SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH

Fr. Igor's Lenten Message for March.......

Mar 16, 2019
Fr. Igor's Lenten Message for March.......

My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory Forever!

 

As we are quickly approaching Great Lent, I would like to invite everyone to join us on this spiritual journey that we are about to begin, leading us to Holy Pascha. Great Lent always gives us a wonderful opportunity to personally reflect upon our lives, to reflect upon our relations with God, and relations with our fellow human beings. Building up and strengthening these relations is one of the most important goals that we can set for ourselves during this journey, that each year our Holy Church invites us to take.

 

And, as it would be the case when we plan a real journey, a real trip to some place that we would like to visit, in the same way we have to prepare for this spiritual Lenten journey, taking into consideration a few things that will be helpful for us, and that will make our trip even more joyous.

 

First of all, we have to remind ourselves about what Christianity in general, and what Orthodoxy in particular means, Christianity is not a doctrine. Yes, you were born Orthodox, or you have become Orthodox, and you follow advice given to you by priests, monks, or spiritual fathers to read religious books, books on spirituality, theology, church history and other topics, that will be helpful for your spiritual growth, and that is fine. But there is one more thing that is the most important- and, unfortunately, very often is diminished, or sometimes even completely missing – and that is our personal experience of God, our life in God.

 

Spiritually speaking, Orthodoxy is not knowledge only, because God is not an acquisition of our intellect. You cannot just say: “Well, I understand God; I know the theology of our faith; I have read the books; so I am a good Orthodox Christian.” No. To be a good Orthodox Christian is to be able to descend into yourself and to explore the inner universe – and that is not an easy task. Here, in the West, there is a tendency to know things outside of ourselves: people explore the universe, people go into outer space, and all the knowledge they get is mostly about outside of ourselves.

 

Orthodoxy, on the other hand, is the reverse. Orthodoxy is to explore and to discover the inner universe, which, by the way, is infinite like an atom, and in this depth, deep inside of ourselves – that’s where God is. Because God is not outside of yourself, God is not spatial or material so that we can place Him in our prayer corner. If you are not able to discover God in yourself, you will not find God anywhere. Burt if you find God in yourself, you will be able to see God everywhere. You will see God in the eyes of a child, in a flower, in the blade of grass, in animals, everywhere….if you discover God in yourself.

 

So, in a spiritual sense, real Orthodoxy is to explore ourselves, to go inside. Often we are afraid to go inside, because it is an awesome reality. In 2 Corinthians, St. Paul reminds us that we are the Temple of the Living God and God lives within us. So in this sense, we are God bearers, and we are consecrated temples of God set apart for Him. Therefore, we have to explore the inner universe, we have to live our lives with God, and in God, because God is life.

 

And secondly, to help us to undertake this very important journey into ourselves, our loving Church offers us many tools that we can use: 40+ days of abstinence, the Sacrament of Confession, weekly Saturday Vespers and Sunday Divine Liturgies, Presanctified Liturgies on Wednesdays, and Akathist services on Fridays. Let me remind you again the reasons we have these services and their meanings.

 

Wednesday Presanctified Liturgies: The Presanctified Liturgy is celebrated on Wednesdays during Lent. The word Presanctified refers to Holy Communion which has been consecrated on the Sunday before and distributed during the Presanctified Liturgy. One of the special features of this liturgy is the solemn blessing by the Priest with a single lighted candle who announces: “The Light of Christ illumines all!” The faithful make a prostration. The scriptural readings are from Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, and Proverbs signifying the preparatory nature of this service.

 

Friday Akathist Hymns: An Akathist Hymn is a liturgical prayer of praise written about Christ, a certain saint, or a need such as thanksgiving. The Akathist Hymn to the Virgin Mary, for example, portrays her as a compassionate mother who cares for us through her prayers. This service is necessary during Lent because of the spiritual battle which we undertake.

 

Saturday of Lazarus: On the Saturday before Holy Week, the Orthodox Church commemorates a major feast of the year, the miracle of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ when He raised Lazarus from the dead and he had lain in the grave four days. Here, at the end of Great Lent and the 40 days of fasting and penitence, the Church combines this celebration with that of Palm Sunday., In triumph and joy the Church bears witness to the power of Christ over death and exalts Him as King before entering the most solemn week of the year, one that leads the faithful in remembrance of His suffering and death and concludes with the great and glorious Feast of Pascha.

 

Palm Sunday: On the Sunday before the Feast of Great and Holy Pascha and at the beginning of Holy Week, the Orthodox Church celebrates one of its most joyous feasts of the year. Palm Sunday is the commemoration of the Entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem following His glorious miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. Having anticipated His arrival and having heard of the miracle, the people went out to meet the Lord and welcomed Him with displays of honor and shouts of praise. On this day, we receive and worship Christ in this same manner, acknowledging Him as our King and Lord. The biblical story of Palm Sunday is recorded in all four of the Gospels (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:28:38; and John 12:12-18). Five days before the Passover, Jesus came from Bethany to Jerusalem. Having sent two of His disciples to bring Him a donkey’s colt, Jesus sat upon it and entered the city.

 

The Sacrament of Holy Unction is celebrated in Orthodox parishes on the evening of Great and Holy Wednesday. This Sacrament is offered for the healing of soul and body and for forgiveness of sins. At the conclusion of the service of the Sacrament, the body is anointed with oil, and the grace of God, which heals infirmities of soul and body, is called down upon each person. The Sacrament of the Unction of the sick is the Church’s specific prayer for healing. If the faith of the believers is strong enough, and if it is the will of God, there is every reason to believe that the Lord can heal those who are diseased. The biblical basis for the Sacrament is found in James 5:14-16.

 

On Thursday of Holy Week, four events are commemorated: the washing of the disciples’ feet, the institution of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper, the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, and the betrayal of Christ by Judas. At the Mystical Supper in the Upper Room, Jesus gives a radically new meaning to the food and drink of the sacred meal. He identifies Himself with the bread and wine, “Take, eat; this is My Body. Drink of it all of you; for this is My Blood of the New Covenant.” (Matthew 26:26-28) I encourage all of our parishioners to attend the Vesperal Liturgy at 9:00 AM, and to participate through the Holy Communion in Jesus’ Last Supper. This is the Liturgy which each Orthodox Christian should attend.

 

On Great and Holy Friday, the Orthodox Church commemorates the death of Christ on the Cross. This is the culmination of the observance of His Passion by which our Lord suffered and died for our sins. This commemoration begins on Thursday evening with the Matins of Holy Friday and concludes with a Vespers on Friday afternoon that observes the unnailing of Christ from the Cross and the placement of His body in the tomb.

 

On Great and Holy Saturday, the Orthodox Church commemorates the burial of Christ and His descent into Hades. It is the day between the Crucifixion of our Lord and His glorious Resurrection. The Matins of Holy Saturday is celebrated on Friday evening and, while many elements of the service represent mourning at the death and burial of Christ the service itself is one of watchful expectation.

 

Saint Paul states, “God was in Jesus Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” (2 Corinthians 5:19) Hence, eternal life - real and self-generating - penetrated the depths of Hades. Christ who is the life of all destroyed death by His death. That is why the Church sings joyously “Things now are filled with light, the heaven and the earth and all that is beneath the earth.” (Canon of Pascha)

 

Come, dear brothers and sisters, during this Great Lent to as many services as you possibly can; let us thank God for giving us this ability and opportunity. Just remember, that while trying to get our attention, Christ will not force His way into our life. It is our job, we must open the door and let Him in. So let us ask God to help us to re-discover Him deep in our hearts, deep in our souls, so that we can spiritually prepare for the joyous celebration of His Holy Resurrection! Yours in Christ, Father Igor.

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Great Vespers - 6:00 p.m.

Great Vespers for Sunday Divine Liturgy - Prayer:  We, unworthy recipients of Thy benefits and gifts, as unprofitable servants dare to turn to Thee, O Master, bringing Thee thanks and glorifying and hymning Thee, the Benefactor and Creator: glory to Thee, O most bountiful God.