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."