“Behold, the time of salvation is drawing near. * O Cave, prepare yourself, * for the Virgin is coming to give birth. * O Bethlehem, O land of Judah, * adorn yourself and be happy * since the Lord will shine forth from you. * O mountains and hills and lands around Judah, * hearken, for Christ is coming that He may save his creation * because He is the Lover of Mankind.”
My Dear Spiritual Children,
We have come to the end of Saint Philip’s Fast. We have prepared ourselves as did the Cave, to receive the Christ Child into our hearts to provide a safe and warm place for Him to be born. Like the Shepherds and the Magi we have anxiously awaited His coming, and we bear the gift of our love and desire to be counted worthy of receiving the Prince of Peace into our lives; not only just on the Feast of His Nativity, but throughout our whole lives.
All of this demands a change in our attitudes and in our actions. We cannot continue to be the same old person that we were forty days ago. We are renewed by the coming of Our Lord and Savior – God becoming man so that we might become like Him. Let us joyfully and with great thanksgiving sing the Holy Carols of the Feast and allow them to fill our hearts with His peace.
This is an extremely difficult time for me as I cannot be with you in person to sing and celebrate the Feast. I assure you that I am with you in my prayers. I pray for each and every one of you that the Prince of Peace may fill your hearts and souls and bring you the greatest joy. I look forward to being together with you soon.
I want to thank the Right Rev. Protopresbyter , Father Emmanuel Pratsinakis for celebrating the most Holy Mysteries with you, my spiritual children. It has brought me peace knowing that you are taken care of spiritually in my absence.
May God continue to bless and keep you during this season of His Holy Nativity and throughout your whole life. May He keep you always in His tender, loving care!
With love and prayers,
HOLY AND GREAT TUESDAY
“Behold the Bridegroom comes at midnight, * and blessed is the servant whom He will find watching, * but unworthy is he whom He will find in slothfulness. * Beware then O my soul, * and be not overcome by sleep, * lest you be given over to death and shut out from the Kingdom. * But return to soberness and cry aloud: * Holy, Holy, Holy are You, O God * through the God bearer have mercy on us.”
Today, we remember the ten virgins, five of whom were wise and five were foolish. The foolish virgins were not prepared to meet Jesus the Bridegroom when He arrived suddenly. They were left outside of the bridal hall where there was much rejoicing. Therefore we are reminded to be watchful at all times for the coming of the Heavenly Bridegroom because He comes when we least expect it.
From Matins: Brethren, let us love the Bridegroom * and prepare our lamps with care, * shining with the virtues and true faith; * that like the wise virgins of the Lord, * we may be ready to enter with Him into the wedding feast. * For God the Bridegroom grants to all * the crown incorruptible.
KONDAK - Tone 2 - Think, wretched soul, upon the hour of the end; * recall with fear how the fig tree was cut down. * Work diligently with the talent that is given to you; * be vigilant and cry aloud: * May we not be left outside the bridal chamber of Christ!
IKOS - Why are you slothful O my wretched soul? * Why do you waste your days in thinking of unprofitable cares? * Why are you busy with the things that pass away? * The last hour is at hand and we shall soon be parted from all that is here. * While there is still time, return to soberness and cry: * I have sinned against You, O my Savior, * do not cut me down like the unfruitful fig tree; * but, O Christ, in Your compassion take pity on me as I call on You in fear; * May we not be left outside the bridal chamber of Christ.
I slumber in slothfulness of soul, O Christ the bridegroom; * I have no lamp that burns with virtue, * and like the foolish virgins I go wandering when it is time to act. * Close not Your compassionate heart against me, Master, * but dispel dark sleep from me and rouse me up; * and lead me with the wise virgins into Your bridal chamber, * where those who feast sing with pure voices unceasingly: * O Lord glory be to You.
Holy and Great Monday
We begin our walk with the Lord during the last week of His life on earth. He walks and continues to teach His Apostles and us about our spiritual lives and that which will happen to Him in Jerusalem.
We celebrate a service only found in Holy Week: Bridegroom Matins. It is here that we see Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church. The Icon of the Bridegroom is our Lord in Extreme Humility. In the Gospel of Matthew (9:14-15), we read: “Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.” This is now being fulfilled and the days of sadness and fasting are upon us.
We hear in the beautiful Tropar of Matins: “Behold the Bridegroom comes at midnight, * and blessed is the servant whom He will find watching, * but unworthy is he whom He will find in slothfulness. * Beware then O my soul, * and be not overcome by sleep, * lest you be given over to death and shut out from the Kingdom. * But return to soberness and cry aloud: * Holy, Holy, Holy are You, O God * through the God bearer have mercy on us.” And in the Hymn of Light we read: “I see Your bridal chamber adorned, O my Savior, * and I have no wedding garment that I may enter there. * Make the robe of my soul to shine, O Giver of Light, * and save me.”
In the Gospel reading of Matins (Matthew 21:18-43) Jesus curses the fig tree which withers up immediately. Faith is the important theme of the day as the chief priests and elders question His authority. And Jesus continues to teach in parables.
From the Presanctified Liturgy we read: “As the Lord went to His voluntary Passion, * He said to His Apostles on the way: * "Behold we go up to Jerusalem, * and the Son of Man will be betrayed as it is written of Him." * Come then, and let us journey with Him, purified in mind; * let us be crucified with Him and die for His sake to the pleasures of this life, * that we may also live with Him and hear Him say: * "No longer do I ascend to the earthly Jerusalem to suffer, * but I ascend to My Father and your Father, * and to My God and your God; * and I shall raise you up to the Jerusalem on high in the Kingdom of heaven."
In the Gospel for the Presanctified Liturgy Jesus tells us what will happen in the future. He prophesies the end of the world as well as the destruction of Jerusalem which happens in 70 AD. Again, He admonishes us not to lose faith for He will return.
PALM SUNDAY – OUR LORD’S TRIUMPHANT ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM
Shortly after Lazarus was raised from the dead, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ together with His Apostles are the guests of honor at a banquet served by Martha and Mary. Afterwards they proceed to Jerusalem. News of the great miracle of Jesus bringing Lazarus back to life had reached the city before Him. Great multitudes of crowds gathered to receive the Lord triumphantly. The cries of the people, “Hosanna in the Highest!” were heard throughout the city. There is a proclamation of welcoming their new king. Unfortunately, the temperament of the people will swiftly change within a few days from welcome to “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!”
On this Feast day, and according to our tradition, both pussy willows and palms are blessed and usually distributed as the sign of our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This year we shall bless these signs of victory but they will not be distributed because of the coronavirus. Our Holy Synod of Bishops has made this proclamation: “These blessed symbols of our Lord’s triumphant Entrance into Jerusalem should be retained by you in Church to be distributed on that first Sunday, when we are all gathered together, once again, in our parish churches to worship together – regardless of the time of year it comes. This late distribution THEN BECOMES A SYMBOL OF OUR OWN TRIUMPHANT ENTRANCE - OUR RETURN INTO OUR BELOVED PARISH TEMPLES FOLLOWING SAFE PASSAGE THROUGH THE PANDEMIC THREAT TO OUR LIVES. The distribution of the branches to the faithful should be done as they enter church on that Sunday and before the Divine Liturgy begins, the entire congregation, led by you dear Rev. Fathers, shall join together, holding the branches high above their heads, in the singing of the Palm/Willow Sunday Tropar (Tone 1) “Giving us before Your Passion an assurance of the general resurrection…”, - followed by the Paschal Tropar: CHRIST IS RISEN!
The hymns of Vespers and Matins help us to understand the meaning of the Feast:
“Today the Word and coeternal Son of God the Father * whose throne is the heavens and whose footstool is the earth * humbles Himself and comes to Bethany * seated on a dumb beast, on a foal. * Then the children of the Hebrews, holding branches in their hands, praise Him saying: * Hosanna in the highest * blessed is He who comes, the King of Israel.”
“Let us also come today all the new Israel, the Church of the Gentiles * and let us cry with the Prophet Zechariah * Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion * shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem * for behold your King comes to you. * He is meek and brings salvation * and He rides upon the colt of an ass, the foal of a beast of burden. * Keep the feast with the children * and holding branches in your hands sing his praises * Hosanna to the highest * blessed is He who comes, the King of Israel.
Prefiguring for us Your holy Resurrection, O loving Lord * by Your command You have raised up from death Your friend Lazarus * who was without the breath of life * and after four days in the tomb he began to decay. * then, O Savior, mounted on a foal, and as though riding in a chariot * You have given a sign to the Gentiles. * Israel, your beloved, also offers you praise out of the mouth of innocent babes and sucklings * as they behold You, O Christ, entering the holy City six days before the Passover.
Six days before the Passover, Jesus entered Bethany * and His disciples came to Him saying: * Lord, where do You wish us to prepare the Passover supper for You? * Then He sent them out saying * Go into the city and you will come upon a man carrying a water jar * follow him and say to the owner * The Teacher says I am to celebrate the Passover with My disciples in your house.
When You entered the Holy City, O Lord * as You hastened to Your Passion to fulfill the Law and the Prophets * the Hebrew children prefigured Your victorious Resurrection * they went before You with palms and branches, saying: * Blessed are You, O Savior, have mercy on us.
All Services at Sts. Peter and Paul will be live streamed. Our Schedule for Holy Week is the following:
Palm Sunday Divine Liturgy 9:30 AM
Holy Monday, April 13
7:00 AM Bridegroom Matins; 6:00 PM – Presanctified Litrugy
Holy Tuesday, April 14
7:00 AM Bridegroom Matins; 6:00 PM – Presanctified Litrugy
Holy Wednesday, April 15
7:00 AM Bridegroom Matins; 6:00 PM Presanctified Litrugy
Holy Thursday, April 16 – Commemoration of the Last Supper
8:00 AM – Matins; 8:30 AM Vesperal Liturgy; 6:00 PM – Twelve Gospels
Holy and Great Friday, April 17
8:00 AM – Royal Hours 7:00 PM – Great Vespers with Procession with the Shroud
We will continue to stream one hour after the Service to give time to visit the Tomb
Holy and Great Saturday, April 18
9:00 AM – Jerusalem Matins 4:00 PM – Vesperal Liturgy
Sunday, April 19 – The Resurrection of Our Lord
6:00 AM – Resurrection Matins 7:00 AM Divine Liturgy for the Faithful
8:30 AM – Blessing of the Paskhal Baskets 5:00 pm – Agape Vespers
FROM OUR HOLY SYNOD OF BISHOPS - BLESSING OF PASCHAL BASKETS: This tradition is one of the most treasured by all our faithful celebrating the FEAST OF FEASTS. We have struggled mightily to come up with a means of conducting this tradition. There are, however, just two possible methods, during this difficult time, to conduct this blessing – primarily out of complete caution and because of the severe shut-in orders of state and local governments. It must be noted that either of these is permitted ONLY this year because of the pandemic threat besieging us. If you are live-streaming your Paschal-Resurrection services, Rev. Fathers, then following the dismissal of the Paschal Divine Liturgy, you may place your own basket on your Tetrapod in Church and encourage your faithful to gather their families around their own baskets at home. You will then read the Paschal Blessing Prayers and sprinkle your basket with Holy Water. At the same time, you should instruct your faithful to sprinkle their baskets at home, in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, with the Holy Water they received in Church on the Feast of Epiphany/Theophany. You should also send a copy of the Paschal Blessing prayers to all of your parish family members so that they are able to read them together as a family before the blessing.
On this festive day, we hear the words proclaimed in the Matins and Vespers Service:
“Even though Lazarus had been dead for four days, You raised him from Hades, O Christ, before Your own death, You destroyed the power of Death. You freed one of Your friends from the tomb to announce the resurrection of all. Therefore we bow before Your sovereign power and cry out: Blessed are You O Savior, have mercy on us.”
“Taking pity on the tears of Martha and Mary, O Christ our God, You ordered the stone to be rolled away from the tomb. By Your call You raised the dead man and broke the bolts of Hades to establish our faith in the life-giving resurrection of all. Glory to Your power, O Savior; glory to Your sovereign majesty; glory to You, for by Your Word, You uphold the whole world.”
“Desiring to confirm the faith of Your disciples, O Lord, in Your resurrection from the dead, You came to the tomb of Lazarus. And when You called him, Hades was despoiled and it gave up the one who had been dead for four days. He cried out to You: Blessed are You, O Lord, glory to You.”
In the Gospel of John, we hear mention of the beloved disciple, who we know was John himself. But Jesus also had other beloved friends. Lazarus was a friend of Jesus as were his sisters, Martha and Mary. For those who read the Gospel of John and believe in Jesus as Lord, you too are a beloved disciple.
Martha and Mary sent word to Jesus that His friend Lazarus was ill. (John 11:1-44) He delayed his travel to Bethany. He arrived four days after Lazarus died. Why did He wait? Lazarus had been dead for four days, there was no way that anyone could argue that point. We even hear the protest when Jesus tells them to remove the cave covering “there will be a stench”! Jesus wanted to show them that there is a universal resurrection from the dead. He wanted to show His followers the power of God. This will be confirmed by His own Passion, Death and glorious Resurrection.
It is interesting to note, that when Lazarus was raised from the dead, Jesus tells those around him to loose the burial cloths which bound him. In the Icon of the day, either he (Lazarus) or one of those around him are carrying his burial clothes. There is a reason for this. Lazarus will need these burial cloths again – though he had returned to life, his body was still mortal and therefore subject to death.
In contrast, when Jesus rises from the dead, His burial cloths remained in the tomb. As Son of God, Jesus will not die again – for His Resurrection transfigures nature. This is the first time on a weekday that we hear the beautiful words:
“Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ, let us worship the Holy Lord Jesus, the Only Sinless One. We venerate Your Cross, O Christ, and we praise and glorify Your Holy Resurrection. You are our God: we know no other than You, and we call upon Your Holy Name. Come, all you faithful, let us venerate the Holy Resurrection of Christ. For, behold, through the Cross joy has come to all the world. Ever blessing the Lord, let us praise His Resurrection. For, enduring the Cross for us, He destroyed Death by death.”
As we celebrate this great feast let us look at our own lives. How do we accept the responsibility of being a beloved disciple of our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ?
Today, we as Orthodox Christians celebrate the end of Lent, the end of the Great Fast. At the Vespers Service we hear:
“Having come to the end of the forty days, we beseech You, O Lord and Lover of Mankind: May we also behold the holy week of Your Passion, and glorify in it Your lofty deeds and Your ineffable work of salvation, as we sing with one voice: O Lord, glory to You!”
Does that mean that the Fasting that we did during Lent is over? Can we now return to our “normal” lives? No. With these words we enter into Holy Week and an even more austere period of Fasting. We hear again at the Vespers Service:
“Having completed the forty days that bring profit to our soul, * let us cry: Rejoice, city of Bethany, home of Lazarus. * Rejoice, Martha and Mary, his sisters. * Tomorrow Christ will come, to bring your dead brother to life by his word. * Hearing His voice, bitter hell that is never satisfied will tremble and groan aloud, * and it will release Lazarus bound in grave-cloths. * Amazed by this miracle, a multitude of Jews will come to meet him with palms and branches; * though their fathers look on him with malicious envy, yet shall the children praise him, saying: * Blessed is he that comes in the Name of the Lord, the King of Israel.
This is a very difficult time for all of us, my dear ones, as we begin Holy Week without being together as a Parish Family, as a Community of Believers. I shall attempt to daily update the web page with a brief meditation so that at least we can be together here and in the live streaming of all the Divine Services. The following are the Services that will be live streamed over the weekend (Saints Peter and Paul Facebook Page):
Please join us in prayer as we walk and talk with the Lord on His journey to Jerusalem. Let us witness His sacrificial love as He offers Himself for our salvation through His Passion, Death and Glorious Resurrection.
Scripture on Thanksgiving Luke 17:11-19
Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”
A father in Phoenix, Arizona, called his son, John, in New York City two days before Thanksgiving. He said, “Son, I just can’t take it anymore. Your mother just gets on my nerves so badly and all’s we ever do is fight. After 45 years of misery I just can’t take it anymore. I’m sorry to dump all this on you but I’m applying for a divorce. Do me a favor, tell your sister in Chicago because I just don’t even want to talk about it! The father hangs up.
Ten minutes later the phone rings and it is his daughter. “Dad, don’t do ANYTHING right now. DON’T apply for the divorce. I’ll call John and we’ll fly to Phoenix tomorrow. Let’s sit down and talk about this before you do anything you’ll regret”
The father hangs up the phone and turns to his wife and says, “Honey, the kids are coming home for Thanksgiving and we don’t have to pay for the airfare!”
Leprosy is a terrible disease. In the time of Jesus, it meant that you were unclean; you could not be within 50 feet of a person who was not a leper. You needed to walk with a bell to announce your approach. You were an outcast, losing your home, your family, your community.
This is the backdrop in today’s Gospel message for Thanksgiving. Can you imagine the joy and elation that the ten felt as they walked to show themselves to the priests that they were now cured of this terrible plague! Now they would be able to go home to their families, their friends. They would again be part of the community and so they ran and they ran and they ran to tell everyone that they had been cured. They never looked back.
Aren’t we very much like them? When we receive a blessing that changes our lives, what do we do? We run and tell everyone who will listen. “Look at me, I just received a promotion; Look at me I’m happy; Look at me…” Wasn’t it funny that when the lotteries were almost at a billion dollars, many people were somewhat altruistic when asked what they would do with the money. Most said that they would help those in need. They would donate heavily to charities. But I never heard anyone, even from the lips of this poor sinner, say that they would thank God. We never look back.
Only one turned back. He came back and fell at His feet and thanked Him for his cure. Ten were cured but only one was made whole. Healing, my friends, is more than just a physical state. Healing creates a change in the human heart. And this change in the human heart which makes us whole is a change made from love.
Today we live in a loveless society. Last week in Bible Study, our group talked about the “good old days” in which we didn’t have much, but what we did have we shared with others. Many remembered strangers being brought to the table to share a meal. Can you imagine, strangers, and it was not just on Christmas Eve for Holy Supper! Love begets trust! Love is fearless!
God loves us, in this we can trust. In 1 John we read …”let us love one another since love comes from God and everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God…we are to love, then, because He loved us first”
Think about a parent’s love. We teach our youth to the point where we must trust them to make the right decisions in their own lives. We trust them because we love them.
If there is no love, there is no trust. If there is no love there is no thankfulness. If there is no thankfulness there is only bitterness and the constant asking “Why me?”
Dr. Jim Moore, the Pastor of St. Luke United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas wrote a book entitled, You Can Grow Bitter or You Can Get Better. He was asked once where he came up with this title. He related a story of how a young woman came into his office sobbing. She had a towel in her hands and her knuckles were white from wringing them with the towel. A tragedy had befallen the family. Her 26 year old husband had just been killed in a farming accident. He left her alone now with three preschool children. She said, “I don’t know how I am going to go on without him. I do know one thing, I can get bitter or I can get better.”
It is only with a thankful heart that we can rid ourselves of bitterness and we can get better. It is with a thankful hear that we can know and experience the love that God wants to share with us. It is this love that will not only heal us, but it will make us whole.
God loves you….and so do I