated to them personally. Both the sorrow of the cross and the glory of the resurrection are found in the saints in Orthodoxy. In Christ they are not of this world but of the next, and in them we see - in sometimes startling ways - the Eschatological Age breaking forth already through them, as if they had themselves become sacraments and icons of the kingdom. But what else should we expect from those who so purposely died every day to the world and so hungrily fed on Christ as their only life, with the Father and Holy Spirit ever reigning.

The following is from the Orthodox Church in America Web site:

Saint Nicholas, the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia is famed as a great saint pleasing unto God. He was born in the city of Patara in the region of Lycia (on the south coast of the Asia Minor peninsula), and was the only son of pious parents Theophanes and Nonna, who had vowed to dedicate him to God.

As the fruit of the prayer of his childless parents, the infant Nicholas from the very day of his birth revealed to people the light of his future glory as a wonderworker. His mother, Nonna, after giving birth was immediately healed from illness. The newborn infant, while still in the baptismal font, stood on his feet three hours, without support from anyone, thereby honoring the Most Holy Trinity. St Nicholas from his infancy began a life of fasting, and on Wednesdays and Fridays he would not accept milk from his mother until after his parents had finished their evening prayers.

From his childhood Nicholas thrived on the study of Divine Scripture; by day he would not leave church, and by night he prayed and read books, making himself a worthy dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. Bishop Nicholas of Patara rejoiced at the spiritual success and deep piety of his nephew. He ordained him a reader, and then elevated Nicholas to the priesthood, making him his assistant and entrusting him to instruct the flock.

In serving the Lord the youth was fervent of spirit, and in his proficiency with questions of faith he was like an Elder, who aroused the wonder and deep respect of believers. Constantly at work and vivacious, in unceasing prayer, the priest Nicholas displayed great kind-heartedness towards the flock, and towards the afflicted who came to him for help, and he distributed all his inheritance to the poor.

There was a certain formerly rich inhabitant of Patara, whom St Nicholas saved from great sin. The man had three grown daughters, and in desparation he planned to sell their bodies so they would have money for food. The saint, learning of the man's poverty and of his wicked intention, secretly visited him one night and threw a sack of gold through the window. With the money the man arranged an honorable marriage for his daughter. St Nicholas also provided gold for the other daughters, thereby saving the family from falling into spiritual destruction. In bestowing charity, St Nicholas always strove to do this secretly and to conceal his good deeds.

The Bishop of Patara decided to go on pilgrimage to the holy places at Jerusalem, and entrusted the guidance of his flock to St Nicholas, who fulfilled this obedience carefully and with love. When the bishop returned, Nicholas asked his blessing for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Along the way the saint predicted a storm would arise and threaten the ship. St Nicholas saw the devil get on the ship, intending to sink it and kill all the passengers. At the entreaty of the despairing pilgrims, he calmed the waves of the sea by his prayers. Through his prayer a certain sailor of the ship, who had fallen from the mast and was mortally injured was also restored to health.

When he reached the ancient city of Jerusalem and came to Golgotha, St Nicholas gave thanks to the Savior. He went to all the holy places, worshiping at each one. One night on Mount Sion, the closed doors of the church opened by themselves for the great pilgrim. Going round the holy places connected with the earthly service of the Son of God, St Nicholas decided to withdraw into the desert, but he was stopped by a divine voice urging him to return to his native country. He returned to Lycia, and yearning for a life of quietude, the saint entered into the brotherhood of a monastery named Holy Sion, which had been founded by his uncle. But the Lord again indicated another path for him, "Nicholas, this is not the vineyard where you shall bear fruit for Me. Return to the world, and glorify My Name there." So he left Patara and went to Myra in Lycia.

Upon the death of Archbishop John, Nicholas was chosen as Bishop of Myra after one of the bishops of the Council said that a new archbishop should be revealed by God, not chosen by men. One of the elder bishops had a vision of a radiant Man, Who told him that the one who came to the church that night and was first to enter should be made archbishop. He would be named Nicholas. The bishop went to the church at night to await Nicholas. The saint, always the first to arrive at church, was stopped by the bishop. "What is your name, child?" he asked. God's chosen one replied, "My name is Nicholas, Master, and I am your servant."

After his consecration as archbishop, St Nicholas remained a great ascetic, appearing to his flock as an image of gentleness, kindness and love for people. This was particularly precious for the Lycian Church during the persecution of Christians under the emperor Diocletian (284-305). Bishop Nicholas, locked up in prison together with other Christians for refusing to worship idols, sustained them and exhorted them to endure the fetters, punishment and torture. The Lord preserved him unharmed. Upon the accession of St Constantine (May 21) as emperor, St Nicholas was restored to his flock, which joyfully received their guide and intercessor.

Despite his great gentleness of spirit and purity of heart, St Nicholas was a zealous and ardent warrior of the Church of Christ. Fighting evil spirits, the saint made the rounds of the pagan temples and shrines in the city of Myra and its surroundings, shattering the idols and turning the temples to dust.

In the year 325 St Nicholas was a participant in the First Ecumenical Council. This Council proclaimed the Nicean Symbol of Faith, and he stood up against the heretic Arius with the likes of Sts Sylvester the Bishop of Rome (January 2), Alexander of Alexandria (May 29), Spyridon of Trimythontos (December 12) and other Fathers of the Council.

St Nicholas, fired with zeal for the Lord, assailed the heretic Arius with his words, and also struck him upon the face. For this reason, he was deprived of the emblems of his episcopal rank and placed under guard. But several of the holy Fathers had the same vision, seeing the Lord Himself and the Mother of God returning to him the Gospel and omophorion. The Fathers of the Council agreed that the audacity of the saint was pleasing to God, and restored the saint to the office of bishop.

Having returned to his own diocese, the saint brought it peace and blessings, sowing the word of Truth, uprooting heresy, nourishing his flock with sound doctrine, and also providing food for their bodies.

Even during his life the saint worked many miracles. One of the greatest was the deliverance from death of three men unjustly condemned by the Governor, who had been bribed. The saint boldly went up to the executioner and took his sword, already suspended over the heads of the condemned. The Governor, denounced by St Nicholas for his wrong doing, repented and begged for forgiveness.

Witnessing this remarkable event were three military officers, who were sent to Phrygia by the emperor Constantine to put down a rebellion. They did not suspect that soon they would also be compelled to seek the intercession of St Nicholas. Evil men slandered them before the emperor, and the officers were sentenced to death. Appearing to St Constantine in a dream, St Nicholas called on him to overturn the unjust sentence of the military officers.

He worked many other miracles, and struggled many long years at his labor. Through the prayers of the saint, the city of Myra was rescued from a terrible famine. He appeared to a certain Italian merchant and left him three gold pieces as a pledge of payment. He requested him to sail to Myra and deliver grain there. More than once, the saint saved those drowning in the sea, and provided release from captivity and imprisonment.

Having reached old age, St Nicholas peacefully fell asleep in the Lord. His venerable relics were preserved incorrupt in the local cathedral church and flowed with curative myrrh, from which many received healing. In the year 1087, his relics were transferred to the Italian city of Bari, where they rest even now (See May 9).

The name of the great saint of God, the hierarch and wonderworker Nicholas, a speedy helper and suppliant for all hastening to him, is famed in every corner of the earth, in many lands and among many peoples. In Russia there are a multitude of cathedrals, monasteries and churches consecrated in his name. There is, perhaps, not a single city without a church dedicated to him.

The first Russian Christian prince Askold (+ 882) was baptized in 866 by Patriarch Photius (February 6) with the name Nicholas. Over the grave of Askold, St Olga (July 11) built the first temple of St Nicholas in the Russian Church at Kiev. Primary cathedrals were dedicated to St Nicholas at Izborsk, Ostrov, Mozhaisk, and Zaraisk. At Novgorod the Great, one of the main churches of the city, the Nikolo-Dvorischensk church, later became a cathedral.

Famed and venerable churches and monasteries dedicated to St Nicholas are found at Kiev, Smolensk, Pskov, Toropetsa, Galich, Archangelsk, Great Ustiug, Tobolsk. Moscow had dozens of churches named for the saint, and also three monasteries in the Moscow diocese: the Nikolo-Greek (Staryi) in the Chinese-quarter, the Nikolo-Perervinsk and the Nikolo-Ugreshsk. One of the chief towers of the Kremlin was named the Nikolsk.

Many of the churches devoted to the saint were those established at market squares by Russian merchants, sea-farers and those who traveled by land, venerating the wonderworker Nicholas as a protector of all those journeying on dry land and sea. They sometimes received the name among the people of "Nicholas soaked."

Many village churches in Russia were dedicated to the wonderworker Nicholas, venerated by peasants as a merciful intercessor before the Lord for all the people in their work. And in the Russian land St Nicholas did not cease his intercession. Ancient Kiev preserves the memory about the miraculous rescue of a drowning infant by the saint. The great wonderworker, hearing the grief-filled prayers of the parents for the loss of their only child, took the infant from the waters, revived him and placed him in the choir-loft of the church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) before his wonderworking icon. In the morning the infant was found safe by his thrilled parents, praising St Nicholas the Wonderworker.

Many wonderworking icons of St Nicholas appeared in Russia and came also from other lands. There is the ancient Byzantine embordered image of the saint, brought to Moscow from Novgorod, and the large icon painted in the thirteenth century by a Novgorod master.

Two depictions of the wonderworker are especially numerous in the Russian Church: St Nicholas of Zaraisk, portrayed in full-length, with his right hand raised in blessing and with a Gospel (this image was brought to Ryazan in 1225 by the Byzantine Princess Eupraxia, the future wife of Prince Theodore. She perished in 1237 with her husband and infant son during the incursion of Batu); and St Nicholas of Mozhaisk, also in full stature, with a sword in his right hand and a city in his left. This recalls the miraculous rescue of the city of Mozhaisk from an invasion of enemies, through the prayers of the saint. It is impossible to list all the grace-filled icons of St Nicholas, or to enumerate all his miracles.

St Nicholas is the patron of travelers, and we pray to him for deliverance from floods, poverty, or any misfortunes. He has promised to help those who remember his parents, Theophanes and Nonna.

St Nicholas is also commemorated on May 9 (The transfer of his relics) and on July 29 (his nativity).

Commentary: 26th Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost
The Healing of the Woman with a Spirit of Infirmity
Luke 13:10-17

From The Explanation of the Gospel of St. Luke
by Blessed Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria

10-17. And He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And, behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over, and could in no wise straighten herself. And when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity. And He laid His hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day. The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead it away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day? And when He had said these things, all His adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him. The woman suffered from this affliction as a result of demonic assault, as the Lord Himself says, This woman … whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years. Perhaps God had departed from her on account of certain sins, and as a result Satan was punishing her. For Satan is in part the cause of all the hardships which afflict our bodies, when God on high permits him. From the very beginning it was Satan who brought about our fall by which we lost the incorruptibility in which we had been created; it was Satan who caused us to be bound to diseased bodies prone to suffering, symbolized by the garments of dead skins in which Adam and Eve were wrapped [Gen. 3:22]. But now the Lord, with the majestic voice of the Godhead, full of power, drives out the infirmity of this woman. He places His hands on her, so that we might learn that His holy flesh imparted both the power and the energy of the Logos. For His flesh was His own, and not that of some other human person alongside Him, separate from Him in hypostasis, as the impious Nestorius thinks.(1) So great is the goodness of the Lord, Who in this manner took mercy on His own creation. But Satan, who had bound the woman in the first place, was vexed at her deliverance because he desired her continued affliction, and so he bound the ruler of the synagogue with spite, and through the mouth of this man, Satan reviled the miracle. This is how he always attacks the good. Therefore the Lord uses the apt example of irrational animals to rebuke the man who was indignant that a healing had taken place on the Sabbath. And thus not only this man, but all the other adversaries of Jesus as well, were put to shame by Christ’s words. For it was insane to hinder the healing of a man on the Sabbath using as a pretext the commandment that the Sabbath be a day of rest. So it was, that even while the people were rejoicing at the Lord’s deeds, His adversaries were put to shame by His words. For these adversaries, instead of joining in the jubilation which followed His work of healing, burned with rage that He had healed at all. But the multitude, because they derived benefit from His signs, rejoiced and took pleasure in this healing. You must also understand these miracles to refer to the inner man. The soul is bent over in infirmity whenever it inclines to earthly thoughts alone and imagines nothing that is heavenly and divine. It can truly be said that such a soul has been infirm for eighteen years. For when a man is feeble in keeping the commandments of the divine law, which are ten in number, and is weak in his hope of the eighth age, the age to come, it can be said that he has been bent over for ten and eight years.(2) Is not that man indeed bent over who is attached to the earth, and who always sins in disregard of the commandments, and who does not look for the age to come? But the Lord heals such a soul on the Sabbath in the assembly of the synagogue. For when a man assembles together within himself thoughts of confession (Judah means "confession") and keeps the Sabbath, that is, he rests from doing evil, then Jesus heals him, not only by word when He says to him, Thou art loosed from thine infirmity, but also by deed. For when He has placed His hands on us, He requires that we accept the energy from His divine hands to do in collaboration with Him the works of virtue. We must not be satisfied to receive only that healing which comes by word and by instruction.

1. The heretic Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople from 428 to 431 A,D., taught that the co-unoriginate Logos was not conceived and did not take flesh in the Virgins womb, but instead was united to Christ the man at some later time. This implied that the two natures of Christ, the divine and the human, were not united in one hypostasis, that is, in one person, but in two, and therefore were not truly united. If this were so, Christ would not have accomplished the salvation of the human race. As a result Nestorius called the Virgin Mary Christokos, that is, the Birthgiver of Christ, but refused to call her the Theotokos, the Birthgiver of God. This false teaching was condemned as heresy at the Third Ecumenical Council held in Ephesus in the year 431, and from that time Nestorius and all who follow his teaching have been outside the Church.

2. The Greek text of the Gospel expresses the number of years in this fashion: ete deka kai okto, "ten and eight years."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Commentary: 25th Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Sell All That Thou Hast
Luke 18:18-27

From The Explanation of the Gospel of St. Luke
by Blessed Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria

18-23. And a certain ruler asked Him saying, Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou Me good? None is good, save One, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments: Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother. And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up. Now when Jesus heard these things, He said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow Me. And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich. Some think that this man was cunning and sought to trap the Lord with words. But this is not how he appears; rather, he was a lover of money, and Christ Himself rebuked him as such. Mark says that the man came running, and knelt before Jesus, and asked Him his question, and that Jesus, beholding him, loved him. [Mk. 10:17-22] The man is a lover of money, and he approaches Jesus eager to learn how he, along with his wealth, might inherit eternal life. For there is no one who loves prolonged life as much as a man who loves money. Therefore this man thought that Jesus could show him some way in which he could live forever enjoying his possession of wealth. But when the Lord told him that non-possession is what bestows eternal life, he went away as if he regretted both his question and Jesus answer. In his mind he needed eternal life for the very reason that he had great wealth. If he were to give up his possessions, why would he want eternal life, he thought, since that life was to be the life of a pauper? He approached the Lord as if the Lord were merely a man and a teacher. Therefore the Lord shows him that he ought not to approach Him in this manner, saying, None is good, save One, that is, God. By this He means, "You call Me good; why then do you also call Me a teacher? It appears that you think that I am one among many men. But if this were so, I would not be good, for no man is good in and of himself. Only God is. If you want to call Me good, you must call Me good because I am God; do not approach Me then as if I were merely a man. But if you think I am only a man, do not call Me good. For in truth God is good, and the source of goodness, and the first cause of goodness itself. If any man is good, he is not good in and of himself, but only because he receives a share of God’s goodness. Moreover, what goodness a man has is changeable."

Thou knowest the commandments: Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, and so forth. The law remedies first those sins into which we fall easily, and then those less frequent sins to which fewer men fall. And so adultery and murder are mentioned first, because lust and anger are difficult to control: lust is a raging fire, inflaming both the outer and inner man, and anger is a great wild beast. (1) But stealing comes from a less fierce passion and bearing false witness occurs rarely. Therefore, the law remedies first those sins into which we fall most easily, and which are the most grave. But the other sins, such as stealing and bearing false witness, He places second because they lead astray less often and are less grave than murder and adultery. To sin against ones parents He mentions last of all; for although it is a grave sin, it does not occur often. Rarely is there found a man so cruel that he abuses his parents. Because the young man said that he had kept all these commandments from his youth, the Lord enjoins him to keep that commandment which stands at the head of all: non-possession. Behold the laws of the true Christian life. Sell all that thou hast, the Lord says. If anything remains, you are its slave. And distribute, not to your rich relatives, but unto the poor. I think that the word distribute implies that the meting out of wealth is to be done with discernment and not haphazardly. And because a man must have all the other virtues as well as non-possession, the Lord then said, And come, follow Me, meaning, "Be My disciple in all things, and always keep following Me. (2) Do not follow Me today only, and leave Me tomorrow." Because the ruler was a lover of money, the Lord promised him treasure in heaven, but the ruler did not give heed, because he was a slave of his money. Therefore when he heard what the Lord had asked of him, he was sorrowful. For the Lord had counselled him to deprive himself of his wealth; yet that was the very reason he wanted eternal life in the first place, so that he could live forever enjoying his many possessions. That he was sorrowful shows that he was sincere and not devious. Not one of the Pharisees was ever sorrowful; instead, they raged even more against the Lord when they heard His answers to their questions. I am not unaware that the great light of the world, John Chrysostom, believed that this young man truly desired eternal life, but that he was held fast by the love of money, a passion that was stronger than his love for eternal life. What we have said here is not inconsistent, namely, that the young man desired to have eternal life along with his wealth.

24-30. And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, He said, How hard it shall be for them that have riches to enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needles eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved? And He said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God. Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all, and followed Thee. And He said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of Gods sake, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come life everlasting. Because the rich man was sorrowful when he heard that he should give up his riches, the Lord said, as though He were marvelling, How hard it shall be for them that have riches to enter into the kingdom of God! He did not say that it would be impossible for those with wealth to enter, but that it would be difficult. It is not impossible for such as these to be saved. Those who give away their riches are able to obtain the heavenly things above. However, this is difficult, for money is stickier than glue and it is hard for a man to free himself when he is held fast by money. In His very next words the Lord indicates that this is so difficult that it is all but impossible, when He says, It is easier for a camel to go through a needles eye, than for a rich man to be saved. It is indeed impossible for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, whether you understand camel to mean the animal or the thick rope used on a ship. Therefore, if it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle—which is impossible—than it is for a rich man to be saved, then it is even more impossible for a rich man to be saved. What does the Lord mean? First, that this statement is true: it is impossible for a rich man, while he is a rich man, to be saved. Do not say to me that such and such a rich man gave away his riches and was saved. He was not saved as a rich man; he was saved either as a man who had attained non-possession, or who had become a steward, but not as a rich man. A steward and a rich man are not the same. The rich man keeps riches for himself, while the steward, as a trustee, holds wealth for the benefit of others. Therefore, if such a man is saved, he is not saved as a rich man, but, as we have said, because he has given away all that he has, or because he has spent his wealth as a good steward. Consider this as well: while it is impossible for a rich man to be saved, it is not impossible, but only difficult, for them that have riches to be saved. It is as if the Lord had said, "The rich man who is possessed by riches and is a slave to them and is held fast by them, shall not be saved. But he who only has riches, that is, who is master of riches, owning them without being owned by them, shall be saved with difficulty." That difficulty is because of human weakness. For it is impossible for us not to misuse what we have. As long as we have riches, the devil strives in every way to deceive us into using that wealth in ways that violate the canons and laws of stewardship, and only with great difficulty do we escape the devils traps. This is why non-possession is better, and almost unassailable by the evil one.

And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved? And He said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God. With men who have merely a human outlook, that is, those who desire earthly things and are pulled downwards, it is impossible for them to be saved, as we have said. But with God it is possible. That is to say, with Gods help, when a man has God as his Counsellor, and takes as his teachers the judgments of God and His commandments concerning non-possession, and calls upon God for help, then it is possible to be saved. We, for our part, must desire what is good; God will then accomplish and perfect it in us. If we can only rise above our timid littleness of soul as concerns our wealth, and make for ourselves friends from the mammon of unrighteousness, we will be saved by those friends when they escort us to the eternal mansions. It is better if we give away all our wealth; and if not all, then at least let us share it with the poor. Thus the impossible becomes possible. For though it is impossible for the man who does not distribute all to be saved, yet through Gods love for man, even a partial distribution brings a partial benefit. In response to this, Peter asks, "Lo, we have left all. [What do we have to give to the poor?]" He does not ask this for his own sake alone, but in order to find some consolation for all the poor. Peter asks his question for fear that only the rich have the good hope to obtain much because they despised much, and that the poor have little hope because they had little to give away and thus can expect only a little reward. Peter asks, and hears the answer, that everyone who despises, for Gods sake, whatever goods he may have, even if they are few, shall receive his reward both in this age and in the age to come. Do not consider those goods to be few; rather, for that poor man, his few things are his whole life. Just as you, the rich man, expect to pass your life with your many and great possessions, the pauper, likewise, expects to pass his life with his belongings, no matter how few and small they may be. Though his belongings are few, I will say that a mans attachment to his possessions is even greater when he owns little. This is clearly shown to be true with parents. The attachment of a parent to his only child is much greater than that of a parent to his many children. Likewise, the poor man has a keener love for his single house and single field than you have for your many houses and fields. And even if it is the case that a poor man is attached to his possessions to the same degree as a rich man, then, at a minimum, the loss is the same for each. Even in this present age, those who give of the little they have receive their reward many times over, as did these very Apostles. For each Apostle left his own hut, and now each one has magnificent temples in his name, with lands and triumphant processions, and, instead of a single wife, many women bound to him in fervent faith; in short, for everything they gave up, they have received many times over. And in the age to come they receive, not a multiplication of fields such as these and other tangible rewards, but eternal life.

1. Bl. Theophylact here includes lust with adultery, and anger with murder, in accordance with Christs commandments and teaching. See Mt. 5:21-22, 27-28.

2. In the Greek text, the word for "follow," akolouthei, is in the present imperative, implying a continuous action. By contrast, the two previous imperatives, poleson, "sell," and diados, "distribute," are in the aorist imperative, implying a single, finite action.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Commentary: 24th Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
Luke 12:16-21

From The Explanation of the Gospel of St. Luke
by Blessed Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria

16-21. And He spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully, and he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to gather my crops? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I gather all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night they shall require thy soul of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast prepared? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. The Lord had said that the life of a man is not lengthened by an abundance of possessions, and now He offers this parable in confirmation of this truth. See how He describes for us the insatiable thoughts of the foolish rich man. God did His part and showed His mercy; for all the ground of the rich man brought forth plentifully, not just one of his fields. But the rich man himself bore so little fruit from the mercy shown him that even before he had gathered the crops, he imagined them already locked up for himself. See also the pleasures of the rich man: What shall I do? Does not the pauper say the same thing as well, "What shall I do? I have nothing to eat or to put on." Think, if you will, about the words of the rich man. What shall I do, because I have no room where to gather my crops? At the very least, he could take a good rest. If both the pauper says, "What shall I do because I have not?" and the rich man says, "What shall I do because I have not?" then what do we gain by gathering more and more? We do not gain any rest, and it is clear from all the cares that come from our further efforts that we are piling up for ourselves only a great multitude of sins. Yet the foolish man says, I will pull down my barns, and build greater. And if your land yields even more bountifully in the future, will you pull these down and build again? But what need is there to pull down and build? You have available to you as storehouses the stomachs of the poor which can hold much, and are indestructible and imperishable. They are in fact heavenly and divine storehouses, for he who feeds the pauper, feeds God. See something else that is foolish: my fruits and my goods. The rich man did not consider that he had received these things from God. If he had, he would have treated these things as would a steward of God. But he imagined that these things were the fruits of his own labors, which is why he usurped them for himself, calling them my fruits and my goods. "I am the sole owner," he thinks, "and there is no one else entitled to a share. These things are not God’s, but mine, and therefore I alone will enjoy them. I will not now take God in as a partner to enjoy my profit." Because he spoke foolishly, let us see what happened. Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years. He determines that he will have a long life, as if length of years was something else he could obtain by working his land. But a long life is not a crop you can grow, and it is not another of your belongings. "Eat, drink, and be merry. Three cheers for the good things of my soul!" But to eat and drink are the good things only of an irrational soul. Because this man has an irrational soul, it is fitting that he plans to reward himself with these things. But the good things of a rational soul are to understand, to reason, and to be glad in the law of God and in good thoughts. Do eating and drinking not suffice for you, 0 fool, but you must also order up for your soul that which accompanies these things, namely, shameful and base pleasure? Euphemistically did the Lord employ the words be merry, indicating by them the most wanton passions which are the consequence of too much food and drink. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night they shall require thy soul of thee. The words God said unto him do not mean that God conversed with the rich man, although the parable puts it in this form. Instead, the thoughts that came into the mans mind are what God spoke. Thou fool. He calls him a fool because everything he wanted was foolish, as we have shown. And every man like him is foolish and acts in vain, for, as David says, In vain doth every man disquiet himself [Ps. 38:14]. Why? Because he stores up things without knowing for whom he gathers them. How can he not be called a fool who does not know that the length of a man’s life rests with God alone and that no man can set the limits of his own life?

Notice also the words, they will require. Like some stern imperial officers demanding tribute, the fearsome angels will ask for your soul, and you will not want to give it because you love this life and claim the things of this life as your own. But they do not demand the soul of a righteous man, because he himself commits his soul into the hands of the God and Father of spirits, and he does so with joy and gladness, not in the least bit grieved that he is handing over his soul to God. For him the body is a light burden, easily shed. But the sinner has made his soul fleshy, something in substance like the body and like the earth, rendering it difficult to separate from the body. This is why the soul must be demanded of him, the same way that harsh tax collectors treat debtors who refuse to pay what is due. See that the Lord did not say, "I shall require thy soul of thee," but, they shall require. For the souls of the righteous are already in the hands of God. Truly it is at night when the soul of such a sinner is demanded of him. It is night for this sinner who is darkened by the love of wealth, and into whom the light of divine knowledge cannot penetrate, and death overtakes him. Thus he who lays up treasure for himself is called foolish: he never stops drawing up plans and dies in the midst of them. But if he had been laying up treasure for the poor and for God, it would not have been so. Let us strive, therefore, to be rich toward God, that is, to trust in God, to have Him as our wealth and the treasury of wealth, and not to speak of my goods but of "the good things of God." If they are God’s, then let us not deprive God of His own goods. This is what it means to be rich toward God: to trust that even if I empty myself and give everything away, I will not lack the necessities. God is my treasury of good things, and I open and take from that treasury what I need.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Commentary: 23rd Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
Luke 10:25-37

From The Explanation of the Gospel of St. Luke
by Blessed Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria

25-28. And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted Him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? How readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And He said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. This lawyer was not only arrogant and proud but also deceitful, as is shown by what follows. He comes to put the Lord to the test, and he imagined that he would trip the Lord by the answer which He gave. But the Lord leads him to the very law of which the lawyer boasted such great knowledge. See how precisely the law commands us to love God. Man is more perfect than all other created things, being in some respect like all created things, but in addition having something exceptional. For example, there is a part of man that is like stone, for he has hair and nails which are unfeeling, like a stone. And he is also in part like a plant, in that he grows and is nourished and engenders his own kind, just as plants do. He is in part like the irrational animals, in that he has emotions, and becomes angry, and desires. But unlike all other animals, he is also in part like God, in that he has a mind. Therefore the law teaches that man must give each and every part of himself entirely to God, and must expend all the forces of his life in loving God. When the law says, with all thy heart, it speaks of that force of human life that is purely physical and organic, a force likewise present in plant life. When the law says, with all thy soul, it speaks of that force of human life which feels, a force likewise present in animals. When the law says, with all thy mind, it speaks of that power which is unique to man, the intellect. With all thy strength means that we must use all these powers to pull [our stubborn selves to God]. We must harness even the organic, plant-like force of our soul to the love of Christ. How? With strength, and not faintheartedly. We must also subject, with strength, the power of all our senses to the love of Christ. As for the power of our rational soul, this too we must subject with all our strength to the love of Christ. So then, we must give all of ourselves to God, and we must subject our biological powers, our sensory powers, and our intellectual powers to the love of God. And thy neighbour as thyself. The law was not yet able to teach perfection on account of the spiritual immaturity of its listeners. Therefore the law urged a man only to love his neighbor as himself. But Christ taught man to love ones neighbor more than oneself. For He says, Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. [Jn. 15:13] Therefore He says to the lawyer, Thou hast answered right. Since you are still subject to the law, you have answered correctly, for your thoughts are in accordance with the old law.

29-37. But he, wanting to show himself to be righteous, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? And Jesus answering said, A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And as it happened there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan journeyed and came to him: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the innkeeper, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise. After the Saviour praised him, the lawyers pride and arrogance knew no bounds. That is why he said, And who is my neighbour? that is, "Who is close to me?" (1) He imagined himself to be righteous and thought that there was no one like him and that no one could come close to him in virtue. He imagined that a righteous man could have as "neighbor" only another righteous man. Therefore wanting to show himself to be righteous and superior to all men, he says haughtily, And who is my neighbour? But the Saviour as Maker of all, knowing that all men are one creation, defines neighbour not according to deeds or merits, but according to human nature. "Do not think," He says, "that just because you are righteous, no one is like you. All mankind shares the same nature and thus all men are your neighbors. Therefore, you too must be a neighbor to them and be near to all, not by location, but by the disposition of your heart and by your care for others. Therefore I present to you a Samaritan as an example, to show you that no matter how different or foreign he may have seemed, he was the neighbor of the one in need of mercy. You also must show yourself to be a neighbor by your compassion, and even unasked you must go to the help of others." Thus we learn from this parable to be always ready to show mercy and to make haste to be near those in need of our help. But this parable also teaches us the goodness of God towards man. It was our human nature that was going down from Jerusalem, that is, was descending from tranquillity and peace, for Jerusalem means vision of peace. Where was man descending? To Jericho, a place sunk down low and suffocating with heat, that is, to a life of passions. See that He did not say, "went down," but, was going down. For fallen human nature is always inclined downwards, not just once of old, but continuously going down towards passionate life. And man fell among thieves, that is, among demons. For if a man did not come down from that high place where the spiritual mind rules, he would not fall among demons who strip the man, depriving him of his raiment of virtue, and then inflict the wounds of sin. They strip us of every good thought and of Gods protection, and when we are thus naked, they lay on the stripes of sin. They leave human nature half dead, that is, with a mortal body and an immortal soul. And human nature was left only half dead in the further sense that man did not lie completely in despair, but hoped to find salvation in Christ. Human nature had not yet been slain outright; though death had entered the world through Adams transgression, death was soon to be abolished by the righteousness of Christ. The priest and the Levite signify the law and the prophets, who desired to make human nature righteous, but were unable to do so. For it is not possible, says Paul, that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sin. [Heb. 10:4] The law and the prophets took pity on man and sought to heal him. But they were defeated by the severity of the wounds of sin, and they passed into the past. This is what it means that they passed by. The law came and stood over the fallen man, but since it could not heal him, it turned away in revulsion and went on the other side. See that the words as it happened also have a certain spiritual meaning. For indeed the law was not given for the express purpose [of healing the wounds of sin, for Christ, not the law, was to be the healing of Adams wound]. Instead, the law was given [as a stopgap measure] on account of human weakness which could not immediately receive the mystery of Christ. This is why He says that it was as it happened, or, as we say, "by chance," and not intentionally, that the priest, signifying the law, came to heal the man. But our Lord and God, Who for our sake was made a curse [Gal. 3:13], and was called a Samaritan [Jn. 8:48], journeyed to us, that is, His journey had as its very purpose and goal our healing. He did not just catch a glimpse of us as He happened to pass by: He actually came to us and lived together with us and spoke to us. Therefore He at once bound up our wounds. He no longer permitted wickedness to operate in us freely and at will, but He bound and restrained our sinfulness and poured on oil and wine. Oil is the word of teaching which exhorts us to virtue by the promise of good things; wine is the word of teaching leading us towards virtue by the fear of punishment. For example, when you hear the Lord say, Come unto Me and I will give you rest [Mt. 11:28], this is the oil of gladness and rest. And it is the same when He says, Come ye and inherit the kingdom prepared for you [Mt. 25:34]. But when He says, "Depart into darkness [Mt. 25:30], this is the wine of sharp teaching which stings as it cleanses our wounds. You may also understand it this way: oil represents Christs human actions and wine represents His divine actions, for I may say that the Lord acted at times as a man and at times as God. When He ate and drank and relaxed, not displaying the austerity and asceticism of John the Forerunner, this is the oil. But His extraordinary fasting, His walking on the water, and all His mighty deeds of divine power, these are the wine. We can compare Christs divinity to wine, which no one could tolerate if it were poured onto a wound, unless it were tempered with oil, that is, accompanied by His humanity. Therefore, since Christ has saved us both by His divinity and by His humanity, this is why it is said that oil and wine were poured out. And at every baptism those who are baptized are delivered from wounds of the soul when they are chrismated with the oil of myrrh and then immediately commune of the divine Blood. The Lord lifted up our wounded nature upon His own beast of burden, namely, upon His own Body. For He made us members of Himself and communicants of His own Body; and when we were lying down, wounded, He raised us up to His own dignity, making us one Body with Himself. The inn is the Church, which receives all. (2) But the law did not receive all. For the law says, the Ammanite and the Moabite shall not enter into the Church of God [Dt. 23:3] But now, from every tribe and people, God accepts those who fear Him and who desire to believe and to become a member of Christs Body, the Church. God receives all, even sinners and publicans. See the preciseness of His expression, how He says that the Samaritan brought him to an inn, and took care of him. Before he brought him to the inn, he had only bound his wounds. What then am I saying? That when the Church had been established, becoming the inn which receives all, and was increased by the faith of nearly all peoples, then there were the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the grace of God was spread far and wide. You may learn this from the Acts of the Apostles. The innkeeper is a type and symbol of every apostle, teacher, and archpastor, to whom the Lord gave two pence, representing the two Testaments, Old and New. Just as both coins bear the image of the one king, so do both Testaments bear the words of the same God. When the Lord ascended into the heavens He left these two coins in the hands of the Apostles, and in the hands of the bishops and teachers of every generation. And He said to them, And whatsoever thou spendest more of thine own, I will repay thee. Indeed the Apostles spent much more of their own—with great labors they sowed the word of teaching everywhere. And those teachers in each generation who have explained the Old and the New Testaments have also spent much of their own, for which they will be rewarded when the Lord returns at the second coming. Then may each of them say to him, "Lord, Thou gayest me two pence; behold, another two pence have I spent of mine own." And to him the Lord will answer, "Well done, thou good servant."

1. The Greek word for "neighbour" is plesios, and has the literal meaning "one who is close." The question, Who is my neighbour? in Greek sounds very much like, "Who is close to me?" The English word "neighbor" and its German cognate Nachbar, likewise refer to "one who is nigh," or near.

2. Pandocheion, "inn," has the literal meaning "that which receives all."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Our Priest on Ancient Faith

Our priest, Fr. Anthony Michaels, our parish priest, has a presentation available on Ancient Faith Radio. It is entitled, "Iconography, Iconoclasm, and the Theology of Personhood." This is a good taste of the sort of catechesis my wife and I are enjoying at St. John Chrysostom. It is just under an hour long and well worth the listen for those interested in theology. Thanks to Ancient Faith Radio for making it available.

We had trouble with the stream (it was fast - Fr. Anthony sounded like Alvin the Chipmunk). If you do too, a transcript is available. We solved our problem by downloading the podcast.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Commentary: 22nd Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
Jairus’ Daughter and the Woman With an Issue of Blood
Luke 8:41-56

From The Explanation of the Gospel of St. Luke
by Blessed Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria

40-44. And it came to pass, that, when Jesus was returned, the multitude gladly received Him: for they were all waiting for Him. And, behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was ruler of the synagogue: and he fell down at Jesus feet, and besought Him that He would come into his house: for he had one only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she lay a dying. But as he went, the multitude thronged Him. And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, who had spent all her living upon physicians, and could not be healed by any, came behind Him, and touched the border of His garment: and immediately her issue of blood stanched. Jesus returned from the country of the Gadarenes, and the multitude was waiting for Him, eager for both His teaching and His miracles. Then He was approached by a certain ruler of the synagogue, a man who was neither poor nor insignificant, but the foremost of society. The Evangelist even gives the man’s name, so that the miracle might become the more renowned through this confirmable evidence of its truth. In his great need this man falls down before Jesus, although even without the urgency of this need, he ought to have fallen down and acknowledged Jesus as God. Nevertheless, affliction can compel a man to turn to what is better, as David says when he speaks of the horse or mule which has no understanding, whose jaws thou must afflict with bit and bridle when they come not nigh unto thee [Ps. 31:9]. (1) But as Jesus went along the way to the house of Jairus, a woman drew near to Him who showed exceedingly great faith. She approached and touched the border of His garment with the firm faith that if she could only touch His clothing, she would be made whole. Immediately the flow of blood stopped. Like a man who brings his eye close to a bright light, or brings a dry stick close to fire, and they immediately react, so also the woman brought her faith close to Him Who has power to heal, and immediately she obtained healing. She gave no thought to anything else, neither the many years of her illness, nor the failure of her doctors. She only believed and was made whole. Understand that first she touched Jesus noetically, and only then did she touch Him bodily.

45-48. And Jesus said, Who touched Me? When all denied, Peter and they that were with Him said, Master, the multitude throng Thee and press Thee, and sayest Thou, Who touched Me? And Jesus said, Somebody hath touched Me: for I perceive that power is gone out of Me. And when the woman saw that she was not hid, she came trembling, and falling down before Him, she declared unto Him before all the people for what cause she had touched Him, and how she was healed immediately. And He said unto her, Daughter, take courage: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace. The Lord desires to show the woman's faith to all the people so that they might become imitators of her, and also so that Jairus might have good hope for his daughter. Therefore He makes manifest what had happened in secret and asks who it was that touched Him. Peter, being bold, scolds the Lord for His question, saying, "So many people throng Thee, and yet sayest Thou, Who touched Me?" But he did not understand what the Lord was asking. The Lord was inquiring, "Who touched Me with faith?" and not simply, "Whose hand touched Me?" Just as one man has ears with which he hears, while another has ears but does not hear, so also one man touches with faith, while another may draw near but his heart is far away. The Lord knows that it was the woman, but He asks the question, as I have said, in order to reveal her faith and to give hope to the ruler of the synagogue. He asks, and thus draws attention to the woman. For I perceive that power is gone out of Me, He says, and rightly so. The prophets did not have power that went out from them; instead, they worked miracles by the grace of God. But Jesus is the source of every good thing and the source of all power, and He indeed has power that goes out from Him. The Lord grants the woman a double healing: He first heals her sickness and then dispels the fear from her trembling soul by saying, Daughter, take courage.

49-56. While He yet spake, there cometh one from the ruler of the synagogues house, saying to Him, Thy daughter is dead; trouble not the Master. But when Jesus heard it, He answered him, saying, Fear not: only believe, and she shall be made whole. And when He came into the house, He permitted no man to go in, save Peter, and James, and John, and the father and the mother of the maiden. And all wept, and bewailed her: but He said, Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed Him to scorn, knowing that she was dead. And He put them all out, and took her by the hand, and called, saying, Maid, arise. And her spirit came again, and she arose straightway: and He commanded to give her food. And her parents were astonished: but He charged them that they tell no man what was done. When Jesus heard a man say to the ruler of the synagogue, trouble not the Master, He did not wait for the ruler of the synagogue to speak to Him, but speaks first Himself, so that the ruler of the synagogue could not say, "I have no need for You; the evil deed has already happened; behold she has died, the one whom we expected You to heal," or any such words as these. For he did not believe, and was a Jew. Christ, therefore, speaks first and says, "Fear not; only believe. Consider the woman who had the issue of blood. Imitate her and you will not miss the mark." He permits only Peter, John, and James to enter because they were the Lords favorites and chief of the Apostles, and because they were able to keep silent concerning the miracle. The Lord did not want to reveal Himself to many before it was time, perhaps because of the spite of the Jews. Thus He hid most of His deeds so that the Jews would not become inflamed with envy and thus liable to judgment. We ought also to do the same; when someone becomes envious of us, let us not reveal our accomplishments to him, so as not to wound him and cause him to be even more envious and cast him into sin. Instead, we should strive to go unnoticed by him. The Lord said, she is not dead, but sleepeth, calling death sleep because He was about to raise her from the dead as if from sleep. Those who heard Him laughed Him to scorn, so that the miracle would be all the more miraculous. In order that later they would not be able to claim that she was not dead, but had been asleep, the Lord arranged by divine economy that He should first be mocked when He said that she was not dead but asleep. Thus He shut the mouths of those who wanted to slander Him, for it was so clear that she was dead that they even mocked Him when He said that she was not dead. He put them all outside, perhaps to teach us not to crave glory and not to do anything for show, and also to teach that when someone is about to work a miracle, he ought not to be in the midst of many people, but alone and undistracted. Then the Lord brought back the spirit of the young girl. He did not put another soul into her but made the same soul which had slipped away return to her body again. He commanded that she be given something to eat, to provide even greater assurance and confirmation that she had risen from the dead. These things may also be understood in this manner: the woman with the issue of blood represents every soul which pours forth bloody and murderous sin. For each and every sin is the murderer and slayer of the soul. When this soul, therefore, touches the clothing of Jesus, when it touches, that is, His Incarnation, believing that the Son of God took on human flesh, then the soul is healed. And this is possible even if someone should be a ruler of the synagogue, that is, if someone has a mind which rules over the many things it has collected in its greed.(2) Then the daughter of that mind, its thought, is sick. But let that mind only call upon Jesus and believe, and his thought will be made whole.

1. The translation here of this particular verse differs somewhat from that of the Psalter published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery, which we usually cite. See the Introduction, p. 1, of the present volume.

2. The word synagogue [synagoge] is derived from the verb synago which means to bring together, whether it be people in an assembly or things in a collection. Bl. Theophylact here plays on both senses of the word.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Liturgical Vestments V: the Deacon

The next clerical Order I'd like to dwell on is that of the Deacon, whose ministry is a symbol of the ministering angels. The OrthoWiki Web site has a basic article explaining the role of the deacon.

Eastern Rite

The deacon will vest during the Liturgy of Preparation with the priest after the Entrance Prayers. However, the deacon may not don his vestments without first receiving the blessing of the bishop or priest under whom he serves. The priest and deacon together face toward the east, with their sticharia in hand, and make three metanias while praying each time, "O God, cleanse me a sinner." Then the deacon approaches the priest for his blessing to vest, standing with the vestments in his right hand and says, "Master, bless the Sticharion and Orarion." The priest says, "Blessed is our God now and always and unto ages of ages." The deacons says, "Amen," kisses the priest's right hand, and withdraws to the diaconicon to vest (i.e. to the place where vestments, books, and other related items for use in the Divine Liturgy are kept).

The deacon's vestments are:
  1. Sticharion - Kissing the cross on the sticharion he says: My soul shall rejoice in the Lord, for He has clothed me with a robe of salvation and covered me with a tunic of happiness; He has crowned me as a bridegroom and adorned me with jewels as a bride (Isaiah 61:10).

  2. Orarion - The deacon says nothing while donning the Orarion.

  3. Epimanikia - This vestment points to the fact that the hands serve in the Liturgy are actually Christ's hands, who alone is the Servant of God who suffered for our salvation. The deacon wears the epimanikia under his sticharion, while the priest wears his over the sticharion. When donning the cuffs, on the right hand, the deacon prays, Your right hand, + Lord, is made glorious in might; your right hand, Lord, has crushed the enemies; and in the fullness of your glory, You have routed the adversary (Ex. 15:6-7). The left hand, Your hands + have made me and fashioned me: give me understanding and I shall learn your commandments (Ps. 118/119:73).

When the deacon finishes vesting he goes to the Prothesis and prepares the sacred vessels by placing the diskos (paten) on the left, the chalice on the right, and the other implements also.

When both have finished vesting they wash their hands saying, "I will wash my hands in innocency; so will I compass Thine altar, O Lord, That I may make the voice of thanksgiving to be heard, and tell of all Thy wondrous works. Lord, I love the habitation of Thy house, and the place where Thy glory dwelleth. Gather not my soul with sinners, nor my life with men of blood; In whose hands is craftiness, and their right hand is full of bribes. But as for me, I will walk in mine integrity; redeem me, and be gracious unto me. My foot standeth in an even place; in the congregations will I bless the Lord (Ps. 26:6-12)."

Western Rite

The deacon will vest with the priest and any assistants as outlined for the Western Rite priest. The prayers that he says are nearly identical to that of the priests:
  1. Amice - "Place upon me, O Lord, the helmet of salvation, that I may withstand the assaults of the devil."

  2. Alb - "Purify me, O Lord, and cleanse my heart, that being made white in the Blood of the Lamb I may come to eternal joy."

  3. Cincture - "Gird me, O Lord, with the girdle of purity, and quench in my loins the fire of lust, that with the virtues of continence and chastity I may abide in Thee."

  4. Stole - "Restore unto me, O Lord, the state of immortality, which was lost through the sin of my first parents; and although I am unworthy to approach Thy sacred mysteries, nevertheless grant unto me eternal joy."

  5. Maniple - This is a band of cloth, of the same style and width as the stole. It is worn over the left arm. The link provided is to a Wikipedia article, which mainly treats it under Roman Catholic use, but a picture or two is found there. The deacon prays as he vests with it, "May I deserve, O Lord, to bear the maniple of weeping and sorrow, in order that I may joyfully reap the reward of my labors."

  6. Dalmatic - "Lord, endow me with the garment of salvation, the vestment of joy, and with the dalmatic of justice ever encompass me. Amen."

The deacon's stole, as with that of the priest, is not worn outside of service in the Mass or receiving the Eucharist.

For me the role of the deacon in the Church is somewhat a minor fascination. Coming from an American Lutheran background there was no place for actual deacons. Historically among Lutherans they were seen as pastors who took a secondary role in a church. Among the Lutherans of the LCMS a deacon was either a layman-elder in the congregation, or he was someone licensed to carry out pastoral duties (preaching or consecrating the Lord's Supper) apart from ordination.

Now that I'm converting to Holy Orthodoxy it is interesting to consider and observe the natural place of deacons in the Catholic Church. Suffice to say that it is very well-pleasing to me. God is glorious in His Church.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Liturgical Vestments IV: the Priest

Having briefly discussed and displayed the main liturgical vestments between Eastern and Western Rite, it seemed good to revisit the issue according to Order. Of all the clerical orders, a person is most likely to encounter a Priest. The priest's liturgical vestments are as follows:

Eastern Rite

In the Eastern Rite vesting is part of the Prothesis, that is, the Liturgy of Preparation. This is the preparatory rite in which the bread and wine are set apart for use in the Eucharist. In this rite the priest and deacon stand before the holy doors of the iconostasis to say the entrance prayers, then enter and vest, perform the proskomedia, and conclude with the Prayer of Oblation and much incense.

In this article are included two vestments not previously mentioned: the zone (a wide liturgical belt of the same material as the phelonion) and epimanikia (long cuffs of the same material as the phelonion). Links for these two vestments are provided to Orthowiki articles with good pictures.

The priest will bless each vestment with his right hand, kiss the cross on the vestment, and put the vestment on while reciting the appropriate prayer.

  1. Sticharion - Taking in his right hand the Sticharion and making three reverences toward the East to the Holy Doors, the Priest blesses it: Blessed is our God + at all times, now and always and for ever and ever. Amen. He then puts it on, saying: My soul shall rejoice in the Lord, for He has clothed me with a robe of salvation and covered me with a tunic of happiness; He has crowned me as a bridegroom and adorned me with jewels as a bride (Isaiah 61:10).

  2. Epitrachelion - Blessed is God + who pours out grace upon his priests: as the chrism upon the head, which ran down unto the beard, the beard of Aaron, ran down even to the hem of his garment, at all times, now and always and for ever and ever. Amen (Ps. 132/133:2).

  3. Zone - Blessed is God + who girds me with strength and makes my way blameless and strengthens my feet like the hart's, at all times, now and always and for ever and ever. Amen (Ps. 17/18:32).

  4. Epimanikia - This vestment points to the fact that the hands that celebrate the Eucharist are actually Christ's hands, who alone is the High Priest of our salvation. When donning the cuffs, on the right hand, the priest prays, Your right hand, + Lord, is made glorious in might; your right hand, Lord, has crushed the enemies; and in the fullness of your glory, You have routed the adversary (Ex. 15:6-7). The left hand, Your hands + have made me and fashioned me: give me understanding and I shall learn your commandments (Ps. 118/119:73).

  5. Epigonation and Nabedrennik (if awarded their use) - Gird your sword + at your side, Mighty One, in your splendor and beauty. String your bow; go forth, reign for the sake of truth, meekness and righteousness. Your right hand shall lead You wonderfully, at all times, now and always and for ever and ever. Amen (Ps. 44/45:3-4).

  6. Phelonion - Your priests +, Lord, shall clothe themselves with righteousness, and your saints shall rejoice in joy, at all times, now and always and for ever and ever. Amen (Ps. 131/132:9).

Next the priest and deacon wash their hands, saying, I will wash my hands in innocency; so will I compass Thine altar, O Lord, That I may make the voice of thanksgiving to be heard, and tell of all Thy wondrous works. Lord, I love the habitation of Thy house, and the place where Thy glory dwelleth. Gather not my soul with sinners, nor my life with men of blood; In whose hands is craftiness, and their right hand is full of bribes. But as for me, I will walk in mine integrity; redeem me, and be gracious unto me. My foot standeth in an even place; in the congregations will I bless the Lord (Ps. 26:6-12).

Western Rite

Preparation for Mass, if we can call it that, begins when the priest washes his hands and prays, "Give strength to my hands, O Lord, to wash away all uncleanness; that I may be enabled to serve thee without defilement of mind and body."

At this point the priest then will recite a series of psalms and collects before vesting. Sometimes a reader will recite the psalms, meanwhile the priest vesting and reciting the appropriate prayer for each vestment. Then after the psalms and vesting the priest will conclude with the collects, which commemorate the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph, the Angels and Saints, and any specific saints commemorated at that Mass.

It may be that these prayers correspond to the commemorations made by the priest in the Eastern Rite when the bread is divided during the Prothesis. Also, it is suspected that the prayers said at the foot of the altar correspond to the Entrance Prayers in the Prothesis of the Eastern Rite.

The following are the prayers said by the priest as he dons each vestment:
  1. Amice - "Place upon me, O Lord, the helmet of salvation, that I may withstand the assaults of the devil."

  2. Alb - "Purify me, O Lord, and cleanse my heart, that being made white in the Blood of the Lamb I may come to eternal joy."

  3. Cincture - "Gird me, O Lord, with the girdle of purity, and quench in my loins the fire of lust, that with the virtues of continence and chastity I may abide in Thee."

  4. Stole - "Restore unto me, O Lord, the state of immortality, which was lost through the sin of my first parents; and although I am unworthy to approach Thy sacred mysteries, nevertheless grant unto me eternal joy."

  5. Maniple - This is a band of cloth, of the same style and width as the stole. It is worn over the left arm. The link provided is to a Wikipedia article, which mainly treats it under Roman Catholic use, but a picture or two is found there. The priest prays as he vests with it, "May I deserve, O Lord, to bear the maniple of weeping and sorrow, in order that I may joyfully reap the reward of my labors."

  6. Chasuble - "O Lord who hast said, 'My yoke is easy and My burden light,' grant that I may bear after Thee with thanksgiving. Amen."

These are the vestments that the celebrant priest will wear. If another priest is in attendance in the chancel he will be vested in a suprlice over his cassock. For instance, last time we attended the Western Rite parish Holy Incarnation in Michigan (our home away from home, back home where I'm from), the Vicar General of the Western Rite was in attendance. During Mass he wore a surplice, but when it was time to receive the Eucharist he donned a stole, which he removed after receiving the Sacrament. He would have continued to wear the stole if he had assisted in the distribution of the Sacrament, though. (I am told that this rubric is the same in the Eastern Rite.) Obviously his stole was not worn cross-wise, as the celebrant wore his under the chasuble. Vestments depend upon one's rank and one's role in the Mass.

Vesting for Mass is part of the Liturgy's organic whole. The vesting of the clergy is not just a stepping into a coat-closet to dress up; it belongs to the Mass as much as the Kyrie, the Sanctus, and the other parts, but it is a part that involves the clergy. (In the Mass/Liturgy everyone has their own roles, including the laity; though all are involved in the same whole, not everyone's job is identical.) The rubrics dictate what they do in order to preserve and convey a mystery. It is to be received as such, not reduced to the simplistic capacities of our modern hubris.

The more time I spend comparing Eastern and Western Rite - and living with them both as I've been blessed to do - the more obvious it is to me that they are the same. They are about the same things, they do the same things, they are the same Orthodox Faith, belonging to the same Catholic Church. Some in Protestantism like to bandy about the idea that you can have different styles but the same substance. I've yet to see the Protestants accomplish that among themselves. Yet in the one pure Bride of Christ that ridiculous dictum almost seems to have happened - not by men reinventing the Western Rite, but by overcoming the Western Rite's interruption through the return of Western Christians to the unity of the Church.