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Archive for the ‘Orthodoxy’ Category

Christ did not die instead of us, so that we would not have to die. He died for us, so that we could die with Him, and in dying with Him, have life. His is the only death that leads to life. Our death, our dying to sin, apart from His, does not lead to life. But in Baptism, Jesus draws us into His own dying (Rom. 6:3). This dying with Christ in order to rise with Him is what we Orthodox mean by askesis.

–Father Anthony Coniaris

Thank you to A Desert Seeker for introducing me to this quote on his blogsite.

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If you glimpse how grand God’s love is, you realize that the question is not who’s in and who’s out, but who knows this love and who doesn’t. The whole human race is in the fold of God’s love. What Christians believe is that we have been privileged to see the depth and breadth of that revealed love of salvation in a one-of-a-kind way. And it’s our duty to tell that story as generously and imaginatively and energetically as we can. –

– from “Who’s In, Who’s Out?” in The Orthodox Light, October 2009, by the Very Rev. Archimandrite Ambrose Bitziadis-Bowers

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I have been revisiting one of my favorite choral pieces – Rachmaninoff’s Vespers.  Several years ago, my son had this CD playing in his car for many months, and I remember riding with him on several occasions, during the month of December, and enjoying together the richness of this work.  Subsequently, I now associate Vespers with Christmastime even though it isn’t directly related to the Nativity!

Rachmaninoff wrote the collection of 15 songs within a 2 week period (amazing!) in the year 1915 – a troublesome time between the Great War and the Russian Revolution in 1917.  I wonder if Rachmaninoff sensed the looming storm that would come and force the Russian Orthodox church underground along with a ban on performances of all religious music.  In hindsight, this composition appears to be a final blaze of glory before being snuffed out for decades.  It has been written that “no composition represents the end of an era so clearly as this liturgical work”.*

Some of the words from the ninth piece – Blessed Art Thou, O Lord (Blagosloven Yesi, Gospodi):

By giving birth to the Giver of Life, O Virgin,

Thou hast delivered Adam from his sin,

Thou hast given Eve joy instead of sadness:

The God-man born of Thee has restored to life

Those who had fallen from it.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Glory to Thee, O Lord.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Glory to Thee, O Lord.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Glory to Thee, O Lord.

To hear some excerpts from the pieces, click here and scroll down to the “Listen to Samples”.

*Francis Maes, tr. Arnold J. Pomerans, Erica Pomerans, A History of Russian Music: From Kamarinskaya to Babi Yar, University of California Press, 2002, p.206

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On the birth of Jesus Christ…

Wherefore the birth was twofold, both made like us, and also surpassing ours. For to be born of a woman indeed was our lot, but to be born not of blood, nor of the will of flesh, nor of man, but of the Holy Ghost, John 1:13 was to proclaim beforehand the birth surpassing us, the birth to come, which He was about freely to give us of the Spirit. And everything else too was like this. Thus His baptism also was of the same kind, for it partook of the old, and it partook also of the new. To be baptized by the prophet marked the old, but the coming down of the Spirit shadowed out the new. And like as though any one were to place himself in the space between any two persons that were standing apart, and stretching forth both his hands were to lay hold on either side, and tie them together; even so has He done, joining the old covenant with the new, God’s nature with man’s, the things that are His with ours.

Do you see the flashing brightness of the city, with how great a splendor it has dazzled you from the very beginning? How it has straightway shown the King in your own form; as though in a camp? For neither there does the king always appear bearing his proper dignity, but laying aside the purple and the diadem, he often disguises himself in the garb of a common soldier. But there it is, lest by being known he should draw the enemy upon himself; but here on the contrary, lest, if He were known, He should cause the enemy to fly from the conflict with Him, and lest He should confound all His own people: for His purpose was to save, not to dismay.

~ John Chrysostom, Homily on Matthew 1:1

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In order to be right about anything, the mind has the need to find someone or something that is wrong. In a sense, the mind is always looking for an enemy (the person who is “wrong”), since without an enemy, the mind is not quite sure of its own identity. When it has an enemy, it is able to be more confident about itself. Since the mind also continually seeks for certainty, which is a by-product of the desire to be right, the process of finding and defining enemies is an ongoing struggle for survival. Declaring enemies is, for the mind, not an unfortunate character flaw, but an essential and necessary task.

Unfortunately, being right is not what people really need, even though a great deal of their lives may be taken up in its pursuit. Defense of the ego is almost always a matter of trying to be right. Interestingly enough, Jesus never once suggeted to His disciples that they be right. What He did demand is that they be righteous. In listening to His words we find that we spend almost all our energy in the wrong direction, since we generally pursue being right with every ounce of our being, but leave being good to the weak and the naive.

Archimandrite Meletios


For a more complete discussion of this topic, go to Father Stephen’s site – Glory to God for All Things

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Patrick Henry Reardon gives insight into the repeated phrase “For His mercy endures forever” in the Psalms…

Psalm 135 insists, literally in every verse, that the root of all of God’s activity in this world, beginning even with the world’s creation, is mercy hesed.  This mercy is eternal – le’olam “forever.”

Mercy is the cause and reason of all that God does.  He does nothing, absolutely nothing, except as an expression of His mercy.  His mercy stretches out to both extremes of infinity.  “For His mercy endures forever” is the palimpsest that lies under each line of Holy Scripture.  Thus, too from beginning to end of any Orthodox service, the worCrocuses 2009d “mercy” appears more than any other word.  The encounter with God’s mercy is the root of all Christian worship.  Everything else that can be said of God is but an aspect of His mercy.

Mercy is the defining explanation of everything that God has revealed of Himself.  Every Orthodox service of worship, from Nocturnes to Compline, is a polyeleion [or “manifold mercy”], a celebration of God’s sustained and abundant mercy.  What we touch, or see, or hear, or taste – from the flames that flicker before the icons and the prayers our voices pour forth, to the billowing incense and the mystic contents of the Chalice – all is mercy.

Mercy is the explanation of every single thought that God has with respect to us.  When we deal with God, everything is mercy; all we will ever discover of God will be the deepening levels of His great, abundant, overflowing, rich and endless mercy.  “For His mercy endures forever” is the eternal song of the saints.

from Christ in the Psalms

Psalm 135

Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!
For His mercy
endures forever.
Oh, give thanks to the God of gods!
For His mercy
endures forever.
Oh, give thanks to the Lord of lords!
For His mercy
endures forever:

To Him who alone does great wonders,
For His mercy
endures forever;
To Him who by wisdom made the heavens,
For His mercy
endures forever;
To Him who laid out the earth above the waters,
For His mercy
endures forever;
To Him who made great lights,
For His mercy
endures forever—
The sun to rule by day,
For His mercy
endures forever;
The moon and stars to rule by night,
For His mercy
endures forever.

To Him who struck Egypt in their firstborn,
For His mercy
endures forever;
And brought out Israel from among them,
For His mercy
endures forever;
With a strong hand, and with an outstretched arm,
For His mercy
endures forever;
To Him who divided the Red Sea in two,
For His mercy
endures forever;
And made Israel pass through the midst of it,
For His mercy
endures forever;
But overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea,
For His mercy
endures forever;
To Him who led His people through the wilderness,
For His mercy
endures forever;
To Him who struck down great kings,
For His mercy
endures forever;
And slew famous kings,
For His mercy
endures forever—
Sihon king of the Amorites,
For His mercy
endures forever;
And Og king of Bashan,
For His mercy
endures forever—
And gave their land as a heritage,
For His mercy
endures forever;
A heritage to Israel His servant,
For His mercy
endures forever.

Who remembered us in our lowly state,
For His mercy
endures forever;
And rescued us from our enemies,
For His mercy
endures forever;
Who gives food to all flesh,
For His mercy
endures forever.

Oh, give thanks to the God of heaven!
For His mercy
endures forever.

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“Have Mercy”

There is much wrapped up in the words “have mercy” which isn’t immediately understood in the English.  Metropolitan Anthony Bloom (1914-2003) sheds some light on this response so frequently used in the Orthodox faith (italics are mine).

These words ‘have mercy’ are used in all the Christian Churches and, in Orthodoxy, they are the response of the people to all the petitions suggested by the priest. Our modern translation ‘have mercy’ is a limited and insufficient one. The Greek word which we find in the gospel and in the early liturgies is eleison. Eleison is of the same root as elaion, which means olive tree and the oil from it. If we look up the Old and New Testament in search of the passages connected with this basic idea, we will find it described in a variety of parables and events which allow us to form a complete idea of the meaning of the word. We find the image of the olive tree in Genesis.

After the flood Noah sends birds, one after the other, to find out whether there is any dry land or not, and one of them, a dove – and it is significant that it is a dove – brings back a small twig of olive. This twig conveys to Noah and to all with him in the ark the news that the wrath of God has ceased, that God is now offering man a fresh opportunity. All those who are in the ark will be able to settle again on firm ground and make an attempt to live, and never more perhaps, if they can help it, undergo the wrath of God.

In the New Testament, in the parable of the good Samaritan, olive oil is poured to soothe and to heal. In the anointing of kings and priests in the Old Testament, it is again oil that is poured on the head as an image of the grace of God that comes down and flows on them (Ps I33:2) giving them new power to fulfil what is beyond human capabilities. The king is to stand on the threshold, between the will of men and the will of God, and he is called to lead his people to the fulfilment of God’s will; the priest also stands on that threshold, to proclaim the will of God and to do even more: to act for God, to pronounce God’s decrees and to apply God’s decision.

The oil speaks first of all of the end of the wrath of God, of the peace which God offers to the people who have offended against him; further it speaks of God healing us in order that we should be able to live and become what we are called to be; and as he knows that we are not capable with our own strength of fulfilling either his will or the laws of our own created nature, he pours his grace abundantly on us (Rom 5:20). He gives us power to do what we could not otherwise do.

The words milost and pomiluy in Slavonic have the same root as those which express tenderness, endearing, and when we use the words eleison, ‘have mercy on us’, pomiluy, we are not just asking God to save us from His wrath – we are asking for love.
– from Living Prayer, Anthony Bloom, 1966

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